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If you follow this blog at all, you know I fall down all kinds of rabbit holes and this was a very interesting one. Technically, I was researching how letters were addressed before there were postal codes or even house numbers, but when I went to the website of the British Postal Museum, first there was a sidebar about postmen’s uniforms (exhibit “Dressed to Deliver” runs to Sept 24). I love anything about historical clothing, so could not resist that! Included was an example of one worn by a Thames River Postman. A what? I could not pass up investigating, and stumbled into what I think is a really fascinating Regency-related story!

The River Thames in London was a huge center of shipping activity during the Regency. The Pool of London was the area below London Bridge where thousands of huge ships moored and thousands more small vessels tended to them, while intermixed with them were houseboats and many other smaller crafts. Regina Walker has a great blogpost about that:

The Pool of London by John Wilson Carmichael

In 1800, an enterprising Thames Waterman (guild member of the Waterman and Lightman Company) named William Simpson petitioned the Post Office to create the position of River Postman to service the ships. Another man had proposed such a service in the 1790’s but had been turned down. The need was significant and Simpson obtained signatures from merchants, captains, and ship owners to support his request. The duties were to “deliver and collect letters from the various vessels on the river, deliver goods and occasionally ferry people.”

The work was hazardous. As explained on the Postal Museum blog, “All year round they had to manage the tide, winds, cold and fog – not to mention the ships and barges….” All of which meant the job required a high level of skill. Simpson’s assistant drowned while on the job in 1803. Simpson himself died in 1806 from injuries he sustained on a ship while making a delivery.

A later River Postman wrote in 1821: “I must inform you of the accident that happened to the Post Boat on Monday through the violence of the wind. I was delivering a letter on board the Ship Albion near the Tower, when a barge came down and sunk the boat and with great difficulty, I saved my life.”

“Pool of London” by Thomas Luny (1801-1810)

When Simpson died, his widow petitioned the Post Office to put their sixteen-year-old son in his father’s position. He was too young, but as he had already been helping his father with the job, the Post Office decided to allow it.

William (Junior) worked at it for four years without incident. But when the young man was 20 years old for some reason he succumbed to the temptation that access to all this mail provided and stole some mail and a £20 note and fled, taking “a Hackney Coach about 10 o’Clock last night from Brick Fields, Dock Head.” Scandal!!

“Pool of London, Below London Bridge” by Samuel Atkins (1790) at the Courtauld Gallery, London

A reward of £100 was issued, payable on conviction, to anyone who apprehended him. William Junior was caught eventually at the Swan public house, Forest Row, East Grinstead, East Sussex, and sat in London’s Newgate Prison until the time of his trial. In October of 1810 he was convicted and sentenced to hang, although due to his age his sentence was reduced to transportation to Australia to labor there for life.

The scandal did not end of the Thames River Postal Delivery Service, however. Young William’s assistant, Samuel Evans, took over the position and served faithfully until 1832 (making him the one whose report I quoted above). When he retired, his son took it on. That was the start of a family dynasty that lasted until the River Postal Service ended in 1952, served by six successive members of the Evans family.

Did you know about this specialized postal service that began during the extended Regency?

Happy first day of Spring! I hardly feel ready to be this far along in the month—March seems to be flying by. Is yours? But I have some March-related random thoughts to share.

St. Patrick’s Day was just two days ago. In New England, where I live, we have lots of people of Irish descent, so St. Patrick’s Day is lively and in many places includes parades, not just busy pubs. I imagine that in Regency-era Ireland, the day would have been celebrated, but in Regency England I expect not.

Why? First and foremost, because there was still some pretty strong anti-Catholic sentiment lingering in England at the time, although it was slowly improving. Celebrating a “saint’s day” would have been considered papist. Yes, they did celebrate Valentine’s Day, but not in any religious connection–only as a day for giving or exchanging love tokens and sentiment.

Second, St. Patrick’s Day was a distinctly Irish observance. Prejudice against the Irish was still fairly strong, too, apart from their chosen religious persuasion, Catholic or Protestant. English upper classes viewed the Irish (in general) as uneducated ruffians, rather the same view many had about the Scots. Of course, the “uneducated” part was partially unavoidable for many Irish, since the English then still did not allow Catholics to attend universities. I haven’t researched this, but I have the sense the working classes also harbored prejudice against the Irish, partly taking their cue from the upper classes above them, but also seeing them as competition for much-needed jobs.

I recently read G. L. Robinson’s new Regency romance release, Repairing a Broken Heart, which is set in Ireland for much of the story. Among the things I liked about it, besides the unusual setting and the background about horse breeding and selling, was how well the author handled depictions of the various Irish characters and the attitudes and tensions stemming from the prejudices and from the occupation of Ireland by the British military at that time.


