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  • 07/14/13--17:56: Bath in 1713
  • by Marie-Louise Jensen

    During the Bath Literature festival a couple of months ago, I bought a ticket for a guided walk with the theme 'Bath in 1713'. As this is just two years before my book 'The Girl in the Mask' is set, I was really curious to see how much the walk would add to my knowledge of Bath at that time and how much I would already know - and would I discover any errors?
    What did I already know? Lots! That the season ran April to September, that sedan chairs were used instead of horses and carriages in the narrow streets and the locations of many of the old buildings such as the original assembly rooms, city walls and Guildhall.
    What did I learn? Amazingly I learned that one of the four city gates still survives! The East gate opened onto the river Avon and had a wharf for loading and unloading goods and passengers. It is still there down below the old Empire Hotel (now an appartment and restaurant complex) beside the Abbey. I had no idea it was there (locked behind iron gates) even though I've been to the other end of it when canoeing on the river.
    I learned to distinguish the gabled fronts of the pre-Georgian houses from the parapet, flat fronted Georgian buildings - and even to spot where the old style had been converted to the new to keep up with the fashions. I learned there is one surviving Tudor house front hidden away in Shire's Yard. It was fascinating.
    And yes, I discovered I had made one mistake. Trim Theatre was not in Trim Street, as I had understood. It was around the corner in Upper Borough Walls. Bother!

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    I have been teaching creative writing classes in my town, Cheddar, for a few years now. Heather was in the first class I taught, and she's been with me ever since. She's one of the busiest people I know; she's 75, but she still works in a small supermarket and in her spare time she looks after people - early on, I asked people what their hobbies were, and she said, 'I collect old ladies!'

    Heather at work in The Write Class

    She loves writing and she'll turn her hand to anything - stories, poetry, and memoir about her family, particularly her mother, another exceptionally hard-working lady. One week, I'd asked the class to write about an interesting object. Heather brought in a tiny bracelet, woven in scarlet, white and sapphire blue patterns, and she told us this story.

    During the war, when she was a little girl, her family were living in a cottage on the levels near Mudgely. The Somerset Levels are drained by a network of ditches, or rhynes, which have to be regularly cleared of mud and weeds. One day, a truck drew up near Heather's home, carrying a group of Italian prisoners of war from the prison camp at Penleigh near Wells. The truck was driven by a young Luftwaffe officer whose plane had been shot down. The Italians jumped out and began to clear out the ditches. As an officer, the German didn't have to work, so he passed the time by making bracelets out of bits of old cocoa tins and lengths of coloured plastic string. Little Heather was fascinated by the handsome young soldier: she couldn't speak German and he couldn't speak English, but even so, the two of them struck up a friendship, and he made little Heather her own, special bracelet. The family was poor and these were stringent times; a present was a rare and wonderful thing and she cherished this one - and still does, after seventy years.

    Some time after Heather told us this story, another member of the group told us she was helping to curate an exhibition in Wells museum. It was in celebration of the 'last fighting Tommy', Harry Patch, who had latterly lived in Wells, and they wanted to collect reminiscences from local people - I bogged about it here. She asked us if we would mount a display of pieces we had written to do with life in either of the wars, and we did, with Heather's piece about the bracelet in pride of place.

    One of the visitors to the exhibition was Siobhan Goodwin, who is the leader of Wells Bookworms, a children's book group. As it happened, the group had just been reading a book by Michael Morpurgo called Little Manfred, about POWs working on a farm in England. She was thrilled when she read Heather's story, and wondered if it would be possible for the writer to come and talk to the Bookworms. She got in touch with me, and I put her in touch with Heather.

    Heather was delighted to go and meet the children, and thus began a project which has led to the Bookworms writing a book which is to be launched in September, called Heather's Bracelet. It tells other stories too - like that of the meeting between Guiseppe and Sybil, a farmer's daughter, who fell in love and eventually married. Many of the Italian POWs stayed on after the war - the statue on the left, of Romulus and Remus, was made by Italian POW Gaetano Celesta, to thank local people for their kindness to him and his fellow prisoners. As the Bookworms talked to friends and relatives, they gradually uncovered all kinds of links between the POWs and their own families - some of which had been quite forgotten before the children began asking questions. The book has a lovely cover designed by a relative of Heather's, and it is to be translated into Italian too: it's entirely written and edited by the children, under Siobhan's guidance. The launch is to be held in the museum, and a copy will be sent to local primary schools. I think Siobhan and the children have done a fantastic job - and that little bracelet was the starting point.

    So what does this tell us? Perhaps that history is a living thing, and that stories are at its heart?

    (If anyone is interested in coming to writing classes in Cheddar, please get in touch through my website, www.suepurkiss.com)

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     Queen Victoria would not be amused.  I’m fairly sure the many small regional museums won’t be, not one bit.  

    Something is going on right now, here in schools in England, that makes me angry. Not huge humanitarian disaster angry, but angry all the same.

    Here’s how my worry began. (Do go and get a cup of coffee first. You might need it.)  

    In May, at Llanberis Slate Museum, just below Snowdon, I watched a jovial Welsh ex-quarryman give a slate-splitting demonstration, aiming his talk and jokes at a large class of London school children. Then he called out one of the teachers to split a slate with him.  However, the man was doing this as both a thank you and farewell to the teacher.  It was their last show.

    The teacher had organised annual visits to the Slate Museum as part of a study trip to North Wales for several years. However, this was a final visit. Although the school would send the pupils from the same school year to Wales, but changes to their curriculum meant that the students wouldn’t be “doing the Victorians” any more.  So no more visits to the Slate Museum.

    I began pondering: if a lot of schools stopped their visits, the museum would suffer cuts in both income and funding, not to mention the impact on local employment around the attraction. That worry sat in my mind.

    I remembered the worry again, about two weeks ago, when I visited Cannon’s Hall Museum, near Barnsley, to discuss a possible project.  After looking round the fine rooms above stairs, I was taken below stairs. 

    I entered a large, fully-equipped Victorian kitchen with a cast iron range, sinks and scrubbed wooden tables. Here, dressed in costume, primary children from schools as far away as Manchester experience life as a servant in a big house during Victorian times. 

    Under guidance from "the Housekeeper" and her staff, the pupils work, prepare, cook and then eat the meal in the servant’s dining room, using appropriate manners at all times. The visit is a very popular "Victorian" experience.  My concern grew stronger.

    Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen various comments on the revised History Curriculum, with its intention of showing "coherent chronological progression", even though I have yet to visit a primary school without some sort of historic time-line displayed somewhere.

    The changes matter because a school visit is not an idle, unconnected, out-of-any-context day out. Schools link such visits into the needs of their curriculum. However, glancing through the document, the popular and accessible Victorians seem to diminish as a subject for this age group. And so, I fear, will a significant number of the visits to those places that – horrible expression! -  “offer the Victorians.” 

    What does the new curriculum include instead? 

    For this post, I'm ignoring KS1 & KS3. 

    Children in Key Stage Two ( 7 to 11 year olds) can study the Stone Age to the Bronze Age, the impact of the Roman Empire on Britain,  Britain’s settlement by Anglo-Saxons and Scots, and the Viking and Anglo-Saxon struggle for the Kingdom of England up to Edward the Confessor, stopping at 1066.

    The curriculum does win praise from some because the Victorians can be included through a local history study or "theme that extends their knowledge beyond 1066", and the Ancient Egyptians may  fit into "studying the achievements of the earliest civilizations, Ancient Greece, or a non-European society."

    But what might the new requirements do to the primary school history visit? I'm still thinking it over. 

    Schools could tramp Hadrian’s Wall or visit Sutton Hoo or shout at the Scots from the walls of Berwick on Tweed – only joking! – or join the long queue for overcrowded Jorvik. Or - surprise! - look at interactive whiteboard displays. Surely, the further you go back, the harder it is for many modern children to imagine that era of history and the fewer settings there are where that time can be brought to life, given our climate? It’s quite a sad situation. So many primary children seem to be interested in history now and I’d like that to continue. 

    Over the last decade, history has been made interesting through tv programmes, through children’s books, through good teaching - including art and drama -  and also through “historic experiences” such as visits and re-enactments that are often the gathering together of learning. I feel that primary children learn from the accessible, the hands-on and the imaginable before they understand distant or abstract facts.   That is how they can be enccouraged to ask the history questions – what and why and when and who?

    As far as I can see it, this revised new history curriculum will badly affect many places and people involved in making our history matter.

    It might not matter so much at the heavyweight sites such as Beamish or Ironbridge, but may seriously damage the many smaller local museums that have created good learning experiences for children.

    How will such places carry on their work when they are getting less income from school visits? And at a time when they are also facing “austerity” funding from national and local organisations and bodies, often based on visitor numbers. I’m not convinced that the quantity of visits from free schools and academies, with their self-chosen curriculum, will make up the fall in funds quickly enough.

    I really do hope that representations are being made by various historical groups and other interested parties in time for the 8th August response date. I also hope that there’s not any silence imposed from above on museum staff as there was and is in the library closure debate. Consider the historic rise and fall of that system . . .

    Obviously, the primary school curriculum isn’t there to support the national museum & heritage industry. However, shouldn’t someone be thinking through the wider impact of all these changes and choices? After all, isn’t “and the consequences were” one of the history’s important lessons? Doesn’t that thought conclude one story and start another?
    Talking further of stories, what will be the effect on books and novels for children of these changes? Will the revised history curriculum develop a pleasure in historical fact and fiction, whether at primary, secondary, teen or young adult level?  Will writers, publishers and booksellers carry on being interested in the writing of history beyond lithe royal beddings for the grownups? 
    While writers of Viking stories may be comforted
    (well done, Bradman & Son) does Caroline Lawrence’s excellent Roman Mystery stories focus enough on the Invasion of Britain to be included. ("Pompeii? That's not England!) I do hope so!

    WWI & WWII are not emphasised in this new KS2 curriculum, which may be bad luck for all those places offering Evacuee visitor experiences, as well as for any fiction set in such times. 

    Maybe there will be no mention of “War Horse” or “Private Peaceful” or the other Morpurgo novels, except around the "national festivals" such as Remembrance Day?

    I can't help feeling worried about the consequences of these changes. Without the popular events and educational experiences that bring in the money, museums and galleries may not be able to support their other exhibits and exhibitions - and we will all be the poorer for their decline.

    As a child, I loved visiting museums and historic places. I’d wander round, as I do now, waiting for the tingle that comes with discovering an interesting object or a curious artefact or an intriguing fact that mattered to me personally. Such places made me into a writer, made history come alive for me.  I want museums and galleries to be there, to give children such moments.

    But, speaking personally, with all the new changes and restrictions in the history curriculum, for how long will that be possible?

    Penny Dolan
    A BOY CALLED M.O.U.S.E (Bloomsbury)

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    photograph by Joanna Kendrick

    Every summer, I go off to this place, Charney Manor in Oxfordshire, with other writer chums. This annual 'retreat' is open to all members of the Scattered Authors' Society www.scatteredauthors.org . Quite a few of the History Girls are Charneyites, including Katherine Langrish, Adele Geras, Leslie Wilson and Sue Purkiss, who sadly weren't here this year, and Mary Hoffman, Dianne Hofmyr, Katherine Roberts and Penny Dolan, who were (if I've missed anyone out, I do apologise). To the absentees - you missed a treat, girls. It was a vintage year, and not just the weather. It was inspirational. It has already inspired fellow History Girl Katherine Roberts to prompt her Reclusive Muse to blog about it on his  http://reclusivemuse.blogspot.co.uk

    Katherine has written about using the Tarot to inspire writing, one of many excellent creative sessions, but I was intrigued by the introductory warm up session, devised and run by HG, Penny Dolan. We all had to say what we have on our desks. Everybody was different. Some people didn't even have desks. They worked on laptops wherever they happened to be, in the house or out of it or, in the case of Mary Hoffman on a settee and a coffee table. I know one person there who writes in bed, but she wasn't saying, so I won't out her. Quite a few people did work at desks but, even then, there were big differences. Some people had to have a view out of the window, others faced a wall. In Katherine's case, the Reclusive Muse can only be conjured in semi darkness. And then there were the desks themselves. Some were clear, others cluttered, some were for writing only, others were for other activities and seemed to be the length of an entire wall (I have to suppress my desk envy here).  Everyone was different, as individual in this as in their writing. For each person, their writing environment was important. They had to feel comfortable in it, before they could begin the process that would take them away altogether, to a place where they would cease to notice anything around them and their coffee would go cold, as mine is doing now.

