Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Island of Dejima

I’ve previously blogged about the British traders who went to Japan in the early 1600s – hardy people whose courage you can’t but admire.  However, for various reasons their trading post didn’t last very long in that particular place while other nations flourished, in particular the Dutch.  As I’m currently working on a story set in Japan in 1648, I’ve been going over the notes I made when I was lucky enough to visit the site where these foreigners had their base from 1641 onwards – the island of Dejima in Nagasaki, a truly fascinating place!

It wasn’t an island in the traditional sense, as it was man-made and in the shape of a Japanese fan, constructed especially for the purpose of housing foreign traders (at first for the Portuguese).  Set in Nagasaki’s harbour, it could only be reached via a small bridge and a gate which was guarded at all times.  There was a sea gate on one side where goods could be loaded onto small boats and taken out to the large European ships, but when not in use, this gate was kept closed.

Me in front of the Dejima model
Apart from some trade with the Chinese, Japan was closed to the outside world for about 200 years and by 1641, the Dutch traders were the only Europeans who were allowed any contact with the Japanese at all.  The Japanese ruler – the Shogun – had decided to evict all other foreigners and the Portuguese had been the last to leave in 1639.  Mostly, this was all due to the Shogun’s mistrust of Christianity – any Christians found were executed in various hideous ways – but the Dutch seem to have steered clear of anything to do with religion and so they were allowed to stay.  This permission came at a price though – they were only allowed a foothold on Dejima and couldn’t cross over onto the mainland of Japan except if they were specially invited, and for the journeys to Edo which the Chief Factor had to make from time to time to pay his respect to the Shogun.

Dejima's "Main Street"
At only approximately one hundred and thirty by eighty-odd yards, the island must have seemed very small to the people who were forced to stay there year in and year out.  My heroine yearns to set foot on the mainland, which was tantalisingly close across only twenty yards of water, but most of the foreigners did so very rarely.  I found it hard to imagine being cooped up like that without feeling as though you were in a prison, but perhaps people were more patient back then and didn’t find it as irksome as we would now?

When Japan was finally opened up to the rest of the world in the mid 1800’s, Dejima was abandoned and in time it merged with the rest of Nagasaki by means of reclaimed land.  It is now a designated site of historical importance and work has been going on for many years to restore it, with some of the buildings reconstructed.  When I visited, tourists were able to go into what used to be the Chief Factor’s residence – the most imposing building, and some of the store houses.  To help you visualise what it had all once looked like, there was a scaled down model of the whole island.

My visit was brief and I would love to go back again one day, but for anyone thinking of going to Japan, I can thoroughly recommend a stop-over in Nagasaki to see this fascinating historical site!

Christina x

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Cornish agricultural shows - living history

My husband has just returned from a blissful weekend at an agricultural show organised by Cornwall Tractor Club where his display of sixteen restored and working rotavators won him a trophy for the  best static working exhibit.  He's exhausted after three days of constant talking but is still wearing a delighted grin.

These shows feature machinery and farming practices from WW2 years when the Americans brought tractors etc to Britain so we could feed ourselves. In exchange they were leased land for thirty years on which to build airfields and missile sites.

One of the exhibits was a threshing machine that has been on the same farm for seventy years. The farmer's grandfather used it at every harvest. But father bought a newer machine and the old thresher was consigned to a storage barn. Now no one knows how to operate it so an important element of rural history has been lost.

The K-shaped winch is a hay-grab. During the two-day show, with a traction engine providing belt-driven power to the baler (see above) hay was gathered and baled. In the evening the bales were undone, the hay loosened, spread and turned, ready for the following day's demonstration.
One of the oldest tractors was a Marshall. To start it requires a cartridge - similar to one for a 12-bore shotgun. This is inserted into the engine then hit with a lump hammer. The cartridge explodes, firing the single cylinder into life. In those days 'Elf & Safety' took second place to ploughing fields and reaping crops so Britain had enough to eat.

The orange vehicle is an Anzani tractor. Italian Alessandro Anzani,  (1877 – 1956) supplied one of his engines to Enrico Forlanini who developed it into a three-cylinder, air-cooled radial engine. One of these early engines, a 25 hp Anzani Fan type, was supplied to Louis Bleriot who used it on his successful crossing of the English Channel in 1909. Anzani diversified into motorcycle, lawnmower and outboard engines. 

In the years following WW2 the company's main product was the 'Iron Horse' - a two-wheeled pedestrian-controlled ploughing engine and light tractor. 

Compared to the farming machinery of today, these old vehicles look – and are - very basic. But the memories and stories they prompt when someone recognises an old tractor 'like the one grandfather had' bring the past alive in a way I doubt any air-conditioned, leather seated, luxury-cab combine harvester ever will.

