Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Falling Down A Research Rabbit Hole...

This is something I do on a regular basis. All authors will relate, I am sure – especially historical ones.

You set out with the best of intentions. There are one or two things you need to clarify; a date, perhaps, or some information about a place your characters are visiting, and you type in your keywords accordingly. It is a downward spiral from there.

The list of pages comes up. Perhaps what you are looking for is not there. You key in alternatives, scroll down the page... and bingo! Something catches your eye; something which isn't actually connected to your query, but which will be useful to have. Since you know you will never find it again if you don’t look at it now, you investigate... and start reading. Other interesting points are raised; you follow the clues, going off at a tangent, even so far as to download this free book because it has so much information you will be able to use in future novels. Before you know where you are, the morning/afternoon has gone and it is time to feed family/pets/self. Does this sound familiar? I can see you all nodding.

This happened to me in a major way with my latest novel The Missing Duke. You cannot force creativity and I had been struggling to find a good story for the brief, so the deadline was looming with frightening rapidity. I am not a speedy writer; I have to find a word, description, historical detail or plot line before I can continue. The story has to evolve as I write, I cannot just scribble it down and edit later. That is just the way I am and it does mean I don’t have to do as many drafts as some writers. So – I am sure you can see where I am going with this – there I was, with my deadline terrifyingly tight, plus extra hours at the Day Job, and my characters decided to throw me a googly.

The hero suddenly needed to travel to Dover. I duly searched for guide books to the town during the Regency. I found a very helpful person had detailed all the hotels and got lost with Alice for days while I sought the landlord of my chosen hotel in 1814, found photos and details of shipping, passports, packet boats (and captains), luggage and authorities for same. Then the pesky hero sent the heroine to Paris. I had not foreseen that! I was delighted to find a book from 1814, detailing travel from Dover to Paris, including descriptions, hotels, money, posting regulations and more. I did not come up for air for at least four days, not least because I kept finding other books detailing Paris at the time of the restoration. Discovering the theatres, cafés, parks and amusements of Paris during the Regency was a total fascination. I found little gems of historical ‘colour’ I just had to include in the story! You will have to read the book to see if they made the final edit.

Copyright Heather King

I had already sourced information on hot air balloons, a main theme of The Missing Duke, but once again, my characters made life difficult. My planned flight across the Channel (with associated queries involving distance, winds etcetera) did not fit in with their lives – or at least not in the way I had envisaged. Oh no. The title character wanted white silk, which would be stained by contemporary fire and waterproofing methods. Off I burrowed again, this time to find possible-for-the-time solutions he could ‘invent’.

I do sometimes wonder if I was a mole in another life.

There were dozens of questions I needed answers to for this project, but perhaps one of the most enjoyable diversions was discovering the private garden known as Mousseaux. Nowadays, the Parc Monceau in Paris is open to the public and is popular with families. It is open every day from sunrise to sunset, with longer access in summer. There are play areas, cafés and free wi-fi. Although many of the original features have survived, the park’s atmosphere has subtly changed.

It took some digging to ascertain the two names actually applied to the same property and one of my discovered tomes, by Lady Morgan and written in 1817, confirmed my suspicions. It is also mentioned briefly by Edward Planta in 1816. Mousseaux was the garden designed by writer and painter Louis Carrogis Carmontelle for Philippe, Duke of Orleans. The Duke was a friend of George IV and a lover of all things English, so his garden was laid out in the English style, far less formal than the usual design of French gardens. We are familiar with the word parterre from the great country houses of England, the geometric lay-out of flower beds enclosed by low hedges. It should be of no surprise that the word is French.

Le Parc Monceau, Carmontelle

Mousseaux was completed in 1779 and set out with a colonnade of columns bordering an irregular-shaped lily pond, an enchanted grotto, a farmhouse, the Temple of Mars, an Egyptian pyramid, a minaret, statues, a windmill and a vineyard. There was also a ‘Gothic building’ which was used as a laboratory. There was a bridge reminiscent of the one depicted on the so-called ‘Willow Pattern’ china (first produced by Josiah Spode), which crossed a stream and paths intersecting the space. There was even a ‘mountain’ near the centre. Oriental and exotically dressed servants were a feature of the park, along with a small menagerie. Like most such ventures, improvements continued to be made in the ensuing years. A wall was added to the northern boundary in 1787, including a rotunda, called the Pavilion de Chartres. A Doric temple, it was designed by Claude Nicolas Ledoux. It was a Customs-house on the ground floor, while above, an apartment maintained for the Duke enjoyed a view over the garden.

The Duke of Chartres, otherwise styled the Duc D’Orleans was infamous even then. He scandalized and intrigued Society by turns. Secretly, many of the beau monde were titillated by the stories that circulated of the Duke’s wild parties. Lucy, my heroine in The Missing Duke is shocked to discover that his house (the rotunda) was little more than a Greek pavilion. Here is a short excerpt:

Here were situated the Gardens of Mousseaux, created by the infamous Duke of Orleans, who had held court over political intrigues and debauched scenes of pleasure, the Duchess of Wardley informed them with a certain relish. Having dismounted from the carriages, the party entered the gardens, which Lucy discovered to be both extensive and laid out with exquisite taste. The house was actually a Greek pavilion, cool and elegant; a classic-styled building at variance with the unchaste tales being bandied about by the gentlemen. She tried not to listen, but really, it was difficult not to overhear, for their voices floated back to the ladies where they walked behind.
The garden, described by one gentleman as ‘Les folies de Chartres’, was designed in the English style, with Gothic ruins, Greek temples and cascades devoid of water. There was an irregular-shaped pool in the centre, with a semicircular colonnade of Corinthian pillars bordering one end. The ladies gasped, for it was most picturesque, with overhanging trees and shrubs surrounding the pond. While the servants laid out the picnic, the Duchess’ guests wandered in small groups along the various promenades, gossiping or discussing matters of the moment.
Not to put too fine a point on it, he liked a good orgy!
By the time of the Regency, the Duke of Orleans had long gone, lost to Madame Guillotine during the Revolution, but his gardens remained, if not quite in their former glory, to be enjoyed by the elite of Paris. Following the restoration of the monarchy, the gardens were restored to the Orleans family, only being purchased by the City of Paris in 1860.

