Newsletter 35

Welcome to the February issue of our occasional newsletter for 2014.


In the middle of the 20th century, just after the Second World War, one of the tiny handful of foreign-language songs heard on British radio (then called ‘The Wireless’) was ‘Sur le Pont d’Avignon’ (On the Bridge at Avignon). It is a French folk song dating back to at least the late medieval period and describes a round dance on the bridge crossing the River Rhône between Avignon and Villeneuve-lès-Avignon in southern France. Because of the innocent French lyrics, it was an obvious choice for helping children to learn French, and so many people in Britain know the song, making the bridge an essential tourist attraction.

The broken bridge at Avignon (the ‘Pont d’Avignon’)
The broken bridge at Avignon (the ‘Pont d’Avignon’)

Pont Saint Bénezet

One legend relates that a local shepherd boy by the name of Bénezet had a vision of Jesus telling him to build the bridge. By performing a miracle of lifting a huge stone to start the construction of the bridge, Bénezet convinced the local bishop that his vision was genuine and so the bishop paid for the bridge to be built. Bénezet died in 1184, and when the bridge was completed the following year, his body was interred in the chapel on the bridge itself.

The bridge became known as the ‘Pont Saint-Bénezet’. It was supported on 22 arches, and part of the structure went across an island – the Île de la Barthelasse. It is now thought that the song was originally ‘Sous le Pont d’Avignon’ and that the dancing took place beneath (‘sous’) the bridge on this island, where there were once pleasure gardens. This is supported by the fact that the stone bridge was intended for pedestrians and packhorses and is not really wide enough for dancing in a ring.

The broken bridge

The bridge was damaged by war and floods several times during its early history, but was repaired and rebuilt each time. In the 17th century, though, it fell into disrepair, and in 1669 catastrophic floods swept away much of the structure. Today, only the chapel on the bridge survives, along with 4 of the original 22 arches, preserved as part of the medieval heritage of Avignon. The body of Saint Bénezet is no longer in the chapel, as it was moved after the 1669 floods to the cathedral and moved again later on to the church of St Didier.

The medieval town

The importance of Avignon lies in the much more impressive medieval town fortifications and the papal palace. There was a town at Avignon as early as the 6th century BC, founded by Greeks from the Greek colony at what is now Marseilles. This was followed by a Roman town, but much of that settlement was razed to the ground in the 8th century AD.

From 1309, the papal residency was moved by Pope Clement V from Rome to Avignon, but when the French Pope Gregory XI died in March 1378, he was succeeded by Pope Urban VI, who was elected in haste, under pressure from the mob at Rome who wanted a Roman pope. Urban was an Italian, though not a Roman, nor was he a cardinal, and so his election did not wholly satisfy any of the factions involved. When he announced a reform of the college of cardinals (the body responsible for electing popes), the majority of the cardinals left Rome and elected a new pope, Clement VII, who set up his own papal court at Avignon. This was the start of the great schism in the Catholic Church, which lasted from 1378 to 1417, with rival popes in Rome and Avignon. The religious divide also caused a political divide across Europe and increased the localised civil unrest and warfare that was then endemic. There was a genuine need for fortifications to protect the town and papal palace of Avignon.

Avignon’s imposing cathedral (dating from 12th century) and the old papal palace (enlarged from the original bishop’s palace) are on the left, visible above the trees. The later palace (centre right) was built by Pope Clement VI. On the far right, modern buildings are tiny by comparison
Avignon’s imposing cathedral (dating from 12th century) and the old papal palace

(enlarged from the original bishop’s palace) are on the left, visible above the trees.

The later palace (centre right) was built by Pope Clement VI.

On the far right, modern buildings are tiny by comparison

Cultural capital

While popes held court at Avignon, they continued to enhance the papal palace. All kinds of artists converged on the town, hoping for papal patronage, while diplomats from various countries visited or resided there to carry out their roles in the political manoeuvrings of the time. Many artists were employed in decorating the papal palace and in providing monuments for the cathedral, and the general affluence within the town gave it a reputation for luxury and lavish living. Numbers of hangers-on, prostitutes and criminals were attracted to the town, to the disgust of some of the papal entourage.

After the schism ended, Avignon gradually declined from the years of high-living when the papal court was in residence, although the town continued to be ruled by a papal legate until the French Revolution. The town then became the capital of the Vaucluse region of Provence. Today, the papal palace and the other surviving medieval structures are the key to the town’s success. The historic centre of Avignon has been designated a World Heritage Site, and tourists flock there from all over the world. Who knows how many are initially attracted by the bridge made famous by the song?


