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Authors of sites, far more qualified than me,  write about fashion in the Gregorian /Regency era, and I would never presume to step on their toes.

But occasionally if there is something different  but relevant on  that topic which interests me  and that I can discuss, I will, and I hope you will indulge me.

Today I want to   talk about a book which is fascinating , not just for the  descriptions of clothing in Jane Austen’s  time, but for the historical perspective it gives : The Dress of the People by John Styles.

This book is currently  one of my favourite  books on the history of the era, because it tackles an  area that has been very neglected: the clothing of the poor, the working class and servants in the long 18th century.

Jane Austen gives us some ideas of the puritanical attitude some held towards servants clothing in Mansfield Park : Mrs Norris and her sister, Mrs Price, share the opinion that servant girls ought not to show any extravagance in dress:

The family were now seen to advantage. Nature had given them no inconsiderable share of beauty, and every Sunday dressed them in their cleanest skins and best attire. Sunday always brought this comfort to Fanny, and on this Sunday she felt it more than ever. Her poor mother now did not look so very unworthy of being Lady Bertram’s sister as she was but too apt to look. It often grieved her to the heart to think of the contrast between them; to think that where nature had made so little difference, circumstances should have made so much, and that her mother, as handsome as Lady Bertram, and some years her junior, should have an appearance so much more worn and faded, so comfortless, so slatternly, so shabby. But Sunday made her a very creditable and tolerably cheerful–looking Mrs. Price, coming abroad with a fine family of children, feeling a little respite of her weekly cares, and only discomposed if she saw her boys run into danger, or Rebecca pass by with a flower in her hat.

Chapter 42

and

That Mrs. Whitaker is a treasure! She was quite shocked when I asked her whether wine was allowed at the second table, and she has turned away two housemaids for wearing white gowns.

Chapter 10

I leave it to yourselves to determine if we should have shared that view…

Surviving costumes as worn by the poor etc in the long 18th century are , of course, very rare .They were worn, re worn and adapted till they fell apart into rags. That  makes a study of them very difficult. John Styles the Research Professor of History at the University of Hertfordshire has tackled this problem head on and resolved it by referring to various sources of information. Unusual written sources are sourced by him in this book: criminal records are invaluable as the theft of clothes and clothing material was one  of the most frequently prosecuted set of offences in the criminal courts during the long 18th century. Newspaper advertisements for fugitives inevitably contain descriptions of the clothes the fugitive was wearing when last seen.

For visual and material sources, Professor Styles refers to the prints and paintings of the era, of which this is one:

It reminds me of the family to whom Emma dispenses practical charity in chapter 10:

They were now approaching the cottage, and all idle topics were superseded. Emma was very compassionate; and the distresses of the poor were as sure of relief from her personal attention and kindness, her counsel and her patience, as from her purse. She understood their ways, could allow for their ignorance and their temptations, had no romantic expectations of extraordinary virtue from those, for whom education had done so little; entered into their troubles with ready sympathy, and always gave her assistance with as much intelligence as good-will. In the present instance, it was sickness and poverty together which she came to visit; and after remaining there as long as she could give comfort or advice, she quitted the cottage with such an impression of the scene as made her say to Harriet, as they walked away…

And for evidence of the type of materials worn by the poor he refers to the magnificent but sad collection of textile scraps preserved by the London Foundling Hospital. Here is a picture of the building from my collection of early 19th century topographical prints:

The Foundling hospital was  the  first intitution in England where  children abandoned  by their desperate mothers could be  cared for, brought up and finally set out into the world suitably educated for a trade. Go here for a detailed history of the Foundling Hospital.

The Foundling Hospital was founded by Thomas Corum , a seafaring merchant, born in Lyme Regis. While living at Rotherhithe and pursuing his business interests in London, Coram regularly travelled a route on which he saw abandoned children, some dead, others dying. In 1722, motivated by an enduring blend of Christian benevolence, practical morality, and civic spirit, he decided to take action.

Inspired by the examples of the foundling hospitals on the continent, he advocated one for London. However, failure attended these first efforts, but in 1739 Thomas Corum obtained a royal charter for a Hospital for the Maintenance and Education of Exposed and Deserted Young Children. Orphanages for such children had not been adopted in England, unlike in Europe, due to the prevailing puritan outlook : it was considered that young women would be encouraged into immorality and vice if facilities were provided for the succor of unwanted children.

Thomas Corum and his supporters- including Hogarth who painted this stunning portrait of him above- combined pity of the unwanted child with a certain commercial pragmatism.

The care regime for the child was as follows: after four years of wet nursing and foster care in the country among suitable families, the foundling children were taught useful skills in the Hospital that would benefit them and society. Girls were brought up to be domestic servants and boys to be employable in husbandry, seafaring or as household servants or placed with London shopkeepers( their ability to write and keep accounts assisted them in this). Boys were apprenticed at the age of 12 or 13, girls at 14.

Here  is its position in London from a section of my copy of Smith’s New Map of London (1809)

You can see the Foundling Hospital quite clearly I hope, with Brunswick Square set around it- for the square was in fact built on land owned by the Foundling Hospital and was developed by the Governors of the Hospital:

The Foundling Hospital, which, like so many institutions of the 1740-60 period, stood out in the fields. Unlike other hospitals, however, the Foundling possessed the freehold of much of the land surrounding it and it was seen that, as London expanded northwards, this could be made a considerable source of wealth.” When the Governors talked of building in 1788 there was an immediate outcry against the invasion of more open country; it was also considered that the children’s health might suffer. Two years later, however, the hospital architect was instructed to make a report. This architect was Samuel Pepys Cockerell, a pupil of Sir Robert Taylor and a man who, like Taylor, combined artistic ability and scholarship with a real grasp of practical affairs and an unimpeachable professional character.

In his Report to the Governors of the Foundling, Cockerell recommended the formation of the open spaces which we now know as Mecklenburgh and Brunswick Squares.” In this he had the support of Thomas Bernard, one of the Governors, whose name became much associated with public improvements in the Regency. The objects of the squares were, first, to retain for the hospital ‘the advantages of its present open situation’ and, second, to provide an architectural setting so ‘as rather to raise than depress the Character of this Hospital itself as an Object of National Munificence’.

The Report sets out that cardinal principle of Georgian town planning, the creation of urban units containing accommodation for all classes. Cockerell proposes:

“That there shall be such principal features of attraction in the Plan as shall not be too great for a due proportion to the whole but yet sufficient to draw Adventurers to the subordinate parts and that these subordinate parts be so calculated as to comprise all Classes of Building from the first Class down to Houses of Twenty-five pound pr. annum without the lower Classes interfering with and diminishing the Character of those above them, and particularly that the Stile of the Buildings at the several Boundaries, be (in order to ensure success to the intermediate parts) as respectable as possible consistent with their situations and with prudence in the Adventurers.”

(from “Georgian London” , p184-5 by Sir John Summerson)

By 1802 nearly 600 houses had been built on the estate owned by the foundling Hospital. Of which Mr John Knightley’s in Emma was one. This makes sense- for the air on the outskirts of London was considered good: and Isabella Knightley ,very much her father’s daughter  would surely have settled no where else. For John Knightley’s comfort-and we  know that was very important to him-he was not far from the law courts and Barristers chambers , and finally I think Jane Austen was making an indirect  reference to the illegitimate and abandoned state of Harriet Smith, who found happiness in Brunswick Square while staying with the Mr John Knightley’s there. A trip to Astley’s Amphitheatre was the scene of her reconciliation with Robert Martin.

Back to the book…..

The hospital’s admission or billet books which were meticulously kept form 1741 to 1760 contain the worlds largest collection of everyday  fabrics. This is one example of  a blue and white striped cotton turned up with purple and white linen ,made up into a baby’s sleeve, accompanied by a pink ribbon.

The child who wore it was as you can see about 3 weeks old when it was accepted into the Foundling Hospital. Heatrending.

However Professor Styles users them very carefully, describing the type of cottons and linen the preserved scraps represent and the type of clothes from which they came.

It all makes for an absorbing and  facinating read.

The book is published by Yale and it is sumptuously and carefuly produced, the illustrations are clearly  reproduced, an important point other publishers may have fudged.

I thoroughly recommend it, not only for its history of plebeian clothing in our era,  but for its examination of that part of society which,i s certainly referred to by Jane Austen but is not usually covered in history books.

Poor Jane Austen. The evidence from her letters is that despite being desperate to see Mrs Siddons on the stage, she missed every opportunity she had to see her perform.

In her letter to  Cassandra Austen of the 25th April 1811, written from her brother Henry Austen’s home in Sloane Street, Jane Austen bemoaned her lot :

I have no chance of seeing Mrs Siddons.She did act on Monday but as Henry was told by the Boxkeeper that he did not think she would all the places and all the thought of it were given up. I should particularly have liked seeing her in Constance and  could swear at her with little effort for disappointing me.

Mrs Siddons was quite simply the most accomplished and most  acclaimed  actress of her day. She is still remembered today for her interpretation of tragic roles. No wonder Jane Austen was desperate to see her on stage..

Let’s find out some more about her….and why her fame has endured…

Sarah Kemble was born on 5 July 1755 at the Shoulder of Mutton inn in Brecon, Wales. She was the first of the twelve children of Roger Kemble an actor and theatre manager, and his wife, Sarah Ward. Like her sisters, she was baptized into her mother’s religion as a protestant, while her brothers were baptized, in their father’s faith , as Catholics . Seven of her siblings (four sisters and three brothers), including Charles Kemble, Ann Julia Hatton, and Stephen George Kemble, also followed family tradition and entered the acting profession.

Her brother, John Philip Kemble became the most important actor and manager of his time. This is a picture, now in the Garrick Club, London, is of them both, Mrs Siddons and John Phillip Kemble, in Macbeth, and was  painted by Thomas Beach in 1786.

Sarah Siddons was to establish herself as the most acclaimed tragic actress of her own age, and she has subsequently been widely regarded as the greatest female performer in English theatrical history.  In her own lifetime she achieved the status of a popular icon. Her popularity  among influential people- most  notably the patronage of King and Queen Charlotte- played a key role in the social legitimation of the acting profession.

She could affect people in a most surprising way-the reports of her audiences crying hysterically and fainting with grief at her portrayals of  bereft, heartbroken or grateful mothers are legion.  Siddon-imania was the term used to describe her audience’s reactions. They were considered victims of The Siddons Fever.

