Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014 - Top of the Posts!

A time of reflection.
As 2014 draws to a close I hope it has been a happy and fruitful year for you all. On a personal level, it's been a year of changes and for a cautious person I made some bold decisions.

At this time I like to look back and see which have been the most popular posts. It never ceases to amaze me that once again the runaway winner is Cat's Eyes: Seeing is Believing. With over 42,000 views in 2014 alone (not counting all the years its been top since first posted) I can only assume that the school curriculum includes the topic of light-reflective studs in the road and school children everywhere are eagerly Googling the subject.
So, apart from Cat's Eyes, which were the most popular posts of 2014?
In reverse order, they are:

A huge thank you from me, to you – for visiting Fall in Love with History. At the time of writing the blog is just 2,619 visitors short of half-a-million readers – amazing! Thank you!

If you have any topics you would like featured in 2015, please leave a comment. I'd be happy to oblige.
Kindest regards,

Grace x

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

A Festive Quiz: some Georgian Slang

This week's blog post is by way of a festive quiz.
Guess who this dapper fellow is – as described using Georgian slang.

"Our friend in no crack lay and has the best intentions when he enters your crib – even if he needs no locksmith's daughter to get in. He is a trifle fubsey in the mid-section and has crook shanks. He is brandy faced with a malmesbury nose topped with barnacles, and sporting a turnip pate. He is smartly dressed in matching red inexpressibles and an upper toge. "

Have you guessed the mystery fellow yet?

If you are left scratching your upper storey, here is a translation.

Our friend is no house-breaker and has the best intentions when he enters your house – even if he doesn't need a key to get in. He's a trifle plump around the tummy and has bandy legs. He is red-faced with a jolly red nose topped with spectacles, and a thatch of white hair. He is smartly dressed in matching red breeches and top coat.

Of course, it's Saint Nicholas – better known as Santa Claus!
A very merry Christmas to one and all.
Be of good cheer, and I'll see you again in the New Year.

Happy Christmas everyone!

Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Angels of St Helens - A Christmas Celebration

For the second year running the village of St Helens on the Isle of Wight is celebrating Christmas by hosting angels. The community has come together  to create angels as a means of raising money for local charities. So, without further procrastination meet the angels of St Helens. 
An angel in the garden of a house on Latimer Road
The bus shelter on the green is converted into a manger
A beer barrel angel outside the Vine public house
A tribute to World War I veterans
A painting on the village green
A choir of angels made from plastic milk cartons!
Wine bottle  angels outside a bistro
A bay window angel
Another front garden angel
An angelic neighbour
A giant angel
The driftwood angel on the green
Angelic shadows
And this one? I'm not so sure about this one...

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

St Albans in the Time of the Wars of the Roses

Last Saturday I had the great pleasure of meeting up with old friends who I hadn't seen for 18 years. What made the day even more special was that we discovered a mutual love of history that had grown over the years. As a result, we spent the first part of our reunion on a tour of the battlefields of St Albans.

What's that, I hear you say?

You didn't know there were battles at St Albans (psst, Don’t tell anyone but neither did I). The battles in question were the first and second battles of St Albans during the Wars of the Roses. Now the history of the conflict was fascinating and a steep learning curve as far as I was concerned. But what I found most intriguing was the snippets of information our guide, Peter, let slip about life in medieval St Albans.

The Six Bells public house -
and the site of the first hotel in England.
 We set out from the Verulamium Museum and made our way along St Michael's Street, to stop outside the Six Bells pub. There has been a hostelry on this site since the 15th century, and apparently what is now the car park has the reputation of being the site of the first hotel in England.  [In truth, I'm not convinced. A quick Google search came up with the Old Bell, Marmesbury - but heck, it's a nice story and they've both got "Bell" in the name.] 

A short walk away we enter Fishpool Street (see picture below)
Notice the deep brick wall separating the road from the pavement. Apparently,in medieval times there was once a fish pond where the road is now, maintained by St Albans Abbey. When the pond was drained, the difference in height between the ground and the pavement made it easier for ladies and gentlemen to alight from horse-drawn carriages. 

