Smelling Sweet in the Regency: Beyond Floris (Part 1)

(This rabbit hole sprouted a few tunnels and wound up as a multi-part series! I hope this topic interests you as much as it did me.) We’ll start with Floris first, before we explore everything else.

If you don’t already know, Floris was the premiere London supplier for perfumery in the Regency, and it is still operating at 89 Jermyn Street in its original elegant St. James location, still family owned and heading into the 9th generation of management! Sadly, I missed a chance for a virtual tour via Instagram just over two weeks ago led by the current family “nose.” How far we have come from Regency times!

https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27045701

The shop was founded in 1730 by an enterprising immigrant barber from the Spanish-owned island of Minorca, Juan Famenias Floris. Originally employed in a London hotel, he soon seized the opportunity to open his own barber shop in the midst of the men’s clubs district where business was sure to thrive.

He met Elizabeth Hodgkiss in London and after they married they lived above the shop, soon expanding the business to sell perfume and hair combs imported from Minorca, as well as shaving brushes, hatpins, toothbrushes, fine-tooth combs and razor straps all made on the premises, plus scented mouthwashes, hair products and shaving products. Floris recreated scents from his homeland for clients using a refreshing alcohol base, offering among others jasmine, orange blossom, and ‘Lavender’, the one that made him most famous (still available today).

He and Elizabeth had seven children. When the sons were old enough, they studied the perfumery arts in France. Son Robert traveled through France, Spain and Italy to source and send back exotic ingredients the perfumes required. The firm’s website shows one of Robert Floris’s “crossed” letters (written in two directions to save paper) from this pre-Regency era.

Combs, a simple item we take for granted today, were difficult to make in pre-industrial times, hand crafted from ivory or tortoiseshell. (for a look at some Regency combs, see this 2018 post of mine) The fine quality of combs provided by Floris actually earned them their first Royal Warrant (of 17) in 1820 as ‘Smooth Pointed Comb-makers’ to George IV, not long after his ascension to the throne. The much-photographed shop front on the ground floor dates from that time, proudly exhibiting the original coat of arms that came with that first warrant.

Although the beautiful Spanish mahogany cabinets inside the shop are Victorian (purchased from the Great Exhibition in 1851), the flavor of what the shop must have been like earlier is still preserved, down to the iron boot-scraper outside the door. (There is also now a small museum room at the back.) Many famous (and infamous) personalities from British history have been connected with the shop. According to Floris, Admiral Lord Nelson kept a room on the third floor for Lady Emma Hamilton and would write orders to be placed for her while he was oversees. As you might imagine, Beau Brummell would discuss his current fragrances at length with Mr Floris. Wikipedia says “Mary Shelley, whilst abroad, sent friends instructions to purchase her favourite combs and toothbrushes from Floris.”

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37074064

Perfumes from Floris were a luxury item for the wealthy or for very special gifts. The well-heeled patrons could purchase perfume by bringing their own bottles to be filled with their fragrance of choice. (We’ll take a look at those bottles in a later installment.) A wealthy aristocrat in Regency London could commission the parfumers at Floris to create a custom scent especially for them. How decadent do you want to get? Naturally, having something that no one else had or could have was an essential mark of status. The formulas were recorded in the company’s special ledgers and archived so they could continue to be made on demand for each customer.

Interestingly, Floris in recent years has revived this “bespoke” service from their past. London Perfect has a 2017 interview with Edward Bodenham, the latest descendant to be put in charge of perfumery at Floris, where he talks about the process.  The company has also revisited its extensive formula archives to issue its recent “Ledger Series” of eight scents, which includes two available in the Regency era, Stephanotis (1786), and Red Rose (1807). Some of the products still on sale date back to the mid 18th century, such as White Rose, Limes, Lilly of the Valley and No. 89.

But having a unique scent was not an exclusive luxury reserved for only the wealthiest in society. Many a young Regency miss (or her brother) from a reasonably prosperous family might have worn a scent of her own, or at least of her family’s, devising, created in the still-room at home. We’ll take a look at this aspect of the topic in part 2 of this series in two weeks.