Jardin des Plantes, Gabriel Thouin

I became lost in the shrubbery of two other gardens in Paris, namely the Tuileries and the Jardin des Plantes – the Botanical Gardens to you and me. A pivotal scene between my hero and heroine occurs in the latter, so I once more delved into the joyous pits of plans and maps. I do love historical maps and ground plans of houses, estates and gardens. It all helps to add authenticity to my writing if I can ‘time slip’ my characters into the actual places they are visiting. Imagine, then, my joy when I discovered a delightful titbit in one book which not only allowed my heroine to express concern and pleasure, but in this more enlightened age, to demonstrate that in previous eras caged animals were not always just incarcerated without consideration.

Shall I tell you what it is? No, it will spoil the story!

All images public domain unless otherwise stated
© Heather King



Monday, 11 September 2017

A Jewel in the Herefordshire Crown

Hidden in the folds of the delightful Herefordshire countryside, not far from the village of Yarpole (what a lovely name – look out for that as a character’s surname in a future novel!) lies the gem that is Croft Castle. The Croft family have lived here for nearly 1000 years, although the outer walls of the present house date from the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries. The lovely Susana Ellis came to visit while on her annual pilgrimage to our fair English shores and, along with my boisterous pooch, we enjoyed a wonderful day out.

Main Entrance

There are no ropes at Croft Castle. You can wander from room to room as your fancy takes you and even sit on many of the chairs. Beware the green armchair in the little room adjoining the hall, however… you might not want to get up out of it! As you may imagine, this is an historical author’s dream, especially when she correctly identifies a portrait as being of her chosen era. When said portrait turns out to be of a scion of the house and handsome enough to give her favourite actors a run for their money, then, dear reader, you know you are on a winner.

Thomas Elmsley Croft, 7th Baronet

The village of Yarpole sits beneath the shadowed protection of Croft Ambrey, a settlement and hill fort dating from 390 BC. The Romans constructed Watling Street to the north and then the Normans, having dethroned Edwin, the Saxon Earl, built Croft Castle in the Middle Ages. It was originally a Marcher castle; John, a member of the family – for four hundred years known as ‘de Croft’ – married a daughter of Owen Glyndwr, prince of the Welsh. The family were therefore persons of considerable consequence until their fortunes waned in the eighteenth century. The castle was sold just prior to 1750 but the family made a romantic return in 1923. Although the castle is now owned by the National Trust, the Croft link with the estate lives on.

The castle is in the shape of a squared-off horseshoe, with a tower at each corner and an enclosed courtyard. Until the eighteenth century, it is probable there was a carriage entrance into the courtyard where the main entrance of the house is now. This gateway disappeared when renovations were being carried out to transform the castle into a country mansion.

The Courtyard

It was during this time that the sash windows were added and no doubt some of the interior decorations, such as the rococo ceilings, the painted panels in the Blue Room, the painted bookcases in the library and the wonderful Gothic staircase with its’ stunning plasterwork.

Gothic Staircase

The Oak Room contains seventeenth century panelling and mantelpiece, while the Drawing Room has early eighteenth century panelling. There are dozens of paintings, from family portraits to landscapes and that most flamboyant of kings, George IV. There is a feast of beautiful furniture, much of it Georgian or Regency (or, at least, that is what caught this author’s eye!), as well as porcelain plates, dishes and figurines.

The Library

Porcelain Cabinet

If your interest lies in twentieth century history, then in 2017 the castle has displays reflecting the story of Croft during the First World War.

The grounds are a delight, with a walled garden and a Gothic arch straddling the approach to the castle. Dogs are welcome almost everywhere on a lead. The car park is surrounded by trees, so after a good tramp through the woods or across the park, pooch can sleep safely in the car while his/her humans enjoy the house and the tea-room. Dogs are allowed in one part of the tea-room, which is brilliant on a wet day.

Unlike nearby Berrington Hall, landscaped in the classic eighteenth century style of open vistas to focal points such as follies or sculptured woodland, at Croft there are great avenues of trees which were thriving one hundred years before Capability Brown was born. There are some of the finest oaks in the country here, with trunks of forty feet or more in circumference, as well as an avenue of sweet chestnuts reaching for perhaps half a mile and estimated to be over three centuries old. Susana and I took my dog for a walk through Fish Pool Valley, designed in the ‘picturesque’ style which was to come. It was a delightful walk through the woods, with a gothic pump house set between two of the line of irregular-shaped pools. In days of yore, this would have pumped spring water up to the house.

Of course, no visit to a country estate is complete for this historical author without a tour of the stables. It was doubly pleasing to discover that, while the gift shop and second hand book shop occupy one part of the stables, there is still one block open and it is the original eighteenth century stable, unlike at Berrington, where the horses were moved to occupy part of the steward’s house in the late nineteenth century. Sadly, the original stables at Berrington have long since been lost in the pages of history. While the original building has survived at Croft, Victorian improvements, in the manner of the box fronts, are strongly suspected!


Stable Yard

Here, you can see the old carriage arches and grooms’ quarters above. Over the stables there is a hay loft.

To return to the owners of Croft: in 1746, following financial reverses after he invested in the South Sea Bubble, Sir Archer Croft, 3rd Baronet, declared bankruptcy and the castle was sold to Richard Knight, son of a wealthy Shropshire ironmaster. He was responsible for ‘gothicizing’ both house and grounds between 1750 and 1760. His nephew, writer Richard Payne Knight, built Downton Castle in Bringewood, Herefordshire, acquired by the Knight family to provide fuel for the smelting furnaces, and was instrumental in the rise of the ‘picturesque’. Richard Knight Jnr. married and had one daughter, Elizabeth, who married Thomas Johnes, MP for Radnorshire from 1777-80. Johnes planted thousands of trees and was responsible for much of the Rococo-Gothic decoration inside the castle. He bought another estate at Hafod, some sixty-five miles away, and filled it with expensive works of art. He eventually bankrupted himself and in the 1780s was forced to sell to Somerset Davies, the MP for Ludlow in 1783. Johnes lived on at Hafod, but the house was all but destroyed by fire in 1807.

