Category: Book One

Compilation of posts with research background.

1860s Dress Fashions

Source: 1860s evening dress fashions, descriptions and fashion plates, Vintage Victorian

It’s very easy to like the fashions of past decades.  Once again, I’m not that enthralled with the 1860s  when it comes to gowns. Some of them were so voluminous, you wonder how they sat, walked through a door, climbed into a carriage, or managed in the powder room.

If you visit the link below, you’ll find all sorts of beautiful 1850-1860s pictures of dinner and evening dresses. However, those beautiful dresses were for the upper 10% of society who had the incomes to afford the fabrics and dressmakers.  Source: 1860s evening dress fashions, descriptions and fashion plates, Vintage Victorian

To find out what the poor wore in 1860, we need to time travel through old photographs.  From the ones I see, most women didn’t wear the voluminous gowns but dressed in plain skirts and blouses, wrapped in shawls. I’m sure they couldn’t afford the huge crinoline cage or multiple petticoats that adorned the bodies of the more affluent ladies.

Perhaps it was a good thing because apparently, over 3,000 women died from their crinoline cages catching on fire! Yes, you read that right.  Dress at your own peril, ladies.  Read the article, “c. 1857-1867 Crinolinemania Victorian Fashion goes to extremes by National Museum of Scotland”

To add to the perils of going up in flames, you could die from the color.  Green-colored fabric in dresses and other clothing contained arsenic. The term “drop dead gorgeous,” came about when women wearing clothes filled with arsenic got sick. Their skin absorbed the poison. While swirling around a ballroom, the dress gave off fumes that were dangerous to those nearby.

If all of the above wasn’t bad enough, the dress fashion was the target of many jokes in caricature cartoons.




How long does it take to dress 1860’s style?  If you want to watch one woman dress in the fashion, follow the LINK HERE.  Unfortunately, I cannot embed the YouTube video into the blog post.

Here are a few fashions from the day below.  Enjoy!




1860’s- Hats & Bonnets

1860’s and hats!  It’s the bonnet, which frankly isn’t my favorite.  On a personal note, I can’t stand anything tied underneath my chin. Wearing one of these hats with a huge ribbon underneath my jaw would have led me down the road of perdition by not covering my head while out in public.

I am definitely going to refer to this website as we go through the decades on fashions. Meet Mrs. Parker’s Millinery and Mercantile.  Hats are for sale if you wish to purchase a replica and play Victorian dress-up for fun.

Your heroine in book one is Mary Booker (see note below). She’s a young lady who lives with her uncle, the vicar of St. George’s. He believes women definitely should be married, birthing children right and left, and keeping the home. After all, that’s what the good book says.  Mary, however, would love to work in a hat shop until the right man comes along.  Truth be told, I think she already found him.

Any hats that you like from the 1860’s.  A beautiful example of Margaret Hale from North & South in her mourning bonnet.

Source: 1850’s-1860’s- Hats & Bonnets


NOTE:  As usual, I’m grabbing names from my family tree.  Mary Booker is my fifth great-grandmother from Yorkshire, England, born 1768. 

Reality – Who Wants to Read It?

Beautiful dresses. Stately homes. Titled aristocrats. Wealthy yearly incomes. Those are usually the things that readers love to fantasize about when they read historical fiction or historical romance.

The best-selling books on the market are not about the miserable lives in the Victorian era. It has become obvious by some harsh reviews I received on The Price of Innocence, that some called a “miserable book,” readers would rather not think about the squalor 90% of the population experienced in Victorian England. Nevertheless, the authors who lived in those eras – like Dickens and Gaskell – had no qualms about penning reality in their stories because they were important social issues.

Toil Under the Sun, the first book in my series, will be somewhat Dickenish in a few chapters. I’m attempting to soften the blow by interesting characters. There are no beautiful dresses, stately homes (unless you’re hired as a brickmaker to construct one), or wealthy yearly incomes. Instead of canopy beds, it’s a hard, lumpy mattress on a platform or more likely the floor. Those with no home slump over a rope in a doss house to get some shut-eye, or pay a few shillings a night to share a bed with a lice-ridden individual in a common lodging house.  (The lice were free.)