Did you know that St. Patrick’s Day is also St. Gertrude’s Day? I just learned this, and of course can’t resist a rabbit hole so had to go and learn all about her. She lived in what is now Belgium in the 7th century, became a nun and the abbess of a “double” monastery (men & women) founded by her mother at Nivelles, partly to escape from politics and unwanted marriages designed around wealth and power-grabbing. She did a lot of good works, did a couple of miracles (required for sainthood) and is the patron saint of gardeners, travelers, and widows. She is also associated with pest prevention—notably mice and rats—and so became associated with cats. A modern view of her makes her out as also the patron saint of cats, something endearing to me!

She does have an Irish connection besides sharing her date with St. Patrick. She befriended many traveling Irish monks who often stayed at the monastery in Nivelles. One of them predicted she would die on March 17 (as she did) and told her that St. Patrick (whose life was much earlier) was waiting to greet her spirit.



Lastly, today is the first day of spring, the date of the vernal equinox. Well, it barely falls inside today’s date, since it will occur this evening at 11:06:20 p.m. EDT. So technically, it will occur on March 20 in some parts of the northern hemisphere! (Of course it’s the start of autumn in the southern hemisphere. As our days become longer, theirs will be getting shorter.)

But if the start of spring feels a little early to you, there’s reason. This is said to be the earliest spring equinox occurrence in the past 128 years! The reasons are more about calendars and the imprecise ways we mark time than any natural cause—factors related to leap years and daylight savings time. Are you interested in those complications? If so, check out this article at I have to admit trying to follow it all made my brain hurt, LOL! But I wish you a safe and happy spring, all the same!

Just a quick visit to wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day! Since we “Riskies” all write romance, it did not seem right to let this day focused on celebrating romance go by without posting something here.

Black & white woodcut engraving of a Regency couple. She is seated, wiht one hand on her breast, looking excoted, while he kneels in front of her and is kissing her hand. Very romantic!

Regency lovers, woodcut 1815

The World’s Oldest Love Poem:

While this is neither a Regency poem nor something that would have been known of in the Regency period, I still think you might be interested to read about the “world’s oldest love poem“, so here is a link to read about it.

A love match between an ancient king of Sumeria and his people’s Goddess of Love sounds like it could be a good plot for a book, following ancient mythology. Not sure it could be made to fit into a Regency –well, unless it was an “alternate-reality” Regency, and some of those have been great fun!  Anyone up for a tale where the ancient goddess is still around, desperately in love with an unsuspecting Regency rake?  <g>  Feel free to pursue this, if you’re a writer –I already have too many other stories on my to-do list to add any new ones!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

January 31, just a few days ago, was the 418th anniversary of the execution of Guy Fawkes. You know. Guy Fawkes, who has his own Guy Fawkes Day on November 5 each year where folks in the UK celebrate.  But who was he?

Guy Fawkes was one of the zealot Catholic conspirators in 1605 who plotted to blow up Parliament and all the lords attending and King James I, effectively putting an end to the existing government. November 5 was the opening day of Parliament that year and all the important governmental men would be in attendance. Someone snitched, however, and the cellar beneath Parliament was searched. Guy Fawkes, the fellow who was supposed to light the fuse to blow up 36 kegs of gunpowder, was discovered, arrested, tortured sufficiently that he ratted on the co-conspirators and told all about the plot.

The BBC website has some neat stuff about Guy Fawkes and the celebration of his Day, not so much about his execution.

Did you know that one of the reasons what is known as the Gunpowder Plot did not succeed was because of the Plague?

Well, it seems that Parliament was originally supposed to open October 5, but was postponed a month to make certain the Plague was gone from London. By delaying a month, more conspirators became involved in the plot, increasing the chance that somebody would snitch. What’s more, the gunpowder, sitting around all that time, separated into it various compounds and would have merely fizzled had Guy lit the fuse.

Now if he’d lit that fuse on Oct 5….Read about how history would have been changed for want of a few plague germs.

Guy Fawkes was the last of the conspirators to be executed. On January 31, 1606, Fawkes and three others were dragged from the Tower of London and taken to the Old Palace Yard at Westminster, opposite the building they wanted to destroy. After the three others were hanged and quartered, it was Fawkes turn. He was so weakened by torture that he needed assistance to climb the ladder to the noose. Rather than be hanged properly, though, he either fell or jumped, breaking his neck. Nevertheless, his body was quartered and his body parts were displayed throughout the kingdom as a warning to future would-be traitors.

