Curricles and dashing young men

“Chickenheart,” Jason scoffed. “If you mean to abandon your sister to her fate I can escort her. Lancings is only a few miles outside my way, and I can very easily detour round to take her with me if she doesn’t mind driving in a curricle.”  (Recompromising Amanda)








Curricles were a kind of two-wheeled, light, open carriage that were generally pulled by two horses. They were meant to carry two people at most unless no one minded being badly squeezed together.  They came into existence in the mid eighteenth century and the name comes from the Latin curriculum, which means course or racing chariot. They were extremely fashionable, extremely expensive (some were more than £100, much more than the wages of female domestic servant, for example, which could be as low as £2 a year) and not particularly comfortable.

In other words, they were the Regency equivalent of a modern convertible sports car – great for roaring around in and impressing everyone with how dashing you are (they even had a special place to store your sword). No wonder every wealthy London male worthy of his salt wanted one. Naturally Jason, Lord Greyshott, would have one and being the perfect gentleman he would automatically enquire whether a young lady of quality is up for travelling in one through the countryside for several hours. She would normally travel in a closed or better sprung carriage, which would be better for both her complexion and her comfort.

Alas for the curricle, a few years after Jason took Amanda for a ride cabriolets were introduced to society and immediately became the most elegant, most fashionable, most must-have carriage. I’m sure Jason was one of the first purchasers.


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Morrison shelters

“I expect if the sirens go her mum will get her into a shelter quick enough. And if she elects to stay home, I’m betting they have a pretty sturdy Morrison shelter in the kitchen they can huddle under.” (Not2Nite)

Morrison shelters certainly saved many, many lives but they must have been fiendishly uncomfortable.

Morrison shelters certainly saved many, many lives but they must have been fiendishly uncomfortable.


During the blitz 1000s and 1000s of bombs rained down on London and most people didn’t even have a basement to huddle in. Partially to discourage people from taking shelter in Underground stations the Home Office developed small air raid shelter kits for personal use that people put together themselves (kind of like Ikea products and probably just as frustrating). One of these shelters was the Table (Morrison) Indoor Shelter or Morrison shelter as it was commonly known, which low income families were provided with for free. The tables were just over six feet (2 metres) long and  four feet (1.2 metres) wide. They were two and a half feet (.75 metres) high with a thick steel plate for the top, wire all around and a steel mesh mattress on the bottom. Families were expected to use the top as a dining table and sleep underneath during a bombing raid. By the end of 1941 half a million Morrison shelters had been distributed.

These shelters weren’t expected to protect people against a direct hit. No one expected to be able to survive one of those; even underground stations, which were rightly considered amongst the safest places to ride out an air raid, weren’t immune – a direct hit at Bank Station killed 56 people and there were other casualties at other stations as well that resulted in many, many deaths. However, a lot of people died as a result of their home collapsing around them when a bomb exploded near by. Morrison shelters were therefore designed to protect people from walls falling and roofs and floors caving in and it seems they did quite a good job of it. In one study of 44 badly damaged homes containing Morrison shelters it was determined that out of 136 people 120 escaped serious injury and those that died or were seriously injured had either been hit directly or hadn’t constructed their shelter properly (Morrison shelters had 359 parts!). In 1950 the designer, Sir John Baker, was awarded £3,000  by the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors  for his design of the Morrison shelter in recognition of how many lives his design undoubtedly saved.


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Sugar rationing in WWII

“I haven’t tasted candy in over a year,” Molly admitted. “Sweets were one of the first things to disappear off the shelves when rationing was instituted. I don’t think I can resist.”  (Not2Nite)

Never forget that Great Britain is an island with all that entails. Not just an island, but a northern island that isn’t very large and was home to around 50,000,000 people in the 1940s. Not surprisingly at the beginning of World War II they were importing up to 70 percent of their food. Of course, the Germans were well aware of this and concentrated a lot of their effort on trying to make sure that necessary supplies didn’t reach Britain’s shores. In order to ensure everyone got their fair share of what food there was the British government instituted rationing. Every man, woman and child, including all the members of the royal family, was issued a ration book and could only purchase a set amount per week of whatever was rationed, with their purchase carefully marked down in the book. No ration book, no food. Sugar, which was mostly imported, was one of the first things to be rationed and candy stores pretty much became a thing of the past. So Molly isn’t kidding when she says she hasn’t tasted candy in over a year.

photo credit: ‘WW2 People’s War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found here.



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Using a pseudonym

Barbara Burke is not my real name…sort of. The name I go by – my ‘real’ name – belongs to someone who writes serious articles for serious magazines and newspapers. It belongs to a woman who wins awards for her works as a journalist and editor. It belongs to a woman who sometimes finds herself hanging out with academics and ‘serious writers’ who wouldn’t dream of stooping to admit they might harbour even a modicum of respect for romance writers (yes, they’re probably real wankers).
So when I started writing romance I decided I needed to do it under another name. I didn’t want to confuse people, was what I told myself.
And thus Barbara Burke was born. However, even though it’s a pseudonym, a nom-de-plume, even a nom-de-guerre if one’s feeling particularly jaundiced about this whole writing business, I actually have every right to the name.
Before she married, my mother’s last name was Burke. So I’m as much a Burke as I am a…the other side of the family. If we lived in a matriarchy rather than a patriarchy my last name would be Burke without question. That’s good enough for me. I claim Burke as my birthright.
Barbara takes a little more explaining. My brother was 13 when I was born and, family lore has it, fell in love the first time he saw me. When my father went to register my birth he took my brother with me. The clerk was duly filling in the form and asked for my second name. Uh oh. Though my first name had been set in stone for months – John, if I was a boy and…never mind, if I was a girl – my parents had somehow neglected to come up with a suitable middle name. At that point my brother stepped in. In the throes of puppy love for some dream girl in his grade eight class he blurted out her name – Barbara – and the clerk had it filled out on the official form before my father could speak. My mother discovered my newfound moniker when reading the evening paper in hospital that night.
So even though Barbara Burke is not my ‘real’ name, I think it’s as much a part of me as that other one and I claim it proudly in my second life as a romance writer.

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