The Inconvenient Problem of the Poor

Today, I’ve invited my friend Virginia Heath to my cozy drawing room to share a bit of early 19th century history with you. Prior to her current career as a Regency romance author, Virginia was a history teacher. So pour yourself a cup of your favorite beverage and settle in. Class is in session. Take it away, Virginia.

The ladies and gentlemen of early 19th century had a problem- extreme poverty amongst the labouring classes. A problem which was getting bigger with each passing year and one which they would prefer to ignore. Unfortunately, no matter how hard they tried, those pesky poor people were becoming a noisy, angry, organised mass who were buoyed by the recent successes of the French and American revolutions. It made the ruling classes have to listen, even if they were not prepared to make a great many concessions and created a climate of acute nervousness in the homes of the great and the good throughout Britain. It is this nervousness which I would like to explore here today.

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Cartoon by John Leech for Punch Magazine. 1846 Courtesy of PBS Learning Media.

First of all, you need to understand the mind-set of the average English aristocrat at this time. They did not have the plucky pioneer spirit of the Americans, where a new nation was forged from scratch in a relatively short space of time, and where industry, fortitude and self-made men ruled. In the New World, anything was possible. Such radical ideas were simply not British. The concept of society being rigidly structured was ingrained; the feudalism from medieval times was still very much alive- although undisputedly not very well. Two bloodless British revolutions had seen to that.

The Agricultural Revolution saw thousands displaced from their tiny holdings with the Enclosure Act of 1773, so that efficient modern farming techniques could be implemented. The fact that this also served to render thousands incapable of eking out their own meager living was by-the-by.

To compound the misery of these faceless, voiceless individuals further, by the early 1800s the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, making the rich richer and Britain great. Those polluting, soul-destroying factories needed legions of workers and it was those on the bottom rung of the ladder who were forced to swarm to the newly expanding industrial towns like Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield and London to get work.

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Sheffield from the Attercliffe Road c. 1819 Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The rich both feared and despised these people and tried to categorize them in order to understand them. By the Victorian era, they had even coined particular phrases to separate the wheat from the chaff. The ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor. The deserving consisted of anyone who slaved away in a menial, poorly paid job, former soldiers injured in the service of the nation, certain old people who could no longer work and foundling children who needed to be institutionalised to save their souls. Such people were romanticised to appear almost noble, like the flower seller in Francis Wheatley’s ‘Cries of London’ exhibition at the Royal Academy in the 1790s. These were the sort of people the aristocracy wanted to rule over.

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Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The ‘undeserving’ were vast, and seen as drunks, layabouts and criminals. Those without the means to feed themselves, those forced into prostitution or into begging were not to be helped. These people were a plague which needed to be eradicated. Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’ shows the typical stereotype fervently believed by the rich to avoid having to face up to the issues they themselves created.

The horrific conditions the poorest were made to work and live in do not bear thinking about, so that is precisely what the well-heeled gentry at the time did. Not think about the poor. Ignore them. Segregate them.

The city of London is an excellent example of how they did this. Here is a typical map of the capital city from 1817.

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As you can see the old city followed the route of River Thames. But so did the rigorously structured population. The river flows west to east, eventually out into the Thames Estuary and the sea beyond. The further west you were, the less smelly and polluted Father Thames, therefore it is no accident that the wealthy neighborhoods, like Mayfair and Kensington, sit in the West End of the city. This engraving of Berkeley Square shows the typical paved splendour of the affluent.

Berkeley Square, London

Berkeley Square c.1816

The dregs got to live close to the flow of effluent and toxic waste dumped in the river in the East End. And they lived in over-crowded squalor far away from the genteel sensibilities of their rulers.

This was also the perfect place to put the docks. Although foreign trade was essential for Britain’s power and commerce, those ships brought other undesirable things into the capital which the rich did not wish to rub shoulders with: sordid sailors from around the world, immigrants. Nasty diseases. The merchants and tradesmen tended to live in the centre of the town, the part now known as the City, within easy reach of both their wealthy clientele and the imported stock they sold them. These industrious men were partially tolerated in society because they provided the essential status symbols, however they were looked down upon. They might wish to shop in Cheapside, but Heaven forbid they should have to live there!

