Saturday, May 02, 2009

Vue pres des Sables de Lancaster

It was Michelle’s fortieth again not so long back. (I’ve lost count of how many times she’s turned forty now.) Fortunately she’s not a difficult person to buy for. Anything remotely connected to local history or made out of chocolate and she’s satisfied. That’s why this original 1787 print of Lancaster Sands caught her eye. (I’m not going to mention how much it cost. Let’s just say there’ll be somebody round to collect my kidney some time soon.)

Apparently it’s quite a famous print, not least because it was ‘etched’ before both Canada and Australia were even twinkles in the British Government’s eye. It’s so famous in fact the Government Art Collection actually owns a colour copy of it. Want to see it? Thought you might:

If I’d have coloured it in I’d have added a lot more purples and sunflower yellows and stuff, because you just can’t make these pictures colourful enough in my opinion. The fact that the government owns a copy means that we can now furnish you with a few facts about it. As we’ve said already, it was drawn up in 1787. The artist was Francis Wheatley and the engraver was William Ellis.
All right…perhaps the word ‘few’ was a bit optimistic there.
We conducted a wider search and came up with a selection of further facts about Francis Wheatley. Apparently he was an English painter, born in Covent Garden, London in 1747. He studied at the Royal Academy, eloped to Ireland with his mate’s wife, where he painted the interior of the Irish House of Commons, as shown below.

He painted several pictures for the Shakespeare Gallery before kicking the bucket in 1801, and so on and so forth. It might be best to look him up on Wikipedia if you’re actually interested.
Presumably our print was part of a book, because there was a second piece of paper included with the package that contained the following information:

That’s written in French, that is. French, in case you’re wondering, is a foreign language from one of these third world countries where they haven’t learned to speak English yet. I’m not sure why it was written in French. The fact that the print originates from the Napoleonic era only adds to the speculation. However, I’m not particularly conversant with the language. Ask me about what Jean was up to in the jardin avec Claude and I might be able to tell you, but other than that brief flashback to school I’m at a loss. Fortunately the Internet is littered with French-English translators nowadays, some better than others. Our first attempt was a bit disappointing:
Whereas the road frequently under little blacks waits the Irish pop group of miles eight, was always look Russian danger mouse, she isn’t point as it once etoit, because these little blacks are strong.
I was watching the news the other night with the subtitles on and, presumably, they employ the same translator because the phrase ‘the little owl’s head nestling in the woman’s bosom’ stuck in my mind. I wouldn’t mind but the item was about a car factory closure in Salford.
Anyhow, we found a better translator and managed to narrow matters down a bit (although, it has to be said, it was still far from perfect). Here’s what our second attempt read:
View near the sands of Lancaster. Although road traffic on the sands during the course of eight miles, was always regarded as dangerous, it is not so much a present as it once étoit, because these sands are strengthened, and that is providing for guides that have been established there, at certain times, to drive travelers, there comes rarely bad accident. Some people avoient plans to enclorre these sands and to clear the terrein, by diverting the course of Ken and a few other less notable rivers which have their mouth in the sea, and met, for a channel, its waters a riveiere those of the Moon, near the city of Lancaster. If we execute this plan was the vast quantity of water received qu'auroit this channel, auroit provides a considerable advantage to the entrepreneurs of this project, and lack of n'auroit not make the transition a lot of other ports more and more convenient.
Now, if you actually bothered to read all that – and I can’t blame you if you didn’t -- you’ll have noticed that some of the words haven’t translated at all. It took us a while before we realised that in the same way English in the 1780’s was subject to its own little foibles, so was French. I’d always assumed that, because the French have ‘guardians of the language’ their grammar and stuff isn’t as open as much to corruption as English. Obviously I was wrong.
After several hours struggling to find the past participle of the ‘Old French’ auroit, we suddenly realised that we’d been wasting our time. There was, in fact, an English translation on the reverse side of the sheet. (Which just goes to show that it’s always best to take these things out of their bags before trying to investigate them)
Want to see it? You might as well…

It appears there were big ambitions back in those days to enclose Morecambe Bay and channel the Lune and the Kent (referred to as the Ken in the 18th Century) for reasons best known to those who were planning such matters. This idea rose again during the 19th century when Stephenson proposed something similar with regard to running his railway across the sands. That would have been a huge undertaking in either century, and it makes you wonder just how different our landscape would have been today without the bay to punctuate it. Fleetwood probably wouldn’t have existed, for a start, other than as an isolated council estate with a motorway thundering through it towards the city of Preesall.
Imagine that! No Morecambe Bay! Thankfully it never happened, so we’ll end with a photograph of our beloved bay as seen from Fleetwood, grateful, for once, that the lofty ambitions of capitalist adventurers didn’t get their way:


Ann oDyne said...

Mais oui I read all that Franglais and a fine post it was too, fine gift aussi.
D'ya think that while the artist was at work, Capt Phillip sailed past on his way to raise the Union flag at Botany Bay in 1788?

Brian Hughes said...


If he did he was heading in the wrong direction.

John said...

Wow, imagine that even back then they was mucking about with stuff. I guess our forefathers were an ambitious lot, with all these grand plans. As you said, a pretty large undertaking. Then again, there are lots of precedents, from the pyramids to Boston. Boston was once a lot smaller until the city planners decided to stop throwing garbage in the swamps around the city, and just cover them all over with lots and lots of dirt, making the city much larger, and a lot more fragrant.

Funny that, about the English being on the back of hte card. At least you learned a bit of French from your mistake, although I'm not sure the language is still in use today, except by the perfume industry.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Brian Hughes said...

"At least you learned a bit of French from your mistake..."

Mais qui, toot sweets.

John said...

Hey, you watch what you say!

Brian Hughes said...

Pourquoi changer les habitudes d'une vie?

Jayne said...

Nice print, very pretty :)
Morecambe Bay could double as Port Phillip Bay...decent sand, spiky grass and boats listing to starboard...

WV= kardifi...the Welsh strike again :P

Brian Hughes said...


It's actually a bit of a death trap is Morecambe Bay. There are quik-sands out there and the only way to cross it when the tide is out is by employing a sand-pilot. Claimed many a life it has. Perhaps as well they didn't go ahead with their plans, really.

WV=SANGISHI (sounds exotic and foreign that, doesn't it?)

F.G. Marshall-Stacks said...

about as exotic as a sushi sandwich?

(made from Morecombe Bay catch of course)

Brian Hughes said...


I wouldn't eat anything that came out of Morecambe Bay raw. Burnt to a cinder would probably be safer.

John said...

Anxiously awaiting new post.

Hop to it, Old Man!

JOHN :0)

wv = Thuctal. Isn't that the name of the viking that discovered Yorkshire?

Brian Hughes said...


No...that was Letza Leevergern.