Friday, January 17, 2020

Nineteenth Century Heroines: Still No Bones About It

I originally posted this in November 2009, but I recently ran across a few more interesting facts and thought it a good time to update. And so, I give you anew, Mary Anning, fossil collector.

Mary was born in 1799 in Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast of England, not far from my spa town of Grace-by-the-Sea. Her father Richard was a cabinetmaker by trade, but he loved to spend his free time collecting fossils, and he took Mary and her older brother Joseph with him. The cliffs near Lyme Regis are riddled with remains from the Jurassic period—the area is now called the Jurassic Coast. But those cliffs are also legendary for landslides and sink holes. Mary spent her youth clambering over these dangerous cliffs and collecting “curiosities” that her father sold to tourists in front of his shop on Bridge Street. Jane Austen even visited. Here’s a sketch.

Sadly, Richard Anning died of consumption when Mary was only 11, and the family struggled to eke out a living by selling the fossils they found. That same year, Joseph uncovered a massive head of what he thought was a fossilized crocodile. Between tides and the weather, it was another year before the children could get back to it, and it was Mary who uncovered the entire skeleton: the first complete ichthyosaur!

Now, you’d think such a find would attract considerable attention, but Mary only earned £23 when she sold the fossil to the Lord of the Manor of Colway. He in turn exhibited it in William Bullock’s Museum of Natural History, and it wasn’t until 1814 that the Royal Society (the premiere scientific organization in England at the time) published a description in its Transactions (with little mention of Mary, thank you very much). The Annings were doing so poorly, in fact, that a professional fossil collector, Lieutenant-Colonel Birch, auctioned off his collection and donated the proceeds to them. The total amount raised was £400 (enough for a family of three to live on for a year or two). 

By the time Mary was in her twenties, she was the head of the family’s fossil collecting business. In 1824, she discovered the skeleton of a plesiosaurus. She sold it for over £100 to the Duke of Buckingham himself. That discovery put her on the map, so to speak, but many scientists were skeptical that Mary was the person making these spectacular finds. For one, she was a woman, and for another, she had only attended school a short period in her life. Yet when they came to talk to her, they could only scratch their heads at her vast knowledge of the creatures she was uncovering. One of her visitors credited her skills to divine providence. 

Even though Mary discovered a pterodactyl in 1828 and an even larger ichthyosaurus in 1832, it wasn’t until 1838 that the scientific community was willing to grant her any official standing. That year the British Association for the Advancement of Science awarded her an annuity. In 1846, she was made an honorary member of the Geological Society (honorary because women were not admitted until 1904). She died in March 1847 from breast cancer. Only after her death did the Royal Society acknowledge her, by donating a stained-glass window to her memory to the Parish Church at Lyme Regis.

It’s never easy being a nineteenth century heroine, no bones about it.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Smugglers and Spas and Romance, Oh My!

I am delighted to announce the publication of the first book in my new Regency series: Grace-by-the-Sea, where romance and adventure come home. Grace-by-the-Sea is a spa town, like Bath and Lyme Regis, where people come to see and be seen. I had so much fun figuring out the shops and shopkeepers, the local gentry and aristocracy, and all those fascinating visitors. But there’s more to this sleepy little town than many dream…

Polished Jesslyn Chance has one of the most enviable positions in the little Regency coastal village of Grace-by-the-Sea. She is the hostess of the spa, arranging introductions and entertainments and playing matchmaker to the ladies and gentlemen who come to take the waters, promenade through the shops, and dance at the assembly. But when a rogue returns from her past, Jess finds herself suddenly at sea.

Always an adventurer, Larkin Denby left Grace-by-the-Sea to right the wrongful death of his father. Now he’s back on a mission: to identify the mysterious Lord of the Smugglers who allegedly sails from Grace Cove and takes England’s secrets to France. But Grace-by-the-Sea is the perfect little spa town, run by the still oh-so-perfect Jesslyn Chance. When the village’s future is threatened, Jess must work with Lark to solve the mystery and protect the town’s own. In doing so, the matchmaker of Grace-by-the-Sea may just find that the best match for her is the rogue who stole her heart years ago.

The Matchmaker’s Rogue is available at fine online retailers as an e-book and at Amazon as a print book (as of the writing of this blog post, it hadn’t linked with the ebook, but you can find it here). Here are the other links for your convenience:


Grace-by-the-Sea: I hope you’ll want to visit often. 😊

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Regency Fabrics, Part 27

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 November 1812 issue of Ackermann’s Repository. The overall condition of my copy is excellent; the page itself is free of foxing and is hardly toned. Two of the three samples show some discoloration where they were glued to the page, but overall they’re in very good condition.

Here we go!