However, as the century progressed, the population of these industrial towns soared and the problems they created multiplied. John Thomas Smith wrote an impassioned tome on the subject in 1817 entitled ‘Vagobondiana’. He complains “Beggary, of late, has become so dreadful in London, that the more active interference of the legislature was deemed absolutely necessary, indeed the deceptions of the idle and sturdy were so various, cunning and extensive, that it was in most instances extremely difficult to discover the real object of charity”.

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Massacre at St Peter’s by George Cruickshank Courtesy of the British Library

Imbued with a new sense of political purpose the labouring classes began to organise. The Corn Law riots, Spa Field riots and Peterloo Massacre are pertinent examples of how the British government tried to keep the poor in their proper place. Violent clashes where blatant, unpatriotic insubordination was dealt with harshly by the authorities. The aristocracy ardently supported this. They wanted the inconvenient problem of the vocal, terrifying battalions of potential usurpers to simply go away.

Yet the poor just kept on complaining, and growing in size, to such an extent that in the 1830s a French-style revolution was only narrowly avoided with some minor concessions from parliament. However, the chasm between the ruling and the working classes was now to wide to be breached and only became wider with time.

A Bit About Virginia Heath:

When Virginia Heath was a little girl it took her ages to fall asleep, so she made up stories in her head to help pass the time while she was staring at the ceiling. As she got older, the stories became more complicated, sometimes taking weeks to get to the happy ending. Then one day, she decided to embrace the insomnia and start writing them down. Her first Regency romance, That Despicable Rogue, is available now but it still takes her forever to fall asleep.

If you want to find out more about Virginia and her books, check out www.virginiaheathromance.com. You can also follow her on Twitter  and on  Facebook.

The Anglo-American Convention of 1818: An International Friendship Begins

My upcoming novel, An Unsuitable Duchess, is a historical romance about the daughter of an American diplomat and an English duke. The story is set in London in 1818. While I was researching what the relationship was like between the United States and Great Britain during that time, I came across information about the Anglo-American Convention of 1818. I’m certain it was covered in one of my history classes in Junior High School, but I had forgotten all about it. Now I can appreciate the importance of this convention that resulted in the Treaty of 1818, which determined, among other things, the 49th parallel as the border between the United States and British North America (Canada). Many historians believe the negotiations surrounding this Treaty were the beginning of congenial relations between the United States and Great Britain.

The convention is referred to by many names: The Convention respecting fisheries, boundary, and the restoration of slaves between the United States and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the London Convention, Anglo-American Convention of 1818, Convention of 1818, and simply the Treaty of 1818. It was held in London in October of 1818 and the Treaty was signed on October 20th. Ratifications took place on January 30, 1819. The opening paragraph of the Treaty explains the purpose and who conducted the negotiations.

The United States of America, and His Majesty The King [George IV of the United Kingdom] of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, desirous to cement the good Understanding which happily subsists between them, have, for that purpose, named their respective Plenipotentiaries, that is to say: The President of the United States [James Monroe], on his part, has appointed, Albert Gallatin, Their Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of France; and Richard Rush, Their Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of His Britannic Majesty: And His Majesty has appointed The Right Honorable Frederick John Robinson [1st Viscount Goderich], Treasurer of His Majesty’s Navy, and President of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade and Plantations; and Henry Goulburn Esquire, One of His Majesty’s Under Secretaries of State: Who, after having exchanged their respective Full Powers, found to be in due and proper Form, have agreed to and concluded the following Articles.

The Treaty consisted of six articles. Here’s a breakdown of what each accomplished:

Article 1 – Secured fishing rights off the shores of Newfoundland Labrador for the United States.

