Category Archives: Historical tales

Carrot Cake or A Bloggers Dilemma

This week’s prompt from Charli at the Carrot Ranch is;

March 16, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about carrot cake. It can be classic or unusual. Why is there cake? How does it feature in the story. Go where the prompt leads.

Now readers of my blogs know that, as far as these challenges are concerned, I tend to go for an historical take. But this prompt gave me a great deal of difficulty, for Carrot cake is not an old variety of cake, it is very modern being first recorded in the early twentieth century (1903 to be precise). So what was I to do, clearly I had to mix carrots with another sort of cake, in this case a phrase (also modern, dating from 1538 – I am an archaeologist and for us modern, technically early modern begins in 1485). Hope you like it. In case you’re wondering the speakers are talking in Dutch.

Some old varieties of carrots.

Carrot Cake


“People lost so much money with those Tulips, no one is going to want to invest in a plant again.”

“But this is different.”

“Forget it, you can’t have your cake and eat it, as the English say.”

“But you can eat it, it’s delicious.”

The banker looked up, the gardener continued.

“What’s the full name of our king?”

“William of Orange.” The banker replied, puzzled.

He pulled a cloth off his basket, inside were carrots, not white or purple, but orange.

“A patriotic vegetable – we will certainly have our cake and eat it, we will make a fortune!”


Originally carrots came in a whole range of colours, then, in the late seventeenth century Dutch plant breeders developed the orange variety we have to day. It caught on because the colour was linked to the Dutch Royal Family, the House of Orange



Leave a comment

Filed under Historical tales

A Balloon Tragedy – The First Air Accident

This week’s prompt from Charli at the Carrot Ranch is

March 8, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a balloon. It can be a party balloon or a hot air balloon. How does it add to your story? Go where the prompt leads.


As readers of my blog will realise, I am fascinated by the early history of flight, so could hardly pass on this prompt. However instead of an inspiring, or amusing, tale, I have decided to retell the story of the first air accident and it’s tragic aftermath.

V0040874 A hot-air balloon in flight with a fire burning. Coloured en

“I’m frightened.” She looked up at the strange shaped balloon, rising over Calais.

“Don’t worry, he is the most experienced balloonist in the world.”

“But to risk everything, especially now.” Her hands moved automatically to her swelling belly.

Then above, in terrible silence, the balloon seemed to break apart.

She cried out and collapsed, by the time they found his body she, and her unborn child, had died.

The death of the first man to fly, in the first fatal air accident, had destroyed his entire family.

From now on the pioneers could not dismiss the dangers they faced.


Terrible and true, Pilâtre de Rozier had made the first flight in a balloon on November 21st 1783. On June 15th 1785 whist trying to cross the English Channel his balloon broke up in flight and he became the first man to be killed in an air accident. His death was witnessed by his pregnant fiancée who died shortly afterwards.



Filed under Georgian, Historical tales

The Christmas Spinner – A True Tale for Christmas

Christmas 1821

“Where’s my husband?” She asked, “Dinner has been ready for ages.”

“Sorry Mam,” the maid replied, “I think he is in the workshop.”

Sarah shook her head, their first Christmas together and he was working. He had seemed distracted all though the service that morning and had left her as soon as they returned home.

She walked down the narrow stairs to his workshop. He was seated on a tall stool by his workbench, watching something. Curious she approached, there was a strange buzzing, like a trapped fly. Then she saw what he was looking at, in front of him a wire was spinning round rapidly.

“Michael,” he didn’t seem to hear her, “Michael Faraday.” She said much louder and tapped him on his shoulder, he seemed to wake out of a trance.

“Oh, Sarah, I’ve done it.” For a moment he smiled at her, then turned again to the spinning wire.

“What have you done?”

“You see, the current flows through this wire and creates a magnetic field which works against the field in this magnet ….”

“And makes the wire move.” She completed.

“Yes.” He was watching his invention dreamily again.

“Will it keep moving if you leave it for an hour or so?”

“Yes, the motive force will last as long as there is power in the battery.”

“Then come and have dinner, it is Christmas after all.”

She took his hand and led him, reluctantly, from the room, behind them the first electric motor, another Christmas baby with an amazing future, kept on spinning.


