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Archive for the ‘Victorian Era’ Category

Inquiring readers: Paul Emanuelli, author of Avon Street (click here to view the book and order it), has contributed posts for this blog before about the City of Bath as a Character ,  Law & Order and Jane Austen’s Aunt,  Walking in Austen’s Footsteps, and Food – To Die For: Food Preparation in the Georgian EraHe 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!

Workhouses are thought to date back as far as the fourteenth century and the aftermath of the “Black Death.” The plague was merciless in Britain and outbreaks recurred at intervals throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. As a result, the working population was decimated and the shortage of labour pushed up wages. To try and halt this, several Acts of Parliament were passed aimed at forcing all able-bodied men to work and to keep wages at their old levels, but their main effect was to create itinerant labourers who travelled around the country looking for areas where they could earn more.

bathmap1902-2500

Layout of Bath Workhouse in 1848

The Poor Law Act of 1388 tried to stop this by introducing regulations restricting the movements of all labourers and itinerant beggars. No one could leave their own parish to seek work elsewhere without the written permission of the local Justice of the Peace, and the poor were prohibited from begging and could only receive help from the Parish in which they were born. Alms houses were built for the destitute but the earliest known reference to the term “Workhouse” dates back to 1631, when the mayor of Abingdon (near Oxford) records:-

“wee haue erected wthn our borough, a workehouse to sett poore people to worke”

A further Poor Law Act in 1597 governed the care of the destitute right up until the 19th Century. This law required the local justices of the peace to appoint, annually, “Overseers of the Poor” to find work for those in need, to apprentice children, and to provide,

“the necessary relief of the lame, impotent, old, blind and such other being poor and not able to work”.

This Poor Law required poor rates to be charged as a local tax, replacing voluntary charitable funding. The rate of charge and arrangements for distribution were to be decided by the Overseers. Though most parishes had houses set aside for the old, infirm and destitute these were more like alms-houses than workhouses and most support was given in the form of subsistence payments known as “out relief.”

bath1

Aerial photo of Former Bath Workhouse taken in early 20th Century

The real growth in workhouses took place in the nineteenth century, following the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Hundreds of thousands of troops returned home to find there was no work for them. Most had been agricultural workers before the war and the new technology in farming had reduced the need for labour. At the same time a series of poor harvests had pushed up food prices and the Importation Act of 1815 had prohibited the importation of cheaper cereals from abroad. For most people, bread was the main part of their diet and yet they could no longer even afford bread. So many had become destitute and were starving by the early 1830s that the system could not support them. The Government sought a cheaper alternative to “out relief.”

Read the rest of Paul’s fascinating post and the workhouse in Bath at this link:

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In keeping with December, Charles Dickens’ anniversary, and a Christmas Carol, Paul sent this message:

 In “A Christmas Carol” the Spirit of Christmas Present reveals two children hidden under his robes. Scrooge asks him if they are his children and the Spirit replies that they are the children of Man – “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.’

‘Have they no refuge or resource.‘ asks Scrooge.

‘Are there no prisons.‘ said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. ‘Are there no workhouses.‘”

OliverTwistOliver Twist

Oliver Twist Workhouse image

The well known passage from Oliver Twist:

“Child as he was, he was desperate with hunger, and reckless with misery. He rose from the table; and advancing to the master, basin and spoon in hand, said: somewhat alarmed at his own temerity:

‘Please, sir, I want some more.’

The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupified astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder; the boys with fear.

‘What!’ said the master at length, in a faint voice.

‘Please, sir,’ replied Oliver, ‘I want some more.’

More about Avon Street: Order the book

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: The History Press (March 28, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0752465546
  • ISBN-13: 978-0752465548

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Young Pip (Oscar Kennedy) visits Satis House (Holdenby House's courtyard transformed digitally by Triad Digital).

One of the most polarizing aspects of Great Expectations 2011 is Gillian Anderson’s portrayal of Miss Havisham. Many people loved it; as many hated it.

At 43 years of age, some critics regard the actress as being too young for the part. Yet Martita Hunt played Miss Havisham in David Lean’s classic when she was 47, only fours years older than Gillian. Helena Bonham Carter is set to play Miss Havisham in a new theatrical film version coming out later this year. She will soon be 44 years old.

Others find Gillian Anderson’s take on Miss Havisham to be all wrong. I agree with the critic who wrote that regardless of how one feels about the actress as Miss Havisham, she dominates her scenes as the jilted bride. Paired with the CG changes made to Holdenby House to transform it into Satis House, the viewer is treated to one of the creepier interpretations of Miss Havisham in her rotting manse.

Stone angel in courtyard strangled by vines.

The film sets up Pip’s first meeting with Miss Havisham and Estella by transforming the courtyard into a dark, vine-strangled environment. This alone should tell Pip that all is not right with his new patron.

Transformed courtyard.

Miss Havisham glides down the stairs like a ghostly apparition.

In this adaptation, Pip’s first glimpse of Miss Havisham is of her gliding down the stairs in a candle-lit, dark oak stairwell. A break in the curtain backlights her figure and features. Not a word is said. In the novel, Pip has heard that Miss Havisham is an immensely rich and grim lady who led a life of seclusion.

The stairs are covered with dust and candles are fully ablaze despite the day light.

Miss Havisham as an eerie apparition is enhanced in this scene in which her white figure is indistinct and as fuzzy as the dust on the stairs.

When she discovered that her bridegroom-to-be had absconded with her money and her heart, Miss Havisham was at her dressing table putting on her bridal clothes. She had put on one shoe, her other foot was stockinged. Gillian Anderson is seen walking barefoot, a change in Dickens’ story that I found perplexing. In fact, many of the changes in both plot, scenes, and costumes seemed odd.

Surely the dress would have been yellower and more ragged and tattered after having been worn for so long?

While I enjoyed Gillian Anderson’s reworking of Miss Havisham into a neurotic recluse with a tendency towards self-mutilation, I wondered at the decision to make her appear like a mini-me version of Bette Davis’s Baby Jane. Her wedding gown, I suppose, was meant to look like a Regency version of a bridal dress, but to my way of thinking it resembled a nightie. Her curls, which were not supposed to have been touched in years, hung tight around her face. By the time Pip met her, her white hair would have looked like a rat’s nest.  The delicate fabric of her gown remained remarkably intact – it should have been frayed, especially at the edges and where she sat. She was not wearing a veil, which should have been attached askew on her head. And her train would  have been tattered and filthy, and had an ombre look about it, going from black at the floor to dark gray, to lighter grey until it met the yellowing white color of the gown higher up.

One way to assess if the changes were beneficial is to turn to Dickens’ own words:

In Dickens' great tale, Pip met Miss Havisham as she sat near her dressing table.

However the only thing to be done being to knock at the door. I knocked and was told from within to enter. I entered therefore and found myself in a pretty large room well lighted with wax candle.s No glimpse of daylight was to be seen in it. It was a dressing room as I supposed from the furniture though much of it was of forms and uses then quite unknown to me. But prominent in it was a draped table with a gilded looking glass, and that I made out at first sight to be a fine lady’s dressing table.”

In this film, Miss Havisham walks Pip through a room filled with dusty glass dome-covered scientific specimens that her dead brother had collected from exotic places, much as a docent would accompany a visitor through a musty science museum.

Dead specimens under dusty glass.

Pip’s actual first impression of Miss Havisham after walking through a dark house was much more powerful and immediate:

In an armchair with an elbow resting on the table and her head leaning on that hand sat the strangest lady I have ever seen or shall ever see.”

Once beautiful butterflies pinned into a frozen position, a rather obvious visual simile.

Dickens gave the costume and set designers a plethora of descriptions to work with:

She was dressed in rich materials, satins and lace and silks, all of white. Her shoes were white. And she had a long white veil dependent from her hair; and she had bridal flowers in her hair, but her hair was white. Some bright jewels sparkled on her neck, and on her hands, and some other jewels lay sparkling on the table. Dresses less splendid than the dress she wore, and half packed trunks, were scattered about. She had not quite finished dressing, for she had but one shoe on, the other was on the table near her hand; her veil was but half arranged, her watch and chain were not put on, and some lace for her bosom lay with those trinkets, and with her handkerchief; and gloves and some flowers and a prayer book all confusedly heaped about the looking glass.”

Gillian Anderson's lips are as parched as dry paper, but the curls are too neat for someone who has not tended to her hair in decades.

I have no quarrel with Gillian Anderson’s age. The book is written through Pip’s eyes, and a young boy would have found anyone in their 40’s to be ancient. Gillian did an excellent job of resembling someone who had not seen sunlight in decades, and whose physical condition was deteriorating as a result of physical and emotional neglect. Her curls make her look much too young and are incongruent. Why would she take care to wear such beautiful curls when she has neglected everything else about her appearance?

