Archive for the ‘History’ Category

“‘a mob of three thousand men assembling in St. George’s Fields, the Bank attacked, the Tower threatened, the streets of London flowing with blood . . .'” —Northanger Abbey

The only riot in Jane Austen’s novels takes place in Eleanor Tilney’s mind, her brother says. But is it only in her mind?

In Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland is walking with Henry and Eleanor Tilney  on Beechen Cliff, which overlooks Bath. They admire the scenery, then the conversation moves to government and politics;

“from politics, it was an easy step to silence. The general pause which succeeded [Henry’s] short disquisition on the state of the nation was put an end to by Catherine, who, in rather a solemn tone of voice, uttered these words, “I have heard that something very shocking indeed will soon come out in London.”

Not surprisingly, since they had just been talking about government and politics, Eleanor thinks that Catherine has heard rumors of something terrible about to happen in London.

“Miss Tilney, to whom this was chiefly addressed, was startled, and hastily replied, ‘Indeed! And of what nature?’”

[Catherine responds,] “’That I do not know, nor who is the author. I have only heard that it is to be more horrible than anything we have met with yet.’”

“’Good heaven! Where could you hear of such a thing?’”

“’A particular friend of mine had an account of it in a letter from London yesterday. It is to be uncommonly dreadful. I shall expect murder and everything of the kind.’”

“’You speak with astonishing composure! But I hope your friend’s accounts have been exaggerated; and if such a design is known beforehand, proper measures will undoubtedly be taken by government to prevent its coming to effect.’”

“’Government,’ said Henry, endeavouring not to smile, ‘neither desires nor dares to interfere in such matters. There must be murder; and government cares not how much.’”

[Eleanor responds,] “’Miss Morland, do not mind what he says; but have the goodness to satisfy me as to this dreadful riot.’”

“”Riot! What riot?’”

[Henry explains,] “’My dear Eleanor, the riot is only in your own brain. The confusion there is scandalous. Miss Morland has been talking of nothing more dreadful than a new publication which is shortly to come out . . .’”.

Catherine is talking about a new Gothic novel!

Henry explains that Eleanor, though,

“’immediately pictured to herself a mob of three thousand men assembling in St. George’s Fields, the Bank attacked, the Tower threatened, the streets of London flowing with blood, a detachment of the Twelfth Light Dragoons (the hopes of the nation) called up from Northampton to quell the insurgents, and the gallant Captain Frederick Tilney, in the moment of charging at the head of his troop, knocked off his horse by a brickbat from an upper window.’”

Henry think Eleanor is foolish to imagine such a thing, but was she? Was Jane Austen perhaps describing a real riot?


Captain Frederick Tilney, knocked off his horse? “Gordon Riots,” Project Gutenberg eText 19609, by John Seymour Lucas, 1879. Public domain.

The Gordon Riots

Such riots had happened before. Henry might have been talking about the Gordon Riots of 1780.* These are considered the most destructive and violent riots in English history. Lord George Gordon initiated these anti-Catholic riots, though he intended only a peaceful demonstration. At that time, Catholics in England had very limited rights. An Act of Parliament, passed in 1778, gave Catholics a few rights, including the rights to buy and inherit property, and to join the military, if they took an oath of allegiance to the Crown.

On June 2, 1780, Gordon gathered a crowd of around sixty thousand people at St. George’s Fields, London. They marched to Parliament to present a petition. Parliament did not choose to overturn the law.


Thousands gathered in St. George’s Fields. “The Gordon Riots,” Charles Green (1840-1898) / Public domain

Riots ensued, with people shouting “No popery!” and burning down Catholic chapels, priests’ houses, Catholic homes, shops, and schools, and a distillery owned by a Catholic. Lord Chief Justice Mansfield had supported the Catholic Relief Act (he later supported rights for black people in England as well); his house was looted. (Yes, Mansfield Park may have been named after this Lord Mansfield.) The homes of other politicians who supported the Act were also attacked. Lord Gordon tried to calm the situation; he took no responsibility for the riots.

Mobs, already angry about poverty and injustice, attacked the Bank of England on June 7. They burned prisons and prisoners went free. The rioting lasted for about a week. Over ten thousand soldiers were brought in to quell the riots. More than three hundred rioters were killed during the riots or executed afterwards. (By the way, at least two black men, included in the picture below, were involved in the rioting, and black writer Ignatius Sancho witnessed it and wrote about it. The story is told at Black Presence.) George Gordon was imprisoned in the Tower of London but was eventually acquitted of treason.


Newgate Prison was burned during the Gordon Riots. “An exact representation of the Burning, Plundering and Destruction of Newgate by the rioters, on the memorable 7th of June 1780,” by Henry Roberts, 1781. © The Trustees of the British Museum, released as CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

The Gordon Riots seem an appropriate possibility for Henry’s description: thousands gathering in St. George’s Fields (though many more than what he described), the bank attacked, the army called in, many people killed. I haven’t found references to the Tower of London being threatened, however.

These riots also relate to Bath, where Henry and the ladies were having their conversation. During the Gordon riots, anti-Catholic rioting also broke out in Bath. Rioters burned down the Catholic chapel, the bishop’s house and the priest’s house. The city of Bath responded strongly, hanging the ringleader and taxing the whole city to pay for the building of a new Catholic chapel.

Other Riots

However, the Gordon Riots took place when Jane Austen was only four years old; long before she wrote Northanger Abbey. Could she have been referring to more recent riots? Collins Hemingway, in an article in Jane Austen’s Regency World (July/Aug 2018), suggests that it is more likely that Austen was describing one of the many riots going on in England closer to the time when Northanger Abbey was written or revised. (The novel was apparently written between 1797 and 1803, and revised somewhat in 1816-17.)

Some examples of riots closer to the writing of Northanger Abbey:

  • The Priestley Riots in Birmingham in 1791: Rioters attacked Dissenters (non-Anglicans) who were supporting the French Revolution, including Joseph Priestley. Priestley was a Unitarian minister as well as the chemist who discovered oxygen. Houses, chapels, and businesses were burned.
  • The Bristol Bridge Riot in 1793 in Bristol was a protest against taxes and tolls. Soldiers were called in and 11 people were killed and 45 injured. This was the second most violent riot in England in the eighteenth century.
  • A series of riots in 1795, in various towns in England, has been called “the Revolt of the Housewives.” Led mostly by women, these were protests against high food prices. Women would seize the goods of a merchant who they thought was overcharging customers. The women sold the goods at what they considered a fair price, and gave the money to the merchant.
  • A London riot in 1809, the Old Price Riot, protested price increases at the newly-rebuilt Covent Garden Theatre. The management eventually gave in. They restored earlier prices so the theatre would be accessible to everyone, rich and poor.
  • In late 1816, as Austen may have been revising Northanger Abbey, a mob of about 10,000 people in Spa Fields, London demanded election reforms and relief for the poor. The first meeting was peaceful, but the second meeting, of about 20,000 people, turned violent. They attempted to attack the Tower of London. However, troops quickly put down the riots. Perhaps this riot inspired Austen to mention “the tower threatened.”

Hemingway suggests that the most likely riot to have inspired Austen was a riot in Manchester in 1808. Six thousand weavers gathered in St. George’s Field, Manchester (rather than St. George’s Field, London) to demand a minimum wage. Dragoons were sent to restore order. According to Hemingway, when Henry Tilney says the dragoons were called “up from Northampton,” it may mean they were called up to the north, to Manchester. One man was killed, and others were injured. The rioting spread to neighboring towns. Weavers did receive a small pay increase in the end. Surprisingly, the dragoons later apologized to the weavers for their actions, and took up a collection for the family of the man who was killed.


Illustration from Charles Dickens’ historical novel about the Gordon Riots, Barnaby Rudge, “Barnaby at the Gordon Riots,” 1871, public domain.

However, London is mentioned several times in the Northanger Abbey passage. It’s possible that Austen was taking details of other recent riots and transplanting them to London, for the story. To me, however, the Gordon Riots seem to most closely fit the details given. While there was not a time when the streets of London were literally “flowing with blood,” those were the riots in which the most people were killed.

Although Henry says Catherine’s “words could relate only to a circulating library,” riots similar to what he described had happened in recent history. Of course he also criticizes her vivid imagination when she thinks his father has committed a terrible crime. It turns out that his father is not a murderer, but does treat Catherine cruelly. Henry’s words are often ironic.

