Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Lillie's Love Nest.

The Jersey Lillie "Lillie Langtry."
A chance mention in a local paper of the Langtry Manor hotel, triggered this week’s blog post. The Langtry Manor resonates with me because my wedding reception was held there and its where I spent the first night of married life. Now I wont bore you with how my wedding was organised at 2 weeks notice and a quirk of fate meant our dream venue was free…because what I wanted to share was the history of this fascinating building and how it was Edward VII’s love nest for his mistress Lillie Langtry.
Pencil sketch of Lillie by Frank Miles.

To understand the Langtry Manor, you need to know about the lady it was bought for. Lillie Langtry was born in Jersey, 1853 as Emilie Charlotte Le Breton. The daughter of a clergyman, with six brothers she grew up a tom boy. Eager to have adventures of her own and surprised by the male interest, she married young Edward Langtry just six weeks after meeting him. It was a rushed ceremony, with the couple dressed in travelling clothes, because Edward wanted to catch the tide for his yacht “Red Gauntlet”
Lillie, as Cleopatra.

But Lillie’s new life bored her and after a bout of illness, she went to London to convalesce. In April 1877 she was walking in Hyde Park when a young artist, Walford Graham Robertson spotted her. He noticed a young woman and approaching and from her plain black bonnet and dress assumed her to be a milliner’s assistant. Robertson goes on to record:

“…the girl looked up and I all but sat flat down in the road. For the first and only time in my life I beheld perfect beauty!”

Her looks and creamy complexion soon earnt her the nickname ‘the Jersey Lillie’. Her beauty made her famous and provided an entrĂ©e into society. The Countess of Warwick described her thus:

“She had dewy violet eyes, a complexion like a peach. How can words convey the vitality, the glow, the mazoing charm tha made this fascinating woman the centre of any group she entered?”

Edward VII.

Artists flocked to paint her and a portrait by Sir John Millais came to Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) attention. He had his equirries engineer a discrete meeting with Lillie, which eventually led to her becoming his mistress. The problem then presented itself as to how they could meet privately. The Prince of Wales chose the rising seaside resort of Bournemouth, for their love nest. A building was commissioned and started in 1877 with Lillie’s initials carved into the foundation stone. Made of red brick (in subsequent decades painted a horrid peach colour) she called the building “The Red House” and had a wall plaque mounted saying “Dulce Domum” (Our Sweet House.)
The Red House - or Langtry Manor - as it is today.

The Red House became a refuge for Edward VII from the rigours of court. He had a peep hole built into the dining room wall, so he could check who was present before deciding whether to enter or not. Above this same room is a mintrels gallery, carved with the motto:

“They say? Let them say!”

With the passage of time The Red House was sold and became a hotel 'The Langtry Manor.' There were numerous secret passages and stairways, for him to visit his mistress anonymously. Although Edward took other mistresses, he remained friends with Lillie to the end of his life.
Lillie divorced Edward Langtry in 1887 and went on to enjoy a career on the stage. She died aged 75 in 1929.
Lillie endorsing Pears soap!

All of which means that you can appreciate the significance of the Langtry Manor and what a romantic location it was for my wedding.
How about you - what memories do you have of your wedding venue?
Leave a comment and share it with us.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Royal Pseudonyms.

My pen name is Grace Elliot. I use a pseudonym because as a veterinarian, some clients aren't comfortable having their pet treated by an author of historical romance! But it appears I’m in august company, since in the past royalty were not averse to using an alias (although for different reasons I’m sure!)

King George III wrote under the name of Ralph Robinson when he submitted an article to “Annals of Agriculture” in 1787.
However his son, George IV (who became prince regent and the name behind the Regency period) was altogether more frivolous and wrote love letters under the name “Florizel” This was because George fancied himself in love with the actress Mary Robinson, who appeared as Perdita in a production of “Florizel and Perdita.”

She [Mary Robinson] is I believe almost the greatest and most perfect beauty of her sex.” George IV

Mrs Mary Robinson or 'Perdita.'

