Newsletter 37

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


Our latest book is now available in paperback in the United States and Canada. It is published there by Penguin, ISBN 978-0143125723, and the jacket design is much the same as that of the hardback, using the wonderful embroidery by Sarah Cline. This time, though, even the Penguin motif has been embroidered!

Jane Austen Cover

The hardback in the US was called simply Jane Austen’s England, but the paperback has the added subtitle ‘Daily Life in the Georgian and Regency Periods’. The hardback can still be purchased (ISBN 978-0670785841), and it is also available in all e-book formats.

In the UK, the identical book is called Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England (ISBN 978-0349138602), and it recently received a generous review in Jane Austen’s Regency World (no. 70, July/August 2014). This is the official magazine of the Jane Austen Centre in Bath and is distributed to subscribers worldwide. The review starts off: ‘A marvellously entertaining catalogue of early 19th-century English life, Roy and Lesley Adkins’s bestseller is now out in paperback – and deserves a place on any Austen aficionado’s bookshelf.’ The review ends: ‘It’s a rich brew – I challenge anyone to pick it up and not still be reading an hour later, delighted by such a vivid and entertaining portrait of an era.’ Do pass the word on to any Austen aficionados who you know!


Storehouses of history

There are so many churches in Britain that their role as storehouses of history is often overlooked. Many date back to the early medieval period, and some were built before the Norman Conquest of 1066. Frequently altered, repaired and enlarged, the very fabric of these buildings is a record of constant use over the last millennium. Within and outside every church, various monuments also have their own history, and objects with no other obvious home are frequently stored in the local church or placed there for protection, so that some churches are like small museums. Most churches have at least one interesting story to tell, but the ruined Holy Rood Church in Southampton, Hampshire, probably has more than most.

The Austens in Southampton

Medieval Southampton was completely enclosed by fortified town walls, large parts of which survive today. For a brief period Jane Austen was at school in Southampton, then a small port at the head of Southampton Water, and although she nearly died of typhus there, this did not deter her from returning more than two decades later. From late 1806 to early 1809 the Austens lived in a house in Castle Square, right by the town walls overlooking the sea. A great deal of land reclamation has since taken place, so it takes some imagination to appreciate its appearance then.

Several churches were within walking distance of Castle Square, including the Holy Rood Church in the High Street, right at the centre of the medieval town. In 1801, only a few years before the Austens arrived, the antiquary Sir Henry Englefield described this church:

‘Holy Rood Church … has been much altered on the outside, but does not seem ever to have been of elegant architecture. The west window is deprived of its tracery, and the tower, which is rather uncommonly situated at the south-west angle of the church, is void of beauty. The doors of the central entrance are very neatly ornamented with Gothic tracery, in a good style, and well preserved. The colonnade which runs along the whole front, is by the lower class of inhabitants known by the name of the “Proclamation”. Probably on this spot, close by the old audit-house and market, magistrates proclaimed peace, war, or other public and official notifications … The church within is large and handsome, but its appearance is much injured by the organ and its loft, which totally obstruct the view into the chancel. The nave and side ailes [sic] are very neatly ceiled in pannels [sic], and the roses which ornament the intersections of the ribs appear neatly carved. At the south-west door there is a wooden screen of mixed Gothic, of queen Elizabeth or James the First’s time, which is uncommonly well executed, and of elegant design.’

The 1837 fire

Late in the evening of Tuesday 11th November 1837, a disastrous fire took place further down the High Street, and a pair of plaques still survives on the west front of the church commemorating those who lost their lives trying to help. The following day, an eyewitness report appeared in the Devizes & Wiltshire Gazette:

‘About half-past eleven o’clock last night, a large store-room, belonging to Messrs. King, Witt, and Co. extensive dealers in lead, oil, and colours, at the bottom of the High-street and corner of Gloucester-square, was discovered to be on fire, and before any engine could arrive, the whole warehouse was in one mass of flame. At about half-past twelve, it was generally rumoured that gunpowder was on the premises; and while the inhabitants were busily engaged in removing the goods, a terrific explosion took place, and part of the front of the warehouse was blown out, burying a number of persons in the ruins; whilst those in the warehouse were cut off from all egress; the combustible matter in the upper stories becoming ignited, pitch, turpentine, and oil ran down in a liquid flame. The consternation which took place at this moment baffles all description. As each dead and wounded body was removed from the ruins, a shriek of agony and horror was given which rent the air. It was a dreadful spectacle. The flames at the same time were spreading with fearful rapidity. Twice the houses on the opposite side of the street caught fire; and it was only by the greatest possible exertions that they were not consumed. Fears indeed were entertained that the whole of Gloucester-square would be in flames: but happily the progress of the fire was arrested. Messrs. King’s warehouse is totally destroyed; and Mr. Simm’s Boarding-house, Playford’s Family Hotel, and the premises of Mr. Prialense, are greatly damaged.’

Explosions were common in warehouse fires, and it was often wrongly assumed that gunpowder was to blame, something the Morning Post noted for this fire:

‘The Hampshire Independent states that the number of lives lost at the destructive fire at Southampton last week was seventeen, and that twenty-four persons are severely injured … It appeared from the examination of witnesses that the explosion which produced the fatal catastrophe was not caused by gunpowder, but must have been owing to the ignition of a large quantity of turpentine. The Independent gives the following account of the calamity:– “The public having been assured that there was no gunpowder in the store entered it for the purpose of saving a portion of the valuable articles which it contained – a great quantity of lead, oil, and turpentine – when, we shudder to relate, the fire found its way into that part of the store which contained the turpentine, and almost immediately afterwards an awful and terrific explosion took place which was succeeded by the falling in of the roof and blowing out the front walls”.’

The fire memorial plaques

One of the two plaques mentions the bravery of the men who tragically died:

‘Sacred to the Memory of twenty-two brave and disinterested men commemorated by name in a corresponding tablet who in attempting to check the ravages of a calamitous fire in this parish on the night of November the 7th 1837, either perished in the flames or survived but a short time the injuries they received. The sympathizing public who have protected the widows and orphans of those who had families, erect this grateful but melancholy memorial of their intrepidity, their sufferings, and their awfully sudden removal into an eternal state.’

The ‘corresponding tablet’ gives the names of the dead:

‘This Tablet is a Memorial of the names of the sufferers
Henry Ball. Aged 21
George Bell. – 16
John Budden. – 21
Robert Cheater. – 22
George Diaper. – 27
Charles Edney. – 19
William Ford. – 27
James Cosney. – 28
Thomas Hapgood. – 21
John Harley. – 50
Joseph Hawkins.– 39
Thomas Henwood. – 32
William Jones. – 26
Edward Ludford. – 36
William Marshall. – 25
George Maton. – 21
William Oakley. – 29
William Powell. – 30
Richard Rose. – 34
Robert Ransom. – 46
Thomas Sellwood. – 23
Charles Tanner. – 22’

The memorial plaques to those killed in the 1837 fire

A bombed shell

The Holy Rood Church was not affected by the 1837 fire, but just over a decade later, in 1849–50, it underwent a Victorian rebuilding. The 14th-century tower was kept, along with parts of the chancel and aisles, as well as the fire plaques. It became a very popular church, known as the ‘Church of the Sailors’, an association that became stronger as the port of Southampton grew in prosperity as a result of the ocean liner trade to and from America.

By the Second World War, Southampton was an important port and an obvious target for bombing, but inevitably parts of the old town were destroyed, including the Holy Rood Church. There were severe bombing raids during the winter of 1940, and on the night of 30th November the church was hit. The nave was destroyed and the chancel badly damaged, though the 14th-century tower survived. In 1957 the ruined church was restored for use as a war memorial and is preserved in memory of the seamen of the merchant navy who died in the Second World War.

The ruins of Holy Rood Church, Southampton
The ruins of Holy Rood Church, Southampton,

with the surviving south-west tower.

