Category Archives: Historical Research

Things to do in 18th century Bath

It amazes me that sometimes, in my internet wanderings, when I am trying to find little nuggets of fact amidst the fog of the past that might embroider my novels with authentic detail, Google presents me with nothing exact. I mean, it’s rather obvious that Google and Wikipedia and all other random, non-authoratitive sources, might present one with unexpected ‘facts’. Sometimes they present one with outright lies, and this is often the cause of amusement.

Only today I was amazed to see someone on the internet declaring their casting off of pleasure driven pursuits such as drinking and eating bad food as they had decided to, ‘pursue a more hedonistic lifestyle’…I mean, there really is no answer for that except a pained inward groan. Then one allows oneself a little titter of amusement…until one makes a similar blunder and realises we all make mistakes and one ought to get down off one’s proverbial high horse.

Anyway, I am becoming distracted. What I am meaning to talk about is Bath. You see, I am in the throes of writing another book, which I have been enjoying immensely, and after taking a breaking because of, well, life, I have come back to it. I was getting frustrated because I had forgotten what I had already written, and felt as though I had lost the firm grasp on my characters I had. So I spent this morning re-reading what I had already written, remembering who I had created and where they dwelt, and thinking onwards onto what I wish to write next, and I was considering what activities my character might take up. They’re staying in Bath, you see, the first time one of my books has taken place in this beautiful watering hole of the 18th century, and so I did what any modern-day historical romance writer might do (but not admit to of course), I went to Le Google. I typed in the most pragmatic of phrases, ‘Things to do in 18th Century Bath’ and was greeted with, well, not much – nothing exact, you see.

You’ll be happy to know, those of you considering planning little trips away in 2017 already, that there are a plethora of guides on what to do in modern day Bath. But, believe it or not, in the onslaught of online information, no article matched my expectations. So I’ve written one. I do that with books too, if I can’t find what I want to read in a bookshop, I’ll go home and attempt to write what I am desiring instead. Sometimes it even works.

I did the same with my Things to do in 18th Century London post. I wanted to find activities that took place during the daytime that a man and woman might both attend. After all, despite what many historical romances might teach you (and I love them all), it wasn’t just about balls and gaming hells in London. And neither was Bath confined to taking the waters and the Assembly Rooms. 

It took me some time to piece together things from online articles sourced at reputable sites. You see, I don’t have easy access to my books and must sacrifice my intellectual self on the pire of the collective online brain. So, here is a wee list of things one might do in Bath to entertain oneself in the 18th Century:

1. Afternoon Tea in the Bath Assembly Rooms

That’s right, it wasn’t all about the nighttime Assembly’s in Bath with the dancing and light suppers presided over by Beau Nash, master of ceremonies. Oh, no, during the day one could enjoy an afternoon tea in respectable surroundings with relatives, friends or even potential lovers. Visit Bath is keen to establish that Jane Austen herself enjoyed afternoon tea at the Assembly Room’s, so there really is no arguing with that, is there? And for those hailing from countries where afternoon tea isn’t tradition, it usually consisted of tea, the drink, and light refreshments of both the savoury and sweet kinds.

The Assembly Rooms, Bath - National Trust

The Assembly Rooms, Bath – National Trust

2. Lover’s Lane in Bath

It wasn’t just Vauxhall and Ranelegh in London that could provide lovers with a useful tryst spot, Bath had a few spots of its own. Lover’s Lane, common parlance for the Gravel Walk (some of you might remember from the touching final get-together in Persuasion’s film adaptation), was a handy walk often used by those under cupid’s sway. And of course, Bath wasn’t short of gardens in which two young people, or older for that matter, might become lost. Sydney Gardens, situated behind Jane Austen’s Bath abode (though it must be stated she wasn’t fond of the city unlike myself), was a case in point.

Sydney Gardens, Bath

Sydney Gardens, Bath

Lots of these gardens not only had lovely little winding walks, but also bowling greens and lots of little things they could o.

3. Promenading along the Royal Crescent, Bath

The Hyde Park of Bath, this place was ideal for showing off one’s gladrags, perhaps obtained from Milsom Street, the popular shopping street in Bath, and overlooking the beautiful grey/yellow bath-stone city. For those unfamiliar with Bath, the Royal Crescent is a stunning panoramic crescent of matching Bath stone terraced houses in a palladian style overlooking the city. It’s aesthetics are beautiful for their uniformity, classical lines, and prominent position. 

