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.