Thursday, 9 November 2017

Random bits of fun...

What women really talk about...


Here we have to imagine a Phone call to friend:

'What are you doing this evening? Thought we could get together over a bottle of best Vino.'

'No, no, can't come over this evening, I'm holding a dinner party for a character.'

'You what? Are you kidding?'

'No, I said character, as in novel, fiction novel.'

'OK, so who've you invited?'


First off I love Mr Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, er Colin Firth, but I feel sure a conversation would drag in talk of books and estate affairs and little action would result from such an engagement.


Such a pity because he's devilishly handsome!

'He's a bit too suave, and so up his own... Well, you know what I mean.'  
--------------------

Then of course there's Mr Rochester from Jane Eyre, psst, (Toby Stephens - Black Sails)  though I fear his moody Rochester brooding nature and dour countenance may leave me suffering the pangs of boredom, and he has difficulty in raising more than a grunt in response to female chatter.

A pity because he has eyes that see beyond his immediate surroundings and seem so full of sorrow.
-----------------------


'Rochester? Oh yeah, but bet his carnal grunts are worth suffering the boring bits.'

So my choice then is that of Sharpe, Richard Sharpe,  (Beano) for I know conversing will be no hardship with this bold warrior. In truth I fear words will be few and humour all the greater.


We shall dine, partaking of black Russian caviar and champagne, best beef and claret, and lemon mousse. With brandy for him and coffee for me we shall retire to the orangery. What then, who knows, and I wager it won't all be chat - much laughter!

Friend on phone: 'Oh my, Oh my. Always knew you had the hots for Sean Bean. On my way. It's so long since we caught up on things. See ya - kissy kissy.'

Reply as phone goes dead: "Another girlie night reminiscing over characters in novels it is, then."  
  

Monday, 30 October 2017

Ladies Riding in Regency era.



Why did ladies rarely ride a horse in Hyde Park/other parks during the Georgian/Regency?

Namely keeping horses in London was cripplingly expensive unless they were in constant use as carriage teams. Most driving horses were ride/drive trained for riding astride by postilions and or grooms in times of need, exercise, shoeing et al. Secondly, leisure riding horses were somewhat scarce on the streets due to differing wars, in particular the Peninsular Wars, which greatly affected the years running up to and during the 9 yrs of The Regency. Basically it was equally expensive to keep more than one working horse at this time and one had to be remarkably wealthy to purchase "one" let alone keep it in peak condition for all eventualities. 



Postilion


Devonshire House

Few houses, barring the Duke of Devonshire and a few notables had private mews stabling. Secondly ladies side saddles were made to order to fit the ladies seat and length of upper leg (vital) for excellent balance/seat, one couldn't simply leap to a side saddle - a task not impossible from the ground with modern side saddle apron and jodhpurs, but damn near impossible in full riding attire of times past, hence a block, or serious assistance was required to mount one's horse. 




Saddle circa 1800s
Notice the left knee grip turns upward, unlike modern day side saddles. 




More modern side saddle

Aside from that, taking a ride in Hyde Park was all about one's "equipage" meaning the quality of one's carriage and horses. Though it is to be noted mounted cavalry officers/soldiers oft rode in the parks, hence romantic encounters with ladies out walking or riding around in carriages! 


Also there was a turnpike, in other words, one had to pay to gain access to Rotten Row,  to enter Hyde Park. 


The earlier Old King’s Road became the Hyde Park bridle path, which in turn became the renowned Rotten Row. Hence strict rules were applied to RR. All horses and carriages were required to abide to walk or trot. No reckless driving or riding was acceptable, given that many vehicles, high-perch curricles and High Perch Phaetons - in particular - were prone to topple over if carelessly driven at excess speeds. 

Specific areas of Hyde Park itself were set aside from the pedestrian walking paths and driving route, so that riders could partake of a canter or two. Albeit horses could be exercised along Rotten Row very early of morn by grooms and stable hands, horses led in hand by mounted grooms thus banned, which prevented ostlers at inns and jobbing handlers from exercising 1-2 horses in hand whilst mounted. 

Dress code and turnout was of prime importance and expected high standards were thus met by the rules. So who enforced the rules?          


Rotten Row 


High Perch Phaeton



High Perch Curricle


People, even the aristocracy, walked for leisure far more than we do today. And despite the general filth of narrow alleyways in the days when Gardy loo was bawled from overhead windows seconds before a chamber pot or other was emptied to the ground below, by the later Georgian period the greater thoroughfares/streets of London and Bath/other were regularly cleaned by dung boys with hand carts who collected droppings and sold them to gardeners at houses and to the larger gardens/grounds of Vauxhall et al for grand flower beds. Were the boys orphans exploited by unscrupulous orphanage or little businessmen in their own rights and supplementing a poor household? A story in there methinks...




