May 162012
18th Century chintz wallpaper, courtesy of the V&A

I remember working in a Georgian office in Bristol where the wallpaper was looking tired and in need of being replaced. It was only when the decorator came in and put his scraper through the wall covering to the rough stone behind it that it was realized that the paper had been hung on canvas sheets, stretched taut over a wooden frame, and that the walls had never actually been plastered! I suspect this may have been a common way of squaring off and smoothing irregular walls and rough surfaces. For what is certain is that applying paper to walls was a very common fashion in the Eighteenth Century.

Quoting from

“Jean-Michel Papillon, a French engraver and considered the inventor of wallpaper, started making block designs in matching, continuous patterns in 1675, and wallpaper as we know it today was on its way. The oldest existing example of flocked wallpaper comes from Worcester and was created in approximately 1680.

The manufacturing methods developed by the English are significant, and the products from 18th century London workshops became all the rage. At first, fashion conscious Londoners ordered expensive hand painted papers that imitated architectural details or materials like marble and stucco, but eventually wallpapers won favour on their own merits. Borders resembling a tasseled braid or a swag of fabric were often added, and flocked papers that looked like cut velvet were immensely popular.

Wallpaper came to America in 1739, when Plunket Fleeson began printing wallpaper in Philadelphia.

In 1778, Louis XVI issued a decree that required the length of a wallpaper roll be about 34 feet. Frenchman, Christophe-Philippe Oberkampf invented the first machine for printing wallpaper in 1785. Frenchman, Nicholas Louis Robert invented a way to make an endless roll of wallpaper around the same time.”

This gives us a background for the diary entry for September 1768 (made by Richard Hall’s brother-in-law William Snooke) relating to the Manor House at Bourton on the Water.

Paid to Mr Stark for ten pieces of crimson flock at eight shillings a piece. or eight pence a yard (4 shillings abated on the whole) – Three pounds sixteen shillings. Bordering eleven shillings. Total: Four pounds seven shillings.”


Flock paper from c.1760

The paper was for hanging in ‘the Best Chamber’ and it is unclear whether the draping of the paper on the walls was connected with another item of expenditure for the same day (Saturday 1st September) “Paid for a box of tools One pound eleven shillings and sixpence”. Whatever it was, he needed more because in October he paid “half a crown more for tools” (i.e. another two shillings and sixpence). The total expenditure on flock paper, borders and tools therefore came to just under six pounds – not far short of four hundred pounds in modern terms.

 Flock paper, left, image courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum, which has a fascinating article on early flocks at


Other expenditure that first week of September: “two shillings for half a hundred of crayfish, one and sixpence for a hare, four pence ha’penny for three quarters of a yard of black ribbon for my Wig, servants one shilling and mending the salt shovel sixpence.”

The butcher’s bill for dog meat had obviously been overlooked for some months because there is also an entry “Wm Hyett’s Bill for Flesh for the Dogs from June 22 Eleven shillings”

But there was enough in hand for the odd tipple – two gallons of Geneva (i.e. Gin) at nineteen shillings and One pound four shillings for an equivalent amount of “best coniac Brandy” meant a stockpile of four gallons of hard liquor to see out the winter ahead!

A typical still for making cognac in the 18th Century, picture courtesy of

May 152012

I have touched on this in The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman – clearly my ancestor Richard Hall would not have wanted to be thought of as a “country bumpkin” and would have been at pains to make sure he pronounced words correctly. Where the spelling differed from the pronunciation he jotted down the reminders: so, we get “shaze” for “chaise”, “dimun” for “diamond” and even “crownor” for “coroner”


I was also intrigued to see that “gold” was pronounced “gould”, Farthing” as “fardun” and “toilet” as “twaylet ” or even “twilight”. O.K., some of the examples are obvious (“yot” for “yacht”) but on the whole he does come across as a tad affected by modern standards!









