Friday, August 23, 2019

Blast from the Past: Doggett's Coat and Badge

Life's been more hectic than usual lately, so here's a little blast from the past, 2012, in fact. I'm stilling trying to find Pickle Herring. Enjoy!

August could be a sweltering time in London in the nineteenth century. Anyone who could got out of town, to their country estates, to the seashore, to the Lake District. The Picture of London, which for many years was an annual volume of places to see and things to do in the capital, called the month a “dull season for amusement.” So what was a young lady or gentleman to do if the family chose not to rusticate?

On August 1, one might head to the Thames for the annual race called Doggett’s Coat and Badge. It had been instituted in the 1700s by Thomas Dogget, an Irish comedian who also jointly managed the Drury Lane Theatre. In keeping with the times, he endowed a wager: a crimson coat and a silver badge to the winner of a rowing race up the Thames, from The Swan at London Bridge to The Swan at Chelsea, a distance of 4 miles and 7 furlongs that could take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours to row, depending on the tide and the weight of the boat. 

Only six men could compete, and only if they were watermen within the first year of finishing their apprenticeships. You could put in your name and the Fishmongers Company, who had agreed to administrate the race, would draw the name of the six lucky rowers.

And not just any rowers. Watermen were like taxi drivers. Their job was the row people from one side of the river to the other in boats that ranged from sculls to heavy-bottomed wherries. Many had set routes or locations from which they rowed: Wapping Old Stairs, Westminster, and Putney, for example. One of the winners was from Pickle Herring. I want to find that spot. 

The Thames is a tidal river, meaning that the current and depth changes constantly over the day. Rowing upriver could be extremely challenging. People crowded the bridges, flocked to spots that overlooked the river, even thronged on larger boats and barges just to watch the prodigious feat.

The winner got his own parade and a banquet at the Fishmongers Hall. And the badge? It was a huge piece of silver, about the size of a dinner plate, that you wore on your upper right arm. It was engraved with symbols representing the House of Hanover, as Doggett had been a big supporter of King George.

The race is still run today, although generally in late July. This is the winner from 2010, Daniel Arnold, along with previous winners, courtesy of the Fishmongers Company's press release.

As you can probably tell, then as now, winning was considered quite the honor.

Especially if you were from Pickle Herring.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A Quiet Morning...Reviewing the Troops?


While we can’t help being drawn to the wonderful evening dresses and ball dresses that make their appearances in the pages of Ackermann’s Repository and La Belle Assemblée, it’s refreshing to have a look at the clothes that Regency era ladies wore when attending to their everyday duties. And sometimes, those everyday clothes are...well, not so “everyday.”


Take this Morning Dress from the May 1812 La Belle Assemblée, showing fashions for June. First, what a charming pose: the crossed legs, the wonderful chair (love the little lion supporting the armrest!), the housewifely act of sewing. But the dress itself very much turns the “little woman at home” theme completely on its head. The description reads:

An high dress of fine French cambric or plain India muslin, richly embroidered round the bottom with a deep border; a demi sleeve, ornamented a-l’antique surmounting the long sleeve, which is finished at the wrist by a narrow ruffle; the bust adorned partly en militaire, partly a-l’antique, to correspond with the demi sleeve: the whole of the upper part of the dress ornamented by a profusion of lace, and finished at the throat by an old English ruff. Peasant’s cap, with two rows of lace set on full, confined under the chin by a band formed of the same material as the cap, and terminating in a bow on the crown. Plain black kid or jean slippers.

It seems a little curious to have a house dress decorated “en militaire”, but in 1812 hardly surprising; England’s continued struggle against Napoleon continued to wear on, though good new from the Peninsular battles gave hope that the tide was turning at last. The very martial looking bodice of this dress contrasts with the froth of lace and ruffles on the neck and sleeves.

The froth of lace and ribbon continues around the hem. I can’t quite figure out what the design is supposed to be--a curious combination of zigzags and loops that contrasts with yet complements the strict military symmetry of the bodice. I presume the “a-l’antique” decoration of the sleeve refers to the tongues of fabric around the upper arm that lend a slight medieval flavor.

