Friday, January 23, 2015

Delirious for Ditton Manor

Writers, particularly historical writers, tend to have long bucket lists of things they hope to do one day.  High on mine is visiting a number of sites in England, and I think I've just added another:  Ditton Manor.

Nestled among quiet villages near Windsor Castle, the 200-acre estate dates back more than 1,000 years, though the current house is just shy of 200 years old.  Though the house itself is called Ditton Manor and was built in the Gothic Revival style, it resembles nothing so much as a castle, complete with turrets and its own moat.   In the early nineteenth century, you would have driven in your carriage along a circle of elms leading to an elegant iron-railed bridge over the east arm of the moat to pass through the crenelated gatehouse into a walled forecourt. Entering the house, you would have looked up at the Gothic cast-iron balustrade of the balcony that encircled the first floor.  The formal gardens outside even included a maze.

What surprised me most about Ditton Manor’s history, however, was the number of woman who loomed large in an era when estates generally passed from father to son.  Queen Mary I played here when she was a girl accompanied by her father King Henry VIII.  In 1709 John, Duke of Montagu, inherited the place, but he died leaving no male heirs.  Instead, his daughter Mary inherited the house. She also had no surviving male heirs, so the house transferred to her daughter Elizabeth. 

Elizabeth was a dowager, friend to Queen Caroline, in April 1812, when the original house burned down. Thankfully, no one was hurt, and many of the fine pieces inside the house were saved. Legend has it King George III traveled from nearby Windsor to watch the conflagration.  Elizabeth oversaw the work of architect William Atkinson to rebuild the house, making it much like the original.

In 1917, Ditton Park embarked upon a new way of life when the Manor House and moat were commandeered by the Admiralty during World War I for the tidy sum of 20,000 pounds.  The Admiralty purchased the rest of the park in 1919 for an additional 24,000 pounds.  More than 450 people worked on the grounds at the Compass Observatory, designing navigation equipment for the Royal Navy.  In 1997, the estate was purchased by high-tech firm Computer Associates for its European, Middle Eastern, and African Headquarters.  The company’s building stands separately from Ditton Manor.
But as fascinating as I found the story of Ditton Manor, it is nothing compared to The Secret of Pembrooke Park, the latest book by award-winning author Julie Klassen.  Be sure to come back next Friday when Julie will join us and tell us more about what she learned in researching the story of an old manor house and how the mysterious tragedies of the past affect the future of the young lady determined to discover the truth.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Such Language! Part 13 (yikes!)

A stroll through the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue is always a delight...and a giggle!

Bear-garden jaw: Rude, vulgar language, as was used at the bear-baiting gardens or arenas. ("I do wish Miranda wouldn’t imitate Henry’s bear-garden jaw, but she is only six, after all.") 

Draw the long bow: Tell lies. ("Henry was drawing the long bow last night at dinner when talking to Uncle George; it’s a wonder he can keep all his fibs straight.")  

Fly: Knowing or acquainted with another’s meaning or proceedings. ("But I think Uncle George is fly enough to know exactly what stories Henry tells him.") 

Gundiguts: a fat, out-of-shape fellow. ("Sir Thomas’s new cook may be excellent, but he’s turning his master into quite a gundiguts.") 

Be in bad loaf: To find oneself in trouble or a difficult situation. ("Adelaide found herself in bad loaf when her corset strings snapped in the middle of waltzing with Lord Delish, but she kept her wits about her and didn’t exhale too much.") 

Jingle Brains: A wild, thoughtless, rattling fellow. ("However, Lord Delish, being a complete jingle-brains, immediately claimed Adelaide’s hand for a polka after the waltz was done.") 

Long-tongued: Loquacious, unable to keep a secret. ("My cousin Mary is so long-tongued that all of us pretended to be hard of hearing when she visited last autumn.") 

Nicknackatory: A toyshop. ("Bertram promised to take his little brothers to a nicknackatory if they in turn promised to not tell Lord Uppraite about what they’d seen him doing with the upstairs parlour-maid.")

Friday, January 16, 2015

Online Resource: Kristen Koster’s Regency Fashion Primers

Reticule, pelisse, spencer, fichu--how on earth can a modern reader determine what a young lady was wearing in the early nineteenth century when we don’t even use those words anymore?  Kristen Koster, a wonderful writer and Vice President for Media and Communications of the Romance Writers of America’s Beau Monde Chapter (Regency), has put together a fantastic post that walks you through the basic terminology, and needs, of a young lady on the ton.   She covers the essence of dress, undress, and half dress, and points out some important facts about various types of clothing.  Very helpful, whether you’re reading about the nineteenth century or writing about it.  

