Regency and Research

Glossary of Wacky Words I Love (And Use)

This week’s post is technically just about the Regency Period. Instead, I wanted to provide a brief glossary of words I enjoy, and which I use (sometimes to the confusion of others).  Please forgive my definitions, as any mistakes are certainly my own.

Bow Street – reference to the Bow Street Runners or Bow Street offices, which were formed in the late eighteenth century and disbanded by 1827 with the arrival of the London Metropolitan Police. They were somewhere between a private detective company, thief-takers, and formed one of the primary methods of crime investigation prior to Robert Peel’s Metropolitan Police.

breeches – a type of men’s clothing, these were often a very tight pair of pants (guess skinny jeans have brought that back), and if “knee-breeches” came just below the knee, often help up with bracing. Black breeches were an essential part of formal attire for a good portion of the Regency era, especially in more conservative settings, before thankfully being replaced by black trousers (thanks to the style of Beau Brummel).

chocolate house – chocolate finally reached England in the 1650s, and the cost meant it was a treat only for the wealthy. There were shops dedicated to serving this as a beverage (the drink formed from blocks of solid cocoa), served alongside ale, beer, snacks, and coffee. One of the most famous Gentleman’s Clubs, White’s, originated as a chocolate house when it first opened in 1693.

flip – a hearty drink consisting of beer plus some variety of stronger alcohol mixed with sugar than energized by a red-hot iron thrust into the middle of it.

gold sovereign – not just gold-painted royalty (sorry, couldn’t resist), this was a description for a one pound coin, a decent amount of money at the time.

greatcoat – although this can reference other types of men’s clothing, when I use it in  a Regency setting this refers to a multi-caped long coat (with sleeves, it wasn’t a cape) that was an essential in most Regency bucks wardrobes. This is a generic term, describing coats that were long and room, had big pockets, and were usually waterproof (handy in London).

hell – in Regency terms, this could refer to both the Christian hell, and a place of gaming and vice, that is, a “gaming hell.”

rake – not useful for clearing leaves, this was a slang term for men during the Regency (a shortened form of “rakehell”) who were known for their vices, especially seducing and bedding numerous women. From this reputation, despite the modern romantic connotations, I suspect they were also rife with various STDs.

sidhe – in the most basic of terms, a fairy. Pronounced “see-lee.” This harkens back to mythology and different groups of fairies, amongst them the Tuatha, and you had the “seelie” and “unseelie” court.

The Watch – Another form of law enforcement / prevention in England and London.  These were men who were on guard to “watch” for crime and take reports of fires and other crime when it came to them in their watch-boxes, positioned throughout London. While they had a reputation for being inept and essentially useless, there were some men within the Watch who were very effective at their duty.

topper – another slang term used to describe a beaver hat, ie the classic black top hat.

über – actually a German word, but used in informal English as a prefix usually for emphasis. It means above, over, or across, but can also be meant as the best, ultimate, superiority or excess.

So what about you – any favorite words? What about those that people confuse or misunderstand all the time? Do share, so then we won’t make the same mistake!

Thanks for reading, and wishing you a fantastic week.

Regency and Research, The Paranormal

The Pig-Faced Woman: Found it!

466px-The_Wonderful_Mrs._AtkinsonHave you ever found a little tidbit of research only to completely forget where or when you saw it? What you have here has eluded me for months. I originally read of this legend in Captain Rees Howell Gronow’s reminiscences. Behold: The pig-faced lady.  I finally found word of it (and was jumping up and down), at Pig-faced women on Wikipedia.

For me, it’s perfect: Regency + paranormal = fantastic!

The story goes that the story originates in Holland, England, and France simultaneously in the late 1630s, of a noblewoman with a lovely human body, but the head of a pig. Perhaps her unfortunate appearance was the result of a curse; that is unclear.  When she married, her husband was given the choice: she could appear beautiful to him, but pig-like to others, or pig-like to him, and beautiful to others. When he told her the choice was hers rather than his, the curse was broken (at which point I can only surmise she became beautiful … or maybe the story is more Shrek like).

(Sorry, I digress … all wound up with Coke and finally having found this legend!)

Anyway, the legend appears again in Dublin in the early 19th century, giving the pig-faced woman a name: Griselda Steevens. This poor woman was said to be quite shy and reclusive, often remaining in her carriage while her servants gave alms to the poor. While it’s unclear whether the rumors of her having a pig-face began while she was still alive, there are stories that dismayed (obviously!) about the idea people had about her, she took to intentionally showing off her face in public, and even commissioned a painting of herself for the hospital she had built. But alas, without avail, as locals still preferred the image of the woman with a pig’s head in the tavern across the way.

