The Calendar for the Past…


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While I was sorting through some of the paperwork that I had to move from my desk, I found a couple of calendar sheets I’d printed off a few years ago for, what were then, potential story ideas.

I know I could put a day and year date into Google and ask what day of the week was it? But there’s a more useful way, this website:

It actually has a lot of practical everyday uses too: world clock, time zones, sun and moon settings, and many other options.

The calendars highlighted that one of my stories (set in Dorset) takes place under the Julian Calendar, and the current work in progress uses the Gregorian Calendar (the type we use now).

My Nottinghamshire story takes place over many months in 1802 so a calendar for that year is helpful. A reader won’t appreciate countryside summer flowers in bloom if the heroine is still wrapped up in her winter best…

Before 1752 (when the actual calendar changed for people) we used the Julian Calendar. This meant New Year was actually the 25th March, known as Lady Day (one of the Quarter-Days find out more about these days and dates here).

Time Passes...

Time Passes…

The legal profession still use these quarter days, and if the system has worked well for centuries then there is little point changing it.

If you saw the news item not long ago about various heads of different religious denominations discussing making Easter (or their equivalents) a fixed date, it’s clearly not a simple process.

If you’re not sure how this movable Easter date is calculated you can read the terms specified in law, in this transcribed British Calendar Act of 1750. The additional notes are helpful. If you’re brave enough, venture into the tables link in the additional notes…

I’d assumed that once the law had passed, the change was completed in the same year. But that was not what occurred.

Gradual changes were implemented over a few years.

We might say now that the year has gone quickly, but in 1751 that actually was true. The year began as tradition on March 25th but ended early on the 31st December, rather than March 24th, 1751/52

So 1752 began on the 1st of January, and then in the September, that month was only 19 days long losing the 3rd to the 13th.

For anyone who has never looked at old records (recorded under the earlier calendar) such as parish registers or other official documents, the last few months before Lady Day would show two years, 1750/51; but with the gradual realignment of the New Year that ceased.

While our February only goes up to 28, and 29 days in a leap year, the 30th February has actually existed in history.

In 1712, Sweden and Finland added two days to February, making up for their not having had a leap year in 1700; it enabled them to get back in order with the Julian calendar.

If Easter is ever to becomes fixed, I wonder if it will take as long to resolve as the calendar change did…




In New Computer Land…

It’s been some time since I last posted, but that was because my computer was in rapid decline.

Sadly the blue screen of death and crashes were becoming regular occurrences.Then earlier this past week it finally died on me.

I’m now familiarizing myself with Windows 10, and adding useful bits and pieces that I loved using on Windows 7.

My office isn’t yet back to normal- everything is still in bags and boxes, so my weekend will be spent returning everything to its correct place.

But it is dust-free, as after moving everything to reach the cables, I was able to get the Hoover in and remove the fine coating and dust-webs making a home in the corners…

It’s also given me the opportunity to find the reference books and papers that I need to refer to during my second draft.

I’m eager to start again, but not sure of Office 365 yet; I have a trial copy on the computer.

I miss Windows 7…

Back to routine soon.

serena lace (1)



More Exhibitions to Visit in Bath


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Like many writers I’m signed up to newsletters from museums and history related organisations, so I thought I’d share with you news of the next main exhibition at the Fashion Museum in Bath.

Assembly Rooms and Fashion Museum, Bath reduced size

The Fashion Museum in Bath

It’s called A History of Fashion in 100 Objects. It opens 19th March this year and runs until 1st January 2018.

The exhibition showcases fashion history from 1500 to the present day. So there will be something for every visitor whether you’re a fan of Regency fashion or the elegant gowns of the House of Worth, and then on into the 20th century and beyond.

I like the idea of the ten shoe ‘moments’ they’re including, and ten ‘historical looks’ for children (1700s – 2000s).

Sadly  I have to plan well in advance and save up for trips that can’t be managed within the day – as they’ll require hotel stays, so I probably won’t get to visit the 100 fashion objects until 2017.

If you’re fortunate to live within a short travelling distance from exhibition venues, do visit. So many museums depend upon local support to keep running, whether they’re well known, or a small museum in your town or nearest city.

Meanwhile I’ll be checking the newsletters for any exhibitions or events of interest I can get to.

If you know of any museum newsletters that you’d recommend signing up to, do please share the details in the comments…




Happy New Year…



New Year’s Day is spent quietly, though history does still play a part in the day.

The New Year’s Day concert from Vienna is tradition, if I’m at home I will watch it.

It’s delightful to see the Vienna State Ballet performers dancing to wonderful old waltzes and polkas. It looks spectacular on television…

Hearing The Blue Danube played at any time of the year instantly reminds me of January 1st.

