Monday, December 25, 2006

Old Christmas Customs and New Year Wishes

This Christmas edition of my blog has been up here a few days while I celebrate the holidays with my family.

My youngest daughter came home for Christmas from University and along with my older daughter and my husband we dogsat for my brother-in-law, while they went skiing. I made a traditional English Christmas Pudding - eaten with sugar and cream (rich dear, very rich) and of course we had turkey. Goose might have been more normal in earlier times, and I have made at least one. Let me tell you, turkey is fast food by comparison.

I did make my famous bread sauce (Deliah darling), very English and also very fattening. It is delish with Turkey or any other kind of fowl, and also a chestnut stuffing -- to die for. If you are interested in the recipes let me know.

I am readying a New Year post for you, and as promised an article on Regency Fashion that I am sure you will find interesting.

Also coming up will be January Flora and Fauna, and some tid-bits about events during Januaries of the Regencies. In the meantime, I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, or a great holiday season.

I am leaving up the Christmas article for a few days more because after all there are twelve days to Christmas.

The following is a letter, which I have taken the liberty of editing to make it more readable. It was originally printed in The Gentleman’s Magazine December 1832 and written by the Vicar at Scopwick in Licolnshire.

Once again you will see that many of the traditions we hold to today, were in place during the Regency and they were very old then.

At this season the poor and indigent solicit the charitable aid of our more wealthy neighbours, towards furnishing a few necessary comforts to cheer their hearts at this holy but inclement season. Some present them with coals, others with candles, or corn or bread or money. It is a benevolent custom and merits encouragement, although sometimes abused; and it may be traced to a very high antiquity in this island; for the Druids, at the same season of the year, sent people around with a branch of the consecrated mistletoe to proclaim in each dwelling a happy new year; in return for which they expected a small gratuity.

In the day time our ears are saluted with the dissonant screaming of Christmas carols, which the miserable creatures sing who travel from house to house with the Vessel Cup. This is the name given to a small chest, which incloses an image, intended to represent the sacred person of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Some of these vessels contain two figures of different dimensions, to pourtray the Virgin and the infant Saviour. In either case, an apple is introduced, covered with gold leaf. It is reputed unlucky to dismiss the singer without a present. The custom is rapidly falling into disuse.

But Christmas Eve is the time of gaiety and good cheer. The Yule Log blazes on the fire; the Yule Candle burns brightly on the hospitable board, which is amply replenished with an abundance of Yule Cake, cut in slices, toasted and soaked in spicy ale and mince pies, decorated with strips of paste disposed crossways over the upper surface to represent the rack of the stable in which Christ was born; and the evening usually concludes with some innocent and inspiring game.

This next is some information I gleaned from elsewhere
Games such as hoodman blind (one assumes blindsman buff), shoe the wild mare, hot cockles [I have heard my mother-in-law at 94 speak of this, must ask her how it goes], steal the white loaf, bob apple [bobbing for apples no doubt, apples held a special place at Christmas, probably because the fruit would keep until then if stored in a cool attic or cellar] and snapdragon.

Back to our letter

A portion of the Yule Cake must necessarily be reserved for Christmas Day, otherwise, says the superstition, the succeeding year will be unlucky. A similar fatality hangs over the Plum-cake provided for the occasion unless a portion of it is kept till New Years Day. [I must say I did not know this. I will be save a bit of my xmas pud for New Years for sure, this year. I think if you don't know it is bad luck you are fine. But once you find out.......]

If you would like to experience a Regency Christmas you can plan it for next year. The Royal Pavilion in Brighton runs a festive tour and seasonal music in December after hours. Mulled wine and mince pies are followed by a tour of the Pavilion ending in the magnificent Music Room where the Wandering Minstrels will entertain you with traditional and Old Sussex carols. The Jane Austen Centre in Bath also does some interesting things around Christmas.

I think it is time to look at some fashions again. I have lots and lots of plates to share. So that will be my gift to you (and to me). More Regency fashion.

