Jun 042022

Last month I did a trans-Atlantic crossing on the Splendor – see previous blog. This month I did another one, this time using the northern route (New York to Southampton) on board the Queen Mary 2. It was all a bit strange and last-minute-ish because until the day before I flew out to New York I had no inkling that the cruise was taking place. Apparently Cunard had been let down at the last moment when the designated  lecturer went down with Covid. So the call went out: can you drop everything, pack, and catch a flight first thing in the morning?

Oddly, my diary revealed nothing to prevent such craziness so I accepted the challenge, rushed off to get a Lateral Flow Test, caught a plane to JFK airport, and arrived at 13.00 the next day. I then spent the most perplexing hour of my life sitting in a Yellow Taxi, trying to explain to the driver where Brooklyn Harbour was. He hadn’t a clue. To the extent that when his SatNav went blank he screeched to a halt in the middle of a three-lane highway in order to consult his phone, with cars hooting and flashing as they swerved in and out around us. He literally stopped there for half a minute. He then asked ME to look up the address on my phone and he finally moved off, steadfastly sitting in an imaginary lane straddling most of the carriageway. Eventually, I arrived at the ship an hour later, queued to get on board, and left US shores at 17.00 hours after a stay lasting all of four hours. Crazy!

Was it worth it? Well, I had never worked for Cunard before and it was certainly an experience. Especially as we had three days of thick billowing white fog, resulting in the melancholy sound of the fog horn every few minutes throughout the night, three nights in a row. I gather that is fairly normal when going past the Labrador coast! Not good for a man who needs his beauty sleep – especially as My Dear Lady Wife had to stay behind in the UK. By an absurd coincidence she had sent off her passport for renewal just one week earlier – she had used up almost all the pages and  was going to need a new passport at some stage. We had been warned of 16 week delays. As it happened the new one was issued within a fortnight – but not in time for her to accompany me on the cruise. So she missed out on a freebie – something I will doubtless have to pay for shortly!

When I accepted the cruise I didn’t know it was themed with the Olivier Awards. It meant that the passenger list included loads of theatre luvvies and if your ‘thing’ is going to dance workshops, singing workshops, and master-classes in make-up, wig making, set design and so on, this was definitely a cruise for you.

The theatres on board were lovely, and the thing which struck me is that normally you know full-well that your audience is coming to listen to you because they have nothing else to do. Not so with Cunard – my talks were packed out with people who were there because this is where they wanted to be, and they were really appreciative. Well, let’s say I am not normally accustomed to getting riotous applause DURING a lecture. It was fun (sort of) being collected as ‘a token celebrity’ to share people’s dinner tables. It was fun meeting people from all walks of life. It was fun going to some of the shows on board, and above all it was fun giving four very different lectures. I started off with the History of Gin and  moved on to Royal Shenanigans.

Actually, NOT the theatre on board the QM2 – a different one!

I did Everyday Life in Georgian England and ended up with the story of Philip Astley – Father of the modern Circus (and of modern variety shows). And then it was all over – we reached Southampton after six days. At least it gave me an opportunity to strut my stuff in my new dinner jacket which I had bought especially for my gig on the Splendor – only to discover that there really weren’t any formal nights on Regent Atlantic crossings. Good old Cunard had two, so it was a chance to don my finery. And to learn the one thing about travelling solo which I had never appreciated: you need a partner to help put on cuff links when wearing a dress shirt. I am not saying it was the only thing I missed my wife for – but after wrestling for ten minutes with the wretched links it gave me a deep understanding of  the value of companionship and mutual assistance!

I am not going to make a comparison between the Splendor and the QM2 – they are as different as chalk is to cheese. Both serve as a reminder of how today’s world is so very different to that of my ancestor Richard Hall – it has shrunk to an extraordinary degree. The family diaries show that when Richard’s father was looking for a bride he set out on horseback, visiting all the manor houses within a radius of one day’s travel. So, a radius of twenty to thirty miles. That was his world and he knew that that was here he would find his bride. 300 years later I wasn’t looking for a bride – but I was happy to fly thousands of miles just to catch a ship which in my ancestor’s days might have taken up to six weeks to do the crossing. Travel is something we take for granted – it really is a small world….

Mar 122019

At first sight you would not expect to find much in New York which would resonate with a Georgian fanatic – but I am delighted to say that if you look, it is amazing how much you can find!

