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Monday, February 28, 2011

Nunhead Cemetery

Nunhead Cemetery in Southwark is perhaps the least known, but the most attractive, of the seven Victorian cemeteries on the outskirts of London. It's formal avenues of towering lime trees and original Victorian planting gives it a truly Gothic feel. Its history, architecture and stunning views make it a fascinating and beautiful place to visit. While much of the cemetery is mysterious and overgrown, many of its features have recently been restored to their former glory. This is thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Southwark Council.

There is a tour conducted by the Friends of the cemetery, open to all, on the last Sunday of each month, starting from the Linden Grove gates at 2:15 p.m. and the two-hour guided tour of a romantic and overgrown Victorian cemetery features 1,000 ivy-clad angels and mighty Victorians buried in the green heart of Peckham.  Consecrated in 1840, Nunhead contains examples of the magnificent monuments erected in memory of the most eminent citizens of the day, which contrast sharply with the small, simple headstones marking common, or public, burials. It's formal avenue of towering limes and the Gothic gloom of the original Victorian planting gives way to paths which recall the country lanes of a bygone era.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

And the Winner is....Pride and Prejudice!

Colin Firth is a favorite for the best actor Oscar to match his Golden Globe and BAFTA awards -- for his role in The King's Speech.  But apparently he has already won our hearts, in 1995, in the BBC's miniseries of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.  Who can forget his memorable Fitzwilliam Darcy?

Victoria here; the January issue of the BBC History Magazine caught up with me and I was amused to see their list of favorite "Best Television Costume Dramas."  None of us will be surprised, I am sure, to find this 1995 production in first place.  The magazine reports that 14.1% of their 3,229 respondents  voted for P and P. 

The conclusion of Pride and Prejudice, the miniseries

Watch the "Colin in lake with wet shirt" video here (1,605,694 views so far).

In second place, and this was a bit of a surprise to me, was I, Claudius from 1976.  How young Derek Jacobi looks in this DVD cover picture of him in the title role. 

I remember this wonderful series about the supposedly mad Claudius and the wild history of the Rome of which he eventually became the Emperor.  I particularly remember the role of Livia, wife Augustus, played by Sian Phillips. She was the  personification of malevolence.  The series was based on the novel by Robert Graves and ran for several seasons.  It might have been high in the memory of viewers because the BBC has recently done a radio drama of the novel.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Wellington Connection: Lord Nelson

Horatio, Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington met but once in their lives and, thanks to diarist John Wilson Croker (The Croker Papers), we have an account of that meeting, in Wellington's own words. The following account was told to Croker whilst he was visiting the Duke at Walmer Castle on October 1, 1834. The Duke's telling of the story was prompted by a question put to him by Croker concerning Nelson's reputation for egotism and vanity -

"Why," said the Duke, "I am not surprised at such instances, for Lord Nelson was, in different circumstances, two quite different men, as I myself can vouch, though I only saw him once in my life, and for, perhaps, an hour.

"It was soon after I returned from India. I went to the Colonial Office in Downing Street, and there I was shown into a little waiting-room on the right hand, where I found, also waiting to see the Secretary of State, a gentleman whom, from his likeness to his pictures and the loss of an arm, I immediately recognized as Lord Nelson.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sherlock Holmes Returns - Thrice

(1) Robert Downey Jr. will once again play the British detective in Sherlock Holmes 2, (2) a new, authorized Sherlock Holmes mystery novel will hit the stands in September of this year (3) Benedict Cumberbatch returns as Masterpiece Mystery's 21st century incarnation of the detective. 

Sherlock Holmes II (the film) is set in the year 1891, a year after the events in the first film, and will have Holmes chasing Moriarity and Dr. Watson pursuing his love life whilst assisting the detective. Downey says: "Unlike last time, where Holmes kept getting Watson into trouble, this time Watson is getting Holmes out of trouble, and they're both in deeper trouble than I think the audience could have imagined we could go.... All manner of nastiness has just occurred."

This time out, the duo are joined by the feisty Sim, played by actress Noomi Rapace. Also making an appearance is Sherlock’s brother Mycroft Holmes, played by actor Stephen Fry, a character who producer Susan Downey (Robert's wife) describes as “stranger and perhaps even more brilliant” than the English detective. Fry recently said, "I play Mycroft, Sherlock Holmes' brother - the smarter brother, I hasten to add. He's so lazy that he never gets the reputation that Sherlock does. Historically it's a very interesting character, and as a lover of Sherlock Holmes since I was a boy I've always enjoyed that character myself. I hope that people enjoy it. It's certainly been fun making the picture." And how does Fry feel about a Yank playing the iconically British Holmes? "To some extent, but he's such a charismatic and likeable screen presence, Robert, that you very soon forget it. More than most, he owns every second of screen time. He's just wonderfully likeable. He's the real thing."

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sir Thomas Lawrence Arrives at Yale

Opening today, February 24, 2011: Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power and Brilliance will be on view at the Yale Center for British Art until June 5, 2011.

