The Lamplighter – A Ghost Story for Christmas

I like Jesty Court, and wouldn’t want to know anybody that didn’t, I will tell you why later. It is a small square, tucked away in a corner of London that is hard to find. It’s not that maps avoid it, it’s just that the street pattern around it is surprisingly confusing.

It is lined with elegant houses, built at the beginning of the century before last, has a neat garden in the middle, and the surrounding road is lit with old gas lamps, very old gas lamps. As you walk round the square you will see that most of the houses have blue plaques on them, telling of the great and the good who once lived there. Though in Jesty Court it is seems that it was just the great who lived there were all very good, notable doctors, philanthropists, reformers – on one corner there was a name I half recognised, when I looked him up I realised where I had seen the name, and what had happened in that house.

Nearly two hundred years ago a group of serious and good men met here, to change the government, to change the country, in time to change the world. Not by violent revolution, but by argument, peacefully, and they succeeded. They reformed how parliament was elected, then in the new reforming parliament they did wonders, they abolished slavery, they began to reform working conditions, end child labour, end cruelty to animals, and even create parks and gardens in towns and cities.

It was one dark night, in the reign of good King William, that the leader of these men, who is best known for the tea created for him (and he was prouder of that than anything else he had done) stumbled as he made his way to his carriage.

“You need proper lights here, a lit street is a safe street. I will help if you wish.”

They did wish, the men who had helped people throughout the world, now helped themselves, as well as anybody else who entered Jesty Court. The pavements were dug up, pipes were laid, and gas lights spread their glow over the square.

A Lamplighter was appointed, Thomas Crowther was his name in the records of the Gas and Light Company, but everybody called him Old Tom and everybody liked him. As he lit the lights in the evening his ‘Evening Sir’ or “Evening Ma’am,” greeted men returning from their labours, or couples leaving for the theatre or dinner with friends. Children loved to watch the lamps being lit, the gentle pop as he applied the flame, then watch with wonder the light’s growing brilliance. To his friends, and he considered everybody in Jesty Court his friends, he would repeat the saying, ‘A lit street is a safe street,’ and so it was, until tragedy struck.

It was a frosty morning, just before Christmas, a maid, opening the shutters was the first to see. Lying in a pool of light, under one of his lamps, Old Tom lay. It wasn’t certain if he had fallen from his ladder, or there was another, darker, reason for his death, but the whole square was in mourning. The residents paid for his funeral and, in a tiny, dark, churchyard they paid for his gravestone. ‘A lit street is a safe street’, was his epitaph.

.

I had listed the story amongst the many tales I knew of Old London, and would have thought no more about it, until I was in an old library, I won’t say where, when in a serendipitous moment I mentioned Jesty Court to the librarian.

“Oh yes, I saw the name somewhere recently.” He pulled out two or three box files, then one labelled ‘Dicken’s Forgeries.’

“We have a number of them, all are very bad, some even pornographic. But this one is different, it purports to be a draft of a short story or magazine article, but ..” He paused, and handed me the envelope, “Read it and see what you think.”

It was a large brown envelope, with a library reference number neatly written in the top right-hand corner. Then, under it, was a pencilled scrawl, ‘Jesty Court?’ and below that something that made me gasp. ‘A lit street is a safe street.’

I knew that Charles Dickens was fascinated by London and its people, he explored it, walked the streets at night, sometimes with his friends in the police, sometimes alone. The tales he heard he wove into his wonderful novels, but of Jesty Court, he had said nothing.

On foolscap paper someone, early last century I guessed, had typed out this story.

‘Mr Field [Inspector Charles Field] had suggested that I visited Jesters Square at night. “No need to be alarmed there, we rarely bother to go there, safest palace in London.” When I asked why I should go there, he replied, “Speak to the old lamplighter if he is there, he has a tale or two that will amuse you.”

I knew Mr Field too well to doubt him, so a few nights later I made my way to the Square. It is a very pleasant spot, the leaves had begun to fall from the trees and my feet rustled in them as I walked across the garden, at first there was no sign of anybody there, but when I had reached the far side, I turned and saw a figure under the light where I had first entered the Square. I retraced my steps, but when I was halfway across a noise distracted me for a second, when I turned back the figure had vanished. I walked to where he had been standing, but there was no sign of anybody, looking around I saw the figure again, where I had been standing when I first saw him.