She moved from the reputedly disreputable world of provincial touring theatre , tainted with its associations with prostitution and low life, to the salons of the aristocracy and royalty. King George III and Queen Charlotte were avid fans, though they were not in particular fans of the theatre. In January 1783 they went to see her five times in one month, weeping though every performance. Suitably impressed with her manner of delivery they subsequently appointed Mrs Siddons to be the Reader in English to the royal children.

As a result of her fame she amassed a substantial personal wealth: in 1786 she  confided to a friend that she  had saved the magnificent sum of £10,000 on which she had initially planned to retire,but wrote

“My riches are incredible, for I will go on as long as I am able”

By 1801 this fortune was estimated to be as much as £53,000.

Her public success, however, was attended by a great deal of personal sadness: her marriage to the philandering and feckless William Siddons, was an unhappy one and ended in informal separation, and she outlived five of her seven children, suffering numerous miscarriages  in addition to this dreadful loss.

The roles Jane Austen so wanted to see her perform were her most famous.

Deirdre Le Faye, in her note to the quoted letter above in Jane Austen’s Letters (3rd edition) explains that  King John by Shakespeare  had been announced to be performed at Covent Garden on Saturday 20th April.

However a day or two before,  Hamlet was substituted.  Mrs Siddons made her first appearance  since December 1810 in Macbeth (she had many “retirements” and  “combacks” though her career) on the following Monday.

During the remainder of the time Jane Austen was in London staying with her brother Henry, Mrs Siddons performed in The Gamester

and as Lady Randolph in Douglas,

Jane Austen does not appear to have been able to get to any of these performances .

The role of Constance in King John was one of her most acclaimed, and the original text  was revised by her brother to emphasise Constance’s role as the dominant force in the play, even though Constance appears in only three scenes.

Mrs Siddons herself noted that she would leave her dressing-room door open between her scenes, and therefore was able to overhear events on stage so that she could work herself into an appropriate frenzy, as they would cause

‘bitter tears of rage, disappointment, betrayed confidence, baffled ambition, and, above all, the agonizing feelings of maternal affection to gush into my eyes‘.

Her interpretation of  the role Lady Macbeth was her triumph ,as William Hazlitt, the critic wrote::

If we have seen Mrs Siddons in Lady Macbeth only once, it is enough. The impression is stamped there for ever, and any after-experiments and critical inquiries only serve to fritter away and tamper with the sacredness of the early recollection.

No wonder Jane Austen was virtually grinding her teeth in frustration at having missed seeing Mrs Siddons in her iconic roles….

We are very familiar with the sites in Hampshire and the south of England associated with Jane Austen: Steventon,Chawton, Lyme…But not many people realise that there is a very interesting site in Lincolnshire, open to the public and easily accessible via the A1, which has a very interesting connection to Jane Austen’s aunt, Jane Leigh-Perrot.

The family who own this estate are named Cholmeley and Jane Austen’s aunt was a part of this family. Though Jane Leigh Perrot  was born  in Barbados in the West Indies, her maiden name was Cholmeley, and she was a niece of the baronet, Sir Monatague Cholmeley who was then in posession of the estate.

(Section from The West Indies, map by Thomas Kelly, 1816)

Jane Cholmeley was the daughter of Robert  Cholmeley  who owned land in Barbados.

(Lincolnshire from Cary’s Traveller’s Companion or a Delineation of the Turnpike Roads of England and Wales etc.(1812) by John Cary)

.She was sent to England  and was  educated there at a boarding school. Because of the rigours of travelling to the West Indies-as recounted accurately by Jane Austen in Mansfield Park-she did not return to Barbadoes  during school holidays but instead  spent much of her  time here at Easton with her uncle and his family.

She married James Leigh-Perrot, who was Mrs George Austen’s brother, on the 9th October  1764 . Jane Austen’s aunt was of course infamous for being charged with grand larceny an attempt, seemingly at blackmail, by some Bath haberdashers meant that in 1799 she was accused of stealing a quantity of lace.  Go here for an essay on her trial by Albert Borowitz. If found guilty she would no doubt have been transported to Botany Bay in Australia for 14 years- a virtual death sentence for a woman of her age.

When she was incarcerated in Ilchester Gaol awaiting trial at Taunton, Montague Cholmeley of Easton wrote her a series of kind letters to her to help maintain her spirits. Here is an extract from one commenting on Mrs Austen’s generous but slightly deranged offer to have Jane and Cassandra accompany their aunt in the gaol( in reality Jane Leigh-Perrot lived together with her husband in the squalid but humane lodgings with the Gaol Keeper and his family and not in a jail cell). Mrs Leigh Perrot declined the offer, recoiling in horror at the thought of the Austen girls having to spend time there writing to her cousin ,Sir Montague Cholmeley  the then owner of Easton, as follows :

One of my greatest Miseries here ( indeed my very first) is the seeing what my dearest Husband is daily going through-Vulgarity, Dirt, Noise from Morning till Night. The People  not conscious that this can be Objectionable to anybody, fancy we are very Happy and to do them justice they mean to make us quite so…this Room joins to a Room where the Children all lie, and not Bedlam itself can be half   so noisy, besides which, as not one particle of Smoke  goes up the Chimney, except you leave  the door or window open, I leave you to judge of the Comfort I can enjoy in such a Room…No! my Good Cousin, I cannot subject even a Servant to the suffering we daily experience…My dearest Perrot with his sweet composure adds to my Philosophy; to be sure he bids fair to have his patience tried in every way he can. Cleanliness has ever been his  greatest delight and yet he sees the greasy toast laid by the dirty children on his knees and feels the small Beer trickle down his sleeves on its way across the table unmoved…Mss Scadding’s Knife well licked to clean it from the fried onions helps me now and then-you may believe how the Mess I am helped to is disposed of-here are two dogs and three Cats always full as hungry as myself.

Sir Montague appeared to have agreed with her decision:

You tell me that your good sister Austen has offered you one or both of her Daughters to continue with you during your stay at that vile place, but you decline the kind offer as you cannot procure them Accommodation in the House with you and you cannot let those Elegant Young Women be your Inmates in a Prison nor be subject to the inconveniences which you are obliged to put up with….

Jane Leigh Perrot was eventually found not guilty after the long and infamous trial.

The estate is a very interesting place to visit. Here is a link to its website. The current owners have embarked on a very laudable and brave project to restore the gardens: the site as you can see from these photographs which I took on a recent visit  is spectacular, spanning the River Witham :

.The stables are the only part of the massive structure that survive: the main house was sadly demolished in the 1950s. This is all that remains :

The buildings that do survive are fascinating…

..all emblazoned with the Cholmeley crest of a wheat-sheaf in different forms:

And the gardens are  bewitching:

Here is a link to the history of the house from  Easton Walled Gardens current website:

…and here  are some photographs from the family’s archive as to show the hall as it looked before it was demolished.

I do have to sincerely  thank Lady Cholmeley, the present chatelaine,  for her generosity in allowing me to reproduce them here .

Walking about the grounds, imagining the splendours of the place in Jane Leigh Perrot’s youth is a very interesting experience, and give some idea of her background and possibly explains her imperious attitude, ending her life playing games with the possible inheritors of her wealth-as she was childless and had inherited all her husbands property on his death she knew she had power to wield.

And I’m not sure that Jane Austen had much affection for her aunt, certainly from the evidence of her letters, but in any event, viewing the place where Jane’s aunt spent her early summers was an interesting way to spend a summer’s afternoon, speculating on her character while wandering around.

And I find the prospect of these gardens being fully restored bewitching: but even in their present state , much akin to a half-finished archaeological dig-they exert a certain charm , and evoke memories of eras long gone. I highly recommend a visit

We do tend to forget, in an age when every food-stuff one could possibly desire is readily available  all year round, how special seasonal food was to people in the past. We can buy strawberries all year round, Jane Austen could not.

And unless she knew someone rich enough to have an ice house she would not have been able to eat ice cream in the country at any time of her year. In the larger towns- York and London for example- it was available from smart confectioners shops (which were much more like the ice cream parlours of today) such as Negri’s which operated from the Sign of the Pineapple in Berkeley Square, London.

Jane Austen’s rich brother, Edward had an ice house at his home Godmersham in Kent

It was protected by a planting of trees from the heat of the sun, and was sunken into the ground,wherein winter ice from the lakes and ponds on the estate was taken by men and boys using horse drawn carts. The ice was kept safe in the ice house so that it could be used for culinary purposes( for ices,ice creams and Piece Montees but not for the preservation of food by freezing at this point in history).When the last of it finally melted in the late summer heats, no more ice cream, for there would be no more ice till the next winter freeze …

Jane Austen certainly ate ices at Godmersham. In a letter written to her sister Cassandra dated July 1st, 1808 she wrote about forgetting the cares of their normal homely domestic parsimony ( “The Orange Wine will need our care soon”) and instead about enjoying a rich man’s more sophisticated pleasures:

But in the meantime for Elegance & Ease & Luxury . . . I shall eat Ice & drink French wine, & be above Vulgar Economy.

I learnt to make ice cream without a freezer in the Georgian fashion a few years ago at a course on Georgian Food run by  Ivan Day of Historic Foods. I thought you might be interested to see the process.

Here is William Jarrin’s recipe for Strawberry Ice Cream from his book The Italian Confectioner (1826) (By the way, do click on it and the other pictures in this post to enlarge them and see the detail)

William Jarrin arrived from Italy via France to work at Gunther’s in Berkeley Square (the successor to Negri’s business)  in 1817.

This is his portrait from my copy of the  3rd edition of his book The Italian Confectioner.Mr Jarrin had a sad end to his life, and died as a bankrupt, but he did have a thriving busines with premises at 123 New Bond Street in 1822. More of Mr Gunter later …….You will have no doubt noticed that Jarrin’s recipe is rather silent as to how you actually are to freeze the strawberry cream mixture.

The answer is provided by Mrs Rundell’s concise explaination of the process, this extract being taken  from her book, A New System Of Domestic Cookery,which has recently been  published as a facsimile edition by Persephone Books;


The salt added to the powdered ice helps take the temperature to well below freezing. What follows are some photographs of the whole process taken whilst I attended the course.

Here is my friend,  Katherine Cahill, author of Mrs Delaney’s Menus Medicine and Manners just before she began her hard work on our strawberry ice cream. After you have made your strawberry and cream mixture as Jarrin advised above, you needed to prepare a bucket filled with a mixture of crushed ice and salt as Mrs Rundell advised . On the table to the right of Katherine you can see a pewter canister with a handle . This is the sabotiere, or ice-pot,and it is into this that the strawberry cream mixture is poured.

