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Return of the Green Man …

This stone carving of a Green Man from Dore Ab...

From Dore Abbey, Herefordshire, England(Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Is there a cathedral where you live? If so, chances are it will be an old one … just how old, would you say? And when you crane your head up to look at the ceiling, its arches lost in shadows, what else do you see? You might need binoculars, though – but the older the cathedral, the more likely you are to find, nestling atop of corbels and capitals, a singular face with leaves and branches climbing out of its mouth; sometimes fierce, sometimes cheerful, mostly a trifle wild … this sculpted entity has been with us far longer than the cathedrals, and long before the Normans who built them, with a name that has only regained resonance in quite recent times: The Green Man.

Theories abound concerning his origins, both etymological and geographical; he turns up in a variety of guises, from Rome(Bacchus and Dionysius) to Mesopotamia and Egypt, (green-faced Osiris); he is Jack in the Green, Cernunnos, Pan, Silvanus, he can be found in Sumerian, Hindu, Aztec cultures – he exists  everywhere, a source of life and natural force . Occasionally neglected, his image however has survived in nooks and crannies, a constant reminder of man’s reliance on his natural environment and of man’s constant struggle with the elements. Another of his many names is Robin – but is he Robin Goodfellow, the mischievous imp – or Robin Hood, woodlander and defender of the poor? Apparently both and more: a guardian, a powerful god, an impish spirit, a playful invoker of spring and sprouting seedlings; at once venerated and feared:  for crops can fail too if you cause him displeasure … the corn dollies and harvest festivals are vestiges of something more than a ritual – they entreat the return of sun after winter, of growth after hibernation, they are offerings of supplication and penitence brought by children to their volatile father.

How has he fared with time, this father, this god of fertility and vitality? I mentioned he has gone through periods of comparative neglect, as when the Industrial Revolution stampeded across the countryside, bringing steam, iron roads and coal, blinding the people with its smoke, weakening his memory and perhaps also his strength and yet, something has struggled through, some collective memory perhaps, clinging onto the notion of one protective entity that will defend the very source of our food and means of survival. It is this protective aspect and this comparative neglect that I have focussed on in my mystery novel, Greenwood Tree. Here, the presence of the Green Man is hovering on the outer edges of dreams, occasionally manifesting himself (in more than one form) to warn and defend, his strength weakened by the frail memory of humanity. In addition he acts as the main linking figure in a multi-genre mystery, where detection meets mythology, in that foreign country called the past. In my mystery he has retreated, and his home is under threat, perhaps an indirect comment on his rather tenuous place in the cultural and social upheaval of the 1920s. I also tend to think of him as one of many Green Men, for to my mind there is something in the Ancient Greek idea that every tree contained its Dryad, every river and stream its Naiad : together unstoppable – but individually, vulnerable. In a similar way, the countryside from the time of the railway has been under constant, if gradual, threat, mirrored by England’s own very uncertain, susceptible condition in the aftermath of World War One. When Nature is attacked however, she has a way of fighting back, sometimes in unexpected ways.

The Green Man, in my treatment of him, thus becomes a metaphor for this vulnerable, while green and pleasant land. Disturb him at your peril.




 (First posted as the Green Man Cometh on Dean’s Den)

Greenwood Tree Giveaway

I may have mentioned this before (like, nearly every day for the past few weeks or so) – Greenwood Tree is on Tour – a Mystery Tour, no less. Guess whodunnit, win a prize or two (full description here).

As part of the Tour, we have craftily devised a new giveaway, which is on its way (the 20th), via Grey Cells Press : you can enter by visiting the Tour, liking a couple of pages, following some grog-swilling, Remington-bashing characters on Twitter …. easy.  That is, if you’re looking for a chance to win some free mystery cozy reading (i.e. Greenwood Tree).

GWT book cover

If you’re not looking  for anything of the kind, then forget I spoke. I’ll just sit in the corner, drawing bears and minding my own business.  Kind of dusty in here – who took my crayons?  Hello ?

The Green Man Cometh

The Green Man Cometh.

via The Green Man Cometh.

