Archive for the ‘18th Century England’ Category


Cooking With Jane Austen, Kirstin Olsen

What can be a better way to celebrate fall and the Thanksgiving holiday than to examine a recipe or two from Kirstin Olsen’s 2005 book, Cooking with Jane Austen? – spending time with family and friends and sharing the food!

I’ll just get my two major complaints about the book out of the way. The font is difficult to read – too fancy for my taste – and the book’s cost: $55.00. I found my copy (in excellent shape) via second hand means, which I recommend.

Now, for the good news. While we know that Jane Austen was spare in her descriptions of food, interiors, and clothing in her novels, she provided enough hints for Ms. Olsen to peruse cookery books of that era. Using a variety of sources, Ms. Olsen found recipes similar and close to those she thought Jane might have known. Elizabeth Raffald’s and Hannah Glasse’s recipes are consulted, as well as those from John Farley, Martha Bradley, and more. Ms. Olsen provides historical context at the start of her book and with each recipe category. Even if you never try out one of the recipes, you can glean much information for your personal interest or to add authenticity to a novel you are writing.

Turnip_Elizabeth Blackwell

Illustration by Elizabeth Blackwell

Boiled Turnips

This recipe for boiled turnips begins with a quote from Mr Woodhouse in Emma (172)

An historic explanation of the popularization of the turnip follows, with a typical description of a recipe from an 18th century cookery book:

Turnips may be boiled in the pot with the meat, and indeed eat best when so done. When they be enough, take them out, put them in a pan, mash them with butter and a little salt, and in that state send them to the table…

Ms. Olsen then provides the modern recipe for today’ cook, which is extremely useful for those of us who wish to recreate a regency meal for our Jane Austen book clubs.

Modern Recipe for Boiled Turnips

1 lb turnips, 3 T. butter, 1 tsp. salt.

Wash and peel the turnips and trim off the tops an bottom. Cut them into 1″ dice. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add the turnips, boiling them until fork-tender, about 15 minutes. Mash the turnips with the butter and salt and serve immediately. (Olsen, p 216)

For my taste, I would prefer boiling the turnips with the meat, as suggested in the 18th century description, much as I prefer making stuffing inside the turkey over making the stuffing separately in the oven. The bird’s natural fat and juices add much more flavor, don’t you think?

Roast Stubble Goose


Roast Stubble Goose image found on The Historic Foodie blog

Here’s another recipe to celebrate this season and holiday – Roast Stubble Goose. It starts off  with a quotation from Emma, a novel filled with references to food. (Thank you, Jane.)

Mrs. Martin was so very kind as to send Mrs. Goddard a beautiful goose: the finest goose Mrs. Goddard had ever seen. Mrs. Goddard had dressed it on a Sunday, and asked all the three teachers, Miss Nash, and Miss Prince, and Miss Richardson, to sup with her. (Emma 28-29.)

Ms. Olsen tells us that a stubble goose is an older bird that fattened on harvest gleanings. In Jane Austen’s time, it was traditionally served with applesauce.

Elizabeth Raffald’s recipe for Roasted Stubble Goose starts with:

Chop a few sage leaves and two onions very fine; mix them with a good lump of butter, a teaspoonful of pepper and two of salt. Put it in your goose, then spit it and lay it down, singe it well, dust it with flour; when it is thoroughly hot baste it with fresh butter…

In this section of Cooking With Jane Austen (p 121-126), Ms. Olsen offers old and modern recipes for roast stubble goose, roast green goose, goose with mustard, and roast turkey. The book consists of 414 pages, so there are numerous recipes to try.

Other Jane Austen themed food books that I love include: Tea With Jane Austen by Kim Wilson and The Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black and Dierdre le Faye, both still readily available. Also on this blog: 18th Century Cookery Books and the British Housewife and a review of Jane Austen and Food by Maggie Lane.

To all my U.S. readers, have a splendid Thanksgiving holiday. While we are thankful for our lives, family, and friends, please give a special thank you to the animals who were sacrificed to nourish us. They “gave” up their most precious gift – their lives.

chickens and pigeons 18th c.

