Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Keeping it Real

by Rob Godfrey

You may not know it but I am a bit of a vegetable growing geek. I've spent years attempting to grow all sorts of stuff in the rather quaint hope of one-day feeding myself entirely from my own efforts. Never mind that I don't live on a smallholding or the fact that there's a very convenient supermarket less than 400 yards from the house constantly tempting me to eat all manner of processed food from all over the planet.

My curiosity of where these foods come from has lead me to get hold of and read some unusual books. For example, there's Tim Ecott's Vanilla, The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan or The Potato by Larry Zuckerman. If it can be eaten I've probably got a book about it. A lot of these books have a strong social history aspect to them that gives you some interesting insights into our past.

This growing obsession isn't restricted to my back garden though. Whenever we go on walks I'm always on the lookout for things to eat from the hedgerow. I can now spot a wild Sloe tree at over 100 yards and even recognise such exotic things as Chicken in the Wood (an edible wild fungus) growing out the side of an oak tree. There's plenty of different wild things to eat near where I live, it is just unfortunate that there's not enough of them to sustain me for more than a couple of meals once or twice a year.

What's this got to do with writing fiction? Well as every gardener/forager knows, everything has its season. For example, Blackthorn shrubs are literally smothered in perfect white blossom in early spring; to be followed in the Autumn with the near black and exceedingly tart Sloe berries (but an essential and very important constituent of Sloe gin). If the plum tree is heavily laden with its delicious fruit then you can be sure its September; Freshly picked strawberries mean its early summer. Are you following?

So when setting a scene or mood for a story you can include all sorts of clues as to the time of year other than the weather. I often use these sorts of clues myself when writing to give a sense of a time and a place. If its early spring the trees are still bare but there maybe daffodills, celandine, snowdrops and even bluebells in hte hedgerows and woods. Later in the spring there will be all kinds of fruit tree blossom and then in early summer masses of wild flowers in meadows. With a little knowledge you can tell what time of year it is , almost to the month, at a glance at what's flowering or fruiting. This works the other way too. If someone is writing about July you could expect to have roses in bloom, raspberries and strawberries to pick in the garden, etc.

This is all good fun until someone breaks the rules. Then it hurts. I recall watching Warhorse. A piece of drama partly set in France in WW1. But the thing I remember is a scene in a cottage; in the shot is a bowl of fruit. What's in the bowl? Strawberries, grapes and apples. Oh dear, is it early summer or autumn? There weren't supermarkets with refrigeration in France in 1916, were there? Perhaps I need a book on the history of refrigeration? But then it gets worse, the camera pans outside and the apple trees are covered in blossom as the birds tweet away in the background. Now I'm really confused. I learned this much at school: Fruit follows flowers, or it used to. Apples flower in the spring and then fruit in the autumn. Perhaps the French developed a fruit tree that produces flowers and fruit simultaneously? Something is not right and its bothering me.

What time of year did you say it was?

Ok so maybe I'm being a little pedantic (I'm just saying that, but I don't mean it). But if you are going to evoke a time and a place, please make sure it's consistent. Luckily we have the internet and you can find out about almost anything if you put your mind to it. Here's an example: A feature of my Year of the Celt books is a small diagram at the start of each chapter. This indicates the time of year and the phases of the moon:

Moon phases 499-498BC

I imagine that the moon was an important part of people's lives in the past, not least because it was a useful source of illumination at night; with a little knowledge it could also help people predict high and low tides on the coast. Of course it has many romantic connotations too. So off I went searching on the internet. Luckily I located a NASA website that actually has tables of moon phases going back 6000 years! So here was a really useful find. I have set my story in the year 499BC. It begins just after the Samhain festival that traditionally was held at the end of autumn/beginning of winter. To us that's October the 31st. The NASA website tells me there was a full moon on October 28th 499BC. So when my young lovers end up outside at night in the snow a few nights after Samhain, I can safely say there was a full moon in the sky.

But how far do you take this? There's one thing you can't do, and that is ignore all the details, you could seriously undermine the credibility of your writing. I admit that I've probably gone a bit overboard here, but if I spot a television aerial on top of a chimney pot when I'm supposed to be watching a Jane Austen drama it just makes me think the producers have been sloppy.

How can you be sure you don't make these mistakes? Firstly, if you are not sure that something should be included in your story because it's in the wrong location (continent?), it's the wrong time of year or it's not been invented yet, then don't include it unless you can find some supporting evidence for it. It might be easier to check things out in advance:

Not Now Dear!

Bear in mind that most growing things look different through the seasons. A lot of native trees lose their leaves in the winter and of course this is often used in describing a backdrop (barren, gaunt branches, creaking under a fierce winter storm, etc). But remember that in the past the British Isles supported a different and much smaller set of trees than it does today. Horse & Sweet Chestnuts for example did not arrive until the Romans brought them.

Here are some trees that are only recent introductions: European Larch, Horse Chestnut, Sweet Chestnut, Walnut, Sycamore, Cedars, Cypress, London Plane, Douglas Fir, to name just a few. Even desert Apples and Pears are Roman introductions and not widely available until past the 13th century. Many flowers and flowering shrubs are introductions from the Americas and beyond; so beware of scenes with Tudor royalty resting on a summer's day against a backdrop of Bougainvillea and Magnolia, they had been dead for nearly 200 years before the shrubs were first planted in Britain.

The ghost of Henry VIII in the park.

Food glorious food.

