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Archive for the ‘Tea in the Regency era’ Category

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

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.

4_1790

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

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

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

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
Materials:
Hand-coloured etching
Dimensions:
38.5 x 28.0 cm
RCIN
810396

Description:
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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Inquiring reader: Jean at The Delightful Repast is a freelance writer who writes mostly about food, weddings, etiquette and entertaining for numerous publications. Her blog reflects her culinary heritage–an English grandmother, a Southern grandmother and a mother who could do it all. Jean’s love of reading and cooking (often done simultaneously) is definitely in her genes. She has (delightfully) offered to share her thoughts about tea in Jane Austen’s day and her recipe for Sally Lunn buns!

It came as quite a disappointment to me that day long ago when I, an avid afternoon tea aficionado, realized that afternoon tea was not part of Jane Austen’s life. (I am still taken aback by the thought as I write those words!) Tea drinking, popular at Court since the 1660’s, had by the Regency Period long since trickled down through all strata of society. Jane and her family no doubt enjoyed a nice cup of tea at least twice a day, at breakfast and in the evening after dinner.

Tea, being the magical all-purpose beverage that it is, was surely drunk at other times as well. I drink tea a minimum of four times a day. My grandmother Elizabeth (from the Lake District) drank tea several times a day, including once in the middle of the night. Her mother Mary Ann was constantly putting the kettle on. And it was Mary Ann’s grandmother Mary who was a contemporary of Jane Austen’s, though at the other end of the country.

There are a number of things Jane might have had with her tea, including hot, buttered Sally Lunn buns, good with both sweet and savory toppings. Those made today in Bath are very large, perhaps six inches across and four inches high. My own version, which I’m sure Sally Lunn’s in Bath would scorn as an inadequate imitation, is much smaller. I’ve made them as large as a hamburger bun but, preferring them smaller yet, usually make them in a muffin tin.

Sally Lunn Buns
(Makes 18 )

4 packed cups (20 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) instant yeast

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
4 large eggs

1 cup milk

In medium bowl (I use a 2-quart glass measure), whisk together flour, sugar, yeast and salt. In small saucepan, melt butter.

With electric mixer, beat the eggs until fluffy and pale lemon yellow, about 5 minutes. Add the milk and beat until smooth, about 1 minute. By hand with a dough whisk or wooden spoon, add the flour mixture to the egg mixture in three additions, alternating with the melted butter and beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Cover with lid or plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator for at least 24 hours and up to three days.

About 2 1/4 hours before serving time, remove dough from refrigerator. Stir down the dough, just a few strokes, with a wooden spoon. With a 1/4-cup measure or scoop sprayed with cooking spray, scoop dough into well-greased or cooking-sprayed standard muffin tins. Lightly butter a sheet of plastic wrap and place, buttered side down, over the buns. Let rise until puffy but likely not doubled in volume, about 1 3/4 hours. During last 15 minutes, preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Uncover buns. Bake at 375 degrees about 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer tins to wire racks and let cool for 5 minutes. Turn the buns out of the tins onto the racks and serve warm or continue to cool before storing.

By Jean at The Delightful Repast at http://delightfulrepast.com/

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In Miss Austen Regrets, Olivia Williams as Jane Austen was shown sipping wine in a number of scenes. This scenario was not unrealistic. Jane wrote to Cassandra about making Spruce Beer, and the topic of wine appeared in a number of her letters:

I want to hear of your gathering strawberries; we have had them three times here. I suppose you have been obliged to have in some white wine, and must visit the store closet a little oftener than when you were quite by yourselves.”

“The orange wine will want our care soon. But in the meantime, for elegance and ease and luxury, the Hattons and Milles’ dine here to-day, and I shall eat ice and drink French wine, and be above vulgar economy.”

“I believe I drank too much wine last night at Hurstbourne; I know not how else to account for the shaking of my hand to-day. You will kindly make allowance therefore for any indistinctness of writing, by attributing it to this venial error.”

Alcoholic consumption was quite common in the days of yore. Water obtained from a public source was unsanitary if not lethal, and hundreds of millions of people died over the ages in cholera and typhoid epidemics, diseases caused by contaminated water. Unless one happened to live near an unpolluted water source, it was wise to refrain from drinking fresh water altogether. In towns and cities, garbage collection was unknown or not practiced. People would toss refuse from doorways and windows, and tradesmen, such as butchers and fishmongers, would throw their wastes and rotting offal into the street, assuming that roaming animals would eat the remnants. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Waste and fecal matter still found their way into public streams, rivers, and water supplies. Worse, many of the roaming animals died, their carcasses polluting the very streets they were supposed to sanitize.