Chickens and pigeons, 18th c. painting




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Cassandra Austen

Cassandra Austen in old age

Jane Austen’s family was not rich, by any means, but the family was genteel and belonged to the English gentry. Rev. Austen earned a respectable living as a rector at Steventon rectory. His wife, Cassandra, was a close relative of Theophilus Leigh, head master of Balliol College. She was also a relation of the Leighs of Stoneleigh Abbey, a most impressive and well-regarded family.

When handsome Miss Leigh married the very handsome Mr. George Austen, her life became no picnic. After his marriage, Mr. Austen took to farming with a spirit. This meant that while he enjoyed the prestige of becoming a gentleman farmer, Mrs. Austen took over the daily charge of the dairy with a bull and six cows, plus ducks, chicken, guinea-fowl and turkeys, the vegetables that were grown in the garden, the honey used for mead, and the home-made wines.

Steventon Rectory, Images from BBC

Steventon Rectory, Images from BBC

Any surplus allowed the Austen family to sell the produce for a profit. Under Mrs.Austen’s supervision during Jane’s childhood and spinsterhood years, only tea, coffee, chocolate, spices sugar, and other luxury foods were purchased. As James Edward Austen-Leigh wrote in 1870 in his Memoir of Jane Austen,

I am sure that the ladies there [Steventon] had nothing to do with the mysteries of the stew-pot or the preserving pan;but it is probable that their way of life differed a little from ours, and would have appeared to us more homely.”

As with many wives of her station, Mrs. Austen accepted her role as the family’s housekeeper. However, she relied on servants, such as a cook and maid of all work to actually do the “hard” work, such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, and general sewing. While her servants performed the tasks, Mrs. Austen determined the duties of the day, much like a general manager. She met daily with her cook to superintend the meals of the day. There were also a dairy maid and a washer woman, who came once a month. Cassandra Austen’s other important tasks were to train her daughters in the art of overseeing a household.

Susanna Whatman shortly after her marriage

Susanna Whatman shortly after her marriage

Susanna Whatman was a contemporary of Mrs. Austen. Born in 1752, she was married to James Whatman, a papermaker. Shortly after her marriage in 1776, she wrote a housekeeping book to instruct her servants and offer advice about housekeeping duties and domestic life.

The following passage of her advice is of particular interest. Rev. Austen kept an extensive library, much like Mr. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. In this instance, Mrs. Whatman instructs the housemaid to clean the library.

The sun comes into the Library very early. The window on that side of the bow must have the blind let down. The painted chairs must not be knocked against anything, or against one another. A chair must not be placed against the door that goes into Mr. Whatman’s Dressingroom. All the space between the daydo and skirting board is plaister. Therefore, if it is knocked, it will break. The books are not to be meddled with, but they may be dusted as far as a wing of a goose* will go. Nothing put behind the door besides the ladder. Tea leaves* used on the carpet in this room, Drawingroom, and Eating Parlor, and Mrs. Whatman’s Dressingroom, no where else.

*wing of a goose – dusters were made with goose feathers from their wings.

**During the Georgian era, carpets were sprinkled with moist tea leaves and cleaned with a hair broom.

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Gretna Green, or the Red-Hot Marriage

Gretna Green, or the Red-Hot Marriage

Another Elopement–A considerable sensation has been created in Dublin by the disappearance of the lovely daughter of Sir Thomas Butler, of county Carlow, with Captain Gosset, son of the Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant. An attachment had existed between the parties for some time, but the friends of both were averse to the marriage, in consequence, it is said, of “almighty love” being their only patrimony. The lady is one of ten children. (The Court Journal: Gazette of the Fashionable World, No. 319, Windsor, Friday, June 5th, 1835, p 357.)

The short announcement above of the elopement serves as a literary amouse-bouche to a longer elopement tale about a Lord and his housekeeper. Clandestine elopements to Gretna Green created scandalous sensations in England during the Georgian, Regency, and Victorian periods. There was nothing quite like peer pressure to keep the daughters of peers and the rising middle class in line to protect lands, inheritances, and investments. There were enough exceptions to the rule, however, to hold all but the most daring in check when held in love’s hormonal thrall. About 300 marriages were celebrated yearly in that border Scottish town in what were popularly termed “o’er the march” weddings.

