London Townhouse, the Mews

London Mews, June 2017

As any proper Regency lady or gentleman would tell you, the quintessential London home of the upper classes was the townhouse. Each home, attached at both sides to its neighbors, were as unique as its owners. Built in central London, these exclusive dwellings provided easy access to many beautiful city parks, as well as being within walking distance of shopping and all the iconic Regency areas such as Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Gunther’s Tea House, and the famous (or infamous) Almack’s assembly rooms.

As London grew and townhouses sprang up to house the rich and beautiful, the need for stables also grew because the only way to get around in London was by foot or horseback or carriage. The plentiful cabs were good enough for the working class, but the elite preferred using their private conveyances. Those rich enough to afford horses needed a place to keep their animals, tack, carriages, as well as drivers, grooms, and stable workers. But space was limited.  

Mews houses with garage doors where once horses and carriages dwelled

The solution was ingenious; build stables behind each townhouse with a road that leads to it. In London, these stables were known as mews. The mews were (and still are) tucked behind grand, mansion-style townhouses in London’s most exclusive neighborhoods.

Mews cobbled lane

A mews had many advantages. It kept the horses and staff nearby when the lord or lady of the house needed them, although it took considerable time to hitch the team to the carriage. Having the mews around back kept the sounds and smells of the animals away from the house’s residents and guests. The cobbled lane kept the area clean and provided good drainage of waste. 

Opposite the mews and cobbled lane is another row of stables behind another row of townhouses facing the next street. Often one end of this is yet another mews, or sometimes a pub, so it makes a sort of three-sided courtyard. Reportedly, many London mews had a tunnel under the garden connecting with the ground floor or basement of the house. This would have provided an easy way for servants to access the stable without disturbing their employers.

Entrance to a London mews

A cobbled back street, a narrow lane not much bigger than a bike lane, leads to the stables. From what I have been able to determine, the term mews mews refers to both the London stables and the lane that leads to them. Most of these lanes are named after the street nearby with the word mews tacked on. For example, Colville Road has the nearby Colville Mews. 

The only stables that are called mews are those in London attached to the back of a London townhouse. Anywhere else, and associated with any other type of dwelling, the term stables is used. 

Anciently, the mews is where the royals housed their falcons. Falcons, like most birds, moult or mew (from the French verb ‘muer’), which became the name of the place where they lived and therefore did this moulting or mewing. The word mews, oddly, is singular. Anyway, later they moved the falcons out and moved in the horses. The name mews stuck, despite the change in resident animals.

Horse names are still found on some doors that lead to today’s mews houses

Horses lived on the ground floor of the mews for obvious reasons. Many of the doors had the names of the horses who lived there. Some still do. A larger area provided room for the carriages and tack. The first floor (up one level) provided rustic accommodations for the driver and ostlers (groom or stablemen a.k.a. stable lads). Above this floor, many London homes had other floors where their house servants’ quarters were located but a lot of these were added during the Victorian Era. Some London townhouses also had gardens, but since I didn’t see any set up this way, I’m not certain exactly how they were laid out.

Lovely London mews homes

Today, most mews houses are beautifully restored homes which open onto a safe, quiet, cobbled lane with virtually no traffic. It has become a coveted, and therefore expensive, place to live partly because they have what are now garages, which are difficult to come by in London.

Mews houses and neighborhoods really are so lovely now that one can hardly believe their humble beginnings. I found a lot more photos on this blog called A Lady in London showing today’s exclusive London mews home. A few other photos are here on Mother Lindas blog

Sources:

Most of my sources are my years of study, as well as what I observed and learned during my trip to London. However, in addition to the above references sources, I also read this source: http://www.lurotbrand.co.uk/mews-gems/what-is-a-mews

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Release

My newest sweet (PG-rated) Regency Romance novel, Courting the Country Miss, is available to readers. Though it is technically a sequel for Courting the Countess, it also reads well as a stand-alone novel.