As to my new year I have a number of writing projects to get on with so the approaching weeks will be busy.

I wish you all a Happy New Year, and may 2016 bring joy and new opportunities.


Happy New Year




Image courtesy of Viacheslav Blizniuk &

Christmas Greetings…


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Life has been rather hectic this month, so I’m not as prepared for Christmas as I would usually be.

Even though I haven’t been able to do any work on my Nottinghamshire story, a few new characters have arrived at the literary door with the start of a Christmas tale. I know this is only a short story so perhaps I will have a few quite moments over the Christmas and New Year to begin putting this winter tale to paper.

Looking for a suitable Christmas image I came across a Manor House in snow – and that set my characters off telling me this was where their story takes place.


A Manor House in Snow

Many of our Christmas traditions have developed from the Victorians- Christmas trees for example, but elements from earlier times have survived as well- Mistletoe and greenery – though Mistletoe is a rarer sight now.

As a child I remember going to the florist with my mother to buy Mistletoe sprigs. The number of stems available, and the frequency of berries upon them, reflected how good or bad the weather had been for the crop that year; and the cost went up or down as a consequence.

When we got home the Mistletoe stems would be securely bound together with cotton thread, and a small loop would be made to secure the hanging bundle to the ceiling with a gold colour drawing pin.

Sadly with central heated houses now, rather than open fireplaces, the berries would likely dry out and drop off before Twelfth Night arrives.

That probably explains plastic Mistletoe!

If you’re interested in Regency traditions at this time of year then do step along to Shannon Donnelly’s Fresh Ink website where this is discussed.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas; a Happy Yule; or delight in whichever traditional celebration you enjoy.

May the coming New Year bring good to all.


Christmas Wreath



Manor House image courtesy of Simon Howden & Heart Shaped Christmas Wreath courtesy of Kittisak, and



A Peep Into My Reference Library


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The past month has been busy. Sadly it’s meant I haven’t got very far into the second draft, though I have begun it.

At the moment I’m having to jiggle around with the years that the main episodes of the back story occur- as they influence the plot later.

So I’m going to have to make a few decisions about what potentially gets changed; the age of my couple, or move the date the story from 1802 to 1804- which would create other issues regarding international events at the time the story is set.

The latter will mean I’ll have to provide another reason for my hero’s ability to return, while the former would work in favour of both my heroine’s age, and my hero’s personal circumstances…

My dating issues have resulted from consulting one of my reference books: J.M. Stratton’s Agricultural Records AD 220 -1977.

Book for WordPress blog post Nov 2015 cropped resized

Reference work – Agricultural Records

If you’ve ever studied microfiche or film of 18th and 19th century newspapers you will certainly have seen prices for Wheat, Barley and Oats as a regular feature. Reports of severe weather elsewhere would likely be mentioned too, even if they happened weeks before.

When harvests were good, prices would fall; sadly when the crop was poor due to inclement weather, prices rose and starvation would become all too real for the poorest.

With international trade we are no longer solely dependent upon the harvest our nation’s farmers produce.

Nowadays, courtesy of satellites, we can check the expected weather for a few days ahead, so crops can be harvested at the best time. Centuries ago farmers local knowledge, and perhaps an occasional written record were the main method of prediction- alongside looking at the sky and sensing the atmosphere.

The original book was published in 1883 by a man farming in south-west Wiltshire, Thomas H. Baker. His book had the much longer title, Records of the Seasons, Prices of Agricultural Produce, and Phenomena Observed in the British Isles. In 1912 he did a revised edition (while in retirement).

It was Stratton, who farmed land near Baker, who worked on broadening the information from local to national. His nephew Jack Houghton Brown instigated and helped Ralph Whitlock update the book to 1977.

The 1978 version added the agricultural prices tables, though the further back you go the more approximate the prices of the commodities become. Weather in different parts of the country could effect crops and therefore local prices.

The details of weather mentioned in this book is the important element. I needed to know generally what the weather was doing in my preferred years.

Somewhere I have an old notebook with an interesting item noted down in passing-  I was researching something completely unconnected at the time- about nine years ago.

As I was looking through a scrapbook of newspaper cuttings, one of these snips drew my interest. It was about a woman in the early 19th century who had lived in the same house, and kept a diary- for decades. As a young woman she had witnessed a water spout- a mini tornado.

I carried on with my other research, but that snippet stuck in my memory and many years later whilst I was travelling one Christmas, a news report on a local radio station, combined together with that diary entry to provide the inspirations for my current work in progress.

