Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Pipes, Snuff and Poison

Looking at images of Georgian life, one gets the impression that the use of tobacco was neither general nor widespread. Caricatures tend to depict an exaggerated truth, and only in a few does one find a pipe smoker, and in none a man taking snuff.

Rowlandson shows one soldier smoking in a group of five, and similarly one working man among seven in a pub. A few men are depicted taking a pipe at their own hearth. Ackermann’s Fleet Prison yard, with groups enough to form a crowd, has one lone fellow with smoke issuing from his long clay pipe. Only Hogarth has half the males smoking pipes in a single group, and that is in a scene of drunken debauch!

It seems fair to assume, then, that although smoking was prevalent not everyone indulged in the habit; those who did confined their pipes to the pub, the coffee house or home. One can also be confident that far fewer women than men took tobacco at all, although an image of an elderly working class dame with a pipe pops up occasionally.

Clearly many did use snuff, because it was a high production trade and is mentioned in contemporary accounts. But although tobacco had a place, it seems unlikely that its use was anything like as widespread as it was during the earlier years of the twentieth century. Yet those Georgians who disapproved of the use of tobacco appear convinced that it was highly prevalent in their own time.

I have not yet killed off a character with tobacco, but I well might. The dangers were known. Tobacco is listed in a late 18th Century treatise on poisons. According to the writer, there was evidence to suggest it was an active poison, “yet everyone knows that under the influence of habit it is used in immense quantities over the whole world as an article of luxury, without any bad effect having ever been clearly traced to it.”

Much was made of the effects of snuff on workmen who manufactured it, some sources claiming it gave them bronchitis and dysentery among other ailments, but others managed to prove that workmen became used to it and didn’t suffer any ill effects. As ever, those with a vested interest will find a way to prove their point!

Such symptoms as were noted are known to us now: speeded up heart rate, giddiness, shortness of breath, spasms, fainting, sickness, weak pulse and sleepiness. One doctor suspected apoplexy (heart attack) “is one of the evils in train of that disgusting practice”, referring to taking snuff. Two young men actually died from tobacco poisoning, having smoked about “seventeen pipes at a sitting”. One wonders how that compares with 20 or 40 a day now?

We are indebted to a French chemist of the era, Vauquelin, for naming the killer substance in tobacco as nicotine. Later chemists argued about which precise part of tobacco caused the problems, but it was generally agreed that tobacco contained an “acrid, alkaline principle and an essential oil to which the alkaloid adheres with great obstinacy”, which was bad news.

As early as King James, who wrote “The Counter-Blaste to Tobacco” within a few years of its introduction into Europe by Sir Walter Raleigh, it was believed that the smoking habit would result in “evil consequences” because of its poisonous qualities. Some governments tried to stop its introduction, although their methods were harsher than our current bans on smoking in public places. Popes excommunicated those who smoked in St Peters; in Russia it was punished with amputation of the nose; and in the Canton of Bern it ranked next to adultery.

Did that make any difference? Not according to the treatise writer: “Like every other persecuted novelty, however, smoking and snuff-taking passed from place to place with rapidity; and now there appear to be only two luxuries which yield to it in prevalence, spirituous liquors and tea.”

Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chôse!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Nightingale Chronicles - Better Bend Than Break

