The Paper Magicians – An Historical Tale

There was certainly an impressive audience for whatever was to happen. No one knew what the two men in the middle of the square were trying to do. Some people said it was magic, certainly the way the two men were carefully tending a fire under a huge paper bag looked diabolical.
The bag was filling with smoke, and it was moving!, perhaps there was a demon in the bag.
One of the men called to the other, a rope was cut – somebody screamed and fainted as bag rose above the crowd!
The conquest of the air had begun.

V0040878 A huge crowd watches from the streets as a hot-air balloon t

In 1783 the Montgolfier brothers launched their first balloon from a square in Paris.

This is in response to Charlie Mills flash fiction challenge, in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story including an audience. Hope you enjoy it.


Filed under Georgian, Historical tales

Here’s to the maiden of bashful fifteen

This afternoon, looking for something else, I came across Sheridan’s song, ‘Here’s to the maiden’, and realised that is was something that could be illustrated with nineteenth century ‘genre’ paintings which depict life a hundred years earlier. So here goes.


Her First Dance 1884 by Sir William Quiller Orchardson 1832-1910
Here’s to the maiden of bashful fifteen,

Here’s to the widow of fifty,

Here’s to the flaunting extravagant quean,

And here’s to the housewife that’s thrifty.

Let the toast pass,
Drink to the lass,
I’ll warrant she’ll prove an excuse for the glass.



Copyright Museums Sheffield / Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Here’s to the charmer whose dimples we prize,

Now to the maid who has none, sir.

Here’s to the girl with a pair of blue eyes,

A Girl Singing Ballads by a Paper Lanthorn c.1765-82 by Henry Robert Morland 1716-1797
And here’s to the nymph with but one, sir.

Let the toast pass,
Drink to the lass,
I’ll warrant she’ll prove an excuse for the glass.



The Lace Maker 
*oil on canvas 
*147.9 x 97.1 cm 
*signed b.r: C A Lenoir

Here’s to the maid with a bosom of snow,


Now to her that’s as brown as a berry.


Here’s to the wife with her face full of woe,


And now to the damsel that’s merry.

Let the toast pass,
Drink to the lass,
I’ll warrant she’ll prove an excuse for the glass.




For let ’em be clumsy, or let ’em be slim,
Young or ancient, I care not a feather,
So fill a pint bumper quite up to the brim,
And let us e’en toast them together.

Let the toast pass,
Drink to the lass,
I’ll warrant she’ll prove an excuse for the glass.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan 1775



Filed under Georgian

The Fossil Pit

Charli Mills has prompted us to quarry out a rocky tale this week;

January 19, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a about a quarry. It can be a place or include the by-product. The quarry can be operational, abandoned, it can be in real-tie or mentioned from another time. Where will the quarry take you? Go where the prompt leads.


Samuel Beckles in his quarry

The professor looked into the quarry and gasped, he was impressed, and it took a lot to impress the man who had given the world dinosaurs.

When he had seen the tiny fossil, and told his friend he needed more specimens, now buried under thousands of tons of rock, he had never expected this. He climbed down.

“We have them.” Were his friend’s first words. He held out a rock, full of tiny black bones .

“It’s true – mammals did live with the dinosaurs.” The professor gave one of his rare smiles.

“Time to rewrite the text books again.”

Another true story.

In 1854 a tiny jaw was discovered at Durlston, near Swanage in Dorset. It looked like a mammal jaw but at the time it was thought that mammals had not existed alongside dinosaurs. Professor Richard Owen (the man who had coined the word Dinosaur) knew that this problem could only be solved with additional specimens. His friend, Samuel Beckles, a wealthy amateur, was looking for an interesting project. Owen suggested Durlston, not meaning it seriously but Beckles took him at his word. Removed over three thousand cubic metres of rock to reach the thin fossil bed – and rewrote the text books.


Filed under Historical tales, Victorian

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;


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.


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.


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.





