Thursday 31 January 2019

January Competition

To win a copy of Kate Hubbard's fascinating book about Bess of Hardwick, just answer the question below in the Comments section.

"What book for you gives a flavour of the daily life of a period in history? Give us some details!"

Then send your answer to

Closing date: 7th February

We are sorry that our competitions are open to UK Followers only.

Good luck!

Wednesday 30 January 2019

Cabinet of Curiosities by Charlotte Wightwick – the Sargon Vase: an enduring story, a fragile vessel

Whenever I go to a museum or exhibition I play a game. What, if I could take one thing home with me that day, would I have? 

What I’ve realised over the years is that it is rarely the most obviously beautiful or valuable item (with some notable exceptions - hello, the Crown Jewels!) that I would choose. Instead I tend to be drawn to the ‘everyday life’ items – the things which produce that moment of sudden, blinding recognition: the people who made this, used this, really lived. Despite the differences of centuries and cultures, they were, in many ways, just like me.

That’s how I felt last week, attending the British Museum’s current blockbuster exhibition I am Ashurbanipal: king of the world, king of Assyria. Following the political history of the Assyrian Empire – which at its largest covered the area from the shores of the eastern Mediterranean to the mountains of western Iran - it covers a huge geographical area and, by providing the background to Ashurbanipal’s rule, several centuries of history. 

Much of the exhibition focuses on the large narrative panels setting out important episodes from the king’s reign. These are beautiful, intricate carvings which do much to illuminate the sophistication of Assyrian courtly life. They show a deep appreciation for nature and beauty, as well as telling exciting stories – primarily Ashurbanipal demonstrating his prowess against the forces of chaos through lion-hunting or by defeating human foes. I was especially taken by poor King Teumman of Elam, who in a battle scene first loses his kingly hat, then manages to get it back, only for the victorious Assyrians to take his head instead. (The curators of the exhibition mixed modern technology and the original objects in a sympathetic and intelligent way to bring out this story.) 

Battle of Til-Tuba. detail. 660-650BC.
©The Trustees of the British Museum
The king’s library, preserved on clay tablets, is also impressive, if largely incomprehensible at first glance to a modern lay audience. There is the occasional more relatable item, such as the tablet which includes both text and a 3-D model of a lung, to act as a teaching aid to three-thousand-year-ago medical students, or the tiny tablet containing royal orders, contained with an equally tiny clay envelope. You can find out more about the Library here:

But it is the smaller, humbler objects which really caught my eye. The nearly three-thousand year old gaming board, with which courtiers may have whiled away their time. Were they simply bored of hanging around at court - waiting for the next lion hunt to start, say - or were they avid gamblers, whose fortunes were won and lost on the progress of the game? They may have played their game seated at tables with feet depicting beautifully realistic deer hooves or lion paws which still survive, long after the main article of furniture has vanished. What of the people who made and used the clam shells, intricately carved and turned into decorative cosmetic containers, the pride of a fashion-conscious beauty’s dressing table?
Decorated shell, probably 630/580 BC
©The Trustees of the British Museum

The final element of the exhibition was, however, the most moving: a section setting out how much of the archaeology of the region, both that in museums and in situ on sites has been destroyed in recent years by Isis/ Daesh. It’s a frightening reminder of how much that we see is but a tiny fraction of the stories that are there to be told, when so much destruction can take place in only a few short years. 

So, what would I take home with me, to take pride of place in my Cabinet of Curiosities? Obviously the answer is - "actually I wouldn’t" - but if I could have one thing, the exquisite Sargon Vase – a tiny glass vessel, made with care and skill in the eighth-century BC and still intact despite nearly three thousand years of warfare, abandonment and yet more destruction, seems a fitting symbol to me.

The Sargon Vase, 721-705BC
©The Trustees of the British Museum

Tuesday 29 January 2019

Height and Light by Kate Hubbard

Photo credit: Nick Tucker

Our guest for January is Kate Hubbard. She is interviewed here by Charlotte Wightwick.
Kate Hubbard has worked variously as a researcher, teacher, publisher's reader, freelance editor and book reviewer. She currently works for the Royal Literary Fund as a Royal Literary Fellow. Her first book, A Material Girl: Bess of Hardwick, 1527–1608, was published in 2001. She is also the author of Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household, which was shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award. Kate divides her time between London and Dorset. Her interest in Bess of Hardwick began with her love for Bess’s only surviving house, Hardwick Hall. 
A few months ago Mary Hoffman reviewed a book on this site called Four Queens and a Countess. At the end she said,"Bess of Hardwick remains the real star of this book and I'd love to read a book just about her. She was one of the most remarkable women to emerge in Renaissance England and lived a life as eventful as any queen's." 

Kate Hubbard has granted that wish!
CW: Your book is both a biography of a woman and an account of the explosion of Elizabethan grand domestic building. Why did you choose to explore these themes together?

