Wednesday 24 April 2013

London Then and Now: The Foundling Hospital

The Foundling Hospital -
The word 'hospital' was used in a wider sense than today,
to indicate 'hospitality'.
Those of you who follow my blog will know I like to visit historic sites and compare the appearance of the environs with how it looked in the past. I find this fascinating because a historic building may be perfectly preserved but English Heritage or the Historic Royal Palaces have no control on what goes around it.
This weekend I revisited one of my favourite places, the Foundling Museum, to see an exhibition of tokens (I digress...more in a future post) and on a beautiful sunny day I took a walk around the environs of Brunswick Square to compare 'then and now'.
A scene depicting a queue of children hoping to be admitted to the Foundling Hospital.
Note the rural setting and open countryside.
In 1761 a 56 acre site was purchased in Bloomsbury, London, on which to build the Foundling Hospital. The building was completed in 1752 and general reception of children started in 1756. Bloomsbury was chose since it was on the edge of London and opened onto fields and was therefore beneficial to the health of the foundling children.

This print of the Foundling Hospital (18th century) is notable for the open
space around it.
In the modern day, the noise and bustle of London presses in from all sides, but despite some horrendous architecture some precious patches of green space remain. Directly opposite the Foundling Museum (alas, not the original building) is Brunswick Square.

Foundling Museum (central building) as seen from the
far side of Brunswick Square (behind me is a road)
Although the original building no longer exists, a replacement was built in keeping with the character of the first.
The Foundling Museum - now home to a collection of works of art,
including those by William Hogarth, an 18th century patron.
However, not all neighbouring buildings are so sympathetically designed - take for instance the immediate neighbour (imagine the above photo extending to the left of the tree)

The London School of Pharmacy - adjacent to the Foundling Museum
Just emerging to the left of the London School of Pharmacy, on the other side of the square, is another modern building - a student hall of residence.

The west side of Brunswick Square.
So what about to the rear of the Foundling Museum? I found a delightful patch of green that was once a cemetary, St George's Gardens.

Over the wall and through the trees, is the back of the
Foundling Museum
However, this once peaceful space is even now being hemmed in
by redevelopement.
And as I turned to leave St George's Garden, what did I see but the Post Office Tower (or whatever they call it these days!) A reminder how small London is and how close everything is together.
The Post Office Tower.
Next week: more about the history of foundlings and the hospital.

Yesterday was St George's Day

Classic image of Saint George on his white charger
slaying the dragon
Yesterday I met my mother and father for lunch. One of the local shops was flying the flag of St George and Mum commented, "They like to make a lot of St George's Day in Pinner." (She went on to say, "But they had the wheelbarrow race on Saturday," - which left me puzzled. Wasn't St George mounted on a horse, I don't remember anything about wheelbarrows!)
Anyhow, it came as a surprise to learn it was St George's Day and it seems I'm not alone. Apparently, we English are reknown for our lethargy when it comes to celebrating the national saint's day. So to redress the balance, here are some facts about St George.

St George by Raphael
- In 1350 King Edward III named George as England's Patron Saint, when he formed the Order of the Garter in Saint George's name.

- George is attributed with killing the dragon on the appropriately named, Dragon Hill in Uffinton, Berkshire. Legend has it that no grass will grow where the dragon's blood was spilt (hmm, perhaps a dragon was slain in my back garden.)

- It is unlikely George actually slayed a dragon, (indeed it is unlikely George even set foot in England) but he was first credited with doing this in the 12th century. In the Middle Ages the Devil was commonly represented as a dragon, so one explanation could be that the legend was a figurtive story of good vs evil.

- Another explanation for the story of George, on a white horse, killing the dragon, is that it was a christianisation of the Greek legend of Perseus rescuing Andromeda from a sea monster near Lydda.
Saint George by Peter Paul Rubens
- could almost be a zombie in there somewhere...
- Debate rages as to who George was, but the most likely explanation is that he was born in Cappadocia, Turkey and was a high-ranking officer in the Roman army. The Emperor Diocletian tortured George to make him deny his faith in Christ, but he wouldn't capitulate and as result was beheaded near Lydda in Palestine. The church in Rome bearing his name is said to contain his severed head.

- Apart from withstanding torture for his faith, the religious acts attributed to George are scarce. In fact, Pope Gelasius described him thus:
"... whose name is rightly reverenced amongst us, but whose actions are known only to God."
Tintoretto's versiou of Saint George
-And finally, one person who had more cause than most to remember the date of St George's day was William Shakespeare. Reputedly, the great baird was born on  (1564), and also died on (1614), St George's day.

