The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

The Washington Family Coat-of-Arms Stone at St Oswald’s Church, Warton, Lancashire

Washington coat of arms, Warton Church by Karl & Ali (Geograph).

NGR: SD 49819 72316. On Main Street at the southwest side of Warton village, near Lancaster, Lanca-shire, is the 14th Century church of St Oswald, and housed inside is a heavily-worn stone plaque or shield which used to show the Washington family’s Coat-of-Arms; this very worn stone has become a place of pilgrimage for visiting American tourists. The stone was originally on the outer (west) wall of the church-tower, but because of the vulnerability to the carving from weather-related erosion in 1955 it had to be placed on the tower wall inside the church, and now has a glass cover over it. This, then, (the) Washington Family Coat-of-Arms is generally believed to be the source of the ‘Stars and Stripes’ emblem of the United States flag. Robert de Washington was (of a branch of the Washingtons of County Durham) and he settled in Westmorland in the late 15th Century, and later owned land at Warton.  It was from this branch of the Washington family that George Washington was descended.  Robert de Washington of Warton was a generous benefactor to the village church and also had the stone plaque   or shield placed on the exterior tower wall. 

Washington shield at Warton Church, Lancs.

Sydney Moorhouse (1958) says that: “Here, on the outside of the western wall of the fifteenth century tower is a stone shield greatly worn by the weather, displaying the armorial bearings of the Washington family — “Arg. 2 bars, Gul, 3 mullions of the 2nd, with crescent for difference” which according to Lucus, the Warton historian of the early eighteenth century, ‘“is a plain indication that this family, ancient and yet creditable in the town, where the Rev. Laurence Washington has a good estate, have been largerly contributory towards the building of this fabric”’. It is generally believed that this coat of arms was the source of the Stars and Stripes emblem of the United States.

“The Washingtons originated from a small village named Wessington, in County Durham, and even to-day there are Old Washington and Washington marked on the maps of that county. A branch of the family settled in Westmorland and eventually came into the possession of lands around Kendal and in the vicinity of Warton. It was from the branch that George Washington was descended.

“Towards the end of the fifteenth century, one Robert de Washington, according to Mr. T. Pape’s excellent little publi-   cation on ‘“George Washington’s Ancestors and Their Memorials in England”’, held the lordship of Tewitfield in the    Manor of Warton by Knights Service and fivepence yearly instead of doing his duty at Lancaster. This same man owned fifteen burgages in Warton and ‘“in all probability the Washington Coat of Arms carved in stone on the outer western wall of Warton Church tower was a record of this Robert Washington’s generosity in the building of a Church”’.

Moorhouse goes on to say that: “It was the grandson of this Robert Washington who married a member of the Kitson family, who had large estates in Northamptonshire, and his son Laurence left Warton in the reign of Henry VIII for Northamp-tonshire and later settled at Sulgrave Manor. These were the ancestors of the illustrious George. Need I continue the story? I do so to show that the line of ancestry is unbroken and quote from a description of Sulgrave in ‘“English Country Houses”’ by Ralph Dutton and Angus Holden:

‘“Laurence Washington died in 1584 and was buried in the parish church. He was succeeded by his son       Robert, who in 1610 sold the Manor to his nephew, Laurence Makepeace.  It was in 1657, during the Commonwealth, that John Washington, great-grandson of Robert, sailed to America and settled at           Bridges Creek, Virginia, where the famous great-grandson, George Washington, was born in 1732.”’

“Although the main branch gravitated to Northamptonshire, some Washingtons remained in Warton until just over a century ago. Lucas refers to one in his History. The last was Thomas, who was vicar from 1799 to 1823 and is buried there. 

Maxwell Fraser (Miss) writing in 1939, says: “There is a closer link with America at Warton, about a mile from Carnforth which, although not actually in the Lake District, is within easy reach of Grange, either across the sands, or by the road round the head of the estuary. There was a branch of the Washington family settled at Warton centuries ago, and the arms of Robert Washington were carved on the tower of Warton church, where they are now protected from the ravages of weather and tourists by a sheet of glass. Lawrence Washington left Warton in the reign of Henry VIII for Northampton, and later settled at Sulgrave, but a branch of the family remained at Warton, and Thomas, the last of the Warton Washingtons, was vicar from 1799 to 1823 and is buried there.”

Miss Fraser adds that in St Martin’s church at Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria: “………every American visitor is attracted by the stained-glass panels in the east window (top) which show the arms of the Washington family.” This would be the crest/shield of George Washington, who became the 1st President of the United States of America in 1789, and whose ancestor one John Washington of Warton, had it placed here in the 15th Century.

