My blog has sadly been neglected over the summer months, so the time has come to correct that situation.
‘Shaping the Body’ at the Castle Museum is an ongoing exhibition, one among many other wonderful exhibits. The route around the Museum starts with a display of a late 18th century Georgian Room that included a large doll’s house in the corner.
Eventually you reach the upper gallery where the costumes are displayed, and while it isn’t extensive there is a good selection of costumes and accessories for each time period.
There’s even a small selection of costumes that you could try on-you need to be slim to fit the dress with the space for panniers, even with Velcro fastenings I could not have gotten the dress up my arms, but I was still able to try on the panniers that went with it.
They were probably much more comfortable than the real thing, as these were a thick foam inside a fabric covering. Nevertheless they still gave the impression of the width that would be created once the dress was in place.
I particularly liked how the exhibition curators had brought context to the exhibits with interesting information.
The pair of brown stays on display (from 1760-80) also noted the UK equivalent size now- size 8. That seems quite thin, but women were smaller and shorter than they are now.
Spread across the displays were shoes from each time period (more about those in my next post).
The Dangers of Fashion were on display too. One cabinet held a beautiful green dress, but the dye was deadly as it contained arsenic. You can find out more about this aspect of fashion from this post.
But it was the large glass Chemist’s bottle that once held Belladonna that drew my attention. The contents were used as drops to enlarge the pupils, but with prolonged use it would cause blurred vision and even blindness.
(As this bottle was low down in the cabinet I crouched down to take the photo, but when I went to get back up, my back bag and gravity tipped me backwards onto the stone slabs. Thank you to the lady who came to offer me help in getting up. Next time I’m in this situation I will kneel instead.)
Leaving the gallery the centuries on show passed by until the sixties arrived, and for anyone over 50 years old, there were lots of recognisable items, toys, posters, music, adverts and information on television shows.
A good place to visit whether young or old, and whatever era you’re interested in…
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.
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.
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…
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.
Image courtesy of Viacheslav Blizniuk & http://www.freedigitalphotos.net
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.
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.
Manor House image courtesy of Simon Howden & Heart Shaped Christmas Wreath courtesy of Kittisak, and http://www.freedigitalphotos.net
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.)
Basically, anywhere there was room to put a bookcase or shelf, there was one – or more.
It’s an amazing place.
Bromley House Library information sheets, both outdoors and indoors.