Meanwhile, do you ever use perfume? Have a favorite scent? Have you ever had a chance to visit Floris in London? Please let me know in the comments! Oh, and P.S.! My last post (March 5) was only “out front” for two days because of a scheduling mix-up, but it included the reveal that I’m offering a free Regency short story now to anyone who signs up for my newsletter. Here’s the link for that if you’re interested: Gail’s newsletter

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Regency Resources – Gifts from the Pandemic

We are pulling through a very unique year in history, the year of COVID-19. Vaccines are here and many of us, myself included, have received them. But this year (plus) of isolation came with some benefits, putting Zoom front and center in our vocabulary.

I spent some time in the past year looking for entertainment on the internet, rewatching all the Austen movies I could access, finding Regency-related video on Youtube, and, of course, zooming with friends and family. In so doing, I came across two resources that have come to us through the gift of Zoom.

Jane Austen and Co.

According to their website, “Jane Austen & Co. is a free public book group devoted to reading texts written by historical female authors. Part of the Jane Austen Summer Program, our mission is to bring engaging and informative humanities programming to local libraries within the Triangle Region of North Carolina and beyond.”

Affiliated with the University of North Carolina, their programs were presented in person before this past year, but with the pandemic, the group went virtual. This meant interested attendees could come from all over the world.

In 2020, during what I consider the dark days of the pandemic, they presented a series of zoom lectures called Staying Home with Jane Austen, covering food, dress (the author of Dress in the Age of Jane Austen), family (with Sonali Dev), and servants (with the author of Longbourne).

In 2021 they’ve started a wonderful series called Race and the Regency. The first presentation was Lord Mansfield and the Slave Ship Zong, a talk by Danielle Christmas, an Assistant Professor at UNC. Second, Remixing Pride and Prejudice, a Conversation with Author Ibi Zoboi. Zoboi wrote Pride, a reimagining of Austen’s classic in the Afro-Latino neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Third was I Hope White Hands, Wedgewood, Abolition and the Female Consumer. This one was pretty fascinating, telling how Wedgewood produced wares with anti-slavery images and slogans that were very popular with their female customers.

There is more to come from the Race and the Regency series. On April 9, Professor Lyndon Dominique will be discussing Political Blackness in The Woman of Colour. The Woman of Colour is an 1808 novel about a biracial heiress who travels from Jamaica to England to marry according to her father’s will. On April 13, Damianne Scott, a professor at University of Cincinnati, will present Bridgerton’s Queen Charlotte is Playing to the Masses and It is About Time.

What is lovely about the Jane Austen and Co. events is that they are recorded and available after the presentation, so you can tune in to all of these. For free!

The Georgian Group

My UK friend, Louise Allen, who writes non-fiction books about the Regency as well as Regency Historicals, told me about The Georgian Group, specifically about a virtual presentation about Vauxhall Gardens. Oh, my gosh, this is a wonderful resource!

The Georgian Group’s website says “The Georgian Group is an English and Welsh conservation organisation created to campaign for the preservation of historic buildings and planned landscapes of the 18th and early 19th centuries.” They’ve been in existence since 1937 and are active in saving these historic places even today.

  • Their series of lectures is virtual this year, because of the pandemic, so it is possible to attend without having to travel to London (which would be nice, come to think of it). They are weekly. Take a look at some of the topics, just for April. April 6- Follies, An Architectural Journey. April 13- The English Landscape Revolution. April 19 –Permeability and the Picturesque: British Country Houses at the Turn of the Nineteenth Century.

Look here for the complete list. It is impressive.

There is a charge for each lecture or you can join the organization and attend for free.

Even if you are not able to pay for the lectures there is a lot of information on the website: an online archive of their journal; an introduction to Georgian Architecture; a bibliography.

I just learned that there is an American Friends of the Georgian Group. Their membership is a little steep and their events seem to all have been live, but there is some interesting content on that site as well.

The thing is, these enriching resources would not have been available if not for the pandemic. As awful and confining as it has been, some really nice things have happened–gifts from the pandemic!

What are some of the gifts from the pandemic that you’ve received? Any other good Regency resources? Let us know!

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Waistcoats, Fun and Fashionable

One of the many things I love about the late eighteenth century is men’s waistcoats. In my opinion, they pretty much reach their zenith of beauty and design during the 1780s/1790s. As men’s suits become plainer, their waistcoats hang on as the major garment for adornment and design. Fanciful embroidery rules the day, often pictorial in nature, sometimes incorporating spangles, bullion thread, lace and netting overlay, and even paste/glass gems.