Today my post is unashamedly promotion. The third book  in The Nightingale Chronicles is now on pre order on Amazon and for sale everywhere else. The link to the other venues crashes this page so not going to include it. 
I have enjoyed writing these books and the final one, All Well That Ends Well will be out next year sometime. The first three have been set in East End of London and Colchester, my home town. Made research so much easier. The final book will be in East End again and in Chelmsford.
Here is the blurb and the first couple of pages. Hope you enjoy it enough to download.  
Her name was Sarah Cooper – she could hardly believe she was no longer a Nightingale like her brother Alfie. She twisted the thin gold band around her finger and smiled shyly at her husband.
'Well, Sarah love, you've made me the happiest of men.' He didn't kiss her but pulled her hand through his arm and led her back down the aisle.
'I can't remember ever being so happy, Dan, and to think that only two years ago…'
'No, lovey, put the past behind you. You're my wife now, ma to our three boys, and it's my job to look after you all.'
She emerged from the church just as the heavens opened. Was this a bad omen? Then the children threw themselves at her and she forgot her silly fears.
'Are we going to get wet, Ma?' Joe, the eight-year-old, asked as he danced around clinging onto her hand.
'Fraid so, son, but it's not far from the church to our house. If we all run it won't be too bad,' Dan said as he ruffled the boy's hair.
The youngest, John, held out his arms to be picked up. 'You're a bit too big to be carried, young man, and we can run faster holding hands.'
'Yes, Ma, I'm the bestest runner.'
Davie, almost as tall as his brother although he was a year younger, grabbed John's other hand. 'We're blocking up the doorway, Ma, we'd better set off.'
Dan took the lead with Joe close beside him; she raced along behind holding her skirts up with her left hand and clutching Davie's with the other.
The weather had been clement when they had set out to St Leonard's Church but the clouds had rolled in whilst they were inside exchanging their vows.
Dan already had the door open and they tumbled in laughing and shaking the rain from their clothes and hair.
'Joe, stay by the door so you can open and close it when anyone arrives. Would you look at that – blooming rain's stopped now – we could have waited and saved ourselves a deal of bother.'
'Never mind, at least our guests won't get wet. It's a good thing we didn't put out any of the food before we left or it would have been quite spoiled.'
'You get the kettle on, love, and I'll get the boys to start taking out the sandwiches and cakes. I still think we should have had some beer to celebrate the occasion.'
The front door opened and shut and her brother Alfie, and her best friend Betty Thomas, burst in laughing. They seemed a bit too cosy to her, Alfie was only sixteen and in her opinion far too young to be courting.
It was different for her, she had married an older man, someone with a good job who could take care of her and the boys. Alfie had done well for himself in London, come back with his pockets full, but he wasn't properly established in Colchester as yet and must be living on his savings.
'You should have waited a bit, Sarah, the rain stopped and the rest of us have walked here without getting wet.' Alfie was a head taller than her and looked older than his years.
'Don't just stand there, you and Betty have got jobs to do. I'm the bride – I shouldn't have to be waiting on you and everyone else today.'
Betty hugged her and dashed into the kitchen and Sarah heard her put the kettle on the range. The mugs, milk jug, teapots and sugar were all waiting. All that had to be done was boil the water and tip it in.
Dan joined her in the front parlour where they had decided to greet the guests as they came in before directing them outside. 'Is the backyard very mucky after that rain? Do you think we should stay in here?'
'Don't fret, sweetheart, no one will mind getting a bit of dirt on their boots. The boys are wiping down the benches and chairs so they won't be wet to sit on.'
'I can hear others arriving. I wish my ma could have been here to see me wed.'
He squeezed her shoulder and she wiped away the unwanted tears. Nothing was right about this marriage – although she loved the children, and was very fond of Dan, theirs wasn't going to be a proper marriage – at least not for the moment.
All his mates, and their families, from the timber yard crowded into the small house as well as Mr and Mrs Davies, and a dozen or so other friends of Dan's. She and Betty had made plenty of food so no one would go hungry. In pride of place, on the trestle that served as a table, was the cake. She had made this herself and was proud of her efforts – she hoped it tasted as good as it looked.
Halfway through the afternoon Mrs Davies drew her to one side. 'Sarah, lovey, I reckon one of the menfolk went to a beerhouse and brought back a few jugs.'
'I thought the noise was getting louder. There's nothing I can do about it, I just thought with so many children attending my wedding breakfast that alcohol wasn't a good idea.'
The front door had been left open to allow a welcome breeze to drift through the house. There was no danger that uninvited visitors would come in as Alfie's huge dog, Buster, was guarding the opening. It would be a brave person who tried to step past him.
The dog barked and she stepped back into the passageway to see what had disturbed him. 'Good heavens, Ada, I'm so glad you have come after all.'
Ada Billings had taken her in when she had been all but destitute and Sarah had kept in touch with her. 'Come out of the way, Buster, let my guests come in.' The dog heaved himself to his feet and stood there, waist-high, his long grey tail wagging.
'I hope you don't mind, I brought my oldest son, Robert, with me. He's a pal of your Alfie and has just got back from Harwich after his last voyage.'
'Have you not brought any of the children? There are more than a dozen playing in the yard with my three boys.'
'No, bless you, you wouldn't want my brood racketing about at your wedding breakfast. The neighbour's keeping an eye out for them so I can't stay long.'
Her son was tall, had broad shoulders, a pleasant face and startlingly bright red hair. He held out his hand and she shook it. 'I'm delighted to meet you, Mrs Cooper, Alfie has told me so much about you I feel we're friends already.'
'Please call me Sarah, everyone else does. Come in, the tea and ginger beer are in the kitchen and I'm pretty sure there's beer available in the yard.'
Robert smiled and wandered off – she wasn't surprised he ignored the tea and ginger beer. 'Ada, you look so much better. I can't believe the difference in you since I saw you a few months ago.'
'I told Billings there would be no more babies in my house and if he wanted a bit of how's your father he'd have to find it somewhere else. He's moved in with his fancy woman in Barrack Street and good riddance to him. My Robert is taking care of us now.' She beamed proudly. 'He's going up in the world you know, is taking exams and everything. I reckon he'll be a captain of a ship before he's finished.'
'He's a cut above his brother and pa, then? I didn't know the sons of ordinary folk like us ever got to be a captain of a ship. I'm pleased for you – your life will be so much easier from now on.'
A sudden burst of laughter outside interrupted their conversation. Sarah led the way into the yard to see what was causing all the commotion.
'Good heavens, they're playing the Reverend Crawley's game. I'm going to join in,' Sarah said, and ran across to take her place in the circle. The object of this game was to join hands with the people in the ring, but you couldn't hold the hand of anyone standing beside you.
She found herself attached to Robert Billings with her right hand and an unknown child with her left. It took a considerable time for everyone who wanted to play to get themselves in position. Now the fun started as the object was to untangle themselves without letting go.
She couldn't remember laughing so much in her whole life and when eventually the knot was undone to her astonishment she discovered there were two separate circles of players, one inside the other.
Dan put his arms around her and she leant back into his embrace. He rested his chin on top of her head and sighed.
'Is something wrong?'
'No, my love, I couldn't be happier. When everyone's gone, I need to show you something. Alfie and Betty are going to take care of the boys whilst we're out for a bit.'

