Three capped, standing muscular men, each
clad in a blue work shirt, dominate the central portion of this composition.
Heavy animal skin aprons are wrapped around their waists, covering their
lower torsos. Their arms are raised and each is lifting a black hammer.
To their right and partially obscured, a fourth manalso clad in a
blue work shirt and capbends down and appears to be busy at work as
well. The most central of these standing workmen faces the viewer allowing
us to see a determined face and large, tense muscles as he swings the hammer.
The surrounding images crowd the picture plane illustrating
various activities. To the right of the working figures, a furnace burns
brightly with red and yellow flames. Beneath the furnace, dark heavy objects
are silhouetted against a lighter background. A newspaper is draped over
a broad sheet of drawings that appear to be illustrating parts of machinery.
In the left foreground a young girl sits on a horizontal rounded object
holding a wrapped parcel and book. As she faces the viewer directly, we
have an opportunity to see her loose fitting clothing and angelic face.
Behind her, a young boy stands facing the activity that fills the left-hand
portion of the canvas. In his left hand he holds what appears to be a slightly
curled rope. A lamp is in his right hand.
Activities on and around a dock create vertical
emphasis to balance the workmen and fiery furnace. The illustrated figures
below are in a reduced perspective, and are busy with their activities.
Masted, as well as steam vessels appear dockside. On the extreme left, a
tall black pipe (with a red band to balance the furnace) spews smoke over
the dockside activities. Two arched bridges cross the river. The lower bridge
appears heavier and denser, the higher bridge lighter due to the openings
in between the vertical bars. A steam engine crosses the taller bridge,
partially obscured by the activity in the right hand side of the canvas.
A subdued tall chimneystack in the upper left-hand corner spews additional
smoke into the cloud filled sky.
This image was one of a series of eight panels commissioned by the Trevelyan
family to decorate the enclosed central courtyard of Wallington Hall.
Depicting the activities of Tyneside in Northumberland, the activity of
this painting is set in an engineering workshop where three muscular 'strikers'
are hammering out molten iron. The mechanical drawing in the lower right
hand corner illustrates a steam engine built by Robert Stephenson and
Co., Engineers, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, an example of which crosses Stephenson's
high-level iron bridge in the background. Presumably, the black steam
pipe on the left is of the same manufacturer.
The little girl in the left foreground
holds her father's lunch and a schoolbook. The appearance of a workers'
child illustrates a workers' virtues: providing work for his family (the
child appears to be well fed and looked after) as she too provides for
her father. Education for the children of the working class is shown through
the child's schoolbook. The young boy is a pit boy and is carrying a whip
and a Davy safety lamp. The dock scene that he gazes down at shows activities
of fishermen, a milk girl (note the milk pail being carried on her head)
and a photographer.
A coal barge passes on the river (beneath
the heavy lower bridge). Coal, a major aspect of Northumberland life,
is glorified in this composition. The product (coal on the barge) and
the process (hammering molten metals from a furnace powered by coal) yield
the glorification of modern life in mid 19th century England. The technical
achievements are illustrated as well: the steam engine, the iron bridge,
the guns and machinery of war (anchor and marine air pump - lower right).
Recognition of the good that the new technology achieved (an upper class
perspective) is illustrated by a well-dressed and educated youngster in
the foreground of the composition, facing the viewer. All positive aspects
are summed up in the caption that is not pictured: "In the Nineteenth
Century the Northumbrians show the World what can be done with Iron and
is a steam carriage?
A. A carriage provided with a steam engine, which is made to turn the
Q. What is a steam boat?
A. A ship provided with a steam engine, the force of which turns the
wheels that act on the water like the oars of a boat.
What is a McAdamized road?
A. A road formed of small stones of uniform size and weight, so as to
bind together in a smooth road.
How fast is the conveyance by each of these means?
A. By a steam vessel, twelve or fifteen miles an hour; by a steam carriage
on a rail-road, thirty to sixty miles
and by a stage coach on
a McAdamized road, eight or nine miles.
First or Mother's Catechism, 1856
there is something else we miss; there is the poetry of the things about
us: our railways, factories, mines, roaring cities, steam vessels, and
the endless novelties and wonders produced every day; which if they
were found only in the thousand and One Nights, or in any poem classical
or romantic, would be glorified over without end; for as the majority
of us know not a bit more about them, but merely their names, we keep
up the same mystery, the main thing required for the surprise of imagination.
Savage (Frederick George Stephens) in The Germ