Thursday, October 19, 2017

Henry Mayhew and the London Poor: The Lives of Street Sellers

By Mark Patton.

In an earlier blog-post, I followed the experiences of a stranger from the English countryside, newly arrived in London at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, and I quoted the campaigning journalist, Henry Mayhew, describing the "sauntering forth of the unwashed poor" at the beginning of the day, as observed from the vantage-point of the balcony on the dome of Saint Paul's Cathedral.

Mayhew is one of the most important historical sources for anyone seeking to understand the life of London's streets in the first half of the Nineteenth Century. His writings on downward social mobility were surely coloured, at least in part, by his personal experience. Born in London in 1812, and educated at Westminster School, he ran away to sea as a teenager. On top of a failed career as a merchant seaman, he had failed careers as a lawyer, a playwright, and a theatre impresario, and spent much of his adult life on the brink of bankruptcy. He co-founded Punch magazine in 1841, but was manoeuvred out before it became a profitable venture.

Henry Mayhew, based on a Daguerrotype by Richard Beard (image is in the Public Domain).

He is best remembered for a series of articles that he wrote for The Morning Chronicle in 1849, based on interviews with some of London's poorest residents, ranging from barrow-boys and chimney-sweeps, to mudlarks and prostitutes. These articles were brought together, in 1851, in a three-volume work entitled London Labour and the London Poor, to which a fourth volume was added in 1861. His interviews are thought to have influenced many of the fictional accounts of the time, including Charles Dickens's novel, Our Mutual Friend, Charles Kingsley's Alton Locke, and Elizabeth Gaskell's Ruth.

A young man or woman arriving in London from the countryside between 1800 and 1850 might hope, depending on his or her level of skill and literacy, to find employment as a clerk, a shop-worker, a dress-maker, or a domestic servant, but such positions were rarely secure: employers hired and fired at will; businesses often failed; and few bosses would keep positions open for employees who suffered illness or injury. In such circumstances, people had to fall back on their own resources, and many of those interviewed by Mayhew were, one way or another, precariously self-employed.

A street seller of nutmeg-graters and funnels: this man was crippled from birth, and had to pay someone to help dress him in the mornings (image is in the Public Domain).

A street seller of apples (image is in the Public Domain).

A street seller of oysters (image is in the Public Domain).

A street seller of combs (image is in the Public Domain).

One such was a man who sold ham sandwiches on the streets of the West End. "I hardly remember my father," he told the journalist, "but I believe, if he'd lived, I should have been better off ... My brother had gone into the sandwich trade ... and he advised me to be a ham sandwich-man, and so I started as one. At first, I made 10s., and 7s., and 8s. a week - that's seven years or so - but things are worse now, and I make 3s. 6d. some weeks, and 5s. others ... My rent's 2s. a week, but I haven't my own things ... I used to buy my sandwiches at 6d. a dozen, but I found that wouldn't do; and now I buy and boil the stuff, and make them myself. What did cost me 6d., now only costs me 4d. ... "

The sandwich seller might have been, in modern terms, "just about managing" (he did, at least, have a home to go to at night, with facilities for boiling ham); and, in Victorian terms, one of the "deserving poor" (making a living through his own efforts, rather than seeking charity or resorting to crime), but this did not always protect him from abuse by those better off than he was:

"Six times I've been upset by drunken fellows on purpose, I've no doubt, and lost all my stock. Once, a gent kicked my basket into the dirt ... I've been bilked by cabmen, who've taken a sandwich; but, instead of paying for it, have offered to fight me ... we're knocked about sadly by the Police."

Unlike many on the streets, this man was literate:

"I read a bit, if I can get anything to read, for I was at St Clement's School; or I walk out and look for a job. On summer-days I sell a trotter or two. But mine's a wretched life, and so is most ham sandwich-men. I've no enjoyment of my life and no comfort."

Most of Mayhew's interviews provide us only with a snapshot of an individual's life, and we do not know what became of this young man. On the one hand, he might have found employment a few days later; on the other, the briefest of illnesses could have ended his business and left him destitute, with few opportunities to claw his way back.


Mark Patton blogs regularly on aspects of historical fiction and non-fiction at He is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books may be purchased from Amazon.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Common Myths of the Wars of the Roses or All you thought you knew about the Wars of the Roses, but didn’t… Episode 2

By Derek Birks

Wars of the Roses Myth #3 – Was Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, really a ‘Kingmaker’? 
Part 1…

A month or two ago, I had a bit of a rant on Facebook about the common myths which persist about many aspects of the Wars of the Roses period. I vowed to do something about it, so here’s my second offering which seeks to explode the myth that Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, justified the epithet of “kingmaker”.

History likes important people to have nicknames: Alfred the Great, Ethelred the Unready, William the Conqueror, Edward ‘Longshanks’, or the ‘Hammer of the Scots’, ‘Good Queen Bess’ or ‘Gloriana’, ‘Bloody’ Mary and ‘Bluff’ King Hal. Such nicknames will be familiar but these names are not about history, they are about legend. They are useful handles for us to use to identify a particular figure and they have become part of our collective memory. Unfortunately, they are often wholly, or partly, inaccurate – and frequently based upon the opinions of a few influential early historians.

These nicknames are thus the judgement of one society or culture upon another that came before - and they sometimes come with a fierce perspective! Often it’s worth finding out, if you can, who first used the term and why.

So when was the name ‘Kingmaker’ first used about the Earl of Warwick?

Well, Shakespeare – who else? – gives us a place to start with the character of Warwick in his play Henry VI Part 3. [Please note: Shakespeare wrote fiction!]
In Act 2, scene 3, Warwick is described by the bard as: “thou setter up and plucker down of kings.”

Courtesy of Wikimedia
But the term ‘kingmaker’ actually predates Shakespeare. A Scottish philosopher and intellectual, John Major (or Mair), wrote in 1521 of Warwick in his History of Greater Britain: ‘Of him, it was said that he made kings and at his pleasure cast them down’ and Major used the Latin phrase ‘regum creator’ to describe the earl.

The first known English reference is: ‘That brave Kingmaker, Warwick’ which appears in Samuel Daniel’s poem, The History of the Civil War written in the reign of Elizabeth I.

However, it was not a term in common use for several hundred years until the eighteenth century historian, David Hume, made it more well-known. And of course, for good or ill, the epithet stuck fast.

