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 “He is rear admiral of the white. He was in the Trafalgar action, and has been in the East Indies since; he has been stationed there, I believe, several years.”

   “Then I take it for granted,” observed Sir Walter, “that his face is about as orange as the cuffs and capes of my livery.”

Persuasion, Chapter 3

My mention of liveried servants in yesterday’s review of the book, Vauxhall Gardens: A History has prompted quite a number of you to contact me to enquire about liveries.There seems to be some confusion out there- some thinking the these were merely fancy costumes, picked out on a whim by employers-others not knowing what they looked like at all, so I’ve decided to write about them in the next few posts. I do hope you won’t be bored.

Liveries are mentioned by Jane Austen  in Pride and Prejudice and in Persuasion. What exactly were they ? For this answer we have to undertake a little history lesson. My authority for most of today’s content is The Handbook of Heraldry (1869) by John E. Cussans, and I’m using this mid-19th century book because it refers to the 18th century use of liveries, and also because changes in the world of Heraldry, like the mills of the Gods, grind exceeding slow:

This is a fascinating book; a well written, plain explanation of this rather complex subject. Today we will look at what it has to say about the history of livery uniforms.

The custom of distributing clothes -or what in the present day would be styled uniforms-  amongst the servants of the Crown- such as Judges, Ministers ,Stewards etc- date from a period nearly coeval with the Conquest.( circa 1066A.D.-jfw) This distribution was termed a “Livreé”: hence the more recent expression, “Livery”.

(Cussans,Page 311)

…the great feudal barons subsequently distributed liveries amongst their dependants and retainers. It must not be considered that the wearing of liveries was confined exclusively to the menial servants of the household, as at present, or was considered in any way more degrading than an officer of the Crown regards his distinctive uniform. The son of a duke would wear the livery of the prince under whom he served; and an earl’s soon might don the livery of a duke, without derogating from his dignity.

(Cussans,page 311)

The practice of allowing some servants to wear liveries eventually became the only example of such marks of distinction being worn:

The primary purpose Liveries were intended to serve has long since been forgotten amongst us, and our coachmen and footmen alone remain as representatives of the splendour which once marked the households of the feudal nobility.

(Cussans,page 314)

It ought to be remembered that during the late 18th century/early 19th century most household servants did not wear a distinctive  uniform, such as we are used to seeing in adaptations of fictional Edwardian households such as in Downtown Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs. Female servants wore what was practical, and often wore cast-offs from their mistresses, though moralists detested this practise.  Sophie von La Roche wrote, during her travels in London in 1786 of the serving girls she saw in the streets of London:

…the maids, women of middle class and the children. The former almost all wear black taminy petticoats and heavily stitched, and over these long English Calico or linen frocks, though not so long and close-fitting to the body as our tailors and taste cut and point them. Further they mostly wear white aprons; though the servants and working women often appear in striped linen aprons

Jane Austen’s kinswoman by marriage, and friend of her aunt and uncle, the Leigh Perrots, Mrs Lybbe Powys wrote in her diary of her visit to the Jackson family at Weasenham Hall in Norfolk in 1756, and of her astonishment in finding the female servants were actually wearing a uniform:

Never did a landlord seem so beloved, or indeed deserve to be so, for he is a most worthy man, and in however high a stile( sic-jfw) a man lives in in town, which he certainly does, real benevolence is more distinguishable in a family at their country -seat, and none do more good than where we now are. Then everything here is regularity itself , but the master’s method is, I take it, now become the method of the servants by use as well as choice.

Nothing but death make a servant leave them. The old housekeeper has now been there one-and-fifty years; the butler two or three-and-thirty……I was surprised to see them all ,except on Sundays, in green stuff gowns, and on my inquiring of Miss Jackson how they all happened to fix so on one particular colour, she told me a green camblet for a gown used for many years to be an annual present of her mothers to those servants who behaved well, and had been so many years in her family, and that now indeed, as they all behaved well, and had lived there much longer than the limited term, this was constantly their master’s New Year gift.

I thought this in Mr Jackson a pretty compliment to his lady’s memory, as well as testimony of the domestics still deserving of his good opinion.

