DO YOU KNOW ABOUT DETECTOR LOCKS?

When Louisa and I visited the Victoria & Albert Museum in May, I saw the item above, labeled as being a “Detector Lock,” which allowed its owner to see if anyone had opened the lock in their absence. I had never seen one before, or knew that such a lock existed, so I did some further research. Here’s the lock’s description from the V&A website:

British Galleries: By 1700 British locksmiths were famous for their technical and decorative skills. Cosimo III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, probably ordered this lock when he visited England in 1669. It has two dials that indicate how often it has been opened; one is a dummy, to provide extra security.

Object Type
This highly ornate ‘detector’ lock was intended for the door of a private apartment or an office in a royal palace. Such locks were often carried by their owners when travelling and used in different residences.

Historical Association
The lock bears the arms of Cosimo III de’ Medici. He visited London in 1669, the year before he became Grand Duke of Tuscany, and possibly ordered this lock on that occasion. The maker, Richard Bickford, was the most famous locksmith in London and a visit to his shop would have been on the itinerary of an important visitor.

Maker
The lock is signed on the rim by Richard Bickford. He was one of a family of locksmiths who worked for wealthy patrons. A few years earlier the Bickfords had made a jewel casket for Queen Mary, also displayed in the British Galleries.

Design & Materials
The ornament on this lock is similar to other fine metalwork by the Bickfords. It consists of finely chiselled, pierced and engraved gilt brass, mounted above panels of blued steel which provide a vivid and brilliant colour contrast.

Above is another, more elaborate example of a Detector Lock in the V&A collections, created by British locksmith John Wilkes around 1680. You can watch a video that explains how it works here.

 

 

DO YOU KNOW ABOUT – POSTILION BOOTS?

by Kristine Hughes Patrone

On a recent visit to Hever Castle, I met with this formidable pair of “postilion boots” and decided that I had to find out more about the history of this footwear. Here, I share with you what I learned. First, from the Hever Castle website:

“The large leather and iron postilion’s boots date from 1690. A postilion was a man who rode one of a pair of horses that pulled a coach. It could be very dangerous if a leg became caught between the two horses, so each postilion wore one boot on that leg to protect himself from injury.

“Postilion riders usually rode the left horse of a pair and this style of travel was known as ‘posting’. Before the days of railways posting was the best method of travelling in England and on the Continent. Travellers would hire a private carriage from a postmaster. In England the postmasters were usually hotel keepers, and not employed by the Government. The carriage would travel from one posthouse to the next, where the postilions and/or horses could be replaced if necessary. Ordinarily a carriage was only taken on the main road, from one station to another. However, arrangements could be made to go off of the main road to a country house.”

Here are examples of postilion riders escorting carriages of various styles –

 

Above is the rear view of a pair of French postilion boots from the second half of the 18th century that I found on the website of military antiquarian Bertrand Malvaux. The description reads – “Black oiled leather with reinforced knees. Foot decorated with a cotton seam representing scrolls. One of these boots has still got its steel spur. Height: 56 cm; foot length : 32 cm.Very good condition (minor damage in the top part of boots). These surprising boots were used for postilions to protect their calves and knees from the shocks caused by the shaft of the coaches they drove. The wooden or leather sole was fixed onto the upper by pegs. It was curved so as to hold the stirrup on which it stood. These boots were called ‘the seven-league boots’. Indeed, at first, an average distance of seven leagues separated two staging posts.”

Finally, here is a bit on the distinction between postilion boots and the similar Marlborough jackboots, with further historical detail as to both, as found on Past Pleasures Ltd – Bringing History to Life:

“Here are a pair of my so-called ‘Marlborough’ jackboots, made somewhere between 1670 and 1712, according to the authority Miss June Swan of the Northampton Shoe Museum, which conserved them. (As my readers doubtless know, the midlands town was famous for its footwear. My family hail from there and for awhile owned a shoemaking factory; one of the regular customers was WG Grace for his cricket boots!).