Royal Crescent, Bath

Royal Crescent, Bath

My favourite part of these buildings is the modern-day birds-eye view which shows the higgeldy-piggeldy backs of these houses where successive owners have made their own changes and extensions to the properties without harming the matching fronts.

4. Bathing in Bath

It wasn’t just the Romans who chose to bathe in the warm waters springing from the Somerset earth. Bathing in Bath was considered beneficial for health complaints including rheumatism and gout. It was something generally, though not exclusively, taken advantage of by the elderly in Bath, and took place in any of these three baths on offer: the Cross bath, the Hot bath and the Minerva baths. In fact, if you are a modern day visitor, you can always visit these at the Thermae Bath Spa who describe the city thus,

‘Bath and its waters have a long association with well-being and the word SPA is related to the Latin phrase ‘Salus Per Aquam’ or ‘health through water’.’

Thermae Bath Spa

Thermae Bath Spa give the best history of bathing and the medicinal qualities of the waters at Bath that I could find online on this page of their website. The key piece I found the most helpful/interesting I have quoted below:

‘Princess/Queen Anne visited Bath regularly to take the waters seeking a cure for her gout and dropsy, which prompted the renaming of the New Bath to the Queen’s Bath. These visits and aristocratic patronage set in motion a period of development in which Bath became ‘the premier resort of frivolity and fashion’ and led to the great rebuilding of the city to produce the 18th century layout and architecture of today’s UNESCO World Heritage Site.’

5. Taking those Bath waters like a pro

Funnily enough, 18th century people weren’t all that foolish as we might like to think in our modern state. They really were onto something with the water – containing 43 minerals, it certainly has a tangy taste (I’ve tried it) and some health benefits too. 

Taking the Waters in Bath

Taking the Waters in Bath

The Thermae Bath Spa list the highest proportions of what the water contains below:

Mineral Expressed as Concentration (Hetling Spring):

Sulphate mg/l 1015 

Calcium mg/l 358 

Chloride mg/l 340 

Sodium mg/l 195 

Bicarbonate mg/l 193 

Magnesium mg/l 57 

Silica mg/l 21 

Iron mg/l 0.5

Taken from the Thermae Bath Spa’s website.

6. Sham Castle – the Folly at Bedhampton

For those who have been to Bath, you might have remembered looking up above the city and seeing a medieval castle, a shell of bygone days, looking down on the predominantly Georgian city. Perhaps you even thought, ‘Oh, jolly good, I’ll get my medieval rocks of while I’m here and pop up to those ruins.’ Well, you’d be out of luck. The castle is a sham. Sham by name, sham by nature, this folly was constructed on local gentleman Ralph Allen’s estate to add some glam to the place, in fact, it was pretty common practice in the later eighteenth century to ornament your gardens with extra, more ‘picturesque’ bits and pieces like follys and rotundas (the latter sees a good example at Petworth House in Sussex). Some even went as far as getting in a hermit to live in their grounds and drag them in for a hot meal when conversation at dinner was a little slow…I kid you not.

Sham Castle, Bath

Sham Castle, Bath

So that’s a small list of what genteel people might do to pass the time while staying in Bath. I’m going to keep reading around the subject and I’m sure it’ll be easier to find out more when my books are to hand, in the mean time, my characters will make do with some of these activities. And of course a few of them will be riding out into the Somerset countryside too (I can never resist a good horse ride), in fact, it’s quite amazing just how dramatic and delightful a ride out can be with the right people…

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Reconfiguring: Why attending the HNS conference is essential

I attended my first writing conference at the beginning of September. It was the Historical Novel Society conference held in the beautiful town of Oxford and it was a truly wonderful day.

You see, I’ve never experienced it, that incredibly swell of excitement when you walk through a crowd of writers. When you know that every one of them, if you were to stop them and tell them the buzz you get from writing; the fact your characters don’t behave; and that you’d give anything to walk through 1790s London; would be able to understand.

There’s something rather special about that. 

Historical Novel Society Conference | Oxford 2016 | Philippa Jane Keyworth

And then there’s so many of those authors that you admire, and you’re getting to sit with them, meet them, hear them give there tuppence worth.

