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Archive for the ‘Regency Customs’ Category

Inquiring readers, I once enjoyed afternoon tea in Fortnum and Mason’s in London. It was an exquisite, elaborate, and unforgettable experience. It was so elegant that I thought of it as high tea, but its presentation and intent had nothing in common with high tea in Jane Austen’s day, or in our present time. This post is meant to complement Rachel Dodge’s excellent post entitled “Jane Austen’s Regency Women: A Day in the Life , Part 1.” 

Afternoon tea:

The tradition of tea in the afternoon as we understand it began in 1840 with the Duchess of Bedford (1783-1857). She requested light food with tea and a few refreshments in mid-afternoon to stave off hunger pangs before dinner, which was served at 8 p.m. The Duchess soon began to invite friends to her rooms to join her in taking tea, and so a tradition began. This custom, which we celebrate to this day, began years after Jane Austen’s death in 1817.

High tea:

High tea was generally known as dinner or supper by the working classes.

For workers in the newly industrialized Britain, tea time had to wait until after work. By that hour, tea was generally served with heartier dishes which were substantially more than just tea and cakes. Workers needed sustenance after a day of hard labor, so the after-work meal was more often hot and filling and accompanied by a pot of good, strong tea to revive flagging spirits.”- Lemm

It seems that the term ‘high tea’ had more in common with furniture than a lofty service.

“Today, the evening meal in working-class households is still often called “tea” but as working patterns have changed yet again, many households now refer to the evening meal as supper. The addition of the word “high” to the phrase “high tea” is believed to differentiate between the afternoon tea that is traditionally served on low, comfortable parlor chairs or relaxing in the garden and the worker’s after-work high tea that is served at the table and seated on high back dining chairs.” – Lemm

Afternoon tea was therefor served on comfortable chairs in a drawing room or lady’s sitting room, or as a refreshment in the garden.

“Afternoon tea, also known as “low tea,” is the most often taken a a low table, like a coffee table in the sitting room before a warm fire. (Of course, it can also be served at a dining table.) High tea gets its name from its tendency to be served at a high table, like a dining table or high counter at the end of the workday.” – Brown

Breakfast:

Jane Austen was in charge of her family’s tea and sugar stores. She made her family’s breakfast at 9 a.m. The simple repast consisted of toast, rolls, or muffins and butter. Jane toasted the bread over a fire using a long handled fork or a metal rack that held the bread in place.

The typical ‘tea and toast’ breakfast that Jane Austen enjoyed was a relatively new invention. Traditionally, British breakfasts had consisted of hearty fare that often included beef and ale.” – Wilson, p. 21

Evening tea:

Tea was also served one or two hours after dinner. The time was variable, because people during the Regency era ate dinner at different times. Some ate early in the afternoon, as Jane Austen’s parents did when they were younger; some at 3 p.m., like the Bennets in Pride and Prejudice; the Bingleys dined at the more fashionable hour of 6 p.m.; and the Duchess of Bedford, a trendsetter, dined at 8 p.m. Kim Wilson quotes Captain Harry Smith in 1814 as saying, “I breakfast at eight, dine at three, have tea in the evening…” People who did not follow the latest fashion in dining kept the earlier dinner hours they and their families had always adhered to.

Confusing the issue further is that people of the time referred to all hours before dinner as ‘morning’, and the period between dinner and teas as ‘afternoon’, even if it fell in what we now call the evening. To them, ‘evening’ started after tea.” – Wilson, p. 91

In the evening after dinner, the assembled guests returned to the drawing-room. Tea was made by the ladies of the house to prevent servants from taking portions this expensive commodity for their own use. After tea, “…when the tea-things were removed, and the card-tables placed” (Pride and Prejudice) the diners would play games, such as riddles or charades or read to each other, and partake of other pleasures. In Hartfield, “Mr. and Mrs. Weston and Mr. Elton sat down with Mr. Woodhouse to cards.”- (Emma)

Tea was also provided at balls, when suppers were served at midnight, in private alcoves in pleasure gardens, on visits when“Mr. Woodhouse was soon ready for his tea; and when he had drank his tea he was quite ready to go home” (Emma), and at musicales —”The first act was over. Now she hoped for some beneficial change; and, after a period of nothing-saying amongst the party, some of them did decide on going in quest of tea” (Persuasion).

A lady at a public assembly ball was dependent on a gentleman to escort her to the tea-room.

At a grand ball in Bath, Catherine Moreland of Northanger Abbey, and her friend Mrs. Allen, feel awkward and out of place until “they received an offer of tea from one of their neighbors; it was thankfully accepted, and this introduced a light conversation with the gentleman who offered it…”-Martyris

So many unanswered questions remain about tea taking in the Regency era, especially among the working classes. This post does not begin to address them or pretend to. Tea was so universal during this age, that anyone who could afford it (or smuggle it in) drank it, including Emma’s Mrs. Bates, who was “almost past every thing but tea and quadrille.

Sources:

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Happy 2020 everyone.  In the spirit of learning more about Jane Austen and the world she lived in, I am determined to finish reading the 12 books highlighted in this post. I purchased most of these books years ago and have used many for reference. Alas, I finished none completely. By the end of 2020, I will have read them all.

Like many of you, my rooms are filled with stacks of books on the floor, by my bedside, and in piles on tables. I purchase more than I can read.

What are your resolutions regarding your reading goals? Do you own any of the books listed below? Have I piqued your interested in purchasing a few? Inquiring minds want to know.

Book covers of Eavesdropping on Jane Austen's England; Jane Austen's Country Life; Jane Austen at Home; and The Real Jane Austen.

Four books that help readers understand the world Jane Austen lived in.