I started off by taking a taxi to the heart of the financial centre – Wall Street. When writing Pirates and Privateers I came across a reference to the fact that William Kidd had settled in New York after marrying the wealthy widow Susan Bradley Cox Oort. Their home off Pearl Street was one of the most prestigious in the area, with fine views (untrammelled by today’s sky scrapers!). It has of course long since disappeared.

Captain William Kidd’s house and gardens on Pearl Street, c. 1691

As a wealthy philanthropist Kidd helped with the building of Trinity Church, finished in 1698. In particular he lent the builders a pulley system for raising the stones to build the church tower, with the Vestry Minutes of 20 July 1696, recording that “Capt. Kidd has lent a Runner & Tackle for the hoiseing [ie hoisting] up Stones as long as he stays here.”

Poor William Kidd – he was left high and dry by the authorities back in London when he sailed off to the Indian Ocean, armed with a Letter of Marque. OK, he dabbled a bit in piracy and robbery on the High Seas. Yes, he struck a mutinous crew member across the forehead with an iron-banded bucket, from which the man later died. But he was never given a fair trial and was hanged in 1701, a victim of political shenanigans.It meant that he never actually got to worship at Trinity Church, although he appears to have paid for the use of a pew for the family to use for at least 17 years after his death. The Trinity Church website here shows the original minute, with Pew 4 shared between the Rector and the heirs of Captain Kidd.

The records of who-sat-where – item 4, the Kidd’s pew

The church was destroyed in the ‘Great Fire ’which swept through New York on 20 September 1776 when almost a third of the city was consumed in the flames, but rebuilding soon got underway and astonishingly the spire remained the highest building in the city until the 1890s.

The Great Fire

Nowadays it is totally dwarfed and in permanent shade from the ‘cathedrals to Mammon’ which tower above it.

St Trinity Church, and below, one of the gravestones.

At present Trinity Church is undergoing renovation works, but the graveyard contains many reminders of the 17th and 18th centuries.

                                                                                                St Pauls

Next up, this Georgian Gent wandered up to the chapel of St Pauls, one of the few buildings in Lower Manhattan to escape the ravages of the Great Fire. It had been completed in 1766 and is fascinating because it contains the pew occupied by George Washington during the two  years while New York was the nation’s capital. Here, on Inauguration Day, April 30 1789, George Washington and other members of the U S Congress worshipped. Nowadays the wall above the pew exhibits an early form of the Great Seal of the United States. You know the bird is a turkey – I can only confirm that it looks more like a goose…

St Pauls pulpit









But it is a splendid church, well worth the visit. But that is not all that remains – how about more secular buildings? How about this fascinating building in Upper Manhattan, owned by The Colonial Dames of America.

The CDA is an organization made up of women who are descended from an ancestor who lived in Colonial America between 1607 and 1775, and who was of service to the colonies either as a result of holding public office, or of being in the military, or in some other “eligible” way.

The logo of the Colonial Dames of America

The hotel sign










The Colonial Dames have their headquarters in the period Mount Vernon Hotel Museum. Next to it, they have premises used as a meeting hall – ideal for lectures. I was thrilled to be able to speak there to the American Friends of the Georgian Group. It made for a fascinating experience – usually you give your talk at a set time, and have refreshments afterwards. Not here – there is a much better arrangement: everyone meets up, has a good gossip, and everyone knocks back a few glasses of wine. All very convivial. Half an hour after the appointed start time I wandered over to the lectern, only to find that my lap-top had jammed – no notes, and no lap-top display showing what image was being displayed on screen. No bother. It’s the sort of thing which might have phased me when I started, but by now I am immune to the curve-balls which technology throws at you. I gave the talk and it seemed well received, and it is always fun to meet up with fellow Georgian enthusiasts.

That wasn’t the end of the city’s Georgian connection. The next day we visited the fabulous Metropolitan Museum, adjoining Central Park. Some of the exhibitions are stunning – for instance the restored interiors of Georgian buildings, re-assembled inside the Museum. These are just two:

The interior, Baltimore House, from 1810

Room from the Powel House, Philadelphia, remodelled 1769-71

But somehow the Met is a bit intimidating – it is so huge. It would take days to see everything, and fortunately the entrance ticket gives you a right of admission for three consecutive days – if your poor feet can stand it! Instead we wandered across to the Frick Museum – a truly astounding private collection with delights around every corner. Somehow the idea of one man collecting the whole lot makes it all the more personal – there was a reason why he acquired paintings – to make a pair, to illustrate a point, to show an unusual juxtaposition. And suddenly you are surrounded by old favourites – Gainsborough’s portrait of  Grace Dalrymple Elliott ‘(Dally the Tall’, featured in my book In Bed with the Georgians) and a Reynolds portrait of Selina, Lady Skipwith. I blogged about her here because my ancestor Richard Hall lent the good lady £1100 at a rattling 4½%.

