Search This Blog


Friday, 19 December 2014

The trades that killed in Jane Austen’s time

The immediate thought of the gentle reader regarding risky professions must necessarily turn to those hard physical tasks and of course soldiering. I do not plan to look at the risks of military service in this post, as they are quite apparent and have been addressed ably elsewhere.  Instead I plan to focus on the obvious, and less obvious risks at work.  I’ll start with jobs employing children and work up.  Most of the jobs below, bar pinners and climbing boys, were of equal risk to adults as to children.

One of the jobs open to children as young as five years old; cave-ins happened, floods that came up too fast for the steam pumps, if there were any, and of course the perennial risk of fire-damp, impure methane gas, seeping from the fossil fuels within the earth.  The greatest risk of this was in coal mines.  There were two ways of dying from fire-damp; by suffocation, or by explosion, as methane in the presence of oxygen is explosive.  Not until the invention of Humphrey Davies’ safety lamp in 1815 was the danger of explosion reduced – always supposing the mine owner invested in the same.  Other gases lurked in mines, like carbon dioxide, and sulphur dioxide, and were equally deadly, though they did not explode.  The crippling effect to young bodies of the children employed pulling trucks of coal or ore in mines possibly killed as many in a more drawn out way as died in pit disasters, as did dust on the lungs.

Weaving factories
So much has been written about the danger of loss of limb or life to the children and women crawling under the ever-moving looms to clean them, and the terrible lung diseases engendered by the ever-present cotton dust in the air that there is no need to re-iterate them in detail here.

Chimney Cleaning
Although a patent chimney cleaning machine was invented by Joseph Glass, most sweeps preferred to use geese thrown down the chimney with their legs tied, or climbing boys sent up.  These boys were indentured servants, essentially slaves, as were some of the factory workers, bound to apprenticeship by parish foundling authorities.  They were at risk of sticking in small flues and dying of thirst and hunger, dying of soot inhalation, being suffocated more suddenly by soot falls, and as it was not uncommon for sweeps to drive pins into their bare feet or light fires under them, the chance of sepsis from wounds must have figured in some deaths.  Add to this Chimney-sweep’s Canker, or cancer of the testicles, and this was one of the more miserable lives to be led.  Campaigns to prevent the use of climbing boys were under way, including the publication The Chimney Sweep’s Friend and Climbing Boys Album, edited by the radical writer and poet James Montgomery, which included stories and pictures to raise awareness. Picture taken from here shows an impoverished mother apprenticing her young son to a sweep.  It took until 1840 to ban the practice, and even them was more seen in the breach than the observance.

Crossing sweeping. 
With the amount of debris from horses, sweeping a path for grand ladies with their delicate shoes and long skirts to cross the street, even assuming they were protected by wearing pattens, was a way of earning a vail, or tip as we should call it now, that was preferred by some boys over begging or stealing.  This might be a safer occupation if the drivers on the road had been likely to be prosecuted for causing death by dangerous driving; but the instance of injury or death to the lower orders was of little moment to many gentlemen drivers, and of no moment at all to the hackney cab drivers and delivery men whose jobs depended on getting their passengers or deliveries made at the best possible time.  Running over a crossing sweeper who failed to get out of the way in time would only occasion any interest to these careless drivers if they had damaged their coach, or paintwork, or upset the horses.  Horses will not, at least, generally trample on a human body if they can avoid it, unless trained to do so; but flailing iron-shod hooves when startled might kill without the horse being a conscious participant. 

Pin Making
Pins were still made in the same way as they had been for hundreds of years, one end ground to a point, and the other either coiled or covered in a blob of solder.  This was a job for children, whose fingers were nimble, working in poorly ventilated areas and breathing in the fumes of the lead solder and flux.  As some of the fluxes used from early times contained phosphorous, this was a problem.  Lead poisoning was probably going to kill them first, however, as abdominal pain, muscle weakness, memory loss, confusion and then kidney and liver failure set in.
Grinders of both pins and needles suffered from Grinder’s asthma too…

Moving on to jobs exclusively adult.

Canal builders
Later, railway builders were subject to similar risks, but at the time, the building of canals was the way rapid transport was being taken across the country.  Though stretches of river were used, where new sections were dug, there was always the risk of sections of canal wall falling in, suffocating or crushing anyone beneath them; and when working near rivers, drowning was a real possibility for a population very few of whom could swim.  Sudden deluges were not entirely unknown either. 

