Tuesday 31 December 2013

Most Viewed Blog Posts of 2013

This New Year's Eve I'd like to wish all visitors to my blog a happy and healthy 2014.
As 2013 draws to an end it seems appropriate to recap on the year gone by - and see which posts had the most views.
So - in reverse order, the 10 most viewed blog posts here on 'Fall in Love with History.'
Is there a post that sticks in your mind?
If so, it would be great if you'd leave a comment and share which posts appeal to you and why.
Grace x

PS - Click the photo for a link to the post.

#10 - Cats and the Possessed

Widget - summer 2013
#9 - Tower of London: Polar Bears in the Thames

January 2013 I visited the Tower of London

#8 - Bizarre Tudor Deaths

The memorial at the Tower of London to those executed there (including Anne Boleyn)
#7 - How Many Wives did Henry VIII have?

The wooden likeness of Henry VIII, once used to display his armour at the Tower of London's 'Line of Kings' exhibition
#6 Kensington Palace: At Home with the King

The statue of Queen Victoria outside Kensington Palace
#5 - Miraculously Improbable: The Crystal Palace

The Great Exhibition -1851, the Crystal Palace
#4 - Dog and Cat Diaries

Widget has her own way of coping with stress
#3 - Exit Napoleon Pursued by Rabbits

It turns out Napoleon was bested by rabbits...
#2 - London Bridge Legends

The Tower of London on the left and Tower Bridge (yes, I know - not London Bridge) on the right
#1 - Cats Eyes: Seeing is Believing

For the second year running, a piece about reflective road studs is the most viewed post!
Here's to 2014!
G x

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Christmas Angels on the Isle of Wight

Happy Christmas!
This year I'm fortunate to be spending Christmas on the Isle of Wight.
Despite the awful winds and rain we went for a walk round the village and discovered a flock of Christmas angels. To raise money for the local nursery, businesses have erected angels (many life-sized -or should I say out-sized since no one knows how big angels are). So for your Christmas edification  I bring you the angels of St Helens.
This angel is made from milk cartons!
The angel outside the Vine Inn 
A short walk away on the village green is a driftwood angel - made from pieces of reclaimed wood bolted together.

The driftwood angel.
In front of a cottage overlooking the green was a 'garden angel' -that looks beautiful both night and day.

OK,  this next one is rather creepy - it put me in mind of a creature from Doctor Who, especially as it takes a while to be certain its not a real person but a model.
Sporting real feather wings -sadly a little the worse for wear,
after the stormy conditions.

This chap outside the local restaurant is less threatening.

And these happy fellows...

So there we are! A very happy Christmas to you all.
Grace x
PS This fishing village was once a haven for smugglers and the inspiration behind 'Hope's Betrayal'.

