The Riskies are happy to welcome back guest blogger, Harlequin Historical author Julia Justiss! She’ll be giving away a copy of her new release, Society’s Most Disreputable Gentleman, to one lucky commenter. For more info, visit her website, where she is also giving away Godiva chocolates…
The Romance of Lace
Many thanks to the Riskies for inviting me to talk about my February release and share a bit about that loveliest of fabrics, English lace!
First, a bit about that new release, Society’s Most Disreputable Gentleman. Fired from his job as estate manager and then abducted and pressed into the Royal Navy. hero Greville Anders (brother of heroine Joanna of From Waif to Gentleman’s Wife) returns after 8 month’s service at sea a radically different man. Eager to obtain his release and pursue an honest career, he has little interest in the idle Society he used to frequent. But despite his vow to reform his rake’s ways, how could he help but flirt with his host’s beautiful daughter Amanda? For her part, Amanda Neville has dreamed since childhood of becoming a brilliant Society hostess. She’s not about to risk that by dallying with a younger son of little fortune, no matter how scandalously attractive he might be!
When Greville finds himself marooned in the Devon countryside while he recovers from wounds suffered during a battle with privateers, he’s happy to further his flirtation with Amanda by having her give him a tour of her father’s vast estate.
Along with fields planted in corn, mining on the Dartmoor, and flocks of sheep and cattle, Amanda’s father acts as a factor for his tenants who produce handicrafts. One of the most famous Devonshire handicrafts was Honiton lace, which was produced by craftspeople in their home cottages and then sent to the town of Honiton, where merchants marketed it to London and other large towns in England.
It’s thought that lacemaking originated in Italy in the 16th century and then spread throughout Europe. Some credit the lace-making tradition in Honiton to Flemish weavers who came over to pursue the cloth trade, for the town had been a center for the weaving of wool and flax since medieval times. Whether Flemish weavers brought the techniques or not, by the time that Charles II was making lace collars and cuffs fashionable, the lace makers of the Honiton area were developing their unique style of embroidery, drawn-thread, and cutwork.
Honiton lace is best known for its floral and leaf motifs, which were the result of several craftsmen’s group efforts. The flower or leaf design would be made by one designer; then the pieces, called “sprigs,” would be stitched together in larger pieces. The lace patterns were made using pairs of slender pointed bobbins. The lacemaker would prick out a design on parchment, which was pinned atop a small, firm pillow stuffed with straw or sawdust. Pins would be inserted into the design, around which the threads would be woven and plaited to create the design. These flower pieces were then stitched to a net background.
During the mid-18th–19th centuries, it was estimated that nearly half the population in the area were engaged in the lace business. However, like many handcrafts lacemaking suffered after the introduction of power looms.
Queen Victoria did her part to revive the craft. When she married Prince Albert in 1840, her dress was to be trimmed with Flemish lace, but the Queen insisted the lace on her gown be English instead. An order was placed with Tuckers in the nearby town of Branscombe, who was then the largest employer of lace makers in the area. When the couple’s first child was born, the christening gown was also trimmed with Honiton lace; the gown was used for royal christenings for many years, until the cloth became too fragile. The royal family continues to order Honiton lace for special occasion; in 1981, Lady Diana Spencer’s gown was trimmed with Honiton lace.
Allhallow’s Museum, a 13th century former chapel that is the oldest building in Honiton, contains an extensive collection of historic lace. There are also many shops in town specializing in lace and the local pottery for which Honiton is also famed.
After Amanda gives Greville a tour of her father’s estate, he’s almost as impressed by his host’s vast and varied enterprises as he is by his beautiful hostess! I hope you will find Greville and Amanda’s story equally engaging.
So, how do you feel about lace? Is is a sweet luxury that whispers romance–or when trimming lingerie, something naughtier? Or an old-fashioned fabric that should give way to modern textiles? I wish I might offer one responder a piece of Honiton lace, but will have to limit myself to a copy of Disreputable!
First, I’m excited that the next book in my on-again, off-again Wellingford family series, FROM WAIF TO GENTLEMAN’S WIFE, is now on the shelves. The story of Ned Greaves, good friend of Nicholas Stanhope, Marquess of Englemere, hero of my first book, had simmered in mind for a number of years. I was delighted to give Ned, a self-proclaimed “simple country gentleman” a chance to encounter and win a bewitching lady while they both try to save a failing agricultural property and solve a mystery.
