You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2009.

I thought that before 12th Night is upon us I’d share part of  an interesting Christmas gift I received…a copy of the Illustrated London News for 1858, and within its pages is this wonderful article commemorating Queen Victoria’s visit to Stoneleigh Abbey, in Warwickshire, the home of the Leigh family.

Slightly out of our time period, but  interesting nevertheless especially with Jane Austen’s connection to  the Abbey.

The pages are vast and  are too big to be scanned completely, but I attach them here for you to explore. They can all be made larger simply by clicking upon them.

The test is interesting, and  as Stoneleigh had not changed much since Jane Austen’s visit of 1806, the details are relevant to this site. The scenario is reminiscent of all royal visits, or so it seems to me -newly cut lawns and repairs hastily made in order to impress .

I hope you enjoy exploring this interesting article over the holiday weekend,and I take this opportunity of wishing you all

A Very Happy and Peaceful New Year

We know that Mr Weston is a gregarious man , and as a host  for a party I think he might be  perfect- constantly replenishing drink and encouraging jollity…(though I admit, his gregariousness in everyday life might begin to pall……)

We also know, however, that Mr Elton partook a little too much of his hospitality, for he became emboldened by the wine he had consumed and, in that dreadful carriage ride home to Vicarage Lane, proposed  to an astounded Emma:

And the bell was rung, and the carriages spoken for. A few minutes more, and Emma hoped to see one troublesome companion deposited in his own house, to get sober and cool, and the other recover his temper and happiness when this visit of hardship were over…Isabella stept in after her father; John Knightley, forgetting that he did not belong to their party, stept in after his wife very naturally; so that Emma found, on being escorted and followed into the second carriage by Mr. Elton, that the door was to be lawfully shut on them, and that they were to have a tête-á-tête drive. It would not have been the awkwardness of a moment, it would have been rather a pleasure, previous to the suspicions of this very day; she could have talked to him of Harriet, and the three-quarters of a mile would have seemed but one. But now, she would rather it had not happened. She believed he had been drinking too much of Mr. Weston’s good wine, and felt sure that he would want to be talking nonsense….

But Mr. Elton had only drunk wine enough to elevate his spirits, not at all to confuse his intellects.

(Emma, Chapter 15)

So what made Mr Elton a man who was …. Unsafe in Carriages?

In addition to wine I think it highly likely. as this was a special occasion, that Mr Weston would have provided punch for his guests  for toasting purposes. Punch was traditionally used as a genial drink to be taken in company in Jane Austen’s era.

Punch was phenomenally popular during the long 18th century. It developed as a drink as a result of the opening up of trade between Europe and the Far East. Punch derived its name from the Persian word  Panj and the Hindu word Panch, both meaning five-referring to the number of ingredients used in the drink .

It was a originally a strong mixture of arrack, water, lemon juice, sugar and spices.  Arrack was  a distilled alcohol made from the secretion of rubber trees in Goa, or if made in Batavia, it was a distilled sprit made from rice and sugar.

The records of the East India Company actually show that not many  barrels of arrack were imported  to England during the long 18th century: the English  used brandy or eau de vie instead, realizing that it was not merely intended for use as a fuel for keeping chafing dishes or kettles warm( like a methylated spirit burner)as it had been in the 17th century, but that it could, in fact, be consumed as an fine alcoholic drink.

Punch was traditionally served in ceramic punch bowls which were  imported into England by the East India Company specifically for this purpose from the 1690s onwards. This is one from my collection dating from the mid to late 18th century:

The custom of sharing of a punch from a communal punch bowl takes its inspiration from the old Christmas custom of Wassailing, shown here in an illustration from Washington Irving’s book The Keeping of Christmas at Bracebridge Hall:

Punch was drunk from glass or metal-silver or silver gilt- punch cups, like these early 19th century (circa 1800) examples:

Not that in England punch was always consumed at room temperature ( unlike in Colonial America where many recipes for punch called for the use of ice).

Here is John Notts’ recipe for  Punch Royal from his Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary of 1726:

And one for chamber maids….which is interesting and not a little saucy in its intent:

Mrs Rundell in her New System of Domestic Cookery (1819) records the fashion for milk punch

Punch was an expensive and time consuming drink to prepare. The rind of citrus fruit had to be carefully removed in a spiral for decorative purposes; the juice of citrus fruit lemons orange or limes- had to be squeezed by hand and sieved of its pips through a muslin strainer;  the sugar and spices-expensive commodities both -had to be mixed in correct proportions and finally the expensive spirits added.

The spiral cut rinds of oranges were traditionally dangled  in and over the edge of the bowl, as prepared by me on  Ivan Day’s Christmas Past course;

And  you can see from this section from A Punch Party by Thomas Patch circa 1760, that the butler is holding an immense porcelain punch bowl complete with sprial rinds….

and again, in this engraving of a more intimate but riotous punch party…..

Towards the end of the 18th century drinking punch in this manner communally from a bowl- was seen as a slightly old fashioned thing to do : the fashion in very smart society  was for the passing not of ceramic bowls around the mahogany dining table, but for sliding bottles stands made of precious metal in various designs, and shimmering and expensive cut crystal decanters of individual spirits glittering in the candlelight ~ as shown in this sideboard at Fairfax House in York,

set up according to the directions given  in Thomas Consett’s book The Footman’s Directory and Butlers Rememberancer (1823)

That is why Mrs Bennet betrays her  old-fashioned habits when she orders a bowl of punch to be served to the servants at Lydia’s wedding in Pride and Prejudice…

“I will go to Meryton,” said she, “as soon as I am dressed, and tell the good, good news to my sister Phillips. And as I come back, I can call on Lady Lucas and Mrs. Long. Kitty, run down and order the carriage. An airing would do me a great deal of good, I am sure. Girls, can I do anything for you in Meryton? Oh! here comes Hill! My dear Hill, have you heard the good news? Miss Lydia is going to be married; and you shall all have a bowl of punch to make merry at her wedding.”

The taste for  drinking punch still remained fashionable, even if it was not served in a bowl, but in individual glasses. As a method of conspicuous consumption  it still remained popular as the ingredients here, for the recipe for the Prince of Wales Punch, demonstrates how very expensive it could be:

Three bottles of Champagne, tw of Madeira, one of Hock, one of Curacao, one quart of Brandy, one pint of Rum, and two bottles of selzer water, flavoured with four pounds of bloom raisins, Seville oranges, lemons,white sugar candy and diluted  with iced green tea instead  of water.

I tasted this on the Regency Cookery Course I  attended at Ivan Day’s Historic Foods in Cumbria,and it was delicious. But potent. No wonder Mr Elton was emblodened.

If you would like to hear what happens on a Taste of Christmas Past Course,  go here to listen to an Episode of Radio 4’s Food Programme which followed some people on one  of Ivan’s courses.

And I take my leave of you till after Christmas,a season which for us ends just after New Year  with the return to the office and to colleges and schools. But in Jane Austen’s era  the end of the season was Twelfth Night-a time for revelry and great cakes, like the one below:

And that will be the subject of my next post.

So it  only remains for me to wish you all a Merry Christmas  with a view of Sir Joshua Reynolds Nativity...

and to hope to “see” you all again, on Twelth Night (January 6th!)

We have very little knowledge  of the food served at Randalls when Mr and Mrs Weston hold a Christmas Eve dinner for their surrogate family the  Wooodhouses and the Knightleys-and  Mr Elton in Chapters 14 and 15 of Emma. We are told that a saddle of lamb is included in the  fare:

With such sensations, Mr. Elton’s civilities were dreadfully ill-timed; but she had the comfort of appearing very polite, while feeling very cross — and of thinking that the rest of the visit could not possibly pass without bringing forward the same information again, or the substance of it, from the open-hearted Mr. Weston. So it proved; — for when happily released from Mr. Elton, and seated by Mr. Weston, at dinner, he made use of the very first interval in the cares of hospitality, the very first leisure from the saddle of mutton, to say to her —

“We want only two more to be just the right number. I should like to see two more here, — your pretty little friend, Miss Smith, and my son — and then I should say we were quite complete. I believe you did not hear me telling the others in the drawing-room that we are expecting Frank? I had a letter from him this morning, and he will be with us within a fortnight

So we are left somewhat to our own devises to imagine what else would be on the table.

Duncan Macdonald, in common with many of the writers of cookery books in this era,  gives seasonal bills of fare in his book ,The New London Family Cook(1809), suggesting dishes for four categories of tables: Table I- small family dinners of two courses, Table II -grander family dinners,Table III – a single course dinner, and  Table IV- very grand dinners of two courses.

As it is a special occasion therefore I have selected Table IV fare for December to suggest what might have been eaten at that special meal:

And here is the second course….

Most dinners of this era consisted of two courses, the second course  was a mixture of sweet and savoury dishes. On special occasionas a desert- fruits,nuts and sweetmeats- would have also been served in addition, and so I have decided that the gregarious and generous Mr Weston would have  served one too..Here are Macdonald’s suggestions for a small winter dessert:

One of the dishes served in MacDonald’s first course is a sirloin of beef. At Christmas ,especially in the north of England this was often served with hackin- a Christmas pudding cooked in an animal’s intestine or stomach-usualky a sheep or ox . Beef and goose were the favoured meats at Christmas in Jane Austen’s era, not turkey.

Spit roast meats were the glory of the English kitchen,and the English cooks’ ability to spit roast was envied throughout Europe. It is an art and a difficult one to master. Let’s see how it was done….as we did on Ivan’s Days Christmas Foods of the Past Course, earlier in the summer

First take your sirloin and thread it carefully on an iron spit to set before a good fire.

