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Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Guest Post: Countess Bathory – Between legend and fact

My guest post today is from the lovely Melinda De Ross, a new author.  Whilst her romance is in a contemporary setting, she has needed to get under the skin of the Renaissance character, Madame Erzebet Bathory. She has been kind enough to share that research for my blog page! 

Handing over to Melinda and a bit about her story first!  


In the legendary Transylvania, a castle belonging to Countess Erzsébet Báthory is discovered. Cameraman Hunter Cole and broadcast journalist Serena Scott arrive to make a documentary about the discovery, and the sinister Hungarian noblewoman, known as the most prolific female serial killer in history. 

The two Americans could cope with roughing it in a fifteenth-century castle, with no modern amenities. They can even cope with each other, despite their initial mutual dislike for one another, which gradually turns into a smoldering attraction. 

But when two girls are tortured and killed in Báthory copycat style, the nearby village is shaken to the core. In terror, they wonder who will be next...

the only known portrait of the notorious countess...

Ever since I’ve heard about Erzsébet Báthory, I was fascinated by this sinister character who, even in times when cruelty was far from unusual, still managed to stand out. I did a lot of research on what was fact and what was legend about The Blood Countess, and decided to weave a romance which has as a starting point The Countess and a fictional castle belonging to her. This is what I have gathered from my research.

Erzsébet Báthory (1560-1614) is a known historical figure and was a Hungarian countess, also known as Elizabeth Báthory, The Blood Countess or Countess Dracula. She has been labeled the most prolific serial killer in history, being responsible for the torture and murder of hundreds of young girls. The exact number of her victims is unknown, but is estimated at six hundred and fifty. It is speculated that she kept a diary with the names of all her victims, but if such a document exists, it has never been made public.
She was born on the 7th of August 1560 into a very powerful family of nobility in the Kingdom of Hungary. When she was very young, she learned Latin, German and Greek. When she became a teenager, she already was one of the most educated women of her time. At fifteen she married Ferenc Nádasdy, the son of a baron, in what was a political arrangement within the circles of the aristocracy. Nádasdy's wedding gift to Báthory was his home, Csejte Castle, situated in the Little Carpathians.
In 1578, Nádasdy became the chief commander of several Hungarian troops, leading them to war against the Ottomans. Since then, Erzsébet’s husband was mostly away from home, leaving the management of business affairs and the estates to his wife. That role usually included responsibility for the Hungarian and Slovak people, even providing medical care. For the duration of the Long War, Erzsébet was charged with the defense of her husband's estates, which lay on the route to Vienna. The threat was significant, for the village of Csejte had previously been plundered by the Ottomans.
Báthory and Nádasdy didn’t have any children for the first ten years of their marriage. In 1585, Erzsébet gave birth to a daughter, Anna, who died some time after 1605. After that, she had another two daughters and two sons. There were rumors that she had her first daughter when she was only thirteen and became impregnated by a servant. It is said she was sent away to have the child. Her fiancé—for Nádasdy wasn’t yet her husband— had the boy castrated, then thrown to a pack of dogs.
Between 1602 and 1604, after rumors of Báthory's atrocities had spread throughout the kingdom, Lutheran minister István Magyari made complaints against her, both publicly and at the court in Vienna. The Hungarian authorities took some time to respond to Magyari's complaints. Finally, in 1610, King Mathias II assigned György Thurzó, the Palatine of Hungary, to investigate. Thurzó ordered two notaries to collect evidence in March 1610. In 1610 and 1611, the notaries collected testimonies from more than three hundred witnesses. The trial records include the testimonies of the four defendants—Báthory and three of her servants—as well as thirteen witnesses. Priests, noblemen and commoners were questioned. Witnesses included the castellan and other personnel of Sárvár castle.
According to all testimonies, Báthory's initial victims were the adolescent daughters of local peasants, many of whom were lured to Csejte by offers of well-paid work as maidservants in the castle. Later, she is said to have begun to kill daughters of the lesser gentry, who were sent to her gynaeceum by their parents to learn courtly etiquette. Abductions were said to have occurred as well. The atrocities described most consistently included severe beatings, burning or mutilation of hands, biting the flesh off the faces, arms and other body parts, freezing or starving to death. The collaborators in court also mentioned the use of needles. Some witnesses named relatives who died while at the gynaeceum. Others reported having seen traces of torture on dead bodies, some of which were buried in graveyards, and others in unmarked locations. Two witnesses actually saw The Countess torture and kill young servant girls. According to the testimony of the defendants, Erzsébet Báthory tortured and killed her victims not only at Csejte, but also on her other properties.
If Báthory hadn’t come from such an important family, she would have most certainly been tortured and burned alive. There was no doubt about her guilt, because at the time of her arrest several dead and dying girls were found in the castle. Because of her family’s influence, there was a closed-door trial, where over three hundred witnesses testified. The exact number of her victims remains unknown, but even though the official count based upon evidence of the tortured bodies is around eighty, in a second part of the trial, a newly discovered register was entered as evidence, suggesting there could have been as many as six hundred and fifty victims. Báthory was imprisoned in Čachtice Castle. She was kept bricked in a set of rooms, with only small slits left open for ventilation and the passing through of food. She remained there for four years, until her death. On August 24th 1614, a guard looked through one of the slots and observed Erzsébet Báthory lying dead face-down on the floor. Since there were several plates of food untouched, the actual date of death is unknown. She was buried in the church of Csejte, but due to the villagers' uproar over having ‘The Tigress of Csejte’ buried in their cemetery, her body was moved to her birth home at Ecsed, where it was interred at the Báthory family crypt.