So what do you think? Is this the dress you’d choose to knock around the house in while doing chores one morning?


Friday, August 16, 2019

Happy Birthday to Two Grande Dames


When readers think of Regency-set romances, they often think of two writers: Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. Today, the Incomparable Georgette would have been 117 years old. She published her first book when she was 19 to much success. She went on to publish two dozen Regency romances, as well as a dozen detective novels and other historical novels. Two things I found amusing when I went looking for biographical information is that 1) copycats infuriated her and 2) she decided after her initial success that she didn’t need to court publicity. Her refusal to be interviewed never hurt. Her books are still widely read and praised to this day.

Today is also the birthday of a woman who had a profound impact on my life: my grandmother, Ruby Harris. She would have been 108. She grew up during the flapper era—I still have one of her dresses. When I was in high school, I had an assignment to interview someone who had lived through the Depression. I asked my grandmother. She immediately agreed, then asked, “When was that again?” Lest you think she was forgetful, she lived until she was 93, sharp and sassy. She wasn’t sure about the date of the Depression because it didn’t impact her much. She and her father had a job with the state of Washington, and her mother ran their family farm. My grandmother literally danced her way through those difficult times, attending balls at the local grange two to three times a week. That’s where she met my grandfather. Small wonder he was attracted to her. She was practical, wise, and witty, with a smile that made you smile back. As my mother likes to say, she could strike up a conversation with a rock.

When I was ten, she was in a horrible car accident left her crippled for the rest of her life. She credited her ability to learn to walk again to my father. We had a circular floor plan, and he would chase her from the living room through the kitchen and back yelling, “Come on, Ruby!” and clapping his hands. But I think it was her own indomitable spirit that allowed her to learn to walk again, to drive again, and to live her life on her own terms. Though she could no longer go dancing, she supported herself after her divorce in a time when women generally didn’t work outside the home. She took care of me and my brother when my mother taught school. She wrote letters for older people whose hands were shaking too much to allow them to correspond with loved ones. She also drove them to doctor appointments, until she voluntarily gave up her keys because she was afraid she couldn’t hit the brakes in time to stop if a child ran into the road. She was so proud of my writing, my books.

She was my hero, my inspiration. I still miss her.

Happy birthday, Grandma!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Regency Fabrics, Part 25

Here’s another post in our ongoing series on Regency fabrics.

As I have in previous posts, I’ll be examining 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.

Today’s three samples are from the April 1812 issue of Ackermann’s Repository. The overall condition of my copy is excellent; the page itself is free of foxing and is only slightly toned; one of the samples shows some foxing and another some toning, but overall they’re in very good condition.


Here we go!

No. 1 and 2. An elegant and unique pattern, resembling tambour work, for gentlemen’s waistcoats, associating most pleasingly and happily with the puce or blue riding-coat. This truly spring-like and fashionable article is now in great request; and several members of the Whip Club have lately distinguished themselves by double-breasted waistcoats of this attractive article. It is furnished by Messrs. Maund and Co. wholesale and retail men’s-mercers, Cornhill; a house most justly celebrated for taste and variety in stuffs and manufactures for ladies’ habits, as well as gentlemen’s attire.

We are sorry that we could not, in this number, introduce another very elegant and chaste pattern from the same respectable house; but, as it is calculated for either winter or summer, we shall give it in out next number.


My comments: This is a heavy, very sturdy twill-woven fabric, probably of cotton, printed with stylized flowery things...though I shudder to think of this print paired with a puce riding coat!

No. 3. A cerulean blue imperial gauze, calculated for evening or dinner parties. Dresses of this article are usually constructed plain, and with little superficial decoration; they are worn over a white sarsnet or satin slip. Thread lace, white beads, or swansdown (when seasonable) are its usual ornaments. It is furnished by Mr. Wm. King, silk mercer, 44, Pall-Mall.


My comments: Very dainty stripes of solid and net weaving, in a lustrous pale blue silk, very smooth; I can’t (unfortunately) discern if this pale color is original, or if it has faded from a more intense hue. Very pretty in an evening dress.

