Fashion Museum, Bath

Firstly apologies for the lateness of this post. However, I’ve been collecting blog material! We’ve been on holiday near Bath and we went to the Fashion Museum earlier in the week. I was primarily focused on looking at clothing from the 1770s and 1780s for Edie and for Jones.

The trouble with collections of historical clothing is that you only get the really expensive things or the things their owners didn’t like much that survive. And you don’t get a great deal of working people’s clothing, because they literally wore it until it had holes and then it got cut down and repurposed. Clothing was so much more expensive and energy-intensive than it is today. Everything was woven and sewn by hand.

These gowns and petticoats from the 1770s and 1780s are much more Edie’s sort of thing than Jones’, although I do imagine Jones stuffed in to the one with the blue quilted petticoats when she was visiting her aunt in England. And perhaps the one with the yellow gown and stomacher for more formal occasions. I can definitely see Edie in the pale pink effort with all the embroidery on the front when she first meets Jones at the ball. (High waists a la Jane Austen only came in around about 1794 as far as I can make out).

Once the pair of them are travelling, they revert to much simpler clothes. I imagine Jones wearing something like this… it’s based on a working man’s coat from about 1780, made of wool.

I am still in debate with myself over whether Jones would wear local clothing once she gets home to the mountains. I think she might need to stay in western garb because I am not confident enough to write about regional clothing without getting it wrong and that seems disrespectful.

Edie doesn’t feel right going for breeches, however comfortable they might be. So she compromises by wearing ‘stays’ or ‘bodies’ (which is what she calls them) that lower class women, who had no help getting dressed, wore. They lace up the front rather than the back, so you can do them yourself. This is really interesting little video of a working woman getting dressed.

The little things… how you deal with menstruation, what pins you use in your hair, how often you change your stockings… those are all things that tend not to get referenced in contemporary texts because it was all such normal stuff that you didn’t need to. Everyone knew about it. There’s a good blog post about Georgian personal hygiene by the Word Wenches and I think I may have mentioned Madame Isis’ blog before.

Next week I am back to regular scheduling and I am interviewing Naomi Aoki!


PS: As we came out of the museum and went to find the old fashioned sweetshop, we fell over a coach and four. Netflix are filming the Bridgerton series of books by Julia Quinn.

research rabbit hole: historical lamps

As you know, I self-id as a complete and utter history nerd and I regularly get sucked down research rabbit holes. I find that I get stuck on how something would work so fixedly that I can’t move on with the story until I’ve worked it out in my own head. A lot of this doesn’t make it in to the book, because it’s simply not necessary for the plot for everyone else to know how corn was harvested in 1920, or what precise underwear working women wore in the mid-eighteenth century, or, in this particular case, what lanterns someone would have used to explore a cave system in the Himalayas in 1780.

This stuffed me for lighting solutions, because advances in oil lamp technology didn’t actually happen until 1780, with the invention of the Argand Lamp by, wait for it, Aime Argand.

Jones and Edith were therefore left with either a candle lantern or a more primitive oil lantern for their explorations. I have allowed them a few candles brought with them from home. But the lighting in the region was primarily from oil lamps, usually using clarified butter or vegetable oil. So I thought that Jones, being very well prepared, would probably have an oil lantern and a candle in her pocket for emergencies. Oil lanterns can have more than one wick for additional light – this YouTube video is a really worthwhile watch.

After watching that, I made myself a little lamp with olive oil and a bit of cotton string supported out of it with some wire, in a glass jar. It gave enough light to hang out and chat, but not really enough to read by unless you were right next to it. I guess more wicks in the jar would make a difference.

My next project is to take the cream off our fortnightly milk delivery, make butter, clarify the butter and see how I get on with that.

One thing that shouldn’t be underestimated is the very real risk of fire with all of these open light sources. There’s a reason that there were stiff penalties for having an open flame below decks on a ship. Horn lanterns, with scraped thin panels of animal horn to protect the flame, served a double purpose – to protect the flame from being blow out, but to also slow down fire if the lamp was dropped or toppled over.

Don’t try this at home without something close by to extinguish flames if something goes wrong!

 

excerpt: the flowers of time

As promised, this week I have an excerpt from The Flowers of Time for you. Set in the 1780s, in England and Northern India, the main characters are Jones, a non-binary archaeologist who has lived in the mountains for most of her life, and Edith, who is a botanical illustrator.


If Pater hadn’t made Jones promises to leave straight after the funeral, she wouldn’t have gone at all.

“You promise?” he’d asked, again and again as his strength waned in the flicker of the butter-lamps. “You promise you’ll go, Frank? You need to get away. Take the green-bound book and go.”

“Yes, Pater,” she had reiterated again and again. “I promise. I’ll go. I’ll go straight down to Bombay, to John and Richard. And I’ll take ship as soon as I can. You’ve already written to Aunt Caroline, I sent the letter myself. I’m ready.”

She had been sniveling to herself as she spoke, hoping he wouldn’t notice how distressed she was in the dim light. She didn’t want to be having this conversation at all. He looked yellow-faced and sunken-cheeked even in the daylight and in the flickering light of the dim lamps at night it was worse. He was already corpse-like.

He moved a thin, clawed hand to cover hers. “My dear, I love you so much. I have perhaps done you a disservice by not sending you home to Caro before now, when you were younger.”

“I didn’t want to go,” she said, roughly. “It’s all right, Pater. I’m all right. I’ll go, as soon as is possible.”