Here is the back cover blurb for Courting the Country Miss, Courting Series, Book 2

Cynical and broken-hearted, Leticia banishes dreams of marriage. When her childhood friend, Tristan, wagers he can find her the perfect husband, she hopes the challenge will coax him to forgo his devil-may-care lifestyle.  Meanwhile, Leticia throws herself into forming her charity school but meets opposition—even from the people she’s helping.

Guilt-ridden that his past mistakes robbed Leticia of true love, Tristan vows to set it right, but match-making has its pitfalls for a repentant scoundrel. When he finds two ‘perfect’ gentlemen to court her, he discovers his own deep feelings for the lady.

Though Tristan seems to reform, Leticia doesn’t dare risk heartbreak with a notorious rake. When opposition for the school takes a deadly turn, can Tristan protect her from a madman bent on destroying their dreams and their lives?

Here is an excerpt from Courting the Country Miss:

Tristan searched for Leticia among the dancers. Her eyes sparkled and her cheeks flushed, painting a lovely picture. When did she get so lovely?

“Pretty thing, isn’t she?” Rowley said.

“Perhaps you each should ask her for a set,” Tristan suggested in a nonchalant tone to no one in particular.

Wynn straightened further, Rowley looked thoughtful, and Seton appeared to be bracing himself for battle, gulping and tugging at the hem of his waistcoat.

Wynn glanced back at the others, his gaze resting longest on Tristan. “Deuce take it, lads, I cannot approach her without an introduction.”

“You could ask the hostess,” Tristan suggested.

Wynn looked around. “I don’t see her.”

Tristan growled under his breath. He’d rather introduce Leticia to a bug than to Wynn.

Wynn pinned Tristan with a look. “If you’d be so kind.”

Tristan sighed. “Very well.”

Flanked by Wynn, Tristan ambled toward the dance floor as the music ended. A laughing Leticia and her partner—a true dandy in a bright yellow and blue brocade waistcoat with a green tailcoat—left the floor. Her partner left Leticia with her mother, bowed, then pinched some snuff as he wound through the crowd.

“You’ve developed a liking for peacocks, I see,” Tristan teased Leticia.

Leticia gave his arm a playful swat. “Mr. Pottinger is a fine dancer and a pleasant conversationalist.”

Green. Her eyes were green—the exact shade of a new leaf in spring, moments after it opens. How could he have missed such an intriguing shade of green all these years?

“Uh huh.” Tristan raised his brows as if he didn’t believe a word of her assessment of the dandy. Which he didn’t. Before Leticia got tempted to do something unladylike such as crack her fan over his head, Tristan turned to Wynn. “Please allow me to introduce you to Mr. John Wynn. He’s here with his family, including a rather spirited sister, I understand.” He hoped Wynn heard the warning in his voice.

Wynn flashed a debonair smile, but at the last second, his gaze flitted toward Tristan as if he feared Tristan might reveal a secret.

After a last look of challenge, Tristan said, “Mr. Wynn, meet one of my oldest and dearest friends, Miss Wentworth.”

“A delight to make your acquaintance, Miss Wentworth.” Wynn bowed low.

Leticia smiled as if she’d found a missing puzzle piece. “Wynn? Oh, yes, I met your sister. Spirited, indeed.”

Wynn wasted no time. “Miss Wentworth, if I may be so bold, will you do me the honor of standing up with me?” He gestured toward the dance floor where dancers lined up for the next set.

“I’d be delighted.” As she placed her hand on Wynn’s proffered arm, she glanced at Tristan as if to say, ‘I know you’ve put him up to this.’

Tristan would take the earliest opportunity to ensure she knew he did not put Wynn up to it and that the scoundrel failed to meet the criteria for a suitable husband, by Leticia’s own list. And his own.

Perhaps this matchmaking business would be a greater challenge than he first supposed.

Courting the Country Miss is available now from Amazon, my publisher The Wild Rose Press, Barnes & Noble, and other retail bookstores.