I mentioned in a previous article the likely diet of Iron Age Britons. Of course not everything was available in any one place and in particular in any one season. You could be forgiven for thinking that fruit and vegetables are available all year round. All you have to do is go down to your local supermarket and you can get fresh strawberries, aubergines, chilies, etc any time you like.

However we can do this because have two major advantages over our ancestors. The first is refrigeration, so we can keep produce cool or frozen and so extend its travel and storage life.

The second is because we have access to food from all over the world because of the availability of reliable and cheap bulk transport; so much so that we take for granted many foods that people as recently as the 1500s would never have heard of. The discovery of the Americas eventually made available to us the potato of course, but also sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers (sweet and chili), Cashew and Brazil nuts. Turkeys were first brought to England in 1526 when an enterprising young trader called William Strickland imported six wild turkeys into Bristol.

Male wild Turkey.

So look out for a medieval knight feasting on a pile of potatoes and one of these big birds - spot the Turkey now?

Talking of refrigeration, it is of course a method of preserving food. However, go back just a century and you find that both the fridge and freezer have disappeared. Head back a little further in time and the tin-can has vanished too. Not only that but bottles and pottery become relatively more expensive and only available to the rich. You would soon find yourself (unless you were seriously rich) essentially limited to smoking, salting or and/or drying your food to store it. Even beer did not start to be bottled commercially until the second half of the 17th century.

What about bread? In the middle ages food was served on squares of older stale bread (trenchers). When the meal was finished the bread could be eaten (having absorbed the flavours of the meal) or perhaps thrown to the dogs in richer households. What were people using to eat their food with? Knives have been used for many thousands of years to kill or harvest food and then carve it up prior to cooking and eating. Spoons have a similar long history of use. The fork however is a much later introduction and it was not in widespread use until the 18th century. Don't forget that for the vast majority of people a knife and hand would have to suffice. The rich as always might well be using ornate cutlery when tucking into their banquet; all the while their fellow peasants would have to make do with the bare minimum.

All at sea

There are many fine stories of epic sea voyages on sailing ships or of great sea battles. However, here is another area where it's easy to get your facts wrong. Sailing ships have been used for thousands of years of course. However, the technology available for navigation has only developed slowly. Did you know that the magnetic compass was not widely available in Europe until the 14th century; it was another century before reliable charts became available. These early charts lacked any grid for longitude and latitude as these measurements were not widely available.

Fra Mauro map c1450. Note no longitude or latitude markings.

The astrolabe dates back to ancient Greece, when it was used by astronomers to help tell time, but was first used by mariners in the late 15th century. It was used to measure the altitude of the Sun and stars to determine latitude.

Astrolabe made in Paris 1400AD.

Even the telescope was not available until the 17th century. More sophisticated aids like the sextant arrived in the 18th century when around 1730, an English mathematician, John Hadley, and an American inventor, Thomas Godfrey, independently invented the sextant. The sextant provided mariners with a more accurate means of determining the angle between the horizon and the Sun, moon, or stars in order to calculate latitude.

Early Sextant.

Latitude then, could be found relatively accurately using celestial navigation. However, longitude could only be estimated, at best. This was because the measurement of longitude is made by comparing the time-of-day difference between the mariner's starting location and new location. Even some of the best clocks of the early eighteenth century could lose as much as 10 minutes per day, which translated into a computational error of 242 kilometers (150 miles) or more.

Finally in 1764, British clockmaker John Harrison (1693–1776) invented the seagoing chronometer. This invention was the most important advance to marine navigation in the three millenia that open-ocean mariners had been going to sea. In 1779, British naval officer and explorer Captain James Cook (1728–1779) used Harrison's chronometer to circumnavigate the globe.

So if you are thinking of writing a swashbuckling tale of the adventures of Christopher Columbus, please don't have him peer through his telescope across some unknown sea, you know I'll only get upset.


Rob Godfrey’s website

Author of the Historical Fiction set in the year 500BC: Year of the Celt: Imbolc
Amazon US
Amazon UK

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Princess of Parallelograms

by Lauren Gilbert

Anne Isabella Lady Byron

She was born May 17, 1792 at Elemore Hall, Pittington, Durham as Anne Isabella Milbanke (nicknamed Annabella), daughter and only child of Sir Ralph Milbanke, 6th Baronet, and his wife the Hon. Lady Judith Milbanke. Her aunt was Elizabeth Milbanke Lamb, Lady Melbourne, mother-in-law of Caroline Lamb. She was something of a country cousin to the young Lambs, growing up in Seaham in County Durham.

Annabella was an intellectual, widely read and interested in mathematics and astronomy, which she studied with a tutor. She was also sincerely religious. Unfortunately, she seemed not to have much of a sense of humor. Her parents were enlightened, and were early proponents of inoculation, with Annabella and her adopted sister being among the first to be inoculated. Her father was a Member of Parliament and an outspoken abolitionist. She was raised to think about the poor, the condition of tenants on the estate, and education.

Annabella had her first season in 1810, and met George Gordon, Lord Byron at a waltzing party given by her aunt, Lady Melbourne March 25, 1810. Although Caroline Lamb and others were pursuing him, he still noticed Annabella. Her greatest attractions for him seemed to be her indifference, aloofness and disapproval combined with her status as an heiress. She was very different from Caroline and other young ladies who pursued and idolized him, which also piqued his interest. She was only twenty years old, not sophisticated, and was modest, even rather prim. She was also attractive.