Mixed with this crowd are the heads of industry, the titans who have previously only been a name on a website, in an article or on your query letter. You get to hear them talk about historical fiction, its importance, its direction, its future.

My highlights in no particular order were: meeting Authors I’ve known online for years, normal author-people, and the warm welcome made by everyone.

1. Meeting people I’ve known online for years

It really was an absolute pleasure to meet people I’ve known online for years, interacted with, promoted books with, had guest blog posts and interviews with, in the flesh!

In fact, it was one of the first things I did when I came through the door. I spied out the authors who I knew and went straight up to them introducing myself. It was wonderful to chat to Helen Hollick who had done a fascinating and popular post on my blog about Riding Aside. She’s lovely by the way.

Then there was Anna Belfrage, a woman who’s writing and knowledge I admire immensely. We chatted about POV (the bane of my life by the way, which Emma Darwin made a little better in her workshop) and writing. Anna has a lot of knowledge bouncing around in her head.

And Paula Lofting, who I have tried to meet before at a book signing which was cancelled. It was great to see her in her re-enactors garb, shouting war cries and threatening the conference-goers. What a rush. You can see the picture I tweeted here.

And of course, it was a pleasure to meet Laura Purcell, Jacqueline Reiter and Lizzy Drake – more about this lot later.

2. Normal author-people being there.

This was fabulous and mainly down to one lady (though I assume that the majority of attendees were normal ;-). I thoroughly enjoyed Jean Fullerton’s workshop on creating believable historical characters.

Jean is just so normal and practical. That’s the kind of person I can relate to. She gave the most straight-forward, applicable and easy-to-implement advice on creating believable characters. Especially interesting were her points on attitudes in the past and how to best represent them in your stories.

Although I wouldn’t usually go for her era of books, I have to say, in this case after meeting her, I’d make an exception!

3. There really was a spirit of camaraderie.

I walked into the large, glass entrance hall not knowing anyone in the flesh for a Saturday of conference lasting 9am-6pm. I’m a chatter, but there are times my heart is in my throat. This was one.

To say that the staff and delegates were friendly is an understatement. I was greeted by two ladies on the reception table who were lovely, and not only told me all the info I needed, but we’re very warm and welcoming.

When I had grabbed my coffee and looked around nervously for some people to hang with I recognised Laura Purcell from afar. I’ve known her online for some time and she had sent me a friendly message to come and say hi and so you know what? I did. I went over and introduced myself. Laura was with Jacqueline Reiter and Lizzy Drake and they were all so welcoming. They were so friendly and made the whole thing all the more enjoyable.

Finally, at lunch, I had been chatting too much and at workshops etc, so only had half an hour to quickly eat. Most people had eaten or were already in groups, so I quite happily sat on a table on my own, checked notes I’d taken and any tweets. Lo and behold, I hadn’t been sat down five minutes before a fellow author just came and sat down with me, asking if the chair was free, introducing themselves and becoming a lunchtime companion. No sooner had they then disappeared, but another person did the same! How friendly can you get?

So, it turns out, that though I had been accepting that I may well spend the day ‘alone’ with people at the conference without anyone to chat to, the opposite was the case. I’ve been to a few work conferences and nothing quite rivalled this one in the spirit of unity amongst all the authors and industry professionals. It wasn’t like we were there, worrying about copying each other’s notes or industry secrets.

We were all together, on the band-wagon that is historical fiction, and we were laughing and joking and enjoying the ride.

I guess that’s what made it so great.

The only thing which would have made it better, would have been if I could have attended with M.M. Bennetts. It was wonderful to be around people who knew her, and to hear her commemoration when the M.M. Bennetts Literary Award was given, but I would have loved to have sat with her again and listened to her satirical comments on all the happenings.

That being said, I am sure I shall be attending again when I can, and as I only made the Saturday this year, perhaps I’ll manage to make more of it next time.

Essential attendance?

You know what makes it an essential for writers? Writing is a lonely occupation, and this event makes you realise you aren’t in it alone.

Thank you, one and all

Thank you to the organisers, the volunteers, the authors, the industry professionals and everyone who made it such a blast!

Taking a break in Canterbury

Canterbury Street | Historic Canterbury | Philippa Jane KeyworthThis summer just seems to be dwindling rapidly. I feel like usually there’s a bit of a slow down in the summer months. Activities that I’m involved in usually peter out a little and I’m given some extra time to do creative things, garden and relax.