KH: I particularly wanted to write about Bess as a builder, something I felt hadn’t been much explored in previous biographies. Elizabethan England was of course a great era of building, but as a woman builder Bess was unique - building was generally the preserve of men. I felt Bess's four houses - Chatsworth, the Old and New Halls at Hardwick and Owlcotes - could tell us something about her - her pride, her ambition, her ego, her love of order and height and light. Bess started work on Hardwick New Hall as a widow of nearly seventy and that in itself seemed remarkable to me. And the fact that she chose to plaster her initials - ES - all over the house, outside and in.

CW: Why do you think so many of the Elizabethan nobility turned to architecture as a way of displaying status?

KH: For the Elizabethan nobility houses were visible manifestations of wealth and status. If you’d made a fortune, you built a house, and ideally a bigger and better and more extraordinary house than your neighbour. Glass, for example, was extremely expensive, so few could afford the kind of vast windows that you see at Hardwick (Sir Christopher Hatton and the Earl of Leicester also built ‘lantern houses’ - houses with great expanses of glass). Architecture was also a means of displaying wit - Elizabethans loved puzzles and riddles - houses built in the shape of a letter, or designed on geometric principles (like Hardwick). The more ingenious the design, the more admirable and covetable. Interiors were important too - it actually cost more to furnish a house than to build it - and the quality of your tapestries and hangings said as much about your income as your taste. 
19th century depiction of Hardwick Hall
CW: How far was Bess an unusual woman for her day and class? Was she the exception or do you think we just know more about her given her political connections and the survival of Hardwick?

KH: Bess’s life is of course particularly well documented, but I think she was unusual for her time, and class. She came from a gentry, not an aristocratic family and she didn’t have the benefit of a fine humanist education, like many noble-born Elizabethan women. There were other powerful Elizabethan women, at least powerful in the realm of the domestic - women who managed their husbands estates for example - but Bess was certainly unusual as a business woman. And she was a very canny one. She amassed quite an empire of land and property, coal and lead mines, glass works etc. and she had a very lucrative sideline in money-lending. 
Bess when Countess of Shrewsbury
CW: As well as illuminating Bess' life, Devices & Desires also provides a vivid insight into the daily lives of the workmen and others who worked on her buildings. How far was this important to you when writing it?

KH: I wanted to give a sense of daily life, as lived by Bess, her family, servants and workmen. Many volumes of Bess's household and building accounts survive and they tell us a great deal about what was being bought and eaten and worn, who was being paid what etc. It’s a great help that these accounts have all been transcribed - otherwise reading them would be almost impossible task.

CW: What was the most enjoyable or unusual part of researching the book? Was there anything that surprised you?
Hardwick Hall today
KH: I much enjoyed staying at Hardwick during the research and writing of the book. Not in the house itself - sadly! - but in a lodge in the ruins of the Old Hall, which is as close as you can get. Every morning I would open the curtains and there would be Hardwick, rearing up before me, lit up by morning sun. It was particularly nice to be there after hours, when the National Trust visitors had gone home, and when I was occasionally allowed to wander around the house on my own. And I also loved visiting other Elizabethan houses, especially Smythson (Robert Smythson provided a plan for Hardwick) houses, in and around Derbyshire. 

Many thanks to Charlotte Wightwick and Anna Redman of Vintage for ensuring this guest posr went up on time. And of course to Kate Hubbard for the interview

Monday 28 January 2019

Dream on

by Ruth Downie

“And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, [the wise men] went back to their country by another route.” According to the gospel of Matthew, it was only a dream that kept the baby Jesus out of the clutches of a murderer.

These days we tend to think of dreams in terms of psychology – Freud’s “royal road to the unconscious” - but people in the ancient world believed that dreams foretold the future. Then, as now, it was possible to forge an entire career on making sense of them.

Roman-style bed/couch
Before Freud’s “Interpretation of Dreams” there was another collection of books with the same title, written in the second century by a man called Artemidorus.

Book Four tells a story of which Freud was particularly fond. Apparently while Alexander the Great was besieging the city of Tyre, he began to have doubts about his strategy. He dreamed that a satyr was dancing on his shield - which, if the satyr looked anything like the one below, must have been fairly disturbing. An interpreter spotted that the word “Satyros” can be divided into “Sa” and “Tyros” – “Tyre is yours”. Thus encouraged, Alexander launched an attack and took the city. 

Statue of satyr
A satyr, mercifully slightly out of focus.
 Not all interpretations were as timely as Alexander's. Another of Artemidorus’s stories concerns a man who was on the verge of marriage when he dreamed that he was riding a ram and fell off in front of it. Heeding his interpreter's warning that his future wife would be unfaithful to him, he broke off the engagement. His friends finally persuaded him to marry after all, but the man was taking no chances, and kept his wife under close surveillance. Unfortunately she only lived for a year. Thinking he was now safe, the man remarried. In a twist more satisfying for us than for him, his new wife took up a career as a prostitute.

Of course, not every dream meant something. Then as now, it was hardly surprising if a robber dreamed about robbing people. But if something unusual were to happen in a dream…

A man who dreamed that he couldn’t shake lots of large bed bugs out of his clothing found out the next day that his wife was unfaithful to him, but some complication meant he was unable to shake her off by getting a divorce.

