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Archive for the ‘Regency Travel’ Category

I’ve previously discussed the difficulties and dangers of travel in the Regency era in a number of posts on this blog, but the Lancaster Sands in Lanchashire presented a variety of difficulties for even the most knowledgeable traveler. My first introduction to this region was via a William Turner painting, Lancaster Sands, painted ca. 1826. I was struck by the laborers and villagers walking alongside a coach in shallow water. Why would a coach travel so slowly that pedestrians could keep pace?

Lancaster Sands, William Turner. Image @Wiki Paintings. Birminham Museum and Art Gallery

Thumbnail showing truer colors of Turner’s painting.

As it turns out, the crossing over the Lancaster Sands to reach Ulverston was fraught with danger, especially after heavy rains. In the early 19th century travelers crossed this watery passage in the Lake District at low tide, for this was the shorter (but more dangerous) route.

The sands forming the Bay of Morecambe, covered by the sea at high water, are crossed every day by travellers whose time or inclination leads them to choose this route rather than one more circuitous, and nearly thrice the distance, inland. – The Sands, John Roby

The crossing was extremely hazardous due to shifting sands and the timing of the departure had to be perfect:

“Coach services, scheduled to accommodate the changing tides, ran between hotels in Lancaster and Ulverston. In 1820, one traveller relates, he was rudely awakened in his Lancaster hotel at five in the morning when the coach driver burst into his bedroom shouting, “For God’s sake make haste! The tide is down … if you delay we shall all be drowned.” - The Pleasures and Treasures of Britain: A Discerning Traveller’s Companion (Google eBook)David Kemp Dundurn, Jan 12, 1992 – p. 307

Otley Map, Lancaster Sands, 1818. Image @Portsmouth University.

Today, as over 150 years ago,  the Sands Road requires a guide to help travelers negotiate the dangerous tide floods.

Before the railway was made, the old way of crossing the sands from Lancaster to Ulverstone must have been very striking, both from the character of the scenery around and a sense of danger, which cannot but have given something of the piquancy of adventure to the journey. The channels are constantly shifting, particularly after heavy rains, when they are perilously uncertain. For many centuries past, two guides have conducted travellers over them. Their duty is to observe the changes, and find fordable points. In all seasons and states of the weather this was their duty, and in times of storm and fog it must have been fraught with danger. These guides were anciently appointed by the Prior of Cartmel, and received synodal and Peter-pence for their maintenance. They are now paid from the revenues of the duchy. The office of guide has been so long held by a family of the name of Carter, that the country people have given that name to the office itself. A gentleman, crossing from Lancaster, once asked the guide if “Carters” were never lost on the sands. “I never knew any lost,” said the guide; “there’s one or two drowned now and then, but they’re generally found somewhere i’th bed when th’ tide goes out.” A certain ancient mariner, called Nuttall, who lives at Grange, on the Cartmel shore, told me that “people who get their living by ‘following the sands,’ hardly ever die in their beds. They end their days on the sands- and even their horses and carts are generally lost there. I have helped,” said he, “to pull horses and coaches, ay, and, guides too, out of the sands. The channel,” he continued, “is seldom two days together in one place. You may make a chart one day, and, before the ink is dry, it will have shifted.” I found, indeed, by inquiry, that those who have travelled the sands longest, are always most afraid of them ; and that these silent currents, which shimmer so beautifully in the sunshine, have been “the ribs of death” to thousands. - Over Sands to the Lakes by Edwin Waugh, 1860, Internet archive

Today, signs warn visitors about the passage, stating: “This route has natural hazards, seek local guidance.”  The following link shows modern images of the route (Lake Guide Sands Road), which is still crossed today with experienced guides.  A 19th century visitor related that:

It is safest to cross at spring-tides; the water then is more completely drained out, and the force of the tide sweeps the bottom clean from mud and sediment. – The Sands, John Roby

Many who took this route in days of yore, such as William Wordsworth, found the trip to be so memorable that it lived in their memory for a long time. Turner created a number of striking images of the dangerous crossing. In all of them, the pedestrians and riders stayed close to the coach as guides gauged how and where the sands had shifted with the last tides or storms. Brogs, or broken branches of furze, left by previous guides visually led the way. You can see a few of them placed in the lower right corner of Turner’s painting below.

