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“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.  https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-humber-58559814

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.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Observatory,_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!

Do errors or modern phrases bump you out of a historical story you were enjoying? Or as an author, do you find that despite your best efforts those kinds of errors creep in when you’re not paying attention? Well, if so, here’s good news: Writing Regency England has released! It is the culmination of two years of meticulous hard effort honing and focusing, choosing what to include (the topic could be an encyclopedia unto itself, of course!), writing, re-writing, fact-checking, digging for illustrations–all the work.

Picture of the book, Writing Regency England, shown at an angle so the front cover and the spine are both visible. Co-author Jayne Davis and I both love our genre, and we hope this book may serve everyone with any interest in the Regency time and world. We both believe if you’re going to go to the trouble to set a story in a historical time period, creating an authentic sense of that time and world strengthens the story and the experience the reader will gain from reading it. Mistakes can lead to bad reviews, disappointed readers, and an overall bad rep for the genre! WRE is our effort to help fellow authors avoid that fate!

Available in print only, the book offers sixteen chapters of wisdom and information about the Regency time period focused on the “most commonly seen” errors that authors make. Designed as a guide, not a list of complaints, the book covers a wide range, from developing an ear for period appropriate language, avoiding modernisms and Americanisms, to simple facts about the landscapes, flora and fauna of England (no chipmunks! no skunks!), the correct use of titles for characters in the nobility (and who is or isn’t a peer), wisdom about naming your characters plus much more. If you write Regency-set fiction or even just enjoy reading about the period, this is a new resource with a unique slant that you might find invaluable.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/191379010X

Reviewers are giving it 5 stars and saying:

“The authors of Writing Regency England: A Resource for Authors have nailed all the things I grit my teeth over when reading Regency fiction: language that is inappropriate to the period, foods that were not eaten, incorrect use of titles, ignorance of mores and early 19th century life in general. This book covers everything: setting, flora and fauna, building styles, transportation, Great Britain’s old, confusing monetary units (shillings, pence, etc.), professions, the army and navy, and much, much more. I’ve done research for my own books since 2016 and am amazed at the scope of Writing Regency England. I wish I’d had a copy then.”

“If you’ve ever wondered whether what you were reading was accurate or not, then this is the book to tell you. …whether you’re an author or a reader, this book is highly recommended.”

“Thank you to Jayne Davis and Gail Eastwood for putting their heads together to write ‘Writing Regency England’. I do not know how much time I spend going down rabbit holes when I research the period, especially when I am looking for something specific. This book is a great resource for both writers and readers of the period who care about historical accuracy.”

“I’m impressed with the quality of the information and how easy it is to read the book. I’d recommend it highly to historical literature fans, readers and authors alike.”

Every author’s approach to authenticity is as unique as their writing style and voice, but there seemed to be a need for Writing Regency England. Others who write in the same period could certainly have done this book, but Jayne and I were the ones who were crazy enough to tackle it!

Do you think accuracy matters in historical fiction? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

In story-telling, we are always warned not to start with the weather. That is exactly the recurring joke in the Peanuts cartoon when pup Snoopy’s novel always begins, “It was a dark and stormy night”(although doesn’t that at least make you expect something dramatic is going to happen?). But weather plays an important role in story settings, and can be an effective tool to drive events in plot. Ignore it and your story can fall flat.

Weather forecasting today is a fine science we all rely on and I dare say also often take for granted until storms or other potential disasters threaten. Obviously, in the Regency period there was no such service anyone could turn to. And given the agricultural basis of Great Britain’s economy at that time and the importance of sailing ships, weather played a very crucial role in the daily lives and the prosperity of the nation.

(https://yesofcorsa.com/bad-weather/)

The Industrial Revolution had begun by Regency times, but it would not reach full sway until Queen Victoria’s era. Weather might not affect the factories springing up in the north counties, but farming the land was still the backbone of both the economy and society at this time. Landowners and tenant farmers alike were dependent on getting the greatest yield they could from the acres under their care. That was very much tied to weather along with the fertility of the soil. And weather could certainly affect the transportation of goods from those factories in the north, or the safety of anyone in the path of floods or storms.

Were a reliance on folklore beliefs and an ability to “read” current conditions the only methods they could employ to predict what weather might lie ahead and to plan accordingly?