Find Melinda's book HERE

A horribly fascinating woman, thanks Melinda!  those of you who are familiar with my FanFiction writing might recall a certain Erzebet Cerny at Durmstrang, and now you know why I chose her first name, as I rarely use names without a lot of thought! 

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. 

Friday, 14 November 2014

The Area; an essential part of Regency town life.

  Dictionary definition [Chambers English Dictionary] : a sunken space alongside the basement of a building.

Area visible behind railings with gate slightly open. Top of kitchen door just visible under steps to right

This bald description does not describe the whole culture of the area, a Georgian invention but common through the Victorian age too.  In large towns and cities, where space was at a premium, the habit was to build houses up rather than to sprawl across the landscape, and so every inch was utilised.  The buildings are rarely more than 4 stories above the ground, three floors for the family, the attics for the female servants to sleep; and therefore, in addition, there was usually a basement for the domestic offices like kitchen and pantries, and here too was the domain of the male servants.   Where there were natural hills this basement might well be at ground floor at the back of the house, opening onto the garden where washing might be hung out, if it was not sent out to a laundry. Land values in any British town were high, because of the need to preserve as much farmland on a small island as possible; and in London at the time were comparable to land values in Lower Manhattan of today, where every inch had to be utilised to the best purpose.  The London clay and its solid base for building foundations, by the nature of its composition, made it ideal for building basements and dictated the shape of houses, which were able to be built both up, and down.

In the front of the house, however, the basement was accessed by a sunken space alongside it, behind railings, and beyond the pavement, unlike earlier houses, where the cellars often extended under the pavements, and may have had thick glass squares set into the pavement as skylights, which let in light but could not be seen through; or trapdoors for depositing coal or making other deliveries.   The coal in a house with an area had to be carried in sacks down the steep iron stairs and put through the vertical access trapdoor, which with a window into the kitchen and a door into the kitchen was one of the three common piercings of the basement wall into the area.  In ‘Death of a Fop’ the area and basement figure prominently, since one of the servants dallies on the area steps with one of the villains, who is sweet-talking her, and the house-breakers find their way in through the coal house, having to saw off the bolt on the inside, since their confederate had failed to open it when posing as a temporary servant.   

Looking down the area steps.  No coal cellar apparent here

Confined all day to the basement regions, the area was a place of social intercourse for the servants; dish clouts might be hung out there to dry, tradesmen would call there with deliveries, and a young girl might snatch a few minutes when ostensibly hanging out dish clouts, or looking for the butcher’s boy, to have a chance to gossip with the servants in the area next door as voices carried readily in the echoing underground area.