Helena Bonham Carter plays Miss Havisham in the yet to be released Great Expectations

If viewers were turned off by Gillian’s creepy Miss Havisham, with her high-pitched little girl voice and nervous bird-like mannerisms, then the above photo indicates that Helena Bonham Carter’s take on the spinster is set to go over the top as well. Let’s go back to Dickens’ description of Pip’s first meeting with his new patron to see if these interpretations fit in with his vision of the jilted bride:

It was not in the first minute that I saw all these things, though I saw more of them in the first minute than might be supposed. But I saw that every thing within my view, which ought to be white, had been white long ago, and had lost its lustre, and was faded and yellow. I saw that the bride within the bridal dress had withered like the dress, and, like the flowers, and had no brightness left, but the brightness of her sunken eyes.  I saw that the dress had been put upon the rounded figure of a young woman, and that the figure upon which it now hung loose had shrunk to skin and bone. “

Miss Havisham was a skeletal, withered shadow of a woman who shone as dimly as a pale moon hidden behind clouds. Gillian’s Miss Havisham shines just a little too brightly.

Pip approaches Estella for the first time.

It was when I stood before her avoiding her eyes that I took note of the surrounding objects in detail, and saw that her watch had stopped at twenty minutes to nine, and that a clock in the room had stopped at twenty minutes to nine.”

For some strange reason, the clocks in the film had stopped at 11:00. It’s these minor inattentions to detail that grate.

Izzy Meikle-Small plays the haughty young Estella.

“Look at me”, said Miss Havisham. “You are not afraid of a woman who has never seen the sun since you were born.”

These words would have been much more powerful in the introductory scene than Gillian’s museum tour guide of her rooms.

David Lean's Great Expectations featured a rather mature Jean Simmons. Martita Hunt as Miss Havisham and Tony Wager as Pip.

David Lean’s set was dark, as described by Dickens. Too much sunlight was allowed inside the house Gillian Anderson’s Miss Havisham inhabited. This served to make Satis House look much dirtier but less creepy.

I find it remarkable that many critics found this adaptation visually too gloomy. I think there is too much light. Dickens described the curtains as emitting no light whatsoever.

I glanced down at the foot from which the shoe was absent, and saw that the silk stocking on it once, while now yellow, had been trodden ragged. Without this arrest of every thing, this standing still of all the pale decayed objects, not even the withered bridal dress on the collapsed form could have looked so like grave clothes, or the long veil so like a shroud.

So she sat corpse like as we played at cards; the frillings and trimmings on her bridal dress looking like earthy paper, as if they would crumble under a touch. I knew nothing then of the discoveries that are occasionally made of bodies buried in ancient times which fall to powder in the moment of being distinctly seen, but I have often thought since that she must have looked as if the admission of the natural light of day would have struck her to dust”

The above description tells us why it would have been more important for the set designer to have kept Miss Havisham in total darkness. While some of the effects of the light on the dust and dirt was striking, the only evidence of “earthy paper” was on Gillian Anderson’s parched lips.


This set of the decaying bridal banquet is gorgeous. The house itself is allowed to rot (and Pip begins to notice the water damage and crumbling walls as he matures), much as Miss Havisham is allowing herself to rot inside and out. There were moments when the production shone. The film’s colors follow the current trend for digital color correction to create atmosphere. Whether you like it or not, I’m afraid the trend is here to stay.

The wedding cake looked skeletal and creepy, as if bugs were ready to crawl out of it. Still, would so much of the food and flowers have remained recognizable?

Miss Havisham's self-mutilation is evident early on in the film.

The self-mutilation, in this instance, Miss Havisham is constantly scratching her hand, was an interesting touch that added another layer to her manic obsessions. At times she seemed completely insane and incapable of self-possession. In this adaptation, Gillian portrays Miss Havisham as a weak victim who somehow finds the strength of will to plot her revenge on all male-kind.

The letter of betrayal from Compeyson, the fiance who jilted Miss Havisham.

The incongruity of a perfect white veil over the decaying flowers and (finally) the tattered sleeves struck me as being wrong in Gillian’s final scenes. While I loved the cinematography of the exterior sets, these visual mistakes detracted from my enjoyment of the story. One other thought: while I enjoyed watching the young Pip and Estella, I was bothered by their older counterparts. It was very hard for me to swallow that Pip was more beautiful than the girl he loved.

Vanessa Kirby as Estella and Douglas Booth as Pip

Your thoughts?

You can watch Great Expectations online through May 8th on PBSs website.

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From the moment the new adaptation of Great Expectations opened, viewers knew that this was not going to be their grand daddy’s sentimental interpretation of Charles Dickens’ classic. I struggled with how to review this PBS special, which aired last night, and realized that I could only do it through visuals. In the first 15 minutes, with very little dialogue, cinematographer Florian Hoffmeister captures the essence of Pip’s bleak life and visually sets up the rest of the plot. (Problems with the coloration of the screen captures must be blamed on my poor photo editing skills, not the cinematographer’s!) If you missed the first episode, you can watch it online until May 1.

Like some preternatural creature, Magwitch rises from the marsh waters. One of the ships in the background is the prison ship from which he escaped.

It is said that Ray Winstone has always wanted to play Magwitch

These scenes were shot in Tollesbury Wick Marshes in Essex, known for its wildlife. The fog adds to the sense of isolation.

Sketch of the church on the marsh. David Roger, production designer. Image @PBS Masterpiece Great Expectations. How much of these scenes were due to CG design?

Our first view of Pip (Oscar Kennedy) is at his parent's graveside. The smaller stones represent his dead siblings. "There were five of us," he told Miss Havisham sadly. So far, other than the booming of the ship's cannon, not a word has been said.

Pip should have been mortally scared of Magwitch and never come near him again. There is nothing pretty about their first encounter.

Pip's run to the Forge, where he lives with his sister and her husband, Joe Gargery, shows how isolated this section of the country is - flat, with few landmarks on the horizon. It would be nearly impossible for Magwitch to find a hiding place.

Orlick (Jack Roth)is Joe Gargery's assistant and no friend of Pip's. In this scene he almost looked like a zombie appearing through the mists. His encounter with the boy as he runs home to find a file for Magwitch is filled with hate and jealousy on Orlick's side, and dread on Pip's. It sets a malevolent tone to an already edgy opening.

The Forge is little more than a hovel.

This scene is quiet and pivotal. For many precious moments, Magwitch does not speak or move when he understands what Pip is offering him. Knowing how harsh Pip's life is, I too was moved by the boy's generosity.

The marsh lands through Florian Hoffmeister's lens are harsh and unforgiving. Magwitch can only cling under the platforms in the muck, but he will have no place to go when the tide rises.

This fight in the muck was elemental. I flinched as I watched this. At this point we are only 10 or 12 minutes into the film and I could not pull my eyes away.

Magwitch is caught, covered with mud and blood, yet still defiant. It is obvious that he has the grit, determination, and ingenuity to escape again.

In all these early scenes, only Joe Gargery (Shaun Dooley) shows Pip genuine love, concern, and kindness. His steady support of Pip provides the only real stability in the young boy's life.

The travelers journey through what seems to be a flat, bleak land. As observers of wildlife know, marshes teem with life, offering food for scores of creatures, both transient and permanent.

The two travelers are mere specks in this vast landscape. It would seem to be a perfect dystopian setting for The Hunger Games.

My next visual review will take us into Miss Havisham’s house. Great Expectations, 2011 was directed by Brian Kirk and adapted for the screen by writer Sarah Phelps. The cinematographer was Florian Hoffmeister and the production designer was David Roger. I commend them all for setting the stage so well for Pip’s story. Young Oscar Kennedy plays a compelling young Pip who stirred my heart strings.

Read the fabulous interview with production designer David Roger at this link.

The following links describe the Tollesbury Wick Marshes in Essex.

Google map of Tollesbury marshes

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It is hard to imagine what entertainment was like in the days before the 21st century, yet people have always devised ways to spend their leisure time in pleasant company doing amusing things. In the evening, Jane Austen and her family spent many hours entertaining each other. One popular form of entertainment that the older Austen siblings would have known about was the Toy Theatre, or a juvenile form of miniature theater.

Toy Theatre. Image @Tea at Triannon

This entertainment appeared in the early 1800s, and coincided with the popularity of theater and the rise of the print trade. One can imagine that Aunt Jane was well aware of toy theatres when she spent time with her nephews, for this new toy largely attracted boys.

