Wednesday 25 July 2012

London Trivia - #1 - Pavements.

Craig's Court, London - photo courtesy of R Sones.
To celebrate the arrival of the London Olympics 2012,  I'm starting a short series of blog posts about the more unusual aspects of London's history. Let's start with the story of how pavements came to become common place in the capital.
Before the mid 1750's the pedestrian was much neglected! Roads occupied the total width of the street between the buildings on either side. Most of the roads were also very narrow and it was incredibly dangerous for anyone on foot because on coming vehicles could crush them against a wall. Like a lot of things, it took someone of power and influence to be inconvenienced before anything was done to solve the problem.

Widget says: "Do what I say or the toy gets it!"

This person was the Speaker of the House of Commons, Mr Speaker Onslow. One day in the early 1760's he set off to visit the Earl of Harrington at home in his large house in a small square just off Craig's Court, London. Harrington's house was approached by a narrow alleyway (see header photo) and as Onslow pushed on in a large, stately carriage, the wheels stuck fast to the houses on either side. It was jammed so tightly that the coach's doors couldn’t be opened and Mr Speaker Onslow became a prisoner inside his own vehicle. After many fruitless attempts to move the vehicle the humiliated Speaker was rescued by cutting a hole in the roof of the carriage and pulling him out that way.

Carriage photo courtesy of John Lloyd.
            On his return to parliament Onslow helped institute a bill decreeing that all householders must pay for a row of kerbstones in front of their property, to warn and thereby stop drivers progressing before they got stuck.
Once the kerbstones marked a boundary to show the limit of a road's width, pavements evolved on the building side as a safer place for pedestrians to walk.

The modern day House of Commons, as seen from the Thames.

And finally, a black market in kerbstones developed with the unscrupulous stealing them to use themselves in front of their home or to sell on. Since the Admiralty was also duty bound under the pavement act of 1762 to provide kerb stones, they marked them with an arrow to discourage theft. The arrow was a traditional mark introduced by Elizabeth I to denote army and navy property, and apparently is still used today for this purpose.

Kerbstone marked with an arrow - courtesy of Roger Templeman.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Horse Play - Smuggling #5

Have you ever seen a horse acting suspiciously?

Well that’s exactly what 18th century revenue officers were on the look out for!
Smugglers, once their contraband was ashore had to transport it inland for sale, and for this they needed horse power. Some gangs used equines employed in legitimate trade as cover for owning large numbers of horses. An example were the horses of the North Kent Seasalter company: by day they shifted timber from the Forest of Blean to the local tanneries, and by night transported contraband inland. A smuggling gang on Romney Marsh also owned horses, but set them to graze in groups of two or three to attract less attention, but when rounded up could raise a caravan up to 200 beasts strong.

The free-traders were notoriously cunning and this extended to their horses. Stories exist of smugglers shaving their horses and soaping or oiling them, to make it more difficult for the excise men to capture them. These horses were highly trained and their cunning masters also taught them to stop on the command "Gee-up" and bolt when told "Woah!"

Many of these horses could also find their own way home. This came in handy with the nag loaded with contraband, leaving the smuggler free to create a diversion for any prying eyes. The horse, carrying illicit barrels, found his way back to the stable where a conspirator waited to unload. A variation on this story was one horse who became disoriented by the alcoholic vapours eminating from the tubs strapped to his back, and wandered to his neighbour's house - who happened to be a customs officer. The officer, alerted by the sound of hooves, impounded the contraband and then followed the now unladen horse as he found his way back to the correct house.

Another way of obtaining horsepower was to have an agreement with local farmers. In Great Holland, one particular farmer was fond of drinking spirits and left his gate unlocked when his barrel was running low, as a sign that his horses could be used in return for a tub of gin or brandy.
"I know he's around here somewhere...."
However this cosy arrangement did not always run smoothly. A winded or exhausted horse was no use for farm work, but to refuse smugglers the priviledge of 'borrowing' a horse could result in a campaign of intimidation. Akin to a modern protection racquet, those who didn’t co-operate found hayricks catching fire, sheep falling ill, or on one occaision a farmer returning from market was unseated from his horse by a cord stretched between two trees across the road.

In my latest release,  our heroine, Hope Tyler falls foul of a smuggler bent on revenge...find out how and why by reading 'Hope's Betrayal'.

Wednesday 11 July 2012

A Place of Safety - Smuggling #4

'A dreadful thing from the cliff did spring.' - Old Norfolk folk tale
From ghostly dogs to hidden chambers under dung heaps - smugglers were very resourceful at hiding contraband and truth being stranger than fiction, in the 18th century methods of concealment were many and varied indeed.
Hiding contraband liquor in a pub cellar was an obvious a solution except that the smaller kegs used by smugglers were easy to spot. However, the landlord of the 16th century 'Spread Eagle' pub was one step ahead; his tavern possessed a concealed well, accessible only from the roof, the shaft of which provided an excellent hiding place. Failing that, there are many tales of landlord's wives in their voluminous skirts, sitting on top of barrels to hide them whilst the revenue man made his rounds.
A less obvious hiding place was the church. Situated on Romney Marsh, Snargate Church had a crypt that was used for storing tobacco. Indeed, on one occasion in a thick fog, the vicar was able to safely find his way to the church by following the strong smell of tobacco! Apparently the nave of Snargate Church is decorated with a painting of a ship, which is an early smugglers symbol, code for a place of safety.

