Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Legging It Up on the Huddersfield Canal

I love history. You probably noticed. So many fascinating stories, so many amazing personalities! I am currently reading about a daring female sea captain in Iceland in the late 1700s/early 1800s. She’ll feature in a future post. But something else mentioned in Sea History Today, the newsletter of the National Maritime Historical Society, caught my attention, and I simply had to write about it.

By the early 1800s, England was crossed with a number of canals used to carry goods between towns. Like on the Erie Canal in the United States, narrow canal boats were towed by horses walking a path alongside. But as more people began to clamor for more goods, it wasn’t as easy as building a canal along the flat. Sometimes, the engineers had to go up over hills with locks and lifts. And sometimes they just went through those hills.

Such is the case of West Yorkshire’s Standedge Tunnel. Authorized in 1794, it officially opened in 1811 on the Huddersfield Canal. It burrows through the Pennine Hills and is said to be the longest, highest, and deepest canal tunnel in the UK. Narrow boats would approach the tunnel, and the horse would be unhooked and led up over the hill to meet them on the other side. So, with no motor, no room for oars in the low-roofed, narrow-sided tunnel, how did the boat make it through?

With the help of leggers.

Leggers were burly fellows who would lay down on the deck of the narrow boat and set their feet on the tunnel ceiling. Then they would “walk” along the ceiling, propelling the boat through the tunnel and out the other side. The Canal Company actually employed them for the purpose. The gate at one end of the tunnel pays tribute to them.

I imagine they were great fun at local assembly dances!

Canal and hillside copyright John Topping

Tunnel gate copyright Linden Milner

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Such Language! Part 32

More wonderfully wordful wackiness, courtesy of the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (a copy of which can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg so that you can embark on your own wordly wanderings. Enjoy!

Coker: A lie. (Henry told his tutor the most frightful coker about why he was unable to do his lessons yesterday: he claimed that all the ink in the schoolroom had been drunk by the giant octopus that lives in the ornamental lake.)

Sit upon thorns: To be uneasy, impatient, anxious for an event. (And now Henry is sitting on thorns waiting for his tutor to come up with a suitable punishment for both lying and shirking his schoolwork.)

Nocky Boy: A dull simple fellow. (I don’t suppose one can call Henry a nocky boy for coming up with such an elaborate story, but the temptation is there.)

Aground: Stuck fast, stopped, at a loss, ruined; like a boat or vessel aground. (Sir John may not be completely aground, but from what I hear the bailiffs are circling.)

One of the Faithful: A tailor who gives long credit. (My brother heard as much from Sir John’s boot-maker, who is not one of the faithful.)

Here and Thereian: One who has no settled place of residence. (However, being such a here-and-thereian has allowed Sir John to reduce expenses by going from house party to house party.)

She Napper: A woman thief-catcher.

This last selection from Mr. Grose’s dictionary stopped me cold, then set my mind a-teeming. The fact that there was a slang name for such a person makes one wonder if it wasn’t all that uncommon… Anyone smell a new series? 😊

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Twenty-Five Years Ago This Month

I have wanted to be an author since about third grade, when I first realized that the wonderful stories I was reading were written by someone, and I could be that someone! But it wasn’t until many years later, with the tough-love encouragement of my husband, that I submitted my first Regency romance to Kensington. I was working as a communications manager for the environmental arm of a large research and development laboratory at the time. My husband had gone home for lunch and listened to a message on our answering machine (yes, those used to be a thing). He promptly called me and held the phone to the machine so I could hear it too.

“This is John Scognamiglio of Kensington Books. I’d like to talk to you about your manuscript.”

I knew enough to know that when an editor calls, it’s with an offer.

I was a mess. I ran around the corner of the building to where my critique partner worked and blabbered out my excitement.

“By the time you get home, New York will be closed,” she said. “Go now. We’ll cover for you.”

I went. And I called, and he offered me a two-book deal.

And so, 25 years ago this month, The Unflappable Miss Fairchild was published. She has had a couple of updates since, as you can tell by the covers, but she’s still one of my favorites, and readers tell me she’s one of their favorites as well.