Dally the Tall

Selina, Lady Skipwith, 1787












There are dozens of other period paintings – by Romney, Turner, Constable and so on and a fascinating pair of portraits by Hans Holbein hung either side of the fireplace – one of Thomas More, and one of his arch-rival Thomas Cromwell. Each ended up with his head on the block, courtesy of Henry VIII, and here they are destined never to be rid of each other, glowering into Eternity.

New York was a great experience. I had been before and therefore did not feel the need to ‘do’ the Empire State Building, or take a heli-tour, or go round the harbour on an up-market booze-cruise. Been there, done that. Instead it was great fun to look out the vestiges  of a glorious and fascinating past, hidden but never totally obscured by a plethora of modern buildings.

Mar 072019


The Governor’s Palace

Being invited to give the keynote speech at the five-day long Antiques Forum hosted by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation was a great honour – and enormous fun! As a lecturer I must admit it was a real highlight, and I was able to link it with giving a talk to the American Friends of the Georgian Group, while staying in New York.

For those of you not familiar with the concept, Williamsburg was the original capital of the young colony of Virginia, but it proved strategically very vulnerable and the capital moved to Richmond in 1780. This left Williamsburg as a quiet backwater, decaying gradually as the old colonial buildings collapsed – including the governor’s palace and all the original homes as built by the early settlers. Then along came Dr W A R Goodwin and he persuaded the philanthropist John D Rockefeller Jnr to invest a very large slice of his enormous wealth into creating Colonial Williamsburg – the historic heart of the old town.










The foundations of the original buildings were uncovered and used to recreate the layout of the town, on its 300 acre site. The decayed capitol building was restored to health – and what we are left with is a remarkable recreation of what the place would have looked like 250 years ago. It has become Virginia’s largest tourist attraction, drawing thousands of visitors who can come and see the trades as originally carried out in the different buildings – the cordwainer making shoes, the carriage maker, the milliner, the wig maker and so on. It is no Disney-esque  pastiche – it may be fake, but it is genuine fakery and it works rather well.    


The cordwainer

The cordwainer in his shop

Carriage making










The streets  are wide and devoid of yellow lines and modern street furniture. The taverns sport no modern lighting, and the staff recreating the world of the Eighteenth Century really do know their stuff. Ask the wig makers about pomades, different wig powders and the use of tails and queues – and they are well able to answer authoritatively. Ask the cook about smoke jacks, or the recipes being used, and you will be amazed at the background knowledge.

And then, quite separately, there is the museum, the conservation, the research and the scholarship. All very impressive – I attended a workshop on Old Sheffield Plate and was fascinated by the display of early plate silverware. We got to handle the wares, to examine the manufacturing techniques, to look at the ornamentation and so on. All good stuff – especially as Thomas Boulsover, who first discovered the practical use for fusing copper and silver to create silver plate, is one of the ‘heroes’ featured in my next-book-but-one, on lesser known Georgian  movers and shakers.

18th century dress on display in the museum








A solid silver chamber pot – now that’s class!

No Stamp Act teapot – Boston Harbour here         we come!

The Antiques Forum is an annual event, attended by well over 300 antique enthusiasts – collectors, dealers, curators, conservators and so on. The range of talks – often eight a day – was amazing. There were talks on glassware, on mahogany, on specific paintings, on rug making and jewellery. There were numismatic lectures, and there was a talk by Professor Amanda Vickery on shopping in the West End of London and the development of that area, linked to the London Season and the annual sitting of Parliament. All fascinating, and I was left amazed at the range and depth of topics covered throughout the symposium.

I kicked things off with a general talk about good old Richard Hall – a ‘life and     times’ social history to put things in context. It was remarkably well received, and I must say I had a wonderful time.