“I should never have kept you out here, once I realized that the book has some truth behind it,” he said. He had been rambling a little about his books in the last week or so, as he had become weaker. “You must take it back with you. And put it in the library at Stamford Hall. That’s where it came from. Put it in the library, up high, on one of the top shelves to the left of the arched window. Use the ladders. And then it will be safe.” He drew a rattling breath. “Promise me, Frank.”

She turned her hand over beneath the fragile skin of his own on the counterpane and clasped it carefully. “I promise, Pater.”

“And don’t do what I did,” he added in a harsh whisper. “Don’t search for the source. All these years,” he said, “All these years I have been following the trail, looking for the source. And now, here we are. And it’s not a source for good, my child. It’s not a source for good at all.” He was lapsing in to rambling again. “I want you away, Frank. I want you and the book safe.” Finally he slipped in to the restless sleep that was consuming more and more of his time. She bent her head over his hand as she clutched it. He was the only family she had ever known and she was terrified to lose him.

“It won’t be long now.” The soft voice of one of the older monastery healers came from behind her in the slow Bhoti they used with her. “But you know that.”

She turned slowly on her stool, not letting go of her father’s hand, and nodded. “Yes. I know. Thank you, Jamyang. I do appreciate everything you are doing for us.” Kalsang was behind him, she noticed, his apprentice and shadow. “Thank you for helping him wash earlier, Kalsang.”

“You are most welcome, Jones.” Kalsang nodded with all the formality a teenager could muster.

“He wants me to go home. To England. To my aunt.” She swallowed and looked up. “It’s all arranged. He’s written. Sonam will take me down to Bombay.” She heard Kalsang’s indrawn breath of shock. Bombay was months of travel away. She had only been once herself, about fifteen years ago, when Pater had made the trip to take some artifacts down to send home.

“Will you come back?” Jamyang’s voice was unchanged, still calm and unshocked.

She met his gaze. “Yes. Yes. He wants me to stay in England a year. So I can learn where I come from.” She disengaged her hand gently, not waking her father, and stood. “He’s right, in a way. I should know. But my home is here. And my work is here. His work. It’s so important the people at home in England learn about the wonderful things here in the mountains. There are buildings and people here that people in England never even imagine. Things so old, so precious! I want to keep documenting it all, keep exploring.”

Jamyang watched her, with a small smile and then patted her arm. “You are a good person, Jones,” he said. “You are your father’s child. Franklin has been my friend for decades now, since you first came here when you were a tiny child after your mother died.” He stepped forward and took her hand. “We will welcome you back when you come, child. You will always have a home here with us. But do as your father wishes, now. Take the book he speaks of back to England. And leave it there. He has protected you from it for this long. Now, your protection must rest on your own shoulders.”




 

 


Next week, my monthly ‘what I’ve been reading in July’ roundup!

research rabbit-holes for june

The last few weeks’ research rabbit-holes have been pretty varied. I’m still flailing around in the Himalayas and in eighteenth century India for Flowers of Time and on top of that I’m still fact-checking for Inheritance of Shadows.  This is the stack of reading I took away on holiday last week.

It turns out that Rob in Inheritance needs to know about Trench Code, which I didn’t even know was a thing until I started researching codes used by the British in World War One. I’m reading Secret Warriors by Taylor Downing to get some background on Rob’s career in Signals. Or… was he involved with something more Intelligence-led? I’m also reading A Country Twelvemonth by Fred Archer to give me a chronological background to the farming year in the 1920s and I may give Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee another read – I haven’t touched it since it was one of the set texts for my O-levels in 1986. Although I enjoyed it before then, deconstructing it for an exam completely soured me to it.

The pile also includes a couple of books about Kew and Marian North, who was a Victorian plant collector and illustrator. Edie in Flowers of Time is inspired by her, although Edie predates Marian by a century.

Tabs open in my browser this morning include Keeping Clean in the Eighteenth Century, Ladakh, the index to Lady’s Magazine, a google search for images of deserted forts of the Himalayas, a page about the monastery of Phugtal Gompta, the abstract of an article about eighteenth century circulating libraries, and (still) the article about the eighteenth century seed trade, because I keep going back to it to absorb a bit more.

That’s it for this time!

work in progress: The Flowers Of Time

Currently laboring under the title ‘The Flowers Of Time’, my work in progress is set the Himalayas in the 1780s and follows the adventures of Edith and Jones, respectively a lady botanical illustrator and a non-binary archaeologist, who take on more than they bargain for as they come up against The Border during their travels.

“Shall we go down?” Edie asked. It had been a two hour ride. She could do with a break before returning to camp. “Are we going to relocate the camp up here for a few days?”

“Perhaps. I want to see what he was exploring. In the notebook he writes about chambers in the hillside that he thought were used as dwellings. But after Mama… he didn’t write any more.”
Edie bit her lip. “Are there still bandits around here? Is it safe?”

Jones patted her hip. “I have my pistols, don’t worry. And Sonam reckoned that the new King in Leh is still vested in making the roads safer. It was getting better even before I left and when we were planning back in Srinagar, he said that trade is increasing along the Silk Route again because of the regular patrols. And we have Marcus.” She gestured at the dog.

Edie wished she had Jones’ easy confidence. She turned Donna’s head down the animal-track that Jones was following, watching Jones’ easy seat in the saddle, feet braced against the slope. Edie couldn’t quite bring herself to shed her skirts and ride astride. Jones didn’t even think of it. She sat straight in the saddle, loose and relaxed as her pony carefully picked his way down the faint track. Edie did her best to emulate her. It wasn’t that she was a bad rider, she just wasn’t as confident as she could be.

I’m roughly a third of the way through my estimated word-count at approximately twenty-two thousand words, so I’m getting there slowly!