Category Archives: Georgian

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

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

The Yorkshire Carol Theft

Today is the feast of the Epiphany, when we remember the gifts of the Wise Men. But I am not going to talk about gift, rather than a remarkable theft.


Over three hundred years ago Nahum Tate, arguably the worst poet ever to be appointed Poet Laureate, wrote his one brilliant work, the Christmas carol, While shepherds watched their flocks (he is otherwise best known for rewriting Shakespeare to give happy endings to King Lear and Romeo and Juliet).

Song of the Angels at the Nativity of our Blessed Saviour - Nahum Tate

When While shepherds watched their flocks was first published it was suggested that it be sung; To St. James’s Tune or any other Tune of 2 and 6 Syllables. As, for various curious reasons, it was the ONLY Christmas carol that was permitted to be sung in churches, it rapidly became very popular. Singers throughout the land soon began to fit it to different tunes, over thirty are known to have been used, both adaptations of existing music, and specially composed tunes. One, written by Jane Savage in 1785, is the earliest known Church of England hymn by female composer.

However there was no generally preferred tune, for example, the music book of Thomas Hardy’s grandfather contains two completely different tunes. Then, in 1805, Thomas Clark a Canterbury shoemaker and choirmaster, published a tune which he called Cranbrook, after a village in Kent. This tune was tried with various hymns, then with While shepherds watched their flocks it was an instant success. It spread rapidly, and seemed likely to become the standard tune for the carol.

While shepherds watched their flocks sung in the reconstructed Georgian church at Beamish open air museum


If you listen to this most people will say, “Isn’t that the tune to …..”

In the middle of the nineteenth century the Heptonstall glee club was on an outing to Ilkley Moor, like most choir outings they sang, and made up a silly song about a courting lad and lass. Unlike most songs written in these circumstances, someone wrote it down, and the choir continued to sing it at their concerts.

A popular version of On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at

This version spread like wildfire, and was soon sung all across Yorkshire and beyond. So much so that it is regarded by many as the Yorkshire ‘National’ Anthem

The Yorkshire Anthem in a more polished version sung by Lesley Garrett

And that was that. Victorian Hymn Book compilers weren’t that prudish, but the idea of a carol sung to the tune of a comic song was too much, and a tune written in the sixteenth century was a safe alternative, and that is what we sing today.


People now say that While shepherds watched their flocks was once sung to the tune of On Ilkla Moor baht ‘at and even consider that the tune is a Yorkshire one.


And that is the true tale of the Yorkshire Carol Theft

Leave a comment

Filed under Christmas Musings, Georgian, Historical tales

The Two Dolls – Or an anti-racism story from Georgian England

As a contribution to Black History Month I give you this story which was written in 1830, I will tell you more at the end.

A lucky day it was for little Fanny Elvington when her good aunt Delmont consented to receive her into her family, and sent for her from a fine old place, six miles from hence, Burdon Park, where she had been living with her maternal grandfather, to her own comfortable house in Brunswick Square. Poor Fanny had no natural home, her father, General Elvington, being in India with his lady; and a worse residence than the Park could hardly be devised for a little girl, since Lady Burdon was dead, Sir Richard too sickly to be troubled with children, and the care of his grand-daughter left entirely to a vulgar old nurse and a superfine housekeeper. A lucky day for Fanny was that in which she exchanged their misrule for the wise and gentle government of her good aunt Delmont.

Fanny Elvington was a nice little girl, who had a great many good qualities, and, like other little girls, a few faults; which had grown up like weeds under the neglect and mismanagement of the people at the Park, and threatened to require both time and pains to eradicate. For instance, she had a great many foolish antipathies and troublesome fears, some caught from the affectation of the housekeeper, some from the ignorance of the nurse: she shrieked at the sight of a mouse, squalled at a frog, was well-nigh ready to faint at an earwig, and quite as much afraid of a spider as if she had been a fly; she ran away from a quiet ox, as if he had been a mad bull, and had such a horror of chimney sweepers that she shrank her head under the bedclothes whenever she heard the deep cry of “sweep! sweep!” forerunning the old clothesman and the milkman on a frosty morning, and could hardly be persuaded to look at them, poor creatures, dressed in their tawdry tinsel and dancing round Jack of the Green on Mayday. But her favourite fear, her pet aversion, was a black man; especially a little black footboy who lived next door, and whom she never saw without shrinking, and shuddering, and turning pale.

