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Posts Tagged ‘Regency London’

This 1808 image of an old vendor woman selling salop in London seems simple at first glance. Created by William H Pyne for The Costumes of Great Britain (one of 60 beautifully produced hand-colored drawings), the image shows the vendor surrounded by customers waiting for a warm drink, which she pours fresh and hot into white bowls from a samovar (still). One wonders if the sight was common enough for Jane Austen to have observed it during her visits to her brother Henry in London, or if she purchased the drink or had tasted it. This description shows how even a whiff of  salop caused the writer to wax eloquently about the drink, which he had liked long ago:

Suddenly we came upon a still, whence arose the steam of Early Purl, or Salop, flattering our senses. Ye Gods ! what a breakfast ! In vain a cautious scepticism suggests that the liquid was one which my palate would now shudderingly reject; perhaps so; I did not reject it then; and in memory the flavour is beatified. I feel its diffusive warmth stealing through me. I taste its unaccustomed and exquisite flavour. Tea is great, coffee greater ; chocolate, properly made, is for epicures; but these are thin and characterless compared with the salop swallowed in 1826. That was nectar, and the Hebe who poured it out was not a blear-eyed old woman, though to vulgar vision she may have presented some such aspect. – Unctuous Memories, The Cornhill Magazine, 1863 p. 613-617

The problem is not with the drawing; it is with the definition of salop, which is variously spelled salop, salep, saloop, and even sahlib. Experts have offered several explanations and recipes of the drink. I examined three sources, all of which offer different ingredients. Even dictionaries from the 19th century cannot agree with the precise meaning of the drink that was commonly served in coffee houses and stalls and on the streets of London. We can, however, agree on a few observations. A night watchman stands behind the vendor and her mobile table. Thus, salop was a typical nightly drink of Londoners.

Sold between midnight and 6-7 o’clock in the morning for some it was the probate cure of a hang-over while the early birds drank it for invigoration and warming up. (Luder H. Niemeyer)

Detail of the chimney sweep drinking salop

Salop was definitely popular during the first part of the 19th century.

Charles Lamb, in his essay upon Chimney Sweeps, mentions the public house of Mr. Reed, on Fleet street in London, as a place where Sassafras tea (and Salop) were still served daily to customers in his time, about 1823.

The hot mixture was affordable even for the lowly chimney sweep, who is seen drinking from a bowl. But how was the drink made? The Hobson-Jobson: The Anglo-Indian Dictionary, first published in 1886,  says that salop was derived from the tubers of various species of orchis found around Europe. It had the reputation of being a restorative and highly nutritious, and a decoction of the substance, spiced and sweetened, was thought to make an agreeable drink for invalids. – p. 784.

The tea woman sitting behind her street booth – a mobile table with samovar – amidst varied customers, just filling another cup of her much demanded herb-tea. Aquatint printed in color and colored by hand for William Miller in London. 1805.

Hobson-Jobson went on to say that in 1889 a correspondent wrote that the term could also be applied to an infusion of the sassafras bark or wood. Sassafras was imported from the colonies; it did not grow in Europe.

There is also the question of what time of day people preferred to drink salop.  In 1850, a source stated that sassafras tea, flavoured with milk and sugar, was sold at daybreak in the streets of London as saloop. In 1882, The St. James’s Gazette said:

Here we knock against an ambulant salep-shop (a kind of tea that people drink on winter mornings); there against roaming oil, salt, or water-vendors, bakers carrying brown bread on wooden trays, pedlars with cakes, fellows offering dainty little bits of meat to the knowing purchaser.”

From the description, one gets the true flavor of an early morning street scene – its sights, smells, and sounds . One also gains the sense that salop was sold much like coffee today – that there was a preferred time to drink it, but that it could be obtained at all hours. But what about the recipe? Was it made with Sassafras bark or with orchis root?