I have no trouble with using such a tag as an easy handle for recognition purposes. People mostly have some clue to whom you are referring if you say Warwick, the ‘Kingmaker’, to distinguish him from all other Earls of Warwick that existed before or since – and there have been many! That’s fair enough, but when it comes to whether the term is justified, then that’s another matter entirely. 

There are probably three distinct occasions when it has been claimed that the Earl of Warwick was a kingmaker:

1) for Richard, Duke of York, in 1455 (or 1460 – take your pick!)

2) for Edward, Earl of March, in 1461

3) for Henry VI upon his readeption in 1470.

Like most things in the Wars of the Roses, these claims are controversial, but the short answer is that Warwick didn’t actually make anyone king!

In Part 1, I shall deal with the myth that he intended to replace Henry VI with Richard, Duke of York. 

Just how powerful and influential was Warwick?
Warwick had immense wealth – he was a ‘billionaire’ for his time by virtue of his massive land holdings which were the fruits of a succession of advantageous Neville marriages. His large family had intermarried with many other noble families and he could thus build alliances to gain the support of other powerful men.

Warwick from the Rous Rolls via Wikimedia
His wealth gave him a sizeable retinue of men at arms, archers, etc. from these vast estates. He was keen to use the latest technology in warfare such as cannons and firearms - and he understood the importance of such new weapons. In the field he was a courageous warrior, capable of inspiring great loyalty amongst his supporters. Unlike many, he understood the value of sea power and was something of a pioneer in its use.

As well as his martial prowess, he had the charm of a smooth-talking diplomat who was able to win many to his banner. Add to that the drive and ruthless determination to succeed and you have a man capable of achieving a great deal.

The historian, Michael Hicks, in his recent authoritative book, Warwick the Kingmaker, concludes: “For twenty years he shaped events, his own career, and indeed history itself.”

So Warwick probably had the means to 'make' a king, but did he try to put the Duke of  York on  the throne?

The Duke of York possessed an ancient claim to the throne and he was, in the absence of an heir to Henry VI up to 1453, the heir presumptive – the man most likely to succeed. Nevertheless in the early 1450s Richard of York felt slighted and ill-treated, perhaps with some justification, by Henry VI’s regime. York ended up with almost no major political allies. Then, during the period 1452 to 1455, he began to form an alliance with the powerful Neville family. 

Was the alliance with York the work of Warwick? 
Perhaps, but only in part, since his father, the ageing Earl of Salisbury, whose sister, Cicely Neville, was married to York, was the true architect, just as he was the architect of the marriage years earlier that gave Warwick himself such wealth.

How then did Warwick come to support Richard of York against King Henry VI?
Warwick believed that, as a key figure in the realm, he should position himself and his family as close to the centre of power as possible. Since the source of all patronage and advancement was the king, Warwick expected to serve the king in a major capacity and be amply rewarded for doing so. Nothing unusual about that since it was the aspiration of most noblemen in England.

Unfortunately for Warwick, he, and the Neville family in general, had influential rivals at court, notably Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. They were also embroiled in a bitter feud with the Percy family in their own backyard in the north of England. The usual way to eclipse one’s enemies was to harness more power and wealth from the king, for example: grants of more land, appointment to important offices of state or lucrative customs contracts. Such things were the bread and butter of all noble families at that time. The problem was that there was only so much largesse that a king had to give. A prudent king might spread it around a little to create some balance amongst his most powerful subjects, but sadly, Henry VI was not so discriminating.

Thus, by the mid-1450s, the Earl of Warwick, despite all his power and wealth, did not have the pre-eminent position in the state that he coveted. But on two occasions in the 1450s, Warwick was given a glimpse of an alternative reality – a world where England was ruled by a Protector of the Realm because of the king’s temporary incapacity. That protector was Richard, Duke of York and York did a fair job of ruling. He also rewarded his friends, such as the Nevilles, and punished his enemies, such as Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset.

York gave Warwick the prominent seat at the table of state which he wanted. But, after the king’s recovery, York had to relinquish his role of protector with the result that the York-Neville faction was once again starved of influence over the king and thus out of power. For a time they tried persuasion but then in 1455, at the first Battle of St Albans, they resorted to force. 

So, was St Albans in 1455 the first act of the ‘kingmaker’ to replace Henry VI? 

Definitely not and any such suggestion is pure fantasy. What Warwick wanted to do in 1455 was forcibly remove the king’s closest advisers such as Somerset. It was no surprise that the chief casualties at St Albans were the leading noblemen against York and Warwick: dead men can’t rule.

York and Warwick also wanted to limit the influence of the Queen, Margaret of Anjou, who was fiercely supportive of her husband and wanted to protect the legacy of her recently born male heir.

But St. Albans was a dangerous gamble that sent shock waves through the English nobility. Because some prominent men were killed, several new and bitter feuds were started which would last for decades. The use of violence was condemned by many, and if York was testing the strength of commitment to Henry VI, he found that, despite his brief and bloody victory, the vast majority of nobles and others saw Henry VI as their lawful king, anointed by God and thus to be obeyed.
Even York’s own supporters, including the Earl of Warwick, accepted that this was so.

When in 1460, York aimed for the throne, Warwick seemed as surprised as most other lords - few of whom showed any enthusiasm for the idea. The best they would accept was the so-called Act of Accord, whereby Henry would live out his life as king but then York would succeed him. 

If Warwick played any part at all in this whole episode it was a conciliatory one. 

After all, it did not help Warwick’s aim of political power to become embroiled in a bloody civil war, the outcome of which was by no means certain. A desperate man might do that but Warwick was not so desperate - at least not yet...

Nevertheless, the Act of Accord disinherited the king’s legitimate male offspring and Queen Margaret, for one, was unlikely ever to accept that. Her opposition to York and the Nevilles, once born out of suspicion about their motives, became implacable enmity. And she was not going to give up. Marshalling the loyal nobles, who were still the overwhelming majority, she conjured up, at the Battle of Wakefield in late December 1460, the one thing which could put an end to the struggle: the deaths of both Richard, Duke of York and Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury – Warwick’s father.

