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“There! you see!” cried Mary, in an ecstacy; “just as I said! Heir to Sir Walter Elliot! I was sure that would come out, if it was so. Depend upon it, that is a circumstance which his servants take care to publish, wherever he goes. But, Anne, only conceive how extraordinary! I wish I had looked at him more. I wish we had been aware in time who it was, that he might have been introduced to us. What a pity that we should not have been introduced to each other! Do you think he had the Elliot countenance? I hardly looked at him, I was looking at the horses; but I think he had something of the Elliot countenance. I wonder the arms did not strike me! Oh! the great-coat was hanging over the pannel, and hid the arms, so it did; otherwise, I am sure, I should have observed them, and the livery too; if the servant had not been in mourning, one should have known him by the livery.”
Persuasion, Chapter 12.
Last week I bored you all silly by my explanations of livery, the significance of livery colours and how they were worn in Jane Austen’s era by certain servants of the rich. Today I’d like to consider livery and coaches, for it is an integral part of the livery story and we ought to discuss it for the sake of completeness.
The passage from Persuasion quoted above is so gloriously funny-I love the way this glimpse of William Walter sets Mary Musgrove on to long descriptions of the Elliot Countenance –( shade of Mrs Austen and the Austen nose, perhaps?) – but it draws our attention to how livery was used, and how significant it was. Because Mr Elliot’s servant is in mourning for Mr Elliot’s dead wife, -he is wearing black, not the usual livery of a coachman- Mary Musgrove is unable to recognise the orange cuffs and capes of the Elliot livery. She was also frustrated in making a positive identification of her father’s errant heir by the fact that his Arms, painted onto the side panel of his curricle, are hidden from view by a great-coat.
If you were wealthy enough to afford a carriage and all its attendant expenses, and, of course, you were possessed of Arms, then you could have these painted on your coach to announce to the world just who was the owner of the vehicle. Jane Austen’s father, George Austen, at one point owned a carriage when they lived at Steventon, and this was decorated with teh Austen crest. In Jane Austen : A Family Record by Deirdre le Faye, we find these comments:
It seems that by now Mr Austen’s income was reasonably good, because entries in his bank account suggest that in the summer of 1784 he brought a chariot- a small carriage drawn by two horses and carrying three passengers- for the benefit of his wife and daughters.
Anna Austen, the daughter of Jane’s eldest brother, James Austen, wrote about local rumours that spread about the carriage -which was either new or newly repainted-at the time of her uncle, Henry Austen’s marriage to Eliza de Feuillide in December 1797, and this is also quoted in Le Faye’s book:
About the time of Mr Henry Austen’s marriage with his first Wife his father set up a carriage which not unnaturally, joe on its panels( pic) the family crest; namely a Stag on a Crown Mural. The latter circumstance was accounted for, in his own way, by a neighbouring Squire, who reported that “Mr Austen had put a coronet on his carriage because of his son’s being married to a French Countess”.
THis is one of George Austen’s bookplates, and it is decorated with the Austen crest, quite as Anna Austen described it. This would have appeared on his coach, on the side door panel. The squire mentioned by Anna Austen- a Digweed?- obvious was not aware that Mr Austen was entitle to bear his own arms and crest. The glory of the Austen’s coach was short lived: in 1798 it was put away in storage for new taxes imposed on carriage owners made it far too expensive for George Austen to continue to maintain.
If we look at some images of carriage from the time, it will become clear as to where the Arms would have been on show. These images are all taken from my copy of William Felton’s Treaties on Carriages: comprehending coaches, chariots, phaetons, curricles, whiskeys, &c. : together with their proper harness (1794). Fenton was a London coachmaker and his book, in two volumes, gives us a mass of intricate detail as to how carriages in the late 18th century were made, complete with all their fittings.
The first we shall consider is a chariot, in this case a neat town chariot.
You can see, and do remember you can enlarge all these images by clicking on them, in order to examine the details, that the coat of arms of the owner and his crest are placed centrally on the door and side panel of the coach. You can appreciate that the arms and crest of the owner are clearly visible and would be very noticeable to any passer-by.
And here, below, is an image of an elegant Chariot, very elaborately decorated, but again with the arms of the owner clearly visible on the door panel.
Mr Elliot is riding from Lyme to Bath in a curricle, that smart gentleman-about-town’s vehicle so beloved of Charles Musgrove, who was eager to compare it with his own,
They had nearly done breakfast, when the sound of a carriage (almost the first they had heard since entering Lyme) drew half the party to the window. It was a gentleman’s carriage, a curricle, but only coming round from the stable-yard to the front door — somebody must be going away. It was driven by a servant in mourning.
Here is Felton’s impression of a Proper Curricle:
Here is Felton’s page illustrating the different ways in which Arms could be used to decorate a coach:
They range from the simple to the hideous in my very humble opinion.Here is his price list for adding such ornament to a vehicle :
So, that is why Mary Musgrove’s attempts to identify the owner of the curricle were stymied: in this case neither the arms nor the livery of the servant could help her because neither were on show.
I ought to tell you, however that, had Mr Elliot been in a larger coach, and had he and his servant not been in mourning for his unlamented wife, there was another way to discern the identity of the owner. Hammer clothes, which covered the coachman’s seat and which could be very decorative items, were also another way to identify the family’s livery, as they were often made in livery colours and could be embroidered with representations of the family’s coat of arms. Here is Felton’s description of them:
Hammer-cloths are among the principal ornaments in a carriage; they are a cloth covering to the coachman’s seat, made to various patterns agreeable to the occupier’s fancy. The fullness of the plaiting of the cloth , its depth and the quality of the trimmings thereon proportions the expense (sic-jfw) to almost any amount…
And here are some very elaborate examples:
John Cussans , in The Handbook of Heraldry, tells us that
The Colours of Hammercloths are regulated by the same laws as liveries.
