By George- History Is Trending!

During Lockdown, many of us submerged ourselves in the Regency times whilst watching Bridgeton created by Chris Van Dusen and Shonda Rhimes and based on the romance novels of Julia Quinn. We have since binged watched the second series and a third is coming soon and these just get better and better! Anything that’s gets folk interested in history can only be a good thing.

Whilst not strictly historically correct, it was visually pleasing, very entertaining and totally watchable escapism. It also created an interest in the history of this period. The Georgians witnessed the birth of industrialisation; radicalism and repression and extreme luxury alongside extreme poverty. Bridgeton, shows the formalized courting season in London in 1813, as wealthy high-society family’s scheme to pair off their eligible offspring. Showing the Ton, from the French phrase le bon ton meaning in the fashionable mode, or the In Crowd in our modern terms, at its best and worst.The Regency is the period of social and cultural development seen by many as a glorious epoch in British history. As the First Gentleman of Europe the Prince Regent actively encouraged many of the new movements in painting, sculpture, decoration, literature, music, technology and science.

In the last decade many historians have become fascinated by the similarities between the eighteenth century and our own times. The free-wheeling commercial development of the Georgian era, its unabashed enjoyment of consumption of all kinds and the importance of newspapers and magazines in everyday life. This also was the beginning of the culture of celebrity, as Georgian’s held an obsessive interest in all kinds of fame.  

The Georgian era is from 1714 to 1837 and named after the Hanoverian Kings George I, George II, George III and George IV. The Regency period was from 1811 to 1820 when George, Prince of Wales, governed the country as Regent during the madness of his father, George III.

This was a period of great change, as cities grew, trade expanded and consumerism and popular culture blossomed. Known for its lavish fashions, sumptuous food and decadence. In high society, the more over the top the better, best shown in Sofia Coppola’s film, Marie Antoinette in 2006 which was the retelling of France’s iconic but ill-fated French queen. The excess of the period ended with Marie Antoinette’s head been lifted off by its pomaded pomp for a Republican crowd. The Georgian era was a period of ostentation and inequality when it was fashionable for both men and women to flaunt their wealth with excessive displays of hair and beauty products. The more elaborate it was, the longer it took to do, and the more expensive the ingredients, the better. Men’s fashion was equally flamboyant to match the liberal period they lived in with powdered wigs, collared frock coats, and the early to mid-1800s Beau Brummel provided a fashionable figure to follow in terms of what to and what not to wear. It was the last time in history that male attire was as elaborate as women’s making Harry Styles appear quite conservative by comparison.

 On BBC’s twos Make-up a Glamourous History, with Lisa Eldridge, a professional make-up and Global Creative Director for Lancôme, explores what the beauty of the time reveals about the era. Discovering how in this period of extreme wealth in Britain, the rich entered an arms race of beauty. Eldridge tries out all sorts of Georgian recipes with crushed beetles, seashells and bear grease. (Which she substituted with a vegetable oil) Later, she recreates an authentic Georgian look on a 21st century model, with towering hair and whitened complexion. (Without, using toxic lead powder like the Georgians). It had been known for a time that some ingredients such as lead and mercury were very harmful to health, but were still used by many. Pale skin was considered a sign of wealth as it meant you didn’t have to work outside.  Eventually, zinc oxide and talc were used to whiten the face, which was less opaque and relatively less harmful.

Sometimes, additional facial adornments were used to emphasize a fashionable pallor included a small black mole, little clippings of dark velvet, silk or glossy silk applied to the face as a flirtatious embellishment, sending a possible suitor a message about yourself. However, it was said that a promiscuous manner of patching may be productive of ill consequences and ruin many a fair character. These also had the advantage of concealing unsightly pox scars or blemishes. For women, cosmetics were an essential fashion accessory, enabling them to express their status and cultural refinement by emulating the latest modes in female beauty. Members of the aristocracy were often criticized for their heavy-handed use of face-paint. The Georgian look might be ravishingly beautiful but was insanely time -consuming. That was the point. Only the very richest could afford the time and products and this was a period of staggering inequality.

The French Revolution (1789-1799) had the biggest impact on women’s Regency makeup. For a start, it swept away the widespread and extravagant use of makeup that was associated with the decadent aristocracy. The Regency period had a more delicate appearance which extended to the hair, with wigs and enormous headpieces falling out of fashion, curls, feathers, and natural hair were prized. The upper classes wanted their daughters to look respectable and be pleasingly natural, think of Jane Austin.

Beauty and fashion can be seen as a frivolous subject, but what we believe to be beautiful is a window on the world we’re living in and a reflection of society and social history. Personally, I find it fascinating. I worked in a Georgian House Museum, and therefore learnt a lot about this period. If you are interested in finding out more: Amanda Vickery, Lucy Worsley and Annie Gray all write interesting accounts of the time.

Make-up a Glamourous History

“Make-up can be seen as a frivolous subject.  But I think it’s hugely important. What we believe to be beautiful is a window on the world we’re living in.” Lisa Eldridge

As a professional make-up artist and Global Creative Director for Lancôme and the presenter of Make-up a Glamourous History on BBC2, Eldridge has a wealth of experience and passion. Over the course of this three-part series, she raises her scholarly spectacles over early make-up and beauty trends and provides an illuminating guide through the evolution of facial fashion, from the early 18th century up to the Thirties. The beauty looks of three periods in Britain are explored and what it reveals about that era: Georgian, Victorian and The Roaring Twenties. You may think make-up is a frivolous business, but Lisa Eldridge argues that what someone puts on the face and why says a lot about the time they live in.

She trawls through the history books and re-created products we haven’t used for decades. There are recipes with crushed beetles, seashells and bear grease (which she substituted with a vegetable oil). She tests them out first on herself and then on a lovely, young model called Queenie. Eldridge really sells her sensory delight in the products and her curiosity about what they meant to the women of the past. The pharmacist Szu Shen Wong, was drafted in to make the more tricky or toxic products in her lab.

It shows the growth of the beauty industry and the start of companies like Boots and the No7 range, which brought beauty to woman of all classes and not just the wealthy, upper and middle classes. Launched by Boots in 1935 as a selection of eleven skincare products this was then expanded in 1937 with some colour cosmetics. The name was reportedly chosen due to the fact that the number seven was often used to signify perfection. It was one of the first brands to really open up beauty for mass audiences and was made available to the ordinary woman. In 2016, Boots celebrated eighty year’s, they continue to sell and hopefully will carry on for many more years to come!