I have been on holiday which has been great, but apart from that everything’s been going at 100 miles an hour, and I’m not sure if any other creatives can relate, but all my head-space is currently taken up with ‘stuff’ and there is nothing left over to think about writing.

Life comes and goes in seasons, and things will change, I’ll have more time and subsequently more space in my creative brain (yes, I do believe I have two, one for everyday and one for creativity, both on the rather small side though…hehe)

Creating my brain space

What does help is having some time out in some beautiful and historical places. I recently went to Canterbury to celebrate my wedding anniversary with my husband. It was absolutely stunning. We stayed right on the high-street and could wander out onto the old streets, where hundreds of thousands of people have walked over the centuries.

There were a myriad of chain and boutique shops and coffee shops surrounded by higgledy-piggledy buildings which have been built over the centuries in multiple styles, around, next to and on top of each other, the kind of architecture I love. It’s a very green city with lots of trees and some beautiful parks too.

Inspired by historical places

We went to the Cathedral. It costs £12 for an adult to get into the Cathedral precincts and the building itself but I have to say it’s worth it. It costs a lot for a historic building to be maintained so the price does sort of make sense, and it’s less painful when you’re told that the ticket lasts for a year, and that there’s over a 1000 year’s history in one place 😉

It’s fantastic. It’s a beautiful building, it’s been added to over the millennia, and it’s the last resting place of the Black Prince, Henry IV and it is of course the notorious death-scene of Thomas Becket.

We didn’t do the audio tour – but I’d like to go back and do it again properly – we had so much to see and do in a short time. Y’know what? We can go back with our year long tickets!

The one thing it did make me realise, being in all that grandeur and walking up the various elevations to the stone throne, the ‘chair of St Augustine’, is that there really seems to be a separation between normal people and the clerics, maybe even form God? It made me realise perhaps a fraction of what so incensed Martin Luther in the 16th century. There is historic value in the traditions and artefacts and architecture of the place, but I can’t help but question if all these traditions miss some of the point of what Jesus preached about a personal relationship with God? A very interesting series of thoughts to ponder.

Cruising around

We also went on the Canterbury Historic River Tour which is well worth it. We had a friendly chap called Pete row us along the river which is protected (no motors allowed) along the stretch we enjoyed. The water is so clear you can see everything below and I couldn’t help thinking what might be lurking in the river bed from the past…just like I always wonder who’s feet have trodden in exactly the same places that mine are treading…I’m curious about things like that.

A new favourite bookshop

King's English Bookshop | Historic Canterbury | Philippa Jane KeyworthI’m a big fan of bookshops, and have recently realised I think I am actually a bit of a book collector. You only have to have a peer around my book case to realise it. I especially love second-hand bookshops. There is just something a little magical about the smell of dusty books, rows of mismatched and well-loved spines, like thousands of tiny windows into thousands of tiny worlds.

I bought one of those worlds at the King’s English bookshop, a particularly crooked house, in Canterbury. I collect older Georgette Heyer’s and added The Conquerer to my collection on my trip. The 17th century house is also known as Sir John Boys House and is reputedly mentioned in the novel David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. That great writer’s words are threaded in gold across the front of the building:

‘…a very old house bulging out over the road…leaning forward, trying to see who was passing on the narrow pavement below…’

Charles Dickens, 1849

Canterbury King's English Bookshop | Historic Canterbury | Philippa Jane Keyworth

The gold writing above the crooked door

Canterbury King's English Bookshop | Historic Canterbury | Philippa Jane Keyworth

Sir John Boys 17th century House

All in all, I’ve got a lot of time for Canterbury.

Carlton House | Georgians | Catherine Curzon | Philippa Jane Keyworth

Carlton House: A Lost Palace by Catherine Curzon

George IV is a man whose name is synonymous with profligacy, debt and debauchery. He is the king who did nothing by halves whether it was eating, gambling or wenching and nobody, but nobody, could spend money like George. He wasn’t all about the pleasures of the flesh though, and had a passion for art and architecture. When he got his hands on the keys to a residence that was, to put it politely, in need of renovation, it wasn’t long before the most illustrious architects in London were called in.