Filed under Georgian, Historical Reconstructions, Jane Austen, Reconstructing the Regency

A Golden Hind on Purbeck – A curious observation with the National Trust

I have just been to Kingston Lacy (a great National Trust house) where there is currently a small exhibition of maps relating to the Bankes estate, which covered Corfe Castle as well as Kingston Lacy.

One map displayed, I almost passed over, as it is the very fine map of the Isle of Purbeck which I have known for many years. It was drawn in 1586 by Ralph Treswell for Sir Christopher Hatton, an important member of Queen Elizabeth’s court, who then owned Corfe Castle. Fortunately I didn’t pass it by, as I had only previously seen reproductions, and the map displayed was the original, newly restored and removed from the book in which it had been bound.


As I looked at it, I realised that some of the deer, which have been drawn all across the map, had been highlighted in gold leaf. I hadn’t realised this before as colour reproductions do not bring out the glister of gold.

I pointed this out to my wife, who immediately said, ‘golden hind’, I at once realised that she was absolutely correct. Sir Christopher Hatton’s badge was a ‘golden hind’ and, as he was one of the main supporters of Sir Francis Drake’s great voyage, Sir Francis renamed the Pelican, his flagship, the Golden Hind.

The golden hinds on the map would have been a ‘conceit’, added in recognition of the man who commissioned the map. I have seen numerous comments about this map, referring to the deer, but nobody has mentioned the golden hinds, am I the first person to notice them, and recognise what they mean?


The picture of the map I found online.

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The Phantom Coach, or Miss Fluart’s Relations – The facts behind the tale.

I said, when I was beginning to tell the tale, that some of the more remarkable features of the story were based on fact, and suggested that people might like to guess what they were.

They were not the basic features of the story. The idea of two women living together, one of whom was quite prepared to carry a gun, come from the book – Hermsprong, published in 1796, where the wonderful Miss Fluart first came into being.

I have discussed highwaywomen in a previous blog, and as loyal men took to the road during the aftermath of the civil war, the idea of a tough woman doing so was plausible at least. Smugglers certainly used ghost stories to keep people away from some parts of the coast.

One real oddity I mentioned at the beginning of part 2, was the curious fact that county maps in England and Wales never interlinked. Even if the same mapmaker, made maps of adjacent counties and at the same scale, the county boundaries never matched!

 Hardy, Heywood, 1842-1933; The Two Roses

However the really weird facts concern the ghost!

I have based Lady Susanna Sterling on two notable West Country ladies, Lady Howard (unidentified) rides in a coach pulled by horses that are sometimes headless. She collects the souls of the dead and, on at least one occasion, deliberately hunted down an evil-doer.


‘About a century ago, a certain George Mace, of Watton, was the ring leader of a gang of’ local poachers. One night he and his followers met near the Hall and arranged to split up into small bands for the night’s work. They were to meet again before the moon went down in a shed behind the Hall. At the appointed time all came to the shed, with one exception-Mace. The poachers waited for a considerable time but their leader did not appear. At last, when they were becoming both angry and alarmed, they heard the sound of approaching wheels and saw a coach drive up to the door of the Hall. It was more brilliantly lit up than any natural coach of those days. They saw its steps let down, its door opened and shut again with a bang, though they could not see by whom. No sooner had the door closed than the lamps went out and the coach itself vanished utterly and without a sound. The frightened men knew they had seen the Spectral Coach but they could not tell for whom it had come. They were not left long in ignorance. Next morning George Mace’s dead body was found lying’ outside the Hall on the very spot where the coach had waited. Dr. Jessop’s informant said there was nothing to show what had killed him. There were no marks of violence on his body nor any signs of sudden illness. His time had come, and he had been fetched away by a Power which even the boldest poacher cannot hope to defy.’

However my main source for the ghost was to be found in Mrs Susanna Gould, known as Madam Gould.

‘She was a woman of very strong character who ruled her dependants firmly and was reputed to be absolutely fearless; during her last illness she refused to go to bed, and died in her chair on April l0th, 1795’

Nearly seventy years after her death the estate was inherited by her great-nephew, the folklorist Sabine Baring-Gould. He was fascinated to discover that, not only did he have a family ghost, but it was one that took an active part in caring for her descendants and the estate.