Research for my current wip, Book Four in my Little Macclow series set in Derbyshire (HIS LADY TO LOVE), has led me down a new rabbit hole to share with you—private weather diaries. There is a fine collection of these hand-written volumes that have been digitally preserved in the library archives of the UK’s Meteorological Office: https://digital.nmla.metoffice.gov.uk/SO_fc1807c0-03db-49d8-a160-52fac26ded34/

My initial interest was specifically a diary by one John Thomas Swanwick of Derbyshire kept 1793-1828. (My story happens in August of 1815). Comparing the August weather recorded in flawless handwriting across all those years gave me a good view of what it should be in my story. But I quickly became more interested in the diary itself, the man who kept it, and what it said about his discipline and daily habits. Also, this particular diary has what are clearly custom-printed templates, for both the yearly comparisons and the monthly observations. Was keeping a “weather diary” a special hobby, or a regular part of normal record-keeping? (click on photos to enlarge)

Sample page and printed headings in the Swanwick weather diary

I wanted to know–did Mr. Swanwick design this book and have it privately printed, or were such blank diaries available from printers for customizing? If the latter, then keeping weather diaries was something enough people did for printers to make a profit by offering such books. If the former, then Swanwick had to be a man of enough means to be able to afford such a bespoke product.

These questions led me to examine some of the other diaries in the Met Office archive collection that are available at the link above.

The earliest one dates from 1755-1775 in Exeter. A typewritten note in the front says it is probably the earliest extent account of twice-daily barometer and thermometer readings. The 12-column format of all the pages suggests that it might have been a type of readily available accounting book that the diarist, one S. Milford, adapted to his own use.  Milford’s headings are: day, hour, bar., ther., wind, and “weather” (i.e. fair, cloudy, stormy, showery, rain), a much simpler system than Swanwick’s. Milford fit two days’ data across a single page.

Exeter Weather diary Aug 1756

Barometers and Thermometers

It is interesting to note that Milford and the other diarists generally owned both expensive barometers and thermometers and had the education to interpret them. Some seem to have also had hygrometers and sophisticated wind-measuring instruments. The barometer was invented in 1643 by an Italian physicist to measure atmospheric weight or pressure. Improvements by several more scientists turned it into the first “weather globe” and ultimately the more familiar barometer. The first thermometer was invented by Galileo, but a mercury-filled one similar to modern ones was invented in 1714 by physicist and inventor Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit. Jean-Andre Deluc, Swiss scientist who lived in England from 1773 until his death in 1817, was an advocate of the mercury thermometer over Galileo’s earlier alcohol-based versions. We don’t know which kind the diarists were consulting.

The next oldest diary goes from 1771-1813. Observations kept by Dr Thomas Hughes at Stroud, Gloucestershire, include other noteworthy events such as “storms, floods, earthquakes, aurora sightings and other geophysical data and occasional phenological remarks,” all indicating a man of some education. The book’s columns are ruled by hand, and the pages are set up to run vertically across two pages of the horizontal book turned sideways. The summary says his casual notes (kept in a dedicated column at the far right) “include reference to a number of historical events including the victory at Trafalgar and subsequent death of Admiral Nelson in the action.”

Sample page from the Stroud weather diary

More often, those notes expand on the “weather” observations. For instance, on January 3, 1771, he recorded cool and cloudy in the morning, then stormy with thunder and wind. The casual note says “a vessel on the Severn damaged by lightening.” On April 6, he noted snow still on some hills, the ground dry and grass withered “except in some moist places.” Hughes possessed a hygrometer in addition to his other instruments, reporting humidity readings among his other data.

From 1781-1825 a set of diaries was kept at Gordon Castle in Moray Speyside, Scotland, “complete except for June and July 1812.” Who made the notes, the (original) 4th and 5th Dukes of Gordon themselves or more likely staff members assigned to the duty? This book, too, is hand-ruled, set up with five narrow columns at the left and a large space more than 2/3rds of the page reserved for the actual weather observations. Perhaps it is not surprising, given the Scottish location, that this diary includes first among its narrow standard columns the one labeled “Rain,” used to record the measured amounts.