Then it shows up again in London, 1814-1815 when there were rumors a pig-faced woman was living in Marylebone. Her existence was widely reported, included many alleged portraits and sketches of her. During celebrations following the end of the Napoleonic wars, traffic was tied up, and it was said that in one of the carriages was a woman with a pig’s snout protruding from beneath her poke bonnet.

“It was rumoured that during the illuminations which took place to celebrate the peace, when a great crowd had assembled in Piccadilly and St James’s Street, and when carriages could not move on very rapidly, “horresco referens !” an enormous pig’s snout had been seen protruding from a fashionable-looking bonnet in one of the landaus which were passing. The mob cried out, “ The pig-faced lady !—the pig faced lady! Stop the carriage—stop the carriage!” The coachman, wishing to save his bacon, whipped his horses, and drove through the crowd at a tremendous pace; but it was said that the coach had been seen to set down its monstrous load in Grosvenor Square.”

[Source: Reminiscences of Captain R. H. Gronow, being anecdotes of the camp, the court, and the clubs at the close of the last war with France. Gronow. p111-113: Now I can’t lose it again!]

Belief in pig women was so widespread, that often at fairs, charlatans purported to “show” one, which were usually shaved bears they dressed up in women’s clothing. Even Dickens was said to have commented on the prevalence of the legend, remarking that every age had its own pig-lady (pardon the paraphrase).

But, belief in their legend declined eventually, leading to the last “serious” work about their existence in 1924. This was in a book Ghosts, Helpful and Harmful by Elliot O’Donnell, a supernatural researcher. He claimed there was a ghost of a pig lady in a haunted house in Chelsea. Perhaps we have seen the last of the pig-lady, but I’m sure glad I found her again! I can’t wait to tell her story. 🙂

Have you ever lost that juicy tidbit of research? Have you ever heard of the pig-faced woman?

Thanks for reading. And hey, like the post? Why not follow the blog. Have a great week!


Regency and Research

Regency Graveyards, Pt1

The Crypt, St. Bartholomews Church. Source:
The Crypt, St. Bartholomews Church. Source:

Remember how I mentioned that I have a thirst for the unusual when it comes to the Regency period? As a result, I have been combing resources (online and elsewhere) for information about Regency graveyards.

First note: if you want to do the same search, save yourself some aggravation, and use the search term “cemetery” instead. While the term graveyard is used, in the context it generally seems to refer to Churchyard burials rather than the larger public burial places.

So, the search started off discovering a fair bit of information about burial customs. That is, when someone died, it was often the family – usually the females of the house – who would dress and care for the body. Then, while there may have been some kind of service in a church, females rarely came out to the graveyard, considered too “delicate” for these matters. I thought this a bit strange – they hadn’t been too delicate to care for the corpse.

Then I did a bit more research.

You know the saying “6 feet under” and those cracked and ruined graveyards with moss and trees, melancholy yet picturesque? Yeah. Very much a Victorian invention, and created after things reached horrific terms by the 1820s  – 1840s.

Graveyards were noxious places. There were two central problems: grave robbers, and open graves. For while the rich were privileged enough to often have private burial places perhaps at churchyards or in family graveyards on the ancestral estate, others were not so fortunate. Graves were packed tightly together in a square formation – no wide walking paths, but narrow passage between groups of them. Worse, as populations, especially in major cities, increased, there were naturally more dead to bury. This often necessitated a grave that might be dug six feet, perhaps deeper – but it wasn’t closed before more than one body was interred, leaving perhaps a foot of earth covering the coffin if there was one, sometimes less.

Yes, by this time I was thinking I, too, would have been too delicate for the graveyard.

As today, there was still a fee for burial. And for those lacking funds? You could inter your loved ones for a time, after which their “parking spot” expired, and the remains would be removed, trundled off in the night for a fertilizer plant, all to make room for new arrivals. How long the body stayed there depended on the watchfulness of the surviving family, and sometimes just the caprice of the graveyard keepers.

