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Ice houses, succession houses and ha has

Do you know what ice houses, succession houses and ha has are? They are all structures often found in the grounds of stately homes in Georgian times – and later. All three are mentioned in The Mrs MacKinnons, and there were a few ‘what does that mean?’ comments from people who read the manuscript in development.

Ice houses

Ice houses were used to store ice from frozen lakes or streams in the winter, keeping it cool enough for it to be used the following summer. Some were below ground; the ones that were not were often covered with a thick layer of earth for extra insulation. All you would see from the outside would be a wooden door.

UPDATE: An ice house has been discovered beneath a Georgian house in London. Here’s a link to the Guardian article on it.

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Regency Heroes – Engineer Officers

The heroes (and sometimes the villains) in historical romances are often involved in war, whether in the Royal Navy, the army, or as spies. Even if their wartime activities do not appear directly in the story, their military experiences shape their lives and their characters. One group of unsung heroes in the army was the engineers. Engineer officers could not buy their commissions as cavalry and infantry officers did; they were only given commissions after training at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, and thereafter promotion was by seniority.

As you might expect, engineer officers were essential in sieges, planning where the trenches should be dug and artillery batteries sited, and also in repairing a fortress once it had been taken. Being an engineer in a siege could be as dangerous as being an infantry officer in the battalions attempting to scale the walls. The engineers knew their way through the trenches and where the weakest points in the walls were, and often led the way.

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Flintlocks and sayings

Flash in the pan  –  Going off half-cocked  –  Lock, stock and barrel

The kind of gun you see in western films, where the gunman can quickly load a set of metal cartridges into his handgun, only came into use in around the 1830s. In Regency times, guns were fired using a flintlock mechanism. Our heros (or heroines) would have used a pistol something like this.

The stock is the handle and other wooden parts, the barrel is the tube the pistol ball travels down when it is fired, and the ‘lock’ is the firing mechanism. Each part was made by a different craftsman, so ‘lock, stock and barrel’ means having the whole thing, complete with all its parts.

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Writing letters in Regency times

How was writing letters in Regency times different to letter-writing today?

What did they write on?

I love reading Regency Romances myself, but sometimes I come across something that makes me think ‘that isn’t right’, and it pulls me out of the story. Something that I’ve seen more than once is a heroine writing a letter on vellum or parchment.

Parchment is made from animal skin, cleaned, bleached, stretched and smoothed. A variety of different animal skins can be used; vellum is parchment made from calf skin. Vellum is still used in the UK for printing laws, because it lasts much longer than paper. However our Regency heroines would have used paper.  Some modern writing and drawing materials are referred to as parchment and vellum, but these are modern products made from plant materials.

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