Observant individuals noticed that people who drank untreated water – generally the poor – lived shorter lives than people who drank safer forms of liquids. Those who could afford it drank ale, beer, wine, or a fermented drink, since the fermentation process killed almost all bacteria. Until the 16th century, the most common choice of drink was ale. By the end of the century, beer had replaced ale in popularity. Housewives and cooks gathered their own recipes for making beer, wine, cordials, possets, punch, spirit waters, and other distilled spirits, although these drinks could also be bought commercially. Fermented beverages were stored in containers similar to those in the photo above. Hops were added to beer to make the beverage last longer in storage. Interestingly, hops acted as antibacterial agents, making the beverage safe. In addition, real ale, or un-pasteurized beer, rich in nutrients, vitamin Bs, and minerals, was as nutritious as food.

In Britain people drank ale at breakfast, lunch and dinner. However, these beers and wines were watered down substantially and were much weaker than their counterparts today. Small beer, a term used to describe a weaker second beer, averaged an alcoholic content of only 0.8%. This concoction was obtained after the first brewing had used up almost all the alcohol from the grain. The product from the second brewing was 99.2% water and tasted nothing like our beer today. Small beer was consumed by people of all ages and strata in society, even children. Recipes for stronger drinks existed but they were too expensive for ordinary people, taking twice as much grain to produce.

For medicinal purposes, weak beers were less effective in fighting off disease, (A Brief History of Drinks). People were quite aware of the benefits of a strong alcoholic drink, as the verse (below) from a tombstone in 1764 attests. The 26-year-old deceased had drunk cold small beer before he died. The verse’s implication is clear: had the poor fellow imbibed regular beer, its alcoholic content might have prevented his deadly and “violent fever. So, when you’re hot, or feverish, drink strong beer or none at all!

“In Memory of Thomas Thetcher a Grenadier in the North Reg. of Hants Militia,

who died of a violent Fever contracted by drinking Small Beer when hot the 12th of May 1764.

Aged 26 Years…

Here sleeps in peace a Hampshire Grenadier,

Who caught his death by drinking cold small Beer,

Soldiers be wise from his untimely fall

And when ye’re hot drink Strong or none at all.”

Click here to see the picture of the Hampshire Grenadier tombstone

All through the 19th century, alcoholic consumption among all ages and social strata was not only widespread, it was generally accepted and acknowledged. In Great Expectations, Estella gives ten-year-old Pip bread, meat, cheese, and beer on his first visit to Miss Havisham’s. Charlotte Bronte wrote about Belgian schoolgirls being given weissbier and sweet wine as a treat.

During the 17th century, enterprising traders brought back spices, foods and drinks from exotic locations, resulting in a wider choice of safe beverages for consumption. Coffee, tea, and chocolate began to compete with ale, wine, and beer as the drinks of choice. Boiled water poured over precious tea leaves provided a safe albeit expensive drink alternative. “The antiseptic properties of tannin, the active ingredient in tea and of hops in beer – plus the fact both are made with boiled water – allowed urban communities to flourish at close quarters without succumbing to waterborne diseases such as dysentery.” (Did Tea and Beer Make Britain Great?)

Tea became fashionable after 1662 when King Charles II’s Portugese bride, Catherine, brought a cask of it along with her dowry. In those days the beverage was thought to possess medicinal qualities, and Thomas Garraway introduced tea in his London coffee house in 1657 with this advertisement:: “This excellent beverage, recommended by all Chinese doctors, and which the Chinese call ‘Tcha’, other nations ‘Tay’ or ‘Tee’, is on sale at Sultaness Mead close to the Royal Exchange in London.” (Le Palais des The)

Only the rich could afford tea until larger amounts began to be imported, resulting in lowered prices. Several centuries later, Mrs. Beeton wrote in her Book of Household Management:

The beverage called tea has now become almost a necessary of life. Previous to the middle of the 17th century it was not used in England, and it was wholly unknown to the Greeks and Romans. Pepys says, in his Diary,—“September 25th, 1661.—I sent for a cup of tea (a China drink), of which I had never drunk before.” Two years later it was so rare a commodity in England, that the English East–India Company bought 2 lbs. 2 oz. of it, as a present for his majesty. In 1666 it was sold in London for sixty shillings a pound. From that date the consumption has gone on increasing from 5,000 lbs. to 50,000,000 lbs.

At the same time that tea gained popularity with the masses, coffee also became an increasingly common and popular drink. Men would congregate in coffee houses, drinking the hot bitter brew, discussing politics or trade, or reading newspapers. One reasons for coffee’s popularity was that caffeine improved concentration and enhanced wakefulness, and did not dull the senses as alcohol did. At this time, chocolate, another popular drink, was only drunk not eaten. Carbonated water, consisting of water impregnated with carbonic acid gas and invented by Joseph Priestley, made its first appearance in 1772.

