Mar 222018
 

I am delighted to be giving a talk on Saturday 24 March at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution. I have entitled my segment “Quakers, Quacks and Quadrilles”, and I will be one of three speakers covering aspects of life in Bath in the 1780s. In particular it links in with the publication of journals kept by a Quaker visitor to Bath by the name of Edmund Rack. He went on to start an agricultural show, which eventually grew into the Bath and West Show, attracting thousands of visitors every year to its site at Shepton Mallet. Back in the late 1700s it was held on a farm on the outskirts of Bath, and my ancestor Richard Hall used to visit the area and stay at the Bear Inn, next to the farm in question.

I will be looking at what it was like to visit Bath – the roads, the coaching inns and so on – as well as considering the entertainment available – from dancing to gambling, from promenading to eating. I will look at the spats between members of the medical profession, each vying with  the other to attract custom from the wealthy visitors, who were often riddled with gout or suffered from hypochondria.

If you are interested in what life was like in Fun City in the Georgian era and can get to Bath this Saturday, do come along to 16 Queen Square Bath BA1 2HN. The fun starts at 10.30 and the box office can be contacted by telephone on 01225  463362. Other contact details appear at the foot of the advertisement.

Mar 192018
 

Yup, I am a sucker for 18th Century boxes, and a trip to the website of Mark Goodger Antiques never disappoints. Here he has a fascinating apothecary’s box, manufactured by Ireland & Hollier in the last decade of the eighteenth century. The label has the details: Ireland & Hollier, Apothecaries & Chemists, N22 Pall Mall. Family Medicine Chests complete and genuine. Patent Medicines etc” 

The site describes the cabinet as being an antique ‘Duke of York’ medicine chest, made of mahogany with a brass escutcheon and door latches. It has doors to the front and back, secured by brass latches and also by a special locking mechanism  which engages when the lid is closed. I had not heard of the ‘Duke of York’ as a type of medicine cabinet before. Mark’s site description says this of it: “In the early years of the nineteenth century the so-called Duke of York medicine chest became popular…The name derives from a medicine chest in the Wellcome Collection originally thought to have belonged to the Duke of York, younger brother of George III.”

However it turns out that the name was a misnomer, because the chest in the Wellcome collection was made in 1789, whereas the Grand Old Duke died in 1763. But the name stuck and there are all sorts of variants – some with double doors front and back, some with extra doors at one or both of the sides. This one is lovely, with four drawers inside, one of which contains two lidded pill compartments. It also contains three glass bottles. Opening the rear compartment reveals eight bottle compartments complete with bottles, some of them still containing traces of their original contents. Some are labelled and reveal a fascinating cornucopia of exotic ingredients. There is ‘James Powder’, Best Indian Rhubarb, Carbonate of Potash, Colocynth and Dr Gregory’s Pills, Calomel,  Dover Powder and Jalap Powder. No home should be without them!

Sir William Forbes, Copyright Glasgow Museums.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adding to the interest is that the owner of the box has been identified as Sir William Forbes, a prominent Scottish banker who lived between 1739 and 1806. His wife had a weak constitution, having had 13 children over an 18 year period, and Sir William decided to embark on a Grand Tour in the hope that the Mediterranean climate would prove to have restorative qualities. The couple set off in June 1792, returning to Edinburgh exactly a year later. His diaries even record encountering a problem in Naples when he ran out of ‘bark’ – presumably Jesuit’s Bark (ie quinine). As Mark says on his site it is tempting to think that the chest which is now for sale was the same one which was carted round Europe during their tour. As it happened Lady Forbes soldiered on for another ten years, dying in 1802.

 

William Forbes Bank One Guinea proof note (1825).

 

Sir Willam was a partner in the Scottish banking house known as Forbes, Hunter, & Co, later becoming part of the Union Bank of Scotland. It issued its own bank notes and was well-respected. Sir William was highly regarded by the Government, advising Prime Minister William Pitt on such varied matters as bills of exchange, the need for a new Bankruptcy Act, and so on. In 1803 he published his “Memoirs of a Banking House” and after he died he was buried at Edinburgh’s Greyfriars Kirkyard.

The Union Bank developed  and flourished with other take-overs and mergers,  and eventually it joined up with the Bank of Scotland, ending up as part of the Lloyds Bank group. 