The obligatory blurb: “When a destitute governess faints on Sir Edward Greaves’s threshold, chivalry demands that he offer her temporary shelter. However, the desire Ned feels when he catches her in his arms isn’t at all gentlemanly.
In spite of his attraction to her, Ned finds it extremely suspect that a lady claiming to be the sister of the fired estate manager happens to end up on his doorstep just after his carriage has been attacked by Luddite agitators. But Joanna Merrill’s large, troubled eyes and slender frame call to something deep inside this guarded man. For one who has purposefully shunned the conniving beauties of London society, just how much is Ned risking by allowing this intriguing woman under his roof?”
Though I truly love this story, in the odd time warp world of writerdom, it has been hard to fully wrap my mind around the reality of its release. While I’ve been doing some blogs and contests to promote WAIF (visit my website, http://www.juliajustiss.com/, for a chance to win a sample of heroine Joanna’s exotic perfume,) I’m also simultaneously going through the final edits for next summer’s release, THE SMUGGLER AND THE SOCIETY BRIDE, (Book 3 of a first-ever 8-book Regency continuity series that features three main families, scandal, murder, a hanging and revenge that reaches into the next generation.) And at the same time, I’m struggling with an unusually recalcitrant Muse to write my next story—another Wellingford tale—that features Greville Anders, that fired-estate-manager brother of WAIF heroine Joanna Anders Merrill.
As for the edits, along with changing back to commas the copy editor’s strange predilection for colons—in the middle of sentences—I also scratched my head over the c.e. changing “Axminster carpet” to “soft carpet.” Although I knew these carpets were accurate to the Regency period, the copy editor’s questioning of the term spurred me to research them a bit further.
It’s true enough that carpeting as we think of it was unknown in Regency England. Wall-to-wall didn’t exist and woven carpets were still quite rare and expensive.
Knotted woolen and silk carpets were first brought back by Crusaders from the Middle East. Although elaborately embroidered and designed wall hangings had been made in Europe throughout the Middle Ages, not until the 17th century did monarchs there, eager to embellish their palaces with all manner of luxury items, begin to sponsor local craftsmen to produce such “Oriental” carpets.
Having taken over from the Italians the mantle of being Europe’s premier producer of luxury goods (when the Sun King Louis XIV imported Italian artisans to tutor French craftsmen,) it’s not surprising that the French were in the forefront of carpet-making. In 1627, by royal order, the Savonnerie factory was established at Chaillot in Paris to create pile carpets for use in the king’s palaces and as royal gifts. This establishment, which later merged with the famous tapestry-making firm Gobelin, created carpets with floral and architectural patterns, some based on designs (called “cartoons”) by famous painters. (The business continues today, still crafting exquisitely-made carpets for a discriminating and wealthy clientele.)
The carpets made at Savonnerie greatly influenced the designs of other firms, including the one established at Axminster by cloth maker Thomas Whitty in 1755. Like those produced in France, Axminster carpets often featured architectural or floral patterns that mimic those of Oriental carpets. And like fine carpets to this day, the Axminster designs were hand-knotted of wool on woolen warps with wefts of flax or hemp.
Although other carpet works were begun about the same time in Exeter and near London, Whitty’s firm in Axminster established itself as the premier producer of English-made carpets. King George III and Queen Charlotte visited the works, and following the royal lead, orders were quickly placed by others of wealth and high rank. Axminster carpets soon graced the Royal Pavillion at Brighton, Warwick Castle, Saltram House and Chatsworth.
Axminster, I discovered, is located in Devon—along whose smuggling-rich coast the story I’m currently working on, Greville’s story, takes place. In a further curious coincidence, Powderham Castle, the stately home outside Exeter in Devon I’d already chosen as the prototype for the dwelling of Lord Bronning, father of Greville’s heroine Amanda, happens to possess one of the first and finest of Axminster’s carpets.