What do you think? Was Austen referring to a real riot (or several riots) here, or was the riot only in Eleanor’s mind?


*R. W. Chapman (1923 edition of Northanger Abbey), Roger E. Moore (Jane Austen and the Reformation, 105), and others consider this riot to refer to the Gordon Riots.

Brenda S. Cox blogs about Faith, Science, Joy, and Jane Austen, and is currently working on a book entitled Fashionable Goodness: Christianity in Jane Austen’s England. You can also find her on Facebook.

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Can there be a more frightening word in Georgian London?  The great fire in 1666 changed the landscape of that city forever. Once a densely packed city riddled with overcrowded, wood-timbered houses and dark, narrow lanes, the fire led the way to a change in building regulations that ushered in brick and stone edifices, wider streets, and public squares. Even with improvements, a fire still presented a horrifically dangerous situation.

Thomas Rowlandson captures the scene with such realism in “Inn Yard on Fire” that one can smell the smoke and fear, and hear the horses neighing, people screaming, furniture breaking, and wagon wheels squealing as guests and staff run around trying to save themselves, their possessions, and each other.

Fire at the Inn, by Thomas Rowlandson

Panic and pandemonium ensue. A man contemplates tossing a mirror from the second story, another pours his ineffectual chamber pot over the flames. A side table has been tossed through the window, while an anxious woman descends a ladder.

People are in various states of dress and undress. Some help others, some are  overcome with panic. A disabled man is carried from danger in a wheel barrow, while a groom tries to calm two terrified horses.

Elements in Rowlandson’s cartoon show a direct association with classical language and Tobias Smollet. The young man saving the girl in distress is reminiscent of Giambologna’s statue of the Rape of the Sabine Women, as well as Peregrine Pickle’s heroic actions towards Emilia.


Rape of the Sabine Women

Peregrine Pickle saves Emilia. Image @A World History of Art

Once a fire had gained as much ground as depicted in this illustration, there was little chance of saving the building. Rowlandson shows some people carrying out their belongings, while others were barely able to get dressed. By now an alarm had probably been sounded in the community. Bucket brigades, in which people were arrayed in long lines to the nearest well and passed buckets in a continuous motion, could probably put out a minor fire, but not one of this magnitude. In the 1800s, almost 150 years after the great fire, there was still no centralized fire brigade.

In 1680, a property developer named Nicholas Barbon introduced the first fire insurance, which initially insured buildings but not furniture, fittings, or goods.  Insurance companies began to proliferate and formed private fire brigades to protect their customers’ property.

Is this praying elderly couple trapped on the balcony?

In Rowlandson’s cartoon the most the inn keeper can hope for is that the brigade arrives in time to save his structure – if he is insured.  This was easier said than done, for many of London’s streets were not named, since many people could not read, and insured properties were difficult to find.

A couple on the second floor frantically attempt to save their belongings.

In the early 1800s the fire mark was developed. These plaques, sometimes brightly painted, would signal which properties were protected by insurance firms. Each fire brigade had its own unique plaque.

Fire mark on a building

If a fire started, the Fire Brigade was called. They looked for the fire mark and, provided it was the right one, the fire would be dealt with. Often the buildings were left to burn until the right company attended! Many of these insurance companies were to merge, including those of London, which merged in 1833 to form The London Fire Engine Establishment, whose first Fire Chief was James Braidwood. Braidwood had come to London after holding the position of the Chief Officer of Edinburgh Fire brigade. Edinburgh’s authorities had formed the first properly organised brigade in 1824. – History of the UK Fire and Rescue Service

There were quite a few fire brigades operating in London in the early 19th century and competition was keen. The companies hired sailors and watermen as part-time employees. An advantage of serving in this position was that these men were protected from being pressed into service, a not inconsiderable benefit during the Napoleonic wars.

Fighting the fire at the Customs House in February 1814.Image@British Museum

Buildings that had no insurance protection were left to burn, although attempts were made to save the surrounding buildings. Firemarks were essential to identify insured buildings:

Arrival of the fire engine, Thomas Rowlandson

Designs included, for Sun Fire Office: a large sun with a face; the Royal Exchange Assurance: their building; and Phoenix: obviously Phoenix rising from the ashes. Later fire marks were made of tin, copper, or similar material. These are more often called fire plates. They were more an advertising medium as most do not have a policy number stamped upon them. – Fire Marks: The First Logos of Insurance Companies

Illustration from Ackermann’s ”Microcosm of London” (1808) drawn by Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin. Firefighters are tackling a fire which has broken out in houses at the Blackfriars Bridge. Teams of men operate hand pumped equipment. Image @Wikipedia

In 1833 companies in London merged to form The London Fire Engine Establishment, the first step to the various fire brigades being taken over by local government.

The Burning of Drury Lane Theatre from Westminster Bridge 1809. Artist unknown.  Image property of the Museum of London.

Equipment was still very basic but in 1721, Richard Newsham patented a ‘new water engine for the quenching and extinguishing of fires’. The pump provided a continuous jet of water with more force than before. This new fire engine became a standard until the early 19th century.

Newsham’s wood pumper, ca. 1731.

The men used the handles to pump the water from a lead-lined trough in the main body of the equipment. The apparatus was quite heavy and difficult to maneuver, but it represented a huge step forward in fire fighting technology. People continually ran back and forth to a water source to fill the trough with water. You could also attach a hose to aim the water to a specific location. During this time, however, hose-making was still in its infancy and many leaked. Water buckets and axes to hack out trapped people and create fire free perimeters were still regarded as standard fire fighting equipment.

The Burning of the Houses of Parliament, 1834 by William Mallord Turner. Such an event must have provided a spectacular yet horrifying scene for onlookers.

Steam powered appliances were first introduced in the 1850s, allowing a greater quantity of water to be guided onto a fire. With the invention of the internal combustion engine, these appliances were replaced in the early 1900s.

James Pollard (British, 1797-1867) London fire engines: The noble protectors of lives and property, 1823. Image @Olympia Art Antiques

This image by James Pollard, and engraved by R. Reeve, shows several insurance brigades hurrying to a fire.

The firemen, of the time, had little training and wore brightly coloured uniforms to distinguish themselves between the different brigades. During large fires they would become very tired through continual pumping of the appliances, and would offer bystanders ‘beer tokens’ in return for their help. – Insurance Firemen and their Equipment

Each company provided different liveries for their men, so that the fire fighters could easily be identified with a particular firm.All insurance firemen wore a large badge on their shoulder to show which insurance company they worked for.

Three uniforms of insurance firemen. All wear a badge

More on the topic:

Cockburn’s theatre on fire, another dramatic caricature by Rowlandson.

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Inquiring readers: Paul Emanuelli has frequently contributed his comments on this blog. Little did I know that he was an author! He has graciously sent in his thoughts about Bath, the city in which he has set his historical crime novel. Paul writes about Bath in his own blog, unpublishedwriterblog. It is well worth a visit!

Beau Nash turned the city of Bath into the most fashionable resort in 18th-century England. In his role as Master of Ceremonies he organised the premier social events in the city and chose who should, and should not be invited. He established a select list of people who he defined as the cream of Society, and more importantly he changed the social conventions of the city.

Richard Beau Nash

Nash broke down the old order dominated by the nobility and gentry, and promoted the nouveaux- riches. Whereas in other cities the growing number of wealthy industrialists and tradespeople were still looked down on because of their background, in Bath, Nash welcomed them as elite members of society.

Bath in the 18th century at the time of Beau Nash

For years the city thrived on the wealth of visitors who stayed for the Season. The affluent tourists rented houses and apartments and all the trappings that went with them; crockery and cutlery, silver-ware and ornaments, horses and carriages, servants and attendants. Prominent architects designed fine buildings and the city grew. Milsom Street became one of the most prestigious shopping areas in the country.

Milsom Street and Bond Street with Portraits of Bath Swells.

By 1801, when Jane Austen moved to Bath, the city was the 9th largest in England, with a population of 33,000. Yet the city’s fortunes had already begun to decline. Bath had changed in character and atmosphere. It was becoming less fashionable and the wealthy were visiting less often, and their stays were becoming shorter.

Thomas Rowlandson’s caricature of the Comforts of Bath. The classes noticeably mingled as they awaited drinking the waters in the Pump Room. (Notice the patient in the wheel chair on the left and the sedan chair next to him, which was carried inside the room.) Nash’s statue is in the niche at the top right. You can still see it today.