Many lower-class women had to make their own beauty products, in the Victorian age, cleanliness was hugely important and soap became more easily available and used. But beauty products and make-up were only for the rich and wealthy and still had to be purchased secretly as the use of these was seen as immoral. So many upper-class women purchased these under the counter, disguised as medicinal items. Women were expected to be beautiful but only by natural means. To use beauty products or cosmetics was not acceptable to society, only prostitutes and actresses used them. As we all know, even those blessed with natural good looks, still need some help at times, and it must have been impossible for women at the time to follow the rules of Victorian society whilst achieving the expected levels of beauty.

Selfridge & Co. opened its doors in London on the 15th of March 1909. The owner, American, Harry Gordon Selfridge, wanted to make retail exciting and available to everyone.  Selfridges, was the first store to bring beauty products to the front of a department store. Selfridge wanted women to be able try the products rather than them being hidden behind a counter. This was very forward thinking at the time and was to totally change the way retailers sold beauty products, as his competitors rushed to copy him. He supported the rights of women, even though this caused him ridicule. I think that the beauty industry was starting to encourage women to be more independent, rather than the early views of women looking pretty for their husbands, it was more modern to look good for themselves. Just been able to openly purchase beauty products was liberating for them.

This is social history at it’s best and for anyone interested in the world of beauty, unmissable. Surprising, although we wouldn’t want to go back to some of the toxic ingredients used, some of the more natural ingredients were very successful. So, as the beauty industry changes, and moves away from its reliance on chemicals, perhaps it also needs to look through historical archives as our ancestors could teach use a few things about making natural skincare and cosmetics.

We take it for granted that we can just go into a shop and buy the products we need or want and for most, historically this wasn’t available to women, in particular working-class women for quite some time. I loved this series, and hope that it returns to discuss, beauty in the forties and current times too.

It’s available to view on BBC iPlayer.

Italian Ice- Creams and Fish Suppers in Scotland

I wrote this post for my travel Blog, But thought it might be of interest to you, so here it it!

I have just read Mary Contini’s book Notes to Olivia about her Italian family’s early days in Edinburgh. She is the owner of the famous deli, Valvont and Crola. Scotland’s oldest Delicatessen and Italian Wine Merchant and one of Europe’s most original Specialist Food Shops. I will come back to the story of this a bit later.

Scotland has long enjoyed an affiliation with Italians since the first immigrants arrived in the late 1800s. It is estimated there are tens of thousands of Scots of Italian heritage, including high profile figures. Italian immigration into Scotland forever reshaped the country’s culinary and social landscape.

Interestingly, post Brexit in 2016 there was the biggest surge in immigration in 100 years. One thing that makes it similar to the first phase of immigration from Italian is that large numbers are fleeing due to the lack of opportunity often in Puglia, Calabria and Sicily.

From the late 19th century, Scotland saw an increase in Italian immigrants. At this time, many Italians experienced poverty. Men fled to Scotland to make money to support their families in Italy, sending for them later. For some, it was seen as a stopping point en-route to America. Initially, they came from northern areas such as Tuscany, but emigration spread to the south by the 1900s. When America changed its immigration policy and closed the door of opportunity for many of the poorest Europeans, Scotland saw a further increase in Italian immigrants. The main reasons to seek a new life was as a direct result of economic conditions. Living conditions were harsh, with famine and sometimes droughts. Furthermore, Italy had an agricultural-based economy that was experiencing severe hardships and industrialisation was slower than in other European nations.  Many saw an opportunity to go elsewhere to earn a better living. After a slow start, in which the Italian immigrants failed to make any real economic progression, the Italians seized the opportunity to move into the catering world. Initially working as ‘hokey pokey’ men, selling ice cream from barrows, these men had been recruited in London and then sent to Scotland. They quickly moved into working-class areas, combining ice cream making with selling fish and chips. Restaurants and takeaways were established and sold food made using ingredients widely available in Scotland like fish and potatoes. To this day most Scottish towns still have an Italian chippy.

Fish and chips became essential to the diet of the ordinary man and woman, through the latter part of the 19th century and well into the 20th century. The fish and chip trade expanded greatly to satisfy the needs of the growing industrial population of Great Britain. In fact, you might say that the Industrial Revolution was fuelled partly by fish and chips! Nobody, however, could dispute the Italian influence after they had spotted the business opportunities to be had north of the border by selling pesce e patate. Stuart Atkinson, Scottish executive councillor with the National Fish Friers Federation, said their role was significant. As large numbers of Italian immigrants entered the Scottish fish and chip trade from around 1890 by 1914, they dominated the trade and opened shops throughout Scotland.

From humble beginnings, by the 1920s these barrows had been transformed into luxury establishments in the city centres via working class areas. There are many famous Italian businesses in Scottish society like Nardini’s which boasted a beautiful Art Deco tearoom that became a key attraction. There was a greater degree of acceptance from the Temperance Movement as the cafés chose not to sell alcohol. Cafés such as these were as much an assertion of identity in a new land as they were a business as a means of breadwinning. Helping to integrate the new arrivals into the communities of Scottish towns and cities. They were popular ventures for immigrants, and locals took very quickly to the idea.

In Glasgow, police statistics show that in 1903 there were 89 ice cream shops in the city. A year later that number had nearly doubled, reaching 184, and by 1905 there were estimated to be 336 ice cream shops in the Glasgow area alone. Many made a living from the Scottish sweet tooth. ITally is slang for Italian and the title refers to both Italian blood and to the raspberry sauce added to ice-cream. It is fair to say that Italian cafés were at the heart of Scottish culture, but the question remains as to whether Italians were fully accepted in Scottish society. Their cafés were often the scene of unruly behaviour. This led to cries that the Italian cafés were morally corrupt, articles appeared in newspapers reporting the ‘ice cream hell’. Their popularity wasn’t universal and they did encounter some hard times along the way, which most likely strengthened the ties of the growing Italian community, who helped one another when needed. Immigrants can enrich and bring a new dimension and flavour to the customs and culture of their adopted land. And I am sure that the colourful Italian community must have added character to the dour cities, towns and villages in Scotland.

What whetted by interest in this subject was the story of brothers Alfonso and Vittorio Crolla who emigrated to Scotland and established a small ice-cream and confectionery in 1906. They were to team up with Raffaele Valvona in 1934, by that time an elderly shopkeeper who was thought by the Italian community to need the acumen of the Crolla family. They sold easily affordable food, mainly to the Italian immigrant community. This succeeded brilliantly, helped by the fact that a lot of returning troops after the war, who had fought in Italy, had acquired a taste for the Italian meats, olives and cheeses. Having concentrated on inexpensive produce, Valvona & Crolla made the shrewd decision, as supermarkets began to undersell local businesses, to specialise by importing the best Italian food and drink. They were to be a pioneer of healthy food, never failing to point out the virtues of low-cost tomatoes and packets of spaghetti. Alfonso died in the war, but Alfonso’s son, Vittorio continued to work with his uncle, taking over the business in 1945 with his brother-in-law, Carlo Contini.

