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Archive for June, 2009

“Invite him to dinner, Emma, and help him to the best of the fish and the chicken, but leave him to choose his own wife.” – Jane Austen, Emma

By the time breakfast was served in a regency household, the family had been up for a while. After rising, people would engage in tasks such as letter writing, practicing the piano, taking a walk or riding. In larger households, the cook and maids would busy themselves heating the stove and boiling water. In more modest establishments, such as the Austen household at Chawton, Jane would help with preparing breakfast. A simple repast of toast, rolls, cheese, tea, coffee, chocolate, or ale would be served between nine and ten. The more elaborate breakfast would not be featured until Victorian times.*

chinoiserieIndividuals would rise early, at around 6:00 in the morning. Within the next half-hour or so, people would start work. Breakfast would be taken later, at around 9:00 and afterwards. The morning’s work would finish with ‘dinner’–probably taken between 12:30 and 14:00. Work continued until late. For some, there was tea in the late afternoon, between 17:00 and 18:00. It would be common not to leave one’s work before 19:00. After the evening meal, people would go to bed at around 22:00 – Time and Work in England 1750- 1830, Hans-Joachim Voth

Nuncheon or luncheon was a midday meal served at an inn. For several centuries this meal was simply a snack. Dr. Johnson’s 1755 Dictionary defined luncheon as “as much food as one’s hand can hold.” In the Regency home, such meals had no official name and often consisted of only a cold snack and drink to provide sustenance until the evening meal.*

Morning

food

After breakfast with the children, the first job of the lady of the house would be to talk to the housekeeper. It would be important for them to communicate about the other servants, making sure they were doing their jobs properly and behaving correctly above and below stairs.

They would also discuss the evening meal. If visitors were expected, the lady would choose meals that were lavish and unusual. (They loved showing off) When these matters were dealt with the wife would then check through the household accounts. Bills for meat, candles and flour would usually be paid weekly. When the early morning activities were finished, the social whirl would begin! High society ladies would either receive calls or visit others. Tea would be drunk and snacks eaten.- The Regency Townhouse

During the medieval period dinner was eaten at midday, but this meal was slowly moved up to 3 in the afternoon, then pushed up to five. These meals became elaborate affairs of at least two or three courses, which Louis Simond, a French/American traveler to London, described in wondrous detail in his travel diary. During Jane Austen’s time tea would be served an hour or so after the meal, or from 3-6 o’clock, depending on when dinner was served. Suppers became light snacks, except in the case of a grand ball, where elaborate buffets might be served.

In 1798 Jane Austen writes of half past three being the customary dinner hour at Steventon, but by 1808 they are dining at five o’clock in Southampton. There are many mentions of the timing of dinner in the novels, but none is so explicit as in the fragment The Watsons. Tom Musgrave knows perfectly well that the unpretentious Watson family dine at three, and times his visit to embarrass them, arriving just as their servant is bringing in the tray of cutlery. Tom compounds his rudeness by boasting that he dines at eight: the latest dinner hour of any character. At Mansfield Parsonage they dine at half past four and at Northanger Abbey at five. The effect of London fashion can be seen in the difference between the half past four dinner at Longbourn and that at half past six at Netherfield. – Jane Austen in Context, Janet Todd, p. 264

  • *Jane Austen’s World, Maggie Lane

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mrs mcginty's dead2I’ve spent another pleasant Sunday evening with Hercule Poirot as he solves the murder of Mrs. McGinty in the small village of Broadhinney. The murderer has already been convicted and is sentenced to die by hanging, and detective Poirot has only two weeks in which to find the actual murderer. His gray matter working overtime, Poirot manages to accomplish the task. If you missed watching this splendid series the first time around, click here to watch both Poirot episodes online on the PBS website until July 5th. While I found this episode satisfying, the story line was a bit too complicated to follow without losing the thread, although I did identify the actual murderer early on.

Poirot3For my taste, I thought that last week’s The Cat Among the Pigeons was a bit more satisfying, though I did enjoy watching Amanda Root (Anne Elliot, Persuasion) again, regardless of her small part. And Siân Philips (right) is, as always, excellent. Mrs. Marple’s turn comes next week. I can’t wait.

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my lord john

Gentle Readers, My friend, Hillary Major, a fan of history and recent Georgette Heyer convert, graciously agreed to review Source Books’ latest release of My Lord John, which was published posthumously. You can purchase the book at this link.

Many Heyer readers may be surprised to learn that the Middle Ages, not the Regency era, was the historical period closest to Georgette’s heart. So asserts her husband, in his brief preface to My Lord John, Heyer’s last and unfinished work, which tackles the history of the royal House of Lancaster in the years leading up to the Wars of the Roses. Heyer first began the writing and researching of My Lord John in 1948, and when she died in 1974, she had completed less than half of her planned narrative. The copious research she left behind was proof of a passionate interest in the era; it included index cards noting the important events for every calendar day from 1393 to 1435.
In explaining why Georgette was never able to finish My Lord John (a title chosen after her death), Heyer’s husband G. R. Rougier writes, “The penal burden of British taxation, coupled with the with the clamour of her readers for a new book, made her break off to write another Regency story. … So a great historical novel was never finished.” Heyer fans will find it difficult to regret those “stories” to which Georgette turned her hand – novels ranging from Arabella and The Grand Sophy to Black Sheep.