Here is Jarrin’s illustration of a Sabotiere and bucket, from The Italian Confectioner


The Saboitere is placed in the wooden ice-filled pail…

And the ice/salt mixture is packed carefully around the sabotiere.

After ten or so minutes, the ice crystals form and have to be tapped down from the sides of the sabotiere with the spaddle- you can see it here resting on the lid of the sabotiere.

Ideally ,you should be able to spin the sabotiere in the pail,as Mrs Rundell advises, and the strawberry/cream mixture will be frozen up along the sides of the lead container.

This process is repeated about 3 or 4 times, depending on the  mixture. The ice crystals will all be broken up by the spaddle and the mixture will be terribly smooth.

Here is Katherine dextrously working away at scraping the ice crystals from the side of the sabotiere. Once the ice cream is set you can eat it…or if you want you can put it into a mould.

This is a great reeded cone pewter mould, one of many owned by Ivan Day: but this one is rather special …..because the owner was one Mr Gunther, confectioner supreme of Berkeley Square.

You can see his signature  engraved into the pewter base. Gunther’s tea shop  was where The Regency “Ton” would go to eat ices while sitting in their carriages parked around the leafy square.

Once packed with ice cream, the  mould is sealed with liquid lard  to keep the ice cream safe from the ice/salt mixture( Yes, I know,but that was all they had).The filled mould would be replaced into the pail in order to set.  Sometimes an extra layer  of insulation was added-brown or cartridge paper was wrapped around the mould as here….you can see it peeping from the ice .

And here is the wonderful confection, turned out and ready to be devoured. I can confirm it was stunningly fragrant :the best strawberry ice cream I’ve ever eaten,the texture was smooth and fabulously silky. A triumph.

The Georgians didn’t stop at strawberry for  they used many wonderful flavourings including elderflower and savoury ones such as parmesan.

No wonder Jane Austen loved eating ices the height of luxury in the country in a non refrigerated age.

This is the first of yet another series-Jane Austen and Food. I will be adding posts to this series from time to time. I do hope you will join me.

SYDNEY GARDEN is situated at the extremity of Great Pulteney-street. Groves, vistas, lawns, serpentine-walks, shady-bowers, waterfalls, alcoves, bowling. greens, Merlin swings, grottoes, and labyrinths, are all crowded into this fairy realm.

From: A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1803) by John Feltham.

When Jane Austen left Steventon in Hampshire to accompany her parents to live in Bath upon Mr. Austen’s retirement in 1801, she was clearly going to miss being able to walk in the open countryside. Her letters of the time that survive reveal that she hoped to find solace by living near to and walking in the Sydney garden:

My mother hankers after The Square dreadfully and it is but natural to suppose my Uncle will take her part. It would be very pleasant to be near Sidney Gardens-we might go into the Labrinth every day…

(Letter to Cassandra Austen,dated 21st January 1801)

Luckily for her, her wish came true and from 1801-4 the Austens lived at number 4 Sydney Place.

The gardens still exist,-the only surviving “Vauxhall” in England. These pleasure gardens were collectively called Vauxhallsafter the famous garden in South London. And though it is closed at the  moment  it houses the stunning Holborn Museum collection in what used to be the main building of the garden.

The gardens opened to the public in May 1795.

This picture is a plan of the gardens as they were at that time, as depicted in Charles Harcourt Masters’ Plan of Bath(issued 1st January 1810- do note that the canal which dissects the gardens was not in situ when the gardens first opened). You can click on this plan-and indeed all the other plans and pictures in this post- to enlarge them.

This is a contemporary plan of the garden in colour , from which it might be easier to discern the individual parts of the garden.

The Sydney Tavern, the main building, was not at this time a place where you could say as guests overnight. Most pleasure gardens in 18th/early 19th century England possessed a “long room” where you could dance country dances in long ” sets”, and where  you could promenade in wet weather, not an inconsiderable point to consider in England…..The Sydney Tavern was no exception, but it differed from most such buildings as its ” long room” or ballroom, was situated on the first not the ground floor, which was the more usual plan adopted in this country.

The first tenant of the building, John Gale and his family, lived on the top floors, which also housed the staff of both the kitchen and the garden.

It was not until well after Jane Austen’s time in Bath, in 1836, that it became a hotel in the modern sense of the word, but from 1813 the building was increasingly referred to as the Sydney Hotel, so some rooms may have been available for hire to paying guests from that time . There were private dining rooms and meeting rooms (where learned societies gave talks) available for hire in the house as well as the Ballroom. To the right of the Tavern on the plan you can just make out the two ” arms” of dining cubicles enclosing a wide circular area, which was where the main activities of meeting friends, promenading about in fine clothes and taking meals took place. Remember, as ever in this era, the thing to do was to be “seen” to be indulging in the most fashionable activities

There was also a moveable ” orchestra” which was a platform made in sections, which could be wheeled out of the way if space was at a premium, and the crowd of people was too great.

The Main Walk then rose up a slope to terminate in the Loggia, the small curved building at the far end. The Main walk was very wide but you will note that there were much narrower paths leading off from the Walk. The New Bath Guide of 1801 describes them as:

Serpentine walks which at every turn meet with sweet shady bowers furnished with handsome seats some canopied by Nature others by Art

There was also a Bowling Green, some waterfalls and pavilions.

The Labyrinth, where Jane Austen hoped to walk every day was a type of maze ( a fashionable 18th century garden conceit).It was, as the Bath Guide of 1801, states:

twice as large as Hampton Court’s



Note that in the centre of the Labyrinth there was what for sometime has been a little mystery for me…The Merlin Swing.

Information on this aspect of the gardens has been hard to finds. However, the answer is that it was not some Fragonard inspired decorative swing for lovers. No, it was a form of exercise machine invented by The Igenious Mechanick, John Jospeh Merlin,seen here painted by his great friend, Thomas Gainsborough.

Merlin was the sort of interesting man the 18th century produced, and it is hard to categories him. He invented/improved musical instruments, watches, roller skates, Bath Chairs and countless other items.

With regard to the swing, he was very interested on the effects of gravity on health and it is now supposed that his swing(sadly there is no illustration surviving of the famous item) was not decorative but something like the contraptions we now see which invert you so that stresses on the body can be relieved whie you hang upside down: it has been thought that it took the form of a revolving wheel.(See speculations in John Joseph Merlin: The Ingenious Mechanick by John Jacob et al). It was accessed through a moss covered Grotto, from which an underground passage led to the centre of the Labyrinth.

The Ruined Castle( Alert John Thorpe!) was at the top right hand corner of the plan(you can see it in the picture of the Labyrinth, above). It came complete with moat.

The Ride, which is shown on the extreme outside edge of the gardens, encircles what was then a border of rough pasture, not a manicured lawn.

The Garden, needless to say, was walled off from the general non-paying public and there was only one entrance at the Great Pultney Street end.

The garden was the scene of firework displays concerts and public breakfasts: all of which Jane Austen  took part in while she lived in Bath. I’ll write a little more on those in future posts.

This post will be aded to a new page, Jane Austen and Bath, which will be another on- going project for this site .

Because of Jane Austen’s fleeting references to servants in her works, I have heard  people refer to her so-called method of hiding them, as Her Invisible Servants, implying that, as she was mostly silent on their roles and  physical presence, they meant nothing to her and she was indifferent to them.

This is not  correct.From the evidence of her letters she was clearly involved in the detail of her own servants lives and of those employed by the various branches of her family.The letter written from Lyme of the 14th september 1804 talks affectionately of James and Jenny ,their servants. Jane Austen had a very close and long  friend ship with Anne Sharpe, the governess to Edward Knight’s children.

We have to remember, I think, that she was writing for an audience that understood the milieu in which she set her novels and she didn’t need to specify in a documentary-like manner all the servants employed in a household.

But we do get to hear  about some of them. Tantalising glimpses are given of the amount of servants  that  households large and small would employ: we get to know,  by report,Patty the  maid of all work employed by Miss Bates and her mother in Emma;  Mackenzie the gardener at Kellynch in Persuasion: Rebecca ,the maid of all work in the Prices overcrowded and slovenly household at Portsmouth in Mansfield Park.

Certainly not many of Jane Austen’s servants actually speak in the novels,but those that do are memorable, for they have important plot points to make. Baddesley the  butler at Mansfield plays a small but stellar role, fully ready to rebuke the horrid Mrs Norris, and  in one sentence encapsulates all we need to know about the Servant’s Hall ‘s views on that dreadful woman. The redoubtable Mrs Reynolds  in Pride and Prejudice is surely loquacious enough for us all …

Mr. Gardiner, highly amused by the kind of family prejudice to which he attributed her excessive commendation of her master, soon led again to the subject; and she dwelt with energy on his many merits as they proceeded together up the great staircase.

If we want to learn more about  the detail of the servants and their roles in these household we have to look elsewhere. Luckily there are some good books available to us at reasonable prices..

The first I would recommend is The Complete Servant by  Samuel  and Sarah Adams, who both worked as servants in our era and recorded their  views on  the different roles of each category of employee in this book.

This is a reprint of the 1825 text. It is crammed full of  wonderful detail about the role of every possible household , indoors and outdoors servant,together with helpful calculations of the type of income then needed to support different sized households.

If you are only going to purchase one  book on servants in our era than this is the one I would most highly recommend.

Its foreward  is by Pamela Horn and she is the author of the second book I would recommend: Flunkies and Scullions,a marvellous in-depth look at the role of the servant in the 18th century,again impeccably researched and full of glorious detail.

And finally a new book on the subject of servant has been written by  the wonderful historian, Jeremy Musson entitled Up and Down Stairs:the History of the Country House Servant.

Despite only containing  two chapters on servants in our era, it is none the less a fascinating  read, and gives an over view of servants lives  from the middle ages to the present-day. It is a throughly enjoyable read, well researched and has the most fascinating chapter on  black servants in England during the 18th century that I have ever read. I would recommend it for that chapter alone.

As an over view of the history of the servant in country-house households it is a wonderful, informative  read.And that really cannot be said of too many  non-fiction books today.

There are of course  many original texts on servants roles and lives out there: the trick is finding and affording them! I recently bought an 1825 edition of The Lady’s Maid,which is turning out to be a riveting read:

Over the next few months I’ll be posting pieces from it for you. Do join me , won’t you?

