Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving, All!

All cultures have harvest festivals. The United States harvest festival is Thanksgiving, now celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.

Our current Thanksgiving dates from 1621. Two years after their 1619 landing in the New World, the Pilgrims in Plymouth in the Massachusetts Bay Colony held a feast to celebrate their first good harvest. Strictly speaking, this celebration was not the first one. Settlers in Virginia and the Spanish explorers in Texas held harvest/thanksgiving celebrations earlier.

The actual date for Thanksgiving has varied through the years. Since Thanksgiving is a harvest festival, the day generally occurred in October or November. Each state set its own date until 1863, when, by presidential proclamation, all the states celebrated Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November. But November can have four or five Thursdays, so Thanksgiving remained a moveable holiday until 1941, when federal legislation fixed it at the fourth Thursday in November.

Now for some Thanksgiving quotes:

For flowers that bloom about our feet;
For tender grass, so fresh, so sweet;
For song of bird, and hum of bee;
For all things fair we hear or see,
Father in heaven, we thank Thee!
Ralph Waldo Emerson

There is one day that is ours. There is one day when all we Americans who are not self-made go back to the old home to eat saleratus biscuits and marvel how much nearer to the porch the old pump looks than it used to. Thanksgiving Day is the one day that is purely American. O. Henry

Give thanks for unknown blessings already on their way. Native American Saying

May your stuffing be tasty
May your turkey be plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
Have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And may your Thanksgiving dinner
Stay off your thighs!
Author Unknown

And my favorite quote, which I saw in a Thanksgiving greeting card: "Thanksgiving--the one day in the year we give thanks for turkeys."

Gobble, gobble.

Thank you all,
Linda Banche
Welcome to My world of Historical Hilarity!

The picture is "The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth" (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe. From Wikipedia

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


At the start of the war ration books were issued and by March 1940 bacon, sugar, butter and meat were being rationed. By the following July jam, cheese, canned foods and other groceries were added to the list of food that was restricted.
Tis meant housewives had to be ingenious if they wanted to provide nutritious and appetizing food to their families. It was easier in the rural areas as families could grow their own vegetables and keep a few chickens. Often there was a ‘pig club’ where several families fattened a pig on their leftover food scraps and then shared it between them when it was slaughtered. Unfortunately the War Ag took half the meat so the families had only one side to share.
The War Ag’s effort to keep the nation healthy paid off and by the end of the war people’s health had improved despite the severe shortages. Farmers produced more food than at any time – before or since – and were able to prevent the population form being starved into submission.
Potatoes weren’t rationed so they became a staple part of the wartime diet. Here is the weekly allowance.

Bacon and ham:
4oz (100g)
To the value of 1s.2d (6p today).Sausages were not rationed but difficult to get; offal (liver, kidneys, tripes) was originally unrationed but sometimes formed part of the meat ration.
2oz(50g) sometimes it went up to 4oz (100g) and even up to 8oz (225g).
4oz (100g)
2oz (50g)
3 pints(1800ml) occasionally dropping to 2 pints (1200ml). Household milk (skimmed or dried) was available : 1 packet per four weeks.
8oz (225g). There were one or two ways we could make this go further. 
1lb (450g) every two months.
2oz (50g).
1fresh egg a week if available but often only one every two weeks. Dried eggs 1 packet every four weeks.
12oz (350g) every four weeks

Woolton Pie was popular. It was invented by the head chef at the Savoy and named after the Minister of Agriculture. It consisted of vegetables cooked in pan until soft and then put in a pie dish and covered with potato pastry. Yum1 Yum!
There was a recipe for ‘mock goose’ which involved pork stuffing and other vegetables shaped a goose and parsnips stuck on the side for legs. Spam fritters were another favourite as was stuffed marrow and stuffed cabbage.
Amazingly many products around today were also available in the war. HP sauce, Bisto, Birds Custard, Marmite, Smiths Crisps, McDougall’s Flour, Nescafe, Bournville Cocoa, Ovaltine, Weetabix, Kellog’s cereals and Quaker Oats  to name but a few.
Sweets were rationed but some things were still sold –but hard to find unless you could afford to buy on the black market. Cadbury’s chocolate, Terry’s chocolate, Mars, Crunchie, Quality Street, Cadbury’s Milk Tray, Rowntree’s Smarties, Kit-Kat, and Rolo were all around and many with the same wrapper as today. There were also ration bars of Cadbury’s chocolate for 2 1/2d.

