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Paper

Presentation #1 Title

Sermonizing the Great Tyne Flood of 1771: Responding to Disaster with Vested Interest

Presentation #1 Abstract

Preface: An examination of a sermon in response to the Great Tyne Flood of 1771 and its influence on the "rationalizing" impulse of Newcastle upon Tyne's new bridge.

In the early morning of November 17, 1771 the greatest flood in living memory poured through the Tyne Valley and into the city of Newcastle, taking with it the northern English city’s medieval bridge filled with homes and businesses. By the end of the day, the ancient structure lay in ruins. Newcastle needed a new bridge, but this was no simple task. Eager to turn the disaster into a benefit, leading men of Newcastle wanted to relocate the Tyne Bridge, straightening its course relative to street plans and rationalizing the flow of traffic. Opposed to this were the vested interests of the Bishop of Durham who owned land at, and received revenue from, the southern end of the bridge. Here, then, in the aftermath of the flood, was the classic eighteenth century Enlightenment showdown between rationalizing reformers and the traditional interests of an established Church.

Or, was it? This paper investigates how the Diocese of Durham engaged the arguments of rationalizing Enlightenment reformers through preaching. Focusing on the sermon of Isaac Farrer, a curate in the Diocese who preached in response to the flood, I argue that a competing yet complimentary rationality of Christian moral discourse shaped the construction of the new Tyne Bridge. When placed in dialogue with the reports of architects and engineers, Farrer’s sermon reveals the influence of eighteenth century Christian reasoning on Enlightenment civil engineering. In so doing, my paper argues for a deeper understanding of Christian discourse and the British Enlightenment in England’s provincial centers.

At-A-Glance Bios- Presenter #1

Kyle Robinson is Lecturer of European History at Western State Colorado University. He completed his PhD from the University of Rochester in May 2018 and his dissertation was titled "Body and Soul of Enlightenment: John Wesley, Methodism, and the Age of Reason."

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Sermonizing the Great Tyne Flood of 1771: Responding to Disaster with Vested Interest

Montréal, QC

Preface: An examination of a sermon in response to the Great Tyne Flood of 1771 and its influence on the "rationalizing" impulse of Newcastle upon Tyne's new bridge.

In the early morning of November 17, 1771 the greatest flood in living memory poured through the Tyne Valley and into the city of Newcastle, taking with it the northern English city’s medieval bridge filled with homes and businesses. By the end of the day, the ancient structure lay in ruins. Newcastle needed a new bridge, but this was no simple task. Eager to turn the disaster into a benefit, leading men of Newcastle wanted to relocate the Tyne Bridge, straightening its course relative to street plans and rationalizing the flow of traffic. Opposed to this were the vested interests of the Bishop of Durham who owned land at, and received revenue from, the southern end of the bridge. Here, then, in the aftermath of the flood, was the classic eighteenth century Enlightenment showdown between rationalizing reformers and the traditional interests of an established Church.

Or, was it? This paper investigates how the Diocese of Durham engaged the arguments of rationalizing Enlightenment reformers through preaching. Focusing on the sermon of Isaac Farrer, a curate in the Diocese who preached in response to the flood, I argue that a competing yet complimentary rationality of Christian moral discourse shaped the construction of the new Tyne Bridge. When placed in dialogue with the reports of architects and engineers, Farrer’s sermon reveals the influence of eighteenth century Christian reasoning on Enlightenment civil engineering. In so doing, my paper argues for a deeper understanding of Christian discourse and the British Enlightenment in England’s provincial centers.