Umbrellas, stories and history

I am investigating the history of umbrellas and umbrella making for a story I am writing; you may have read some of my other stories here set in an imaginary museum housed in an imaginary abandoned umbrella factory. I don’t know how this idea started, or what triggered it – it may have been in one of my Radwinter genealogical mysteries, when my character Thomas Radwinter discovered an ancestor of his worked in one.

Umbrella making is an ancient craft, and started in countries where sun was more of a problem than rain, so I guess they were parasols! Maybe it was in Egypt, maybe in China, for the purposes of my story I will have to investigate further; however I did find a rather lovely story of how umbrella making started in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand; a Buddhist monk went wandering and settled near a village in Burma. One of the villagers gave him the gift of an umbrella having noticed the monk struggling with the elements. The man had made it himself, and the monk discovered it was useful for too much sun and too much rain. The monk was intrigued by this and went farther into Burma to find out more about umbrella making. Having learnt how it was done, a complicated process involving mulberry bark, oil and saa paper (also made from mulberry bark). men and women were involved and had different task in the process. The monk was impressed, and when he returned to his home temple, he started the local people also making umbrellas.

If you want to read more, here is the link – I’m sure you will enjoy it:

http://www.chiangmai-chiangrai.com/umbrella_making_history.html

Umbrella making is as I mentioned, an ancient craft, maybe as old as three thousand years! Umbrella making in Europe, and in the UK is much more recent, maybe only three hundred years!

Here is a great old video of umbrella making in 1952:

http://www.britishpathe.com/video/umbrella-making

If you want to dead about Thomas Radwinter’s connections with umbrella making, then here is a link to my Amazon page – you can now buy the e-books as a bundle:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-5-Book-Series/dp/B072HTG366/ref=sr_1_13?ie=UTF8&qid=1496743340&sr=8-13&keywords=Lois+elsden

 

And some more from the Umbrella Factory Museum

I’m sure my two different stories from the Easthope and area local history Museum, known as the Umbrella museum because it’s situated in what was an old nineteenth century umbrella factory, will come together at some point and make something longer, maybe a novel… Maybe I could use these ideas for Nanowrimo – the national Novel Writing Challenge this year. (it’s an online challenge to write 50,000 words of a new novel in the month of November)

The first strand of story is total fiction, a youngish man, David, becomes friendly with someone sharing his house who works at the museum; the curator, Malcolm, is  rather eccentric and David and the other house-mates are intrigued by him.

The second strand is totally different but also involves someone who works at the museum, Darius; Darius is happily married with three young children and he doesn’t realise that certain members of a book-club who meet in one of the public areas of the museum by the little café are fascinated by him – he’s young, virile, good-looking, and some of the ladies of a certain age always have an eye on him. he would be embarrassed if he knew!

This is the next part of the Malcolm story-line… but it may need quite a bit of rewriting!

A visit to the museum

After that it seemed that I bumped into Malcolm more frequently, and I actually began to wonder if he coincided coming out of his room when he heard me on the landing. We exchanged the usual sort of ‘all right, mate?’ ‘glad that rain’s stopped’ sort of pleasantries which made me feel like my granddad – I’d be talking about pruning the roses or the price of petrol next!

Then one day for no reason – or maybe I actually thought that maybe he was a bit lonely, I asked him if he wanted a cup of coffee – I’d had an excruciatingly tedious day at work and needed caffeine. I wanted to dump my things and go straight back downstairs again for coffee then maybe a beer and chill with the others.

He thanked me as if I’d offered him something much more exciting – what a dull life he must lead. I said did he want to come down, or… but he said, yes, he’d come down… and so the pair of us went downstairs. I made coffee for everyone who was home, mentally thanking our landlord for the dishwasher as I found mugs. Coffee made and distributed, I slumped onto the settee, and he perched on the edge and I could see that the others wanted to make some crack, but restrained themselves. They restrained themselves until he finished his coffee and thanked me and went back to his room.

“Your new best friend, Dave!” Adam said and we had a laugh then turned on the telly to watch the footie while we decided which pizza to get from Domino’s.

***

 I suppose you might call it a quirk of fate – well you might, but actually I wouldn’t… it’s one of the things granddad would be more likely to say in one of his old stories… I’ve heard them all so often I could almost join in with the telling, but I never mind, he’s my granddad and that’s what granddad’s are for… anyway, quirk of fate or whatever, my boss asked me to drop something off at the local history museum, as it was ‘on my way home’. Well, actually, no it wasn’t.