Regency England through the Eyes of Romance Author Donna Hatch

Donna at Buckingham Palace Gate

                                             Tower Bridge

As many of you know, I recently spent three weeks in England. I walked all over a part of London known as Mayfair, studied buildings and architecture, and visited parks and locations of historical interest during the Georgian and Regency Era. I have such a better idea of Regency Mayfair, and how my characters would live, work, play, and travel. I also visited a bit more modern sites such as Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and the famous Town Bridge. Okay, those aren’t truly modern–they are Victorian–but they came after the Regency so they are modern in my eyes. The Regency Tour offered by Number One London Tours, with Kristine Patrone was fantastic and I really benefitted from Kristine’s knowledge of England in general and English history in particular.

                                   Windsor Castle moat gardens

During the Regency Tour, we left London to tour the extraordinary Windsor Castle. I could live there. Yep, I totally could 😉 Words are inadequate for how beautiful that castle is and how fitting it is to house a royal family when they are able to go there. I saw a cluster of guards marching in perfect formation but didn’t get a photograph of them. I just love the rich traditions the English have! Photographs are not allowed inside Windsor Castle so I put away my camera and just enjoyed the beauty. A tour guide (?) inside one of the rooms that got burned down in 1992 gave me detailed information about the fire and showed me photos of rooms before the fire, just after the fire, and the restoration process. You can read more about the fire here. Great before and after photos of one of the restored rooms are here. I also enjoyed the queen’s dollhouse–it was so cute and I love miniatures. The castle is absolutely magnificent! The garden in the moat is especially charming.

                                            St. George’s Chapel

St. George’s Chapel inside Windsor left me almost speechless. I felt such a reverence and respect for those who built it and for the generations who worshiped there. An organ performance added to the overall beauty. I saw the beautiful and poignant tomb of Princess Charlotte, who died in 1817 during childbirth. I teared up looking at the statue of her grief-stricken ladies in waiting while her body lay lifeless. Overhead,  her spirit ascended with angels–one of them carrying her baby. The tomb beautifully retold  pain, loss, and yet hope of death and the life after. Photos weren’t allowed in the church but you can see images of the tomb here. The church itself was intricately crafted and exquisite!

We had lunch in Eaton on the river. I enjoyed the beautiful weather and watching the queen’s swans swim in the river. Yes, they are hers and yes, they are all accounted for annually in the “swan upping” when they gather, tag, and count the swans. The swan upping would be fun to watch, wouldn’t it?

                                  Prince George’s Brighton Pavilion

Later in the week during the Regency Tour, we took a train to Brighton to view the impressive but ostentatious Brighton Pavilion that Prince George (sometimes referred to unkindly as “Prinny” and who later became King George IV) had built. It was known as his Pleasure Palace. He had wild parties there in his early rakish days and kinda hid out there later on as his weight and behavior made him an object of social scorn.

I’ll blog more about the rest of my trip in snippets for probably months (years?) to come. But what did I learn on this Regency Tour? Regency London is smaller than I thought. Members of the aristocracy could have walked most places on a nice day. They probably all knew each other, too–at least, those who were lucky enough to be included in the beau monde and who frequented London. The architecture was fantastic. I was constantly amazed at the detailed craftsmanship done all by hand. I also learned in an even more profound way how different the lives were for people depending on their social status. We think it’s that way now, but the differences were so huge two hundred year ago that they hardly lived in the same world. Also, Englanders have a profound pride in their country, their culture, their traditions and history, and their monarchy. They have problems too, but that doesn’t seem to sway their love of king and country. The English truly are lovely and brilliant, aren’t they? 😀

I was fascinated–okay, obsessed–about Regency England before, but this trip has flamed that even more. If I didn’t miss my family so much, I would have had a much harder time leaving ancient and beautiful England and returning to the US.  Good thing I live in the Pacific Northwest now and am no longer in the Arizona desert! At least it’s green where I live. Now, if only I can put a formal garden in my backyard…

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Summertime Pleasures in Regency England

A song I learned as a child summed up summer activities beautifully:

Oh, what do you do in the summertime, when all the world is green?
Do you fish in a stream, or lazily dream on the banks as the clouds go by?
Is that what you do? So do I!

