Friday, May 31, 2013

A holiday!

Thank you for stopping by today. I am away at my nephew's wedding, taking a much-needed short break.

I hope to return with a new post next week. If I don't return in time to complete it, I certainly will be here Friday, June 14, with a post I already have in mind "All the fun of the Fair".

I'll leave you with the brand-new cover (released today Friday, May 31) for one of my older releases. It gives the book a fresh new look; you can also view it (and purchase the book, if you haven't already) at Uncial Press.
'Til next time,

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Fashionable Sportsman

When I found the following letter/column in The Sporting Magazine for 1802, I knew I had to share it. So here it is, in its entirety, a satirical depiction of the 'Fashionable Sportsman".
The Canter from 'British Manly Exercises'
Boxing from 'British Manly Exercises'
Subscription Room at Brooks Club from 'The English Spy'

Certainly, a scathing indictment of a certain order of Regency 'gentleman'!

The Sporting Magazine; or Monthly Calendar of the Transactions of The Turf, The Chace and every other Diversion Interesting to the Man of Pleasure, Enterprize & Spirit is available for download from Google Books.

'Til next time,


N.B. Illustrations from British Manly Exercises and The English Spy

Friday, May 17, 2013

Astley's Annual Prize Wherry

The Thames River was, of course, always the heart of London life. The life of, and on, the river was inextricably entwined with the day to day activities of Londoners. Until the coming of the steamboats and the increase of bridges over the river, crossing the Thames was left in the hands of the river taxi of the time, the wherry.

The wherry was used to move cargo and passengers on the Thames; it was a row-boat with specially designed bows to aid passengers' embarkation. It is estimated that in 1820 there were some 3000 on the river.
Thames wherry built to 18th century design - Wikipedia
As the wherry, and the river's watermen, were central to London life, they became objects of attention, and in some cases, entertainment. Watermen often held impromptu, and more formalized, rowing competitions on the river. Inevitably, local businesses became involved, offering prizes to the winners. For some unknown reason, the theatre world were notably associated.

Vauxhall Gardens' involvement was understandable. It had its water-gate and the river crossing from Westminster was the best way to get to Vauxhall. The Vauxhall Cup and Cover race was rowed in July. But even the Inns of Court got involved in 1822, presenting a wherry to a competition of rowing by watermen belong to Temple Stairs. Doggett's Coat and Badge was rowed for every August, and that race still takes place today.

Astley's involvement is a little more obscure. It was the habit of Philip Astley to present a display of fireworks every year about the time of the King's birthday on June 4. One year, there was a serious accident, several people were killed, and the display was discontinued. Following this sad event, Mr. Astley took up the idea of presenting a prize wherry to the winner of a rowing competition. Perhaps it was a competition of his own, with his rival for entertainment dollars, Vauxhall Gardens. The race usually took place around the 15th of June, near Westminster Bridge.

In 1802, The Sporting Magazine covered the event, hampered by a strong wind, in detail:
The annual race for Astley's Prize Wherry continued until a year or two after Philip Astley's death in 1814.

The Thames was a working river, first and foremost. It was a dangerous environment, one well understood by the watermen.  But it was also an avenue for ceremonial and celebratory events, and for pure entertainment. Entertainment was something Philip Astley understood very well indeed.

'Til next time,


Friday, May 10, 2013

Hat Box Optional--Making Choices for your new Carriage

We are accustomed these days, when we are fortunate enough to buy a new car, to choosing from a substantial list of options. Well, there was no less choice two hundred years ago, if you were fortunate enough to purchase a new carriage.

William Felton's book of 1794 laid out all the options for the prospective buyer.

He states that he wrote the book, in the main, to educate gentlemen about the construction of their coaches, and the costs involved, so that they would not be cheated by unscrupulous tradesmen. Certainly his work is comprehensive and completely understandable by the layman.

Mr. Felton includes all aspects of coach building, from frames and springs to hammer-cloths and trimmings. It was this last that I personally found most interesting. One of the main figures of the plates shows a coach interior wall--one half left is trimmed in a basic manner, the other right in a more opulent style.

