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Inevitable I suppose, given Mr Woodhouse’s preference for plain cooking….and Emma’s charitable impulses, but let’s delve into this subject today, shall we?

First, food for invalids.

For a good indicator of the type of food recommended for weak stomachs in this era we can do little better than to look to the advice our old friend Mrs Rundell for her wise advice.

In her book, A New System of Domestic Cookery formed upon Principals of Economy and adapted to the use of Private Families by a Lady a whole chapter is devoted to this type of cooking:

Cookery for the Sick and for the Poor.

In her introduction to the chapter, she sets out her sensible approach to this subject:

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

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

Jane Austen was obviously very familiar with this type of food for the advice doled out by Emma and Mr Woodhouse in the book neatly coincides with that given by Mrs Rundell.

Here is her recipe for Water Gruel:

Put a large spoonful of oatmeal by degrees into a pint of water, and when smooth boil it.

Another way- Rub smooth a large spoonful of oatmeal, with two of water and our it quick; but take care it does not boil over. In a quarter of an hour strain it off: and add salt and a bit of butter when eaten. Stir until the butter be incorporated.

And here are her recipes for preparing eggs:

Mr Woodhouse would no doubt approve:

“Mrs. Bates, let me propose your venturing on one of these eggs. An egg boiled very soft is not unwholesome. Serle understands boiling an egg better than any body. I would not recommend an egg boiled by any body else — but you need not be afraid — they are very small, you see — one of our small eggs will not hurt you…

Emma, Chapter 3

She makes this point about cooks, proving what a treasure Mr Woodhouse has in Serle: many houses a good sick cook is rarely met with: and many who possess all the goods of fortune have attributed the first return of health to an appetite excited by good kitchen psychics as it is called.

Her remaks on providing food for the poor as also very revealing:

Emma, to give her her due, clearly knows a lot about the practicalities of food, and her knowledge is demonstrated in her gift of pork to the Bates.

Emma is often thought of  as a spoiled little rich girl with an empty head and list of unread books. But, in her defence, Emma knew exactly how the different cuts of pork should be cooked and what woud be of use  to the less prosperous  characters in Highbury:

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

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

Emma, Chapter 21

(Diagram showing the cuts of Mutton, Veal and Pork from the 1819 edition of Mrs Rundell’s book)

Mrs Rundell’s advice on porkers is pertinent:

Porkers are not so old as hogs; their flesh is whiter and less rich, but it is not so tender. It is divided into four quarters. The fore-quarter has the spring or fore-leg. the fore-loin or neck , the spare rib and griskin. The hind has the leg and loin.

Her advice regarding the Loin is:

Loin and Neck of Pork: Roast them.

But as regards the leg……

To boil a leg of Pork

Salt it eight or ten days; when it is to be dressed, weight it; let it lie half an hour in cold water to make it white: allow a quarter of an hour for every pound and half an hour over ,from the time it boils up; skim it as soon as it boils, and frequently after. Allow water enough .Save some of it to make peas-soup. Some boil it in a very nice cloth, floured; which gives a very delicate look .It should be small and of a fine grain. Serve peas-pudding and turnips with it.

Mr Woodhouse  would surely have approved of Mrs Rundell’s style, I think:

“That’s right, my dear, very right. I had not thought of it before, but that was the best way. They must not over-salt the leg; and then, if it is not over-salted, and if it is very thoroughly boiled, just as Serle boils our’s, and eaten very moderately of, with a boiled turnip, and a little carrot or parsnip, I do not consider it unwholesome.”

Emma, Chapter 21

Here are a few pieces of sensible advice from Mrs Rundell’s General Remarks and Hints on Providing Food for the Poor:

I promised a few hints, to enable every family to assist the poor of their neighbourhood at a very trivial expense; and these may be varied or amended at the discretion of the mistress…

When the oven is hot, a large pudding maybe baked and given to the sick or young family; and thus made the trouble is little;…

Shades of Miss Bate’s  twice baked apples…

I found in the time of scarcity ten or fifteen gallons of soup could be dealt out weekly at an expense not worth mentioning even though the vegetables were brought .If in the villages about London abounding with opulent families the quantity of ten gallons were made in ten gentlemen’s houses there would be a hundred gallons of wholesome agreeable food given weekly for the supply of forty poor families, at the rate of two gallons and a half each.

What a relief to a labouring husband, instead of bread and cheese, to have a warm comfortable meal! To the sick ,aged and infant branches how important and advantage! More less to the industrious mother whose forbearance may have a larger share frequently reduces that strength upon which the welfare of ah family essentially provides.

It rarely happens that servants object to seconding the kindness of their superiors to the poor: but should the cook in any family think the adoption of this plan too troublesome ,a gratuity at the end of the winter might repay her if the love of her fellow creatures failed of doing it a hundred fold….

If you are at all interested in the domestic food as described in Emma, then I can think of no better book to read than Mrs Rundells cookery book. And luckily for us, Persephone Books have recently issued a very reasonably priced and beautifully produced edition of the 1816 edition of this book. It’s not very often I really do urge you to buy a book (Really !?!) but I would  urge everyone to  buy this ;-)

The conversation was here interrupted. They were called on to share in the awkwardness of a rather long interval between the courses, and obliged to be as formal and as orderly as the others; but when the table was again safely covered, when every corner dish was placed exactly right, and occupation and ease were generally restored…

Emma, Chapter 26.

Dear,dear….what would Mr Conset say about the Cole’s staff ,who are not doing a very accomplished job at the dinner party in front of the assembled Great and Good of Highbury?

He was a chef who wrote The Footman’s Directory and Butler’s Remberancer, published in 1823, and in it gave strict and minutely detailed  instructions for the correct setting of the dinner table and how to manage it all with style.

The first two courses would have seen the table laid with a green baize cloth put underneath a white damask linen one, to prevent the table from becoming marked with heat marks from the hot dishes served in the first and second courses.

There was, or so it seems to me, ample opportunity for the staff to make mistakes and appear clumsy.

Here is an example of a grand first course from The Housewife’s Instructor by Henderson.

And here is an examle of the types of dishes that would follow in a grand second course:

Let’s look at Mr Consett’s directions for laying the cloth:

In putting on the cloth, let the table be dusted ,and the green one put on first.. then take the linen one , observing to have it the right side outermost ; this you may easily tell by the hemming and the fold of it: be likewise particular in having the bottom of the cloth face the bottom of the table, as in most families they have some sign woven in their table-linen, such as their crests or coats of arms. If the pattern be baskets of flowers, the bottom of the basket must be towards the person who sits at the bottom as the design ought likewise to go exactly down the middle of the table.

This is what he has to say about the removal of the first course:

As soon as you receive the signal for removing the first course, take the small knife tray with a clean knife-cloth in it, and take all the carving knives, forks and spoons which have been used, form off all the dishes, before you attempt to take the dishes. Observe when you take off the knives forks and dishes  to begin at the bottom of the table and take the knives etc from the left-hand side of the dish, and go regularly round, removing from the sides as you go down the table; then when you come to the bottom where you began, put down your tray and begin  removing the dishes form off the table in the same way you did the knives, forks etc.; remove the bottom dish first , then the side, top and the other side: as you must consider in taking off an putting on, you should lose no time, nor be running  backwards and forwards anymore than you can help; let your dishes be taken off and put on in a systematic order so that you make no bustle and confusion in the room;br quick but quiet in your movements; as you take off the dishes put them in a large tray which of course you have ready and if ther is no one to take them downstairs for you do it yourself; empty your tray as quick as possible and but the second course on it; but be not in  too great a hurry  as you may spill the gravy or break the dishes but be no longer than you can help in carrying the things up and down.

It sometimes happens  when there have been but four dishes for the first course  there have been six for the second;be particular in putting them on; have the bill of fare in the tray  on the sideboard then you will be able to look at tit and prevent making mistakes as it is reasonable to think that ladies and gentlemen  like to have the dishes put on the same way which they  have contrived for the things to answer each other.

If you were to pay attention in settling the dishes in the tray  you could place them in it as they are to go onto the table;this certinaly would be an advantage to you and you may esily do so when you have all the dishes up; begin to put them on in the same order as you took the others off, the bottom dish first , then the left side, and top etc. ; be very particular to have them in a proper line with each other and at equal distances from the sides and ends of the table.

When you have put them all on, take the covers from off those which are covered then be ready to wait on the company: when you see they are finishing the second course  let the cheese plates be put before them as you change the others, a small knife and if there is a salad a fork also should be put in the plate.

He then makes these remarks about the removing of the cloth:

After the first and second courses have been removed, and the cheese eaten-  and surely there would be cheese at the Cole’s dinner  party,for we know they served it to Mr Elton at one of their “experimental” men-only dinners-  the dessert could then be served :

…as soon as the company have done with the cheese, remove it from the table; then take all the things quite off, both dirty and clean; have a spoon( if there is not a proper table–brush) with a plate, and take off all the bits of bread, then with a clean glass-cloth and another plate, brush all the crumbs off the cloth; as soon as this is done put round the finger –glasses, one to each person. If you have not got the desert ready before you put the finger–glasses on, you had better get it while they are using; during that time, likewise, remove as many of the things as you possibly can out of the room. As soon as the finger –glasses are done with , remove them; then take off the cloth with the green one also ,and put them out of the room at once, other wise it is very likely in your haste you may fall over them; when you have removed the cloths, if the hot dishes have drawn out the damp, take a cloth and wipe it off ,but do not do it with a dirty cloth as this will not be pleasant for the company to see…As soon as you have wiped the table , put the desert on; put the dessert dishes nearer the middle of the table as you did with the meat etc., etc., as they are smaller.

(Illustration of a winter and summer dessert from Duncan Macdonald’s NewLondon Family Cook Book)

Observe the same rule in putting on the dessert as the other courses, unless there are more dishes in the dessert then in the other courses; in this case , you may put on the dessert dishes top, middle and bottom before you put on the sides; when they are all put on then put on the sugar basin and the water jug, between the top and bottom dishes and middle one in the same line; then put the cut-glass rummers between the two side dishes and the middle two on each side; then put the wine decanters on at the bottom of the table, next to the gentlemen, but if there be none but ladies, put the wine near the one who sits at the top. Let four table spoons be laid to serve the dessert with and if there be a cake, let a knife be put with it; next put on the dessert plates and two wine glasses to each person; and when the dessert is all set out be as quick as you possibly can in removing everything out of the room except the clean glasses in the side board, the cruet stand and the clean plate ;the clean knives forks and plates on the side table may also be left; but remove all the dirty plates, knives , forks, beer, toast and water etc.etc. All things of the eating and drinking kind should be removed before you leave the dining room; but let it be done quickly and with as little noise as possible as not to appear all in a bustle and confusion when leaving the room, for a good servant is to have everything in the room ready when called for ….The sooner you leave the room after the dessert is put on the better; never loiter about the room when the company are drinking their wine; some servants that I know will be rattling the knives and forks and removing all the clean glasses etc etc from the dining rooms before they leave it, but this is quite unnecessary. You may leave the sideboard and side table to look ornamental without much trouble or loss of time.

I could imagine that staff unused to such formalities would be a little awkward in performing these tasks seamlessly. We know that the staff are very inexperinced for not only is the dining room a new addition to the Cole’s house but they have never attempted to entertain on this scale before:

The Coles had been settled some years in Highbury, and were very good sort of people — friendly, liberal, and unpretending; but, on the other hand, they were of low origin, in trade, and only moderately genteel. On their first coming into the country, they had lived in proportion to their income, quietly, keeping little company, and that little unexpensively; but the last year or two had brought them a considerable increase of means — the house in town had yielded greater profits, and fortune in general had smiled on them. With their wealth, their views increased; their want of a larger house, their inclination for more company. They added to their house, to their number of servants, to their expenses of every sort; and by this time were, in fortune and style of living, second only to the family at Hartfield. Their love of society, and their new dining-room, prepared every body for their keeping dinner-company; and a few parties, chiefly among the single men, had already taken place.

Emma,Chapter 25

I know Id hate to try it…..and I feel for those poor inexperienced staff…..

Mrs. Weston proposed having no regular supper; merely sandwiches, &c. set out in the little room; but that was scouted as a wretched suggestion. A private dance, without sitting down to supper, was pronounced an infamous fraud upon the rights of men and women; and Mrs. Weston must not speak of it again.

Emma, Chapter 29

(Rowlandson’s view of an assembly at Scarborough circa 1813.  Can you spot the Bingleys?)

An infamous fraud indeed! After the exertions of a ball , refreshment had to be provided, surely ;-)

Jane Austen does not really give us many details of the supper served at the Ball at the Crown .What little we do know is related by our ever important informant, Miss Bates:

This is meeting quite in fairy-land! Such a transformation…..Upon my word, this is charming to be standing about among such friends! And such a noble fire! I am quite roasted. No coffee, I thank you, for me — never take coffee. A little tea if you please, sir, by and bye, — no hurry — Oh! here it comes. Everything so good!”


I never saw any thing equal to the comfort and style — Candles every where. ..Well, this is brilliant! I am all amazement! could not have supposed any thing! Such elegance and profusion! — I have seen nothing like it since — Well, where shall we sit? where shall we sit? ..Dear Jane, how shall we ever recollect half the dishes for grandmamma? Soup too! Bless me! I should not be helped so soon, but it smells most excellent, and I cannot help beginning.”

Emma, Chapter 38

To find out what was served at balls in the early 19th century we cannot turn to homely cookery books like Mrs Rundell’s New System of Domestic Cookery. No, we have to turn to far more fancier selections.

The Housewife’s Instructor was first written by William Henderson. It was a best seller and appeared in many editions. The revision overseen by Jacob Christopher Schnebblie contained his suggestions for a ball supper suitable for twenty people.