Notice the old open sewer/drain running through the middle of the street/alleyway. Notice also the beginnings of roof drainage (shootings) and tap/sink drain pipes appearing on the facades of houses during the Regency. The Duke of Wellington was one of first to have a heating system and supply of hot water taps to sinks and baths. 

But sadly, the Thames remained the greatest stench source, as did the remaining open sewers/drains yet to be included into underground sewers.Hence sedan chairs were still in use in London and other cities for getting around places where shoes could be ruined/soiled with foul effluent. So be a tad wary in having a female character who rides, leaps off her horse and mounts at will without assistance of a strong groom or mounting block of sorts.



Victorian Print 

Believe it, putting a left foot to stirrup and then having to cross the right leg between horse and rider to achieve the correct position of right leg to upper pommel/horn of a side saddle is a dangerous manoeuvre and utterly impossible with full flowing skirts. One would have to display a vast amount of leg, not to mention skirts in a dreadful mess and impossible to untangle.


Jumping side saddle is safer than it looks - though it requires greater skill to keep one's balance in a saddle made in the 1700s and 1800s. Due to the shape of the lower pommel/horn.  




See modern apron and position of legs in jodhpurs within above pic being that of a Western ride side saddle. 
The extra foot support is not on any of my English saddles as a the jumping pic shows.

As an aside, it wasn't until Victorian times when stables hiring out "hacks" came into full swing, and ladies too could hire a horse and escort (groom) - a safety measure in case of mishaps. Hacks being the term for hired horse as were Hackney cabs/carriages. 


This particular design became a regular sight in Victorian London, the drivers of black cabs as of today, having to undergo "The Knowledge" before they were licensed to operate a hired cab. The Knowledge entailed memorising routes and street names - basically knowing the ins and outs of London thoroughfares and its side streets.  
Earlier hackney carriages resembled 




Reportedly this one is a sketch 1823 - note it has draw curtains - a damn weird contraption.

Before in earlier times cabs were strangely less basic more a Brougham in design, each carriage company with it's own style. Private hire company carriages were commonly called "Drags".





Last but not least, the Sedan Chair which could lay claim as having the longest life of all in terms of use worldwide, though at its most fashionable in England from the late 17th century through to The Regency 19th century.  Its decline was rapid around the 1820s as horse breeders were once again selling horses for private use, and with the coming of the first steam engines and railways, thus the carriage and mail coaches suffered the same rapid decline as the Industrial Revolution stepped up a gear with steam driven machinery in all walks of industrial life. Sadly the country suffered for modernisation as city smogs became far more potent than they had been before, grime on houses and streets changing the face of beautiful buildings to black encrusted edifices to modernisation. Not until the mid 20th century did the big clean up begin with high pressure sand and water cleansers to bring once magnificent building back to the former glory, which continues to this day with restoration projects!            



Captain Gronow snippit:  Of the Park that, as lately as 1815, it looked a part of the country. Under the trees grazed not only cows, but deer, and the paths across it were few and far between. As you gazed from an eminence, no rows of monotonous houses reminded you of the vicinity of a large city, and its atmosphere was then "much more like what God made it than the hazy, grey, coal-darkened halftwilight of the London of to-day. The company, which then congregated daily about five, was composed of dandies and women in the best society; the men mounted on such horses as England alone could then produce. The dandy's dress consisted of a blue coat with brass buttons, leather breeches, and top-boots; and it was the fashion to wear a deep, stiff white cravat, which prevented you from seeing your boots while standing.


"Many of the ladies used to drive into the Park in a carriage called a vis-à-vis, which held only two persons. The hammer-cloth rich in heraldic designs, the powdered footmen in smart liveries, and a coachman who assumed all the gravity and appearance of a wigged archbishop, were indispensable. 


The carriage company consisted of the most celebrated beauties, amongst whom were conspicuous the Duchesses of Rutland, Argyle, Gordon, and Bedford; Ladies Cowper, Foley, Heathcote, Louisa Lambton, Hertford, and Mountjoy. The most conspicuous horsemen were the Prince Regent, always accompanied by Sir Benjamin Bloomfield; the Duke of York, and his old friend, Warwick Lake; the Duke of Dorset on his white horse, the Marquis of Anglesey with his lovely daughters, Lord Harrowby and the Ladies Ryder, the Earl of Sefton and the Ladies Molyneux, and the eccentric Earl of Morton on his long-tailed grey. 