Even though the water spout doesn’t appear in my story, bad weather does play an important part- both in the back story and when part of the main plot takes place. So it’s no good choosing years when the weather was mild and as stable as you could wish for…

Another visit to the local studies section will be needed to check through film of old papers, to see if they can enlighten me further.

The entries for 1966 onward are much more detailed as they include weather articles reproduced with permission from The Times.Including the annual rainfall tables in Appendix A at the back of the book.

It’s likely that Baker’s information came from diaries, records and conversations within his family, community, and perhaps from visitors to his locality in Wiltshire.

Book for WordPress blog post Nov 2015 cropped extract final

An example of 18th century weather

After a hard day’s work wouldn’t it be likely that farmers and labourers visited the local inn for ale, the latest news and then passed knowledge on- which may have eventually ended up in Baker’s book?

Unfortunately there are no formal references as to the sources of the original information- though in 1784 a name for a quote is shown, otherwise it’s not until you get to the pieces from The Times. But some of those articles do refer to earlier years within that writer’s lifetime.

Though the book is out of print, copies can still be found second-hand.

As a starting point for further research it’s useful…


Reference: Agricultural Records: A.D. 220 – 1977. J.M. Stratton and Jack Houghton Brown. Edited by Ralph Whitlock. Publisher: John Baker (Publishers) Limited, 35 Bedford Row, London, WC1R 4JH. First published 1969.









Time to Rewrite…


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Since my last post I’ve heard that I didn’t get through to the New Talent Award shortlist. I’m not as disappointed as I expected. I knew it needed something else, but couldn’t pin down what it was…

serena lace (1)

Fortunately a writer friend who is also an editor, and familiar with historical romances was able to point out the weak spots, and a few conversations later my brain was working on possible solutions for chapter one.

I’ll be locating my other notes and images to add to my storage box, where my first draft has been lurking. It’s been waiting while another first draft was being completed.

Over the weekend I’ll be putting my inspiration board together. It sits by my desk so even if I’m not working on the manuscript my characters are always in my mind.

So next week I’ll begin my second draft with chapter two, as I’m leaving chapter one as it is for the moment.

I’m looking forward to returning to H and S’s story; their individual issues have led to some interesting areas of research…

Now I know the method that works for me, courtesy of the five drafts chapter one went through, I know how much hard work I need to do before it gets to the beta readers stage.

That’s my winter sorted.

October Writing Update…


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oldSince my last post I’ve been busy revising and editing the first chapter of my Nottinghamshire short novel to submit into the Love Stories New Talent Award.

Happily my opening chapter was submitted well before the deadline of midnight on the 1st October – about eight hours before.

The rest of the story is in first draft form, so taking chapter one from that stage to submission standard was hard work.

I learnt quite a bit as I did each version- the final one, was version five.

The structure of the opening changed quite a lot as it was clear to me that it did not have the necessary ‘grab the readers attention’ factor.

The first draft has had a long rest since it was completed, but I feel it has been beneficial. The distance allowed my characters to continue to develop, and I was able to make a few major cuts that I know I wouldn’t have done before.

Looking up the etymology of words was essential.

I have a 1999 edition of The Cassell Dictionary of Word Histories, and if I couldn’t find the word there were a number of reliable resources online I could search.

Ideal words to describe my hero, from the viewpoint of my heroine, was a particular issue.

Though we usually associate cupid-bow lips with females, there are men with the masculine version, and obviously the description is perfect. Except that the cupid’s bow lip idea was not used until several decades later than my 1802 setting.

It may seem fussy, but if that phrase was not used at the time the story is set, then I’m not going to use it. It’s like putting a wrist watch on a Regency gentleman, it doesn’t belong there.

The other issue is that many words have changed meaning between the 18th/19th century and the current day.

I did find a few, but can’t remember now which they were. I think I need to start a list and add these changed words to it every time I find one, with a brief reminder.

It’s also difficult to reconcile the formal language of the time with today’s preference for shorter paragraphs. Look at any book written in the 19th to early 20th century and big blocks of text stand out on the pages.

(I have to admit that unchecked I can get carried away with the length of my paragraphs, so breaking them down is a major editing point for me.)

This competition was via online submission- I admit to a few butterflies and minutes before I pressed the send button…

If my entry does not make the shortlist it is not the end, it is the beginning of a period of hard work.

I’ll let you know what happens.









A Peek Inside A Former Subscription Library…


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The second weekend in September in the UK is when various museums, libraries and assorted buildings and places open their doors (or gates) to the public for free, as part of the Heritage Open Days– a big heritage festival involving thousands of volunteers, and celebrating our history.

Many of the locations are not accessible to the public at other times of the year so these open days are the only opportunity to see more.