Jacob Christopher Schnebbelie had been the principal cook at Melun’s Hotel in Bath and Martelli’s Restaurant at The Albany, in Piccadilly, London.

This is his portrait from the frontispiece to his edition of The Housewife’s Instructor. The entrance to the  Albany is shown below him.

This place is still in existence :here is another view of it taken from inside the courtyard. The Albany has a connection with Jane Austen, in that Henry Austen’s bank’s offices and headquarters  were at Number 1, the Courtyard at The Albany between the years 1804-1807.

The building was divided into a series of apartments  which were inhabited by officers, professional men and unmarried members of the aristocracy and the gentry. It was (and still is )a  fearsomely smart address.

Here are his suggestions for the first course:

Do  note the repetition of the dishes: the male diners would have served themselves and their female partners without the need to pass dishes over the table. And do remember that all these illustrations can be enlarged merely by clicking on them: it helps to see the detail.

We know from Miss Bates speech, above,  that soup was served at the Crown supper , so it seems the redoubtable Mrs Stokes made an even grander effort than these smart metropolitan suggestions in rural Surrey. Little wonder Miss Bates thought herself blessed to be there.

Here are his suggestions for the dessert:

The Pines mentioned above are, of course, pineapples: a very special, expensive and rare fruit.

I am so glad that Mrs Weston was rightly prevailed upon by Emma and Frank to provide a grand repast for their friends and neighbours at that ball. Perhaps, after all,  it did resemble this one …..

Or perhaps this post should be entitled William Larkin’s strawberries…or even Mrs Elton’s:

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

I adore this stream of consciousness passage from the hateful Mrs Elton’s lips.

Jane Austen wrote about strawberries in Emma with a connoisseurs eye. She certainly knew of the varieties available in the early 19th century.

The story of the cultivation of the strawberry in England is quite interesting. Let’s look at it…

From medieval times till the 18th century, the only strawberries available for cultivation in England were the woodland strawberries, Fragaria vesea which was native to England.  Plants were collected from the wild and planted into kitchen gardens .They came in two types-white and red. The fruits were very small, quite unlike our modern varieties, but similar to the Alpine Strawberries of today:

Thomas Tusser in his book Five Hundred Pointes of Good Husbandrie Newlie Augmented (1557) lists that variety as being the only one available for cultivation in England at the time.

(Alpine Strawberries in an 18th century tea bowl)

Improvements by careful breeding with other varieties from abroad began to be made during the 17th century.

The woodland strawberry was eventually crossed with the hautbois strawberry- Fragaria elatio– which was introduced to England from Europe. By 1642 another variety was added to the stock, when the woodland strawberry was interbred with a much better flavoured variety from Virginia , Fragaria Virginiana

The strawberries were still small in size compared to modern varieties, and it was not until the late 18th century that a large fruited strawberry was obtained by cross breeding with the Chilean strawberry, Fragaria Chilensis, which originated in South America.

At first, though breeding with this strawberry produced  large fruit, the resulting strawberries had poor flavour and whitish fruits.

It was not until 1806 that a plant of this type was produced which bore large red, well flavoured strawberries which are comparable in size and flavour with the ones we know today: it was known as “Chili” ,and is one of the ones mentioned by Mrs Elton.

The only varieties current in the early 19th cenury that  she failed to mention were the Carolina, Fragaria Carolinensis and the Pineapple strawberry.

They are both listed in a gardening book of the era, Every Man His Own Gardener (1809).

Jane Austen may have been familiar with this book for one, in a different edition,  was to be found in her brother Edward Knight’s library at Godmersham:

The author, ,John Abercrombie was the son a of a nurseryman and market gardener, from Edinburgh in Soctland.

Trained by his father, he left Scotland to come south to work for George III’s mother Princess Augusta in London at  her residences in Leicester House and Kew, between 1751 and 1757.

He was invited circa 1764 to write a gardening book by Mr L Davis a bookseller and Oliver Goldsmith. He agreed on condition that Goldsmith would overlook his manuscript. Goldsmith refused to do so saying that Abercrombies’ style was best suited to his own subject.

Abercrombie eventually   wrote the text of Every Man His Own Gardener, which as you can see from the title page, above, is a truly comprehensive gardening book of the late 18th and early 19th century.

But, cannily realizing that he needed to market it in a manner to be attractive to the snobbish world, he paid the Duke of Leeds head  gardener, Thomas Mawe, £20 to pose as the author. Every Man etc, appeared in 1767 under the title of Mawe’s Gardener’s Calendar. The book was a great success, and eventually, in 1776, Abercrombie added his own name on the title page as joint author with Mawe. The book continued to be issued, in revised editions, until 1879.

John Abercrombie did not actually meet Mr Mawe until after the publication of the second edition, when Mawe invited him to Yorkshire. They remained friends, and collaborated on another book, The Universal Gardener and Botanist (1778).

Interestingly , two years after Jane Austen died a strawberry of fine quality was introduced by Thomas Andrew Knight (a pioneer of large scale systematic strawberry breeding)…and it was called Elton!!No relation I am glad to say…

And it was good thing that the strawberry picking party at Donwell was not real for Cassandra Austen ,Jane Austen’s sister, seems to have been rather keen on them. As Jane remarked in her letter of 1811:

I had the agreeable surprise of finding several scarlet strawberries quite ripe – had you been at home, this would have been a pleasure lost!

Frank Churchill placed a word before Miss Fairfax. She gave a slight glance round the table, and applied herself to it. Frank was next to Emma, Jane opposite to them — and Mr. Knightley so placed as to see them all; and it was his object to see as much as he could, with as little apparent observation. The word was discovered, and with a faint smile pushed away. If meant to be immediately mixed with the others, and buried from sight, she should have looked on the table instead of looking just across, for it was not mixed; and Harriet, eager after every fresh word, and finding out none, directly took it up, and fell to work. She was sitting by Mr. Knightley, and turned to him for help. The word was blunder…..

… This gallant young man, who seemed to love without feeling, and to recommend himself without complaisance, directly handed over the word to Miss Fairfax, and with a particular degree of sedate civility entreated her to study it. Mr. Knightley’s excessive curiosity to know what this word might be, made him seize every possible moment for darting his eye towards it, and it was not long before he saw it to be Dixon.

Jane Fairfax’s perception seemed to accompany his; her comprehension was certainly more equal to the covert meaning, the superior intelligence, of those five letters so arranged. She was evidently displeased; looked up, and seeing herself watched, blushed more deeply than he had ever perceived her, and saying only, “I did not know that proper names were allowed,” pushed away the letters with even an angry spirit, and looked resolved to be engaged by no other word that could be offered. Her face was averted from those who had made the attack, and turned towards her aunt.

Emma, Chapter 41
Whatever we think of the Knightley brothers, it has to be admitted that  they are most acute observers of the scene around them. John Knightley correctly  divines that Mr Elton is “romantically” keen on Emma, and Mr Knightley, here in chapter 41,  realises that there is something more sinister to this seemingly innocent game of Regency Scrabble, one of the many instances of word play in the novel.

These letters were but the vehicle for and trick. It was a child’s play, chosen to conceal a deeper game on Frank Churchill’s part.

And how clever of Jane Austen to show via the medium of a child’s plaything, that these so-called adults were acting both childishly and recklessly.

They really should know better…all of them.

The alphabet that Emma’s nephews played with  probably looked something like this:

But there were other versions. The photographs above and below show some I have collected: small ivory letters in an ivory box, carved like an heart-shaped basket,  circa 1810:

Learning through play was part of John Locke’s(1632-1704) educational theory:

Play-things, I think, children should have, and of divers sorts; but still to be in the custody of their tutors or some body else, whereof the child should have in his power but one at once, and should not be suffered to have another but when he restored that. This teaches them betimes to be careful of not losing or spoiling the things they have; whereas plenty and variety in their own keeping, makes them wanton and careless, and teaches them from the beginning to be squanderers and wasters. These, I confess, are little things, and such as will seem beneath the care of a governor; but nothing that may form children’s minds is to be overlooked and neglected, and whatsoever introduces habits, and settles customs in them, deserves the care and attention of their governors, and is not a small thing in its consequences.

See: Some Thoughts Concerning Education(1692)

This idea was promoted also by Richard Edgeworth and his novelist daughter, Maria (friends of Jane Austen’s aunt and uncle, the Leigh Perrots) in their book Practical Education:

Many puzzles are highly ingenious;and as far as they can exercise the invention or the patience of young people they are useful….Care however should be taken to separate the ideas of deceit and ingenuity and to prevent children from glorifying in the posession of a secret.

(See: Chapter 1, Practical Education(1780)

What a pity it is that Frank and Emma do not seem to have read this book….

Jane Austen’s hero, Mr Knightley, though he may have been a very indifferent lover– was no slouch when it came to his social responsibilities. I confess he is my favourite of all her heroes. And his qualities are well known and admired.

He is almost the headmaster of Highbury, the  long standing major landowner in the area ,to whom the Woodehouses are only second in consequence. He chivvies and chides the locals into good behaviour unlike Lady Catherine de Bough who uses bullying tactics. He sees to his friends needs and wants- he is acutely aware of poor Miss Bates dreadful situation in life. He even sacrifices his last store of apples to try tempt Jane Fairfax’s poor appetite. He cares about his tenants, and  is proud of their achievements.

We can learn all that easily enough from the text.

But what can we discern about him being a magistrate? Wasn’t it the done thing for the local squire to be a magistrate ? Why is being a magistrate a feather in Mr Knightley’s cap?

The brothers talked of their own concerns and pursuits, but principally of those of the elder, whose temper was by much the most communicative, and who was always the greater talker.  As a magistrate, he had generally some point of law to consult John about, or, at least, some curious anecdote to give…

Emma , Chapter 12

First, let’s  examine magistrates and their roles in  county society.

Magistrates in Jane Austen’s era had both criminal and civil legal responsibilities ,and also were the first tier of local government administration , with their association with the Vestries of each parish.

As a county Justice of the Peace  Mr Knightley would have been appointed( not elected, note) to that position by the Sherriff, who was in turn appointed by the Crown and was its representative. The Sherriffs were usually appointed from the ranks of the aristocracy.

The first known record of magistrates was in 1195 when Richard I commissioned knights to uphold order in unruly areas of England. They were responsible to the King for ensuring that local order and peace was maintained; as such they became known as Keepers of the Peace, a term which was altered to Justices of the Peace in 1361. They administered the criminal law at first instance and also administered many social aspects of the civil law with respect to the poor in a parish.

In Jane Austen’s day there were three ways in which one could become a magistrate:

1) By Act of parliament ( Examples are the Bishop of Ely and his successors; the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Durham)

2)By commission-which was the most common way of appointing magistrates

and ,lastly ,

3) “By charter or grant made by the King under his Great Seal: as Mayors and the chief officers in diverse corporate towns”

(See The Justice of the Peace and Parish Officer by Richard Burn (1800) Volume III p. 5.)

To qualify as a Magistrate by commission during Jane Austen’s period, one had to be:

i)  a member of the Church of England and,

ii) own freehold land to the annual value of at least £100 per year. ( This qualification was finally abolished in 1906 to open up membership of the Bench to a wider strata of society.)

Obviously, Mr Knightly qualified on both counts.

There was another qualification- one had to be male. Women were not allowed to become magistrates. Poor Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice, who though she acted as if she were a Justice of the Peace in respect to the operation of the Poor Laws in her parish would never able to be officially appointed to the post. She could not sit in court in judgement on cases. (Women were only finally allowed to become Magistrates in 1919.)

Magistrates had civil and criminal responsibilities.  They usually dealt with minor crimes in the area.  They heard these cases in Petty ( from the French “Petit“) Sessions, and then on a grander and less frequent scale at the Quarter Sessions( held 4 times per year) at the local county town.

The Parish was not only a religious entity, containing usually one parish church with its incumbent,  but also an administrative authority, and had responsibilities under the Poor Law Act of 1601 for paupers in the parish. Magistrates also shared some of these responsibilities, since the enactment of the Poor Law Act of 1601 gave them powers to deal with  the control and care of paupers in the Parish: they were also involved in the  administration of Poor Relief( financial assistance ) and the administration of the local Workhouse. This aspect of local government  was administered jointly in a parish party by the Vestry of the parish church and partly by local magistrates.

(An idealised view of a Georgian workhouse ,circa 1815)

The Vestry  was usually  administered by a Parish Clerk, who was responsible for the day-to-day administration of the parish.

The local incumbent- the vicar or rector-had his duties too: the upkeep of the parish church and the administration of the Church rate would be undertaken by him and the Churchwardens. Who were also members  of the Vestry.

So in Chapter 53 of Emma, ,when Mr Elton is so cross and confused about a meeting with Mr Weston, Mr Cole and Mr Knightley, he is obviously talking about a Vestry meeting, in order to discuss parish administration. Mr Cole and Mr Weston are, clearly  members of the Highbury Parish Vestry- they were the local administrators if you like.

But, if Mr Knightley and his estate are in another parish, what right did he have to attend such meetings?

The landed property of Hartfield certainly was inconsiderable, being but a sort of notch in the Donwell Abbey estate, to which all the rest of Highbury belonged


Fortunately for him, Highbury, including Randalls in the same parish, and Donwell Abbey in the parish adjoining, the seat of Mr. Knightley, comprehended many such. Not unfrequently, through Emma’s persuasion, he had some of the chosen and the best to dine with him, but evening-parties were what he preferred, and, unless he fancied himself at any time unequal to company, there was scarcely an evening in the week in which Emma could not make up a card-table for him.

