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'Glories of the Mine': Coal and the Transformation of West Cumberland

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


Invited talk at BARS 2022: My paper takes its title from a line in John Dalton’s Descriptive Poem, Addressed to Two Ladies, at their Return from Viewing the Mines Near Whitehaven (1755). Whitehaven, in Dalton’s day, was the principal port of the county of Cumberland. The town was linked with the Lake District by strong social and economic ties. Dalton’s poem reflects these links. It includes an account of the Lake District’s scenery. But the poem is mainly concerned with Whitehaven’s coal mines. Those mines were among the industrial wonders of the age. They drew visitors from both sides of the Atlantic, many of whom, like Benjamin Franklin, also toured the Lake District. The commerce the mines stimulated, moreover, resulted in people being brought to Whitehaven from around the world, including Africa and the West Indies. By the late 1700s, the town had a multicultural population, and its surroundings were transformed by the effects of coal-fuelled heavy industries. Dalton’s celebration of such carbon capitalism sits oddly with received ideas about the fashionable literature of the Lake District during the Hanoverian age. My paper explores this disjunction and argues for the need to recognise the pivotal role coal played in the social, economic and cultural development of Whitehaven and the Lake District, with a focus on the last decades of the eighteenth century.

External organisation (Academic)

NameBritish Association for Romantic Studies
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom