Sunday, September 18, 2011

Cost of cotton

In the 19th century homespun wollen and linen clothing began to be replaced with clothes made with manufactured cotton. Calico was attractive not only because it was light to wear and colourful but also because it was cheap. There was however, a dark side to the cotton industry.

To keep the cost of cotton down growers used the labour of slaves and manufacturers used the labour of children. The environment suffered as well. Mills belched smoke into the atmosphere and dye works changed the colour of waterways. Land devoted to growing cotton did not produce food.

Cotton is still cheap to buy and although we no longer use slaves to work the fields of children in the spinning mills the price is kept artifically low. What would a tshirt cost if cotton growers paid decent wages to their labourers and a realistic price for the water used to produce the crop. What would it cost if we bore the cost of environmental damage caused by the chemical cocktail necessary to keep pests at bay? The answer is probably too much to keep jeans and tshirts being the universal clothing they at present.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Hello world. This is a blog about the past using the technology of today. Future blogs will be about  social history, the history of photography and of food. Sometimes these strands will weave together and at others they will unravel and lead off in different directions. I hope to share interesting facts, recipes, pictures and the odd opinion.

This week I have made the acquaintance of an extraordinary woman. Not in person because she died in 1842 aged just 44. She was a superwoman who packed a great deal into her short life. Her name was Eliza Maria Gordon Cummings. She had 13 children but found time to pursue wide artistic and scientific interests.

She was an early geologist whose collection of fish fossils helped get the science of geology underway. The collection has endured and is distributed among several museums. Eliza was also interested in plants. She designed the gardens at her home at Altyre House, experimented with cross breeding and built up a collection of botanical specimens.

Although Eliza lived at Altyre in Morayshire, Scotland after her marriage to Sir William Gordon Cummings she had an active social life both in Scotland and in London. The journey to London, either by sea or overland from Morayshire in the early 19th century was arduous particularly as Eliza would almost always have been pregnant when she made it.

In addition to all of this Eliza also found time to paint which she did with some skill. At least 2 of her daughters inherited her artistic talent. Her youngest daughter Constance Fredericka travelled extensively and recorded her travels in China, India, Fiji, New Zealand and California in water colours and in a series of books. Her son Roualeyn travelled extensively in Africa.

I was very please to make the acquaintance of this inpiring woman.