My Musket Training at Colonial Williamsburg

I’d never fired a weapon in my life. The closest I’d come was holding Baron de Berenger's unloaded musket at the Kensington Central Library.

Yet lately three seemed to be a lot of pistols and such in my stories. I watched many videos and read books. What I learned from the books was how difficult it was, once upon a time, to load a gun and then shoot straight. Actually, the loading part, with practice, could be done quickly and efficiently. Shooting straight was another matter. The pinpoint accuracy in my stories is a case of the author taking liberties.

Given my interest, imagine my excitement last November, at an appearance with author Caroline Linden, when she told me that one could fire a black powder weapon at Colonial Williamsburg. Susan Holloway Scott —aka the other Nerdy History Girl—sent me photos of her family's experience with these weapons not long thereafter. “The next time I’m in CW,” I told myself, “I’m doing this.”

So much of history is available to me only through books. When the opportunity comes to experience it firsthand, I’m taking it. If I’m in a place where historically accurate carriages are being driven up and down the street, by knowledgeable drivers, I’m going to get on the carriage, and pester the driver with questions. If there’s shooting with historically accurate weapons and ammunition on offer, I’m shooting.

So, to the guns. The video here is very short. What I learned is very long. I fired two weapons, a musket and a fowler. What you don’t see in the video is Loretta trying to heft them. The musket weighs ten pounds, the fowler is a little bit lighter, and they're both looong, which makes them unwieldy for someone like me. My arms shook, lifting the gun. Then I had to hold it in my shaking arms, sight along the barrel, and figure out where to aim it. Turns out, the ball isn’t going where you think it’s going. Luckily, I got some good advice as I was aiming.

Another thing you don’t see in the video is how hard it is to draw back the cock. It doesn’t just flip back. You need to pull, and it fights you. I had to use two hands. (I do need to work on my upper body strength.)

Meanwhile, there's the loading process, with which I received a great deal of assistance. Otherwise, I could have been there for half an hour for each shot. Soldiers could load their weapons in 15 seconds, I was told. Well, getting shot at by a line of guys firing muskets is good motivation to load quickly.

These are far from accurate weapons. Even when you know how to aim, you can’t be sure the ball will go where it should. This is why armies created lines or squares of men, all firing at the same time. Standing or kneeling shoulder to shoulder, you were bound to strike the enemy, even if it wasn’t the enemy you were aiming at. But yes, in spite of these difficulties, and much to my amazement, I did badly wound a couple of paper bottles.

Video: Loretta Shoots!!
On my YouTube Channel
Readers who receive this blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be. To watch the video, please click on the title to this post or the video title.

 

Fifes and Drums of Colonial Williamsburg

This is the "Red Carriage." (Yes, I know. It's a CW thing.) This is an open carriage, with facing seats. It's something like the landau that Ripley and Olympia travel in (in A Duke in Shining Armor) when she takes him back to Camberley Place after he tries to run away to London. But the landau has folding hoods, while this is completely open.

Whenever I'm in Virginia, I try to spend some time in Colonial Williamsburg. This year, our schedule allowed me to have two full days of exploring the site. It's not nearly enough time. For instance, I could have stayed in the Print Shop's Press Room for hours, the presentation was so fascinating. And that's just one shop!

Even though I write books set in England in the before-Victoria part of the 1800s, CW is incredibly helpful. Things changed more slowly a few centuries ago, and British influence is there, whether one is talking about the colonial period or afterward. Until the American Revolution, much of what appeared in the shops was imported from England. The latest fashion ideas traveled across the ocean from Paris and London. Of course, Americans gave things their own distinctive approach, but for a researcher like me, there's always historical gold in CW. All the interpreters have something to teach me.

Among other things, I took a carriage ride and pestered the driver with questions, because, while horse-drawn vehicles changed over time, basic principles remain: the way the harness works, the correct way to hold the reins and whip, etc. And of course, horses are horses. I had studied all this in books—a lot of books—but there's nothing like experiencing the real thing. For someone like me, with no personal experience of horses and driving a carriage, simply watching the coaches at work was educational, and will, I hope, make my stories feel more authentic. I watched and watched. And took pictures.

And then, when I was still hanging around, late in the day, came the Fifes & Drums.  Remember that my thing is Great Britain and its aristocrats some fifty-plus years after the War of Independence began. But the first sound of the fifes and drums had me at attention. People crowded along the sides of Duke of Gloucester Street to watch and listen. And I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who found the experience deeply moving. You can watch some video clips here.

Next time I will try to have the presence of mind to shoot my own video. Meanwhile, here are my photos. I have to say, it was a terrific, unexpected experience.

 

 

 

What's Blonde Lace?

The following is an expanded version of a blog post that appeared at Two Nerdy History Girls.

1833 Bridal Ensemble that appeared in several ladies' magazines. This is what Olympia wore.

There was a time when blonde lace was ubiquitous, as we learn if we look at ladies’ attire for court events. Certain magazines listed not only the attendees but also what they wore. For example, if you type “blonde” into the search box for this 1831 Royal Lady’s Magazine, you will notice that nearly every single lady wore blonde or blonde lace to the Queen’s Drawing Rooms.