By 1811 William West of London was printing sheets of stage characters for purchasers to colour, paste on cardboard and cut out, though others treasured them as individual portraits. Single prints in black ink on white paper were called “penny plains” while those with color added by the seller were the “twopence coloured.” West’s first subject was Joseph Grimaldi in “Mother Goose,” a role that brought him fame and lifelong success on the stage. – NYPL Digital Gallery

Miniature theaters became fashionable all over Europe, and their tiny elaborate sets mimicked the grand theaters of London, Paris and other world stages. The sets remained popular throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th century, offering children an opportunity to exercise their imaginations and their acting chops. Some children, I imagine, concentrated on honing their acting skills, while others probably enjoyed their roles as directors or scene designers more. New plays were published in the first half of the 19th century.

After the 1860’s no new plays were published but much of the old repertoire was kept in print by a dwindling number of theatrical print publishers and the tradition continued unbroken until 1944 when Miss Louisa Pollock,shut up her father’s famous shop in Hoxton for ever and sold the contents as a going concern. – Toy Theatre Gallery: History

From Mansfield Park the reader gains a sense of how seriously family theatricals were regarded. In the novel, the men were definitely in control of the enterprise, with the women acquiescing to their direction (the only exception being Fanny). While Jane Austen described a real play, Lover’s Vows, with large, almost life-like sets in Sir Thomas Bertram’s study, wood toy theatres that sat on a tabletop would be taken equally seriously. The children must have spent hours preparing for a performance, arranging sets, learning lines, and dressing and moving their characters before they felt comfortable opening a new play in front of an indulgent and forgiving family.

English Toy Theatre, 1850. Pollock's Museum. Image @Brittanica

Created from printed paper glued to cardboard and then mounted on wooden frames, these theaters could be quite intricate in design. They offered a proscenium, scenery, cut-out characters with codified attitudes and gestures, and a booklet that contained stage and scene directions and dialogue for the actors. Almost all of them depict an orchestra: The clothes worn by the musicians give a good indication of when the theatre was designed.

Early toy theatre prints were made from engraved copper plates, the engravings often from sketches made at the theatre on the night. Sets, costumes, and even the actors’ likenesses were copied, and could often be recognised. – Miniature Theatre: Curator’s Choice

Image @Victoriana

The plays were not necessarily derived from children’s stories: They were adapted from operas, melodramas, history, novels, and pantomimes. Works from Shakespeare, Cervantes, Mozart, and Beethoven were included. Hans Christian Anderson was also an inspiration.

Children could choose “Three-Fingered Jack, the Terror of Jamaica” or “Hamlet” or another of the nearly 300 “juvenile dramas” printed in England between 1811 and 1860. – Dramas to Cut, Color, and Produce

The involvement of publishers was enormous, but Pollock’s toy theatres were probably the most famous in Great Britain.

England had over 50 publishers, Germany 54, Spain 14, France 13, Denmark 10, Austria 9, and the United States 5. All of these versions to some degree were derived from the ability to mass produce the printed image, initially from engraved copper plates, followed by color lithography in the mid-19th century. – A Child’s View: 19th Century Paper Theaters

Many printed sheets of cut- out characters survive to this day, both colored and in black and white.

In 1811 William West produces a sheet of the principal characters from the first production on the London stage of ‘Mother Goose’, with Joseph Grimaldi in one of his most celebrated roles of Clown. The popularity of this role led to the publication of sets of sheets of characters, scenery and props, also elaborate prosceniums, the designs based on those of popular London theatres. Books of words, abridged versions of the most popular melodramas and pantomimes to be seen on the London stage.

From this time the popularity of the toy theatre, also known as the ‘Juvenile Drama’, saw the rapid growth in the number of publishers producing versions of plays, with the drawings for the engravings made by such leading artists as Georg e Cruickshank and William Blake. The legacy of the 19th century toy theatre is that of the most complete documentation of the costumes, scenery, and the performance style of the actors of the London Theatres of the period. – The World Through Wooden Eyes: A Penny Plain and Two Pence Coloured

Paper backdrops image @Birds of Ohio

These backdrops for miniature theaters on Birds of Ohio show how much detail the sets provided.

Below is a very rare example from the V&A shows a souvenir from a play  first performed at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden  in 1800 called Harlequin’s Tour or the Dominion of  Fancy. While the souvenir survives, the dialogue for the play does not.

Souvenir, 1800. Image @Victoria & Albert Museum

In a June 2011 The Telegraph article, Sir Roy Strong, former director of the V&A museum and National Portrait Gallery, recalls his toy theatre with great affection:

Image @The Telegraph

This toy theatre … reminds me of one enormously happy period of my childhood. It was given to me after the war and purchased at Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop, originally in the East End of London [now in Covent Garden]. I played with all the cut–out cardboard figures and scenery, and still have all my toy theatre plays, which are 19th–century dramas, romances and pantomimes. The theatre sits in the archive room and I love it. It’s been with me everywhere.

More on the topic:

Modern characters for The Waterman.

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Gentle Readers, Frequent contributor Patty from Brandy Parfums recently attended a cooking class that featured classic recipes. She says of her experience: “When we think about our wonderful holiday dinners coming up, it is good to remember the origins of mid-winter celebrations, so ingrained in our DNA.” I can’t think of two more interesting recipes to try than the two Patty describes in this post.

Cooking Class Taught by Culinary Historian Cathy Kaufman at I.C.E, the Institute of Culinary Education, New York, NY on December 5, 2011 by Patricia Saffran

Before there was Christmastime, the cherished holiday and lovely dinner that many have come to look forward to each winter, in ancient times there was the winter solstice celebration of rebirth focusing on the sun, in Stonehenge and other Neolithic sites. Later, light-starved Romans celebrated the Saturnalia, in 217 BC starting with December 17th and extending to a week long festival with gorging and other very pagan activities.

Stonehenge

Then there was the Roman and Mithra Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, the birthday of the invincible sun, December 25th. Old customs die hard but we still pay tribute to tree worship in the form of the Christmas tree, that came to Great Britain from Germany. It was first introduced by Queen Charlotte, with the connection made stronger later by Prince Albert. When we come to Victorian times is when the present traditions take hold.

As culinary historian, Cathy Kaufman described the holiday’s traditions and her special class:

A Charles Dickens Christmas

“Nothing pushes the nostalgia button at Christmastime more than Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, with its warming images of a candlelit tree and Victorian plenitude. Yet prior to the 19th century, Christmas was a very different holiday, and it was only in the Victorian era that our concept of Christmas as a child-centered family holiday arose. After reviewing the evolution of Christmas holidays, we will use 19th-century English cookbooks, such as Charles Francatelli’s The Modern Cook and Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery for Private Families, to create a groaning board of Victorian delights, including Jerusalem Artichoke Soup; Lobster Fricassée; Baked Goose with Chestnuts; Roasted Filet of Beef à l’Anglaise; Endives with Cream; Christmas Pudding; Gingerbread; and Twelfth Night Cake.”

Cathy continued, “This is upper class food that we’re making tonight, that took a large staff in the kitchen to prepare, with no expenses spared, using the most luxurious ingredients. It’s also infusion cuisine made with expensive stocks, showing the French influence in this period. There’s also a fair amount of cream in many dishes with a touch of cayenne pepper, an influence of the British colonials in India. The French at this time would have just used nutmeg. There were many women cooks in the kitchens of the wealthy in England, and in France there were more men in the kitchens.”

Charles Elme Francatelli

We separated into three groups to make the various dishes. I chose the group that was making the Charles Francatelli recipe for Beef à l’Anglaise. Francatelli was born in London in 1805 and went on to study with the great chef Marie-Antoine Carême in France, inventor of haute-cuisine. (At the downfall of Napoleon, Carême later went to work in London for the Prince Regent and George IV.) Francatelli was the chef for Queen Victoria and went on to be the chef at the Reform Club. His influential book was called The Modern Cook, published in 1846. This recipe is very time consuming and labor intensive with a vegetable and olive oil marinade and Financière and Espagnole (including truffle juice and veal stock) sauces for basting and serving. Our group also made vegetable garnishes and one of the three desserts, the Plum Pudding.

Another group made the Lobster Fricassée from an Eliza Acton recipe. Eliza Acton was born in Sussex in 1799. Like Francatelli, she spent time in France. She is credited with writing the first practical cookbook with a list of ingredients and instructions. Mrs. Beeton was supposed to have modeled her cookbook on Acton’s. The lobster recipe is somewhat complicated in that uses both a Béchamel and Consommé made from veal, mushrooms, ham, vegetables and stock. Final baking in the oven with the sauce and bread crumbs finished off this delectable dish.