This was one of the few advertisements I found directly hinting at Regency conditions:

New Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, Church Steet, Islington – This extensive GROUND has been prepared with a view to prevent those shocking depredations which now afflict the public mind: it is securely enclosed, carefully guarded, and will always be well lighted during the winter months; it also offers the best security against profane intrusion, because dry graves may be sunk in it to a depth defying such attempts, viz. 10, 15, 20 feet, or as much further as may be desired: the public will easily perceive that a grave which demands the incessant labour of two men during two long days to sink, and requires many shoring planks, must be placed beyond the power of violation. Orders for funerals taken in by the sexton, on the premises, of whom cards of the dues and fees may be had. By the particular request of several of the principal undertakers, a large general vault has been constructed, in which all interments must be in lead or iron.
    Advertisement in The Times, December 15th 1818

[source 1=”” language=”:”][/source]

High walls and strong internment caskets to keep out grave robbers (the bodies were only good if still fresh). Not certain if the lead and iron internments were just to prevent robbery. The problem with them was that sometimes, having no air holes, they could explode.

I had trouble finding contemporary account of cemeteries (weird, huh? Didn’t they know someone would want such strange information someday?).

I’ll offer just this tiny tidbit to start to give you an idea. This is a brief description of Clement’s Lane, in London.

“… The back windows of the houses on the east side of the lane look into a burying ground called the ” Green Ground,” in Portugal Street, presently to be described ; on the west side the windows (if open) permit the odour of another burying place — a private one, called Enon Chapel — to perflate the houses ; at the bottom — the south end — of this Lane, is another burying place, belonging to the Alms Houses, (‘) within a few feet of the Strand, and in the centre of the Strand are the burying ground and vaults of St. Clement Danes ; in addition to which, there are several slaughter houses in the immediate neighbourhood : so that in a distance of about two hundred yards, in a direct line there are four burying grounds ; …” [source 1=”Gatherings” 2=”from” 3=”Grave” 4=”Yards,” 5=”by” 6=”G.A.” 7=”Walker,” 8=”p149″ language=”:”][/source]

So, this post has already gotten unbearably long. 😉 Thanks for reading – curious?

Here are a few resources you can check out, available free from Google Books:

Report on the sanitary conditions of the labouring population of Great Britain. Edwin Chadwick (sir.) [1843]

Gatherings from Grave Yards: Particularly Those of London. With a concise History of the modes of internment among different Nations from earliest periods. And a detail of Dangerous and Fatal results produced by the unwise & revolting custom of inhuming the dead in the midst of the living. By G. A. Walker, Surgeon. 1830. [had to include the full title; kind of explains what the book is. 🙂 ]

The Funeral Guide: or, A correct list of the burial fees, & of the various grounds in the metropolis &c. five miles round. John Cauch [1840]

Regency and Research

Stress Driving You Mad?: St. Luke’s Hospital

Bedlam, or Bethlem, Hospital has achieved such historic notoriety, certainly most of us have heard of it. Here it was that pauper lunatics were sent up until 1751.

Now, the sad fact was that the 18th and early 19th centuries were not kind to lunatics. They were often treated little better than animals. If they were lucky enough to have wealthy relatives, somebody was paid to care and keep them out of the way. For the rest of them, Bedlam was designed specifically for the purpose. Perhaps most disturbing to modern sensibilities was the addition of galleries and methods so that visitors could go to visit Bedlam and laugh and jeer at the poor lunatics trapped there.

So, note to self: if I am trapped in Regency England and declared mad, St. Luke’s is the way to go. No provisions were made for laughing and jeering at the lunatics.

This picture, again from Microcosm of London, shows St. Luke’s Hospital, one of the galleries in the female wing. By historical standards, it was quite humane. The room is clean, some of the women are working, others take turns around the room. None of them are chained, and each lunatic is provided with a bed, blankets, and if “her habits were clean enough”, sheets. Yes, again I look to my tiny 1940 edition, and John Summerson’s helpful notes.

Summerson writes:

“The building is very like a prison and was, indeed, designed by George Dance, the architect of Newgate Gaol. Dance was an artist of extraordinary power and a grim theme sometimes drew out the best in him. This gallery, with its long thin windows, fantastically high cell doors and iron grilles, might be a stage set for the Duchess of Malfi. Compare it to Dance’s Chapel at Newgate [see Aug 16th post], another specimen of the art of being architecturally grim. Today we disapprove of architecture which deliberately dramatises unpleasant things. A madhouse which looked like a setting for the hallucinations of madmen would never do. It must look like a gentleman’s residence and must be called, not a mad-house, or even a lunatic asylum, but a ‘mental home.'” (- Summerson, 19-20, Microcosm of London, 1943)

I included the last bit because I found it rather amusing, his ascerbic notation – because in designing buildings today, we’re also conscious of making them more “friendly” for the most part. Of course, we also know (or think we know) that different environments have different effects on patients and inmates (depending on whether it’s a hospital or prison – often designed by similar people).