Often the meaning of a dream depended on the situation of the dreamer, so that a teacher might be pleased to dream of ants running into his ears. They would represent all the young men coming to hear his lectures. For anyone else, their arrival would foretell death (because ants live down in the earth, in case you were wondering).

Dreaming of playing the harp boded well for the harmony of a forthcoming marriage. But for a dreamer who had other plans, all that tension in the strings was a warning of serious disagreements ahead.

To see a swan was a sign that secrets would be revealed, and to dream of a dolphin in the sea (not on the land!) was cheering, because it meant a favourable wind was on the way. 

Mosaic of two dolphins

Seeing a neighbour’s dog fawning could presage betrayal by wicked men and women. If the dream dogs bit or barked, the dreamer should be on the look-out for a physical attack. White dogs meant an attack out in the open, black an attack in a concealed place, and russet meant a combination of the two. As for spotted dogs – well, “they will be much more terrible,” because anything speckled was  dangerous and deceitful.

Singing was propitious if you found yourself doing it on the road, but it was bad to sing in the bath house. 
Bath house wall painted with fish and goddess statue in niche
Strictly no singing in here!
 Dreaming of cabbage was bad for everyone, and so was dreaming of goats. Sheep, on the other hand, were always good news - especially the white ones.

Dreaming of cow-dung could also mean good luck – but only if you were a farmer.

Dreaming of being insane “would be especially propitious for potential demagogues, for those who wish to rule the masses, and for those who ingratiate themselves with the crowd." Better perhaps to dream of drinking cold water, a harmless pastime that signaled good fortune to everyone.

What about dreams where people spoke? Artemidorus recommended that his clients trust the words of gods, kings and rulers, parents, teachers and children. Actors were not to be believed by anyone. Others whose deceitful utterances should be ignored included magicians and prophets who claimed to find meanings in dice, sieves, palms, dishes or cheese. (Yes, I did just type "cheese".)  Only properly-trained professionals should be trusted: sacrificers, people who interpreted the flights of birds, astrologers, people who observed strange phenomena, dream interpreters and soothsayers who examined the livers of sacrificed animals.

As a non-psychologist what I find really interesting about Artemidorus’s work (apart from the bizarreness) is the insight into the concerns of ordinary people. It’s hardly surprising to find universal worries about business, health, children or marriages – and given the technology of the times, sea travel would have been fraught with risks that would have travelers praying for dreams of dolphins. But the many warnings of “secrets being revealed” were unexpected, and the frequency of warnings about attacks from enemies were a reminder that physical violence was an ever-present reality in the Roman empire. 

The author holding a white lamb

Back in the relative safety of the twenty-first century, may your dreams be full of white sheep and cold water, and may you never encounter goats and cow-dung. Unless, of course, you are a farmer.

This piece is based on Robert J White’s 1975 translation and commentary of “The Interpretation of Dreams” by Artemidorus – published by Noyes Press and reprinted by Banton Press, Isle of Arran ISBN 1 85652 046 3 

Ruth Downie is the author of the MEDICUS series of murder mysteries featuring Roman army medic Ruso and his British partner, Tilla.

