Category Archives: Georgian

A Tale of the Old Balloonists Part 2 – The Astrologer Triumphant or Venus Despondent

10 June 1824

 

Miss Sophia Stocks groaned slightly as she tried to find a more comfortable position to lie on the sofa, she was pleased to be allowed out of bed, but wanted to be back on her feet. She knew she had things to do. Her aunt came bustling in, a letter and magazine in her hand.

“You see he was a foolish man, he didn’t understand the science.”

“Who didn’t understand the science?”

“Mr Harris.”

“Yes he did, it was a fault in the valve, not the science of it.”

“No, not those silly things people talk of as science, but the true science.”

She waved the magazine again, Sophia saw the title The British Astrologer it had a crude woodcut on the cover – of a collapsed balloon!

The illustration from The British Astrologer

“Your aunt Jemima sent it from Bath, it tells why that foolish man was killed and you..”

“He was not foolish!” Sophia grabbed at the magazine. He aunt pulled it away, “No, you shouldn’t get excited.”

“If you won’t let me see it, at least read it to me.”

Her aunt sat down.

“Very well, now lie still.”

She sat, put on her glasses and began.

 

‘While I sympathize with his dearest friends in lamenting the untimely death of Mr. Harris, who, when he ascended into the clouds in his balloon, bade them, and the thousands whose cheers accompanied him, farewell for ever, I feel it necessary to say, for the good of other intrepid and enterprising candidates for popular applause, that no gallant adventurer should have exposed himself to a danger that admitted of delay, under the fatal prognostics that were pending. The planet Jupiter came into the point of the Dragon’s tail in the ominous sign Cancer but a few hours preceding the ascent; the planet having been, at the precise moment of his baleful transit of the node, in a partial square with the moon.

This anyone, who understands the least of the science, will say is enough: for there are records of all ages to testify, that such an aspect could not be expected to pass by without leaving behind it many fresh examples of its fatality; and a forewarning which portends death, or indeed accidental mischance, should not be tempted, on any consideration, by those who embark in aerial expeditions.’

The reason I give of the life of his fair companion having been so wonderfully preserved, is, that Venus, Georgium Sidus, and Mars, being mutually in trine with one another, was a most lucky aspect for her, as a female, and foreshowed her recovery.’

 

Sophia listened in amazement then, when her aunt lowered the magazine with almost a triumphant air, burst out,

“Dreadful man.”

“But Sophia, Mr Harris was not at all dreadful, just misguided, to try and fly when….” She peered at the magazine again.

“Jupiter was sitting on the dragons tail. I heard, Mr Harris wasn’t at all dreadful, in fact he saved my life, the dreadful man was whoever wrote that rubbish.”

“Mr Raphael isn’t dreadful at all, he is just a very wise man who is trying to show how …”

“He can make money out of somebody else’s tragedy. Oh, Mary!”

“What’s that? Who?”

“Mary, Mrs Harris. If she were to see this rubbish.” She got up, and winced.

“I must go to her at once.”

“But Sophia, should you?”

“Isn’t visiting a bereaved widow one of the things a charitable young lady should do? I am sure you told me once or twice.”

“Yes, but…”

She winced again as she left the room, but was careful not to show it. Neither did she show her discomfort an hour later as she was shown into the small parlour of Mary Harris’s house.

 

On the way there she had worried about what she was going to say, she had written to her as soon as she recovered consciousness, but had received no reply. So she was feeling very nervous as she stepped into the room.

“Oh, I am sorry!”

“Oh, I am sorry!”

They said simultaneously, then looked at each other in surprise. Stepped up to each other and hugged.

“I am so sorry, you were almost killed!”

“No, I’m all right, but you, how are you, poor Mr Harris.”

“For some years I was married to a soldier, then a balloonist, I always knew that this might happen.”

For a few minutes they sat in silence, then Sophia noticed a copy of The British Astrologer on the table.

“Oh, you have seen it. I am sorry.”

“Yes, but it is so silly, there have been much worse.”

“Worse.”