It was a most unlucky aversion for Fanny, and gave her and her aunt more trouble than all her other mislikings put together, inasmuch as Pompey came oftener in view than mouse or frog, spider or earwig, ox or chimney-sweep. How it happened nobody could tell, but Pompey was always in Fanny Elvington’s way. She saw him twice as often as anyone else in the house. If she went to the window, he was sure to be standing on the steps: if she walked in the Square garden, she met him crossing the pavement: she could not water her geraniums in the little court behind the house, but she heard his merry voice singing in broken English as he cleaned the knives and shoes on the other side of the wall; nay, she could not even hang out her Canary-bird’s cage at the back door, but he was sure to be feeding his parrot at theirs. Go where she would, Pompey’s shining black face and broad white teeth followed her: he haunted her very dreams; and the oftener she saw him, whether sleeping or waking, the more her unreasonable antipathy grew upon her. Her cousins laughed at her without effect, and her aunt’s serious remonstrances were equally useless.

The person who, next to Fanny herself, suffered the most from this foolish and wicked prejudice, was poor Pompey, whose intelligence, activity, and good-humour had made him a constant favourite in his master’s house, and who had sufficient sensibility to feel deeply the horror and disgust which he had inspired in his young neighbour. At first he tried to propitiate her by bringing groundsel and chickweed for her Canary-bird, running to meet her with an umbrella when she happened to be caught in the rain, and other small attentions, which were repelled with absolute loathing.

“Me same flesh and blood with you, missy, though skin be black,” cried poor Pompey one day when pushed to extremity by Fanny’s disdain, “same flesh and blood, missy!” a fact which the young lady denied with more than usual indignation; she looked at her own white skin, and she thought of his black one; and all the reasoning of her aunt failed to convince her, that where the outside was so different, the inside could by possibility be alike. At last Mrs. Delmont was fain to leave the matter to the great curer of all prejudices, called Time, who in this case seemed even slower in his operations than usual.

In the meanwhile, Fanny’s birthday approached, and as it was within a few days of that of her cousin, Emma Delmont, it was agreed to celebrate the two festivals together. Double feasting! double holiday! double presents! never was a gayer anniversary. Mrs. Delmont’s own gifts had been reserved to the conclusion of the jollity, and after the fruit was put on the table, two huge dolls, almost as big as real babies, were introduced to the little company. They excited and deserved universal admiration. The first was a young lady of the most delicate construction and the most elaborate ornament; a doll of the highest fashion, with sleeves like a bishop, a waist like a wasp, a magnificent bustle, and petticoats so full and so puffed out round the bottom, that the question of hoop or no hoop was stoutly debated between two of the elder girls. Her cheeks were very red, and her neck very white, and her ringlets in the newest possible taste. In short, she was so completely a la mode that a Parisian milliner might have sent her as a pattern to her fellow tradeswoman in London, or the London milliner might have returned the compliment to her sister artist over the water. Her glories, however, were fated to be eclipsed. The moment that the second doll made its appearance, the lady of fashion was looked at no longer.