For 40 years Victor Crolla, was the head of the family at Valvona & Crolla.  His Italian delicatessen was famous not only in Edinburgh but among tens of thousands of festival and other visitors to the Scottish capital. The language in the shop was sui generis (a hybrid between Leith Scots and High Neapolitan) It speaks volumes for the family’s relationship with the Scots that during the Second World War the shop’s loyal staff continued to keep it open so that there was a business to return to. Victor Crolla, stepped down in 1985, but in the words of his nephew Philip Contini who ran the shop, he continued to be the spiritual head of the store. In 2019 Philip and his wife Mary, handed over the reins to their eldest daughter, Francesca Contini Mackie, Alfonso’s great-grand daughter making this a fourth- generation family business, bringing a little bit of Italian sunshine to the grey skies of Scotland.

I wish them a continued success; I am a great believer in family and local businesses. I also think it shows how important it is to mix cultures by immigration and hope this does continue as it enriches all our lives for the better!

The First Christmas Card

Sending Christmas cards is such a key part of the Christmas tradition, often as a way of keeping in touch with the friends and family we are not able to see as often as we would like to. Although, in past years this has decreased a little, with E-cards, social media and the increase in postage costs. There is still something very special about receiving and sending a card, to someone you care about.

The very first recorded Christmas card was sent by Michael Maier to James 1st and his son Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales in 1611. It was discovered in 1979 by Adam McLean in the Scottish Record Office.

However, commercially, it was not going to be until 1843, that Christmas cards, as we know them, were first designed and produced in England by John Callcott Horsley. An edition of 1,000 hand-coloured copies was placed on sale in London. Henry Cole, sent the first Christmas card. He was the founding director of the V&A (who still have a special interest in collecting and displaying greetings cards) and a prominent civil-servant, educator and inventor. In the 1840s, he was instrumental in reforming the British postal system, helping to set up the Uniform Penny Post which encouraged the sending of seasonal greetings on decorated letterheads and visiting cards. Which seems ironic since the modern postal system is a factor in the reduction of cards been sent today.

Cole was a close friend to the artist John Callcott Horsley and asked him to illustrate his idea. Horsley’s design depicts three generations of the Cole family raising a toast in a central, hand-coloured panel surrounded by a decorative trellis and black and white scenes depicting acts of giving, the message was of celebration and charity. Cole then commissioned a printer to transfer the design onto cards, printing a thousand copies that could be personalised with a hand-written greeting. Horsley himself personalised his card to Cole by drawing a tiny self-portrait in the bottom right corner instead of his signature along with the date Xmasse 1843.

Cole’s Christmas card was also published and offered for sale at a shilling a piece, which was quite expensive at the time. In the 1840s, it was a period of change with Prince Albert introducing various German Christmas traditions to the British public like decorating a Christmas tree. Cole may have been ahead of his time but the commercialisation of Christmas was on its way, prompted by developments in the publishing industry. The growing middle- classes and authors responded to the trend.  Charles Dickens wrote Christmas- themed stories for Household Words and All the Year Round and published A Christmas Carol in 1843. By the 1870s the Christmas trend was well and truly established.

The second Christmas card designed was by artist William Maw Egley, which came a few years later in 1848. The design is noticeably similar to the first card as both show scenes of middle-class festive merriment offset with acts of seasonal charity and both were printed on single sheets about the size of a ladies’ visiting card. Early Christmas cards were influenced by the already popular Valentine cards and featured paper lace, which was embossed and pierced paper and layers that opened to reveal flowers and religious symbols like angels watching over sleeping children. New printing processes and techniques in 1860, that combined colour, (chromolithography) metallic inks, fabric appliqué and die-cutting to make elaborately shapes were of great importance for Victorian Christmas cards. The aesthetic cards produced in this period were considered tasteful and refined and were sold in bookshops and stationers and were still expensive, at ninepence the two designs. Publishers such as Hildesheimer & Co. started to import cheaper cards from Germany, before producing the penny basket in 1879, which contained around a dozen cards and was sold through tobacconists, drapers and toy shops. The Half Penny Post, introduced in 1894, further boosted Christmas card sales, with a less expensive postcard format becoming popular. Victorians now exchanged, displayed and collected Christmas cards in vast numbers.

This period saw the debut of many of the meaningful symbols and decorative devices that we now associate with the festive season; with indoor scenes of seasonal rituals and gift giving, winter scenes of robins, holly, evergreens, country churches and snowy landscapes. Scenes of a middle-class household were shown like decorating trees, children’s games, pantomime characters and sitting down to a Christmas dinner with crackers. Renowned illustrators produced designs for Christmas cards, Linnie Watts adapted her poignant paintings of children. Whilst, the artist Harry Payne, turned sentimental portrayals of soldiers into Christmas cards connecting families and friends across the British empire. Such heartfelt communications were ready-made keepsakes and collecting Christmas cards became a middle-class passion.

In the book The History of the Christmas Card in 1954, the collector George Buday, suggested that the Christmas card from its beginning was more closely associated in the minds of the senders with the social aspect, the festivities connected with Christmas than with the religious function of the season. I think this is in part true, but I also think that it highlights the importance of the family to Victorian England. This was the time of social reform and change, which saw improvements in the living and working conditions of the working-class man and his family.

Henry Cole’s Christmas card venture was initially judged to be a commercial flop. However, one of the first cards he produced was auctioned in 2013 and sold for £22,000, so I am sure he would have been very proud to have been proved right in the end. Christmas cards have grown into a multi-million pound retail phenomenon with around a billion cards bought in the UK each year.

The V & A in London, holds the national collection of cards for all occasions with over 30,000 examples of cards. More than half of which celebrate Christmas. They also revive Cole’s entrepreneurial spirit by launching exclusive card ranges in the V&A Shop each year, inspired by favourite designs from this historic collection. These beautiful cards are available in their museum shop and online.

A happy Christmas to you all and a wonderful New Year.

Remembering Woman War Artists

Although women had by the time of WW1 started to be seen more in the workplace, in war art they were often excluded. The job of portraying battle has, traditionally, been seen as a male preserve. Women have, since the turn of the 20th century, been interpreting and illustrating war, casting a fascinating light on the forgotten social, industrial and personal histories born from conflict which are invaluable in fleshing out a fuller picture of the human cost of war. The fact that women war artists did play a crucial role has been air-brushed from history. Few would be able to name a female counterpart to a well-known artist like Paul Nash. There are many reasons for this, for the better part, women artists were working unofficially, so their work was not censored in the same way as the male artists who worked in an official capacity. It was also regarded as indecent for women to be witnessing war from the brutality of the front, even though many worked in hospital wards and drove ambulance vans.

