Wednesday 28 September 2011

When the Past Becomes History.

‘Smuggling, though a real offence, is owing to the laws themselves, for the higher the duties, the greater the advantage and consequently the temptation.’
1768 Treatise on Crimes and Punishment, Beccaria.
I’m currently researching my WIP (work in progress) about smuggling along the south coast of England in the 18th century, and so imagine my surprise when my husband produced a small beige-coloured book on the subject from our very own bookshelves! The interesting thing is, the more I read, the more I realised this book itself, was a piece of history!
‘The Smugglers of Christchurch, Bourne Heath and the New Forest’, by E Russell Oakley, published in 1924, turned out to be a wonderful glimpse into the history – not just of smuggling, but also of the 1920’s.
Excisemen tackle some smugglers in their lair.
In the book Mr Oakley writes about a talk on smuggling he gave on BBC radio, in January 1924. He recounts the true story of a fast sailing boat with a cargo of contraband tea which, in 1748, was chased by Revenue cutters. In danger of being overhauled and captured, the smugglers jumped overboard in shallow water just off Bourne Heath and swam ashore to escape. In his radio broadcast Mr Oakley bemoans:
“It is curious that contemporary records give us so much detail, yet the name of the boat and her home port are not stated.”
Smugglers ashore, signalling they are ready to recieve the landed contraband.
And it’s this next bit that I love as a reflection of history-within-history. In his book, Mr Oakley recounts that a week after the program he received a letter which read:
“Last week I purchased a wireless set. [Don’t you just love it? Owning a radio was so unusual the writer mentioned it in his letter!] Last Saturday night I listened in for the first time and you were the first speaker I have heard on the air.”
The letter goes onto say:
“I am going to tell you something you don’t know. That boat belonged to a relative of our family and the loss of it broke his heart and he died soon afterwards. The name of the boat was ‘Charles’ and she was…an oyster dredger and fishing boat.”
How wonderful, that the new-technology of the ‘wireless set’ provided an answer to a question nearly two centuries old!
Smugglers at work.
Another fascinating glimpse into the past is the mention of what were then hamlets and villages, - Shirley – a hamlet four miles away (now a waste concrete and brick, sprawling suburb of Southampton, and anything less idyllic or hamlet-like it’s difficult to imagine.) And of course there is the Bourne Heath of the books title – which it transpires is the forerunner of the well-known seaside resort and popular retirement town of Bournemouth. In Victorian and Edwardian times the transformation from sleepy Bourne Heath, to bustling Bournemouth was underway, as E Russell Oakley writes in 1924:

“Many places in the coastal belt….have entirely disappeared, submerged under a titanic tide of bricks, cement, reinforced concrete and Trinidad asphalt.”
Bournemouth (seen from the air) as it appears today.
‘I spent my nineteenth summer on a smuggling coast…The contraband trade was at that time very successful, and it happened to me to fall in with those who carried it on.’
Robert Burns 1778.

Sunday 25 September 2011

Murder Tourism - Victorian Style!

Judging from the popularity of crime series on TV, it seems the modern world is obsessed by murder. However, this gruesome voyeurism is nothing new as revealed in this post about ‘murder-tourism’ in Regency and Victorian England.

In 1811, a particularly ugly murder whipped up anxiety and fear in the East End of London. One night, Thomas Marr, his wife, baby and a fourteen year old apprentice were bludgeoned to death in their hosiery shop; his servant, Margaret Jewell was only saved because Marr had earlier sent her on an errand and she got lost on the way home.
But almost as bad as the murders themselves, were the sight-seers who flocked to see the scene of the crime.

It was usual at the time, to leave bodies in situ for the jury to view, whilst the inquest was held (in a nearby public house or tavern). This had the unfortunate consequence of attracting people to see the crime first hand for themselves:

“…from curiosity to examine the premises,” where they entered, “…and saw the dead bodies.”

Murder sight-seeing was not uncommon and indeed, some people were not above turning a profit on it.

In 1823, William Weare unwisely boasted of his personal wealth and was murdered for his troubles (He was actually penniless.) His body thrown into the pond adjacent to the cottage of a Mr Probert, one of conspirators. The case was widely reported in the press attracting crowds of people on excursions as ‘murder tourists’; they wandered through the grounds and payed a shilling to visit the cottage itself. A contemporary publication reported that as many as five hundred people parted with their money and a sightseeing route worked out;

“At Elstree the curious made their first halt, the pond, about a quarter of a mile out of the village…The Artichoke Inn, to which the corpse was carried, and where the Coroner’s Inquest was held. Mr Field, the landlord, being one of the Jury, was….fully competent to the task of answering the numerous questions but to him by customers. Here the sack, in which the remains of the Victim had been carried from Probert’s cottage, was shown. The marks of blood which it bears gave it peculiar interest…”

For those wanted, took a souvenir home: be it a bit of the sack the hapless victim was trussed up in, or later, a Staffordshire figure of the murderer. It was even reported that the hedge outside the cottage slowly vanished:

 “…filched by those curious people, who consider a twig from the hedge, through which the remains of a murdered man had been dragged, must furnish a treat to their equally curious friends.”

