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Posts Tagged ‘Almack’s’

Lady Sarah Jersey

Gentle Readers: In my sidebar I call myself an amateur historian, an apt term as this post will attest. I try to quote from older sources, but this can sometimes backfire. Captain Gronow, for example, whose words I quoted for this post via John Ashton (1890) and Lewis Saul Benjamin (1909), wrote down his memories about the Regency era in 1863, a half century after the events occurred.  Gronow’s memory, unfortunately, was faulty in a few particulars, especially in recalling the names of the patronesses of Almack’s in 1814, and why they turned the Duke of Wellington away. I have placed a number of updates in the original post.

Any individual who has read a novel set in Regency England knows about the assembly rooms at Almack’s and the club’s exclusivity. While Almack’s was notorious for its stale refreshments and thin lemonade in the supper room, the Beau Monde never minded, for the idea was to hob nob with the right people, trot out one’s eligible daughters, and make the best marriages possible given their dowries and family connections. Looks and a personality had very little to do with a young lady’s success in her first season OUT, but a pleasing countenance matched with a fortune would swiftly speed up the unification of great estates or the purchase of a worthy title.

Almack's, Pall Mall, opened in 1765

The Patronesses of Almack’s guarded entry to the club like Valkeries prepared to do battle. No one, not even the Duke of Wellington, would dare to step a foot inside the establishment without a proper voucher, and, indeed, he was turned away once for wearing *gasp* trousers instead of knee breeches. But is this true? Please keep on reading.

This passage from Social England Under the Regency by John Ashton (p 383) is quite telling:

*The Duke of Wellington

Of course the Creme de la creme went to Almack’s, but numberless were the Peris who sighed to enter that Paradise, and could not. Capt. Gronow, writing of 1814, says: “At the present time one can hardly conceive the importance which was attached to getting admission to Almack’s, the seventh heaven of the fashionable world. Of the three hundred officers of the Foot Guards, not more than half a dozen were honoured with vouchers of admission to this exclusive temple of the beau monde, the gates of which were guarded by lady patronesses whose smiles or frowns consigned men and women to happiness or despair. These lady patronesses were the Ladies Castlereagh, Jersey, Cowper, and Sefton; … and the Countess Lieven.” (Note: At that time, two other patronesses included Lady Downshire and Lady Bathurst.)

Cruikshank, Longitude (Countess Lieven) and Latitude (in capri-length pantaloons) at Almack's.

In a Newspaper of May 12, 1817, we read – “The rigorous rule of entry established at Almack’s Rooms produced a curious incident at the last Ball – The Marquis and Marchioness of W__r, the Marchioness of T__, Lady Charlotte C__ and her daughter, had all been so imprudent as to come to the rooms without tickets, and though so intimately known to the Lady Managers, and so perfectly unexceptionable, they were politely requested to withdraw, and accordingly they all submitted to the injunction. Again at the beginning of the season of 1819, we find these female tyrants issuing the following ukase: “An order has been issued, we understand, by the Lady Patronesses of Almack’s, to prevent the admission of Gentlemen in Trowsers and Cossacks to the balls on Wednesdays, at the same time allowing an exception to those Gentlemen who may be knock kneed or otherwise deformed.” But the male sex were equal to the occasion as we find in the following lines: –

TO THE LADY PATRONESSES OF ALMACK’S

Tired of our trousers are ye grown?

But since to them your anger reaches,

Is it because tis so well known

You always love to wear the breeches.

*Image from Highest Life in London: Tom and Jerry Sporting a Toe among the Corinthians at Almack's in the West, by I. Robert and George Cruikshank, 1821

Update:  Regency Researcher, Nancy Mayer, was kind enough to contact me and set a few facts straight. I have placed her explanations in the update/update below. In the above image, the young bucks are wearing dark suits with dark, close-fitted trousers (Beau Brummel’s influence), while the older men are still in buff-colored knee breeches.

If anyone knows the true story about the Duke and his trousers, please contact me. One conjecture is that Wellington was turned away for arriving after midnight. (Read more about the Patronesses’ edict on trousers in this link to The Beaux of the Regency, Vol. 1.)