Kristine and Jo Manning both saw the exhibition in its first venue at the National Portrait Gallery in London.  Victoria hopes to be there in a few days...and I will report on my visit.  You can read our previous posts on this blog on 10/20/10, 1/7-8-9-10/11, and 2/2/11.  We find Sir Thomas to be a fascinating subject and the exhibition equally so.

Thomas Lawrence, self-portrait from 1788, right, was born in Bristol in 1769. He was a child prodigy and by age 10, when his family moved to Bath, he supported then with his drawings in pastels.  He moved to London at age 18 and was soon hailed as an up and coming talented successor to Sir Joshua Reynolds, then Britain's leading portraitist.

One of his fine portraits, of a friend's wife, Mary Hamilton, is shown in the exhibition, and makes one eager for more of the early pastels. But clients were eager for portraits in oils, and Lawrence excelled here too. He drew Mary Hamilton in pencil, red and black chalk in 1789. The British Museum, which owns the work, writes, "This important drawing of Mary Hamilton is arguably the most beautiful female portrait of its type remaining in this country."  A detail of the drawing was used as the cover for a 2008 exhibition at the British Museum The Intimate Portrait, below.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The London Post Office 1850 - Part Three

In this series, we turn to the words of Mr. Charles Dickens which appeared in the March 30, 1850 edition of the publication he edited, Household Words. The following article is chock full of details about how the Post Office operated in Victorian London and also about the mail and other items it processed on a daily basis.

The piece follows the progress of two gentlemen who make a visit to the Post Office and Part Three continues -

The friends were informed that 70,000,000 newspapers pass through all the post-offices every year. Upwards of 80,000,000 newspaper stamps are distributed annually from the Stamp office; but, most of the London papers are conveyed into the country by early trains. On the other hand, frequently the same paper passes through the post several times, which accounts for the small excess of 10,000,000 stamps issued over papers posted. In weight, 187 tons of paper and print pass up and down the ingenious " lift" every week, and thence to the uttermost corners of the earth—from Blackfriars to Botany Bay, from the Strand to Chusan.

The system of stamping, sorting, and arranging, is precisely similar to that in the District Branch; and, by his recently acquired knowledge of it, the person who posted the coloured letters was able to trace them through every stage, till they were tied up ready to be " bagged," and sent away.

In an opposite side of the enormous apartment, a good space and a few officials are devoted to repairing the carelessness of the public, which is, in amount and extent, scarcely credible. Upon an average, 300 letters per day pass through the General Post-office totally unfastened; chiefly in consequence of the use of what stationers are pleased to call " adhesive" envelopes. Many are virgin ones, without either seal or direction; and not a few contain money. In Sir Francis Freeling's time, the sum of 5000 pounds in Bank-notes was found in a " blank." It was not till after some trouble that the sender was traced, and the cash restored to him. Not long since, an humble post-mistress of an obscure Welsh post-town, unable to decipher the address on a letter, perceived, on examining it, the folds of several Bank-notes protruding from a torn edge of the envelope. She securely re-enclosed it to the secretary of the Post-office in St. Martin's-le-Grand; who found the contents to be 1500 pounds, and the superscription too much even for the hieroglyphic powers of the
"blind clerk." Eventually the enclosures found their true destination.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sending Our Prayers

Number One London has many regular visitors from New Zealand and Victoria and I want to take this opportunity to let you all know that our thoughts are with you during the aftermath of the earthquake, which struck Christchurch at 12.51pm on Tuesday local time.

The Queen, who is also New Zealand's head of state, expressed her sadness at the 6.3 magnitude quake, saying she was "utterly shocked" by the news.

"Please convey my deep sympathy to the families and friends of those who have been killed; my thoughts are with all those who have been affected by this dreadful event," she said.

"My thoughts are also with the emergency services and everyone who is assisting in the rescue efforts."

 We pray that you and yours are safe.

The London Post Office 1850 - Part Two

In this series, we turn to the words of Mr. Charles Dickens which appeared in the March 30, 1850 edition of the publication he edited, Household Words. The following article is chock full of details about how the Post Office operated in Victorian London and also about the mail and other items it processed on a daily basis.

The piece follows the progress of two gentlemen who make a visit to the Post Office and Part Two continues -

" Is it possible?" exclaimed one of the visitors, regarding the piles of epistles on the numerous tables "that this mass of letters can be arranged and sent away to their respective addresses in time to receive the next collection, which will arrive in less than an hour?"

"Quite," replied an obliging informant; " I'll tell you how we do it. We have divided London into seventeen sections. There they are, you perceive." He then pointed to the tables with pigeon-holes numbered from one to seventeen; one marked "blind," with a nineteenth labelled "general." It was explained that the proper arrangement of the letters in these compartments constitutes the first sorting. They are then sorted into subdivisions; then into districts, and finally handed over to the letter-carriers, who, in another room, arrange them for their own convenience into " walks." As the visitors looked round they perceived their coloured envelopes—which were all addressed to Scotland, suddenly emerge from a chaotic heap, and lodged in the division marked " general," as magically as a conjuror causes any card you may choose to fly out of the whole pack. "These letters," remarked the expositor, "being for the country, will be presently passed into the Inland-office through a tunnel under the hall. " The ' blind' letters have superscriptions which the sorters cannot decipher, and are sent to the ' blind' table, where a gentleman presides, to whom, from the extreme sharpness of his vision, we give the lucus a non lucendo name of the ' blind clerk.' You will have a specimen of his powers presently."

