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Amusements

Summer at the Beach

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west-pier-brighton With summer came the great exodus from the sweltering weather of London. The railways had opened England’s coastal resorts to the middle classes in the Victorian era, and the tramways and motorbuses opened them to the working classes, enabling them to take part in the popular concept of the “week-end.” Accordingly, the upper classes frequently moved on to Trouville-Deauville or Biarritz–both in France–for their summer getaway.

The seaside resort had its roots in the mid-18th century as an extension of the older health regime of the spa where physicians believed the sea to have prophylactic powers at the August spring tides. The first sea-bathing resorts began in North Yorkshire and spread quickly to south-eastern England, the most fashionable being Margate, Brighton and Weymouth. With the royal patronage of the Prince Regent upon Brighton, the seaside resort became the fastest-growing kind of British town by the first half of the 19th century, and by the 1900s, every English and Welsh coastline was studded with resorts of different sizes, and every possible market could find a congenial holiday home in one or other of well over 100 substantial coastal resorts, the largest of which had well over 50,000 year-round residents.

bathing machine Ensconced in a boarding house, or perhaps a sea-side villa, the intrepid holidayers would venture to the coastlines for the morning dip. Children were handled by nannies attired in straw boaters and stiff white pique dresses, who pushed perambulators in which the babies were almost hidden behind the bathing dresses, towels, wooden spades (for iron ones were forbidden because they could cause injury) for their elder siblings. Despite the relative modesty of bathing costumes, it was considered an article of clothing improper for a mixed crowd and until 1901, both sexes were confined to segregated bathing machines (roofed and walled wooden carts that rolled into the sea) to retain a measure of propriety.

bathing-suit As the only activity for women involved jumping through the waves while holding onto a rope attached to an off-shore buoy, their bathing costume was quite unsuited for real swimming. Made of serge or preshrunk mohair in black, red or navy, it consisted of a knee-length skirt, a pair of bloomers and a tunic, or a combination type with skirt. The costume was then accessorized by long black stockings, lace-up bathing slippers, and fancy caps. The style of costume changed little between the years 1880 and 1907, cap sleeves being the only new concession to fashion. It was Australian swimmer, Annette Kellerman, who heralded the transformation of the bathing costume’s silhouette.

Her performance as an “underwater ballerina” was a version of synchronized swimming involving diving into glass tanks and looking graceful. Since her costumeannette kellerman was tailored to suit her movement, she was arrested for indecent exposure because her swimsuit showed arms, legs and the neck. Though Kellerman later changed the suit to have long arms and legs and a collar, it kept the close fit of her first costume. After this event, bathing wear started to shrink, first uncovering the arms and then the legs up to mid-thigh. Collars receded from around the neck down to around the top of the bosom. The development of new fabrics allowed for new varieties of more comfortable and practical swim wear. Until 1860, it was customary for men to swim nude, and after this was banned in 1860, masculine bathing costume followed the lines of womens, consisting of shirt and shorts, made of dark-colored serge. As with women, men’s costume changed by the late 1900s, when a few daring men were seen swimming topless!

Sunday heralded the end of the weekend. Bathing on the Sabbath was frowned upon and after morning services, visitors thronged the promenades, attired in their Sunday whites to enjoy the sun, regimental bands, minstrel players and delicious treats sold by vendors. As the dusk fell, servants or hotel staff, or perhaps just the family, busily packed their belongings for the return to London on Monday. Sated and full of sea air, the weekend getaway to the beach was open to nearly all classes and walks of life. For the unforunates who were unable to afford the cost of the trip, charitable organizations brought the beach to them, one well-known London-based charity importing sand to the East End to give the children a taste of the delights of a sea-side resort.

Times Square

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metropolitan-opera-house New York City at the turn of the century was a time of transformation. From a sleepy collection of boroughs along the Hudson to a bustling, frenetic city of millions, New York was a city on the verge of tremendous changes. Not surprisingly, many of them were created to meet the needs of the thronged streets and avenues.

By the end of the 19th century, society both fashionable and wealthy, as well as the entertainment world, moved up the island. Broadway was lined with electric streetlights and packed around the clock with theatergoers, club patrons, chorus girls and tourists. But the glamorous limelight was at this time focused on 42nd Street and points south, in the district then known as the Upper Rialto. This scene marked the birth of Times Square.

times-square Originally called Longacre Square after a similar London district, this intersection of 42nd Street, Bloomingdale Road and Seventh Avenue was made of the nexus of important roads to the north of the island. With the shift north, New York Times publisher Adolph S. Ochs moved his operations to the newly-built Times Tower. Marooned on a tiny triangle of land at the intersection of 7th Avenue, Broadway and 42nd Street, it was at the time Manhattan’s second-tallest building. Having persuaded the mayor to build a subway station there, the area was also renamed “Times Square” on April 8, 1904. Three weeks later, the first electrified advertisement appeared on the side of a bank at the corner of 46th Street and Broadway.