You have to carefully  negotiate the centre of the meat with the spit to ensure that as it turns around on the spit, it cooks evenly.

While it is cooking you can either be high-tech and  use, as Ivan Day does in his Georgian kitchen, a clockwork spit ,as modelled here by my friend ,Farah:

This magical labour  saving contraption had to be wound  every  30 minutes or so ,for the clockwork is unwound by a weighted chain( the weight is an old cannon ball,which you can just see hanging behind Farah’s shoulder); gravity  forced the mechanism to work. The sound of this ticking away and being re- wound is very atmospheric…

Or if you were in Bath you might have used a  turnspit dog….

Bath was the last place in England which  used these on a regular basis: the turnspit  dog was a special breed, now extinct…

Or if you had none of these devices then you would have turned the spit by hand. I’ve done it and its a very , very hard and skilled  job

and very hot as you can see. Here is my friend, Katherine Cahill author of Mrs Delays Menu’s Medicines and Manners working very hard here roasting a suckling pig in Ivan’s kitchen in the heat of the summer….

.

The beef did not need constant attention if the clockwork pit is turning it gently in front of the fire-freeing the cook for other tasks…

..but sometimes the beef  needed to be moved closer or further away from the heat in order that it cooked  evenly and did not burn.

While the  beef is slowly roasting in front of the fire it is time to make a hackin,which ,as I explained above was a form of plum or Christmas pudding  cooked in the intestines of animals- and, in the north of England, was served with the meat, not as a separate sweet pudding.Here we used lambs stomach….

They had to soak for a long time in water-which was changed  repeatedly in order to clean them and rid them of their slightly cheesy smell.

Here is the pudding stuffed stomach, wrapped in muslin ready to be cooked

.We also made puddings in the form of a ball , wrapped in a floured  pudding cloth- an art that has mostly been lost today:

and put one pudding in a mould..all variations that were in use in the long eighteenth century.

This is Macdonald’s recipe which is very similar to the one we used on our Christmas Past course:

Here are eggs, lemons, candied citrons,spices including nutmeg

Raisins, currants and a good Georgian glass of brandy:

The puddings were boiled or baked for hours before  they were ready to serve. Sometimes as here the puddings cooked in the intestines-known as Hackin -were sliced and placed under the roasting beef to soak up the  juices , dropping from the beef

The beef was here covered with cartridge paper to prevent the outside from burning….

We didn’t eat the hackin cooked in the lambs intestines, but we devoured our cannon ball-shaped pudding and sliced it to serve with our beautifully cooked beef.

Unconventional today, but delicious, I am happy to confirm.

Tomorrow..the sort of alcohol that made Mr Elton the type of man known as a U.I.B. (Unsafe In Coaches)….

Among the pies on Mrs Musgrove’s festive tressel tables is some brawn, a dish probably very unfamiliar to us today:

On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel…

(Persuasion, Chapter 14)

The term originally meant the flesh of a wild boar and, then by extension, the preserved meat preparation made therefrom. It is interesting to note that well before the long 18th century the ‘boar pig’ used for making brawn was a tame, and not a wild, animal.

The term “brawn” later came to have the more general meaning of the fleshy part of a hind leg of an animal, not necessarily a pig. And by Jane Austen’s time the term “Brawn” really meant just a kind of potted meat and it was most often referred to in recipe books of the era as “Sham” or “Mock brawn”

This is Mrs Rundell’s recipe,taken from my 1819 edition of her New System of Domestic Cookery. Do note she does not use only a cut of belly-pork but “neat’s feet”,and by that she means the feet of Ox:

Susanna Carter in her book, The Experienced Cook (1822)

gives slightly more detailed instructions:

As Ivan Day of Historic Foods writes:

This spectacular English special occasion dish was also garnished with elaborately carved citrus fruits. Brawn was a kind of pickled pork prepared from domestic boar meat poached until very tender in a souse of wine, vinegar and spices. The cuts of boned meat, which were called collars, were cooked for such a long time that they were tightly wrapped in linen parcels to stop them disintegrating. When they cooled, they became firmer as a result of the jelly released in the cooking process. Collars of brawn could be kept for a number of weeks in the souse. To leach the brawn was to carve it into thin slices. This now extinct dish had been a mainstay of English cookery since the late medieval period when it was usually served with mustard at the beginning of a meal.

Here is a brawn prepared and ready to be soused in its linen fillet:

And here is a finished brawn decorated in the  old fashioned way with accompanying rosemay “tree” covered in snow (really whipped egg white),which though the traditional manner of serving a brawn in the  early 18th century ,as advised by Robert May in his book The Accomplish’d Cook ,

may still have held sway in the Musgrove’s old fashioned household.


Yesterday we considered the Yorkshire Christmas Pie which would most certainly have been among the cold pies weighing down Mrs Musgrove’s festive trestle tables at Uppercross:

On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard in spite of all the noise of the others.

(Persuasion ,Chapter 14)

Today we are going to consider the other pies that would have made up  the number on those groaning tables, Mince Pies,(see above ), familiar to all in the UK for they are still eaten today at Christmas.

However  today they are rarely made with real meat: this was most definitely an option in Jane Austen’s day.

Here are some recipes from Mrs Rundell’s New System of Domestic Cookery (1819) which I have written  about before:

And some from  Duncan MacDonald’s book, The New London Family Cook Book (1809).

MacDonald is  of interest to Austen devotees, for he was a tavern cook in London and, moreover,  the cook to the Bedford Tavern in Covent Garden the haunt of John Thorpe and General Tilney in Northanger Abbey:

“Know him! There are few people much about town that I do not know. I have met him forever at the Bedford; and I knew his face again today the moment he came into the billiard–room. One of the best players we have, by the by; and we had a little touch together, though I was almost afraid of him at first: the odds were five to four against me; and, if I had not made one of the cleanest strokes that perhaps ever was made in this world — I took his ball exactly — but I could not make you understand it without a table; however, I did beat him. A very fine fellow; as rich as a Jew. I should like to dine with him; I dare say he gives famous dinners. But what do you think we have been talking of? You. Yes, by heavens! And the general thinks you the finest girl in Bath.”

(Northanger Abbey, Chapter 12)

Beef or Neats tongue(Ox tongue) were the favoured meats in this pie,which had its  origins in the 15th century.

But, there were other ways of preparing them, both meat free  : with lemon mincemeat, or mincemeat made without meat Macdonald and Mrs Rundell give recipes for this type of  mincemeat. Below are MacDonald’s:

Mince pies were eaten throughout the  12 days of Christmas,and the cook would be busy in the days before the season began  making them in advance.

As you can see from the recipes given here,  they were normally made  with a casing of shortcrust pastry. But in Yorkshire they used puff pastry,as we can see here in Mary Ellen Best’s illustration:

So, Frank Churchill living with his grand relatives in Yorkshire would have been used to eating these at Christmas and not the short crust kind more  likely to be found in Mrs Musgrove’s  great hall.

Immediately surrounding Mrs. Musgrove were the little Harvilles, whom she was sedulously guarding from the tyranny of the two children from the Cottage, expressly arrived to amuse them. On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to he heard in spite of all the noise of the others… It was a fine family-piece.

(Persuasion, Chapter 14)

What sort of cold pies would Mrs Musgrove be serving to all and sundry as they come to pay their Christmas visits to the Mansion House at Uppercross? Most certainly she would have and a large Yorkshire Christmas Pie sitting on that trestle table.

This Yorkshire Pie was made by Ivan Day of Historic Foods and I thank him for his permission to use his  photograph  here.

From Yorkshire originally, where there was a thriving trade at Christmas sending the pies around the country as gifts in the festive season, they were great pies filled with many different kinds of meat, intended to feed many people over many days. The concept  was to cut off the crust lid,  chop up the cooked meat within,serve everyone to some of each of he different  the meats,then recover the remaining meat with clarified butter and re- seal the crust lid, to serve more people another day.

They were traditionally served on the Fest of Stephen- the 26th December-and afterwards.

And whilst some were made in the North of England, recipes were published for them so that people living all over the country, if they could afford the ingredients, could make them in their own kitchens. It took a skilled cook to make them prior to the days of pie moulds, for these pies had to be raised by hand.

The picture above shows an early 19th century Christmas Pie , on the right behind the jug, raised by hand, as recorded by the amateur artist, Mary Ellen Best. She was a Yorkshire woman, so we can therefore assume that this pie was authentically decorated and recorded. This was the template for Ivan’s  example of the Yorkshire pie, above. This picture is her still life of Christmas food, which shows us not only great examples of the Yorkshire Christmas Pie but also of Yorkshire ‘s unique version of Mince Pies (the smaller pies in the picture on the plate in front of the Yorkshire Pie),which were always made with puff pastry. More on them tomorrow…

Back to Christmas Pies. Here is Richard Briggs’s version. Briggs was a real Tavern cook of the Temple Tavern, London

and his book was published in 1794, perfect for our period.

As you can see the pie is expensive and complicated to prepare because of the sheer  amount of meat it contains. The size can be calculated by the fact that  a whole bushel of flour ( over 50 lbs!) is recommended to be used in this recipe for the  pie’s pastry. Let’s see how we made our version in the summer on Ivan Day’s Christmas of the Past cookery course (note our version was slightly later than Jane Austen’s era, the form inspired by Mrs Marshall’s Cookery Book  of 1880

..but the filling and the crust were similar to the Richard Briggs recipe).

So, here is the step by step way to make an authentic Yorkshire Christmas Pie…

Make a forcemeat with minced veal, minced pork, breadcrumbs, parsley, mace and nutmeg.

Make your paste ( pastry) ..a communal activity……

Knead the paste, roll it and line a tin that has been  previously coated in melted lard.