Emma, Chapter 3

Mr Knightley was not part of the Highbury parish oligarchy, (for he lived in Donwell Parish) but he was, of course, a magistrate. Magistrates were organised not on a parish-by-parish basis but on a countywide basis. Therefore as  he was in the commission for the county of Surrey he had the jurisdiction to direct and, in some circumstances, order the Vestries in his county/locality to undertake certain legal obligations.  So he was doing his quite proper and correct local duty in attending meetings with the Highbury Parish Officers (Mr Weston and Mr Cole) and the Incumbent, (Mr Elton) even though his estate was in another parish.

We get a glimpse of the practical  workings of  the Vestry in Emma: good old Miss Bates lets us know about poor John Abdy and his son’s efforts to get him some parish relief:

I was so astonished when she first told me what she had been saying to Mrs. Elton, and when Mrs. Elton at the same moment came congratulating me upon it! It was before tea — stay — no, it could not be before tea, because we were just going to cards — and yet it was before tea, because I remember thinking — Oh! no now I recollect, now I have it; something happened before tea, but not that Mr. Elton was called out of the room before tea, old John Abdy’s son wanted to speak with him. Poor old John, I have a great regard for him; he was clerk to my poor father twenty-seven years; and now, poor old man, he is bed-ridden, and very poorly with the rheumatic gout in his joints — I must go and see him to-day; and so will Jane, I am sure, if she gets out at all. And poor John’s son came to talk to Mr. Elton about relief from the parish: he is very well to do himself, you know, being head man at the Crown, ostler, and every thing of that sort, but still he cannot keep his father without some help; so, when Mr. Elton came back, he told us what John ostler had been telling him, and then it came out about the chaise having been sent to Randalls to take Mr. Frank Churchill to Richmond. That was what happened before tea. It was after tea that Jane spoke to Mrs. Elton.”

Emma,Chapter 44

This is all very well you say: but lets get to the point. Exactly what point was Jane Austen making by telling us that MrKnighltey was a magistrate?

Well, ..I think the point is  that he was being rather honourable accepting the post, given his station in life.  At the time Jane Austen was writing  few members of the gentry or higher social classes were willing to be active magistrates.

Irene Collins in her book Jane Austen and the Clergy gives this succinct summary of the work involved advantages to be had socially as a magistrate;

“The duties of a magistrate demanded a great deal of time and effort for no material reward [the post was ,and is still, unpaid,jfw ]…On the other hand , because the duties were so multifarious and important ,the office bestowed great distinction upon the holder, and for this reason was in great demand in the rural areas of England…In county districts the nouveaux riches were particularly anxious to gain admittance. No vast amount of land was needed to produce an income of £100 a year..”

This view has been confirmed  by recent research which has demonstrated that men like Mr Knightley were the exception, not the rule. It has been a long held belief that the Bench in the 18th century was made up of land-owning squires and gentry who were keen to protect their own intents in the way they administered the law. However, detailed analysis of country Commissions for the Peace indicate that this view is entirely erroneous, especially by the time Jane Austen was writing Emma.

Professor Peter King in his detailed and fascinating book Crime Justice and Discretion in England 1740-1820 explains how modern research has made historians re- assess the “traditionally “ held view that all magistrates were wealthy squires:

“Since the minimum legal qualification required to become a JP- an annual income from land of £100- fell far short of the level needed to become a substantial gentleman by the later 18th century, the magistracy could be recruited from a fairly broad spectrum of the land owning classes. The flexibilities this introduced became increasingly useful in the second half of the eighteenth century because growing proportion of the substantial, long established gentry refused to act as justices.

Landaus’s detailed work on Kent(” The Justices”) suggests that it therefore became necessary to lower standards and elevate an increasing number of minor gentry, clergy and professional men to the bench, despite the fact that the political persuasion of potential magistrates was no longer an issue. Jenkins(“In The Making” p87) found a similar change occurring in Glamorgan where the section of society from which JPs were drawn was widened in the later eighteenth century to include not only lawyers and stewards, but also some new industrialists group that were stile excluded from many other county benches half a century later.

In both areas, as in early nineteenth century Northamptonshire, it appears that JPs from lesser gentry families, from clerical backgrounds or from groups striving to establish their gentry status tended to be more active, partly because they were relatively free from the counter attractions of the London season or of parliament. Indeed Lawrence Stone has recently argued that in all counties in the eighteenth century the elite increasingly tended to leave the office of JA to the parish gentry and the clergy in order to allow themselves leisure to hunt, travel a nd to make lengthy visits to London.

The eighteenth century Essex evidence offers considerable support for this view. Clerical justices increased rapidly to from 28 per cent of active magistrates in Essex by 1785.-a figure similar to that found in Hertfordshire ,Surrey and Oxfordshire. Meanwhile the proportion drawn from those above the rank of esquire was halved between 1747 and 1785,by which time the impact of the aristocracy on the Essex quarter sessions and on judicial work in the county was minimal.

Mr Knightley is from a very old established family. He is not nouveaux riche in any sense of the phrase-unlike Mr Elton, Mr Cole or indeed, Mr Weston.

His being a magistrate would give him very little extra social cachet but a great deal more responsibility and less free time.

His actively being a magistrate is therefore significant and reinforces his admirable qualities. While other men of his status were more concerned with pleasure, Mr Knightley is devoted to the well being not only of his estate and tenants but of the whole area.

…She is a complete angel. Look at her. Is not she an angel in every gesture? Observe the turn of her throat. Observe her eyes, as she is looking up at my father. You will be glad to hear (inclining his head, and whispering seriously) that my uncle means to give her all my aunt’s jewels. They are to be new set. I am resolved to have some in an ornament for the head. Will not it be beautiful in her dark hair?”

Emma, Chapter 54

Have you ever wondered what type of jewels Frank Churchill talks about in this passage?

The Churchill’s obviously had a large estate, money and riches. Part of that inheritance would have been some ancestral jewels no doubt.  Mrs Churchill’s jewels were probably made in the mid to late 18th century, and were as a consequence, most probably, fabulous.

A book which I can recommend should you want to know what the jewellery of this period looked like is Georgian Jewellery by Ginny Redington Dawes and Olivia Collings:

They are dealers in antique jewellery and this book is sumptuously illustrated with fine examples of jewellery of the period. Sadly, it is now out of print and the price for second hand example takes my breath away, but perhaps you can find it in a library if you don’t already own a copy.

Back to jewels. Mrs Churchill most probably owned jewellery dating from 1760. We are not told her age by Jane Austen but perhaps she was in her 60s when she died? In that case she most probably had sets like this:

This is a  parure of foiled topaz circa 1760. The term foiled means that the gems were set behind a tiny piece of foil, which was cut to shape, to add lustre and brilliancy to their appearance.

She almost certainly owned earrings in this style, girandole, which was fashionable throughout the 18th century:

The girandole earrings was usually of this design-a central bow from which were suspended three pear shaped pendants, and of course the jewels resembled chandeliers of the period, hence their adoption of that name..

And when wearing her  jewels altogether perhaps she might have resembled George III’s bride,  Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, as shown here in a portrait by Thomas Frye dating from 1761.

Or she might have owned jewels resembling these- diamond jewels given to Mrs. Fitzherbert by the Prince of Wales:

The trend in the early 19th century was for lighter, but still symmetrical pieces. So Jane Fairfax may have had some of the jewels new set into this style, a multi gemstone pansy necklace:

The fashion for jewelled  flowers  resembling pansies persisted throughout the 19th century, because they were  love tokens: the French word for pansy flowers was Pensees which was also the French word for thoughts: being given a piece containing  representations of these flowers therefore indicated you should always remember the giver of this jewellery.

And it was not at all unusual for older pieces to be broken up and to be re-set, sometimes adding new stones, sometimes not. For example, this is an interesting piece, placed on the bill for the work involved in re setting it.

It was supplied by Rundell  Bridge and Rundell- the Prince of Wales jewellers, in 1806 to Luke Dillon, 3rd Lord Clonbrock. ( the illustration was taken from my copy of the catalogue, Royal Goldsmiths: The Art of Rundell and Bridge 1797-1843 by Christopher Harrop.)

This is a picture of their premises in Ludgate Hill in London- their shop can be seen on the left at the sign of the Golden Salmon (and please do enlarge this picture to see the detail- you can do this for all the illustrations to this post merely by clicking on them)

Some brilliant cut diamonds costing £450 were added to Lady Clonbrocks existing diamonds, which were then taken out of their old settings and this new necklace was created. Looking at the bill, the re-setting of the diamonds cost 16 guineas.

Lord Clonbrock had estate in Ireland worth £10,00 per annum in 1799… and that of course was Fitzwilliam Darcy’s income in Pride and Prejudice. In that case I would dearly like to see inside Elizabeth Bennet’s jewellery case after she married Darcy ;-)

As to pieces of jewellery that could be worn in the hair, tiaras, of course, were fashionable in this era: the empress Josephine of France wore them to great effect.

But there were other types of hair ornament, like these:

en tremblant pieces that could be worn together as a tiara, or separated to make three or more different pieces: a stomacher brooch, a shoulder ornament

or a single hair comb.

En tremblant meant that the pieces were affixed to small, finely  coiled springs and so that as the wearer moved, the ornaments trembled and the gems sparked even more.

So there you are , on the day Emma with Romola Garai and Johnny Lee Miller airs in the US on PBS Masterpiece theater, a speculative glimpse of Mrs Churchill jewels …enjoy, do.

(Funeral Procession by Thomas Rowlandson, circa 1810 )

The great Mrs. Churchill was no more…

Mrs. Churchill, after being disliked at least twenty-five years, was now spoken of with compassionate allowances. In one point she was fully justified. She had never been admitted before to be seriously ill. The event acquitted her of all the fancifulness, and all the selfishness of imaginary complaints…

Short letters from Frank were received at Randalls, communicating all that was immediately important of their state and plans. Mr. Churchill was better than could be expected; and their first removal, on the departure of the funeral for Yorkshire, was to be to the house of a very old friend in Windsor, to whom Mr. Churchill had been promising a visit the last ten years..

Emma, Chapter 45

So, poor Mrs Churchill who ruled her family with an iron fist, died in Richmond, in Surrey,  after apparently really having been ill all the time. It always makes me smile that as soon as his domineering wife is dead, Mr Churchill suddenly appears free enough to be able to visit an old friend, whom he had been promising to visit for ten years! How wickedly funny Jane Austen is in those passages from Chapter 45….

On to more serious matters…..The funeral was to be in Yorkshire at the great Enscombe estate. And really we would have expected nothing else…I can imagine Mrs Churchill  resting forever in some great mausoleum like the one at Castle Howard ( also in Yorkshire)

But could a corpse be transported a journey of at least 200 miles? Let’s see shall we?

In “The English Way of Death” by Julian Litten, there are some descriptions of 18th century funerals, rather in the grand manner, where the dead body was to be transported some distance for burial.  The story of Edward Colston is a very interesting one.

Edward Colston died at his home in Mortlake in Surrey, near London in 1771. His funeral instruction were to the effect that his dead body was to be taken to Bristol and after having been paraded through the streets of the town he was to be buried in All Saints Church.

The journey in 1771 would have taken 6 days, involving five overnight stays at inns( and while on the road luncheons and breakfasts) for 16 attendants who attended the corpse. Together with stabling for 20 horses, shelter for the funeral car and the three mourning coaches which followed it. An extra room was taken at each inn for the corpse to lie alone, in state each night.

But before the body could embark on this journey, the Archbishop of Canterbury had first to be applied to, in order for him to give permission for the corpse to be  transported from the parish in which Colston died- in the Surrey diocese -to the parish in Bristol in which he was to be buried.

As this was before the time of life insurance or a proper funeral insurance plan, the whole funeral cost £513… an enormous sum. It was also not unknown for coffins to be transported by river and canal was well as by road.

By the time Jane Austen was writing Emma, funerals for the gentry and middles classes of people were, in the main, organised by professional firms of undertakers. They were suspected of insisting on elaborate mourning rituals to increase their profits sometimes ignoring the wishes of the deceased, a situation that reached its peak in the Victorian era.

The cost and details of one funeral of a person known to Jane Austen has been transcribed by Deirdre Le Faye and published in Volume VII of Bath History (1998) and this, indeed, reflects the conflict between a desire for a simple funeral and the reality of  unnecessary ritual and cost. The account of the costs of the funeral of Mrs Lillingston, a friend of the Jane Austen’s aunt and uncle, the Leigh Perrots in Bath, who left Jane Austen a legacy of £50 in 1806 (which said sum which was enough to pay all her living expenses for one whole year) makes for interesting reading.

The Bath undertakers, Ballans and Bradley of Bond Street, presented their detailed account of 8th February 1806 for her funeral costs, and though it was  supposed to be done in the plainest manner according to Mrs Lillingston’s wishes, it still entailed providing expensive mourning for all Mrs lillingston’s old servants, and four horses  to pull the hearse and the following mourning coach,which was thought  to be essential by the undertakers. In her will Mrs Lillington had asked for only two horses to be used. The final bill  for this “simple”  funeral amounted to £115 and 12 shillings.

So though it was undoubtedly expensive, Mrs Churchill’s corpse could most certainly be transported back to her Enscombe estate, at least 200 miles along the Great North Road from London, provided that expense could be met (and I’m sure it could) and the Archbishop of Canterbury  provided his  permission.

On a slightly different tack…I think it might now be appropriate to mention that funeral arrangements and customs were slightly different in northern England  and Yorkshire, where Enscombe is situated,  than in other parts of the country.

A really quite quaint and interesting habit of distributing special funeral biscuits and hot red wine to the mourners existed in the North of England throughout the 17th, 18th and into the 19th centuries.

The biscuits served at northern funerals came in a variety of shapes and sizes and textures. In the  18th century/early 19th century the most fashionable type resembled  Naples or Savoy biscuits, which were  similar to the crisp sponge finger type biscuits -manufactured under the commercial term Boudoir or LadyBiscuits– which can be brought from  confectioners shops  and supermarkets today and are usually used to make the spongebase of puddings like tiramisu or trifle.