Large houses with a room on each side of the door would commonly have the steps up to the front door built as something of a bridge, in order to leave a way through from one end of the area to the other; often they were also a bridge when on a single room’s width house, and the kitchen door opening from under them, so there was some protection from the weather when receiving anticipated tradesmen, or indeed itinerants.  They may be blocked at one side of the steps over but I have seen some where the area of one house was essentially contiguous with next door.  This is not, however, common as it encouraged the servants to socialise and waste time.

this area is on a corner and is quite large though less useful for servants to socialise as it is not close at all to the area of the next door house! 

 It is important to remember that there were many itinerant tradesmen as well as beggars in the regency, and the traffic to the kitchen door might be quite considerable, with knife grinders offering their services, tract-sellers, who were quite as importunate then as some Jehovah’s Witnesses can be today, flower-sellers, ribbon sellers, sellers of broadsheets, either new songs or news of who was hanged this day, rag men buying rags to sell to paper makers, old wax to sell to candle makers and so on.  Beggars might call to beg a crust of bread or some scraps.  In addition would be the scheduled visits of the milkmaid, the fishmonger, the butcher, the baker and probably the candle maker if not the candlestick maker.  If laundry was sent out, it would be collected and delivered here.  Footmen would deliver messages to the front door, and so too might mantua makers deliver their sewn goods to the keeping of the butler [or footman in a less elevated household] for the lady of the house, but most of the daily running of the house was conducted via the area door.  A very important and busy part of the household!

another view of the area of the house on the corner, looking the other way round the corner
 All photos copyright Sarah Waldock 2013, taken in Brighton at The Steine and on the sea front.  Please ask permission to re-use and credit me. 

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Unwilling Viscount, now published! and other writing news....

it's out in time for Christmas, and I hope you all like it....  at  and at

I am tackling NaNoWriMo, and hoping to complete the text of a novel this month, tentative title, 'The Unexpected Bride', and no, I haven't forgotten Elinor and the Charity School, and nor have I forgotten Jane and Caleb, Felicia and Robin or William Price. 

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Travel in Austen's time was fraught with danger... and it wasn't just potholes

'Overset' cartoon by Rowlandson


Travel was not easy in the early 19th Century; although the roads had been much improved with the toll road system, journeys were long and fraught with danger.  The coaches were not particularly well sprung, even if employing the leaf spring, and there was no means of staying cool in summer or warm in winter, though one might wrap up warm and take a hot brick for one’s feet.  The exigencies of hot or cold weather however were not the worst tricks of fate weather could throw at the unfortunate traveller, as in the story recounted below, which I recount in full because it's worth noting the heroism and kindliness shown:



The Scots Magazine - Tuesday 01 November 1808

Dreadful accident
A dreadful accident befell the London mail coach which left Glasgow on Tuesday, Oct. 25th [1808] the particulars of which will be found in the following letter:
“Moffat, 26th October, 1808.
“We had, yesterday, a most dreadful storm of wind and rain, and the rivers in the neighbourhood came down in torrents, such as have never been seen by the oldest people here.  Among other damage occasioned by it, we are sorry to state that a shocking accident happened to the mail coach from Glasgow to Carlisle.  At the bridge over the river Avon, about nine miles from this, at a place called Howcleugh, betwixt 9 and 10 o’clock last night, the coach had just got about half way over,  when the bridge gave way in the middle of the arch, and the coach, passengers, horses &c. were instantly precipitated into the river, a fall of about 30 feet.  There were four inside and two outside passengers.  The two outside passengers and two of the horses were killed on the spot, and the other passengers made a miraculous escape with their lives; though we are sorry to say, they were all very considerably hurt.
The coachman and guard were also much hurt; the former had his arm broken, and was otherwise much bruised, and the guard received a severe contusion on the head.
“The other coach from Carlisle to Glasgow was narrowly prevented from falling into the same precipice.  It was coming up just about the time the accident happened, and from the darkness of the night, and the rate the coach necessarily goes at, it must inevitably gone into the river at the same breach in the arch, had not one of the passengers who escaped given the alarm.
“By the exertions of the coachman and guard of the other coach, the passengers who survived (a Lady and three Gentlemen) with the coachman and guard, who had fallen into the precipice, were enabled to extricate themselves from the dismal situation into which they were thrown, and conducted to a place of safety till other assistance was afforded them.
“Much praise is due to Mr Rae, the Postmaster here, one of the proprietors of the coach, for his exertions and assistance on this occasion.  Immediately, on hearing of the accident, he set out in the middle of the night, with several of his servants and others, in two post chaises, and gave every possible assistance to the passengers, &c. and by this means, we are happy to say the London mail and other valuable articles in the coach have been saved.
“Mr Clapperton, the surgeon, is also entitled to much praise for his ready assistance upon the occasion; and the exertions of John Geddes, one of Mr Rae’s servants, are particularly deserving of notice, who, at the risk of his life, went into the river with a rope fastened to his body, and saved the life of the lady (one of the passengers) and some of the mail bags, which must otherwise have been carried down the stream.
“the coach and harness are completely destroyed.  Mr Rae has lost two valuable horses by the accident, and the other two are severely hurt and bruised.
“The bodies of the two passengers who were killed have been found, and have been brought here this morning; the are Mr William Brand, Merchant in Ecclesechan, and Mr Lund, of the house of Lund and Toulmin, of Bond Street, London.”

