‘Utopian Realism’ is an exploration of rural utopianism, idealism and industrialism in the North East of England and Mid Wales by the artists Mair Hughes and Bridget Kennedy.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Conversations with Mr Sopwith

Thomas Sopwith was a very well connected man, he was a member of just about every single society going. Although he became chief mine agent for WB Lead in 1845 and relocated to Allenheads, made sure he had enough time to pursue his numerous other interests and travelled regularly to London. He invited some of the great thinkers and doers of his time up to Allenheads, one of whom was Michael Faraday an eminent natural philosopher (chemist and physicist). To give you an idea of Faraday's importance in the history of science Albert Einstein kept a photo of Faraday on his wall next to a picture of Isaac Newton.

One of the things I am particularly interested in within my artistic practice is the idea of a sense of place. I find the extract below from Sopwith's diary wonderfully evocative. He talks of taking Faraday for a walk round Byerhope Dam, one of the many reservoirs in Allenheads which were constructed in order to service the lead mines.

" In the evening we walked and talked — a long walk and a long talk — to Byerhope Reservoir, and in the garden. Seated at the end of Byerhope Reservoir, the conversation turned on subjects which I had at that very place once discussed with Robert Stephenson, and it is a pleasing memory ever to associate with that spot that it has been the scene of philosophical disquisitions, in which the minds of Faraday and Stephenson were freely opened on some of the most curious and wonderful problems which philosophy has ever disclosed. If I mention that at this place and on this occasion Faraday unfolded in a clear, perspicuous manner his views respecting centres of force, the undulations of light, the difficulties surrounding the received theory of atoms, and other similar matters, it will be readily understood how full of deep and engrossing interest such a conversation must have been”.

Faraday was developing his research into electro magnetism, a process which must have seemed truely magical at the time. Sopwith was also very good friends with William Armstrong and Robert Stephenson both of whom he took for walks around Byerhope. Armstrong was developing ways of producing electricity by harnessing the power of water. He demonstrated this to Sopwith and Sopwith noted in his diary:

“The hair or fingers held in the jet of steam are brightly illumed with electrical light, and the effects are not less beautiful than curious, new, and important."

The photograph posted below was taken from the location around the dam that Sopwith describes in his diary, looking out over Killhope (the hill in the distance). I get a bit of a buzz thinking about all of this taking place within view of my sitting room.

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