Now, I have no reference for this but I doubt that a colourful hammer cloth covered in gold or silver lace and made in the heraldic colours of a family’s livery would be on show at a time of full mourning. If the servant who normally would have worn livery was dressed in black due to the custom of mourning, then I feel sure that a hammer cloth would also be subdued in hue. So if one had been on display it would still not have helped Mary Musgrove locate the owners identity in the inn- yard at Lyme. But as Mr Elliot was in a curricle and not a larger coach, no hammer cloth was to be seen. Poor Mary, therefore could only rely on her interpretation of The Elliot Countenance, and the information supplied to them by the waiter.
Liveried servants were the preserve of the rich, and were a status symbol. Their very presence in a household serving at the dining table, answering the door etc, or more importantly, being visible outside the household- going on their masters’ errands in the street, or adorning a coach- indicated wealth and status on the part of the employer. We have learnt about the heraldic and historic background to liveries in our last three posts.Today we shall look at these special uniforms as they developed throughout the 18th/early 19th centuries.
The uniforms were expensive, and in the late 18th/early 19th centuries, they certainly stood out, for they were becoming archaic in style, harking back to a past era. Liveries of the early to mid 18th century still retained a relation to military uniforms and court drew, but that all changed as the century wore on:
At the start of the century the footman’s livery was still relatively close to its origins in military and court dress, evocative of the gentleman retainer. As the century progressed fashions changed while livery ossified. ..By the 1790s..the kind of silver lace decorations that adorned a velvet livery coat stolen in London in 1795 was almost entirely confined, among civilians at least, to footmen. Livery had become a sartorial fossil albeit one that…was becoming increasingly elaborate and ostentatious in the second half of the century, a trend that may of some way to explain its fossilisation.
(John Styles, The Dress of the People, page 300-301.)
You can see this progression, from fashionable to arctic, in these illustrations, again, all taken from John Styles’ book.
Above is a painting by John Collet from 1763, illustrating a scene from Townley’s 1759 play High Life below Stairs. Both male servants wear restrained liveries…
Above is a mezzotint from 1772 showing another below-stairs scene in a grand household: the livery worn by the male servant, shown trying to impress the maid seated at the table, is now much more elaborate, his waistcoat adorned with much gold lace, as are the facings on his coat, which also sports gold buttons.
And finally we come to our favourite, (well my favourite) debunker of pomposity , Thomas Rowlandson in 1799. Here were have two Country Characters being rather forcibly “impressed’ by a fancy London footman in his full regalia, gold lace trimmed, note, topped with his powdered wig and bag.
This hair powder was an additional expense for the employer. As we have seen, footmen, in full regalia, wore powdered wigs. A tax on hair powder was levied between 1797 and 1869. This tax was introduced by Pitt and it was originally envisaged that the tax would raise £200,000 per annum for the Treasury. Virtually every man at that time either wore a wig which was powdered, or added powder to his own hair. Charles Fox, in opposition to Pitt, thought that the idea was delusional. He understood, quite rightly, that only half a dozen leaders of fashion needed to decide to change the mode of dressing their hair and the object of the tax would be frustrated. The effect of the introduction of the tax was quite dramatic, and was as Fox predicted: most people simply gave up wearing powder in their hair/wigs. Very soon only die-hards and liveried servants wore hair powder. Thus adding to the ever archaic appearance of servants in livery.
It might amuse you to know that the political opposition ceased to wear hair powder immediately on the introduction of the tax, and took to calling those who still wore the powder “guinea pigs“( in reference to the fee payable to the Treasury). In 1796 the yield for the tax was £210,136 but from then on the number of registered tax payers fell dramatically. By 1855 only liveried servants wore the powder. In that year only 997 servants were registered to be taxed on their powder( 951 in England, and 46 in Scotland). The yield by that time was £100 per year and it was discontinued as being unproductive, and too expensive to collect.
(See : A History of Taxation and Taxes in England by Stephen Dowell).
Not only did the use of powered wigs in livery uniforms add to the archaic effect, it also, among the ranks of the noveau riche, with their newly commissioned coats of arms, newly purchased houses in town and newly bought country estates, produced the desired effect of being from ancient lineage and of old money.
In addition to the cost of the livery and the tax on hair power, from 1777 male servants were subject to a special tax. An annual tax of one guinea per male servant was levied by the government. This tax was originally intended to help finance the war against the American’s struggle for independence, but, not surprisingly, the tax was retained after that war had ended. In fact, it may surprise you to learn that it was not repealed until 1937.
So, you can see just how expensive it was for an employer to set up a household with liveried servants.The extra expense of the uniform and the additional taxes paid on them mad ether expensive walking status symbols. And before I end this small series on livery, I have to share with you a set of photographs of some outstanding and extravagant livery,which explain all the elements I have tried to explain in the last four posts.
This set of livery was commissioned by the 3rd Earl of Ashburnham of Ashburnham Place, Sussex, in 1829 for his installation as Knight of the Garter at St George’s Chapel, Windsor. Here are his footmen, in all their splendour, adorned with their powdered wigs, and wearing a costume(what else can you call it, seeing how theatrical it is?!) based on the colours used in his Arms- Gules(red) and Vert (green); and in addition, the gold lace or trimming is replaced by a woven braid made of a repeating pattern of a depiction of the Arms themselves.
You can see all the heraldic elements are very noticeably in place: he has taken the heraldic themes and run with them, to be brutally honest.
Even the braid festooned from the epaulettes has been woven in his heraldic colours. There is no mistaking that these servants are very definitely in his service, for they are walking advertisement for his ancient and costly lineage.
Yesterday we talked about coats of arms, heraldic colours and how important they were for determining the colours of liveries. Today, let’s look at the practical application of all we learnt. We know that the colours on a family’s coat of arms (or, more simply, Arms) were to be used as the colours of their livery uniforms, for…
A gentleman may wear garments of any colour his fancy may dictate but he is not permitted such license with regard to the uniforms of his servants: the colours of these depend entirely upon the tinctures upon his Escutcheon.
(J. Cussans, The Handbook of Heraldry (1869) page 314.)