They give an author a means of expressing character via clothing. Is the hero conservative in his clothing choices? Does he let himself have a little fun with a waistcoat depicting ballooning, fanciful beasts, humble rural landscapes and hardworking farmers? Is he peacock who lets his waistcoats run riot with lace and spangles? My novelette, Temptation Incarnate, has such a hero. My cover artist and I had a blast figuring out that we could add a pattern to his waistcoat (even if the detail is almost impossible to see; we did it for US!).

Recently, Zack Pinset (Regency gentleman extraordinaire) gave a wonderful online workshop about Regency men’s clothing (follow the link and enjoy!). I immediately learned new things about men’s stockings from him (I had no idea about the channel for a tie/internal garter on some of them!). But it was his section about waistcoats that really caught my eye. Before the workshop was even over, I’d found the book he shared and pounced. My copy arrived last week, so I thought I’d share some highlights of Gilets Brodés modéles du XVIII.

Below is an example of a pre-embroidered waistcoat. This is how most of these would have been sold. They would have been imported from China or France, in a one size fits most pattern that would be cut and altered to fit the wearer. It comes complete with pocket flaps and buttons.

Fanciful Fungus
Insects and arachnids. Very suitable for your scientist hero.
Mussels and coral
An idyllic rural scene

If only my French were good enough to read the book … *sigh*

Posted in Clothing, History, Isobel Carr, Regency, Research | 1 Comment

Is It Lord Byron?

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Is it Lord Byron?

Where I sit while writing there is the above picture on the wall. I discovered it in a local antique store 17 years ago, advertised as an 19th century hand-drawing. I wrote about it in a 2006 Risky Regencies blog, but thought it would be fun to revisit the topic, especially since I glance at it at least once a day.

Believe it or not, I passed it up after first seeing it in the shop, then decided I was nuts and went back and purchased it for about $40.00. I remember refraining from saying to the cashier, “Do you think this is Lord Byron? I really think this is Lord Byron.” Surely she would have charged more.

When I went to England in June 2005, I looked everywhere for a similar portrait of Byron, especially when we visited Newstead Abbey, Byron’s estate, but I never saw anything like it. So, again, I am leaving it up to you. I have reversed some well-known Byron portraits and put them in black and white, for comparison.

Is my sketch Lord Byron?

This is what I imagined. A young Regency miss was infatuated with Lord Byron. Perhaps she even glimpsed him in Mayfair, at a ball or the theatre. She and her girlfriends sighed over his Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, bought engravings of his portrait at the local print shop. She did what I did when I was a teenager. She drew her own picture of Byron, putting him in exotic dress, like she would have imagined Child Harold to wear.

Of course, when I was a teenager, the hearthrob I drew a portrait of was Paul McCartney of the Beatles. I’d scan that too, if I knew where it was. When I went on a search for it, I found all sorts of other things (including my photo of William Shatner as Captain Kirk) but no Paul McCartney. (I should search again….)

Weigh in here with your opinions. Do I have a portrait of Byron?
Confess. Who would you have drawn in those tender years of infatuation?

Cheers!
Diane (who, alas, has not had an infatuation since the one she had for Gerard Butler years ago. Any suggestions?)

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Automatons and a New Story!

1774 Elephant Automaton at Waddesdon Manor (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) For a video, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YEPhe2Gp0Y

This is the third time I’ve written a blogpost here that references automatons. Can you tell I think they’re super cool? But I have a very exciting reason to be writing about them again! I have a new story –a Regency romance short story—that I’ll be giving away free to my newsletter subscribers, in which the hero turned out to be a collector of automatons. Yay!

Why am I so excited about “Lord Corsham’s Collection”? (Besides the automatons, that is.) To understand, hear my confession: I am not by nature a short story writer. My story ideas always seem to be long. Even when I think I’ve got one that can be told in the length of a novella (and won’t take as long to write, ha-ha), the idea inevitably spins itself into a full-length novel. Lord of Misrule, for instance. When I started that book, I thought for sure it could be a novella. It takes place during the twelve days of the Christmas season. Who knew so much could happen in such a short span of days?