And, finally, Pevsner (1979) tells us more about Warton church, saying: “St Oswald. The oldest evidence is early C14: the S chapel Sedilia (pre-1300?), the s arcade, if it represents original evidence (it is C19), and a S aisle window. Perp W tower, chancel, and N arcade . — In one PEW set-in shields — from older bench ends? — TWO BENCH ENDS, dated 1571 and 1612, are in the vestry.* — FONT. The base is typical of 1661, its date in the one elementary geometrical pattern. Also dated 1661 the lead interior, and this has much finer, indeed very delicate, patterns. — PLATE. Unmarked Chalice; Paten of 1716 by S.L.; Flagon inscribed 1802.”

Sources / References & Related Websites:-

Fraser, Maxwell (Miss), Companion Into Lakeland, Methuen & Co. Ltd., London, (Second Edition) 1939.

Moorhouse, Sydney, Twenty Miles around Morecambe Bay — a Guide To Local Beauty Spots & How To Reach Them, The Morecambe Bay Printers Ltd., (Fourth Edition) 1958.

Pevsner, Nikolaus, The Buildings of England — North Lancashire, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex, (Reprint) 1979.

Photo (top) by Karl & Ali:,_Lancaster

More info here:

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2020.



The Flasby Hall Iron-Age Sword, Near Skipton, North Yorkshire

Flasby Hall Iron-Age sword and scabbard in The Craven Museum.

NGR: SD 942 563. In 1848 a well-preserved late Iron-Age sword and scabbard were dug up in the grounds of Flasby Hall, near Skipton, North Yorkshire. This ancient antiquity was said to date from the 1st Century AD. The Victorian edifice of Flasby Hall, dating from about 1843, is a couple of miles to the northeast of Eshton and some 3 miles to the southeast of Winterburn. It is thought that the iron sword belonged to a Celtic warrior or chieftain of the Brigantean tribe who lived at a nearby settlement, possibly the one at Sharp Haw, and around the time when the Roman army was marching north and eastwards through the Dales in order to consolidate their grip on the north of England and, ‘put down’ the Brigantes tribe, who had held sway here. But did this Celtic warrior bury his sword here in order to retrieve it at a later time? or was it just thrown into a pit maybe as an offering to some pagan god? That we will probably never know.

The sword and its scabbard were kept for many years at Flasby Hall by Captain Preston, but then in more recent times it was donated to The Craven Museum, Skipton, where it is still on display in a glass cabinet along with the Malham Pipe (flute) from the Seaty Hill tumulus, and also a Celtic stone-head. According to the ‘Out of Oblivion’ website’ “The scabbard is made from beaten and cast copper alloy, lined with wood and is decorated in typical ‘celtic’ style. The sword itself is of iron. Such a sword would have been the prized possession of a local Iron Age warrior and an important symbol of his status. It is similar to several others found in the area occupied by the tribe known as the Brigantes.” See ‘Out of Oblivion’ and ‘Wikipedia’ websites, below.

Sources & References:-

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.

Rieve Edge Cross, Thursden Valley, Lancashire

Rieve Edge Cross above Thursden Valley.

NGR: SD 9076 3457. Rieve Edge is a steep hill overlooking Thursden Valley at the north side of Extwistle Moor, in Lancashire. At its summit is an outcrop of Gritstone rocks with more rock debris on its lower flank, down as far as the Pennine Bridleway, which skirts the lower side of this hill. On one of the large flat rocks on the lower slope of Rieve Edge there is a large carved cross which is “possibly” Medieval, or could it be more recent? And on another rock a bit further up the hill there is a carving of a head with a helmet and some letters; this particular carving being more recent though. There don’t appear to be any prehistoric carvings on the rock outcrop though there are erosion-related holes in some of the rocks. There is a stone with a single cup-mark beside the bridleway. No designated footpath goes up to Rieve Edge from Ridehalgh Lane, in Thursden Valley, so it’s just a case of climbing up the steep hillside with the rock outcrop up ahead of you, but it’s worth the climb just for the views!

Carved head on stone at Rieve Edge, above Thursden Valley.

The crude cross that is carved onto a large flat stone about a quarter of the way up Rieve Edge is what’s referred to as a “Potent” style cross and is similar to the St Chad’s Cross, although their designs are slightly different. Could this cross have been carved by monks from either Whalley abbey or Sawley abbey and, could it mark the extent of their lands, the boundaries of their monastic estates? However, we don’t know when the cross was carved though it could be late Medieval, or maybe more recent? And was it carved by a Whalley monk, or a pilgrim making his way to the abbey? There is another similar cross carved on a rock further up Ridehalgh Lane, although it’s very faint. Going further up the slope of Rieve Edge there is another curious carving on a rock of a helmeted, mustachioed head (probably a knight) with the letters ‘BR’ above. This carving is obviously quite recent in date, but why it was carved, and what it signifies is anyone’s guess. The name “Rieve” as in the context of ‘Rieve Edge’ is taken to mean “a bank of snow”, which sounds about right, but it can mean a few other things too.

Sources / References:-

Post, W. Ellwood, Saints Signs And Symbols, (Second Edition), SPCK, London & Morehouse-Barlow Co, 1974.