Built in a bowl of seven hills, Bath’s ever-growing population was increasingly crowded into a relatively small area. It’s little wonder that when Jane Austen moved to the city, she wrote to her sister, Cassandra saying, “The first view of Bath in fine weather does not answer my expectations; … the appearance of the place from the top of Kingsdown was all vapour, shadow, smoke, and confusion.”

Coal soot darkened the creamy colored stone of the buildings.

Perhaps it is unsurprising that it seemed, “all smoke” when every household depended on coal fires for warmth, that it was “all confusion” when its roads were congested with carts and carriages. And in Georgian cities, once you set foot on the streets there was no escaping the poor drainage and lack of decent sanitation and sewerage systems. As Austen said in a letter to her sister, “We stopped in Paragon (a prestigious address where her wealthy uncle lived) as we came along, but it was too wet and dirty for us to get out.”

The Paragon, Bath.

By the time Persuasion was published in 1817, the larger part of Bath’s population was working class. Industry was thriving in the city, supplying the many fine shops in Milsom Street and drawing people from the countryside to fill the jobs created. Yet the people who worked in the factories and sweat-shops, the costermongers and shop-assistants, the building labourers and hotel staff were, for the most part, poorly paid.

Advertisement for B. Lautier Goldsmith Shop in Bath, 1848

The only housing they could afford was overcrowded and poorly maintained, and the slum areas around Avon Street were increasing in size, as quickly as they were deteriorating in quality and appearance. By 1850, the rookery of hovels and cheap boarding-houses in and around Avon Street were home to almost a quarter of the Bath’s population.

Bath had grown considerably by the 1850’s, the date of this illustration.

My novel, Avon Street is set in Bath in 1850. But Bath isn’t just a setting. It is a character in its own right. In writing Avon Street, I have tried to take the reader beyond the Georgian facades, and reveal a city, where wealth and elegance were never far from poverty and squalor. Bath was a city, where things were often not as they seemed, where people as Austen said, could “be important at comparatively little cost.” In short it is the ideal setting for a story of confidence tricksters and crime, intrigue and betrayal. A city where enemies can seem all-powerful, and friends are sometimes found where least expected.

Image of Avon Street.

In Persuasion Anne Elliot visits a friend in Westgate Buildings despite Sir Walter’s warning of its unsuitableness – “Everything that revolts other people, low company, paltry rooms, foul air, disgusting associations are inviting to you.” (Click here to see an image of Westgate Buildings in 1900.) It seemed only fitting that the first chapter of my book be set in the same location, on the borders of the Avon Street area.

Pickwick Mews, Avon Street, in 1923. Image @The Victoria Art Gallery

More about Avon Street and Paul Emanuelli: Why Avon Street?

Avon Street: Purchase information

Paperback: 352 pages

Publisher: The History Press Ltd (1 Feb 2012)

Language English

ISBN-10: 0752465546

ISBN-13: 978-0752465548

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This 12-minute podcast from Colonial Williamsburg Podcasts discusses The Art of Beauty in the 18th century. My previous post featured a recap of the Shire Book, Beauty and Cosmetics 1550-1950 by Sarah Jane Downing. The podcast compliments that post to a tee!

Read the transcript at this link. Find other podcasts at the Colonial Williamsburg Past and Present Podcast. The categories sit in the sidebar on the right.

Lavender Water recipe from The experienced English house-keeper: for the use and ease of ladies, house-keepers, cooks, &c, Elizabeth Raffald, confectioner … Manchester, 1769.

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Gentle Readers, Patty of Brandy Parfums frequently contributes articles of interest to this blog. Her latest post is about Anonymous, the film about the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays, which recently opened in theatres.

Film Poster

Introduction  – Instead of writing a traditional plot-spoiler review of Anonymous, which can be found in many newspapers and magazines, I’ve written what I think will be more useful – a short guide to Shakespeare authorship. Enjoy! – Patricia Saffran

Jamie Campbell Bower as the young earl of Oxford

A Guide to Shakespeare Authorship

Jane Austen knew Shakespeare’s plays well and based a number of her novels on Shakespeare’s characters and plot devices. Stephen Derry writes about these many references in his paper for the Jane Austen Society of North America, ‘Jane Austen’s Use of Measure for Measure in Sense and Sensibility.’ Derry begins his paper by saying -In Mansfield Park, Edmund Bertram declares that one is familiar with Shakespeare in a degree from one’s earliest years. His celebrated passages are quoted by everybody we all talk Shakespeare, use his similes, and describe with his descriptions.

Tudor England

Knowing of Jane Austen’s profound knowledge of Shakespeare should give those who love her works a keen interest in all things Shakespeare – and in this new movie, which brings the Elizabethan period to life. This is the first time a major movie studio has taken a leap, with an elaborate period production, costumes, and star-studded cast, to delve into the question plaguing scholars for centuries, as to who the author of  Shakespeare’s plays really was.

Joely Richardson as a young Elizabeth I and Jamie Campbell Bower as a young Earl of Oxford

The gamble has payed off, as this is a truly sensational
movie. It takes place during the succession of Queen Elizabeth I, and the Essex Rebellion against her – a period of turmoil and political instability. During this period, being the author of a play with politically loaded or satirical material was dangerous. Some authors chose anonymity………

Shakespeare authorship as an area of inquiry is not new. While making a list of the greatest Elizabethan poets, Henry Peacham in The Compleat Gentleman published in 1622, when the First Folio was being created, lists Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, first on his list and does not include Shakespeare at all. Many believe that this was Peacham’s way of hinting that Edward de Vere, not William Shakespeare, wrote the plays and poetry.

Rafe Spall as William Shakespeare

More recently, in the past 150 years, there have been many notable actors, writers, and Supreme Court judges who have questioned William Shakespeare as the author of the plays. Among them are Mark Twain, Leslie Howard, Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles, Sigmund Freud, Charles Dickens, Walt Whitman, Henry James, J. Thomas Looney, Michael York, Sandra Day O’Connor, Harry A. Blackmun, and John Paul Stevens. Besides de Vere and William Shakespeare, the other main candidates to have written the plays are Bacon, Marlowe, and Neville.

Rhys Ifans as the mature Earl of Oxford

A fantastic short video by the director of Anonymous, Roland Emmerich, summarizes ten reasons why it is implausible that the Stratford William Shakespeare wrote the plays. For some, the main reason is that unlike all other great authors of the period, no letters exist either to or from Shakespeare.

Preview: Was Shakespeare a Fraud?

A new book coming out November 8th continues to examine the question of Shakespeare authorship – The Shakespeare Guide to Italy by Richard Paul Roe, paints the Stratford man who never left England as an improbable author of the many distinctively Italian plays.

Vanessa Redgrave as the mature Elizabeth I

Current scholars, and by extension many of their now journalist proteges, who defend William Shakespeare as the author of the plays, are extremely defensive and say there is no room for doubt. Time will likely make the world more receptive to exploring Shakespeare authorship, but for now Anonymous will inspire interest in this fascinating field. I highly recommend this film.

For more on Shakespeare and Shakespeare Authorship:

About the film:

Anonymous, the new movie about Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, as the true author of Shakespeare’s plays. With Rhys Ifans, Vanessa Redgrave, David Thewlis, and along with those who actively support authorship studies, Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance. Directed and produced by Roland Emmerich, released by Columbia.

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Poor Miss Manners is always having to explains why Americans hold forks in their right hands as opposed to Europeans, who use their left hand to spear their food. Have American table manners deteriorated? Or are we following an historic tradition?

Image @Silver Collect Blog*

To answer that question we need to go back to ancient times when two-tined kitchen forks were used to help carve and serve meat. (We still require the assistance of large two-tined forks when barbecuing foods on a gas or coal grill.) In the 7th century the people in the Middle East began to use forks when dining, and by the 10th through the 11th centuries such usage had become quite common. The Italians were introduced to the fork in the 11th century.