Not everything was on site. The organizers also arranged a number of coach trips to look at nearby sites of historical interest – old churches, court houses, fine buildings and so on. I  could have done with more at nearby York Town – site of the siege which ended in the capitulation of the British forces under Cornwallis. I was also unable to find time to get to James Town, site of the first settlement – but hey – there is always another time!

The restored Capitol Building

    All-in-all a memorable experience. If you get the chance to go to Virginia it is well worth spending time in Colonial Williamsburg – and if you get the chance to go to the lectures at the annual Forum, you won’t be disappointed. Who knows, I may even get invited back! (And yes, the weather really was that good, even in February!).




Feb 172019

Ahead of giving a talk on 1st March in London to the English Dance Circle, I looked out a post I did in November 2014, when I discussed the role of the Master of Ceremonies at Bath. It still seems relevant, so here it is again:

Rowlandson print, published in March 1782, entitled “A Master of the Ceremonies Introducing a Partner”

Coming across this Thomas Rowlandson sketch on the fascinating Lewis Walpole site  at Yale University reminded me of the important role played by the Master of Ceremonies at venues such as Bath. If you went to a ball you couldn’t just go and chat up a bird you fancied – you had to be introduced. And that was one of the functions of the Master of Ceremonies – to vet the attendees, decide who they were appropriate to be introduced to, and later, to effect those introductions so that the evening would be a success. I imagine it was sometimes a case of “mix and match” – a title needed money, and vice versa, while on other occasions it was mixing “like with like”.

I am indebted to the Austenonly site here for the explanation of the MoC role, given by Joseph Moser in 1807. It was their function to:
“… introduce regularity into large assemblies, to keep order, to repress the ebullitions of passion, to banish, if possible, that contraction or thrusting out of the lips which Shakespear calls pouting; to prevent violent suffusions or flushings in the female countenance; to keep the ladies from tossing, and their noses from turning up, when precedence, partners, and people that nobody knows, with a hundred other serious circumstances, excite those emotions. He has also annexed to his office something clerical, it being his business to join hands: but he goes still farther, he frequently procures partners, who sometimes under his banners enlist for life.” (See The Sports of Ancient London. The Sporting Magazine. )
The print dates from 1795 and shows Richard Tyson, Master of Ceremonies, effecting an introduction of a gentleman who is clearly no longer in the first flush of youth, to a pair of ladies who definitely should only be seen by dim candlelight!
Richard Tyson had been MoC of the Upper Rooms at Bath for a number of years. Since 1771 there were two separate rooms – in time, the new (Upper) Rooms had a separate MoC from the (original) Lower Rooms – a far cry from when there was but one “King” of Bath, in the form of Beau Nash, who was in sole charge of proceedings from 1704 until around 1760.
According to Wikipedia “He (Nash) would meet new arrivals to Bath and judge whether they were suitable to join the select “Company’ of 500 to 600 people who had pre-booked tables, match ladies with appropriate dancing partners at each ball, pay the musicians at such events, broker marriages, escort unaccompanied wives and regulate gambling (by restraining compulsive gamblers).” Not bad for a days work!

Beau Nash, painted by Nathaniel Hone

It does seem a bit hard therefore, that when he died, the long-serving, long suffering Beau Nash ended up in an unmarked paupers grave. He had been a prodigious gambler, with enormous debts. Because of those debts he was forced to move in to the home of his mistress Juliana Popjoy. The poor girl was so distraught when he died in 1761 that she apparently went to live in a large hollowed-out tree. Which is entirely proper for the 18th Century, because of course that is what one did when feeling bereft and lonely!
Meanwhile, my thanks to Master Rowlandson for a rather lovely piece of observation of the manners, etiquette and style of Bath in its Georgian grandeur. Nice one!


For anyone interested, I will be giving a talk in London to the Early Dance Centre at 7.15 on 1st March. You can find details on the EDC website here. For tickets, contact the EDC secretary on:-  secretary@earlydancecircle.co.uk

or by telephone on:- 020 8699 8519

Feb 102019

One of the interesting characters I came across doing the research for my forthcoming talk to the Early Dance Centre was one particular Master of Ceremonies at the Upper Rooms in Bath. Captain William Wade had stepped into the breach after a contested election between the Master of the Lower Rooms (William Brereton) and the Master of the assembly rooms in nearby Bristol by the name of Mr Plomer. The original election descended into fisticuffs and the reading of the Riot Act – and at the end of the unseemly squabble Captain Wade was chosen as a consensus candidate acceptable to both sides. He took up his office in 1769.