Sunday 27 January 2019

Save the Children Centenary by Janie Hampton

Eglantyne Jebb (1876-1928)
This year is the 100th anniversary of the founding of Save the Children, one of Britain’s most notable charitable institutions. It was started by two indominatable sisters, Eglantyne and Dorothy Jebb. Their father was an English land-owning barrister and founder of a literary and debating society, while their mother started a charity for ‘Home Arts and Industries’. Both Anglican parents gave their daughters a keen sense of social justice, and a responsibility to challenge inequality; their French governess Heddie taught them about Prussian oppression; while their unconventional aunt Bun taught them carpentry, fishing and even how to make lead bullets.
As one of the first female students at the University of Oxford, Eglantyne attended meetings of the Christian Socialists and the Salvation Army. The established church did not appeal to her and she felt a close, personal relationship with the God who had chosen her to do His work. She had one complaint ‘which does for every­thing,’ she said, namely: ‘The world is wrong.’ As a young woman she investigated the working and living conditions of the poor, although she was sceptical about the effect of upper-class philanthropy, and her own poor health prevented her from doing much. At the age of 40 her health improved, and the injustices and suffering of the 1914-18 world war provided the motivation she needed. She became a passionate, dedicated and inspiring champion of children’s rights – though didn’t actually like individual children very much.
Dorothy Buxton (1881-1963)
Dorothy Jebb went to Cambridge University and in 1904 married Charles Roden Buxton whose family had been steeped in political campaigning since the 18th century. Both Charles and his brother Noel were radical Liberal, and later Labour, MPs who campaigned against the Macedonian massacres and together survived an assassination attempt in the Balkans. Their great grandfather was the slave liberator Thomas Fowell Buxton MP and their great great aunt was the prison reformer Elizabeth Fry. Dorothy, Charles and their children lived in unfashionable Kennington, London, among the people whose hardships they hoped to alleviate.
During the First World War, Dorothy and Eglantyne were distressed by the demonisation of the German people in the British press. To emphasize the common humanity of all Europeans, they published Notes from the Foreign Press. Dorothy was a member of the radical Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and believed that all governments shared responsibility for the suffering caused by war, and were creating a humanitarian crisis across Europe that could not lead to lasting peace. In 1916 she and Charles both joined the Independent Labour Party and became Quakers.
After the Armistice in 1918, the British government continued to blockade German ports, which led to a devastating famine. In 1919 the sisters founded the Save the Children Fund to help humanitarian agencies already working on the ground. They understood that controversy would help to raise awareness, so Eglantyne distributed leaflets in Trafalgar Square showing starving Austrian children. She was arrested, taken to court and fined. However, as well as gaining valuable publicity, she managed to persuade the prosecuting counsel to make a donation.
When Eglantyne asked Randall Davidson, the Archbishop of Canter­bury, to make an appeal on behalf of the children starving in Europe, he showed no interest. So she wrote to Pope Benedict XV. Clare Mulley, a former History Girl and Eglantyne’s biographer, recounts: ‘Pope Benedict had already been impressed by Miss Jebb’s lobbying to end the British economic blockade of Europe after the Armistice. In December 1920, he took the unpre­cedented step of issuing an encycli­cal, Annus Iam Plenus (On Children of Central Europe), in which he asked Catholic churches around the world to collect for Save the Children. It was the first time that the Roman Catholic Church had sup­ported a non-denominational cause.
‘Just before the appeal, Miss Jebb and her colleague Dr Hector Munro, who had witnessed the famine in Vienna, were granted a papal audience. Because she had been brought up in the Church of England, Miss Jebb was nervous about jeopardising the meeting by some slip in etiquette. In the event, her anxiety was forgotten in the drama of the moment: the Pope had fallen behind schedule, and, as Miss Jebb’s appointed slot approached, “The man who was showing us the way turned to us with violent gesticulations,” Miss Jebb later recounted to her sister. “Then he turned round again, and, to my utter amazement, took to his heels and ran. He was wearing a purple flowing garment like a dressing gown, which blew out all around him as he ran, so that he had the odd appearance of a purple ball bounding along the corridor.
“There was nothing for it but to run, too. Grasping my mantilla to prevent it falling off, I ran after him, through one gorgeous antechamber after another, where groups of soldiers and gentlemen-in-waiting turned to look. At last, through an open door, he turned, apparently too breathless to speak, with a wild wave of his arms. Precipitating myself in his wake, I perceived a small lonely figure, like a ghost, standing stock-still in the vast room, and, recollecting that popes always dressed in white, dropped on one knee. To my relief, I found that Dr Munro had run, too, and was making the poorest attempt at a genuflexion that I ever saw.” ‘
Dr Munro was not im­pressed by Eglantyne’s “attempt to curtsey” either, but the Pope didn’t notice. After asking many questions, he donated £25,000 to launch the appeal, insisting that it should be allocated to all children, irrespective of their faith. This prompted Archbishop Davidson to change his mind, and soon many other faith groups, from the Jewish community to the Theosophists, followed. Save the Children became a global appeal on an unequalled scale.
Children starving in the 1921 Russian famine were helped by Save the Children
Although Dorothy had the initial idea for the charity, her radical political activities were well known, and vilified by the right-wing British press. When in 1921 they claimed that Save the Children was aiding the next generation of German militants and Russian Bolsheviks, she handed over the reins to Eglantyne.
Save the Children was soon working in 24 European and Asian countries, assisting children regardless of their nationality, religion or their parents’ politics. In 1924 Eglantyne’s Declaration on the Rights of the Child, was adopted by the League of Nations. It later evolved into the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child, which remains the most universally accepted human- rights instrument in history. ‘Miss Jebb had launched an international aid operation, saved the lives of thousands of children, redefined how child welfare oper­ates, and had written social policy of permanent world significance, all in an era when women did not even have the vote,’ wrote Mulley. Yet like so many successful women, she still felt a failure. Only eight years later, at the age of 52, she died of heart failure.
SCF began working in Africa in the 1930s.
Exhausted by fundraising and campaigning, and haunted by dreams of child famine victims, in 1923 Dorothy had a nervous breakdown. After her recovery, she campaigned on behalf of refugees from Germany and against concentration camps, and in 1935 went there to challenge Hermann Goering. She knew it was probably futile, but felt doing nothing was worse. She died in 1963, aged 82.
SCF assisted children affected by war in Britain, 1939-45 .
Eglantyne and Dorothy rebelled against both class and gender restrictions, and their belief in the importance of humanitarian aid and internationalism remains as relevant today as ever. Save the Children today works with more than 10 million children in 120 countries.
The Woman Who Saved the Children by Clare Mulley won the 
Daily Mail Biographers’ Club Prize. All the author's 
royalties from this book go to Save the Children.

