Monday, October 24, 2011

Cross-Quarter Days

Just as the Quarter Days mark the beginning of the seasons in England (see previous post), the Cross-Quarter Days mark the midpoints of the seasons.

The four cross-quarter days are:

Candlemas (Imbolc) February 1
May Day (Beltane)1 May
Lammas (Lughnasaid )August 1
All Hallows (1 November) or Samhain (October 31)

Notice the two names. The first names are the Christian names, which in time were layered over the older Celtic names.

The Church gave Candlemas its name for the candles lit in the churches to commemorate the presentation of the Christ Child at the temple in Jerusalem. The Celtic name of Imbolc (lamb's milk) arose because the date was the beginning of the lambing season. Another name was Brigantia, for the Celtic goddess of light, as daylight increased at this midpoint between the winter solstice and spring.

May Day, half way between spring and summer, was a day of feasting and joy as the crops sown soon after Lady Day began to sprout. In this season of new life advancing, May Day became the traditional date for young men and women to pair up. They would marry at the next cross-quarter day, after three months of seeing if they would suit. June weddings came about as impatient couples pushed up the wedding day.

Next, on August 1 is Lammas, the first festival of the harvest. The Celtic name is Lughnasaid, the day of the wedding of the Celtic sun god, Lugh, and the earth goddess, whose marriage caused the grain to ripen. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which dates from the ninth century, calls it "the feast of first fruits". The name "Lammas" may derive from the shortening of Lughnasaid or the term "Loaf-Mass", for on this day, the first loaves from the year's crop were brought to the church for blessings. Also, on or before this day, English landlords required their tenants to present them with the freshly harvested wheat.

And last is All Hallows Day and the evening before, Samhain. By All Hallows Day, the harvest is in and the year turns to the depths of winter. Samhain, the day before, was the death night of the old Celtic year. Its associattion with death and dying led to its transformation into our modern Halloween.

As so the year turns, from Quarter Day to Cross-Quarter Day and back again, in the never ending cycle of time.

Thank you all,

Saturday, October 15, 2011


The Scarlet Pimpernel inspired me to write a Georgian adventure romance with my own mystery man, Christian Hartley.

"They seek him here,
they seek him there,
those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven or is he in hell?
That damned elusive Pimpernel."
After Baroness Emmuska Orczy wrote The Scarlet Pimpernel, it was a successful play having over 2,000 performances in London. It then became a highly successful novel throughout the world. The popularity of the novel encouraged the baroness to write a number of sequels for her "reckless daredevil" over the next 35 years. The play was performed to great acclaim in France, Italy, Germany and Spain, while the novel was translated into 16 languages. Subsequently, the story has been adapted for television, film, a musical and other media.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is an adventure novel set during the Reign of Terror following the start of the French Revolution.
The international success of The Scarlet Pimpernel allowed Orczy and her husband to live out their lives in luxury. Orczy wrote in her autobiography, Links in the Chain of Life: “I have so often been asked the question: ‘But how did you come to think of The Scarlet Pimpernel?’ And my answer has always been: It was God's will that I should.  And to you moderns, who perhaps do not believe as I do, I will say, in the chain of my life, there were so many links, all of which tended towards bringing me to the fulfillment of my destiny."
Perhaps many writers can relate to that. 


 “He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune.”

Francis Bacon.

Released today in e-book form with NEW CONCEPTS PUBLISHING. Coming to Amazon soon.

Leave a comment and win a copy of the e-book.

Viscount Beaumont has buried himself in the country since his wife died. As the French Revolution rages, French actress Verity Garnier is ordered to England to seduce him back to France. She despises men, but she must not fail.

Here is a taste:

Dancers gathered for the Roger de Coverley, and Henrietta had time to study Mr. Hartley at closer quarters as they advanced and retreated, performing the intricate steps. When they held hands for a brief moment, his gaze found hers. “Why, your eyes are green, Miss Buckleigh.”
Henrietta flushed, forgetting she’d been covertly noting the blue-grey color of his. “As you see, Mr. Hartley.”
“I am delighted,” he continued, when they next came together, “for I thought them blue.”
Henrietta twirled away.
When they met again, he said, “And blue is a most common found in England, don’t you think?”
“Yours are blue, Mr. Hartley.” Henrietta didn’t feel inclined to admit they were more grey than blue, not like the sky, but shadows over a deep lake. For some reason, she wanted to get the upper hand with this man.
He grinned. “So you noticed.”
“One could hardly fail to. This dance is so long-winded.” Unable to sustain a fiery gaze when his was so pleasantly warm, she fixed on his satin waistcoat, admiring the silver buttons.
 “Your hair is as fair as a Greek goddess,” he said when the next opportunity arose. “I like the way you wear it, with the ribbon.”
“Yours is as black as a devil’s,” she responded.
A man dancing next to them coughed.
Mr. Hartley chuckled. “I prefer yours flowing free. As you wore it when I first spied you on your balcony. Like Juliet in Shakespeare’s play, I felt tempted to play Romeo and climb up to you.”
“A good thing you didn’t, Mr. Hartley, for I would have thrown a pitcher of water over you.”
The neighboring man’s cough turned into a guffaw which made his partner frown and inquire what ailed him.
The dance ended, and they left the floor. “Why someone has trod on your shoe, Miss Buckleigh. I do hope it wasn’t I.” He bent at her feet to dust her shoe with his handkerchief. Her cheeks grew hot as she stared down at his dark head. Her fingers itched to touch his unpowdered black locks, and she hurriedly looked away.
“Oh, I don’t doubt that it was you, Mr. Hartley,” she said to control her disturbing urges. “But please don’t concern yourself.”
“Then I apologize profusely.” Mr. Hartley returned his handkerchief to his pocket, his eyes brimming with laughter. “It’s been a pleasure, Miss Buckleigh.”
Henrietta swept him a deep curtsy. “And mine, Mr. Hartley.”
“I trust we will meet again.” He offered her his arm and escorted her back to where her aunt sat among the dowagers.
 “London is a big town. I doubt that’s likely.” Henrietta’s heart fluttered with the hope of meeting him again, but she dismissed the thought as quickly as it arose.
 “Oh, we will, for the ton tends to flock together, in ballrooms or on horseback.”
Henrietta watched him walk away. She didn’t know his first name. What would it be? His handkerchief bore the monogram ‘C. H.’. Cornelius? Christopher? Charles? Cuthbert? She giggled. She dared not ask her aunt, for that lady was far too observant.
Hours later, everyone prepared to leave, retrieving coats, cloaks, reticules and shawls.
Her father placed her cape around her shoulders. “Did you enjoy your first dance, Hetta?”
 “It was lovely, especially the play.” She turned to look at him. “Did you enjoy the evening?” Ordinarily his thoughts would be on his cattle, and he would have suffered through this for her, but now she doubted it. He looked far too delighted to be here.
 “I found it most entertaining,” he said, as a smile lit his eyes.
 “You looked as though you really did enjoy it, Anthony.” Aunt Gabrielle had come to join them.
 “Father has planned to stay a little longer in London, Aunt.”
 “I must say I’m gratified,” she said, with a twinkle in her eye. “I wonder what attraction has made you so enamored of London society, when it never tempted you before.”
 “Yes, Father, do tell.”
He laughed and guided them towards the door. “One might ask you, Hetta, how much you enjoyed that last dance with Christian Hartley.”
Henrietta’s cheeks grew warm. So his name was Christian. She repeated it under her breath.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Magic and magic-makers in medieval courts

Seal from a manuscript by John Dee (sourced from Wikipedia Commons)Magic played a strange and ambivalent role in medieval society. Wise-women and wizards were sometimes tolerated or revered or sometimes persecuted as witches, particularly if their 'magic' went wrong. Yet at the same time, priests could perform magic and utter charms as well as prayers to combat evil or demons.

All levels of medieval society believed in magic, including the courts. Magicians might be employed at European courts as entertainers, as alchemists, as healers or as diviners. In the later Tudor period we have John Dee, who served Elizabeth I as her astronomer and occultist, and the alchemist and astronomer Paracelsus. In myth we have Merlin, one of the most famous magicians of them all, who was on the edge first of Uther Pendragon's court and then of King Arthur's, and feared and respected in equal measure. In France in the 14th century, the astrologer Thomas of Pisano made figures out of wax to destroy the invading English by magic.

Astrologers, alchemists and magicians, promising gold, health and power, were often welcomed at court and given high status. Yet their places were always vulnerable. Jealous rivals could accuse them of using magic in an evil way, as happed to Mummolus, a shrewd military tactician of the sixth century AD, a time when Frankish Gaul was split into several kingdoms. Accused of witchcraft by Fredegund, queen to Chilperic I of Soissons, Mummolus was tortured and died of his wounds.

