Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

The Georgians in 100 Facts by Mike Rendell

I was sitting on a beach relaxing under the Mozambique sun when I got an e-mail from Amberley – and I was delighted to see that it was a request for me to write The Georgians in 100 Facts. The last few years have seen a plethora of books about The Georgians, but most of them are about royalty and courtiers, whereas what fascinates me is the life of “the man in the street”. Yes, there were kings who made their mark – George III for his madness, his son the ‘Prince of Bling’ for his excesses and debauchery, but for me they are overshadowed by the stories of people like Clive of India, or the Reverend Edward Stone who discovered the pain-killing properties of salicylic acid (later known as aspirin). Give me the man who patented the flush toilet and invented an ‘un-pickable’ lock (Bramah). Give me the brilliance of civil engineers like Smeaton or the engineer (Maudslay). Add in the story of the man who is credited with having invented the toothbrush (Addis) and the agricultural pioneer Jethro Tull and you are beginning to paint a picture of a remarkable century.

The Georgian Age saw so many changes - the birth of the Industrial Revolution, the loss of the American colonies and the growth of the British Empire, and the enormous changes wrought by those giants who stood head and shoulders above their fellow men – people like Mathew Boulton, James Watt and Josiah Wedgwood. But I have always been fascinated by the odd and quirky aspects of the period – not that James Watt invented the steam engine, but that he invented a portable paper-copier; not that Boulton churned out vast quantities of what were known as “toys” from his Soho Manufactory, but that he re-equipped the machinery in the Royal Mint, as well as producing millions of copper coins known as cartwheels; and that Wedgwood might never have been such a great industrialist if he had not had his right leg amputated and was therefore unable to reach the potters wheel. Also there are so many stories we all think we know about – the South Sea Bubble, the War of Captain Jenkins Ear, the voyages of Captain Cook and the extraordinary events of the Napoleonic Wars. But do we actually know the background to these stories?

So, I was thrilled to sit down and think of a hundred facts which I thought worth developing. It took me hardly any time at all, and writing them up was a happy task. I have already covered many odd facts on my blog at - described by a friend as “history-lite” To me, I wanted it to be a book of slightly whimsical stories – not just the mainstream well-known facts, but including the everyday trivia which make history interesting.

Georgians - John Joseph Merlin Gainsborough’s portrait of John Joseph Merlin

If I was asked for my favourite character it might well be John Joseph Merlin – technically a Belgian clockmaker, but after he came to Britain as a young man he stayed to become the most prolific inventor. Forget about him making an appearance on the first-ever pair of roller skates while playing the fiddle – and crashing into a mirror because he had not at that stage invented a means of stopping. Instead, consider the remarkable machinery he made for the silver swan, still on display at Bowes Castle Museum at Barnard Castle, and still drawing gasps and applause after 225 years. He also invented whist cards for the blind, a mechanical garden, a ‘perpetual motion’ machine working on atmospheric pressure, a special chair for gout sufferers, a number of musical instruments – and some beautiful clocks. Perhaps even more remarkably, he helped inspire a young man who was entranced by Merlin’s mechanical automata – his name: Charles Babbage. The man went on to become the ’Father of Computing”.

I had practically finished the book before I finished my holiday, so it is a delight to see it finally reach the printed page.

To learn about more of the interesting facts from the Georgian period check out Mike Rendell’s book The Georgians in 100 Facts available for purchase now.