St Stephen’s revisited.

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Dec 262018
 

 A post dedicated to Stephen:

26th December marks the feast of St Stephen, named in honour of the first Christian stoned to death. It is not to be confused with ‘Boxing Day’ which may, or may not, fall on this day but is correctly the name given to the public holiday occurring immediately after Christmas Day. For instance where Christmas falls on a Friday, Boxing Day (a day when traditionally a Christmas Box would be given, containing coins) will fall on Monday 28th December. St Stephen’s Day is therefore a non-movable religious festival whereas Boxing Day is a movable, secular, one.

Today’s post looks at three different traditions associated with this day, starting with the horse. St Stephen was the patron saint of horses and in some parts of Northern Europe it is traditional to take the horses, suitably bedecked, to church to be blessed. Traditionally the Christmas break meant a ‘holiday’ for all working animals (of which the horse was the most important) and in some areas the horse was therefore awarded a special meal to mark the start of its ‘time off’. In other areas the equine connection is preserved in horse racing, where The King George VI Chase is the second-most important race in the jump-racing calendar (after the Cheltenham Gold Cup) and is held at Kempton Park today.

   

It is also the most important day in the fox-hunting calendar, with meets taking place across the country, despite the ban on hunting live animals.

                        A set of English stamps (1973) based upon the story of Wenceslas.

Secondly the day is always associated with ‘Good King Wenceslas’, who, as we all know, went out on the Feast of Stephen. And yes, there was a Wenceslas, who was pretty good by tenth century standards, though in truth he was a duke in Bohemia – now part of the Czech Republic – not a king. He was born in 907 into a family wracked by religious and political in-fighting. His grandparents had converted to Christianity and when Grandpa (Duke Borivoy the First) died he was succeeded by Ratislav. Borivoy’s widow Ludmila was entrusted to bring up Ratislav’s son Wenceslas, much to the chagrin of the boy’s own mother Drahomira. who had never converted to Christianity. When Ratislav died he was succeeded by young Wenceslas, a mere 13 year old, and the wicked Drahomira seized her chance, taking power as Regent. She ordered the death by strangulation of dear old Ludmila (well, that is what you did to mothers-in-law in those days) and a period of religious persecution followed. But when he reached the age of 18 Wenceslas saw off his wicked mother and took power for himself (I do hope you are following this at the back, questions will be asked later). He was a good but fair leader, ended the persecution of priests, and was generally a thoroughly good egg. His popularity didn’t go down too well with his duplicitous brother Boleslav, who had his own circle of followers opposed to the spread of Christianity. Boleslav invited his brother Wenceslas round for a cup of tea (or maybe something stronger) and then attacked him as he was going in to Mass. The rest of the dissidents piled in, and the hapless Wenceslas was killed, aged just 28. He quickly became Bohemia’s patron saint and most famous martyr.

 

 

In 1853 the English hymn writer John Mason Neale composed the now-familiar carol, setting the words to a medieval tune known as “Tempus adest floridum” (‘the time is near for flowering’) first published in the year 1582. And if you feel the need to hear it, put this in your browser:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfKtrJ1GvOU                           

Thirdly let us look at the oddest tradition of all, linked to that tiny little bird the wren, since today is also known as Wren Day in many areas of Ireland, and where traditions linked to stoning this smallest of birds to death are still to be found across the country. Echoes of the tradition are to be found on the Isle of Man and, centuries ago, on the English mainland and in particular in Wales. The tradition is so ancient it may well be druidic (the gaelic word for wren is dreolín, which possibly derives from draoi ean, or ‘Druid bird’). Why kill the bird? Well, perhaps the tradition simply marked the end of the year with a mid-winter sacrifice, or commemorated the early Christian attempts to drive out paganism, who knows for certain?

The wren has a reputation which its tiny frame belies. One story has it that the wren is the king of the birds, by virtue of a contest in the bird kingdom to find who could fly the highest: the mighty eagle soared into the skies, leaving all beneath him, except the wren which had hitched a ride on the eagle’s back. When the eagle tired and could ascend no more the wren flew a few feet above it, and landed to the acclamation that he was indeed the king of birds. In Druid lore the birds were a link between heaven and earth – it is possible the druids worshipped the wren and for this reason the Christians opposed it and celebrated the killing of the bird at Christmas time as a symbol of their new order.