We didn't walk far at all before we came to another pub, this time The Red Lion.
Here Peter revealed some interesting titbits of information. Apparently the landlord of an Inn (as opposed to a tavern) was liable to cover the cost of any thefts that occurred on his premises - be it clothing, a purse, or even a horse. He was also obliged to find a bed for the night for any visiting nobleman, regardless of whether the accommodation was already full or not. The idea, it appears, was to raise the standard of clients at an Inn by providing a superior service. However, tavern keepers were under no such obligation and tended to attract an altogether more rowdy class of customer. 

The Abbey Gatehouse
Another short walk and on our right is the famous abbey of St Albans, with the gatehouse visible between the trees. It was from the roof of this same gatehouse that the then Abbot watched the first battle of St Albans unfold. 

The base of the Clock Tower
Entering St Albans itself, the battle started at the foot of the Clock Tower and the bell, Gabriel, tolled to mark the start of the Wars of the Roses. Incidentally, the black lampost slightly to the left of centre, marks the spot of the St Albans "Eleanor Cross". The original monument to the grief of a grieving king over his late wife was survived until the 1650s when it was accidentally demolished when a cart ran into it. 
The lampost marking the site of the original Eleanor Cross,
with the Clock Tower in the background
Turning through 180 degrees with my back to the Clock Tower, you find yourself facing the Wax House Gate. This was were enterprising merchants sold candles to pilgrims as the last medieval "retail outlet" before the Abbey itself. 

The Wax House Gate
The last opportunity for pilgrims to buy candles
And the final nuggets of medieval history are to do with the churches of St Albans. Apparently, the church of St Peter (the tower of which is the highest point in St Albans) was built within line of sight of the Abbey, at what was considered the further distance permissible for a pilgrim to crawl in penance. 
In the photos below I'm standing in the market on the same spot, facing first towards the Abbey, then turning through 180 degrees to face the tower of St Peters church. I don't much fancy crawling that distance on my knees! 
Facing towards the Abbey (the church tower to the right of centre) 

Turning on the spot to face St Peter's church. 

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

A Short History of Wigs

What did you buy this Black Friday?
If you treated yourself, the chances are a wig was low on your list of must-have items. But in the 18th century a wig was very much on your wish list if you wanted to be in the "pink of fashion" (a Georgian expression meaning a trend-setter.)

For nearly 140 years, from 1660 to the late 1700s, wigs were all the rage. Also known as perukes or periwigs, they were introduced to England when Charles II was restored to the throne. From his time in French exile he adopted the fashions of King Louis XIII and XIV for long, shoulder length wigs.

Over the ensuing century the shape of wigs changed according to different fashions, with a gradual trend towards shorter wigs, such as those a barrister wears today. The exception of course was in the 1770s which was the heyday for the ladies to wear madly, impractical tall wigs.

Whilst wigs were in fashion, a whole new vocabulary arose to describe the different types. For instance, a queer flash was an old wig that had seen better days, a rum flash was a long haired wig, and the bulky wigs worn by clergymen were humorously known as cauliflowers.

During the 18th century, being a wig-maker was a highly skilled and lucrative profession. This was just as well because these craftsmen were nick-named skull-thatchers. (Mind you, being a hairdresser was much worse – they were known as nit squeezers.)

Wigs were powdered with ground flour, to give them the desired (?) white or grey-blue appearance. But by the 1780s people were falling out of love with wigs, and young men began to powder their natural hair and left wigs to the older generation. In 1795 the government taxed hair-powder, which all but did for the wig-wearing and it went out of fashion altogether.

So how do you feel about wigs: the answer to a bad hair day or a pain in the neck? 

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The Victorian Dog Veterinarian - Edward Mayhew

Today a paperback book landed on my doormat.It cost me £85 instead of £6. 

This happened as a result of some shady skulldugery by a major internet retail site which caused me to make a rather expensive mistake. However, being a half-full person I don't hold anything personal against the book and settled down to what I hoped to be an absorbing read.

The book isn't in the "humor" genre, and yet it raised several wry smiles. The reason? 
"I don't believe it! He did what?"
The book in question is a reprint by Forgotten Books of "The Dog: Their Management, Being a New Plan of Treating the Animal Based Upon a Consideration of their Nature", written by the Victorian veterinarian, Edward Mayhew.
An illustration by Edward Mayhew on how to drench a horse
Courtesy: RCVS Knowledge Library
Already a digression, but according to this article by the RCVS Knowledge Library blog, Mr Edward Mayhew was the brother of Henry Mayhew – the founding editor of Punch magazine. It seem Edward also inherited his brother's sense of humor as demonstrated by some charming watercolors poking fun at everyday life.