This is why blonde lace features in so many of my 1830s-set books. However, the term “blonde” can be a little puzzling when we’re confronted with a description referring to “black blonde,” as happens in A Duke in Shining Armor.

Blonde lace is a silk bobbin lace. A search on YouTube will show it being made, and give you an idea why the handmade version was so very expensive and highly prized. The “blonde” part refers to the silk’s natural color, which was ecru. Once a way was found to make the silk stronger, it could be lightened, for a white blonde, and dyed, for black blonde.

Still, terminology can be confusing. “Next to Chantilly the blondes are the most important among the silk laces.” Yet elsewhere we’re told that Chantilly is a blonde lace. My impression is, the blonde made in Chantilly was considered superior. Any textile experts reading this are invited to provide further enlightenment.

These fine details, however, don’t seem to be crucial to the magazines, and definitely aren’t crucial for my books. For the purposes of A Duke in Shining Armor in particular, what you’d probably rather see are examples.

The bridal ensemble (at top) I gave my heroine Olympia includes “a pelerine of blond extending over the sleeves” and “a deep veil of blond surmounting the coiffure, and descending below the waist.”

The “French” dress she donned at the inn was based on several images, but this pink carriage dress from the Magazine of the Beau Monde, though listed for August 1833 (my story is set in June of that year), about covers what I had in mind. She wears “a black blond pelerine with square falling collar, the points descending low down the skirt and fastened in front with light green ribbon noeuds.”

However, I do think portraits capture the look of the lace much better than the stiff, stylized fashion prints. The gallery below shows some examples of each.

Images: Queen Adelaide (consort of King William IV) by Sir William Beechey, courtesy National Portrait Gallery NPG 1533; Court Dress for May 1831; Countess Julie von Woyna by Friedrich von Amerling 1832; Court Dress for April 1832; Giovannia Pacini (eldest daughter of the Italian composer Giovanni Pacini) 1831.

The two examples of court dress give you an idea of just how much blonde lace was involved. The feathers and the lace lappets were a particular feature of court dress. You can see a sample of Belgian Bobbin Lace in this lappet.  And here is a sample of French Pillow-made Silk Blonde. And this is an image of a lady in what seems to be black lace.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Putney's White Lion Inn isn't quite the same

White Lion Inn. Photo copyright 2018 Walter M. Henritze

Most of the locations in A Duke in Shining Armor are real—or as real as I can make them. Some once existed but no longer do, some have changed beyond recognition, and some are there, looking more or less the same. None are entirely the same, of course. For one thing, the extant buildings have indoor plumbing. And electricity.

The White Lion Inn, where several important early scenes occur, did and does exist, although my characters wouldn’t recognize it today, and may not have even known it by that name.

On my investigative tour of Putney, last summer, we came upon what seemed to be the right building.  At the time, though, I wasn’t sure this was the place. What I saw was clearly a late Victorian structure, and closer inspection confirmed an 1880s date. Still, the big lion on top was a clue, and I asked Walter to take some photos.

Once home, with various books at hand, I felt more certain of its identity. This did seem to be the White Lion, but extensively renovated and decorated or maybe entirely rebuilt at about the same time the new Putney Bridge went up. 

Reviewing my copy of the Panorama of the Thames, I found a place called the Putney Hotel, which a note in the text referred to as the Red Lion Inn. But this seems to be the same building Ralph Rylance refers to in his 1815 guidebook, The Epicure’s Almanack, as the White Lion.

View of Putney in 1829: Image from Inglis and Sanders, Panorama of the Thames

White Lion.
“Continuing on your way to town you come to the village of Putney, at the bottom of which, close to the Fulham Bridge, is the White Lion.[2] You may have a good dinner drest here to order, in which order you ought not to forget to include stewed eels, or fried flounders. The people here have a live stock of them in the wells of the peter-boats moored off the village.”
 

The footnote explains further:

[2] “The White Lion near Fulham Bridge (now Putney Bridge) dated from the early C17 and was rebuilt in 1887; it is still operating, as the ‘Australian Walkabout Inn,’ at nos. 14-16 Putney High Street.” (p. 203)

I can confirm that it (1) is no longer the Australian Walkabout Inn, (2) was closed, and (3) had been closed for some time. But its location and surroundings did fit what I'd pictured while writing the story. For the interior and stable yard scenes, I used a combination of imagination and research into 18th and 19th century coaching inns.

“Custom had decreed the arrangement of an inn plan.  There was the usual courtyard with its arched or beamed entry.  There was a hall for receiving guests, a main staircase, a coffee room and a dining parlour.  Some inns could boast a special apartment for dining coach passengers only.  In addition there were smaller apartments known respectively by the names Sun, Moon, Star, Crescent or Paragon.  From 1700 to the year 1760 the arched entries were low, for until the latter date outside passengers were not encouraged.  After the accession of George the Third, when outside travelling became more general, the inside passengers were treated as belonging to an inferior order.  Not only did landlords show increased respect to the outside passengers, but a subtle compliment was paid to the coach proprietors by the landlords when alterations to the arched entries were made to their respective inns.”
—Harold Donaldson Eberlein & A.E. Richardson, The English Inn Past & Present (1926)
 

Photograph at top by Walter M. Henritze, III. The image of 1829 Putney is a screen shot from the fabulous website connected with the Panorama of the Thames, a gorgeous book. I strongly recommend your visiting the website, for larger images, and tons of information. You can scroll along for the river view or search by specific locations.