So - did you remember St George's day, or like me, did you forget...or were you too busy racing wheelbarrows (really must ask my Mum about that one!)

And this is our very own dragon (of the Bearded variety)-
strictly no dragon slaying in our house ...only feeding, bathing
and cuddles!

Sunday 21 April 2013

The Great Bed of Ware - by guest Deborah Swift

A 16th century bed to sleep fifty-two
by Deborah Swift.

In the 1590’s what better advertising gimmick could you have for your inn or public house than a giant four poster bed that could sleep as many as twenty six people?

The Great Bed of Ware is an extremely large oak bed, made in the realm of Elizabeth I, that was originally housed in the White Hart Inn in Ware, England. Ware was a popular overnight stop-over for pilgrims on the route from London to the shrine at Walsingham, and had many inns by the end of the 16th century.

Photo courtesy of the Guardian newspaper.
Billed as able to sleep 12, the fame of the Great Bed of Ware spread so much that travellers often chose the town of Ware to break their journey simply to spend one night in the bed. People who slept there marked the occasion by carving their initials on the bed or adding their red wax seals, which are still visible on the bedposts and headboard today. Apparently 26 butchers and their wives spent the night in it for a bet in 1689, (52 people!) but it was also popular with the rich and famous - in 1596 Prince Ludwig of Anhalf-Kohten visited Ware and slept there, and in 1610 Prince Ludwig Friedrich of W├╝rttemburg stayed in it.

The Great Bed dressed with fine drapes
The bed is 3.38m long and 3.26m wide (ten by eleven feet), and is carved with acanthus leaves and strapwork patterns derived from the Renaissance tradition. Originally it would have been brightly painted, and traces of the painting can still be seen on the figures on the bed-head. The marquetry panels which are inlaid in the headboard are copies of the work of Dutch artist Hans Vredeman de Vries but the panels were probably carved by London craftsmen. The frame of the bed was built by Jonas Fosbrooke from Hertfordshire.

One example of the initials carved into
The Great Bed
Despite its huge size, the bed travelled about quite a lot. In the 19th century it was situated at the Saracen’s Head, another inn at Ware, but it also had brief stays at The George, The Crown or the Bull.  In 1870, William Henry Teale, the owner of the Rye House, acquired the bed and used it in his pleasure garden as a visitor attraction. In 1931, it was acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London, where it is now one of their most prized exhibits.
The most famous mention of it during the Elizabethan period is in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night of 1601 : Toby Belch  ...and as many lies as will lie in thy sheet of paper, although the sheet were big enough for the bed of Ware in England...'.  

Toby Belch
Thanks to Grace for hosting me. Now I need to find another 52 historical novelists to sneak into the V&A for a night of bed-time reading so we can break the world record for the number of people in the bed. Any takers?

Deborah is author of The Gilded Lily and The Lady’s Slipper, both on kindle special offer this month

Click for link
Deborah Swift's captivating writing makes you feel as if you're in Restoration London alongside the two lead characters of this excellent historical novel. Highly recommended. --The Bookbag

Thank you Deborah, for such a fascinating post. I remember visiting William Wordsworth's home in the Lake District and seeing his four poster bed. It was surprisingly small (apparently people tended to sleep sitting up (?!) and so the beds were shorter - so the Bed of Ware, must have seemed even more enormous in its day.
Thank you for visiting,
Grace x

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Superstitions: Never Bring a Lily Indoors

In Greek legend lilies were formed from the spilt breast milk of the goddess Hera when she was tricked into nursing the infant, Heracles. The babe was pulled from her breast and some of the milk stained the heavens as the Milky Way, whilst part fell to earth as the lily. The flower was seen as a symbol of fecundity and purity and in ancient cultures brides wore a crown of lilies woven with wheat, to bring the blessing of fertility to the marriage.

The Milky Way

The lily also has a number of associations in Christian legend. The first was that lilies came about from Eve's tears in the Garden of Eden. Later on the flower had other associations, such as representing the Virgin Mary's tears or to have arisen from Jesus' sweat the night before his the crucifixion, and are therefore a symbol of resurrection. It is because of this that many churches are decorated with lilies at Easter time.

Legend has it that the Archangel Gabriel presented the
Virgin Mary with a spray of lilies, at the annunciation.
Intriguingly, the ancient Roman's placed a lily in the hands of the deceased when they were buried, to signify rebirth. This tradition was adopted by the early Church but later became corrupted as a Christian symbol of death. Because of this association it is considered bad luck to bring lilies indoors. However, if you are an animal lover, more specifically a cat owner, it is worse than bad luck to have lilies in the house, it can be fatal to your pet.