One tale of the introduction of the fork to Western Europe credits Maria Argyropoulina, the Greek niece of Byzantine Emperor Basil II, who brought a case of golden forks to Venice in 1004, when she was to be married to the son of the Doge. She shocked guests at the wedding feast by using a fork, leading one priest to comment, “God in his wisdom has provided man with natural forks — his fingers. Therefore it is an insult to Him to substitute artificial metal forks for them when eating.” Italian clerics viewed it as God’s vengeance when Argyropoulina died of the plague two years later. – Early British Table Silver: A Short History

Image @Silver Collect Blog

It took 500 years for the implement to be used widely in that land. The French had their first look at the fork in 1533 when Catherine de Medici brought them from Italy upon the occasion of her marriage. The fork was at first thought to be an affectation, thus its adoption was slow, as it was in England after Thomas Coryate brought the implement back in 1608 from one of his travels to Italy. He observed that at their meals Italians  “use a little forks when they cut the meats.” Early table forks were small and two-pronged, but the sharp straight tines were unable to hold much food, inspiring mockery.  “Why should a person need a fork when God had given him hands?” one Englishman asked. (History of the Fork).  Ben Johnson satirized the fork in 1616 in The Devil is an Ass for “the sparing of napkins.”

One wonders how the Europeans ate their food without a fork. If you’ve ever attended a reproduction of a medieval banquet you have an idea. People used knives to spear food, spoons to scoop up, and fingers to grab. Only one implement was used at a time, and it was held in the right hand.

Slowly but surely the fork began to make inroads upon the dining table. As is the usual case, the wealthy began to adopt the new implement first. The upper crust began to impress their guests with forks made of expensive materials. Called suckett forks, they were used to protect the hands from sticky and messy foods or foods that stained the hands, like mulberries. By the mid 1600s, forks had become luxury items and were considered to be marks of fashion.   At the end of the 17th century and beginning of the 18th century the three-tined fork was introduced. The “sherbet course”, introduced in the early 1700’s, was created to wash the single fork for the next course.” (The History of the Fork)

Image @Silver Collect Blog*

Four-tined prongs became popular in the 1750s.  These tines were curved and served as a scoop, reducing the need for the spoon. By the time Jane Austen and her family had moved from Steventon to Bath, the four-tined fork was also being made in Germany and England and had traveled to the Americas. In the mid 19th century specialized forks were produced for every kind of food, including cakes and fish.

Table fork, 1771

This short history still does not explain why Americans and Europeans hold their forks in different hands. History Matters: Cutlery provides an insight:

Cardinal Richelieu of France supposedly was so disgusted by a frequent dinner guest’s habit of picking his teeth with his knife that he had the tips of the man’s knives ground down. The fashion-conscious French court picked up on this style and followed suit. In 1699, to reduce the risk of dinnertime knife fights, French King Louis XIV banned pointed knives outright. Since blunted knives were useless for spearing food in the old two-knife dining style, forks replaced the knife held in the left hand.

The newfangled blunt knives reached the American colonies in the early 1700s, where few forks were available. Americans were forced to use upside-down spoons to steady food for cutting. They would then switch the spoon to the right hand, flipping it to use as a scoop. Even after forks became everyday utensils, this “zigzag” style (as Emily Post called it in the 1920s) continues to divide American eaters’ customs from the Continental style of dining. (Shifting the fork to the right hand after cutting is considered uncouth by Europeans.) – (This passage seems to have used The Uncommon Origins of the Common Fork as its source.)

18th C. flesh forks for broiling meat

In a recent Washington Post advice column, Miss Manners contends that Americans follow the correct European way of eating centuries ago and that it was the Europeans who sped things up by keeping the fork in the left hand as they cut their food with the right hand. She concludes her advice with this thought:

Those who point out that the European manner is more efficient are right. Those who claim it is older or more sophisticated — etiquette has never considered getting food into the mouth faster a mark of refinement — are wrong. – Miss Manners: Fork’s History is not a big Mystery

Silver serving fork, 1825

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Gentle Readers, It may please you to know that frequent contributer, Tony Grant (London Calling), lives near Richmond Park, a wilderness that has kept its pristine nature for centuries. Enjoy these beautiful photographs.

Geese flying towards Pen Ponds

Richmond Park is situated 12 miles south west of St Pauls Cathedral in the city of London. It just happens to be two miles from where I live on the edge of Wimbledon and abuts Wimbledon Common that stretches for a few miles on the other side of the Kingston Road.

Deer at Richmond Park

The Kingston Road is a very old road running between Kingston upon Thames and the City of London. It bisects Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park on it’s way. Jane Austen would have travelled often along it on her way from Hampshire by way of Kingston upon Thames to her brother Henry’s house in Henrietta Street or to one of the other houses Henry owned at different times.

Deer under the trees

The park has always been an untouched piece of wilderness. It has never been adapted or changed by agriculture. It has always been as it is to this day. It covers 2,500 acres. King Edward I who lived from 1272 to 1307 and who was also called Longshanks and The Hammer of the Scots, formed the park in the Manor of Sheen beside the Thames outside of London, as a hunting park stocked with red and fallow deer.

There are six hundred deer in the park to this day. Under Henry VII, who built a palace at Sheen beside the river, the park and the local town was renamed, Richmond. There is a mound or small hill in the park called, Henry VIII’s Mound, where the Tudor king reputedly would spy out likely deer to be hunted. In 1625 Charles I removed the whole of his court to Richmond Palace because of the Black Plague raging through London.

He used the park for hunting too. In 1637 Charles had a wall built around the park, which is still there. The local people were obviously chagrined. Charles passed strict laws about the King’s deer being poached and the wall was an extra deterrent.

Stag by Pen Ponds

Richmond Park has a strong emotional connection for Marilyn and me. Not only does one of the campuses of Kingston University, where me met as undergraduates, back onto the park and on numerous occasions we scaled the brick wall between Kingston Hill Place, my halls of residence , to get into the park at night but it has great significance to the birth of all our children. Now I know what you are thinking, but you would be wrong. By the way, Kingston Hill Place used to be the home of Lilly Langtry or Jersey Lill, as she was known, the mistress of Queen Victoria’s eldest son Edward VII.

Pen Ponds, Richmond Park

Getting back to the great significance to the birth of our four children. Well, it first happened with Sam, our eldest. The day he was due to be born, 1st July 1986, Marilyn showed no signs of going into labour. We sat around and sat around waiting for something to happen and obviously it wasn’t going to.

Pen Ponds

We decided to drive to Richmond Park and go for a walk beside Penn Ponds, two beautiful small lakes right in the middle of the park with reed beds and groves of massive ancient oak trees nearby. The ponds have a large variety of water birds, swans, mallards, Canada Geese, coots and many other varieties of ducks inhabiting them. They nest in the reed beds along the edge of the ponds. Richmond Park has been classified as SSSI status. That means it is a site of special scientific interest. Sam was born a week later on the 8th July.

Pen Ponds in the Rain

When Marilyn [Tony’s wife] was pregnant with Alice we followed the same routine, a day beside Penn Ponds and then after that, we did the same with Emily and Abigail in later years.

Pen Ponds

All of our children were born late. You might think, weren’t you taking a chance? What if Marilyn had gone into labour on the predicted date? Ah well you see, Kingston Hospital is right next to Richmond Park. All we needed to do was climb over the wall. No sorry, let me get that right; drive a short distance to the maternity department.

My daughters outside the Royal Ballet School

There are a number of beautiful houses inside Richmond Park. White Lodge,in the centre, is the home of The Royal Ballet School. All our great ballet dancers train there from an early age. In the film Billly Elliott, that is where he went to train as a dancer. White Lodge is an elegant 18th century pile that used to be a country house belonging to Edward VII.

Outside the Royal Ballet school

Pembroke Lodge, situated on a high hill overlooking the River Thames and Kingston upon Thames is situated on the edge of the park. It used to be the home of Lord John Russell, a prime minister during the reign of Queen Victoria. He was the grandfather of Bertrand Russell, the philosopher. Bertrand Russell spent much of his childhood at Pembroke Lodge.

Pembroke Lodge

Pembroke Lodge is now a café and restaurant. It is a great experience to sit on the terrace of Pembroke Lodge on a summers afternoon looking out over the Thames sipping Earl Grey or Lapsang Souchong, and eating a scone with clotted cream or homemade strawberry jam.

Pembroke Lodge entrance

Richmond Park is wonderful to take long walks. There are many massive ancient oak trees. Some must be four or five hundred years old. A few have been scarred by lightning strikes.

Pembroke Lodge view

You will see deer grazing in amongst the vast areas of bracken. An unexpected sound and sight are the flocks of green parakeets that have inhabited parts of Richmond Park.