Oh, what do you do in the summertime, when all the world is green?
Do you swim in a pool, to keep yourself cool, or swing in a tree up high?
Is that what you do? So do I!

Oh, what do you do in the summertime, when all the world is green?
Do you march in parades, or drink lemonades, or count all the stars in the sky?
Is that what you do? So do I! *

Even though children in the 21st century are more likely to while away their summer days on something electronic, this song has a timeless quality to it that also applies to Regency England.

When the whirl of the London Season wound down because Parliament’s session ended, the gentry and aristocracy went back to their country homes. Those lucky upper class who did not have responsibilities of government, an estate, or a career, could spend time doing whatever they liked, and summer offered a host of possibilities.

Those who were of athletic bent liked to swim, fence, wrestle, ride, go fox hunting, shooting, hawking, archery, and fishing.  They also loved the water and went boating and fishing. Some even rode bicycles they called velocipedes. (see picture above)

Parties were a popular pastime to keep up their image as well as pass time with friends. They had parties, balls, and soirees with local gentry. House parties, where guests came and stayed for a week or more were also common.

The beau monde prized wit and intellect. Riddling, where someone made up riddles for others to solve, entertained them. Talking, theorizing, philosophizing, discussing current events, and debating could fill entire evenings.

Literature played a big part of their lives. They read quietly or aloud. They wrote poetry, stories, and long letters. They often recited memorized poems and stories.

Art, including painting, water color, drawing, and sculpting were popular among men and women. Gluing flowers to hats, or shells to household objects were a popular craft among ladies. Ladies also sewed, knitted, crocheted, and embroidered.

Music played a major role in their lives. Many of them played multiple instruments, sang, and danced. Others simply listened and enjoyed the music. Most quiet evenings were spent with one or more members of the family playing music and singing. Often, they gathered with neighbors for musical performances where guest took turns entertaining each other.

Some enjoyed gardening both flowers and herbs. They went on fruit or berry picking parties and had picnics, also known as dining al fresco. Going on long walks, alone or with friends, also gave them a chance to enjoy the beautiful summer weather and the lovely countryside.

There are frequent references to the gentry putting on plays or puppet shows. They enjoyed artistic games such as charades, which usually took a large group, a great deal of planning, and even costumes.

The Regency nobility enjoyed games. Card games such as whist, piquet, vingt-et-un filled many an evening. Board games, too–chess, checkers, draughts, dice, backgammon, and tabula were common as were putting together puzzles.

Outdoor games included bocce, bowling often called nine pins, blind man’s bluff, cricket, and even tennis.

Also, since summer presented nicer weather than winter, many of them traveled and visited relatives, as well as went-sight-seeing. Remember when Elizabeth Bennett, with her aunt and uncle, visited a number of country mansions including Mr. Darcy’s Pemberly? That was quite a popular thing to do, and many of the stately mansions and castles opened to visitors.

I plan to do that this summer. In fact, I will spend three weeks in England visiting castles, big houses, churches, and all the best sites of Regency England. When I return, I will be armed with lots of new pictures and information to share.

So, for the Regency lady or gentleman, summertime could be as lazy or diverting as one chose, as long as one had the means and imagination to do it. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

What do you love best about summertime?

*LDS Primary Children’s Songbook pg 245

Gowns, Gowns, and More Gowns, and how often Regency Ladies Changed Clothes

Morning Dress Ackermann’s Repository 1812

  Getting dressed during the Regency occupied much of a lady’s time, mostly because she had to do it so frequently every day. When a lady arose, she usually threw on a dressing gown over her shift or her nightgown (also referred to as a night rail), whichever she preferred for sleeping.