But how did this work? Cussans tell us…
In both ( the Escutcheon and the livery-jfw) the dominant colour should be the same: the subsidiary colour of the livery ( or as a tailor would call it, the trimmings – that is, the collar, cuffs, lining and buttons) should be the colour of the principal charge.
So, Cussans now gives us some examples:
For example, a gentleman bears arms Azure( Blue-jfw) a Fess Or ( Gold-jfw); in this case the coats of the servants should be blue faced with yellow. But, supposing the tinctures were reversed and that the Field were “or” and the Fess “azure”, how then? Would the coat be yellow and the facings blue? No, custom has decided that we must not dress our servants in golden coats. Instead of yellow we should employ drab.
So, in George Austen’s case, had he ever possessed the resources to dress a footman in livery, we can see, from the Austen family coat of arms below,
his livery would have taken the form of a drab coat with red facings. This is because,,on his coat of arms the field( the principal part) is coloured Or (gold) and as we must not dress our servants in golden coats, the coat would be made in a coat of drab coloured cloth. Note that Drab was not just a single color, but rather a range of colors in the grey-brown family. It is originally thought to refer to the natural color of linen cloth. The Chevron on the arms is gules(red) and so the facings of the Austen livery coat- the collar, cuffs etc would be red, for that is not the dominant but the secondary colour.
Cussans give us some more examples:
Argent ; a Lion rampant azure. Coat light drab; Facings, blue.
Gules; an Eagle displayed or, within a Bourdure argent Coat, claret or chocolate; Facings, yellow; buttons and Hat-band, silver.
Or; a Fess cheque argent and azure, bewteen a Mullet in chief gules, and a Crescent of the the third in base. Coat, dark drab; Facings, blue; Buttons and Hat -band, silver; and to represent the Mullet, the edges of the coat might be bound with red, or the rim of the hat looped up with red cord.
(Cussans, as above, page 315)
To get back to one of Jane Austen’s characters, we know that Sir Walter Elliot has orange cuffs on his livery:
”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
Therefore, applying the rules we now know, this would indicate that the stain ( colour), Tenné ,which is similar to the untutored eye to the colour orange, was included in a secondary way on the Elliot coat of arms. Patric Baty tell us here that this Heraldic colour or tincture had a specific attribute; ambition. I suppose this is very fitting for the socially ambitious Sir Walter, as evidenced by his desperate attempts to be received by Lady Dalrymple in Bath. I’m sure Jane Austen would be aware of what she was insinuating when she gave his livery orange cuffs and capes.
The details of the livery were also decided by heraldic rules.
Buttons should always be of the dominant metal in the Arms and charged with the master’s Badge- not his crest. The latter belongs exclusively to the bearers of the Arms; servants have no right whatever to them.
(Cussans, as above, page 316)
Therefore, George Austen’s servants would wear gold coloured buttons and not silver. Here are some examples of Livery Buttons, from the early to mid 19th century:
It might interest you to note that there were special rules for widow’s servants liveries:
The uniform Livery of widows is white with black facings.
(Cussans, as above, page 315)
Im sure that Lady Russell’s liveried servants at Kellynch lodge would have worn this livery.
There are also special rules regarding the wearing of cockades by servants in their hats:
It is usually held that the privilege ( of a wearing cockades-jfw) is confined to the servants of officers in the Soverign’s service, or those who by courtesy may be regarded as such; the theory being that the servant is a private soldier, who, when not wearing his uniform retains this badge as a mark of his profession. Doctors’ servants, though frequently to be seen wearing Cockades, have no right to them whatsoever, unless their master’s names are to be found in the Army or Navy List.
The Cockade worn by the servants of military officers is composed of black leather, arranged in the form of a corrugated cone and surmounted by a cresting like a fan half opened ( fig 327, above). The servants of naval officers, deputy-lieutenants and gentlemen holding distinct offices under the Soverign bear a plain Cockade as at fig.328. In both cases the ribbon in the centre may be either black or of the Livery colours.
Epaulettes could also be part of the livery uniform: but they were only worn by servants of gentlemen who were entitled to have their servants wear Cockades.
The male servant in the double portrait above, one Daniel Taylor, wears a livery coat of blue with yellow facings, silver buttons and epaulettes of gold. That would indicate that his master was a gentleman, in military service, whose arms had the dominant colour of Azure,(blue) with a secondary colour or Or ( gold) and with some use of Argent ( silver),and this would accord with the fact that his master was John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset (24 March 1745–19 July 1799), a rather dissolute character, but who never the less served teh Crown as an ambassador and was as Lord Lieutenant of Kent.
This is a fascinating portrait for it shows Daniel and another female servant, Elinor Low. She does not wear a specific uniform, note. It was painted in 1783 by Arnold Almond and is included in John Styles book, The Dress of the People.
Next, in this series, why servants dressed in liveries were seriously expensive status symbols ;)
In our last post we discussed the historical background to liveries. Today, we will look at the rules regarding the colour schemes of these liveries -uniforms if you like- for the footmen and coachmen in Jane Austen’s era.
It may interest you to know that the colours of a family’s livery was not a matter of choice:
A gentleman may wear garments of any colour his fancy may dictate, but he is not permitted such license with regard to the uniforms of his servants: the colours of these depend entirely on the tinctures upon his Escutcheon. In both, the dominant colour should be the same: the subsidiary colour of the livery ( or, as a tailor would call it, the trimmings- that is, the collar, cuffs lining and buttons) should be the colour of the principal Charge.
(The Handbook of Heraldry etc., (1869, John Cussans, Page 314.)
Lets examine how this works. First, in order to proceed, we are going to have a short heraldry terminology lesson. This is a ferociously complex subject, but for you to understand how livery colours were used, I’ve tried to simplify the essential descriptions / terms. Do remember that most heraldic terms derive from Norman French or Latin. An Escutcheon is a shield or shield-shaped emblem, which displays a coat of arms.
