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Sorry, my friends but I’ve been rather busy to post recently…but I thought you’d enjoy this seasonable post about Georgian Christmases from Soho House, home of Matthew Bouton , entrepreneur,inventor and member of the Lunar Society.

Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery

In 1644, only a century before Soho House was built, Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas! Carols were forbidden and anyone caught cooking a goose or baking a Christmas cake or boiling a pudding was in danger of fine, confiscation or worse.

By the 1800s it was once again a time of celebration, having been reinstated by Charles II. The Georgian Christmas season began on 6th of December (St. Nicholas Day). Gifts would be exchanged both then and on New Years Day and the main feasting occasion was 6th of January (Twelfth Night, Epiphany). St Stephen’s Day was 26th of December and is now better known as Boxing Day as this was when servants would be presented with gifts and donations made to charity.

Soho House - The Georgian house in the snow. Soho House in the snow.

The gentry spent the Christmas season in their country houses and didn’t return to their London addresses until February. It was a time of…

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Sophie Croft is possibly my favourite of all Jane Austen’s female characters. Intelligent, kind, shewd, witty and self sufficient(as long as she is near the Admiral).

Mrs. Croft, though neither tall nor fat, had a squareness, uprightness, and vigour of form, which gave importance to her person. She had bright dark eyes, good teeth, and altogether an agreeable face; though her reddened and weather-beaten complexion, the consequence of her having been almost as much at sea as her husband, made her seem to have lived some years longer in the world than her real eight-and-thirty. Her manners were open, easy, and decided, like one who had no distrust of herself, and no doubts of what to do; without any approach to coarseness, however, or any want of good humour.

Pesruasion,Chapter 6

She is very much part of the Admiral’s world and their relationship is one of the most balanced and loving in all Jane Austens works:

The Crofts knew quite as many people in Bath as they wished for, and considered their intercourse with the Elliots as a mere matter of form, and not in the least likely to afford them any pleasure. They brought with them their country habit of being almost always together. He was ordered to walk to keep off the gout, and Mrs. Croft seemed to go shares with him in everything, and to walk for her life to do him good. Anne saw them wherever she went. Lady Russell took her out in her carriage almost every morning, and she never failed to think of them, and never failed to see them. Knowing their feelings as she did, it was a most attractive picture of happiness to her. She always watched them as long as she could, delighted to fancy she understood what they might be talking of, as they walked along in happy independence, or equally delighted to see the Admiral’s hearty shake of the hand when he encountered an old friend, and observe their eagerness of conversation when occasionally forming into a little knot of the navy, Mrs. Croft looking as intelligent and keen as any of the officers around her.

Persuasion Chapter 18

And of course, Mrs Croft is the most travelled of any of Jane Austen’s female characters:

“What a great traveller you must have been, ma’am!” said Mrs. Musgrove to Mrs. Croft.

“Pretty well, ma’am, in the fifteen years of my marriage; though many women have done more. I have crossed the Atlantic four times, and have been once to the East Indies and back again, and only once; besides being in different places about home: Cork, and Lisbon, and Gibraltar. But I never went beyond the Streights, and never was in the West Indies. We do not call Bermuda or Bahama, you know, the West Indies.”

Persuasion Chapter 8

(Map of the East Indies circa 1805 from my collection, not included in the book. Please click to enlarge it)

And it is her travels that interest me, for this recently published book, Birds of Passage edited by Nancy K Shields, details just the type of journeying Mrs Corft would have undertaken when she traveled to the East Indies, via the cape of Good Hope.  I have been waiting since Christmas for the oportunity to tell you of this book. I thought today was perfect timing with the airing of Persuasion on PSB tonight.

Birds of Passage records the journey to India made by Lady Henrietta Clive- seen on the cover of the book, above as portrayed by Sir Joshua Reynolds- and her two daughters, Harry (Hernitetta) and  Charly (Charlotte). She was married to Lord Edward Clive, son of Clive of India. Lord Edward was Governor of Madras. Accompanying them on their journey was the children’s  governess, Anna Tonelli, and her paintings of the  places they encountered on the whole expedition  illustrate this book.

This is one of the Government House and Council Chamber in Madras.

The book consists of extracts from Lady Henrietta’s diaries and letters written to her  brother, Geroge Herbert, second Earl of Powis, a rather Byronic figure. Extracts from Charly’s journals are also presented. They detail the journeys to and from the East Indies, stopping at the Cape of Good Hope en-route, and at St Helena on the return journey to England.

(Simon’s Bay, the Cape of Good Hope)

When in India Lady Henrietta and her children made a journey of over 1000 miles from Madras via Bangalore, Mysore, Coimatoor,Tranquebar and Ponidcherry, returning to Madras seven months later. Her aim was to see  the recently conquered Seringapatam and the remains of Tipu Sultan’s capital – the fall of which was part of the foruth Anglo-Mysore cmpaagin. In 1799 the English Army had attacked Seringapatam. Lady Henrietta’s original plans to vist  Seringupatam  were  postponed by Lord Mornington- Wellington’s brother, and the Governor General of India-a difficult character by Lady Hernietta’s account.

The journals are chock full of  interest for those of us  who like the teeny-tiny details of life in the early 19th century, and are of extra special interest to those of us who adore Mrs Croft, for naturally Lady Henrietta chronicles many of the sights, sounds and experiences that Mrs Corft must have shared.

The book recounts, in some great detail, life on board ship-sadly unlike Mrs Croft Lady Henrietta never felt entirely well while at sea. We accompany her while she learns Persian(the language of the India Courts) and she frequently expresses her exasperation with the limited role that women could play in this and indeed the wider world, dominated by men.

We learn from the journals what was considered  to be essential travelling equipment in India for an aristocratic party: harp and  pianoforte of course; fourteen elephants; a hundred bullocks to carry provisions and, not forgetting a train of  camels which were essential for the delivery of express messages.

The trials if family and domestic life  is also related. Unlike Sophie Croft, Lady Henrietta’s marriage was not entirely happy. Lord Edward Clive was not at all lively and was a poor intellectual match for his spirited wife. As Wellington noted-he was also part of their world in India, leading the British Army’s campaign against Tipu Sultan- Lord Edward was :

A mild moderate and remarkably reserved man having a bad delivery and apparently heavy understanding…

We learn of Lady Hernitta’s maid becoming pregnant as a result of a dalliance with an officer and  discretion is the key: mother and prospective child are treated with utmost kindness, a way life for them both being provided by Henrietta, and discretion  at home in England  being insisted upon by Henrietta to save the poor girl’s reputation. She thinks very ill of the officer involved indeed.