The county of Somerset in south-west England also has many attractive places enjoyed by tourists, such as Glastonbury with its abbey and Tor; the town of Taunton, with its award-winning Museum of Somerset in the castle; and the historic village of Muchelney in the heart of the Somerset Levels, which has unfortunately been the focus of media reports this winter owing to the calamitous – but avoidable – flooding.

Muchelney hill

The Somerset Levels is a vast low-lying area forming a significant part of the county of Somerset in south-west England. Different areas are referred to as moors, such as Aller Moor and Sedgemoor, even though the term moorland normally refers to upland areas. Once a shallow inlet of the sea, this lowland region is rarely more than 6 metres above sea level, often considerably less, but at Muchelney the land rises to some 10 metres above sea level – almost a hill and visible for miles around. The clue is in the name, made up of two elements derived from Anglo-Saxon – ‘much’ meaning ‘big’ or ‘great’ and ‘elney’ meaning ‘island’. So Muchelney was a great island in Somerset – a name that is itself derived from the Anglo-Saxon for ‘summer pasture’, after the lush green acres that emerged from the floods each year.

The abbey

For many centuries, places like Muchelney provided a dry haven in winter when the surrounding land experienced flooding. In Saxon times, possibly as early as the 7th century, monks established a monastery here. It was probably destroyed in the Danish raids, but was refounded in the 10th century as a Benedictine monastery dedicated to St Peter and St Paul. By the 12th century it was very prosperous and owned a great deal of land, although it was never rich enough to rival Glastonbury Abbey across the Levels to the north. At that time there were 24 monks at Muchelney, but the number had dwindled to 11 by the time the abbey was dissolved under Henry VIII in 1538. Its dissolution saw the demolition of the monastic church, along with other parts of the abbey, and stone from the demolition was used to construct houses in the village, while some of the abbey buildings were redeployed as a farm. Today, the site of the abbey is in the care of English Heritage, and the exposed foundations of the monastic church and some of the surviving buildings are open to visitors.

The village of Muchelney from the south, with the surviving abbey buildings (left) and the parish church of St Peter & St Paul (right)
The village of Muchelney from the south, with the surviving abbey buildings (left)

and the parish church of St Peter & St Paul (right)

The parish church

It is likely that villagers initially worshipped at the abbey church, but a separate parish church was later built, only one metre from the north transept of the monastic church. It, too, was dedicated to St Peter and St Paul and is best known for its decorated wagon roof, painted in the 17th century with a design of clouds and angels in low-cut costumes, sometimes referred to as the ‘topless angels’.

Across the road is a thatched building known as the ‘Priest’s House’. Built in the 14th century to house the parish priest, it was altered in the 15th century and remains a rare example of a medieval vicarage. It is now owned by the National Trust and is occupied by a tenant, but the interior can be viewed at some times of the year. Close by is the meeting point of three roads, marked by a restored 15th-century preaching cross. One of the roads was adopted as a turnpike by the Langport, Somerton and Castle Cary Turnpike Trust in the 1820s, and the tollhouse set up here by the trust survives (see a picture in our newsletter 5).

The painted roof inside Muchelney’s church
The painted roof inside Muchelney’s church

The heritage of the Levels

On a sunny summer’s day, Muchelney is idyllic and well worth a visit, but tourists from far and wide also flock to other historic places in the Levels, and some are mentioned in our book A Field Guide to Somerset Archaeology, written several years ago. The area is dotted with late prehistoric hilltop enclosures and forts and is dominated by the huge hillfort of Ham Hill on the very edge of the Levels, while all the higher, drier patches of land were occupied from Roman times onwards. To the north of Muchelney is Athelney, another ‘island’ where King Alfred took refuge from the Danes (and allegedly burnt the cakes) before defeating their army and forcing their leader, Guthrum, to be baptised a Christian at nearby Aller – another historic village set on a hill. A Benedictine monastery was later founded at Athelney, and monastic houses were set up on other areas of higher ground within the Levels, not least the great abbey at Glastonbury.

Changing landscapes

It is uncertain exactly when the Levels began to be artificially drained. Prehistoric settlers lived with, and exploited, the periodic flooding, using water and marshland as sources of food and defensive barriers. There are hints that the Romans attempted some small-scale drainage, but it was not until the medieval period that large-scale drainage began in earnest, which has continued ever since to provide the landscape of the Levels that we see today.

