Wednesday, January 31, 2007

More Regency Shopping

As you may have noticed, my blog changed colors and some of my links went on their own little ramble. I will get it all back together, but I hope you will be patient while I figure out new blogger.

I love books. I can't pass a bookstore without looking in. Hatchards is a very special bookshop in London. Opened in 1797 by John Hatchard at No. 173 Piccadilly it still exists at No. 187. I have posted a picture of Piccadilly as it was then looking down Air Street, and a picture I took of Hatchard's myself two summers ago.

In Regency times, bookshops were social places not only to browse the shelves, but to read newspapers by the fire and chat to friends. Byron is known to have popped into Hatchard's from time to time and most of my heroines always visit at least once in my stories. There were benches outside for the customers' servants. They were booksellers to Queen Charlotte and still hold the Royal Warrant.

This is a bookshop called the Temple of the Muses at Finsbury Square. By the Regency it was owned by Jones and Company. It is just such a beautiful interior. And I think it demonstrates the social nature of bookshops. Isn't it interesting that places like Chapters here in Canada and I believe others in the U.S. have added coffee shops to their bookstores and places to sit. What goes around comes around. Not everything in the old days was bad.

Did you know that they had libraries in the Regency? They were quite the thing and very popular. One of the most well known is Hookham's Lending or Circulating Library on Old Bond Street. Sadly I have been unable to locate a picture for you. I think you can imagine it much like the interior above, perhaps without the upstairs.
These are only a sample of the bookshops and booksellers of the time, but they serve to illustrate what they would have looked like.

Since we are talking about books today, I did want to remind you about The Regency Reader, a monthy newsletter from The Beaumonde which lists all of the Regency books out each month and adds a couple of articles for interest. I would love to see you on the list because I am editing the newsletter this year. You can subscribe by following the link. Or sending an email to

Next week is the beginning of February, so we will do our usual beginning of the month features - Regency flora and fauna for February, and then February fashions, which will also be featured on my website. If you want to see more of January there, be quick, because a new page will go up.

In the meantime, happy rambles.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Regency London - Shopping

I watched Jayne Ayre on PBS tonight, after I watched Rome. I feel like a glutton, but I deserved it. I worked hard on revisions for my editor for the last two days, and I needed to be drawn into another world. Both of these programs certainly did that for me, but of course Rome is a series so I will be watching it for weeks. Polo (not sure how you spell it) but Verinas’s friend, talks just like our friend Derek the winemaker, looks a bit like him too. I really like his character. At the moment, I am not too drawn to any of the women, though they are fascinating, they are not very likeable. Interesting thought that.

Anyway, I was trying to think where to go next with the blog. We will have our regular features at the beginning of the month. But since London and its ton are the center of most Regencies. I thought we might focus the great Wen for a while although next novel features London very little. However, the great metropolis is and was the center of commerce and politics in Britain, to be ignored at your peril.

But where to start?

Gentlemen’s club’s we did. So what do you want? Where would any good English lady of the aristocracy start. I know!!! Shopping.

The streets of London offered everything you can think of , but a list would be dull and dry so I will try to provide some pictures of a selection of them. There were also street vendors, so you will get to see some of them, and then of course the great markets, Billingsgate, Covent Garden, Smithfield. Lots to see. Put on your walking shoes.

This is what the insider of a drapers shop might look like. At Harding and Howell in Pall Mall pictured here they stocked furs, fans, silks, muslins, lace, gloves etc, jewelry, ormolu, perfumery and millinery and dresses, the latter would most likely have been made to order from those fashion plates that we look at each month.

Rundell and Bridge on Ludgate Hill were silversmiths, by order of his Majesty the King and also to the Prince Regent. Here you would stock up with candelabra and trays and teaservices and of course those beautiful snuff boxes we always here about. It sounds so elegant in novels, but in real life I think snuff is kind of nasty. I can remember the odd old gentleman taking snuff in my youth, but I haven’t see it for years. Below is a very elegant silver snuff box.

And what could be better than a visit to a tea shop after hours of choosing your latest outfits or setting your table in style.

And the place to go was Gunter’s Teashop in Berkely Square. Gunter's was a confectioners, centered on the East side of Berkeley Square. It became one of the most fashionable Mayfair rendezvous because it so well catered to the custom of a gentleman taking a lady for a drive in his open carriage.

