Archives for history

#FamilyHistory: did your relative work in the #confectionery trade?

As a child I remember buying sticks of liquorice root [below] at the chemist and chewing the wood to release the flavour. Pontefract in Yorkshire was the first place where liquorice was mixed with sugar to be eaten as a sweet, a Pontefract Cake [below], as we understand the phrase today. There is no certain date for when liquorice was first grown in the UK, though there are records from the 16thcentury when it was grown in monastic gardens and as a garden crop. Confectionery became a strand of cookery in its own right in the 17thcentury when sweet confections, made by confectioners, were quite separate from the dinner table. In the late Tudor and early Stuart period, they were served as a separate course. It was a job often done by gentlewomen because of the association then of sugar with medicine. Then in the 18thcentury, sugar became cheaper thanks to the British Empire’s control in sugar plantations – West Indies and the American colonies – and the link between sugar and medicine was broken. Confectioners made anything sugar-based including jellies, ice creams, sweet pastries, set creams and French-style cakes that we know as patisserie. Sales of confectionery boomed in
Read More

Categories: Family history research.

Book review: Pale as the Dead

This is an unusual mix of genealogy mystery and history, centred on the glamorous Pre-Raphaelite artists and Lizzie Siddal, the girl in the famous ‘Ophelia’ painting. Ancestry detective Natasha Blake meets a mysterious, beautiful young woman, Bethany, who is re-enacting the Lizzie Siddal scene for a photographer. Bethany confides in Natasha her fear that her family is cursed following the deaths of her sister and mother. After asking Natasha to research her family tree, Bethany goes missing. Has she run from a failing love affair, committed suicide, or has she been murdered? The trail is cold. Natasha must turn detective in two senses: she searches the birth, marriage and death records, census returns and wills, to find Natasha’s ancestors; at the same time, she is being followed by someone driving a red Celica. Adam, the photographer, is also Bethany’s boyfriend but Natasha feels there is more to his story than he is telling. The narrative wandered rather from the central story, complicated unnecessarily by Natasha’s own history and love life which added little. Perhaps this could have been avoided by telling part of the story from Lizzie Siddal’s point of view. There were so many peripheral characters, both in the
Read More

Categories: Book Love and Family history research.

Family history: HistoryPin

HistoryPin is a great idea. A global project which enables you to attach photographs and memories to a global map. A fantastic resource for family history researchers or novelists, like me. Like Pinterest, but specifically for history. There are some fascinating subjects which I will re-visit for research; I particularly liked ‘Remember How We Used To…’ Photographs of how we kept warm, played, worked, cooked and cleaned, celebrated and worked. Another useful function is searching by location. Ignoring Gravity is set around Wimbledon, Richmond [below], London Docklands and Battersea. Searching Wimbledon brings up a photo of the Blitz in 1941, the Wimbledon Tennis Championships in 1962, a street party in Putney in 1989, and carriage cleaners at Wimbledon Traincare Depot in 1916. A search for Battersea is less populated, though there is a great black and white photograph of a boy and girl – siblings perhaps – standing outside a house on Winstanley Road in 1951-3. In conclusion, this is a work in progress and geographical coverage is not consistent. But it is worth consulting if you are researching a specific location. All uploaded photographs are pinned to a specific place, and are shown on a street map so it is
Read More

Categories: Family history research, My Novel: 'Ignoring Gravity' and On Researching.

From idea to research to novel, how Kate Grenville writes

I gulped this book down. For any novelist, whose work involves an element of historical research, this is a fascinating account of how an idea makes it to the printed page. The journalist is me followed the search for facts about Kate Grenville’s great-great-great grandfather Solomon Wiseman, the novelist in me was on the edge of my seat wanting to see how Kate Grenville turned the truth of family history into her award-winning novel The Secret River. The trigger for her research happens on May 28, 2000 on Sydney Harbour Bridge. Grenville [below] was there for the Reconciliation Walk, in support of the reconciliation between black and white Australians. She makes eye contact with an Aboriginal woman on the bridge that day, a moment of revelation for Grenville: that her ancestor Solomon Wiseman arrived on a boat from Britain twenty years after the first settlers, but this Aboriginal woman’s ancestors had lived here for 60,000 years. “And what if my great-great-great grandfather had glanced up, and seen her great-great-great grandfather standing on a rock watching the new arrivals?” At this point in time, Grenville’s fifth novel The Idea of Perfection was just published and she had not started the next.
Read More

Categories: Book Love, On Researching and On Writing.

Reading for research… Young Voices

As research for the next novel, I’m reading a lot about the Second World War. For a while I’ve been working my way through a fascinating book called Young Voices by Lyn Smith, produced with the Imperial War Museum. I picked it up in my local library. It is an account of children’s experiences during the war. I’m particularly interested in children who lived through Occupation and there are children quoted throughout who grew up Guernsey. One woman tells how it became compulsory at school to learn the German language. One day the German kommandant arrived to present a prize, which she as top of the class in German, was to receive. He asked her a simple question in German, ‘how old are you?’ Her brain froze and she couldn’t answer, terrified she was going to be shot. Someone whispered the question again in English, and the girl was able to answer correctly. The prize? A book in German which she was unable to read. Fascinating stuff, don’t know yet how I am going to use any of this. I enjoy researching my next novel while writing the current one. Sometimes it just gives the brain a rest, a new
Read More

Categories: On Researching and On Writing.