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Friday, 5 September 2014

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Fight To Save Britain's Chimney Sweeps

My latest feature for Who Do You Think You Are? magazine looks at the battle to save Britain's tiny chimney sweeps. Our ancestors’ chimneys needed sweeping regularly. When soot from a fire accumulated inside a chimney, smoke blew back unpleasantly into people’s rooms instead of going up the chimney. If too much soot built up inside the flue, the chimney could catch fire.Some chimneys were only nine inches (22.5 cm) square, so children as young as 5 years old were used to climb them and clean them. 
Although reformer Jonas Hanway campaigned about the miserable lives of child sweeps in the 1780s, it took almost a century for parliament to enact legislation tough enough to stop the use of 'climbing boys'. My feature also has tips for researching your chimney sweep ancestors.
Image from the author's collection: A child sweep carrying the brushes for his trade, illustration by Emile Bayard for Holiday Keepsake, Gall & Inglis, c.1880.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Wigs and 'Crops'

You can read my feature on the changes in hairstyling fashions during Jane Austen's lifetime here on the Historical Honey website.

Image from the author's collection: 
Hester Lynch Piozzi (Mrs Thrale) in the 1780s. Note the ‘high’ hairdo. An engraving by E. Finden after Sir Joshua Reynolds. Johnsoniana Vol. I, Henry G. Bohn, 1859.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Canal Boat Ancestors and Teachers

A narrowboat cabin, 1870s.
A classroom in the early 20th century.
The cover story of the September issue of Who Do You Think You Are? magazine includes my latest feature on canal boat ancestors, plus my feature on Teacher Registration Council registers (available from Findmypast and the Society of Genealogists' Library) so do check it out if you have canal ancestors or teacher ancestors. It was very difficult for canal children to get an education as they were always on the move.
Canal horses and donkeys, 1870s.


On Sunday 10 August, some heavy horses will be visiting the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port, so you will be able to see a wonderful demonstration of horse-drawn canal boating.

Our Flanders Adventure V: A Place of Sanctuary?

A shattered tree, with the remains of a German gravestone.
One of our most interesting stops on our Flanders adventure was Hill 62, a museum at Sanctuary Wood near Ypres. The museum has many photos of the Great War as well as original artefacts from the battlefields and trenches.  Outside the museum, you can see some original British trenches which were preserved after the war by the Belgian family which owned the land. The site is still littered with shell-holes, and it had rained heavily the night before, so the bottom of the trenches was quite muddy.

Mud was one of the soldiers' biggest problems: it made it difficult to move men and equipment as horses and vehicles got bogged down.
A trench full of water.


Hill 62, Sanctuary Wood.
Now we were able to get a real flavour of what life in the trenches must have been like for my great-uncles, although of course we did not have anyone shooting or firing shells at us!


We had to imagine the constant roar of artillery, the smell of cordite and burning flesh - and the rats. It must have been terrifying.


A giant handbag is not very practical for exploring the trenches!
The trenches zig-zagged, so that enemy soldiers who broke in couldn't fire along the trench.


Monday, 28 July 2014

Not Long Now!

My forthcoming book A Visitor's Guide to Jane Austen's England is now available for pre-order from Amazon UK (release date 30 October) and Amazon US.  Update 14 August: You can now also pre-order the book direct from Pen and Sword Books.
Discover Jane Austen's world and immerse yourself in the vanished world inhabited by Austen’s contemporaries. My book is an intimate exploration of how the upper and middle classes lived from 1775, the year of Austen’s birth, to her death in 1817. You can read some advance reviews here.
'Will you do me the honour of reading that letter?' Darcy meets Elizabeth in the park.