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Tag Archives: Threads of Feeling

fabricHere at the Riskies we return quite frequently to the topic of London’s Foundling Hospital, founded by sea captain Thomas Coram, composer George Handel, and artist William Hogarth. Today I’m sharing some recent finds I made–one is this quite splendid documentary Messiah at the Foundling Hospital (sit tight, it’s an hour long).

I discovered more about Hogarth’s contributions. He designed the logo in the form of a coat of arms, which is, as the documentary’s narrator points out, quite brilliant. Because it’s a coat of arms, it would have had instant appeal for the well-heeled aristocrats who were being targeted as donors. But the legend is in English–just one word: Help.

Arms of the Foundling Hospital

Arms of the Foundling Hospital

To be honest I’m not sure who the figure on the left is–a sort of female corkscrew? Anyone know? On the right is Britannia. The rest is self-explanatory, the baby and the innocent lamb. Anyway, the point is that this worked. It became hip and fashionable to be a philanthropist.

foundlingsHogarth also designed the children’s uniforms, some of which are on display at The Foundling Museum in London. (Ignore the well-scrubbed angelic appearance of the children in this painting. The clothes are correct.)

One perspective I’ve never encountered before is what other, more fortunate, children thought of foundlings and orphans. Some families might have a young maid who was trained at the Foundling Hospital. foundling samplerOne can only hope that no impressionable child saw the dying and abandoned babies on the streets of London whose fate so moved Coram. Here’s a sampler made in 1825 by ten-year-old Mary Ann Quatermain.

But back to those uniforms. What happened to the clothes the children wore when they were admitted? Historian Alice Dolan tells us that:

In 1757, when the Hospital was overwhelmed by the clothing due to the large influx of children, the Hospital committee decided to sell the

‘old Raggs and useless things brought in with the Children of this Hospital’

because they were causing problems with ‘Vermin’.

After enquiries, the Hospital Committee decided to sell to the rag merchant Mrs Jones in Broad St Giles who would pay 28 shillings a stone for linen rags and 4 shillings 6 pence a stone for woollen rags. This was more than twice what her competitor Joseph Thompson offered for the linen and woollen rags.

Considering the thousands of children were admitted to the Hospital, this was a valuable form of income. It’s a reminder too, that nothing was discarded–vermin or not–if it could be sold or upcycled.

The exhibit Threads of Feeling, some of the fabric samples and tokens mothers handed in with their babies for later identification, showed a few years ago at the DeWitt Museum in Williamsburg. Both I and Diane, who blogged about it, visited. While I was poking around online I checked out future exhibits at the Foundling Museum, although I doubt I’ll get to any. Are you planning, or have you been to, anything inspiring at a museum recently?

SMKname2Diane here.
Today we welcome back Sally MacKenzie to talk about her latest Regency, Surprising Lord Jack. Sally just keeps giving us charming books. First the Naked series, now the Duchess of Love series. By giving, I also mean  Sally is giving away a signed copy of Surprising Lord Jack to one lucky commenter chosen at random.

n403080Here is what reviewers are saying about Surprising Lord Jack

*Starred review* “MacKenzie has penned another humorous Regency-era gem that will get a collective thumbs-up from readers.”–Shelley Mosley, Booklist

Four stars. “MacKenzie delights her devoted fans once again with a quick-witted, steamy romp. Add a touch of mystery and another bright tale of love and laughter is born. An engaging, and meddlesome, cast whips this lusty tale into a perfect heart-holiday treat!”–Anne Black, RT Book Reviews

4.50 / 5 -Reviewer Top Pick. “I recommend this book to all my fellow historical romance fans.”–Debra Taylor, Night Owl Reviews

Welcome back, Sally!

Hello, Riskies! I’m so glad to be stopping by again. I had a chance to see Diane at the Washington Loves Romance gathering in February. She was apparently deep in deadline craziness, but she looked calm and composed as always– (Diane note: Most likely I was merely sleep-deprived…)

Tell us about Surprising Lord Jack.

Surprising Lord Jack is the second book in my Duchess of Love trilogy. (Well, it’s a trilogy plus a novella: “The Duchess of Love” is the prequel to the series and tells how the duchess met her duke.) It’s about the duchess’s youngest son, and it begins where Bedding Lord Ned, the first book in the series, ends.

Here’s the back cover copy:

Unladylike behavior…

Frances Hadley has managed her family’s estate for years. So why can’t she request her own dowry? She’ll have to go to London herself and knock some sense into the men interfering in her life. With the nonsense she’s dealt with lately, though, there’s no way she’s going as a woman. A pair of breeches and a quick chop of her red curls, and she’ll have much less to worry about…

Jack Valentine, third son of the famous Duchess of Love, is through being pursued by pushy young ladies. One particularly determined miss has run him out of his own house party. Luckily the inn has one bed left. Jack just has to share with a rather entertaining red-headed youth. Perhaps the two of them should ride to London together. It will make a pleasant escape from his mother’s matchmaking melodrama!

