Sunday, 20 December 2009

A Georgian Christmas Celebration

There’s a final opportunity tomorrow to see how Christmas would have been celebrated during the late Georgian period at Attingham Park. I visited the Georgian Christmas Celebration there last Sunday and enjoyed a fabulous afternoon, touring the candlelit rooms and finding out more about Georgian Christmas customs...

Christmas Trees

Christmas trees are often thought to have been introduced by Prince Albert in the 1840s. In fact, the idea has been around much longer, originating from pagan festivals when the qualities of greenery and light were in demand during mid-winter. Earlier Christmas trees (pre-1840s) were much smaller than today and stood on a table. The tree on display at Attingham is a replica of one described at Windsor Castle in 1820:

‘We remember a German of the household of the late Queen Caroline (1768-1821) at Windsor making what he termed a Christmas tree for a juvenile party at Christmas. The Tree was the branch of an evergreen fixed on a board, its boughs bend under the weight of gilt oranges, almonds etc.’

Christmas Pudding

Christmas Pudding or plum pudding is eaten at the end of the Christmas dinner. Christmas pudding originates from a 14th century porridge called ‘frumenty’ that was made of mutton and beef with currants, prunes, spices and wine. By the late 1500’s it slowly changed into a plum pudding as cooks added breadcrumbs, suet and eggs to bind and thicken it. To give it more flavour, they also added beer or spirits. Plum pudding became the customary Christmas dessert around 1650, but in 1664 the Puritans banned it, citing it as a ‘lewd custom’ and describing its rich ingredients as ‘unfit for God-fearing people’. In 1714, King George I re-established it as part of the Christmas meal and by Victorian times, Christmas Puddings had changed into something similar to the ones that are eaten today.

This is the 1714 recipe for King George I’s 9lb (!) Christmas pudding -

1 lb of eggs

1 ½ lb of shredded suet

1 lb raisins

1 lb dried plums

1lb mixed peel

1 lb of currants

1 lb sultanas

1 lb flour

1 lb sugar

1 lb breadcrumbs

1 teaspoon mixed spice

½ grated nutmeg

½ pint of milk

½ teaspoon of salt

the juice of a lemon

a large glass of brandy

Let stand for 12 hours

Boil for 8 hours and boil again on Christmas Day for 2 hours

Mince Pies

Mince Pies were not as we know them today – they were originally filled with chicken eggs, sugar, raisins, lemons and oranges.

Wassail bowl

This was similar to mulled wine and was made of the ‘Richest and raciest wines, highly spiced and sweetened, with roasting apples bobbing on the surface’

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night marked the end of the festive season and was the highlight of the Christmas celebrations in Georgian England. The Twelfth Night ball was one of the grandest of the year and sometimes took the form of a masquerade or fancy dress ball.

The popular custom of choosing a household king or queen on Twelfth Night involved baking a centrepiece Twelfth cake containing a dried bean and a dried pea. The man who found the bean in his slice was elected King for the night; the lady who found the pea, the Queen. Even if they were normally servants, their temporarily exalted position was acknowledged by everyone, including their masters. By the early 19th century, the cake had become very elaborate, with sugar frosting and gilded paper trimmings, often decorated with delicate figures made of plaster of Paris or sugar paste.

The Yule Log

The Yule log was chosen on Christmas Eve. It was wrapped round in hazel twigs and dragged home, to burn in the fireplace for the 12 days of Christmas. A piece of the Yule Log was saved to light the following year’s Yule Log.

The Kissing Bough or Ball

The tradition of kissing under a bunch of foliage is centuries old. By the late 18th century, kissing boughs and balls were common. They were usually made of holly, ivy and rosemary, with mistletoe hanging underneath. Spices, apples, oranges, oat ears, wax dolls, candles or ribbons could also be included.









The Attingham Georgian festive extravaganza runs from 19-21st December, from 11am - 4pm. The Tea Room is open from 10.30am - 4pm. For further information contact Attingham Park.

As well as family-themed activities, you can meet Father Christmas and Attingham’s Regency Dandy – I did, and very charming he was too.... ;0)



A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all and I'll sign off for now with a link to one of my favourite pieces of festive music, Mike Oldfield's version of In Dulci Jublio. :0)



Wednesday, 25 November 2009

The Unmissable Garrow's Law

Garrow's Law: Tales from the Old Bailey ended it's four part run on BBC 1 on Sunday, so with m'lud's permission, I'd like to offer my verdict and say I loved it.

Garrow's Law has been a delight to brighten these dark November nights and many others feel the same, judging by the buzz on the web and elsewhere. Please, BBC, commission a second series! It's been a long time since I have been as enthralled by TV programme as I was by Garrow's Law.

Well done to everyone involved in bringing it to the screen - great script, fabulous performances, high production values, engrossing storylines = quality entertainment. Perfect.

For those who were watching X-Factor or I'm a Celebrity over on ITV and missed this slice of TV heaven, here's a quick resume. Garrow's Law is set in Georgian London in the 18th century. Co-created and written by Tony Marchant, one of our best TV scriptwriters, it is inspired by the life of the brilliant, pioneering barrister William Garrow (played by Andrew Buchan, about whom more anon) and his struggle to reform the legal system. Each one hour episode follows Garrow and his associate Southouse (played by Alun Armstrong) in their fight for justice. The cases featured are all drawn from actual trial transcripts available at the OldBaileyOnline.

