A Legacy of Needlework – Part Four – Keeping the Art Alive

Women have been turning their hands to needlework for centuries, both for pleasure and necessity. To be an accomplished needlewoman was one of the hallmarks of being a well bred lady and Englishwomen displayed their work on everything from clothing to linens to decorative objects such as rugs, firescreens and draperies. Depending on the age and skill level of the artist, these objects ranged from the simple to the level of true artwork.


Today, London’s Royal School for Needlework keeps the tradition alive by offering courses in a variety of needlework mediums, whilst the Embroiderers Guild and the National Needle Arts Association foster learning, the exposure of these arts to the public and the preservation of a national legacy. If you are a needle person and strive to keep this art alive, I’ll tell you about a few of my personal favorite finds as far as canvas and kits are concerned.

One of the banes of any needleperson’s life is what to make next. There are only so many pillows and cushions one can make before a person grows tired of the insipid designs available on most commercial needlework kits. And there are only so many kits and designs that are of sufficient quality to spur one on towards undertaking them. After all, one has to actually like the finished product in order to become enthusiastic about working it. For many years I put aside my hoop and thread in despair of ever finding anything that would fire me up creatively. I resorted to embroidering sheets and pillowcases just to have something to work on. Well, really, one can only own, or give away, so many pairs of bed linens. And people tend to look at you oddly when you ask leading questions about the decor of their bedroom. They don’t know that you’re trying to suss out what colors to embroider their next pair of sheets in.

When in London this summer with Victoria, we went to Liberty’s, where we ended up in the needlework department and where I discovered the work of designer Beth Russell, who offers many kits, including a series of projects based on scenes adapted from the work of William Morris.

As Russell explains on her website: This remarkable William Morris tapestry was originally designed for his patron Alexander Ionides. Completed in 1887, it measured 15ft (4.5m) wide. Morris delegated the drawing of the animals to the architect Philip Webb and the foreground millefleurs to his eventual successor Henry Dearle. The result is a tribute to their lifelong friendship and various talents. It is interesting to compare the Greenery tapestry designed later entirely by Henry Dearle. The original Forest is owned by the Victoria and Albert Museum.

This is the canvas I bought at Liberty’s, soon to be joined by it’s counterpart, the Fox. While I’ll be making cushions for my couch out of the finished works, we’ve seen in previous posts that a handful of Englishwomen regularly displayed their finished work for the pubic. These women included Harriet Frankland and Anne Morritt.

Anne Morritt
Anne Eliza Morritt (1726 – 1797) was the spinster sister of J.S. Morritt, once owner of Rokeby Hall. She created exquisite needlework “paintings,”  most of which are now displayed for visitors to see in the stairwell at Rokeby in Yorkshire.

Perhaps the most famous needlewoman of her day was Mary Linwood, whom we met in a previous post. Mary also created copies of masterpiece paintings with her needlework. Below is a picture similar in style to that of Linwood and Morrit, which recently sold in the Althorp Attic Sale held at Christie’s, London.


What these artists had in common was that they embroidered from paintings using a technique known as needlepainting, a type of embroidery in which oils or other paintings were faithfully copied,
with the brush strokes rendered by stitches worked in crewel wool.

With this in mind, this series will end in Part Five with an interview with Doreen Finkel of the Art Needlepoint Company, who offer kits based on Old Master paintings by many artists and that are available in various sizes and using either wool or silk threads. Here are just a few examples of the kits available:

Pinky by Sir Thomas Lawrence

Girl With a Pearl Earring by Vermeer
Stay Tuned for Part Five!


 It is that time of year once more! We at Number One London are inordinately fond of Christmas. We kick off the month of December with a Christmas favorite!


(c) Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

I write Regency historical romance because I fell in love with the era at the age of nine, and my love has only grown stronger since. I love the manners, the rules of proper conduct, the elegant clothes (especially men in breeches and boots,) travel in carriages and on horseback, the stately homes, and every aspect of life in this unique period.

Be that as it may, I have come to realize there are some aspects of Regency life, even in the most elite portions of society, that would not be amiss in the red plastic cup, mud-bogging, tobacco spitting locale in which I live today. Directions to my house do include the words “Turn off the paved road.”

Lest you think I use the term “redneck” as a pejorative, I spent a large portion of my childhood living in mobile homes in the South. My mother’s family were Native American sharecroppers. My father’s family were Pennsylvania coal miners. I know who and what I am. Jeff Foxworthy, the leading expert on the redneck lifestyle, defines it as “a glorious lack of sophistication.” For the purposes of this essay, and in my semi-expert opinion, that is the definition we will use.

