Category Archives: Historical Reconstructions

Reconstructing the Regency, or Protecting the Pound Coin with a Regency Toy!

The new One Pound Coin is being lauded as the most secure, most difficult to forge, coin ever produced. One of the many features is the ‘hologram’ on the obverse, just below the Queen’s head. This is a small feature that shows a £ sign when viewed from one direction and a figure 1 when viewed from another.

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Picture from the Royal Mint

However this isn’t a true hologram, rather it is a physical picture cut onto tiny ridges, one image is on one side of the ridge and one on the other. You can feel the ridges if you run a fingernail over the feature.

This type of picture is called an anamorphic picture, a picture that can only be viewed from a particular direction. The most famous example of this is the skull in Holbein’s picture ‘The Ambassadors’. However this type of anamorphic picture was developed much later and by the Regency was a children’s toy, and is described in The Boy’s Own Book published in 1834. The instructions are far from clear, if you would like to try and make one I give them here.

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Naturally, as soon as I discovered these instructions I wanted to make one, so I began by working out the geometry.

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Then I selected two suitable pictures (from the British Museum online catalogue) and printed them out.

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These were then cut into correctly sized strips, that was what all the geometry was about, and pasted onto the base sheet.

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When dry the strip was folded in a concertina fashion, the images are completely mixed up.

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But viewed from the side one picture becomes clear.

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And the other can be seen from the other side.

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So to protect the most advanced coin of the 21st century, you need a child’s toy from the 18th!.

 

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Regency Pot Plants, or Learning to Love a Hyacinth

On her first morning at Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland came down to breakfast, Henry Tilney was already there, in order to prevent him teasing her about her fears of the night before she changes the subject by looking at some flowers.

“What beautiful hyacinths! I have just learnt to love a hyacinth.”

“And how might you learn? By accident or argument?”

“Your sister taught me; I cannot tell how. Mrs. Allen used to take pains, year after year, to make me like them; but I never could, till I saw them the other day in Milsom Street; I am naturally indifferent about flowers.”

“But now you love a hyacinth. So much the better. You have gained a new source of enjoyment, and it is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible. Besides, a taste for flowers is always desirable in your sex, as a means of getting you out of doors, and tempting you to more frequent exercise than you would otherwise take. And though the love of a hyacinth may be rather domestic, who can tell, the sentiment once raised, but you may in time come to love a rose?”

Catherine had arrived at Northanger about the middle of March, so the hyacinths were probably not cut flowers, but ones in pots or glasses. Glasses for hyacinths were available at the time, William Cobbett in The English Gardener (1829) advises;

In water-glasses, the hyacinth makes a very agreeable show in the house during the most dismal part of the winter. Get blue glasses, as more congenial to the roots than white ones, fill them with rain water, with a few grains of salt in each, and put in enough water to come up the bulb about the fourth part of an inch. Change the water carefully every week, and place the plants in the lightest and most airy part of the room, or green-house, in which you keep them.

 However by March, and particularly in a house like Northanger Abbey which had large and extensive glass houses, the bulbs would probably have been grown in pots, so that they could be changed as soon as the flower began to fade.

Flowers were often grown in pots and, if you had a large collection, could be displayed in a fashion that seems strange to a modern reader, as Louisa Johnson in Every Lady her own Flower Gardener (about 1840) describes;

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We recollect once seeing a very interesting collection of more than two hundred species, growing in a high state of perfection, in the house of an amateur living in Brussels. The room containing them was fitted up much in the same way as an ordinary library, with abundance of light shelves round the walls, and a large table in the middle of the room, on which were placed the pots containing the plants. At night, the room was lighted up by an elegant glass lamp, and it was heated by one of those ornamental stoves which are so common on the Continent, Altogether, it had a very handsome appearance.

However, in smaller room she advises to use pot stands rather than stages, (the pretentious term jardinière didn’t come into England from France until the mid-nineteenth century). A Regency, or perhaps a facsimile of a Regency, plant pot stand is to be found in Lytes Cary, a country house in Somerset.

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Courtesy National Trust

I didn’t have the material to make a curved front, so settled on an angular form. Painted black with a gold chinoiserie pattern.

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Cobbett says that there were over a thousand varieties of Hyacinth available in his day, so I felt justified in using a range of colours, to give an impression of the display admired by young Catherine Morland.