    Something else emerged here. A lot of us had things on our desks, or in our writing rooms, that had something to do with what we were working on, or had worked on in the past. Objects that had garnered an almost talismanic significance or importance, even though they would be meaningless to anyone else. Or, in some cases, just things that we like to have around us. Of course, when it came to my turn, I'd forgotten many of the things that are actually on my desk at the moment, subbing in things that had been there, but had been moved.

    So, this is my desk, as of last night. I don't always have a glass of champagne on it but there is normally a mug of tea or coffee, full or empty (the glass got knocked over shortly after this picture was taken so now I have a champagne soaked diary). The wall behind the desk is also part of my writing environment. There is a noticeboard which has pictures, maps and postcards to do with what I'm currently writing. The wall around it has pictures and other things to do with past books. At the moment my desk holds: reference books, diary, notebook, basket of random pens and pencils, timer, little blue vase from Pompeii, a knitted lion (both presents from my daughter), a crystal  ball (The Fool's Girl), Cyclydian statue of the goddess (The Stone Testament), moonstone egg, assorted shells and fossils (because I like them), a gold llama (Stone Testament), a Liberty box containing beads (not in the photo - current project and also Colour Her Dead), a moon gazing hare (Witch Child), a magnifying glass without a handle that belonged to my father, a pot of tiger balm for headaches, a mouse mat from Gunter Grass' house in Lubeck which says Katz und Mauspad (current project), mini calendar showing scenes of Warwickshire. Oh, and my computer and keyboard.

    Sometimes things have to be moved off and migrate to a different shelf.

    This is my pirate shelf. It holds the things that I collected when I was writing Pirates!. Sculking in the background is a soldier boy who just might be about to be promoted to desk top proper.

    I know that these pictures will fill some people with horror, but I like having these things around me. They remind me of what I find most exciting about writing - having ideas, the process of creation, the books, the places I've made up, the characters I've grown to love.  There's not an award, a certificate, or framed review in sight.

    I'm wondering what other people have on their desks. Anyone care to share?

    Celia Rees


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    by Theresa Breslin

    So it’s holiday time, and all too often the long-suffering Mr B is dragged off on what actually is a thinly disguised research expedition for a book. This requires him to plan and book the trip and accompany his HG to photograph sundry relevant locations. Obligingly he reads up on the chosen historical period and does some preliminary digging; e.g. finding, among the trenches of the Western Front, the exact position occupied by my soldier in Remembrance. But, in truth, he’s a man of Science. The mind, Mathematical, the profession, Physics

    For The Medici Seal he inspected anatomical specimens in Pavia University where Leonardo da Vinci studied anatomy. In Andalusia he shuddered his way through a Museum of Torture while I garnered info to write a scene in Prisoner of the Inquisition. Whether tramping over soggy moors to one of Bothwell’s Border strongholds to add to the Spy for the Queen of Scots notebook, or driving round every stricken Chateau (his words) on the Loire to augment my knowledge for The Nostradamus Prophecy, nary a complaint passed his lips.

    But this year, with the latest book sent off to the editor at the end of May, I enquired sweetly as to where HE would like to go - with a guarantee that no book research would be done. I would carry no notebook (well only the teeny-tiny one I always keep about me somewhere). I would refrain from droning on about the intricacies of life at the French Court during the middle ages. I would ask for no difficult photograph to be taken as in: ‘I know we’re in Flanders fields and the sign has a skull and crossbones on it darling, but if you just shoved the camera through the barbed wire….’ (He rightly refused to consider that request) 

    It’s would be HIS holiday, HIS choice of books to read, HIS choice of snaps for the photograph album.

    So here they are:

    Image Copyright
    I have to confess that I saw more copies of Fifty Shades of Grey on display as the holiday read of choice than a book about a distinguished Scottish scientist.
    Mr B. was unconcerned: ‘Lord Kelvin was an exceptional physicist – do you know that absolute zero is minus 273 on the Kelvin Scale?’

    Image Copyright

    The Guide in Croatia’s National Park was quite startled to get a positive response to her enquiry: ‘Has anyone heard of a Croatian scientist named Tesla?’ You-know-who’s hand shot up. And he could ADD information to her spiel with the riveting fact Tesla had established a working hydro-electric power station before the one at Niagara Falls was operational. So, while the rest of the party focused on the iridescent butterflies and swimming turtles, we beat a path to the site of Tesla’s original (now updated) Power Station.

    Image Copyright

    A Ferry ride in Montenegro elicited interesting observations about propulsion, and displacement of water.


    Image Copyright

    In Dubrovnik our companions in the cable car ooohed and aaahed at the fabulous panorama of the Adriatic unfolding before their eyes. 

    My guy marvelled over the mechanics of the system which prevented us from crashing down the mountainside.

    The eve of departure and time for a quiet drink over dinner.  A sip of sparkling water? Nothing of note there.  Ah, but the pip of the lemon, seemingly of its own accord, is constantly rising and falling within the glass. Why, you may ask. Well it would seem that the bubbles cling to the pip causing it to rise. On reaching the surface they dissipate, causing it to fall. Indeed the action of the bubbles could be reasonably compared to those in a Hydrogen Bubble Chamber used for tracking sub-atomic particles. Now you know. 

    We eventually got to drink our water and some cool Croatian wine.

    He had a great time. So did I

    Happy Holidays!

    P.S. When unpacking I opened the teeny tiny notebook and found I’d scribbled a few words.
    There may be a story from that trip after all…

    Photographs  © SCARPA

    The Traveller (from dyslexia friendly publisher Barrington Stoke)
    Divided City  Playscript now available.

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    HEAT. It's bad enough for those of us indoors, but as I sit sweating unattractively over my keyboard I can't help thinking of the British soldiers who fought under a baking sun at the Battle of the Alma. Laden with full kit, these men were so desperate with thirst that they stopped to scoop water from the river right under the fire of the Russian cannon. Those who passed through the Bourliouk vineyard snatched handfuls of grapes as they ran, and many of the corpses collected afterwards were found to have grapes still in their mouths, the skin unpopped between their teeth.

    It's two years now since I wrote about it, but it was just as easy to imagine back then. It was usually-chilly April when I went to the Crimea, but the sun seemed to know what I'd come for, and blazed over the Alma as viciously as it had in September 1854.

    The Alma the day I saw it

    It wasn't the only fortuitous bit of weather. Travelling down from Simferopol Airport we passed through a section of fog so dense it made me think of the Battle of Inkerman, but when we stopped to ask directions the sight of a hitherto invisible road sign made the back of my neck prickle. Інкерман, it read. Inkerman. The fog lay as thick as it had in November 1854, and I was there.

    The battle of Inkerman

    Luck, of course – but it’s the kind that seems to happen a lot with historical novelists. If you get five of us together with a bottle of wine then sooner or later the anecdotes will tumble out – lucky guesses with description, names and places we thought we’d made up and hadn’t, plot twists that turn out to have really happened. It seems at times more like serendipity – that moment where historical truth touches our own fiction, and the border between the two worlds melts away.

    Woollarawarre Bennelong
    Nor is the phenomenon limited to novelists. My own first glimpse of it came 22 years ago when I was researching for a television project on the life of Woollarawarre Bennelong, and trying to find out what he saw and did on his visit to Britain in 1793.  

    Bennelong was an Aboriginal native of New South Wales, and the director was thrilled with the ‘culture-clash’ scenes of his hero visiting the theatre and being presented to King George, but we also wanted to touch something deeper – a trace of Britain’s own ancient heritage, and the way Bennelong might have responded to it.

    The scene I kept picturing was Bennelong at Stonehenge. This dignified man of the Eora people, forced to dress in the ridiculous English fashions of the 18th century, suddenly put face to face with this

    The director was of the Eora himself, and simply desperate to do the scene, but unfortunately I found Bennelong lodged successively at London, Eltham and Frognal, and was rather unlikely to have taken a little daytrip into Wiltshire. Then I paid one last visit to the Newspaper Library at Colindale and found a little paragraph about Bennelong’s arrival in the London Times. Unusually, his ship had landed him at Falmouth, and a look at old maps told me the rest. The route he would have taken had been the regular Falmouth-London carriage road for centuries, and the relevant section is what we now know by the unromantic name of the A303.


    I’ll always remember the director’s response when I told him – perhaps because both his accent and word choice have since been immortalized by Dame Edna Everage. ‘Spooky,’ he said in a tone of awe. ‘That’s just… spooky.’

    It wasn’t really. Lucky chances like that are massively outnumbered by the times our ideas don’t work out – which we conveniently choose to forget. When I was writing ‘Into the Valley of Death’, for instance, I was very excited by a scene between my hero and Fanny Duberly, the one officer’s wife in the Light Brigade – until I found out the wretched woman refused to stay in the camp and spent her days on a ship in Balaklava harbour instead. Honestly, some of these historical figures have no consideration.

    Yet still the idea of this superstitious ‘luck’ persists. It’s understandable when it comes to a matter of plot – those times we ‘make something up’ then find out afterwards it’s something that actually happened – but there are still usually logical explanations. It might be a fortunate guess, or something we once read and have since forgotten, or it might just be that our idea is so obviously likely that the only surprise would be if it hadn’t happened. I once invented a plot to kill Cardinal Richelieu, for instance, but there was nothing remotely spooky in the discovery that the plot was real. The man had so many enemies that if he’d dropped dead at a dinner party there’d have been more suspects than in an Agatha Christie.

    But what if we’ve invented something very unlikely? Something wildly off the regular historical track and which we couldn’t possibly have known about? What if we write it and then find out it’s true?

    I had a weird one with my first novel ‘Honour and the Sword’, when I needed a really good excuse for a French army to come charging over the Picardy-Artois border to help with my hero’s liberation. It was true the French crossed in 1640 in order to besiege Arras – but the location of my hero’s village was fixed by the plot-essential Forest of Lucheux some twenty miles to the west, and it was hard to justify an army going so far out of its way. In the end I came up with the idea of a distraction – that this was a second French army advancing on the Spanish strongholds at Aire and Béthune in order to fool the Spanish into drawing troops from Arras to meet them. It was maybe a little devious and far-fetched, but it was possible and it did the trick.

    And rather more. Weeks later I was browsing an amateur site with photographs of siege works, and stopped in disbelief when he made blithe mention of the French ‘distraction advance’ against Aire and Béthune. No sources were mentioned, no means of verification, and when I e-mailed the site owner he could only say regretfully that he thought he’d ‘heard it somewhere’. I turned to the experts and asked my distinguished colleagues on the academic H-France list-serv if they’d heard of such a plan, but not even they could help. Then at last Robin Briggs of All Souls said he’d come across a reference in an antiquated life of Richelieu, and the source seemed to be the memoirs of the Seigneur de Puységur. If I could only find those…

    But there aren’t many 17th century French memoirs in British libraries, and this was easier said than done. At last I ran to earth a copy on the German site of AbeBooks, forked out an eye-watering sum of money, and bought the thing, because I simply had to know. I’m allowing myself the indulgence of posting a photo of the paragraph, because I can still remember the extraordinary sensation I felt when I first read it.

    It was true, all of it. It really happened, and exactly for the reasons I thought I’d made up. Now that, as my Australian director would have said, is spooky.

    But is it really? All I’d done was think myself into the mind of a French general in the situation in 1640, and if I was doing my job properly then it shouldn’t be surprising if I’d actually come to the correct conclusion. But it still feels like more than that. Writers are superstitious beasts, and the support of history can seem like a kind of ‘sign’ telling us we’re on the right track – that what we’re writing is in some way ‘meant’. That sounds bonkers, of course, but writing is an insecure business, brilliant ideas don’t come to order, and just as we personify inspiration into a mystical ‘Muse’ we can also look on historical affirmation as a kind of guardian angel guiding our steps to the truth.

    Maybe literally. Lots of writers speak as if their stories and characters are real, and for historical writers it’s sometimes tempting to stray even further into belief. For ‘Into the Valley of Death’, for instance, I decided to make a plot character out of the mysterious ‘unknown officer’ who gave seriously dodgy orders at the Battle of the Alma, but when I set out to invent incidents to keep the story going I found he was already there. Balaklava, Inkerman, a strange cavalry patrol – the man had slipped under the historians’ radar for 150 years, but he was absolutely everywhere I looked. By the time I finished the book I was convinced the story I had written was more fact than fiction, and I’ve since been thrilled to find a couple of academic historians who agree.