  • Eavesdropping on Jane Austen’s England: How Our Ancestors lived Two Centuries Ago, Roy and Leslie Adkins, Abacus, 2001, 422 pages, ISBN: 978-0-349-13860-2, Amazon. Product Information: A survey and guide to daily life in Jane Austen’s England.
  • Jane Austen’s Country Life: Uncovering the rural backdrop to her life, her letters and her novels, Deirdre Le Faye, Francis Lincoln Limited Publishers, London, 2014, 269 pages, ISBN: 978-0-7112-3158-0, Amazon. Product information: “Richly illustrated with contemporary depictions of country folk, landscapes and animals, Jane Austen’s Country Lifeconjures up a world which has vanished more than the familiar regency townscapes of Bath or London, but which is no less important to an understanding of this most treasured writer’s life and work.”
  • Jane Austen at Home: A Biography, Lucy Worsley, Martin’s Press, New York, 2017, 385 pages, ISBN: 978-1-250-13160-7, Amazon. Product Information: “…historian Lucy Worsley visits Austen’s childhood home, her schools, her holiday accommodations, the houses–both grand and small–of the relations upon whom she was dependent, and the home she shared with her mother and sister towards the end of her life.
  • The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things, Paula Byrne, Harper Collins, New York, 2013, 380 pages, ISBN: 978-0-06-199909-3, Amazon. Product Information: “Just as letters and tokens in Jane Austen’s novels often signal key turning points in the narrative, Byrne explores the small things – a scrap of paper, a gold chain, an ivory miniature – that held significance in Austen’s personal and creative life.”

Book covers of Reading Austen in America; Jane Austen, the Secret Radical; and Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity

The three books discuss the factors that influenced Jane Austen’s writing and understanding of her world, and how and why her fame spread.

  • Reading Austen in America, Juliette Wells, Bloomsbury Academic, 2017, 256 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1350012042, Amazon. Product Information: “Reading Austen in America presents a colorful, compelling account of how an appreciative audience for Austen’s novels originated and developed in America, and how American readers contributed to the rise of Austen’s international fame.”
  • Jane Austen, the Secret Radical, Helena Kelly, First Vintage Book Edition, Alfred A. Knopf, 2016, 318 pages, ISBN:978-0-525-43294-4, Amazon. Product Information: “Kelly illuminates the radical subjects–slavery, poverty, feminism, the Church, evolution, among them–considered treasonous at the time, that Austen deftly explored in the six novels that have come to embody an age. The author reveals just how in the novels we find the real Jane Austen: a clever, clear-sighted woman “of information,” fully aware of what was going on in the world and sure about what she thought of it.”
  • Matters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity, Janine Barchas, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2012, 336 pages, ISBN: 9781421411910, JHUPbooks. Product Information: “InMatters of Fact in Jane Austen: History, Location, and Celebrity, Janine Barchas makes the bold assertion that Jane Austen’s novels allude to actual high-profile politicians and contemporary celebrities as well as to famous historical figures and landed estates. Barchas is the first scholar to conduct extensive research into the names and locations in Austen’s fiction by taking full advantage of the explosion of archival materials now available onlin”

Three book covers of Madams: Bawds & Brothel-Keepers of London; Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling; Bitch in a Bonnet: Reclaiming Jane Austen from the stiff, the snobs, the simps and the saps.

The Regency era wasn’t all civility and manners. Georgian London boasted over 50,000 prostitutes and young heirs won and lost fortunes gambling. Austen’s wit, as evidenced in her letters, novels, and Juvenilia, could be biting, as Robert Rodi points out in his analysis of her novels.

  • Madams: Bawds & Brothel-Keepers of London, Fergus Linnane, The History Press, 2009, 256 pages, ISBN-13: 978-0750933070, Amazon. Product Information: “Fergus Linnane reveals the other side of London’s years of pomp and splendor, painting a vivid picture of the bawds, their girls, and their clients. Madamsis fresh and original, offering humor, insight, and a very candid view of the sexual behavior of Londoners through the ages.”
  • Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling, David G. Schwartz, Gotham Books, Penguin Group, New York, 2006, 570 pages, Amazon, ISBN 1-592-40208-9. Product Information: “Gambling is the second oldest profession. Dice were found in the tombs of the ancients. Roman soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ garments at the foot of the cross. Gambling, it seems, has had a role in virtually every civilization, from the earliest of times. It is sometimes important to be reminded of this reality. Roll the Bones: The History of Gamblingdoes just that.”-William R. Eadington, University of Nevada.
  • Bitch in a Bonnet: reclaiming Jane Austen from the stiffs, the snobs, the simps and the saps. (Volume 2: Emma, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion), Robert Rodi, Creative Space Independent Publishing Platform, 2014, 526 pages, ISBN-13: 978-1499133769, Amazon. Product Information: I bought this book because I loved, loved, loved Rodi’s bitingly sharp, often satiric male take on Jane Austen’s novels in Bitch in a Bonnet, (Volume 1), which covers Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Mansfield Park. The reviews are mixed for Volume 2– some people think Rodi is off on Northanger Abbey, but even a Rodi book a little off its feed is better than 90% of critical essays about and analysis of Austen’s great novels. I can’t wait to read Volume 2. – Vic

Covers of Brighton and An Introduction to Regency Architecture.

A day well spent is a day perusing used book sales and digging up fantastic finds, like these two early 20th century books, which are hard to find in their original editions. A Brighton edition sells online for $150 U.S., but ABE books offers a single second edition for $26.78. Shipping to the U.S. costs another $24.68, bringing the total cost over $50 U.S. My book was published in 1948 and contains a smattering of black and white photographs.

  • Brighton, Osbert Sitwell & Margaret Barton, 2nd edition, 1938, Published by Faber, London, 1959, 294 pages. Hardcover edition, very good, clean and tight. Jacket has loss to the rear. ABE books.

 

Paul Reilly’s Introduction to Regency Architecture has been republished by Forgotten Books, which offers a treasure trove of books now out of print as downloadable PDFs, ebooks, or print purchase, such as Georgian England, 1714-1820 by Susan Cunnington. My heavily illustrated hardcover book shows no date of publication, but according to the inside jacket it originally cost $2.50. Lucky me purchased it at a library sale for $1.50.

  • Introduction to Regency Architecture (Classic Preprint), Paul Reilly, Forgotten Books, 2018, 100 pages, ISBN-13: 978-13330278703. Product Information: With this book, author Paul Reilly had two ends in view. The first is to introduce the ever fewer examples of Regency buildings while they still exist. The second is to explain the historical role of Regency architecture, to show in what way it was a true descendant of the 18th century and in what way it broke new ground.”

