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Professor Amanda Vickery’s splendid BBC Radio 4 series, Voices from the Old Bailey is back, and is on excellent form.

The first programme in the new, second series of four programmes was first broadcast last Wednesday at 9 a.m., but can be accessed here to “listen again via the BBC Website. This week’s episode concentrates on riots during the 18th century, and the section on the Gordon Riots, an uprising of terrible anti- Catholic violence put down with equal harshness by the army, and  which occurred in  London and the surrounding district in 1780, is absolutely riveting.

But does this have anything to do with Jane Austen, I hear you cry ? Most definitely, yes. In Northanger Abbey it is surely the folk memories of the Gordon Riots that cause Eleanor Tilney to be very easily alarmed upon misunderstanding an innocent remark made by Catherine Morland in Chapter 14:

Delighted with her progress, and fearful of wearying her with too much wisdom at once, Henry suffered the subject to decline, and by an easy transition from a piece of rocky fragment and the withered oak which he had placed near its summit, to oaks in general, to forests, the enclosure of them, waste lands, crown lands and government, he shortly found himself arrived at politics; and from politics, it was an easy step to silence. The general pause which succeeded his short disquisition on the state of the nation was put an end to by Catherine, who, in rather a solemn tone of voice, uttered these words, “I have heard that something very shocking indeed will soon come out in London.”

Miss Tilney, to whom this was chiefly addressed, was startled, and hastily replied, “Indeed! And of what nature?”

“That I do not know, nor who is the author. I have only heard that it is to be more horrible than anything we have met with yet.”

“Good heaven! Where could you hear of such a thing?”

“A particular friend of mine had an account of it in a letter from London yesterday. It is to be uncommonly dreadful. I shall expect murder and everything of the kind.”

Of course, Catherine is talking of nothing more serious than of the publication of one of her horrid books, but Eleanor Tilney, the better informed of the two and with an emotional interest in any potential public unrest that might have to be put down by her elder brother, who is serving in the Twelfth Light Dragoons, leaps to some serious conclusions. Henry Tilney has to set matters aright in a very Mr Bennet-ish fashion( and not in a manner of which I approve, to be brutally honest with you, despise me if you dare):

“My dear Eleanor, the riot is only in your own brain. The confusion there is scandalous. Miss Morland has been talking of nothing more dreadful than a new publication which is shortly to come out, in three duodecimo volumes, two hundred and seventy–six pages in each, with a frontispiece to the first, of two tombstones and a lantern — do you understand? And you, Miss Morland — my stupid sister has mistaken all your clearest expressions. You talked of expected horrors in London — and instead of instantly conceiving, as any rational creature would have done, that such words could relate only to a circulating library, she immediately pictured to herself a mob of three thousand men assembling in St. George’s Fields, the Bank attacked, the Tower threatened, the streets of London flowing with blood, a detachment of the Twelfth Light Dragoons (the hopes of the nation) called up from Northampton to quell the insurgents, and the gallant Captain Frederick Tilney, in the moment of charging at the head of his troop, knocked off his horse by a brickbat from an upper window. Forgive her stupidity. The fears of the sister have added to the weakness of the woman; but she is by no means a simpleton in general.”

This weeks programme features one of my favourite historians, Professor Peter King, whose books, Crime, Justice, and Discretion in England 1740-1820 and Crime and Law in England, 1750-1840  are two of my most favourite books on the subject. Go read them now if you possibly can. Completing the discussion panel are Dr. Katrina Navickas and Professor Tim Hitchcock, co-founder of the fabulous on-line archive, Old Bailey Online.

Amanda is currently filming for her BBC TV Special on Sense and Sensibility, which will air sometime in December. She recently sent me this picture of her being filmed examining The Watsons  manuscript at Sotheby’s,which of course was recently sold for nearly £1 million. I thought you would like to see it, so here it is:

Today’s episode of Professor Amanda Vickery’s Voices from the Old Bailey can be accessed here. The second of four episodes it deals with Wicked Women ( or some women who weren’t very wicked at all, just rather unlucky in life.) Fascinating radio. It was recorded at one of my favourite places, the Denis Severs House Museum, 18 Folgate Street, in Spitalfields. As Amanda notes-if only these walls could talk. Professor Peter King- one of my favourite writers on 18th century crime EVER!-is on today’s programme, giving his usual clear explanation of the workings of the 18th century criminal justice system. Discover the 1790s equivalent of today’s chat-up line, “Do you come here often” and listen to songs from The Beggar’s Opera…..how can you resist it?

And today’s edition of Cash in the Attic on BBC1 has some lovely scenes of Lyme Regis and a surprise link to Jane Austen. One of the items the family sold was a legal deed,  and one of the parties to the deed was  Catheine Knight, kindly adoptive mother of Jane Austen’s brother, Edward. The deed  dated from 1799. (The important part is approximately  20 minutes into the programme). It eventually went to auction and was sold for £160 – normally, in my experience, these deeds are commonplace and sell for  betwwen£10-30 each, so the Austen effect was well in evidence here. Sadly, this is not available to view to overseas visitors to this site, but is available for another 6 days on the I-Player here.

I heard this programme this morning, ( I wrote about it previously here) , and it was a delight, a fabulously interesting broadcast: a genial and informative discussion between Professor Amanda Vickery, Dr Helen Berry, Professor John Mullan and Professor Robert Shoemaker -who digitized the Old Bailey records-about the lives of real and fictional highwaymen in the 18th century, such as James McLean, The Gentleman Highwayman.

If you go here you can Listen Again (the broadcast is 43 minutes long). There are seven days left to Listen Again to it. Readers of this blog in the UK can hear the repeated programme on BBC Radio 4  tonight at 9 p.m.

I do hope you can listen to it and hope you enjoy it.

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