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.

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The Written Stone, Grimsargh Near Longridge, Lancashire

The Written Stone at Grimsargh, near Longridge, Lancashire.

OS Grid Reference: SD 62622 37892. At the northern end of Written Stone Lane at Grimsargh, near Longridge, Lancashire, is a very curious and mysterious stone slab, with an even stranger inscribed message carved onto it and the name Ralph Radcliffe (1655), although this very large lump of gritstone might be much older. This inscribed stone, known locally as ‘The Written Stone’, stands at the side of the lane close by the entrance to Written Stone Farm, originally called Cottam House. It became known as ‘the cursed stone’ after very strange and ghostly happenings took place when the farmer decided to try and move it, but he had to return the stone to its original position when ‘all hell let loose’, according to the legend. To reach this site from the east side of Longridge: head onto the B6243 for a couple of miles in the direction of Hurst Green. Passing the two Spade Mill reservoirs on your left continue for a short distance, then take the next (left) turning up Written Stone Lane; the stone is in the bank beside the entrance to Written Stone farm, on the left-hand side.

The Written Stone is a huge long lump of sandstone measuring 9 feet in length, 2 feet wide and 18 inches in depth, and is said to weigh several tonnes. There is a long inscription along the side of the stone in large letters dating back to the mid-17th Century. The message reads: RAVFFE: RADCLIFFE: LAID: THIS STONE TO LYE: FOR: EVER: A.D. 1655. It is, according to the legend, said that a terrible murder was committed here. The victim of this murder began to plague the conspirators – the Radcliffe family – who lived at Cottam House. Several members of Ralph Radcliffe’s family began to die in strange circumstances as if they were cursed in some way. In the hope of atoning for this terrible murder Mr Radcliffe had a large stone carved and an inscription written onto it; the hope being, perhaps, that the restless spirit would be calmed. But travelers going along the lane, which local people called Boggart Lane, began to report strange happenings – loud screeching sounds, bumps and bangs, ghostly appari-tions, people being pinched and their clothing being messed about with. All this was simply put down to a poltegiest trying to cause trouble.

The Written Stone is a long slab of gritstone with an inscription carved on its side.

Many years later when the Radcliffe family had moved away from Cottam House its new tenant decided to try and move the large stone so that he could put it into use as a “buttery stone” in his dairy. However moving the stone proved very difficult. It took six horses and many local people to actually move it. But during the removal a number of persons were injured and much noise seemed to eminate from the stone itself. When the said stone was finally moved to its new resting place the problems continued – anything placed upon it just fell off or was thrown off by unseen hands. During that first night “all hell let loose”, with loud bangs and clatterings, and other horrid noises. The next morning the farmer decided he’d had enough and the six horses and local folk were asked to move the stone back to its original site but, oddly enough this time only one horse was required – the stone almost moving of its own accord – seemingly the demonic spirit was eager to get back from whence it came and, from that day onwards the stone has not been moved or touched, according to the Legend. So peace and quiet returned to the country lane. Today, people walking past the stone seem unaware of its terrible history, but I wonder whether anyone dares to touch the stone or get too close to it. Let it be ‘a warning’ to anybody who might even consider trying to move, or take the stone away, from its “place of eternal rest” and, if you do, be ready for the consequences, or not.

Janet & Colin Bord (1980) tell about a doctor riding his horse along Written Stone Lane: “Late one night he was riding past the Written Stone…….when his horse became hysterical, and took off at a gallop, only stopping two miles further on. The doctor must have been feeling especially bold, for, despite this adventure, he decided to return to the Written Stone and face whatever had  frightened the horse. He rode up to the stone and issued a challenge, whereupon, in the words of Kathleen Eyre, describing the encounter in her Lancashire Legends, a shapeless mass materialized, seized him, plucked him from the saddle and almost squeezed the breath from his body. As soon as he was able, the doctor left the spot at a gallop.”

In recent times it has been suggested by a few people that the ‘Written Stone’ was brought down from the fell where it had perhaps been a standing stone, or that maybe it had once formed part of a stone circle, and as such it might have been a pagan altar-stone. Another theory is that it could possibly lay on the site of an earlier standing stone, according to Janet & Colin Bord (1980). I have heard it said that it might actually be an outlier. But from which stone circle did it come? as there are no such ancient monuments like that anywhere near here, so it must have travelled some distance. Written Stone Lane, also known as Boggart Lane, forms part of, or intersects with, a Roman road that links the forts of Ribchester and Lancaster.

The British Listed Buildings (BLB) Source ID number is:- 1147440. See Link below.

Sources/references and related websites:-

Bord, Janet & Colin, The Secret Country — More Mysterious Britain, Granada Publishing Limited, St Alban’s, Herts, 1980.

Dixon, John & Phillip, Journeys Through Brigantia, Volume Nine, The Ribble Valley, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1993.