Women with some artistic training were sneaking sketchpads into factories, without permission, depicting the civilian population contributing to the war effort, while others drew street scenes that captured air raids, shelters; sometimes these were comical or bittersweet images, at other times, shocking and violent. This work would have been considered dangerous and illicit had the authorities known about it, as imagery around war was tightly controlled for fear that it would used as negative propaganda.

In an effort to bring these extraordinary, yet forgotten, female artists to public attention, in 2011 the Imperial War Museum in London staged a comprehensive exhibition on the subject of women as eye-witnesses, participants, and officially commissioned recorders of war, entitled Women War Artists.

It’s often misunderstood what the role of the war artist is it encompasses far more than battle scenes or life at the frontline. The artists’ creative responses to all aspects of war as seen and experienced by ordinary people, civilians as well as servicemen and women was shown much more deeply by female war artists. Women who found themselves in the war zones were producing images unofficially, without the permission of the government in the First and Second World Wars and they also entered male workplaces in order to draw them, which was a very radical and brave thing to do during those times. But these strong women were determined, that even without government aegis they would record what they saw. Olive Mudie-Cooke, a trained artist who was driving ambulances for the British Red Cross in France from 1916, was one such woman. The images she produced departed from the official art as they featured hospital and auxiliary staff.

However, the Women’s Work Sub-Committee, which had been set up to record the varied contributions of women to the war effort did commission ten female artists. The Women’s Work Collection was a unique resource for anyone interested in the experiences and role of women during the First World War. It was accrued largely between 1917 and 1920 and originally included art, models, documents, uniforms, badges, books, photographs and memorabilia of every variety. The Imperial War Museum opened officially in 1917 and this collection formed its main body of work. Plans were put in place to ensure that the role of women would be recognised and recorded from its very beginnings. Which may seem surprisingly forward- thinking but perhaps is indicative of how the role of women in society was one of the dominant social issues of the day. In the years preceding the First World War, the campaign for women’s suffrage had intensified. As well as campaigning for the vote, many women wanted recognition and acceptance that they could and should have a greater role to play in public life. The outbreak of war in 1914 provided women with an outlet to demonstrate their capabilities in public office or in the workplace.

In December 1918, Millicent Garrett Fawcett declared ‘we cannot forget what our men have done during the war, but we must not forget either what the women have done, and we must be as ready to give them their chance as we are to help the men who come back.’

At the start of the Second World War, women artists were given more leeway after the WAAC, the government’s War Artists Advisory Committee was set up in 1939, but there were still grave imbalances. More than 400 artists were involved and only 52 of whom were women, the latter receiving fewer and shorter commissions, lower pay and far less publicity. Only two women were given overseas commissions but only one, Evelyn Dunbar, was entrusted with a salaried position, and both were allowed to travel abroad only after the fighting had ended.

A female artist given an overseas commission in the 1940s was Dame Laura Knight. At the time she was painting, women auxiliaries had become more common, although female involvement in combat was strictly prohibited. Corporal Daphne Pearson, a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force WAAF, sat for a portrait by Knight and revealed in a letter to her mother that the artist originally painted her with a rifle. But the final painting features her brandishing a respirator instead of the weapon.

Ethel Gabain was one of the first artists commissioned by the WAAC in early 1940 and she worked across the country, mainly focusing on detailed portraits of people. Her work also included women employed in many of the auxiliary services. The WAAC commissioned a series of paintings of women who had taken over the jobs of the men who had been called up to the services, ironically using mainly male artists.

Louisa Puller was an artist who worked for the project funded by the Pilgrim Trust to Record the Changing Face of Britain, which was to record the rapidly changing countryside and urban landscapes of Britain in the 1940s. Social realities on the home front were being presented more robustly the 1940s and this was due in a large part to the women artists.

The British Red Cross had commissioned Doris Zinkeisen to reflect their work in Europe in the 1940s, and she produced Human Laundry, a stark, searing image of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp’s starving survivors.

In 1945 an artist called Mary Kessell was sent to Germany. By the time she arrived, the war was over but she created memorably intense charcoal drawings of homeless women and children in Berlin, as well as the destruction of Hamburg.

The question of how female war-artists chose to represent ordinary working women during these decades is an interesting one. Images of women on the home front were not always “feminist” in the modern sense; some adopted the style of their older male counterparts while others painted women in stereotypically glamorised incarnations, even in factory scenes which, in reality, would have been sweaty places of industry. So even female artists were to play a role in the war time propaganda.

In recent times we have discovered much of the contribution of woman during the wars, that had been unknown previously, like Bletchley Park. These forward- thinking, talented women give us a larger picture, not more emotional but more human of the history of the time and they deserve our gratitude for doing this.

War Artists -WW1 and WW2

I wrote my design degree thesis on the second world, and spent a great deal of time at the Imperial War Museum and the Colindale Newspaper Library. Its always been a time of history that has interested me greatly, my grandparents talked a great deal about the WW2 period, though this was only six years it affected generations for their entire life-times. Armistice Day, having just taken place on the 11th of November becomes more poignant as fewer veterans remain from this era each year.

Artists have depicted battle scenes from earliest civilisation onwards and in more recent wars such as the Boer and Crimea war, they were deployed by newspapers to illustrate the ongoing warfare to their readers. In Britain, official government-sponsored schemes were established for artists to record both the First and Second World Wars. The Imperial War Museum has also continued to commission artists to record the events of war in more recent conflicts.

It was with the outbreak of World War I that war art was first officially commissioned by the government. The British Commission was introduced in September 1914 to commission and purchase art to create a record of the war.  Officially appointed artists such as: Wyndham Lewis, Paul Nash, Christopher Richard Nevinson, John Singer Sargent and Sir Stanley Spencer were required to work in a more traditional style despite being some of the most avant-garde, British artists of the day, so that the public could easily understand the artwork. Although it was initially started for propaganda purposes, it evolved into a memorialising scheme where artists explored every aspect of the conflict.  Some artists were seconded from active service while others were either commissioned into uniform as War Correspondents or attached to the Intelligence Department or the Department of Information. The average stay at the Front for an artist was one month and all work was censored, although artists were free to exhibit their work. (Usually only after approval)

Most of the work acquired by the Commission was eventually housed in the Imperial War Museum, established by an Act of Parliament in 1917.  Who were given the task of collecting all kinds of material documenting the war. As well as providing a documentation of all wartime activities much of the work produced by war artists remains important as art in its own right.

