Tuesday, 24 December 2013

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

As it sit here in my cosy living room on Christmas Eve 2013 enjoying the umpteenth cup of tea of the day, I thought it high time for the last What Queenie Did Next blogpost of this year.

It has been extremely frenetic since my last post; my day job demanded 40 Victorian Christmas melodrama sessions in ten days and my freelance work involved time travelling back and forth through all three characters' eras several times. I worked out I had sung the carol 'I Saw Three Ships' over 100 times. I've gone off it a bit.

In between all this work, my hobby -singing- enabled me to perform with my group, The Upper Octave, at the prestigious Holkham Hall Christmas event, which attracted around 3000 visitors, and also at the smaller scale, but fully-booked, Gressenhall Victorian Family Christmas event, on consecutive December weekends. The discerning folk at Holkham have invited us back next year...

Last week my final paid performance, at a WI Christmas party, hung in the balance because my already tired voice also came under assault from the inevitable winter coldy/fluey virus. Luckily my friend and Octave colleague, Joan, came to the rescue. She sang the high notes and I growled away at the bottom, so cancellation was narrowly avoided.

On Friday at Gressenhall we welcomed Steve Miller, our new Head of Museums, to our annual staff and volunteers party. I was due to take part in the traditional staff panto but alas, alack! My overworked voice had finally succumbed, given up and taken to its bed. I assumed the role of official panto photographer and there was some hasty re-casting among the curators.

Love and thanks to all who have supported, aided and abetted me in my work and hobbies this year. Merry Christmas, and see you again in 2014!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Cunning Plans for 2014

Very much looking forward to attending a costume design workshop led by June Gentle at the Sewell Barn Theatre next year.

It follows directly on from me finishing an advanced dressmaking course. Being self taught I find I have some surprising gaps in sewing technique sometimes, so I decided to take corrective action. Earlier this year I completed the final stage of auditions for The Great British Sewing Bee. In the end I wasn't chosen for the series but I was delighted that my seamstressing skills stood up to close scrutiny. However, there's always room for improvement, so Advanced Dressmaking it is!

The sewing course finishes just before I begin  rehearsing for Down Among The Wines And Spirits . It will be my first show at the barn, and will dovetail nicely with my work as Marie Lloyd.

Looking forward to next year already!

'Fanny LeFevre' , Madame of Dereham, May 2013

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Film of Queen Elizabeth I Undressing

This link http://www.eveningnews24.co.uk/lifestyle/fashion/peep_show_video_queen_elizabeth_through_the_keyhole_what_the_butler_saw_1_1187188

...is from a fun afternoon I had a while back at the EDP offices. It works with Flash Player. I thought it was long gone so I was very pleased to discover it lurking on the internet.

It did occur to me that most people perhaps WOULDN'T be pleased to find long-forgotten footage of them being filmed in a state of undress...

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Previously unseen photos of Queen Victoria

Click on these words: Norwich Lunchtime WI website .This is a place I happened to find myself featuring on today.

The photos show me doing my Queen Victoria talk and if memory serves I had a terrible cold that day but " the show must go on" !

Monday, 4 November 2013

What Would You Ask Queen Elizabeth I?

If you had Queen Elizabeth I standing in front of you and you could ask her anything- and I mean ANYTHING- you wanted, without fear of being sent to The Tower, what would you ask?

Well, audiences at my talks get exactly that opportunity. Er...obviously, not quite, I mean, it's me standing there, not Her Most Royalle and Goode Majestie. But you get the picture.

So what do people ask? About religion, or the sticky question of the succession, or about the many failed plots to assassinate her? Not quite.

Here's a countdown of my top five most frequently asked questions, and the answers I usually give:

5) "How often did she have a bath?" No one really knows for sure. We can assume that as an aristocrat with access to servants, plentiful water supplies and fuel for fires, Her Maj bathed more regularly than the average peasant.

4) "How long did it take her to get dressed?" Um. I can get into my (pretty accurate) costume and make-up in about 20 minutes, with help. Although it takes me considerably longer if I talk about each item as I put them on, as I do during my talks. Elizabeth would have had a team of women, but probably a few more layers, and definitely a lot more pins. I guess it probably took about half an hour.

3) "Did she dress up like her portraits all the time?" No. She wore a simple black velvet gown whilst in her chambers, and a linen shift for bedtime. All the regalia was for show; to maintain her public image, to intimidate and to impress.