See page 4, Passages from the Diaries of Mrs Philip Lybbe Powys of Hardwick House, OXON(1756-1808) edited by Emily Climenson (1899)

Some people,Daniel Defoe amongst them, thought that female servants should all adopt a modest uniform, as quoted in Anne Buck’s magnificent book , Dress in Eighteenth-Century England. Female servants very often received fine dresses as perks of the job. And many employers didn’t seem to object to those dresses being worn by the said female servants. As Anne Buck concludes:

Contact with well dressed women developed the eye and taste of many serving maids and helped them to dress with understanding of the fashion they followed. The absence of any uniform, on or off duty, left them free to follow fashions according to their own taste and means.

If they dressed too finely for their station they might be censured, but the readiness of women to pass on their own clothes to their servants shows there was no sharp division of dress, nor even a social convention against servants occasionally buying the same garment at the same time as their mistress :

“Nancy bought of Bagshaw this mornings…a very genteel Shawl at 10 shillings. Both my maids brought 2 Shawls the same as Nancy.”

Parson Woodeford records this as a fact without any judgement or comment

For some male servants, however as we have note, the situation was different and a uniform was provided by the employer. Footmen and coachmen wore liveries, if they were entitled to by the social rank of their employer. In our next post, we shall look at these uniforms and their colours in more detail.


One of my correspondents was searching though the Antiquarian Section of the Library here on this site recently and asked if it was possible to write a series of posts where extracts from the books are presented and commented upon. Your word, my dear reader, is my command.  And therefore each week (D.V) or so I hope to take extracts from one book and comment on it. The first book my correspondent suggested we study is The Duties of a Lady’s Maid (1825),as we have not really considered Jane Austen and servants for quite some time.

Lady’s maids are rarely mentioned  by Jane Austen in her works, probably on the assumption that her contemporary audience took it for granted that her wealthier characters would automatically employ one. But they are not totally invisible. Where they are mentioned is interesting:Darcy assumes that Elizabeth Bennet is travelling with her maid when she is overcome with grief at the news that Lydia has eloped while at the inn at Lambton in Pride and Prejudice. In Emma, our eponymous heroine has a maid,who is clearly a lady’s maid in its fullest sense, while the impoverished Bates family – mother and daughter employ only a maid of all work, a very different creature. The wealthy Mrs Jennings, with her ample portion, has a maid in Sense and Sensibility with whom she gossips when no other congenial soul is close at hand. Also in Sense and Sensibility poor Eliza has a treacherous lady’s maid who betrayed  her plan to elope to Scotland with the brave and sensitive Colonel Brandon, prior to her disastrous wedding to the Colonel’s  cruel brother. In Mansfield Park Lady Bertram’s maid, Mrs Chapman,was dispatched to assist Fanny in dressing her for her ball, but of course having sent her to Fanny  with her usual characteristic negligence, Lady Bertram ensured that she arrived too late to be of any practical use. Oh,well, at least some semblance of caring thought was there… Also in Mansfield Park Mrs Rushworth senior’s maidservant who had exposure in her power, sold her story with the aid of her employer to the newspapers helping to bring shame and disgrace on the wayward Mrs Rushworth Junior (nothing changes in this world does it?)In Northanger Abbey both the elegant Miss Tilney and the fashoin obsessed Mrs Allen( naturally)have maids.

This is an interesting and rather rare book, its full title is The Duties of a Lady’s Maid with Directions for Conduct and Numerous Receipts for the Toilette . It was published by James Bulcock of 163 the Strand in London in  1825. I think it will be interesting to read it,  little by little, and to compare it with other texts relating to the duties of lady’s maids, such as The Complete Servant by Samuel and Sarah Adams also published in 1825, and with such examples  of maid’s duties and conduct as appear in Jane Austen’s six complete novels.