Saturday 26 January 2019

Miró at the Grand Palais in Paris, by Carol Drinkwater

Ever since we moved to the south of France I have been a great fan of the artist, Joan Miró. 
There is an excellent collection of his work at the Foundation Maeght in St Paul de Vence, which is set in the hills behind Nice. This is really where I first discovered him and I frequently return there to the gardens to sit amongst his paintings and sculptures in such perfect surroundings.

"For me, a painting should be like sparks. It should dazzle you like the beauty of a woman or a poem."

His works are joyous and full of colour and poetry. Ideal for this grim winter. Alas, we are snowed in outside Paris and I have flu so I have not been able to get myself to the highly-praised exhibition that is currently taking place at the Grand Palais in Paris and which I had intended to write about for this month's blog. It runs until 4th February so there are few days left and I am still hoping that I can make it. 

The exhibition consists of close to 150 works and is laid out in such a way as to trace the stylistic and technical evolution of the artist.

Joan Miró was a Catalan artist born in Barcelona in 1893 and died in Palma, Majorca in 1983. He began to paint at the age of eight. When he reached college age, his parents insisted he study business which caused him to have a breakdown. In his early years he was influenced by the works and architecture of Antoni Gaudi who rarely strayed far from his home city of Barcelona. 

Miró first went to Paris in 1920. He was 27 years old when he met Picasso at the great man's studio in the rue de la Boétie.  Picasso aided and befriended the younger artist and was a important help to Miró in that he pushed dealers and collectors in the direction of his fellow Spaniard, helping Miró build an international reputation.

Miró spent the Spanish Civil War years in Paris although unlike Picasso, Miró did return to Spain during the years of Franco's dictatorship. In 1940, he moved to the island of Mallorca. Both men were deeply affected by the events that were taking place in their motherland. Picasso never returned to his native home; he remained an exile to the day he died.

Both artists, through their work, were important witnesses of the tragedy that was twentieth-century Spain. 

                                Catalogue cover for The Colour of My Dreams, Joan Miró Retrospective.

I still hope to get myself to the exhibition in Paris before it ends.  If you are in the capital, I urge you to head over to the Grand Palais before 4th February.

I apologise for the brevity of this blog. I am now going back to bed and I might buy some Miró-inspired socks to keep me warm.

Friday 25 January 2019

Edward Burne - Jones by Miranda Miller

     I’ve always enjoyed his dreamy romantic paintings. His androgynous, droopy people may not be anatomically correct but they do have great imaginative power. This exhibition at Tate Britain, which finishes on February 24th, also includes stunning examples of his stained glass windows, tapestries and painted furniture.

    Edward Jones’s mother died when he was a few days old and he was brought up in Birmingham in poverty and dreariness. Romance and beauty had to be invented and from an early age he loved poetry, myths and legends. When he went to Oxford to read theology he met William Morris, his lifelong friend and ally. Their joint project has been described as Christian socialism; together they threw their lives at a socially engaged art, trying to create a “heaven on earth” that could reach a wide audience and compensate for what they saw as the drabness of modern life. He added the ‘Burne’ to his name later because, as he said, of “the natural yearning of mortal man not to be lost in the millions of Joneses.”

   He married Georgiana Macdonald, seen here with portraits of their two children inset. She was an intelligent and dignified woman who started with artistic ambitions of her own, but “I stopped, as so many women do.” After his death she wrote a loyal memoir about him and seems to have tolerated his love affairs and passionate friendships with women of all ages. For thirty years they lived at The Grange in Fulham, which was then quite remote. Their friends joked that directions were: '”Go down the Cromwell Road till your cab horse drops dead, and then ask someone.'

   Like Edward Lear and Charles Dodgson, Burne-Jones adored children and wrote funny and charming illustrated letters to his own children and also to many others. The title of Fiona MacCarthy’s excellent biography of him is The Last Pre-Raphaelite. As a student he read and admired Ruskin and when he saw the work of the Brotherhood - Millais, Holman Hunt and Rossetti - he felt an immediate connection which resulted in lasting friendships with them all. Burne - Jones seems to be one of those artists who divides people - perhaps between romantics and pragmatists? Jonathan Jones raged in the Guardian after seeing this exhibition, ”to put it bluntly, Burne-Jones is a stupid artist.”

   He was well connected; he knew ‘everybody’ in Victorian cultural life and Rudyard Kipling and Stanley Baldwin were his nephews. However, he always regarded himself as a solitary artist and was a reluctant joiner who drew sympathetic cartoons of himself as a ridiculous figure.

    In this one he falls asleep while William Morris reads to him.

   Burne-Jones was self taught apart from a few months when he lurked in Rossetti’s studio, watching him paint. Over a lifetime of hard work he developed sophisticated techniques. The colours in his paintings and windows are strikingly beautiful, and he experimented with colour, using the newest pigments, including cobalt blue, green-blue ceruleum, Field’s vermillion and violet. He learned from the research carried out by the chemist George Field which pigments would be stable and lasting., whereas many painters of the period, including Rossetti, used degradable paint. His colours have lasted well - his painting The Golden Stairs, (1876-1880), for instance, has never required restoration.

