Friday, 12 January 2018

The minuetiae of Historical Research

The minuetiae of research detail = one simple object that is often taken for granted within a Regency novel. Take a carafe as opposed to decanter - one and the same but in which country would it be a Carafe not a decanter, and who when visiting England may refer to it as a carafe? 

Did you think clothes hangers didn't exist during the Georgian period, that coat hangers were much later inventions. They were markedly different than coat hangers of today but existed as far back as the 1700s if not before - If you've seen meet hooks of old (from a smithy) then you are looking at precisely how robes, gowns during the late 17th century (1600s) were kept crease free from being hung inside out from hooks. That said, make a note of the next paragraph. 

Simple meet hooks became the forerunners to early clothes hangers? Now that is a fact discovered by a couple who purchased a  French chateau and there by chance during internal renovations a hidden closet was found behind a spring-loaded hinged panel; itself adjoined to one of the bedchambers. Inside were numerous hangers similar to this one - why the extra hook? Good Question, but not all had that extra hook, so it was supposed gowns etc., were hung from the ribbon loops (as sewn into the shoulders of gowns much as they are today) and made life a good deal easier for a mistress of the robe when selecting gowns!  

Have you assumed when purchasing a dress, evening gown, or even a humble T-shirt, that the ribbon ties attached to the shoulders are a handy device merely to prevent the item sliding from a hanger? I'll let you into a secret, those ties were once the hallmark of good in-house seamstresses, and most high ranking aristocrats had several within the household, who made shirts, chemise/sundries et al, and glorious gowns. Whereas for others a local modiste or a fashion house served purpose in provision of more regular clothing, and as today, the chances were likely two ladies may have ended up with similar if not identical gowns from a modiste. Tailors of course for the gentlemen. 

But I digress from those hangers, and where they themselves were attached = iron bars within dressing closets, much like the iron bars which supported drapes to tester beds. Dressing closets were purely for storage, sometimes quite narrow, sometimes spacious.     

This is a modern refashioning of an early Robe Closet, but it gives a fair example of curtains used as dust prevention! Bear in mind vacuum cleaners didn't exist in the Georgian period. And an armoire or two were often kept within the closet.  A royal closet resembled (according to a duchess' journal) a theatrical dressing closet with clothes strung from rails.  

Bear in mind ladies entertained within their boudoirs, so clothing on show was considered slutty within the bedchamber.    

A very basic Armoire.

Elaborate Armoir with lower drawers.  

So what did ladies of the robe to a Queen, and grooms to a King's bedchamber do with the clothes of their master's and mistresses. Given that Ladies of the Robe were the forerunners to a lady's maid (abigail), thus Ladies of the Robe were usually a duchess or countess in her own right. The latter "abigail/lady's maid" were a great deal lesser and merely of lower commoner order, many employed as servants to senior lady courtiers. 

Not all trunks had hasp catches. Many had iron rings to left and right of the chest, and when the lid closed it too had iron rings which fell in line with the rings on the chest. An Iron bar was threaded through the rings.  

Captains' trunks were great for storage and popular for travelling in earlier times when coaches were slower! 

Thus Flat-topped trunks became more popular for travelling because they stacked safer on the rear or the roof of the faster coaches/carriages of the 18-19th centuries. 

Light and winter weight clothing were interchanged with the seasons from packing trunks to those meet hooks within dressing/robe closets - the Grooms and Ladies of the Robe being "wards" of the royal clothing = modern terminology Wardrobe = a place to store hanging clothes. 

But, early armoires/wardrobe interiors consisted of shelves and drawers where shirts, chemise, neckties/cravats, hose, and accessories were stored. 

Similarly Grooms to the Bedchamber were rarely lesser than a knight/baron, though untitled commoners (squire) indeed often made it into the King's bedchamber staff and were oft knighted during service to that King - basically favoured subjects. Such rank was standard for many decades, most noticeable during the reign of Charles II and thence onward until the latter Georgian period and the coming of The Regent.

Positions within the Regent's entourage acquired differing titles recognised in earlier decades as quite other in respect of duties performed. A squire was no longer a servant, he was a lower gentry localised county landowner and often a Justice of the Peace. 

Thus valet's once again became in vogue for Dukes, Earls, and any gentleman of means who commanded or served in the military during the Georgian Period. Bedchamber staff became singularly intimate with their masters (one as opposed to many), and of those valets, many were formerly non-commissioned officers assigned duties of care and attendance to the former commander/officer's upkeep in turnout (dress). In general a valet's rank was from sergeant upwards to commissioned lieutenant: later referred to as a batman. In the navy from a cabin boy to flag lieutenant served as a valet to captain upwards to admiral - in differing ways from menial tasks to personal assistant.     