The first half of the book,which contains 328 pages in all, is a conduct book with detailed instructions to the prospective ladies maid as to how to  live her life as a servant:how her religion should direct her, how the qualities of honesty and probity ,diligence and economy are essential traits. How to maintain a correct amount of familiarity with her Superiors, keep family secrets and restrain her vanity in dress. It also contains chapters on which amusements are appropriate for a lady’s maid to pursue, how to speak correctly and avoid vulgarity in her manner of speech, how to deal with her current and prospective employers when considering a change of place and how to communicate the news of any little love affairs  she may conduct(which, of course, only related to offers of marriage made to the maid, not to any lesser liaisons)

The second part of the book gives detailed instructions and practical information that a girl aiming to be the best possible lady’s maid in the universe might find essential. The subjects covered include taste in the colours of dress,(colour blind maids clearly need not apply), the use of artificial flowers,taste in the forms of dress,the dangers of stays and corsets, how to use padding and bandages to improve the figure, the most advantageous way to display the forehead, taste in headresses, taste in dressing the hair,practical directions for hairdressing,  Cosmetics( with receipts), Paints, Rouge, The Use ands Abuse of soap,Dressmaking and Fancy Needlework,Care of the Wardrobe, the Method of taking out Stains and finally, some essential information….the correct Method of Clear Starching

Apart from the frontispiece there are no illustrations in the book; the lady’s maid who depended upon this volume was required therefor to posses a high degree of literacy and imagination if she is to successfully recreate some of the instructions in this book.

Next time we shall look at the actual duties required of a lady’s maid, and how her religion might help her in performing her tasks.

Yesterday we explored the kind of kitchen that Catherine Morland hoped would be on display at Northanger Abbey…poor soul.

What she finds  is the complete opposite of what she expected:  all her hopes, based on her readings of horrid novels, led her to believe abbeys were staffed by a few ancient servants  and meals were cooked in similarly ancient mouldering rooms:

With the walls of the kitchen ended all the antiquity of the abbey; the fourth side of the quadrangle having, on account of its decaying state, been removed by the general’s father, and the present erected in its place. All that was venerable ceased here. The new building was not only new, but declared itself to be so; intended only for offices, and enclosed behind by stable–yards, no uniformity of architecture had been thought necessary. Catherine could have raved at the hand which had swept away what must have been beyond the value of all the rest, for the purposes of mere domestic economy; and would willingly have been spared the mortification of a walk through scenes so fallen, had the general allowed it; but if he had a vanity, it was in the arrangement of his offices; and as he was convinced that, to a mind like Miss Morland’s, a view of the accommodations and comforts, by which the labours of her inferiors were softened, must always be gratifying, he should make no apology for leading her on. They took a slight survey of all; and Catherine was impressed, beyond her expectation, by their multiplicity and their convenience. The purposes for which a few shapeless pantries and a comfortless scullery were deemed sufficient at Fullerton, were here carried on in appropriate divisions, commodious and roomy. The number of servants continually appearing did not strike her less than the number of their offices. Wherever they went, some pattened girl stopped to curtsy, or some footman in dishabille sneaked off. Yet this was an abbey! How inexpressibly different in these domestic arrangements from such as she had read about — from abbeys and castles, in which, though certainly larger than Northanger, all the dirty work of the house was to be done by two pair of female hands at the utmost. How they could get through it all had often amazed Mrs. Allen; and, when Catherine saw what was necessary here, she began to be amazed herself.

Before we discuss the modern kitchen, I think we ought to consider the domestic offices which so baffled Catherine ;what would they have been like?

Northanger Abbey is clearly built around a quadrangle, and the modern block of domestic offices makes up one whole side. Katherine is used to having only a scullery and some pantries at home at the rectory at Fullerton:she is not used to the way the domestic offices of the rich were arranged in the late 18th /early 19th centuries.

Let’s see if we can try and envisage what the General’s Domestic Offices looked like…..

This  illustration is taken from my copy of  The Country House Kitchen by Pamela Sambrook and Peter Brears, and shows the type of  rooms that amazed poor Catherine. Do remember, all the illustrations here can be enlarged by clicking on them)

There are two plans, showing two sets of domestic offices. The basement floor of Harewood House in Yorkshire the homes of the Lascelles family,

which was designed by John Carr between 1759-1791. Here are links to its Still Room, Kitchen, Servants Hall, Steward’s Room, Pastry Roomand Vegetable scullery

and Newnham in Oxfordshire  built 1759-71.

