Thursday Thought: Porcelain Connection

As I work on the sequel to my historical novel I am delighted that more and more connections crop up. I will feature Boconnoc (one of the three great houses in The Miner & the Viscount), the Cornish seat of the Pitt family.

William Cookworthy Inventor and Quaker

William Cookworthy
Inventor and Quaker

It is Thomas Pitt, “the artistic one”, who inherits the estate, his cousin William Pitt the Younger who goes into politics and becomes one of the most brilliant first ministers in British history. Thomas Pitt meets William Cookworthy, who lives just over the border in Devon. He is an amazing man—a Quaker, a businessman, a pharmacist, and an inventor.

When John Smeaton (the brilliant engineer we met in “The Miner & the Viscount”) needed a cement that would work under sea water to construct the famous Eddystone Lighthouse, he turned to Cookworthy to develop it.

A visitor from America interested Cookworthy in porcelain and in penetrating the secrets that the Chinese manufacturers had guarded for hundreds of years. He had to obtain the special clays. Where did he find them? On Boconnoc land! And Thomas Pitt financed obtaining the patent and assisted in the early development.

There is more. Another early helper was Richard Champion, also a Quaker, who went on to form the Bristol porcelain company, and eventually moved to America. What an amazing character! And I have just received a beautiful new book about him from an old school friend (and my daughter Sarah’s goddaughter) who collected his ware.

Much more to come soon!




Thursday Thought: From Quill Pen to iPhone!

I have been immersed in the 18th Century and now as a New Year dawns in the 21st Century one reflects on the immense changes that mankind (“personkind”?) has invented over the decades. I tell my grandchildren that I welcome the challenge of mastering, or at least becoming capable of tinkering with, word processing through a computer, since the technology of keeping a quill sharpened with a penknife sufficient to write legibly was beyond me.

Today I can use my iPhone in my own library and give a talk to a book club in Alaska over their smart TV. Awesome!

Meanwhile, older media have much to offer. I enjoy radio. Listen this Saturday, January 3, 2016,  at 7:00 a.m. to Book Club on NPR’s Cincinnati area affiliate WVXU, when Mark Perzel interviews me about “The Miner & the Viscount”. Mark is an avid reader and an insightful interviewer.

Go to the second part of my BBC interview with the delightful Tiffany Truscott during my book tour in Cornwall.

And, as the Cornish say, “Bledhen Nowyth Da!” Happy New Year!


Thursday Thought: Fire!

18th Century Infantryman

18th Century Infantryman

This is the story behind the story of Chapter 6o, “Order”. There is trouble at the mine. There is an accident. People are killed. The miners are angry and riot. Captain Addis Penwarden has lost control. The viscount takes matters into his own hands and calls in the militia with disastrous results. The young officer does his best to calm the situation.

“I have my orders sir,” said the officer. “Restore order whatever it takes. There’s destruction here, arson, civil disobedience; this is a riot. I came fully prepared.” He handed the bridle of his horse to the drummer boy who walked it to the rear of the platoon. He turned towards his men. “Serjeant, you know what to do.”

The serjeant turned to face the men. “Platoon, forming rank of fours, march!” The soldiers performed the complicated maneuver flawlessly. The serjeant barked out more orders. “Fix bayonets. Load!”

The crowd quieted, watched in awe as they carried out the order with speed and dexterity. Each man took a paper cartridge from the pouch at his belt, bit off the end, sprinkled a little powder into the pan of his musket, pushed the steel back to cover the pan, poured the rest of the powder down the barrel, then inserted the paper cartridge and a ball into the muzzle. Then each man removed his ramrod from its position under the barrel, rammed the charge and ball down the barrel, returned the ramrod to its stowage position, and finally pulled the cock back to the “full cock” position.

“Phew!” muttered Addis Penwarden. “No more than fifteen seconds!”

The soldiers were ready for another order. The serjeant shouted again. “Front rank, kneel!”

The ensign signaled the boy, who beat a tattoo on his side drum, silencing the crowd. The young officer addressed Eliot. “Sir, I advise you and your companions to stand aside in case there is trouble.” Then he took a document from the pocket of his tunic, unfolded it, and said in a loud clear voice: “Under the authority duly given to me by the Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall I hereby give notice as follows.” He read, “Our Sovereign Lord the King chargeth and commandeth all persons, being assembled, immediately to disperse themselves and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, upon the pains contained in the act made in the first year of King George, for preventing tumults and riotous assemblies. God Save the King!”

