Gillian Tindall

The Pulse Glass
  • The Pulse Glass

  • A personal and global history in objects, Gillian Tindall traces the memories and meanings that accrue to the artefacts of human lives through time.

    Before ordinary doctors had access to accurate pocket watches, they timed a patient’s pulse with a 30-second sandglass. A ‘pulse glass’ was a functional piece of medical equipment, designed to measure a life, never intended to survive for centuries. But Gillian Tindall inherited her great-great-grandfather’s pulse glass, which holds the heartbeats of many by-gone generations and offers a portal to nineteenth-century Anglo-Irish life, to her grandmother’s marriage and the assorted fates of the next generation.

    Most of the objects that surround us, no matter how important in their time, will eventually be lost and forgotten. But a select few, for reasons of sentiment and chance, conservation and simple inaction, escape destruction and gain new meanings. A toy train, a stack of letters from long ago, a battered ivory figure. Each tells a different story: the destiny of local railways, travel across the world and village anecdotes, the value of what we inherit and the necessity of forgetting.

    The Pulse Glass is an exploration of changing and expanding messages in objects that survive us. Tindall brings her signature eye for domestic history to bear on the physical remnants of lives lost, recent and ancient, unearthing stories and considering the nature of permanence. This is an elegant and clear-eyed reflection on memory from one of our best history writers.

Gillian Tindall is a master of miniaturist history, well known for the quality of her writing and the scrupulousness of her research; she makes a handful of people, a few locations or a dramatic event stand for the much larger picture, as her seminal book The Fields Beneath, approached the history of Kentish Town, London. She has also written on London's Southbank (The House by the Thames), on southern English counties (Three Houses, Many Lives), and the Left Bank (Footprints in Paris), amongst other locations, as well as biography and prize-winning novels. Her latest book, The Tunnel through Time, traced the history of the Crossrail route, the forthcoming ‘Elizabeth’ line. She has lived in the same London house for over fifty years.