Geek tour of the San Francisco Bay Area

People come to San Francisco, still, in pursuit of the technoutopian dream, but also they like to pay homage to an idea of “Silicon Valley”. Now that the Mozilla monument has gone to storage, there aren’t a lot of public monuments out there to visit. We really need enormous, beautiful public monumental art to celebrate Internet and computer history!!

But we don’t have that. So, where to go on your nerd pilgrimage? I have a list of recommendations for the computer nerds with a romantic soul!

The Computer History Museum heads the geek tour list of course! It is in Mountainview and the public transit options aren’t ideal, but are doable. You can take Caltrain to Mountainview and look for a city bus or a shuttle bus, or just take a cab/rideshare for the last leg of your trip.

The MADE – The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment – is a hands-on video game history museum where the retro games are all playable, often on incredible and well maintained old hardware! It’s in downtown Oakland, a few easily walkable blocks from the 12th Street BART station.

The Exploratorium, while a broad tech and science museum, is gorgeously hands on and participatory. There are actual experiments you can do (not like so many science museums where interactivity means pushing a button or watching a video). And the techy things are elevated to really beautiful art in many cases (look for the creations of Ned Kahn, for example!)

Noisebridge hacker and maker space is open daily in the afternoons and evenings, and it’s basically a long running, large, donation supported and volunteer run, workshop. It is free, but cash or online donations are very much appreciated and needed! It’s a bit like going into a giant, messy, anarchic, collaborative garage. People are generally friendly, you can show up any time, and someone will give you a tour. If you feel like soldering something, or using the 3D printers, or learning a new skill, or just want a co-working space for an afternoon, this is a great spot to meet new people and hang out. Check the meetup page for classes and workshops!

San Francisco Railway Museum – this is a tiny but fabulous museum near the Ferry Building along the Embarcadero in SF. It tends to appeal to computer geeks!

Historic Ships at Hyde Street Pier – Now, this has nothing to do with computers but if you are the sort of nerd who like me, enjoys transit and infrastructure and history, you might like this very quiet park on the waterfront at Aquatic Park (avoid the Fisherman’s Wharf maelstrom). Seriously you will be the only person on some of these ships. Giant pulleys and block and tackle arrangements! Lie down in an actual ship’s bunk! You can walk onto the sailing ship Balaclutha and onto a huge paddlewheel steamship and a couple more interesting ships. Notably — the Balaclutha is wheelchair accessible, with a (very steep) ramp onto the ship, and a scary-fun lift down into the cargo hold!!!

The US Army Corps of Engineers Bay Model in Sausalito. Nerd heaven if you like this sort of thing. It’s a giant relief map of the entire Bay Area with its waterways, the size of two football fields, and you can walk around it to learn geography and history. Sadly there is no longer water flowing in it because it is now cheaper to run computer simulations of the water flow in the Bay. You can take the ferry there and walk (a fairly long walk but doable) to the Model!

Google! If you’re walking along the Embarcadero in San Francisco, the Hills Brothers Building plaza is a nice place to sit, and you can take a picture with the Google sign if that appeals to you. Coming up soon in October 2023, the Google Visitor Center will be opening up in Mountainview – maybe good to combine with a visit to the Computer History Museum!

Apple Park Visitor Center in Cupertino is an hour or so away from San Francisco by car. If you’re already down there or in San Jose and you’re a huge Apple fan then maybe it’s worth going to see. I’ve never been to it, but I see people asking about it often in the bay area subreddits.

The Intel museum in Santa Clara! If you want to read some corporate stuff about how chips are made, this is for you, but I am not sure if I actually recommend it since I’ve never been there and it seems to be mostly for school kids.

Hiller Museum of Aviation in San Carlos. If you love planes, or you kind of like them and you’re already on the Peninsula south of SF, this is a fun and cool little museum. Also great for little kids as they can run around very freely, and there’s entire sections of planes they can go into and climb around in.

More transit! Historic aircraft! Moffett Field (ie, the Bay’s own little part of NASA!) offers tours led by a docent and they have a small visitor center.

If the Mare Island shipyard museum ever opens up again, i highly recommend it because it is HUGE and super old fashioned and sort of clearly beloved by the people who used to work there and created a lot of the exhibits. They used to build nuclear submarines ! There’s a little periscope in the cockpit of an old nuclear submarine (or whatever you call the spot in a sub where there’s a periscope) that you can look up into Vallejo from!

There must be more. And there should be more! Add suggestions to the comments and I’ll add them to the post!

My high school banned books article, banned

In high school in Texas the 80s (Cypress Creek) I wrote two articles for the school newspaper that were banned.

I was just thinking about this as I looked at the totally bonkers list of books banned recently from the Katy and Cy-Fair school districts on the outskirts of Houston. Wacky Wednesday??! Yes, the Dr. Seuss book! Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret at least has a long history of being banned, though it was pretty bland, mostly about getting your period, not even anything spicy. I’m trying to imagine why Wacky Wednesday would be banned as “inappropriate for children” and failing. (Secretly about drugs?)

My first banned school newspaper article was written from interviews with kids I knew about how what drugs people were doing and how they obtained them. It’s been a while, but my memory is that most kids stole them from their parents (coke from briefcases, or for the less rich kids, weed) and others hung out with older kids and did weed or X. (Which is what we called ecstasy before it was “molly” I guess. Why is it molly?)

Since at that time I was getting in-school suspension a lot, for being kind of fucked up but also just for dumb shit like — not even making this up — “satanic symbols on my folder” – which were anarchy signs and runes that said “Ph’nglui mglw’nfah Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn! or “Cthulu lies dreaming in the ancient city of R’lyeh”. ANYWAY. I was in the nice, peaceful, quiet in-school suspension room doing my homework packets, reading, and not being bullied, and at lunch the druggie kids would tell me how they bought weed, so I wrote about it.

I got an A on the assignment and it was set to go in the student newspaper. None of us realized that the student newspaper was read over by the administration. But I found out! The extremely nice teacher let me know that I could keep my good grade but the administration would not let it go in the paper. I was so pissed.

So I wrote another article about censorship. I called various school libraries in our district, Cypress-Fairbanks, and called the superintendent of schools office and found that there were lots of banned books. They usually were banned because of something called the Committee of Concerned Citizens, which I had never heard of!

In our school library I found a lot of examples of incredibly pornographic gross romance novels, which I knew about because my super conservative friend’s super Christian mom used to read them and my friend let me borrow them. So many rape and Civil War scenes y’all, I can’t even. The books they banned included James Joyce’s Ulysses, and Lady Chatterly’s Lover. Yes, 1908s Houston, I’m sure all of us were just raring to read Ulysses and DH Lawrence.

So I wrote my article, it got an A, and then it was not allowed in the paper.

So I made an underground newspaper with both of my dumb articles in them, and some other writing I don’t remember that might not have been from me, and some badly drawn cartoons, featuring, a dead rat dead from “cafeteria food” as the assistant principal peed in a filthy school bathroom, missing the urinal (why? i don’t know, but someone drew it and it seemed edgy). This girl I knew vaguely took it and made free copies at her dad’s office and we spread the paper around and a few days later were busted. I wonder who told!

We were both actually suspended for this, but I was allowed back because if I missed my final exams I woudl flunk. I remember a tense meeting with the principal, a counselor, and someone from the superintendent’s office, and them saying, “We just want you gone. We’re letting you back so you can graduate and get out.”

Thanks y’all! Fuck you very much!!

I don’t know what happened to Elise or what her last name was or whether she got to take her finals but I hope she did!

I also wish I had a copy of that newspaper but it is long gone.