Although the title continued, sometimes passed to brothers, younger sons or cousins, the castle passed through various different hands. Three titles were created for the Croft family, the original title for Sir Herbert Croft, the 1st Baronet, who died in 1720. A second, at Cowling Hall in the county of York, was a baronetcy created for John Croft in December 1818, in honour of his services in the Peninsula War. He was descended from a different branch of the Croft Castle dynasty. Finally, a third baronetcy was created at Bournemouth in the county of Southampton for Henry Croft, grandson of the Reverend Richard Croft, of whom more later. One hundred and seventy years on, in 1923, the castle was at last reclaimed by Lady Katherine Croft, wife of the 11th Baronet, James Herbert.

Apart from John named above, other members of the family distinguished themselves. One Sir Richard Croft occupies, with his wife, an early sixteenth century altar tomb in St. Michael’s Church, which sits in golden-roofed splendour a matter of feet from the front entrance of the castle. No excuses for being late to church on Sunday for the Croft family! This Sir Richard captured the youthful Prince of Wales at the Battle of Tewkesbury and also became Treasurer of the King’s Household.

Sir Archer Croft, the 2nd Baronet, was MP for Leominster, Winchelsea and Bere Alston. Rev. Sir Herbert Croft, the 5th Baronet, was an author, best known for Love and Madness, a series of letters relating the desire of one-time soldier Rev. James Hackman for the Earl of Sandwich’s mistress, Martha Ray, who was shot by her paramour in 1779 as she left Covent Garden. Sir Herbert died in Paris in April 1818. The 9th Baronet, Sir Herbert George Denman Croft, represented Herefordshire in the House of Commons.

A second Sir Richard Croft, the 6th Baronet, is perhaps more familiar to the Regency reader, especially devotees of Georgette Heyer. Doctor Richard Croft attended the Princess Charlotte, heir to George IV’s throne, during her pregnancy in 1817. As the history books tell us, although the babe was in a transverse position forceps were not used, being out of favour at that time. After two days of exhausting labour, her body weakened from restricted diet and bleeding (common treatment of the day), Princess Charlotte delivered a stillborn child and then died a few hours later. Many blamed Doctor Croft for his treatment, though not the King or Prince Leopold, the Princess’ husband, who both sent messages of appreciation for Croft’s care. It is likely the good doctor was not at fault, as far as medical science had advanced at that time, and that there was internal haemorrhaging he could not have known about. Nevertheless, the story has become known as the ‘triple obstetric tragedy’, for Doctor Croft never recovered from his grief and remorse. In February 1818, he shot himself.

The handsome Thomas, pictured at the start of this article, was Doctor Croft’s second eldest son. The eldest son, Herbert, died at school (Eton) in 1803. He was ten years old. Born 2nd September1798, Thomas joined the 1st Foot Guards, attaining the rank of Lieutenant, and lost his leg at the Battle of Quatre Bras, still a boy at seventeen. He became a well-known and respected antiquarian and authority on literature, in spite of suffering mental and physical pain. An epileptic, he endured a long illness with fortitude, dying from a convulsion in Hastings when only thirty-seven. He was succeeded by his brother, Archer Denman Croft.

The four eldest children of Dr. Sir Richard Croft by John James Hall
The National Trust, Croft Collection, Croft Castle

L to R Archer Denman Croft, Frances Elizabeth, Herbert (with book) and Thomas Elmsley

Reverend Richard Croft was Thomas and Archer’s younger brother. His grandson, Henry Page Croft, was created Baron Croft in 1940. He was a politician and decorated soldier. Through him the family of Dr. Croft lives on and long may their castle – even if they didn’t actually live there.

The current holder of the title is Sir Owen Glendower Croft, the 14th Baronet, his only son, Thomas Jasper, being the heir-apparent. It is nice to know the name of a Waterloo veteran continues two hundred years after the battle.

All pictures © Heather King unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without the express permission of the author.

© Heather King


Saturday, 2 September 2017

He Flies Through The Air

I am thrilled to be able to announce that my latest book 'baby' has flown the nest!

The Missing Duke is now available from Amazon as an e-book and will be out in paperback very soon. If you are in Kindle Unlimited, you can read it for free for the next three months.


When his father dies, Lord Adam Bateman refuses to succeed to the dukedom which rightly belongs to his missing elder brother. Whilst performing secret and sensitive missions for the Duke of Wellington, he continues his efforts to find his twin. The search has become Adam’s all-consuming passion, leaving no time for affairs of the heart.

Miss Lucy Mercier is also seeking answers. Her father, a tailor, had been used to make hot air balloons for various noble patrons, including Lord Adam’s sire. Believing the deceased Duke of Wardley had been involved in her papa’s failure to return from the Continent, she takes employment in Lord Adam’s household in order to discover the truth. Then she accompanies him on an important commission for the Allied Army, and finds herself having to guard against a growing attraction for a man she knows she can never have.

Are the two disappearances connected and will two heads prove better than one in the pursuit of answers? Will Adam and Lucy find true happiness together or will the past – and their different stations – rise to keep them apart?


Sunday, 9 July 2017

Fifteen Fascinating Facts about Hot-Air Balloons


***They were not filled with hot air except at first. Smoke was used in early experiments to inflate the balloons but it was soon discovered that they would descend rapidly as soon as the air was used up. Hydrogen gas, which was created by the action of water and sulphuric acid on iron and zinc shavings, then passed through a cask (open at the base) immersed in a copper of water and pumped into the suspended balloon, was found to be easier to replenish.