Another church hiding place was the ceiling void, although this wasn’t always without consequence. During Sunday service at Langton Matravers, the choir was singing a psalm when the roof collapsed and kegs rained down on the congregation.
Some tricks were inventive, such as having a fire-proof void beneath a hearth. When the revenue men called a fire was lit on top of the hidden chamber to prevent detection. A similar idea was using a cellar hidden beneath a dung heap. The dung was moved aside to reveal a trap door, the contraband concealed, the manure replaced and a herd of sheep driven past to cover the footprints. However in the case, tragedy resulted. When the gang went to retrieve their goods, they failed to listen to warnings about letting the foul air in the cellar clear before going in. Three men were overcome by fumes, two of whom died as a result.

 Another place was a false partition in a stable - with the addition a vicious horse guaranteed to kick any intruders. In some villages smuggled goods were weighted down and thrown into the village pond, to be retrieved at a more convenient time. When revenue men came across villagers in Bishops Canning, Wiltshire, trawling the pond with line and hook, they demanded to know what was going on. The villager pointed to the moon's reflection and said he was trying to recover, "The big yellow cheese". This trick earned them the nickname of "Moonrakers." In true British humour the inhabitants of Bishops Canning reveled in their new notoriety and even spread rumours that they put manure around the church tower to make it grow taller.

And finally, another way to discourage unwanted snooping was to spread fear. A Cornish vicar was said to be able to 'raise dead and lay ghosts' at will; a tall tale to keep people away from the graveyard when a smuggling run was in progress. A similar story was spread that local cannibals hid tubs of human flesh in nearby caves, and they would eat anyone found disturbing the kegs. There is also a persistent Norfolk legend about Old Shuck, a ghost dog with a one glowing eye and fiery breath. Anyone seeing Old Shuck was sure to be dead within the year. To further terrify gullible villagers the smugglers tied a lantern round the neck of a black ram when a landing was due, to scare away nosy locals!
With all of this to contend with, you have to feel sorry for Captain Huntley in his fight against smugglers! Find out how he gets on in "Hope's Betrayal." (Currently a 25% discount on the cover price during July at Smashwords - just enter the code SSW25. )


Wednesday 4 July 2012

The Renaissance Betrothal - guest post by Freda Lightfoot.

I'm delighted to welcome author, Freda Lightfoot, to the blog.
Born in Lancashire, Freda has been a teacher, bookseller and, in a mad moment, a smallholder on the freezing fells of the English Lake District where she attempted to live the ‘good life’. She has now given up her thermals to live in an olive grove in Spain, where she produces her own olive oil and sits in the sun. She began her writing career by publishing over 50 short stories and articles, and has published 39 novels including many bestselling family sagas and historical novels.
So without further ado, welcome Freda! 

The Renaissance Betrothal.
Popular since the Middle Ages, betrothal ceremonies frequently involved some sort of ceremony or symbolic act. This is believed to date back to the time of ancient Rome. In Anglo-Saxon England the joining of hands to seal the betrothal was common as we know from the term ‘handfasting’ to signify a betrothal. In fourteenth and fifteenth century Italy, the betrothal was sealed by a handshake between the parents, or at best the father of the bride and the prospective groom. In sixteenth century France this ritual was known as les accords. There would be the giving of a ring, often a gimmel ring which was in two parts, one to be worn by the prospective groom, the other by the bride, the two joined together to form the wedding ring. Records indicate the drinking of wine to toast the agreement, or taking part in a sumptuous feast ‘in the name of marriage’, or simply be sealed with a kiss.

Some examples of antique gimmel rings.
The betrothal ceremony confirmed that these two people promised to marry one another, an agreement which could be considered more legally binding than the marriage ceremony itself. Once betrothed, if a couple had sexual intercourse, then they were considered married. And a betrothal contract could only be broken if both parties agreed.
Not that the young woman concerned had much say in the matter. Marriage was less about love and more about wealth, position and power, which meant, as we romantic novelists know, plenty of opportunity for extra-curricular activity in the way of affairs. Henry IV is reputed to have enjoyed at least 60 mistresses with whom he sired numerous illegitimate children, and three or four maîtresse-en-titre. But with Henriette de’Entragues he perhaps took on more than he’d bargained for she had set her sights on nothing less than marriage, and with it a crown. She therefore insisted upon a promesse de matrimonio before agreeing to surrender her maidenhead, allegedly still intact, and becoming his mistress. In a weak moment of overwhelming desire, Henry agreed that if she could give him a son, then he would marry her. A decision which was to create untold problems in the years ahead, and leave Henriette fighting a battle for what she perceived as her rights, at whatever the cost.
Henriette de'Entragues.

Next came the fiançailles when the bans were published. The parents, bride and bridegroom would visit the curé together to attend to this important matter. Then came the Epousailles which of course took place in church. The bridegroom was not allowed to enter without giving a considerable sum in alms, and guests were chosen to attend the wedding breakfast with an eye to the money they’d be likely to give. A bowl was handed round at dinner into which donations for a ‘nest-egg’ for the couple could be dropped.
Marie de Medici's wedding.
Henry left such traditions to the bourgeoisie, but provided well for all his children, whatever their status, and was a loving father. Those he had with Henriette shared the royal nursery with the legitimate heirs he had with his queen, Marie de Medici, much to that lady’s displeasure. But Henry loved to play with them, and it was so much more practical to keep them all together in one place. The people of Paris were highly entertained by the fact that his mistress and queen were often enceinte at the same time.
 Thank you so much for you interesting post, Freda. I hugely enjoyed reading "The Queen and the Courtesan" and can heartily recommend it to all lovers of historical fiction.
Click for link.

You can find out more about Freda and her work here:
The Queen and the Courtesan, published 29 June, can be found as a paperback or ebook her
Most of Freda's titles are now available as ebooks on Amazon, Kobo, Smashwords etc. Links to them can be found here:-

Follow Freda on Twitter:  @fredalightfoot