Gourmet Britain says it was made with orchis root, and provides the reader with a history and recipe.  Soupabooks mentions that it was made of dried sassafras bark and offers this recipe:

To make Salop

Put a Tea spoonfull of  Salop to a Pint of Water, with 3 or 4 Blades of Mace, & some Lemmon Peel cut very thin. Boyl it, & Mill it as you do Chocolate, Sweeten it to your Taste; add some grated Nutmeg, & juice of Lemon to make it Palateable. — Mrs. B.P. Benet, Lathrop Lodge, Swindon, Wilts. From her Book of Recipes from about 1796.

Note that Mrs. B.P. Benet does not describe the Salop, but simply assumes that the reader will know what ingredient to purchase. The salop made with sassafras bark would have a slight taste of licorice.

Early American settlers learned from American Indians how to brew sassafras tea from the root bark and drank it has an herbal remedy. Later they made sassafras the original root in root beer and used it as an important ingredient in Sasparilla, a different but related beverage. Those first Sassafras supporters didn’t know how or why it tasted so good, but a few hundred years later, we do. Sassafras root contains an essential oil called safrole which imparts that characteristic licorice flavor.

Charles Lamb. Image @NNDB

Charles Lamb in his essay about Chimney Sweeps corroborates the sassafras root ingredient:

There is a composition, the groundwork of which I have understood to be the sweet wood yclept sassafras. This wood boiled down to a kind of tea, and tempered with an infusion of milk and sugar, hath to some tastes a delicacy beyond the China luxury. I know not how thy palate may relish it, I have never ventured to dip my own particular lip in a basin, a cautious premonition to the olfactories constantly whispering to me, that my stomach must infallibly, with all due courtesy, decline it. Yet I have seen palates otherwise not uninstructed in dietetical elegancies, sup it up with avidity. This is salop—the precocious herbwoman’s darling—the delight of the early gardener who transports his smoking cabbages from Hammersmith to Covent Garden’s famed piazzas—the delight, and oh ! I fear too often the envy of the unpennied sweep.” – Unctuous Memories, The Cornhill Magazine, 1863 p. 613-617

To complicate matters even more, I found this description of salop:  “The tea produced from the male root of the Ragged Robin, so-called salop, was the typical nightly drink of Londoners.” (Luder H. Niemeyer) Ragged Robin seems to be the common name for the cuckooflower lychnis, which is a perennial that has very hardy, fibrous roots. Since Ragged Robin was not mentioned in other encyclopedias, descriptions, or dictionaries that I consulted, I will discount this ingredient from the discussion.

Sassafras root bark. Image @ Vermont Fiddle Heads

The following is a sampling of definitions of Salop, Salep, or Saloop from various dictionaries:

  • an aromatic drink prepared from sassafras bark and other ingredients. – Online Encyclopedia
  •  salop (or saloop, a hot starchy drink made with an infusion of dried salep, or orchid tubers) – Science and Society Picture Library
  • An aromatic drink prepared from sassafras bark and other ingredients , at one time much used in London . – – J . Smith ( Dict . Econ . “Saloop” is a common misspelling or typo for: Salop. – Webster’s Online Dictionary
  • saloop/seuh loohp”/, n.: a hot drink prepared originally from salep but later from sassafras, together with milk and sugar. [1705-15; var. of SALEP] – Collaborative International Dictionary
  • Salep, sal′ep, n. the dried tubers of Orchis mascula: the food prepared from it.—Also Sal′op. [Ar.Salep from Arabic: سحلب saḥlab‎, is a flour made from grinding the dried tubers of the orchid genus Orchis (including species Orchis mascula and Orchis militaris). These tubers contain a nutritious starch-like polysaccharide called glucomannan. Salep flour is consumed today in beverages and desserts, in places that were formerly part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire. The term salep may also refer to any beverage made with the salep flour. – Wikipedia

So which ingredient did Pyne’s old female vendor use to make her salop? Orchis tubers, which were found in Europe, or dried Sassafras bark,which had to be imported? In any case, one shudders at the thought of the bowls that the vendor used to pour the drink in for her customers. I see no water jug near at hand to rinse the bowls after each use. Heaven knows how many germs were spread around via these used dishes, which could not be tossed aside or washed easily.

