Search This Blog


Friday, 19 August 2016

Great new Regency - The Fencing Master's Daughter by Giselle Marks

I've had the privilege to watch Giselle grow as an author, and to have the editing of this, her first book, and enjoy the improvements that she has made to it since its first inception.  It's a fun read and my husband agrees, so it's one of those Regencies that a bloke can enjoy, even as many men enjoy reading Georgette Heyer. 

So what is it about? 

Edward, Earl of Chalcombe, has recently inherited his title, and is about to take up the reins of his duties, following the double blow of his brother's death and a wound he took, fighting Bonaparte. 
He does not expect to be set on by footpads who seem to be more interested in causing him harm than in merely robbing him.  His life is saved by the cheerful and ugly Henri, and by Madelaine, who is an expert swordswoman.  They see Edward home, call Bow Street and then leave hurriedly.    Edward is left facing two mysteries; why did someone want to kill him, and who is the beautiful Madelaine, whose acquaintance he wishes to pursue further.
As he finds out more about Madelaine, he is frustrated in his desire to marry her by her steadfast refusal, which confuses him more than a little as he is certain that she is attracted to him.
More attempts on Edward's life occur, and clues are uncovered a few at a time, leading to the time when Madelaine tells all to Edward, and they discover how intimately their lives are linked through  an inimical foe.
Just as Edward believes that things might be going right, a cruel twist of fate separates him from Madelaine, and he must search desperately to find her again.
Although Gelert, the devoted mongrel wolf-hound  is hurt in defence of his beloved mistress, he survives, I hasten to add. 

This is a rip-roaring yarn in the best tradition of Heyer, with adventure and romance, and a good spicing of humour.  I thoroughly recommend it.
Out in paperback and available within the next day on Kindle HERE

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Fire Insurance as Jane Austen would have known it.

Insurance in the 18th and early 19th century

London had always feared fires and had legislation in place to try to minimise risk, which had begun with a statute in the thirteenth century forbidding thatched roofs in the city.  However, after the devastating great fire of 1666, the potential loss to individuals as well as the danger to the populace was something which led to the institution of fire insurance companies.

The Guildhall Library, the local records office to the city of London, contains records of the earliest policies.[1]

The Hand-in-Hand Fire and Life Insurance, established 1696
The Sun Fire Office, established 1710, later the Sun Insurance Office
The Royal Exchange Assurance, established 1720

[Details of policies may be found at  for anyone interested in more detailed research.]

Initially London based, some insurance offices quickly spread to offer policies in the provinces.  The Hand-in-Hand and the Westminster Fire Office remained exclusively in London, but the Sun, Royal Exchange and Phoenix [records of this last held at Cambridge University Library] spread to other parts of the realm, working through local agents.  Initially they were to be found predominantly in the south, but by the 1780s might be found in every major town throughout England, Scotland and Wales.

When an insurance policy was taken out, a plaque was issued to be attached to the wall of the insured property.  This was called the fire-mark, and ensured that those displaying it would have a fire engine sent from the insurance company involved.  There were no publicly maintained emergency services, of course!  But the insurance companies preferred to save buildings than to pay out for those destroyed by being burned down. 

Some fire marks to be found in Ipswich Transport Museum, including one from a Norwich company

This one still extant on the wall in Ipswich in St Nicholas St

The first effective fire-engine was invented in 1732 by Richard Newsham, who is credited with the re-discovery of the force-pump, to permit a continuous flow of water. [2]  This principal had been known to the Romans but had been lost.   The fire engine depicted was built by Newsham for Dudley North, of Little Glemham Hall, and is on permanent loan to the Ipswich Transport Museum by the current owner, Lady Blanche Cobbold.  It was restored to working order by Fireman Brian Madder. 

Needless to say, if a building did not have an insurance mark on the wall, the fire-engine would not bother to save their property!  However, if a property next door was threatened which did bear the fire-mark, they might work to stop the fire spreading. In theory a reward was paid by the parish for the first engine on the scene, but theory and practice do not always go hand in hand ….

The amount paid for insurance varied with the hazardous nature of the building and the goods therein.   A brick house with slate or tile roof would pay a basic rate, somewhere between 7/- and 10/- per annum, with extras if it were timber framed.  Other hazards might be in the nature of goods held in a shop, such as timber, distilleries, apothecaries, chemists, colourmen, chandlers selling candles, tallow, pitch or other inflamables, oil merchants or purveyors of alcohol [wine merchants or inns].  One might pay another 3/- , or 5/ for double hazard, ie a timberframed building with a hazardous trade carried on within it, these sums also per £100 value, per annum.  Often there was a higher rate for properties worth more than £1000 in value, and an even higher one for those worth over £2000.

 Naturally, preventing fire was a priority, and the head of the household was responsible for seeing that all fires were out or covered, and candles snuffed before retiring for the night. The advice, if trapped upstairs and unable to clamber onto another roof, was to tie sheets and blankets together, attached to a chair, and to open a window only part way, to hold the chair securely, and climb down, “they should by all means endeavor to be cool, and not be too much alarmed—fear overcomes reason, and will prevent studying your safety.”[3]

One company still in operation today is the Royal And Sun Assurance company, which was formed when Sun Alliance and Royal Insurance merged in 1996.  The oldest of these companies, the Sun Fire Office, merged with the Alliance British and Foreign Life and Fire Assurance Company.  This was formed in 1824 by Nathan Mayer Rothschild and Moses Montefiore, with the intent of rivalling Lloyds.[4]  [The London Assurance and Phoenix were also purchased by this group in 1965 and 1984; The Royal Insurance was not founded until 1845.]