What do you think? Does this hospital look suitable for the mad? What improvements do you think we’ve made since then? What perhaps have we forgotten? Curious about anything else? Do leave a note – you know you want to. 😉

Thanks for reading, and hey, like the post? Why not sign up for the blog and never miss a thing. Hope you have a fantastic week. 🙂

Regency and Research

A Regency Woman’s “Job”

Today’s post was inspired while I poked around at other people’s lovely blogs. I came upon “The Regency Reticule” (do follow the link to check it out yourself.) Here’s the quote I liked:

“…For instance, nowadays, most parents of daughters want their little girls to grow up and find a career or vocation they can be really passionate about.  In the Regency though, what most parents thought was ‘best’ for their daughters was an advantageous (financially) marriage.  Marriage was seen, for women, like a career is now.  It was prepared for, educationally and emotionally.  We have to realize that back then there really was no social safety net other than the church, and that was the dreaded ‘charity’…” [Source:]

Harriet Arbuthnot, painted by John Hoppner; Source: Wikipedia Commons
Harriet Arbuthnot, painted by John Hoppner;
Source: Wikipedia Commons

The part that particularly struck me was “marriage was seen, for women, like a career is now.” It’s a very interesting thought – and one I don’t disagree with. The Regency period held few rights for women – inside or out of marriage. Essentially, they traded the dominion of their parents for the dominion of their husband. Divorce was extremely rare, requiring an Act of Parliament (yes, see how often that’s likely to happen – especially if some of the hubby’s friends are in said parliament).

So marriage as career. What would that mean? Certainly there’s the requisite “heir bearing” or the perennial phrase “heir and a spare” (considering high infant mortality rates, you’d probably want more than one spare). If your husband is connected within society, it’s your duty to “represent” him well out and about, to help secure connections through female relationships, and certainly make good arm candy when necessary. Though often, husbands and wives spent little time together, men preferring the company of other men, and spending more of their time at their clubs (and quite possibly with the mistress), whereas women socialized, attended teas and events with friends, and probably often found themselves alone at home at night (unless of course they engaged in extramarital affairs as well.)

What happened if, as a woman, you chose another career? Jane Austen is often a prime example of this, never marrying, and living on the charity of her brother. While she chose a career outside of marriage – and few can claim not to have heard of her – interestingly, she didn’t want her name on the early books, and when she died and was buried, she isn’t listed as “awesome writer of fantastic fiction” (well, something more in Regency-speak, but you get the drift). Instead, her eulogy makes no mention of her writing whatsoever, instead emphasizing her “sweetness.” (I’ll save you the trouble of looking it up for yourself – it’s near the end of the page: Jane Austen’s eulogy can be found here.)

There are other females who chose careers outside marriage. Such as:

  • Amelia Curran, and Irish painter and close friend of Percy Bysshe Shelley.
  • Harriet Arbuthnot had a career AND a marriage as a diarist, social observer, and political hostess.
  • Sarah Burney, English novelist, unmarried, cared for her father and family; sister to novelist and diarist Frances (Fanny) Burney. She’s an interesting example who didn’t marry, and suffers near penury, the associated scandal of possible incest (though this has since been dismissed), but lives to the ripe old age of 71. A hard, but interesting life.
  • Mary Anne Clarke, who left her husband who went bankrupt shortly after her marriage when she was 18, and is perhaps most famous for becoming the mistress of the Duke of York, and selling army commissions because he didn’t set her up to the style she required.
  • Felicia Hermans, who didn’t let marriage stand in the way of her literary career as a poet, although she died at only 41

Want to know more? Check out: Women of the Regency Era on Wikipedia; some very intriguing women, and not all of them chose marriage as their career.

So, what would you do if you were in the Regency? Would you choose a career in marriage – as was the norm? Or would you dare to be different like some of the women above? Any other different Regency women you’ve discovered?

Thanks for reading – and hey, like the post? Why not follow the blog? Hope you have a great week!

Regency and Research

A Very Brief History Of Forensics: Yes, Pre 20th c.

Like most people, I got my first “taste” of forensics through CSI, and found myself fascinated.

Unlike most people, this fascination led me to want to write a book about a Regency era detective who used forensics to solve crimes, and magic to fill in the blanks of unavailable technology. First, I had to research what was possible in early 19th century forensics. Turns out, quite a bit. I’ve included references if you’re interested in finding out more.