 

Renovating Carlton House

George’s first major renovation project was Carlton House, a residence given to him in 1783 when the then Prince of Wales came of age. With the rambling house came a stipend of around £60,000, which the prince was supposed to use to renovate the shabby building. It was a spectacularly ill-judged scheme, as his father, King George III, was soon to discover. After all, what harm could possibly come from giving a young man who loved to spend money and have the finest of everything a home that was not in the best of repair? It’s hardly as if he would immediately commission an eye-wateringly expensive programme of repairs, renovations and improvements, is it?

Of course it is.

The prince snatched at the cash with both hands, moving into Carlton House with indecent haste. Here he started spending as though money was no object, commissioning the famed Henry Holland to make extensive and ruinously expensive renovations. It was with some horror that the king learned that the prince, with his £50,000 annual allowance, was spending more than £30,000 of it on stables alone.

The Carlton House Set

Surrounded by his friends and hangers-on, the influential Carlton House set, George’s residence became the most fashionable in London. The repair costs spiralled out of control, with George approaching his father and parliament for ever more money to satisfy his debts and ensure that the house might one day be finished. No expense was spared to ensure that Carlton House had the very best of everything and by the time it was completed, the house had become notorious, representing extravagance of the most extreme sort.

Newspapers devoted whole articles to the interior of the magnificent royal residence, taking readers on a room-by-room tour and describing the stunningly rich drapery, the enormity of the chambers and the magnificent decor. It was a world that few could ever dream of being part of but one who was was Lady Lyttelton, and she wrote:

“Carlton House is very beautiful, very magnificent, and we were well amused looking at it yesterday. I don’t know whether you are worthy of the beauties of old china vases, gold fringes, damask draperies, cut-glass lustres, and all the other fine things we saw there. I can only tell you the lustre in one of the rooms, of glass and ormolu [sic], looking like a shower of diamonds, cost between two and three thousand pounds. I write the number at full length, that you mayn’t fancy I have put a cypher too many. However, it is such a peculiarly English manufactory that our heir-apparent is right in encouraging it.”[1]

George loved Carlton House and learned no lessons from it, going on to repeat the same financial mistakes when he began work on the Marine Pavilion at Brighton. The house remained in his ownership as he became first Prince Regent yet by the time he was crowned King George IV, his attention had wandered to Buckingham Palace.

The End of Carlton House

The house that had once been his pride and joy was demolished. For all the expense of its renovations and rebuilding, Carlton House had lost its romance for George and he shed no tears for its loss. For those of us who study the era, painting and written description are all that remain, a tantalising glimpse of this temple to one man’s monumental ego.

By Catherine Curzon

About the Author

Catherine Curzon is a royal historian and blogs on all matters 18th century at A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life.

Life in the Georgian Court | Catherine Curzon | Philippa Jane KeyworthHer work has been featured by publications including BBC History Extra, All About History, History of Royals, Explore History and Jane Austen’s Regency World. She has also provided additional material for the sell-out theatrical show, An Evening with Jane Austen which she will be introducing at the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, in September (tickets are available here).

Catherine holds a Master’s degree in Film and when not dodging the furies of the guillotine, she lives in Yorkshire atop a ludicrously steep hill.

Her book, Life in the Georgian Court, is available now from Amazon UK, Amazon US, Book Depository and all good bookshops!

Life in the Georgian Court is a privileged peek into the glamorous, tragic and iconic courts of the Georgian world, where even a king could take nothing for granted.’

Bibliography

Anonymous. George III: His Court and Family, Vol I. London: Henry Colburn and Co, 1821.

Baker, Kenneth. George IV: A Life in Caricature. London: Thames & Hudson, 2005.

Black, Jeremy. The Hanoverians: The History of a Dynasty. London: Hambledon and London, 2007.

David, Saul. Prince of Pleasure. New York: Grove Press, 2000.

Hadlow, Janice. The Strangest Family: The Private Lives of George III, Queen Charlotte and the Hanoverians. London: William Collins, 2014.

Hetherington Fitzgerald, Percy. The Life of George the Fourth. London: Tinsley Brothers, 1881.

Huish, Robert. Memoirs of George the Fourth: Vol I. London: Thomas Kelly, 1830.

Irvine, Valerie. The Kings Wife: George IV and Mrs Fitzherbert. London: Hambledon, 2007.

Lloyd, Hannibal Evans. George IV: Memoirs of His Life and Reign, Interspersed with Numerous Personal Anecdotes. London: Treuttel and Würtz, 1830.