When a cat brushes past a lily, the pollen is readily transferred to her fur. When the cat grooms herself and ingests the pollen, she is unwittingly poisoning herself. The pollen is 'nephrotoxic', or damaging to the kidney, and will rapidly send her into renal failure. If your cat has contact with lily pollen, immediately wipe her coat with a damp cloth to remove as much as possible, stop her licking her fur and then phone your vet for advice.

Being fastidious groomers, if a cat gets pollen on herself, she will
wash it off - possibly with fatal consequences
Other Lily Legends

  • In the 18th century having lilies indoors was said to 'procure wakefulness'.
  • Lilies were thought to cure sorrow by causing loss of memory
  • Chinese herbalist thought lilies had to power to cause the birth of a son if the flower was worn in the woman's girdle during pregnancy.
  • It is unlucky to have an even number of flowers in a bouquet, this is associated with wreathes and death.
  • In Victorian flower language, a white lily meant purity and gave the message "It's heavenly to be with you", whilst an orange lily represented hatred.
A happy cat is without lilies in the house.


Wednesday 10 April 2013

10 Questions: Hope Tyler of "Hope's Betrayal"

Today's blog post is by way of a game - passed to me by Deborah Swift, author of, The Gilded Lily. In turn I pass it on to author, Maria Grace (see previous post to learn more about the Ms Grace's work)

10 questions - Hope Tyler of 'Hope's Betrayal'

Favorite Colour:
Hope's favorite colour is the opalescent green-blue of the sea on a sunny day.
The coast of the Isle of Wight - a view Hope would
have been familiar with.
Favorite Animal:
Hope has known hunger and deprivation and therefore has a practical attitude to animals. That said, she is very fond of Jasper, Lady Constance's spaniel, especially as he brought help when she had been kidnapped.
Jasper is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Photo courtesy of Trisha Spears.(click for link)
Favorite Number:

Favorite Non-alcoholic Drink:
Tea. Hope has smuggled all manner of illicit substances into the country, anything from coffee to lace, and tobacco to tea. Of those that she tried, tea is by far away her favorite.

Hogarth print of ladies taking tea.
Tea was highly taxed and so many consumers drank contraband leaves.
Facebook or Twitter?
Hope is a woman of action and would enjoy Twitter on so many levels. Undoubtedly, she would have a network of fellow smugglers who would keep each other informed of the latest movements of the Revenue Officers. Also, she is not a woman to waste words and would appreciate the brevity of the messages.

Her Passion:
Justice.  Hope lives in a world of social inequality, where the rich can openly drink the tea she has smuggled, but she could hang for supplying them. Hope does not want to break the law, but grinding poverty means that to feed her family she has no choice.
The penalty if caught smuggling were harsh.
Giving or getting presents:
Hope has an open heart and a generous spirit - she loves to give and is embarrassed to receive.

Favorite Day:
Hope has learnt to take pleasure in the small things in life. Her favorite day would be warm, with the sun glinting off the sea and plentiful fish to be caught.

Favorite Flowers:
A carpet of woodland bluebells.
Photo courtesy of Keith Hulbert
(click for link)
Favourite Book:
Hope rarely has the time to read, but if she did, she'd appreciate the irony and humour of Ms. Austen's novels.
Click for link.
This game was passed to me by Deborah Swift and I am passing it on to Maria Grace.
I hope you have enjoyed this insight into Hope's character!
Why not leave a comment and share some of your favourite things!
Click for link


Sunday 7 April 2013

Of Proper Gentlemen and Ladies - guest post by Maria Grace

Of Proper Gentlemen and Ladies

Etiquette is an integral part of every culture. Although the details differ among regions and historical periods, the concept of correct and incorrect ways to behave remains constant. Rules of polite behavior are essential elements of communication within a society, a social code that enables individuals to understand motives and subtle messages that are otherwise too cumbersome to display through words alone.

In general these rules reflect the values of a society. Following these rules demonstrates respect for the common morality and for other people. Obedience to the guidelines of good manners also reflects on the character of the individual and suggests one is well bred and refined.

These social rules are adopted and adapted over time.  Some may be written into elaborate manuals, though many are unwritten, caught rather than taught among the population at large. In periods of great social transition, like the Regency, published manuals are especially abundant.