The codes for the rooms are as follows:

BH- Bake House

BP- Butler’s Pantry

C -Cellars

D- Dairy

HR-Housekeepers Room

K – Kitchen

L – Larder

PS- Pastry

S- Store

SR -Steward’s Room

ST- Still Room

VG -Ventilation Gap

At Petworth in Sussex,

…this was the plan of the domestic offices which were built in a block separate to the main house:

You can clearly see that a large, rich  household required more than a scullery and pantries to support  its exalted way of life.

And of course all this  impressive newness set amidst an old abbey might have been inspired by Jane Austen’s knowledge of and visit to such a place-Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire–  which she visited in 1806.

The Austen ladies-Jane and Cassandra plus Mrs Austen- went  there to accompany their cousin, the Reverend Thomas Leigh to ensure his inheritance to the property. You can see from my photograph above that behind the classical frontage of the house there is a range of ancient, medieval buildings which were part of the original abbey.

Here is a drawing of that range:

This is a plan drawn up by architects to  the trust which converted Stoneleigh into a number of  individual residences, and you can see that  Stoneleigh is also built- like Northanger- around a quadrangle :

Mrs Austen left us  a magically detailed letter -dated August 13th 1806- to her daughter-in-law, Mary Austen, second wife of James, and she found while exploring the abbey she thought inextricably of Gothic imagery:

Behind the smaller drawing room is the state bed chamber, with a high dark crimson velvet bed: an alarming apartment just fit for a heroine…

And she found the sheer size of the place, especially the domestic offices, almost intimidating: I say almost for I think very little intimidated Mrs Austen:

We can now find our way about it, I mean the best part; as to the offices (which were the old Abbey) Mr Leigh almost despairs of ever finding his way about them. I have proposed his setting up directing posts at the Angles.

And the range of breakfast food available to them, quite astounding:

At nine in the morning we meet and say our prayers in a handsome chapel, the pulpit etc now hung with black. Then follows breakfast, consisting of chocolate coffee and tea, plumb cake, pound cake, hot rolls cold rolls, bread and butter and dry toast for me. The House-Steward (a fine large respectable looking man) orders all these matters.

I think Jane Austen turned her experience of Stoneleigh Abbey upside down when writing Northanger Abbey . At Stoneleigh there was an ancient range of buildings completing the quadrangle ( unlike at Northanger ) and also an amazing number of domestic offices. I must admit to loving this section of Northanger Abbey, where poor old Catherine’s  imagination is stymied at every turn. Her limited domestic experience is confounded by what she sees at Northanger: to imagine that large households were managed by two female embers of staff- her impression of life in an abbey is of course based on her reading of her horrid books-is not wise.Even that dullard Mrs Allen had doubted they portrayed real life! Poor Catherine is about to receive an almighty shock when she goes hunting around Mrs Tilney’s bedroom….letting her imagination run riot, so that it impinges on real life…not a good idea.

How inexpressibly different in these domestic arrangements from such as she had read about — from abbeys and castles, in which, though certainly larger than Northanger, all the dirty work of the house was to be done by two pair of female hands at the utmost. How they could get through it all had often amazed Mrs. Allen; and, when Catherine saw what was necessary here, she began to be amazed herself.

Now we have seen exactly what constituted  a grand range of domestic offices , tomorrow what  we shall explore what modern innovations were available in General Tilney’s kitchen…which was only a tiny part of the Northanger Abbey Domestic Offices.

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

First, food for invalids.

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

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

Cookery for the Sick and for the Poor.

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

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

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

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

Here is her recipe for Water Gruel:

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

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

And here are her recipes for preparing eggs:

Mr Woodhouse would no doubt approve:

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

Emma, Chapter 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emma, Chapter 21

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

Mrs Rundell’s advice on porkers is pertinent:

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

Her advice regarding the Loin is:

Loin and Neck of Pork: Roast them.