And what a pretty boy he was! Here he is, looking magnificent in all his finery, in a painting by Thomas Gainsborough dating from 1771. I mean, THAT is what I call a waistcoat! Captain Wade quickly earned the nick-name of “the Bath Adonis” – but he was eventually forced to retire from his position after rather publicly misbehaving. It must have been all rather humiliating for Mrs Katherine Wade, who had given birth to five of his children and who was very much still alive when her husband’s eyes started to wander….

John Hooke Campbell (1733-1795); by Francis Cotes, courtesy of the National Galleries of Scotland.

He was named in the divorce proceedings of Elizabeth Eustacia, wife of John Hooke Campbell.  Mr Campbell  was a dour Scotsman and when he had married Devon girl Elizabeth in 1762 I don’t think he knew what he was taking on. They had three daughters – Eustacia, Charlotte and Louisa. I suspect that his wife’s world fell apart when both her parents died in the same year – 1764, and although there is an early reference to a boy called Matthew I suspect that he died in infancy and there is nothing to suggest that John Hooke Campbell was ever going to get a male heir. He seemed preoccupied with changing his name – from  John Hooke Campbell to John Campbell-Hooke, no doubt conscious of his  dynastic importance. A double-barrelled name always looks good!

To give him his full title he was The Right Honourable the Lord Lyon King of Arms. As such he was the head of Lyon Court,  the most junior of the Great Officers of State in Scotland. He was the official with responsibility for regulating heraldry in Scotland – issuing new grants of arms, and serving as the judge of the Court of the Lord Lyon, the oldest heraldic court in the world. Dare one assume that perhaps he was too busy with his heraldic work to spend much time  and attention on his wife, who was four years younger than him and who clearly liked to party, party?

The Tea Room at the Assembly Rooms, Bath: per Wikimedia

The couple were leading separate existences – and in time Elizabeth fell for the charms of Captain Wade. She would rent premises in Bath – or near Brighton where the good Captain  also held the position of MC – and this gave the Captain plenty of opportunity to pop round for a quick bit of nookie whenever he got the chance. And all of this was to come out into the public arena when  husband John finally woke up and smelled the roses. He sued the Captain for damages in criminal conversation – a sort of precursor to divorce, and this entailed a full trial. This involved just about every servant  in the household being called upon to give evidence. What is clear is that the below-stairs staff were preoccupied with  looking through keyholes and pressing ears against the walls, listening in to amorous conversations and ‘noises off’. Each servant was called in turn, and made depositions about  hearing inter-connecting doors opening and closing, of the young children being moved up to the garret out of the way, of shadowy figures holding candles being observed in corridors and of midnight moaning and squeaking bed-frames. The evidence ran to an impressive seventy pages, starting off with the assertion that Elizabeth ‘was and is a very loose woman of a lustful and wicked disposition’, who had committed ‘the foul crime of adultery’.

And all of this was reported in trial accounts which became best sellers, as prurient readers could  learn about every aspect  of the affair.

The reports of this and numerous other adultery trails were then consolidated and published in seven volumes. A quick look on the web suggests that a set of six of the seven are available for the discerning reader, at a not unreasonable price of $2500.

John won his case in 1777 and subsequently petitioned Parliament for a divorce, leaving his ex-wife free to marry Captain Wade once the original Mrs Wade had died in 1787. Before the year was out,  the ‘Bath Adonis’ had married Elizabeth, on 30 June 1787 at St Marylebone in London. Sure, he was sacked as MC in Bath for bringing his office into disrepute; however he  continued as MC in Brighton, thereby proving that somewhat different standards of propriety existed in the South coast resort compared with what was acceptable in the ever-so-respectable city of Bath. I make no comment about whether there has been much change there then !