“Lord Corsham’s Collection” is different. I woke up one morning with the opening lines in my head, and knew right away this was a short story, the capture of a single hour that changes everything for two lonely people. My first!! I had so much fun writing it and am excited with how it turned out. If you are interested in reading it and are not signed up for my newsletter, you can fix that by clicking here (or sign up at my website: https://www.gaileastwoodauthor.com). I’d love to share the story with you as soon as it’s ready and also keep in touch with you!

The Huntsman Automaton, at Waddesdon Manor
(Courtesy of Jonathan Cardy, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons)

Designing the collection that features in the new story was part of the delicious fun, and the story includes an author’s note afterwards in case you want to learn more. Just to tempt you, today I’m offering you some pictures of real automatons and a video link or two to share my fascination. Automatons have been popular with the wealthy since the 16th century, but their biggest “golden period” actually postdates the Regency, in the second half of the 19th century. In the years since I last posted about them here–2015 and 2017, I’ve learned so much more about them, the history of who made them, and the different sorts of forms they could take– anything from a small pocket watch

“The-Barking-Dog-Watch” by Piguet & Meylan, Geneva, c.1810 -Image courtesy of Sotheby’s via http://www.thehistoryblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/9368

 to a snuffbox (which might have a singing bird that pops up, or all sorts of other types of automation)

Singing bird box by Jaquet-Droz & Leschot, 1794. The center oval opens to reveal an opening through which a tiny feathered bird emerges to “sing”, opening its beak and moving its wings. (courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

to larger than life-sized replicas. These might be covered in jewels, real or paste (see Isobel’s post just prior to this one, for more about fake jewels). The jewelers and watch-makers involved in producing automata were not always up-front about which they were using, to be sure.

The automatous action(s) offered could be anything from copying life-like movements and sounds to animated scenes (even erotica, but I’m not showing you those! <g>). Check out this video of the famous Silver Swan automaton that is now in the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, Co. Durham, England. 

Or, try the spectacular Golden Peacock Clock (a whole group of figures) still in Russia, where it was first sent and assembled as a gift for Catherine the Great!

The book I’m currently working on, which is Book 3 in the Little Macclow series, takes place for the most part over an even shorter span of days than Lord of Misrule. So far, no one’s collection of anything figures in the tale. Will A Little Macclow Wedding turn out to be a novella? Well, we’ll see, but it isn’t feeling like one so far. My hero and heroine both have some growing to do and lessons to learn, hearts to change. I don’t think either one of them is going to yield easily or quickly. If you’re signed up for my newsletter you’ll be kept up-to-date on how this one progresses and you’ll be first to know when it comes out, too!

Do you have a passion for collecting anything? If so, what is it, and how do the people around you feel about your passion? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

(Unattributed photos are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

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Everything Must Sparkle

I want to apologize for missing last month. As you know, there was kind of a lot of stuff going on, and frankly, I was just too distracted.

I recently got a fascinating new research book: The Sparkling Company, Reflections on Glass in the 18th-Century British World. It was put out by the Corning Museum of Glass, and it’s a deep dive into all the ways glass was used during the era. It would be a fantastic book for anyone looking to know more about the industry and uses of glass for a book (perhaps one of your protagonists owns a glassworks of some kind?). I’m sure we’re all familiar with it’s more mundane uses (windows, drinking glasses, mirrors, lenses, and jewelry), but there was some really interesting information in the clothing section.

Yes, they covered things like paste shoe buckles and buttons, but they also featured some more obscure uses such as “foil stones” (aka foil-backed paste) being sewn directly to clothing. This style was popular in both France and England in the 1780s (there are numerous reports of both the Prince of Wales and his sisters wearing garments decorated in this style).

Detail of a man’s suit, c. 1780s

Another type of glass that was a popular embellishment was jet (frequently described as “jais” or “geais” on fashion plates. This was simply small glass bugle beads that were usually black (though sometimes they are described as of “diverse colours”), and were one of the few things considered appropriate for mourning clothing (when you’re supposed to be sad, but you just need a little sparkle!). You see them combined on clothing with steel sequins/spangles, which would reflect the light, but not in a super flashy way.

Detail of a fashion plate, 1798 showing a headdress with jet beads.

They also used tiny seed beads strung together to create pictures on everything from shoes, to garters, to ridicules (sometimes called “sablé”). I usually think of this as a more Victorian form of decoration, but these examples are from as early as the 1730s.