An added quirk to the situation: Lady Melbourne, aunt of one target and mother-in-law of another, was a friend and confidante to Lord Byron. It was in writing to her that he referred to Annabella as “my Princess of Parallelograms.”

Byron first asked Annabella to marry him in 1812 and she refused him. However, they began to correspond, discussing literature. By all accounts he found her refusal difficult to accept, firstly because of wounded vanity and secondly because he didn’t know how to deal with her. She seems to have confused him. He continued his confidences to Lady Melbourne, admitting that he was not in love with Annabella although he admired her, and continued his affairs.

Lord Byron sent a half-hearted second proposal by letter dated September 9, 1814, to Annabella. Available data indicates he expected her to refuse again. However, she accepted. Despite Byron’s efforts to postpone the ceremony, the couple was married privately, by special license, at Seaham Hall in County Durham on January 2, 1815.

It would appear that their wedding and honeymoon were an unmitigated disaster, between his sulking, his quarrelsome attitude, and his streak of malice that enjoyed shocking or hurting her. In spite of his best efforts, they seem to have had moments of closeness. However, there were intimations of abuse of Annabella on his part, including sodomy, which surfaced later. Also during the honeymoon, his relationship with his half-sister Augusta became a problem; he expressed his affection for Augusta to Annabella, comparing Annabella to her unfavorably and implying a more than brotherly love for her.

The Byrons rented a house in London from Lady Bessborough, mother of Caroline Lamb. Gossip regarding an implication of an incestuous relationship between Byron and Augusta began circulating. In the late stages of pregnancy, Annabella feared Byron might have been going mad. In November 1815, she wrote to Byron’s half-sister Augusta Leigh and told her of Byron's moods and behavior. In answer to her sister-in-law's letter, Augusta traveled to Byron’s home to help.

At the beginning of her visit, Byron was openly affectionate to Augusta, and let Annabella know that she was a poor second. Augusta did not seem to realize that she was causing problems and tried to give Annabella useful advice on dealing with Byron’s moods. As Annabella’s pregnancy progressed, Byron became even more hateful, telling her he hoped she would die in childbirth and their child with her. On December 10, 1815, Annabella gave birth to their daughter whom they named Augusta Ada (soon to be known only as Ada). Byron's mood deteriorated and he rejected both Annabella and Augusta with violence and bitterness.

On January 6, 1815, after threatening to bring an actress into their home, Byron ordered Annabella out of their house. Her mother had invited Annabella, Byron and their daughter to visit her in Leicestershire; he told her to go and take their child with her. She left London for her parents’ home January 15, 1815. He did not say goodbye, and she never saw him again. Annabella wrote to him a few times, trying to preserve something, with no success.

Once ensconced in her parents’ home, Annabella’s ordeal finally came out, and they consulted an attorney about a separation. Ironically, February 8, 1816, Byron wrote to Annabella, saying “…yet I still cling to the wreck of my hopes, before they sink for ever. Were you, then, never happy with me...”(1)

The rumors about Byron’s relationship with his half-sister began circulating again, and he left England April 25, 1816 after signing the deed of separation, under a cloud, and never returned. (It did not help his situation that Caroline Lamb published her novel GLENARVON at this time, a sensational novel in which he, Lady Melbourne and several other leaders of society were thinly disguised and attacked.)

Byron died in 1824 in Greece, actively participating in the Greek war for independence. On his deathbed, he supposedly left a message for Annabella with his man, Fletcher, but apparently Fletcher was unable to understand most of what he said. Fletcher visited her but could not tell her much of Byron’s last words. Supposedly, after his death, Byron’s autobiography was purchased from the publisher and destroyed by Annabella.

After Byron’s death, Annabella occupied herself with raising and educating her daughter, which led to a continued interest in education for the poor. She established the Ealing Grove School and an agricultural School as well. She also became interested in improving slums and women’s issues. In 1856, she told her friend Harriet Beecher Stowe the story of her marriage to Lord Byron.Annabella died of breast cancer on May 16, 1860, and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery in London. After her death, her friend, Ms. Beecher Stowe published her story in 1869, including the allegations of incest, which damaged Byron’s reputation irretrievably.


(1) Kelahan, Michael (comp.)THE WORLD’S GREATEST LOVE LETTERS. New York: Fall River Press, 2011; p. 191,    and  Lord Byron: Selected Letters.


Blyth, Henry.CARO The Fatal Passion. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc. 1972.

Chapman, Caroline and Dormer, Jane.ELIXABETH AND GEORGIANA The Duke of Devonshire and His Two Duchesses.Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2002.

Kelahan, Michael (comp.)THE WORLD’S GREATEST LOVE LETTERS. New York: Fall River Press, 2011. “Lord Byron: Selected Letters.”

“Milbanke, Anne Isabella.” Published 1/1/2006, updated 7/14/2012.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. “Noel (Nee’ Milbanke) Anne Isabella suo jure Baroness Wentworth and Lady Byron. (1792-1820) Philanthropist” By Joan Pierson.

The Lady and The Poet. The World of Lady Byron.

Image of Lady Byron: Wikimedia Commons


Lauren Gilbert is the author of  HEYERWOOD A Novel, a historical novel set in the late Georgian/Regency era.  Another novel  is due out later this year.  She lives in Florida with her husband.  Visit her website at to find out more!