Fenella J Miller

Better Bend Than Break is the third book in The Nightingale Chronicles, a series of four, Victorian family sagas. Sarah Nightingale marries Dan Cooper and becomes mother to his three boys. They move to a fine house of their own and Sarah has never been happier. Alfie Nightingale is obliged to do the right thing by Sarah's friend Betty, so now there will be two babies in the family. Then one disaster follows another and Sarah and Alfie have dreadful choices to make if they and their families are to survive.

Colchester 1843

Saturday, June 10, 2017

First Names: a second look

I really enjoyed Elizabeth Bailey’s post on May 30th. I, too, have always been fascinated by first names, especially what names were in fashion when, and what they indicate about their owners’ status. I have, over the years, done several blogs about this, but, today, I’d like to share with you some of the name books I have in my collection and how useful I’ve found them.


Oxford Dictionary of First Names by Hanks and Hodges

First up is the Oxford Dictionary of First Names by Patrick Hanks and Flavia Hodges. My copy dates from 2003. It covers a much wider range of names than E.G. Withycombe’s Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names. For a start, the names included are not necessarily either English or Christian. It covers British (including Celtic) and European names; those of Canada, Australia and New Zealand; American names, Black names, and has special sections on Arab names and those from the Indian sub-continent.

‘Daisy’: A popular Victorian name brooch

For example, take the name Stephen. It gives the name’s history: ‘the first Christian martyr (Acts 6-7)’, the date, and what the name means: it comes from the Greek stephanos, which means a garland or crown. It then gives you the name in eleven foreign languages from French: Etienne or Stéphane; to Italian: Stephano; to Spanish: Esteban; and Hungarian: István. Really useful, if you want to introduce a sexy French nobleman escaping from Revolutionary Paris, or a Portuguese guerrilla harrying Napoleon’s retreating army in the Peninsular War.


Everyman’s Dictionary of First Names by Leslie Dunkling and William Gosling
My next book is Everyman’s Dictionary of First Names by Leslie Dunkling and William Gosling, published by Book Club associates in 1983. Leslie Dunkling founded The Names Society in 1969 and published a number of books about the origins of first names in the English-speaking world. He has plainly done some serious research and corrected some of E G. Withycombe’s conclusions, for example: ‘Miss Withycombe makes the rather extraordinary statement that Maxine is ‘a favourite modern French girl’s name’. In fact, the name will not be found in any French name dictionary, and French people consider it to be an English name.’   


The Guinness Book of Names by Leslie Dunkling
Leslie Dunkling also wrote First Names First and The Guinness Book of Names, both of which are well worth snapping up. The latter has tables of the top 50 first names of both sexes from 1838 (when the legal registration of births came in), 1850, 1875, 1900, 1925,1950 and 1971.)