But the bird also has a name for treachery, for betraying your whereabouts to your enemies. Legend has that it was a wren which alerted the Jews to where St Stephen was hiding, leading to his capture and death by stoning. And was it not the case that when Cromwell’s soldiers were asleep and the Irish were about to attack, a flock of wrens rose into the air and wakened the enemy with the sounds of their wing beats? Had the same thing not happened when the Viking invaders arrived eight centuries before?

There are a number of such myths and superstitions about the wren and for centuries the Wrenboys would spend the weeks leading up to Christmas either stoning and killing the wrens, or collecting them and tying them alive to a holly (or other evergreen) bush. The Wrenboys would then parade through the town on St Stephen’s Day, knocking on doors. Householders would be asked to give a penny ‘to pay for the funeral of the wren’ – anyone refusing would run the risk of the Wrenboys burying the bird outside their home, a certain way of bringing bad fortune for the year ahead. Anyone making a gift of money would be rewarded with a feather from the bird. This way the Wrenboys collected enough money to finance an evening of liquid revelry at the local hostelry… with singing and dancing. The wren on its decorated pole had pride of place.

Daniel Maclise illustration for S.C. Hall’s Ireland: Its Scenery and Character (1841).

Traditions varied: in some the Wren Boys dressed as mummers in straw costumes; in others they blackened their faces with cork and dressed in old clothes (sometimes women’s clothes). Meanwhile in West Kerry tradition has it that the dancers paraded with a wooden horse’s head – harking back to the time of pre-Christian horse worship. The introduction of Christianity meant that the horse effigy also had to be burnt, and it is this that the dancers commemorate.

The wren was also known as a wran and a number of songs grew up around the tradition. The most popular one (this, based upon a variant used in Cork)  goes:

The wran, the wran, the king of all birds,
St Stephens’s Day was caught in the furze.                                                                                      
Up with the kettle and down with the pan,

Give us a penny to bury the wran.

Nowadays of course there is no bird killing – either a stuffed bird is tied to the holly pole, or a model of one, and this is decorated with ribbons and holly and used for the parade. One particular group of mummers from South West Fermanagh known as the Aughakillymaude Mummers, keeps alive the tradition of such celebrations:

                     

Christmas Past – 1826 to be precise

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Dec 252018
 

OK, so I know I am being lazy, but it is Christmas  and I am therefore once more ‘lifting’ a lovely George Cruikshank print from the Lewis Walpole site, and adding to it the description of what goes on, based on the information shown by the British Museum. The print is entitled “At home in the nursery, or, The Masters & Misses Twoshoes Christmas party”, and was published on 3rd January 1826.

1 xmasAccording to the British Museum site: “Fourteen small children amuse themselves uproariously in a small space. Four little girls in party-dresses, dance holding hands round a lady who tosses an infant; two of them hold up dolls. A fat and grinning cook stands in the doorway with a tray of jelly-glasses, cake, and fruit. The biggest boy rides a rocking-horse, giving a view-hallo; another boy with an overturned chair for horses, drives in a professional manner a high-slung rectangular cradle (left) in which sits a little girl holding a doll and an open umbrella. A little boy with a wooden sword tries to storm a table, defended by two others, with drum, trumpet, and Union Jack. These children are dressed up to suit their parts. In the foreground (right) two children build a card-house on the floor, with skipping-rope, toy soldiers, and horse and cart beside them. On the left are a top and whip, and an Eaton Latin Grammar. On the wall is pinned a caricature of Dr Syntax.”

I rather like it because it shows the excitement of Christmas in times gone by – it is noisy, exuberant, full of kids, lots of food, and everyone having fun. No computer games, no TV, no total lack of social interaction. And with that thought in mind: HAPPY CHRISTMAS!!

Going up Camborne Hill,coming down: the remarkable and generally under-rated Richard Trevithick.