My Lord John, however, shows a different and perhaps more complex side of Heyer. Romance is barely a flutter in the background of the dynastic tangle that faces readers at the novel’s opening: King Richard II’s reign is seeming more unstable by the day, and with no direct heirs, nearly every powerful noble family is jockeying to take over the throne. As events develop, family relationships will prove to be the driving force for Heyer’s protagonist; when ties of friendship and politics are tested, the family bond prevails. (In contrast, romance proper is banished to a minor subplot, and the parties in the unwise affair are granted no sympathy; Heyer’s 15th-century England has no patience with star-crossed lovers.)

The tale centers on four brothers: the future Henry V, his more dashing but less intelligent brother Thomas, the solid and reliable John, and Humphrey, the spoiled youngest. We first meet the future princes through the eyes (and gossip) of their nurses as they worry about lord Harry’s sickliness and retching and lord Humphrey’s unpredictable toddling. This is a technique Heyer uses again and again to bring the everyday details of medieval life to the fore: the reader is shown the perspective of minor characters, often servants, whose point-of-view broadens the medieval landscape while their observations help round out the characters of the main historical figures. We see Lord John, for example, through the eyes of a squire (who wonders why a nobleman would stop to patronize a street stall like a commoner) and the priest who follows in his retinue as Lord Confessor (who worries much more about the worldly concerns of lodging and meals than does his charge). Heyer takes every opportunity to revel in period dialogue (glossary provided) and even manages to write in cameo appearances by medieval celebrities such as Chaucer and Froissert.

As Heyer paints her portrait of Lord John, he emerges as an unusual hero: moderate, conscientious, loyal, but happy to fill a secondary role. While Heyer may relish the flash of Lord Harry (and the challenge of covering the events that inspired Shakespeare, who was rather less faithful to his sources), it is the slow-and-steady John whom she elevates to hero. My Lord John is in many ways a coming-of-age novel, and the story picks up pace about halfway through, when John travels to the Scottish Borderlands as Lord Warden, the representative of the throne in this rebellious and sometimes hostile region. As he meets with the nobles, clergy, and common folk, John consistently shows that is he more than he appears:

The Abbot himself received the Lord John … At first unhopeful of exchanging ideas with so young a princeling, he soon discovered that the King’s third son, besides having enjoyed the advantages of a careful education, had delved deeply into mundane matters. Sheep-farming was the chief worldly business of the Cistercians, and … [t]hey talked of ewe-flocks, of whethers and hoggets; of the perils of the lambing season; of fells; of the advantages and the disadvantages of a fixed Staple; of the guile of the Lombard merchants, and the wiles of the brokers; of the circumstances which had led great families to lease their farms to tenants; and – this was a homethrust delivered by the Lord John – of the sand-blind policy that induced sheep-farmers to sell their wool for many years ahead to crafty Flemish and Italian merchants.” (p. 210)

John shows himself similarly knowledgeable about falconry and coal-mining, among other pursuits. In passages like this, the reader sees in Lord John a love of the details and intricacies of daily life that is clearly shared by Heyer herself. While Harry has the fire and drives much of the action, it is John, the consummate planner and administrator, who earns the respect of author and readers. Can we see a parallel between the sparkling plots and vivid romances on which Heyer’s fame (and sales) relied and the meticulous research (on multiple historical periods) that she so valued and that infused her work?

It is impossible to know how Heyer would have completed her Lancastrian manuscript (or even how much of the present work would have survived her editing process), though further scenes of battle would have been inevitable and a passage toward the end of the book describing a heretic’s execution may be intended to foreshadow Lord John’s future encounters with Joan of Arc. As it is, the dedication to historical accuracy and the fact that Lord John is not personally involved in much of the action in the first half of the book, make My Lord John a slower and drier read than most Heyer novels. But the reader who takes a lesson from the unlikely hero, and relishes the richness and texture of Heyer’s medieval world, will find much to enjoy.