The ton flocked to Gunter's to enjoy his ices and sorbets. Yes, that is right ice cream. I even learned of a famous icecream maker in Paris, a Neapolitan whom Napoleon brought to France.

The practice of eating the confections outside in the Square developed and waiters were obliged to dodge across the road taking and carrying their orders. Gunter's Tea Shop was the only establishment where a lady could be seen eating alone with a gentleman who was not a relative without harming her reputation. The ladies would remain seated in the carriages in the shade of the Maples. Their gentlemen escorts would step down from their equipages and come round to the passenger side of the curricle or barouche and lean against the Square's railings sharing the lady's company and the treat.

A medley of superb Georgian ices on an eighteenth century English glass salver. Front - from left to right - bergamot water ice and punch water ice. Back - left to right - royal cream ice, chocolate cream ice, burnt filbert cream ice and parmesan cream ice. It all sounds delicious and I even have detailed instructions on how to make them.

Well, we have only just started on our tour of London shops, but that is quite enough for one trip. More later in the week.

Happy rambles.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

An Intriguing Manor House in Kent

Whenever I travel to England, we always go to Kent. It is where I met my husband and where he grew up. Strangely enough, my father was born in Kent, at Dover, so it was almost like coming home, when my family returned to that county after many years of traveling throughout England.
The last time I was there, I discovers Ightham (pronounced eyetam) Mote. The above pictures are from the National Trust Website. As you can see the house is surrounded by water, in fact a moat just like a castle. This was common in medieval times, when fierce knights and outlaws roamed the land. the house is located in the picturesque village of Ightam near Sevenoaks. You get to it down a narrow (one car wide) winding country lane overhanging with trees. It feels like time travel into the past.
To our dismay, the day we went it was closed, but we were able to wander around outside. I was so taken with the house I could not help taking photos and learning a bit of it's history. It will definitely make an appearance in a novel. It is soooo romantic. I will make sure to go back another day and you will get many more pictures. I adore this house.

This is my shot of the bridge to the front door. The green on the water is a pretty water weed, not scum. :) Look at the crenelated tower, just right for firing arrows at the bad guys. Of course, who knows, the bad guy might be inside with the poor benighted heroine. You can make up your own story.

The builder of Ightham Mote is apparently unknown, but the first known owner was Sir Thomas Cawne (c1360 -1374). See that? 700 years old. My spine is tingling. And people lived in it during the Regency. Oh my fingers are twitching with a story to fit this gorgous house. This house will be a character all by itself.

It is the most complete small medieval manor house in the country.

I am not going to say too much about it in this post, but I hope I can share some of my excitement, and I will have more information on it after my next visit.
But look at this! Can you guess what it is? Of course we historical writers are always having our handsome heros leap aboard their horses, but not everyone could leap and certainly not our heroines in long skirts.
It is of course an ancient mounting block. Er.... I think. I could not get through the fence to read the information on that board there.
So it could be the steps to a door. But I really want it to be a mounting block.
I will let you know, after my next visit.
You can see some of the gardens in the background and the high hedges and the wonderful stone wall that is so typical of houses in England, even today people put walls around their gardens. An Englishman's home is definitely his castle.
This is the back of the house. Look at those Tudor chimneys. Have you ever seen such a broad chimney. I am just rubbing my hands together thinking about getting inside that place.
And what about those timbered walls. By the way, we were there in June, look at that lovely blue sky and the puffy clouds.

The next two photos are pictures of the countryside behind the house, fields and woods. Again, it looks as if it might have appeared all through those seven hundred centuries. The farming methods would have been different, but the shape of the land and the feel of it has not changed one bit.

I hoped you enjoyed this little ramble. I promise there is more to come. Next week, I am going to start a series on something I mentioned earlier this week -- the Theatre.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Regency Entertainment

What did those Regency folk do for entertainment. There was no TV. Music played a big part in people's lives then as it does now, but there were no cd's or radios or ipods. They had to make their own music. They would use everything from a tin whistle to full scale orchestras and of course their own voices.