I did think about just giving it to Malcolm when I saw him later, but no, the boss wanted it there tonight. I said the museum wouldn’t be open, but yes it would; his cousin was giving a talk on the buffalo of the Great Plains, and it was his cousin I had to deliver the package to.

I thought it would be mean not to say hello to my new friend Malcolm. I handed the big buff envelope to the boss’s cousin who  looked nothing like him, especially as he was actually dressed as a Native American, complete with  war paint. He asked me if i would stay for the talk, but regretfully I had a prior appointment… I didn’t say it was an appointment with the quiz team in the Lark.  I asked a museum person where I might find Malcolm and he directed me to the ‘stores’ where Malcolm was getting out the artefacts.

I was about to knock on the door when it flung open as I had my hand still up in the air. Malcolm looked astonished to see me.

“David! Thank goodness! I don’t l know what to do!”

He dragged me into the store-room. I was rather overwhelmed by the amount of objects in piles, in heaps, on tables, under tables, dusty and seemingly neglected, but he pulled me through a short passageway into a back room, more ‘artefacts’, probably junk to my ignorant eye, presided over by the sadly benign head of a buffalo, yes an actual buffalo – or is it a bison?

It was huge, absolutely massive, and a sort of grey colour… It was obviously dust, but in my imagination it was not just the musty motes from the museum store-room, but from the prairies of the Wild West.

It somehow didn’t look real, rather fluffy, its glass eyes dull… they needed polishing, but wouldn’t it be rather creepy, polishing a bison’s eyes, or is it a buffalo. I remember we did a project in history about the American west and all the things which could be made from the buffalo…

But my meandering thoughts about buffaloes and bison came to an abrupt and shocking full stop as I saw what Malcolm was pointing at. He had grabbed my arm and I could feel him trembling and was pointing with his other hand…

“It’s Margaret!” he exclaimed, a catch in his voice.

I’d never know what she looked like, no-one would ever see her face again. I’d not noticed her, transfixed by the dusty bison; she lay to the side of the room, what appeared to be a tomahawk in her hand, but her head, well, her head or what was left of it was beneath a squat but massive totem pole, and a rather nasty puddle of something pooled beneath her.

“Good grief…” I said.

What they did…

My friend and historian, Andrew Simpson has very kindly allowed me to guest blog on his site about the history of Chorlton-cum-Hardy. This is what I wrote for him last week:

Looking back at old records to find out about past lives is so exciting! Some people researching their family history, just seem to want dates, they want to know how far back they can trace their family… I’m not so much interested in the how-far-back, I’m more interested in trying to get a little glimpse into the lives of my ancestors.

In my novel ‘Radwinter’, a genealogical mystery, I have based the detail for what my character found out about his family tree on what you can actually find in a search of the censuses records. Census were conducted every ten years since 1841, but they are accessible on-line only up until the census of  1911. These are now quite easily available through a variety of family history web-sites. You can travel into your family’s lives without even leaving home!

In my novel, Thomas Radwinter finds that from 1851 until the end of the century, several of his fore-fathers were employed in the brick industry; making bricks, laying bricks, building with bricks, and eventually managing a brick factory. My character is a fiction but the boom in brick making really happened.

Bricks have been made for thousands of years, and made roughly in the same way, clay shaped or moulded into bricks and left to dry then baked in a kiln. From medieval times, wherever there was clay, there were brick works. These were small-scale and local, and the bricks were usually made only as and when they were needed.

My character Thomas Radwinter looks at the 1851 census returns for Bletchingley in Surrey where his ancestor was living and is amazed at the number of people who were involved in one way or another with bricks… He wonders why, and soon discovers that a new industrialised process has been discovered to make better, harder, cheaper bricks. The middle of the nineteenth century was boom time for industrialisation, and boom time for brick making. Improved transport systems including the network of canals, enabled clay to be moved about the country away from the clay pits to wherever the factory was and with the new more scientific process millions and millions of bricks were made.

I found out so much about bricks, just because of my interest in looking into family history, but that wasn’t all. Another person in Thomas’s family tree worked for an umbrella maker. I found some umbrella makers when I was researching in the census returns and I went on to look at umbrella making in the nineteenth century; the revolution for making them came when steel was used instead of whalebone, and when a way of folding an umbrella was devised by a French purse-maker…

Researching family history for me is more than just names and dates; it’s fascinating to imagine people’s lives before ours, whether they were in the brick industry or worked in an umbrella factory. This for me is where a family tree really bears fruit!

http://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/when-reality-becomes-fiction-continuing.html

If you are interested in reading my novel, Radwinter, you can find it here:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-Lois-Elsden-ebook/dp/B00IFG1SNO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1395182156&sr=8-1&keywords=lois+elsden