In 1441 Eleanor, duchess of Gloucester, was accused of using ‘treasonable necromancy’ against King Henry VI in order to advance her husband. She was imprisoned for life, while the astrologers Thomas Southwell and Roger Bolingbroke, together with Margery Jourdemayne, ‘the Witch of Eye‘, were condemned to death. In the mid-1480s Richard III of England accused Elizabeth Woodville (previously married to a Lancastrian) of having bewitched his late brother Edward IV into marrying her.

Even the court of the medieval papacy was a place where members could be accused of magic - because magic-making was seen as a part of life and a way of gaining or keeping favours. In 1317 the bishop of Cahors was tried for using magic against Pope John XXII and trying to smuggle magical images into the papal palace in loaves of bread.

Lindsay Townsend

Friday, October 7, 2011

The history of washing and ironing

Dollies and possers
I can well remember watching my grandmother using a posser, and even helping on occasion. It comprised a long stick with a heavy copper disc on the end. Those with three wooden legs were called Dollies: a feminine name perhaps emphasising the woman’s place in the kitchen, just as we often call a drying rack a clothes maiden. Their purpose was to agitate the cloth in a wash-tub or dolly-tub as it was often called, although there were regional variations on styles and names. They were particularly suitable for cotton sheets or towels which needed to steep in boiling hot water then be pumped up and down with the stick to circulate them and presumably dislodge the dirt. The cotton fabric needed to be fairly robust to take the beating. I should think the woman concerned would develop strong arm muscles as a result. But then washerwomen were expected to be tough and strong, and were considered very much at the bottom of the ladder when it came to class.

The finer clothes in a large household were the responsibility of the lady’s maid.

Strong muscles were also a necessity to push and pull the earliest box mangle back and forth with the leather straps or wooden handles. I would surmise that two laundry maids would be required for this task, one at each side. The weight of the box filled with stones, or sand, pressed household linens that were spread flat beneath the rollers, or else were wound about them.

The early 19th century saw a variety of newly invented mangles with a system of gears, wheels, and handles which were meant to lighten the laundry maid’s task by helping her to move this box. You could almost view it as an early rotary iron. An advertisement stated it was “An important improvement in the construction of the common mangle ... by Mr. Baker, of Fore Street, London, by which the otherwise unwieldy heavy box was moved with great facility backwards and forwards, by a continuous motion of the handle in one direction; and by the addition of a fly wheel to equalize the motion, a great amount muscular exertion is saved to the individual working the machine.” 

By 1823 we saw the invention of the upright mangle, which took up much less space and was therefore available for use in more humble homes. Mangles also became known as wringers, as rather than smoothing the cloth, they were now mainly expected to simply rid the clothes of water. Irons: Clothes then needed to be ironed.

No-one can say exactly when people started to press cloth smooth, but we know that the Chinese were using pans filled with hot coals for the purpose more than a thousand years ago. Blacksmiths started making simple flat irons in the late Middle Ages, which continued to be in use for hundreds of years. I remember my grandma heating her flat irons on the hearth plate of her Lancashire range, warming one while she used the other. She had several, in fact, of various weights but all of them extremely heavy.

This is a picture of an ironing stove used to heat irons in the laundry of a large country house. Having tested one myself, I’d say the laundry maids would indeed need to have strong arms to even lift one, let alone swish it back and forth over a sheet.

Flat irons were often called sad iron (or sadiron) an old word meaning solid. In Scotland people used gusing (or goosing) irons, the name coming from the goose-neck curve in the handle. The charcoal or box iron had a hinged lid which you lifted so that you could fill the container with hot coals. The air holes kept the charcoal smouldering. They generally came with their own stand.

Then there were goffering, crimping and fluting irons which were meant for frilled cuffs and collars, and for the many ribbons, trimmings and intricate ruffles on a Victorian gown, which were, of course, a sign of status. No well-dressed infant could be seen out without her bonnet trimmed with Italian-ironed double frills. Irons had to be kept immaculately clean and polished, and regularly greased to avoid rusting. The temperature had to be constantly checked otherwise the fabric could be scorched. My Gran used to spit on hers, not being a lady of quality. Some would hold it close to their cheek, a somewhat risky procedure described in The Old Curiosity Shop.

I, for one, am extremely grateful for the washing machine, tumble dryer, steam iron and all the other modern devices we so take for granted.