Place names and proper nouns were obviously not the same as now: I can just about remember people calling “Cirencester” by the name of “Sisester” and the Somerset village of Congresbury being pronounced “Coomsbury” but although we still talk of “Brummies” we don’t call the city “Brummagen” any more. Bartholomew is not, so far as I am aware, pronounced “Bartolomy”.  And even in Richard’s time “Brighthelmstone” was being abbreviated to match the way it was pronounced – “Brighton”.

I suppose it boils down to the fact that pronunciation, like spelling, changes over the centuries. as well as from locality to locality. But it does make you think, if a well-educated man like Richard spoke of “hartichokes” rather than “artichokes”, and called his cucumbers “cowcumbers”. But then, think of the strained pronunciation of “Georgiana” in the film ‘The Duchess’ – it is almost as if the upper echelons of society deliberately strangled their vowels to make it impossible for the hoi-poloi to follow!

May 142012

Just to stir the pot and give another view on the rivalry between the English and their cousins across the Channel, here is another fine print courtesy of the British Museum (copyright acknowledged). It shows a pair of elegantly attired French ladies dressed in white with elaborately ruched costumes, encountering three rather plain and oddly attired English ladies.

The English wear long-waisted close-fitting bodices, with skirts narrowing at the bottom, giving an oddly dumpy profile (akin to a sack of potatoes) whereas the French ladies wear gowns which are high-waisted, with full skirts to the ankle, and which are elaborately trimmed with pinked, scalloped, or embroidered frills. There is no mistaking that this is a Parisian print showing French views of English taste – brought even more into high relief by the rear views of the men in the background. The stout figure on the left, with an ill fitting coat and exaggeratedly turned down boots, is clearly English. The figure on the right is an elegantly attired Frenchman in a short full-skirted coat, well-fitting breeches, and top-boots of less extreme cut.

The print is dated November 1814.

Oh dear and just as I thought  we were trying to be nice to each other…

May 132012

I cannot recall that it is “Be nice to the French Day” but just in case it is, I thought I would share this with you:

A real turn-up for the books – an 18th Century illustration of the differences between the French and the English,  where the artist (Rowlandson) is not being nasty to our European cousins! It is entitled “Englishmen in November… and Frenchmen in November”.

 The image is from the British Museum, and therefore their copyright is acknowledged.

So, there we have it: as the winter evenings draw in les Anglais sit around in their arm chairs being bored, while their French counterparts are having witty conversations, cavorting, playing musical instruments, imbibing the odd drink or three,  playing with their dog, joining the hunt, or going off to dance a jig!

I find preconceptions about other nationalities fascinating. A couple of years ago we were staying in a French guest house. The other residents were an elderly French couple, who told us proudly that, no, they had never been to England, and was it really true that the English like their beer warm and ate a lot of boiled meat? (!) I felt I couldn’t argue with the former, but was at pains to point out that we do occasionally roast, casserole, barbecue, grill and fry our meat. I suspect that ‘boiled beef and carrots’ has a lot to answer for…

May 102012

One of the great pleasures in researching for my book The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman was coming across the maps of Richard Horwood.They really are exquisitely drawn, and as the cartouche says, they show London and Westminster, the Borough of Southwark, and parts adjoining, ‘shewing every house’.

The maps were published between 1792 and 1799 but Richard Horwood is believed to have started working on the maps at least a decade previously. It really was a huge undertaking: he and his team of assistants had to scrabble around every single property, every alley way, every back garden, in an attempt to give a comprehensive plan of the whole area. Of course there were omissions – the Tower of London steadfastly refused to open its doors to the cartographers. Presumably it was classed as a military installation, given that England was at war with France. Horwood simply records that: ‘The Internal Parts not distinguished being refused permission to take the Survey’,  But astonishingly just about every other landowner consented to this  detailed study and the result, drawn at a scale of 26 inches to the mile, gives a beautiful and accurate picture of London at the turn of the eighteenth century. The map was reissued at least four times, with relevant additions and alterations, up until 1819.