William Garrow was born in Uxbridge, Middlesex in 1760. He was articled at the age of 15 to an attorney, John Southouse of Milk Street, Cheapside and admitted as a student to Lincoln's Inn in 1778. During his legal studies, he spent hours observing what passed for fair trials and when called to the Bar in 1783, he set about redressing the balance - trials then were firmly skewed in favour of the prosecution. Prosecutions were taken out privately and reward-driven. The accused were put in the dock and often had no-one to defend them. All they could to do was speak for themselves and be found guilty or not guilty depending on how they answered the questions. Even if a prisoner had defence counsel, the barrister wasn't allowed to see the indictment against his client or visit him in prison. Nor, amazingly, was defence counsel allowed to address the jury or make an opening or closing address. A mob-like atmosphere pervaded the court. Justice was indeed rough and stakes were high. Once found guilty, the prisoner could be sent to the gallows for even minor offences.

Garrow was considered common and ignorant by his rivals because of his unorthodox entry into the law (he had not been to Oxford). He also had the insecurity of his lower middle class background to contend with. He was, however, a gifted and driven maverick and enjoyed immediate success when called to the Bar, his exploits in court soon catching the attention of the press. Over the following decade, Garrow, acting for the defence in the vast majority of cases, championed the underdog and raised the rigorous cross-examination of prosecution witnesses to an art form that paved the way for the modern adversarial system as practised in the United Kingdom and its former colonies, including the US. He pioneered the right to be presumed innocent until convicted by a jury beyond reasonable doubt.

Garrow later became King’s Counsel, Solicitor-General, Attorney-General, Judge and an MP, but the series concentrates on his early, trailblazing years at the Old Bailey.

By all accounts, Garrow’s private life was as extraordinary as his professional life and we get tantalising glimpses of the burgeoning romance between William and Sarah Hill (played by the captivating Lyndsey Marshal), the wife of prominent MP Sir Arthur Hill (Rupert Graves). There is also the father-son relationship between Southouse and Garrow, beautifully observed by the always excellent Alun Armstrong and Andrew Buchan.

Ah yes, Andrew Buchan – he gives a wonderful performance as Garrow, a seething mass of aggression, arrogance, quick temper, insecurities, incredible intellect and insight, righteous indignation, eloquence, pride and passion. I’ve seen Andy in other roles, including Party Animals, Cranford and more recently as hitman John Mercer in ITV’s great drama The Fixer.

It speaks volumes for his talent that he can tackle two such diverse roles and make them entirely his own. And any bloke who can deliver smouldering looks while wearing a wig, hair extensions and heels deserves massive kudos *g* It’s not giving any spoilers to say that the glass of water moment in episode 4 of Garrow’s Law is my TV highlight of 2009 ;0)

It's astonishing to think that few people have ever heard of William Garrow, including those in the legal profession. This series should redress that. I hope it wins plenty of awards – it certainly deserves to. For his achievements, Garrow deserves his place in history, his place in the nation’s consciousness and perhaps a place on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar square. Despite the historical setting and occasionally arcane language, Garrow’s Law feels curiously pertinent to today. It serves as a reminder that the rights and legal system we enjoy now had to be fought for and should never be taken for granted.

Garrow’s Law: Tales from the Old Bailey, stars Andrew Buchan as William Garrow, Alun Armstrong as John Southouse, Lyndsey Marshal as Lady Sarah Hill, Rupert Graves as Sir Arthur Hill, Aidan McArdle as John Silvester and Michael Culkin as Judge Buller.

So what are you waiting for? :-D For those in the UK, it’s still available on iPlayer for short time. Catch it while you can. The DVD is available 4th January 2010 and can be preordered now from BBC Shop, Amazon and other outlets. When you’ve done that, contact the BBC via pov@bbc.co.uk and add your voice to the clamour for a second series...

If you want to find out more, here are some useful links:

The official BBC website for Garrow’s Law: Tales from the Old Bailey

The TwentyTwenty Television website page for the series.

Mark Pallis's wordpress blog (legal and historical consultant to the series).

Sir William Garrow: His Life, Times and Fight for Justice by John Hosstetler and Richard Braby (a descendant of Garrow) with a foreword by Geoffrey Robertson QC - published by Waterside Press on 30th November 2009.

BBC Promo for Garrow's Law on YouTube...



No news yet on Edmund Butt’s fabulous soundtrack being issued but fingers crossed the BBC realize they are onto a winner with Garrow’s Law and make it available alongside the DVD.

Wonderful stuff!

(all photos copyright BBC and ITV)


Friday, 13 November 2009

V for Venetia

I needed a catchy title for this blog post and a homage to V for Vendetta (great film!) fitted the bill perfectly. Or maybe I should have coined, in true V fashion, 'Voila! Voluptuous voice to vocalise Venetia!'

Enough of the alliteration for the moment, let's get down to the news - the fabulous news -that Richard Armitage, he with the voice like liquid chocolate, is to read Georgette Heyer's Venetia for Naxos audiobooks. Richard's reading of Sylvester for Naxos was a huge success and now he's to tackle Rake Damerel et al. *Happy sigh* I confess that when those of us on the C19 Georgette Heyer group were discussing which Heyer novel we would like Richard to read next, Venetia came top of the list. It seems Naxos thought the same :0) I love Venetia. It's Heyer's 'grown up romance' and even though there's not an explicit sex scene in sight, the passion fairly sizzles on the page. A pity this audiobook will be abridged but perhaps that's one reason Richard has managed to fit the reading into his busy filming schedule.