Article 2 – Set the boundary between British North America (Canada) and the United States “along the line from the most northwestern point of Lake in the Woods along the 49th parallel of north latitude to the Stony Mountains (Rocky Mountains).” Great Britain also ceded the part of Rupert’s Land the Red River Colony south of the 49th parallel. Fun fact: The border between the United States and Canada is 5,525 miles (8,891 km) long. It is the longest international border in the world.

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Article 3 – Set equal control of the Oregon Country, which was the Colombia District of the Hudson Bay Company, for ten years. It was agreed that both countries would control the territory and their citizens were guaranteed free navigation through the territory without interference from the other country.

Article 4 – Confirmed regulation of commerce between the two countries for an additional ten years. It also extended the stipulation that vessels of the United States could not dock or hold communication with the Island of St. Helena as long as Napoleon Bonaparte was in residence there.

Article 5 – An agreement was reached that would defer differences over the United States claim in regards to the Treaty of Ghent would be resolved by “some Friendly Sovereign or State to be named for that purpose.” The United States claimed the British had taken some slaves belonging to Americans during the War of 1812. They wanted these slaves returned or compensation given for them.

Article 6 – Stated that ratification would occur within six months after the Treaty was signed.

James Monroe's note to the US Senate regarding the Treaty of 1818

James Monroe’s note to the US Senate regarding the Treaty of 1818, courtesy of Rice on History blog.

In reviewing the Treaty of 1818, I also found it interesting to see a map of what the United States looked like at the time.

A map of the United States by mapmaker John Melish, published in 1820, following the Anglo-American Convention of 1818. Courtesy of CBS News.

A map of the United States by mapmaker John Melish, published in 1820, following the Anglo-American Convention of 1818. Courtesy of CBS News.

If you are interested in reading the Treaty of 1818, this link from Yale Law School presents the document in its entirety: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/conv1818.asp

References used:

CBS News: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/almanac-the-49th-parallel/

Rice on History:  https://riceonhistory.wordpress.com/category/diplomatic/treaty-papers/page/3/

Yale Law School

 

Would You Have Given Up Your Jewelry to Fight Napoleon?

If your country asked you to give up something to help fight the enemy, would you do it? Between 1803 and 1815, citizens of Prussia were called upon by members of the royal family to donate their gold and silver jewelry to help finance their country’s efforts in the Napoleonic Wars. In exchange for their precious jewelry, they were given jewelry cast in Berlin iron.

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Berlin iron is a metal that was produced in the Prussian royal foundry. It is a black-lacquered cast iron material that was originally used to make objects such as utensils, candlesticks, and medallions, as well as larger objects such as garden furniture, and fencing. The iron was coated with black lacquer to prevent it from rusting. It is that black appearance that gives Berlin ironwork the look of mourning jewelry. Ironwork jewelry was also produced by iron jewelers such as Johann Conrad Geiss.

Berlin Ironwork Bracelet, ca.1815

Berlin Ironwork Bracelet, ca.1815

Prussian citizen’s wore their ironwork jewelry with a sense of patriotic pride. Many pieces bore slogans like “I gave gold for iron” and “for the welfare of our homeland.” This gentleman’s ring features a center medallion with a pair of clasped hands. This symbol represents loyalty and solidarity. On the ring are inscribed the words “there is an echo in France when we say the words honor and Fatherland.”

19th Century Ironwork Men's Ring

Early Berlin ironwork followed fashion and was typically neo-classical in design. Many pieces included cameos and classical figures.

Berlin_Iron_Necklace_l early 19th century

Around 1815, the designs began to change to feature more natural elements.

 Berlin iron_necklace

By 1825, ironwork jewelry remained in favor and pieces were being designed in the gothic revival style.

Berlin Ironwork Bracelets from the V&AI wonder how many people today would give up their jewelry if their country asked them to?

Resources used:

 

 

Museum Exhibitions to Keep You Busy on a Cold Day

White leather boot c. 1845

When the cold weather hits, I’m always looking for interesting things to do indoors. Here are a few museum exhibitions that caught my eye. If only I had my own private plane, I would lace up my boots and visit each one.

