Category Archives: The Peculiar Past

Writing a story – Make Sure That Your Characters Are Dirty Enough

Be whatever you want to be

Writing historical fiction is the closest encounter that you may get with time travel. Therefore, I would urge you to give it a go whether you see yourself as a writer or not.  Why? You may ask. The reason is simple – writing a story  is good for you. When you totally lose yourself in another world you forget outrageous bills; folks that you want to send to Mars and even the state of politics worldwide. It’s your world, you can control it and if you wish to be a gothic temptress or a swash buckling pirate you can be.  in other words, be whatever you want to be.

Fancy yourself as a gothic temptress? -Yes, you too could look like this.

Fancy yourself as a gothic temptress? -Yes, you too could look like this.

A word of warning however, don’t go overboard on cleanliness. To give you an idea of how dirty you need to get when you write your stories, we at Loony Literature, have given you some true examples that we have unearthed.

During the seventeenth century, folks did not favour a good wash all over.  In fact, baths were mostly public places and visited for health purposes as opposed to getting one’s body clean.  For some strange reason, if you did go to the baths to cleanse yourself there was superstition attached to it and it should only be done when the moon was in Libra or Pisces.

Although Samuel Pepys wrote his diary on a regular basis, he did not apply the same amount of drive to washing himself.  He boasted that he sometimes gave himself a vigorous rub down with a cloth which he believed made him clean.  Elizabeth, his wife, however, did visit a public bath house at least once because Samuel sniggered about that too in his diary.

Stay out of my bed, you filthy oaf

Although Elizabeth probably visited the public bath house for health purposes, it would surely have made her smell sweeter than Samuel.  This was what might have put her in a morally advantageous position when she banned him from their shared bed until he had at least ‘cleaned himself with warm water’.  Samuel also had an aversion to washing his feet but he did do it occasionally.  The reason for such behaviour was that flinging off one’s socks and wetting one’s feet could lead to all sorts of health disasters like getting a cold.

Would YOU kick him out of bed?

Would YOU kick him out of bed?

If you’d lived in 1909, you may have been tempted by a newspaper advertisement which suggested that you wash the ‘Witch’ way.  Housewives who had probably been tackling the household wash for years were staunchly advised that they should never rub clothes as that would make the dirt worse.  The secret behind proper clothes washing was simply to let clothes soak in Witch and all the dirt would be loosened out.  This promise was backed up by the boast that that was what clothes manufacturers did and, of course, they all used Witch.  No names were mentioned to back up this testimonial.

“Let your clothes soak overnight in the morning they’ll be white” was the sales slogan.  If you still were not convinced of Witches’ magical washing powers the manufacturers added that it was a hard soap dried by a secret scientific process and then powdered.  As an added gesture of selling to everyone who read the advertisement, whether scientifically minded or superstitious, there was a huge caricature of a ghastly looking witch on a broomstick on it.  It is really surprising that we are not still using that product today.

Washing clothes is obviously a lot more complicated than can be imagined.  In 1916, a meeting took place of the Camelford Board of Directors for the workhouse to determine if the number of staff could be reduced.  A Mr Boney suggested that they should do their own clothes washing during the war and this would save them the cost of paying a char lady to do it for them.

Me! Wash clothes! Are you insane?

Me! Wash clothes! Are you insane?

Mr Uglow, the Master, stated that he would not wash his own collars; neither would he go without wearing a collar.  When questioned why he would not consider washing his own clothes he wiped his brow and shuddered.  He informed the gathered party that it was out of the question as he had never undergone an apprenticeship to wash clothes.

For folks who lived during World War II, food rationing began in 1940 with clothes rationing closely followed in 1941.  Within just eight months, soap rationing meant that having a good soak became something to daydream about.  Even hair washing became a luxury.  Magazines at that time advised their readers to wash greasy hair every ten days but dry hair could go for three weeks before needing a shampoo.  No wonder Marlene Dietrich took three months’ supply of dry shampoo with her when entertaining the troops in Europe.

When you can't get your hands on a shampoo - wear a top hat.

When you can’t get your hands on a shampoo – wear a top hat.

No excuse now – writing a story will help you to get rid of stress and feeling glum because you will be in control. You don’t have to let anyone else read it either – so do yourself a favour, pick up a pen, open a new file or simply record yourself. Happy writing.

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Scrooge or Sensible? True Thrifty Happenings

Illustrated by John Leech in 1843.

Illustrated by John Leech in 1843.

How do you view the thrifty? Sensible or like one of Dickens’ most famous characters, Scrooge. Perhaps this will help you to make up your mind.


