Introducing Georgina Young-Ellis, Fellow Austen Author

My Journey to JAFF

By Georgina Young-Ellis

imgresWe all have our own moment, the one in which we said to ourselves, “I’m hooked.” Like many other Jane Austen fans, I can safely say it was the moment I read the first sentence of Pride and Prejudice. For others, it may have been a different instance altogether, or it might have taken longer for the journey. There are plenty of people, however, who look at me oddly when I profess to being a Jane Austen fanatic, responding with: “I read Pride and Prejudice in school but I don’t remember it.” I often just stare blankly back at these people until I remember to say something polite in return, because, what I’m really thinking is: Don’t remember it? How could you not remember something that has such an impact on so many? And why did it not have an impact on you? What is wrong with you? I feel sorry for these people because mayhap they simply had a bad English teacher that caused such a masterpiece to fade to the back of their memories.

The fact is, I started reading Austen in my early twenties, which was, I hate to admit, quite a long time ago, when, in America at least, it seemed Austen fanatics were a clandestine group who stumbled upon each other by accident, joyously sharing their insights on Austen’s work, and then creeping back into the shadows again. We possessed only very dated movie versions of Jane’s books, and no internet with which to share our rabid love.

When the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries was released, everything seemed to change. It was followed in quick succession by Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility, Roger Michell’s Persuasion, Clueless—a darling retelling of Emma; Emma itself with Gwyneth Paltrow, as well as the TV miniseries of Emma with Kate Beckinsale, and Mansfield Park with Francis O’Conner. I think those who didn’t consider themselves Jane Austen fans before had their heads turned with these great film portrayals and, perhaps, the films made people go back and read the books. Then Bridget Jones’ Diary stormed the scene and suddenly, women were fangirl-ing their heads off about Pride and Prejudice. I didn’t even know fan fiction existed before Bridget Jones, but now I realize that book was my first foray into it. And I liked it, but I was still unaware that there was an underground movement of JAFF authors growing already.

Now that I am ensconced in the reading and writing of JAFF, I actually have something to confess. I kind of miss the time when it was a rare surprise to come across a kindred spirit with whom I could hungrily discuss Jane Austen: the merits of Persuasion as opposed to Mansfield Park for example, or Northanger Abbey versus Sense and Sensibility. These discussions were about more than which hero was hotter: Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightley, or Captain Wentworth or which villain was more dastardly: Wickham or Willoughby. They were serious conversations of the plots, the characters, and the prose. I’ll never forget when I told a staunch Jane scholar my favorite of Austen’s novels was Northanger Abbey, and her telling me how “immature” a choice that was. Though I disagreed with her, it made me go back and read, and reread again, all the novels, eventually admitting that Pride and Prejudice was probably the most well composed, though I still maintain that Northanger Abbey is the most amusing. My favorite now though is Persuasion, which, to me, is the most heart-wrenching, while also so satisfyingly romantic.

Do I wish the Austen fervor would die down? Of course not. It’s thrilling to see how many readers around the world have embraced “my” Jane. And certainly, she has been one of the most revered, if not always as popular, writers in the English language for a couple of centuries now. So, no, I don’t begrudge the world its love of Austen, I just miss the days when I could consider her, more or less, my own. Anyway, read on, JAFF lovers! I’ve willingly joined your ranks! Just remember to go back to her sometimes, and revel in those original words, written by the mistress herself, that started the whole thing.

31wo7zkaeyl-_ux250_Interested in Knowing More of Georgina…

Author Bio: Georgina Young-Ellis lives in Portland, Oregon, a magical place full of inspiration for a writer. She has a rock star son, and a wonderful husband who is her own personal cheering section. Georgina writes romantic, time travel fiction, and has four books available in my Time Mistress Series: The Time Baroness, which takes place in Regency England; The Time Heiress, a journey to pre-Civil War New York City; The Time Contessa, set in Renaissance Italy; and The Time Duchess, an adventure to Elizabethan England. She also has the Elizabeth, Darcy and Me Series, which includes Elizabeth, Darcy & Me and the upcoming Elizabeth, Darcy & Me: The Quarrel. 

51yuqgfvjl-_uy250_Social Media Links:

Website, featuring the Time Mistress Series and the Elizabeth, Darcy & Me Series 

Blog: Nerd Girl Romantics

Facebook           Amazon Author Page         Twitter

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Posted in acting, Austen Authors, book release, Georgian England, Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Life Below Stairs: Non-Existent Legal Redress

Was there legal redress for the servants of Victorian households?  Although there was genuine concern for the conditions in which many of the servants operated, most claimed it was impossible to make laws to protect domestic servants. Those that were passed were heavily settled in favor of the master and mistress of the house rather than the staff. For example, if a servant was dismissed and her wages withheld illegally, a magistrate could not settle the matter for there was no legal statutes to protect the servant. Occasionally, a master or mistress would be summoned to explain why the servant’s wages were withheld, but if he or she did not respond, there was no legal recourse. 