Image of the title page of An Introduction to Regency Architecture

Treasures of old books can be found anywhere. I hope to uncover more during 2020.


Other sources for finding books:

 

 

 

 

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Detail of sprigs of ivy in window, Bowles and Carver print, London. Circa 1775

Sprigs of ivy in window panes and a bough of mistletoe overhead. Detail of a Bowles and Carver print, London. Circa 1775

On Christmas Eve the children laid out the traditional holly branches on the window ledges…” Jane Austen: A Life, Claire Tomalin, p. 4.

Christmas decorations during the Regency era were relatively simple compared to today’s standards, or even Victorian standards, when Christmas trees and wrapped packages made major appearances in common households.

Evergreen plants that bore fruit in the winter season, such as holly, mistletoe, rosemary, bay, laurel, box, yew, and fir have been popular British holiday decorations for centuries. Their meaning as symbols of everlasting life is derived from pagan days (Sciencing). It is uncertain when these evergreens began to be used as Christmas decorations, but carols mentioning the holly and ivy appeared before the 15th century. In addition to the holly and ivy, this early 17th century carol describes Christmas customs that are still popular.

[A Christmas Carol, by George Wither. From his “Juvenilia,” first printed in 1622.]

So, now is come our joyfulst feast;
Let every man be jolly;
Each room with ivy leaves is drest,
And every post with holly.
Though some churls at our mirth repine,
Round your foreheads garlands twine;
‘Drown sorrow in a cup of wine,
And let us all be merry.
Now, all our neighbours’ chimnies smoke,
And Christmas blocks are burning;
Their ovens they with bak’d meats choke,
And all their spits are turning.
Without the door let sorrow lye;
And if for cold it hap to die,
We’ll bury’t in a Christmas pie,
And ever more be merry.

 

In Susan Drury’s 1985 study of  “Customs and Beliefs Associated with Christmas Evergreens: A Preliminary Survey,” the tradition of putting up and taking down evergreen Christmas decorations varied across England. Observing the superstitions of a particular region (and the strict rules for their length of stay), decorations were put up on either Christmas Eve or on Christmas day.  Some regions dictated that decorations be taken down on Twelfth Night, or the 12th day of Christmas, while others recorded that they should remain up until Candlemas Eve on February 2, or the 40th day of Christmas. To make matters more complicated, the manner of disposing the evergreens differed according to local superstitions. “In Cornwall, as probably in Devon, evergreens would appear to have been hung on Christmas Eve… On Twelfth Day every piece of evergreen had to be removed, because it was believed that for every leaf left a ghost would be seen in the house in the ensuing year.”

 

We all know of Jane Austen’s years in Bath, Somerset. Drury mentions that in this region no holly or mistletoe “was to be hung up before Christmas eve,” which gives us an idea of when the Austen’s purchased evergreens (for they were now city dwellers) to festoon their house. Drury’s passage for Somerset is somewhat confusing in the disposal of evergreens, for she jumps from Somerset to South Somerset to the customs of local churches, which all differ. She writes that “The importance of Christmas evergreen decorations in England is shown by the strict rules regarding their length of stay and the care taken in disposing of them when they were removed from the walls, a process which varies between and often within each county.”

In closing, Robert Herrick describes the best time of the year for the disposal of a variety evergreens throughout the calendar year in this poem…

CEREMONIES FOR CANDLEMAS EVE

Down with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the misletoe;
Instead of holly, now up-raise
The greener box, for show.

The holly hitherto did sway;
Let box now domineer,
Until the dancing Easter-day,
Or Easter’s eve appear.

Then youthful box, which now hath grace
Your houses to renew,
Grown old, surrender must his place
Unto the crisped yew.

When yew is out, then birch comes in,
And many flowers beside,
Both of a fresh and fragrant kin,
To honour Whitsuntide.

Green rushes then, and sweetest bents,
With cooler oaken boughs,
Come in for comely ornaments,
To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift; each thing his turn does hold;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.

Sources:

Tomalin, Claire, 1999. Jane Austen: A Life. New York, Random House, First Vintage Books Edition.

Specimens of Old Christmas Carols: Selected from Manuscripts and Printed Books, Volume 4, London: Printed for the Percy Society. By T. Richards, for the Executors of the late C. Richards, 100, St. Martin’s Lane. 1841.
 

Customs and Beliefs Associated with Christmas Evergreens: A Preliminary Survey, Susan Dury. Folklore, Vol. 98, No.2 (1987), pp. 194-199. Published by Taylor & Francis, Ltd. on behalf of Folklore Enterprises, Ltd. Accessed 09-12-2018 at https://ww.jstor.org/stable/1259980

“Ceremony Upon Candlemas Eve,” Hesperides, or, The works both humane & divine of Robert Herrick, Esq.  London: Printed for John Williams and Francis Eglesfield, 1648.

Christmas in Prints, Michael Olmert, 2008, Colonial Williamsburg

Other Christmas Posts on this Blog:

Click on this link for posts related to the topic

Another Interesting Blog Post About Christmas

But Surely Christmas in England Didn’t Exist Until Dickens Invented It? Austenonly

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The History of Goody Little Two Shoes was one of the moral lesson books that Jane Austen owned as a child. These seem to have been popular in the Georgian era. Another book with moral lessons came out two years after her death. Entitled The Accidents of Youth, its tales were meant to warn children of risky behaviors and improve their moral conduct. The tales would have been scary enough to make me think twice as a child. I love the Internet Archive, which allows you to read the books virtually intact, with illustrations and original font type. The only thing you can’t do is hold the book or feel the thickness of the pages.

Fronticepiece of The Accidents of Youth, 1819

Fronticepiece of The Accidents of Youth, 1819

accidents of youth2

accidents of youth3

Interestingly, these accidents beset children today, especially those left to their own devices in the countryside.

accidents of youth4

One young man aims at a bird with a slingshot and kills his mother, a horrific tale. Another’s hair is set on fire by a candle.

accidents of youth5

Kitchen accidents were quite common. After death from childbirth, kitchen fires killed more women than other accidents combined. In these stories children are warned of the dangers of hot kettles and catching one’s clothes on fire from coming too close to a fireplace. In the first image, a cast iron pot, hanging directly over the fire on an iron hook tips over, burning the child. Billowing skirts caught fire in fireplaces, as the second image attests.

accidents of youth6The final image in this post shows the danger of a broken glass window and a young boy falling from furniture that he had rearranged at play. Another, earlier book entitled The Blossoms of Morality and published in 1806, concentrates on the instruction of young ladies and gentlemen”. The stories include “Juvenile tyranny conquered” and “The melancholy effects of pride”.  One can imagine that, after reading Fordyce’s Sermons to his young children, Mr. Collins would have picked up these books to read to his children.

