Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Shocking Scandal/Anne Ireland

My new Anne Ireland Regency is published in Kindle.

Glancing round the glittering ballroom at the throng of laughing, chattering guests, Jo Hampden stifled a sigh of disappointment. She had expected that this visit would all be so much more exciting! They had been here in Paris a week and as yet she had not seen one gentleman who had made her heart miss a beat. She had been so sure that in this most magical of cities she would be certain to find her prince. Not a real prince of course, but the handsome hero of her dreams, who would sweep her off her feet and carry her away to his castle in the mountains, where they would live amongst the eagles and be almost able to touch the clouds.

Her trouble was undoubtedly that she had a vivid imagination. As a child Jo had often been lost in daydreams, but as she grew up her life became too busy for dreams of any kind, especially after both her elder sisters had married gentlemen of fortune. That meant Mama had relied on Jo more and more, keeping her at home by her side, until she had become suddenly and fatally ill; she’d died only a few days after she caught that awful chill. Jo had been just sixteen and the devastating grief that swept through her had broken her heart. She had wept uncontrollably until Bianca told her to stop feeling sorry for herself and think of Eliza, their youngest sister, who was so often ill.

Jo had felt as if her elder sister had poured cold water over her, but it was the best thing that could have happened, for it had brought Jo to her senses. She had devoted herself to making her youngest sister smile again, and in time they had both benefited from the strong attachment that had formed between them.

Her sisters Bianca and Sarah had put their heads together for it was obvious that the girls could not stay on in their old home alone, even though Jo would have done her best to manage. Since the younger girls did not wish to be separated, it was decided that both would spend a few months with their grandfather, Sir Gerald Hampden, who had taken the shock of his daughter’s death badly. After that they could decide where they wished to make a permanent home, either with Bianca or Sarah.

However, it had not happened quite as expected, for Sarah had given birth to her first child and was delicate for a few months. She had written, asking if Jo would stay with her until she was feeling better, and Eliza had been left to stay with their grandfather. Since Eliza was fond of the elderly gentleman, she had not made a fuss and Jo spent the next year as a companion to her eldest sister. Sarah had soon recovered her health and begun to entertain again, which meant that Jo had been introduced to many of her sister’s friends. She had met quite a few eligible gentlemen but as yet none had touched her heart.

Jo knew that her trouble was that she was an incurable romantic. She was passionately fond of beautiful and wild scenery, and spent hours with her nose in a book, caught up in the fables of the courtly heroes of a time long past. She longed to be caught up in some adventure, rescued from dragons or awakened from her sleep by a kiss from a handsome price.

'What was that sigh for, my love?'

Jo turned to her companion and gave a slight shake of her head, conscious that she was being ungrateful. Mrs Buckley, a woman in her middle years, and a great friend of Sarah’s, had put herself to considerable trouble to bring Jo on this trip, and the least she could do was to appear to enjoy it.

'It was nothing, ma’am. Merely that I do not see many of our acquaintance here this evening.'

'There you are wrong, Jo. For I have just seen Chalmont and he is coming this way. I dare say he means to ask you to dance.'

Jo saw the gentleman her companion had mentioned almost at the same moment, but her spirits were not greatly uplifted by his approach. He was held to be attractive by society and his manner was undoubtedly charming, but somehow Jo did not particularly care for the gentleman.

'May I say how lovely you look this evening, Mademoiselle Hampden?' The Comte bowed to her punctiliously. 'Would you do me the honour of standing up for this next dance with me?'

'You are very kind, sir.'

Jo could not very well refuse without appearing rude. Besides, her card was far from full and she did not wish to sit down all evening. So she gave him her hand, allowing him to lead her on to the dance floor.

She was at least able to enjoy the dancing, for the Comte was good mannered and held her at just the right distance without pressing her too intimately, and he was besides an excellent dancer. When he returned her to her companion's side at the end of their dance, lingering only long enough to secure another dance with her later, Jo was pleased to discover that her friend, Anne Arlington, had arrived with her Mama.

'Oh, I am so glad you have come,' Jo said and kissed her cheek, whispering in her ear, 'Most of the guests seem so much older than us this evening. I was beginning to think there was no one I could talk to sensibly; they all look to be in danger of falling asleep on their feet!'

'How naughty you are,' Anne replied tapping her with a delicate fan. 'But I must admit I have felt the same at times. I can't wait for my brother to join us in Paris. He and his friend Lord Finchley are arriving in a day or so.'