The established etiquette in the Regency era emphasized class and rank and the proper relations between the genders. Although the rules might appear awkward and restrictive, especially for women, they did act as a safeguard against misunderstanding and embarrassment for all parties. 

Well-bred women were thought to have a "natural" sense of delicacy. Taste and poise should come naturally to a lady, and it was an indictment against their breeding to be worried about looking correct. Chaperones were one means of assisting young women in maintaining their delicacy and reputation.

Young women were protected zealously in company. Young, unmarried women were never alone in the company of a gentleman, save family and close family friends. A chaperone was also required for a young single woman to attend any social occasion. Under no circumstances could a lady call upon a gentleman alone unless consulting him on a professional or business matter.

Except for a walk to church or a park in the early morning, a lady could not walk alone. She should always be accompanied by another lady, an appropriate man, or a servant. Similarly, a proper lady did not ride abroad by herself.  Whether horseback or in a carriage, she should bring an appropriate companion to protect her reputation.

It was unacceptable to speak to anyone of good breeding without a formal introduction by a third party.  The higher ranking individual (or the woman in the case of two equally ranking individuals) indicates whether he or she wishes to permit the introduction of an inferior. In the case he or she desired an introduction a third party would be asked to make one.  At a public ball, the Master of Ceremonies would conduct this service to enable gentleman and ladies to dance. However, if the higher ranking person did not desire an introduction, one could not be forced upon them.

 In some circumstances, the higher ranking person could introduce him or herself to the lower one. When introduced,  the person of lower rank bowed or curtsied. Gentlemen and ladies of equal rank bowed and curtsied when formally introduced to each other and again when parting.

Touching and tipping one's hat, using the hand farthest away from the lady to raise it, was a standard salutation. Not returning it would be very rude. After being introduced, individuals always acknowledged each other in public, at minimum with a tip or touch to the hat or a slight bow of the shoulders. 

If a gentleman met a lady with whom he had a friendship and who signified that she wished to talk, good manners dictated he should turn and walk with her as they conversed. It was not appropriate to make a lady stand talking in the street.

Failure to acknowledge an acquaintance was a breach in conduct and considered a cut. Manuals warned that a lady should never ‘cut’ someone unless ‘absolutely necessary’ and only ladies were truly justified in delivering a ‘cut’.   


The heart of polite sociability was conversation. The whole purpose of conversation was to please other people and to be deemed pleasing. In general, conversation was tightly controlled by rules of etiquette as well. The list of unacceptable topics far outnumbered the acceptable ones.

A polite individual did not ask direct personal questions of someone they had just met. To question or even compliment anyone else on the details of their dress might also be regarded as impertinent. Personal remarks, however flattering, were not considered good manners. Etiquette manuals counseled such comments should be exchanged only with close family and intimate friends.

Similarly, scandal and gossip should be omitted from public conversation. Any references to pregnancy, childbirth, or other natural bodily functions were considered coarse and carefully sidestepped. A man could sometimes discuss his hunters or driving horses in the presence of ladies though it was generally discouraged.  Greater latitudes of conversation were allowed when the genders were segregated, particularly for the men.

For the Gentleman

While enjoying the company of ladies, a gentleman was under an obligation to please the women, extending to a lady of equal rank that respect usually due to a social superior.

If walking with a lady and a flight of stairs was encountered.  Ascending the stairs, he should precede the lady (running, according to one authority); in descending, he followed. 

In a carriage, a gentleman took the seat rear facing. If he for some reason, he found himself alone in a carriage with a lady, he could not sit next to her unless he was her husband, brother, father, or son. A proper gentleman always exited a carriage first so that he may hand the lady down, always taking appropriate care not to step on her dress.

If a gentleman attended a public exhibition or concert in the company of a lady, he would go in first in order to find her a seat, making sure to remove his hat. If in military uniform, a gentleman never wore a sword in the presence of ladies, nor did he smoke in their presence, though the use of snuff was acceptable.  


Not surprisingly, good manners required all forms of touching between members of the opposite sex were to be kept to a minimum. Putting a lady's shawl about her shoulders, or assisting her to mount a horse, enter a carriage  and for a gentleman to take a lady's arm through his to support her while out walking were considered acceptable of courtesy.

Shaking hands, though, was not. In the Regency era, shaking hands was considered a mark of unusual affability or intimacy. Only gentlemen of about the same social class, who knew each other well, shook hands. Moreover, the intimacy of shaking hands was a mark of condescension, if offered by one of a higher rank. 