A Charge is any figure placed on a shield, which is then charged with the device. There were two classes of charges, Ordinaries and Common Charges. Ordinaries can be incredibly simple, as in the Chief-an ordinary which occupies the upper third of the shield, shown below:
or can range to the extremely complex: as in this example of a Gyron of eight, below: a Gyron is formed by a diagonal line bisecting a quarter bendwise.(see below)
Here is a page from Cussan’s book showing some of the more simple Ordinary Charges:
Common Charges are anything depicted on a shield other than the ordinaries. Anything animate ( lions, birds, fish, serpents) or inanimate (a castle keep, for example) : even imaginary creatures like Dragons qualify. Here are examples of Lions, shown Salient (fig.144 : With both hind legs on the ground and fore paws elevated equally, as if he is about to spring on his prey), Sejant ( fig. 145: Sitting down)
Heraldic colours, or Tinctures, are important,because there were so few of them. There were two Metals, Or ( Gold ) and Argent ( Silver). The most commonly used were Gules(Red), Azure (Blue), Sable (Black ), Vert (Green) and Purpure ( Purple) There are two other colours, Stains, which were rarely used: Tenné ( bright chestnut)and Sanquine (maroon)If you go here to the wonderful Patrick Baty’s page on Tinctures you can see exactly how these tinctures were used, and read about their attributes.(In addition, there was also colurs or patterns called FURS: these were patterns suggesting ermine and other costly furs worn by the rich-we don’t need to worry ourselves about these here)
These colours were engraved in specific ways , so that expensive coloured paints and inks did not have to be used when depicting them, but that the depiction could still be accurate:
If we apply this to George Austen’s Coat of Arms (via Wikipedia):
you can see that the escutcheon- the shield- (and I’m not giving a technically correct description, or blazon, here , please do note!) is of Or ( Gold) with a Gules (Red) Charge in the form of a Chevron. It also has three lions paws- Gambes or Jambes erased ( i.e. cut off at the middle joint) coloured Sable( Black). You can see an example of this in Anne Austen’s ( neé Matthews) memorial in Steventon church:
Her arms, on the right are impaled ( that is, shown on the same shield) with those of James Austen, her husband. He was George Austen’s eldest son and Jane’s eldest brother. His arms- of his branch of the Austen family – are on the left. You can see the gold background, the red chevron and the three black lions paws.
Next, how these colours were used in liveries.
“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”.
…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.
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.
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
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.
In our last post we discussed the life of Susannah Sackree, the nurse to Edward Knight’s children at his Godmersham home. We ought properly take this opportunity to consider what her role in the Knight household most probably entailed….so let’s take a look at the role of the Children’s Nurse in the early 19th century home.
The type of household that could expect to employ a children’s nurse, as opposed to the lesser incarnation of the Nursery-Maid, was one that had an income of at least £2-3000 per annum according to the Hints to the Formation of an Household given in The Complete Servant (1825) by Samuel and Sarah Adams.
The establishment would consist of at least:
Eight Female and eight Men–Servants; viz.- A Cook, Lady’s-Maid, two House-Maids, Nurse, Nursery-Maid, Kitchen-Maid, and Laundry –Maid; with a Butler, Valet, Coachman, Two Grooms A Footman and Two Gardeners.
According to the same source, a Children’s Nurse could expect to be paid between £10-25 per annum. And also had the right to expect to receive perquisites at the christenings of the children in her charge.
The Head Nurse should be expected to be, according to the same book, which was written by two experienced ex-servants,
…of a lively and cheerful disposition, perfectly good tempered, and clean and neat in her habits and person. She ought also to have been accustomed to the care and management of young children as all the junior branches of the family are entrusted to her care and superintendence, confiding in her skill, experience and attention. She usually takes the sole charge of the infant from it’s birth, when the parent suckles it; to assist her in the management of this and the other children in the nursery, she has under nurses assigned to her who are entirely under her control.
The Adams’ give detailed instructions for the day-to-day running of the nursery:
The youngest nurse , or nursery–maid, usually rises about six o’clock to light the fire, and so the household work of the nursery before the children are up, perhaps about seven o’clock, at which time the head nurse is dressed, and ready to bathe and wash them all over with a sponge and warm water; after which they are rubbed quite dry and dressed. This process, when there are several children usually occupies the nurse an hour and a half, when their breakfast is got ready and the children are placed at their meal in the most peaceful and orderly manner. After breakfast, if the weather be favourable, the children are taken out by the assistant nurse or nursery maid for air and exercise, and hour perhaps two, but not so long as to fatigue either of them. On their return, their hands and feet are washed, if damp or dirty, after which they attend to their lessons till dinner time. After dinner if it be fine weather, the children are again taken aboard for air and exercise and on their return again, after having their hands and feet washed, if necessary, they are in due time ,about eight o’clock, dressed and put to bed. The Head Nurse finds ample employment during the whole day in paying due attention to her infant charge in giving directions and in seeing that the whole business of the nursery is properly executed.
The Under-Nurse would attend to the older children in the family, whereas the Head Nurse was always expected to care for the babies:
The Under-Nurse is chiefly engaged in attending to the senior children,and is entirely under the control of the head nurse.She assists in getting them up in the morning, washing and dressing them; attends them at their meals and takes them out for air and exercise, and performs or assists in the performance of all the duties of the nursery, while the head nurse is chiefly engaged with the infant child.