'You will be pleased to see your brother no doubt.'

Jo wondered at little at her friend's blush but at that moment two young and undeniably attractive gentlemen approached and within seconds the girls were dancing with new partners.

After that Jo found that she was seldom left to sit alone and she did not have time to let her thoughts wander. It was true that most of the gentlemen present at the prestigious ball were older than the two girls, but since they were all unfailingly charming and considerate Jo was soon laughing, her foolish dreams of romance forgotten for the moment.

It was not until quite late in the evening that Jo noticed a little stir as a newcomer entered the ballroom. A small group of ladies and gentlemen immediately gathered to greet him. She could not see much of him because of the crowd around him, but he seemed important for it was obvious that his arrival had caused some excitement. Able only to catch a glimpse of his profile as he paused a few minutes before moving on, Jo thought he looked rather cold and proud. Then for one second as he turned his head, his eyes seemed to stare in her direction, but they did not see her for he appeared to look beyond her, as if he were bored by his surroundings and wished himself elsewhere.

He was clearly uninterested in the dancing and soon moved away into the next room, where several card tables had been set up to amuse those gentlemen who did not care to dance.

'Who was that gentleman?' Jo asked her companion.'

'What gentleman, Jo?'

'The one who seemed to cause something of a stir just now.'

'I really have no idea,' Mrs Buckley said. 'I cannot say I noticed anything in particular.'

'I did,' Anne Arlington said. 'He was rather handsome, with a slightly foreign look. He was certainly not English. I think perhaps Italian or Spanish, European certainly.'

'A foreign prince or something of the sort so I heard,' the dowager Marchioness of Arlington supplied the answer. 'You know the French always make a fuss of these petty princelings. I do not suppose he was of any real consequence at all. At least he would not be thought so in the best circles at home.'

Jo found Lady Arlington's manner a little overbearing. It was a trifle unkind of her to slight the young man and she was glad he had not heard. Her brief glimpse of his proud rather noble face had made her heart miss a beat, though she was not sure why. He had not even been looking at her.

Jo smothered her sigh. She must be grateful for this chance to mix in Parisian society and enjoy it and not let her head be turned by a man who had not even noticed her.

* * * *

One thing that Paris could not be faulted for was the shopping, Jo thought as she and her companion were driven back to their hotel the next morning. She had indulged herself shamelessly with the purchase of all manner of pretty trifles, urged on by Mrs Buckley who assured her that it was in order for her to spend as much as she had.

'Your grandfather told me that I was not to penny pinch in the matter of your wardrobe, my love. He wants you to have everything that a young lady of fashion needs for your coming season in London.'

'Grandfather is very kind,' Jo replied. 'But I am not sure that I ought to spend too much.'

'You are a long way from doing that,' her companion said with an indulgent look. 'You are very pretty, Jo, and if you are fortunate you may make an excellent match. I am sure your husband will want to indulge your whims.'

'Oh, no ...' Jo began but forgot what she meant to say as they entered the hotel. A man was standing at the desk talking to the clerk, and although she was able to see only his profile, she believed it was the man who had caused a slight stir the previous evening.

He turned towards them and she saw that his skin had a slightly dusky look, which was a little deeper than most Europeans’ and, with his noble features and dark, hawk-like eyes, gave him an exotic appearance. He was smiling and his teeth were exceptionally white against that sunburned complexion, his build and vitality that of a man honed to a rare perfection seldom seen amongst the gentlemen Jo had been accustomed to meeting in France.

She thought that she had never seen such a handsome man and her heart beat very fast for a few moments, as their eyes seemed to lock. She found herself drawn to him, lingering as if willing him to speak to her, but instead it was her companion who spoke, breaking the spell.

'Come along, Jo – what are you waiting for?'

The older woman turned to look at what had caught her companion's eye and frowned slightly. It was obvious that she thought the stranger was showing his admiration for her pretty charge a little too openly, and she took hold of Jo’s arm, giving her a push towards the hotel's grand staircase.

'There's no need to poke me,' Jo said, a slightly petulant look in her eyes. 'Why are you in such a hurry all at once?'

'You must rest or you will be too tired to enjoy yourself this evening.'

Jo controlled the urge to look back as she began to climb the stairs, but the tingling in her spine made her believe that the stranger was still watching her. He had been as interested in her as she was in him – or was she merely flattering herself?