Wednesday 18 December 2013

An Illuminating History...and Christmas Lights

The short days and long nights of December could be dark, dreary and dull were it not for Christmas lights. In my neighbourhood people who outwardly seem quite sane, go uncharacteristically mad and dress their houses with flashing reindeer, illuminated Santas and ropes of lights. Whilst researching my next book I discovered that attaching lights to houses is not a new phenomenon, but has its roots in the 18th century.
The first recorded mention of a building decorated with lights was on the occasion of George I’s birthday in 1716. The house in question was that of the royal physician, Hugh Chamberlen and he used 200 lamps to illuminate the fa├žade in tribute to his sovereign.
A house I walk past on my way home.
The idea seems to have caught on because during the first half of the 18th century courtiers began to light up their homes in honour of the king’s birthday. By the time George III came to the throne not just high-ranking people but the tradesmen linked to the crown adopted the habit and over time to light one’s house became a visible sign of the residents’ allegiance to King and country. 
Grand buildings were lit with lanterns arranged in complex designs attached to scaffolding whilst humbler abodes were content to show their solidarity with a few candles in the front room window.
“Being the King’s Birthday…In the evening there were the usual illuminations….the mob made all the coachmen and footmen which pass’d pull off their hats and cry ‘God save the King’…”
June 4th 1777
1801 -John Bull celebrates the blessings of peace.
Note the candles in the window.
It seems people enjoyed the spectacle of brightly lit buildings so much that they extended the celebration to the queen’s birthday and those of royal offspring, as well as other dates of national significance.
“…the affectionate love of the subject was testified to their Sovereign in every window…from palace of the peer to the garret of the weaver.”
In common with the party spirit many people drank too much and there was a tendency for drunks to attack homes where the owner had failed to display even a candle in the window.
“This token of national joy [house illuminations] is not regulated by law but the people…take the law into their own hands…and the citizens must illuminate to please or be content to have their windows broken; a violence which is winked at by the police…”
Illuminations -such as these at Vauxhall Gardens -
were a popular attraction at a time when there was no electricity.
One such time of celebration took place in the spring of 1789 to mark King George III’s recovery from severe mental illness.  On several occasions between March and May it was recorded in London that night turned to day and “every house was illuminated not only in the principal streets but in lanes, courts and alleyways.”
Contemporary newspaper reports give a flavour of the public mood.
“London might truly be said to have exhibited one continual blaze of exultation…The inhabitants seemed to vie with each other who should give the most beautiful and picturesque devices [illuminations] …and…testify their loyalty in the most conspicuous manner.”
Now I’m not suggesting Georgian illuminations are the direct ancestor of Christmas lights (actually that is a much duller story to do with the first Christmas trees) but the two things have an interesting parallel in that human nature never changes and in the 18th century, as now, people love to stare at pretty coloured lights.
Have you decorated your house? Please leave a comment.

With thanks to Cheezburger.com

Wednesday 11 December 2013

A Short History of Pantomime

As part of the 2013 Advent Blog Hop, I’ve taken the history of pantomimes as a theme and thought it would be fun to look into how such a quirky entertainment came about.
Click for a link to the other stops.
“He’s behind you!”
That famous cry from the audience as the pantomime villain creeps up behind the principal boy…which brings back many happy memories of Christmas’ gone by. For my family it was a Christmas tradition to see a pantomime during the festive season – indeed now I have a family of my own, we continue this trend (As an aside, one year we took a relative and her American husband with us to the theatre. He was totally bemused and just didn’t know what to make of all the cross-dressing with actors playing the ugly sisters, and a beautiful actress masquerading as the hero - let alone all the bad jokes and audience participation. Our friend from the US claimed pantomimes are unknown in America – I’d be interested to know if this is the case or not. Comments welcome at the end of this post.)

For those unfamiliar with the concept of pantomime here is the dictionary definition:
“A funny musical play based on traditional children’s stories, performed especially at Christmas.”
What this misses is the quirky, almost ludicrous element of pantomime, whereby men play women and women men, there is slapstick humour and the audience is expected to shout out in response to what they see on stage – a far cry from the usual hush of a theatre auditorium.

The clamour for something different emerged in early Georgian times with the public eager for novel entertainment, tricks and spectacle.
The original pantomime pieces were short “Night scenes” – short scenes of slapstick comedy performed between the acts in London’s theatres. They heralded from Italy and a genre of performing art called commedia dell’arte  which was brought to England by French players. Rivalry between the two London theatres of Drury Lane and Lincoln’s Inn Fields meant they were always on the look out for novelty. They adopted some of these scenes and incorporated them into longer stage shows and by 1723 the pantomime was born.