Do look at the following extract from The Gentleman’s Magazine (1802) Volume I, p 105:

At the funeral of the richer sort…they had burnt wine and Savoy biscuits, and a paper with two Naples biscuits sealed up to carry home to their families. The paper in which these biscuits were sealed ( always with black sealing wax-JFW) was printed on one side with a coffin, cross bone, skulls, hacks, spades, hour-glasses etc…

Many confectioners specialised in producing them and here are some illustrations of the wrappers which have been preserved in various museum collections in the north,and are included in Laura Mason’s book, Food and the Rites of Passage, published by the fabulous Prospect Books:

(Do note you can enlarge all these illustrations in order to see the detail, merely by clicking on them)

Sometimes mourners  were met at the deceased’s house by servants prior to the funeral procession leaving for the church and were then presented with the biscuits and wine. In Lincolnshire  port or sherry was the preferred drink. Sometimes the wrapped packs of biscuits were simply left on a table in the house, so that mourners could carry them to the church, each taking a package as they left with the funeral procession.

A recipe for the biscuits was published in Chesterfield, Derbyshire in 1816 in S. W. Stanley’s book The New Whole Art of Confectionery:

Funeral Biscuits

Take twenty-four eggs, three pounds of flour, and three pounds of lump sugar , which will make forty eight finger biscuits for a funeral.

As Mrs. Churchill was most definitely  “of the richer sort” I feel sure the mourners at her funeral would have gone away clutching some funeral biscuits in a fancy wrapper, together with appropriate sentiments, and sealed with black sealing wax, obtained from the swankiest confectioner  in Yorkshire.

Yesterday we learnt that the Martins kept Alderneys to provide them with creamy rich milk, and that the keeping of such cattle was not, as Emma suggested an action to be despised.

No, rather in the spirit of the Agrarian Revolution of the late 18th /early 19th century that so influenced the development of farms,estates and the countryside, keeping abreast with new developments in breeds and  crops was a positively  fashionable thing to do (more on that over the weekend)

Harriet, our reliable little informant, also tells us that Mrs Martin also has

… eight cows, two of them Alderneys, and one a little Welch cow, a very pretty little Welch cow, indeed; and of Mrs. Martin’s saying, as she was so fond of it, it should be called her cow…

Emma, Chapter 4.

I thought you might appreciate a view of a Welch cow. Or, indeed, two of them …

This portrait of two Welch cows called Bethnal and Bran was painted in 1824 by Daniel Clowes (and it can be enlarged by clicking on it in the usual manner)

Daniel Clowes was a very well- thought of animal portraitist  from Chester in Cheshire, not far from the principality of Wales, which is of course where Welch( or Welsh) cows originated. The term Welch, of course, is a variant spelling of Welsh.

Welch cattle in Jane Austen’s time were, however extremely varied as a breed and the Welsh Cattle Society was not formed until 1883 when standards were set. But they were favoured for the breed combined good milking ability, quality beef and hardiness –they were able to survive in inhospitable environs and conditions.

Sir Robert Vaughn who commissioned the painting from Clowes, specialized in breeding a dairy strain of Welch cows. These were obviously his dairy cattle in this portrait as a milkman with his buckets for collecting the milk, suspended from a yoke appears in the background. So it is not unreasonable to picture Mrs Martin’s Welch cow looking something like this, for it was obviously also part of her small dairy herd along with the Alderneys.

And what a sweet picture it paints of Mrs Martin’s kindness to a virtually friendless, illegitimate girl with no connections to speak of, to call one of her precious milkers, Harriet’s Own Welch Cow.

But the Martins occupied her thoughts a good deal; she had spent two very happy months with them, and now loved to talk of the pleasures of her visit, and describe the many comforts and wonders of the place. Emma encouraged her talkativeness — amused by such a picture of another set of beings, and enjoying the youthful simplicity which could speak with so much exultation of Mrs. Martin’s having “two parlours, two very good parlours indeed; one of them quite as large as Mrs. Goddard’s drawing-room; and of her having an upper maid who had lived five-and-twenty years with her; and of their having eight cows, two of them Alderneys, and one a little Welch cow, a very pretty little Welch cow, indeed; and of Mrs. Martin’s saying, as she was so fond of it, it should be called her cow…

Emma, Chapter 4.

Poor easily led Harriet…about to be persuaded by Emma, that what were probably the happiest two months of her life are to be tossed aside, along with the Martins themselves.

I must admit the picture Harriet paints of the life the Martins have at Abbey Mill Farm is not at all as graceless as Emma would have her (and us) believe.  And of course it revolves around some animals: they were farmers after all.

But it does not necessarily mean that their home dairy was not conducted without a certain style.

Do allow me to explain….

Channel Island breeds of cows were (and still are ) famed for the richness of their milk. The Channel Islands –the main islands are Jersey, Guernsey Alderney Sark and Herm- are a group of islands not far from the French coast and are British Dependencies, and strictly are part of the Duchy of Normandy. As such they are part of the British territories for  the ruling monarch  holds the title and lands of the Duke of Normandy (a title they have held since 1066 and William I).

(Alderneys circa 1820 by an unknown artist)

These types of cattle were most probably collectively known as ‘Alderneys’ because all Channel Island cattle, whether originally from Jersey, Guernsey, or Alderney were transported for sale from the individual islands but arrived in England from the last port of call – Alderney – via the “Alderney Boat”.

In fact it is calculated that no  more than 4% of all the cattle known as ‘Alderneys’ in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were actually from that particular Channel Island.

Having an Alderney to provide milk for ones dairy was an extremely fashionable thing to do in the late 18th /early 19th century.

This was something Jane Austen knew from first hand experience, for her mother, the redoubtable Mrs Austen, kept Alderneys at Steventon to provide  beautiful rich creamy milk for the household.

Here is an extract from a letter she wrote on 26th August 1770:

What Luck we shall have with those sort of Cows I can’t say. My little Alderney one turns out tolerably well, and makes more Butter than we can use, and I have just brought another of the same sort, but as her calf is but just gone, can not say what she will be good for yet…

(See:  Jane Austen: A Family Record, Deirdre Le Faye, Page 23)

Alderneys were also sometimes kept for decorative purposes in the early 19th century:

A few breeds of cattle were imported into the British Isles at this time. They had little effect on the development of native breeds and were treated more like fashionable curiosities. The Kerry and its miniature version , the Dexter, came from Ireland and the Alderney was the collective name given to Channel Island Cattle.

Exotic species also arrived from India and the Far East.

These cattle were kept primarily by noblemen to decorate their country parks. Willliam Youett comments that …” it is thought fashionable that the view from the breakfast or drawing-room of the house should present an Alderney Cow or two grazing at a little distance”.

He further explained that the animals were popular partly for the richness of their milk but more for their diminutive size.

It was only later in the 19th century that Alderney or Jersey or Guernsey cattle, often crossed with native breeds, became properly established as dairy herds in the gentle climate of the South West of England.

(see pp 198-200: Farm Animal Portraits by Elpseth Moncrieff).

I have a suspicion that while the Martins no doubt had a dairy for milk on their farm to provide milk butter and cream for the household, and an Alderney cow would have provided them with the richest milk that could have been had at the time, they were also not averse to the cows around that dairy and in the pastures surrounding their house looking very decorative too: which indicates that they were not exactly the uneducated, subsistence, farming bumpkins that Emma would have us, and poor Harriet, believe ;-)

And just to show that all this interest in cattle was not confined to the Yeomanry, as Emma would have it, here is a picture of the Countess of Chesterfield and her daughters inspecting, from the comfort of their fashionable pony phaeton, one of the Earl’s prize milk Alderneys in 1810

The Earl of Chesterfield was an agricultural improver like Mr Knightley and was sufficiently proud of his livestock to pay the famed Shropshire–born animal artist, Thomas Weaver, the artist of this painting, £147 for this portrait.

(Self portrait of Thomas Weaver, circa 1816)

The Earl  also, in the same year  commissioned this painting , designed to hang with the one above,  depicting him with his son, Lord Stanhope, his steward Mr Blaikie,  a cowman and a prize heifer  in the Earl’s immaculate farmyard at Bretby Park.

So as you can clearly see, keeping an Alderney was not quite as despicable and detestable an act as Emma would have us believe;-)

Emma could not help laughing as she answered, “Upon my word, I believe you know her quite as well as I do. But, Mr. Knightley, are you perfectly sure that she has absolutely and downright accepted him. I could suppose she might in time, but can she already? Did not you misunderstand him? You were both talking of other things; of business, shows of cattle, or new drills; and might not you, in the confusion of so many subjects, mistake him? It was not Harriet’s hand that he was certain of — it was the dimensions of some famous ox.”

Emma, Chapter 54

Emma is probably the most domestic and also the most agriculturally concerned of all Jane Austen’s novels.

Reading it we are given an insight into the world not only of the well- ( or lesser) to- do villager of southern England in the early 19th century but also that of early 19th century  farmers-great and small.

The relationship between Mr Knightley, owner of the established and grand Donwell Abbey estate and his young tenant Robert Martin of Abbey Mill Farm is that of almost equals. It is one of two professional farmers constantly  looking to improve their land and yields and being interested in all things modern, swapping forward-looking information in the realm of husbandry and and livestock.

And of course at this time in the early 19th century, when improvements in the feeding and breeding of livestock was of great national import, it would have been inevitable that intelligent men like Mr Knightley and Robert Martin would, on every meeting, have been keen to compare recorded findings of the Agricultural Reports( of which more later) and to discuss every new development.

So, when Emma jokes with Mr Knightley -above- that he may have misunderstood when Robert Martin was telling him the news of his engagement (at last!) to Harriet Smith, it is really only half a joke,  the reality was ( and still is, in my experience) that when two farmers get together the subject inevitably turns to the weather, breeds and yields.

So what is this famous Ox Emma mentions?

The answer is that it most probably was a reference to  this magnificent  animal, as here depicted by George Stubbs.

The Lincolnshire Ox was a Shorthorn prize bull,  bred at the village of Gedney in Lincolnshire by John Bough in November 1782 and subsequently owned by John Gibbons of Long Sutton, Lincolnshire, a neighbouring village.

The Ox was to put it quite simply…massive.

It was 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 205 ½  stone-some 2,880 lbs.  Having grown to this enormous size in Lincolnshire where his fame began to spread by repute, the ox was taken to London where it was put on show to paying spectators from February 1790 , first at  the Lyceum in the Strand and then briefly at the Duke of Gloucester’s riding stables in Hyde Park. This royal interest in the ox earned it the title ‘The Royal Lincolnshire Ox . A handbill advertising the ox on show at the Lyceum stated:

This uncommon Animal was bred at GEDNEY, in the county of LINCOLN, in November 1782, and fed (without oil-cake) by Mr JOHN GIBBONs of Long Sutton, in the said county: all judges agree, that he is much the LARGEST and FATTEST ever seen in England; being 19 hands high, and 3 feet 4 inches across the hips; his beef and tallow are computed to weigh 2800lb. He is so remarkably docile, that great numbers of Ladies view him every day.

It was finally slaughtered in April 1791. And even after the ox was sold for slaughter the proud purchasers -London butchers-continued to exhibit parts of the beast.

The great public curiosity shown in this mammoth ox was typical of the contemporary interest in agricultural improvements , as reflected in the conversation between Mr Knightley and Emma.

Even though the Lincolnshire Ox was an exceptional animal, its weight of over a ton was a dramatic improvement on the average  400 lbs meat yield of cattle a century before. It was, therefore, living proof of the power of progress in feeding and breeding techniques.

Mr Gibbons, the proud owner, prior to the beasts demise and on advice taken from Sir Joseph Banks- another Lincolnshire landowner and of course one of the foremost men of natural science in the late 18th/early 19th century- commissioned George Stubbs, England’s leading painter of animals, to paint the ox in March 1790.

The portrait  of the ox, incidentally one of the earliest exhibition animals to be painted, includes the ox’s owner, Mr Gibbons,  and a fighting cock.  This was also probably owned by Mr Gibbons and is thought to have won him the ox in the first instance: the ox being the  prize in a cock-fight.

The fame of the ox was spread further by the distribution of prints of the painting. George Townly Stubbs engraved the print of the painting, which sold approximately 500 copies selling at half a guinea a print. Among the names on the subscription list were members of the royal family, the Duke of Orléans and several members of the British aristocracy. This fame had certainly spread to Surrey-and Hampshire by the time JAne Austen was writing Emma.

So there you are, Emma’s  famous Ox, a tribute to the good husbandry of the improving farmers of  late 18th/ early 19th century England. Typically though it was a famous beast- famous enough for Emma to recall hearing about it , or perhaps seeing a print of it-  it did not register enough on her conciousness for her to recall it was a Lincolnshire ox.Of course once she became a farmers wife ( albeit a rather grand one) and Mistress of Donwell, her interest in matters agricultural might have improved ;-)

Chawton House have produced a wonderful slide show of 42 images of Edward Austen Knight’s  beautifully restored home: one of my favourite Austen related places to visit.

Go here to see it


Jane Austen appears to have had definite views about schools for girls. From the evidence of the text of Pride and Prejudice she seems to have  detested the expensive town seminaries that educated the likes of the Bingley sisters:

They were in fact very fine ladies; not deficient in good-humour when they were pleased, nor in the power of being agreeable where they chose it, but proud and conceited. They were rather handsome, had been educated in one of the first private seminaries in town, had a fortune of twenty thousand pounds, were in the habit of spending more than they ought, and of associating with people of rank, and were therefore in every respect entitled to think well of themselves, and meanly of others. They were of a respectable family in the north of England; a circumstance more deeply impressed on their memories than that their brother’s fortune and their own had been acquired by trade.