To inaugurate the move, Ochs hosted a massive celebration in the square for New Year’s Eve. Over 200,000 people attended the all-day street festival, which culminated in a fireworks display set off from the base of the tower, and at midnight the joyful sound of cheering, rattles and noisemakers from the attendees could be heard, it was said, from as far away as Croton-on-Hudson, thirty miles north along the Hudson River. While there was no ball, the popularity of the party paved the way for the first dropping of a time ball in Times Square to ring in the New Year on December 31, 1907.

times-square-ball The first New Year’s Eve Ball was built by a young immigrant metalworker named Jacob Starr, and for most of the twentieth century the company he founded, sign maker Artkraft Strauss, was responsible for lowering the ball. Constructed with iron and wood materials with 100 25-watt bulbs weighing 700 pounds (318 kg) and measuring 5 feet (1.5 m) in diameter, it was affixed to the flagpole at 1 Times Square to drop 1 second after midnight. To ring in 1908, waiters in lobster palaces and fine restaurants in the hotels surrounding Times Square were supplied with battery-operated top hats emblazoned with the numbers “1908” fashioned of tiny light bulbs. At the stroke of midnight, they all “flipped their lids” and the year on their foreheads lit up – conjunction with the numbers “1908” on the parapet of the Times Tower lighting up to signal the arrival of the new year.

new-years-1908 One can only imagine how chaotic the celebration must have been, based on the report given by the Times:

“…100,000 people supped at midnight. The storm center was the new Hotel Plaza, at 5th avenue and the Plaza. Between 11 and midnight, more than 6000 people stormed the doors. Crowds filled the lobbies and almost fought their way into the three large dining rooms and tea room. People who had reserved tables couldn’t get in for all the rush…Mrs Stuyvesant Fish got no further than the entry until a gentleman used his girth to force his way through the crowd for her to follow…Visiting from place to place was very much the vogue. Many who began at the Plaza went to Cafe Martin later. Each hotel and restaurant was filled with celebrities culled from the stage and opera–Lina Cavalieri, Caruso, John Barrymore–society and the very rich…The Waldorf-Astoria was a social scene. Venetian fete on the eighth floor of the Hotel Astor…The proprietor of Cafe Martin gave permission for ladies to smoke that night, but none did…From to midnight, Broadway from Canal to the Battery, was crowded with merrymakers. Just before the ringing of the chimes in the tower of Trinity Church the crowd surged onto Broadway, and from Vesey Street south, passage was impossible for cars and carriages…”

A testament to New York’s rapid change, Times Square went from simple area known for its horses and carriages to the dazzling, billboard advertisement square you see today in a period of less than ten years. Despite its complete transformation, there remains one constant link with the past: the New Year’s Eve celebration.

Mills and Boon

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One hundred years ago, the modern romance genre as we know it debuted its first imprint: Mills & Boon. Founded by Gerald Mills and Charles Boon as a general fiction publisher, ironically its first book was a romance, Arrows From The Dark by Sophie Cole. Between this period and the 1930s, Mills & Boon carved out a steady niche for new authors to enter the market, but it was during the height of the Depression that the imprint became entwined with the romance novel.

Considered be the “Golden Age” of M&B, the 1930s saw six to eight thousand copies of each story printed, and with an emphasis on packaging, the brightly colored covers became a trademark for the brand allowing easy recognition that caused titles to fairly fly off the shelves. On the back of every new M&B title, an advertisement declared: “I always look for a Mills & Boon when I want a pleasant book. Your troubles are at an end when you chose a Mills & Boon novel. No more doubts! No more disappointments!” In the post-WWII climate, M&B shifted gears with the times once more by instituting a direct mail catalog and promoting its titles across Europe. M&B caught the attention of American-based Harlequin in the 1950s and the M&B authors were exposed to the North American market with such popularity that many authors were surprised by the ample royalty checks arriving in the mail!

By 1966, paperbacks represented 50% of Mills & Boon’s stock and by 1968 they were releasing 130 hardback and 72 paperback romances a year. The ties between Harlequin and M&B were cemented by success, and gradually, titles that didn’t fit the tried-and-true Nurse-Doctor romances. In the spirit of progress, the sexual content in each book increased as well. The companies merged in 1971, and a controlling interest was sold to Torstar a few years later. With a large corporation backing them, Harlequin-Mills & Boon were able to publishlast-rake-in-london their novels across the globe, and by the mid 1980s the imprint had sold nearly 250 million books worldwide.

To celebrate Mills & Boon’s centenary, not only has the imprint planned a bunch of events, they also plan to release books written specifically for the 100 year celebration. The most exciting entry in the list is Nicola Cornick’s June release (May for you British readers) The Last Rake in London. Set in 1908, the year of Mills and Boon’s founding, it is the story of one of the last dukes of Kestrel and the scandalous owner of a nightclub.

Under a blaze of chandeliers, in London’s most fashionable club, Jack Kestrel is waiting. He hasn’t come to enjoy the rich at play, he’s there to uphold his family name. But first he has to get past the ice-cool owner: the beautiful Sally Bowes. And Jack wants her to warm his bed – at any price!
Edwardian society flocks to Sally’s club, but dangerous Jack Kestrel is the most sinfully sensual rogue she’s ever met. Inexperienced with men, the wicked glint in Jack’s eyes promises he’ll take care of satisfying her every need..

Join me later this month for a special interview with Nicola! To whet your appetite, check out her excerpt.

Further Reading: Passion’s Fortune: The Story of Mills & Boon by Joseph McAleer