There was a wartime food experiment done a few years ago where a morbidly obese woman ate only war recipes – the before and after pictures are amazing. She is now an attractive , slim, young woman. There was less fat and sugar in the diet and this was obviously healthier.
 Spam fritters and Mock goose just don’t do it for me.

Fenella J Miller

Fenella's Diary
Hannah's War - coming soon.
Barbara's War £1.99
The Duke's Deception £1.00
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To Marry a Duke £0.99
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The Duke's Reform £1.02

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

DRESSING A REGENCY GENTLEMAN 1790-1830 By Maggi Andersen

Influences: In the 19th Century, gentlemen cast aside the brightly colored silks and satins of the 18th Century. Regency men’s clothing adopted a monochromatic color scheme, the war having isolated Britain from the extravagances of French fashion. Influenced by George Brummell, who based his dress on the finest of British tailoring and the military, a more masculine aesthetic developed, inspired by English horsemanship and a classical standard of masculinity as seen in the ancient Greek and Roman statuary.
Men were encouraged to improve their bodies and sought active pursuits such as riding, steeplechases, boxing in saloons such as Gentleman Jackson's, or Fencing schools in London.

We begin with said gentleman stripped:

Unlike the 18th Century, where perfume was used to cover body odor, a Regency gentleman would begin his day bathing in hot water. He would forgo any use of perfume, preferring the smell of fresh linen. 

Gentlemen seldom wore drawers. Some just tucked their shirttails into their pantaloons, others, for decorum, employed a lining within their unmentionables.

These were laced closed in the back, the front fastened with two buttons and a fly front. There was plenty of material in the seat for ease of movement, the legs tight and tied at the knees.

The shirt was of lightly starched white linen , with a generous cut in both the body and sleeves. It had to be pulled on over the head, for the neck opening reached from the collar to about mid-chest with a button at the throat. The wide, long cuffs (longer than the coat) featured a tiny button.  

 The stockings were of wool or cotton, even under silk for eveningwear, to obtain a smooth appearance. 

 The waistcoat buttoned up the front. They could be single or double-breasted (like coats) tied at the back with buckles and straps.  Often white or skin-toned to give the impression of a toned chest, in keeping with the neo-classical ideal of a Greek statue.
Detail was all in the front panels, which might be embroidered silk or linen.

Coats were made from dark matte fabrics such as wool, Bath cloth or superfine, purchased from specialist tailors like John Weston’s at No. 34 Old Bond Street or Schweitzer & Davidson on Cork Street, (Brummell’s favorite). They were designed to embrace the back and shoulders, with a high collar to enhance the crisp cravat. They could be broadened in the shoulders – for those who needed it. Pockets were inside. Dress coats or tailcoats had cutaway fronts with tails in the back. They were single or double-breasted with self-fabric buttons. Brass/gold buttons featured on blue coats.

Unmentionables. Breeches or pantaloons were worn during the day, made of either doeskin or chamois leather, or a soft stocking-like fabric. In summer, they were made of white linen, stout pale, or nankeen. All had corset lacing at the back, with a fall front, the waistband buttoned to the side with 2 or 3 buttons. Belts were never used. Suspenders or crossed braces produced the necessary fitted line over the thigh. Regency men dressed to one side, the pants cut wider on one side at the top of the thigh, and higher on the other. Button fastenings beneath the knee, assured a smooth look to the leg.
Evening Wear. Breeches or pantaloons were made of black silk jersey, knitted cashmere, or silk-stockinette imported from India. The seam on the outside of the leg might be embroidered or clocked to frame the muscles of the thigh.

Cravats were often a complex arrangement made from long rectangles of mostly white material – Brummel’s were of fine Irish muslin. A triangle cut on the diagonal from a square yard of fabric, was folded twice, and wrapped about the neck, with the ends tied in one of several styles. It was then pressed or rubbed into place by a day-old shirt or a hot iron. Starched cravats were padded with horsehair. Brummell often went through piles of material when attempting perfection while dressing!

The working classes adopted colored cravats, as did the sporting set. Such as the “Belcher” neckcloth, (named after the famous pugilist Jem Belcher, which were also called peacock eyed.)

Next, the boots (of varying length) worn not only for riding and hunting, etc, but also adopted for informal morning wear.  There was the top boot, or English, John Bull, Jockey, or Tall Boot. Hessians, or Hess boot, sometimes called the Austrian. Highly polished of course, with spurs by day. Thinly-soled black pumps were worn for evening.