I wonder how long the concentration of today’s youth would have lasted when listening to these morality tales. One nanosecond? I think not.

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Fabulous Dr. Lucy Worsley discusses the Regency Era in these videos. Wonderful.

The Rush Journals

Below are links to a BBC documentary called “ELEGANCE AND DECADENCE – The Age of the Regency”. The documentary is hosted by historian Dr. Lucy Worsley, author of the 2011 book, “If Walls Could Talk, An Intimate History of the Home”.

“ELEGANCE AND DECADENCE – The Age of the Regency”

Here are the links to the documentary hosted by Dr. Worsley:

Part 1 – “Warts and All – Portrait of a Prince”

Part 2 – “Developing the Regency Brand”

Part 3 – “The Many and the Few – A Divided Decade”

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The week of Christmas and the new year has been traditionally a time for joy and celebration. In Jane Austen’s day, the decorations and celebrations weren’t quite so over-the-top commercial as they are today. Mistletoe, holly, and evergreen boughs decorated the halls, while roaring fires warmed hearth and home. Fine foods were prepared for friends and family at holiday gatherings, and gift giving was considered optional and not mandatory.

Cruikshank image. Holiday dinner party. Image @LIFE magazine.

Cruikshank image. Holiday dinner party. Image @LIFE magazine.

In her letters, Jane mentioned making wine. She was also  known to imbibe a glass or two, as did many Regency ladies. One can imagine that she heartily enjoyed a glass of homemade wine during long winter evenings. A Regency household in the country was akin to a cottage factory, processing freshly picked fruits and vegetables in summer and fall for consumption during the winter months.

Elderberry bushes, native to both Europe (Sambucus nigra)  and North America (Sambucus canadensis), ripened in August and September. The American elderberry can be found growing in old fields and meadows. The European elderberry blooms earlier than its American counterpart, with some sporting pink flowers. By Christmas, the first flasks of elderberry wine could be served at the table.  Some elder wines (depending on their strength) were ripened until spring. (Edible Landscaping)

Elderberry wine has a rich red color.

Elderberry wine has a rich red color.

Mrs. Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell’s elder wine recipe, written over two hundred years ago, reflects how housewives made the wine back then, using ingredients and kitchen supplies that were readily available. In 1806, John Murray (who published Emma, a second edition of Mansfield Park, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey)  published  A New System of Domestic Cookery: Founded up Principles of Economy; and Adapted to the Use of Private Families. Rundell’s cookbook became wildly popular in the first half of the 19th century in both England and America. One imagines that the Austen women were well aware of its existence.

Mrs. Rundell

Mrs. Rundell

According to Mrs. Rundell:

English wines would be found particularly useful, now foreign are so high priced, and though sugar is dear, they may be made at a quarter of the expense. If carefully made, and kept three or four year,s a proportionable strength being given, they would answer the purpose of foreign wines for health, and cause a very considerable reduction in the expenditure.”

Holly Bush Inn, where Mrs. Rundell, it is speculated, wrote her recipes.

Holly Bush Inn, where Mrs. Rundell, it is speculated, wrote her recipes. Image @Persephone books (Link below)

Rundell’s book of recipes went through dozens of editions in Britain and the United States, where it was published in 1807. The following recipe for Elder Wine comes from the Google eBook 1857 edition:

Rundell Domestic Cookery

Elder Wine.

To every quart of berries put two quarts of water, boil half an hour, run the liquor, and break the fruit through a hair sieve; then to every quart of juice put three quarters of a pound of Lisbon sugar, coarse but not the very coarsest. Boil the whole a quarter of an hour with some Jamaica peppers, gingers, and a few cloves. Pour it into a tub, and when of a proper warmth, into the barrel, with toast and yeast to work, which there is more difficulty to make it do than most other liquors. When it ceases to hiss, put a quart of brandy to eight gallons, and stop up. Bottle in the spring or at Christmas. The liquor must be in a warm place to make it work.

Elder berries and elder flowers. Public domain image

Elder berries and elder flowers. Public domain image

While Rundell’s recipe seems simple, some terms require explanation. In those days, sugar was classified according to place of origin, such as Brazil, or entrepot, a place of entry without excise duties, such as Lisbon. (Richard Bradley, 1736) Prospect book glossary.

19th c. hair sieve

19th c. hair sieve

Image of Hair Sieve at Worth Point

The hair sieve mentioned by Rundell was most likely made with coarse horse hair, as shown in the above image. The mesh is quite fine. Sugar was an expensive commodity (Jane Austen was in charge of the tea and sugar stores in Chawton cottage, keeping the keys, no doubt, to the locked containers), but as previously explained, making your own wine provided a cost saving measure. The High Price of Sugar.

Jamaica peppers are generally known today as allspice. The peppers are larger than peppercorns and were gathered from Jamaica pepper trees. The “toast and yeast” mentioned in the recipe most likely meant bread yeast. Elder wine ferments particularly well in oak casks.

Jamaica pepper

Jamaica pepper

One can only guess what Mrs. Rundell’s elder wine, which was fortified with brandy, tasted like – strong, sweet, alcoholic, and fruity. The clusters of berries, dark purple when ripe, had many uses:

Elderberry bushes … [have] a long history of use for food, drink and medicinal purposes. Elderberry pie, jam and jelly, tarts, flavored drinks, and of course wine are a few of its better known uses.

Elderberry wine has a unique flavor that changes considerably over time. When too few berries are used, the wine is thin and unlikely to improve. When too many berries are used, the tannins and other flavor constituents may overpower the palate and require dilution, blending or prolonged aging to mellow. Between these extremes are wines that often offer exceptional enjoyment. – Winemaker Magazine

It seems that the berries had to be processed as quickly as possible after picking. There were times, I imagine, that the Austen women were busy working alongside their servants in the kitchen, processing foods, canning and pickling, and making wines and ales from recently harvested produce.