“Yes, Mr Sadler, he was once Thomas’s partner, but quarrelled with him and is now saying that not only was his valve a stupid idea but his other ideas were stupid as well. He is a balloonist as was his father and people are listening to him. Thomas had invented a lightning conductor for ships, the East India Company were interested in fitting it to their vessels, now I learn they are ‘reconsidering’.”

“Is there anything that can be done?”

“If the balloon could fly again perhaps, and show that the valve works, but who would want to take the risk? I have tried to sell it but no one wants a balloon that killed its builder.”

“I am a wealthy woman.” Said Sophia, Mary went to say something. Sophia ignored her.

“I know you won’t take any money from me as a gift, but you will sell me the balloon.”

“Sell you the balloon! What on earth will you do with it?”

“First you need the money, then…..” she suddenly had an amazing idea, she knew what she had to do, she looked at her friend. “ I will fly it of course. I will show Mr Sadler and all the East India Company that your husband was no fool!”

To be continued

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A Tale of the Old Balloonists Part 1 – The Astrologers Curse or Mars Descendant

25 May 1824

Miss Sophia Stocks considered that there were some advantages to being an orphan. Of course she would have loved to have had parents, but her father had been killed in the war when she was a baby, and her mother had died shortly afterwards, so she had no memories of them. She had been raised by two kind aunts, and been shuttled between their homes in London and Bath (attending schools in both those cities), so now, at the age of eighteen she was well practiced in all the official ‘female accomplishments’, and was also, according to her uncle in York, who looked after her property, a considerable heiress.

 

It was for this reason that she was now in London, where her aunt was supposed to be ‘introducing her into society’, so that she could make a suitable match. Sophia was finding this incredibly boring, the men she was meeting were either very bored with her, or very interested in, she suspected, her fortune. The only good thing to come out of this latest visit to London was her meeting with Mr and Mrs Harris. Mr Harris had known her father in Spain, and his young wife Mary was very friendly, and it was because of them that Sophia was about to do something that, if she had had parents, she guessed would have forbidden. She had told her aunt that she was going to make a short trip with her friends, and her aunt had said nothing, she had completely forgotten how excited her niece had been when she had learnt that Mr Harris was a balloonist!

 

The carriage swung into Vauxhall Gardens where the green and yellow balloon towered over the trees. As they approached the launching point the gates were opened for them, shutting behind them to keep out the people who hadn’t paid for a close view of the launch.

 

“Are you sure?” Mary asked as they climbed down.

 

“Of course”, replied Sophia, as she walked towards the balloon. Now was not the time to show fear, she had been amazed at her temerity a week earlier when she had heard how Mr Harris’ companion had quarrelled with him and refused to fly. Mary had explained that she had flown in the past, but would not now her baby had been born, Sophia had suddenly said that she would accompany him in the balloon, and almost immediately been accepted.

 

Mary sat to one side as Mr Harris led Sophie round the balloon, pointing out the various features of the craft, in particular he was very proud of a new valve, which she could just see at the top of the balloon, a cord led from it down to the gondola.

 

“It will enable me to release gas from the envelope. A little will make the balloon descend where I want to, then as soon as we have landed I can release a lot, indeed all, of the remaining gas and the envelope will collapse and not drag the gondola across the ground.”

 

After more explanations he climbed into the basket, a box had been placed beside it for her to use like a mounting block, she stepped up and, to cheers from some of the crowd, swung herself into the gondola. The reporters present were impressed by her complete lack of fear.

 

The main weights were released, the balloon rose a few feet, held by six strong men. Then, at Mr Harris’s order the lines where released and they were off. The basket swung from side to side for a moment then settled down, she was aware of the strange sensation of her feet pressing into the basket, then looked around and gasped.

A General View of the City of London, next the River Thames (Colour)

They were already above the rooftops of London, in the distance she could see the dome of St Pauls, they seemed to be higher than that, it was the most wonderful feeling she had ever had. For a while she admired the view, then turned to Mr Harris, he was bent by the barometer. She knelt and helped him take the reading as he explained how the barometer readings would enable them to calculate how high they had flown.

