Tag Archives: costume dramas

Review: 24 Hours in the Past


Tyger Drew-Honey, Miquita Oliver, Ann Widdecombe, Alistair McGowan, Colin Jackson and Zoe Lucker

Rather like I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here crossed with Tony Robinsons’ The Worst Jobs in History, this four-episode living history series took six celebrities back to the 1840s. It wasn’t chaise longues and afternoon tea for them, no – they were to experience the harsh lives of the early Victorian working class.

Starting with a dust yard (at the Black Country Living Museum, which you sometimes see in the background in Peaky Blinders) and collecting ‘pure’ and night soil (poo, in other words), it was grim and grimy all the way. The second episode saw them at a coaching inn, where the women did domestic chores while the men worked as ostlers and as a pot-boy. The third episode took them to the potteries, where they experienced the unfair way in which the workers were paid, which led to the positively surreal sight of former Tory minister Ann Widdecombe form a union and go on strike. And after losing their jobs at the potteries, the fourth episode saw them suffer the inhumanely punitive conditions of the workhouse.

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Review: The Game


I’ve lived in Birmingham for several years, long enough to get confused sometimes when my brain forgets what the new Bull Ring shopping centre looks like when I round the corner at the end of New Street. “Where did this all come from?” it wonders for a split-second, before the buildings in front of me coalesce and I remember where I am. I still call House of Fraser by it’s old name: Rackhams. And I just can’t get used to the new Library of Birmingham (not surprising as it’s hardly open due to budget cuts).

So there I was, sitting down to watch BBC Two’s new Cold War thriller The Game. After much joshing ‘The Game is afoot! Well, nearly, iPlayer is still buffering!’ I found myself in 1970s London. Well, it’s supposed to be, but I immediately recognised Birmingham. Specifically, MI5’s headquarters, which is brutalist masterpiece Central Library. Loved and loathed, the haters are winning because the Library of Birmingham was built a year or two ago to replace it and poor old Central Library, John Madin’s concrete masterpiece, is, as I speak, being pulled down.

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Interview with Janice Preston, historical romance author

Detail from fashion plate "London fashions as worn December 1806"

The first book by Janice Preston, historical romance novelist, was published this summer. Mary and the Marquis tells the tale of a widow, who finds an injured man in the woods whilst travelling with her children – he just happens to be a rather handsome but grumpy and troubled marquis, fallen on hard times. There follows the discovery of their mutual love, with plenty of misunderstandings, passionate clinches, and even attempted sheep-stealing along the way! I was very impressed by Janice’s convincing historical setting, while she told a gripping tale of love and adventure with well-drawn, engaging characters. I caught up with Janice to find out more.

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An airy thought….

There I was, opening another marriage register, ready to transcribe, when I spotted something, which took my mind far from the nuptials of the people of Essex, and off into the realms of literature.

Not that this is an unusual occurrence – some people have remarked to me that “we’re all related to each other anyway” and “it’s just a list of lots of names”, but what always fascinates me are the stories you can find in parish registers. There is so much material for authors of historical novels in them – strange deaths, attempted bigamy, bizarre choices for children’s names, I could go on…..

Sometimes, I come across things in registers which remind me of novels I have read. I studied English Literature at university, which is probably to blame. For instance, all those soldiers posted at Weeley from 1803, who married the local girls, reminded me straight away of the militia being billeted near the Bennets’ home in Pride and Prejudice. And my various wanderings in old churchyards bring to mind Wuthering Heights and (as mentioned when I went round St. Peter’s, Harborne) the ghost stories of M. R. James.1)Especially when something rather uncanny happened to me and my mum in the churchyard at High Ongar….

But on this particular occasion, where I paused in my transcribing, my thoughts derailed, it was because I had noticed a particular surname. It wasn’t the first time I had, but this time my thoughts coalesced adequately for me to to think… “Hang on! I wonder if…?”

Jane Eyre is one of my favourite novels. It has been since we read an abridged version of it when I was 11 at primary school; then, when I was 13 at senior school we read the full edition and were allowed to watch the 1983 adaptation with Timothy Dalton as Mr. Rochester.2)Watch out – I do love my costume dramas and adaptations, and will be writing about them in this blog. It is a novel at once so ordinary and yet so strange; humdrum life wrapped about with the uncanny, that I cannot prize it from my mind. So little wonder then, that, as I looked at the marriage register and for some reason I don’t know, looked at the instructions for vicars on how to fill out the entries, rather than the entries themselves, that I noticed, once again, that the name of the publisher was George Eyre:


George Eyre’s name appearing in a marriage register. His name also appears in baptism and burial registers from 1813 onwards. After 1831, the “King’s printers” became known as Eyre & Spottiswoode. The 1812 Act specifically states that the registers are to be “of good and durable Paper, to be provided by His Majesty’s Printer as Occasion may require”, which means that every baptism, marriages and burial register in the country was printed by Eyre & Strahan. A sample of 1813 registers that I have looked at are all printed by “His Majesty’s Printer”, but later registers, from the 1840s, are produced by a range of other companies.

George Eyre's name appearing at the front of a baptism register. The Act to use pre-printed registers was passed in 1812, to come into force at the beginning of 1813.

George Eyre’s name appearing at the front of a baptism register. The Act to use pre-printed registers was passed in 1812, to come into force at the beginning of 1813. Old-style, pre-printed registers were in use for marriages from 1754-1812 (although not published by Eyre & Strahan), and some parishes used pre-printed registers for baptisms and burials to keep track of the taxes to fund the war with France.

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Especially when something rather uncanny happened to me and my mum in the churchyard at High Ongar….
2. Watch out – I do love my costume dramas and adaptations, and will be writing about them in this blog.