There was no running water, so people bathed at washhouses if they could afford to pay the price. Public fountains were around town to fill up your buckets for water and carry them home but were a cesspool of germs. (Read More Here) I’ll spare you the gory details about where and how people relieved themselves because you’ll die from the stench alone or some related disease. Some parts of Manchester were called hell on earth in those days. (Read More Here)  I was shocked to learn that my third great-grandfather, Henry Holland, lived two blocks away from the slum area in this article during 1851, and he was a journeyman bricklayer that could make a wage.  It broke my heart.

“The lowest, most filthy, most unhealthy and most wicked locality in Manchester is called, singularly enough, ‘Angel-meadow.’ It is full of cellars and inhabited by prostitutes, their bullies, thieves, cadgers, vagrants, tramps and, in the very worst sties of filth and darkness…” (Angus Reach, a London Journalist 1849)

When Elizabeth Gaskell wrote North & South, she lived in Manchester. (I’ve visited her home and you can read about here on my author blog.) Even though she chose Milton as the make-believe town where Mr. Thornton had his cotton mill, the hell as penned by Margaret was, “I’ve seen hell and it’s white.” Perhaps that was true inside, but outside the air filled with smoke from the chimneys of factories, and the brick buildings were blackened with soot.

The idea of children being cared for by nannies and brought up by governesses is a far cry from the reality of young children who worked in factories to help with family finances. Rarely, did a child have the opportunity to learn to read or write. The boys were taught more often than the girls even in the middle class. Quite a few of my ancestors, including my second great-grandfather, merely put an “X” on the marriage bann because he couldn’t scribble his own name.

Nevertheless, out of the poverty, one person can rise above and build an empire of wealth for his family and descendants. How my second great uncle accomplished that task in the world described above is beyond my comprehension.

As I write how my protagonist, William Leighton, accomplishes it, the entire story is purely conjecturing on my part but, hopefully, will make for good reading.

Sorry for the downer post!  I promise the majority of the squalor will only last the first eight chapters, then things start looking up!  No need to throw book one across the room when you finish it.



Pass Me the Mortar

img029I come from a long line of bricksetters or bricklayers as some term these talented men.  The man standing on the scaffolding in the picture on the right with white gloves is my grandfather, Robert Holland.  The dude with no shirt on is my father. (inserts blush) My grandfather was a bricklayer, and I’m pretty sure each of his four male sons knew how to lay bricks, though they didn’t keep the profession for the long term.

My grandfather’s father, Robert Holland, was also a bricklayer.  His father Thomas Holland was a bricklayer (my second great grandfather); and, of course, his father, Henry Holland was a bricklayer.  Henry Holland’s sons, Henry and Robert were also bricklayers, and they had sons who were bricklayers.  I think that about builds the family tree with bricks.

Now, as far as I’m concerned, I know nothing about bricklaying. However, writing this series has thrown me into the mix of the mortar, and I’m learning not only how to put a brick on top of another brick but that I’m only getting paid 30 shillings for working 54-1/2 hours a week!  Geesh, where’s the neighborhood pub?

London 027

While writing and researching my little heart out, I’m also learning the history of Manchester and the unions that my family members joined. Surprising, there is an abundance of studies done in the mid-Victorian era about trades that are filled with a wealth of interesting tidbits.  The writer geek in me squeals when I find something.

The first time I went to Manchester, I got off the train, stepped outside, and my senses were assaulted by a city of bricks.  I took the picture above outside the Picadilly train station, and couldn’t help but wonder how many of my ancestors had a hand on one of those buildings.  I have actually found some locations my second great uncle’s company worked on so these creations are still standing.

I’ll try not to bore you to death about brickmaking in the Leighton Family Saga. Nevertheless, book one needs to build that foundation for their livelihood from rags to riches.  What may shock you, and I’ll post it in the future, is the violence that the union perpetrated in Manchester to protect the trade in the 1860’s and decades afterward.  It’s an eye-opening look into a city filled with cotton mills, industry, terrible poverty among the lower class, and people building buildings with bricks.  Think Mr. Thornton and North & South if you’re into period drama and Richard Armitage.  You may get a taste of how it began for my family in, “Toil Under the Sun.”

Stay tuned as I keep writing and blogging.  I tell myself that my success will be built one brick at a time. Sounds good to me.



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