Macabre or beautiful? ~ mourning treasures

I’m going backwards again and sharing another inspiration behind the story of Entangled. I mentioned yesterday, my leaning toward the macarbe (it is definitely no wonder that I’ve ended up moving into writing thrillers). Like I said, I’d prefer to stand on Lyme Regis harbour wall watching a threatening, storming sea thrashing the stone wall, than laying flat on a sunbed on a tropical beach.

So the fascination I have with antique mourning jewellry shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Although, I don’t think I’ve shared that on my blog before. By the time of the regency period many people wore jewellry with an artfully placed lock of hair held in place by glass, to remember a loved one. It might be to remember a living person, but more often it was to remember someone who had passed. It may sound strange today, but it’s not really, they didn’t have a stack of albums or computer folders full of photographs. Perhaps they had a minature portrait, it they were lucky, often just one. Employing artists was a more expensive luxury than jewellry. There were more jewellers than artists because you can’t just learn to be a painter who can precisely capture someone’s appearance as you can learn to manipulate metals, there has to be some rarer natural skill. Therfore, a jeweller’s time was less expensive than a good artist’s. The phrase ‘paying an arm and a leg’ for something comes from the fact that a full portrait was expensive and most people, even the upperclass, would only pay for the head and shoulders. But also, someone’s hair means you retain a part of their presence.

There’s a mourning brooch at Jane Austen’s cottage museum at Chawton containing her father’s hair. If you look out for peices of jewellry in museums and antiques shops, you’ll see a lot, and some, like those in the heading images are really beautiful. I think it’s brilliant. I imagine people regularly looking at their pieces or touching them, rubbing a finger or a thumb over the glass as they think of their missing loved one. It would bring the memories and the good emotions back. Wearing a brooch or a ring with a loved one’s hair inside, meant you always had a part of the person with you.

Of course, because I love mourning jewellry, I had to weave it into the story of atleast one book ( 😉 ). Remember also that last week I told you about Ed Sheeran’s song Photograph, which is about a locket, inspiring aspects of Entangled. James, one of my Wickedly Romantic Poets, is a lover of keeping hair, and that is also an intergral part of the story which links the first book in the series to the last. He cuts a lock of Clio’s hair in the prologue of the Thread of Destiny, and he’s already wearing a ring containing the hair of his deceased mother.

I have recently discovered that I have dyspraxia as well as dyslexia and the way my mind works perhaps makes a little more sense now, because I litterally look at a piece of mourning jewellry and my mind races with questions and the desire to see and know that person. So when I saw this minature with what I think must be a lock of his hair, I had to buy it. It makes the image of him more real, giving it a 3D context.

I’ve tried to find out who this gentleman is, without any luck unfortunately, nor can I tell who owned this, his wife, mother, lover … I don’t know. It must be someone who wanted to keep him close while he was distant, because I assume it was made when he was alive, due to the painting. But then the thing with not knowing is that I have to make it up, and that’s a joy and exactly where stories begin …

I didn’t say above, but this bracelt in Beatrix Potter’s cottage is not only displaying human hair, the actual braclet is woven peices of human hair.

Oh and one more cheeky fact before I end this post, I have said it before in my Scandalous Women posts, but I’ll share it again. Lady Caroline Lamb and Lord Byron shared pubic hair, so, I’m sure a lot of that went on too. I didn’t put that act of his in my poets novels, though. 😀

Inspirations for the Wickedly Romantic Poets Series

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A bird’s eye view of historical London

I have worked in some wonderful historical venues for my day job as well as visiting places at the weekend for fun and to do research for the historical books.  But sometimes I work in a modern venue that still makes me think about the past.

A while ago now, I went to a meeting that was in a venue at the top of an office block close to the banks of the Thames in London near Vauxhall Bridge. When I looked out through the window it struck me just how small London was in the Regency and Victorian eras when my historical books are set.

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Three years ago I occupied one cold autumn evening that I had stayed over in London for work by walking down to the area where Vauxhall Pleasure grounds had once been. It is that small triangle of green on the far side of the river. You can see there is very little there now, I couldn’t even find any plants or trees that suggested there had been an aristocratic playground there once. But I walked there thinking about all the historical characters’ whose diaries and letters I had read, imaging them climbing into boats to cross the river to reach the excitement at the time when there was no bridge. I had set a scene there in The Passionate Love of a Rake and so I knew a lot about what it was like in its heyday.

The underpass to get from one side of the road to the other near the park is decorated with images to remind people today what people then would have been looking forward to. Men on stilts and tightrope walkers.

 

I was writing The Tainted Love of a Captain at the time I was in this high office building and I had recently researched how to obtain a licence to marry without the banns being read. I had set a scene in the book when a character travels to Lambeth Palace to obtain a licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s officials. So when I turned the other way in this office, with my camera, and took another picture, I was probably foolishly surprised to see Lambeth and Westminster Palace within easy walking distance to the boats to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.

I thought of Harriett Wilson as I stood there looking out at London. I have shared her story on the blog. I thought particularly about the days she wrote of waiting in a carriage outside Westminster Palace for a lover to come out from a meeting of the House of Lords. Perhaps men left the House of Lords and travelled straight to the boats to ferry them over to the pleasure grounds. I also thought about Frances Bankes letters that talked about visiting her son when he was ill while at the boys’ school in Westminster. The element of her life story inspired an element of The Reckless Love of an Heir, as she sat on an upturned bucket beside his bed, did she dine at the pleasure gardens when they were in their townhouse.

Certainly, lots of the wealthy families owned houses in the area between Westminster and Vauxhall, as all the street names declare.

It was just fascinating for me to stand there and look down and it made my imagination run with ideas on how people lived in the past. That area of London would have been flooded with the best society.