Some require booking in advance and the most popular can fill their numbers weeks before the day.

Every year I have wanted to visit the Bromley House Library, but all available places had gone, so this year I was delighted to finally get the opportunity to attend, courtesy of the Library’s decision not to have bookings. Though there was a limit on how many could go into the building at one time, as the attic rooms are small, and one room had a strict limit of 15 people maximum.

Bromley House is only a short walk from the current public Central Library on Angel Row in Nottingham City Centre. Only the entrance to Bromley House at pavement level can be seen, though look up and you can see the frontage to the house, it’s necessary to venture inside to see the scale of the building, even though its original footprint has been disrupted.

The townhouse was built in 1752 for a member of the Smith banking family. A number of these family members became MPs for Nottingham, and elsewhere, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The building is Grade II* listed and thankfully retains many of the original features, and later nineteenth century additions such as the spiral staircase.

The library was formerly called the Nottingham Subscription Library, founded in 1816, though it did not move to Bromley House until 1822, but with fewer books than the library now holds – 40,000+.

In the early decades of the 19th century, members bought a share for 5 guineas, then paid a 2 guinea subscription each year.

The actual plate that was used to print the shares was on display in the Neville Hoskins Reading Room (it has a wonderful Rococo style plaster ceiling). The plate has a big cross scored through it, as was practice to make it unusable once shares were no longer issued. Though apparently one or two far distant library staff printed off shares certificates for monetary gain before the plate was eventually scored…

As the weather was changeable I ventured into the garden first. It is one of two remaining Georgian townhouse gardens in the city and is available to library members, and the public on the Heritage open day.

Bromley House- rear view from the garden...

Bromley House rear view from the garden…

It’s difficult to believe that it is in the middle of a busy, and so noisy city. It was restful and the transport routes that sandwich the house were just a vague hum.

Where there was once a sundial, now there is a Heliochronometer- fortunately there was an explanation sheet attached; “Nottingham is 1°9′ west of Greenwich, therefore when comparing noon at Greenwich with noon at Nottingham, Bromley House is 4 minutes 36 seconds in time after Greenwich.” The Heliochronometer “had the correction ‘built in’ during its original setting up.”

Heliochronometer with little mouse beside it for children to find...

Heliochronometer with little mouse beside it for children to find…

In the Thoroton Room, on one of the upper floors, they have the Library of the British Sundial Society; though it was a small number of books compared to some of the collections housed in the library.

There are three attic rooms and a studio at the top of the house. In 1841 the studio was the premises of a photographer, named Alfred Barber. Though he made alterations (he paid) adding a skylight, the structure was moved by a cog-wheel mechanism that was built in, so he never lost the benefit of the sun.

In another attic room you can still see the groove in the wood where the lower portion of a flag pole was fixed…

Eventually you reach the gallery (an addition in 1844) with the spiral staircase in one corner. You can see down into the Main Reading Room, though I kept looking straight-ahead so I didn’t freeze as I made my way across to the spiral staircase.

For the open day people were only allowed to go down, but at any time only one person can go up or down. This spiral staircase was added in 1857, and it is quite elegant in its own way, despite no central support column – hence the one person at a time rule.

(You can see it in one of the rolling images on the home page of the library’s website.)

Fortunately visitors were warned it can wobble, and it happened just as I started down the first turn, but it was only for a moment, and it was fine the rest of the way down. I suspect body weight creates the wobble, as the visitor who came down next was lighter and didn’t get the movement. Another person in the gallery chose to go back to the main stairs, and I must admit I did wonder why I hadn’t done that myself.

As I visited each room I noticed books on the shelves that had bands around them. These keep the book together while it awaits repair and checking.

The library has teams of volunteers who repair, clean and maintain the books, and this aspect was on display for visitors. If you pop over to Carol’s blog you can see the cleaning tools for cloth-bound books, and discover how they do it.

(You’ll also find a few other pictures from the day.)

The various equipment the conservation teams use...

The various equipment the conservation teams use…

Basically, anywhere there was room to put a bookcase or shelf, there was one – or more.

It’s an amazing place.




Reference sources:

Bromley House Library information sheets, both outdoors and indoors.


Georgian House Visit


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This week I spent a couple of hours in Pickford’s House: Museum of Georgian Life and Historic Costume, in Derby.

It’s an amazing place that has so much to excite a visitor. The staff are enthusiastic and knowledgeable; and it was clear from talking to them that they love the place, and want to make the experience of visiting one to remember.

The house was built by architect Joseph Pickford in 1769-70. It was multi-purpose, as not only was it the home of him and his family- his wife Mary, and two sons, Thomas and Joseph- but also servants, and possibly apprentices too. A notable architectural project that he was involved with was the building of a new factory and hall for Josiah Wedgwood- the potter, near Stoke-on-Trent.