Warwick had never intended Richard, Duke of York, to actually take the throne from Henry VI, yet the would-be king and Warwick’s father were now dead and, as a result, the York-Neville alliance lay in tatters. York’s death was a body blow because Warwick had invested so much in the duke’s political success. Not only was Warwick out of power, but he was now at risk of losing everything he had. 

Thus early in 1461, Warwick had to decide how he would deal with the fallout from the disaster at Wakefield. But that’s the second part of the myth – and a whole other story…

If you want to find Episode 1 of Wars of the Roses Myths which is about King Henry VI, click here.


Derek Birks was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand, where he still has strong family ties.

For many years he taught history in a secondary school but took early retirement to concentrate on writing. Apart from his writing, he spends his time gardening, travelling, walking and taking part in archaeological digs at a Roman villa.

Derek is interested in a wide range of historical themes but his particular favourite is the late medieval period. He writes action-packed fiction which is rooted in accurate history.
His debut historical novel was Feud, which is set in the period of the Wars of the Roses. Feud is the first of a now complete four-book series, entitled Rebels & Brothers, which follows the fortunes of the fictional Elder family from 1459 to 1471.
A new series, The Craft of Kings, picks up the story of the Elders in 1481 in its first book, Scars From The Past. Later this year, the violent events of 1483 are played out in the sequel, The Blood of Princes.

Amazon author sites:

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Aristocracy in the Seventh and Eighth Centuries

by Annie Whitehead

Last time I looked at the social organisation of the seventh century. Now, I'll be examining in more detail the role of the Aristocracy. At this time, a freeman’s value was expressed in terms of wergeld (literally ‘man-money’), the sum with which a feud could be averted. It was more than a man’s price; it determined the scale of compensation due to him for injury, or for the breach of his peace, or injury to his servant’s. It also defined a man’s status in society.

Characteristic terms used of the nobility in 600-735 were eorl and gesith, the former being found in Kentish documents. As well as the gesiths, there were the thegns - servants of the king not yet rewarded with land, or old enough to have received an inheritance. Possession of land often involved service and it is likely that, in the late seventh- century, connection by blood with a kind, service to a king, and particularly service at a royal court were important factors in determining noble status.

Of the principes and comites (gesiths) mentioned by Bede, many were of the royal kin, and most had some service to perform at the royal court. But they were not only courtiers in the literal sense. The famous story of Imma gives real insight into the nature of the nobility of the age.

Bede depicted in the Nurumberg Chronicle

A young man named Imma is struck down in battle, and sets out to find his friends to take care of him. Instead he is found and captured by men of the enemy army and taken to their lord, who is a gesith of the king. Imma is afraid to say that he is a thegn, so he tells his captor that he is a peasant who came to the battlefield only to bring food to the soldiers.

The gesith has his wounds attended to and as Imma begins to recover, the gesith orders him bound at night. After he has been a prisoner for some time, the gesith begins to notice that by Imma’s “appearance, his bearing and his speech that he was not of common stock as he had said, but of noble family.” The gesith calls Imma to one side and asks him to declare his origins, promising that no harm will come to him as long as he is honest. Imma confesses that he is a thegn, and the gesith says, “I realised by every one of your answers that were not a peasant, and now you ought to die because all my brothers and kinsmen were killed in the battle, but I will not kill you for I do not intend to break my promise.”

The first implication of this story is that a social gulf already separated the skilled fighting man from the peasant; manner of speech and knowledge of courteous ways betrayed the man of superior social status. The gesith himself was a significant figure; he was settled on an estate, in command of a powerful section of the royal army, and a victor in battle. He possessed a strong kindred of fighting men, and held the power of life or death over his captives. He was loyal to his oath, even though loyalty meant failure to take the correct vengeance for his kinsmen.

Other references in Bede’s Hist. Eccl. build up a similar picture of the typical powerful noble as a holder of land. When King Sigebert of Essex was assassinated, Bede considered it as just retribution for his failure to correct moral abuses on the part of his two comites (gesiths) who were his kinsmen. He was slain on the ham, that is to say the substantial estate, of one of his comites. In Northumbria two comites are said to have founded churches on their estates. So a picture emerges from the narrative sources of a great nobleman as a powerful military leader, possible of royal kin, settled on an estate, possessing a hall, and surrounded by retainers.

With the conversion to Christianity, the bond between noble and king, originally so much that between household retainer and lord, was knit more strictly by Christian oaths. Kingship developed too, with the king no longer being regarded merely as in the folk, but over the folk. Royal blood and an honourable genealogy were essential for a successful king. Christianity emphasised the value of the blood royal, and established legitimate kingship was accompanied by an established legitimate nobility, and the ability to exercise lordship over freemen developed into the most obvious mark of nobility.

king, saint, and gospel

The law codes surviving from this period give an insight into the position of the nobility in society, and its relationship with the classes beneath it on the social scale. These codes have enough in common to give a picture of aristocratic society in what HR Loyn called an heroic age. Special privileges granted to the nobles included higher payment for infringement of their house peace, of their own personal surety, of the lives and property of their dependants and above all for their own persons.

Clause 50 of Ine of Wessex’s code (688-94) reads:
“If a gesithborn man intercedes with the king or the king’s ealdorman or with the lord for members of his household, slaves or freemen, he the gesith, has no right to any fines, because he would not previously at home restrain them from ill-doing.” 
One thing that may be noted from this is the implication that one gesith may be under another’s lordship. More importantly, it is clear that the state imposed on every lord some responsibility for his men’s behaviour. We are not told how the West Saxon lord exercised his coercive power, but the lord’s right of jurisdiction, with the right in normal circumstances to take a portion of the misdoer’s fine, is clearly visible.

Other illustrations of the lord’s position exist: in seventh-century Kent a noble could clear himself of an accusation by his unsupported oath, while a ceorl would only do so with three of his own class (Whitred19;20). A lord could expect to have the faithful service of his men, and when they died, they were expected to render one final gift: their heriot, (literally ‘army gear’) varied with the status, not of the lord, but of the man.