In this dramatic painting, Turner shows the Lancaster coach struggling across the sands and being overtaken by the incoming tide in a rainstorm. (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery). One can imagine the panic of the passengers upon seeing the incoming water, and the struggles of the horses as they pulled their heavy loads along the soft sands.

Painter David Cox also painted the Lancaster Sands crossing. His images are less romantic than Turner’s, but dramatic nevertheless:  Lancaster Sands by David Cox, 1835. The route through the sands were ever-changing. The guides tested the way daily, looking for shifts in the channels and for quick sand, but even the most experienced could not prevent the drowning of carriages and coaches and the deaths of people who were caught by the incoming tides or who were trapped in quagmires. Graves in local cemeteries are testament to the many lives that were lost during these crossings.

David Cox, Sketch for Crossing Lancaster Sands. Image @Tate Britain

By the mid-19th century, the railroads provided a safer and faster route. Today, the crossing over the sands is a voluntary one and taken for the experience or thrill, not out of necessity.

Image of a carriage traversing the Sands in high tides from Waugh’s book.

More on the topic:

This site shows modern images of the Lancaster Sands: Sands Road at Low Water

Old Cumbria Gazzeteer: Lancaster Sands Road 

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Before Jane Austen and her sister, Cassandra, and mother moved into Chawton Cottage, they lived in a “commodious oldfashioned house in a corner of Castle Square” in Southampton. In his Memoir of his aunt, James Edward Austen-Leigh writes this charming, although bittersweet description:

John Petty, 2nd Marquess of Lansdowne

At that time Castle Square was occupied by a fantastic edifice, too large for the space in which it stood, though too small to accord well with its castellated style, erected by the second Marquis of Lansdowne, half-brother to the well-known statesman, who succeeded him in the title. The Marchioness had a light phaeton, drawn by six, and sometimes by eight little ponies, each pair decreasing in size, and becoming lighter in colour, through all the grades of dark brown, light brown, bay, and chestnut, as it was placed farther away from the carriage. The two leading pairs were managed by two boyish postilions, the two pairs nearest to the carriage were driven in hand. It was a delight to me to look down from the window and see this fairy equipage put together; for the premises of this castle were so contracted that the whole process went on in the little space that remained of the open square. Like other fairy works, however, it all proved evanescent. Not only carriage and ponies, but castle itself, soon vanished away, ‘like the baseless fabric of a vision’. On the death of the Marquis in 1809, the castle was pulled down. Few probably remember its existence; and anyone who might visit the place now would wonder how it ever could have stood there. - A Memoir of Jane Austen

George IV’s spider phaeton (1790) Click on image to view a larger version.

Postillion by Thomas Rowlandson (18th century – 19th century)

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Inquiring readers: Paul Emanuelli has frequently contributed his comments on this blog. Little did I know that he was an author! He has graciously sent in his thoughts about Bath, the city in which he has set his historical crime novel. Paul writes about Bath in his own blog, unpublishedwriterblog. It is well worth a visit!

Beau Nash turned the city of Bath into the most fashionable resort in 18th-century England. In his role as Master of Ceremonies he organised the premier social events in the city and chose who should, and should not be invited. He established a select list of people who he defined as the cream of Society, and more importantly he changed the social conventions of the city.

Richard Beau Nash

Nash broke down the old order dominated by the nobility and gentry, and promoted the nouveaux- riches. Whereas in other cities the growing number of wealthy industrialists and tradespeople were still looked down on because of their background, in Bath, Nash welcomed them as elite members of society.

Bath in the 18th century at the time of Beau Nash

For years the city thrived on the wealth of visitors who stayed for the Season. The affluent tourists rented houses and apartments and all the trappings that went with them; crockery and cutlery, silver-ware and ornaments, horses and carriages, servants and attendants. Prominent architects designed fine buildings and the city grew. Milsom Street became one of the most prestigious shopping areas in the country.

Milsom Street and Bond Street with Portraits of Bath Swells.