But as regards the leg……

To boil a leg of Pork

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

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

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

Emma, Chapter 21

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

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

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

Shades of Miss Bate’s  twice baked apples…

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

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

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

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

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

Emma, Chapter 26.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emma,Chapter 25

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

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.

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.

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!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dining Room….

Bedecked with evergreen garlands and spectacular sugar sculpture…

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

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

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

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

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

(Pride and Prejudice,Chapter 60)

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

Would Jane Austen have known a Christmas tree?

Lets see tomorrow, shall we?

Authors of sites, far more qualified than me,  write about fashion in the Gregorian /Regency era, and I would never presume to step on their toes.

But occasionally if there is something different  but relevant on  that topic which interests me  and that I can discuss, I will, and I hope you will indulge me.

Today I want to   talk about a book which is fascinating , not just for the  descriptions of clothing in Jane Austen’s  time, but for the historical perspective it gives : The Dress of the People by John Styles.

This book is currently  one of my favourite  books on the history of the era, because it tackles an  area that has been very neglected: the clothing of the poor, the working class and servants in the long 18th century.

Jane Austen gives us some ideas of the puritanical attitude some held towards servants clothing in Mansfield Park : Mrs Norris and her sister, Mrs Price, share the opinion that servant girls ought not to show any extravagance in dress:

The family were now seen to advantage. Nature had given them no inconsiderable share of beauty, and every Sunday dressed them in their cleanest skins and best attire. Sunday always brought this comfort to Fanny, and on this Sunday she felt it more than ever. Her poor mother now did not look so very unworthy of being Lady Bertram’s sister as she was but too apt to look. It often grieved her to the heart to think of the contrast between them; to think that where nature had made so little difference, circumstances should have made so much, and that her mother, as handsome as Lady Bertram, and some years her junior, should have an appearance so much more worn and faded, so comfortless, so slatternly, so shabby. But Sunday made her a very creditable and tolerably cheerful–looking Mrs. Price, coming abroad with a fine family of children, feeling a little respite of her weekly cares, and only discomposed if she saw her boys run into danger, or Rebecca pass by with a flower in her hat.

Chapter 42


That Mrs. Whitaker is a treasure! She was quite shocked when I asked her whether wine was allowed at the second table, and she has turned away two housemaids for wearing white gowns.

Chapter 10

I leave it to yourselves to determine if we should have shared that view…

Surviving costumes as worn by the poor etc in the long 18th century are , of course, very rare .They were worn, re worn and adapted till they fell apart into rags. That  makes a study of them very difficult. John Styles the Research Professor of History at the University of Hertfordshire has tackled this problem head on and resolved it by referring to various sources of information. Unusual written sources are sourced by him in this book: criminal records are invaluable as the theft of clothes and clothing material was one  of the most frequently prosecuted set of offences in the criminal courts during the long 18th century. Newspaper advertisements for fugitives inevitably contain descriptions of the clothes the fugitive was wearing when last seen.

For visual and material sources, Professor Styles refers to the prints and paintings of the era, of which this is one:

It reminds me of the family to whom Emma dispenses practical charity in chapter 10:

They were now approaching the cottage, and all idle topics were superseded. Emma was very compassionate; and the distresses of the poor were as sure of relief from her personal attention and kindness, her counsel and her patience, as from her purse. She understood their ways, could allow for their ignorance and their temptations, had no romantic expectations of extraordinary virtue from those, for whom education had done so little; entered into their troubles with ready sympathy, and always gave her assistance with as much intelligence as good-will. In the present instance, it was sickness and poverty together which she came to visit; and after remaining there as long as she could give comfort or advice, she quitted the cottage with such an impression of the scene as made her say to Harriet, as they walked away…

And for evidence of the type of materials worn by the poor he refers to the magnificent but sad collection of textile scraps preserved by the London Foundling Hospital. Here is a picture of the building from my collection of early 19th century topographical prints:

The Foundling hospital was  the  first intitution in England where  children abandoned  by their desperate mothers could be  cared for, brought up and finally set out into the world suitably educated for a trade. Go here for a detailed history of the Foundling Hospital.

