Friday, January 24, 2014

The London Coffee House

I'd like to share with you one of my favorite blogs: Spitalfields Life. The author posts info about living in Spitalfields in the heart of London; but what makes this blog special is the way the author mixes the history of the area with modern times.

One of this week's posts is a good example of that past-and-present mix. It features a marvelous map of historic coffee houses by artist Adam Dant, which, combined with text and accompanying photos, provides a thorough history and comfortable tour of London coffee houses.
Map copyright © Adam Dant

Click on the map above to visit the site; and be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page to see some of Adam Dant's other maps. I particularly love the maps of Clerkenwall, as seen in Tudor, Georgian, Victorian, and modern times.

If you visit the Spitalfields Life home page, you'll see that the author posts a new entry every day. I read each one for their charm, the history they impart, and the extraordinary stories they tell. I've read every one and have high hopes of feeling just like a Spitalfields native before too much longer.

If you love London history and you're fascinated by the modern London lifestyle, you'll find something to enjoy at Spitalfields Life.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Regency Bonnets and Caps

January 17 is Wear a Hat Day. Hats are not much in vogue in our modern times, but in Regency England, a stylish bonnet was an essential part of any lady's ensemble when she stepped out of doors. Married women and ladies of a certain age (late twenties and older) wore caps indoors. Shopping for hats and caps and keeping up with trims and colors was de rigeur for ladies.

In Northanger Abbey, Isabella Thorpe told Catherine Morland, "I saw the prettiest hat you can imagine in a shop window in Milsom-Street just nowvery like yours, only with coquelicot ribbons instead of green; I quite longed for it."

Perhaps Miss Thorpe passed a shop that looked like the one represented in The Milliner's Shop by Alonzo Perez:
Alonzo Perez
In the first ten years of the 19th Century, the poke-bonnet gained popularity. In an 1801 letter, Jane Austen wrote that she had a new bonnet, trimmed with white ribbon:
"I find my straw bonnet looking very much like
other people's, and quite as smart."

Alfred Glendening

Artist Unknown

Leghorn hats were popular, featuring a large brim in front, and turned up behind in a soft roll in the French style, such as this bonnet:

Annie Henniker
Here are different Regency-era bonnets, as depicted by various artists:

Carl Thomsen
A. R. Kemplen
F. Sydney Muschamp

Carlton Alfred Smith

Charles Haigh-Wood
George Goodwin Kilburne
George Engleheart

Frederick Kaemmerer

Frederic Soulacroix
Daniel Hernandez Morillo
 In Emma, Mrs. Elton accepts Mr. Knightley's invitation to be part of the party that will pick strawberries at Donwell:
"It is to be a morning scheme, you know, Knightley; quite
a simple thing. I shall wear a large bonnet, and bring
one of my little baskets hanging on my arm. Here, —probably
this basket with pink ribbon. Nothing can be more simple, you see."

Edmund Blair Leighton

In her letters, Jane Austen wrote about re-trimming a cap:

I shall venture to retain the narrow silver
round it, put twice round without any bow,
and instead of the black military feather shall
put in the coquelicot one, as being smarter.

 This cap is trimmed with lace and black ribbon:

Edmund Blair Leighton
By 1810 the plain cottage bonnet became more elaborate. Hats became higher and were decorated with more than fabric and ribbon. Hats sported flowers, puffed gauze, feathers, and gathered or plaited fabric.

This hat bears the fashionable poppy-red color Isabella Thorpe called "coquelicot" in Northanger Abbey:
Edmund Blair Leighton

Daniel Hernandez Morillo
 In Mansfield Park, Miss Crawford explains to Edmund how easy it is to tell whether a woman is out in society based on her manners and her attire:

"Till now, I could not have supposed it possible to be
mistaken as to a girl's being out or not. A girl not out has
always the same sort of dress: a close bonnet, for instance."

Frederick Kaemmerer

George Sheridan Knowles

Sunday, January 12, 2014

London Calling

My latest find is a 1953 magazine featuring information on the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II:

I was minding my own business, browsing through one of my favorite used book stores, when I was drawn to a stack of old National Geographic magazines. None of the NGs were very old, so I can't account for the reason I started digging through them, but wedged into the middle of a stack was this treasure!

Dated May, 1953, the cover features an illustration of the gold state coach. Inside is the BBC broadcast schedule so people could use it to follow the procession and coronation ceremony. I love it! It's now a little bit of English ephemera residing on my coffee table.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving day spent with family and friends. May your feast be delicious!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

It's All Hallows' Eve

Halloween is here and I'm ready to go. I have three of those big, warehouse-sized bags of candy to distribute to trick-or-treaters. Naturally, I've removed all of the Almond Joys; I need them to keep up my strength while I hand out the rest of the candy to the kids who knock on my door.