Gretna Green

Gretna Green

Traveling to Gretna Green along the Great North Road was no mean feat back then. Today, it takes a little over 5 hours via M40 and M6 to travel the 326 miles from London to the Scottish border town. In 1818, it took an average of four days, with carriages traveling and average of 6 miles an hour. Frequent stops to change tired horses and rest for food. and an overnight stop for a room at an inn added to travel time. Should a virginal heiress spend at least one night on the road, her reputation would be lost, even if she slept in a separate room from her paramour and was chaperoned by her maid.

A close male relative needed to catch up with her before she reached Scotland, for her fortune was at stake. A wealthy bride who married in haste missed out on the careful negotiations made on her behalf before her wedding for her future security. Without those arrangements, she would forever be at the mercy of her husband, for he would have full control of her fortune from the moment they said their “I do’s.” Wickham ran through Lydia’s 10,000 pounds (so generously negotiated by Mr. Darcy) in no time. He could do this with impunity, aided and abetted by a law that gave the husband all the rights and the wife none.

Gretna Green, trois cartes postales illustrées (d’une série de 4) représentant les épisodes d'un mariage à Gretna Green : (Le Départ) ; Moments d'angoisse. Image @Wikimedia Commons

Gretna Green, trois cartes postales illustrées (d’une série de 4) représentant les épisodes d’un mariage à Gretna Green : (Le Départ) ; Moments d’angoisse. Image @Wikimedia Commons

After the Hardwicke Marriage Act of 1753, which tightened the conditions for marriage, fortune hunters and scoundrels, and even amorous gents, trundled their “beloveds” in fast equipages and sped north before their “sweethearts” could come to their senses. Couples could marry in haste in Scotland, where marriage laws were lax. The Scots, bless their hearts, were more than willing to accommodate runaway couples and speed them on their way to marital bliss.

Not all Gretna Green elopements involved heiresses and fortune hunters. Lord Erskine, a baron and a Lord Chancellor, ran off with his housekeeper. Their story is told by Peter Orlando Hutchinson in Chronicles of Gretna Green: in two volumes, Volume 2.

Hutchinson chronicled the joining in 1818 of 66-year-old Lord Erskine to his much younger mistress/housekeeper, Miss Sarah Buck, in a way that conveyed the scandalous nature of the elopement. The amorous couple brought along their two bastard children, for once the parents were wed in Scotland, the children would be legitimized. One can only imagine what Erskine’s eight legitimate children must have thought of this misadventure when they discovered that their papa had run off with one of the servants. Erskine headed straight towards the village of Springfield, successfully eluding his pursuing son, Thomas, until it was too late.

Those peregrinators who enter into the village of Springfield, in the parish of Gretna in the county of Dumfries, in that part of Great Britain denominated Scotland, would do well to draw their handkerchiefs from their pockets, and give free vent to their feelings when they contemplate that especial hostelrie yelped “The King’s Head.”

The King’s Head Inn stands in the midst of the village of Springfield…This hostelrie is a glorious ruin; we say ruin, because forsooth. since the alteration of the road the tide of passengers and the channel of business have been turned aside into another course, and hence the prosperity of former days has dwindled away to a lamentable extent.

King's Head In external appearance the edifice is ordinary and humble; — no lawn or parterre in front; no flowers and sweet smelling shrubs no long carriage drive from the lodge up to the steps, for it stands flush with the street; no grounds; no sentimental walks; no trees to hang on. It forms the coin or angle of two streets; it is entered from the principal one by a door in the centre of the facade; there is a sash window on each side of the door, whilst three similar windows appear in the story above, ranged equidistant; the roof is of slate, but the heart sinks when the eye surveys it, for with tears be it recorded, the said roof is but sparingly adorned with chimneys. Hence, in passing through Springfield, no pictures of profuse hospitality arise in the imagination of the peregrinator; no visions of good cheer, or pleasant fellowship, and no bright ideas of rich entertainment gladden his spirit.