Other Heyer book reviews:

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Healthful Sports for Young Ladies was written by Mlle St. Sernin, a French governess, and delightfully illustrated by Jean Demosthene Dugourc (1749-1825). The book, which described exercises that were appropriate for young ladies, was printed in London in 1822 by W. Clowes  for R. Ackermann. The book can be viewed in the digital collection at the Library of Congress

Bowls and nine pins, 1822

Bowls and nine pins, 1822

A regency lady was not expected to unduly exert herself while exercising, but there were forms of physical motion that were acceptable. Swinging, playing hoops, see sawing, archery, and bowls and nine pins were sports that were not unduly frowned upon. Bowling became popular in Britain in the 14th Century and became a favorite pastime of King Edward III’s soldiers.  During the 1400s, the game was brought indoors. Later, bowling became a favorite bar game, with many pubs sporting their own bowling greens.  Heavy balls were rolled on a lawn at a smaller ball called the Jack. During the 18th century the game was called “nine pins” because of the number of pins used. The game was banned in Colonial America due to its association with drinking and gambling. On page 70 of her charming book, Mlle St. Sernin discusses a complicated scoring system:

nine pins

The game of shuttlecock was fairly simple to play. There were no official rules and the sole object was to keep the shuttlecock in the air for as long as possible  by hitting it up. When two people played the game, the idea was to keep the shuttlecock up in the air for as long as possible. A point was lost by the player who let the shuttle fall. A single person playing the game would tally the number of hits for as long as she kept the shuttlecock in play. Below is a description of the game for 4-5 people.

Shuttlecock, 1822

Shuttlecock, 1822

After the introduction of a net, the game, also known as badminton, became more regulated and competitive. Below is a charming explanation of how 4-5  people can play shuttlecock:

shuttlecock

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The Cat Among the Pigeons, the new Hercule Poirot mystery on PBS’s Mystery was as satisfying an Agatha Cristie mystery as I’ve seen in a long time. If you missed this episode on June 21, PBS will make it availabe for online viewing between June 22 and July 5, 2009.

Meadowbank, the most expensive girl's school in England

Meadowbank, the most expensive girl's school in England

Hercule Poirot and Inspector Kelsey

Hercule Poirot and Inspector Kelsey

Written in 1959, this novel translates very well into a t.v. special. Most rewarding are the number of familiar British actors who have portrayed characters in Jane Austen film adaptations. This episode stars Harriet Walter as Miss Bullstrode, head mistress of Meadowbank Girl’s School. She wishes to retire, but before she does, she invites Mr. Poirot to study the teachers in her school to make certain that she has read their characters correctly, for one of them will be appointed the new head mistress. Before Mr. Poirot can advise her, the nasty gym teacher, Miss Springer (Elizabeth Berrington), is killed in a gruesome manner – impaled by a javelin through the heart. (Shades of the priest being killed in the originalThe Omen.) The remaining staff swiftly become murder suspects, as Poirot works with Inspector Kelsey (Anton Lesser, who recently played Mr. Merdle in Little Dorrit) to uncover the murderer. The mystery deepens as another body is found, the princess of Ramat is kidnapped and her deceased father’s priceless rubys go missing. Needless to say, the school is in trouble, with parents removing their daughters as the bodies pile up.

Claire Skinner and Natasha Little

Claire Skinner and Natasha Little

Miss Springer, Victim

Miss Springer, Victim

David Suchet is remarkable as the Belgian detective, Inspector Poirot. Poirot’s stories are among my least favorite of the Agatha Christie mysteries, but Suchet is so superb in the role that I cannot wait to see the next episode. Sharp-eyed movie buffs will note that both Harriet Walter and Claire Skinner, who plays Miss Rich, a teacher with a past, played Fanny Dashwood, the former in the 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, and the

Adam, the gardener, or is he?

Adam, the gardener, or is he?

latter in last year’s version of Sense & Sensibility. Both performances were excellent, though I was struck by how soft Ms. Skinner looks in this part as compared to her turn as the hard hearted Fanny. Natasha Little, Becky Sharp in 1998’s Vanity Fair, plays an enigmatic character and love interest to the handsome Adam, (Adam Croasdell), a man who is out of place as a lowly gardener. “There’s a cat among the pigeons,” the French teacher Mlle Blanche (Amanda Raison) declares to Mr. Poirot before things go bump in the night again.

Harriet Walter as Miss Bullstrode

Harriet Walter as Miss Bullstrode

PBS will be showing Six by Agatha from June 21 through July 26th. The next episode to air is Mrs. McGinty’s Dead, another Poirot tale. I will most definitely be glued in front of my t.v. watching Mystery! again.

Harriet Walter & Claire Skinner in Poirot (L) & as Fanny Dashwood in Sense & Sensibility (R)

Harriet Walter & Claire Skinner in Poirot (L) & as Fanny Dashwood in Sense & Sensibility (R)

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Lamplighter, Pyne, 1808

Lamplighter, Pyne, 1808

In Oxford Road alone there are more lamps than in all the city of Paris. Even the great roads, for seven or eight miles round, are crowded with them, which makes the effect exceedingly grand. – Archenholtz, 1780s

The Lamplighter, 1790's

The Lamplighter, 1790's

Urban development in London grew at a rapid rate during the 18th century, especially in London’s West End, where the great squares were laid out. The population of London surpassed one million in 1815 and an increasing number of bridges were built between 1750 and 1819, boosting development south of the river. In 1750, a system of street lighting with oil lamps was introduced, changing the nature of city life. The lights were supplied with reflectors, a big improvement. Previous to 1736, the lights were lit until midnight, but after that year they stayed on until sunrise, making the streets safer. As the quote suggests, foreign visitors were impressed, for at that time no other city could boast of so much lighting. Before 1750, people who traveled at night hired link boys to light their way. Their torches emitted poor lighting, however, and the streets were dangerous and dark outside their small circles of light.

