Eighteenth Century Party House

Strawberry Hill 1Nicola here. Back in the mid-18th century there was only one fashionable place to be if you wanted a “villa” on the River Thames (a villa in these terms being something roughly the size of a large country house to the rest of us.) That place was Twickenham, a village half-way between the two royal palaces of Richmond and Hampton Court and with the improvements in both roads and carriages, a mere two hours’ drive from Central London. It was here in 1747 that Horace Walpole, the son of England’s first Prime Minister, bought a house that he referred to as a “plaything” and a “bauble” that was to be his summer residence, Strawberry Hill House. Even the name suggests hot summer days and fruit growing wild on the hillsides!

These days Twickenham is a busy suburb and it takes less than an hour to drive between the town and the centre of London. Gone are many of the imposing villas beside the Thames, although a few are still around, and the old houses are often surrounded by the new. Horace Walpole’s little Gothic Castle is still there, though, even if we didn’t see any wild strawberries growing on the hill during our visit.

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Anne here, considering the humble apron. RegencyApron

When I was a kid, pretty much every woman I knew wore an apron when in the kitchen or elsewhere in the home. My maternal grandmother wore one almost all the time.  The apron wasn't just to protect her dress and to wipe her hands on, it carried all sorts of things; fruit and vegetables from the garden, fresh-laid eggs, pegs from the line, wood chips for the fire. When visitors came the apron would be whipped off, or if it was dirty, she'd pop on a fresh one. She had maybe a dozen aprons, some workaday, some pretty.

My mother, who was a professional woman, would get home from work, walk into the kitchen, put on an apron and get to work. She also had a number of different aprons, from the ones that covered her dress well, to pretty ones made from worn-out old dresses.  

Me? The truth is, I hardly ever put on an apron from one month to another.

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Christine Wells and the 18th century Crim. Con.

Christine WellsNicola here. Today I am delighted to welcome Christine Wells to the Word Wenches. Christine is a former corporate lawyer turned award-winning author of Regency historical romance and her beautifully written and emotionally poignant books have always been on my auto-buy list. You may imagine my excitement when I discovered that Christine was taking her writing in a new direction with The Wife's Tale, a sweeping novel set in the eighteenth century and the present. No spoilers here as I want everyone to discover and enjoy this fabulous book for themselves but I will say that The Wife's Tale is a book whose characters and their story stayed with me a long time after reading. I even dreamed about it! Now it's over to Christine to talk about the fascinating history of the Criminal Conversation trial, a theme that lies at the heart of The Wife's Tale.

Thank you very much to Nicola and the wonderful Word Wenches for having me here today. I’ve always been a fan of this blog (not to mention the novels of its authors!) and I’m thrilled to return today to share some background from my new novel, THE WIFE’S TALE.

Those of you who are devotees of Georgette Heyer might recall fleeting references to the latest scandalous “crim. con.” news in some of her books. Heyer never goes into detail about these court cases but as a former lawyer myself, I found the cause of action intriguing.

When embarking on a slightly new direction with my historical fiction, I wanted to marry my professional experience as a solicitor and love of legal history with my passion for the history of English country houses. I suddenly recalled the action of criminal conversation and realised it would be a perfect springboard for a story full of intrigue and scandal about English aristocrats in the late eighteenth century.

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A real duke

Tf2012Tempting Fortune has just been reissued.You can read an excerpt here.

Yes, the cover is odd for a Georgian romance with a short, red-haired, quite plain and under-endowed heroine, but there you go! The British edition (see below) did a better job, but I think it's too dark in tone and mood. It's accurately portraying Portia on her way to be auctioned off in a brothel, but that is the darkest part of the book.

Covers. So complicated, but this book has had its full share. The original (see below) was created when the publisher was experimenting with new styles for covers and it's all-over foil. As a result it doesn't reproduce well, and even on the shelf the light  can blank the whole thing out.  I don't think they tried that again.

Tempting Fortune is the second book of the main Malloren series

It was first published in 1995. The hero is Lord Arcenbryght Malloren, the second son, who has an edgy relationship with his half-brother, the Marquess of Rothgar. He's a more fiery man and likes risk. Rothgar has turned him from gaming onto handling the family's business affairs and investments, but there's risk there, too, because in those days the shareholders of a company were liable for all losses.