Also, check out this kid Cameron Samuels’ great speech to the Senate! “It should not have been my responsibility as a 17-year-old to defend my rights and challenge bigotry. Protecting children requires empowering us students, not allowing one or two parents to dictate the policies of an entire community.” Fantastic!

There’s worse shit to be mad at Texas about including their extreme anti choice laws and anti trans laws and trying to take kids away from their parents and not allowing trans kids to use school bathrooms but I’m also still mad about the books and the censorship! It’s all part of the same damn thing!

Fuck you very much AGAIN, you edge of Houston, kicker scum, fat faced, child molesting, golf playing, homo-hating, hick-ass Jesus lickers! I’m sure your nonsense is no better today than it was then! And I hope Wacky Wednesday bites you right on the ass.

Historic bricks from San Francisco City Hall

San Francisco’s original City Hall was built (on top of a cemetery!) starting in 1872 and finally opened in 1879, to be actually completed in 1899. (You can see some interesting photos and more history of the old City Hall on FoundSF.) Just a few years later, City Hall was destroyed in the 1906 Earthquake and Fire, collapsing in a huge pile of stone, iron, glass, wood, and brick.

ruins of SF city hall, 1906

My house was built in the late 1880s or early 1890s – though I have not pinned down the exact date, it was definitely here by 1892, built with a few other similar Italianate houses on land next to the original farmhouse on Mission Street. We’re doing some excavating under part of the house, and found some bricks marked with the letters C H in a fancy serif font:

brick marked with a C H

We looked this up hoping to find a magical database of historical brickmarker marks and YES. That exists! At least for California bricks.

Our C H brick was made in the 1870s for San Francisco’s original City Hall! It was probably in that pile of rubble in 1906 (cleaned up by 1909 according to some sources). These bricks were clearly part of a retaining wall which got covered over by some dirt, gravel, and a cobblestone patio (“Belgian brick”) at a later date.

Our bricks database lists them thusly:

Remillard Brick Company
San Rafael, Marin County, CA
1872-1878 for San Francisco City Hall

And there’s further cool info about the Remillard Brick Company from Oakland Localwiki and from Wikipedia!

We found other bricks, stamped CALIFORNIA and with round rivet-like raised dots in the corners, that were part of another layer of patio and wall that is now under the back of our house. The California Bricks database identifies them as California Brick Company and W. S. Dickey Clay Manufacturing Company, Niles and Decoto districts, Fremont and Union City, County, CA, 1913-1926.

Around that time, in 1920 or so, a future mayor of San Francisco, John F. Shelley, lived in our house with his parents and siblings. As a young man he drove a bakery delivery wagon, then went to law school, then became head of the bakery delivery wagon drivers’ union, then served in the California Senate and US House of Representatives, then became Mayor of SF.

Danny found us a quote about the C H bricks, which looks like it may be about SF City Hall. I will need to find the book to be sure of the context of the quote, but it’s from Bricks and Brickmaking: A Handbook for Historical Archaeology, by Karl Gurcke:

The initials ‘C. H.,’ impressed in the brick of which our new City Hall is built, put there to denote that they were intended for that edifice, may (should they prove to possess the lasting properties claimed for them) become to the antiquar[ians] of the remote future a source of much worriment as they labor to decipher their probable meaning.

Here we are, the antiquarians of the remote future!

Really it’s hard to express how much I love our 150 year old, C H bricks! I’ll figure out how to work them into our garden somehow after the construction project is done! For now, our back yard is turning into a sort of brick museum.

The tailor’s fall, and his daughter’s escape

In my last geneology post I wrote about Jenny Cumpsty and her daughter Jennet Dobson. Jennet married William Crane, a tailor in the town of Garstang, in 1863.

First, a quick summary of William’s life since he is central to our story.

William was born in 1841 in Pilling in a family of farmers. He was an apprentice tailor by age 17, married at age 21 in Garstang and set up his own business as a tailor there and then in Barrow-in-Furness. He and his wife Jenny had three children. After his wife died of smallpox in 1871, he lost his business as a tailor and worked in brickyards and coal mines for the rest of his life. He remarried in 1872 in Farnworth, near Bolton, and had two more children, living and working at Top o’th’ Meadows in Darcy Lever. His second wife died in 1890. He married a neighbor in 1895. He was still working as a navvy in 1911 at age 70. In 1917 William died, a widower for the 3rd time, at age 76.

The Cranes north of the Wyre

Now let’s pull back in time a bit, and look at William’s side of the family.

William’s parents were John Crane, or Craven (b. 1812) and Ellen Parker.
John Crane’s parents were John Crane (b. 1775) and Cathrine Lewtas.
Ellen Parker’s parents were William Parker and Betty Hoole. It is a bit confusing so here is a tree view:

william and jenny's direct ancestors
tree view of william crane and jennet dobson’s parents and grandparents


As a refresher, here are two maps of the area over the river Wyre. The Pilling Moss was part of a larger area of peat bogs north of the Wyre and south of Morecambe Bay. All the villages I mentioned in the last post are within about 5 miles of each other, in case that wasn’t clear. That also holds true for this post!

Overview of the area near Garstang
old map of the fylde

Detail from 1829 map showing Pilling, Stalmine, Hambleton, Out Rawcliffe, Kirkland, Garstang, Calder Vale
1829 garstang map

Preesall and Stalmine, 1775-1792

My 5th great-grandfather, John Craven, was a farmer in Stalmine, Out Rawcliffe, and Pilling. He was born in 1775 in Preesall, around the time of the Pilling Moss Bog Burst.

In 1792, at age 17, he married Catherine Lewtas in St. James Church, Stalmine. John and Catherine could both sign their own names, which surprised me!

marriage record

The Crane family in Out Rawcliffe

Some time in the 1790s, the family moved from Stalmine to Out Rawcliffe.

Their first child, Alice, was born in 1793. Their children were Betty, b. 1794; Ann, b. 1797; Richard Lewtas, b. 1798; William, b. 1800; Robert, b. 1803; Thomas Lewtas, b. 1805; Catherine, b. 1807; Matthew, b. 1809. Their son John Crane who was my direct ancestor was born in 1812, and his younger brother Henry in 1814. So, John and Henry grew up as the youngest sons in a large family of farmers and agricultural laborers.

Here’s a summary of what happened to John’s older siblings. Alice married Thomas Bimson, a tailor in Pilling and then a licensed victualler in Liverpool; after his death, she married Thomas Higginson, a farmer of 60 acres, and lived in Bradshaw Lane, Pilling. Her oldest children took Higginson’s name, married, and lived on farms next to her in Pilling. Richard Lewtas Crane ended up as a laborer in Liverpool. William became a farmer in St. Michaels on Wyre; he could not write his name. Robert became a carter, and lived with his sister Catherine and her family for most of his life. Catherine married a local farmer, Thomas Fox; she couldn’t write her name. Thomas Lewtas Crane married and was an agricultural laborer – unlike his older brothers and sisters, he was literate, signing his name to his marriage certificate.

Their mother Catherine died at age 60, in 1835.

The Crane families move to Pilling

Back to our person of concern, John Crane, William’s dad, born in 1812.

In 1841, John Crane senior is listed in the Pilling census as John Crane, age 65, farmer, living with his children Thomas, 35; Robert, 35; Henry, 24, and two young servants.

Next door to him in Pilling is John Crane, 25, agricultural laborer, with his wife Ellen and their children Matthew, Henry, and William, 3 weeks old. That’s our John Crane & his son William Crane!

Ellen Parker’s parents were William Parker and Betty Hoole. She was born in Nateby in 1814.

Ellen’s father was an agricultural laborer; both parents were from Out Rawcliffe. William’s parents were from the same area. Betty Hoole was born in Barnacre and Upper Rawcliffe in 1795. She married William when she was 15.