 

For the next hour she learnt how to fly a balloon, how to drop tiny quantities of ballast to rise, ‘a handful of sand it all that is required’, he said, and how to release small amounts of gas from the neck of the balloon to descend.

 

“Why haven’t you used the valve?” she asked.

 

“Because it is still experimental, if I release too much the balloon may have to land, and I want to wait until I know I can land safely.”
Sophia nodded and watched until they had passed over a small town.

 

“Croydon, I think.” He commented, “Now let’s see what the valve will do?”

 

He pulled the cord, there was a click from above then a rushing sound. The balloon lurched, he tugged again and again on the cord.

“No!” he shouted.

 

“What is it?” she shouted back, the wind was rushing by her now, upwards!

 

“The valve is stuck open, all the gas is venting, we are falling too fast.”

 

“Then let’s slow our descent at least.”

 

She unfastened one of the bags of sand and dropped it overboard. As the ballast fell away the balloon slowed its descent slightly, but they were still falling too fast. The instruments followed, then he pulled off his coat and boots, she dropped her pelisse over the side and pulled her dress over her head and that too tumbled to the ground.

 

She touched her chemise, and said with a sad smile.

 

“That could go as well, but I don’t think it would be of any use.”

 

“No,” he shouted, “there is only one thing that might help.”
He climbed onto the side of the basket.

 

“Just before we hit the ground I will try and jump into the trees. The loss of my weight should give the balloon enough lift so you can land safely.”

3597480515_506b32e092

A French Illustration of Thomas Harris’s Death

“No!” she screamed, as he jumped. A few moments later the basket hit the ground she tried to hold on but was thrown out, she heard a crashing sound, there was sudden pain, and then nothing.

T2-_d553_-_Fig._310._—_Mort_de_Harris

Another French Illustration

 

“It’s a woman.”

 

She opened her eyes to see a surprised man looking down at her.

 

“Yes, I’m a woman.” She replied and tried to get up, she managed to stand for a second, then dropped to the ground again.

 

“Where is Mr Harris?” she asked looking around. The man looked up then there was a shout from the woods nearby. Then two men stepped out carrying something between them, it was Mr Harris and he was clearly dead. For the first time in her life Miss Sophia Stocks fainted.

To be continued

The Fallen Balloon

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The Wonderful Flowers of Mary Delany or Age is no Impediment to Art

This week’s Charli Mills’ prompt is; in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about fingers that fly.

So an historical tale about a delightful lady;

Mary Delany

“That’s beautiful my dear”

The girl placed the flower beside the old lady, her great grandmother’s dear friend

“Look, it’s the same colour.” She held a coloured paper beside the geranium.

“I wonder?” she mused, the little girl watched entranced as Mary Delany’s fingers flew over the paper, cutting and trimming, then other little bits of paper were expertly added. To her amazement a perfect paper flower grew in front of her, just like the real one.
The old lady smiled gently, admiring her flower, the most multi-talented artist of the eighteenth century had just invented a new art form.

Believe it or not this picture is made of pieces of coloured paper

This is the story that the delightful Mary Delany (1700-1788) told about how she invented her ‘paper mosaics’ of flowers. She was seventy-one when she first created her wonderful flowers, at the time they made her famous and now they are rightly one of the treasures of the British Museum.

 

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A Balloon Tragedy – The First Air Accident

This week’s prompt from Charli at the Carrot Ranch is

March 8, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a balloon. It can be a party balloon or a hot air balloon. How does it add to your story? Go where the prompt leads.

 

As readers of my blog will realise, I am fascinated by the early history of flight, so could hardly pass on this prompt. However instead of an inspiring, or amusing, tale, I have decided to retell the story of the first air accident and it’s tragic aftermath.

V0040874 A hot-air balloon in flight with a fire burning. Coloured en

“I’m frightened.” She looked up at the strange shaped balloon, rising over Calais.

“Don’t worry, he is the most experienced balloonist in the world.”

