Newsletter 32

Welcome to the late summer (August) issue of our occasional newsletter for 2013.


Jane Austen launches in the US

Our new book is now available in the United States, where it is called Jane Austen’s England. It is published in hardcover by Viking (list price $27.95, ISBN 978-0670785841) and is also available in all e-book formats (Kindle, Nook, Apple, Sony, etc).

Jane Austen Cover

In the UK, a few weeks earlier, the same book was published by Little, Brown as Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England, also in hardcover (list price £20, ISBN 978-1-4087-0396-0) and in all e-book formats.

Reviews and interviews

Thank you to everyone who has done online reviews, blogs, tweets, ‘likes’ and so on, using Amazon, Facebook, Goodreads and many other websites and social media. It really does help, and we are very appreciative. Keep it up!

Newspapers and magazines have much smaller review sections (or none at all) these days, many bookstores stock fewer and fewer books (not just range but quantity), and public libraries have also slashed spending on books. This is a perplexing situation to most people, making it difficult to find out about new books, especially as retailers try to force feed us with a diet of cookery books and celebrity memoirs. We are actually fortunate in having had very good reviews and features in several newspapers and magazines, such as the Sunday Times, Daily Mail, Sunday Herald, Your Family History, Who Do You Think You Are?, Washington Post, USA Today, Daily Beast, Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and others. There are far too many to mention here, but short extracts of some are on the Jane Austen page of our website, with selected details mentioned below.

Daily Mail

One review was in the Daily Mail newspaper, where we were Book of the Week. The unmissable headline was ‘Did Mr Darcy have bad breath?’ – the reviewer was particularly struck by the lack of personal hygiene and filthy streets.


This monthly e-newsletter, edited by George Jepson, is published by Tall Ships Communications. It is distributed free-of-charge by McBooks Press [since changed]. Although there is a focus on maritime historical fiction, Quarterdeck also covers other historical fiction and more besides. In the August issue, there is a lengthy interview with us, alongside a generous review of Jane Austen’s England.

Linda Collison blog

We have been asked to do several online interviews, and you can read one on the website blog (‘sea of words’) of the historical novelist Linda Collison:

It includes a piece on how we get along (or not!) as a writing team. Of our book, Linda says that we ‘have written a terrific book every Austen lover should read: A sweeping survey that sheds light on the wider world Jane Austen and her characters inhabited – the same world my ancestors, the servants, merchants, farmers and artisans, inhabited. Yes, the other 98 percent.’

USA Today

A long and very favourable review (4 stars out of 4) by Carmela Ciuraru can be found here:

Number One at the Huffington Post

What amazed us was this feature in the Huffington Post:

It lists ten essential books for Jane Austen lovers, with ours in the number one slot (‘This is fascinating reading for any classical fiction or history enthusiast. And for Janeites? It’s an essential guide to getting your Austenian life accurate to the last detail’).

Washington Post

We were also amazed to have a wonderful review by the distinguished book critic Jonathan Yardley:


This clever title (not ours) is, of course, playing on the words of the movie ‘Lost in Translation’, because the movie ‘Austenland’ has just been released in the US – one day after our book was published, a very nice coincidence. The Huffington Post has been very kind, because they posted a slideshow of ours called ‘13 Reasons You Wouldn’t Want to Live in Jane Austen’s England’. You can take a look at it here: For the weekend of the movie release, the slideshow was advertised under the title ‘Austen Translation’. Needless to say, we can’t wait to see ‘Austenland’ when it is released in the UK in late September.


Not so new!

For the last few years of her life, Jane Austen lived in the village of Chawton in Hampshire. A few miles to the south-west lies the town of New Alresford, which, despite its name, dates back to the medieval period. The town was founded by the Bishop of Winchester and given the right to an annual fair around AD 1200. Nowadays, most of the buildings look Georgian from the outside, and some like the Bell Inn (an old coaching inn with an inscription that reads ‘Market Inn 1767’) were undoubtedly built in the 18th century, but others are likely to have a Georgian façade masking a medieval structure underneath.

This picturesque town has a railway station located at one end of the Watercress Line – originally the Mid-Hants Railway, which became part of British Railways and was closed down in 1973. It was used to transport watercress (grown in the area around New Alresford) up to London, from which the railway derived the name ‘Watercress Line’. A section of the track from New Alresford to Alton was purchased from British Railways after the line was closed, and it now operates a steam train service as a heritage railway.


