Friday, October 28, 2011

There’s Graphite in Them Thar Hills:
The Rise and Fall of Graphite Mining during the Regency by Guest Blogger Regina Scott

I belong to the mountains, having been born and raised in the Cascades of Washington State. So towering peaks and water-carved caverns are no mystery to me. When I chose to set my November 2011 and February 2012 novels among the fells of the Lake District in England, however, I was surprised to learn the mountains held something far more valuable than the view: graphite.

It turns out that the soft, greasy black mineral, which the residents of the Lake District called wad or plumbago, was used to line the inside of molds for creating cannon and musket balls. The mold had to be relined frequently. As you can imagine, between the various wars and typical shooting habits, England during the Georgian and Regency periods used a lot of lead balls. The wad from the Lake District was of particularly high quality, which also made it perfect for artists’ pencils. Given all this, the prices for wad soared.

Luckily, it was relatively easy to mine. Unlike in other places around the world, where graphite is often in the form of flakes or shales, England’s Lake District boasts a very pure form of graphite that comes in chunks ranging from an ounce or so up to 50 pounds. The most difficult part of wad mining was finding a new vein. Because of the geology of the region, wad deposits lay in short-lived veins or slumps and pockets, and the location was difficult to predict. Once a vein was located, however, basic mining techniques could open it, and the miners merely had to walk up and grab the mineral by the handfuls. Some boasted that they could get as much as a thousand pounds (as in money, not weight) in a half hour.

Just as when anything becomes precious, wad soon required additional protection to ensure it was properly mined and sold. Miners were watched by security guards and overseers who regularly forced them to empty their pockets or even strip down to their skins at the end of a shift to make sure they weren’t carrying away the profits. Guards watched the stocks at the mine and escorted the shipments to the pencil factories or lead works. Still, thieves snuck in at night and sometimes were bold enough to threaten a mine in broad daylight. A whole army of smugglers worked at ferrying the material overland. One of the most famous was a woman called Black Sal, who was allegedly hunted to death with hounds for her transgressions. To put a stop to such theft, in 1752, Parliament made a law that stealing or receiving stolen wad was punishable by whipping and a year’s hard labor or being transported for seven years.

The other danger in mining wad was the fluctuations in the market. Each time one of the mines found a lucrative pocket, the wad was rushed to buyers, and the market quickly flooded. So, mine owners entered into agreements to take turns working their mines and selling their wares to ensure everyone received a chance for a fortune.

Meanwhile, France struggled to get enough of the material for its industrial and military uses. Napoleon ended up commissioning an expert to discover a way to make wad without getting it from England (bit hard to do with a war on). The expert invented a process to water down wad with clay. The approach spread and so severely undercut the need for pure graphite that the mines in the Lake District all shut down before 1900. Spoils from the mining can still be found dotting the landscape.

But the view is still magnificent.

Regina Scott spends a great deal of time in the Regency period.  Her twentieth book set in that period, An Honorable Gentleman, is a November 2011 release from Love Inspired Historicals.  The hero, Sir Trevor Fitzwilliam, is awarded an estate when he’s made a baronet, an estate that holds a defunct wad mine, a mysterious moving statue, and a very determined young lady intent on reclaiming the estate’s future glory, and wedging her way into Sir Trevor’s heart.  You can find Regina online at,, and

Friday, October 21, 2011

The High Points of London
...Geographically Speaking!

London is situated along the banks of the River Thames in a broad valley. It stands to reason therefore that the land rises on either side. And there are some impressive hills. Some are well-known to Regency readers and writers--Hampstead Heath is a substantial height of land at 440 ft., and Bushey Heath at 502 ft.--both sheltered highwaymen and thieves like Dick Turpin through the early 1800s.

Horatia Nelson Ward, 1822
One of the tallest hills, at 499 feet, is Stanmore, eleven miles from the City to the north and west. It was the sight of a meeting between the Prince Regent and Louis XVIII in 1814, at the Abercorn Arms. Nearby Pinner Hill, 413 feet, was the home of Mrs. Horatia Ward--daughter of Emma Hamilton and Lord Nelson--in her old age. The borough of Harrow is home to several of the highest of the London's hills, including Harrow at 408 feet.

Triangular Tower,
Shooter's Hill
Shooter's Hill, south east of the City of London, on the main road to Dover was also remote, and very steep. With a gallows at the bottom, in use until 1805, and thieves abounding, it must have been a dreaded part of the journey to the coast. Because of its height, it was long the site of a warning beacon, and its summit at 433 ft. boasted a shutter telegraph in Regency times, and the long-standing, well-known Bull Inn.