Line the pastry with the forcemeat mixture…

Begin to add the boned meats….goose, chicken

..duck, grouse….

..turkey…..

Add a final layer of the forcemeat mixture….

Cover the pie with your paste….

And begin to decorate it….

We emulated Mrs Marshall’s example and added leaf upon leaf…..

Don’t forget to make holes for the steam to escape during the long cooking period….

Decorate with a pastry rose….

And get ready to put it in the oven for , in this case, 4 hours.

And the next day here is the cooked Christmas Yorkshire Pie

Carefully remove the rose and add  liquid gelatine  to help preserve the meats…

Et voila! All done…

For curiosity’s sake we cut the pie in half to see what it looked like. Spectacular, frankly. As I have explained above this would not have happened  in Mrs Musgrove’s house :the lid would have been carefully removed and re-sealed every time a serving-to many people- was made.

Tomorrow…Mince Pies.

Well if she did, it didn’t look like this illustration,above.

This shows the tree as decorated at Windsor Castle for the Duchess of Kent (Queen Victoria’s mother) and the royal children in 1850.

The current research suggests that Queen Caroline ,the wife and Queen consort of George III may have been the first to introduce the custom into the country circa 1780. Certainly around 1820 another  Queen Caroline, Caroline of Brunswick who was  married to George IV had a member of her household erect a tree at Windsor ( Windsor was the place where traditionally the royal family celebrated Christmas) This was remarked upon by  A. J. Kempe  in his 1836 edition of The Loseley Manuscript:

We remember a German of the household of the late Queen Caroline (1781-1812) at Windsor making  what he termed a Christmas tree for a juvenile party at Christmas. The tree was the branch of an evergreen fixed on a board. Its boughs bent under the weight of gilt oranges, almonds etc and under it was a neat model of a farmhouse surrounded by figures of animals. The forming of a Christmas tree is, we believe, a common custom in Germany.

This is the type of tree that Fairfax House recreate every year in their Keeping of Christmas exhibition.

It is a holly branch, set on a board,  decorated with preserved candied fruits and spirals of paper inscribed with uplifting messages: Joy to the World,etc.

Under the tree is a sugar paste scene of the nativity, surrounded by a low latted fence.

A very different article than the Victorian one , I am sure you will agree.

The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge visited northern Germany in 1798 a recounted seeing similar trees decorating homes at Christmas there for his local newspaper The Friend (1809-1818).In his experience the  tree was decorated with small candles  and  coloured paper hanging from the twigs of the branches. (A deadly combination….) But it was sufficiently novel for him to comment,which suggests that the custom had not yet been adopted by  less exalted homes in England than those inhabited by the royal family.

That situation seems to have changed by the mid 1820s-1830s . From this date Christmas trees were sent to London markets for sale.

This print shows the stage coach the Norwich ” Times” delivering Christmas goods to the London markets. It is James Pollard’s print The Approach to Christmas and the coach is shown laden with  trees( which have no roots and have been sawn clean at the trunk,and therefore must be destined to be used as decorations) It is shown proceeding along the Mile End Road  into London from Norwich to its final destination, the Bull Inn at Aldgate in the city. Note the coach has no passengers but instead is filled with goods to sell and parcels to deliver. A more economic project at this time of year.

So could Jane Austen have decorated such a tree? Sadly I think the answer is no ,but that  had she lived  into the 1820s the answer would have been in the affirmative. I think she just missed out on this fashion taking hold.

Tomorrow  not only do we commemorate her birthday but we also begin to consider the sort of festive food Jane Austen may have eaten and also wrote about in her novels. Do join me….

So far we have discovered that Christmas season in Jane Austen’s time was not a damp squib but a rather vibrant affair.

Lets see how Georgian and Regency homes were decorated for the season.

The tradition of using evergreens  to brighten the home at the darkest time of the year began in the pagan era: at the time of the winter solstice throughout Europe  bonfires were lit and  houses were decorated with evergreens. The Roman celebrating the feast of Saturnalia , held at the same time of year, used evergreen garlands to decorate their homes.

Whilst therefore the use of evergreens at this time of year as a decoration in the home was clearly pagan in origin , the early Christian Church cheerfully adopted this practise, and legitimised the plants,giving them Christian association-with the one exception of mistletoe. The ban on this plant which had Norse and Druidical associations continued throughout the  18th and early 19th century.

Holly was easily  adopted by the church as a symbol of the crown of thorns, the red berries were a poignant reminder of Christ’s blood. Ivy was held to symbolise  fidelity . Not so mistletoe ,which had distinctly risqué  associations…with kissing games.

(Boughs of mistletoe-a parasitical plant-growing in trees in the park at Burghley House,Lincolnshire)

It was therefore thought not at all holy and  not quite genteel. As Washington Irving in The Keeping of Christmas At Bracebridge Hall records

The mistletoe with its white berries hung up to the imminent peril of all the pretty housemaids.Teh mistletoe is still hung up in farmhouses and Kitchens at Christmas; and the young men have the priviledge of kissing the girls under it picking each time a berry form the bush. When the berries are all plucked the priviledge  ceases.

Here is picture of  a Georgian Kissing Bough as  used at Fairfax House in York as part of their decoration for their annual Keeping of Christmas exhibition, when the town house of  Lord Fairfax is decorated as it would have been for the Christmas season.

In this household- a strict Catholic one- the mistletoe was firmly relegated to the servants quarters and the kitchen

Here is one such kitchen maid about to be taken advantage of by a unscrupulous chimney sweep:

(The Chimney Sweep gives Betty her Christmas box crica 1800 by Bowles and Carver.)

And it was not just grand houses that were decorated: as Cesar de Saussure commented

On this festival day churches, the entrances of houses, rooms, kitchens and halls are decked with laurels, rosemary and other greenery.

This illustration shows the interior of an inn circa 1800- note the evergreen sprigs in the individual panes of the windows and the bunch of mistletoe hanging from the ceiling:

But let’s go and view the  Christmas decorations of a rather grand town house, Fairfax House in York . Every year this museum, dedicated to the domestic history of the 18th century, celebrates the Keeping of Christmas in an exhibition, decorating these  fine rooms with evergreens and festive food as they would been in the  late 18th century.

First, the entrance hall and staircase hall decorated with holly trophies on green ribbons, standard bay trees ,and garlands of holly and bay around the stairs and columns:

The Library, set with an old-fashioned Georgian Breakfast in honour of the season with Cheese, Mince Pies, and a  Yorkshire Christmas Pie- more on those later….


The Dining Room….

Bedecked with evergreen garlands and spectacular sugar sculpture…

An indication not only of the confectioners art,but of the wealth of the host,sugar begin an expensive commodity in the era, imported from the West Indies and subject to tax

More on this later-and I should like to than Ivan Day for his kindness in allowing me to use these pictures of the sugar sculpture,  above.

and finally to the salon where the grandest entertaining took place, decorated with swags and garlands of evergreens.

We know that Permbelry House had a saloon, and I’m sure that Elizabeth Bennet when welcoming the Gardiners to Pemblerley for the season had made sure that Mrs Reynolds and her staff had decorated it in a similar manner.

I would have thanked you before, my dear aunt, as I ought to have done, for your long, kind, satisfactory detail of particulars; but, to say the truth, I was too cross to write. You supposed more than really existed. But now suppose as much as you chuse; give a loose to your fancy, indulge your imagination in every possible flight which the subject will afford, and unless you believe me actually married, you cannot greatly err. You must write again very soon, and praise him a great deal more than you did in your last. I thank you, again and again, for not going to the Lakes. How could I be so silly as to wish it! Your idea of the ponies is delightful. We will go round the Park every day. I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps other people have said so before, but not one with such justice. I am happier even than Jane: she only smiles, I laugh. Mr. Darcy sends you all the love in the world that he can spare from me. You are all to come to Pemberley at Christmas. — Yours, etc.”

(Pride and Prejudice,Chapter 60)

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that at Fairfax House they have the forerunner of our Christmas tree on display on a table in the salon.

Would Jane Austen have known a Christmas tree?

Lets see tomorrow, shall we?

Yesterday we saw that Christmas did exist in Jane Austen’s time and that many elements of it are still recognisable in today’s English celebrations.

At the time she was writing Persuasion, she described what for her was an old -fashioned Christmas as enjoyed by the Musgroves at Uppercross:

The Musgroves came back to receive their happy boys and girls from school, bringing with them Mrs. Harville’s little children, to improve the noise of Uppercross, and lessen that of Lyme. Henrietta remained with Louisa, but all the rest of the family were again in their usual quarters…Immediately surrounding Mrs. Musgrove were the little Harvilles, whom she was sedulously guarding from the tyranny of the two children from the Cottage, expressly arrived to amuse them. On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to he heard in spite of all the noise of the others. Charles and Mary also came in, of course, during their visit; and Mr. Musgrove made a point of paying his respects to Lady Russell, and sat down close to her for ten minutes, talking with a very raised voice, but from the clamour of the children on her knees, generally in vain. It was a fine family-piece.

(Persuasion, Chapter 14)

Jane Austen famously and quite deliberately portrayed Mr and Mrs Musgrove as old fashioned- people:

To the Great House accordingly they went, to sit the full half hour in the old-fashioned square parlour, with a small carpet and shining floor, to which the present daughters of the house were gradually giving the proper air of confusion by a grand piano forte and a harp, flower-stands and little tables placed in every direction. Oh! could the originals of the portraits against the wainscot, could the gentlemen in brown velvet and the ladies in blue satin have seen what was going on, have been conscious of such an overthrow of all order and neatness! The portraits themselves seemed to be staring in astonishment.