The ever-practical Anne Fairchild knows the proper way to seek a husband. So why is it one moment in the presence of the dashing Chas Prestwick, and she’s ready to throw propriety to the wind? Chas excels at shocking Society with his wild wagers and reckless carriage racing. But his bravado masks a bruised and lonely heart. Can the sweet-natured Anne convince him to take the greatest risk of all—on love?

You can get her ebook for 99 cents

Directly from me through my store 



Barnes and Noble  


Apple Books 

Already have her? What about The Emperor’s Aeronaut, the first book in my Regency-set steampunk trilogy co-authored with Shelley Adina? Until March 25, the ebook is free on all major retailers. It will be up on my store later in the week.

In 1819, Celeste Blanchard, daughter of the Emperor’s disgraced Air Minister, is blown off course in a daring and desperate test flight to prove a balloon can reach England and washes up in the heart of enemy territory. Loveday Penhale, cosseted daughter of gentry, has her own inventions to build, even as pressure mounts to behave like a proper young lady. But when she helps rescue an unconscious young woman on the beach, she discovers an aeronaut and an inventor as skilled as she is. Could their collaboration result in the first air ship? And does this war hinge on the bravery and daring of a Cornish debutante and the Emperor’s aeronaut?

“A witty and whimsical flight of fancy.” Booklist


Apple Books 


Barnes and Noble 

Google Play 

Happy anniversary!

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Retro Blast: Queen Victoria Goes to Kokomo


I wish I were going somewhere warm where one can unironically drink things with slices of pineapple and little umbrellas stuck on top! It's the time of year when spring seems so close, but still so far...an opinion shared by Queen Victoria. Enjoy!

* * * * *

Well, not quite. But sort of. :)

I’m lucky enough to be looking forward to a visit to warmer climes in the near future—when you live in the chilly north, a few days spent in a place where it’s not necessary to wear heavy down coats is a Very Good Thing.

I’m not the only one to think so. Queen Victoria started taking an annual holiday somewhere in sunny southern Europe, usually for six or seven weeks from the beginning of March to mid-to-late April. Her first trip, in 1879, was shortly after the death of her daughter, Princess Alice; the Queen felt that she needed a complete change of scene, and decided it was high time she visited Italy, which she had never seen. She was lent a villa, Villa Clara, at Baveno, on Lake Maggiore, which though close to the Alps has a mild, Mediterranean climate year round.

The Queen was delighted with her decision. The scenery was gorgeous (though she invariably compared it to Scotland), so she spent a lot of time sketching and painting watercolors, went boating on the lake all the way up to its end in Switzerland, visited Milan to see the artwork (not a success as she was mobbed while visiting the cathedral). It whetted her appetite for more travels, and three years later, she went to the French Riviera, a trip that eventually became an annual event.

Her first visit there was to Menton, where she saw the Mediterranean for the first time. Once again she compared the scenery to Scotland, but as anything that reminded her of Scotland was definitely a good thing, it was high praise indeed. She was an indefatigable sightseer, taking little trips to Monte Carlo (though not to gamble) and other places, with her English coachman and Scottish servant, John Brown, in full Highland regalia (how the sight must have bemused the French!)…perhaps to visit a quaint nunnery, or a pottery factory, or to have a picnic in a secluded spot by the side of the road. In future years she stayed at Hyères, Grasse, and Cannes before finally settling on the Hotel Excelsior Regina (it added the “Regina” to its name with the Queen’s permission), in Cimiez, Nice. She always travelled “incognito” as the Countess of Balmoral, which of course fooled nobody but permitted her to avoid making visits of state—this was, after all, supposed to be a vacation. Family members descended on her for visits while on their own winter vacations, so that at times the poor Queen was quite exhausted from entertaining.

Her last visit was in 1899; the Boer War kept her home the following spring, which was her last before her death in January 1901. I’m sorry she had to miss that last year; she took great delight in her annual visits south, away from “the sunless north”. I know I’ll enjoy mine!