 

Mar 152018
 

It was a strange feeling, being thousands of miles away in India (where International Women’s Day is widely celebrated) to realize that back in the UK Pen & Sword were releasing my latest book “Trailblazing Women of the Georgian Era – the 18th Century struggle for female success in a Man’s World” – onto an unsuspecting public. It was  slightly odd  returning to the UK and seeing the book for the very first time – always an exciting moment for an author, and realizing that I wasn’t the first person to have a look at it!

Overall, I am pleased with it because  the book marked the conclusion of a fascinating voyage of discovery – until I started the research I hadn’t appreciated  the obstacles faced by women 300 years ago – obstacles such as a general lack of proper education, and obstacles of a legal nature (coverture reduced married women  to a state little better than slavery). I was intrigued to see that some women pushed the door ajar – only for it to be slammed shut immediately afterwards. It is almost as if the public recoiled from the whole idea of change – the Terror which followed the French Revolution was a clear example of how change could get out of control. And people only had to consider the scandalous behaviour of Mary Wollstonecraft – that fascinating proto-feminist – to see how female emancipation could so easily lead to disaster (she had, after all, been an unmarried mother, had attempted suicide on more than one occasion, and was readily dismissed as a rotten role model and, as Horace Walpole said, as a ‘painted hyena’). There is a certain irony in finding that a pioneer actually set-back the cause which she so fiercely espoused. Nowadays, her ideas are back in fashion, but she certainly went out of favour in the Victorian era!

The book looks at some of the  “petticoat pioneers” who started to break the mould – who refused to take a back seat and let the men take all the credit. The 18th Century is, when all is said and done, a century dominated by the roar of male success – men headed the Industrial Revolution, men spearheaded the growth of the British Empire, men explored, discovered, invented – and ruled. But that did not mean that women threw in the towel, and the book looks at pioneers such as Elizabeth Raffald (cook, delicatessen owner, employment-exchange owner, newspaper proprietor, and highly successful author) and Eleanor Coade (who set up a factory making products out of artificial stone). It includes the silversmith Hester Bateman, the formidable chocolatier Anna Fry, and also my favourite paradigm-shifter, the remarkable Hester Pinney. Here was a woman who enjoyed great success as a financial adviser, dealing in stocks and shares – and who preceded the first woman to cross the floor of the Stock Exchange by 250 years. I look at pioneering artists, novelists and actresses, as well as reformers and educationalists such as Elizabeth Fry, Hannah More and the anti-slavery firebrand Margaret Lady Middleton. There are one or two scientists, inventors and teachers (Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Jane Mercer and Sarah Guppy) and, perhaps standing out for all the wrong reasons, the astonishing tale of Teresia ‘Con’ Phillips. She was a bigamist, a sex worker – and a woman who never gave up in her pursuit for justice through the courts, inspiring men such as Jeremy Bentham to advocate reform of our arcane legal system, and leading directly to the 1753 Marriage Act of Lord Hardwicke. Here was a woman who just wouldn’t give up, and her life was certainly a roller-coaster!

One of the things I discovered was the often over-looked influence of the Quakers. I had not appreciated that the Quaker belief in equality not only meant that they opposed slavery, but also that they treated boys and girls equally, and generally refused to follow conventional ideas about primogeniture. I was intrigued to see the Quaker introduction of fixed prices for a product – no haggling. Their word was their bond- and the book considers how Quakers “punched above their weight” in the market place. They may have been few in number, but just think of the industries they dominated – not just chocolate-making (Fry’s, Cadbury’s Rowntree’s etc) but also banking (Lloyds, Barclays, Friends Provident). Think Clarke’s shoes, Bryant and May matches, Huntley & Palmer biscuits, and the iron and steel-makers of the Darby family at Coalbrookdale, to name just a handful. And what distinguished these Quaker businesses was that women played an active part in the decision-making process – making it all the more remarkable that 250 years later there are still only seven companies in the Footsie Top 100 which have a woman as CEO. 7% doesn’t look like equality to me!

The book ends with a look at some of the areas where women still have not made a significant breakthrough – such as the miserable 3% of airline pilots who are female, or the unequal percentage of female surgeons, consultants, judges and senior partners in legal firms. But the emphasis is not intended to be on where we are now – it tries to look at how people fought injustice, poor education and legal opposition three centuries ago. I thoroughly enjoyed researching the book  – it isn’t intended to be academic, but hopefully it will contain something of interest to general readers. Let me know!

It is available direct from the publishers here, and (in the U.K.) on Amazon.co.uk   Those of you who are readers in the States will have to wait until 3 July before it is available on Amazon.com – apparently it takes that long for the copies to float across the Atlantic on a slow paddle steamer….

