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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
After he left the RAF he continued to fly, as a civilian pilot with the Fleet Air Arm.
All that time, the ensign was kept carefully wrapped up, as it had one last job to do.
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).
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today is the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the birth of the great writer, Sir Walter Scott, The Wizard of the North. This is something I wrote a few years ago concerning the mutual admiration the two greatest novelists of the day had for each other’s work. The Wizard of the North.
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.
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.
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.
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?]