I began to walk towards him again, then, just as before, he vanished. I muttered under my breath, imprecations against Inspector Field for sending me on this wild goose chase.

“Know Mr Field do you, come and sit down then.” The voice was a strange hoarse whisper, it sounded as if the speaker was right beside me, whispering in my ear. Startled I looked around and saw a man some ten yards away, seated on a bench below one of the gas lamps. I couldn’t see his face as he was wearing a broad brimmed hat which shaded it. He had a long brown coat on and a ladder was propped up on the lamp behind him.

Good evening” I began, but he interrupted me.

“Good evening to you Mr Writer.” I was surprised but he continued, “Yes I know who you are, and as Mr Field will vouch for you, I will tell you a tale or two. Told you this was the safest street in London I reckon.” I nodded, “Tis now, but didn’t use to be.”

[He then repeated the tale of how the gas lamps had come to the Square and the death of Old Tom]

“Dreadful.” I muttered, “A terrible accident I suppose.”

“Doubt that.” He continued, “A couple of months later a pair of rogues entered the Square, well known to the Runners they were, had tools with them. Later their friends said that they had cased a house in the Square months back but had been prevented from burglering it.”

“Did they rob it?”

“Oh no,” The old man whispered, “They found them the next morning, fallen down the area steps into the cellar of one of the houses, both dead.”

“Did they break their necks?”

“Yes, but not in the way you would think, the bags that they had their tools in, somehow they caught on the railings and round their necks. Found them hanging there, as neat as if they had been turned off at Newgate. Justice it was.”

“You think they had killed Old Tom.”

“Yes, I do. And more than that, since then the wicked have been wise to keep out of the Square, it’s the lights. ‘A lit street is a safe street’.”

“You must be proud of your calling then, keeping the lamps lit.”

“Oh someone else lights the lamps now, I just keep an eye on them, and on the Square and everybody who comes here.”

“But” I turned to look at the lamp, but the ladder had vanished, turning back the old man wasn’t there either. Shaken I rose and begun to hurry out of the Square. Suddenly the whisper was in my ear again.

“No need to hurry, safest place in London this is, and it is my task to keep it that way. But Mr Writer I would be grateful if you don’t go putting me in any of your stories.” As he spoke I wondered how he would know. He seemed to guess what I was thinking and said.

“I belong to this Square, and I like the light, I seem to get me strength from these lamps. But I know the dark as well, and the Dark of London is old, very old, Dark speaks to Dark as the saying is. If you were to tell anybody, at least in a way they might believe, I will know soon enough.”

I was silent, as I left the Square I turned back, Old Tom stood under a gas lamp. I touched my hat in acknowledgement, he replied in a similar fashion.’

I carefully returned the papers to the envelope, then behaved very improperly and rubbed out the pencil inscription before returning the envelope to the box file. Thanked the librarian and said that I didn’t think the story had anything to do with Jesty Court, and left.

.

I had, of course, visited Jesty Court several times after dark and, although it was certainly a surprisingly peaceful place, seen no sign of Old Tom. I don’t know if I really expected to. I did, however, write about Jesty Court, and the story connected with the installation of the lamps, and one day got a letter from a resident of the Court thanking me. Apparently my article and the link to the great reformers had been added as ‘additional material’ to the bid to get the lamps listed as being of historic importance.

I met up with her and learnt of the attempt of the council to ‘update’ the old gas lights.

“They said new lights would be safer, but that is nonsense of course, the young woman who was attacked, she said the lights almost followed the man as he ran away. She could seem him very clearly.”

This was surprising as everybody had told me how safe Jesty Court was.

“Oh it is, of course, and nobody got hurt, apart from him. It seems the woman was crossing the garden as she knew how safe the garden was supposed to be, when the man went to grab her.” My friend smiled, “Fortunately he had picked the wrong one to attack. She fought back breaking his nose and kicking him where it really hurt. He ran, and this is odd as she said he seemed to be running from someone and it wasn’t her. She stood, shocked, as he ran across the garden and down Grey’s Place. Then she heard the noise of the accident.”

“Accident?”

“Yes, he ran straight out into traffic and was hit.”

“Was he killed?”

“No, both legs and his pelvis were broken. He had attacked other women before, and will spend his prison sentence in a wheelchair, he may never walk properly again.”

