So , now we know what the structure of General Tinley’s kitchen at Northanger might have resembled….we really ought to consider what modern gadgets the General might have in his deceptively ancient kitchen…no turnspit dogs or crones tending spits of roasting meats, that is certain.
No, he had a full staff- I love the image of footmen slinking around corridors,out of their livery….
The number of servants continually appearing did not strike her less than the number of their offices. Wherever they went, some pattened girl stopped to curtsy, or some footman in dishabille sneaked off.
So..what wonderful devices would these staff be using in this very busy kitchen(for woe betide any meals being served late in this particular household)…Let’s see…
He would most probably have installed an up to the minute range oven. Though they are often thought of as being essential items in a Victorian kitchen, cast iron ranges were in fact innovations of the Georgian period.
They really needed coal to fuel them- wood or turf burned on open hearths. And it wasn’t until the development of the railway system in Britain in the 1840s that the use of cast iron ranges –large or small- became widespread with the easy availability of coal, which was then easily transported about the whole country.
This is the trade card of Underwood and Co, who were ironmongers in Bristol from 1812 to 1828, and so might have supplied the General with his ovens at Northanger, which was situated in the nearby Severn estuary plains of Gloucestershire. They operated from Charles Street which at the time contained some of Bristol’s finest shops.
The kitchen grate they illustrate here has a hot plate on the right and a perpetual oven on the left. The advert also shows smoke jacks-which did away with the necessity for scullions or dogs turning the spit- roasted meat. These kitchen ranges were capable of generating great heat,and were designed to undertake the task of boiling and roasting. The original ranges, dating from the late 18th century had no provision for delicate cooking -making sauces or simmering- and eventually a stewing stove was introduced combining a kitchen gratw with ovens in order to have all the elements one needed to cook in one place.
John Farley in his book The General View of Agriculture in Derbyshire (1813) wrote of the history of the development of range cookers as follows:
About the year 1778 cast iron ovens began to be made at the Griffin Foundry now Messrs Ebenezer Smith and Company and to be set by the side of the grates at the public houses and some farm houses as to be heated by the fire in the grate when a small damper in the flue is drawn and about ten years after square iron boilers with lids were introduced to be set at the end of a fire grate and these have spread so amazingly that there is scare a house without these even of cottage of the first class…
Thomas Robinson patented a range in 1780 and it looked like this:
As you can see the closed oven was heated by the fire burning around one of its walls. This made for a very uneven heat,and this fault was not effectively remedied until the second quarter of the 19th century.
So what could the General’s oven range have looked like? Would it have resembled one of these above?
Now we know, for Jane Austen tells us, that the General was a fan of Count Rumford’s inventions. We are told that instead of seeing massive open hearths in the drawing-room, the view that struck Catherine’s Morland’s disappointed eyes was a Rumford fireplace:
An abbey! Yes, it was delightful to be really in an abbey! But she doubted, as she looked round the room, whether anything within her observation would have given her the consciousness. The furniture was in all the profusion and elegance of modern taste. The fireplace, where she had expected the ample width and ponderous carving of former times, was contracted to a Rumford, with slabs of plain though handsome marble, and ornaments over it of the prettiest English china.
Northanger Abbey, Chapter 20
What she saw was a Rumford hearth. Here is a caricature of Count Rumford standing before one of his fireplaces,which made more economic use of fuel-the heat as you can see was directed into the room and did not dissipate into a large hearth and up to the chimney:
America- born Benjamin Thompson, Count von Rumford, lived from 1753-1814. He not only invented this efficient fireplace, but also in his book, Essays Political Economical and Philosophical (1802) he wrote about many topics and the tenth essay deals with the Construction of Kitchen Fireplaces and Kitchen Utensils.
He was of the opinion that each cooking vessel should have its own separate closed fireplace, the door , its grate and ash-pit should be fitted with a draught controlling register and its flue with a damper. Fireplaces over 8 to 10 inches in diameter should be fueled from openings just above the level of the grate , smaller ones being fed from the top. Portable boilers and stew pans should be circular and suspended deep inside the fireplace . All boilers or stew pans should have well insulated lids preferably of double tinplate construction.
Here is an engraving of his patent kitchen stove,
And this is a clearer drawing of it:
The principle behind this strange looking contraption was that by finely controlling the fires, food could be cooked at just under boiling point- thereby making the food tender, juicy and more flavoursome than conventional ranges which could dry out the meat etc. .His stove also was very economical with regard to fuel-for the boilers and stew pans were completely sunk within their fireplaces, thus not much heat escaped ,and all as used effectivley.
These stove were as you can see very complex to operate. There were a total of fourteen individual fires which of course meant that there were fourteen draught controls, fourteen individual cooking vessels and 14 dampers to oversee. And that was probably their downfall for by 1840 they were quite forgotten. They were sold from 1799 by a Mr Sumner, an ironmonger, of New Bond Street London. And he installed one of these fantastical ranges in his own kitchen there, where it could be seen in action by prospective customers. Shades of modern Aga showrooms….
He sold 260 of these ovens,and similar success was reported by outlets for the stoves in Edinburgh and provincal cities. But by the mid 19th century, they had completely fallen out of favour.
So that could be what General Tilney’s stove looked like….I pity the poor harassed cook, frankly, working in the heat and under the stress of being on time-for the General certainly loved punctuality.
So what else would the General have had in his up to the minute kitchen?
I have to include this illustration of an early 19th century plate warmer: I think it is fabulous:
I do hope the General had at least one of these ;-)
I love the fact that by mentioning Rumfords- with the possibility of not only the Count’s fireplaces but his stoves being in use at Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen agains demonstrates to us just how to the minute she was.
If you would like to read more about innovations in the early 19th century kitchen and more of the type of gadgets the General may have had in his kitchen than I can do no better than recommend this book, from where some of the information for this post has been taken: Over A Red Hot Stove ,edited by Ivan Day and published by Prospect Books.
This is a fascinating collection of essays based on papers presented at the 19th and 20th Leeds Symposia on FoodHistory held between 2004 and 2005. It is quite technical and intricate and probably only for the food history obsessive like myself, but if you want to learn in great detail about the development of kitchen ranges, Ox roasts, the massive roast beef prepared at Windsor Castle, the history of clockwork jacks and how to bake in a beehive oven, then this book is for you.