Thursday, April 25, 2013

Jane Austen's China and the Steventon Dig! - Jane Odiwe

I was very excited to read about some of the discoveries made during the dig at Jane Austen's childhood home in the village of Steventon, Hampshire, which took place in November 2011. The rectory was pulled down in the 1820s and what is known of its appearance is only recorded on old maps and drawings or writings made from the memories of Austen descendants. It seems that the actual foundations of the rectory have now been located as a result of the dig - formerly, the only clue to its situation was the presence of an iron pump.

Jane was born in Steventon Rectory and lived happily for the first twenty five years of her life until her father decided to retire and move the family to Bath. It was here that she drafted her first three novels, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey, all between the ages of 19 and 23.

Anna Lefroy, niece of Jane, wrote about her memories of the house:
"The dining room or common sitting-room looked to the front and was lighted by two casement windows. On the same side the front door opened into a smaller parlour, and visitors, who were few and rare, were not a bit less welcome to my grandmother because they found her sitting there busily engaged with her needle, making and mending.
In later times ... a sitting room was made upstairs: 'the dressing room', as they were pleased to call it, perhaps because it opened into a smaller chamber in which my two aunts slept. I remember the common looking carpet with its chocolate ground, and painted press with shelves above for books, and Jane's piano, and an oval looking-glass that hung between the windows; but the charm of the room with its scanty furniture and cheaply painted walls must have been, for those old enough to understand it, the flow of native wit with all the fun and nonsense of a large and clever family."
In Nigel Nicolson's book, The World of Jane Austen, he notes that there were two parlours and a kitchen, a private study for the vicar and ten bedrooms above, three of them in the attics.
It seems quite a large house, but the Austen's had six boys plus the two girls and Mr Austen tutored boys who also came to live with them. The Austen boys were not always at home as they were sent away to study and even Jane and Cassandra went to school for a short while, but even so, along with servants, it must have seemed a busy household.

Apparently, they excavated thousands of metal, glass and ceramic objects during the dig, and I was
interested to see from the photographs on the website that there were pieces of Willow pattern china discovered amongst the findings. Blue Willow was a very popular pattern during the eighteenth century. The pattern was inspired by the designs imported from China and were produced from the 1780s and 90s by Thomas Minton and Thomas Turner of Caughley. It was produced by transfer printing - the design was printed onto a sheet of thin tissue paper and then applied to earthenware or porcelain - a technique in use from 1750 in Birmingham. Spode, Royal Worcester, Adams, Wedgwood, Davenport, Clews, Leeds and Swansea followed.
Burleigh is one of the only companies left producing transferware in the traditional method - a favourite website of mine. Another favourite is Lovers of Blue and White where you can find examples of old and new blue and white transfer ware. And there are always bargains to be had for Willow pattern on ebay!

We know from a letter that Jane wrote on the 6th June 1811 that the family also owned some Wedgwood - "On Monday I had the pleasure of receiving, unpacking and approving our Wedgwood ware. It all came very safely and upon the whole is a good match, tho’ I think they might have  allowed us rather larger leaves, especially in such a year of fine foliage as this…" Her brother Edward, who was adopted by wealthy relatives, owned a set of very fine Wedgwood china. On 16th September, 1813, Jane Austen wrote a letter to her sister Cassandra, in which she noted a visit with her brother and a niece to Wedgwood’s in London: “We then went to Wedgwoods where my brother and Fanny chose a Dinner Set, I believe the pattern is a small Lozenge in purple, between Lines of narrow Gold; - and it is to have the Crest.”
There is a fascinating programme on at present about Josiah Wedgwood on BBC iplayer

Finally, there is to be a book by Deborah Charlton about the findings of the dig, and you can watch a short film about it here. I must say I've found it all a great inspiration for my own writing - my next novel is inspired by Pride and Prejudice and the Steventon dig provides the setting for some time travel, and, of course, some hidden secrets! 