It seemed murder-tourists came from all walks of life. Walter Scott, some years later, recorded a visit to this same murder spot: taking in the lanes, pond and cottage itself, where he was shown around by ‘a truculent looking hag’ for 2s.6d. – the equivalent of a week’s pay for a workman.
But before we throw up our hands in horror at the terrible goings-on in Victorian times, we’d do well to remember that watching a CSI program on TV, and seeing the murder victim- albeit with a pixellated face, perhaps isn’t so far removed from those Victorian murder-tourists!

DO YOU WATCH CSI - or other crime related docu-dramas? If so, why? Leave a comment and share your thoughts as to why murder fascinates you.
Grace x

Sunday 18 September 2011

Did Anne Boleyn Ride Astride?

I’m a huge fan of the TV series ‘The Tudors’ and have long since accepted the liberties taken with historical realism. However, one episode – where Anne Boleyn is shown riding astride – had me reaching for the text books. Surely a lady, like Anne Boleyn, would have ridden side saddle?

My research revealed illustrations of women riding, literally sitting sideways on a horse, going back to the vases of ancient Greece. Medieval depictions show women seated side-ways, riding pillion behind men, on a small padded seat.  Anne of Bohemia 1366 - 1394 created the earliest functional ‘side saddle’ – a chair life affair with a small footrest, but the rider was still insufficiently secure to control her mount and so had to be led.
Riding side saddle meant facing forwards instead of sideways, and gave more control.

In the 16th century, Catherine de’Medici developed a more practical saddle, complete with a small horn around which the rider hooked her right knee, with the footrest being replaced with a ‘slipper stirrup’ for the left leg. The meant the rider now sat facing forwards and was therefore able to hold the reins and control her horse, albeit only at sedate paces.
A photo illustrating the secure grip afforded by two horns and a stirrup.

Incredibly, it took until the 1830’s for a design with a second, lower pommel to trap the left leg and add extra grip, was invented. This extra horn or ‘leaping head’ was revolutionary in that it allowed women to stay on a horse at a gallop, or even jumping.
Ester Stace, 1915 - world record the highest jump riding side saddle (6'6")

So as to the question as to how inaccurate is the portrayal of Anne Boleyn riding astride, in The Tudors….The answer goes something like this.
As the centuries passed, women of wealth and position desired to control their mounts, but long skirts and social rules meant that it was considered extremely immodest to sit astride (Anne Boleyn take note!) However, and perhaps this is where the producers of The Tudors took their creative license, not all noble women rode side saddle all the time. Women such as Henry II of France’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers, Marie Antoinette and Catherine the Great were know to ride astride. So there we have it…who knows, perhaps Anne Boleyn, might…just might…have ridden astride after all.

In series such as, The Tudors, how much does historical inaccuracy bother you?

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Calls and Calling Cards.

Following on from the previous post ‘Advice for the Bride-to-be’, one of the social skills a new wife had to master, was the art of paying a call. Although known as ‘morning calls’, these visits were actually made in the afternoon, at specific times depending on their purpose: ceremonial calls were paid between 3 and 4pm, semi-ceremonial between 4 and 5pm, and intimate calls between 5 – 6pm, - but never on a Sunday which was reserved for very close friends and relatives. Generally a call was limited to 15 minutes, and if other guests arrived during your visit, it was expected you would quietly excuse yourself and leave.

One should never call ‘on the off chance’ but on pre-set ‘at Home’ days and times, e.g. the third Friday of each month, or the second Tuesday.

If a wife was new to an area, she might get a lucky break and gain a letter of introduction from a friend to someone of prominence in the local community. These were sometimes referred to as ‘letters for soup’ because generally the person receiving the letter then invited the bearer to dinner.

A more usual way of announcing yourself into society was to leave your card.

Visiting cards were invented by the French, and adopted in England around 1800. It was imperative to understand the rules of calling, of which card-leaving was the first step. Those wise in the ways of society, left their card but without requesting to see the mistress of the house. Then it was up to the recipient to respond – if no card was sent in return, that was a heavy hint that there was no wish for an acquaintance to develop. The unwise presented their card and then inquired if the mistress was ‘at home.’ Since you could be physically at-home, but not socially at-home, the visitor had to be prepared for the ignominy of being turned away.

In “Eulogy’s Secret’’ (due for release November 2011), alone in London, Eulogy Foster calls on her estranged brother for help…but with no card to present, the footman assumes she is a nobody.
A lady would wait in her carriage whilst a groom presented her card.

EXCERPT – “Eulogy’s Secret” by Grace Elliot.