From his dress and his air of assurance he was clearly a gentleman, and a wealthy one she would imagine. He had been wearing a coat of blue superfine, which had been fashioned by the finest tailors and fitted his body like a second skin, and on the little finger of his left hand she had noticed an exceptionally fine diamond ring.

'Why did you rush me away just now?' Jo asked her companion as they entered their own suite and she paused to glance at her reflection in one of the huge gilt mirrors that adorned the walls. She fussed with her bonnet before removing it. ‘I was intrigued by the gentleman we saw at the reception.’

'He was staring at you and you were staring back,' Mrs Buckley said with a reproving frown. 'We have not been introduced to the gentleman – whoever he is - and therefore you should have pretended not to notice him looking at you.'

If you enjoyed this book it is available at Kindle and will soon be available from ARE. It is also available from me.  Mail me through the website.
Bought For the Harem is my latest Anne Herries book in Uk - and the next paperback is the hostage, available December.  Until then there's A Shocking Scandal for you to enjoy.
Best wishes  Linda Sole/Anne Herries/Anne Ireland

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Writer in Residence

In August, I was writer in Residence for a week at the Dillington House Summer School (I was also tutor on the Creative Writing - the novel course.) Dillington is Somerset's residential centre for adult education - and it's seriously classy. There were sixty-six students and a dozen courses on offer, ranging from The Joy of Spanish and The Arts and Crafts Movement to my Creative Writing - the novel.

I was the first Writer in Residence they'd had and I wanted to make my mark. I saw myself sitting in the library under the splendid chandelier topped by a pineapple, quill pen in hand, ready to help anyone with sonnet or prose. But I swiftly realized that I had to be more proactive.

I decided to write an article entitled 'A Week at Dillington' and put word round that I'd welcome contributions. There's plenty to inspire: the Jacobean house had a Gothic makeover in the 1830s and the family portraits are still there. The park has magnificent trees and the grounds are beautifully kept.

My course was in the afternoon so, in the morning, I hitched a lift with the minibuses going on The Artisan Trail, The Arts and Crafts Movement and the Exploring Somerset Villages. I wanted to meet as many students as possible and persuade them to write something. I also took photographs.

One visit particularly interested me, to Mark Broadbent, carriage maker. He renovates old carriages, builds them from scratch using traditional methods, and drives them, too. A number of carriages, once owned by Lord Spencer, were waiting to be restored to their former glory. Handsome carriage horses poked their heads out of loose boxes. (But that is for a future blog)

Word spread and some interesting pieces came in. When I got home, I sent the organizer, Roger Priest, my article incorporating the pieces I'd received, plus photographs. I added some thoughts on how the Writer in Residence position might be enhanced, together with a suggestion for a Creative Writing for Pleasure course which I felt would suit the Summer School better.

Last week, I heard from him. 'A Week at Dillington' would be sent to all prospective 2012 students and would I like to come back next year?

Elizabeth Hawksley

Photos by Elizabeth Hawksley. Top: Dillington House; centre: the library; bottom: One of Mark Broadbent’s carriage horses

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Anatomists and the Body Snatchers

On Christmas Day 1818 William Hurst, one of a family of numerous siblings from whom both my maternal grandparents decended, sat down to eat the cake his wife Sarah had just prepared.

By all accounts it was not a happy marriage and my suspicion, although I have no direct evidence, is that William was an abusive husband. Certainly the neighbours recalled a violent argument going on in the Hursts' dwelling after their return from church that morning - and they did not find this an unusual circumstance.

Their suspicions were not aroused, even when Sarah came round to borrow some rat poison - quite openly asking for it. Nor can William have had any idea what she did with it - for he ate enough of the cake in which she had put it to kill him.

Fifty year old Sarah was arrested on December 28th "on a violent suspicion with having at the Parish of Little Horwood in the County of Bucks, administered poison to her husband Wm.Hurst, in consequence of which he the said Wm.Hurst died."

Sarah was committed to prison in the county town of Aylesbury and, at her trial found guilty. The sentence is given as:
Death - to be Hanged on 12th March, and her Body to be Dissected and Anatomised pursuant to the Statute.

The statute was the Act that permitted the bodies of hanged criminals to be given to surgeons and anatomists for dissection and research if the judge at their trial so directed. It was considered a paticularly heavy sentence for, after the dissection, the unwanted remains would not be permitted burial in consecrated grounds. Sarah had killed her husband - considered almost a form of treason - hence this additional penalty.