Michael Faraday, when he invented the motor

And that, more or less, is the tale I was told many years ago.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christmas Musings, Georgian, Historical tales, Regency

Shooting at Shipwrecks (Help #flashprompt #hurricanerelief #flash4storms)

Sarah Brentyn has created a super-short flash prompt and asked her fellow bloggers to join in; by so doing she will commit to give money to the hurricane relief funds. 50 words using the prompt ‘Help’. Go on, pop over and have a go. My contribution is (as might be expected) an historical tale.


Yarmouth 1808
Captain Manby aimed the cannon at the ship, they desperately needed help and he was going to shoot at them. The cannon fired, the ball hurled high over the shipwreck – taking a line with it.
The crew of the Elizabeth grabbed the line, an hour later they were all safe.


In 1808 the Manby mortar was used for the first time to rescue the crew of the Elizabeth, near Great Yarmouth. Captain Manby’s invention involved firing a small cannon ball over a shipwreck carrying a line with it. Before it was superseded by line carrying rockets it had saved over a thousand lives.



Filed under Georgian, Historical tales, Regency

Captain Bennett – The Hero of Lyme

This year seems to be producing terrible storms, so it seems the right time to tell this tale, of the brave Captain Bennett – The Hero of Lyme.


November 23rd 1824
Captain Charles Bennett stood on top of Church Cliff and watched the destruction of Lyme Regis. Around him stood a crowd of men, women and children, some still dressed in nightgowns, having just managed to escape from their houses before they collapsed. Every so often there was a cry as another house fell before the pounding waves.

Suddenly there was a scream, worse than the others, Captain Bennett raised his telescope and gasped, the Fox cutter had broken from its moorings, there was a man still clinging to the mast, for a moment it seemed to run before the wind, then the waves covered it.

“Poor Fellows!” He shook his head, he had seen men die in battle but this was somehow much worse.

“Was it the Fox?” He turned to see William Porter, the Lyme Pilot and an old friend.

He nodded, Porter tried to look straight into the wind and failed.

“How does Pierce ride?”

Captain Bennett raised his telescope and focussed it on the Unity, he knew the ship well, every six weeks it sailed for London and was the best way of bringing heavy goods to Lyme Regis, Captain Pierce was popular in Lyme and all his crew were local men. She had been due to sail the next day and there were a number of men on board. Now she was straining on her moorings, tied to the Cobb, the ancient harbour of Lyme Regis, invisible under the pounding waves.

Unity 2

The Destruction of Lyme Regis

“She rides well.” He replied, “And will hold I think – as long as the Cobb stands.”

The sun rose, the sky cleared with fast scudding clouds, but the storm didn’t abate. Then, Captain Bennett estimated about seven o’clock, the worst happened. The Cobb collapsed!

There was a terrible scream from the crowd as the Unity seemed to shoot across the bay, for a moment it seemed that she was going to be wrecked under their feet, at the bottom of Church Cliff, but she was swept past and along the shore.

“She’ll strike at Charmouth no doubt.” Said Porter, “And no hope for them.” Added John Freeman, a local fisherman.

“No, I’ll be damned it I watch more men die.” Shouted Captain Bennett. “I think there is hope for them, if you are with me.” He held out his hand, first Porter then Freeman grabbed it.

“Ay Ay Captain – we’re with you.”

Captain Bennett turned and ran down the slope, “I always thought it was nuisance that I had to keep my gear well away from the shore, now I am glad, very glad indeed.”

He pushed open the door to his store, the gear for his boat, now smashed by the storm, filled the shed. He loaded a small cart with ropes, hooks and grapnels, then they dragged it up, onto the rutted coast road, chasing the Unity.

They passed several groups of weeping women struggling against the weather, he recognised the wives of two of the men on board the Unity, then there were two women who were screaming at each other.

“Jim’s mine!” screamed one, “No you whore, he’s mine!” screamed the other.

“I think Jim’s in trouble.” Laughed John Freeman.

“Only if we get him to shore.” Replied William Porter.

Onward they struggled, helped by other men they met, until they dropped down towards Charmouth where the masts of the Unity were visible over the cliff top. Here William Freeman tied hooks to the ends of light ropes and, again and again, the men tried to throw them to the ship. Every time they fell short, it was impossible to throw into the gale. Captain Bennett held onto the cart and shut his eyes, he couldn’t look at the men on the Unity, he had failed.

Unity 1

The Wreck of the Unity – showing what the rescuers had to face

The crowd watched in horror, waiting for the end, then the miracle happened, the Unity was swept off the sand, it was moving again! A few moments later it grounded on another sandbank, it hadn’t moved far, but far enough.

