Wednesday, July 15, 2020

6th Century Britain – Questions without Answers

By Gareth Griffith

In the age of Google, at a time when physicists are unlocking the secrets of the universe, when there are answers to almost every question, it seems churlish of history to present us with what used to be called “The Dark Ages.” Yet, in respect to Britain at least, that description would still appear to be appropriate for the period between the departure of the Romans, in AD 410, and the 7th century.

Particularly sparse is our knowledge of the 6th century, when the native written evidence is confined to Gildas’ The Ruin of Britain. Gildas was a monk and, as it is often said, his purpose was not to write history but to present a moral and polemical tract addressed to the British kings of his time. It is not known exactly when he wrote, although it likely to have been in the mid-6th century. There is controversy over that issue and also about the interpretation of what he wrote, as discussed, for example, by Guy Halsall in Worlds of Arthur: Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages (OUP, 2013).

Statue of Gildas - Wiki Commons attribution

That is not to say that archaeologists and historians are completely in the dark about this period of British history, but it is to suggest that the speculative theories and histories of the age have the feel of a parlour game about them – where five archaeologists and five historians are sent out of the room and return with 11 theories of the Anglo-Saxon take-over of lowland Britain. Ideas about how certain Angles and Saxons arrived at and settled one area or another – the Hwicce for instance on the Welsh borders – can be amusingly reminiscent of the brilliant Monty Python sketch, Wrong Way Norris.

Relatively little is known, therefore, about 6th-century Britain and much of what is believed to be known is contested. In terms of literary evidence, according to Peter Heather:
“To supplement Gildas, there are a few more or less contemporary references to events in Britain in continental sources, and some very late, wildly episodic materials gathered together in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.” (Empires and Barbarians: Migration, Development and the Birth of Europe, Macmillan, 2009, p 272) 
There are more questions than answers, some large, others more specific: Why did the Anglo-Saxons not become British? What was the scale of the Anglo-Saxon migration to Britain? Was there a mass migration? Is that process best described in terms of conquest and invasion or more as a transfer of elites, with the indigenous population remaining more or less in place?

Possible 5th-century migration pattern Wiki attribution

In attempting to answer such questions, historians have tended to follow the prevailing fashions of historical analysis. The nineteenth century and beyond leaned heavily on the conquest and invasion model, in some cases as evidence of the superiority of Teutonic peoples over their Celtic counterparts. (B Ward-Perkins, “Why did the Anglo-Saxons not become British?” English Historical Review (2000), pp 513-533) As new aerial archaeological techniques revealed evidence that contradicted that model, the view fell into disfavour after 1945, to be replaced by versions of the elite-transfer theory.

From the view that the Anglo-Saxons basically wiped out or expelled the native British population, the pendulum swung towards the displacement of British landowning classes by an Anglo-Saxon warrior elite, led by those who had served as mercenaries in the Roman occupation of the island. It is a caricature admittedly, but we had replaced blood and iron with something approximating a hippy land-grab. It may be that DNA analysis supports that view, whereby the indigenous population remained in place, merely exchanging one ethnic ruling class for another.

A perennially vexing issue for that account relates to language: as Ronald Hutton writes: “If genetics and landscape studies indicate a basic continuity of population all over Britain…linguistic studies do not.” (Pagan Britain, Yale University Press, 2014, p 295). The contrast with the continent, with France in particular, is profound in this regard. To quote Hutton again:
“Old English replaced both the main languages of Roman Britain – the native Celtic one and the official Latin one – completely in the areas that later became England. It did so, moreover, while taking on virtually no loanwords from either tongue.” (p 295) 
In lowland areas at least, 6th century Britain appears to have witnessed “an absolute and abrupt discontinuity of language and culture,” events which, according to Hutton, are “commonly the hallmark of genocide…” (p 296)

The Aedui chief Dumnorix, Museum of Celtic Civilization, Bibracte
The British may have dressed similarly

Rather than deciding between contrasting viewpoints, Hutton’s main concern is to highlight the problems and discontinuities of evidence and interpretation. Calling it “an extreme state of affairs,” he points out that, in this instance, the material data drawn from archaeology and the textual and linguistic evidence do not fit: “In the case of the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons, the two are at present bewilderingly adrift…” (p 297) One is reminded of the comment made by Nicholas Higham in 1994, in reference to the issue of conflicting evidence, that “it has become obvious that archaeologists are capable of producing an almost infinite succession of models, each of which is more or less incapable of either proof or refutation.” (The English Conquest, Manchester University Press, p 2)

In his 2009 book, Empires and Barbarians: Migration, Development and the Birth of Europe, Peter Heather draws together the known and the probable facts of the matter. Like Hutton, he accepts that the key questions about the extent and nature of Anglo-Saxon immigration are not answered in any straightforward way by either the archaeological or historical evidence. (p 275) Nor does he think that DNA testing is likely to fill the gap. Decisively rejected by Heather is the “ethnic cleansing” model, which in his view was not remotely possible given the probable number of people involved, perhaps as many as three to four million. But then, there is the linguistic evidence to be considered, which leaves the argument “more than a little stuck.” (p 277 and p 297)

From this starting point, Heather proceeds to confront from what he calls “the intellectual impasse between mass migration and elite transfer originally generated by the limitation of the traditional historical and archaeological evidence.” (p 277) Taking a comparative perspective, he draws upon evidence from the migrations of the period on the continent, which leads him to several conclusions. One is that the Anglo-Saxon migration to Britain was a long-term process, a “predatory population flow” that occurred over many generations. A related conclusion is that, notwithstanding the obvious transport difficulties, this gradual migration flow included women and children.

Still, by AD 600 the native British population was likely to have outnumbered the newcomers, possibly by a ratio of around 1:4. With the Frankish model before him, Heather’s argument is that an adequate interpretation of Anglo-Saxon migration must combine elements of mass migration, sufficient to establish linguistic and cultural change, with elements of the elite model, whereby land ownership shifted decisively in favour of the incomers and where the mass of the indigenous population, formerly landed or otherwise, were left to accommodate themselves to these new arrangements of subservience.

Of course, none of this is to maintain that the transformation of lowland Britain was peaceful. It is argued that, from the earliest times, the Britons and the Anglo-Saxons perceived themselves as races apart, with Bryan Ward-Perkins commenting:
“…when both peoples came to summarize their dealings with each other, the picture is straightforward and consistent. Two distinct and hostile peoples fight for the same territory; one of them comes by ship from overseas, and gradually expands its power by conquest; the other resists, with greater or lesser success, and awaits the moment when the invaders can be slaughtered and their defeated remnants driven to their boats and 'sent home' over the sea.” (“Why did the Anglo-Saxons not become British?”, p 516) 
To offer my own historical speculation, it seems likely that the Anglo-Saxon takeover was messy and that it varied from one local area to another, in particular as between what is now south-east and south-west England. Whereas a version of the elite-transfer model may apply to the south-east where the scale of armed resistance from the British may have been minimal in the aftermath of the Roman departure, the story in the south-west may have been quite different, with the Saxon advance being marked by a series of pitched battles until they reached what is now the Bristol Channel towards the end of the 6th century. Admittedly, that account may be disputed. On its behalf, it is at least broadly consistent with the account we find in the traditional interpretation of Gildas and with the admittedly sketchy and episodic entries for the period from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

Replica of the Sutton Hoo helmet, from the earlier period of
Anglo-Saxon settlement. Wiki Commons attribution link

Clearly, not everything in those sources can be accepted at face value. But some things ring truer than others. For example, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records a major battle fought in AD 577 just north of modern day Bath. There is no other source for the battle which, if true, broke the land-bridge that existed between the Celtic people of modern day Wales and those of Devon and Cornwall. Possibly, the entry which says that three British kings were killed in the battle, those of Bath, Gloucester and Cirencester, can be discounted as a form of aggrandising propaganda on the part of the West Saxons. It is possible. On the other hand, as Heather acknowledges, it is also possible that these events were recalled with “outlined accuracy.” He writes:
Sometimes, too, the events even make sense against the landscape, notably the battle of Deorham in 577, which is said to have brought Gloucester, Cirencester and Bath under Anglo-Saxon control. A visit to the site, now the grounds of Dyrham Park just outside Bath, is enough to show you why. Set on high ground, it dominates the territory around.” (p 272) 
What is beyond question is that the Britons did not relinquish the western regions of the Island to the Anglo-Saxons without a long struggle. If the details are lost to us, the outline is clear enough. The reported Battle of Dyrham occurred over 150 years after the Romans left Britain, which, if true, suggests concerted resistance on a significant scale.