***In August 1783, the first hydrogen balloon was made by Jacques Charles and the Robert brothers. It was made of strips of silk, stitched together and then varnished with a solution of turpentine in which rubber had been dissolved. Alternate strips of red and white, the solution discoloured the white silk to yellow. The balloon was approximately thirteen feet in diameter (thirty-five cubic metres) and able to lift nine kilos. It flew north for three-quarters of an hour before landing twenty-five kilometres away.


***The Montgolfier brothers, Joseph and Etienne, are considered the pioneers of balloon flight. On 15 June 1783, they produced a sphere constructed of ‘a covering of cloth lined with paper’ and inflated it with smoke. It then rose into the air and travelled more than 7,000 feet, to the astonishment of their audience at Annonay.


***The first ‘passenger’ flight was on 19 September 1783, when the Montgolfier brothers sent aloft a sheep, a duck and a cockerel in their balloon called Aerostat Réveillon.


***Foremost British aeronaut, James Sadler, was a pastry cook from Oxford. He had no education, was self-taught and developed his fascination for ballooning behind the family shop, The Lemon Hall Refreshment House. He became a celebrity, feted everywhere. He was invited to perform a balloon ascension in Hyde Park for the Peace Celebrations in July 1814.


***The first manned flight in a hot-air balloon was made from the Bois de Boulogne near Paris on 21 November 1783 in a Montgolfier brothers’ balloon. One type of hot-air balloon is called Montgolfière after the brothers.


***On 21 October 1783, Jean-Francois Pilâtres des Roziers and the Marquis d’Arlandes made the first free aeronautic voyage from the gardens of La Muette near Paris. Rising to 250 feet, and carried by the wind, they flew over Paris. The balloon was controllable through a smoky fire in an iron basket beneath the balloon, but embers threatened to burn the balloon, so they had to descend before their fuel supply was used up.


***A tragic accident occurred on 15 June 1785 when a double balloon manned by Jean-Francois Pilâtres des Roziers and his brother Romain attempted to fly across the English Channel from Boulogne. The gas caught fire, engulfed the balloon, which crashed to earth. Both men died as a result and a memorial was erected on the spot where they fell, near Wimereux.


***The Montgolfier brothers’ first balloon lost gas because the pieces of the cover were held together with buttons and button holes.


***The first manned flight in a hydrogen balloon in England was made by Vincent Lunardi on 15 September 1784. Ascending from the Artillery Ground in London, he flew twenty-four miles and landed in Hertfordshire.


***The first manned ascension (tethered) was from the gardens of the Faubourg St. Antoine on 15 October 1783, in a machine created by the Montgolfier brothers. It was manned by the intrepid Jean-Francois Pilâtres des Roziers, who rose to a height permitted by the eighty-foot ropes for over four minutes. On 19 October, before a crowd of 2000 people, Roziers ascended to a height of 200 feet for six minutes. In a second ascension the same day, he remained eight and a half minutes through having a fire under the balloon.


***The first manned flight in a hydrogen balloon was made before thousands of onlookers a few days after Roziers and Arlandes, by Professor Jacques Charles and Nicolas-Louis Robert, from the Jardins des Tuilleries in Paris on 1 December 1783.



***The first aeronaut to cross the English Channel was Jean-Pierre Blanchard (with American doctor John Jeffries) on 7 January 1785.


*** James Sadler’s first manned flight took place on 4th October 1784, at 5.30 in the morning, from Merton Gardens, Oxford. The balloon was blown towards Woodeaton, six miles away, and landed safely having reached a height of 3600 feet. The event was recorded in The Oxford Journal at the time.


***James Sadler was the first to use coal gas and also created hydrogen from neat sulphuric acid combined with iron and zinc filings, only he captured it in a quilt.

Images of balloon flights public domain.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Story Giveaway!

If you sign up for a Readers List of books and authors with Box of Words you will receive a free gift in the form of a copy of my prize-winning short story, The Middle of the Day!

The Middle of the Day

Lottie Morgan loves all things Regency, but would she like to live in the early nineteenth century, married to a baron? A strange thing happens while she is visiting Berrington Hall; she finds herself confronting George, Lord Rodney, and she is a newly-wed!
There is an element of fantasy in this short story, which introduces two secondary characters from An Improper Marriage.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

The Heart of a Hero

Come To The Ball!

Heart of a Hero Series Release Party

Buff up your bonnets, spruce up your silks and brush up your escort's manners, for on 13 July 2017, from 4pm EDT (that's 9pm in the UK and about 9am or so in Australia) the Heart of a Hero Series begins with the most wonderful Release Party to celebrate the publication of the prequel, No Rest for the Wicked, which sets up the remainder of the series.

When all hope is lost, heroes will rise.

To help them, we have a wonderful collection of Regency authors! This is our line-up for the evening--and what a line-up it is! (All times are EDT.)

What if your favourite superheroes had Regency-era doppelgangers? And what if a group of them were recruited by the Duke of Wellington to gather intelligence for him during the Napoleonic Wars while they protected their own parts of the realm?

You'd get The Heart of a Hero series.

Nine authors are bringing nine full-length novels to you this summer, each telling the story of a man or woman who is a hero in all senses of the word.

Do join us for the crush of the Season!

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Exciting News!

I am thrilled finally to be able to announce my new project, which has just gone up on Amazon for pre-order!

Honoured I am to be able to reveal I am joining a group of wonderful Regency authors in a fantastic series of full-length novels, called the Heart of a Hero Series!

"What if your favourite superheroes had Regency-era doppelgangers? And what if a group of them were recruited by the Duke of Wellington to gather intelligence for him during the Napoleonic Wars while they protected their own parts of the realm?
You'd get The Heart of a Hero series."

The Missing Duke



When his father dies, Lord Adam Bateman refuses to succeed to the dukedom which rightly belongs to his missing elder brother. Whilst performing secret and sensitive missions for the Duke of Wellington, he continues his efforts to find his twin. The search has become Adam’s all-consuming passion, leaving no time for affairs of the heart. 