But because this severe sentence was relatively rare there was a corresponding scarcity of bodies for the doctors, surgeons and scientists who were finding their researches severely hampered. Soon desperate surgeons and adaptable criminals started to come together to fill this gap in the market. Grave robbers opened fresh graves and stole the corpses and surgeons made little secret of the fact that they would pay good money for such corpses.

The Edinburgh surgeons are perhaps the most famous for this - due largely to the notorious Burke and Hare who moved from grave robbing to murder to keep the anatomists happy. But it happened all over the country, aided by the fact that to steal a corpse was not a felony, but a misdemeanor. Provided the robbers were careful not to remove any item of grave goods with the body the worst that could happen to them was a fine or short prison term.

Sir Astley Cooper, surgeon to George IV, William IV and Queen Victoria was quite open about his use of corpses obtained from body snatchers and the practice helped him develop such life-saving procedures as the first tying of an abdominal aorta to cure aneurysm. Astley Cooper boasted There is no person, whatever his position in life might be, whose body after death [I] could not obtain. The law only enhances the price and does not prevent the exhumation.

Last week I visited Great Yarmouth and discovered that in 1827 Thomas Vaughan managed to steal ten corpses from the churchyard of St Nicholas (shown below in a late 18thc view from the market place) over a period of nineteen days, including the body of an infant, a small child, a young woman and a 67 year old man. The corpses were packed in sawdust in crates labelled "Glass - handle with care" and taken by wagon to London where they were exhibited in an upstairs room of an inn outside the gates of St Bartholemew's Hospital. Surgeons would call in and select the body of their choice, paying between 10 and 12 guineas for each one.

Vaughan was arrested and eventually sentenced to six months in prison - his grateful clients paid his legal fees and an allowance to his wife while he was in jail.

The general populace, of course, regarded this practice with fear and horror and all kinds of measures were tried to foil the robbers - watchmen in graveyards, metal cages over graves, iron coffins - but still the grisly trade continued. Eventually, largely due to the outcry over Burke and Hare, the Anatomy Act of 1832 was passed, allowing the use by anatomnists of any unclaimed corpse and the worst of the body snatching ceased.

There are so many points of view in this gruesome history - the terrified condemned woman on the scaffold, the surgeons desperate to save lives by the advancement of knowledge, the horrified and grieving relatives and the hardened robbers themselves. What would they have made of modern science and a society where many people, as a matter of course, leave provision in their wills for their organs to be used for transplants and research?

Louise Allen

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Thunder and Lightning

No, not stormy weather. Thunder and lightning is what the Cornish call a slice of bread spread with treacle then topped with clotted cream.  And delicious it is too.  Though it was usually farmer’s wives who made butter, the money they made from sales being one of their perks, almost every Cornish housewife made her own clotted cream.  The method hasn’t changed in centuries. I remember as a child watching our next-door neighbour make pasties while the cream ‘scalded’ on the slab of her old black range. 
After the milk girl had been – she carried two large silver milk churns in the back of a small grey van and every day we took out a jug for her to fill with either a pint or half-pint dipper - the milk to be used for cream (and it was always whole milk then) would be poured into a shallow dish and set aside for a few hours to allow the cream to rise to the surface.  When this had happened, the dish was placed in a pan of simmering water over a low fire for several hours – sometimes overnight - to “scald.”  By morning a thick yellow crust would have formed.  Skimmed off into a glass dish this would keep for 24 hours (no one had a fridge then) or a day longer if a little sugar had been added to the pan before scalding began.
Though delicious on fresh fruit or fruit pies and puddings, some old recipes used it differently.
Chocolate cream: the thick cream was whipped together with eggs and melted chocolate until light and frothy.  Chilled this makes a wonderful chocolate mousse.
Almond blancmange: the cream was heated with lemon rind, sugar and ground almonds, then left to set in an oiled mould.
Another recipe called for cream boiled with egg yolks, sugar and rosewater to be poured over breadcrumbs, sprinkled with sugar, then left to set.
Though we ate cream, butter and whole milk when we were children, we did so much running about, climbing trees, hiking through the woods, and walking a mile along the creek side to the shingle beach beyond the harbour where we built a fire and cooked ‘dampers’ (a flour and water dough wound around a stick and toasted until brown then filled with jam) we were all as slim as greyhounds. 