[This post is an Editor's Choice archive post, originally published on EHFA on 7th June 2018]


Gareth Griffith was born in Penmaenmawr, North Wales, and now lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife Sue. His career has encompassed teaching, research and writing, including many years working as the manager of research for the parliament of New South Wales. These days, when Gareth isn’t writing, he enjoys reading, music, dark Scandi film and TV, and Dark Age Britain. Although Gareth left Wales at the age of twelve, Wales never left him, and its landscape and history loom large in his imagination and his storytelling.

Find Gareth on his website:
and on Twitter: @garethgriffith_

Monday, July 13, 2020

The Triads of Ireland: Medieval Irish Wisdom.

By E.M. Powell

Anyone who loves history will tell you that one of the most enjoyable things to do is to visit actual historical sites. An added bonus of writing historical fiction is that one can do quite a lot of this in the name of research. One of my more recent trips was to the wonderful Dunmore Cave in Co. Kilkenny in Ireland.

Dunmore Cave, Co. Kilkenny
© E.M. Powell

Dunmore Cave has been used for refuge and storage for hundreds of years. A Viking massacre here is recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters, a 17th century compilation of earlier Irish chronicles. In 928 Godfrey and the Vikings of Dublin reputedly slaughtered more than 1,000 people here. Archaeological investigations have found the remains of hundreds of people, with many being those of women and children.  10th century coins, beads, and pins have also been found.

I was particularly pleased to see an information board announcing it as ‘One of the Three Darkest Places in Ireland’. No, this wasn’t just a cheap marketing ploy by the Irish Office of Public Works. It's a reference to the mention of Dunmore Cave in the Irish Triads. Triads, the arrangement of ideas or sayings in groups of three, are common in ancient Irish and Welsh writing. They are a type of wisdom literature, serving to instruct, enlighten and at times entertain the reader/listener with truths about life.

St. Luke- 9th C Irish MS
Public Domain

Trecheng Breth Féne or The Triads of Ireland is a collection composed about the ninth century AD by an anonymous author who was most likely a cleric. One might think that the Irish Triad wisdom of over 1,100 years ago would be remote and/or inaccessible. It’s quite the opposite. So much of what this unknown writer has left us could have the ink still wet on the paper. I thought I’d share my personal favourites.

Some of the triads are simply a geographical reference, such as to Dunmore Cave above. We have ‘The three mountain-passes of Ireland: Baltinglass, the Pass of Limerick, the Pass of Dublin’ and ‘The three uneven places of Ireland: Breffny, the Burren, Beare.’ Anyone who has visited the Burren and had a walking boot wedged in a limestone crack would never disagree with this assessment.

Early Medieval Grave Slab, Durrow, Co. Offaly
© E.M. Powell

Moving on from geography, the writer relates some moral musings:
‘Three rejoicings followed by sorrow: a wooer's, a thief's, a tale-bearer's.’
‘Three things which justice demands: judgment, measure, conscience.’
‘Three things which judgment demands: wisdom, penetration, knowledge.’
Wise indeed, yet quite theoretical. Happily, he gets more specific:
‘Three laughing-stocks of the world: an angry man, a jealous man, a niggard.’ 
Yes, indeed, but closely followed by:
‘Three ruins of a tribe: a lying chief, a false judge, a lustful priest.’ 
‘Three ranks that ruin tribes in their falsehood: the falsehood of a king, of a historian, of a judge.’

Early Medieval Grave Slab, Durrow, Co. Offaly
© E.M. Powell

One has to wonder at this point if the scribe has somehow found a wormhole where he is viewing the 21st century. Leaving his very pertinent observations on human nature, we come to the cleric’s Triads that relate to the natural world. These for me have great lyrical beauty.
‘Three slender things that best support the world: the slender stream of milk from the cow's dug into the pail, the slender blade of green corn upon the ground, the slender thread over the hand of a skilled woman.’
‘Three live ones that put away dead things: a deer shedding its horn, a wood shedding its leaves, cattle shedding their coat.’
‘Three cold things that seethe: a well, the sea, new ale.’
‘Three sounds of increase: the lowing of a cow in milk, the din of a smithy, the swish of a plough.’
‘Three dead things that give evidence on live things: a pair of scales, a bushel, a measuring-rod.’
‘Three renovators of the world: the womb of woman, a cow's udder, a smith's moulding-block.’
Beautiful, of course, but this unknown writer didn’t simply excel at pastoral imagery. He also has a number of observations of human nature that are on the nail and often hilarious.
‘Three rude ones of the world: a youngster mocking an old man, a healthy person mocking an invalid, a wise man mocking a fool.’
‘Three ungentlemanly things: interrupting stories, a mischievous game, jesting so as to raise a blush.’
‘Three ungentlemanly boasts: I am on your track, I have trampled on you, I have wet you with my dress.’ (Note: on this one, I have no idea. I included it because I love it.)
‘Three deaths that are better than life: the death of a salmon, the death of a fat pig, the death of a robber.’
‘Three silences that are better than speech: silence during instruction, silence during music, silence during preaching.’
‘Three speeches that are better than silence: inciting a king to battle, spreading knowledge, praise after reward.’
‘Three things that constitute a buffoon: blowing out his cheek, blowing out his satchel, blowing out his belly.’
‘Three wealths in barren places: a well in a mountain, fire out of a stone, wealth in the possession of a hard man.’
‘Three oaths that do not require fulfilment: the oath of a woman in birth-pangs, the oath of a dead man, the oath of a landless man.’
‘Three worst smiles: the smile of a wave, the smile of a lewd woman, the grin of a dog ready to leap.’

Initial- 9th C Irish MS
Public Domain

The last of the Triads I have included have a particular appeal. They reflect the contemporary world that the writer lived in, such as this one about Irish appearance.
‘Three lawful handbreadths: a handbreadth between shoes and hose, a handbreadth between ear and hair, a handbreadth between the fringe of the tunic and the knee.’
The world of work is here, too.
‘Three things that constitute a comb-maker: racing a hound in contending for a bone; straightening a ram's horn by his breath, without fire; chanting upon a dunghill so that all antlers and bones and horns that are below come to the top.’
‘Three things that constitute a carpenter: joining together without calculating, without warping; agility with the compass; a well-measured stroke.’
‘Three things that constitute a physician: a complete cure, leaving no blemish behind, a painless examination.’
‘Three things that constitute a harper: a tune to make you cry, a tune to make you laugh, a tune to put you to sleep.’ 