The Foundling Hospital was founded by Thomas Corum , a seafaring merchant, born in Lyme Regis. While living at Rotherhithe and pursuing his business interests in London, Coram regularly travelled a route on which he saw abandoned children, some dead, others dying. In 1722, motivated by an enduring blend of Christian benevolence, practical morality, and civic spirit, he decided to take action.

Inspired by the examples of the foundling hospitals on the continent, he advocated one for London. However, failure attended these first efforts, but in 1739 Thomas Corum obtained a royal charter for a Hospital for the Maintenance and Education of Exposed and Deserted Young Children. Orphanages for such children had not been adopted in England, unlike in Europe, due to the prevailing puritan outlook : it was considered that young women would be encouraged into immorality and vice if facilities were provided for the succor of unwanted children.

Thomas Corum and his supporters- including Hogarth who painted this stunning portrait of him above- combined pity of the unwanted child with a certain commercial pragmatism.

The care regime for the child was as follows: after four years of wet nursing and foster care in the country among suitable families, the foundling children were taught useful skills in the Hospital that would benefit them and society. Girls were brought up to be domestic servants and boys to be employable in husbandry, seafaring or as household servants or placed with London shopkeepers( their ability to write and keep accounts assisted them in this). Boys were apprenticed at the age of 12 or 13, girls at 14.

Here  is its position in London from a section of my copy of Smith’s New Map of London (1809)

You can see the Foundling Hospital quite clearly I hope, with Brunswick Square set around it- for the square was in fact built on land owned by the Foundling Hospital and was developed by the Governors of the Hospital:

The Foundling Hospital, which, like so many institutions of the 1740-60 period, stood out in the fields. Unlike other hospitals, however, the Foundling possessed the freehold of much of the land surrounding it and it was seen that, as London expanded northwards, this could be made a considerable source of wealth.” When the Governors talked of building in 1788 there was an immediate outcry against the invasion of more open country; it was also considered that the children’s health might suffer. Two years later, however, the hospital architect was instructed to make a report. This architect was Samuel Pepys Cockerell, a pupil of Sir Robert Taylor and a man who, like Taylor, combined artistic ability and scholarship with a real grasp of practical affairs and an unimpeachable professional character.

In his Report to the Governors of the Foundling, Cockerell recommended the formation of the open spaces which we now know as Mecklenburgh and Brunswick Squares.” In this he had the support of Thomas Bernard, one of the Governors, whose name became much associated with public improvements in the Regency. The objects of the squares were, first, to retain for the hospital ‘the advantages of its present open situation’ and, second, to provide an architectural setting so ‘as rather to raise than depress the Character of this Hospital itself as an Object of National Munificence’.

The Report sets out that cardinal principle of Georgian town planning, the creation of urban units containing accommodation for all classes. Cockerell proposes:

“That there shall be such principal features of attraction in the Plan as shall not be too great for a due proportion to the whole but yet sufficient to draw Adventurers to the subordinate parts and that these subordinate parts be so calculated as to comprise all Classes of Building from the first Class down to Houses of Twenty-five pound pr. annum without the lower Classes interfering with and diminishing the Character of those above them, and particularly that the Stile of the Buildings at the several Boundaries, be (in order to ensure success to the intermediate parts) as respectable as possible consistent with their situations and with prudence in the Adventurers.”

(from “Georgian London” , p184-5 by Sir John Summerson)

By 1802 nearly 600 houses had been built on the estate owned by the foundling Hospital. Of which Mr John Knightley’s in Emma was one. This makes sense- for the air on the outskirts of London was considered good: and Isabella Knightley ,very much her father’s daughter  would surely have settled no where else. For John Knightley’s comfort-and we  know that was very important to him-he was not far from the law courts and Barristers chambers , and finally I think Jane Austen was making an indirect  reference to the illegitimate and abandoned state of Harriet Smith, who found happiness in Brunswick Square while staying with the Mr John Knightley’s there. A trip to Astley’s Amphitheatre was the scene of her reconciliation with Robert Martin.

Back to the book…..