I am a guest this week – what a novel experience that was!  Many thanks to Dean Lombardo for inviting me  – here is the opening :

“The next time you visit a cathedral, crane your head up to look at the ceiling, where the building’s arches lurk in shadow. What else do you see? You might need binoculars—but the older the cathedral, the more likely you are to find, nestling atop corbels and capitals, a singular face with leaves and branches climbing out of its mouth. Sometimes fierce, sometimes cheerful, mostly a trifle wild … this often-sculpted entity has been with us far longer than the cathedrals, and long before the Normans who built them, with a name that has regained resonance only recently: the Green Man…”

Post continues  here …

The Sounds of London …

Couldn’t resist this, another little foundling for the old scrap-book (it’s 1915, so a much younger  Julia Warren was perhaps still learning her craft as a fledgling  journalist, but already with dreams of becoming a writer…)

“Night-time sounds of Kingsland Road:

My first night was the same as every other. My window looked out on a church tower which still further preyed on the wan light of the street, and, as I lay in bed, its swart height, pierced by the lit clock face, gloated stiffly over me. From back of beyond a furry voice came dolefully—
Goo bay to sum-mer, goo bay, goo baaaaay!

That song has thrilled and chilled me ever since. Next door an Easy Payments piano was being tortured by wicked fingers that sought after the wild grace of Weber’s “Invitation to the Valse.” From the street the usual London night sounds floated up until well after midnight. There was the dull, pessimistic tramp of the constable, and the long rumble of the Southwark-bound omnibus. Sometimes a stray motor-car would hoot and jangle in the distance, swelling to a clatter as it passed, and falling away in a pathetic diminuendo. A traction-engine grumbled its way along, shaking foundations and setting bed and ornaments a-trembling. Then came the blustering excitement of chucking-out at the “Galloping Horses.” Half a dozen wanted to fight; half a dozen others wanted to kiss; everybody wanted to live in amity and be jollyolpal. A woman’s voice cried for her husband, and abused a certain Long Charlie; and Long Charlie demanded with piteous reiteration: “Why don’t I wanter fight? Eh? Tell me that. Why don’t I wanter fight? Did you ‘ear what he called me? Did you ‘ear? He called me a—a—what was it he called me?”

Then came police, disbandment, and dark peace, as the strayed revellers melted into the night. Sometimes there would sound the faint tinkle of a belated hansom, chiming solitarily, as though weary of frivolity. And then a final stillness of which the constable’s step seemed but a part.”

by Thomas Burke, from A Lonely Night, 1915.


An excellent site for sounds of London, past and (fairly) present : The London Sound Survey

Now, something a little closer to Julia’s time in Greenwood Tree…. :


Acorns: visiting cards or reminders?

Was sitting outside, attempting to scribble, when a stonking great acorn thudded, or rather, thwacked onto the page before me, missing my nut by inches. Smack bang in the middle of me notebook. The cheeky beggar. I came that close to nursing a minor bump on the old cranium ….

A cheeky beggar

“… The buns were finished, and Julia had jotted down a few ideas for a character into her notebook. Time now for the bookshop. Surely once there, something in her sluggish brain would be jogged into action.

She didn’t have the exact amount, so paid her shilling and doodled some more while waiting for the waitress to bring back the change. The doodle turned into another of her dancing tree-men. When the waitress had been and gone with the change, she began to gather up her goods and noticed something extra on the plate, rolling around between the coins. She frowned briefly at it and peered closer. It was an acorn, still green in its shell. She took the change, and went with the plate (in a spirit of inquiry)  to the waitress, who was extremely surprised and quite sure that no such thing as an acorn had ever been seen inside a Lyon’s Corner House before – and certainly not on any item of crockery.

‘Oh well, I’ll take it then, for good luck,’ said Julia cheerfully, to cover her puzzlement.

‘Very good, miss,’ replied the waitress politely, evidently well-trained in how to deal with eccentric authoresses who went around absently scattering acorns about. …”

(GreenWood Tree excerpt)

Acorns pop up here and there in Greenwood Tree, on window sills and pillows, in saucers and baskets  – like visiting cards, or reminders … perhaps this was a visiting card to jog my memory, my own reminder of the fact I have pretty much finished the illustrations for it, and should really get on with sticking them into the old MS, instead of hovering in limbo; I am tempted, y’see, to do some Rowlandson/Gilray style colour ‘plates’ as it were  … we shall see …

In the meantime, something to be going on with: Mrs Glass and Mrs Rawnlsey gossiping over their outsize pots of tea  …

Mrs Glass: More tea, Mrs Rawnsley?


Gin, Julia and Mary Pickford

The clock in the corridor outside chimed seven. Drinks. And then dinner.  Julia snatched a dress out of the wardrobe.

‘. . . so Dawton’s bought it up, lock stock and barrel . . .’

‘. . . make it a going concern. . . .’

