Friday, May 22, 2015

Boys of the Bothy

What lives in a dark hole in the garden, coming out to till the soil and tend the plants?  No, I’m not talking about gnomes or hobbits.  I’m talking about bothy boys.

Bothy boys appear to be a mid- to late-nineteenth century phenomena in England.  Those wealthy families with extensive gardens often required a herd of gardeners to tend things.  I hadn’t thought about the fact that some garden tasks, like protecting spring plants from a sudden frost or maintaining greenhouses before the widespread use of electricity, were twenty-four-hour efforts.  Particularly on a massive estate, sending your garden workers home to the nearest village between shifts simply wasn’t feasible.

While the head gardener might have his own quarters on the estate, the under gardeners, journeymen, and apprentices were sometimes housed in bothys. A bothy is a small house of sorts, with an emphasis on the sorts.  The term is used for waystations on Scottish trails.  But on the great estates, bothys served as home to as many as a dozen workers.  Some bothys were no more than a dirt cellar carved out of a hillside with piles of blankets for bedding.  Upscale bothys were made of stone or brick and boasted dormitory-style living with a sitting room. The picture at top isn’t actually a bothy--I couldn’t find a royalty-free picture, alas.

The “boys” who lived in the bothy were not always boys--workers ranged from their teens to their early thirties.  They worked hard all day and sometimes into the night, depending on the time of year and needs of the gardens. The best houses provided instructors one night a week to teach the fellows enough botany to care for the plants, enough Latin to recognize the proper names, and enough drawing to sketch plan, placements, and the occasional odd specimen.

Produce from the garden appears to have been part of their wages, and they used it barter for other things, like meat for the table and eggs and cream from the local farmer. The universal feeling seems to be that these fellows had better things to do than cook for themselves; the better estates had a woman come in to clean once a week and cook once a day. Romantic that I am, I was already planning story ideas about a plucky Irish cook and a strapping bothy boy. But then I read that the position of bothy cook was generally given to an elderly female servant who was considered past her prime.

I bet she still kept those bothy boys in line.

For more on bothys, check out this excellent treatise and the pictures here, here, and here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Where's Marissa?

Just so you know, I’m not really here.

Okay, that’s rather a cryptic statement. But as you’re reading this, I am happily traipsing around England with my family. We’re doing a whirlwind tour of southern England, starting in London and progressing through Oxford, Bath, Dartmoor, then along the south coast from Lyme Regis to the Isle of Wight and Brighton, then back to London and home. Believe me, you’ll hear all about it here on NineteenTeen in the coming weeks--I can’t wait to get back to Bath...and go fossil hunting in Lyme Regis...and I’m dying to see the Royal Pavilion (that's it above)! As you might guess, there's just a bit of a Regency slant to the places we're visiting.

Something else I’ve been anticipating for a long time is also happening right now. One of my favorite books (definitely in my all-time top five), Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, has been made into a television mini-series by the BBC.

Now, ordinarily, I would cringe—I don’t watch any TV apart from an occasional movie on DVD (hey, watching TV wastes valuable writing time!) But it actually looks like they managed to nail this 800-page glorious behemoth of a novel. It’s about an alternate Regency-era England in which magic exists, though fallen from use...until a pair of magicians arise and try to resurrect English Magic...and nearly destroy each other in the process. It’s full of a delightfully dry humor (like when Jonathan Strange temporarily moves Brussels across the Atlantic on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo to keep it safe from Napoleon), features marvelous world-building and the occasional 3-page footnote, and is just a giant confection of a book for lovers of historical fantasy. And it’s airing in Britain right now (coming to the US in July) so I’ll have a chance to catch the first two episodes while I’m here! In the meanwhile, check out the trailer:



See you soon!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Pioneer Legends: Ezra Meeker

Marissa and I originally started this blog because we kept finding cool things in our research for our stories that we had to share!  As I’m researching my Frontier Bachelors series set in early Seattle, Washington Territory, I’m coming across a number of interesting real-life characters that I know you’ll love.  This post starts an ongoing series on some of these men and women who made the Pacific Northwest what it is today.