Maxi Prénoms by Florence le Bras
Lastly, a French book of names called Maxi Prénoms by Florence le Bras published by Marabout in 2000 which I bought in Canada. It’s a fun book to browse through but I have to say that its etymological accuracy can be dubious. Take Cordélia. Le Bras says it’s from ‘de Delya’, that is the Greek island of Delos, which seems fanciful, to say the least. Withycombe and Dunkling agree that it’s probably a variation of Cordula, one of the companions of St Ursula.
I take the names I use in my books very seriously - as I know you all do. I try and make sure that they are not anachronistic. All the same, I still hanker after heroes with exotic names!

Elizabeth Hawksley

Monday, June 05, 2017

The Legend of Corryvreckan

Whirlpools, Viking Princes ,George Orwell & Austen.

Hi Melinda here.
This post is a little different, but I hope you will bear with me, because  although it does not relate directly to the Regency, it does involve myths, legends and a few literary links, which I hope you will appreciate!

 I have just returned from an Island-hopping holiday in Scotland and the highlight of the trip was chasing whirlpools in the Gulf of Corryvreckan.  You may think there is no link with Regency romance here, but I am sure that anyone who writes historical adventures would find their imagination running riot,  as mine was, and I have no doubt that many sailing ships of the time tried to sail through the Gulf, and possibly some of them foundered. There are many stories surrounding this area and the whole experience was truly inspiring. I could easily imagine the fears of those early sailors who suddenly found themselves in what appears to be a giant boiling cauldron.

The Gulf of Corryvreckan is a narrow strait between the islands of Jura and Scarba off the west coast of Scotland. The seabed at this point is very deep (around 100m) with numerous humps and holes, including one huge hole going down 219 metres and an equally huge pinnacle which rises to just 29 metres from the surface. The effect of these two features forces water upwards into the tidal flow, where is forms whirlpools, even when conditions are otherwise calm.

At full strength the currents can reach over 10 knots, and in stormy conditions standing waves can be up to 5 metres high.  Imagine you are a sailing ship wanting to sail against such a current.  Apparently, it is not too bad at slack water, but ships under sail, and even modern boats without powerful engines, can find themselves going backwards.

Many sailors have drowned trying to navigate through the gulf of Corryvreckan, and – to give you a literary link – George Orwell, who was living on Jura at the time, was nearly drowned there. He had taken his nephew out in a dinghy which lost its motor and was in danger of being sucked into one of the whirlpools. The story goes that he tried rowing but lost the oars, but he still managed to get himself and his nephew to the shore, where they were rescued by a lobster boat.  That was in 1947: if he had perished, then he would not have finished his most famous work, 1984.

We visited the Corryvreckan with SeaFari Adventures (, sailing from Easdale  in a powerful open RIB and had to dress appropriately in waterproofs and a life jacket.
Dressed for the Occasion!
We had three experienced crew members with us, who explained what caused the phenomena and told us some of the tales surrounding the Corryvreckan. They took us into the heart of some of the whirlpools, so that we were spinning around with the water. There was a spring tide but the weather conditions were very calm, so although the waters were choppy the waves were less than a metre. They still provided plenty of spray, though, so our waterproofs were necessary!
 We watched as large areas of the water surface became very flat and calm before swelling upwards and turning into a churning mass of water that would then form itself into a whirlpool. It was exhilarating to be so low in the water that one could reach out and touch the surface, which was calm one moment, boiling the next. It really was like being on top of a giant, bubbling cauldron.

One legend says that Corryvreckan means Breacan's Cauldron. The Viking Prince Breacan wanted to marry the Lord of the Isles' daughter, but to do so he had to prove his courage by anchoring his boat in the whirlpool for three days. He took advice from his father's wise men who told him it could only be done by using three ropes, one of hemp, one of wool and the third made from the hair of pure maidens.

Breacan followed their instructions and at first it seemed he would succeed, for although the hemp and wool ropes broke, the one made from virgins' hair held firm – until the third day, when it broke because one of the maidens was not as pure as she made out! The hapless Breacan drowned in the whirlpool.

And another literary claim (although tenuous), is that the whirlpool of Charybdis, described in Homer's Oddysey, is in fact the Corryvreckan!
As a writer I spend most of my days sitting at my desk making up adventures for my characters. Indeed, I would not describe myself as an adventurous person, but I thoroughly enjoyed "playing" in the whirlpools. It was exciting, exhilarating and maybe, as Austen says - "None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.”  

Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A love affair with names

From my earliest writings, I’ve had a fascination with names. I collect them, make lists, and pore through them, relishing the sounds they make and imagining the characters they will be – hopefully one day.
Alisaundre, Odierna, Laureola, Hierytha, Pertesia, Mariamne, Jesmaine
How they roll around the tongue!