The duties expected of the nobility extended further than that of keeping their own freemen and dependants under control. The nobility featured strongly in what could loosely be termed as local government, particularly administration and judicial proceedings. The clause in Ine’s code already referred to, has a further implication, which is that the nobleman had the duty of interceding for members of his household in the pubic courts. Knowledge of such public courts is vague. Presumably they owed much of their authority to the dignitary who presided over them – king, ealdorman or great lord. There were matters that demanded interpretation by wise men, by elders of the moots. At the highest level of the kingdom such men were drawn together in an assembly to give special sanction to the promulgations of dooms (judgements, pronouncements.)

the king with his council

The king legislated with the advice of his council, in fact some enactments seem to have gone out in the name of the latter alone. Copies were sent to the ealdormen in charge of the various provinces. These ealdormen were royal officials appointed by the king. Sometimes they were related to the royal house, quite often they belonged to the family that had ruled the province before its absorption into a larger kingdom. According to Dorothy Whitelock, they were most often drawn from the king’s thegns. Within his own area of operations, the ealdorman was the king’s representative. He led the forces of this district in war, and presided at its judicial assembly (as we have already seen). Like the king, he had official estates, and rights of claiming hospitality for his officials and messengers. It has been suggested that the ealdorman had two wergelds: one as his right as a member of society and one for his position as a royal official.

We have seen that the nobility were the top rank in a carefully structured hierarchical society, closely connected to the king by blood, or service. To sum up their functions in society and government, here’s a quote from Whitelock’s The Beginnings of English Society: “From early times kings were in the habit of granting to private landowners, the profits of jurisdiction over their own lands or over their own men, and sometimes over wider areas. This is so already at the date of Ine’s laws.”

The nobleman was a respected member of society, owing service to the king in military, judicial, and administrative capacities. In reward for these services he was given grants of land. His duties involved the lower end of the social scale in that he had an obligation to protect the people under him. The nobleman was a central figure in the social organisation and government of Anglo-Saxon England.


Annie Whitehead is an author and historian, and a member of the Royal Historical Society. Her first two novels are set in tenth-century Mercia, chronicling the lives of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, who ruled a country in all but name, and Earl Alvar who served King Edgar and his son Æthelred the Unready who were both embroiled in murderous scandals. Her third novel, also set in Mercia, tells the story of seventh-century King Penda and his feud with the Northumbrian kings. She is currently working on a history of Mercia for Amberley Publishing, to be released in 2018.
Amazon Page

Friday, October 13, 2017

John Boyle O'Reilly - Irish Patriot, American Journalist, Poet

by Arthur Russell

“The world is large when its weary leagues two loving hearts divide. 
The world is small when your enemy is loose on the other side.”

These lines were quoted by United States President John F. Kennedy in his address to the Irish Parliament (Dáil Eireann), during his visit to Ireland in June 1963. The lines describe the heartache and trauma of Irish emigration which had become an enduring feature of life in Ireland arising from mid nineteenth century social upheavals caused by chronic famine coupled with serious agrarian disturbance.

The President was quoting from one of his favourite writers, John Boyle O’Reilly, who as editor of the paper “The Pilot” and a prolific writer and lecturer, was a dominant and well regarded commentator on the Boston scene during the last decades of the 19th century.

Who was John Boyle O’Reilly?
He was born in Ireland in June 1844, in Netterville House in Dowth, County Meath near the town of Drogheda; within sight of the 5000 year-old Megalithic tomb complex of Newgrange and its sister site of Knowth in the River Boyne valley. Both of his parents, William David O’Reilly and Eliza Boyle; were school teachers and ardent Irish Nationalists, features that contributed to O’Reilly’s love of reading about all things Irish as well as his gift for writing.

When he was 15, he went to live with his uncle and aunt in Preston in Lancashire where he worked as a young reporter with a local newspaper. While here he joined the 11th Lancashire Rifle Volunteers. He returned to Ireland in 1863, and enlisted in the 10th Hussars. As a fresh recruit, he became disillusioned by the Imperial authorities treatment of the native Irish population which caused him to encourage 80 fellow soldiers to join the newly formed Irish Republican Brotherhood, which became commonly known as “the Fenians”. In the aftermath of an abortive insurrection in 1866, O’Reilly, along with many other Fenian activists were arrested. He was sentenced to be executed, but due to his relative youth (aged 22 years) this was commuted to 20 years imprisonment with hard labour. A year and a half was served in English prisons from which he made several unsuccessful attempts to escape which earned him long periods of solitary confinement before he was transported to serve the remainder of his term in a penal colony in Australia. He had the distinction of being a member of the last group of transportees to be sent to Australia. This was on board the ship Hougoumont where he and a number of fellow Fenian prisoners produced a handwritten newspaper called The Wild Goose which included poems and stories drawn from the experiences of his fellow convicts on board. Seven editions of The Wild Goose were produced, one set of which survives in the State Library of New South Wales.

Convict life in Western Australia
On arrival in Australia he was assigned to a convict camp in the town of Bunbury in Western Australia in 1868. Within a year, and with the help and encouragement of the local Catholic priest, Father Patrick McCabe and some farmers from the nearby town of Dardanup, O’Reilly determined to escape from Australia. Following a prearranged plan, he and a fellow Fenian prisoner absconded from the convict camp and made their way to the Leshenault Peninsula where they had to wait for two weeks before being picked up by the American ship Gazelle which brought him from Australia. After a long voyage with several stops where he was in constant danger of being rearrested, he arrived in Boston in November 1869.

Arrival in Boston
Here, O’Reilly became involved with the burgeoning Irish American community, including its civil rights and sporting activities. Due to his considerable writing skills, he became part owner of the Pilot newspaper and began serious writing. His first book of poetry “Songs from the Southern Seas” was published in 1873. During the following decade, there were other poetry collections; Songs, Legends and Ballads (1878), The Statues in the Block (1881), In Bohemia (1886). In 1879 he published a novel Moondyne in 1879 based on his convict experiences in Australia, which was very popular among Irish Americans. His final collection of poems, Watchwords was published after his death in 1890.

O’Reilly’s life in Boston
O’Reilly’s first newspaper assignment was to cover the Fenian Convention in Boston in 1870, and the abortive Fenian led invasion of British ruled Canada, the most significant action of which was the Battle of Ridgeway in 1866 where the Irish Americans were repulsed by the Canadians. Overall, the military venture into Canada was a total disaster and was responsible for O’Reilly changing his views on Fenian militarism as a means for achieving political ends in either Canada or his native Ireland. Instead he saw the need to raise the status and self esteem of his fellow Irish immigrants to America as a better way to improve their lot in their adopted land, as well as progresslng the eventual achievement of independence back in his native Ireland through political rather than physical force methods.