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Dec 242018
 

Richard Trevithick by John Linnell, Science Museum, London 

It was Christmas Eve, 1801 and a large crowd had gathered in the Cornish town of Camborne. The stretch of road running up from Tehidy Road and along Fore Street was known as Camborne Hill, and the crowds watched in amazement as a noisy, steam-belching leviathan called ‘Puffing Devil’ moved slowly up the ascent, turned round, and then came back down again. The excitement of the occasion was described by a local cooper, Stephen Williams, who was to write later:
‘Twas a stiffish hill going from the Weith up to Camborne Beacon, but she went off like a little bird. When she had gone about a quarter of a mile, there was a roughish piece of road covered with loose stones; she didn’t go quite so fast, and as it was flood of rain and we were very squeezed together, I jumped off. She was going faster than I could walk, and went on up the hill about a quarter or half a mile farther, when they turned her and came back again to the shop.’

The event was commemorated in the song ‘Camborne Hill’:
Goin’ up Camborne Hill, coming down
Goin’ up Camborne Hill, coming down
The horses stood still;
The wheels went around;
Going up Camborne Hill coming down

It is a song still associated with Cornish prowess – especially on the Rugby field – and is one of the most lasting tributes to a man who died a pauper, and yet was a real pioneer of the Industrial Revolution. His name – Richard Trevithick – is little known nowadays, and as any schoolboy will tell you, the inventor of steam locomotion was not Trevithick but father-and-son George and Robert Stephenson.

Actually, that is not correct. The Stephenson ’Rocket’ may be renowned the world over, whereas Trevithick’s ‘Catch me who can’ engine is hardly remembered. And yet it was the first in the world to carry fee-paying passengers, in 1808. The ‘Rocket’ is rightly famous for having won the Rainhill Trials held to decide the best design for an engine to run along the Liverpool-Manchester line. Yet that was in 1829, a quarter of a century after Trevithick had pioneered the use of a high-pressure steam engine to provide locomotive power. Trevithick’s invention came first, and he deserves far more credit for his inventiveness and his dogged determination. Indeed, he can be seen as one of the first of that breed of heroic failures which litter the story of modern progress.

I am featuring him as one of my ‘forgotten heroes’ in a book to be published by Pen & Sword, probably under the title of “Georgian Greats – Unsung Heroes of the (Industrial) Revolution” – or some such. I intend to showcase a couple of dozen individuals who, but for a quirk of fate, would have been household names in the vein of Josiah Wedgwood, James Watt et al. The spotlight often dazzles us, but in doing so hides the achievements of men on the side-lines – men like Trevithick. Nowadays we may talk about ‘first mover advantage’ whereas history tells us that it is not the man who is first with his ideas who wins – it is the man who can market them.

Dec 022018
 

Just got back from a splendid fortnight cruising in the Indian Ocean (Mauritius, the Seychelles, the Comoros Islands and Madagascar). Unfortunately, the riots on Reunion meant that we had to give that island a miss – but against that, the weather was great and there cannot be many better places to spend a November day than afloat in the Indian Ocean.

I gave four talks – the first on Piracy in that part of the world 250 years ago (Olivier Levasseur et al). As luck would have it my book  ‘Piracy and Privateering’ came out just as we sailed – and my ‘author’s copies’ were held up in the post. Never mind, they greeted me on the doorstep when I got back. I had forgotten that it was going to be available in hardback format!

The second talk was on Royal shenanigans – the randy Regent and his entire family, with tales of murder, rape, incest and imprisonment (making straight-forward adultery seem somewhat tame). The audience seemed to like that, so I did anther ‘mini-talk’ on courtesans and hookers of the 18th Century. I paired it up, slightly incongruously, with the remarkable story of survival in the face of adversity by seven women abandoned on an island close to Reunion in the 1770s. No running water, no trees, no vegetation – but those seven survived fifteen years before being rescued. Incredible story. I give more details of it in the book ‘Crusoe, Castaways and Shipwrecks’ which comes out in April to mark the three hundredth anniversary of the publication of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.

Finally, I gave a talk on my old favourite – everyday life in Georgian England, looking at ancestor Richard Hall and his experiences as a hosier at One London Bridge. It is good practice for the presentation I will be giving when I do a USA tour in February – with talks in New York and Colonial Williamsburg. Before then I fancy doing another lecture cruise – possibly involving Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia. Watch this space – but quite when I can find time to finish the two books I have contracted to give Pen & Sword is something of an unknown! An end-January deadline is looming large…

 

A landmark centenary – one hundred years since women were allowed to stand for election to Parliament.