In those days 'pretty horsebreakers' would not have dared to show themselves in Hyde Park; nor did you see any of the lower or middle classes of London society intruding themselves into regions which, by a sort of tacit understanding, were then given up exclusively to persons of rank and fashion. Such was the Park and the 'Row' little more than half a century ago.

The equipages were generally much more gorgeous than at a later period, when democracy invaded the Park and introduced shabbygenteel carriages and servants.



If you enjoy novels and novellas with heroines who ride, you may enjoy Lady Louise de Winter



One grave transgression in her past and Lady Louise de Winter, has accepted all hope for love and romance is but a dream she dare not embrace. Aware her semi-closeted existence on the Harcourt Estate is no more, and a substantial inheritance awaits her pleasure, her friend Count Casarotto suddenly brings his personal troubles to her door and seeks sanctuary. Worse, pursued by officers of his majesty’s regiment of horse, Louise endeavours to conceal his presence despite qualms as to his innocence. What is more, devastatingly attracted to the senior officer, Louise battles to retain sense of propriety as burning desire within takes hold. But despite Major Fitzwilliam’s reassurance he cares not a jot about her past, the truth remains she is not as other young would-be brides. Therefore, dare she give her heart into his care?

Amazon UK     Amazon Com

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

17th-18th-early 19th Century furniture.

From crude basic early chairs of ye olde England and Scotland, Tudor and Jacobean are notable, often beautifully carved wood-workings, and later came the more elegant styles of the royal courts of Louis XVI, and the Georgian/Napoleonic era, thus knowing a common “Settle” from a “Settee” or “Sofa” takes on new meaning for authors researching these periods in history.




After all, who really looks at a Settle and sees it as a basic template for Settee, and where did the sofa derive from? And yet, all three are merely a glorification of former designs from differing places. 


Jacobean Settle circa 1600s.  There were box settles too and ornate carving, some of the settles with drawers, some with cupboard doors beneath the seat, some with lift up lids.  



A Georgian Box Settle - note storage space, and it's remarkably plain. 


Early 18th Century Settle

During the latter half of the 17th century (English Restoration) Charles II wished to emulate the glories of the French Court, and regardless of expenditure, he had the royal apartments within the royal palaces refurnished and refurbished with plush-padded settees, chairs likewise padded and covered with tapestry cloth.



17th Century "Settee" - a refinement of a settle -  the design lasted throughout Charles II era into the Georgian. 


By the dwindling of the Stuart era, Queen Anne, furniture of Queen Anne’s reign became far less chunky leg-wise and decidedly elegant with a feminine lightness to structure and lighter fabric coverings, and continued thus into and throughout the Georgian era.



Queen Anne Chair - likewise Queen Anne Settee followed the same pattern for open-end armrests.


Queen Anne "Sofa" - here we see the high solid sides!


In the short period of the Regency era, the resurgence for Roman architecture applied to the building of many houses in the early 18th Century became fashionable and readily noted at Chatsworth, Blenheim Palace etc. So too, by the mid-Georgian period stone plinth stools and seats of Roman times became apparent with wooden replicas in the form of plush settees, chaises, and long footstools.


Here we can see the scrolling aspect and the high sided  "sofa".


Chaise Longue


Roller Stool - Roman influence.


Arm Bench - Roman influence. 

So where do sofa’s fit into the equation, one may ask? Then we must look to Eastern Europe and the countries bordering Asia, to Persia as was (now Iran), to Turkey, and Arab nations, where high-backed, high-armed sofas were commonplace.




 Arab -Asian Sofas



By the mid Victorian era, chunky furniture once again became in-Vogue, but I’ll not go there for much of it was ugly and I don’t pen novels in that period of history. At any rate, that’s my excuse to stop at the end of William IV’s reign.

Look out for next historical aside with Wardrobes and Armoires. 

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Busting Decorative Myths of the Regency Era.

Busting Myths – in particular the Georgian Regency myth that aristocrats clambered to have their walls pasted and wallpapered with damask print and beautiful bird prints, is far from true. Aristocrats during the Georgian period considered silk-clad walls as not only a mark of decorative panache it also became the mark of their wealth, as had vast wall tapestries of old within fortified manorial houses, castles, and palaces.


Frieze work

By the end of the Stuart era (Queen Anne) when velvet as a favoured upholstery fabric had already been superseded by damask print, we see in the Georgian period where silk print, from damask to stripes, the latter very much in vogue prior to and the early years of the Regency era. In many houses oak panelled walls were renovated, the upper removed and replaced with silk panels with glorious effect, and those with silver and gold thread shimmered in candle light even though silk itself reflected light.


