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Tuesday 14 May 2024

'A Very Pretty Spotted Muslin'


In Northanger Abbey, Miss Tilney wore a 'very pretty spotted muslin'.  My latest feature in my ongoing series for Jane Austen's Regency World (May/June issue) is on calico-printing. You will be able to find out more about the lives of child workers in the calico-printing industry in my forthcoming book, Young Workers of the Industrial Age, to be published by Pen & Sword this autumn. 

Images from the author's collection:

Above: Morning Dress, Lady’s Monthly Museum, February 1801. Figure on the right is wearing a ‘printed cotton gown’ with a ‘stone-coloured pelisse, trimmed with fur. A white velvet bonnet, crossed with green velvet bands’. 

Image right: Block printer and tierer or ‘tear girl’. Children as young as six worked for twelve hours or more helping block printers. Charles Knight’s Pictorial Gallery of Arts Vol. I, (c.1862).

Tuesday 23 April 2024

Lord Byron Bicentenary

Lord Byron.

19 April was the 200th anniversary of Lord Byron's tragically early death at Missolonghi, Greece. 

This 'poor little rich boy', born in 1788, was the son of 'Mad Jack', as Captain Byron was known, and Catherine Gordon of Gight. 

Byron spent his childhood in Aberdeen, and was later educated at Harrow.

When Byron succeeded to the baronetcy in 1798, he discovered that his predecessors had squandered the family fortune. The ancient family home, Newstead Abbey, was ruinous and forlorn. 

'Hours of Idleness', his first collection of poems, was published in 1807, but received short shrift from some reviewers.  However, it was the publication of Childe Harold (1812), which brought Byron instant fame. 

Newstead Abbey. 

A chaotic and colourful love life - including, many believe, a relationship with his half-sister Augusta - and a disastrous marriage to Annabella Milbanke led to a different kind of notoriety.

Byron left England for good in 1816. He never saw his divorced wife, or their little girl, Ada, again. 

Bosun's Monument, Newstead.

Lord Byron travelled widely - Switzerland, Italy, and Greece - and you can explore an interactive map of his travels here

His relationships with Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, Claire Clairmont would fill a book by themselves.

Cascata Delle Marmore, near Terni.

Lord Byron visited this 'matchless cataract' near Terni in 1817 (image on the right).

Byron lived a full life abroad. There was a torrent of new poems, lovers, travels, history, architecture. But he wanted a cause to believe in - and the need for freedom for the Greek people truly inspired him.

He arrived in Greece in 1824, ready to fight for freedom. However, his doctors, and a fever,  proved too much for Lord Byron. 

The Byron Society has a list of events planned for the bicentenary here

Byron's Residence at Missolonghi in 1824. 


Lord Byron. Published by James Robins & Co., 1824.

Newstead Abbey. © Sue Wilkes.

The dog Bosun's monument, Newstead Abbey. © Sue Wilkes.

A bust of Lord Byron in the gardens of Newstead Abbey. © Sue Wilkes.

Cascata Delle Marmore, © Sue Wilkes.

'Lord Byron's Residence at Missolonghi' where he died in 1824. An 1827 engraving by H.Raper and R.Roberts, author's collection. 

Monday 4 March 2024

Saving Lives At Sea for 200 Years!


Sir William Hillary
Britain is an island nation. Since ancient times, our commerce and defence depended on the sea. But our treacherous waters exacted a terrific toll of ships and passengers every year. Victims often lost their lives within sight of shore because no vessel was strong enough to reach them safely. 

The late eighteenth century witnessed the earliest recorded attempts at organized rescue efforts.  At Formby, Lancashire, a boat was kept on shore specifically to aid shipwrecked persons as early as 1776. The notoriously dangerous Mersey estuary had shifting sandbanks, and the Liverpool Dock Trustees founded several coastal lifeboat stations. The crews manning the boats were rewarded for every life they saved. 

Sir William Hillary founded the Royal National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck in 1824. Hillary, who lived on the Isle of Man, had personally witnessed several shipwrecks in Douglas Bay, and helped save some victims.

I was very interested to discover that Jane Austen's sailor brothers, Frank and Charles, were keen supporters of the Institution. You can find out more in my latest article for the March issue of Jane Austen's Regency World magazine, which features the amazing story of the birth of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.

Images: Sir William Hillary, shown wearing the robes and cross of a Knight of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, commonly known as a Knight of Malta. Artist unknown, English School, mid 19th Century. Courtesy of the RNLI Archive.

Author’s Collection: Captain Marryat’s design for a new lifeboat, Gentleman’s Magazine, May 1820.

Thursday 18 January 2024

A Bright Future

Old-style crown glass shop windows.

My latest feature for Jane Austen's Regency World's January issue, in my series on Austen and the Industrial Revolution, is on glass manufacture. 

When Jane Austen visited her brother Henry in London, she would have seen the new fashion for large, imposing plate-glass shop-windows. 

Plate-glass casting at Ravenhead.

Until the late eighteenth century, plate-glass, used for the largest windows or mirrors, was incredibly expensive. Only the wealthiest could afford it. 

But the advent of plate-glass casting at Ravenhead (the British Plate Glass Co.) in 1773, followed by glass-houses on Tyneside, where there was already a flourishing industry, revolutionised the look of British retail establishments. 

Glass-making in Britain faced a bright future!


A New Bond street shop in the 1790s. Before plate glass became affordable, shop windows were made from small panes of crown glass. James Gillray 1796, courtesy Library of Congress, catalogue number: LC-USZC4-8787.

Casting plate glass at the Ravenhead works in Lancashire in the 1840s. Engraving by Mr Sly. Pictorial History of the County of Lancashire, 1844. Author’s collection.

Tuesday 9 January 2024

Ready To Pre-Order!

I'm very pleased to say that 'Young Workers of the Industrial Age' is now available to pre-order from Amazon UK! It's currently scheduled for publication in hardback in September this year. 

Friday 22 December 2023

Happy Christmas!

I doubt we'll have a white Christmas as it's so mild here at present, so here's a snowy picture of our garden from early December. 

Wishing you all a happy Christmas, and a prosperous 2024!

Friday 10 November 2023

Exciting News!

 I'm absolutely thrilled to announce that I've just signed a new contract with Pen & Sword to republish my book The Children History Forgot! The book has been out of print for some time now, and will appear under the title Young Workers of the Industrial Age: Child Labour in the 18th and 19th Centuries. 

I'll post updates on my blog nearer publication date - currently provisionally the summer of 2024. 

Meanwhile, my other Pen & Sword titles are on special offer at the moment - do take a look if you need some ideas for Christmas presents!

All images from my collection.