Thrift For Thought

I first became interested in thrift when my late uncle sagely announced that he never let a grocer weigh the tomatoes until he insisted that the stalks be removed.  If that seems extreme, it soon becomes obvious that it is nothing to what has gone on in the past.

Thrift in the nineteenth century was a well-rehearsed skill from the highest seat of society down to the lowest.  One of the perks of being a ladies’ maid was getting the mistresses’ gowns whilst other unused pieces of cloth would be collected together in a ‘rag-bag’ and household servants would often be allowed to keep these.  They would be passed on to a street buyer, rag and bone man or rag and bottle shop.  Linen would be separated to be sold to a paper manufacturer as paper was made from linen and rag well into the nineteenth century.

Bring out your rags.

Bring out your rags.

Used tea leaves would be utilised to clean carpets and then passed onto cleaning ladies who sold them to dealers.  With a bit of artificial colour thrown in, the dealer would then put the tea leaves (which had been on the carpet) on sale as fresh tea.

Who claims the fat

Each servant appeared to have their own expectations of the booty they could claim and the fat from the roasted animals was earmarked by the cook.  The dripping, as the fat was called, would be used like butter by the poor.

Even bones were sold onto the rag and bone man for fertilizer and household ashes and dust were marketed to help make bricks.  It seems that nothing was thrown away, as soot from chimneys was vended for manure and insect killer.

As people were not aware of how germs were transmitted, it was a regular practise for the very poor to collect dog manure or ‘pure’ as it was politely called.  This was sold to tan yards for the processing of leather for the soft kid gloves so beloved by the rich.

Where there is muck there is brass.

Where there is muck there is brass.

Mrs Child, an American housewife, advised in 1828 that after old coats and pantaloons for boys had been cut up and were no longer capable of being converted into other garments, the housewife should slice them into strips and use the leisure moments of children or domestics in sewing and braiding them into door mats.

Waste is an act of treason

By 1915, thrift in the home was the order of the day.  “Waste is an act of treason when every penny saved helps to save your country.”  This reminder was on the bill announcing the opening of the Patriotic Thrift Exhibition at Hamilton Rooms, Park Street, Bristol 25 – 30th November 1915.  The exhibition was organised by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies who offered a range of lectures on domestic subjects which represent war service in the home.

A familiar theme concerning thrift is that of the wealthy preaching to those less well off.  At the Exeter Society in 1923, the president, Lady Rosalind spoke on women’s extravagance.  She warned of the ‘melancholy spectacle’ of cheap pianos, cheap jewellery and cheap furs bought by women who could not afford them.

During World War II, women found it difficult to get hold of stockings.  Stockings were made of silk as nylon wasn’t invented until 1938 and initially only on sale in America from 1940.  As silk was used to make parachutes for the wartime effort, silk stockings became a rare commodity as both manufacturers and retailers charged high prices and asked for too many clothing coupons for them.

What you have to do.

What you have to do.

Snatched the stockings

In 1944, a bus conductress from Truro found herself in court after being thrifty over silk stockings.  On June 28th, she acquired two pairs from a bus driver without surrendering coupons.  Captain Craze for The Board of Trade snatched the stockings for disposal but they were later seized by the Customs and Excise Department.  Craze opposed this measure saying that he would have to take further instructions from The Board of Trade.  The case was adjourned for a fortnight; thrift can end up causing a lot of expense.

It seems that thrift is here to stay.

 

 

 

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Writing Historical Fiction – Don’t Drop A Bloomer

If the weather and the government are getting up your pip then you should cheer yourself up with a bit of historical writing. It is pure escapism as you forget the world you live in and adventure into another time. However, beware of making historical bloomers – a typical one is having women wearing knickers too early on.

Fancy a pair of these?

Fancy a pair of these?

Strange though it may seem, up until the late 19th century women did not wear knickers. Yes, knickers are yet another invention of the Victorian era. Of course, they were not called knickers back then but drawers. For a Victorian woman, the drawers would have consisted of two separate knee length legs drawn together with a waistband. This means that her nether regions were left uncovered which is rather bizarre as we tend to think of knickers as a garment which cover those parts which we do not mention.

Initially, the drawers were regarded with hostility. They were viewed as nothing more than an imitation of men’s underclothing. This in itself was offensive to female respectability and virtue. To truly understand this we have to imagine that opinions often came from what the Bible suggested and wearing clothes of the opposite sex was frowned upon.

We also need to understand that the drawers were simply seen as an extra layer and that was associated with prostitution. A prostitute would wear an extra garment so that she could add to her client’s titillation as she had more layers to remove.