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Nov 212018
 

21st November 1918 saw the Royal Assent being given to a Bill which  became known as the Parliament (Qualification of Women Act) 1918.

In a way it was an inevitable consequence of women (in certain circumstances) having been given the right to vote. The Act meant that they could also be voted for – in other words to stand for election as an M.P. Interestingly, the British Parliament was by no means the last to permit female voting – the Dutch did so in 1920, and the United States of America passed the 19th Amendment (allowing women to vote) on 26 August 1920.

On the other hand the Nordic countries were the early runners in Europe, with Finland leading the way in 1907. Norway gave women the vote in 1913 and Denmark followed in 1915. Portugal dipped a toe in the water in 1931 but with numerous restrictions, which were only removed so as to give full equality with the men in 1976. Spain allowed full suffrage in 1933, France in 1944, Italy in 1946,  and Greece in 1952. The Swiss got going a bit late in the day – with Federal voting by women being introduced in 1971

Good old New Zealand got there in 1895. Full suffrage, to include female aborigines, was not permitted in Australia until as recently as 1962.

Following the 1918 Parliament (Qualification of Women Act)  seventeen female candidates stood for election to the House of Commons including the well-known suffragette Christabel Pankhurst (representing the Women’s Party in Smethwick). She failed to get elected and indeed the only woman to top the vote was  Constance Markievicz, representing Sinn Fein. Her party always abstained and instead of taking her seat in the Commons preferred to sit in the Dáil in Dublin. So, it was left for Nancy Astor to be the first woman to take her seat in the Commons  (December 1, 1919).

Mary_Wollstonecraft_by_John_Opie_(c._1797)

The slow progress in the intervening century is  curious: here we are a hundred years later and women still represent less than a third of elected M.P.s. But in a way that is true of the whole story of the struggle for female equality – one door opens and it looks as though there will be a breakthrough – and guess what, things stall and nothing very much happens. You only have to look at Mary Wollstonecraft – who published   A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792.  When she died the public were for the first time made aware of her ‘scandalous’ lifestyle, her attempted suicide, her affair with Gilbert Imlay, her mothering of an illegitimate daughter. The public condemnation of her behaviour totally drowned out the message which Mary had been so forcefully trying to get across. Horace Walpole had branded her as  ” a hyena in a petticoat” and for nearly a century her ideas were almost totally disregarded.

Mary features in my book “Trailblazing Women of the Georgian Era – The Eighteenth-Century Struggle for Female Success in a Man’s World” which Pen & Sword published earlier this year. Like many of the other women featured in the book, she would be astonished to hear what little progress had been made through the Victorian period. It is amazing to think that even after 200 years equality is still a mirage in many areas of everyday life.

Nov 012018
 

A lot is happening at present. At the end of November Pen & Sword are publishing my latest book, Pirates and Privateers in the 18th Century – the final flourish’ and I will be telling some of the exploits when I do a lecture-cruise for Fred Olsen on board the Boudicca when she sails in two weeks time through the islands of the Indian Ocean. In particular I will feature the remarkable story of Olivier Levasseur – possibly the wealthiest pirate who ever lived – who operated out of the Seychelles, was captured off Reunion, and was hanged on Mauritius. All very apt, as our ship will be visiting … the Seychelles, Reunion and Mauritius. Ooh argh me hearties, there be tales of buried treasure….

Meanwhile I am checking the final proofs for a book due out next Spring to mark the 300th anniversary of the publication of Robinson Crusoe. It will look at the whole question of castaways and shipwrecks in the Georgian era, and include some of the stories which are believed to have inspired Defoe to write his famous work. Nowadays Robinson Crusoe is almost always published as a single story, and it was only when I started the research  for my book that I realized that Defoe had written two sequels, and that in the Victorian era both  the original book and the first of the two sequels were usually published as a single item. The second sequel seems to have disappeared without trace – by then Defoe was somewhat running out of inspiration and was flogging a dead horse.