Like most holidays, Halloween can be inspiring to a writer. A few years ago, I wrote a Halloween-themed short story about a Regency kitten with some supernatural powers . . . at least, that's what the heroine believed. It was a fun story to write, with a doubting lord, an over-imaginative heroine, and things that go bump in the night (literally!)

Originally included in a Zebra Regency anthology, the story is now available on Amazon, Nook, and other e-book outlets. Click on the book cover to read more or scroll down to read a preview.

I hope today's celebration fires your imagination to write, dream of romance, create a great costume, or do what you love to do best!

Here's the promised preview:

A Bewitching Minx

Sebastian Camerford, Lord Byefield looked into her eyes and knew he could not resist her. He had never been able to refuse her anything; not when she looked at him just so, with the light of anticipation in her eyes; not when she looked at him with that soft expression of pleading that had the power to melt his resolve as nothing else on earth could.

He should have scolded her. He should have explained to her in no uncertain terms that no female of his acquaintance was ever allowed to disrupt the solitude of his library. He should have told her how audacious and unladylike she was for daring to sit on his desktop, bringing her head level with his, looking him straight in the eye, as if she thought by doing so she could bend him to her will.

He should have done all those things, but he didn't. Instead, his stern, gray eyes met her blue eyes and he forced his brows together in a slight frown. "A kitten?" he repeated, discouragingly.

His gruff demeanor didn't fool her for a moment. She smiled slightly and returned his gaze with wide, unblinking eyes. "Yes, Uncle."

"And what, may I ask, makes you think I wish to spend my afternoon looking for a stray kitten?"

"Because it is the dearest little thing," she responded, with all the reasoning of a five-year-old. "I found it in your garden earlier and Mama said I might keep it, but when I tried to dress it properly for tea, it scampered away and I cannot find it anywhere!"

Since Sebastian was well acquainted with his niece's penchant for dressing in human attire any animal unfortunate enough to come within her orbit, it came as no surprise to him that one of the poor creatures had tried to escape. "The kitten sounds a very ill-mannered guest. Perhaps you should consider having your tea without it, Mary."

"No, Uncle, I cannot." There was the merest trace of a pout about her lips. "Truly, it is the prettiest little kitten I have ever seen, with white hair and blue eyes. I've never seen a kitten with blue eyes before, so I know it must be very special. Please help me find it. Please?"

Her voice held that pleading tone again; the same tone that, in one fell swoop, held the power to make him abandon all his plans for the afternoon and believe with all his heart that nothing was as important at that very moment as finding a kitten possessed of white hair and blue eyes.

Click here to read more with Amazon's "Look Inside" feature . . .

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Gentlemen, Place Your Bets!

Although the Prince of Wales claimed that gaming had never been one of his favorite vices, he rarely declined to indulge in the pastime when it was put before him. In his young days, he and his circle of noble intimates visited the most popular and most exclusive gaming establishments of the land: the gaming tables set up in the homes of some of London’s titled ladies.

In the 1790s, a handful of noble women with an eye to repairing their shattered fortunes, set up their own faro banks. Mrs. Strutt, Mrs. Hobart, and Lady Elizabeth Luttrell (the sister of the notorious Duchess of Cumberland) all set up gambling tables. 
Lady Elizabeth Luttrell

The most celebrated proprietress, however, and the one who most often enjoyed the Prince’s patronage, was Lady Sarah Archer. Lady Archer’s gaming establishment (which she euphemistically called a “garden party”) hosted the most glittering members of the nobility, and she knew how to attract gentlemen of fortune. She was a keen businesswoman who shrewdly turned criticism to her advantage despite the fact that moralists of the time charged that the ladies who frequented her tables served a more iniquitous purpose (which, no doubt, increased her business considerably!). In The Private Life of a King, John Banvard charged that Lady Archer’s Cyprians were “training up to that character under the auspices of the patroness of the night.”

“In all the arts and mysteries of love,” Mr. Banvard declared, “she was acknowledged to be the paragon of the day.”

Lady Archer driving to the perfume warehouse in Pall Mall

One of the most prominent men who fell under the spell of Lady Archer’s charms was the Duke of York, who it was said introduced the Prince of Wales to Lady Archer’s faro table.

It’s difficult to estimate the frequency of the Prince’s visits to Lady Archer’s establishment; but her acquaintance with the Prince blossomed to the point where she felt comfortably secure enough to invoke his name whenever she thought it might do her some good.  

When authorities began fining and bringing charges against illegal gaming establishments, Lady Archer and Lady Buckinghamshire (another noble woman who gave “garden-parties”) were two proprietresses of the trade too conspicuous for the law to ignore. Lady Archer, determined to keep her establishment open, applied to the magistrates for a license under the name of Mr. Martindale (one of her more frequent customers) and not-so-subtly hinted that the license had better be forthcoming because her gaming rooms were patronized by the Prince of Wales.