On top of that, women in European countries had started wearing drawers. The fact that French women wore them added more resistance against wearing them as the Victorian women thought the French woman was rather fast. If there was one thing a respectable Victorian lady did not want to be viewed as was racy.

Happy writing.

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Writing – Make the Past Your Inspiration and Get Pounding that Keyboard

Writing is therapeutic

Stuck for an idea? Well you are in the right place. Here at Loony Literature we are on a mission to make peoples’ lives better by encouraging them to do something creative. We know that it’s not always easy with all the problems that life throws at us but that it why it is even more important to get stuck in – being creative will help you through the hard times.

If you want to write a short story, a play or an article, one of the easiest ways to get an interesting idea is to embrace the past. All you have to do is scroll the web or visit the library and then read about it, before you know where you are, you will be scribbling ideas all over your notepad with an extraordinary flourish.

Getting on with it.

Getting on with it.

Use superstition as a source

To whittle it down, why not look into superstitions of the past and see if anything gets your fingers itching? However, to get you started, we have got a springboard for a murder set in the Tudor period. We hope that it helps.

Superstitions like avoiding walking under ladders have been around for a long time. In fact, if we travel back in time to the Tudor period, it is interesting to see just how superstitious folks were then. Proof of this happened just under five hundred years ago with Sir George Vernon who owned Haddon Hall. Ruling the surrounding area with a stern severity, he dealt with cases of crime with an iron attitude.

For instance, when a pedlar was found murdered, Sir George Vernon investigated. Hawking his goods about the neighbourhood the previous day, the pedlar was spotted entering a cottage in the evening and was not seen alive again. When Sir George found this out, he ordered that the body should be taken to Haddon Hall and laid out there.

Last seen alive

The man who lived in the cottage where the pedlar had last been seen alive was then ordered to go to Haddon Hall. When he arrived, Sir George questioned him but the fellow said that he had no knowledge of the pedlar. His nibs then snatched the sheet from over the dead man and told everyone that they had to touch him. Yikes! In those days, there would be great superstition over doing that if you were the murderer.

Gruesome Times

Gruesome Times

Shrinking back, the pedlar would not put his hands on the body. Sprinting as fast as his legs would carry him out of the hall, he disappeared from sight. Deciding that his suspicions had been right, George ordered his men to pursue the cottager on horseback and hang him on the spot. They finally caught up with him in a field and followed his lordships orders. Sir George had to travel to London to explain himself in court but no further steps were taken.

Happy writing.

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Writing Cosy Crime – Use a Bizarre Club as a Setting

Get Writing

Here at Loony Literature, we have eclectic tastes and one of the genres which we adore is cosy crime. This means that we want more people getting stuck in and writing some wonderful tales. If you need a springboard to get you started, think about setting the crime in a club but not just an everyday club, use something different. We’ve found a few that you may be interested in.

On the 15th January 1904, a newspaper advertisement asked for new members for a club in Fribourg in Switzerland. The club was the Bald Headed Club and its rules were that the members should meet every month to eat ham and listen to music.

Invite the Public Executioner

In April 1928, the Crime Club used to meet in London three times a year to discuss criminology. It was a rule that nothing which was discussed within the club was repeated outside those walls. The club which started off with six eventually increased to forty members. One of the members once suggested that the public executioner should be invited to one of the club’s dinners but he could not get anyone to second him so the idea was dropped.

Apparently, the Thirteen Club gathered so that its members could defy superstitions and would spend the evening walking under ladders and putting up umbrellas whilst indoors.

Some believe that the raven is unlucky.

Some believe that the raven is unlucky.

Meanwhile, The Fatman’s Club in Paris enjoyed its banquets. No one was eligible for membership under seventeen stone. One man proudly polished off half a dozen chickens and a barrel of wine at one sitting and it won him a prize of thousands of francs.

Happy writing.

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Writing Short Stories – Using Gruesome Keepsakes as a Springboard

Here at Loony Literature, we are always looking for springboards to get folks writing. So if you are thinking of writing a short story, you may be interested to know that buying a keepsake when you visited somewhere or experienced something is not a new thing. However, in the 19th century some of the keepsakes which were purchased were rather gruesome to say the least. In essence, they were real short story fodder.

Murder Most Horrid.

Murder Most Horrid.

For instance, when Burke, of the famous Hare and Burke duo of body snatchers, was to be executed, 20,000 people cheered as the scaffold was built. When Burke appeared, the mob went wild screaming what they would personally like to do to him. Every time Burke convulsed as his body was hanged, the crowd raised an even louder roar, a sort of cheer because he was suffering so much.