"Never mount a horse in a crowded place" by Edward Mayhew
Courtesy: RCVS Knowledge Library

 Mr Mayhew spent his early life working in the theatre and his veterinary career did not start until his 30s (quite late for a Victorian). In the February of 1845 he graduated from the London Veterinary College, and it nine years later in 1854 he published the book in question about the latest techniques for treating dogs. It is difficult to gauge how popular Mr Mayhew was, but a brief obituary in The Veterinarian (November 1868) could be interpreted as damning him with faint praise.
"He was well known as the author of several veterinary books."

So, what does Mr Mayhew have to say?
A quick dip in to the introduction reveals that Mr Mayhew was fully aware of the limitations of veterinary knowledge in the 1850s.
"Canine pathology is not fully comprehended, nor the action of the various medicines upon the poor beast yet clearly understood."
Also by Edward Mayhew, a glimpse into the groom's room.
RCVS Knowledge Library

However, he goes onto say that never was there a shortage of opinions on how to cure dogs.
"I seldom send a diseased dog into the Park for exercise, when my servant [My emphasis – I wonder, is the modern day equivalent a veterinary nurse?] does not return to me with messages which strangers have volunteered how to cure the animal."
People were nothing if not generous with their knowledge.
"I hear of medicines that never fail…Persons, often upper rank, honor me with secret communications which in their opinion are of inestimable value…sportsmen command me to do things which I am obliged to decline."
You understand I'm not bitter about the price of the book...right?
Another quick flick through the book and my eye lights on the chapter on "Operations". 
Perhaps mercifully for the dogs Mr Mayhew remarks there are very few operations that are performed on the dog. Bizarrely, he then goes onto a detailed account of how to amputate a toe (without anesthetic) for a severely ingrown claw. But let Mr Mayhew explain in his own words:
"There is no absolute necessity to muzzle the dog, provided the master is present and will undertake charge of the head …to keep the attention of the dog fixed on himself."
But apparently, the dog was not so much a problem as the owner.
"I have removed a joint or two from the leg without the animal uttering a single cry; although the master, unused to such sights, has been seized with sickness so as to require spirits for his restoration".
Well, that's quite enough of that for now, time for tea. Please come back next week for extra helpings. 

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

How did Piccadilly, London, Get its Name?

What links starch to Piccadilly and the Royal Exchange, London?

In the 16th century, starch – along with other fashion essentials such as silk and lace-  made its way from France to England. This is significant because starch was used to stiffen those stupendously impractical neck ruffles so strongly associated with the Tudor age. In a way, impracticality was the point, because wearing a ruff marked you out as someone who didn't work with his hands and could afford servants and a laundress, and generally had more money than sense.

The relevance to our story is that these exotic starched ruffs gave their name to one of the most famous streets in London, Piccadilly. This road runs from Hyde Park corner to Piccadilly Circus, and is one of the widest and straightest roads in London.

Until the 17th century the road was known as Portugal Street. A tailor, Robert Baker, in the late 16th and early 17th century, owned a shop in the Strand. He made a small fortune making stiff collars with scalloped edges. These starched pieces of neck wear where known by many names, mostly on a variation on piccadills, peckadills, picardillos, or pickadailles, from which the word Piccadilly arose.
It was exquisite lace collars like this that made
Robert Baker a rich man

In about 1612, Mr. Baker used some of his money to buy a tract of land where he built a mansion that become known as Piccadilly Hall. With the restoration, in 1660, this area took off as a place patronized by the fashionable elite, and Piccadilly was born.

However, one drawback of wearing starched piccadills is that the starch dissolved in the rain, turning into a sticky, wallpaper paste-like mess. Of course, no fashionable man wanted to look stupid in the rain and so had a keen eye on keeping out of the weather. Perhaps with this in mind Sir Thomas Gresham built the Royal Exchange, London.
The New Royal Exchange

The Royal Exchange became one of the world's first shopping malls and contained around 150 small shops, and was a convenient place for City merchants (around 4,000 of them at the time) to congregate together and do business in the dry. (Gresham's building was destroyed by fire, and the current Royal Exchange was built in 1840.)

Funny isn't it, how starch from the humble potato has had such an influence on the City of London!