Another “job” that the Regency housewife assumed was that of nurse. Recipes for cough lozenges and simple medicinals made from herbs and plants were passed down through the generations. Elder berries were known to have many medicinal benefits:

Recipe for a "Decoction fameuse," which contains elderberry (among other ingredients). Image @MCRS Rare Book Blog

Recipe for a “Decoction fameuse,” which contains elderberry (among other ingredients). Image @MCRS Rare Book Blog

Recent research shows that elder builds up the immune system and directly inhibits the influenza virus. Elder contains an enzyme that smoothes the spikes on the outside of the virus, which the virus uses to pierce through cell walls. Elderberries have also been recommended in cases of bronchitis, sore throat, coughs, asthma, colds and constipation.” – The Health Benefits of Elderberry Wine

18th century red wine drinker, Franz Laktanz Graf Von Firmian

18th century red wine drinker taking his “medicine”, Franz Laktanz Graf Von Firmian

What better way to soothe one’s respiratory condition than with a nice glass of elder wine!

Ma(i)sonry Maisonry - Vintage 18th Century Wine Bottles - 1stdibs

This article from KansasCity.com, “Elderberry wine as a medicinal: A recent USDA reaction,” shows how ridiculous current U.S. health laws can be on the use of medication:

Federal authorities have seized bottles and drums of elderberry juice concentrate from a Kansas winery, contending that the company’s claims of its benefits for treating various diseases make the product a drug.

…”Products with unapproved disease claims are dangerous because they may cause consumers to delay or avoid legitimate treatments, Dara Corrigan, the FDA’s associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, said in a news release. “The FDA is committed to protecting consumers from unapproved products on the market.”

Aquatint, Rowlandson. Image @Amazon

Aquatone, Thomas Rowlandson. Image @Amazon

Wine was reserved not only for medicinal purposes or family gatherings, but for daily consumption. Bumpers of wine, or a tankard or cup filled to the brim, were common quantities.  The Georgians were notorious drinkers, for alcohol was safer than unboiled water and contaminated city or town wells.

London society of the Georgian period was renowned for its heavy consumption of alcohol. Poor people tended to drink beer or gin, but a wider range of alcoholic drinks was available to the rich. These included wines such as French claret; fortified wines such as sherry, port or Madeira; and spirits such as brandy and rum. It is noted in the text that Mr Stryver and Sydney Carton have wine, brandy, rum, sugar and lemons with which to concoct their punch.

During the Georgian period, beer might be drunk from pewter tankards, and other drinks, from glass goblets or tumblers.- Bookdrum

Detail, Elder Win Stand in Holborne, by George Scharff, 1842

Detail, Elder Wine Stand in Holborne in Winter, by George Scharff, 1842

In winter, elder wine heated in coppers was sold for a penny per wine glass from portable wood stands that contained glassware. (See image above.) This tradition lasted at least through the Victorian era, as attested by the modern Wedgewood scene below.

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Wedgewood. Victorian scene of an elder wine stand

Wedgewood. Victorian scene of an elder wine stand

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What did ladies do in the morning 200 years ago? Why, write letters and draw and paint, of course. A genteel lady knew all three arts and achieved them with varying skills. This delightful La Belle Assemblee print details how a well-dressed woman would look at her work table. This young Regency miss works like me, btw: with everything out and cluttering surfaces.

Morning Dress, March 1812, La Belle Assemblee

First, a description of the outfit:

MORNING or HOME COSTUME: A white cambric frock with a demi train, short sleeves fastened up in front with cordon and tassels, a necklace formed of two rows of opal; the hair dressed in full curls, and confined by a demi turban of very fine muslin tied on the right side with a small bow; silk stockings with lace clocks richly brocaded; and plain black kid slippers.”

Detail of hair and bodice, La Belle Assemblee, March 1812. Note the lovely bandeau, the ringlets framing the face, and the relatively high neckline with ruff.

The magazine goes on to say that embroidery on all gowns, whether for domestic parties or home attire, seems very prevalent. Embroidery on evening gowns made of costly materials is frequently of gold and silver. India muslins are again coming much into wear and were very decently priced:

for the information of our Fashionable Readers, we have observed, at the house of Millard, in the City, some of the choicest production of the East Indies from the Company’s recent Sale of Bengal Muslins, &c. Their beauty is exquisite…”

Detail of ladies round worktable with drawer. La Belle Assemblee, March 1812. This one most likely had a top and decorative swaths made of green baize, which prevented sliding.

These small and elegant worktables were portable and could be easily carried near a light source or fireplace, or stashed against a wall when company came. They varied, some coming with a variety of compartments – some hidden – that contained writing and painting supplies. Many had book stands for reading, others had drawers that contained paper or embroidery threads and sewing supplies.

Ackermanns Lady’s work table, 1823. Image from EK Duncan

This work table was “equally adapted to the boudoir and drawing-room, and answers the purpose of a drawing-table as well as a work-table, and a desk for writing and reading.”

This was a very elegant and expensive work table for a rich lady.

This English work table, circa 1815, is a curious fusion of the refined neoclassicism of Robert Adam and the exotic eclecticism which emerged during the Regency period.  The finely carved tri-form giltwood stand, based on a Roman form, is typical of Adam’s adaptation of the antique. – Carlton Hobbs Work Table

… it was also a Regency characteristic to employ finely tooled scarlet leather, such as that fitted to the interior of this piece.”

Jane Austen’s niece, Fanny Knight, paints watercolors on a regular table.

This rather plain octagonal worktable has four legs instead of the pedestal on Fanny Knight’s table.

As you can see, work tables varied in design and construction. This simpler and smaller cocuswood work table suited a lady’s purpose as well as a fancier one, but it has fewer compartments.

This plain worktable with a single drawer is an:

Early 19th century regency cocuswood work table with a rectangular top and single drawer.The turned legs are joined by a turned stretcher with circular platform, with paper label to underside inscribed purchased by ABM.

