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You have seven days left in which to listen ot the latest episode of Voices from the Old Bailey presented by Professor Amanda Vickery. Today’s episode is about children in the 18th century and their experience of the law. This week is very hard listening, as it deals with details cases of abuse and murder of children. The story of the murder ( or I would think, manslaughter in today’s terms) of Alexander Knipe, a young inmate of a workhouse, who was killed by a workhouse worker, Mabel Hughes, his overseeer, is dreadful; the testimonies of his friends and his “mummah” are fascinating when compared to the witness statement of the controller of the workhouse.
The discusion was recorded at The Foundling Hospital, in Brunswick Square, near to the home of the John Knightleys in Emma
The criminal cases concerning children are often petty crimes-pickpocketing and theft-usually committed in order to survive. The story of Mary Wade who stole the frock, tippet and cap from a young child, Mary Phillips, is fascinating. I’ve had witnesses like Mary Phillips in the past and I can understand the exasperation in the barrister’s voice…
The other members of the panel this week are Professor Tim Hitchcock, who worked on the Old Bailey Website, Dr Zoe Laidlaw who is descended form a convict who was transported to Australia and Dr Ruth Richardson.
Not easy listening, but a programme which has interesting things to say about 18th century attitudes to children and has some resonances even for today and the way we treat children in care and in criminal cases.
I won’t be posting over the next few days, but I will be Twittering, and Twitpic-ing especially. The subject? My jaunt to Bath.
So if you are on Twitter and want to accompany me to the city where Jane Austen lived, where Catherine Morland met Henry Tilney and where Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth finally came to an understanding then do join in and follow me from my Twitter page here for all the details.
If you are not on Twitter, then you can access the latest tweets on this page, under the AustenOnly icon, shown below,
which you can find in the right hand column to this page (again, if you click on the icon it will take you directly to the AustenOnly Twitter page).
I’ll be back this time next week with many Austen-related travellers tale to tell ;-) Adieu!!
Last night I was lucky enough to go -along with 599 other people !- to a open air performance of the Illyria Touring Company’s sold out adaptation of Pride and Prejudice at Belton House.
This was an absolute tour de force-a bravura performance by only 5 very accomplished actors, on a small stage, with few props-to wit, two wicker chests, a painted bench, two chairs, some extravagant quill pens, a picture fame and two coconut shells, a few simple stage lights and no amplification whatsoever.
The cast, cleverly, were their own orchestra, “humming” the dance music for the Netherfield ball and Meryton Assembly scenes.
The play lasted about 3 hours with one 15 minute interval. Virtually no action in the book was missed. Some scenes were shortened or combined but it was amazing to think that this very clever adaptation managed to cram in so much of the novel as possible into the performance -something that much longer adaptations have failed to achieve! The actors of course had to double, treble and quadruple -up the parts. For example, Andrew Lindfield who played Mr Darcy, seen here enduring Caroline Bingley’s attentions at Netherfield….
was also a very O.T.T. Wickham
being here admired by the Bennet sisters when meeting with Denny in Meryton…..
and was also Mary, in green, sermonizing as only Mary can
and Kitty-rather upset at not being allowed to go to Brighton
and also played a squirm inducing Mr Collins (seen here proposing to an appalled Elizabeth). It all sounds preposterous ( and the cast continue the jokes in the cast list in the programme) but it truly worked and the staging, simple but effective, was cleverly put together for the best comic or dramatic effect. The rather “loud” costumes also worked very well: they enabled the audience to quickly and clearly identify the character,even if, as was sometimes the case, it had to be played by one or more actors. Clever conceit.
Miriam Jay Allwright was Elizabeth and a very voluble Mrs Hill, wearing a massive mop cap which possessed a life and very nearly a part of its own.
She was wonderful as Elizabeth: clever, witty ,wise and just the sort of Elizabeth Bennet you would like to be your best friend.
Becky George as Jane, Lydia,
seen above imagining a whole campful of soldiers-with the emphasis on camp!- and Charlotte Lucas was perfect. Here she is having second thoughts- alas too late !-after marrying Mr Collins.
Her Mrs Reynolds (in yellow silk below) was a truly amazing characterisation, and had a wonderfully brisk way of walking around all those long corridors in Pemberley House ( to enable Andrew Lindfield chance to metamorphize from the ever grinning Wickham…
into the lovely Darcy’s portrait in Pemberley’s Long Gallery
Robert Took as Mr Bennet, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mr Gardiner, Caroline Bingley, seen here below “reading” her farewell letter to Jane
was also a very grand and
formidable Lady Catherine(seen above with the veiled and silent, but sneeze ridden Anne de Bourgh).He was fabulous. I must say that when Caroline Bingley gives you instructions as to where the refreshments and lavatories are, you certainly play attention!
(above, flanked by Mr Bennet and Kitty)…
a marvellously mustachioed Colonel Forster
a sweet Charles Bingley ( above in the pink hat, Darcy is in the yellow) and one of the girls that Wickham fooled around with during the dramatisation of The Letter.
This is one of my favourite parts of the book, and is a scene so often (and inexplicably ) omitted from many dramatisations of the book. She was a fabulously tipsy Mrs Bennet at the Netherfield Ball, gossiping with Mrs Long…putting paid to the family succeeding in currying favour at that point with Mr Darcy.
The carriage rides on the suitably squeaky wicker trunks, were a highlight Mr Darcy performing on the coconut shells as a set of carriage horses was a touch of genius.
Here are the Gardiners and Elizabeth suitably impressed with their first sight of Pemberley House, in their “carriage” with “horses” attached.
The adaptation was witty and wise: it even included a slight reference to the lake at Pemberley being a good place in which to swim-to cheers from the knowledgeable audience. The actors were fabulous hosts- mingling with the crowd, partaking of our picnic fare, taking photos of us all and of some individuals who came in full Regency Dress, selling programmes and creating a great atmosphere. I particlary admired the way Elizabeth Bennet called us to order at the commencement of act two !
The adaptation was written by Oliver Grey who also directed it. The company’s admirable attitude toward the production is neatly summed up in this extract from Neill Thew’s article in the programme,When is a Mouse not a Mouse ? (Answer,when she is Jane Austen):
Given Austen’s extreme sharpness of mind and eye: her unstinting judgements on human nature; and her impatience with puffed up airs and graces,then the current fashion for overly reverent stage and television adaptations of her work-all Empire-line dresses and tea parties – misses the heart of her completely. Austen is a much tougher and, frankly, gloriously bitchier author than that. At is that Jane Austen whose observations a will be brought to life tonight.
I have to say that we were held spell-bound by the whole production and were sad but elated when it ended.
(The reconstructed Darcy proposing for a second time)
Needless to say I would go and see another of their productions at the drop of a hat (even a bright yellow one). Their Pride and Prejudice touring schedule can be found here If this production of Pride and Prejudice is coming near to you my advice is to GO TO IT! You will have one of the best, fun-filled evenings ever. Indeed ,they are soon to be performing this version of Pride and Prejudice at Kedleston Hall and I’d love to see the Derbyshire scenes acted out in the wonderful countryside setting of that famed Derbyshire home.( I’ll bet they will ad lib a little too!)
(The Happy Couple)
Tonight I’m dining en plein air at a performance of the Illyria Theatre Company’s production of Pride and Prejudice at Belton House, which I’m sure you all remember was the setting for Rosings in the BBC’s adaptation of Pride andPrejudice starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Erle.
(Can you spot Mr Darcy’s Bedroom? Here’s a hint: its not where you’d expect it to be !)
The weather looks set fair for once ,so we will only take flasks of hot chocolate, fleece blankets and not go sofar as to pack sleeping bags…..this is England after all ;-) I’ll report back tomorrow.