  After breaking her fast with a light meal which often included chocolate (hot, usually no cream or sugar), fruit and/or some kind of bread such as a croissant that her maid brought to her on a tray, she would then perform her morning toilette routine, have her maid do her hair and so forth. After that, she dressed in a morning gown. This was also known as undress. The term “undress” does not mean one is not wearing clothes, simply that one is not dressed to go out. Dishabille is another term for undress. Morning gowns were generally made of simpler fabrics and more loose-fitting styles. Ladies might wear morning gowns all day since they were appropriate for a day at home up until dinner. 

              Walking Dress, 1815

  She then went downstairs for breakfast with the family, which was served buffet style. She might while away the morning painting or doing needlework or some kind of craft such as gluing shells on lamps or picture frames, or gluing feathers or flowers on hats. If she were the lady of the home, she might meet with the head housekeeper, make plans, catch up on her correspondence.

  If a fashionable lady went for a “brisk constitutional” she donned a walking gown, also known as a redingote or a pelisse. This protected the delicate fabrics and pastel colors of her gown and also could provide warmth if necessary. Sturdy walking shoes which were often nankeen half boots went along with the ensemble. 

                Riding Habit

  For going horseback riding (a lady always rode aside–side-saddle–unless she wanted to cause a scandal or admit she was an inept horsewoman), ladies changed into a riding habit. The riding habit included a long train to aid in keeping her legs covered. It was also fashionable and proclaimed her wealth and status. This ensemble always included a hat, riding gloves, and riding boots as well as a riding crop. Incidentally, the most fashionable riding habits were made by a tailor, rather than a dressmaker. Some ladies reportedly wore riding breeches underneath their riding habits. Whether this was for additional preservation of modesty or for comfort against chaffing, I do not know.  

                    Carriage Dress

A trip required a different costume. When a lady took a journey via carriage, she often changed into carriage dress which included a practical gown (practical being a relative term during the Regency upper class) and a pelisse to protect her clothing from the dust and dirt of carriage travel. 

  For those afternoon visits when a lady planned to call upon nearby friends and neighbors and perhaps enjoy some tea or go strolling in the park a during the fashionable hour, she would change into a “half dress” or an afternoon gown, also known as Promenade dress. Depending on the weather, she would wear a shawl or a spencer or a pelisse as well as a hat, gloves, and slippers. 

                  Evening Gown 1819

Evening required another change. To dinner, one wore an evening gown, whether eating home with family or with friends. Dinner among the nobility was always a formal affair with best dress, more elaborate coiffures, and best manners. If one were unwell and unable to join the family for dinner, one might take a tray in one’s room. A trip to the Opera would be done in an evening gown. In today’s terms, it would be considered Black Tie or semi-formal. Ladies might wear understated jewelry, usually diamonds or pearls.

  A ball or soiree called for a full formal dress, what today would be known as “white tie” affair. Gowns appropriate for Full Dress  frequently came with trains, although I cannot imagine any lady wore a gown with a train to a ball–one could not be expected to perform those vigorous Regency dances with a train on one’s gown. If one expected to dance during the course of the evening, a lady brought along dancing slippers which had such thin soles that they were too delicate to wear anywhere but the ballroom. Jewels such as tiaras, necklaces, earrings, bracelets etc. were more likely to be displaced during formal dress occasions than any other.

 Court dress, the required clothing for taking bows to the queen, had its own set of standards, including the number of feathers required and, in the early part of the 19th century, even a hoop skirt, which, with the empire waistline, was a fashion disaster. When designing a court dress, one had to check the requirements for any given year as they seemed to change frequently.

                           Ballgown

Of course, each change of clothing required a change of accessories including shoes, gloves, and hat. Evening wear also demanded a change of hairstyle to something more formal and intricate.

Can you imagine changing your clothes that many times every day? No wonder they needed a lady’s maid to assist with all of fuss!

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The Matchmaking Game, an Excerpt

 


On Tour with Prism Book Tours.