Lord Erskine’s Marriage

Lord Erskine

“Visitors to this shrine have somewhat liberally amused themselves with writing, by means of certain diamond rings, their names or those of their friends, mottoes, apophthegms, and amatory verses. On one of the panes of the window in the apartment over the kitchen appears the name and title of a noble baron of these realms, now no more…” (Hutchinson found it doubtful that Erskine scratched his name on the window pane, for no noble baron would have added the prefix of “Lord.”)

Thomas Erskine, Baron Erskine of Restormel, in the county of Cornwall in England, was born into this wicked world in the year 1750…He fixed on the study of the law…and in due course he became eminent.

At the age of twenty, videlicet, in 1770, he wedded the amiable and accomplished Miss Moore; he became a widower in 1805, she being the mother of several [8] children his offspring.

An acute man, a first-rate lawyer, an ingenious arguer, a specious reasoner, and an orator that claimed the willing attention of his hearers, he at last rose to the exalted and honourable office of Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain.

Alas and well-way! there is no stability in human nature, no reliance, no confidence, no trust. Oh what a fall was here!–honour, respect, high place, dignity–all, all, came rushing down to the dust.

If it be the historian’s greatest delight to record mighty and noble achievements, so, also, it must be his greatest affliction to tell of weaknesses and acts unwise that the heroes of his pages may have perpetrated.

[He] married his housekeeper–ye powers!–but hush!–hold your tongue.

The manner of it was this to wit,–hush, hush!–cannot it be evaded? Evaded? how? Shall the just and impartial chronicler record what he likes and omit all that he chooses to omit? There is no help.

Coloring the events with highly emotional language, Hutchinson described the ceremony in the downstairs parlor of the King’s Head as an execution, no pun intended. At this point, the he backtracks his tale and describes the couple’s journey from London to Scotland. “–hush! do hold your tongue.”

We are told by such rare chronicles as have made especial note of this matter, and eke by such contemporaries as are now living and remember it, the noble baron laid aside his honours, and became a plain man by assuming an alias–even that of “Mr. Thomas,” and that name, indeed, was returned to those who inquired whose carriage stopped the way.

Mr. Thomas passed unknown for a space; but deception will endure only for a season, and the will eventually prevail. So it was here Mr Thomas’s doublet was soon peered through, and the Lord Erskine was perceived withinside.

It even got about, through the horribly libellous exertions of the gossips of the day, that he travelled in woman’s attire for the purpose of preserving a more certain incog…We pray you to abjure all credence in this assertion; to eschew harbouring it in any wise; and to abhor the mention of it…

Such a scandalous report arose after this fashion,–namely, as my Lord journeyed in the vehicle, together with Mistress Sarah Buck, the lady of his especial election, and the two little pledges of his dearest affection; he did in fatherly love, and that he might beguile the way, and amuse these, the said little pledges, facetiously put upon his own head the bonnet of the herein-before-mentioned Mistress Sarah Buck. Now this is the historical relation of the fact the clearing up the mystery and the expungement of all slur and detraction.

Gretna Green, trois cartes postales illustrées (d’une série de 4) représentant les épisodes d'un mariage à Gretna Green

Gretna Green, trois cartes postales illustrées (d’une série de 4) représentant les épisodes d’un mariage à Gretna Green

They sped on their journey at a fair pace and…Arrived at Springfield by the old road–for neither the present new one nor Gretna Hall were in existence–they repaired to the King’s Head hostel, and in that hostel, to the parlour or sitting-room on the right hand of the door at entering. Here they…”married in haste:” and let us add also… they shortly afterwards” repented at leisure,” but with that we have nothing to do.

Hutchinson describes how Lord Erskine alighted from the carriage wearing an ample traveling cloak, which he wore inside the King’s Head. “It was gathered round his neck by a collar; and by flowing in long folds down to the ground, it served well to cover his whole person. Under this he took his children during the ceremony, in order, as I was told, that they should become his heirs.” A contemporary announcement of the marriage stated, “His Lordship formally signed certificates on the spot to give his children the advantage of the conduct pursued.”