Happy rambles.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Christmas Masquerade

As you will see from the sidebar, my story, Christmas Masquerade is available in time for Christmas. Whew. Now if you live in Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada, you can actually go to the Yonge and Hway #7 Indigo store> It is in the Silver City Parking lot next to the boozer. movies and books and booze, what a great combination!! Anyway, my wonderful local bookstore manager Don, took Holiday in the Heart on consignment. He actually said he might try to put it in an endcap. Now how exciting is that? It really is a lovely book.

And the reviews are great. Check it out on

I do hope you will ramble over to your Amazon store and pick up a copy of this anthology. Twelve heartwarming Christmas stories. If you write to me and tell me you bought it, I will send you the bookmark.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Fiddleford Manor

The nice thing about wandering England, especially when you come from there, is that you can stumble on places that are humble yet somehow beautiful. And those are the places that seem to come alive for me. Probably because I was never ever going to be one of those nobles I love to write about. I was definitely the abigail or the seemstress. You know one of the workerbees.

Dorset, Hardy Country of Tess of the D'Urbeville's fame, is particularly rich in unexpected antiquities. Probably because it is still very rural and as a county, absolutely beautiful. We will see some more of it in future blogs, but let me introduce you to Fiddleford Manor.

No lord would call his house Fiddleford I suspect. This house is fabulous. It dates from the 14th century and from the outside is less than imposing. Until you remember that in the 14th century many people lived in daub and wattle huts. Fiddleford (Fitela’s Ford) has no recorded history, but it was probably built by William Latimer, royal sheriff of Somerset and Dorset, about 1370. Latimer had acquired the Fiddleford estate by marrying the daughter of its previous owner, John Maury, in 1355. A mill at Fiddleford is mentioned as early as 1086. This is a picture of the mill as it is today.

Just for fun I should tell you that nearby is Piddles Wood. Don't you just love those old English names?

But it is the inside of this plain building that makes it so interesting.

Latimer’s private residence was contained in the two-storey cross-wing of the building. This, with its large chamber (solar) on the upper floor and two service rooms (buttery and pantry) below, formed a comfortable house. What you see here is the roof of the solar and a view of the room itself.

Here is a picture of one of the initials of 17th Century owners, a W for White

To it there was attached the great hall which Latimer’s duties as a royal official
made essential. These are some pictures I took of the great hall.

In the 14th century it was essential for a great man to entertain lavishly. The solar and great hall, with their elaborate roofs, represent just the kind of conspicuous expenditure that would be expected of someone who wished to establish himself as a man of authority and means.

And as always, I remind you that this house was lived in during the 19th century, probably though only in one of its later added wings. It was used 600 years ago and 200 years ago by the miller in the time of the Regent. I hope one day to be able to use it in one of my stories. My job will be to paint the above photos in words.

Next day we will continue with another interesting sight to be found in the Dorset countryside.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Regency Flora and Fauna - December

The Naturalists’ Diary December 1826

Darkness and death upon the world are brooding—
The leaves of Autumn rustle, fade, and fall,
The seythe-like wind of Winter sweeps them all;
The gardens have put off their spring-tide dress,
And Nature is in tears,--while ice and snow
And her dull, chilling weeds of lonely woe,
Which to the world her clouding griefs confess.

My that is gloomy sounding isn't it? But since it is a quote from the times, I thought you might like it.

Clearly these folks have never seen a Canadian Winter. My recollections of this time of year in England are rain, grey skies and the odd crunchy frost.

Our diarist does note the beauty of the evergreen trees and their cones, such as firs and pines.

He also talks about the scarlet berries of the common holly. Holly has been used in the past as a herbal for gout, stones and urinary problems, as well as for chronic bronchitis, rheumatism and arthritis.
Caution -: The berries are mildly poisonous and are dangerous to small children.
Holly is an evergreen tree. It can reach a height of 30 foot. It has smooth bark and green branches, which bear alternate dark green, shiny, leathery or waxy, spiny leaves. There is both a male and female of this tree with only the female producing the red berries.

Of course, given the season, no flora and fauna discussion would be complete without a mention of mistletoe. Did you know it is the only native English plant with white berries? No, nor did I. There is a whole website devoted to this beloved parasite. Hmm. Those two words just don't seem to fit together do they?