With the new system of lights, walking the streets at night became relatively safe. The new lights contributed to London’s nightlife and the sense that life in the City was unnatural and not subject to traditional constraints.* The pleasure gardens of London, such as Ranelagh and Vauxhall, offered illuminated entertainment, and fashionable people could travel to theatres, assembly rooms, and each others’ houses, which extended social interaction. Shops lighted window displays and stayed open later,  profiting from the extended hours. The benefit of  better lighting worked both ways, for:

The shop-keepers of London are of infinite service to the rest of the inhabitants by their liberal use of the Patent Lamp, to shew their commodities during the long evenings of winter. Anecdotes of the Manners and Customs of London During the Eighteenth Century, James Peller Malcolm, 1810,  P 383,

The first gas lights were introduced in Pall Mall on January 28th, 1807. Samuel Clegg had by then set up the London and Westminser Gas Lighting and Coke Company. On December 31, 1813, the Westminster Bridge was also lit by gas, and by 1823, 40,000 lamps covered 215 miles of London’s streets. Today, one can still see the gas lights in Green Park and the exterior of Buckingham Palace.

A peep at the gas lights in Pall Mall, Rowlandson

A peep at the gas lights in Pall Mall, Rowlandson

More on the topic:

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White Horse Standing in a Stable, Gericault

White Horse Standing in a Stable, Gericault

In today’s insulated world, we can only imagine the sights, sounds, and smells of the animals that inhabited Regency London alongside humans. Cows were confined inside small city dairies or allowed to graze in public parks ready to be milked at a moment’s notice. Tens of thousands of cattle and sheep were driven from the countryside through the streets to Smithfield market to feed the masses. Considering that a “horse will on average produce between 15 and 35 pounds of manure per day”, crossing sweepers were kept perpetually busy clearing the streets of dung, for by the end of the 19th century, over 300, 000 horses lived and worked in London. Despite the sweepers’ best efforts, the streets were covered in horse manure. This in turn attracted huge numbers of flies, and the dried and ground-up manure was blown everywhere.* Not a pretty image of a time that we tend to view with nostalgia.

Town planners had to take the lodging of horses and animals into account when designing new squares and terraces, which was no small effort, for stabling these animals and feeding them straw made an enormous demand on urban spaces.

The direct and indirect energy cost of urban horse-drawn transport–in terms of feeding, stabling, grooming, shoeing, harnessing, and driving the hourses and removing their wastes to periurban market gardens–were among the largest items on the energy balances of late-nineteenth-century cities. - Energy in World History, Vaclav Smil,  p. 132

In terms of urban transportation, horses reached the peak of their importance in hauling goods and transporting people between 1820 and 1890. By the turn of the 20th century, horses were rapidly displaced by electric streetcars, automobiles, and buses. The cost of stabling and feeding horses was enormous and most Londoners walked. Those who could afford the luxury of stabling their animals and maintaining their carriages paid a steep price.

Parked carriages, Middlemarch

Parked carriages, Middlemarch

The difficulty and cost of horses and their stabling encouraged walking, which helped to keep the city small and dense. The limited travel span of the horse and cart further restricted urban expansion by constraining the outward movment of industry. An idea of the costs to households of private horse-based transport can be seen in the mews of the more expensive nineteenth-century West End neighbourhoods. Solely designed to house horses, carriages and livery servants, these back passageways behind the grand houses took up considerable space; whilts working horses ate prodigious amounts of feed, and livery men were often some of the best paid domestic staff. – An economic history of London, 1800-1914, by Michael Ball, David Sunderland, p. 229

Coaching houses and mews not only had to be located close enough to dwellings for convenience, but they needed to be tucked out of sight , especially in the tony West End (see image below).  These photographs of Garrett Street Stables in Islington, London demonstrate how horses were traditionally kept. The site also tallies the numbers of horses that have been stabled at that location since 1750. While these animal were housed in a well maintained stable, one can only imagine the conditions for animals who were unlucky enough to be owned by those who could barely eek out a living. Costs for maintaining horses and a carriage in London were astronomical and reserved only for the rich if they could find a convenient space to house them. If one purchased a horse, one had to find stables, as Georgette Heyer reminds us in The Grand Sophy, when Sophy shows up in a new phaeton drawn by a pair of horses:

‘Don’t hesitate to tell me which of my mother’s or my horses you would like me to remove from the stables to make room for these!’ begged Mr. Rivenhall, with savage civility. ‘Unless, of course, you are setting up your own stables!’