    It’s always wonderful when it works like that. Sometimes it feels as if we’re not ‘making things up’ at all, but merely blowing away the dust round a dinosaur skeleton to expose the story that was there all the time.

    Maybe what my next book will look like...

    But it’s not spooky. It’s deduction, that’s all, using the facts that exist to look for a pattern, and sometimes stumbling on one that’s real. If we start believing there’s more to it than that, then it’s time for the little men in white coats.


    One last anecdote, one from my current book, and the one that decided me to write this post. Without giving away too much plot, this is how it works:

    In my Crimean novel ‘Into the Valley of Death’ I established an English traitor and master villain with the innocent name of ‘Mr Shepherd’. For ‘Enemy at the Gates’ I’ve expanded his role to include the (genuine) network of local spies who did business round Balaklava, and needed the character of a young Crimean-Tatar wineseller to be one of those loyal spies. My knowledge of Crimean-Tatar is non-existent, so I googled to get a list of Tartar names and chose (randomly) the name 'Çobanzade’. 

    Crimean Tatars 1862
    As the book went on the plot expanded. I needed Shepherd to have had an affair with a Crimean-Tatar woman at least twenty years before the war, but for her to be still loyal to him now. It only took a minute to invent a reason for her continued loyalty – there was an illegitimate child and Shepherd is still supporting him. Better still, make the son the Tatar wineseller, link them all together and kill two narrative birds with one stone. Perfect.

    Two days ago I needed another Tatar name and found a different website that even gave the names their Tatar meanings. Among those listed was ‘Çobanzade’, and I couldn’t believe it when I saw what it meant.

    Son of shepherd.

    Explain that one, Sherlock. When I gave Shepherd his name I had no idea he’d ever appear again in another book. When I gave Çobanzade his name I had no idea what it meant or that I’d ever want him to be more than ‘Tatar Wineseller #1’. The name could have meant 'big nose' or 'rose of spring', but it meant Son of Shepherd and it had been there all the time.

    Coincidence, of course, and I do understand that. I’ll only say that it gave me that prickling feeling again, and I bet you’ll understand that.

    Because it’s not just me, is it? We all have these stories, and I’ve heard far better than mine. So come on, ladies (and gentlemen, if you're out there) - own up and make me feel less weird by telling meyours.

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    There are several advantages in being married to an itinerant cheesemonger. One is that because my husband, Ned, has a portfolio career in cheese, he also does some cheese making and that’s how we ended up spending a week on a farm in Somerset just as the weather got good.

    Not sure about you guys, but once the high-as-a-kite feeling of finishing a novel wears off, I normally get very tired and usually slightly ill. It’s a pain, but it’s also part of the process. If you spend several months pushing yourself hard to write a decent book there will be payback, mental and physical. I recommend recovering on a farm while your husband makes goat's cheese. There now follows some of the reasons why. 

    Quiet. I live on a main road in London and while I was writing the book there were some buildings works going on nearby. This meant as well as the sirens there was a loud semi-continual beeping from cherry-picker cranes that was… well, let’s just say unhelpful. On the farm all I could hear was the sound of the wind in the trees, birdsong, twice a day the low thrum of the milking machines, goats bleating and the occasional pig. 

    Looking but not needing to see. There are lots of things to look at on a farm, but no one is expecting you to comment on them, capture them in prose, work them into the fabric of your story so they have emotional and narrative significance as well as just being interesting in themselves, so you just get to look at stuff with your brain in neutral. There was something about the time of year that meant that at dawn we were woken by the light coming in through the neo-gothic windows, and it made an astonishing gold pattern on the wall opposite. 

    People, but not parties. I could lie out on the lawn and read, but there was enough activity, Ned, his fellow cheese makers, the owner and the other farm workers coming and going to make coffee, make calls and so on, so that I could remember I was a member of the human race, but I didn't need to be very proactive about it. Then in the evenings there was a chance for conversation and staring at the sunset, watching the light fade in the garden and listening to other people’s stories - mostly of travel and food. 
    Fresh reading. The farm is also full of interesting books I hadn’t read.  

    New things. For instance, watching the cheese being made, the sound of the whey draining from the curd as it knits together in little moulds. Or really looking at goats. Or being really looked at by curious cows. 
    So you relax and absorb it all, the light, the words the quiet and you let it settle in you. I also recommend having Radio 3 on in the background when you are doing the washing up.

    I studied Russian at university, and lived there a year. I didn’t become a great Russian scholar but I picked up some new habits, such as the slightly flamboyant way I now write my capital ‘M’s and vodka, but the one I’m thinking of now is the superstition that before you leave your house to go on a journey, you should sit for a moment in silence. My Russian hosts explained to me this was so your heart/soul/spirit had a chance to catch up with you and come with you on your trip (it’s also quite a handy way to give yourself a chance to remember what else you’ve forgotten in the flurry). I thought of that again in Somerset - the importance of just taking time to be still for a minute. We need those periods of silence, setting your brain in a neutral gear, letting your rather weary heart/mind/spirit catch up with you again.

    Just before we left Ned and I walked into the village and sat in the pub garden. I started talking to him a bit more about the next book I want to write, but in broken sentences, half-thoughts. Ned was tired and content just to listen and let it come at its own pace. Then he went back to the bar during a particularly long pause and when he came back with another cold pint of cider, I had a couple of pages of prose - a short monologue from one of my characters - in my note book and the feeling that some how I was catching up with myself again, coming back to myself in the sunlight and the breeze shifting the leaves above our heads.

    Imogen’s latest book is The Paris Winter. It was short-listed for the CWA Historical Dagger 2013. Andrew Taylor won it, but that’s ok because his book is excellent and he’s very nice.

    And here is some info on one of the cheeses Ned was making.

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    Eryngium maritimum © Valerie Hill 

    Effective, practical enhancement of the art of love has been sought after since ancient times. Roots of sea holly or Eryngium maritimum were collected on a large scale in England during the 17th and 18th centuries for candying as restorative, quasi-aphrodisiac pastilles, known as eryngoes. Old records of Colchester show that the town was famous for oysters and eryngo root, where a 17th-century apothecary called Robert Burton set up a manufactory to made these popular sweetmeats, candied with sugar and orange-blossom water. They even get a mention in the 'Merry Wives of Windsor', when Falstaff, off to meet Mistress Ford in Windsor Forest, declares; ‘…hail kissing comfits and snow eringoes; let there come a tempest of provocation…’ 

    Sea holly grows well in gardens (you absolutely wouldn’t collect it from the wild anymore – it’s far too scarce) and Mrs Grieve suggests digging up the roots at the end of the season, from plants at least two years old. Geoffrey Grigson points out wryly that, ‘careful wives grew Sea Holly in the physic garden.’ (What are you waiting for...?)

    Pliny describes it as a sweet savouring root. 16th-century botanist William Turner writes of its virtues; ‘to stir up the lust of the body, and … give it to both men and women that are desirous to have childer. Some condite (candy) or keep in sugar the roots for this purpose.’ Nicolaus Alexandrinus of the late 13th century has four medicines using this herb which he ‘maketh to stir up the pleasure of the body, and to make men and women fruitful.

    Sea holly © Valerie Hill
    Here’s a 17th-century recipe for Candied Eringo-roots from Hannah Woolley. I have it on good authority that it is effective – but don’t blame me for consequences of any sort whatever:

    Take of your Eringo-roots ready to be preserved, and weigh them, and to every pound of Roots you must take of the purest Sugar you can get two pound, and clarifie it with the whites of Eggs exceedingly well, that is may be as clear as Crystal; it being clarified, you must boil it to the height of Manus Christi, and then dip in your Roots two or three times till they are all Candyed; put them in a Stove, and so keep them all the year.

    Dorothy Hartley gives us a hand-me-down recipe for Eyringo Jelly (sometimes called Gloucester Jelly as sea holly grew in the estuary):

    1 oz each of sago, hartshorn shavings, eyringo root, and pearl barley; put into a pan with 2 quarts water, and boil until reduced to 1 quart. Strain and let it set – it should be stiff. Slices of it should be put into invalid drinks (!) – or it may be flavoured and sweetened and eaten as a jelly.

    She also suggests Eryingo toffee:

    Boil some of the sliced root in a little water till well flavoured, and add this water to the sugar and butter with which you make the toffee: just as it is ready to set, drop the softened root chips into it.

    Early purple orchid © Valerie Hill
    It wouldn’t be representative of the early herbals if I didn’t include mention of them getting it perfectly wrong. A popular but useless aphrodisiac came from the orchid (or standergrasse) family. ‘Orchis’ is from the Greek orkhis meaning literally ‘testicle’, and the plant acquired attributes of sympathetic magic due to the shape of its tuber. Orchids, particularly Orchis mascula or Early Purple were cited as a vital ingredient in a sweet electuary known as a diasatyrion, which combined Orchid tubers with dates, various nuts including pistachios, galingale, peppers, musk, ambergris, grains of paradise, ash-keys, nettle seed and Malaga wine, and which was prescribed by the College of Physicians in London as ‘a provocative to venery’. Henry Lyte’s 'New Herball' of 1578 says: ‘the full and sappy roots of Standergrasses (but especially of Hares Ballocks, or Goates Orchis) eaten, or boyled in Goates milke and drunken, provoketh Venus, or bodily lust.

    But there were plenty of other options if you couldn’t get your hands on either of these. Pliny suggests that artichokes ‘taken in wine stirreth up the lust of the body… but likewise as this herb provoketh lust in women, so it abateth the same in men.’ As ever it depends on whom you read, and Henry Lyte disagrees on the finer point; ‘the first springes or tender impes of the Artichoke sodden in good broth with bytter, doth mightily stirre up the lust of the bodie both in men and women, causeth sluggish men to be diligent in Sommer…’ Aniseed (Pimpinella anisum) is a traditional aphrodisiac, a sweet, warming stimulant herb. Turner says of anise that ‘it stirreth men to the pleasure of the body.’ There was lovage, and garlic. Ayurvedic medicine still regards garlic as rejuvenative and aphrodisiac. Turner says that it ‘stirreth men to venery, drunken with green Coryander and strong wine.

    Ash keys © Valerie Hill
    Anyone could obtain a bit of ash out in the woods or on the roadside – its seeds according to Dioscorides, ‘provoke lust’ or ‘render a man more spirited with ladies’. Lyte says, ‘The seed of the ashe-tree increaseth naturall seed, and stirreth by Venus, especially being taken with a Nutmeg, as Isaac, Rhasis, Damascenus, and many other Arabian Physitions doe write.

    Other traditional spring tonics like watercress (nasturtium) and parsley feature often in the herbals as having aphrodisiac virtues. Turner claims that ‘Persely… stirreth up appetite to cold women’, and it’s notable that parsley oil is used today in perfumes for men. There was saffron, or coriander seeds, or leeks and onions; in some regions of France there was a custom of preparing onion soup for newly-weds after their wedding night. Pliny suggested that if southernwood (also called lad’s love) ‘…be layed under the bed, pillow or bolster, it provoketh carnall copulation, and resisteth all inchantments, which may let or hinder such businesse, and the inticements to the same.

    The opposite effect.
    Just in case, I should point out one or two easy-to-find antidotes or anaphrodisiacs: such as mallow, hops and lettuce. The Pythagoreans knew lettuce as the 'eunuch’s plant', but luckily you need more than a bowlful of salad for it to have an effect, it’s the concentrated milky juice or sap, the 18th-century 'lettuce opium' that has the sedative power.

    And while I’m in this bodily vein (it’s all sex and death today) – there are still tickets left for the upcoming Medicine and Mortality weekend at the Weald and Downland Museum in Sussex, 21-22 Sep. Historians including Ian Mortimer, Clare Gittings and Owen Davies will talk about health, fatal illnesses, magic, medicine and funeral rituals; medical herbalist Christina Stapley will demonstrate historical herb recipes – ask her about eryngoes! – and much more.

    And that, people, is my very last post. I’ve absolutely loved being a History Girl and will go on reading HG posts galore, but right now must bury myself and do nothing but write, write, write, for a while.

    Thank you for having me, and adieu… 

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    Eight people who I never knew, but they are crucial to me, and part of me; I carry bits of their bodies around with me. And there are other things I wouldn't know about; mannerisms, foibles - all part of the genetic heritage that was passed on to me through my ancestors.