This is the second post about Stamford, in Lincolnshire which was the town of Meryton in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice starring Keria Knightley and Matthew MacFadeyn. The first post can be accessed here. This give many details of how the St George’s Square area of Stamford in Lincolnshire was transformed into Meryton. This post will detail the filming of the other Meryton scenes. (Do note you can as usual,enlarge all the illustrations in this post merely by clicking on them)
The scenes when the militia arrived in Meryton are some of the most colourful and chaotic in the film.
The “militia” were formed of extras from the local area including my daughter’s English master’s son.
They were filmed marching together with a military band of fifes and drums-
…both up the hill to St George’s Square in Stamford, and then in the opposite direction, from St Mary’s Street down the hill.
This is the shot- walking down the hill- that eventually made the cut:
We were able to watch as Lydia ( Jena Malone ) and Wickham (Rupert Friend) were very kind during the filming of this scene. They played and comforted a very young little girl,who was one of the extras, and was finding it all too much with which to cope. We also saw the fishing rods complete with Lydia’s handkerchief-the one that, rather prophetically, was trampled on by the marching militia.
The roads in the area were covered with a thick layer of gravel-which also covered the road markings and the pavements as you can see from this picture taken in St George’s Square.
The doors of the buildings in the area were all covered by false doors and the window frames were all “distressed” and repainted after the filming had ended. Television aerials and satellite dishes were also removed for the duration of the three days filming.
Some people didn’t care to have their houses/business premises “distressed’ and these buildings were clad in wood which was painted and then “CGI-ed” later in the production process. This is a picture of the local vacuum seller’s shop, which prefered to retain its own decor.
I did admire the tremendous amount of props collected for the event….
And the geese were corralled in the churchyard of St George’s parish church.
The butchers shop -seen at the end of the film in the scene where Mrs Bennet and her daughters are informed that Mr Bingley is returning home to Netherfield, does not exist.
This was built in order to block the view/traffic from the lane.
It was also fitted up remarkably
(and butchers shops in this era were mostly open to the elements, see this example, below, of a child’s toy of such a shop circa 1820).
Even pheasant feathers were stuck down individually to ensure they stayed in place during the filming.
The stone “hitching post” was completely false. It does not exist, and was made of fibre glass.
I adored the extras and their costumes.
Most were happy to chat and have their pictures taken…
Others just wanted to get to the local Servicemen’s Club which was providing teas and refreshments during the filming.
The carters were very friendly, as were their beautiful horses -in their resting place of the local car park….
…a fitting place for their curricle, though I don’t remember seeing this in the film. I did see the film in the theatre in the Stamford Arts Centre: it was quite a surreal moment watching the Meryton scenes, filmed as they were just outside the door of the cinema! This does not happen very often in my part of the world.
Next in this series,a post about one of the locations used in the BBC’s 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. I do hope you will join me on this trip down memory lane.
Today’s episode of Professor Amanda Vickery’s Voices from the Old Bailey can be accessed here. The second of four episodes it deals with Wicked Women ( or some women who weren’t very wicked at all, just rather unlucky in life.) Fascinating radio. It was recorded at one of my favourite places, the Denis Severs House Museum, 18 Folgate Street, in Spitalfields. As Amanda notes-if only these walls could talk. Professor Peter King- one of my favourite writers on 18th century crime EVER!-is on today’s programme, giving his usual clear explanation of the workings of the 18th century criminal justice system. Discover the 1790s equivalent of today’s chat-up line, “Do you come here often” and listen to songs from The Beggar’s Opera…..how can you resist it?
And today’s edition of Cash in the Attic on BBC1 has some lovely scenes of Lyme Regis and a surprise link to Jane Austen. One of the items the family sold was a legal deed, and one of the parties to the deed was Catheine Knight, kindly adoptive mother of Jane Austen’s brother, Edward. The deed dated from 1799. (The important part is approximately 20 minutes into the programme). It eventually went to auction and was sold for £160 – normally, in my experience, these deeds are commonplace and sell for betwwen£10-30 each, so the Austen effect was well in evidence here. Sadly, this is not available to view to overseas visitors to this site, but is available for another 6 days on the I-Player here.
We last looked at the history of the Stamford Assembly Rooms in detail in this post, here.
They were seen on film as part of Meryton in the 2005 production of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadeyn. I had my own problems with this film- especially with the interpretation of many of the characters- but the look of the film seduced me completely. I’ve always viewed Jane Austen as a Georgian and not a product of the Regency, and as this film was set in the 1790s it had me hooked from the first magical opening scene where we were taken into the Bennet’s down-at-heel but still genteel home.
The St Georges Square and St Mary’s part of Stamford were used by the film for all the Meryton scenes.
This map show the areas ,marked in red, that were used as Meryton for the duration of the filming.
It is an ideal place to film period dramas, as in this area there are no buildings erected later than the mid to late 18th century- and some are much older than that. No modern buildings overhang or block the views. It is easily contained for security purposes, and cutting the streets off from traffic in the town does not incommode residents and visitors too much as there are alternative routes for the traffic to take. The town of Stamford had, prior to the filming of Pride and Prejudice, been used as Middlemarch for the BBC’s famed TV production of Elliot’s novel.
I was there to take photographs and I thought you’d like to see the before, after and during pictures I was able to capture.The work on the production in Stamford began in June of 2004.
The production drawings, above, show the alterations that had to be made to the street scene. The major piece of construction was a colonnade which wrapped itself around the assembly rooms and the Stamford Arts Centre (the old theatre in the town).These are photographs of the construction process.
First scaffolding was erected, along the Assembly Room frontage and into St Mary’s Street.
The colonnade was constructed from wood around the scaffolding poles: care had to be taken not to damage the buildings in the process as they are all listed.
False fronts of china shops were erected unde the colonnade.
And these were stocked with “fine china”…
The finished set….
The entrance to the Assembly Room was eventually converted to a place of wooden shutters
This is, of course, where in the film, Lizzie and Jane meet Wickham for the first time,who appears to have already made the acquaintance of Lydia and Kitty, just before they go on a shopping spree to buy ribbons.
The interiors of the Assembly Rooms were not used as the set for the Meryton Assembly Rooms,though they were used to teach the steps of the country dances needed for the scenes to the cast.
That honour -of being the Meryton Assembly Rooms-fell to a warehouse normally used for storing potoatoes, which is owned by the firm of Gilman and Sons and can still be found on a small industrial estate just outside Stamford. This was the only set used in the filming of the producion ,all the remining filming was otherwise done on location using real rooms.
I adore this scenes and think the set designers did a marvellous job of capturing the atmosphere of a country assembly room of the time.
it is clear , in my opinion, that they were inspired by images such as Rowlandson’s view of the Scarborough Assembly rooms, below, taken from his illustrations found in my copy of the Poetical Views of Scarborough (1812).
My daughter’s then English Master was picked to be an extra in the film and can be seen in a wig “that looked like and felt like a rat” at the commencement of the Meryton Assembly scenes, much to our family’s amusement.
Next in this series, the other scenes filmed in Stamford.
On Friday the 18th inst. died,
in this city,
Miss Jane Austen,
youngest(sic) daughter of the late Rev. George Austen, Rector of Steventon, in this county,
and the Authoress of Emma, Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility.
Her manners were most gentle, her affections ardent,
her candour was not to be surpassed,
and she lived and died as became a humble Christian.
Notice of Jane Austen’s death that appeared in the Salisbury and Winchester Journal on the 28th July, 1817
written by Henry Austen her brother.
Sheridan’s wonderfully funny farce, The Critic is currently being performed at the Chichester Festival Theatre, and I thought I ought to bring it to your attention not only because it is a superb 18th century play that is rarely performed these days, but also because it would appear that Jane Austen admired it too.