About The Costumes of Great Britain: Between 1800 and 1818, London publishers William Miller, T. M’Lean, and William Bulmer published a series of color plate books, including one that featured 60 color plates of Britain’s working classes just as the Industrial Revolution began to take off.  William H Pyne (1769-1843) was commissioned to write and illustrate the book by the publisher, William Miller. The first edition was printed in 1804, but the edition from which this coloured plate was taken was published in 1808. – Science and Society

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I have reviewed several Shire Library books this past year and have yet to be disappointed. Case in point, Privies and Water Closets by David J. Eveleigh, an excellent small book on the history of fixed and portable sanitation and waste management. I have discovered that this topic is of everlasting curiosity and many of my readers have asked questions similar to the following: How well  did our ancestors manage without indoor bathrooms or running water? This book largely answers the question.

Starting with the 17th and 18th centuries, Mr. Everleigh traces the history of sanitation and the problems our ancestors had in handling waste sewage. While the topic may not seem glamorous, it is hugely fascinating, for sanitation management was intricately connected to the safety of a community’s water supply and the populace’s overall health and well-being. He classified the earliest sanitation methods as either portable or fixed.

Portable Solutions

Chamber pots were the easiest method of sanitation. Placed under beds, or a commode or closet stool, the contents could be easily emptied into a covered slop pail and carried outside. In the 17th and 18th century small rooms or closets were introduced that adjoined the bedrooms. These areas were outfitted with a comfortable commode, under which a pan would be placed.

16th century water closet

The wealthy did not handle the chamber pots, leaving the servants to clean up after them.  Chamber pots were not always so well situated, as the image below shows (p. 8).

L'apres Dinee des Anglais

English gentlemen, known for their prodigious drinking habits, were wont to relieve themselves where they were – in the dining room, for instance, or in a common room of a public inn – where they did not always aim straight and true (as the young man at left), much to the chagrin and disbelief of French travelers, some of whom wrote about this unsanitary habit.

Fixed Solutions

The privy was a fixed out house (or necessary house or house of office), with no water supply or drain and usually located some distance away from the house. A fixed wooden seat with a rounded hole was placed directly over the cesspit or “void.” Occasionally privies were attached to the side of a building, projecting out from a top floor, or reached through on outdoor entry on the ground floor of a service wing. More often than not they were placed at some distance from the main house at the far end of a garden or yard, where its contents could be used to “enrich” flower and vegetable beds.

Earth closet contents were put on the garden, Chawton Cottage. Photo courtesy Tony Grant**

In cities, neighboring privies were placed side by side in yards and drained into a common cesspool located under an alley that ran between the row of cottages or townhouses. In rich to middle class households, nightsoilmen would be paid to cart the waste away when the household was sleeping. This service was quite expensive, and quite often neglected in poorer districts where the lower classes could not (and landlords would not) hire these men until the cesspools were filled to overflowing.

A woman obtains water from a well situated near garbage cans and outdoor privies, which can be seen through the opening in the wall. (Image taken in 1931!)***

Lack of sanitation led to diseases like typhoid, dysentery, and cholera. It was common in the slum districts for cess pools to be left unlined or partially finished, allowing liquid sewage to seep into and contaminate a nearby well, cistern, or other common form of water supply. In cities the public privy was often the only “necessary” available and was shared by a number of households, sometimes as many as sixty-five. The crowding and lack of maintenance and emptying of wastes led to disease and death.

Alley with open sewer drain and privies for the surrounding houses

In Privies and Waterclosets, Mr. Eveleigh traces the improvements in street sewers, indoor plumbing and running water, and sanitary habits throughout the nineteenth century, especially after the second great cholera epidemic in Bermondsey, London in 1849, which killed 13,000 and was the result of water contaminated by raw sewage.

While the book consists of only 64 pages, authors of historical novels will find it a fascinating and welcome addition to their research library. I give this book three out of three Regency fans.