By 1801, when Jane Austen moved to Bath, the city was the 9th largest in England, with a population of 33,000. Yet the city’s fortunes had already begun to decline. Bath had changed in character and atmosphere. It was becoming less fashionable and the wealthy were visiting less often, and their stays were becoming shorter.

Thomas Rowlandson’s caricature of the Comforts of Bath. The classes noticeably mingled as they awaited drinking the waters in the Pump Room. (Notice the patient in the wheel chair on the left and the sedan chair next to him, which was carried inside the room.) Nash’s statue is in the niche at the top right. You can still see it today.

Built in a bowl of seven hills, Bath’s ever-growing population was increasingly crowded into a relatively small area. It’s little wonder that when Jane Austen moved to the city, she wrote to her sister, Cassandra saying, “The first view of Bath in fine weather does not answer my expectations; … the appearance of the place from the top of Kingsdown was all vapour, shadow, smoke, and confusion.”

Coal soot darkened the creamy colored stone of the buildings.

Perhaps it is unsurprising that it seemed, “all smoke” when every household depended on coal fires for warmth, that it was “all confusion” when its roads were congested with carts and carriages. And in Georgian cities, once you set foot on the streets there was no escaping the poor drainage and lack of decent sanitation and sewerage systems. As Austen said in a letter to her sister, “We stopped in Paragon (a prestigious address where her wealthy uncle lived) as we came along, but it was too wet and dirty for us to get out.”

The Paragon, Bath.

By the time Persuasion was published in 1817, the larger part of Bath’s population was working class. Industry was thriving in the city, supplying the many fine shops in Milsom Street and drawing people from the countryside to fill the jobs created. Yet the people who worked in the factories and sweat-shops, the costermongers and shop-assistants, the building labourers and hotel staff were, for the most part, poorly paid.

Advertisement for B. Lautier Goldsmith Shop in Bath, 1848

The only housing they could afford was overcrowded and poorly maintained, and the slum areas around Avon Street were increasing in size, as quickly as they were deteriorating in quality and appearance. By 1850, the rookery of hovels and cheap boarding-houses in and around Avon Street were home to almost a quarter of the Bath’s population.

Bath had grown considerably by the 1850’s, the date of this illustration.

My novel, Avon Street is set in Bath in 1850. But Bath isn’t just a setting. It is a character in its own right. In writing Avon Street, I have tried to take the reader beyond the Georgian facades, and reveal a city, where wealth and elegance were never far from poverty and squalor. Bath was a city, where things were often not as they seemed, where people as Austen said, could “be important at comparatively little cost.” In short it is the ideal setting for a story of confidence tricksters and crime, intrigue and betrayal. A city where enemies can seem all-powerful, and friends are sometimes found where least expected.

Image of Avon Street.

In Persuasion Anne Elliot visits a friend in Westgate Buildings despite Sir Walter’s warning of its unsuitableness – “Everything that revolts other people, low company, paltry rooms, foul air, disgusting associations are inviting to you.” (Click here to see an image of Westgate Buildings in 1900.) It seemed only fitting that the first chapter of my book be set in the same location, on the borders of the Avon Street area.

Pickwick Mews, Avon Street, in 1923. Image @The Victoria Art Gallery

More about Avon Street and Paul Emanuelli: Why Avon Street?

Avon Street: Purchase information

Paperback: 352 pages

Publisher: The History Press Ltd (1 Feb 2012)

Language English

ISBN-10: 0752465546

ISBN-13: 978-0752465548

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Back in Jane Austen’s day travel was so difficult and laborious over poorly constructed roads that the majority of the people who lived in that century traveled no farther than 14 miles from where they lived. Most walked, and even so they had to contend with muddy roads that were almost impassible after heavy rains or breathe in choking dust during times of drought. (In cities, dusty streets would be watered down by merchants early in the morning.)

Diana Sperling, a party walking to dinner along muddy roads.

Travel at night was dangerous. Without a widespread means of lighting roads or an organized police force, night travelers were at the mercy of highwaymen. In cities, link boys were paid a half pence to carry a light in front of pedestrians, or for those on horseback and in carriages.