Gordon Castle  By John Claude Nattes 1804- National Library of Scotland Digital Gallery Shelfmark ID J.134.f, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org Rebuilt in 1769 for the fourth Duke of Gordon, the central four-storey block incorporated a six-storey medieval tower called the Bog-of-Gight, and was flanked by a pair of two-storey wings.

Also interesting—for the first year there is no barometrical data, and only wind direction. But starting in January of 1782, seven columns report date, rain, barom., therm (at 8am), wind (divided into direction and “force”), and therm again at 3(pm). Perhaps a barometer and some new wind measuring instrument had been gifts or purchases at the end of the previous year?

Gordon Castle diary sample page

There is a note at the end of this first month mentioning an “alteration” in when some of the data is noted and the addition of the wind force, but no mention is made of adding the barometric readings. By the next month, the 8am thermometer readings are marked “in” and “out” –did they acquire more thermometers, too? If “in” means inside, it is notable that the temperature in the castle runs generally only about 7-8 degrees warmer than outside, until the summer months when it is about the same, or cooler on the warmest days.

MORE TO COME

In Part Two (DEEP rabbit hole!): more diaries, more equipment, and investigations into the diary writers themselves. (will be posted on Thursday March 16)

 

“How much I adore you no language can tell !/ Like your charms, does my passion all others excel;/ O! say then, dear girl, you my fondness approve,/And consent to be mine at the altar of love.”

Valentine’s Day was celebrated by unmarried adults (and in some locations, children) during the Regency period, and in a post in this space last year (here) I talked about the types of cards and mementos that might be exchanged, including the fascinating folded “puzzle-pocket” types. I mentioned that books were available to help those who were not talented writers, so I thought we could take a peek at those this time around.

Google Books has a small collection of the poetry books that were published in Regency times to help those struggling to express themselves (search for “Valentines”). The poems, some quite good and others less so, range from passionate to scornful, deeply adoring to clearly intended as humor. The books are aimed at a rising middle class who could read and could spare a handful of pence to purchase such volumes, for the poems frequently make reference to lacking fortunes and rejection of those who are not content with a simple life. They were published by various printers, usually in London, and sold widely in bookstores, stationers, and even a toyman’s shop.

Cupid’s Annual Charter; or, St. Valentine’s Festival (“by Cupid”) “In which all true lovers have free leave to declare their sentiments to each other” was apparently published every year and sold for sixpence.
It starts with a call to action:

“Love has power life to charm /And all it’s cares and ills disarm /Hasten then to Cupid’s shrine /And each one choose a VALENTINE /Call in Hymen to your aid /Let to him your vows be paid /Thus ensure your bliss for life /And avoid the rocks of strife”

An example of the poetry:

Or, how do you like this sweet little verse?

The Herald of Love; being a choice collection of Valentines and answers, etc (1801) includes an additional subtitle: “with a valentine to a waterman”! Why that particular one should be specified, I have no idea, but this fun collection includes Valentine poems written specifically for quite a number of various professions. I can’t resist sharing a few of them below, notably ones to a publican, carpenter, footman, soldier and an apothecary, plus ones from a sailor and from a draper who joined the volunteers!

Some came with instructions: “VALENTINE TO A LADY, WITH A PAINTING OF TWO HEARTS UNITED AND CROWN’D WITH ROSES.”

“Bright emblem of the budding rose, /In blooming spring that early blows; /Like her, the ravish’d sense you meet, /As fair, as innocent, and sweet. /To you your valentine commends /His suit, and this soft emblem sends. /Two hearts united here combine, /Where that the lot of yours and mine, /Sure the chaste union would be found, /By heav’n with constant blessings crown’d.”

This one amused me at the admission of INATTENTIION:  Each Sunday morn with joy I rise, /And strait to church repair; /Where I behold your sparkling eyes, /My sweet angelic fair. /Tinctur’d by love I scarce conceive, / What e’er the Parson says, /As you my pensive thoughts bereave, /Whilst on your charms I gaze. /Then Oh! thou lovely, blooming maid, /Believe my heart is thine; /And thou alone can give me ease, /My charming valentine.