Jane Jackson

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Queen Adelaide and Bentley Priory

Queen Adelaide
We don't tend to think of Adelaide as "Regency woman" but perhaps we should as she was only 25 years old when she married William, Duke of Clarence in July 1818, in a double wedding. The other couple were William's younger brother Edward, Duke of Kent and Victoria, Dowager Princess of Leinigen.

Both were hastily arranged marriages. The Prince Regent's heir, Charlotte, had died in childbirth in November 1817 and it was highly unlikely the Regent would produce another legitimate child. The Regent's next brother, Frederick, Duke of York, was in an unhappy, childless marriage. William, on the other hand, was certainly able to sire children: he already had many, including ten by the actress, Mrs Jordan. William was 27 years older than Adelaide, but healthier than his brothers, perhaps as a result of his vigorous early life in the Royal Navy. And no doubt his advisors thought that a pretty young wife was the answer!

Queen Adelaide

Sadly, it wasn't the answer. Adelaide had a number of pregnancies and two live births, but one daughter died within hours and the second aged just four months. By the time her husband became king, in 1830, at the age of 64, Adelaide must have known that her chances of producing an heir were very slim indeed. The other half of that double wedding had, of course, quickly produced Princess Victoria.

Adelaide's crown-shaped perfume bottle

Apparently both Adelaide and William were fond of Victoria, and she of them, though there were very public quarrels with Victoria's mother, the widowed Duchess of Kent. When William IV died in June 1837, Victoria became queen and Adelaide became Queen Dowager.

Queen Victoria to Queen Adelaide
The two women had a cordial relationship. This photograph shows the envelope of a letter from Victoria to Adelaide, in Victoria's own hand. Not easy to decipher! The address is "Her Majesty Queen Adelaide, The Priory, Stanmore, Middlesex". It's signed "The Queen" in the lower left corner and Victoria's red wax seal is on the back. The large "2" in black ink shows that second postage was to be paid by the recipient. The letter was posted from Windsor Castle on 2 January 1849, some months before Adelaide died.

After William IV died, Adelaide lived for a further 12 years, part of the time at Bentley Priory, where she died in 1849. It is a stunning house, largely designed by Sir John Soane and now a museum. (Bentley Priory was, of course, the HQ of RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain, hence the Spitfire shown above the house in this photograph.)

Bentley Priory

Bentley Priory, Queen Adelaide's dressing room

Bentley Priory, the room where Queen Adelaide died

Bentley Priory:
original vaulted ceiling

Bentley Priory:
staircase, partly original

Bentley Priory is well worth a visit and not only for the fine architecture, shown here.

It now includes a very interesting museum of the Battle of Britain, and specifically how HQ Fighter Command worked at Bentley Priory, under the direction of Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding.

There's more fine stained glass, along with the piece shown below, and you can see where Dowding worked, and hear what it was like. Do go and see!


Saturday, June 07, 2014

The Finest Town West of Bath

Last weekend we paid a flying visit to Cornwall, staying overnight in Truro. Truro is a beautiful city and I have always enjoyed visiting it but I hadn’t quite realised what a rich history it has. The Norman castle my be long gone but throughout the medieval period Truro flourished as a port, only seeing a decline in trade when the Black Death decimated the population.

By the Tudor period the town had returned to prosperity. It was a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War, but was taken by Cromwell’s troops in 1646. It was the improvement in mining techniques during the Georgian and Regency period, and the high price paid for tin that turned Truro into a fashionable town. We stayed in Lemon Street, a long road of elegant Georgian townhouses named after the local MP and industrialist William Lemon who organised the development of the Georgian town and built a hotel and a bridge over the river.

It was the influx of rich magnates such as Lemon that turned Truro into “The London of Cornwall,” as one
Regency visitor described it and “the finest town west of Bath.” The Truro Assembly Rooms were built in 1780 and balls were held once a month. The Assembly Rooms could also be used as a theatre and during the 1810 – 1811 season there was a theatre company in residence who put on 80 different plays.

The place to stay for visitors during the period was The Red Lion Hotel, considered to be “by far the best hotel in Cornwall… fitted in a very genteel manner.” The owner advertised it as having “exceedingly good beds, an excellent assortment of wines, three handsome parlours, a billiard room and dining room, a cedar room, many vast lodging rooms and stabling for 30 horses.” One male tourist commented approvingly on both the women and the town planning in one sentence: “The women… are very fair and in general genteel and it is a new paved town with wide and regular streets… There are a number of very capital houses and smaller houses built of stone, which are all neat and good.”

The Mansion House and The Great House were two of “capital houses” in the town. The Mansion House had ornate rococo decoration in the drawing room and stairs that was said to be the work of French prisoners of war. The Great House was fitted with mahogany and marble and it faced the river. Sadly the owner wasn’t happy, complaining that the ships on the river obstructed his view and gave the place “a very grotesque appearance.” I don’t think that I would have complained!