Pembroke Lodge

The story goes, whether myth or reality , is that in the 1940’s Treasure Island was being filmed at Pinewood Studios. They had parakeets on the film set and some escaped and began breeding in Richmond Park. A similar story centres around the making of The African Queen with Humphrey Bogard. It too was being filmed partly at Pinewood. Again the story goes that parakeets escaped from that film set too. I don’t know how much truth there is any of these stories but there is, without doubt, a colony of green parakeets living and breeding in Richmond Park. I have had a few land and rest in the branches of the apple trees in my own garden.

The Royal Ballet School

There are a number of plantations that are fenced off from the rest of the park so deer cannot eat the shrubs and trees growing in them.

Walk in the park

The Isabella Plantation is the most wonderful example of them all. It is a woodland garden at it’s best. In the spring when the bluebell woods are carpeted in blue it lifts the spirits and is a joy to behold. Many of the bushes and shrubs situated in glades and beside the sparkling stream that runs through the plantation create an emotional and spiritual experience.

Foot bridge

The Isabella Plantation is one of those places on earth that sooths the spirit and fills your eyes with beauty. To sit on the grass and listen to the birds and look at the camellias, magnolias, azaleas and rhododendrons is wonderful. The plantation is run on organic principles and because of this it is home to a great variety of insects and mini beasts.

Wild corner

Here is a quote from the web site dedicated to the Isabella plantation.

“In spring, visitors can see camellias, magnolias, as well as daffodils and bluebells. From late April, the azaleas and rhododendrons are in flower. In summer, there are displays of Japanese irises and day lilies. By autumn, guelder rose, rowan and spindle trees are loaded with berries and leaves on the acer trees are turning red. Even in winter, the gardens have scent and colour. There are early camellias and rhododendron, as well as mahonia, winter-flowering heathers and stinking hellebore.”

The present plantation was developed by George Thomson , the park superintendent from 1951-1971.

Woodland paths

Some recent news for you Hollywood A list watchers. My local paper had a small news item. Brad Pitt has been spotted taking pictures of the deer in Richmond Park recently. He is over here filming at the moment. He and Angelina are living in a house, a grand house I am sure, by the Thames at Richmond.

Woodland stream and flowers

Outside the Richmond gate is a large elegant brick building called The Star and Garter Hospital. It is a special hospital for aged military servicemen and women from all wars. They also have the poppy factory next to it. We celebrate the dead of our wars on November 11th every year which was the First World War Armistice Day. The fields of Picardy, in Northern France, where much of the terrible deadly trench warfare took place, were covered in wild poppies in the Spring. Somebody thought the poppies represented the drops of blood from the dead who lay in those fields so the poppy was taken as the British symbol to remember the dead.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below. – John McRae

Poppies in Connaught Cemetery. Image @The Great War

Just down the hill from the park, in Richmond town, there is a house called Hogarth House. It was in this house that Virginia Woolf lived with her husband Leonard for many years and began The Hogarth Press, named after the house. Virginia Woolf, in her diaries, often mentions going for walks with Leonard and friends in Richmond Park.

Hogarth House, Richmond

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There is an old 18th century white washed house in The High Street of Kingston upon Thames that backs on to the river. On the road side there is a large circular green plaque positioned on the outside wall of this house that reads:

“ Cesar Picton
A native of Senegal
West Coast of Africa.
Brought to England in 1761
as servant to Sir John Philips of Norbiton
Kingston upon Thames.
Later a coal merchant and gentleman.
Lived here 1788 – 1807.”

Cesar Picton's house, front. Image @Tony Grant

Cesar Picton was a slave in the ownership of Sir John Philips, and was made a freed man. It is interesting to note that 1807, the last year Cesar Picton lived in this house, before he moved to Thames Ditton, a few miles away,  the year the slave trade was abolished in Britain. It would be another twenty-six years before slavery itself would be abolished.

The road outside Cesar Picton's house. Image @Tony Grant

Cesar Picton

But Cesar Picton was a freed man long before this  event and already a prosperous merchant. His freedom had to do with Sir John Philips and what he and his family believed. Jane Austen would have passed through Kingston at the time Cesar Picton was a gentleman and merchant there. I wonder if she saw him in the streets? Jane’s family must have had close connections with slavery. Her brother Henry was a banker. Most of the wealth of Britain at the time came from slavery. Her brother Charles was a Royal Naval captain and was stationed on the North American station, often calling into Bermuda. His ship must have been used to protect the slaving ships that the fictional SirThomas Bertram, in Mansfield Park, relied on for his wealth in the plantations.

Slave ship, Bristol

Apart from this oblique reference in Mansfield Park, Jane never mentions slavery or her views about it. During her lifetime the slave trade was abolished but not slavery itself. But change was happening, and by the time Cassandra died slavery was seen as a repugnant thing and was abolished. Was it one of the reasons Jane’s letters were culled by Cassandra in later life? Did she try to hide Jane’s – perhaps – unpopular views in the tide of anti slavery? We will never know.

The year 1761, when Cesar Picton was brought to Britain by Captain Parr of the British Army especially for Sir John Phillips,  is an interesting one. Senegal had been British up to 1677, when the French took it over. France and Britain had been at war in the late18th and early 19th centuries. Goree, the island just off Senegal that was used for trading slaves, changed hands briefly during these wars back and forth between the British and French. It could well have been during one of these brief spells in charge by the British that Cesar Picton was bought as a promising servant for a wealthy man back in England.

There must have always been an element in British religious and moral sensibilities that saw these African slaves as equal human beings and at a high government level. In 1788 Britain set up a settlement for freed slaves further along the coast from Senegal to accommodate slaves from the plantations of Virginia and Carolina. They had helped the British fight The War of Independence against the Americans, and a place for them to live had to be found after the British retreated from America. Nova Scotia was their first settlement, but the climate was too cold.

Freetown, Sierra Leone, 1803

Sierra Leone on the West African coast was set up for them, and Freetown, the capital, was established. But slavery was a vital element in the Empire for trade and financial wealth. It couldn’t be given up that easily, no matter how much it pricked certain people’s consciences, and the majority of people in England were kept ignorant of what went on in the slave plantations.

Sir John Philipps

Sir John Philipps (1666 – 1773), the gentleman who obtained Cesar Picton, was a member of an illustrious family whose main seat was Picton Castle, near Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, South Wales. In the 18th century, the Philips family was the most powerful family in the political, social, and economic arenas  in Pembrokeshire. Sir John Philips, who owned large areas of land in Wales, was a philanthropist who supported the building of schools. He built twentythree of them in Pembrokeshire alone. He also built schools in Camarthenshire.

Fort Nassau, Senegal, 1760

It was to Picton Castle in Wales that Cesar Picton was first brought from Senegal. He then took the name of the castle as his surname.

Picton Castle, Pembrokeshire, 1865

Sir John Philipps attended Westminster public school in 1679 when he was 13 years of age. He went on to Trinity College, Cambridge between 1662 to 1664, and was admitted to Lincolns Inn in 1683. He did not complete his degree at Cambridge, and he was not called to the bar either. Sir John appears to have wasted his time and seemed to have enjoyed a frivolous life style when he was young. However by 1695 he became the Member of Parliament for Pembrokeshire. He remained a Member of Parliament until 1702. He then later returned to parliament for Haverfordwest and remained there until 1772. On the 18th January, 1697, Sir John’s father died, and he became the 4th baronet. In the same year he married Mary, the daughter and heiress of Anthony Smith, a rich East India merchant. Sir John had influential friends and great wealth. His sister Elizabeth’s daughter married Horace Walpole in 1700.

The Oxford Holy Club

From 1695 to 1737, Sir John was a leading figure in many religious and philanthropic movements. Most important of all, in relation to Cesar Picton, Sir John was a member of The Holy Club. The Holy Club had many religious reformers amongst its numbers, A.H. Francke, A.W. Boehme, J.F. Osterwald, John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield. These were Evangelists, Methodists and Quakers. It was from amongst these religious colleagues that the anti slavery movement found it’s strength and became an unstoppable force. Sir John was part of a group therefore that constructed the legislation to abolish the save trade and eventually abolish slavery. In his treatment of Cesar Picton we can see these beliefs in early action. It might have been that Sir John Picton actively sought a slave from Senegal with the express purpose of freeing him once back in England and supporting him to become a wealthy esteemed member of society. Maybe Cesar Picton was his proof that slaves were his equal. This is what happened to Cesar Picton.