Powderham Castle was built in 1391 by Sir Philip Courtenay and is still owned by the Courtenays today. The original castle, rebuilt and modified over the years, was further embellished by William Courtenay, third Viscount Courtenay and later Earl of Devon, with the addition of a Music Room designed by the famous architect James Wyatt. This handsome chamber also featured a carpet made by the newly formed Axminster Carpet Company–the biggest carpet ever made by the firm, until the Prince Regent heard of it and ordered a larger one. (Can we say “carpet envy?”)
Axminster dominated the English carpet market until 1835, when Samuel Rampson Whitty, grandson of the founder, declared bankruptcy following a disastrous fire which destroyed the weaving looms. With competition from Europe and the rise of high-quality but cheaper, machine-made carpets, it was too expensive to try to revive the works.
The Blackmores of Wilton, near Salisbury, bought the remaining stock and looms. Weaving had been a prominent trade in Wilton since the 17th century, and at the turn of the 19th, Lord Pembroke helped establish the Wilton Royal Carpet Factory. With this purchase, the firm extended their business to include patterned, hand-knotted carpets, which despite the change of location were still called “Axminsters.”
But in the mid-20th century, another curious development occurred. A carpet manufacturer named Harry Dutfield beguiled the tedium of a train journey by chatting with a vicar with a heavy West Country accent. Upon learning of Dutfield’s occupation, the vicar told him about the famous Devon town where carpet-making had thrived before the disastrous fire in the 1830’s. Intrigued, Dutfield followed up on the story and in 1937, began again to manufacture carpet in the town of its historic roots–Axminster.
In 2005, another event occurred to complete the merger of copy-edit suggestions, my research about Devon, Powderham Castle and the Courtenays. For the 250th anniversary of carpet weaving in Axminster, a special commemorative rug was produced. As in days of old, when church bells rang to signal the completion of each time-consuming, hand-made work of art, this special carpet was paraded by Axminster’s weavers through the town to the Minster Church, where it was blessed by the Bishop of Exeter. It was then presented to the Queen’s representative—the 18th Earl of Devon, William Courtenay–to be conveyed to its new home at Clarence House–the home of HRH the Prince of Wales.
I think “our” Prinny would be pleased.
(By the way, you can visit Axminster’s website, http://www.axminster-carpets.co.uk/250years.htm, to see a photo of the rug-carrying ceremony.)
There’s something inherently satisfying about discovering a family and a business that has thrived from early days through Regency times to our own. Inspired by those events, when I mailed in my changes to the copy edits, I instructed production to change “soft carpet” back to “Axminster carpet.”
So, what do you think? Will the odd place name pull you out of the story–or add to its richness? Do you prefer the boring adjective “soft?” Log in your comments for a chance to win an autographed copy of WAIF. (Though I should dearly love to offer one of Axminster’s finest carpets as the prize, I fear I shall have to limit myself to books!)
Many thanks to the Riskies, hostesses of one of my favorite destinations in the blogosphere, for inviting me as a guest during Elena’s leave of absence. And my best wishes to Elena and her family for her husband’s speedy recovery!
From the time I began reading Georgette Heyer, who made frequent reference to the serving of brandy on which no duty had been paid, I’ve had an interest in smugglers. Even more so than the highwayman, the free trader was a romantic figure who received a great deal of popular support from coastal residents, both the customers who bought at a cheaper price the goods they wanted and the workers who augmented their meager incomes as farmers, fishermen and laborers by assisting the smugglers in transporting their cargo.
Though Samuel Johnson described a smuggler as “A wretch who, in defiance of the law, imports or exports goods either contraband or without payment of the customs,” many would prefer the definition of Adam Smith—himself a Customs commissioner: “A person who, though no doubt highly blamable for violating the laws of his country, is frequently incapable of violating these of natural justice and who would have been in every respect an excellent citizen had not the laws of his country made that a crime which nature never meant to be so.”
Since the reign of Edward I in the mid-1200’s, when English wool was bought by French weavers who then made cloth that sold for lower prices than the English goods, the English government has tried to restrict trade. From the “owlers” of Kent and Sussex who smuggled English wool out of the country by “owl light,” to the “gentlemen” of the Regency, who dealt in tea, tobacco, spirits and luxury goods, traders sought to buy goods at origin and resell for a fair price, eliminating the taxes imposed by the government middleman.