No. 1 and 2 is an entirely new article for white beds and other furniture, which we have been favored with from the house of Millard in the city; it has a beautiful effect in the piece, and produces a rich appearance when made up. This handsome manufacture will be found desirable to persons who have large establishments to furnish for, as it wants no lining, and is sold by the piece at a very reasonable price; this and various other fashionable articles at Millard’s, being disposed of on a liberal plan. We understand considerable purchases of curious foreign articles have been made by this house at the late great Custom-House sales.

My comments: Interesting fabric—alternating stripes of plain weave and twill weave, with an overall jacquard botanical pattern overlying the stripes. An intermediate weight cotton (my guess), with a light glazing like chintz. It would definitely make handsome window draperies or bed curtains.

No. 3 is a specimen of a new and beautiful manufacture for ladies’ winter dresses, from the above house, where it may be obtained in any quantity, and of various colours. It does not exceed mediocrity in price, although it possesses the useful property of never creasing in the wear; added to which, it resembles the genuine China crape, by its falling naturally into the most graceful folds.

My comments: Another interesting fabric, and not just because it’s orange with black polka-dots. 😀 I’m trying to figure out the fiber content: wool/silk maybe? It definitely has a crepe-like texture, twill-woven with slightly uneven threads. I can see that it would drape well; it’s also opaque, though for a winter dress a lining would be preferred.

No. 4 is a pattern of a chaste and elegantly figured sarsnet silk, for a lady’s evening dress. It is of a most pleasing colour, of neat fabric, and of a very delicate texture. It is sold by Messrs. George and Bradley, the Golden Key, Holy-well-street, Strand.

My comments: I’ll have to agree with Mr. Ackermann’s assessment of this “article” as being elegant and delicate. Finely woven silk in a handsome diamond pattern, of a pale mauve-ish pink—it’s difficult to tell if there has been any fading or other color alteration over the centuries. Curiously, the scan doesn't show that the diamonds are actually of white satin-stitch weave with pink centers. Because of its delicacy, it would probably need to have been worn over a slip. Lovely!

What do you think of this month’s fabrics?

Friday, January 3, 2020

Spa Day!

I’ll say it right up front—I’m not a spa person, at least not today’s version of a typical spa. I don’t do facials; massages make me uncomfortable. But I would have loved visiting a Regency spa.

A number of cities during the early part of the nineteenth century in England had risen to the position of being considered a spa, either because of the opportunity to bathe in the sea or the opportunity to partake of mineral waters, or both. While the prominence of the city of Bath in Somerset waned as the century wore on, it was still one of the most popular. Bath had the benefit of having actual hot water baths, built in Roman times. It also boasted the Pump Room where you could drink the water and visit with friends. With assembly rooms just up the hill and parks for promenading on a sunny day, Bath would seem to have everything one could want in a spa.

Though Jane Austen is often associated with Bath, a family favorite was Lyme Regis in Dorset. The town along the seashore also had a fine set of assembly rooms and saltwater bathing. It also featured shops, tearooms, and bookstores. You can see why Jane liked it. 😊

Scarborough in Yorkshire had the best of both worlds, with saltwater bathing and mineral waters to drink. It also had a nearby castle being used as a barracks for soldiers. That red uniform can go to a girl’s head!

Other towns also made a play for the title of spa. Before he went mad, King George frequently took his family saltwater bathing at Weymouth in Dorset, and his son, Prince George, was inordinately fond of Brighton in Essex

Come back next Friday when I will tell you about one more special spa that I hope you’ll want to visit again and again, for I’m starting a new series set there!

Friday, December 20, 2019

Christmas at the Governor’s Mansion, Complete with Presents

This week I had the delight of touring our state’s Governor’s Mansion, which was all decked out for Christmas. The State Trooper who greeted us had us turn off our cellphones and warned us that absolutely no pictures were allowed inside the mansion. But when I explained to the docents that I write historical fiction, they graciously granted me the right to photograph a few of the wonders inside this beautiful brick mansion.

The Washington State Governor’s Mansion was built in 1908. However, because it was built in the Georgian Revival style, it closely resembles homes our beloved nineteenth century characters would have inhabited. The grand entry hall has a sweeping stair with a grandfather clock dating from the late 18th century. To the right is the withdrawing room. Behind it is a room that was once the breakfast room but is now a library. (I caught myself wondering whether they’d accept one of my Seattle stories for the collection. 😊) On the left of the entry hall is the dining room, with a polished wood table that seats twelve easily. Next to it is the ballroom. That was the other room where I was allowed to photograph.

Interesting thing about the ballroom. It has never hosted a ball, because it is too small! However, it has a wonderful alcove above for a trio to play, and musicians have used it for other events. Also interesting is the color scheme throughout the house: green for the forests of Western Washington and gold for the wheat fields of Eastern Washington. Lighting throughout is by gorgeous crystal chandeliers. This one and its sisters in the ballroom are original to the house.