To put the Somerset Levels into perspective, it has to be remembered that there is not an inch of ‘untouched’ or ‘natural’ land in Britain. It has all been affected by human activity, such as industry, agriculture, forestry and other processes. The entire country is a managed landscape, which can rapidly change. It is easy to understand that if hedges are not maintained, they become straggling thickets, and if fields are left fallow for too long, scrubland takes over and develops into woodland. Even upland moors like Dartmoor are actively managed using ponies, sheep and cattle, with occasional burning of selected areas to keep plant growth under control.

Flood management

Much of the land in the Levels today provides summer grazing land for cattle. It is drained by several rivers, many of which (like the Yeo and Tone) join the Parrett. This is a tidal river that flows into the Bristol Channel (which has the second largest tidal range – the difference between high and low tide – in the world). There are also artificial channels such as the King’s Sedgemoor Drain, as well as an intricate network of ditches called rhynes or rhines (pronounced ‘reens’). These are home to a huge variety of wildlife, such as damselflies, eels, water voles and herons.

There are calls to slow down the flow of river water by planting trees and by other schemes in upland areas, which is laudable. In the meantime, once the rainwater from the Dorset hills has poured into the Somerset Levels, it needs to reach the Bristol Channel quickly. If not, the rivers overflow into the moors. Because the river embankments are raised, floodwater has to be pumped back into the rivers or else it remains on the moors for months. A particularly devastating flood occurred in the winter of 1929 to 1930, which had incessant rainfall. That flood and much more is mentioned in Wetland: Life in the Somerset Levels by Patrick Sutherland (black-and-white photographs) and Adam Nicolson (text) (Michael Joseph, 1986). Many improvements were done after that disaster, including new channels, and by the 1990s, managing the drainage in the Levels had become a fine art.

The River Parrett has a gradient of 1 in 5280 in the 11 miles between Langport and Bridgwater (near the estuary), and other channels across the Levels are even more sluggish. To ensure maximum capacity, the rivers and channels used to be dredged each year, in a continuous low-key operation, employing a few dredgers and a handful of men. The farmers also cleaned out the rhynes every autumn or winter. The rivers were controlled by huge sluices and the rhynes by much smaller sluices. Everything was constantly patrolled, checked and adjusted by a small group of men employed by the National Rivers Authority. Along with the farmers, they knew the landscape inside out and were experts in controlling the drainage.


The situation was controlled but not perfect, because there was always some flooding in winters with heavy rainfall, but this floodwater was channelled into those moors with pumping stations. Some nature reserves were deliberately flooded to provide a habitat for wading birds. Roads were seldom impassable and did not remain that way for too long. Houses were rarely in danger, and if they were threatened, help was on hand with sandbags to minimise the damage. During dredging, the river silt was either dumped on the embankments, spread on fields or stockpiled nearby for filling ‘sandbags’ – sandbags of silt (not sand) are an effective barrier against floodwater and far more environmentally friendly than quarried sand. The road from Langport to Muchelney would often flood, such as in 1990, though it was passable by tractor.


Flooding in 1990, viewed from the top of Muchelney’s church tower, when the road to Langport in the distance was passable only by tractor
Flooding in 1990, viewed from the top of Muchelney’s church tower,

when the road to Langport in the distance was passable only by tractor

All change

Everything changed in 1996 when the National Rivers Authority was abolished. Responsibility was passed to the Environment Agency, a ‘quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation’. Very soon, the men who patrolled the area and checked the sluices disappeared, and all dredging stopped. Generations of local knowledge of water management were discarded. According to the farmer Michael Eavis, organiser of the Glastonbury Festival and whose farm is on higher ground, the Environment Agency sold off all the dredging equipment for scrap.

The decision to stop active management of drainage within the Levels was regarded at the time as moronic and reckless, and so it has proved. Less than two decades on, the silt has accumulated so much that the rivers run at less than half their capacity. Flooding has progressively worsened each year and was so severe in the winter of 2012–13 that there was a widespread call for dredging to be done. In Muchelney and elsewhere, properties were flooded, something that had never been known to happen. Although promises were made, no dredging was done.

