Saturday, 15 December 2012

Loving 'em at Lavenham

                                the place to go to see pictures of the gorgeous Lavenham Guildhall, where I performed as Queen Elizabeth I for the Lavenham Society's Christmas get-together last week in Suffolk.

The building is a most picturesque Tudor hall situated in an equally picturesque Tudor market place, which also happened to feature in the Harry Potter films recently. When I arrived, it was after an hour and a half's drive through freezing fog and a long, cold day doing Victorian Christmas at Gressenhall. But I was instantly cheered by the sight of the Guildhall, which looked like an eccentric iced cake in the frosty square, sugar-tipped by white Christmas lights. Absolutely beautiful.

I was further warmed by the welcome I received from Lavenham Society members. This ancient building was cosy and well heated, so I did not have to endure the near-freezing village-hall toilet conditions I've come to expect as I got changed to give my talk. Who would have thought that a timber-framed building built in the 1530s would be so much warmer than a brick one built in the 1950s!!

After my talk- which, gratifyingly, the audience seemed to thoroughly enjoy- I was treated to delicious nibbles and a glass of wine. What a lovely evening, and a splendid way to round off the year.

My final talk for 2012 will be Queen Elizabeth I again, at Abbey Hall in Wymondham.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a Good Night!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Award Winners Visit the Palace!

The Gressenhall Learning Team had a very proud day when we went to Blenheim Palace last Wednesday to receive the Sandford Award for our 'Outstanding Contribution to Heritage Education'.

"The Sandford Award is an independently judged, quality assured assessment of education programmes at heritage sites, museums, archives and collections across the British Isles.

More than 350 sites - including historic houses, museums, galleries, places of worship, gardens, landscapes and collections – have received an Award since the scheme began in 1978. They include Hampton Court Palace, Brunel’s ss Great Britain in Bristol, Fota Wildlife Park in Eire, Edinburgh Castle, and Big Pit - the National Mining Museum of Wales.

The Sandford Award represents a broad spectrum of heritage sector partners who recognise the importance of the continuing programme of quality assessment that they provide. English Heritage is our principal funder, and the Historic Houses Association also supports our work. Historic Royal Palaces, The National Trust, The National Trust for Scotland, Historic Scotland, The Royal Armouries and National Museums in England, Wales and Ireland all submit their properties for assessment, alongside local authorities, independent trusts and private owners.

The Awards focus on formal, curriculum-linked education opportunities offered to schools by heritage sites, although recognition is also made of informal learning such as family programmes."

Monday, 12 November 2012

Dib Dib Dib and a Caul for Good Luck

Last week I dashed over to Drayton Methodist Chapel to deliver a talk on Queen Elizabeth I to the Trefoil Society; retired Guide and Scout leaders. It was lovely to see some familiar leaders from my own Guiding days, and the talk was warmly received. We won't mention about how I accidentally smashed my portable mirror whilst applying my make up- some people can be superstitious about these things...

In keeping with the ethos of the Scouting movement, I went away with a challenge: did the word 'caul' (the snood-like net worn over the back of ladies' hair in Tudor times) have any connection with the caul which some babies have over their face at birth?

A Good Question. I Googled it.

And I found this lovely article by Imogen Crawford-Mowday

To paraphrase Imogen's article, the caul is indeed the name for a bit of amniotic sac which sometimes covers a baby's face at birth. It can usually be easily removed. Generally speaking, it seems that in mediaeval times a caul was removed with a piece of paper and said to be regarded as good luck. It could be sold for a sizeable fee, especially to sailors who believed it would prevent them from drowning (one assumes the watery associations were relevant here).

Charles Dickens' character David Copperfield was born a 'caulbearer'. He wrote, 'The caul was won, I recollect, by an old lady with a hand-basket...It is a fact which will be long remembered as remarkable down there, that she was never drowned, but died, triumphantly in bed, at ninety-two"

In the brief bit of research I did I found no mention of a direct link between birth-cauls and hairnet-cauls, but it seems a likely connection to me.

Notable people born 'in the caul' include Edwin Booth, Lord Byron, Charlemagne, Sigmund Freud, Liberace and Napoleon!

The picture at the top shows my 'caul', which is a crocheted copy of the knotted 1570s originals. Crochet wasn't invented in Tudor times, but documents do mention 'cheine lace', which may have been an earlier version of crochet.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Owls, GIs and a dodgy SatNav.

Oh I am so very busy! Which is, undoubtedly, a good thing.

Having just completed my degree, I decided to take on another qualification: PTLLS, which is a basic level teaching qualification. I just can't get enough of essay-writing these days.