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Amazing Feet, A Tale of Discovery

The skull arrived on the wedding day, all through the ceremony he thought about it.
Was it a primitive human? was it an ape? All agreed it was incredibly old and that more of the skeleton had to be found.
In the quarry where it had been discovered, the manager pointed out the blocked cave and the search began. After several weeks fragments of bone were discovered, the palaeontologist was ecstatic.
“What is it?” the manager asked, looking at the tiny scraps of bone.
“The feet, the amazing feet.” He replied in delight, “It walked upright, it was human!”

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The Taung child, the skull from the story

And that, oh best beloved was, more or less, how Australopithecus, mankind’s most primitive ancestor, was discovered.

This is in response to Charlie Mills flash fiction challenge, in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about an amazing feat, which I have interpreted phonetically. Hope you enjoy it.

 

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A Flight of Fancy – Another Chance Meeting

A little while ago, I wrote an imaginary tale based on a possible meeting between two historical characters, some people found it amusing, so here is another one.

“It’s impossible!” Bursts of laughter echoed round one end of the table. At the other end the young poet looked up, curious to know what was happening. Everybody was looking at a middle aged gentleman with a round, tanned face, he looked like a prosperous farmer. But the poet was not so sure, he had seen this ‘farmer’ make a rapid, very rapid, calculation, he was a serious mathematician. Who was this farmer? And what were they laughing about?

“I am perfectly serious, I feel perfectly confident that the art of aerial navigation will soon be brought home to man’s convenience, and that we shall be able to transport ourselves and our families, and our goods and chattels, more securely by air than by water, and with a velocity of from twenty to one hundred miles per hour.”
“But Sir George, you mean flying, and that is impossible.”
“You have seen balloons, I am just saying that other means will be available, as soon as engines of suitable power can be developed.”
The poet listed for some time as Sir George made fantastic suggestions, trade would be carried through the air, that warfare would be fought there, that there would even be harbour masters and controls over ‘aerial navigation’.”
The rest of the diners listened in amusement. One said with a laugh.
“But for all that you need machines that can fly, and that is an impossibility.”
“So you think it is impossible to build a machine that can fly?”
“Of course,” the man looked around in amusement, “I could as just as easily walk on the ceiling like a fly.”

The man hadn’t seen what Sir George was doing with his hands, he had taken something from his pocket and was wrapping a cord around it. He leaned forward, pulled the cord, and the little machine buzzed and soared up into air. It sailed across the table and dropped down in a corner of the room. There was silence, Sir George smiled and pointed at the ceiling.

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A reconstruction of Sir George’s glider of 1804 – in flight

That evening the poet sat and thought, aerial navigation, now that was a wonder. He sharpened his pen and began to write;

For I dipt into the future, Far as human eye could see,
Saw the vision of the world, And all the wonder that would be;
Saw the heavens fill with commerce, Argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight, Dropping down with costly bales;
Heard the heavens fill with shouting, And there rain’d a ghastly dew
From the nations’ airy navies Grappling in the central blue;
Far along the world-wide whisper Of the south-wind rushing warm,
With the standards of the peoples Plunging thro’ the thunder storm;
Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer, And the battle-flags were furl’d
In Parliament of man, The Federation of the world.
There the common sense of most Shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
And the kindly earth shall slumber, Lapt in universal law.

Sir George Cayley(1773 – 1857), the ‘father of aviation’, was an incredible man. A Yorkshire landowner, as a teenager he worked out the physics of heavier that air flight and built and developed the first gliders, models then man carrying aircraft. His notebooks make it clear that, if he had had a powerful enough engine, he would have been able to build a man carrying aeroplane.

He always referred to ‘aerial navigation’ as people laughed when he talked about flying machines, and he carried a model flying machine in his pocket which he would launch at dinner when people talked of the impossibility of flight, Sir George’s words are his own.

Alfred Tennyson lived about a hundred miles south of Sir George Cayley, and wrote Locksley Hall, from which his description of flight comes from, in 1835. I don’t think they ever met, but perhaps?

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Chance Meeting

Charli Mills from the Carrot Ranch prompts us thus this week
August 17, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a fossil or uses the word in its variant forms (fossilize, dino bones, petrification, gastroliths, ichnofossils, etc.). Dig into your imagination and go where the fossil record leads you. So here is another of my historical retellings.

“What have you there, child?” The tall lady smiled at the little girl.
“It’s a curtsy miss.” She replied. It was black and shiny, shaped like a coiled snail.
“She means a curiosity,” said her companion, “They are found in the cliffs, no one knows what they are.”
“What are you going to do with it?” asked Jane.
“Take it to father, he sells them.”
“Will you sell it to me?” The girl nodded, shyly.
“But she is Anning’s daughter, he overcharged us for that cupboard.”
“But she isn’t overcharging me.” The coin changed hands and a legend began.