I’ve been a fan of Richard’s since 2004 when he appeared as John Thornton in the BBC production of North and South. Since then his career has gone from strength to strength. He’s appeared in the Vicar of Dibley, Robin Hood and Spooks, among other things. Richard's voice talents are as astonishing as his on screen acting abilities, though, and now he's winning new fans for his delightful reading of Georgette Heyer.

Venetia by Georgette Heyer and read by Richard Armitage is available April 2010 and can be pre ordered on Amazon UK, Amazon.com and The Book Depository. If you follow the links on RichardArmitageOnLine you will also be making a contribution to one of Richard's chosen charities.




I predict the verdict from the vox populi vis-a-vis this velvet voiced version of Venetia will be that it is a veritable gem ...

Friday, 30 October 2009

A History of Private Life

Autumn heralds the new season of TV and radio productions and there are two I'm currently enjoying: A History of Private Life on BBC Radio and Garrow's Law: Tales from the Old Bailey on BBC TV.

Professor Amanda Vickery (the historian and award-winning author of The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England) writes and presents A History of Private Life on BBC Radio 4. It's an ambitious project, composed of 30 quarter-hour programmes spread over six weeks, which explore the home and everything it has stood for over the past 400 years. Last week's programmes were all related to the 18th century and some are still available via the BBC's Listen Again feature.

Amanda Vickery draws on first hand accounts, from diaries, letters, wills, autobiographies, inventories, trial transcripts etc. to piece together a window on people's day to day lives. It's a format that brings history brilliantly to life and makes for great listening. The readers are wonderful and Prof. Vickery is a lively and engaging presenter. My only criticism would be some of the music choices, but, all in all, the programme is a delight. Please BBC, make it available on CD!

The episode 'Taste' which aired on 27th October tells the story of an 18th century couple who spend life doing up their magnificent houses. Listen in to the touching tale of the Earl of Shelburne and his wife Sophia while it's still available.

Amanda Vickery's book Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England, published 15th October 2009 by Yale University Press.



Garrow's Law: Tales from the Old Bailey aired last night on BBC 1 in the prime time 9 pm slot and fabulous stuff it was too. Andrew Buchan plays William Garrow, the pioneering 18th century barrister who was a passionate believer in social and legal justice.

As a defence counsel, Garrow's desire is to change the law and revolutionise the proceedings of a criminal trial forever: to give defendants the representation in court that they had never previously had, at cost not only to their innocence but also their lives. Garrow pretty much invented the art of cross examination and yet many people, including those in the legal profession, have never heard of him.

You can read more about the series here and if you are in the UK, view the first episode on BBC iplayer here.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

If Jane Austen owned a cookbook ...

...it might have been this one.

I blogged about this book earlier in the year and thought I'd highlight it again now that it's available and I've ordered it - eek! I have NO willpower where books are concerned :-0 Anyway, back to the book ... A New System of Domestic Cookery by Mrs Rundell has just been reprinted by Persephone Books.

Maria Rundell (1745-1828) was the original domestic goddess. The daughter of a barrister, Maria married Thomas Rundell, a Bath surgeon, at the age of 21 and they had five children. After her husband died, Maria travelled frequently on visits to friends and relations, but found time to collect and sort her large collection of receipts and remedies for her daughters. She eventually sent the manuscript to a family friend the publisher John Murray and it was published in 1806 as A New System of Domestic Cookery; a second edition was written at Swansea, where Mrs Rundell was then living with her married daughter. Every year 5–10,000 copies were sold and the book, one of the earliest manuals of household management, became one of Murray’s most valuable properties. In 1814 there was a law suit over the copyright; Mrs Rundell eventually accepted Murray’s offer of 2000 guineas. Between 1806-44 there were sixty-seven English reprints and it was also a bestseller in America. It sold more than 245,000 copies in the UK, remaining in print until 1893.

Persephone are reprinting the 1816 edition, the same year as Jane Austen's Emma was published. As well as more than a thousand 'receipts' (recipes), The New System of Domestic Cookery contains numerous tips and wrinkles for nineteenth century domestic challenges and household management, such as how 'To cement broken China', 'To take stains of any kind out of Linen' or 'To prevent the creaking of a Door'. There's even instructions on how to make a 'Fine Blacking for Shoes', something that Sir Seymour Dinniscombe, a character in my latest Regency romance Ice Angel, would appreciate! Here's a 'receipt' for lip salve for chopped (chapped) lips...

Put a quarter of an ounce of benjamin, storax, and spermaceti, two penny-worth of alkanet root, a large juicy apple chopped, a bunch of black grapes bruised, a quarter of a pound of unsalted butter, and two ounces of bees-wax, into a new tin saucepan. Simmer gently till the wax, &c. are dissolved, and then strain it through a linen. When cold melt it again, and pour it into small pots or boxes.




The endpaper from the Persephone edition of A New System of Domestic Cookery -
a block printed cotton in Lapis style 1808-15
, Victoria and Albert Museum



A New System of Domestic Cookery by Mrs. Rundell, published by Persephone Books 2009. ISBN 9781903155745

Friday, 16 October 2009

The Secret History of Georgian London

Carrying on from the theme of my last blogpost on the darker side of London, my copy of The Secret History of Georgian London arrived this week. As always, Dan Cruickshank's latest is a riveting read. The full title is The Secret History of Georgian London - how the wages of sin shaped the capital, which gives a better clue to the bit of Georgian London history this book concentrates on (and don't you just love the cover...Cupid Unfastening the Girdle of Venus by Sir Joshua Reynolds, viewed through an elegant keyhole? ;0) ) Frances Wilson's review in The Times describes it as 'a colossal melting pot of a book: ambitious, rigorously researched, vigorously narrated and marvellously illustrated.' I agree completely.