servant_1.jpgServants could be released for any number of arbitrary reasons. Employers were not responsible for medical care, even if the servant became ill or was injured because of the household conditions. Neither was an employer required to supply the servant was a character, or reference, which permitted the mistress to hold that knowledge over the servant’s head in all disputes for a servant without a character reference would not be able to secure another position. Servants, as a whole, had few rights and little hope for a future. 

 dirtyoldad2.jpg From M. Collet’s Report on the Money Wages of Indoor Domestic Servants [1899, Volume XCII, page 15], we learn, “The young ‘slavery,’ working in a lodging house or a coffee shop or with ‘rough-mannered’ employers had to ‘work harder and under more unfavorable conditions perhaps than any other class of the community…. As soon as she reaches an age when she wants more than a very small sum in wages, she is dismissed and replaced by another young girl…. This class of girl in a very few years disappears from the ranks of domestic servants, and in doing so, in generally in a worse position than the factory girl in the same grade.”

Even mature women who devoted their lives to the welfare of the family in which she operated found that they earned little more than the maid-of-all-work. They might receive a grateful remark upon their leaving, and perhaps as much as a month’s wages. They could look forward to some charity providing them a token for their service. For example, the Female Servants’ Home Society presented the servant a Bible for two years of service, a testimonial and a suitable book for five years continuous service, a silver medal for nine, and a gold medal for fifteen years. [T. Henry Baylis, The Rights, Duties, and Relations of Domestic Servants, their Masters and Mistresses, Sampson Low, 1837, page 39.] Generally there was little awaiting an elderly servant beyond the almshouse or the workhouse. “Service is no inheritance” was a maxim often heard from Victorian servants. 

51Nmv0OkB-L._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg Outside of London, on St. Thomas’s Day, which is four days before Christmas, some charities provided little gifts of goods or money to selected servants. In 1663, the James Frethern’s Charity was founded ‘for the benefit of a maid servant who has continued six years as a hired servant in Burford, Oxfordshire.’ In Wargrave, Berkshire, the Rev. Walter Sellon’s Charity was founded in 1793 to provide 8 guineas ‘for the benefit of poor persons resident in the parish who are engaged in domestic service.’ The Margaret Dew Charity (1816) was for the ‘general benefit of Godly and deserving poor and decayed Housekeepers of Bramton Abbots parish’ in Herfordshire. 

According to Frank E. Huggett’s Life Below Stairs (page 115), “Servants’ charities and institutions of all kinds were severely handicapped by a chronic shortage of funds in Victorian times. Mistresses were reluctant to give servants money either in the form of well-earned wages or in charitable donations. In 1861, only £6,250 was subscribed to the twenty-one servant charities in the capital; Bible and missionary societies, on the other hand, received no less than £332,679. The Victorians had an inflexible, and often unfeeling, sense of priorities.” 

Other Resources: 

List of Victorian Charities 

Charity and Condescension: Victorian Literature and the Dilemmas of Philanthropy, by Daniel Siegel

Posted in British history, Living in the UK, servant life, Victorian era | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Ever Been on a “Cook’s Tour”?

Most of you are likely to think a “cook’s tour” has something to do with a chef’s culinary excellence, but the phrase actually has its roots in the world’s oldest and largest travel organization. 

Thomas.Cook-pic-682x1024.jpg Thomas Cook was a 32-year old cabinet maker by trade and a strong proponent of the temperance movement. One day in June 1841, he walked from his home in Market Harborough to the nearby town of Leicester to attend a “dry” meeting. A former Baptist preacher, Thomas Cook was a religious man who believed that most Victorian social problems were related to alcohol and that the lives of working people would be greatly improved if they drank less and became better educated. On the way, he passed a billboard poster announcing that the Midlands County Railway had opened a rail extension between Loughborough and Leicester. Thomas concocted an idea that the steam engine could be profitably harnessed to the temperance cause; therefore, he persuaded the railroad company to reduce the fare in return to his guarantee of 500 passengers to travel the newly opened rail extension, which customarily served only one-tenth that number. 

At the meeting, Thomas suggested that a special train be engaged to carry the temperance supporters of Leicester to a meeting in Loughborough about four weeks later. The proposal was received with such enthusiasm that, on the following day, Thomas submitted his idea to the secretary of the Midland Railway Company. A train was subsequently arranged, and on 5 July 1841, 570 passengers were conveyed in open carriages the enormous distance of 12 miles and back for a shilling. [Some sources say the cost was 14 cents for a round-trip of 48 miles.] The day was a great success and, as Thomas later recorded, ‘thus was struck the keynote of my excursions, and the social idea grew upon me’. 

Other societies soon solicited the travel “guide” to arrange their excursions. During the next three summers Thomas arranged a succession of trips between Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Birmingham on behalf of local temperance societies and Sunday schools. He even organized tours to the “wilds” of Scotland. Within these limits many thousands of people experienced rail travel for the first time, and Thomas was able to lay the foundations of his future business. He later described this period as one of ‘enthusiastic philanthropy’ since, beyond the printing of posters and handbills, he had no financial interest in any of these early excursions.