In my forthcoming book "No Regrets" my hero and heroine attend a musicale evening at a Parisian drawing room. While they have a professional opera singer, the guests are also expected to entertain.

Young ladies would often play the pianoforte or the harp.

Reading was an option, often a family would sit together in the drawing room beside the fire and one member would read while the others sewed, or simply listened. Reading was an art, unless one wished to put the listeners to sleep and sneak out for a quick slap and tickle with the eager swain.

Big country houses would be expected to provide all kinds of entertainment, from billiards, shown here, to amateur theatricals, where all the guest would take a part. These were private performances, and considered a little risque, since actors and actresses were considered a little on the low side, definitely not haute monde or ton.

But there is no doubt that the theatre, both in London and the cities around the country, were relied on for entertainment for all walks of life in the Regency. Below is a picture of Drury Lane Theatre. It still exists today. As does Covent Garden. Pantomime and other more vulgar forms of entertainment were also popular.

Card parties were another form of entertainment that took place at home, and not just in those gentlemen's clubs we are always so fond of talking about. All members of society played cards, and not always for high stakes.

But best of all were the balls and parties. Dancing. And the men always danced. Or at least most of them did. Can you imagine a world where nearly all men enjoyed dancing. It sounds like heaven to me.

Until next time, Happy Rambles.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Regency Public Transportation

It seems hard to imagine a world where there are no buses, or trains or planes, doesn’t it? A trip from England to North America could take a very long time on a sail ship. A trip from London to Dover, a scant 50 miles, just over a hundred clicks to you Canadians and Europeans, took all day by carriage. I can recall in my teens popping down to Dover and back from the outskirts of London for a meal of Dover sole.

It also took a good few days to get to Gretna Green in Scotland, in case any of you were thinking of eloping, apparently the roads were very bad. You can read a little about this in my novel "No Regrets" coming out in November.

So the rich people had those gorgeous carriages we looked at on Monday, but what about the regular folk, the farmers and business men, the maids going home to visit their families. Well there were several kinds of vehicles.

The mail coach was one way to get around. They did not take a great many passengers. Their job was to deliver the mail. But they did have room for inside and on top and they were really the fastest mode of public transport because they had set routs, set times for arrival and departure and they did not have to stop at the toll gates, if you remember from Monday.

Mail coaches were painted maroon below and black above with red wheels and undercarriage. The royal arms appear on the door and the royal monogram is on each side below the driver’s box. The stars of the senior orders of chivalry (#159) were painted on the four upper quarters, garter, thistle, bath, and St. Patrick. The mail locker carried the route designation on the back, with the coach number on either side. Mail coaches carried at most seven passengers – four inside, one next to the coachman, and two on a roof bench just behind the coachman. The passengers’ limited luggage was stored in the compartment below the driver. The guard sat at the back (#160) in a single seat lined with bearskin for warmth. It was deliberately fastened to the coach with iron rods that transmit every bump and sway, so no guard would become so comfortable that he fell asleep.

There were also private companies that ran stagecoaches. These were also quite efficient by the Regency, when the roads were in a much better state of repair than they had been in earlier Georgian times. It was collecting money at the tollgates that made this possible. Stage coaches also kept to schedule, though they moved slower than the mail, in part because they had to stop at every tollgate, in part because they were more heavily loaded than a mail coach, in part because they were extremely top-heavy and prone to overturning if they cornered too fast, but mostly because they usually stopped for the night – stages often had financial ties to coaching inns, so only express coaches ran at night. This stagecoach is going up a steep incline, so all the passengers have to get out and walk

However, these were only the main roads. There were still lots of cart-tracks and country lanes with ruts in the hot weather and muddy quagmires deep enough to swallow a carriage in the rainy weather. And once in a while there was snow to contend with. My story, Christmas Masquerade, involves a heroine stuck in the snow. I may have mentioned that before, but you know this blog is about me and I am a writer, so live with it. (that was me been Miss Snark for a sentence.)

Other forms of public transportation were hackney carriages, used only in Town and primarily in London. Of course, you could still call a sedan chair. This would have suited some of the older generation. Can you imagine having to carry people around in a box. Looks a bit too much like a coffin for me.