The hospital’s admission or billet books which were meticulously kept form 1741 to 1760 contain the worlds largest collection of everyday  fabrics. This is one example of  a blue and white striped cotton turned up with purple and white linen ,made up into a baby’s sleeve, accompanied by a pink ribbon.

The child who wore it was as you can see about 3 weeks old when it was accepted into the Foundling Hospital. Heatrending.

However Professor Styles users them very carefully, describing the type of cottons and linen the preserved scraps represent and the type of clothes from which they came.

It all makes for an absorbing and  facinating read.

The book is published by Yale and it is sumptuously and carefuly produced, the illustrations are clearly  reproduced, an important point other publishers may have fudged.

I thoroughly recommend it, not only for its history of plebeian clothing in our era,  but for its examination of that part of society which,i s certainly referred to by Jane Austen but is not usually covered in history books.

Because of Jane Austen’s fleeting references to servants in her works, I have heard  people refer to her so-called method of hiding them, as Her Invisible Servants, implying that, as she was mostly silent on their roles and  physical presence, they meant nothing to her and she was indifferent to them.

This is not  correct.From the evidence of her letters she was clearly involved in the detail of her own servants lives and of those employed by the various branches of her family.The letter written from Lyme of the 14th september 1804 talks affectionately of James and Jenny ,their servants. Jane Austen had a very close and long  friend ship with Anne Sharpe, the governess to Edward Knight’s children.

We have to remember, I think, that she was writing for an audience that understood the milieu in which she set her novels and she didn’t need to specify in a documentary-like manner all the servants employed in a household.

But we do get to hear  about some of them. Tantalising glimpses are given of the amount of servants  that  households large and small would employ: we get to know,  by report,Patty the  maid of all work employed by Miss Bates and her mother in Emma;  Mackenzie the gardener at Kellynch in Persuasion: Rebecca ,the maid of all work in the Prices overcrowded and slovenly household at Portsmouth in Mansfield Park.

Certainly not many of Jane Austen’s servants actually speak in the novels,but those that do are memorable, for they have important plot points to make. Baddesley the  butler at Mansfield plays a small but stellar role, fully ready to rebuke the horrid Mrs Norris, and  in one sentence encapsulates all we need to know about the Servant’s Hall ‘s views on that dreadful woman. The redoubtable Mrs Reynolds  in Pride and Prejudice is surely loquacious enough for us all …

Mr. Gardiner, highly amused by the kind of family prejudice to which he attributed her excessive commendation of her master, soon led again to the subject; and she dwelt with energy on his many merits as they proceeded together up the great staircase.

If we want to learn more about  the detail of the servants and their roles in these household we have to look elsewhere. Luckily there are some good books available to us at reasonable prices..

The first I would recommend is The Complete Servant by  Samuel  and Sarah Adams, who both worked as servants in our era and recorded their  views on  the different roles of each category of employee in this book.

This is a reprint of the 1825 text. It is crammed full of  wonderful detail about the role of every possible household , indoors and outdoors servant,together with helpful calculations of the type of income then needed to support different sized households.

If you are only going to purchase one  book on servants in our era than this is the one I would most highly recommend.

Its foreward  is by Pamela Horn and she is the author of the second book I would recommend: Flunkies and Scullions,a marvellous in-depth look at the role of the servant in the 18th century,again impeccably researched and full of glorious detail.

And finally a new book on the subject of servant has been written by  the wonderful historian, Jeremy Musson entitled Up and Down Stairs:the History of the Country House Servant.

Despite only containing  two chapters on servants in our era, it is none the less a fascinating  read, and gives an over view of servants lives  from the middle ages to the present-day. It is a throughly enjoyable read, well researched and has the most fascinating chapter on  black servants in England during the 18th century that I have ever read. I would recommend it for that chapter alone.

As an over view of the history of the servant in country-house households it is a wonderful, informative  read.And that really cannot be said of too many  non-fiction books today.

There are of course  many original texts on servants roles and lives out there: the trick is finding and affording them! I recently bought an 1825 edition of The Lady’s Maid,which is turning out to be a riveting read:

Over the next few months I’ll be posting pieces from it for you. Do join me , won’t you?

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