The Pyrancanthus, with its bunches of fiery berries on its dark green thorny sprays is still a popular bush and not just in England. Tt is a hawthorn and has white flowers in the spring. It is popular with birds and is another plant that has medicinal properties.

Of course at this time of year most of the countryside is resting. The trees are bare, the fields are ploughed into rough furrows and we are all sitting at home beside the fire reading by candlelight. Or we would be if we were living in Regency times.
I haven't decided what to work on for next week.
So I will let it be a surprise.
By the way congratulations to Grace who emailed me with the answer to the question, what is meant by "betting a pony"? As she so rightly pointed out, it is betting twentyfive English pounds. A book is winging its way to Texas and Grace. Congratulations and enjoy.

Until next week -- Happy rambling through Regency England.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

A Country House in Hampshire-Part IV

Mottisfont — the village

I promised to do something on the village near to Mottisfont Abbey. I have to say it was the house that attracted our initial attention, but the tiny village nearby is a treasure.

Imagine being a tenant in a village that belonged to such a grand estate, your whole life bound up in the successes and failures of the lord or the manor. These days it sounds quite romantic, but even in Regency times this was the stuff of honor and duty. A huge reponsibility for those owners of great houses. The Beau Monde has had a great discussion going on these past few days about the meaning of honor and duty. Fascinating topic in today's climate.

This is one of the houses in the village. Several are 15th and 16th century timber frame houses, but this one strikes me as either more modern or renovated. But it was just so pretty and so typical I could not help but take a picture.

Of particular interest to me, as it so often is, was the medieval church of St Andrews. We wandered into the churchyard and took pictures, inside and out. Here they are.

I am not going to comment on these pictures. This is not an era in which I claim any expertise, it was just wonderful to see the plain little church in this tiny hamlet deep in the Hampshire countryside.

I think on Thursay we will return to our regular feature of flora and fauna, since we have just reached the beginning of December. Next week I will take you on another tour. Until next time, happy rambles.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Country House in Hampshire Part II

Mottisfont Abby (Continued)
Well ducks, there is always more to say on a subject than I really have room for, but I promised you some roses.

What I should tell you is that often questions come up - did they have yellow roses then? Woe betide the historical writer if one puts something in a book and you are wrong. Now there is author's licence to tell a story, but you can't get good old facts wrong. Well Mottisfont Abbey proves to be a font of knowledge on the subject of roses.

It was the Empress Josephine, Napolenon's first wife who started an extensive collection of Roses at Malmaison who also started the modern craze for the flower. Here are a couple of examples that might well have been in her garden.

This is Rosa Gallica from a watercolor by Alfred Parsons. It was brought from Persia (Now Iran) to France by the Crusaders and reputed to be the religious emblem of the medes and Persians in the 12th century BC. Its petals retain their fragrance when dried. They were used for conserves and there were industries to make them in Mitcham in Surrey and Provins in France, hence their other names-- Rose of Provins or the Apothecaries' Rose. It is also the Red Rose of Lancaster.

The yellow rose is Rosa hemispherica or The Sulphur Rose. So now I can happily put yellow roses in my books because this one was known before 1625. See what I mean about characters in one era also being awed by what they saw, much as we in awe today?

True crimson roses came from China in the 1800s as hybrids. So, my dear, no matter what color I choose for the roses in my Regency books, I know I am safe. Do I have roses in any of my books? Well, I do have a story in mind in which my heroine is interested in gardens, so this information might well come in handy. And there is nothing wrong with the scene that has any hero scattering rose petals on the bed!!!!

I thought you might also enjoy this vew of the Pergola in the grounds of Mottisfont. Gorgeous is the only word I can think of. My guess is that this picture was taken in June.

I promised you a rose garden (hmm sounds like the lyrics of a song). I also promised a visit to the nearby Mottisfont village,a typical estate village that would have grown up first near the priory and later be supported by the "big house", but alas we have run out of time after our extended walk through the rose garden, so I will save that delight for Monday.

