Jun 272017

I recently came across the webpage of the Corning Museum of Glass and was rather taken with this beautiful item called the Thompson Goblet,  made at the Newcastle factory of the Beilby’s in around 1765.

William Beilby was originally apprenticed in Birmingham and used his knowledge of enamelling to develop a range of fire-enamel paints which fused with the glass. So, no wearing off, or scratching. The results are wonderful, and later in the year I will do a proper blog on Beilby and his legacy.

This particular glass was made in conjunction with his sister Mary Beilby and the coat of arms apparently belonged to one Beilby Thompson of Micklethwaite Grange at Collingham, in Yorkshire. He was a  prosperous landowner who served as a member of Parliament from 1768 to 1784 and again from 1790 to 1796. Needless to say, works by Beilby are ludicrously collectible!


Just as another example, here is another goblet, made circa 1762 and now in the National Gallery, Victoria. Quite stunning!

Jun 232017

I am delighted to offer a guest post to an author who has just brought out a book entitled ‘An Unsuitable Duchess’, set in the Georgian era. Her name is Kathleen Buckley and as she says in her biographical details on Amazon, she now lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico  which, compared to her former homes, is warmer than Alaska and  drier than Seattle! She had the very good sense to buy a copy of my book The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman a few years back, and I asked her if she would like to explain the process of writing a historical novel. I knew that she has done a Master degree in English literature, but that is not the same as being able to write a period novel…..






God and the Devil are both in the Details:     Writing Accurate Historical Fiction

“About four years ago, I set out to write a historical romance set in England in 1740. I had studied a number of 18th century novels, like Smollett’s Expedition of Humphrey Clinker, Richardson’s Pamela, and Clarissa—all five volumes of it. I knew a good deal about 18th century dress and cooking but quickly became aware of gaps in my knowledge. How do you play basset? What did a Lowlands Scots cottage look like? Where in London would a genteel person live?

Writers are often advised not to “waste time” on “too much” research. This may have been good advice forty years ago, when the only source for most information was books, and limited to what was in accessible libraries. But with the Internet, there is no excuse for a Georgian lady to wear lace panties under her high-waisted muslin gown, or for gas street lamps in the 16th century (!). I hardly knew where to look for sheer embarrassment…

Thomas Rowlandson’s A Peep at the Gas lights in Pall Mall, brought out in 1809 to mark the first street lights powered by gas, following the discovery by William Murdoch.

What is “too much” now? The Internet led me to The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman, as well as N. Bailey’s Universal Etymological Dictionary (1721), John MacDonald’s Travels (Memoirs of an 18th Century Footman), The London Guide (ca. 1782), A Trip from St. James’s to the Royal Exchange (1744), and a plethora of period books, newspapers and magazines, images, and websites featuring period slang, etiquette, and what books and plays were popular in the spring of 1740.

It took three years to write An Unsuitable Duchess (the working title was A Ducal House but the editor made me change it; she said it sounded like a serious historical study), but most of that time was spent in learning how to write a historical romance, a genre I had not previously attempted. When I found myself wondering what Vauxhall Gardens looked like, I stopped writing and used my browser.

Vauxhall Gardens in 1751 showing the Orchestra and Organ buildings

And much of my research was useful in the first draft of my next novel, A Cargo of Muskets (The editor will make me change that title, too: “It sounds like a boys’ adventure story!”), completed ten days before An Unsuitable Duchess’s release. I now know how much a Charleville 1717 musket weighs, how many freight wagons would be needed to haul 2500 of them, and how to load one. Granted, I’ll probably never use those things again, but for that book, I did need to know.

Chareleville Musket, shown courtesy of The Specialists  Ltd

Maybe readers don’t care about accurate details—except for the one reader in several thousand whose hobby is 18th century French arms—but I do. Which brings us back around to “How much is too much”? For me, it was coach steps. A step could be let down so that one did not have to leap out, skirts billowing like a parachute. I don’t know how those steps were deployed, in spite of trying to work it out on paper, like a geometry problem. The Internet was silent upon this point. If anyone knows, please tell me.

If you don’t need to know it for the story, you may not need to research it. But you still need to be aware of the gaps in your knowledge so that your character doesn’t light his way with a kerosene lantern rather than a candle lantern.”