This does not appear to be an isolated incident as the report from the Kentish Gazette - Friday 16 November 1810 shows:


And remember the phrase in the old phrase books ‘my postillion has been struck by lightning’?  I always thought that a silly phrase until I read how many people travelling by coach WERE struck by lightning.  This example from The Ipswich Journal, Saturday 19th August 1909: 

I’ve come across several incidents of carriages struck by lightning, including one where a lady passenger had her arm burned and her wedding ring melted.

The weather was not the only problem.  In Heyer one reads of  roadhogs ‘hunting the squirrel’ and trying to force carriages off the road with their own, or just driving so badly other road users are driven off the road by these rich young men in their sports cars, er, carriages.  And there are also tales of such rowdy gentlemen who insisted on taking the reins, often to the detriment of the passengers.  This report from the Cheltenham Chronicle - Thursday 13 July 1809  is an example:



Cheltenham Chronicle - Thursday 13 September 1810  tells us that there were other factors that could cause problems, here a load of sheepskins whose smell upset the horses:



And pedestrians were not much better off, because if any vehicle went out of control they were at risk even as today when a car mounts the kerb; this sad little story from the Durham County Advertiser - Saturday 14 June 1817:


And finally, not quite a travel disaster, but one involving a horse from Durham County Advertiser - Saturday 08 April 1815:

On can’t help wondering if the unfortunate horse had a burr under its saddle with malice aforethought to the unfortunate prince, especially in light of his father’s accident, and the fire.

So, how will the gentle writer use travel disaster?  Will an overturned or stranded carriage precipitate the hero and heroine together? Will a traveller in a strange land need to explain that his or her postillion has been struck by lightning? Or will a murderer or spy make use of a carriage disaster to make it seem that his victim died as a result of the accident?  Or will a jealous rival merely place a burr under a saddle, either of our hero[ine] –  or of the postillion, to make a whole coach run away?






Sunday, 26 October 2014

Pretty things

I was somewhat inspired by this post by a Covent Garden Gilflurt's Guide to Life HERE showing the pretty notebook of Queen Charlotte, which she never used.

I use a LOT of notebooks, mostly school exercise books, which I curse gently as I rifle through to find the right one.   So I decided to cover them with excessive and baroque wallpaper...  and then I also got excessive with old desk diaries.

a mix of die cut shapes and stickers... quick and simple but pretty.... this one I'm using largely for those plots that have a series attached, with a month's worth of pages given to each series. 

this diary needed covering, so I used marbled paper, an urn cut from textured wallpaper, and more stickers, a few gems and a bit of pen work.  I haven't put anything in this one yet. 

detail of above.

and not as fancy,but at least now individualistic exercise books.  This is what we used to do at school; or rather, we were encouraged to cover things with either wallpaper or brown paper.  Many of my friends used up old rolls of wallpaper, and I went out to get a wallpaper book from a hardware store so I could colour code all my subjects.  Anally retentive?  moi? 

The one with the William Morris wallpaper contains my notes for 'Lady Molly' stories, following the eponymous detective of the Baroness Orczy.  Jane and Caleb reside in suitable furnishing patterns, and the rather bright orange one is ideas for sequels to 'Friends and Fortunes' on the grounds that Virgilia is best described as 'extremely'.  Add any adjective you like.