No. 4. A most delicately printed cambric for morning or domestic wear. Robes of this article are usually formed in plain high dresses, or Grecian wraps, with no other ornament than a high plaited ruff, or Armenian collar, or muslin or lace. –This article is sold by Messrs. Hodgkinson & Co. 91, New Bond-street.


My comments: More quilting fabric! ;) This is a tightly woven cotton with nice even threads and good quality printing, with only a little bit of bleed on the colors. The tight weave means the fabric is sufficiently opaque to not require an underdress or slip.

What do you think of this month’s fabrics?

Friday, August 9, 2019

Pretty Pictures, and a Boxed Set


Life happened this week, so forgive the brevity of this blog post. However, I wanted to share a few more photos from Marissa’s and my trip to New York and the lovely Beau Monde conference. As we have shared in the past, the evening of the conference the chapter hosts a soiree, with dancing. Many members come in Regency gowns.


First up, Beau Monde royalty: starting at the noon position and moving clockwise, Ella Quinn, Kelly Neville, former chapter president Louisa Cornell, Elizabeth Essex, and former president chapter Callie Hutton. If you look closely over Callie’s shoulder, you’ll see Marissa deep in conversation, shortly before she won the Reader’s Choice Award.


Next up, the cream of Beau Monde society, from left to right: Rebecca Connolly, Elena Greene, and Gail Eastwood, amazing authors all!


And here are Elena and Gail again, showing their lovely gowns and accessories.

I was not so nearly well dressed, alas. However, I am delighted to report that I have embarked upon my first boxed set (e-books). Lady Emily Southwell and her three friends, Priscilla Tate and Daphne and Ariadne Courdebas, are determined that someday the world will speak in reverent tones of the year they made their debuts in London Society. But first they have to survive a dangerous dalliance between their beloved art teacher and an unconventional earl and determine whether Emily’s longtime betrothed has something up his arm besides a nicely muscled sleeve. Along the way, Emily might form a perilous passion for a most unlikely suitor.
The set includes two full-length novels: Secrets and Sensibilities and Art and Artifice, plus the short story “Master Thief,” never before available in e-book format. You can find it at fine online retailers such as
Kobo 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Announcing Evergreen!




It’s 1901—a brave new century—and seventeen-year-old Grace Boisvert thinks it’s high time to forget that she’s a dryad; being able to talk to trees just doesn’t seem very useful in the automobile age. A little hair dye to touch up her green roots, and she’s off to join her best friend Alice Roosevelt for a visit to glamorous Newport, RI, with her family’s warnings not to fall for any human boys ringing in her ears.

As it happens, the only interesting boy in Newport, Kit Rookwood, clearly prefers Alice to her. But that changes when he and his family unexpectedly follow the girls to a secluded Adirondack camp to join the rest of the Roosevelts. All of Kit’s considerable charm is now focused on Grace, and she finds herself falling in love—and not just with the breathtaking forests.


But sometimes stern family warnings really should be heeded and ancient magical heritages not forgotten, especially when it turns out that not everything—and everyone—are quite what they seem...

That’s the premise of my new young adult historical fantasy, Evergreen, coming out on November 5, 2019 from Book View Café... and I’m very excited! Do you remember my Not the Nineteenth Century posts from a few years back, featuring profiles of people like Newport doyennes Mamie Fish and Ava Vanderbilt? This book is what inspired those posts—and oh my goodness, the research for this book was pure catnip—not only the history and culture of 1901, but the research on the locations (the Newport mansions and the camps of the Adirondacks) the natural history (trees! mountains!) and the folklore around the tree nymphs the Greeks called dryads.

And isn't the cover simply gorgeous?!

I’m delighted that this book is finally coming out, and I hope you’ll enjoy it. It will be available for preorder on most of the usual ebook vendors over the next few weeks, and a print edition will also be offered. In the meanwhile, here’s a little sneak preview...
 