Lessons of history ignored

The fate of Muchelney is a mirror of the fate of the Somerset Levels as a whole and perhaps, too, the fate of the rest of the country. Despite a fairly dry December, heavy rainfall just before Christmas 2013 led to further catastrophic floods on the Somerset Levels. The entire island of Muchelney has been cut off, accessible only by boat, with properties flooded once again even before the repairs from the previous year were finished. By February 2014 over 60 square miles of land were flooded, including farms, villages and even the railway lines from London to the West Country that are built on causeways. It is reckoned that if dredging had been done, about 90 percent of the floodwater could have been contained within the river channels. Instead, the flooding is a stinking, stagnant, polluted catastrophe, costing vast amounts of money (many times the cost of annual dredging and flood defences), causing unimaginable misery, killing the wildlife, destroying heritage and putting Britain in the news for all the wrong reasons. The lessons of history should not be forgotten or ignored.



In 1825 the Stockton & Darlington Railway was opened to connect Darlington with Stockton on Tees in north-east England. It was the first public railway in the world to use steam locomotives – primarily for carrying freight. Until 1833, passengers were not transported by steam on this line, but in coaches that were adapted to run on rails and pulled by horses.

From the late 18th century, stationary steam engines were routinely used for powering machinery of all kinds, but in 1808 a steam engine that moved itself – a locomotive – was still such a novelty that a trial in London received attention from distant provincial newspapers. The Lancaster Gazette gave details of how this locomotive operated:

‘On the 23d ult. [23rd September 1808] a great number of persons assembled on the ground near Russell-square, London, to witness the action of a new machine for travelling without horses. It is impelled entirely by steam, and is calculated to perform twenty miles an hour. The machine is principally made of iron, its body resembling a barrel; the fore part of which contains water, and in the rear is a furnace, which, while the machine is in motion, is fed with coals by one man, the only one employed to give it motion: a perpendicular pipe, about ten feet long, carries off the smoke. The machine runs round a groove, and … it proceeds with great velocity, but the pace can be altered at pleasure.’

The steam locomotive was called ‘Catch-Me-Who-Can’ and was built by the Cornish engineer Richard Trevithick. He had set up a circular track in order to demonstrate his invention, in the hope of attracting a backer or orders for the machine. Two weeks earlier, the Morning Chronicle, a London newspaper, had carried an advertisement for the locomotive:

‘TREVITHICK’S TRAVELLING MACHINE WITHOUT HORSES, impelled by Steam.– This extraordinary Machine is now exhibiting opposite the End of Gower-street, close to the New Road; which, with its contents, weighing eight tons, is matched to travel more miles in twenty-four hours than any horse in England can be found to perform. This Machine is now actually running, and will continue to do so for a few days previous to the performance of the match. Admittance 2s. The exhibition is open from ten till dusk.’

The locomotive also carried a few passengers, and nearly 40 years later the civil engineer John Isaac Hawkins recorded his experience in a letter to the Mechanics Magazine, saying that Trevithick had

‘laid down a circular railway in a field adjoining the New Road, near or at the spot now forming the southern half of Euston-square; that he placed a locomotive engine weighing about 10 tons on that railway, on which I rode, with my watch in my hand, at the rate of 12 miles an hour; that Mr Trevithick then gave his opinion that it would go 20 miles an hour, or more, on a straight railway; that the engine was exhibited at one shilling admittance, including a ride for the few who were not too timid; that it ran for some weeks, when a rail broke and occasioned the engine to fly off in a tangent and overturn, the ground being very soft at the time. Mr. Trevithick having expended all his means in erecting the works and inclosure, and the shillings not having come in fast enough to pay current expenses, the engine was not again set on the rail.’

A print of a drawing of Trevithick’s London Exhibition. The original drawing had a ‘Thomas Rowlandson’ signature, now thought to be a forgery, but the drawing is still regarded as a reasonable record of the event
A print of a drawing of Trevithick’s London Exhibition.

The original drawing had a ‘Thomas Rowlandson’ signature,

now thought to be a forgery, but the drawing is still regarded

as a reasonable record of the event

Since the exhibition failed to attract backers for further development, Trevithick cut his losses and turned his attention elsewhere, leaving the development of steam railways to other engineers. After working on various projects, he went to Peru in 1816 to work on steam engines. Although a successful engineer, he never made much money and returned penniless in 1827, two years after the Stockton & Darlington Railway was opened.