An overview of the 32 sheets making up Horwood's map

The detail is wonderful – where street numbering had already been brought in the numbers were clearly shown and where numbers had not yet been allocated Horwood made it clear that “Should the Commissioners appointed for that purpose and the Parishes think proper at any future period to make a regulation in the Numbering, the Proprietor would in that case with Pleasure furnish any Gentleman who may desire it, with a New Set of Impressions in exchange for the old, at a trifling expense”.

The undertaking must have been hugely expensive. Horwood had raised the not-inconsiderable sum of £4000 by public subscription by the mid 90’s, an indication that the idea readily found favour with landowners, surveyors and public officials anxious for a more accurate map than the outdated John Rocque plan of 1740. Even this sum was not enough to cover the cost of completing the surveying, paying for the plates to be etched, and for the Plan to be offered for sale. Horwood approached the Phoenix Fire Office in Lombard Street for a loan.

The Phoenix Fire Office put up £500 and agreed to pay another twenty pounds on promoting the Plan through advertising. In return Horwood agreed to dedicate the map to the Phoenix and this dedication is shown here:

I love the maps because they conveniently identify the exact premises constructed by my ancestor Richard Hall at Number One London Bridge. That address is nowadays allocated to a glass and concrete monolith south of the river, but in the 1790’s it was the address of my  forebear’s shop on the north side of the Thames. I still have his accounts showing the building cost  (£850) and surveyors fees of £228 (even the paper hanging expenses of five pounds sixteen shillings). But I had always assumed the building was in Southwark until I came across an envelope addressed to Richard, describing his house as being next to St Magnus the Martyr church. The Horwood map bears this out – there are three houses built next to the waterwheel, right on the approach to London Bridge, and just over the road from Wren’s masterpiece. Richard’s shop is shown as the building in the corner of the quadrant formed by the Bridge as it joins Lower Thames Street.










The book explains the history of the shop – how it was nearly burned down on 31st October 1779 by a disastrous fire which destroyed the adjoining hop-house and which reduced the waterworks to the level of the Thames. Frightening for Richard, who was forced to take refuge in St Magnus Church, and irritating for the wealthy householders who no longer were able to draw water from the elm conduits which until that night had been used to pump water from the Thames to their premises, for several hours a day.

Richard’s son Francis  succeeded to the business when Richard died in 1801, and Francis kept the shop until the lease expired on Christmas Day 1826. Closing the shop, selling the stock, and moving out into a new home must have been too traumatic for Francis: he too expired, on the very next day (26th December 1826).

And the house at One London Bridge? It was to be demolished within a few years, to make way for road re-alignmnets linked to the new London Bridge, designed by Rennie and opened in 1831. Meanwhile a different map-maker, the Greenwood brothers, brought out their own map in 1827 and the two bridges, old and new, can be seen side by side. One London Bridge was still standing, but within a couple of years both it and the old bridge had gone for ever.

But what of Richard Horwood the man? Very little is known about him. He was born around 1757/8 and died in poverty in Liverpool in 1803. Horwood had gone to Liverpool to prepare a set of maps of that city, and six sheets were finished.


To end with, the Horwood map showing where Richard Hall was born, at Red Lion Street in Southwark:

Post-script:  Copies of all the  Horwood plans, of a higher quality than the ones shown here, are available at the splendid MOTCO site at  I used them for copyright versions of the maps used in my book and they really were most helpful, to the extent of sending off a CD-Rom to the publishers at very short notice, and e-mailing me from France to confirm that it had been done. Scroll through their website and you can find places using their index of 5500 names. A wonderful way of spending a spare hour or two!

May 092012

Poor Richard Hall. This day in 1773 was the Sabbath, and normally wild horses would not have prevented him from making the journey (on foot) from his home at Number One London Bridge, over the bridge to Southwark, to attend the service conducted by the Baptist Minister in Carter Lane.