Beaded mule, c. 1730-1770

And because you all know how much I love a fancy, naughty, garter…

Beaded garter, c. 1730-1770.

Posted in Clothing, History, Isobel Carr, Plot bunnies, Regency, Research, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Real History (and New Book)

I have a new book out! Her Gallant Captain at Waterloo is available right now from online booksellers in both paperback and ebook.

Here’s the back cover blurb:

From vicar’s son
To captain of her heart!
Lady Helene Banes travels to Brussels to bring her battle-seeking younger brother home, only to collide with Rhys Landon, her ex-fiancé! Gone is the penniless vicar’s son, now transformed into a combat-hardened captain. The spark still burns between them, but Rhys has a new love now—the army. Until, on the eve of battle, with Napoleon’s troops advancing, the emotional turmoil of their past explodes into a night of passion!
From Harlequin Historical: Your romantic escape to the past.

One of the joys of writing historical fiction comes when you are able to fit the real history and real historical figures into the story. In writing Her Gallant Captain at Waterloo I had a lot of that sort of fun. Setting the book in Belgium before and during the Battle of Waterloo, how could I miss. I particularly enjoyed trying to fit the events of the battle into the story, but there was also the Duchess of Richmond’s ball for my characters to attend and, inevitably, the horrid aftermath of the battle. And anytime I can include the Duke of Wellington in a book, I’m happy.

Sometimes a historical figure fits in so well that he or she become a part of the story. In this book it was David Banes’ friend, William Lennox. 

Lord William Pitt Lennox was the 4th son of the Duke of Richmond. As a youth he attended Westminster School, the perfect place for my character to befriend him. By 1814 he had a cornetcy in the army and was an aide de camp to the Duke of Wellington when the Duke was in Paris, the Netherlands, and at the Congress of Vienna after Napoleon’s first defeat and exile at Elba. When Napoleon escaped Elba and returned to France, a battle became inevitable, and no one but the Duke of Wellington could command the Allied army to face this foe. These two great generals had never faced each other in battle. The impending battle was considered the event of the century, not to be missed. 

So in the late spring of 1815, Brussels filled with soldiers and civilians, including David Bane and his sister, Helene, who came to bring her brother home. William Lennox was now attached to General Maitland’s staff, but he suffered a riding accident, injuring his eye and General Maitland relieved him of duty. Because of his injury, he would not fight in the battle, which surely must have depressed him greatly.

It is known that the Duke of Richmond, William’s father, rode with Wellington the day of the battle and observed the fighting. It made sense that William would ride with him—and that gave my character, David, the opportunity to ride with them, putting him exactly where I wanted him—in the battle itself. 

I love it when that happens.

Do you love it, too? Or do you prefer the history to remain in the background or not tied to real events?

Posted in book announcement, History, Names, Places, Research, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Regency Winter Sports -Part 2

When I posted “Part 1” of this article a month ago, I promised we’d talk about curling, bandy, and skiing as additional winter sports. Because Regency romance fiction tends to focus on the elegant upper class and aristocracy, particularly in England, we seldom find these sports depicted in the pages. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t being practiced somewhere, especially among the working classes. Despite the fact that they had little free time, we’ve seen throughout history that working people and the poor were inventive and also made the most of whatever free time they had to enjoy. But curling in Scotland was a sport of all classes.

Curlers, 1835 painting by Scottish artist Sir George Harvey

Curling was practically a national game in Scotland by the Regency period. The records of Paisley Abbey, Renfrewshire, contain the first-known written record of the sport (as a contest using stones on the ice), in an entry from February,1541. Although other early names for it in Scotland included quoiting, kuting, or coiling, most sources seem to agree that the first published use of the term “curling” as a name for it comes from a 1620 poem by Henry Adamson, where his mention of it is made in listing a gentleman’s favored activities. The name comes from the verb curl (Scottish and English), which describes the way the stone moves. The game is sometimes called “the roaring game” after the noise the stones make sliding over the moistened playing surface of the ice.

Whether curling first originated in Flanders or Scotland is still debated. The first publication specifically devoted to the game, by the Rev John Ramsey in 1811 (Edinburgh) opined that terminology used in the game had roots in German and Dutch language and so attributed it to Flemish immigrants to Scotland. But others have made equally strong cases against his logic.