Now there was a way down to the beach where there was just enough room to stand. The three men scrambled down, tied ropes round their waists and handed the ends to other men who had followed them. Captain Bennett had just finished tying his rope when there was a cry from above, one of the men of the Unity had tried to climb down off the ship and had fallen. Captain Bennett ran, straight into the surf. As the water swirled round the stern he glimpsed the fallen man, diving forward he grabbed him then shouted for the men to pull him back. To his horror he saw that no one had held the end of the rope as he ran into the water, he struggled up the beach, but knew it wouldn’t make it, then to his relief a man ran forward, grabbed the rope and pulled him back.

He recognised the man, Joshua Knight another fisherman. Joshua grabbed the sailor and handed him to one of the other men, then he pointed at the ship. Captain Bennett saw that John Porter was standing by the side of the vessel with a grapnel in his hand, he threw it up and it caught on the railing, then he was hit by the next wave and pushed back. As the water receded Captain Bennet ran forward, reaching the rope just at the same time as John Porter, who smiled and allowed him to go first up the thin rope. On the deck he saw that William Freeman was already there, he had grabbed a man, then they held on as another wave broke over them. As the water flowed out though the scuppers they all grabbed a man, tied him to their rope, cut them free from the ropes they had used to stop them falling overboard, and ran for the side.

The next wave hit them as they were dropping onto the sand, they ran with it towards the shore, helped by the men pulling on the ropes, Joshua Knight had organised them now and it didn’t take long before the three men, and their precious cargo, were safe.

They rested for a few seconds, then Captain Bennett pointed to the Unity’s rigging, there were three men hanging from the ropes, they had climbed into the rigging out of the waves and tied themselves there, they weren’t moving, they were either dead or unconscious. They all knew that if they were unconscious then they would be dead soon, if they got no help.

“One more time lads!” Shouted the captain, they didn’t reply but both turned back to the ship, as the next wave pulled back they ran. Holding on tight as the water broke over them, then up the side of the ship and into the rigging. They were all experienced sailors, used to climbing rigging in all weathers, but none had climbed in such conditions. They reached their men, in Captain Bennett’s case it was a boy, then came the problem of first tying the unconscious man to their waist then cutting them free.

John Porter reached the deck just before Captain Bennett, as he was about to try and climb down a wave hit him and pulled him overboard. The Captain ran forward and without thinking jumped, with the boy in his arms, into the surf. It cushioned his fall and he was able to grab his friend. Together they dragged the last of the crew back to safety, finally, above the surf he dropped to his knees and collapsed. He had done it, the crew were safe.


This story is completely true, the storm, the rescue, the named characters, the squabbling women and even some of the dialogue.

In 1824 the National Institute for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck had been formed, it is now the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. The first gold medal it presented was to Captain Bennett, the first silver medals to John Porter and William Freeman.


Filed under Historical tales, Regency

The Artist Escapes

“Señor we must leave.”

The Artist nodded, reluctantly he shut his sketch book, the last detail of the inlay pattern unfinished. Portfolio handing over his shoulder he followed his guide though the empty, ruinous palace.

It had been different when he had arrived, the palace had been full of people, living in the abandoned rooms. They had welcomed him as he had drawn the wonders of the lost palace – then the plague came.

Most were dead now, he had to escape, had he done enough? Could he convince the world of the need to protect, to save the Alhambra?

Detail from Alhambra Owen Jones

When the artist and architect Owen Jones visited the Alhambra in the early nineteenth century the palace was ruinous. It was his wonderful drawings that convinced people across Europe that it had to be saved. Whilst he was there cholera broke out, it killed his companions and many of the local people, he was lucky to escape with his life. He went on to become one of the finest designers of the nineteenth century.


This is in response to Charlie Mills flash fiction challenge, in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about an escape artist, so I have described an escaping artist, I hope you enjoy it.



Filed under Historical tales, Victorian

1774 The Summer that Changed the World

Summer 1774
Matthew Boulton mopped his brow, it was hot. He looked across the lake and shook his head, where there should be a wide expanse of water there was a long, thin, channel marking where the stream had once ran before the dam had been built. He turned to his millwright,
“I’m sorry sir, but there is only water for one wheel, and if there is no rain even that will stop in two weeks.”

Boulton nodded, he knew the problem well enough. If there was no water, the water wheels wouldn’t turn, and without the power generated by the wheels the factory would stop. He needed more water, but how?