2) "Did she sleep with Dudley?" Ahem. That's a secret she took with her to her grave. My opinion? Probably not. Her Divine Right was to be monarch, yet within the patriarchy over which she ruled, man must rule over his wife. So marriage was off the cards. As for extra-marital pleasures, I reckon her teenaged, dress-slashing flirtations with Thomas Seymour probably put her off all that. And the risk of pregnancy, of course...

...which brings me to my Number One Question. With all-female groups I get asked this Every. Single. Time. Sometimes a lady will mutter the question confidentially to me at the end, sometimes it will be pronounced loud and clear for all to hear. The questioner will usually reference the fact I've already said that as far as we know, knickers weren't worn.

So here it is. Don't blush...

1) "As they weren't wearing proper knickers, what did ladies do about...you know...PERIODS?"
A very good question, and one, let's face it, everyone in the room was wanting to ask. Well, I always say, your guess is as good as mine. Ropes and pulleys, I suggest, to encourage a chuckle.

Of course,  as with so many things from 500 years ago, we don't know the answer for sure. We DO know that Elizabeth's 'small linens' were checked by her ladies in waiting, and reports made verifying the royal body was functioning as expected, and most importantly, NOT pregnant.

The average female could expect to be married fairly young and then be dutifully pregnant for the next few years, so the monthly 'curse' wouldn't be as regular an occurrence then as now.

And on that delectable note, we reach the end of my Top 5 Queen Elizabeth FAQs. I hope this has been entertaining and informative. I've read a lot of stuff on QE1, but my research never ends. If any readers can enlighten me with any other useful bits of info related to the above topics, I welcome comments below. And there's widgety things below too (!) if you'd like to 'share'.

My website is readily available at www.rachelduffield.co.uk.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Only two degrees of separation from Dan Leno

Today I performed as Marie Lloyd for Easton Good Companions Club. A matinee, and a full house. And cheering at the end. Marvellous.

But equally as marvellous, was the tale one of the ladies told me:

Her grandfather 'worked the 'alls' in London just before the turn of the century, and his wife ran a boarding house for the theatricals thereabouts.

One of the theatricals who stayed with them was Dan Leno, of whom Marie Lloyd once said, 'he has the saddest eyes in show business'. He was of course, a comedian, and by many accounts a thoroughly nice man.

My lady at Easton told me about her mother's childhood memories. Dan Leno liked his shoes clean, and would offer the grand prize of sixpence to the person who cleaned them. Shoe-cleaning was not usually a favourite activity, but apparently when Dan Leno was in the building, the children all fought ferociously for the job!

I love these little snippets of oral history. The lovely thing about performing as Marie is that it evokes the tiny bits of detail about that era that are just about still in living memory. I feel happy to have been able to preserve the information for another few generations!

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

'Watton' interesting lot the de Grays are!

I've had an interesting couple of days. It all began about 18 months ago, when one of the Watton Festival organisers invited me to appear as Queen Elizabeth I. "The thing is", he said, "Lord Walsingham lives near here. We might get him to introduce you. Would that be ok?"

Lord Walsingham?! A direct descendant of Queen Liz's famous Spy Chief?! I thought that would most definitely be ok.

After many phone calls across many months, we established that our Walsingham was not in fact descended from the Sir Francis of the Elizabethan court. As our Walsingham put it, that lot were the vulgar branch of the family, descended from some butchers in Bury St Edmund.

An exchange of emails yesterday revealed that our Walsingham was a descendent of de Graie of Normandy, High Steward of the Duke. De Graie's daughter was none other than Herlot, mother -courtesy of the Duke's son- of a boy who came to be known as William the Bastard. We English, of course, gave him a different name: William the Conqueror.

So our Walsingham, family name now 'de Gray', is a little bit well connected. Herlot's cousin Anschetil was commander of cavalry at the a Battle of Hastings, and his part in the victory was rewarded with lots of stolen Saxon land. He sired seven sons, and our Walsingham is descended from the seventh.

His Lordship also told me about his family connection to Queen Elizabeth I - the plan being for me to chide him about it as part of my talk at the festival. It so happened that Robert de Gray was discovered to be a recusant (refusing to deny the catholic faith) during Elizabeth's 1578 Progress to East Anglia. He received a fine and a reforming stay with a good Protestant family, but was unrepentant and was fined annually until his eventual imprisonment in Norwich castle in 1587.

Bailiffs were sent to takeover de Gray's lands and the Crown received the income for the duration of the imprisonment. In prison, de Gray received word that his villagers' coppicing rights would be infringed by the bailiffs, and somehow he managed to warn them. The villagers fought and beat the bailiffs with pitchforks in what became known as The Battle of Wayland Wood. An enquiry took place; de Gray was fined £1000. Lobbyists tried to discredit de Gray further by linking him to the 'Babes in the Wood' legend, in the starring role of Wicked Uncle.