Pride and Prejudice Chapter 4

Here is an advertisement for one such establishment in Chelsea in 1797. Do enlarge it (and all the other illustrations in this post, to examine the detail of all the subjects taught )

However for unpretentious schools like Mrs Goddard’s in Emma, Jane Austen appears to have had more respect and, even, some affection:

Mrs. Goddard was the mistress of a School — not of a seminary, or an establishment, or any thing which professed, in long sentences of refined nonsense, to combine liberal acquirements with elegant morality upon new principles and new systems — and where young ladies for enormous pay might be screwed out of health and into vanity — but a real, honest, old-fashioned Boarding-school, where a reasonable quantity of accomplishments were sold at a reasonable price, and where girls might be sent to be out of the way and scramble themselves into a little education, without any danger of coming back prodigies. Mrs. Goddard’s school was in high repute — and very deservedly; for Highbury was reckoned a particularly healthy spot: she had an ample house and garden, gave the children plenty of wholesome food, let them run about a great deal in the summer, and in winter dressed their chilblains with her own hands. It was no wonder that a train of twenty young couple now walked after her to church. She was a plain, motherly kind of woman, who had worked hard in her youth, and now thought herself entitled to the occasional holiday of a tea-visit; and having formerly owed much to Mr. Woodhouse’s kindness, felt his particular claim on her to leave her neat parlour hung round with fancy-work whenever she could, and win or lose a few sixpences by his fireside.

Emma, Chapter 3

And indeed she may have held that affectionate view, because she personally experienced such a school. For a long time it has been believed that her view of Mrs Goodard’s school was based on her own experiences, in particular the short time  Jane and Cassandra Austen spent at the Reading Ladies Boarding School from July 1785-Decbember 1786.

(The school as it appeared in 1785 when Jane Austen was a student there)

Let’s find out some more about the school and its characters shall we?

Jane Austen and her elder sister Cassandra along with their cousin Jane Cooper had two periods of formal schooling away from home.

The first episode, under the care of Jane Cooper’s aunt Mrs Ann Crawley, took place between April and September 1783,first at Oxford then at Southampton. Mrs Crawley was not noted for her easy manners: she was regarded as a rather stiff  person,and was unfortunate in her unhappy marriage to Ralph Crawley, who left his widow childless and in debt, leaving her to turn to educating young girls as her only source of income.

Mrs Crawley did not in fact run what we would term a school, but in the same manner that the Reverend Austen took in boarders to prepare them for entrance to public school, she  had a similar tutoring arrangement for girls. She charged £30 each for the Austen sisters board lodging and lessons.

Sadly, this episode ended unhappily. The three girl caught typhus. Jane Cooper was near death when her mother discovered  her state of health and Mrs Crawley infamously refused to contact the Austens about their children’s illnesses. Mrs Cooper, outraged  by this intransigence, arranged for Mrs Austen to come to Southampton to remove the children back to Steventon with her. Jane Austen was in fact seriously ill. As a result of  this intervention Mrs Cooper also caught the fever and  died in October 1783.

Jane Cooper’s father , Dr Cooper was inconsolable after his wife death and left his home  in Bath  to return to Henley and Reading area of his  youth. He became rector of Sonning in Berkshire.

(Berkshire by John Cary,circa 1797)

His son  Edward was entered for Eton, and Jane was to be sent  to the Reading Ladies Boarding School. The Coopers spent the  Christmas of 1784 with the Austens at Steventon and here it appears that he decision also to send Cassandra and Jane to that school was taken.

The school was set in the 13th century gatehouse of the ruined Abbey in Reading. It had been founded by  Henry I in 1121

for the salvation of my soul, and the souls of King William my father, and of King William my brother, and Queen Maud, my wife.

King Henry I is buried in the abbey grounds. During the Dissolution of the Monasteries it was destroyed under the orders of Henry VIII. Imagine what a thrill it would have been for the imaginative and impressionable Jane Austen to live in a ruined abbey. No wonder Catherine Morland was so enamoured of them, and no wonder Jane Austen went on soon after her time there to write The History of England ;-)

(Reading Abbey Gatehouse from The Beauties of England and Wales by Brayley and Britton)

The ruins still remain: and the gatehouse has been restored. But the house which you can see in the engraving above- to the left of the gatehouse- was the main part of the school where the majority of the schooling took place when Jane Austen attended .It has since been demolished and it is now a car park.

The school was at that time informally known by the name of its principal, Mrs La Tournelle. She is the  most interesting character and Jane Austen must have noted every detail. Born Esther Hackett in London she re-named herself Sarah as a teenager. She became first an assistant at the school , then principal. Her obituary in The Gentleman’s Magazine in 1797 explained her adoption of her Frenchified surname as follows:

Having early in life been engaged as a French teacher her employers thought it right to introduce her to the school under a foreign name

And thus she became Mrs la Tournelle. She may have come from a theatrical family for the same obituary records that she used to regale pupils with tales of

Plays and play actors and green room anecdotes and the private lives of actors.

Luckily for us Mrs Sherwood ,nee Mary Martha Butt ( 1775-1851) the prolific evangelical children author’s attended the school as a parlour boarder and  left us some details of life there in her autobiography.

This is quoted extensively by William Austen-Leigh and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh in A Family Record (1913) :

Miss Butt, afterwards Mrs. Sherwood, who went to the same school in 1790, says in her Autobiography that Mrs. Latournelle never could speak a word of French; indeed, she describes her as ‘a person of the old school, a stout woman, hardly under seventy, but very active, although she had a cork leg. . . . She was only fit for giving out clothes for the wash, and mending them, making tea, ordering dinner, and in fact doing the work of a housekeeper.’

But in Mrs. Sherwood’s time she had a capable assistant in Madame St. Quentin, an Englishwoman, married to the son of a nobleman in Alsace, who in troubled times had been glad to accept the position of French teacher at Reading Grammar School under Dr. Valpy. Mrs. Sherwood says that the St. Quentins so entirely raised the credit of the seminary that when she went there it contained above sixty pupils. The history of the school did not end with Reading, for the St. Quentins afterwards removed to 22 Hans Place, where they had under their charge Mary Russell Mitford. Still later, after the fall of Napoleon, the St. Quentins moved to Paris, together with Miss Rowden, who had long been the mainstay of the school. It was while the school was here that it received Fanny Kemble among its pupils.

Mrs. Sherwood tells us that the school-house at Reading, ‘or rather the abbey itself, was exceedingly interesting, . . . the ancient building . . . consisted of a gateway with rooms above, and on each side of it a vast staircase, of which the balustrades had originally been gilt. . . . The best part of the house was encompassed by a beautiful, old-fashioned garden, where the young ladies were allowed to wander under tall trees in hot summer evenings.’

Discipline was not severe, for the same lady informs us: ‘The liberty which the first class had was so great that if we attended our tutor in his study for an hour or two every morning . . . no human being ever took the trouble to inquire where else we spent the rest of the day between our meals. Thus, whether we gossiped in one turret or another, whether we lounged about the garden, or out of the window above the gateway, no one so much as said “Where have you been, mademoiselle?”‘

After reading this we are no longer surprised to be told that Cassandra and Jane, together with their cousin, Jane Cooper, were allowed to accept an invitation to dine at an inn with their respective brothers, Edward Austen and Edward Cooper, and some of their young friends.

(see Jane Austen, Her Life and Letters: A Family Record by W A Austen Leigh and R A Austen Leigh pp26-28)

Tony Corley in his very interesting article about the school in the Jane Austen Society’s Report of 1996 has been able to discover more interesting and tantalizing detail about the school. There was a uniform of

A dark dress (bell skirted for the juniors) protected by a pinafore and topped by a plain cap of Norwich quilt with narrow pleating round the edge-shaped to fit the head tightly. For best, caps were of coloured silk or satin decorated with flowers or ribbon.

The teaching was mostly undertaken by one Miss Pitts. She was at the time Jane Austen was at the school in her twenties and an orphan, having been sent to the school as a parlor boarder. She graduated to teaching and eventually became a partner in the school. Mrs Sherwood tells us that

Her complexion was bright  brown and red carmine, her eyes bright her nose not bad and her teeth white. She had fine dark hair and a beautiful hand and arm.

She danced with great gusto and was

really the most hospitable generous affectionate of human beings.

She married in 1789 Monsieur St Quentin, a former diplomat from Alcaes, escaping from the French revolution. He was a good teacher at the school but sadly was addicted to gambling and in 1794 the school had to be sold in order to pay his debts. A notice of the auction of the sale of the fixtures and fitting of the school  as it appeared in the Reading Mercury on the 3rd March 1794 is fascinating, for it lists all the equipment and furniture to be found at the school, most probably as it was when Jane Austen attended the school:

Once the debts were paid there were some funds remaining, and Monsieur Quentin moved to Hans Place in London to establish a new school ( where most  interestingly he  taught the writer, Mary Russell Mitford.)

The dreadfully harsh winter of 1785 did for Jane and Cassandra’s school careers. The appallingly bad, prolonged  and cold weather affected The Reverend  Austen’s income for he depended upon the sale of produce obtained from farming the  glebe lands in Steventon for most of his income. Hay, turnips and straw became scarce and expensive, and any animals on the farm due to be overwintered and sent to market in the spring  could not be properly fattened for sale, thus reducing any sale price. This combined with a good wheat harvest in 1785-which accordingly brought the price of wheat down, reduced his income considerably. As a result Mr Austen was in some financial difficulty and retrenching took place.  Jane and Cassandra left the school mid December 1786. And that was the end of their formal education.

Jane Austen seems to have retained affectionate memories of the school remembering , in her letter to Cassandra of 1st September 1796

I could have died of laughing at [your letter-jfw] as they used to say at school’

She clearly remembers in Northanger Abbey the fashion for changing one’s name as a teenager as Mrs la Tournelle had done:

Sally, or rather Sarah (for what young lady of common gentility will reach the age of sixteen without altering her name as far as she can?), must from situation be at this time the intimate friend and confidante of her sister

Northanger Abbey, Chapter 2

Ditto the ruined Abbey- a favourite of Gilpin,  and artists in the 18th century, must have been wonderful for her to live amongst. And I really do feel sure that her description of Mrs Goddards school in Highbury is her affectionate tribute to her last and really only experience of a real school.

Mr. Martin, I suppose, is not a man of information beyond the line of his own business. He does not read?”

“Oh, yes! that is, no — I do not know — but I believe he has read a good deal — but not what you would think any thing of. He reads the Agricultural Reports and some other books, that lay in one of the window seats — but he reads all them to himself. But sometimes of an evening, before we went to cards, he would read something aloud out of the Elegant Extracts — very entertaining. And I know he had read the Vicar of Wakefield. He never read the Romance of the Forest, nor the Children of the Abbey. He had never heard of such books before I mentioned them, but he is determined to get them now as soon as ever he can.”

Emma, Chapter 4

(As ever,  do remember  that all the illustrations in this post can be enlarge merely by clicking on them)

The Elegant Extracts are virtually unknown today, but they provide a little clue to our understanding of the character of Robert Martin. To understand what that tiny reference to his reading habits reveals is important for anyone reading Emma today..

These books, Elegant Extracts of Prose and the companion anthology, Elegant Extracts of Verse, were collated by Vicesimus Knox.

He became the Headmaster of Tonbridge School in Kent and was famous for his liberal, enlightened views on education which were influenced by the teachings of John Locke.

George Austen, Jane Austen’s father ,was educated at this school, though he attended the school long before Knox was headmaster there.  It is clear however that they seem to have shared the same enlightened view of the education of children of both sexes.

Knox promoted the reading of fiction as a means of exercising the imagination and encouraging critical and creative thought. His book Liberal Education(1781) has some interesting points to make about education, and he was particularly scathing about the shortcomings of the state of university education in the late 18th century. He also has some interesting points to make on female education-a subject that  was dear to Jane Austen’s heart He disapproved of limiting a girls education to domestic concerns. He thought the female

mind is certainly as capable of improvement, as that of the other sex

And as mother, women were largely responsible (with the dishonourable exception of Mrs. Bennet) for the education of their children, it would be better for them to be well educated in a rounded manner and to be well read:

A sensible and well-educated mother is, in every respect, best qualified to instruct a child till he can read well enough to enter on the Latin grammar. I have indeed always found those boys the best readers, on their entrance on Latin, who have been prepared by a careful and accomplished mother.

He had attended St John’s College,Oxford from 1771 –1778 and seems to disapproved of the somewhat immoral regime there. He asserted in his book, that to send a son to either university without the safeguard of a private tutor would probably

“make shipwreck of his learning, his morals, his health and his fortune”.

He suggested reforms to the university system in his pamphlet A Letter to Lord North, which Knox addressed to the Oxford Chancellor in 1789. This pamphlet suggested the intervention of Parliament in the situation at the colleges, and advocated  stricter discipline, reducing students reliance on personal servants, the strengthening of the collegiate system, an increase in the number of college tutors, the cost of which could be met by doubling tuition fees and abolishing “useless” professors. College tutors were to exercise a parental control over their pupils, and professors not of the “useless” order were to lecture thrice weekly in every term, or resign.

In all, he sounds rather like the type of teacher of whom George Austen would have approved.  Jane Austen certainly possessed a copy of the Extracts for in 1801 she gave them to her nice Anna. (See : A Bibliography of Jane Austen by David Gilson, page 433)

Moreover, her comic poem “I’ve a pain in my head” (which was written as an account of her visit to Mr Newnham an apothecary, a relation of one of her brother Edward’s tenants in Chawton), parodied a poem entitled “The Doctor and the Patient” which is to be found in the Epigram Section of Volume IV of The Elegant Extracts in Verse:

‘I’ve a pain in my head’

Said the suffering Beckford;

To her Doctor so dread.

‘Oh! what shall I take for’t?’