700s – Chinese use fingerprints to authenticate documents

925 A.D. – England’s Charts of Privileges lists the office that would become coroner (“crowners” at first), who collected taxes, and also summoned inquest juries when someone was seriously wounded or died from “misadventure”. Coroner’s became “death investigator’s” by the 13th century when they examined all dead bodies to determine the nature of wounds, diseases, and a person’s matter of death. (Ramsland, Beating the Devil’s Game, p5)

c. 1000, Quintilian, a Roman attorney, wins acquittal for his client by proving that bloody palm prints were intended to frame him.

1247 A.D. – Sung Tz’u, a Chinese lawyer, offered advice in one of the oldest forensic technique books, Hsi yüan chi lu (The Washing Away of Unjust Imputations). He based his ideas on solving cases and calculated decomposition rates on strict observation and logic. In this handbook on autopsies, the author describes how different causes of death would demonstrate themselves in the state of the body. (Ramsland, Beating the Devil’s Game, p6-7)

end of the 16th century – Battista Condronchi offered De Mortis Veneficiis, a study of poisoning deaths, followed seven years later by De Relationibus Medicorum by Fortunato Fedele. (Ramsland, ibid, p11-12)

1609 – First study on handwriting analysis by Frenchman Francois Denelle.

mid 1600s – Germany’s University of Leipzig offered a course in forensic medicine.

1670 – Anton Van Leeuwenkoek develops the first simple microscope, the world’s first powerful precision microscope.

1728 – Frenchman Pierre Fauchard writes Treatise on the Teeth, which proves teeth could be used for identification purposes.

post 1780 – “Scotland established itself as a leader in forensic investigation post-1780, such as in the case of a murderer girl where a cast of a suspect’s shoe was made, and the wound was determined to be made by a left-handed killer because the slash had started on the right. (Ramsland, ibid, p.16-17).

1784 – England. John Toms is convicted of murder because a torn piece of paper in the murder gun matched a piece of paper in his pocket; this is considered perhaps the first documented incidence of physical matching evidence.

1806 – Dr. Valentine Rose showed how arsenic could be detected in human organs, showing how toxicology was valuable to crime solving.

1807 – First forensic science institute established at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. Even Americans looking to improve medical jurisprudence looked to Scottish physicians.

1811 – French pediatrician and chemist, Pierre Nysten, published results of his studies on rigor mortis, identifying various stages.

1811, December 7 – Horrific crime in London’s East End along the Ratcliffe Highway; intruder murdered shop owner Timothy Marr, his wife and apprentice, and the baby sleeping in the next room. Two weeks later, similar murders at the King’s Arm Inn. A seaman’s maul was found with the initials “J.P.” and an Irish sailor was suspected, but never convicted as he hanged himself first in Coldbath Fields Prison. (Ramsland, ibid, p. 22-23).

1813 – prodigy Dr. Mathieu Joseph Bonaventure Orfila publishes the first systematic treatise on known poisons. Has a second book four years later, but not consulted by police for a criminal case – despite being the world’s authority on toxicology – until 1824. (Ramsland, ibid, p32).

1814-1815 – Vidocq, a police informant working for Napoleon (among other things he’s accused / remembered as), had a systematic approach to crime which advanced forensic techniques, like keeping detailed written records, notes, comparing spent bullets to weapons, preserving footprint casts, comparing handwriting samples, suggesting fingerprints could be used as a form of I.D.

1823 – Czech physiologist Johannes Evangelist Purkinje publishes description of nine fingerprint types, thinking they could be used for identification (and you’ll note, arriving earlier than Galton). (Ramsland, ibid, p31).

1833 – Vidocq establishes world’s first detective agency, Le Bureau des Renseignments.

1835 – Bow Street Runner Henry Goddard uses matching bullets and the discovery of an inside job to solve a crime, and become one of the forerunners of ballistics experts (Ramsland, ibid, p35).

1839 – the word “scientist” comes into use.

1843 – Belgium’s Sûreté Publique takes the first known mug shots of criminals. Throughout the 1850s, police departments across Europe and the U.S. compile archives of prisoner images. (Ramsland, ibid, p44)

1859 – U.S. becomes the first country in which photographs can be used as evidence in a court of law.

1892 – Francis Galton develops the fingerprint classification system.

1901 – Karl Landsteindr identifies human blood groups.