Lastly the coat: A gentleman would have several caped greatcoats or driving coats made of heavier wool for inclement weather. This gentleman wears Hessian boots. 

To complete the picture:

A cane, which came in a variety of styles, some, like the Venus were quite lavish and suggestive.

Gloves were yellow/buff or brown leather.
Hats were made from beaver – which almost made the animal extinct.

A tall hat, similar to a top hat. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Corsets as a status symbol

‘A Corset is of sterling worth in aiding and beautifying the figure.’ 

Have you ever considered a corset as a status symbol; a means of class distinction? Surprising as it may seem the corset once ranked high among the status symbols of our forefathers, or mothers, as the case may be. The woman who could not stoop to retrieve her fallen fan, could exert herself sufficiently to tinkle a handbell for her maidservant who, uncorseted, or at least should be if she wanted to keep her position, could retrieve it for her.

The corset has of course other functions. Its main one being to support and mould the figure into the shape dictated by the fashion of the day. It has always had its erotic associations, making the wearer feel attractive and feminine and no doubt decidedly uncomfortable.

We first hear of the corset in early Mediaeval England, when the Monks wrote of the evils of tight lacing and bustling, saying that it caused deformity. They failed to stamp out this pernicious habit for by the sixteenth century the corset was an accepted part of a lady’s wardrobe. It was made of stiff leather, wood or even iron supports, with large semi-circular side pieces laced on. The stomacher, a flat placard, was fastened to the front and pulled tightly in at the waist, leaving the hips free. Elizabeth I pioneered the use of whalebones in corsets, but as ever, this wily Queen was motivated mainly by economic reasons.

By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, corsets were even worn in the nursery. A lady of quality along with her young daughters, wore a ‘pair of bodies’ stiffened with busks of wood or whalebone with back lacing, the lower part open to ride over the hips.

During the Regency period when clinging, neo-Grecian lines were the mode, the corset fell from favour. Undeterred, the corset makers turned their attention to the male of the species who was at that time preening himself unashamedly. The ‘dandies’ took to the ‘Cumberland Corset’ or the ‘Brummell Bodice’. Even the Prince Regent laced himself into stays and the less kind among his contemporaries considered him to be in need of such support.

It was the Victorian era, however, which saw the corset fashion at its height. The waist reverted to its normal position and tight lacing was once more evident. There is no doubt that much of the ill health and fainting fits of the time were attributed to this. Young girls considered it desirable to marry with age and waist measurements the same - preferably less than twenty-one. A lady of fashion might even have ribs removed to achieve the desired effect and on no account would she be seen without her corset, even in bed.

Metal eye-holes and india-rubber came to be used during the Industrial Revolution and in 1860, elastic panels were introduced. As skirts tightened in the 1870’s so the corset lengthened and here we see the birth of the suspender. The naughty 1990’s saw a devastating array of frills, laces, bows and paint box colours, the most popular being cardinal red and canary yellow, hidden beneath a starched Victorian facade. There were dual purpose corsets with chemise tops which could be used for day and evening wear, in black, white or cardinal silk coutille.

At the turn of the century came the so-called health corset which flattened the stomach, thrusting the bosom forward and the hips back thus creating the mature, solid S-shape. Advertisements emphasised the beneficial effects of these corsets in relieving the hips of the weight of the skirt and preventing stooping. Shoulder braces were also available for wearing over the corset. Well encased, the Victorian mama and her daughter would be quite incapable of stooping.

There were corsets for every occasion. Cycling was becoming fashionable and a special cyclist’s corset with elastic sides was produced. A writer commenting in a shopping guide of a woman’s magazine of 1894 shows the attitude of the day on the wearing of corsets when she says ‘I wish fat people could be persuaded to wear them for tennis.’

In 1902 came the unbreakable corsets with triple steel busks, and in 1903 the featherbone which was composed of quill fibre and claimed to replace old-fashioned whalebone. The ‘solo’ corset of 1905 introduced invisible lacing which could be adjusted by the wearer at the pull of a string. At this time too appeared the reducing corset with an elastic abdominal belt.

After the great war things were never the same again. The boy look of the 1920s brought in the use of ‘flatteneds’, a sheath-like garment which fitted from armpits to thighs and dispelled any shape whatsoever.