Pages: 64
Published: 2008, Shire Library 479, Shire Publications, UK
150mm x 210mm, soft cover, indexed, new
ISBN 978-0-7478-0702-5

Additional links:

*Image of water closet: Abertillery and District Museum

**Image of Chawton Cottage garden, Tony Grant, London Calling - Personal Hygiene in Jane Austen’s Day

***Image of woman at well, North East Midland Photographic Record, The University of Nottingham, 1931 (This is a correction.)

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apsley house

“The last time! a going! gone.”
“Auctioneer.

“Down! down! derry down!”
“Public.

A toll-gate was moved in 1721 from Piccadilly, near Berkeley Street and the present location of the Ritz Hotel, to the west end of Hyde Park in London. It was a real barrier, its gates stretching across the road, and the area was illuminated by a dozen oil lamps before the age of gas. (London, Vol 1, Charles Knight) After passing through the toll, the first building travelers encountered was “Number One”, London, or Apsley House. The residence was named after Baron Apsley, who built the house in 1771. Its most famous and recognizable resident was The Duke Of Wellington. Hyde Park Corner tollgate was one of the busiest tollgates in London, and remained active until 1825, when it was dismantled piece by piece and sold.

Hyde Park Corner, 1822, Charles Cranmer Jr

Sir,
I have taken the liberty of enclosing you a representation of a scene which took place at Hyde-park-corner last Tuesday, October 4th, being no less than the public sale of the toll-house, and all the materials enumerated in the accompanying catalogue. If you were not present, the drawing I have sent may interest you as a view of the old toll-house and the last scene of its eventful history. You are at liberty to make what use of it you please. The sale commenced at one o’clock, the auctioneer stood under the arch before the door of the house one the north side of Piccadilly. Several carriage folks and equestrians, unconscious of the removal of the toll, stopped to pay, whilst the drivers of others passed through knowingly, with a look of satisfaction at their liberation from the accustomed restriction at that place. The poor dismantled house without a turnpike man, seemed “almost afraid to know itself”—”Othello’s occupation was gone.” By this time, if the conditions of the auction have been attended to, not a vestige is left on the spot. I have thought this event would interest a mind like yours, which permits not any change in the history of improvement, or of places full of old associations, to take place without record.

I remain, sir,
Yours, &c.
A CONSTANT READER.

sale of hyde park corner toll gate

These entries come from the October 4th Every-Day Book by William Hone, 1825-26,. The following account relates the dismantling of the property:

The sale by auction of the “toll-houses” on the north and south side of the road, with the “weighing machine,” and lamp-posts at Hyde-park-corner, was effected by Mr. Abbott, the estate agent and appraiser, by order of the trustees of the roads. They were sold for building materials; the north toll-house was in five lots, the south in five other lots; the gates, rails posts, and inscription boards were in five more lots; and the engine-house was also in five lots. At the same time, the weighing machine and toll-houses at Jenny’s Whim bridge were sold in seven lots; and the toll-house near the bun-house at Chelsea, with lamp posts on the road, were likewise sold in seven lots. The whole are entirely cleared away, to the relief of thousands of persons resident in these neighbourhoods. It is too much to expect every thing vexatious to disappear at once; this is a very good beginning, and if there be truth in the old saying, we may expect “a good ending.”

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Update: Every once in a while, I plan to revisit old posts to update links and include additional information, as in this instance. My original post about John Nash (1752-1835) was woefully inadequate.

John Nash’s buildings exemplified the neoclassical style of early 19th Century Architecture. His sweeping changes transformed London, from the graceful curve of Regent Street to the majestic terraces and vistas in Regent’s Park, to the clearing of the area which was to become Trafalgar Suare. John Nash’s transformations reflected the Prince Regent’s grand plan for London. J.B. Priestly wrote in The Prince of Pleasure:

Over and over above [the Prince's] collections and rebuilding of royal houses, there was his grand plan, designed and carried out by John Nash, of demolishing a clutter of little streets and miserable buildings to drive a broad way, as straight as possible, between Carlton House and the newly created Regent’s Park, itself one of the most charming city parks in the world. Some of Nash’s work has gone, notably Regent Street as he left it, but the broad thoroughfares and his delightful terraces are still with us. (The Prince of Pleasure, p 290)