The daughter of a failed businessman and the dupe of a lying hound of a husband, Robinson supported her family by going on the stage, aged 14, as a protegee of David Garrick. She must have been gorgeous, especially with her legs on show in the breeches parts so common in Shakespeare. Critics recognised her outstanding beauty, but also praised her acting ability in a number of roles. In 1779, the teenage Prince of Wales went to Drury Lane to see Garrick's adaptation of The Winter's Tale, and was smitten. She was the first of his many mistresses.

George IV, in later life.

.In return, she obtained a bond of £20,000 from the future George IV (equivalent to nearly £1m today), jewels, carriages, a house in Berkeley Square and Parisian fashions that dazzled society. George Romney, Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds painted her portrait for free. Newspapers and scandal sheets reported her every move; ladies of the town rushed to ape her manners and her style.

The Balmoral Estate, Scotland.
Queen Victoria also used a pseudonym when travelling unofficially - The Countess of Balmoral or the Countess of Lancaster - not exactly slumming it! However few people were fooled and hailed the Countess with “Vive la Reine d’Angleterre.” She also liked to fantasize when at Balmoral that she was an ordinary person and so instructed the servants to act as though she was invisible if they encountered her when out walking.

In her journal, Queen Victoria describes how she and Prince Albert used pseudonyms on a journey.

“We decided to call ourself Lord and Lady Churchill and party….however Brown [John Brown, Victoria’s personal servant]  forgot this and called me ‘Your Majesty’ as I was getting into the carriage and Grant [head keeper] called Albert ‘Your Royal Highness’; which set us off laughing but no one observed it.”

My latest release, “Eulogy’s Secret” is about identity and how appearances can be deceptive. It’s an interesting thought - how much who were are depends on who people think we are!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Cat's Eyes - Seeing is Believing.

The invention of the reflective road stud widely known as the ‘Cat’s Eye’ was inspired by a near miss in 1933 when Yorkshireman, Percy Shaw, whilst driving in thick fog swerved to avoid hitting a cat. The reflection of the car’s headlights hit the back of the cat’s eye and alerted him in a nick of time. Perhaps even more significantly, the cat was standing near a dangerous bend in the road that led to a sheer drop over a cliff - so not only was the cat’s life saved, but very likely Shaw’s.

After this near death experience it became Shaw’s mission in life to develop a light-reflecting warning for roads and in 1935 he started his own company, “Reflecting Roadstuds Ltd.”   Shaw’s other innovation was the mechanism (again the inspiration drawn from actual cat’s eyes) whereby the glass was embedded in a moveable holder which depressed into the road when run over. This pushed the lens against a rubber coating which wiped it clean; much like a cat’s eyelid does against the cornea. To ensure fairness, The Ministry of Transport held a competition for rival designs but after two years Shaw’s were the only ones still in one piece or not silted up with road dirt.

 As far back as classical Egypt, a cat’s eyes were worthy of note.  The goddess Bast, also called Bastet, is widely known today as the “Cat Goddess. Legend has it that, by day, Bast would ride through the sky with her father, the sun god Ra, his boat pulling the sun through the sky. But by night, she transformed herself into a cat (renown for its superb night vision) to guard her father from Apep (also known as Apophis), a serpent who was her father's greatest enemy.

Even in the middle ages, the properties of cat’s eyes were recorded as in this excerpt from John Bessewell’s book from 1597:

“He [the cat] is sly and willie, and seeth so sharpely that he overcommeth darkness of the nighte by the shynigne lyghte [shining light] of his eyne [eye.]”

In 1868, Charles Ross enlightened (excuse the pun) readers of his work, “The Chit Chat Book of Cats” with an explanation of the workings of a cat’s eye.

“The illumination of a Cat’s eye in the dark arises from the external light collected on the eye and reflected from it. The cat is furnished with a bright metal-like , lustros membrane, called the Tapetum, which lines part of the hollow globe of the eye…this membrane is especially beautiful and lustrous in nocturnal animals.”

Modern science tells us that the lustre is due to a high percentage of rods in the retina - which are especially sensitive to light, but Mr Ross’s description perfectly describes the qualities of Shaw’s cat’s eye invention!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Walking Eagle...and other Toilet Humour.