Durrow High Cross, Co. Offaly c850 A.D.
© E.M. Powell

And as it’s Ireland, we have views on hospitality. First, things the writer isn’t happy with:
‘Three unfortunate things for a man: a scant drink of water, thirst in an ale-house, a narrow seat upon a field.’
‘The three worst welcomes: a handicraft in the same house with the inmates, scalding water upon the feet, salt food without a drink.’
‘Three preparations of a bad man's house: strife before you, complaining to you, his hound taking hold of you.’
‘Three sorrowful ones of an alehouse: the man who gives the feast, the man to whom it is given, the man who drinks without being satiated.’
Counterbalanced with what he approves of:
‘Three preparations of a good man's house: ale, a bath, a large fire.’
‘Three entertainers of a gathering: a jester, a juggler, a lap-dog.’
‘Three accomplishments of Ireland: a witty stave, a tune on the harp, shaving a face.’
‘Three fewnesses that are better than plenty: a fewness of fine words, a fewness of cows in grass, a fewness of friends around good ale.’

John- 9th C Irish MS
Public Domain

But I think he must be back at that wormhole, looking over my shoulder. For, lastly, we have:
‘Three glories of speech: steadiness, wisdom, brevity.’
I’ll accept that 1,100 year old advice: brevity it is. Slán!

Images are either © E.M. Powell or are in the Public Domain and are part of the British Library's Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. 

Kelly, Prof. Fergus, SIR JOHN RHYS MEMORIAL LECTURE: Thinking in threes: the triad in early Irish literature: (2003)
Lindahl, C., McNamara, J & Lindow, J. (eds.): Medieval Folklore, Oxford University Press (2002)
Meyer, Kuno, The Triads of Ireland, Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, Hodges Figgis & Co. Ltd.: (1906.)
Yocum, Christopher: Wisdom Literature in Early Ireland. STUDIA CELTICA, XLVI (2012), 39–58

This is an Editor's Choice from the archives, originally published March 29, 2016.


E.M. Powell's historical thriller and medieval mystery FIFTH KNIGHT and STANDON & BARLING novels have been #1 Amazon and Bild bestsellers. The third Stanton & Barling mystery, THE CANTERBURY MURDERS, will be released in October 2020. Born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State), she lives in northwest England with her husband, daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog. Find out more by visiting her website or follow her on Twitter @empowellauthor.

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Friday, July 10, 2020

The Third Crusade: an Early Mishap at Lyon, 10 July 1190

by Charlene Newcomb

King Richard I
When Richard became King of England in 1189 the pilgrimage to the Holy Land to free Jerusalem became his top priority. After his coronation, Richard set the kingdom in order and raised monies to support the undertaking. Richard’s fleet sailed towards Gibraltar intending to meet him in Marseille. His army of pilgrims – or crusaders, as we refer to them now – gathered in Tours in the spring of 1190. By early July, Richard and King Philip of France concluded discussions at Vézelay setting the conditions of their cooperation.

From Vézelay, the pilgrims marched south towards Lyon. Contemporary chroniclers describe the locals’ reactions and the grandeur of the armies, thousands strong. The discipline of the soldiers impressed them. “Who could stand against their force? What a beautiful company, what handsome youths!” Ambroise and the author of the Itinerarium claim the English and French troops numbered near 100,000 – a huge exaggeration. We can only estimate the actual numbers. Author David Miller suggests that when the army began its coastal march south from Acre in August 1191, the French and English forces numbered approximately 1,600 knights and over 14,000 foot soldiers.

On the 10th of July in 1190, Richard and Philip arrived in Lyon. The mishap here on the River Rhône – early in the crusade timeline – could have proven disastrous. In his Annals, Roger de Hoveden writes,
When they had arrived at the city of Lyons on the Rhone, after they with the greater part of their households had passed over the bridge across that river, the bridge, being thronged with men and women, broke down, not without doing injury to great numbers. Here also the two kings separated…
A second account of the incident comes from Ambroise. He describes the scene as utter chaos. Hundreds of people, animals, and wagons plummeted into the rapidly-raging river:
But those who in the morning passed?
Crowded the bridge so thick and fast?
Misfortune did them overtake.
For one span of the bridge did break
Because of the waters treacherous,
Swollen so high and perilous.
For weight of men more than an hundred
O’ertaxed the pine arch till it sundered;
The arch fell and they tumbled in,
And there were shouting, groans and din…
The Itinerarium mentions that the bridge was extremely high, the drop to the river below far enough that many could have died. Onlookers raced to pull victims from the swift current. Incredibly, the chroniclers report that only two people died. Were the numbers underreported, reflecting only those of noble birth? Many historians suggest only "important" deaths were recorded, and therefore, we will never know the true death toll.

De Hoveden has no further comment on the aftermath of the bridge collapse. None of the accounts reflect whether King Richard witnessed the incident, but the Itinerarium describes those who had not yet crossed the river as “at wit’s end.” None wanted to be left behind. The chronicler claims Richard oversaw the construction of a floating bridge built of boats lashed together. The king would have read of the idea in De Re Militari, a treatise of military principles and practices written by Publius Falvius Vegetius Renatus. Amboise does not mention the bridge of boats, but writes that small skiffs were used to ferry people to the opposite riverbank. Both accounts indicate the incident delayed the march south by three days.

What gives one pause is that one month earlier and two thousand miles away, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa met his fate at the Saleph River in Turkey. His horse slipped and Frederick fell into the river and drowned. It was a devastating blow for his followers, only one-third to one-quarter of whom – perhaps 5,000 men – continued on to the Holy Land. During the siege of Acre, these troops reported to Duke Leopold of Austria, a man who would become King Richard’s bitter enemy.

What if the Lionheart had been on the bridge when it collapsed and had died at Lyon? Would Richard’s forces have been thrown into disarray as Barbarossa’s had? Would Philip of France have forsaken the pilgrimage to pursue his desires to regain French territory and to remove the Angevins from the continent? Christians besieging Acre would have been left without reinforcements. They were in dire straits, having suffered repeated attacks by Saladin’s forces. It is likely the siege of Acre would have failed. Acre, other coastal towns, and Jerusalem would remain in Muslim hands. The Third Crusade might not have been.


Ambroise. (1976). The crusade of Richard Lion-Heart. (Trans. by M.J. Hubert.) New  York: Octagon.

De Hoveden, R. (1853).  The annals of Roger de Hoveden, comprising the history of England and of other countries of Europe from A. D. 732 to A. D. 1201. (Henry T. Riley, Trans.). London: H. G. Bohn. (Original work published 1201?)

Miller, D. (2003). Richard the Lionheart: the mighty crusader. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Nicholson, H., & Stubbs, W., trans. (1997). Chronicle of the third crusade : A translation of the itinerarium peregrinorum et gesta regis ricardi. Aldershot, Hants, England ; Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate.

Painting of Richard I by Merry-Joseph Blondel. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

An earlier version of this post was originally published at , and published on EHFA on July 9, 2015.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Charlene Newcomb is the author of the Battle Scars series, 12th century historical fiction filled with war, political intrigue, and a knightly romance of forbidden love set during the reign of Richard the Lionheart. She is currently working on a new medieval tale set during King John’s reign; and in summer 2020 will publish Echoes of the Storm, a sci fi/space opera filled with rebels and traitors and battles and romance in a galaxy far, far away (no, not Star Wars). Sign up for Char’s Newsletter for exclusives, including a free short story, and other special offers. Find her books on Amazon & connect with Char on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

How grand was the aristocratic Georgian London house?

by Elizabeth Bailey

Unlike the grand country house, where successive owners could build extra wings whenever they felt like it, space was at a premium in London just as it is today. Georgians built up rather than wide. Although there were mansions of considerable size, these were exceptions. Not every landed family could have one or build one. There simply was not enough room to accommodate them all.