This was Sheridan’s opportunity to expose his own experiences in the theatre: of his exasperation with pompous and fretful actors, playwrights who could not abhor criticism, hapless directors, scene designers and, of course, critics, gleefully modelling some of the play’s characters on people with whom he had worked. His play, a satire on the fashions of the theatre of the day, concerns the doings of The Critic, Mr Dangle, and, during the last act, how he and another critic, Mr Sneer and the anxious playwright, Sir Fretful Plagiary, react to the rehearsal of Mr Puff’s “historical tragedy”, The Spanish Armada.
This play within the play needless to say is ridiculous, a romance that is historically inaccurate and satirizes the theatrical conventions of the day : ranting, addressing soliloquies only to the pit, all concluding with crazed processions that were the stock in trade of many of the productions in the 18th century repertoire:
“Flourish of drums-trumpets-cannon etc etc Scene changes to the sea- the fleets engage- the musik plays ”Britons strike home”-Spanish fleet destroyed by fire ships etc-English fleet advances-musick plays Rule Britannia-The procession of all the English rivers and their tributaries and their emblems etc begins with Handel’s water musick ends with a chorus to the march in Judas Maccabeaus-During this scene Puff directs and applauds everything-then
PUFF: Well, pretty well-but not quite perfect-so ladies and gentlemen if you please we’ll rehearsh this piece again tomorrow.
Exactly the type of production Edmund Bertram sneers at in Chapter 13 of Mansfield Park
“Nay,” said Edmund, who began to listen with alarm. “Let us do nothing by halves. If we are to act, let it be in a theatre completely fitted up with pit, boxes, and gallery, and let us have a play entire from beginning to end; so as it be a German play, no matter what, with a good tricking, shifting afterpiece, and a figure–dance, and a hornpipe, and a song between the acts. If we do not outdo Ecclesford, we do nothing.”
By the time of The Critic’s premiere, Richard Brinsley Sheridan had already enjoyed great success as a playwright: his first comedy, The Rivals, had opened at Drury Lane four years earlier and was followed by The School for Scandal (1777), which was widely regarded as his masterpiece. Sheridan had by this time also purchased an interest in Drury Lane and eventually became its manager.
Jane Austen must certainly have read the play by the 1790s when she was writing her History of England, for she ironically uses The Critic– or really the play within the play, Mr Puff’s The Spanish Armarda- as a primary source for her statement about Sir Walter Raleigh in the section concerning James I:
Sir Walter Raleigh flourished in this & the preceding reign & is by many people held in great veneration & respect-But as he was an enemy of the noble Essex, I have nothing to say in praise of him& must refer all those who wish to be acquainted with the particulars of his Life to Mr Sheridan’s play of the Critic, where they will find many interesting Anecdotes as well of him as of his freind(sic) Sir Christopher Hatton.
In Love and Freindship (sic) from Volume the Second of the juvenilia, there is another reference.
“We fainted Alternatively on a Sofa”
This is a clear allusion to the stage direction in Act III Scene 1 of The Critic, when during rehearsal of The Spanish Armarda The Justice’s Lady is melodramatically reunited with her son :
Mother: O ecstasy of Bliss!
Son: O most unlook’d for happiness
Mother : O wonderful event!
[They faint alternatively in each others arms]
Sheridan in his turn, was an admirer of Jane Austen’s works:
Richard Brinsley Sheridan speaking to a Miss Shirreff at a dinner party ”at Mr Whitbread’s when Pride and p came out…asked her if she had seen it, and advised her to buy it immediately for it was one of the cleverest things he ever read
( see David Gilson: A Bibliography of Jane Austen, page 26)
The current production has had rave reviews. Libby Purvis writing in The Times said
The rendering of the rehearsal of Mr Puff’s heroic patriotic Armarda play is blissful.
As you can see from the wonderful production photographs in this post taken by Manuel Harlan it is a beautifully correct staging of this period piece. It is being performed as a double bill in conjunction with the same cast taking part in a performance of The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard-which was of course originally entitled …The Critics ;-)
And for fans of the BBC’s 1995 production of Persuasion, there is an additional reason to go and see it. Captain Benwick, played by Richard McCabe is in this production: see him first on the left in the picture below,as the hapless Mr Puff.
So, do, if you can go to Chichester Festival Theatre before the 28th August when this production closes to see it and discover exactly the sort of clever and hilariously funny wordplay that so attracted Jane Austen. You will not be disappointed.
I should like to give my profuse thanks both the staff at the Chichester Festival Theatre, with especial praise to Ellen Holbrook, and to their amazing photographer, Manuel Harlan, for their kindness in granting me permission to use their wonderful images of the production in this post.
I heard this programme this morning, ( I wrote about it previously here) , and it was a delight, a fabulously interesting broadcast: a genial and informative discussion between Professor Amanda Vickery, Dr Helen Berry, Professor John Mullan and Professor Robert Shoemaker -who digitized the Old Bailey records-about the lives of real and fictional highwaymen in the 18th century, such as James McLean, The Gentleman Highwayman.
If you go here you can Listen Again (the broadcast is 43 minutes long). There are seven days left to Listen Again to it. Readers of this blog in the UK can hear the repeated programme on BBC Radio 4 tonight at 9 p.m.
I do hope you can listen to it and hope you enjoy it.
July 15th is St Swithin’s Day and legend has it that if it rains today it will rain every day for 40 continuous days…as it is raining as I write it is goodbye to summer,then.
St Swithin’s day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St Swithun’s day if thou be fair
For forty days ’twill rain na mair
St Swithun was a 9th century Bishop of Winchester (his name is more often spelt “Swithin” today,as Jane Austen did). He died on 2 July 862 and tradition has it that he asked to be buried in a humble manner , outside the cathedral in the surrounding precincts. His original grave was situated just outside the west door of the Old Saxon minster, a place where people would inevitably walk over it on their way into the cathedral.
However, on 15 July 971, Swithin’s remains were dug up and moved to a shrine in the cathedral on the orders of Bishop Ethelwold. This became the saint’s day because miracles were attributed to the saint on this day. However, the removal of Swithun’s remains into the cathedral was also accompanied by ferocious and violent rain storms that lasted 40 days and 40 nights . People (rightly or wrongly) attributed this to the fact that the saint was obviously angry at being moved. This is probably the origin of the legend that if it rains on Saint Swithin’s feast day, the rain will continue for 40 more days.
Which brings us to Jane Austen’s poem about this day. She wrote it on the morning of Tuesday 15th July 1817, two days before she died on 18th July. Here it is:
When Winchester races
When Winchester races first took their beginning
It is said the good people forgot their old Saint
Not applying at all for the leave of Saint Swithin
And that William of Wykeham’s approval was faint.
The races however were fixed and determined
The company came and the Weather was charming
The Lords and the Ladies were satine’d and ermined
And nobody saw any future alarming.–
But when the old Saint was informed of these doings
He made but one Spring from his Shrine to the Roof
Of the Palace which now lies so sadly in ruins
And then he addressed them all standing aloof.
‘Oh! subjects rebellious! Oh Venta depraved
When once we are buried you think we are gone
But behold me immortal! By vice you’re enslaved
You have sinned and must suffer, ten farther he said
These races and revels and dissolute measures
With which you’re debasing a neighboring Plain
Let them stand–You shall meet with your curse in your pleasures
Set off for your course, I’ll pursue with my rain.
Ye cannot but know my command o’er July
Henceforward I’ll triumph in shewing my powers
Shift your race as you will it shall never be dry
The curse upon Venta is July in showers–‘.
