Strawberry Leaves and other Fruitful Images

Nicola here. Perhaps it’s because everything feels so serious at the moment with political upheavals all around the world, but today I decided to be a bit frivolous and blog about fruit. Way back in 2015 I wrote a blog on the Word Wenches about pineapples and their significance as symbols of wealth and status. I was reminded about this a week ago when I went on a special tour of the Ashdown estate, into the nooks and crannies where we are normally not allowed to visit. There, tucked away in a barn, were some truly enormous stone pineapples which used to adorn the gateposts at the bottom of the drive! I’d never seen them before, or even any pictures of them, so it was amazing to see this throwback to an earlier age of the house. If you were meant to judge a family’s wealth and its prestige by the size of their pineapples, then the Craven family had some huge ones!

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Walking through Regency London


I've been tryAgasse, Jacques-Laurent flowerseller 1822ing to imagine what the streets of Paris and London looked like and felt like underfoot in the Georgian and Regency eras.

The fashionable streets of Mayfair are fairly easy to picture.  We have lovely paintings of these, for one thing. 

The wide, clean, quiet streets with expensive houses. The squares, with maybe a garden in the middle.  Yes.  I can see these.

I have some feeling of what the rookeries might have loGustave-dore-orange court drury lane 1870oked like too.  The grainy, mid-Victorian photos of the London slums give us an idea.  Hogarth illustrates the underbelly of London on one side of the era. Gustaf Dore on the other.

There be those who say that things and places have souls, and there be those who say they have not; I dare not say, myself.  H.P Lovecraft

But, what about the middling streets?  Not the privileged haunts of the nobility.  Not the stews.  The everyday streets and passageways of London and Paris.  My characters spend most of their time in this ordinary sort of place.  What did it look like?

We have pictures. 
St-martins-church-george-scharf 1828 


Burras_Thomas_The_Skipton_Fair_Of_1830 cropped











Raymer the cross chester

And we can guess a lot about what the city looked and felt like from elements common to cities now.

Cobblestones Paris 4Brick and stone and stucco work is still brick and stone and stucco.  The cobbles of then looked a lot like the cobbles of now.  They're still slippery to walk on.  I should imagine the horses hated them.  Streets still needed to drain.  In 1800 they were more apt to set the drain in the middle of the street with a central swale running down centrally.  See over there to the left and the first picture on top.  Sometimes the middle of the street was humped up a bit and water — lots of other stuff too doubtless — drained down both sides. 

Sometimes the road less traveled is less traveled for a reason. Jerry Seinfeld

Bond-street-gillray-elaine-goldenCurbs and raised sidewalks or pavements are not so much universally in evidence as you can see by the various pictures.  But lookit here at Bond Street in Gilray's satirical print of the Bond Street beaux forcing the young ladies off into the muck of the road.  There's your curb and your raised pavement right there. Detail of bond-street-gillray-elaine-golden

The London and Paris in contemporary paintings is a city of narrower streets, more intimate spaces, darker corners, low passageways and alleys leading to random dead ends.  The crowds and bustle, that hasn't changed much . . . but everywhere tThe-st giles rookery-1800 detailhere would have been horses and wagons, pushcarts and pack animals to add to the confusion.  And, somewhat off the beaten track, the occasional pig.

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.  L.P. Hartley

Pancras cc talk2santoshMost of the physical city of London aPompidou cc positivenegativend Paris of 1800 is gone, fallen victim to . . . improvements.  You got your Victorian building like there on the left. A good bit of what escaped the Victorians fell prey to the Twentieth Century.  On the right we got . . .  Hmmm.  I think I do not properly appreciate modern either.

In the end, the character of a civilization is encased in its structures.  Frank Gehry


Haussmann-boulevard lafayette wiki Paris, especially, has changed from the city my characters walked around in.  Great swathes were cleared out in two decades, between 1853 to 1870, by Baron Haussmann.  He gave us the splendid vistas, wide streets, and huge squares that are so typically 'Paris'.  He did it by plowing through the pre-existing buildings, destroying everything in his path, displacing 350,000 people.  Think Mothra and Godzilla on a particularly rambunctious day.  One of the advantages of working for a totalitarian government is never having to say you're sorry.  Barricade_rue_Soufflot_1848 horace Vernet

When Haussmann was done, Paris was no longer a Medieval muddle of streets where disaffected citizens could throw up barriers and lob cobblestones at the militia.  Now it was an efficient highway for the deployment of government troops.  The armed uprising of Parisians against the central government in 1789, 1830, and 1848 had doubtless come to somebody's attention.

All this said, in quiet corners of London and Paris, there are still places we can follow our characters and walk the ordinary streets of 1800.