Lord Erskine's marriage

The inscription on the plaque is thought to refer to the elderly Lord Erskine, who eloped to Gretna Green with his young housekeeper, Sarah (sometimes referred to as Mary) Buck. Stafordshire Figures: 1780-1840

According to Hutchinson, the marriage was not to last and Lord Erskine would soon ask for a divorce. While Hutchinson did not tell us why his lordship wished to divorce his lady, he shared the horrified reaction of Dame Beattie upon hearing the news: “Alas the inconstancy of man, the shallowness of his judgment, the instability of his resolution, and the insecurity of his love.”

Alas, yes, but this did not change the fact that the deed had been done…and undone.

Other tales of Erskine’s elopement provide vastly different accounts, despite Hutchinson’s protestations. According to the website for Gretna Green, Lord Erskine was married at the “Queen’s” Head Inn to his housekeeper. He was indeed disguised as a woman and wore the outfit until the “priest” arrived. Only then did he change out of female clothes in order to be married in male attire. The children were instead covered by Miss Buck’s cloak during the ceremony.

Erskine’s legitimate son, Thomas, arrived too late from London to stop the marriage. An argument with his new step-mama ensued, the details of which entertained the village for some time.

Upon Erskine’s death at 75, he left Sarah with very little money and a few more children to look after. One presumes that, as with most British estates, Erskine’s will left his lands and moneys largely intact, to be inherited by his eldest son.

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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 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.


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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The Royal Kitchens at Kew were opened in May 2012 to visitors for the first time in over 200 years. They were virtually untouched since the mid-1700s, during the era of King George III. This introductory video, The Royal Kitchens at Kew: a food history, provides a brief overview of the kitchen in 1788-1789, showing all the features of a typical Georgian kitchen:

The following video helps you step back in time to 6 February 1789 when George III was given his knife and fork back after his first bout of ‘madness’. Using similar cooking utensils as the Georgians, working in a Georgian kitchen, and making the soupe from an 18th century recipe, the chef hopes to recreate food that has the look and taste of cuisine 200 years ago. During this period, soup was often served by the male head of the household. We can easily imagine Rev. Austen or Mr. Bennet performing this office.

Mutton was a staple back in the Georgian era. This video demonstrates how one can make Mutton smoured in a frying panne. I am struck by how easy the ingredients are to come by today. I would love a charcoal stove like the one depicted, but would be afraid to burn my house down!

This video demonstrates the making of a rich chocolate custard tart. During this age, chocolate was used as a drink. Chocolate bars would not be “invented” until the 19th century. I love the chef’s messy style – it reminds me of my own cooking.

The kitchen is closed for the winter and is set to reopen March 29, 2014. To print the Georgian recipes in PDF format, click here.

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13 vignettes 1790 rowlandson

Image, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2013

I love this 1790 hand-colored etching by Thomas Rowlandson from the Royal Collection Trust, which depicts 12 vignettes of everyday life and work in Georgian England. Sketches like these offer us a glimpse of ordinary life in the 18th century, much as photos and videos today. These vignettes are drawn from life, and unlike the serious, well-thought out poses of formal portraits, they show people of a bygone era going about their ordinary business.

In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen wrote of the militia visiting Meryton and Brighton. In her day, soldiers were encamped throughout Great Britain, ready to go to war at a moment’s notice or defend the homeland from invasions. Mrs. Bennet, Lydia, and Kitty were enamored with the smart bright uniforms of officers, who they regarded as quite the catch. The men passing through town provided new faces as well as relief from the routine of village life, for village folk (most of whom rarely traveled beyond the confines of their counties) moved in small and familiar social circles, for better or worse. (Mrs. Elton, anyone?)

new recruits

A soldier assessing new recruits for the army

The well-fed officer above assesses new recruits, who are obviously not officer material. One imagines that their lives in the army will not be as cushy as Captain Denny’s or Mr. Wickham’s, and that they would perform the most plebeian tasks.

