Breaking sugar in the dusk- the life of the unmarried Regency gentlewoman

How did middle-ranking gentlewomen of Georgian England fill their waking hours? Were they mostly bored senseless? It seems that the tentative answer is ‘no’ except that this conclusion only applies to woman who were prepared to put the effort in, and obey the social conventions. This is how it could be done.

The first line of defence against ennui was people- friends, family and acquaintances. For the leisured classes of the Regency, it was an era of conversation. You visited, and were visited. When you visited, you chatted and drank tea. There were rules, but there was also flexibility. If it is a nearby close fried or family, it could be unannounced. If they are not in, then there is always tomorrow. You are not that busy.

Not being in was no the same as not being ‘at home’. You could be ‘in’ but not want to see people. You could issue a blanket ban by telling the servants, who are literally the gatekeepers to your house, or you could be not ‘at home’ to specific individuals. Some people may merely leave their card, as you might do when desiring the acquaintance of somebody new in town. Then you wait for a response; if a week passes, they are not interested.

Assuming you, or you guests get through the door, the visits were flexible. Guests for breakfast were not unusual; the leisured classes had breakfast around nine, and all strata of Georgian society, even the rich, tended to do something before they had their morning meal. If you have unexpected visitors in the morning, then you might invite them to luncheon. The weather and crime made the roads impassable at times, so be prepared for people to stay the night as well. People became fearful of crime on a moonless night. These sleepovers do not involve work for you-remember the servants! – but it may involve entertaining them all evening, and even early morning -more of that later.

Visits could be short, especially if it to people that you see often or don’t hold that much store by. Thirty minutes could be delightful, cake, ginger biscuits and wine would be nice. They could be a few hours as well; in most cases you will be ‘in a party’- sitting or walking in a group. Your conversation will be light and refined, uncontroversial and predictable yet not boring. You will gossip and chat but not start on a subject that cannot be changed to something else instantly. You will talk about your activities, and the activities of others without breaking the rules and social conventions. If you met people you know on the street, you could walk with them awhile, even if this changes the direction you were walking in. You are still not busy. You may be the host, and that brings extra responsibilities to be charming and facilitate conversation. It can be mentally draining, and definitely counts as an activity. Around you are servants, who have cleaned your clothes, cooked your food and cleaned you house. They gave you the scope to be charming, if that is what you choose.

You don’t need to nice. You could occupy your time disliking people. Fail to be at home when visited. Fail to offer luncheon if they inveigle their way into your home. Switch from affection to mere politeness. Don’t be delighted to see somebody- pretend to be delighted. The difference will be noticed. Gossip about them to sympathetic friends. Cut people in the street, skilfully. It has to be obvious that you have seen them for the blow to wound.

Jane Austen’s Entertainment Centre

When not in company, you could write and receive letters. They are a vital activity and source of entertainment. The post is increasingly efficient and for short distances there are servants to pass notes. Mail delivery is not cheap unless you know a Member of Parliament who can give you one of his franks- allowing free postage. Letters need to have content- brevity and platitudes will not do, and you will be marked down for it. But also bear in mind it was the custom to read received letters aloud en familie,so be careful what you write as well.

Copying can be used to fill your day. With some form of education under your belt, you can almost certainly write as well as you can read. Write out old recipes, patterns for clothes, and poetry. Some of these could be gifts. Gifts are important- see below.

Reading is another worthy time consuming activity. Fiction and poetry would be most appropriate. Sir Walter Scott was all the rage. Perhaps Marmion; A Tale of Flodden Field? It is a historical romance in verse, so ticks two boxes. Books, like letters, could be read aloud to family and friends. You would also be welcome at the local subscription library. Newspapers would not be out of the question, though you probably would not be asked your opinion on matters of national importance. If national politics intrude, say the state of Ireland, a man could read aloud and explain as he went along. Stay in your lane, and all will be well.

Clothes are in your lane. You could make or repair them mostly because you wanted to rather than needed too. Make a neckcloth or cut out a shirt from a pattern for a male relative. Go out and collect eider down to make a pillow, and give it as a gift. Learn to knit and sew. Make a cloak from that cloth you were given last year. Buy some straw for a bonnet.