“But to risk everything, especially now.” Her hands moved automatically to her swelling belly.

Then above, in terrible silence, the balloon seemed to break apart.

She cried out and collapsed, by the time they found his body she, and her unborn child, had died.

The death of the first man to fly, in the first fatal air accident, had destroyed his entire family.

From now on the pioneers could not dismiss the dangers they faced.

 

Terrible and true, Pilâtre de Rozier had made the first flight in a balloon on November 21st 1783. On June 15th 1785 whist trying to cross the English Channel his balloon broke up in flight and he became the first man to be killed in an air accident. His death was witnessed by his pregnant fiancée who died shortly afterwards.

 

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Upcycling A La Ronde

In a previous blog I described the amazing house at A La Ronde, that ‘temple to female ingenuity’, and the wonderful craft work of the Parminter ladies. At the time I wrote that, ‘there is plenty of further inspiration to be found at A La Ronde, perhaps I will try something else in the future.’

Looking through the National Trust catalogue of the objects preserved at A La Ronde I found these two bough pots. A bough pot is a type of flower vase that displays flowers individually, not in a bunch. They were usually made of china, and were very decorative, but these are not china, they are tin!

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Tin (or rather tinned iron) was, and indeed is, a material used for making a range of objects, in this case semi-circular boxes with holes punched in the top to take the stems of the flowers. The tin would protect the iron from rusting so the container could be filled with water to keep the flowers fresh. The bough pots have been decorated with coloured paper, doubtless by one of the Misses Parminter.

These naturally inspired me to try and create something similar. So I found an old biscuit tin and drilled holes in the top.

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This was then painted and decorated with coloured paper. A high quality wrapping paper with a design reminiscent of Georgian wallpaper was used. Then the tin was half filled with water and used to display daffodils for St David’s Day.

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The Parminter ladies would certainly have approved.

 

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Charity begins at Home, Sweet Home or A Regency Music Collection

Readers of my blog will know that I am an enthusiastic explorer of Charity Shops, having made several very interesting discoveries in them. Yesterday was, perhaps, my best days hunting so far. I had stopped in Bridport, after a mornings exploration of several churches, with the intention of buying a pasty for lunch. Walking up the High Street towards the bakers I passed the Sue Ryder shop, glancing in I was delighted to find an original fashion plate of 1828. Very happy with this purchase I debated with myself whether to enter the Oxfam shop or not. Fortunately I did.

Lying on a shelf was a battered volume with a card label ‘Ancient Sheet Music £5”, I idly opened it expecting a collection of, at best, Victorian parlour songs. Immediately I knew it was much more interesting, the paper was soft linen paper, the ink brown with age (and because it was made with oak gall), the title pages printed from copper plates. It was what the label had said, a collection of individual printed pieces of music, songs, dances and instrumental pieces mostly for the piano, though a few were for the harp. None were dated though the dedications gave clues. There were references to the Duke of Clarence (who became William IV in 1830) and the Duchess of Kent, but no Duke he died in 1820. Then I saw one of the most infamous pieces of music of the period, naturally I didn’t hesitate but bought the book straight away. I never got a pasty as I wanted to head home and examine my prize in more detail.

 

The book is a large quarto volume, not in very good condition as the front cover is detached. It contains 54 separate items, each with an elaborate title page. It was an expensive collection as none of the music sheets were cheap, some are priced, and the prices range from 1/6 to 5 shillings (a farm labourers weekly wage was 7 shillings).

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On the front is a label, Susanna Buck, who was the original owner. Miss Buck seems to have begun the collection when she was at school, as several sheets have the faint pencil inscription Mrs Waterhouse’s School – Music Prize – Miss Buck clearly she was a talented girl. Other pieces also bear Miss Buck’s name, I suspect that these may have been lent to her friends to copy, because of the cost it was normal to exchange music in this fashion. The volume was bound in Burnley, according to a paper label stuck in the back, so perhaps Susanna was a Lancastrian, other than that I can find no more about her from the book.