Either way, the sport’s antiquity can be traced by the evolution of the stones used for it. A museum in Scotland has a curling stone marked 1511, the oldest “dated” example known, found at Stirling, and another dated 1551 from the bottom of a pond in Dunblane, Scotland (although the etched dates were probably added at a later time). Known as a finger stone, “kuting-stone”, or even, in some locales, a kutystane, piltycock or “loofie”, the primitive smoothed stones feature indentations cut for thumb and fingers and were probably thrown into motion on the ice. By the Regency, some people were already collecting these old ones and interested in the history of the sport.

One is described as whinstone 8 ½ inches in diameter and weighing some 14lbs. Later the stones grew much larger and heavier, known as “rough blocks” and prized ones often were given individual names as a reflection of their character and effectiveness along with personal regard by their owners. (An account of this can be found in an 1890 book on curling history.) Some had a hole bored in the center to allow the attachment of wood or iron handles, and others had double or even triple handles set in. At weights ranging from 30 pounds to over a hundred pounds, the handles are understandable. By the late 18th century and early Regency, these stones began to develop into the round, finely streamlined and scientifically weighted “stones” used in the sport today. Imagining the brawn required to handle those old stones might be enough to make a young lady swoon!

Curling stone with handle from 1700

The growth of curling’s popularity in Scotland is attested by the formation of the Kilsyth Curling Club in 1716, a club still extent and claiming to be the oldest of its kind. By the Regency period there’d been a proliferation of clubs in Scotland. The game also went to Canada, likely with Scottish immigrants, where the Royal Montreal Curling Club was formed in 1807, the oldest sports club still active in North America and founded firmly in the Regency period. The first “official” rules for the modern version of the sport were drawn up in 1838. Old curling stones have been found serving as doorstops and bootscrapers, weights for thatch roofs, and embedded in old building walls as well as in museums!

This picture is a painting by Bruegel, from 1565, showing Flemish peasants “curling” by hand (no brooms). Scotland and the “Low Countries” did lots of trading, so it’s no surprise they would pass along the sport as well. (Note there’s a child on a sledge in the center foreground!)

When “sweeping” with brooms began to be used as part of the game (and not just to clear the ice) I am not sure –possibly during the 18th century. You can clearly see them in the Scottish picture from 1835 at the top of this blogpost. Below is a second picture by Bruegel that depicts people curling, also from 1565. Perhaps the ice was particularly good that year?

Weather is absolutely one of the main factors that determined where all of these winter sports developed. References are made to the “Little Ice Age” from 1500-1700 related to some of these sports developing. For much of the Regency, there was little snow in December/January in most of England (Scotland and other areas would be different, of course). Scotland always had dependably sturdy ice in winter for winter sports like curling, unlike her southern neighbor. But famously, the winter of 1813-14 in England had terrible weather at the end of December and frigid cold right through until early February.

Known as “the Great Frost of 1813–14” (because besides snow there was a lot of freezing fog), these weeks spawned the last-ever Frost Fair held on the River Thames in London and also give us the first records of “bandy” being played as an organized team contest in the fens area where winter skating was common. Bandy is a precursor/variant of ice hockey which uses a ball and seems to date (in England) from at least 1801, but probably dates back into the 18th century. The shallow washes and flooded meadows in the fens area provided large open areas of ice where chasing a ball with sticks while on skates was not only feasible but seems a natural invention for young boys.

The sport derives from an earlier 17th century Irish version similar to field hockey, which used curved sticks also called bandies. The name probably derives from a Middle French verb, bander, which means “to strike back and forth.” The names shinty or shinney were also sometimes used for it in English in the earlier times, perhaps a Scottish influence as the name in Scottish Gaelic is “ice shinty” (camanachd-deighe). In modern times shinty has come to refer only to the game played on land and bandy to mean specifically the ice version. The lack of extensive historical record on this game prior to 1813-14 does not, to my mind, mean no one was playing at it, just that due to the specifically limited geographical area, no one was paying attention, and also I believe it was primarily a working class entertainment.

Skiing has the most ancient pedigree of any of the winter activities I’ve covered here, although its arrival as a “sport” is actually later than any of the others I’ve discussed. Skis dating back to 6,000 BCE have been discovered in Russian peat bogs and there’s evidence of equally or even more ancient ones in China. Rock paintings and carvings from 3,000 BC and 2,500 BC have been found depicting skiers in Scandinavian countries. Norse mythology dating back to writings in 1300 BC introduced Ullr and Skade, the god and goddess of skiing.