The second doll was a young gentleman, habited in the striped and braided costume which is the ordinary transition dress of boys between leaving off petticoats and assuming the doublet and hose. It was so exactly like Willy Delmont’s own attire, that the astonished boy looked at himself, to be sure that the doll had not stolen his clothes off his back. The apparel, however, was not the charm that fixed the attention of the young people; the attraction was the complexion, which was of as deep and shining a black, as perfect an imitation of a black boy, in tint and feature, as female ingenuity could accomplish. The face, neck, arms, and legs were all covered with black silk; and much skill was shown in shaping and sewing on the broad flat nose, large ears, and pouting lips, whilst the white teeth and bright round eyes relieved the monotony of the colour. The wig was of black worsted, knitted, and then unravelled, as natural as if it had actually grown on the head. Perhaps the novelty (for none of the party had seen a black doll before) might increase the effect, but they all declared that they had never seen so accurate an imitation, so perfect an illusion. Even Fanny, who at first sight had almost taken the doll for her old enemy Pompey in little, and had shrunk back accordingly, began at last to catch some of the curiosity (for curiosity is a catching passion) that characterised her companions. She drew near – she gazed – at last she even touched the doll, and listened with some interest to Mrs. Belmont’s detail of the trouble she found in constructing the young lady and gentleman.

“What are they made of, aunt?”

“Rags, my dear!” was the reply: “nothing but rags,” continued Mrs. Delmont, unripping a little of the black gentleman’s foot and the white lady’s arm, and showing the linen of which they were composed-; – “both alike, Fanny,” pursued her good aunt, “both the same colour underneath the skin, and both the work of the same hand – like Pompey and you,” added she more solemnly; “and now choose which doll you will.”

And Fanny, blushing and hesitating, chose the black one; and the next day her aunt had the pleasure to see her show it to Pompey over the wall, to his infinite delight; and, in a very few days, Mrs. Delmont had the still greater pleasure to find that Fanny Elvington had not only overcome and acknowledged her prejudice, but had given Pompey a new half-crown, and had accepted groundsel for her Canary-bird from the poor black boy.

NOTE. — About a month after sitting to me for his portrait, the young black gentleman whom I have endeavoured to describe, (I do not mean Pompey, but the doll,) set out upon his travels. He had been constructed in this little Berkshire of ours for some children in the great county of York, and a friend of mine, travelling northward, had the goodness to offer him a place in her carriage for the journey. My friend was a married woman, accompanied by her husband and another lady, and finding the doll cumbersome to pack, wrapped it in a large shawl, and carried it in her lap baby fashion. At the first inn where they stopped to dine, she handed it carelessly out of the carriage before alighting, and was much amused to see it received with the grave officious tenderness usually shown to a real infant by the nicely dressed hostess, whose consternation, when, still taking it for a living child, she caught a glimpse of the complexion, is said to have been irresistibly ludicrous. Of course my friend did not undeceive her. Indeed I believe she humoured the mistake wherever it occurred all along the north road, to the unspeakable astonishment and mystification of chambermaids and waiters.

The Strangers cropped

This story was written by Mary Russell Mitford, a noted writer in the first half of the nineteenth century. Her life story is remarkable, I won’t go into details, please look her up, but she finally achieved success with her stories about rural life. These were first published in various magazines, and then brought together in several volumes under the collective title of Our Village. The Two Dolls is to be found in the fourth volume published in 1830, and subsequently included in one of many collections of her stories called Children of the Village.

These stories are based upon her life in Three Mile Cross near Reading in Berkshire, including a mixture of real and imaginary people. One real person, who appears in the background of several stories, was a professional doll maker. So I suspect that the doll was real (and probably the story of his travels to Yorkshire are true), though Pompey and Fanny Elvington are just delightful and remarkable fiction.

1 Comment

Filed under Black History Month, Georgian, Historical tales, Regency, Remarkable Women

A shocking Georgian way of dealing with nuisances

Lately there has been some trouble in our village, children have been playing the traditional game of irritating people by ringing the doorbell and running away.

Now this has probably been going on since doorbells were invented (which was long before the word doorbell was invented – possibly by Jane Austen, certainly she was the first to write the word down).

However the Georgians, as well as inventing the word ‘doorbell’ also invented a way of dealing with the problem which probably couldn’t be used today (health and safety enthusiasts have a lot to answer for).

