Tag Archives: 1950s

It makes my flesh weary: Jacquetta Hawkes and continental drift

Why do Earth’s continents fit together so neatly?  Were they once joined together?  If so, why did they move apart?  Are they still moving and if so, how?   The theory of plate tectonics, developed during the 1960s, elegantly answers these puzzling questions.  The continents are on plates which move thanks to convection, grind against each other and move as new rocks rise up through the ocean ridges and push the plates apart.  We now see that Earth’s geology is a dynamic, living system, with renewal centred on the sea bed.


When Jacquetta Hawkes wrote A Land, this theory hadn’t yet taken shape.   Geological change in her worldview was overwhelmingly vertical: land rose through volcanic activity and was then worn down, endlessly.

” … the limestones and sandstones, the chalk and clay that make so great a part of the landscape of Britain. It makes my flesh weary to recall this seemingly endless levelling down. In fact it is not endless. So long as the hard skin on which we live rests on a morass of molten magma, there must come a moment when it will weaken and ruck up, and as the energy long curbed below is freed, the sedimentary rocks that have been laid so quietly on the sea floor may be thrust up ruggedly into the air.”

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Tim Radford cites this striking passage in a chapter on plate tectonics in his new Guardian short, Science that changed the world.   For him, Jacquetta’s book, along with The Sea Around Us, by Rachel Carson, illustrates the 1950s view of the workings of Earth:

“For [Carson], and for Hawkes, the ocean floor was the basement, the foundation, the oldest part of the planet. It was pretty difficult to imagine how a continent could migrate across it. The seeming snugness of fit of the Brazilian bump and the west African concavity was just as likely to be a co-incidence: just one of those puzzling things in a perpetually puzzling world. There were, indeed, as both writers seem casually to concede, schools of thought that contended that continents could move. It was just that nobody could imagine how the continents could have moved, and then propose an empirical way of proving that they did”.

Photo credit: Globes in the National Geographic shop, Regent Street, 2008.  Ricardo’s flickr stream, CC BY 2.0.


More Brilliance: ES review of Her Brilliant Career

& another review of Her Brilliant Career, this time by Claire Harman in the Evening Standard.

By the way, I think this reviewer is a bit harsh about the level of achievement of these women.  In most of these professions, there weren’t three or four more famous women than the ones Rachel Cooke discusses.  As for Jacquetta, A Land was actually very well-known and successful in its day!  Though the marriage to someone as famous as Priestley (whose WW2 broadcasts certainly made him a national figure) was of course significant in raising her profile during the 1950s.


Her Brilliant Career reviewed

Reviews of great new book featuring Jacquetta Hawkes: Her Brilliant Career, by Rachel Cooke.  More to follow as I find them!

Alexandra Harris in The Guardian.

Daisy Goodwin in The Sunday Times (£)

Her Brilliant Career: ten extraordinary women

Jacquetta Hawkes joins a cavalcade of extraordinary women from the 1950s in a new book by Observer journalist Rachel Cooke: Her Brilliant Career (Virago, 31 October 2013).  Like those of rally car driver Sheila van Damm and writer Nancy Spain, Jacquetta’s professional and personal lives were far removed from those of the stereotypical Fifties homemaker.

Rachel made extensive use of the Jacquetta Hawkes Archive in her research, and we are thrilled that her book will help bring Jacquetta’s amazing story to new audiences.

Full details of the book on the Little Brown website.

Get a taste of this fascinating book via the Guardian: meet film makers Muriel and Betty Box.

Afternoon tea with Rachel Cooke, 17 October 2013 at the Manchester Literary Festival.

Back to A Land: on show at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park

We’re thrilled to announce that some of the most exciting, beautiful and historically fascinating objects in the Jacquetta Hawkes Archive will be on show at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park from 8 September to 4 November 2012.  They appear as part of an exhibition, Back to A Land, curated by Dr Christine Finn, Jacquetta’s biographer.

La Cotte de St. Brelade (Jersey), entrance to the cave from the ravine (archive ref: HAW 18/3/45)

La Cotte de St. Brelade (Jersey), entrance to the cave from the ravine (archive ref: HAW 18/3/45)

The exhibition coincides with the Harper Collins reissue of Jacquetta’s tour de force, A Land, her synthesis of geology, poetry and travelogue.  Fêted by critics and the public as a celebration of Britain’s landscape as it emerged out of the dark days of war, Hawkes’ wandering – and wondering – about the origins of Britain’s foundations, from primeval swamp to North London pavement, was illustrated by her friend Henry Moore.  Dr Finn has used the book as well as Jacquetta’s notebooks, manuscripts, photographs and other archive items to revisit the key locations of A Land, reflecting on how Britain has changed since first publication and presents the results in new photography, film, and illustration.

Radio Highlight: Past Personal

This Sunday (9 August) on Radio 3, Jacquetta’s biographer Dr Christine Finn explores why this public figure, who defined archaeology for the post-war generation, was forgotten for so long – only now being rediscovered.  The Hawkes Archive and me (Alison Cullingford) as its curator feature as part of the story.

Dr Finn unpacking the Hawkes Archive on its arrival at the University of Bradford in 2004

Dr Finn unpacking the Hawkes Archive on its arrival at the University of Bradford in 2003

The programme also  includes contributions from well-known archaeologists (Barry Cunliffe, Martin Henig, Michael Shanks) and from Jacquetta’s family (her son Nicolas and her step-son Tom Priestley).

“A Land” has Landed

Here’s our copy of the new edition of A Land by Jacquetta Hawkes, just out from Harper Collins, on show in the Reading Room.  We’re so excited that this wonderful book is in print again at last and hope it will delight many readers new to Jacquetta’s unique mix of archaeology, geology, history and personal insights into the landscape of Britain.