Happy rambling.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Country House in Hampshire

I did promise you some of my rambles when I started this blog. Of course, when I go to England, I enjoy a variety of sights, and many of them not strictly Regency. As you know, many of the sights to be seen in England, Scotland and Wales were there hundreds of years before my heros and heroines walked the earth. These were places they would have seen with the same kind of awe we look at them today.

In June 2004 I visited some “stately” homes and some very interesting old buildings

I thought I might undertake a little series on that summer’s research. I will save my notes on flora and fauna for June’s Blog though you get some idea from my pictures.

Our first visit is to Mottisfont Abbey in Hampshire.

This house lies on the west bank of the River Test near the Norman Road from Winchester to Salisbury. Winchester was the original capital city of England under the Saxon Kings and Salisbury, as you know is famous for its medieval cathedral. I will ramble there one day soon.

The name Mottisfont comes from the the old English motes funta – meaning either ‘spring near the confluence’ long word that which refers to meeting place, or it means ‘spring near the stone’. In either case, there is a spring. It really was an abbey before Henry the eighth got at it, and since that time the house has been “adapted” — according to the guide book. A polite way of saying ‘got at’.

It is an absolutely charming mish-mash of absolutely ancient, really old, and not quite as old but pretty old.
As you can see in this picture, that stone arch at the back of the house definitely looks more priory than house, whereas the red brick at the front looks tudor and the rendering (plaster over the bring) on the wings on each side is clearly Georgian and at one time extended across the whole front of the house, according to a painting done in 1833.

There’s a big thing in England about gardens, and this one has a beauty, but for me the interest is all in the house and the people that might have lived there, or that could live there in one of my novels.
This stream, replete with swans and other water fowl such as coots and moorhens, runs a few steps from the side of the house. Look at that lovely green grass.

In 1086 the manor of Mottisfont belong to William the Conqueror, him who had the domesday book written and that is how we know about so much of the really old stuff. It was turned into a priory in the eleventh century, which was dissolved in 1536.
This picture shows the 'cellarium'. It is the most complete part of the medieval monastic buildings to survive and was the office and storeroom of the cellarer and the undercroft of the prior's lodgings. The cellarer was responsible for running all the priory's lands as well as for its provisions. The circular columns supporting the groined vault (that beautiful roof/ceiling) are made of limestone brought from Caen in Normandy. Here is a picture of my husband in that cellarium and a shot of the little door that leads into the house itself.

I love the mix of the medieval, with the sophisticated taste of Tudor era, the Georgian additions and the 19th and 20th century modernizations.

This last picture is of a laundry press circa 1810, it sits on the tiled floor that was also part of the original tudor kitchen.

The house was used as a home until 1972, although the National Trust owned it by that time.

The house has an extensive Rose Garden and the Guidebook provides some interesting insights into the history of roses, which I will cover on Thursday, before we take a look at the nearby village.

Until next time happy rambles.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


What has Casablanca to do with the Regency? I attended the Robert McKee workshop “Story” on the weekend, the reason my blog fell by the wayside (rambling pun intended).

What a grueling event. Grueling to the body and to the mind. Obviously I am not going to give you the inside scoop on the workshop. McKee would probably take me by the thumbs and hang me from the buttress of the nearest castle. But I would like to share some of my insights and emotions why they are still fresh.

By the by, if you are a writer and are thinking about taking this workshop, McKee is no charismatic god. He runs his workshop the way a sergeant runs his barracks. At any moment I expected one of the recipients of his wisdom to be told to “get down and give me twenty”.

At least one person was ejected for talking. And others paid money, when their phones rang during the talk. And I was supremely grateful. There is nothing worse that paying hundreds of dollars to listen to a speaker and hearing nothing but the opinionated a**h*** behind you. Okay, so some of McKee rubbed off on me.

McKee’s delivery is peppered with in-your-face anglo-saxon language and his voice is harsh and rasping. After 11 hours of listening, it stays in your head like a headache. I think it is called brain washing.

Halleluiah!!!! Isn’t that what you want when you come out of a workshop—for it to stay in your head? I do and did.

And you could hear a pin drop. 11 hours for three days and you could hear a pin drop.

What did I as a writer get out of this event? I think I reached a higher level of understanding not only of my craft and those insights were as wonderful as they were devastating, (I have so much work to do) but of my responsibility and my place in the world as a writer.

