A Dangerous Game of Billiards

Today I’d like to share with you an account I found of a 1798 billiard game that went horribly wrong.

This was a case that attracted a lot of attention at the time. The parties were:

Mr. Pitter, “a German” who had been a gentleman’s servant; and

Colonel Fitzroy, a man of some renown and, possibly (based on his surname), a man connected to the Royal Family.

Here’s the news account:

“It appeared in evidence that, on the third of August last, the plaintiff and defendant were at the library at Eastbourn. In this library there was a billiard table. Mr. North (the Bishop of Winchester’s son) and other gentlemen were present.”

Game of Billiards by August Serrure

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“The plaintiff . . . played several games with the Colonel.”

A Game of Billiards by Louis-Leopold Boilly, 1807

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“A dispute took place respecting the laws of the game, in the course of which the plaintiff contradicted the defendant.”

“The Colonel asked him how he dared to contradict a gentleman, and then beat him in so violent a manner, that he was under a surgeon’s hands, and kept his bed for several days.”

Game of Billiards by Theodore Levigne

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“The defence to this action was that the plaintiff had used very provoking language to the defendant, and that he had brought the assault upon himself by his insolent behaviour.”

“The learned judge of the court lamented that gentlemen of fortune and family should play with such men as the plaintiff. If they chose to make any men their companions, and get into scrapes, they must abide the consequences. His verdict: The plaintiff was entitled to a verdict, with reasonable damages. Verdict for the plaintiff—Damages Ten Pounds.”

The Billiard Game by Jean-Baptiste_Simeon Chardin, 1725

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I love reading accounts like this because they contain so much information about what it was like to live in Georgian England. The story is a compact little primer on societal prejudices, class distinctions, and monetary values in the late 1700s.  I was also intrigued by the reasoning the judge used to reach his verdict.

Who knew a simple game of billiards could have such consequences!

 

Bike to Work, Regency Style

Today is Bike to Work Day in Colorado. In honor of the day, I’m re-reading Frederica by Georgette Heyer.

Why re-read Frederica?

Reason Number One: It’s a darn good book. I love to read stories in which one or more of the lead characters is redeemed. In Frederica the Marquis of Alverstoke is a reluctant hero. But despite his reluctance, the selfish, entitled nobleman is slowly but surely transformed by of his blossoming love for Frederica and his growing affection for her younger brothers and sister.

Reason Number Two: Frederica—like all of Heyer’s novels—is packed with historical tid-bits about life in the Regency era. It was while reading Frederica many years ago that I first learned that an early form of our modern bicycle made its debut during the Regency.

In Regency England it was called a Pedestrian Curricle or Pedestrian Hobbyhorse; and in the novel, Jessamy (one of Frederica’s younger brothers) learns to ride “the ingenious machine” that was all the crack.

Here’s how Georgette Heyer described the Pedestrian Curricle in Frederica:

Of simple construction, it consisted of two wheels, with a saddle hung between them, the foremost of which could be made to turn by means of a bar. It was propelled by the rider’s feet on the road, and experts could achieve quite astonishing speeds, when, admirably balancing themselves, they would lift their feet from the ground and coast along at a great rate, and to the amazement of beholders.

Frederica’s younger brother Jessamy was one of those amazed beholders. Seeing the Pedestrian Curricle in motion for the first time, Jessamy made it his purpose in life to gain the mastery of the new machine and impress his family with his prowess. So he rented a machine, took lessons, and spent several hours practicing his new skill.

In Chapter 14 Jessamy sets off on one last solo ride before revealing his secret skill to Frederica and the rest of his siblings.

Unfortunately, things don’t go as well as planned, and Jessamy finds himself mired in a nightmare situation from which only the Marquis of Alverstoke can save him. What follows is a very sweet scene between Jessamy and the marquis that is one of my favorites in all of Heyer’s novels, because it shows just how much the marquis has changed for the better, without altering his true personality.

I won’t give away any more of the story, except to say that by the end of the novel, I was a little bit in love with the Marquis of Alverstoke myself. So if you haven’t yet read Frederica, I hope you’ll find a copy and read it right away.

And if you have read Frederica before, today might be a good day to re-read it—especially Chapter 14—in honor of Bike to Work Day in Colorado.


If you’d like to learn more about Regency-era bicycles, check out these links:

BicycleHistory.net

Beware the Draisine! by author Sharon Lathan

The Modern Bicycle and its Accessories; a Complete Reference Book

Hold on to Your Hats! It’s a Helter Skelter

I love to ride roller coasters. The hair-raising speed, the sudden drops you feel in the pit of your stomach, the hair-pin turns—they all combine to make for one thrilling ride.

If roller coasters are a little too intense for your taste, you might want to give a Helter Skelter a try.

The Helter Skelter at Coney Island, New York in 1905

The Helter Skelter at Coney Island, New York in 1905

Helter Skelters are slides built around a central structure. Instead of modern mechanical gears and pulley systems, they rely on gravity to give riders a smooth, twisting-turning trip to the ground. Inside their central structure is a staircase; riders climb the stairs to their highest point where they emerge from the structure at the top of the slide; then they sit down on a mat, or take a seat on a sled, and ride the slide to the ground.

Helter Skelters aren’t exclusive to America. The photograph below, found at I Love the British Royals, shows the future King George VI riding a Helter Skelter at Wembley Exhibition in London, 1925.

The future King George VI on a Helter Skelter at Wembley Exhibition, London, 1925.

The future King George VI on a Helter Skelter at Wembley Exhibition, London, 1925.

Nor are Helter Skelters a 20th century invention. In fact, there are records of Helter Skelters as far back as the Regency era.

The image below from 1817 shows a man with two masked revelers at the base of a Helter Skelter slide, with twin tower structures in the background.

A gentleman and two masked revelers at a Helter Skelter slide; 1817.

A gentleman and two masked revelers at a Helter Skelter slide; 1817.

And the following 1816 image depicts two ladies and a gentleman watching riders descend a Helter Skelter.

A Helter Skelter slide; 1816.

A Helter Skelter slide; 1816.

In this undated image, one man collects his wife and daughter as a second man collects his wife after they’ve gone down a Helter Skelter:

Riders completing a turn on a Helter Skelter slide. The riders used wheeled chairs to descend the slide.

Riders completing a turn on a Helter Skelter slide.

Some Helter Skelters were rather elaborate. The 1816 image below shows a Helter Skelter with dual slides that take deep turns—certain to thrill the era’s most adventurous riders. And with a starting point four stories high, riders probably reached some impressive speeds on their way down.

An elaborate Helter Skelter, four stories high; 1816.

An elaborate Helter Skelter, four stories high; 1816. The image shows riders descending on wheeled sleds that follow a track.

Given my love for roller coasters named Goliath and Intimidator, I feel a special kinship with the Regency era ladies and gentlemen who dared to take a turn on a Helter Skelter. It looks like the kind of fun I like!