He established his home in the Charlestown neighbourhood where he brought his bride, Mary Murphy in August 1872. Mary was also a journalist who worked for another Boston publication, The Young Crusader, under the name Agnes Smiley. The couple had 4 daughters, the second of which, Agnes O’Reilly, helped with her husband William Ernest Hocking, to establish the mixed gender Shady Hill School near Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which still operates. (The school actually began in 1915 with the support of a group of families, as a “back porch” school in the Hocking household until student numbers outgrew this location).

The Catalpa Rescue
In 1875, O’Reilly was approached by the leader of the major Irish nationalist organisation in the United States, John Devoy; to advise on the rescue of six Fenian leaders still imprisoned in Australia. This plan had significant support from the Irish American community and funds were forthcoming to purchase a whaling ship called the Catalpa and its crew for the venture. The result was the successful Catalpa Rescue which saw the six prisoners being picked up just outside Australian waters after dodging naval patrols that had been alerted about the escape. The fact that Catalpa was flying the flag of the United States in international waters prevented the Australian authorities from forcibly boarding the ship.

O’Reilly as editor of the Pilot, was first to break the news of the escape in June 1876, which caused much celebration in United States and Ireland; extreme anger in Britain and Australia.

The escape is celebrated by an impressive memorial in Rockingham, Western Australia which features 6 flying geese which draws on the tradition of Irish soldiers leaving Ireland to join Continental armies after the War of the 2 Kings which saw Protestant King William replace Catholic King James on the English throne. These and succeeding generations of departing Jacobite Irish soldiers came to be called the Wild Geese. This recalled the Wild Goose name also applied by O’Reilly and his Fenian prisoner comrades to their publication on board the Hougoumont transporting them to Australia.

The Social activist
Through the medium of The Pilot newspaper O’Reilly articulated his support for the establishment of the rights of the emancipated slaves emerging from the American Civil war. His immediate focus was a recent U.S. Supreme Court as well as the campaigning of one Henry Grady who advocated what he termed establishing “The New South” which would keep the black population in a second class role in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling which declared the 1875 Civil Rights Act unconstitutional.

‘Never did oratory cover up the weaker points of a repulsive cause so well’

The Pilot printed a series of articles disputing the claims advanced by Grady that highlighted the realities of southern life. The massacre by a white mob of 8 black men in South Carolina in December 1889 prompted the following editorial from O’Reilly. To some extent, it reflects his undimmed Irish Nationalism, along with inevitable opposition against the “Anglo Saxon”; at the same time encouraging opposition “by law first and by manly force in extremity.”

The black race in the South must face the inevitable, soon or late, and the inevitable is - DEFEND YOURSELF. If they shrink from this, they will be trampled on with yearly increasing cruelty until they have sunk back from the great height of American freedom to which the war-wave carried them. And in the end, even submission will not save them. On this continent there is going to be no more slavery. That is settled forever. Not even voluntary slavery will be tolerated. Therefore, unless the Southern blacks learn to defend their homes, women, and lives, by law first and by manly force in extremity, they will be exterminated like the Tasmanian and Australian blacks. No other race has ever obtained fair play from the Anglo-Saxon without fighting for it, or being ready to fight. The Southern blacks should make no mistake about the issue of the struggle they are in. They are fighting for the existence of their race; and they cannot fight the Anglo-Saxon by lying down under his feet.

This editorial roused considerable criticism across the country to which the Pilot faithfully published and responded. Replying to the St. Louis newspaper Church Progress that: ‘It is neither Catholic nor American to rouse the negroes of the South to open and futile rebellion’ O’Reilly wrote: ‘True, and the Pilot has not done so. We have appealed only to the great Catholic and American principle of resisting wrong and outrage, of protecting life and home and the honour of families by all lawful means, even the extremest, when nothing else remains to be tried.’

His anti-racist views as well as his support for minorities suffering from various forms of discrimination made him a much sought after speaker promoting better race and inter-ethnic relations across the country.

By contrast, O’Reilly’s views of Women’s suffrage remained consistently “conservative” based on sincerely held views that society and civilisation was ultimately under pinned by violence. He contended that Society was a blend of competing interests each of which was backed by men willing and able to fight for what they believed. In this scenario, O’Reilly saw women’s lack of physical strength in protecting their own interests as reason not to extend the franchise.

“A vote, like a law is no good unless there is an arm behind it; it cannot be enforced. This is a shameful truth, perhaps, but it is true”.

"We want no contest with women; they are higher, truer, nobler, smaller, meaner, more faithful, more frail, gentler, more envious, less philosophic, more merciful - oh, far more merciful and kind and lovable and good than men are. Those of them that are Catholics, are better Catholics than their husbands and sons; those who are Protestants are better Christians than theirs. Women have all the necessary qualities to make good men; but they must give their time and attention to it while the men are boys."He had well defined views on the role of newspapers and journalists in keeping society on the straight and narrow. Journalism should be much much more than “muckraking and manufactured outrage”, their role being to explain the world to readers honestly and clearly.

Surely this is a current theme in an age of so-called “fake news” (real and/or alleged)?

O’Reilly’s published writings

His published writings were well received to the extent that he was often commissioned to write commemorative pieces for special events. Some of his works are still highly regarded.

Possibly his best known poem is “The Cry of the Dreamer”, which shows his love for Ireland and his memories of boyhood days in the rural countryside near the River Boyne in Ireland which he would never see again; (“the dear old river, where I dreamed my youth away”). It also articulates his tedium with “heart weary building and spoiling, and spoiling and building again”; which was part and parcel of his new life in Boston; as well as his awareness of his adopted city’s (“crowded hives of men”) social inequalities. (“no pride but pity for the burdens the rich endure” as against “nothing sweet in the city but the patient lives of the poor”). The poor of the cities, the black population struggling to find their way to true freedom, the native Indian being driven from their ancestral lands as well as the many ethnic groups, including his own Irish immigrants trying to make their way in a new land all feature in O’Reilly’s writings.

I am tired of planning and toiling
In the crowded hives of men;
Heart-weary of building and spoiling,
And spoiling and building again.
And I long for the dear old river,
Where I dreamed my youth away;
For a dreamer lives forever,
And a toiler dies in a day.