For the lesser gentleman Here's a pic of a dumb valet, and one can see where the design for a gentleman's wooden hangers originated in the latter part of the 19th century. But, iron and brass hangers were already popular in Continental countries.   

This particular dumb valet is circa 1800.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Character Interview!

Welcome to Regency England. I’m Edwin Brockenbury, and it seems I am your host for the moment. Where Francine has scuttled off to I know not, so let me begin by telling you a little about my childhood home, the place you have now entered at your peril.

Beyond dutiful attendance at family gatherings or when I am summoned back to the family fold to appraise legal documentation on behalf of pater, my life remains relatively detached from Monkton Abbeyfields. I grieve not in absence from its dark and forbidding walls, and well remember how my elder brothers and I were left to indulge whatever youthful vices we chose to while away our time.
James the eldest finally chose soldiering before the mantle of lord and master of the Brockenbury Estate would fall to his shoulders. Adam chose hedonism, and I chose books and learning. Then at age ten and eight I astounded my father by announcing I had a serious inclination to carve a career out of law and the courts of justice. Such news immediately drew momentary resistance from father, for he had thought I would follow the family tradition of a third son duly dispatched to ecclesiastical cloisters for enlightenment and knowledge all things Heavenly pastoral delights, but not I. Such was my determination to fulfil my dreams I rebelled in no uncertain terms and rode away from the house one dark night and found lodgings in London.

My present sojourn to Monkton Abbeyfields is entirely due to my literary creator who sought to intervene and set me on a homeward path. Though I readily confess I am most grateful on this occasion, for a pleasant encounter along the way has left me reeling in thoughts of what-if. Nonetheless, I suspect I have already slipped from Georgette, Lady Beaumont’s mind, albeit we indulged a fleeting engagement of the flirtatious variety en route from London to Bath.

Having now retreated to my younger brother’s chambers, a portrait of a beautiful young woman thus stands before me. Ranulph’s artistic abilities are no mystery to me, for a distant memory steals forth and I see my mother young and beautiful and full of life; a child asleep on a chaise before her. But of course, she is sketching a charcoal portrait of her slumbering crippled infant: the one so heartlessly abandoned by our father. To mother's chagrin Ranulph was banned from the rest of the house and confined to his chambers and to the care of specially selected servants.
Dear God, how precious the memory of mother has become to me. Her death albeit far from a mystery the perpetrator of her fatal fall has forever escaped justice due to lack of proof of a child’s guilt in wishing his mother dead. Like father like son, Adam treats Ranulph no better than a dog to be kicked and bullied with a stick. And James, my eldest brother dead by his own hand some two years past, I still cannot believe there was ever reason enough for the taking of his own life.
Over the years little at Monkton Abbyfields changed for young Ranulph, though against all odds he determined he would learn to walk. Albeit with great difficulty and much pain suffered in the learning he mastered that which we take for granted, and today he still harbours dreams of a romantic nature, but little does he know that a murder committed this very night will provide the wherewithal for that dream to become reality.
Adam is, from that death forward, now lord and master of the Brockenbury Estate, though a rude awakening awaits on the reading of father’s will. Sadly, I have never felt anything for Adam, neither love nor friendship, yet he plagues my mind as though clues to all the deaths that have occurred here at Monkton Abbeyfields are emblazoned on his brow. Alas, I cannot read what is written. And Cousin Eliza, my father’s ward, is a Dark Miss if ever such could be tagged to her collar, and the damnably unpleasant madam already despises Georgette Lady Beaumont. Worse, Adam has long since coveted Georgette as he once coveted Monkton Abbeyfields.
What lies ahead I know not, but gut instinct tells me danger is lurking in dark corners and will strike not only at Ranulph and I, but at Georgette as well, more especially should my feelings for her become common knowledge. How am I then to unravel mysterious deaths from the past, solve the reason for my father’s untimely death and keep safe those whom my heart abides with? I fear a murder most foul is yet to be committed and perhaps more than one man must die if truths are to remain shrouded beneath lies.

Although duty to family has been part of life, I fear dreadful happenings have passed me by. Therefore I must cast selfish indulgence aside, and duty to loved ones must again take precedence.  

Edwin Brockenbury is the hero within the Regency Murder Mystery:
“Infamous Rival”

Book blurb:

Once the darling of the beau monde, unfortunately Georgette Lady Beaumont’s reputation lies in tatters after the apparent suicide of Lord Brockenbury’s heir. Shunned by society she embraces a secretive lifestyle in which she endeavours to evade Adam Brockenbury, whom she loathes as much as he desires her. Believing him capable of murder to gain his heart’s desire, she is not alone in thinking his elder brother’s death as somewhat suspicious, and whilst on a clandestine visit to her dearest friends she encounters a stranger of note.