Every year since November 5 has been Guy Fawkes day. By the Regency boys would dress up an effigy of Guy Fawkes holding a lantern and matches. They’d beg for money, calling out, “Remember Guy Fawkes!” At night bonfires would be lit and the effigies would be tossed in the fire. This tradition continues.

Do you like books or films that present an alternative history, like what would have happened if, say, Hitler won WWII? Or if there hadn’t been a plague in 1605 and the gunpowder would have ignited?



“Dropping the ball” in the modern sports-inspired idiom means failing to carry through on some task or responsibility, which seems appropriate given my failure to post this article sooner. I fully intended to post it at the beginning of the month, but life got in the way (my husband got a pacemaker implant and needless to say my attention was mostly on him!). But if your January has sped by as fast as mine, it should not seem long since New Year’s Day, LOL!

I bring up ball-dropping because on New Year’s Eve it has become a “time-honored” custom (since 1907) to drop a giant electronic time-ball from a tower in Times Square, NYC, to welcome in the new year. But did you know that the “ball drop” tradition ties back to maritime England in 1818? Yes, solidly within the Regency period.

Wikipedia says the ancient Greeks used a ball drop to help track time, but the first “modern” time ball was created and installed in Portsmouth, England. Here’s a quote from the article:

“The first modern time ball was erected at Portsmouth, England, in 1829 by its inventor Robert Wauchope, a captain in the Royal Navy.”
The BBC News website has an article referencing Wauchope with interesting details (would you expect me not to follow this rabbit hole?). According to that article, Wauchope’s first idea was a system of flags that would be visible at sea to help mariners calculate their position by knowing the accurate time.

He first began soliciting interest in his “modernized” idea in 1818. His proposal, Plan for ascertaining the rates of chronometers by signal, described the time-ball, a large hollow metal sphere rigged on a pole and attached to a mechanism so that it might be dropped at an exact time each day.  The ball installed in Portsmouth was the first test of his idea.

Wikipedia says: “Others followed in the major ports of the United Kingdom (including Liverpool), and around the maritime world.” The one on the Nelson Tower in Edinburgh is shown below.

A round stone tower of five stories with a cross-shaped support pole on the roof with a gold time ball resting at its base. The Nelson Tower in Edinbourgh

“One was installed in 1833 at the [Greenwich Observatory] in London by the Astronomer Royal, John Pond, originally to enable tall ships in the Thames to set their marine chronometers, and the time ball has dropped at 1 p.m. every day since then.”,_Greenwich)

Semi-octagonal brick tower at the Greenwich Observatory with a small white wooden clock tower above at the right side, surmounted by a cross-shaped pole with a large gold ball at the base, resting at the roofline.

Except in windy weather, according to a source in the BBC article. The pole in Greenwich is relatively weak and strong wind is a hazard. In 1853, the Greenwich pole broke and the huge ball crashed to the ground! (In this photo it looks to me as though the pole may have since been reinforced!)

When American and French ambassadors visited England, Wauchope also submitted his idea to them. The United States Naval Observatory was established in Washington, D.C., and the first American time ball went into service there in 1845.

Wikipedia describes the process: “Time balls were usually dropped at 1 p.m. (although in the United States they were dropped at noon). They were raised half way about 5 minutes earlier to alert the ships, then with 2–3 minutes to go they were raised the whole way. The time was recorded when the ball began descending, not when it reached the bottom. With the commencement of radio time signals (in Britain from 1924), time balls gradually became obsolete and many were demolished in the 1920s.”

New York City’s contemporary version of the time-ball has been used since 31 December 1907 at Times Square as part of its New Year’s Eve celebrations. Quoting Wikipedia again, “At 11:59 p.m., a lit ball is lowered down a pole on the roof of One Times Square over the course of the sixty seconds ending at midnight. The spectacle was inspired by an organizer having seen the time ball on the Western Union Building in operation.”

The article also says only 60 of these time balls still remain in locations around the world –I found it interesting that eight are in the United Kingdom, seven are in Australia, including one at the Sydney Observatory (shown below), three are in the United Sates and three in New Zealand.

Belated wishes for a Happy New Year, everyone!

The Sydney Observatory is a large granite stone building with a central tower of four stories. Affixed to the roof of the tower is the typical cross-shaped support pole with a large golden ball resting at its base.

P.S. A shorter version of this article was posted on Facebook, in the readers’ group “Regency Kisses: Lady Catherine’s Salon.” I’ve mentioned the group here before –it is focused on “sweet/low heat” Regency romances and authors, so if you are on FB and read all types of Regencies, you might like to take a look. It is a great place to discover new authors to try, while waiting for the next books to release from your “Risky Regency” writers here!

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