A few months ago I featured a short video of an 18th century French mechanical worktable, which showed how the hidden mechanisms worked and how easily the table could be moved from place to place. Click on this link to view it.

Note: The blue links are mine: the green links are ads placed here by WordPress. I make no money from this blog.

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Inquiring readers: Paul Emanuelli, author of Avon Street, has contributed a post for this blog before about the City of Bath as a Character. He has graciously sent in an article about crime and an incident involving Jane Austen’s aunt, Mrs James Leigh-Perrot. Paul writes about Bath in his own blog, unpublishedwriterblog. It is well worth a visit!

Arrest of a woman at night, 1800. Thomas Rowlandson. Image @The Proceedings of the Old Bailey

Apart from the Bow Street Runners in London there was no organised police force in 18th Century England. The capture and prosecution of criminals was largely left to their victims to deal with. Every parish was obliged to have one or two constables, but they were unpaid volunteers working only in their spare time. A victim of crime who wanted a constable to track down and arrest the perpetrator was expected to pay the expenses of their doing so.

Sometimes victims of crime hired a thief-taker to pursue the wrong-doer. Again, they were private individuals working much like latter day bounty hunters. Sometimes, thief-takers would act as go-betweens, negotiating the return of stolen goods for a fee. Many though were corrupt, actually initiating and organising the original theft in order to claim the reward for the return of goods, or extorting protection money from the criminals they were supposed to catch.

Covent Garden watchhouse. Image @The Proceedings of the Old Bailey

For the most part, unless a criminal was “caught in the act” (probably) by their intended victim it was unlikely they would be brought to justice. In the absence of a police force, the maintenance of “Law and Order” therefore came to depend more on deterrence rather than apprehension and the harshest penalty of all came to cover more and more crimes. In 1799 there were 200 offences that carried the death penalty, including the theft of items with a monetary value that exceeded five shillings.

In practice, judges and juries often recognised the barbarity of the punishment in relation to the crime. Juries might determine that goods were over-priced and bring their value down below the five shilling threshold. Defendants might claim “benefit of clergy” which by virtue of stating religious belief and reading out an oath allowed the judge to exercise leniency. In other cases the Government could review the sentence. Between 1770 and 1830, 35,000 death sentences were handed down in England and Wales, but only 7000 executions were actually carried out.

Milliners shop, after Henry Kingsbury

On the 8th August 1799, Jane Leigh-Perrot was accused of stealing a card of white lace from a millinery shop in Bath. The Leigh-Perrots, a wealthy couple, were Jane Austen’s mother’s brother and sister-in-law (Jane’s Uncle and Aunt). The white lace valued at £1 was found in Mrs Leigh-Perrot’s possession together with a card of black lace that she had bought and paid for from the same shop. Mrs Leigh-Perrot denied stealing the lace, saying that the sales clerk must have given it her by mistake when he handed over her purchase. She was nevertheless arrested on a charge of “grand theft” and the lace she was said to have stolen was worth four times the five shillings that carried the death sentence.

Jane Cholmeley Perrot, aka Jane Austen’s Aunt Perrot

In practice it was unlikely (given her standing) that if she had been found guilty she would have been sentenced to death. The alternatives, however, included branding or transportation to the Australian Colonies with the prospect of forced labour for 14 years. Jane Leigh-Perrot was refused bail and committed to prison on the sworn depositions of the shopkeeper. Due to her wealth, social standing and age she was allowed to stay in the house of the prison keeper, Mr Scadding, at the Somerset County Gaol in Ilchester, rather than being kept in a cell. Mrs Leigh-Perrot still wrote though that she suffered ‘Vulgarity, Dirt, Noise from morning till night’. James Leigh-Perrot insisted on remaining with her in prison.

Mr James Leigh-Perrot. Image @JASA

During her trial Jane Leigh-Perrot spoke eloquently for herself. Several testimonials as to her character were also read out to the court. At the conclusion of the trial the jury took only 10 minutes to find her “Not Guilty.” It does, however, make you wonder how someone less well refined, less well-connected, less eloquent, less educated, less wealthy might have fared. The evidence of her guilt, might have been quite sufficient to send someone else to the gallows, or transported, or branded with a hot iron. She was after all caught in possession of the item and identified by the shop-keeper. In “Persuasion” Captain Harville asks Anne Elliot, ‘But how shall we prove anything?’ Anne replies, ‘We never shall.’

Mrs. Leigh-Perrot. Image @JASA

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This image of a bourdaloue might be somewhat confusing to the uninitiated. Could this small and elegant vessel be a gravy boat? Or a blood-letting container?

Sevres bourdaloue, 1831.

This image by Francois Boucher says it all. A fully dressed lady is relieving herself into an object called the bourdaloue or bourdalou, careful not to soil her skirts. Her maid, no doubt, stands nearby, waiting to receive the small chamber pot in order to empty it. The lady (or woman of ill repute) is in a public place – a theatre or tavern, perhaps – but certainly not a church. Wherever she is, the place has no public toilet. And so she must relieve herself standing up, taking care not to soil her skirt and petticoats.

Louis Bourdaloue. Image @Wikimedia Commons

According to legend, the name of this porta potty comes from  Louis Bourdaloue (1632-1704), one of Louis XIVs Jesuit priests. His oratorical skills were reputedly so accomplished that people felt they could not miss a single word of his sermons. It is said that women sat through his masses with a bourdaloue placed under their dresses, whose skirts were held out by panniers. Since the priest’s  sermons were somewhat longwinded, the chances that ladies would need to relieve themselves were almost certain.  As a rule, churches and theatres had no toilets, and there were no breaks given during sermons. Ergo these portable urinals, which were ergonomically designed to accommodate the female body.

The vessel was oblong, rectangular, or oval in shape. A slightly raised lip at one end and a handle at the other allowed the woman to relieve herself from a squatting or standing position. The edges curved inward to avoid hurting her tenderest parts.

Sevres bourdaloue, with medallion depicting a scene from Watteau, blue lapis and framed in gold leaf. 1892.

It is a little hard to distinguish truth from fiction, so I am a bit skeptical about this apocryphal tale. Were the priest’s sermons in the early 18th century so truly awe-inspiring that a lady would squat in her pew, however discreetly, to relieve herself in front of her family and other parishioners so as not to miss a word?