Her travelling companion, although of charming disposition and considerable handsomeness, something about him errs dark and secretive, but unmitigated mutual attraction exists that neither can deny. Unfortunately he’s a Brockenbury too, and as love, jealousy and hate take precedence, three murders are committed and Georgette quite believes she will be the murderer’s next victim, but who is the real murderer?

Author note:
I make no apology for writing romantic historical murder mysteries that break the rules of the romance genre, for love and lust can drive both men and women to fits of jealous rage and to committing crimes of passion.   As an aside, ladies often did and still do introduce themselves as first name (Georgette) then title, so in my narrative I do utilise her own address.  Other characters may refer to her as Georgette, merely Lady Beaumont, or other... 

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Thursday, 9 November 2017

Random bits of fun...

What women really talk about...

Here we have to imagine a Phone call to friend:

'What are you doing this evening? Thought we could get together over a bottle of best Vino.'

'No, no, can't come over this evening, I'm holding a dinner party for a character.'

'You what? Are you kidding?'

'No, I said character, as in novel, fiction novel.'

'OK, so who've you invited?'

First off I love Mr Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, er Colin Firth, but I feel sure a conversation would drag in talk of books and estate affairs and little action would result from such an engagement.

Such a pity because he's devilishly handsome!

'He's a bit too suave, and so up his own... Well, you know what I mean.'  

Then of course there's Mr Rochester from Jane Eyre, psst, (Toby Stephens - Black Sails)  though I fear his moody Rochester brooding nature and dour countenance may leave me suffering the pangs of boredom, and he has difficulty in raising more than a grunt in response to female chatter.

A pity because he has eyes that see beyond his immediate surroundings and seem so full of sorrow.

'Rochester? Oh yeah, but bet his carnal grunts are worth suffering the boring bits.'

So my choice then is that of Sharpe, Richard Sharpe,  (Beano) for I know conversing will be no hardship with this bold warrior. In truth I fear words will be few and humour all the greater.

We shall dine, partaking of black Russian caviar and champagne, best beef and claret, and lemon mousse. With brandy for him and coffee for me we shall retire to the orangery. What then, who knows, and I wager it won't all be chat - much laughter!

Friend on phone: 'Oh my, Oh my. Always knew you had the hots for Sean Bean. On my way. It's so long since we caught up on things. See ya - kissy kissy.'

Reply as phone goes dead: "Another girlie night reminiscing over characters in novels it is, then."  

Monday, 30 October 2017

Ladies Riding in Regency era.

Why did ladies rarely ride a horse in Hyde Park/other parks during the Georgian/Regency?

Namely keeping horses in London was cripplingly expensive unless they were in constant use as carriage teams. Most driving horses were ride/drive trained for riding astride by postilions and or grooms in times of need, exercise, shoeing et al. Secondly, leisure riding horses were somewhat scarce on the streets due to differing wars, in particular the Peninsular Wars, which greatly affected the years running up to and during the 9 yrs of The Regency. Basically it was equally expensive to keep more than one working horse at this time and one had to be remarkably wealthy to purchase "one" let alone keep it in peak condition for all eventualities. 


Devonshire House

Few houses, barring the Duke of Devonshire and a few notables had private mews stabling. Secondly ladies side saddles were made to order to fit the ladies seat and length of upper leg (vital) for excellent balance/seat, one couldn't simply leap to a side saddle - a task not impossible from the ground with modern side saddle apron and jodhpurs, but damn near impossible in full riding attire of times past, hence a block, or serious assistance was required to mount one's horse. 

Saddle circa 1800s
Notice the left knee grip turns upward, unlike modern day side saddles. 

More modern side saddle

Aside from that, taking a ride in Hyde Park was all about one's "equipage" meaning the quality of one's carriage and horses. Though it is to be noted mounted cavalry officers/soldiers oft rode in the parks, hence romantic encounters with ladies out walking or riding around in carriages! 

Also there was a turnpike, in other words, one had to pay to gain access to Rotten Row,  to enter Hyde Park. 

The earlier Old King’s Road became the Hyde Park bridle path, which in turn became the renowned Rotten Row. Hence strict rules were applied to RR. All horses and carriages were required to abide to walk or trot. No reckless driving or riding was acceptable, given that many vehicles, high-perch curricles and High Perch Phaetons - in particular - were prone to topple over if carelessly driven at excess speeds. 