The two fire plaques are either side of the main doorway

The Titanic memorial

Among the memorials inside the ruin is one to the crew of the Titanic, most of whom came from Southampton. The inscription on the base reads:

‘This Memorial Fountain was erected in memory of the crew, stewards, sailors and firemen, who lost their lives in the SS Titanic disaster. April 15th. 1912. It was subscribed for by the widows, mothers and friends of the crew. Alderman Henry Bowyer Mayor 1912–1913.’

The memorial to the crew of the Titanic
The memorial to the crew of the Titanic

The sculpture was originally a working drinking fountain set up in Cemetery Road on Southampton Common and unveiled in 1915, but it was later moved inside the ruins of Holy Rood Church. Since the Titanic sailed from Southampton on her maiden voyage to New York, different memorials to the victims of the tragedy are located around the city, but this crew memorial is particularly poignant because so many families in the town were affected by the disaster.

Charles Dibdin

Another memorial on the exterior wall of the tower was erected a century ago and is a reminder that 2014 is the bicentenary of the death of Charles Dibdin, who was famous for his patriotic songs during the Napoleonic Wars. The inscription reads:

‘To CHARLES DIBDIN, son of THOMAS DIBDIN parish clerk of this church. A native of Southampton, poet, dramatist and composer, author of TOM BOWLING, POOR JACK, and other sea songs. Born 15th March 1745, died 25th July 1814.
“There’s a sweet little cherub that sits up aloft, To keep watch for the life of poor Jack” Erected by the Southampton Literary and Philosophical Society, 1914.’

The memorial to Charles Dibdin
The memorial to Charles Dibdin

Dibdin was baptised at Holy Rood Church and was one of the youngest of a very large family. His father died while he was still quite young, and the family moved to Winchester where he was educated and became a chorister at the cathedral (and where Jane Austen would later be buried), having been picked out because of his fine singing voice. He later moved to London and worked in an instrument maker’s shop, but soon moved on to become an actor in the chorus at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. Within two years he began publishing his own songs.

This became the pattern of Dibdin’s career for many years, as he performed in theatres in towns and cities across Britain and in the Vauxhall and Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens in London, while continuing to write his own material. He contributed both music and lyrics to the scores of operas performed in the main London theatres, particularly Drury Lane, but after a quarrel with the actor/manager David Garrick, his engagement there was ended in 1775. He continued working in various London theatres until, in 1796, he opened his own newly built theatre on the corner of Leicester Square, called the Sans Souci.

Dibdin’s greatest achievement was his series of entertainments and songs in patriotic praise of the Royal Navy and of British sailors, which became popular with the public and the seamen. With the renewal of war with France, his sea songs became so popular that the British government commissioned him to publish new war songs regularly. This was the peak of his career, and he retired in 1805. He opened a music shop in the Strand in London, but it failed and left him bankrupt. For the rest of his life he struggled to avoid absolute poverty.

Some of Charles Dibdin’s compositions
Some of Charles Dibdin’s compositions

In 1809 the sailor George King took part in an operation against Russian gunboats (an incident mentioned on pages 239–42 of our book Jack Tar). It was a night-time operation using ships’ boats in a surprise attack, but it was only partly successful and cost many casualties. George King was one of the survivors and recorded in his diary what happened when his boat returned to his ship:

‘The captain was looking overside and he directly ordered some of his crew to relieve the boat’s crew and began to hoist in the dead and wounded. He then called us aft, that was left, and ordered us down below to rest ourselves, sent for the purser’s steward, and ordered him to give us immediately, each man, half a pint of rum and as much bread and cheese as we could eat. When we soon commenced upon the grog and in less than an hour some of our chaps were singing one of Dibdin’s songs.’

Letters and diaries of the time contain references to singing and music-making, but it is unusual for a song to be specifically mentioned as a Dibdin composition. Some of Dibdin’s songs have stood the test of time, and ‘Tom Bowling’ in particular is still sung today. Henry Wood included it in his Fantasia on British Sea Songs, which was originally compiled in 1905 for the centenary anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. It is still regularly performed, particularly as part of the ‘Last Night of the Proms’ in London.