Miss Lucy Mercier is also seeking answers. Her father, a tailor, had been used to make hot air balloons for various noble patrons, including Lord Adam’s sire. Believing the deceased Duke of Wardley had been involved in her papa’s failure to return from the Continent, she takes employment in Lord Adam’s household in order to discover the truth. Then she accompanies him on an important commission for the Allied Army, and finds herself having to guard against a growing attraction for a man she knows she can never have. 

Are the two disappearances connected and will two heads prove better than one in the pursuit of answers? Will Adam and Lucy find true happiness together or will the past – and their different stations – rise to keep them apart?

Sunday, 14 May 2017

A Minstrel's Ballad

Lady Penrhyn
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

THE Minstrel came from beyond the sea,
And weary with his toil was he;
But wearied more, that in one long year
No news of his lady he could hear.
By land and sea he had wander'd far,
With Hope alone for a guiding star;
Yet had he been so tempest lost,
That oft the guiding star was lost.

Safe from the land, safe from the main,
Again he has reached his native Spain;
And he feels of its sun the blessed glow,
And inhales new life, as its breezes blow.
Yet he will not stop, nor he will not stay,
But onward goes, by night and by day;
Till at length he has reach'd that fateful spot,
Ne'er from the parting hour forgot.

There—and he dare no farther go
To seek what he dies, yet dreads, to know;
And he lingers till the moonlight hour,
When that lady lov'd to sing in her bower.
Oh! will this dazzling sun ne'er fade,
This sky ne'er soften into shade;
Longer than all that came before,
Will never this joyless day be o'er:

Faded, at last the sun's red ray
Softened the sky to cloudless gray;
The longest noon must have its night,—
And o'er the bower the moon rose bright.
Roses are wavering in its beam,
As thro' their foliage zephyrs stream;
Perfumes are floating on the air,
But no sweet song is singing there.

He listens—listens—but in vain,
From that low bower there breathes no strain:
“Yet may she come"—for Hope will stay,
Even till her last star fades away.
“Yet may she come”—no more—no more,—
The dreamings of thy heart be o'er:
Who slumbers the long sleep of rest,
Is dull to the voice she once lov'd best.

A ray within the green bower shone,
It danced upon a funeral stone;
There sculptured was a well-known name,
The name most dear—the same—the same!
That night, and o'er lost hope he mourn'd;
But ere again the hour return'd,
Had parted from his native shore
An exile—to return no more.

Yet, as he left that bower of woe,
That all of his constancy might know,
A ringlet of hair on that grave he bound,
A chain of gold round that pillar he wound.

lsabel D.

From The Literary Gazette, January 1818, Public Domain

Friday, 21 April 2017

Tea ~ The Best Drink of the Day

“Tea – the best drink of the day.” Taken from a 1978 advert, this quote echoes this author’s sentiments very nicely. I suspect a large majority of the UK population, and possibly that of America too, fall into one of two camps – tea drinkers or coffee drinkers (unless they are vampires, of course, because Vampires Don’t Drink Coffee!)

Fresh tea

As a nation, the English are traditionally tea drinkers. It is as much a part of our heritage as roast beef, sausages (bangers) and mash and apple pie. The Chinese have drunk tea for centuries, so we were comparatively late to cotton on, but now we have… it is frequently the turn-to beverage for all occasions, whether celebratory (where a glass of bubbly is not feasible!), consoling or re-energising.

In the sixteenth century, Portuguese traders followed by the Dutch, came across tea in the East Indies. An agent in the East India Company, one ‘Mr. Wickham’ (I am smiling as I type) wrote to an officer of the company, a ‘Mr. Eaton’, asking for ‘a pot of the best Chaw’. (Clarissa Dickson-Wright, A History of English Food). I wonder if this is where the expression ‘char’ comes from, to then be appropriated by those sterling purveyors of our favourite British refreshment, the char lady. Tea was inordinately expensive then and in the reign of James I one pound of leaves was sold for anything from £6-£10, which was a lot of money in those times. By the sixteen-fifties, the healthful properties of Chinese tea ‘…called… by other nations Tay, alias Tee,’ became recognized and was advertised for sale at ‘…the Sultaness Head, a coffee house… by the Royal Exchange, London.’ Meanwhile, at the celebrated Garraway’s Coffee House, situated directly opposite the Exchange in ‘Change Alley, Thomas Garraway, ‘…Tobacconist and Seller and Retailer of tea and coffee…’ was quick to extol the benefits of leaf tea in a pamphlet thought to have been printed in 1660. He stocked various qualities of teas, ranging between sixteen and fifty shillings per pound. (The Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction, 1840.)

Chinese teas

Although it would most likely have been plain wood, Thomas Garraway may well have stocked his shop in a manner not dissimilar to this.

Clarissa Dickson-Wright suggests that Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II, being familiar with tea in her native Portugal, was instrumental in popularizing our national drink. Clarissa also gives it as her opinion that the custard tarts to be found in Portuguese cafes are of English origin, since London at the time was famous for both custard and custard tarts. However that may be, tea was here to stay.

An English Tea Party, Van Aken
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The first tea, popular in Queen Anne’s reign, was Bohea, a black tea from the Wuiy Hills, Fukien province in China. This term came to mean black teas grown elsewhere. Bohea was generally served in a dish rather than a tea-cup. Originally of the finest quality, it is now considered the lowest. It was soon to be superseded by Hyson tea (a kind of Chinese green tea and the same which was dumped in Boston Harbour).

Boston Tea Party, Nathaniel Currier
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Due to its popularity, in 1717 Thomas Twining opened a tea-shop for ladies, the first of its kind, since the coffee houses were strictly the domain of the male half of the population. Not to be outdone, Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens opened a tea-garden in 1720. An English institution was truly born and tea drinking became all the rage. Twinings developed the blend of black teas with added oil of bergamot, now known as Earl Grey, and named for Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl, who was Prime Minister from November 1830 to July 1834.