‘. . . I thought it in particularly bad taste, and then she said . . .’

‘ . . . last of the Gorgons, that woman, don’t you think, Isobel ?’

‘. . . I have never actually had a conversation with

her myself. . .’

‘. . . pass the potatoes will you, old bean ?. . .’

‘ . . . more gravy, sir ? . . .’

‘Now then Julia, stop hiding behind your glass, old girl, and tell me about the plot. How many murders are in it this time?’ Cousin Richard was sitting next to her, so she could not very well evade his cheeriness with social deafness; not that she wasn’t fond of him, but any talk about a book of hers, especially one she had not yet written, was apt to be a little wearing. Perhaps other writers suffered the same. She had never asked. Talking to other writers was even more wearing than talking about one’s own unwritten novel.  ‘I don’t know yet.’ She turned impish. ‘Do you feel like being murdered ? I’m sure I could find a nice spot for you in there somewhere.’

‘Oh, why not. Who does me in, then – the butler ?’

‘Shuush, you’ll upset him. He’s trying to serve the duck.’

‘Nonsense, Haughton’s always ready to oblige, aren’t you Haughton ?’

‘Sir ?’

‘I mean, for the purposes of Miss Julia’s next best-selling novel -’

‘Don’t talk nonsense, Richard  . . .’

‘  . . . would you be prepared to do me in, and thus supply her with the plot ?’

‘As you wish, sir.’

‘There you are.’ Richard turned to Julia. ‘Now you can get started.’

‘I fear Miss Julia might find your suggestion less acceptable, however, sir.’

‘Yes, I certainly would.’

‘Oh ? How so ?’

‘Lack of motive, sir. Gravy, miss ?’

‘Hah! That’s you dealt with.’ Julia hit Richard with her napkin.

‘Ouch. I hope, little cousin, you will not come to regret this, in years to come, when people come up and say “Have you read ‘What the Butler Did’ by Richard Crewe? Stunning stuff, isn’t it ?” and you are obliged to reply “Yes. I wish I’d thought of it first. But you see, he offered me the plot, and I turned it down – silly, wa-” ’ He interrupted himself with a squeak as Julia gave him a hard pinch. ‘Now I really wish I was sitting next to Anne,’ she commented.

‘The writer’s secret. Always sit next to your fan to keep your spirits up.’


‘Well, at least I don’t deluge you with flattery and requests for autographs. You’d really detest that.’

‘That reminds me – somebody on the train -ۥ

‘Don’t tell me – he asked you for a signature, and was most put out when you turned out not to be Mary Pickford.’

From Greenwood Tree, chapter 10

Mary Pickford as photographed by Alfred Cheney Johnston in 1920

After re-blogging the previous post from the Gin Club, it occurred to me that a post on cocktails and flappers might be apposite . . .

Nellie Melba and Pavlova  inspired desserts, Garibaldi a biscuit, Wellington a sturdy piece of beef in pastry and . . . Mary Pickford, – a cocktail : rum, pinapple juice, grenadine and maraschino liqueur. Which noxious combination may well have done the rounds in the London night clubs of the time, but I fear would have left Julia unmoved. Her tastes are I believe of a simpler nature, and where others might be rushing to the bar for novelty to refresh their jaded appetites, Julia is more likely to be seen sitting  behind a palm sipping occasionally at a plain, simple G&T. If she is feeling particularly adventurous, she might allow some Angostura Bitters to be added . . and I could add she might well be interested in perusing the Gin Club’s Newsletter now and then . . .

“Where there’s smoke there’s fire” by American artist Russell Patterson 1920s

And yes, she does have a dress or two in her wardrobe  like the one above – although she might wear a more toned-down version for a country house. But the one pictured above would do for cocktails and the odd formal dinner. The Flappers meanwhile appear soon after in GreenWood Tree. Loud, cheerful, rumbustious, probably rather noisome. Certainly Aunt Iz felt the strain after a little while and sent them off on long walks across the countryside . .  well, after watching the following, what would you do with them ?

A few links of possible interest to the curious :



(includes several cocktail recipes associated with Miss Pickford . . .)

http://www.angostura.com/Brands/AngosturaBitters (the main page asks date of birth to establish that you are of drinking age – both impertinent and pointless; anybody could type in anything . . .;))

And this looks rather fun if you have a Singer machine to hand and are of a couturier-like turn : http://www.1920-30.com/publications/fashion/?hop=pagecat

A touch of the old WHR…mad inventivity from the 20s…

Not quite W.H.Robinson, although one or two of the transport ones could qualify… in fact I think I recognise one of them.