Said this Doctor so dread

Whose name it was Newnham.

‘For this pain in your head

Ah! What can you do Ma’am?’

Said Miss Beckford, ‘Suppose

If you think there’s no risk,

I take a good Dose

Of calomel brisk.’–

‘What a praise worthy Notion.’

Replied Mr. Newnham.

‘You shall have such a potion

And so will I too Ma’am.’

(See The Poetry of Jane Austen and the Austen Family edited by David Selwyn, page 83)

The prose volumes were comprehensive collections of letters, orations, essays from publications such as the Rambler, Spectator and the Idler and also contain extracts from works by leading modern authors such as Gilpin , Swift, Hugh Blair, French philosophers such as Voltaire and classical authors such as Pliny.

The verse volumes were made up of the verses of famous writers  of the time,-Thompson and Cowper, extracts from Shakespeare, Spencer, Johnson, Milton, Gay, poems ,ballads, epigrams, and prologues and epilogues spoken at the playhouses.

(Do note some poor scholar split his ink on my copy, above)

The books were used a standard texts in schools for years: indeed, this was the use for which Knox explicitly intended his books, for he believed in the reading of fiction as a means of exercising the imagination and critical and creative thought. As he wrote in his preface to the Verse volumes, the books

“are calculated for classical schools, and for those in which English only is taught”.

The extracts

may be usefully read at the grammar schools, by explaining everything grammatically, historically, metrically and critically, and then giving a portion to be learned by memory’

In 1810 Wordsworth wrote that Elegant Extracts in Verse

is circulated everywhere and in fact constitutes at this day the poetical library of our Schools’.

By the mid 19th century however, their popularity had waned. In 1843 Robert Chambers, introducing his own Cyclopaedia of English Literature asserted that it will take the place of Knox’s Extracts which,

‘after long enjoying popularity as a selection of polite literature for youths between school and college’ has now ‘sunk out of notice’.

Vicesimus Knox’s anthologies were both expensive and popular: Elegant Extracts in Prose (1783), and Elegant Extracts in Verse (c. 1780) had each at least 15 editions, and a third collection  Elegant Epistles (1790) had at least 10.

Each volume was issued in an abridged form, but these were only published in one or two editions.The unabridged volumes had each about 1000 pages and sold for five guineas the set of two volumes- one prose, one verse- which was a very considerable amount of money in the late 18th /early 19th century.

So what does this tell us about Robert Martin who reads these books? It show us that as a family  the Martins were not  afraid to spend money-and in quite considerable amounts- on good and improving literature. That he is, I think , certainly better read than Harriet, brought up on a limited diet of Mrs Radcliff’s sensational novels, and quite possibly, better read than Emma, whose reading lists  were impressive but really do not constitute  any real proof of accomplishment  and improvement .  Incidentally in Chapter 9, her limited knowledge of the Extracts is confirmed  when Emma and Harriet are organising their great  literary endeavour of collecting riddles. Her bold statement that her father’s rather risqué contribution was

“Copied from the Elegant Extracts”

proves her ignorance: it was never  a part of that  sensible and earnest anthology:

Kitty, a fair but frozen maid,

Kindled a flame I yet deplore,

The hood-wink’d boy I called to aid,

Though of his near approach afraid,

So fatal to my suit before.

And that is all that I can recollect of it; but it is very clever all the way through. But I think, my dear, you said you had got it.”

“Yes, papa, it is written out in our second page. We copied it from the Elegant Extracts. It was Garrick’s, you know.”

It is quite ironic that the girl who can make fine reading lists but never completes them, and has clearly never read such an improving set of volumes of the Elegant Extracts( though it would appear from her casual statement  that there is a set in the Hartfield Library) can so easily dismiss a man who even though he reads only extracts of works, is probably,as a result,  much better read than herself.

Jane Austen certainly approved The Extracts and of Robert Martin and his  well founded and self-sacrificing  attempts at self-improvement. No wonder he could write well in his letter of proposal to Harriet, a fact that so surprised Emma

She read, and was surprized. The style of the letter was much above her expectation. There were not merely no grammatical errors, but as a composition it would not have disgraced a gentleman; the language, though plain, was strong and unaffected, and the sentiments it conveyed very much to the credit of the writer. It was short, but expressed good sense, warm attachment, liberality, propriety, even delicacy of feeling.

Emma , Chapter 7

I think it is interesting that Jane Austen provides a little insight into Robert Martin ‘s true worth simply by letting us know that he purchased and read such books as these.

What does it mean when Jane Austen tells us that when Mr Elton dined at the Coles, they ate some cheese? Was it at all special? Why did he mention the type of cheese by name? And what did that say about Mr Elton(boo, hiss):

Mr. Elton was still talking, still engaged in some interesting detail; and Emma experienced some disappointment when she found that he was only giving his fair companion an account of the yesterday’s party at his friend Cole’s, and that she was come in herself for the Stilton cheese, the north Wiltshire, the butter, the cellery, the beet-root and all the dessert.

Emma, Chapter 10

Let’s take a look at the individual cheeses mentioned, shall we?.

First, Stilton.

This is a very traditional English cheese. It is a blue veined cheese made from full cream milk, forming its own crust or coat, made in a tall, cylindrical form.

The main outlet for the sale of this cheese was The Bell Inn ,a coaching inn on the Great North Road( which was the main route in Jane Austen’s era from London to York).

The Inn was  situate in the village of Stilton in Huntingdonshire. The inn is still in existence but due to modern country boundary changes it is now in Cambridgeshire. I can highly recommend a visit ;-)

The man who popularised it, was Cooper Thornhill, the inn’s landlord during the mid-1700s. It was thought that the cheese was first made by Thornhill’s sister-in-law, a housekeeper in Quenby, Leicestershire. But recent research has discovered that it was also made in the village of Stilton itself. This has led to some uproar in the rather strange world of Certification Trade Marks and EU Protected Designation of Origins (PDO’s) but that does not concern us here ;-)

Mites and all, he served it at the Bell and it was thus named after the village.Mites…and maggots. Yes, indeed. Those who have cast iron stomachs… do read on.  The following  extract about Stilton is from Daniel Defoe’s s Tour Through The Whole Island of Great Britain (1724-27):

Silton is a town famous for its cheese which is called our English Parmesan and is brought to the table with the mites and maggots around it, so thick that they bring a spoon with them for you to eat the mites with, as you do the cheese

It became very popular with hunters( the area around Stilton is known for its fox-hunting associations, with many a famous pack established there) and travellers  going to and from town(London) on the Great North Road. And through the influence of this aristocratic patronage, was sold as a delicacy in London in the late 18th/early 19th centuries.

Because it was made only at Stilton, the cheese had to be transported around the country to be enjoyed, and this accordingly  made it quite expensive. The Coles therefore were serving a delicacy ,and also one that had travelled a good distance to reach their dining table at Highbury in Surrey.

On to North Wiltshire Cheese.

North Wiltshire was famous from the 16th century for its production of cheese which was made on the dairy farms in the northern part of the county. Chippenham, Warminster and Swindon had famous markets which sold only cheese, to both locals and travelling merchants.

The north-western district of Wiltshire is particularly famous for its cheese, formerly sold under the name of Gloucetser, but now in sufficient esteem to be distinguished under its own name. Cattle are likewise fattened in these parts; and great numbers of swine are reared.

(See: England Described etc (1818) by John Aitkin )

The cheese was of excellent quality and in part this was attributed to the particular method of dairying in Wiltshire which allowed for consistency in temperature and method. At this time, the 18th century, the milk of Long-horn cattle was used; these have long since been replaced by modern dairy breeds, but in Jane Austen’s era Wiltshire cheeses were known for their  intense flavour and density.

Small cheeses, known as Wiltshire Loaves, and larger ones, similar in size to Gloucesters, are both recorded as existing. These were much more expensive than the conventional flat circular farmhouse cheese. At this time ( the end of the 18th century) Wiltshire cheese sold for 45-50 shillings a hundredweight ,as opposed to 27-28 shillings per hundredweight for the normal flat farmhouse cheese.

(Flat cheese awaiting transport: from W H Pyne’s Microcosm or a Picturesque Delineation of the Arts, Argicultures etc(1802-7)

The difference in prices reflected the way in which the cheese was made. The cheese took longer to mature than normal owing to its density, thereby causing valuable extra loft space to be taken up while the ripening cheese was stored.

As with Stilton , this cheese had to be transported from its locality in the West of England to Highbury in Surrey for the Coles to enjoy it, and this would have added to its expense.

So : no wonder Mr Elton mentioned that he had been served with both these cheeses.

The Coles were living in a rather exalted middle class fashion.They did not serve locally made farmhouse cheeses when they entertained,but bought expensive  cheese. Emma ., silly little madam that she is(I can say this with affection for she is my favourite of all Jane Austen heroines!)fails I think to spot that the Coles( whom she considers unworthy of her attention) really are coming up in the world, and their consumption of elite luxuries- like regional cheese from different counties to their own and new piano(even if it is uncertain there is anyone in the Coles household who can play the instrument!)- are good indicators of this :

“I declare, I do not know when I have heard any thing that has given me more satisfaction! It always has quite hurt me that Jane Fairfax, who plays so delightfully, should not have an instrument. It seemed quite a shame, especially considering how many houses there are where fine instruments are absolutely thrown away. This is like giving ourselves a slap, to be sure! and it was but yesterday I was telling Mr. Cole, I really was ashamed to look at our new grand pianoforté in the drawing-room, while I do not know one note from another, and our little girls, who are but just beginning, perhaps may never make any thing of it; and there is poor Jane Fairfax, who is mistress of music, has not any thing of the nature of an instrument, not even the pitifullest old spinnet in the world, to amuse herself with. I was saying this to Mr. Cole but yesterday, and he quite agreed with me; only he is so particularly fond of music that he could not help indulging himself in the purchase, hoping that some of our good neighbours might be so obliging occasionally to put it to a better use than we can; and that really is the reason why the instrument was bought — or else I am sure we ought to be ashamed of it. We are in great hopes that Miss Woodhouse may be prevailed with to try it this evening.”

Emma,Chapter 26

Certainly their table is spread with some of the finest produce, if the cheese they serve is an indication.

Emma ought to be careful,in my very humble opinion. Her  tiny little world, which consists of her family and Mr Woodhouse’s favoured companions, is not really wide enough for her to appreciate that the society in Highbury is on the move. Silly blinkered girl.

And what does this all say about Mr Elton: that he is keen on good cheese? Perhaps. But I think Jane Austen meant us to realise that it demonstrates more  probably,that he is easily impressed with show and display. And he likes a rich lifestyle as  demonstrated by the Coles who can put on a rather good display of expensive food due to their new-made wealth.Faced with the luxuries the rich can command, he is in rapture.

Qutie the little materialistic snob, isn’t he? (Boos, hiss)

Poor deluded, sentimental Harriet Smith: preserving precious treasures, made into  sacred relicts, simply because they were  once touched by the hand of her “beloved”

She held the parcel towards her, and Emma read the words Most precious treasures on the top. Her curiosity was greatly excited. Harriet unfolded the parcel, and she looked on with impatience. Within abundance of silver paper was a pretty little Tunbridge-ware box, which Harriet opened: it was well lined with the softest cotton; but, excepting the cotton, Emma saw only a small piece of court plaister.

“Now,” said Harriet, “you must recollect,”

“No, indeed I do not.”

“Dear me! I should not have thought it possible you could forget what passed in this very room about court plaister, one of the very last times we ever met in it! It was but a very few days before I had my sore throat — just before Mr. and Mrs. John Knightley came; I think the very evening. Do not you remember his cutting his finger with your new penknife, and your recommending court plaister? But as you had none about you, and knew I had, you desired me to supply him; and so I took mine out and cut him a piece; but it was a great deal too large, and he cut it smaller, and kept playing some time with what was left, before he gave it back to me. And so then, in my nonsense, I could not help making a treasure of it; so I put it by never to be used, and looked at it now and then as a great treat.”

“My dearest Harriet!” cried Emma, putting her hand before her face, and jumping up, “you make me more ashamed of myself than I can bear. Remember it? Aye, I remember it all now; all, except your saving this relick: I knew nothing of that till this moment — but the cutting the finger, and my recommending court plaister, and saying I had none about me! Oh! my sins, my sins! And I had plenty all the while in my pocket! One of my senseless tricks! I deserve to be under a continual blush all the rest of my life. Well” (sitting down again) “go on: what else?”

“And had you really some at hand yourself? I am sure I never suspected it, you did it so naturally.”

“And so you actually put this piece of court plaister by for his sake!” said Emma, recovering from her state of shame and feeling divided between wonder and amusement. And secretly she added to herself, “Lord bless me! when should I ever have thought of putting by in cotton a piece of court plaister that Frank Churchill had been pulling about! I never was equal to this.”

Emma, Chapter 40

But what exactly was court plaister? I confess I’ve always been intrigued by this and when I saw a small packet of it years ago in a display of 18th century life at the Mozart Gebursthaus Museum in Salzburg I’ve longed for my own pretty pink packet of the stuff!

It was in fact an early form of  sticking plaster, made from small pieces of silk, coated with a substance which became sticky when wetted  and would have been used just as we do Band Aids today to protect a small cut: the sort of cut you could easily get from a penknife as Mr Elton did.

It could be brought commercially; apothecaries sold it. Here is an advertisement  for court plaister ( among other interesting items ) from the newspaper, The Cumberland Packet, dated April 22nd 1777:

Court plaister, 6d and 1s. KENNEDY’s Corn Plaister ** Issue Plaisters which stick without **isting, 1s the box.  Orange turned Peas for Issues, 4s per hundred.  The Original DR. GODFREY’s Cordial, for Children &c. 6d.