   He loved Italy and was strongly influenced by his four trips there. He studied the work of Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo and in 1871 he spent hours lying on his back staring at the Sistine Chapel ceiling through opera glasses.

                                                     Love Among the Ruins 

     Painted between 1870 and 1873, this painting takes its title from a poem by Robert Browning and is also thought to be about the artist’s own doomed love affair with his model and muse, Maria Zambaco. In 1893 it was damaged, irreparably it was thought at the time, in a photographer’s studio but Burne-Jones eventually found a way to restore it. In 2013 Christies sold it for £13 million.

   His friendship with William Morris survived political differences of opinion when Morris became actively involved in radical socialist politics and considered Burne-Jones had too many Tory friends and patrons. Young people, most of them attractive and rich women, who gathered around this group of artists, intellectuals and politicians called themselves ‘The Souls.’

   In 1884 this painting, King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid, caused a sensation when it was exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery. Based on a ballad about a king who is smitten by a beautiful homeless woman it was seen, both in England and internationally, as an allegory about social injustice. The artist must have enjoyed the acclaim but he didn’t become pompous  - in fact he sent himself up with a very funny cartoon showing how Rubens would have treated the same subject, with a terrified king intimidated by a voluptuous beggar maid.

   Together with William Morris, Burne-Jones was a strong influence on the Arts and Crafts movement of the 1880s, which embodied his passionate belief that art and craft techniques were equally valuable. However, he resisted becoming a member and said he had “always been a little painter, painting away in a room and having to think of nothing but my work.”

   Four years before his death he accepted a knighthood, despite his own doubts about joining the establishment and the disapproval of both his wife and Morris. Georgiana became involved in the women’s movement and he joked that he was going to retreat into a convent. When he died of heart failure in 1898 he was the first artist to be given a memorial service in Westminster Abbey.

Thursday 24 January 2019

One Hundred and Eighty! Elizabeth Chadwick and one of her leisure pursuits

The author having a practise.
In my day job I'm a best selling author of historical fiction,  passionately steeped in the Medieval period.
In some of my leisure time, I spend Tuesday evenings as an enthusiastic but decidedly average player in The March Hare's mixed darts team (men and ladies) in the City of Nottingham's Central darts league.  I love my night out. Playing darts is a very different experience from my day job spent in detailed researching and writing.  It's a refreshing getaway that keeps me grounded and recharges my batteries.

The league in which I play involves different pub teams of fourteen players - seven women and seven men and matches are played alternately at home or away.  (We were at home to The Fox last night and lost 4-3).  Seven games of 501 are played, with breaks for the 'snap' i.e. a bit of something to eat.  The food runs the gamut, depending on the landlord, from sandwiches and crisps, to curry and rice, chip butties, sausage and never know what you're going to get.  There's usually a raffle and a number card to help pay for the food and enhance the home team's funds.

A game in progress with the markers (white tee shirt and blue sweater) standing either side of the board.
The games of 501 are played on a modern  standard dart board. (dart boards have a long and varied history).   In the mixed league, the players take turns,  a lady and man from one team against a lady and man from other.  A Team One player throws three darts and their score is added up and the total subtracted from 501 on a chalk board beside the dart board. Then Team Two player throws, followed by Team One second player and then Team Two second player. Usually the strongest players in the man/lady combo throw first in order to maintain the advantage.  Markers, one from each team, stand either side of the dart board to keep the score. The aim of the game is to score as many points as possible and finish on a double (the coloured band in the outer ring of the board which scores double points). You have to finish on a double, unless your final countdown is fifty, in which case, it's 'bull' i.e. the red spot at the cetnre of the board.  It your end score is forty - i.e. double twenty (known as 'tops' because it's at the top of the board) and you miss and hit a single twenty, you then aim for  double ten. If you miss double ten and accidentally put your first dart in the six next door, then that leaves you with fourteen i.e. double seven.  And so it goes on until someone finally gets that double shot.  And then it's 'game over.'
The players in the Nottingham league stand 6ft away from the board at a line on the floor known as the 'oche'  pronounced like 'hockey' without the 'h'.  Different counties and areas have different distance rules, usually further away that 6ft, which is quite a rarity.  Apparently in Nottingham, the pubs were so poky and cramped that there wasn't room for a longer throw.

Team member Gary Britten at the oche.
The team that wins the most 'legs' of the seven is the winner and awarded points in the league.  At the end of the season the team with the most points is the league winner, but there are also prizes for the highest finishes in games, both for men and ladies. 

With my historian's hat on though, I began to wonder how old the game of darts was - in the form more or less that it's come down to us now.  I thought it might have been medieval, but I was in for a surprise.

There are many unsubstantiated stories about the game going back to Henry VIII who gets credited with the responsibility - as he does for many legendary historical matters that usually turn out to be apocryphal.  The story goes that he wanted people to practice archery all year round and since no one wanted to be out in the nasty cold, wet, winters,  the practice came indoors with the bottom of barrels and sawn off tree trunks used as a board. However, there is no provenance for this ever having taken place.  The same goes for Ann Boleyn supposedly giving Henry a magnificent set of darts in a case. It never happened except in romantic imagination.