And this one charmed me with a tale of RIVALRY:  T’other day as I was a crossing the Park, /I saw you, dear Betsy, along with a Spark; /So trim and so gay, it troubled my heart, /And this method I take, my woes to impart. /Can I hope, my dear girl, that you will be mine, /When I know I’ve a rival so graceful and fine? /But this my sweet maid, I would have you believe, /And trust me, my words are not form’d to deceive. /Tho’ in flattery and grandeur he may me excel, /Yet this I am sure, he wont love you so well; /Then answer me fairly, if you will be mine, /And give peace to the breast of your true valentine.

TO A PUBLICAN;  How now, Mr. Bung-does your memory fail, /instead of good Beer, you are sure to draw Ale;/Your conduct must alter, or else from your home /You’ll be driven, and then to the workhouse must come./Your pipes are all broken, and news-papers lost, /Your bottles the same, all by laying in frost; /If your practice don’t alter I surely decline, /And never more own you for my valentine.

TO A SOLDIER:  Tho’ you think yourself a soldier smart, /Don’t think your big looks will charm my heart: /Your helmet fierce, and your coat so red, /Clothe an artful heart and a stupid head; /And though you are bedeck’d so fine, /You ne’er shall be my valentine.

TO A CARPENTER:  Tho’ you use such a tool as makes every thing smooth,/Yet you’re rough in your manners, and hard at heart; /Therefore I must say, all your love I refuse, /For I think it most pleasant when we are apart. /If your saws they are rough, your language is most, /To such strange manners I’ve never been used; /So with all your vain notions you’ve nothing to boast,/For it’s easy a better than you for to choose. /So take warning by this, for there’s worthy Tom Mallet, /I shall soon to the church with him trip away; /Such a goodnatur’d man would suit any one’s palate, /So good bye Mr. Surley, ’tis Valentine’s Day.

TO A FOOTMAN:  Since last Valentine’s day, to my sorrow I find, /You, Thomas, have run day and night in my mind;/ You’re grown so bewitching as never before, /For I find that I love you each day more and more. /Each morning your face, with what pleasure I see, /Not my own in the glass, is so charming to me. /I’m so vex’d I could cry, when you’re out of my sight, /But when you are present my heart feels delight; /How I wish my dear Thomas, for life you were mine, /My lover, my friend, and my true valentine.

TO AN APOTHECARY:  Altho’ you are a Surgeon smart, /And Apothecary call yourself; /Don’t think your big looks will charm each heart, /Many know you to be a stupid elf. /What’s worse than a conceited fop, /Whose smile is like a Monkey’s grin? /Behind your counter as you hop, /With cravat, hiding all your chin. /I hate your haughty sneering looks /Altho’ you are deck’d out so fine; /Your heart I scorn so take it hence, /For really you shall not have mine.

FROM A SAILOR:  What dreadful dangers have been mine, /Since last I saw my valentine: /Tempests and storms upon the deep, /Would make thy gentle heart to weep. The fury of the foe combined, /When many a tar his breath resigned; /All these by good fate I’ve withstood, The perils of the raging flood. /Escap’d from all those various ills, /Safe is return’d, your constant Will. /Evils severe, I oft endure, /Which you will pity I am sure; /If that your love is still the same, /You’ll not delay, the day to name; /And should your love but equal mine, /I’ll bless the day of valentine.

FROM A VOLUNTEER:  To be a soldier’s now the fashion, /Therefore hear me declare my passion /Dear Miss, I really hope and trust, /My red coat won’t give you disgust. /True, when my business I could mind, /I always thought that you was kind; /But since I’ve been a Volunteer, /I really think you’ve chang’d my dear. /’Tis true it brings me heavy losses, /Neglect of business, and such like crosses. /You know, when I could measure ribbons, /Muslins, Cambrics, and Irish Linens ; /My strict attention to my trade, /Made me of no rival afraid. /Now do not think that I neglect you, /I am a soldier to protect you; /And beg that you’ll your heart resign, /To me, your faithful valentine.

There are more books of this sort–you can view Love’s Preceptor or a Cabinet of choice, by “Love” (1800) in Google books, for instance–but I’ve given you a taste. What do you think? If you had lived in the Regency and were expected to hand-write poetry on a Valentine for your beloved (or someone else!), would you have been tempted to rely on a source like these?