I could almost envisage Charlie driving Julia home from the station in the very first ‘machine’ shown in the film below; it is the sort of insane contraption that she would, I believe, relish getting to grips with.

They went through the station to the other side. A sleek primrose vehicle sat purring and spluttering almost in the middle of the road, apparently devoid of family chauffeur.  ‘Where’s Brenton ?’ inquired Julia apprehensively.  ‘Brenton ? Don’t need him I can drive he taught me says I’m getting on fairly more comfy in the front in you go there you are – all right ?’

Julia’s worst fears were realised as Charlie slithered into the front seat and looked about briefly for the gears. Julia’s hand moved discreetly to the strap and held on to it in a vice-like grip. Charlie’s foot came firmly down on the pedal.

Charlie’s method of driving, like her ability to communicate, put Julia in mind once more of nursery days and trolleys, to which only two rules had ever seemed to apply; one, never to go round an obstacle if you could go through it or over it, and two, never to control the speed at which you hurtled across the ground. As a result, by the time they arrived at Frobisher Hall, Julia’s right foot had lifted off the car floor in a state akin to rigor mortis, causing her shin to ache, while her left was stuck down onto the boards as if with insoluble glue. Her jaw relaxed in relief as the engine coughed to a halt and she saw Uncle Rex the Colonel on the steps with Haughton. ‘Well well,’ said the Colonel, as Haughton heaved the cases out. ‘Well, well. Comfortable journey, then ? Good, good. I think Miss Isobel wants tea or something in the conservatory, Haughton. Ask Cork to deal with the er, the er, those.’ “

(GreenWood Tree, chapter 9)

Dancing the Night Away . . .

Another little nugget I came across from British Pathé:

‘There were gladioli in Aunt Izzy’s garden, they would be coming into bloom soon: she could picture the late afternoon sun falling across them, turning them a soft apricot gold, and she wanted to be transported back to it at that moment, that very second. There was a brilliant blue sky today; she decided to go back to her flat by tram, climbing deliberately to the upper deck just so she could sit away from crowds, and enjoy the trees lining the avenue. She craned her neck up and gazed at the leafy branches passing by, and for a moment imagined herself back at home. Finally all those little scraps of dreams that had been hiding away all day returned tenfold to delight her, butterfly-like, with colours and warmth – the walks, the glades, the running hare and cheeky sparrow, the slow-witted blackbirds, sunning themselves in the middle of the lanes; all the whirling memories of the past crowded into her mind and she decided she had stayed away too long. What had seemed a pretext now became necessity; London was stifling her with its relentless gaiety, misery and recklessness.’

Greenwood Tree, Chapter 3

1927 in colour : the Ashes, roasted Peanuts, Rotten Row . . .

I can’t resist it : this is a rare 1927 film of London in colour : the year before Julia goes home to Lichfield in Greenwood Tree and ends up unravelling mystery upon mystery.


“Now came a rustling, a pattering, and finally a bird’s squawking that softly exploded into the distant sound of a car horn. The pattering turned back into the clopping of a well-worn charabanc, wending its cautious way through increasingly motorized traffic, while the rustling had surely been caused by the maid pulling the curtains back.  Julia’s head slumped back into the pillow. The world outside with its traffic, its noise and bustle, its deadlines and publishers could wait while she sought a few minutes more of her comforting dream of forestland and empty skies.”

Greenwood Tree, Chapter One

Excerpt on blogspot

On Authonomy

On tea, elephants and cabbages

” ‘. . .do have some more toast, or something . . . shall I pour you another cup ?’

Aunt Isobel reigned over the silver pot like a determined if somewhat vague and inept hare; one with a busy day ahead.  ‘I’ve been talking to Charlie, and as I really need to have the place cleaned up before the ball, I suggested a trip of some sort, and Charlie mentioned – ’

 ‘Yes what fun I thought as we’ve always liked we could you know try the what’s it called where we used to go not far from Morton Manor you remember and eat at Harlequin’s just outside Fradley what do you think?’ Charlie dive-bombed a sausage and continued munching industriously.  Julia gazed down at her grey porridge, and regretted her choice. If not immediately eaten, it had a habit of sitting there, congealed, and looking solidly back at one. She poked at it nervously.

‘Which place did we use to go to? There were so many.’

Tea trickled out of the spout.