I wondered at this story, of course, and tried to get more details, but there was little more to find out. Then, just before Christmas I was talking to a television producer I know, he had made several ‘real life’ documentaries, filming emergency services at work. He had produced one based around a police station close to Jesty Court. He too had heard of the attack, and added,

“The stories are true, by the way, the Court is incredibly safe. Very little crime ever reported there, probably due to the fighting gas lamps.”

I looked bemused, he laughed and replied.

“It’s an odd story, we couldn’t include it for several reasons. One evening a police car stopped at the end of Grey’s Place as a number of teenagers ran out, they were terrified and most had cuts and bruises about their heads. They couldn’t say anything sensible so they were bundled down to the station where they said they had been attacked by the gas lamps. Apparently they had started throwing stones at the old lamps, when the lamps started throwing stones back!

The police thought this was funny as well, and naturally suspected they had taken some drug or another. But as no crime had really been committed, they called their parents to come and collect them reckoning, probably correctly, that they would get worse grief from their parents, that they would from any court.”
He paused, “However one parent’s reaction was odd. He was angry, but not because of the suspected drugs. ‘You know about that place,’ He said to his son, ‘You must never go there, it’s not for the likes of us.’ I wondered at this, but couldn’t ask him about it, as father and son ran quickly out of the station.”


These stories, and the cases I found in the council archives, of people complaining they slipped and fell, often spraining or breaking ankles, in the square, made me think. And when I read how, when these cases were investigated, the pavement was clean and level and that none of the people who complained lived there, made me want to return to Jesty Court.

It was cold when I entered the Court no one seemed to be about as I walked into the garden then, on the far side, I saw a figure in long coat and broad brimmed hat, standing in the light of one of the lamps. I shivered, and it wasn’t from the cold. I slowly walked towards him, suddenly something distracted me for a moment, and he vanished. Turning, I wasn’t surprised to see the same figure under the light where I had entered the garden. I decided not to approach but said softly,

“Old Tom, will you speak to me?’

“Better take a seat then,” came a hoarse whisper in my ear. Turning I saw a figure on the bench under one of the old lamps. He was just as had been described, in a broad brimmed hat which shaded his face and a long brown coat.

“Cold night.” I began.

“As it was when it began.”

“A long time ago?”

“A very long time, as you have guessed.” He paused and added, “I think I must thank you, for two reasons.” I must have looked puzzled as he continued. “For helping the good folk here keeping the old lamps burning, and for not mentioning me in your writings.”

“How did you know?” I began, then remembered and added, “Dark speaks to Dark.”

He nodded, “I would prefer it if I wasn’t well known, those that need to know, know.” I didn’t say anything and he continued. “Those stupid kids, I gave them a fright, but one of their father’s was even more frightened.”

“The one who said that the Court ‘wasn’t for the likes of them’?”

“Yes, they are members of an old London family, a very old family. Long time ago many of then rode in Jack Ketch’s cart to Tyburn Tree, or took the long voyage to Botany Bay. They know they are not welcome here.”

“So you protect the Court.”

“I try to, when new people come here I take a look at them some, the good hearted, are welcome, most are neither one thing or another and I just hurry them along, they can come here to work or visit, but never stay. Some are black hearted, they leave very swiftly.”

“With sprained limbs or broken bones.”

He nodded, then looked at me, his hidden eyes seemed to bore into me. I felt he knew all about me, all and any secrets I had were laid out before his long dead gaze.

“Well done Mr Writer, you are welcome here, when you decide to live here it will be a pleasure to look over you and yours.”

“But ..” I paused and changed the subject, “Do you do that to everybody who comes here?”

“Yes, not perhaps like that, but then you know who I am.”

“But what about when the woman was attacked.”

“I must have been getting old, I was a little slow that evening, but I would have got him before he hurt her. Didn’t need to though.” I could hear the pleasure in his voice, “It was lovely to see her move. After what she did to him I didn’t like to punish him too much.”

“But he might not walk again!” I gasped.

“He’s still alive, isn’t he? After what he was planning to do to her, I was very kind to him.”

I was silent, then I suddenly realised Old Tom had vanished.

As I left the Court I turned back, there he was under one of the lights, he touched his hat and I seemed to hear his voice again.

“A lit street is a safe street”

This tale was suggested by my son, the artist, who wrote;

“I was having a thought about a ghost story, figured you might be able to flesh it out. So my idea was of the ghost of a lamplighter, who was now trapped and only visible in the light of streetlamps.”

So here is the tale, with his illustration.