During the Second World War, a more structured approach to official picture collecting was taken when the War Artists Advisory Committee, chaired by Sir Kenneth Clark, was established. The WAAC included representatives from all three of the Armed Services and the wartime Ministries. Officially, the purpose of the Committee was propaganda. Art exhibitions were organised in Britain and America both to raise morale and promote Britain’s image abroad. As part of the Ministry of Information, art was not commissioned which would show a negative view of the population’s reaction to the war. Therefore, there were no artistic records of looting or riots. Sir Clark’s generation had been marked by the deaths of many artists and writers in the First World War, and it was also hoped that by keeping artists usefully employed the scheme might prevent a new generation of British artists from being killed as soldiers, although they had to still face much danger.

Over 300 artists were commissioned and 5,570 works of art produced. The pictures collected were exhibited in London and in shows both nationally and internationally. When the committee was dissolved in December 1946, after the war had ended, one third of the collection was allocated to the Imperial War Museum and the rest was distributed to museums and galleries across the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.

NB: Although several female artists were approached either by the British War Memorials Committee or the Ministry of Information, none of them actually completed commissions for the official schemes. So, I will write a separate blog on Women artists during WW2, as they were still active.

There was some opposition to the scheme from the armed forces who saw the War Artists Advisory Committee as removing responsibility for war art from the control of the War Office and the Admiralty. However, a compromise was reached, with four artists being allocated to the War Office and one for the Admiralty, who would also pay their salaries. The War Artists Advisory Committee had a say in the selection of the work and maintained full control of any work produced.

Many artists took part in the scheme and some of the most notable were: Roland Vivian Pitchforth, Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland, Paul Nash, Harold Sandys Williamson, Eric Ravilious, Frederick T.W. Cook and Anthony Grossad, who spent almost 20 years as an artist in France.

Before, during and after the invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944, artists were in the thick of the activity, observing and recording the campaign. A war artist creates a visual account of the impact of war by showing how men and women are waiting, preparing, fighting, suffering and often destroyed. Although the camera has replaced the artist more and more as a recording medium. The artists bring a level of emotion and connection with the scenes that you just don’t really get from a photograph however good.

Eric Kennington was employed as a British official war artist in both world wars. His vivid style of portraiture, very much suited what the Air Ministry aimed to achieve. An admiration for the actions of his subjects was reflected in his work often giving them an air of Hollywood glamour with youthful handsomeness or a steely gaze, resplendent and dashing in a blue RAF uniform. This helped to reinforce the image of British fighter pilots, as self-sacrificing heroes, one that the Air Ministry was keen to promote. Over a hundred RAF portraits were produced before resigning his commission in September 1942.

Artists like Edward Ardizzone, were perceptive observers of people in their environments. His gentle drawing style, humanised the events of the war, instead of creating epic war pictures, he concentrated on everyday heroics. His focus on ordinary people coping in adversity meant mass audiences could relate to his work. His war drawings were therefore highly effective propaganda in terms of raising public morale.

War art Commissions did not cease with the ending of World War II. Artists have still been employed to record scenes of all the conflicts involving British Forces subsequent to 1946 and up to the present time. The Imperial War Museum, holds the largest collection, if you are interested in finding out more, see their website.

I think often the importance of art in history is under-estimated and the role it still plays in our modern life’s. Particularly, as artists are currently badly affected on many levels. Art has the ability to change the emotions of the viewer in a way that very few things can, even the written word.

100 Years of Agatha Christie Writer, Traveller, Surfer and Archaeologist

Agatha Christie remains, the best-selling novelist of all time, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. She is best known for her sixty-six detective novels and fourteen short story collections but produced six more as Mary Westmacott and two under the name Christie Mallowan. The Mousetrap is the world’s longest-running play. Her books have sold over a billion copies in the English language and a billion in translation. (She is the most world-wide translated writer)

To cover both her career and personal life in full, I would be blogging for quite some time, so this is a short, compact history, which I am sure I will add to at a later date.

2020 marks 100 years since the publication of Agatha Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which introduced Hercule Poirot. It was created in 1916 but not published until February 1920, when it was serialised in 18 parts in The Weekly Times (part of The Times) Agatha Christie came up with the idea for the novel whilst working in a dispensary during WWI.

I began considering what kind of a detective story I could write. Since I was surrounded by poisons, perhaps it was natural that death by poisoning should be the method I selected. I settled on one fact which seemed to me to have possibilities. I toyed with the idea, liked it, and finally accepted it. Then I went on to the dramatis personae. Who should be poisoned? Who would poison him or her? When? Where? How? Why? And all the rest of it.  

Agatha Christie

Miss Marple first came into being in 1927 in The Tuesday Night Club, a short story pulled together into the collection The Thirteen Problems. It was first published in the December 1927 issue of Royal Magazine. Inspired by her maternal grandmother and her friends, Agatha Christie never expected Miss Marple to rival Poirot in the public’s affections but since the publication of The Murder at the Vicarage in 1930, the first full- length novel, readers were hooked. She is the only crime writer to have created two equally famous and much-loved characters, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.

Interest in her work still continues today, this year sees the release of Sophie Hannah’s new Poirot novel The Killings at Kingfisher Hill and the big screen launch of Death on the Nile. I really enjoy Sophie Hannah’s books so it will be fun to see what she does with Poirot. Kenneth Branagh made a great job of Death On the Orient Express so the follow up should be as equally good.

She wrote about the world she knew and saw, drawing on the military gentlemen, lords and ladies, spinsters, widows and doctors of her family’s circle of friends and acquaintances. She was a natural observer and her descriptions of village politics, local rivalries and family jealousies are often painfully accurate. Mathew Prichard, her grandson describes her as a “person who listened more than she talked, who saw more than she was seen.”    

Agatha Christie was born in Torquay in 1890 and throughout her life she returned to the South Devon area buying a holiday home there called Greenway House. Her upbringing was unusual, even for its time, as she was home schooled by her father. Her mother, Clara, who was an excellent storyteller, did not want her to learn to read until she was eight but Agatha taught herself to read by the age of five. In 1902 Agatha began her formal education at Miss Guyer’s Girls’ School in Torquay, before moving to France in 1905 to continue her education at three different Parisian schools. Agatha Christie always said that she had no ambition to be a writer although she made her debut in print at the age of eleven with a poem printed in a local London newspaper. By the age of 18 she was amusing herself with writing short stories, some of which were published in much revised form in the 1930s.

Agatha’s Christies, personal life was not without much mystery and some sadness.  It was in 1912 that Agatha met Archie Christie, a qualified aviator who had applied to join the Royal Flying Corps. Their courtship was a whirlwind affair, the war separated them and they spent very little time together, In 1914, they married but, were only reunited in 1918. They had one child, named Rosalind, in 1919.