While this dialogue was going on there was a general abatement of the noise of stamping and shuffling letters; and, when the visitors looked round, the place had relapsed into its former tranquillity. It was scarcely credible that from 30,000 to 40,000 letters had been received, stamped, counted, sorted, and sent away in so short a time. "A judicious division of labour," remarked one of our friends, " must work these miracles."

"Yes, sir," was the reply of an official. "There are from 1200 to 1700 of us to do the work of the district post alone. When it was removed from Gerrard-street to this building there was not a quarter of that number. For instance—then, three carriers sufficed for the Paddington district; but, by the despatch you have just seen completed, we have sent off 2000 letters to that single locality by the hands of twenty-five carriers."

" The increase is attributable to the penny system?" interrogated one of our inquiring friends.

" Entirely."

The questioner then referred to a Parliamentary paper of which he had obtained possession. It showed him the history of general postal increase since the era of dear distance rates. In 1839—under the old system—the number of letters which passed through the post was 76 millions. In 1840 came the uniform penny, and for that year the number was 162 millions, or an increase of 93 millions, equal to 123 per cent. That was the grand start; afterwards the rate of increase subsided from 36 per cent. in 1841, to 16 per cent. in 1842 and 1843. In 1845, and the three following years, the increase was respectively, 39, 37, and 30 per cent. Then succeeded a sudden drop; perhaps the culminating point in the rate of increase had been attained. The Post-office is, however, a thermometer of commerce: during the depressing year 1848, the number of letters increased no more than 9 per cent. But last year 337,500,000 epistles passed through the office, being an augmentation of 8,500,000 upon the preceding year, or 11 per cent, of progressive increase. Another Parliamentary document shows, that, although the business is now four and a half times more than it was in 1839, the expense of doing it has only doubled. In the former year the cost of the establishment was not quite 690,000/.; in 1849 it was about 1,400,000/.

While one visitor was poring over these documents, the other deliberately watched the coloured envelopes. They were, with about 2000 other General Post letters, put into boxes and taken to the tunnel to be conveyed into the Inlandoffice upon a horizontal band worked by a wheel. The two friends now took leave of the District Department to follow the objects of their pursuit.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The London Post Office 1850 - Part One

In this series, we turn to the words of Mr. Charles Dickens which appeared in the March 30, 1850 edition of the publication he edited, Household Words. The following article is chock full of details about how the Post Office operated in Victorian London and also about the mail and other items it processed on a daily basis.

The piece follows the progress of two gentlemen who make a visit to the Post Office -

Great National Post-Office in St. Martin's-le-Grand

Most people are aware that the Great National Post-office in St. Martin's-le-Grand is divided into halves by a passage, whose sides are perforated with what is called the " Window Department." Here huge slits gape for letters, whole sashes yawn for newspapers, or wooden panes open for clerks to frame their large faces, like giant visages in the slides of a Magic Lantern; and to answer inquiries, or receive unstamped paid letters. The southern side is devoted to the London District Post, and the northern to what still continues to be called the "Inland Department," although foreign, colonial, and other outlandish correspondence now passes through it. It was with the London District Branch that the two gentlemen first appeared to have business.

Having been led through a maze of offices and passages more or less dark, they found themselves—like knights-errant in a fairy tale—" in an enormous hall, illumined by myriads of lights." Without being exactly transformed into statues, or stricken fast asleep, the occupants of this hall (whose name was Legion) appeared to be in an enchanted state of idleness. Among a wilderness of long tables, and of desks not unlike those on which buttermen perform their active parts of legerdemain in making " pats"—only these desks were covered with black cloth—they were reading books, talking together, wandering about, lying down, or drinking coffee—apparently quite unused to doing any work, and not at all expectant of ever having anything to do, but die.

In a few minutes, and without any preparation, a great stir began at one end of this hall, and a long train of private performers, in the highest state of excitement, poured in, getting up, on an immense scale, the first scene in the " Miller and his Men." Each had a sack on his back; each bent under its weight; and the bare sight of these sacks, as if by magic, changed all the readers, all the talkers, all the wanderers, all the liers-down, all the coffee-drinkers, into a colony of human ants.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Guest Blogger Judith Laik Carves Coade-Stone

Our guest blogger today is Judith Laik, who has traveled with us in England and loves all things Regency.  She is the author of two Regency romances with Kensington Publishing Corp., and other works of fiction. The second edition of her co-authored book of quotations, Around the Circle Gently, has been released. Judith is a columnist for 1st Turning Point . She is currently working on a Regency historical and other projects.