Giveaway! St. Louis' Knight by Helena P. Schrader

Helena is giving away an ecopy of St. Louis' Knight to an international winner. You can read about the book HERE. Please return to enter the giveaway by commenting below. Be sure to include your contact information.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Life of Arthur Tudor Prince of Wales

by Stephanie Moore

The battle of Bosworth in 1485 was the turning point for Henry Tudor. With Richard III killed, Henry, son of Edmund Tudor Earl of Richmond and Margaret Beaufort, took the throne and was crowned Henry VII of England and then married Elizabeth of York. Many say Henry took Elizabeth of York as his wife to end the War of the Roses and to heal a country divided. Elizabeth was the daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, sister to Edward V and niece to Richard III. In 1486 not long after Henry and Elizabeth’s marriage, Elizabeth who was attended by her mother’s favorite midwife, Marjory Cobbe, gave birth to a son who was named Arthur, her eldest and heir to the throne.

Many say that Arthur was named after the legendary King Arthur. For example, ‘Starkey attributes the naming of Arthur to the Arthurian legend but Julia Fox clearly states that Arthur was named for a star prominent at his nativity – probably Arcturus. (Source: Anglo, British History, p. 32 and note 2.) She believes that the Arthurian Legend became attached to Arthur much later.’

It was customary for women to have their lying in for a month to recover from giving birth. During that time Arthur was christened and his mother was not able to witness the ceremony. He was taken care of by his wet-nurses and while his mother was recovering, outside songs were being sung to celebrate his birth. The news quickly spread of a prince being born and plans were made for his reception at Winchester Castle.

In 1488 to secure England’s alliance with Spain, Arthur was betrothed to three year old Princess Catherine of Aragon. Catherine was daughter of Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon.

When Arthur was six years old he was moved to Ludlow Castle in Wales to begin his grooming for kingship. Once he moved to Wales, his mother saw very little of him and had little control over his upbringing, but that is how it usually was for the eldest and heir to the throne.

Arthur’s father established an independent household for his son at an early age. Arthur’s council was led by John Alcock, Bishop of Worchester. By 1493, Arthur spent most of his childhood in the English Marcher Counties.

While Arthur was in Wales, Henry was quite busy with other matters of rooting out threats to his throne and securing his dynasty by having more children with his wife Elizabeth. However, Henry continued to worry about his son’s household and he purposely did not place a single nobleman in charge. By the age of seven, Arthur was master of his own house.

Arthur’s education included military warfare-such as arms training- among other skills that were important for an heir to the throne. Although there was not a civil war or rebellion in Wales which would have trained Arthur in the art of war, Henry appointed him warden-General of the Marches against Scotland.

He grew up to be intelligent, thoughtful and well versed in the classics but like his father, Arthur’s rule was not entirely favorable. Often his princely rights seemed oppressive to many. As he grew older he was served by knights and it is known that they used intimidation to alter the legal system and their families were accused of abusing the power of Arthur’s estates.

Arthur was waited on by men of his own generation. Men such as Anthony Willoughby and Maurice St. John who was the great nephew of Lady Margaret Beaufort and Robert Ratcliffe whose father was John Ratcliffe Lord Fitzwalter who was accused and executed for plotting with Perkin Warbeck in 1495-6. These were the men who Arthur is reported to have said to after his supposed wedding night, ‘Bring me a cup of ale, for I have ebb this night in the midst of Spain.’

When Arthur was born he was premature and sickly and his weak state is said to continue throughout his short life, so it is questionable whether he had a wedding night with Catherine of Aragon. As the history is told, Catherine said their marriage was never consummated.

My article on the marriage and death of Prince Arthur of Wales is coming soon.

Tudor by Leanda De Lisle
Winter King by Thomas Penn
Elizabeth of York by Amy Licence
Elizabeth of York by Alison Weir
Arthur Tudor Prince of Wales (Life, Death and Commemoration) edited by Steven Gunn and Linda Mockton.

The picture of Arthur is from Wikimedia Commons and the picture of Ludlow Castle was provided by Author Kristie Davis Dean. My help with verifying information about who Arthur was named after is from Author Regina Jeffers.


Stephanie Moore Hopkins conducts author interviews and helps promote the B.R.A.G. Medallion. She participates in the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours; she has reviewed books for the Historical Novel Society; is Co-Admin of English Historical Fiction Authors Group on Facebook, and is an avid reader of Historical Fiction, Alternate History, Non-Fiction and History. She is currently writing an alternate history story titled, “Poison Letters.” Which is a tale that takes place in the present time but reveals letters of a Tudor past and the death of Arthur Prince of Wales that was passed down from a female line for generations. It is legacy that is threatened to be revealed and could destroy lives, friendships, family and forever change a country.

When she is not pursuing her love of a good read, writing, chatting with authors and fellow readers (which is pretty much 24/7). Stephanie also enjoys creating mix media art on canvas. She is into health, fitness and loves the outdoors. These days she has no idea what rest is!

You can find Stephanie at Layered Pages and her Layered Pages Facebook Page.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

So you think you can sew, Mr Saint?

by Mike Rendell

I am intrigued by the inventor Thomas Saint, the man who first patented a design for a sewing machine, in 1790. For a start, apart from the fact that he was a cabinet maker, little is known about him. In articles on the web I come across a number of portraits allegedly of him, but clearly Victorian and almost certainly of Barthelemy Thimonnier (1793-1857) a later (French) inventor.