Update/Update: Pantaloons, which fitted snug to the leg, came in two lengths: capri and long. A strap under the foot kept long pantaloons in place. (The image below shows the strap.) Thus, the men in the image above were wearing tight pantaloons, for trousers at the time were slightly looser and would have sported gussets that extended the fabric low over the shoe.

Pantaloons with straps, 1821. Image @Republic of Pemberley

In 1814, the date Gronow recollected, trousers (below) were acceptable for day wear only. Pantaloons were worn as evening wear.

Nancy Mayer, a Regency researcher who provided much of the updated information, wrote in a second note: “Luttrell’s poem on Almack’s was published around 1819. According to the verse about the “trowsers”, I think trousers didn’t become an issue until after 1817, at least. Sometimes it is hard to tell if the men are wearing trousers or the longer pantaloons with the strap under the foot. Most of the Lords in the picture of the Trial of Queen Caroline 1820 are wearing trousers or the long pantaloons.”

 

Trouser with gussets, day wear, 1813

More on the topic:

*Images: Carolyn McDowell

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Gunter's Confectioner's Oracle, 1830

Gunter

The very interesting blog, Regency Reader, which features historical romance novels, authors, and series, also publishes interesting posts about the Regency World. Titled Hot Spots, the site includes information about:

  • Jackson’s: Famous pugilist and title champion, 1795
Tattersall's

Tattersall

Additional Links:

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Oh, how delicious! Look what I found online: Almack’s: A Novel, by Marianne Spencer Stanhope Hudson and published by Saunders and Otley in 1826. Almack’s, as all followers of the regency era know, was the exclusive establishment where ladies and gentlemen of the Ton could dance every Wednesday night during the London Season. The powerful patronesses of Almack’s were Lady Sarah Jersey (whose lover was the Prince Regent), Lady Castlereigh, Lady Cowper, Lady Sefton, Princess Esterhazy, and the Countess of Leiven. They decreed who could gain admittance to the assembly rooms and who could not, thereby exercising enormous social influence, as described in the novel:

That grand tribunal at Almack’s makes and unmakes fashionables, I understand. The six grand inquisitors decide upon the degree of ton of each of their followers, just as a committee of tailors would sit in judgment upon a cape or a collar.

The following two quotes provide more details from this vivid, digitized 413-page novel. The first is regarding a lady’s appearance:

Almack's Assembly Rooms

Almack

… after dinner a man’s heart naturally opens, sur tout au coin du feu: I have often observed, that a comfortable seat will hasten a declaration; men are such lovers of ease, so naturally sensual. I shall persuade the Baron not to order the carriage till eleven o clock, to give time. Pray put on your new white gown, my love, and those turquoise ornaments, with that pretty blue garland, it becomes your light hair so particularly; and a soupcon of rouge, just to give a glow – nothing more! what even Julia herself could not disapprove.”

Real Life in London, p. 148, Almack's

Real Life in London, p. 148, Almack

and this quote is about waiting for one’s carriage when it rains …

At this moment Lionel re-appeared. “Lady Birmingham”, said he, “it pours.  We must not lose a moment for there is sad confusion at the door, and I had great difficulty in getting your carriage up.” The bustle and agitation, the noise of the link boys, the oaths of the footmen, the violence of the coachmen, the kicking of the horses, and the blazing of the flambeaux effectually drove the Author of Waverley out of poor Lady Birmingham’s head; it was busied with other things. Had she ever read our friend Luttrell, she would have remembered that splendid description :

How in a rainy blustering night

The London coach maker’s delight …

Almack’s A Novel … By Marianne Spencer Stanhope Hudson, Charles White, 1826.

Almack's ExteriorMore Links:

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It’s spring, and the Baltimore Sun’s John McIntyre recommends some drinks with the author in his blog: gin with Fitzgerald, tea with Dr. Johnson, and madeira with Jane Austen. He chose madeira for Jane because it is “a little sweeter and lighter than sherry, which would also be suitable.” Other popular fortified wines of the time were sherry and port. Only gentleman drank the latter, as well as claret, an expensive French bordeaux.

