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Monday, 22 June 2015

Beside The Seaside

My latest feature for Family Tree magazine is on the history of the British seaside and its health benefits. When Jane Austen was a little girl in the late 1770s, very few of our ancestors had a bath in their home. During the eighteenth century sea-bathing was recommended for many types of ailments (the ‘sea-cure’).

The patronage of the royal family made sea-bathing very fashionable at places like Brighton, Sidmouth and Margate. Long-established watering-places like Bath, which was famous for its hot springs, fell out of fashion.
Fanny Burney.
People did not necessarily bathe on hot sunny days. In late November 1782, the novelist Fanny Burney (later Madame D’Arblay) went bathing at 6am at Brighton by moonlight : ‘We had bespoke the bathing-women to be ready for us, and into the ocean we plunged. It was cold, but pleasant'.

Fairlynch Museum.
As Austen joked in her unfinished novel Sanditon, great claims were made for the coast’s briny benefits: ‘Sea air and sea bathing together were nearly infallible, one or the other of them being a match for every disorder of the stomach, the lungs or the blood. They were anti- spasmodic, anti-pulmonary, anti-bilious and anti-rheumatic’.
A Regency belle on a donkey at Worthing – the donkey is refusing to come out of the sea. With a poem by Robert Bloomfield. I. Cruikshank, 1807. Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ds-03595.
Fanny Burney. Collotype after the painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Dr Johnson’s Mrs Thrale, T.N. Foulis, 1910. Author’s collection.  
A cottage orné at Budleigh Salterton (now the Fairlynch Museum and Arts Centre). © Sue Wilkes.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Waterloo 200

The Iron Duke at Waterloo.
On the morning of the battle of Waterloo, Marshal Soult dared to question Napoleon’s plans. Napoleon snapped, ‘Because you have been beaten by Wellington, you think he is a great man.’ But he’d finally met his match. Bonaparte’s decisive defeat by coalition forces at Waterloo on 18 June 1815 ended his career, and decades of war.

The Duke of Wellington was a national hero, but Waterloo had a massive human cost; over 11,600 British and Hanoverian troops died in this battle alone. Relief funds were set up to aid the widows and orphans of British soldiers killed during the war.

Many special events are planned to remember this landmark battle. You can watch live re-enactments of the main battles on the internet (subscription payable) - tickets to see the events in person are sold out. 

However, if you can't make it to Belgium, there’s a guide to the battlefield here, and the National Army Museum is commemorating the bicentenary with a series of events and exhibitions across the UK (some free) And if your ancestor fought at Waterloo, you may be interested in the Waterloo 200 Descendants Book
Images from the author's collection:
The Duke of Wellington on the Field of Waterloo. Cassell’s Illustrated History of England Vol. VI, (Cassell, Petter and Galpin, c.1864).
Napoleon, from an old engraving of a picture by Bouillon. Napoleon: Warrior and Ruler, (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1893).
Formation of the Lines of Battle at Waterloo. Napoleon: Warrior and Ruler, (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1893.)

Fashionable Fabrics

I'm a guest on the lovely Catherine Curzon's eighteenth-century blog this week. You can read my post on fashionable fabrics in Jane Austen's day here.
This lace collar on display on the Jane Austen's House Museum at Chawton was worked by the novelist herself. The Museum is trying to raise funds to buy a rare letter written by Jane Austen's sister Cassandra - there's more details on its website.
Image © Sue Wilkes.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Marks of Genius

Jane Austen's novels on display - Marks of Genius.
I recently visited the new Weston Library's Marks of Genius exhibition at Oxford. It features some wonderful Austen-era treasures. The poet Shelley's notebook, which contains a draft of his poem Julian and Maddalo, is on display, and the travel journal written by Percy and his wife Mary. A miniature portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and one of the young Shelley, are on view, and a draft of Mary's landmark novel Frankenstein.

An early set of Jane Austen's novels is tantalisingly close to the visitor, and you can also see the manuscript of Jane Austen's unfinished novel The Watsons, and Volume the First, part of her juvenilia (her early works are full of fun).

Austen's Volume the First.

I very much enjoyed the exhibition, which is not limited to Austen's time - you can explore many other fabulous masterpieces from the Bodleian Libray collections, too.
Austen's The Watsons

This free exhibition runs until 20 September 2015, so do make a point of dropping in if you can. If you can't visit, you can buy the exhibition catalogue here.