On the 13th November, 1815 Jane Austen visited Carlton House,  the London home of the Prince Regent.  A random sequence of events surrounding the treatment of Henry Austen for an illness had  revealed her existence in London to the Prince. As he was an admirer of her works an invitation to dedicate her next book-Emma– to the Prince was issued as a consequence. Jane Austen’s extant correspondence on this point with John Murray , her worldly-wise publisher,  amply illustrates the delicate path she had to tread.

The reason for her discomfiture was that she could  not in any way be described as an admirer of the Prince or his political opinions and only  two years earlier had written of his treatment of his wife with distaste:

Poor woman, I shall support her as long as I can, because she is a Woman and because I hate her Husband.

(See :Letter from Jane Austen to Martha Lloyd, 16 February 1813)

The situation was further complicated by the kind attentions of the Prince’s Librarian and Chaplain, James Stanier Clarke. The correspondence between the Reverend Clarke and Jane Austen make for an uneasy reading experience: Jane Austen’s  increasing frustration with the florid  language and direction of Mr Clarke is palpable.

James Stanier Clarke is probably best remembered now for his attentions to Jane Austen but he was an interesting character in his own right, being not only a courtier, but the founder with John McArthur of The Naval Chronicle , a  monthly publication established  in 1799, which included  details of naval engagements, battles, prizes and  included a Gazette which gave information about Naval Officers’ social lives. Here is a link to an edition of the Chronicle held at the Library of Kings College, London’s.

He was commanded by the Prince to give Jane Austen a tour around the library at Carlton House,and I thought you might like to see some details of that place, for it was demolished in  1827,and nothing of it remains on the site where it stood in London.

This is a detail from my copy of Smith’s New Map of London (1809) which shows the position of the palace:

You can see it was on a piece of land standing between Pall Mall and The Mall, not far from the then centre of Court Life,St James’s Palace.

Here is a clever adaptation of Richard Horwood’s map of London (1799) showing the details of the palace building and its grounds, coloured in red:

And this map shows the modern-day London-and the ghost of the building is again  indicated in red.

The problem for the Prince was that he was an inveterate collector of objets d’art and was limited as to space at Carlton House by the confined  site: additions to the buildings eventually became impossible, which is why it was demolished after he had moved to the more spacious surroundings of the Queen’s House ( now known as Buckingham Palace)  which was situated at the western end of the Mall, together with his home at the Brighton Pavillion and the royal residence of Windsor Castle. Here is the ground floor plan of the palace as designed by Henry Holland:

In 1814 the Prince waned to demolish it completely  and rebuild but lack of funds prevented him from doing so.

Here is a print of the entrance front of the palace:

This part of the palace fronted Pall Mall-where, of course, Edward Ferrars of Sense and Sensibility lived after the news of his engagement to Lucy Steele became public knowledge.

The gardens were designed and landscaped by Humphrey Repton( another of Jane Austen’s targets in Mansfield Park, probably for both his association with the Prince, and for his professional tendency  to  “improve” ancient landscapes) -this is his trade card, showing him surveying and overseeing improvements to a  landscape:

And here is a view from the palace, overlooking  St James’s Park as envisaged by Humphrey Repton : note  you can just see the towers of Westminster Abbey peeping above the trees.

The interiors were sumptuous and splendid.

The entrance hall gave no real hint of the magnificence to come, in my opinion: note the representation of the Prince of Wales wearing the Garter badge,  to the right of this print:

From this point, Jane Austen must have been led through the series of grand and opulent rooms: I can’t help but think they might have been too over-the -top for her taste, for she was surely not a fan of anything that smacked of being gaudy or uselessly fine…..if the comments of her creation, Elizabeth Bennet are considered.

Here are some prints by C Wild of some of the rooms she may have seen. First, The Grand Staircase:

The Golden Drawing-room:

The Circular Room:

The Throne Room:

The Blue Velvet Room:

The Gothic Dining Room:

And the Conservatory….

This is the  room which was satirised by James Gillray in one of his cartoons,when it was used to host a  fete for 2000 people on the 19th June 1811:

The part of the spectacle which so enraged Gillray was  a conceit of a “stream”, made into a central plateau which ran down the centre of the dining table. In its turn the table ran the length of the conservatory.  The plateau was raised to a height of 6 inches. At its head a large silver fountain supplied water by means of cascades into a circular “lake” bordered by a low colonnade. Between each arch of the colonnade stood small vases burning perfumes.

The “lake” flowed into a stream  which ran the whole  length of the 200 foot long table. The “banks” of the stream  were bounded by moss, water plants and flowers whilst small fish were tobe seen swimming in the stream. Lord Colchester who attended the party noted that all the grown up children at the fete were delighted by this table decoration .

The rooms of the palace were also stuffed full of treasures, most of which survive in the Royal collection today. Chinoiserie was a favourite style of the Prince Regent and so many pieces including this pot pourri vase by Serves:

and this  “Drummer Boy”clock, were on show.

He also had many pieces of armour displayed in a special armoury, and this small sword was  made for him by one Thomas Grey, jeweller of Sackville Street , London. Yes, Mr Grey, the same  jeweler who made a toothpick case for the revolting Robert Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility, actually existed and had his premises at 41 Sackville Street,  a street just off Piccadilly.

Jane Austen  was certainly unimpressed by the unwanted advices regarding literary composition that James Stanier Clarke decided to bestow upon her.  Some people have suggested that he was “smitten” with Jane Austen,  but I prefer to think that he was a courtier,and was used to laying flattery on thickly with a trowel. However, he does appear to have been blind to the hints Jane Austen threw out that she was not impressed with his suggestions for future works: her frustration took its revenge in her Plan of a Novel According to Hints from Various Quarters(1816)

Her thoughts on this visit have not survived, and neither has the palace. There may be one tiny relict however, : here is a link to the Friendship book of  the Reverend Stanier Clarke which contains what some think maybe a portrait of Jane Austen, made when she visited Carlton House. I am no art historian/expert  so I shall merely link this interesting  survivor of James Stanier Clarke’s life  and leave it to yourselves to determine if that smartly dressed woman really is Jane Austen as she appeared on the 13th November 1815…….

I have added a new page to the site- The Library which is a self-explanatory page, and is permanently accessible from the link under the header to this page.

It is a work in progress, and I will be adding to it all the time… so do pop in to be like Jane Austen at Godmersham where they

…live in the Library except at Meals & have a fire every Evening

and like her you can be

… alone in the Library, Mistress of all I survey

and

have five Tables, Eight & twenty Chairs & two fires

all to yourself.

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This book-a copy of the 15th edition of  The Compleat Housewife originally published in 1753- has recently been published by the Chawton House Library, the first in a series of affordable reprints of  texts concerned with the domestic side of life in the long eighteenth century.All profits from this series of reprints will go directly towards the Chawton House Library acquisitions fund, helping them to improve and expand the library collection for generations of future readers. One can only approve …..

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Do allow me to tell you a little about its author-and be warned , for we only know a little about her…After Elizabeth Raffald , author of The Experienced English Housekeeper and Hannah Glasse, author of The Art of Cookery Eliza Smith(as she is usually called) is one of the best known female 18th century cookery writers.Very little is known about her life apart from the few hints she gives in the Preface to her book:


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(Note that the preface above was taken from my copy of her book NOT the copy under review here which is NOT a facsimile)

In it she claimed

that for the Space of Thirty years and upwards … I have been constantly employed in fashionable and noble Families, in which the Provisions ordered according to the following Directions, have had the general Approbation of such as have been at many noble entertainments’.

Basically then, she was an housekeeper. Probably, unlike others of her calling more fortunate than herself,-Mrs Raffald notably- she did not leave private domestic service to take up a career as a confectioner or to run a school of cookery.

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There are slight hints in her book of an association with the Netherlands, and Lord Montagu has suggested, in the introduction to a facsimile edition of her work published in 1968 that she may have worked at his home, Beaulieu Abbey in Hamsphire:

I was fascinated to find that several of the recipes contained were identical to those in manuscript form in my books. Although it is not known  in which great house Mrs E. Smith worked it is more than probable that some of these dishes were orignially created in one of my ancestors kitchens.

(See page 133, A short- title caltolgue of Household and Cookery Books published in the English Tongue 1701-1800 by Virginia Mclean.)

Eliza Smith’s book, though not the first recipe book to be published in England is of interest to historians because it was the first to be published in America-at Williamsburg. It does contain some interesting and innovative recipes. She was among the first cookery writer to include potatoes for savoury dishes, and she even inlcuded one recipe using tea.

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This was for a caudle, a hot drink made with ‘strong green tea’, white wine, grated nutmeg, and sugar, thickened with eggs like a custard. It soudns delicious.

Her book ends with a substantial section of medicinal recipes that she called ‘family receipts’. Some are identified with members of the gentry, but interestingly many more with members of the medical profession. Her knowledge of the technicalities of medicine went beyond what might be expected in a book of  typical‘family receipts’ of the time. She died in circa 1732  and her book lived on and eventually went into 18 editions thoughout the 18th century.

She appears to have disliked the fashion for cookery books written by grand men cooks,-cookes to Princes and Kings-as she felt they did not surender all their secrets to the reader thereby enabling them to sucesfuly replicate the recipes .Mrs Bennet, admirer of  grand French cooks would have surely been shocked…

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(Do note you can enlarge this section of Eliza Smith’s preface simply by clicking on it)

So why should a mid-18th century cookery book interest readers of Jane Austen? Because many in Jane Austen’s not particularly fashionable part of the world would have replied upon recipe books like Eliza Smith’s for  both their fare and for their medicine. As  Gillian Dow  of Chawton House Library and Southampton University writes, in the introduction to the book:

Austen’s letters to Cassandra are a rich source for piecing together female domesticity in the early nineteenth century. One can, however, have too much of a good thing: Austen famously writes, after a visit from her brother Edward to Chawton in September 1816,

‘Composition seems to me Impossible, with a head full of Mutton Joint and Rhubarb’.

Austen’s major preoccupation at Chawton was, after all, not the running of a household, but rather the publication, revision and composition of her six novels, all of which were sent out from Chawton to be published between 1811 and1818. In these classic works of English literature, the way in which the domestic informs the narrative intrigues a twenty-first century reader.