Georgian London evokes images of elegance and fine art, but it was also a city where prostitution was rife and many thousands of inhabitants were dependant in some way or other on the wages of sin. Cruickshank argues that the wages of sin came to affect almost every aspect of life and culture in the capital. The money generated was ploughed back into the wider economy. It shaped the buildings, impacted on the arts and aroused a variety of attitudes in contempories such as Sir Francis Dashwood and Samuel Johnson.

The 'Winners & Losers' chapter concentrates on the individual stories of two women. Sally Salisbury and Lavinia Weston were both from humble origins and both became prostitutes, but afterwards their lives took very different paths.

Renown for her beauty and wit, Sally achieved financial and social success, becoming a noted celebrity with a string of rich and powerful gallants. She also spent time in Marshalsea and Bridewell prisons for minor offences and debt. In 1713, she was sent to Newgate but was released by the judge who was infatuated with her. However, Sally's hedonistic lifestyle caught up with her. In a drug or drink induced rage, she stabbed her lover, John Finch, second son of the Duchess of Winchelsea. He was gravely ill for a time but eventually recovered and forgave her. Sally was found guilty of stabbing and wounding Finch, but aquitted of attempted murder. She was fined and sentenced to a year's imprisonment. After serving nine months in Newgate, she died of 'brain fever brought on by debauch'. Sally's short life and sad end was, unfortunately, the more likely outcome for women involved in prostitution than the extraordinary rags-to-riches tale of Lavinia Fenton.

Lavinia Fenton became an actress in 1726. She was successful, but when she appeared as Polly Peachum in Gay's The Beggar's Opera, she became the toast of London. On the opening night and on many subsequent nights, Lavinia was ogled from a box by Charles Paulet, 3rd Duke of Bolton. Although already (unhappily) married and older than Lavinia, he was besotted with her and, eventually, Lavinia gave up the theatre and ran away to France with the Duke. It appears to have been a happy and devoted relationship. The couple were together for twenty years and she bore him three illegitimate sons, Charles, Percy and Horatio Armand. The Duke even purchased the theatre box he had watched Lavinia from and had it installed in his local church as the family pew. On the death of the Duke's wife in 1751, the couple married and Lavinia became a Duchess. The Duke died in 1754; Lavinia survived him by six years. She is buried in Greenwich.

William Hogarth's painting A Scene from the Beggar's Opera depicts Lavinia in the role of Polly Peachum, pleading for the life of Captain Macheath the highwayman. Her gaze, though, is focused on her smitten, real-life lover the Duke of Bolton, who can be seen on the far right in the audience.

A highly recommended read, Dan Cruickshank's The Secret History of Georgian London was published by Random House on 1st October.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Rookeries, flash houses and academies of vice

In the early part of the 19th century, London was a thriving city, an important centre of trade and commerce with magnificent shops and houses, fine squares, streets and thoroughfares. But the city’s size and rapid expansion encouraged the growth of crime until it reached epidemic proportions and alongside (usually within a stone’s throw) of these prosperous areas flourished far seedier districts. Narrow alleys, streets and courts formed evil smelling, densely populated, labyrinthine slums known as rookeries. The term rookery probably evolved from the slang verb ‘to rook’, meaning to cheat or steal, associated with the supposedly thieving nature of the rook bird.

Any visitors to London who took a wrong turn into the rookeries found themselves in a lawless place where every conceivable vice and crime was committed among the gin dens, bawdy houses, brothels and filthy, overcrowded housing. A popular legend claimed that a traveller had entered Portugal Street on his way to the Strand and had never emerged, his ghost still searching for a way back to civilisation.

The areas of Covent Garden and St. Giles’ were generally known as the most dangerous and depraved in the country, if not in Europe. St. Giles’ Rookery, nicknamed the Holy Land or Rats’ Castle, was the most notorious of all. It centred on Seven Dials and comprised the area between Shaftesbury Avenue and Oxford Street, which was even then a fashionable shopping area.

Few people would venture into the Rats’ Castle. Physicians and surgeons would not go in for fear of catching some disease or being set upon. One who did, William Blair, gave this description:

‘human beings, hogs, and dogs, were associated in the same habitations; and great heaps of dirt, in different quarters, may be found piled up in the streets. Another reason of their ill health is this, that some of the lower inhabitations have neither windows nor chimneys nor floors, and were so dark that I can scarcely see there at midday without a candle. I have actually gone into a ground floor bedroom, and could not find my patient without the light of a candle.’ - Parliamentary papers 1816, vol IV

Rookery inhabitants had their own peculiar cant language too, called St. Giles’ Greek, which produced words such as diver (a pickpocket), hearing cheats (ears), smelt (half guinea) and topping cheat (the gallows).

In 1850, the novelist Charles Dickens was given a guided tour of several rookeries by Inspector Field of Scotland Yard. Dickens, Field, an Assistant Commissioner and three lower ranks (who were probably armed) made their way into the Rat's Castle, backed by a squad of local police. The excursion started in the evening and lasted until dawn. They went through St. Giles, the Old Mint, and along the Ratcliffe Highway and Petticoat Lane and Dickens used the information in his writing, notably Oliver Twist, where Fagin’s den is set in the Rookery at Jacob’s Island.