Black, green and fruit teas

The aristocracy demanded beautiful vessels in which to serve this by-now fashionable drink and that led to the development of the renowned English bone china. Pewter had neither elegance nor refinement enough to suit the wealthy beau monde. Josiah Wedgewood (1730 – 1795) and others began to produce beautiful fine porcelain tea services, as well as novelty items – not much changes, when you think about it. Wedgewood even produced a teapot representing the new modish vegetable, the humble cauliflower. Famous manufactories sprang up, in places such as Derby and Worcester.

Worcester porcelain at Hanbury Hall, Author
To begin with, tea was drunk sweetened and without milk. However, therein began a dilemma which continues to this very day. Fine porcelain cracks under the heat of freshly brewed tea and it is possible this led to the discovery that a little milk poured into the cup first (thus cooling the liquid) reduced this occurrence. When the stronger, less refined teas started appearing in the nineteenth century, the addition of milk became ever more popular. Nevertheless, during Georgian and Regency times, tea was still ridiculously expensive. The duty was astronomical, which led to it being an oft-smuggled commodity along with the (perhaps) more familiar brandy, rum, spices, coffee and silks.

Regency Breakfast Tea Caddy, mahogany

Due to this inordinate cost, China tea was kept in a caddy, locked with a key, so the servants could not either drink it or steal it to sell, although it must be remembered that the sale of used tea leaves was one of the perks. Such items as coffee, tea, sugar and spices were kept in a dry storeroom, usually situated off the housekeeper’s room and under her sole charge. Sugar came in large loaves and had to be cut into cubes or ground with a mortar; this was then kept in a covered bowl in a drawer to prevent spoiling by mice. We really do not know we are born nowadays!

Tea, then, was originally drunk at breakfast or in the drawing room after dinner, when a tray was brought in. This also included coffee and various cakes. Afternoon tea was thought to have been started by Anna, Duchess of Bedford, in the early 1800s. She is said to have been prone to ‘a hollow feeling’ midway through the afternoon. One day, therefore, she invited friends to Woburn Abbey at five o’clock, for a meal which included bread and butter, sandwiches, various sweetmeats and small cakes. Continuing through the summer, the engagement proved so well-attended, on her return to Town she sent out cards for ‘tea and a walking the fields’. Meadows still abounded close to the City in those days. The idea took off, was copied by other hostesses and thus ‘tea time’ was established.

Low or Afternoon tea was traditionally taken by the aristocracy at four o’clock, before the fashionable hour for taking the air in Hyde Park. It consisted of sandwiches with the crusts removed, biscuits and cakes. High tea was more substantial and eaten by those lower down the social scale, between five and six pm. It was more like dinner, with additional bread, scones and cake.

All images public domain unless otherwise stated. 

© Heather King


Wednesday, 5 April 2017



Also by James Seymour (1702 – 1752), this well-known picture was painted in 1747. An oil on canvas, it measures 24½” x 29¼” (2’ ½” x 2’ 5¼”) or 62 x 74cm. It is part of the Paul Mellon Collection and currently hangs in the Yale Center for British Art.

The Stables and Two Running Horses
James Seymour

I am lucky enough to possess a print of this painting, given to me by a good friend. It tells us so much about the way horses were kept in Georgian times, but I will get to that later.

From London, James Seymour was the son of James Seymour Snr., a banker, diamond merchant, goldsmith, artist and art dealer. Through him, James Jnr. came into contact with all the foremost artists of the day at the Virtuosi Club of Saint Luke, a gentlemen’s club for the lovers or portrayers of art. Seymour Snr. traded in Mitre Court, Fleet Street, under the sign of the Flower-de-Luce. Seymour Jnr. was basically self-taught, learning from the study of various works in his father’s possession. There are drawings in the British Museum of horses’ heads, which he produced in the style of Van Dyck and Tempesta.

When his father died, James Seymour inherited a fortune and was thus able to indulge his favourite pursuits. He adored horses and racing. He enjoyed the high life… and he enjoyed gambling. In the words of George Vertue, art diarist of the time (Tate website):

Jimmy Seymor... from his infancy had a genius to drawing of Horses (this he pursued with great Spirit set out with all sorts... The darling of his Father run thro some thousands - livd gay high and loosely - horse raceing gameing women &c. country houses. never studied enough to colour or paint well but his necessityes - obliged him to work or starve thus his time passd the latter part of his life in baseness and want of all necessaries and dyed in Town in the lowest circumstances & in debt - Southwark June - 1752. aged about or under 50.

Seymour spent more and more time on his passion for horses. He owned and bred them; he raced them; he drew and painted them. Many sporting and aristocratic gentlemen found his work appealing and he began to be patronized by such men as the Duke of Bolton, Charles Seymour, the 6th Duke of Somerset, and Sir William Jolliffe. James Seymour was renowned for his accurate representations of horses (although, in this painting, the groom is rather less well observed), unlike John Wootton, who was born twenty years earlier, who was often cited as flattering his patrons by exaggerating the size of their equine partners. In some ways, there was a progression of equestrian art, since George Stubbs, born twenty years after Seymour, used scientific research (by dissecting horse carcases) to further his knowledge and professional standing as an artist. Unfortunately, Seymour’s taste for gambling bankrupted him and he was forced to work, yet still died in penury in spite of being well paid by his aristocratic subjects. Nevertheless, he became celebrated in Europe and America and is considered one of the most influential artists of the early sporting school.

There is often a misconception in modern historical fiction, that horses were kept in stables as we would recognize them today – that is, a loose box with half doors. This is not the case. As so beautifully depicted by James Seymour, horses – even ‘famous running [race] horses’ were kept in stalls. They are tethered by log and rope, a simple mechanism of a weight on the end of the lead rein, which passes through a hole in the manger. This allows the horse a certain amount of freedom to move and lie down, but not to turn around or leave the stall. Sometimes, a chain is hooked across the end posts.