All extremely interesting stuff, although I was a little scared at the thought of the additions to my usual 'Queenie' spiel.

And after all that, in the end, my Lord Walsingham was mysteriously absent from the talk, so I did it all alone!

For further information on the fascinating de Grays, including Walter, Archbishop of York and Lord Chancellor to King John (yes, THAT one, the one in the Robin Hood stories)...try Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_de_Gray

At any interesting point in English history, it seems one of the de Gray family was there!

The Watton festival continues until 2nd November. More information available here:

Monday, 21 October 2013

Marie Lloyd and Me: Only ONE degree of separation!

I was delighted to revisit Corton House, a wonderful residential home for older people in Norwich, last week.

I went as Marie Lloyd (my third outing in this guise) and did the usual getting dressed thing. Audiences are welcome to handle my underwear!! I've got some original Edwardian (and older) petticoats and combinations to pass around.

The latter two thirds of this talk are actually devoted to singing; I go through Marie's chaotic biography, putting in her well known songs as I go. The audiences seem to love the songs and join in with all the bits they know. Singing like 'our Marie' is a bit tough on my voice: having spent years trying not to shout or squawk, that's exactly what one has to do to put across a Music Hall style performance!

After the talk at Corton, one very elderly lady was eager to tell me about her own memories of Marie Lloyd. As a little girl growing up in Sheffield, this lady told me her mother was 'stone deaf', so as a little light relief from a quiet household, she had been taken by her father every week to The Tivoli theatre. And on one occasion she saw none other than Marie Lloyd herself, doing a song with lots of dolls lined up along the front of the stage. The lady thought it was in about 1922, when she was about 5 years old, and Marie, of course, would have been very near the end of her days.

What a fabulous story! I never imagined I would have the pleasure of speaking directly to anyone who had actually seen Marie perform. A precious moment for me.

And of course, now I will have to research exactly WHAT that song was. Any suggestions?- you know where I am!

Monday, 9 September 2013

Rule Britannia!

I have to admit to being preoccupied with my new love: The Pop-Up Proms Project (see my other blog of the same name, www.popuppromsproject.blogspot.com). But I should never forget my first love, which is the research and creation of my costumed talks.

In a bid to redress (pun intended) the balance, here follows an update on my latest character, Miss Marie Lloyd, Queen of the Music Halls.

This character was launched into the calm and welcoming waters of Taverham Daycare Centre. I'm delighted to say she was well received. The Ladies pounced upon my 'Edwardian originals' and the Gentlemen definitely seemed to enjoy the view...  hitting just the right note to suit Marie's 'saucy' reputation, I thought!

Best of all were the songs. I sang seven of Marie's hits and judging by the audience reaction, the favourite was 'When I Take My Morning Promenade'. They all seemed to really enjoy participating in  the choruses of  'My Old Man Said Follow The Van', 'The Boy I Love' and 'A Little Of What You Fancy'.

...which brings me neatly back to The Pop-Up Proms Project. I've got a group of singers and performers together who, for absolutely FREE, are prepared to go with me to visit residential homes and daycare centres for the elderly, to put on a Variety Performance of really well-known songs from the last hundred years.

Our finale will be, of course, favourites from the Last Night of the Proms: Land of Hope and Glory, Jerusalem and Rule Britannia.

The whole point is to get our audiences to join in with the songs- the benefits for their well being really need know explaining- and also to tell us about any memories or associations the songs evoke for them.

I've got the Norfolk Records Office involved too; their sound archive will hold recordings we will make of the reminiscencing conversations, with a view to studying variations in the Norfolk Dialect.

Of course I am still continuing to work for NMAS and freelance as Queen Elizabeth 1, Queen Victoria and Marie Lloyd.

If you feel the urge for frequent Queenie updates, you can follow me on Twitter @whatqueeniedid and 'like' my Facebook page, Queenielives.

Ooh, that was a long one! (Are we back to Marie Lloyd's sense of humour again?!)

Friday, 16 August 2013

Getting a Grip on Hairy Hedgehogs

Oh crikey. After moderate success in styling a long dark wig a la 1900s for Marie Lloyd performances, I have concluded that it won't work!

Edwardian ladies used to save hair from their own hairbrushes to make 'hedgehogs', or rolled pads. They used these to invisibly puff out their fashionably enormous hairstyles. This method gave the ladies a perfect colour-match, of course!