Thomas Cook’s first commercial venture took place in the summer of 1845, when he organised a trip to Liverpool. This was a far more ambitious project than anything he had previously attempted, and he made his preparations with great thoroughness. Not content with simply providing tickets at low prices – 15 shillings for first-class passengers and 10 shillings for second. Thomas also investigated the route and published a handbook of the journey. This 60-page booklet was a forerunner of the modern holiday brochure.

By the end of 1850, having already visited Wales, Scotland and Ireland, Thomas Cook began to contemplate foreign trips to Europe, the United States and the Holy Land. Such thoughts had to be postponed, however, when Sir Joseph Paxton, architect of the Crystal Palace, persuaded Thomas to devote himself to bringing workers from Yorkshire and the Midlands to London for the Great Exhibition of 1851. This he did with great enthusiasm, rarely spending a night at home between June and October, and he even produced a newspaper, Cook’s Exhibition Herald and Excursion Advertiser, in order to promote his tours. By the end of the season Thomas had taken 165,000 people to London, his final trains to the Exhibition carrying 3,000 children from Leicester, Nottingham and Derby.

Thomas continued to expand his business in Britain, but he was determined to develop it in Europe too. In 1855 an International Exhibition was held in Paris for the first time and Thomas seized this opportunity by trying to persuade the companies commanding the Channel traffic to allow him concessions. They refused to work with him, however, and the only route he was able to use was the one between Harwich and Antwerp. This opened up the way for a grand circular tour to include Brussels, Cologne, the Rhine, Heidelberg, Baden-Baden, Strasbourg and Paris, returning to London via Le Havre or Dieppe. By this route, during the summer of 1855, Thomas escorted his first tourists to Europe.

In those days, a visit to a foreign country was a major undertaking. Crowds of relatives would gather to see their relatives off. Cook’s “tour escorts” led the adventure-minded little groups through strange places and gave a running commentary on every town, statue, etc. The descriptions presented to the “tourists” even became famous. Cook’s fame rose quickly. Therefore, to take any type of pleasure journey was the same as saying you were going on a “Cook’s tour.” 

Resources: 

Derbyshire UK 

Thomas Cook History 

Thomas Cook, Wikipedia 

Travel History: The Tale of Thomas Cook 

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Posted in British history, commerce, Great Britain, Industrial Revolution, Living in the UK, real life tales, Victorian era | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, a Disappointment to Queen Victoria

Given Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s physical infatuation with each other, their first child, Princess Victoria, called Vicky, was born nine months after their wedding. The queen was busy with her duties as monarch and could spare little time for her baby, seeing her only twice a day. Within a year of Vicky’s birth Albert Edward, known as Bertie – the future King Edward VII – was born. The queen now had a healthy male heir. “Our little boy is a wonderfully strong and large child,” she wrote proudly. “I hope and pray he may be like his dearest Papa.”  With the succession reasonably assured, it might be thought a rest from the risk of childbearing would be appropriate. Not so. Over the next five years another three children were born: Alice, Alfred and Helena.

“While Queen Victoria gave birth to many children, she did not necessarily like babies. “An ugly baby is a very nasty object,” she protested, “the prettiest are frightful when undressed… as long as they have their big body and little limbs and that terrible froglike action”. Nor could she contemplate breastfeeding them, finding the whole process repulsive. A wet nurse was therefore employed for all her children, as Victoria devoted herself to Albert. The result was four more children: Louise, Arthur, Leopold and Beatrice. Victoria had nine babies over 17 years – a tremendous physical feat, and a dangerous one given the high rates of maternal mortality at the time.” (History Extra)

Victoria turned over the children to Albert while she continued on with her regal duties. Albert, a product of an intense German education, expected much of his children. Sometimes too much. There were lessons in languages, especially French and German, along with mathematics, science, Latin, geography, and music. These were mixed with corporal punishment for not performing to expectations. Fortunately for Vicky, she was quite bright. Some of the other prince and princesses were less so. Victoria idolized Albert and often told her children “none of you can ever be proud enough of being the child of such a father who has not his equal in this world.” She wished for her sons to be mini-Alberts, molded in their father’s image. 

Unfortunately, for their eldest son, Albert Edward, known as “Bertie,” such aspirations knew constant failure. From an early age Bertie obstinately refused to conform to his father’s plan for the royal children’s education. Here was no renaissance prince in the making: despite being stuffed with facts and theory, he found learning difficult and was unable to concentrate.  The intense pressure on the backward young prince produced a negative reaction. History Extra tells us, “Albert’s plan for the heir to the throne of the greatest empire the world had ever seen turned out a complete failure. Instead of the longed for polymath his son turned out to be a dunce.  Victoria complained about his ‘systematic idleness, laziness – disregard of everything.’ The worried parents consulted a phrenologist, a modish quack who claimed the shape of the head affected the brain. His diagnosis confirmed everything they feared: ‘The feeble quality of the brain will render the Prince highly excitable… intellectual organs are only moderately well developed. The result will be strong self-will, at times obstinacy.'”