I am sick of the showy seeming
Of a life that is half a lie;
Of the faces lined with scheming
In the throng that hurries by.
From the sleepless thoughts' endeavour,
I would go where the children play;
For a dreamer lives forever,
And a thinker dies in a day.

I can feel no pride, but pity
For the burdens the rich endure;
There is nothing sweet in the city
But the patient lives of the poor.
Oh, the little hands too skillful,
And the child-mind choked with weeds!
The daughter's heart grown willful,
And the father's heart that bleeds!

No, no! from the street's rude bustle,
From the trophies of mart and stage,
I would fly to the woods' low rustle
And the meadows' kindly page.
Let me dream as of old by the river,
And be loved for the dream alway;
For a dreamer lives forever,
And a toiler dies in a day.

Among his more popular lines are the piece “A White Rose”, often quoted at many wedding celebrations wherever English is spoken, demonstrate a romantic side of this talented writer.

A White Rose
The red rose whispers of passion,
And the white rose breathes of love;
O, the red rose is a falcon,
And the white rose is a dove.
But I send you a cream-white rosebud
With a flush on its petal tips;
For the love that is purest and sweetest
Has a kiss of desire on the lips

Death and aftermath

O’Reilly suffered from bouts of insomnia and on one of these took medicine containing chloral hydrate used by his wife to help him sleep. His wife Mary found him unconscious sitting at a table with one hand resting beside a book, and the other holding a cigar. All attempts to revive him failed and he died at 5 pm on August 10th 1890 in his 46th year. Public announcements attributed the death to heart failure, while the official record shows accidental poisoning.

His funeral was attended by thousands of mourners. Five of his Fenian comrades who had found a haven in United States were his coffin bearers to Calvary Cemetery in Roxbury. Later in the year his remains were exhumed and removed to Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline.

Immediately after his death, there was widespread outpouring of tributes to O’Reilly led by President Grover Cleveland who wrote "I have heard with sincere regret that John Boyle O'Reilly is dead. I regarded him as a strong and able man, entirely devoted to any cause he espoused, unselfish in his activity, true and warm in his friendship, and patriotic Massachusetts Senator George Frisby Hoar wrote to Mary O’Reilly "Accept my profound sympathy in your great loss and the great public loss. Your husband combined, as no other man, some of the noblest qualities of the Irishman and the American."

Six years later (June 1896), a multi-figure bronze sculpture made by Daniel Chester French of O'Reilly was unveiled on the Fenway, Boston, at which President Cleveland spoke.

Perhaps the strongest endorsement of O’Reilly and what he stood for was from his Pilot newspaper colleague James Jeffrey Roche who published his biography.

"O'Reilly defended the oppressed negroes, as he had defended the oppressed Indians, as sincerely and zealously as he had all his life defended the oppressed of his own race. It was morally impossible for him to do otherwise."

Arthur Russell is the author of Morgallion, a novel set in medieval Ireland during the Invasion of Ireland in 1314 by the Scottish army led by Edward deBruce, the last crowned King of Ireland. It tells the story of Cormac MacLochlainn, a young man from the Gaelic crannóg community of Moynagh and how he and his family endured and survived that turbulent period of history. Morgallion was awarded the indieBRAG Medallion.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

St. Nicholas Abbey: A 17th century sugar plantation

by Cryssa Bazos

Long before Barbados became a travellers’ destination, renowned for its beautiful beaches, the island was a lucrative English colony and a source of exotic commodities, particularly sugar.

Barbados had been first colonized in 1627 by London merchants, and by approximately the mid 1640’s, the island’s plantation owners had started growing sugar cane. For the next three centuries, Barbados would become one of the major sugar producers in the world. Even today, when driving around inland Barbados, acres of sugar cane fields are a common sight.

One of the oldest surviving sugar plantations on the island is St. Nicholas Abbey, which also has the distinction of being one of three remaining Jacobean mansions in the Western Hemisphere. A visit to St. Nicholas satisfies those interested in the island’s history, Jacobean architecture and life on a sugar plantation. 

Front entrance of St. Nicholas Abbey
(picture by C. Bazos)

A tale of many families

St. Nicholas Abbey is located to the north of the island in St. Peter’s Parish, and the mansion was built in 1658 by Colonel Benjamin Berringer. With its 400 acres of prime land, at least half devoted to sugar cane, and its proximity to the main shipping port of Speightstown (once called Little Bristol), the plantation was indeed a jewel. As you drive up to the mansion, you pass under a shaded roadway lined on either side with mature mahogany trees. Those trees would have been planted in the 19th century, but when the house was first built, this roadway would have been graced by cherry trees. 

Picture by C.Bazos

Originally, St. Nicholas Abbey was part of a collective property owned by Colonel Berringer and his business partner, John Yeamans (whose own portion was called Greenland). Over the years, the two men would engage in a heated rivalry over the property, and more scandalously, the affections of Berringer’s wife, Margaret.

In the early days of their partnership, Berringer and Yeamans competed for the favours of Margaret Foster, a preacher’s daughter. Berringer came up as the winner in that contest, and he and Margaret married and settled down to have three children. Yeamans, no doubt, stewed. It’s very likely that the subsequent and ongoing disputes about the plantation borders were spurred by losing out on Margaret’s affections.

As these things often happen between married couples, Berringer and his wife’s marriage had its ups and downs, and in 1661, the couple had a major argument which forced Berringer to leave the home and remove to nearby Speightstown to stay with friends. The cause of the argument is unknown, but he and Margaret did not have time to reconcile. Not long after his departure, Berringer died suddenly and under very mysterious circumstances. Many whispered that Yeamans had somehow poisoned his old business partner, and these rumours dogged Yeamans for the rest of his life. Whether Yeamans did poison Berringer or not, no one could say nor was any proof established, but everyone noted the speed to which he and Berringer’s widow, Margaret, were married—her mourning lasted only ten weeks. Not only did Yeamans profit romantically by his former business partner’s death, he came out significantly ahead financially. Upon his marriage to Margaret, Yeamans acquired the Berringer plantation and merged both properties under the new Yeamans Plantation appellation.

