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Archive for April, 2014

St. James’s Park offered some of the freshest, most wholesome milk during a Georgian London summer – the frothy hot liquid, or new milk, was drawn at the request of customers from cows that had grazed on the park’s lawns.

An estimated 8,500 cows were kept for milk near London.* Farmers milked their herds and carted in the milk to dairy retailers from as much as 20 miles away.

St James's Park, Soiron, François David, about 1780, Colour stipple engraving, with additional colour by hand. Bequeathed by Mrs M. V. Cunliffe. V & A Museum

St James’s Park, Soiron, François David, about 1780, Colour stipple engraving, with additional colour by hand. Bequeathed by Mrs M. V. Cunliffe. V & A Museum

In idealized scenes, artists give us an insight into contemporary customs. A milkmaid is milking a cow in St. James’s Park as a young boy in a skeleton suit waits with his empty cup. The party consists of a soldier and a mother with two other children, a boy and a girl. These two have already received their share of milk, with the mother helping the younger child sitting on her lap. It is hard to tell if it is a girl or a boy, for in their early years both sexes were dressed similarly.

One is struck by the tin cups on display at the wood table. There are no washing facilities nearby, and one can only assume that these cups are reused by strangers. A more finicky person would probably bring their own cup to the park. In this instance, a basket filled with hay is placed next to the table, ostensibly as fodder for the cow.

The following illuminating passage c0mes from Henry Mayhew’s account of London Labour and the London Poor, 1861 (Tufts Digital Library:

The principal sale of milk from the cow is in St. James’s Park. The once fashionable drink known as syllabubs—the milk being drawn warm from the cow’s udder, upon a portion of wine, sugar, spice, &c.—is now unknown. As the sellers of milk in the park are merely the servants of cow-keepers, and attend to the sale as a part of their business, no lengthened notice is required.

The milk-sellers obtain leave from the Home Secretary, to ply their trade in the park. There are stands in the summer, and as many cows, but in the winter there are only cows. The milk-vendors sell upon an average, in the summer, from eighteen to quarts per day; in the winter, not more than a of that quantity. The interrupted milking of the cows, as practised in the Park, often causes them to give less milk, than they would in the ordinary way. The chief customers are infants, and adults, and others, of a delicate constitution, who have been recommended to take new milk. On a wet day scarcely any milk can be disposed of. Soldiers are occasional customers.

A somewhat sour-tempered old woman, speaking as if she had been crossed in love, but experienced in this trade, gave me the following account:

It’s not at all a lively sort of life, selling milk from the cows, though some thinks it’s a gay time in the Park! I’ve often been dull enough, and could see nothing to interest one, sitting alongside a cow. People drink new milk for their health, and I’ve served a good many such. They’re mostly young women, I think, that’s de- licate, and makes the most of it. There’s twenty women, and more, to one man what drinks new milk. If they was set to some good hard work, it would do them more good than new milk, or ass’s milk either, I think. Let them go on a milkwalk to cure them—that’s what I say. Some children come pretty regularly with their nurses to drink new milk. Some bring their own china mugs to drink it out of; nothing less was good enough for them. I’ve seen the nurse-girls frightened to death about the mugs. I’ve heard one young child say to another: ‘I shall tell mama that Caroline spoke to a mechanic, who came and shook hands with her.’ The girl was as red as fire, and said it was her brother. Oh, yes, there’s a deal of brothers comes to look for their sisters in the Park. The greatest fools I’ve sold milk to is servant-gals out for the day. Some must have a day, or half a day, in the month. Their mistresses ought to keep them at home, I say, and not let them out to spend their money, and get into nobody knows what company for a holiday; mistresses is too easy that way. It’s such gals as makes fools of themselves in liking a soldier to run after them. I’ve seen one of them—yes, some would call her pretty, and the prettiest is the silliest and easiest tricked out of money, that’s my opinion, anyhow—I’ve seen one of them, and more than one, walk with a soldier, and they’ve stopped a minute, and she’s taken something out of her glove and given it to him. Then they’ve come up to me, and he’s said to her, ‘Mayn’t I treat you with a little new milk, my dear?’ and he’s changed a shilling. Why, of course, the silly fool of a gal had given him that there shilling. I thought, when Annette Myers shot the soldier, it would be a warning, but nothing’s a warning to some gals. She was one of those fools. It was a good deal talked about at the stand, but I think none of us know’d her. Indeed, we don’t know our customers but by sight. Yes, there’s now and then some oldish gentlemen— I suppose they’re gentlemen, anyhow, they’re idle men—lounging about the stand: but there’s no nonsense there. They tell me, too, that there’s not so much lounging about as there was; those that’s known the trade longer than me thinks so. Them children’s a great check on the nusses, and they can’t be such fools as the servant-maids. I don’t know how many of them I’ve served with milk along with soldiers: I never counted them. They’re nothing to me. Very few elderly people drink new milk. It’s mostly the young. I’ve been asked by strangers when the Duke of Wellington would pass to the Horse-Guards or to the House of Lords. He’s pretty regular. I’ve had 6d. given me—but not above once or twice a year—to tell strangers where was the best place to see him from as he passed. I don’t understand about this Great Exhibition, but, no doubt, more new milk will be sold when it’s opened, and that’s all I cares about.