Whether driving the Mailcoach, or a stage coach or a hired hack, or a private coachman, the high perch of a coachman to give him a good view also placed him at risk if anything should overturn the coach; and there was plenty that might.  Though the roads had improved out of all recognition since the introduction of the Toll Roads, there were still plenty of ruts and pot holes; and human error, in taking a corner too fast, also played its part.  The thoughtless driving of rich maniacs with their souped-up sports cars – read, high-perch phaeton and four – added to the danger, as such sporting gentlemen wanted to go faster than hire coaches or a sedate squire’s equipage, and expected other traffic to move to the side of the road for them to pass.  Naturally, the side of the road encountered the most extreme camber, and more ruts from farm carts, and increased the possibility of being overturned into the ditch.  And this without the ‘sport’ of ‘hunting the squirrel’ where feckless brats of the road tried deliberately to put slower traffic into a ditch by catching a wheel with their own, relying on their own speed to avoid any damage.  Wheel clips could happen by accident as well, leading to more or less mayhem caused to both parties.
Naturally, being thrown from a seat so high above the road, a driver risked broken bones or a broken neck.  Sitting for long hours in the cold in winter, earache, a cold in the head  and almost inevitably chilblains were his lot, any one of which might also impair his driving judgement.  There might also be floods and snowdrifts, with their attendant dangers, and lightning to contend with, a higher risk then than now.   Add to this the possibility of highwaymen, admittedly less by the Regency than in the 18th century, but still a possibility…
See also my post on the dangers of travel HERE

The phrase ‘as mad as a hatter’ originates in the particular dangers that beset those men who made men’s hats.  It is the response to prolonged exposure to mercury vapour, used in the process of felting animal furs that were used to make men’s hats [even if the popular ‘beaver’ were an inferior and less water-resistant article made of rabbit].  The shyness and neurological problems, headaches, general pain, irregular heartbeat and the shakes were not enough to kill immediately but as pathologic shyness and depression can be symptoms too, suicide and death through lack of self care cannot be ruled out as causes of death as well as mercury poisoning, and tuberculosis caused by the damp conditions in which they often had to work.

Ormolu gilders
Like hatters, ormolu gilders worked with mercury vapour and few survived past the age of 40. France was first to outlaw its use in 1830.  The original ormolu, popularised in the 18th century, was a means of binding powdered, high-carat gold in a mercury amalgam to bronze.   Silver-gilt was produced in the same way. 

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Crim Cons - what a 'criminal conversation' really was.

Heyer mentions people gossiping about the latest ‘Crim. Cons’; so what actually is a Crim. Con? 
It is short for ‘criminal conversation’ which was a euphemism for adultery. 
A brief foray into the rights of divorce is needed here; Men had it all their way, and women had very few rights at all.  A marriage could be annulled not, as is generally believed, for non-consummation, but only for an inability to perform at all; for insanity; for adultery [if it was the woman being adulterous] or for inappropriate relationships, ie incest.  A woman had to show not only adultery on the part of her husband, but also extraordinary cruelty or some inappropriate behaviour.  The former was unlikely as a man was permitted to beat his wife, children and servants and considered a good man to chastise as required.  The only successful divorces brought by women involved incest – ie, that the adultery occurred with the wife’s sister.  

Right, now the convolutions of divorce.
A couple could separate moderately amicably, and a divorce in the eyes of the church applied for.  This was a divorce, but had a slight problem.  Neither could marry again.  For a full divorce, an Act of Parliament had to be passed on each case.  And this could not occur until just cause had been proven; which meant a civil case of Criminal Conversation where the woman was caught in flagrante delicto or there were enough witnesses to show criminal conversation.  As a married woman was not a person in law, the person prosecuted was her lover. Damages could be set as seemed appropriate, and the cases avidly reported in the press.  Not all of them were high society, but the majority were of the gentry, since few other people could afford to tangle with the law. 

Once the Crim. Con. case was proven, then it went to parliament, where the old coals might be raked over yet again.  And it was expensive; as much as £5,000, which was a lot of money, bearing in mind that a clerk earned £80 a year, and the extremely wealthy Mr Darcy had £10,000 a year, and at the other end of the gentry, a few hundred a year might be as much as could be hoped for.  Even for Mr Darcy, half a year’s income was significant.  It is hard to precisely equate money of the time to money of today, but sticking a couple of noughts on is a quick and dirty approximation, so we are talking about something in the region of half a million quid in today’s terms.    The excessive cost was doubtless mostly the cost of greasing palms to make sure it went through quickly and quietly, but it would not cost less than £1,000.  

York Herald 16th July 1808


Fowler ver. Hodges

This was an action for damages, brought by the Plaintiff, an attorney, against the Defendant, his clerk, for a criminal conversation with his wife.  It appeared the lady was 45 years of age, and lame, and the Defendant a young man of 21 years of age.  The criminal act was fully proved by a servant girl to have taken place on the 21st of December last, in an office of the Plaintiff’s.  The Plaintiff was at Margate at the time.  The Lord Chief Justice was fully of opinion that the lady, instead of being seduced, was the seducer.  However the Jury gave a verdict for the Plaintive – Damages 150 l. [£150]

Here the damages are in accordance with the status of the plaintiff, and the level of distress and loss of reputation to him.