John married Ellen Parker in 1835 when he was 22 and she was 20. So, when we see them in the 1841 census, they have been married for 6 years, are still under 30, and have three children. John may be working on his father’s farm alongside his brothers.

In 1847, John’s father John Crane senior died.

John Crane junior moves back to Out Rawcliffe

In 1851, John and Ellen Crane are living in Out Rawcliffe with thir children Matthew, 14, agricultural laborer; Henry, 12, ditto; William, 9, ditto; John, 8, and Richard, 6 are both in school; Robert, age 1, is the youngest. William, John, and Richard were born in Pilling, while Robert was born in Out Rawcliffe, so that gives us a likely date for the family’s move, between 1845 and 1850. It would make sense that they moved after John Crane senior died, in 1847.

In 1861, John and Ellen are still in Out Rawcliffe living with Matthew, 24; Richard, 16; Robert, 11, all agricultural laborers. Their daughter Catherine, 7, is in school.

William the Tailor

Meanwhile, William Crane became an apprentice tailor with Thomas Wilkinson in Kirkland, a village or town that looks a bit larger than Out Rawcliffe, more or less a satellite town of Garstang — certainly larger than Pilling. We see him in the 1861 Census, age 19, living in the household of Thomas and Ann Wilkinson.

Unlike his older brothers and his younger brother Robert, he isn’t stuck on the farm. It would likely have cost money to buy him a place as an apprentice.

In 1863, on Feb. 4th, William married Jennet Dobson. In 1861, Jennet was a servant for the Hesketh family in Tarnacre Lane, Upper Rawcliffe — less than a mile by the road to Kirkland. Perhaps they met in Kirkland; we can imagine that he did some tailoring for the Hesketh family, but there’s no way to know. I don’t have an image for their marriage record but would love to see it to see who was literate and who witnessed.

Caroline Crane was born in Garstang, 24 November 1863. Their son John James was born in 1866 in Kirkland, (also called Churchtown). By 1869, the family had moved north across Morecambe Bay to 74 Scott St., Barrow-in-Furness, where Jane Elizabeth was born.

By 1871, from the census, William and Jennet, Tailor and Tailoress, ages 29 and 32, were living in Barrow-in-Furness at 183 Dalton Street. Caroline, 7 and John J., 5, are in school. Jane is one year old. They have two lodgers, ages 19 and 20. I get the impression that Barrow-in-Furness, then nicknamed “The English Chicago”, was a not-too-horrible industrial and port town, with a shipyard and a railroad, happily NOT located in a giant peat bog surrounded by miles of treacherous tidal sands, so it sounds like another step up in life for the Cranes. I hope their little family was happy and that Caroline had a good early life.

detail from 1871 census

Later that year, 21 August 1871, Jennet died. The family was living at 305 Dalton Street.

William the Brickmaker

First, let’s follow William after his wife’s death. He was not able to stay in Barrow-in-Furness and he lost his tailoring business. Perhaps there were crushing doctor bills. I also imagine the children were brought to live with relatives until their father found a stable situation.

In September 1872 he married Frances Ann Hardman, in Farnworth with Kearsley. William was 31. On the marriage record, he signed his own name though his wife signed with an X. His father John Crane (junior) witnessed the marriage, signing with an X, listing his occupation as a furnaceman. Frances Ann’s father was a collier, and her mother witnessed the marriage (X, her mark). William was working as a brickmaker.

william crane marriage record

William and his father John are still close physically to Pilling and Out Rawcliffe, but in time and modernity they have leapt from generations of peasantry to an urban area in the thick of the industrial revolution. Farnworth, now basically part of Bolton ie Greater Manchester, was a huge coal mining center and also the home of paper mills, iron foundries, cotton mills, and brick and tile factories. Its population more than doubled from 1851 to 1871 when it was a town of 20,000.

In 1881, William, 39, is an excavator (navvy) at 127 Ellesmere St in Farnworth. He may have worked on rail lines into the mines, dug canals, or ditched and drained the remaining peat mosses in the Farnworth area – the census doesn’t have that level of detail. He lives with his second wife Francis Ann, 33; his son John J, 15, labor in the brickworks; Jane E, 11, scholar; and Ann, 4, his daughter with Frances Ann. They have two lodgers, Thomas Fletcher, a blacksmith, and his wife Mary E. Fletcher, 29. Note those lodgers for later! And, I notice also that Jane Elizabeth is able to stay in school at the late age of 11, probably the first “scholar” over age 10 in of her ancestral tree.

Looking at this I can’t help but admire William. From a horrible tragedy, and a downward step from having a profession to doing hard physical labor in a brickworks and then a navvy around the mines and mills, he pulled his family through. He found another wife who is caring for his children, and he is able to support them. Though we don’t know anything about his personality, we can see evidence of his values and his skill in survival.

William and Frances Ann had a second child together, Henry, born in 1884. William’s father John Crane died that same year. Frances Ann died in 1890 in Bolton leaving William, at 49, once again a widower with young children.

John Crane and Ellen Parker have a marker to their memory in the Out Rawcliffe churchyard. It mentions that he was a deacon for the church for many years and it also lists Elizabeth Ellen Gardner (b. 1848 d. 1931). Maybe Elizabeth Ellen was a niece or other relative (or someone who survived her was a relative of John and Ellen, and put up the stone for them all at once.) John Crane was a farmer in Out Rawcliffe for 10 or 20 years before his children scattered and he became a furnaceman in Farnworth/Bolton.

gravestone for john crane

Map of Farnworth, turn of the century

For context, here is a 1908 map of Farnworth. You can click through on it to download it & get a higher resolution for zooming in.

large farnworth map

Caroline in the mills

We’ve seen William Crane move from Barrow-in-Furness to Farnworth & remarry in 1871-1872. By 1881 his younger children are with him. But where is his oldest daughter, Caroline, in 1881?

I found her in Great Lever, living with her uncle Henry Crane’s widow, Alice (Lowe) Crane. Alice, head of the household, age 38, is a charwoman. Her sons William 18; James, 16; John, 14; Richard, 12, are coal miners. Henry Junior, the baby, is 3 years old and god knows who takes care of him while everyone is at work. Alice’s brother William Lowe, 36, is an excavator, along with a lodger, John Hazler. Finally we come to 17 year old Caroline, Alice’s niece, Comber Tenter in a cotton mill.

Much respect to Alice who had to keep house for all these people while working outside the home herself. I like to keep in mind they were not likely to have running water so someone would have had to fetch water in buckets daily – and imagine doing the laundry for four coal mining teenage boys!

I found this definition of a comber tenter from the online version of A Dictionary of Occupational Terms Based on the Classification of Occupations used in the Census of Population, 1921. (ah,those females and their e-textiles!!)

comber (cotton) ; comb minder, comber tenter. Operates combing machine, which combs out short fibres in preparation of fine cotton yarns; guides cotton laps on to rollers, starts machine, receives combed cotton, in form of slivers, in boxes or cans, and removes cans as they are filled.

I ended up reading some stuff about the history of cotton mills, which first developed in Lancashire, and about the various roles in a mill. The combing/carding machine, basically a giant toothed roller, was invented in 1760.

Carding: the fibres are separated and then assembled into a loose strand (sliver or tow) at the conclusion of this stage.

The cotton comes off of the picking machine in laps, and is then taken to carding machines. The carders line up the fibres nicely to make them easier to spin. The carding machine consists mainly of one big roller with smaller ones surrounding it. All of the rollers are covered with small teeth, and as the cotton progresses further on the teeth get finer (i.e. closer together). The cotton leaves the carding machine in the form of a sliver; a large rope of fibres.[11]

In a wider sense carding can refer to the four processes of willowing, lapping, carding and drawing. In willowing the fibres are loosened. In lapping the dust is removed to create a flat sheet or lap of fibres; Carding itself is the combing of the tangled lap into a thick rope or sliver of 1/2 inch in diameter, it can then be optionally combed, is used to remove the shorter fibres, creating a stronger yarn.