These images of the White Lion at the Victorian Web show you how extremely Victorian the building is now.

Left to right: Putney Bridge & Church 1799; Putney Bridge 1793; the White Lion (my big clue).

 

Hackney Cabs & Hackney Coaches

In A Duke in Shining Armor, a character’s close encounter (offstage) with a hackney cab triggers events. At other times, the characters travel, for reasons of anonymity, in hackney coaches. Though some authors use the terms interchangeably, these are two different vehicles.

HACKNEY CABRIOLET
The photograph of a model at the London Transport Museum offers a 3D view of the two-wheeled, one horse single-passenger cab. It was also known as a coffin cab, for two reasons: (1) the vehicle looked like a coffin and (2) it was dangerous.

The model makes it easier to see the apron that protected passengers from kicked-up dust and stormy weather. Henry Charles Moore's Omnibuses and Cabs tells us, “The fore part of the hood could be lowered as required, and there was a curtain which could be drawn across to shield the rider from wind and rain.” The curtain is hard to see—and I didn’t see it until recently, when I lightened the photo, but one can just about make it out, tucked away inside. The Cruikshank illustration below emphasizes the coffin aspect.

A new and improved version, introduced in 1823, carried two passengers. In my 1830s-set books, I use the later version.

Images, left to right: Cruikshank's illustration for Sketches by Boz; illustration from Omnibuses and Cabs; detail from James Pollard, Hatchetts, the White Horse Cellars, Piccadilly, via Wikipedia.

HACKNEY COACH
First, let’s distinguish hackney coaches, which took individuals to specific destinations, mainly in London, from the stage coaches traveling the King’s highways according to preset routes and schedules. Hackneys were like taxis. Stagecoaches were like long-distance buses. In England they’re still called coaches. Here’s Charles Dickens’s description of a hackney coach, from Sketches by Boz.*

"There is a hackney-coach stand under the very window at which we are writing; there is only one coach on it now, but it is a fair specimen of the class of vehicles to which we have alluded - a great, lumbering, square concern of a dingy yellow colour (like a bilious brunette), with very small glasses, but very large frames; the panels are ornamented with a faded coat of arms,** in shape something like a dissected bat, the axletree is red, and the majority of the wheels are green. The box is partially covered by an old great-coat, with a multiplicity of capes, and some extraordinary-looking clothes; and the straw, with which the canvas cushion is stuffed, is sticking up in several places, as if in rivalry of the hay, which is peeping through the chinks in the boot. The horses, with drooping heads, and each with a mane and tail as scanty and straggling as those of a worn-out rocking-horse, are standing patiently on some damp straw, occasionally wincing, and rattling the harness; and now and then, one of them lifts his mouth to the ear of his companion, as if he were saying, in a whisper, that he should like to assassinate the coachman. The coachman himself is in the watering-house; and the waterman,*** with his hands forced into his pockets as far as they can possibly go, is dancing the 'double shuffle,' in front of the pump, to keep his feet warm."

This chapter of Omnibuses and Cabs: Their Origin and History tells the whole story, with excerpts from Sketches by Boz.

 *First published November 1835, in Bell’s Life in London.
**many of the coaches were vehicles previously owned by aristocrats.
***HACKNEY COACH WATERMAN
London had many, many hackney coach stands during the early 19th century.  This is where you’d find the hackney coach waterman.

Hackney coaches appear upon the stand for hire, at seven o’clock in the morning in summer, and at eight in winter: twelve hundred are allowed to be kept in London and its vicinity, and each is numbered.  The prices of fare are regulated; and no coachman can refuse to carry passengers for any distance short of ten miles, however stormy the weather, or however the horses may be fatigued.  A certain number are reserved to relieve those that have been employed during the day, which are called night coaches, and they attend at their stands till sun-rise.  Public houses are kept open during the night for the accommodation of the coachmen.  The figure represented upon this plate is employed as waterman to the stand, who is licensed, and wears a badge with his number engraved thereon: his business is to feed and water the horses, and to open the door for the passengers, that the driver may remain upon his box: he also has charge of the coaches during the time that the coachmen take their meals.
The office for licensing hackney coaches was erected in the year 1696, under the direction of commissioners; they have a code of regulations, which subjects the drivers to penalties for extortion, carelessness, rude behaviour, &c. by which the public is much benefitted; as the mode of redress is rendered simple and expeditious.

Pyne’s British Costume (originally published 1805 as The Costume of Great Britain).

If you haven't yet had enough of the topic, this section of Leigh’s New Picture of London for 1834 gives a concise overview of London transport in the time of my stories.