Wednesday 30 October 2013

Historical Hauntings - the Tower of London

Photo courtesy of the Historic Royal Palaces
Join the ghostly fun on twitter with #TowerGhost
There’s no better time for a ghost story than Hallowe’en and no better place to tell them, than at the Tower of London.  Over the centuries those ancient stone walls have witnessed murder, torture and imprisonment - and soaked up the distressed spirits of those who died there. Whether you believe in ghosts or not, there are compelling accounts, frequently by Yeoman Warders, of sights so terrifying that one witness even died of fright two days later. Of the ten ghostly apparitions associated with the Tower of London, here are my two favourites.
Portrait of a woman thought to be
Margaret Pole.
Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury
By all accounts Margaret Pole was a feisty character, but she needed to be with King Henry VIII amongst her enemies. Margaret was an unusual woman for a number of reasons: firstly, because she was a peeress in her own right (rather than being married to a nobleman) and secondly, because she reached the age of 70 – which was quite an achievement in Tudor England.
However, Henry VIII was not a fan mainly because Margaret was a Plantagenet (a rival line of accession to England’s throne)  and her son, Reginald, was a vocal critic of Henry’s religious and marital policies. Knowing Henry had charged him with treason Reginald fled abroad, but not so Margaret – who Henry arrested, put through a farcical trial and sentenced to death.
The Martin Tower at the Tower of London
Find out more at #TowerGhosts
On 27th May 1541, Margaret Pole was marched onto Tower Green at the Tower of London, where a crowd of 150 spectators had assembled to witness her execution. Margaret, however, was having none of it. She defiantly told the executioner that she refused to kneel at the block and if he wanted to cut her head off, he’d have to do it where she stood. You can almost feel sorry for the man – caught between a strident old woman and the orders of his king. In the end, the executioner took a swipe at Lady Pole, missed her neck and badly cut her shoulder. Bleeding heavily, Margaret's white hair stained red, she took to her heels and ran. Eventually, it took 11 blows to fell the countess in what was more butchery than execution.
And so the story goes that on the anniversary of her death, May 27th, her ghost re-enacts her brutal end in a macabre dance around Tower Green....
Anne Boleyn
Queen Anne Boleyn
Another of Henry’s victims was his second wife, Queen Anne Boleyn. Once again Tower Green provides the backdrop for a grizzly scene with a French swordsman smiting Anne’s head from her shoulders on her husband’s command. Her body was removed, placed in an empty arrow chest for a coffin and buried beneath the floor in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula. But it seems the lady lies uneasy for in Victorian times a Captain of the Guard noticed a light burning in the locked chapel. Suspicious of what was going on he placed a ladder against the chapel window to inside. What he saw is described in this excerpt from Ghostly London, London 1882.
“Slowly down the aisle moved a stately procession of Knights and Ladies, attired in ancient costumes; and in front walked an elegant female whose face was averted from him, but whose figure greatly resembled the one he had seen in reputed portraits of Anne Boleyn. After having repeatedly paced the chapel, the entire procession together with the light disappeared.”
The elegant memorial to those executed on Tower Green
(author's own picture)
In 1864 a sentry of the King's Royal Rifle Corps was patrolling the grounds when he came upon an misty apparition of a woman in Tudor dress, wearing a French hood – but lacking a face! He challenged her to stop but she kept advancing so he thrust at the figure with his bayonet. Apparently, as the bayonet passed through the mist he received an electric shock. The sentry was court-marshalled for sleeping whilst on duty – but a fellow officer came forward and said that whilst he was in the Bloody Tower, he heard the man shout out a challenge and was in time to witness the shadowy figure pass through the bayonet and then the guard himself!
Those clever people at the Historic Royal Palaces have created a special hour long tour of ‘Ten Historical Hotspots’ within the Tower of London. If you are in London this Hallowe’en and want to find out more visit here:  
This blog post is part of the Trick or Treat Hallowe'en Blog Hop.
See links below for the participating blogs. 