Archie was asked to tour areas of the British Empire to promote the opening of the British Empire Exhibition, which was due to open in London in 1924. Agatha joined her husband on his travels and while visiting Hawaii the couple possibly became two of the first Europeans to master surfing standing up. They spent as much of their days as they could on the beach riding the waves. She expressed her feeling of mastery and triumph the first time she rode her board all the way to the beach while standing up. This research was done by Peter Robinson from the Museum of British Surfing, who was quick to admit that the discovery caught him by surprise.

Archie and Agatha’s relationship, strained by the sadness in losing her mother, broke down when he fell in love with a fellow golfer and friend of the family, Nancy Neale. In December 1926, Agatha left her daughter to the care of the maids without saying where she was going. Her car was found abandoned the next morning several miles away. A nationwide search ensued. The press and public enjoyed various speculations as to what might have happened and why but no one knew for sure. It eventually transpired that Agatha had somehow travelled to Kings Cross station where she took the train to Harrogate and checked into the Harrogate Spa Hotel under the name of Theresa Neale. Having been recognised by the hotel staff, who alerted the police, she did not recognise Archie when he came to meet her. Possibly concussed but certainly suffering from amnesia, Agatha had no recollection of who she was. An intensely private person, made even more so by the hue and cry of the press, Agatha never spoke of this time with friends or family. Films and TV series have been produced about this event, however the true story has never been uncovered.

After a devastating divorce, the crime novelist took a trip to Baghdad in 1928 and lost her heart to the ancient sites of Iraq and archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan, who become her second husband in 1930. Forged by a love of travel this was to be a much happier marriage. Agatha would spend long seasons at various excavation sites in Syria and Iraq, accompanying her husband. She worked on restoring pieces of pottery, inventorying finds, and photographing artefacts. This also gave her further inspiration for her plots

Christie considered retiring at the age of seventy-five, but her books were selling so well that she decided to keep writing for at least another five years, and wound up writing up until about a year before she passed away at age eighty-six. After a hugely successful career and a very happy life Agatha died peacefully on 12 January 1976. She is buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s, Cholsey, near Wallingford.

Thousands of visitors come to South Devon every year to visit the places that inspired Agatha Christie’s books and imagination. The estate of Greenway near Kingswear which was her beloved family retreat is now a National trust property. Christie called it ‘the loveliest place in the world’ and it’s easy to see why. An annual festival is held here to celebrate her life. The International Agatha Christie Festival in 2020 was cancelled but it will be held again in September 2021, which will feature a competition for aspiring young writers.

I have always been a fan of the books but finding out more about the interesting and surprising facts of Agatha Christies own unique life, makes me even more of a super-fan.

As well as a host of activities and events, more information is available on the website

The Teenage Global Climate Protest.

Things are really changing now, even from only a few years ago, we couldn’t have predicted both the changes in our beliefs and the teenage global climate protests with Greta Thunberg at the helm. In the city where I live teenagers took to the streets to join the worldwide protests. I feel proud of them for standing up and speaking their minds. Now teenagers in general get a bad rapt, but on this, they are correct, we all know this is a major problem but right now they are the ones who are making a difference.

Anxious about their future on a hotter planet and angry at world leaders for failing to arrest the crisis, masses of young people poured into the streets on every continent for a day of global climate protests. Organisers estimated the turnout to be around four million in thousands of cities and towns worldwide. Whether this global action solved the problem that the protesters have identified: arresting greenhouse gas emissions to stave off a climate catastrophe, who knows at this point? It depends on how effectively climate advocates can turn the momentum of the protest marches into sustained political pressure on governments and companies that produce those emissions. But surly, one of the biggest environmental protests the world has ever seen cannot be ignored by those in positions of power.

There is growing scientific concern. A slew of recent reports has warned that oceans are heating and the poles melting faster than expected. In the USA and Europe, politicians are considering green deals and policies that would ramp up the transition to renewable energy but with increasing emissions it could be said that more focus is needed and quickly.

Young people have a distinctive and valuable perspective. They deserve to be heard. Teenagers can already join British political parties, most of which grant full membership rights to mid-teens. In Scotland, 16-year-olds can vote in some elections and this should be extended to all elections across the UK. The damage that is occurring now will affect them more than us, so they should have a say. There are sensible questions to be asked about the influence exerted by parents and other adults on children professing strong opinions. But we should respect and welcome efforts by children and teenagers to make their voices heard and influence decision-making. After all, they will be living with the consequences for far longer than the rest of us. The accelerating climate crisis, with figures from the UK Met Office suggesting that 1.5C of warming could be reached in as little as five years, shows it is the time to demand tougher action to avert disaster.

There have been suggestions that someone older had put them up to it. The Flemish environment minister, Joke Schauvliege, took the stance that the recent school strikes across Belgium were a “set-up and that security services knew who was really “behind this movement”. However, the Belgian security services issued a rare denial and Ms Schauvliege resigned her position.

Greta Thunberg was a lonely figure, a painfully introverted, slightly built teenage girl, when she started a school strike for the climate outside the Swedish parliament building in Stockholm in 2018. Her parents tried to dissuade her and her classmates declined to join her. Pity and bemusement were expressed by passers-by at the sight of a 15-year-old sitting on the cobblestones with a hand-painted banner. Now the picture could not be more different. The pig-tailed teenager is feted across the world as a model of determination, inspiration, and positive action. As a climate activist, her one-person strikes in Stockholm helped ignite a global movement and she is known as a figurehead for this vast and growing movement. A handful of fossil fuel lobbyists, politicians, and journalists have argued Thunberg is not what she seems, that she was propelled into prominence by environmental groups and sustainable-business interests. The entrepreneur who first tweeted about the climate strike, Ingmar Rentzhog, used Thunberg’s name to raise investment for his company but this was done without her permission. She has now cut all links with the company and has since vowed never to be associated with commercial interests. She has also been withering about leaders in the USA, UK, and Australia who either ignore the strikers or admonish them for skipping classes.

Greta says “They are desperately trying to change the subject whenever the school strikes come up. They know they can’t win this fight because they haven’t done anything”

Such blunt talk has found a broad audience among people jaded by empty promises and eager to find a climate leader willing to ramp up ambition. Greta Thunberg is brutally honest and for this some people consider this a threat.

She has told demonstrators “If no one else will take action, then we will

 I personally think we should listen to our children on this one. There is an old Yorkshire saying “Out of the mouths of Babes”, which roughly means sometimes children have some clever ideas and know and see more clearly than adults. So, I will leave you with this thought!