    I think ancestors must begin with great-grandparents, though perhaps not if you knew them. But all of these people died well before I was born; indeed, two of my great-grandmothers, I know, died before my mother was born.

    The Bakers, my father's grandparents, are the ones I know least about, because my father never knew them. Great-Grandad Baker, I know from my aunt Mollie, was a coastguard at Gosport. The story she told me was that one day he came into the coastguard station and found his colleague hanging there, having committed suicide. The man had been an alcoholic, and my great-grandfather forthwith foreswore all alcohol. Whether he subsequently became a Methodist (my granddad Baker was) or whether he already was, or whether it was his son who joined that church, I do not know. Of Great-Grandma Baker, I know nothing at all.

    My other paternal great-grandparents were Henry and Ellen Jacques. Here they are.

    Ellen and Henry Jacques, date unknown

    Henry Jacques was born in Liss, in Hampshire, in 1833.  Family tradition has it that he was of Huguenot descent. He began his working life as a porter, then became a maltster, which means that he treated barley with malt to brew beer. Later he became a signalman at Midhurst, Sussex, but three railway lines went through Midhurst, and I don't know which one he worked for. My father remembered him as a quiet, retiring man, and he died when Dad was still young, of dropsy - maybe heart failure? But his smile, and his stance on this photograph make me think of my father.

    Ellen was twenty-five years younger, born as Ellen Norgate in the pretty village of East Meon in Hampshire in 1858.
    street in East Meon

    We visited East Meon the day after our daughter's wedding: curiously she chose to be married in Midhurst, in the Walled Garden, Cowdray, without any idea of the family connection with the place. When Ellen Jacques lived at 6 Station Road, Midhurst, Lady Cowdray used to graciously call on her - so maybe she was a tenant of the Cowdray Estate. Anyway, Ellen's mother, Ann Norgate, had a whole string of children, with nary a father listed for any of them. Whether this meant that the father had disappeared, or that they all had different fathers, or that they just didn't want to give the money to the parson, I have no idea. When my father was told this (as a result of my brother's family history research) he sat there gobsmacked, saying: 'But Grandma Jacques was always so respectable.) When she came to visit her daughter's family, she used to ask my father how much money he had in his money-box, and then double it, which was an incentive for him to save. Much later, when he was a young man and his father died (which he did when Dad was 17) my father cycled over to Midhurst from Bristol and stayed with his grandmother in her cottage. Ellen has passed on to me and to my brother her cheekbones, and also I think my eyebrows and eyes are like hers. There is also a look about her face that makes me think of my daughter Kathy, the one who was married in Midhurst. There she stands in her pre-World War One costume, decent black, with the little brooch at her neck. She lived to see that war, but not the Second World War, and was an old woman in the between-the-wars era we love so much to read about nowadays.
    East Meon church
    font, East Meon church
    She and her husband were married in the impressive church at East Meon, and there, I guess, she was also baptised, in the wonderful font which was brought to England from Tournai, which is now in Belgium, in about 1130-40.
    Here is the census entry for the family in Midhurst, in 1911. My great-aunt Nellie was then a 'Malta Lace Assistant' - she must have sold Maltese lace (fascinating that the shop sold enough for her to specialise); she later married a soldier, my father's Uncle Sam, who she reclaimed from 'a life of vice' though what that vice consisted of my father never managed to find out.
    Helene, Maria, Erich, Gustav, Martin and Bernhard Roesel, Giersdorf im Riesengebirge, perhaps 1905?

    So here are my Roesel great-grandparents. Gustav (who my mother said was a postman, but who appears on a census as a mason - but people in mountain areas often do several jobs) was born in 1866, eight years after Ellen Norgate, in Loewenberg in Silesia (now Lwówek Śląski, Poland). My mother remembers him as a forthright, rather crusty old man, who didn't like the Nazis. Maria Roesel was born in 1870, but where I do not know. I only know her birthdate because she appears on an application for a visa to transit Belgium on the way back from England to Germany, which my grandmother had to fill out in 1951. My mother kept it, probably because of the family data, and now I have it, though it is gradually separating into two halves. My great-grandfather moved at some stage to Giersdorf/Podgorzyn, where my grandfather was born. Maria died when my grandfather was quite young, of TB, but my mother was thought to resemble her. Luckily she didn't inherit the protruberant ears, which she passed on, as the photo shows, to Martin and my grandfather Bernhard. I do remember Opa's sticky-out ears. My mother didn't have the beetling brows either, but Maria may have looked a lot prettier when she wasn't having to sit still for ages for a photographer, with a wriggling baby on her lap. If my mother got her straight nose from Maria, that is where mine comes from, too. When we went to Podgorzyn (once Giersdorf) in 2010, I left some sweet rocket flowers for her in the flattened graveyard of the one-time Protestant church, where, presumably, her bones are laid. We also ate in the inn in Podgorzyn (sorry, there should be an accent on the second o, and I can't put it in here) beneath the nest of a stork whose ancestors may well have nested there when my great-grandparents were alive.

    The land they lived in is now Poland, rather than Germany, and the people who came there were expelled from their own homes in the Polish Ukraine. Maria never experienced that upheaval, but Gustav was deported from Giersdorf after the Second World War, and my grandfather tried hard to persuade him to come to the Rhineland to join him. But he refused to come, because he didn't want to believe he wouldn't ever see his beloved mountains again, and he died in a displaced persons' camp in the Russian Zone. Just one of many such stories, as whole peoples were moved about after the war. It does make me sad.

    landscape in Riesengebirge/Karkonosce
    His life, however, was like something from Heidi. He was a mountain man; he bred Saint Bernard dogs, one of which was my mother's especial friend when she was small. It was quite normal in winter for the snow to engulf the ground floor of his house; my mother remembered going to visit him and exiting her bedroom window on skis. He kept goats (I have a photograph of my mother in a basket with a kid) and milked them - or maybe Maria did that. He'd have chopped huge woodpiles for the winter, as you can still see in Alpine villages, and she - or his second wife - would have put up fruit and vegetables in jars. When the Poles arrived after their horrific journey from the Ukraine, they were delighted to find all the preserves, and the houses so tidy and well-appointed. Though I gather, from what I was told when we went to Silesia, that it was hard for them to settle down; they always thought the Germans would come back, just like my great-grandfather. I think now their descendants feel more at home, and that is a good thing.

    Here, from that same transit visa application, are the names and birthdates of the Kolodzej great-grandparents. Kolodzej is a common Polish name, incidentally, and means Wheelwright. Franziska, I see, was older than my great-grandfather Simon, and both were older than my mother's paternal grandparents. Franziska also died of TB, as did two of her daughters, my great-aunts.My grandmother was seven when she lost her mother. Simon and Franziska were both born in Cosel, now Koźle, near Opole in Upper Silesia and they were Catholics. I know nothing of Franziska beyond the fact of her death, but my mother remembered Simon as a gloomily religious man, pro-Nazi, antisemitic, and scary. He went to live in Zabrze, where my mother was born, and where he managed an iron-works. I think he had money, which he put into property because he was convinced that was safer than investing on the stock market. He was wrong, though his descendants put in an application, post-war, for restitution of at least one of the dwelling-houses he rented out. I guess they got it. I have the form, again, which has more family information on it. I don't know when Simon Kolodzej died, but I think it was before the end of the war. He remarried, after Franziska's death. His second wife had been sent as his housekeeper from a convent; she was no aristocrat, however, as in The Sound of Music, but a foundling who had been abandoned in a basket at birth, and it was considered a scandal that such a well-off man should marry someone with such a shady past. I have never found any record of her children, though, nor did my mother talk about them, so I guess the marriage was childless.

    They lived in a world quite different from the one that we live in, and I sometimes wonder what any of them would have thought, if they had known how their genetic material would travel and mix up; it is a long way from Hampshire to Silesia. And in the next generation there came in Northern Irish protestant stock, from my husband David, and now my three grandsons descend on their father's side from Scots and East End Jews. One of my nieces has a British husband of Asian ethnicity. But that - as I said two months ago on this blog - is what being British is all about!

    All colour photos by David Wilson.

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    A few months ago a reader wrote to me to say that I mentioned sugar in one of my novels and she wondered how they had extracted sugar from sugar beet in the 12th century.  I wrote back explaining that sugar at the time came from sugar cane, not beet, which wasn't processed as a source of sugar until the late 18th century.  Just recently I read a novel set in the 14th century which explained how much of a treat sugar was back then, and I decided that perhaps a few notes on the Medieval sugar industry and how medieval people treated the commodity might prove interesting to readers.

     Unlike honey, the powerful sweetness of sugar from sugar cane was not available to everyone.  It began as a product grown and produced in India and gradually spread to the Middle East and the Mediterranean. By the 10th century, Egypt was a major producer and exporter of sugar and by the 12th it was grown wherever practical  in all Muslim lands bordering the Mediterranean.  More distant areas such as Morocco and Andalusia were under cultivation too.  There is also strong archaeological evidence for Christian sugar production in the Jordan Valley in the crusader period. Cyprus too became a major producer, and Crete, dominated by the Venetians and Genoans.  It was in Cyprus that the water driven sugar crushing mill was invented, thus making sugar a more readily available commodity on the European market.  The Venetian Cornaro family owned extensive sugar plantations on the south of the Island around Espiscopi and a sugar processing complex. Sugar syrup was obtained from crushed cane, clarified, solidified into conical loaf shapes and sold throughout Europe.

    modern sugar loaf
    In the 14th century Italian Merchant Franceso Pegolotti listed fourteen different types of sugar readily available to the consumer.  These included rock candy, sugar scented with roses or violets, sugar from Damascus, Bablyon and the Genoese port of Caffa in the Crimea.  Pegolotti lists sugar with descriptions of spices, and indeed it was classified as a spice in the medieval period.

    There was a large European market keen to buy sugar for artistic and medicinal purposes.  It was ideal for creating confectionery sculptures as statements pieces at grand banquets and was being used on a large scale in France by the reign of Philip IV (1285-1314).  Even earlier in England in the 12th century, it is listed on the Pipe roll accounts for the reign of Henry II. 
    However, even as time and technology progressed and the Cypriot crushing mills brought down the price of sugar, it was still a luxury item.In the 15th century, honey imported into England cost £2.10 shillings per ton.  The same weight of sugar cost £40.00 per ton.  At this sort of price, a single bag in the consumer's hands was worth a skilled man's wage for a day.
    French medieval merchant selling sugar loaf (far right)

    As mentioned above, sugar was viewed in the Medieval period as a  medicinal item.   That it tasted good and could be turned into various forms such as syrups and pills was a great advantage and it also helped to counteract the bitterness of some of the medicines in which it was an ingredient. It wasn't until the 18th century that sugar ceased to be considered as a drug and a spice and became a basic staple of daily life.

    An important medicinal use of sugar was to balance the humours.  The medieval mindset on bodily health was based on humoural theory - the belief that all existing things were composed of a combination of two pairs of elements - warm and cold on the one hand and dry and wet on the other. These elements were then acted upon by the temperamental agents of blood, choler, phlegm and melancholy.   The sanguine temperament (blood) combined warmth and moistness.  The choleric temperament was warm and dry, the phlegmatic cold and moist, and the melancholic was cold and dry.  Foodstuffs too had their element, and the way they should be prepared had specific and logical rules.  So, fish that were cold and moist, were generally fried at least as a first step in their preparation, because frying was hot and dry.  Wine was seen as a hot, dry substance in terms of its humour, so was an ideal medium in which cold, moist pears might be cooked.  Again, the same with fish.  Lampreys, seen as being particularly cold and moist were often killed in red wine and then cooked in it. Henry I dying of a surfeit of lampreys has more going on in that statement than first appears.  Any medieval person would immediately recognise the danger signs.  You took your life in your hands when you ate lampreys unless they were correctly balanced by other products and suited one's humour!

    On the humour table, sugar was warm in the first degree and moist in the second and seen as being one of the best foodstuffs for the human condition. It gave sugar a starring role on the pharmacist's shelf and by the 14th century was so prevalent in dishes for the unwell or the recuperating as opposed to those who were healthy, that historians can immediately tell the intention of the dish when studying recipes of the period.

    Of course, if it was good for the sick, then it was probably beneficial to the healthy too, and following on from this, everyone else who could afford it embraced sugar into the diet. What was not to like?  The Tacuina sanitatis, an 11th century  medical treatise has this to say on sugar.

