• On the Rocks


    I am taking a trip down memory lane this week with photos of Bristol, specifically those inspired by views from the Clifton Suspension Bridge.  I spent a lot of time here as part of my PhD dissertation about archaeological interpretation: in addition to the world famous bridge, it’s an area rich in industrial heritage deserving a closer look.

    The Clifton Rocks Railway in particular is often overshadowed by other 19th century engineering triumphs, especially those designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel: the Clifton Suspension Bridge, the original Temple Meads Railway Station, the SS Great Britain.  However, this was one of Bristol’s most audacious undertakings—a railway through solid rock.

    Sir George Newnes was responsible for the Lynmouth to Lynton funicular railway, which is still running today, and he thought a similar railway climbing the Avon Gorge would be a good investment.  However, the idea was initially rejected because it would ruin the view; instead plans were drawn up to place the railway inside the rocks so the view of the Gorge would remain unchanged. Newnes received his approval.

    Tunneling through the rocks began in 1891, and the tunnel was dug from both ends, with the crews heading towards the centre.  They fortunately met in the middle, but it took two years and £30,000, which was twice as long and three times more expensive than originally planned.

    But that £30,000 bought the most up-to-date funicular technology.  The cars were drawn by the water balance technique, in which the top car was weighted with enough water to pull up the bottom car as the initial one descended.  To achieve the right balance, the operator in the bottom car used an electric telegraph to signal to conductor of the top car how many passengers were being carried.  Each car also had three sets of brakes, including one that would be activated in case the cable snapped.

    When the railway opened in 1893, over 6000 people made the journey on the first day, and the novelty of the ride attracted nearly 11,000 passengers a week for the first year of operation.  At the time, it cost a penny to go up to Clifton, and ha’penny to descend.

    However, numbers began to decline as transportation routes to Clifton improved, and the railway was eventually closed for good in 1934.  The Second World War saw the tunnels being put to new use, as an air raid shelter and an emergency studio for the BBC.  Parts of the tunnel were also used to repair the barrage balloons that defended against low flying aircraft.  After the war, the BBC continued to use the station until 1960, but it has lain vacant since.

    The Clifton Rocks Railway Trust is trying to breathe life back into this marvel and are working to restore parts. If you happen to be in Bristol during one of their open days, it’s definitely worth a closer look.


    On Thursday, I’ll be “observing” another Bristol landmark visible from the Clifton Suspension Bridge, so come back then to learn more.  Also as promised, here’s another one of my Bristol designs–stay tuned to see what they will be turning into!


    Ship Shape and Bristol Fashion


    As I mentioned earlier, I have thousands of photos scattered across a number of computers and external hard drives.  I have recently started  excavating these as I work on various designs, trying to find just the right image to mesh with my collection of silhouettes.  While I am still working to expand the range of wildlife designs, I am also keen to showcase local scenes.

    One of the largest collections of photographs comes from Bristol, my adopted hometown.  I was originally introduced to the wonders of this West Country city as a study abroad student way back in 2002-2003.  It is not hyperbole to say that this time shaped the rest of my life: I fell in love with both the city itself and the University of Bristol’s Department of Archaeology, returning in 2004 to study for an MA then staying for a PhD. A core part of my dissertation focused on Bristol’s iconic suspension bridge, and it’s the city I chose to get married in. A friend, another American who has been in Bristol for at least twenty years, commented, “Bristol has a way of getting under your skin and into your blood.” I have occasionally found myself saying, “I grew up in Bristol.”

    So it’s probably not a surprise that Bristol was the first location I turned to when playing around with text-based designs.  Continue reading below and throughout this week to get a sneak peek of these new designs and to see more of this fascinating city.


    The story of the Clifton Suspension Bridge begins in 1754 when William Vick, a Bristol wine merchant, left £1,000 in his will to build a bridge across the Avon Gorge. A spectacular design was produced in 1793, but proved impractical to build.

    A competition in 1829 attracted 22 entries from both engineers and amateurs. Thomas Telford, the leading engineer of the day, judged the designs and rejected all of them on grounds of safety. Telford was asked to submit his own design but the decision to declare him the winner was unpopular.

    A second competition was held in 1830, and the 24-year-old Isambard Kingdom Brunel was eventually declared the winner and appointed project engineer; this was his first major commission.

    Work started in 1831, but the violent Bristol Riots of that year caused construction to be postponed until 1836.  It took another five years to build the
    abutment on the Leigh Woods side and construct the towers.  However, funding ran out at this time and the work was abandoned for over 20 years.

    Brunel died in 1859 at the age of 53.  His fellow engineers joined together to complete the bridge as a memorial to him, and it finally opened to great fanfare in 1864.