And here is a link to the apothecary’s shop at Colonial Williamsburg: among the items listed for sale in this 1774 advert form that site is court plasiter :

“Anchovies, Capers, Allspice, Pepper, Ginger, Best Sallad and Barbers Oil, Durham Mustard, Sago, Salop, Saltpetre, Cloves, Cinnamon, Nutmegs, Honey, Lavender, and Orange Flower Waters, Anodyne Necklaces, Court Plaister, White and Brown Sugar Candy, Barley Sugar, Candied almonds, Carraway Comfits, Orange Chips, Prunes, Essential Salt of Lemons, which make good Punch, and takes all Kinds of Stains and Spots out of Linen, &c. Anderson’s, Lockyer’s, and Keyser’s Pills, Eau de Luce, Hill’s Balsam of Honey, Do. Tinctures of Valerian, Golden Rod, Elixir Bardana, and Essence of Water Dock, Turlington’s Balsam, Godfrey’s and Freeman’s Cordials, James’s Fever Powders, Bateman’s and Jesuit’s Drops, British Oil, Stoughton’s Bitters, Blackrie’s Lixivium for the Stone and Gravel, Squire’s and Daffey’s Elixirs, Dickenson’s Drops for Convulsion Fits, Copperas, Logwood, Borax, Birdlime, Red and White Lead, Verdigrise, Prussian Blue, French and Pearl Barley, Breast Pipes, Nipple Glasses, Urinals, Smelling Bottles, Tooth Brushes, Antimony, Brimstone, Spelter, Zink, Rotten Stone, Pewter, Syringes, Lancets, Crucibles, Black Lead Pots, Pill Boxes, Vials, Gallipots, Glister Pipes, &c.”

But it could be made at home.

Here is a recipe for court plaister from The New Family Receipt Book.

This was published in  1810 by Jane Austen’s publisher John Murray. It was meant as a companion piece to our friend, Mrs Rundells’s New System of Domestic Cookery. Some people think she was also the author of this work: comparing the styles of the two books, I’m not so sure.

The New Family Receipt-Book offered  comprehensive practical advice on a mind boggling range of subjects all relating to domestic economy; they  included brewing-how  to prevent beer from going flat-, building-how to preserve churches from dilapidation-, food, clothes, perfumes, rats and the destruction of vermin, drowning-method of recovering persons apparently drowned as recommend by the Humane Society-, remedies for various ailments and illnesses, horticulture, agriculture –how to prevent haystacks taking fire–  angling-to prevent taking cold from angling-,  the care  of books-how to remove grease from the leaves of books and, possibly my favourite:

Rules for collecting curiosities on sea voyages...

This was another success for John Murray and he published further editions in 1815, 1818, 1820, 1824, and 1837. This is the 1815 edition.

Making court plaister,as you can see, is not particularly complicated but the right ingredients have to be obtained. Isinglass is the interesting one : isinglass is a substance obtained from the dried swim bladders of fish. Chemically it is a form of collagen. Today it is used mainly for the clarification of wine and beer.

Isinglass was originally made exclusively from sturgeon, especially Beluga sturgeon, hence its name Russian Isinglass. However in  1795 William Murdoch, the Scottish engineer and inventor and member of the Lunar Society in Birmingham,  created a cheap substitute using the swim bladders of cod . This was extensively used in Britain in place of Russian isinglass as it was cheaper. Here is a photograph of  some isinglass:

The bladders, once removed from the fish, processed and dried, are ready to be used to make your court plasiter. Today you can if you want to recreate   the plaister, obtain isinglass from  specialist art dealers , like Cornelisson in London

…which is where this packet  was purchased.

We used them as a setting agent in  making jellies on Ivan Day’s Regency Food course. Whether the jelly was as delicious it looked I leave it to yourself to determine….

Back to court plasiter.

On a slight detour from Harrriet’s relicts, you may be interested to know that in the 18th century court plasiter had a far more decorative alternative use: it was used to make patches to be worn cosmetically, to hide a spot, to improve one’s appearance or even to indicate one’s political affiliations (Whigs wore them on the left of their faces, Tories wore them on the right..or  so is it is believed.)

Patches were kept in small boxes  complete with looking glasses in the lids , to facilitate  the wearer attaching them to that all important “correct’ spot.

So there you are: that tiny piece of discard court plasiter is all poor old Harriet had to “remember” her unrequited “love” for Mr Elton (to whom we say boo, hiss)

It would be akin today to someone keeping the slivers of protective plastic  that cover the sterile surface of a band aid.

No wonder Emma is amused/horrified.

“Ah! poor Miss Taylor. She would be very glad to stay.” There was no recovering Miss Taylor — nor much likelihood of ceasing to pity her: but a few weeks brought some alleviation to Mr. Woodhouse. The compliments of his neighbours were over; he was no longer teased by being wished joy of so sorrowful an event; and the wedding-cake, which had been a great distress to him, was all eat up. His own stomach could bear nothing rich, and he could never believe other people to be different from himself. What was unwholesome to him, he regarded as unfit for any body; and he had, therefore, earnestly tried to dissuade them from having any wedding-cake at all, and when that proved vain, as earnestly tried to prevent any body’s eating it. He had been at the pains of consulting Mr. Perry, the apothecary, on the subject. Mr. Perry was an intelligent, gentlemanlike man, whose frequent visits were one of the comforts of Mr. Woodhouse’s life; and, upon being applied to, he could not but acknowledge, (though it seemed rather against the bias of inclination,) that wedding-cake might certainly disagree with many — perhaps with most people, unless taken moderately. With such an opinion, in confirmation of his own, Mr. Woodhouse hoped to influence every visitor of the new-married pair; but still the cake was eaten; and there was no rest for his benevolent nerves till it was all gone.

Emma, Chapter 1

From the  beginning of this novel we are thrown amid the turmoil weddings can cause. Mr Woodhouse’s antipathy towards matrimony is admirably displayed in his attitude towards the consumption of the most important part of a wedding breakfast-the wedding cake. Poor Mr Woodhouse-so distressed by the mere sight of it.

What would Poor Miss Taylor’s Wedding cake have been like? Let’s see shall we?

Wedding Pies-fruit loaves encased in pastry or elaborate marchpanes made of marzipan- were served at weddings throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, and the tradition of a bride pie containing a glass ring, survived in Scotland well into the early 19th century. The idea of the glass ring was very similar to the bean found in the old Twelfth Night Cake- and it would be used give an indication not of the King for the night but of the next person to be married. Whosoever found it was the chosen one …

However from the mid 18th century a new style of confection arrived on the scene : The Bride Cake, which began to be known  around 1800 as a Wedding Cake.

The earliest printed recipe for a bride cake that we know of was created by that extraordinary woman, Elizabeth Raffald.

Elizabeth Raffald was an entrepreneur supreme.

She was born Elizabeth Whittaker, in Doncaster, Yorkshire in 1733, and worked as a housekeeper to several families, the last of which were the Warburton’s of Arley Hall in Cheshire. This was where she met and married their gardener, John Raffald.

It would appear that on their marriage in 1763 both their employments with the family were terminated ( a not uncommon situation) and the newly -weds  moved to Manchester, where Elizabeth kept a confectioner’s and perfumer’s shop while her husband ran a market stall selling vegetables, for as his family were the possessors of many market gardens in the area, they  could keep him supplied with his stock in trade.

Together they eventually took over the running of inns; first,  The Bull’s Head Inn in the Market Place in Manchester , and then the King’s Head Inn in Salford, complete with a 40 foot long assembly room. This was where Elizabeth honed her culinary skills which had been learned while she was in service : her she ran a cookery school where she undertook the  training of young ladies, and where she began collecting and inventing recipes and eventually publishing her book “The Experienced English Housekeeper” , which was  dedicated to her old employer, Lady Warburton( a smart commercial move)

(Do remember-all the recipes, images etc in this post can be enlarged simply by clicking on them)

It was an instant success, reprinted many times, and though it was much copied –as we shall see below- it made her a wealthy woman.

She also opened, again in Manchester, the first Registry for Servants, and compiled two editions of her influential and successful “Directory of Manchester”

She also  wrote another book on midwifery.

Sadly , her husband  developed a drinking problem and  despite all her hard work and success, he ran up heavy debts.

She was in the process of preparing a third edition of her  Directory to  begin to replay these debts when in April 19th 1781 she suddenly died of a “spasm”, which in our understanding probably means she suffered a stroke.  She was buried at Stockport Parish Church.

In her book The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769) she gave this account of how to cook cakes in general- do note her interesting remarks about wooden garths or hoops being preferable to tin ones:

She then gives her recipe for what eventually translated into the type of wedding cake eaten at most wedding in England for the past  250 years( though the fashion has changed somewhat recently);

The cake she recommended is then covered in a layer of marzipan, -possibly a hark back to the age of the marchpanes of the 16th and 17th centuries, which were made of marzipan , cooked in an oven briefly to dry and them gilded with designs and conceits and because of their association with wedding feast , the marzipan became  known a “ love” or a  “matrimony”.


She then recommends that on top of the marzipan layer, icing –basically what we now know as Royal Icing- is spread over the marzipan covered cake :

Elizabeth Raffald’s recipe for  her Bride Cake marked a departure from the  old Bride Pies which were basically dough cakes made with fruit and  risen with yeast. Though she used dried fruits( though not as much as in modern recipes) her cake  eschews years and  has eggs as its raising agent.

These great cake were certainly the ones Jane Austen referred to in Chapter 1 of Emma. William Henderson in his recipe book, The Housekeepers Instructor or New Universal Cook,  of 1806

gave this recipe, which was you can see is virtually identical to Mrs Raffald’s.

His only departure from her text to is give more detailed cooking instructions-send it to a moderate oven– probably due to the advances in cast iron range ovens that were available to him and other cooks of the period.

Would the cake have been plain or was it decorated? Debate still rages in the historical food world on this point, but  some evidence from good old Parson Woodforde  throws some light on this vexed question.

James Woodforde was  a not very remarkable Anglican  parson, living in Norfolk in his parish of Weston Longeville but his magical legacy to us is his  detailed dairy of his life ,habits, travels and food which he  compiled for  over 45 years. This is what he has to say about  wedding- cakes:

June 1st 1795.

..Mr Custance brought us the Morn’ two Maccarel. Dinner to day, Maccarel & Shoulder of Veal. Mr and Mrs Bodham sent over to enquire after us this Morning from Mattishll-Want to see us. Mr Custance sent us this Evening a large piece of a fine Wedding Cake sent from London to Mr C on the marriage of Miss Durrant (Daughter of  Lady Durrant) and Captain Swinfen of Swinfen Hall in the County of Stafford, eldest Son of____Swinfen esq. Very curious devices on the Top of the Cake

(See Dairy of A Country Parson Edited by John Beresford, Volume IV pp200-201.)

Ivan Day in his chapter Bride Cup and Cake in Food and the Rite of Passage edited by Laura Mason, points out that Mrs Frazer,  confectioner of Edinburgh, gives details of how to  decorate a Plumb Cake with  such devices, in her book:

(I do apologise for the rather tatty appearance of this frontispice_the rest of the books is perfect, but the frontispiece is in a dreadful condition).

Ivan therefore concludes that a Bride cake might well have  looked like a pale version of a great decorated 12th night cake, decorated with pastillage  decorations, formed by using  boxwood moulds as we saw in our post in Twelfth Cakes, here.

(Here is my view of our Twelfth night Cake suitably  manipulated to look white-well, white-ish)

And it was most probably white, though late in the 1820s there was some indication- notably by “Mistress Margaret Meg Dods”-

that the bride cake could also be pink,  just like the recipes given for Twelfth Night Cakes  by John Mollond and Duncan MacDonald.

The Victorians changed all that and great fruit cakes, covered with marzipan and white royal icing and icing decoration became the norm for weddings in England until very recently.

I find it fascinating to see how the tradition of the Bride/Wedding cake and the Twelfth Night Cake morphed together: and of course given the difficulty and expense of making pastillage decoration it is no surprise that the making of a wedding cake eventually became  the sole preserve of professional confectioners.

So the you have it, Miss Taylors Wedding cake, a thing not dissimilar to the one I had at my wedding  20+years ago.

With its richness, no wonder Mr Woodhouse was concerned. But thank goodness for the good sense of Mr Perry, which reigned supreme ;-)

There was a strange rumour in Highbury of all the little Perrys being seen with a slice of Mrs. Weston’s wedding-cake in their hands: but Mr. Woodhouse would never believe it.

Emma, Chapter 1

(Box Hill from Brayley and Britton’s Beauties of England and Wales, circa 1811)

To coincide with the airing on PBS Masterpiece in the US of the new BBC  production of Emma adapted by Sandy Welch and starring Romola Garai and Johnny Miller, which I understand takes place on 24th January, my promised season of Emma posts begins on Wednesday.

So, if you would like to learn more about Emma’s world, more about Mr Knightley -his horses,his estate, his role as  a magistrate and his dancing, more about the Martins and why they were such a good catch for Harriet, the food in Emma-cheese and (Shh !Don’t tell Mr Woodhouse) Bride Cake etc., etc., etc., – then please do turn up and join in.

I do hope you will all enjoy it. Emma is probably my favourite Austen novel, and so please do join me here to delve into the intimacies of  life in Highbury, Donwell and Hartfield.

Paul Sandby was the English watercolourist supreme of the late 18th/ early 19th century. A recent exhibition of his works, held to celebrate the bicentenary of his death has been held at his birthplace, Nottingham, and this will soon transfer to the Royal Academy in London, where it will be on show from 13th March to the 13th June. The catalogue of the exhibition  however has been made available as a hardback book, edited by  John Bonhill and Stephen Daniels, the research for which was conducted with the help of generous aid and support from the Paul Mellon Centre for the studies of British Art . It is full of marvellous images of late 18th/ early19th century England, many of which have great relevance to incidents/references  in Jane Austen’s novels , not least his depiction of ruined abbeys

and ancient castles which would set Catherine Morland’s heart a-beating, and  views of army encampments fit enough to enrapture the hearts of Lydia, Kitty and even Mary Bennet.

