A Victorian Christmas at Harewood House

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This would be great to go to…just fantastic.

More than 200 volunteers spent the last three days creating a Victorian Christmas at Harewood House. It is the first time in five years that the house has been opened to the public at Christmas. The volunteers were working under the guidance of award-winning film creative director Michael Howells – who produced the set design for the ITV drama Victoria some of which was shot at Harewood.

“Harewood was incredible place to work filming Victoria for the last two years and has provided us with fantastic inspiration. It’s special place, filled with history and wonderful stories to tell,” said Mr Howells.



A Victorious Century

From The Guardian

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” Charles Dickens wrote in 1859, imagining France on the eve of revolution. He may as well have been describing Britain during his own century. It was an era when industry energised and enriched, but polluted and proletarianised; when men enjoyed expanding political rights but women’s freedoms were curtailed; when some rejoiced as the British empire flung pink arms across the world, but others resisted. It was a “Victorious Century”, as David Cannadine entitles this sparklingly intelligent survey, for a United Kingdom whose hegemony rivalled that of the US and China today – but a century of contradictions for the people who lived in it.

Victorious Century opens in 1800, with the passage of the Act of Union with Ireland, and with Britain struggling to prevail against France in what Lord Cornwallis, who had presided over the loss of the American colonies, called a “bloody and hopeless war”. Nobody in 1800 could have reasonably anticipated British victory over France, let alone its global hegemony. But the industrial, financial and demographic momentum was in Britain’s favour. Production of iron and textiles surged, the population boomed, and an increasingly efficient state apparatus of borrowing and tax-collection funded an ultimately successful war effort. If Napoleon said his army marched on its stomach, Wellington’s marched to Waterloo on the public debt.

Triumph, when it came, granted Britain dominance in international affairs, but it didn’t feed people or give them jobs. Popular protests challenged high prices, high taxes and the “Old Corruption” of a government that made them so. Authoritarian crackdowns – vividly at the Peterloo massacre of 1819, and furtively, via informers and secret agents – ended up amplifying radicalism as much as repressing it.

The postwar popular agitations and political showdowns culminated in the 1832 Reform Act. In the whig interpretation of history, the great reform anchored a “victorious century” in terms of expanding democracy – especially because, unlike other countries in the western world, Britain marched toward universal manhood suffrage through a peaceful series of parliamentary acts. But the much-vaunted whig liberty came with restrictions attached. The great reform deliberately didn’t enfranchise workers, a deficiency the Chartists sought and largely failed to redress; rather, Cannadine argues, its most significant effect was to consolidate a modern two-party system pegged to elite and bourgeois interests. The 1867 Reform Act enfranchised “respectable” working men but simultaneously and explicitly excluded women. By the end of the 19th century, Britain had one of the most limited franchises in western Europe. All told, the political story of the 19th century, as Cannadine tells it, was less about the rise of the working class than the fall of the nobility (beautifully chronicled in his 1990 book The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy).

51H5Ti20NPL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_The “victorious century” was, pre-eminently, Victoria’s century. Born a few years after Waterloo, she was named after her mother, though might as well have been named for the moment. Ascending to the throne in 1837 (without the hereditary electorship of Hanover, from which she was disqualified as a woman), the “headstrong and wilful” young Queen exercised a degree of influence over the political process and choice of governments that would alarm any British subject today. As she matured into the bulbous, black-clad matron of popular iconography, she presided with enthusiasm over the expansion of a global empire. She died in 1901 as empress of India and sovereign of one in five people in the world. The princely state of Hanover had long since ceased to exist

One of the pleasures of this immensely readable volume is its unapologetic emphasis on high politics, a historical fashion so old it’s new again. The great 19th-century statesmen – Pitt, Peel, Palmerston, Gladstone, Disraeli and the now largely forgotten Earl of Derby – strut through these pages as bracing reminders, in today’s age of identity politics, that you can’t fully understand power without looking at the individuals who hold it. Cannadine’s attention to parliamentary politics also lets him unspool the wranglings over Irish home rule, easily the most divisive issue in later 19th-century politics, and replete with legacies and lessons for the age of Brexit.

Another satisfaction lies in Cannadine’s polymathic command of the cultural life of the period. That “Victorian” has come to mean uptight says at least as much about the Victorians’ heirs as it does about them. There was the sentimentalism of penny novelettes,, the melodrama of the tabloid press, the tawdry aesthetics of chocolate boxes, and the overstuffed domesticity of button-backed furniture, festoon blinds and flock wallpaper. But Victorian Britain also gave rise to the penetrating realism of George Eliot, celebrated the bold impressionism of JMW Turner, inspired the linear elegance of William Morris, and the clairvoyant fantasies of HG Wells. An age of starched collars and corsets, of the moral condemnation of poverty and the criminalisation of male “gross indecency”, was an era of free love, socialism, atheism, Darwinism, vegetarianism and spiritualism.