Fields, Kenneth, Lancashire Magic & Mystery, Sigma Leisure, Wilmslow, Cheshire, 1998.

Howarth, Ken, Ghosts, Traditions & Legends of Old Lancashire, Sigma Leisure, Wilmslow, Cheshire, 1993.

Written Stone Lane

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.






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Medieval Stone Carving In Marsden Park, Marsden, West Yorkshire

The Laycock Memorial in Marsden Park by Humphrey Bolton (Wikimedia)

   OS Grid Reference: SE 05080 11474. At the base of a memorial to the Lancashire poet Samuel Laycock in Marsden Park at Marsden, 8 miles southwest of Huddersfield, west Yorkshire, there is  a curious carved stone, which has been called  ‘Celtic’  by local historians down the years. It is strangely carved with elements of nature that do indeed seem to be “Celtic” in origin. However, the stone is more likely to be late medieval. But where did this curious carved stone come from? No one seems to know. Maybe it came from some Medieval church or priory (though there is no record of that), or from some sacred grove beside a riverbank. The monument was actually set up to commemorate the Lancashire dialect poet Samuel Laycock (1826-93) who was born in Marsden, but his poetry was mostly about Lancashire and the ‘hardships’ of the Cotton Industry. Laycock died in Blackpool, Lancashire. The monument with its curious carved stone stand close by the bandstand in Marsden Park near Carrs Road. So just head for the bandstand and the monument is on the other side – just opposite the war memorial – dedicated to local men who died in the Great War.

Celtic Stone in Marsden Park, at Marsden, west Yorkshire.

   Apparantly the curious carved stone was found at Marsden in the late 19th century and then in 1911 it was seen fit to place it at the base of Samuel Laycock’s memorial in Marsden Park. But why? Maybe it was seen as ‘a fitting tribute’ to such a great poetic genius for Samuel Laycock was just that. The stone is thought to be Late Medieval and to date probably from somewhere be-tween the 14th-16th centuries, but could it be much earlier? A few local historians have con-sidered it to be Celtic in origin! Well at least the carvings look to be Celtic! And also carved on the stone is what looks to be the head of a Celtic sun god with sunrays radiating from it. Or is this carving a depiction of ‘The Tree of Life’- maybe. Another theory being that the oval-shaped face is that of a Celtic saint complete with a halo; the crown of oak leaves being associated with saints of the Old British Church both in folklore and literature.

   In an article called Reading the Environment by David Fletcher & David Ellis in the ‘Pennine’ magazine (1980) we are told about this curious Celtic stone in Marsden Park. They say that: “At the base of this modest monument is a mysterious stone carved in low relief depicting an oval-shaped face with a garland or crown of oak leaves, acorns and flowers. This stone was found somewhere in Marsden  during the last century, no-one seems to know exactly where, but the local worthies realizing its antiquity placed it at the feet of the local bard when his memorial was erected in 1911. Nothing could be more appropriate because it is my opinion that this mysterious stone can introduce us to a people who inhabited the Pennines for perhaps a thousand years—the Celts.”

   Fletcher and Ellis go on to say that: “The symbolic head with an oval face, and the crown of oak leaves suggest to me that this was part of a pagan shrine and who knows, perhaps it was the focus of worship in a sacred grove by the river Colne.”

Sources and other related websites:-

Fletcher, David & Ellis, David, (Reading the Environment article), Pennine magazine (No 5), Pennine Heritage Ltd., Pennine Development Trust, Hebden Bridge, West Yorks, June/July 1980.,_West_Yorkshire#/media/File:The_Laycock,_West_Yorkshire

                                                                                  © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.


Harnessing a Volcano by Fabricio Sarti.

Larderello, Italy (volcanic geyers & cooling towers).

Larderello in Italy.

“The following is an account of the remarkable industrial and commercial uses to which Italian engineers have succeeded in putting the volcanic forces which exist in the sub-soil of certain parts of Italy, together with some of the grotesque mishaps which were brought about by the applica-tion of volcanic power to domestic purposes.

    “If you could be heated, laundried, lighted, bathed, and have your cooking done, without any trouble, and all for next door to nothing; if into the bargain you could raise spring cabbages for a mere trifle, and new potatoes all the year round, not to speak of obtaining all the motive and hydraulic power you required, you would probably wish to move into a neighbourhood where such desirable conditions prevailed.

    “As a matter of fact, there is a place where all this—and a great deal more exists, but it is situated in a somewhat inaccessible part of Italy, rather too far off, under existing conditions, to catch the Tube to the City, or the Elevated Railroad to Broadway.

Larderello, Italy, (volcanic steam geyser).

Larderello, Italy, (volcanic steam geyser).