    'Ask the grocer for refined sugar which is hard, white as salt, and brittle.  It has a cleansing effect on the body and benefits the chest, kidneys and bladder...It is good for the blood and therefore suitable for every temperament, age, season and place.'

    Since Medieval food was all about balance and harmony, sugar was often combined with vinegar, the properties of which on the humour table made it the perfect partner for sugar and a distinct 'sweet and sharp' cuisine became very popular.  Fish, chicken, rabbit, all received this treatment, sometimes with the sweetness coming from dried fruit. All very delicious, (I've tried rabbit and salmon versions and they are wonderful)  and all very good for you by the lights of humoural theory.

    Sugar and spices were blended together as an end of meal digestif, aiding the closing of the stomach after it had been opened with an 'aperitif' to light up the furnace of the stomach and get it working. The main courses would then be consumed by the fire in the stomach cauldron, and the digestif would settle everything afterwards and close it all down safely.   Cinnamon or rose water were blended with melted sugar to make sweets and partaken of at the end of a meal.  Candied ginger too and cardamom. We still have the tradition when we we eat After Eight mints, truffles, petits fours, and the like following formal meals, but mostly without remembering the original reason.

    In the large Italian cities such as Milan, the equivalent of sweet shops existed by the end of the 14th century and 'Candi' (from Arabic 'Kand') could be bought by weight in small amounts, made from imported cane sugar melted and crystalised and sold in paper cones - see the illustration opposite (that brings back memories of my own childhood and the way sweets were bought in the local shop!). 

    These days our love for sugar has run wild and some would say out of control.  In the Middle Ages, sugar was a drug, and I guess we're all addicts!

    Elizabeth Chadwick's latest novel The Summer Queen came out in June 2013.

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    There's a well-recognised phenomenon, written about by Simon Jenkins, that everyone looks back to a golden age, and that for most people that age is about fifty before the time they are in.  I've just discovered an antidote, in the unlikely form of an old cookbook.
    When my Scottish mother-in-law died, twenty years ago,  I inherited the contents of her kitchen bookshelf.  Mrs Beeton's Cookery and Household Management has found its way out of the box.  It's not the original, but the 1960 edition, and has some quaint vignettes of domestic life at that time.  If nothing else, some of the livid pictures of the food are enough to put anyone off:

    There are some faint rumblings of feminism (sections on women's property rights, exhortations for the housewife to find time for herself, etc) but 1960 is still a world of considerable domestic drudgery.  There's even a warning to beware of unexpected tasks generated by 'labour-saving' devices.  Washing machines make more ironing, and as for freezers:

    While making it possible to conserve large quantities of produce, ready for quick serving when required, a quick-freeze cabinet does mean the housewife must cope with preparation of food to go into the deep freeze; and this must be done when the fruit is ripe or the chickens ready for killing; which often means a busy season for the housewife.

    If you were going on holiday, you were advised to scatter the miracle chemical paradichlorobenzene around the edges of all your carpets, so the moths wouldn't start munching while you were away.
    How times change.  This is the latest on paradichlorobenzene, from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency:

    Exposure over long periods of time can affect the central nervous system with symptoms including speech impairment (dysathia), a lack of muscle coordination and weakness in the limbs. Exposure can also result in liver and kidney damage. Ingestion of para-dichlorobenzene may cause gastrointestinal irritation, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Exposure may also cause liver and kidney damage. Dermal contact with para-dichlorobenzene can cause skin irritation. Eye contact can cause irritation. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has designated para-dichlorobenzene as a possible carcinogen.

    Oh dear.  It's a miracle so many of us survived growing up then.  Its reminds me of an early 20th century medical book, also passed on by Granny, which recommends cigarettes to alleviate symptoms of bronchitis. 
    But I bet a lot of things we are urged to do today will be exposed as laughable years to come.

    The best thing about the Mrs Beeton volume is not what's on its pages, but what lies between them.  There are all sorts of recipes and press clippings stuffed in for safe keeping.

    One cutting, sadly undated, is from the Aberdeen Press and Journal.  A reader has written in asking for a recipe for 'Buttery Rowies'.  If you've never been to The far North East, you may not have come across this breakfast delicacy, which is the source of immense local pride.  A 'buttery' is not delicate, and it is not good for you.  If you want to know why Scotland has the worst heart health in Europe, you need look no further.  Somewhat inappropriately, this one, auctioned on Ebay in 2006, raised £620 for the Royal Aberdeen Children's Hospital.

    Here's the recipe.  Give it a try if you're feeling suicidal. 


    1lb flour
    3/4 lb lard and margarine, mixed
    1 tablespoon salt
    1 tablespoon sugar
    1oz yeast
    1/4 pint tepid water

    Sieve flour; mix yeast, sale and sugar.  Add to flour along with tepid water.
    Set in a warm place to rise to twice its bulk.
    Divide fats into three parts.  Roll out dough on a floured board,  Dot first part of fat over it in small parts.  Fold in three and roll out as for flaky pastry.  Repeat twice until fat is used up.
    Divide into "Buttery" shapes* put on greased and floured tray, and prove for further 30 minutes, then bake in a fairly hot oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

    NOTE: when working with yeast, all utensils must be warm.
    *[ie rough lumps about the size of a man's palm]

    Butteries do actually taste good, as long as the cook has used plenty of salt, and you eat them straight from the oven, before they turn to stone.  But the health news gets worse.  They are usually served slathered with butter and jam.
    Good luck.

    A postcard slipped into the book - not in my mother-in-law's handwriting, and possibly very old - has what looks like a pretty straightforward  recipe for Tasty Ginger Cake.  It sounds more appealing than the (perhaps fortunately) partly illegible Hawaiian Delight, a mixture of pineapple, walnuts, cake and double cream.

    Cut 6oz of preserved or candied ginger into rather large dice.  Pass through a sieve 12oz of flour and a half teaspoonful each of baking-powder and ground ginger.
    Stir together until smooth 1/2 lb each of butter and castor sugar, then beat in 4 eggs adding with each one a little of flour mixture.  Stir in the dice of ginger and remainder of flour.  A little milk may be necessary, or one or two tablespoonfuls of syrup from preserved ginger may be used.  Bake gently in a butter-lined tin, usually for about two hours.
    There's no indication of oven temperature.  I'd guess Gas Mark 5 or 375/190.

    One of my favourites amongst the scraps of is POTATOES FOR ALL OCCASIONS, a leaflet from the Potato Marketing Board.  Perhaps the most interesting thing about that organisation is where it was housed -- in a grand building almost directly opposite Harrods in London. The nanny state in its heyday. At last, I understand where Mrs Thatcher got her passion for abolishing quangos. I wonder whether she turned her hand to any of the strange mix of the blindingly obvious and the downright weird on these four small pages (Taffy's Pie, perhaps, or Hopel Popel).  The stains on the paper suggest that Granny was a fan.

    I might give some of the recipes a try, just for fun, but overall, I have to admit that I'm rather glad things have moved on.


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    Muizenburg Beach, South Africa 1950
    My father was a lifesaver, a surfer and an amateur early photographer. In an old shoebox I discovered heaps of negatives and sepia photographs some still in their buff Kodak envelope sleeves from the 20’s and 30’s. His surfboard was the thin wooden type with an upturned nose, sometimes called a belly-board – the kind where the surfer lies down as he catches a breaker. I found this wonderful photograph of him from the late 30’s with a girlfriend. The board is clearly visible leaning up against the back of the car. 

    Photographs of his friends at a place called The Strand show a gang of them making pyramids and fooling around like teenagers. They weren’t teenagers but rather youths and young women. The term ‘teenager’ hadn’t yet been invented. There was nothing as indulgent as being a teenager. Boys and girls were expected to grow up and behave like grown ups. That’s why it was particularly special to find these photographs of people his age really having fun. He’s the one second from the front in glasses. (look at those cars and de rigueur sprigged beach dresses and sunshades)

    When I started researching the history of surfing and swimsuits, I came across this photograph of George Bernard Shaw holidaying in South Africa in 1931. At Muizenburg, which is the next beach up from The Strand, at age 75, he had his first go at board surfing (see below). And apparently enjoyed the waters of South Africa so much that he extended his holiday by more than two months and went up the coast to Knysna to swim as well. I also discovered that Samuel Langhome Clemens (aka Mark Twain) as well as Jack London were all keen surfers.

    For further photographs and a report of George Bernard Shaw in the South African Travel News, click here.

    I went looking for more authors in swimsuits – didn’t find any History Girls – but I found this beautiful photograph of Sylvia Plath in a white two piece. 

    For more writers in swimsuits click here.

    Neither my father nor Bernard Shaw were the first to trying surfing at the Cape. In 1919 two United States Marines returning to the US after the war, arrived with their Hawaiian style longboards and Cape Town witnessed the first ‘stand up’ surfing ever done on its shores. They befriended a lady, Heather Price, (seen here in the photograph wearing a spotted cloth scarf... also de rigeuer beach headgear of the time with one of the marines ) She attempted to surf on the Hawaiian longboards. Surely South Africa's first woman surfer? But the marines took their boards back home with them when their ship sailed. 

    An earlier picture of Cape Town with Lion’s Head and Signal Hill in the background shows bathing ‘machines’ drawn onto the beaches by horses so ladies could swim. These were replaced by the palisades of colourful bathing boxes that still stand at Muizenburg and St James and throughout England. By the 20’s women were beginning to show their bodies and fashions changed rapidly from the black stretchy knitted unisex suits to more glamorous swimsuits of printed cotton and even bikinis. I found this photograph of my mother (the ever present cigarette in her hand) in a skirted polka dot bikini, from the early 40’s, while my sister stands behind her in one of those stretchy bubbly swimsuits.

    Again my mum in same swimsuit her surfboard and rubber bathing cap

    From the 50’s there’s this one of my very curvy 15 year old sister. But those were the days of Marilyn Monroe, so curves were okay. 

    A further search of the 50’s took me to three girls on leaning up against longboards on Bondi Beach, Australia and a stylish woman in black and white two piece swimsuit (look at the wonderful straw hats). 

    My own photographs from the 60’s (not in the same shoebox) show me wearing a bikini on the famous 2nd Beach at Clifton where I had a white cat who used to join me on sand that was whiter than any beach I’ve ever been on.

    Hope you all have a great summer holiday… beach or not!
    'immensely satisfying' 
    from Children's Summer Reading in THE INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY last week – 21 July 2013

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    I am rather pressed. I am going away. Yippee!

    As a girl, I had one of those square flower presses with twiddly screws in the corners, and passed my innocent afternoons trying to recreate the beautiful little 'memento of Jerusalem' postcards I had bought for my mother in Portobello Market, with their biblical verses, delicate grasses and tiny dry Holy Land flowers. Our garden daffodils were not so exquisite, and some flowers I swear are unpressable: roses for example. Nothing could be harder to press than a rose. Even those German Nuns who embroidered their own hair in nonenarbeiten of the highest class would have been sore put to press a rose. 

    I thought nothing would be harder to press, until I went to a rather vast and Norfolky house in Norfolk, belonging I believe to a very distant cousin on the Gurney side, where on a shelf above the Wellington boots I found some very wide books. The spines were very wide I mean; six or eight inches. The books themselves merely pretty big. I can't recall how many there were. Quite a few. They were bound in some kind of dark green cloth, shiny and faded, and looked old. Nineteenth-century say. 

    My dear ancient cousin (it was not her house, it was her cousin's. She had merely slipped me in the back door) took one down to show me. The cover was not very hard; not a normal binding. It seemed like cloth stretched on a thick wire frame. The pages were not many: light rough canvas, faded and foxed, stretched again on a frame of thick wire. And on each page, a bird. Not a picture of a bird. An actual bird. Pressed. 

    I don't know how you press a bird. Presumably you pull out the skeleton. I think it must be like preparing the skin for taxidermy, which you do by slitting it down the middle, and then sort of peeling it off and turning it inside out. (I know this because I stuffed two white mice at a taxidermy class recently. I won't be doing it again. They had tiny paws, and tiny little tongues.)

    But then instead of stuffing this empty bird, you mount it in a book. Why? Because every surface of your vast and Norfolky house - horizontal or vertical - is already laden with stuffed creatures of all kinds: hogsheads and antlers on the walls, seascapes of terms and pintails in dusty cabinets with ancient bits of coral, dogs, squirrels in waistcoats, the odd tyrannosaur and dodo.  