One of the castaway stories will be featured on the cruise – the astonishing tale of survival about a group of shipwrecked women (captured slaves) who survived fifteen years on a tiny island, without running water and with no useful vegetation, living off birds and turtle eggs. The French had deserted them on this barren island, near Reunion, promising to return. Well, they kept their promise, but only after a decade and a half. It really is a remarkable survival story.

To cap an interesting year I have been asked to go to Colonial Williamsburg in the States in February to deliver a lecture on life in Georgian London. I  have always wanted to do a lecture tour in America, and this is my chance! They are holding a five-day seminar in this (largely replica) Georgian  colonial town and it will be great to see all the buildings and the demonstrations of 18th Century skills. The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is extremely generous and  have taken care of everything.

Meanwhile I am putting the final touches to my book on ‘unsung Georgian heroes’ – inventors etc who changed our world but who are largely overshadowed by the greats of the Georgian period such as Boulton, Watt, Wedgwood and ‘the rest of the boys in the band’. I have to submit it to Pen & Sword by the end of January. Time, then, to start on my final oeuvre, which will be on Sex and Sexuality in the Georgian era. Who ever would thought that retirement could be such good fun?

An interesting Robert Dighton – “A fashionable lady in dress & undress” – from 1807

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Oct 212018
 

Image shown courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

A rather nice  engraving from one of the clan of Dightons who helped illuminate the Georgian era  – this one by Robert Dighton who lived between 1752 and 1814. The version shown is on the Lewis Walpole site  and is also in the British Museum collection where it is described in the following manner:

“The design is partly bisected by a vertical line. The same lady sits (l.) directed to the left, at her dressing-table, wearing only a long chemise or petticoat, and slippers. On the r. she sits, in the same attitude but directed to the right, fully dressed at the same dressing-table. In undress she is almost bald; a wig of naturally-dressed hair is on a stand on the table. She has an over-long neck and skinny arms. On the  table (l.) are her fan, a locket suspended on a ribbon, cosmetic-boxes, and a bottle labelled ‘Wrinkles’.

When dressed her neck is concealed by a lace ruffle on a chemisette, she has long rucked sleeves, in her gloved hand is her fan. She wears a high-waisted gown under which her legs are defined; she wears elaborately embroidered stockings with flat slippers. Her wig seems to be luxuriant natural hair; she wears an ear-ring. On the dressing-table are boxes, a bottle of ‘Lavender’, and tickets inscribed ‘Opera’ and ‘Cards’. She looks young and handsome, the dress (not exaggerated) effectively concealing her weakest points.”

Actually, the Lewis Walpole site attributes the engraving to Robert Dighton Jnr, who lived between 1786 and 1865 but at that time (ie 1800-1810) he was mostly doing illustrations with a military theme and I suspect the whole family made use of the plates, and this one probably emanated from Robert Dighton Senior. Dad led a somewhat chequered career, having been caught pilfering original artworks from the British Museum, but had a good reputation as a caricaturist. He was a fine artist, exhibiting at the Royal Academy, and sold prints and artwork from his shop in Spring Gardens, Charing Cross. Maybe he lacked the bile and viciousness of Gillray, but his gentle satire, as here, can still hit the mark. Above all, it reflects the prevalent view amongst men in the 18th century that women were in some way behaving unfairly by using wigs and make-up to disguise their imperfections – leaving men to find that they had hitched themselves to a balding old maid instead of a nubile young bit of stuff. The men of course had no such imperfections…

I am thinking of including Robert Dighton Snr in my next book which profiles Georgians who have had a raw deal from history – men (and it is generally just men) who played an important part in 18th century history but whose reputations have largely disappeared in the mists of time. We all know of Hogarth and Gillray – but there is a whole panoply of other artists who helped society let off steam by enabling the public to mock, ridicule and above all laugh at the foibles of others. One of those was Robert Dighton – and another was the young Richard Newton. Together they provided a great escape mechanism for public displeasure!

Oct 142018
 

One of the problems in writing about my ancestor Richard Hall is that I do not have his Faith – Richard was a devout Baptist. I am not, and understanding what being a Baptist meant to Richard is clearly important. By the age of 16 he was attending sermons given by Dr John Gill – although it was another twenty years before he ‘gave in his experience’ and was himself baptised. Meanwhile, he collected the printed versions of many of the good doctor’s sermons, and then had them bound up into his own book entitled ‘Miscellaneous Sermons’.