‘I think Charlie means the old ruins by the river. I must say, I can’t see the others taking much interest in that, but the idea of Harlequin’s ought to appeal to everyone.’ Aunt Isobel had evidently found this most recent batch of Bunty’s acquaintances more than a little trying. There was a rare tinge of determination in her demeanour this morning, connected with the polishing of silver and the waxing of floors that would, however delicately, brook no argument.

 ‘That sounds wonderful. Lovely idea.’  Julia tried to swallow the porridge. She gratefully accepted Isobel’s offer of a cup, and forced the glutinous mass down with molten liquid. After she’d finished spluttering, she inquired when they should start. ”

 Greenwood Tree, Chapter 11

I have been told by a reliable source and authonomy chum that Greenwood Tree contains oodles of tea. I have not yet made a head count of every cup that is poured . . . but I suppose there is a fair amount of pouring, stirring, slurping throughout. Verisimilitude is my only defence. Gossiping ? Put the kettle on. Freshly arrived home from the big city ? Put the kettle on. House guests at the breakfast table ? Put the kettle on. (A good hostess who did not supply her visitors with plentiful supplies of the stuff was simply not doing her job). Just been hit on the head by unseen assailant ? Put the kettle on. No wait, stop, I  don’t think I put tea in that particular scene, actually . . . but they probably did anyway, whether I wrote it in or not. Indeed, every British film ever made would be incomplete without a gentle pouring from the spout. A comforting sound, redolent with promise of things to come (did someone mention fondant fancies ? I’m quite happy with a jam tart, more likely a sandwich . . )

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Twining was the man of the hour : after starting out as weaver’s apprentice, he then moved into commerce and ended up converting the drinking habits of a nation – in the face of coffee culture Britain (at least, London) he saw a niche in the market and seized it – so you can blame it all on him. Nobody suffers from a surfeit of tea in Greenwood, at least, I have had no complaints from the characters to date (“I say, old thing,” says Richard, pulling at my sleeve, ‘couldn’t pass the scones along, could you ?”, while Aunt Iz pours out another cup . . .)


Among all the rites, rituals, customs and paraphernalia surrounding tea, I can’t leave off without mentioning at least the evolution of the teapot . . . from genteel Wedgewood to cheeky Japanese elephants through political comment on stamp duty(see here : http://teapotsteapotsteapots.blogspot.com/2009/04/1765-no-stamp-act-teapot.html
back to the humorous, bizarre, even grotesque pots, designed to represent various vegetables : cabbages, cauliflowers, corn cobs .  . . I wonder they didn’t suffer from indigestion just looking at the squat horrors, in their unrepentant gaudiness . . . (wraps wet towel around head) …am in need of tea sustenance; when I am feeling stronger, I might, just might write about tea caddies. . .

 Quote : “I comfort myself, that all the enemies of tea cannot be in the right”(Dr Johnson in defence of tea, while reviewing Mr Hanway’s Essay on Tea (http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Texts/tea.html )


(The English Tea Set in the slideshow was photographed byJenny O’Donnell)

 A history of Twinings here : http://www.twinings.co.uk/about-twinings/history-of-twinings

 Some interesting details on Mr Twining, tea-merchant here : http://www.twickenham-museum.org.uk/detail.asp?ContentID=176

  Japanese elephant teapot here : (he is rather cute)http://thebluelantern.blogspot.com/2009/12/im-little-teapot.html

 A well-illustrated history of tea gardens  : janeaustensworld.wordpress.com


  A fine assortment of tea services here : http://naturalisticspoon.com/Rococo_Tea_Equipage.html

 A delightful gallery of living 18th century history from re-enactors :


 Tea trends from the British Tea Council : teawithmarykate.wordpress.com


 V&A ceramics gallery : http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/m/masterpieces-of-ceramics-timeline/

Inaccurate pistols and unwilling seconds (The London Mob part 2)


ROBERT WARREN : Sir, you pushed me.

THOMAS GRANVILLE : Sir, I did not.

ROBERT WARREN : I say you did, and  knocked my hat askew.            

THOMAS GRANVILLE : I have no interest in your hat.

ROBERT WARREN : (to the bookseller) Sir, I am come to make a serious purchase, and this gentleman insults me –

THOMAS GRANVILLE : I do no such thing. This gentleman has grabbed hold of my coat –

ROBERT WARREN : This gentleman knocked my hat off –

BOOKSELLER : Please gentlemen  both, make your purchases and cease making a scene, or I must call upon the constables . . .

Another scene outside the Cathedral, after service :

ROBERT WARREN : Sir, you were observed looking at my sister during the service.