Although the Select Committee reports of 1836 and 1838 on Metropolis Improvments instigated change by proposing demolition of the slums, building wider streets (such as New Oxford Street) and improving lighting, for a time this merely moved the problem on. 5,000 people were said to be evicted from the Rookery in the mid 1840s, but the population of nearby Church Lane became desperately overcrowded. Others went further afield to Field Lane and Saffron Hill, only to be moved on again in due course as change progressed. Charles Dickens himself commented 'thus we make our New Oxford Streets, and our other new streets, never heeding, never asking, where the wretches when we clear out, crowd.'

The rookeries did not finally disappear until the end of the 19th century.

Flashhouses

Flash houses were the colloquial names for pubs frequented by criminals. A combination of brothels, drinking places and centres for criminal intelligence, some were kept exclusively for young boys and girls. They were described at ‘hot beds of profligacy and vice’ and usually situated in the rookeries described above. Some, like The Finish in Covent Garden, were under the nose of Bow Street.

Most magistrates and officers of the law did not want to interfere with the flash houses. It was generally thought better to turn a blind eye to rowdy behaviour than to persecute the poor, but there was another reason for this attitude. It was said that the flash houses were at the centre of policing - remove them and law officers would be deprived of the means of detecting crime. Officers drank in the same flash houses as notorious thieves, and listened to their conversation – how else, it was argued, would they know what was happening?

At one time, law officers would have been treated badly had they entered flash houses, but by the time of the 1816 Select Committee report on the Police of the Metropolis, they mixed freely with the criminals. John Vickery, a Bow Street Officer, reported ‘I am always treated with great civility.’ This civility concealed more sinister happenings. Many officers were lazy, many were also corrupt. The Select Committee heard from several witnesses about ‘hush money’ and underworld bribes, while others warned that they did not want their names known in case of reprisals. An anonymous witness, known only as A.L., supplied the Committee with a list of flash houses known to the police, and gave detailed notes on receivers of stolen goods.

The Select Committee’s chairman, Henry Grey Bennet, reported:

'There are above two hundred regular flash houses in the metropolis, all known to the police officers, which they frequent, many of them, open all night: that the landlords in numerous instances receive stolen goods, and are what are technically called fences; that this fact is known also to the officers, who, for obvious reasons, connive at the existence of these houses; that many of the houses are frequented by boys and girls of the ages of ten to fourteen and fifteen, who are exclusively admitted, who pass the night in gambling & debauchery, and who there sell and divide the plunder of the day, or who sally forth from these houses to rob in the street.’

Many flash houses owners were indeed receivers, or fences. So were pawnbrokers, and coffee shop and lodging house keepers, and second hand clothes dealers. In Field Lane, Holborn, in the rookery bordered by Saffron Hill, Chick Lane and Field Lane, it was claimed that 4,000-5,000 stolen silk handkerchiefs were handled every week. The fences combined receiving stolen goods with training the child thieves who stole them, exploiting and holding complete control over their young charges. The committee heard of the example of Mrs Jennings of Red Lion Market, White Cross Street:

'This is a most notorious Fence & keeps a house of ill fame. She has secret Rooms by Doors out of Cupboards where she plants or secretes the property she buys till she has got it disposed of. Innumerable Girls & Boys of the Youngest class report to this House as she makes up more Beds & the House is thronged every night. She sanctions Robberies in her House which are continually committed by the Girls on Strangers whom they can inveigle into the House and whom the Girls will bilk into the bargain, as their Flash Boys never permit a connection under such circumstances.’

Henry Grey Bennet was convinced that something must be done about flash houses. They were a cause of far more crime than they prevented, despite the arguments of some officers and witnesses, and corrupted youth; they were academies of vice.

Grey Bennet did not immediately succeed in closing down the flash houses – it would be 1820 before real reform began – but he and the Select Committee did start the ball rolling by placing before Parliament an astonishing body of evidence which led eventually to change. To find out more about the underworld of 19th century London, follow the links on my website for some recommended further reading.

Flash houses, fences, silk handkerchiefs and Henry Grey Bennet get a mention in my latest Regency romance novel Ice Angel. It's currently available from Amazon, The Book Depository, Robert Hale, or your local library by quoting the ISBN number 9780709087847.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

'Young, posh and loaded' - the original Grand Tourists

Kevin McCloud’s Grand Tour is a new four part TV series on Channel 4, and part 1 aired last Sunday evening. In the programme, Kevin retraces the steps of the early 17th & 18th century aristocratic adventurers, who were shipped off to Europe in the historical equivalent of the gap year to learn about life, love, sex and culture. Some of them, like Inigo Jones and Robert Adam, brought back ideas about architecture that had a lasting impact on cultural life in Britain. The classical design influences they soaked up on the Grand Tour are reflected in many of our most beautiful buildings, such as Banqueting House Whitehall, the Bank of England and Covent Garden Piazza, as well as numerous great houses and other buildings in towns and cities across the country.


The Grand Tour is often mentioned in historical romances, but rarely in detail, so this series is going to be fun to follow. The cost of the original Grand Tour was rather staggering, and therefore reserved for what Kevin McCloud describes as 'young, posh and loaded' gentlemen. The average cost of £300 (plus another £50 if accompanied by a servant) equates to £40,000 in today's money. Then there are the funds for those little extras: wine, gambling and sex ;0) Apparently the English gained a reputation early on for partying hard!