Georgian cast iron light fixtures, Landsdowne Crescent in Bath. Note the cones, which extinguished the light.

Lanterns hung in front of city doors or were carried. In the country, torches hung from trees lining a lane that led up to a house. Balls and parties were planned during the full moon, although a rainy or cloudy night would spoil these well-laid plans.

A link boy lights the way in the city, 1827.

The situation would not change until the Industrial Revolution brought about such life altering inventions as gas lights, macadam roads (whose hard surface facilitated smoother travel), the steamboat, and rail travel.

The perils of overcrowding, 1812

The following descriptions of poor road conditions from Old Country Life, a book published in 1892, describes a time just after Jane Austen’s death, but one that her longer lived siblings would have known. While people’s memories of distant events are often faulty, the emotions they felt tend to stay with them. Here then are some eye witness accounts retold many decades later:

What a time people took formerly in travelling over old roads! There is a house just two miles distant from mine, by the new unmapped road. Before 1837, when that road was made, it was reached in so circuitous a manner, and by such bad lanes, and across an unbridged river, that my grandfather and his family when they dined with our neighbours, two miles off, always spent the night at their house.

Negotiating a muddy road. Image @Roads in the 18th Century

In 1762, a rich gentleman, who had lived in a house of business in Lisbon, and had made his fortune, returned to England, and resolved to revisit his paternal home in Norfolk. His wish was further stimulated by the circumstance that his sister and sole surviving relative dwelt beside one of the great broads, where he thought he might combine some shooting with the pleasure of renewing his friendships of childhood. From London to Norwich his way was tolerably smooth and prosperous, and by the aid of a mail coach he performed the journey in three days. But now commenced his difficulties. Between the capital and his sister’s dwelling lay twenty miles of country roads. He ordered a coach and six, and set forth on his fraternal quest. The six hired horses, although of strong Flanders breed, were soon engulfed in a black miry pool, his coach followed, and the merchant was dragged out of the window by two cowherds, and mounted on one of the wheelers; he was brought back to Norwich, and nothing could ever induce him to resume the search for his sister, and to revisit his ancestral home.

Pack horses. Image @The Rolle Canal Company

Roads were in such a poor condition that transportation over rivers and canals was preferred. If waterways were not nearby, pack horses and carrier wagons carried heavy and fragile items into areas were roads were near to impassible. Carrier wagons were sturdy wagons pulled by oxen and covered with canvas cloth.

Items had to be safely packed before they could be transported. Paper was expensive and cardboard boxes had yet to be invented. Goods were carried in cloth sacks, metal canisters, leather baskets, wood barrels, sturdy trunks, or wooden crates. Additional containers were made of cloth, woven straw, crockery, glass, and tin.

18th century coopers making barrels. Image@Instructional Resources Corporation.

The safe preservation of foods in metal containers was finally realized in France in the early 1800s. In 1809, General Napoleon Bonaparte offered 12,000 francs to anyone who could preserve food for his army. Nicholas Appert, a Parisian chef and confectioner, found that food sealed in tin containers and sterilized by boiling could be preserved for long periods. A year later (1810), Peter Durand of Britain  received a patent for tinplate after devising the sealed cylindrical can. - A brief history of packaging

Fragile items like glass and china received extra protection and were wrapped in cloth or straw. Considering the poor road conditions,  it is a wonder that any of these items survived their long journeys intact. View an image and explanation of a stage wagon in this link.

Reliable forms of old-fashioned transportation still exist in this world. Image@Washington Post

Below is a description of a carrier and his wagon.  (click here to see examples):

It is a marvel to us how the old china and glass travelled in those days; but the packer was a man of infinite care and skill in the management of fragile wares.

Does the reader remember the time when all such goods were brought by carriers? How often they got broken if intrusted to the stage-coaches, how rarely if they came by the carrier.  The carrier’s waggon was securely packed, and time was of no object to the driver, he went very slowly and very carefully over bad ground. – Old Country Life, Sabine Baring-Gould, 1892

Breakdown of the Christmas stage, a Victorian illustration. Note that oxen are strapped to an empty cart, ready to take on passengers, who are still 10 miles from their destination.