She lives on a small farm in Washington state with her husband, daughter, and various animals. Visit her website here.  Written sections of this post: ©Judith Laik.


Coade-stone lion at Westminster Bridge, London;
Near location of early 19th c. Coade Stone manufactory

First, thanks to Vicky and Kristine for posting my article on their blog, and the credit for the amazing photos that accompany the article also goes to them. Kristine also found some additional information about the Coade Stone company that adds a lot to what I had found.

Father Thames in Coade-stone, Ham House Garden
Sculptor: John Bacon 
Eleanor Coade combined scientific and business success. She ran the Coade Stone business for twenty-five years after her husband died until it was taken over by the daughter, also named Eleanor (or Elinor in some sources). Or his business might have been unrelated to the construction material and it was the daughter who became involved in the artificial stone business and ran it.


Researching the two Eleanors is an example of a researcher’s nightmare. Some of the sources have the two women confused. But the researcher’s nightmare is the fiction writer’s delight, because after a serious attempt to run down the truth, someone writing fiction can choose the preferred version, fictionalize a bit more, and have fun with it.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

On The Shelf - Discovering New Authors - Part Four

Dornford Yates, real name Cecil William Mercer, born in 1885 at Walmer, Kent, is the author of the comic Berry books. The main characters of the Berry Books are the Pleydell family who reside at 'White Ladies' in Hampshire, made up of Berry Pleydell, Daphne Pleydell, his wife (and cousin), Boy Pleydell (Daphne's brother and narrator of the books), Jonathan (Jonah) Mansel (cousin to all the above), Jill Mansel (Jonah's sister) and with occasional appearances by Boy's American fiancée (and later wife), Adèle. This is a group of privileged and pretty young things who excell at verbal barbs, comedic situations and much good humoured malice. Berry refers to Boy as “my brother-in-law, carefully kept from me before my marriage and by me ever since.” 

The stories are anecdotal, and involve some sort of privileged problem – their Rolls-Royce is stolen, a hat is blown away in the wind, an offensive neighbour is rude about Nobby, their dog. The resolution often involves outrageous coincidence. No one works, although the male members of the family occasionally do "go up to Town" on some vague business related matters which are never fully explained, and pithy conversations abounds.

Created by author George MacDonald Fraser, Sir Harry Paget Flashman (VC, KCB and KCIE) (1822–1915) is the fictional hero of the Flashman series, first begun in 1969. As Wikipedia tells us:  "Presented within the frame of the supposedly discovered historical Flashman Papers, the book begins with an explanatory note saying that the Flashman Papers were discovered in 1965 during a sale of household furniture  Leicestershire. Flashman is a well known Victorian military hero (in Fraser's fictional England). The papers were supposedly written between 1900 and 1905. The subsequent publishing of these papers, of which Flashman is the first, contrasts the previously believed exploits of a (fictional) hero with his own more scandalous account, which shows the life of a cowardly bully. Flashman begins with his own account of expulsion from Rugby and ends with his fame as the "Hector of Afghanistan", detailing his life from 1839 to 1842 and his travels. It also contains a number of notes by the author, in the guise of a fictional editor, giving additional historical information on the events described. The history in these books is quite accurate; most of the people Flashman meets are real people." Flashman is in turn charming, brave, cowardly, a liar and a legend in his own mind, but you can't help but be amused by him.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Do You Know About Gresham College?

Gresham College has no students and does not teach courses, rather it is an educational institution of higher learning that exists to provide free public lectures, which have now been running for over 400 years. Gresham College was founded by Sir Thomas Gresham in 1597, son of Sir Richard Gresham who was Lord Mayor in 1537/38. Gresham College started long before there was a University of London.

Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579) stated in his will that Gresham College was to provide free public lectures in Divinity, Astronomy, Music, Geometry, Law, Physic and Rhetoric, endowed by revenue from the Royal Exchange, which he founded in 1570.

The Royal Society can trace its roots back to Gresham College and to 28 November 1660, when 12 of the members met at Gresham College after a lecture by Christopher Wren, the Gresham Professor of Astronomy, and decided to found 'a Colledge for the Promoting of Physico-Mathematicall Experimentall Learning'. This group included Wren himself, Robert Boyle, John Wilkins, Sir Robert Moray and William, Viscount Brouncker.

The first college location was Gresham's mansion in Bishopsgate where Tower 42 is now built. It stayed there until 1768, and next settled in 1842 in Gresham Street EC2. Gresham College did not become part of the University of London on the founding of the University in the 19th century, although a close association between the College and the University persisted for many years. Since 1991, the College has operated at Barnard's Inn Hall, Holborn EC1.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Knebworth House Visit

Knebworth House in Hertfordshire, just north of London, was the home of Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873), politician, statesman, and author of dozens of novels. Our tastes in literature have left poor B-L far, far behind.  But his house is often a star in its own right, currently as the home of Logan Mountstuart's wife, Lottie (Lady Laeticia) and her father, the earl of Edgefield, in the series Any Human Heart on PBS's Masterpiece.