The patronesses of Almack’s served orgeat and ratafia, two sugary sweet drinks. Refreshments at this tony establishment were supposed to be insipid, but both drinks have strong flavors.

Orgeat syrup, made with almond extract, sugar, and orange flower water, was (and still is) added as a flavoring to punch, hot chocolate, coffee, sparking water, or cocktails. This thick, sticky, and opaque milky liquid would have been considered too sweet by itself, and a small amount went a long way. A non-alcoholic orgeat lemonade would have consisted of orgeat syrup, lemonade, and soda water, and might well have been the sort of drink served at an Assembly.

Ratafia, which denotes almost any alcoholic or flavored water, could be made in several ways – distilled or with an infusion of fruits and spices. Ratafia’s alcoholic base would have consisted of marc brandy and the unfermented juice of the grape. The length of time for fermentation for this drink varies. A liquer made in mid-December, for example, could be ready to serve two months later on Valentine’s Day. One recipe for dark brown ratafia suggested that it be stored in an oak barrel for at least two years.

Capillaire, another drink of that era, seems similar to ratafia in that it is described as any simple syrup flavored with orange flowers. I was not able to find out more about this drink, other than as a vague reference.

As mentioned above, Mr. McIntyre chose madeira for Jane. This sweet, fortified wine was hugely popular during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, especially in Colonial America. Brandy was added to the wine to stop the conversion of alcohol from the sugars in the grapes.

British laws prohibited the exportation of wines to the colonies except for Madeira. This brandy-laced wine became so popular in colonial America that nearly 25% of all Madeira wine was shipped there. An interesting chemical reaction occurred inside the casks during the long, hot, and rocky sea voyage across the ocean – the wine improved vastly in flavor. “Why these wines, exposed to constant rocking, extreme heat, and the barrels often found soaking in bilge water, were not ruined, is a mystery.” (Into Wine) It was popularly thought at the time that for Madeira to age well, the wine had to cross the equator in order to heat up sufficiently. In those days, as now, the wine was offered as an aparatif, or with cheese or desserts after dinner.

Cordial waters or Liquers d’Italien had enjoyed a long reputation as wholesome, medicinal drinks, and personal recipes abounded. One 1820 recipe for Yellow Escubac included adding the following ingredients:

One ounce of saffron, one ounce of Damascus raisins, one ounce of cinnamon, three pounds of sugar, one ounce of liquorice, one ounce of corianders, three pints of brandy, two pints of water. Pound these ingredients, and dissolve the sugar in two pints of water; put the whole in ajar to infuse for a month, taking care to stir it up every second day, or third at farthest. – From: G.A. Jarrin, The Italian Confectioner (London: 1820)

Unlike Mr. McIntyre, I would have chosen a slightly different drink for Jane, a French wine perhaps, or, as Jane wrote to Cassandra, the orange wine, which would want “our care soon.” Whatever her choice of drink, a lady was not supposed to get drunk or tipsy, but as Dr. Jennifer Kloester allows, in an age that was generous in serving drink, sobriety would not have been easy state to maintain:

In general, upper-class women did not get drunk, although the prevalence of alcohol in society sometimes made this difficult. The arrack-punch served at Vauxhall Gardens was drunk by both men and women, despite a reputation for potency. It was said to have been made from the grains of the Benjamin flower mixed with rum and was freely imbibed on gala nights. Some men preferred to mix their own punch as Freddy did in Cotillion and rum punch (rum, lemon, arrack and sugar), Regent’s punch (various fruits, rum, brandy, hock, Curaçao, Madeira and champagne) and Negus (port, lemon, sugar and spices) were popular brews. Fortified wines such as Madeira and sherry were also popular with men and some women during the Regency but red wines such as claret, burgundy and port tended to be the more exclusive province of male drinkers. Brandy, gin and rum were drunk by upper-class men, although they often chose to drink the rougher forms of these spirits in the less salubrious surroundings of the inns and taverns of the poorer quarters of London. – Georgette Heyer’s Regency World

Learn more about Madeira and other alcoholic drinks that could be served to ladies of the Regency era in these links:

Dance image from Wikimedia Commons.

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