For my part, I would love to know more about the prolific, anonymous writers who penned all these verses–who they were, how much they were paid, if they wrote other things, what their lives were like. Hah! Inspiration happens. The urge is now upon me –I think that’s all going to have to go into a story.

Happy Valentine’s day, everyone!!

Did they or did they not have chocolate sweets in the Regency period? (I have seen authors fight over this!) What kind of sweets DID they have? In my new book, Her Perfect Gentleman, the heroine conceives the idea (wisely or not) to involve much of the village of Little Macclow in a project to make sweets for the wedding everyone has come there to attend. Researching this part of the story was an interesting rabbit hole!

I found a great resource to help me, a “confectionary” cookbook from 1789 with newer editions in 1807 and 1809. It is called The Complete Confectioner (Or, the Whole Art of Confectionary with Receipts for Liqueures, Home-made Wines, etc. the Result of Many Years Experience with the Celebrated Negri and Witten, by Frederic Nutt, Esq.

This remarkable tome (available in Google Books) includes 38 recipes for biscuits—that’s cookies, to us Americans—including chocolate ones made of chocolate, egg whites and powdered sugar, like meringues. No flour, which interests me to try them since I have allergies and must stay gluten-free.

There are also six types of wafers, and ten flavors of drops—including chocolate, so there WAS a type of chocolate candy in period, just not the kind we think of as “chocolates” today. Filled chocolate candies such as we eat today were first displayed to the world in 1851 at the Great Exhibition in London at the Crystal Palace, well past the Regency decades.

The Regency chocolate drops were just like the “chocolate nonpareils” you can still get today, named for the white sugar beads that coat them. Have you eaten chocolate nonpareils? Wikipedia says: “a round flat chocolate drop with the upper surface coated with nonpareils. Ferrero makes a variety marketed as Sno-Caps. In Australia, these confections are commonly known as “chocolate freckles“, or simply “freckles“. Nonpareils are also sold in the United Kingdom as “Jazzies“, “Jazzles“, “Jazz drops” and “Snowies” (the latter being of the white chocolate variety). The coating of nonpareils is often referred to as “hundreds and thousands” in South Africa and the UK. The Canadian company Mondoux sells them as “Yummies“. So if you want Regency sweets and don’t want to make them, buy yourself some of these!

The book also covers eight kinds of jelly (and six jams), essences for ices, seventeen flavors of “waters” to serve at routs (including lemonade), 32 flavors of ice cream (including chocolate, but also “burnt almond” and “parmesan”), plus a whole section on “water ices” (I think similar to sherbert?), all sorts of fruits preserved in brandy, and a large section on preserved fruit both wet, candied, or dry. Beyond all this yumminess, Nutt also offers the promised recipes for liqueurs and wines, along with a small number of cakes and sweet puddings, plus illustrations for laying out a dessert course on tables for different numbers of guests.

Nutt’s book also has a whole section on “Prawlongs.” I read it with interest, having no idea what they were. I soon discovered other mentions spelled “prawlins” and guessed that perhaps it was an alternate spelling of pralines. According to an article on the history of the famous New Orleans pecan praline (here), the Praline is named after the 17th century French diplomat César duc de Choiseul, Comte du Plessis-Praslin (1598 or 1602-1675). One theory is that Plessis-Praslin’s personal chef Clement Lassagne was the actual inventor, and the sweets were gifts for the duc’s lovers. If you consider the French pronunciation of Praslin, I think Nutt’s spelling “prawlong” may have been phonetic.

These first pralines were made with a combination of caramel and almonds. However, Nutt’s recipes include pistachios, filberts, or almonds covered with caramelized sugar syrup, AND he also used the method with slivered lemon and orange peels, orange flowers, and chunks of Seville oranges!! So it may mean in the 18th century, at least in England, pralines (however you want to spell them) may have meant caramel-coated whatever-you-want! And the practical early settlers of New Orleans adapted the French recipe to pecans, since that’s what they had.

I have to say, without the aid of candy thermometers that are so helpful for today’s cooks, I am in awe of how period cooks managed to turn out sweets without always burning the mixture or undercooking it. Would you be brave enough to try a recipe from 1809? Have you ever tried to recreate an authentic period dish?

Her Perfect Gentleman releases on Thursday (Dec 15th)! Can we wish my characters, Christopher and Honoria, a happy book birthday?

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