This is a blog. I do not plan to write a thesis here. However, here is one revelation I had.

Communication. Writers communicate ideas through story, be that story played out on film and on the page. Film is visual, and boy did I learn about that this past weekend. As McKee says, novels are much easier, you can actually write down what the protaginist is thinking and get away with it.

Communication is a huge thing today, isn’t it? Huge. We are all communicating around the world. WRONG. It is an integral part of our humanity that we communicate with each other; we meet and greet, send forth our ideas and nowadays they can be picked up around the world in a flash. WRONG. The world has become small because of the ease of communication. Again I would say WRONG

Our world has almost stopped communicating. Go to the grocery store. What do you see, people walking around the store with a phone to their ear? Are they not communicating?
Remember how it used to be? You chatted to the check out person, you smiled at fellow shoppers. You met people. Does the person on the phone even see you? No. They are inward looking and talking to one person. The one person they know. The half a dozen people they know. They are shrinking inside themselves to an ever-smaller circle of people with whom to communicate.

And the internet. Are we communicating with people? No. We are simply passing along other people’s jokes and views of life. We are not connecting.

If a person reads your book, are you communicating and connecting? I would say yes. You are in that person’s head for a while as they live though your characters. They meet the people you introduce to them. They hear other ideas and formulate their own. And on the printed page, your printed page, they do it over and over again, hundreds of them, if they read it more than once, or they pass it to a friend. How many years has Shakespeare been communicating with everyone in the world? Not that I think I am Shakespeare. But I doubt that Shakespeare thought he was Shakespeare either. Or that Dickens thought he was Dickens. Do you think? Now that is a leading question.

I sincerely hope that this workshop makes me a better writer for the benefit of my readers, because being a writer is an extraordinary privilege and a heavy burden. It seems that we are charged to keep the “ITY” in human. (Humanity)

Do I recommend this workshop? Yes. I do.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Flora and Fauna of Regency Britain - November

I called my mum on Sunday. Well of course that's nothing new. I call her every Sunday. She lives in England and I live in Canada, and we keep in as close contact as we can. One of the things I wanted to talk to her about was my topic. After all, how much easier can it get, ask the person who lives there.

She was tellling me that the climate is definitely changing, though. And that will have a huge impact on wildlife and trees. She just happened to be watching a program on the Caerngorms and they were talking about the lack of snow. So it pays to be careful when doing research, even about something as simple as nature. Things change.

I talked a bit about the weather on Friday. Here is some stuff about the natural world for November from the Naturists Diary of the times:


This is, usually, a wet, cold and gloomy month; storms of wind and rain confine us to the house, and admonish us in the morning to
seek amusement in the well-furnished library or museum, and to devote our evenings to music and the charms of intellectual society.

The Virginia-creeper has now a very rich and beautiful appearance. Mushrooms are collected inabundance in this month. The congregating of small birds, which was noticed as commencing in October, still continues; and the long-tailed
titmouse is seen in troops in the tall hedge rows. The stock-dove, one of the latest winter birds of passage, arrives from more northern regions towards the end of this month.

Moles now make their nests, where they lodge during the winter, and which are ready for depositing their young in the spring.Moles do not hibernate but remain active day or night all year long. During the winter, the mole will continue its quest for food deep below the frost line.

I had planned to give you a picture of a rookery, to show the similarity between those nests and the slums of London at this time. There was a rookery in the trees outside one of the houses I lived in as a child.

Guess what? Rooks seem to be rare. I will keep looking for a picture, and when I find one, I will post it. In the meantime, think about our birds. They really are on the decline.

This is my ramble for November, together with my post on the weather last week.

Thursday, we are going to look at some more clothing.

After that, would you like to look at some houses? Do say yes.

Happy rambles.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Flora and Fauna of Regency England --- Not Quite

Ok I know I promised, but I thought I would do a little bit on weather first. After all, if you are imagining nothing but rain, then the pictures are going to be different than if you are imagining hot sunny days.