Any Human Heart is based onWilliam Boyd's 2002 novel, subtitled The Intimate Journals of Logan Mountstuart. The story goes from Logan's coming of age through his lifetime. Though the novel is said to be a literary attempt to put political and social events into a personal context, the television version seems more to be an amazingly frequent set of encounters with famous persons, such as Miro, Hemingway, Wallis Simpson, James Joyce, et. al., while Logan has a series of life crises in which he usually turns out to be a cad.
But the point of this post is the house, Knebworth, playing the role of fictional Thorpe Hall. Knebworth has been in many films and tv shows, including The King's Speech, and Batman, where it purports to be David Wayne's elegant manor. Kristine and Victoria, with a group of their friends, visited Knebworth on cloudy day a few years ago. The grey skies seemed a perfect background for the ornately gothic pile of yellowish sandstone. Take a look at the Knebworth website here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Secret Southwark

Sometimes, the most interesting bits of history are right in front of us, but remain hidden from view because we're just too busy to take proper notice of them. Below, we point out a few of the hidden historical gems to be found in Southwark.

Originally, street bollards were adapted from the French cannons captured at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805. They were placed on street corners to stop the iron wagon wheels of carts from mounting the kerbs and doing damage and became so useful that bollards were installed throughout the City. Once the stock of authentic French cannons had been exhausted,  copies were made and can still be seen on the streets of London today. The bollard pictured at left is an original French cannon which stands on the Southbank near to Shakespeare’s Globe. For more information and photos, visit Bollards of London.

Hardly a secret since it's now a cheesey tourist attraction, the Clink Prison (1 Clink Street, Bankside) is still of note. The Clink Prison Museum is built upon the original site of the Clink Prison, which dates back to 1144 making it one of England’s oldest, if not the oldest Prison.
Owned by the Bishop of Winchester, the Clink Prison was used to control the Southbank of London known as “The Liberty of The Clink.” This area housed much of London’s entertainment establishments including four theatres, bull-baiting, bear-baiting, inns and many other darker entertainments, including prostitution, smuggling and murder - a fact that meant that the Clink was never short of inmates. In fact, it's still housing prisoners - in August 2006 an employee accidentally locked two tourists in the basement museum when locking up for the night and going home. They were released later that night after pressing the fire alarm. And they thought "You'll be thrown in the Clink" was just an old saying.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Royal Wedding Weekend Getaway Plans

Not content to settle for an extra Bank Holiday and late openings for pubs on the Royal Wedding Day (RWD), airlines and hoteliers are offering extended getaway specials themed around the Big Day.  British Airways is offering Royal Wedding weekend packages and London hotels have been raising their room rates over the weekend accordingly, but really, anyone can book a BA flight or a room at the Savoy, no matter how inflated the cost. So, we've rounded up some unique options for the big RWD, each with its own twist on the festivities and all far away from the madding RWD crowds. Book early!

Why not book yourself into the Celtic Manor Resort, where they'll be throwing a RWD Street party? Their website invites us to "join (them) to celebrate the Royal Wedding in the most traditional British way, with a spectacular outdoor ‘street party’ with live entertainment and big screens to watch the wedding celebrations, in the glorious surroundings of the Rooftop Garden. Immerse yourself in nostalgia with Union Jack bunting and trestle tables laden with tasty treats including jam sandwiches, homemade pork pies, Scotch eggs and sausage rolls, along with favourites such as Victoria sponge, fondant fancies, trifle and of course, traditional wedding cake." This Five Star Welsh resort features award winning dining, the Forum Spa and was home to the 2010 Ryder Cup.

Forget the RWD, The Castle Hotel in Taunton, Somerset, is offering a Royal Honeymoon package to die for - it includes penthouse accommodation, a private butler, massage, flowers, wine and . . . a throne. I've stayed here and it's just lovely. Of course, I didn't have a butler. Or a massage. But it was still lovely.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentines Day 1829

Bell's World of Fashion



"Good morrow to my Valentine," sings the poor Ophelia. "Good morrow! 'tis St. Valentine's day, all in the morning betime, and I a maid at your window to be your Valentine!

Rude as these lines may be, they are sacred for they are Shakspeare's, one of the wild and beautiful snatches of song, which are drawn from the heart of the love torn, riven-hearted maid of Denmark! It, moreover, celebrates a custom in the olden time, of looking for a Valentine through your bed-room window, which has partially descended to us, by the first person we see, of the opposite sex, on this festive morning, being Our Valentine.