Cesar Picton's coal wharf site. Image @Tony Grant

Cesar Picton was six years old when he was brought to England by Captain Parr , an British Army officer who had been serving in Senegal.. He was given to Sir John Philips along with a parakeet. Cesar was born a Muslim but soon after arriving in Sir John’s household at Picton Castle he was baptised and given the name of Cesar on the 6th December 1761. He was dressed as a servant wearing a velvet turban, which cost 10 shillings and sixpence. It was fashionable for black servants to be richly dressed. There were very few black servants in England. Only very rich merchants and the wealthy aristocracy would have them. They were not treated the same as slaves which were used in their tens of thousands on the sugar, tobacco and cotton plantations of the West Indies and the mainland coast of America. Normally a black servant would have been the personal servant of the male head of the household but Cesar became the favourite of Lady Philips. He mixed with the family on equal terms. Sir John’s philanthropic and religious beliefs were applied to the treatment of Cesar.

Horace Walpole

Horace Walpole, the younger son of the first British Prime Minister Robert Walpole. who married Elizabeth the sister of Sir John, wrote in a letter to a friend in 1788,

“I was in Kingston with the sisters of Lady Milford; they have a favourite black, who has been with them a great many years and is remarkably sensible.”

Sir John died in 1764 and his son became Lord Milford. Milford is the area in Wales where Picton Castle is situated. Lady Milford made a new will in which she left Cesar £100. Her son sold Norbiton Place near Kingston. With the money he was given, Cesar was able to rent a coach house and stables next to the Thames in Kingston. This building today is called Picton House.

Kingston Upon Thames, 18th century

After paying a corporation tax of £10 to trade, Picton set himself up as a coal merchant. By 1795 he had made enough money to buy Picton House, a wharf for his coal barges, and a malt house for brewing beer. In 1801, one of the Philips daughters died and left him a further £100. He was wealthy by now on his own terms. In 1807,when he was 52, he let his properties in Kingston and lived in Tolworth neaby to Kingston for a while.

Picton House, Thames Ditton

In February 1816 he bought a house in Thames Ditton, down river from Kingston, for the then massive sum of £4000. He lived there for the next twenty years until his death. When he died the list of the contents of his house included a horse and chaise, two watches, with gold chains, seals, brooches, gold rings, a tortoiseshell tea chest, silver spoons and tongs. There were also paintings of his friends hanging in his house including a portrait of himself.

While Picton was living in Thames Ditton, the other two Philips daughters died in Hampton Court. Joyce left him £100 and Katherine left him £50 and a legacy of £30 per year for life. Cesar himself died in 1836 aged 81. He did not marry and had no heirs,  and was buried in All Saints Church, Kingston upon Thames on the 16th June, 1836. He had become very fat in his old age and his body had to be taken to the church on a four-wheeled trolley.

Cesar Picton Gravestone. Image @Find a Grave

Unlike some of the other freed slaves in England at the time, Cesar did not make his thoughts known about slavery and the slave trade. He was happy to lead a comfortable life. Olaudah Equiano wrote a book about his experiences and actively took part in the campaigning of William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson. Others, like Briton Hammon and Ukawsaw Gronniosaw, made oral accounts that were transcribed. Letters were written by Ignatius Sancho to help bolster the anti slavery cause.

Jane Austen wrote in Mansfield Park,

These opinions had been hardly canvassed a year, before another event arose of such importance in the family, as might fairly claim some place in the thoughts and conversation of the ladies. Sir Thomas had found it expedient to go to Antigua himself, for the better arrangement of his affairs, and he took his eldest son with him in the hope of detaching him from some bad connections at home. They left England with the probability of being nearly a twelve month absent.”

Slaves digging the cane holes, Antiqua, 1823

Sir Thomas Bertram’s affairs in Antigua could only have referred to his sugar plantations, the source of all his wealth and the financial source of Mansfield Park itself.

Slave cutting sugar cane, 1799

Jane’s own brothers, Frank and Charles would have been amongst the captains with their warships used to protect the likes of Sir Thomas Bertram’s trading ventures, which must have included slaves for his plantations in Antigua. Henry, Jane’s favorite brother, would have invested the proceeds of this trade through his bank. It is very possible that Jane caught sight of the famous Cesar Picton, wealthy merchant and freed man, walking in the streets of Kingston upon Thames. I wonder what her opinion was?

Kingston Upon Thames, Thomas Hornor, 1813

Post written by Tony Grant, London Calling.

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The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant (Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant), edited by John Y. Simon, Southern Illinois University Press, on Amazon, a review by Patty of Brandyparfums.com

I’m rereading this fantastic, romantic book, and I thought of readers who should be acquainted with this literary gem. Any Regency reader would love Julia Dent Grant’s charming memoirs which due to failing eyesight she dictated to her son or secretary. Her eloquence is astonishing – at once dramatic and poetic. There are many references to things English since she and Ulysses met the Queen during their world tour. They also dined at Apsley House. Daughter Nellie married an Englishman and went to live in England. Here are some of the beautiful, moving passages:

“My first recollections in life reach back a long way, more than three-score years and ten now……..Dear papa, coming out with great pleasure, caught me, held me up in the air, telling me to look, the very trees were welcoming me, and, sure enough, the tall locust trees were tossing their white-plumed branches gleefully.”

“Such delightful rides we all used to take! The Lieutenant [Ulysses] rode a bonny brown steed with flowing wavy mane and tail. He called him Fashion. My horse was a beauty, a chestnut brown, and as glossy as satin, and such pretty ears and great eyes. She was part Arabian, and I named her Psyche. Such rides! in the early spring, the tender young foliage scarcely throwing a shadow…..he was always by my side.”


Julia Grant and her husband, Image @OhioPix

There’s information about Lincoln and the assassination that isn’t found in most history books. The day of the assassination, Julia was visited by one of the conspirators wearing “a shabby hat.” –

I thought it was the bellboy with cards. ‘What do you want?’ He reddened and, bowing, said, “This is Mrs. Grant?” I bowed assent. “Mrs. Lincoln sends me, Madam, with her compliments, to say she will call for you at exactly eight o’clock to go to the theatre.” To this I replied with some feeling (not liking either the looks of the messenger or the message, thinking the former savored of discourtesy and the latter seemed like a command), ‘You may tell Mrs. Lincoln that as General Grant and I intend leaving the city this afternoon, we will not therefore be here to accompany the President and Mrs. Lincoln to the theatre.”

Later that afternoon at a late lunch in the Willard, the conspirators sit at a table starring at Julia –

He seemed to be intent on what we and the children were saying. I thought he was crazy.”

When the Grants hold their first few White House receptions, Julia wrote about the young peoples’ luncheon and it reminded me of a Heyer novel –

The young peoples’ luncheon is a memory of dimples, smiles, gleaming white shoulders, of lace and flowers and tender glances – a pleasant memory to me.”

The Grants go to the grand Apsley House for a dinner given by the second duke of Wellington. Julia wonders, “This great house was presented to Wellington by the government for a single victory at Waterloo along with a noble title which will descend throughout his line. As I sat there I thought, ‘How would it have been if General Grant had been an Englishman’ – I wonder, I wonder.”

While in Paris, Julia reveals her interest in fashion –

I had a splendid time shopping. [in Paris] Mr [Charles F.] Worth personally directed the fitting of my costumes, and Madame Virot attended me in person for any millinery I wished, and these were no small attentions, I assure you.”

Many more amazing passages may be found in Julia’s Memoirs. She was the first First Lady to write her memoirs but they weren’t published during her lifetime and appeared in 1973.

Back Cover of the book

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Inquiring readers,

For those of you who have not yet visited Nancy Mayer’s beautiful website, you are in for a treat. Click here to enter Nancy Mayer, Regency Researcher: A most proper authority on all things Regency. Nancy has been a member of JASNA (Jane Austen Society of North America) for some time. She was a member of a local chapter in 1990-1994, then started up a new chapter in 1996, and has been the regional coordinator for northern Georgia since then. Nancy has been researching Regency England for more than twenty years, and finds Google books a big help. While she is responsible for the text on her website, Susan Newman designed the web pages and added the illustrations. Nancy graciously agreed to answer a few of my questions:

1. How and when did you become interested in Jane Austen’s novels?

This is probably heresy, but I came to Austen and her novels because I wanted to learn more about Regency life. I had heard of Pride and Prejudice and seen the old Lawrence Olivier movie, but hadn’t gone any further with it or the other novels until I became interested in the Regency period. After reading Jane Austen’s letters, and some biographical data on her, I started in on her novels. I joined a discussion group in Atlanta around 1990 and haven’t looked back since. Even after twenty years of discussing the novels there is always something new to be found. I am not one who has memorized the books and don’t read them all over every year, but I usually find some new insight each time I do.