Gower Mews, since 1792

Gower Mews, since 1792

Relying on a carriage for transport, however, required significant wealth. They were expensive to buy and maintain, needing as they did stabling for the horses and liveries for the coachman and grooms. Even renting a carriage and pair (two horses) with a coachman cost £200–£300 a year (£10,000–£20,000 today). The two-wheeled carriages with one horse (the Ferraris of their day) were called ‘bankrupt carts’ by the Chief Justice ‘because they were, and are, frequently driven by those who could neither afford the Money to support them, nor the Time spent in using them, the want of which, in their Business, brought them to Bankruptcy’. Stabling your own horse, particularly in a city, was harder than finding a parking space today. Just feeding a horse cost £30 a year – more than feeding the groom, in fact – while the coachman’s liveries cost more than his annual salary.

On a practical level, coaches also took some time to prepare and had to be ordered several hours before they were needed. They were therefore more useful for displaying one’s wealth than for surveying one’s estate. They were necessary on long journeys, of course, or when carrying large loads, but otherwise riding a horse or a mule was much the quickest and cheapest option … – Regency House Party, Channel 4 History

The costs of keeping a horse in London are still enormous. Economist Brad DeLong estimates that with exercise, stabling, grooming, shoeing, and other facilities it costs £30,000 to maintain each horse per year, which is considerably more than driving and maintaining a car.


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Old Bailey Trial

Old Bailey Trial

Many websites and blogs dealing with the Regency and Georgian eras link to the Proceedings of The Old Bailey, which features transcripts from courts between 1674 and 1913. Or as one man put it, “the best accounts we shall ever have of what transpired in ordinary English criminal courts before the later eighteenth century.” These transcripts make the past come alive in the citizens’ own words, evoking the era. Trial transcripts selected for inclusion into the Proceedings worked much along the same lines as inclusion of articles in popular magazines today:

Old Bailey 1808

Old Bailey 1808

Early editions of the Proceedings did not report every trial held at the Old Bailey, and considerations of marketability meant that the most fully reported trials were those which involved sex or violence, or were thought to be entertaining or amusing.” The accounts, which were sold to the public, were held to be accurate, for the  Old Bailey Courthouse was a public place and the reputation of the Proceedings would have quickly suffered if the accounts had been unreliable. The proceedings required the approval of the Lord Mayor of London and by the eighteenth century began to be treated as a legal record of the trials heard at the Old Bailey. They formed the basis of the reports by the City Recorder to the King on prisoners convicted of capital offences so that they could be considered for a pardon. Even when coverage became more systematic (the length of the Proceedings was extended in 1729 to twenty-four pages and later increased further), however, the Proceedings only provided partial transcripts of what was said in court. To have published complete transcripts would have rendered the Proceedings considerably longer and uneconomic to publish*

Sample transcript from the Proceedings, in which ELIZABETH CHARLESWORTH and ANN PRITCHARD were indicted for feloniously stealing on the 5th of August [1799], a duck, value 2d. a hen, value 2d. and four chickens, value 9d. the property of Thomas Miller:

I live at Bowesfarm, near Southgate ; I farm a little land, and my wife keeps a shop. On the 5th of August, I had seen the property mentioned in the indictment running about the yard; I saw them again about three o’clock in the day; I was sent for, and told that two women had been stopped with them; I went to Mr. King’s a farmer, about half a mile from me; I saw the duck, four chickens, and the hen; I had had the hen these five years, the hen I am very sure of, the duck and the chickens I cannot be sure of; the hen was dead when I found it, but quite warm; the duck and the chickens were alive, they were taken to the Magistrate’s, and from there I took them home; the two prisoners had been employed about me as hay-makers; the weather had been bad, and I believe they were very much distrest; they lodged in a rick-yard close by me.- Read the rest of the transcript here – reference #t17990911-48

Pritchard’s defence: We were coming to London between twelve and one in the night, and a man sold them to us for three-pence half-penny; Mrs. Charlesworth gave him the money. The prisoner, Charlesworth, called two witnesses, who gave her an excellent character. The women were found Not Guilty.

*Text from About the Proceedings, Old Bailey Online

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The general servant, or maid-of-all-work, is perhaps the only one of her class deserving of commiseration: her life is a solitary one, and in, some places, her work is never done. She is also subject to rougher treatment than either the house or kitchen-maid – Mrs. Isabella Beeton

Maid of all work, W.H. Pyne

Maid of all work, W.H. Pyne

Gracie, the maid of all work in Anne Perry’s mystery novels, was lucky. Charlotte Pitt, the wife of Inspector Pitt, was a good and kind mistress who worked alongside her maid and gave gentle instructions. They quickly established a friendly relationship. Charlotte’s kindness did not make Gracie’s work life much easier, but she was luckier than most of her counterparts. In her Book of Household Management, Mrs. Beeton places a maid of all work lower than even a scullery maid. According to Mrs. Beeton, an ambitious scullery maid could learn skills from the kitchen maids and cook and move up the servant ranks, whereas a maid of all work was generally stuck in her position.