Mrs Taylor, one of my favourite dispensers of advice, in her book, Practical Hints to Young Females on the Duties of a Wife, A Mother and a Mistress of a Family (1816)
give this advice regarding the ordering of the nursery, which would hold good today:
It is an error very prevalent but much to be deplored, that the nursery of all places should be destitute of neatness. Order, cleanliness and regularity have the happiest influence on the human mind and contribute more to keep the temper placid and the head clear, than many people are aware of. “Let every thing be done decently and in order” is a precept that should be extended from our religious concerns to all the affairs of life; and where this invaluable principle is associated with the habits of childhood, it may reasonably be expected to pervade the subsequent conduct, and contribute largely to individual and domestic happiness. Children who are always accustomed to replace their toys when done with; to make no unnecessary dirt of litter; to be punctual in their observance of time and place; will even from the force of habit, practise the same regularity in the more important concerns, on which the prosperity of future families may depend…
Interestingly, Mrs Taylor has this to say about the behaviour of employers to their good and faithful servants:
…let those who are possessed of such a treasure as a good servant, duly estimate their privilege, and be neither too rigid in their requirements, nor too sparing in their rewards. It is poor encouragement to a servant, if she is invariably blamed for what is wrong and never praised for what is right; and some respect should be paid to the feelings of human nature, which will not endure continual chiding, however deserving of it: both praises and rewards should be suitably dispensed; and if, when there is occasion to complain, appeals to reason were more frequent than they generally are, such reproof might have a gradual tendency to improve the character. The old domestic attached to a family, whose best days have been spent in faithful services is a lovely character, and entitled to every indulgence; and when an honest and tractable disposition is observed in the young, self-interest alone would dictate an endeavour to rear a servant of this description, by care and kindness by mingling patience and forbearance with instruction or reproof.
In Susannah Sackree , the Knights had a faithful and well-loved servant who gave service over a period of nearly 60 years. From the affectionate way in which she was written about by members of the family, she was truly, in the words of Mrs Taylor and Lady Catherine, a treasure.
The silhouette, showing Susannah Sackree most probably in the process of knitting socks for one of her many infant charges, if I rightly make out the presence of three knitting needles in her hands, is currently for sale at Hallidays Antiques for the quite modest sum,I suppose as Austen related items go, of £3750
The provenance is impeccable:
This silhouette came into the Rice Family on the marriage of Elizabeth Austen (1800-1884) the second daughter of Edward Austen (later Edward Knight) of Godmersham Park, Kent to Edward Rice of Dane Court, Dover, Kent in 1818 and has remained in the Rice family’s possession ever since.
This is a portrait of Susannah Sackree that currently hangs in the Jane Austen House Museum. Sackree was the much loved nursemaid to the children of Edward Knight and his wife, Elizabeth. She was engaged by them for the birth of their first child, Fanny, in 1793. She stayed in the family’s employ at Godmersham in Kent until she died in 1851. She had completed nearly 60 years faithful service by this time.
Lord Brabourne, Fanny Knight’s son and the first editor of Jane Austen’s letters, wrote about Sackree in The Letters of Jane Austen, because she is frequently mentioned by Jane Austen in letters sent to and from Godmersham, and generally , this is done in an affectionate manner:
The “Sackree” of whom such frequent mention is made in the letters from Godmersham was the old nurse of my grandfather’s children, an excellent woman and a great favourite. I remember some of her stories to this day, especially one of a country girl who, on being engaged by the housekeeper of a certain family, inquired if she might “sleep round.” “Sleep round?” was the reply. “Yes, of course; you may sleep round or square, whichever you please, for what I care!” However, after the lapse of a few days, the girl having been kept up for some work or other till ten o’clock, did not appear in the morning. After some delay, the housekeeper, fancying she must be ill, went up to her room about nine o’clock, and finding her fast asleep and snoring soundly, promptly woke her up, and began to scold her for an idle baggage. On this, the girl with an injured air, began to remonstrate, “Why ma’am, you told me yourself I might sleep round, and as I wasn’t in bed till ten o’clock last night, I a’nt a coming down till ten this morning.” Mrs. Sackree went by the familiar name of “Caky,” the origin of which I have been unable to trace, but which was perhaps given to her in the Godmersham nursery by the little ones, who were doing their best to pronounce her real name. She lived on at Godmersham, saw and played with many of the children of her nurslings, and died in March, 1851, in her ninetieth year. Mrs. Sayce was her niece, and my mother’s lady’s-maid, of whom I know no more than that she occupied that honourable position for twelve years, married a German in 1822, and died at Stuttgard in 1844. Sackree succeeded her as housekeeper when she left Godmersham.
Sackree once even managed to visit St James Palace, the scene of Sir William Lucas’s rise to the heady rank of Knight, as Jane Austen somewhat ruefully related to Cassandra Austen:
I told Sackree that you desired to be remembered to her, which pleased her; and she sends her duty, and wishes you to know that she has been into the great world. She went on to town after taking William to Eltham, and, as well as myself, saw the ladies go to Court on the 4th. She had the advantage indeed of me in being in the Palace.
(Letter to Cassandra Austen written from Godmersham, dated Wednesday June 15, 1808.)
Professor R .W. Chapman in his edition of Jane Austen’s letters speculates that Sackree may have gained entrance into St James Palace due to the influence of Mrs Charles Fielding,who was W0man of the Bedchamber to Queen Charlotte and had apartments in St James Palace.Mrs Fielding was related by marriage to Elizabeth Knight’s family, the Bridges of Goodnestone, also in Kent.
A devout Christian, when she died Sackree was interred in the graveyard of the Godmersham estate’s parish church, the Church of St Lawrence the Martyr,and hee headstone was carved with passages that she requested:
“Flee from evil,and do the thing that is good
For the Lord loves the thing that is good”
“Keep Innocency and take heed the thing that is right; for that shall bring a man peace at the last”
“My dearest Friends I leave behind
Who were to me so good and kind
The Lord I hope will all them bless
And my poor soul will be at rest”
Here is a photograph of her prayer-book, which is also on show at the Jane Austen House Museum.
The Knight family had a tablet in remembrance of Sackree installed on the north buttress of the Chancel in St Lawrence’s,and it reads:
the faithful servant and friend
for nearly 60 years
of Edward Knight Esquire of Godmersham Park
and the beloved nurse of all his children
She died deeply lamented on the 2nd March
in the ninetieth year of her age.
Those readers of Jane Austen who still persist in thinking that she and her class failed to make mention of their servants, due perhaps to some form of snobbish neglect, might care to reconsider that after reading all the affectionate mentions of this obviously much-loved family servant.