THOMAS GRANVILLE : (flushing)There is no law to forbid glancing at other persons’ appearances.

ROBERT WARREN : There is in my book, sir, and I require that you desist.    

THOMAS GRANVILLE : I cannot help but see people who happen to sit directly in front of me.

ROBERT WARREN : You were looking at her throughout the whole of the service. Without interruption. I warn you, sir, against doing so again.

THOMAS GRANVILLE : I call bluff to your warning, sir. And I shall look at you, or any one of your sisters or parents, as often as I choose. Though in your case sir, it may be without favour.’

 Greenwood Tree, Chapter 2


 The two men could easily  end up fighting a duel – except that by the late eighteenth century, duelling was already going out of fashion, having lost the edge of the 1600s when the gauntlet thrown at one’s feet was enough to signal drawn swords.

Duelling had in fact become a most secret affair, for very practical reasons: the increasing opposition from the general public and relatives in particular, who would definitely attempt to prevent the duel going any further if they had the slightest whiff of it; even the seconds would often look for a way to prevent it going ahead (providing a healthy source of farce for subsequent writers and artists).

 I have come back to the London Mob with this, which I find an excellent book for background concerning behaviour on the streets, in particular the evolution of social ethics and boundaries in the 18th century.

In chapter 7 ‘Duels and Boxing Matches’, the author Robert Shoemaker gives an impressively mixed list of the various individuals who would attempt to prevent a duel reaching fruition : footmen, soldiers,  housemaids, anonymous passers by. The whole business of duelling became a subject of heated debate, with the public weighing in against the whole idea.

 Add to this an interesting detail : the rapier replaced the sword, and became increasingly a fencing weapon (defensive as opposed to offensive), then the pistol replaced the rapier – but the majority of pistols did not shoot straight. This added to the possible decrease in mortality (always depending of course where approximately you were aiming  . . .) and perhaps thereby ultimately helped show Mr Duel the way out.

James Gillray : The Explanation

 Professor Shoemaker clearly shows how the wish of the individual to appear capable of instruction and improvement necessarily drew away from acts of violence (at least in public) – it was the time of the Gentleman, who had become ‘subject to the ideals of politeness, in which men were expected to control their emotions and be generous and complaisant towards those with whom they interacted . . . the ideals of sensibility required men to show even greater sensitivity and sympathy to other people’s feelings.’ (chapter 7 ‘Duels and Boxing Matches’, The London Mob by R. Shoemaker)


The culture of honour had been replaced by one of inner worth.

With the arrival of the age of enlightenment had come civility, of self respect, of modesty and a desire to be perceived as ‘of the gentility’, i.e., not given to violence where a cutting word might do.

Gone the dagger and the rapier, the sword had finally been won over by the word – the witty word that could slice through an antagonist’s outer shell like a knife through butter – had you the learning and brains to do it effectively enough.

The London Mob by R.Shoemaker, is published by Hambledon and London

 Interesting sites related to duelling :



 Georgian period :



18th century studies :


(Posted by B.Lloyd)