A carding room in a mill would have been full of dangerous machinery and very fine airborne particles of cotton which caused breathing problems for many workers. Children – if Caroline worked in the mill from a younger age onward — would scuttle around under and inside the working machinery to pick up bits of lint and help keep everything running. I think that role is what “tenter” implies. I don’t have a good source for this photo but it shows a young girl taking a spool of combed cotton from a machine, I think maybe after it is drawn:

combing process in a mill

Being in the mills and mines of Lancashire in the mid 1800s meant some of the family were likely to have been in trade unions. It may be possible to find them in specific unions if I had access to those records! Rochdale (where Caroline’s future husband had roots) was an early example but by the 1850s there were huge union and mill vs. worker fights.

In Preston in 1853 mill owners locked out 20,000 workers for 36 weeks and the workers’ families began to starve. The center of industrialization was also a center for worker organizing! Perhaps Caroline Crane was able to join the Amalgamated Association of Card and Blowing Room Operatives that formed in 1886!

Caroline married Ralph Hutchinson in 1884 in Great Lever.

The Hutchinsons and Doodsons

Let’s look at Ralph Hutchinson and his ancestry. Ralph was my great-great-grandfather!

Ralph Hutchinson was born in 1866 in Kearsley. His parents were James Hutchinson and Ellen Doodson.

James Hutchinson was born in 1843 in Kearsley. His parents were Adam Hutchinson and Ann Allen, both born in Lancashire around 1800. Most of the men and boys in the family (in 1841) worked in coal mines.

Adam Hutchinson’s parents were John Hutchinson and Margaret Tonge, both born in Kearsley in the mid 1700s. My research isn’t solid enough to go further back with any certainty.

Ralph Hutchinson’s mother Ellen Doodson was born in 1842 in Kearsley. Her parents were Joseph Doodson and Mary Rawlinson.

Joseph was born in 1805 in Kearsley; Mary Rawlinson in 1801 in Rumworth. What a weirdo, not even from Kearsley!

The family may have been affected by the Preston riots of 1843, when thousands of cotton mill workers went on strike.

In 1851 Joseph was in the mines and Mary was a weaver in a cotton mill; they lived in Rayley Row with two children and a 73 year old aunt who kept the house.

In 1861, still living in Riley Row, Joseph Doodson is still in the mines at age 56, but Mary has stopped working in the mills. Their son is in the mines and they have three daughters, including 19 year old Ellen, in the cotton mills.

The American Civil War would likely have affected the family as it contributed to the Lancashire Cotton Famine from 1861-1865.

Ellen married James Hutchinson in 1864, in Farnworth with Kearsley. They were both able to sign their names. James lists his father Adam’s occupation as a carder, and Ellen’s father Joseph was a collier.

marriage record from 1864

I can’t find Ellen and James in 1871! They would have been 29 and 28, with their son Ralph around 5 and son James either not quite born or in his first year. They may have lived in Little Hulton, where James was born.

In 1881, Ellen and James are 39 and 38. They have four sons, Ralph, James, Joseph, and William, all living at 75 Primrose Lane in Kearsley. James is a coal miner, as is his 15 year old son Ralph. James, 10, and Joseph, 7, are still scholars. Ellen is notably not in the mills.

Ralph and Caroline

I am now looking at maps to think about how close Ralph Hutchinson and Caroline Crane lived and how they may have met. In 1881, Ralph was in the mines at 15, living at 75 Primrose Lane in Kearsley. His family church was St. John the Evangelist, quite close by. Caroline, in the cotton mills at 17, lived a few miles away at 22 Hall St in Great Lever. I think they may have met when Caroline’s father moved to Great Lever between 1881 and 1884.

Ralph and Caroline were married in 1884 in St. Michaels church in Great Lever. They both claim to be 20 years old, though surely Ralph was certainly lying since his birth date of 1866 is well documented. And they both list their residence as Annie Street in Great Lever, so either that’s where they were going to live when married or they may have both lived on that street and been neighbors. This seems plausible to me since other couples married on the same day have separate addresses. Ralph’s father James is listed as a collier, and Caroline’s father William Crane as a tailor — though at this point he hasn’t been a tailor since 1871; he’s been a brickmaker, an excavator, and a navvy for years. I wonder if this is a sign of his pride (or his daughter’s) in his original profession. And, I’m happy to report that both Ralph and Caroline were literate.

marriage record for ralph and caro

Ralph and Caroline’s life in Darcy Lever

In 1891, Caroline and Ralph lived at Top o’th’ Meadow in Darcy Lever.

In 1891, Ralph Hutchinson, 25, is a coal miner. Caroline (Crane) Hutchinson, 28, is a housekeeper (likely of her own house). Ellen, 5, is a scholar while Jennet, 3, and James, 11 months, are the youngest in the household. Caroline’s father William Crane, 49, widower and farm laborer, lives with them along with his son Henry Crane, 7, scholar, and Ann Ellen Crane, 3. Baby James is my great-grandfather.

Notably, they live next to several houses full of Fletchers, and a household of Norrises which included Martha Fletcher, age 49, sister in law of John Norris, a widow “living on her means”. It looks like Martha came to Darcy Lever to live with her married sister after she was widowed. You can guess why I mention her — William Crane (with his two young children, who need looking after) is on the prowl.

Caroline and Ralph in Farnworth
In 1901, Caroline, Ralph, and thir children are in Farnworth living at 12 Princess Street. Ralph, 35, is a chemical laborer. Ellen, 15, and Jane, 13, were both knotters (Knitters?) in a cotton mill; the initials G.O.P. or C.O.P were written over the entries – maybe an abbreviation for the name of the mill? James, my great-grandfather, is 10; Mary Ann, 8; Sarah, 6; John, 4.

As much as I make fun of growing up in the middle of Pilling Moss, growing up in the middle of the Farnworth gas and chemical works, cotton and steel mills, and coal mines may also have had its down sides, espeically as they were industrial works in the middle of yet another Moss — the whole area is a ginormous peat bog. (“Moses Gate”; Moses = Moss). The younger children seem to be at home or maybe in school, a bit longer, and more of the children grow up to be literate. The ones who aren’t blown up in a coal mine or dead of inhaling cotton fluff in the mills, that is.

Here is Princess Street on a 1908 map of Farnworth.

1808 map of farnworth

Ralph’s father James Hutchinson is 57 and a laborer (plasterer) in 1901. His mother Ellen is 59. William, 24, is a coal hewer. They live at 105 Brackley Street in Farnworth.

William remarries

In 1901, William, age 57, with his wife Martha (Fletcher) Crane, 59, is living in Darcy Lever, Bolton, at the same address (Top o’th’ Meadows, near Radcliffe Road and Crows Nest Road.)

He is on the same road also as James G Hardman (29) and his wife Clara, likely relatives of his late wife Frances Ann.

William is working as a carter on a farm. His son Henry, 17, is a general laborer while Ann E, 13, has no occupation listed.

James Fletcher, 24, listed as “son” is Martha’s son and William Crane’s stepson, a colliery laborer, along with their boarder William Hallows, age 50.

Next door at 407 Radcliffe Road, William’s son John J Crane, 35, a colliery engineer, lives with his wife Sarah E, 32 and their daughter Janet, 13. (Named after William’s mother, who was named after her mother and grandmother!)

About Top o’th’ Meadows

About Darcy Lever:
“The township abounded with coal, but it has practically been worked out. Several mines were worked till recently; one is still in operation. There is a cotton mill at the village.”