The goose recipe from Charles Francatelli featured a Madeira wine mirepoix and a luting paste, a flour and water cover for the goose’s first hour of cooking to keep it moist.

Here are two recipes that are absolutely delicious and will be easy to make for a home version of a Victorian Christmas feast. Both recipes are presented in the original text and then in Cathy Kaufman’s modernized version for today’s kitchens.

Jerusalem artichoke

Jerusalem Artichoke, or Palestine Soup (Eliza Acton)

Wash and pare quickly some freshly dug artichokes, and to preserve their colour, throw them into spring water as they are done, but do not let them remain in it after all are ready. Boil three pounds of them in water for ten minutes; lift them out, and slice them into three pints of boiling stock; when they have stewed gently in this from fifteen to twenty minutes, press them with the soup, through a fine sieve, and put the whole into a clean saucepan with a pint and a half more of stock; add sufficient salt and cayenne to season it, skim it well, and after it has simmered two or three minutes, stir it to a pint of rich boiling cream. Serve it immediately.

2 lb. Jerusalem artichokes
4 cups chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste
5/8 cup heavy cream mixed with 1/4 cup Crème fraîche

Pare the Jerusalem artichokes.  Drop the pared Jerusalem artichokes into a pan of boiling salted water.  Cook for ten minutes to set the color.  Drain and refresh.

Slice the Jerusalem artichokes into pieces of about 1/2 inch thick and place in a saucepan with the chicken stock.  Simmer for 20 minutes and pass mixture through a food mill three times [or puree in a blender].

Return the puree to a clean saucepan and add the spices and heavy cream mixture.  Cook for two minutes, skim any impurities off the surface, adjust the seasoning and serve.

 

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Fronticepiece, Modern Cookery by Eliza Acton

Gingerbread (Eliza Acton)

Whisk four strained or well-cleared eggs to the lightest possible froth (French eggs, if really sweet, will answer for the purpose), and pour to them, by degrees, a pound and a quarter of treacle, still beating them lightly. Add, in the same manner, six ounces pale brown sugar, free from lumps, one pound of sifted flour, and six ounces of good butter, just sufficiently warmed to be liquid, and no more, for if hot, it would render the cake; it should be poured in small portions to the mixture, which should be well beaten up with the back of a wooden spoon as each portion is thrown in: the success of this cake depends almost entirely on this part of the process. When properly mingled with the mass, the butter will not be perceptible on the surface; and if the cake be kept light by constant whisking, large bubbles will appear in it to the last. When it is so far ready, add to it one ounce of Jamaica ginger and a large teaspoonful of cloves in fine powder, with the lightly grated rinds of two fresh, full-sized lemons. Butter thickly, in every part, a shallow square tin pan, and bake the gingerbread slowly for nearly or quite an hour in a gentle oven. Let it cool a little before it is turned out, and set it on its edge until cold, supporting it, if needful, against a large jar or bowl. We have usually had it baked in an American oven, in a tin less than 2 inches deep; and it has been excellent. We retain the name given to it originally in our circle.

Please note: The treacle, sugar and flour are measured by weight, not by volume.

2 tablespoons softened butter for preparing the baking pans
3 eggs
20 oz treacle
6 oz light brown sugar
6 oz butter, melted and cooled
16 oz cake flour, sifted
4 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
grated zest of two lemons

Preheat the oven to 350ー F.  Generously rub the inside of a 9 x 9 x 2 baking pan with the softened butter and set aside.

Stir the eggs together and pass them through a strainer to remove the white threads holding the yolks. Transfer to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat for two minutes. Very slowly pour in the treacle, beating constantly. Add the brown sugar in a slow trickle and continue beating. Add the butter and a steady stream, beating thoroughly to incorporate. Add flour in several additions, continuing to whisk. Finally, whisk in the spices and the lemon zest.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes to an hour, or until baked through. Cool on a rack before unmolding. Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.

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Caricature by Robert Seymour, 1830

After the death of Princess Charlotte in childbirth in 1817, the British Royal family was left without a legitimate heir to the throne. Since their marriage, King George IV had felt an overpowering physical and mental aversion to Queen Caroline, his consort, and the possibility of his begetting another child on her was less than zero.

None of the King’s brothers were married. The Dukes of York, Clarence, Kent, Cumberland, Sussex, and Cambridge all began to court potential brides in earnest.

In 1818 William Henry, Duke of Clarence, who would reign as King William IV, abandoned his 20-year relationship with Mrs. Jordan, with whom he had ten children, to marry Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen, a rather plain lady half his age. In short time the strong-willed duchess managed to take her husband’s finances in hand and pay off his debts through economical living. Parliament voted to increase his allowance, which the Duke, who was angling for more, finally accepted.

William was crowned King in 1830. By all accounts he was faithful to his queen. They lived a sober, almost boring life,  but, sadly, their two infant children did not survive. Queen Adelaide’s strong influence throughout her marriage can be seen in this illustration.This cartoon of the Adelaide Mill, drawn by English caricaturist, Robert Seymour, shows Adelaide decreeing that the court domestics must dress more humbly:

From other contemporary pictorial skits by Seymour we learn that various changes were made in the royal establishment, and the new queen seems to have addressed herself specially to a reform in the dresses of the court domestics. On the 1st of October, 1830, Seymour represents her grinding an enormous machine, called the “Adelaide Mill,” into which the women servants, dressed in the outrageous head-gear and leg-of-mutton sleeves of the period, are perforce ascending, and issuing from the other side attired in plain and more suitable apparel. “No silk gowns,” says Her Majesty as she turns the handle. “No French curls; and I’ll have you all wear aprons.” The new queen seems also to have shown a disposition to encourage native manufactures and produce at the expense of French and continental importations. These changes were not particularly pleasing to the Conservative lady patronesses of Almack’s, who were celebrated at this time for their capricious exclusiveness. One of Robert Seymour’s satires, bearing date the 1st of November, 1830, shows us a conference of these haughty dames, who seriously discuss the propriety of admitting some lady (probably the queen) who proposed appearing at one of the balls “in some vulgar stuff made by the canaille at a place called Kittlefields” [Spitalfields].” – English Caricaturists and Graphic Humourists of the Nineteenth Century. How they Illustrated and Interpreted their Times, by Graham Everitt

The death of King William IV in 1837 led to the long and successful reign of Queen Victoria, daughter of Prince Edward, Duke of Kent.

Learn more about Mrs Jordan in this link: The Delectable Dora Jordan

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Inquiring readers: Not often does news of great import come our way, such as this item unearthed from the depths of Andrew Capes’s crashed computer. His having retrieved it is nothing short of miraculous, for now he can share the rest of Charlotte Collins’ story with the world. If you found this news item as intriguing as I did, please let him know what you think of it in the comment section below! Article copyright (c) Andrew Capes.


Extract from the Hertfordshire Gazette, June 1876

Obituary Notice

Mrs Charlotte Collins of Longbourn Hall


We have been saddened recently to receive

notification of the death at the end of May, at

the advanced age of 92 years, of Mrs Charlotte

Collins, née Lucas, widow of the late Reverend

William Collins, of Longbourn Hall, near

Meryton. Mrs Collins is survived by her only

son, Thomas Collins, his wife Mary (née

Bennet), and her grandson, the Rt Hon. Sir

Timothy Collins PC, all of whom continue to

reside at Longbourn Hall.

 

Mrs Collins’s funeral at Meryton was attended

by a distinguished gathering of friends and

relations, many of whom had travelled great

distances to be present. Several members of the

extended Lucas family were there, although

Mrs Collins had outlived all her immediate

relations, and there were also representatives

and descendants of the former Bennet family,

with whom the Collinses had maintained

intimate connections for a great many years.

Among the latter were Mrs Elizabeth Darcy,

widow of the late Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy of

Pemberley in Derbyshire, and her niece, Mrs

Jane Lucas, daughter of the late Mr & Mrs

Charles Bingley of Freshfield Park in Yorkshire,

who is also the late Mrs Collins’s sister-in-law.

The occasion was graced with the presence of

Lydia, Lady Wickham, widow of Lieutenant

Colonel Sir George Wickham, Bart., late hero

of the French, American, and Affghan

campaigns. The Dowager Lady Wickham has

recently returned from India to pass her

remaining years with her son, Sir Arthur

Wickham de Bourgh, at his family home,

Rosings Park in Kent.