For the next twenty years Captain Wade was responsible for arranging  entertainments  at assemblies in Brighton at both the Castle Inn and the Old Ship. He died in Brighton on 16 March 1809

All this scurrilous talk of scandalous behaviour is far too detailed to get more than a passing mention in my forthcoming talk to the Early Dance Circle on 1st March 2019  – but it was great fun doing the research, since I may well be able to use it in my next-book-but-one, on Sex and Sexuality in the Georgian Era. Meanwhile if you are free and in London on the evening of 1st March – do come along. The talk is at Swedenborg Hall, Swedenborg House, 20 Bloomsbury Way, London WC1A 2TH and starts at 7.15 Details can be obtained from the  EDC Secretary: secretary@earlydancecircle.co.uk or by ‘phoning on 020 8699 8519

Feb 062019

I am really looking forward to  the next couple of weeks, because it includes a lecture tour to the United States. Starting off with a visit to New York I will be giving a talk to the American Friends of the Georgian Group in Manhattan on February 19 at 7.00 p.m.    I will be talking about my ancestor Richard Hall, and taking some of the diaries with me as I talk about his life and times.

After that I then head to Colonial Williamsburg in  Virginia to take part in a fascinating five-day symposium entitled  ‘Hidden Treasures’. It is actually the 71st Colonial Williamsburg Antiques Forum and it has a great programme, with various visits to  colonial buildings (historic homes etc) in Maryland and  in Virginia’s Middle Peninsula, and then continuing with  the conference itself. I am down to give the keynote speech on the opening day (February 23) but once I have got that out of the way there are all sorts of interesting talks – about furniture and furnishings, about ceramics and the decorative arts, about flint glass and, on February  26, there is a talk by Prof. Amanda Vickery on ‘The Rise of the West End: London, the Season and Shopping’. There are also various workshops and demonstrations and I suspect the main problem will be deciding what to choose and what to leave out. And yes, I feel extremely honoured, and not a little out of place, in such an august gathering. More about the conference can be found here.

It should be great fun and I am hugely grateful to the organizers for making all this possible – my wife is coming with me and naturally her main concern is about what clothes to take as we gather it may be cold and wet!

I cannot help but think that dear old Richard Hall, my great great great great grandfather, would have had a considerable problem coming to terms with the idea that his private diaries would end up opening up so many doors for his future descendant, throughout the world. Actually I think he might have been tickled pink – as am I !

Jan 302019

Imagine the scene: deep in the rainforest of Malaysia, head full of facts about monkeys, flying squirrels, sea eagles and giant gekkoes. Not a sensible thought in the world, and I idly check my e-mails and stumble across a blog by the excellent Sarah Murden giving details of a talk to be given by ….ME … on 1st March. Talk about coming back to earth with a bang! In my own mind it is way, way off – because I am doing a small lecture tour to the States first (New York and Colonial Williamsburg) and I am still trying to get my head round those talks, let alone think about March. But in practice when I get back from the USA , I have to rush back to Devon for a change of clothes, and then turn round the same day and head for London to give my talk to the Early Dance Circle.

It should be fun. I confess that when I was asked, I thought: what on earth can I say to a load of dance enthusiasts about dancing that they don’t know already? I am after all, renowned for my two left feet. My Dear Lady Wife didn’t help: falling about with mirth at the idea of her husband addressing an audience of dance enthusiasts for 45 seconds, let alone 45 minutes.

After a few hours of panic, swatting up about the Sun King (Louis XIV of France) and his love of court dancing – and studying obscure texts showing notations for 17th and 18th century dance moves, I relaxed and thought laterally. I won’t be talking about the French, or particular dance steps, or showing ‘how to dance’; I will be talking about the importance of dance, in its social context. I will consider what was involved in a simple sentence such as ‘we went to Bath for the Season’. What did you pack? How many days did it take to get there? Where did you stay? What did the Master of Ceremonies do? How could you meet someone who took your fancy and whirl her on to the dance floor? Why was it vital to attend dance classes in order to learn the latest nuance in hand movements and so on?

I will also look at venues such as the Pantheon and Almacks and consider the role of masquerades and balls. And because I love to see how caricaturists revealed the world on the dance floor there will be lots of Gillrays and Rowlandsons.

And then there was the waltz – that outrageous, morally corrupting, dance craze which swept the country in the first decade of the 19th Century. Good heavens, the dancers embraced each other, and wandering hands could cause untold damage to tender nerves! The newspapers were up in arms, linking the dance to the harlots who took to the dance floor in order to entice their paying clientele. It was saved because the royal family loved the waltz, but for a while it looked as if the world was about to come to an end.

The talk will be at:  Swedenborg Hall, Swedenborg House, 20 Bloomsbury Way,London WC1A 2TH   at 19.15 on 1st March.

To reserve your free place, please book on Eventbrite (click here).