    Views from the Clifton Suspension Bridge take in the Avon Gorge, home of the second highest tidal range in the world (after Canada’s Bay of Fundy), warehouses from Bristol’s time as a leading industrial port, and other engineering marvels like the Clifton Rocks Railway.  Check back on Tuesday to learn more about this piece of invisible archaeology.


    New arrivals!

    I am slowly expanding the range of offerings in the MissElaineous Shop, and I am very excited to announce that my latest designs have come back from my suppliers.*

    First, a new birthday tag to tie in with the forthcoming brilliant bugs (or interesting insects?) range:


    This is the second birthday tag so far, and I am looking forward to adding more soon.  However, I am currently working on a very different collection of birthday gift tags for children.  Here’s a hint: Tagosaurus.

    The other addition is a magnetic menagerie.  The rabbit magnets and badges that serve as the finishing touch on the Magnificent Mammals gift set were so popular that I’ve had several of the other silhouettes produced.  Currently the menagerie has the fox, hedgehog, and stag from the greeting card collection, and I will be developing more over time.  Right now you can get all four designs (these three plus the original rabbit) as magnets or badges for 15% off.


    * Allow me to advertise on behalf of Woodworms, who have been instrumental in turning my designs into reality.  If you’re looking for fun, personalised children’s products, please check them out!

    Evolution of a Stag

    Sometimes everything just falls into place.  Like with the badger and the fox—a bit of luck and the design just seemed to happen like it was meant to be. And sometimes, well, it doesn’t.  The stag went through several iterations before ending up like it looks now.  This was the first attempt:


    I really liked this one, but it needs to be printed in a portrait orientation.  Every other card was landscape.  So it was back to the drawing board, or rather, book of (copyright free) drawings.  Which yielded this:


    I am absolutely enamoured of natural history engravings.  This art form was replaced by photography in the late 19th and early 20th century, and my work continues this tradition – literally.  I use the sharp outlines of the engravings as a digital stencil on my photographs, which turns them into the designs I use on the greeting cards.


    I thought I was done once I had this design, but I wasn’t 100% happy with the feet (I had to excise the stag from his original landscape, which was not as easy as I had hoped).  Then, finally, it was third time lucky.  This bellowing stag was popular when I showed it to my Facebook focus group and the rest, as they say, is history.


    And not only history, but it’s turned out to be one of the most popular beasties in the “Magnificent Mammals” collection.  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised – I liked the original photo so much that a canvas print of it hangs above my bed, showing Japanese maples (acers) and their riot of autumn colour at Westonbirt Arboretum.  So while things may not fall into place immediately with my increasing stable of wildlife designs, they certainly seem to fall out like they should!


    Why MissElaineous? (Part 2)

    As I discussed in the first part of what may become an ongoing series, I enjoy a lot of different things. Over the past several years, this has turned into a number of different websites: Indian River by Air for a small online business. Rubbish Walks and Off the Ground for my anti-litter advocacy. And, my latest project, a range of greeting cards and gift tags that I am already looking forward to expanding. So one of the things I intended to do with miss-elaineous.com is bring every website I run together in one place.

    Which I have done. However, on the main site you’ll notice a few greyed out circles, just waiting for me to bring them to life. These are related to writing, and this is one of the driving reasons behind developing the site in general and this blog in particular: to encourage myself to get back into the habit of writing.

    I have written stories since I was a child, and it’s one of those activities that, when it’s going well, inspires an incredible feeling of flow. Yet for the last decade or so of my life, I have found myself down the blind alley of writing for academia. This is not like normal writing.  In many cases, you are rewarded for conformity, not creativity. The voice of the author is often forced to neutrality, storytelling gives way to data analysis, and the spark of interest in a project is often killed by over editing.

    So one of the reasons I wanted to kick off a new blog is so that I could rediscover my own voice, which has been tamped down after years of academic writing and, most recently, exposure to corporate speak. Over the past year, this voice has tasted freedom through my blog for Rubbish Walks, which has been an excellent exercise in harnessing my passion for a topic into bitesize bits (or not-so-bitesize in the case of my rubbish manifesto), but I am
    looking forward to exploring other subjects in addition to litter.

    I had forgotten the first, and perhaps only, rule of writing: a writer writes. So this blog is to help me do just that, in a format that offers accountability to an audience, even if that audience is just my mother (hi, mom!). Blogs also helps to prevent perfectionism by encouraging me to get things out there without excuses: after all, I can’t learn and improve unless I try in the first place.

    [Want to keep up to date with what I am writing and posting?  Sign up for MissElaienous Musings in the sidebar over there on the right.  Through the magic of Really Simple Syndication, you’ll get the blog post delivered directly to your inbox soon after it’s published.  Completely free of spam and other additives.]
    MissElaineous Blog: Escape & Explore & Discover & Enjoy