Dr Gill was a charismatic figure who was either loved or despised by his listeners. A man of huge intellect and learning he dominated the Baptist movement of his time in the same way as Wesley is associated with the Methodist movement.

John Gill was born on November 23rd 1697 and, like most children of Dissenting parents, attended his local grammar school. But this was to end when he was eleven years old – his parents were unable to continue with the grammar school education and young John was left to learn Greek and Latin and to master classical literature without formal assistance.

Just think what that meant: we are all used to youngsters closeting themselves away in their room, but generally we know that they are on their computers, accessing porn or playing mindless games. Either that or they are immersed in endless and inane chatter to friends, using the latest  i-phone. What they are not doing is pulling down a primer on Ancient Greek, starting at page 1 and working through to the very end, and then starting on the companion volume for Latin, Hebrew etc.! But that was what the young Master Gill did. He became a Hebrew scholar, studied logic and immersed himself in theological debates.

This brought him into contact with John Skepp, one of the foremost Hebrew scholars of his era, and in particular with his large collection of Hebrew and Rabbinical books. Far from discrediting Jews, John Gill recognized that, since the entire Old Testament was written by Jews, the only way to ‘get into their heads’ was to study Hebrew and read the leading Rabbincal books. When Skepp died Gill purchased much of his library. He took up his first ministry at Horsleydown Church at Southwark in London in 1721 – and stayed there until his death. He remained as Minister for 51 years. In 1723 he began a series of sermons – 122 in all, on the Song of Solomon. This was to establish a pattern which would last throughout his Ministry. His sermons did not make easy listening in the sense that he offered no easy options – he was a High Calvinist, vigorously orthodox on Christian basics, and he demanded the highest standard of commitment from his followers.

Dr Gill’s  church at Carter Lane in Southwark just a few doors down from where Richard and his family lived. Indeed when he was still a youngster Richard donated twenty pounds to the cost of keeping the premises in repair (a not inconsiderable sum in those days). Dr Gill wrote extensively and Richard was to purchase and keep many of his works. But Dr Gill made many enemies – with his attacks on Arminianism and Unitarianism and with his refusal to ‘take the easy option’. He staunchly defended the orthodox faith, in an age when people were increasingly ‘putting God on trial’ and devaluing God while elevating the importance of Man. I have a number of his sermons – they are indeed weighty, solemn, learned ….. and incredibly boring!*

A less biased opinion is given in one of today’s Baptist websites: “To say that Dr. Gill influenced evangelical Christians in general and Baptists in particular is like saying the sun influences the daytime. He was the first Baptist to write a complete systematic theology and the first to write a verse-by-verse commentary of the entire Bible. Gill wrote so much that he was known as Dr. Voluminous”.

Richard looked to Dr Gill for spiritual guidance and was utterly lost when the great man died. It probably wasn’t helped that his successor at Carter Lane in Southwark was a 23 year old Devonshire hot-head called John Rippon, or that Rippon took a shine to Richard’s teenage daughter Patty! Richard left the Baptist movement in high dudgeon and for a while became C. of E., being appointed Church Warden of the splendid Wren-designed church of  St Magnus the Martyr on the north side of the river Thames. He later resumed his Baptist ways when he moved to Bourton on the Water, and he always regarded Dr Gill as having been his mentor and guide throughout the first half of his life.

Gill died on 14th October 1771, or,  as one follower remarked: “Thus he gloriously terminated his mortal career, without a sigh or groan, on the 14th day of October 1771, at about eleven o’clock in the forenoon, at his house in Camberwell, Surrey, aged seventy-three years, ten months, and ten days.”

My ancestor was so moved by the loss of his mentor that he wrote a short book entitled “What I remember of Dr Gill” and had it published privately  so as to be able to give copies to friends. He also maintained a habit throughout his life of taking ‘shorthand’ notes of every sermon he ever went to, and then wrote them up as a fair copy every Sunday afternoon.