Benjamin West, P.R.A. (Springfield 1738-1820 London)  Milkmaids in St. James's Park, Westminster Abbey beyond  oil on panel

Benjamin West, P.R.A. (Springfield 1738-1820 London)
Milkmaids in St. James’s Park, Westminster Abbey beyond
oil on panel,  Christie’s.

Benjamin West’s scene of St. James’s Park evinces a more majestic tone, with the industrious maids in the center and an assembly looking on or promenading into view, such as the soldiers on the right escorting their ladies. The hard working milk maids are merely the servants of cowkeepers, as Henry Mayhew’s passage explains.

St. James's Park, detail, West

St. James’s Park, detail, West

Although this painting is quite formal, the details are similar to those described in the Mayhew passage. The milk maid is on her knees, not sitting on a stool, and some people have brought their own vessels in the shape of cups or buckets. The majority are women and children, who wait patiently on benches as the maid fills their orders. The rest of the herd can be seen in the background, awaiting their turn to supply milk, for only two cows are being actively milked.

St. James's Park, detail, West

St. James’s Park, detail, West

Customers come from a variety of social backgrounds. A small child sits and drinks her milk on a bench by a table, others wait in line with their mothers or governesses. One maid holds a flask on top of her head in a classic pose that one suspects is more of a nod to classic sources than contemporary British customs.

St. James's Park, detail3, West

St. James’s Park, detail3, West

I simply had to add this detail of West’s painting, for the soldiers and their female companions are described in detail in the Mayhew passage. They also remind me of the immature and idealized view that Lydia had of herself when in Wickham’s company – that of a lady who cut an elegant impression next to a man in uniform.

st. James's and Green Park

As one can see from a map of the era, the lawns are not huge.  St. James’s Park consists of 58 acres that were originally purchased from Eton College by Henry the 8th in 1532. I have not read any sources regarding the regular maintenance of these parks, but imagine that grazing sheep and cows kept the grasses under control, but, anyone who has ever wandered through a cow pasture knows how much dung cows can leave behind!

Cow Keeper's Shop 1825 George Scharf

Cow Keeper’s Shop, 1825, George Scharf

George Scharf’s Cow Keeper’s Shop in London shows where city cows were kept – indoors. These creatures were fed indoors in back street yards and fared badly compared to their country cousins. Their milk was of a poorer quality, which came as a shock to country-bred Jane Austen, when her family move from Steventon to Bath. In many instances, unscrupulous retail milk-dealers seeking to increase their profits thinned the milk with water. Roy and Lesley Adkins in their splendid book, Jane Austen’s England, describe how cow-houses were furnished with water pumps. Milk was diluted in front of the customers. In some instances, merchants did not bother to use “clean” water (the only safe water in those days was boiled), but watered milk from a horse’s trough or, worse, from streams that had been fouled by animal dung and urine.*

The milk was next taken to the retailers’ homes and left for a day, so that the cream rose to the surface to be skimmed off. The deteriorating milk was then sold as fresh, while the cream was sold separately…” (Adkins, page 105)

Ironically, the deterioration of milk was at its highest when the fashionable set came to Town for the winter season, and at its freshest when the Beau Monde returned to their country estates for the summer.