A double-fronted very large house, such as that occupied by the Polbrook family, had in general four huge rooms to each floor. On the floors above, an extra smaller room could be made of the space above the downstairs hall. Likewise, on the second or third floor, depending how many floors you had, you could make another small room in the space above the stairwell.

There would be two staircases, a narrow one for the servants, either at the back of the house, or tucked away in a recess somewhere. This gave access to all floors, including the attics where the servants slept. Internal walls here would create enough rooms to service the entire domestic staff, with the exception of the butler, who traditionally slept in a room near the pantry.

Down the servants’ stair to the basement, you would find the domestic offices, often a rabbit warren of small rooms and corridors. The housekeeper’s room will be here, as well as the butler’s pantry, the large kitchen, store-rooms and, down a further stair, the wine cellar, the coal cellar and very likely a junk room too. At the front of the house a main door led to a narrow area and steps up to the street.

If you had four or more floors, you might give over the whole of the first floor to a grand saloon for parties and a ballroom. However, a house without this facility could open out two rooms for the purpose of holding a dance. In the Polbrook house, they would use the Blue Salon and the Dining Room. This would give you an extended room about 23 feet long and a good 18 feet wide at the front, a little less at the back to accommodate the staircase.

Choosing this design for the Polbrooks makes it possible to create two good-sized parlours in the front at ground floor level, the posh Blue Salon for visitors and a cosier parlour in daily use by the family. The two rooms behind become the dining-room and the library, the latter accessed by a small vestibule which also houses the servants’ narrow staircase. The central hall runs from front to back, where we find the grand staircase winding around and up.

On the first floor, the principal bedchambers at the front are occupied by the master and mistress of the house, and the little room over the hall becomes my lady’s dressing room. One back bedroom is occupied by the second son of the house, Lord Francis Fanshawe, and the other is reserved for guests. The heir and the daughter of the house have rooms on the second floor, with two more bedrooms available at need.

All the main rooms have fireplaces, which create a stack of flues and chimneys either side of the house because fireplaces cannot share the same flue. In the Blue Salon, as was customary, the furniture is ranged around the walls, but the family parlour has a more cosy arrangement, with only one sofa against the wall and chairs set so as to enjoy better warmth from the fire.

In the domestic quarters, things are somewhat less than comfortable. The back door leads to a yard below the main garden behind the house, with the coal hole, sheds and other facilities, where dirty water might be disposed of and carpets beaten, for example. From the cellar below there is a further outside area, which is decidedly unsavoury with the servants’ privy, receptacles for the disposal of all the contents of the chamber pots, and a lane where the “night soil men” come through to take it all away in a cart. The stench is one of the major disadvantages of working below stairs.

As may be imagined, to keep these great houses operational you needed many servants, even in the London house. Under the butler, you have the indoor menservants such as footmen and boot boy. Under the housekeeper come the female staff: the housemaid, the chambermaid and the kitchen maid; and nominally, the cook, who reigned supreme in the kitchen. Then there are the ladies maids and the valets.

At need, extra help is hired in, like the laundry woman who collects the linen and takes it away to be washed elsewhere. Caterers may be brought in for balls, bringing waiters with them. Horses and carriages are kept in stables in a nearby mews, with grooms and stable boys living above them. In addition, there are a couple of gardeners and perhaps a skivvy or two.

In all, this aristocratic Georgian family required a dozen or so servants to service a household of three to five individuals, with perhaps an occasional relative or guest. This gives your sorely beset author of the upstairs downstairs murder mystery a cast of thousands, as they say, to manipulate, quite aside from the various characters to be found outside the home. It was rather a relief when research produced this relatively modest house instead of the grand mansions we tend to associate with the lords and ladies of an earlier era.

[This is an Editor's Choice archive post, originally published on EHFA 19th June 2018]


Elizabeth Bailey feels lucky to have found several paths that have given her immense satisfaction – acting, directing, teaching and, by no means least, writing. Through the years, each path has crossed the other, honing and deepening her abilities in each sphere.

She has been privileged to work with some wonderful artistic people, and been fortunate enough to find publishers who believed in her and set her on the road.

To invent a world and persuade others to believe in it, live in it for a while, is the sole aim of the novelist. Elizabeth’s own love of reading has never abated, and if she can give a tithe of the pleasure to others as she has received herself, it’s worth all the effort.

You can check out Elizabeth’s website here

Monday, July 6, 2020

George III – Not a Mistress in Sight, But a Prolific Parent

by Mike Rendell

The grandson of George II was twenty-two when he came to the throne. It is ironic that his reign coincided with an explosion in the trade of satirical prints. They mocked his avarice, they mocked his miserliness, they mocked his simple tastes, and his interest in agriculture, but the one thing they could not do was mock his family values and constancy to the woman who became his queen.

Not that this stopped a curious story emerging in 1770. This was to the effect that, as Prince of Wales, he had secretly married ‘a fair Quakeress’ by the name of Hannah Lightfoot on 17 April 1759, at Curzon Street Chapel, and that they had two children together.

In 1788 S.W. Fores published a caricature entitled The Fair Quaker of Cheltenham showing the young monarch addressing his ardour to a young lady under the shade of an overhanging tree. In the background, by way of being a complete anachronism, Queen Charlotte is spying on the couple. Not a shred of evidence supported this wild allegation, but ‘the story had legs’ to the extent that in the course of the next century various spurious claims were put forward. Futile applications were made through the courts, seeking to declare the children of Queen Charlotte illegitimate, on the basis that the King had married her bigamously. It shows the willingness of people to publish (and read) scandalous stories about the Royals. The idea that ‘truth should never get in the way of a good story’ is nothing new….

The legend of George Ill's attachment to the 'fair Quakeress' can be traced back to a paragraph in a newspaper from 1776, and it was not finally discredited until 1866. One rather suspects that the rumours started after King George had returned to Cheltenham at a time when he was suffering mentally, and perhaps he was overheard gabbling on about some imagined episode of his earlier life.

What appears to be the case is that George was faithful to Charlotte (and probably didn’t have the energy to be anything else, given that he gave her fifteen children). He had never met Charlotte until the occasion of their marriage on 8 September 1761. Mind you, she was not the first woman propelled in his direction. He had previously thought of marrying Lady Sarah Lennox, sister of the Duke of Richmond but Lord Bute managed to talk him out of the alliance, and she went off and married Sir William Bunbury. Her “disappointment” at failing to make it to the dizzy heights of Queen was lessened by the fact that, as she said, "Luckily for me, I did not love him, and only liked him." She was invited by the King to be one of his ten bridesmaids, which must have been a small consolation!

Whether he stayed faithful throughout his marriage to Charlotte I do not know, but certainly if there had been any whiff of scandal, the Press and in particular the caricaturists, would have surely alluded to it. After all, the King’s siblings were constantly in the news for their infidelities and peccadilloes, and no-one felt under any restraint in publicising the facts in great detail!


The story of George III and of the bedspring-busting antics of his entire family, is featured in Mike Rendell's book In Bed with the Georgians, Sex Scandal and Satire in the Eighteenth Century, published by Pen & Sword Books.


Friday, July 3, 2020

Britain’s Radium Spas

By Lucy Santos

The discovery of the radioactive substance radium in the late 19th century prompted a flurry of experiments to scope the limits of its potential applications. Scientists and, in turn, medical practitioners and entrepreneurs would struggle to understand the complicated properties of radioactive elements.

It had taken Marie Skłodowska Curie four years (and eight tons of source material) of hard work to isolate one- tenth of a gram of radium chloride (RaCl2– a compound of radium and chlorine which takes the form of white crystals or powder).