The years 2014 and 2015 have too many anniversaries. The media (including book publishers, magazines, radio and TV programme makers, and literary and history events) much prefer to focus on a notable anniversary, because of the marketing and publicity possibilities. Far too many fascinating ones fall this year and next, a strange quirk of history, so that it is going to be difficult to concentrate for long on any one event. The obvious anniversary is the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 (see below), but others worth mentioning are the initial peace with France in 1814 (see below), the burning of the White House in Washington in August 1814 (see our newsletter 20 and our book The War for All the Oceans), the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815 (see below), the signing of Magna Carta in June 1215, and the Battle of Agincourt in October 1415.

We ourselves have been doing our bit to mark the anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park in 1814 with our new talk ‘Why Jane Austen Loves a Sailor’, which we gave recently at the wonderful Telegraph Ways With Words Festival at Dartington Hall in Devon. This 10-day literary festival is held in a single glorious setting, with most talks taking place in the Barn or the Great Hall.

Ten days later, we gave the same talk at a very different festival, this time the huge English Heritage re-enactment weekend called ‘History Live!’, which is held at Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire – very appropriate, as that county is the fictional setting for Mansfield Park. We were invited to give the first talk of the weekend in the History Lecture Tent of the BBC History and History Revealed magazines. We were there last year as well, and it is an enthralling weekend, with so many aspects of history and archaeology to enjoy.

The History Lecture Tent at ‘History Live!’
The History Lecture Tent at ‘History Live!’

Sandwiched between these two events was the Penzance Literary Festival, where we gave our ‘Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England’ talk to a packed house, ably supported by James of The Edge of the World Bookshop. The bookshop now has for sale signed copies of some of our books. Our previous two talks on this same theme were also sold out – one was at the Fowey Festival of Words and Music, also in Cornwall, a county that (as far as anyone knows) Jane Austen never visited. By contrast, our talk in the library at Wokingham in Berkshire, supported by Chapter One Bookshop of Reading, was in the heart of Jane Austen territory.


Start of the war

August 2014 is the centenary anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War, or First World War as it was later known. Fighting that began in the Balkans in July 1914 spread through Europe, involving some nations spoiling for a fight and others unprepared for conflict. By the beginning of August the madness had reached the Channel coast, with Germany threatening both France and Belgium. This sucked Britain into the war, when the British ultimatum to Germany demanding that military operations against Belgium must cease was ignored. The ultimatum expired at midnight on Tuesday 4th August, and from then on Britain was at war.

By mid-August the first troops of the British Expeditionary Force were disembarking on the Continent. By the third week in August they had reached the frontier between Belgium and France, but like the other troops already stationed at the border their role was to delay the enemy advance as much as possible, not stop it. Soon they were involved in a measured retreat as the allied forces fell back to the outskirts of Paris in order to regroup. The German advance was halted by the Battle of the Marne, which started on 5th September, and the Germans were forced to withdraw west of Verdun. This eventually led to the establishment of the Western Front and the notoriously static trench warfare that caused so much carnage during the First World War.

Embroidered silk postcards

In Britain, from September 1914, there was a massive drive to recruit men for the army, and soldiers poured across the Channel and into France. Many had been recruited in a carnival atmosphere, few had any idea what was in store for them, and a large proportion had never been away from home before, let alone abroad. Inevitably, the homes and loved ones they had left behind were constantly in their thoughts, and their sole means of communication were letters and postcards. In France, an industry already existed that could cater for this demand, producing postcards with embroidered silk designs. Production was increased immediately, and many families kept them as souvenirs.

Postcard designs

An embroidered silk panel was glued on to a white postcard and finished off with a frame, usually embossed. The one below shows a warship within a wreath held by a flying seagull, heading towards the armed forces with letters from home. Underneath are the English words ‘A Kiss from home’. This postcard was sent by a sergeant in France to his sweetheart in England, and his handwritten message on the reverse includes the note: ‘We are trying to make things as merry as possible for the troops this Xmas’. It was obviously posted in an envelope, because he used the address panel instead to refer to the embroidered design: ‘The boat that brings your most welcome letters to cheer me.’