Wondering about a gentleman instead?  What exactly are Hessians and when was it permissible to wear them?  Why would a fellow want a banyan?  And why would a man possessed of a good set of teeth require a set of braces? (Hint--they are not for your mouth).  For answers to these questions and more, Kristen has you covered.  

And speaking of covers, thank you to Emily W and Donna Hatch for speaking up last week about the cover for my March release, Would-Be Wilderness Wife.  Emily was quite right--I had Kate Hudson in mind for the physical characteristics of my heroine and Chris Hemsworth for my hero.  Can’t you just see him as a strapping lumberjack, raising his younger brothers and sister in the wilderness?  If you can’t now, hopefully you will when you read the book. J

And speaking of books, Emily W is our winner!  Emily, if you e-mail your physical address to, I will send you an early copy.  Thank you and Donna for commenting!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Regency Fabrics, Part 2

What was up with fabrics in May 1809? Let’s have a look! As I did in the first post on Regency fabrics, I'll give you a close-up scan of each sample, the published description, 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. I hope this will prove of interest to Regency fiction writers and readers and all lovers of Regency costume.

May's fabric samples include four items, this month all for dress-making.

This pattern, No. 1, is the Adairian dot, a novel article, of an uncommonly neat and elegant appearance, yard and a half wide, and exquisitely adapted for ladies’ morning dresses. It is manufactured in the north of England, and furnished us by Mrs. Thomas and Co. corner of Chancery-lane.

My comments: This appears to be a lightly textured woven cotton, light in weight like a fine dress blouse material but I suspect would drape nicely. Note the fabric width--a yard and a half--which would have made this an economical fabric to use.

No. 2 is a white and lilac figured sarsnet, half yard wide, much in fashion for pelisses. It is the manufacture of Harris, Moody, and Co. Pall-Mall.

My comments: I am not precisely sure of the fiber here--silk, perhaps?--as it is fairly light in weight but has a lovely sheen, especially in the satin-like appearance of the flower petals. This fabric could almost have been used on either side, as the reverse is as finished as the front, but with the flowers in white. The color is more pink that what we would call lilac today, but I can't be sure that the dye hasn't faded or otherwise changed in the two-hundred odd years since this sample was made.

No. 3 is a Turkish figured gauze, half yard wide, for dresses, worn in a variety of colours, but principally in that of which we have given the pattern. It is furnished us by the manufacturers, Robarts, Plowman, and Snuggs, of Chandos-street, Covent-garden.

My comments:  I would be tempted to call this a net more than a gauze today, as the weave is very open; it would certainly have to be worn with a slip or underdress! It is not at all stiff, though, and would drape nicely. But as someone who's done a fair bit of both fashion and home sewing, I can't imagine what it would be like to have to piece a dress pattern on 18" wide fabric...which maybe helps explain why the bodices on many Regency gowns were pieced as they were.

No. 4. is called printed India rib. It is a species of marcella, and is, at this moment, a very fashionable article for gentlemen’s waistcoats. It is furnished us by Messrs. Kesteven and Co., York-street, Covent-garden.

My comments: It's a little hard to say whether the original color here is the darker brown at upper and right of the sample, or the more beige hue at lower left.  The fabric weight is fairly sturdy and stiff, almost like a light twill--the fabric body itself is ribbed, as you can just make out in the white spaces between the printed diamond pattern. "Marcella" is defined as "a cotton or linen fabric constructed in pique weave, used in the manufacture of vests, mats, etc.", though I wouldn't call this particular fabric a pique weave.

Friday, January 9, 2015

What the Wilderness Reveals

I received an extra Christmas present--author copies of my March release, Would-Be Wilderness Wife, earlier than expected!  I thought you deserved an extra present too, even if it is officially the new year, so I’ll be giving away a copy at the end of this post. 

First, the cover.  I must admit that my design skills are pretty rudimentary, so I am always honored and delighted when the Art Department at Love Inspired Historical takes ones of my ideas and runs with it.  My heroine, Catherine Stanway (who was introduced in The Bride Ship), is a nurse at a time when women were only beginning to be professionally trained for the role.  Her circumstances reminded me a little of another early medicine woman, played so memorably by Jane Seymour, so I sent the Art Department this picture (which is no doubt copyrighted to CBS or Sullivan Productions) as one of my scene suggestions along with a possible cabin and the forest surrounding it.

