Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Came across this in the Standard, March 22 1830.

Seventeen-year-old Betsy Shelley went to the fortune teller Martha Allen ("an old woman of the gipsey tribe") about her love life. As Martha's spells both failed to produce a definitive answer, it appears that Betsy had reported her to the police for obtaining money under false pretence. Betsy's naivety is adorable - after pawning her earrings to find out if she'll ever get a husband, her disappointment is so genuine:

"Anxious to know whether she should soon procure a husband, she [Betsy} one day called upon the prisoner [Martha], at her house in Three Cups-alley, and gave her some money, which she obtained upon pledging her ear-rings. The prisoner then told her that two men – a dark one and a fair one – were desperately in love with her; that the dark one would use every effort to het her into his power, but that the fair one would become her husband. The prisoner then gave her a paper, which she said contained American seeds, and desired her to put it in her bosom at night, and the man she loved would caress her. These directions were compiled with; but, said the complainant, I never saw or dreamt of the dark man or the fair one. In a week after she again visited the prisoner, and received from her a quantity of red powder, which she was desired to sprinkle upon nine pieces of paper cut in the shape of hearts. This she was to do in her bed-room, and then blow out the candle; when the prisoner assured her that the man who was to be her husband would walk into the room and embrace her tenderly in his arms. “Don’t be alarmed,” she added “when you see him, but welcome him to your chamber.” At night, the girl cut out the nine hearts, but she said “just as I was in the act of spreading the red powder upon the first heart, I heard a loud thump at the door, the flame of the candle burnt blue, and the house shook as if it had been threatened by an earthquake.”

Mr Home – Well what did you do next when the house shook about your ears in the way you have described?

Complainant – What did I do sir! Why, I jumped into bed as quickly as I could, and covering my head over with the blankets, lay there afraid to pop it up, in case I should see or hear anything.

Mr Home – They you did not put the experiment to the test?

Complainant – No sir, for in my hurry to get into bed, I upset all the red power.

Martha was sentenced to a month’s hard labour which she appealed against owing to a bad hip.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Gustave Dore

As an addendum to my previous post, this is my absolute favourite Gustave Dore drawing from the book. I love that you can still get a sense of this smoky, noisy, dark world when wandering around the East End and London Bridge.

Victorian view on Consumerism

I came across this in my research recently and it really resonated. First published in 1872, this is an excerpt from Blanchard Jerrold's book London: a pilgrimage. Part of the fascination that middle-class Victorians held for social dissection that was spearheaded by Henry Mayhew and, later, Charles Booth, this book charts typical activities of people in London, including big events such as the boat race and balls, alongside every day life (and death) amongst the poor through a series of short chapters, exquisitely illustrated by Gustave Dore.

This is from the chapter entitled Humble Industries:

“There really isn’t any knowing what we shall come to,” said an intelligent New Cut dealer, who was fast disposing of immense mounds of cabbages and lettuces. “Just look how common pines have become, at a penny a slice. In my young days no such thing as a pine had been seen in any market except Covent Garden. But the worst of it is” – the man continued, following out his practical line of thought – “the worst of it is while what I call luxuries get cheaper every season, necessities – the things a man must have – get dearer. These are curious times, gentlemen; and we must keep up to them, or go to the wall. People want so many more things than they did when I was a lad. You see, as I said before, cheap luxuries and dear necessities are the cause of all the mischief. I don’t know how it’s to be helped: it isn’t my business – but I see the mistake plain enough, when the crowds in rags are collecting round the new-fangled ginger-beer and penny-ice man.”

It's worth considering his final points in terms of life today ...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Monday, May 10, 2010

We couldn't wait ...

Of course I couldn’t wait and we got married a month ago on 2nd April at beautiful East Close Country Hotel.

It was so much better than I’d imagined my wedding to be, which is something of a blessing seeing as my imagined wedding had been designed when I was about 8 so there were choirs of angels, vast numbers of guests in fancy dress outfits and a distinct lack of menu planning.

My 2010 wedding was informal but glamorous, emotional but fun and, above all, OURS! My husband was more adoring and more handsome than I could ever have wanted. The venue was just perfect in all its shimmering chandeliers, mirrors and wallpapers. The meal was perfect. The party was raucous and rammed. And the weather turned from stair-rod rain to bright sunshine in a blue-blue sky the moment I got to the end of the aisle (in tears, attractively enough). I cried most of the day, which was such a relief, actually, as the previous few weeks had been building up to such a crisis of stress I was worried I’d be so wound up that I wouldn’t feel anything. But I felt everything and was so, so happy!

The happiness buoyed us through the hang-overs-from-hell the following day and all the way through our lovely three days in Weymouth, where we slept and ate chocolate and cheese and drove around aimlessly trying to find pubs that were never open.

And now we’re back and a month married. Everyone asks us, does it feel any different? And, honestly, it doesn’t. Actually, that’s a lie: I feel warm when I thin about being married and I feel very safe. But for the rest of it … there are moments when we’re having a row – usually because I’m bored or he’s tired – where I realise that I couldn’t leave him, even if I wanted to now, but that’s a good thing. I want to be with him. Even though rowing with him is the most miserable thing on earth, I would rather row with him than anyone else in the world. And I can. I get to wake up with his silly little puppy face and poke his big belly and rub his little hobbit feet (what a lovely concoction of a man I’ve made there … ) every day and I’m very lucky.

And we moved to Winchester on 22nd December in blizzards into an 80s house decorated by rich elderly conservatives which we’re slowly trying to de-nan. And I now work at the School of Art here which is a delicious walk each morning through the park where I get to see ducks. The ducklings are due soon …