The Start of Seaside Resorts in Britain

I love visiting the sea, it has to said that the British seaside is unlike any other beach resort in Europe. The weather does play a large part in this, but I feel also that the early origins of the British seaside can still be felt today. Some of the architecture has perhaps lost its grandeur, but its still standing and plays a part in the social history of Britain. I loved going to Scarborough as a child and always remembered the spa with its distinctive black and white tiles. The heyday of the British seaside resort was in the 50s and 60s, I first visited in the late 60s and it seemed wonderful to me. Scarborough claimed to being England’s first true seaside resort and enjoyed considerable growth in the 18th century. (In the early 1700s a spa house had been built to sell the waters to eager visitors to the town, who were determined to improve their health)

I am convinced the sea air always does good, declares Henrietta Musgrove in Jane Austen’s book, Persuasion. Now, Jane Austen often poked fun at the Georgian notion of the sea as a source of bountiful health and healing and in many respects, it was the eighteenth century’s answer to today’s wellness fad. I always feel better too after a trip to the coast, so perhaps it’s time to take some Georgian health advice and rediscover the restorative qualities of the great British coastal break.

While spa towns like Bath still held their appeal during Queen Victoria’s reign, doctors were increasingly recommending trips to seaside resorts. This was mainly because they believed that the bracing sea air contained what they termed as ‘ozone’ or ‘activated oxygen’, something that was very essential but also a preventative of disease and a great aid for the treatment of ailments of all character. We now know that the Victorians were quite wrong about the seaside offering so-called activated oxygen. But in an era of rapidly industrialised towns and cities, a trip to a coastal town did offer a welcome break from the increasing pollution. At the beginning of the Victorian era, for the upper classes a visit to the seaside also gave the opportunity to promenade which grew in popularity during this era. A stroll along the seafront was considered good for the constitution, but a long, level ‘prom’ or esplanade was also like a public catwalk where you could be seen by society and enjoy admiring glances as you strolled serenely by, decked out in your best attire. In much the same way as a visit to a spa town had been the place to be seen, now it was fashionable to be seen in seaside towns.

Many of the things best associated with a trip to the British seaside have their roots in the Victorian summer holiday. However, while we now take these seaside attractions for granted, for many they were considered quite revolutionary at the time, and even an affront to common decency. This led to some puritanical restrictions (which I will mention later) but not even Victorian morality could hold back the tide of change. With the introduction of railways, this new mode of transport could whisk you across the country in a matter of hours, opening up a whole new world of opportunity. Although expensive, the burgeoning Victorian middle class could afford the rail fares and were keen to follow en- masse where the aristocrats led. The railways transformed small communities into bustling resorts to which people flocked in growing numbers.

By the middle of the 19th century, towns such as Brighton, Blackpool and Llandudno had already expanded. With the development of the resorts came the expansion of the wealth of the towns. The local piers offered an impressive variety of entertainment with the creation of much more indoor entertainment to combat the unpredictable British weather. Aquariums, amusement arcades, ballrooms and even circuses were constructed as permanent fixtures to keep the public entertained and keep them spending their hard-earned money. By the end of the 19th century things were starting to look somewhat different. As the era progressed, so did the resorts. People from all walks of life now shared the experience. Attitudes and standards slowly started to change. From rather sedate, genteel beginnings at the start of the Victorian age the upper classes increasingly had to mix with the hoi polloi and began to abandon their traditional resorts. Instead they spent their time and money on foreign holidays where the masses could not follow.( In the 1970s cheap flights encouraged the working classes to fly to europe, which lead to the decline of some seaside resorts)

 As access to the seaside increased, many organised trips through churches, charities and societies such as the Temperance Movement gave opportunities to even the lowest in society. The Bank Holidays Act in 1871 saw the introduction of four days set aside through the year as official holidays for all, for the first time ever. It was the working man and his family who had taken ownership of the seaside holiday. With ever-improving conditions for workers, the popularity of what the Victorians created continued to rise, leaving a legacy that still rings true today. More recently, the British seaside conquers up images of ice creams, donkey rides, fish and chips, Bingo, coloured Rock, buckets and spades and the amusements. The rather lively Hen and Stag do’s, particularly the lack of clothing would have horrified the prudish Victorians. But however tacky and in bad taste it can be at times it is still very much our culture and we all still do love to be beside the seaside, beside the sea!


Promoted as a healthy pastime, sea bathing was as popular with Victorian women as men, if not more so as it represented a small yet significant change in attitudes towards what women should and should not do. Paddling and dipping were thought to invigorate health, but how could men and women benefit from such pleasurable pursuits while maintaining the essential decorum? Victorian values and correctness dictated that the proper etiquette was followed. On the beach, this became something of a nightmare for Victorian decency, especially when it came to the tricky subject of bathing in the sea. The first solution was quite straightforward, men and women would bathe in separate parts of the beach. In 1847, Parliament gave local councils new powers to set how far apart the sexes had to be when bathing. Regulation also required that women wore a suitable gown or other sufficient dress or covering to prevent indecent exposure of the body. This swimwear could be extremely heavy, sometimes weights were even sewn into it, so that dresses did not float to the surface. In choppy waters, these heavy outfits could drown a wearer. But these coveralls did serve another purpose, they stopped the ladies getting a suntan. Until the 1920s, having a tan was considered vulgar and only for workers in the fields. However, as modest as Victorian swimwear was ( to their prudish minds) a woman having to walk the length of the beach to the sea was the equivalent of a modern ‘walk of shame’. Instead, they used a bathing machine, which dated back to around the 1750s, these resembled a beach hut with four wheels, it would be rolled out to, sea, usually pulled by horses. Once deep enough in the surf, the bather would then exit the cart using the door facing away from prying eyes on the beach.

Men did not have to employ any similar device and they just strolled into the water wearing a considerably tighter swimsuit. (They often swam naked, but this changed when Women and Children started going to the beaches) However, bathing machines did play a small part in giving a modicum of freedom to Victorian women, allowing them the privacy to experience sea bathing first-hand rather than been excluded as they had been from so many other leisure activities and sports. So, this was the start of more freedom in their life’s.

So, the introduction of the British seaside resort, gave the change to escape the pollution of the larger industrial cities, a chance for the working classes to have a day out with their families and some emancipation for the heavily- restricted Victorian women.

Recent events have placed some restrictions on our travels, so perhaps we should value the British coastal resorts like our ancestors and try a British seaside resort instead of a European beach. Just don’t forget an anorak in case of rain!

The Growth of Spa Towns

I used to live in Harrogate, where you could often smell the sulphur, which is not, I have to say, the most pleasant of scents. When my brother lived in Bristol, I regularly visited nearby Bath. (My favourite UK city) Famous for the history of its spa, playing a large part of its popularity as a tourist centre. There is something very quaint and English about spa-towns.