As noted before, people often spent the night when they arrived as guests for dinner. Once a person made the journey to visit relatives, they tended to stay for weeks, even months. Elizabeth Bennet’s visit with Charlotte was of several weeks duration; Cassandra Austen frequently visited her brother Edward for weeks at a time, which is when Jane would write to her.

City streets were crowded and narrow. Thomas Rowlandson. The Miseries of London. 1807. Image @Lewis Walpole Library

“It is of some importance,” said Sydney Smith, “at what period a man is born. A young man alive at this period hardly knows to what improvements of human life he has been introduced; and I would bring before his notice the changes that have taken place in England since I began to breathe the breath of life—a period of seventy years. I have been nine hours sailing from Dover to Calais before the invention of steam. It took me nine hours to go from Taunton to Bath before the invention of railroads. In going from Taunton to Bath I suffered between ten thousand and twelve thousand severe contusions before stone-breaking MacAdam was born. I paid fifteen pounds in a single year for repair of carriage springs on the pavement of London, and I now glide without noise or fracture on wooden pavement. I can walk without molestation from one end of London to another; or, if tired, get into a cheap and active cab, instead of those cottages on wheels which the hackney coaches were at the beginning of my life. I forgot to add, that as the basket of the stagecoaches in which luggage was then carried had no springs, your clothes were rubbed all to pieces; and that even in the best society, one-third of the gentlemen were always drunk. I am now ashamed that I was not formerly more discontented, and am utterly surprised that all these changes and inventions did not occur two centuries ago.” – Old Country Life, Sabine Baring-Gould, 1892, p. 216

Paving a macadam road in the U.S., 1823

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One of the most pivotal decisions in Pride and Prejudice was when Elizabeth Bennet agreed to visit Pemberley’s gardens and grounds with the Gardiners, only to suddenly encounter Mr. Darcy, who was not slated to return until the next day.

Such a visit to grand estates by the well-heeled and more common folk like Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle were quite common in the 18th century. They would have purchased an inexpensive guide book at a local inn or town, and read information about the paintings and objects inside the great houses, and a description of the gardens and their rustic buildings and ornaments.

Prospect of Stowe House by Benton Seeley

Stowe in particular was a destination point for visitors. Its magnificent gardens and grounds were a model and inspiration for other gardens of the Romantic era, which echoed the movement’s reverence for nature and aesthetic ideals. The blog of the current Duke of Buckingham and Chandos contains this passage:

“The house and gardens at Stowe, my family seat, were tourist attractions from around 1724, when my ancestor Lord Cobham set out the gardens. People came to visit the gardens and house, sometimes invited, often not. Topographical notes and poems were written. And in 1744 the first full guidebook to the house and grounds was published by Benton Seeley, a writing master in Buckingham. The guidebooks continued for a further 70 years and Seeley went on to become a printer and publisher, founding a business that wound up only in 1978.” – Duke of Buckingham and Chandos 

Seeley's plan of the house and gardens at Stowe.

Benton Seeley’s guidebook, Stowe: A Description of the Magnificent House and Gardens of The Right Honourable Richard Grenville Temple, Earl Temple… Embellished with a General Plan of the Gardens, and also a separate Plan of each Building, with Perspective Views of the same, was published in the same year that Elizabeth Montague described Stowe’s gardens as “beyond description, it gives the best idea of Paradise that can be.” Visitors came away from viewing Stowe’s natural gardens inspired to implement changes to their own grounds. Seeley’s guidebook helped to spread Stowe’s influence throughout the 18th century as the model for the ideal English garden. (Today the original guidebook sells for close to $2,000.)

