Revealing the Mill Race is a small research project being carried out within Lancaster University’s School of Computing and Communication, Imagination Lancaster and Highwire Centre for Doctoral Training. We are funded by Ensemble, a project that is exploring digital technologies and environmental change (EPSRC funded*).
We are exploring how communities and businesses who experience flooding can contribute their knowledge, experiences and memories about these events in the city to the data collected by environmental and data scientists.
The Mill Race is a stream that lies underneath the city and once fed the mill near Dye House Lane in the city centre. It started close to what is now Ladies Walk and can still be seen where it empties into the Lune, underneath Millenium Bridge.
Speed’s 1610 Map of Lancaster with the Mill Race (in blue)
Understanding the things we can’t see but that affect our lives.
Today we rely on prediction apps available on mobile phones and online to get weather and flood warnings, whereas traditionally people would watch the weather and the river to understand what was happening in the environment. The Mill Race is underground and unpredictable, and we although can use modern modern methods such as sensors to monitor rainfall and surface water flooding, these have not been installed in the city. Some businesses have their own sensors, but there is no system in place in the Mill Race. Therefore at the moment, local people rely on understanding the weather, or reading their environment to predict what might happen in the city centre during periods of very heavy rainfall, as we saw during Storm Desmond and again in July and November 2017.
One way of traditionally understanding and predicting the weather is ‘weather lore’, short sayings that were often based on observation (such as Red Sky at night shepherds delight, red sky in the morning shepherds warning) and were passed down through generations. We rarely use these sayings now and creating new weather lore has fallen out of fashion now that we can check weather forecasts on our mobile phones.
As the Mill Race is now covered over, and in the absence of any sensors in the water, all we can use is imagination, historical maps and observation of its effect on the surface to understand it, which is why we are trying to bring this old part of Lancaster to life through thinking about its future in the city.
Walking and the city
We held some guided walks in July to bring people into the city centre and think about and record memories, experiences and knowledge about the city and the floods we have experienced in recent years. We will also try to imagine what might be done to prevent flooding in the future. On the walks we encouraged walkers to create new weather lore about the city, and to build this into an archive that might be added to in the future.
As the walks had very limited numbers we plan to develop and release maps and materials so that people can do their own walks soon.
*Prof. Gordon Blair’s Senior Fellowship in Digital Technology and Living with Environmental Change (EPSRC grant EP/P002285/1