Our fair readers will perhaps be gratified with a few reminiscences of the practices in former periods, on this
day, from which originated our Valentines. It was the practice in ancient Rome, during a great part of the month of February, to celebrate the Lupercalia, which were feasts in honour of the deities Pan and Juno. On this occasion, among a variety of other festive ceremonies, the names of all the young females were put into a box, from which they were drawn by the men, as chance directed. The pastors of the early Christian church, who by every possible means endeavoured to eradicate the vestiges of pagan superstitions, substituted the names of saints for those of women; and, as the feast of the Lupercalia had commenced about the middle
of February, they chose a saint's day for the purpose of celebrating it. As it was, however, impossible to extirpate altogether any ceremony to which the people had been so long accustomed, especially one which was so consonant to their feelings, as the original Lupercalia, the practice of choosing partners or sweethearts, was kept up, and, from the day upon which it was celebrated, all persons so chosen
were called Valentines.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

More Royal Wedding Gowns

This is really just a collection of pretty wedding pictures and  gorgeous dresses.  But, since it's on our minds, these days, why not????  Some of these brides are related to the U.K. royals, others from European families. At right is Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden with her husband, Daniel   Wrestling.  They were married in Stockholm in June, 2010.

The dress is elegantly simple and looks perfect on Princess Victoria. Only the tiara -- though it looks more like a crown -- is elaborately decorated.

Crown Princess Victoria Ingrid Alice Désirée was in 1977.  She will become Queen of Sweden upon the death of her father, King Carl XIV Gustav. through her father, Victoria is related to the British royals and actually occupies a position in the line of U.K. royal succession.  Now known as HRH Prince Daniel, Duke of Vastergotland, Victoria's husband is her former personal trainer and ran a company owning several gyms.

Another Scandinavian royal wedding was in Copenhagen Denmark on May 14, 2005, when HRH Crown Prince Frederik married Mary Donaldson, an Australian.  They recently had twins, in January, 2011, a boy and a girl. Their older siblings are Prince Christian, born in 2005, and Princess Isabella, born in 2007.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Royal Wedding Gowns

As I write this, there is no word on the designer Kate Middleton has chosen to create her wedding gown, though I have heard many breathless accounts of who is and who is not in the running.  So let's indulge our royal wedding mania for a  while by looking at some of the gowns worn in the past.

At the left is the dress worn by Princess Charlotte of Wales at her May 2, 1816, wedding to Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg, as exhibited in the Museum of London here.

The Lady's magazine of May, 1816, described the gown: White silk net embroidered in silver strip with a spotted ground and borders. The wedding dress, composed of a most magnificent silver lama on net, over a rich silver tissue slip, with a superb border of silver lama embroidery at the bottom, forming shells and bouquets above the border; a most elegant fullness tastefully designed, in festoons of rich silver lama, and finished with a very brilliant rollio of lama; the body and sleeves to correspond, trimmed with a most beautiful point Brussels lace, in a peculiar elegant style.
The manteau of rich silver tissue lined with white satin, trimmed round with a most superb silver lama border, in shells to correspond with the dress, and fastened in front with a most brilliant and costly ornament of diamonds. The whole dress surpassed all conception in the brilliancy and richness of its effects. Head dress, a wreath of rose buds and leaves, composed of the most superb brilliants."  At right, an engraving of Charlotte and Leopold at their wedding in Carlton House. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

On The Shelf - Discovering New Authors - Part Three

Part Three of our series focuses on Comic Reads and, really, one can't help but opening with P.G. Wodehouse . . . . can one?

P.(Pelham) G.(Grenville) Wodehouse is best known (and loved) for his comic novels, which include the Jeeves and Wooster series and the Blandings Castle series. If you think of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie when you hear "Jeeves & Wooster," I'm here to tell you that the unlikely pair began life as characters in Wodehouse's books, including What Ho, Jeeves, Carry On, Jeeves and Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, to name but a scant few. Wodehouse's books, characters and plots are just plain silly and, boy, do we love them. Prepare to stretch the limits of belief, to suspend reality and to chuckle aloud. Bertie Wooster invariably gets himself into a bind (money, girls, relatives, etc.) and Jeeves gets him out - whether Bertie ever learns about Jeeves's involvement or not. One thing Bertie is not clueless about is his dependence upon Jeeves, which this passage from Jeeves and the Hard Boiled Egg clearly illustrates:

Sometimes of a morning, as I've sat in bed sucking down the early cup of tea and watched my man Jeeves flitting about the room and putting out the raiment for the day, I've wondered what the deuce I should do if the fellow ever took it into his head to leave me. It's not so bad now I'm in New York, but in London the anxiety was frightful. There used to be all sorts of attempts on the part of low blighters to sneak him away from me. Young Reggie Foljambe to my certain knowledge offered him double what I was giving him, and Alistair Bingham-Reeves, who's got a valet who had been known to press his trousers sideways, used to look at him, when he came to see me, with a kind of glittering hungry eye which disturbed me deucedly. Bally pirates!

The thing, you see, is that Jeeves is so dashed competent. You can spot it even in the way he shoves studs into a shirt.

I rely on him absolutely in every crisis, and he never lets me down. And, what's more, he can always be counted on to extend himself on behalf of any pal of mine who happens to be to all appearances knee-deep in the bouillon. Take the rather rummy case, for instance, of dear old Bicky and his uncle, the hard-boiled egg.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Please Help to Save the Cleveland Street Workhouse

There's a petition over at the London Historians' Blog, which can also be found in our right sidebar under "Amusing Blogs." They are feverishly trying to save the Cleveland Street Workhouse, which is thought to be Dickens' inspiration for the workhouse in Oliver Twist, from demolition. Please take a moment to log onto their site and sign this document in the hopes of saving an important part of London's disappearing history. Thank you!