Then there is the fact that there is no evidence that he ever made a sewing machine (as opposed to designing it). It wasn’t helped by the fact that when he patented his machine he called it "An Entire New Method of Making and Completing Shoes, Boots, Splatterdashes, Clogs, and Other Articles, by Means of Tools and Machines also Invented by Me for that Purpose, and of Certain Compositions of the Nature of Japan or Varnish,which will be very advantageous in many useful Appliances."

The patent contains descriptions of three separate machines; the second of these was for "stitching, quilting, or sewing."

The Patent Office promptly catalogued it under ‘wearing apparel’ and there it languished for some 83 years. So nobody knew what the man had invented, and no-one tried making it work. The first working model was made nearly a century after the patent was taken out and needed a few amendments to the patented design before it could be made to operate. At its heart the machine incorporated many of the characteristics of a modern machine: it had a horizontal cloth plate or table, an overhanging arm carrying a straight needle, and a continuous supply of thread from a spool. A rotating hand crank on a shaft activated cams that produced all the machine's actions.

Saint had designed it for punching and sewing small pieces of leather and for this the feed was sufficient. It produced a chain stitch whereas later inventions produced a lock stitch i.e. so that the stitch was locked in place by a second thread, thereby stopping it unraveling if for any reason the stitch broke.

A working replica of the  machine was made many years later – Wikipedia sates that the replica is in London’s Science Museum but I can only find reference to the Elias Howe machine made in 1846. I have however come across these pictures of the Saint replica, They were on the website of New York clothing firm LFANT, but the images appear to have been moved so I am unable to provide a link:

The first functional sewing machine was invented by Barthelemy Thimonnier, in 1830. His machine used only one thread and a hooked needle (like a crochet needle). By the 1840's he had a factory containing 80 such machines, churning out uniforms for the French army. But his success was also his downfall – revolting tailors, fearful for their livelihoods, stormed the factory and set fire to it. Thimonnier fled to England and died penniless a few years later.

It was left to the Americans to press ahead with a commercially successful machine – not, ironically, that Isaac Singer can claim much credit. In the second half of the 19th Century he was locked in a bitter patent infringement case with Elias Howe who had patented a lock stitch machine in 1846. Elias Howe's machine had a needle with an eye at the point. The needle was pushed through the cloth and created a loop on the other side; a shuttle on a track then slipped the second thread through the loop, creating the lock-stitch. This design element was repeated by Singer, who lost his patent case and had to pay Howe hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties.

Howe was a tad lucky though – his machine drew heavily on the ideas of Walter Hunt who had come up with his version of the invention in the 1830's. Hunt was however appalled at the idea of creating widespread unemployment in the US garment industry and abandoned the machine, forfeiting any patent rights. Had he persevered Mr Singer would have had to pay him rather a lot of money, and Elias Howe would have got nothing. Ah, the vagaries of life!

I would prefer to remember Thomas Saint, because with his efforts I can safely claim the sewing machine as a Georgian (British), rather than a Victorian, (American) invention! Mind you, it was left to the Americans to make a commercial success of it - something so often the case...


Mike is the author of a number of books on Georgian history including "The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman" and, more recently, a book about the founder of the modern circus entitled "Astley's Circus - the story of an English Hussar".


Friday, April 25, 2014

Where the Brontë Sisters found inspiration for their vivid storytelling.

by Maggi Andersen

Three Yorkshire sisters, Emily, Charlotte and Anne Brontë combined their imaginative skills and the power of their words to write their stories, while drawing upon their personal experiences and close observation of the world around them. Their novels have become acknowledged classics. Since then, characters from their novels have been brought vividly to life on television, stage and screen. We have become familiar with the likes of Catherine Earnshaw, Heathcliff, Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre. Although, between them, the Brontës produced only seven novels, these works guaranteed them a unique and lasting place in the annals of literature and won the hearts of their readers.

1930s movie Wuthering Heights

“If he loved you with all the power of his soul for a whole lifetime, he couldn’t love you as much as I do in a single day." Heathcliff

Timothy Dalton as Heathcliff.

Their world was a relatively small one; their short lives centered on their family home, a parsonage in a village set in a cleft of the Yorkshire Moors.

Bronte Parsonage

The moors became the perfect setting for Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Wuthering is a Norse word meaning fierce winds. Emily explains the origin of the word ‘wuthering’ in the novel itself:

“Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff’s dwelling. “Wuthering” being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed, in stormy weather.”

The rapid onset of winter on the moors is revealed through Mr. Lockwood:

Ponden Kirk, the outcrop of rock, was the inspiration for Penistone Crags in Wuthering Heights.

From Chapter 18:

“The abrupt descent of Penistone Crags particularly attracted her notice, especially when the setting sun shone on it, and the topmost heights; and the whole extent of the landscape besides lay in shadow.

"I explained that they were masses of stone, with hardly enough earth in their clefts to nourish a stunted tree.”

The fierce and changing weather is a character in itself in Wuthering Heights.

“In the evening the weather broke: the wind shifted from south to north-east and brought rain first, and then sleet and snow…one could hardly imagine that there had been three weeks of summer: the primroses and crocuses were hidden under wintry drifts: the larks were silent, the young leaves of the early trees smitten and blackened.”

 The Worth Valley from Ponden Kirk.