In June 1789, the Poultry, an area of London, was pestered by a man ringing the bells on various houses and shops at night. It caused considerable disruption and fear, but by the time doors were opened the perpetrator had fled into the ill-lit London streets. Finally one man had enough, Thomas Ribright, optician at the sign of the Golden Spectacles, he was much more than a simple optician, he was a maker of scientific instruments and decided to use his knowledge to set a trap. He described what he did in a letter to the Times, 8 July, 1789.

A tradesman, who lives not an hundred miles from me, having made a practice of ringing my bell violently in the night time, by which my family were greatly alarmed, I resolved, if possible, to punish the disturber of my rest. For this purpose I pasted some tin filings upon the pavement before my door, and having made a communication between the handle of the bell and the conductor of an electrical machine, by means of a wire, I charged a large jar to be ready for his reception. A few moments after my neighbour, as I suspected, made an attempt as usual; but instead of accomplishing what he intended, he received the whole contents of the jar, which made him stagger, and when I opened the door, I found him leaning against one of the supporters of the door, exclaiming, What! you shoot people, eh! d-n ye.- These are the real circumstances of the affair , and to the truth of them I am ready to make an affidavit if necessary.

89432001

Thomas Ribright had been experimenting with the transmission of electricity through various media. He had connected a fully charged Leyden jar, a means of storing a large electrical charge, then linked it to the back of the doorbell. Outside he had coated the doorstep with tin filings to provide a good earth, and waited.

The result was better than he could have imagined. The perpetrator, Peter Wheeler, a local grocer and tea-dealer, who had been nicknamed ‘Count Fig’ because of his airs and graces, and who seems to have quarrelled with most of his neighbours, was now ruthlessly mocked. One cartoon depicted him as the ugliest man in London.

Peter Fig the little grocer, commonly call'd Count Fig

Thomas Ribright prospered, after all he certainly made excellent scientific instruments, but never seems to have had the need to electrify his doorbell again, and modern rules and regulations would, I fear, prevent us from using his methods today.

2 Comments

Filed under Georgian, Jane Austen

Women’s Cricket – Older than you might imagine

Today ‘The Hundred’, the latest cricket tournament ended, with the women’s games proving particularly popular. This has been seen, by several newspapers, as a great step forward for women’s cricket.

Miss Wicket and Miss Trigger. Miss Trigger you see is an excellent shot, And forty five notches Miss Wicket's just got.
Georgian Cricketing Ladies

However over two hundred years ago there were very popular women’s games. In 1792 The Sporting Magazine reported.

A very curious match of cricket was played by eleven girls of Rotherby, Leicestershire, against an equal number of Hoby, on Thursday, on their feast week. The inhabitants of all the villages adjacent were eager spectators of this novel and interesting contest; when, after a display of astonishing feats of skill and activity, the palm of victory was obtained by the fair maidens of Rotherby. There are about ten houses in Rotherby , and near sixty in Hoby; so great a disproportion affords matter of exultation to the honest rustics of the first mentioned village. The bowlers of the conquering party were immediately placed in a sort of triumphal car, preceded by music and flying streamers, and thus conducted home by the youths of Rotherby, amidst the acclamations of a numerous group of pleased spectators.

I really like it that the only thing the, probably male, reporter found to comment on, other than that the match was well played, was the fact that the tiny village of Rotherby was able to field a full team of talented, cricket playing, young women, (incidentally the difference in population between the two villages was considerable. At the time of the first census, in 1801, Hoby had a population of 294, and Rotherby 95.)

In the late eighteenth century The Sporting Magazine was very popular and was bought by groups of sportsmen as well as individual enthusiasts, I am sure that in the winter of 1792 there were many sporting gentlemen who read the article and raised a glass to the cricketing maidens of Rotherby and Hoby, as we salute their sporting descendants today.