Most of them are still waiting, not yet crossed out. They are too obscure to use, outlandish even some of them: Salathiel, Baldassare, Theldry, Gerente, Jurdi, Odinel, Sagard, Teague, Jolenta, Truffeni. Also out of period, unsuitable for the time.

My bible for historicals is The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names by E.G. Withycombe, of which I now have a second copy by my bed. The other lives above the PC with the writing related books.

The great thing about Withycombe is the references to when the names were fashionable and which level of society used them. You also get nicknames, variants and surnames derived from the name, plus versions in other languages.

Elizabeth, for example, has a whole page of history. We learn its origin from Hebrew Elisheba, and how it travelled across Russia and Europe to England via France (where it became Isabel) and only became hugely popular after the Tudors – for obvious reasons. It has more diminutives than any other name: Betsy, Betty, Bess, Eliza, Beth, Lizzy, Tetty, Tetsy, and a host more in other languages. But no surnames, strangely enough.

Withycombe makes for fascinating reading. I can get lost in there for hours. It’s my first port of call when I’m looking for names for a new hero or heroine. I tend to flick through first, avoiding letters recently used so you don’t get George immediately followed by Gerard in the next book. If a particular name doesn’t jump out at me, I have to go more in depth and pick up a version of the name within the definition.
Dowsabel from Dulcie perhaps. Gatty from Gertrude. Meriel from Muriel. Fillida from Phyllis.

There are endless possibilities; you get spoilt for choice. Although, as most writers discover, characters can be recalcitrant about names. They refuse to have the one you give them and insist on something else. Annoying, but it’s no use fighting it. You just have to give in and accept she’s going to be Caroline and not your preference of Cleome or Chloe.

I have other books of names, but Withycombe is my inspiration. I must have combed it a hundred times, building my pleasurable lists. You can see how well-worn it is.

One list I derived from Italian tombstones on a visit to Florence. I’ve only used one name from it, but I still love them.
Iole Lovisoni, Aida Lorenzini, Ofelia Zocchi-Lumachi, Dionisia Corti-Guidicci, Euridice Casini, Ezio Mangianti.
Can’t you just see the medieval pageant of gorgeously-clad veiled women passing before your eyes?

My French list has yielded names I have been able to use, but others are still waiting.
Hilaire, Gaspard, Eulalie, Hippolyte, Ignace, Venise, Celine.

 Other lists refer to names for contemporary novels, like one I have of gemstone names, many in actual use. Have you known Pearl, Amber, Opal, Sapphire, Jade, Emerald, Ruby or Garnet? You’d have to love a heroine named Topaze, Amethyst or Marcasite, wouldn’t you?

The modern lists carry names I doubt I’ll ever use, but simply cannot resist putting them in.
Azor, Bete, Botolf, Cyr, Jago, Levin, Udo, Ita, Floy, Bovo, Varvara, Kaeso, Dukana.

When it comes to lesser characters and I need a name fast, I go to the lists for specific centuries in The Guinness Book of Names by Leslie Dunkling. This one is also my go-to book for quick surnames when I run out of the lists I’ve made of usable place names I take from maps. Lists again, see. Can’t stop making them.

Just to prove there is a point to my obsession, here are some of the more obscure names picked out of the lists that I have managed to use, though not necessarily for the main characters.

Frideswid (the heroine from Friday Dreaming). The entry shown above for this states that Friday is a diminutive.
Berinthia (the cousin come companion/duenna in Fated Folly)
Hebe (the aunt from Seventh Heaven)
Melusine (my French/English heroine from Mademoiselle at Arms). You can see the arguable French version under the Millicent entry, which is where I got it..

Mairenni and Peneli (the gypsy matriarch and her son from An Angel’s Touch)
Maidie (the heroine Lady Mary Hope from Misfit Maid). The first illustration shows this was a diminutive for Mary.

And to prove the usefulness of Withycombe, my current Brides by Chance series features these adorable lovelies:
Isolde, Marianne, Edith, Apple (from Appoline), Lily (from Liliana), Delia, Chloe, and in the work in progress, Felicity. Waiting in the wings, we have twins Hetty (from Henrietta) and Sylve (from Sylvestre, the feminine form of Silvester).

I can’t think where you get the idea that the naming of names is my delight and my passion!