She was, of course, viewing India from the standpoint of 18th century British colonialists: this is not a treatise on the Indian way of life, but notes of the lives of British in India. She was interested in the people, the flora and fauna, their religion and language but clearly on her terms. In no way did she “go native” as you can see from this small extract:

March 16th 1800

We breakfasted in the commanding officer’s fort -house..I went at seven o’clock to the fort and an old pagoda, magnificent and well carved, constructed of granite now converted into a military storehouse. The sculpture is much better than any I have yet seen, some of the open work is extremely neat and well executed…I breakfasted at the commanding officer’s house and afterwards the Princes came to see me…The Padshaw begin  a legitimate son is extremely interesting. I understand that Col Wellesley was much pleased with his manners in Seringapatam….

(Map of India circa 1815 from my collection)

That being said, I adored this book,  and was grateful for the glossary explaining the Indian words Lady Henrietta used often.  If anything is lacking I would say it is  some more explanatory footnotes…but then I’ve been thoroughly spoiled by the extreme  notation of the excellent Deirdre le Faye;-)

This book is a bargain. Buy it and revel in the fascinating details with which Lady Henrietta regales us: of the plants she collects and sees, the travails of  travel by sea-leaks, mutinies, prize taking-all are recounted here;  the strangeness of travel within India itself; the social life of the British at the Cape and in India all of which would have been familiar to my favourite Austen lady, Sophie Croft.

(The Crescent in 1780 by Thomas Malton)

As soon as divine service was over, the Thorpes and Allens eagerly joined each other; and after staying long enough in the pump–room to discover that the crowd was insupportable, and that there was not a genteel face to be seen, which everybody discovers every Sunday throughout the season, they hastened away to the Crescent, to breathe the fresh air of better company. Here Catherine and Isabella, arm in arm, again tasted the sweets of friendship in an unreserved conversation; they talked much, and with much enjoyment; but again was Catherine disappointed in her hope of reseeing her partner..

Northanger Abbey, Chapter 9

The Royal Crescent in Bath- which Jane Austen referred to only as The Crescent– was, and still is, a pleasant place to promenade. It has wonderful views across the city, being part of the upper town, due to the open prospect it commands. The lack of building immediately before it was due to the building restrictions imposed in the orignal leases for the site. Here is the map of Bath which appears in my copy of  The Guide to All the Watering and Sea Bathing Places etc (1803) by  John Feltham

(Remember, you can enlarge all the illustrations in this post by clicking on them)

And here is a section from that map  which  shows you exactly the position of The Crescent

The site was acquired as building land on December 20th 1766 by John Wood the Younger from Sir Benet Garrard. The lease contained a clause which would safeguard the amenities of the Crescent by the existence of a covenant  which precluded any house being built on the ground immediately before the Crescent (then known as the Kingsmead Furlong, but eventually known as the Barton Fields ), nor did it allow any plant to grow on that land  if it exceeded the height of 8 feet, thus preserving the view from the Crescent down to the river Avon.

The terrain is  very steep in this part of the city, something which caused some initial problems with the foundations of the buildings – and these vertiginous slopes were a feature  that Thomas Rowlandson couldn’t  resist  making fun of in this chariacture from his series of  prints, The Comforts of Bath:

Here he shows the invalids, drawn to Bath to take the waters to effect a cure, in their Bath chairs  etc.,staging  their own version of The Bath Races. Wicked man.

Back to the Crescent……The Bath Chronicle dated 21st May 1767 noted that

on Tuesday last the foundation stone was laid of the first house of the intended new building above the Circus called the Royal Crescent

The Crescent was made up of 30 houses: though each house had a basement,three stories and roof garrets, each house differed in size, and  internally the plans of each were different,as can be noted from the differences in the rear of the buildings from this modern areal photograph. Seven independent firms of building contractors worked on the house. Each house was finished to different degrees of sumptuousness. Some were magnificently decorated with elaborate plasterwork etc. Some, intended to be let permanently to visitors  to Bath for the season, were plain.

But the  façade facing the  city was uniform, and no alterations were allowed from Wood the Younger’s master plan. Each house had a plain ground story face: the windows and doorways are spaced at equal intervals set  in plain square headed openings. Above this  ground level, for the height of two stories, rises 114 Ionic order columns,  each just over 20 feet tall.

The houses were separated from the  lawn in front by a wide pavement-as you can see here in this print by Nattes,above. Perfect for that Sunday Promenade  by people of fashion as Jane Austen describes it in Northanger Abbey- and a road which was cobbled.That road is now blocked  to traffic and so if you visit the Crescent these days you can get some idea of the  atmosphere as it was when Jane Austen’s characters walked  around it.

Such a beautiful and prominent set of buildings, in the most fashionable area of Bath attracted many famous residents. Let’s look at some of them…Christopher Anstey the poet and author of The New Bath Guide-a poem satirising the  visitors to Bath-lived there for  22 years

and the famous Linley family lived at number 11.

The Linleys were  a very talented musical famly. Here is Thomas Linley Senior-  portrayed by Gainsborough who was a family friend, and who also had a famous studio in Bath in the nearby Circus, where he “pickpotted the rich” by painting their  portraits.

His composer son Thomas Linley junior, The English Mozart– again by Gainsborough,  lived at the Crescent

but died prematurely while visiting the Duke of Ancaster ‘s Lincolnshire estate. While on on the lake at Grimsthorpe Castle  a sudden violent storm below up,causing his boat to capsize. Here is Gainsborough’s wistfully beautiful portrait of his sister Elizabeth Linley, the singer:

She famously eloped from the Crescent with the playwright Richard  Sheridan and eventually married him in quite scandalous circumstances, which he subsequently immortalised in his wildly successful play, The Rivals (which play of course was one of the plays performed at the barn at Steventon by the Austen family when they were infected with the itch for acting)

Frederick ,Duke of York lived at Number 1,The Crescent:

This is now a wonderful museum, owned by the Bath Preservation Trust, where many rooms are decorated as they would have been in the 18th century including the kitchen, which has  (shade of our other posts this week) a model turnspit dog in his  wall mounted cage (which you can clearly see by clicking on the link here) And of course, number 16, the central house in the Crescent is now a rather sumptuous and famous hotel. I’ve not stayed there but I have taken tea there and I can highly reccommend it  ;-)

Jane Austen, a frequent visitor to Bath before she lived there from  1801-1806, knew the Crescent well, as is evidenced from her letters:

In the morning Lady Willoughby is to present the Colours to some Corps of Yeomanry or other in the Crescent

(Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 2nd June 1799)

And obviously walked there on Sundays after church like her characters in Northanger Abbey:

On Sunday we  walked a little in the Crescent Fields but found  it too cold to  stay long.

(Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 13th May 1801)

and it was a popular thing to do, though  sometimes the crowds were sparse:

We did not walk long in the Crescent yesterday, it was hot and not crouded enough: so we went into the field…

(Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 11th April 1805)

So there you are, a  virtual stroll around the Crescent on this wintery Sunday . I hope you enjoy it.

This is a very interesting book, written by Doctor SusannaWade Martins of the University of East Anglia.

Throughout  her career she has studied the Holkham estate in some detail, and therefor it is highly appropriate that she  has written the first biography of Thomas CokeCoke of Norfolk-in over a hundred years.

And it is of interest to anyone who has read Jane Austen’s books and has wondered what exactly did Mr knightly do? How would Elizabeth and Darcy have spent their time at Pemberley? What was Darcy’s life like before he met Elizabeth? What should Henry Crawford have been doing at this estate at Everingham?

I know from my experience in the past ten years with online Austen communities that  speculation about these pressing questions continues apace amongst those of us who are interested in these characters and their lives.

Reading this book will , in my opinion give you one of the best impressions of the  type of life they might have led, in one single, very  readable, affordable volume.

Now, do note, I am certainly not arguing that Coke of Norfolk was the basis for any of Jane Austen’s landowning charcters.What I am saying is that  reading this book will give a good over view of the type of life these characters may have led on their estates in the English countryside,and instead of trawling though many varied books to try an understand  just what that life was like , you can now purchase this one volume as a starting point and be very well served by it.

Thomas Coke inherited, in 1776,  the great Holkham estate with as its magnificent centre piece of this Palladian mansion, designed by Matthew Brettingham

It was in wonderful heart.  He continued to improve it and  the conditions of his tenant farms, wanting to encourage gentlemen into the profession to raise standards of his tenantry and consequently of his farms and stock. The detail of how this improvement was achieved- by buildings, lease terms etc- is chronicled in a clear and very readable manner by Doctor Matins,

Prior to inheriting, Coke he  lived the life of  an upper class gentleman, being educated on a Grand Tour

Here he is, above, as depicted by Pompeo Batoni while in Rome.

And then he entered politics. He was a Whig supporter all his life and was vociferously opposed to  the war with America ,talking the side of the colonists. He also supported  the abolition of the slave trade, the emancipation of Catholics and parliamentary reform.

Here is his political map of Norfolk drawn up for Coke by Humphrey Repton-also from Norfolk- who was a parliamentary agent  prior to gaining fame-and mentions in Mansfield Park– as the first “landscape designer’.It was designed and commissioned to show the extent of political interest of both the Tory and Whig parties in Norfolk:

This book covers his personal life as well as his political life and there it is of great  interest to those of us who wonder how Darcy and Elizabeth would have organised their domestic life at Pemberley. Family life for the Cokes was concentrated mainly around Holkham and the orgnaisiation of the domestic life of the house was firmly in the hands of many capable women-namely Cokes first wife and his daughter who took over the domestic reigns on her mother’s death. Doctor Martins  gives a detailed account of estate life from the point of view of the women in the family and it makes for very interesting  reading.

I can highly recommend it for anyone interested in the lives of the upper classes of this period.

For a more detailed examination of the organisation and development of such a large estate, then  I can recommend anther book by Doctor Martins:

A Great Estate at Work is a fascinating book, the result of Doctor Martin’s work for her Phd thesis.She was granted access to the Holkham Archive and the result is a fabulously detailed book  chronicling the development of the estate from 1776-1860. Obvoiulsy  this covers more than the period about which Jane Austen wrote, but it is a great help to read it in order to set in context the  improvements of the agrarian revolution and how they panned  out later in the 19th century.

In the same vein this book,above,  The English Model Farm again by Doctor Martins is rather  on the specialised side , but is fascinating, showing how landlord were able to develop the ideal farming conditions, if they were sufficiently interested and motivated during the period 1700-1914. I am afriad it now appears to be out of print,but for anyone seriously interested in the development of farm bulings etc during this period I can highly reccommend it.

For those of you interested in the social effects of the agrarian revolution, for example,  the social distress caused by enclosing the land , then I can recommend this book by another member of staff at the University of East Anglia: Professor Tom Wilkinson.

The Transformation of Rural England is a fascinating book for  in great detail, it chronicles the impact of the improvements in  agriculture and  the changes in the usage of the land as a result. In addition it deals with  the physical effect on the landscape  and the social consequences of these improvements.  I highly recommend it,but it is rather technical and detailed, and I would only recommend purchasing it  to those of us who are serious students of the subject.

But  for a good and comprehensive view of the type of improvements that someone  like Mr Knightley might have made and the type of life  he and Darcy might have lead I can think of no better introduction than Susanna Wade Martins book on Thomas Coke. And as it is soon to be released in paperback form at a very reasonable price :got to it,say I !

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….

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.

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 ;-)

Mr. Wickham did not play at whist, and with ready delight was he received at the other table between Elizabeth and Lydia. At first there seemed danger of Lydia’s engrossing him entirely, for she was a most determined talker; but being likewise extremely fond of lottery tickets, she soon grew too much interested in the game, too eager in making bets and exclaiming after prizes, to have attention for any one in particular. Allowing for the common demands of the game, Mr. Wickham was therefore at leisure to talk to Elizabeth, and she was very willing to hear him, though what she chiefly wished to hear she could not hope to be told — the history of his acquaintance with Mr. Darcy. She dared not even mention that gentleman. Her curiosity, however, was unexpectedly relieved. Mr. Wickham began the subject himself. He inquired how far Netherfield was from Meryton; and after receiving her answer, asked in an hesitating manner how long Mr. Darcy had been staying there…

(Pride and Prejudice,Chapter 16.)

I have often seen this game described in notes to editions of Pride and Prejudice as a game of tomboloa, and this is incorrect, the confusion probably arising by the reference in that passage to lottery tickets.