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The collection begins with songs, old and new, older ones by Dr Arne as well as modern examples such as Home! Sweet Home! which was written in 1823.

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Then there are a series of instrumental pieces, works by Mozart and Rossini to versions of songs such as Old Lang Syne.

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5

These are followed by a series of dances, all described as ‘New’ or ‘The Latest’, which doubtless gave Miss Buck and her friends a great deal of pleasure.

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Then tucked in the back is a piano manual, full of exercises, which this talented young lady may have used when she began to play.

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This collection is typical of those that were made by musical people and families in the early nineteenth century. As musical tastes changed they fell out of use and it is rare for them to survive. I was therefore delighted to add the volume to my collections illustrating Georgian and Regency life.

 

Now at the beginning of the piece I mentioned that one piece was very notorious, this one, The Battle of Prague

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The piece was very popular, it depicts a fictitious battle in which the various armies Prussian, Austrian, English and Turkish are all depicted in different styles which gives a skilled pianist a great opportunity to show their skill. What is unusual at this time is for the name of the composer, Frantisek Kotzwara (František Kocžwara ) to appear on the music. He was a Czech composer, and while his life wasn’t particularly scandalous, his death was.

 

In 1791 he visited a prostitute Susanna Hill, and after a heavy drinking session tied a ligature around his neck to ‘raise his passion’ – afterwards – he was dead! Susanna Hill was tried for his murder, and acquitted, both judge and jury believing her story that his death was accidental. The judge tried to suppress any account of his death as he feared it might encourage copycats, but one was published, and his death is now regarded as the first known case of auto-erotic asphyxiation.

 

And all that from a remarkable find in the Oxfam charity shop in a small Dorset town.

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The Christmas Spinner – A True Tale for Christmas

Christmas 1821

“Where’s my husband?” She asked, “Dinner has been ready for ages.”

“Sorry Mam,” the maid replied, “I think he is in the workshop.”

Sarah shook her head, their first Christmas together and he was working. He had seemed distracted all though the service that morning and had left her as soon as they returned home.

She walked down the narrow stairs to his workshop. He was seated on a tall stool by his workbench, watching something. Curious she approached, there was a strange buzzing, like a trapped fly. Then she saw what he was looking at, in front of him a wire was spinning round rapidly.

“Michael,” he didn’t seem to hear her, “Michael Faraday.” She said much louder and tapped him on his shoulder, he seemed to wake out of a trance.

“Oh, Sarah, I’ve done it.” For a moment he smiled at her, then turned again to the spinning wire.

“What have you done?”

“You see, the current flows through this wire and creates a magnetic field which works against the field in this magnet ….”

“And makes the wire move.” She completed.

“Yes.” He was watching his invention dreamily again.

“Will it keep moving if you leave it for an hour or so?”

“Yes, the motive force will last as long as there is power in the battery.”

“Then come and have dinner, it is Christmas after all.”

She took his hand and led him, reluctantly, from the room, behind them the first electric motor, another Christmas baby with an amazing future, kept on spinning.

Faraday_Cochran_Pickersgill

Michael Faraday, when he invented the motor

And that, more or less, is the tale I was told many years ago.

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The Most Remarkable Georgian Invention

The Georgians were an inventive lot, not as much as the Victorians who invented everything that hadn’t previously been invented, but they didn’t do too badly. I am fascinated by their ingenuity and have already written about their development of steam power, high speed travel, electric light and fair trade products.

 

However I have just come across details of what is, perhaps, their most unusual invention and one which still invites comment when it is used two hundred years later.

 

The London Chronicle, October 21. 1809 reported how contemporary (male) fashion was being influenced by the actions of the Peninsular War.

 

BOND-STREET BEAUS
We were surprised some time since, by observing many young men of ton with the dusky hue of the Spanish Indies on their visages. Many of these Petits Maitres never exposed their faces to the rays of Sol out of the smoke of London; but it seems they wish to be considered heroes of Talavera, Corunna, and Portugal. To support their pretensions, they procure an artificial tinge with ochre

 

So there it is, the Georgians invented the fake tan!  