An embroidered silk postcard with embossed frame
An embroidered silk postcard with embossed frame


It was once thought that each postcard was embroidered by hand, but in recent years Dr Ian Collins has been in the forefront of research into embroidered silk postcards, including their manufacture. He has published a book about them (An Illustrated History of the Embroidered Silk Postcard, ISBN 0954023501), while his latest research can be found on his website: One new discovery is that the embroidery was done as repeating designs on a roll on large machines, which were cut up into panels for use in postcards.

So-called ‘hand-embroidery machines’ had been in use from the late 1820s, and through the 19th century these machines became bigger and more sophisticated. They were operated by men, with women and children doing ancillary jobs, such as mending broken threads. They were used for all sorts of embroideries, and from 1899 embroidered silk postcards began to be manufactured, which were exhibited the following year at the Paris Exposition. Until the First World War, it was only a minor part of the embroidery industry. By now, the industry was based primarily in France, and women took over the work of those men who joined the armed forces. Millions of postcards were produced, with thousands of designs, many with patriotic themes or ones relating to the armed forces.

Woven silk postcards

The publishers of embroidered silk postcards did not have the market to themselves, since rival companies began to produce woven silk postcards, which were also shown at the 1900 Paris Exposition. At the outbreak of the war, production was similarly increased to meet demand. Because the weaving process could produce a much more elaborate and subtle design, these postcards have quite a different appearance. During the war a great number were manufactured by the Neyret Freres company and published by E. Deffrène, based at no. 25 Boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle in Paris.

A woven silk postcard
A woven silk postcard

Deffrène published this postcard of the town of Albert in the Somme region of France. It shows the ruins of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Brebières, with the Golden Virgin statue on the tower left in a precarious horizontal position after a fierce battle in September 1914. A feature of the woven postcards is that they could produce scenes like this, giving an almost three-dimensional effect to the ruins and flames. As the card is moved, the weave and colour of the silks make the picture change subtly, with the colours looking brighter from some angles.

Both embroidered and woven silk postcards remained very popular throughout the 1914–18 war. They continued in production after the war, with less militaristic designs. In the Second World War, there was a slight resurgence of the industry, but never on the same scale.


By a strange twist of fate, the outbreak of war in 1914 took place on the centenary of the ending of the first true world war in 1814. Although the Peace of Amiens in 1801 had brought an end to hostilities with France, only 19 months later the two nations embarked on what became known as the Napoleonic Wars. That conflict endured for almost 11 years, from May 1803 until April 1814, when Napoleon abdicated and went into exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba, just off the coast of Italy. The war with the United States was still being fought, but that did not prevent an outpouring of joyous emotion.


The king in exile, Louis XVIII, returned to rule France, and even the supporters of Napoleon were glad to see an end to the years of fighting and conscription. In Britain, preparations began straightaway to celebrate the longed-for peace. The most lavish events were in London, and on 6th June Tsar Alexander of Russia and King Frederick of Prussia arrived for a state visit. Field Marshal Blücher, leader of the Prussian army, was already in the capital and proving as popular with the British people as Wellington. Three days later, illuminations were visible all over London.

Royal Celebrations began on 1st August, by order of the Prince Regent. Hyde Park, St James’s Park and Green Park were totally transformed for this extravaganza, filled with oriental temples, towers and pagodas. A mock naval battle was fought on the Serpentine, and central to a Grand Fireworks Display in Green Park was a 100-foot-high Castle of Discord that was burned and replaced by a glittering Temple of Concord, symbolising the triumph of the established monarchies of Europe over the revolutionary and imperialistic France.