Early Norse figure of Ullr

In 1206 AD a war-time skiing rescue spawned a famous Norwegian legend when military Norwegian skiers carried the 2 year-old heir to the throne across mountains to safety. By the 17th century accounts of skiing in other countries appear, and in 1716 a war between Russia, Sweden and Norway was fought primarily on skis. The need for improving ski speed in this century led to advances in both technique and construction, and military exercises and training led to the first types of competitions.

By 1800 in Norway skis were shaped to be narrower in the middle and wider at the ends, which improved maneuverability. Further into the early part of the 19th century, the cambered ski was invented. Lighter and concave at the center, this new type of ski distributed the skier’s weight better and also improved the shock absorbing capabilities of the skis. Norwegians emigrating to other parts of the world introduced skiing to other cultures.

But skis were still a mode of transportation, not recreation. One of the first recorded instances of skis used for recreation happened in 1841 in Beloit, Wisconsin, USA. In 1843, the first recreational skiing race was held in Norway. Twenty years later, alpine ski racing began as an organized sport in both Norway and the U.S. Downhill racing, as we know it today, really was not begun until the 1920’s, in the Swiss Alps. Today the UK has 77 ski resorts, not all in Scotland, but in the Regency, in the relatively flat British Isles, skiing was not a winter activity pursued for pleasure.

Do you enjoy winter sports? Do you participate in any, or are you a spectator like me? Frankly, I must admit that I prefer to watch them from the comfort of a warm chair in a cozily heated room. But perhaps if a sinfully handsome Regency buck were to entice me, I might be willing to go out and play in the snow. Happy New Year to everyone!

Detail from a Scottish painting (anonymous) showing curling, c. 1700 (Traquair Charitable Trust)

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The Myth and Mythos of Merrie England

I’ve never written a holiday novel or novella, but I have written books that include Christmas, and it’s fun to look and see what traditions that are familiar to us now would also have been familiar to my characters. Sometimes, the answers are surprising. I turned, as I often do, to THE ENGLISH YEAR by Steven Roud. A lot of what we associate with Christmas now is decidedly Victorian, and was built upon a mythos of a “Merrie England” that never existed. But if you dig back, there are LOTS of local traditions that fell by the wayside during the industrialization of England (as people moved away from home, they didn’t practice their traditions which would have been strange to their new neighbors, and didn’t adopt those of their new homes, as they were strange to them). But those of us who write in the 18th century and the early 19th century can still draw on those local traditions. And those writing in the Victorian era can make hay with the reinvention of that “Merrie England” to which most of our current Christmas traditions harken back. If your book is set post 1847, you can even have Christmas Crackers!

Yule Log with bands by Roger Griffith
Wikimedia Commons

Many places had traditional dances, murmmers, plays, wassails, etc. A book like Roud’s is great for researching these local festivities, as is Wikipedia. And there is always the Yule log. Not writing someone in a grand house with a giant fireplace? Perhaps “the ashen faggot” is more their speed? A bundle of twigs around a larger log, all held together with fresh/green branches (willow was also used). People would sit around and sing carols and cheer when the “withes” burst. Cider would be passed and drunk as the bands broke, and in some traditions, the bands were assigned to girls, prediction who would marry first. I can see lots of fun being had with this in a village hall or a more modest home.

In places with a church with bells, someone (or a team of someones) might have been found “ringing the devil’s knell” on Christmas Eve. There must be one ring (about every two seconds) for every year since Christ’s birth, timed to end at Midnight. This is something you can do in any setting.

Decorations. Historically, they were not put up early as we do now. That was considered unlucky. And they usually consisted only of greenery and candles (anything that was evergreen could be used, but of course holly and mistletoe were popular). Mistletoe, then as now, was a kissing game, but you had to pluck a berry off the ball of mistletoe for each kiss and when the berries were gone, so were the kisses.

Trees. Yes, it is commonly asserted that Christmas trees were introduced by Prince Albert in the late 1840s, and that’s certainly when they spread to the masses, but they were introduced much earlier by other Germans who immigrated (including Queen Charlotte). Charles Greville noted one in 1829, that the Princess Lieven had three large trees in pots put upon a table, lit with small candles, and surround by gifts for the children.