It was, finally, an age of capitalism – a mid-19th-century coinage – when new conceptions of the role of production in shaping society would give rise to new ways of thinking about the relationship between the people and the state. Cannadine concludes with the Liberal landslide of 1906, a moment rich with contradictions: a government espousing progressive social policy yet beholden to aristocratic interests; an economy of remarkable strength yet flagging against new rivals; a UK split by the Irish question; an empire bigger yet more contested than ever.

As epigraphs to Victorious Century, Cannadine pairs Dickens’s “best of times, worst of times” with Marx’s dictum that men and women “make their own history, but they do not do so … under conditions of their own choosing”. Though there is an unavoidable tinge of the textbook to this volume (a history written under the condition of having to say at least a little about an awful lot), Cannadine has pulled off the hat-trick of commanding erudition, original interpretation and graceful writing. One leaves it grateful to have left the worst times behind, yet with the uneasy recognition that many of their toughest contradictions remain embedded in our own.

Victorious Century is published by Allen Lane. To order a copy for £25.50 (RRP £30) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.


Forgotten London Mansion Was Empty Since 1895…

This is well worth looking at.

The city of London is full of history, though it’s easy to forget that when you see what is now a thriving, modern city. As generations pass and more of the city becomes modernized, it becomes harder and harder to learn about previous inhabitants’ lives.

mansion.jpgBut every once in a while, a piece of history remains that practically acts as a time capsule. That’s the case with one building in London that’s been so well-preserved that it allows us to take a one-of-a-kind look at the way the world used to be.

When you see inside of this stunning building, it’s like you’re transported back in time. What an incredible reminder of what the city used to be like, and what history we live among every day!


Victoria – fact or fiction?

Jenna Coleman and Tom Hughes are back on our screens as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, which means it’s time for a return to that fine old British tradition of historical nit-picking. This is our week-by-week guide to the true history behind the ITV drama.

Was Dr Brydon really the only survivor of the retreat from Kabul?

In the Victorian era, it became a well-established myth that only one man survived the disastrous retreat from Kabul: William Brydon, an assistant surgeon in General Elphinstone’s army.


William Brydon

The late Victorian artist Elizabeth Butler’s famous painting ‘Remains of an Army’ shows Brydon alone in a desolate landscape, and ITV’s Victoria paints a similar version of events.

But the reality of the First Anglo-Afghan War was slightly complicated. Brydon was the only British soldier to make it back to Jalalabad from Kabul without being captured, but there were also several Indian soldiers (then called sepoys) from his army who achieved the same feat.

Nor were they the only survivors of the Khyber Pass massacre; more than 100 officers, women and children were taken captive, only to be later released.

But the most extraordinary part of Brydon’s story to feature in ITV’s Victoria was completely true: Brydon’s life was saved by a frozen copy of Blackwood’s Magazine which he had tucked inside his hat. In fact, the TV retelling didn’t do justice to quite how close Brydon’s scrape was; the sword-blow that cut through the magazine also shaved off a fragment of his skull.

All joking aside, what’s up with Prince Albert’s helmet?

The first episode told us (a little unnecessarily, one might add) that Prince Albert dressed “on the left” – but we don’t mean that kind of helmet.

The helmet in question is the Albert Shako, which Tom Hughes’s prince brought up almost every time he opened his mouth, throughout episode one.

Introduced in 1844 as a more practical alternative to existing military headgear, we can’t be certain that it really was designed by Albert himself. What is certain, however, is that people hated it. Regardless of who really came up with the design, the idea that Prince Albert spent his spare time faffing about with hats was just as funny to Victorians as it is to today’s ITV viewers. In 1843, the satirical magazine Punch published a cartoon of “Prince Albert’s Studio”, in which the would-be hatter is shown proudly displaying his handiwork to a bemused Victoria.

Who on earth would eat that soup?

Lots of people. The departure of Victoria’s preferred chef, Charles Elmé Francatelli, meant guests at the royal table were forced to pick over a vile dinner of soup, made from leeks, prunes and (best of all) a whole boiled chicken’s head. Don’t pull that face – it’s actually rather popular.

TV chef James Martin would like you to know that cock-a-leekie soup is making a comeback, prunes and all. You can read his recipe for a modern take on the traditional Scottish dish at the BBC Good Food website. The Duchess of Bucchleuch certainly enjoys it.

How old was the Duchess of Bucchleuch really?