Smith, EA. George IV. Bury St Edmunds: St Edmundsbury Press, 1999.

Spencer, Sarah. Correspondence of Sarah Spencer Lady Lyttelton 1787-1870. London: John Murray, 1912.

References

[1] Spencer, Sarah (1912). Correspondence of Sarah Spencer Lady Lyttelton 1787-1870. London: John Murray, p.104.

Regency London: traipsing around the ol’ haunts

The British Library has a great wall of books encased in glass towering over cafe clientele – it’s as mouth-watering as the cakes…

Another of my ‘trawling-through-old-photos-I-took-for-blog-posts’ posts today! These babies are proving their worth, I’m so glad I took them all, it’s great to go through them, not only so I can post lovely things on here but also to realise all the research I’ve done over the last few years and the cool places I’ve been.

Sometimes, as a younger author I feel a bit like I haven’t enough time to fit in all the knowledge. My friend Bennetts used to say, ‘Well, I’ve been doing it for 20 years’ a kind of, come back then and tell me if you feel the same, sort of comment. 6 years later (so not the whole-hog I grant you) and going through these photos is making me realise that I have done more than I thought and it has only grown my love (not my, ‘I need to do this’ comparison stuff) of history and learning.

Jane Austen’s London, eh?

So, I went to London with a friend a few years back and we had a jolly ol’ time going to the Georgian’s Revealed exhibition at the British Library (I had never been though both my novels had migrated there), and then following a ‘Jane Austen’s London’ (I kid you not!) walking guide. It was brill, and so useful for my writing.

Can you see that slight incline in front of White’s club above left photo? And, ah, that most hallowed of bow windows in which Brummell was wont to sit…

I mean, this is why it’s so important (if you can) to visit the places you hark on about in novels or read about. I am not a city-lover so how was I to know St James’ that fashionable haunt of fashionable men in the Regency is on a slight incline? It slopes down to St James’ Palace and therefore White’s is up a little hill. Such a lovely little gem of info which I might not sprawl across a novel page but which I can keep tucked in my wee mind for reference.

It’s true that what a writer of historical fiction knows and what they sprinkle onto their page, between their characters, is separated by a gargantuan divide! And so it should be, it would be boring if a novel were riddled with encyclopaedic knowledge – I’ll read an encyclopaedia for that thank you very much – it’s the juicy characters and their lives that interest me and I presume most people!

Pitt (1708-1778) and Gladstone (1809-1898)’s residence Chatham House

Hatchard’s, Almack’s and Brummell

Above: Hatchard’s bookshop – selling books since 1797 has a beautiful set of winding stair (it’s surprisingly large in there!) and a little cabinet of historical things!

Almack's - What now stands there - modern day | Regency London | Philippa Jane Keyworth

This is now what stands in the place of Almack’s Assembly Room

Anyhoo, on this wee jaunt we ventured to the British Library as I said, we pootled along the Mall, took the obligatory (though it was nighttime) photo outside Buckingham Palace, wandered over to St James’ palace, walked up St James’ street, peered in at Brook’s, White’s, looked at the hallowed ground that was Almack’s and is now some faceless corporate looking building. I stood outside those Town houses the likes of which my characters live in, I linked arms with Beau Brummell’s statue, I popped into Hatchard’s and I saw where Pitt the elder lived.

It was in short, GREAT, and I highly recommend this sort of wander (especially if you use a walking tour book like we did).

My pal Beau…

Beau Brummell Regency | Regency London | Philippa Jane Keyworth

Me and Beau, just hanging out…

 

Re-Enacting as a research method for historical fiction authors

I have been trawling through old photos today to have a looksee at some of those gems which I took thinking, ‘I’ll write a blog post on this when I get home’ and never did, and I have found SO MANY.

Sharpe's Rifles | Historical Research for Authors | Philippa Jane Keyworth

My favourite moment – meeting the men who played alongside Sean Bean as Sharpe’s 95th Rifles!

These ones I didn’t really take just for a blog post, it was for myself to remember it all, but I thought as I looked back through them, ‘Why not post these?!’ They were taken at a re-enactment day which included re-enactors from the Norman period right up until the Vietnam War but the ones I’m showing you are mostly from the periods I’m interested in i.e. 18th and early 19th century!

Is Re-Enacting a useful research tool?

