Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ice Skating



Ice skating seems to have become very popular here in the UK, with ice rinks opening in time for Christmas every year in various locations – outside the Natural History Museum in London and in the courtyard of Somerset House being two of them.  Hurrah, I say!

For me, ice skating was something I did as a child all winter long.  From the moment the first snow arrived and it was cold enough for ice to form, the skates came out of the closet (although usually they had to be traded in for a bigger pair as I’d grown over the summer).  At all the schools in my home town, the janitors would get their water hoses out and start pouring water onto the football pitch, layer upon layer which was left to freeze each night until finally we had our improvised skating rink.  We were allowed to use it during break times and many of our PE lessons were held there too.  Huge fun!

The Swedish lakes take a little longer to freeze to the right thickness – you don’t want to skate on a lake unless you’re absolutely sure you’re not going to fall through the ice!  (Although just in case, all Swedish kids are given lessons on how to get out of the hole if you should happen to fall in).  But once they freeze, it’s lovely to fly across the ice on your skates, sun shining on the huge polished expanse.  You just have to watch out for any bumps, ie little waves that have frozen in mid-lift, or you go flying in a completely different way and risk knocking your teeth out!  (I almost did once but got away with a bruised and bleeding chin).

Photo from Wikimedia
File:January-scene-skating-early-1820s.jpg
Ice skating has been around for thousands of years – Vikings, for example, strapped bits of polished bone to their shoes, a practical way of getting around quickly as you can go quite fast.  The Dutch made things easier by inventing the steel blade with sharp edges – more or less what we still use today – and ice skating came to England from the Netherlands, becoming very popular especially in the 19th century.  It’s obviously been a source of winter enjoyment for ages, as witness all the Christmas cards featuring ladies in long dresses gliding across ponds with some gallant man holding their hand (or not).

Winters in England used to be more severe so the chances of finding some suitably iced over pond must have been much greater.  And even if people couldn’t afford the metal runners to tie onto their shoes, I’m sure they found other ways of sliding on the ice.  My friends and I certainly did, the few times we’d forgotten our skates at home!

Anyone can learn, but obviously it’s not easy in the beginning.  As long as you remember to bend slightly forward though (never lean back!), you won’t fall far.  Even better, if you have a helping hand to hold onto, it’s a great way to pass an hour or two on a cold winter afternoon – I’d highly recommend it!

Happy Christmas everyone!

Christina xx

PS.  Check out my latest Regency novella, Never Too Late, which is out on Kindle tomorrow!

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Happy Birthday Jane!

Today is Jane Austen's birthday. She was born on December 16th 1775 and would be 239 if she were still alive. We're sharing our thoughts about the immortal Jane in honour of that birthday and I'm going to start the ball rolling.

Jane Austen has travelled with me through life. I first discovered her when I was about 12 or 13 years old. I found Pride and Prejudice in my local library and as soon as I read the first page I was hooked. It was the humour that appealed to me. When Lizzy and Darcy entered the story, things just kept on getting better. I lived every moment of it and it became my favourite book, which it has been ever since. I then read all of her other books, some of which I loved instantly and some of which have grown on me over the years. Writing the heroes' diaries was something I adored and although it took me about 8 years, it was time well spent. I loved digging deeper into Jane's novels and discovering things I hadn't noticed, even though I'd read them many times.

And now, here we are again at her birthday, which is a reminder of her genius and of what she has given to the world.

What are your thoughts, feelings and memories of Jane? How has she affected your life?

Amanda Grange

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas and Winter stories for Lizzy and Darcy lovers!

Thanks to Amazon, our own knowledge and help from everyone who left comments in our last post about Christmas stories featuring Jane Austen's characters, here is an updated list (including two winter stories which might include Christmas). Again, if you can think of any we've missed, please let us know in the comments. Follow the links to find details on Amazon.