Would Betty’s sister, an excellent housemaid who works very well with her needle, have done well as a lady’s maid for the Dashwoods in Sense and Sensibility? Can we ever have such an intricate understanding of the variety and merits of strawberries as the party at Donwell Abbey in Emma? It is to the literature of Austen’s own period that we must turn for answers to these, and many other, vexing questions. For those who wish to understand Mr Woodhouse’s discourses in praise of gruel in Emma, Mrs Bennet’s anxiety when there is not a bit of fish to be got and Lizzie Bennet’s preference for a plain dish over a ragout in Pride and Prejudice, these reprints of rare texts from the Chawton House Library collection will have much to offer. What precisely were the ‘usual stock of accomplishments’ taught to Henrietta and Louisa Musgrove at school in Exeter in Persuasion, and why does Lydia gape at Mr Collins’s reading of Fordyce’s Sermons in Pride andPrejudice? Some answers will be found in Chawton House Library reprints of conduct literature. And for a true understanding of what it might mean for Fanny Price to be scorned by her better-dressed cousins for having only two sashes in Mansfield Park, for Henry Tilney to understand muslins particularly well in Northanger Abbey, and indeed just how Lucy Steele might have gone about trimming up a new bonnet, with pink ribbons and a feather, in Sense and Sensibility, instruction will come from reprints of works on eighteenth-century dress and fashion.

I couldn’t agree more: for that is my rasion d’etre here at this blog, after all ….

My only real gripe with the book is that is  not reproduced in facsimile: but it is being sold at a very reasonable price ( it is a hardback book and prettily produced) so  such minor quibbles should be kept in proportion.

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I really am looking forward to seeing what other texts will be published  in this series. The library at Chawton  is not only stocked with interesting fiction but has many, many  copies of recipe, conduct , instruction and gardening books. I know that every time I have visited it has made my mouth water with anticipation…. And I hope you find me bringing this to your attention worth while.

I recently posted about this at my sister blog, My English Country Garden- and thought that it really ought to be reposted here. I’ve expanded  on some of the details for you….

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This Regency house, –Steventon House– shown above,  and which is now for sale ,has some relevance to those of us interested in Jane Austen because it was built to replace her birthplace, the old Steventon Rectory . This was the place in which she was born on the 16th December 1775, and where the Austens raised their large brood of interesting children and schooled many a fine young gentlemen in preparedness for life at public school. I’ve long held the impression that it was a bustling, busy and happy household.

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Jane’s father, The Reverend George Austen, was of course rector of Steventon from 1761-1805.

George Austen411 CorrectionHe  held the living, which was in the gift of his distant cousin, the excellent  Thomas Knight II ,  though in late 1800 he took the decision to retire to Bath, leaving his son James as the  priest in charge and quitting the rectory at the same time. James  became rector of Steventon in 1805 on his father’s death.

James Austen

Austen family tradition has it that on hearing the news that the family were to move to Bath Jane Austen fainted with shock:

As she and Martha arrived from Ibthorpe early in December they were met in the rectory hall by Mrs Austen, who greeted them with :

“Well girls, it is all settled, we have decided to leave Steventon in such a week and go to Bath”

– and to Jane the shock of this intelligence was so great that she fainted away. Mary Lloyd, who was also present to greet her sister, remembered that Jane was greatly distressed”

(See Page 128 Jane Austen: A Family Record, Deirdre Le Faye)

None of her letters to Cassandra have survived from the month of December 1800: Le Faye suggests that they were so intensely, ones wherein Jane Austen gave full vent to her feelings of anger and grief regarding the prospect of the move to Bath, that they were among the first letters that Cassandra destroyed. Frankly, I’m not surprised at Jane Austen’s probable feelings of anger, grief and possibly impotence in the face of Mrs Austen’s determination to move to a city like Bath, but equally I can understand see why someone  like Mrs Austen would want a retirement in a vibrant place with all its attractions,near to her relatives(the Leigh Perrots), and away from the confinement of the country, particularly in the winter months.

But I can also very much sympathise with Jane Austen who must have viewed the prospect of life in Bath in an entirely different light as the dependant un-married spinster of the family, at the beck and call of her relatives, thrown in a social world where  the visitors came took the waters and left-a place of transient relationships must be unsettling and unsatisfying.  And , of course, she was fervently attached to her neighbourhood in Hampshire….

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…being  a desperate walker, and loving the peace of the quitet, remote countryside surrounding Steventon.

Not much peace was to be had in Bath I fear…..The letters that do survive show a determination to appear cheerful but the underlying tone is bleak:

My mother looks forward with as much certainty as you can do to our keeping two maids; my father is the only one not in the secret. We plan having a steady cook and a young, giddy housemaid, with a sedate, middle-aged man, who is to undertake the double office of husband to the former and sweetheart to the latter. No children, of course, to be allowed on either side. There are three parts of Bath which we have thought of as likely to have houses in them — Westgate Buildings, Charles Street, and some of the short streets leading from Laura Place or Pulteney Street.

Westgate Buildings, though quite in the lower part of the town, are not badly situated themselves. The street is broad, and has rather a good appearance. Charles Street, however, I think, is preferable. The buildings are new, and its nearness to Kingsmead Fields would be a pleasant circumstance. Perhaps you may remember, or perhaps you may forget, that Charles Street leads from the Queen Square Chapel to the two Green Park Streets.

The houses in the streets near Laura Place I should expect to be above our price. Gay Street would be too high, except only the lower house on the left-hand side as you ascend. Towards that my mother has no disinclination; it used to be lower rented than any other house in the row, from some inferiority in the apartments. But above all others her wishes are at present fixed on the corner house in Chapel Row, which opens into Prince’s Street. Her knowledge of it, however, is confined only to the outside, and therefore she is equally uncertain of its being really desirable as of its being to be had. In the meantime she assures you that she will do everything in her power to avoid Trim Street, although you have not expressed the fearful presentiment of it which was rather expected.

We know that Mrs. Perrot will want to get us into Oxford Buildings, but we all unite in particular dislike of that part of the town, and therefore hope to escape. Upon all these different situations you and Edward may confer together, and your opinion of each will be expected with eagerness.

As to our pictures, the battle-piece, Mr. Nibbs, Sir William East, and all the old heterogeneous miscellany, manuscript, Scriptural pieces dispersed over the house, are to be given to James. Your own drawings will not cease to be your own, and the two paintings on tin will be at your disposal. My mother says that the French agricultural prints in the best bedroom were given by Edward to his two sisters. Do you or he know anything about it?

She has written to my aunt, and we are all impatient for the answer. I do not know how to give up the idea of our both going to Paragon in May. Your going I consider as indispensably necessary, and I shall not like being left behind; there is no place here or hereabouts that I shall want to be staying at, and though, to be sure, the keep of two will be more than of one, I will endeavour to make the difference less by disordering my stomach with Bath buns; and as to the trouble of accommodating us, whether there are one or two, it is much the same.

According to the first plan, my mother and our two selves are to travel down together, and my father follow us afterwards in about a fortnight or three weeks. We have promised to spend a couple of days at Ibthorp in our way. We must all meet at Bath, you know, before we set out for the sea, and, everything considered, I think the first plan as good as any.

My father and mother, wisely aware of the difficulty of finding in all Bath such a bed as their own, have resolved on taking it with them; all the beds, indeed, that we shall want are to be removed — viz., besides theirs, our own two, the best for a spare one, and two for servants; and these necessary articles will probably be the only material ones that it would answer to send down. I do not think it will be worth while to remove any of our chests of drawers; we shall be able to get some of a much more commodious sort, made of deal, and painted to look very neat; and I flatter myself that for little comforts of all kinds our apartment will be one of the most complete things of the sort all over Bath, Bristol included.

We have thought at times of removing the sideboard, or a Pembroke table, or some other piece of furniture, but, upon the whole, it has ended in thinking that the trouble and risk of the removal would be more than the advantage of having them at a place where everything may be purchased. Pray send your opinion.

Martha has as good as promised to come to us again in March. Her spirits are better than they were.

I have now attained the true art of letter-writing, which we are always told is to express on paper exactly what one would say to the same person by word of mouth. I have been talking to you almost as fast as I could the whole of this letter.

(extract from Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 3rd January 1801.)

This seemingly happy house, the one Jane Austen so dreaded leaving for Bath in 1800, was eventually demolished by Edward Austen Knight, her rich brother in 1824.

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He owned  the Steventon estate in Hampshire, which included  the benefice , the church of St Nicholas and the Rectory , for he had inherited it along with the Hampshire estate of Chawton and the Kent Godmersham estate from his “adoptive “cousins we have mentioned before,  Thomas Knight II and his wife.

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St Nicolas’s is a fascinating church, though somewhat altered since Jane Austen knew it.

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It lies a short walk along the lane from the site of the old rectory  and Jane’s eldest brother James, who was also rector of Steventon following in his fathers footsteps, is buried in the churchyard there with his second wife Mary (née Lloyd):

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The field where Jane Austen’s home once stood is still empty save for a sad relict: the water pump that supplied the household. Steventon House has therefore little direct association to Jane save for the fact that Edward Knight built it as a replacement for her old beloved home , and that the first possessor of the new house was her nephew and Edward’s son, the Reverend William Knight, who became rector in 1823 , succeeding to the living from Jane’s brother Henry ( who held the living from 1820)

The benefice was brought by the second Duke of Wellington in 1855, by which time most Austen family associations with the rectory has ceased. The Duke’s associations with the manor of Steventon ceased in 1877,when he sold it to the Harris family.

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This house remained as the rectory for the village till 1930,when the parishes of North Waltham and Steventon were amalgamated. Since that date it has been a private home.

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The house, I have to say, is beautiful and elegant as those later Regency rectories often are. It possesses 59 acres of gardens, parkland ,paddocks and woodland (I wonder if they are hangars?) and (here’s the rub) a price tag of £4.5 million. I wonder what Jane Austen would have made of that. A somewhat caustic and wondering comment no doubt. I know it means that I wont be moving to Hampshire any time soon, however much I might desire it…

It is quite apparent from her letters and from her works, that Jane Austen enjoyed the theatre very much. She most certainly did not disapprove of it, despite the evidence of some misguided views of the private theatricals she depicted in Mansfield Park.

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted that over the past few days I have been posting at the Austen Only Twitter account, frontispieces for all the plays mentioned in Mansfield Park, which I thought might be of some interest.

I cant help it: for I too am hopelessly in love with the theatre of this era.

Therefore I’ve decided that once a month or so I’ll be posting on Jane Austen  and the theatre, building up a special page of posts as a resource for you to use.