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Edward VII’s Coronation portrait by Sir Luke Fildes via Wikipedia

Dynastic duty was a priority for Prince Albert. After arranging the marriage of Victoria, Princess Royal to the Prussian court, Albert turned his attention to Bertie and Alice. As Albert’s duties increased, his queen often complained of his deteriorating health and his excessive attention to their children. In 1860, Albert arranged a marriage between Bertie and Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Always aware of the royal family’s public image the betrothal was portrayed as a love match. The Victorian public, in an era of pious rectitude, demanded a pure marriage in which the heir to the throne appeared to be virtuous and chaste.

However, Bertie was far from chaste. He was a man who devoted his life to pleasure. He often had others arrange trysts for him. “In the summer of 1861 Bertie attended a training camp with Grenadier Guards in Dublin. His fellow officers arranged for a ‘lady of easy virtue’ to join him for the night. The story of the prince’s trysts got back to his parents and provoked in Albert a furious, almost hysterical, response. How could his son, he demanded, ‘thrust yourself into the hands of one of the most abject of the human species, to be by her initiated in the sacred mysteries of creation?’ Everything that Albert had been working for seemed threatened. He warned Bertie that ‘you must not, you dare not be lost; the consequences for this country and the world at large would be too dreadful.'”

Frustrated by his son’s actions, Albert made the journey to Cambridge to ring the peal over Bertie’s head. It was a rainy day, but Albert and Bertie walked in the rain while discussing the expectations of being the Prince of Wales. Albert returned to Windsor after securing an apology from his son, but he was soaked through. Soon he ran a fever, and he took to his bed. Prince Albert never recovered. He passed at the age of 42. Queen Victoria’s grief was extreme. It marked the rest of her life. She blamed her “foolish” son for his father’s death. For years she barely could tolerate being in the same room with him. 

wedding_of_albert_edward_prince_of_wales_and_alexandra_of_denmark_1863

Edward and Alexandra on their wedding day, 1863 via Wikipedia

So great was Victoria’s disappointment in her eldest son that after Albert’s death she excluded Bertie from all but the most ordinary and insignificant social duties. Although she insisted that Albert Edward would always be afforded the highest respect for his position as her heir, she never shared the ins and outs of the running of the kingdom with him. 

Resources:

Prince Albert: The death that rocked the monarchy

Queen Victoria adored Prince Albert so much it made her loathe her nine children

Queen Victoria: The real story of her ‘domestic bliss’

Queen Victoria’s Children 

 

Posted in British history, Church of England, family, Great Britain, marriage, royalty, Victorian era | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Court of Star Chamber During Henry VII’s Reign

Court of Star Chamber is, in English law, the court made up of judges and privy councillors that grew from the medieval king’s council as a supplement to the regular justice of the common-law courts. The room was so named for stars were painted upon the ceiling. 

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Cardinal John Morton

 When Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, became Henry VII after his defeat of Richard III’s army at the battle of Bosworth Field, he did one of the smartest things of his reign. Henry was not educated for he spent much of youth in Wales and his adulthood in exile in Brittany. He was not afforded the type of education he would require as King of England. Realizing his deficiencies, Henry surrounded himself with competent advisors. His most learned consultant was Cardinal John Morton. He succeeded Bourchier as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1486 and Alcock as Lord Chancellor in 1487; and he was responsible for much of the diplomatic, if not also of the financial, work of the reign, though the ingenious method of extortion popularly known as “Morton’s fork” seems really to have been the invention of Richard Fox, who succeeded to a large part of Morton’s influence. Morton no doubt impressed Lancastrian traditions upon Henry VII, but he cannot be credited with any great originality as a statesman, and Henry’s policy was as much Yorkist as Lancastrian. The fact that parliament continued to meet fairly often so long as Morton lived, and was only summoned once by Henry VII after the Archbishop’s death, may have some significance; but more probably it was simply due to the circumstance that Morton’s death synchronized with Henry’s achievement of a security in which he thought he could almost dispense with parliamentary support and supplies.

henry7During Henry’s reign, the king was served by some 200 councillors from both the Lancastrian and Yorkist facets. His advisors included noblemen, men of law, men of religion, and those of the gentry. They gathered with the King in the Court of the Star Chamber at Westminster Palace. The men Henry VII had gathered dispatched cases of law involving those with specific grievances against one of the nobility. Sessions known as Requests were also conducted there. In these, the poor could pursue their grievances. Encyclopedia Britannica says, “Finding its support from the king’s prerogative (sovereign power and privileges) and not bound by the common law, Star Chamber’s procedures gave it considerable advantages over the ordinary courts. It was less bound by rigid form; it did not depend upon juries either for indictment or for verdict; it could act upon the petition of an individual complainant or upon information received; it could put an accused person on oath to answer the petitioner’s bill and reply to detailed questions. On the other hand, its methods lacked the safeguards that common-law procedures provided for the liberty of the subject. Parliaments in the 14th and 15th centuries, while recognizing the occasional need for and usefulness of those methods, attempted to limit their use to causes beyond the scope or power of the ordinary court.” 