A woman driving a phaeton

A woman driving a phaeton

High perch phaetons were the race cars of their day and a status of wealth. It is obvious that this woman is a skilled driver, but her escort remains close at hand to ensure her safety.


Detail of the driver with her mannish driving habit, which was created by a tailor, not a seamstress.

Increasingly throughout this century, women were allowed to marry for love, but ensuring one’s future as a wife could be a risky business. What if she married for love and her husband turned out to be a ne’er-do-well, barely able to support his family, as with Fanny Price’s father? Aristocratic women had no choice but to follow family dictates in order maintain the family’s status or improve their fortune. Other families sought to move up social ranks through their daughter’s mate. One wonders  in the image below if the young woman is married to her escort … or if she is simply taking a stroll with her father or uncle? We can only guess.

Couple walking. Father and daughter? Or old man with his young bride?

Couple walking. Father and daughter? Or old man with his young bride?

The trio below seems to be promenading along a street (or park). The women look chic in their walking outfits, the younger one wearing a hat with feathers and carrying a fan; the older woman, no doubt, making sure that her charge’s reputation remains spotless. Jane Austen began writing Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice at the end of the 18th century, when these garments were fashionable. It’s one of the many reasons why we glimpse such a variety of costumes in various Austen film adaptations. In creating movie costumes, some costume designers choose the era in which Austen wrote the first drafts of those early novels; others choose to dress their actresses in the filmy empire gowns that were popular when the books were published.


A solder escorting two women. Is the older woman on the right the mother of the younger woman he is courting, or her governess?

Taking tea was not as formalized a ceremony at the end of the 18th century as it would become later during the 19th century. Tea was quite an expensive commodity, kept under lock and key by the mistress of the house. At Chawton Cottage, Jane was in charge of the tea chest and making tea in the morning. Servants often brewed tea from leaves that had been used by their betters, thereby imbibing a much weaker beverage.

A tea party

A tea party

In this group, the hostess at right dispenses the tea one guest at a time, which her footman delivers to each in turn, with the ladies having been served first. It is an afternoon tea, for the ladies are not dressed for the evening. Mrs and Miss Bates would have been often invited to tea to Hartfield, but rarely to dine, a privilege reserved for more exalted guests, like Mr. Knightley. This was just the way of the world.

An equestrienne about to go on a ride

An equestrian about to go on a ride

It is hard to tell if this young woman is about to ride in Hyde Park or in the country. For both instances, she is suitably dressed.

Sewing, woman's work

An industrious woman sewing

One can only imagine how boring the daily routine was for the average Georgian woman, whose life was constrained by society’s strictures and who was not allowed to “work” for a living. Woman’s work consisted of sewing, overseeing the kitchens, or, as in Mrs. Austen’s case, actively taking a part in cooking, and making wines and preserves. While many ladies of the house did not sully their hands in the kitchen, they actively collected recipes, which they passed down to their cooks. On an interesting note, while tailors made men’s clothes, they did not sew the shirts. This task was left to the women, who hand-stitched shirts for their men and made clothing for their babies and the poor.  Jane and Cassandra Austen often made shirts for their brothers, a fact mentioned in letters.

A well-dressed couple

Flirtation: A well-dressed man peers at a woman through his eye-glass. She is without an escort and seems to encourage his perusal.

The image above causes me to believe that the woman being ogled may not be entirely suitable for polite company, or she may well be a widow who cares not a fig about her reputation. Her companion is openly eyeing her through his eye glass. To be sure, they might well be standing in the Pump Room in Bath, where they would be surrounded by a crowd of people. Can you imagine Lizzy Bennet holding still under such scrutiny? Methinks not.

A musical interlude

A musical interlude with two ladies.