   “The district of Pisa, in Tuscany, is largerly of volcanic origins. In some parts of the province, and more especially in the neighbourhood of the little town of Larderello, the boiling  springs which exist in the subsoil issue to the surface in the form of numerous and powerful “gushers” or “geysers” of hot  vapour or steam. These gushers, or jets of steam, are known locally as “saffioni,” and the evaporated steam finds its way into a large number of small pools or “lagoni.” Though these jets of steam issuing through fissures in the granite, must have existed for many thousands of years, it was not  until about a hundred years ago that they were discovered to contain a substance of great commercial value. Some scientists visiting the pools, or “lagoni,” found out  that the waters contained, in a state of dissolution, a very considerable quantity of boracic acid. It was soon discovered that the boracic acid came from the jets of steam issuing from the soil near by, and, provided means could be invented to evaporate the waters of the “lagoni,” the boracic acid would fetch a good price.

   “Boracic acid was discovered in 1702, but as it has never been found possible to synthesize the product with a view to its artificial manufacture, chemists are dependent upon natural sources for its supply. Until comparatively recent times, boracic acid was in great request as an antiseptic, but has now been replaced by other and more powerful substances. Boracic acid continues, however, to be in great demand, both in its crude form and in the form of the various boraxes derived from it, for soldering, enameling, glazing, and dyeing purposes. It is likewise used in the manufacture of soap, and even as a substitute for that useful article.

   “Most of the boracic acid in use to-day comes from Italy, especially from the Pisa district. Recently, huge deposits have been located in Asia Minor, but the war has prevented the development of these deposits for industrial purposes.

   “The “saffioni” found around about Larderello are saturated with the acid, which, as the steam evaporates into the pools, settles at the bottom of the “lagoni.” It is supposed that the streams of hot steam passing at great pressure, and at a high temperature, through the underground fissures of the rock, act as a dissolvent upon the tourmaline in the granite, and separate the acid from the boron, carrying it automatically along to the surface.

   “The first attempts made to evaporate the waters of the “lagoni,” so as to secure the acid, were very primitive. Ovens were bored around the pools. These ovens were filled with wood, and kept alight until the waters had evaporated. This was a long and tedious process, and by the time the boracic acid was secured it proved so costly as scarcely to pay for production.

Larderello, Italy (a captured volcanic steam jet).

Larderello, Italy (a captured volcanic steam jet).

   “Other and more modern processes were afterwards tried, but none of them proved satisfactory until an Italian engineer hit upon the very simple idea of utilizing the “saffioni,” or steam jets themselves, as the heating power for the evaporization of the acid-laden waters. The natural pools into which the jets of steam projected the acid they contained were abandoned altogether, and around the aperture of each “saffioni” or jet of hot vapour, as it issued from the soil, there were built small reservoirs of rough masonry jointed with clay.These were filled with water from the pools, and the action of the hot vapour churning the water soon brought it almost to boiling-point. At the end of twenty-four hours it was found that the water contained about one and a half per cent. of acid. By means of a wooden pipe the water was conveyed into a second reservoir built round a second “saffioni,” where it was further enriched by acid. After being transferred into half-a-dozen different reservoirs built round different jets, the water was sent into a decanting tub or basin, where it deposited the earthy impurities held in suspense.

   “From the decanting basin the water is sent into special evaporators. These evaporators consist of long wide sheets of un-dulated lead, two hundred and fifty feet in length and eight feet wide, turned up at each side. These leaden sheets are placed on an incline, and the acid-charged waters trickle slowly over the wavy sheets of lead, which are heated by hot steampipes passing underneath. As the acid-charged water trickles over the hot, wavy, leaden plates it evaporates under the action of the heat, and deposits the boracic acid.

The Town of Larderello, Italy, with its volcanic steam geysers.

The Town of Larderello, Italy, with its volcanic steam geysers.

   “The hot steam is derived directly from the natural vapour underground, but instead of utilizing the ordinary “saffioni,” or vapour-jets, for the purposes, it was considered preferable to make separate artesian borings to a distance of one-hundred feet or so underground. The steam was tapped with such force, that unless special precautions had been taken beforehand the rush of subterranean vapour would have caused a serious accident. Indeed, the artesian borings brought up steam-jets with a pressure of no less than nine atmospheres at a speed of one-hundred and seventy-five yards to the second, and at the great heat, in some borings, of one-hundred and ninety degrees Centigrade or six-hundred and forty degrees Fahrenheit.

   “The discovery that such vast subterranean power lay at the disposal of the engineers soon led to the installation of powerful dynamos. It was first found necessary to purify the stream of its gaseous matters, for otherwise the machinery would have quickly become corroded.

   “Within a few years the engineers had tapped, by short artesian borings, quite a number of “hydro-volcanic” power-jets. A single one of these, the “Ponta Anna” bore, produces two-thousand three-hundred horse-power, whilst another, the “Venella” bore, produces one-thousand two-hundred and sixty horse-power. 

Interior of the Larderello power house.

Interior of the Larderello power house.