Chapter One 

 

Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts

July 1901


“Dorothy? Come help me, won’t you?” Grace Boisvert beckoned to her younger sister from the bathroom doorway. She wore an old brown flannel wrapper, and her long, freshly washed hair dripped down her back. “And stop making all that noise or you’ll wake Grand-mère.”
“Nothing wakes Grand-mère when she’s napping after lunch. Not even me.” Dorothy paused in her headlong gallop down the upstairs hall, brown braids flying—she’d been re-reading Black Beauty for the seventeenth time—and looked bright-eyed at Grace. “What do you want help with? And why don’t you want Grand-mère to know what you’re doing?”
Why couldnt she have had a less perceptive little sister? Fortunately, she’d learned from experience the best way to manage Dorothy: she put a finger over her pursed lips and raised an eyebrow.
It worked every time; Dorothy tiptoed to her. What is it? she whispered.
Grace gently closed the door behind them. I need to do my hair.
Dorothy perched on the mahogany lid of the toilet. “So why are you doing it while Grand-mères asleep?
Because I want to try something different. Grace paused, but it was too late to reconsider. All she could do was hope Dorothy would be interested enough that she wouldnt tattle. It would be a shame if she did, because this purchase had cost three weeks pocket money. She pulled a small, paper-wrapped parcel from one of the deep pockets of her robe. 
“Ooh, what is it?” Dorothy craned to see it.
“I got it in town at Jordan Marsh.” Grace unwrapped the parcel to reveal a bottle with an elaborate gilded label.
“‘Mademoiselle’s Secret. For the hair. Used by Famous Parisian Beauties since 1854,’” Dorothy read aloud. “‘The Most Natural Tints Beyond Those Provided by Mother Nature.’” She looked up at Grace. “Why wouldn’t Grand-mère like it? It’s French, isn’t it?”
Grace set the bottle on the marble counter by the sink and picked up her brush. “Yes, but it’s not how she does it. I’m tired of her black-walnut-hull-and-coffee-bean stuff. It smells funny and stains horribly if you get it on your skin. I want to try something modern.”
“Eighteen fifty-four isn’t exactly modern, you know.” Dorothy hopped up, took the bottle, pried the stopper from it, and sniffed. “But it does smell better.”
Anything smells better.” Grace leaned toward the mirror, peering at her hairline. An eighth of an inch of rich green showed there. She should have done her hair days ago, but guests at lunch three days running had meant disruption to Grand-mère’s nap schedule. “All right,” she said briskly. “Hand me that pail, won’t you?”
Dorothy complied. “When do you think my hair will start to turn green?”
“When it’s ready. Don’t be in a hurry to grow up. It’s a rotten chore, having to dye it all the time. Not to mention wearing corsets and putting up with visits from the red-haired lady every month.” Grace set the pail under the hot water tap in the sink and turned it on, then consulted the bottle of Mademoiselle’s Secret—in “honeyed chestnut,” which she’d chosen in honor of the enormous chestnut tree outside her bedroom window that sang her to sleep every night. “It says one cup per gallon of water—goodness, that’ll be most of the bottle!—and to soak the hair until the desired shade is obtained—”
“What are you supposed to do? Stand on your head in the bucket?” Dorothy collapsed on the floor, snorting giggles.
“Hush!” Grace prodded her with one slippered foot. “Now, let’s see…if we put the pail on the toilet lid, I can sort of bend over it, and you can make sure all my hair is in it and pour the stuff over the back of my head so it gets down to the roots.” Then, because Dorothy was starting to look mutinous, she added, “And I’ll help you do the same when it’s your turn.”
“No you won’t. By the time it’s my turn, you’ll probably be off getting married or something.” Dorothy glowered up at her.
Grace stopped reading the label and looked down at her sister. “Yes, I will. Even if I’m married I’ll come and help you. You know I always keep my promises. Now, let’s see how this works.”
Without another word, Dorothy watched while she mixed the dye and helped her get all her hair into the pail, then carefully poured the liquid over the back of her head where it wasn’t fully immersed.
“What are you using to pour it?” The lapels of Grace’s wrapper had flopped down over her chin and ears, making it difficult to both see and hear. At least if Dorothy got any dye on her brown robe, no one would notice.
“Your tooth glass,” Dorothy said cheerfully. “I hope it won’t stain it. If it does, you can bury it in the trash dump and tell Mum you broke it.”
Grace closed her eyes. You’re the one who asked her to help, Miss Clever Boots.
“At least you don’t have to do what Grand-mère did and rub your forearms with lemons to bleach out the green hair there,” Dorothy continued. “I asked her why she didn’t shave ’em instead, but she said that wouldn’t be ladylike. I don’t see how rubbing ’em with a lemon is, though.”
“Neither do I.” Maybe she should be a blonde instead, and sit in the sun with lemon in her hair. But she’d always dyed her hair brown, and becoming blonde would be far too noticeable. “I wish I knew how long I need to stand like thi—”
“Did I hear the doorbell?” Dorothy paused in mid-pour.
“No, it’s just the ringing in my ears,” Grace muttered. Standing bent over the toilet with her hair in a bucket was starting to make her dizzy.
“I’ll go check.”