A wallet was made from his scalp

When Burke’s body was removed from the scaffold, souvenir hunters descended like scavengers grabbing at shavings from the coffin or pieces of the rope. If this seems strange, it was quite normal back then. The rope which hanged Burke would have been sold off in inches because so many people wanted a keepsake of the event. In fact, a wallet was made from Burke’s scalp and is now in the History of Surgery Museum in Edinburgh’s Royal College of Surgeons.

A Grisly Day Out.

A Grisly Day Out.

After he had been cut down, Burke’s body was taken to an anatomy theatre which was ironic as that was where he had taken the bodies of the folks he had murdered so that he could get money for them. A cast was taken of Burke’s head and then a dissection was performed. Outside people fought to get inside to taste a piece of the action. The next day, there was a display of the body and visitors could file past it from ten in the morning until dusk. It is believed that as many as 30,000 people turned up to see Burke’s body.

Come on, this is asking for you to write a horror story.

Happy writing.

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Writing Historical Fiction – Sizing Your Codpiece

Here at Loony Literature, we hope to inspire you to share our creative passions and interests. For instance, working on historical fiction never fails to cause a gargantuan giggle as the research both delights and shocks us. What is more, if any of us, you included, use these delicious details in our writing they will make it sparkle for the reader. So if you write about the Tudors, make sure that you don’t get caught out by having your hero with a wrongly sized cod piece. Flabby fiction will ruin your flow!

Henry VIII codpiece

Fashion for men, changed drastically from when Henry VIII was on the throne to when his daughter ruled the land. The reason, of course, was all to do with symbolism. When Henry was in power, he had to show everyone that he was not just a man but a great giant god of a man. In those days, manhood meant virility and what better way to signal to the world that you are a sex superman than by wearing a colossal protruding cod piece. In the world of the Virgin Queen, the penis could not equate to power so cod pieces positively shrivelled in size at Elizabeth’s court.

Women had to be careful what they displayed during Elizabeth’s reign. Unless you were a vulgar washerwoman at the bottom of the social pile you would never reveal your bare arms or legs in public. However, as long as you were not married you could parade your breasts like Farage does his pint of beer. Apparently, age did not come into it either. If you were unmarried and elderly, you could still wear a dress which let it all hang out. In fact, we know that Elizabeth liked to display her breasts a lot. This was so much so that it was documented when different ambassadors visited and described the royal boobs.

Happy writing.

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Story Ideas To Get You Writing – Getting Married in the Buff!

Stuck for something to write about? Here at Loony Literature, we are pure suckers for history so when we come across something which we think might be a good springboard to get you folks writing, we will shout about it. Even if this doesn’t make you start writing frantically, it will inform and entertain you – hopefully.

To write or not to write.

To write or not to write.

In the 18th century ‘smock weddings’ were a type of ceremony. A ‘smock wedding’ would see a bride getting married in the nude or barefoot and wearing only a chemise or underskirt, as we call them these days. The idea was that if she brought no clothes or property to the marriage, her new husband to be was not liable for any of the debts of her past life.

The smock wedding was particularly useful for a widowed woman whose husband had died leaving a lot of debts. We know because of a newspaper report in September 1775 that a Mr Richard Elcock who was bricklayer married Mrs Judith Redding. It seems that so Mr Elcock would not be liable for any of the debts that Mrs Redding might have been left with from an earlier marriage, she went into one of the pews in the church and stripped off everything except her slip.

A few years earlier, at Saint Michael’s Church in Ashton under Lyne, Nathaniel Eller married the widow Hibbert. Both of them were around fifty years of age. The widow went through the ceremony with her hair tied behind with horse hair and wearing only a shift so that her new husband would not have to pay off any of her former husband’s debts.

In December 1797, several newspapers reported from St Philips parish church in Birmingham that the bride wore nothing. She was a woman of wealth and property but she was marrying a debt ridden husband and she believed that getting married in the nude would prevent her new husband’s creditors from seizing her property. She was not the only lady to be married in that fashion. It seems that some women would turn up to church in a cloak and nothing else. With a flourish they would remove the cloak and the ceremony would begin.

Happy writing.

 

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Six Great Reasons To Do Family History With Kids.

I love family history, I get to be the detective, I couldn’t be in reality.  I have been doing it with my son since he was about nine.  He is now a grown up and does it without me as he is crazy about history and has got a deep interest in particular families he has discovered we are descended from.  This isn’t a post about how to do family history – there are many great books and articles out there to help.  This is a post which explains a few of the reasons why it is good to share it with our children.