Today I am going to look at the Theatre Royal  in Bath in its first incarnation at Orchard Street.

Here is  a map of Bath circa 1803 from my copy of  The Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places (1803) by John Feltham (which can be enlarged if you click on the map)

bath-map-18031146-correction-correction1-1And here is a close-up of the area of Bath that included Orchard Street ( to be found in the bottom right section of the map above)

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Jane Austen lived in Bath from 1801 until 1806 when the dwindling financial resources of the Austen ladies  necessitated them leaving Bath to live in the cheaper surroundings of Southampton.

We know very little of the detail of  Jane Austen’s time in Bath. As she and Cassandra were together most of that period,  Jane’s letters to Cassandra , which usually provide us with vital information about the intimate details of her life, did not pass between them. We have no true idea of her theatre going habits while she lived in that city. However, she does mention the Bath theatre in both its guises in Northanger Abbey and in Persuasion, her two Bath-based novels. And as she was such a fan of the theatre, taking every opportunity to visit the London theatres when she visited her brother Henry Austen there, that I find it hard to believe she did not take the opportunity to visit the theatre in Bath as much as she could.

The theatre in Bath was probably the most important theatre in England outside London. As Bath was a very fashionable centre  for people taking the waters as a cure  and those in search, perhaps, of spouses (especially widows) there was a ready audience waiting to watch the biggest stars perform the latest plays.

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(Here is a link to this print in colour, currently held by the Holburne Museum of Art, Bath)

The Theatre Royal in Orchard Street was the third theatre to be built in Bath and by the time Jane Austen lived in the city it was run in tandem with the theatre in Bristol. It did not follow the London theatrical seasons,and played to audiences all year round. ( In London the two main patent theatres, The Theatre Royal Drury Lane and the Theatre Royal Covent Garden were the only houses legally authorised to perform the spoken word, and played  from October to Easter. In the summer months in London only the Little Theatre in the Hay, as mentioned in Pride and Prejudice, was open for business.

The theatre in Bath was used as a starting ground for many of the great actors of the period, letting them “cut their teeth “ on a sophisticated audience before taking them or their productions  to the London stage. In his book, Retrospectives of the Stage (1830) John Bernard, a member of the company of actors at Bath in the early 19th century, reminisced about the Orchard Street Theatre :

“..(it)boasted the best company out of London-Henderson, Dibdin, Dimond, Diddear, Blisset etc . The Bath Audience had long maintained the character of being the most elegant and judicious in the kingdom; and the “school” which gradually formed under their influence and the exertions of Mr Palmer obtained the pre- eminence in the eyes of the Dramatic Tyro and the London critic. It is well know that, for many years, the very name of Bath was a guarantee for a man’s good taste in his profession; whilst on the score of genius, it is acknowledged to have contributed more largely to the metropolitan boards than Dublin and York put together…

The construction of the theatre in Orchard Street was begun in 1747, and it opened for business in October 1750. Eventually stable management for the theatre was established under the control of John Arthur, a “low comedian” and pantomime clown. He began the process of building up the company and securing a good reputation for the theatre. A Royal Patent was granted in 1768  as, under the  1737 Licensing Act, it was technically operating outside the rule of law performing the spoken word without  license or patent . This was the first theatre to gain a patent outside London, which does indicate just how important it was.

The arrangement with the Bristol theatre in Kings Street was to the advantage of the theatre-goers of both cities. They were only 13 miles apart and so it was easy to work out a modus operandi. From September and October of any year the company of actors played three nights in Bristol and Saturdays in Bath, with the exception of Race Week in Bath and Christmas and Easter when a full week was played there attracting capacity crowds. From November to May there would be three nights in Bath with Mondays in Bristol. Benefit performances in Bath were taken in spring and early summer: in Bristol in June and July. This method of sharing the two theatres between one company continued from  1777 until 1817 (Note that from 1806  the Bath company performed at the new theatre in Beaufort Square, still the site of the current Theatre Royal in Bath).

The company was transported between the two towns by coaches or “caterpillars “ as they were termed. John Palmer, the theatre manager of both theatres, had constructed three special long coaches, which carried 12 actors and their luggage between the theatres. This was probably a pleasant journey in summer but due to the size of the coach and the state of the roads, a dangerous one in winter.

Because of the relative stability of the Bath company and the  exposure it could offer actors to good plays and influential audiences,  a place in the Bath company was thought to be  very desirable and a professional achievement of some merit. Here is a list of some of the actors who began in Bath,and them went on to gain more fame in the London theatres:

Mr Dodd, Mr Henderson, Mrs Siddons, Miss Kemble, Mrs Goodall transferred to the Drury Lane Company.

Miss Sacre, Mr and Mrs Knight, Mrs Glover, Incedon Elliston,  Mr Murray,  Miss Wallis and Miss Smith to Covent Garden.

John Edwin and Julia Grimaldi to the Haymarket.

Many actors choose to stay with the Bath company…and frankly who could blame them. It was a less precarious life than the limited season in London could offer.

The theatre at Bath was quite small compared to the London theatres, but even they were intimate affairs, quite unlike the massive auditoria we now know. The picture below shows the theatre as it was in 1775, and despite some small alterations this is how the interior  looked till 1805 when it was rebuilt, on a different site in Bath, in Beaufort Square.

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This print shows a scene from a performance of Hamlet. And this is how it would have looked, in the main ,when Jane Austen knew it and when she depicted Henry Tilney studiously ignoring Catherine Morland in that same theatre, sitting in the box opposite to his in Northanger Abbey:

To the theatre accordingly they all went; no Tilneys appeared to plague or please her; she feared that, amongst the many perfections of the family, a fondness for plays was not to be ranked; but perhaps it was because they were habituated to the finer performances of the London stage, which she knew, on Isabella’s authority, rendered everything else of the kind “quite horrid.”  She was not deceived in her own expectation of pleasure; the comedy so well suspended her care that no one, observing her during the first four acts, would have supposed she had any wretchedness about her. On the beginning of the fifth, however, the sudden view of Mr. Henry Tilney and his father, joining a party in the opposite box, recalled her to anxiety and distress. The stage could no longer excite genuine merriment — no longer keep her whole attention. Every other look upon an average was directed towards the opposite box; and, for the space of two entire scenes, did she thus watch Henry Tilney, without being once able to catch his eye. No longer could he be suspected of indifference for a play; his notice was never withdrawn from the stage during two whole scenes. At length, however, he did look towards her, and he bowed — but such a bow! No smile, no continued observance attended it; his eyes were immediately returned to their former direction. Catherine was restlessly miserable; she could almost have run round to the box in which he sat and forced him to hear her explanation. Feelings rather natural than heroic possessed her; instead of considering her own dignity injured by this ready condemnation — instead of proudly resolving, in conscious innocence, to show her resentment towards him who could harbour a doubt of it, to leave to him all the trouble of seeking an explanation, and to enlighten him on the past only by avoiding his sight, or flirting with somebody else — she took to herself all the shame of misconduct, or at least of its appearance, and was only eager for an opportunity of explaining its cause.

The play concluded — the curtain fell — Henry Tilney was no longer to be seen where he had hitherto sat, but his father remained, and perhaps he might be now coming round to their box…..

Northanger Abbey ,Chapter 12.

The theatre at Bath was not especially large, when compared to modern ones. This description of the Georgian Theatre in Richmond, Yorkshire by Richard Leacroft in his very informative book The Development of the English Playhouse( with Comparative Reconstructions ) shows how tiny these early theatres could be:

The theatre occupies a stone walled building 28 feet wide by an average of 61 feet long, divided almost equally internally between stage and auditorium, the latter over lapping the former by some 5 feet .A rectangular pit was enclosed by boxes, with two rows of benches at the sides and three facing the stage. These front boxes were backed by a curved wall similar in character to those at Drury Lane and the Theatre Royal , Bristol. The front row of benches in the side boxes and the two front rows of the front boxes were divided by low partitions of the same height as the box fronts, each related to one of the small timer Doric columns supporting the side galleries and the main gallery facing the stage, situated above the front boxes…..

Page 156.

It has been calculated by reference to the current Freemason’s Hall( which is now situated in the old Orchard Street Theatre, and which you can still visit- see this link here) that the theatre was  sixty feet long and forty feet board. In that case, the space between the two boxes was a mere 33 feet . In addition, we ought to recall that at this time theatres were , in comparison with our temples of dark and respectful quiet, brightly lit places where  the object was as much to be seen as to watch the play. The candles were not extinguished during the performance so Mr Tilney could clearly be seen by Catherine Morland and Catherine Morland  must surely have been visible to him, whatever impression he gave to the contrary:

Badly done Henry, badly done. But  I’m glad he was “such a Henry” that he could not resist Miss Morland’s artless plea:

“But indeed I did not wish you a pleasant walk; I never thought of such a thing; but I begged Mr. Thorpe so earnestly to stop; I called out to him as soon as ever I saw you; now, Mrs. Allen, did not — Oh! You were not there; but indeed I did; and, if Mr. Thorpe would only have stopped, I would have jumped out and run after you.”

Is there a Henry in the world who could be insensible to such a declaration? Henry Tilney at least was not.

A final point. It may interest you to note that from 1801 to 1806 the play  Lover’s Vows by Kotzebue but adapted by Mrs Inchbald  was performed 17 times in Bath…which coincided with JA’s residence in that city. More on that play and Mrs Inchbald in later posts.


I am a great fan of Amanda Vickery’s books. And I think that they should be  required reading for anyone interested in the social history of  the Georgian era.

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Her previous work The Gentleman’s Daughter was a wonderfully detailed  exploration of  the intimate lives of women in the 18th century and helped many of us to a greater understanding of Jane Austen’s female character’s lives by setting them in a recognisable historical context .

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Her new book Behind Closed Doors : at home in Georgian England once again takes the domestic realm as it subject but details it on a much wider scale.

She does not concentrate on one class of people but considers , in minute detail, the  intimate  lives of landladies, lodgers tradesmen and women ,professionals  and aristocrats living  in both London and in the provinces.

Its scale is breathtaking and the detail, delicious.