In the 1930s came the ‘two-way stretch’ reminding women once more of the comfort and grace of being natural. In the summer of 1939 the corset almost made a comeback, for waists were nipped in and advertisers promised laced up corsets made from the newest materials. The second world war ended this fashion abruptly; women had to work and working women have no time for the restrictions of tight lacing.

Since the war the move has been towards an even greater freedom. The use of nylon and Lycra and the fashion for young, natural lines have released women from a bondage most of us have no wish to see return.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Where is it set?

One of my books, The Gentle Wind's Caress, is set in an area of Yorkshire known as Calderdale. The villages that feature in the book are Hebden Bridge and Heptonstall.

Hebden Bridge is the little bustling village that the heroine of the book, Isabelle, visits to shop and sell her wares on a market stall, but it is the farming countryside around Heptonstall, high up on the moors above Hebden Bride, where Isabelle lives on a run down farm which she tries to keep from going under despite the odds being against her.

Hebden Bridge

The area is naturally beautiful and running through the valley is the Calder River. This part of Yorkshire, like most areas, is steeped in history, and you can enjoy many local attractions, whether that be sipping coffee in Hebden Bridge, hiking along the many walking trails throughout the valley, learning the villages' history at places like Gibson's Mill (this is also Isabelle's surname, as I've made her a fictional distant relative of the mill owners), or visiting natural beauty spots like Hardcastle Crags.

For more information on Hebden Bridge:
For more information on Heptonstall:

A snippet from The Gentle Wind's Caress:

The cartwheel fell into a hole, jerking her back to the present. She forced herself to relax. Yes, she had married a stranger, but what had been the alternative? Living on the streets would have been much worse and she had to think of Hughie’s future too.
Isabelle raised her chin and concentrated on her surroundings. They’d left Halifax immediately after the wedding tea and driven straight to Hebden Bridge, where Len stopped to purchase goods, which for some reason, he grumbled about. Now, they drove up the steep, winding Heptonstall Road and her new husband had barely spoken to them. She couldn’t blame him really. Obviously, the situation wasn’t easy for him either. She expected that men become equally nervous as women when they married.
Craning to look past Hughie, Isabelle marvelled at the magnificent scenery of the valley below. The grey stone terrace houses of Hebden Bridge hugged the slopes as though they had been hewn from the valley sides. The silver ribbon of the River Calder coiled through the town like a lazy snake. Beside it, caught in glimpses between trees and buildings, lay the Rochdale Canal.
Familiar names in a new and unfamiliar life.  
The muted noise of the small village of Heptonstall greeted them like a soft caress on the wind. The narrow, quiet streets reflected the lateness of the day; many would be inside enjoying their tea. Isabelle took eager interest in the Old Church and Weaver’s Square, and counted seven public houses, but all too soon they left the stone thoroughfare of Towngate and headed northwest on Smithwell Lane and out of the village. She would have to investigate the village properly at a later date.
Isabelle stifled a yawn, she had been awake since before dawn. The day’s toll flagged her strength. She still couldn’t believe she was now married. Opening her eyes wide to keep alert, she surveyed the countryside as it opened up on both sides of the road. The higher they rose, the cooler the weather became and the bleaker their environment. This was moor country. The crisp autumn air awoke her senses. Her gaze lingered on the hues of the heather covered moor. How beautiful it is. Maybe being married and living in the country would be an enjoyable experience. Surely, nothing could be worse than living by Matron’s rules and spending her time hiding from Neville?

To learn more about The Gentle Wind's Caress, which is available in paperback and ebook, visit online sellers such as Amazon, and my Facebook author page.

Sunday, November 4, 2012


I remember World War 2 very vividly although I was only a child at the time and writing about it in The Girl on the Beach, meant doing some research, particularly about food rationing and that set my memory off. The conversations in the queues were often about the progress of the war, the blitz and the damage caused, the casualties, whose son had been posted missing or who had been found safe as a prisoner of war, and the miseries of travel, but more often than not it was about food and how to make the rations go round.