In part 1, after a quick stop in Paris to spend a fortune on the latest fashions - there's a very funny sequence where Kevin goes to a couturier and emerges dressed in the most outrageous outfit, just as the original Grand Tourists would have done - it was on to northern Italy, to Genoa, Vincenza and Venice. The programme was visually stunning and Kevin McCloud is a knowledgeable and engaging guide who never allows his presence to overwhelm the subject matter. I'll certainly be tuning in to the rest of the series and buying the accompanying book :)


*photo of Kevin McCloud at Villa Lucia in Naples by Hugo Macgregor, published in RadioTimes 19-25th September 2009

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Writers Lunch

I had a fabulous day yesterday in the company of fellow scribes Phillipa Ashley and Nell Dixon. We met in Lichfield, a city steeped in history with a beautiful cathedral and Georgian architecture, and oh-so-tempting shops. We indulged in plenty of coffee, writerly chat and scoffed calorie-laden cake in a tea shop straight out of a Miss Marple story!

We didn't have time to visit Samuel Johnson's house (too busy shopping and chatting) but it's on my 'to do' list as 2009 - 18th September, to be exact - is the 300th anniversary of the great man's birth.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

A rush to tie the knot in Gretna Green

Yesterday was 9th September, a date that sparked a rush of weddings in Gretna Green. The special date (9/9/9) was predicted to be particularly popular with UK emergency service workers planning on getting married. (For those who may not know, 999 is the UK telephone number for fire, police and ambulance services)

47 marriages were due to take place yesterday in Gretna, a number well up on the usual number of mid week weddings in the famous border town. There’s no excuse for the 47 couples who tied the knot in Gretna yesterday to forget their anniversary *g*

A soupçon of history: Gretna Green is one of the world's most popular wedding destinations, hosting over 5000 weddings each year. Gretna's famous runaway marriages began in 1753 when the Marriages Act was passed in England. The Act was also known as Lord Hardwicke’s Act, as a reference to the Lord Chancellor of the time. The act stated that if both parties to a marriage were not at least 21 years old, then consent to the marriage had to be given by the parents. The Act did not apply in Scotland, where it was possible for boys to get married at 14 and girls at 12 years old with or without parental consent.

The Marriage Act put an end to irregular and clandestine marriages (including the famous, or infamous, Fleet marriages) and couples had to travel to the village of Gretna Green in order to escape the jurisdiction of English Law.

The Old Blacksmith's shop in Gretna (see photo above*), built around 1712, and Gretna Hall Blacksmith's Shop (1710) became, in popular folklore at least, the focal point for the marriage trade. The Old Blacksmith's opened to the public as a visitor attraction as early as 1887.

Gretna Green was described by William Gilpin 1776, as ‘the great resort of such unfortunate nymphs, as happen to differ with their parents, and guardians on the subject of marriage. It is not a disagreeable scene. The village is concealed by a grove of trees; which occupy a gentle rise; at the end of which stands the church: and the picture is finished with two distances, one of which is very remote...

Of all the seminaries in Europe, this is the seat, where that species of literature, called novel-writing, may be the most successfully studied. A few months conversation with the literati of this place, will furnish the inquisitive student with such a fund of anecdotes, that with a moderate share of imagination in tacking them together, he may spin out as many volumes as he pleases. In his hands may shine the delicacy of that nymph, and an apology for her conduct, who unsupported by a father, unattended by a sister, boldly throws herself into the arms of some adventurer; flies in the face of every thing, that bears the name of decorum; endures the illiberal laugh, and jest of a whole country, through which she runs; mixes in the shocking scenes of this vile place, where every thing that is low, indelicate, and abominable presides; (no Loves and Graces to hold the nuptial torch, or lead the hymeneal dance; an inn the temple, and an innkeeper the priest;) and suffers her name to be inrolled (I had almost said) in the records of prostitution.

Wow. 'Vile Place, where every thing that is low, indelicate, and abominable presides.' I don't think Gilpin was too impressed with Gretna and its association with the romance and scandal themes that appeared in popular novels ;0) As my teenage niece would say: way harsh!

* Photo of Blacksmith's Shop, Gretna Green by Niki Odolphie, reproduced under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Georgette Heyer, Sourcebooks and the art of cover design




As a long time fan of Georgette Heyer, and a collector of various editions of her books, it was great to see that US publishers Sourcebooks Casablanca are issuing reprints of GH's titles in paperback (see above). The UK Arrow reprints have been around for some time now and, sad person that I am, I've bought most of them even though I can't bring myself to throw out my battered, falling-to-bits Pan paperbacks and hardback versions! 95p for a paperback and 3s and 6d for a hardback - ah, those were the days!

The Arrow and Sourcebooks covers might lack the stylised excellence of the original Barbosa designs (given the thumbs up by GH herself), but they have a charm of their own and most of the images seem well matched to the novels. I particularly like the reproduction of a section of the cover image on the book spine - lovely to look at when they are sitting in a row on my bookshelf ;0) This great post by Sarah at Smart Bitches includes an interview with Dawn Pope, assistant design manager at Sourcebooks, who describes in a Q&A session with Sarah the process of choosing a US cover and how they used the Arrow reprints as inspiration.

You know, there's a whole social history encapsulated in book covers; the way they reflect the prevailing fashions of the publication era, and the market the publishers were aiming at - as these versions of Sylvester testify.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Great review

It's always a boost to receive a great review, so I was absolutely thrilled to learn that Ice Angel has been given a coveted Top Pick Rose keeper award at Romance Reader at Heart. Sheila Smith at RRAH describes Ice Angel as 'packed with drama ... there is something for everyone in this book' and says the characters are 'awesome; everyone of them contributed to the believability of the story.'

Thank you, Sheila! You can read the full review at RRAH here :-)

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Kedleston Hall

Many people know of the glorious Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, home to the Dukes of Devonshire, but there is another architectural gem nearby which bowled me over when I visited recently – Kedleston Hall.