Specific areas of Hyde Park itself were set aside from the pedestrian walking paths and driving route, so that riders could partake of a canter or two. Albeit horses could be exercised along Rotten Row very early of morn by grooms and stable hands, horses led in hand by mounted grooms thus banned, which prevented ostlers at inns and jobbing handlers from exercising 1-2 horses in hand whilst mounted. 

Dress code and turnout was of prime importance and expected high standards were thus met by the rules. So who enforced the rules?          

Rotten Row 

High Perch Phaeton

High Perch Curricle

People, even the aristocracy, walked for leisure far more than we do today. And despite the general filth of narrow alleyways in the days when Gardy loo was bawled from overhead windows seconds before a chamber pot or other was emptied to the ground below, by the later Georgian period the greater thoroughfares/streets of London and Bath/other were regularly cleaned by dung boys with hand carts who collected droppings and sold them to gardeners at houses and to the larger gardens/grounds of Vauxhall et al for grand flower beds. Were the boys orphans exploited by unscrupulous orphanage or little businessmen in their own rights and supplementing a poor household? A story in there methinks...

Notice the old open sewer/drain running through the middle of the street/alleyway. Notice also the beginnings of roof drainage (shootings) and tap/sink drain pipes appearing on the facades of houses during the Regency. The Duke of Wellington was one of first to have a heating system and supply of hot water taps to sinks and baths. 

But sadly, the Thames remained the greatest stench source, as did the remaining open sewers/drains yet to be included into underground sewers.Hence sedan chairs were still in use in London and other cities for getting around places where shoes could be ruined/soiled with foul effluent. So be a tad wary in having a female character who rides, leaps off her horse and mounts at will without assistance of a strong groom or mounting block of sorts.

Victorian Print 

Believe it, putting a left foot to stirrup and then having to cross the right leg between horse and rider to achieve the correct position of right leg to upper pommel/horn of a side saddle is a dangerous manoeuvre and utterly impossible with full flowing skirts. One would have to display a vast amount of leg, not to mention skirts in a dreadful mess and impossible to untangle.

Jumping side saddle is safer than it looks - though it requires greater skill to keep one's balance in a saddle made in the 1700s and 1800s. Due to the shape of the lower pommel/horn.  

See modern apron and position of legs in jodhpurs within above pic being that of a Western ride side saddle. 
The extra foot support is not on any of my English saddles as a the jumping pic shows.

As an aside, it wasn't until Victorian times when stables hiring out "hacks" came into full swing, and ladies too could hire a horse and escort (groom) - a safety measure in case of mishaps. Hacks being the term for hired horse as were Hackney cabs/carriages. 

This particular design became a regular sight in Victorian London, the drivers of black cabs as of today, having to undergo "The Knowledge" before they were licensed to operate a hired cab. The Knowledge entailed memorising routes and street names - basically knowing the ins and outs of London thoroughfares and its side streets.  
Earlier hackney carriages resembled 

Reportedly this one is a sketch 1823 - note it has draw curtains - a damn weird contraption.

Before in earlier times cabs were strangely less basic more a Brougham in design, each carriage company with it's own style. Private hire company carriages were commonly called "Drags".

Last but not least, the Sedan Chair which could lay claim as having the longest life of all in terms of use worldwide, though at its most fashionable in England from the late 17th century through to The Regency 19th century.  Its decline was rapid around the 1820s as horse breeders were once again selling horses for private use, and with the coming of the first steam engines and railways, thus the carriage and mail coaches suffered the same rapid decline as the Industrial Revolution stepped up a gear with steam driven machinery in all walks of industrial life. Sadly the country suffered for modernisation as city smogs became far more potent than they had been before, grime on houses and streets changing the face of beautiful buildings to black encrusted edifices to modernisation. Not until the mid 20th century did the big clean up begin with high pressure sand and water cleansers to bring once magnificent building back to the former glory, which continues to this day with restoration projects!            

Captain Gronow snippit:  Of the Park that, as lately as 1815, it looked a part of the country. Under the trees grazed not only cows, but deer, and the paths across it were few and far between. As you gazed from an eminence, no rows of monotonous houses reminded you of the vicinity of a large city, and its atmosphere was then "much more like what God made it than the hazy, grey, coal-darkened halftwilight of the London of to-day. The company, which then congregated daily about five, was composed of dandies and women in the best society; the men mounted on such horses as England alone could then produce. The dandy's dress consisted of a blue coat with brass buttons, leather breeches, and top-boots; and it was the fashion to wear a deep, stiff white cravat, which prevented you from seeing your boots while standing.