So, what do you think? Does forensics interest you? Have you ever gotten so interested in something that it’s led you down unusual research paths? 

Thanks for reading. And hey, like the post? Why not sign up for the blog? Hope you have a fantastic week. 🙂

Regency and Research

Regency Cops and Robbers: The Robbers

Last week I gave you a very brief overview of the law enforcement provided by the Watch and the Bow Street Runners. This week, we take a look at the criminals.

Fact is, not having an organized police force on the streets, coupled with extremely punishing laws that did little to equalize the level of crime with the level of punishment: if you could get hanged for robbery or murder, better to kill the witnesses, don’t you think? This all meant that Regency streets – especially in London – were ripe with crime.

If you’re familiar with Mayhew’s “London Labour and the London Poor,” he examines the poor districts during the later Victorian period, describing in detail the squalor of the living arrangements, the “dens of iniquity” where starting as children, criminals were shaped, honed, and trained in all illegal activity imaginable in underground rookeries. Accounts suggest that the Regency was the start and development of labyrinths of districts – notably the East End of London – which became criminal cesspits.

Even when there were honest poor in the areas trying to make a living, they were accompanied by many driven by desperation, greed, or perhaps other factors that made them turn to crime. When large numbers of country dwellers were moving to the city, accompanied by returning soldiers who had no provision and could possibly be unemployable, further strain is placed on the city.

Leigh’s New Picture of London among other resources paints a rather dark picture of city supposed to have not less than 30,000 prostitutes, and upwards of 3,000 receivers of various kinds of stolen property (see the section on Police of the Metropolis: 1819, found at:

Robberies, house breakings, all of these were organized and common. The visitor is suggested to beware Sharpers (who obtain licenses as pawn brokers), Swindlers (who take out licenses for auctions where false merchandise is sold or otherwise bamboozle your money), and Sharpers (those who pretend to be of the upper classes, essentially conmen and women).

It was well-known by 1816 that Field Land in Smithfield was the haunt of receivers and young thieves, whereas Petticoat Lane was the best place to dispose of stolen goods. St. Giles, though, was the worst (or best, if you were a criminal). St. Giles had an evil reputation because of how easily accessible it was from fashionable Leicester Square, the Haymarket, and Regent Street. Buildings were decayed and a warren of narrow alleys and streets where a criminal in the know could easily lose pursuers. (For more on St. Giles, see p58, London’s Underworld: Three Centuries of Vice and Crime, by Fergus Linnane.)

Even if you were dead you weren’t safe from criminals: with a need for more medical knowledge and laws against getting cadavars in legal fashion, you have the body snatchers. They stole recently buried corpses to sell to medical schools and universities for dissection (and which caused havoc in already problematic graveyards – more on them another day.)

One of the most horrendous crimes of the day occurred on December 7, 1811, when residents in London’s East End near the Ratcliffe Highway docks were brutally murdered in their homes. Resident Timothy Marr was closing up shop with his wife and apprentice when an intruder slipped in and murdered them all, as well as the baby in another room by bashing in their heads and slashing their throats. A seaman’s maul with the initials “J.P.” was recovered at the scene, but there were no other clues.

Two weeks later, on December 19, down the road a family staying at the King’s Arms Inn were similarly slaughtered. London was terrified.

Irish sailor, John Williams, was suspected on circumstantial evidence, but was never tried because he hanged himself first in the Coldbath Fields Prison (see p22-23, Beating the Devil’s Game, by Katherine Ramsland for more.)

So, what do you think? Do you too find the darker side (and perhaps the more honest side) of the Regency period intriguing? Have you stumbled upon any similar sidenotes?

Thanks for reading, and have a great week. Oh, and if you liked the post, why not follow the blog? Have a good one. 🙂

Regency and Research

Regency Cops and Robbers: Pt 1: The Cops

Watchmen Source:

While the Regency is often remembered / thought of in relation to Jane Austen, the social activities of the ton, and perhaps some connection to Waterloo and the Peninsular Wars, it’s also an interesting time socially. And it definitely has a dark side.

Now, I’m not going to get into all the details about the legal system, but I did want to talk about policing in the Metropolis (London) during the Regency. Mostly ’cause it means I get to introduce you to the Bow Street Runners. 🙂

So, while socially balls and swanning around through London as you pursued the marriage mart during the London Social Season was lots of fun during the Regency period, was often gets neglected is the high levels of crime during this same period. Especially following the Peninsular Wars and Waterloo, you had the return of soldiers back to England. Problem was, there wasn’t provision for what to do with all of them, and many were left impoverished and on the street. This only added to the pressure in London already brought about by the influx of newcomers moving from the countrysides into the city. Unfortunately, many found lives of destitution and want in the poorer districts. And of course, when you have lots of people, lots of poverty, you also have an increase in crime as desperation drives people’s actions.