Jane Odiwe

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

(Wo)Man's Best Friend

A beautiful Pekingese
Dogs have been man’s best friend for millennia, working alongside their masters as guard dogs, hunting companions, protectors and herders among other things.  But what about woman’s best friend – the lap dogs?  Since I own the type of dogs that are small and decorative rather than useful, it made me wonder when our canine friends began to evolve into pure luxury items and why.

Obviously, they must have been bred for people who had lots of time on their hands and required them merely as play things or companions.  I thought perhaps they evolved to entertain spoiled, rich ladies such as Lady Bertram in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, whose Pug has no purpose other than keeping her company.  But when I tried to find out more about this subject, I read that recent genetic studies have shown that some types of lap dog have been around for almost as long as the working ones.  I have to admit this surprised me!

Tibetan Spaniels
Most lap dog breeds originated in the Far East and one of the oldest types around are the Pekingese, who seem to have been bred specifically to fit inside the sleeves of their Chinese owners.  Presumably they acted as portable heaters - much better than a warm brick which loses its heat very quickly!  (If I’d been a Regency lady I would have made sure I had a dog on my lap when travelling by carriage in winter, that's for sure).  These friendly little dogs are very docile and would be perfect for this task.  They are also ideal companions, affectionate and happy to spend time indoors, rather than walking briskly.

My dogs, Tibetan Spaniels, are closely related to the Pekingese and in old Victorian photos the two breeds look almost identical.  Although imported to England as lap dogs in the 1880s by the Hon. Mrs McLaren Morrison, the Tibbies were originally used by the Tibetan monks as guard dogs, so they did have some useful purpose.  Mine still fill this function, always alert and ready to challenge anyone who dares to approach our house (although once inside, they greet visitors with almost overwhelming friendliness).  The Lhasa Apso, Shih Tzu,  Japanese Chin and King Charles Spaniel all come from the same background too, as does the Pug.

Hogarth and his Pug (photo from Wikipedia)
Just like the Pekes, Pugs are a very old breed, apparently brought to Europe by the Dutch East India Company and subsequently adopted as favourites by the House of Orange.  King William and his English wife Mary had Pugs and when they took over the English throne in 1688 they made these dogs very popular in the UK.  What was called a Pug then seems to have differed quite a lot from the dog we see now, however, as this Hogarth portrait shows!  The flat face we know and love is completely absent and was obviously bred into these dogs at a later date.

Since Lady Bertram’s Pug in Mansfield Park appears to be as lazy, selfish and useless as its owner, I suppose one can argue that lap dogs have no real value other than as status symbols.  Famous people like Marie Antoinette and Napoleon’s wife Josephine both owned such dogs, which to their detractors allegedly symbolized their idleness.  I prefer to think there was more to it than that.  To me, and the many other so called “toy” dog owners, they do have several very important purposes – to give you friendship, affection and companionship.  When I write, my dogs lie quietly by my side, happy to wait until I have the time to take them for a walk.  They greet me with enthusiasm whenever I return from somewhere and if I’m sad, they empathise and comfort me.  It must have been the same for bored Regency ladies and I can easily imagine a little lap dog would have enriched their lives.

As for me – I couldn’t live without mine!


Friday, April 19, 2013

Scarlet Coats and Loud Bangs!

The 95th prepare to shoot in front of the Rotunda at Ickworth House
I spent a great day earlier this month at Ickworth House with fellow Regency author Annie Burrows. We'd gone to see the 95th Rifles holding their first training camp of the year and they were also being filmed for the website where there is lots of information about the build-up to the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.
You wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of this sargeant, armed with his long pike.

Annie and I were particularly interested in the artillery and although they only had a couple of small pieces of field artillery there they produced very loud bangs and a considerable amount of smoke. It was clear that wth several guns firing in anger on the battlefield the amount of smoke would make the visibility extremely poor.
The uniforms were all completely authentic and it was great to be able to get up close and see the details. Above are some of the different headgear - the 95th were not the only unit taking part - and below is a shot of all the items in a soldier's pack.