 

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A Pattern for a Patten – Reconstruction

Pattens must have been very common, there would have been at least one pair by the back door of every house, farm or cottage across much of Britain. Then, in the early twentieth century, rubber boots became readily available and the patten was immediately superseded. Pattens had absolutely no advantages over rubber boots so they became instantly obsolete, and almost all disappeared.

As I mentioned previously, I had wanted to add a patten to my collection, but could never find one. Then a local metal detectorist kindly gave me a patten iron, the metal part of a patten.

It needed to be cleaned and the metal treated

Patten Reconstruction 1

Then a wooden sole was made

Patten Reconstruction 2

And fitted to the base

Patten Reconstruction 3

Finally leather straps were cut

Reconstruction 8

And I had a patten to add to my collection.

 

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A Pattern for a Patten – Protection and Punishment

What’s a patten?

Well, here is a wet London day described by Dickens, and no one described a wet day better;

The sky was dark and gloomy, the air was damp and raw, the streets were wet and sloppy. The smoke hung sluggishly above the chimney-tops as if it lacked the courage to rise, and the rain came slowly and doggedly down, as if it had not even the spirit to pour. In the street, umbrellas were the only things to be seen, and the clicking of pattens and splashing of rain-drops were the only sounds to be heard. (Pickwick Papers)

Wet under foot.

Pattens were wooden soles on metal rings that raised the foot above the wet ground, they were usually worn by women, and the noise they made was a feature of urban life in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Everybody has their taste in noises as well as in other matters; and sounds are quite innoxious, or most distressing, by their sort rather than their quantity. When Lady Russell not long afterwards, was entering Bath on a wet afternoon, and driving through the long course of streets from the Old Bridge to Camden Place, amidst the dash of other carriages, the heavy rumble of carts and drays, the bawling of newspapermen, muffin-men and milkmen, and the ceaseless clink of pattens, she made no complaint. (Jane Austen, Persuasion)

It was the noise they made that was probably the reason they were banned from churches.

Trent, St Andrew, patten notice
Trent Church, Dorset

As the nineteenth century progressed the patten, which had been worn by women of all classes, gradually moved down the social scale. Though it remained in use in country districts until the end of the nineteenth century.

Patty
A fashionable woman in pattens in 1783

A woman had to learn to walk in pattens, wearing them was similar to a child wearing stilts, indeed child sized pattens were made so a girl could learn to wear pattens almost as soon as she learnt to walk. In 1872 Miss Berry Dallas and her sister Helen came to live with their uncle and aunt in rural Dorset. She not only kept a diary, but it was copiously illustrated and, on the first page, she shows how they learnt to walk in pattens.

Patten - Winterbourne St Martin 1

A teenaged Miss Berry helped to stand by an elderly gentleman

Patten - Winterbourne St Martin 2
Miss Helen smugly managing to stay upright.

Pattens were not just used to walk outside in wet weather, but were essential when wet jobs were to be done around the house, especially on washing days.

How are you off for soap

A cartoon of 1816, Vansittart was the Chancellor of the Exchequer who had just put a tax on soap!

There were other uses for pattens, Charles Dickens describes, at the end of Barnaby Rudge when the unpleasant Miss Miggs gets her dream job of a female turnkey (jailer) for the County Bridewell (jail).

Among other useful inventions which she practised upon offenders and bequeathed to posterity, was the art of inflicting an exquisitely vicious poke or dig with the wards of a key in the small of the back, near the spine. She likewise originated a mode of treading by accident (in pattens) on such as had small feet; also very remarkable for its ingenuity, and previously quite unknown.

Whilst in 1723 it was reported in the London Journal, that:

Some Days ago a Female Duel was fought at Greenwich, in which one of the Combatants kill’d her Antagonist with her Patten. The Coroner’s Inquest having sate upon the Body of the Deceased, brought in their Verdict Manslaughter.

I understandably wanted to get hold of one of these useful devices, but as something that was never really valued, I doubted that I ever would. How I managed to I will describe in my next blog.

 

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