Greenwood Tree on Authonomy

Tea, gossip and The London Mob

MRS RAWNSLEY : Did you mention the Edsops were there ?
MRS GLASS : Only the vicar, as Mrs Edsop was away.
MRS RAWNSLEY : She has been absent on other occasions, I believe.
MRS GLASS : That now puts me in mind of a rather singular incident. Sir Morton mentioned his not having seen the lady in church the previous two Sundays, and the vicar then said she had gone to stay with a relative in Fradley.
MRS RAWNSLEY : I never knew she had family there.
MRS GLASS : Nor did I. Nor did anyone there. Then young Mr Warren pipes up, and recalls stopping over at Armitage on his way home from ‘Varsity, and swears he saw a lady very like Mrs Edsop, in walk and manner of dress, stepping across the town square. He did not finish, and Mr Edsop supposes he imagined it, but the young man is most insistent about it – is all set to quarrel on the matter, even to the point of suggesting that she was on the arm of an unknown gentleman – after which Mr Edsop grows very heated, and asks whether the young man is not trying to put a slur on a lady’s honour. Then young Mr Crewe joins in, even more heated, and as good as challenges young Mr Warren outright – though why he should want to involve himself, I cannot imagine . . .
(stirs tea vehemently).
MRS RAWNSLEY : He always seems a very upright, honest sort of young man to me –
MRS GLASS : That may be : I would not presume to judge; in any case, just as all seemed set to burst out, Sir Morton and the Italian gentleman intervened, and we finished the game almost amicably . . . and Sir Morton was so good as to hand me into the carriage himself.
MRS RAWNSLEY : I find it very shocking.
MRS GLASS : I can assure you, Mrs Rawnsley, that had any of the other ladies been unaccompanied, he would have done as much for them – he is the very soul of propriety . . .
MRS RAWNSLEY : What are you talking about, Mrs Glass ?
MRS GLASS : What are YOU talking about, Mrs Rawnsley ?
MRS RAWNSLEY : Why, young Mr Warren. To be so very definite, and on such a delicate matter –
MRS GLASS : I do not know that I am so much surprised myself. A close creature always, ever since Mr Edsop brought her from wherever he found her ; I always suspected he would rue the day. With such a young woman, of such mysterious background . .well, one never knows . . .
(taps teaspoon knowingly against cup).
MRS RAWNSLEY : Your Fanny would have made such a proper matron for the place. How is she, by the bye ?
MRS GLASS : Perfectly well; I do not think she ever gave him a second thought, such a plain man he was. . . no, the thought was all mine. . . but he would not have done – my Fanny needs a more lively and elegant companion to suit her ways . . .
MRS RAWNSLEY : Doubtless she will find such a one at the next ball, Mrs Glass.
MRS GLASS : More tea, Mrs Rawnsley?

(Excerpt, Chapter Two, Greenwood Tree)

The two ladies’ chatter is not perhaps quite on a level to cause real damage – but had the contents of their gossip been repeated in a public place some twenty or so years earlier, those involved might well have ended up in court for defamation.
Reputation in the 18th century was everything, an essential requisite for business, trade, the finding of a good match in marriage; slander and loose tongues could wreak mayhem in families and communities – yet the Georgian era bore witness to a change of social language and attitude, and saw a steady decline in defamation lawsuits over the 18th century.
All of this and much more is gone into with great detail by Robert Shoemaker (Professor of History at Sheffield University) in his book ‘The London Mob’ ; from Defamation to Gossip, from Riots and Mobs to Duels and Boxing Matches, he covers a wide range of social interaction and rebellion, the attendant changes in law and the evolution of a civic code.

On the question of gossip for instance, in chapter 3 (Public Insults) he observes that defamation suits in early 18th century London played a large part in court business, although interestingly, the gentry tended to be less involved. Despite the popular conception that slander was the domain of women, a great many perpetrators are shown to be men of fashion, usually indulging in casting slurs as some form of entertainment, although up to 1780 women still outnumbered men by 65%. He then demonstrates how public and social behaviour and attitudes towards the business of defamation changed over the succeeding years by focussing on the conversion of the dangerous scold to the less harmful gossip. According to an account from 1750 of a typical Sunday evening, between four and ten in the evening the local poor women in London suburbs would bring their chairs out into the street and “sit with their constant gossips, and pass verdicts on people . . .”

A further illustration of how domesticated gossip had become is by the fact that it was “exchanged primarily over the tea table (rather than on the streets)”; there was even a pamphlet was issued in 1760, ‘The New Art & Mystery of Gossiping’, apparently offering a list of women’s gossip clubs.
Shoemaker also points out how much blander gossip had become in drama since Restoration times; all in all, he suggests, Gossip had lost its power to damage Reputation.

Gossip : “exchanged primarily over the tea table"

Street life, punishment, riots, violence and the process of law: Professor Shoemaker shows, in clear and accessible language, the various changes in perception and behaviour, the transition from public to private in these various areas – whereby insults in the street declined, outdoor crimes became private homicides, and violence was progressively hidden behind closed doors.

‘The London Mob’ is a lively, informative book, offering a vivid picture of life in London across the 18th century. It contains excellent reference material and is well-illustrated with contemporary prints, including works by Gillray, Rowlandson and Hogarth; indeed, few works on 18th century social life would feel complete without Hogarth’s Gin Lane.

Whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction requiring a background to Georgian England, whether you are boning up for a social history thesis, or whether you love anything pertaining to the Age of Enlightenment, this is a highly entertaining read.

Thoroughly recommended; more on this anon . . .

(Robert Shoemaker is also co-director of The Old Bailey Proceedings : http://www.oldbaileyonline.org, database of all printed trial accounts 1674-1834)

Other links which might be of interest : Smuggled tea

Georgian Gentleman (on the Gordon Riots : The Gordon Riots at first hand)

Of masks & masquerades,alter egos & avatars . . .