You could make things. You could make fresh products from local ingredients and resources- shoes for your younger sister’s dolls, lip salve for yourself, lavender water to be used by the household, or a nosegay. You could weave a purse. Some of these could be made from a recipe (or ‘receipt’) given to you in one of your many long conversations with the ladies, or copied by you from a book, or copied by somebody else and given to you as present.

Shoe shopping…you have all day.

You could go shopping- for materials to make those clothes or straw to make that bonnet for seasonal foods (all foods), for gifts for your friends, clothes for you. Visit every linen draper in town for that exact piece of lace, yet still not find it. Have the high shopping standards of those who have time to waste. Buy a new toothbrush ( you use tooth powder, not paste). If you are a widowed women-pay your bills in town. The tradesmen have been waiting six months. Pay with a bankers draft or large banknote that you ordered. A banknote can be for any amount; in the Regency there was such a thing as a fourteen pound banknote.

Break your sugar with these

Some shopping brings responsibilities. Sugar, alcohol, candles and tea are a target for theft. You need to look after the luxuries- the household items that you did not trust the servants with. You would bulk buy candles, wine and sugar. Sugar would need to be broken up- sugar cubes were at least thirty years way. Wine, bought by the cask rather than the bottle, would have to be fined with isinglass. Candles, popular with the household and the servants, would have to be accounted for. Your sugar would be in a locked or inaccessible cupboard, which would need cleaning. Your tea will be of excellent quality and immense quantity, as you will drink it in company many times a day. You will need to protect it.

Rich people like you can break the tedium with surprise gifts to other rich people. Send people presents, and receive them to add variety to your life and to cement your social contacts. You are eating better than ninety-five percent of the population, so do some food swaps with your neighbours who have access to foodstuffs you don’t have. We are talking asparagus, strawberries, lobsters, oysters, simnel cake, geese, hares, woodcocks, ham, honey, vinegar, olives and, if sent rapidly, mackerel or lampreys. Make a point with a Pine Apple, or be functional with a pig’s head. It doesn’t have to be food- send textiles, geraniums, holly, ribbons, satin caps, bonnets, pillows, barley water, a nosegay, a servant to help.

Is there anything to look forward to? Something that is literally not in your hands? Well, there are balls and assemblies. Its one of the reasons that you have been creating and repairing your clothes. Its definitely the reason you bought that ivory fan. Look forward to the ideal set of circumstances- an equal gender ratio, a good supper, a place to gossip, acceptable dance partners and adequate transport there and back. And perhaps a husband for you, or for your daughter?

There are subscription concerts and theatre plays as well. A series of six musical events would be a bargain at, say five shillings for ladies ( four times a much for the men). Two plays in the theatre on the same evening, of completely different types, would be normal. It would be rowdy in the pit, but not in the stalls where your party is.

What about the long evenings with nowhere to go? Assuming you have protected your stock of candles, you will have enough illumination…but what can you do? Cue the card table-preferably three or four. The list is huge; there is a game for all occasions. More socially there whist table, gosch ( or gosh), piquet, casino, if anti-social, patience. Quadrille is still nice for for ladies, although it is a little old-fashioned in the Regency. Lanterloo ( or ‘Loo) for larger numbers. Gambling is involved is most of these games, and it is not unladylike to stake, win and lose small sums. A ten shilling loss or win is fine.

Talking of gambling, you could buy a chance for the national lottery. A male relative could do this for you- perhaps a sixteenth of a ticket? Or a quarter? All profits went to pay off national debt. Moderate drinking will be acceptable; the men in your life can be tipsy, have wine enough or be merry, but if you are, people will talk. You drink small amounts all day anyway, as part of your mutual hospitality regime.

Chess can be played. It was not a very sociable game as it would be played in silence, with others watching as their form of entertainment. It was a mixed event, a one-on-one contest and you could ask somebody that you were interested in. It could be a long night, with four games in a row not being out of the question. If you have company, if the activities are engaging and if it is a warm or light evening, you may stay up late-past midnight. You wouldn’t think twice about doing this at a ball. A memorable ball could last until You do not need to be an early riser. Other games and activities for an evening would be backgammon; spillikins; charades, and music. You may already be a singer, and learn the piano; you will be expected to entertain on occasions. The flute is popular, depending on how well it is played.