Star Chamber weakened baronial power, a fact that Cardinal Thomas Wosley used to the Crown’s benefit. It was during Wosley’s chancellorship (1515–29) that the judicial activity of Star Chamber grew. In addition to prosecuting riot and such crimes, Wolsey used the court with increased vigour against perjury, slander, forgery, fraud, offenses against legislation and the king’s proclamations, and any action that could be considered a breach of the peace. Wolsey also encouraged those with grievances to appeal to it in the first instance, not after they had failed to find an efficient remedy in the ordinary courts.

The Star Chamber also became a source of revenue. One of the major issues that Henry VII had to deal with was retaining. Retaining was a problem that had haunted kings for some time and was sometimes referred to as livery or maintenance. Livery was the giving of a uniform or badge to a follower and maintenance was the protection of a retainer’s interests. By allowing retaining a king could all but guarantee social stability in his kingdom. Retaining also served another purpose – the king frequently needed a large army at short notice to fight foreign campaigns and retaining effectively allowed a king to gather around him a sizable number of trained men at short notice. However, retaining also had one obvious weakness. There was always the chance that one nobleman or several grouped together would become more powerful than the king. This was something that Henry VII was not willing to tolerate or risk. Edward IV had legislation passed in 1468 that outlawed retaining except in the cases of domestic servants, estate officials and legal advisers. However, the law was effectively ignored and it also had a major weakness contained within it – it allowed retaining for ‘lawful service’. Therefore lords continued to maintain their retinues claiming that the men in them were for ‘lawful service’. Therefore, these retainers continued to provide a possible threat to the king.

The number of retainers fell as his reign progressed. Evidence suggests that certain magnates such as Buckingham and Northumberland got around this by employing more men to work on their estates than was really necessary. However, both men covered their tracks well and no evidence was found by Henry or his supporters to support this. Those who did break the law and were caught were fined. In 1506, Lord Burgavenny was deemed to have too many retainers for his needs and was fined £5 for every retainer. His fine totalled £70,550 – a huge sum of money then. Henry suspended the sum and held Burgavenny to a promise that he would adhere to the rules. Henry won on two counts – the nobility would have been horrified at the total fine they could pay (using the Burgavenny example) if Henry used the law to its fullest extent and he tied closer to him a noble who had been implicated in the Cornish Rebellion.

Henry treated all the nobles the same with regards to retaining. Whereas Edward IV had allowed those nobles who were closest to him to do as they wished with regards to retaining, Henry did not – as the Earl of Oxford was to find out. Oxford was one of Henry’s closest advisors. When Oxford entertained Henry at his castle at Henningham, the Earl put on a grand finale with all his retainers flanking the royal carriage as it drove out of the estate. Henry asked Oxford who all the people were and Oxford casually informed the king that they were retainers. He was fined £15,000.

Henry VIII used the Star Chamber extensively for it provided the ability to enforce the law when other courts had no power. When, however, it was used by Charles I to enforce unpopular political and ecclesiastical policies, it became a symbol of oppression to the parliamentary and Puritan opponents of Charles and Archbishop William Laud. It was, therefore, abolished by the Long Parliament in 1641. 

Resources: 

History Learning Site 

Luminarium 

Ransom, Cyril. A Short History of England 

St-Hughs

 

Posted in Act of Parliament, British history, Church of England, history, kings and queens, religion, royalty, Tudor | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Reginald Christie, 10 Rilling Place Serial Killer

john.jpg John Reginald Halliday Christie, known to his family and friends as Reg Christie, was an English serial killer active during the 1940s and early 1950s and is the subject a new film based upon his life of crime. Personally, the 1971 film with Richard Attenborough was creepy enough for me. I do not wish to relive the experience. That being said, what do we know of Reginald Christie? 

Christie was raised in Halifax, then in the West Riding of Yorkshire. He was abused by his father and dominated by his mother and sisters. Christie won a scholarship to Halifax Secondary School when he was 11. He excelled particularly at mathematics and algebra, and was skilled at detailed work. It was later found he had an IQ of 128. He sang in the choir and became a scout, but he was unpopular with his fellow pupils. Upon leaving school in 1913, he worked at various jobs and eventually became an assistant movie projectionist.

By the time he reached puberty, he already associated sex with death, dominance and violent aggression, rendering him impotent unless in complete control. His first attempts at sex were failures, branding him with “ugly” taunts throughout adolescence. He was also a hypochondriac and hysteric, and often exaggerated or feigned illness as a ploy to get attention.