Grace heard the clink! of the glass being set on the marble counter and the creak the lower door hinge always made when opening. “Dorothy, get back here!” she called, loudly as she dared. “Rose will answer the door!”
But it was too late. Dorothy was down the hall, shrieking, “Who is it, Rose?” over the banister down to the front hall. So much for Grand-mère’s nap…and her French dye. Grace gathered up her hair and tried to squeeze as much liquid as possible from it, then wiped her hands on her brown robe before the dye could stain them.
Dorothy came thundering back down the hall and flung the bathroom door wide open. “Grace! It’s Alice!”
Alice?” Grace found a towel and wrapped it around her head, flipping it back as she stood up. “You’re telling tales again, aren’t you? Just like you did that time when you said Dick Aspinwall was at the door asking to take me skating.”
“I’m not!” Dorothy had the grace to look sheepish. “She’s really here!”
She wasn’t supposed to get here till the day after tomorrow!
She said she wanted to surprise you. Come on! She’s dying to see you! 
Grace looked hard at her sister. She appeared sincere… Well, the only way she’d find out was to at least peek over the banister. “Mrs. Lee isn’t here too, is she?” She hastily tipped the pail of dye down the toilet. Dared she flush it? No; Alice—if she was actually here—would hear it and tease her.
“No, just Alice. Come on!” Dorothy was practically dancing a jig. “She don’t care if you’re wearing your old wrapper. She told me so.”
“Never mind—I’m coming up,” an amused voice called from the stairs. “Where are you?”
“In here!” Dorothy danced back out into the hall, gesticulating. Grace grabbed the bottle of hair dye and plunged it into her pocket. The last thing she needed was Alice demanding to know why she was dyeing her hair—as close as they were, there were some things that had to be kept secret—like the fact that Alice’s best friend was a dryad.
“Grace Boisvert! You are still in your robe. Are you just getting up? It must have been quite a party last night. Wish I’d been there.” Alice appeared, dressed for travel in a canvas coat and hat with veil, in the bathroom doorway.
“No parties, goose. I was, er, washing my hair. When did you get here? Why didn’t you tell me you were coming today?” Grace stepped forward to give her a quick hug. “I’m so glad you’re here!”
Alice Lee Roosevelt was her dearest friend. She and Grace had known each other since they were babies and had been inseparable during Alice’s twice-yearly long visits to her maternal grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Lee, who lived next door. They wrote each other copious letters when Alice was away, and always picked right up where they’d left off when she arrived at the Lees’.
“Must have slipped my mind,” Alice said apologetically, but her eyes glinted with mischief. “I say, it’s not as old and tatty as mine,” she added, holding Grace at arm’s length and scrutinizing her robe.
“I’ll bet you’ve got one made out of ermine and velvet, now that your papa’s the vice- president!” Dorothy said from behind them, sounding awestruck.
“We don’t go in for ermine and velvet robes in America, though I must say I wouldn’t mind it if we did.” Alice sighed. “By George, it’s good to be back, if only for a few minutes, anyway. Life has been a whirlwind—you’ve no idea!”
“Lucky dog. I wish mine were. Let’s go to my room.” Grace tucked her arm in Alice’s and propelled her down the hall. Dorothy seemed ready to follow after them, but a high, imperious voice from the other end of the hall called, “Dorothée!” She pouted, but didn’t dare disobey. When Grand-mère called, you went.
Once in her room, Grace shut the door behind them. “Very well—what’s been so whirlwind-ish?” she demanded. “Have you already been to Washington? Your last letter was from New York.”
Alice threw herself onto Grace’s four-poster bed, careless of her modish hat and duster coat and the ruffled dotted swiss counterpane. “No Washington yet—Mother doesn’t want to bring the children there until the fall. I’ll miss New York terribly—I had such fun there this winter with Aunt Bye!—but Washington will be fun too if I have any say in the matter.” She threw her hand across her brow in mock distress. “I came here directly from the station—well, I stopped to kiss Grandmother first—but I’ve so much to tell you, I don’t know where to start.”
“Why don’t you start with telling me why you’re here two days early and what you meant by ‘if only for a few minutes?’” Grace settled in the low slipper chair by the fireplace grate. This was how they always sat—Alice on her bed, she on the chair. “Aren’t you staying for a regular visit this time?”
Alice rolled onto her side, reaching up with one hand to pull out her hatpin and remove her large hat, now rather crushed. “Almost. I’ve got plans, and you’re going to be part of them.”
“What kind of plans?” Grace knew better than to say an unreserved yes to any of Alice’s plans. Some of her previous ones had earned them scoldings and being sent to bed without supper—not that she regretted any of them, except maybe for the time they’d hidden the chicken in Mrs. Lee’s parlor organ. But Alice had never shirked her share of their punishments.
“Wait till you hear!” Alice sat up. “Grace, how old are we?”
“Seventeen, of course. What does that—”
“Yes, seventeen—and you’ve already graduated from high school. Which means we’re old enough to—to do things!”
“Like what things?”
       “Like—oh…” Alice pretended to examine her fingernails. “Like go to Newport this summer?
-----