The Oregon Trail is a legend unto itself.  Thousands of men, women, and children traversed the country to claim land on the West Coast.  Ezra Meeker and his wife Eliza were among them.  Ezra eventually settled in the Puyallup area south of Seattle, where his hop raising made him rich enough to build his wife a mansion that still stands today.  He later lost all his money and tried to recoup it by selling supplies in the Klondike Gold Rush.  But that’s not the most intriguing part of the story.

You see, when Ezra was up in years (70 to be exact, in 1900), he became concerned that people didn’t know or appreciate what the pioneers had accomplished in traveling the trail. Farmers were plowing over the land once crossed by wagon wheels, merchants were building businesses where campfires had kept away the night.  He became obsessed with preserving the trail, wanting to see granite monuments erected all along the route.  After careful planning, he decided to travel backwards along the trail, by ox-drawn covered wagon, to raise awareness and funds to purchase the markers.  He set out in 1906 with his trusty oxen Dave and Twist, an amiable collie named Jim, and, eventually, a driver and cook named William Mardon, to speak about the trail and convince towns to place his markers. 


The way wasn’t easy.  Some towns refused to support him, unwilling to help an “old man” die out on the Plains or in the mountains.  Twist did die along the way, and no other cow or ox would pull with Dave until Ezra lucked into a similarly sized ox named Dandy. When speaking fees failed to pay for his travels, he started selling postcards of pictures taken on the journey.  Some towns put in markers while he was there; others put them in after he’d left.


It took him nearly two years to make it across the country, traveling beyond the start of the trail into Pennsylvania and New York.  Though he was nearly arrested in New York City, he ended up getting his picture taken on Wall Street and driving across the Brooklyn Bridge. He then headed to Washington D.C. where his state congressional delegation had arranged a meeting with President Roosevelt, who was pleased to discuss Meeker’s vision.  At that point, Meeker had earned enough money after his expenses to send the wagon and team home by boat and train, with only a few miles of pulling across land.


But that wasn’t his last trip along the trail.  When Congress began discussing appropriating money for markers in 1910, Ezra spent another two years charting the path so the markers could be placed accurately.  He continued promoting the trail at every major event along the Pacific Coast for another decade.  When Dave and then Dandy passed away, he had them stuffed and donated them to the Washington State History Museum.  He traveled the trail again by automobile in 1916 and met with President Wilson and again in 1924 by airplane and met with President Coolidge. In 1925, he spent some months driving an ox team for a wild west show. He even published a romance novel about the Oregon Trail.  He was on his way once more along the trail, in an automobile designed for him by Henry Ford, when, in 1928, he died of pneumonia just short of his 98th birthday.

I grew up hearing stories of Ezra Meeker’s exploits.  Every year in elementary school, we would tour the Washington History Museum and gaze in awe at Dave and Dandy.  Although I understand the wagon is no longer strong enough for display, the valiant oxen remain standing, teaching new generations about the triumphs of the Oregon Trail. 

I think Ezra Meeker would be pleased.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Regency Fabrics, Part 5

What fabrics were fashionable in August 1809? Let’s have a look!

As I have in previous posts on Regency fabrics, I’m looking at actual fabric samples glued into several earlier editions of Ackermann’s Repository, samples supplied by the manufacturers and published by Ackermann in order to boost the British cloth-making industry at a time when exporting British goods to Europe was almost impossible because of the Napoleonic war. I'll give you a close-up scan of each sample, the published description if available, and my own observations of the color, weight, condition, and similarity to present-day materials, to give you as close a picture as possible of what these fabrics are like.


Four fabrics are up for August. Their overall condition is good, apart from some foxing in sample No. 4 (the brown spotting you can see on the white stripes.)