Winchester( the Roman name for the city was “Venta“, note) had its racecourse on Worthy Down, four miles from the town. There was an oval course with a stand at the western end and booths to the south. As we learnt from our Stamford Assembly Rooms post, the provincial Races Weeks of the 18th and early 19th centuries were considerable events. Much socialising- concerts assemblies and of course the races,when the genteel and aristocratic-who usually were great patrons of the sport- dressed in their finery came together in great numbers to see the races, spend and gamble money etc. So in her poem Jane Austen was playfully admonishing the many who flocked to the Winchester Races -held on St Swithin’s Day-and imagines the saint cursing them, promising that henceforth, all their race meetings will be accompanied by rain. As someone who has experienced downpours at Ascot, Newmarket and Warwick race courses,I can say that it did mar the fun considerably;-)
This poem was of curse quietly glossed over by Jane Austen’s early biographers, most notably James Edward Austen Leigh’s “Memoir” : probably because they thought the subject matter was too disreputable -horse racing with all its connotations-especially bearing in mind the image of the pious, devoted, domestically minded spinster aunt, that they were studiously creating and promoting. At a time when she was near to death it is obvious that they were disquieted that she should write an amusing poem and probably thought she ought to have been contemplating more serious subjects. Henry Austen, Jane’s brother, in his Biographical Notice published with the first editions of Persuasion and Northanger Abbey referred to her composing
Stanzas replete with fancy and vigour
the day before her death, but failed to mention the subject matter.
It was first published in the first edition of Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers by J H and E C Hubback in 1906.
I don’t find it irreligious at all:she is after all portraying St Swithin as being outraged that the races take place on his saint’s day, and punishes the racegoers accordingly….
What is disturbing is that it occurs to me that as Jane Austen was dying at the time of the Winchester races, this surely means that she was dying in a very busy noisy town: not much peace to be had even in the small house, 8 College Street where she died . That’s not a pleasant thought to contemplate.
However, I find it remarkable that her sense of humour and mischievousness were still with her almost to the end, and thought you might like to read the poem on this St Swithin’s Day.
A few week ago I wrote a piece about a provincial set of rooms which Jane Austen once attended, the Assembly Rooms at Lyme. Some of you were so interested in this type of provincial set of assembly rooms, the type that would have been found in small towns as opposed to the grand sets in cities such as Bath, that I promised to post more on this subject, and in particular about my local set of rooms, the Stamford Assembly Rooms in Lincolnshire.
So here it is, my post on the Stamford Assembly Rooms, the unassuming type of public rooms that Meryton might have possessed, and that Jane Austen experienced in Basingstoke as a young girl, or indeed any other small town in England might have had during the 18th and early to mid 19th century.
The set in Stamford are in fact very special as they are the oldest set of rooms to have been continually in use in this country. They were built in 1726, by the local dancing master Askew Kirk. He was the governor of his own boarding school but in 1721 gave up that post to his wife, who had been a mantua maker, so that he could devote his time to teaching dancing. At that time Stamford held monthly assemblies in a house in Bath Hill.
Sensing a business opportunity not to be missed he approached the local landowner, the Earl of Exeter, of the nearby Burghley House. The result of their negotiations was that a site in the corner of St George’s Square -then the fashionable district in which to live in the town-was let to Mr Kirk on the condition that he built a new Assembly Room on it for the benefit of the residents and their guests.
This is a plan of St George’s Square,showing the position of the Assembly Rooms (number 58)Note all the illustrations in this post can be enlarged merely by clicking on them.
and here is the area for you to explore on Google maps:
This is a floor plan of the Assembly Room, taken from my copy of the Survey of Stamford by the Royal Commission on Hisotrical Monuments.
Note that at first only the long room -for dancing English Country dances-was built; the card and tea rooms came much later (see below).
Let’s look inside….
The ballroom is 65 feet 6 inches long, 25 feet wide.
The wooden settles built into the walls around the dance floor could probalby accommodate 80 people, sitting watching the dancing…
Or wishing they were dancing, perhaps…
This fireplace was original to the building,
and has a crest of the Cecil family surmounting it all.
This is the view from the rear of the Assembly room, looking downhill to the Parish Church of St Martin’s, where many of the Cecil family-the Earls and Marquesses of Exeter were interred, including Elizabeth I’s minister , William Cecil the builder of Burghley House.
This is the view from the new stage, to the entrance to the ballroom.
And this is the view from the entrance, into the rest of the room.
Note the crystal chandeliers: smart chandelier were thought essential for assembly rooms with pretensions to good reputations.
Once the Assembly Room proper was built assemblies were held there monthly and, in addition, extra assemblies were held during the festivities occasioned by Stamford Race Week, giving the people who thronged to the town for the horse races and cock-fights extra opportunities for socializing and enjoyment.
Here is an advertisement from the Stamford Mercury – a newspaper which is still in existance-of 1766 showing the details of the Stamford Race week :the races were run over a course on land owned once again, by the Earl of Exeter.
This is a notice again from the Stamford Mercury with details of the Assembly to be held in that week plus details of a concert.
Note that the tickets for the Assemblies specifically entitled the Bearer to their tea!
What sort of people visited Stamford for these race weeks? Barbara Johnson, a woman from a not particularly wealthy clerical family, rather similar in status to Jane Austen’s often visited the town for the festivities. We remember her today because she kept a magnificent record of her clothes in book form, covering the period 1746-1823. A facsimile of the book, (A Lady of Fashion,Barbara Johnson’s Album of Styles and Fabrics) the original of which is now in the possession of the Victoria and Albert museum, has been produced and it is one of my favourite books, being full of samples of the material out of which her clothe were made, together with contemporary prints of fashions and places etc.
We know from the evidence in her book that she ordered silk for dresses from silk mercers in Stamford in 1765, 1766 and 1767. These silks were made up into gowns in Stamford in 1766.
And as you can see from her note she wore this pink figured silk at the Stamford Races in 1768.
Back to the Assembly Rooms.
The next major alteration to the Assembly Room building was made in 1793 and 1795: a card and a tea room was added to the ball room . These rooms were vitally important parts of the sets of assembly rooms As Mark Girouard explains in his chapter on Assembly Rooms in his book, The English Town
Assembly Rooms had to satisfy a number of requirements. The basic accommodation was specified in a letter written to Lord Burlington (the architect of the York Assembly Rooms -jfw) by his building committee in 1730: a ballroom, a card room and a room for refreshments-usually called a tea room. The ballroom had to have sufficient space for dancers and spectators, accommodation for musicians, good artificial lighting, adequate means of heating for the beginning of the evening and sufficient height and ventilation to prevent too much heat at the end of it. A particular difficulty faced country towns assembly rooms which had to cater for the different needs of summer and winter balls.
By the early 19th century there were three assembly rooms in Stamford: our set in St George’s Square; a set on the first floor of the George Hotel then a major coaching inn on the Great North Road,
and, on the first floor of the Stamford Hotel formerly the Black Bull,
which was bought and aggrandized by Sir Gerard Noel of Exton in Rutland as part of his campaign to attract political and electoral support against the interest of the Earl of Exeter in the town.
But it is Mr Kirk’s set that still survives in its original form today. The George Hotel’s long room has now been converted to bedrooms, and the ballroom of the Stamford hotel is, appropriately enough, now a school of dancing.
So if you want to see this wonderful set -a fascinating and rare survivor from our era -for yourselves then do take a trip to the wonderful town of Stamford with its magical stone buildings.The Old Assembly Room is open to the public as it is part of the Stamford Arts Centre and I should to take this opportunity to thank all the staff of the Arts Centre for kindly and graciously allowing me access and for their assistance when I recently went there to take photographs for this piece. They are rightly proud of their assembly room.
Next in this series, we shall consider the part-small but interesting that this set of rooms had in the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice. I do hope you will join me.
This Friday the 18th July sounds as if it’s going to be a day of great fun at the Jane Austen House Museum.
There will be exhibitions of singing and dancing in period costume provided by The Madding Crowd a group of Regency music enthusiasts.
And there will be the opportunity to try your hand at ancient skills such as onion skin dyeing, lavender water making and peg doll making.
This year marks the launch of the museum’s brand new “handling sessions”.As the Museum’s blog explains:
These sessions allow people to pick up and touch real 200 year old objects from the museum’s handling collection. An experienced guide will help you explore what these objects tell us about the time of Jane Austen.
I think this is a marvellous way to bring history right into the hands and minds of young and old alike. I do wish I could go…..
