The Victorian Language of Flowers: I have a message for you

Victorian ladies and gentlemen knew that the iris meant “I have a message for you,” in the language of flowers.

Yellow_flag_iris Photo by Tfitzp  via Wikimedia Commons
Yellow_flag_iris Photo by Tfitzp via Wikimedia Commons

The yellow flag iris, or iris pseudocorus, decorates pond margins and poorly-drained clay soils, so it loves our Somerset garden.
The Royal Horticultural Society lists several coloquial names for this common but delightful plant including:

Jacob’s sword
Water flag
Water skegs
Yellow flag
Yellow fleur-de-lis.

It grows to 3-4 feet in height and flowers in the spring. You are, however, advised not to eat it. As the Society charmingly puts it, “Ingestion may cause severe discomfort,” and the underground rhizomes are deadly. You have been warned.

This is one of a series of posts about the Victorian language of flowers and other assorted items of interest from the fascinating Victorian era visited in my 19th century novel An Independent Woman.



Victorian Life: Train Accident at Sonning Cutting

Eight people died in a dreadful train crash on the Great Western Railway, at Sonning Cutting, in the early hours of Christmas Eve 1841. Better safety regulations were enforced by legislation in 1844. Here’s the story of the accident.


In the dark and cold of a winter morning, at 4.30am on the 24th December 1841, labourers returning home from London for Christmas piled onto two third-class carriages at the Paddington terminus. There were just under 40 passengers in total. The journey to Bristol was expected to take 10 or 12 hours.

Their carriages were placed between the tender and the station truck, with 17 heavy goods wagons travelling behind. Third class carriages had no coverings at that time and were left open to the weather. This had been poor that year with an excessively wet autumn. The seats in the carriages were 18 inches high, but the sides only two feet tall.

The train’s route took it via Twyford, where it arrived around 6.40am. The train was running ten minutes late as it left the station, with Reading the next stop. Was it running fast to make up time? After 2½ miles it came to what was then known as the Sunning-Hill Cutting, cut through clay and gravel, 60 ft deep and more than a mile long.

In the pitch black of the night, at around 6.45am, the train hit an obstacle, later discovered to be a land slip casued by the rain. The engine left the rails but did not overturn. The carriages containing passengers, though, were overrun by the following truck, which was in turn pushed forward by the goods wagons behind.

All the passengers were thrown out, eight were killed and 17 injured.

The first report, written by Lt Col Frederic Smith, Inspector-General of Railways, on 25th December, suggested that the loss of life may have been less if spring buffers had been attached to the passenger carriages, with a white reflector lamp on the buffer beam.

In Lt Col Smith’s opinion, passengers should not be travelling on any train that carried heavy good wagons.

Within three days, on the 28th December, the Board of Trade wrote to the Great Western Railway Company, recommending that spring buffers should be fitted and the sides and ends of the passenger wagons be raised to at least four feet six inches above the floor.

The Company replied the next day, stating that such improvements had been agreed “some weeks ago” and were already in hand.

I wonder whether such prompt action would result from an accident today?

Read more
See a facsimile of the original report from 25 December 1841 on the Sonning Cutting accident here

Read a report from The Spectator archive here

Find a list of the victims here in the newsletter of the Sonning and Sonning Eye Society

The photograph is of the North Star, one of the first to run on the Great Western Railway

Sign up for early news of the upcoming launch of An Independent Woman, a Victorian mystery romance set in the 1840s.

The Victorian Language of Flowers: apples and apple blossom

Victorians used the language of flowers to pass messages without words.

Photo R J Higginson via Wikimedia
Photo R J Higginson via Wikimedia

Myth and legend surround the simple apple, the malus domestica, the earliest cultivated tree in Europe.

Early in history, the power of healing and magical rebirth was attributed to the apple, but more sinister myths abound. After all, Eve tempted Adam with an apple.  The wicked queen used a poisoned apple to send Snow White to sleep until wakened by a kiss.

For Victorians, then, the apple represented temptation, although apple blossom was considered altogether more positive and used to mean ‘preference.’
via wikimedia

via wikimedia

Mrs Beeton, in her 1861 Book of Household Management, describes no fewer than 43 different recipes using apples, although she has little time for the fruit as nutrition, because “more than half of it consists of water.”



My Writing Process: Michael T Curd

Hello and a very warm welcome to the third post in the My Writing Process hosted on this site. Last week, Larry Farmer talked about his book, The Kerr Construction Company, available from Read his post here.

Today, I’m very pleased to welcome Michael T Curd, another fascinating and unusual writer, to the blog hop.