Website update

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Mar 112018
 

My latest book, on female pioneers in the Eighteenth Century, was published in March 2018 (to mark International Women’s Day) and is available from the publishers Pen & Sword here and of course on Amazon. Sorry, but if you are in the States you will not be able to get hold of it until 3 July 2018 at Amazon.com

My previous book, from the same publisher, was “In Bed with the Georgians – Sex, Scandal & Satire” and it can be found (here) and of course at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.ukIn Bed with the Georgians

And if you want to know what comes next, it will be about Pirates, Privateers and plunder, but you will have to wait until later in 2018…

 

 

 

To find earlier blogs please put the title (or part of it) in the search box in the sidebar and that will take you to the appropriate post. Thanks!

Mar 022018
 

It strikes me that we are in a similar position, viewing the arrival of Artificial Intelligence and trying to guess what impact robotics and so on will have on our daily lives, to our ancestors in the late 1700s and early 1800s looking at the way steam power was revolutionising their lives. Then, and now, we can see change coming – but no-one knows where it will end. Uncertainty – and the fear of change – is always a fertile ground in which caricaturists can operate, and so here are a few prints showing the sort of alarmist concerns.

First up, a fascinating William Heath caricature entitled The March of Intellect – which I have featured before (see here), just to set the tone. It first appeared in 1829 and shows the endless opportunities offered by the March of Progress – for castles in the air, for steam powered iron horses, for bellow-driven personal transporters, and even a postman wearing what looks like a Red Bull flying suit:

Next, one featured on the British Museum site and published by Thomas McLeod in 1829 and entitled The Steam King- suggesting that steam-powered Members of Parliament would soon be generating Acts of Parliament for the Statute Book by the thousand, churning out legislation to match the needs of the growing populace.

And then a  handful shown  on the delightful Lewis Walpole Library site:

First up, Locomotion by Robert Seymour, dating from 1830 (and once more, published by Thomas McLeod).The man standing in the steam-powered exo-skeleton/mechanical stilts is complaining that the fire has gone out, while the lad with the bellows is doing his best to fan the flames. As its says, nothing is perfect. I like the various flying jalopies and delivery vehicles careering around in the background, creating havoc – and, interestingly, pollution!Next up, another McLean print from 1830, entitled New principles, or, The march of invention:

The clear message is that horse-drawn may be slow, but it is a darned less likely to blow up than your average steam-car!

The opportunities for change must have seemed endless, as here with a G Humphrey print from 1829 called ‘Pat’s Comment on Steam Carriages’ by someone calling themselves ‘A Sharpshooter’ – with the message that ‘ere long Pat would be going a-hunting before breakfast, not on his horse but atop his modified tea kettle…

Shaving by Steam, again by Robert Seymour and published in 1828, suggests that the days of the cut-throat razor would soon be over (ridiculous idea!):

And finally, a nice one about riding your own personal rocket, by George Edward Madeley and dating from 1830. It is called  ‘The flight of intellect : Portrait of Mr. Golightly experimenting on Mess. Quick & Speed’s new patent, high pressure steam riding rocket’

I guess it all goes to show: progress will happen with Artificial Intelligence, just as it did with steam power, whether we like it or not, but how those changes will affect us, goodness only knows…

In this context I quote from Erasmus Darwin, that great polymath and poet, who said of steam power in around 1790:

“Soon shall they arm UNCONQUER’D STEAM afar!

Drag the slow barge, or drive the rapid car;

Or on wide-waving wings expanded bear

The flying chariot through the fields of air.

Fair crews triumphant, leaning from above,

Shall wave their fluttering kerchiefs as thy move;

Or warrior bands alarm the gaping crowd

And armies shrink beneath the shadowy cloud.”

Well, he also said that “there seems no probable method of flying conveniently but by the power of steam, or some other explosive material which another half century may probably discover.” OK, he was out by another half century in terms of forecasting the discovery of petrol-driven locomotion, but you cannot fault his analysis of the possibilities of speeding vehicles, or of attack aircraft bombing from a shadowy cloud. It reflects the confidence of the Georgian Age – they were starting to master the universe – everything was possible.

PS: Ok one more caricature: I rather like this one of the well-dressed ladies appalled at the passing oik in his steam powered velocipede, with its horse-like rear end spewing forth excrement/pollution! It was called The Progress of Steam and also came out in 1829 – a rich year for satirists lampooning steam locomotion.