This 1860 description of Top o’th’ Meadows is online at

Valuable freehold estate called “BARLOWS,” or “TOP O’TH’ MEADOWS,” Situate in Darcy Lever, near Bolton. To be sold by auction by Mr. William Lomax, junr., at the house of Mr. Gillibrand, the Horse Shoe Inn, in Little Bolton, on Wednesday, the 14th day of October next, at six o’clock in the evening, subject to such conditions as will be then produced.

Lot 1. All that valuable freeshold estate called “BARLOWS” or “TOP O’TH’ MEADOWS,”, situate in Darcy Lever aforesaid, on the Highway leading from Bolton to Radcliffe, containing 14A. 3R. 30P. or thereabouts, statute measure, and comprising a good Farm House, with Two Dwelling-houses, Barns, Stables, Shippons and Gardens, adjoining or near thereto, now in the occupation of Thomas Fishwick and sub-tenants. And also FOUR COTTAGES, in the occupation of George Pickup and others, and the Mines, Minerals, and Appurtenances belonging thereto respectively. Also a ground rent of £3 a year secured on Cottages Coloured blue on the plan.

The Estate is situate within two miles from Bolton, and is connected therewith by excellent roads, and lies contiguous to the Railway from Bolton to Bury, and is half a mile from Bradley Fold Station.

There are valuable Coal Mines under and belonging to this Estate, which are let under an arrangement for a lease of ten years from 1860, at a minimum rent of £50 per annum, the Produce Rent being after the rate of £60 per foot per Cheshire acre.

I figured A is acres and R is roods, but had to look up what “P” stands for in measuring land. It is “perches” and 40 perches = 1 rood; a perch is a square rod.

Setting the scene in early 1911

In the early 1900s, Ralph’s father and mother James and Ellen died.

William Crane, Caroline’s father, wass a 69 year old widower working as a navvy laborer in Bolton, living at 551 Radcliffe Road (this is actually still Darcy Lever and I think may be either Top o’th’ Meadows or very near it.) Living with him were his son Henry Crane, 26, also a navvy; his daughter Ann Ellen Crane, 23, a charwoman; and a grandson, William Crane, age 2. They have a boarder, James Hurst, 25. James Fletcher, William’s stepson, lives two houses down on the same road.

Caroline and Ralph lived a mile or two away, at 130 Hall Lane in Farnworth. If you look on older or present day maps, Hall Lane is a main road running from Moses Gate on the north side of Farnworth, to Little Lever a mile to the east. Early in 1911, Ralph is 45, an “out of work coal miner”. Caroline is at home. Their daughter Janet, 23, is a quilt machinist in a weaving mill. James, 20, is a “side piecer for cotton spinner” in a spinning mill. Mary Ann, 18, has the occupation of “colored weaver (cotton)”. Sarah, 16, is a quilt weaver. John, 14, is a plater in the bleachworks.

Ralph and Caroline’s oldest daughter Ellen, age 25, had just married Walter Bibby, a blacksmith in December 1910. In early 1911, they are living with Walter’s widowed mother and his two younger brothers at 10 Algernon Street in Farnworth. Later, in May 1911, Ellen’s daughter Lily was born.

I’ll write more about Caroline, Ralph, and their 6 children emigrating to Rhode Island in my next post.

William Crane died in August 1917 in Bolton. His brother John Crain died in November 1917.

To sum up Caroline’s life so far:

Caroline Crane was born the oldest child of her tailor parents, in Garstang, 1863 — in the middle of the Lancashire Cotton Famine. She spent some years of her early childhood in Barrow-in-Furness north of Morecambe Bay. Her mother died of smallpox when Caroline was 7. Caroline likely went to live with her father’s brother Henry; at age 17 she was a comber in a cotton mill in Great Lever outside of Bolton. Her father had remarried and had more children — no longer a tailor, he had lost his profession and had to turn to rougher work as an excavator and navvy in the Bolton area brickworks and mines. Caroline married at age 20 to Ralph Hutchinson, a coal miner, and had 6 children with him. Her children went into the mills as teenagers, and the family lived in various locations in the Farnworth area. In 1911, at age 45 her husband lost his job as a coal miner and the family emigrated to Pawtucket, Rhode Island, in the Blackstone Valley where the U.S.’s first cotton mill was built.

Jenifa taught me

While researching my family tree I have come across some interesting characters. From just a few records over the years, I try to construct a picture of someone’s life two hundred years ago. I look up the siblings, look up the neighbors, speculate, write emails to random 4th cousins, and bring it all together with solid sources.

My grandmother Esther’s parents emigrated as teenagers with their parents and siblings around 1911, all from a very specific area of Lancashire. I’ve done some work researching each branch of her family.

Here’s a chart that shows an overview of the people I’m going to write about in my next few posts.

tree showing esther's parents and grandparents

Here’s as much as I can tell about Jenny Cumpsty, one of my 4th great-grandmothers, and her daughter Jennet, tracing them and their descendents down to people in living memory. They’re the great-grandmother & grandmother of Caroline Crane from the chart above.

From studying Jenny’s family a bit further back and further onwards, it’s clear she was right on the cusp of the family’s transition from a life of agricultural labor, out in the sticks, to one of industrial work centered around growing urban areas.

For many generations, this branch of the family lived in The Fylde – an area just north of Preston, east of Blackpool, and west of Garstang – This is north of what is now Greater Manchester, south of Morecambe Bay. The land is mostly a peat bog, a lot of it below sea level.

old map of the fylde

relief map of The Fylde

Most of this branch of family were from Pilling and Stalmine. There was not even a road to Pilling until 1806. Just to set the scene, let’s read a bit about the famous Bog Burst of 1745 and the general feeling of this area of The Fylde, north of the Wyre River — Cockerham Moss.

The Pilling Moss Bog Burst of 1745 involved the eruption of the raised mire now known as Rawcliffe Moss, following a period of exceptional rain, but was probably also due to human activity, both from long-term peat-digging and also because of more recent land drainage and improvement for agriculture. More than 40 hectares of farmland were inundated, in places covered in peat up to five metres deep. Property was damaged, but no casualties were reported. Enclosure and drainage after 1830 have ensured that nothing similar can happen again.

The mosses, mosslands or raised mires of lowland Lancashire have always been a noteworthy aspect of the local landscape, in the literature often carrying more than a hint of menace. Thus William Camden [in 1637] wrote of the presence in Lancashire of ‘certaine moist places and unwholsome called Mosses’
– from The Pilling Moss Bog Burst of 1745, William D. Shannon, Contrebis 2018 v36.

Charles de Rance, a geologist, reported in the 1870s that a local proverb said, ‘Pilling Moss, like God’s grace, is boundless’. He adds, ‘this area is very thinly inhabited, and those who live in the area are, I am informed, often subject to idiotcy and rheumatism’.

The folk of Pilling, near Cockersand Abbey, had the legal right for many centuries to take stone from an outcropping in the sands just offshore, Wet Arse Scar; this right came into dispute in 1808.

Histories of the area north of the Wyre are mostly lists of the architectural features of its churches, and heraldry of the families who owned the land on which my ancestors were hapless peasants grubbing in the mud in their clogs and smocks.

Jenny was born in May 1804 in Mains in the parish of Kirkham to James, a husbandman, and his wife Sarah Kea (Key, or Kaye). (Perhaps a distant relative of John Kay who invented the flying shuttle!) Jenny was christened 17 Jun 1804 in the parish church at Poulton le Fylde (St. Chad’s).

