Friday, September 09, 2016

Seedtime & Harvest

I have a wonderful little book, Seedtime & Harvest, the diary of an Essex farmer, William Barnard of Harlowbury. The book is published by the Essex Record office and written by Joyce Jones.
I tend only to think of it at the beginning of autumn – especially if I'm writing a Regency – which I am at the moment.
Harlowbury Farm was part of the parish of Harlow. The soil was gravel overlying London clay. It comprised of around 400 acres with about 250 acres in arable production.

This is what William Barnard wrote in his diary on September 9, 1820:
We had a very fine week & I have finished my harvest this day. I have been obliged to make great exertions to do it having kept three forks always pitching and some days 
four . . . the barley carting was almost endless, two forks beginning at eight in the morning could not cart a large part of it.

 In 1816 on September 23rd he wrote this:

I carted the mud out of horse pond on Little Townfield some weeks ago & did about 3 acres with it. I have been carting mud the whole week from Rushy piece pond on 18 acres Lower Stoney & manured about 2 1/2 acres with it.

This year the weather was appalling throughout Europe because of a volcanic eruption in the Far East. This meant harvests everywhere were poor. Strangely when he had a good harvest and the barn was full it wasn't all good news because the price of grain fell as there was a glut.

 September 17, 1814
I completely finished my harvest on the 12 but had a full days work; I never began harvest with more fear on account of the great bulk of the corn, by very great excursion & hiring Prior's wagon & 2 horses & retaining some of the acre mentally end of the harvest I have got through beyond my expectation.

As always, after a horse rake had been drawn over the stubble to clean off the remainder of the harvest the women and children came onto the field to glean what was left. These poor folk couldn't survive without this extra food which fed their chickens and helped with breadmaking.

I hope you enjoy this glimpse into a farmer's life in Essex. No doubt I shall tell you more about William Barnard next September.

Fenella J Miller

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

A Brief History of Dunking Biscuits

With the new series of the Great British Bake Off in full swing on the BBC there has already been controversy over whether or not it is appropriate to dunk Jaffa cakes in your tea or coffee. This led to a segment of the show giving the history of biscuit dunking, which, it turns out, is an ancient tradition. Apparently dunking, dipping or submerging a biscuit in a beverage releases more flavours by dissolving the sugar in it and also softening the texture. If you dunk a chocolate biscuit it is supposed to become even more chocolatey! But some people do not approve; in a survey 52% of people said they never dunked!

It was the Romans who started the tradition. They dunked their hard, unleavened wafers in wine in order to soften them. These wafers were known as “bis cotum” leading to the word biscuit. Modern day dunking, however, has it roots in the naval traditions of the 16th century when a flour and water mixture known as “hard tack” was baked and used for sailors’ rations. These incredibly unappealing biscuits were also known as “tooth dullers” and “molar breakers” making the need for dunking very clear. Hard tack was routine dipped in beer or brine (!) to soften it before it was even remotely edible. The fact that the one in the picture below has survived from the 19th century proves just how tough they must have been!

By the 17th century the basic biscuit recipe had been developed into something much nicer that tasted like sponge fingers. These were originally served at the end of the meal and dipped into wine or other alcoholic beverages. They are the ancestors of the trifle. From that time on, a number of biscuit recipes proliferated until in the Victorian period, biscuits, cake and tea were partaken mid-afternoon as the formal afternoon tea. Dunking, however, was discouraged. The Victorians disapproved of public biscuit dipping, feeling that it was something only to be done in the privacy of one’s own home.

Not everyone enjoys dunking and the choice of a dunking biscuit is still a very personal matter. So here is the all-important question. Do you dunk? And if so, what is your biscuit of choice?

Monday, September 05, 2016

The Four Flowers of Britain

Flowers are important to novelists; a young man will shyly offer a girl a rose; a child will bring a mother a posy on Mother's Day, we use flowers to symbolize emotion all the time. This post takes a step back to look at how heralds use flowers.

According to my book Heraldry: sources, symbols and meaning which was published in 1997 and covers everything one needs to know, from heraldic terminology and signs (e.g. the lion and the fleur-de-lys) to heraldic accessories, the UK’s emblem comprises the Tudor rose (England), the thistle (Scotland), and the shamrock (Ireland).