The Wellington Connection - Attempted Assassination

Fitzroy Somerset, later Lord Raglan
 From The Letters of George Canning:

A letter written by Lt.-Col. Lord FitzRoy Somerset to Wellesley Pole dated Thursday, February 12, 1818.

My Dear Mr. Pole,

You have so often expressed apprehensions for the Duke's safety, that you will be more shocked, than surprised to learn, that he was shot at, the night before last, just as his carriage was entering the Porte Cochere of his house (The Duke's house was in the Rue Champs Elyses. It was from this house that the first shot was fired by Le Grange in the Revolution of 1848. It was subsequently pulled down by order of Napoleon III).  Fortunately the shot missed entirely; but however one may exult at his escape on this occasion, the fact that it is intended to take away his life is so clear, that one cannot but dread that another attempt may be more effectual.

Ivory coach pass belonging to
William Wellesley Pole, Master of the
Royal Mint 1814-1823

It appears by the evidence of the coachman and footman, that as the carriage passed by the Hotel  d'Abrantes, which you may recollect is at the entrance of the Rue des Champs Elysees, they observed a man standing opposite to it, who, on the approach of the carriage moved on and kept pace with it till he reached the nearest sentry box at the Duke's door, when he stopped and as the carriage was in the act of turning into the gateway the villain fired his pistol. Upon hearing the shot, the horses rather quickened their pace, which the coachman had checked to go more easily over the gutter, and the Duke arrived without accident at the house, totally unaware that he had been fired at, till the footman opened the door and said 'J'espere, Monseigneur, que votre Excellence n'est pas blesse'.' He had conceived that one of the sentries' muskets had gone off by accident. Upon ascertaining how the fact stood, the Duke ordered the assassin to be pursued, but as no step had been taken till he gave the directions to that effect, the scoundrel of course made his retreat good. If however, the sentries had been as indeed they ought to have been outside the Porte Cochere, instead of being in it, or if the footman (a Frenchman) had had his wits about him, and upon seeing the man fire, had immediately jumped down and run after him, or had even cried out he must have been taken; for two of the Duke's English servants were at the moment coming down the street, and heard the report of the pistol, and whilst they were debating upon what was the cause of the shot at such an hour (it was after midnight) they met the man running: and as one of them had said that the shot might have been fired at the Duke's carriage they had a great mind to stop him, but hearing no alarm they thought it most prudent to let him go by without molestation.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Regency Reflections: Fashions of the Era

Fashions for females in the Georgian Era changed dramatically, from wide skirts and narrow waists, high-piled coiffures, and fussy decoration to simple, high waisted gowns -- and back again in the space of a few decades. Marie Antoinette (1755-1793), Queen of France, right, might have been the most extreme. She was painted in 1778 by Elisabeth Vigee le Brun (1755-1842) in a huge hooped skirt and hair powdered,  drawn high and topped off with a fountain of feathers.  In an upcoming post, we will look at some of the fashion plates from various lady's magazines of the Georgian era. In this post, however, we will indulge in the representations of fashion shown in portraits by celebrated artists.

Left is Grace Dalrymple Elliott, subject of Jo Manning's excellent biography.  My Lady Scandalous: The Amazing Life and Outrageous Times of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Royal Courtesan.  She was painted by Gainsborough in the late 1770's.   One of the outstanding features of Gainsborough's portraits is the depiction of the sumptuous silks and satins worn by his subjects. Again, the hair-do is exaggeratedly high and powdered to a pewter shade rather than the white powdering of a few years earlier.  Imagine how many hours had to be spent by these ladies while their minions teased each strand up and over whatever bird-cage-like platform was used.

In the 1780's and 1790's, the styles became simpler, perhaps bucolic. Even the French Queen favored a version of the  simple muslin chemise.  The mode, color and fabric were copied by aristocrats on both sides of the Channel.  Hair is more naturally arranged, though still powdered a little, and one could hardly say the hat would be worn by a peasant.  Again, the painter is Vigee le Brun.
The Frankland Sisters by John Hoppner, 1795
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


On the 8th of February, 1750, an earthquake was felt in London, followed exactly a month afterwards by a second and severer one, when the bells of the church clocks struck against the chiming-hammers, dogs howled, and fish jumped high out of the water. Horace Walpole, in a letter to Sir Horace Mann, draws a lively picture of the effect created by the event, and we cannot do better than borrow his narration:

". . . . . as far as earthquakes go towards lowering the price of wonderful commodities, to be sure we are over-stocked. We have had a second, much more violent than the first; and you must not be surprised if, by next post, you hear of a burning mountain springing up in Smithfield. In the night between Wednesday and Thursday last, the earth had a shivering fit between one and two; but so slight that, if no more had followed, I don't believe it would have been noticed. I had been awake, and had scarce dozed again,—on a sudden I felt my bolster lift my head. I thought somebody was getting from under my bed, but soon found it was a strong earthquake that lasted nearly half a minute, with a violent vibration and great roaring. I got up and found people running into the streets, but saw no mischief done. There has been some; two old houses flung down, several chimnies, and much earthenware. The bells rang in several houses. Admiral Knowles, who has lived long in Jamaica, and felt seven there, says this was more violent than any of them. The wise say, that if we have not rain soon we shall certainly have more. Several people are going out of town, for it has nowhere reached above ten miles from London: they say they are not frightened, but that it is such fine weather, "Lord, one can't help going into the country!" The only visible effect it has had was in the Ridotto, at which, being the following morning, there were but 400 people.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Hand Made Tales: Women and Domestic Crafts

Drawing on the current resurgence in sewing, gardening and cooking and the historical roots of the domestic arts within the home, this exhibition at The Women's Library in London runs until April 1 and explores the ways in which household crafts have traditionally been the domain of women, their role as sources of knowledge and self-expression shared between generations and communities, and as cultural experiences nurturing the creative spirit is celebrated in the displays. Curated by Carol Tulloch, this timely exhibition will allow visitors to explore and learn the stories of crafts and the women involved in them through personal tales and fun interactive projects.

The Women's Library is a cultural centre housing the most extensive collection of women's history in the UK. We run exhibitions and events in addition to the Reading Room Service. The Women's Library has an extensive Printed collections cataloguesearch online. (books, pamphlets, periodicals and videos). Most of the Library's books, pamphlets, periodicals and videos are catalogued and available to use. The collections cover a variety of topics, such as women's rights, suffrage, sexuality, health, education, employment, reproductive rights, the family, and the home. The emphasis is primarily on women in Britain, but some international material is included.

The Library houses over 500 archives (arranged in 11 strands) that document women's lives and the issues that have concerned and interested them. They date primarily from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day and extend in size from one file to hundreds of boxes. Included are the personal papers of a wide variety of individuals, ranging from the papers of the famous suffragette Emily Wilding Davison to the papers of 2nd wave feminist Sheila Rowbotham. The records of societies and associations are also covered, including female emigration societies, women's suffrage associations, societies for the abolition of the state regulation of prostitution, societies for the suppression of traffic in persons, women's employment organisations and a myriad of other pressure groups and campaigning organisations on issues as varied as peace, single parenthood, women clergy and home economics. The records of research and oral history projects are also collected.

An online catalogue is available for searching the archives.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Regency Reflections: The Regency Era Begins

Two hundred years ago today, the English Regency began. George, Prince of Wales, swore his allegiance to King George III followed by oaths of office as Regent according to Parliamentary Acts, and as protector of the  Protestant religion. The solemn ceremonies at the Prince's residence, Carlton House, were attended by the Royal Dukes, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Parliamentary ministers led by the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval.

At right, a highly flattering picture of George, Prince of Wales, by John Singleton Copley, displayed at the Royal Academy in 1810. George always yearned to be a military leader but, sadly for Copley, he did not purchase this picture. It now hangs in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Its official nme is Portrait of HRH The  Prince of Wales at a Review, attended by Lord Heathfield, General Turner, Col. Bloomfield, and Baron Eben; Col. Quinton in the Distance. The Prince never took the battlefield, however much he tried to convince the Duke of Wellington that he'd been at the Duke's side at Waterloo.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Regency Reflections: On 5 February, 1811, the Regency Begins...

By February 5, 1811, both houses of Parliament had passed the Regency Act, making George, Prince of Wales, the Regent for his incapacitated father, George III, who was under doctors' care at Windsor Castle. The Prince took the royal oath on February 6, 1811.

He was 48 years old. He had a legal wife, Princess Caroline, whom he despised, and from whom he had been estranged since shortly after the wedding.  Their daughter, Princess Charlotte of Wales, was 15 years old, and suffered from the great inconsistencies in her father’s attention and attitude.  She was most often ignored by him, but occasionally she was flaunted before the public, which adored her and loathed him.

Princess Charlotte by Richard Woodman,
1816,  NPG
Charlotte was a lively girl who had limited contact with both her mother and father.  She was often with her aunts, the Princesses, and her grandmother, Queen Charlotte, and only rarely with girls of her own age. From time to time, the Prince spent time with her, but he complained that her looks reminded him, painfully, of his wife.  Little wonder she had the German/Hanoverian stamp, since her George and Caroline were first cousins, both grandchildren of Frederick, Prince of Wales (1707-1751), the son of George II.
Princess Charlotte led a lonely life, though surrounded at all times by attendants and court-appointed companions.

Caroline,  Princess of Wales
by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1798, VandA
Caroline, by 1811, had set up a separate establishment where she entertained and socialized. Some of her behavior was reported to be scandalous, and her access to her daughter was often restricted. Caroline enjoyed -- and often flaunted -- her personal popularity with the people. She resented her position as a cast-aside wife with little or no access to court and none of the honors due her. Little wonder that there were constant rumors  circulating in London society.