Fire – A Regency Necessity + A giveaway!

I have enjoyed writing Regency stories for several years, and the more I write, the more I realize how much more there is to know about that era. But, if I have learned anything along the way, it is this: For a tale is to be believable, the details must also be believable.

With each new story, I find another aspect of the Regency period that I need to investigate. I’m not speaking of the protocols of courtship or station that I tend to flaunt in my ‘what if’ tales, but about everyday matters my characters would have faced—such as how to build a fire, treat a cold or how much time it took to travel from point A to point B.

Today I would like to pass along a little bit of what I learned about fire. By the fourteenth century, the Steet seller of matches for tinder boxes 1821“match” was known in Europe, but it was much more similar to what we think of as a wick or a fuse. It was a chemically treated cord which burned slowly but continuously, and could be used to ignite the touch-hole of a cannon or a campfire.

Fire was not truly portable until the end of the reign of George IV, and the inexpensive matches we take for granted today did not come along until the reign of Queen Victoria. But, if matches were not readily available during the Regency, how was fire managed at that time? That would commonly be by means of a tinderbox. This was a metal box, most often made of tin, with a lid that fit tightly on the box, like a modern-day canister. Often the lid would have a box with candleplace for a candle so that you could use it as a holder if you wished.

A tight fit was necessary to keep the tinder in the box dry. The tinder was kept in the very bottom, under a metal disk of the same diameter as the box. Often the disc had a small handle for ease of use. This disk was the damper and was used to extinguish the tinder once its sparks had served their purpose. Resting atop the damper would be the steel striker and the flint nodule which would be stuck against each another to create sparks. Above those implements would be stored the matches, which were sticks made of deal (wood from Scots pines) dipped in sulphur or spunks (a kind of wood or fungus that smolders when ignited). These matches were nothing like the friction matches yet to be invented but were simply implements of fire transfer.

The most favored tinder material during the Regency was scorched linen, which was made by putting cloth into an almost airtight tin with a small hole in it, and cooking it in campfire coals until the smoking slowed and the cloth was properly charred. These cloths ignited with the smallest spark and were used with a flint and steel. When away from home, small pocket tinder boxes were often carried, sometimes set with a burning glass (a lens) in the lid to light the tinder directly from the sun’s rays. The poorer people working in the fields would obtain a light by simply striking a flint on the back of a knife onto a piece of touch-paper that they carried in their pockets.

How were these items used together to make fire? First, everything was removed from the tinderbox except the tinder. The steel was held over the tinder and the flint was struck against it. The steel showered sparks, and eventually a spark would ignite, at which point the fire would be drawing tinderencouraged by a few soft, steady breaths. Once the tinder was burning steadily, a match was applied to it. The match would ignite and be applied to a candle for light, or to a taper or paper spill to be used to light a fire laid on the hearth. As soon as the match had been ignited, the damper was put back into the tinderbox to snuff out the tinder so that it could be used again.

In most households, the kitchen fire was kept burning around the clock. At night, it was banked and covered with a metal hood pierced with many small holes, called the curfew, a corruption of the French couvre-feu, meaning “fire cover.” Each morning someone would remove the cover and use bellows to blow fresh life into the imagesA2Q9886Msmoldering embers and then add fuel to renew the fire. As it was not always convenient to dash to the kitchen hearth for a light, many homes kept a tinderbox on each mantelpiece. A thoroughly utilitarian domestic appliance, a tinderbox might be kept out of sight in an elegant town home or an opulent country mansion, except for those made of brass or silver. Still, it was a common feature of modest houses and cottages.

Now that you know the effort required to start a fire, it’s quite understandable why the invention of the friction match was so incredibly important. Imagine rising on a cold, dark, winter morning to find that your kitchen fire had died during the night and having to fumble in the dark to find the tinderbox, grasp the cold flint and steel, and then struggle to strike enough sparks to ignite the tinder.

Whew! It makes me tired just to think about it. Aren’t you glad that we have modern heating (and air conditioning)? At least, should the electricity go off, we can strike a match and light a candle.

By the way, I had to include this picture of a silver tinderbox. I could see Mr. Darcy having one with his initials on it!

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Information in this post came from Wikipedia and The Regency Redingote site.

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Since Mother’s Day has just passed, I would like to give away two copies of my books. Your choice of a paperback or kindle e-book of Fitzwilliam Darcy – An Honourable Man, Mr. Darcy’s Forbidden Love or Darcy And Elizabeth – A Most Unlikely Couple! Just put a note in your comment that you would like to be included in the drawing. Giveaway closes midnight Friday (CST)

Winter and I are not friends!