Tin tray from Buckingham Palace

The tin tray from Buckingham Palace illustrates this perfectly. In fact, it appears to view only England and Scotland as being of any real importance: the lion of England and the unicorn of Scotland together support the royal shield. Ireland is represented by the harp in one of the quarters and Wales does not feature at all.


Detail of the three flower emblems

If we close in and look at the three flower emblems just above the Dieu et mon Droit, we have the Tudor rose, the thistle and the shamrock, but the Welsh leek doesn’t appear. The heraldic assumption is that Wales is part of England and has been since 1543. (I can feel the shade of my Welsh grandmother looking down disapprovingly.) And the shamrock represents both Northern Ireland as well as the Republic of Eire.     

I’ve always felt that this was, not only unfair, but it doesn’t really represent how things are. Why shouldn’t the Welsh leek – or daffodil, if they prefer - be there? And, whilst I’m sure that every Irish heart loves the shamrock, why shouldn’t Northern Ireland have its own flower as well?


The new emblem of the UK

So, when I visited the Supreme Court last week, I was delighted to see that something has been done about it. The Supreme Court’s new official emblem was designed by Yvonne Holton, Herald Painter at the Court of Lord Lyon in Scotland, and you can’t get more official than that!

The emblem contains four heraldic elements. The Tudor rose, which is a five-petalled dog rose with stalk and leaves. The white rose of York is at the centre and the red rose of Lancaster is outside and it symbolizes the marriage of Elizabeth of York to King Henry VII which brought the Wars of the Roses to an end. 

The reversed rose: it is now a Yorkist rose.

However, if we return to the Buckingham Palace tray for a moment, we note that, just outside the blue garter reading Honi soit qui mal y pense, there are seven small roses; but they are not Tudor roses, instead, they are reversed. The white rose of York is on the outside and the red rose of Lancaster is inside and smaller. The Queen, by birth, is a princess of the house of York as her parents were Duke and Duchess of York, and maybe this explains why the Tudor rose has been replaced.


My Yorkist ear-rings

I happen to own a pair of ear-rings with the same design. They belonged to my mother who was a staunch supporter of Richard III and lived in Yorkshire.
The Queen’s coronation dress detail with embroidered thistles, 1953

Embroidered thistles were one of the symbolic flowers which decorated the Queen's coronation dress and represented not only Great Britain but also the Commonwealth.

The Scottish thistle is traditionally associated with a bare-footed invading Dane who yelled when he stepped on a thistle, thus warning the Scots of the enemy approach. It has to be said that there is no historical evidence for this but it makes a good story. However, a poem, The Thrissel and the Rose, by William of Dunbar to celebrate the marriage of Margaret Tudor and James IV of Scotland in 1503, shows that the association of the thistle with Scotland dated back to the early 16th century.


This is not a Scottish thistle but it’s very decorative

Yvonne Holton has introduced a new emblem which adorns the Supreme Court; the five-petalled blue flax flower now represents Northern Ireland. Flax, from which linen is made, was once a major industry in Northern Ireland, and I think it sits very well with the other heraldic flowers. The philosopher Plato thought that odd numbers were more aesthetically pleasing than even ones, and the heraldic liking for the three-petalled fleur-de-lys and the five-petalled dog-rose seems to bear this out. They fill up the space artistically.

And, at last, the leek gets a look in with the fan of four leek leaves springing out between the rose and the thistle. Personally, I think it looks great – and my Welsh grandmother would have approved. According to a medieval legend, St David ordered his Welsh soldiers to wear leeks on their helmets to distinguish them from the Saxons. 

Personally, I think that Yvonne Holton has produced an emblem which is artistically pleasing, traditional and yet it has a fresh modern look. Well done her.
Elizabeth Hawksley


Saturday, September 03, 2016

Sneak Preview THE DUKE & THE DEBUTANTE by Melinda Hammond

So, September is here, the summer holidays are over and we are looking forward to autumn, with those longer nights when it is lovely to curl up in a chair with a good book (although, to be honest, I can curl up with a good book any time of year!)