Elizabeth Bailey

Thursday, May 25, 2017

How visiting another country helps me write historical romance

I’ve been back from America for two weeks now.
Every year I go across the pond for a month. This time I went via Dublin, and I was away from home for six weeks. Coming home is always nice (tea!) but it does help me to get out of my rut, to experience a different way of life.
So how does that help me write my historical romances?
It’s the getting-out-of-the-mindset thing. Living in the States, especially when I visit friends, watching American TV (like ours, some good, some bad), forces me to look again at the way I live and the things I take for granted. My expectations, in short.
So what would it be like to live in a time when transport was so much more difficult, relatively expensive and time-consuming? When it could take a week to travel from London to your home in Yorkshire? And how about no light at the flick of a switch? Not being able to switch on the TV and find out what is going on in the world?
True, these things were available to me in the US, but other things weren’t. Even something as simple as a meat pie (they have something called a pot pie, but meat pies and pasties are nowhere to be found).
The shift I have to make helps me to understand the practicalities of living in the past. The way my assumptions are shaken encourages me to think again.
When I sit down to write, there are too many things I take for granted. I try to learn the way people acted and thought every day, and sometimes I’ll write an ordinary diary entry for my main characters, before they get caught up in the story. I do my best to make my heroes and heroines people of their time, and not 21st century people, with the same attitudes and thoughts. And yet, we still have a lot in common. Emotions haven’t changed, although the causes might have done. People still feel love, hate, jealousy and anger. I can contact my characters through that, and try to connect them to the readers.
The people of the past didn’t think of themselves as “quaint,” they just lived their lives the best they could. They were different, only because they had different assumptions and expectations, but underneath, they were just the same as us.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

A short history of P

Nicola here. This is a blog about P. Not the letter of the alphabet but the other P. Today I am lowering the tone of the blog by talking about some of the use to which urine has been put throughout history. There are very few substances as versatile and useful.

The English language has developed many words to cover the action and the place where one might have a pee. The word urine comes from Latin urina and Greek ouron and its first recorded usage was around 1325 although the verb to urinate was not formed until the late 16th century. I much prefer the Old English word “lant” which was in use from about 1000. Unfortunately, in pee as in many other things, Norman French overpowered native English and lant fell out of use although a few odd references remained: Bess of Harwick is recorded as owning a silver lant pot and comb. It may be that she used urine as part of a dyeing agent to maintain the red of her hair.

In Scotland the word “wesche”, later wash, was another word for urine. 15th century Scottish poet
Robert Henryson recommends the following cure for insomnia: “Reid nettill sied in strang wesche to steip, for to bath your ba cod.” – Steep red nettles in strong urine and bathe your naked scrotum in the mixture. Worth a try?

The phrase “to take a leak” sounds relatively modern but was in fact in use in Shakespeare and makes an appearance in the 1796 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose. Interestingly, the word “addled” meaning confused or slow-witted also originally derives from urine. Who would have thought that phrases such as “addle-pate” in Georgette Heyer’s books originate in the Old English “adela” meaning a pool of urine? The implication here is that the person who is addle-pated is not quite all there or only “half-baked” or “half-washed” and it refers to the use of urine in woollen industry (see below!)

Here are a few historical uses for urine:

Harris Tweed: I have a lovely vintage Harris Tweed jacket that I inherited from my husband’s grandfather. It’s warm, windproof and looks great. However occasionally when I wear it I get a faint but unmistakable scent floating up from the material that speaks of its origins. Until the end of the 20th century, the pee-tub was an integral part of the process for making Harris Tweed. The tub was a big wooden barrel with an iron lid, and chamber pots were emptied into it daily. The urine helped to fix dye colours to the wool. It was also used later in the process to remove any lingering oiliness from the woven fabric and to shrink it to the correct size. The woven tweed was soaked in a barrel of urine and stamped upon, an activity known as “waulking” and from which the surname Walker derives. Elsewhere in the UK this part of the weaving process is know as fulling or tucking and is again the source of a couple of surnames.

 Alum: Urine was also an essential part of the English alum industry up until the late nineteenth
century. Alum is a mordant used to fix dye to fabric. Ships carried coal from Newcastle or Sunderland, off-loaded it at Whitby, filled up with alum, took the alum south and exchanged it for barrels of urine that had been collected from London street corners, which were taken back up north.

Originally the alum industry used urine collected locally in Yorkshire but as demand outstripped supply it had to be shipped in on “lye-boats.” Most highly prized was the urine from teetotallers, followed by that of beer drinkers. Only as a last resort would the urine of upper class wine-drinkers be used. It is rumoured that this transport system was the origin of the phrase: “taking the p***.”