In the country, there were wagons on which you could buy a seat. Not very comfortable, but not very expensive either. This is a freight waggon in the snow. Look at the little lantern on the side. Great headlights!

Some people who lived on the coast might catch a ship to make their journey to England.

Well, I’ve run out of time, and we have only scratched the surface. But I hope you had fun on our Ramble.

Seen you Monday. I think I will do some timelines as an added bonus, but not sure about my theme. I will think about it on the weekend, unless you have a request. No promises, mind you. It depends what I have access to.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Regency Transportation

Ok, did you guess what the above picture had to do with transportation? When we were in England in the summer we took a drive from Hampshire to the coast. We meandered across country through Dorset and found ourselves in Dorset. Hardy country to be exact, the area around Sturminster also known as the Vale of Blackmoor. It is a beautiful spot and is of course where Thomas Hardy lived and set many of his novels. Interestingly enough, he used different names for all the towns and villages in his novels, but apparently never minded identifying them. Anyway, we found the above building quite by chance and pulled over to take a look.

If you were to look more closely at what the notice board says, it is a list of prices.

Coaches 4 1/2 D

Horse, mule, waggon, wain, frame cart, dray 4D

Droves of oxen, cows, calves per score 10D

Swine per score 5D

Every Ass 1D

It goes on to talk about wheel sizes as "at the soles"

Translation: D refers to pence, 12 in one shilling. Droves would be a herd on the hoof

If you guess that this is a tollgate, you were correct. it is the Horsington Turnpike Gate now on the side of A357. I never imagined them quite like the hexagonal building you see here. And this is how it would look in the Regency. Did you read Georgette Heyer’s novel The Tollgate the hero discovers an unattended gate and stops to man it for a while. He uncovers all kinds of secrets and a future wife. It is a charming book.

As you can see from above a tollgate was a significant structure and everything using the road had to pay a toll according to wheel size for a vehicle or according to the type of animal (if it was on the hoof) in order to pay for the upkeep of the road. It had to be manned day and night, and so the gatekeeper lived in the gate.

Here are some pictures of other tollgates. These are in London. The first is Hyde Park and the Second Tyburn. Look at the Tyburn Tollgate, it is very similar to my picture of the gate from Dorset.

The mail coaches traveled the toll roads free of charge so the post horn call was sounded to alert tollgate keepers to immediately open the gate under the pain of a 40 shilling fine should they fail. Members of the Royal Family, soldiers in uniform, parsons on parish duties, funeral processions and prison carts were also exempt from tolls. Had to be some advantage to being carted off to prison I suppose. I doubt that any prisoner would be willing to pay to open the gate.

Here are some of the vehicles which you will read about in my novels and I have provided some pictures of some of them. As always there is not enough room.

Barouche--a four-wheel fancy carriage with a fold-up hood at the back and with two inside seats facing each other. It was the fancy carriage of the first half of the 19th century.

Berlin--A big four-wheel carriage with a hood.

Curricle--A two-wheel carriage that was fashionable in the early 1800s. It was pulled by two horses and deemed sporty by the younger set.

Gig--A two-wheel vehicle intended for single-horse driving by an owner.

Landau--Open, fancy carriage with four wheels with a hood at each end and two seats opposite each other. It was popular in the first half of the 19th century. Two horses pulled the landau.

Phaeton--A light four-wheel carriage with open sides and drawn by one or two horses.

There was also a high perch phaeton, a very dashing vehicle as shown below. Now that is my kind of carriage!!!

Post-chaise — A chaise used with rented horses (see "post"). The postchaise was always yellow and was sometimes referred to as "a yellow bounder." It was controlled by a postillion riding one of the horses.

Well, that is all from me tonight. I hope you enjoy this little peek into Regency travel. Of course we did not talk about public transportation. I will save that for Thursday.
We have a little snow at the moment, but even though the weather may not be the best wherever you are, I still wish you, as always, Happy Rambles.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

English Country House - The Vyne

I promised you a house today. I think I have mentioned more than once that my dear old mum lives in Hampshire. I worry about her a lot. She is all by herself. Fortunately, she loves to visit old places with us when we are there and she has lots of good friends nearby. But still I worry.