Purple Carrots! | Re-Enactment Historical Research for Authors | Philippa Jane Keyworth

Purple carrots! Re-Enactors are very careful to be as authentic as possible, often researching primary sources themselves

Now, there is an academic debate on whether re-enacting enables or hinders the production of academic research – I settle on the side that it enables. I really do think that if you try to do something the way they did it in the past it can inform your understanding of the past providing you with real insight. In fact, a good friend of mine, M.M. Bennetts, advocated practical research for historical fiction authors. How else was one to know how it felt to be laced into a corset? Or to tie a cravat? To fence? Or to shoot a musket? All things, I hasten to add, which M.M. did.

So, I ended up popping along to this event with her and her lovely daughters quite some years ago now, and you may even see me trying to hold a musket straight (they are bally heavy I tell you!)…

In the first photo I was just double checking which end was the pointy one…the musket was definitely an interesting one. It was as big as me! I’m not that tall, but still, it was honestly almost my height and it weighed a ton – just think of young lads enlisting having to load and hold one of those up to face the French. (You can tell these photos are REALLY OLD because I have reddish hair which was years ago – it’s all blond these days).

Napoleonic Wars | Re-Enactment Historical Research for Authors | Philippa Jane Keyworth

The chap who showed me the sword looked very spiffy I had to take a photo – he was in fact in charge of this particular regiment and a true gent

Making camp – they had a camp set up in which they were sleeping for the weekend-long event and it was from here that the troops set out for the battle re-enactments:

Napoleonic Wars | Re-Enactment Historical Research for Authors | Philippa Jane Keyworth

They were very well drilled and their uniforms spotless

Regency | Historical Research for Authors | Philippa Jane Keyworth

The officers’ wives in stark contrast to the rest of the women of the camp

Then came the fighting – a real sight let me tell you – and this was one of those great learning moments. I had learnt a little of the slowness of loading a musket from watching the Sharpe TV series, however, it wasn’t just the muskets which were slow. The whole pace of battle was totally different to what I thought. It isn’t like movies where everything is going off at once, but neither is it lethargic, it’s just different and I’m thankful I went to this event to find out. If you’re interested you should go to one too and support these great guys who do it all for fun!

 

Why Re-Enactors are great people

All the re-enactors I met were SO FRIENDLY and willing to SHARE their knowledge which is just wonderful as an author. There’s nothing more pleasing and exciting then having someone explains historical things to you with an avidness that matches your own!

The battles were great – firing muskets and canon and manoeuvring. All fab.

Ready. Aim. Fire

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Napoleonic Wars | Re-Enactment Historical Research for Authors | Philippa Jane Keyworth

The French won the particular altercation I was watching – it was rather disheartening – however, I was assured that the British would be winning later in the day!

This was a really useful day for me as an author – not to mention so much fun – I highly recommend this as a way to research your books if you’re an author or historical fiction lover!

 

 

 

A hard road… Prue Batten guest posts

The wonderful Prue Batten has agreed to guest on my blog. Here she talks about researching the 12th century (a period I am not familiar with…haha), and the beauty of online research resources! Enjoy:

The twelfth century

One of the best but potentially the most frustrating things about writing historical fiction is research. In my case, within the twelfth century, I am continually learning but I also have to make extensive executive decisions along the way. Academics disagree – it’s the fundamental core of academia, I suppose, that no academic will spontaneously support another’s view on a historical fact.

Medieval bathing

Prue Batten Historical Fiction Author | 12th Century Research | Philippa Jane Keyworth Blog

Medieval bathing

Take for example bathing in the Middle Ages. On the one hand, no – they were dirty folk with no plumbing, and filth was endemic. But then on the perverse other hand, yes – they did bathe. Often. It may perhaps have been in the river, lakes or in the sea (unless they lived in the few castles or priories that had an early form of plumbing), but they did wash and valued cleanliness because of the disease rife in the times. I like that particular view and so follow that line.

Medieval velvet?

Or perhaps take velvet. Sharon Penman was forced to apologise for using velvet in one of her books. She says,

In Here Be Dragons, I draped Joanna and other female characters in rich velvet gowns. I later found out that velvet was not known in the 12th century.’

I consider the fact that she felt obliged to apologise unfair, because she is one of our most learned fiction writers.