Bringing the House Down : One of the great grievances of the early 17th century was that the “petremen,” men who were tasked with collecting saltpetre to use in the making of gunpowder, had the right to come into people’s houses and dig anywhere they thought they might find supplies. Saltpetre derived primarily from the action of animal urine on soil so people who kept animals in their cottages frequently had their earthen floors dug up. King Charles I was petitioned by homeowners complaining about having their stables and barnyards ransacked and their houses destroyed when the walls fell down because the petremen had dug up the foundations. 
To counteract the public dissatisfaction with this, Charles agreed to a different approach to the production of saltpetre, using neat human urine and mixing it with soil. In 1625 he granted a patent to Sir John Brooke and issued a royal decree stating all men should “keep and preserve in some convenient vessels or receptacles fit for the purpose, all the urine of man during the whole year.” Animal urine was to be collected too. This proved unworkable since there simply were not sufficient receptacles available for the entire British population and their animals to pee into for a whole year and the Crown was forced to go back to the original form of collection. It was Oliver Cromwell who finally ruled in 1656 that petremen could not dig in people’s houses without permission.

Pass the Smelling Salts: Smelling salts or sal volatile were much in use in the 19th century for
arousing consciousness. The newly formed police force in Victorian Britain even carried smelling salts to revive fainting victims. Smelling salts were made originally from ammonium carbonate, derived from urine, and they worked when the smell irritated the membrane of the nose and lungs, triggering inhalation. However, ammonia is extremely powerful. Too much sal volatile could kill you!

A few other random facts: The first striking match was developed as a result of the scientist Robert Boyle isolating phosphorus from boiling down his own urine and then heating the residue to very high temperatures. Phosphorus, which he named “icy notiluca,” was extremely dangerous for matches and it was only in the 19th century that safety matches were commercially produced instead.

Forgers would give coins a suitably authentic looking patina by burying them in earth sprinkled with urine. This would turn silver coins grey or black and bronze coins brown or green depending on the sort of urine used and its quality!

Anyone like myself who has ever suffered from kidney stones will know how excruciatingly painful they can be. Fortunately these days they can be removed. Martin Luther almost died as a result of his. The Catholic monk turned Protestant reformer was treated by doctors who gave him as much to drink “as an ox” in order to try to wash the stones out. This treatment was unsuccessful and he became so bloated with the liquid that there was nothing he could do but travel home to die. Fortunately jolting about in a carriage on a rough road shifted the stones - and Martin Luther almost drowned in the ensuing flood.

Samuel Pepys also suffered from kidney stones and his were operated on to remove one as large as a tennis ball. In the absence of anaesthesia it took four men and a rope to restrain him but he later declared it was worth it to be rid of the stones.

And finally! In the Middle Ages, urine was used to “quench” (the rapid cooling of red hot metal) swords. It as said to be the best way to forge a sharp blade!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Ickworth House - how the servants lived.

Kitchen dresser
 Last time I visited Ickworth house we couldn't look inside as it was closed. This time after being sent on roundabout route by my sat nav we arrived in plenty of time to see the whole house, galleries, as well as eat a delicious lunch.
Bedroom for visiting gentlemen valets.
I often write about the servants' quarters, domestic offices, et cetera but had never been fortunate enough to actually visit one. The first thing that struck me was the size, like a rabbit warren beneath the main reception rooms. The second was that the flagstone floors and lack of heating would have made it unpleasant to wander about – mind you – the servants were not dressed in the skimpy clothes of modern times so perhaps did not feel the cold.
I was impressed by the size and luxury of the bedrooms and sitting rooms put aside for the upper servants use. Upper servants would include valets, personal dressers, housekeeper and butler. The bedroom for the visiting gentlemen valets was considerably larger than my own and was very well appointed. We were told there would have been two beds in there back in the day.
Kitchen sink in servants' hall.
Upper servants sitting room.
 One of the guides told us an amusing story about the butler that was there around nineteen hundred, Mr Royal, who was too fond of tasting the master's alcohol. When he was discovered drunk one day he was sacked without reference.
In the basement there were also preserving pantries, the hall boys' room, a finishing kitchen plus the wine cellars and a room put aside specially for storing trunks and suitcases. This had a dumb waiter so these items could be packed in the bedrooms and then be transported to the basement and out to the waiting carriages.

Upper servants sitting room.