So I thought this month I would give you a sneak preview of a revised Georgian Romance that I am publishing on Kindle later this month. The Duke and the Debutante was one of my first historical romances but it is still one of my favourites, the story of spirited Melissa Langham, who crosses swords with the rich and powerful Duke of Aldringham.  They meet in Bath, and I have given below an extract, where they dance together for the first time.  This is the new cover, too, which I hope you like.

          Upon the beat, the duke took her hand and almost from the first steps, Melissa forgot everything except the music. They skipped and gestured, pirouetted and passed each other with grace­ful ease, their steps perfectly aligned. It was exhilarating, to be so at one with a partner and Melissa wondered how it could be that strangers should move so well together. As the courante drew towards its conclusion she found herself wanting to prolong the moment. The last notes died away, they saluted one another and as she rose from her curtsy the duke reached for her hand.
'Will you stay for the minuet?'
Melissa knew she should refuse. She should go back to Lady Fryer, but for the life of her she could not summon up the will to do so. Almost without realizing it she took his proffered hand and remained on the dance floor.
The music swelled and rolled against her senses. Melissa lifted her eyes to the duke's face and could not look away. He circled around her, his intense blue gaze hold­ing her in thrall so that she was only dimly aware of the other couples dancing around them. Her body was no longer her own, it moved and swayed to the same rhythm as her partner's. When he stepped up to her, the white lace on her corsage brushed against his black velvet coat. He led her round, first one way then the other, his eyes never leav­ing her face. She was lost, time stood still, when the dance ended he held her a prisoner with the intensity of his gaze and she did not even notice that the music had ended and made no move to leave.
The musicians struck up again, another minuet, and still they danced. Melissa did not hear the murmurs of disapproval from some of the matrons sitting on the benches, nor did she notice Lady Fryer fidgeting uneasily on the edge of the dancefloor. She was caught in a world outside time, aware only of her part­ner, the sinuous elegance of his movements as they followed the steps of the minuet and the way her own body swayed and circled around him while the lilting music flowed about her. They were like two birds performing some ritual courtship, their bodies expressing a primeval language she barely understood.
The duke took her hand and led her back to their original positions, bowing as the music ended. Melissa curtsied mechani­cally to her partner. She felt dazed, shaken by what had occurred and she looked up, searching his face. There was a smile lurking in his hard eyes, a warmth that was oddly reassuring. It told her he knew exactly what had occurred during the dances and she was about to speak, to ask him to explain what had happened when another voice broke in.
'Well, well, very nice, my dear, but time is pressing. Your aunt mistook the day, there is another engagement. Come along Melissa, I am sure the duke won't ... your servant, your Grace!'
In a flurry of half-finished sentences, Sir Joseph caught Melissa's arm and almost dragged her away. The spell was broken, Melissa looked back to see the duke had not moved from the dancefloor. He was still smiling, but it was not the warm, intimate look they had shared a moment earlier. It was a smile that made a chill shiver run the length of her spine.
'Uncle, what is it?' She struggled to find her voice. 'What has happened, is my aunt ill?'
Trying to collect her scattered wits, Melissa ques­tioned her uncle, but he merely shook his head and hurried her out of the ballroom. Lady Fryer was waiting at the door and turned to follow them. Outside, the cool of the summer night quickly washed away the remains of Melissa's stupor and as Sir Joseph hurried them through the warm streets she pulled her arm free from his grasp, demanding to know what was wrong.
'I'll tell you what is wrong, miss,' declared Sir Joseph furiously, 'you have given every tattlemonger in Bath enough fodder for a month!'
'To dance with only one man all night, and that man the Duke of Aldringham! You are ruined, child, ruined! And you, madam. What were you about to allow Melissa to meet such a man?'
'Indeed I did not know his reputation!' cried Lady Fryer, breathless with the effort of keeping up with her husband. 'Pray you sir, slow your pace, for we are attracting even more unwanted attention by this unseemly haste.'
'Thank God I decided to look in upon you before going on to supper. Heaven knows where it was leading, with the man blatantly seducing the girl in the middle of the dance floor.'
'Is that what he was doing?' she asked, remembering. It had not felt like seduction. More like heaven.
 (c) Melinda Hammond

The Duke & the Debutante will be published on Kindle very shortly, so do look out for it.

Happy Reading!

Melinda Hammond /Sarah Mallory

By Sarah Mallory:
The Outcast's Redemption - pub. Harlequin July 2016