Actually if you are imagining hot sunny days, you are not in Regency England. But, England's climate is temperate, neither really hot or cold. Further north in the hills they get snow, but in the South and West it is always a surprise. I do have a snowstorm in my Christmas story Christmas Masquerade, which takes place on Bodmin Moor, but that winter was during what has come to be known as the mini ice age in 1814 when the Thames froze and a frost fair was held.

But back to November. The leaves are just about off the trees, the children celebrate Guy Fawkes Day on November 5, by collecting pennies for their "guy" to burn on the bonfire and to buy fireworks. Remember, remember the fifth of November. Gunpowder, treason and plot.

Nights draw in. England is quite far north and days are very short leading to the equinox only 9 hours between sunrise and sunset.

Mornings are foggy and nights are frosty and yes, there is rain. There are also severe gales in November, because England is an island in the Atlantic.

Monday, we will ramble through the November countryside. I promise.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

How do Writers Get Ideas

It is my turn to post on the Titlewave Blog. You know the American Title II sisters. I thought that rather than post here, you might like to check out what I have to say over there, and find out what the American Title Sisters have been up to recently. Don't look for us to let any cats out of the bag for American Title III.
We will not talk--- yet.
Happy rambles. I will do a Flora and Fauna for November on Thursday.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Rambles in Regency Quebec City Huh?

As I mentioned in my last post, today we are in Quebec City for a conference. We took the train from union station. What a leisurely way to travel. I am sure that if I wrote Victorians all my protegenists would travel by train. We decided to travel first class because even at that it was cheaper than flying and in both cases we had to change in Montreal.
We had a delicious meal (on both trains) wine, elegant service and wonderful scenery. I would highly recommend it, if you have an extra day to spend travelling.
While it rained on and off all the time we were travelling, yesterday was sunny and bright, although the wind was a teeny bit nippy round the ears.
Our hotel is right at the edge of the old city, so we walked through the medieval gate.

During the 17th et 18th centuries, Qu├ębec City was the centre of New France and its enormous territory. At the time, this «empire» covered all of what is known today as Eastern Canada, the Eastern United States, the Great Lakes and Louisiana, extending from Hudson's Bay in the North to Florida in the South.

Many of the original houses burned down in mid 1700's but as you can see they were rebuilt in typical French style. Probably one of the oldest in North America, and very proud of it's heritage. It is an enchanting city. There is no other word for it. We continued our walk past the Chateau Frontenac, you can see it high on the hill in this picture, it is a huge world famous hotel over looking the St Laurence River, and walked up to the bastion.
It is an enourmous fort, mostly built by the British after the famous battle on the Plains of Abraham, and extended to protect first against the Americans and then against the ambititions of Napoleon.

Ah. Success. Here is my tie in to the Regency, and of course my downfall. More research. As we walked along the walls above the city, the wind whipping icy fingers against our faces and the sun warming our shoulders, I imagined some handsome soldier hero looking out over the river and ...
I will leave that story for another day.
We will be here until Sunday.
Happy rambles.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Regency Fashion Part III

This week I am off to Quebec city with dh.
I did promise some fun stuff today, I thought you might like to see some of the outer wear and some accessories.

This is an 1810-1820's spencer. A short jacket designed to be worn over those high waisted dresses. I must say, it seems to make perfect sense.
The next photo is a bonnet, straw, obviously. This one was used in the BBC version of Pride and Predjudice. I don't think you can beat the BBC for accuracy of costuming, so I don't hesitate to include it, since it is such a nice picture.

This is fun, a gown especially designed for archery, one of the few sports permitted for noble ladies.

A red wool cloak from about 1810

And the famous reticule, sometimes called a ridicule.

Ladies shoes from 1800. Pretty and both feet the same. You had to wear them in to fit each foot.

A man's hat

This is a cartoonists impression of French fashions in the 1800's. They are not much different that today, are they?

And this a cartoon of dressing the dandy. It is very well know, but we Regency afficionados have to remember that even in their day, people did not take this stuff terribly seriously.

While I am happy rambling in Quebec, I am sure you will have your own wanderings. I will not be back on Thursday, but will try to post.
Not sure what will take my fancy. I will be looking at some ordinary folks clothing next week.
Best wishes.