(Note: Please do enlarge all the illustrations in this post by clicking on them: the wait while they load will replay dividends!)

Paul Sandby and his fellow artist and elder brother, Thomas began their careers apprenticed to the Nottingham surveyor Thomas Peat. After this Thomas Sandby was engaged as a military draughtsman in the Tower of London. In 1747 Paul Sandby submitted specimens of his work to the Board of Ordinance and after the establishment of the military survey in Scotland in September 1747 he was appointed draughtsman to the survey. This was of course a time when the ability to draw,  survey accurately and to make maps was an essential skill of the military. No satellite scans or photographs were available to make surveying the land an easy task.

Paul Sandby, as a member of this survey,  was ordered to make maps of the Scottish highlands as part of the Hanoverian campaign to restore peace in Scotland after the Jacobite rising of 1745. Sandby worked for the survey for four years producing  not only excellent maps

and surveys of buildings

but also landscape drawing and figurative studies which are now of great interest to us for the details of everyday life they reveal. For example, just look at the detail captured in this scene of a hanging of a soldier John Young, whose offence was to forge banknotes, taken in Edinburgh in 1751.

Sandby returned to live in London in and then for some years he lived in Windsor with his brother Thomas and his family. During this time he made many studies of Windsor Castle , immortalizing it as it appeared when it was the home of George III and his family and before George IV and is architect, Jeffrey Wyatville  remodelled it in the 1820s, into the show castle/palace we can still visit today. In Sandby’s sketches and watercolours of Windsor we see it as would have Mr Churchill  –Franks Churchill’s “adoptive” father in Emma- when he lived in Windsor, just after Mrs Churchill’s decease.

The majority of Sandby’s Windsor watercolours were collected by Sir Joseph Banks but the Prince of Wales was also fact an admirer of Sandby and collected some of his pictures. This is one from the Royal Collection, of the Duke of Cumberland ‘s page:

That he was a favourite of the Prince of Wales would not had endeared him to Jane Austen. But we will simply have to overlook that ;-) His works are  breathtakingly beautiful- and I love to examine them closely for the intimacy of life in that era that they reveal. The studies of women working in kitchen and laundries are among some of my favourites. This is one, again from the Royal Collection, of a cook making a pie.

I love to discern the detail of her surroundings.

Here is his picture of Turkey Mill and Vinters the home of Susannah Whatman, (whom we met along with her husband, last week in our first Housekeepers post, ) which I’m sure you will agree is exquisite.

Paul Sanby was also an acclaimed drawing master and was patronised by some of the most influential men of the era.  As the article about him in the Oxford Dicitonary of National Biography by Luke Herrmann records:

From early in his career Sandby was also busy as a drawing master, counting several of his patrons, such as Lord Harcourt and Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, among his pupils. In 1768 he was appointed chief drawing master at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, at a salary of £150 per annum, a post that he retained until his retirement in 1796, and when there he lived in lodgings at Old Charlton in Kent. Officers in the Royal Artillery and the engineers were trained at Woolwich, and Sandby was able to introduce a wide range of the sons of the aristocracy and gentry to the practice and appreciation of landscape drawing. Through some of his Woolwich pupils Sandby’s influence spread as far afield as Canada.

The pictures of army encampments contained in this book are fascinating. This picture shows a detail of his record of the encampment in St James Park in – you can see the  towers of Westminster Abbey clearly visible across the park.

This aquatint dates from the  time of the anti-Catholic  Gordon Riots in 1780 ,when rioting, which began in St Georges Field on the south bank of the Thames  wreaked havoc across the capital, and  was so memorable that when nearly 20 years later Jane Austen  was writing Northanger Abbey , the very mention of rioting in London was enough to strike horror into the tender heart of Eleanor Tilney:

“Miss Morland, do not mind what he says; but have the goodness to satisfy me as to this dreadful riot.”

“Riot! What riot?”

“My dear Eleanor, the riot is only in your own brain. The confusion there is scandalous. Miss Morland has been talking of nothing more dreadful than a new publication which is shortly to come out, in three duodecimo volumes, two hundred and seventy–six pages in each, with a frontispiece to the first, of two tombstones and a lantern — do you understand? And you, Miss Morland — my stupid sister has mistaken all your clearest expressions. You talked of expected horrors in London — and instead of instantly conceiving, as any rational creature would have done, that such words could relate only to a circulating library, she immediately pictured to herself a mob of three thousand men assembling in St. George’s Fields, the Bank attacked, the Tower threatened, the streets of London flowing with blood, a detachment of the Twelfth Light Dragoons (the hopes of the nation) called up from Northampton to quell the insurgents, and the gallant Captain Frederick Tilney, in the moment of charging at the head of his troop, knocked off his horse by a brickbat from an upper window. Forgive her stupidity. The fears of the sister have added to the weakness of the woman; but she is by no means a simpleton in general.”

(Northanger Abbey, Chapter 14)

Paul Sandby married Anne Stogden and they lived in Dufours Court, Broad Street, Carnaby Market in London.  They had three children The elder son, Paul, was an officer in the army and died at Barbados in 1793. The second son, was also an artist and succeeded his father as drawing master at Woolwich.   His friends  recorded that Sandby was  a man  of great friendliness and generosity. He had a strong sense of humour and wrote and conversed fluently and effectively.

Here he is, depicted sketching from a window in his house in Bayswater, by his fellow artist, Francis Cotes.

He was a founder member of  active member of the Royal Academy, and remained an active member of the Academy all his lifeand became  a  popular and very influential figure in London’s artistic and literary society. Thomas Gasinborough thought highly of him especially with regard to his landscapes, and described him as

the only Man of Genius … who has employ’d his pencil that way

In 1772 he and his family moved to his final London home, 4 St George’s Row, Bayswater, close to the Bayswater turnpike on the Oxford Road, with fine views over Hyde Park. He had a  studio at the end of the garden, probably designed by his brother, and this was used for teaching and for his weekly meetings where he

drew round him a circle of intellectual and attached friends, comprising the most distinguished artists and amateurs of the day. His house became quite a centre of attraction … when, on each Sunday, after Divine Service, his friends assembled, and formed a conversazione on the arts, the sciences and the general literature of the day.

(See: The life of James Gandon, esq.(1846) edited by T. J.Mulvany )

(Paul Sandby’s studio at his Bayswater home)

Sandby died at home at 4 St George’s Row on 8 November 1809, and was buried at St George’s, Hanover Square.

I can thoroughly recommend this book to you: the illustrations I have included  here in this post are only a tiny amount of the total contained in this fine book.

The detail in the watercolors and aquatints is amazing and gives  an accurate idea of what like was really like to live in London and the English countryside of Jane Austen’s era .It is quite possible to lose oneself within them , imagining that many of her characters,  Emma and Mr Knightley, for example,  might saunter into the frame at any minute…….

Cottesbrooke Hall in Northamptonshire has long been thought by some to have been the estate and house that  inspired  Jane Austen when she created the house (and estate) of Mansfield Park in her novel of the same name.

Is there any evidence that she knew of it or even visited it?

Let’s see, shall we?

At the time Jane Austen was composing Mansfield Park- 1813- she famously wrote to her sister Cassandra and to her close friend Martha Lloyd to ask questions about the landscape of Northamptonshire. It is extremely unlikely from our knowledge of her travels in England that she ever visited or even travelled through the county en route to somewhere else:

( Map of England and Wales from my copy of Cary’s Traveller’s Companion or a Delineation of the Turnpike Roads of England and Wales etc. (1812)  written, drawn and published by  John Cary, The Strand, London)

Her trip to Staffordshire in 1806 –which was the most northerly point she is ever recorded to have visited in England- and the return journey to Hampshire would probably not have taken her through Northamptonshire. She would have travelled from her starting point, Adlestrop in  Gloucestershire on to Warwickshire(Stoneleigh Abbey) and then northwards into Staffordshire to Edward Cooper’s home at Hamstall Ridware.. The return journey would have  been taken through Warwickshire, Oxfordshire, Berkshire and finally back into Hampshire where the Austen ladies visited James Austen (Jane’s oldest brother and then then rector of Steventon) and  his family.

Indeed, her ignorance of the shire is rather confirmed by the questions she asked about Northamptonshire to be found in the extracts from these letters:

If you could discover whether Northamptonshire is a County of Hedgerows, I should be glad again.

(Letter to Cassandra Austen, dated 29th January 1813)


I am obliged to you for your enquiries about Northamptonshire but do not wish you to renew them, as I am sure of getting the intelligence I want from Henry, to whom I can apply at some convenient moment  “sans peur et sans reproche”…

(Letter to Martha Lloyd, dated 16th February 1813)

(Northamptonshire :from my copy of Cary’s Traveller’s Companion or a Delineation of the Turnpike Roads of England and Wales etc. (1812) as above.Do remember this can be enlarged simply by clicking on the image)

She would have asked Henry about Northamptonshire because of all her family and acquaintance, he had some links with the county, due to his friendship and business relationships with the Sandford and Tilson families. They were all related in some way to the Langhams, the baronets and the then owners  of – yes, you’ve guessed it- Cottesbrooke Hall.

Indeed, the opinions of Sir James Langham and Henry Sandford were sufficiently important to Jane Austen  to be included in her collection of  opinons of Mansfield Park, amongst the other opinions collected from her family and friends etc :

Sir James Langham & Mr H. Sanford, having been told that it was much inferior to P. & P.—began it expecting to dislike it, but were very soon extremely pleased with it—& I beleive, did not think it at all inferior.

Taking all this infomration into account, Sir Frank MacKinnon, the British High Court judge and Austen scholar, suggested that Cottesbrooke was indeed the inspiration for Mansfield.  Dr  R. W. Chapman ,the Austen scholar supreme of the early 20th century, published this information in  1931 in the Times Literary Supplement and seemed to agree with Sir Franks’ assessment.

Logan Pearsall Smith visited Cottesbrooke in 1935 and published his impressions in 1936 in Jane Austen: Reperusals and Recollections:

The name of the owners of Mansfield Park was Langham…The Hall was built by the fourth Baronet, Sir John Langham..That beautiful and stately house in the great park we visited…we saw the stairs on which Edmund found the little Fanny weeping, the breakfast rooms in which she wrote her letter to her borther William and her room upstairs with its empty grate. Then downstairs we went to the library with the billiard room adjoining which was the scene of the rehearsal of Lover’s Vows…Was Jane Austen ever at Cottesbrooke Hall? There is good reason to believe that she as acquainted with the Sir James Langham of the time, and that her brother Henry Austen was familiar with his family. It may be that he supplied her with the necessary plans and information…But anyone who has made this most delightful of all Jane Austen pilgrimages will find it difficult to believe she had not been there herself so accurately does she describe all the details.

Cottesbrooke Hall, admittedly, is a very fitting place to stand as the home of the Bertrams. It is a red brick building,with two wings  either side of the main block on the entrance front. The original building was designed by Francis Smith-Smith of Warwick- and the stone embellishments you can see (the columns etc) were added in the 1790s by Robert Mitchell.

It is set in Northamptonshire, in a large, beautiful park,-a real park –just as Mary Crawford  describes, and is delighted with(in this passage it is clear she is more delighted with the surroundings than the heir to the estate, frankly):

She acknowledged, however, that the Mr. Bertrams were very fine young men, that two such young men were not often seen together even in London, and that their manners, particularly those of the eldest, were very good. He had been much in London, and had more liveliness and gallantry than Edmund, and must, therefore, be preferred; and, indeed, his being the eldest was another strong claim. She had felt an early presentiment that she should like the eldest best. She knew it was her way.

Tom Bertram must have been thought pleasant, indeed, at any rate; he was the sort of young man to be generally liked, his agreeableness was of the kind to be oftener found agreeable than some endowments of a higher stamp, for he had easy manners, excellent spirits, a large acquaintance, and a great deal to say; and the reversion of Mansfield Park, and a baronetcy, did no harm to all this. Miss Crawford soon felt that he and his situation might do. She looked about her with due consideration, and found almost everything in his favour: a park, a real park, five miles round, a spacious modern–built house, so well placed and well screened as to deserve to be in any collection of engravings of gentlemen’s seats in the kingdom, and wanting only to be completely new furnished—pleasant sisters, a quiet mother, and an agreeable man himself—with the advantage of being tied up from much gaming at present by a promise to his father, and of being Sir Thomas hereafter. It might do very well; she believed she should accept him; and she began accordingly to interest herself a little about the horse which he had to run at the B———– races.

(Mansfield Park ,Chapter 5)

However, here, for me at least, is the main  problem with the argument that Cottesbrooke is Mansfield.

Mansfield is clearly described as :

A spacious modern-built house

At the time Jane Austen was writing, Cottesbrooke could not be described as modern, for it was originally built in 1702- some 111 years prior to the composition of Mansfield Park.

But it is a beautiful place to visit : all the photographs here were taken by me on a visit last summer –  and please do note that they can all be enlarged merely by clicking on them so that you can see the beautiful details of this place.

But  note that the  gardens- which are stunning- are a modern development, designed by some of the most influential designers of the past 100 years-and the grounds would not have looked as they do now when Jane Austen was  writing about  it, or not….or visiting ,or having plans sent to her… ;-)

It is tempting to want to see Cottesbrooke as Mansfield, and I can understand why, with all its connections and it being in the right location, people might want to do that . But do I think it more likely that Jane Austen’s modern house was not based on any one building but was rather the product of her genius.

But who am I to judge? I shall leave it to yourselves to determine ;-)

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