Some notes also think it is a reference to the National lottery, not that now run in 21st Britain, but one that began in the early 18th century as an attempt by  the government  to regulate the taste for lotteries as a form of mass gambling. This was a craze that had by the end of the 17th century become a source of disrepute, lotteries being run for the benefit of corporations and private individuals without much regulation. By 1699 it was felt necessary to introduce a General Prohibition.

Despite this, private lotteries were still run in the early 18th century. Government intervention therefore had to take a different tack and in 1709 the government attempted to regularise them by taking over the running of the lotteries. It passed an act to allow this state control take place. Throughout the majority of the 18th century lotteries were, therefore, in the main under state-control, and in fact, by 1776 state- run lotteries had become annual events. They were especially popular during the reign of George III. The records show that from 1769-1826 some 126 state lotteries were held- 110 while George III was King and 16 during the reign of George IV.

However, in the early 19th century the English Evangelical movement  began to voice opposition to them, most famously in 1807 when leading Evangelicals William Wilberforce and his colleague Henry Thornton committed themselves to doing what they could to further the total abolition of state lotteries.  After the success of the campaign for the abolition of the Slave Trade in the British Empire in 1806, a campaign that had been promoted strongly by William Wilberforce as the anti- slavery movement’s main representative in Parliament, he realised he would now have time on his hands. He turned to Thornton and cried playfully:

Well, Henry, what shall we abolish next?’ The reply was: ‘The Lottery, I think!’

In 1808 a Committee of the House of Commons was appointed to investigate how  the evils attending state lotteries might be remedied and eventually reported that:

In truth, the foundation of the lottery is so radically vicious, that your Committee feel convinced that, under no system of regulation which can be devised, will it be possible for Parliament to adopt it as an efficient source of revenues, and at the same time divest it of all the evils and calamities it has hitherto proved so baneful a source.

Eventually in 1823 the government enacted provisions for the discontinuance of the lottery which were to come into effect in 1826.

But that is not the game Lydia Bennet was playing at Mrs Phillips’s house in Chapter 16 of Pride and Prejudice.

She was playing a simple card game called  Lottery. The rule of this game are included in my copy of Hoyles Games of 1817:

And here they are- remember you can enlarge these images merely by clicking on them:

As you can see it is merely a game of chance, no skill required:

The cards being shuffled and cut by the left hand person,  one dealer gives every person a card, face down,  for the prize, on which is to be placed different values of counters from the pool,at the option of the person to whom each card has been given.

The second dealer then delivers to each player  from the other pack, a card for the ticket. Next  the cards are turned, by order of the manager, and whoever happens to have a corresponding card takes the prize upon the card dealt to him and those remaining undrawn, are returned to the hand…..

Just the sort of game to engross Lydia, a girl  not known for her towering intellect.

For gaming counters at Mrs Phillips’s Meryton home ,we understand that the company used “fish”:

Elizabeth went away with her head full of him. She could think of nothing but of Mr. Wickham, and of what he had told her, all the way home; but there was not time for her even to mention his name as they went, for neither Lydia nor Mr. Collins were once silent. Lydia talked incessantly of lottery tickets, of the fish she had lost and the fish she had won; Mr. Collins, in describing the civility of Mr. and Mrs. Philips, protesting that he did not in the least regard his losses at whist, enumerating all the dishes at supper, and repeatedly fearing that he crouded his cousins, had more to say than he could well manage before the carriage stopped at Longbourn House.

(Chapter 16)

Fish counters were commonly used in  18th and early 19th century gaming tables and could be made from a variety of materials.

These are some early 19th century examples of gaming fish from ,my collection, and include some made from bone

Some from ivory…

And some made of mother of pearl.

Of course, not all early 19th century gaming counter were fish shaped.

Some were very beautifully engraved with values and intricate designs on the reverse.

And if you were well to do, you would have had a set of counters engraved with your coat of arms or cypher, as here in this one, again from my collection, engraved with the initials,  J.A.

I don’t for one moment think that Jane Austen was wealthy enough to have her own counters engraved in this way, but I’m glad it is in my collection nevertheless.

Parlour games were played throughout Christmas and during the 12th Night celebrations in Jane Austen’s era.

One favourite at Godmersham Park was Bullet Pudding, as described by Fanny Knight, Jane Austen’s niece, in a letter written to her friend, Miss Dorothy Chapman of Faversham:

Godmersham Park, 17 January 1804

…I was surprised to hear that you did not know what a Bullet Pudding is, but as you don’t I will endeavour to describe it as follows:

You must have a large pewter dish filled with flour which you must pile up into a sort of pudding with a peek at top. You must then lay a bullet at top and everybody cuts a slice of it, and the person that is cutting it when it falls must poke about with their noses and chins till they find it and then take it out with their mouths of which makes them strange figures all covered with flour but the worst is that you must not laugh for fear of the flour getting up your nose and mouth and choking you: You must not use your hands in taking the Bullet out.

Here is an illustration by Francis Hayman of the game which was a favourite throughout the 18th into the 19th, century but not, I daresay, with the chambermaids who would have been charged with cleaning the resulting mess. This  picture  shows the moment when the bullet fell:

Bullet pudding was also on the menu of seasonable activities Fanny enjoyed two years later at Christmas in 1806:

Different amusements every evening!
 We had Bullet Pudding, then Snap-Dragon, &
. . . we danced or played at cards

What was snap- dragon? It was another parlour game, but one specifically played in winter in the dark, for it involved  picking  raisins and almonds out of a punch bowl of flaming spirits, usually brandy. The blue flame of the lit brandy would have looked spectacular in a darkened room, very similar to effect producted by the tradition of flaming the Christmas Pudding with brandy.

In his Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811) Francis Gosse defined the game  as follows:

Christmas gambol: raisins and almonds being put into a bowl of brandy, and the candles extinguished, the spirit is set on fire, and the company scramble for the raisins

Though brandy does not burn at a particularly high heat it was still possible to be scorched and  the point of the fun was to watch peoples expressions as they darted their fingers through the flames, picking out the fruit or nuts. Jolly.

Yesterday we considered some of the domestic duties of the housekeepers of Jane Austen’s era.  Housekeepers in grand houses had another  more public role for they tended to be the person who would conduct guided tours of the house to paying visitors.

Let’s consider this process and a rather famous housekeeper….