There are examples of redneck behavior to be found in every race, religion, socio-economic group, and country in the world. I now realize the same is true of every historical era. Rednecks have been with us forever. Even during that most gracious and elegant of times—The Regency.

Prove it, you say? I give you a series of Regency Christmas traditions any self-respecting redneck would be happy to call his or her own.


Under the heading of a Regency version of “Hey y’all, watch this!” comes the Christmas game of Snapdragon. Raisins and nuts were soaked in brandy in a large shallow bowl. The lights were put out, and the brandy lit. People had to try and grasp a raisin or nut and eat it without burning themselves. The winner was the person who managed to capture and eat the most. I think you’d have to soak me in brandy to get me to try it!

Bullet Pudding

Another Regency era Christmas game with a redneck flair is bullet pudding. One must have a large pewter dish piled high with flour pushed to a peak at the top. A single bullet is placed at the crest of the “pudding.” Players take turns cutting a slice of the “pudding” with a knife. The person who is slicing the “pudding” when the bullet falls must then put their hands behind their back and poke about in the pile of flour with their nose and chin to find the bullet. Once they find it, they must retrieve it with their mouth. All the while trying desperately not to join their companions in laughter as this will result in flour being inhaled into the mouth and nose. Regardless, the bullet retriever ends up with flour all over his face. Any game played with live ammunition and the promise of someone ending up covered in a mess would be as welcome at a Redneck Christmas as it was at Regency Christmases.


There were no Christmas carolers in Regency England. However, wassail groups would go from house to house singing begging songs in the hope of receiving food, drink, and money. Wassail was a mixture of beer, wine, and brandy and was usually served to the singers at each house. Every house. A great many houses before the night was done. I think I’ve seen groups like this around my neighborhood at Christmas-time.







Very few houses had our idea of Christmas trees during the Regency. Such decorated Christmas trees were made popular in England by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the middle of the 19th century. However, trees were not left out of the Regency holidays. On Epiphany Eve, men would gather round a fruit tree, usually in an orchard, with cider and guns. In an ancient ceremony, they would drink to the tree and fire the guns to drive away evil spirits and promote the vigor of the trees. Horn-blowing was an alternative to firing guns. (Sounds like a Regency tail-gating party to me!)

The Yule Log

Speaking of trees, what could be more fun than a large group of men sent out into the woods to find the largest log possible to burn in the Christmas fireplace? The yule log had to be large enough to burn through the entire twelve days of Christmas. In fact, it had to be large enough to burn through to Twelfth Night and leave enough to be used to light next year’s log. Between the mine is bigger than your’s aspects of the hunt for the yule log and the opportunity to show off one’s strength in helping to drag the log home, this Regency Christmas tradition is rife with redneck possibilities.







Mistletoe and Kisses

Round out your Regency Christmas outdoor adventures with shooting mistletoe out of the trees (a method used by many Regency bucks) and hanging it about the house in every doorway and dark corner, a Regency version of spin-the-bottle if ever I’ve heard one.



Oh, and don’t forget a Christmas dessert for which many families put the ingredients on layaway. K-Mart did not invent the concept. The original Christmas clubs were for families who could not afford to pay for the ingredients for their Christmas pudding all at once. Wives in less affluent households deposited their pennies with their local shopkeepers in order to have the money to purchase those luxury food items necessary for a proper Christmas pudding. And after all of that, said dessert was brought to the table amidst great pomp and ceremony and… set on fire. Anyone who doesn’t believe your average redneck would shout “Hell, yeah!” at the idea of a flaming Christmas dessert has never been to a Christmas barbecue in the South.

At the end of Christmas Day, men and women of every age, no matter how strict the rules of society, tend to celebrate this joyous holiday with a bit more exuberance than decorum prescribes. Even Regency ladies and gentlemen, at least during Christmastide, might show “a glorious lack of sophistication.” So should we all!


Louisa Cornell


The relationship between herding dogs and their masters is one of longest standing and in many ways the closest when it comes to dogs and humans during the Regency. Herding dogs were some of the hardest working dogs of the era, but they spent a great deal of time with their masters. It was not unusual for herding dogs to sleep with their masters, especially when they were out with their herds or flocks. The level of communication between herding dog and master was on a completely different level than that of a pet and master. This sort of relationship would certainly engender a level of mutual respect and affection between dog and master. There were, of course, exceptions. The life of a shepherd, a keeper of sheep and cattle, was a hard one. There were those who trained and used their dogs with tactics of fear and abuse. However, this did not always make for a willing and obedient dog. A master who appealed to a herding dog’s innate desire to please and instinct to herd was far more successful, and part of this sort of relationship had to involve love, loyalty, and affection between man and dog.