There is more than chess going on here ( Wikipedia Commons )

During the day there is the garden, the hothouse and the surrounding fields. The servants do the dung moving and tree-felling, and you do the nurturing. Cultivate your pink hyacinths. Gather violets. Make a basket from off-cuts of wood to carry your violets in. Check the weather first- there are no official weather forecasts- you would have to be skilled in doing it yourself. Plant sweet peas, geranium and Marvel of Peru in Spring. Use tobacco smoke to fumigate your plants. Tie up your clematis. Remember what you did, so you can chat about it later over bread and butter and a glass of wine with people who do exactly the same thing themselves but still listen politely

You could have other interests- landscapes, butterflies, old monuments, drawing and painting. Charity is a an appropriate hobby for a lady. You could visit the poor. Preferably a blameless widow with children made destitute by illness and bereavement, who deserves help and is grateful. You could contribute a guinea subscription for a distressed clergymen, or a local woman widowed by an industrial accident.

Walking is fine, because you do not need to. You are carriage company, so you can walk if you wish. You have been imprisoned in the house from December to February by the weather and the terrible roads, so walk when you can. Walk into the garden, with or without a hat and gloves; walk to the nearest town; chat with people you know as they pass you on the road; its fine to take a lift. Walk to see of your mother is home. Walk to Church.

Go to church. Mingle with your equals, show some piety and at least pretend to listen to the sermon- just make sure you can comment briefly on it afterwards. You will have your own pew, and you need to remember your key. If the weather is horrible, worship at home. The reading aloud could be the morning prayers, followed by the Bible. The rules on Sunday differ slightly; some people would avoid visiting and resent visitors. It will be duller.

You could mark the seasons; New Years Day is no big deal, at least in England, but there are Sundays, fast days, royal anniversaries, the first day the fire is not routinely lit in the living room, and the day it is lit again for winter. Listen for the first cuckoo ( late April in the South of England) . Wash your dog once a year and your feet once a month. From April to September, save candles by doing things ‘in the dusk’. Christmas has not really been invented yet; expect a nicer meal, a church visit and alms for the poor.

It’s all happening in Weymouth

And there are holidays. Spend late June to early September in a resort such as Weymouth, Brighton or Worthing. Spend a day packing, and another day getting there by select mail coach, private chaise or your carriage. Or take the waters at Tunbridge, Bath or Cheltenham.

But wait. You are not really going to the spa for the waters, or to the coast for the warm bathing. You will not do this daily, and never alone. Nothing could be more dispiriting than walking alone to the well, drinking a glass of sulphur smelling water and going home. You are there for the company, just like at home, and it is the same company. Most of the activities will be the same as home, but with added seaside, boats and the occasional awkward stranger and hint of something different happening…but not very often.



This blogpost is inspired by the online diaries of Fanny Chapman

My book has a chapter on Fanny’s life, and that of sixteen other interesting Georgians

Some other Georgian and Victorian books


Jane Austen goes dancing

What could Jane Austen and similar unmarried gentlewomen of the Regency Age, look forward to? There were certainly a host of activities that could fill and kill time, but what could be anticipated with some pleasure? One of the few prospects was the Ball or the Assembly. Roughly, the former would be held in the house of a local worthy, who would ‘give’ the occasion and would rightly be the centre of attention, and the latter would be a commercial operation run from a large assembly hall or large local establishment.

Both public and private balls were a key part of Jane’s social life, and the life of all unmarried people of her class. There would be at least one large rectangular room, with dancing from about 9pm until early the next morning, with supper and some allied amusements like whist for the non-dancers, and normally another, separate room. Jane often liked it when there was a separate anteroom for the sitting and chatting. Jane makes it clear that chairs and dancers were needed for a good evening;

There was the same kind of supper as last year, and the same want of chairs. There were more dancers than the room could conveniently hold, which is enough to constitute a good ball at any time.

Jane attended five balls in the winter of 1796,always looked forward to the next one, and reported back to her sister Cassandra in one of her many chatty and gossipy letters written from home (see left) . The first ball that had taken place at the Harwood family residence at Deane Park, not far from their much more modest home in Steventon. The Harwood Ball was a private affair with invited guests only, and a step above the assembly room affairs.