4 Comments

Filed under Charles Dickens, Ghost story

Seeing the Invisible

This weeks prompt is.
October 24, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about bones. It can be any genre or tone. Is it spooky, irreverent, poignant? Go where the prompt leads.

Seeing the Invisible

He thought it would work, he knew the strange, invisible, light, affected a photographic plate, and if it did work, the implications were incredible.
He couldn’t do it himself, he had to operate the generator, so he went to the laboratory door and called for his wife.
“Could you put your hand there, my dear?” he asked.
She held her hand still as the machine buzzed.
An hour later he showed her the picture, Frau Röntgen almost fainted.
“I have seen my death!” she gasped, as she saw the bones of her own hand in the first X-ray photograph.

Anna Röntgen’s hand, the first X-Ray

This story is completely true, when Wilhelm Röntgen first discovered X-Rays he noticed that he seemed to see a shadow of his own bones as he moved objects across the incandescent screen. He couldn’t photograph his own hand so he asked his wife. Anna Röntgen’s reaction was exactly as I described.

1 Comment

Filed under Historical Reconstructions, Remarkable Women, Scientific History

Trafalgar Weather

With the wild weather today, Trafalgar day, I was thinking of this wonderful poem by Thomas Hardy

The Night Of Trafalgar


In the wild October night-time, when the wind raved round the land,
And the Back-sea met the Front-sea, and our doors were blocked with sand,
And we heard the drub of Dead-Man’s Bay, where the bones of thousands are,
We knew not what the day had done for us at Trafalgar.
Had done, Had done,
For us at Trafalgar!

‘Pull hard, and make the Nothe, or down we go!’ One says, says he.
We pulled; and bedtime brought the storm; but snug at home slept we.
Yet all the while our gallants after fighting through the day,
Were beating up and down the dark, sou’west of Cadiz Bay.
The dark, The dark,
Sou’west of Cadiz Bay!

The victors and the vanquished then the storm it tossed and tore,
As hard they strove, those worn-out men, upon that surly shore;
Dead Nelson and his half dead crew, his foes from near and far,
Were rolled together on the deep that night at Trafalgar!
The deep, The deep,
That night at Trafalgar!

The Battle of Trafalgar, Harold Wyllie, Royal Navy Museum

Thomas Hardy imagined a storm hitting Weymouth in Dorset on the night of 21st October 1805, at the same time as a storm struck the victorious British and defeated Allied fleets off Trafalgar. All the place names in the poem (apart from Trafalgar) are in and around Weymouth Harbour, the Back-sea, the Front-sea, the Nothe and Dead-Man’s Bay.

In 2005 I was asked by the Thomas Hardy Society to see if I could find out if a storm had struck Weymouth at that time, it took me a while but eventually I discovered that the night was calm over Weymouth. Thomas Hardy made it up, but he did write a great poem.

1 Comment

Filed under Georgian, Historical tales, Thomas Hardy

Firewoman! – An Historical Tale

London 1767


Mrs. Ann Thompson sat in the small parlour at the back of her inn and smiled to herself. Here she was, the unexpected owner of one of London’s larger inns, much to the horror of most of her relations. She wasn’t sure if it was the fact that a young, widowed, highly respectable, gentlewoman had had the temerity to announce that she would live in the inn and manage it herself. Or, more likely, that she had inherited the property rather than any of her male relations, but her uncle’s will had been clear, it all came to her.
She had already decided that she was not actually going to manage the property, but was keeping that news from her relations until she found someone suitable, especially someone who would care properly for her horses. There was a large livery stable attached to the inn, where she had several very good animals.


She was thinking of the horses when there was a frantic knocking from below and one of the maids burst in.
“They need the horses, there’s a fire!”
“What do you mean?” She asked, but the maid had already run back downstairs. She followed into the stable, to find two men waiting there, with the head ostler. The men were wearing leather jackets with large silver badges on their shoulders, she immediately recognised them as firemen.
“Sorry Ma’am, but we have always lent the horses to the fireman, to pull their engine.” He saw her hesitate and added, “They pay of course.”
“But who drives them?”
“Your uncle did, but now one of the firemen will.”
“NO!” The firemen looked shocked and began to speak, she stopped him.
“No one is driving my best horses unless I know them, I don’t know you”
The men looked shocked, one of the firemen was about to say something, but she cut him short.
“So I will drive them.”
“But Ma’am, you can’t!” burst out both the ostler and one of the firemen simultaneously.
“I can drive better than you.” She said to the ostler, kicking off her slippers and pulling on a pair of leather boots.
“And I don’t know you.” She added to the fireman as she pulled a leather coat over her loose day dress. “Now harness the horses and let’s get moving.”
The younger fireman just smiled, “Yes Ma’am,” and went to help the ostler harness the horses.
Ann handed her shawl and bonnet to her maid, pulled a wide brimmed leather hat over her loose hair, and strode out of the stable.