Wednesday 23 October 2013

18th Century Trivia - China, Glass and Silverware

Why do we call fine-pottery ‘china’?
Which tax led to the development of ‘cut-glass’?
A beautiful example of a glass chandelier -
from the Assembly Rooms, Bath.

This weekend I had that most uplifting of experiences – finishing a manuscript, The Ringmaster’s Daughter, and sending it out to beta readers. Whilst awaiting their verdict I started researching #2 in this series of Georgian romances - which led me to find out some interesting trivia about dining in the early 18th century  table settings.
Let us start with George Ravenscroft and his invention of lead crystal (OK, the purists will argue this is a flawed statement. Apparently George didn’t ‘invent’ lead crystal but refined an already existing process to the point where it was usable. Also, the word ‘crystal’ is strictly incorrect, since the structure of the lead-glass is not crystalline  in the scientifically accepted use of the term. But hey ho, it is what it is and I digress already)
Examples of Ravenscroft glass - displayed at the V&A Museum.
George Ravenscroft was an importer and exporter  of fine goods who spent some of his career in Italy. Whilst there he observed Italian glass making techniques and decided it would make good business sense to recreate their fine crystal for the British market. On his return to England, he set up a workshop and was very secretive about his methods – presumably because he was afraid of imitation. It is unclear how he came to create his fine lead glass (or crystal ) and there were initial teething problems with crazing or ‘crizzling’ where fine cracks appeared with use, rendering the glass cloudy with time.  But once the crizzling issue was resolved, Ravenscroft glass became extremely popular and very fashionable.

The addition of lead gave the glass a brighter, cleaner appearance which well suited Georgian tastes. The light scattering properties of  Ravenscroft’s lead crystal made it ideal for chandeliers – and at a time when candles were the main light source for the wealthy – it was a match made in heaven. 
For the table Ravenscroft manufactured heavy, clear drinking glasses but when a glass was taxed in 1745, he reduced the weight by cutting deep jags and slices into the surface of the drinking vessels. This made them sparkle and shine even more when the light hit them – which became fashionable in its own right.
When setting a table in the early 18th century, shimmer and shine were all the rage – and no more so than with eating utensils. The wealthy ate with silver cutlery – the forks laid prongs down so as not to catch in dangly lace cuffs and sleeves. Later, in the 1770’s, Thomas Bolsover developed the technique of silver plating base metals and the way was opened for the aspirational gentry to adorn their dinner tables with silverware.
An example of a china tea pot - produced in England.
Early 18th century.
The early 18th century also saw a great fad for china and porcelain. We derive the generic word ‘china’ from the thin porcelain imported as ballast in the hold of tea clippers. At this time tea was very expensive and highly desirable, but the taste was easily tainted in transit by the smell of other cargo. To this end the tea from China was packed in thin pottery, and in turn these pots became fashionable. In time, for each ton of tea imported, six tons of porcelain accompanied it as ballast.  By 1723, over 5,000 teapots for 1 ½ d each, were imported – as compared to the cost of a (admittedly extensive) tea service in 1712, which was over £5.
In the 1740’s a Chelsea factory began producing English bone china – beautifully painted and decorated – the like of which had not been seen before. A passion for china was born with the wealthy aspiring Meissen crockery from Germany and collecting tea-cups and ‘jacolite’ (chocolate) bowls from Italy. Indeed, Queen Anne decreed food must be:

‘…brought to the table on fair china plates.’

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Gardens Through the English Eras

I'm delighted to welcome Debra Brown to my blog. As well as writing the wonderfully evocative, The Companion of Lady Holmeshire, Debbie is the founder of the EHFA (English Historical Fiction Authors) of which I am proud to be a member. So without further ado - let me hand the stage to Debra.