Christie enlisted as a signalman in World War I and was sent to the front in 1918. He was hospitalised after a mustard gas attack, claiming to have been blinded. No record of his supposed blindness exists however; in 10 Rillington Place, author Ludovic Kennedy wrote that Christie exaggerated his blindness, as well as the three-year period afterward in which he was mute.

Christie married 22-year-old Ethel Waddington from Sheffield, on May 10, 1920. It was a dysfunctional union, as Christie was impotent with her and frequented prostitutes. Friends and neighbours gossiped that she stayed with him out of fear. They separated after four years, when Christie moved to London and Ethel lived with relatives.

Over the next decade, Christie was convicted for many petty criminal offences. These included: three months’ imprisonment for stealing postal orders while working as a postman on April 12, 1921; nine months in Uxbridge jail in September 1924 for theft; six months’ hard labour for assaulting a prostitute  with a cricket bat (with whom he was living in Battersea) in May 1929; and three months’ imprisonment in 1933 for stealing a car from a priest who had befriended him.

Christie and his wife reconciled after his release in November 1933. He did not reform, however; he continued to seek out prostitutes to relieve his increasingly violent sexual urges, which included necrophilia. 

In December 1938, Christie and his wife moved into the ground floor apartment of 10 Rillington Place in the Ladbroke Grove neighbourhood of Notting Hill. On the outbreak of World War II, he applied to join the police force and was accepted, and was assigned to Harrow Road police station. Christie began an affair with a woman working at the police station whose husband was a serving soldier. The relationship lasted until December 1943, when he resigned. The husband caught them in bed and beat Christie up.

Christie’s first victim was Ruth Fuerst (August 1943), an Austrian immigrant. He strangled her while he raped her, a marker for several of his crimes to come. His second victim was Muriel Eddy (October 1944), a woman known to him from work. He tricked her into inhaling carbon monoxide by promising to cure her bronchitis with a “special mixture” he had concocted. When she was unconscious, he strangled her and raped her post-mortem. These two victims were buried in the communal garden behind the Rillington Place house. 

The war’s end appears to brought a lull in Christie’s growing need for death and sex. Timothy Evans and his pregnant wife, Beryl, moved into the top-floor flat of 10 Rillington Place in April 1948. On October 10, Beryl gave birth to a daughter, whom they named Geraldine. In November 1949, Beryl Evans found out she was pregnant again, and feared they could not afford another child. Evans later told police that Christie promised the couple he could abort the baby. There are several conflicts versions of how Beryl died. The most likely is that Christie pretended to aid in an abortion. When the gas he gave her did not put her to sleep, Christie knocked her out and then strangled her before again having sex post-mortem. He then murdered their daughter and incriminated Timothy in his family’s deaths. When Evans returned from work that night, Christie told him that Beryl had died during the procedure, and that they had to hide the body (abortion was illegal in England at the time). Christie then convinced Evans to stay with a relative in Wales and leave Geraldine in his care. Evans later said he returned to the apartment several times to ask about Geraldine, but Christie had refused to let him see her.

url.jpg During a search of 10 Rillington Place on December 2, 1949, the police found the bodies of Beryl and Geraldine Evans hidden in the wash house in the back garden. Both had been strangled. When Evans was shown the clothing taken from the bodies of his wife and child, he was also asked whether he was responsible for their deaths. This was, according to Evans’ statement, the first occasion in which he was informed that his baby daughter had been killed. Evans, (according to Kennedy) said ‘yes, yes’. He then confessed to having strangled Beryl during an argument over debts and strangling Geraldine two days later, after which he left for Wales.

Evans later recanted this testimony, and the case went to trial, which began on January 11, 1950. Christie was a key witness for the prosecution, and was instrumental in Evans being found guilty two days later. The jury took only 40 minutes to come to this decision. After a failed appeal on February 20, Evans was hanged on March 9, 1950.

Due to the public exposure of his previous criminal record during the Evans trial, Christie lost his position at the Post Office Savings Bank. Reportedly depressed, he finally found a new position as a clerk at the British Roads Transport service in August 1950. He left that position on December 6, 1952. Christie told everyone he had secured another position in Sheffield, and he and his wife would move there after the first of the year. Three years had passed since his last murder. However, in December 1952, Christie told his neighbors that his wife had gone ahead to set up their household in Sheffield. In truth, he had killed her  on the night of December 14 and buried her beneath the house’s floorboards. He covered his wife’s absence by writing letters to her sister saying that Ethel had rheumatism in her hands and could not pen the letters on her own. During this time, he sold his wife’s wedding band, engagement ring, and watch. 