Rides on the Rocket

Three years later, in 1830, the world’s first twin-track steam-powered railway was opened, linking Liverpool and Manchester. In the previous year, 1829, a competition between locomotives built by different engineers had been won by Stephenson’s Rocket, and Stephenson’s company was commissioned to supply locomotives for the new line. Before the official opening of the line, various people were given rides on the Rocket, including the actress Fanny Kemble, who described the Olive Mount cutting, close to Liverpool, which was about 2 miles long, 70 feet deep in places and had been blasted out of solid rock:

‘You can’t imagine how strange it seemed to be journeying on thus, without any visible cause of progress other than the magical machine, with the flying white breath and rhythmical unvarying pace between these rocky walls which are already clothed with moss, ferns, and grasses; and, when I reflected that these great masses of stone had been cut asunder to allow our passage thus far below the surface of the earth, I felt as if no fairy tale was ever half so wonderful as what I saw. Bridges were thrown from side to side across the top of these cliffs, and the people looking down upon us from them seemed like pigmies standing in the sky.’

The Olive Mount railway cutting
The Olive Mount railway cutting

Fanny Kemble was even more impressed by the performance of the engine. After stopping for water, the Rocket ‘set off at its utmost speed, thirty-five miles an hour; swifter than a bird flies (for they tried the experiment with a snipe). You cannot conceive what that sensation of cutting the air was; the motion is as smooth as possible too. I could either have read or written; and, as it was, I stood up and, with my bonnet off, “drank the air before me”.’

Trevithick’s legacy

Trevithick brought his steam locomotive to London at an unfortunate time. It was in the middle of the wars with Napoleon, when huge profits could be made by investing in wartime supplies of all kinds and nobody was interested in backing the development of steam locomotives. It was only after the wars were over and other opportunities had faded that railways began to seem like a good investment, sparking the ‘railway mania’ of the 1840s. Once begun, the spread of the railway network continued rapidly across the country, and anyone with money rushed to buy shares in railway companies.

Although Trevithick played no part in this, he was never completely forgotten, particularly in his native Cornwall. In 1933, on the centenary of his death, The Cornishman newspaper carried the following notice:

‘The Trevithick Centenary Commemoration Committee has now in hand, or promised, sufficient funds to enable it to carry out in a modest way the purposes which it had in view when it was constituted last October. These aims are a Memorial of Trevithick’s London locomotive in 1808, in London; a monument on the line of track of his South Wales locomotive, 1803, at Penydaren; and a tablet at his birthplace, 1771, in Illogan parish, Cornwall. All these are now in preparation. The London memorial is to be erected within the precincts of University College, by kind permission of the Committee of the College. The site has been chosen because it was near there that the locomotive Catch-Me-Who-Can was exhibited on a circular track.’

The London monument finally took the form of an elaborate plaque that can still be seen on the wall of a building in Gower Street, belonging to University College London.


Driving around Britain, it is sometimes possible to catch sight of odd-looking, stunted chimney-like structures, often standing alone in the middle of a field. They are obviously relics of Britain’s industrial past, but appear out of place in a rural setting. These are not chimneys in the ordinary sense, but the tops of ventilation shafts that were built to allow the smoke to escape from railway tunnels when trains were pulled by steam locomotives.

Chimney in a field at Great Oxendon, Northamptonshire
Chimney in a field at Great Oxendon, Northamptonshire

Even now, when trains are powered by diesel engines or electric motors, these vents remain a useful source of ventilation, but some belong to railway lines that have since closed. The chimney pictured here, at Great Oxendon in Northamptonshire, was built to ventilate a tunnel on the Northampton to Market Harborough railway line, which opened in 1859 and was finally closed in 1981. Some of the line was made into a cycleway (part of the Brampton Valley Way), including the tunnel which is over 400 metres long. The chimney on the hill above, still standing awkwardly in a field, now provides ventilation for walkers and cyclists who venture into railway history.


In our last newsletter, we asked which of Jane Austen novels was published two centuries ago, in 1814. The answer is Mansfield Park. Congratulations to the two winners of our competition, Robert Day and Geoff Voisey.

Mansfield Park tends to be the least favourite of all Jane Austen’s fiction for readers today, with its themes of moral duty and manners that no longer feel right, not even in their historical context. When Henry Crawford flirted with Fanny Price’s cousins Julia and Maria (who was engaged to be married), Fanny is so shocked that she writes him off. It all seems petty and unforgiving. She was brought up with her cousins, and Edmund (the younger son) treated her like a sister, so (spoiler alert!) it feels distinctly odd for the pair to marry (though some readers have expressed the opinion that they deserve each other as they are both priggish and boring).