That would curb some of the wild investments we see today, wouldn't it?Tfold

The book is about gambling, with money and with other things. It seems a suitable theme for the middle of the eighteenth century when a passion for games of chance gripped everyone, but it was combined with an exhilarated exploration of new ways and new ideas the Enlightenment. To the visionaries of this time nothing seemed impossible, and they had no doubt that the new would be wonderful. They had not learned as we have that progress inevitably brings costs. Or perhaps they simply did not care.

Who's the real duke, then?

Bryght's business partner, the Duke of Bridgewater.

My author's note from Tempting Fortune.

I'm reproducing here an edited version of the author's note from the back of the book. It was the first meaty one I did because I found myself trying to explain the Duke of Bridgwater's canals in the text. Definite information dumping. Not good.

BridgewaterThe Duke of Bridgewater was just such a visionary.

It's hard to tell now what drove him, though the fact that he had grown up a sickly youth called the Poor Duke may have had something to do with it. (A string of short-lived predecessors had bankrupted the dukedom.) Perhaps he was destined by his title, for it is intriguing that Bridgewater should be the first person in England to attempt the construction of an aqueduct, a "water bridge."

Love had something to do with it, though, for it was after his betrothed wife jilted him that he devoted all his energies to construction.

Elizabeth, Duchess of Hamilton, was one of the famous Gunning sisters who had taken London by storm, much like modern pop stars. The king had to order them an escort of the Guards to keep back the adoring crowds when they walked the streets.  Maria, the elder sister married Lord Coventry. Elizabeth married the dissolute Duke of Hamilton and was soon left a rich widow. Bridgewater was just back from his Grand Tour, and still a young man, but he fell deeply in love, proposed, and was accepted. Elizabeth, however, changed her mind and chose instead a Colonel Campbell, who would one day be the Duke of Argyll. Thus, Elizabeth Gunning married two dukes and jilted a third, and what's more, was in time the mother of four.

Bridgewater turned his back on matrimony and became entranced with construction.

In the beginning, his plan was modest — no more than to use the drainage channel from his mine to float coal a short distance. But then he saw the advantages of extending the waterway to Manchester. Manchester was a new city, growing rapidly as the spinning and weaving of cotton became an industry. Development there was being held back by the high price of fuel. The Poor Duke saw the opportunity to make a lot of money.

Even then, Bridgewater's plan was merely to link up with an established river-rout using the River Irwell. However, the existing Mersey and Irwell Navigation Company demanded an extortionate rate to use their system, and Bridgewater took the bold leap of planning a canal all the way, one which would leap the Irwell with an aqueduct.

Nearly everyone thought him mad. No one had constructed a canal in England since Roman times, and his engineers  — Brindley and Gilbert — were largely self-taught, but Bridgewater at only twenty-four proved determined. When he failed to raise money by other means, he sold or mortgaged just about everything he had and went around soliciting small loans from anyone with money to spare.

Money wasn't the only problem, though.

Canal construction required a number of acts of parliament, and those proved hard to get. As the duke complains in Tempting Fortune, bribery was a way of life in London. In addition, there were many honest doubters. In order to persuade the committee of Parliament to approve the act, Brindley had to build a working model of the aqueduct in front of them.

To add to the problems, the real one began to fail as the first water ran through it. It was a minor flaw, however, and the engineers fixed it, working without sophisticated plans, almost by string and sealing wax. Thereafter people made special trips to see this modern marvel, and to watch ships sail through the air. Beneath, the proprietors of the Mersey and Irwell Navigation Company gnashed their teeth and feared the future.

It was the beginning of a new age, the new age Bryght foresees. By the end of the 18th century, England was criss-crossed by canals, which meant cheap, safe transportation of raw materials and finished products. This led to rapid industrial expansion, and Britain was poised for the Victorian age, when it would be the richest and most powerful nation on earth. It can be argued that this was all due to a 24 year old duke, so please don't assume young men or aristocrats are useless. He was a brilliant entrepreneur, and not out of keeping with his age or class.

This all made Bridgewater a very rich man. Bridgold

The profit from his coal mines rose from 406 pounds per annum at the time of this book, 1763, to 48,000 pounds at the time of his death, still unmarried, in 1810. In addition, he had the income from fees for the use of his canals, and from many other ventures such as the land on the new dockland of Liverpool mentioned in the book. I'm sure Bryght became just as rich in the process, but great wealth was never really his motivation. It was the fascination of new opportunities and the necessary risks that stirred him.

Bridgewater pops up in some other Malloren romances, usually as a desirable marital prospect. Can anyone remember when and where he appears?

What do you think of this real duke and his story? Share your thoughts and your name will go in the hat for a copy of the new edition of Tempting Fortune.