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Trade and Manufactures

In the painting, the aqueduct helps to frame a landscape alive with labour and industry. The canal shown in the foreground is portrayed as a thoroughfare for moving different kinds of goods, including fuel. Notice the pile of coal visible just above the bargeman in the bottom left-hand corner of the painting.

Alt text Segment of Turner’s painting showing elements of trade

Coal was one of the principal commodities transported on the Lancaster Canal. But as the pile of turnips on the barge in the right-hand foreground (below the boat bearing the name ‘LANCASTER’) suggests, the waterway was also used to transport agricultural produce.

Turner’s painting also portrays other aspects of Lancaster’s local industry and commerce, of course. The painting’s middle ground and background are particularly replete with signs of labour.

These signs include the mowers at work in the fields below the canal, the billows of smoke rising from the quarries in the distance, and the corn-mill shown in the river Lune. (Look directly down from the Castle into the river.) This is the Lune Mill, which is mentioned in records dating to the 14th century.

These depictions of industry are offset by the resting figures in the foreground: the feeding pony, the seated man and woman, the man resting against the parapet.

These figures may initially seem to give a leisurely quality to Turner’s composition. When viewed alongside the embodiments of industry and physical exertion arranged throughout the painting, though, these figures seem to function more as a reminder of the necessary link between strenuous labour and repose.

Modern Improvements

In addition to pairing labour and repose, Turner’s painting also draws connections between industry and manifestations of prosperity and improvement. Among the latter, one might count modern landmarks such as Skerton Bridge* (in the central background of the painting) and St George’s Quay** (just visible in the right-hand distance below Castle Hill).

Both the bridge (which was completed between 1783 and 1787) and quayside (which was crowned with its new Customs House in 1764) are important markers of Lancaster’s ‘Golden Age’: the period ushered in by the town’s rising status as a port during the Georgian era.

The commentary accompanying Turner’s painting in Picturesque Views in England and Wales singles out Skerton Bridge and St George’s Quay as indicative of the ‘modern improvements’ made to the town during the 18th century. The bridge is described in particularly fulsome terms as ‘a very grand and elegant structure of five equal elliptical arches’.

*Skerton Bridge only has five arches; it’s not clear why Turner painted six. **The quayside can be seen more clearly in Wallis’s engraving. See Tate reference no. T06072.

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Lancaster Castle and Northern English History: The View from the Stronghold

Lancaster University