The artist Edwin Landseer (1802-1873) understood this relationship very well when he painted his famous work The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner.

The Old Shepherd’s Chief Mourner by Edwin Landseer.


Old English Sheepdogs

It is generally agreed that this breed, fairly closely to the way we know it, had its origins in the southwestern counties of England in the early 19th century. They were referred to as “drovers’ dogs” as they were used primarily to drive cattle and large breeds of sheep to market. Their tails were docked to show that they were working dogs. Companion dogs were taxed, working dogs were not.


Border Collies

Remember that the appearance of these dogs during the Regency would not match our vision of this breed today. Not to mention, a number of different sorts of dog fell under the label of sheep dog. The dog most like the sheep dogs of the Regency is the border collie.

Perhaps the earliest training manual for sheepdogs was written by William Ellis (ca. 1690-1759). Ellis was a farmer from Little Gaddesden in Hertfordshire, about 30 miles northwest of London. In 1732 he wrote The Practical Farmer or The Hertfordshire Husbandman. His book enjoyed popularity immediately upon publication. In this book, Ellis writes a description of the ideal sheepdog.

A Shepherd generally keeps a rough-coated Dog, partly, I suppose, for their being, as I said, better enabled by their fluffy warm Coat, to withstand the Violence of Frosts and cold Winds, or to become the more frightful to their Sheep, and for his closer Attendance on his Master, as he is somewhat slower than a smooth-coated one, therefore not so subject to hare and run the Sheep too fast; and is commonly the most sensible one of all others…One Thomas…has a has a brindle-colour’d, very shaggy-hair’d Dog, of the biggest Sort, so much at Command, as to lie down by a Fold all Night to guard the Sheep till next Morning; and for making haste on an emergent Occasion, when Sheep are pent in a narrow Place, will run over their Backs; and in several other Respects, makes himself an excellent Shepherd’s Dog…

Sheepdogs generally began their training at the age of 6 months. They were taught a number of basic and important commands, the first of which was “lie down.” This was an important command when dealing with sheep as a dog on its feet tended to intimidate and sometimes frighten sheep. Every shepherd had his own system of commands and signals that could be a series of whistles, short word commands or even hand signals.

Shepherd’s dogs were divided into three categories or types during this era: the Shepherd’s Dog or Colley; the English Sheep-Dog or Southern Sheep-Dog; and the Cur or Drover’s Dog, As you can see the “breed” names were a little ambiguous. These dogs tended to be bred by shepherds and sheep farmers. Their bloodlines were managed and tracked in hand-written records by each farmer. Dogs from one farmer might be loaned out to another for stud purposes. These dogs were bred for very distinct qualities.

Keen sight.

A keen sense of smell.





Athletically active.

Constant watchfulness.


Hardiness in all kinds of weather.

Devotion to duty.


The Shepherd’s Dog or Collie
The Cur
English Sheep Dog





Louisa Cornell

By the late 18th century, a new species of rat had invaded England. The brown or “Norway” rats were much larger and quite frankly more frightening than the common black rat indigenous to England. Catching and eliminating rats was considered the perfect job for the poorer citizens of England, especially those people born and bred in the poorer areas of larger cities like London, Manchester, and Edinburgh. After all, these were the people who spent their childhoods playing with rats in the floorboards of their meager homes.

The more successful rat-catchers used ferrets and dogs to catch rats. They were paid per rat and sending a dog into the sewers and less clean and accessible parts of homes and businesses was less work, for the rat-catcher at least. The dogs used for this task were mostly terrier-type dogs. Their prey drive, ferocity, small size and quickness made them perfectly suited for the task.

Some of the breeds used as ratters were:

Bull Terriers

Bedlington Terriers

Fox Terriers

Jack Russell Terriers

Rat Terriers

Black and Tan Terriers

Manchester Terriers

Yorkshire Terriers

Staffordshire Bull Terriers


Those who used and bred dogs for this purpose kept close track of their dogs’ pedigrees. They sought to bred in those traits best suited to ratters and the breed out unwanted qualities. Surprisingly, even those poorest and least educated breeders of rat-catching dogs took great pride in the breeding and pedigrees of their dogs. Having a dog related to some of the better-known ratters was a source of pride, not to mention a great selling point when seeking employment, especially in the more successful businesses and in the more exclusive homes in London.