I've just updated my 'current bookings' list and I am delighted to see that not only is the rest of 2012 well booked up but so is 2013 -and I even have a couple of bookings as far ahead as 2014.

Today I was Queen Elizabeth I  for four hours at Hingham Primary. What lovely, well-mannered, knowledgeable kids they have in Hingham! Despite my satnav being determined to take me into a small housing estate, all went well.

Last week I went to Ancient House at Thetford. I was employed there as part of a piloted event about the American GIs in WW2 in Thetford. I did a music session showing how Black American music influenced the wartime tunes we are familiar with today. Great fun. Long may it continue!

I also visited Mulbarton Infant school to do a talk to KS1 children on barn owls. I borrowed a stuffed owl from Gresenhall museum for the occasion. They did some fab drawings of it (and me) as a thank you. 

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Mind The Gap

I've had some lovely visits to WIs and groups in my monarchical guises. One of the many things I love about my work is that often, audiences share delightful snippets of information with me which I am able to use in talks later on.

North Elmham Wives club welcomed me recently, as Queen Elizabeth 1st, to their tiny but picturesquely located village hall. One lady told me she had worked at what is now my place of work, Gressenhall Museum, in the 1950s. Then, it was a 'Home for the Elderly'. Before that it had been a much-feared Workhouse or 'House of Industry' ever since it was built in  1774.

Because my talks are costume-based, knickers tend to form a good proportion of the discussions. Having established that as far as anyone knows, Queen Elizabeth 1st didn't wear any, the conversation moved on to the underwear of my other Queen: Victoria. I was describing the large bloomers worn by QV, with their two seperate legs attached to a drawstring around the waist (hence the terms 'drawers' and a 'pair' of knickers), when I was suddenly interrupted.

"Oh, I know what you mean!"exclaimed the lady from Gressenhall, "an old lady at the Home used to still wear them in the 1950s. She called them her 'Wide-Open Wednesdays'!!"

And there was I thinking Wednesday was for Early Closing...

'Wide Open Wednesdays' has now been included, with great success, in all subsequent QueenieLives talks.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

At Last: Stitch Attempt.

An extremely hasty note to mark the occasion of the first Marie Lloyd stitches having been sewn. I'm altering a blouse from Tesco to make it fit the Edwardian style...this is for the Sensible Edwardian Clothing part of the talk. The plan is for me then to divest myself of these sensible clothes and put on what little there is of Marie's costume.

I now have 5 bookings for Marie and about 0.3% of a costume.  But that's 100% more than I had this time last week. (Is that how percentages work??!!)

Monday, 13 August 2012

Hello Dolly

These are some photos of the new prop I have been working on for my work as Queen Victoria. She started off as a typically dreadful be-satinned, be-flounced and be-frilled reproduction 'Victorian' doll, and I picked her up for a couple of quid in a junk shop.

After a bath, a divestment and -would you believe it- an eyelash trim, I stitched up the bits which were coming apart and set to work researching what a real 19th century doll would look like.
It turned out that the gorgeous ones I had in my mind's eye were the French 'Bebes' . The authentically English versions were a lot plainer.

The costume I eventually settled on is based upon English Goss dolls and the dolls of Queen Victoria's daughter, Princess Vicky.

I wish I'd taken a picture of her in her original baby blue satin debacle and the enormously oversized and over decorated hat she was wearing, but sadly I did not. Here instead is the finished, 'nice' version, with and without her pinafore. All hand-stitched by my own fair fingers.

She doesn't have a name yet, so all suggestions are welcomed...   

Thursday, 2 August 2012

By Royal Degree

...Yes, it was deliberate mistake- I did say 'Degree'. This is just a quick note to announce the happy arrival of some letters after my name (BA Open (Open), to be precise, don't ask me why it says 'open' twice) following the successful completion of my 'final examinable component' with a Class 2 Pass.

I studied with the UEA and the Open University, and it has taken me seven years in total to gain this qualification, so I am very proud of myself for juggling studying, working at Gressenhall, freelancing, being a mum and maintaining a semblance of a social life for such a long time.

I began in the UEA history faculty with a history 'bridging course' - a sort of 'return to study' evening class, which was utterly brilliant. I then transferred from the UEA after two years' part time studying history proper, when they -most unreasonably- refused to organise their faculty timetables around my life (!). On joining the OU I opted to do an Open Degree which offers flexibility on subject choice and of course, when and how one studies.