“Was confin’d at Home on account of pain in my bowels. May an absence from the House of God increase my apetite to His Holy Word.”


Poor Richard, he was for ever suffering from “oppress’d wind”, or pains in his bowels. Fortunately he knew exactly what to take for his ailment: the entry below calls for a quarter of an ounce of Senna, “put on it about a Gill of hot water” to be washed down first thing in the morning with a little Brandy. “Cardimum Drops” knocked back with a tea-cup full of camomile tea (twice a day) sounds O.K. but off hand I am not sure what went into “Sir Walter Rauleigh’s Confection” (but hey, you knocked it back with a glass of wine, so it must have been  beneficial….).

Maybe Richard just made do with  Mr Crouch’s medicine for Bowel Complaints: “sugar candy, Liquorish Powder, Rhubarb, Carraway Seeds, Cream of Tartar, all finely powdered and taken at night” (again, with camomile tea). Whatever, Richard records that the next day his “bowels, through Mercy, better.”  Which is nice for all of us…

May 072012
Map of Van Diemen’s Land, 1852

Visiting Tasmania makes you appreciate how hard it must have been for the early settlers towards the end of the Georgian era. Hobart was founded in 1804 under the control of Governor David Collins. At that stage it was still regarded as being ‘Van Diemen’s Land’ and the fact that the island was separate from the Australian mainland had only been discovered  five years before by Captain Bass (after whom the straits are named).

Getting there from Britain involved a journey of at least two months, sometimes longer. And when the settlers arrived, it must have been extraordinarily difficult carving out a livelihood in a land with no infrastructure – no established communities, no roads, no proper medical facilities. Those arriving were met by the gruesome sight of the gallows, where felons were hanged, and the gibbet where the corpses were left to rot. Some welcome! For Tasmania was a penal colony, and miscreants were sentenced to death for a myriad of minor mis-deeds.

Initially the main  opportunities for employment centred on whaling and fishing. But both were cruel masters. This was brought home to me when I visited the churchyard of Tasmania’s oldest church in Hobart. Here is one – just imagine how Elizabeth, the surviving widow  of Captain Laughton, must have struggled to bring up three children without a breadwinner and no social support! But survive she did, living another 42 years before her death in 1869.

Then there was the infant mortality rate. Look amongst the graves and you will find numerous poignant memorials: Here is one of them:





Those arriving on the island of their own free will had to face one other problem – a drastic shortage of female company! This got so bad that a committee was formed to try and encourage female immigration. Advertisements were placed in British newspapers. Finally, in 1851 The Beaulah docked at Hobart, carrying 169 single women. It must have been quite an eye-opener for the women – most of them were good Catholic girls from Ireland! The eligible bachelors waiting for them were neither good nor, in general, Catholic, but somehow or another the newcomers settled in and helped found the family units which struggled to tame the island in the years which followed.

Time and time again you come across records of people who died as children, or as young adults. These are memorials to people who crossed the world to make a new life, generally without support from older family members. A hard life indeed. The gravestone on the left is for a 27 year old ‘free settler’ (to distinguish him from a deportee) and on the right for a 12 year old ‘native boy’ named George Weston who for five years had been under the protection of Charles Connelly.




May 042012

“1800. About May 4th Great Storms of Lightning Thunder & Hail at Windsor – Liverpool – Hull – Northampton – Kettering – Warwick – Lincolnshire etc. Great damage done to a Turnpike House at Minster near Witney. The Turnpike-man (was badly injured).”


There were of course hundreds of turnpike houses the length and breadth of the country, as each community formed its own Turnpike Trust to carry out road improvements and in return receive the right to impose road tolls. Although many of the toll houses remain they have often been substantially altered to provide contemporary accommodation. The one pictured here was ‘rescued’ by the Avoncroft Museum near Bromsgrove in Worcetershire. Along with dozens of other recscued buildings visitors get the chance to see buildings ‘as they were’. Well, if it was the Minster Turnpike, I suppose it would have to be “as it was before it got hit by lightning”.