Muswell Hill (344 ft.) and Highgate (North Hill--430 ft.) are closer to the City of London--Muswell is only six miles north of Charing Cross. Both are prized areas now, and were burgeoning suburbs during the Regency comprised of villas and cottages ornes in leafy seclusion.

To the south-east of the City, Havering-atte-Bower, a ridge of some 344 feet rose. Situated on it was Havering Palace, built as a hunting lodge by Edward the Confessor and used by royalty for the next six hundred years. It was pulled down in the 1600s, and Havering subsided into relative obscurity.

All the heights of land surrounding London now offer wonderful views of the great city and its environs. In the Regency era, they would have been much more rural, and the city that could been seen from them was very different.Geography is so important in understanding a city, and its people. As writers, and readers, we need our maps close to hand!
London from Hampstead Heath, by John Constable
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Thank you to everyone who left comments on my blog post last week. I'm glad you enjoyed my little contest and the winner is Tracey D (booklover0226). I will be contacting you shortly about sending your ebooks on CD-ROM. Congratulations!

I hope you will all enter to win the Kindle at the Uncial Press Birthday Party; that draw takes place October 28. And there are free ebook draws every day!

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Next week, Regina Scott will be visiting to discuss graphite mining in England during the Regency. Graphite, or plumbago, was a vital mineral in the British military industries. Learn more next Friday! Regina spends a great deal of time in the Regency period. Her twentieth book set in that period, An Honorable Gentleman, is a November 2011 release from Love Inspired Historicals. You can find Regina online at,, and

Friday, October 14, 2011

Hanover-square Rooms -- The place for concerts

In 1774 were built the concert rooms that were to dominate the Georgian musical scene, and continue to attract music lovers until nearly the end of the nineteenth century.
Hanover-square Rooms shown in blue
At the corner of Hanover Square and Hanover Street, was a piece of freehold property belonging to the Earl of Plymouth. He sold the freehold on June 28, 1774 and it was conveyed to Giovanni Gallini and his partners, among whom was John Christian Bach. On the site, they built a structure consisting of a principal room 95 ft by 35 ft on the first floor, with an arched ceiling decorated by Cipriani. It could house up to 500 people. There was also on this level a smaller room known for a time as the Queen's Tea Room. There was a large ground floor room as well.

The principal room originally had an orchestra 'stage' on a raised dais at the east end and an organ. In 1804, when the Concert of Ancient Music leased space for concerts the principal room was altered: the orchestra moved to the west end, and the east end held three boxes for the royal family and other notables. There was also a 'splendid refurbishment' to the thirty year old chambers.
The principal room in 1844
The Hanover-square Rooms, from their very earliest days, attracted the greatest performers of the time. John Christian Bach was among the first concert-givers. Haydn performed regularly in the 1790s and his Messiah was performed as a benefit for the Royal Society of Musicians for several decades. In 1798, Miss Linwood's celebrated needlework pictures were exhibited, perhaps in that ground floor room, and other events such as lectures, readings and meetings were held in the rooms.

In June 1808, the Cambrian Musical Prodigy, Miss Randles, age 8, under the patronage of the Prince of Wales, performed with Catalani and Naldi.

Samuel Wesley played violin sonatas in the Hanover-square Rooms and in May of 1810, he hosted a Musical Morning-Party which, according to The Monthly Mirror, begins
at one o'clock, terminates about four, and in the present state of fashionable morning society, (rides, walks, calls, ennui, and idleness), we think it a very laudable institution.
According to one version of the story, Beau Brummell's break with the Prince Regent--when Brummell is reported to have said "Alvanley, who's your fat friend?"--took place at the Hanover-square Rooms.

One hundred years after they opened, the last concerts were held at the Rooms. In 1900 the building was demolished. We often hear of the Argyll Rooms, Almack's of course, Vauxhall and all the gentlemen's clubs; we need to add the Hanover-square Rooms to our list of locations for Regency social events.

This week I am celebrating the Fifth Birthday of my publisher Uncial Press! I am giving away to one lucky winner two CD-ROM's of my Uncial Press Regency Romance releases--one of "The Education of Portia", and one of "Love's Liberty". Please comment here on this blog post answering the question "What is your all-time favourite Regency or Jane Austen romance?". Enter from 10:00 AM CST Friday October 14 (today!) to 10:00 PM CST Thursday October 20, 2011 for a chance to win both e-books. I will do a random drawing and announce the winner in next Friday's blog post.