Understandably not wishing to lose out on its share of the sale of sought-after goods, as early as 1698, the government established the Landguard of riding officers of the Customs, whose job it was to try to halt the illegal trade. Originally, each riding officer was assigned about 10 miles of coastline to patrol. He was also responsible for checking ships landing cargo in his district, searching inland places he suspected might be harboring contraband goods and gathering intelligence.
However, the profits to be made were high enough—and collusion with local officials so frequent—that it soon became evident that riding officers alone were not adequate to stem the flow of illegal goods. In 1723, the government began posting units of dragoons at points around the coast, who could be called out by the riding officers to assist in rounding up smugglers or their cargos.
Despite a spate of anti-smuggling laws throughout the 1700s that imposed ever more severe penalties on smuggling, the practice continued. In fact, by 1780 it was estimated that two-thirds of the tea consumed in England had not passed through Customs.
For moving their cargo, free traders used luggers, ships that were broad of beam, shallow of keel with a flat bottom that allowed the vessel to put in close to shore, and rigged with a lugsail that allowed them to sail close to the wind. Later, cutters that could make higher speed were preferred, and galleys, which combined sails and rowing seats for navigating in shallow water or narrow spaces.
Once the daring captain sailed his cargo across from France or Ireland, where did he land it? As you can see from the photos, Cornwall’s many coves and inlets and its limestone cliffs riddled with caves made the area an ideal spot for smugglers. In addition to its natural advantages, supportive locals expanded the concealment possibilities of the caves by offering barns and granaries as short-term storehouses for smuggled goods. There are reports of tunnels dug from the coastline up into inns, private homes–and even churches! In some instances, church towers were elevated to a height sufficient to allow them to serve as navigation aids for smugglers trying to locate a particular landing spot for their cargo.
A successful operation began with the “venturer,” who through his agent, the “bagman,” collected the sum necessary to purchase the goods to be smuggled. The bagman, whose accounts were kept by the “quill-driver,” often the parish clerk or schoolmaster, would collect the sums pledged, then meet the captain of the smuggling vessel to sail for the Continent. After exchanging his coins for the items requested by the shareholders, he would load the cargo and bring it back to England.
Once he’d determined by lantern-flash that it was safe to make for shore, the captain would turn his cargo over to a “lander,” whose responsibility was to summon, organize and pay the beach party that transferred the cargo from the ship to the waiting ponies and wagons to convey it inland.
Colorful stories and tales about smuggling and the smugglers abound. On one end of the spectrum, Isaac Gulliver, the “gentle smuggler” of Dorset who claimed never to have harmed a revenue officer during the course of his business, amassed a vast fortune smuggling tea, brandy and gin, bought property all over England and was highly revered by his fellow citizens. At the other end, the notorious Hawkhurst Gang in Kent was not above using murder, beatings and coercion to induce the cooperation of the local populace.
Already by the Regency, better enforcement and harsh penalties had begun to hamper the trade. But the practice was to continue unabated into the mid-1800s, not dying out entirely until tariffs were reduced to the point that the potential profits no longer outweighed the risks.
And so the era ended…but the romance, the legends, the stories and the lore continue to this day, when a visitor to Cornwall can still take a “Smuggler’s Tour.”
Okay, question: Do you think of smugglers as “romantic” figures, the Robin Hoods of the seas bringing fairly-priced goods to customers who want or need them? Or as mere law-breaking brigands? Should they be portrayed as heroes, villains…or both?
–See The Smuggling War: The Government’s Fight against Smuggling in the 18th and 19th Centuries by Geoffrey Morley.
First: “Hidden among the bracket at Carn Brea, a smuggler’s cave.”
Second: “Zawn Trevilley near Land’s End: a narrow inlet perfect for leading to a smuggler’s trail.”
Third: “Sketch of Luggar”
Fourth: “St. Ives Parish Church—a smuggler’s storehouse?”
Fifth: “White Sands Bay near Sennen, Cornwall—with a smuggler’s hut in the left foreground?”
Julia is researching smugglers for a book to come out in 2010. For a glimpse of high seas revelry before then, check out Risky hostess Amanda McCabe’s High Seas Stowaway, a January Harlequin Historical release. For comments on the progress of Julia’s book, to view other research tidbits and oddities, or to enter Julia’s contest, visit her newly redesigned website, www.juliajustiss.com.