Blue door in Paris 2Wapping street date unknown cc kaptainkobold    Little green street 1780 georgian street london cc nigelcoxA view of the cock pub blackfriars street cc 2is3London alley cc fredhsu

  Rue des Rosiers 4 Old courtyard in Paris once a mews 1 Cobblestone street Latin Quarter Paris
Pancras Station is cc talk2santosh. Pompidou Centre is cc positivenegative. Streets are cc Nigel cox, kaptainkobold, fredshu, 2is3.


O public road, I say back I am not afraid to leave you, yet I love you, you express me better than I can express myself.  Walt Whitman


So.  What plBlack hawk aces take you back to the past?  Where do you feel in touch with history?

Some lucky commenter will win a copy of Black Hawk and get to read about some of those Paris streets.



Bath Not Bathroom History

PatRice_Shelter_200px Pat Rice here. With any luck, Shelter From the Storm will be re-released in ebook format by the time this blog goes up. As you can see, I've given up on finding historically accurate costumes and gone for half-naked!

Anyway, I've just finished writing a couple of paranormal novels, and I’m finally ready to research the next historical. I want to set this one in Bath, a place I’ve seen once on a very quick visit, so I’ve had to resort to digging into my research books. 

I wish Michener was around to write a complete historical fiction on the hot springs of Bath. The Druidic implications of that steamy dark forest appeals to the imagination. Can’t you just see the conflict of primitive man being drawn to the warmth but fearing the evil spirits? And then later, of course, the pragmatic Romans stomping over field and stream to turn the mineral water into hot baths. Relics of all these ages have turned up in the area, although the Georgian outburst of building probably ruined most archeological sites for all time. (photo at

What I find fascinating looking back from this day and age is just how the community of Bath turned their medieval village into a wealthy tourist destination to rival Vegas. The springs were well known for centuries. Queen Elizabeth had traveled there during her reign, yet the village had stayed just that, a dirty decrepit medieval village, with crumbling Roman baths in the middle. But in 1692, Princess Anne visited and apparently stimulated the public imagination. At the time, the city was operated by a Corporation, and the next time Anne visited—as queen—they produced a stage production to rival any large city. The courtiers, of course, were thrilled and flattered and quite willing to return to the cramped village time after time.

The Corporation, being of a conservative nature, did no more than allow a new tollway to open up the city for travelers after that success. But Beau Nash, traveling in the queen’s retinue, knew precisely what the dingy, deteriorating rural spa needed to attract the beau monde—sophistication, dancing, and Bath Assembly Rooms gambling. Shades of Vegas! For nearly sixty years, he reigned as official or unofficial Master of Ceremonies, choosing which of the select five hundred would be granted permission to join the aristocratic entertainments.  He made the rules, warned away the cheats and wastrels, and commanded a high standard of elegance—the Almack ladies could have learned from him. He also gambled to excess and was buried in a pauper’s grave, and his mistress of the time was so crazed with grief that she moved into a hollowed-out tree. It was obviously an age of excess.

But the court also attracted the gentry hoping to make wealthy connections, and as the medicinal reputation of the springs grew, invalids and the elderly increased the population until the medieval walls threatened to explode. And this is where my modern interest kicks in—the city did nothing. For fifty years, they had untold wealth at their disposal. They had a teeming population of all classes from pickpockets to queens crushed inside ancient barriers, and they sat on their fingers and dithered, 800px-Grosvenor_Square leaving all building projects to private interests. Since the city owned almost all the land within the walls, private interests had to go outside, and so the suburbs were created.

And they were created quite creatively, too. John Woods, a well-known Bath architect, didn’t have the wealth to outright buy lands owned by dukes and bishops. He certainly didn’t have the help of the city. But he could lease fields and develop the infrastructure—and design fabulous facades in the fashion of the Georgian era. In turn, he leased individual lots to developers who would put their own cash into actually building the edifices he drew. And so the resort grew to house new generations. Practical John fared far better than the Beau, and John Wood Jr grew up in his father’s productive footsteps.

It wasn’t until 1750 that Bath’s Corporation finally saw the light and engaged in a building frenzy.  They began by developing undeveloped lots inside the city walls, and once they’d filled those up, they tore down the medieval walls and built outward, while also ripping down the old city center and replacing it with grandeur. The famed Pump Room wasn’t completed until 1796, well after the Prince Regent had discovered the tiny fishing village of Brighton. Royal interest in Bath waned, leaving the newly refurbished town with the elderly and invalids of whom Austen wrote in the Regency era.

Aside from pondering the implications of slow-to-change conservatives losing the opportunity to make a difference, compared to risk-taking idealists who really needed the guidance of their practical counterparts, the story of Bath leaves me with other questions. Do the wealthy really prefer the exclusivity of dowdy dirty settings out of the common path to enduring sparkling spacious elegant resorts filled with the common folk? Since I’ll never be a courtier to find out, I guess we’ll just have to speculate. If you were a princess and her court, would you prefer visiting an exclusive setting in some jungle to the glitter of Monaco? And then would you care to explain why?