This is the final part of my series of posts on a Christmas visit to Jane Austen’s House, her beloved Chawton Home. We have already seen inside, downstairs and upstairs and so now let have a look at the garden in winter and the outbuildings.
This is the view of the rear of the house. You can clearly see its basic “L’ shape , plus all the other additions made to the structure over the years.
The building that could be clearly seen from Jane Austen and Cassandra’s bedroom was the Bakehouse, a very important part of the Chawton Cottage domain.
Just outside the bake house was the well….which was needed to provide copious amounts of water
for the laundry,which was done in the Bakehouse too. This is the ‘copper’ :the bricks house a copper container. A fire would be lit underneath and the cottons boiled in the upper compartment, now covered with a wooden lid. I remember my grandmother -who had a similar room in her domestic offices- having her laundry done in this way by a team of people .As a tiny child I was allowed to watch the complex operation of boiling, mangling and starching. Seems a million years ago now…..
The baking for the Austen household took place here too…..
And the proximity of the well and the copper made the Bakehouse the perfectly practical place for boiling water for scalding the skins of slaughtered pigs. 18th century self sufficiency sounds delightful but having salted a pig once I can confirm it’s not something I’d like to do on a regular basis. Nor indeed is the time tyranny of always producing bread for a household something I’d like to revert to(I tried that once by hand for a few weeks and gave up:then I bought a bread maker!)
The other occupant of the Bakehouse is Mrs Austen’s donkey carriage which I have written about here in a previous post. Its interesting to note that Jane Austen in her final illness didn’t relish driving the cart, which would accommodate two not very large people. She had a saddle made for the donkey and prefered to use this as a sort of Georgian mobility scooter, and this enabled her to still walk with Cassandra around the lanes she loved so well, being a confessed “desperate walker”.
To the rear of the Bakehouse are new additions to the museum complex. New rooms where lectures and receptions can be held. The museum has been in need of these facilities for years and I am so glad that they now have a splendid space in which to raise funds and educate.
If we go under the great yew tree at the side of the house we then arrive at the garden proper…..
…past the entrance to the house and the Gothic window…..
To look out onto the garden, covered in snow… looking towards the lane that leads to Chawton House.
And the lovely Regency- style tree seat…a pleasant spot in summer but chilly now….
If we turn back toward the house, this time we shall enter by the door on the left……
…into the newly refurbished kitchen……
With its restored range
…where the Austen’s meals would have been prepared…..
And where the laundry would have been ironed…..
And the griddle where scores would have been made
Some early 19th century pearlware in the “Two Trees” pattern..waiting for some Twinings tea……
This is the view from the kitchen towards the Bakehouse and the old barn which is now the entrance to the museum and a wonderfully stocked shop,where certain purchases were made for next year’s AO Great Anniversary Giveaway (D.V.)
The kitchen was restored with the help and excellent advice of Peter Brears,whose new book about jellies I reviewed here last week. And there are some wonderful early 19th century jelly moulds on show in the kitchen on a small sideboard…
Including a lovely pineapple…….
Martha Lloyd’s recipe book is of course one of the treasures of the museum. Her recipes must have been prepared in this room. It’s all rather wonderful to think that her recipes and the room are now all in working order and available for us to see, food being such an important part of Jane Austen’s novels and letters.
If we leave the cosy kitchen and the garden we look out onto the road that now leads to the Selbourne road, with the Greyfriars pub on the right….
And we come to the front of the house ,where the Austen’s blocked up one of the windows in order to give them more privacy. And where there are now two plaques: one commemorating Mr Carpenter who gave the house to the Jane Austen Memorial Trust.
And this rather beautiful tablet with its apt wording:
lived here from 1809-1817
and hence all her works
Were sent to the world
Her admirers in this country
and in America have united
to erect this tablet.
Such art as hers
Can never grow old
And that ends my Christmas jaunt around Jane Austen’s House Museum for this time. I thought you might like to see it in its winter and Christmas finery,a change from the summer pictures we see all the time. I am planning to go back next year,so there will be some more conventional images for you to see then ;)
In our first introductory post in this series we considered the scope of the book, The Duties of a Lady’s Maid (1826). Before we go any further in this series, where we are going to examine the advice given in that book, we ought perhaps clarify exactly what we mean by a Lady’s Maid and her Duties.
The Complete Servant by Samuel and Sarah Adams (1825) is a wonderful resource,freely available as a reprint by Southover Press and on Google Books . It records in great detail the role and duties of nearly every servant you coud possibly imagine existing in an early 19th century household(and many whom you could not imagine possibly existed!).
This book is one example of the genre of books designed to give advice not only to the servant but also to the growing number of the middling sort who needed to learn from books and not family experience exactly what their servants needed to be able to do to run the household smoothly (Mrs Cole in Emma should have taken note!) Of course some books were more helpful than others..John Armstrong’s book ,The Young Woman’s Guide to Happiness (circa 1815)
has this very brief summation of the duties of a lady’s maid:
No one ought to pretend to be properly qualified to fill the office of lady’s maid unless her education has been tolerably good; for being obliged to be near her lady, she is often required to read and to do some fine pieces of needlework. It is her duty to study her lady’s temper, to answer civilly and always to evince the most ready compliance with the orders she receives; she ought also on all occasions to defend her lady’s character to avoid repeating what may have been communicated in a moment of frankness and not to do anything that has the least appearance of countenancing an intrigue.
and that is all it and to say on the subject despite being a tome of over 600 pages!
