Painshill: A Gothic and Romantic Landscape

Earlier this week, I visited what is surely the most astonishing landscape garden in England: Painshill, near Cobham in Surrey. It was built by the Honourable Charles Hamilton (1704 –1774) in the eighteenth century. Hamilton was intoxicated – there is no other word for it – by the Classical ruins and Gothic architecture which he’d seen on the Grand Tour. Once back home, he set about buying land in Surrey and started building dramatically ruined follies and then creating a spectacular landscape around them to show them off to their best advantage. His fantastical creation was, and is, unlike anything else in Europe.

Ruined Abbey: all it needs now is ivy, moonlight and an owl!

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A Visit to Thornhill Gardens

Today, I’m visiting Thornhill Gardens in Islington. Other boroughs surrounding Islington have large open spaces: to the north, Hampstead has Kenwood and the Heath; to the south, the City of London offers you the spires of numerous Wren city churches and the dome of St Paul’s cathedral. Two hundred years ago, Islington itself scarcely existed, except as a village with a small spa attached and it was viewed by City dwellers as a pleasant place to take a walk. It sits on a hill, well above the City of London smogs.

Map of Thornhill Gardens 1940-1960s

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Two Sneaky Stories by an Ag Slang Speaker

This post is about ag slang, a secret language which dates back to the Between the Wars years, that is, the 1920s – 1930s, when it became a popular secret language between school children. My mother who was the third of four sisters had learnt it at school, and she taught it to me and my brothers; and I, in my turn, taught it to my two children. My aunts also taught it to their children (I rang round my cousins to check before I started this post.) ‘I’m so sorry to bother you on a Saturday,’ I said, ‘but dago yagou spageak agag slagang?’  (Do you speak ag slang?) There was a startled pause and then ‘Yages – wagell, agI uagused tago!’ (Yes – well, I used to.)

Greenwich Maritime Museum

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Get Stuffed: ‘Animal Furniture’, 1896

Last October, I looked at some articles from the monthly illustrated Strand Magazine which was launched in 1896: Child Acrobats and Stage Dancers; Educating the Blind; and The Battersea Dogs’ Home, 1891, and wrote posts about them.

A couple of days ago, I discovered a further copy of the Strand Magazine. It’s not in a good state; it lacks the back and spine covers and the last few pages have come unstuck – but it is complete. And it contains an extraordinary article: ‘Animal Furniture’

Albatross beak paper clip

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The Launch of ‘The Cabochon Emerald’ in e-books

The Cabochon Emerald, my 7th Elizabeth Hawksley historical novel, which comes out in e-books on Monday 2nd August, owes its existence to a lucky find in a second-hand bookshop: The French Exiles 1789-1815 by Margery Weiner. Weiner’s book absolutely grabbed me: she follows the lives of the some of the 25,000 émigrés who fled the French Revolution and came to England: who were they? Yes, there were aristocrats and members of the clergy (in 1793, the French Government abolished Christianity), but those fleeing for their lives also also included artisans who worked in luxury industries, like jewellers or couturiers, which made them more vulnerable to being arrested. Why did they choose to come to London – a Protestant country, after all; how did they get here; where did they live; and how did they manage to make a living?

The French Exiles 1789-1815 by Margery Weiner 

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Historical Writers Association and a Regency Hamper

Back in April, I wrote a blog about my good fortune in being invited to be one of the judges for the Historical Writers Association Gold Crown Award, and this week I’m writing an update. We have been busy! As soon as I’d said ‘Yes’, dozens of books thudded down onto my doormat, and this is what my study floor now looks like:

My study has turned into an Art Installation of books! There are about ninety Historical novels in alphabetical order, and the books standing upright are there to stabilize them. 

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Commemoration and Dissent

I visited the Museum of London this week – the first time for quite a while and, as I wandered round,  I found myself thinking that it might be interesting to look at how ordinary people chose to commemorate what was going on in their lives – for good or ill. So I shall begin in 1600 in London with a Delftware plate celebrating the long and prosperous reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Elizabethan Delftware plate, 1600

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British Museum: The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial

One of the most splendid exhibits in the British Museum is undoubtedly the Sutton Hoo Ship Burial and its astonishing treasures, dating from the 7th century A.D. which was excavated 1938-9, as the country prepared itself for war.

The Bronze Helmet – fit for a King?

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My Mother’s Choice: Six Ornaments

Back in the 1950s, my mother found herself kitting out a small modern London flat from scratch. She decided to go for modern and went straight to Heals, the place for the best modern furniture and fittings. Once she’d bought the essentials, she decided that the flat (bedroom, sitting-room, bathroom, small kitchen, and a small entrance area) needed a few ornaments. At the time, Mr Heal prided himself on buying top quality items from across the world to sell in his famous shop.

Ceramics chosen by Mr Heal

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Freedom v Tyranny: The Afterlife of Thomas Becket

This week I’m following up on  the blog I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the murder in Canterbury Cathedral of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, in 1170. I looked at how the relationship between King Henry II and his former Lord Chancellor, which had once been so close, turned to bitterness and hatred, and ended in Becket’s violent death in front of the High Altar. The murdered Becket swiftly became a martyr and a saint – and, almost immediately, miracle cures, ascribed to Becket, were recorded.

Chaucer’s ‘Wife of Bath’ on Pilgrimage to Canterbury c. 1387

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