There is an idea that the first darts were made from broken arrows that were sharpened and then thrown at the ends of wine casks for amusement.  Or perhaps crossbow bolts shot into wine tuns. Another game called 'Puff and Dart' goes back to the 16th century.  It was played in taverns and involved blowing small darts through a tub at a numbered target and it's thought it might well be an ancestor of the modern game. It was, however, considered old hat by the time Queen Victoria came to the throne. It could be fatal if one inhaled rather than blowing out and ingested the dart!   By the mid to late Victorian period, there was a fairground game known in Britain as 'French Darts' whereby the punters would throw wooden darts at a numbered target. The end of the dart had a metal point and the 'flight' was made from turkey feathers. By 1906 a metal barrel had been patented in the United States and in 1908 darts was judged a game of 'skill' rather than 'chance' in a Leeds magistrates court and began its rise in into popular and especially pub culture.

My darts, complete with the Scarlet
Lion Marshal blazon! 
In 1896, a Lancashire carpenter named Brian Gamlin devised the current board numbering system (he died in 1903 before he could patent it) which is designed to reward accuracy and penalise inaccuracy. For example the high scoring twenty at the top of the board is bordered by a five and a one.  So instead of scoring sixty with three straight darts, if you err to one side, you can end up scoring three! Similarly the nineteen near the foot of the board is bordered by three and seven.

Although Gamlin set the number pattern, doubles and trebles were not part of the early game (the outer and inner coloured bands on the board) and the highest score was the bull's eye in the centre. Darts boards were not regularised until the 1930's, and even then, regional variations remained strong.  Gamlin, it is thought, was a fairground man himself, and his number invention certainly helped to make sure that the drunk punters visited the darts booth, didn't have a high success rate!

Darts boards themselves, originally made of wood, were, by the 1930's composed of sisal fibre, today's 'bristle' board, which, unlike wooden boards, did not have to be soaked overnight and lasted much longer.

Darts today is an international affair and big business - not without its socio-political controversies such as the banning of the darts 'walk-on' girls in TV darts contests, where some saw the ladies as providing a bit of glamour, and others regarded it as exploitation having no place in current society.

Be that as it may.  In my own patch of inner city Nottingham, such matters are far from our minds. To the strains of Roy Orbison Driving all Night on the landlady's CD player, we step up to the oche, set  our shoulders, aim our 'arrows' and 'Game on!'
Team member Janet Cummings demonstrates one hundred and eighty! 
Note:  For anyone interested in reading more or who has a general curiosity about darts and pub games, I can highly recommend this website. My blog is just a coffee time snapshot, but Patrick Chaplin  will keep you busy for a week!

Wednesday 23 January 2019

England's First Refugees - The Huguenots - by Rosemary Hayes

Huguenot scholar on the intolerance of Louis IV

I have a lot of information about my two grandfathers and their antecedents, going back hundreds of years, and a certain amount about my paternal grandmother, but I knew little of the background of my maternal grandmother, other than that she came from Huguenot stock and that the family’s French name was Lafargue. 

The Huguenot Cross

The origins of the word Huguenot are obscure but we do know that it was used as an insult. Huguenots referred to themselves as Reformers.

Huguenot Tympanum

I came across a whole chapter about the Lafargue family in the proceedings of the Huguenot Society and was captivated by the story of ‘the brave widow’ Lidie Grenouilleau de Lafargue who fled to England with her three young children in 1692.

I'll come back to Lidie later.  Hers is only one among many stories of families who fled persecution, part of the great wave of French Protestant migration (over 50,000) that transformed London - and England.

The impact of the Protestant Reformation was felt throughout Europe. In France, Calvinism penetrated all ranks of society, especially those of the literate craftsmen in the towns and of the nobility. Between 1562 and 1598   there were eight civil wars in France - the Wars of Religion – between Catholics and Protestants.

Hanging and Execution of Huguenots at Amboise, witnessed by Francis II and Mary Stuart in 1560
Of the many attacks against Huguenots, probably the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre is the most notorious.  Traditionally believed to have been instigated by Catherine de Medici, regent at the time, the massacre began on the night of 23/24 August 1572, a few days after the wedding  of the king's sister Margaret to the Protestant Henry III of Navarre (the future Henry IV of France). Many of the most wealthy and prominent Huguenots had gathered in largely Catholic Paris to attend the wedding and the attacks quickly spread from Paris to other areas. Modern estimates for the number of dead across France vary widely, from 5,000 to 30,000.

St Bartholomew's Day Massacre 1572
Catherine de Medici

In 1589 the Protestant Henri de Bourbon inherited the French throne, and in a bid to put a stop to these civil wars, in 1593 he converted to Catholicism.  Five years later he issued the Edict of Nantes which gave the Huguenots considerable privileges, including widespread religious liberty. 