At Waterloo there were a wide range of nationalities represented amongst the Allied troops. Below on the left are a group of Brunswick troops with their gruesome skull and crossbones cap badges and black horse tail plumes talking to a couple of Riflemen. Soldiers from a Scottish regiment can be glimpsed behind.
And finally here are the French, marching back to camp after a hard day spent being shot at for the film makers! You can fidn out more about the 95th Rifles at
Louise Allen
Tarnished Amongst the Ton Harlequin Mills & Boon April 2013

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Past and Present

On Friday I went to a local boatyard to talk to Sam Heard who owns and runs it.  When I was researching background about boatbuilding for Eye of the Wind I was this yard I visited.

Sam is the third generation of his family to build boats here on Mylor Creek, just off the Carrick Roads, the world's third largest natural harbour. The yard was started by his grandfather who built traditional working boats. The Truro oyster fishery is the last in the world to dredge for oysters entirely under sail, and from 1st October to 31st March the fleet is out in all but life-threatening weather.  Seeing a gap in the market Terry designed a smaller working boat along similar lines. Called a Tosher it was an immediate success and fifty years on though many are used from leisure rather than work a steady stream of orders keeps the yard busy.

I've known the yard since I was a child, and watched it evolve. Old wooden hulks that acted as a breakwater and protected moored boats from westerly gales have been replaced by a neat granite wall. Boats laid-up for the winter or brought in for renovation or repair are now as likely to be GRP (fibreglass) as wood. Yet sitting in Sam's office surrounded by half-models, sail plans, working drawings, ledgers and a wall of framed pictures - his grandfather's watercolours of boats he'd built - I could have been in an early C19th boatyard office – apart from the computer.   

I had asked Sam to spare me half an hour. But as we started talking about his grandfather, the yard, childhood memories, family connections and local politics, time flew. After a fascinating and enjoyable ninety minutes I dragged myself away. As I walked home I thought yet again how lucky I am to live in a place where people can trace their families back several generations. The stories they tell bring the past to vivid life.   


Eye of the Wind  pub. Paperback  25th April 2013 by Accent Press.

As featured Author of the Month  Accent Press is offering a 25% discount on this and all my ebook titles.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Georgian Princess?

Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin

Last month, I was in Berlin. Since there was snow and the temperature never got above zero, I spent most of my time in nice warm museums. Readers may be interested to see something of the Charlottenburg Palace which was originally the summer residence of Queen Sophie Charlotte. (Badly damaged in the war, the building has mostly been restored, though much of the furniture is not original.)

Sophie Charlotte in 1685
 Sophie Charlotte of Hanover was the sister of George I, so she was a great-granddaughter of James I/VI and granddaughter of Elisabeth, the Winter Queen of Bohemia. Sophie Charlotte, born in 1668, seems to have been touted as a prospective bride round half of Europe, but she eventually married the widowed Frederick, Elector of Brandenburg, in 1684, when she was still only 16. This portrait was done a year or so after her marriage.

In 1701, after some political machinations, Frederick became King in Prussia and Sophie Charlotte became his Queen Consort. She provided him with the necessary heir in 1688 (later King Frederick William I of Prussia) but generally lived independently from her husband with her own court. According to Wikipedia, he was only allowed there by invitation!

Sophie Charlotte was a very learned and accomplished woman (taking after her mother, Sophia of Hanover). This is her white-lacquered harpsichord, dating from about 1700, which sits in the antechamber to her audience chamber. She lived, as you can see, in some luxury.

Sophie Charlotte's white harpsichord, c 1700

Here is some of the furniture in the Queen's audience chamber, next door.  These three items are believed to be originals, and to have stood in this room.

Below is the so-called Glass Bedchamber of her private apartments. The mirror over the fireplace is original (dating from 1700) and appears to be solid silver.

Glass Bedchamber is Sophie Charlotte's private apartment

This is the Old Oak Gallery which was used as a banqueting hall. The picture over the fireplace is of Frederick I with all of his (three) wives. He outlived Sophie Charlotte, and remarried, as kings usually did. In spite of three marriages, he had only the one son.

Old Oak Gallery, used as Banqueting Hall

King's Audience Chamber, Ceiling Detail

This is the ceiling of the King's Audience Chamber, used by Frederick I when he was at Charlottenburg. It has been restored, hence the amazingly bright colours. I reckon it's over the top, but I guess it's the sort of thing you chose, if you were an 18th century king and determined to make an impression on visitors.