How did dogs gain reputations as champion ratters? From the late 18th into the early 19th centuries word-of-mouth was a big part of spreading a dog’s fame. However, rat-catchers didn’t only breed dogs, they also bred rats. They bred rats for three purposes.

  1. Frankly, they bred them to encourage repeat customers or to persuade customers to avail themselves of the rat-catcher’s services. Yes, they bred rats to turn loose in businesses and houses to drum up business.
  2. They bred them to demonstrate their dogs’ prowess as rat catchers. They gave demonstrations and eventually, once other baiting sports were banned in 1835 by Parliament’s passing of the Cruelty to Animals Act, rat baiting contests took place in the facilities formerly used for cock-fighting, dog fighting and bear baiting. Thousands of rats were needed for these contests and ratters provided them.
  3. They bred rats for unique colors to sell them to the gentry and aristocrats as pets. Yes, even young Queen Victoria had pet rats, but people were keeping rats as pets long before she did. One of the most famous breeders of pet rats was also one of England’s most famous rat catchers. Jack Black styled himself as rat catcher to Queen Victoria. He was also written up in Henry Mayhew’s 1815 book London Labor and the London Poor. He dressed rather elegantly for a rat catcher in order to drum up business. He was the first recorded breeder of fancy rats and also provided rats for rat baiting contests.

Rat catching dogs made money for their owners both in catching and eliminating rats for customers and in participating in rat baiting contests which involved cash prizes for the winning dogs and, of course, wagering on the outcome of the contests.

These dogs were highly prized by their owners both for their ability to kill rats for customers and by 1835 for their ability in the rat baiting ring. I daresay their lot in life was better than that of turnspit dogs in spite of the very real danger of possible injury and even death when catching rats. These dogs were doing what they were born and bred to do.

One of the most celebrated ratters of his day was the 26-pound bull terrier, Billy, owned by Charles Dew.

The October 1822, edition of The Sporting Magazine provide us with descriptions of two rat pit matches with Billy.

Thursday night, Oct. 24, at a quarter before eight o’clock, the lovers of rat killing enjoyed a feast of delight in a prodigious raticide at the Cockpit, Westminster. The place was crowded. The famous dog Billy, of rat-killing notoriety, 26 lb. weight, was wagered, for 20 sovereigns, to kill 100 rats in 12 minutes. The rats were turned out loose at once in a 12-foot square, and the floor whitened, so that the rats might be visible to all. The set-to began, and Billy exerted himself to the utmost. At four minutes and three-quarters, as the hero’s head was covered with gore, he was removed from the pit, and his chaps being washed, he lapped some water to cool his throat. Again, he entered the arena, and in vain did the unfortunate victims labor to obtain security by climbing against the sides of the pit, or by crouching beneath the hero. By twos and threes, they were caught, and soon their mangled corpses proved the valor of the victor. Some of the flying enemy, more valiant than the rest, endeavored by seizing this Quinhus Flestrum of heroic dogs by the ears, to procure a respite, or to sell their life as dearly as possible; but his grand paw soon swept off the buzzers, and consigned them to their fate. At seven minutes and a quarter, or according to another watch, for there were two umpires and two watches, at seven minutes and seventeen seconds, the victor relinquished the glorious pursuit, for all his foes lay slaughtered on the ensanguined plain. Billy was then caressed and fondled by many; the dog is estimated by amateurs as a most dextrous animal; he is, unfortunately, what the French Monsieurs call borg-ne, that is, blind of an eye. This precious organ was lost to him some time since by the intrepidity of an inimical rat, which as he had not seized it in a proper place, turned round on its murderer, and deprived him by one bite of the privilege of seeing with two eyes in future. The dog BILLY, of rat-killing notoriety, on the evening of the 13th instant, again exhibited his surprising dexterity; he was wagered to kill one hundred rats within twelve minutes; but six minutes and 25 seconds only elapsed, when every rat lay stretched on the gory plain, without the least symptom of life appearing.’ Billy was decorated with a silver collar, and a number of ribband bows, and was led off amidst the applauses of the persons assembled.

Bill the Ratcatcher
Henry Alken


Billy’s best competition results are: (Yes, they kept meticulous records of this.)