In the evening there will be an harspichord recital by Dr Anthony Noble, the harpsichordist and musicologist who specialises in keyboard music of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The evening will consist of a recital of French harpsichord music by François Couperin, Jacques Duphly Claude-Bénigne Balbastre as well as some of the Pieces de Viole of Antoine Forqueray, in the versions published by his son Jean-Baptiste Forqueray, certainly arranged for the harpsichord by Jean-Baptist’s second wife, the great harpsichordist Marie-Rose Dubois.
The concert begins at 7.00pm and the tickets are very reasonably priced at £10.00 each. (Concessions £7.50)
for some lightheartedness at AustenOnly, in addition to the usual round of book reviews and posts on Jane Austen news items.
As Elizabeth Bennet knew well, the summer is the best time for visiting country houses and travelling ( the only drawback for her was the lack of Factor 50 suncream) and so…over the next few weeks I will be concentrating on bringing you posts about some of the locations used in the various Jane Austen adaptations.
Indeed, I began this series a few weeks ago with my posts on the
I will be going to Bath, so expect some posts about the various places used in the Northanger Abbey and Persuasion adaptations….
and I have also been travelling about the countryside , having been given special permission to take photographs etc in some stunning places, and so I will be bringing you some posts on locations used in the various Pride and Prejudice adaptations/films.
(Photograph reproduced here by kind permission of the Trustees of Burghley House)
I’ve added a new page to AustenOnly so that you can easily find all the links to the relevant posts: go here to see.
I do hope you will enjoy this lighthearted series, which I think will be a little light entertainment for the summer months :-)
It would appear that my expectations of the Country House Sale Effect came true in the case of the Althorp Attic sale ,which I recently wrote about here.
The sale concluded last week and the prices realised were much, much higher than the sale estimates.
For example, the Spencer State Chariot, seen above, sold for £133,250 against an estimated price of £50,000-£80,000. The amount raised from the sale was a total of £21.1 million. That should secure the new roof…
Did anyone place a bid? Do tell…..
There are some fascinating projects appearing on BBC TV and Radio concerning 18th century history in the next few months,and I thought I ought to give you all advance notice of the programmes, so you might not miss them.
The first to appear is Amanda Vickery’s new BBC Radio 4 series, Voices from the Old Bailey which will begin to air next Thursday at 9 a.m on Radio 4. The blurb from the BBC tell us that:
In this new series Professor Amanda Vickery presents dramatised extracts from gripping court cases and discusses with fellow historians what they reveal about 18th century society and culture. Amanda Vickery was the presenter of the highly successful “A History of Private Life” on BBC Radio 4 last year.
The series begins with the voices of highwaymen in court,and was recorded on location at The Flask Tavern in Highgate Village,London one of Dick Turpin’s favourite inns.
During the programme, Professor Vickery will be taking to fellow historians Professor Robert Shoemaker of the University of Sheffield, Dr Helen Berry of Newcastle University and Professor John Mullan of University College London
All the histories referred to in the programme can be accessed in the Old Bailey Online website, a fantastic resource detailing hundreds of thousands of criminal cases,ranging from the most trivial to the more serious cases. Do explore it- try searching on your own surname to see if any of your ancestors were unlucky enough to pass through its courtrooms…..
If you access the programme here via its webpage, then as I understand it,wherever you are in the world, you should be able to listen to it, even though the broadcast time has passed.
Professor Vickery is currently in the process of filming Behind Closed Doors for the BBC,and the series is due to be screened in November. You can follow her daily progress because she is now on Twitter, twittering about locations and filming events. It all sounds madly interesting, if hectic. Go here to access her Twitter page and follow her.
She has been in closed carriages careering through the Peak District (in the company of a burly cameraman) and has filmed at Chawton House and Jane Austen’s House Museum. She even managed ,after reading about it here, to go to the Georgian Gadets Sale at Crewkherne and play with the silver goodies on offer at Lawrences saleroom including the silver tongue scraper. I wonder if that scene will make the final cut? Yesterday she was filming in London at Coles wallpaper company (whose ancient workshop I used to pass every day on the way to the office when I lived in London).She was trawling around the beautiful rolls of wallpaper
and getting covered in flock when she tried her hand at block printing
Later in the day she was at the Lansdown Club in Berkley Square, originally called Lansdown House and designed by Robert Adam .
It really is fascinating being able to follow her around the country as she films, so do follow her on Twitter for all the delicious details.
In early August a double CD of selections from her acclaimed BBC Radio 4 series,The History of Private Life is published,
and though it covers more than the era we are concerned with here I think you will all find it fascinating and a jolly interesting and totally enjoyable series of dramatised essays about the history of domestic life.(They kept me company in the school car park last autumn!)
Yale Publishing have also produced an informative website for Professor Vickery. If you go here you can access it,and if you go here you can view pages from Behind Closed Doors, listen to a podcast and read reviews. All good fun ;-)
Laurel of Austenprose has asked me to provide some background posts to her mammoth and laudable Group Read of Pride and Prejudice Without Zombies. Today, I offer you my last contribution, a post about William Gilpin and Jane Austen, which I do hope you will enjoy and find informative.
Having read Henry Austen’s biographical notice of her, published in the posthumously printed first edition of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion and in subsequent editions, I knew, also from an early age, that Jane Austen was
enamoured of Gilpin on the Picturesque at a very early age…
so, when aged 15 or therabouts I found a copy of his Observations on the Mountains and Lakes of Cumberland in what was then one of my favourite haunts, a second-hand bookshop in Dr Johnson’s home city of Lichfield, I bought it immediately…But now comes a confession…Prepare yourself for something very dreadful… I didn’t read it for another 20 years.
I thought it would be deadly boring.
How wrong I was.
I should have trusted Jane Austen’s taste and judgement, and realised exactly why she was enamoured of him…..but we are getting ahead of ourselves. Before we explore his books and the reasons why I think she adored him, we ought properly to learn a little about William Gilpin’s life to find out who he was….
William Gilpin was born on 4 June 1724 near Carlisle, in Cumberland. He was the son of Captain John Bernard Gilpin and a Matilda Langstaffe . Captain Gilpin was considered to be one of the best amateur painters of the time, and this artistic talent seems to have passed through to the next generation, for William was obsessed with the correct way to view both pictures and landscape, and his younger brother, Sawrey Gilpin, was to become a famous animal painter and, indeed, later contributed some illustrations to William’s books.
After a typically indifferent education at Queen’s College Oxford, William Gilpin was ordained as a deacon in the Church of England in 1746, and was subsequently appointed to the curacy of Irthington in Cumberland.
In 1747 he preached a sermon at Buckingham, and must while staying there have taken the opportunity to visit Lord Cobham’s famous landscape gardens at Stowe. For he then wrote, anonymously, the tract, A Dialogue upon the Gardens of the Right Honourable the Lord Viscount Cobham at Stowe (1748) where, for the first time, he set out his theories on the distinctions to be made between beauty in natural scenery and in ruined buildings, theories which were to become the basis for all his later writings on the “Picturesque”.
In 1752 Gilpin married his first cousin, Margaret Gilpin, and by 1753 he had taken over the management of the Cheam School for Boys, in Surrey, where for the past few years he had been an occasional assistant teacher . He proved to be a very able teacher and an enlightened disciplinarian, replacing the school’s normal system of corporal punishment with a system of punishment dependant not on inflicting physical harm but on imposing detentions and monetary fines. Interestingly, the proceeds of the fines were put towards the maintenance and improvement of the school’s resources as well as to fund local charities.
In 1768 Gilpin published his book, Essay on Prints. It was published anonymously. It received excellent reviews.