I have read descriptions where some people installed bars on their carriage windows to prevent muggings. Traveling through the countryside, there was a fairly substantial opportunity for highway robbery – and ending up dead in a ditch if you were especially unlucky. The East End of London, with narrow side-streets and twisting, turning alleyways with poor lighting – along with the Southwark district across the river from the fashionable West End – were considered particularly ripe with crime. But, even if you lived in the West End in a fashionable district, it didn’t mean you were safe. Your house could be burgled, you could be pick-pocketed, or perhaps conned by a “sharp” (conman).

Now, while in modern times high crime generally means higher investment in policing, this isn’t what happened in Regency London – at least, not until the end of the period. Englishmen feared having what they saw as a militarized state and living under martial law, where their rights and freedoms were at risk. Better, they thought, to put up with the crime and handle it as they could than lose their freedom. Law then came under a “hue and cry” system, whereby if you saw a crime being committed, you set up the hue and cry and chased down the perpetrator (or got help doing so), before turning them over to the local law, often the magistrate.

There were, however, two legal parties at work in London: The Watch, and the Bow Street Runners.

The Watch (Watchmen or “Charlies” as they were known) were organized throughout the districts of London, and essentially were expected to patrol or stand in their “watch boxes” out in the streets – available to hear the hue and cry and hopefully come to your assistance. They were a fairly ancient London institution. If you wanted someone arrested for something, if you cried for help and someone answered, it was probably going to be the Watch, somewhat like modern “beat cops.” (You could also apply to the parish constable, a position appointed for the year, but also often of dubious utility.)

The problem with the Watch is that they had a reputation for being lazy, too old, overweight, and generally useless. That is not to say they were – but such was their reputation, and sometimes deservedly. For most ordinary citizens, this is what you had to help you. They were often selected from the humblest of classes, and this was often the only money they could bring in. It was their job to keep order, receive offenders (and deliver them to magistrates), and watch for fire.

Then there are the Bow Street Runners. They were set up near the mid to late 18th century by the Fielding brothers, and started out as something of a “thief-takers” – that is, they were paid for each thief that they brought to justice. That system inevitably led to corruption. By the Regency, the Bow Street Runners had nine divisions, were paid a salary, and had something of a uniform to identify them (as it was feared they could be government spies otherwise). While we know them all now as “runners,” senior Bow Street personnel considered this derogatory, and referred to themselves as Principal Officers. Runner really was used to describe a messenger or minor member of the organization, and dates back to at least the 17th c. (Cox, 1.)

The Police Offices operated on three levels: first, it was a judicial center, the site of the magistrates where people from the City of Westminister could bring or defend charges. Second, it was the hub of executive law enforcement. And finally, it acted as an administrative center where victims from throughout Britain could apply for the services of a Principal Officer (Cox, 32). By 1805, the Horse Patrol was re-established to patrol the turnpike roads – and generally rid the area of highway robbers. Most often Bow Street would be called in for the case of a felony, as they were better at investigating than the Watch. And, while they did gain their own reputation for corruption, there were many excellent officers. When the Metropolitan Police came into being in 1839, the detective branch was largely made up of Bow Street, since the shiny new police force otherwise wasn’t very good at investigating. 🙂

So, interesting? Any questions? Is there anything you’d like to know specifically about Regency policing? I can try to answer – or at least point you in the right direction. 🙂

Thanks for reading. Next week: the criminals and some crime. 🙂 Hey, like the post? Why not follow the blog.

My sources for this are generally as follows:

Cox, David J. A Certain Share of Low Cunning: A history of the Bow Street Runners, 1792-1839

Babington, Anthony, et al. A House in Bow Street: Crime and the Magistracy, London 1740-1881.

Goddard, Henry. Memoirs of a Bow Street Runner.

Pringle, Patrick. Hue and Cry.




Regency and Research

Taking a Regency Holiday: Travel Regency Style

Yes, I know I've posted this image before, but with the size of my feet, it's the closest I can ever come to enjoying these gorgeous vintage boots.
Yes, I know I’ve posted this image before, but with the size of my feet, it’s the closest I can ever come to enjoying these gorgeous vintage boots.