There was a spacious sitting room which also included a dining table and chairs also for the use of these upper servants. They would eat their main course in the servants' hall with the lesser mortals but then retreat to their private space where they would have their dessert and tea served.
Kitchen range -circa 1900

Servants' Hall

The bells that servants had to answer.
As you can see from the sadly out of focus picture there was room for fifty or more in here. After they had eaten and everything had been cleared away by the scullery maids they would play cards, bagatelle, or in the case of the women get on with their own sewing.

There was a row of bells that would have been connected to the main reception rooms and bed chambers. Each one was numbered so whoever ran to answer it could tell immediately who was summoning assistance.
I think it would probably have taken at least ten minutes for anyone to make their way from the basement to the upper floors as the house is so huge.
We also looked around the first floor and the ground floor but I will save that for next time.
If anyone is ever in the vicinity of Bury St Edmunds, in itself a city worth visiting, I can highly recommend Ickworth House. The grounds are beautiful, the house and family portraits interesting and the restaurant excellent. A bit limited in choice, but all home-made.
When I was a teacher many years ago we used to judge the course we attended by the quality of the food we were served. Not much has changed there, then.

Fenella J Miller
£2.99/$3.99 Amazon.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Dr Foster went to Gloucester - Melinda Hammond talks Mud, Meanderings & Inspiration

Anyone remember this?

Doctor Foster went to Gloucester
In a shower of rain;
He stepped in a puddle,
Right up to his middle,
And never went there again.

I used to recite this well known rhyme to my children and thought nothing of it, except that it was plain silly, puddles were never that deep.  Now, however I am not so sure…..

Walking my dog around the Yorkshire hills this winter I have noticed a change in some of the bridleways, which has given me more food for thought about how people travelled in the past.  This is a picture of what is locally known as Stony Lane.  It used to be like this for most of its length, and as you can see from the close-up, there are lots of small stones packed together to make a good surface.

 Local historians tell me this bridleway forms part of an ancient trackway stretching across the country and possibly providing a route between religious houses from Europe to Ireland.  It formed part of the old packhorse trails that used to crisscross the country and when the mills were built in the valleys during the Industrial Revolution, many of the workers lived on the hills and the quickest way to work was straight down, cutting across the old tracks.  There is still evidence of this around, if you look closely. This opening in the stone wall now has a modern wooden stile, but you can see the way the stone is worn away from the hundreds of boots or clogs that made the daily journey to and from the mills.

Just for interest I have added a picture of the stile on the south side of the lane (a stone one, built in a more modern wall). The fenceposts in the picture below show the line of the track that leads the quarter of a mile or so to the valley bottom. Nice to walk on a sunny morning, but imagine having to toil back up in the winter, after a hard day's work.

So back to Doctor Foster. Part of Stony Lane now is just mud. Packed hard, it is fine in dry weather, but very slippery and uneven when wet. Where the stones have gone I have no idea, but if they are buried, they are a long way down. This next picture shows it on a relatively dry day, and you can see the darker patches where the mud is still wet. 

It is thick and gloopy and can come up at least over your ankles if you stand on the dark patch to the left of the picture. However, if you put your foot in the patch on the right, it would keep on going, as a friend recently discovered, up to the knee!  The last time I pushed my stick into that patch I stopped at 18" (45cms) but I hadn't reached stone, and  with the continuing rains it might go deeper still. The picture below shows it in more detail.

I am sure someone knows the reason why there are these deep pockets of muddy gloop – possibly a different type of soil, maybe the constant pounding of feet, I don't know. What I do know is that in the past when hard-packed stones were the only form of road surface, this type of problem must have occurred all the time. Local landowners were responsible for maintaining their section of the highway, some better than others, and in periods of bad weather the road surface could be washed away just as it has in the next picture. A couple of seasons without repair and a highway could easily become almost impassible by a carriage. Unfortunately these photos cannot do justice to just how uneven and rutted this is.

As another little aside, I am told that there used to be a small ale house beside the lane here, where the track widens.  The farmer who now owns the field has found stones from an old building there, so at least the weary travellers could find some refreshment during their journey.

Until the end of the 18th century travelling by coach must have been a slow and uncomfortable business, bouncing along on badly made roads and possibly even breaking a wheel in a deep rut.  And as for Doctor Foster, I can well imagine that if the muddy tracks around here are anything to go by, it is quite possible that he stood in a puddle up to his thighs, at least.

I have used carriage accidents and bad roads in many of my books in the past, and in the latest story I have just written a scene in a lane very much like Stony Lane for an encounter between my main characters. Complete with mud!

Happy reading

Melinda Hammond / Sarah Mallory