As with the scullery maid, the maid of all work was generally a very young girl. She could also be a mature woman so down on her luck that the only other choices open to her were life on the streets or finding shelter in a work house, which was to be avoided at all costs. In Mansfield Park Fanny’s family in Portsmouth is described as being poor, yet even they were able to hire a maid of all work, so you can just imagine what the work conditions were like for these poor women, who literally did everything from cooking, sweeping the floors, hauling water, carrying out slops, looking after the pets and children, laundering, changing the beds, and serving the family at mealtimes. Maids of all work were the first to rise and the last to go to bed. If the house was small, they were lucky to receive a pallet to sleep near the fire in the kitchen. As for time off to rest and recuperate, a maid of all work was at the mercy of her employer.

The following description of a maid of all work comes from ‘The Dictionary of Daily Wants’ – 1858-1859:

MAID OF ALL WORK. – A domestic servant, who undertakes the whole duties of a household without assistance; her duties comprising those of cook, housemaid, nurserymaid, and various other offices, acccording to the exigencies of the establishment. The situation is one which is usually regarded as the hardest worked and worst paid of any branch of domestic servitude; it is, therefore, usually filled by inexperienced servants, or females who are so circumstanced that they are only desirous of securing a home, and of earning sufficient to keep themselves decently clad. In many of these situations, a servant may be very comfortably circumstanced, especially if it be a limited family of regular habits, and where there is a disposition to treat the servant with kindness and consideration.

The duties of a maid of all work being multifarious, it is necessary that she should arise early in the morning; and six or half-past six o’clock is the latest period at which she should remain in bed. She should first light the kitchen fire, and set the kettle over to boil; then she should sweep, dust, and prepare the room in which breakfast is to be taken. Having served the breakfast, she should, while the family are engaged upon that meal, proceed to the various bedchambers, strip the beds, open the windows, &c. This done, she will obtain her own breakfast, and after washing and putting away the things, she will again go upstairs, and finish what remains to be done there.

W.H. Pyne, Microcosm of London

W.H. Pyne, Microcosm of London

As the family will in all probability dine early, she must now set about the preliminaries for the dinner, making up the fire, preparing the vegetables, &c. After the dinner is cleared away, and the things washed and put by in their places, she must clean the kitchen; and this done, she is at liberty to attend to her own personal appearance, to wash and dress herself, &c. By this time the preparation for tea will have to be thought of, and this being duly served and cleared away, she must employ herself in needlework in connection with the household, or should there happen to be none requiring to be done, she may embrace this opportunity to attend to her own personal necessities. Supper has then to be attended to; and this finished, the maid of all work should take the chamber candlesticks, hot water, &c., into the sitting-room, and retire to rest as soon as her mistress or the regulation of the establishment will permit her.

The duties here set down can only be regarded as an outline rather than a detail, the habits of every family varying, and thereby regulating the amount of labour demanded, and the order in which the duties are to be performed. As a rule, however, a maid of all work, if she wish to retain her situation, must be industrious, cleanly, and thoughtful; and not only able to work, but to plan.

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corinthianGentle Reader,

As you may have guessed from our reviews, SourceBooks has been reissuing a series of Georgette Heyer novels for summer reading, The Corinthian among them. I ‘ve spent many pleasant hours  journeying through Regency England from London to Bath to Sussex with Georgette’s scintillating characters, wishing I were as bright and witty in my repartee as her heroines, and that the men in my life were as dashingly romantic. If you’ve never tried a Georgette Heyer regency novel before, now is a good time to read one.

Pen Creed, the 17-year-old heroine of The Corinthian might be a tad young and naïve, but she is fearless in her dealings with the world and a most decidedly determined young lady. Rather than wait for her aunt to force her into an engagement with her fish-faced cousin, she has cropped her hair, put on boy’s clothes, and embarked on a journey to find Piers, her child hood friend. Having vowed to marry each other five year before, Pen is convinced that Piers will greet her with a great deal of pleasure and live up to his boyish promise.

Enter the Corinthian. At 29, Sir Richard Wyndham is a little drunk, bored beyond calculation, and feeling that he is the unluckiest dog alive. He is about to become betrothed to a woman so cold-blooded in nature that she could freeze the Arctic Ocean solid for two miles down. The night before he is to formally ask for her hand, Sir Richard encounters Pen dangling from knotted bed sheets several feet short of the pavement. Hearing her cries for help, he comes to her rescue and listens to her with aristocratic aplomb as she explains her convoluted reasons for running away in the middle of the night. Wanting to leave London to buy himself some time, he escorts Pen on a public coach to her destination.