Apart from the steam train line, New Alresford is famous for its public toilets in Station Road. These proudly bear a plaque proclaiming: ‘Secret information hidden in this toilet was collected periodically by Harry Houghton. In 1961 he was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for his part in the Portland Spy Ring.’ This was during the Cold War between east and west, and the Portland Spy Ring was stealing information from the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment at Portland in Dorset. The information was passed to the USSR via the Polish secret service. The ring was detected and broken up in 1961, with Houghton being one of five people tried and found guilty of spying, but it was thought that other people were involved, whose identities were never discovered.

The plaque on the public toilets in Station Road
The plaque on the public toilets in Station Road


Around 160 years earlier, New Alresford was home to prisoners-of-war on parole during the wars with the French. The prisoners were officers who were billeted in the town, having given their word of honour (their ‘parole d’honneur’) that they would not try to escape. They usually had freedom of movement within the town, but were not allowed to stray beyond defined limits on the roads passing through. Since many of these officers received money from relatives abroad to supplement their subsistence allowance from the British government, they gave a boost to the local economy as well as bringing a cosmopolitan air to the town. Generally, the parole prisoners and the local population lived together in harmony, and in November 1779 the Hampshire Chronicle reported:

‘The Captain and officers of the Spanish man of war, who behaved so gallantly in the engagement with the Pearl, and who are on parole in Alresford, lately gave an elegant entertainment and ball in honour of Capt. Montague and his officers, as a testimony of the high sense they entertain of the polite and generous treatment they received after their capture.– Capt. Montague and his officers were present, as were also Col. Cary and the officers of the 89th regiment, and many of the most respectable families from the neighbourhood of Alresford.’

Captain George Montague was captain of the 32-gun frigate Pearl, and the Spanish officers were probably from the frigate Santa Amonica, which had been captured by the Pearl two months earlier.

At this period officer prisoners-of-war were exchanged fairly rapidly, so places like Alresford had a constant turnover of foreign officers, but when war resumed in 1803 after the short-lived peace, the exchange system broke down and relatively few prisoners were returned to their own country.

Civilian fraternisation

Chawton and New Alresford were joined by the turnpike road to Winchester, so whenever Jane Austen travelled to Winchester or beyond, she would have passed through New Alresford. She doubtless saw prisoners-of-war and may even have met some, though there is no surviving evidence. Relatively few letters from the many that she wrote have survived, and these make no mention of New Alresford or of meeting prisoners-of-war.

Local families were quite happy to fraternise with enemy officers on parole, as the letters of the officers themselves demonstrate. Captain Quinquet, writing from New Alresford to his sister at Avranches, said:

‘We pass the days gaily with the Johnsons, daughters and brother, and I am sure you are glad to hear that we are so happy. Come next Friday! Ah! If that were possible, what a surprise! On that day we give a grand ball to celebrate the twenty-fifth wedding anniversary of Papa and Mamma. There will be quite twenty people, and I flatter myself we shall enjoy ourselves thoroughly, and if by chance on that day a packet of letters should arrive from you – Mon Dieu! What joy!’


The war dragged on and few prisoners were exchanged. Inevitably some of them died and were buried in the churchyard of the Church of St John the Baptist. A line of five gravestones can still be seen, marking the burials of four French officers and the wife of a French officer who died before being returned to France, while other gravestones are now virtually illegible.

The gravestone of Pierre Garnier
The gravestone of Pierre Garnier

One gravestone commemorates Pierre Garnier, a second lieutenant in a French infantry regiment who was captured on Guadeloupe in February 1810. He was one of over 50 officers captured on that island who ended up on parole at New Alresford. He arrived in June 1810, but by the following April he was ill, possibly as a result of serving in the Caribbean. He died on 31st July 1811.


The above information about Pierre Garnier comes from the book Hell Upon Water: Prisoners of War in Britain 1793–1815 by Paul Chamberlain, published in 2008 by The History Press – a bit too late for our own book The War For All The Oceans (2006), which deals with a few aspects of prisoners-of-war. In June we were at an event at Princetown, on Dartmoor, attended by the National Society United States Daughters of 1812, which commemorated the 200th anniversary of the arrival of American prisoners-of-war at Dartmoor prison. We met Paul at this event, which spurred us at long last into buying his book.

The front cover of ‘Hell Upon Water’
The front cover of ‘Hell Upon Water’

The title Hell Upon Water does not do the book justice, as it covers far more than the hated floating hulks. Starting with a brief chapter giving the background to the endemic warfare in the 18th and early 19th centuries, it deals systematically with all kinds of foreign prisoners-of-war in Britain at that period. Other books have dealt with specific aspects of the subject, but this one provides a readable survey of everything from the bureaucracy and logistics involved in providing for thousands of prisoners, through the different types of prison (onshore prisons and depots, prison hulks and parole towns) to the lives of the prisoners, their ways of increasing their income and their eventual repatriation. A glance at the notes for each chapter, mostly referencing original documents in various archives, shows that many years of research must have gone into the writing of this book. For anyone interested in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars with the French, and particularly those interested in prisoners-of-war in Britain, this is an excellent overview.