 

Charlotte Collins was born in March 1784, the

eldest of five children of Sir William and Lady

Lucas, latterly of Lucas Lodge near Meryton in

Hertfordshire. There she met and married the

Reverend William Collins, a cousin of the

Bennet sisters, in January 1812. The couple lived

at Hunsford in Kent where their son, Thomas

Collins, was born in 1813. In 1823, upon the

death of Mr Frederick Bennet, the Reverend

Mr Collins inherited Longbourn-house, an

estate of which Mrs Collins was destined to

remain mistress for over half a century.

Upon their removal to Longbourn, Mr and Mrs

Collins were pleased to allow Mr Bennet’s

widow and daughter Mary to continue to live in

the house, and to treat it as their home. Mary

had been entrusted under the terms of Mr

Bennet’s will with the care of his extensive library,

and she immediately set about this task

with the greatest diligence, continuing to

pursue improvements to the collection, chiefly

through a series of judicious acquisitions,

almost without interruption from that time

until the present day. Upon that occasion also,

Mr Collins desired that the name of the house

be changed from Longbourn-house to

Longbourn Hall, to reflect the elevated status

with which he expressed the hope that it

would, in the course of time, become

associated.

 

Regrettably, however, within less than a year of

the Collins family’s installation at Longbourn,

the Reverend Mr Collins sustained a minor

injury whilst engaged in clearing undergrowth

from a small wilderness beside a lawn in his

garden, the resulting wound from which most

unfortunately became infected. The rapid

progress of this infection caused him to

succumb soon afterwards, his resulting death

thus sadly depriving him of anything more than

the briefest period of enjoyment of his newly

acquired estate.

 

Mrs Bennet also died later that same year, and

Mrs Collins thereafter began to observe in

young Thomas the development of a strongly

studious character, carefully fostered by Miss

Mary Bennet’s solicitude towards him in her

combined role of cousin, mentor and librarian.

There gradually grew between these two

younger members of the household a firm

attachment, which eventually developed

beyond their previous cousinly affection, this

being confirmed by their marriage in 1833 and

the subsequent birth of a son, Timothy, in the

following year.

 

For above forty years since then, membership

of the Longbourn household underwent no

material alteration, until the recent death of

the elder Mrs Collins. This period has

nonetheless been punctuated by several notable

events associated with the family, perhaps the

most remarkable of which was the famous

Catherine (“Kitty”) Carter trial of 1862. Kitty

Carter was Mrs Mary Collins’s sister, and, in

defiance of social conventions, the elder Mrs

Collins allowed her to stay as a guest at

Longbourn Hall throughout the whole of that

protracted and scandalous affair.

 

The details of the case are so well known, even

today, that it would be superfluous to recount

them here; suffice it to say that the verdict

eventually obtained vindicated the faith that

both Mrs Collinses had placed in their relation,

who duly acknowledged her debt to them in an

autobiographical memoir, published later that

year, through which her name became known –

some might say, notorious – around the world.

 

Some nine years previously, a considerable

change had taken place at Longbourn, with the

purchase by the Great Northern Railway of

part of the estate’s farming land, for the

construction of the line through Meryton to

Ware. The substantial sum thereby realised

enabled the elder Mrs Collins to throw out a

new self-contained wing from the earlier house,

with the intention of entertaining friends and

family without interfering with the orderly

conduct of the rest of the household. The

generous nature of her year round hospitality

benefited in its turn from the improvements in

the means of travel provided by the new

railway, such that her visitors were now able to

reach Meryton from places as far afield as

Derbyshire and Yorkshire in a matter of hours,

rather than the days that had previously been

occupied in the completion of such journeys.

Mrs Collins retained few links with the Church

of England after the death of her husband,

although she did maintain friendships with

several of his former parishioners in and around

Hunsford for some time after her removal from

that part of the country. She was amused in her

later years to learn that the Rosings Estate, of

which the Hunsford rectory – where she spent

the first ten years of her married life – formed a

small part, had passed into the hands of the

nephew of her daughter-in-law, when it was

inherited by Sir Arthur Wickham de Bourgh,

Bart, upon the death of his first wife, Anne.

The concern that the elder Mrs Collins felt for

the education and welfare of her grandson, Mr

Timothy Collins, showed her to be

exceptionally solicitous on his behalf, and it

could be said with some certainty that his

successful parliamentary career, up to and

including his position in Mr Gladstone’s recent

administration, in the course of which he was

honoured with a knighthood, was the direct

result of the attention which she paid to his

upbringing. She also instilled in him the

passionate advocacy of many international

causes, foremost among which was that of

Italian unity, finding especial friendship and

fellow-feeling with the great Italian leader

Giuseppe Garibaldi, who was invited to

Longbourn Hall briefly on the occasion of his

visit to London in 1864.

 

Mrs Collins had always taken a great interest

not only in her own family, but also in those

both of her lifelong friend Mrs Elizabeth

Darcy, and of Mrs Darcy’s sister, the late Mrs

Jane Bingley. It was with great pleasure that she

saw her own younger brother, John Lucas,

marry Mr and Mrs Bingley’s daughter, also Jane,

in 1832, thereby sharing her own extended

family of nephews, nieces and cousins with

those of the former Bennet sisters.

 

Mrs Collins was widely renowned and loved for

the care she took to include all her extensive

family and friends in her regular invitations to

Longbourn, and for her careful remembrances

of birthdays and anniversaries of even the

youngest members of the family, extending to

the third and fourth generations, always with

thoughtful and appropriate gifts.

 

Mrs Collins travelled extensively, both in the

United Kingdom and abroad, often, especially

in her latter years, accompanied by her lifelong

friend Mrs Elizabeth Darcy. They completed

their last foreign journey together, to Italy, only

five years ago, at the height of the war in

France, which contributed not a little to the

excitements and discomforts of that journey.

Mrs Collins retained her health and her

faculties, save for gradually failing eyesight, to

the end of her long life, and many will recall the

occasion of her 90th birthday celebrations

which brought people from all over Britain, and

some from further afield, at which she herself

expressed a wish for it to be considered as, in

some measure, a way of bidding farewell to all

her many friends and relations.

 

The request expressed by Mrs Collins, that her

remains be removed from Meryton and

interred alongside those of her husband in the

churchyard at Hunsford, was complied with

shortly after her funeral, and a small family

gathering attended the interment ceremony as

a final farewell gesture to a well-loved and

notable figure who will be much missed, not

only here in Hertfordshire, but also much

further afield.

 

The Widow's Mite, 1876. Image @Morbid Anatomy

—————————————————————————————————
NOTES ON THE OBITUARY OF MRS CHARLOTTE COLLINS
AS SHOWN IN THE HERTFORDSHIRE GAZETTE, JUNE 1876
—————————————————————————————————

This Obituary Notice was discovered in the archives of the (fictional, of course) Hertfordshire Gazette, a long defunct weekly newspaper which circulated (as its title implies) mainly in Herfordshire, during the latter half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth.

The piece was deliberately written without reference to any of the many continuations of P&P, even those attributed to Jane herself. I felt that a retrospective view from 63 years on would imply a much greater leap of the imagination than a mere ‘continuation’ of the novel would require.

Most of it needs no explanation for those familiar with the novel, though there are some things which might raise a question or two. Some of these are:

What was the ‘Kitty’ Carter trial?
The details are not recorded – but there WAS a notorious murder trial in 1862 – a nurse called Catherine Wilson was tried and found guilty of multiple murders for money; she was the last woman to be publicly hanged in London – some 25,000 people attended her execution. The ‘Kitty’ Carter trial was clearly much more ‘classy’ than that, involving scandal in very high places, and a very different outcome; it probably would not have involved murder. Carter, of course, was one of Wickham’s fellow officers.

Two of the marriages are with much older women. Is this not improbable?
Uncommon, but by no means improbable. It was certainly possible for an older woman to marry a younger man. I think the Mary/Thomas marriage entirely natural; and although the Arthur Wickham/Anne de Bourgh one might be a little more unlikely, Arthur would have inherited his father’s title (which was granted only a short time before his death in action in the First Affghan Campaign of 1837-39) when he was in his mid-20s and Anne was newly independent on the death of Lady Catherine.

What was Sir Timothy Collins’s post in the Gladstone cabinet of 1871-74?
He was Chairman of the Local Government Board, a new post created by Gladstone in 1871. He must have been promoted when he was quite young. In historical fact, the post of President of the Board went to Sir James Stansfeld, but I think Sir Timothy probably edged ahead of him at the time of the vote of no confidence in Stansfeld as Civil Lord of the Admiralty in 1864. Stansfeld, incidentally, was also a great supporter of Garibaldi.