Richard Hall always noted down the expenses of travelling, which included turnpike fees (here, as “TP” or “T Pike”) etc:





Each turnpike cottage would display the rates for travellers. This one, from Northchapel, appears courtesy of the website of the Open Air Classroom

May 022012

Given that interest rates are in the news again, I thought it might be helpful to see what Richard Hall had to say about the changes in interest rates in the period from the reign if Henry VIII through to George III:

I am sorry that I cannot get the diary extract any clearer (the sermon on the other side of the paper keeps coming through!) but basically what Richard recorded is that on 31st January 1545 the Legal Rate of Interest was fixed at 10%, that this was repealed by Edward VI four years later, and then re-introduced by Queen Elizabeth on June 15th, 1571. It was reduced to 8% by James Ist. Charles II reduced it still further to 6% in 1660 (right at the start of the Restoration of the monarchy) and Queen Anne reduced it yet again on September 29th 1714 ‘to its present standard of 5 per cent’

Both Richard Hall and his brother in law William Snooke lent money to friends and colleagues, as well as to members of the aristocracy, at a rate of four and a half per cent. Hence at the date of his death Richard’s estate included a debt of one thousand pounds due to him from Lady Skipworth. Loans of up to a hundred pounds were dealt with by a simple I.O.U (i.e. a promissory note); from £100 to £1000 was covered by a bond i.e. under seal; and anything above that was protected by a mortgage.


May 012012

And no, the internationally recognized distress signals has nothing whatsoever to do with the first day of May: it is a deliberate corruption of the French expression ‘venez m’aider’ (‘come and help me’) having been chosen in 1923 by a senior radio officer by the name of Frederick Stanley Moxford. He wanted a word that would indicate distress and would easily be understood by all pilots and ground staff in an emergency at his local airport (Croydon). It was soon picked up and is now the accepted distress call for planes and ships alike. A less well known call sign is ‘Pan-pan’ (from the French panne – meaning a breakdown) which is used in less serious incidents such as mechanical problems which are not life-threatening. As with ‘Mayday’ it is repeated three times to ensure clarity and to prevent confusion.

But I digress: what of May Day, the first day of May and the first day of summer? Traditionally this was always celebrated in Northern Europe as a chance to say farewell to winter, and an opportunity to have a celebratory bonfire (in some parts of Ireland it is still known as Bonfire Night, whereas the English save that expression for 5th November, being Guy Fawkes Night).

It is also the subject of some lovely customs, many of which lasted longer where the Celtic traditions remained strong, rather than elsewhere. Take the charming custom of washing your face with May dew. The 1652 book by a Dr Gerard Boate entitled ‘The Natural History of Ireland’ says this of the custom:

The English women, and gentlewomen of Ireland… did use in the beginning of summer to gather good store of dew, to keep it by them al the year after for several good uses both of physick and otherwise, wherein by experience they have learnt it to be very available.”

The collecting of dew would take weeks of preparation. In April, May and into June the girls would get up before the dawn, go to the green fields (wheat was best) and harvest the dew – either with their bare hands, or more especially by spreading a sheet out over the moist grass, and then wringing it out and collecting it in a glass jar. This would be topped up every day, and for the whole year would sit in the sunlight by a suitable window.

Every few days the concoction would be purified by carefully straining off the water so as to leave behind any sediment, dirt, or other impurities. And so, after nearly a year in which the freshest of fresh waters was imbued with sunbeams, it could be splashed on the face! Dr Boate’s book opined “The dew, thus thoroughly purified, looketh whitish, and keepeth good for a year or two after.”

The distillation was at its most powerful if applied before sunrise on 1st May, and in an age when we consider it beneficial to rub avocado extract into our hair, or spread unmentionable products over our skin to prevent wrinkles, who is to say that a spot of early morning dew water is not just as magical in its properties?