Sadly the Pickford family line didn’t last, and the younger son, Joseph, a clergyman, who was responsible for the later extensions, died in 1844 unmarried.

The house continued on as a home until the 20th century, and later became an architect’s office until Derby City Council bought it in 1982, opening the museum in 1988.

The interesting aspect, for both visitor and writer, is that the house has been furnished and arranged as such rooms would have been laid out in the late 18th and early 19th century, so would be representative of the ‘middling’ professional class that existed at that time.

Everything blends so well that as you take a delightful stroll through time you can’t immediately tell the reproductions sitting alongside the originals.

The hallway has a wonderful plasterwork design on the ceiling and walls that was seriously designed to impress (you can see this over on Carol’s blog post with a few other photos ).

On the ground floor there’s a Morning Room set out as it may have looked in 1825-30. Just inside the door was one of the Barometers in the house.

The big Barometer in the Drawing Room

The big Barometer in       the Drawing Room

There’s a Drawing Room for the ladies to retire to, and in the Dining Room you can see original shutters.

From here you can either go upstairs or down as there is only the one staircase. It’s an impressive stone structure, and is an example of an enclosed floating staircase. Metal rods in the stonework secure the steps and engineering principles – torsion keeps the staircase in place.

Going down the bare stone stairs to the kitchen you see how busy this area would have been…

The kitchen was one of my favourite rooms, purely because of the variety of equipment being displayed. It wasn’t the original kitchen, this was probably where the car park now exists, and is a later extension created during the Rev. Joseph Pickford’s residence.

They have a modern copy of an open range, and I’ve always wondered what went where, so this certainly clarified the practicalities for me, and for the kitchen in one of my short novels.

The tray with the little chocolate pot with the cups on saucers were my favourite kitchen item. Perhaps because it was a connection to my breakfast ritual of drinking hot chocolate. Though the 18th century version will be nothing like the commercially produced products we use nowadays.

Chocolate for two

Chocolate for two

The Scullery beyond the kitchen had been set up for laundry, and the big stone sink was filled with wooden tubs that would have been used in the washing up process- no one wanted their expensive crockery chipped!

It was also the location for a children’s event taking place that afternoon, and it looked to be very popular.

From the lower ground floor level you can access the Georgian Garden. This is now a beautiful and relatively peaceful area, compared to when it was originally built in the late 18th century. There was a well, which would have provided water for the kitchen, and additional buildings that were used for the stonemason business. It was derelict wasteland when the museum first opened in 1988.

The servants stairs looking up

The servants stairs              looking up

Returning indoors and moving upstairs to the first floor there are bedrooms with attached dressing rooms, apart from the Master Bedroom and  Dressing Room these are used as exhibition areas with cabinets displaying elements of men and women’s costume from the 18th century.

The main bedroom and dressing room is displayed as it may have looked in 1815. The four-poster bed is a reproduction, and you can look at the information plaque on the wall and see a copy of the original 1797 design and specifications which were used to make both the original and the reproduction.

In the dressing room the washstand displays a pull out draw on legs to house a ‘night stool’. Also a small fireplace that would have made the morning ablutions less chilly.

The hidden facilities

The hidden          facilities

The house has a number of bathrooms on display. They are mid-way between floors, and the Edwardian and 1930’s bathrooms can be used by visitors. The Edwardian version has a large bath/shower system on display, which makes the 1930’s bathroom seem rather utilitarian.

Finally at the top of the house there was a larger room which may have been a dormitory for apprentices, but now holds an exhibition of toy theatres. And a bedroom designated for servants.

I’m quite certain that I could visit again and see elements I missed the first time. I hope to go back in future, perhaps when they have costumed re-enactors again- I missed the group at the weekend in the kitchen.

Like many council funded museums the future is never certain, so if you have the opportunity to visit Pickford’s House show your support by filling out the comments card and/or leaving a donation.

If you’d like to visit Pickford’s House Museum of Georgian Life and Historic Costume, you’ll find more information on their website:

A cream silk and lace Bergere hat

A cream silk and lace              Bergere hat

You can find a few more of the photos from my visit over on Carol’s blog too.

Every small local museums and art gallery funded by local councils need regular visitors to ensure they remain open. Once museums are closed exhibits can be either put into store, or are, in some cases, sold; sometimes the buildings themselves are put on the market too and are then lost to future use as museum space.

So please support museums and galleries, whether local or national, as it really can be, use them or lose them…

Playing cards for entertainment

Playing cards for                     entertainment