Horses have been domesticated for hundreds of years. Their natural habitat is wild, open grassland, where they can see the approach of predators from miles away. It is therefore a testament to their wonderful, giving nature, that they allow us to incarcerate them in small boxes for long periods of time. Yet they are also wise creatures. In the wild, they must forage for food, sometimes travelling miles in the process; suffer extremes of weather; fall prey to predators, disease, malnutrition, lack of water… While not disputing for a moment those dreadful cases of neglect the various animal charities work so hard to prevent, for the most part the domesticated horse is far better off than his wild counterpart.

Consider the shine on the quarters of these two running horses. That is the result of thorough grooming, good feed and exercise. As these two turn towards the groom bringing feed, their eyes are bright; they are alert. The chestnut (the one on the right) would seem to be nickering – making a soft sound of greeting and anticipation. They are rugged up, to keep them warm and protect them from draughts. The stalls are well banked with clean bedding. They have a human servant to provide their every need. As any horse owner knows, if the care is lacking, it shows in the horse’s coat and demeanour. These two are quite content with their lot, even if, like most of us, they have to work for it.

© Heather King

Monday, 20 March 2017

High Jinks At Hanbury Hall

For me, one of the joys of being an historical author is visiting stately homes. We are so lucky in the United Kingdom in the number of properties run by the National Trust, English Heritage and other such organizations and thus open to the public. If I can visit a country house in the company of another author or a good friend, then even better. I love first to go for a walk around the grounds with my dog and then take my time absorbing details of architecture, furniture and furnishings.

I write Regency romance and am proud to do so, but I also like to weave real historical detail into the fabric of my stories. If, therefore, I can come across real-life romance and true scandal I can use, then all the better! In few places could you find a more newsworthy and juicy story than at Hanbury Hall.

On St. Patrick’s Day, I met up with lovely Regency author Elizabeth Johns and we spent the afternoon at Hanbury. We went first to view the Ice House, which is set in the grounds of a cottage a short walk from the Hall. Ice Houses vary in design; this one is approached via a low, dark tunnel which I confess I found somewhat claustrophobic even though it was only a few yards long. At the end is a railing, because the tunnel opens into a circular chamber which drops three metres below ground level. It was rather disorientating, looking down into the shaft and with the air temperature considerably cooler than outside, even though it was quite a cold day. Water from a pool was drained into the ice house via a sluice gate and when it had frozen, was removed via the tunnel. It was used all the year round, for drinks, cooling foods, ices, sorbets etcetera. Having seen the base of the chamber, where there is a drainage hole for meltwater, I am very glad I have a fridge!

We then returned to the house for a guided tour, something I had always missed on previous visits. The house dates from 1701, according to the date on the stone plinth over the doorway, but this may be disputed. The house was built by wealthy lawyer Thomas Vernon, although the estate was bought by his grandfather Edward Vernon in 1631. Somehow, Thomas persuaded Court painter Sir James Thornhill (the first English artist to be knighted) to travel into Worcestershire and execute various paintings in the house. Hanbury Hall is justifiably proud of the works, particularly the staircase murals. According to Nikolaus Pevsner, the staircase dates from c. 1710 and can be compared with those at Hampton Court, Drayton and Boughton, both in Northants. This then dates the paintings to that time. The main mural depicts Achilles being found by Odysseus.

Finding of Achilles
Attribution Sjwells53

Intriguingly, although this is ostensibly a painting of classical mythology, Sir James Thornhill was the Court painter and one piece of salacious gossip is wickedly referred to by the artist. The two ladies to the rear and right of the painting were ‘bosom buddies’, you might say. The lady in turquoise, who looks enceinte, is Queen Anne. The little boy peering behind her is Prince William, who suffered from Water on the Brain (Hydrocephalus). The lady on the left is Abigail Masham (née Hill, cousin of Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough). A former servant, Abigail was brought to Court by Lady Sarah.

Brought up together in the household of the Duke of York, Princess Anne and Sarah Jennings (Jenyns) became the most devoted of friends and companions. They even coined the names Mrs. Morley (Anne) and Mrs. Freeman (Sarah) in order to exchange letters and converse freely on an equal footing. Anne was a bit of a dull, easily coerced personality, while Sarah was forceful, blunt and opinionated. Sarah’s close friendship with and influence over Princess, and later, Queen Anne led to her becoming a most powerful figure of the Court, with a meteoric rise to fame and fortune. She was made Lady of the Bedchamber, among several other titles. This success was in no way hindered by her marriage to John Churchill, Earl of Marlborough and later 1st Duke of Marlborough, a soldier and statesman who rose to Captain-General of the British Army. The Queen described her relationship with Sarah as a ‘most sincere and tender passion’. Unfortunately for their Graces, however, Sarah’s political manoeuvrings eventually tried the patience of even her close friend the Queen and they drifted apart. When she discovered that not only was Abigail occupying apartments in Kensington Palace Sarah considered hers, she was spending two hours a day in privacy with Anne, Sarah was furious. It is suggested she may have instructed her secretary, Arthur Maynwaring, to produce satirical pamphlets and poems proclaiming the ‘sweet service’ and ‘dark Deeds at Night’ that Abigail allegedly provided to Anne the ‘sweet service’ and ‘dark Deeds at Night’ that Abigail allegedly provided to Anne.

Whether or not there was a ‘romantic friendship’ between Anne and Abigail, a rift occurred between the Queen and the Duchess which was never repaired. Sarah was made to resign her offices and the Churchills were dismissed from Court.

So, to return to the painting at Hanbury, Abigail is pointing towards Achilles (centre, with the spear) and smirking. Achilles has the face of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, and is depicted looking away. Sir James was having a little laugh at their expense. If you now cast your eye to the foreground, dear reader, you will espy two more tongue-in-cheek inclusions. The lady in green is holding a hand glass and in the arms of the seated lady behind her is a King Charles spaniel. Of course, neither of those things existed in Achilles’ time!