Britain has a rich, long history of spas. With many legendary past followers: Elizabeth I, Florence Nightingale, Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, spas are as much a part of our culture as saunas are to the Scandinavians. Many towns owe their growth and prosperity to the fact they became spa- towns. (This is a resort town based on a mineral hot spring with supposed health benefits) Bath, the most famous of Britain’s spa towns, was used for health purposes as far back as Roman times. However, Elizabeth I, was instrumental in reviving spas after visiting Bath in 1574, she declared that the public must always have access to the springs. Her royal seal of approval set the trend amongst the respectable classes. The heyday of spa- towns was during the Georgian and Regency periods. Spa resorts of the 18th Century needed to meet the eccentricities and glamour of their visitors. The Georgian love of sumptuous living and bawdy houses, did make the boundaries between a health resort and a place of assignations a little blurred.

In the 18th and 19th centuries spa -towns were expanding rapidly. Thatched cottages disappeared to be replaced by elegant, classical styled, sash-windowed residences. During this time many places went from been tiny villages to the very forefront of high fashion. The chic places to be seen in the season, a place where visitors could bathe, drink the famous waters, gamble, eat, drink, dance, do business and broker marriages. Assembly Rooms were for political intrigue and hearing the latest gossip as much as dancing. Spas were part of the conspicuous leisure consumption that coincided with the rising bourgeois classes having a life of leisure because of their new-found wealth. The social mix encompassed all sorts of characters: aristocrats, merchants, bluestockings, respectable matrons, servants and chancers.

In Mansford’s specialised guide for invalids. He warns that standing around in the cold, wearing inadequately fashionable clothing, is not good for the ‘languid circulation of the semi-animate valetudinarian‘. Spas rose in perceived value the more articles that had been writing by leading Physicists.

The well- known spa towns include: Buxton, Tunbridge Wells, Cheltenham, Harrogate, Bath and Leamington Spa. Many of these still retain echoes of their past grandeur.


The Fifth Duke of Devonshire wanted to establish a fashionable Georgian spa- town in Buxton, so he enlisted John Carr, a leading architect, to build Buxton Crescent. Built in 1780, it rivalled the Royal Crescent in Bath. The forerunner of today’s hotels, comprising not just of rooms but shops, restaurants and Assembly Rooms. Buxton spring water is still bottled locally and today is as ever popular.

Malvern- Worcestershire

Many Victorian physicians strongly believed that through rich mineral spring water, Mother Nature had created a cure for any disease. The town of Malvern seized upon the trend, and in 1842 two hydropathic doctors created the Malvern Water Cure, a dedicated hydrotherapy treatment to stimulate lymphatic drainage. The cure was a huge success. Queen Victoria demanded bottled Malvern Water during her royal tours.

The scientist and naturalist Charles Darwin visited the Malvern’s springs in in 1849 when feeling under the weather. After four months of cold scrubbing and other treatments, the scientist concluded, “I consider the sickness as absolutely cured. The Water Cure is assuredly a grand discovery.”

The local waters, filtered through the pre-Cambrian granite of the ‘Alps of England’ became famed for their low mineral content and great purity. Today they are bottled at Holywell, though many a walker is delighted to find the waters flow freely in springs around the hillsides.

Leamington Spa

Before the 1800’s the town of Leamington Spa was just a rural village, but the rediscovery of its saline springs in 1784 led to the building of the Royal Pump Rooms, baths and assembly rooms. The spring waters were claimed to cure and relieve stiffness of tendons and rigidity of the joints.

(Royal) Tunbridge Wells

The spring at Tunbridge Wells was discovered by accident by a young nobleman, Dudley Lord North in 1606. After travelling back to London with a raging hangover, he tasted the water at the nearby Abergavenny Estate and felt miraculously recovered. By the 18th century the fame of the water had spread and the town rivalled Bath as the place to see and be seen. The Stuart English Court often made the 50-mile trip from London to Tunbridge Wells, fondly known as the courtier’s spa. In the pursuit of health, one could now find both a commoner and a lord bathing in the same hot springs together. Its Charlybeate Spring (derived from the Latin word for steel) contains a particularly high iron content. The town still retains much of its original charm and elegance. You can visit the well in a building called The Pantiles, a Georgian colonnade, and sample the iron-rich waters of the Charlybeate Spring for yourself.

Cheltenham- Gloucestershire

 In 1833, King George III famously shunned the spa capital of Bath in favour of the little-known Cheltenham. This royal endorsement changed the town’s fortunes forever and soon, people of great fortune and nobility were rushing to sip at the new spa. Business in Cheltenham boomed. Rival wells and spas, accommodation and leisure facilities were opened. The town’s spas often held gala fetes and firework displays and its tree-lined walks were perfect for well-to-do visitors to promenade. Assembly rooms, theatres and racecourses were also on hand to keep the respectable classes entertained. Notable celebrities continued to sample the waters well into the 19th century.

Harrogate- North Yorkshire

Harrogate’s Turkish Baths are an illustration of the Victorian love of the Oriental; Moorish arches, elaborately patterned glazed tiles and a series of exotic steam rooms and plunge pools. The iron, sulphur and salt-rich waters in Harrogate were discovered in 1571, and in the 1700s the town became increasingly famous. A theatre and a pump room were built to provide entertainment for the well-heeled visitors, who numbered in their rank’s royalty from across Europe. Although the original building is still standing, it houses a pub and restaurant as well an award-winning spa, that you can still visit today.


Although it was the Romans who initially discovered Bath’s natural springs, naming it Aquae Sulis and developing it as a sanctuary of rest and relaxation, it was during the Georgian era that it reached its prominence. Princess (later Queen) Anne visited Bath in 1688-1703 to take the waters and soon it was marketed as the premier resort of frivolity and fashion. Jane Austen featured the spa town of Bath in two of her novels. Although taking the waters for your health was popular during the Georgian period It was often an excuse for high society to mingle and show off the latest fashions and attend the theatre and parties. The famous Georgian dandy Beau Nash became Master of Ceremonies in Bath. It is pre-eminent in historical heritage as a Unesco world heritage site which is still open to the public.

In the 20th Century from being the centre of social and fashionable society, the spa industry stagnated. With competition from overseas resorts and the impact of the economic depression in the 1930s, spa visitors dramatically declined. The medicinal benefits of spas were questioned and spa therapies became excluded from the National Health Service. By the 1950s, leading spas like: Buxton, Cheltenham, Tunbridge Wells and Malvern closed their doors to the public.

Today, we can see the popularity of wellness having a huge influence on the way we now view spas. They are not just an indulgence, but an essential element of holistic wellbeing, soothing the mind, body and spirit.

I couldn’t agree more!