Samuel and Sarah Adams’ book reflects the fact that they had both worked in service and intended their book to be helpful and very practical for the use of both servants and employer. Its fine detail left no one on either side of the divide-master or servant- in any doubt as to the extent and limits of their duties and responsibilities. This is what they had to say about the basic duties of the lady’s maid:
The business of a Lady’s Maid is extremely simple and but little varied. She is generally to be near the person of her lady and to be properly qualified to for her situation her education should be superior to that of the ordinary class of females, particularly in needlework and the useful and ornamental branches of female acquirements…
It will be her business to dress, re-dress, and undress her lady; and in this, she should learn to be particularly au fait and expeditious, ever studying, so far as it depends upon herself, to manifest good taste by suiting the ornaments of and decoration of her dress to the complexion habits age and general appearance of her person. Thus she will evince her own good sense, best serve her lady and gratify all those who are most interested in her welfare and happiness. She should alway be punctual in her attendance and assiduous in her attention.
Her first business, in the morning will be to see that the house-maid has made the fire and properly prepared her lady’s dressing room:- she then calls her mistress, informs her of the hour and having laid out all her clothes ,and carried her hot water to wash, she retires to her breakfast with the housekeeper and other principal servants. When her lady’s bell rings, she attends her in the dressing room- combs her hair for the morning, and waits on her till dressed; after which she folds and puts away her night-clothes, cleans her combs and brushes and adjusts her toilet table:- she then retires to her workroom to be ready if wanted and employes herself in making and altering dresses, millinery etc. About one o’clock the family generally take their lunch and the servants their dinner.-After this she is again summoned to attend her lady’s toilet whilst dressing to go abroad. When gone, she again adjusts her clothes and everything in the room and lays out and prepares the several articles that may be required for her dinner or evening dress and afterwards employs herself at needlework in her own room or in her other avocations to dress for dinner, perhaps about five when she attends her for that purpose; and having done this it may happen that no further attendance on her mistress’ person will be required till she retires to bed: meanwhile she employes herself at needlework as in the morning or else in the various occupations of getting up the fine linen quazes, muslins cambrics laces etc and washing silk stockings taking the spots or stains out of silks etc etc
It is for her to see that the housemaid or the chamber maid empties the slops, keep up the fires both in this and the bedroom (if wanted) and keeps the rooms in perfect order. Previous to her mistress retiring for the night she will have looked out her night clothes and aired them well; and she will not only now but at all times when she goes to dress carry up hot water for washing etc and when she is gone to bed she will carefully examine all her clothes and do all that is necessary to be done to them before she folds them away.
So these are the basic duties. I’m certain that the anonymous author of The Duties of a Lady’s Maid will add to this less than exhaustive list over the next few weeks…..
The question arises, exactly what sort of income would you need to employ one of these beings? In The Complete Servant we are given details of the household income that could afford to employ such a servant for the lady of the house. The income that could support the employment of a lady’s maid was quite high: it began at £2000 and rose to £3000 per annum. Mr Bennet is in that bracket-just-,but many female characters in Jane Austen’s works most certianly are not: the Dashwood ladies,the Bates’s ,Jane Fairfax and of course, Jane Austen herself.
Income per annum £200o-3000. Eight female and eight male servants. viz- A cook, Lady’s Maid, two House Maids, Nurse, Nursery Maid, Kitchen maid, Laundry maid, with a Butler,Valet, Coachman, two Grooms, a Footman, and two Gardeners.
Whereas the estimate given in another publication, Practical Domestic Ecomomy (1825)
tends to err towards the top end of that income bracket. It does not consider an income of £2000 per annum as sufficient to support the luxury of a lady’s maid. The first income it considers sufficient to support the luxury of adding a lady’s maid to the household is £3000 per annum:
Appropriate to an Income of £3000 per annum. The Family consisting of a Gentleman, his lady and Three Children; with an Establishment of Eight Make and Eight Female servants: in all Twenty -one persons-A Coach or Chariot, a Curricle and Six Horses…..
Eight Female servants viz:
Next in this series we shall be considering the conduct book elements of the publication and comparing them with the advice on conduct to be found in books written for and by male servants.
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.
As you know, the Threads of Feeling Exhibition at the Foundling Museum curated by Professor John Styles opens this week. Concentrating on the collection of 18th century fabrics preserved in the ledgers of the Foundling hospital, tokens left by foundling’s mothers, it throws a very revealing light on the type of clothing worn by ordinary people in that era, as was disclosed in Professor Styles wonderful book, The Dress of the People.
I thought you all might be interested in two recently published articles which give a little more detail of the exhibition. The first, accessible here is published by the Arts and Humanities Research Council,who helped fund the exhibition.
The second, is a fabulous interpretation of the exhibition by historian Kathryn Hughes, the author of two great books,The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton and The Victorian Governess. Go here to access it
And here is a photograph of a section of the specially re-printed cotton to be used for recreating a garment in the exhibition.
This is called Florella after the child who was deposited with the original scrap of material.
Above is an image of the original ledger from the Foundling Museum showing the linen / cotton printed with dots and red flowers. The Foundling, a girl, was given the number 8959 and was admitted to the Hospital on the 19th June 1758:
The written inscription reads:
Florella Burney Born june the 19: 1758: In The Parish off St Anns SoHo. not Baptize’d, pray Let partiuclare Care be Taken’en off this Child, As it will be call’d for Again; …’
I find it fascinating to think that this might be the type of fabric worn by Harriet Smith’s unknown mother, or by the poor of Highbury who are visited by Emma,or even Hannah, the servant at Randalls who could shut doors with exquisite quietness…I have been very kindly invited to the opening of the exhibition on Wednesday but sadly cannot attend due to other commitments, but I promise to give a full report of the visit I am going to make to it later in October.
So , now we know what the structure of General Tinley’s kitchen at Northanger might have resembled….we really ought to consider what modern gadgets the General might have in his deceptively ancient kitchen…no turnspit dogs or crones tending spits of roasting meats, that is certain.
No, he had a full staff- I love the image of footmen slinking around corridors,out of their livery….
The number of servants continually appearing did not strike her less than the number of their offices. Wherever they went, some pattened girl stopped to curtsy, or some footman in dishabille sneaked off.