Reposted from Austen Authors!

Posted on March 19, 2015 by Brenda J Webb • 10 Comments

wearing pattens to protect her shoes smallerBeing born and raised in the southern United States, I have never been a fan of cold weather. While I don’t care for really hot weather either, if I had to choose between sweating to death or being turned into a popsicle, I would definitely choose the former.

I have many dear friends who live in the frozen tundra of the northern states and they seem to cope really well. Still, every year when winter begins to extend its icy grip with blizzards, frozen lakes and truckloads of snow, I cannot help but wonder why they don’t move to a milder climate. Logically, I suppose work and family keep them rooted to their particular hometown and,  if everyone moved south, who would be left to shovel the snow?

Understandably, many yanks migrate south when the temperature drops. After all, everyone deserves to thaw out at least once during the winter. The snowbirds, as they are called in the south, suddenly appear like blackbirds in a corn field and disappear just as swiftly in April or May. My theory is that while they enjoy the milder winters, they really can’t handle the heat.imagesWX0FZD9E

As a writer, I have become very cognizant of the weather in my stories. If the scene involves turmoil for my characters, I may have a storm raging simultaneously. If our lovers are engaged in a tender moment, the heavens are likely to be cloudless. Weather is used as a common plot device in JAFF books, mainly because it is so easy to have Darcy and Elizabeth stranded by either rain or snow, which forces them to communicate. I wrote just such a scene at the beginning of my book, Mr. Darcy’s Forbidden Love, where our dear couple is stranded alone overnight because of a flood.

Though I took into account the hardships of living in the early 1800s when I began writing novels, I was not aware that England received so much snow and ice in the winter. Then I came across several articles about the Frost Fairs, which were held on the River Thames. I found them fascinating. Between 1309 and 1814 the lower section of the river froze solid at least 23 times in the London area. By the seventeenth century, however, Londoners were venturing out onto the ice of the frozen river to enjoy impromptu events which came to be known as Frost Fairs.

According to my research, the last Frost Fair was held on February 1, 1814 and lasted four days. It even featured an elephant being led across the river below Blackfriars Bridge. An oil on canvas painting (below) of the fair from 1684 depicts coaches, sledges and sedan-chairs on the ice as a game of ninepins is played.

1684 oil on canvas painting called A Frost Fair on the Thames at Temple StairsMoreover, it was said that there were up to ten printing presses in operation making cards and popular sheet-music of the time. A printer named George Davis published a 124-page book, Frostiana: or a History of the River Thames in a Frozen State, and the entire book was type-set and printed in Davis’s stall. Unlicensed gambling, drinking and dancing were likely the greatest draws at the fairs, there were stalls selling food, drink, souvenirs and personalized keepsakes for just a few pennies. Featured in the Museum of London’s A souvenir tankard from the frost fair of 1683set of memorabilia are a souvenir tankard from the frost fair of 1683 and a souvenir silver spoon from the frost fair of 1683 to 1684.

 

The inscription on the spoon says: ‘This was bought at the faire kept upon the Midle of ye Thames against ye Temple in the great frost on souvenir silver spoon from the frost fair of 1683 to 1684the 29 of January 1683/4.’

After 1814, the climate grew milder. Old London Bridge was demolished in 1831 and replaced with a new bridge with wider arches, which allowed the tide to flow more freely. Once the new bridge opened, the Thames never froze over in the London area again, despite temperatures dropping to -20C at times in the notoriously cold winter of 1895.

You may be asking yourself why I went from talking about the weather in the United States to frozen rivers in Regency England. The answer is simple. Since I began writing Jane Austen inspired tales, I look at everything in the context of what people in that era would have seen or done. It’s an obsession that I fear I shall never overcome (not that I should ever want to).

I hope that by now the worst of the winter is over, and March is going out like a lamb. I am eager to see lilies push up through the soil once more. My lawn is huge and has no top soil. The hard clay makes it impossible to grow flowers unless they are in pots or beds. Though my little lily plot is new and not well established, when it springs back to life, I am reminded of Genesis 8:22:

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”

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With all the cares of this life, I find comfort in knowing that everything continues just as God planned. It gives me a sense of peace. How about you

Valentine’s Day—Bah Humbug!

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Since we have just celebrated the holiday, allow me to explain why Valentine’s Day has lost some of its appeal for me. In spite of the fact that I dearly love chocolate, Russell Stover being my preference, 275X230I am at the age that I can no longer pretend that calories and sugar don’t count if consumed on a holiday. My doctor has been telling me that for years—though, just between you and me, I believe she’s opposed to anything that makes me happy, like not exercising.