Milk maids, George Scharf

Milk maids, George Scharf

In Scharf’s image, milkmaids  and a milkman are preparing for a day of sales. Pyne’s illustration clearly shows the five-gallon pails hanging from a wooden yoke,  the vessels that transported the milk into other containers, and the cups that were used to sell milk to individual buyers. Much of this milk was used largely for cooking.

milk woman, william henry pyne, 1805

Milk woman, William Henry Pyne, 1805

The milk maid’s cry, which proudly (and ironically) proclaimed the fine quality of her milk, was shortened to Milk Below and eventually to Milko!

Milk Below.

Rain, frost, or snow, or hot or cold,

I travel up and down,

The cream and milk you buy of me

Is best in all the town.

For custards, puddings, or for tea,

There’s none like those you buy of me.

From A history of the cries of London, ancient and modern [with woodcuts by T. and J. Bewick]. (Google eBook)

 More on this topic:

 

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During the late 18th century, early 19th century, trains on gowns were de rigueur. I chose to show the two gowns below, since the styles were popular when Jane Austen was a teenager (first image) and wrote the first editions of Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, and Pride and Prejudice (second and third images).

1785-90 Sheer embroidered cotton muslin lined with pink silk taffeta - Galliera

Sheer embroidered cotton muslin, lined with pink silk taffeta, 1785-1790. Galliera

Silk Dress 1795 The Kyoto Costume Institute

Silk Dress, Kyoto Costume Institute, 1795

Robe ayant appartenu, 1797

Robe ayant appartenu, 1797

As Regency styles evolved and the 19th century  progressed, trains were worn largely on evening dresses.

 

1805-1810 French evening dress, V&A museum

1805-1810 French evening dress, V&A museum

I have often wondered how delicate muslin gowns survived the harsh laundering that was required to remove stains made from dusty floors and muddy pathways. Even the grandest ladies wearing the most expensive dresses promenaded on gravel walkways or shopped along city or village streets. How did they manage to keep their hems clean in an era when paved roads and sidewalks were almost impossible to find?

Dirt road, a view near New Cross Deptford in Kent, 1770. artist unknown Yale University, Mellon Collection.

Dirt road, a view near New Cross Deptford in Kent, 1770. artist unknown Yale University, Mellon Collection.

Until macadam roads became widespread, roads across most of Great Britain remained unpaved. Village roads were especially notorious for becoming muddy quagmires during rainy days. The deep ruts in this village scene, illustrated just five years before Jane Austen’s birth, say it all.

Detail

Detail of  the road in New Cross Deptford

Dresses worn by working class women stopped at or above the ankles, and for good reason! These women wore sturdy leather shoes that could withstand the dirt.

recto

Paul Sandby drawing of two vendors, 18th c.

City streets were barely better than country roads. While sidewalks protected dress hems, roads were still made of dirt. People tossed out garbage from their windows, and horse droppings made crossings all but impassible for pedestrians.

Dirt road_St. George, Bloomsbury

Dirt road, detail of St. George, Bloomsbury

Crossing sweepers were stationed along major intersections, sweeping a clearing for anyone willing to give a tip. Not only did horses pull carriages and wagons, but drovers led animals to market through village and city streets. The stench from their droppings must have been unbelievable.

street sweeper and wheeled plank Vernet_street_print

This enterprising street sweeper places a wheeled plank at strategic points to help pedestrians cross dirty roads. Print by Carle Vernet.

 

With time, machines began to replace manual labor, as this unhappy street sweeper notes.

By 1829, machines began to replace manual labor, as this unhappy street sweeper notes in “The Scavenger’s Lamentation.” Observe the piles of horse and animal dung left behind.

Jane Austen mentioned wearing pattens when she lived in Steventon. These devices elevated shoes above the dirt, but by the turn of the 19th century, pattens were no longer considered fashionable and were largely worn by the working classes, such as the midwife below.