5th March 1796 Newcastle Courant.

And here the damages awarded to Lord Westmeath are £10,000, after asking £20,000 which were in keeping with his standing according to the jury, and not as high as he set his own self worth.  And in his case would cover the case going to parliament.  I like the phrase “her Ladyship and her gallant in a certain situation which delicacy forbids our particularising”.

Lancaster Gazette Saturday 11th August 1804

And here, the Rev. Charles Massey was plainly hoping to take a nobleman for a small fortune, wanting £40,000 from the Marquis of Headport [so many jokes, so little time]; the jury plainly considered the damages to s reverend gentleman worth £10,000 but no more.  Well, he could afford to divorce his absconding wife with that, but one wonders if he would ever get a living again; and if the living was from the Marquis, whether the reverend gentleman might find himself without a congregation.   Of course if he did not bother with a parliamentary divorce, and invested his damages in the Funds, an income of £500 a year would do very nicely, whether he repudiated his wife or not. 

            The circumstances of an impending Crim. Con. case were also reported, and gossiped about:

24th August Kentish Gazette Friday 24th August 1804

Winchester, August 20.  A circumstance that occurred here on Tuesday night, has engrossed the conversation of every tea table:

A medical gentleman of Southampton, who had missed his wife from an country house in the neighbourhood, traced her to an inn here, and on breaking open a chamber door realised the suspicions he had entertained of her fidelity, by finding her in bed with an illicit lover, who is of the legal profession, and who was severely beaten by the injured husband.  As the affair will probably be the subject of serious investigation we forebear at present to be more explicit. – (Salisbury Journal)

Which is to say the editor did not want to be subject to contempt of court.

My recently completed novel, 'The Unexpected Bride', contains a vital Crim. Con., which has a profound effect upon my hero’s status, and his desirability to be pursued by, in particular, my anti-heroine.   It was a horrible scandal to have associated with the family, which made it highly entertaining for the gossipmongers and bored society ladies to discuss.  This is a society in which some people would go to any lengths to cover up any adultery, as the Duke of Devonshire did, when Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, found herself pregnant by her lover.  She had to go abroad for a year to have the baby [which was adopted by her lover’s family] and give up all contact with the little girl on pain of having contact with her other children removed.
Which was another thing a husband could quite legally do.
Women did not get a fair deal!

Friday, 28 November 2014

I did it! I did NaNoWriMo!

I decided that this year I WOULD do NaNoWriMo, National November Writers' Month.  The goal, 50k words in a month.
I started with 20,166 completed, from 21st Oct to 31st October, and this morning, 28th November, I completed the novel in its first draft to 72, 565 words.  52, 349 in November so a qualifier!

And this is the probable look of the cover:


Edward Brandon discovers that Amelia Hazelgrove, the lady he had planned to marry is not interested when it seems that he is no longer heir to a barony, and swears to marry the first woman who does something for nothing for him.  This turns out to be his young aunt's companion Beth, who has been in love with Edward for some time.  Aunt Letty believes that Edward only needs time to fall in love with Beth, and arranges for her to have a Season, with Edward's rash proposal kept secret.
Circumstances make Edward an eligible parti again to Amelia, and she plots to regain Edward as her devoted suitor, if necessary by arranging to have Beth removed from the scene by a known rake.
Edward and his lady are re-united after a few adventures and with an unexpected tangle with a sweep and his youthful apprentice.

Right, so now it goes through the ruthless editing of my readers.... and maybe by the New Year it might be making an appearence on my bookshelf....

Monday, 24 November 2014

What I am up to and Civil War Plot bunny with 17th century name research....

What I'm up to is using NaNoWriMo to get back to writing, which doesn't mean I will even bother to sign up but it gives me a kickstart.  I started 21st October on a plot bunny that's been on the back burner, in which my hero is told to get lost by the girl he thought he loved, because he is no longer heir to a barony.  He swears to marry the first woman who does something for him for nothing.
Engaged subsequently to his aunt's companion, circumstances make him the heir again, and a certain little madam is plotting, her nose put out of joint by Edward's apparent unconcern at her heart-breaking. 
I've got 64,212 words so far, having done just on 20k when November started, which means to qualify for NaNo I need another nearly 6k words, but it doesn't matter that much as I'm on the homeward stretch and know what I'm doing.
I haven't forgotten Elinor's Endowment and will finish that next month.
I haven't forgotten Jane and Caleb and have been planning their next adventure.
I haven't forgotten William Price and will get around to finishing the book I started.
Felicia and Robin are waiting for me to do a cover. 