The Musgroves, like their houses, were in a state of alteration, perhaps of improvement. The father and mother were in the old English style, and the young people in the new. Mr. and Mrs. Musgrove were a very good sort of people; friendly and hospitable, not much educated, and not at all elegant. Their children had more modern minds and manners…

(Persuasion, Chapter 5)

it is no wonder then that they hold open house  at Christmas in quite the old style that  William Wynstanly recommended, complete with groaning tables of food( on which more later in the week)laid out for all to enjoy.

That such  country hospitality was not in fact in danger of declining but was vibrant in the early parts of the 19th century,was a sentiment shared by an American visitor to England in the Regency-the author ,Washington Irving.

He  was a frequent visitor to Birmingham in Warwickshire during the first twenty years of the nineteenth century, living for two years in its vicinity, staying with his sister Sarah and her husband, Henry van Wart,the founder of the Birmingham stock exchange.

He made many visits to Aston Hall, a Jacobean Mansion which at that time was no longer  in the possession of the Holte family who built it but  was then leased to James Watt Junior , son of James Watt one of the prime movers of the Industrial Revolution.

Aston Hall seems to have cast a spell on Irving,as it did on the writer Maria Edgeworth, another of James Watts junior’s guests, who wrote as follows of the old mansion in 1820:

..we were engaged to breakfast at Mr James Watt’s at Aston Hall. You remember the fine old brick palace? Mr Watt has fitted up half of it so as to make it superbly comfortable ; fine  hall, breakfast room,Flemish pictures, Boulton and Watt at either end. After breakfast we went all over the house; the banqueting room, with a most costly frightful ceiling and a chimney piece carved up to the cornice with monsters one with a nose covered with scales one with a human face on a tarantula’s body. Varieties of little staircases and a garret gallery called Dick’s haunted gallery ;a blocked up rooms called the king’s room then a modern dressing room with fine tables of  Bullocks making – one of wood from Brazil-Zebra Wood no more of it to be had for love or money.

But come on to the great gallery, longer than that at Sudbury-about one hundred and thirty six feet long and at the farthest end we come  to a sort of oriel separated from the gallery only by an arch and there the white marble bust of the great Mr Watt struck me almost breathless…as I looked  down the closing lines of this superb gallery…..

I know how they feel as I volunteered there some years ago and cherish the time I spent there.

Irving  was dismayed to think that the  old ways of celebrating Christmas in England that he experienced were  going to disappear( a theme common with most writers on Christmas I find: it’s a festival for looking back ,standing still and not looking forward , it seems to me).He wrote about his  discovery of how an English country Christmas could be celebrated in the early part of the 19th century in six chapters of his book the Sketch Book of Geoffrey Canon Gentleman first published in 1819.

(This is the frontispiece of my copy of the 1906 edition, illustrated by Brock.)

The  Keeping of Christmas at Bracebridge Hall– a place clearly based on Aston Hall, was later published ( in England by John Murray) . From the evidence of this book, the  Christmas season as celebrated in the countryside was a vibrant and living custom and not one that was in decline,and that it had an historical basis. Note that the name of Bracebridge was a name associated with the builders of the hall, the Holte family and that James Watt junior leased the hall from one of them, Adam Bracebridge :

Nothing in England exercises a more delightful spell over my imagination than the lingerings of the holiday customs and rural games of former times. They recall the pictures my fancy used to draw in the May morning of life when as yet I only knew  the world through books and believed it tobe all that poets has painted it: and they bring with them the flavour of those honest days of yore, in which perhaps, with equal fallacy I am apt to think  the world was more homebred.socail, joyous than at present.I regret to say they are daily  growing more and more faint being gradually worm away by time …


The English from the great prevalence of rural habit throughout every class of society, have always been fond of these festivals and  holidays which agreeably interrupt the stillness of country life;and they were in former days  particularly observant of the religious and social  rites of Christmas….Shorn however as it is of its ancient and festive honour,Christmas is still a period of delightful excitement in England.  It is gratifying to see that  home feeling completely aroused which holds so powerful a place in every English bosom.


He went on to describe a Regency country  Christmas full of the elements we discussed yesterday : evergreen decoration, mistletoe, great feasts, dances, blazing fires, merriment, quoting copiously from 17th century writings to illustrate the historical antecedents of the festivities he found.

He also added this interesting footnote, which confirms that  in the countryside-which was where most people gathered to celebrate christmas if they could-Christmas was indeed a vibrant celebration:

At the time of the first publication of this paper the picture of an old-fashioned Christmas in the country was pronounced by some as out of date. The author  had afterwards an opportunituy of witnessing almost all of the customs above described existing in unexpected  vigour in the skirts of Derbyshire and Yorkshire where he passed the Christmas holidays. The reader will  find some notice of them in the author’s account of his sojourn at Newstead Abbey.

He in his turn inspired Charles Dickens,who cheerfully acknowledged his debt to the writings of Washington Irving, and that they inspired his book of A Christmas Carol and the descriptions of  the Christmas Festivities in Dingley Dell, the  haunt of Mr Pickwick as follows:

“I say, gentlemen, I do not go to bed two nights out of seven without taking Washington Irving under my arm upstairs to bed with me”

Dickens recognised that the type of Christmas Irving recorded was in decline  in the industrial towns of mid 19th century England. No one  was allowed to celebrate for 12 days( gatherings were  by the pressure of commercial and industrial life, reduced) and in towns and cities festive food such as poultry  etc was scarce and expensive. Thus it was really the pressure of life  in towns of the mid 19th century, subject to  industrial and commercial concerns, and that industrial urban society such pressures produced which was in danger of losing sight of the old country Christmas customs , not  the country society Jane Austen inhabited.

Tomorrow we shall look at the sort of decorations you might find in a well to of  home of the period-Pemberley House for example. Do join me won’t you…

Over the past  ten years or so I have had many people remark to me that Jane Austen didn’t write about Christmas because Christmas was not a major celebration or a family centered celebration in the Regency period. Furthermore that Christmas did not become a major family celebration in England until the Victorian Period, brought on by Dicken’s popular book, A Christmas Carol.

To which I reply….Ermm…no, not really.

Jane Austen celebrated a slightly different Christmas to the one we now know, but the evidence is that she, along with her family and friends,  still celebrated it. She certainly wrote about it in her novels.

Let’s take a look at the history of Christmas in England throughout the Long Eighteenth century to understand  what was the historical background to Jane Austen’s  celebrations.

Christmas was a vibrant celebration in England until the Interregnum or the period of the Commonwealth in the mid 17th century, when Charles I had been deposed and beheaded and England was governed by Puritans. The Puritans disliked Christmas because of it Popish and heathenish  history, and most of all because of its associations with consumption of extravagant food, drink, dancing and  theatrical productions.

Philip Stubbes  neatly summed up the Puritan view of Christmas in The Anantomy of Abuses , written sixty years before the English Civil war took place :

More mischief is then committed than in all the year besides, what masking and mumming, whereby robbery, whoredom murder and what not is committed? What dicing and carding, what eating and drinking, what banqueting and feasting is then used, more than in all the year besides to the great dishonour of God and impoverishing of the realm?

Puritans also believed there was no  scriptural justification for the celebration of Christmas, as nowhere in the Bible does it mention that  the Nativity of Christ should be observed as a festival. They saw no factual or scriptural basis  for Christ’s birth date being designated as the 25th December. They believed that Christmas was nothing more than  a pragmatic festival  created by the early Catholic Church as a means of incorporating, and thereby making holy, the pagan winter solstice celebrations: as a result observance of these festivals was seen by them to be Popish especially as it exualted the  religious standing of the Holy Family and,  importantly, emphasised the role played in the Nativity by The Virgin Mary.

Between 1644 and 1647 the Commonwealth Parliament introduced a series of measures all designed to curb the excesses of the populace during the Christmas season. These were met with much initial resistance. So on the 24th December 1652 Parliament issued a Proclamation  which effectively banned Christmas and the celebration of it along with  the other “Supersitious Festivals” of Easter and Whitsun. It decreed that  from that date it would be illegal  to observe

The five and twentieth day of December commonly called Christmas Day

in any way whatsoever. And  in addition, it was illegal to use

Any Solemnity in Churches upon that Day in respect thereof.

Christmas as a holiday was effectively abolished. Markets were ordered to be  kept if the fell to be held on the 25th December, shops were to remain open : all persons were ordered to go about their normal business on pain of fines or imprisonment.

The act specifically ordered the country’s sherrifs and Justices of the Peace to enforce the new ruling vigorously.

For example, the Mayor of the town of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk  issued a local proclamation to  explain the working of the law:

...the ordinance of the most Honourable Parliament is to be strictly enforeced. Christmas Day and all other superstitious festivals  should be put downe. There should be no prayers nor sermons in the churches on the said 25th December and whosoever shall han at his door any rosemary, holly or bayes or other superstitious herb shall be liable  to the penalties decreed by the ordinance….and whosoever  shall make or cause  to make either plum pottage or nativity pies is hereby warned that it is contrary to the said ordnance…

Public disturbances  resulted…

But understandably this ordnance and its enforcement gradually lessened  the amount of people prepared to continue these celebrations and face the consequences. After the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 (hurrah!)  the old habits began to resurrect themselves,though in a changed manner. Samuel Pepys wrote about his  delight at celebrating Twelve Night, though  characteristically found himself  worrying about the cost of the expensive cake. Others took steps to actively promote the old customs.William Wynstanley , for example, was so worried about what he saw as the decline in the  continuity  of the old customs that he promoted their resurrection not only by personal example but by disseminating  writings explaining them.