IN GREAT BRITAIN:

Wedding Dresses, 1775-2014 at the V&A

Now through March 15, 2015, visit the V&A in London to see romantic and iconic wedding dresses.

http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/exhibitions/wedding-dress-1775-2014/

The Lost Art of Writing also at the V&A

For anyone who still enjoys putting pen to paper, this is for you. This small display explores some of the objects used in writing, from a medieval penner to an ingenious 18th century globe inkstand. This exhibition runs through April 19, 2015.

http://www.vam.ac.uk/whatson/event/2885/the-lost-art-of-writing-4256/

Bonaparte and the British at The British Museum

This exhibition at The British Museum in London, focuses on the printed propaganda that either reviled or glorified Napoleon Bonaparte, on both sides of the English Channel. It explores how his formidable career coincided with the peak of political satire as an art form.

http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/bonaparte_and_the_british.aspx

Georgians – Dress for Polite Society at The Fashion Museum

The Fashion Museum in Bath holds a world-class collection of contemporary and historic dresses. Now through January 1, 2016, you can see over 30 original 18th century outfits and ensembles drawn from the museum’s collection.

http://www.fashionmuseum.co.uk/events/georgians

Waterloo Life and Times at The Fan Museum

2015 marks the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo and The Fan Museum in Greenwich, London has an exhibition that includes fans printed with portraits of heroic figures like Nelson and Wellington. The exhibition runs through May 10, 2015.

http://www.thefanmuseum.org.uk/exhibitions/waterloo-life-and-times

IN THE UNITED STATES:

Cosmopolitan Consumption: New England Shoe Stories, 1750-1850 at the Portsmouth Athenaeum

This is a great exhibition for anyone with a fondness for footwear. The Portsmouth Athenaeum in Portsmouth, N.H. is presenting an exhibition on the process of how shoes were made, sold, and worn in New England. Some beautiful shoes are included in this exhibition. It runs through June 5, 2015.

http://portsmouthathenaeum.org/exhibits.html

Downton Abbey Comes to the Biltmore Estate

If you love Downton Abbey, you’ll love this exhibition. The curators at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C. have installed 47 costumes from the television series throughout the rooms of the house. As you wander the halls, you will see both the upstairs and the downstairs portions of life from Downton Abbey. The exhibition runs through May 25, 2015.

http://www.biltmore.com/media/newsarticle/downton-abbey-costumes-at-biltmore

An Intimate History of the Silhouette at the Bard Graduate Center

This exhibition examines the extraordinary ways in which women and men have shaped their bodies into distinctive silhouettes in the name of Fashion. The Bard Graduate Center is located in New York City. This exhibition runs from April 3 through July 26, 2015.

http://www.bgc.bard.edu/gallery/gallery-at-bgc/fashioning-the-body.html

Masterpieces of American Furniture 1700-1830 at the National Gallery of Art

The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. has one of the largest and most refined collections of early American furniture. This exhibition is now part of their permanent collection.

http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/exhibitions/permanent/kaufman_furniture.html

UPCOMING:

Luminous Worlds: British Works on Paper, 1770-1870 at Legion of Honor

The Legion of Honor museum in San Francisco will present an exhibition that reflects the 18th century vogue of portraiture and caricature, and the rise of landscape painting. This exhibition will run from July 18, 2015 through November 22, 2015.

http://legionofhonor.famsf.org/exhibitions/luminous-worlds-british-works-paper-1770-1870

If there are other exhibitions you are excited about seeing, please let me know. And if you are lucky enough to catch any of these exhibitions, I’d love to hear about it.

Note: Thank you to Dr. Kimberly Alexander, who is co-curator of Portsmouth Athenaeum’s shoe exhibition, for providing me with the photograph of the white leather boot I used in this post. In case you’re wondering, it’s c.1845. Kimberly writes a wonderful blog entitled Silk Damask, where she discusses historical costumes. Here is the link to her blog: http://silkdamask.blogspot.com/

Beautiful Furniture at the 2014 Winter Antiques Show

As a writer of historical fiction, I’m challenged with describing a world that no longer exists. One of the ways I transport my imagination into Regency England is by seeing items from that era. At this year’s Winter Antiques Show, held annually in NYC, there were many exhibitors that presented beautiful pieces of furniture.