Kedleston Hall North Front
Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire (North Front)

Kedleston Hall is the seat of the Curzon family, who came to Britain from Normandy with William the Conqueror. Curzons have probably lived at Kedleston since 1150, certainly since 1198/9 when they were granted ‘Ketelstune’. The family lived in a succession of manor houses until Sir Nathanial Curzon, the 5th Baronet (later 1st Lord Scarsdale) inherited the estate in 1758 aged 32. Sir Nathaniel was proud of his lineage, but notwithstanding his familial pride, he tore down his grandfather’s house and set about building a new mansion set in idyllic parkland. This involved moving the entire village of Keldeston (as you do!) and building a new toll road to the house, which required an act of Parliament. The only thing that didn’t get moved was the medieval church, All Saints – Sir Nathaniel did not want to disturb the burial place of his ancestors. As a consequence, the church is sited remarkably close to the house (more of this anon).

The contemporary house that Curzon most admired was Holkham Hall in Norfolk and this, along with his fascination for classical Rome, was to influence the design of Kedleston from the start.

After a succession of architects, Sir Nathaniel eventually settled on a young Scot who had recently returned from studying in Rome. Robert Adam, or ‘Bob the Roman’ as he was nicknamed (love it ;0)) , had made an intensive study of classical antiquity. Drawing on this and the designs of Andrea Palladio, the 16th century Italian architect, he set out to build a house and park for his Tory employer that would rival its Whig neighbour, Chatsworth. He supervised almost every detail of the house, from the plasterwork to the door fittings, and designed the bridge, the fishing pavilion and other buildings in the park. He even built a hotel to house visitors in on the new toll road! The result is one of the masterpieces of mid 18th century English architecture, which remains remarkably intact today because Sir Nathaniel’s successors lacked the money or the desire to make wholesale changes. In 1987, the house was given to the National Trust by the 3rd Viscount Scarsdale, whose son now lives in the family wing. The long association of the Curzon family with Kedleston therefore remains unbroken.

The House

From the time it was completed in 1765, visitors were welcomed at Kedleston and shown around by the housekeeper, Mrs. Garnett. Samuel Johnson and Horace Walpole were two of its more famous visitors. The central block was never intended to be lived in on a daily basis – they were show apartments, designed to impress and display Sir Nathaniel’s collection of art, sculpture, furniture and silver. These rooms were used on grand occasions, such as balls or for entertaining important visitors.

The original design was based on Palladio’s unbuilt Villa Morcengo: a central block to which four pavilions would be joined by curved corridors. The family (north-east) pavilion was built first, then the central block and the Kitchen (north-west) pavilion. Unsurprisingly when you consider the scale of the project, the money ran out before the south-east and south-west wings could be added!

This fabulous cut away image of the house (drawn by Brian Delf) gives a perfect bird’s eye view of all the main rooms.

Kedleston Hall cutaway (by Brian Delf)Kedleston Hall cutaway (Brian Delf) (2)

It’s impossible to do justice to the interior of Kedleston in this blog post – as usual, interior photographs are not allowed so you’ll have to visit yourself – but some of the highlights are:

Kedleston Hall (Marble Hall and Dining Room) NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie
Kedleston (Marble Hall and Dining Room) NTPL/Nadia Mackenzie

The Marble Hall – a massive entrance hall designed to impress and overawe visitors. It rises the full height of the building and is lit only from above by skylights. The hall has twenty columns of veined alabaster which were quarried nearby.

The Dining Room - beautiful formal dining room with painted ceiling and alcove for displaying silver. I loved the HUGE wine cooler at the front of the alcove, big enough to have a bath in! You can just see it in this postcard image to the right.

The Music Room – the only part of the main block which was in regular use. It contains an organ by John Snetzler, contained in an Adam-designed case carved by a team of carvers at Kedleston in 1765.

The Drawing Room - featuring decorative plasterwork ceiling and four magnificent sofas. Made in London in 1765 by John Linnell, the sofas are embellished with languid mermaids and sea gods to compliment the maritime theme of the room. The sofas have recently been recovered in newly woven mixed wool and silk damask to replace the 1970s damask, which faded quickly because of the high proportion of man made fibres incorporated.

The Library – in contrast to the drawing room, the library is a more sober masculine-themed room, with magnificent bookcases and large mahogany desk/library table. There was also a reading chair. These were also known as cockfighting chairs (scroll through the images on the link) as they sometimes appeared in paintings of cock fights. Their prime purpose was for reading though. They were designed to be sat astride like a bicycle with your elbows resting on the arms and a book or papers on the stand. There was also an ivory hinged chess board, a gift from Sir William Rumbold to Lady Scarsdale on the death of her son, Captain William Curzon of the 69th foot at Waterloo in 1815. William Curzon was Deputy Assistant Adjutant-General and the third (illegitimate) son of Nathaniel, 2nd Baron Scarsdale, and Felicite de Wattines. More on the 2nd Baron later….

The Saloon – this beautiful room, a domed rotunda, lies behind the Marble Hall. It was occasionally used for balls so the wooden floor was sprung.

The State Apartments – three formal rooms, used as ‘parade rooms’ where visitors and ball guests could wander and view the paintings, furniture and décor.

There’s much more to see at Kedleston, including the Kitchen Corridor, Caesar’s Hall, the Eastern Museum and the Great Staircase.

In the Eastern Museum, the famous peacock dress is on display. This was worn by Mary, Lady Curzon at the ball following the Coronation Ball Durbar in Dehli in 1903, when her husband was Viceroy of India. It’s so beautiful, embroidered by Indian craftsmen with metal thread and jewels woven into gold cloth, in a pattern of peacock feathers.