Thanks to Frances Evesham for hosting me on her blog site and giving me the opportunity to talk about my writing. Also, thanks to Larry Farmer ‘70, a fellow author and Aggie Bandsman from days of yore, for introducing me to Frances. He can be reached at her blog site.

What am I working on?

I am currently marketing my first novel, Through the Valley, published by Mirror Publishing, Milwaukee, WI. What I have learned is that writing the manuscript is the easiest part of the process! Once that’s done, the work begins. I am extremely grateful to Neal Wooten, Managing Editor and his staff for all their help in getting the book published. I will be attending several professional cognate conferences as a vendor to sell TTV this spring and summer. In my spare time I have begun the sequel which will be entitled: Life, Death and Grace. Or maybe not.
How does my work differ from others of the same genre?

I really don’t know because I have only been able to find one other novel about hospital chaplaincy. I readily admit I am not website savvy and may have overlooked a number of great works. I do know my sixteen years in both military and corporate healthcare at several levels of the system has enabled me to have a wide perspective of the day to day lives of chaplains and those they serve. Having been ordained for forty-three years and being a psychotherapist for forty of those has also added different ways of understanding life in medical facilities.

My book is set in San Antonio, Texas and I’m a native of Ft. Worth. I have tried to reflect our unique culture along with some Texas history. I think it adds to the book and creates opportunities for patriots-in-exile, living in other states and countries to have the chance to “go home” if but for a little while in their minds.

The culture of the military also significantly influences my writing and that tends to distinguish the book. Healthcare shares many aspects of the military, such as the twenty-four hour clock, chain of command, life and death situations and very high cost for errors or failure. Both require the ability to function in highly stressful environments for long durations. These cultures are juxtaposed throughout the book.
Why do I write what I do?

I have never liked reading text books or professional “How To” works even though I have a few publications in professional journals. I once tried to read a college text on sexuality and it was boring! So, when I got tired of trying to explain to healthcare administrators, physicians, nurses and other medicos what a clinically trained chaplain can and does do, I decided to write a novel to enlighten the masses. I like reading novels.

I have always believed the adage, “Write about what you know.” When I was a young pup in a military hospital, I read The House of God by Samuel Shem, M.D. His impact on healthcare and me has been significant. My favorite author is W.E.B. Griffin and I have read pretty much everything in paperback he has written. I think the influence of both authors, along with a bit of Texas twang from Dan Jenkins, can be seen in my writing.

There continues to be a considerable amount of confusion about how chaplaincy is value added to the medical setting and why it is so essential in the continuum of mind-body-spirit healthcare. I tried to address that issue in my writing and will expand it in the next novel. The “war stories” are autobiographical, composites and/or come from the experiences of other clinicians with whom I have had the honor of doing ministry.
My mother was a “practical nurse” when I was a kid and I have always had a love for healthcare providers. When someone tells me they are an RN, their credibility increases one hundred fold. My friend, Ch (LTC-RET), U.S. Army, Mark Gruebmeyer said it best, “A trauma room is the closest thing we have to combat in a peace time environment.” I’m an adrenalin junkie. What’s not to like when I’m writing about healthcare?
How does my writing process work?

Most of the time it doesn’t, or at least it doesn’t seem to. When I started writing TTV, I limited myself to doing so only when I was on an aircraft or in a terminal. I was in corporate healthcare then and traveled quite a bit. The last five years of my active ministry, I was the solo pastor of a United Methodist church in a small, rural town in Nebraska. I did almost no writing then, except when I was in Hawaii visiting my son. That’s where I finished the last two chapters of TTV, fifteen months apart.

I usually just sit at the computer and start writing, given that I have a story and/or issue in mind to share and the time do so. I don’t write every day. The first, and only, chapter of my second book was written in February of this year. I haven’t written sense then. I have a long list of potential stories and issues to share. The mechanics of writing and my limited computer skills gets in the way of a flowing stream of consciousness, which is my favorite way to write. At a recent workshop, provided by Dr. Becky Breed and Lucy Adkins I had an epiphany; writing by hand is much more creative and is easier for me. I plan to experiment with that for chapter two. So what if no one else can read my writing?


Through the Valley: on sale at

Next Week:

Neal Wooten—grew up on a pig farm on Sand Mountain in the northeast corner of Alabama before being dragged kicking and screaming to the snow-infested plains of the American Midwest. He now resides in Milwaukee with his wife and three dogs. He is a contributor to the Huffington Post, columnist for the Mountain Valley News, Op-ed writer for the Walking Dead Fan Club, cartoonist, artist, and standup comedian. His website is Pages of Wonder