We know from our reading of Pride and Prejudice that  the procedure for getting admitted as a visitor to an important house in the English countryside of the early 19th century was quite simple, provided one had the means of transportation and the correct attire : you applied to the housekeeper for a tour of the house, and if you were lucky, the gardener might also show your party around the gardens.

Tourism in the UK,- visiting grand country houses for example- developed apace in the 18th century. Why? First, because of  the developments in travel .If you couldn’t “get” to a country house easily you couldn’t visit it. Improved roads and the system of posting horse and carriages for hire, made travel easier for those who could afford it.  Secondly ,The Grand Tour of Europe , as undertaken by Edward Knight, Jane Austens’s brother, was tourism on a grand expensive and foreign scale, but the wars with Napoleon curtailed foreign travel to a large extent, so people turned to touring England and Wales for their leisure and education.

The rise in the cult of “taste”, as advocated by Edmund Burke, especially with regard to his “Philosophical enquiry into the Origins of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful “(1757) and the “Picturesque” as developed by William Gilpin and his books, meant that people at last began to explore their own country, equipped with sophisticated guides for the evaluation of art, architecture and natural scenery.  The late 18th century/early 19th century tourist saw the visiting of country houses, not only as a pleasant activity, but one which gave them an opportunity to develop and exhibit ones “taste”.

Many houses were open to the public.  Horace Walpole, the famous antiquarian, regularly opened his house, Strawberry Hill, near Twickenham.

It was a roaring success. Much of the ephemera of that period associated with the openings have luckily been preserved and give us some idea of the  process for the owner and the visitor.

He wrote in 1783 ( in a letter to Sir Thomas Mann)

“I am tormented all day and every day by people that come to see my house, and have no enjoyment of it in summer. It would be even in vain to say that the plague was here. I remember such a report in London when I was a child ,and my uncle Lord Townshend,then secretary of state,was forced to send guards to keep off the crowd from the house in which the plague was said to be-they would go and see the plague. Had I been master of the house, I should have said….”You see the plague! You are the plague”.

Poor old Horace was so inundated with visitors to his extraordinary house, that after he had been disturbed at dinner by the arrival of three Germans Barons who wished to visit his house, he eventually would only allow his housekeeper to admit people to his house if they could show her a signed ticket obtained from him in advance.

Such was the demand for these visits that Walpole had tickets printed- he still signed them and inserted the date of the proposed visits as you can see here, in this preserved blank ticket:

Indeed ,he went so far as to print ” a page of rules for admission to see my House”:

“…..Mr Walople is very ready to oblige any curious persons with the sight of his house and his collection….it is but reasonable that such persons as send, should comply with the rules he has been obliged to lay down for showing it.

No ticket will serve but on the day for which it is given. If more than four persons come with a ticket, the housekeeper has positive order to admit none of them…..

Every ticket will admit the company only between the hours of twelve and three before dinner,and only one company will be admitted on the same day.

They that have tickets are desired not to bring children…..”

He also had printed a Guide to his house and its contents. This was not unusual as we shall see below:

As I have said other grand houses opened their doors to the respectable paying public: Holkham on the Norfolk coast, the home of Thomas Coke and subsequently the Earls of Leicester was open to tourists while it was being constructed and afterwards. Visitors flocked to it in quite surprising numbers bearing in mind its somewhat isolated position on the North Norfolk coast.

There is no visitors book which recorded the visits, but there are entries about visitors in the wine books, which have been kept since 1748. The servants recorded whom they had served with refreshments from the cellars ,together with the details of the type and amount of wine consumed . This very civilised habit was so unusual in country house visiting that it caused numerous visitors to record their astonishment in their diaries. Sir George Lyttelton wrote in 1758:

I was not offered the least refreshment ,but a glass of wine at Lord Leicesters ,at any House I visited in the whole county

Mrs Lybbe Powys a kinswoman by marriage to Jane Austen and friend of the Leigh Perrots, and one of my favourite diarists of this era, wrote of even more generous hospitality:

…we had breakfast at Holkham, in ye gentlest of taste with all kinds of cakes and Fruit placed undesired in an apartment we were to go thro’; which as ye family were from home I thought was very clever in the Housekeeper, for one is so often asked by people whether one chuses chocolate which forbidding word at once puts (as intended)a negative on the Question

There was no official entrance fee to these grand houses, but visitors were expected to tip the servants who escorted them around the building. And it had to be a substantial tip. Horace Walpole wrote slightingly about Lord Bath and his wife who left a tiny tip( in his opinion) after visiting Holkham:

Lord Bath and his Countess and his son have been making a tour at Lord Leicester’s; they forgot to give anything to the servants that showed the house: upon recollection- and deliberation , they sent back a man and horse six miles with- half a crown! What loads of money they are saving for the French!

As Leo Schmidt observed in his history of the house,  Holkham, obviously one was expected to leave rather more than this sum as a tip for a tour of a great house. The house was so popular with visitors that it also had a guidebook which was published in 1775, and it could be had from Norwich booksellers. It stated that

“ Holkham could be seen any day of the week, except Sunday, by noblemen and foreigners , but on Tuesday only by other people”

indicating that at some houses a sort of class distinction  regarding admittance was made.

A visitor to Holkham in 1772, Lady Beauchamp Proctor, wrote:

..when we came to the House the servant told us we cold not see it for an hour at least as there was a party going round…we were obliged to submit to be shut up with Jupitor Ammon in the Smoking Room below the Saloon, and a whole tribe of people till the Housekeeper was ready to attend us, nothing could be more disagreeable than this situation ,we all stared at one another , and not a creature opened their mouths, some of the Masters amused us with trying to throw their hats upon the Heads of the Busts, whilst the Misses scrutinized one another’s dress…at length the long-wished for time arrived. The good woman arrived and we rushed upon her like a swarm of Bees. We went the usual round, all but the wing my Lord and Lady used to inhabit themselves, this was new done up…when we came down the party vanished ,but we were conducted a second time to Mr Jupiter where we poured libations of Chocolate on his altar, that is we had some set out in great form in the Leicester style

Another guide published in 1817 entitled The Strangers Guide to Holkham Containing a Description of the Paintings ,Statues etc of Holkham House In the County of Norfolk, the Magnificent Seat of T W Coke esq, M.P.,…Printed and published by J Dawson ,Burnham gave the following advice, which confirms Lady Proctors experience, that visitors were to

” congregate in the Vestibule under the Portico and the Saloon, to wait for the Person who shews the House”.