2. Which is your favorite Jane Austen book and/or character, and why?

Persuasion. Anne Elliot is my favorite character. She is more mature than the other heroines and so doesn’t make the mistakes they do. One seldom has to blush for her. I also think Wentworth is more romantic than Darcy, but I wouldn’t want to be a sailor’s wife.

3. You are considered an authority on the topic of Jane Austen and the Regency period, and your breadth of knowledge about the era astounds me. What are some of your favorite topics to research and why?

You flatter me. The more I research the more I discover what I don’t know. I like to research marriage, titles, peerage, the law, and mourning rules. I find property law most confusing, and barely know a VanDyke fringe from a scalloped one.

One can find all sorts of period books on Google books.

I am also interested in Lord Byron who was Jane Austen’s contemporary, His life gives the masculine and aristocratic elements missing in Jane Austen’s life. Though they both were alive from 1809 to 1817, one could sometimes think they lived at different times.

4. For the casual (but avid) Jane Austen reader, what are some sources you would recommend for further reading?

  • My Dear Cassandra:The letters of Jane Austen, Selected and introduced by Penelope Hughes Hallet. Clarkston Potter Publishers or Collins & Brown 1990, ISBN 0-51758312-7
  • Some might want the complete letters edited by Deirdre Le Faye, or the ones edited by John Chapman.
  • The novels published by Oxford have great appendices. Some of the Critical editions of the novels have appendices. One should have a copy of Lover’s Vows in one’s Copy of Mansfield Park. There are annotated versions of the stories with explanations of obscure and not so obscure points, and there are even comic book editions of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. No matter one’s taste or interests, one should be able to find a connection with Jane Austen.
  • Mrs. Hurst Dancing by Diana Sperling. This isn’t about Jane Austen but the illustrations of the Sperling family could be those of the Younger Dashwoods or the Bennets. # ISBN-10: 0575030356 # ISBN-13: 978-0575030350. Some are exceedingly expensive, but there are remaindered copies and second-hand copies at reasonable prices.
  • Jane Austen and Her times by G.E. Mitton, originally published 1905, 2007 Barnes and Noble.
  • Also there are probably fifty books out there covering everything from Jane Austen and Art to Jane Austen and Zombies. I know of book on Jane Austen and Food, Jane Austen and Crime, Jane Austen and fashion, ( and Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen).
  • Those who like quizzes and challenges might like: Jane Austen Challenge by Helen Barton: BartonBooks (June 2009) # ISBN-10: 0952725754 # ISBN-13: 978-0952725756
  • Also, So you Think You Know Jane Austen? By John Sutherland and Deidre le Faye Oxford University press, ISBN 0-19-280440-5

5. Would you like to share a common misconception about the Regency period with our readers, one that is wrongly perpetuated by book sources, websites, and blogs?

A general error I have found is thinking that the marriage laws, the church, and laws of inheritance were the same then as they are now. Many think the regency period was just like today, but in costume and with horses.

Nancy, thank you for sharing your wonderful insights. I hope readers will bookmark your website and visit it often. It’s best feature, as far as I am concerned, is your answers to their specific questions, like a personal researcher.

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Inquiring readers: Raquel Sallaberry from Jane Austen em Portugues sent the link to this post on Promantica about the entail in Downton Abbey entitled “Downton Abbey Fans – Welcome to the MOST Boring Law School Class.” The title is not exactly descriptive, for this wonderful post explains in great detail why the entail cannot be superceded, why Cora’s money is tied up and Lady Mary cannot inherit, and why Matthew Crawley cannot relinquish the title.

The Earl of Grantham and Matthew Crawley walk around the grounds of Downton Abbey

Magdalen, one of the blog contributors, introduces the expert:

By special request, I have asked my ex-husband to help us understand the law of the entail, critical to the plot of Downton Abbey.  Henry is a) British, b) an attorney, c) smart, and d) the son and grandson of QCs, i.e., barristers (British attorneys who appear in court) selected to be “Queen’s Counsel.”  (Although, to be fair, I think Henry’s grandfather took silk — Britspeak for becoming a QC — long enough ago that he was actually King’s Counsel!)
The blog goes on to describe the difference between real property, personal property, and intellectual property. Magdalen then dives into her questions:

First off, what’s an entail?
It is a limitation on the current tenant’s (in our case, the 6th Earl of Grantham) ownership interest in the estate. If he owned Downton Abbey outright, he would have a fee simple. Instead, he has a fee tail, which gives him a life interest so he can’t be evicted in his lifetime, but not the right to say who gets Downton Abbey after he dies.

The Earl of Grantham summarizes the situation best: "I'm a custodian, not an owner."

Okay, so how would an entail work?
The normal entail would be to “the 6th earl and heirs of his body” (meaning his legitimate biological children) or “and heirs male of his body” or “and heirs male of his body to be begotten on Cora.” When the 6th earl had no sons, the second and third of those would terminate, allowing the 6th earl to dispose of the money by will. The first would allow a daughter to inherit, but I’m not sure if it would pass to Mary or to the three daughters jointly or in shares…

To read the rest of this fascinating post, please click on this link to Promantica.

Thank you, Raquel (and Magdalen and Henry). This article is fascinating, fun to read, and very, very informative.

Read this blog’s other posts about Downton Abbey:

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Update: New Photos! Inquiring readers: Tony Grant (London Calling), who lives in England, has graciously reviewed the third (and final) episode of Amanda Vickery’s At Home With the Georgians: Safe as Houses, and pulled images for us to view.

In the first episode, A Man’s Place, we were introduced, by the delectable, Amanda Vickery, to the Georgian concept of owning your own house, no longer an elite aspiration but now a desire and need of the,”middling,” classes too. Then in the second episode , A Woman’s Touch, we were shown how decorating the interiors of these homes began a revolution in society. It introduced us to the concept of taste, affordability through mass production, advertising and in essence the beginning of the modern world. Now, in this the third and final episode Amanda Vickery introduces us to the concept of safety, security and personal space and through our homes, the invention of the family and individuality. The ideas we have today of what modern man and woman are, of how we see ourselves and what our personal needs are, the Georgians began.

Amanda Vickery surveys London at night

The opening shots of this programme show Amanda in shadowy profile on the rooftops of nigh time London contemplating the scene as indeed Batman does over Gotham City in those nightmarish films. Both contemplate the evils that lurk, the crimes that could happen, and the monsters that might perpetrate these horrors. We often think of Batman and Gotham City as a sort of Gothic nightmare but as this programme unfolds we might consider that Batman surveys the same fears and possibilities of crime the Georgians did in their cities, towns, villages and homes. This is what Amanda is introducing us to, the Georgian preoccupation with crime, especially against the householder.

Amanda Vickery outside the fortified Georgian house

The Georgians had their homes with beautiful interiors but “the Georgian idle was hedged with nightmares.” Dangers were without and within the home. Privacy and security were their greatest challenge. Walk past any Georgian terraced house and it is easy to notice the similarities between the exterior of a Georgian house and a castle. There are wrought iron palisades with sharp-pointed spearheads along the front of most Georgian houses.

Georgian House defenses, The Royal Crescent

Between the fence and the house exterior wall there is often a deep drop down to a basement floor where the servants live and work. This is like a moat, a further protection. There are often steps up to a massive front door, often studded with iron nail heads but always very sturdy. This is like a castle gate or portcullis. On the door often there are heavy brass knockers resembling a lion or Greek Goddess. This is perhaps the Greek gods of antiquity providing protection or a sign of aggressive protection by the lion. The door furniture inside the Georgian front door is very impressive. Amanda enjoys having a go with numerous bolts, top and bottom, massive locks that need hefty looking keys and that take some strength to wield and bars that have to be eased into place, slotting into iron slots.

Georgian door knockers, to keep evil at bay, perhaps

In Georgian times there were no insurance policies to cover crime and theft. There was not much of a police force. A town or district might have a night watchman who patrolled for part of the night along a few given roads. There was no official curfew although most people were locked up and in bed by 11 o’clock. Stories of horrors were rife in the cities. Journalists, as nowadays, loved a good story and would stoke the fuels of fear and neuroses.