Great Northern Railway – Meryton to Ware
No such line was actually built – the railway at Ware was built in 1843 by the Great Eastern Railway. However, the Great Northern did build a line from Welwyn to Hertford in 1858 which connected with the Ware line. The Great Northern main line would have made access from Yorkshire and Derbyshire to Meryton via Hitchin or Hatfield very much easier than it had previously been from about 1851 onwards.

Respectfully submitted by Andrew Capes. Your comments are most welcome.

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The servants in Downton Abbey. Image courtesy @ITV and PBS Masterpiece.

Downton Abbey. Gosford Hall.  Manor House. Regency House. Each film follows the servants and takes the viewer up and down back stairways, into kitchens and butler’s pantries, and stables and courtyards. But how were the servants’ quarters laid out, and where were they placed in relation to the public and private rooms that the family used? Each house had a different arrangement, to be sure, but patterns did exist.

A narrow corridor leads from the kitchen. Image courtesy @PBS Masterpiece.

The interior and exterior shots of Downton Abbey were filmed in Highclere Castle,but because the servant kitchens and bedrooms below-stairs no longer existed as they once were, the servant quarters for the mini-series were reconstructed in Ealing Studios in London. The cost of reconstructing these “plain” rooms was relatively affordable. Imagine if one of the elaborate public rooms had to be reconstructed. As script writer Julian Fellowes observed: “The thing about filming in these great houses is that if you were to start from scratch, you simply couldn’t build this and if you did you would have used up all your budget in one room.”

Servant stairs in Downton Abbey. Image courtesy @PBS Masterpiece

The ground plan from Eastbury Manor House is representative of a great house. It shows the servant quarters at the right near tight round servant stairs, or back stairs, that the servants used instead of the grand staircase reserved for the family and their guests. Maids were expected to work invisibly and sweep and dust when the family was asleep, or work in a room when the family was not scheduled to use it. In fact, many of the lower servants never encountered the family during their years of service.

Unless they were polishing or cleaning the grand staircase, the servants would use the backstairs for all other occasions. A small housemaid’s closet would be located near the back stair on the bedroom floor to accommodate brushes, dusters, pails, and cans. In “modern” Victorian and Edwardian houses, such a closet might  contain a sink that provided water for mopping.  Some great houses boasted a linen-room on the bedroom floor, where clean bed linen and table linen were stored. In this instance, a dry environment was essential.

Late 19th c. maid and lad at the back entrance

Servants were expected to enter the house in their own entrance, even in smaller houses, such as townhouses.  The Regency Townhouse Annex shows a typical entrance below street level. If you click on the links on the various rooms, you can see the other servant areas in this site.

Stairs to servant’s entrance. Bath. Image @Tony Grant

In a country house, the entrance would be in the back of the building or from a courtyard, where supplies could be delivered. The philosophy of a smooth running household was that servants were out of sight and out of mind.

Belowstairs entrance, Bath. Image @Tony Grant

Upon entering, servants would walk along a long hallway to reach the servants’ rooms and other work areas such as the kitchen, scullery, servant’s hall, housekeeper’s room, butler’s room, storage room, etc.  Country were at least two or three stories tall. Servants climbed the stairs and came down them again all day long, cleaning, hauling water, carrying meals or coal for fires, and a myriad other duties. They rose before the family, often from top floor garrets with small windows, and worked long after their employers had gone to bed.

Interior, Upstairs Downstairs web page. Notice the tiny garret bedrooms.

In this image, you can see the small garret rooms reserved for servants in the attic of a townhouse. Men’s and women’s quarters were separated, as in Downton Abbey, with the women’s quarters called the virgin’s wing. The most common servant quarters are described below.

A meal belowstairs. Downton Abbey. Notice the servant bells on the back wall. Image courtesy @PBS Masterpiece

Servant’s Hall:

The servant’s hall was a common room where the work staff congregated, ate their meals, performed small but essential tasks, like mending, darning, polishing, ect. A long table was its main feature, as well as a window that would let in enough light for the tasks that needed to be accomplished. This window is a feature in images of several servants halls, which makes me think it was essential, for many of their tasks (darning, polishing shoes, ironing, and the like) required good light.

1907 Watercolor of the windows in a servant’s hall

The servants would regard the hall as their living room, for they ate their meals there and congregated in the hall for the evening. Often the cook did not regard making the servants’ meals as part of her duty, and this task would be left to the kitchen maids. Servants would also receive the visitors’ servants here (as in Gosford Park), persons of similar rank, or their own visitors on a very rare occasion.

Image of Victorian servants eating dinner in the servants hall.

The servant bells were located in this area, as well as hooks for coats and uniforms.

Daisy puts on her coat as William speaks to her just outside the servants hall. Downton Abbey. Image courtesy @PBS masterpiece

The servants followed a hierarchy downstairs as strict as upstairs, and the upper servants, the butler, housekeeper, cook, valet and ladies maid would be served meals and tea by the lower servants.  The highest ranking servant was the stewart, then came the butler and housekeeper.

Anna completes a task in the servants hall. Downton Abbey. Image courtesy @PBS Masterpiece

The ladies maid would defer to the housekeeper and the valet to the butler. Standing low down was the scullery maid or tweeny, who often was just a young girl of twelve or thirteen. Her hours were the longest, for she would make sure that the water was boiling for the cook before she began her day.

Kitchen:

The long work table is the focal point of the kitchen. Downton Abbey. Image courtesy @PBS Masterpiece

The kitchen even in great houses were utilitarian, and positioned away from the family quarters to keep cooking smells away yet near enough for the delivery of food. Kitchens were also located near an entrance were supplies could be delivered, and near the kitchen gardens (but not always. See below.)

Harewood house and grounds. The kitchen was a 20-minute walk to the walled garden.

Kitchens tended to be oblong and dominated by a large kitchen table, where the majority of food preparation was done. The window would be ideally positioned to the left side of the range, and the kitchen dresser, where essential equipment was held, would stand close to the work table.

Kitchen suite, 1900 house.

The cook worked under the housekeeper, but the kitchen was her domain. She saw to its cleanliness and neatness, and made sure the larders were well-stocked. Not only were the floors, shelves, and work spaces scrubbed, but they had to be thoroughly dried to prevent mold and mildew from contaminating food stuffs and work tops. The arrangement of the scullery and kitchen was convenient, so that one did not need to cross the kitchen to reach the scullery. Natural light in both rooms needed to be ample. 

This kitchen in the Royal Crescent in Bath needs renovation and preservation.

She (for by the end of the 19th century, most of the cooks in British households were female) oversaw the meals and kitchen staff, consisting of kitchen maids and the scullery maid.

Scullery and kitchen in the Fota House, Ireland

Scullery:

Cleaning in the scullery

The scullery was always located in a separate room from the kitchen so that food would not be contaminated by soiled water. Double stone sinks were the main feature of this room, where pots and pans and the servants’ crockery were rinsed and cleaned. The family’s fine china would be washed in a copper sink, whose softer surface prevented chipping. A cistern above the sinks was used to flush the drains, which led out of house. This was one reason that sculleries were located next to the outer walls and nearest the courtyards or an outer garden. Often, the scullery had no door into the kitchen (only a pass through), and one could enter the room only from the outside. An outside door in the scullery was also known as the “tradesmen’s entrance”.

Scullery, Image @Harewood House.

Food preparation also occurred in this area, such as chopping vegetables. Hygiene was essential in order not to contaminate existing food supplies, or the people within the house with soiled cutlery or water. This meant constant hauling of fresh water, scrubbing, washing, and cleaning. The scullery floor, made of stone, was lower than the kitchen’s, which prevented water from flowing into the cooking areas. Dry goods were stashed well away from the scullery, which also had to be kept dry in order to prevent mold. To prevent standing in water all day long, raised latticed wood mats were placed by the sink for the scullery maid to stand upon.

Panorama of a Victorian scullery with boiler and laundry features

Sculleries also contained a copper for boiling clothes on laundry day, washtubs, washboards, irons, and cabinets for cleaning supplies. In 1908, an eight-room house required 27 hours per week of labor, which did not include laundering clothes. One can only imagine how long a house the size of Downton Abbey took to manage.

Scullery sinks, Chawton

She stood at a sink behind a wooden dresser backed with choppers and stained with blood and grease, upon which were piles of coppers and saucepans that she had to scour, piles of dirty dishes she had to wash. Her frock, her cap, her face and arms were more or less wet, soiled, perspiring and her apron was a filthy piece of sacking, wet and tied round her with a cord. The den where she wrought was low, damp, ill-smelling, windowless, lighted by a flaring gas-jet……with many ugly dirty implements around her. – The History of Country House Staff

In this 17th c. image, the scullery maid stands upon a platform to keep her feet dry.