A surly footman opened the door and squinted into the gloom; sounds of music and raucous laughter spilt over his shoulder.
“Yes, Miss?”
“My apologies for the late hour, but I must see Lord Devlin.” Eagerly, Eulogy pushed back the hood of her travelling cloak.
The footman raised a haughty brow.
“His Lordship is not at home.”
“But His Lordship would wish to see me… I’ve travelled a long way.”
Her head buzzed with frustration that this man stood between her and safety.
The footman’s gaze wandered disapprovingly over her plain wool cloak and battered valise.
“Your card, Miss?”
Her heart sank. “I don’t have one but I’m a close…very close, family friend.”  She neglected to add that she had yet to meet his Lordship….
“No card? Then what name do I give?”
“Miss Foster. Miss Eulogy Foster. Be sure and tell his Lordship that his late mother, Lady Devlin, knew me well.”
“Wait there, Miss Foster.” He withdrew, exuding cool disapproval, leaving her to shiver on the doorstep.

Sunday 11 September 2011

Advice for the Bride-to-Be .....Victorian Style!

The 1830’s and 1840’s saw a fashion for manuals devoted to helping women fulfil their roles as both a wife and mother. The aim of these books was to stress the desirability of being the model wife in socially and domestically – advice that the modern reader may find alarmingly comical.

Respectability was everything and the key was knowing the correct etiquette. Published in 1834, ‘Hints on Etiquette and the Usages of Society, With a Glance at Bad Habits’, defined etiquette as:

“A shield against the intrusion of the impertinent, the improper and the vulgar….”

This was the book for any self-respecting bride-to-be to read and memorise….especially if you were from the country, or the offspring of wealthy working people, and therefore hopelessly unfamiliar with proper manners and customs. As the author of ‘Hints and Etiquette’ wrote:

“Shopkeepers become merchants…with the possession of wealth they acquire a taste for the luxuries of life, expensive furniture, and gorgeous plate; also numberless superfluities, the use of which they are imperfectly acquainted. But although their capacities for enjoyment increase, it rarely occurs that the polish of their manners keeps pace with the rapidity of their advancement. In all cases, the observances of the Metropolis [seat of refinement] should be received as the standard of good breeding.”
Take care introducing mutual friends....lest they be bores!
For the unwary, everything was a mine field – from introducing friends and paying a call, to whom to invite to dinner and table manners – for those not born into society, the task of fitting in must have seemed Herculean.
Even something as simple as introducing friends, was a mine field.

“Never introduce people to each other without a previous understanding that it will be agreeable to both.”

The reason runs like this:

“A stupid person may be delighted with the society of a man of learning, to whom in return such an acquaintance may prove annoyance and a clog, as one incapable of offering an interchange of thought, or an idea worth listening to.”

Such was the risk of introducing a bore that if unexpected thrust into the situation of, whilst walking with a friend, bumping into an acquaintance not know to that friend, “Never introduce them.” The risk of them proving not to be a kindred spirit was too great!
Neither, should you take an uninvited friend, to the home of another, because:

“….there is always a feeling of jealousy that another should share our thoughts and feelings to the same extend as themselves, although good breeding will induce them to behave civilly to your friend on your account.”

In Wednesday’s post – I expound on the ritual of “Calling” – what was proper, and what was improper, as outlined in the 1850 manual, “How to Behave – A Pocket Manual of Etiquette.”

Wednesday 7 September 2011

The Sort of MAN a Woman Likes.

Domineering, Henry VIII - and is unfortunate second wife, Anne Boleyn.
Following on from the previous post, the tables turn as women from the early 20th century debate what they like in a man. These comments are taken from articles published in 1913 in the ‘Strand Magazine’ [famous for publishing Conan Doyle’s ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stories] ; written in response to men espousing that women liked to be dominated, some females give their opinions.

What makes the following comments even more intriguing is that in 1913, the Suffragette movement was in full swing; in June 1913 the suffragette Emily Davison threw herself under the King’s horse at Epsom and died three days later. This was a time when women were fighting for the vote, and had ambitions to be treated as equals with men. Fashion tended to polarise into those who donned mannish clothes, as an indication of their political views, and those who donned frills, feathers and furs as a celebration of their womanhood.

Magazine cover commemorating the death of Emily Davison.
Not doubt men were feeling threatened when they suggested women liked to be dominated…and here’s what women wrote in response.
Adelaide Arnold wrote:
“Whilst all women detest a bully, personally, there are many who secretly approve a master.”

Marjorie Bowen agreed.
“I think women do like to be tyrannized over, and the one unforgiveable thing in women’s eyes is weakness of the sprit.”

Mrs Stanley Wrench seems to back this up:
“In her secret heart woman likes to be tryannized over, though never, even to herself will she acknowledge this. If she is in love…there is more of the Cave Woman in her than she imagines.”
So much for the suffragist movement!

But dissenting voices were beginning to be heard, including Sophie Cole who wrote:
“As to being tyrannized over, I think women imagine they like it before marriage, and discover they deterst it after…It is ‘understanding’ which men and women have craved of each other since the time they were created so dissimilar that the aspiration is impossible of fulfilment.”

And the final word goes to the philosophical Mrs H Penrose, who observed:
“The average woman has never been very exacting in her demands – perhaps owing to her melancholy preponderance in the marriage market which inclines her to take what she can get and be thankful for the moment.”

So please, leave a comment – What do you look for in a man?