BRITAIN was at war with France, the Emperor Napoleon had over-run many countries and hoped to invade Britain and the British Army was abroad, fighting the French in Portugal and Spain.
These were the days when the Redcoats were led to victories by the Duke of Wellington until the final victory at Waterloo 1815.
These were the Regency years - a period of history, admits Prudence Bebb, she finds fascinating.
“I’ve always loved this era - the Regency period and the Georgian period. It’s a time when we saw many changes and fashions. People know all about the Prince Regent and the aristocracy but not as much I think about the lives of everyday people and this is where my real interest lies,” she says.
Prudence, who lives in York, has now spent time methodically researching the period and the result is a collection of books looking at Regency life in various Yorkshire towns and cities - and the latest on her itinerary is Halifax.
“Often people associate the Regency period with Brighton, Bath and York. They are the places that instantly spring to mind but obviously this period was being experienced every where else too. The reason I was drawn to Halifax was because I wanted to study a town where people made their money through industry.
As a result, she opens her book with a chapter on clothiers and their customers and instantly brings to life Halifax’s Regency cloth merchants and traders as she describes them bringing their wares, piled high on the backs of pack ponies, to the Piece Hall. She goes on to talk about the weavers whose looms filled the upstairs rooms of their cottages and of the fame Halifax earned through its renowned worsted cloth, as well as the croppers and the spinners and weavers.
Prudence reveals that she always wanted to write. She now has several books to her name.
“I think I made up my mind from the age of seven that I wanted to write a book, possibly influenced by my father, who was a chaplain who wrote several books about theology and economics,” she says. Her career took off around 30 years ago and now Prudence is the author of four historical romances, including The Eleventh Emerald and The Ridgeway Ruby, published by Robert Hale, as well as nine books about the Regency period.
So far she has studied York, Harrogate, Scarborough, Beverley, Bridlington and Whitby.
Halifax, however, is just as worthy of a mention as any other town or city, she says.
“There are so many attractive aspects to Halifax and one thing that thrilled me when I visited the town for my research was how well preserved a lot of the old buildings are. Halifax is very lucky to have the architecture it does. Sadly some towns and cities have not been as fortunate with buildings surviving. I thought the Piece Hall and Somerset House were wonderful.”
Another gem in Halifax’s crown that merits a mention in the book is Shibden Hall, which she explains by Regency times, would already have seemed historic.
She looks at the simple and elegant fashions of the times - the high-waisted gowns (“difficult for English women with their pear-shaped figures to follow”) which were usually white to emulate the females on the pottery of classical times - and Halifax’s inns.
“Standing four storeys high with jettied walls and gabled roof, the White Swan was a timbered, medieval building but its ancient facade had been brought up to date with Georgian sash windows,” she explains.
Churchwardens and bell-ringers, bankers, Luddites and preachers are also mentioned.
A chapter, entitled A Good Dinner, looks at the food and drink of the day and Prudence reveals how in 1820, a cookery book was published in Halifax. The Young Woman’s Companion or Female Instructor, printed locally, would have revolutionised lives.
She talks of pure lemon acid purchased from Milles of Halifax, which was used to make home-made lemonade, and of grocers George Walton and James Hemingway and butcher George Pollard.
“The cooks of Halifax were well served because by the end of the Regency, there were over 40 grocers in this town of 9,000 people,” she reveals.
Prudence adds that she likes to use old newspapers as one source of her research but unfortunately in the case of Halifax, this was not possible.
“Newspapers are so helpful but because The Courier wasn’t on the go then sadly, I didn’t have that option. I did find other local newspapers with mention of Halifax however and I am also indebted to a friend of mine who had a wonderful collection of old prints,” she says.
She is now planning a book about life in Regency Sheffield.
l Life in Regency Halifax by Prudence Bebb is available from publishers Sessions Books, Unit 4, Birch Park, Huntington Road, York, YO31 9BL. Ring 01904 697855 for details. You can also buy a copy from Fred Wade Bookshop, Rawson Street, Halifax.