"Many of the ladies used to drive into the Park in a carriage called a vis-à-vis, which held only two persons. The hammer-cloth rich in heraldic designs, the powdered footmen in smart liveries, and a coachman who assumed all the gravity and appearance of a wigged archbishop, were indispensable. 

The carriage company consisted of the most celebrated beauties, amongst whom were conspicuous the Duchesses of Rutland, Argyle, Gordon, and Bedford; Ladies Cowper, Foley, Heathcote, Louisa Lambton, Hertford, and Mountjoy. The most conspicuous horsemen were the Prince Regent, always accompanied by Sir Benjamin Bloomfield; the Duke of York, and his old friend, Warwick Lake; the Duke of Dorset on his white horse, the Marquis of Anglesey with his lovely daughters, Lord Harrowby and the Ladies Ryder, the Earl of Sefton and the Ladies Molyneux, and the eccentric Earl of Morton on his long-tailed grey. 

In those days 'pretty horsebreakers' would not have dared to show themselves in Hyde Park; nor did you see any of the lower or middle classes of London society intruding themselves into regions which, by a sort of tacit understanding, were then given up exclusively to persons of rank and fashion. Such was the Park and the 'Row' little more than half a century ago.

The equipages were generally much more gorgeous than at a later period, when democracy invaded the Park and introduced shabbygenteel carriages and servants.

If you enjoy novels and novellas with heroines who ride, you may enjoy Lady Louise de Winter

One grave transgression in her past and Lady Louise de Winter, has accepted all hope for love and romance is but a dream she dare not embrace. Aware her semi-closeted existence on the Harcourt Estate is no more, and a substantial inheritance awaits her pleasure, her friend Count Casarotto suddenly brings his personal troubles to her door and seeks sanctuary. Worse, pursued by officers of his majesty’s regiment of horse, Louise endeavours to conceal his presence despite qualms as to his innocence. What is more, devastatingly attracted to the senior officer, Louise battles to retain sense of propriety as burning desire within takes hold. But despite Major Fitzwilliam’s reassurance he cares not a jot about her past, the truth remains she is not as other young would-be brides. Therefore, dare she give her heart into his care?

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Wednesday, 27 September 2017

17th-18th-early 19th Century furniture.

From crude basic early chairs of ye olde England and Scotland, Tudor and Jacobean are notable, often beautifully carved wood-workings, and later came the more elegant styles of the royal courts of Louis XVI, and the Georgian/Napoleonic era, thus knowing a common “Settle” from a “Settee” or “Sofa” takes on new meaning for authors researching these periods in history.

After all, who really looks at a Settle and sees it as a basic template for Settee, and where did the sofa derive from? And yet, all three are merely a glorification of former designs from differing places. 

Jacobean Settle circa 1600s.  There were box settles too and ornate carving, some of the settles with drawers, some with cupboard doors beneath the seat, some with lift up lids.  

A Georgian Box Settle - note storage space, and it's remarkably plain. 

Early 18th Century Settle

During the latter half of the 17th century (English Restoration) Charles II wished to emulate the glories of the French Court, and regardless of expenditure, he had the royal apartments within the royal palaces refurnished and refurbished with plush-padded settees, chairs likewise padded and covered with tapestry cloth.

17th Century "Settee" - a refinement of a settle -  the design lasted throughout Charles II era into the Georgian. 

By the dwindling of the Stuart era, Queen Anne, furniture of Queen Anne’s reign became far less chunky leg-wise and decidedly elegant with a feminine lightness to structure and lighter fabric coverings, and continued thus into and throughout the Georgian era.

Queen Anne Chair - likewise Queen Anne Settee followed the same pattern for open-end armrests.

Queen Anne "Sofa" - here we see the high solid sides!

In the short period of the Regency era, the resurgence for Roman architecture applied to the building of many houses in the early 18th Century became fashionable and readily noted at Chatsworth, Blenheim Palace etc. So too, by the mid-Georgian period stone plinth stools and seats of Roman times became apparent with wooden replicas in the form of plush settees, chaises, and long footstools.

Here we can see the scrolling aspect and the high sided  "sofa".

Chaise Longue

Roller Stool - Roman influence.

Arm Bench - Roman influence. 

So where do sofa’s fit into the equation, one may ask? Then we must look to Eastern Europe and the countries bordering Asia, to Persia as was (now Iran), to Turkey, and Arab nations, where high-backed, high-armed sofas were commonplace.

 Arab -Asian Sofas

By the mid Victorian era, chunky furniture once again became in-Vogue, but I’ll not go there for much of it was ugly and I don’t pen novels in that period of history. At any rate, that’s my excuse to stop at the end of William IV’s reign.

Look out for next historical aside with Wardrobes and Armoires.