I did another year of history which to be perfectly frank, was as dry as dust. For the next year I chose a module entitled 'Global Heritage' which seemed a sensible choice bearing in mind my working in the museum sector. This looked at things like world heritage sites, how they're chosen, who chooses what and where they are and what goes into museums. It also looked at museums and edifices' roles in society as places of collective memory and remembrance; how we remember stuff and why we choose to remember some things and not others, and so on. I found this side of it fascinating. The 'Global Heritage' module formed a bridge between my history studies and the modules I chose next: Sociology.

I spent a year learning the basics of sociological theory and getting my brain around the correct 'form' for sociological research and essays. Then my final year was one of  'Level 3' study, that is, equivalent in difficulty to the final year of a standard university degree. Now I was down to the nitty gritty in a module entitled 'Sociology and Social Policy', which looked, amongst other things, at the ways in which current social policy influences our actions and decision making in our daily lives. It was totally fascinating, and, aside from some blips with that darned Harvard Referencing they insist upon, my final year was the most challenging and interesting of all seven. Which, I suppose, is the way it ought to be.

All over now. I expect the job offers to come rolling in...*

*may not actually be expecting any job offers in current recession... but it's worth a try.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Odour Toilette?

A quick insight into how I spend my time. Lurking in the toilets of village halls, church halls and social clubs wearing Victorian (in this case) or Tudor underwear, listening to the WI singing 'Jerusalem' as I wait for my cue to go in and speak. 

The decor captured in this photo is fairly standard of most village hall toilets- what I can't encapsulate here, though, is the pine-fresh but cloying smell of lavatory cleaner, mixed with the certain damp foistiness that only a 1950's public building can conjure. 

On Facebook, I run a page called 'Duffield's Good Tearoom Guide'. People are welcome to add reviews of any tearooms or cafes they visit, with one proviso: be nice. I'm thinking that maybe a 'Duffield's Good Toilet Guide' may be in the pipeline...?*

*all puns very much intended

Friday, 13 July 2012

What goes around...

The research and development for my new Marie Lloyd character goes on apace. I haven't actually put needle to fabric yet because its proving difficult to decide which stage costume of Marie's to make- they are all so outrageous! What's proving less arduous is getting bookings; even with an advance 'available from' date of September 2013, I've already got two definite bookings and a couple of potential interests. Which is BRILLIANT.

I've also discovered that many East London people living in Norfolk seem to be related to Marie Lloyd, or at least know someone who is or was! Do contact me, dear readers, if you happen to have any connections to Marie of your own! I'd be delighted to work them into my sessions.

My own connection with Marie is of course even more tenuous. My great-great-great-grandfather, Louis Glennie was a performer in 'The Halls' just like Marie Lloyd herself. Of course he didn't achieve such success -or notoriety-, but he did alright, working as a puppeteer, singer and actor in the provincial theatres throughout the 1870s, gaining decent (but very short) reviews in theatrical papers like The Era. He shared* the bill with big names like Gus Elen, and with intriguing names like 'Pongo the one-armed knockabout comedian'. Later, in the 1780s, he became a theatrical agent, working from offices throughout Europe including Belgium, France and even Latvia, which was where his grandaughter (my great grandmother) was born. Somehow or other he ended up running a hotel in Castleford, Yorkshire for touring Luvvies, and my great grannie married a Liverpudlian cobbler. There, the family theatrical streak died out and didn't rear its head in anyone's DNA until me. I always wondered where I got it from!!!

The connection with Marie Lloyd? My great great great grandfather's puppets wore tiny wigs, which were professionally made by a London craftsman by the name of Willy Clarkson. Marie Lloyd's theatrical wigs were made by the same man!

Incidentally, Willy Clarkson also sold a wig to a man named Crippen. Yes, THAT Crippen. The murderous doctor. The wig was worn by his secretary when they tried to make their escape to America in disguise.

* I say 'shared'. What I mean is, Gus Elen's name was in massive letters at the top of the bill, Louis' was at the bottom, you'd need a microscope to see it. But nevertheless, it was there.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Careless Talk Costs Lives

'Careless Talk Costs Lives' is the title of this year's Murder Mystery night at Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse. This photo shows me in character as Kitty Weston, a (sort of ) femme fatale. My colleague Katie is behind me, as a landgirl. A few tickets still remain, from the Museum.
Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse
Friday 18 May 2012
Times: 19:30 - 22:00 Doors open at 7.30pm and the Mardlers' Rest Cafe is open for drinks or snacks. The evening starts in the Workhouse Chapel at 8pm.
Price: Entry by pre-booked ticket only. Ticket prices: Adult £10, Children under 16 £6 (suggested minimum age 13). Discounts for Museum Pass Holders. For more information, or to book, please telephone 01362 869251.