Thanks Kathleen, some useful pointers for us all! You can find ‘An Unsuitable Duchess’ on Kindle  here and as a Paperback here.

Jun 132017


I  am delighted to have been asked by the Marlborough College Summer School to give a talk to them next month. The courses available at the summer school look to be great fun – and anyone attending the course is free to attend the various lectures which take place. The variety of courses is astonishing – there are hundreds of courses being run over a four week period. Arts and Crafts your bag? Or History? Or Architecture and the Landscape? Or Literature and Creative Writing? Or ….. There is a huge and impressive list – something for everyone.

I gather that the public can also come along to any of the talks, although in that case a small fee is payable for admission at the door. If you have not already done so have a look at the range of activities available at the summer school, some aimed at children, some at adults. You can find their website here.

Arising out of my researches for “In bed with the Georgians – Sex, Scandal & Satire” I will be giving my talk on Thursday 13 July at 17.15 under the heading of “Royal Shenanigans”. It will look at the earlier Georges and their propensity for taking mistresses, as well as at the Prince Regent and his ‘libidinous accomplishments’. The bedroom conquests of the Regent’s brothers will also get a mention, and in particular I will focus on the unloved and unlovely Ernest Augustus, the Duke of Cumberland. I have to say I am rather looking forward to it!

Who could forget, the wicked Uncle Ernest ….

















So, if you can possibly make it to Marlborough in sunny Wiltshire on 13 July I look forward to seeing you there!

Jun 102017

I know, I know, I am a sucker for old boxes but here is one which really is absolutely splendid. It was made in 1840, so it is a bit later than my usual period of interest, but I think it is so good that it is worth show-casing! The craftsmanship is incredible – and I love the shape of the basket.

You can make out the tambour roll-top mechanism, which slides back to give access to the compartment for sewing paraphernalia inside. Or I suppose you could have used it for baubles, bangles and beads. Whatever, it really is beautiful, and the brass inlay is amazing.







It appears, (where else?!) on Mark Goodger’s Hampton Antique’s site here.


He describes it as being “a stunning rosewood with ornate symmetrical maple inlays. With a rosewood carrying handle, and four brass ball feet….. it measures 10.75 inches  (27.30 cm) in width, has a depth of 5 inches  (12.70 cm) and is 4.75 inches (12.06 cm)  high.”

Memo to children: you won’t go far wrong if you save up and give this to Dad for his birthday……



Jun 032017

I came across this scene depicting a wedding ceremony in the eighteenth century and it reminded me of the various times Richard Hall mentions weddings – both his own, his friends, and his family. Nowhere does he say anything helpful – like what the bride wore – but he rarely forgot to mention the weather….

I am aware that there was no set idea that the bride must wear white – and for servants there was never any question of having a dress that could only be worn on one occasion.

But it is interesting to see how many of the paintings of weddings of the time do show the bride in an ivory coloured satin concoction. Take the painting  by artist Joseph Highmore used to illustrate to Pamela’s Wedding – one of four scenes  from Samuel Richardson’s ‘Pamela’.

The picture appears courtesy of Tate Britain, and the explanation with it states “On Pamela’s left is her humble but dignified father, who gives her away. In the background, behind the groom, is the housekeeper Mrs Jewkes, now also a reformed character. She grasps a bottle of smelling salts in case she is overwhelmed with emotion.”

Next up, a rather splendid wedding dress from around 1775 and which appears on the V&A site- now that really is a statement dress! Talk about tassels and bows….Pippa Middleton eat your heart out

However popular ivory may have been, some of the single colour dresses were rather special, none more so than this American wedding dress from 1776 which appears on the Metropolitan Museum site.

The last picture I wanted to include is one I have used in various talks ,but for the life of me cannot remember where I first saw it. I like to think it is a fair representation of what Richard Hall would have looked like when he married a wealthy heiress in 1754:

 And to end with, a couple of caricatures from the Lewis Walpole site on the topic of weddings, both entitled “Three weeks after marriage”. The first appeared in 1786 and is by Inigo Barlow:

The second appeared in 1822 and is by J L Marks.  Cynics, the pair of them!