The Kitchen Corridor is lined with family portraits and there were three that caught my eye. Nathaniel, 2nd Baron Scarsdale and his second wife, Felicite, and their illegitimate son Edward. In 1782, when his first wife died, the 2nd Baron was forced to flee to the continent to escape his gambling debts. There he met a Flemish girl, Felicite de Wattines. They eventually married in 1798, but by then she had borne him six children. Four more followed after they were married. The portraits of the 2nd Baron and Felicitie, painted in their late middle aged, were charming – they both looked as if they had a twinkle in their eye, perhaps not surprising when you know their history *g* Edward, their second son born out of wedlock, rose to the rank of Admiral and I admired his portrait too - a very dashing looking man!

As I mentioned in as earlier post on Sudbury, there is a Behind the Scenes exhibition of costumes and information from The Duchess movie on display at Kedleston until 1st November 2009. It’s worth visiting if you can. Again, no photos are allowed inside the house, so I bought some postcards ….

Kedleston Hall (Duchess collection) 001Kedleston Hall (Duchess collection)

(photos NTPL/Andy Tryner)

All Saint’s Church, Pleasure Gardens and Park

Kedleston Hall (memorial and A.
Kedleston Hall (North Chapel memorial and All Saints Church) photo by Mike Williams

The only surviving feature of the medieval village - the church - is very close to the house. It’s now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. The North Chapel was added in 1906-13 by Lord Curzon as a memorial to his first wife, Mary Leiter, who died at the age of 35 (the same lady pictured wearing the peacock dress). Note that one foot of Lord Curzon’s figure remains uncovered by drapery – this is because Lord Curzon was still alive when the memorial was built.

When I visited, there was a Georgian weekend ongoing and the Pleasure Gardens were inhabited by some delightful Georgian characters, rakes and highwaymen, aka members of the Lace Wars 18th reenactment society!

Georgian Gentleman (and lady!) aka Lace Wars Reenactment Society

The Park at Kedleston is delightful. It’s almost entirely man-made but you would never guess it from the landscape. The breathtaking approach to Kedleston, winding through the park and over Adam’s three arch bridge, is one of the best of all National Trust properties in my opinion. The Fishing Pavilion on the upper lake is also Adam’s work.

Kedleston Hall (view of bridge) Kedleston Hall (view from the North Front towards the bridge)

One final item of interest about Kedleston and the Curzon family – in 1671, Sir Nathaniel, the 2nd Baronet, married Sarah Penn, the daughter of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania.

There are more photos from my visit to Kedleston here. :-)

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Ballgowns in the Ballroom

Himley Hall is an 18th Century Palladian style Grade II listed building, once the family home of the Earls of Dudley. Set amongst 180 acres of 'Capability' Brown landscaped parkland, it's currently hosting a dazzling collection of ballgowns in - where else? - the ballroom :-) .

The Ballgowns in the Ballroom exhibition features dresses from film and TV productions. The costumes include gowns from The Duchess, Little Dorritt and Casanova, and have been loaned by Cosprop, one of the leading costumiers to the film, theatre and television industries.

It's only when you have the chance to see costumes like this up close and personal that you can appreciate the amount of work and detail that goes into them. Amazing. The Ballgowns in the Ballroom exhibition is particularly good because it allows visitors access all around the costumes so the back detail can be seen too. Here's a few of my favourites (the quality on the pictures is not brilliant, I'm afraid, as the light in the room is limited to protect the interior and I wasn't allowed to use a flash)


From 'Phantom of the Opera'.



Dress worn by Emmy Rossum, playing Christine Daae. Military outfit (style circa 1870) worn by Patrick Wilson, playing Raoul, Viscounte de Chagny. This is in the style of the colourful miliary uniforms of the Hussars, worn from 1700 onwards and inspired by the Hungarian fashions of the day.



From 'Casanova'



Circa 1750 coat worn by Heath Ledger made from woven patterned silk mixture with gold lace. The complimentary silk waistcoat woven with flowers and paisley motif has gold thread running throughout. Circa 1750 dress worn by Sienna Miller. More understated than the flamboyant outfit worn by Casanova, this dress is made from brocaded silk with a shot silk taffeta lining.


From 'Jefferson in Paris'



Dress circa 1785 worn by Charlotte de Turckheim. A great deal of time, money and effort went into creating the opulent look of this dress. The shimmer of the metallic threads in the tulle is enhanced by the satin underskirt. The effect would have been increased by the movement of the wearer and probably enhanced by the candlelight. Note the long velvet train, too.

From 'The Duchess'



Dress circa 1785 worn by Keira Knightley who plays Georgiana, The Duchess of Devonshire. In the scene in which this dress features, the Duchess is decidedly drunk and manages to catch her wig alight by standing too close to a candelabra! The dress has been cleaned since, but you could still see the marks on the fabric.
Green dress circa 1780 worn by Hayley Atwell who plays the Bess, mistress of the Duke of Devonshire. Outfit worn by Ralph Fiennes who plays the Duke of Devonshire.


From 'Little Dorrit'


Dress worn by Amanda Redman. This dress is not typical of the period (1850) as it was worn to a fancy dress party. It's a cross between Victorian and Georgian. Lurve the shoes!


There's more coming up soon on the blog on costumes from The Duchess - I've just got back from a visit to Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, where scenes from The Duchess were shot and an exhibition of costumes is currently on show. Details and pictures to follow!