01362 869251
Museums at Night: Careless Talk Costs Lives
There has been foul play in the farmyard. A young horseman lies dead. Can you solve the murder, but remember… careless talk costs lives!

In other news... This week has seen me dressing up and time travelling for an astonishing assortment of events and schools visits : Monday- glamourous Upper Octave photo shoot, Tuesday- Tack cleaning and bird scaring as a 1940s land girl, Wednesday- mashed potato chocolate truffles for WW2 rationing with kids with special needs from Fred Nicholas school near Dereham, Thursday- wacky pink wellies for reception children drama sessions based on How A Bean Grows (we were excellent Beans), and Friday- Victorian washing with kids with special needs from Cambridgeshire, topped off with a Queen Elizabeth I talk for the elderly residents at Corton House in Norwich. Phew! What a week!

This week I also created a board about historical costumes on Pinterest. Here's the link to it, if you're interested...

Monday, 16 April 2012

Do Not Feed The Monarchs

Just a quick update. The Easter holidays have been busy with several Queenie talks: Queen Victoria attended Norwich afternoon WI and also spoke at the 50th Anniversary dinner of the Thorpe St Andrew Rotarians club. The Queen was well fed on both occasions, which made the corset-wearing rather interesting! Queen Elizabeth I attended Easton Good Companions group last Wednesday, and will be speaking for Sheringham, Mancroft and Toftwood WIs on three consecutive nights this week. Phew!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Can it reduce my waist? Corset can!

 A couple of lovely photos taken by an audience member at Brooke Ladies Evening Group this week. As you can see, during my 'QueenieLives' Dressing Queen Victoria talks I invite a member of the audience to come and lace up my corset- with hilarious results, as they say.

The second picture shows me fully dressed and wielding a handkerchief- of course a proper lady has two; 'one for show and one for blow'.

Many thanks to Margaret Ayton for generously sharing the photos.

Monday, 26 March 2012

And did those feet? Hardley at all...

'Queenie' has been a bit overworked recently! In the approach to the final assignment of my degree in history and sociology, if I'm honest it's been a little bit tricky summoning up the energy to drive all around Norfolk delivering Queenie talks. But, us Royals are nothing if not dutiful, and if my namesake Elizabeth II can do it for sixty years then I'm sure I'll be able to cope too. Although of course the current HM doesn't have to do her own driving...

Last week I drove to 'Langley with Hardley' WI to deliver a Queen Victoria talk and was delighted to find out that many of the ladies there are also enormous fans of my singing group, The Upper Octave. We're singing at South Walsham Church on Saturday and many of them are coming! Langley with Hardley is tiny, but it has a flourishing WI. I thought it noteworthy that they refuse to sing 'Jerusalem'- the first WI I've ever visited who don't carry out that particular tradition. The times they are a-changin'.

Having spent Friday at Gressenhall doing Victorian spring cleaning with Year Ones, I also delivered five 40-minute Queen Elizabeth sessions on the bounce in the evening. This was for yet another Brownie Guide sleepover at Dragon Hall last week. Starting at 8pm, the girls were terribly overexcited, and this reached fever pitch in the third session at about 9.30. By contrast, the final two sessions contained hollow-eyed and ashen Brownies who were barely able to keep upright, but didn't go to bed until the small hours. Luckily, the success of a sleepover isn't measured in the amount of sleep involved!

Well done to Sarah and everyone else involved in the running and organisation of the event.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Social mobility can be a thing of the past.

No pictures this time, but the Dragon Hall 'sleepover' went well at half term- it was great to see old friends from the Norwich castle working there too.

I also became Queen Victoria for Taverham WI this week, and Queen Elizabeth for the Parkinson's Society. Last Monday I had a super time at Drayton Junior School being Queenie several times over for the Year Fives. My time with them inspired some beautiful work on the Tudors which should soon be available to view on my website .

This week I will just be a Victorian washerwoman, as one of my many Gressenhall (day job) roles! How the mighty have fallen...

Queenie - Live (though not necessarily kicking!)

My friend Cassie kindly came to one of my talks and filmed me becoming Queenie!! Its all available on You Tube. The link above is the last in the series. Do have a look.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Half Way Through Half Term

This half term holiday, I've been lucky to have had lots of bookings. So far I've been Queen Victoria for the Norwich Ladies Luncheon Club, and Queen Elizabeth I for Wroxham WI. Tomorrow I'll be QE1 for Thorpe End WI, and on Friday QE1 will be Guest of Honour for 'A Right Royal Drama', a Girl Guides sleepover (sleep optional) at Norwich's excellent Dragon Hall.