In my brief sightseeing I was fascinated to discover that Truro was the first stop on the “Trafalgar Way,” the route taken by Lieutenant Laponetiere of HMS Pickle to deliver the news of the victory at the Battle of Trafalgar to the Admiralty. He landed at Falmouth on 4th November and raced to London in a post chaise and four, changing horses 21 times along the road. He arrived at the Admiralty 37 hours later. These days it takes 5 hours from London to Truro on the train and it’s well worth the visit!

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Come into the Garden, Maud

I’ve just spent a few days in the Welsh borders where I visited Powis Castle near Welshpool. I’d heard of its wonderful Baroque gardens and had always wanted to see them. 

Overview of Powis Castle, Wales
The castle, perched on top of a hill in a commanding position, was originally built in about 1200, but it has undergone many changes as the need for fortification gradually gave way to more gracious living in the 17th century. An Italian or French style garden was a must: water features, statuary, terraces, stairs leading down to new vistas and so on.

View from the top, looking down.

Work began in the 1670s, and the rock on which the castle stands was hewn into a series of spectacular garden terraces. Heaven knows how they did it; the work force alone must have been huge. The result is the best remaining example of a Baroque garden in the UK.  Some of the water features have disappeared but everything else is there.

Lead statue of a piper

My first photograph gives the overall view and you can see the various terraces. The second photograph was taken from the top. Looking down to the terrace beneath, you can see some delightful lead statues of rustic figures - a shepherdess, a piper and so on – standing along the balustrade. Far below, to the left, you can see a formal garden in the Dutch style, with severely-clipped yew hedges and a fountain.

Stairs down to the second terrace

Coming down a level via the attractive stairs with terracotta basket pots filled with geraniums, you arrive on the lead statues terrace. Here the view of the Welsh hills is spectacular, as you can see. From this vantage point, the formal garden has disappeared. The small statue of the piper shows the love of rustic informality typical of the period – we might almost be in Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon.

Attractive terracotta pot – and stupendous view

The last photo is of the formal garden at ground level. The view of the hills has disappeared, not only because we are now at ground level but also because of the thick yew hedges. There is also a fountain, one of the few water features to survive. The 18th century was a class-conscious age and the personal privacy of the garden’s visitors was paramount. I’m quite sure that any gardener would scuttle out of sight if my lord or my lady appeared.

The formal garden at ground level

As you descend the various levels, there is also an orangerie and various arbours where a young gentleman might converse with a lady in reasonable privacy. It struck me that any young and nimble lady or gentleman could probably get out of sight of a tiresome chaperone in a matter of minutes!

Elizabeth Hawksley

Tuesday, June 03, 2014


Another Melinda Hammond romantic adventure is about to be e-published! 

A LADY AT MIDNIGHT is set in the 18th century, so a Georgian adventure this time: gorgeous, elaborate gowns, bewigged gentleman (although our hero is a "modern" man who wears his own hair), and much use made of fans, swords and pistols.  It features my favourite type of heroine – not the most beautiful woman in the room but one with wit, humour and strength of character. She is not looking for love and romance but finds it anyway, in the shape of the handsome Earl Rossleigh.  

When A LADY AT MIDNIGHTwas first published I was very pleased with its reception: the review from Romance Reader at Heart says -

"If you're a fan of books with prose written in the style of Jane Austen and the like, or a fan of writers from the U.K., then Melinda Hammond's A LADY AT MIDNIGHT is right up your alley….Ms. Hammond is definitely an author that has done her research and knows her period history."
Published originally in 2005 by Robert Hale, I am delighted to have the chance now to add a new cover and release it on Kindle as an e-book.

When Amelia Langridge accepts an invitation to stay in London as companion to the beautiful Camilla Strickland, her thoughts are merely to enjoy herself a little before settling down as the wife of the dull but dependable Edmund Crannock. 

Camilla's intention is to capture a rich and noble husband, and her mama is only too delighted to allow Amelia to remain quietly in the background. Then Camilla attracts the attention of the pleasure-loving Earl Rossleigh and it seems that she will realise her ambition, but the earl is intent on another, much more dangerous quarry, and it is the level-headed Amelia who finds herself caught up in the earl's tangled affairs...

A LADY AT MIDNIGHT will be e-published on Amazon very soon - look out for it!
(PS - If anyone would prefer the hardback version I have some available, so do please contact me.)

Melinda Hammond
DANCE FOR A DIAMOND - Robert Hale 2005, Kindle 2014

Sarah Mallory
AT  THE HIGHWAYMAN'S PLEASURE - Harlequin March 2014