How delightful to see the final cover!  Notice the log cabin in the background and the hint of a tree behind Catherine for the forest.  I am wondering what Pacific Northwest wilderness farm has such dry brown grass, but maybe there was a drought I’m not aware of in 1866.  J 

As I often do, let me give you a hint of the actress and actor I was thinking of as physical role models when I wrote Catherine and Drew’s love story.   The lady is better known for her ability to lose a guy in ten days and going after fool’s gold than making a life in the wilderness.  And though you cannot see the gentleman on the cover, he is more famous for wielding a hammer than the ax of a lumberjack and appears to be donning a black hat soon rather than the white hat of a hero.

Post your guesses in the comments, and feel free to guess the same person someone else does.  Next Friday I’ll chose one lucky commenter to receive a signed copy of the book, a full six weeks before it hits fine bookstores near you.

Merry New Year.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Happy New Year!...but not in 1811, 1818, or 1819 (and 1820 was pretty lousy too)

Happy New Year to all our readers! Regina and I hope that 2015 will be an historic year for all of you (pun fully intended)!

For the House of Hanover, though, which held the British throne for much of the 18th and 19th centuries, several new years in the early 1800s were not very happy: Novembers and Januarys in particular saw the deaths of several prominent members of the royal family.

And of course, the death of a member of the royal family meant that polite society went into mourning as well. While early nineteenth mourning had not become the extreme pastime it would under Victoria, the expectation was that black would be worn by those who could afford it for a few months, followed by a period of half-mourning. Rules for immediate family members were of course different—mourning was prescribed for a year and a day for spouses, a year for parents or children, six moths for siblings, and lesser amounts of time for aunts, uncles, and cousins. This meant some scrambling as the “little black dress” had not yet been invented: you didn't necessarily have much in the way of black clothing, for black was very specifically the color of mourning. While mourning dress was not much of a hardship for men, who already possessed black clothing, for women it meant hurried trips to the dressmaker for new dresses and accessories (imagine how busy the high society modistes and milliners must have been when royals died!) or making over and/or dyeing an older garment for women of more modest means (there are several references to this activity among the letter of Jane Austen.)

Additionally, the rise of fashion periodicals helped popularize the wearing of a special mourning wardrobe. Let’s have a look at what was en vogue in mourning wear in Ackermann’s Repository.

Princess Amelia, youngest daughter of George III, died in early November 1810 in her late twenties after a long bout with tuberculosis. It’s thought her death exacerbated her father’s descent into his final illness which led to the Regency. As a daughter of the monarch, she seems to have merited only a month of public mourning as January's prints are back to normal.  Note the decorative urn, often a symbol of mourning, with a coronet and picture of a young woman on it. Interesting to note that our model is wearing white gloves; perhaps full mourning was not prescribed? (Ackermann's, December 1810):

Princess Charlotte of Wales, Prinny’s only daughter, died after a terrible two-day labor in November 1817, probably of childbed fever. National mourning for her was deep and sincere, and public mourning seems to have been decreed for two months, as per the prints from December 1817 and January 1818, all from Ackermann's Repository:

In the prints from January 181 below, note the addition of white and gray to the color palette. This denotes half-mourning, when these plus quiet shades of purple and lavender could be properly worn.

Queen Charlotte followed her beloved grand-daughter almost exactly a year later in November 1818. Her death was not unexpected as she had been ill for some time. It's especially interesting to note here that the styles themselves were in the highest fashion--the enormous bonnets and decorative hems that were such a feature of the year--but just rendered in black.

And into half-mourning, for January 1819:

January 1820 was a bad month indeed, as the Duke of Kent, father of the future Queen Victoria, succumbed to pneumonia only to be followed less than a week later by his father, King George III...and the Prince Regent became King George IV.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Happy Christmas! We Come Bearing Gifts!

Happy Christmas, my dears!  Marissa and I will be taking the next two weeks off to spend time with family and friends, but before we go we wanted to wish you a very merry Christmas and a wonderful, productive, prosperous New Year! 

And bring you presents.  J

The first is my usual Christmas bonus, but this year with a twist.  While I contributed to the bonus, it was actually conceived and created by the talented authors at the Historical Romance Network, of which I am a member.  For your perusing pleasure, we have an annotated list of more than 60 historical romance novels set around the winter holidays.  The list is organized by era, title, and heat level, so you can find just the right book for you!  

The second is a must-see online exhibit called Beauty, Virtue, and Vice from the American Antiquarian Society library describing how women and beauty were perceived based on prints from the nineteenth century.  Fascinating!

Finally, we offer this short video showing the places key to Jane Austen’s life.  I do love the narrator’s dry voice, particularly where he talks about the “gloriously overgrown” kitchen pump at Steventon.


Enjoy your holidays, my dears!  We remain, as always, your humble servants.  See you on January 6th.