Evergreen. Coming November 5 from Book View Café. ☺


Friday, August 2, 2019

And Then There Was Food and Seals


Ah, what a lovely time in New York and with Marissa’s family. One of the highlights of the Romance Writers of America Conference for me is the Beau Monde (Regency) Chapter conference the day before, which Marissa covered. Another is when I am invited to tea with book reviewer extraordinaire John Charles. This year was no exception, with the fabulous tea being held at The Plaza. Marissa told me I must look for Eloise, but alas, she wasn’t in evidence in the Palm Court.

But the most wonderful tea was! Sandwiches included smoked salmon on pumpernickel with dill and chive whipped cream cheese; deviled organic egg salad on white bread; oven-roasted turkey with Granny Smith cream cheese on sourdough; English cucumber and minted goat cheese on rye; country ham with spicy mustard on a pretzel bun; and herb-roasted prime rib with horseradish and watercress on a brioche slider. Of course plain and currant scones were on hand with Devonshire cream, lemon curd, and blackberry preserves. For pastries, we had passion fruit and mango s’mores, strawberry and rhubarb fool, and Mogador cake, but my two favorites were carrot cake macarons with golden raisin filling and blackcurrant and violet eclairs. Oh, heaven!

But The Plaza wasn’t the only place with interesting food. The restaurants in the Marriott Marquis hotel where we stayed raise their own greens hydroponically. Fresh herbs and various types of lettuce and edible flowers are picked daily. So cool and so delicious.

Now, just so you don’t think I spent all my time eating, I was also delighted to be treated to an afternoon on the water with my favorite Captain. We saw many fine homes, some historic, and a curious pile on the horizon. It proved to be seals all cuddled together. I had never seen so many in the wild before. Makes me think of Marissa’s Skin Deep again. 😊


All in all, a lovely trip with one of my favorite people on the planet, my dear Marissa. Here’s hoping for 2020 in San Francisco!