The rest of the country joined in the merrymaking, though with less spectacular entertainments, as at Reading where William Darter noted: ‘there was great rejoicing. Bells were frequently ringing and flags were kept up for several days.’ Huge public dinners were arranged, and Major-General Dyott described those in his home town:

‘A subscription made in Lichfield, and upwards of £700 collected for the purpose of giving a treat to all the lower class of people to commemorate the peace. Dinners were provided at the inns for near three thousand people, who were regaled with roast beef, plum pudding, and ale. I made a present of an ox, which was roasted whole and distributed.’

The Northampton Mercury carried a summary of their own celebrations:

‘On Tuesday public rejoicings commenced in this town [Northampton] in celebration of the happy return of Peace. Merry peals from the bells of the different churches ushered in the morning … During the day the streets were paraded by different processions, but principally of a ludicrous description.– The one least so was a waggon filled with young girls all dressed in white, preceded by a band of music and flags. In the fore part of the waggon was placed a pole with a particularly large loaf fixed at the top, and a flag underneath, inscribed, “Peace and a large loaf! the happy result of the downfall of tyranny”. On the Market-hill a great number of small loaves were thrown to the populace, and four hogsheads of ale served to the multitude in a more orderly manner than might reasonably have been expected.’

An 1814 monument

Near Little Dunham in Norfolk an obelisk was erected as a monument to the peace and carries the inscription ‘In Commemoration of Peace John Drosier Esq. Erected this Obilisk Anno Domini MDCCCXIV’. Drosier is thought to have been a distant relation of Nelson, who is also commemorated by an inscription on the same monument. The obelisk still survives and is a rarity.

The 1814 peace obelisk near Little Dunham
The 1814 peace obelisk near Little Dunham

Yet more war and peace

Once the summer of celebrations was over, the serious business of carving up Europe between the victors started with the opening of the Congress of Vienna on 1st November 1814. It turned into a perpetual party with a constant round of dinners, dances and entertainment and was still continuing when Napoleon escaped from Elba on 26th February 1815. Europe was plunged back into conflict before most other monuments to the 1814 peace had been built or finished.

Napoleon’s short bid for freedom and power was brought to a close at the Battle of Waterloo, near the Belgian town of that name, on 18th June 1815. The last battle involving a British army that brought this first ‘Great War’ to an end was fought less than 100 miles from where British soldiers would fire their first shots at the opening of the second ‘Great War’ a century later. After Waterloo, Europe was finally at peace, and in Britain many streets and even towns were renamed Waterloo, and numerous monuments erected. The short-lived peace of 1814 was eclipsed – and soon forgotten.


After repeated suggestions and requests from some newsletter subscribers, we have bowed to your influence and have finally set up a blog! It is linked to our website, so you can either click on ‘Our Blog’ there or you can go direct to our blog.

Why subscribe to the newsletter?

We send out our newsletters about 4 or 5 times a year [now all changed!]. As the time approaches to send out the next newsletter, we add the last newsletter to our website here. Because of this time lag, we will use the blog to mention any current news, such as mentions of our latest books, reviews and talks. Once we have sent out our latest newsletter, we also intend to gradually transfer some of the features to the blog, as well as favourite features from previous newsletters. There will always be material that will only appear in newsletters, not the blog, and in any case all the contents of a newsletter will be sent to subscribers first, and only later will some be posted on the blog.

So why bother to look at the blog?

A blog is quite a different means of communication, because ideally each posting should be restricted to a single topic, whereas the newsletters are more like a magazine, with a mix of topics. One of the main benefits of the blog is in providing up-to-date news between newsletters. Another benefit is that we can give additional text and pictures on the blog that will not be in the newsletters – we always worry about having too many pictures in a newsletter, because of the slow speed of broadband that some subscribers suffer from (certainly in parts of the UK). Another benefit is that a blog allows anyone to add comments at the end of each post. Readers can also share a blog post via many types of social media, all contained in the ‘share this’ symbols at the bottom of each post. At the moment we are feeling our way!

Have a look

In any case, please have a look at our blog and pass any comments about it to us (particularly suggestions for improvements), which can be left as comments on the blog itself or sent direct to us by email. We hope it will prove to be something extra for you to use and enjoy.