On January 8, 1953, Christie sold most of his furniture. He kept three chairs, a kitchen table and a mattress to sleep on. On February 2, he forged his wife’s signature on her bank account and emptied it. After early February, Christie no longer bothered to answer the letters from relatives inquiring after his wife. Between January 19 and March 6, 1953, Christie murdered three more women he invited back to 10 Rillington Place: Kathleen Maloney from Southampton, Rita Nelson, and Hectorina MacLennan. He gassed, raped and strangled each, boarding up their bodies in the cupboard. With no money left upon which to live, Christie simply walks away from the house and lives upon the streets and in public shelters. 

The new tenant at 10 Rilling Place discovered the bodies in the wardrobe. Police were summoned, and the other bodies were uncovered. Christie was soon arrested. In custody, he confessed his crimes (except for the death of the infant Geraldine). His defense pleaded insanity, but the jury still found Christie guilty. He was hanged on 15 July 1953. 

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The BBC mini-series, starring Tim Roth and Samantha Morton as the Christies, began November 29 and continued on December 6 and 13. Did you watch? 

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Resources:

Crime Histories 

Murderpedia (The main source used for this piece.)

Radiotimes

Why did the BBC make a new drama about serial killer John Christie? New Statesman

Wikipedia 

Posted in British history, film, Great Britain, history | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Pre-Elizabethan Drama: Folk Plays

Folk drama is a remote form of oral literature. The early forms included dancers wearing masks portraying animal and human characters. Eventually, speeches and songs were added. The action and the dramatic imitation became the prominent part of these early performances. Speaking or chanting of sacred texts were learned by both the performers and the audience. These early plays were passed on by word of mouth.
The section known as “Middle English Plays” from Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature tells us, “In England the folk-plays, throughout the Middle Ages and in remote spots down almost to the present time, sometimes took the form of energetic dances (Morris dances, they came to be called, through confusion with Moorish performances of the same general nature). 

Dancers. Bodleian MS Bodley 264

“Others of them, however, exhibited in the midst of much rough-and-tumble fighting and buffoonery, a slight thread of dramatic action. Their characters gradually came to be a conventional set, partly famous figures of popular tradition, such as St. George, Robin Hood, Maid Marian, and the Green Dragon.

court masquers“Other offshoots of the folk-play were the ‘mummings’ and ‘disguisings,’ collective names for many forms of processions, shows, and other entertainments, such as, among the upper classes, that precursor of the Elizabethan Mask in which a group of persons in disguise, invited or uninvited, attended a formal dancing party. In the later part of the Middle Ages, also, there were the secular pageants, spectacular displays (rather different from those of the twentieth century) given on such occasions as when a king or other person of high rank made formal entry into a town. They consisted of an elaborate scenic background set up near the city gate or on the street, with figures from allegorical or traditional history who engaged in some pantomime or declamation, but with very little dramatic dialog, or none.

“But all these forms, though they were not altogether without later influence, were very minor affairs, and the real drama of the Middle Ages grew up, without design and by the mere nature of things, from the regular services of the Church.”

Four varieties of plays that we should note from the Pre-Elizabethan period are the Hock-Tuesday Play, The Sword Dance, The St. George and Mummers’ Plays, a development of the Sword Dance, and The Robin Hood Play. 

Some historians say The Hock-Tuesday Play finds its basis in the defeat of the Danes by the English under Huna on 13 November 1002. Others believe it originates from a remote folk observance: taking a victim by force to serve as a sacrifice. “Hocktide – the Mondy and Tuesday after the second Sunday after Easter – has parallel customs in other parts of the country in which women ‘hocked’ the men (caught and bound them with ropes, or vice versa, or stranger or natives were whipped or ‘heaved.'” Together with Whitsuntide  and the twelve days of Yuletide the week following Easter marked the only vacations of the husbandman’s year, during slack times in the cycle of the year when the villein ceased work on his lord’s  demesne, and most likely on his own land as well. 

The Hock-Tuesday Play centered around the struggle between the Danish and the English knights, who enter the scenes on horseback and armed with alder poles. Afterward, foot soldiers for both sides executed drills and then staged a fight scene. The English, as history proves, win the battle. 

The Sword Dance celebrated the summer driving away winter and death. If chief personages are the fool, dressed in animal skins and “Bessy,” a man dressed in women’s clothing. Rhymed speeches introduce the characters. More elaborate forms of The Sword Dance developed in which the “Seven Champions of Christendom” are introduced. These were likely religious interpolations of earlier national heroes. In some versions, one of the sword dancers is surrounded and killed by the other dancers. In other versions, the dancers simply surround him. These early dances developed into the Saint George Plays, in which invariably the central incident is the death and restoration of one of the characters, a survival again, of the pagan celebration of the death and restoration of the year. 

Encyclopedia Britannica says “Sword dance, folk dance by men, with swords or swordlike objects, displaying themes such as human and animal sacrifice for fertility, battle mime, and defense against evil spirits. There are several types. In linked-sword, or hilt-and-point, dances, each performer holds the hilt of his own sword and the point of that of the dancer behind him, the group forming intricate, usually circular, patterns. Combat dances for one or more performers emphasize battle mime and originally served as military training. Crossed-sword dances are performed over two swords or a sword and scabbard crossed on the ground. Finally, guerrilla dances in circular formation are often performed with swords.