For some years after this the Huguenots thrived but their position became increasingly insecure when Henri’s grandson, King Louis XIV, came to power. His advisers warned him that the existence of this sizeable religious minority was a threat to the absolute authority of the monarch so gradually the Huguenots' privileges were eroded. 

In the 1680s Protestants in certain parts of France were deliberately terrorised by the billeting of unruly troops in their homes ['the Dragonnades']. Finally, in 1685 Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes, exiling all Protestant pastors and at the same time forbidding the Protestant laity to leave France. 


However, to the considerable surprise of the government many did leave, often at great risk to themselves. Men who were caught were either executed or were sent as galley slaves to the French fleet in the Mediterranean, women were imprisoned and their children sent to convents. About 200,000 Huguenots left France, settling in non-Catholic European countries and further afield.

The great majority of these ‘refugees’ (a new word, coined to describe the incomers) who came to live in towns in Protestant Europe were artisans. Those who came to England included many skilled craftsmen -  weavers, silversmiths, watchmakers, bookbinders – as well as professionals such as clergy, doctors, merchants, soldiers and teachers, There was also a small sprinkling of the lesser nobility. By and large these refugees were received with sympathy and kindness because of the skills they offered and because of anti Catholic sentiment at the time. 

Silk weavers in Spitalfields

But to go back to the brave widow. Lidie Grenouilleau married Samuel Lafargue in 1684. At the time of her marriage she was 20 and her husband, an avocat, 24.  The family of Lafargue had for some generations made their home in the town of Castillon-sur-Dordogne not far from Bordeaux. Castillon had long since lost its strategic importance and had become the home of many well to do Protestant families who asked for nothing more than to be left in peace. Samual’s father, Samual de Lafargue, the elder, Docteur en Medecine, was a wealthy man from an ancient and noble house which for generations had been faithful to the Protestant cause.  Indeed, many Lafargues had sacrificed their lives for their faith in the turbulent religious wars.
Then, with the revocation of the Edit of Nantes on 22ndOctober 1685, abjurations (renunciations) began to be enforced.  In the jurisdiction of Castillon, there are numerous records of ‘new converts’. However, it seems that the Lafargues held out for longer than most, for with one exception, their names as ‘new converts’ don’t occur until 1688, 1689 and 1692.

Samuel Lafargue, Lidie’s husband, died on 8thAugust 1692, the very day on which his ‘conversion’ was recorded. Who knows how he died, but this is, at best, a sinister coincidence. In those dark days it was not uncommon for Huguenots to die shortly after their ‘conversion’ and in that year a new wave of persecution had overwhelmed the region. Houses were razed to the ground, children torn from their parents, women imprisoned and men slaughtered.

Surrounded by these horrors, the only way Lidie could retain her religious liberty and save her children, was to flee. 
Only a few years previously, she and her friends and relations had been part of a tightly knit, supportive community, free to worship God in their own way. Now, death, flight or renunciation had shattered that community.

I can find no record of how Lidie escaped, but it can’t have been easy travelling with three very small children and her widowed mother.  She had succeeded in rescuing a small amount of her husband’s fortune and we know that she took with her some diamonds, plate and trinkets, among them an old silver seal engraved with the de Lafargue arms, together with four family portraits, apparently ‘by a master’s hand’.  

With little else to remind her of home, Lidie settled down at first in Westminster but eventually in a house at Hammersmith.  What chiefly attracted her to this quiet suburban area was that it was the home of a small Huguenot colony and had in it one of the few French churches outside the city, of which she became a loyal member. She would have certainly needed her faith to sustain her when two of her three children predeceased her.
Lidie lived in Hammersmith until her death, forty years after she had first set foot in her adopted country.

Huguenots Leaving Church in what is now Soho, in 1763 (Hogarth)
That she was a kind, charitable and devout woman is evident from her will which opens with an earnest expression of Evangelical faith.  She left the bulk of her property to her surviving son, Elias, and the rest to charities for the French poor in London.  The omissions from the will are saddening. There is no mention of any of her kinsfolk in France and we are left with the impression that hers was a rather lonely life.  Her son and his wife lived miles away and she seldom saw them and she only seemed to have a few acquaintances. It must have been so different from the warm and cheerful days of her early marriage spent among all her Gascon friends and relations in Castillon.
Lidie’s son Elias became a clergyman and married the daughter of a fellow refugee (originally from Normandy) and after 14 years ministering to a quiet parish in Lincolnshire, when nearly 50, he finally became a father.  His son, Peter, did not marry young but he married wealth – twice – so that, although he was a clergyman, like his father, he had no need of a living. Peter’s two children from his first marriage rescued Lidie’s family in England from extinction and now there are hundreds who have her as their common ancestor.
One of these was my grandmother.  Known in the family as ‘naughty grannie’ I have to say that she inherited neither Lidie’s piety nor her generosity – though she certainly had some adventures.

But that’s another story!

Naughty Grannie

Thank you to Rosemary Hayes for her reserve post as one of our number copes with a bereavement.