I, on the other hand, not being in the normal habit of saving my own dead hair, had to use pink and white foam rollers and about a million hair grips. These were all visible, and, worse, most unstable!

So there's no chance of Marie's hair remaining in place throughout Part One (the dressing bit) of my talk, in order to perform in the wig for Part Two (the singing bit).

So here's a one-time-only glimpse of me in my Marie Lloyd wig. Once seen, forever forgotten, with any luck!

And as good fortune would have it, my own hair is pretty thick and the hat will cover most of it anyway, so I don't think it's the end of the world. As Marie sang in 'Oh, Mr Porter': "Keep your hair on, Mary Ann, and mind that you don't bust!"

Friday, 12 July 2013

Queenie Loves Social Media

I am delighted to announce the arrival of my new look website: www.rachelduffield.co.uk.

The home page opens windows to the three main aspects of my work; Queenielives (live interpretation work and talks),  QueeniePegs (craft kits), and Queen of Costumes (costume-making activities). The fourth link is to this blog, What Queenie Did Next. There are also links to my Queenielives facebook page, Twitter feed (@whatqueeniedid) and Pinterest boards.

So that's me all fully social media-ed up. My new email address is rachel@rachelduffield.co.uk. Do use it tobcontact me, or use any of the above resources where appropriate, if you'd like to make a booking or commission some work.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Hell Hath No Fury (like a woman with a broken sewing machine meeting a deadline for a costume).

On May 17th and 18th 2013 Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse participated in the national 'Museums At Night' event by running our third (and, I believe, our finest) Murder Mystery Evening. Its title was 'Hell Hath No Fury'. I've posted these pictures of me in my costume because I'm pretty darn proud of both it and the event.

The museum purchased a basic 'steampunk' jacket and skirt, and a real Victorian hat. It was my job to embellish each item to create a costume suitable for a wealthy-and-trying-but-failing-to-look-respectable brothel keeper called Fanny LeFevre! I then got to play the part too- one of my best roles ever...hmmm....

My alterations involved retailoring the waist on the jacket to fit my corsetted measurements, adding several layers of skirt, a bustle, a ruffle (of Which We Do Not Speak- it nearly killed me, along with my poor little sewing machine), an impressive train and a large quantity of bows, lace and bobbly braiding.

Because the v-neckline of the jacket was wrong for our date I inserted a false 'bib' under the collar to look like the top of a blouse. The mismatched brooch you can see on my left shoulder was a clue; it had to stand out.

The hat, though authentic, was too plain for my character, so I added copious amounts of  - well, whatever was in my cupboards that looked right. The museum happened to be given some red leather kid gloves too, so I snaffled those, and the finishing touch was of course, my crystal-topped cane, created for Marie Lloyd and banged on the floor to great dramatic effect as Fanny LeFevre.

Due to lighting levels, the photos don't show the details clearly- but they do pick up on the atmosphere and the character!

It looks like we'll be doing another Murder Mystery next year- I wonder if I can persuade them to invite Queen Victoria?!!

And in case you're wondering 'whodunnit'...well, with a profile like the one in the photo? Of course, it was me!

Monday, 20 May 2013

Exciting new things

I spent this morning creating a new look for my online presence with my web designer Cassie Tillett. Watch this space!

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Somersham Thank You Letters

Today I was absolutely thrilled to receive some beautiful thank you letters from children of all ages at Somersham Primary, where I visited in March as Queen Elizabeth I.

I've just spent the last hour attempting to scan the letters (successful) and get this blog to accept them as pictures (unsuccessful). So instead, I will entertain you with some quotes. Spelling and punctuation faithfully reproduced:

"Dear Queen Elizabeth,

"I am writing to say how much I enjoyed your visit; The class was truly astourneded by the amount of Facts you gave us. In my humanities book I have wrote a whole page of Facts; thanks to your information.
At the end of the day I was very sard because you had to leave we were all having so much fun; When you left; the class was amazed at how much fun you could have learning about the Tudors, so therefore on behalf of the Hawks Class I would like to Say a huge thank you.
Yours Sincerely,
George (on behalf of hawks)."

"I was cashtive to learn about the Tudors. My best bit ws when you told us about how thay got exquooded. But I don't know how many contrays the Tudors were in? I learn't that the cloves that you have means that you have a lot of mony. your favirat jewels were parls thank you for coming yours sensely AXL." 

"I am a pupil of Somersham primary and I would like to say a viant thankyou! Friday 1st March I wil rember for the rest of my life...Most of all I really loved your visit and how you showed us eurey things. You are a brillent person with a good life ahead.
Your sincrelly

Monday, 18 March 2013

Et Voila!