With such a protracted production process further experimentation would prove difficult.
Owning radium salts conferred great social and professional prestige. In the early years of the 20th century it was the most expensive, and most desirable, substance in the world.

Access to radioactivity became logically easier in 1904 when scientists tested water from nineteen hot mineral springs in France and Austria and declared that most were radioactive. How this was possible was thanks to the radioactive decay chain. Whilst this is quite a complicated process (and wasn’t fully understood in the early 1900s) put simply radioactive elements are radioactive because they exist in a state of perpetual breakdown: constantly evolving into something else and discarding their excess parts as they decayed. As one shortened example: uranium (one of the most common metallic substances in the Earth’s crust), decays into thorium, which in turn becomes radium. After radium comes radon: the only link in the chain that is a gas. That then turns into polonium. Eventually, after multiple transformations, the uranium decay chain ends with a ‘stable’ element – lead – which stays put and emits no more radiation.  Each of these parts of the chain has a distinct and varied ‘half-life’: the average amount of time it takes for half of the atoms of the original element to turn into a new element. Radioactive water, therefore, could be found present in the environment naturally wherever deposits of uranium rocks were found. Radon, because it is a gas, is easily released into the environment through human disturbance such as mining or by escaping through natural cracks in the ground, where it emerges onto the surface or into the water. Radium could also be present in the rocks that mineral waters trickle over: in which case it infuses the water with radioactivity.

In Britain alone places such as Harrogate, Matlock Bath, Matlock, and Buxton were established to have radioactive waters of one kind or another. Facilities and treatments sprung up all based on the theory of mild radium therapy, that exposure to radium in small doses (most commonly administered by drinking radium laced water or by breathing in radioactive gas) is beneficial: triggering a chain of physiological reactions that boosts the immune system in many different ways.

Britain’s Radium Spa

The ancient spa town of Bath in Somerset began marketing itself as ‘Britain’s Radium Spa’ and the spa which was ‘Richest in Britain in Natural Radium Emanation’ and in doing so saw a significant upturn in the numbers of people visiting the town (which had been known for its beneficial waters since the Romans developing an extensive bathing complex there).

Such was the demand for radium water and associated treatments that the Great Western Railway added new services to the city as well as a new coach with a ‘ladies’ attendant for the comfort of lady invalids travelling alone’ between Paddington and Bath.

‘Radium water’ was on offer at the Pump Room in the town for two pence a glass. The practice of drinking the waters in the Grand Pump Room had been a popular past time for the fashionable elite for centuries in its luxurious surroundings. It was used by Jane Austen (who lived in the town from 1801 to 1806) in the novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion as the central setting for social activities and the meeting place for characters. Visitors could take out a subscription to the Pump Room which entitled them to drink the mineral waters often accompanied by the music of a small orchestra who performed during the ‘morning drinking hour.’ The cost was per glass, or you could buy a book of coupons that permitted you to have fourteen glasses of water in the ‘yellow looking tumblers’ that Dickens refers to in The Pickwick Papers.

The mineral water is drawn directly from the spring beneath the Pump Room: a powerful supply of over eight gallons per minute and then received into a circular marble basin surrounding a beautiful fountain.

Buxton, in Derbyshire, also had its own Pump Room, were health seekers could take a table overlooking St Anne’s well to watch the Well Attendants (an official title for the women that held this role), smartly dressed in their uniforms, dip a long-handled tool with a small glass attached into the warm water before serving. The well, which had been installed in 1912, was cleverly designed to form a showcase for the ‘constant flow of radioactive water’ and was also left open so that the visitors could breathe in the radioactive emanations at the same time as drinking them, for double the health benefits.   There was a small charge to enter the Pump Room, but once inside, drinking water was unlimited.  The water was particularly recommended for its diuretic properties:  it helped increase the amount of urine you produced and was therefore recommended as a treatment for heart failure, liver cirrhosis and some kidney diseases.

As at Bath, Buxton Natural Mineral Water (the forerunner of the ever-popular Buxton Mineral Water) could also be bought directly from the Spa’s General Manager or from shops in the town. The official guide to Buxton, in an excellent piece of cross-promotion, advertised the radioactive water as: ‘A British Water for British Whiskey!’

Reliance on water treatments and visits to spas dramatically declined in the 1940s and 1950s as conditions such as polio, tuberculosis and diphtheria were gradually conquered by the widespread use of vaccines. The introduction of the National Health Service in 1948 and a comprehensive range of healthcare meant people were even less willing to pay money to take a water cure.

But the town of Bath still proudly proclaimed its radioactive waters as a marketing tool well into the 1950s until it was forced to change its practices rather dramatically following Britain’s worst nuclear accident, at Windscale.  Over three days in October 1957, a fire raged at the Cumbrian nuclear site.

The resulting release of radioactive contamination (the main component was the artificial  isotope iodine-131) and the publicity surrounding the fears of radioactivity caused the staff of the spa treatment centre and the guides of the Roman Baths to request clarification on the risks they were exposed to in the course of their employment. The Medical Officer for Health at the time, Dr Astley Weston, called in the Radiological Protection Service, which made careful measurements of the waters. The results would have been a relief to the concerned staff members and their families: the levels of radium in the waters at Bath were one-tenth of what had been reported in 1912. With more powerful measuring devices, Dr Weston and his team concluded that the air and the water at Bath showed little likelihood of causing any harm. And implicit with this, there was no real prospect of them doing any good either.  Any mention of radioactivity was dropped from the spa brochures and the radium inhalatorium was turned into a gift shop before being demolished a few years later.

St Ann's Well, Buxton. Constant Flow of Radio Active Thermal Mineral WaterCredit: Credit: Collection of Derbyshire County Council, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery.
Britain’s Radium Spa. Credit: Collection of Lucy Jane Santos.
Radium Trink Kur. Credit: Collection of Lucy Jane Santos. Photograph: Sonee Photography
For more images from my collection visit


Lucy Jane Santos is an expert in the history of 20th century leisure, health and beauty, with a particular interest in (some might say obsession with) the cultural history of radioactivity. Writes & talks (a lot) about cocktails and radium.
Museum of Radium:
Twitter: @lucyjanesantos_
Instagram: lucyjanesantos_

Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium was published by Icon Books in July 2020

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Schools of Gardening for Ladies

By Judith M. Taylor

“Ladies” are rather thin on the ground these days but in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras middle and upper class women were usually known as ladies. We are all staunchly just “women” now. That had nothing to do with any sort of special title but was purely a matter of upbringing and status. As such they were largely unable to do many things we all enjoy today because it is was not “ladylike”. Only men were supposed to earn the family’s living. Overcoming that taboo began gaining traction during the time that women’s suffrage was on the horizon. I do not believe that was coincidental.

Until the recent past an unmarried woman of the more refined classes could not look forward to a rich and fulfilled life. If she lacked a dowry she was out of luck. The work open to her was very restricted. All that the Bronte sisters could do officially was to become teachers or governesses. The other choice was to become companion to a wealthy woman, as a “gofer”. Both occupations were lonely and considered declassé.  These women were invisible. Think of the poignant scene in “Jane Eyre” when the county ladies and their guests from London visit Mr Rochester in their elegant riding habits. Jane simply shrivels up.

An alternative title for this essay could be “Headstrong Women of Means”. Two such characters emerged in England at about the same time with very similar goals.  Both had the idea that training women of that sort to be gardeners would allow them to find rewarding work.