   “The power-houses were soon supplying hydro-volcanic energy to a considerable number of factories, and in what was formerly a deserted district there sprang up the town of Larderello. Not only so, but there ensued the natural desire to turn this volcanic power to domestic use, and some of the engineers and factory managers had their dwellings fitted up with piping, so as to get heat in winter and fuel for cooking, for the heat is sufficiently great to bake a joint in an oven in half an hour. It is, however, dangerous to “monkey about” with the subterranean forces of Nature, and early experiences were accompanied by a number of accidents and mishaps.

   “One of the factory engineers, whose house had been fitted with the hydro-volcanic heating apparatus, was aroused in the middle of a heavy sleep by a roaring sound like a locomotive blowing off steam. He turned on the electric light—which was also supplied by the dynamos worked by volcanic power—to discover a geyser of boiling water bubbling up in the middle of his bedroom and filling the room with steam. He had just time to jump out of bed and make his way out into the street in his dressing-gown, when the geyser assumed gigantic proportions and burst with a roar through the roof of the house, soon reducing the entire building to pulp. It seems that, in some way, the control cap of one of the main tubes, as the steam issued from the bore, had become partially unscrewed, with the result that the full force of the bore had found its way into the engineer’s house and burst the hot-water piping under the floor of his bedroom.

   “It took several hours before the geyser could be got under control.

   “On another occasion an Italian cook, on returning from market and entering her kitchen, was horrified and amazed to discover the whole of her pots and pans on the long kitchen range jumping about as though bewitched. The range was heated by steam radiators from one of the volcanic bores, and the metal of the radiators was of an undulating wavy form. Owing to a sudden increase in the subterranean velocity of the steam jet from the bore, the steam had ruptured the control cocks and had come throbbing through the heaters in jerks, imparting a gyratory movement to every one of the kitchen utensils on the range.

   “One morning, too, a stout factory manager had such a fright, whilst in his bath, that he resolved never again to take any baths the water of which was supplied by hydro-volcanic process. The bath was fitted with a hot and cold douche apparatus which, instead of descending from the roof over the bath, came from an aperture in the bottom of the bath-tub, in the form of an “ascending” douche, as it is called.

   “On that particular occasion the main geyser from one of the bores had suddenly taken on a “spurt” of two or three minutes, causing the hot water in the main pipe to rush with increased velocity, and rupturing the control tap. The water, in the form of a hot and cold mixed “douche,” suddenly shot up from below the bath with such tremendous force as to rupture the rivets and send the man taking his bath three or four feet into the air before he could recover himself. Happily the mixture of cold with hot water prevented what might have been a serious accident.

   “The municipal laundry, in which all the hot water is supplied from the bores, is another luxury due to the existence of hydro or thermo-volcanic power. Before the scientific system of controlling the steam at the output of the bores was brought to its present state of perfection, it not infrequently happened that a sudden wave  of “power” would play havoc with the machinery which supplied the hot water to the laundry. On one occasion all the “laundry” of the town of Larderello was sent flying in all directions, and there being a high wind blowing at the time – many of the articles were recovered in the plain several miles away. All these little mishaps no longer occur, so perfectly are the main thermic-power bores now under control. 

   “The Larderello “saffioni” are invaluable to the local market gardeners, who are so able to regulate the heat of their hot-houses as to produce fruit and vegetables in abundance all the year round.

   “The Larderello vapour jets and the intelligent industrial use to which they have been put by Italian engineers have attracted the attention  of scientists to the immense possibilities that lie in the systematic and rational utilization of the hidden subterranean forces of Nature.”

Source of information:-

Sarti, Fabricio, The article ‘Harnessing a Volcano’ was published in ‘The Wide World Magazine – An illustrated Monthly Of True Narrative’, Vol. XLII – October 1918 To March 1919. George Newnes Ltd., Southampton St., Strand, London.

                                                                  © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2016.


The Lake of Soda by George Frederic Lees

A block of Soda from the lake.

A block of Soda from the lake.

                               The Story of a Wonderful Natural Curiosity of British East Africa                                      “The following  article is a  striking instance of  the immense and  sometimes  inexhaustible wealth which is waiting to be exploited in British possessions in Africa. Much of that wealth is  still hidden, but in the case of Lake Magadi—a lake of solid natural soda covering an area of some thirty square miles—it was there for any enterprising explorer to discover and report to the right quarters. The story of the commercial development of this great Colonial asset adds a fresh chapter to the ever-enthralling romance of British industry.

   “In every quarter of the City of London, Romance is to be found by those who search for it dili-gently. Many an engrossing story of adventure or exploration, involving the lives of men, the overcoming of wellnigh insu-perable difficulties, and the expenditure of vast sums of money, which in itself  required no small amount of courage, lies hidden in office records, until the historian of the so-called minor events of the world happens upon it and forthwith disen-tangles it from a mass of commercial verbiage, always tedious of perusal and often covered with the dust of years. A romantic episode may lurk beneath the most innocent-looking phrase in the minute – book of a board of directors—some such common-place note as this:

    “”The attention of the board, at its meeting on such-and-such a date, was called to the commercial possibilities of this or that, in consequence of which they decided to dispatch a confidential agent to the spot mentioned to verify the statements made to them.”