A Georgian Fireman


They walked at a brisk pace to the engine shed, the double doors were open and the low waggon with the engine on it was already standing there.
As they harnessed the horses to the waggon, the foreman tossed a broad leather strap with a silver fireman’s badge on it to Ann.
“Put it on, it can help if people get in the way.” She slipped it over her shoulder and climbed onto the waggon. She saw one of the firemen saying something to the foreman, she guessed he was telling him who she was. He looked across at her, saw her expertly check the reins, and shrugged.
“Do you know where to go?”
“No, direct me!” She shouted back, he climbed up behind her and they were off.

She was never to forget that desperate race through London’s streets.
She had driven in London before, and never enjoyed it. The roads were crowded, and worse than that people always stared at her, as though no one had ever seen a woman drive before. It was so different in the country where, even in the county town, it was just Mrs Thompson, and everybody knew she was a great horsewoman.
But now, the link boys ran ahead lighting the way, so she was able to drive at a fast canter, swinging round corners, not worrying if there was anybody in the way, if there was they were roughly pushed aside. A crowd ran with them, helping to clear the way. A sedan chair with a wealthy looking man in it was roughly tumbled over, as he swore as the engine rumbled by, the crowd just laughed.
“It will be quicker through the park.” The foreman said.
“Won’t the gates be locked?” she asked, turning the horses.
“Not for us.” He replied, pulling his short-handled axe from the pouch on his belt.
As they approached the park gates she saw a soldier arguing with one of the firemen who had run on ahead. Suddenly the fireman raised his hand and she saw the soldier stagger. The gate was swung open and they charged through.
“Will he get into trouble for this?”
“He might, but as he got a sore head the magistrate will probably let him off with a warning.” Seeing her surprised expression he added. “We have no right to do what we have been doing, but the attitude of the magistrates is that we are acting for the common good, and anyone who gets in our way – isn’t!”
The gate on the far side of the park was wide open, the soldier on guard saluted as they went by, Ann lifted her whip in reply, then it was on and along narrow streets, towards a red light that was glowing clearer every minute. They turned into a small square, on one side was a tall house, three stories high, flames flickered inside the lower windows. Outside, an outbuilding was well ablaze.


She pulled up, her horses were restless, not liking the smoke and flames, so she sat, holding the reins as two men ran to their heads to hold them still. Behind her the firemen were getting the engine off its wagon, as soon as it was clear she drove into a yard on the far side of the square and managed to calm her horses.
Now she was able to watch what was happening, a man came up to her, a tray of tankards in his hands.
“Take one mate, you’ve done well to get here so fast.”
She turned to the man, he stopped in surprise, “Sorry miss, Ma’am.”
She smiled at him and took a tankard, “Thank you, I need that.”
The man grinned back, “Take it, as I said you have done well. They will be thankful you got here first.”
He looked across at the firemen, she looked puzzled.
“Don’t you know, the first engine on the scene gets a bounty from the parish, so that goes to the Sun.”
A team of men were pulling goods out of the undamaged part of the house, as others had lined up on either side of the engine, two men were pumping water into it from the stopcock in the street. Then there was an order, the men on one side of the machine lifted the large horizontal handle and brought it down, lifting the one on the other side, then the men on that side brought their handle down. As they pumped regularly up and down, a strong jet of water poured from the hose.
The foreman directed the jet into the window of the burning part of the house, then turned to look to the burning outbuilding. At that moment there was a shout and a second fire engine cantered in. The foreman on that machine looked very cross, but immediately dropped to the ground and ran over to the foreman who had come with Ann. To her surprise they didn’t argue but seemed to be discussing what to do.
“It’s like this Ma’am.” Said the publican, handing a tankard to the driver who had brought the second engine, “They race to the fire, because of the bounty, but now the Royal Exchange has lost, the crews will all be paid the same and will work together as all want to get the fire out, after all its what they do.”