Drury Lane took an early lead with Harlequin Doctor Faustus, but Lincoln’s Inns Fields achieved more lasting success with The Necromancer. The later had singing, dancing, spectacular scenery and unusual special effects. Audiences flocked to see sights such as the miller getting hoisted in the sails of his windmill, Helen of Troy rising through the stage and a monstrous dragon the belched flames and roared.
A pantomime horse on his way to the first
Greenwich, annual pantomime horse race (2013)
It was a while later in the 1750’s that pantomimes became associated with Christmas entertainment, thanks mainly to David Garrick. Although he disliked the genre he was not averse to the money it brought in and mounted a special pantomime each Christmas. By 1806 the Covent Garden Theatre opened with Harlequin and Mother Goose, which is still regarded as the most famous pantomime of all time. It established some of the hallmarks of the modern panto when the pantomime dame was played by a man, in this case the actor and singer Samuel Simmons (1773 – 1819) and Joseph Grimaldi as Clown (1775 – 1846). Part of the popularity was that it poked irreverent fun at serious ballets such as those produced at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket.
Vesta Tilley as a principal boy
By Victorian times the plots were inspired by European fairy tales or English nursery rhymes. Children were encouraged to attend as part of a family entertainment, for they enjoyed the fast pace and comedy of the play. Over the decades the panto evolved to contain such elements as a pantomime animal – usually a horse or a cow (a skin with two actors inside playing the back and front ends), a good fairy to guide the star-crossed lovers, risque double entendre, audience participation and even, in late Victorian times – a guest celebrity. Indeed, this carries on into the modern age where panto provides regular seasonal work for washed-up or B-list celebrities.

Don't forget to visit the other stops in the 

Wednesday 4 December 2013

A Personal Encounter with the Georgians

Last Saturday I had the great pleasure of visiting the British Library, London, and their ‘Georgians Revealed’ exhibition.
To enter the library the visitor first crosses a piazza containing a pop-up garden with a column topped by King George I wearing a privet wig! I knew then I was going to enjoy myself. Indeed, the contrasting backdrop of modern London against the 18th century, and the cheekiness of clothing King George in greenery, set the tone for an exhibition carrying the message that the Georgians were an innovative lot, driven by consumerism.
Author's own photo
The exhibition celebrates the 300th anniversary of George I acceding to the English throne (in 1714) – a new king whose heirs oversaw a momentous century of change. The impression left by the ‘GeorgiansRevealed’ was of a time where architecture, fashion, literature and theatre gathered momentum, took root and indeed had a feel of the modern age about it (minus the internet of course!) 
Author's own photo
Perhaps it was because the venue was a library, but the importance of books and pamphlets in the 18th century struck me as incendiary. From the handbills promoting pantomimes, to step-by-step dance instructions; from magazines and fashion plates, to learned volumes on architecture – printed matter was key to spreading information beyond the privileged few to a wider audience.
The 18th century was revealed as a time of ‘firsts’. Institutions that are still important today, such as the British Museum and the Royal Academy of Art, were founded. Most people know of Mrs Beeton and her famous Victorian cookbook, but have you heard of her fore-runner, Hannah Glasse who in 1747 produced the Georgian equivalent? Indeed, in 1754 Thomas Chippendale produced the first illustrated catalogue of furniture, and in 1765 Josiah Wedgewood opened his first London showroom selling fine china and porcelain.
Author's own photo
Hobbies and pastimes that are familiar to us today had their root in the 18th century. For instance an early form of tourism, visiting the country house, was popular and some venues such as Lord Cobham’s estate in Stowe produced their own guidebooks.
Ladies magazines such as the ‘Ladies Complete Pocket Book’ printed fashion plates with exhaustive descriptions of the latest gowns. This meant anyone could copy the designs and up-to-date fashion spread beyond the aristocracy. Fashion celebrities such as Fanny Murray were spawned, whilst printed cartoons by Rowlandson, Gilray and Cruikshank made it legitimate to laugh at ones superiors publicly in a way previously frowned on.
Author's own photo
It was also a time of huge growth for the city of London itself. Until the mid-18th century there were just five bridges across the Thames, but to feed the growing capital more were built. London expanded across fields and farms, many of today’s landmark squares were designed and created by architectural greats such as Adams, Palladio and Soane. Again, the magic of the exhibition was not just seeing contemporary prints of the buildings these architects created, but viewing the actual books they wrote and published.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I felt thoroughly inspired by the ‘Georgians Revealed’ and the exhibition is open until 11th March 2014 at the British Library (they also have a pretty awesome gift shop, which is basically a book store. Heaven.)
With thanks to Cheezburger.com