There a Jack the Ripper sort of plot thread as well: someone is slitting the throats of prostitutes and even society women with soiled reputations, a class into which Frances now falls.

I’m excited because ALA Booklist gave Jack a starred review!

What is risky about the book?

Well, three things come to mind, though they might be more tricky than risky.

First, I wanted to try my hand at a “chick-in-pants” book, where the heroine pretends to be a man–or, in this case, a boy. Sometimes in these stories, the hero begins to fall in love with the heroine even before he knows her true gender. However, I happened to be working on Jack’s book during the Jerry Sandusky scandal. I followed the news reports pretty closely, partly because I have sons who’ve competed in Division I varsity athletics (and I went to the University of Notre Dame), so I’m interested in the whole question of the power athletics has in a college’s culture. But mostly, of course, I was reading and listening to news reports because the story was so horrifying. And since I’m the mother of boys, these kinds of events make me start questioning my sons to see if any coach or scout leader or other male in their lives ever did anything inappropriate with them. (My questioning drives them crazy, by the way. None of the men I’m related to wanted to discuss the trial.)

So with that, there was no way I was going to have Jack feel any sexual attraction for Frances while she was pretending to be male. Frances, however, was free to fall in love with Jack, except she hates men. So making their relationship develop when she’s in disguise was tricky.

13252737Second, Jack’s book is the middle of a trilogy, and, unlike the Naked series, I planned these books to fit together. The first book had the advantage of setting things up, and the last book gets to tie things together (I hope). But the middle book is, well, in the middle. It’s got the threads I planned to run through the series coming and going. It has to be able to handle that, but be a satisfying, complete story on its own. So it was a bit tricky keeping things balanced. I think I managed it, though. A reviewer who’s read only Jack’s book told me she didn’t feel the need to have read Ned’s story first, so that was a big relief!

13223652Third, the books are set in a pretty tight timeframe. Jack’s book actually begins as Ned’s is ending. I haven’t tried that before.

Was it easy to write?

Argh!! No. Maybe because it was the middle book, it just about killed me. I finished the first draft and revised and polished, but the book wasn’t working. I had to do pretty much a complete rewrite–or at least it felt that way. And since my publisher had moved the release date up, I had a real honest-to-God, drop dead deadline. The icing on the cake was that the D.C. derecho roared through a few days before that deadline, leaving our house intact, thank God, but taking our electricity and internet. I had to write with an eye on my laptop battery’s charge indicator and be creative in finding places to recharge when it got low. I discovered the church’s “crying room” had an outlet that worked, so I sat through Sunday Mass plugged in. (No, I wasn’t working, and no, there weren’t any babies in the room with me at the time, and yes, I felt very good about going to church that week.) When we went out to eat, I asked for a table with an outlet. The upside was that I kept my nose to the grindstone–no internet to distract and no battery power to waste on endless games of computer solitaire. When I was done–the day I had to send the manuscript off–I went to Panera’s to use their internet.

Did you come across any interesting research?

Yes–and Janet has already told you all about it. Back on November 15, Janet posted about the Threads of Feeling exhibit*. I was so excited! No, I didn’t know about the exhibit (until Janet mentioned it), but I had been researching London’s Foundling Hospital, so I knew mothers used to leave scraps of fabric when they gave up their babies, sort of like a claims check, I guess…so they could come back and reclaim their children once they were able to care for them.

I knew Jack was going to have some sort of charity he was involved in, and it made sense to me that since Ned’s son died in childbirth, the charity would have something to do with children. Well Jack actually has two charities–one for prostitutes who want a way out of that life and one for abandoned children. I researched the Foundling Hospital to see if such a plan would work, though the children at Jack’s house are mostly the offspring of prostitutes, abandoned on the streets. He finds them, brings them to his “foundling hospital,” and educates them until they are old enough to find work.

Bedding Lord Ned had a thieving cat. There’s a dog on Surprising Lord Jack’s cover. Does he have a role in the story?

Of course! The dog’s name is Shakespeare; Jack and Frances discover him with an abandoned baby in the stews, and he can do all kinds of tricks.

I may have said before that I’m a bit of a pantser–the story develops as I write it. I realized that Shakespeare had belonged to a local actor who’d decamped for parts unknown, leaving his dog behind. I thought that was a bit odd, and I filed it away as a “possibly important but currently mystifying” detail. At the end of the story, I discovered that Shakespeare’s former owner had a role to play in resolving the Jack the Ripper thread.

And I’m sure any dedicated plotters reading this are now twitching.