Do you have a favorite Christmas tradition or a favorite Christmas romance? I think mine is the way my parents always wrapped our presents from “Santa” in white tissue paper with real cloth tartan ribbon. It was very “Merrie England” and “Ye Old Christmas, and I absolutely adored it. I think this Christmas I’ll start doing that for my niece and nephew.

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Regency Winter Sports -Part 1

Nothing like a little snow to get one in the mood for winter. I’ve been researching winter activities –not for my current wip, unfortunately, but research is never wasted!! You may find a few things surprising. I did!

I’m pretty sure that snowball fights date back to the very first human experience of snow, and possibly building snow sculptures does, too –what do you think? But many of the other winter activities that we now take for granted developed very specifically in relation to weather and geography in certain locales. Not surprising is the fact that because so much of England had relatively mild winters during the Regency, many of the “winter sports” that we think of today were not so widespread there during the early 19th century. And it turns out that those enterprising Victorians were the ones who started organizing sports, adding things like rules(!!) and formal competitions, for the most part.

Probably one of the first activities you might think of is skating. Skating first developed as a practical means of winter travel in Finland (lots of lakes) and the Netherlands (flat lowlands with lots of water frozen in winter). The word “skates” derives from the Dutch. When the first skaters in London’s St James Park were noted in the 17th century by noted diarists John Evelyn and Samuel Pepys, their footwear was spelled “Scheetes” and “skeates”. Early skates were made of bone, horn, wood, or metal, tied onto shoes and boots. (You can see the straps on the Regency era skates pictured above.)

Photo of bones with leather ties (for attaching to feet) threaded through drilled holes on the ends.
Medieval bone skates, London

It’s said that even Napoleon Bonaparte was a fan of ice skating. Examples dating to the stone age have been discovered in bogs. The flat, wet fens of England were settled in part by “Hollanders” so it’s no surprise to find skating developed there.

For a time, skating was not considered a proper activity for women, although this varied by location. You can see in the above cartoon the women are (wisely?) huddled on the sidelines. But by the Regency that taboo seems to have relaxed. I do love the picture below, titled “The Timid Pupil.” He looks at her so adoringly and she clearly trusts him, although I don’t know why she isn’t freezing, LOL.

Sledding/sledging also developed first as a practical means of transporting goods and people in snow and ice, especially in Sweden and Norway, but also in Holland. Early examples of sleds and sledges were found in the Oseberg Viking ship excavation. Competition to see whose sled was fastest just seems a natural human instinct. Sledge races are referenced in Norway as early as 1480.

England’s milder climate meant that sledding for recreation was slow to develop there –not having a reliable and continuous supply of snow or ice. If you picture Regency bucks flying down snowy hillsides on sled(ge)s, think again. Sled(ges) were made in every size from those pulled by hand to those pulled by dogs, horses, or oxen, but the design did not evolve much for centuries, and it was cumbersome and very upright.

Porcelain figurine depicting and 18th century woman sitting upright in her sleigh-like sledge, while a gentleman wearing skates pushes it along the ice from behind.

Using small ones to slide down snowy or icy slopes for recreation was called “coasting” in areas where it was done, but it does not seem to have been a regular English Regency activity. The sledges would have been expensive, and the activity no doubt seemed at least very inelegant to most of the fashion conscious, with one notable exception. At the frost fairs held on the Thames, and perhaps in other areas when there was a suitable hard freeze, a large sledge fastened by rope to a central point on sturdy ice would be propelled around in circles for the fun of the occupants.

The type of steer-able, flat wooden sled(ge) with runners that we may think of today was not invented until the 1880’s, and that was also when modern competitive sledding first began (in Switzerland). That is why the villagers who engage in the sledding contest in my Christmas book, Lord of Misrule, have to invent and construct their own contraptions!

Other winter sports that were practiced during the Regency included curling in Scotland (since at least 1511) which was practically a national game by the Regency, and bandy (also known as “shinty” and “shinney”), again in the fens area where people skated. Bandy is a precursor/variant of ice hockey which uses a ball, which seems to date (in England) from at least 1801, although the first recorded organized games there were during the same record-breaking Regency weather in 1813-14 that produced the last Thames River Frost Fair. I’ll take a look at those (and skiing!) in Part 2, next time!

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