Twelve days of Christmas by Jennifer Lang

Mr Darcy's Christmas Calendar by Jane Odiwe

Christmas with Mr Darcy by Victoria Connelly

Twelfth Night at Longbourn by Maria Grace

A Darcy Christmas anthology by Amanda Grange, Sharon Lathan and Carolyn Eberhart

Christmas at Pemberley by Regina Jeffers

   

Mr Darcy's Christmas by Elizabeth Aston

Fitzwilliam Ebenezer Darcy by Barbara Tiller Cole

Holidays with Jane anthology - various authors

The Ghosts at Pemberley by Fenella Miller

The Mission: He Taught Me To Hope, a Vignette by P O Dixon

Tis The Season For Matchmaking by P O Dixon

A Touch of Classic And Contemporary by Elizabeth Ann West and Barbara Silkstone

And here are two winter stories:.

Winter at Netherfield Park by Jennifer Lang


A Winter Wrong by Elizabeth Ann West

Happy reading!

A Regency Saturnalia



When we think of the things we take for granted at Christmas, most of them turn out to be Victorian developments, not Regency.
The Christmas tree, elaborate presents, the Christmas pudding, Christmas cake, even the very special time of year, they were all invented or developed by the Victorians to help in their resurrection of family values.
When William IV died in 1837, the monarchy was at a low ebb. William was the last of the “wicked uncles” and his death draws a line under the era of debauchery and frivolity, and the feverish atmosphere of war that marked the early nineteenth century, particularly the Regency era.
Christmas was just one of many celebrations. The big one as far as the Church was concerned, was Easter, when Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead. Christmas was fairly arbitrary in any case, chosen by the early Catholic church to conveniently cover the period when the pagans went nuts at the winter solstice.
The remnants of the solstice are still there. After all, what does the Christmas tree have to do with the Christian story? Precious little. Then there’s the Christingle orange, one that does have religious significance, but has been dragged kicking and screaming into the church.
Our Christmas is a cunning mix of religion and happy party times. It is supposed to bring families together, but in the Regency era, it was a much quieter celebration, marked by churchgoing.
It overlaps with the Twelve Days, the Roman Saturnalia, when everything was turned upside down, when masters became servants and vice versa.
Many of our Regency ancestors did celebrate that one. A party where the masters served the servants and the servants gave the orders, often held at Twelfth Night. But any servant who wanted to keep his or her place would take care not to make the party too realistic! I can see it being embarrassing for some. Maybe the maid didn’t want to order her mistress to fetch her some figgy cake!
Saturnalia originally had a religious theme. The Romans liked that one, and they held it between the 17th and 23rd December. It was supposed to recreate and celebrate the golden age of the gods, when everything was perfect.
It would appeal to the flip side of the Regency zeitgeist—order overturned, the unthinkable happening. The kind of society that produced the Hellfire Club would celebrate it with relish.
It died out in the more staid Victorian era, when Christmas completed its transition from a wild, half-pagan celebration, to a religious celebration of family.
Which do you prefer?

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Sunday, December 07, 2014

Christmas Through Historical Objects

Recently there has been something of a craze for telling the story of certain things through material objects – the BBC series “A History of the World in 100 Objects” was a fascinating example. It got me thinking about the different object associated with Christmas through time. Here are a few I came up with:

The Yule Log

The burning of the Yule Log was said to have its origins in pre-Christian paganism and the celebration of a winter fire festival. Intriguingly it has been suggested that this Christmas tradition only started in England in the 17th century and was an import from Europe. The first reference to it was made by Robert Herrick in the 1620s when he referred to “the Christmas log,” which was a good luck charm promising prosperity and protection from evil. The tradition died out in the late 19th century because of a decline in open fires. However, it could be construed to be continued in the Buche de Noel cake on the Christmas dinner table!


The Georgian table decoration

I’m cheating here a little bit because I don’t have an original Georgian Christmas decoration to show. This is a recreation from Fairfax House in York. Fairfax House is one of the finest Georgian town houses in England and every year they hold an exhibition called the Keeping of Christmas which displays elegant decorations, extravagant dining table decorations, sugar temples and Christmas greenery. There are lots of historical Christmas decorations on show at National Trust houses around the country. I'm planning a visit to Avebury Manor and also to Lydiard Park, where they are creating a Downton-Abbey style Edwardian Christmas.