The Hyde Park Antiques stand is a favorite stop of mine. Perhaps it’s because I am a writer, but I always find myself drawn to antique desks and books. The moment I walked in their stand, this George III inlaid Secretaire Bookcase c.1790, made in England, caught my eye.

George III Secretaire Bookcase

The allure of an antique dressing table is another siren call to me. This lovely beauty was found at Alfred Bullard. Each year, I look forward to stopping at their stand to see what treasures they have. They always have many beautiful pieces, and their staff is so knowledgeable and personable.

George III Mahogany Dressing Table

This George III mahogany dressing table, made in England c.1800, has satinwood inlaid borders on the rectangular double hinged lid. The lid hides a ratcheted, sliding hinged mirror and a fitted interior that has an arrangement of small covered boxes, open trays and wells. The table is supported on square tapered legs with brass castors that rise to shaped corner brackets.

Basin Drawer of George III Mahogany Dressing Table

One of best parts of this piece is the central deep basin drawer which was disguised as two drawers. That large round opening would have housed a wash basin and the smaller holes would have held small dishes for soap. It was interesting to see that a woman could execute her toilette using just this one piece of furniture.

The last item I wanted to feature might hold special interest for Regency enthusiasts. It is a small round table with the Coat of Arms of the Duke of Wellington and was made in England in 1830—the same year he resigned as Prime Minister.

Table with the Duke of Wellington's Coat of Arms

This polychrome painted, tilt top occasional table depicts the Duke of Wellington’s Coat of Arms and Honora from various campaigns. The arms and medals on the painted top are all honors bestowed on the Duke of Wellington. Below the motto “Virtutis Fortuna Comes” (fortune is the companion of valor) hang various medals, including the Golden Fleece and Austrian, Spanish and Indian honors. All are representative of victory titles granted to the Duke for his distinguished military service in the Peninsular War and at the Battle of Waterloo.

Antique Tilt Top Table With the Duke of Wellington's Crest

Next week, I’ll post my final highlights of the 2014 Winter Antique Show and give you a glimpse of some of the lovely portraits I discovered during my visit.

A Glimpse of History at the 2014 Winter Antiques Show

Winter Antique Show at the Park Avenue Armory

Each year, as the end of January rolls around, my heart kicks up speed knowing I’ll be attending the annual Winter Antiques Show held at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. For anyone interested in antiques, this is one of the premiere antique shows of the year. All profits from this event go directly to the East Side House Settlement, a charity that supports education in one of the poorest congressional districts in the United States.

This year’s Winter Antiques Show ran from January 24th through February 2nd. Seventy-five antique dealers from across the country and abroad converged in this one space to showcase a sample of their collections. I thought I’d share some pictures to give you a glimpse of one of my favorite shows.

Since I collect portrait miniatures, one of my first and favorite stops is at Elle Shushan’s where her display of antique portrait miniatures always takes my breath away.

Elle Shushan

Another one of my favorite stops is at Kenneth W. Rendell Gallery. The gallery is in New York City and they carry historical letters and documents from the Renaissance to the present day in all fields. Their staff is always helpful and happy to answer questions. This year, I found a signature of King George III that caught my eye.

Signature of King George III

Probably one of the most extravagant items I spotted at this year’s Show, was a gold and diamond Cartier diaper pin at A La Vieille Russie. In all likelihood, it was originally used as an actual diaper pin. It amazes me what some people would put near poo.

Cartier Diaper Pin

My friends would tell you I have an addiction to coffee. I prefer to call it a love affair. When I saw this English fine double baluster coffee mill c.1760 from Robert Young Antiques, my palms started to itch.

English Fine Double Baluster Coffee Mill c. 1760

The Winter Antiques Show really is a wonderful place to spend the day if you have an interest in antiques. Next week, I’ll highlight some of the beautiful furniture I saw that I wish I had room for in my home.