Plot ideas and short stories. The plot ideas are just the initial scrawl of a plot bunny as it takes me, and may end up as a sub-plot, or become something more to transfer to the book of series. 

and my first attempts at a Georgian story, 'Milady's Masquerade', notes and the first chapter or so.

the other books are poetry, The Charity School series notes, and weather.  I've been using the Newspaper archive online to find the weather, and currently it's in a notebook in longhand.  I'll be blogging about that too later...

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Really strange phenomena from the 'long' Regency.

I've been researching weather for a while, with a view to presenting a month-by-month description covering the 'long' Regency and whilst poking around in the Newspaper Archive, I've come across one or two very odd things.

Saturday 24th august 1811 Norfolk Chronicle.

Monday 28th November 1803 Salisbury and Winchester journal.
Add to this the Lunar rainbow visible at Edinborough on the 20th October 1801, the odd case of ball lightning as on 30th January 1801 at Hoxton,  several hurricanes, and people frequently killed by lightning, and it appears that the early 19th century had some very exciting weather indeed.
I'm guessing that the event at Bromswell camp may well have been some kind of ball lightning; but has anybody got any idea what happened at Grantham? 

Update, 8th October 2014, I have been thinking about the apparently greater incidence of lightning strikes and ball lightning in the Regency period, and as I have been informed such things routinely happen in those parts of Eastern Europe that are far from technology, I can only postulate that the lines of pylons we take for granted, each with their own lightning conductor, and the tall buildings we are become used to, also with lightning conductors, attract the static electricity that may be responsible for the spontaneous formation of ball lightning, and too attract the lightning itself so it does not harm people.  Morover, the modern car is a Faraday cage, protecting its inmates from lightning, whereas the wooden carriage with metal only in its springs, was a danger to its occupants in being often the highest thing around. 
I still have no idea what happened at Grantham.

Friday, 5 September 2014

I've been guest blogging again...

... This one on Kathryn Kane's new 'Romance' blog, so if anyone would like to read my blog on 'the elements of romance' please find it HERE.  This is an addition to Kat's excellent 'Regency Redingote' blog HERE which is most certainly well worth browsing.  Get your cuppa first though, you'll be lost in it for hours of enjoyment.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Unwilling Viscount

All right, I give in.  Rookwood might have seemed a classy title but it panned; so I'm trying the expedient of seeing whether using a title in the title works.  I'm also using the expedient of changing the cover.  Haven't got the blurb on it yet, but here's the new version.  A departure for me from my Ackermann's prints but as the original panned so thoroughly, I might as well experiment.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Knowledge Quest article!

This month and next, two of my name articles will be published in Knowledge Quest online magazine 

Do check it out!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Smugglers, spies and pirate treasure..

Well, it's out.  And I hope everyone enjoys it as much as I enjoyed the writing of it.  You can find it Here in the US or Here in UK

I'd like to thank Helen and Gina for doing a readthrough for content and anachronism and Anne Seebaldt for a thorough job of proofing and editing, and the girls at DWG for reading and commenting. 

I have two reviews so far:

5***** from Giselle
“Rookwood” is a Regency Romance masterpiece by Sarah Waldock. Her detailed knowledge of the period peppers the book but she applies her knowledge with a deftly gentle touch. You are so at home in the Regency tableaux painted by Sarah Waldock that you feel her hero Kit Rookwood and Nell Bletchley, the heroine are already friends and you cannot but wish them well in their lives together. It is Regency Romance at its best, Sarah’s love of the English Language revels in this poignant love story. A believable and joyful rendering, this is truly a work the author should be commended for. Well written, fast moving, with just enough mystery to keep you hooked.

4**** from Nicki
This story is written in Sarah Waldock's characteristic style - intellectual free-thinking heros and heroines, exceptional Regency details and entertaining dialogue - but with added excitement! She has added in smugglers, pirate treasure and intrigue in with the balls and etiquette that surrounds our perception of the Regency period.

Cons - The sentences tend to be long and occasionally cumbersome, particularly in dialogue. In addition, the differences between the clever and not-so-clever characters are too defined -
some of the supposedly clever things are a little too obvious, and the stupid people seem more than ordinarily thick-headed to make up for it.

Overall, the story is excellent and well told, and a very entertaining read. Definitely recommend.