View some of his edifices below:

  1. Regent’s Park
  2. Regent Street
  3. Buckingham Palace
  4. Brighton Palace .

More About John Nash:

View a Powerpoint Presentation here: Modern Architecture: Nash and the Regency

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William Henry Pyne (1769 – 1843)

Many of the illustrations of London and the working class that we see of the regency era can be atttibuted to the artist and writer, William Henry Pyne. W.H. Pyne, the son of a leather seller and weaver, chronicled the working class in The Costumes of Great Britain. In his heyday he created a series of books for the publisher Rudolph Ackermann. Unfortunately, like James Gillray, Mr. Pyne’s illustrations ceased to be popular towards the end of his life, and he died in poverty.

    To learn more about W.H. Pyne, click on these links:

  • The World in Miniature: England, Scotland, and Ireland, edited by W.H. Pyne, containing a description of the character, manners, customs, dress, diversions, and other peculiarities of the inhabitants of Great Britain. In Four Volumes; illustrated with eighty-four coloured engravings, Volume 1, London, 1827, Printed for R. Ackermann, Repository of Arts, Strand.

Illustrations by Pyne: Blue Coat Boy, and Mail Coach from the Microcosm of London. Illustration of Bill Sticker from the World in Miniature.

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Now industry awakes her busy sons,
Shops open, coaches roll, carts shake the ground,
And all the streets with passing cries resound.

– John Gay, Walking the Streets of London

Oh, how should I describe my three short days in London when I went on a deliberate search for the sites, establishments and objects that existed in the Regency era? We chose a location at the edge of Mayfair, in a hotel on Half Moon Street, just a half block from Piccadilly and Green Park, a once popular dueling spot. We were also just around the corner from Shepherd Market, that wonderful tucked-in and hidden section of pubs, restaurants, and shops few tourists frequent.

The Art of Walking the Streets of London, Hand-coloured etching by George Cruickshank after George Moutard Woodward, 1813

As I walked these familiar streets (for this was my fourth visit to this particular area of London), I turned onto St. James’s Street and looked inside the famous bow window at White’s, where Beau Brummel used to hold court. Inside, I spied a stout gentleman reclining in a comfortable leather chair reading the paper. Black and white prints of estimable personages lined the wall behind him.

I moved on and turned left on Jermyn Street, with its rows of shops boasting Regency style bow windows. For sale in these small, select stores were custom made shirts, ties, men’s suits, and shoes. I strolled past the surprisingly small statue of Beau Brummel, which faces the entrance to Piccadilly Arcade, and headed straight for Floris, the perfume shop established in 1750. I entered its historic interior, where mementos of that time are displayed in mahogany and glass showcases. Luck was on my side, for 10 0z. bottles of lavender scented room spray was on sale.
I promptly purchased three for my close Janeite friends, and acquired a Floris blue shopping bag in the process.

I then crossed the street to Fortnum and Mason and entered this venerable store, established in 1707, through the arched doorway on the Picadilly side. Like Floris, this shop boasts several royal warrants. Although I was tempted by merchandise on every floor, especially the food court, I purchased only a tea strainer for a respectable sum. I stayed long enough to hear the store’s famous (but modern) clock (3) strike its chimes on the hour, and watch the statues of Mr. Fortnum and Mr. Mason appear from their hidden compartments. My next stop was Hatchard’s Bookshop, established in 1797. “Our customers have included some of Britain’s greatest political, social and literary figures – from Queen Charlotte, Disraeli and Wellington to Kipling, Wilde and Lord Byron…”


Looking up Air Street from Piccadilly, Image from the Georgian Index

I went slightly wild in this establishment, purchasing The Hell-Fire Clubs by Geoffrey Ashe, Decency & Disorder: The Age of Cant 1789-1837 by Ben Wilson, The Courtesan’s Revenge by Frances Wilson, England’s Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton by Kate Williams, Luxury and Pleasure in Eighteenth-Century Britain by Maxine Berg, and English Society in the 18th Century by Roy Porter.