Interestingly, the Guide describes a route around the rooms which is still the route taken by tourists today.

Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, the home of the Dukes of Devonshire was the first house to adopt the habit of reserving “open days” for tourists and as early as 1760 it was open though only on two public days each week.

Derbyshire was a very popular destination. Guides like the Reverend William Gilpin’s book, Observations on Several Parts of England, particularly the Mountains and Lakes of Cumberland and Westmoreland Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty made in the Year  1772, provided potential visitors with a route and expectations of what  they could see in these somewhat remote areas.

Indeed, the route taken by Elizabeth Bennet and the Gardiners through Oxford, Blenheim Palace, Kenilworth ,Warwick  etc was the one recommended by Gilpin in that book . Mrs Lybbe Powys also took that route on her trip to Jane Austen’s most northerly destination,Hamstall Ridware in Staffordshire. This book seems to have influenced Jane Austen tremendously, with its descriptions of Dovedale, the Peak, Matlock, spas at Buxton and houses such as Chatsworth, Haddon Hall and Kedelston.

Back to housekeepers.

The picture above is of Mrs Garnett who was the housekeeper at Kedelston Hall in the late 18th/early 19th century.

Kedleston was the Adam designed home of the Curzon/Scarsdale family,  in Derbyshire.

She was famous for her excellent guided tour. In her hand, as shown in the portrait, you can see a copy of the Catalogue of Pictures, Statues, &c. at Kedleston, which was ready to be put  into the hand of the next enquiring visitor. Such guidebooks had been produced at Kedleston since 1769, with subsequent editions revised to take account of the ever-expanding art collection. It was an important means of recording the identities of the sitters in portraits, which were of greater interest to 18th-century visitors than matters of attribution or iconography!! A consequence of not having such aids was recorded by Horace Walpole, who described how at Petworth the 6th Duke of Somerset refused to let his servants have new picture lists, so that when he died, half the portraits were unknown by the family!

Although it was by no means uncommon for house servants to act as guides, it was unusual for the housekeeper herself to be painted. That she was immortalised in this way perhaps indicates the respect and affection in which this long-serving and highly capable servant was held; indeed, she was given a gravestone describing her as ‘sincerely regretted’.

In 1777 she took Samuel Johnson and James Boswell around the house:

‘Our names were sent up, and a well-drest (sic) elderly housekeeper, a most distinct articulator, shewed us the house… We saw a good many fine pictures… There is a printed catalogue of them which the housekeeper put into my hand; I should like to view them at leisure.’

James Plumptre, the playwright and Anglican clergyman was clearly very impressed by her when she met him in the Marble Hall and showed him round in 1793:

she seem’d to take a delight in her business, was willing to answer any questions which were ask’d her, and was studious to shew the best lights for viewing the pictures and setting off the furniture’

(see: James Plumptre’s Britain: The Journals of a Tourist in the 1790’s)

I am of the opinion that this famous and beloved servant was the model for the depiction of Mrs Reynolds in  the BBC’s 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. And I often wonder if on her travels, or of those of her kinspeople, she heard about this paragon and if her reputation influenced Jane Austen a little when she gave us the full and wonderful pen portrait of a sensible  devoted housekeeper in her most famous novel.

No, not a technological impossibility…but a BBC Radio 4 Programme, which I think listeners both in and outside the UK can listen to, if you click on this link to the BBC here for the next six days only. The BBC’s New Year present to Janeites all ;-) This  programme  appeared yesterday,and for a while it appeared it was not going to be available to people to “listen again” but that decision appears to have  been altered to the good.

I’ve been looking forward to it for some weeks since I heard about it being made.

It’s a rather jolly programme about nine books of manuscript music newly rediscovered (the property of her descendant Richard Jenkyns)and all transposed by Jane Austen’s hand .They are now on loan to the Jane Austen House Museum at Chawton(where the programme was recorded) and Southampton University is studying them. Commentary on the whole process of the era’s music making, balls, musical theatre etc is provided by Deirdre le Faye .

Why did Jane Austen like Scotch airs? Did she compose some of the music ? How did she get hold of music?What was her taste in music ? What sort of Aunt was she( nursery rhymes are included in her collection) All is revealed in this 30 minute programme.

I do hope you like it.

This is the first in a series of posts about Jane Austen and Servants, looking at the roles of servants in  her novels and  in turn what their roles entailed in a Georgian household.

We hear a lot about housekeepers in Jane Austen’s works. Mr Knightley’s Mrs Hodges sounds a redoubtable woman, cross at his sending Jane Fairfax the  last  apples from his store, but described by her admiring employer as  clever, or at least as clever as the Elton’s housekeeper , Mrs Wright:

I will answer for it, that mine thinks herself full as clever, and would spurn anybody’s assistance

Emma Chapter 42

Wright herself is shown to be full of professional rivalry unchecked by her appalling employers,  and holds Mrs Hodges reputation as “cheap” . On that fateful visit to Southerton Court in Mansfield Park we meet Mr Rushworth’s housekeeper  who finds a soul mate in Mrs Norris(*shudder*). Of course the housekeeper we  know  best is the wonderfully voluble but correct Mrs Reynolds in Pride and Prejudice, the venerable servant at Pemberley House  full of affection for her employer and discreet scorn for the dastardly Wickham.

What exactly did the role of housekeeper entail?

Her role in a household was described with minute exactness in Samuel and Sarah Adams’s book, The Compelte Servant (1825). As might be imagined the Housekeeper was the most senior female servant.

… she is the locum tenens, the Lady Bountiful, and the active representative of the mistress of the family; and is expected to do, or to see done, everything that appertains to the good and orderly management of the household.

She was responsible for the provisioning of food and spices and linen in the household:

The situation of a housekeeper, in almost every family, is of great importance.-She superintends nearly the whole of the domestic establishment,-has generally the control and direction of the servants, particularly of the female servants-has the care of the household furniture and linen-of all the grocery-dried and other fruits, spices, condiments, soap, candles, and stores of all kinds, for culinary and other domestic uses.