Much younger than she is on TV. Last night, viewers were introduced to Victoria’s new Mistress of the Robes, a fearsome Caledonian duchess played with aplomb by Diana Rigg. The real Charlotte, Duchess of Bucchleuch, was born in 1811. In 1844, when the show is set, she would have been 33 – just eight years older than Victoria.

Yes, that’s almost half a century younger than Rigg (79), but why not bend the truth if it allows for such a great bit of casting? It’s a certified historical fact that every TV show with Diana Rigg in it has been 35% better than the Rigg-less alternatives. So there.

Why did Francatelli really leave?

In the show, heartbroken Francatelli (Ferdinand Kingsley) left because he couldn’t bear to be near the newly promoted Mrs Skerrett (Nell Hudson), after she refused his offer of marriage back in series one.

In real life, however, the given reason for Francatelli’s abrupt departure from the palace was a fracas with another member of the household staff, Mr Norton the Clerk Comptroller. At the time, it was reported that Francatelli “took the opportunity of insulting Mr Norton in the presence of all the Pages and about 40 others”. After “high words ensued”, they called for a policeman to arrest him, but the hot-headed chef had done a runner by the time the police arrived.

Did Florence kill Jack the Ripper

There have been many, many theories about Jack the Ripper but how about this one.


Did Florence kill Jack the Ripper?

Florence Maybrick may well of killed Jack the Ripper. 1889 the 27-year-old American was found guilty of poisoning her drug-addict husband James Maybrick with arsenic.

It was a shocking crime and the Daily Mirror reported the scandal.

Apparently new evidence has put Maybrick in the dock as a Jack the Ripper suspect.

A diary has been found under his floorboards and there are claims it has been written by the Ripper. And experts have managed to authenticate it was written at the right time, this could possibly mean the diary is genuine.


Florence had married Maybrick in 1881. He was 23 years her senior and lived in a middle-class home in Liverpool with their children James and Gladys. They were just seven and three when their father died – and their mother became the most notorious woman in the country.

Florence and James both committed adultery and when she ended up in court the judge James Fitzjames Stephen, was enraged. He told the jury if she was admitting adultery, she was no better than a murderess anyway and a death sentence was handed down.

Home Secretary Henry Matthews agreed to reassess her case and argued that it couldn’t be proven she had killed Maybrick in their home in Aigburth, in the suburbs of Liverpool.

PROD-The-trial-of-Mrs-Maybrick-at-Liverpool-1889.jpgHis decision rescued her from the gallows, but she remained in prison for 15 years, first in Woking, Surrey at Woking Convict Prison, she endured solitary confinement, hard labour and frequent ill health. In a book she wrote after her release, she describes her experiences as “torture”, “hideous” and “tyrannous”.

And then in Aylesbury, Bucks.

Florence was finally released in 1904.

So did she kill Jack the Ripper?

I guess that question remains…but hopefully not for too much longer.


Easter was very much part of Victorian life, the Church itself was important not only as a spiritual guide and charity but also as a great reformer of the age.

20160326_104323Victorians expressed devotion with beautiful floral arrangements that decorated churches as I did yesterday. Easter is about Jesus being risen from the grave, so new life is tied up in any decoration and in any spiritual significance.

In Ladies Fancy Work from 1876  described how to make Easter crosses with myriad elaborately handmade wax flowers, as well as rustic cross pictures sprinkled with diamond dust and hand-embellished with mosses, ferns, coral, shells and bark. Based on publications of the time, floral arrangements of Easter lilies, white and yellow tulips, violets, purple pansies, lilacs and Chinese azalea adorned Victorian vases and mantels. Women also made token gift posies with white and yellow or purple flowers, such as lily of the valley with violets, of course men decorate as well nowadays.

We had an Easter Egg hunt for our children today, a tradition in our church that probably stretches back into the Victorian Era. In Delineator’s April 1896 story “Easter in a Southern Town” described their hunt for colored eggs hidden in boxed hedges, honeysuckle arbors and among lilies. Today our children enthusiastically leap around our graveyard seeking out small brightly covered eggs which they all find at least one…

He is risen…

He is risen indeed

A happy Easter to one and all.

The execution of Sherlock Holmes

There are many, many Sherlock Holmes stories, novels, novelettes on tip of the glorious canon left by Conan-Doyle.

The execution of Sherlock Thomas is a particularly enjoyable one. We find Holmes at his best against relatives (I didn’t like that idea but it works…more or less) of arch villains he taken down and finds himself drugged and locked up in the notorious Newgate Prison.

Watson of course tells the story but it really has the feel on Conan-Doyle…it just hits the spot for me.

Have a read…it is really rather good!images