A suggested donation on the evening is £5.00

Alternatively, contact the EDC Secretary: secretary@earlydancecircle.co.uk or on 020 8699 8519. That way, you can also enquire about the whole range of activities promoted by the group.

I do hope to see as many of you there as possible – preparing for the talk has been a fascinating learning experience for me and I really look forward to sharing my researches with you. And do look up the Early Dance Circle – they are a UK charity founded in 1984 and they are dedicated to promoting the enjoyment, performance and study of historical dance. Do have a look at their website  here. They have an impressive range of activities including an Early Dance Festival, due to be held this autumn in Edinburgh. They run workshops, study days and host various lectures so, no matter what your  historical period of interest, if dance is your thing, give them a visit.

Meanwhile: thanks Sarah for the reminder – tempting as it is to remain in the depths of the Malaysian jungle!

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.

May 032015

My fortnight of blog and tweet abstinence is over – I have just returned from a stint as cruise lecturer on board the Fred Olsen ship The Braemar. It was great fun and the audiences were wonderfully appreciative! Doing five lectures in two weeks to potentially the same audience is very different to doing a handful of different talks on separate occasions to different people. Making sure that the talks did not overlap, could stand alone, and yet encouraged  guests to return, meant lots of revisions to draft scripts, and getting the timing spot-on was an imperative because … the Captain tended to burst in via the sound system at set times and an over-run would be somewhat awkward! I think I managed one talk with about five seconds to spare, with my closing words of “The Captain will be along in a moment” being followed by his own announcement about five seconds later!

I found it a huge learning experience – I suspect if I do it again I will look at it more from a viewpoint of “what will make these people want to get out of bed at 9.45 in the morning to come and listen?” rather than “What would I like to talk to them about?” So I suspect that “Jane Austen’s World” will get an outing, as well as one on Royal Shenanigans (“From randy Regent to the King of Bling” went down well as an idea with the Cruise Director, who measures everything in terms of  how many people you can get to come to the talks, not on how good the talk is).

I had included a talk on gardening and gardens (Capability Brown et al.) which I may not bother with again – it wasn’t my favourite, not least because gremlins at the Ministry of Inanimate Objects  caused the lectern to collapse, sending my lap-top flying, just as the lights had dimmed and I had made my introductory remarks  (….’Houston, we have a problem’…) but all was soon sorted out. It didn’t half mess up my timings though, as I frantically tried to work out how much of the talk had to get the chop if I wanted to avoid to be drowned out by the Captain. But all turned out O.K.

Food and Drink (Regency banquets, etiquette etc) went down well, as did one on Philip Astley. I wasn’t sure about that, but it turned out to be so obscure –  in the sense that no-one had ever heard of him – that they found his story fascinating. Loads of lovely comments. Obviously you cannot win over everyone – I loved the comment my wife overheard from one lady who walked past the entrance to the lecture theatre as she saw the topic of the day’s talk: “The Eighteenth Century? No, I don’t think so, it was a bit before my time.” She went off happily to her Bingo and her Morning Quiz…

The cruise-line were great – they couldn’t have been more helpful and when I was not speaking, we were treated like ordinary passengers – with a few extra perks I won’t go into! Suffice to say I am now waiting to hear the customer feedback comments to see if I can expect another cruise either on the Braemar (which is a delightfully compact ship) or from one of the larger ones. What was quite obvious is that many of the passengers come back year after year after year, often coming on back-to-back cruises, or cruises in the spring, summer and autumn. So I suspect the more I do it, the more it gets to be like meeting old friends!

My wife and I also had enough spare time to have a go at knocking off another two chapters of  our book “An illustrated introduction to the Regency” – up until now I have done “my” bits on my own, but the bits on fashion, shopping, style and so on are joint ventures, based on Philippa’s research. I will only comment that co-authoring with your spouse is about as conducive to matrimonial harmony as trying to share the task of hanging wallpaper together when home decorating….

My Dear Lady Wife and I have managed to survive for 28 years together without murdering each other by following the simple rule: NEVER try to share wall-papering duties. That way there is no “You’ve cut it too short” or “Not that way up you idiot” or “Why didn’t you order the right number of rolls in the first place?”