Laden with a bag of books and almost sated, for I was heady with the thought that these shops and institutions had existed in Jane Austen’s time, I strolled back to the hotel via Regent Street and historic Bond Street. I still had two more days of sightseeing to go, and I was a woman on a mission.

Image from Maggie May’s Costume History Pages

The next day I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum, and studied five amazingly beautiful regency gowns, as well as furniture and objects d’art from the Georgian, Regency, and Victorian Eras displayed in unique yet educational arrangements. Again I visited the bookstore, purchasing a Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette: Rules for Perfect Conduct, Life as a Victorian Lady by Pamela Horn, a cookery book with old recipes, and Four Hundred Years of Fashion, a V&A catalog.
On the last day of my all too short trip, I visited the National Portrait Gallery and headed straight for Cassandra’s watercolour of Jane on the fourth floor. I almost missed it. The portrait is so tiny (scarcely larger than 4″x6″) and sits hidden, protected from damaging UV rays by an exhibition box that is open on only one side. I could not believe how small, delicate and faded this portrait was. Cassandra must have used a finely pointed sable brush in order to paint Jane’s features, which partly explains why the portrait is so crude. She only needed to make a minor mistake in order to skew Jane’s features. The other explanation is that Cassandra was not a particularly good artist. However, I was more than satisfied to view this resemblance of Jane’s face, for it is the only one I have seen up close.

Before I left the museum, I purchased Dr. Johnson, His Club and Other Friends by Jenny Uglow and Below Stairs: 400 Years of Servants’ Portraits, an NPG catalog.

Having no room left in my luggage, I nevertheless purchased a few more history books at the airport. The moment I returned home, I noticed a package on my hall table and opened it eagerly. Inside was a used edition of Jane Austen by Elizabeth Jenkins. My ravenous appetite for all things Austen has been temporarily slaked. From past experience, it will be a few years before I get the overwhelming itch to experience Regency London again.

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Louis Simond, a Frenchman who lived in the United States, landed in Falmouth on Christmas Eve, 1809 to begin a twenty-one month journey of the British Isles. During his tour, Louis set down his observations, which resulted in a well-received book, Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain during the Years 1810 and 1811 by a Native of France with Remarks on the Country, its Arts Literature, and Politics, and on the Manners and Customs of its Inhabitants. The following passage in the book describes the custom of drinking milk in London:

In the morning all is calm–not a mouse stirring before ten o’clock; the shops then begin to open. Milk-women, with their pails perfectly neat, suspended at the extremities of a yoke, carefully shaped to fit the shoulders, and surrounded with small tin measures of cream, ring at every door, with reiterated pulls, to hasten the maid-servants, who come half asleep to receive a measure as big as an egg, being the allowance of a family; for it is necessary to explain, that milk is not here either food or drink, but a tincture–an elixir exhibited in drops, five or six at most, in a cup to tea, morning and evening. It would be difficult to say what taste or what quality these drops may impart; but so it is; and nobody thinks of questioning the propriety of the custom.– Louis Simond, An American in Regency England, The History Book Club, London, 1968, p 29-30.

The doling out of tiny portions of milk in the early nineteenth century could be explained by the Corn Laws, which protected the cultivation of land. Because of this law, less land became available for grazing cattle, resulting in a reduction of milk. (Liquid Pleasures: A Review). Milk prices must have risen steeply as well. Regardless of the available supply, milkmaids would walk through London, aiming their cries at the servants of the house, who worked belowstairs:

Milk Below Maids! Will you buy any milk today Mistress? Any milk today Mistress? Will you have any milk maids? Milk Below!

Many of the estimated 8,000 milk cows were housed in dairy buildings scattered throughout this densely populated city. One can imagine that the conditions were anything but sanitary. (Cries of London – Milkmaids, Regency World). Cows also grazed in the meadows and grasslands of parks and pleasure gardens, such as Vauxhall. They were milked at noon, and the warm, fresh milk was sold for a penny a mug. (Parks and Pleasure Gardens of Regency London, JASA)

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