 This photo shows my finished Marie Lloyd 'Directoire' dress, and the picture below is a photo of the lady herself wearing the original.

I'm very proud of this! It took a lot of effort and learning of new skills. And I met the deadline.

Next task is to learn the songs. Maybe I'll do that 'As I Take My Morning Promenade...'

Monday, 4 March 2013

Who IS the fairest of them all?

My friends and colleagues are regularly regaled with my tales of woe. Usually about the near-freezing conditions I find myself coping with when getting changed in the village hall toilets of Norfolk and Suffolk.

Ludham, for example. A tiny, elderly village hall which had heaters blazing for the tiny, elderly WI members within. My changing quarters were the other side of the door in, as usual, the heater-less toilet area.

This cobbled together, lean-to structure was, I imagine, built in the days before planning regulations. The days when people were made of sterner stuff than I and only required a single brick's thickness of wall to seperate them from the elements.

But I am a 20th Century wuss. I wear thermals from September to April. And I started to shiver hopelessly, waiting there with merely my Wide Open Wednesdays to combat the Wide Open Winter.

Ludham was probably the coldest toilet I've ever changed in. Other venues have been cold too, also  including a sort of creeping damp, mingled with any combination of airfresheners, no airfresheners, urinals, ladders, brooms, bins, baby-changing shelves, industrial bleach, toilet paper mountains, and the bewildered stares of local youths. It's cold, it's yukky, but it's also for only about twenty minutes each time, and I survive it. I shouldn't grumble, but after all, I am British.

However,  on 18th February I visited Surrey Chapel in Norwich to give my Queen Elizabeth talk. I had been booked by a friend and former colleague who had listened (well, sat there, anyway) on many occasions while I bemoaned my latest Sub-Zero Toilet Excursions.

The picture at the top is what greeted me when I got to Surrey Chapel. A toilet with a working radiator, baby-changer bedecked with fairy lights, the mirror surrounded by tinsel, a motivating sentiment and a picture of my beloved Dudley! Brilliant- Thank you Christina, you surely win the prize for Best Kept Toilet- what a great start to the evening!
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Monday, 18 February 2013

Knickers, Nighties and St Valentine

'Undying love' was the subject under discussion at Spixworth WI on 14th February, when I visited to do my presentation on Queen Victoria.

Undying love, and of course, the usual conversations one gets when one combines a group of women of a certain age with suggestive historical underwear! NEVER assume, dear reader, that WI ladies are prudish.

I was given a beautiful long Victorian nightdress by a lady at Drayton WI last year, and I have incorporated it into my Queen Victoria talks. The idea was to wear it over the usual bloomers and chemise to begin the talk, and then take it off in order to get dressed.

Well, I couldn't get it off! We had been talking about the interesting coincidence of the arrival of the sexy babydoll nightdress at the same time as the advent of contraceptive pills in the 1960s, and how before then the ladies were quite literally 'buttoned up'- maybe to try to reduce the amount of babies produced. You can imagine the bawdy atmosphere as I struggled with the linen-covered buttons, and got hopelessly tangled up in the frills and the yards and yards of white linen. We came to the conclusion that most Victorian husbands probably would have given up after all that...  

*Picture shows me at Brooke WI last year demonstrating the alluring qualities of Victorian bloomers.

Of Royal Descent...?

I've been doing work as Queenie with schools again in the last two weeks; one day was with Mulbarton Junior during their visit to Ancient House, Thetford.

My son goes to this school; mercifully for him he wasn't in the visiting group, but apparently he did undergo a brief interrogation the next day from a gaggle of Year Six girls demanding to know if his mother was Queen Elizabeth I or not.

Luckily, he has a well-developed sense of the ridiculous and shrugged it all off, merely commenting, 'They all know you have a weird job, mum'.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

A Little of What I'm Fancying

As today is the anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth I in 1559 it seemed appropriate to give her a mention, although my current focus is on gowns rather than crowns, and a rather different sort of monarch: the Queen of the music halls.

My first talk of 2013 is on 21st January (QV) and the Christmas break has been given over to plotting and scheming for my Marie Lloyd talk.

I have finally decided on which dress I shall make: it shall be the famous Directoire dress, a black and white silk number with a saucy, leg-revealing split. Marie's prop for this song was a director's silver-topped cane. The cane became her emblem to such an extent that it was laid on her coffin for her funeral in 1922.

The costume also includes an extremely large hat and wig combination!  Can't wait to assemble it all!