The Matchmaking Game
By Donna Hatch

I’m absolutely trilled to announce the blog tour of my newest Regency Romance, The Matchmaking Game, coming April 18, 2017 and available now for pre-order HERE

For your reading pleasure, here is the first excerpt, the beginning of chapter one…

Excerpt

Chapter One, Part 1
England 1814

Rowena Emerson studied her longtime friend, Evan Barnes, and tried to judge by his expression if he’d be game for a new scheme. It was hard to tell; he had come home from the war a mysterious stranger, with only glimpses of his former playful self who had always been ready for a new lark.

Of course, two family deaths in as many years, not to mention all he’d suffered during war, would subdue even the liveliest spirit. Still, perhaps Evan’s old personality could be coaxed into returning. A diverting new mission might be just the thing to draw him out. Besides, if this plan worked, their parents would find happiness. her Silent and rigid as a soldier, Evan made no move, except his eyes while other members of the dinner party laughed and conversed in the drawing room. Was he glad he’d come home or did he long to return to aid his countrymen in the ongoing war against Napoleon?

Rowena nudged Evan with her elbow. “I have an idea.”

Evan groaned under his breath. “The last time you had an idea, I nearly broke my neck.”

“Oh, pish. You only fell a short distance, and it was worth it. Besides, I concocted several diverting ideas while you were gone, and no one fell to his death.” She leaned forward and peered into his face. Are you still there? she longed to ask.

Without turning his head, he slid his gaze to her. His eyes remained that same intriguing mixture of brown and green, yet somehow different—wary, cautious. “That’s because no one else is foolish enough to go along with your madcap plots.”

She grinned. “Only you, which is partly why I missed you so much. I need a courageous friend for this idea.”

Follow the rest of the tour to continue reading excerpts from chapter one and reviews of the book…(or pre-order your copy here)

The Matchmaking Game
(Timeless Romance Single)
Donna Hatch
Adult Historical Romance
ebook, 126 pages
April 18th 2017 by Mirror Press

From the publisher of the USA TODAY bestselling & #1 Amazon bestselling Timeless Romance Anthology series in Clean & Wholesome Romance, comes the Timeless Romance Singles line.

THE MATCHMAKING GAME: A brand new historical romance novella from bestselling author Donna Hatch.

Rowena’s childhood friend, Evan, has returned home from war a handsome, but mysterious stranger. In an effort to bring happiness to her father, not to mention uncover the Evan she remembers from their youth, Rowena seeks to unite their parents. Who better to match a lonely widow and widower together than their adoring children? Her matchmaking game could help their parents find happiness and draw out her childhood friend buried beneath Evan’s new reserve … or it could break more than one heart.

GoodreadsAmazon

Tour Schedule

April 6th: Rockin’ Book Reviews Hearts & Scribbles
April 7th: Bookworm Nation & Zerina Blossom’s Books
April 9th: Hardcover Feedback & The Silver Dagger Scriptorium
April 10th: Christy’s Cozy Corners & Katie’s Clean Book Collection
April 11th: Reading Is My SuperPower & Heidi Reads…
April 12th: Rainy Day Reviews & deal sharing aunt
April 13th: Mel’s Shelves & Getting Your Read On
April 14th: Bookworm Lisa & Singing Librarian Books
April 16th: Celticlady’s Reviews & Booklove
April 17th: Falling Leaves & Nicole’s Book Musings
April 18th: Grand Finale

Tour Giveaway

1 winner will receive a print copy of Heart Strings by Donna Hatch (US only)
 1 winner will receive an ebook of Heart Strings by Donna Hatch (open internationally)
– Ends April 22nd

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Mounting a Horse in Regency England

The Countess of Coningsby in the Costume of the Charlton Hunt     circa 1760

RIDING on Horseback is, confessedly, one of the most graceful, agreeable, and salutary of feminine recreations. No attitude, perhaps, can be regarded as more elegant than that of a lady in the modern side-saddle; nor can any exercise be deemed capable of affording more rational and innocent delight, than that of the female equestrian.