 "Holders", that is straps to grasp over rough roads, etc. have two and a half pages devoted to them.
Windows were of prime importance. Mr. Felton asserts that " should always be of the best plate; but a great difficulty lies in procuring from bladders or veins..." There was a wide choice of window coverings, as this illustration left shows:

Fig 5 - is a spring curtain, which we might call a roller blind.

Fig 6 - is a festoon curtain, on the left plain and on the right ornamented. Felton states they are "of no utility".

Fig 8 - shows the Venetian blind which Mr. Felton highly approves.

Fig 9 - is the 'common shutter' which could be raised and lowered in the same way as the glass window, by a strap and loop.

There are chapters on lamps, wheels, and one on coach painting with wonderful details:
Of course, many carriages were used for long distance travel and as such they required storage, and lots of it. There were all kinds of storage compartments and containers that could be included with a new coach: trunks, imperials (designed to carry light objects--placed on the roof), and wells (fixed to the bottom of the carriage body). Of particular interest were hat boxes (made of leather to the shape of the hat, and generally carried on the roof):
and cap-boxes (of various materials, according to expenditure, and fastened "resembling a sword-case" to the back of the coach's body):
When I first began my Regency research, more than twenty years ago, I struggled to find information, of the period, on coaches. This book answers all my questions. It's available for download from Google Books. There is another book available, equally informative, titled "English Pleasure Carriages". But it is from 1837, and the changes to carriage design in the forty years between the books is worth studying. The 1837 book, unlike Felton's earlier work, has illustrations of complete carriages that are excellent.

Happy travelling!

'Til next time,


Friday, May 3, 2013

Research books I've just discovered!

I've been to a book sale again. There are two substantial sales in my city each year, one in the fall and one in the spring. They support arts, education and charity, so I feel fully justified in buying from them, even though we have no space left in our house for more books!

One of my first finds was "From Instruction to Delight: An Anthology of Children's Literature to 1850". I am looking forward to exploring it, as early children's literature is for me a fascinating study. I will be interested to see what the book says about the Regency era.

The majority of books that I buy at these sales are out of print, so I feel no guilt about 'cheating' the author of his/her royalties. But occasionally I break that rule. I came across "The Gentry: Stories of the English" by Adam Nicolson, which I had not seen before. It was published in 2011, a hardcover book, and cost me only $2.00. It looks like an exceptionally interesting book, and perhaps I can report further on it when I've read it. I'd like to do something for Mr. Nicolson, having paid him no royalties! Even the picture I can provide of the cover is from; perhaps someone among you will buy it there, and assuage my guilt :)

I had three exceptional finds of very old books. I love the really old ones, dilapidated though they may be. They are redolent of history, of lives lived, and of the people who held them and thought about their contents.

"The Life of George Stephenson, Railway Engineer" by Samuel Smiles, published in Boston from the Fourth London Edition in 1859 was a choice pick at $5.00. Stephenson's work basically changed the world, and as I flip through it Regency names pop out--Humphry Davy and James Watt among them.

"The Mother's Friend" edited by one Ann Jane was published in London as volume VIII in a yearly series. It bears no publication date but mentions the Battle of Alma, one of the main battles of the Crimean War. So I think a publication date of 1854-55 would be reasonable. It is a pious little book, for dutiful women, and I hope it brought them comfort during undoubtedly hard times.

My prize is "View of Ancient and Modern Egypt" by the Rev. Michael Russell. It was published in 1831 only twenty-some years after Napoleon's visit, and speaks of the new archaeology undertaken. Complete with its original fold out map this is a little gem.

I find it interesting how small these old books are--only four inches wide, and with a miniscule font that must have challenged poor lighting and rudimentary spectacles.

For the rest: I got two volumes of the Oxford History of English Literature--English Literature 1789-1815 and 1815-1832, which promise to be very useful. I picked up "The Art and Architecture of London" from 1988 for $2.00. It is organized by district which I thought might be very useful, and it is heavily illustrated. I got the classic "Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi" in a nice edition for the same price; it looks to have masses of information on English theatre during the Regency.

And finally, a nicely illustrated book published in 1950 titled "The History and Architecture of Brighton". I am a fan of anything about Brighton, so I snapped this up for $2.50.

I brought home some fiction as well, one or two books on gardening, and some maps and guide books for places I haven't visited. All in all it was an excellent sale. Now I just have to find places on the groaning shelves for my new treasures!

'Til next time,