In Downton Abbey, the scullery maid is nowhere to be seen. (Daisy is the kitchen maid,  with vastly different duties.) Two modern women who played the scullery maid in Manor House quit the series, unable to pursue that role for the duration of the series. Only the third person, Ellen Beard, who had a better understanding of the scullery maid’s duties of endless washing, managed to remain at her station until the very end. Click on this link to hear a short podcast of a Scottish scullery maid, who described her job as slave labor.

The butler polishes the silver, 1868.

Butler’s room and Butler’s Pantry

The duties of the butler confine him to the drawing-room and dining-room. The dining-room, however, is his particular domain; he sees that everything is in order, that the table is laid correctly, the lighting effect satisfactory, the flowers arranged, and in short that the room and appointments are in perfect readiness for a punctual meal. In this work a parlor maid assists him by sweeping and dusting, and a pantry-maid helps him by keeping everything immaculate and in readiness in the pantry. The butler serves at breakfast, luncheon and dinner.” – Vintage Maids and Butlers

Butlert’s pantry, 1896. Staatsburg House, McKim, Mead, & White

The butler’s rooms, which included the Butler’s Pantry, were located in the basement nearest the dining room upstairs and back entry, and had no connection with the kitchen, except for service. When he was summoned, even in his rooms, the butler could appear quickly. In smaller establishments, such as Matthew Crawley’s house, the butler also acted as valet. In all instances, except for the steward, he was the highest-ranking servant, answering directly to the master.

One of the duties of the butler (Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey) is to account for the wine. In this instance, he notices a discrepancy in the tally and the books. Image courtesy @PBS Masterpiece

The butler’s pantry was kept under lock and key, so that thievery was impossible at best, and at the very least deterred. A plate-closet or safe were placed there, as well as a private scullery for cleaning. The butler’s bedroom was a necessary (and lockable) adjunct in large houses for the protection of the plate.

Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson chat in her sitting room. Downton Abbey. Image courtesy @PBS Masterpiece

The Housekeeper’s Room

The housekeepers room in large establishments served as both a sitting- and business-room where she would take the directions of the day from the lady of the house. She would also entertain visitors of similar rank in her quarters. The housekeeper oversaw the female servants, and when she walked, a thick assortment of keys, symbols of her status and which dangled from her waist, would jiggle and certainly make a sound.

The housekeeper’s room in Uppark. At times the upper servants would congregate there for tea, and in some houses, for dinner.

Before dinner in the servants hall, the upper servants would assemble in the housekeeper’s room, also known as the Pug’s Parlour, and walk in for dinner, with the butler leading the way. This was known as the Pug’s Parade. After dinner, the upper servants would withdraw to the housekeeper’s parlor again for conversation.

Servant Bedrooms

Anna and Gwen confronted by O’Brien in their unlocked room. Downton Abbey. Image courtesy @PBS Masterpiece

In the latter half of the 19th century, servants slept in attic bedrooms. These were often cold and damp in the winter and hot in the summer, with little light coming in from small windows. Some male servants slept downstairs to guard the family silver. The furnishings in servant quarters were basic and essential. A servant might have a locked box in which personal materials were kept, but the rooms were open and subject to inspection by their employers.

The valet’s simple bedroom. Downton Abbey. Image courtesy @PBS Masterpiece

One source for servant quarters and duties of the servants cautioned that books about servant etiquette discussed ideal behavior. In reality, servant turnover was high, theft did occur, and servants did not always know their place. In this humorous Punch cartoon, the mistress arrived home unexpectedly, catching the servants eating upstairs and generally misbehaving. The truth, I suspect, is somewhere in between.

“Oh, hey, the missus! Servants eating a meal upstairs.” Cruikshank. Punch

Sources: (A long list that fleshes out the topic.)

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Copyright @Jane Austen’s World. From the desk of Shelley DeWees, The Uprising

Jane Austen's WorldEvery once in a while, it seems, I stumble upon something I had absolutely no idea existed. I remember discovering something called a “thumb drive” stashed in my friend’s pen, on which she’d stored everything she’d ever written, and I distinctly recall the first time I tried a roasted beet (why didn’t anybody tell me about the most delicious vegetable in the world?). Reading The Victorian Fern Craze by the highly-qualified writer and lecturer Sarah Whittingham was one of these moments, one of these special blips that caused a true case of head scratching and verbal claims of “WOW! I had no idea about this!”

This slender little book is aptly named. People really were crazy for ferns during the Victorian years, its gradual growth a perfect example of cultural snowball effect. Passion for gardening was filtering down from the rich into the middle classes of people, who wished to beautify their houses and back yards with small, precious plots. “They were assisted by technical and chemical advances,” explains Whittingham, “together with endless advice and instruction in a proliferation of new gardening literature.”

 

Jane Austen's World

Pressed fern, 1840

Passions combined with literature, then support from the church emerged, touting fern collecting as a moral, healthy, educational activity that might “lead through nature to nature’s God.” Young people loved to have a reason to go somewhere, anywhere, especially with the mind of digging under rocks and climbing into caves to reach a fern, and women found themselves with a special opportunity to mix with the opposite sex. This, on top of major strides in transport and housing of these special plants, brought ferns into the hearts and homes of Victorian England with abandon.

 

Jane Austen's World

Gathering Ferns, Illustrated London News, 1871

Whittingham spends a great deal of time speaking about the nature of the fern and its particular needs, and focuses particularly on the creation of a controlled environment meant to support their delicate constitutions. Invented by Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward (1791-1868), the Wardian Case was the result of years of experimentation and trial-and-error research into how one might keep a fern alive in a world of pollution, variable temperatures, and low lighting. The sealed, glazed glass boxes became very popular and grew in size and splendor, eventually turning into hothouses, plant conservatories, shadehouses, glasshouses that could be built into the side of existing homes. Some of the fancier tabletop Wardian cases might even include aquarium space, aviaries, or terrariums, and it became fashionable to keep animals alongside ferns in general (Henry Boyle kept alligators in his Lake District hothouse). These Wardian cases were a huge part of the fern craze, and Whittingham gives them the ample page space they deserve without boring the reading to death. In fact, the images and illustrations of the cases are quite extraordinary, and I found myself in another moment of, “Wow! Look how cool that is!” A Wardian case…who knew?

Jane Austen's World

Victorian wardian case

The book is, in general, expertly researched and chock full of inspiring photographs. While the writing can be a bit dry at times, the material is engaging and interesting, positively brimming with opportunities to absorb some out-of-the-ordinary knowledge. If you’ve ever wondered why every fashionable house in England has space for plants, or why ferns keep popping up in décor from all across the 19th century, this book is for you. One warning though: you’ll start to see ferns everywhere and you’ll want to talk about them when you do. Your friends may think you’re crazy, but you can just say, “Nope. I’m just crazy for ferns!”

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Copyright @Jane Austen’s World. Post written by Tony Grant, London Calling.

John Clare (1793-1864) was born at Helpston, a village in Northamptonshire on July 13th 1793. Jane Austen was 18 years old and living in the south in an equally rural setting of the parsonage at Steventon, Hampshire. Her family and life was very different to John Clare’s. His father was a farm labourer, a fairground wrestler and a ballad singer. The ballad singing was John’s first introduction to verse, rhythm and rhyme.

John Clare was at first educated at a dame school in his native village between 1798 and 1800. Then he went to Glinton school in the next village.

John Clare, Poet

He had a need to write poetry and his first poems were based on his father’s songs. People said of him at the time and nowadays that he was a self-taught poet. It’s difficult to imagine anybody being taught to be a poet. John Clare could hear the rhythms and rhymes in his father’s songs and he did read quite extensively. He was able to think in rhythms and find the right words to say what he wanted by writing poetry. He was sensitive to the sounds and meanings of words and was able to put them together. Great writers don’t learn to be great writers. They have certain skills but the rest is innate. They can hear and find things in words that is very difficult for the rest of us. Otherwise we could all do it. People have struggled to explain the genius of Shakespeare and perhaps Jane Austen. They didn’t come from the aristocracy or were particularly well educated. It was part of their inner selves. That can be the only explanation. Great lawyers or accountants or architects are taught the knowledge they need and some skills but something innate can only make them great.

John Clare's cottage

John Clare’s father became rheumatic and couldn’t work in the fields and so John had to take his place so the family could eat. He worked as a horse boy, a ploughboy and then became a gardener at Burley House. In 1812 he joined the local militia returning home 18 months later.
When he returned he took up lime burning. Lime was very useful for building purposes. It was and is a necessary ingredient for cement and concrete. It can also be spread on fields to keep pests down.

In Casterton, a village nearby, he met Martha Turner. She became his wife and they had eight children together.