 No. 1 exhibits a specimen of that elegant manufacture styled the Irish net, and is particularly well adapted for the dinner and evening dress. The silvery lightness of its texture renders it a most graceful and becoming article in this style of decoration. French cloaks, tippets, and scarfs, with small jockey or poke bonnets to correspond, with variegated green, purple, or grey feathers, have a most light and attractive effect, where formed of this material. It is sold by Mr. George, silk-manufacturer, 19, Holywell-street, Strand, at 6s. per yard, and is half-yard wide.

My comments: This is very aptly called “net” as the weave is quite open, and it would make a lovely scarf. The threads are fine and even, and there is a faint sheen to the fabric. It reminds me almost of the silk gauze used for balloons and parachutes!


No. 2 is another article of new and fashionable adoption, styled Merino crepe, and is calculated also for ladies’ dresses, but in the more intermediate order of personal decoration. The blending of its shades, and its union of silk and worsted, give a sort of distinguishing character to this tasteful article, and render it most appropriate for the approaching autumnal months, when we may venture to pronounce it will be in much fashionable request. Venetian binding and imperial ribbon of the same shades, will be found the most advantageous trimmings for robes formed of this material. It is three-quarters wide, and is sold by the above manufacturer at 5s. per yard.

My comments: The blending of shades mention above are pink (the silk warp) and tan (the woolen weft). The texture is slightly rough and the fabric opaque, thought I expected that it is lightweight enough that it would drape well.


No. 3, the Andalusian washing silk, an article for robes and pelisses, comprising much delicacy of shade and figure, as well as a graceful adhesiveness of quality. Thread lace, in scallop or Vandyke, the Chinese floss trimming, or appliqu├ęd lace beading, are the most tasteful and appropriate embellishments which this pleasing article can admit of. It is three-quarters wide, and 4s. per yard, and is furnished by Messrs. Richards and Co., 37, Oxford-street.

My comments: This is very pretty fabric, light in weight but not see-through, and with a woven diamond pattern reminiscent of dragon scales. It's very smooth and has a soft sheen, and would indeed make a lovely dress.


No. 4 is a printed diamond Marcella quilting, for gentlemen’s waistcoats. On this article there is little need of comment, except to call the attention of our readers to the peculiar delicacy of the printed stripe, which has perhaps rendered it so universal a favourite with men of high fashion. It is three-quarters wide, and from 9s. to 10s. per yard, and is furnished by Messrs. R. Smith and Co. 2 Prince’s-street, Leicester-square.

My comments: We've seen these heavy quilted fabrics for men's waistcoats here and here; this one has a very clear diamond-patterned quilted effect, though it is not actually quilted but woven in. I always find myself envisioning men’s waistcoats from this era as being dark in color, but so far, all the fabrics we’ve seen described as appropriate for waistcoats have been light in color.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Four Things on a Friday: Excerpts!

So many cool items have come to my attention, I had to share them with you.  So, here are four nineteenth century- or reading-related things you need to know:
  1. Looking for other nineteenth-century romances to read?  The Bluestocking League, a group of sweet Regency romance authors (sweet as in the books feature nothing more than kisses, although the authors are pretty sweet gals themselves!), is featuring themed excerpts from their books online.  The first two up are “Do let us have a little music,” on the website of inspirational Regency author Camille Elliot and “So you think you can dance,” on my own website.  Check them out--you just might discover a book you have to read.
  2. Wondering what else might be out there in the wide wide world of romance books?  Romance Writers of America has a free reader app called Novel Engagement that will help you discover even more authors.  You can browse by keyword, author, title, and more.   
  3. Ever wonder who popularized the Regency time period after Jane Austen?  This year marks the 80th anniversary of the modern Regency, as first published by the incomparable Georgette Heyer.  The Beau Monde Chapter of Romance Writers of America is celebrating with a series of discussions about her books.  The most recent is The Grand Sophy.
  4. Want to know what was really happening in Washington Territory during the pioneer years?  The Washington Secretary of State has made available digitized copies of newspapers from all along Puget Sound and across Eastern Washington, some dating as early as 1852. I found it was fascinating to read not only the stories, but the advertisements of various businesses and products.  In fact, reading one legal notice gave me an idea for Simon Wallin’s book, which will be out in November or December 2016, after Frontier Engagement (James Wallin) in August 2015 and Instant Frontier Family (Maddie O’Rourke) in January 2016.
May you find many more things to delight you this Friday, my dears!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Fashion Forecast, 1834 Part 1