Frances, Viscountess Wolseley

Frances, Viscountess Wolseley, 1872 – 1936, viewed these women with a very sympathetic eye. She did not hesitate to call them bluntly surplus but unlike some of her consoeurs she took action. In her case she saw salvation for them through horticulture. Although she had been presented at court she never wanted to marry but instead devoted her life to horticultural education. She wrote several books but “Gardening for Women” and “ Women on the Land” are the best known and most germane. Her father, General Sir Garnet Wolesley was elevated to the peerage for his services to the country. She was his only child and quite unusually was allowed to inherit the title. After her death it went into abeyance.

Frances Evelyn Maynard, Countess of Warwick, always known as “Daisy”, 1861 – 1938, inherited very large fortunes from both her father and grandfather at the age of three, providing an income of £30,000 per annum, an astronomical sum back then. When she married Lord Brooke, who became the Earl of Warwick, this money was combined with that of her husband, also a very wealthy man.
At first she used the money to enjoy herself, throwing extravagant parties and disporting herself with men like the Prince of Wales. Contemporary portraits show her to be a very lovely young woman. She also wanted to create beautiful gardens and displayed her skill at the family estate at Easton in Essex.

Countess of Warwick - c. 1895

A severe scolding by the editor of the Socialist newspaper The Clarion, Robert Blatchford, about her wastefulness and how the money used for such a party could have fed hundreds of poor people or helped to educate some of them in the 1890s opened her eyes.  She had naively thought that the classic “trickle down” system would help to alleviate poverty in her area. It is eternally to her credit that she took the criticism to heart and mended her ways. Countess Warwick became a card carrying Socialist and thus an enemy of her class.

In a strange echo of Ellen Willmott’s fate she too ended up quite poor but for different reasons. The bulk of her income came from the products of her lands. When the agricultural depression hit in 1893 and lasted for several years her income dropped sharply. Huge quantities of grain from Ukraine and Canada were a glut on the market, driving   down prices. She also spent very freely but not as wantonly as Miss Willmott. She used her money to benefit others less fortunate than she was. Her younger son only inherited the rather paltry sum of £37,000 when she died.

Among her significant projects were a school for fine needlework to encourage young women to earn a living and the school for agriculture and gardening which she began in Reading but later transferred to her husband’s estate at Studley in Warwickshire. This was not too far from Birmingham. The countess campaigned for better housing and many basic improvements in the Darwinian world of late Victorian Britain.

From about 1890 to 1930 schools of this type thrived. They were not unique to the British Isles but could be found on the Continent and to a lesser extent in the rest of the English speaking world. Some graduates did indeed go on to find work but it took time to overcome built in prejudice. Sir William Thistelton -Dyer, who took over direction of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew from his father in law Sir Joseph Hooker, grudgingly hired a small group of women as general gardeners in about 1900. To keep prurience at a minimum he insisted they wear long brown knickerbockers and strong boots while they worked. This policy backfired. It is said that trainloads of frisky men would travel down to the gardens and leer at the women as they worked.

Dyer expected the women to do exactly the same work as the men and gave them the same pay. In the evenings they had to join study groups and improve their education.  It could be a very long day. The experiment lasted for a few years. Some women left to get married, some found gratifying work but a small number stayed on to enjoy tiny promotions. They came back into their own very strongly once Word War I got under way. The men all left to sign up for the forces and women became essential to keep the garden running.

Eventually it was no longer bizarre for women to hold important gardening positions both private and public and the schools started to merge with colleges and universities or other large organizations which now would accept their candidates.

In all there must have been between twenty five and thirty schools. The number is not exact as some schools run out of her own house by an amateur only lasted two or three years and were not counted. Some graduates left to found their own schools in the United Kingdom and abroad. A graduate of the Studley School, Miss Judith Waldron-Skinner, founded the California School of Gardening for Women in Hayward, California, not far from San Francisco. It lasted from 1921 to 1936 when it merged with Stanford University. The premises are now a shopping mall with its parking lot.

One of the most famous of these schools, Waterperry near Oxford, was started in 1932 by Miss Beatrix Havergal, a graduate of Studley. She was taken on as the groundkeeper at a private boarding school for girls where she laid out the tennis courts. While there she became friends with the woman in charge of the housekeeping. They left together and pooled their savings to start their own school of gardening. Vita Sackville West,1892 – 1962. creator of the astonishing gardens of Sissinghurst Castle in Kent, managed to snag two of Miss Havergal’s best students, Pamela Schwerdt and Sybille Kreuzberger. They ran Sissinghurst for more than thirty years after Vita’s death. Waterperry closed at the end of 1970 and Miss Havergal died in 1971.

Beatrix Havergal

Lady Wolesley opened her school in 1901 at her own estate in Sussex, Glynde. At first she ran it from her house but two years later took on property about five miles away to be the college proper. All the schools required a certain level of discipline in order to function but the pupils were there by choice, paying hard earned money and not likely to mess about. Lady Wolesley came from a military background and set up much stricter rules with rewards and punishments for good or bad behaviour. She created a board of very prominent honorary directors to indicate the high level of her aspirations. They included Gertrude Jekyll, William Robinson and Ellen Willmott. The latter was rather a joke as Ellen Willmott wanted no part of women gardeners at any time.

The curriculum at each school tended to be much the same but there was a broad range of optional subjects which varied with the vision of the principals and what was available in their districts. Apart from botany and all the requirements to pass the examinations of the  Royal Horticultural Society, young women could learn how to manage a market garden, keep bees, keep poultry or run a dairy farm. Market gardening was an important reality. In some cases selling their produce at local market helped to fund the school. That was the case with Miss Havergal at Waterperry. Formal landscape architecture was also taught by specialists like Edwin Lutyens who came just for those sessions.

All these private schools required a fairly substantial fee for several reasons. It could be up to £100 per annum which was a lot in those days. One reason was simply to pay the expenses. The other was to keep the clientele at a distinct social level. The daughter of a farm labourer or cook could never save up enough money to enroll in such a school.

 In 1870 Parliament passed the Education Act. While it had many shortcomings it was the first step in making public education free for all children up to the age of fourteen. Previously elementary education had been solely in the hands of the Church of England which only let go kicking and screaming. Groups like the Fabians were also busy trying to get adult education adopted as a principle. 

The London County Council was an enlightened body and set up institutes for adult learning at strategic points across the city. It was there that a shop assistant or solicitor’s clerk could go after work and learn enough to get a better job. Gardening and horticulture were taught at some of these places, mainly in the south of London. For a fee of five shillings rather that many pounds they could learn botany, nature study, elementary gardening skills and other necessary subjects. As it is stays light until 10 pm in the summer such classes were possible.

Another public institution accepted women graduates very early. The University College at Reading had an agricultural department whose classes were open both to men and women over sixteen years of age from 1893. The director was the highly qualified John Percival from Cambridge. This college had very extensive grounds and also took advantage of its proximity to a major seed company, Messrs Sutton and Son. The field trips were very educational. Eleven acres were devoted to orchards and the curriculum was broad. Students were prepared for the higher horticultural examinations. The  cost was intermediate between the expensive private schools and the subsidized LCC classes.

Recalling this era is a labour of love. Women were really getting into their stride. If you wanted to earn your own living in an honorable and productive way what better than to become a professional gardener. Its freedom compared very favourably with working in shop or an office. The results were very rewarding in so many ways and quite often included a nice cottage on the bigger estates.


Wolesley, Viscountess Frances Garnett 1908, re issued  2012

Gardening for Women

London               Forgotten Books     

Way, Twigs  2006

Virgins, Weeders and Queens

Gloucester        Sutton Publishing Limited


Judith M. Taylor MD is a graduate of Somerville College and the Oxford University Medical School and is a board certified neurologist. She practiced neurology in New York and since retiring has written six books on horticultural history as well as numerous articles and book reviews on the same subject.