Do visit Uncial Press this month--they are giving away an ebook every day and having two draws--one for a Kobo and one for a Kindle.

Good Luck!

'Til next time,

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Muslin Pelisse -
A Charming Variation of a Necessary Garment

The pelisse was basically a coat and it was ubiquitous from about 1800 through to the 1840's. It appeared in every lady's wardrobe in almost every season of the year in Great Britain. It was sometimes called a redingote--although that was a heavier, more tailored fore-runner of the pelisse. The pelisse did have military origins as did many fashions in the early 1800s.

left November 1807     right February 1811

In the early years of the century the pelisse was loosely structured. By 1810 La Belle Assemblee was writing:

[Pelisses] are still made to fit tight to the shape, to button down the front with small raised silk buttons, left broad over the bosom and shoulders, but sloped in something narrower to the fall of the back behind...We have seen several elegant women in fine black cloth pelisses, ornamented with the narrowest gold braiding.
Journal des Dames 1819

The Mirror of Fashion in August 1817 assured its readers that "pelisses are still considered as elegant for the promenade costume..." and they discuss "...a pelisse of blue and white shot sarsnet, lined with white sarsnet, and trimmed with white satin."

By October 1817, pelisses had become more fitted and the Ladies Monthly Museum stated that "Silk pelisses begin to be generally adopted for walking dresses."

As I read contemporary fashion magazines however, it is the muslin pelisse that really captures my imagination. The delicacy and the sheer prettiness of the garment must have been charming.

In 1803 The Duke of Bedford wed Lady Georgiana Gordon. The Gentleman's Magazine reported the lady wore "a muslin dress of the finest fabric" for the ceremony, and 'previous to her departure for Woburn, she wore an elegant fringed muslin pelisse, lined with sarsenet, and trimmed with lace of great value."

The lovely illustrations (and patterns) for muslin pelisses in the book Period Costume for Stage and Screen: Patterns for Women's Dress, 1800-1909 by Jean Hunnisett and Janette Haslam display the delicacy of the muslin pelisse.

Worthing Museum and Art Gallery
Muslin pelisse of 1810 from Period Costume for Stage and Screen

Ackerman's Repository as quoted in the Edinburgh Annual Register of August 1810 mentions "A plain muslin short pelisse, trimmed with [vandyke lace]."

La Belle Assemblee, in the same year, writes:

...we have nothing more approved to offer than the fine sprigged India muslin pelisse, lined with pale pink, straw, blue, or lavender, and trimmed entirely around with a narrow lace edging...

In September of 1816 however, the Repository of Arts was advising:
Muslin pelisses, so elegant and so appropriate to the season, have, from the coolness and humidity of the weather, been entirely laid aside.

A particularly pretty muslin pelisse of the early 1800s
from Period Costume for Stage and Screen

In 1818 the Lady's Monthly Museum reported that "muslin pelisses have disappeared". But they had it wrong, for as late as 1840, the young Princess Victoria was reported as wearing "a white muslin pelisse lined with primrose coloured silk".

For more details about pelisses, I recommend the following:

Pelisse coat said to have been worn by Jane Austen

A very complete history from Fashion Era

A pelisse/spencer pattern for purchase from the Jane Austen Gift Shop

A very good article from Your Wardrobe UnLock'd

Next week, I will be blogging as usual but I will also be celebrating Uncial Press's Fifth Birthday with a giveaway of two CD-ROM's of a pair of my Uncial Press Regency Romance releases. You can leave a comment on next week's blog from 12 noon Friday October 7 to 12 midnight Thursday October 14 for a chance to win both e-books. More details next week, but do visit Uncial Press this month--they are giving away an ebook every day and having two draws--one for a Kobo and one for a Kindle.

'Til next time,


Period Costume for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Women's Dress, 1800-1909
by Jean Hunnisett and Janette Haslam
Hardcover: 191 pages Publisher: Players Pr (June 1991)
ISBN-10: 088734609X  ISBN-13: 978-0887346095

Period Costume for Stage & Screen: Patterns for Outer Garments: Cloaks, Capes, Stoles and Wadded Mantles by Jean Hunnisett (Author), Jill Spanner (Illustrator), Fiona Ffoulkes (Illustrator),
Kathryn Turner (Illustrator)
Hardcover Publisher: Players Pr (September 2001)
ISBN-10: 0887346650    ISBN-13: 978-0887346651