My mum lives in the heart of one of the most historical parts of England, bordering on Dorset and Wiltshire and near Marlborough Downs. Salisbury and its cathedral is a local shopping center for her, and so is Winchester. Did you know that in the time of William the Conqueror, Winchester was the capital of England. Our kings were crowned there. I will take you to Winchester and Salisbury on another occasion. But as you can see, when I say in my biography that I go home every year to steep myself in the past, you really can’t help it.

Of course, this is not a travelogue. I don’t organize it in any way that you dear reader could follow in my footsteps. I leap from lily pad to rock, landing on whatever takes my fancy. Today I thought we would visit The Vyne and since this house is in Hampshire, we went there with mum. Which is why my introduction.

The house dates back to Tudor times. Little remains of the original Tudor house, it has been updated over the centuries. I love writing that. Updated over the centuries. Imagine. This house was lived in when Henry the VIII, the fat one with all the wives, walked the earth. In fact, his chamberlain, William, first Lord Sandys built the first house.

It passed into the Chute family in 1653, who owned it, renovated it from time to time and then handed it over to the National Trust in 1956.

As usual, I harken back to my reminder, that this house was not built during the Regency, but people of the Regency walked in these rooms, lived their lives in these rooms and in some cases ruined these rooms. Wellington was known to have been a guest of the Chutes in 1817 and after, since he lived nearby.

The Vyne is a charming mishmash of periods. It has a Tudor chapel not seen anywhere outside Royal Palaces. It has a 16th century stained glass window, in all its glory and
it has a fine example of linen fold paneling – paneling carved to look like fabric.

The pictures that are scattered through the blog are things that can be seen today that would have been in situ as my builder husband would say, in the Regency. Please note, that Some of the shots are taken by me – those outside, the inside are culled from the guide book.

I finish with a favorite picture, taken by me in the Spring. Bluebells in a sun-dappled copse that we discovered as we drove around the outskirts of the estate. We saw a deer jumping through wheat on one side of the road and bluebells on the other, with black pheasant running around amongst the flowers.

Enjoy and happy rambles. Next time I think I will take you to an interesting little edifice that I found in Dorchester.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

January Flora and Fauna

When icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipp'd and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-who, a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

William Shakespeare – Love’s Labor’s Lost

Not sure if the bard wrote that about January, but it was close. I feel sorry for poor old greasy Joan, but I really like the line – “and milk comes frozen home in the pail”. It actually reminds me of my childhood when we would find come downstairs in the morning and find the cream on the top of the milk frozen and already pushing the silver or gold top up above the rim of the bottle like a little ice cream. Woe betide the person that thought to eat it though. My poor mum had enough trouble competing with the blue-tits (see picture) who just loved to eat or drink the milk at the top of the bottle, if you left it on the doorstep for too long. Sigh. That was when the milkman delivered milk in glass bottles. Can you imagine it being delivered in a pail?

Enough memory lane, my dears. But clearly one of the fauna one would see in January was the blue-tit.

Actually, while January is not and was not the coldest month, it is one of the barest. Very little to be seen at all unless, like my dear friend the naturalist from the 1820'2, whose diary I dive into to bring you some of these gems, you go digging about under trees with your penknife to scoop up bits of moss and find insects beetling about in there.

Nope. Not doing that. But let's take a look and see what else he tells us. Oh, but we can put the owl down as a possible, for Shakespeare mentions him. Do we assume he was accurate in his research or do you think that was poetic licence? This is a picture of tawny owl and is the owl that goes tuwit tuwoo. This owl is very common in England. He would feed at night on such things as voles and mice as they ferret about looking for those bugs hiding in the moss.

One of the birds he mentions is a throstle. I think we have had him before. He is actually what we now are more likely to call a song thrush. He mentions quite a few other birds that winter over in England, apparently they live on the gnats which are on the snow near the water. He also mentions a favorite of mine, the wren. This particular wren is know as the winter wren and it is the only wren not found in the New World. This particular picture was painted in 1826. How apropos my dears.

Another creature that one might see in the countryside was the fox. He would stand out beautifully in the snow, with that gorgeous red coat and his brush trailing behind him.
I am not going to talk about the hunting part, anymore than I am going to talk about the bugs. My sister-in-law has a fox come and visit her house once in a while. She leaves food for them, just to sit and watch them for a moment or two. Fascinating. Did you know there is a television program in England called “Fox watch”? or there was. You could sit and watch a field and a couple of bushes for 24 hours a day in the hopes of seeing a fox walk past. Fascinating stuff. We English like our wildlife, ducks.