In 1804 Jane Austen and her family visited Lyme Regis, in a letter to her sister she tells how they had been overcharged by a local carpenter, Robert Anning. As well as woodwork Robert also sold fossils that had been found in the local cliffs. His daughter, Mary Anning, the greatest fossil hunter of the age was his daughter, in 1804 she would have been five. Legend tells how she began her career as a little girl, selling a fossil she had found, to a lady she met on the beach. I have just brought Lyme Regis’s two most famous residents together.

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Reconstructing the Regency – The Red Books of Humphry Repton

As part of a series of classes I will be giving on Regency life, using objects rather just pictures, I am reconstructing various objects that are either very rare or only survive in pictures. Amongst the rare, and fragile, items are the Red Books of Humphry Repton

Recently there have been a series of exhibitions commemorating the 300th anniversary of the birth of the great landscape gardener, Capability Brown. So naturally I want to talk about his successor, who was mentioned in Mansfield Park.

“Your best friend upon such an occasion,” said Miss Bertram calmly, “would be Mr. Repton, I imagine.”

“That is what I was thinking of.” said Mr. Rushworth. “As he has done so well by Smith, I think I had better have him at once. His terms are five guineas a day.”

If Mr Rushworth had employed Humphry Repton, instead of having to spend his money divorcing his newly married wife, who had run off with Henry Crawford, there would have been a Red Book produced for Sotherton.

The Red Books, so called from the colour of the leather in which they were bound, were Repton’s innovative method of attracting clients. As well as plans and descriptions of what he proposed doing to the estate, there were before and after paintings of what the view looked like now, and what it would look like when Repton’s works were carried out. Much of this had been done before, but what made Humphry Repton’s pictures remarkable was that before and after were to be found on the same illustration. You first saw the landscape as is at present, then you raised a paper flap and the view turned into what it would be.

 Lord Sidmouths in Richmond Park - merged

It must be said, however, that Humphry Repton had a major character flaw, he was a dreadful snob, always sucking up to his wealthy or titled clients, he was referred to as oleaginous (oily), and was more than happy to approve of his clients more morally doubtful schemes, such as this for enclosing a common and turning it into the park associated with a fashionable villa.

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Which reminds me of the famous verse;

            The law is hard on man or woman

            Who steals the goose from off the common

            But lets the greater villain loose

            Who steals the common from the goose

 View from my own cottage before

To create a facsimile of a Red Book illustration I first downloaded high resolution scans from the websites listed below. I decided to take the pictures showing how he improved his own house. I printed both the before and after views at exactly the same size, on heavy cartridge paper.

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Then I cut out the tab and frame of from the ‘before’ view, this was then pasted over the ‘after view.

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By lifting the flap you can see how he improved his garden, planting rose bushes, enclosing the village green and getting rid of the geese and inconvenient disabled poor people.

A great gardener but not a very nice man.

 View from my own cottage after

Repton’s books can be found on the University of Wisconsin website:

Sketches and hints on landscape gardening, 1794.

Observations on the theory and practice of landscape gardening, 1803.

Fragments on the theory and practice of landscape gardening, 1816.

 

 

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Reconstructing the Regency – The Weymouth Cyclorama

As part of a series of classes I will be giving on Regency life, using objects rather just pictures, I am reconstructing various objects that are either very rare or only survive in pictures. One of the strangest is the Weymouth Cyclorama.

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In the collections at Weymouth Museum is a small cardboard box containing a roll of paper. The paper roll consists of a series of printed views of the Dorset coast, which have been stuck together on a linen backing to give a continuous picture of the coast from Portland Bill to Lulworth Cove as seen from the sea. From the steamships that are shown off Weymouth, I would date the roll to about 1825-30. It must have been part of a very expensive tourist souvenir.

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The box lid describes it as a Cycloramique View of Weymouth Bay, and incudes a drawing of the viewer. Clearly it was intended to turn the roll so the pictures moved in front of the viewer as though they were passing along the coast.
I naturally wanted to reconstruct the viewer.

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From high quality scans of the cyclorama images I was able to print off all the images and mount them together in a single strip. Even at ten centimetres high the strip was nearly four metres long.

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Then it was necessary to reconstruct the turning mechanism, I had no idea of how the original worked, but after several sessions of trial and error I created this.

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The surrounding box both contains the winding mechanism and holds it at a suitable distance from the viewers eyes. An internal partition gives a suitable frame for the view.

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The box was finally decorated and, by tuning the knobs, you can experience a voyage along the Dorset coast as it would have been nearly two hundred years ago.

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