    One of these birds was labelled: 'The last bittern to be shot on (I can't recall the place name - Something Broad), 1843'. I found this one of the saddest things I had ever seen. And I suppose it explains why 80 years later my grandfather, bird-spotting in the same neighbourhood, could send his wife-to-be a postcard saying, 'I will spot a Bittern, or catch cold in the attempt'. 

    But why would anyone press a shark? 

    Dig a shallow hole in gravelly sand. Gut and behead a Greenland or basking shark and place it in the hole, with its belly-cavity supported by a slight mound. Cover the shark with sand, gravel and stones. The shark's fluids (including its poisons) are thus pressed out of the body. Leave it for six to twelve weeks (depending on the season) to ferment. 
    Remove your shark from its hole. Cut it into strips and hang it up for several months, until it is dry. A brown crust will appear: remove this before cutting the shark into small pieces and serving.

    It's called Hakari, and comes from Iceland (or probably stays there, let's be honest). It is taken with hard liquor, and associated with being a hard man, and Anthony Bourdain called it the single worst most disgusting terrible-tasting thing he had ever eaten. Here it is, hanging up.

    The modern method is just to press the shark's meat in a large plastic container. Great. 

    Pressed duck, potted shrimps, jugged rabbit, kimchi, Gravlax, yes. Gravelled shark, no.  

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    Blog followers may notice that I've changed my name. There's good reason for this.  I don't want children picking up my first novel for adults - Sedition, to be published by Virago UK and Henry Holt USA, in 2014 - so I've chosen a different name.  I'll remain K. M. Grant for my YA and children's books, and Katharine elsewhere. As it happens, Katharine is my real name. I was christened Katharine but always called Katie except by my father when he wanted to give me a verbal clip round the ear.  'Katharine, come here!' was a summons to be dreaded.

    My family went in for names, and still do. I have a sister called Cosima (as well as sisters called Alice, Charlotte, Victoria and Frances - we are numerous), an uncle and a brother called Peregrine, nieces called Matilda, Eleanor, Frideswide, Amabelle and Lully, and nephews called Rowley, Oswald, Hal and Cuthbert.  My own children are Clementine, Eliza and Cosmo.   (I wanted to call our son Valentine but my husband threatened divorce.)

    Naming characters in your novel is always a key moment.   For historical writers, names help establish the time.  In my de Granville Trilogy, William, Gavin and Eleanor flag up 12th century Christendom, and Kamil 12th century Outremer.  In Hartslove, we find sisters Rose, Lily, Daisy, Clover and Columbine, with their brother Garth:  unmistakeable Victoriana.  There will have been Alices and Dans in 1746, when How the Hangman Lost His Heart is set, but actually, that's not why I chose those names.  To me, Alice is always fair and sharp, and Dan's full name is Dan Skinslicer.  Both names set the right tone.  Belle of Belle's Song is named in a loving pun by her father, a bell-founder in the time of Chaucer.


    Foreign names can be more tricky.  I chose Yolanda and Raimon for the Perfect Fire trilogy because, unusually, the characters sprang fully named into my imagination and it never occurred to me to change them.  Changing any of my characters' names would be as troubling as changing my own.
    this is the US cover

    this is also a US cover

    And changing my own is just what I've done!  It was strange signing myself 'Katharine' for Sedition. Even stranger suddenly realising what a difficult name it is.  I'm KathArine, like Katharine Hepburn, not KathErine like Katherine of Aragon, or Catherine like Catherine Earnshaw, or Catharine like St. Catharine's College Cambridge, or Kathryn like pianist Kathryn Stott.  Contracts have had to be amended, the name on the cover carefully checked.

    Sedition is set in 1794 and I knew what type of names I wanted so I looked up family trees to make sure they were possible for the times: Alathea, Harriet, Georgiana, Marianne, Everina and Annie - Annie was usually a servant's name - my Annie is the daughter of an Italian craftsman, her name Anglicised from the Italian Anna.

    I'm always curious about other novelists' naming habits.  Do you go onto internet lists?  Do you use names you've always liked but never dared call your own children?  Do you do meticulous research or none at all?  Shakespeare may have had Juliet declare 'a rose by any other name would smell as sweet', but names do matter.  After all, had Romeo and Juliet been Chilperic and Clothilde, the speech 'Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo' would be better suited to the rude mechanicals in Midsummer Night's Dream - you try it - and Juliet/Clothilde's exhortation to 'refuse thy name' would have had even more unwanted comic undertones.   And then there's David and Victoria.  Chilperic Beckham? Probably not.

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     Our July guest is another History Boy, John Guy, whose latest book is The Children of Henry Vlll.

    John Guy is an award-winning historian, accomplished broadcaster and Fellow of Clare College, University of Cambridge. His previous books include the highly acclaimed Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel, Victim, A Daughter’s Love: Thomas and Margaret More and My Heart is My Own: the Life of Mary Queen of Scots, which won the Whitbread Biography Award, the Marsh Biography Award and was a Finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle (USA) Biography/Autobiography of the Year Award. He is the author of the bestselling textbooks, The Tudors: A Very Short Introduction and Tudor England. He has presented and contributed to numerous documentaries for BBC2 and Channel 4, including Timewatch, as well as appearing frequently on BBC Radio’s flagship culture programmes. He also writes and reviews for national newspapers and magazines, including The Sunday Times, The Literary Review and History Today.

    Welcome, John, and thank you for agreeing to answer my questions.


    MH: Given that what most people know about Henry was his obsession with fathering a legitimate male heir and that it led to his multiple marriages and the split with Rome, it’s rather remarkable that no-one seems to have written a book on quite this subject before. Were you surprised to find this gap?

    JG: Yes and no. You probably don’t see the gap until you realize it’s there. I’d written a double biography of Thomas More and his eldest daughter Margaret some years ago and quite a bit of that is about Margaret’s education and the uses to which she put it. BBC 4 televised this material in 2011 for the documentary ‘A Renaissance Education: the Schooling of Margaret More’ which got good viewing ratings, so I knew that people were interested in this sort of topic. And when I’m in Cambridge, I share an office with Elizabeth Foyster, who writes on the history of childhood from the 17th to the 19th centuries. This prompted me to think that looking at the upbringing and early experiences of Henry VIII’s children might be interesting. I knew from writing biographies of Thomas Becket and Mary, Queen of Scots, how important the early lives of people are in shaping who they later become. And I knew from the outset that Henry Fitzroy, the King’s illegitimate son, should be part of the story. He’s usually sidelined, but for a while it was entirely possible that – in the absence of a legitimate male heir – he could have been designated by Henry VIII as his successor. So when Oxford University Press came to me and asked me if I’d write something on Tudor history for a wide readership and from an unconventional angle, I knew at once what the topic would be.

    MH: What new information about Henry’s children have you found for the book?

    JG: Quite a lot of the incidental detail on purchases and staffing for the children’s households and who was where and when is new, because over the years I’d stumbled into what remains of their original household lists and accounts of expenditure in the National Archives. For example, I’d transcribed most of the unpublished costume accounts for Henry’s elder daughter, Mary, very carefully some years ago, so I knew a lot about her tastes in dress. The information (actually it’s heavily condensed in this book) on the gifts Mary gave to Margaret Douglas, Henry VIII’s niece, is new. I discovered that Elizabeth had a mysterious tutor called John Picton, probably secured on the quiet by Kat Ashley some years before William Grindal was appointed by the King to be her first official schoolmaster. I was also lucky enough to be allowed to make reference to some of the newly-discovered letters of the young Elizabeth that Alan Bryson has found and is currently editing for publication: two of them put her religion as a 15-year-old into a much sharper focus than anything I’ve seen before. But such details apart, what I think is new and exciting about the book is that it’s about the inter-relationships between all four of the children, rather than just a set of snapshots of their individual early lives – and it’s that approach which is the book’s raison d’être.

    MH: One doesn’t see much written about Henry Fitzroy, the King’s illegitimate son with Elizabeth Blount, so it was fascinating to discover a bit more about him. Was this new material or has it just been overlooked by previous historians?

    JG: Actually there’s a very good recent life of Henry Fitzroy called Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s Lost Son by Beverley Murphy, and you’ll see it cited quite a bit in my notes and references. Murphy drew my attention in particular to the various reports from Fitzroy’s disillusioned schoolmasters, which I was able to follow up either in the National Archives or in the Letters and Papers of Henry VIII and they turned out to be crammed with marvellous material. The account of Fitzroy’s funeral from the Duke of Norfolk’s letter to Thomas Cromwell I’d already fished out of the State Papers, and then went to view Fitzroy’s remarkable tomb, which was originally at Thetford Priory, but is now at St Michael’s Church at Framlingham in Suffolk. I gather that staff from the University of Leicester in conjunction with the Space Research Centre and colleagues from Oxford and Yale are currently making high-powered infra-red images of the tomb and its contents, so maybe more information will become available shortly.

    MH: I must look out for that! You can’t really write about the children without getting into a lot of other areas. You have packed a tremendous amount into a short book; how did you decide what to leave out?

    JG: Yes, Oxford University Press wanted a short book, so I faced lots of tough choices about what to put and what to leave out. In fact, my method here was very simple. I put in anything I thought central to the story, and left out those details or episodes that I thought might be fascinating in their own right, but would hold the story up. I wanted the book to flow and draw readers in, so I was naturally delighted when a well-known literary critic emailed me to say that “the book flows beautifully while immediately grasping my attention: which is quite an achievement when dealing with the most over-exposed family in the British mass media after the Archers!”

    MH: I was very struck by your references to Henry’s being probably positive for the Kell antigen, which would explain why he never had more than one child that survived into adulthood with any wife or mistress. It’s a very convincing theory of Catrina Banks Whitley and Kyra Kramer. Do you think they were also on to something when they considered the King had McCleod syndrome, explaining his physical and mental deterioration in later life?

    JG: This article appeared in the Historical Journal in 2010 and as soon as I read it, I found their theory arresting that Henry VIII was positive for the blood group antigen known as Kell (whereas 90% of Caucasian populations are Kell negative). The evidence Whitley and Kramer provide on the number of miscarriages and stillbirths, and on their birth-order relationships to live births, are consistent with their theory. I’m far less persuaded by their hypothesis that the King suffered from the rare genetic disorder known as the McLeod syndrome. That’s mainly because Whitley and Kramer didn’t consider other medical conditions that might explain the same data (e.g. obesity-mediated type 2 diabetes). The McLeod syndrome argument is used to explain the apparent deterioration in Henry’s personality in his later years. But you find that Henry’s personality changes at a different date depending on which historian you’re reading! Robert Hutchinson opts for 1531, whereas Jack Scarisbrick went for 1529, the year he thought the King’s first divorce suit turned nasty. Other historians advanced the date to 1527 when new material on Henry’s divorce difficulties came to light. Milo Keynes, a retired senior medical consultant at Addenbrooke’s Hospital at Cambridge, plumped for 1528. Susannah Lipscombe has more recently gone for 1536. This sort of speculation is always intriguing and can be worth pursuing, but isn’t a satisfactory basis from which to construct a medical diagnosis.

    MH: We can’t really say the Tudors are having a revival, because they never seem to go out of fashion. As well as your book there is a new Life of Henry Vlll out this year, two Lives of Katherine of Aragon just out, the opening of the Mary Rose museum in Portsmouth, the BBC TV series of programmes on the Tudor Court (you featured yourself in at least one of them!), etc. etc. To what do you attribute this continuing fascination with the period?

    JG: It’s the stories and the personalities – it’s as simple as that. They’re stranger and more compelling than fiction, and you couldn’t make them up!

    MH: Do you think the extensive portraiture helps fuel our interest in the Tudors?

    JG: Undoubtedly that’s also true. Putting faces to the names can make a big difference. Although we’re finding it increasingly difficult to track down new portrait discoveries, work on iconography often enables unknown sitters to be identified. And the “Making Art in Tudor Britain” project at the National Portrait Gallery, financially supported by the Mercers’ Company and other leading donors and charities, is using some of the latest scientific techniques to uncover the working practices of Tudor artists besides examining the layers beneath the paint surfaces to discover hidden images.

    MH: Do you ever indulge in “What ifs”? What would have been the most intriguing alternative history – if Henry Fitzroy had lived? If Mary had had a surviving child? If Elizabeth had married?