Entertainment was left to professional performers, many of whom roamed from town to town, and to talented family members. One can imagine how quiet and uneventful life in the country must have been! Had Emma liked Jane Fairfax, this scene could have shown Jane playing the pianoforte as Emma sang. Women in general contributed much to a family’s entertainment.  Jane Austen wrote comedic plays in her younger years (and made up fanciful stories for her nieces and nephews as a spinster), and her mother wrote poetry. Lady Catherine de Bourgh would have been a proficient if she had ever bothered to apply herself to the pianoforte (Hah!). Modest Elizabeth Bennet considered her musical skills merely pedestrian, although Mr. Darcy was charmed by her efforts. Marianne Dashwood probably found an outlet for her passions while at the pianoforte. Austen characterized her heroines by their talents. Instead of energetically joining the family during impromptu dances, mousy Anne Elliot made herself useful at the instrument. Mary Crawford’s extraordinary talents with the harp made Edmund Bertram fall even more in love with her, whereas poor Mary Bennet committed one social faux pas after another by failing to understand that her musical talents were painful to witness.

An outing

An outing in the country

Emma’s planned outing to Box Hill was no doubt accompanied by servants, who carried the food, plates, and cutlery and laid out the repast for the party. In this scene, it seems that the soldiers performed the offices of serving the food to the ladies. Except for the boatman, I can find no evidence of servants, unless they are assembled inside the tent, which makes no sense. One soldier plays the flute to his companion, another couple promenades as they talk. A group sits on a blanket, finishing their repast and drinking wine or ale.


Detail of the tent, inside and out

A dog sleeps peacefully among the assembly and a female guest rests while leaning against the tent. Inside, a man sits at a table. It must have taken some effort to transport all that food and equipment, and I wonder if this was done via the boat and river earlier in the day as the rest of the party walked from the country house (visible in the background) to the picnic site. One thing is for certain, Rowlandson’s contemporaries would have known first-hand how such a picnic was contrived.


Detail of the riverside, with a country house in the background.

A foppish gentleman in the image below examines a bill, while the inn keeper (?) looks on and a servant carries his case. This image must have been duplicated at many roadside inns and coach houses, and would not be unusual today. This scene was labeled “exchanging” money, which explains the merchant’s/innkeeper’s outstretched hand.

Arrival at an inn, or examining his accounts?

Arrival at an inn, or examining his accounts?

The man below is peering through a telescope at … what? A balloon ascent? Birds? A boat on the horizon? Curious minds want to know.

Bird watching or gazing at ships along the sea shore?

Bird watching or gazing at ships along the seashore?

The last scene depicts vendors selling their wares, either from a stall, from containers on the pavement, or from baskets attached to donkeys. A variety of shoppers, some better dressed than others, are shown examining goods or purchasing items.

Market scene

Street vendors

Our moderns sensibilities are struck by the unhygienic way that food was sold by street vendors back then. There were no disposable plates, so one can only assume that used plates and cups were merely wiped with a wet cloth before food was ladled out to serve another diner. Many individuals lived in small one or two room “apartments” that had no kitchens. For them, eating street food was common … if they had the money.

Street food

Street food


Detail of vendors with donkeys

Items of clothing seem to be sold in the stall, while bulk food (potatoes, grain?) is carried by the donkeys. When the Austen family moved from Steventon to Bath, their diets changed drastically, for they had to depend on food purchased at local markets. They had grown their own vegetables in the country, and owned a cow and a few chickens and pigs. In Steventon, the Austen family could largely eat off the bounty of their land, stretching their budget, but in Bath they depended on food carted in from surrounding farms and milk from anemic city cows who lived in dank stalls and were put out to pasture in public parks. Purchased food was often doctored, and it was almost impossible to eat fresh seafood, unless one lived near the coast. For many reasons, including the matter of finding fresh and affordable food, Jane Austen must have been in shock the entire time she lived in Bath.

More about the image:

Creator: Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827) (etcher)
Creation Date:
27 Jun 1790
Hand-coloured etching
38.5 x 28.0 cm

A hand-coloured print with 12 vignettes of everyday life and work. Included in the designs are: Assessing new recruits for the army; carriage driving; promenading; a tea party; horse-riding; a woman with needlework; flirtation; a woman playing the harpsichord whilst another woman sings; a picnic by a river; a man looking through a telescope; an exchange of money between one man and another man and street vendors. Plate 7.

Inscribed in the plate: Pub June 27 1790 by S.W. Fores N 3 Piccadilly. Click here to go to The Royal Collection.

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