Dinah Mulock’s ‘Olive’ and the Potteries

The United Methodist, 12th August 1929 had a summary of a paper by local historian Thomas Pape, of a paper on local Potteries novelist Dinah Mulock (daughter of Bryon’s notorious ‘Muley Moloch’)…

This reveals another Potteries novel new to me. Her second novel, Olive (1850) was one of those sweeping sentimental mid-Victorian three-volume melodramas that in this case, as the article alerts, depicted Newcastle-under-Lyme as ‘Oldchurch’. It has a baby girl born in a gloomy Scotland with a “shoulder deformity” and “curvature of the spine”, “not pretty” and she is rather hidden-away as “a pale, deformed child”. But her father dies and as a young child she moves to England and to the brighter ‘Oldchurch’, where she gradually becomes aware that she is unlike other girls…

[Her new home in the Potteries is] The old hall, seated on a rising ground, and commanding views which were really beautiful in their way, considering that Merivale [Hall, Oldchurch] was on the verge of a manufacturing district, bounded by pastoral and moorland country. Those strange furnace-fires, which rose up at dusk from the earth, and gleamed all around the horizon, like red fiery eyes open all night long, how mysteriously did they haunt the imaginative child! Then the town, Oldchurch, how in her after-life it grew distinct from all other towns, like a place seen in a dream, so real and yet so unreal! There was its castle-hill, a little island within a large pool, which had once been a real fortress and moat. […] there was a curious fascination about Oldchurch. In the cloudy memories of her childhood it rose up, as she used to go there with Elspie [her nurse], at far distant intervals. The two great wide streets, High-street and Broad-street, intersecting one another in the form of a cross: the two churches — the Old Church, gloomy, and Norman, with its ghostly graveyard; and the New Church, shining white amidst a pleasant garden-cemetery, beneath one of whose flower-beds her baby-brother lay. The two shops, the only ones she ever visited, the confectioner’s, where she stood to watch the yearly fair, and the bookseller’s, whither she dragged her nurse on any excuse, that she might pore over its incalculable treasures. [She dwelt there for] “those seven years of childhood, in a little Eden of her own.

Later she is old enough to attend a town ball, and this event starts to reveal her future situation if she were to stay in “prying, gossiping Oldchurch”…

Olive had never in her life before been at an orthodox ‘private ball’, with chalked floors, rout seats, and a regular band. She was quite dazzled by the transformation thus effected in the Derwents’ large, rarely-used dining-room, where [as a child] she had had many a merry game with little Eobert and Lyle. It was perfect fairy-land. The young damsels of Oldchurch — haughty boarding-school belles — whom she had always rather feared, when [her friend] Sara’s hospitality brought her in contact with them — were now grown into perfect court beauties. She was quite alarmed by their dignity, and they scarce noticed poor little Olive at all.

But she strives to overcome her disability and becomes an artist, moving to London.

I also discover that Dinah Mulock had four early fantasy tales for young children, “Little Lizzie and the Fairies”; “Sunny Hair’s Dream”; “The Young Ship-Carver”; “Arndt’s Night Underground”. All placed and published just after she had herself moved from the Potteries to London. Her “Arndt’s Night Underground” can be found in good form in Tales of wonder; a fourth fairy book (1909). It seems unlikely that they have any dashes of Potteries background, judging by the generic setting of “Arndt’s Night Underground”. Still, they’re in the public domain and they might be written or re-told so as to include local colour and placenames.

‘Sunny days are here again…’

Fascinating. After about 1972 the cumulative effects of the UK’s Clean Air Acts and central-heating installations probably had a nice side-effect… they gave the Midlands significantly more sunlight in winter and on sunny autumn days. The sun became able to cut through what had before been man-made fug and smoke and haze…

Since 1929… “significant changes [in total sunlight hours] occurred in the winter season, when there has been an increase in sunshine of about 20% for central and northern England. Sunshine has also increased in these areas by about 10% in autumn.”

“These increases could be a result of the Clean Air Acts of 1956 onwards, which has led to a decrease in air pollution.”

So, 20% more sunlight reaching the ground in winter by 2004, because the winter coal-fires were no longer burning in millions of homes. And it may well have ticked up by a further 5% in 2005-2020, though that’s my guess rather than the Met Office’s figures.

The upward inflection point in sunniness starts around 1972 for the Midlands, according to an accompanying graph. That’s about right, 1970-72 being the point when many middle-class people had central-heating installed and turned the old coal-shed into an outside loo for the garden. Then there was another burst of central-heating installation when Mrs Thatcher gave people the right-to-buy their rented homes in the mid 1980s.

Average surface temperatures also then nudged up slightly, in tandem with the increased sunlight. I imagine that the effects were especially pronounced in somewhere like Stoke-on-Trent. It might then be an interesting historical exercise to see if the change can be tracked on the ground, in the data at the city-region level in the Potteries, and if the sunniness effect was actually greater in Stoke-on-Trent. That assumes, however, that the data still exists in its original state.

Source: National Climate Information Centre Climate Memorandum No. 21, 2006, UK Met Office. Using a data-set that ran to 2004.