    JG: Of course – I’ve recently been using just this approach to counter some of the more vigorously concerted attempts in the USA to make gender studies exclusively the future of Tudor history. Yes, gender issues are very important and in The Children of Henry VIII I’ve aimed to tease out some of the more intriguing implications of the King’s views on female monarchy and carry them forward beyond Edward VI’s “Device for the Succession” and John Knox’s arguments that females were “unfit” to rule in The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women. However, the mid-Tudor succession crisis is not explicable purely in terms of gender or Edward VI’s minority, because the ideological battles triggered by the European Reformation played an equal and often greater part in the story. Anyone worried about this should ask a basic counterfactual question. “What if” Edward VI, the Protestant boy-king, had lived and been gay, so refusing to marry? Would his Protestant privy councillors really have sat back and done nothing about excluding the claim of the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, or petitioning the king to marry and settle the succession purely because Edward was male? Or would they have continued to do everything they could to make sure of a Protestant succession?

    MH: Do you have a favourite child of Henry Vlll?

    JG: It would have to be Elizabeth. I’m not sure whether I’d like to have her as the proverbial dinner-party guest, but I admire her for her resilience and ability to understand and manage power.

    MH:  Tell us something about your new edition of The Tudors: a Very Short Introduction, which is coming out in August.

    JG: The new edition has been much expanded and rewritten to match new developments in research and understanding since the first edition appeared in 1984. Whereas before, socio-economic history and political and religious events were considered in separate chapters, they are fully reintegrated in this new edition. More attention is given to the “stirs” and revolts of the 1550s and to the post-Armada years. More space is given to the problems of minority and female rule and to the wider “British” dimension of Tudor history, i.e. Scotland and Ireland. The brief reign of Jane Grey is taken seriously in this edition. Before (in line with the scholarly consensus then) it was dismissed as a failed coup d’état and an aberration and not as Edward VI’s own “succession settlement” and one with a considerable afterlife. Finally, a new chapter on “Material Culture and the Arts” in the long Tudor century is included.

    MH:  We gather you are writing a big book about the last years of Elizabeth l; can you tell us when to expect that? It seems that David Starkey never wrote the second half of his history of Elizabeth, so there is a definite gap there.

    JG: I’ll finish it around the middle of next year, and it will be published some time in 2015. You’re right, it really is on the later years, mainly after the Armada. When it opens, Elizabeth is already past the menopause. There’s no point in her privy councillors trying to marry her off any more to settle the succession, because she can’t have children. For her, it’s a moment of liberation. Now she can be her own woman as never before. And she’s determined to take more control of what’s happening around her. She’s not always successful, but she’s certainly making the effort to assert her control. The downside for her is that these are the years of the long war with Spain and she’s also forced to confront her own ageing.

    Thank you, John; that was fascinating.

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    This engraving in Ferrante Imperato's Dell'Historia Naturale (Naples 1599) is the earliest pictorial record of a Cabinet of Curiosities. The original Cabinets were not cabinets at all but rooms and this one  is full, floor to ceiling, with books, stuffed animals, horns, tusks, skulls, skeletons, shells, different kinds of man-made instruments. On the walls there are shelves and built in cabinets holding fossils, mineral samples, specimen boxes and covered jars.  The visitors are pointing, looking round in awe and wonder at the fantastic display. Indeed, in Germany, such collections were called Wunderkammer, wonder rooms.

    These rooms might contain all sorts of other things, too. Mixed in with the natural history specimens might be small sculptures, clockwork automata, ethnographic specimens (beads, masks, clothing, weapons, everyday objects) from faraway locations. There was no division between fact and fiction. Among the stuffed fish and birds there might be a unicorn's horn (generally the tusk from a narwhal) or the purported remains of some other mythical creature.  These cabinets brought together specimens from all over the known world: Ming porcelain from China, artefacts from the Americas, Japanese footwear. 

    It is no coincidence that many of the classic collections were made in the 16th and 17th Centuries at the time of European expansion and exploration. The cabinet might also contain articles from different periods of history: from pre-historic flint axes to Roman, Greek and Egyptian artefacts. Different belief systems were displayed together: religious icons and relics were placed alongside pagan images and amulets, instruments used in alchemy, objects associated with witchcraft. There was no real attempt to categorise. Some of the specimens were genuine, others undoubtedly fake, but this didn't seem to matter. These were collections of the strange, the unusual, the exotic, the curious; collected by the curious, to entertain, stimulate, intrigue the curious mind.  

    These collections were the foundations of our modern museums. The jumble of objects would be teased apart and categorised to become the basis of modern branches of study: natural history, natural sciences, zoology, ornithology, geology, palaeontology, archaeology, ethnography, anthropology, and so on. 

    John Tradescant the Elder
    John Tradescant the Younger

    The Musaeum Tradescantianum, established in Vauxhall, in London held the collection of curiosities assembled by the John Tradescants,  Elder and Younger: travellers, explorers and collectors. The collection was eventually acquired by Elias Asmole and in 1691, it became the nucleus for the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Some of the original exhibits are still on display.  

    John Tradescant the Younger described the collection thus:

    ‘Now for the materialls themselves, I reduce them unto two sorts; one Naturall, of which some are more familiarly known & named amongst us, as divers sorts of Birds, foure-footed Beasts and Fishes, to whom I have given usual English names. Others are lesse familiar, and as yet unfitted with apt English termes, as the shell-Creatures, Insects, Mineralls, Outlandish-Fruits, and the like, which are part of the Materia Medica; (Encroachers upon this faculty, may try how they can crack such shels) The other sort is Artificialls, as Utensills, House-holdstuffe, Habits, Instruments of Warre used by severall Nations, rare curiosities of Art, &c. These are also expressed in English, (saving the Coynes, which would vary but little if Translated) for the ready satisfying whomsoever may desire a view thereof'.

    Philippa Gregory's novels Earthly Joys and Virgin Earth give an excellent fictionalised account of the lives of the Tradescants. 

    Sir Hans Sloane's extensive collection formed the foundation of the British Museum and the Natural History Museum. The British Museum was first opened to the public on its Bloomsbury site in 1759. It has changed a great deal since then, but my favourite area is the Enlightenment Gallery installed in the former Kings Library which re-creates the variety of objects, from  the Magician John Dee's skrying mirror to sea shells, that characterised the museum in the mid 18th Century. 

    British Museum
    British Museum

    In the 18th Century collecting was what a gentleman with any pretensions to learning and culture did. I made sure when I was writing Sovay, that Sovay's father, Sir John, had his own Cabinet of Curiosities. In his case, his Library. 

    The shelves were stocked from floor to ceiling with books on every possible subject. The walls were studded with chronometers and barometers. Globes and astrolabes stood about on the floor. Cabinets held stuffed birds and animals, samples of rocks, minerals and fossils. Every surface was crowded with bits of machinery, brass-crafted devices for generating this, measuring that. 

    His collection was based on Matthew Boulton's at Soho House, Birmingham. What collections contained, reflected the pre-occupations and passions of the time. 

    My favourite museums are the ones that still retain some of this eclectic flavour, whose collections still have the feeling that these things have been brought together by one man's curiosity.  I can spend hours in the Pitt Rivers in Oxford or the Wellcome Collection in London.
    Wellcome Collection

    Pitt Rivers Museum
    Every time I go, I see something different. Both contain an extensive collection of the weird and grotesque which give something of the feeling of wonder, fascination, even horror, that the first Cabinets of Curiosity must have evoked. 

    The Cabinets did not just give rise to some of our greatest  museums, the bizarre, freakish, exotic and grotesque would be exhibited in fairground sideshows and commercial freak shows.

    Peter Blake: Museum For Myself
    Cabinets of Curiosities, Wunderkammer, were also seen as 'memory theatres'. They contained 'found' objects that the collector had acquired while excavating, exploring, or travelling, on the Grand Tour, for example, souvenirs in other words. Things that had attracted that individual's attention for some reason, ignited their curiosity. I like Peter Blake's idea of a Museum For Myself, of creating one's own museum, full of items of some personal significance or importance, objects of interest or fascination, or simply ones that one can't quite part with, can't bear to throw away.

    Peter Blake's Museum of the Colour White
    This is a gift to the compulsive collector. It gives us permission to do something that other people think is utterly pointless, and something to do with the useless objects that we collect. It is also very creative. Collections can be made and unmade, arranged and re-arranged.

    As you can probably guess, I do have my own Cabinet of Curiosities. I also have a printers' block that contains smaller objects.

    My Cabinet of Curiosities
    Printers' Block with Smaller Objects

    It's not just me, my friend Barbara has one, too.

    Barbara's Cabinet

    I wonder if anyone else has a similar collection and where it is housed?

    This is part of a History Girls Project where we will be collecting our own virtual Cabinet of Curiosities. I can't wait to see what it will contain. 

    Celia Rees

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  • 07/30/13--16:01: July Competition
  • We have five copies of John Guy's new book, The Children of Henry Vlll, to give away for the best answers to the following question:

    "Who is your favourite Tudor royal and why?"

    Competitions are open only to entrants from the UK

    Closing date is 7th August and you enter by adding your comment to this post.

    Good luck!

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    Willy, Willy, Harry, Steve, Harry, Dickie, John ....

    Bear with me. I know many of you will be sick of the subjects: Royal baby; naming the Royal baby etc etc. There's a new baby in my life, my first grandchild, born less than three weeks ago in Mexico  three weeks early. There has been much family comment about her name and much discussion about what constitutes an acceptable baby name.

    So that, plus certain events in the family I still think of as Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and the awakened memories of writing my own "names book"* have prompted this post.

    Edward, Prince of Wales, Princess Alexandra and their son Albert 1864      

    One of the things I discovered when writing my book is that men have a much smaller name pool than women and girls tend to be more elaborately named than boys. Imagine how much smaller the pool of of Royal baby names must be!

    William Hill were giving "George" odds on by the time the new Prince's name was announced. Immediately, a Facebook friend, another writer, jumped in to say that all the King Georges in England so far had been a dodgy lot.

    If this new baby does inherit the throne (estimated as not before 2065, so I don't have to give it too much thought), he will be George Vll. Or not. Because George Vl, the Queen's father, was baptised Albert Frederick Arthur before the George and known in the family as "Bertie." Edward Vll, pictured above, had the first name Albert, like his firstborn son.

    George V really was called George and Edward Vlll really was Edward (but he had seven forenames to choose from).

    Queen Victoria's first name was Alexandrina; so all those knick-knacky sitting rooms might have been described as Alexandrine.

    Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and children by Franz Xaver Winterhalter
    Victoria and Albert had to do the "name the Royal baby" thing nine times: Victoria, Albert (Edward), Alice, Alfred, Helena, Louise, Arthur, Leopold, Beatrice. Obviously they did not worry about having five children with names beginning with "A." Presumably they had people to sort out any confusion with the Royal Mail (or Royal Male).

    Arthur has remained popular with the Windsors. Prince Charles is Charles Philip Arthur George; Prince William is William Arthur Philip Louis.  But Arthur was never a very likely first name for the new Prince; it is ill-omened. Henry Vll and Elizabeth of York's first son Arthur died as a teenager not long after marrying Katherine of Aragon and that gave us Henry Vlll and all the problems of his marriages and heirs. (Henry lX was not really on the cards). And it was not just Shakespeare who thought King John was responsible for the death of his nephew Prince Arthur, who was the son of his older brother and had a better claim to the English throne.

    Richards have died out in the English Royal line since the third one, with the bad reputation, and another Edward is unlikely as long as the abdication crisis lives on in books and TV programmes.

    James was perhaps a bit more likely: there have been only two of them although the second one was forced to abdicate:

    Portrait of James II (1633-1701) in Garter Robes, by Peter Lely
    The first one was actually called Charles James. You see how the Royals ring the (not many) changes. If Prince Charles inherits the English throne, will he be Charles lll? There are many Jacobites still who think that would be irregular and insulting to the Young Pretender, Bonnie Prince Charlie. But remember the current Charles could choose Philip (unlikely: we've not had a King Philip since Mary Tudor's consort and it sounds very continental), Arthur (see above) or George, thereby perhaps scuppering his grandson's choice. Perhaps he will fix on a name he wasn't given at birth, such as Louis? But I fear King Louis is just too French for the Windsors.

    One thing we can be sure of is that if the new Royal baby had been a girl, there would have been a more unusual group of names. Or can we? The Princess Royal named her daughter Zara and her son, Peter, has daughters called Savannah and Isla. Maybe the further away from the throne you are, the more elaborate your name can be, so perhaps even a Princess of Cambridge would have been stuck with variant orders of Elizabeth, Mary, Anne and Victoria.