The recording music industry has managed to kill itself off, and so many musicians now rely on appearance fees at gigs and concerts, as well as on sales of CDs, T-shirts and other merchandise at these events. The book publishing industry is in a state of flux, and instead of being able to rely on the old ways of promoting a book, many writers now give talks at the ever-increasing number of literary festivals. This is not done for the income (writers are rarely paid a fee), and it is a very time-consuming process, but one that we really enjoy doing. After the isolated task of researching and writing a book, it is a very positive feeling being in front of an audience, sharing your work. We ourselves do illustrated talks, what we describe as a double act – the thought of which seems to terrify some organisers, until they see us in action. So far, we have had very positive feedback!

We have done several events since the publication of our new book in June, and while we won’t inflict on you a blow-by-blow account, we thought we would share a few highlights.

The Times Cheltenham Science Festival

It was fascinating for us being in the midst of so many scientists. We took part in an evening session that concentrated on medicine in Jane Austen’s era. In our book we devote a chapter to medicine then, which had progressed remarkably little since the Roman period two millennia earlier. One main improvement was in the prevention of smallpox. Inoculation, or variolation, had begun in Britain in 1721, an expensive and potentially risky procedure that introduced infected pus from somebody already ill with the disease to someone who had no immunity. The real breakthrough came when Edward Jenner developed the far more effective method of vaccination using cowpox. Apart from smallpox, numerous other afflictions were feared, and one treatment was to go to the spas, such as Cheltenham itself, which is described today as the most complete Regency town in England.

Museum of Somerset at Taunton

We had an idyllic summer’s evening for the book launch, which was supported by Brendon Books and held in a gallery of the Museum of Somerset. That gallery was the Great Hall of the castle where Jane Austen’s aunt, Mrs Jane Leigh-Perrot, was tried at the Assizes in March 1800 for the serious offence of shoplifting. A few days later we stopped at Ilchester, where she was held for several months in the county gaol – or to be more precise, she lived in the adjacent prison-keeper’s house as a mark of privilege. Ilchester was once a Roman town on the Fosse Way, and, as was customary, the cemetery was outside the town walls, where later the gaol would be constructed. Nowadays, the site of the gaol looks desolate, though a few buildings survive.

Dartington Festival

The Telegraph Ways With Words Festival at Dartington in Devon is particularly wonderful when the sun shines, and it was glorious there throughout the entire time of the festival this year.


Because it is fairly close to where we live, we managed to go to a few other events, before giving our own talk at the end of the week, on the theme of ‘The Women of Jane Austen’s England’.

West Meon Festival of Books

The following day we gave a talk at the West Meon Festival of Books, supported by One Tree Books of Petersfield, in the heart of Jane Austen countryside. We were unable to stay close to West Meon as it was a busy weekend, so instead we booked into a motel at North Waltham, on the busy Winchester to Basingstoke road, next door to the historic Wheatsheaf Inn. This was an important posting inn in Jane Austen’s time, where the stagecoaches stopped, and it was used by her and her family when they lived at nearby Steventon. It was one of the hottest days of the summer, but our talk was held in the wonderfully cool Victorian church at West Meon.

History Live! Festival

This huge weekend festival is hosted each year by English Heritage in the grounds of Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire. Billed as Europe’s biggest history event, it was a spectacular weekend of re-enactments (from Romans to 1812 soldiers through to World War 2), a ‘Living History’ encampment (where visitors could meet and chat with the re-enactors), market stalls, live music such as the brilliant Oxford Waits, marquees with various displays, numerous talks and much more, for all ages and interests.

History Live! Festival

The main series of talks was organised by the BBC History Magazine, and they were all very well attended, punctuated by occasional gunfire as re-enactment battles took place at the same time. We loved giving a talk there, and English Heritage was brilliant with the way everyone’s books were displayed.


Our latest article to be published was in the BBC History Magazine July issue, pages 51 to 55, called ‘A Survivor’s Guide to Georgian marriage’, in which we give ten tips for a successful marriage. You can also listen to a free podcast ( of Lesley being interviewed about Georgian marriage by Charlotte Hodgman, section editor (heritage).

In the July issue of Folklife Quarterly, no. 38, page 41, we have a piece published called ‘The Song and the Place: Here’s the Tender Coming’, about press-gangs and the River Tyne.