Her father was born in Stalmine, and her mother in Hambleton. Mains, (or Maynes, or Means) Hall was a manor in Singleton which had been owned by the Hesketh family. It is in Kirkham parish, just west of Singleton and east of Poulton-le-Feeylde — right across the Wyre river from Hambleton. Jenny’s family may have been tenants on Hesketh land. Oats, barley, potatoes, and wheat were grown in this area; there were also dairy cows and sheep.

The following paragraph is from a history of a village a few miles south, on the Ribble River, describing farming families overlooking a busy road on the weekend. Though the area is not exactly correct — a more populated towns south of the Wyre — and there wasn’t a major road near Jenny’s family, I like the picture it draws of the farmers of the Fylde in their aprons and clogs.

Farming families used to stand en masse in their fields, adjoining the main road, getting their entertainment from the constant stream of traffic passing through the village at weekends, dressed in their hessian ‘Brats’ (sacking aprons) and clogs. The ‘grannies’ wore beautifully made cotton sun bonnets, intricately tucked, generally heliotrope colour and most becoming!

Another history of village life in The Fylde says,

The flat Fylde landscape was a desolate and remote area in early history and remained visited by few outsiders until the arrival of the railway. There are still vivid memories among the older inhabitants of collies sent north by rail from Welsh farms to start work on the Fylde and of calves wrapped in sacks with just their head protruding and bearing a forwarding address label.

The River Wyre, which dissects the Fylde, was a barrier between the communities of this small piece of coastal flatland but occasionally families did move across the river boundary.

During Mr Lee’s research he heard of a family who made every effort to ensure their children were safe during the hazardous journey across the tidal reaches of the River Wyre.

“They put their children into milk churns to make sure they were sufficiently immobilised to keep them safe and prevent them from falling overboard!” says Mr Lee.

Mains, Kirkham Parish

Back to our young family and Jenny’s birth in 1804 in Mains.

Jenny was the third of eight children. It seems likely she was named after her mother’s mother, Jennet Walker of Hambleton. Her name is sometimes listed as Jane, Jain, Jennet, or Jenny; surname Cumpsty, Compsty, or Compstive. In the image of her christening record below, you can find Jenny listed on the right, 5th entry down.

christening records, 1804

The British Census began in 1801, but all I have currently are birth, marriage, and death records for the early years of Jenny’s life. Still, we can construct something of a picture of her home life from her siblings’ births, and imagine her growing up as part of this large farming family.

In 1810, Jenny was 6 years old. Her older brother John was 11; her sister Alice was 8. Younger siblings were Richard, 4, and Peggy, the baby.

In 1816, Jenny was 12. John was 17, Alice, 14. Her younger siblings were Richard, 10; Peggy, 6; Sarah, 3; and James, the baby.


In 1820 Jenny was 16 years old. Her younger siblings were Richard, 14; Peggy, 10; Sarah, 7, James, 4, and Henry, the baby. The older children were born in Mains, while Henry was born in Hambleton.

It looks to me as if the family all moved to Hambleton between 1816 and 1820, perhaps to be near Jenny’s mother, Sarah Key’s, family. Enclosure was starting to affect more of The Fylde as landowners drained, fenced, and marled the peat bogs. But I don’t know why they left Mains. If I look look at which of their relatives were in Hambleton at that time, from birth, christening, marriage, and burial records, it may give clues, so I’ll try that later.

A little tidbit about Hambleton:

Dr. Charles Leigh of Singleton, writing about 1700, states that the River Wyre ‘affords us a pearl fishing, which are frequently found in large mussels, called by the inhabitants Hambleton Hookins, from their manner of taking them, which is done by plucking them from their skeers or beds with hooks.

detail map showing mains

In 1821 her oldest brother John married Nancy Green. They had a son, Richard, in 1823.

In 1824-1825, Peggy, James, and Henry died in Hambleton. Perhaps it was cholera. Whatever happened with the family that moved them across the Wyre to Hambleton, it may not have been a positive change, since within 5 years of their move, several of the younger children died. It must have been a grim time for 20 year old Jenny Cumpsty, spinster. And when she is called a spinster, it seems likely she literally was spinning by hand since the region was known for its textile production.


In June 1825, at age 25, Jenny married William Dobson of Stalmine, Moss Side. Stalmine was (and is) a small village on the Wyre river just north of Hambleton. The “moss side” was to the east of the village, away from the river and the port, and closer to the wild lands of the peat bog — here, the Pilling Moss. In the 1820s, enclosure and drainage of the Moss continued, which meant that more and more of the land & its resources that had been in common use by nearby villagers was now owned, managed, and rented as private property.

A local detail: “A curious wooden track of split oak trees laid on birchwood scrub, known as Kate’s Pad or the Dane’s Pad, crosses the moss. Pollen tests have established that it pre-dates Roman times. Farmers have dug up trees of 50 ft in length.”

stalmine map detail

Jenny and William’s marriage was in Kirkham parish (not sure exactly where). Grace Compstive was a witness, likely one of Jenny’s relatives. The other witness was William Fairclough. Neither Jenny nor William could write their names – same with their witnesses – you can see their names are all in the curate’s handwriting, with “X – his mark” or “X – her mark”.

Jenny and William had three children, John, James, and William. They lived in Stalmine Moss Side. I have not found any evidence of William’s profession.

In April 1835, Jenny’s husband William died. She was left widowed with an infant and two small children under age 6.

In October 1837, banns were read for Jenny’s marriage to John Charnley, a 40 year old lath cleaver — and widower — in Stalmine. However, John and Jenny did not marry. Jenny was born 9 months after the initial banns were read, and her sister Sarah 18 months later.

Four months after Sarah’s birth, in 1841, John Charnley married Nancy Wilson. What a cad!

Later in their lives, both Sarah and Jenny used William Dobson’s last name, like their older siblings.

Jenny Cumpsty was listed in the 1841 Census under her birth name, as a 35 year widow living in Hambleton with her 5 small children, John, James, William, Jennet, and Sarah. Jenny’s occupation is simply listed as “Pauper”.

Notice in the census record that she lived near to James Roskell and his family. And William Fairclough, who witnessed her first marriage, was another neighbor.

Out Rawcliffe

detail map rawcliffe

In 1850 Jenny married John Roskell, older brother of her neighbor James. John was a widower with children, a blacksmith in Out Rawcliffe. He also owned a small farm, and could write his name.

We can see Jenny in the 1851 Census, now married, living in Out Rawcliffe with her husband the blacksmith, her stepson Robart, 15 and an apprentice to his father; her new 5 month old baby John; her youngest daughter Sarah Dobson (really daughter of John Charnley and born out of wedlock.)

In 1851, Jenny’s older daughter Jennet Dobson, my 3rd great-grandmother, was 12, working as a house servant for a family in Nether Wyresdale. We’ll come back to Jennet, but for now let’s stick with her mother.

In 1861, Jenny and her husband John Roskell the blacksmith were now 60 and 57 years old, still lived in Out Rawcliffe. Sarah, Jenny’s daughter, still lived with them at age 20, along with her half brother John, age 10, still in school. Jenny’s mother Sarah Cumpsty, age 87, also lived with them.

Now it gets upsetting. In Feb. 1862, John Roskell was imprisoned in Preston for 9 months for “carnally knowing a girl above the age of 10 years and below the age of 12 years”. He died in 1862.

What did Jenny do to survive? What happened to Sarah, and to John Roskell junior, still a child?

(I looked – And John worked as an agricultural laborer on nearby farms until his marriage in 1877 – his daughter Elizabeth gone in 1881 to live with her uncle, Jenny Cumpsty’s son William Dobson – and I see John Roskell in the 1901 census back on a farm as an unmarried servant, a cattleman. Because of his father’s imprisonment and death, he didn’t have the chance to become a blacksmith like his older brothers did.)

Jenny’s mother Sarah Cumpsty died in 1864, age 90.