Thumbing through my precious copy of the newly released Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors, I came across an interesting contrast by author Judith Arnopp. She wrote:
Medieval literature depicts noblemen striding about the world, galloping into battle in the service of the king, embarking upon arduous pilgrimage and living and breathing upon a vastly dangerous, stimulating stage. These men are shown to be invincible, self-assured, and in control, and there were few limits placed upon them.
“The women in this literature are portrayed very differently; they rarely travel, they never fight and are usually to be found within the vicinity of the castle walls. Their role is to marry, provide heirs, and be an asset to their husband. Life for most medieval woman was closeted; we see them safe within the walls of the castle, sewing, strumming musical instruments, listening to minstrels’ songs or to tales of courtly-love.
”The favoured place for these activities was the garden, and many manuscripts illustrate this. We see women sitting among the flowerbeds, sometimes planting and maintaining the gardens or, more often, we find them in a lovers’ tryst. Other times they are shown sitting in the shade of a tree listening to a minstrel’s tales and, paradoxically, the stories they are listening to are of other women also dwelling within the safety of their own gardens.”
A woodcut of a woman in a medieval kitchen garden
Though Judith’s lovely post goes on to discuss women and the garden as a literary device, at this point I was temporarily lost in the beauty of imagined gardens. This kind of beauty seems to be a part of us all—who doesn’t visit a garden from time to time or if given the time and resources, surround their home with greenery and colorful blooms?

If we could bring together persons from past centuries and ask them to draw a picture of “the typical garden”, what might they draw? Though of course at times and for many peoples the picture would be a muddy plot or a strip filled with common vegetables, herbs, or grain, M.M. Bennetts tells about the change in what an Elizabethan woman might sketch and why the difference. She tells us:

“…in 1520, the Church owned roughly one-sixth of the kingdom. By 1558, when Elizabeth ascended the throne—roughly twenty years after the Dissolution of the Monasteries—three-fourths of that land had been sold off, primarily into the hands of the gentry and the increasingly monied middle class. And this substantial change in land ownership brought with it equally substantial shifts in political, cultural, and economic power within the kingdom….
“Translated into plain English, there was now a land-owning gentry and burgeoning middle class who found themselves able to spend more of their resources on pleasures and comforts, rather than on self-defence and necessities as they previously would have done.
“So rather than the conversation between husband and wife going something like, ‘I see York is getting resty. I think we really should build another defensive tower and a moat...’ the conversation now could go something like, ‘Hmm, I fancy having a garden over on the south side of the house. With a rose pergola. What about you?’”
A recreation of an Elizabethan Garden in the grounds of Kenilworth Castle
Photo courtesy of English Heritage.
And what did these Elizabethan gardens look like? M.M. describes them thus:

“Always the gardens of the period were walled or enclosed in some way—by walls, hedges, fences, or even moats—and generally built off the house, often accessible only from the family’s main room or parlour.
“Enclosing the space ensured a measure of protection from wild animals (hungry deer) or thieves, but it also protected the plants from prevailing winds and provided a warmer microclimate. Then too, in plans of Elizabethan manor houses, one will occasionally find several unconnected walled gardens leading off from the different rooms in the house—some for pleasure, others for the medicinal herbs or vegetables, still others with their walls covered in espaliered apples, figs, and pear....
“Also, Elizabethan gardens were always laid out formally, geometrically designed and as often as not symmetrically, with knot gardens being the most common feature of the late 16th century garden. Indeed, one could rightly call the knot garden a very English passion.”

What about the 17th Century woman who did not have the means for a defensive tower or moat to scrap? The average 17th Century housewife? Deborah Swift relates:

“The concept of a “pretty” garden would have been anathema to most women of the 17th century, as gardens were primarily about producing food and herbs, unless you were very wealthy, in which case the gardening was left to your servants. The 17th century author of The English Housewife, Gervase Markham, claimed the “complete woman” had:
‘skill in physic, surgery, cookery, extraction of oils, banqueting stuff, ordering of great feasts, preserving of all sorts of wines…distillations, perfumes, ordering of wool, hemp and flax: making cloth and dying; the knowledge of dairies: office of malting; of oats…of brewing, baking, and all other things belonging to a household.’
“Guess that did not leave much time for planting pretty flowers!” Deborah says. “Because kitchen gardens were about supplying the table, and as much ground as possible was covered with edible plants, every garden was different, planted according to the whims of the women of the household.”