But today's big excitement was about Queeniepegs. For the first time I remembered to take them with me, and I sold eight! That means one person in four bought one- brilliant.

And tomorrow's big excitement is that my friend and website designer Cassie will be coming to film me in action. Hopefully we'll be able to get some Queenie footage on to You Tube, and a link set up fairly swiftly.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Peep-show! And Ruin on Rouen Road.

'What the courtier saw'... click on this link to see a feature about Queen Elizabeth I as you've never seen her (me) before! Thanks to the excellent Stacia Briggs of ECN for her very creative take on NMAS publicity!

...To say nothing of the disaster which befell me in the rain as I wheeled my trolley down the slope and away from the ECN building where the photo-shoot happened: The trolley was piled high with Victorian trunk strapped on with bungees, the flight bag I use for my Queenie toiletries, and my handbag. I was assailed by an EDP receptionist shouting 'lost a wheel?'. No, I thought, my trolley is going perfectly well.

 But on checking, I had indeed lost a wheel. I put it into my bag and carried on down the reasonably steep hill that is Rouen Rd. Of course, furnished with the knowledge I was now pushing a three wheeler, the trolley instantly veered wildly out of control and into a tiny pothole.

My brain was behind with current events, causing my foot to continue walking, smashing itself into the sharp bit where the wheel was, on the now stationary trolley. The impact caused my (open) handbag to fly off the top of the heap of bags, skidding its contents in a shamelessly pink, glittery arc down the kirb. As I reached, vainly, to stem the baggage avalanche, one of the bungees, already stretched to capacity over the Victorian trunk, ping-ed off ferociously and struck me smartly on the end of my outstretched thumb.

Result?  A bedraggled woman, still displaying remnants of white face paint, attempting to swear, hop, suck her thumb, pick up a Blackberry, a diary, several pens, and a purse whilst simultaneously trying to grab the by now re-animated trolley and - remarkably, after unexpectedly catching the eye of a bewildered passer-by, also trying to style it out with a heroically nonchalant snort of laughter.

I think I just about got away with it...

Friday, 20 January 2012

Alert the Media

Exciting news! I should be featured in the EDP on the 30th January as Queen Elizabeth I. Stacia Briggs, UK Columnist of the Year For The Second Time (yes, she is that good), will be interviewing me on Tuesday about all sorts of Museumy-based things.

I am having a media frenzy at the moment so please do 'Find me on Facebook' as they say: my QueenieLives page or my personal page.

I'm also on Twitter as @whatqueeniedid, but I'm not a frequent Twitterer. Honestly.

I suppose I should be able to attach clever Twitter and Facebook buttons to this blog but - well- nobody can really expect a historical Queen to be a technological genius!

Heavy Hangs the Head That Wears The Crown

The 2012 Tour of Village Hall Toilets has commenced with a local venue; the WI in my own village of Mulbarton invited me to speak for them this Monday. I went as Queen Elizabeth the First, which was a surprise for all of us, because it turns out they had booked Queen Victoria. Oops.

This was the first time I've ever brought the wrong Queen! I should have known, because Bess never came to Mulbarton when she visited Norfolk in 1578, she only came as far as Bracon Ash. At Bracon she accepted a gift of a silver cup containing £100 (an enormous sum then). How times have changed for this particular monarchy: naturally I reduced my fee by way of a sincere apology!

At any rate, the talk was very well received and I've been rebooked for Queen Victoria for next year. I guarantee I won't be bringing the wrong oufit again....

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Regal Greetings

Happy New Year!

I've just spent some time transferring diary dates on to the new 2012 calendar and I'm delighted to note just how many bookings I have for this year, both as Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria.
I've spent the Christmas holidays working on lots of QueeniePegs kits (see in order to sell them at each of my presentation venues. Selling the kits off the back of the talks has always been the idea, but last year it proved to be one piece of organisation too far! But this year has begun well prepared.

The QueeniePegs are tiny peg doll versions of Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria. I imagine them as Oliver Postgate-style characters- like the mice from Bagpuss- I'm convinced they come alive at night and have tiny power struggles and say 'Off with your head' and 'We are not amused' in tiny shrill voices !

The kits contain all you need to make your own QueeniePeg, wearing a costume similar to mine (only significantly smaller). All the materials in the kits are bits and bobs from the scrap box: old jewellery, silk scraps, ribbons, leftover beads, sequins and off-cuts from my own costumes. The packaging is made from sustainably sourced materials. Recycling doesn't come much sparklier than this!

I'll be offering the kits at a special 'presentation price' of £5.50, which is another good reason to come and see me in action, if you haven't already.