In 1868 Jenny married Sylvester Tomlinson in Garstang. Clearly, she could get it. She died shortly after, aged 64.

I see her as a tough survivor of tough times.


Back to Jenny’s daughter Jennet Dobson, my 3rd great-grandmother.

Jennet must have had a difficult childhood, as an illegitimate daughter of an impoverished widow in a small village. When her mother remarried in 1850, Jennet was 11 or 12, and she may have already been in service.

By 1851, at age 12, Jennet Dobson was in service for a farm family in Nether Wyresdale. That was probably a good thing, since her new stepdad John Roskell ended up convicted of being a child molester. The household where Jennet worked (Burn’s Farm) consisted of John Burn, 41, farmer of 104 acres; Ellenore Burn, 36; John Walker, 18, farm servant; Jane Dobson, 12, house servant; Ann Burn, 5, scholar; Jane Burn, 9 months. I picture them as a modestly well off small family with two young children, able to hire and support two extra workers in their household.

Ten years later, Jennet is working for what looks like a more wealthy family, the Heskeths of Upper Rawcliffe With Tarnacre, at Tarnacre Lane. That household was Thomas Hesketh, 74, “Farmer”; his son James, 33 and wife Emma, and their two young daughters. They had 4 servants, Jennet as the “house servant”, two 19 year old men and a 14 year old boy.

In 1863, Jennet married William Crane, a tailor, in Garstang. I’d like to see the parish record of that marriage to find out who stood up as witnesses for the young couple. That may give some clue to how they met.

10 years later, in the 1871 census, Jennet, 32, is listed as a tailoress, so likely worked with her husband. Caroline, 7, and John J., 5, are in school and they have a 1 year old sister Jane E. (I have seen her in some family trees as June Elizabeth). They lived in Barrow-on-Furness.

Caroline and John were born in Garstang, while Jane was born in Barrow-on-Furness. In 1871, the family had three lodgers, Richard (Houdan), 20, laborer; Isaac Ireland, 19; and John Eastham, 31.

Jennet died of smallpox later in 1871, leaving three children under 10.

This information about smallpox comes from my 4th cousin & fellow researcher Janette from Farnworth, who found it on Jennet’s death certificate. She also adds that William and Jennet moved to Barrow-in-Furness shortly after the railway was built across Morecambe Bay, enabling relatively easy transport. Thanks Janette!

I hope Jennet Dobson Crane had a happy life as a young wife, mother, and tailoress from 1863-1871, after her difficult youth. She got the hell out of the Moss lands of Over Wyre, a place that sounded entirely too Moist, even if now the little bits of it that remain are lovely nature preserves. Good work Jennet, rest in peace!

It is hard to picture what would then have happened to Jennet’s young children, including Caroline. Maybe they went to live with their grandfather or other relatives – a few years later she is living with her father’s sister. This crisis may have motivated changes that meant a year later William has moved to a bigger town (Farnworth) and is working as a brickmaker. He and his sons worked in coal mines and Caroline in the cotton mills around Farnworth and Darcy Lever. As I’ll trace in my next post, Caroline and family came to the U.S. to work in the cotton mills of Rhode Island.

There is a lot to say about the mid-1850s cotton mill industry in Lancashire, and the coal mines – I hope to go into some of those details!

Caroline was my grandmother’s grandmother and though she died before I was born, it’s interesting to trace these echoes of her past.

Here she is in 1942 with her son James Hutchinson, her granddaughter (my great-aunt Gladys), and a great-grandson. They came a long way from their ancestral lands of The Fylde!

caroline crane

Mixed trashy and nifty reading, lately

Sometime in mid-December I paused on the J.D. Robb “In Death” binge read and moved on to cozier fields: detective novels by M.C. Beaton (aka Marion Chesney), who died in December 2019. I read the complete Agatha Raisin series, easily plowing through 2 in an evening, and am now up to book 25 in the Hamish Mcbeth series. Hamish has a Scottish wildcat, a dog with oddly blue eyes, a once-per-book longing for a cigarette even though he quit, and about 5 ex-girlfriends who all happen to show up at once for him to feel conflicted about as he discovers dead bodies. As a nice touch, he sometimes reads an amazingly exotic U.S. detective novel where everyone has guns and there are lots of high speed car chases.

In between ridiculous mystery novels, I read The Story of the Mongols Whom We Call Tartars by Giovanni Caprini, which was excellent and all too short. It’s an Italian ambassador’s account of his 13th century visit to Mongolia. He met Batu Khan and Güyük Khan, describing the journey and customs of the people he met, and rounded off the book with strategic advice on how to fight the Mongols. (Right at one of those turning points dear to writers of alternate histories as, if Ogedei Khan hadn’t died just about then, Batu would likely have overrun Europe.)

As a chaser I’m reading Ibn Fadlan and the Land of Darkness: Arab Travellers in the Far North. It’s a collection of travel narratives by Muslim writers from the 9th century to about the 14th and it’s also pretty great. There’s no way for this not to be interesting and I love a primary source SO MUCH no matter what.

Ibn Fadlan‘s story describes his 9th century journey through Kazakhstan and then up the Volga to the far north where he meets the Rus, at least writes about the Samoyedi, and describes a Viking (Varangian) ship burial.

The next section of the book promises to be good as it’s an excerpt from Abu Hamid al-Garnati’s Wonders of the World where he goes to the land of the Bulgurs and writes enthusiastically about how cool beaver dams are. I look forward to his complaints about the food, the cold, the 20 hours of darkness per day, and how gross it is when people eat their own lice.

I also have William Cobbett’s Rural Rides going in the background, as it’s perfect for when I wake up at 3am and don’t want something with a compelling plot, so I can fall back asleep in the middle. It’s just Cobbett riding around Sussex or somewhere describing the scenery (which when I look it up, no matter how dramatically he describes it, it just looks like gentle, boring hills; Hawkley Hangar, I’m looking at you) and enthusing about the soil quality, how early you can harvest the corn (ie barley/wheat) or the turnips and swedes and also continuing his obsession with anyone who plaits straw for hats. Notable in recent middle of the night hallucinatory Cobbett memories, he had whooping cough and to cure it, rode all day and most of the night in the freezing rain with his shirt off, somewhere in the South Downs. Best sort of book as you can congratulate yourself on being in a warm, dry bed, totally not riding around England with whooping cough.

Jouissance and a sense of agency

Morning reading: Introduction to Hacking Diversity: The Politics of Inclusion in Open Technology Cultures by Christina Dunbar-Hester. This is going to be fun since everyone I know is quoted in it (often pseudonymously) But no quotes from me (I think) as during the interview phase I was having some sort of major health flare-up. And if there’s ever a book where I should be obscurely in the footnotes somewhere it’s this one!

Though “diversity in tech” discourse is emanating from many quarters in our current historical moment, it is important that the mandate of open-technology cultures is not identical to that of industry and higher education. Here, the reasons for engagement with technology nominally include experiencing jouissance and a sense of agency. This is experienced through, yet not reducible to, community members’ engagement with technology. If we tease apart the emancipatory politics from the technical engagement, we find that the calls for inclusion and for reframing power relations are not only about technical domains; rather, they are about agency, equity, and self-determination at individual and collective levels.

At that “jouissance” sentence I felt my heart sing and I felt so seen. Yes! This bodes well for the entire book’s understanding of our feelings and our context. So many histories leave out crucial things like love and fun and joy. Why have I fucked around with computers my whole life? Because love and happiness is why. They’re exciting, the Internet is still like a dream to me, the access to information and the possibilities of unfiltered/unmediated publishing or production, and consumption, still holds so much hope. Because I (we) like it that’s why. Like Mole seeing the Water Rat’s boat for the first time,

The Rat said nothing, but stooped and unfastened a rope and hauled on it; then lightly stepped into a little boat which the Mole had not observed. It was painted blue outside and white within, and was just the size for two animals; and the Mole’s whole heart went out to it at once, even though he did not yet fully understand its uses.