Jane Jackson.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Lose Yourself in the World of the Regency - and win a Kindle!

There is still time to get a ticket for the amazing Regency Celebration Day in London on October 8th.

The Romantic Novelists' Association is hosting the Day at the Royal Overseas League in the heart of historic St James's and hightlights include a talk by Jennifer Kloester on her long-awaited biography of Georgette Heyer (published October 6th).

There will be authors to meet; a bookstall; a quiz; a raffle with wonderful prizes including a Kindle loaded with Regency novels, an original Regency print and luxury chocs and a chance to go on a guided walk around Regency St James's.

Learn how to lace your corset, play Georgian parlour games and perform Regency dances! Talks will include Sex and the Georgians and Regency Scents and Smells (with samples to try) and there will even be uniformed soldiers to flirt with.

There is more inflormation, and how to book, at www.romanticnovelistsassociation.org.uk.

See you there!

Louise Allen

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Should we care about anachronisms?

There has been quite a lot of controversy about accuracy in historical romances, and it’s been an interesting discussion.

Recently, many of the historical romances set in the Regency by have been light on the history. While there is no real problem with that, the historical content has become progressively less and less in some books, so that the books are little more than stories about modern people in pretty clothes.

There have been versions of TV dating games in “Regency” set books, for instance, stories about notorious courtesans becoming duchesses and leading society, and other such plots which could never have happened in the historical period.

Sometimes it’s become difficult to tell what period the book is supposed to depict, the descriptions are so vague.

There have always been books like that in the past, but there were always more rigorously accurate books to balance them, so that the reader looking for a good historical romance set in a recognisable and reasonably accurate period could find them. But that has become more difficult recently, with the death of the “traditional” Regency lines.

And it seems a section of the historical romance reading public is growing increasingly unhappy with the selection. There is no one place to go where the accuracy of the historical is guaranteed.

I want to emphasise that there is nothing wrong with the “frothy” Regency and no reason why it shouldn’t be published and sold to readers who want that. The market is limited to the USA, though. Several efforts have been made to sell that kind of book elsewhere, but it hasn’t worked. It’s not that the British public is highly keyed-up and knows its history, it’s that the books don’t “feel” right. They are highly American in tone.

A few days ago I asked an editor at a big publishing house about the accuracy in the historicals. “It’s entirely up to the author,” she said. It’s just as well that other matters like grammar and spelling aren’t!

A mega-thread at “Dear Author” had most of the participants asking for a distinction between the lines, so they knew if the book they were buying was a “history-lite” or “wallpaper” book or one where the author has worked hard and diligently to re-create a time and place in history. That seems good, as long as neither of the terms are perjorative. So that those who truly love them can have their Regency spies and dukes who choose their successors, and others can have the Battle of Waterloo and the dilemma of the lack of male heirs.
While the discussion can be more complex than this, that’s what it boils down to – giving people what they want and fulfilling expectations.

Me? I think anyone who writes historical romance has a duty of care to get as much as she can right. But that’s just me.

Lynne Connolly

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Battle of Borodino

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Borodino. On 7th September 1812 (or 26th August if one went by the Russian calendar then in use) Napoleon's advance through Russia with his Grand Army was halted at Borodino, a village 60 miles to the west of Moscow. The battle was immense - 122 000 men on the Russian side against 124 000 French troops. It lasted for hours and there were heavy casualties. Although the Russians were beaten they were not completely defeated and Napoleon later said of the encounter: "The French showed themselves to be worthy victors and the Russians can rightly call themselves invincible."

Napoleon marched on Moscow but the city refused to surrender. By now the French troops were far from their supply lines, starving and exhausted, with deteriorating morale. In October the French began a retreat from Moscow that was to prove a humiliating disaster. Seventy years later Tchaikovsky commemorated the French defeat in his 1812 Overture that celebrated this famous Russian victory.

My first introduction to this period of Russian history happened when, in my teens, I read the "Russian Regencies" of Dinah Dean. Both Flight from the Eagle and The Eagle's Fate were set against the French invasion of Russia and they enthralled me. I sought out all Dinah Dean's other books and was very upset when later I lost some of them in a house move. The remaining ones are on my keeper shelf. Did you read and enjoy Dinah Dean's Russian series? If so, which book was your favourite?