M.M. Bennetts tells us:

…with the onset of the Civil War in 1642 and the subsequent Protectorate under Oliver Cromwell, gardening, such as it had been, ground to a halt for many different reasons. Armies tramping across the countryside, particularly armies of Levellers, aren’t good for the preservation of gardens. Taxes were high and remained very high under Cromwell which meant substantially less disposable income….
“With the Restoration of Charles II, the idea of a pleasure garden was once again permitted. But now, after their experience on the Continent, the large landowners and fashionable gardeners sought to recreate versions of the most splendid garden of their age: Versailles. And this formal style, full of grand canals, classical statuary, fountains, and extensive geometrical beds edged in box, held sway into the early years of the 18th century.
A garden party at the time of King Charles II.

“But vast, formal gardens are very expensive to maintain—they are not only labour intensive, they also take up so much land that might be otherwise profitably employed. And it was the garden writer and designer, Stephen Switzer, who suggested a cheaper alternative in his Ichnografia Rustica, published in 1718. He was writing mainly for the owners of villas—successful businessmen mostly—whose smallish estates were near London.
“His proposal was that one should open up the countryside so that one might enjoy ‘the extensive charms of Nature, and the voluminous Tracts of a pleasant retreat, and breathe the sweet and fragrant Air of gardens.’ He went on to suggest that the garden be ‘open to all View, to the unbounded Felicities of distant Prospect, and the expansive Volumes of Nature herself.’
“Switzer examined costs and expenses; he proposed that the designs be more rural and natural and relaxed, that garden walls were an unnecessary expense, etc. In short, Switzer proposed the landscape movement which would transform the gardens of England….
“… as the eighteenth century progressed, influenced by their experiences of the Grand Tour, by writers such as Pope and Walpole, and by visiting other gardens, England’s landed classes began to favour a less formal and more naturalistic approach to landscape design. In developing the uniquely English concept of the landscape garden, William Kent, Lancelot (‘Capability’) Brown, and the other great landscape architects of the period were responding to a complex assortment of social and aesthetic ideals among their clients.
“As well as the integration of forestry, farming, and sport into the landscape, the ambition was in many respects to create an almost ‘natural’ appearance, where trees, water, open grassland, and carefully placed structures (bridges, temples, and monuments were popular) created a carefully balanced microcosm of the English countryside.”
Capability Brown designed garden at Harewood House, nr Leeds.
It is interesting to see how and why gardens changed over the centuries in these excerpts from various chapters. Castles, Customs, and Kings records much of life in changing Britain from Roman times through World War II. Battles, queens, fashions, and medicine are but a few of the topics covered. Tom Williams says of the book, “As an author who is unashamedly old-fashioned in my approach to historical writing, I rather enjoyed it. It did tell me things I didn't know and sparked an interest in some people and places I hadn't heard of before, but it is in no way a textbook. It's an amusing trot through British history and excellent bedtime reading….”

Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors is available at Amazon US, Amazon UK, and Kobo. It will soon be available at additional online bookstores.

Thank you so much Debra, for dipping into Castles, Customs and Kings in such an interesting way. 
And, dear reader, you might be interested to know that I have two pieces in the book!

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Rabies in Georgian England

Thomas Rowlandson - A Mad-dog in a Coffee Shop
This week’s blog post was inspired by a cartoon by Thomas Rowlandson of a rabid dog in an 18th century coffee shop. It set me wondering how common rabies was in Georgian Britain…read on to find out.
Rabies has been widespread throughout the world, including Britain, for many centuries. In Georgian times a notable outbreak occurred in Britain around 1734 - 5. Reports of rabid dogs went quiet for a while but then sadly escalated in 1752 when they penetrated St James’, in the heart of London. Orders were given to shoot dogs on sight.