She was also in charge of the Still Room- that most  fragrant of places, much preferable to the heat and bustle of the kitchen-where she would make  cosmetics remedies, and preserves:

She makes all the pickles, preserves, and sometimes the best pastry.-She generally distils and prepares all the compound and simple waters, and spirits, essential and other oils, perfumery, cosmetics, and similar articles that are prepared at home, for domestic purposes…

(Illustration of  a Housekeeper at rest in her Still-Room taken from the frontispiece of Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Domesticum 1736)

The Housekeeper now (after dinner has been served-JFW)begins to find herself at leisure; by this time too, the maids will have done the principal part of their work above stairs, and the cook, kitchen maid , and scullion, have washed up, and cleared away every thing, and cleaned up the kitchen.-After tea, the provident housekeeper will begin to think about tomorrow; evening being the best time for preparing all things that are likely to be wanted soon.-Small quantities of spices should be pounded and ground, and laid by in bottles, well corked, ready for use.-Much less spices are necessary, in gravies, &c. when thus prepared, than when boiled whole.-Raisins may be stoned, if wanted next day.-Currants may be washed, picked, and perfectly dried.

White sugars should be broken, or pounded, rolled with a bottle, and sifted. Some of the oranges and lemons, to be used for juice, should be pared, and the rind put by to dry; and of some, when squeezed, and the pulp scraped out, the rinds may be kept dry for grating.

This would not apply to Mrs Reynolds at Pemberley, but in households where there was no house-steward, the housekeeper was responsible for all items of domestic expenditure and marketing:

In families where there is a house-steward, the marketing will be done, and the tradesmen’s bills will be collected, examined, and discharged, by him; but in many families the business of marketing and of keeping the accounts devolves on the housekeeper. It is therefore incumbent on her to be well informed of the prices and qualities of all articles of household consumption in general use; and the seasons for procuring them, in order that by comparing prices and qualities, she may be able to substitute those that are most reasonable, but equally to her purpose, and best attainable, for others that are most costly or more scarce.

She was also responsible for ascertaining that the household was not being swindled by unscrupulous suppliers( remember that in the 18th and 19th centuries adulteration of food stuffs was rife) :

But, by whomsoever the provisions may be bought, it behoves the housekeeper to examine them as they come in,-to see that in weight and measure they agree with the tickets sent with them,-and to make the necessary arrangements, in conjunction with the cook, for their due appropriation

When the food for the family was actually prepared and ready to be sent up to the dining room, the housekeeper’s responsibilities increased, overseeing the butler’s arrangements:

The etiquette of the table being arranged by the bill of fare, previously made out, and the dishes laid in order below stairs; it is the province of the housekeeper, when dinner is served up, to see that the butler has placed them properly on the table above; this requires a quick glance of the eye, and a correct taste to measure distances,-and to see that the dishes accord with each other, and thereby form a pleasing, inviting, and well-grouped picture

In some households she had to be au fait with the art of carving- a skill not contemplated much today, but in Jane Austen’s era it was a skill that both masters, mistresses and senior servants  had to acquit themselves well in or betray ill-bred manners:

In the situation she will have to carve, and as she will occasionally be required to assist the cook in dissecting a dish to be sent up stairs, it is indispensably necessary that she be proficient in the art of carving: and besides, to carve meat well, is a great saving. It would argue prudence and economy in her, to see that the pieces of bread which are brought down stairs, be eaten at this table, or in the servants’-hall, and it would be extravagance to suffer new bread to be eaten below stairs.

(Carving diagrams taken from The Young Woman’s Guide to Virtue Economy and Happiness etc (1813) by John Armstrong)

She was also responsible for the moral tone of the household of servants in her charge, as such it was recommended that:

She ought to be a steady middle-aged woman, of great experience in her profession, and a tolerable knowledge of the world.

For the tone of the household reflected upon her conduct:

In her conduct, she should be moral, exemplary, and assiduous, as the harmony, comfort, and economy of the family will greatly depend on her example; and she must know, that no occurrence can be too trifling for her attention, that may lead to these results, and whereby waste and unnecessary expense may be avoided.

When the entire management of the servants is deputed to her, her situation becomes the more arduous and important. If servants have hardships to undergo, she will let them see, that she feels for the necessity of urging them. To cherish the desire of pleasing in them, she will convince them, that they may succeed in their endeavours to please her. Human nature is the same in all stations. Convince the servants that you have a considerate regard for their comforts, and they will be found to be grateful, and to reward your attention by their own assiduity: besides, nothing is so endearing as being courteous to our inferiors.

Female servants who would pursue an honest course, have numberless difficulties to contend with, and should, therefore, be treated kindly. The housekeeper in a great family, has ample means of doing good; and she will, doubtless, recollect that it is a part of her duty to protect and encourage virtue, as the best preventive from vice.

Mrs Parkes in her book, Domestic Duties (18125) combined practical domestic advice and conduct book strictures. Domestic Duties was written as a series of conversations between the inexperienced Mrs L and the older and much wiser  Mrs B, and has this to say about the qualifications necessary to be a housekeeper:

Trust-worthyness is an essential quality in a housekeeper; but if she be not as vigilant as she is honest she cannot discern her duty well. As she is the deputy of her mistress, she should endeavour to regard  everything around her with the keenness an interest of a principal, rather than the indifference of a servant..

(Frontispiece to Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy)

She also had this advice for the employer,which contradicts the  oft held view that elite women in this era had little practical  “hands on” experience of housekeeping in their own households::

Even if you should be perfectly satisfied that your housekeeper is a woman of great  integrity you will still find it desirable to fix your eye continually upon her that her vigilance and integrity may not relax for want of this incitment. Symptoms of neglect on her art should never be over looked as they would  tend to throw the whole house into confusion and irregular habits.

This is a situation of which the famed Mrs Rundell was aware ,as she wrote in her  book A New System of Domestic Cookery:

There was a time when ladies  knew nothing beyond their own family concerns ; but in the present day there are many who know nothing about them

A elite woman who know  much about her domestic concerns was Susannah Whatman, as portrayed her by Rommney:

She was the  wife of James Whatman,

proprietor of the famed Turkey Mill paper mill in Kent which supplied most of the famous artists of the day.  She left to us a housekeeping manual prepared as advised by the wise Mrs B in Domestic Duties

Mrs B: Have you provided yourself with a cookery book?

Mrs L : Certainly .I have purchased Mrs Rundells and the Cooks Orabcle.How could I go on for one day without them? Yet my study of these important books is not always satisfactory, not are the effects produced  from them at all equal to my expectations..