2 Comments

Filed under Georgian, Remarkable Women

To Swing or be Swung – a puzzle from the Long Eighteenth Century

Today, the Times published a piece on some work being carried out on one of the treasures of the Wallace Collection, the glorious work by Fragonard, The Happy Accidents of the Swing. In the article it mentioned that one of the things they hoped to discover was, if the elderly gentleman pushing the swing had originally been painted as a bishop, as a tale told about the paintings creation suggested.

This description of the elderly gentleman ‘pushing’ the swing is repeated in both the Wallace Collection’s catalogue and on their website. However if you look closely at the painting you will see that he is not ‘pushing’ the swing, rather he is ‘pulling’ it using a pair of ropes.

And that is the puzzle, if you look at illustrations, and surviving examples, of swings over the centuries it is clear that they were either swung by the person on the swing, or pushed from behind. This happened across Europe, Asia and Africa from the second millennium BC until the present, apart from in Europe during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, there the swing was swung by ropes.

'The Swing' by Nicolas Lancret 1735


Why this should be is a mystery, certainly at this time swinging was seen as an adult, as well as a child’s, recreation and was prescribed as a suitable exercise for elderly persons. Certainly the use of ropes would make swinging an elderly lady or gentleman easier, when they couldn’t swing themselves or it would be inappropriate to push them.

Philibert Louis Debucourt, Modes et Manières No. 9- L'Escarpolette


Also swinging was regarded as an ‘adult’ activity in that a young lady could be swung so that a viewer could have an ‘interesting’ view like the lover in Fragonard’s painting. This ‘activity’ is described in the remarkable poetic description of the great gardens at Stowe in Buckinghamshire, by Gilbert West in 1732.

A cool Recess there is, not far away,
Sacred to Love, to Mirth, and rural Play.
Hither oftimes the youthful Fair resort,
To cheat the tedious Hours with various Sport.
Some mid the Nine-pins marshall’d Orders roll,
With Aim unerring the impetuous Bowl.
Others, whose Souls to loftier Objects move,
Delight the Swing’s advent’rous Joys to prove:
While on each side the ready Lovers stand,
The flying Cord obeys th’ impulsive Hand.
As on a Day contending Rivals strove,
By manly Strength to recommend their Love;

Toss’d to and fro, up flew the giddy Fair,
And scream’d, and laugh’d, and play’d in upper Air.
The flutt’ring Coats the rapid Motion find,
And One by One admit the swelling Wind:
At length the last, white, subtile Veil withdrew,
And those mysterious Charms expos’d to view—
What Transport then, O — possess’d thy Soul!
Down from thy Hand, down dropt the idle Bowl:
As for the skilful Tip prepar’d you stood,
And Hopes and Fears alarm’d th’ expecting Croud.
Sudden to seize the beauteous Prey he sprung;
Sudden with Shrieks the echoing Thicket rung.

But the swing was also used by children, with the pulling ropes attached, though with a much more innocent purpose.
In the delightfully titled; Healthful Sports for Young Ladies of 1822, is a description of a swing that would make a modern health and safety enthusiast proud.

1 The Swing

The posts which supported the swing were a little decayed since the preceding year, but they were soon repaired. Madame D’Hernilly recommended prudence to the young people in partaking of this amusement, and, as an additional precaution, she took care to be present whenever they enjoyed it, and strictly ordered that no one should swing in her absence. They were prohibited standing upon the seat; neither were two persons allowed to get in at the same time; Ernestina, or Aglaé, or another of their friends, placed themselves by turns upon the seat, which was furnished with a soft cushion; and, while the one who took the exercise grasped the cords tightly with her two hands, two or three of her companions pulled the end of the cord, and thus made it go backward and forward.


And that is almost the last mention of ropes pulling a swing. I have seen a few later pictures, but these are clearly inspired by earlier works. Why they appeared, why they disappeared, I don’t know, but it is little puzzles like this that can make history so fascinating.