The naturalist says that there’s not much growing, so probably the only green things are evergreens such as pine trees and yews, and holly and of course the remains of the hips and the hawes, if the birds haven’t eaten them yet.

Talking of Yews, in Regency times, lambing started in January. I love baby lambs. We used to see them all the time, running in the fields with their long tails wriggling as they tried to con mum into a bit more food. I lived in the Outer Hebrides as a child and we actually looked after a motherless lamb for a while. We used to get up every morning to give it a bottle of milk This picture is of a highland ewe and her lamb painted by Richard Ansdell in the 1870's. Not the Regency I know, but too too beautiful to resist

Well, it’s a bit nippy, so that is enough rambling for one day I think.

Monday we will take a look at another country house, I think. Of course it will depend on the weather.

Happy Rambles.

Monday, January 1, 2007

First-footing! And What did People Wear in January in the Regency?

May all your first-footers (the first person over your doorstep after midnight on January 1st) be tall dark and handsome and carrying a lump of coal. For in Scotland and other regions in the North of Engand, where the ancient customes of New Years were more likely to be celebrated than they were in Regency London. A first-footer as described above would bring you all the luck you needed for the following year. On the other hand a first footer who was of ugly demeanor might bring you a whole year's worth of bad luck! It certainly brings to mind the possibility for an interesting meeting for a story. :) The picture is of Edinburgh, but from the dress, it is from the Victorian period. However, my guess is that it did not change much over the years.

What is in Store for the coming year.

I promised you some fashions. I have a Christmas gown I wanted to share with you, then I though I would focus on January fashions across the Regency. In fact, I will do fashions by month throughout the year. I will post a few here, blogging does not allow for more, and more on my website. Later in the week we will have January Flora and Fauna as usual and each week I thought I might post some interesting dates for the month - from the long Regency - or maybe even the Georgian era, there is just so much fascinating stuff during this period.
As you can tell, I have been making some new year's resolutions that involves this blog. Enjoy the result.

Christmas 1818. Don't you just love the fur trim and those stripes! Note also the belling of the skirt as we move later into the regency. The dog now, I'm not sure about. Might be a pomeranian. I did take a workshop on dogs in the Regency and that is about as close as I can come. If you have a better idea..... Let me know.

Below is January 1805. Note the high waists and straight lines from early in the Regency, and the fur muff. Yes, dear I said muff. It is the big fluffy thing the first girl is holding. You put your hands inside to keep your fingers warm. I had one as a child and they still show up in the fashion mags from time to time. But you can guess why the meaning might have become salacious over time lol. Also remember that England is never really cold (or hot), and while Jack Frost might nip your fingers and toes, he would rarely give you frost bite. However, there was a mini ice age going on during this era and the Winter of 1813-1814 was cold enough to freeze the Thames as far down as London.

January 1818, A mourning outfit - a walking cloak in full morning and an evening dress that represents half mourning. It is actually quite stunning.

Here is a delightful cartoon from the era, not quite sure of the year, but you can imagine that she is replying to the Happy New Year of some passing gentleman. And look at the pattens on her feet, the little raised wooden slats that were tied on over shoes or boots to keep them out of the wet, mud and snow.

Regency Timelines
Dear Rambler, you will see that I select what appeals to me as a writer.
January 6 1804 - Twelfth-day: the bishop of London makes an offering of
frankincense, gold, and myrrh. at Chapel Royal, St. James's.

January 18 1804 - The Queen's birthday is honored. There is a gala at court at noon-- A Ball at St. James's where peers and their wives and daughters who had been presented to the queen were present and illuminations in public places and houses of royal tradesmen.

January 5, 1811: Two outside passengers on the Carlisle coach frozen to death.

Jan. 13, 1811: A Gallant Action took place in which the merchant ship Cumberland, Capt. Barratt, beat off four French privateers.

More next time. Until then - Happy New Year and Pleasant Rambles.
With all best wishes to you and your families.