Thomas Jefferson owned at least two of Seeley’s guidebooks. In fact, Stowe’s reputation as a gardening attraction had spread beyond the British Isles:

“When well-heeled Americans traveled to England in the late eighteenth century, they often sought out famous gardens to inspire their own designs at home. As Benton Seeley’s Stowe: A Description of the Magnificent House and Gardens shows, the gardens at Stowe were particularly large and ornate, featuring temples, pavilions, and statues strewn about the grounds. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams visited Stowe together in 1786 in what Abigail Adams called their “journey into the country.”- Better Homes and Gardens, Stanford University

Corinthian Arch

Seeley’s Guide Book became historically significant. It went through seventeen editions between 1744 and 1797, continually undergoing improvements and revisions. The book’s influence was such that it helped to make the Stowe gardens among the most publicized and copied of the English landscape model. However, Seeley’s was not the only guidebook written for the famed Stowe gardens. In 1732 Lord Cobham’s nephew Gilbert West wrote a lengthy poem The Gardens of the Right Honourable Richard Viscount Cobham that is actually a guide to the gardens in verse form. Charles Bridgeman commissioned 15 engravings of the gardens from Jacques Rigaud, and these were published in 1739 (Wikipedia), five years before Seeley’s guide.

The Stowe gardens and grounds were extensive, offering planned vistas along a winding path, parterres, canals, large swaths of meadows, places for isolation and retreat, rustic buildings, and an emphasis on natural grandeur over formal symmetry. The 4th Baronet, Viscount Cobham, who married a rich brewery heiress, implemented the garden changes at Stowe in 1711. By 1724, the gardens rested on 24 acres and required the labor of 30 men. Garden maintenance cost the family 827 pounds in 1749-1750. Multiply that amount by 50, and you gain a quick idea of the cost in today’s terms. This sum represented almost all the spare money Lord Cobham could afford on the house and grounds.

The grotto was originally designed by William Kent in the late 1730s as a symmetrical, freestanding structure decorated with flints, colored glass, and shells. Soon covered over with earth, it was then described as a “romantic retirement.” By the 1780s, it was more deeply buried, resurfaced with tufa, and planted with vines and conifers for a cavernous effect.- Romantic Gardens: Nature, Art, and Landscape Design, 2010, The Morgan Library Museum

In “A fine house richly furnished: pemberley and the visiting of country houses,” Stephen Clarke, a London lawyer and architectural historian discusses the kind of information a guidebook owner could expect. A New Description of Blenheim by Mayor, 1811, offered the following General Information in its preface:

“BLENHEIM may be seen every afternoon, from three till five o’Clock, except on Sundays and public Days. On Fair days at Woodstock, likewise, it can be seen only by particular permission.

COMPANY who arrive in the morning may take the ride of the Park, or the walk of the Gardens, before dinner, and after that visit the Palace.

The CHINA GALLERY, PARK, and GARDENS, will, on proper application, be shewn at any hour of the day, except during the time of Divine Service on Sundays.”

In 1776, the Wilton visitors book showed 2, 324 visitors in the last year.

The housekeeper guides Elizabeth and the Gardiners through Pemberley's interior

As discussed on this blog in another post, The Housekeeper as a Guide to a Great Country Estate, housekeepers and other servants stood to make a great deal of extra money from tourists.

“The rapacity of housekeepers-and, in the larger houses, of the other staff–was a common complaint. At Blenheim during his tour of 1810-1811, Louis Simond was required to pay the porter at the gate, the woman showing the china collection, the woman showing the theatre, the woman showing the pleasure grounds, the gardener showing the park, and the upper servant showing the house–at a total cost of 19s. (qtd. in Ousby 81). There are similar complaints of Woburn, Chatsworth, and other great houses. Horace Walpole wryly remarked that he should have married his own housekeeper, who had grown rich on showing Strawberry Hill, as the only way of recouping some of his expense on the house (Walpole Correspondence 33, 411) -

At most houses, the traveller would send in his name to the porter or housekeeper to request access–at Hagley in 1800 Mrs. Lybbe Powys, (5) a perceptive visitor of country houses, noted that “we sent in our names for leave to walk round Lord Curzon’s [actually Lord Lyttelton's] grounds, and he desired we would go into any part of it we chose, without being attended by his gardener” (Lybbe Powys 339). Elizabeth and the Gardiners were of course accompanied by the gardener in the park at Pemberley, as was normal. – A fine house richly furnished: pemberley and the visiting of country houses, Stephen Clarke

In the YouTube video below, one can get a sense of Stowe’s grounds and gardens in the first 3 ½ minutes. Enjoy the tour!

