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Tuesday, 26 June 2012

A Visitor's Guide to Jane Austen's England!

I am thrilled to announce that I have just signed a new contract with Pen and Sword!  My new book will be a social history of Jane Austen's time. I am so excited about my new project, as I have adored Austen and the Regency era since I was a little girl.

In 'A Visitor's Guide to Jane Austen's England' I will be exploring everyday life for the upper and middle classes from 1775, the year of Austen’s birth, to her death in 1817. Drawing on contemporary diaries, illustrations, letters, novels, travel literature, and so on, I hope to recreate the vanished world inhabited by Austen and her contemporaries: the scents, sights, and sounds of the period.
Discover a lost era of corsets and courtship!

Lady's Monthly Museum ‘Cabinet of Fashion’ fashion plates for October 1798 – the Moorish Habit and the Fatima Robe.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Stand and Deliver!

Highwaymen or ‘knights of the road’ flourished during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Some of England’s most infamous highwaymen ended their careers on the ‘fatal tree’ at Tyburn long before Jane Austen was born.

Dick Turpin (1705–39), ‘long the terror of the North Road’ (John Timbs, Romance of London, (London, 1865)) was a butcher’s apprentice before turning his hand to stealing game, burglary, murder and highway robbery. Dick was hanged at York in 1739 for horse-stealing.

Highwaymen were still a force to be reckoned with during Austen’s lifetime. In Regency Cheshire, Thomas Brown (twenty-six) and James Price (nineteen) were hanged at Chester for robbing the Warrington mail-coach in May 1796.

You can find out more about the careers of men like the notorious Claude Duval, Turpin, ‘Sixteen-string Jack’, and Jack Sheppard in my latest feature for Jane Austen's Regency World.

By Victorian times, highwaymen and robbers like Turpin, Sheppard and others had become working class heroes because their crimes were perceived as being against the rich and propertied classes, rather than preying on the poor. Their lives became standard fodder for ‘penny dreadfuls’.

During the 1840s, reformers wanted to improve working conditions and access to education for working-class children. Many children could only attend Sunday school as they worked all week, but the education they received there was pretty poor. The 1843 Children’s Employment Commission discovered that some Black Country children had never heard of  British heroes such as Wellington and Nelson, but they had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the lives and careers of Turpin and Sheppard. It was not until the 1870 Education Act that universal education for children was enshrined in law.


‘An alarm by the guard’. Illustration by Hugh Thomson, Coaching Days and Coaching Ways, (Macmillan & Co. Ltd, 1910).
Heath House, Knutsford, home of highwayman Edward Higgins in the 1750s. Legend has it that Higgins had an escape tunnel under the house. © Sue Wilkes.
Jack Sheppard’s famous escapes from Newgate prison: the obstacles he overcame. Old and New London Vol. II, (Cassell, Petter & Galpin, c. 1878).

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Furness Journey

I was very interested to see Stuart Maconie’s exploration of Furness last night: one of the regional history programmes for the BBC’s Great British Story series. Maconie explored the ruined abbey at Furness (recently in the news) and traced the growth of Furness industry: the railway, steelmaking and shipbuilding.

There was some great historic footage of shipbuilding at Barrow, as well as a visit to the modern works; Maconie interviewed some of the workers there.

Readers of Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives will recall that in my book I explored living and working conditions for workers in the iron and steel industries as well as cotton factories in Lancashire.
When my new book Tracing Your Lancashire Ancestors is published by Pen & Sword this autumn, you’ll be able to discover lots of tips for exploring your family tree in the historic county of Lancashire, including the Furness peninsula.

Ancient arch at Furness Abbey, Pictorial History of the County of Lancashire, 1844.

Iron Foundry, Vickers & Co., Barrow-in-Furness, early C.20th postcard. Author’s collection.