Silk Clad Wall

With new found wealth of the Georgian age, a good many of the grand estates built on slavery in foreign parts, not least in the West Indies, (though the British were not alone in the practise of slavery, which included the French, Dutch et al) and as grand new houses and estates appeared on the English landscape, likewise whole streets in towns and cities were erected (Bath, Cheltenham, London et al, and Bright Helmstone latterly known as Brighton in the era of the Regency).


Silk Cladding. 


With new wealth came new builds and large windows to create light and airy rooms, French windows opening onto terraces, and so too desire for elegance escalated with grand orangeries, and long before the Victorians went wild with glass house construction. Victorians went to town with conservatories from modest to spacious, from lean-to to freestanding, thus almost every garden in Victorian England had a greenhouse of one sort or another, often erected by occupants, except for the very poor who lived in back-to-back houses with tiny yards.

  





Many of the grand new houses adopted Grecian themed interiors with glorious single colour panels with not only plaster frieze work to ceilings but to walls, not unalike Jasper Ware as can be seen with Wedgewood ware crockery, ornamental dishes, bowls, pots ‘n’ all. 



The reason for no wallpaper being the first wallpapers of the Regency era were rather garish and more attuned to walls at theatres, music halls, and those lacking taste, as many said of the Regent himself, as tending tasteless in dress.






Ghastly, were they not? 

Sunday, 6 August 2017

When Characters Take the floor!



My guest today is Therese Countess Roscoff.


To express how pleased I was to learn my story would be featured here, at Francine's blog, thrilled me, but now that I am here, it is all a little daunting. Where to begin I ask myself, and short of saying my early life embodied a humble existence within the back streets of London is to understate it, and yet as a child love abounded in the place I called home. As we all know circumstances beyond our control oft contribute to a life we accept and live through whilst dreams of a fairy tale existence are merely that, dreams. How then did I become a Russian grandee, you may well ask. In truth my good fortune was entirely due to a regular client of mine, and my trade was of the innocent variety at that time. He was a man of intellect, moral uprightness and of a kindly disposition who saw something in me that had never entered my head as a means of better revenue than I could attain from my corner pitch. Through him I learned much about deportment, voice, and how to present myself to the best of my abilities, along with the added assistance of professional persons who practised artifice with flair and perceived wisdom.

And so my world changed from a bleak pitch and mean pickings to a life in which I could ably provide little gifts for the woman who had given her life to my upbringing. To witness her hard work made less hard by my contributions to household funds filled me with sense of pride, for never could I fault her in the love she had bestowed upon me through harsh and good times as befalls the less well off in society. To say my new position placed me within the upper echelons of society is to some extent true, though truer still to say the grandees frequented my place of work. Oft times there were those who displayed great appreciation and affection for my contribution to that which they deemed as entertaining, exciting and oft dramatic. It was on one occasion of extreme appreciation that I met Valetin, Count Roscoff, who was the most handsome and gallant man who had kissed my hand, needless to say I fell instantly in love with all that he embodied. Subsequently a whirlwind romance ensued and before long I was married and became a courtier at the Empress Catherine’s Winter Palace in St Petersburg. My life with Valetin was short, his death a tragedy and a sober moment in my life with the added realisation I had been swept away on a dream, a dream I should never have accepted so readily. Such is life and the foolish romancing of youthful innocence, but I had in my time in St Petersburg acquired two innocent waifs who reminded me of my past life, and to them I gave my heart as they in turn gave me theirs.

With my little family I moved to Venice and their set up home, though we did indeed travel a great deal in the first few years to all the places Valetin had taken me en route to his homeland, thus Vienna became a favoured place until the day I ventured to Naples. There by introduction I met Emma Lady Hamilton, Lord Hamilton, and Admiral Lord Nelson, and Emma and I became friends, and the King and Queen of Naples likewise sought my company. You see a countess was acceptable in the grand settings I frequented, and with a trusted page at my side, he too learned a great deal about other titled persons by way of fellow pages; as did I from frequenting the salons and private apartments of Italian and visiting grandees. And whilst in attendance at one of Emma’s evening soirees I met Lt Herne, the man who turned my world upside down, inside and out, and of whom I fell madly, deeply in love with, and that is where my story and his truly began. What happened thereafter I must leave unsaid, else there will be no mystery for you to unravel and determine whether I of all people could be a thief, the notorious Venetian Jewel thief. After all, I was far from poor with a good widow’s pension and sound allowance from my deceased husband’s estate, and yet I felt threatened and when tragedy struck within Naples, worse befell me and my world came close to collapse until... Perhaps you will understand the dreadful dilemma that befell me and why I had to do what I did. Thank you for being here and I pray you will enjoy Francine’s interpretation of my life as it unravelled and at how a new romance hauled me from the dark depths of despair.