   “Could there be a less promising starting-point for a story of discovery and adventure? So devoid of the slightest tinge of romance is such a bald statement that there is a risk of the searcher passing it over disdainfully. And yet, if he continues his investigations, he may indeed find that a very pretty tale of human endeavor, coupled with the unfolding of many curious said-issues, hangs thereon for his own and his readers’ delectation.

   “To take a concrete case, it happened that, some ten years ago, a certain explorer entered the office of a firm of City mer-chants, and made certain “”representations of the great importance and value”” of a curious lake in British East Africa. So it was set down in the minute-book, but what he actually said to the heads of the firm was somewhat as follows:—

Lake Magidi in Uganda.

Lake Magadi in Uganda.

   “”The lake looks for all the world like an ice-field, and when the photographer showed us his  prints I might have imagine, but for the figures of the natives with their bare legs and scantily-clothed bodies, that we were a part of explorers in the Arctic regions. Mile upon mile of the great white expanse of soda and the hot springs of Magadi stretch around, with here and there a big block of alkaline deposit. A most remarkable sight. There must be millions upon millions of tons of the stuff. Of course, it opens up vast possibilities commercially. Only you will have to get the soda to the coast and so on to the ships, and that means building a branch to the Uganda Railway’s ocean port at Kilindini, or thereabouts.”

   “This declaration naturally aroused the greatest interest. It is not every day that a discovery with “vast possibilities commercially” is announced in the City, and if this lake of soda did really exist, was not a mere figment of the explorer’s imagination, his listeners had no need to be told that it might become a veritable gold-mine. The demand for soda is universal. Instinctively the partners began to pass the manifold users of soda in review.

   “Soda crystals are used in practically every household the world over for washing purposes. Carbonate of soda (otherwise known as soda ash) and caustic soda are largely used in numerous industries, as, for instance, by soap, glass, and paper makers, as well as by textile manufacturers for printing, bleaching, and dyeing, etc; whilst bicarbonate of soda is used for the manufacture of baking powder and mineral water.

   “The prospect was alluring. True, this commercial proposition  would mean the investment of a few hundred thousand pounds—probably up to half a million sterling—in addition to a good deal of hard work. But think of the return : a steady annual profit running into millions ! Unquestionably (the firm decided, after discussing the matter in all its bearings) they must institute an inquiry and, if the report they had heard were substantiated, see what could be done to secure the rights over these invaluable soda deposits.

Surveying party on Lake Magadi in Uganda.

Surveying the lake.

   “Accordingly, Messrs. M. Samuel and Co. sent a confidential representative to British East Africa to verify the explorer’s statements. And this he did, many months later, by bringing back with him large samples taken from thirty-five different places over the whole area of Lake Magadi, which he described in even more glowing colours than his predecessor had done.

   “This conclusive evidence clinched the matter. The firm at once entered on protracted negotiations with the Colonial Office, and obtained from the Crown Agents for the Colonies, acting on behalf of the Government, an agreement, giving them the option of acquiring  direct from the Government about three hundred and twenty-four square miles of territory, including Lake Magadi, for a period of ninety-nine years, with the right of working the soda (subject to the rights of natives to take soda from the deposit for their own purposes), and of constructing a line of railway connecting the deposit with the main line of the Uganda Railway.

   “These preliminary steps having been taken, a fully-equipped surveying expedition was sent out in November, 1909, under Mr. Frederic Shelford, a well-known railway engineer who had done valuable survey work in Africa. The other leading members of the expedition were Mr. W. H. Levy and Mr. A. E. Herz, two directors of the company that had been formed to exploit the lake of soda; Mr. A. H. Endemann, who had studied on the spot the question of the most suitable mechanical appliances for dealing with the deposits; and Mr. Arthur Trobridge, who  had been engaged in the soda business for many years, and whose report was therefore looked forward to with considerable interest.

   “The expedition reached its destination, after an uneventful march from Magadi Junction, the nearest point on the Uganda Railway, on December 1st, and found , immediately prior to its arrival, that considerable rain had fallen. Consequently the whole of the lake, inclusive of some sand flats at its southern end, was covered with water, in depth from six inches to one foot. This was distinctly disappointing. However, it soon became evident that this was only a temporary inconvenience, and, indeed, by the time the explorers left the district ten days afterwards the water had considerably subsided, and a large area of the surface was already dry.

Excavating soda blocks from Lake Magadi.

Excavating soda blocks from Lake Magadi.