‘When one of Baring-Gould’s children was ill, the nurse was roused from sleep one night by a knock on the door and a woman’s voice saying: “It is time for her to have her medicine.” Opening the door she saw no one, on another occasion she entered the room where the children were asleep, to see a tall woman in old fashioned clothes bending over their bed.’

And on another occasion.

‘One old woman told Baring-Gould that as a girl she had stolen some apples from the orchard. Her pockets were full and she had one in her hand when she saw Madam Gould, all in white, standing by the gate and pointing to the apple. The terrified girl flung it away and ran to a gap at the other end of the orchard. But the ghost was there before her, pointing to her pocket, and there she stayed until all the stolen fruit was thrown down on the grass.’

But there were problems with having a ghost in the family, which gave me the idea for the opening of the story.

‘In 1864, a man returning from Tavistock by night saw the white-clad ghost at the mouth of a mine-shaft, and broke his leg whilst scrambling hastily over the opposite hedge. Baring-Gould relates that this nearly cost him and his wife a meal. The man’s sister was cook to the Rector of Bratton, and when she heard that the Baring-Goulds were coming over, she refused to cook for any member of that family because Old Madam had caused her brother’s accident.’


All the quotes come from Haunted England by Christina Hole, published in 1940.


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The Phantom Coach, or Miss Fluart’s Relations – Part 4

The Reckoning – Explanations and Conclusions?

Miss Fluart woke late, the sun was well up as she sipped her tea and read the various letters that had been delivered. There were letters from Sir Charles Campinet and another magistrate saying they would wait on her later in the day, there was a more official, but very gracious letter from the local Riding Officer delighted to have a large consignment of smuggled goods to collect, and an obsequious letter from a local lawyer, agreeing to everything the ‘honoured lady’ was suggesting.

As she was reading the last Charlotte came in, she was still very sore, but had insisted on getting up as she wanted to see the fun. She settled gratefully on the sofa and read through the letters. The last surprised her until she was shown the parchment covered book. Miss Fluart then took it away, and retuned empty handed.

“I have put it somewhere safe, I will say more when the men have gone.”

The Riding Officer was the first to arrive, he brought a wagon and Miss Fluart told Watson to oversee the unloading of the coach. After he left she brought his receipt to the two ladies.

“He says there will be a big reward for all the smuggled goods, at least forty guineas.”

“And it will be yours Watson.” Said Maria to her shocked maid. “Miss Sumelin and I will be rewarded in other ways, so we have decided that this money would be yours.” Watson left, babbling her thanks, delighted and even more devoted to her amazing mistress.

“What am I getting Maria?” Asked Charlotte from the sofa.

“Wait and see my dear,” Miss Fluart replied, “The gentlemen are here and they will want an explanation.”

Sir Charles and Mr Saxby, the other local magistrate entered the room. Miss Fluart rose to greet them and Charlotte apologised for not rising.

“My dear young lady,” Said Sir Charles, “After such a shock and injury should you not be in bed when you may be cared for and leave this unpleasant business to us?”

“Sir Charles, I have suffered more from falling off my horse. Despite what your philosophy might teach, we young ladies do not wish to be wrapped in cotton wool all the time. Also I was as much involved in this matter as Miss Fluart and should be here.”

Sir Charles shook his head, but sat down as Miss Fluart took several papers from the table.

“I first heard of this supposed ghost when the vicar’s cook refused to cook me dinner, because it had frightened her husband. Like most people I thought that he had been drunk, but soon discovered that many more were seeing the ghost coach. This began to cause me a great deal of embarrassment as people seemed to think I was responsible, so I began to investigate. Amongst the various stories I soon realised that there were some that seemed to refer to a real coach. This coach was only seen on little used roads that ran from the coast inland, and I asked myself why this should be, then realised that the obvious answer was free traders.”


“Why did you not come to us?” asked Mr Saxby, “With that information we would have sent out the dragoons.”