A breakthrough in water hygiene occured in the summer of 1854 when Dr. John Snow made a connection between a deadly outbreak of cholera in his London neighborhood and public drinking water. Dr. Snow traced the epidemic to a contaminated pump on Broad Street. It did not surprise him that around 70 workers in a brewery nearby remained healthy due to their daily allotment of free beer. By the end of the 19th century, piped-in treated water made drinking from public pumps and fountains safe for the first time in England.

Small Beer Recipe

Take a large Sifter full of Bran

Hops to your Taste — Boil these

3 hours. Then strain out 30 Gall.

into a Cooler put in 3 Gallons

Molasses while the Beer is

scalding hot or rather drain the

molasses into the Cooler. Strain

the Beer on it while boiling hot

let this stand til it is little more

than Blood warm. Then put in

a quart of Yeast if the weather is

very cold cover it over with a Blanket.

Let it work in the Cooler 24 hours

then put it into the Cask. leave

the Bung open til it is almost done

working — Bottle it that day Week

it was Brewed.

George Washington. “To Make Small Beer.”

From his 1757 notebook.

Read my other posts on this topic:

Other links:

Image of stoneware bottles and vessels, including a beer bottle and gin bottle.

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The old adage that if one must ask for the price of an item, one most likely cannot afford it probably holds true for the lovely furniture for sale in Chappell & McCullar, a fine antique shop. I found several pieces of interest on their website, including a pair of Regency ebonized and parcel-gilt open arm chairs, a lush Regency giltwood and ebonized mirror c. 1820, and this charming rosewood tea caddy. But, ahem, there was no price affixed, and one must take the additional step of contacting the owner to inquire about its cost.Tea was such a precious commodity after its introduction in England during the mid 17th century, that servants were never entrusted with handling the loose leaves. Green and black tea leaves were imported in large chests, from which the loose leaves were measured. The tea was then stored in the customer’s caddy, or cannister, which came with a lock and key to prevent pilfering. According to Miller’s Antique Encyclopedia, caddy is a word derived from ‘kati’, a Malay standard weight of tea.By 1800, the custom of drinking tea in England was almost 150 years old. The first written record on English shores was in Samuel Pepys’ dairy, in an entry written on September 25, 1660, in which he wrote:

To the office, where Sir W Batten, Collonel Slingsby, and I sat a while; … And afterwards did send for a Cupp of Tee (a China drink) of which I never had drank before) and went away.

The brew’s popularity soared quickly. Overseas trade in the East Indies flourished, and missionaries in China wrote home about tea’s healing powers. It was widely thought that tea could treat gout, as well as restore one’s mental powers. The brew was relatively safe in an era of contaminated water, since the hot beverage required that water be boiled first.In 1717 Thomas Twining turned his coffee house into a tea shop, and in 1784, Richard Twining, chairman of the tea dealers’ guild, persuaded the government to reduce the import tax on tea, making it much more affordable. By the 1800’s tea was widely drunk by the middle classes. One can imagine that in an era when gin was cheap and led to the ruination of the lower classes, drinking tea was regarded a more wholesome activity.However, tea remained expensive. The British East India Company, which held the monopoly on importing tea until 1834, held prices artificially high for centuries. In addition, the government kept raising taxes on tea in order to finance England’s expensive wars. Smuggling tea became a lucrative business, and shopkeepers and individuals were not averse to purchasing tea leaves on the black market. Be that as it may, by Jane Austen’s day, the drinking of tea had become a regular occurrence, both at home and in public. In a letter to Cassandra, Jane Austen writes of drinking tea at the Public Assembly Rooms in Bath:

Before tea it was rather a dull affair; but then the before tea did not last long, for there was only one dance, danced by four couple. Think of four couple, surrounded by about an hundred people, dancing in the Upper Rooms at Bath.Jane Austen, May 12, 1801

Although tea was served at home by the hostess, who held the key to the caddy, the elaborate ceremony of afternoon tea, or the custom of serving tea with cakes, scones, and crumpets to stave off hunger pangs before dinner, was not invented until 1840 by the 7th Duchess of Bedford.Interesting tea facts:

  • “Taking tea” is a vulgar expression. Drinking tea is considered the proper phrase.
  • High tea consisted of a full, dinner meal for the common people. Tea was still served, but there would also be meats, fish or eggs, cheese, bread and butter, and cake. It was more of a man’s meal, than a ladies social diversion.

Read more about the fascinating history of tea and tea caddies at these sites:

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