His aim, as the title-page of my copy of the second edition ,above, indicates, was to outline
the Principles of picturesque Beauty, the Different Kinds of Prints, and the Characters of the most noted Masters
The Essay defines ‘picturesque’ as
a term expressive of that peculiar kind of beauty, which is agreeable in a picture
He went on to expand on this theory in his series of books on the British countryside. In 1777 Gilpin left Cheam to become vicar of Boldre in the New Forest in Hampshire. The living gave him the very respectable income of £600 a year and, probably more importantly, some leisure time during which he began to write seriously on his ideas of the “Picturesque”, the meaning of which he expounded upon in his Observations on the Western Parts of England
Picturesque beauty is a phrase but little understood. We precisely mean by it that kind of beauty which would look well in a picture. Neither grounds laid out by art nor improved by agriculture are of this kind. The Isle of Wight is in fact, a large garden or rather a field which in every part has been disfigured by the spade ,the coulter and the harrow. It abounds much more in tillage than in pasturage; and of all species of cultivation, cornfields are the most unpicturesque. The regularity of corn fields disgusts, and is out of true with everything else….
Do note his tone..we will refer to it later on…
He began to work upon the sketches and copious notes that he had taken in his holidays during the period 1769-1776, in which he had made various tours throughout the British Isles. The books he subsequently produced were quite remarkable, influential and very popular.
As the entry for Gilpin in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography records:
That challenge (to define exactly what was meant by the term “picturesque-JFW) was met in the series of books published between 1782 and 1809, all of which bore the same title format: “Observations on [various regions of Britain] relative chiefly to picturesque beauty.” He travelled widely in Britain, with his notebook and sketching materials, in order to identify locations which offered that particular kind of beauty in landscape ‘which is agreeable in a picture’. Picturesque tourism constituted ‘a new object of pursuit’, as he wrote in the first of these books, Observations on the River Wye (1782): the practice recommended was ‘that of not merely describing; but of adapting the description of natural scenery to the principles of artificial landscape’ (Wye, 2). Further picturesque books, with aquatint reproductions of Gilpin’s pen-and-wash drawings, included Observations on Cumberland and Westmorland (2 vols., 1786), the Scottish highlands (2 vols., 1789), south-west England and the Isle of Wight (1798), and theEeastern counties of England and north Wales (1809). Remarks on Forest Scenery (1791), illustrated with etchings by his brother, Sawrey, concentrated on the New Forest, where he lived. Three Essays of a more analytical kind, on the nature of picturesque beauty, picturesque travel, and on the sketching of landscape, together with a poem on landscape painting, appeared in 1792. In 1804 Two Essays described his methods and principles in making his sketches.
These were the books that so enamored Jane Austen, and into which we will now delve. And I confess they have now completely enamored me and I have almost a complete set-I’m lacking only the Eastern Counties and Welsh volumes-still looking for them though…
Now, My Patient Reader, you will recall that I began this post by admitting that I had avoided reading Gilpin because I thought he was going to be boring. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
He most certainly cannot be described in any way as boring. He is a highly opinionated and vital writer; and such writers, like opinionated people, make for engaging companions, even if you don’t agree with their pronouncements or views. His opinions are expressed in such a forthright manner that you cannot but engage with him. Or be started. Or burst out laughing at the outrageousness of it all.
And I think it is this that captivated Jane Austen. His style is so terribly pompous and opinionated, fixated on his search for the picturesque to the exclusion of everything else, even common sense: and that is why, to be brutal, some of his pronouncements(even when slightly modified )are of such monumental stupidity that they take your breath away.
Let me explain by quoting some examples. In his first Observations book, Observations on the River Wye etc he has this to say about Tintern Abbey in Monmouthshire -a romantic ruin of a place that has inspired poets and prose writers alike. Note, I have emboldened the important part of this quote :
No part of the ruins of Tintern is seen from the river except the abbey church. It has been an elegant Gothic pile; but it does not make that appearance as a distant object which we expected. Though the parts are beautiful, the whole is ill-shaped. No ruins of the tower are left, which might give form and contrast to the buttresses and walls. Instead of this a number of gable ends hurt the eye with their regularity, and disgust it by the vulgarity of their shape. A mallet judiciously used (but who durst use it?) might be of service in fracturing some of them; particularly those of the cross-aisles, which are both disagreeable in themselves, and confound the perspective.
Do you see? He seriously suggests (even in a qualified form) that by taking a mallet to a ruin and judiciously using it , it could be made more picturesesque. (Alert Sir Roy Stong and Prince Charles immediately!) He is of the opinion that the appearance of the abbey could be improved by bashing some more holes in the ruined structure. Goodness. Written in all seriousness without a hint of humour.
And this I feel is the key to Jane Austen’s enamourment of him. He was so serious and preposterous she simply could not resist taking pot shots at him throughout her works. Henry Austen’s Biographical Notice was subtle. It meant ,I am sure to imply, that Jane Austen was a cultivated woman who through her reading of Gilpin was possessed of the refined accomplishment of appreciating landscape and painting. But I think that interpretation leads us astray. What she truly delighted in, in my humble opinion, was not slavishly adhering to Gilpin’s every dicktat, but to pricking his jlittle puffs of pomposity, which clearly delighted her sense of the ridiculous. And now if we read his books given this knowledge, we are suddenly let in on the meaning of many of her subtle jokes.
For example, in her History of England by a partial prejudiced and ignorant Historian, the 16 year old Jane Austen obviously poked fun at Goldmsith’s rather prejudiced partial and selective history text and much more besides, including a serous swipe at Gilpin at his most ridiculous. In the chapter on Henry VII she writes:
(Cassandra Austen’s drawing of Henry VIII for JAne Austen’s History of England)
The Crimes and Cruelties of this Prince were too numerous to be mentioned…& nothing can be said in his vindication, but that of his abolishing Religious Houses and leaving them to the ruinous depredations of time has been of infinite use to the landscape of England in general, which probably was his principal motive for doing it, since otherwise why should a Man who was of no Religion be at so much trouble to abolish one which had for ages been established in the Kingdom.
This is, in my opinion, a direct allusion and attack to the sentiments Gilpin expresses in this passage in his Observations on Cumberland and Westmorland when he is talking, quite seriously and not intending to be satirical at all, about his birthplace, Scaleby Castle near Carlisle:
(Gilpin’s view of Scaleby Castle, his birthplace)
At present one of the motes only remains. The other is filled up; but may still be traced. The castle is more perfect than such buildings commonly are. The walls are very intire; an great part of the tower which is square is till left. It was preserved its perfect form till the civil wars of the last century; when the castle, in too much confidence of its strength, shut its gates against Cromwell ,then marching into Scotland; he made it a monument of his vengeance.
What share of picturesque genius Cromwell might have I know not. Certain however it is that no man since Henry the eight has contributed more to adorn this country with picturesque ruins. The difference between these two masters lay chiefly in the style of ruins, in which they composed. Henry adorned his landscape with the ruins of abbeys; Cromwell with those of castles. I have seen many pieces by this master executed in a very grand style; but seldom a fine monument to his masterly hand than this. He has rent the tower and demolished two of its sides; the edges of the other two he ash shattered into broken lines….
So here we have Gilpin seriously telling us we are to admire Cromwell for his artistic ability when destroying castles and that both he and Henry VIII adorned the landscape of England with ruins? As if they did this deliberately to create a picturesque effect? That the English Civil War and the Dissolution of the Monasteries were contemplated merely for the decorative effect they would eventually bequeath the English countryside? “I think not ” I can hear the young Jane Austen say to herself as she as she sharpened her pen….
Another example: in Northanger Abbey during Catherine Morland’s tour around Beechen Cliff near Bath with the impeccably educated Tilneys, Jane Austen cannot resist poking fun at these unthinking disciples of Gilpin.