In truth it was her maid who brought the vessel in, for bourdaloues were compact and came with a cover. When a lady had to relieve herself she would, I imagine, retreat discreetly to a private corner of a tall pew or to a back or side room in the church. Her maid would then hand the vessel over to her mistress, who took care not to spill any liquid on her skirts. When the lady was finished, she would hand the bourdaloue to her maid to empty its contents.  When attending a play or opera at the theatre, I imagine she would again retreat to a darker more private corner of the box to urinate.

A PAIR OF SEVRES BOURDALOUES (POTS DE CHAMBRE OVALE) CIRCA 1776,

Designed only for women, these bourdalous are quite beautiful. Made of faience or porcelain, they are decorated with flowers or painted scenes. Many are gilded. The portable pots, or coach pots as they were known in England, could be decorated inside as well.  They were quite small and compact, designed for travel, which made it easy to carry them and pack them for coach trips. They were also taken to long banquets, where ladies would scurry behind curtains when they needed to go.

Bourdalou made in France c. 1840. It has an engraved crest and a leather case to contain it. The silver bourdalou is a small urinary receptacle for female use, of compressed eliptical shape and generally made of porcelaine or earthenware, but also made occasionally of silver. Its front end has an incurved rim and, usually, stands on a simple foot ring with a simple loop handle. Also known as a coach pot in England.

Bourdaloues were used throughout the 18th and for most of the 19th century. As water closets began to be built inside homes and buildings, the use of these chamber pots began to be reduced dramatically.

Plain bourdaloue made of creamware. The shape is quite elegant.

Gentlemen had it a little easier, although this satiric French cartoon, which I have shown before, depicts the disgust that Frenchmen felt towards Englishmen who freely pissed in a pot in the dining room. In this instance, the man misses the chamber pot and hits the floor. There seems to be a lack of modesty among these men, which largely holds true today.

c1816, from Fitzwilliam Museum.

Modesty is also lacking in this cartoon of ladies relieving themselves inside a public restroom at Vauxhall Gardens. Four are arrayed on a long latrine against the wall. One lady is refreshing her make up and another is tightening her garter. If such scenes were common for upper class women in public spaces, perhaps many felt no modesty relieving themselves in church as well.

The Inside of the Lady’s Garden at Vauxhall, 1788 by SW Fores. Image @British Library. The interior of a ladies’ cloak-room. Against the wall on two sides of the room is a bench forming a latrine on which four fashionably dressed ladies are seated. On the right a woman in profile to the right, resembling Lady Archer, applies paint to her cheeks before a mirror lit by two candles. A young woman seated beside her on the extreme right ties up her garter.

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Sadler’s Wells Aquatic Theatre, 1813. copyright The V&A Museum. Click on image to view details.

Sadler’s Wells was a performing arts area located in Clerkenwell in the outskirts of London. Named after Richard Sadler, who opened a musick house there in the late 17th century, the region boasted well water thought to have medicinal qualities.

Sadler was prompted to claim that drinking the water from the wells would be effective against “dropsy, jaundice, scurvy, green sickness and other distempers to which females are liable – ulcers, fits of the mother, virgin’s fever and hypochondriacal distemper.” -Wikipedia

Six theatres have stood at this site since Sadler built his first theatre. A second theatre,  Sadler’s Wells, was constructed in 1765, which attracted summer theatre goers (the Theatre Royal offered performances only in the fall and winter.)

Interior of the theatre in 1810. One can see the water-filled tank on the stage.

In the early 19th century, Sadler’s Wells began to offer aquatic spectacles. The construction of a large tank (90x24x3 ft)  in 1804 by Charles Dibdin covered the entire area of the stage. It was flooded with water that was pumped from the nearby New River at the cost of 30 pounds per annum. This renovation allowed for the theatre to be used for naval melodramas, a popular theme, one imagines, in the days of the Napoleonic Wars and tales of Admiral Nelson’s heroism. The Siege of Gilbraltar, an ambitious spectacle, deployed 117 model ships created by the Woolwich Dockyard shipwrights and riggers, who used a scale of one inch to a foot in exact imitation of the slightest details, including the rigging. Children were cast as drowning Spanish sailors, and could be seen struggling in the waves.

Scenic artist at work, 1790. Image @British Museum

A beautiful drop scene that filled up all the area of the proscenium showed the English fleet drawn up in battle against France and Spain. The enormous painting was used to entertain the audience during a delay while preparations were made behind stage. In order to alleviate 20 minutes of boredom between scenes, the stage slowly rose to nearly the roof of the theatre in full view. A second water tank was built on the theatre’s roof to simulate waterfalls. (With the lack of temperature control in the 19th century and windows in the main area, one can imagine that the theatre’s interior developed a powerful moldy smell in the heat of summer!)

Audience watching a play at Drury Lane, Rowlandson, 1785

The behavior of the theatre goers at Sadler’s Wells left much to be desired. As early as 1711 it was observed that members of the audience were publicly drunk, and their behavior boorish and loutish. Karl Philipp Moritz, a German traveler in England in 1782, described in his travel diary the audience in a typical British play house. Not only was the crowd rowdy between scenes and before the performance (making a “noise and uproar”), but there was a constant pelting of orange peels, for oranges were “tolerably cheap”.

Besides this perpetual pelting from the gallery, which renders and English play-house so uncomfortable, there is no end to their calling out and knocking with their sticks till the curtain is drawn up…I sometimes heard, too, the people in the lower or middle gallery quarrelling with those of the upper one. Behind me, in the pit, sat a young fop, who, in order to display his costly stone buckles with the utmost brilliancy, continually put his foot on my bench, and even sometimes upon my coat. – Karl Philipp Moritz

Another view of the theatre. Fishing seems to have been a popular pasttime as well.

If the Sadler’s Wells theatre audience had a particularly rowdy reputation compared to theatres in central London, one can only imagine how truly awful the experience was. The theatre slowly lost its lustre during the first half of the 19th century, for it was located in the rural outskirts of London. Without street lights and an organized police force, travel at night was dangerous, and patrons of the theatre were provided escorts as they traveled back to central London.