What was the fashionable miss wearing in the first half of 1834?

Big sleeves, of course! In this Morning Dress at left we see gigot sleeves with giant flounce epaulettes trimmed with dark lace and a high neck with a ruffled frill. The Walking Dress is made along similar lines but with a diagonally pleated bodice. Both have plain skirts; heavy applique decoration around the bottoms of skirts is a thing of the past. Note the heavy mantle in green trimmed with deep lace flounces at right. (The Court Magazine, January):


Here’s a show-stopper of a Dinner Dress from February’s Court Magazine, in pink satin with black lace flounces on the skirt and sleeves and at the cuffs of the gauze oversleeves. The bodice is pink covered with more black lace. The headdress, a simple straw bonnet with ostrich tips and lace lappets, forms a strong contrast. And isn’t the background lovely? These Court Magazine prints are some of the prettiest ever published:


Also from February’s Court Magazine are an Evening Dress of buff with lace trim in both black and white and hectic little black tassels decorating the tops of the sleeves. The hairstyle is gravity-defying—imaging doing that without hairspray! The Full Dress of what looks like a dark and dramatic chintz (perhaps also covered with black lace?) is made in a pelisse style, with a white underskirt and fancy gold belt and white sleeves under the black lace flounces. The bonnet includes an ostrich plume and broad ribbons perhaps of the same chintz as the skirt. Chintz was, incidentally, very “in” this year:


Both this Ball Dress and Opera Dress from April’s Court Magazine rely on lots of white lace frills contrasting with plain fabric to make a statement. The Ball Dress at left features swags of lace up the front of the skirt asn well as frills starting at the V of the bodice and extending up into the sleeves, which are trimmed with large bows which must have fluttered and waved fetchingly during dancing. The gold Opera Dress is remarkably plain in styling, with a large lace-trimmed pelerine with long tailed down the front and forked on the tops of the gauze oversleeves. The dashing little flat bonnet trimmed with ostrich tips and lace is adorable:


Here are a pair of Evening Dresses from May’s Court Magazine. The green dress at left is in the pelisse-robe style with a figured muslin underskirt and bow trimming; with oddly flat, lace-trimmed flaps over the sleeve and a gauze chemisette peeping above the bodice. A snazzy turban trimmed with gold tassels finishes tihngs off. The dress at right of gold-embroidered white satin, with a pleated bodice and sleeves trimmed with more gold embroidery:


Since June is the height of the London Season, a Court Dress is definitely the thing. This one looks almost Tudor, with its overskirt of richly figured fabric over an underskirt and very square bodice and headdress reminiscent of the French Hoods Anne Boleyn was reputedly so fond of...but the full sleeves with deep falls of lace are all 1834, and the headdress feature the requisite three ostrich feather and lappets required of court dress. Stunning! (June, The Court Magazine):


 What do you think of the fashions of the first half of 1834?

Friday, May 1, 2015

May Flowers on May Day

Happy May Day!  Though not a holiday much celebrated in either England or America in the nineteenth century, there were still those hardy souls who clung to the old ways and picked flowers, danced around the May Pole, and handed bouquets to friends and family on May 1.  So, dear friends, here are some flowers I “picked” just for you, courtesy of Hampton Court gardens in England:




And I couldn't resist throwing in this fellow for good measure.


May your May Day be merry!