Saturday, September 03, 2011


 A couple of weeks ago I was in Northumberland, and went to visit one of the National Trust's latest acquisitions, Seaton Delaval Hall.  It is a beautiful 18th century baroque mansion by Vanbrugh, and staggeringly beauiful on the outside. 

 Unfortunately, the central hall is now merely a shell, after fire ripped through the building in 1822. An entire wing was destroyed and never rebuilt (although as the wing had upset the symmetry of the building, this may not have been such a disaster!). It is thought that Vanbrugh's deisgn helped to spread the fire, the stairwells in the corners of the building acted as a chimney, turning the blaze into a furnace that buckled the metal balustrades and caused the lead to melt from the roof.  The centre of the building was eventually re-roofed but never re-occupied.  In 1841 the architect who designed Newcastle's Central Railway Station, John Dobson, was brought in to carry out a few renovations, but then the building was left until the 1950s, when the next round of renovation began. These preserved the building, but it was never restored, and now the National Trust have embarked upon a major conservation project, designed to preserve the building as it is, rather than restore it to some by-gone glory. 

We visited on the day of a dog show, so there were hundreds of  visitors and their furry pets in the grounds, but inside the house itself we were in for a treat. The magnificent central hall, seen here before the restoration project began, is now filled with scaffolding and the National Trust is allowing small groups of visitors to climb the scaffodling to get up close and personal with the fabric of the building.  Wearing a hard hat and clinging tightly to the scaffolding, I followed the guide up the metal steps. We passed the remains of plaster statues inset in the wall arches and eventually stood at the upper floor level, where the small fireplaces from the servants rooms could be seen, and looking closely between the damaged stones it was still possible to see little rivulets of lead that had melted in the intense heat of the fire. I have only added one picture of the scaffolding - its not very exciting, but it give syou some idea - just think of me, hard had on and suffering from vertigo!

It was a chastening experience, to see such a lovely building in such a sad state of repair, but thanks to the NT and the fund-raising efforts of rthe local people the house has been saved for everyone to enjoy. I haven't yet included a serious house fire in one of my books, but after visiting Seaton Delaval, I think it is only a matter of time!  

Sarah Mallory.
Dangerous Lord Darrington (USA Sept 2011)
To Catch a Husband (UK 2011)

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Happy Birthday, William Wilkins!

Yesterday I was at the birthday party of William Wilkins who was born on 31st July 1778. The party was held at the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds, which he himself designed for the town. It opened its doors in October 1819, making it the only Regency-built theatre still in regular use today. It is a gem of a theatre and William Wilkins was very proud of it, but it didn’t at first get the reception from the townsfolk that he expected.

Wilkins - and his father before him - ran the Norwich Company which toured seven East Anglian venues. Bury St Edmunds was the most profitable of these, despite playing in a very cramped space on the upper floor of the Market Cross, so William decided to reward the town with a lovely new theatre.

He was very keen on classical architecture and was addicted to the idea of pure air circulating around his building. He was also concerned that his best patrons should be spared the indignity of mixing with the more disreputable members of the audience at any point during the proceedings.

To facilitate this,  the four separate areas of the theatre had their own entrances, the Dress Circle box patrons wafted straight through the spacious, arcaded foyer into their semi-enclosed boxes, the Upper Circle boxes were up one flight of stairs from the foyer, the Pit customers jostled downwards and around from an outside entrance, and for the cheap seats in the Gallery - 120 of them! - people would have to squeeze through a narrow side door and up two flights of stairs.

With this vision in mind, Wilkins cannily made use of the local topography and built his New Theatre where the south side of town slopes downwards, so the best seats were at street level and he could reduce construction costs in not having to dig out the Pit. He elegantly fitted out his lovely theatre, organised the very popular John Bull as the opening play and threw open the doors in welcome.

The townsfolk, though, weren’t at all grateful. As far as they were concerned, the New Theatre was on the very edge of the unfashionable side of town and far more inconvenient to get to than the old Market Cross right in the centre. So - for the first week at least - they voted with their feet, leaving the Norwich Company to play to empty houses. Audiences did pick up in the subsequent weeks, but it must have given William Wilkins a very nasty turn, thinking of his huge investment that he might not get back!

Now, of course, Bury St Edmunds has expanded and the Theatre Royal is seen as being in the historic centre. Which brings us back to the party - the question we were asking was what do you give a man who is 233 years old? We came to the conclusion that posterity isn’t a bad gift.

Jan Jones