The practice gave rise to the riddle

          I washed my face in water

          That had neither rained nor run,

          And I dried it on a towel

          That was neither woven nor spun.

The answer lay in the fact that having washed your face in dew you always allowed it to dry in the fresh air – you would hardly go to all that trouble and then wipe it off afterwards!

This custom was by no means limited to the uneducated country poor – it was also favoured by ladies of fashion and has in some cases been transported, and lives on in at least one household in the United States. The blog at recalls the fact that in one particular family the girls always set their alarms for six in the morning on May 1st so that they can run outside and rub their faces in the morning dew on the lawn!

Among the anticipated benefits of applying dew to the face (or even better, naked dew rolling!) was that it would prevent freckles, sunburn and wrinkles. It could prevent headaches, and even walking barefoot through the dew would ease bunions and callouses as well as preventing corns! For some reason it also enabled the person concerned to have greater dexterity in untangling nets, ropes, or freeing knots from string and thread. (Memo to self: get up early and roll around in the buff on the neighbour’s lawn – I don’t have one so his will have to do!)

Ireland in particular had many other May Day traditions, including cutting down a thorn- bush and putting it up outside your house and decorating it with ribbons. Another custom was to keep the brightly coloured egg-shells left over from Easter, and then string them together as a loop to hang around the tree. But tree-rustling was such a problem that a law was passed in the reign of George III (1775) stating that “every person who shall put up any Maybush opposite or near to his or her house or suffer any Maybush to be so put up or to remain for the space of three hours opposite or near to his or her own house…not being a person lawfully possessed of trees or woods or not having lawfully obtained the same … shall forfeit and pay such sum not exceeding forty shillings.” (Two pounds – the equivalent today of perhaps $220).

Another tradition was putting up a Maypole at a crossroads. The tallest was reputedly at the Strand in London, near the present St Mary-le-Strand Church. It was erected shortly after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 (all such practices having been banned under Cromwell’s Protectorate) and was over 130 feet tall. It stood there until a storm blew it down twelve years later. But even this tradition caused our legislators to impose controls (presumably because of the risk of serious injury to road users from collapsing poles): an Act of Parliament dated 1792 was passed to ‘Improve and keep in repair the Post roads of the Kingdom’. Amongst other things it stated that “If any person… shall erect any sign-post or maypole or maybush on any part of the said roads…every person so offending shall forfeit the sum of twenty shillings”

The Irish had a similar tradition of putting up maypoles at cross-roads, but whereas the English seemed content to tie ribbons round the poles and dance around them, the Irish came up with some splendid alternatives. There were two famous crosses in Dublin at Harolds Cross and Finglas, and they would be smothered in soap until slippery. A succession of prizes having first been tied to the pole, the young men would then be challenged to climb the slippery pole and claim the prize – a hat, a pair of breeches or an old watch. It was also often an occasion for dancing and carousing, as well as traditional activities such as sack races, gurning (making contorted facial expressions through horse collars), wrestling, chase-the-pig and so on. In Tralee in 1785 an eccentric landowner called Miss Cameron introduced the custom of men racing each other with sacks of coal or flour draped around their necks – a spectacle giving rise to much rejoicing and revelry.

Some of the traditions date from the fact that May Day in Ireland was the traditional day for hiring agricultural labourers. It was also the day when rent was due. In some places such as Limerick it was customary for the farm workers to parade through the main streets of the town, complete with ploughs, scythes and other agricultural implements.

Morris dancers by the Thames at Richmond, 1620

In England many of the celebrations are limited to a specific town or village. Padstow in Cornwall has its hobby horse (or rather, ‘obby-oss’), while many places reckon that May Day is the start of the Morris Dancing season (cue much waving of hankies and banging together of stout poles). Across the country there may be people rushing into the North Sea, or attending festivals, or jumping off bridges! And that is quite apart from those who regard the day as International Workers Day …

(This post first appeared today at the excellent English Historical Fiction Authors blogsite).