“With respect what use would they have been?” Replied Miss Fluart. “The dragoons idea of secrecy is to shout once rather than twice. Everyone, including the smugglers, would hear them coming three or four miles away. That is all those who would not have drunk so much out of fear of the ghost that they couldn’t sit in the saddle. There were only three people I had any confidence in to help me hunt down whoever was taking my great-aunt’s name in vain, my maid, my friend and myself. So we set a trap and caught a ghost.” She paused, “But sadly the men escaped, I would love to have them in prison as one of them shot at Miss Sumelin.”

“Was the coach the only vehicle you saw that night?” Asked Sir Charles.

“Why?” replied a puzzled Miss Fluart.

“Because four men have been found dead this morning, all of them have been crushed by a broad wheeled cart, so it couldn’t have been your coach. One is a known smuggler, two are petty criminals who have both been before the bench on more than one occasion, whilst the fourth is unknown to us, but had a French made coat and a plan of Plymouth in his pocket.”

“A Spy?”

“Most likely and we suspect these men were the ones who escaped from you last night.”

“We certainly never saw a waggon or cart, I was more concerned about getting Charlotte home. Did John Taylor see anything?”

“That fool, no he saw nothing at all.”

“Well, the deaths of those men is a mystery that will probably never be solved.”

“Very likely, now tomorrow I will send a man to collect the coach and horses.”

“You will not Sir Charles, the coach is mine.”

“Come madam, how can you suggest such a thing. It was clearly made to scare people and was used in a criminal conspiracy.”

Miss Fluart smiled sweetly. “I have here a letter from a legal gentleman, well known to you both, who tells me that the coach was built for a number of local worthies, who intended to present it to me as a mark of their esteem. It was being ‘tested’ in secret and was apparently misappropriated by the smugglers.”

“Tested indeed,” snapped Mr Saxby, “You know who was behind the whole operation. You must tell us at once, or you will be liable.”

“Liable for accepting a valuable gift. I think not.” She replied. “Anyway I am sure there will be no more smuggling runs like that again, indeed I rather suspect that smuggling will also be much reduced locally.”

“Do you really mean to keep it then.” He was getting angry now,

“Yes, and Mr Corrow it acting for me in this respect.”

“Corrow, he is a rogue. He was a rogue when he worked for Lord Grondale and he is a rogue now.”

“Oh no, Mr Corrow is a kind and generous gentleman. As soon as he heard what had happened he not only informed me that the carriage was intended for me, but personally offered to recompense Miss Sumelin for the damage to her riding habit.”

“So Corrow is the gentleman. I think we should take a close look at him.”

“But please wait until the mantua-makers account is settled.”

Sir Charles laughed, “ Come Saxby, you must see that Miss Fluart has this well in hand. Even if we were able to convict, I am sure that whoever is concerned is powerful enough to escape with a fine smaller than that which they are paying to these gallant ladies.”

His companion nodded, Miss Fluart rose and handed Sir Charles a thick package.

“And here is something that might make interesting reading if anything untoward were to happen.”

He rose too and bowed.

“Such as a mantua-makers account not being settled.”

“Exactly,” she replied, curtsying. “Now gentlemen I must ask you to leave, Miss Sumelin is still unwell and needs to return to bed.”


Over supper, Charlotte said,

“You said nothing about Lady Susanna?”

“No, it would have confused them, ghosts don’t fit into the philosophy of Sir Charles.”

“But it was her, wasn’t it?”

“Oh yes, I think she was as irritated by people pretending to be her as I was. She was appearing around the house as her first priority was always to protect her family. Then when you were shot at she got as angry as I was and you can guess the rest.”

Charlotte was silent, thinking of what those wicked men must have endured, being hunted by a spectral coach, she was sure Lady Susanna would have wanted them to be terrified.


Later, when she was in bed, Miss Fluart came to say goodnight, Charlotte looked up at her friend and said.

“You said that Lady Susanna got angry when I got shot because her first concern was to protect her family.”

“Yes my dear.”

“But I am not family.”

Maria Fluart bent and kissed her friend on her forehead.

“But you are my dear, you are.”

But Charlotte was already asleep.



Filed under Georgian, Ghost story, Historical tales