Shaking hands with a person of the opposite sex was less frequent and less proper. A touch, a pressure of the hands, was the only external signs a woman could give of harboring a particular regard for certain gentleman and was not to be thrown away lightly. According to some contemporary conduct guides, a woman should avoid even touching the hand of a man who is not a family member.

Between sisters or ladies of equal age or rank a kiss on the cheek was acceptable. A gentleman might kiss a lady's hand, but kissing it 'passionately' was a gesture of excessive intimacy.


A Lady of Distinction   -   Regency Etiquette, the Mirror of Graces (1811). R.L. Shep Publications (1997)
Black, Maggie & Le Faye, Deirdre   -   The Jane Austen Cookbook. Chicago Review Press (1995)
Byrne, Paula   -   Contrib. to Jane Austen in Context. Cambridge University Press (2005)
Day, Malcom   -   Voices from the World of Jane Austen. David & Charles (2006)
Downing, Sarah Jane   -   Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen. Shire Publications (2010)
Jones, Hazel   -   Jane Austen & Marriage . Continuum Books (2009)
Lane, Maggie   -   Jane Austen's World. Carlton Books (2005)
Lane, Maggie   -   Jane Austen and Food. Hambledon (1995)
Laudermilk, Sharon & Hamlin, Teresa L.   -   The Regency Companion. Garland Publishing (1989)
Le Faye, Deirdre   -   Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. Harry N. Abrams (2002)
Ray, Joan Klingel   -   Jane Austen for Dummies. Wiley Publishing, Inc. (2006)
Ross, Josephine   -   Jane Austen's Guide to Good Manners. Bloomsbury USA (2006)
Selwyn, David   -   Jane Austen & Leisure. The Hambledon Press (1999)
Trusler, John   -   The Honours of the Table or Rules for Behavior During Meals. Literary-Press (1791)
Vickery, Amanda   -   The Gentleman's Daughter. Yale University Press (1998)

Author Maria Grace
 Author bio
 Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful.

She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six cats, seven Regency-era fiction projects and notes for eight more writing projects in progress. To round out the list, she cooks for nine in order to accommodate the growing boys and usually makes ten meals at a time so she only cooks twice a month.

She can be contacted at:

Visit her website Random Bits of Fascination (
On Twitter @WriteMariaGrace
English Historical Fiction Authors (
Austen Authors (

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Superstitions: Ladders and Mirrors

Have you ever wondered where the superstitions concerning bad luck and ladders, and broken mirrors, came from? Well, as I'm on vacation this short post in inspired by one of my holiday reads (Black Cats and Evil Eyes by Chloe Rhodes).

Not Walking Under Ladders
It seems common sense not to walk under a ladder, especially if a painter is balancing a pot of paint at the top - but would you believe this superstition actually goes back to the early church!

The Ladder of Divine Ascent
When a ladder leans against a wall it forms a triangular shape with the ground. The triangle is held to have sacred properties as it represents the Trinity: God, the Son and the Holy Spirit. To walk under a ladder would break the triangle and thus be irreverent to the Trinity - and by extension sinful.

The soul of the condemned man was said to
linger beneath the ladder.
Another explanation, also involving the soul, was associated with death by hanging. The condemned man would climb a ladder up onto the scaffold. When he had been executed his soul, since it was unfit for heaven, lingered beneath the ladder. Hence, to walk beneath the ladder was to mingle with the souls of the undead.

Breaking a Mirror - 7 Years Bad Luck

Superstitions linking bad luck to a broken mirror go back to the Romans and other ancient civilisations. This is largely to do wit the belief that looking at a reflected image meant part of the soul was housed within the mirror. Hence, if the mirror was broken then the soul would also be damaged.

The reflected image captures
part of the soul
The first written reference to 7 years bad luck was in 1851. This very specific length of time may well be related to the Roman belief that the body renewed itself every 7 years and so hopefully all previous damage would be healed.

Obviously the fear of broken mirrors runs deep because it was mention in John Brand's 18th century publication, Observation on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain, where he wrote:
"The breaking a Looking Glass is accounted a very unlucky accident. Mirrors were formerly used by magicians in their superstitious and diabolical operations."

The Broken Mirror
Jean Baptiste Greuse
Also, Alfred, Lord Tennyson in 1842 made a famous mention of mirrors in, The Lady of Shallot'.
The mirror cracked from side to side,
'The curse has come upon me' said the Lady of Shallot.

Oh well, after all this bad luck, I'd better toss some salt over my shoulder (or does that also bring bad, no good, luck…ho hum)
Superstitious? Me?
I'm a black cat - I laugh in the face of superstition.