More on the topic:

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Fans of Jane Austen’s fiction are familiar with the rising middle class, successful and enterprising tradesmen, upward mobility through marriage, the fragility of life (especially for fishermen, sailors and child-bearing women), and the difficulties of road travel. All these topics are touched upon in a short biography of Mr. Edward Innes, a successful baker and property man.

In this image, Mr. Innes is dressed as a gentleman, and is followed by a companion, Mr. James Cooper. As his position rose in life, his sensibilities must have become quite delicate, for as he passes a woman carrying a basket, Mr. Innes shields his face and nose from the offending stench that must have emanated from her basket.

Mr. Edward Innes and his second, James Cooper

Mr. Innes, if this account is to be believed, was a nonpareil, covering the distance to London in his carriage at the unheard of speed of 50 miles per day.

The progenitors of Mr Innes were farmers in the neighbourhood of Glencorse, but his father was a baker, and had his shop at one time at the head of the Fleshmarket Close. Latterly, the shop having been let without his knowledge to a higher bidder, he removed to his son’s property situated betwixt Marling and Niddfy’s Wynds. In his younger years, the old man was usually styled the handsome baker from his exquisite symmetry, and he was not less fortunate in his choice of a pretty woman for his wife. Isabella, or Bell Gordon, had been married to the captain of a vessel, who was drowned at sea only a few weeks after. The young widow then only in her eighteenth year, happening to be on a visit at the house of her brother in law, Mr Syme ,ship builder, Leith; the handsome baker was introduced to her acquaintance, and the result was a speedy union. Besides a daughter by her first husband, Mrs Innes had eight children, of whom the subject of our notice was the second eldest.

Mr Edward Innes, after serving his apprenticeship with his father, commenced as a baker on his own account in the High Street. In addition to his good fortune in business, he acquired considerable property by his wife, a Miss Wright of Edinburgh, by whom he had several children. Mr Innes kept a horse and gig, an equipage rather unusual for a tradesman in his day; and what was considered remarkable at that time, he drove to London on one occasion, accompanied by his wife, in eight days, a distance averaging fifty miles a day. The circumstance was much talked o,f and taking into account the then state of the roads, the performance was really one of no ordinary magnitude. – A series of original portraits and caricature etchings, Volume 2, Part 2 (Google eBook), John Kay, 1838, p 284.

Note: Considering the poor road conditions of the day, carriage horses averaged from 2-4 miles per hour; at breakneck speed, they could achieve a remarkable 6 miles per hour, but horses that pulled a carriage could keep up this pace for only a short distance. Thus Mr. Innes and his wife spent long hours on the road (10-12 per day) and had their horses frequently changed at stops along the way.

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She lost her pattens in the muck
& Roger in his mind
Considered her misfortune luck
To show her he was kind
He over hitops fetched it out
& cleaned it for her foot…
From the Middle Period Poems of John Clare (1820s)

It is commonly acknowledged that country roads in the day of Jane Austen became muddy and rutted in heavy rains, and therefore nearly impassable. In cities and towns, streets required constant sweeping of horse dung and dirt by street sweepers. Ladies wearing long white gowns and soft satin or kid slippers were constantly dodging dirt, protecting their hems from wet grass, and finding ways to walk on roads and cobblestones whose condition were poor at best.

Diana Sperling's watercolor of a walk to a neighbor's house in mud

Diana Sperling painted her delightful watercolor sketches between 1812 and 1823. In two of the paintings, she shows precisely how difficult it was for ladies (and gents) to walk over poorly maintained roads – or no roads at all! One imagines that Jane Austen and her family, who were country gentry like the Sperlings, encountered similar difficulties when walking.

Charles Sperling conveys a lady over wet grass, by Diana Sperling.

In Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility, one can see Marianne in particular holding up her skirts and daintily traipsing over a London street as the party walks from their carriage to the Dashwood’s ball in London. I found this scene particularly interesting, for this is one of the few films that depict how difficult it was for ladies to keep their garments clean as they walked down London’s streets. Regency women must have collectively heaved a sigh of relief when hemlines became fashionably short.