Don’t let these negative aspects deter you from reading the novel. It is one of our favourites, because Jane Austen ventures beyond her customary safe surroundings of wealthy, genteel families. Many serious issues and glimpses of social history are woven throughout its pages. In particular, she realistically portrays aspects of the Royal Navy and vividly describes Fanny Price’s low-status family in their cramped home in the old dockyard town of Portsmouth. Two of Jane Austen’s own brothers, Frank and Charles, were in the Royal Navy, and from them she knew a great deal about naval life.


We are starting to take bookings for talks related to our latest book and the 200th anniversary of Mansfield Park. We are very pleased to have been invited to the following events, two in Cornwall, one in Devon, one in Berkshire and one in Northamptonshire. We will add further details and new talks on the ‘Latest News’ page of this website. Please check dates and times before you come to a talk, as these can change!

Fowey, Cornwall: A talk on ‘Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England’ at the Fowey Festival on Monday 12th May 2014 at 2pm. This festival takes place from 10th to 17th May in Fowey, a town on the west side of the Fowey estuary, in a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. See

Wokingham, Berkshire: This is another afternoon talk on ‘Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England’ at 2pm on Wednesday 14th May 2014 at the library in Denmark Street, Wokingham, Berkshire, RG40 2BB. Tel (0118) 978 1368. Tickets £3, available from the library.

Dartington, Devon: We are looking forward to returning to the Ways With Words festival at Dartington. Our talk is ‘Why Jane Austen Loves a Sailor’, concentrating on the themes of Mansfield Park, in particular the Royal Navy. This will be part of a ‘Writers and Their World’ day on Monday 7th July 2014 in the Barn. Our talk will be at 10am. See

Penzance, Cornwall: We will be talking at the Penzance Literary Festival, which is held from 16th to 20th July. Our talk, ‘Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England’, will be held on Thursday 17th July 2014, 2pm, in the wonderful Morrab Library. Note this one in your diary, as ticket prices at this festival are very reasonably priced.

Kelmarsh, Northants: We are very pleased to be returning to History Live! to give a talk on Saturday 19th July at 10.30am. This is a huge history and re-enactment weekend event staged by English Heritage at Kelmarsh in Northamptonshire. Our talk will be ‘Why Jane Austen Loves a Sailor’.


We spent some of our Christmas holidays collating all the reviews and other publicity we have so far received for Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England (Jane Austen’s England in the US), and quotes from many of the reviews are given at the bottom of the Jane Austen page of our website. We were particularly pleased with two new reviews:

Church Times

One review was in the Church Times, which describes itself as ‘the world’s leading Anglican newspaper’. We were kindly sent copies of the newspaper, a fascinating publication, focusing on many worldwide issues and with plenty of book reviews. The review of our book was by Professor Nicholas Orme, who wrote: ‘This is an admirable work for general readers, building on an acquaintance with the novels to recreate the world in which Austen lived. It will keep anyone happy for several days over Christmas, and will bear being taken up and read again and again.’

Jane Austen’s World

Another review appeared in a highly rated Jane Austen blog, called ‘Jane Austen’s World’, a blog that has received over 7 million hits!. It is run by Vic Sanborn in Richmond, Virginia, in the United States, and she very kindly featured our book in her first blog of the new year, called ‘Books to Purchase in the New Year and a Book Give Away’. One book was ours and the other was Sense and Sensibility: An Annotated Edition by Patricia Meyer Sparks. The review included the comments that our book is “a remarkable job of research and writing that informs as well as entertains … Even though I finished the book late last month. I struggle to remember all the fascinating details that this book contains.” It is very gratifying to receive such a favourable review from somebody who knows so much about Jane Austen and her world.


We have recently had two further magazine articles published:

In ‘Beating the Bounds’ in Folklife Quarterly for January 2014, we talk about the traditional ceremonies that took place each year to retrace the boundary of a parish. Two centuries ago, this was essential, because few maps existed and landmarks could be easily lost if the land had not yet been enclosed by hedges and fences.

February 2014 is proving to be one of constant rain and high winds in Britain, causing terrible floods. But exactly two centuries ago, in February 1814, there was bitterly cold weather, and the River Thames froze so solidly in London that a Frost Fair took place for a few days. As it happened, this was the last ever frost fair. See our article ‘The Last London Frost Fair’ in Discover Your History, issue 50, February 2014, pages 34–7.