Date              Rats killed         Time                                   Time per rat
1820–??-??        20               1 minute, 11 seconds                3.6 seconds
1822-09-03      100              8 minutes, 45 seconds             5.2 seconds
1822-10-24       100              7 minutes, 17 seconds             4.4 seconds
1822-11-13        100               6 minutes, 25 seconds            3.8 seconds
1823-04-22      100               5 minutes, 30 seconds            3.3 seconds
1823-08-05      120               8 minutes, 20 seconds            4.1 seconds

Billy’s career was crowned on 22 April 1823, when a world record was set with 100 rats killed in five and a half minutes. This record stood until 1862, when it was claimed by another ratter named “Jacko”. Billy continued in the rat pit until old age, reportedly with only one eye and two teeth remaining.


Louisa Cornell

These dogs were known by a number of names—Canis vertigus (Carl Linnaeus gave them this name in the 1700’s – “dizzy dog” because they were always spinning,) vernepator cur (Latin for “the dog that turns the wheel”) and more commonly, the turnspit dog. The first mention of them in written record was in 1576 in the first book on dogs ever written. Their existence is acknowledged from the 1500’s forward and they were considered an essential part of every British kitchen well into the 19th century.

The job of the turnspit dog, simply put, was to turn the meat roasting over the open hearth found in nearly all British kitchens from the 16th century forward. Cooking meat in an oven was frowned upon and roasting any meat, be it beef, lamb, pork or even turkey, over an open fire was the preferred method of doing so. Interestingly, have one’s meat turned by a turnspit dog was eventually considered a sign of poverty. In homes where a servant was given the task, it was usually done by the lowliest member of the kitchen staff, the potboy, for instance. If one could not afford to pay a servant to turn the spit, a dog was the least expensive way to get the job done.

How did turnspit dogs turn the meat on the spit? Anytime meat was to be roasted, one of these dogs was hoisted into a wooden wheel mounted high on the wall near the fireplace. But not too close as the heat might make the dog faint or even die. The wheel was attached to a chain which ran down to the spit. As the dog ran, the spit turned. Think hamster wheel. The turnspit dog was viewed as a kitchen utensil rather than a dog.

These dogs were bred to this purpose. The breeding had far less to do with bloodlines than it had to do with size, tenacity, and athleticism. They tended to be “long-bodied, crooked legged, and rather ugly little dogs.” This description appeared in Edward Jesse’s book Anecdotes of the Dog, published in 1846. They were bred primarily for two qualities:

  1. They had to be able to run for hours without stopping. An average piece of meat took three hours to roast. How were these dogs motivated and conditioned to run for three hours? Generally, during their early training, a hot coal would be tossed in the wheel to motivate them. Some were trained by a piece of meat hanging before the wheel, just out of reach.
  2. They had to fit in the wheel. Therefore, only dogs with short, stubby legs and stout bodies were bred to achieve the right form for the job. This often resulted in dogs with bandy legs and sometimes due to inbreeding these qualities were almost deformities.

In addition to these physical attributes, it was often said of these dogs that they had a morose disposition and “suspicious” and “unhappy” expressions. One can scarcely begin to wonder why!

The dogs were afforded one day off, Sunday, if one could call it a day off. They were normally taken to church with the family to act as foot warmers. There is the story from Bath that claims the Bishop of Gloucester set off a turnspit dog rampage when, in the middle of his sermon he said the words “It was then that Ezekiel saw the wheel.” The story goes, when the turnspit dogs in attendance at their masters’ feet heard the word “wheel” they fled the church, afraid they were being sent back to work.

The life of a turnspit dog was one of monotony and control. They were confined to keep them from running away. They were trained from an early age to run for hours on end. They were fed well enough to sustain their muscles, but not enough to ever be fully sated. A dog with an appetite for meat could be tempted to run longer. They were not confined to the wheel save for the hours they had to work. They were likely some of the few dogs in poorer households who were completely house-trained. It is likely they were confined to small boxes when they were not working. Several records report that the dogs were owned in pairs so as not to overtax one dog.

By 1750 there were turnspits everywhere. By 1850 they were scarce and by 1900 they had disappeared completely, replaced by machines. The breed essentially became extinct as it was said that people did not want to keep ugly little morose dogs as pets. Interestingly enough, Queen Victoria is said to have kept three retired turnspit dogs as pets. There are some who say the Welsh Corgi is actually descended from the turnspit dogs of the 19th century.

Follow this link to see what many consider the last turnspit dog, Whisky, preserved by a taxidermist and held at the Abergavenny Museum in Wales.