Mrs B… as it is not always well to follow these receipt books implicitly I recommend you to form one for yourself …

Susannah Whatman in her manual for the instruction and use of her staff at Turkey Court and then at Vinters,which was her home till her death in 1814, provides many  details of her housekeepers duties which other manuals omitted:

The housekeeper washes and irons her own small things and her Mistresses .A board at Vinters has been put up for her in the mangling room that the heat might be avoided in summer.

The housekeeper mends her master’s silk stockings , ruffles  his shirts and new collars and risbands them. All the linen  looked over in the Store room Monday morning and stains taken out etc. Housekeeper to put any stitches in Mr Whatman’s muslin neckcloths that Mrs W has not mended for him…The first thing a Housekeeper should teach a new servant is to carry her candle upright. The next thing is those general directions that belong to “her’ place in particular  such as not setting the brooms and brushes where they will make a mark and all those common directions.

A housekeeper  by practise must acquire so quick an eye that if she comes occasionally into a room that is cleaning she must see at once  if it is going on properly…

The payment for this  onerous and important work in a household was not that great:

The Salary of the Housekeeper is from twenty-five to fifty guineas per annum, dependent on the extent of the family, and the nature of the business she undertakes.

Note that a House Steward would expect to receive remuneration of between £100 -£250 per annum and perhaps more. A butler could expect to earn £50 to £80 per annum in large households. Hmmm……..

But of course a housekeeper could expect to  receive  an addition to her income in grand households, in the form of  gratuities earned by showing guests round the house as Mrs Reynolds does in Pride and Prejudice. And we shall look at that aspect of a housekeeper’s role in our next post on the role of the housekeeper in Jane Austen’s era.

This book ,by Emma Rutherford, was an unexpected and very welcome Christmas gift this year made to me by a very dear friend. It is the most beautiful and sumptuous book on silhouettes I have ever seen. I have always been interested in silhouettes as they have always been present in  my homes. I have a small collection of family silhouettes dating from the early to mid 19th century,and even had one taken as a child. This is one from my collection and it dates from around 1810:

(Do remember you can enlarge all the pictures on this blog merely by clicking on them)

But it is the book’s fascinating  explanation of the history  of silhouettes that I have found very intriguing.

Silhouettes in the 18thcentury  were known in England as “shadows” or  “shades” and in the early 19th century as “profiles’. Dorothy Wordsworth wrote to her friends in 1807, asking them to

send their profile

to her.

In France they gained the term “silhouette” by association with Etienne de Silhouette who was appointed France’s Comptroller General( an equivalent post to our Chancellor of the Exchequer) during the year  1759 by Louis XIV. He levied land tax on France’s nobles and reduced their pensions, and furthermore hurt their pockets by taxing all external signs of wealth. Opposition from the ancien regime,the nobility and the church-previously exempt from such audacious taxes -was loud. After only eight months in office he was forced to retire from his post to his château in the countryside.

There are two theories  regarding the adoption of the term silhouette for this type of portraiture, and both reflect Monsieur Silhouette’s unpopularity. The first  comments upon  the fact that taking a silhouette is a very quick process and as such it reflected Etienne de Silhouette’s very short tenure in office. The second theory has it that as this type of portraiture was, in it’s simplest state, the cheapest form of portraiture available at the time, it deserved to be named for him.  Etienne ‘s hated penny-pinching methods of raising tax may therefore have associated his name for ever with this type of portraiture for, in France,  the phrase a la silhouette came to mean to do anything ” on the cheap”.

It may interest you to know that the “science” of physiognomy used silhouettes to determine a sitter’s character. Physiognomy is of unknown origin,but  it formed an integral part of ancient Greek medicine,and the revival of its popularity in the 18th century was attributable to the idea that the study and judgement of a person’s outer appearance – particularly the face- would give  insight into that person’s character.  Johann Caspar Lavater (1741-1801) used the term silhouette in continental  editions of his very influential book, Essays on Physionomy ; Designed to Promote  the Knowledge and the Love of Mankind (17 75).

In English versions  the term was translated as “shades”.This was a sensationally successful book both in Europe, England and the United States.By the middle of the nineteenth century over 150 edition had been published.  As Emma Rutherford writes:

It is easy to imagine that,at the height of the book’s popularity to turn sideways for others observation was to ask for analysis of one’s personality. Later in the 1830s Charles Darwin found that the captain of the Beagle had done just that:

“Afterwards on becoming  very intimate with Fitz-Roy I heard that I had run a very narrow risk of being rejected on account of the shape of my nose! He was an ardent disciple of Lavater and was convinced that he could judge of a man’s character by the outline of his features and he doubted  whether any one with my nose could possess sufficient energy and determination for the voyage.”

I wonder if Ang Lee and Emma Thompson were thus trying to tell us something about Willoughby’s appearance when Marianne Dashwood takes his shadow in their adaptation of Sense and Sensibility in a scene reminiscent of this plate fromLavater’s book…Hmmm…..?

The book is sumptuously illustrated with the many, many different types of silhouettes, a term that was eventually popularised in an unsuspecting England, by the French artist Augustin Edouart in the 1820s, and describes in great detail the many different methods of taking a “profile”.  There were those made by cutting paper

….those painted on paper….

and on the reverse side of glass, or on ivory.

I adore this foursome : it reminds me  forcibly of Admiral and Mrs Croft , Captain Wentworth and Edward Wentworth of Persuasion.

We are all of course familiar with this paper silhouette which is possibly of  Jane Austen:

It was found in a second edition of Mansfield Park with the inscription, “L’amiable Jane“.

This book is marvellously readable, and is sumptuously illustrated. It will enchant anyone interested in silhouettes, and clearly explains the very many different types which were made. The explanation of the development of this form of portraiture in this book is admirably and carefully done. The wonderfully reproduced silhouettes also give us the chance to examine in exquisite detail tiny aspects of domestic life in the late 18th and early 19th century as recorded in them, as here demonstrated by this silhouette of a lady serving herself  a cup of chocolate.

I have lost myself in this absorbing  book over the Christmas season and I can highly recommend it.

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

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

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

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

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

A Very Happy and Peaceful New Year

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

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

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

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

(Emma, Chapter 15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that will be the subject of my next post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here is the second course….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raisins, currants and a good Georgian glass of brandy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Persuasion, Chapter 14)

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

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

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

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

gives slightly more detailed instructions:

As Ivan Day of Historic Foods writes:

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

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

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

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

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