 

Marianne Dashwood (Kate Winslet) holds up her skirt, shawl, and reticule as she walks gingerly towards the ball.

 

 

In Rolinda Sharples' Clifton Assembly Room (1817), one can see the lady on the lower right changing her slippers in the cloak room.

The problem of keeping one’s feet and skirts clean was solved by wearing pattens, although this practice was rapidly fading in the early 19th century.

 

Lady wearing pattens in snow. Image @City of London

In A Memoir of Jane Austen, her James Edward Austen Leigh wrote about his aunts Cassandra and Jane:

The other peculiarity was that when the roads were dirty the sisters took long walks in pattens. This defence against wet and dirt is now seldom seen. The few that remain are banished from good society and employed only in menial work…

As an illustration of the purposes which a patten was intended to serve, I add the following epigram written by Jane Austen’s uncle Mr Leigh Perrot, on reading in a newspaper of the marriage of Captain Foote to Miss Patten

Through the rough paths of life,

with a patten your guard,

May you safely and pleasantly jog,

May the knot never slip,

nor the ring press too hard,

Nor the Foot find the Patten a clog.

18th century fragment, iron shoe patten

A patten was an oval shoe iron that was riveted to a piece of wood and then strapped to the underside of a shoe. This unwieldy and loud contraption served to raise the shoe out of the mud or a dirty street.  Even a clean street would sully the hems of delicate white muslin gowns, and thus ladies would commonly wear pattens. However, these contraptions were loud. As Jane Austen described in Persuasion:

“When Lady Russell, not long afterwards, was entering Bath on a wet afternoon, and driving through the long course of streets from the Old Bridge to Camden Place, amidst the dash of other carriages, the heavy rumble of carts and drays, the bawling of newsmen, muffin-men, and milk-men, and the ceaseless clink of pattens, she made no complaint..”

Early 19th century pattens

Pattens had been banned from churches for some time. As early as 1390, the Diocese of York forbade clergy from wearing pattens and clogs in both church and in processions, considering them to be indecorous: “contra honestatem ecclesiae”*. An 18th century notice in St Margaret Pattens, the Guild Church of the Worshipful Company of Pattenmakers, requested that ladies remove their pattens on entering; other English churches had similar signs, and in one case, provided a board with pegs for ladies to hang them on. One surmises that churches banned the use of pattens because of their loud clatter on stone floors.

Early 19th century pattens. Image @Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Constance Hill, who with her sister followed in the footsteps of Jane Austen a century after Jane’s death, described the noise of these raised iron clogs:

It is true that in bad weather ladies could walk for a short distance in pattens, which were foot-clogs supported upon an iron ring that raised the wearer a couple of inches from the ground. But these were clumsy contrivances. The rings made a clinking noise on any hard surface, and there is a notice in the vestibule of an old church in Bath, stating that “it is requested by the church-wardens that no persons walk in this church with pattens on.” – Constance Hill, Jane Austen: Her Homes and Her Friends

Pattens were clumsy platforms that raised the shoe a few inches from the ground. The most common patten after the 17th century was made from a  flat metal ring which made contact with the ground. The ring was then attached to a metal plate nailed into the wooden sole. By the 18th and 19th centuries, men’s shoes had thicker soles and the wealthier gentlemen tended to wear riding boots, and thus pattens were worn only by women and working-class men in outdoor occupations.  Soon, pattens were abandoned by ladies as well, and only the lower classes wore them as they went about their duties.

Pattens worn by a maid, 1773

There were three main types of pattens: one with a wooden ‘platform’ sole raised from the ground by either with wooden wedges or iron stands. The second variant had a flat wooden sole often hinged. The third type had a flat sole made from stacked layers of leather.*

18th century silk shoes protected by pattens. Image @Wall Street Journal

One can imagine the sad state of paths and roads the world over, which necessitated the use of such clumsy footwear in England, America, Turkey, and China, to name a few countries.

Late 19th century Chinese porcelain patten shoes

Images of pattens over the centuries:

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