 

Hilt-and-point dances are widely distributed through Europe—e.g., in northern England, Basque territory, and Spain. They are often performed as part of a folk play. The plays are closely related to the English mummers plays and parallel the Greek folk play in Thrace. In the dance the swords are interlocked at one point, forming a ‘rose,’ or ‘lock,’ that is held aloft and placed around the neck of a performer in mock decapitation. Often the ‘beheaded’ falls ‘dead,’ to be revived by a ‘doctor, a’ fool, a man-woman, or other subsidiary character. The roots of these dances are in ancient vegetation rites of death and renewal, possibly in sacrifice of a leader to ensure fertility. Even today they are believed to bring luck or well-being.”

A simply variation of the above motif is The Mummers’ Play. It includes a lots of dancing, as well as the image of a character killed and restored. The major difference between The Mummers’ Play and The Sword Dance is the introduction of subsidiary characters in the latter part of The Mummers’ Play. This involved the taking of a collection and the appearance of a Turkish champion, or Blustering Giant, or a Dragon that slays the Christian hero, but who is eventually poisoned by a pill presented him by the doctor who has been engaged to attend the injured Christian hero.

1143-mummers-q75-2109x1116

http://www.fromoldbooks.org 1143.—Mummers (Bodleian MS.)details

“Notwithstanding his important role in ballads and prose fiction, Robin Hood would have been best known in communities throughout fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Britain as the subject of a wide range of theatrical and quasi-theatrical entertainments. Most took the form of ceremonial games, dances, pageants, processions, and other mimetic events of popular culture of which we only get a fleeting glimpse in surviving civic and ecclesiastical records. Revels featuring the legendary outlaw appear to have surged in growth towards the close of the fifteenth century and remained popular from the royal court to the rural village green throughout the following century (Lancashire, p. xxvi). Indeed, it is not exaggerating to say that Robin Hood plays and games were the most popular form of secular dramatic entertainment in provincial England for most of the sixteenth century (for records of performance, see Lancashire, index under “Robin Hood”). This is generally unrecognized by both literary and theatrical historians, many of whom assume that the Tudor Reformation quickly put an end to such popular pastimes — it did not (White, p. 163). But there are other reasons for overlooking Robin Hood spectacles: few Robin Hood play scripts survive (folk plays were rarely written down and published) and only in the past few years have archivists and provincial historians (many working on the Records of Early English Drama project) begun to document in a systematic way records of theatrical entertainment in early modern England.

“Although the first record of a Robin Hood play is from Exeter in 1426-27 (Lancashire, p. 134), the earliest extant play text, a twenty-one line dramatic fragment from East Anglia known as Robyn Hod and the Shryff off Notyngham, is dated half-a-century later. The text is written on one side of a single sheet of paper, now housed in Trinity College Library, Cambridge; the other side of the page, in a hand thought to be from the same period, contains accounts of money received by one John Sterndalle in 1475-76 (Dobson and Taylor, p. 203). Scholars connect the manuscript to Sir John Paston, who, in a letter of April 1473, complains that his horse-keeper W. Wood has “goon into Bernysdale” (i.e., left his service). Paston further remarks that “I have kepyd hym thys iij. yer to pleye Seynt Jorge and Robyn Hod and the Shryff off Notyngham” (Gairdner, p. 185). It would appear, therefore, that this script is of a Robin Hood play sponsored by the household of this well-to-do Norwich gentleman and performed by his servants in the early 1470s.” [Knight, Stephen, and Thomas H. Ohlgren, Editors. Robyn Hod and the Shryff off Notyngham: Introduction. Robin Hood and Other Outlaw Tales, 1997. University of Rochester. Middle English Texts Series. http://d.lib.rochester.edu/teams/text/robyn-hod-and-the-shryff-off-notyngham-introduction]

During May Day celebrations, The Robin Hood Plays were performed. Robin Hood is the fictional character we recall as “robbing the rich and giving to the poor.” In France, however, he was a shepherd and Maid Marian was his mistress. Some experts believe Robin Hood is a more modern version of the God Wooden. In the play cycles, he is the “king” of May, who fights with Friar Tuck and other assorted characters. Dancers often accompany the “battle scenes.” The plays were performed upon the village green. These plays represent an increasing preference for a national hero during 16th Century England, a spirit of nationalism that grew during the Elizabethan period.

Other Resources: 

“Hocktide” 

“Folk Literature”

Folk Play Research Home Page 

Parks, Edd Winfield, and Richmond Croom Beatty. The English Drama. W. W. Norton, 1963, pp. 5-6.

Preston, Michael J. The Robin Hood Folk Plays of South Central England. Comparative Drama. Vol. 10, No. 2 (Summer 1976), pp. 91-100.

Posted in British history, drama, Great Britain, medieval, religion, theatre | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments