One of our summer hobbies, on lazy days, is visiting gardens. Sometimes these are village gardens, but more often they are the gardens of stately homes. Highnam Court is a 17th Century country house (which isn’t open to the public), surrounded by formal and informal gardens.
To be fair, spring started some time ago, but it’s only in the last few weeks that trees are starting to turn green and it really has the feel of spring in the air. So, as my Regency Romances are set (mostly) in England, and most of my readers are not based here, I’ve gathered together a few photos showing the best bits of spring in my part of the world.
(I’ve omitted the rainy days, of which we have had many this year!)
The first signs of spring for me are the snowdrops, in the woods, and in places like churchyards.
Britain Against Napoleon – The Organization of Victory 1793-1815, by Roger Knight.
In spite of its main title, the book covers the French Revolutionary War (1793-1802) as well as the Napoleonic War.
Britain was at war from 1793 until 1815, with only a couple of intervals. During this time there were changes in the way the army and navy were organised, supplied, and paid for, changes in politics and government, and an increase in production (both manufacturing and agricultural). It was also a period when attempts were made to reduce corruption.
One of my summer hobbies is visiting National Trust properties and other country houses in England and Wales (and Scotland, when I get that far north), mainly for the wonderful gardens that many of them have. In some of these gardens, the NT have maintained part of what was once the kitchen garden, so we can get some idea of what such places may have looked like when they were the main source of fruit and vegetables for the house.
I picked up this book in the shop of a National Trust property somewhere in England. If you want to see what kitchen gardens looked like, this is not the book for you as there are only a few black and white illustrations. The book is a collection of essays, and covers everything from methods of growing different crops, how gardens were laid out at different times, the staff employed, how year-round supplies of food were ensured, and even something on cooking and using herbs for medicine.
I thought I’d share a pic of some of my TBR list of non-fiction books about the Georgian and Regency era. Quite a few of these are about Wellington and the Peninsular War. Others are about everyday life, including historical gardening, death and disease.
Two of the books in the pile are about women who ‘followed the drum’, and one is the diary of the wife of a soldier – as opposed to an officer. They will make fascinating reading, and I’m looking forward to blogging about them afterwards. There are also several memoirs or diaries of officers serving with Wellington – quite poignant, some of these, when we know the writer was killed not long afterwards.
My novel, The Mrs MacKinnons, involves a poacher and mantraps, in a small way, so I looked into what the law was on these subjects at the beginning of the 19th century.
The rural poor in England could, at one time, legally graze cows or sheep on common land, or take the occasional rabbit. Some resorted to poaching game on private land to feed themselves or to sell the game for profit. During the Regency period and earlier, man-traps were one of the inhumane methods used to trap poachers on private land.
There were many laws introduced over the centuries aiming to prevent the poor taking game from private land. For example, an act passed in 1671, in the reign of Charles II, decreed that the following people were not allowed to have guns, bows, hunting dogs or ferrets, nets etc:
“..all and every person and persons, not haveing Lands and Tenements or some other Estate of Inheritance in his owne or his Wifes right of the cleare yearely value of one hundred pounds per ann. or for terme of life, or haveing Lease or Leases of ninety nine yeares or for any longer terme, of the cleare yearely value of one hundred and fifty pounds, other then the Sonne and Heire apparent of an Esquire, or other person of higher degree”
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 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.
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.
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.
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.