Dr Taylor’s books include The Olive in California: history of an immigrant tree (2000), Tangible Memories: Californians and their gardens 1800 – 1950 (2003), The Global Migrations of Ornamental Plants: how the world got into your garden (Missouri Botanical Garden Press 2009), Visions of Loveliness: the work of forgotten flower breeders (Ohio University Press 2014) and An Abundance of Flowers: more great flower breeders of the past (Ohio University Press  2018).  In 2019 she published A Five Year Plan for Geraniums: growing flowers commercially in East Germany 1946 – 1989. This book has recently been shortlisted for a prize from the Council on Botanical and Horticultural Libraries.
Dr Taylor’s web site is:

Monday, June 29, 2020

When Kensington Palace became a Royal Residence

by Andrea Zuvich

There’s something about Kensington Palace that immediately conjures up the word glamorous. Perhaps it is because in recent memory, it has been the home of notable, glamorous royals such as the late Princess Margaret, the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and also because of its current inhabitant, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. But what we now know of Kensington Palace is very different from what it once was. As I had the great honour to have been on the original team that developed the Garden History Tours at Kensington Palace, I learned first-hand about the history and rather more humble origins of the great royal palace – and I hope to share some of that here with you all today. 

Before modern Kensington became the playground of the world’s richest people, it was a sleepy verdant little village renowned for its purity of air. Royals have only inhabited the house since the late 17th-century, when William III and Mary II moved in. But the history of the land goes back farther than that. According to Kensington Palace by W.J. Loftie, a late Victorian historian, the land upon which Kensington Palace now lies was (in the 14th century) on an area called Neyt Manor, one of three manorial estates owned by the Abbey of Westminster. Indeed, archival documents and archaeological assessments from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea state there was a Neyt Manor in 1386. Whatever building was left standing is believed to have been demolished in 1602.

A Jacobean house was built in 1605 for Sir George Coppin three years after the Neyt Manor structure was razed. Following Coppin’s death in 1619, it was purchased by the Finch family. Much later on, the house was named “Nottingham House” because Sir Heneage Finch was the Earl of Nottingham (since 1681).

In 1688, what is known as the “Glorious Revolution” occurred in which James II was ousted from power by his nephew/son-in-law William of Orange and James’s daughter/William’s wife and cousin, Mary. In 1689, William and Mary were crowned King and Queen, and they soon set out to find where to live. Why? You may well wonder, considering that they already had St. James’s Palace and Whitehall Palace. But Whitehall rested in an area by the River Thames that was full of fog, smoke, and generally unpleasant air. This wreaked havoc with King William’s chronic asthma and so more verdant climes were sought. They soon purchased Nottingham House from Daniel Finch, the 2nd Earl of Nottingham (who happened to be his Secretary of State), for a whopping £14,000-18,000.

After this, they hired Sir Christopher Wren to expand and modernise the Jacobean building into something bigger and more fashionable. Construction work went on between 1689-1690. Unfortunately, Mary was a bit impatient with what she perceived to be the slow progress of the building. This can probably be attributed to her desire to make a comfortable home for William. She wrote to her beloved:

“the schafolds are up, the windows must be boarded up, but as soon as it is done, your own apartment may be furnished.”

Her over-eagerness to get the building works completed meant that the workman built too quickly, and so the quality of their work became a secondary consideration. Mary wrote (original spelling maintained): “This made me go often to Kinsington to hasten the worckmen, and I was so impatient to beat that place, imagining to find more ease there.”

As a result of this, sadly, November 1689 saw part of the newly-built building fall down ‘killing seven or eight workman’ – and this tragedy also occurred during renovation work to Hampton Court Palace. Mary characteristically blamed herself for these deaths.

Her diary continues: “This I often reproved my self for and at last it pleased God to shew me the uncertainty of all things…All this much as it was the fault of the worckmen, humanly speacking, yet shewed me the hand of God plainly in it, and I was truly humbled.”

The gardens were redone at this time as well, with heavily manicured box hedging – elaborately formed in the formal Baroque (modern) style which was then so popular. William and Mary spent nearly the same amount on these magnificent gardens as they did on the house! They both loved gardening and their previous homes in the Dutch Republic (The Netherlands), especially Paleis Het Loo, also had wonderfully symmetrical parterres in this elegant style. Sadly, none of their Kensington gardens exist to this day!

In 1690, the interior of the house began to be decorated with glorious woodcarvings from Baroque carver Grinling Gibbons. Visitors to Kensington Palace’s State Apartments can see these for themselves, in the King’s Presence Chamber and in Queen Mary’s Gallery. Outside the Queen’s Entrance, the monogram (entwined initials) of William and Mary is clearly visible above the doorway.

Mary died from haemorrhagic smallpox in 1694, plunging her husband into a deep grief. John Evelyn, the diarist and courtier, visited the now-sole-monarch William in 1696 at Kensington House and said of it:

“I went to the King’s house at Kensington with some Ladys: The House is very noble, tho not greate; the Gallerys furnished with all the best Pictures of all the Houses, of Titian, Raphael, Correggio, Holbein, Julio Romano, Bassan, V. Dyke: Tintoret, & others, with a world of Porcelain; a pretty private Library; the Garden about it very delicious.”

King William III died in 1702, leaving the throne to his sister-in-law, Anne, who became the last of the Stuarts. The famous statue of William III that faces High Street Kensington is a 20th-century addition – a gift from Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany in 1907. I hope that those who are able to visit Kensington Palace in the future will take a moment and think about this – about the time when Kensington Palace first became a royal residence.

All photos © Andrea Zuvich.
·         Ashworth, Helen. York Place Kensington. The Heritage Network, via Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Access date: 27/02/2015.
·         Beard, Geoffrey. The Works of Grinling Gibbons. John Murray Publishers Ltd, London, 1989.
·         Evelyn, John. Diary.
·         Faulkner, Patrick A. Nottingham House: John Thorpe and his Relation to Kensington Palace.  Archaeology Data Service. Access date: 27/02/2015.
·         Howard, Philip. The Royal Palaces. Hamish Hamilton, London, 1970.
·         Loftie, W.J. Kensington Palace. 1898.
·         Mary II, Queen. Letters & Memoirs, 1689.
·         Tinniswood, Adrian. His Invention So Fertile: A Life of Christopher Wren. Pimlico, London, 2002.
·         Williams, Neville. Royal Homes of Great Britain from Medieval to Modern Times. Lutterworth Press, London, 1971.
·        WORK 38/428. Sir George Coppin’s House, Kensington. National Archives, Kew, UK.

This is an Editor’s Choice from the #EHFA archives, originally published February 28, 2015.


Andrea Zuvich is an independent seventeenth-century historian and anthropologist specialising in the House of Stuart (1603-1714). Zuvich obtained degrees in History and Anthropology at the University of Central Florida and is the host of the popular ‘The Seventeenth Century Lady’ blog. Zuvich is also a historical consultant for TV, film, and radio. She most recently appeared in BBC Four’s ‘Charles I: Downfall of a King’. She was one of the original developers of and leaders on the award-winning Garden History Tours at Kensington Palace and has written six books about the Stuart period. Zuvich is also a trained actress and professional voice-over artist, narrating audiobooks and providing voice work for several mobile apps.

Connect with Andrea on social media:

Friday, June 26, 2020

Elizabeth Evans, Businesswoman and Philanthropist

By Lauren Gilbert

Elizabeth Evans was the daughter of a wealthy, self-made businessman.  She married a man who was the son of a businessman, who was successful himself in his family's business, and, after his death, married his half-brother.  During her second marriage, as a partner in the bank and businesses, Elizabeth utilized talents to make her mark as a businesswoman and as a philanthropist.  During the Georgian era, women were theoretically subsumed into their husbands.  However, there were some women who managed to make their marks in the business world.  Elizabeth Evans was one of them.