My great grandmother, Alice Escritt.

History becomes a reality.  When our children do history at school, it is always other people’s history.  It might be about monarchy, political leaders or wars.  It is nearly always about the folks who are known by many but actually connected to a few.  When anything is covered about the ordinary folks it can seem as bland as my cooking.  Growing up in Lancashire, we covered the cotton industry in history at school.  I remember wishing aliens would come and cause chaos as Mr Hall droned on about the warp and the weft.  Oh how that man knew how to kill any interest in The Industrial Revolution –  that in itself was a talent.  However, much as I would love to indulge myself in remembering Mr Hall’s secret educational weapons, I won’t.  When we look at our ancestor’s lives during these periods, we truly get a sense of reality, especially in periods which cover the censuses.  For instance, finding out that your great grandmother shared one room with ten other people and had to go into the street to get drinking water, really makes us think about the reality and hardships of their lives.  Family history brings history to life for children because it is about folks they are directly connected to, people whom they share DNA with.  It doesn’t get more personal than that.

Family History Mormons

Family History Mormons (Photo credit: More Good Foundation)

Research skills.  Whilst having lunch with a teacher friend of mine, we decided that one of the most important skills a child can learn is to be able to research well.  Family history is a  productive way of doing this.  Children love to discover something about their ancestors and then grandly announce it to their parents.  When my son discovered that he had a 10X great grandmother called Frances Poo, he adored breaking the news.  Of course, I thought he was joking and had to check it.  He was right, of course.  The point is that family history makes children feel like real live detectives.  The more they find, the deeper they wish to go.  It is amazing how much this aids their research skills whilst having fun.

Francis Poo

England, Marriages, 1538–1973

marriage: 24 Jan 1598 Pocklington, York, England
spouse: William Fallowfyeld

Bonding process.  In this day and age, it is all too easy for families to be in the same house and yet not really be connecting with each other.  A lot of the time, families are all doing their own thing, even watching television programmes is done in separate rooms these days.  This is where family history really helps us bond with our children.  There is something really powerful about the moment your child and yourself discover something fantastic or heart breaking about a shared relative.  It is potent and strange and something which they could not get with friends, neighbours or anyone except the family.  When I first discovered that a great grandfather of mine had spent the last twenty years of his life in a lunatic asylum –I was totally shocked.  I was new to family history and it was the first of many sad or brilliant shocks which were to come.  The only people I could share it with, initially, were my son and my mother – both of whom were from the same ancestor.

Ashton-under-Lyne old hall

Ashton-under-Lyne old hall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Days Out.  Sometimes, it is hard to think of something new to do with our kids or even somewhere different to go.  We often seem to do the same activities and visit the same places.  We’ve had some great days out though visiting the places where our ancestors lived.  It can be good fun to take photos of the children in front of the church where their ancestors got married two hundred years earlier or even just discovering a market town which your ancestors lived in but you haven’t been to before.  I found a fabulous pair of Punch and Judy doorstops for £5 in an antique shop whilst visiting one of the market towns my ancestors once lived. in  Although saying that, it can sometimes backfire.  We visited some record offices in Ashton Under Lyne in Lancashire – that was fine.  We then planned to find an address where some of our ancestors had lived in the early 1800s.  It had turned into a monstrously busy road with huge trucks zooming up and down it. It made me totally stressed so I really do not know what my 4X great grandfather and grandmother would have made of it if they had travelled forward in time.

Meeting Wonderful New Relatives.  We all have an amazing number of ancestors, so logically that means we are related to an amazing number of people whom we have never met.  We were lucky enough to be found by a wonderful Australian lady whose great grandmother was sister to my great grandmother.  When she came to England, she brought her husband and children to meet us and we all had a rare old knees up together.  My son found lovely new cousins whom he bonded with immediately.  It makes family history become real for children when they get to meet the descendants of people who are simply names and numbers on family trees.

Lancashire

Lancashire (Photo credit: Neil T)

Logic and Maths. When children do family history, they have to do lots of mathematical calculations and estimates.  It isn’t the hardest maths in the world but it means lots of practise with basic maths in a productive way instead of filling in one maths worksheet after another.  In the same way, they have to work in a logical manner.  Finding out about our ancestors means working methodically backwards and making sure all the facts fit.  We cannot start in the middle, we have to be systematic and it becomes a habit.  Children who take part in family history projects become adept at careful note-taking and fact checking.  They have to do the maths to make sure that what they have discovered is both logical and correct.

Happy hunting!

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The past is a different country, not today in funny costumes

The past is a different country, not today in funny costumes.

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