King George IV when Prince of Wales
The magistrates were not fooled by the name on the license application and immediately whisked the case up to Lord Kenyon (at the time, Lord Chief Justice of England) to rule on the matter. Lord Kenyon had already made known his disapproval of lady gamesters. “If any ladies of rank were convicted of [gaming without a license] before him, they should stand in the pillory!” he declared. In this case, however, with the name of the Prince of Wales looming over his decision, he did not stand quite so firm. Instead, he referred the matter back to the magistrates, trusting that “they would do their duty fearlessly and refuse the license.”

The Gaming Table by Thomas Rowlandson
But the magistrates, it seems, weren’t any more willing than Lord Kenyon to take a stand against the Prince, and before they could rule one way or another in respect to issuing a gaming license to “Mr. Martindale,” Lord Kenyon received a rather spirited letter from the Prince himself.

The Prince wrote: “As I am thoroughly persuaded that in the administration of justice the very last thing that could enter your lordship’s thoughts would be any remark that would fall from your lips to unwarrantably prejudice the public mind against an individual of any description whatever, I am confident that your lordship could never have used the expression which in the notion of every one so decidedly alludes to me . . . It is true that, from applications from many respected quarters, I have been induced to assent to my name being placed among others as a member of a new Club, to be instituted under the management of Mr. Martindale, merely for the purpose of social intercourse, of which I never can object to be a promoter, and especially as it was represented to me, that the object of this institution was to enable his trustees to render justice to various honorable and fair claimants. But if these were really your lordship’s words (which I cannot for a moment suppose) give me leave to tell you that you have totally mistaken my character and turn, for of all men universally known to have the least predilection to play, I am perhaps the very man in the world who stands the strongest and most proverbially so upon that point. I shall not trouble your lordship further upon this strange circumstance . . .”

Lord Kenyon’s response to the Prince was swift and apologetic: “I am confident that I meant nothing offensive to you . . . May I presume to hope that your Royal Highness will pardon this trouble.”

Of course, the Prince did pardon him; and Lady Archer did, indeed, receive her license. Her “garden-parties” continued but private homes were not the only place a gentlemen of title and wealth could gamble. Gentlemen’s clubs offered a comfortable atmosphere where men could gather and talk a bit of politics, do a lot of drinking and engage in high-stakes gambling.

The Faro Table by James Gilray
White’s was the quintessential London club. It was difficult for a gentleman to gain entry and it was famous for its notorious betting book where outrageous bets were recorded. 

·         Horace Walpole wrote in 1744 about a recorded wager of £1,500 that a human being could live under water for twelve hours.

·         Lord Alvanley wagered £3,000 (estimated at over $100,000 in today’s economy) that one raindrop would beat another raindrop to the bottom of the club’s famous bow window.

·         Lord Alvanley (again!) wagered Mr. Talbot one hundred guineas to ten guineas that “a certain person understood between them does not marry a certain lady understood between them in eighteen months from this day, January 5, 1811.” The betting book indicates Lord Alvanley won the wager.

Gambling Hell by Cruikshank
High stakes wagering went on at the tables, too. In Days of the Dandies Captain Gronow tells the story of General Scott, father-in-law of George Canning and the Duke of Portland, who won £200,000 in one night at whist. George Harley Drummond, of the famous banking-house, Charing Cross, lost £20,000 at whist to Beau Brummell. As a result, Mr. Drummond was forced to retire from the banking-house of which he was a partner.

Hard Hit by Sir William Quiller Orchardson
At Brooks’s club the gambling stakes were stratospheric. Charles James Fox, the great Whig politician was bankrupted multiple times at Brooks’s tables. Lord Robert Spencer, brother of the Duke of Marlborough, lost his entire fortune, down to the last shilling, then won it back at faro. Lord Chalmondeley kept a faro bank at Brooks’s that was said to have ruined half the town. A Mr. Paul, who returned home from India with a fortune, lost £90,000 to the faro bank in one night. He immediately returned to India to make another fortune.

Of course, no women were ever allowed inside the hallowed portals of a Regency era gentleman’s club, so all accounts I’ve read are from the man’s perspective. I used my imagination to fill in some blanks when I wrote the gambling scenes in my book A Scandalous Season. The hero is the kind of high-stakes gambler who probably would have graced Lady Archer's faro table. Under the influence of a bruised ego and a bottle of wine, he makes a foolish wager for a ridiculous amount, much like Lord Alvanley’s wager with Mr. Talbot. Luckily, my hero is wealthy enough to cover his bet and charming enough to win the heroine’s heart. Click here to read more about A Scandalous Season.

Additional sources:
  • George the Fourth; including His Letters and Opinions, with a View of the Men, Manners, and Politics of His Reign by Percy Fitzgerald.
  • Huish’s Memoirs, George IV, Vol. 1 by Robert Huish.
  • Social Caricature in the Eighteenth Century by George Paston.
  • Western Argus, October 2, 1906, p. 44.