Co-authorship was always going to be a challenging experience. I tried to explain to MDLW that it is an INTRODUCTION to the Regency, and that although it was fascinating for me to learn which were the best shops to go to in Regency London to buy, I don’t know, cosmetics, or carriage dresses, or riding whips, there wasn’t really going to be enough space to list all the emporiums, their opening times, and whether or not they had public toilets at the back…. Apparently I am a bully, and not a nice person to work with…. I know she is only annoyed because I have used up all the available space doing my pet subjects, leaving her with the tail-ends of each chapter, but hey, who said life was fair, least of all married life?

Talk about a minefield! But we survived, and that is another two chapters put to bed. We should be able to submit the manuscript to the publishers (Amberley) on time next month.

My only regret is that the particular cruise took me to the exotic splendour of …. Alicante. Which happens to be my home town in Spain and to me is about as exciting as any other city you by-pass on the motorway if you get half a chance! Talk about coals to Newcastle! But Seville was magnificent, and always worth a repeat visit, and I enjoyed seeing Malaga and Vigo again. But today, having sailed back to Britain from Alicante, I hop on a plane from Gatwick and head straight back out  – to Alicante, ready to give a talk to a local U3A on Thursday! A crazy world, and one which my ancestor Richard Hall would have  found quite incomprehensible!

Jun 172014

self portrait June 2014


Half way through the year and the Rendell household undergoes a complete upheaval – we pack up in Spain (where it is too darned hot) and head back to the UK (where it is generally wet, dull and anything but hot….). A time to review the year so far, and plan ahead:


  • I have finished the manuscript for “An Illustrated Introduction to the Georgians” and will be submitting it to the publishers immediately on my return. I don’t yet have a specific publication date for it, but it will be some time this autumn.

    Sorry about the brown triangles - they won't be in the book!

    Sorry about the brown triangles – they won’t be in the next book!

  • I have decided that my next book will be on sex, scandal and satire in the 18th Century. Publishers seem interested in the synopsis I have submitted, so fingers crossed. It is a huge project but one with great scope for lots and lots of lovely Rowlandson, Gillray, Newton and Cruikshank prints, as well as loads of scurrilous tit-bits from the Georgian gutter press. At this stage all I would say is: thank goodness for the American libraries such as Lewis Walpole, or the Library of Congress, or the Yale Center for British Art – there is no way I could justify a hundred or more colour illustrations if I were having to pay for them at a minimum of £75 each. At least the American institutions I have mentioned are free, and their service is amazing.SSS Dandy sleeping partners lwlpr12349
  • Lots of talks lined up for the summer – about three dozen. Not too bad except that some are morning and evening on the same day! When I do one on the origins of the circus at London’s Guildhall (29th July – link here) I am doing another one that morning in the Cotswolds on “Life in a Cotswold Village 250 years ago” – so it will be a bit of a rush.
  • This week I did a public lecture, here in Spain, on the Abolition Movement in Britain. A bit heavy on a hot day! Not a topic I will choose to repeat, though it was exceptionally well received. Normally you get loads of questions – this time there was a dumbstruck silence before people could recover!
  • Other talks are mostly to WI’s, Probus Groups and Family History Groups, but I am looking forward to the challenge of doing one as a public lecture at the Holburne Museum at Bath (22 September at 15.00) on 18th Century silhouettes and paper-craft! Now, what I know about paper-cutting can fit on the back of the proverbial postage stamp so I may just have to wing it! I just knew that being a bull-sh***ing lawyer would stand me in good stead one day!3
  • While in Bath I will definitely call in at the excellent museum at One Royal Crescent – they have a must-see exhibition on ‘Georgian Tarts’ (O.K., ‘Portrait of a Lady?’) which I am looking forward to, and will blog about.
  • I am also hoping to get to Berrington Hall, a wonderful Palladian house near Leominster belonging to the National Trust, preferably while their exhibition of costumes from The Duchess is still on. I believe it runs until the end of June – and later in the summer there is an exhibition of costumes from the BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice.
  • IMAGE 4Another possibility is a visit to the National Circus School, linked to my book on Philip Astley. Sales are reasonable rather than spectacular, but it is something of a niche subject! I rather fancy getting the chance to look behind the scenes at how artists learn the tricks of their trade! Just as long as I am not expected to try the high wire……
  • book coverKindle sales of  The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman seem to outnumber printed sales by ten to one. It is a shame really, because the e-format has far fewer illustrations than the printed book, but download speeds were a consideration.

Ah well, enough updates! Time to head for the ferry, then it is off to Canada and the wilds of Alaska ….RTN newspaper clipping 001