So..what wonderful devices would these staff be using in this very busy kitchen(for woe betide any meals being served late in this particular household)…Let’s see…
He would most probably have installed an up to the minute range oven. Though they are often thought of as being essential items in a Victorian kitchen, cast iron ranges were in fact innovations of the Georgian period.
They really needed coal to fuel them- wood or turf burned on open hearths. And it wasn’t until the development of the railway system in Britain in the 1840s that the use of cast iron ranges –large or small- became widespread with the easy availability of coal, which was then easily transported about the whole country.
This is the trade card of Underwood and Co, who were ironmongers in Bristol from 1812 to 1828, and so might have supplied the General with his ovens at Northanger, which was situated in the nearby Severn estuary plains of Gloucestershire. They operated from Charles Street which at the time contained some of Bristol’s finest shops.
The kitchen grate they illustrate here has a hot plate on the right and a perpetual oven on the left. The advert also shows smoke jacks-which did away with the necessity for scullions or dogs turning the spit- roasted meat. These kitchen ranges were capable of generating great heat,and were designed to undertake the task of boiling and roasting. The original ranges, dating from the late 18th century had no provision for delicate cooking -making sauces or simmering- and eventually a stewing stove was introduced combining a kitchen gratw with ovens in order to have all the elements one needed to cook in one place.
John Farley in his book The General View of Agriculture in Derbyshire (1813) wrote of the history of the development of range cookers as follows:
About the year 1778 cast iron ovens began to be made at the Griffin Foundry now Messrs Ebenezer Smith and Company and to be set by the side of the grates at the public houses and some farm houses as to be heated by the fire in the grate when a small damper in the flue is drawn and about ten years after square iron boilers with lids were introduced to be set at the end of a fire grate and these have spread so amazingly that there is scare a house without these even of cottage of the first class…
Thomas Robinson patented a range in 1780 and it looked like this:
As you can see the closed oven was heated by the fire burning around one of its walls. This made for a very uneven heat,and this fault was not effectively remedied until the second quarter of the 19th century.
So what could the General’s oven range have looked like? Would it have resembled one of these above?
Now we know, for Jane Austen tells us, that the General was a fan of Count Rumford’s inventions. We are told that instead of seeing massive open hearths in the drawing-room, the view that struck Catherine’s Morland’s disappointed eyes was a Rumford fireplace:
An abbey! Yes, it was delightful to be really in an abbey! But she doubted, as she looked round the room, whether anything within her observation would have given her the consciousness. The furniture was in all the profusion and elegance of modern taste. The fireplace, where she had expected the ample width and ponderous carving of former times, was contracted to a Rumford, with slabs of plain though handsome marble, and ornaments over it of the prettiest English china.
Northanger Abbey, Chapter 20
What she saw was a Rumford hearth. Here is a caricature of Count Rumford standing before one of his fireplaces,which made more economic use of fuel-the heat as you can see was directed into the room and did not dissipate into a large hearth and up to the chimney:
America- born Benjamin Thompson, Count von Rumford, lived from 1753-1814. He not only invented this efficient fireplace, but also in his book, Essays Political Economical and Philosophical (1802) he wrote about many topics and the tenth essay deals with the Construction of Kitchen Fireplaces and Kitchen Utensils.
He was of the opinion that each cooking vessel should have its own separate closed fireplace, the door , its grate and ash-pit should be fitted with a draught controlling register and its flue with a damper. Fireplaces over 8 to 10 inches in diameter should be fueled from openings just above the level of the grate , smaller ones being fed from the top. Portable boilers and stew pans should be circular and suspended deep inside the fireplace . All boilers or stew pans should have well insulated lids preferably of double tinplate construction.
Here is an engraving of his patent kitchen stove,
And this is a clearer drawing of it:
The principle behind this strange looking contraption was that by finely controlling the fires, food could be cooked at just under boiling point- thereby making the food tender, juicy and more flavoursome than conventional ranges which could dry out the meat etc. .His stove also was very economical with regard to fuel-for the boilers and stew pans were completely sunk within their fireplaces, thus not much heat escaped ,and all as used effectivley.
These stove were as you can see very complex to operate. There were a total of fourteen individual fires which of course meant that there were fourteen draught controls, fourteen individual cooking vessels and 14 dampers to oversee. And that was probably their downfall for by 1840 they were quite forgotten. They were sold from 1799 by a Mr Sumner, an ironmonger, of New Bond Street London. And he installed one of these fantastical ranges in his own kitchen there, where it could be seen in action by prospective customers. Shades of modern Aga showrooms….
He sold 260 of these ovens,and similar success was reported by outlets for the stoves in Edinburgh and provincal cities. But by the mid 19th century, they had completely fallen out of favour.
So that could be what General Tilney’s stove looked like….I pity the poor harassed cook, frankly, working in the heat and under the stress of being on time-for the General certainly loved punctuality.
So what else would the General have had in his up to the minute kitchen?
I have to include this illustration of an early 19th century plate warmer: I think it is fabulous:
I do hope the General had at least one of these ;-)
I love the fact that by mentioning Rumfords- with the possibility of not only the Count’s fireplaces but his stoves being in use at Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen agains demonstrates to us just how to the minute she was.
If you would like to read more about innovations in the early 19th century kitchen and more of the type of gadgets the General may have had in his kitchen than I can do no better than recommend this book, from where some of the information for this post has been taken: Over A Red Hot Stove ,edited by Ivan Day and published by Prospect Books.
This is a fascinating collection of essays based on papers presented at the 19th and 20th Leeds Symposia on FoodHistory held between 2004 and 2005. It is quite technical and intricate and probably only for the food history obsessive like myself, but if you want to learn in great detail about the development of kitchen ranges, Ox roasts, the massive roast beef prepared at Windsor Castle, the history of clockwork jacks and how to bake in a beehive oven, then this book is for you.
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,
and Newnham in Oxfordshire built 1759-71.
The codes for the rooms are as follows:
BH- Bake House
BP- Butler’s Pantry
K – Kitchen
L – Larder
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:
..in 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
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.
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.
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…
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.
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..
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.