Rowlandson, Midwife going to a labour.

Rowlandson. AMidwife Going to a Labour.

 

early 19th century pattens. Museum of Fine Art, Boston

early 19th century pattens. Museum of Fine Art, Boston

I always view contemporary images for clues. Diana Sperling created some wonderful watercolours around the topic. In this painting, you can see how the trains of the dresses have somehow been hitched up in the back, especially with the first and third women.

dirt road_hazards of walking sperling

Hazards of walking, by Diana Sperling

After Elizabeth Bennet walks to Netherfield to visit her sick sister, Jane, Mrs. Hurst and Mrs. Bingley speak disparagingly about the state of her dress:

“She has nothing, in short, to recommend her, but being an excellent walker. I shall never forget her appearance this morning. She really looked almost wild.”

“She did indeed, Louisa. I could hardly keep my countenance. Very nonsensical to come at all! Why must she be scampering about the country, because her sister had a cold? Her hair, so untidy, so blowsy!”

“Yes, and her petticoat; I hope you saw her petticoat, six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely certain; and the gown which had been let down to hide it, not doing its office.” – Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 8

Bingley’s citified and nouveau riche sisters were horrified at Elizabeth’s lack of decorum. To them, appearances are more important than sisterly devotion. One imagines that they would not have ventured out until the sun had dried the mud and they could be assured of a carriage. From the image below, one can readily see why Elizabeth’s hems were in such sad shape after her long walk in fields made wet by heavy rain.

Dirt roads

One wonders how helpful pattens were when dirt roads became quagmires. Although she was young when she painted these watercolours, Diana Sperling demonstrates a decided sense of humor in her paintings.

In Northanger Abbey, Isabella and Catherine became quickly inseparable, even calling each other by their first names in an age when only intimate friends and family could be on such terms.

They called each other by their Christian name, were always arm in arm when they walked, pinned up each other’s train for the dance, and were not to be divided in the set; and if a rainy morning deprived them of other enjoyments, they were still resolute in meeting in defiance of wet and dirt, and shut themselves up, to read novels together. 

They pinned up the trains of each others’ evening gowns to prevent tripping, but also staining, I suspect.  (It must be noted that guests changed from their street shoes to dancing slippers before entering a ballroom, which probably reduced the amount of dirt trailed inside.) Nothing could stop the girls from seeing each other, not even “dirt” or muddy streets.

There were many ways to protect trains. In this film still, Gwynneth Paltrow’s Emma hitches her train on a loop over her wrist.

Note the train in this image of the 1996 version of Emma

Note the train in this image of the 1996 version of Emma

These French images from the late 18th century provide the best evidence in how ladies would protect their delicate dresses out of doors. While we assume that ladies did not expose their ankles to the public (they certainly did not in the Victorian era, but the Regency was a different time), the illustrations point out the practical habit of hitching a train over one’s arm.

corte de pelo a la victima

This French fashionista with her short, pert hair cut, reveals her roman style slippers as she promenades with her train carried over her arm.

Les Merveilleuses, by carle vernet

While this 1797 satiric image by Carle Vernet is making fun of fashionistas, one can surmise that the habit of carrying long skirts over the fore arm was widespread.

Wind and open windows swept dirt and dust continually into houses and visitors trod in dirt. No wonder maids needed to sweep floors daily!

Regardless of the efforts to keep streets, sidewalks, and floors clean, one wonders about the condition of the hems on women’s garments. Clothes were expensive before the advent of mass-produced cloth and were carefully recycled, even by the well-off.

Laundresses took an enormous amount of effort to keep clothes clean. One can only assume that the majority of women wore clothes with stained hems, and that only the rich could afford the expense of keeping their clothes looking spotless. Eleanor Tilney wore only white gowns, which told contemporary readers more about her economic status than pages of explanations ever could. In Mansfield Park, Mrs. Norris frowned on maidservants wearing white gowns. These white clothes were not only above their stations, but they would require an enormous amount of time spent on maintenance.

Also on this blog: Trains on Dresses

 

 

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