Much of Britain’s food before the war was imported, but what with the ships being needed for conveying troops and armaments and the menace of u-boats, this had to be severely curtailed. We had to rely more on food produced at home. Farmers were dogged by regulations about what they grew and how they grew it, and everyone was encouraged to grow vegetables. ‘Dig for Victory’ was the slogan. Flower beds were dug up, even in municipal parks, in order to grow vegetables.  And pig clubs sprang up everywhere and swill buckets were left in schools and restaurants to feed them
The war was less than a month old when ration  books were issued to everyone, each with the name of its owner on the front and the books had to be registered with a grocer, whose stocks were governed by the number of people registered with him. . Rationing began in January 1940, with sugar at 12ozs per week, butter 4ozs and bacon and ham 4ozs. (16ozs to the pound, a pound is not quite 500 grams, so 4ozs is roughly 125 grams) Two months later meat was rationed by price at one shilling and tenpence worth a week. (A shilling converted to 5p in 1972 but that is meaningless now)  Because it was rationed by price, the cheaper cuts gave you more for your money and there were many recipes published and broadcast on the BBC to make the best use of them. Meat was followed by cheese and then preserves, margarine (2ozs a week) and cooking fat (also 2ozs). Eggs and milk were allocated rather than rationed and their supply varied. Bread was never rationed during the war, (although it was afterwards) but we ate the National Loaf  which was a grey colour and was supposed to be more nutritious. As the war progressed the amounts were changed according to available supplies. Food that was not rationed was often in short supply and long queues formed the minute word went round that stocks had arrived in the shops and once the supplies of tinned fruit and vegetables were used up there were no more. Onions, most of which had previously been imported from the Channel Islands, were like gold dust and exchanged hands for exorbitant sums. Oranges, lemons and bananas were unheard of.

I remember the mother of one of my friends gave us some bread and butter (‘Scrape it on and scrape it off again.’ my mother used to say) on which she had spread something she called mock banana. It was mashed potato flavoured with banana essence and it was pretty awful. Children of five who were given bananas at the end of the war didn’t know what to do with them and often tried to eat them skin and all!

I was staying in the country with my aunt who had befriended some American airmen from the nearby base. They told her they had loads of oranges, many of them over-ripe. My aunt suggested they would make good wine if only they had the sugar. To her surprise two sacks of oranges and a sack of sugar was delivered by jeep for her to make the wine. She didn’t have a vessel large enough and so used the copper which stood in the corner of the kitchen. For weeks we had to endure the smell as it fermented. The resulting wine was bottled and the Americans came and picked them up, leaving a few for my aunt’s own use. We were going to my grandmother’s for Christmas and took a couple of bottles on the train with us, putting them with our luggage on the rack above our heads. A little while into the journey there was a loud explosion and everyone dived for cover, thinking they were being bombed. It was only when the sticky orange mess dripped down from the rack did we realise the wine had blown its cork and fear changed to merriment. It took ages to clean ourselves up when we arrived at our destination.

On another occasion while staying with my grandmother in the country, her cat brought in a rabbit she had caught. Grandma shut all the doors and endeavoured to relieve the cat of her catch. Puss was understandably loath to let it go and there resulted a chase round furniture, under the table, round chairs, behind cupboards worthy of a comedy film. The poor cat, hampered by her burden which was almost as big as she was, eventually had to drop it and we had rabbit stew for dinner. I think the cat had her share.

Rabbits were also caught at harvest time. Everyone stood round shoulder to shoulder with clubs in their hands as the reaper felled the last few rows of standing corn and the rabbit ran out. I was too squeamish and let a rabbit run out between my legs, much to my grandfather’s fury. My brother bagged one, but it was taken off him by one of the grown-ups. Again we had rabbit for dinner. We had pigeon pie in those days too, anything to stretch the meat ration. My mother, like many another housewife, became adept at making a few ounces of mince go round the family with lots of vegetables and good gravy.

I remember on one occasion my mother and her sister went to a dance at the American base and came back with a huge joint of beef. My grandfather was furious and called them Jezebels, a favourite word of his. He would have made them take it back, but Grandma was more of a realist and we had a feast the following day. I remember on one occasion when Mother was putting me to bed, I complained of being hungry. Her answer was ‘Go to sleep and forget about it.’ We were never really hungry, never starving as other people in the world were, and my complaint was really only that I felt a bit peckish.  

It seems unbelievable now, when we think nothing of spreading what would have been half a week’s butter ration on a single slice of toast, or cracking two eggs into a pan for our breakfast, when in those far-off days we were lucky if we had one a week.  Everything was bulked out with vegetables and we ate more than the five-a-day we are exhorted to eat nowadays. But according to the statistics we, as a nation, were far healthier. Obesity was not a problem. But I don’t think I’d want to go back to those times for all that.

Details of The Girl on the Beach and all my other books can be found on: AUTHOR WEBSITE