The other treat for me besides being able to photograph things was a chance to sit on a real horsehair sofa dating from the nineteenth century. Surprisingly firm! All in all, the visit ended up being a wonderful Christmas present.

And speaking of presents….

Here are a few for you to enjoy:

Dressing a Regency Cavalry Officer. Such a dashing fellow!

Love this Regency ball. I have a hunch more looked like this than the well-practiced ones we see in the movies. 😊

Wonderful photoshoot at a Regency-era home.

Marissa and I will be taking off most of the next two weeks to spend time with family and friends but look for a post from me on January 3 to kickoff the New Year. Until then, Happy Christmas and a very joyous New Year!

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

History Geek Christmas Wishlist, 2019

My goodness. By some fortuitous stroke, the publishing world has released a slew of books this fall that are setting the heart of this history geek to going pitter-pat. If you too happen to proudly claim the history geek moniker, it might not be too late to ask Santa to make some of these appear under your tree.

Dress in the Age of Jane Austen by Hilary Davidson

Just released in November from Yale University Press, this is a look at the clothes worn by all classes, male and female, during the “long Regency”, 1795-1825. It’s lavishly illustrated with formal portraits, fashion plates, amateur sketches and drawings of the era, and photos of extant examples. Awesome book; I already got a copy (yay for Barnes and Noble coupons!) and I’m making myself wait till the day after Christmas to dive in, because I know I will be totally engrossed.

The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern by Robert Morrison

Published in April, here’s another broad overview of the history and culture of the Regency in England (covering the actual Regency years, 1811-1820). There have been a few of these published in the last five years or so; reviews are generally good, but I haven’t yet had a look at it. Anyone?

Gentlemen of Uncertain Fortune: How Younger Sons Made Their Way in Jane Austen’s England by Rory Muir

I’m very much looking forward to reading this one. Fiction is full of dashing young noblemen who will one day (or already have) inherited their family titles, wealth, and properties...but what happened to their younger brothers who might receive a small inheritance (perhaps from their mothers) but who, overall, usually had to make their own ways in the world? From the book’s description: “If they were to remain ‘gentlemen’, only a few options, such as joining the Church or the army, were available to them. Each of these careers had its own attractions, drawbacks and peculiarities, and Gentlemen of Uncertain Fortune is the first exploration of the lifestyle and prospects afforded by these different professions.”

Bloodlust and Bonnets by Emily McGovern

I love me a good graphic novel...and even more, I love me a good, funny, Regency-set graphic novel featuring a vampire-hunting Lord Byron and a motley fellowship including an adventure-hungry young debutante and a mysterious bounty hunter and their increasingly outlandish escapades. This one I may crack on Christmas night, after the dishes are in the dishwasher and the leftovers tucked away in the fridge.

How about you? Any good history geekish books you’ve got on your wishlist?

Have the happiest of holidays, dear readers!

Friday, December 13, 2019

The Gorge White House

No, that title is not political commentary. I had the delight of touring the Hood River country in Oregon this fall. The driving route, which starts in the Columbia River Gorge and follows the Hood River up the valley, is called the Fruit Loop, because it circles around family-owned orchards and farms that sustain generations. There are delicious tasting opportunities all along the way. And one house that stood out.

The Gorge White House is a 1910 farmhouse. From the front porch, you can see Mt. Hood. From the backyard, you can see Mt. Adams across the Columbia River in Washington. It was originally built by Martin Hill, who went by his initials, M.M. M.M bought 50 acres of land in the Hood River Valley and promised his wife he would build her the finest house in the valley. He made good on his promise. His daughter sold the house to the grandparents of the current owner in 1947.

The house is Dutch Colonial Revival. You can see the gambrel roof and balconies. The leaded glass windows still remain. While the interior wasn’t open for visitors the day we toured the area, here’s how the owners describe it:

“The interior main salon has original quarter-sawn white oak columns, coffered ceilings, floors, staircase, newel posts, doors, windows, moldings and baseboards are original in finish, patina and materials.”

The Gorge White House farm offers three kinds of pears, some heirloom apple varieties, and gorgeous flowers such as daffodils and tulips in the spring and dahlias in the summer through fall. They also grow five kinds of blueberries, three kinds of strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries and stock local wines in their winery. One son, Jack Kennedy, an internationally trained chef, cooks up some amazing food at his “food cart” across the courtyard from the winery. It was absolutely delicious!

You can learn more about the family-run Gorge White House and working farm here.

And speaking of families, I was delighted to learn that His Frontier Christmas Family (2017) is now available as a large-print hardcover volume. You can find it on Amazon.