They were viewing the country with the eyes of persons accustomed to drawing, and decided on its capability of being formed into pictures, with all the eagerness of real taste. Here Catherine was quite lost. She knew nothing of drawing — nothing of taste: and she listened to them with an attention which brought her little profit, for they talked in phrases which conveyed scarcely any idea to her. The little which she could understand, however, appeared to contradict the very few notions she had entertained on the matter before. It seemed as if a good view were no longer to be taken from the top of an high hill, and that a clear blue sky was no longer a proof of a fine day. She was heartily ashamed of her ignorance…
In the present instance, she confessed and lamented her want of knowledge, declared that she would give anything in the world to be able to draw; and a lecture on the picturesque immediately followed, in which his instructions were so clear that she soon began to see beauty in everything admired by him, and her attention was so earnest that he became perfectly satisfied of her having a great deal of natural taste. He talked of foregrounds, distances, and second distances — side–screens and perspectives — lights and shades; and Catherine was so hopeful a scholar that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape.
Northanger Abbey Chapter 14
Poor Catherine , going from ignorance to scholarly “erudition” in the space of one afternoon’s walk! So easily able to dismiss the spectacular sight of Bath from the top of Beechen Hill: a sight which is surely “picturesque’ if any sight qualifies for that term.
Similarly Marianne Dashwood’s preference for blasted trees in Sense and Sensibility is surely based on Gilpin’s passages in his book, Remarks on Forest Scenery.
In this book he goes into the minutest detail of the picturesque nature of trees. His comments on the preference in the landscape for blasted trees ignore the practicalities required of the farmer or forestry men ,all in the name of the “picturesque”:
The blasted tree has often a fine effect both in natural and in artificial landscape. In some scenes it is almost essential. When the dreary heath is spread before the eye and ideas if wildness and desolation are required, what more suitable accompaniment can be imaged than the blasted oak, ragged, scathed and leafless; shooting its peeled white branches thwart the gathering blackness of some rising storm…..
No wonder Edward Ferrers, speaking with his creator’s voice perhaps, is able to demolish Marianne and Gipin’s fancy by the timely intervention of some sound practical principles:
“I am convinced,” said Edward, “that you really feel all the delight in a fine prospect which you profess to feel. But, in return, your sister must allow me to feel no more than I profess. I like a fine prospect, but not on picturesque principles. I do not like crooked, twisted, blasted trees. I admire them much more if they are tall, straight and flourishing. I do not like ruined, tattered cottages. I am not fond of nettles, or thistles, or heath blossoms. I have more pleasure in a snug farm-house than a watch-tower — and a troop of tidy, happy villagers please me better than the finest banditti in the world.”
Sense and Sensibility Chapter 18
Apart from these examples where Jane Austen was, in my opinion reveling in her ability to ridicule Gilpin, there are clearly many other allusion she made to his works but these were of a more practical nature, due to her limited personal experience of the geography many parts of the British isles. She travelled extensively in the south of England and possibly into Tenby in South Wales, but ventured only as far north as Hamstall Ridware in Staffordshire on a visit in 1806.
In order to write about places she had never visited she needed a knowledgeable guide and she found an able one in Gilpin. For example the Juvenilia is peppered with references to places in Scotland –a country she certainly never visited-and I feel sure that Jane Austen was able to use Scottish locations and references after reading his Observations on the Highlands of Scotland
When it came to writing Pride and Prejudice, which ought really to be our focus here today, she again had to use Gilpin as a guide for I am quite certain that she never set foot in Derbyshire. The closest she may have go to it was viewing the country at a distance from Needwood Forest on her trip to her Cooper cousins in Staffordshire in 1806, as Mrs Caroline Lybbe Powys did in 1800.
In his Observations on the mountains an Lakes of Cumberland and Westmoreland Gilpin gives the reader an extremely detailed account of his trip though the county of Derbyshire and Jane Austen could by reference to his notes and observation describe the ideal and imaginary but definitely Derbyshire landscape of Pemberley:
Elizabeth’s mind was too full for conversation, but she saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view. They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!
Pride and Prejudice Chapter 43
(Gilpin’s view of Dovedale,Derbyshire)
By studying his book, combined with her own knowledge of Warwickshire gained on that summer trip in 1806, Jane Austen could also follow the route the Gardiners took into Derbyshire-
It is not the object of this work to give a description of Derbyshire, nor of any of the remarkable places through which their route thither lay: Oxford, Blenheim, Warwick, Kenelworth, Birmingham, etc., are sufficiently known.
-for that was also the well established tourist route that Gilpin described in his Observations of Cumberland and Westmorland, making many caustic remarks on the scenery and grand houses enroute.
I ought to remark that Jane Austen was not alone in finding Gilpin unintentionally amusing. He was ridiculed rather mercilessly as Dr Syntax in a series of three books, Dr Syntax’s Three Tours: in Search of the Picturesque, Consolation and a Wife
These books were written by William Coombe and illustrated (without mercy) by Thomas Rowlandson. Here, for example, is the hapless Dr Syntax losing his money at the races at York….
And to bring this post to a close, let’s share one final Gilpin inspired joke with Jane Austen. In Chapter 10 of Pride and Prejudice, when out walking with Darcy, holding his arm, Caroline Bingley rudely abuses Elizabeth and her connections. Mrs Hurst, arriving with Elizabeth, takes Darcy’s free arm, therby effectively and rudely separating Elizabeth from the “In-Crowd’ as the path “will not admit a fourth”:
At that moment they were met from another walk by Mrs. Hurst and Elizabeth herself.
“I did not know that you intended to walk,” said Miss Bingley, in some confusion, lest they had been overheard.
“You used us abominably ill,” answered Mrs. Hurst, “running away without telling us that you were coming out.”
Then, taking the disengaged arm of Mr. Darcy, she left Elizabeth to walk by herself. The path just admitted three. Mr. Darcy felt their rudeness and immediately said, —
“This walk is not wide enough for our party. We had better go into the avenue.”
But Elizabeth, who had not the least inclination to remain with them, laughingly answered, —
“No, no; stay where you are. You are charmingly grouped, and appear to uncommon advantage. The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth. Good-bye.”
She then ran gaily off, rejoicing, as she rambled about, in the hope of being at home again in a day or two. Jane was already so much recovered as to intend leaving her room for a couple of hours that evening.
Here we have Jane Austen her allowing her heroine an opportunity for getting her revenge on the Bingley sisters for their continued rudeness to her. Elizabeth is quite clearly referring to a passage from Gilpin’s Observations on Cumberland and Westmorland. In Volume II Section XXXI he waxes lyrical on the picturesque qualities of the domesticated animals normally to be found in the English countryside; that is, horses, sheep and cows. This is what he has to say about the grouping of cows:
Cattle are so large that when they ornament a foreground, a few are sufficient. Two cows will hardly combine Three make a good group- either united- or when one is a little removed from the other two. If you increase the group beyond three; one of more in proportion must necessarily be a little detached .This detachment prevents heaviness and adds variety…
As you can see from his illustration of this group of cows, three is the magic number as far as he was concerned. A fourth has to be some distance off otherwise it spoils the picturesque.
By allowing Elizabeth to make this one little, seemingly innocent remark (and escape from Darcy and the Bingley sisters in the process) Jane Austen demonstrates that despite the efforts of Mrs Bennet to hinder her education, Elizabeth has, by the advantage of her extensive reading, more awareness of the principles of the picturesque than of the expensively educated ladies before her. As a man of taste and education Darcy is most probably aware of the source for her reference and cannot but be impressed by it. He also knew that she was referring to them as a group of three….cows.
Game set and match to Elizabeth Bennet walking swiftly in the opposite direction…..
So that’s my take on Jane Austen and William Giplin. She was, as Henry Austen would have us believe, enamored of him, I am certain, but not necessarily for purely innocent reasons. Like her creation Elizabeth Bennet, she found that Gilpin’s follies, nonsense, whims and inconsistencies diverted her tremendously, and she could not help but gently poke fun of him whenever the opportunity arose.