   “According to Mr. Trobridge, who drew up an exceedingly interesting report, the surface of the lake always become dry in this way shortly after the stoppage of the rains; and this conclusion was borne out by his former visit in October, 1904, “”when the whole of the surface was dry with the exception of a margin about thirty yards wide. The solid portion, which comprised practically the whole of the lake, was perfectly level and dry on the surface; but wherever the surface was broken up liquor rose to its level, and when the crystalline blocks were removed the liquor drained from the interstices of the crystals. The great purity of the crystalline soda is un-doubtedly due to the presence of this comparatively large quantity of soda in solution —technically known as ‘mother liquor’—distributed throughout the mass. Apart from the fact that the surface of the soda deposit becomes dry very soon after the rains have ceased. I also ascertained that during the rains the surface is never covered with so much water as to interfere in any way with the economic working of the deposit. For many years Indians have been removing soda from the lake, and they do so without paying any attention to the season.”

   “As to the chemical and physical character of the soda, they were found to be uniform over the whole surface of the deposit, as has been confirmed by the examination of numerous samples taken at widely-distant points both in 1909 and on the occasion of Mr. Trobridge’s previous visit in 1904. The crystalline deposit cleaved readily into blocks from which the “mother liquor” drained rapidly, leaving a friable mass of crystals.

   “The explorers also came to the noteworthy conclusion that there was good reason to assume that the deposit of soda extends to the full depth of the lake, the above-mentioned “mother liquor” only filling the interstices of the crystals. They sank a bore-hole in the lake through a continuous mass of crystalline soda to a depth of nine-feet, but with the primitive boring tools at their disposal they found it very difficult to proceed farther. Indeed, in view of the enormous bulk of soda thus disclosed they saw no practical object to be attained by boring to a greater depth.

   “Further, there were evidences, runs the report, that the quantity of soda already in the lake is being continually augmented. In addition to many surface springs and streams discharging considerable quantities of soda into the lake, there were evidences of large springs in the bed of the lake itself, which intrude saturated soda liquor. On the removal of the soda already crystallized the liquor which takes its place at once starts to reform the crust. The Indians engaged in this soda industry informed Mr. Trobridge that the crystalline mass is replaced so rapidly that they rework the same spots year after year. Of this he found full confirmation on examining several poles which they had been using to break up the soda and had left in the holes thus made. These poles were firmly set in a solid mass of crystals which had been formed around them, and Mr. Trobridge and his colleagues removed several large blocks of soda in which such poles were embedded. On examination they found this reformed soda of the same composition and purity as the permanent deposit.

   “In view of the fact that the crystalline soda is divided into several distinct horizontal layers, which are readily separated from each other, and for economy in working. Mr. Trobridge recommended that operations be confined to the upper layers, which he estimated contain about forty million tons in sight. As this vast quantity would be continually replaced, the lower layers would appear to have little more than theoretical interest. Should, however, it be deemed necessary to work these lower layers to the depth of nine feet, as disclosed by their bore-hole, he estimated that the total crystalline soda would be about two hundred million tons.

   “Two hundred million tons of soda capable of being converted, by very simple treatment, into a “soda ash” of great density, and equal in chemical purity to any soda ash on the market—a practically inexhaustible stock, since, as soon as part of the deposit is removed, it begins to form again. Think of the enormous profit to be drawn from such a source of wealth as that. Counting all expenses, the fortunate merchants who had got wind of this business deal came to the conclusion that a profit of at least twenty shillings per ton of soda products might be expected. Rarely does it fall to the lot of a City firm to see a profit of at least two hundred millions sterling in view.

   “Mr. Frederic Shelford’s report on the feasibility and cost of constructing the branch railway whereby the vast soda deposits of Lake Magadi could be rendered accessible was equally encouraging. He examined the country between the lake and the Uganda Railway, and eventually selected a route which was afterwards carefully surveyed in detail by the railway survey party.

   “No further evidence was required to prove that a great industrial future awaited the properly-organized exploration of this lake of soda of British East Africa. So work was started on the railway, which in due course was completed; wharves at the coastal terminus and oil tanks at Kilindini were constructed, and works, offices, etc., were erected at Magadi. Moreover, the company that had been formed erected extensive works at Irlam, near Manchester, and in Calcutta for the manufacture of soda crystals and bicarbonate of soda from Magadi soda ash. In brief, after 1911-12 the business was in full swing and quickly proved that those who had embarked on the enterprise were not mistaken in taking a sanguine view of the future prospects of this part of East Africa. But with the coming of war, work was naturally interfered with. Lake Magadi, lying within thirty miles of the frontier of German East Africa, came within the war zone, and what that means need not be unduly dwelt upon. Suffice it to say that the branch line from the lake to the Uganda Railway and vice versâ was found useful for the transport of other things than soda.”

Source of information:-

Lees, George Frederic, The article ‘The Lake of Soda’ was published in ‘The Wide World Magazine – An Illustrated Monthly Of True Narrative’, Vol. XLII – October 1918 To March 1919. George Newnes Ltd., Southampton St., Strand, London.

                                                 © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2016.