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And what I really adore is that she admits the historical truth of Jane Austen’s writings by  including copious quotes from the six novels to illustrate her points. Indeed, she devotes almost half a chapter of the book to consider  the way  in which the subject of the home is treated by  Austen’s heroines and heroes, even going so far as to  paraphrase the famous opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a Georgian house with a drawing room,French windows and lawns must be in want of a mistress…

It was an irresistible and understandable  opportunity ….I dare-say had I been given the chance to play with that famous line, I would not have let it pass either…

While reading Professor Vickery’s  descriptions of the lives  and experiences of  individuals the Jane Austen devotee will find many parallels with the situations in which her characters find themselves. For example, look at this passage on  the unenviable plight of the genteel, dependant spinster:

Many, if not most, families exploited their unmarried womenfolk, as unpaid housekeepers, nursery maids and sick-nurses, tutors, chaperons, companions and surrogate mothers. Some spinsters were commended for their pains, and drew satisfaction from their value to the family enterprise. Frances Blundell was ‘one of the best spokes in the wheel on which our fortunes have turned’, acknowledged her brother William.  Conversely, a hundred years later in the same county, Ellen Weeton and her widowed mother forwent ‘the comforts, and even many of the necessaries of life, to support my brother at Preston’ training to be a lawyer, imagining that he ‘would repay us when old enough for all these deprivations’. But it was a vain expectation, ‘for like all his sex, when he was grown up, he considered what had been done for him was his right; that he owed no gratitude to us, for we were but female relatives, and had only done our duty’. Lawyer Weeton declined to offer his sister a home because ‘such a kind of family was very unpleasant, causing the most unhappy dissensions’. Some spinsters questioned their lot, but their options for improvement were narrow. ‘Should her destination be to remain an inhabitant in her father’s house’, Priscilla Wakefield intoned, ‘cheerfulness, good temper, and obliging resignation of her will to that of others, will be there equally her duty, and her interest’. Eventually, of course, ‘it will belong to her to enliven, cheer, to amuse the latter moments of her parent’s declining age’.” Dependent women were to adapt themselves to the rhythms and priorities of the household. Self-sacrifice on the altar of family was the sentence of the spinster.

The depictions of Miss Bates, Charlotte Lucas and even the Austen sisters themselves resonate here.  And so it goes on throughout the book.

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The book is  beautifully produced , printed on  fine glossy paper and  illustrated in black and white and colour with very appropriate and carefully chosen illustrations:

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Here , for example , we have two examples of wallpaper circa 1790 taken from a house in Manchester Street, London. The chapter on home decorating (Wallpaper and Taste) is fascinating.

I confess I have devoured this book and read it quickly almost at one sittting.I am going to revisit it over the next few weeks savouring its detail. I highly  recommend this book to you: anyone who is  keen on Jane Austen’s works  will enjoy delving into the minutiae of real people’s lives – especially as many of the lives have telling details  which echo in Austen’s works.

Is it too much to hope that this book will soon appear in a Kindle edition?

Have you ever wondered why of all the items she could send to the ailing Jane Farifax, that Emma, after consulting with her housekeeper, sends some arrow-root? That powered starch we sometimes now use as a thickening agent in sauces etc?…Was that really special and a gift worthy of note?

Well, yes it was.

And Mrs Rundell, whom we mentioned yesterday, can  help us to understand what at this remove might seem like a trivial and  somewhat mystifying gift.

Let’s set the scene…When all is going wrong for Jane Fairfax in Chapter 45 Emma tries to rise above it all and be friends.

The possibility of Jane having some pulmonary disease is uppermost in everyone’s mind and Mr Perry , Highbury’s apothecary, is trying as humanely as possible to quell fears:

…when Mr. Perry called at Hartfield, the same morning, it appeared that she was so much indisposed as to have been visited, though against her own consent, by himself, and that she was suffering under severe headachs, and a nervous fever to a degree, which made him doubt the possibility of her going to Mrs. Smallridge’s at the time proposed. Her health seemed for the moment completely deranged — appetite quite gone — and though there were no absolutely alarming symptoms, nothing touching the pulmonary complaint, which was the standing apprehension of the family, Mr. Perry was uneasy about her. He thought she had undertaken more than she was equal to, and that she felt it so herself, though she would not own it. Her spirits seemed overcome. Her present home, he could not but observe, was unfavourable to a nervous disorder: — confined always to one room; — he could have wished it otherwise — and her good aunt, though his very old friend, he must acknowledge to be not the best companion for an invalid of that description. Her care and attention could not be questioned; they were, in fact, only too great. He very much feared that Miss Fairfax derived more evil than good from them. Emma listened with the warmest concern; grieved for her more and more, and looked around eager to discover some way of being useful. To take her — be it only an hour or two — from her aunt, to give her change of air and scene, and quiet rational conversation, even for an hour or two, might do her good; and the following morning she wrote again to say, in the most feeling language she could command, that she would call for her in the carriage at any hour that Jane would name — mentioning that she had Mr. Perry’s decided opinion, in favour of such exercise for his patient.

Emma is soundly rebuffed…..but still tries to do good:

Emma felt that her own note had deserved something better; but it was impossible to quarrel with words, whose tremulous inequality showed indisposition so plainly, and she thought only of how she might best counteract this unwillingness to be seen or assisted. In spite of the answer, therefore, she ordered the carriage, and drove to Mrs. Bates’s, in the hope that Jane would be induced to join her — but it would not do; — Miss Bates came to the carriage door, all gratitude, and agreeing with her most earnestly in thinking an airing might be of the greatest service — and every thing that message could do was tried — but all in vain. Miss Bates was obliged to return without success; Jane was quite unpersuadable; the mere proposal of going out seemed to make her worse. — Emma wished she could have seen her, and tried her own powers; but, almost before she could hint the wish, Miss Bates made it appear that she had promised her niece on no account to let Miss Woodhouse in. “Indeed, the truth was, that poor dear Jane could not bear to see anybody — anybody at all — Mrs. Elton, indeed, could not be denied — and Mrs. Cole had made such a point — and Mrs. Perry had said so much — but, except them, Jane would really see nobody.”

Emma ‘s naturallly  good impluses still make her want to help, in some way, this poor but proud, distressed soul:

Emma did not want to be classed with the Mrs. Eltons, the Mrs. Perrys, and the Mrs. Coles, who would force themselves anywhere; neither could she feel any right of preference herself — she submitted, therefore, and only questioned Miss Bates farther as to her niece’s appetite and diet, which she longed to be able to assist. On that subject poor Miss Bates was very unhappy, and very communicative; Jane would hardly eat any thing: — Mr. Perry recommended nourishing food; but every thing they could command (and never had anybody such good neighbours) was distasteful.

Emma, on reaching home, called the housekeeper directly, to an examination of her stores; and some arrow-root of very superior quality was speedily despatched to Miss Bates with a most friendly note. In half an hour the arrow-root was returned, with a thousand thanks from Miss Bates, but “dear Jane would not be satisfied without its being sent back; it was a thing she could not take — and, moreover, she insisted on her saying, that she was not at all in want of any thing.”

Oh dear….

When Emma afterwards heard that Jane Fairfax had been seen wandering about the meadows, at some distance from Highbury, on the afternoon of the very day on which she had, under the plea of being unequal to any exercise, so peremptorily refused to go out with her in the carriage, she could have no doubt — putting every thing together — that Jane was resolved to receive no kindness from her. She was sorry, very sorry. Her heart was grieved for a state which seemed but the more pitiable from this sort of irritation of spirits, inconsistency of action, and inequality of powers; and it mortified her that she was given so little credit for proper feeling, or esteemed so little worthy as a friend: but she had the consolation of knowing that her intentions were good, and of being able to say to herself, that could Mr. Knightley have been privy to all her attempts of assisting Jane Fairfax, could he even have seen into her heart, he would not, on this occasion, have found any thing to reprove.

Never mind- it all comes right in the end, I promise.

So, back to our original question: why did Emma send arrow-root to JAne Fairfax? Most  of us might think  it an odd choice as a gift for  someone who is ill . Why would this be considered nourishing and something to give to someone who had lost their appetite though illness?.

It was (and still is), an edible starch  which was produced from powdering and drying the pith of the maranta plant. . The herb is extracted from the fleshy roots of the plant- the rhizomes- and this is achieved by  putting the roots through an elaborate process of washing, peeling, soaking, and drying in the sun.

The end product is a fine, white powder with the same appearance and texture as cornstarch.

Further it was expensive to buy: it  had to be imported to England from the West Indies and from India, and, as such, was a luxury item in Jane Austen’s era.

So thus far we  have discovered therefore that  Emma had  sent to Jane Fairfax some expensive starch…is that all?

Well, no. And this is the important point to consider : Arrow-root was thought to be quite the best starch to be used when creating food for invalids. It was( and still is) widely considered to be an easily digested and nutritious starch . It did not set food as to make it very hard to eat and digest – such as a concentrated  calves foot jelly mixture would have done, for example,- and could be used to soothe the stomach and alleviate the symptoms of diarrhoea.  A jelly made from arrowroot was therefore considered to both be nourishing and beneficial to someone who was ill and had a poor appetite.(Jane Fairfax’s situation exactly,as related by Miss Bates)

In her book A New System of Domestic Cookery (1819) edition Maria Rundell included specific  recipes for the sick in her chapter entitled Cookery for the Sick and for the Poor .This chapter contains some characteristically sensible advice on the feeding of people with poor appetites:

Sick Cookery

General remarks

The following pages will contain cookery for the sick: it being of more consequence to support those whose bad appetite will not allow them to take the necessary nourishment, than to stimulate that of persons in health.

It may not be unnecessary  to advise that a choice be made of the things most likely to agree with the patient; that a change be provided; that  some one at least  always ready; that not too much of those be made at once which are not likely to keep,as invalids require variety; and that they should succeed each other in different forms and flavours.

Her recipe for Arrow-root Jelly is as follows:

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Dr Buchan( whom we met in out post, Were they right to worry about Jane Fairfax’s Health, below) in his book Domestic Medicine recommended supplying jellies for sufferers of possible consumptions:

IT is not to be wondered, that milk should, for some time, disagree with a stomach that has not been accustomed to digest any thing but flesh and strong liquors, which is the case with many of those who fall into consumptions. We do not however advise those who have been accustomed to animal food and strong liquors, to leave them off all at once. This might be dangerous. It will be necessary for such to eat a little once a-day of the flesh of some young animal, or rather to use the broth made of chickens, veal, lamb, or such like. They ought likewise to drink a little wine made into negus, or diluted with twice or thrice its quantity of water, and to make it gradually weaker till they can leave it off altogether.