From a Young Lady’s Equestrian Manual, published 1838.

With few exception, most of my female characters are accomplished horsewomen. I cannot claim to be accomplished, but I do love to ride. Still, sidesaddle, or aside, is a bit different. When writing my soon-to-be released novella, The Matchmaking Game, I needed to fine tune the details about how a lady mounted a horse. To this end, I turned to the aforementioned manual, and found the details that I wanted. Here they are:

The horse being thus left to the lady’s government, it is proper, that, in passing her hand through the reins she should not have suffered them to become so loose as to prevent her, when her hand is on the crutch, from having a light, but steady bearing on the bit, and thus keeping the horse to his position during the process of mounting.

She next places her left foot firmly in the right hand of the groom, or gentleman, in attendance who stoops to receive it. The lady then puts her left hand on his right shoulder; and, straightening her left knee, bears her weight on the assistant’s hand; which he gradually raises (rising, himself, at the same time) until she is seated on the saddle. During her elevation, she steadies, and even, if necessary, partly assists herself towards the saddle by her hands; one of which, it will be recollected, is placed on the crutch, and the other on her assistant’s shoulder. It is important that she should keep her foot firm and her knee straight.

Armed with this knowledge, here is how I wrote my scene in The Matchmaking Game, when the hero and heroine, childhood friends, first realize there may be more between them than friendship:

How kind of you to notice,” she said dryly. “Give your major a leg up?”

With a smile at her reference to the honorary rank he’d given her at the ball, Evan dismounted. He laced his fingers together so she could mount her horse. A pert smile came his way before she placed her left foot in his cupped hands. She put one hand on his shoulder to steady herself as he boosted her up. Her soft body brushed his arm and chest. Her scent, something soft and feminine he could not name, tingled his senses. Mere inches away, her smooth cheek and moist lips taunted him. His chest squeezed and his knees wobbled. Awareness of her, of the desirable woman she had become, rendered him immobile. She glanced at him, one brow raised, and a half smile curving those luscious lips. A burning energy formed in the middle of his stomach and shot outward like sunbursts.

She parted those lips and spoke. “Am I too heavy for a big, strong man like you?”

“Er, no. Of course not.” He cleared his throat again and boosted her up with a bit too much force.

Despite his aggressive boost, she placed her right leg over the leg rest of the side saddle and found her balance. She settled the long, heavy skirts of her riding habit around her while he helped position her left foot in the stirrup.

With the reins in one hand and her riding crop in the other, she eyed him with an expectant lift to her brows. “Shall we?”

The Matchmaking Game will be released April 18, 2017 and is available now for pre-order here

 

 

 

Riding Sidesaddle in Regency England

Riding sidesaddle was the epitome of genteel upbringing for the Regency lady. It provided a convenient form of transportation, a good method of obtaining fresh air and exercise, and a great way to socialize–especially with gentlemen 😉 . Riding sidesaddle also effectively proclaimed one’s wealth and status. Sometime during the 17th Century, ladies started riding sidesaddle, also known as aside. Prior to that they rode astride or sat in an awkward riding seat and hung on for dear life.

In order for a lady to be a good rider in Regency England, she had to have both time and money. She must take riding lessons, have time to practice the art of riding, and be wealthy enough to afford a horse trained as a lady’s mount. Work horses could simply graze; riding horses called for more expenses–a stable, feed, grooms, tack, farrier fees, etc. A lady competently riding aside, combined with a stylish riding habit, spoke louder than words of her social standing.

Riding habits were usually made by tailors, although some sources cite ladies dressmakers, or modistes, making riding habits, too. Riding habits included a fitted bodice with long sleeves, or sometimes a spencer, that fit well through the torso and shoulders. A long, full train covered the legs while riding. Regency ladies’ riding habits did not include a split skirt–those didn’t appear until the late Victorian Era. They seem to have come in a variety of fabrics, depending on weather, velvet being very popular.