Elizabeth Strutt was born sometime around 1755-1758 at Darley, Derbyshire, England. She was the second child and first daughter born to Jedediah Strutt and his wife Elizabeth Woollatt. Jedediah was born to a farming family on July 25, 1726 in South Normanton, Derbyshire, England. He became a cotton spinner and invented the Derby Rib Machine for making stockings, and was in partnership with Richard Awkright in cotton manufacturing. In partnership with his wife’s brother, Richard Awkright and others, Jedediah built mills, becoming a wealthy and influential man. He died May 6, 1797 in Derbyshire and was buried in the Unitarian chapel in Field Row, Belper. Elizabeth’s mother Elizabeth Woollatt was born in 1729 in Belper, Derbyshire, England. She married Jedediah on September 24, 1755 in Blackwell by Ale, Derbyshire, England, and died in May 1774 in London.

Photo of porttrait of Jedediah Strutt by Joseph Wright of Derby
taken by Nero Reising-Wikimedia Commons-Creative Commons license
Jedediah became a member of the Unitarian Dissenters, and had a strong belief in philanthropy. His church founded schools and churches, and supported reform. Among other things, Jedediah built housing for workers. He built and educated his family on the Unitarian principles.

Elizabeth had three brothers and one sister: William Strutt (born July 20, 1756, died December 9, 1830), Martha Strutt (born 1760, died 1793), George Benson Strutt (born 1761, died in September, 1841) and Joseph Strutt (born 1765, died Jan 13, 1844). After their mother’s death, her father did not return to his young family for nine months, leaving Elizabeth (in her mid-teens) responsible for her brothers and sister as well as the family home, farm and dairy.

Jedediah Strutt believed in education. Elizabeth’s father may have provided her with a governess or sent her to school. He provided her with books, which he expected her study, and she also had French lessons. She also encouraged her younger brothers William and Joseph in their studies.

Jedediah Strutt subsequently married Anne Cantrell in 1781; she died in 1802 (they had no children).

William Strutt, oldest son of Jedediah Strutt,
by Ramsay Richard Reinagle, Wikimedia Commons-Public Domain

Elizabeth married William Evans on October 30, 1785 at St Peter’s Church, Derby, Derbyshire England. William was born about 1755, and was the elder son of Thomas Evans who had founded a bank in 1771, owned paper mills at Darley and other ventures. William and his half- brother Walter were partners in the bank with their father by 1780. The family built the Boars Head Cotton Mill, which was fully operational in 1782-1783 at Darley Abbey, where they had other business interests.

Darley Abbey-Boars Head Mills
taken by Dave Bevis August 21, 2015-
Wikimedia Commons-Creative Commons license
Thomas Evans and his children first lived at Darley Fields (later renamed Darley House), construction of which had begun in 1791. William and Elizabeth took up residence at some point. The Strutts and the Evans families were known to one another.  They were involved in various improvements in the community of Derby, such as streets, lighting bridges, etc. and did business together. (William and Walter’s sister Barbara married Elizabeth’s brother William, so there were other family as well as business ties.) 

William and Elizabeth had six children: Elizabeth (Bessie), born in 1786; William, born in 1788; Frances, born in 1790; George, born in 1789, died in 1804 (he drowned at the age of fifteen); Ellen, born in 1795 and Thomas, born in 1796, died April 4, 1797. Upon her marriage, Elizabeth also took on Samuel Evans, her husband’s illegitimate infant son born in 1785. Samuel was raised by Elizabeth, but not as the eldest son and heir. 

According to the DERBY MERCURY of Thursday, March 24, 1796, William died the previous Friday (March 18, 1796). Upon William’s death, Elizabeth was appointed a partner in the bank. Their infant son Thomas died not long after William. Their combined deaths were devastating to Elizabeth.

There was a connection at that time to Samuel Taylor Coleridge through their Unitarian faith and ideals. He became acquainted with the Strutt family in 1796. Elizabeth wanted to engage him as tutor to her children, and he intended to accept, but both families objected (possibly because of Coleridge’s political ties, possibly because of a concern that Elizabeth might be too fond of him), so the plan was abandoned.

Subsequently, Elizabeth married her late husband’s half-brother Walter two years later in 1798. They had one child, Arthur, born in 1800. Available data indicates Elizabeth began to become active in the bank with Walter at this time. Massive expansion of the mills occurred between 1818-1821. She also had partnership in other Evans businesses. Her brother William continued the cotton factory and paper mills at Darley. She and Walter and their family lived at Darley House.

Elizabeth continued in the Unitarian faith, and both she and Walter were deeply involved in philanthropy. Elizabeth was also interested in political reform (her correspondence indicates Elizabeth had abolitionist sympathies). The Evans family also built workers’ homes, with homes at Darley Abbey as early as 1795 and possibly earlier. School rooms were also built between 1797-1800. Walter also oversaw the building of a church.

In her mature years, Elizabeth continued in the bank partnership until she retired from that in 1808. She retired from her other business activities gradually, and was completely retired by 1810. Her father-in-law Thomas Evans died March 1, 1814 in Derby. Elizabeth died in early 1836 at approximately age 78, and was buried March 24, 1836 at Darley Abbey. According to the DERBYSHIRE COURIER of September 14, 1839, Walter died the previous Monday, (September 9, 1839) at Darley. He was buried at Darley Abbey on September 14, 1839.

Her stepson Samuel was an active partner in the bank. Her son William took less interest in the bank and other family businesses. He was knighted, served as a Member of Parliament, and settled into life as a politician and country landowner at Allestree Hall.


Dawes, Margaret and Selwyn, Nesta. Women who made money WOMEN PARTNERS IN BRITISH PRIVATE BANKS 1752-1906. 2010: Trafford Publishing, Bloomington, IN. Derwent Valley Visitor Centre. “Jedediah Strutt” (pamphlet-pdf). HERE “Belper Unitarian Chapel” (pamphlet-pdf). No author or date of publication shown. HERE “Darley House” by Steve Orme, posted February 27, 2017. HERE DERBYSHIRE MISCELLANY. Vol. 8 Autumn 1979, Part 6. “The Borough of Derby between 1780 and 1810” by John E. Heath. PP. 181-197. HERE Burke, Sir Bernard. A GENEALOGICAL AND HERALDIC HISTORY OF THE LANDED GENTRY OF GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND, Volume 1. 1882: London: Harrison, Pall Mall. HERE ; Lee, Sidney (ed.). DICTIONARY OF NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY, Volume 19. “Strutt, Jedediah (1726-1797). Pp. 64-67. 1909: London, Smith, Elder and Co. HERE THE COLERIDGE BULLETIN The Journal of the Friends of Coleridge, NS 28 Winter 2006. “Coleridge and the Unitarian Ladies” by Felicity James. HERE “Evans, William (1788-1856), of Allestree, Derbys. by Simon Harratt. HERE “W & W Evans & Co.” (no author or post date shown). HERE

An avid reader, Lauren Gilbert was introduced to English authors early in life. Lauren has a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal arts English with a minor in Art History. A long time member of JASNA, she has presented a number of programs. She lives in Florida with her husband. Her first book, HEYERWOOD A Novel, is available. A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT is her newest release. Both can by found at Amazon and other booksellers. A long-time contributor to the English Historical Fiction Authors blog, her work is included in both volumes of CASTLES, CUSTOMS AND KINGS: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors. She is also working on a nonfiction book about powerful women in Regency era Europe for Pen & Sword books. For more information, visit her website HERE.