John Yeamans’s star was now on the ascent. A couple of years after Berringer’s death, Yeamans was awarded a peerage by King Charles II and appointed Governor of Carolina, and he and Margaret eventually relocated to Charlestown. The man was reputed to be a greedy opportunist, and his reputation soon soured his dealings in the new world. He eventually moved back to Barbados with his wife and died in 1674.

St. Nicholas Abbey eventually passed to Margaret’s son from her first marriage and then shortly to his daughter Susanna Nicholas. This was when the plantation changed from Yeamans to its present day name.

Eventually the plantation would change hands in 1720 when Joseph Dottin, the Deputy Governor of Barbados purchased it. In 1746, he gave the property to his daughter as a dowry, with the provision that it would revert back to her heirs, when she married Sir John Gay Alleyne (he was the Gay Alleyne connected to the famous Mount Gay rum). Sir John was a Speaker of the House and one of the first plantation owners to have educated his slaves. Unfortunately when Sir John’s wife passed away, there were no heirs and St. Nicholas was in a state of legal limbo. The plantation eventually grew deep into debt and had to be sold off.

Enter the Cumberbatch family. If you’re wondering if there’s a connection to that Cumberbatch, yes, there is indeed. Meet Benedict's 7 x great-grandfather (give or take). The resemblance is uncanny.

Abraham Carlton Cumberbatch (1728-1785)
Father of Edward and Lawrence Cumberbatch
(Picture by Cryssa Bazos)

Two brothers, Edward Cumberbatch and Lawrence Trent Cumberbatch purchased St. Nicholas Abbey in 1810 and through the Trent Cave branch owned the property until 2006. The property was sold one last time to architect Larry Warren, who restored the home to its former glory and opened it to the public.

Features of St. Nicholas Abbey

Come with me on a virtual tour of the mansion. When you walk up to the house, you will pass an old stone wall and gate which leads to a forecourt, filled with local plants and flowers. The front of the three storied mansion features three Jacobean curvilinear gables set above an arched entranceway. When you enter the short hallway, to your right is the formal dining room. In the 17th century, the kitchen would have been a separate building accessible off the dining room, but in recent years, the kitchen was connected to the main house through this route. Of note in this room is an English Sheraton sideboard that dates to the late 18th century and a mahogany dining table crafted from local wood. The Minton china dates back to the early 19th century.

Dining room (picture by C.Bazos)

China display (picture by C.Bazos)

To the left of the hallway is a grand drawing room with sash windows, which were installed in 1746, and which replaced the original shutters. These windows overlook a herb garden (with bay leaf, lemon grass, and aloe) and expose the room to refreshing tropical breezes. One amusing aspect of the house was that there were fireplaces built into the design. I don’t think a chimney sweep’s services have ever been needed. 

Drawing room (picture by C.Bazos)

View to the herb garden (picture by C. Bazos)

Just off the drawing room you will find a private study and in it, a unique gentleman’s chair. Consider it a modern day equivalent of a La-Z-boy recliner. The master of the house could read, eat, sleep, and when his snoring grew too loud, be wheeled around to another room, all without having to vacate the chair!

Upstairs there are seven bedrooms, accessible by a Chippendale staircase which dates back to the early 18th century. When the staircase was installed, it didn’t just replace the original staircase, it was moved over from the left to the right. Moving toward the back of the house you’ll find a 17th century English Oak Settle in the Jacobean style. A closer look at the settle will show the upper panels depicting various knights. 

Picture by C.Bazos
From there we exit into the courtyard with a very large (and thorny) tree stands. This tree is believed to be nearly as old as the house, and locals call it a “monkey-no-climb tree” because the monkeys sensibly stay clear of it. There are a number of outhouses positioned in the courtyard including a bathhouse on one end and a barn at the other end.

Sugar and rum and all things yum

St. Nicholas enjoyed continuous sugar production from the 17th century until 1947. After a sixty year break, it resumed again in 2006. Today St. Nicholas crushes 350 tonnes of cane each year. The plantation crushes the cane on site between January to June using steam powered rollers which were introduced in 1890. Before then, the crushing rollers would have been wind powered. You still see these windmill structures throughout the island. 

Traditionally, the cane was cut by hand (a foot off the ground), stacked vertically in a wagon and taken to the crushing mill. Time was of the essence in harvesting the canes, for they had to be crushed by the end of the day or dry out. By stacking the cane vertically, instead of been laid flat on the bottom of the wagon, they’re quickly offloaded at the crushing mill.

Basic sugar production includes extracting the muddy brown cane juice, passing it through a series of copper pots in the boiling house and then curing it in clay pots. The coarse, brown sugar takes about a month to cure, while the refined white sugar takes a few more months longer. 

For rum, they distill the skimmings which run from the three lesser coppers in the boiling house to another building called the still house. From there the resulting liquor would need to be distilled twice and aged. Today, visitors can try the St. Nicholas plantation rum and be a part of the island tradition.

If you’re ever in Barbados and look for a unique experience and a trip back in time, I recommend a visit to St. Nicholas Abbey. 


St. Nicholas Abbey Tour Guide: 350 Years of Heritage Preserved for Future Generations
The True & Exact History of the Island of Barbados, by Richard Lion

Cryssa Bazos is an award winning historical fiction writer and 17th century enthusiast with a particular interest in the English Civil War. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, the Romantic Novelist Association and is a co-editor and contributor of the English Historical Fiction Authors blog. Her debut novel, Traitor's Knot, is published by Endeavour Press.

Connect with Cryssa through her Website (, Facebook, Twitter (@CryssaBazos) and Instagram. Traitor's Knot is available through Amazon.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Managing an estate

by Maria Grace

There were two major types of great landowners in the regency era–the aristocrats who were deeply involved in running the government, but rather less hands-on in regards to their estates, and land-owning gentry, who were very hands-on and represented the majority of land owners.

A country estate was a complex economic mini-state that typically included a residence of sufficient size to suit a gentleman with parkland, gardens, stables and paddocks. A large agrarian business extended out from this center, consisting of a home farm and gardens, numerous tenanted farms and cottages usually in a village near the manor. The survival of the resident family, household staff, tenant farmers and their families and workers depended on revenues from the estate’s agricultural enterprises and rents. (Laudermilk, 1989) A successful estate owner needed solid business acumen.

But why? Gentlemen did not work for their income, did they?