The Phantom of the Guillotine is not a book for beginners in that, if you don’t know anything at all about France during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods, it would be best to read a basic history first. The reason for this is that the hero of the book, Louis Bayard, travelled all over Europe, meeting many of the key historical figures of the time – if you are not familiar with the names of the people and places beforehand, you could get hopelessly lost. One other thing you need to get the most out of this book is a very basic knowledge of French, or a French dictionary: all the difficult words and phrases are translated, but not simple words.

The front cover of ‘Phantom of the Guillotine’
The front cover of ‘Phantom of the Guillotine’

The Scarlet Pimpernel

Don’t let our warnings deter you, because Phantom of the Guillotine: The Real Scarlet Pimpernel, Louis Bayard–Lewis Duval 1769-1844 is a wonderful book. The author, Elizabeth Sparrow, succeeds in the nearly impossible task of tracing the career of a secret agent who was a key figure in the events of the time, but who does not appear in most history books. The reason is that he was a very successful secret agent, who covered his tracks exceedingly well. In addition, some documents were deliberately destroyed at the time to avoid endangering his contacts, while other have been destroyed or just disappeared in the following two centuries. Using documents from all kinds of archives, the author has pieced together a picture of how Louis Bayard operated, demonstrating that the Baroness Orczy based her fictional character ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ on him. It is a masterpiece of research and analysis.

France in chaos

The book presents events from the unique viewpoint of an agent right in the heart of the action, but what also comes through, almost as a sub-text, is the inside picture of France in turmoil. During the Revolutionary period, many different factions were pulling in different directions, and even allied factions could not agree the best course of action or even the desired goal. For example, some Royalist groups wanted a complete restoration of an omnipotent monarchy as it was before the Revolution, while others wanted the king restored but with his power limited. On top of this was the intervention of outside powers. Britain in particular was pouring money into France to support those opposed to the Revolution. British people might fear a French invasion, but the government feared an upset of the status quo even more. During the subsequent Napoleonic period, the picture becomes even more complicated. As well as factions, there are many more powerful individuals, each with a separate agenda and usually a flexible allegiance. It becomes clear that the downfall of Napoleon was brought about not simply by the military action of his enemies, but by convincing the powerful figures within France, whose prime concern was their own safety, that they could survive his downfall.

A classic in waiting

Like Elizabeth Sparrow’s previous book, Secret Service: British Agents in France 1792–1815, this book repays slow, careful reading – it is a book to savour – and like her previous book it will become a classic text on the subject. Strangely, the publisher let her previous book go out-of-print, with the result that used copies change hands for many times the original cover price. If you want a copy of Phantom of the Guillotine, now is a good time to buy it while it is affordable.


Wherever you go, in whatever country, there are always clues to the history of a place in its buildings, structures and objects. All too often, such clues pass by unnoticed, unless you are deliberately seeking them, but some even have a helpful date!

Lamp over the gateway to Babcary church in Somerset
Lamp over the gateway to Babcary church in Somerset

An incorrect coronation

A lamp over the gateway to the churchyard of the Church of the Holy Cross at Babcary in Somerset has an inscription on the glass reading ‘E.R. June 26th 1902’. The ‘E.R.’ inscription on its own is rather vague, since the ‘R’ could stand for the Latin word Rex or Regina – king or queen. Here the date defines the context so that the ‘E.R.’ stands for the Latin ‘Eduardus Rex’, meaning King Edward. The year 1902 means it is King Edward VII, who succeeded Queen Victoria in 1901. The lamp was intended to commemorate the coronation of Edward VII on 26th June 1902 – but he was actually crowned on 9th August.

Such ceremonial occasions need to be planned months in advance, and the date was initially set for 26th June. As the time approached, the king fell ill with appendicitis, and the coronation had to be postponed until 9th August. Various commemorative items had already been made, and in this case the people who commissioned the churchyard lamp presumably felt it not worth the extra expense to order a replacement with the correct date!

The cancelled coronation

A reminder of a different King Edward can be seen at Bradford-on-Avon in Wiltshire, where the monogram of King Edward VIII is on the wall of the Post Office in the Shambles area, dated 1936.

Monogram of King Edward VIII at Bradford-on-Avon
Monogram of King Edward VIII at Bradford-on-Avon

Edward succeeded to the throne on 20th January 1936, but was never crowned. He reigned for less than a year, abdicating on 10th December in order to marry Wallis Simpson. Since she had been married before and was divorced, and members of the British government were opposed to their relationship, Edward abdicated rather than cause a constitutional crisis. The crown then passed to King George VI, the father of the present Queen Elizabeth. Because Edward VIII reigned as uncrowned king for less than a year, there are very few physical reminders of his short reign, and this monogram at Bradford-on-Avon is a rare example.