No matter her personal preferences, Queen Anne conceived eighteen children. For those of us who love the Georgian and Regency eras, it is perhaps as well none of them lived beyond infancy, or we would not have had the Hanoverian rule which has given us so much in the way of architecture, furniture and literature, not least Jane Austen. Without her, Sir Walter Scott and others, Georgette Heyer would not have created the Regency genre, so loved by readers across the globe, nor would the many wordsmiths writing now have been inspired to bring their own Regency stories to life.

We continued our tour of the ground floor, progressing via the Smoking Room to the Dining Room, once part of Thomas Vernon’s own apartments. In about 1830, a wall was removed and the ceiling aligned to conjoin his withdrawing room and lobby. On the ceiling of the Dining Room (Withdrawing Room) are two more Thornhill paintings, one of the North Wind, Boreas; the second of Apollo and his chariot. My apologies for the quality of the photo.

The pies in the centre of the table are mutton ‘Kit-Kat pyes’, so named for the Kit-Kat Club and the pieman who made them, Christopher Catt. Thomas Vernon was a member of the Kit-Kat Club. (See blog post on the Gentlemen’s Clubs.)

Thus we come to the true high jinks associated with Hanbury Hall. It is a piece of Georgian scandal which rocked the higher echelons of Society and is a cracker. Thomas Vernon (1654-1721) had no children and bequeathed the Hall to his second cousin, Bowater Vernon (1683-1735). Although the Will was unsuccessfully disputed by Richard Acherley, husband of Thomas’ sister, Elizabeth and himself a lawyer, Bowater enjoyed the benefits of his inheritance. He spent some of his time at his London residence in New Bond Street and some at Holt Castle in Worcestershire, taking his place at Hanbury in 1733 after the death of Thomas’ widow, Mary Vernon. Bowater died only two years later, following a stroke. He was succeeded by his son, Thomas (1724-71) who also died young and from a stroke. He left one daughter, Emma, who was brought up in London by her mother.

Emma made the acquaintance of one Henry Cecil (1754-1804), both nephew and heir of the 9th Earl of Exeter, incumbent of one of the great stately homes, Burghley House. One cannot help wondering if Lady Vernon had a hand in the marriage, for it was certainly not a love match. How many were in those days? The bride had a portion of £6,000 a year and the groom £3,000.They married in 1776 at St. George’s Chapel, Hanover Square and on removing to Hanbury, set about landscaping the gardens in the style of Capability Brown, who had completed the sweeping vistas of Croome Court, near Pershore (also in Worcestershire) for the Earl of Coventry. They did away with the formal parterre, but thanks to the detailed plans commissioned by Bowater, the National Trust has been able to restore the original gardens. The interior was also substantially remodelled.

Nevertheless, despite a combined fortune of £9,000, the marriage ran into debt and disillusionment. Emma had a mind of her own and was inclined towards wilfulness, while Henry was, on the whole, disinterested and detached. The one child of the union died when but a few weeks old. Possibly as a result of this loss, Emma began to imbibe Madeira and Norris’ Drops, a Georgian cure-all. The latter contained opium, but she may have taken them to combat early symptoms of Consumption.

Then, in 1785, just weeks after his arrival to assist the rector, she fell in love with the new curate from Lichfield, William Sneyd,. They had a passionate affair, conducted over four years. William also suffered from tuberculosis, so did they share the Norris’ Drops along with billets doux? In May1789, with her lover convalescing in Lichfield, Emma finally confessed to her husband. The marriage was in disarray. Henry had had no idea, but it would appear he was more bemused than irate. Emma was deeply in love with William and after much soul-searching, eloped with him whilst on a business trip with Henry to Birmingham. In an ironic twist, the lovers travelled first to Exeter, followed by Devon and thence to London. The Countess acquired lodgings and was visited there by William. Cecil sued Sneyd in 1790 and was awarded £1,000 in compensation.

Deep in debt, Henry shut up Hanbury and assuming a new identity, departed to a village in a remote part of Shropshire to lick his wounds. A year later, he had a nine day sale and sold the contents of Hanbury Hall. While in Shropshire, he met and bigamously married (albeit under his false name of John Jones) the sixteen-year-old daughter of Thomas Hoggins, a local farmer. This was a serious matter at the time and he and Sarah had to undertake a second wedding ceremony in London in October 1791. Known as the Cottage Countess, Sarah never quite settled into her role as the mistress of a large house when Henry succeeded to his uncle’s estates in 1793 and they moved to Burghley.

Following an Act of Parliament, Emma and Henry were divorced in 1791, enabling Emma to marry William. Since he was in poor health, they moved to Lisbon, but he died only two years later. Distraught, Emma came back to England, but she could not mourn for long. A further two years on, in 1795, she married for the third time, to John Phillips, a friend and executor of her second husband. They moved to a house near Bewdley to live retired from Society. However, Fate had not finished with Emma. In 1804 she once more took up residence at Hanbury Hall, following Henry Cecil’s death. Much work on the estate then had to be undertaken, in the way of repairs and rebuilding work to the farms, due to neglect. She had returned to where she belonged and the Vernon name to the family seat.

Emma herself lived at Hanbury until her death in 1818. Whether or not she was happy with John Phillips, we shall never know, but it is said she refused to be buried in the Vernon family vault, instead choosing to be wrapped in a sheet which had once covered William Sneyd, thence to be buried near the Hanbury churchyard wall.

Life is often stranger than fiction, but love did at least triumph in the end!

With ideas buzzing in our heads, Elizabeth and I toured the rooms upstairs, viewing some Worcester and Meissen porcelain, before returning to the car and a rather late picnic lunch!

We didn’t get to the Orangery on this occasion, but one of these days I will post some pictures of that. However, here is a view towards the house along the Cedar Avenue. You can imagine what it must have been like in the house's heyday!

Unless otherwise stated, all images are the property of the author and may not be copied or republished without expressed permission.

© Heather King