Little girls were taught to ride astride on a pony or donkey. Then, as they grew in competence and size, they learned to a sidesaddle and usually graduated to a horse. This was a sign of skill and distinction. In urban areas, riding donkeys seemed to be pretty common, but riding in London seemed to require a beautiful horse, since in London, appearances became crucial.

Very few grown ladies rode astride in the city or country; not only was it unladylike and downright scandalous, it could be viewed as a declaration of one’s incompetence at riding side saddle.

Jane Austen herself didn’t learn to ride until nearly at the end of her life. Historians believe Jane had a fear of riding. If this is true, it may be due to a dear friend of the Austen family being killed while riding. Jane’s personal records cite this loss. It’s also possible that Jane didn’t ride in her youth because her family simply didn’t have the money for such a luxury. Most of her novels suggest a certain disapproval of ladies riding, and in a few cases, a touch of envy.

The Countess of Coningsby in the Costume of the Charlton Hunt, circa 1760

A common misconception about riding sidesaddle is that it was uncomfortable. In truth, it’s actually comfortable. The seat and pommel are both padded. In addition, one does not sit twisted, but rather with one’s back straight. It’s a lot like sitting in a chair with the right leg crossed over the left. I often sit sideways on the sofa with one knee propped up higher than the other. This is not much different than riding sidesaddle.

Others claim that riding aside is difficult. However, many women today who learn sidesaddle prefer it to astride. Both ways of riding are more about balance. When I ride astride, especially if the horse is large, I get sore in the soft tissue in my inner legs. Riding more frequently would help, I am sure, but sidesaddle would at least alleviate discomfort due to the girth of a horse.

Another myth is that it’s hard to get on a horse with a sidesaddle. Actually, one only needs a mounting block to mount a horse. Of course, having a handsome gentlemen nearby to give on a “leg up” is always welcome 🙂 Also, a trained lady’s mount stands very still for mounting or dismounting, they have a smooth gait, a light mouth, and are a pleasure to ride.

Many critics claim that it’s easy to fall off and therefore dangerous to ride aside. This is true of riding in general. Some riders, as my writer friend and horse expert Shannon Donnelly says, could fall off a merry-go-round horse; other riders can stay on anything–even a bucking bronco.  Look at rodeo riders. They don’t rely on strength; they stay on by keeping their center of gravity over the horse. Again, riding is all about balance and skill whether a person rides astride or sidesaddle.

Another common myth about riding aside is that one can’t gallop or jump. Again, this goes to skill–a skilled rider and well-trained horse can jump, gallop and do haute echole (dressage movements)–anything that can be done astride can also be done sidesaddle. There are numerous documented recordings of Georgian and Regency ladies riding side saddle as they “rode to hounds” which required a fast pace and much skill to charge through the country side after a pack of hounds chasing a fox.

Riding sidesaddle is fun! Part of the trick is a well-trained horse. Some horses have a harder time adapting to his rider’s legs both on one side but others pick up on it quickly.

Now, like everything, the side saddle has evolved. However, the Regency side saddle was very similar to today’s side saddle. The main differences are that there was no no leaping horn, and the Regency stirrup is a ‘slipper stirrup’ which is different from today’s.

Some images from the Regency Era show ladies riding with a sort of belt wrapped around them. It’s not clear to me if it’s attached to the saddle or not. It’s possible it was merely a way of keeping a lady’s skirts down flat, since I can’t imagine any woman would have secured herself to the saddle.

Is today’s saddle safer? Probably. But many Regency ladies managed to ride anywhere they wanted, and as fast as they wanted, just fine, thank you very much.

Sources:

Much of this information came through years of research. However, some recent sources are:

Shannon Donnelly on Historical Hussies

Jill Ottman on the Jane Austen Centre of North America

Kathy Blee on Ladies Ride Aside