Arrival of the Fire Engine


The second engine began to play its hose onto the outbuilding, it was very badly burnt and, in a few minutes, collapsed. No sooner was it a heap of rubble that their hose was turned onto the house and after a little while the fire inside was dying down.
The foreman came over to her, “Time to go Ma’am, the Royal Exchange’s men can finish up here, after all it is one of theirs.” She looked puzzled, he continued.
“The house is insured with the Royal Exchange Company.” He pointed to the fire mark high on the building. “All of us firemen will put out a fire, then discover who insures it. If it is one of ours we will just let our company know. If it is insured by another company then we send them a bill for putting it out, that’s what we will be doing here. Also as their men are here now they can wait to make sure it is out, whilst we can get back to our beds.”
As they drove more sedately back to her inn, she asked.
“What happens if it isn’t insured at all?”
“We put the fire out, we are firemen, that’s what we do. Then our secretary will discover who owns the building and asks them for a contribution to our costs.”
“And if they don’t pay?”
“If they are poor, the company will treat it as a charitable act. That’s why we can get away with so much, people know we will put their fires out wherever they are. However if they could afford it and won’t pay we can do nothing. But.” he grinned, “the secretaries circulate their name to all the insurance companies, and they will find it either impossible or very expensive to get any insurance in the future.”
They stopped at the engine house, she unharnessed the horses and led them back to the stable. The ostlers were still awake, and she left them in their care as she staggered up to her room, and collapsed into bed.


She awoke late, then infuriated her staff by demanding a bath as she still smelt of smoke. Later her maid brought a man to see her, the secretary of the Sun Insurance Company. He bowed, and offered her his hand.
“Madam, it gives me great pleasure to give you this.” He handed her a small bag. As she signed the receipt he said, “As far as I know you are the first woman to have ever attended a fire.”
She didn’t know it then, but it would be centuries before another woman did.

.

In the archives of the Sun Insurance Company is a receipt for the supply of horses made out to Ann Thompson, the only woman so recorded. She probably only supplied the horses, but it was fun to imagine she might have driven them as well.
All the other details are as accurate as I can make them. The argument with a soldier, the support of the magistrates and the way in which the companies worked with each other.

1 Comment

Filed under Georgian, Historical tales, Remarkable Women

The Drive That Changed Everything

He had kept raising difficulties. From doubts about the engine to mud on the tyres.
She was more confident, her money had helped built it, she had helped design it, she knew it would work.
She planned it carefully, told her husband she was going to her mother’s home more than a hundred miles away, he expected her to take the train, she waited until he had left the house.
Then her sons rolled the ungainly machine out of the stable, pushed it until it started, and Bertha Benz took the world’s first motor car and drove into history.

Bertha Benz, picture from Wikipedia

Charli Mills from the Carrot Ranch prompts us thus this week

September 19, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about mud on the tyres. The tyres can be from any conveyance or serve as an analogy. How did they get muddy and why? What impact does mud on the tyres have on the story (plot) or characters (motivation)? Go where the prompt leads!

I have gone slightly away from the prompt again with a completely true tale about another remarkable woman.

A delightful reconstruction of the journey, it is in error in only two particulars.

Her son’s came with her as the car wasn’t powerful to go up hills and someone had to push it.

She wore a hat, her hat pins were invaluable in freeing blocked valves.

3 Comments

Filed under Industrial History, Remarkable Women

Festival Fever

We went to a really wild festival this weekend,

There were street parades.

Music and dancing.

Addictive substances were consumed.

It did get a bit wild.

But was kept in check by armed security

Jane Austen Festival, Bath, 2022

Leave a comment

Filed under Bath, Georgian, Historical Reconstructions, Jane Austen, Regency, Remarkable Women

A Shameless Princess

“Shameless!”
The shocked women looked at the statue of Venus. A beautiful reclining semi-nude woman.
“But it’s her! A princess and the favourite sister of the most powerful man in the world. How could she do it?”
Princess Pauline Borghese entered the room, the ladies curtsied. She watched as the statue was rotated in front of her, the likeness was unmistakable.
“What do you think?” she asked one of her ladies in waiting.
“Very fine,” the woman hesitated, then asked nervously. “Didn’t you feel nervous when you posed?”
“Oh no!” The Princess laughed, “The studio was very well heated.”

Pauline Borghese by Canova {picture from Wikipedia}

Completely true.