Travel is not for the meek of heart. I love to travel to new places, encounter new experiences … but I don’t especially care for the actual “travel” part. You know, the hassle of the airport (passports, security, squashy-tin-flying-thing, customs), or driving (stuck in a car forever). I usually have to decide I really want to be wherever I’m going to put up with all of it. And yes, I can be a bit whiny.

This last trip I was convinced certainly I’d be happier as a Regency traveler. So let’s compare, shall we?

In the Regency period, since I have some money (that is, I can afford more than just my own two feet), but not a lot (I’m not rich enough to own and maintain my own carriage, horses, and livery staff), I’d probably go the stage coach or post chaise route.  Both of these are more economical, though you will be traveling with strangers and on someone else’s schedule – the post chaise’s first focus is delivering the mail; passengers are a secondary concern.

Many of the roads are in dreadful shape, bumpy, and you may encounter the occasional highway man who hopefully will only rob you of all your valuables, and not your life. Problem is, he suffers essentially the same prison sentence (often death) for robbery as he does murder, so leaving witnesses isn’t preferable. Still, you will see a lot of the countryside … up close if the carriage wheels become mired in mud and stuck, or worse, break. Or the carriage could completely overturn.

 There are the usual irritations, like filthy inns, stinking or snoring fellow passengers, and poor weather, and don’t think you have access to most of your things. Your trunks and boxes will be loaded and tied onto the vehicle outside, and you have nothing but a few tiny belongings, what might fit in your lap. Oh, and beware some conveyances that may stop near major intersections of major roads, where you’ll have to disembark with your luggage and wait for the coach that runs along the intersecting road.

In a post chaise or similar vehicle, a journey of about 100 miles will take two days of travel – if the road is good.

Only 100 miles. That would be around the commute my husband does twice daily to work and home. Travel, so often undertaken for pleasure and excitement, is not the faint of heart.

“It is assuredly delightful to have travelled, but not to travel : –Oh, no! Fatigue, and the sense of restlessness, are not all that is to be endured; — the feeling that you are a stranger and alone comes upon you in a gloomy day, when the spirits fall with the barometer, or when they are exhausted at evening or at night. We paint angels with wings, and fancy that it will be part of our privileges in heaven to move from place to place with accelerated speed. It would be more reasonable to suppose that Satan keeps stage-coaches, and has packets upon the Styx; that locomotion ceases when we become perfect, and beautified man either strikes root like a zoophyte, or is identified with his house like a tortoise.”  – Robert Southey, Letters from England, 1808

How intriguing that Mr. Southey in 1808 bemoans his travel woes as I do, wishing for wings … like the airplane I flew in. I, in turn, dream of being “zapped” instantly from place to place, like Star Trek and their teleports.

What about you? What do you wish were different about traveling? How do you think travel will have changed in another hundred and some years? Love to hear from you!

And hey, enjoyed the post? Why not sign up for the blog. I don’t bite. 🙂

Thanks for reading, and have a great week – full of travel, or back at home.

Regency and Research

Travelling: Social Curiosity Today and in the Regency

I just got back from San Francisco this week (awesome city, lots of fun).  While traveling, I’ve been going through a travel book written in the Regency in c.1804, “Letters from England” by Robert Southey.

Essentially, the author notes and observes some of what he considers oddities he encounters on his travels through England, largely London. Which made me consider how similar this is to every traveler’s experience, whereby naturally we find ourselves comparing the unexplored and unfamiliar environs with our definition of “normal” – that is, our experiences back home.

Now, while I didn’t encounter some of the oddities Mr. Southey did in nineteenth century London, we both observed a way of life and a city different from what we were familiar to. And certainly, we made observations and came to conclusions that my have been erroneous, made simply because we didn’t understand how to interpret what we were seeing. I would expect that a visitor who came to my everyday world would likewise find things occasionally odd and unusual which I take for granted.

And while I try to come to new surroundings with wide eyes and an open mind, there is, I believe, an inherent amount of distance and prejudice we bring with us that is difficult, and perhaps impossible, to leave behind. We bring with us all of our experiences and life that, up until then, have defined “normal.” And it is this same definition which allows us to compare old experiences with new, the familiar with the unfamiliar.

Is this a bad thing, or simply part of our human experience? What do you think?

Sorry for the short post this week – like I say, just got back, still trying to settle back into “normal” when I want to stay in vacation-mode. 🙂 Have a great week, thanks for reading, and happy writing to you all.