    The sentimental hope of many Brits that she would have had Diana among them will have to lie dormant till next time.

    Katharine Grant (K.M.Grant) wrote about changing her name and choosing characters' names on 28th July, her final post for us. We are sorry to lose her and thank her for her sterling work as a History Girl and Admin.

    Tell us what you think of Royal baby names, if you have a view.

    * Our Names, Our Selves by Mary Lassiter (Heinemann, 1983). Note: I changed my own name to publish this book, using a family surname, as my publishers panicked at the last moment that I was too associated with children's books - even then.

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    In 1773 Mary Lacy, a married woman in Deptford published her autobiography, The History of the Female Shipwright. It was an instant success, but soon forgotten. Of its author there is no more trace and no image survives. Of all the women who served in the Navy such as Hannah Snell and Mary Anne Talbot, it is Lacy’s account which is the most plausible and in many ways the most appealing, showing how many small lies ended up as one great big one, and depicting life at sea during the eighteenth century.

    Mary had been born and grown up in Kent. She was a bright child who liked to be constantly outdoors ‘at liberty’. At the age of nineteen Mary was in love with an old friend who didn’t feel the same way. She went into the room of her employer‘s brother and took an old coat, a pair of breeches and some old shoes and stockings. She stole a hat from her father. Then, ‘On the first day of May, 1759, about six o’clock in the morning, I set off, and when I had got out of town into the fields, I pulled off my clothes and put on the men’s, leaving my own in a hedge, some in one place and some in another’. The choice of donning male dress is crucial to the story. Mary was small, at about five feet high, and flat-chested. Dressing as a man gave her some protection on the road as she was unlikely to be able to fend off any would-be rapist. She arrived in Chatham later that night and had nowhere to sleep, and ended up lodging with some pigs. The following morning Mary headed down to the dockyard, where some men on a coal-boat took pity on her and shared their breakfast with her.

    As she was eating it, a hawk-eyed recruiter came up to Mary, and ‘asked me if I would go to sea, “for,” said he, “it is fine weather now at sea, and if you will go, I will get you a good master on board the Sandwich’’. Mary replied, ‘Yes, sir’. At that moment changed her life forever. The Sandwich was a ninety-gun shop of the line, waiting at Chatham for a crew. The navy was short of men as it was fighting the Seven Years‘ War, as well as being active in North America, the Caribbean, Africa, India and the Channel. The crew welcomed Mary on board, but despite them being short-handed, there was not a whiff of her being pressed to join them. In fact, they asked her repeatedly if she wanted first to come aboard, and then to stay. When asked for her name, Mary used her father’s Christian name and her mother’s maiden name, becoming William Chandler. She became the servant to the ship’s carpenter, Baker, who was a kindly man but a violent drunkard.

    Although she does not reveal any regret over her decision to come on board, she does reveal how difficult it is to deal with such a man in close confines, both psychologically, when he drunkenly rants over her shortcomings for she couldn’t bear ‘to have my faults told me’, and physically, thinking ‘it very hard to be struck by a man’. For the first part of her autobiography Mary identifies herself as a woman taking on the role of a man, but soon her no-nonsense language makes it clear that her identity was smudging. It begins with a fight.

    William Severy was a young nobleman serving the Admiral who picked quarrels with Mary as she went about her duties for Baker. On one occasion she was cooking her master a steak in the galley when Severy gave her a ‘slap in the face that made me reel’. The ship’s cook, who had seen the altercation told Mary that she should call Severy out and that he would mind the steak. ‘Upon which I went aft to the main hatchway and pulled off my jacket, but they wanted me to pull off my shirts, which I would not suffer for fear of it being discovered that I was a woman…Hereupon we instantly engaged and fought a great while…almost enough to dash my brains out, but I never gave out, for I knew that if I did I should have one or other of them continually upon me.’

    Mary went back to the steak and took it down to Baker, who said, ‘you have been a long while about the steak, I hope it is well done now’, followed by looking her up and down and concluding, ‘I suppose you have been fighting?’ Mary told him yes, it was that or ‘be drubbed’. Baker’s response was ‘I hope you have not been beat’. It is then that Mary begins her curious fade into what became her male persona. She wrote to her parents in July, ending with ‘Shall be glad to hear from you as soon as you can. So no more at present from, Your undutiful daughter, Mary Lacy. P.S. Please direct thus: For William Chandler on board the Sandwich at Brest’. Mary underwent many hardships onboard ship including a serious attack of rheumatic fever. Worst of all, Baker had fallen into drink and stopped paying her, if he had ever paid her at all. In the autumn of 1760 her rheumatic complaint was so bad that she ended up in hospital at Portsmouth, and was then assigned to the Royal Sovereign. There she met again with William Severy, and formed a friendship with a young woman, living aboard as the companion of one of the sailors. She also met the sailor Robert Dawkins, who became her mentor in her later years in the Navy, and went to a sort of school onboard, where she learned book-keeping. In 1763, she was released from the Navy with the end of the Seven Years’ War. Mary remember that, ‘On this occasion, my joy was so great that I ran up and down scarcely knowing how to contain myself’. But she did not go home. Instead Dawkins helped her get an apprenticeship as a shipwright at Chatham dockyard, and a place living on board the ship the Royal William.

    Mary it seems, was now committed to her life as a man. Sadly for Mary her new master was another drunk, and again she had to made shift to earn money for herself by running errands. Once she went for beer in the botswain’s canoe and her master said that if she could beat three men in a four-oared boat he would give her a sixpence. She won, of course. ‘I fell a-laughing at them and called out, “Where’s my money, where’s my money!”’ Her master, of course, did not give her the money, but it shows how competent and confident Lacy had become in her role as both man and sailor.

    She was by this stage sharing a bed with John Lyons, a fellow dockyard worker, but he found the work hard and so was always asleep by the time Mary came to bed, and still asleep when she got up. Her best friend at the time was Edward Turner, and with him she went to parties where she met women ‘of the town’, although when she realised this, she stopped going to the parties. There was, after all, no point throwing away her disguise just for an ineffectual engagement with a prostitute. It was at about this time that Mary met a ‘girlfriend’, Betsy. Mary liked her very much but Dawkins discouraged her from continuing the relationship. Instead Mary took up with a servant named Sarah Chase.

    Their relationship is a model of eighteenth century tentative, rational courtship: ‘I had not yet served quite three years of my time; nevertheless it was agreed that neither of us should walk out with any other person without the mutual consent of each other. Notwithstanding this agreement, if she saw me talking to any young woman, she was immediately fired with jealousy and could scarce command her temper. This is did sometimes to try her. However, we were very intimate together.’ What intimate means in this case isn’t quite clear, and not necessarily indicative of physical intimacy. But it might well be, as they were living together under the same roof. Furthermore, it seems that Mary was something of a Jack-the-Lad, and couldn’t help flirting with other women. On returning from work one day and asking Sarah for something to eat, Mary could see that Sarah was annoyed. ‘Whereupon I asked what was the matter with her. She told me to go to the squint-eyed girl and inquire the matter there. “Very well,” said I, “so I can”’.

    In 1767 Mary visited her parents in Kent after an absence of almost eight years. She went to them in male dress and maintained her male persona throughout the visit. Her family played along. The visit, whilst good for the family, was bad for Mary: a neighbour who knew of the situation then moved to Portsmouth and ‘outed’ Mary. Some of her fellow workers got wind of the situation and came to speak to Mary about it. She held her nerve, and although they searched her things, she was clever enough to have not made a habit of keeping things visible which might betray her.

    In 1770, Mary Lacy was made free as a shipwright. Then, she was again struck down by rheumatism. By this time both her parents had died and she had no one to turn to for help until a family friend, a Mr Richardson in Kensington who was apparently aware of her situation invited her to stay with him and his wife, where he helped her apply for a Navy pension. He applied under her real name, and the Admiralty minutes are worth reproducing at length. ‘A Petition was read from Mary Lacy setting forth that in the Year 1759 she disguised herself in Men’s Cloaths and enter’d on board His Maj. Fleet, where having served til the end of the War, she bound herself apprentice to the Carpenter of the Royal William and having served Seven Years, then enter’d as a Shipwright in Portsmouth Yard where she had continued ever since; but that finding her health and constitution impaired by so laborious an employment, she is obliged to give it up for the future, and therefore, praying some Allowance for her Support during the remainder of her life: Resolved, in consideration of the particular Circumstances attending this Woman’s case, the truth of which has been attested by the Commissioner of the Yard at Portsmouth, that she be allowed a Pension equal to that granted to Superannuated Shipwrights.’

    Mary was granted a pension without delay. She collected her money in Deptford and there met a sailor named Slade whom she had known in Portsmouth. She married him soon afterwards, moving to King Street in Deptford. What happened to her after that is a mystery.

    This post previously appeared on GeorgianLondon.com and received a lot of input from readers. Anyone with other stories of ladies in masculine trades, it would be great to hear from you in the comments.

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    It is probably a familiar moment for many if not all of us: you've had a bad day, so you just pop down to the shops and cheer yourself up with a little shopping therapy, buying something small and spirit-lifting, frivolous.  It is such a part of modern life that we even counsel others to do it, advice on a parr with 'make yourself a nice cup of tea', or 'have a hot bath with scented candles'.

    My question is: when did shopping therapy begin?

    Shopping as a leisure pursuit was certainly around by the end of the eighteenth century.  The Earl of Glenthorn in Maria Edgeworth's Ennui (1809) passes an idle hour with a 'lounge' at the watchmakers.  A little earlier than that, in Fanny Burney's Evelina (1778), we see the heroine mentioning the word as if emphasising its modishness: 'We have been a shopping, as Mrs Mirvan calls it, all this morning, to buy silks, caps, gauzes, and so forth.' Perhaps she is highlighting here that it has become an activity in itself: before that people shopped for goods, now they go shopping.

    This is not to say that previous generations couldn't go to the fair when it rolled into town, or buy something to lift their spirits from the pedlar, but I think something is coalescing by the end of the eighteenth century: a social practice of shopping for its own sake.

    This leads to scenes such as the familiar ones in Pride and Prejudice where Lydia and Kitty have to make do with the limited shopping opportunities in Meryton.  They are living out on the small local scale the imagined wonders of shopping in a metropolis such as London or, disastrously, Brighton.  Shops become possible venues for flirting - Pride and Prejudice again - anguished heartache (Persuasion), or just learning the social ropes (Northanger Abbey).  

    But do any of these fit our modern idea of shopping as therapy?

    I suppose Kitty and Lydia would argue that it was a kind of therapy for them, cheering them up during the tedious days of being a gentleman's daughter in a small place.  From their generation onwards it gets more established and with it come the development of larger shops to cater for this taste.  I think we have hit here a chicken and egg situation: which came first - the large department stores or the public who wanted them?  In Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain, social historian Judith Flanders looks at the rise of these large shopping districts in London, Paris and elsewhere.  Many times the shopkeeper presented his tactics as new - the invention of sales, window displays, life styling, buy-one-get-one-free and so on - when in fact he was just making over an old practice that had served other retailers well.  Selfridges, Liberty, Heals (furniture), and Harrods all rose out of this period. Shops no longer just wished to sell us things, they wished to entertain, draw us back by their quality of service, make their goods part of our lives and image (is this also the start of mass market designer culture?).

    I was wondering if there were any pivotal scenes in late Victorian literature set in these wonderful locations and couldn't think of one immediately (it's too hot!).  If your memory is better than mine, please leave a comment as I'd like to follow it up.  My vision of London shops is rather Dickensian, quirky little stores selling old clothes or butchers with geese hanging outside on hooks; I'd like to refocus it on a cutting edge, Empire London where shops were like palaces and the customer was king.

    I have a family history interest in this too as my grandmother worked in the London stores in the 1920s.  She told me stories of the film stars and bright young things who used to come to her counter.  No longer did the lady stay outside in her carriage and have the goods brought to her (as had been the practice in the early nineteenth century); now almost everyone except possibly the king and queen came into the store for their shopping therapy.

    Shopping had arrived and has remained at high tide for a century.  Only now is the tide receding as Amazon and online sales take us away.  My grandmother - and Kitty and Lydia - would hate it.  What do you think?

    You can visit my website at www.eve-edwards.co.uk but don't forget to buy a real book in a real bookshop where you can *sigh* browse!

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