John Clare’s first book of poems was called “Poems Descriptive of Rural Life.” This was published in 1820 by Hessey and Taylor who were Keats publisher. The volume ran to four editions and Clare began to become famous in London literary circles. They called him, the, “peasant poet,” a rather derogatory title in many ways. In 1821 he published “The Village Minstrel,” and in 1827 The Shepherds Calendar,” came out. The success of his first volume, which was obviously a curio, eluded these following books. In 1835, “The Rural Muse,” was produced and hardly sold at all. John Clare and his family had no money and were virtually destitute.

Country Church. Image @Tony Grant

In 1837 John Clare was admitted to Matthew Allen’s private asylum of High Beech in Epping Forest. He was there for four years. He had begun to have delusions. He thought he was Shakespeare for a while. His family couldn’t cope with him. The mental strain of being torn between two worlds was destroying him. After four years he was discharged and had to walk the eighty miles home, which took him three days. He ate grass along the way. When he got home he wrote two long poems based on Byron’s poems Don Juan and Childe Harold.These two poems described his state of mind. Again in December 1841 he was certified insane by two doctors. He was admitted to St Andrew’s County Lunatic Asylum in Northampton where he was treated well. He was able to continue writing poetry. He died there in 1864.

Skylark

The Skylark

THE rolls and harrows lie at rest beside
The battered road; and spreading far and wide
Above the russet clods, the corn is seen
Sprouting its spiry points of tender green,
Where squats the hare, to terrors wide awake,
Like some brown clod the harrows failed to break.
Opening their golden caskets to the sun,
The buttercups make schoolboys eager run,
To see who shall be first to pluck the prize–
Up from their hurry, see, the skylark flies,
And o’er her half-formed nest, with happy wings
Winnows the air, till in the cloud she sings,
Then hangs a dust-spot in the sunny skies,
And drops, and drops, till in her nest she lies,
Which they unheeded passed–not dreaming then
That birds which flew so high would drop again
To nests upon the ground, which anything
May come at to destroy. Had they the wing
Like such a bird, themselves would be too proud,
And build on nothing but a passing cloud!
As free from danger as the heavens are free
From pain and toil, there would they build and be,
And sail about the world to scenes unheard
Of and unseen–Oh, were they but a bird!
So think they, while they listen to its song,
And smile and fancy and so pass along;
While its low nest, moist with the dews of morn,
Lies safely, with the leveret, in the corn.

John Clare

John Clare often wrote in Iambic pentameter, that most used metre in the English language. Shakespeare and Milton and many poets since have found iambic pentameter the best form to use. It is a ten-syllable line with pared, soft and strong beat pulses. It’s like an inner natural force. It is the most natural rhythm pattern to use because it is close to a conversational style; it’s like our heartbeat and our breathing patterns. It is most apt for conveying every sort of meaning in the English Language. It’s easy and smooth and a real joy to say.

John Clare moves straight into this perfect rhythm in the first two lines of The Skylark with these rhyming couplets.

The rolls and harrows lie at rest beside
The battered road: and spreading far and wide”

The iambic pentameter mesmerises us, carries us along, and Clare enters right into the detail of the countryside with “rolls,” “harrows” and “the battered road.” We are there immediately with him on his walk or ramble about his village.

Wheat field. Image @Tony Grant

In this poem, John Clare shows his detailed knowledge of the countryside where he lives and his knowledge about country practices and farming equipment. “Rolls and harrows lie at rest,” “ the battered road,” presumably cut deep and rutted by cartwheels are there for him to see. He describes the colour of the clods of clay, a russet colour, and we learn the season when the events of this poem happen, in his description of the growing corn, “sprouting spiry points of tender green.” It’s the time of year the buttercups are, “ opening their golden caskets to the sun.”

The introduction of humans, in Clare’s poetry, always brings foreboding, fear and the possibility of danger and destruction. In the Skylark “schoolboys eager run, to see who shall be first to pluck the prize.” The boys are not there to admire and be sensitive to nature they want to, “pluck,” it, tear it from it’s place and use it for their own fun and amusement. Are they, the boys, the, “anything,” that, “may come at to destroy?”

Clare shows his closeness and affinity with nature and the world of the countryside with words and phrases such as,

…harrows lie at rest,”

“Where squats the hare, to
terrors wide awake,”

“…the skylark flies,
And oe’r her half formed nest, with happy wings
Winnows the air, till in the cloud she sings.”

We are so used to using the word, sings, to describe the sounds a bird makes. Clare has used, in this poem, words to describe country objects and nature; rest, terror, winnows and happy. This is personification. It shows his relationship, his emotional attachment to nature and wild animals. He is part of it and it is part of him.

Skylark in flight

There is a very powerful section in the poem which describes a certain fear and dislocation in the life of the skylark which the schoolboys create.
Clare describes the skylark suddenly and abruptly flying high to distract them from it’s weak, fragile and vulnerable nest on the ground.

The line starts abruptly:

Up from their hurry, see, the
Skylark flies,
And oe’r her half formed nest, with happy wings
Winnows the air, till in the cloud she sings
Then hangs a dust spot in the sunny skies
And drops, and drops, till in her nest she lies,”

The boys have passed by unaware, and the skylark feels safe to return to her nest and probably her eggs or new laid chicks. She has flown high and put on a happy and joyous show, an act, a false hood, all the time terrified about her nest being discovered. Just as suddenly she drops back down to the nest when the coast is clear. It’s a sudden dramatic,reversal and change of positions.

The description of the skylark being, “a dust spot,” adds to this sense of dislocation. I thought it a strange description of the skylark high in the sky. In a literal sense the skylark might look like a dark spot against the bright blue spring sky. However, a dust spot is dirt that needs to be removed, swept away. It’s out of place. The beauty of the skylark reduced to something dirty. This description has a strange resonance. Why should Clare think of the skylark as a piece of dirt?

Woodland. Image @Tony Grant

To relieve us from all this dire, stark reality, Clare, describes at the end of the poem his idea of perfection. His thoughts are about the schoolboys but this is Clare’s hope. It is sad to think that freedom for Clare can only be in death and the hope of heaven. Only there can the skylark, it’s, “low nest, moist with the dew of morn,” be safe.

Like such a bird themselves
Would be too proud

And build on nothing but a passing cloud!
As free from danger as the heavens are free
From pain and toil, there would they build and be.”

It is very easy to compare the events in this poem with Clare’s own life and perhaps his feelings about himself. Is he the skylark torn between heaven and earth, the heights of the literary world where many regarded him as a curio, a country yokel, a,”dust spot?” Is the skylark’s vulnerable nest his own vulnerable family and fragile existence back home in his Northamptonshire village?

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Copyright (c) Jane Austen’s World. The Cranford Companion, a book by Sue Birtwistle and Susie Conklin, the co-creators of the wildly popular series based on the Cranford books by Elizabeth Gaskell, is now available for purchase. The miniseries, produced by the BBC, aired last year in the United States on PBS.

Lushly illustrated in full color photographs, this companion book will provide fans of the two mini-series, Cranford and Return to Cranford, with all the behind the scenes stories about the production, film locations, map of Cranford, and the characters and actors who portray them. Included are points of historic interest, such as the building of the railroads, as well as information on etiquette, the fairer sex, Victorian society and more.

It is hard to describe the book when I think a short video can demonstrate all its fabulous features so much better!

I recommend The Cranford Companion highly to all Cranford and Elizabeth Gaskell fans. Purchase the book in England at this Bloomsbury site and in the U.S. at Amazon.com

Sue Birtwistle and Susie Conklin. Image @Manchester Literature Festival Blog*

My reviews of the series:

My post about Elizabeth Gaskell: A Short description of Her Life

*Manchester Literature Festival Blog

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Life in the Victorian Country House is a beautifully illustrated book that is best described visually (See my video below). Filled with historical details and archived photographs of Britain’s landed families and their day-to-day lives, which depended on the work of their household servants and outdoor staff, this book considers the relationships between those who live above stairs and those who meet their needs and live below stairs.

The table of contents:

  • The Country House and its Occupants
  • Victorian and Edwardian Households
  • Growing Up in the Country House
  • Out of Doors
  • The London Season and Other Pelasures
  • The End of an Era

About the author: Pamela Horn formerly lectured on economic and social history at Oxford Poyltechnic, now Oxford Brookes University, for over twenty years. She has written a number of books on Victorian social history, including The Rise and fall of the Victorian Servant and Ladies of the Manor.

The relationship between master and servant, and wealth and land are outlined so well that it was hard to put the book down. I give it a strong recommendation. Three out of three regency fans.

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