“…a golden afternoon of August: every breath from the hills so full of life, that it seemed whoever respired it, though dying, might revive. Catherine’s face was just like the landscape – shadows and sunshine flitting over it in rapid succession; but the shadows rested longer, and the sunshine was more transient…” Wuthering Heights Chapter 27

‘Withins’ is a Yorkshire word for ‘willows.’

Top Withens farmhouse appears remote and exposed.

Ponden Hall (Above and below)

Ponden Hall in the Worth valley below Top Withens, is generally identified as the location in which Thrushcross Grange was set.

Shibden Hall

Another candidate for Thrushcross Grange was Shibden Hall, near Halifax where Emily taught, visible on the opposite the opposite escarpment from Law Hill School. Sutherland Hall has since been demolished. The sculptural details of the entrance a ‘wilderness of crumbling griffons and shameless little boys’ could have been suggested by another mansion above it on the top of the escarpment, High Sutherland Hall, which has since been demolished.

Chapter One

“Wuthering Heights is the name of Heathcliff’s dwelling, ‘Wuthering’ being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather…one may guess by the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun.”

Ruin of 16th Century mansion, Wycoller Hall with fireplace

Ruined Wycoller Hall, eight miles west of Haworth, is believed to be the model for Ferndean, where Jane found Mr. Rochester after the disaster at Thornfield. Its fireplace is cited as one of the reasons.

“…you could see nothing of it, so thick and dark grew the timber of the gloomy wood around it. Iron gates between granite pillars showed me where to enter, and passing through them, I found myself at once in the twilight of close-ranked trees.” Jane Eyre, Chapter 37.

Flamborough Head

Flamborough Head, between Scarborough and Bridlington. When writing The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Brontë drew on her experience as a governess with the Robinson’s and her observation of her brother Branwell’s behavior. Wildfell Hall is set only four miles from the sea.

Helen Huntingdon and Gilbert Markham make a memorable trip to see a celebrated sea-view.

“The increasing height and boldness of the hills had for some time intercepted the prospect: but, on gaining the summit of a steep acclivity, and looking downward, an opening lay before us – and the blue sea burst upon our sight!”

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Chapter 7.

The beach at Scarborough

Anne Brontë was known to enjoy Scarborough as much as her heroine, Agnes Grey.

“But the sea was my delight: and I would often gladly pierce the town to obtain the pleasure of a walk beside it…It was delightful to me at all times and seasons, but especially in the wild commotion of a rough sea-breeze, and in the brilliant freshness of a summer morning.” Agnes Grey

Images: Wikipedia Commons
Research: Brontë novels
Bronte Country, Tom Howard


Maggi Andersen writes historical romances set in the Georgian, Regency and Victorian periods.
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Early English Architecture - Part One

by Octavia Randolph

The Buildings of the Anglo-Saxons, 450 CE to 1066
Wondrously ornate is the stone of this wall, shattered by fate; the precincts of the city have crumbled and the work of giants is rotting away. There are tumbled roofs, towers in ruins, high towers rime-frosted, rime on the limey mortar, storm-shielding tiling scarred, scored and collapsed, undermined by age.....There were bright city buildings, many bathhouses, a wealth of lofty gables, much clamour of the multitude, many a mead-hall filled with human revelry - until mighty Fate changed that. - from The Ruin from the Exeter Book (c 975 CE), translated from Old English by S.A.J. Bradley
The poet of The Ruin tells of looking with wonderment on the remains of a fallen city built with such craft that it seems "the work of giants". This may the Roman city of Aquae Sulis - Bath, seen through Anglo-Saxon eyes. With the Roman settlement of Britain came their typically inventive and ingenious works of architecture and engineering - precisely surveyed and constructed roads; opulent stone villas - some with sixty rooms - featuring enclosed gardens, furnaces and chimneys; thriving trading cities with sewers and public baths; manufactories of ceramic, glass and metal work of every kind. Such trappings of Mediterranean civilization required not only initial effort but ongoing maintenance. Once the legions withdrew the unprotected cities fell prey to lawlessness, neglect, and finally abandonment.

Mercenary soldiers from the marshy shores of modern northern Germany and Denmark, originally imported to help police the Roman settlements, turned on their employers and sought land for themselves. This began a flood of immigration of tribes who would be known as the Angles, Saxons, and to a lesser extent, Jutes. Their native building forms were wooden buildings in simple farmsteads. Fishing, hunting, and subsistence grain and vegetable farming provided for their wants. They turned their back on the Roman cities and the foreign way of life suggested and necessitated by such buildings and communities. Instead they exulted at the wealth of woodland and fertile farmland in their new home. It was the abundant forests of what would become known as Angle-land - Engle-land - England which set the tone for much of the building these new settlers would undertake.

English woodlands yielded not only the raw material to saw long and broad timbers for the erection of walls and cross beams but a wide variety of specialty building products. Coppiced trees will sprout straight slender shafts within weeks of cutting; such growth is ideal for lightweight building poles, fencing - and the shafts of spears. No less an Anglo-Saxon personage than King Ælfred (ruled 871-899) exhorts his readers to "to wend his way to the same road where I cut the props (and) load his waggons with fair rods that he may weave a fine wall, and set up many a goodly house." Although the King was speaking metaphorically about the forest of philosophical wisdom, the diverse practical uses of the English woodland are made clear. In fact wood virtually defines early English building.