I never thought I would be a pantser. If you ask any of my four sons, I’m sure they’d say I’m a control freak. I think I scored “possible army officer” on the career test I took in college. But, to quote Popeye, “I yam what I yam.”

What’s next for you?

I’ve finished the first draft of Loving Lord Ash, the last book in the trilogy which should be out in Spring 2014. Maybe because I’m a pantser, I can’t just type “the end” and send a manuscript off to my editor, though. I usually take several weeks to a month to revise and polish before I’m willing to part with a story. I’m just hoping Ash doesn’t give me the fits Jack did!

And now a question for your readers: Do you have a favorite book that features a cross-dressing heroine? Mine is Fool’s Masquerade by Joan Wolf. I have to say I’m a big fan of Joan Wolf’s Regencies–I have many of them on my keeper shelf. (Okay, really a keeper box.) Why do you like this kind of story–or if you don’t like “chick-in-pants” books, why not?

Thanks for being our guest, Sally. Readers, do not forget to comment for a chance to win Surprising Lord Jack.

*The Threads of Feeling exhibit comes to Williamsburg, VA, May 25, 2013.


I’ve just discovered some big news that I want to share, nothing to do with writing directly. The Threads of Feelingexhibit is coming to the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum in Williamsburg, VA, opening May 25 2013. If you’re not familiar with this astonishing and moving exhibit, take a look at the online version. It’s the records of admissions to the Foundling Museum in London, the first home in Britain for abandoned children, founded by William Hogarth, George Frideric Handel, and Thomas Coram. When babies were admitted, the parents provided a scrap of fabric, embroidery, or sometimes a note so that they could identify the child when they were able to support them once more.

Some children had a happy ending and were reunited with their mothers again. Many didn’t. Ones who survived were apprenticed out and disappear into the great mess of history.

What’s extraordinary, as well as the emotional impact, is the variety of fabrics and the vivid colors (because they were pinned inside the ledger and didn’t fade). It constitutes the best collection of period fabrics in the world.

There’s also a symposium, Threads of Feeling Unraveled: The London Foundling Hospital’s Textile Tokens on October 20-22, 2013 in Williamsburg, with the exhibit’s curator, John Styles, among the speakers. Registration isn’t open yet but scroll down on this page for details.

I can’t wait! There’s also a fabulous resource at the museum for historical clothes if you want to frivol away some hours online.

Although I should be planning what I’m going to cook for the Thanksgiving feast next weekend (possibly something hip with brussel sprouts that only I and my daughter will eat) I’m planning a new Regency gown. I have a lovely silk gown but I’m after a cotton one that I can do the dishes in and preferably a drawstring one I can get into without assistance. This is the fabric I’m probably going to use. It’s from an ebay store, Heritage Trading, which has some gorgeous silks and cottons and uses the traditional hand woodblocking techniques.

So what are you up to and what are your Thanksgiving plans?

I’ve found a couple/few websites that I find fascinating and I want to share today.

First, an amazing if heartbreaking online exhibit, Threads of Feeling, from the Foundling Museum in London. Four thousand babies were left anonymously at the hospital between 1741 and 1760 and sometimes a note, and a small token, usually a piece of fabric or ribbon (but sometimes a key) was left with each infant and kept as part of the admission record. The fabric was either provided by the mother or cut from the child’s clothing by the hospital’s nurses. If, as occasionally happened, a mother returned, she could identify the scrap of fabric to claim her child. These fragments represent the largest collection of eighteenth fabrics in Britain.

You can find more examples of the fabrics and the ledger entries in a review at The Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center Blog or at the exhibit’s Facebook page.

The museum tells the story of the 27,000 children who were left at the Foundling Hospital between 1739 and 1954, in art, interiors, and social history, and the museum is close to the site of the original building which was demolished in the early twentieth century. The founders of the original Foundling Hospital were philanthropist Thomas Coram, the artist William Hogarth and the composer George Frideric Handel, and the museum also houses the Gerald Coke Handel Collection.

The Handel House Museum in Mayfair, London was one of the many projects restored with the expertise of Patrick Baty, a specialist in historical paint and color. His blog, News from Colourman, is fascinating. His interest in architecture led to speculation and then research in authentic historical decoration and color, and if the idea of peering into a microscope to view pigments makes you go all tingly, well…

Talking of going all tingly, you’ve got to check out the hilarious Bangable Dudes in History, “Dead man porn for your still-beating heart.” I love this site. Not only do you get pics of the dudes but pie charts of their attributes. For instance, Robert Cornelius, American chemist and pioneer in photography, Joined father’s lamp company…must’ve been fighting off the chicks; Nicolai Tesla, Was besties with Mark Twain–another potential hot threesome. Find out why Shostakovich was one hot brooding bitch or Sherman was red-ginger hot. Byron is coming soon!

Have you found anything good online recently?

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