Georgette’s heroine is much, much younger than the hero, which initially gave me a few misgivings, but both characters are so likeable that one can’t help cheering them on as they embark on their splendid adventure. While Pen resembles a fresh-faced urchin, Sir Richard is a resplendent example of the Regency dandy and sporting man. Georgette’s description of him could fit Beau Brummell to a tee:

He was a very notable Corinthian. From his Wind-swept hair (most difficult of all styles to achieve), to the toes of his gleaming Hessians, he might have posed as an advertisement for the Man of Fashion. His fine shoulders set off a coat of of superfine cloth to perfection; his cravat, which had excited George’s admiration, had been arranged by the hands of a master; his waistcoat was chosen with a nice eye; his biscuit-coloured pantaloons showed not one crease; and his Hessians with their jaunty gold tassels, had not only been made for him by Hoby, but were polished, George suspected with a blacking mixed with champagne. A quizzing-glass on a black ribbon hung round his neck; a fob at his waist; and in one hand he carried a Sevres snuff-box. His air proclaimed his unutterable boredom, but no tailoring, no amount of studied nonchalance, could conceal the muscle in his thighs, or the strength of his shoulders. Above the starched points of shirt-collar, a weary, handsome face showed its owner’s disillusionment.

Sir Richard is thrown into situations in which all of his ingenuity and influence are required. He must deal with a mystery regarding a stolen diamond necklace, a murder, things that go bump in the night, and Pen’s discovery that Piers has all but forgotten their childhood pledge. The young man has fallen madly in love with Lydia, a prettily plumb and silly female who, as she ages, will be prone to fits and vapors, and to whom he is secretly engaged. Unlike Pen, Sir Richard realizes at this point that he has compromised her and that they must marry. Not that he quails at the thought. Pen, who has fallen for her dashing and dependable escort, does not want to be his “obligation.” Instead, she concentrates her efforts on uniting Piers and Lydia, whose union is forbidden by their families. By the final pages, the plot and plottings have become so twisted that Sir Richard can only exclaim:

I am recalling my comfortable home, my ordered life, my hitherto stainless reputation, and wondering what I can ever have done to deserve being pitchforked into this shameless imbroglio!

3 regency fansRest assured that Sir Richard has never had so much fun in his life. At the end of the novel, his adventures with Pen lead to a romantic conclusion. To say that I enjoyed myself while reading this fast-paced romp is to state the obvious, and I give this delightful book 3 out of 3 regency fans.

Order The Corinthian here. Coming up next: My review of The Grand Sophy!

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Stage coach travel. Notice the number of passengers laden on the coach and the number of horses.

Stage coach travel. Notice the number of passengers laden on the coach and the number of horses.

At the height of 19th century coaching days Northallerton in North Yorkshire had four inns that catered to travellers – the Black Bull, the King’s Head, the Old Golden Lion and, the largest, the Golden Lion. Horses that pulled the public coaches suffered mightily for the sake of speed. In a previous post I had already discussed that if forced to run at breakneck speed, coach horses did not last longer than three years. Recently I ran across this description:

The Highflyer changed horses at the King’s Head but the horses belonged to Mr Frank Hirst. This coach was driven by a coachman called Scott, a very big fellow of the Old Weller type who had to be hauled into his seat and nearly broke the coach down. The Express also stopped at the King’s Head but the horses that worked this coach stood at the Waggon and Horses and belonged to Mr Hall of Northallerton. The Wellington London and Newcastle coach changed horses at the Golden Lion and was horsed by Mr Frank Hirst. At one time it was driven by Ralph Soulsby, who was a terror to drive, and it is on record that once during a period when the Wellington was running in opposition he succeeded in killing three out of his four horses on the short stage seven miles from Great Smeaton to Northallerton. Opposition coaches were terribly hard on horseflesh; they used to gallop every inch of the road up hill and down dale, and Soulsby’s third horse dropped dead just opposite the church, and he finished his journey to the Golden Lion with but a single horse. When the railway began to supersede the road and coach after coach began to fall away, the Wellington still held on until it at last stood alone. One of the oldest and first coaches on the road, it had withstood the tide of opposition through all time until it remained the absolute last regular coach running on this section of the Great North Road. The old coaching days in Yorkshire By Tom Bradley

Coach and four

Coach and four

Horses were chattel and the general attitude towards beasts of burden during the Regency Era was one of exploitation. Fresh teams of horses were kept ready to replace an exhausted team that had just run the previous stage of a journey. These teams were contracted to stage lines or the Royal Mail. Other horses were available to be leased by individuals. Crack teams of hostlers prided themselves in changing mail coach teams in as little as three minutes. The combined refinements in coach design, and in road construction and maintenance allowed the heavy coach horses to be replaced by teams of faster half-bred or pure Thoroughbred horses. The luxurious coaches of the wealthy pulled by warmblooded horses or Thoroughbreds seemed to fly down the better roads at the unheard of speed of ten miles per hour. *