[The man (certainly no gentlemen) who pursued the young lady in the gardens at Stowe was a local clergyman, Conway Rand. Randy had been used as a term for a drunken gathering before this date, but it is only after this time it is used for a man who is sexually excited. Officially the origin of that meaning of the word is unknown – but perhaps?]

Leave a comment

Filed under Georgian, Regency

An Obsolete Job for a Georgian Woman – gone without regret

I was recently listening to a podcast, on the remarkable story of Princess Caraboo, which had an epilogue to the story which I hadn’t heard before. When Mary Baker retired from impersonating a Princess from Javasu, she settled down as a supplier of leeches to Bristol Infirmary (a ‘respectable and genteel’ occupation, according to the Dictionary of National Biography.)

Now it is leech gathering (and not the impersonation of princesses) that is the lost occupation. Medicinal leeches were used as a method of bloodletting, taking blood from person to cure a disease, indeed they were probably a safer alternative to having an incision made with a dirty lancet, as medicinal leeches aren’t known as a major source of infection.

Leeches are native to Britain and although rare now were once widespread, a pond near where I once lived on the New Forest is called Leechey Pond, and were collected from the wild for doctors to use. A woman would walk, bare legged, in shallow water where leeches lived. As they attached themselves to her skin she would remove them and put them in a container. Women were considered better at this as their softer and hairless skin was thought to attract the leeches.

Yorkshire Leech Gatherers 1814

But woman’s involvement with leeches didn’t end there; Anne Lister (Gentleman Jack) describes a doctors visit to her aunt.

Sunday 19 September 1819

Mr Sunderland [the doctor] called to see my aunt and staid near ½ hour. She is to have 2 leeches set on each foot to ease the noise & swimming in the head.

Monday 20 September

My aunt had the leech-woman from Northowram this afternoon. 2 leeches on each foot. Her charge, 6d. each leech as is common, & my aunt gave her a shilling over, for which the woman seemed exceedingly obliged. They seem to have done, my aunt says. She fancies she felt her [head] relieved immediately after the bleeding.

But what to do if you didn’t have a leech-woman in your area, why you would send to the local apothecary, who would supply you with leeches. They would come in small glass jars, always with a broad lip for a cover to be tied over it, as they were notorious for escaping.

Leech Jars (and synthetic leeches)

You might get a leech or two if the doctor prescribed them, or you might keep some in the house, as we keep a few medicines today. For example Jane Austen wrote to her sister on Thursday June 23 1814;

We had handsome presents from the Gt House yesterday, a ham & the 4 leeches.

But when you had your leeches, who was to apply them – the women of course. It was considered the duties of any well brought up young woman to care for the sick. If there was sickness in the house, the women cared for the invalids, if you lived on your own, and were believed to be unwell, then you could almost guarantee that some young female relative would be dispatched to oversee your care – whatever you, or the young woman, wanted.

Guides to young women’s behaviour detailed how they should handle leeches, the ‘Young Lady’s Friend’ first dismisses any squeamishness;

If you have been with persons who were foolish enough to feel any disgust at leeches, do not be infected by their folly; but reason yourself into a more rational state of mind. Look at them as a curious piece of mechanism; remember that, although their office is an unpleasant one to our imagination, it is their proper calling, and that when they come to us from the apothecary they are perfectly clean, though slippery to the touch. Their ornamental stripes should recommend them even to the eye, and their valuable services to our feelings.

Then explain how to use them;

To make them take hold in the very spot required, you have only to take a piece of blotting-paper, and cut small holes in it where you wish them to bite; lay this over the place, and put the leeches on the paper. Not liking the surface of the paper, they readily take hold of the skin, where it appears through the holes, and much trouble is thus saved. When they are filled, they will let go their hold, and you have only to put them on a deep plate, and sprinkle a little salt on their heads, and they will clear themselves of blood; then wash them in water with the chill off, and put them away in clean cold water.

I don’t know what you think, but I am glad that this woman’s activity has disappeared.

1 Comment

Filed under Georgian, Jane Austen, Reconstructing the Regency, Scientific History