Seven years later, and events escalated again. A serious contagion occurred in London that took three years to bring under control. Owners were ordered to keep their pets indoors and a two shillings per head reward offered, to kill street dogs on sight. Unfortunately, this bounty triggered scenes of barbaric killing rather than being an effective method of disease control.
By 1774 rabies had become generalised throughout England and paupers were discouraged from keeping dogs and a larger reward, of 5 shillings per head, offered for each stray killed.
In 1793, a lone voice, Samuel Bardsley proposed a quarantine system ‘to eradicate rabies from the British Isles’. He suggested isolating dogs for a period of time to ensure they were free from disease, and the prohibition of imported of dogs until they had undergone a period of quarantine. The suggestion was ignored at the time but picked up again in 1851 by William Youatt who thought an appropriate quarantine period was eight months . Unfortunately, no one listened to Bardsley or Youatt and it was a century after the former’s suggestion was made, that the idea was put into practise.
During the 18th and 19th century rabies was endemic in the UK. Packs of semi-wild dogs formed the main reservoir of infection which crossed over into hunting dogs. One such outbreak amongst stag hounds meant the whole pack had to be destroyed. Rabies was at last brought under control when legislation was passed in 1867 and 1897 which enforced the humane shooting of strays, muzzling of pet dogs and strict quarantine of imported animals.

And finally, rabies put in another appearance in the UK, in 1918. Soldiers returned from the First World War smuggled pet dogs in from France and some of these dogs were incubating rabies. Fortunately the outbreak was limited and brought under control by 1922. 

Wednesday 2 October 2013

A Tax on Dogs

Dc Johnson’s dictionary (1755) defined a pet as: “Any creature that is fondled or indulged”.
With thanks to 'One Cool Thing a Day'
In 1796 a seemingly innocuous piece of tax legislation caused uproar in England. The new law provoked a debate about the very nature of the human spirit and whether owning a dog was a right or a luxury.
At the end of the 18th century the English government was desperate for money to finance the on-going war with France. One way of raising the necessary cash was taxation. Tax was raised on everything from soap, to tea, tobacco, windows and lace – and indeed it didn’t stop there. Servants were a taxable asset under the auspices of the Male Servants’ Tax bill 1777- 1852 and the Female Servant’s Tax bill  1795 – 1852- but fortunately (or unfortunately?) wives and children were not taxable assets!. There was a Horse Tax (for owners of carriages and saddle horses), a Farm Horse Tax (for horses and mules used in trade) – but none of these taxes created quite the same stir as the imposition of the Dog Tax in 1796.

With thanks to

The crux of the disquiet lay in the very English relationship between man to dog. It raised a serious debate about whether a dog was a luxury or a natural part of being human. The tax tapped into questions about the emotional bond between the two. By putting a tax on dogs it implied a shift in relationship from one of nurturing and caring, to servility and subordination – and dog owners were enraged. To many this was tantamount to taxing spouses and children , and people weren’t happy. This wasn’t about the financial aspect of the tax, but the moral implication and feelings ran high.
Those that supported the bill pointed out that pet dogs were a luxury, and consumed food that could have been better used to feed the poor. Opposers argued back that to need things beyond the essential – such as a dog – was a distinctly human trait. These people considered pets to be their friends, and putting a tax on them turned the language of friendship to that of slavery and service.
With thanks to 'AnimalJam Wiki.'

Interestingly, the idea behind the dog tax may have originated in France (the very country the English needed to raise funds to fight!) In 1770 a French census suggested a population of four million dogs –an arthimetric extrapolation of the amount of food they consumed was equivalent to feeding a sixth of the population. The French dog tax was proposed to discourage dog ownership, as a means of disease control and to increase food availability.
French authorities also insisted dogs belonging to the poor spread disease – especially rabies. This was considered a disease of dirty and hungry dogs, so poor labourers who – “Can scarcely feed themselves” should be discouraged from owning dogs by means of a tax.
With thanks to ''

The difference between France and England was that in the former the tax remained as a proposition, whereas in the later it was acted upon.  Whatever the moral argument the English government won in the end – the Dog Tax was imposed and stayed in place until 1882.
So what do you think? Are dogs part of the family or a luxury - do leave a comment!