THESE must be used only as preparative to a diet consisting chiefly of milk and vegetables, which the sooner the patient can be brought to bear, the better. Rice and milk, or barley and milk boiled, with a little sugar, is very proper food. Ripe fruits roasted, baked, or boiled, are likewise proper, as goose or currant berry tarts, apples roasted, or boiled in milk, &c. The jellies, conserves, and preserves, &c. of ripe subacid fruits, ought to be eat plentifully, as the jelly of currants, conserve of roses, preserved plums, cherries, &c.

Just a final note: in the recipe for Arrow-root Jelly above do note that  Mrs Rundell gives a warning about  purchasing adulterated ( and therefore cheap) arrow-root.  Dangerously adulterated food, before the introduction of food hygiene laws and standards, was a sad fact  of life in early 19th century England. Mistresses of households, housekeepers  and cooks were advised by many of the recipe and household instruction books of the era to be vigilant when purchasing perishable goods.  In fact, specific warnings about adulterated arrow-root  appeared in the newspapers of the time: look at this one from The Times, Thursday 3rd July 1828:

Arrow-Root. The adulteration of this very valuable article of diet for children and invalids with fine flour of wheat or with what is termed potato starch(a common practise in this metropolis maybe easily detected-ten grains of the flour or of the potato starch, forming with two ounces of boiling water a pretty strong jelly while the same proportion of genuine arrow root forms a very thin jelly. The jelly of the true arrow root will retain its solidity three or four days while that of the potato starch becomes nearly as thin as water in the course of two days,a fact that strongly points out the superiority of arrow-root over the potato starch as a nourishing article of diet.

Arrow-root is therefore revealed to be a very appropriate, thoughtful and kind gift on Emma’s part, not the least because at the time the novel was published, it was expensive and probably out of the  financial reach of Miss Bates’s limited resources .As it was arrow-root of very superior quality, it was obviously the real thing, and sure to do good.  Taking all the above into account, Emma’s gift  can be seen to have been a very considerate  and generous one. Mr Knightley and we  should surely  approve.

Continuing the Emma theme I thought you might like to know something about this book,and below is the frontispiece to the 1816 edition,complete with cook , hanging hams and a larder of food to be prepared and cooked.

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This is one of my favourite period cookery books.

Editions of Mrs Rundell’s work are not rare but some are hard to date ,and many of the later editions are  out of our time period (so caveat emptor). I have two editions of the work: one published in 1816 and one in 1819 .

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And they are becoming rather expensive  should any of you decide to buy an original copy. But you may be interested to know that the wonderful Persephone Books of London have recently issued a rather fine facsimile edition of the 1816  text of Mrs Rundell’s book.

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It is, like all their books, a paperback ,but it is as you can see beautifully produced , complete with bookmark which matches the end papers.

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Perspehone books have a wonderful reputation for re-published texts written by women which are interesting and have merit but which have fallen out of print. In the past they have concentrated on editions of books  published from the late 19th century onwards,and this, I believe, is the earliest book that they have reissued.

Not only are their books beautiful, but they are also bargains. This edition of Mrs Rundell’s recipe book is only £10. When I tell you I thought I had a bargain getting my 1816 edition for £170 you can clearly see just how reasonable is the price.

So why should Mrs Rundell interest those of us interested in Jane Austen and Emma in particular? I consider that of all her works  it is Emma that is most domestically focused. We learn a lot of the domestic detail of the lives of the people in this book. For example, we come to know exactly how Isabella Knightley under the influence no doubt of her father, prefers her gruel to be prepared:

This topic was discussed very happily, and others succeeded of similar moment, and passed away with similar harmony; but the evening did not close without a little return of agitation. The gruel came and supplied a great deal to be said — much praise and many comments — undoubting decision of its wholesomeness for every constitution, and pretty severe Philippics upon the many houses where it was never met with tolerable; but, unfortunately, among the failures which the daughter had to instance, the most recent, and therefore most prominent, was in her own cook at South End, a young woman hired for the time, who never had been able to understand what she meant by a basin of nice smooth gruel, thin, but not too thin. Often as she had wished for and ordered it, she had never been able to get any thing tolerable.

Chapter 12

That Mrs Weston keeps Turkies

Mrs. Weston’s poultry-house was robbed one night of all her turkies — evidently by the ingenuity of man.

Chapter 55

That Emma knows the best joints of pork to send to Miss Bates:

“It is a great pity that their circumstances should be so confined! a great pity indeed! and I have often wished — but it is so little one can venture to do — small, trifling presents, of any thing uncommon — Now we have killed a porker, and Emma thinks of sending them a loin or a leg; it is very small and delicate — Hartfield pork is not like any other pork — but still it is pork — and, my dear Emma, unless one could be sure of their making it into steaks, nicely fried, as our’s are fried, without the smallest grease, and not roast it, for no stomach can bear roast pork — I think we had better send the leg — do not you think so, my dear?”

“My dear papa, I sent the whole hind-quarter. I knew you would wish it. There will be the leg to be salted, you know, which is so very nice, and the loin to be dressed directly in any manner they like.”

Chapter 21

and which strawberries were in fashion from the ramblings of Mrs Elton:

The best fruit in England — every body’s favourite — always wholesome. These the finest beds and finest sorts. — Delightful to gather for one’s self — the only way of really enjoying them. Morning decidedly the best time — never tired — every sort good — hautboy infinitely superior — no comparison — the others hardly eatable — hautboys very scarce — Chili preferred — white wood finest flavour of all — price of strawberries in London — abundance about Bristol — Maple Grove — cultivation — beds when to be renewed — gardeners thinking exactly different — no general rule — gardeners never to be put out of their way — delicious fruit — only too rich to be eaten much of — inferior to cherries — currants more refreshing — only objection to gathering strawberries the stooping — glaring sun — tired to death — could bear it no longer — must go and sit in the shade.”

Chapter 42

If you want  to know more about this sort of domestic detail, -just how to keep Turkies in the early years of the 19th century for example, then Mrs Rundell’s book is for you. Her book was first published in 1806, but the edition of 1816 perfectly coincides with the publication of Emma (which though technically published in late 1815 is actually dated 1816 on the frontispiece of the first edition) And, importantly, Mrs Rundell was writing precisely for the class of people we meet in Highbury.

Let’s learn a little about the famous Mrs Rundell.

Mrs Rundell lived from 1745-1828. Born Maria Eliza Ketelby ,  she was the only child of Abel Ketelby, a barrister of the Middle Temple, who was  resident at Ludlow in  Shropshire. She married, on 30 December 1766, Thomas Rundell, who was a surgeon practising at Bath, where they then lived. It was running this household successfully for nearly 30 years that gave her the necessary experience to enable her to write her book. They raised two sons and three daughters.  In 1795 Thomas Rundell died, after a long and painful illness.

After her husband’s death Mrs Rundell lead a peripatetic sort of life, similar to that of Jane and Cassandra Austen, residing with relatives in Swansea in Wales, then with her married daughters and frequently in London at the home of her brother- in-law, Philip Rundell, the rich  partner of the famous family firm of goldsmiths, Rundell and Bridge, crown jewellers  to the Royal Family and to the astronomically rich.

Despairing of the  books on domestic management available in the early 19th century, Mrs Rundell began collating recipes and household tips in order to  be able to pass on her experience to her daughters.  She originally intended to make only four copies of her book: one for each of her daughters, and one for herself.

But John Murray the publisher, heard of the manuscripts existence (he was a neighbour of Phillip Rundell) and began negotiations to publish. We shall see later on in this post that Mrs Rundell, expert in matters of domesticity may well have done better at this time to have seen the charismatic Mr Murray through Jane Austen’s clear and business-like eyes( Murray was by 1815 also Jane Austen’s publisher):

Mr Murray’s Letter is come: he is a Rogue of course, but a civil one

(See: Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 17th october 1815)

Mrs Rundell’s manuscript was published in 1806 under the title of Domestic Cookery; a second amplified edition was completed at Ambleside where Mrs Rundell was living with her married daughter.  The book had an immediate success. 5000–10,000 copies were printed annually, and succeeding editions were enlarged and embellished by engravings. In truth, it became one of John Murray’s most valuable properties and in 1812, when he bought the lease of his premises in Albemarle Street, the copyright of Domestic Cookery formed part of the surety.

As the earliest manual of household management with any real pretensions to completeness, it called forth many imitations but I fear non surpassed Mrs Rundells clear, concise and above all sensible advice. She has a distinct voice- one she shared with  others writers of the period like Mrs Lybbe Powys-one which rings out clear and kind and never slip-shod.

The history between John Murray and Mrs Rundell is however not one of perfect concord.  In the entertaining introduction to the  Persephone books edition , Janet Morgan details what eventually descended into a sad tale of litigation ,counter claim and loss,which as a lawyer makes for sad but all too familiar reading for me. Don’t  presume business between freinds will always remain amicable and never sue unless you are absolutely forced are maxims that both Mrs Rundell and Murray should have followed. Both Mrs Rundell and Mr Murray would have benefited from some sound advice , a contract, and arbitration,IMHO and Mrs Rundell lost money she  could obviously not afford to lose.

However…..Mrs Rundell’s book is invaluable to those of us who try to imagine what life was really like  when Jane Austen was writing her books.The introduction ot her book, entitled “Miscellaneous Observations for the use of the Mistress of a Family” contains a veritable  goldmine of good sense and minute observation on many topics-servants, personal devotion, the education of girls etc., etc. This book would have been devoured by the Harriet Smiths of the world on marriage. perhaps it would have been Mrs Goddard’s parting gift to her….

So if, after reading Emma you need to know how  the good people of Highbury would prepare food for invalids, for the poor, or make a good gruel (just the way Mr Woodhouse would like it) or how to care for turkies which have not been stolen by the apparent ingenuity of man, then this book is for you .

My only gripe is that the end pages of this edition book have not been included. In the original copies they contain advertisements for John Murray’s other books: so the 1816  editions has these:(please do click on the illustrations to enlarge them and to see the detail!)

 

Persephone rundell(12)379 Correction

and the 1819 edition these:

Persephone rundell(10)377 Correction

I find it just perfect example of synchronicity to see editions of Emma,  Mansfield Park, Persuasion and Northanger Abbey advertised in these  books. It is sad that they were not included. Still…..That quibble apart I highly recommend this reasonably priced edition of a very useful book. However sadly her publishing history ended, Mrs Rundell’s legacy to us  is the early editions of her works . This facsimile edition make it very accessible to all, and I thank Persephone books for  their book  number 84. Is it too much to hope that more facsimile books of this era will follow? .

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