Coach leaving Brighton, 1840

Coach leaving Brighton, 1840

It wasn’t until 1821, that Colonel Richard Martin, MP for Galway in Ireland, introduced the Treatment of Horses bill. This piece of legislature was greeted by laughter in the House of Commons. The first known prosecution for cruelty to animals was brought in 1822 against two men found beating horses in London’s Smithfield Market, where livestock had been sold since the 10th century. They were fined 20 shillings each. Colonel Martin’s “Ill Treatment of Horses and Cattle Bill,” or “Martin’s Act”, as it became known, was finally passed in 1822 and became the world’s first major piece of animal protection legislation. Not much changed for working horses, however.  After a coaching horse’s usefulness ended, they were sold to labor for others**:

Mrs Mountain of the Saracen’s Head kept some 2,000 horses in her stables for the routes she served. Lord William Lennox sometime later estimated that it took some 2 pounds per week to keep coach horses. It is also estimated that the life of a coach horse was some three years. After that they were sold for they still had significant working life left. It was the nature of coaching with the strain of pulling a coach weighing more than 2 tons for an average of 10 miles at a speed of some 12 miles per hour 2 days out of 3.  Farm work seemed easy by comparison. – Coaching Inns

The Breakdown of the Christmas Stage shows how heavily laden the coaches were

The Breakdown of the Christmas Stage shows how heavily laden the coaches were

A society that lacked adequate social service systems to take care of the poor did not place a high priority on the ethical treatment of animals. Cockfighting, bear baiting, and dog fights were common”betting” sports prevalent during the Regency Period. A retired coach horse would have an easier life plowing a farmer’s field than pulling a coach. Accidents were frequent, but horses were seldom given a break, forced to struggle through blizzards and quagmire after passengers alighted and luggage was taken off to lighten the load. Not every horse led a harsh life. The following excerpt describes a private, more benevolent owner, the Rev. George Bennet, Jane Austen’s father, whose horses pulled heavy carriages over poor roads:

Coach stuck in snow

Coach stuck in snow

A carriage and a pair of horses were kept. This might imply a higher style of living in our days than it did in theirs. There were then no assessed taxes. The carriage, once bought, entailed little further expense; and the horses probably, like Mr. Bennet’s, were often employed on farm work. Moreover, it should be remembered that a pair of horses in those days were almost necessary, if ladies were to move about at all; for neither the condition of the roads nor the style of carriage-building admitted of any comfortable vehicle being drawn by a single horse. When one looks at the few specimens still remaining of coach-building in the last century, it strikes one that the chief object of the builders must have been to combine the greatest possible weight with the least possible amount of accommodation. – Memoir of Jane Austen by James Edward Austen-Leigh, Description of life at Steventon

Rowlandson, Coach Travel

Rowlandson, Coach Travel

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glengarry habit miss mcdonaldThis description in The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer makes me wonder if Georgette Heyer was looking at this 1817 Ackermann fashion plate of The Glengary Habit when she wrote the passage:

When Miss Wraxton’s invitation was conveyed to Sophy she professed herself happy to accept it and at once desired Miss Jane Storridge to press out her riding dress. This garment, when she appeared in it on the following afternoon, filled Cecilia with envy but slightly staggered her brother, who could not feel that a habit made of pale blue cloth, with epaulettes and frogs, a la Hussar, and sleeves braided halfway up the arm, would win approval from Miss Wraxton. Blue kid gloves and half-boots, a high-standing collar trimmed with lace, a muslin cravat, narrow lace ruffles at the wrists, and a tall-crowned hat, like a shako, with a peak over the eyes, and a plume of curled ostrich feathers completed this dashing toilette. The tightly fitting habit set off Sophy’s magnificent figure to admiration; and from under the brim of her hat her brown locks curled quite charmingly; but Mr. Rivenhall, appealed to by his sister to subscribe to her conviction that Sophy looked beautiful, merely bowed, and said that he was no judge of such matters.

riding habit 1816
The mannish riding attire in the above image from 1816 is simpler than the first image, lacking the epaulettes, military-style piping and frogs, but it does emulate the masculine style and echoes a military overtone with the Shako hat.  It is interesting to note that until the mid-19th century tailors, not dress-makers, designed female riding habits.

Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe

Sean Bean as Richard Sharpe

The riding hat, or Shako Hat, was adapted from military headdress worn by the Infantry. By 1800, the cocked hat had been replaced by Shakos ornamented with a brass plate bearing the King’s crest. They sported  a tuft fixed in front rising from a black cockade. After each war it had been the habit of the British Army to adopt a head-cover belonging to its allies or the enemy.The cylindrical, flat-topped Shako adopted for the Infantry after the Napoleonic Wars was  in vogue among Britain’s Continental Allies.  Feminine versions of the Shako were often tied with sheer scarves which trailed behind and had feather plumes in front.

Learn more about the topic in these links:

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