Monday 12 December 2016

Déjà vu: Leading Strings and Other Things

It's my pleasure to welcome Barbara Silkstone, with a most fascinating tale and a touch of Jane Austen!


Have you ever encountered a painting that tugged at you emotionally? It might be a portrait or scene that holds a deeper meaning for you. In researching my latest book: Darcy and Elizabeth – Will’s First Christmas, a Regency Christmas variation, I came across this painting that shows a nurse teaching a child to walk using leading strings or a leash. I shuddered as it brought back a rush of memories and not from the 19th century!
By Pieter de Hooch (1629–after 1684) -,
Public Domain,

Leading Strings
Leading strings were narrow strips of fabric or ribbons that were attached to children’s clothing and functioned as a sort of leash to keep the child upright while learning to walk and to keep them from straying too far.

Pudding Caps
Note in this painting, the child is also wearing a pudding cap, a delightful name for a helmet-like hat that prevented head injuries should a child fall while learning to walk. It is thought that the term pudding cap came from the fear that if a child fell his brains might turn to mush or pudding—perhaps leading to the term “pudding head”?

 In Will’s First Christmas, Darcy and Elizabeth take care to be sure the heir to Pemberley wears this quilted cotton, horsehair padded, leather lined, crash helmet. Elizabeth affixes the head guard, which is open at the top with a sausage-shaped padded roll that encircles Will’s head like a crown, and then she ties it securely under his chin with ribbons. (See photo.)

Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art
Accession Number 2009.300.1453

In the story, Jane and Bingley are the parents of identical twin boys. Jane and Elizabeth fasten walking strings to their sons’ shoulders to control the active little boys in the vast halls of Pemberley. I could hardly bear to write of this undignified action as it brought back all my feelings of toddler mortification.

Forced to wear a leash at a vulnerable age, I still remember the humiliation of being treated like a pet dog. My mother would often take my baby sister and I shopping. The stores in our little town were old-fashioned shops with open display counters on top and storage compartments below. Being a mischievous little imp, I devised a fun game. While my mother was preoccupied with her shopping list, I would quietly slide open a storage cabinet door and slip inside, sliding the door closed.

I would muffle my giggles as she called for me. A salesclerk or two would soon join her in hunt. Those delicious moments of pulling a successful prank were heavenly, but would all too soon end in discovery. It was after a series of vanishing acts that the awful pink harness and leash appeared. My mother would buckle the straps across my chest, clip the leash to the harness, and hold the end as if I were a dog. I distinctly remember mumbling toddler cuss words as I was forced to march down the street in harness. 

The painting brought back that feeling of being trapped! Tied like a little puppet. Thank goodness leading strings have gone the way of the dodo. However, as a child, I would have welcomed pudding knee-guards as well as the cap. 

About the Author
Barbara Silkstone’s Amazon Author’s page

Barbara Silkstone is the author of over thirty novels and novellas. She has currently written over fifteen Pride & Prejudice variations both Regency and Contemporary—always with a light comic touch.

Darcy and Elizabeth Will’s First ChristmasNew Release

Darcy and Elizabeth Serendipity New Release

The Gallant Vicar and The Return of the Gallant Vicar, both tales of love rediscovered, featuring Darcy and Elizabeth, and a villain worse than Wickham.

Gallant Vicar

Return of the Gallant Vicar

The Witches of Longbourn ~ Three book series of magical comedies featuring Darcy, Elizabeth, and a Happily-Ever-After.

Contemporary series of comedy mysteries ~

Barbara Silkstone is the author of the best selling Mister Darcy series of comedic mysteries ~ Eight books with more coming soon!
All books are available in audio on

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Demetrius said...

I seem to recall reading that at times of severe weather Mad Jack Mytton might put his servants into harness to pull a light carriage to spare the horses. His daughter, Barbara, married Poulett Somerset, nephew and aide to Lord Raglan and was with them in The Crimea.

Sarah said...

I loved my reins, red leather with sleigh bells on and I felt that I was so safe and could never lose mummy - or daddy - because I was attached to them.