Lloyds Insurance is a subject in itself and one I will address in a separate blog.

[2] Ipswich Transport Museum notes
[3] Susannah Ives quoting Trusler, 1809, details on the policies of several insurance companies.

Friday, 17 June 2016

The Botanical Gardens, Paris, 1815

The next few posts will be celebrating the release of the fourth Brandon Scandal 'The Wandering Widow' with a few gratuitious pictures to illustrate the notes from the back of the book.
this is the pergola on a hill that Leo speculated might have been a mound of rubbish that couldn't be got rid of it, so they made a garden feature of it

The Botanical Gardens in the 5th Arrondissment were set up under the direction of Louis XIII for the study of medicinal plants by doctors.  The gardens are large and cover many types of plants.  The director of the gardens in 1815, Jean-Baptiste de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck is the founder of the theory of inheritance of acquired traits on which Charles Darwin built his theory of evolution; indeed, Lamark can be said to be the father of the theory of evolution.  He survived the revolution by changing the name of the gardens from Jardin du Roi to Jardin Des Plantes.  A previous administrator and naturalist, George-Louis Declerc, Comte de Buffon, is commemorated by the pergola on the hill of the labyrinth which the characters visited.  

Plan of the gardens.  Our heroes were staying on the Rue Geoffroy St-Hilaire

A French fashion plate.  The pergola here isn't raised on an eminence, but I wonder if the artist was inspired by the Jardin Botanique? 
and here we find Leo and Letty in a Paris which still has narrow streets with medieval buildings, before the redesign of the city in 1848 after the year of revolutions

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Some musings on what the year without a summer [1816] meant to most people

It's the 9th of June, and this morning started cold, murky and miserable.
Now, I  know one looks at childhood through rose coloured spectacles, but I have no recollection, apart from the odd day here or there, of June being chilly enough to need a hot water bottle at night from time to time, as I have this year.
Moreover, on the sunny days this year, I've hung out washing on the line in the morning, and by five in the early evening .... it's still not dry.
Now, I'm not comparing this to the June of 1816 which was really unseasonable, owing to the eruption of Mt Tambora in 1815,  but it's been inconvenient enough to make me think about the travails of the common man in 1816, being common as dirt myself in 2016, and having to think twice about using the tumble drier because of the horrendous cost of electricity.   And at that, I have the advantage of owning a tumble drier, which Mrs. Villager of 1816 did not.   And if the washing did not get dry spread on the bushes on the village green, the common way of drying clothes then, before the invention of the clothes peg, either you didn't wash the clothes, or you wore them damp.  Drying them in front of a fire would mean having to light a fire that was hot enough and burned long enough to dry the clothes; and that meant buying fuel.  A similar dilemma to me and the tumble drier, except that  Mrs. Villager didn't have the option of running into an overdraft as so many of us can do these days.  Cash on the nail was the rule then, unless you were aristocracy.  And if Mr. Villager was engaged in the usual rural activities like raising crops and livestock, well, he was in deep financial trouble.  Crops were killed in the fields by the late May frosts, and the grass was poor for livestock.  There was a serious problem of rickets in lambs, many of which had to be culled because they were unhealthy.  Rickets is caused by a lack of vitamin D, ie, sunlight.  Possibly Master Villager himself had rickets and was unable to help his father in the fields. 
So there's precious little food, no income to speak of, the clothes can't be washed because they won't dry, and will give anyone wearing them a chill or rheumatism [and with sore throats engendered by such chills, the possibility of rheumatic fever, life threatening at worst, or at best leaving a heart murmur].  Washing personally is not fun in the cold, believe me, we had an unheated bathroom for enough years for hot running water to be luke warm by the time the bath was filled in midwinter, and washing was very much a lick and a promise, even with a fire downstairs to sit in front of!  so, we have Mr and Mrs Villager likely to decide that washing was a bad idea.
Unfortunately if Mr and Mrs Villager had used the fire on which they cooked to heat an iron to iron the seams of their unwashed clothing, they would have been able to kill the body lice which lurked there, leaping from person to person as they huddled together for warmth and spreading Typhus, also known as gaol fever.  It was called gaol fever because in gaols, people were in close proximity and rarely washed.  It happened to the army on the Peninsula as well.

So, Mr and Mrs Villager, hungry all the time, and therefore more susceptible to disease, cold all the time, and so more susceptible to disease, stressed out like mad over how they are going to pay the bills without any money for selling produce, and therefore more susceptible to disease, are almost inevitably going to succumb when Typhus strikes.

I address this issue in my Jane Austen 'Emma' sequel, 'Cousin Prudence' [to be found Here, on amazon or Here on amazon uk] as well as describing the dry fogs, and red appearance of the sun for much of the time.  Since there was a theory that the fogs were caused by the mass guns firing during the French wars, especially Waterloo, I shouldn't be surprised if many people wondered if this seemingly dying sun indicated the apocalypse.