He looked round the faces in front of him to see what effect he was having. Some appeared cowed. Others, like Tom Kegwyn, were defiant.

The officer continued to speak. “The Riot Act makes it a felony punishable by death without benefit of clergy for any persons unlawfully, riotously and tumultuously assembled together to cause, or begin to cause, serious damage to places of religious worship, houses, barns, and stables.” He looked up and added in his own words, “That undoubtedly includes buildings such as this mine or places of manufactory.”

“Go home, for God’s sake, go home!” shouted Penwarden, turning towards the mob.

Some of the crowd moved back, including all the men who had worked on repairing the damage of the past days. Reverend Perry and his group urged those around them to move back and leave.

Tom Kegwyn didn’t move, but stood his ground, his chin lifted. He picked up pieces of wood, threw one on the fire, and kept another as a cudgel. “I’d rather swing than starve!” he yelled. “Come on, arm yourselves, there’s more of we than they.” He started towards the soldiers.

Lizzie tugged at his arm to stop him charging. Tom broke into a run. He ignored an order to halt. The young ensign nodded to the serjeant.

“Platoon, present, fire!” A volley of shots cracked out and echoed from the walls of the engine house. The crowd groaned. Three bodies slumped to the ground. Two were tinners who had been at the side of Tom Kegwyn. One was the woman who had been trying to save him from himself.

To my mind it is vital to ensure that descriptions like this are authentic. I was proud of my first draft. I sent it to the regimental museum of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry in Bodmin, Cornwall, and asked the historian his opinion. His comments yielded many corrections. Here is part of what Major Hugo White wrote.

“The ‘slope arms’ was not used till the late 19 th century. The musket was normally carried when marching to attention in a position known as the ‘shoulder’. Troops marched in file (twos) or columns of fours until about 1935. Sergeant was always spelt ‘serjeant’ at this time (and still is in many regiments).  Sashes are silk or woollen material.  These were of heavy buff leather known simply as belts. The term should be coat.  Tunics were first introduced in 1855. Trousers were not part of male attire till much later.  They would have worn white breeches with long black gaiters reaching above the knee. Soldiers wore tricorn cocked hats.  Shakos were not introduced till 1806. An officer is never addressed as Ensign or Lieutenant.  If Eliot knew the officer’s name, and he would doubtless have asked, he would have addressed him as ‘Mr Maitland’. Kettle drums were carried by cavalry mounted bandsmen, slung in pairs either side of a horse’s withers. The drummer would have had a Side Drum.”   

All this led to correcting multiple details, not least the type of drum used in an infantry regiment to signal orders and the terms that describe them such as “tattoo”. I was so relieved to have found such a knowledgeable source. On top of all this came Major White’s description of the 18th century drill for loading and firing a musket.

“On the command load, the soldiers would have taken a cartridge, bitten off the end, sprinkled a small quantity of powder into the pan, pushed the ‘steel’ back to cover the ‘pan’, poured the rest of the powder down the barrel, followed by the ball and the paper cartridge (to act as a wad), remove the ‘ram rod’ from its position under the barrel, ram the charge and ball down the barrel, return the ramrod to its stowage position, and, finally, pull back the cock to the ‘full cock’ position. The order would be ‘Present, fire!’ A well trained soldier could accomplish this highly complicated evolution in 15 seconds.”

And I often wondered about the origin of the idiom “reading the riot act”. It was fascinating to find out the form of words that was actually used under the law at the time.

It was rewriting this chapter that made me realize that my lofty goal of dashing off an historical novel in a year or two was totally unrealistic. But it was, of course, all so very worth while. Rewriting and rewriting made the book better.

I visited the museum during my 2012 visit to Cornwall and met Major White in person, a delightful and enthusiastic man. It was absorbing to learn more of the history of the D.C.L.I. It was my father’s regiment. He volunteered in World War I and served in India, Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq), Palestine and Egypt. I cherish his stories and souvenirs.

I am enchanted with all the connections I have enjoyed as a result of writing my book.

Read more…





Thursday Thought: The Road to Hell

Welcome to the first edition of The Cornish Chronicle newsletter!