 Pinero’s play Trelawny of the ‘Wells’ (1898), portrays Sadler’s Wells as outmoded by the new fashion for realism. The theatre declined until, by 1875, plans to turn it into a bath house were proposed and, for a while, the new craze of roller skating was catered to, as the theatre was converted into a roller-skating rink and later a prize fight arena. The theatre was condemned as a dangerous structure in 1878. – Wikipedia

Anglers at Sadler’s Wells.

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When Lady Caroline Lamb met Byron in 1812, the waltz was starting to gain traction with the more progressive elements of Society. This couples dance was considered rather racy in an age when stately group English country dances were the primary offerings at Almack’s.

Thomas Rowlandson’s image of the waltz in 1806

The vivacious and racy Lady Caroline Lamb met Lord Byron in 1812. She recalled that time in a letter she wrote 12 years later:

Devonshire House at that time was closed from my uncles death for one year – at Melbourne House where I lived the Waltzes and Quadrilles were being daily practised – Lady Jersey, Lady Cowper, the Duke of Devonshire, Miss Milbank, and a number of foreigners coming here to learn…

You may imagine what forty or fifty people dancing from 12 in the morning until near dinner time all young gay & noisy were.
In the evenings we either had opposition suppers or went out to Balls and routs – Such was the life I then led when Moore and Rogers introduced Lord Byron to me… Caroline Lamb, 1824, in a letter to Captain Thomas Medwin

It is interesting to note that Caroline mentions Lady Jersey and Lady Cowper, two of the patronesses of Almack’s, where the waltz was banned. Eventually, however, the ultra exclusive Almack’s would cave in, and by 1814 the waltz was finally sanctioned. Young ladies would still need approval before a gentleman could clasp his arm around her waist, but the doors had been opened beyond the confines of the upper classes.

La Walze, Le Bon Genre, 1810. This caricature has a feeling of decadence.

By 1815, when Jane Austen’s Emma was published, the waltz has become so respectable that it would be danced in Highbury at the home of the Coles.

Mrs Weston, capital in her country-dances, was seated, and beginning an irresistible waltz; and Frank Churchill, coming up with most becoming gallantry to Emma, had secured her hand, and led her up to the top.” – Emma

The waltz looks gentrified in this 1816 illustration.

More on the topic:

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As a blogger who is curious about all things in Jane Austen’s world and customs in her past that might have influenced her, I am still amazed at how one tiny clue points to another until I land on a series of sites that open up a whole new topic. While history foodies probably know about the elaborate lengths that pastry chefs took to please their patrons, the visual results of a full banquet are simply astounding. I can only assume that Georgian taste buds were equally pleased.

Modern chef and historian, Ivan Day, recreated a feast from the past using sugar structures and porcelain figures to arrange a fanciful garden centerpieces for the table.

I already knew about The Prince Regent’s elaborate 1811 dinner at Carlton House, which was described as thus:

“Along the centre of the table about six inches above the surface, a canal of pure water continued flowing from a silver fountain beautifully constructed at the head of the table. Its banks were covered with green moss aquatic flowers; gold and silver fish swam and sported through the bubbling current, which produced a pleasing murmur where it fell, and formed a cascade at the outlet.” – The Gentleman’s Magazine, describing the Prince Regent’s fete at Carlton House, June 19, 1811 in honor of the exiled French royal family.

The great kitchen at the Prince Regent’s Pavilion at Brighton could accommodate creating dishes for huge and fanciful banquets.

So great was the interest that the doors of Carlton House were opened for three days in a row. But instead of satisfying the curiosity of the masses, the result was ever-increasing crowds. Chaos ensued.

‘The condescension of the Prince in extending the permission to view the arrangements for the late fete at Carlton House has nearly been attended with fatal consequences,’ reported one newspaper. Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1039063/As-Queen-opens-Palace-Ballroom-public-story-decadent-royal-banquet-ever.html#ixzz1s7ijkAEv

Detail of the design for an elaborate garden centerpiece. These engravings were showcased in Le Cannameliste Français by famed confectionary chef, Joseph Gilliers, in the mid-18th century. View the entire centerpiece here: Click on this link.

The banquet featured a recreation of a landscape at its center. Such a method of decorating a table was not new, especially when it came to desserts. Elaborate set pieces with architectural French influence were created for tables using spun sugar and Sevres bisque figures to create fantasy landscapes. Before the Napoleonic Wars, travel over the English Channel between British and French courtiers and diplomats was common, and thus the French chef’s custom of creating these elaborate centerpieces became well-known in England. Upper class households vied for highly paid (and desired) French chefs, and by the 1820s these gentlemen had by and large invaded British upper class kitchens. Their ability to create dishes that feasted both the eyes and the stomach was unrivaled.

 SEVRES BISCUIT FIGURES CIRCA 1755, Modeled after François Boucher. Image @Christies.

This was an era when confectionary was considered as much a branch of the decorative arts as of cuisine, and porcelain for the table represented prestige as well as a demonstration of power. The combination of French chef, porcelain, and fanciful confectionary desserts served as symbols of prestige and wealth, for no ordinary household could offer such an extravagant display of food and panoply. (View this porcelain table centerpiece set.)

Detail of Gilliers’ templates for cut outs.

Most of the images of the banquets and figurines are copyrighted. I encourage you to click on the links to view the spectacular results of sugar and porcelain table centerpieces that mimic gardens, sculptures, and figures based on famous paintings. The fanciful recreation included redesigning tables as well.

Modern version of Gilliers table. Image @Simon Beer.

Gilliers’ 1751 sketch of the table, plus seating.

Amy Hauft, VCU sculpture department. Confectioner Joseph Gilliers conceived his 100-seat rococo fantasy for the serving of a single course — dessert — in a garden setting. The centerpiece atop the tailored white tablecloth was to be a sculpture made of sugar paste fortified with dried sturgeon bladder. There is no record that this table was ever built by Gilliers. Image@Richmond Times Dispatch

More on this fascinating topic:

Ivan Day’s  pavilion made from a “pastillage sugar paste for an exhibition at the Met in NYC two years ago. They were exact replicas of ones made for Maria Theresa, the Empress of Austria in 1740. “

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