"Timbrian" is the Old English verb for "to build" and the very noun "timber" synonymous with "a building". The act of building itself was "getimber" - timbering. "Timbrend" is "a builder". The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that Ælfred's able and politically savvy daughter Æthelflaed, known as the Lady of the Mercians "timbered the burh" when she built a fortified base near the Welsh border in 915.

It is in fact the great, vanished timber halls which most readily come to mind as the products of early English architectural efforts, and native forests provided ample building material. But we must not assume that all early Anglo-Saxon buildings were wood framed; there were many of stone. In certain instances stone was even reused from abandoned Roman structures; the tiny but rugged church of St Johns at Escomb (7th/8th century) is built of stone blocks pilfered from the Roman fort at Binchester. Brixworth Church in its earliest incarnation (c 680) was also built with Roman bricks from nearby ruins. Up in York the massive Roman headquarters and surrounding wall was used until the headquarters was finally pulled down about 800 during the expansion of the town. At that time the headquarters still was roofed, and the interior had been divided for new uses; one former office has been identified as being reused as a metal working shop. Reuse of Roman building materials went on a long time. Even the Normans were using Roman bricks from the Roman town of Verulamium to help augment the local flint in the building of the cathedral of St Albans in Hertfordshire.

Huts and Timber Halls

The majority of Anglo-Saxon buildings were wood frame residential structures and outbuildings. Buildings could be one, one and half, or two stories high. Wood framed walls were constructed in two ways: either from split, planed timbers cut all to the same height and set upright on a wood or stone sill, or wood frame with materials such as wattle and daub or nogging used in the interstices between large timber uprights. The large timber uprights could be placed into individually dug post holes, or into a continuous trench. Iron nails were widely used to fasten timbers, but as so little actual wood work has survived it is impossible to guess at the type of joinery house builders used, although there is no reason not to imagine that it was often at a high level. Mortise and tenon and dovetail joints were likely employed amongst many other fastening techniques, some of which were adaptations for the craft of shipbuilding. Axes, adzes, wood-splitting wedges, saws, chisels, spokeshaves, gouges and spoon-bits have been found to give us an idea of the range of tools available to building wrights. Lathes were also known, so that turned ornament or features may have been employed in the interiors.

In areas less blessed with timber, walls of cut stacked turf and cob have also been found. A broad variety of organic materials were impressed into service as building materials. For example, moss and ferns were sometimes used as insulation to stop up gaps around wattle work and help seal out the cold and damp.

Buildings were square, rectangular, and round in plan. A central fire pit provided warmth and light, with smoke making its imperfect escape through a hole in the (typically) thatched roof above. The simplest and most prevalent floors were of pounded earth, but wooden and stone floors were used as well. Evidence of wattle mats -long interwoven sticks- have been found in the remains of wattle and daub houses in 9th and 10th century Viking Dublin, and such matting was very likely employed in Anglo-Saxon settlements as well. Particularly earlier in the Anglo-Saxon period some buildings had excavated, or sunken floors. When planked over these were used as cellars, but in certain instances the actual floor of the building was lower than ground level.

Many of the smallest domiciles were windowless with light only being admitted when the wooden door was open. Such modest dwellings would contain the simplest of furniture, all made of wood - a bench or two, a rude table, some stools.

The variety of buildings in early settlements such as shown at the reconstructions at West Stow in Suffolk (450 CE-750) indicate that related families lived in smaller houses and socialized together in a larger hall. At West Stow there may have been four or five extended families and their slaves housed in a variety of timber and wattle and daub buildings roofed with thatch. The timber halls or "great halls" of wealthy thegns, reeves, ealdormen, lords, and kings occupied a unique place in early English society. As modern scholar Stephen Pollington puts it:
These halls served as the focal points of the communities they served - all commercial business was witnessed there, all justice was enacted there, all judgments were spoken there, all contracts were made and dissolved there, all praiseworthy deeds begun and ended there. - The Mead-Hall: Feasting in Anglo-Saxon England, Anglo-Saxon Books 2003
Such buildings were not only of necessity larger than the dwellings of the humble but of a specific shape - long and narrow. Some great halls were built in the style now referred to as "bow-sided" - that is broadest in the centre of the building and tapering slightly at either end.

Fyrkat: Danish Great Hall Fyrkat: Danish Great Hall Fyrkat.
A mid-20th century reconstructionof a Danish great hall and
long houses in Hobro, Denmark.  Fyrkat was the site of a fortified
ring fort, one of four created by Harald Bluetooth in 980, and was
made up of 16 large buildings, including barracks for warriors, storehouses,
and workshops. It gives a good idea of contemporaneous English construction.
Fyrkat. A long house under construction. The entire ring fort and
neighbouring village will be recreated in an ambitious living history scheme.
Fyrkat. Interior of long house, showing timber
framing and half-thatched roof.
Fyrkat. A wattle wall under construction.
Staves are being woven between the larger uprights - a
good example of King Ælfred's injunction to
"weave a fine wall".
Photos by Jonathan Gilman

Great halls typically had two doors, one at either end of the hall, and one door might open into a shallow anteroom. There might be a window or two, usually unglazed but with wood shutters for defense and protection from weather. The central fire-pit remained, but along the exterior walls recesses or alcoves were built which served as places to sit or do hand work during the day and to sleep at night. Along one of the long walls would be a raised step or dais at which sat the chairs of the lord and lady. On either side of these "high seats" ran benches for their men - the "mead benches" sung of in so much Anglo-Saxon poetry. More experienced and valued warriors sat closest to the lord and lady, while younger men sat on the other side of the fire pit along the opposite long wall. Sometimes a separate room was located at the end of the hall, which may have served as a private chamber for the lord or a strong-room for the storage of the most important treasure of the household - weapons and the plate that the family and esteemed guests ate and drank from. Stone and clay cressets filled with oil cast light at night, as did torches soaked in oil. Wooden furniture included the aforementioned chairs (for high-status guests and their hosts), benches, and trestle tables which could be easily knocked down and stored when meal time was over.