Since I can’t indulge in my favorite heart-shaped box of chocolates,  the other customary gifts usually chosen by our significant others are flowers, perfume and jewelry. My allergies preclude having cut flowers in the house, so that eliminates the roses I adore, along with perfume or anything scented, such as candles. As for jewelry, I rarely wear the pieces I already have, choosing instead to wear only my wedding ring and earrings. Earrings are something that my son knows I will wear, so he’s been giving me those for years and I have a great collection. This leaves very little for my husband to choose from on gift giving occasions.

Still, being a dutiful husband, every year he covers his bases on holidays, especially Valentine’s Day, by asking me if there’s anything in particular that I would like. And every year my reply is the same: “Just get me a card, and write something mushy in it.” Making certain to remember to take me out to dinner to celebrate, my plea for no gifts actually worked until last year.

Walking into the house with his hand behind his back and a silly grin on his face, I instantly knew he was up to something. He presented me with a card, which I opened and read right away. The verse was lovely, but not as lovely as the note that he had written below it. Then, beaming as though he had just purchased a Lamborghini, he handed me what was behind his back—something he was certain would make me smile. It was a stuffed dog!

350X261.When I was young, my siblings and I longed for a pet. Our parents, however, were not in favor of getting us one, most likely because they knew they’d ultimately be left to care for it. Consequently, every Christmas I asked for a stuffed animal and, in my vivid imagination, those toys took the place of the pets I was not allowed to have. Needless to say, I have since made up for the lack of pets during my childhood.

Even so, I never outgrew my love of stuffed animals and years later when Beanie Babies became so popular, collecting them was all the excuse I needed to fill a large barrister bookcase. A similar one holds another collection of life-size cats made by the same company and other assorted animals. My Valentine dog joined the menagerie.

As an author of Austen inspired fiction, I have often thought that if the celebration of Valentine’s Day was as influenced by advertising during the Regency era as it is today, it would be amusing to write. I can imagine writing a scene where Darcy must create a card for Elizabeth, complete with original poetry, or rush to a confectionery shop to buy chocolates, all because he forgot it was Valentine’s Day. Bingley might see the huge heart-shaped box of candy that Darcy bought for Elizabeth and rush out to purchase an even larger one for Jane. It’s such fun to imagine the competition between the men in an effort to impress their ladies. I bet even Wickham could come up with a fitting Valentine present if the acquisition of a young lady’s fortune hung in the balance.

As it is, I’ve written only one story that references the holiday and that’s a modern short story hidden somewhere on my computer. I did, however, write a conversation in my latest novel, Darcy and Elizabeth – A Most Unlikely Couple, that I think would be fitting for Valentine’s Day.

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Oh, Will,” was all she managed to say before their lips met.

 William ended the kiss, whispering, “I need to retrieve something from my bedroom. Do not move.”

 “I do not think I shall be going anywhere, the way I am dressed,” Elizabeth teased, holding the sheet back.

 By then William was donning his robe and glanced to her display. Sucking in his breath, he said, “If you keep that up, I shall never leave this room again.”

 Despite what he said, he did hurry from the room and in only seconds returned with a mysterious smile on his face and a hand hidden behind his back.

 Elizabeth smiled mischievously. “Just what are you hiding, Mr. Darcy?”

 “Close your eyes and you will learn soon enough.” She did as asked and felt the bed settle as he sat back down on it. “Now you may open them.”

 Elizabeth sat speechless, blinking steadily at an exquisite, gold wedding band. It was wide enough that words had been engraved on it and a diamond had been sunk into the space between each word.

 He chuckled. “Have you nothing to say?”

 “I . . . it is so beautiful that words fail me.”

 “Read the inscription.”

 As she read the words aloud, her eyes filled with tears and her voice choked. “First . . . Last . . . Only . . . Always.”

 “I wanted my feelings toward you inscribed on your ring for the entire world to see. You are my one and only love, now and forever.”

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Since this post was written before Valentine’s Day, I have no way of knowing what I’ll get from my Mr. Darcy this year—perhaps just a card with a personal note. If so, I’ll cherish it, for whether it’s a sentimental card or a silly stuffed animal, nothing can take the place of someone expressing how much you mean to them.

I hope that someone in your life thought of the perfect way to make you smile.

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P.S.  Darcy and Elizabeth – A Most Unlikely Couple was published in November and I hope to make you smile by giving away two copies, your choice of kindle e-book or paperback. Just leave a comment on this same blog on Austen Authors site and tell me that you want to be included in the drawing. Giveaway closes midnight Saturday (CST).

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