They were published not under his own name but under the name of Poor Robin,and the series of Poor Robin’s Almanacs were full of the history of the old Christmas celebrations, illustrated with examples from his own family’s experience of keeping Christmas even during the ban imposed by the Puritans, together with seasonal lore, culinary tips and snippets of London and,local to him, Essex- based gossip.

He wrote  about Christmas for 38 years, publishing an almanack every 12 months. He believed that the Feast of the Nativity   should be a time of

Much mirth and mickle glee

when everyone ought to rejoice  the birth of Jesus and for his sake

give liberally to the poor

In honour of the season  families and friends should gather together ,usually in the country, emulating the

Boon brave Squires of the Golden Age

who always returned to the country from town for the Christmas season, to keep open house for all and sundry, lavishing Charity on the poor while also begin punctilious in observing their religious duties.

He decreed that all homes   should be  decorated with

Hollys and Ivys ,Bays, Laurel and Rosemary

with roaring log fires  in every room and

a jolly blaize in every hall

For the entertainment of guests

good nappy ale

should be on tap throughout the twelve days of Christmas  the tables of the rich should groan under the weight of
Chines of Beef,Turkies, geese ducks and capons and on the side board there should be  a plentiful supply of Minc’d Pies Pumb Puddings and Frumetnery.

He encouraged the playing of old Christmas games  such as Hood Man Blind( Blind Man’s bluff) Hot Cockles, Shoe the Wild Mare and Hunt the Slipper. He also recommend the resumption of carol singing and story telling And to hold dances on Christmas Day,New Year’s Eve or Twelfth Night and have

The whole company young and old footing it lustily  to the merry sound of pipe and fiddle.


He was extremely successful in his campaign. By the 1700s Christmas was once again established and celebrated in traditional fashion in England. Cesar  de Saussure  writing to his family in Switzerland in the first quarter of the 18th century described the  re- established Christmas customs as they were observed in  England between 1725-1729:

Christmas day is the great festival of all Christian nations  but on that day the English have many customs  we do not know of. They wish each other a Merry Christmas and A Happy new Year; presents are given  and no man may dispense with this custom.On this festival day churches, the entrances of houses, rooms, kitchens and halls are decked with laurels, rosemary and other greenery. Everyone  from the King to the artisan eats soups and Christmas pies.The soup is called Christmas porridge and is a dish few foreigners find to their taste…as to Christmas pies everyone likes them and they are made with chopped meat ,currants, beef suet and other good things. You never taste these dishes except for two or three days before and after Christmas and I cannot tell you the reason why.

And if you consider the weight of evidence of the celebrating of  the Christmas Season in Jane Austen’s novels and  letters and   those of her niece, Fanny  Knight, all the above elements are mentioned in one way or another….as we shall see  over the next few days.

But in my  next post, I  shall consider why  the Christmases as enjoyed by  people in the early nineteenth century were recorded for us by the America author  Washington Irving ;-)


Over the course of the next week I shall be posting a series of posts  about Jane Austen and Christmas before I take a festive break from blogging to enjoy time with my family and friends…and my new Kindle ;-)

So do join me to discover that , surprise, surprise, Charles Dickins did not “invent” Christmas….the type of pies that Mrs Musgrove served at the mansion house at Uppercross during Christmas….How Pemberley might have been decorated…..To discus if Jane  Austen might possibly have decorated her own Christmas tree…..to learn how to make a Twelfth Night Cake, and how to enjoy it in the Georgian way.

This book has been in print for some time( it was first published in 2003) but I thought I would recommend it to you here , now I have the opportunity so to do , and  because I find it is one of the best books written on  food in  the long eighteenth century.

It is published by Prospect Books and Tom Jaine who runs the company should  be knighted for services to food history. His catalogue of wonderful books make for rewarding and fine reading: most of them in his present an past catalogue are to be found on my book shelves, and I can highly recommend them to anyone keen to learn about the practical details of cookery performed in a long gone era.

Gilly Lehamn’s book is an extract from her doctoral dissertation. Despite its academic nature it is a very readable book, and is not dry as dust. Like most of my favourite historians she refers to Jane Austen as a source( though not as frequently as Amanda Vickery!) and that can’t be a bad thing. I do tend to favour a writers who appreciate Jane Austen’s accuracy I recording life in the late 18th can early 19th century.

This book will teach you all you really need to know about the food styles of the 18th century( the rage for French food versus plain English fare),how it was eaten and how recipes etc were disseminated  throughout the 18th century.

Though she concentrates on the cookery books of the era, she also give us fabulous information(which is hard to find in books or on the net) on the authors of these books and their readership, detailing  the types of person- from grand mistress to servants –who was intended to be the reader of the books.

She takes pains to tell us about the Tavern Cooks , like John Farley, Collinwood and Wollams (see their portraits above from my copy of The Universal Cook) celebrity chefs whose  popular books were “ghost written” by a hack journalist: nothing really changes does it?

This book also provides , in one volume,  delicious detail about the way meals were eaten,manners, customs, mealtimes, the ever changing time for diner throughout the century and what that said about your status, etc., etc. This helps explain Jane Austens despairing remark when writing to her sister Cassandra who was staying with Edward Knight at Godmersham in Kent, who was of course as  Ms Lehman notes ”the rich member of the family”:

We dine now at half after three & have done diner I suppose before you begin-We drink tea at half after six.-I am afraid you will despise us.

The illustrations are few but what few there are ,are interesting, as in the reproduction of  this frontispiece to Hannah Glasse’s1775 edition of The Art of Cookery:

When Tom Jaine announced the publication of this book, he predicted that  “This is a biggy”. I can only agree….

I am glad you recommended ‘Gisborne’, for having begun, I am pleased with it, and I had quite determined not to read it.

(See : Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 30th August 1805)

It seems that Jane Austen had a somewhat jaundiced view of Evangelical Anglicans. Cassandra Austen appears to have been more “enthusiastic” or supportive of the movement, but Jane Austen always seems to provide grudging praise or acceptance. As she evinces above where Cassandra has recommended her to read Thomas Gisborne’s book An Enquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex.

This is the title page from the 1813 edition-it was originally printed in 1797.

As a conduct book, Gisborne’s is less censorious than many: he and Jane Austen would appear to have agree on quite a few subjects- for example, gaming in a small way in the country as a pastime  to keep from being bored was considered allowable -just think of the card games we encounter in Mansfield Park.  The superbly stupid game of Speculation (I know,I’ve played it!) being the only one suitable for Lady Bertram’s limited mental cpacity:

What shall I do, Sir Thomas? Whist and speculation; which will amuse me most?”

Sir Thomas, after a moment’s thought, recommended speculation. He was a whist player himself, and perhaps might feel that it would not much amuse him to have her for a partner.

“Very well,” was her ladyship’s contented answer; “then speculation, if you please, Mrs. Grant. I know nothing about it, but Fanny must teach me.”

Chapter 25

Gaming for great ruinous sums was not. Gamesters like Wickham were beyond the pale.However, I can’t help but think she would not have agreed with his pronoucements on the theatre in general but perhaps she would have been in agreement with his views on private theatricals, given the evidence of the private theatricals in Mansfield Park :

For some years past the custom of acting plays in private theatres fitted up by individuals of fortune has occasionally prevailed. It is a custom liable to prove in its effects, particularly injurious to the female performers. Let it be admitted that theatres of this description no longer present the fragrant impropriety of ladies bearing a part in drama in conjunction with professional players. Let it be admitted that the drama selected will be in its language and conduct and always irrepressible. Let it even be admitted that eminent  theatrical talents will not hereafter gain admission upon a stage for men of ambiguous or worse than ambiguous character. Take the benefit of all these favourable circumstances: yet, what is even then the tendency of such amusements?To encourage vanity; to excite a thirst for applause and admiration on account of attainments which, if they are not thus to be exhibited, it would have been commonly far better for the individual not to posses; to destroy diffidence by the unrestrained familiarity with persons of the other sex, which inevitably results form being joined with them in the drama;to create a general fondness for the perusal of plays of which many are improper to be read; and for attending dramatic representations of which so many are unfit to be witnessed…..

(See Chapter VIII: On Amusements in General pages 95-6)

I thought it might be useful for you to have some details of Gisborne’s life, for he led an interesting one .

Here is Joseph Wright of Derby’s double portrait of Thomas Gisborne and his wife which was painted in 1786, and is now owned by the Yale Centre for British Art.

Thomas Gisborne was born on 31 October 1758, and was the eldest son of John Gisborne and his wife Anne Bateman .The Gisborne family was rather well-to-do. The children were chiefly brought up at Yoxall Lodge in Needwood Forest, some ten miles south of Derby, in Leicestershire, a house which had been a hunting-lodge but which John Gisborne had rebuilt as a comfortable Georgian country house.Though one visitor, Josiah Wedgwood didn’t wholly approve of it:

“it pleases me much but not entirely”

he wrote.

(see See Benedict Nicholson, Thomas Gisborne and Wright of Derby, The Burlington Magazine 1965, pp58-62)

Here is a section from my copy of John Cary’s map of Staffordshire circa 1800, showing the position of Yoxall Lodge in the forest:

Thomas Gisborne’s early career was somewhat outstanding. As a boy he was tutored for six years by Rev. John Pickering, then went to Harrow. In 1776 he entered St John’s College, Cambridge where his lifelong friendship with William Wilberforce began.

Gisborne later recalled :

‘My rooms and his were back to back, and often when I was raking out my fire at ten o’clock, I heard his melodious voice calling aloud to me to come and sit with him before I went to bed’

(See R. & S. Wilberforce, The Life of William Wilberforce Vol, I, (1838), pp.10-11).