View of the manufactory of Boulton & Fothergill in Birmingham by Francis Eginton 1773
The two men walked back towards the mill, in the office they poured over a map of the district. The millwright pointed.

“Here sir, there is water enough in the river here, if we could get it into the pond. But it must be thirty or forty feet below the level of the leat.”

Boulton looked at the map, his man was right. A tributary entered the river below the point the leat ran off the river towards his pond. This tributary was still full of water and, he knew, usually was. There was just the problem of raising thousands of gallons of water up thirty feet.

“You are right, and there is a way. A pumping engine.”

“A pumping engine, aren’t they just used in mines?”

“Most are, but I have seen some used to raise water into canals, and one is even used to pump drinking water into London.” He paused and pointed “If we were to place one about here it could take water from the river and up to the leat, and there would be no trouble from any landowners as it would all be on my land.”

“Do you know where you could get an engine?”

“No, but there is a meeting next week, I am sure someone there will know.”

The millwright smiled, he knew about the ‘society’, they called it the Lunar Society as they met on the nights of the full moon so they could find their way home afterwards. People called the men who met there ‘Lunatics’, but Matthew Boulton knew different, he knew that in the room were some of the most brilliant men on earth, at the meeting he posed his question and got the answer he wanted.

“Young Watt, he’s the man for you. James Watt, he has improved the pumping engines in the Scottish mines so they use half and much coal as they did. I heard that he wants to leave Scotland for a while, family matters. If you like I will write to him.”

Matthew Boulton did like and a few weeks later the Scots engineer was standing by the dry mill pond as he explained the problem.

“Aye, I could build you a pumping engine to keep your pond filled. But I have an idea that would solve your problem in a much better way.”


And with that ‘But’ the world changed, children born after that ‘but’ grew up into a completely different world, no one, no place on earth was unaffected by the decision made that day.


Matthew Boulton was fascinated.

“Is it possible?” he asked, “and if so why haven’t you tried before?”

“Because I couldn’t get the materials, or the men skilled enough to build it. But I think there is a possibility now.”

Matthew Boulton looked at the plans, at the list of materials – and nodded.

“Yes, there is wrought iron strong enough, Henry Cort has made it down in Hampshire the Ironmaster can do the boring.” He grinned, and added “And as for the craftsmen, this is Birmingham – here we make anything and everything, the best craftsmen in the world are here.”


Over the following autumn and winter, the canals began to bring material to the workshop beside the Soho works. Wrought Iron from distant Hampshire, massive cylinders cast and bored by John Wilkinson the Ironmaster, coal from the mines of Yorkshire and timber from Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden, though even his wondrous imagination couldn’t have dreamed of what was being built on the outskirts of Birmingham. In secrecy the craftsmen laboured and slowly a machine grew, a machine unlike anything else on earth.


James Watt steam engine

By the spring it was ready, the men of the Lunar Society gathered to watch, the mill pond was full now but the millwright shut the sluices. The waterwheels stopped, the factory stopped, all of Matthew Boulton’s machines stood idle – then James Watt pulled on the leaver, steam hissed, the massive pivoted beam rose, and fell, as it did so the wheel turned. The engineer tightened the belts and power flowed into the factory, the machines started again powered by steam for the first time.

Everyone congratulated James Watt, but he was having none of it.

“No, it is good, but not perfect. If I were to build it again there are several improvements I would make.”

Erasmus Darwin, the mad grandfather of the brilliant Charles, asked.
“Are you going to build another?”

“Of course,” replied Matthew Boulton, “Another, and another, and another. We will give the world what it wants, even if it doesn’t know it yet”

“What is that?”

“Power, wherever and whenever it wants it. We will give the world power.”


Boulton and Watt’s steam engines changed the world. Developed first for Matthew Boulton’s factory at Soho near Birmingham, they were soon being built and exported around the world. No longer was power only to be obtained from wind or river, factories could be built anywhere, not just in places with a reliable water supply. The industrial revolution had properly begun.


I had been planning to retell this story for some time when my brother posted on his blog about a trip he had made to Arkwright’s mill in Derbyshire, and pondered on why it had been built in seemingly remote location. A location chosen only because of its proximity to a constant supply of moving water for power.

My tale tells of how the link between location and power was finally broken – and the world changed as a result of a hot summer in 1774!

Pictures from the internet


Filed under Georgian, Historical tales