We still don’t, of course.

Also good, everything in this chapter about collectivity. *heart eyes emoji*

I met a fabulous storyteller

This afternoon I was sweeping up leaves from the sidewalk when an old guy stopped to remark on how he thought it was a pretty house. He lives around the block on Santa Marina and has lived there since 1952 and in 1960 he nearly bought this house but his wife didn’t like it. We continued chatting.

I mentioned the history of the house as an earthquake shack. He told me how he moved here in 1947, worked 6 days a week very long hours and earned 14 dollars a week, but that was very quickly enough to buy a house. His house was $9500 and soon he had enough money to buy a second house. And he’ll tell me something about it! We settled onto the sidewalk bench which I built specially for people to rest there when going up the hill, and I was prepared for pretty much anything at this point, because he was charming and rather intense. The story went something like this:

The house is at 18th and Church, in a little, in a little street near there,
“In the alley by the Mission? Mission Dolores!”
Yes, yes! You know! The Mission. The cemetery there.
“Yes I’ve been to the cemetery, it’s very strange, and sad, they enslaved people, a lot of people died”
Yes that’s right. The indigenous people died there. They’re in the cemetery. Anyway, in the 50s, 60s, I’m under the house, it’s, I’m on my knees, it’s very small,
“In the crawlspace?”
Yes! I’m crawling under there, I’m digging, it’s very dark, with the electrician, who is of Caucasian descent, European descent. And it’s very dark. He screams! He gives out a big scream! Then silence. Nothing.
“Did he find bones?”
No, no bones, I crawl around, I’m yelling Davy! Davy! That was his name. Davy (Scheule?) He was of European descent. And he fell down a big fucking hole!
“Oh my god!”
It is the well from the mission, Under my house! My house is built in 1750, and they don’t cover up the well!
Anyway, he was down the well, very far! I got out and got someone else, he brought a light. And we got him out of the well. It was very hard, and it took a long time. We got him out.
“Did he die?”
No, he was ok. And I tell a guy from the city! He’s of caucasian descent, this man. He comes, himself, with a crew, and he goes, himself, under the house! And he makes a stairway with the rope, a —
“A rope ladder?”
Yes, a ladder with the rope, then he goes down into the well, himself. And he comes up and has something, maybe, gold, but he says it’s his because he found it. I told him he can’t come back any more because I’m mad he took the things from the well! And, he reports me to the city because the house has no foundation.
“OMG. Coins? Money? What was it?”
I don’t know. Maybe money from 1900s, but older, it would be something else! So then I am building the foundation. I find the bricks, bricks put out for like to walk to the well, from the Mission. It’s a path to the well. Then I’m digging, I’m putting cement. And I dig these big wooden, like this, but big (indicating a 2 foot by two foot square beam) this big, from here, to that door (like 10 feet or so)
Yes, big beams, of wood, very solid, very good, under the ground for 100 years. And then I find more of them, I dig them out. What they’re for I don’t know.
Then I sell them, someone buys this wood for one thousand dollars! I don’t know why. I know things, not the things like this, but I know to fish, to grow, to build things. I’m not of European descent, I’m indigenous. So, I don’t know why they buy the wood, back then. What they do with it. I don’t let them go under the house any more.
“So, did you sell the house?”
No, I still have it.
“OK!!!!! So!!!!! Can I go down the well? Wow you are a really good storyteller! ”


Then he gave me his card, in case I need advice in building or getting city permits which he’s great at because he’s been doing it for 50 years. We shook hands several times and I thanked him for the fantastic story!!! How did he know I love local history.

I have such good luck with random encounters and I want to be friends with this cool dude now. He is 86! And still contracting (with his son).

I guess all the houses right there around the Mission Dolores must be on top of some amazing stuff and archeologists have likely poked at it over the years!

Derailed by my free bookshelf

Someone put a faded booklet on my free bookshelf called “The Hope Slide Story” by Frank W. Anderson (Frontier Book No. 12). Looks like maybe the mid 60s though there is no date. The back of the booklet lists some great stuff in the series – Murder on the Plains! The Lost Lemon Mine! Regina’s Terrible Tornado! Reminds me of stuff I used to unearth in the basements of various libraries I worked in, in the 80s.

I settled in just now to eat dinner over this book. It starts out introducing its innocent victims or survivors, not sure which are which yet; they’re farmers, truckers, factory workers. I assume something dramatic is going to happen to these trucks. Are these Russian names? What’s up with that? Then I hit,

During the disturbances of 1953 in the Kootenays, Mary Kalmakoff had been one of the 103 Doukhobor children taken by the government and put in a special dormitory opened at New Denver. She was then in Grade 3. . . . On February 28th, 1958, 5 days after her 15th birthday, Mary left the New Denver internment camp and returned to her parents.”

I had to stop and look this up. What disturbances? Doukhobar?

So, Ukranian/Georgian/Russian Christian pacfist sect who believe in communal living and who emigrated in an enormous swoop to Saskatchewan where they formed special communal homesteads and, while non violent, were strangely into sectarian fighting via midnight arson. The Freedomites (Svobodniki or Sons of Freedom) also seemed to be into nude protest marches against the Community and Independent Doukhobors. Unclear who was bombing whom and why but a lot of it seemed to be protest against the government. They were still bombing railway bridges while naked in 1961…. wow. Well, I guess I’d bomb things naked too if they took my kids off to a prison camp and called it “Operation Snatch”. How horrible! But, they were originally marching naked to protest being given land that was too cold for crops (and other issues, like not wanting to sign a loyalty oath or register births and deaths, and I think also over not wanting to split their communities to register individually for land ownership.)

The Hope Slide Story certainly breezed right past this bit of history in its rush to bring together the cast of characters on the highway, “unaware that somehwere on the dark road ahead a yellow convertible, a hay truck and an oil tanker were rapidly moving towards a tragic rendezvous with fate.”

Very fried from a long day at work, I’m going to chill out with this amazing booklet and look everything up as I go.



I’m back just a few pages later as there was another breezy mention of the Japanese internment camp prisoners “evacuated from the coastal cities” forced to build the very road the Hope Slide is about to slide down on top of. Why do Canadians have a reputation of being “nice” again?

Further update: The Japanese prisoners also were brought out to do some woodland firefighting.

SILENT HELL: Uh oh. the yellow convertible has run into a small snowslide about 15 feet high that went across the highway. The oil tanker guy, Stephanishin, is walking over there with his 6 volt lamp. I love this book! Then, a new chapter: SILENT HELL. Seismographs jump in distant laboratories! Explanation of the hillside and its 60 million cubic yards of dirt, rocks, snow, and trees, hanging above the heads of the innocent 4 people below!
They all go to warm up in the oil tanker. The hay truck guy pulls up and hangs out under the avalanche some more! The young guys try to go free the convertible. I think they are toast. I would not be messing with that baby avalanche! Its mama might come next!

OMG now a whole Greyhound bus. Another bus! Uh oh. They are going to go have a look at that yellow convertible. But Bernie, Mary, Dennis, and Thomas the hay bale truck driver were still alive at this point, in the oil tanker with the motor running for heat.

The landslide has now swooshed past and then splashed backwards lifting up the trucks and carrying them away.

An hour later everyone else shows up and starts to realize how big the slide was. Search and Rescue to the rescue! A helicopter arrives! A mountie dog named Prince! They built up the rescue a lot but only pulled out one dead body and never found the others. THE END.