In 1803 Pauline Bonaparte, Napoleon’s favourite sister, married her second husband Camillo Borghese, 6th Prince of Sulmona, an Italian nobleman. Shortly after the marriage he commissioned the sculptor Antonio Canova to portray his wife as a classical goddess.
The sculpture shocked her contemporaries and her response was exactly as I have given it.

This is in response to Charlie Mills August 22, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story exploring shame as an emotion or theme. Consider how to use shame to drive a cause-and-effect story. How does it impact a character? Is there a change? Go where the prompt leads!

I have rather been led to a somewhat shameless lady, Pauline Bonaparte, Princess Borghese. She is supposed to have chosen the goddess Venus herself, as it had been suggested she pose as the virtuous, virginal goddess Diana. Her response to that idea was one of laughter as, with her reputation, no one in Europe could consider her a suitable model for a virgin

2 Comments

Filed under Georgian, Historical tales, Regency, Remarkable Women

An Englishwoman takes Precedence

It was impossible, somewhere as remote as this and another man had reached the summit first.
He furiously stamped through the snow to the tall figure.
“How did you get here? I am the Prince of Moscowa and should have been the first man to climb Vignemale.”
The figure turned, he gasped it wasn’t a man but a woman in a long black dress.
Anne Lister smiled. “You may be the Prince of Moscowa, but here an Englishwoman takes precedence. As for how, my wife advised me to bring crampons.”
She nodded, turned, and left him gasping in anger.

Caspar David Friedrich – Wanderer above the sea of fog

This is loosely based on a real story. On the 7th of August 1838, Anne Lister, diarist, landowner and traveller (also known as Gentleman Jack) made the first ascent of Vignemale in the Pyrenees, her wife, Anne Walker, had insisted she take her crampons which proved essential in the ascent (Anne Lister is also described as ‘the first modern lesbian).

Anne Lister


The Prince of Moscowa, son of Napoleon’s Marshall Ney, climbed the mountain on the 11th, and immediately claimed in the press to have made the first ascent. It took the threat of legal action for him to back down and grudgingly admit she had been the first to the summit.
I don’t know if the phrase, ‘an Englishwoman takes precedence.’ Was actually said by Anne Lister, but I think it should have been.

This is in response to Charlie Mills flash fiction challenge, in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features somewhere remote. I thought about a wonderful true story concerning a remarkable lady.

3 Comments

Filed under Regency, Remarkable Women, Scientific History

An Unromantic Waterfall

It was not what she had expected, on a honeymoon in the Alps you admired waterfalls, perhaps sketched them. What you did not do was stand beside your new husband as he measured the temperature of the water at the top of the fall, and noted down the figures his friend shouted up from the bottom.

“The water is warmer at the bottom of the waterfall,” his friend told her, “he is proving that heat is produced from motion. Mrs Joule, your name will be famous.”

She doubted it.

She was wrong.

Joule = the international unit of energy.

.

This is in response to Charlie Mills April 11, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using the phrase, water falls. Where is the water coming from? How does it shape a story? Who does it involve? Go where the prompt leads!

I was drawn to one of the most remarkable experiments of Victorian science, in 1847 when James Joule, who was on his honeymoon, and William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) tried to measure the temperature difference between the top and bottom of the Cascade de Sallanches waterfall.

They were both brilliant men, Joule’s work on heat led to the SI unit of energy being called after him, Thompson determined the temperature of absolute zero, leading to the temperature scale, Kelvin, named after him.

6 Comments

Filed under Historical tales, Scientific History, Victorian

The Last Ensign

In 1948, as the British Mandate for Palestine came to an end, a party of RAF personnel lowered the ensign that had flown over their airfield for the last time. It was thin and tattered, the legacy of flying for years in the desert. No one seemed to want it so a young airman folded it up and put it in his kitbag.

He continued to fly, all over the world moving aircraft around as part of the Ferry Squadron. He had many stories of his travels, from the cockpit seal of his aircraft failing as he was flying over the Himalayas, to surprising an American submarine surfacing off Gibraltar.

With a group of fellow pilots in front of a Meteor.

After he left the RAF he continued to fly, as a civilian pilot with the Fleet Air Arm.

Meeting the first Transatlantic Balloon

All that time, the ensign was kept carefully wrapped up, as it had one last job to do.

John Isaac Thompson

3rd April 1928 – 17th December 2021

2 Comments

Filed under balloon, Fleet Air Arm, Flight, RAF