Gisborne left Cambridge as “sixth wrangler” in the Mathematical Tripos, also winning the Chancellor’s Gold Medal for Classics and Sir William Browne’s Gold Medal for a Latin ode. A brilliant career was predicted for Gisborne, and a parliamentary seat was offered to him him. He turned it down, preferring instead to take Holy Orders.

In 1783, the year he was ordained as a priest, Gisborne was presented to the perpetual curacy of the parish of St James, Barton-under-Needwood. The next year he married Mary, daughter of Thomas Babington of Rothley Temple, Leicestershire, and sister of Thomas Babington who had been at St John’s with Gisborne and Wilberforce (Babington was to marry Zachary Macaulay’s sister, and to become the uncle of the yet unborn historian Thomas Babington Macaulay).

Thomas Gisborne settled down with his wife at Yoxall Lodge, inherited from his father a few years earlier, together with a considerable amount of money.

Wright of Derby’s ‘s double portrait of the couple(see above), dated 1786, was painted two years after the Gisborne’s marriage, when Thomas Gisborne was twenty-eight and Mary Gisborne ( who was born in 1760) was twenty-six.

Gisborne was an influential writer on many subjects, some of which were dear to Jane Austen’s heart. In his essay on The Clapham Sect, that band of philanthropists, evangelicals and staunch campaigners for the abolition of slavery, Sir James Stephen included Gisborne (whom he knew) along with Wilberforce, Zachary Macaulay and others as members (see Essays in Ecclesiastical Biography, (1849)Volume II, pp. 299-307).

Gisborne published his influential pamphlet Remarks on the Decision of the House of Commons on 2 April 1792, respecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade, shortly after that debate. His other publications (as listed in the Directory of National Biography) include An Inquiry into the Duties of Men in the Higher Ranks and Middle Classes,( 1794 )and Cassandra’s recommendation, An Inquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex,( 1797). He was a learned and eloquent preacher; several volumes of his sermons were published.

Yoxall Lodge, in the heart of Needwood Forest,  with no close neighbours except passing deer, gave the Gisborne family quietness and peace of mind. Gisborne celebrated the beauties of Needwood in his Walks in a Forest, a slim volume of blank verse published in 1795, describing forest scenery at different times of the day and in different seasons. He became deeply interested in natural history and ornithology. Sir James Stephen described Gisborne’s study as:

…a chamber which it might seem no dealer in household furniture has ever been permitted to enter, but where books and manuscripts, plants and pallets, tools and philosophical instruments, birds perched on the shoulder, or nestling in the bosom of the student, or birds curiously stuffed by his own hands, usurped the places usually assigned to the works of the upholsterer (As above page 305)

William Wilberforce became a regular visitor to Yoxall Lodge from about 1794 and he made it his summer residence, arriving with vast amounts of papers, knowing that this was the one place in England where he could digest them in perfect peace (See R.I. & S. Wilberforce ,as above p.278).

Mary Gisborne appears to have been an equally intelligent woman:

When he sat with the family sipping tea, and the words poured forth as his mind jumped from point to point in that bubbling spontaneous thinking aloud which captivated his hearers, she would seize a pad and afterwards present him with her notes See John Pollack, Wilberforce,( 1977)p.145.

Gisborne was himself an amateur artist, as the portfolio he holds in the portrait by Wright , above, suggests; there are examples of his work in the British Museum. He actually became a friend of the Rev. William Gilpin, high priest of the Picturesque and one of Jane Austen’s favourite writers. Gilpin gave ,in my humble opinion, a perceptive account of Gisborne in a letter of 17 September 1792:

. . . You can enter his mind without lock or key. He is a man of considerable fortune; but went into orders, not with any view of preferment but merely, as it appears to me, to have a better pretence to be serious ...

(See Benedict Nicholson, Thomas Gisborne and Wright of Derby, The Burlington Magazine 1965, pp58-62)

A tantalising  aspect of Gisborne’s life in association with Jane Austen, was that he was a close friend  and neighbour of her cousin, the Reverend Edward Cooper.

If you look at this section from  Cary’s map of Staffordshire, you  will note that  Hamstall Ridware ,the living that Edward Cooper held is distant only a few miles form Yoxall Lodge ,and it is perhaps less well known that  Edward Cooper also held a second family living- in 1809 the Leigh family presented him with the living of St Peter’s in the village of Yoxall itself.

Irene Collins in an article on Edward Cooper contained in the Jane Austen Society’s Report for 2008 makes this interesting comment:

At what point Edward Cooper was converted to the cause( of Anglican Evangelicalism -JFW) is not clear. According to his sermons he did not believe that conversion had of necessity to be a sudden  shattering moment of comprehension like St Paul’s on the way to Damascus,and if his own  experience was more reasoned, his arrival at Hamstall Ridware towards the end of 1799 could well have been the key event. Like all movements of thought Evangelicalism took off more readily in some areas than in others and in Staffordshire the climate seems to have been exceptionally favourable. The bishop of Litchfield and Coventry had been one fo Wilberforce’s earliest recruits.The Earl of Harrowby the largest landowner in the county was also on board. Around Hamstall itself there was a nest of Evangelical clergy and above all there was the Reverend thoasm Gisborne living at nearby Yoxall hall, his family home. …He was an important figure in the Evangelical movement  not least because he was a personal friend of Wilberforce who was in the habit of spending  several weeks at Yoxall Lodge during the  parliamentary vactions.Edward Cooper was soon a frequent visitor to the lodge also and by 1802 was on close enough terms with Gisbourne to name his newborn son after him. In 1809 he was to dedicate what became his most successful collection of sermons to theReverend Thomas Gisborne.

Jane Austen and her mother and sister Cassandra famously visited the Coopers in the summer of 1806 after they had visited  Adelstrop in Gloucestershire and Stoneleigh in Warwickshire. Is it too much to speculate that Jane Austen might have met Thomas Gisborne while staying there? Certainly Edward Cooper’s mother in law, Mrs Lybbe Powys appears to have met all the neighbouring clergy and families on her  trips to Staffordshire as recorded in her diaries. I wonder what would have been the result, given that Jane Austen  seems to have agreed with him on some subjects? What a fascinating prospect this is and what a pity Jane and Cassandra were together during that trip for no letters between them therefore were written during this period. The Cooper children became ill during this visit-and that might have restricted Jane Austen’s social visits…..but such a tantalising  prospect!

However, I’m not ultimately surprised that Jane Austen eventually  approved of Thomas Gisborne’s book :he sounds just like her ideal of a clergyman, considering his  preferences for country life rather than town,and a modest way of living. What would have been wonderful to know was if they ever did meet and what she actually thought of him as a person …

Jane Austen lived in Southampton, Hampshire in Castle Square from 1806 until 1809 together with her sister in law, Mary Austen (nee Gibson, wife of Frank ), her mother, Mrs Austen ,Cassandra Austen her sister, and their friend Martha Lloyd. In July 1809 Jane, Cassandra Mrs Austen and Martha left Southampton to live at Chawton, in a house provided by their brother Edward Knight.

Today we think of Southampton mainly as a modern port-much changed and modernised since the ravages of the Second World War; but in Jane Austen’s time it had been discovered by “persons of rank” and became known as a resort and spa from the middle of the 18th century.

The old port had long been in decline at this point and the new business rejuvenated it. New houses were built, inns were modernised and communications with London improved. The rich built villas in the surrounding countryside. Fashionable promenades were created and shops boomed along with circulating libraries etc.

This is a general description of it from my copy of A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-bathing Places etc (1803) by John Feltham

EQUALLY adapted for :health, pleasure, and commerce, Southampton, distant about seventy-seven miles from London, is bounded on the east by the river Itchin which flows past the ancient city of Winchester, and on the west by the Tese or Anton, which rises near Whitchurch. It occupies a kind of peninsula, the soil of which is a hard gravel ; and, as the buildings rise from the water with a gentle ascent, the streets are always clean and dry. The approach from the London road is uncommonly striking and grand; in fact, it is almost unparalleled in the beauty of its features, for the space of two miles. At first appear an expanse of water, and the distant Isle of Wight, the charming scenery of the New Forest, and Southampton itself, in pleasing perspective. Elegant seats and rows of trees, nearer the town, line the road on both sides ; and, on entering the place, by one of its most fashionable streets, that venerable remain of antiquity the Bargate, gives a finish to the scene, and fixes the impression of the objects through which we have passed.

But by the time of Jane Austen’s death in 1817 its star had faded, and it was only with the introduction of the railway in 1840 that Southampton once again became a port and place of some import. However, it was undoubtedly a fair place in JAne Austen’s time:

THE lovely situation of Southampton, the elegance of its buildings, the amenity of its environs, and the various other attractions which it possesses, in a very high degree, will always render it a place of fashionable residence, as well as of frequent resort. As a sea-bathing place, indeed, it has less reputation than some others that are described in this work. It has no machines, nor is its beach favorable for immersion; the marine is, also, deeply mixed with the fresh water; but, if the opinion of those is correct, who maintain, that water acts only by the shock and ablution, and that one cold or one warm bath is the same as another, Southampton, notwithstanding the disadvantages we have mentioned, is as eligible as any other station on the coaat, and, in many respects, it is superior. The air is soft and mild, and sufficiently impregnated with saline particles to render it agreeable, and even salutary, to those who cannot endure a full exposure to the sea, on a bleak and open shore.
(See: A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-bathing Places etc (1803) by John Feltham)

For Frank Austen it was a place not too far away from Portsmouth, the naval base, where he could safely leave his new wife , his mother, sister and their friend Martha while he was away on duty. For the Austen ladies it was a chance to return to Hampshire, and to leave the confines of Bath and a way of life ever decreasing in style and consequence.