Of interior decoration for wooden structures we must look to the remains of stone buildings and to poetic descriptions. Lime washing on wood gave a welcome brightness to dark interiors and could serve as a ground for coloured mineral pigments. In the tradition of the richly decorated surfaces beloved of the Anglo-Saxons, in the halls of the wealthy the large structural timbers exposed to view may have been highly ornamented with carving and paint. The Beowulf poet describes Heorot, the fabled hall of Hrothgar which Beowulf visits as:
...a timbered hall...furnished and gold-fair - it was the most renowned among dwellers on earth of buildings beneath the sky - in which the great man dwelt; its brightness shone out over many lands... - lines 1.306-11, translated from the Old English by Stephen Pollington
At Goltho in Lincolnshire the fortified burh of a wealthy lord has been excavated. It comprised a bow-sided timber hall nearly 25 m (82 feet) long and nearly 10 m wide (32.8 feet); a smaller kitchen building set well away from the hall for fire protection; a long narrow weaving shed about 20 m long where the women of the burh would have stood at their looms for the daily labour of wool weaving; and a separate bower building.

Private defended burhs (fortified residence of many inhabitants) of wealthy thegns, ealdorman, and nobles could include both large timber halls and smaller stone buildings. The remains of a Saxon masonry building of 2.4 m (8 feet) tall stone walls have been excavated at Eynsford Castle, Kent. A wood framed roof may have rested upon the walls, or they may have carried another wood-framed story above. This building had an excavated floor some 1.5 m (5 feet) below the ground, and was surrounded by a ditch 5 m (16 feet) wide and 3 m (10 feet) deep. Heavily fortified as it was it may have housed a powerful lord. On Lower Brook Street in Winchester was found the remains of a square stone building of at least two stories dating from about 800. It is part of a high status, secular, residential homestead.

At Sulgrave, Northamptonshire excavations have revealed the presence of a large 10th c timber hall, another lordly residence. Like many great halls it was constructed of closely set vertical timbers. At Sulgrave these sat upon a laid, mortar-less stone foundation. At one end of the great hall was a partition which led to a smaller room - perhaps a store room. A smaller detached timber building, which may have been a kitchen, was built outside. Another building on the site had stone walls more than 2 m (6 1/2') high - possibly a strong room or tower.

Roofs were structured of timber, typically thatched with the reeds found along so many English waterways, but wood shakes, lead sheets, and tin roofs were also known. The celebrated churchman and intellectual Alcuin (d. 804) gave tin for a roof in Eoforwic in 801. Eoforwic, known today to us as York, rose to ecclesiastical fame under Alcuin's teacher Albert, who became Archbishop there and held that post from 767 to 778. Albert created a new church in Eoforwic, St Sophia, with a scriptoria renowned for the fineness of its manuscripts. Alcuin described the church thusly:
"A lofty building, raised on solid piers Supporting round arches, and within Fine panelling and windows made it bright, A lovely sight, with gleaming cloisters round And many upper rooms beneath the roofs And thirty altars variously decked."
All traces of church and scriptoria were obliterated during the violent Viking capture and takeover in 876. The "high walled and towered" city described by Alcuin was destroyed. The Danes who settled there renamed the city Jorvik - York. They rebuilt the city along Danish lines and it became a thriving trade centre.) One wooden church which has survived is St Andrews, Greensted, Essex, the timbers of which have been recently dated to the early 11th century. The ancient walls are an unique survival of a type of wood construction - the upright oak timbers have been split in half length wise so that the rounded dimension of each half still shows.

St Andrews, Greensted, Essex St Andrews, Greensted, Essex. The body of
St Edmund lay here overnight in 1013 on its way from London, whence
it was removed for fear of the Danes, to its final resting place - fittingly to be
known as Bury St Edmunds. Edmund was King of East Anglia and was
defeated in battle by the Dane Halfdan in 869 or 870 and executed. He
soon became a subject of veneration. This tiny church is the sole surviving
timber church of the Anglo-Saxon era (although other churches have some
Saxon timbers). The brick sill underneath the timber was a Victorian addition.
St Andrews, Greensted, Essex. View of rear of church.
St Andrews, Greensted, Essex. Close up view of ancient timber wall.
Photos by Jonathan Gilman

We know of other types of early English timber construction. A large tiered wooden grandstand reminiscent of theatre seating was built at Yeavering in Northumbria, which may have provided seating for those assembled to hear the preaching of Christian priests, particularly that of Bishop Paulinus. It was part of a large royal residence of Edwin of Northumbria, who though initially heathen, wed the Christian daughter of King Ælthelbert of Kent in 625, thus bringing Paulinus in her train. 

Next Month: Stone Construction in Anglo-Saxon England


The Circle of Cerdwen : Book One
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Octavia Randolph is the author of The Circle of Ceridwen Saga.  Young women with courage. Swords with names. Vikings with tattoos. Warfare. Passion. Survival. Sheep. And Other Good Things...