At the back of the top shelf in the supplies cabinet in my office is a box that once held letter size stationery. These days it holds mementos that should be thrown away when I get organized. Specifically, they are newsletters telling the stories of past enthusiasms.

Look closely and you will see that they have a feature in common. At the top left hand corner of each one there is a notation: “Volume I, No. 1.”

Christmas Goose

Christmas Goose

My mother told me that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. That box is the tomb of several of mine. This time will be different. Today I announce with pride the launch of a long cherished project, my new newsletter The Cornish Chronicle.
It will tell stories of my native Cornwall . . .  its history, mystery, people, culture, beauty, and about the making of my historical novel The Miner & the Viscount and its sequels.
This first edition tells of quaint Christmas customs of bygone days. It includes the delightful conversation in Chapter 26 “Christmas Goose” where inquisitive little Jemmy pesters his mother with questions.

Listen to a snippet.


Thursday Thought: Once a Priory, now a Grand House

Port Eliot

Port Eliot

Edward Eliot, my protagonist in The Miner & the Viscount, inherited the great estate of Port Eliot, near St. Germans in Cornwall. This is one wing of the house, with the imposing main entrance wing to the right. The wing at the left at one point housed servants but now is where the estate offices are located.

 Here the Earl of St. Germans, the present owner, is showing me around the house.
Art collection

Art collection

He is enormously knowledgeable about the accomplishments of his famous ancestors. There is a fabulous collection of paintings, including 14 by the great English portraitist Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Chapter 57 in The Miner & the Viscount tells the delightful story of a visit by Reynolds to his friends the Eliots, who were among his earliest patrons. Reynolds and Edward Eliot tell stories of their travels, Edward’s still youthful mother flirts with the artist charmingly, and Edward’s wife Catherine does her best to pry from Reynolds the secrets of his technique and his earnings.
St. Germanus Church

St. Germanus Church

To the right of the house was the church of St. Germanus, once the cathedral of Cornwall. Port Eliot was originally a priory until Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries and sold it to a layman supporter. It was eventually bought by the Eliot family, who over the centuries improved it for family use.

Round Room

Round Room

  This is part of the spectacular 40 foot diameter Round Room at Port Eliot. It was designed by Sir John Soane the great 18th century architect and interior designer. The contemporary “Riddle Mural” was painted over several years by Robert Lenkiewicz from nearby Plymouth, but not finished when he died.

Thursday Thoughts: Liskeard, my hometown!

So looking forward to visiting my native Cornwall with my daughter Sarah in July on a book tour with my historical novel The Miner & the Viscount. I was born and brought up in Liskeard so it will be a special treat to give a talk in the Liskeard Book Shop.

Liskeard Book Shop

Liskeard Book Shop

The shop is in Barras Street in the heart of the town. This handsome building houses the Liberal Club. My father was the president when I was a boy. I remember watching him play billiards.

I went to kindergarten at Miss Rapson’s school behind this building. Miss Rapson and Miss Wilkes were very strict but taught us to spell and add and subtract.

Liskeard was created a Royal Borough in 1240 so it had the privilege of having two Members of Parliament. And only 32 voters at the time of my story. Read how that worked in Chapter 3.


Thursday Thoughts: John Wesley

One of the most imposing and most important historical characters in The Miner & the Viscount is John Wesley, founder of Methodism.

John Wesley

John Wesley

He visited Cornwall 32 times. The horseback ride from London took 5-6 days. He often stayed at Diggory Isbell’s cottage at Trewint, near Altarnun — which is close to my birthplace at Liskeard.

One of his favorite preaching places is Gwennap Pit with its amazing natural acoustics. In his journal he writes of once preaching there to “two and thirty thousand people, the largest assembly I ever preached to.”

Chapter 68 tells of John Wesley’s first time at the Pit in 1762 when he spoke eloquently against slavery, and reminded his audience of his practical advice about money: “Earn all you can; save all you can; give all you can.”



Thursday Thoughts: Stellar Review

Another heart warming review. This one from an old school friend with high standards of writing, and indeed scholarship:

“I’ve spent most of the last few days reading ‘The Miner and the Viscount’, here in Normandy looking out on the sea and across to Jersey.

“It is a splendid read.  A tour de force.  I can only guess at the hours of writing.