“The massive cuffs at the knee would protect the wearer’s knees from an enemy on foot in a battle, as well as from thorns etc whilst out hunting. The high stacked leather heels not only follow the fashion of the period but also help to keep the feet firmly in the stirrups. On the underside you can see the leather pegs and hand-sewn details. The Square toes are a fashion that came about in about 1630 and died out about a hundred years later (thereafter the term ‘Old Square Toes’ was a derogatory remark).

“Unfortunately, although I have a pair of spurs of the period (not associated with the boots) I don’t have the distinctive ‘butterfly spur leathers’, the decorative shaped leather pieces worn at the instep.

“These boots are so stiff, heavy and strong they feel like they’re made of wood! They aren’t remotely supple and must’ve been hell to wear on foot –although the original owner would’ve changed into high-heeled buckled shoes as soon as he dismounted. And they would have been bespoke, so more comfortable. But heavy, and heavy-looking, as they are, they are not to be confused with ‘postilion boots’, those massive black leather boots you see in museums which were actually attached to the saddle, into which the post boy and/or postilion, riding one of the outside horses in a coach and four, would thrust his own booted legs.”

DO YOU KNOW ABOUT – LADIES OF LETTERS?

by Kristine Hughes Patrone

Two British widows who met at a wedding trade letters in which they attempt to one-up each other with stories and events from their lives. Based on the iconic BBC radio show, this 10-part series stars Maureen Lipman (The Pianist) and Anne Reid (Last Tango In Halifax).

The wedding of Irene’s daughter Leslie was a great success, but Irene later learns that guest Vera is not a relative at all-just helping with the catering-but she’s very nicely written to say thank you, so Irene replies to Vera, thanking her for her thank you letter.

Vera and Irene reveal their exploits and adventures to each other in their letters and e-mails, but sometimes their correspondence becomes fractious when one accuses the other of being an alcoholic or engages in too much one-upmanship. Nevertheless, when the chips are down and the going gets tough, each is instantly there for the other, like a charge of the cavalry but with a more sarcastic bugle call.

As stated above, the series was originally a BBC Radio 4 comedy starring Patricia Routledge and Prunella Scales and there’s very much a “Mapp and Lucia” quality to Vera and Irene’s relationship – with humour, pathos and a soupcon of malice occasionally thrown in for good measure. The series is lots of fun and available on Acorn TV.

 

DO YOU KNOW ABOUT . . . . PLAYS WITH NEEDLES?

A recent Google images search for examples of Mrs. Delany’s shell work brought me to a blog called Plays With Needles by the exceedingly talented Susan Elliott. Her blog is a wonder and a delight, with gorgeous photos and interesting posts on where she finds her inspiration and what goes into the creation of her art. Reading about her shell work, above, I was interested to learn that Susan had found many of the shell components herself on the beach in Naples, Florida, which is only about forty minutes south of where I currently live. I know it well. It was fascinating to see what Susan’s keen eye and abundant talent could do with the same shells others walk by daily without noticing. You can read the story behind the piece above here.

Like Mrs. Delany, Susan is a multi-medium artist and her blog posts are about so much more than her own amazing artwork. In her post about the Breakfast at Tiffany’s inspired piece above, Susan discusses the cult of Holly Golightly and the gulf between the film and Truman Capote’s novel. I love the way Susan has incorporated so many elements in this piece, resulting in a three dimensional creation with enough sparkle and bling to make even Holly take notice. Susan’s use of meticulous beadwork is gorgeous. 
In this piece, Susan uses both shell and bead work elements. You can read more about it here
Susan has titled the piece above Your Majesty and has written a fabulous, photo laden post about her research into historic royal wedding gowns, their decoration, design and embroidery. Susan found  inspiration for this piece from several different gowns and time periods. You can read the entire post here. 
Has your historic research taken you to unexpected places? If so, we’d love to hear about it!