Technically, they did not. Their income came largely from rents and investments. Estates often had small villages within their boundaries including church and parsonage, stone, brick or timbered farmhouses, and cottages, even wind/water mills in a few narrow lanes, all surrounded by productive (and often leased out) meadows and fields. (It was generally considered a village, not a town because it had no market, the defining characteristic of a small town.)

Estate owners might also receive revenue from the sale of products from their land, including crops, animal products, timber and minerals.


Estate owners leased out various kinds of property, including tenant farms of various sizes, houses and cottages, and even small estates that might be part of their holdings. Rents rose dramatically between 1790 and 1830, in some cases increasing fivefold over that period, making rents a considerable source of income, especially for large estate owners. (Murray, 1998)

Since a gentleman did not dirty his hands with money, for him to collect the rents from this himself would have been vulgar. A steward, or in the case off smaller estates, a bailiff, would be hired for that task and others related to estate management. 

Stewards and Bailiffs

Whereas a bailiff might be an estate’s major tenant hired to simply collect rents, a steward was an educated man, often the son of clergy, a smaller landowner or a professional man, hired to assist in the running and management of the estate. A steward was not considered a servant, but rather a skilled professional. For this reason, he was addressed as ‘Mister’. Not long after the regency era, the term ‘steward’, having servile connotations, was dropped in favor of the more professional term ‘land agent.’

Stewards frequently had experience and training as solicitors which was particularly useful in their duties managing contracts and overseeing estate accounts. Beyond these duties, stewards also collected rents, leased land, supervised the tenantry, directed any work done on the land, settled squabbles that arose among the tenants or workers, purchased animals, seed and so on. (Shapard,2003)

The steward would often have a home of his own, but would on occasion stay at the manor. His duties might regularly take him to the family's other country houses, and to London, but he was unlikely to travel with the family on a regular basis. (Martin, 2004)


Tenant farmers

By 1790, three quarters of England's agricultural land was cultivated by tenants. (Day, 2006) The remaining quarter represented small yeoman farmers whose numbers would decrease through the ensuing century.

Tenants usually rented sections of land with farmhouse and outbuildings, paid their rents on the established quarter days: Lady Day (March 25), Midsummer (June 24), Michaelmas (September 29), Christmas (December 25), sold the produce, and kept the earnings. Customary provisions required the landlord to supply materials, buildings and facilities such as drainage and hedging while the tenant provided stock, seed and tools. (Davidoff, 2002)

Farmers, including tenant farmers, made up the middling ranks of rural society. They could become quite well off with their sons and daughters educated as they moved up the social scale. Though the sons of tenants could not inherit the land their father’s works, they could inherit their farm leases. These leases, which traditionally ran for multiples of seven years, were often passed from father to son, with the land owners preferring to maintain the continuity of a known tenants and the relationships that went with it. (Davidoff, 2002)

It was not uncommon for a tenant farmer to rent extra land with additional farmhouses for adult sons to farm. The eldest son would eventually take over his father’s tenant farm when he retired or died. Widows might head a farm household, hiring help with the farm as needed until a young son was old enough to take over the tenancy. (Davidoff, 2002)

Tenants normally looked to their landlord for assistance whether for personal matters or for help in improvements to the land. Some of these improvements might include better ways to farm the land and improve productivity.

Farming methods

With populations rapidly increasing, the best landowners sought out advanced methods of agricultural science to improve production (and profits.) The agricultural reports of the newly formed Board of Agriculture were avidly studied to learn more about advancements including crop rotation, scientific stock breeding, and new technologies including the seed drill and machines for threshing and chaff cutting. The installation of drainage in fields was another innovation practiced by many farmers during this era. Heavy clay soils where excess water made plowing more difficult and hurt the growth and root structure of plants would have rows of drains cut beneath the surface to move water away from the fields. (Shapard, 2012)

Four-course crop rotation, commonly called the Norfolk four-course system, increased fodder production. There were many variations of this system, depending on the region. Typically, fields would be sown with wheat in the first year, turnips in the second, followed by barley in the third. The clover and ryegrass were grazed or cut for feed in the fourth year. This produced two cash crops and two animal feed crops.

One constant was the presence of livestock as part of the strategy. Sheep (or sometimes cattle) were turned out to graze the turnip tops. This kept weeds down and allowed the field to be fertilized by mobile manure factories. Turnip roots were stored for winter animal fodder. More fodder meant larger livestock herds and the ability to keep animals through the winter. Improvements like these could double one's income. (Laudermilk,1989)

In addition to increased agricultural production, estates began to enjoy profits from heretofore unexplored avenues such as mining and timber sales. Changes in technologies often fueled demand while improvements in transportation with new canals and steam engines made previously prohibitive production profitable.


What kind of income could a landed estate provide? Naturally the answer depended a great deal on the size of the estate and the kind of management it had.

For a little perspective, the 1801 census found that the average income of the 287 peerage families (all of whom would have landed estates) was approximately £8,000 The top 2000 merchant families averaged £2,500, whereas the top 6000 esquires that Austen’s Mr. Bennet would have belonged to averaged £1,500. That suggests that the £2,000 a year Mr. Bennet had represents a very good income, compared to his peers.

To have an income above the average nobility as a gentleman estate holder, one did not spend a very great deal of time sitting about enjoying the social life of the town. While a man like Austen’s Mr. Darcy might take time to enjoy the finer things as it were, he would also have to spend a very great deal of time and effort in managing the massive agricultural enterprise that provided those finer things.

Technically a gentleman did not ‘work’ for his income. But planning how to keep an estate afloat through the long years of the French war, determining how best to manage the home farm and advise his tenants considering the price of corn, debating whether to invest in draining a new field or if rain will spoil the harvest or damage tenant houses that he will have to repair—and how to effect those repairs—seeking new hands to man the sawmill and cider press and what to pay them—all of that sounds a very great deal like what we today would call work. While there were inevitably bad landowners who put little into managing their estates, many, if not most put in a great deal of very hard work to manage estates that provided “livelihood and the stability for both the landowner and a vast army of workers–tenant farmers, gardeners, cowmen, sawyers and shepherds alike.(As well as providing employment for seasonal labourers like codders, harvesters, shearers…)” (Bennetts, 2012)


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Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. 

After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

Click here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, or follow on Twitter.