With thanks to the internet and my sharp eyed husband for the following (alleged) Tony Blair story:

On a recent trip to the United States, Tony Blair, Ex. Prime Minister of the UK, addressed a major gathering of Native American Indians. He spoke for almost an hour on his plans for a CarbonTrading Tax for the UK and Europe At the conclusion of his speech, the crowd presented him with a plaque inscribed with his new Indian name - Walking Eagle. A very chuffed Tony then departed in his motorcade, waving to the crowds. A news reporter later asked one of the Indians how they came to select the new name given to Tony Blair They explained that Walking Eagle is the name given to a bird so full of shit that it can no longer fly.

I love learning about words and phrases and with Tony Blair in mind, I discovered an interesting origin to the common British term for a toilet, politely referred to as “the cloakroom.”

It started with the Normans who introduced the first fixed room for what we would now call an indoor toilet. The White Tower, at the Tower of London, built shortly after the Conquest, has garderobe shafts built into the thickness of the walls. (These shafts faced away from the city of London so that the newly beaten subjects wouldn’t see the stains left by the conquerors’ faeces) These garderobes were little more than a room with a seat over a hole, and called garderobes because they were literally places to “guard robes.” It seems the ammonia rich environment was an excellent way of killing fleas and other unwelcome parasites, and so your most precious garments would be hung in the garderobe. It is from this same origin that the term ‘cloakroom’ is thought to have developed.

Whilst on the subject of cloakrooms and toilets, you may be interested to learn that the ancient Romans favoured a sponge tied to a stick, as the most hygienic way of wiping their bottoms - this may well be the origin for the expression “getting hold of the wrong end of the stick.”!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November!

November 5th marks another anniversary for that most famous (or infamous) of British plots. It was on this day in 1605 that Guy Fawkes and conspirators attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament during the State Opening by the King, with the entire government present. This dastardly attempt by Catholics to strike a blow against a century Protestant tyranny was discovered just minutes before the ceremony and disaster averted.

An outraged country rejoiced at what appeared Divine (and Protestant) intervention, whilst it now appears that much of what we take as fact was actually a masterstroke of early political spin that has endured for over four centuries.

Circumstantial evidence now suggests that Robert Cecil, Secretary of State and Keeper of the Privy Seal, was aware of the plot all along. He let it run safe in the knowledge that his spy network had it covered, and that it could stopped at the time most politically expedient to him.

The Gunpowder plot discovered!

 “Remember, remember, the fifth of November; gunpowder, treason and plot”

-the rhyme English school children learn at school, was Cecil’s work to capitalise on anti-Catholic feeling - just in case people started to forget. Its origins stem form a law passed by Parliament 8 weeks after the event, called “The Observance of 5th November Act,’ which decreed a legal requirement to for an annual celebration of thanksgiving for the failure of the gunpowder plot, described as:

“…an invention so inhuman, barbarous and cruel, as the like was never before heard of.”

The law remained on the statute books until 1859 by which time it was so deeply ingrained on the British mindset as to be indelible. It was revoked because in the 1840’s onwards, many customs associated with Guy Fawkes, such as the tradition of dressing a mannequin and collecting money “A penny for the Guy”, then setting fire to him - took a nasty turn.

“…the great annoyance occasioned …by a set of idle fellows, with some horrid figure dressed up as Guy Faux, and which assembling  mob, is the cause of may depredations and disorders”
The Procession of a Guy.

Simmering religious tension often boiled over with such obvious ‘anti-popery’ on display.  For example, November 6, 1838, The Times reports and fracas in the City.

“A mob of about 200 persons…paraded the northern part of the metropolis, with a donkey…on which was an effigy of Guy Fawkes….They went up Chalk [Farm] Road where they were attacked by a party of Irish labourers, who pelted them with stones.”

Over the years things got so bad that the authorities had attempted to ban such celebrations…which eventually led to them moving into people’s back gardens or the organised public displays we have each November 5th.

How are you celebrating this fireworks night, or do you have pets, and heartily disapprove? Do leave a comment.