Frank wrote of the new domestic arrangements as follows:

He fixed his abode at Southampton making one family with his mothers and sisters a plan equally suited to his love of domestic society and the extent of his income which was somewhat restricted
(See: A Family Record, Le Faye p 153)

This is a detailed map of the areas surrounding Southampton circa 1803:

This is a map of the town centre made in 1791 by T. Milne. If you enlarge it you can clearly see the castle -a circular structure in the lower part of the map.

The Marquis of Landsdown for a very short time before his death in 1809 , lived at Southampton in this Gothic style castle. The Castle was put up for sale in 1816 but no buyer was found and it was demolished in 1818. Jane Austen’s house was in the square surrounding the castle:

Our Dressing-Table is constructing on the spot, out of a large Kitchen Table belonging to the House, for doing which we have the permission of Mr Husket Lord Lansdown’s Painter, -domestic Painter I should call him, for he lives in the Castle-Domestic Chaplains have given way to this more necessary office, & I suppose whenever the Walls want no touching up, he is employed about my Lady’s face.

(see Letter to Cassandra dated 8th February,1807)

The Castle and the Square around it no longer exist, but here is a description of it:
THE CASTLE, &C.

This stands near the middle of the south part of the town. From the High-street, the approach to it is up Castle-lane. The area of the castle seems to be of a semicircular form, of which the town wall to the sea, formed the diameter. The keep stood on a very high artificial mount, and from its ruins a small round tower has been constructed, from the leads of which there is a delightful bird’s-eye view of Southampton, and of the environs, lying like a map before the eye of the spectator.


” The high mount, and circular form of the keep,” says Sir H. Englefield,” indicate an Antiquity much higher than the time of Richard II. who probably only repaired and strengthened the castle.” This ingenious and learned antiquary seems to think it of Saxon origin.


In Porter’s-lane, at the bottom of the High-street, he discovered a building, which he conjectures was originally a palace. It is evidently of great antiquity, and was probably inhabited by the Saxon or Danish kings, who occasionally made Southampton their residence.


Here are two views of the High Street in the early 19th century:

The Southampton Guide of 1805 stated:

Many of the shops rival those of the metropolis…the shopkeepers are equally strenuous to excel in the elegance of their shops and displays of heir goods. Strangers in general are exceedingly struck at the size and the very superior appearance of the shops as in this town nor are they less so on viewing the abundant stocks of goods with which they are stocked

The town was full of antiquities: this is the Bar Gate as it looked  in 1802:

This was singled out in many of the Guidebooks to the town as a “truly beautiful specimen of medieval military architecture”
(See A Walk Through Southampton by Sir Henry Englefield, Bart (1801), page 8.

But look at this description from John Feltham’s Guide(1803) and spot the Austen-esque names:

The principal and formerly the only approach by land is a splendid remain of the fortifications of this place. The north front which is supposed to have been erected in the reign of Edward III is semi-octagonal, flanked with two lower semi-circular turrets.

The arch of entrance which is long and deep is highly pointed and adorned with a profusion of mouldings. Above the arch on a row of sunk pannels alternatively square and oblog, is a shield in relief charged with the arms of England, Scotland, Paulet, Tylney, Abdy, Noel, Mill, Wyndham etc. These arms however are not of ancient date and from a minute inspection of the compnent parts of this curious gate Sir Henry Englefield is of the opinion that the internal centre must have been erected in the early Norman time or even before then.

The front towards the High-street, is modern, plain, and uninteresting, except that in a central niche is contains a whole-length statue of Queen Anne, still and formal enough.

Over the arches of the two foot and carriageways, is a spacious TOWN-HALL, fifty-two feet by twenty-one, with which a room for the grand jury communicates. The windows in these apartments, withinside, bear marks of antiquity.

From the leads, the whole of this noble gate may be traced, and great part of site town may be seen. Two lions serjant, cast in lead, guard the entrance of Bargate, and on this side there are likewise portrayed two gigantic figures, representing Ascupart and Sir Bevios, of Southampton his redoubted conqueror, according to the following couplet:

“Bevois conquer’d Ascupart, and after slew the boare,
And then he cross’d beyond the seas to combat with the More.”

I’m sure this and the castle appealed to Jane Austen’s sense of the Gothick, if not to inspire names of characters in Northanger Abbey and Emma… Southampton had many of the amenities necessary for the amusement of its visitors. In addition to a riding school…

it also possessed chaylebeate springs, baths, public rooms owned by a Mr Martin( complete with a full set of Assembly Room regulations) and winter assemblies were held at the Dolphin Inn

( now sadly closed due to the effects of the current credit crunch)and a theatre:

Jane Austen attended the French Street Theatre while living there .

It also had a multiplicity of circulating libraries:

LIBRARIES.


BAKER’s LIBRARY, in the High-street, contains a well-chosen collection of more than 7000 volumes, in every branch of learning, and in every department of composition Jewellery, stationary, &c. are likewise sold at this shop.

Messrs. Baker have also a printing-office, from which books have issued that would do no discredit to the London presses. The good sense, information, and civility of that family, which is large and respectable, render their acquaintance desirable to every visitor of the place.

Skelton’s Library, standing nearly opposite, is likewise well filled with valuable and entertaining books, and much frequented.

He has likewise a printing-office, and a subscription News-room, which is open from nine in the morning to nine in the evening, on reasonable terms.

If superior industry, understanding, and a zeal to oblige, are claims to patronage, Byles will not be forgotten, though his establishment is comparatively new.

There are some other libraries in Southampton,which possess their appropriate merits, and are ad mired by their respective customers.
(see The Guide to all the Watering Places etc (1803) by John Feltham.)

Jane Austen also attended All Saints Church, which was built in 1792-3 and was designed by William Revesley. Frank’s daughter, Mary Jane, born in April 1807 was christened here.

The beach was a tree-lined walk made around 1769 on the old causeway from the Platform to the Cross House

And it was here -on flooded meadows that froze -that Frank skated :

We did not take our walk on Friday, it was too dirty, nor have we yet done it; we may perhaps do something like it to-day, as after seeing Frank skate, which he hopes to do in the meadows by the beach, we are to treat ourselves with a passage over the ferry. It is one of the pleasantest frosts I ever knew, so very quiet. I hope it will last some time longer for Frank’s sake, who is quite anxious to get some skating; he tried yesterday, but it would not do.

(See Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 7th January 1807)

And here is a picture of a contemporary couple skating circa 1805…it won’t be long before braver souls than I can attempt that here in darkest Lincolnshire….

This post is not going to detail the history of the Upper Rooms and their significance to Jane Austen -that is for another post, another day.

But I thought you might like to see details of its position in Bath, and some of its contents.

Here is my map of Bath in 1803 from the edition of the same year of A Guide to all the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places by John Feltham:

This section of the same map shows the Upper Rooms: they are situated just off the Circus and between Alfred and Bennet Streets.

This is a modern aerial photograph of the same area, showing you the rather stunning detail of that section of Bath from the air…

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=bath+assembly+rooms&iid=4597037″ src=”e/9/e/5/Tourism_Helps_Historic_e318.jpg?adImageId=8009175&imageId=4597037″ width=”500″ height=”345″ /]

and how it has managed to preserve its 18th century building plan. The Upper Rooms were built to serve this section of Bath:

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=bath+assembly+rooms&iid=4597318″ src=”e/5/b/4/Tourism_Helps_Historic_f376.jpg?adImageId=8009181&imageId=4597318″ width=”500″ height=”333″ /]

They are still in existence and are administered by the National Trust.

The Bath Museum of Costume is also housed in the same building: and  one of the most spectacular aspects of that buildings for any visitor are the  stunning chandeliers which adorn the main rooms.

The chandeliers in the Ball Room of the Upper Assembly Rooms were made by the master glass maker, William Parker. They cost £500. He used Whitefriars crystal from the Whitefriars glass works in London. This art was very much the province of the specialised worker in the 18th century As  Maxine Berg in her  rather fabulous book,  Luxury and Pleasure in the 18th Century, remarks:

By the mid-eighteenth century London glass makers and cutters supplied chandelier glass to England and many parts o Europe. Cut glass used where candlelight or sunlight would release the light from its facets was a new British achievement, difficult for other Europeans to imitate. The light-refractive qualities of flint glass made it ideal for cnadlelight….Cut glass conveyed luxury refinement; it was a London not a provincial product. These new cut glass products were not made in the glasshouse but in  glass-selling and glass-cutting establishments mainly in London… The famous glass cutters were William Parker of Fleet Street (1762-1818)

Every two years the chandeliers have to be restored and cleaned. This recently  took place during this summer to the five chandeliers in the Ball Room and I thought you might like to see some of the photographs of the process:

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=bath+assembly+rooms&iid=5375595″ src=”f/7/c/f/Baths_Historic_Georgian_a56c.jpg?adImageId=8009186&imageId=5375595″ width=”500″ height=”332″ /]


During the two week restoration the 5 chandeliers were dismantled, cleaned and relamped and supporting cables and wiring was also replaced.

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=bath+assembly+rooms&iid=5375517″ src=”7/d/c/d/Baths_Historic_Georgian_30a0.jpg?adImageId=8009188&imageId=5375517″ width=”500″ height=”330″ /]

The five chandeliers have hung in the Ball Room since 1771 when the Assembly Rooms opened.