I realised over the past week that I had not written about Jane Austen and Food for some time…so I’ve decided to make amends for that by giving you a detailed history of that most intriguing of dishes from Pride and Prejudice, White Soup.
White Soup is, I suppose, one of the most famous food dishes in Jane Austen’s works, almost on a par with Mr Woodhouse’s gruel. Virtually unknown today, we hear about it because in Pride and Prejudice the genial Mr Bingley famously and much to the chagrin of his sisters, informs the robust Lydia Bennet that she shall name the day for the Netherfield ball
once Nicholls has made white soup enough
White soup originated in 17th century France. Then known as Pottage a la Reine ( Queen’s Soup) it was a slightly different dish to that served to Charles Bingley’s guests and produced by the quart by the indefatigable Nicholls.
The first known recipe for this most aristocratic of soups is to be found in the cookery book, Le Cuisinier François (1651) written by Francois Pierre, known as La Varenne, who was chef to the Marquis of Uxelles. This was translated into English in 1653, and this is the frontispiece from that first English edition:
His recipe is as follows:
Get almonds. Grind them and set them to boil with good bouillon, along with a bouquet of herbs, a bit of lemon pulp and a little breadcrumb; then season that with salt. Take care they don’t burn, stirring them frequently and strain them. Then get your bread and simmer it in the best bouillon you have. After you have deboned some roast partridge of capon get some good bouillon, cook all of the bones with a few mushroom and strain everything through a cloth. Simmer your bread in the bouillon and as it is simmering sprinkle it with the almond milk, and with meat stock then add in a little chopped partridge flesh or capon until it is full. Then get the fire shovel, heat it to red hot and pass it over the top. Garnish your pottage with cockscombs,pistachios pomegranate seeds and neat stock.Then serve.
The decoration of dishes with pomegranate and pistachios-very rare and expensive ingredients in the 17th century- was a common feature of court cookery of the time.
For example, here is a winter salad as ordered by Robert May in his book, The Accomplish’d Cook (1660)
complete with sprinkled pomegranate and nuts
And a rosemary “tree” covered in white snow (egg white,whipp’t)
John Thacker, the cook to the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral gives interesting directions for dressing and serving the soup in his book, The Art of Cookery (1758).(Do note you can enlarge all the illustrations in this post by clicking on them)
This is how Ivan Day,the wonderful food historian of Historic Food , and whose courses I love to attend, has interpreted it.
Rather faithfully, I think you will agree.(and I thank Ivan for his kind permission to use his images here).
Here is the heated shovel as recommended by La Varenne, as used by Ivan
Another way to do this would be to use a salamander
Here is one heating up in the roaring fire of Ivan’s Cumbrian kitchen
And here it is in use giving a toasted finish to some stuffed tomatoes which I helped cook on Ivan’s Regency Cookery Course I attended in 2009. This as you can see is a ferociously dangerous cooking method. Luckily for Nicholls it was not required to be used in recipes by the time she was preparing her soup.
in her book The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769)
gives a variant on the original French recipe
William Verral, the famous innkeeper of the White Hart Inn in Lewes in Sussex in his cookery book of 1759, The Complete System of Cookery, gives this disarming but very honest title to his recipe for the soup ; Queen’s Soup, What Queen I Know Not.(!)
By the time we get to Jane Austen’s era, and around the time of the publication of Pride and Prejudice in 1813, the recipe has altered further. Here is Frederick Nutt’s
recipe from his book The Imperial and Royal Cook etc (1809)
And it was not only the swankiest cookery books that gave recipes for White Soup. Our friend, Mrs Rundell gives these recipes for two variants of white soup,
in her book, A New System of Domestic Cookery (1816)
If you would care to make your own version of White Soup, here is a modern equivalent of the soup adapted from Eliza Acton’s recipe (dating from 1845-a long time after our era as you can see)quoted by Jane Grigson in her book, Food with the Famous .
2 ½ points of veal or light beef stock.
2oz blanched almonds
10z white bread, weighed without crusts
1 egg yolk
¼ pint each double and soured cream or milk Salt, pepper,
2 oz toasted or fried almonds to garnish.
To make the soup, put the almonds and bread into a blender, add some of the stock and liquidize to a smooth paste.
Using a sieve, strain into the remaining stock, pushing through as much as you can. Beat the egg yolk with the creams or cream and milk and add to the soup. If possible leave for an hour or two; this will improve and mellow the flavour.
Reheat, keeping the soup well below boiling point so as not to curdle the egg. Add salt, pepper, lemon juice and Cayenne pepper to taste and bring out the flavour.
Serve garnished with almonds.
Because Mr Bingley served white Soup at the Netherfield Ball, and because Miss Bates says wonderingly of the supper served at the Crown Inn Ball in Emma
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.
it is sometimes assumed that soup is de rigueur at balls in this era. However, I have poured over my extensive collection of cookery books dating from the late 18th and early 19th century and I have only ever found one list of recommended dished to be served at a ball, and that is from William Henderson’s The Housekeepers Instructor,14th edition dating from 1807.
The Housewife’s Instructor was first written by William Henderson. It was a best seller and appeared in many editions. This 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. You can clearly see the entrance to the Albany below him.
This place is still in existence: here is another view of it taken from inside the courtyard circa 1820.
The Albany has, of course, 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 the for dishes for the first course:
Note the absence of soup in any form. If someone as smart as Schnebbelie did not include soup as a matter of course for a ball supper, then no wonder that Miss Bates was pleased by the appearance of soup at the Crown: it must have been a superior spread indeed, and this evidence suggests to me that soup at a ball was the exception and not the rule. It is clear therefore that Mr Bingley (and Mr Weston) were characteristically most generous hosts ;-)
The Shop at the Jane Austen’s House Museum has to be one of the best places a committed Janiete can spend money. I love to go there and buy some difficult to find books, and get my treasured “Bought at Jane Austen’s House” sticker to put in them , as a reminder of yet another happy visit.
The shop will still provide a mail order service for those Janeites who are unable to visit in person, but it has recently opened an online shop for ease of ordering from a distance, in conjunction with Trail Publishing.
There are some gems to be found in the new online emporium. I loved the Jane Austen novels mouse mat…
The book spine mug…
and the reasonably priced Jane Austen Chawton Bi- Centenary shopper.
And I have to admit my first online order was larger than I had planned but that is always the way with this particular museum’s carefully chosen merchandise.
As all profits from both shops go towards keeping Jane’s cherished Chawton home in good heart, I’m sure you will all be keen to help the economy (!) and it by spending a little there ;-).
The current exhibition at the Jane Austen’s House Museum at Chawton is a fascinating project, the development of which I have been following, fascinated, on-line for some time. Entitled Under the Influence, it showcases a series of works produced by design students of the Farnham University of Creative Arts, all of which have been inspired by the special atmosphere of Jane Austen’s house and garden. It will last until the 10th September 2010.
According to the exhibition’s website (which is fascinating: do explore it for the insights it gives into the creative process as experienced by some of the artists):
The aim of the project is to use the house and garden as a creative space and respond artistically to a sense of place. Using the museum collection and taking inspiration from Jane Austen’s life and novels, students will explore these aspects and develop contemporary artworks as a dialogue with the museum. We want to support up and coming local designers to produce artworks to sell and exhibit in summer 2010 at Jane Austen’s House Museum.
Here are two of the pieces of work inspired by the house and now on show there.
The first is a fabulous necklace, inspired by Catherine Morland’s resounding declaration for Bath in Northanger Abbey: “Oh Who could ever be tired of Bath ?” ( and please do click on it to enlarge the photograph in order to see the detail)
and this bravura ceramics piece, placed on the dining table nestling among Edward Austen Knight’s Wedgwood china.
I’m hoping to make my pilgrimage to Hampshire later in the summer to see this exhibit along with the Winchester Cathedral Exhibit on Jane Austen’s life. If I do mange to get there I will of course report back. But in the meantime I hope you enjoy this preview.