Masquerade at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, by Giuseppé Grisoni, 1724, Victoria & Albert Museum


 The ball is arrived. Long live the ball. With its laces and petticoates, and fans and bows, and powder and masks . . .  no one knows who is who (or affects not to know) and as the evening progresses, no one much cares. Not to be outdone by the fine gentry of Vauxhall, the local gentry of Lichfield have chosen to compete even in this area of fashion.

Enter a large red Cabbage (Mrs Rotundity with trimmings), followed by a purple Pencil (Lord Withered) and a green Peacock (Lady Withered). A quadrille commences, and the Peacock is engaged by a grey Spider, (Mr Lucrative), while the Pencil makes do with the Cabbage.

The room is already half-full, with many coy guesses as to identity being tossed about; there are various innocent looking Turtles, a few Kittens and Puppies, a white Hen or two (probably Mrs Glass and Mrs Rawnsley) all jostling and slipping and capering. It is well past nine before another carriage of any significance arrives, producing one up-turned purple Tulip and one Beetroot (Lady and Lord Puffball respectively), who linger a while to adjust themselves in the court yard before joining the revellers within . . .

 (Chapter 6, Greenwood Tree)

From Tom Jones, Clarissa and Sir Charles Grandison to Faulkner’s Lost Stradivarius, the masked ball offered more than flirtatious subterfuge. The poor, the rich, risk-takers and gamblers could intermingle at leisure – although not always to their mutual benefit, for the same function also provided ample opportunity to thieves, thwarted suitors and assassins. Ladies’ pockets and ladies’ virtue were both besieged, warned of by writers and cartoonists alike; it was the place for seductions, elopements, kidnappings (as Fielding and Richardson illustrate) and even murder (as in Faulkner’s Lost Stradivarius).

The Return from a Masquerade, A Morning Scene, Museum of London

Vauxhall, Ranelagh, the Pantheon and Carlisle House were among the most popular resorts for such unexpected excitement and pleasantries, ready for those bored with their lot in life to wander about, whispering invitations, offering, informing, discovering . . . agents and spies could benefit as much as anyone else at these gatherings : for about the time that Tom Jones was ploughing fields of petticoats and Clarissa and Grandison were verbally mortifying themselves, the ‘sbirri’ of Venice were going about their business very comfortably in their bauté and tricorni – because virtually everyone else was similarly disguised. For six months of the year the Carnival in Venice allowed the domino to throw a convenient veil not only over social distinction, allowing gamblers both poor and rich alike to scrabble for their coins on the ridotto tables, but over informers, intriguers and spies too. The same masks that sheltered their identities travelled as far as England where the idea of disguise appealed mainly for its piquancy. The loose behaviour at the public functions caused various condemnations, yet public demand saw to it that these licentious affairs continued well up nigh to the end of the 18th century.

Exhibition of a Rhinoceros by Pietro Longhi, National Gallery

The masquerade ball goes on all the time now, costumes have become avatars or profile pictures, offering the user an identity as mysterious as the domino ever was; covering up, transforming, offering  total metamorphosis : ideal as ever for flirting, gossiping and sadly some not so innocent mischief-making. The bauté and tricorno sit hovering in the ether,  their variations many and manifold, to be plucked at a moment’s notice . . . kittens and puppies, bears and baubles, wine bottles, corks, koalas with berets . . .

Aether user : “Well, what have you for me today ? Mind, I am to attend Lady HaHa’s forum this very evening, and wish to make a splash !”

Website costumier : “A splash? Why, I have the very thing – take this image of a great pool, with a fluorescent penguin adorned in grass skirt raising a cocktail in his left flipper !”

A : “ Yes, I think when I said ‘Splash’, I did in fact intend something a little less literal – have you not some fine picture of an antelope with feathers ?”

W : “But of course, I have many – look here – and here – and here : flamingo pink, with a pineapple, or celestial blue with a drunken dog, or what about a little sparkle, an explosion of fireworks with an apple peel judiciously displayed in the foreground ?

A : “Drat, I have no more time – I’ll take it ! No, wait, what is that drunken unicorn doing with those bananas ? Excellent ! I’ll have that one instead !”

(And another final vestige of sanity bites the dust . . .)

And yes, I have a kidnapping or two going on in Greenwood Tree as well . . .should I have mentioned that earlier ?

View of all the principal masquerade figures at the Rotunda, May 12th 1789, Ranelagh Gardens.Museum of London


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