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=bath+assembly+rooms&iid=5375591″ src=”8/1/4/f/Baths_Historic_Georgian_5bfb.jpg?adImageId=8009190&imageId=5375591″ width=”405″ height=”594″ /]

Brotheridge Chandeliers are the firm that undertakes this tricky task…

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=bath+assembly+rooms&iid=5375590″ src=”7/6/2/c/Baths_Historic_Georgian_b259.jpg?adImageId=8009193&imageId=5375590″ width=”500″ height=”343″ /]

..which needs steady hands and nerves of steel.

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=bath+assembly+rooms&iid=5375521″ src=”b/a/f/c/Baths_Historic_Georgian_07b9.jpg?adImageId=8009196&imageId=5375521″ width=”500″ height=”322″ /]

This is a close-up of the cleaning of a bobeche,a dish of crystal which was intended to catch the drips of molten wax from the lit candles, thereby preventing damaging drips on the revellers below….

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=bath+assembly+rooms&iid=5375519″ src=”2/7/0/6/Baths_Historic_Georgian_a00c.jpg?adImageId=8009365&imageId=5375519″ width=”500″ height=”340″ /]

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=bath+assembly+rooms&iid=5375522″ src=”8/6/f/2/Baths_Historic_Georgian_9504.jpg?adImageId=8009304&imageId=5375522″ width=”500″ height=”358″ /]

During the Second World War the chandeliers were removed from the building: this was fortuitous as the building was damaged by bombs and they were not returned to the restored building until the early 1960s.

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=bath+assembly+rooms&iid=5375523″ src=”5/4/0/a/Baths_Historic_Georgian_1f59.jpg?adImageId=8009308&imageId=5375523″ width=”500″ height=”353″ /]

Go here for a link to the Brotheridge Chandeliers website,which shows more photographs of the process, and also gives details of the other fantastic chandeliers from our era in their care together with a good history of lead crystal

[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=bath+assembly+rooms&iid=5375592″ src=”d/c/b/9/Baths_Historic_Georgian_f9e8.jpg?adImageId=8009744&imageId=5375592″ width=”408″ height=”594″ /]

I have always admired these confections :seeing the process of cleaning and rehanging makes my admiration for them and the people that care for them increase.

This post should really be entitled Martha Lloyd and London for reasons that  will soon become obvious…

Jane Austen possessed some Wedgwood china : let’s read this extract from her letter to Cassandra Austen of the 6th June 1811,wherein she articulates many  feelings common to modern mail-order purchasers :

On Monday I had the pleasure of receiving, unpacking and approving  our Wedgwood ware. It all came very safely and upon the whole is a good match, tho’ I think  they might have  allowed us rather larger leaves, especially in such a year of fine foliage as this. One is apt to suppose that the Woods about Birmingham must be blighted.

There was no bill with the Goods-but that shall not screen them from being paid. I mean to ask Martha to settle the account. It will be quite in her way for she is just now sending my Mother a Breakfast set, from the same place. I hope it will come by the Waggon tomorrow; it is certainly what we want and I long to know what it is like: and as I am sure Martha has great pleasure in making the present,I will not have any regrets..

Such a sort passage for one letter: but such a lot of points to consider.

First to the showroom. This a print above is from my copy of Ackerman’s Repository of Arts for February 1809. I love this print. It gives us such a lot of detail about Wedgwood’s tempting wares and his method of selling them.

Let’s consider some of the detail;

Here is the manager showing his customer the ware….The manager of the Wedgwood showroom in Bath was of course  Mrs Radcliffe’s father ,and her uncles was Wedgwood’s business partner, Thomas Bentley…..

In 1771-2 Ann Ward stayed with her uncle Thomas Bentley in Turnham Green while her parents prepared for their removal to Bath, where her father was to manage the Wedgwood showroom, a position obtained for him by Bentley, who was Wedgwood’s partner and a man of refined taste.

.(see Mistress of Udolpho:The Life of Ann Radcliffe by Rictor Norton)

In the showroom are some  well-behaved children…

Tables laden with wares….

and a rather fagged lady  wanting to go home and drink tea from the wares and not to  have to look at any more cups and pots.

The showroom where Martha Lloyd placed her order, was just off St James’s Square in London, in  York Street. This was a very fashionable and smart address being not far from St James’s Palace  where  the court of the King (and the Prince Regent) held all its official levees etc.Wedgwood clearly wanted to appeal to the  highest classes of society.

This is a description of the showrooms from my copy of A Picture of London (1809), one of the early guidebooks to the Metropolis:

Upon the north side and near the middle of Pall Mall is St James Square, having a circular bason inclosed within an octagonal railing, in its centre; the houses surrounding this square are chiefly inhabited by nobility. The town residence of the bishops of London a large inelegant pile of brick building occupies along with its neighbour Norfolk House in which our present sovereign was born, all that portion of the eastern side of the square, intercepted between Charles Street and Pall Mall. At the corner of York Street an avenue leading from this street to Jermyn Street is the large house and manufactory of Mr Wedgwood in whose exertions much of the late reformations of public taste is to be ascribed. This house has been originally the habitation of the Spanish Ambassador to which was attached the adjoining chapel,which, upon his quitting this place was used as a place of worship by sundry sectarians and is at present in the possession of a Mr Proud one of the adherents to the singular tenets of an eccentric Swedish Baron Emanuel Swedenborough for an account of whose doctrine we must refer our readers to Evans’s useful comprehensive yet concise account of the various denominations of Christians.

Of course the wares would not be made in London: they were only retailed there. They were created in Staffordshire, which is where Jane Austen’s  knowledge of geography is shown to be slightly lacking in the letter I quote from  above. She is confusing Birmingham in Warwickshire with Burslem in Staffordshire where  Josiah Wedgwood and his descendant had their factory.

She might be doing so because  the Wedgwoods were famously a radical family and were part of the Lunar Society group based primarily in Birmingham-along with Richard Lovell Edgeworth( father of Maria) and Matthew Bouton, Joseph Priestly etc.  But who knows for certain?

This is a  picture of the Wedgwood works at Etruria as they appeared in the late 18th century. The pottery  industry was  of vital importance to the Staffordshire economy  in the late 18th /early 19th centuries as this extract from England Described etc (1818) by John Aikin M.D. explains:

Staffordshire has long been noted, and is now particularly famous, for its potteries, the chief seat of which is near Newcastle, in a line of villages extending about ten miles. The neighbourhood affords abundance of the most bulky materials for this business, namely fire-clay and coals; but their finer clays are brought from Purbeck in Dorsetshire and other parts of that coast; and flints from the chalk pits near Gravesend, with some from Wales and Ireland. For the conveyance of these articles they have the benefit of water-carriage, either from Hull or Gainsborough, by means of the Trent which communicates with the southern extremity of the Staffordshire Grand Trunk Canal; or from Liverpool by means of the Mersey, and the duke of Bridgwater’s navigation, to the northern extremity of the same canal. The manufactured goods are sent away by the same conveyances. The perfection to which this manufacture has been brought, and the great elegance of the useful and ornamental articles of which it consists, have rendered it a very important object of commerce, both foreign and domestic.

Burslum was the site of Wedgewood’s Etruria Works,a name inspired by the classical vases, particularly those illustrated by Sir William Hamilton in his book “Etruscan Vases’, upon which Josiah Wedgwood  based his neoclassical designs. Look at this extract, again from England Described, and note that the whole area became known as The Potteries,a name that is still applied today even though the manufacture of pottery is sadly in decline there:

The principal place in the Potteries is Bruslem, lately raised  to the priviledge of a market town,and supplying the wants of a very populous neighbourhood, the inhabitants which have been drawn together by this demand are very numerous and are employed chiefly in various branches of manufacture.

Jane Austen tells us how these delicate and precious gods were  transported to her in Hampshire: by Waggon. The waggon system of  transporting goods  and livestock was operated by private contractors all over the country. Nearly every small town possessed a company which supplied waggons travelling to and from London,and delivering parcels of goods to their area.

While Jane Austen was living at Chawton the waggon services available in Alton, her nearest market town were as follows:

Coaches,Waggons etc. Collier’s Alton Coach from the Bell Savage Ludgate Hill, 3 times a week. A Southampton coach passes daily Sundays excepted to and from the same inn; also a Gosport dilligence daily to the White Horse Fetter-lane. Knight’s waggons leaves the New Inn, Old Bailey every Tuesday and Friday morning and arrives at Alton every Thursday and Saturday evening. Falkner and Lamport’s Farnham and Alton waggon leaves the George, Snows-hill every Tuesday and Friday and other waggons pass through the town almost every day.

(See the entry for Alton, Hampshire in  Crosby’s Complete Pocket Gazetteer of England and Wales (1807). NOTE : this was the same firm of publishers, owned by  Benjamin Crosby, who bought the copyright of Northanger Abbey, then known by the title “Susan”, in  1803 for £10 but never  published it.  Jane Austen eventually purchased  the manuscript back from them . The correspondence between them included her famous letter of April 5, 1809 which she wrote under the pseudonym of  Mrs Ashton Dennis thus enabling her to end the letter with the following phrase, I AM GENTLEMEN, MAD.)

Jane Austen and her mother were not the only fans of Wedgwood’s wares in the Austen family. Still extant at The Jane Austen House Museum is the set of Wedgwood ware that Edward Knight, Jane’s brother ordered, exactly  as Jane Austen described itThe pattern is a small Lozenge in purple,between lines of narrow Gold ; & it is to have the (Knight) crest

And so, there you have a little explanation of that small mention of Wedgwood ware in Jane Austen’s letter. We have seen the showroom in London, learnt about where the wares were made and just how Jane Austen would have received them form London via waggon.

I trust you have enjoyed this little excursion into the retail world of the early 19th century, and that your own excursions in the realms of 21st century Christmas shopping is as pleasant and satisfactory as were Jane Austen’s goods from The Potteries and St James’s.


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