Queen Sophie Charlotte c 1701

This state portrait shows Sophie Charlotte as queen and probably dates from around 1701. Sophie Charlotte died young, in 1705, when she was still in her thirties. Interestingly, though the palace is full of portraits, I found none of her big brother, Georg Ludwig, Elector of Hanover, who became King of England as George I. Of course, by the time he became king, in 1714, Sophie Charlotte was long dead and her son was on the throne of Prussia. So, strictly speaking, she wasn't really a Georgian Princess, was she?

Next time, I can show you some of the material on Sophie Charlotte's son, King Frederick William I, who married George I's daughter Sophia Dorothea, his first cousin. Keeping it in the family, you see. They produced Sophie Charlotte's illustrious grandson, Frederick the Great.
Travelling is such fun, isn't it?


Saturday, April 13, 2013

A House in Covent Garden

Covent Garden Today
There’s a house that features in most of my mid-Georgian set books, which the owner calls “The best whorehouse in London.” In order not to violate the terms of the contracts I sign, sometimes it’s run by Mrs. Brown, and sometimes she has another name.
Mrs. Brown is a bit of an enigma. She dresses garishly during business hours, but prefers something a bit practical and more tasteful in her own time. She has a broad Cockney accent but when she forgets, it becomes a bit more refined. Not that she’s a countess in hiding or anything, but it’s obvious to anyone who knows her that she’s not as “common” as she claims to be.
In fact, during this era there was a real Mrs. Brown who ran a whorehouse in Covent Garden, but her brothel was in one of the lean-tos by the market, not one of the grander houses that ring the square.
Covent Garden has an interesting history. It was built to house the aristocracy but by the time it was ready the really posh nobs were moving out to the West End, so it never caught on, but it did become the theatre district, with Drury Lane and the Opera House within spitting distance of each other. That was where the young bloods went when they wanted a bit of action. The green rooms in the theatres, which often acted as unofficial brothels, private houses that contained whores running themselves and the brothels, where many girls were run. There was a House of Correction, which specialised in the “English Vice,” ie flogging and early sado-masochistic practices (not really BDSM, as it didn’t have the conventions and rules we associate with that term).
Hogarth depicted a scene of debauchery in “The Rake’s Progress.” Hogarth was a member of a distinctive group that included the Fieldings of Bow Street, so his engravings, showing the anti-French, anti-Jacobite view they shared have a particular point of view not necessarily shared with everyone in society. But there are real people depicted in his painting, apparently.
The first time I saw the original of “The Rake’s Progress” I was astounded. Not just because of the paintings themselves, but their situation. They’re in Sir John Soane’s house, somewhere everyone should see before they die. The house is packed. Top to bottom, every tiny crack and cranny, packed with statues, plaster casts, fragments and paintings. “The Rake’s Progress” is kept in an amazing room and it opens like a book so the viewer can see all eight paintings without it taking up too much wall space.
Anyway, I digress. I went to Covent Garden, had a good look and chose a house that I wanted for my brothel. It’s on the corner of King Street, a prime postion, near the site of Button’s Coffee House, which is now, appropriately, a Starbucks. Gentlemen went to the coffee house to discuss politics, finance, insurance, and in Button’s, the arts. Similarly, the brothels weren’t just for sex. They held gaming rooms, some of them hells (high stakes and sometimes card sharps), they’d have shows of lascivious activity, some with wit and style, some just sleazy, and rooms where men could drink themselves to oblivion and then choose their woman for an hour or two.
Note, I said “men.” Respectable women never set foot in those houses, or so the historians would have us believe. However, they discover new things every day. Was there a similar establishment for women? Maybe a bit more discreet, a little more refined?
We can never be absolutely sure, can we?
But look for Mrs. Brown’s in my upcoming release, the first book in a new series set in the thrilling, full-bodied, Georgian era. More about it nearer release, but I am really excited to be revisiting my favourite historical period.