*As a footnote I have at last done something with all the Baptist material – I parcelled it all up and delivered it to the Baptist College at Oxford, safe in the knowledge that it may be of interest to theological scholars who may be intrigued at the comments of a man who had a ringside seat at some of the great sermons of the Eighteenth Century. The Baptist College is happy – and I have gained an extra 24 inches of shelf space!

Sep 262018
 

228 years ago my ancestor Richard Hall noted that following the passing of the Duke of Cumberland, there was a period of mourning at Court which was to last six weeks. The entry echoes the way that my ancestor always referred to the monarch as “good” King George. He clearly approved of the King, sympathised with him over his bouts of illnesses, and previously had remarked whenever there were signs of recovery.

DoC 001 I am not quite clear why the period of general mourning was delayed, since Prince  Henry, Duke of Cumberland and Strathearn, actually shuffled off this mortal coil on 18 September. Perhaps it took a week for anyone to notice…. the Prince was the son of Prince Frederick, and was 44 at the date of his death. I like the man because of his colourful affairs. When caught in flagrante with the wife of Lord Grosvenor he was sued for damages in crim. con. and ended up having to touch up his brother (the King) for ten thousand pounds, plus costs of three thousand pounds. Lawyers, even then, didn’t come cheap!

On the debit side, he helped popularise Brighton by introducing the Prince of Wales to the delights of sea bathing and general carousing, away from the court of George III. I don’t think I can forgive him for that, because Brighton has been a nightmare for motorists ever since…

What else was happening to ancestor Richard Hall on This Day in History? Well, in 1780 it was “a fine day, very warm”, but Richard omits saying what he did with his time so he may well have been sitting around with his feet up, catching the late autumn rays! The following year was positively hectic, as he caught the Oxford Stage and got there,  in safety, in time for a spot of Supper. It was a fine day mind you, but “very Cold”. In 1782 it was the night of the Harvest Supper (“pretty fine day, mild”). The following year was “a delightful fine day” spent taking tea with Mr Freeman, dining with Mrs Snooke,and attending a sermon taken from Jeremiah  2, part 31. Things hadn’t improved by the following year when it was ” very wet in the morning, after, part dull, fine-ish with some rain in the evening.” So, nothing exceptional  ever happened on 26 September, and then to cap it all, Richard would have had to close his shop just because the Duke had popped his clogs….

It is however interesting to compare and contrast what Richard had to say, with the comments made by his brother-in-law William Snooke. Richard always wrote about the weather, whereas William never once tells us if it raining or shining. Instead, he busied himself on 26 September 1775 saying that he”went afield and had a syllabub instead of Tea”. That day he also mended the stucco, and paid two shillings to Thomas Reynolds for half a hundred crayfish which he had “had some time ago” and forgotten to pay for! The year before that he had attended Burford Fair, while “Mrs Dunn and Mrs Roper went to Cirencester in a chaise a little after 8 o’clock”. He appears to have had a full house that night, because he notes that  “Mr Willis and Mr Whiting also supp’d, and slept in our house in one bed”. (Mind you, I can still remember  the family putting up people in a shared bed, usually end to end!).

Good old William: he always jotted down if he had a memorably fine  meal, and on this day 1768 he “din’d on a Gammon of Bacon, Apple Dumplings and Fillet of Veal”. It must have put him in a good mood, because he promptly gave his wife a present of five guineas, paid one shilling and sixpence for a hare, and “gave an old man at Mr Freeman’s one shilling.”

Somehow I get the impression that William always enjoyed 26 September (and every other day of the year come to that) rather more than Richard did!

Let’s hear it for Mary Wollstonecraft, died TDIH 1797. Bye-bye, Mary!

 Comments Off on Let’s hear it for Mary Wollstonecraft, died TDIH 1797. Bye-bye, Mary!
Sep 102018
 

Mary was born in April 1759 and died on 10th September 1797. In her lifetime she become a published writer, philosopher, and advocate of  women’s rights. She really was a woman ahead of her times – something which she herself was aware of, famously saying “I am the first of a new genus”. She features in my book ‘Trailblazing Women of the Georgian Era – The Eighteenth-Century Struggle for Female Success in a Man’s World’. And if you are interested in the female struggle for equal rights, do remember that you can find it here. Enjoy!