Non-‘academic’ research shows that velvet did indeed exist ‘…as early as 2000 BC in Egypt, where samples of exquisitely fine linen and silk fabrics have been unearthed. An inventory list from 809 AD, of treasures belonging to Caliph Haroun al-Rashid, includes five hundred bolts of velvet…Velvet production became firmly established as an industry in the Middle East and eastern Europe by about the tenth century…Moorish Spain was a second major centre of velvet production; it had been manufactured there since 948, and various velvet-weavers’ guilds and organisations served to ensure the industry’s prosperity…’ (http://artisanssquare.com – The History of Velvet.)

In my historical fiction books, my twelfth century trading house is based in Venice and its sources of cloth are along the Mediterranean (the Middle Sea) shores and further into Constantinople. Given that trade was not only alive but expanding rapidly, it is surely not a big step to assume that velvet was traded by Moors throughout the Middle Sea, perhaps from Al-Andalus. Basic common sense would indicate that it was entirely possible and indeed probable.

Tobias & The Triptych Chronicle

Prue Batten Historical Fiction Tobias | 12th Century Research | Philippa Jane Keyworth Blog

‘An atmospheric journey through the seedy underbelly of medieval Europe.’ SJA Turney, author of the bestselling Marius’s Mules

When I began writing Tobias, the first book in The Triptych Chronicle, I had planned for him to travel to Byzantium, to the great city of Constantinople. However there were enormous issues in establishing a setting with complete veracity. For one thing, much of the architecture of the twelfth century and earlier was destroyed in the Fourth Crusade and the later Ottoman Invasion.

So what to do?

I spoke with a friend who by chance had discovered a stellar online resource. The link became my lifeline, the images something akin to a favoured GPS. That link was www.byzantium1200.com.

Walking around Byzantium

In an instant, I was transported. The 3-D modelling is exceptional, and daily I would wander with Tobias, arm in arm, as we discovered scenes for the drama that would eventually unfold. It wasn’t hard then, to overlay my own sensory perception of crowded streets, cobbles, of watery smells and stone waterfronts slippery with seaweed upon the images I was seeing. Slowly, Constantinople in 1194 AD came alive.

Prue Batten Historical Fiction Author | 12th Century Research | Philippa Jane Keyworth Blog

Hagia Sophia

In one part of the novel, Tobias must climb the Valens Aqueduct and run along the top of it, at night and in the rain. This was something I hadn’t foreseen in the novel. It was one of those lightning moments when the story rushes along without you. I wondered what the top of that aqueduct was like and being in the far-flung southern hemisphere, couldn’t immediately hop on a plane to visit. But I had images of various aqueducts, along with an image of the extant aqueduct and I was able to put them all together and create what it may have been like in the twelfth century.

Prue Batten Historical Fiction Author | 12th Century Research | Philippa Jane Keyworth Blog

The Aqueduct of Valens

In addition, I have a very good friend who lives in Istanbul and armed with a list of various sites of twelfth century Constantinople, she would find the unfindable and in so doing, sent me videos and sensory comment, so that I could be as truthful to the geography as possible.

Most of it was indeed unfindable – one location being the Patriarch’s Palace, which was described as being loosely ‘south west of the Augusteon’. This was one of those moments when a writer of historical fiction has to take a leap of faith and draw a conclusion that may at some point in the future, be shot down by a dissenting academic.

But the point is, to date it has worked for any reader reading Tobias, and it definitely worked for me at the time (and probably for Tobias too).

I can only say how grateful I am to those at www.byzantium1200.com for the licence they have given me to imagine. And I hope by the existence of the wonderful images, they are allowing readers to imagine as well.

By Prue Batten

Prue Batten Historical Fiction Author | 12th Century Research | Philippa Jane Keyworth Blog

Prue Batten, author of historical fiction including Tobias of The Triptych Chronicles, The Gisborne Saga & the fantasy series The Chronicles of Eirie

A former journalist from Australia who graduated with majors in history and politics, Prue is now an award-winning cross genre writer who enjoys creating fiction from history and fantasy.

Her eighth novel, Tobias, has been short-listed as a semi-finalist in the 2016 M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction.

She is also a farmer, dog owner, gardener, embroiderer, swimmer and kayaker.

Direct links to purchase Prue’s books are on her website. See below:

http://www.pruebatten.com

http://www.facebook.com/prue.batten.writer

http://www.pinterest.com/pruebatten