“The  Piran story starts it off with a real bang, and I found everything thereafter deeply absorbing and believable as a portrait of life in that place and at that time.  I especially enjoyed the details of mining and of community festivities, your pictures of justice and authority, the class society and position of women, the difficulties of travel, and much else, convincing and informative.  And at the end, while the goodies win and the baddie gets his come-uppance, and there are prospects of huge social and economic improvements soon to come, private tragedy reminds us that for most people life was to remain a struggle, full of pain.  An absorbing read.




Thursday Thoughts: Mystery unveiled at Lanhydrock

AN ANCIENT book has been discovered at Lanhydrock that helped Henry VIII to build his case against the Pope and annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, first of his six wives.

We can connect threads here. As readers of The Miner & the Viscount know, Lanhydrock is the great house that is the home of my fictitious villains, the Trenances. Like Lanhydrock House and churchmany Cornish estates, there is a church right by the house. Why? Because it was originally a priory. When Henry VIII brought about the Dissolution of the Monasteries (the greatest real estate scam in history) many priories plundered from the church were sold to wealthy laymen.

The book (dated 1495) is a summary of works by philosopher and theologian William of Ockham who was a major figure in medieval intellectual and political thought. Its contents help explain the persuasiveness of the arguments Henry VIII’s advisers made against the Pope.

The book has been at Lanhydrock for many years, but what has just been discovered is its direct connection to the royal library at Westminster Palace. There is an inventory number inside which corresponds to the inventory prepared in 1542 for Henry VIII’s chief library.

To help  gather evidence to support an annulment to Henry VIII’s his marriage, his agents scoured the country for texts such as Ockham’s which questioned the authority of the Pope and argued for the independence of the monarch. The volume at Lanhydrock contains marginal notes and marks which were made by Henry VIII’s secretarial staff to draw his attention to relevant passages.

So was the Reformation at its root motivated to sweep corruption from the Roman Catholic Church? Or was it Henry’s cover story for schemes truly driven by sex and money? We know he wanted to get rid of his Spanish queen so that he could marry the lusty Anne Boleyn. He also created the opportunity to seize the property of the Church of Rome.

With Paul Holden at Lanhydrock in the Long Gallery

Richard Hoskin with Paul Holden at Lanhydrock in the Long Gallery

Lanhydrock is now in the National Trust. Paul Holden, house and collections manager, said: “To have such an interesting book in the collection is fascinating in itself but to find out that it was once owned by Henry VIII, and played a part in a pivotal moment in British history, is very exciting.

“It’s thrilling to discover that the book at Lanhydrock is from the Royal library. The book is important not only for its provenance but for the notes entered in it by Henry VIII’s advisers and no doubt intended for him to see. They draw attention to precisely the sort of issues that were so relevant to the King’s policies in the years leading up to the break with Rome.”

On a personal note, I owe much to Paul for the expert information he provided me about Lanhydrock and the Robartes family. He added much to the richness of my book.


Thursday Thoughts: Book Club

How stimulating it is to have an in depth conversation with enthusiastic readers!

I recently shared this pleasure with The Rosebuds, a long established group of widely read women who got together to discuss The Miner & the Viscount.

The Rosebuds take it in turns each month to choose the book they all read and to share dinner. Mary Beth Heil was our hostess and she put on a tasty spread complete with cottage pie and hard cider. So appropriate for a conversation about Cornwall!

And a lively conversation it was. Where did you get the idea for the story? Where did the fictitious characters come from? Were you or your family part of the characters? Were politics really like that? Sounds worse than today. We followed the map in the book, the places sound beautiful. What do they actually look like? What was it like growing up in Cornwall? What parts of the story were true and what parts did you make up? Did the story of the great diamond actually happen?

Gourmets that they were, they wanted a recipe for a Cornish pasty. They pronounced it “paysty”. I said “pahsty” is the proper way. “Paystyies” take practice: they’re what you twirl in opposite directions.

They so enjoyed meeting with the author and getting insights into the process of writing a big book. As Mary Beth wrote, “Richard, It was so wonderful for you to come to our book club.  Everyone enjoyed hearing the ‘story behind the story’ and how personal the book is to your life.  Thanks again and I will pass on the info right now to all the members.  We will spread the word.”

Let me know if you would like me to talk to your book club. I would enjoy it; such fun. I hope you would too.