The First Christmas Card

Henry Cole, first director of the Victoria & Albert Museum and the
organiser of the Great Exhibition, sent the world’s first Christmas card in 1843. However the traditions did not catch on in a widespread commercial way until later in the 19th century. Many of the first Christmas cards were postcards.

The Christmas Ball gown

I could not resist this gorgeous retro-looking Christmas ball gown that is now in the Chicago Museum. I would so love to wear that to a ball! It actually dates from the 1960s but looks like something from the 19th century. Never mind decorating the house, decorating yourself for the season takes the whole celebration to a new level!


What object or tradition best sums up Christmas for you? The tree, the exchange of gifts, Christmas carols, or something else?

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Friday, December 05, 2014

Claremont: Princess Charlottte's beloved home

Princess Charlotte (1796-1817), only child of George, Prince of Wales (later Prince Regent) and Caroline of Brunswick, had a short but tempestuous life. The day after she was born, her father removed her to an establishment of her own supervised by the dowager countess of Elgin. Charlotte saw her parents – separately - once a week and occasionally visited her grandparents, King George III and Queen Charlotte, at Windsor Castle or Weymouth.

Claremont House, now a private girls’ school

Charlotte became the centre of a tug of love as each parent tried to influence her. She loved her wildly indiscreet mother but could not respect her; and respected her father but could not love him. She seems to have been remarkably clear-sighted about them both: ‘My mother was wicked but she would not have turned so wicked had not my father been much more wicked still,’ she wrote.

Lake with island and pavilion

Knowing that her wayward mother needed protection from her father’s malice, must have placed a heavy emotional burden on her when she reluctantly agreed to marry William, Prince of Orange in 1813. What would happen to her mother if she, Charlotte, had to live in Holland? When she learnt that that was what her father, now Prince Regent, intended, she broke off the engagement. He was furious and put her under what was, more or less, house arrest.

The belvedere

Then her mother fled to Italy with her lover. Charlotte was deeply upset but it set her free to have a life of her own. In May 1816, she married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, a popular match at home. The nation, increasingly fed up with the Prince Regent’s extravagance, now had a focus for their hopes for the future. It was also a happy marriage for Charlotte and Leopold personally. They set up home at Claremont, near Esher.  
 

The amphitheatre

The house, originally built as a country retreat by Sir John Vanburgh, had had a number of notable owners, including the Duke of Newcastle and Clive of India. The first formal garden was designed by Charles Bridgeman who built the three acre amphitheatre; then, when informality became the rage, William Kent redesigned the gardens around a serpentine lake. Lastly, Capability Brown rebuilt the house and re-located the Portsmouth road to give the estate more privacy.

The grotto by the lake

Charlotte and Leopold both loved Claremont and its gardens. They built a camellia greenhouse and planned a tea house with views over the lake. There is a belvedere tower from which you can see London and Windsor Castle on a clear day; a grotto; a small pavilion on the island in the lake; a bowling green; a skittle alley; and lots of winding walks leading to unexpected vistas. A quote engraved on the back of one of the benches says it all: ‘constant and never-failing source of amusement. Princess Charlotte & Prince Leopold, 1817.’

Rhododendrons by the lake

Alas, Charlotte had tragically little time to enjoy it. On 5th November, 1817, after a fifty hour labour, she gave birth to a stillborn son and died the following day. The tea-house was never built and her sorrowing husband built a Gothic mausoleum on the spot. It was demolished in the 1920s and all that remains now is a slab of concrete on which is engraved: My Charlotte is gone. Prince Leopold

Elizabeth Hawksley

Claremont House is now a private girls' school but Claremont Landscape Garden is owned by the National Trust and well worth a visit. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/claremont 

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