Locking up at night

Amanda explains how this need to protect the home, which was seen as sacrosanct, by society and the law, was taken very seriously. A man’s home was his castle. The judiciary was keen to create laws to protect the householder. In Georgian times the number of crimes that could carry the death penalty increased from 50 to 200. It became known as The Bloody Code. Breaking and entry into a man’s home whether anything was taken or not, carried the death penalty. Mere theft on the street might not.

On a dark night, the light from the nightwatchman's lantern is so ineffective that he fails to see the burglars behind him. Image-detail of a Rowlandson caricature.

No fortress is totally impregnable. There were always weaknesses The roofs or as they were known, “the leads,” were a way into houses. Roof tiles can be removed and sky lights were weak.

Skylight, a possible thieves entrance

Some dire and extreme measures were taken to protect homes. Servants might sleep across doorways with a blunderbuss beside them. The interior doors to each room were locked. At nighttime a Georgian house became like a prison with the inmates locked into their cells. The owners of large estates might set mantraps within their grounds. This was a vicious spring-loaded contraption with a set of iron-serrated jaws that could sever a man’s leg and at least smash the shinbone. These were chained to stakes anchored in the ground so the poor unfortunate caught by one of these was trapped like a hunted animal.

For the so-called Age of Enlightenment, the Georgians were rather prone to neuroses and imaginings of all sorts. They believed in poltergeists, ghosts and all sorts of nocturnal occult beasts. Their homes had to be protected from these sorts of intruders. The chimney was open to the sky so this was a way for evil spirits to invade their homes and it had to be protected. A tender scene in the programme shows Amanda discussing with an expert in the field of the occult some of the personal objects the Georgians would hide in what they thought were vulnerable places where these spirits of the night might get in. Recesses up chimneys and cavities within walls and under the stairs were filled with items, often over generations. The occupants thought they would deter things of the occult. A little child’s shoe might for instance attract a poltergeist and distract it from attacking the child itself. So these things were seen as spoilers or like lightning conductors that misdirected an evil force.

Amanda Vickery showed many documents from her iPad

The way a Georgian household was formed also had its dangers. The patriarch of the house, the owner, perceived dangers from the very people in side his house. Who could he trust? Mr Fenner of Salisbury Court in Spitalfields had a family of nine. These were not a wife and seven children, he had a wife, but he had three lodgers, three servants and one apprentice. This was classed as his family. It was very hierarchical. Mr Fenner was the lord or King of the household, his wife was second in charge and then everybody else had their place, with the apprentice at the bottom of the pile. A house was a microcosm of Georgian society. Amanda tells us that we know about the Fenners only because there was a fire in Salisbury Court. It was taken to court and the apprentice and the Fenner’s cat were the suspects. The cat may have been seen as the embodiment of a witch.

A garrett. Image @Tony Grant

Houses were designed to enforce this hierarchy or sort of apartheid. The poor servants lived in the basement and in the garret at the top of the house. Large houses incorporated separate staircases; separate living rooms, essentially separate houses within the whole structure of a mansion or large house. New laws helped enshrine the separation and bolster the security of the owner. There was a law against the theft by a servant and theft by a lodger.

A secretaire

Servants were not only considered to give lip service but eye service too. A householder could not guarantee the thoughts and schemes of the people under him. All sorts of inventions were created to keep things secret and personal so prying eyes and fingers could not steal and find out things they should not. Right into the very heart of the Georgian household, secrecy and personal security was a concern and could never be guaranteed but it was strived for, vigorously.

Examining the compartments of a secretaire

One piece of furniture Amanda shows us is a secretaire, a French invention. It is a writing desk with secret compartments to keep notes and letters safe. It has draws and sections accessible by servant to fill the ink well or replace the quill but the written thoughts of the owner are in compartments not accessible to any old so and so.

Examining ladies pockets

Even clothing was designed to keep personal items safe. Women had large pockets attached to a belt fastened around their waist underneath two or three layers of outer garments. A slit in their outer dress allowed them to slip their hands into these copious and deep pockets within their clothing.

House holders, created strict rules for their servants and lodgers. No part of a house belonged to an employee or lodger. Apartheid had to be maintained and a strict ladder of authority had to be maintained. Amanda in her inimitable way finds the exceptions when this hierarchical structure could have been broken and all could have been destroyed. One, Benjamin Smith, a Leicestershire solicitor and a widower had a sexual relationship with a servant he called Newbat (her surname).  He wrote about this in detail  in his diaries. “He was lonely and had a cold bed,” Amanda described. He couldn’t help himself. This liaison threatened to destroy his whole world. Newbat began to control him with her sexual wiles. Eventually Benjamin found a new wife and Newbat was given her marching orders.

Benjamin Smith and Newbat

Oh dear me, the weaknesses of men!!!!!

This brings us to the most poignant and I think the most important part of this third episode. Amanda discusses what individuality and personal freedom really mean and how it developed in Georgian times. We all might, if we are lucky, consider that personal space, time to ourselves, privacy, when we need it, as very important even essential to us as individuals. It was not certain that you would have this sort of freedom if you were a Georgian.

The Georgians believed that you should have somewhere private. The King James Bible decreed that individuals should have a room set aside for personal private prayer twice a day. Large houses had small rooms built into them called closets. These rooms at first were specifically for prayer but very quickly they became used for private moments of all sorts. A place to keep personal objects, paintings, or even pornography. It could be place where a woman or man might have clandestine affairs.

Anne Dormer entrapped in her marriage

Amanda , as always, has uncovered the sad painful examples through her thorough reading and research into Georgian diaries. Anne Dormer and Robert Dormer lived in a beautiful Jacobean Mansion. They were in the top two percent of the wealthy of the country. Robert was intensely jealous. He stalked his wife’s every movement. When she walked in the grounds of the estate he would count her steps and watch her from a window. If she paused to look at anything he would question her intensely about it. She had no privacy. Her home was worse than a prison. The experience took its toll on her health. She could only be free when her husband died.

Servants shared rooms

Amanda discusses the apt question, “What about the serving classes who owned no property, had no closets, shared bedrooms, and had no personal space or time? What of them?” Servants all owned what was called a locking box. Within this they kept their personal items, the items, which gave them an identity. Their house, their room, their home was reduced to a small box. Amanda poignantly relates how some of these boxes were wallpapered inside. That tells you volumes. We are shown some of Hogarth’s pictures portraying the life of Moll Flanders. In the final scene when Moll is dying you can see in the picture that another maid or prostitute has broken into Moll’s locking box. At the end of her life even her most intimate personal possessions are now no longer private, no longer hers. She has lost everything.

Hogarth, A Harlot's Progress, Plate 5. Image @Tate Britain

So what happens if the wealthy, the householder, falls from grace and loses everything. In many towns, wealthy, Christian minded, merchants, would build what were called alms houses. These were small, quite comfortable houses, which provided some security and enabled families to stay together and offered some aspects of comfort and privacy. With this charitable act not all was lost. However towards the end of the 18th century a new form of provision was created for those who had fallen on hard times. This was the workhouse. A pitiless, regimented institution that stripped people of all privacy and independence. Almost anything was preferable to the workhouse.

A workhouse

The buildings of many Victorian workhouses remain today in towns and cities throughout England. They are put to other uses now. They were solidly built and once converted and modernised actually make great office space or trendy apartments. I wouldn’t like to live in one because of the memories and the history.

Geffrey Alms Houses (museum), Shoreditch

There are times in this series that I could cry for these very real people who Amanda reveals to us through their diaries. Amanda Vickery more than once pauses, a lump in her throat, as she finds it difficult to continue because of the rawness of some of the lives she has uncovered.

Geffrey Alms Houses, Shoreditch

Over these three episodes Amanda Vickery takes us through a journey showing how the creation of the modern household was invented. The concept of family was different in Georgian times but we can see how it developed and how we have got to where we are now from this Georgian starting point. The concept of personal freedom and personal space was in it’s infancy, struggling for acceptance. Amanda has described to us in this series the start of the modern world. The programmes are good at showing how marriage and relationships between men and women were changing and developing. I think it is worthwhile watching. I hope Amanda creates more programmes of this sort. They are thought-provoking. They make us ask questions about our world and ourselves.

Amanda Vickery and the actors who helped the Georgian Era come alive

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