The new series plot bunny is set in the Civil War, and I mean THE Civil War, not that little affair the Americans had.  Actually, strictly speaking it's our third civil war, as there was The Anarchy [Stephen and Maud] and the Wars of the Roses before the Cavaliers [wrong but wromantic] and Roundheads [right but repulsive].
Now everyone I've spoken to has assumed I planned a puritan maid and a cavalier hero.
My heroine is a cavalier woman, married and about to be widowed, which is a good thing as her husband is a waste of space, and a Parliamentarian colonel.  He isn't religiously fanatical, he just believes in the rule of parliament, and actually comes from a Catholic family as he's a descendant of Robin and Felicia.  Why not?  Keep it in the family.  She is a frivolous piece and can do ditsy very well 'because she knows it teases'.
They meet through him requisitioning her house and lands for his troops to recuperate after a battle, and when one of his officers is murdered he works with her to find out whether this has a deeper motive than just being 'the enemy' and discovers that there is a lot going on under the surface.    I kill her husband at some point after they've discovered chemistry so there's a touch of guilt there too.... and then they go on to work together again, get married, and work through the protectorate, and hopefully into the Restoration.  I'm opening it some time before Naseby.

Naturally I started some name research and discovered some awesomely off the wall names.  One might expect Damaris, Mercy, Dorcas and Keturah, but Hebshebeth?  and two names that kept recurring throughout the 17th century, Bethia and Friswith. 

Bethia is Hebrew, servant of Jehovah, all well and good [I'd never come across it and I thought my Biblical knowledge was pretty good] and according to the internet was a Scottish name that became popular in the 17th century because of its incidental sound, like beath, good health.  Believe me, I was turning up Bethias in Sussex and you can't get a lot further from Scotland than that. 
Friswith is, to my best guess, a derivation from Frideswide, a Celtic saint whom I would have considered moderately obscure.  Why did it become popular?  who knows!  Further digging showed it to have been around in the middle of the 16th Century, and I can't help wondering whether it was a backlash against the Reformation in the use of a saint name, but one which was obscure enough not to cause a lot of official notice.  Elizabeth, Ann[e], Catherine and Sarah were already well enough established for no comment to be made, despite being saint names, as were Barbara and Audrey.   Bridget makes an appearance in quantity at the same period, and there are some medieval names revived, like Iden [ in the middle ages appearing as Idonia, Idonea, Ideny, Idone, Yden(e), Idunn, Iduna, and a lovely pagan name it is], so am I barking up the wrong tree?  this is of course the period for the introduction of New Testament names, and the obscurer Old Testament ones, as well as 'quality' names, so the  girls have Abigail, Priscilla, Ruth,Rebecca, Dorcas, Tabitha, Damaris[I haven't yet come across a Naomi to go with Ruth....] and so on, as well as Prudence, Patience, Mercy, Constance, Faith and Charity.
I do not believe the name 'Sense' which recurrs a few times falls into this category.  I think it's a development of Sencey, which is the common form of Sanchia aka Scientia, Sancha, Sence, Sanche, Sanctia, Science.  As I also have a 'Saint', I suspect that's a part of it too. 
The most popular girl's names are still Mary, Elizabeth, Ann[e], Joan and/or Jane [definitely two separate names] and Sarah.  Interestingly I'm seeing girls with a mother called Joan becoming Joane [Joanne as we would spell it now] or Joanna; and those with mother Susan being Susanna[h].  Not only are Jane and Joan now different names, being given one each to sisters, but Juliana and Gillian are now separate, Emma is the preferred form of Emme with one Emlyn [from Emblem]; Amy and Mabel are separated from Amabel, which does not appear at all, though I have one Anabel, which might owe something to it, as much as to combining 'Ann' and 'belle', which connection I make purely on the spelling.  

Naturally the men have a free rein of the weirder OT names as well as introducing Timothy, and reviving Aquila.  We have Ephraim, Caleb, Zachariah, Seth, Jonas, Josias,as well as the more familiar Isaac, Reuben, Daniel, Josiah, Samuel and Benjamin.  Abraham sits in low popularity but in use right through from the middle ages.  And surprise surprise, the most popular names are still John, William and Thomas. 

And of course the odd names.  And these are the ones I'm guessing to be the maiden names of the mother bestowed upon the first-born, as was Fitzwilliam Darcy - and guess what, there WAS a Bennett!  Others are: 
Ayliffe, Chileab, Pelham, Archdane, Grafton, Gayneshe, Artlebert, Marlyon, Oliphe, Bostocke, Harmon and so on.  I pitied the boy named Hunnibun.  

On the whole, the names prevalent in the 17th century pretty much give us the central stock of names of today, and apart from the odder Biblical names which are a little quaint to our ears nowadays, are mostly familiar. 
I'd love to hear from anyone who knows a Friswith though or who has one in their family tree.