Today, we might assume that the ball was a good way of mingling freely with the opposite sex; but there was no mingling and nothing was free. Nothing about the activity was spontaneous. It was not an eighteenth century discotheque, except perhaps in one respect. It was a ruthless meat market, to use a phrase that Georgians would have understood. A single man at a ball was advertising his desire for marriage; a single woman is doing the same, but with an asymmetry of power that made it much harder work for women, as Jane regularly noted.

In order to converse with men outside your family circle you had to dance with them, so competent dancing skills were vital . Books were published to guide would-be dancers.  The steps and movements were complicated and could not be varied, and the social rules were as rigid as the dance itself. Only practice beforehand or a course of lessons would be enough.

Jane always listed her dance partners in her letters to Cassandra. They are social contacts with men, some more desirable than others, but all with significance. Dancing with people you did not like was ‘a dance of mortification, as Austen said in Pride and Prejudice Jane wanted some control over who she danced with yet stay within the etiquette of a Regency Ball.

On one occasion, she managed to avoid ‘to my inexpressible astonishment’ the company of John Lyford. He did not ask her to dance but she had to actively try to avoid it – ‘I was forced to work hard for it’. If she had refused Lyford she would have been obliged to refuse everybody else and the evening would be ruined. Later in the evening it was just about possible to claim tiredness, as these balls were punishingly physically affairs and not the cool and sedate events shown in television dramas, but the rule generally held. The wrong man could spoil the evening;

I had an odd set of partners : Mr. Jenkins, Mr. Street, Col. Jervoise, James Digweed, J. Lyford, and Mr. Briggs, a friend of the latter. I had a very pleasant evening, however…

The ‘however’ is the key word here. There were two J. Lyfords, father and son, but this was probably the son that she managed to avoid at an earlier assembly. Assuming the partners were in chronological order, at least he was near the end of the evening.

Jane would always have a chaperone. A mother would be ideal, but in at the Harwood ball it was James Austen, Jane’s elder brother. The fact that they spent some of the evening coaching James in the skills of dancing shows the importance of this social skill; but his most important role at the ball was to act as a counterbalance for his sister, a single woman. He could not help her out by dancing with her to avoid unwanted partners. It was frowned upon to dance with close family – this was a mating game after all, but his presence was still vital. She did not resent it, despite ‘modern’ feelings on the restrictions on women. Indeed she loved the presence of her brother at such events – ‘a ball is nothing without him’.

Dancing brought some freedom. Some dances, like minuets, involved watching other people dance and therefore couples would have been able to talk while public attention was elsewhere. There was some scope for touching as well; both parties wore gloves, which expanded opportunity by making it acceptable, but also dulled sensation.

Jane always looked forward to balls; it fitted in with her social life which consisted of being in ‘company’. A lot of energy and time went into what was to be worn, especially caps. She made and altered clothes, turning a domestic time-killing activity into something that had a point. She also held clothes back for this special occasion – ‘my china crepe is still kept for the ball- because it was a place where you would be judged’.

‘Judged’ is the key word here. People were on show. On January 14 1801, Cassandra reports back on the Chilham Ball, and was told off light heartedly for dancing with Mr Kembler four times- ‘why not rather dance two of them with some elegant brother officer who was struck with your appearance as you entered the room?

When the obsequious Sir William Lucas attempts to compliment Mr. Darcy, he says: “’I have been most highly gratified indeed, my dear Sir. Such very superior dancing is not often seen. It is evident that you belong to the first circles

It was all about rank. Jane knew about these issues when meeting somebody through dancing. Although jokingly, social status was never far away. On one occasion she danced;

twice with a Mr. South, a lad from Winchester, who, I suppose, is as far from being related to the bishop of that diocese as it is possible to be,’

The Bishop of Winchester was Brownlow North

What happened in the ballroom stayed in the ballroom. Although you would have had to have been formally introduced in order to dance at all, having danced with somebody gave you no more rights after the ball was over and certainly not on next meeting. In December 1808, Jane describes meeting somebody who she had danced with;

We have always kept up a bowing acquaintance since, and, being pleased with his black eyes, I spoke to him at the ball, which brought on me this civility; but I do not know his name, and he seems so little at home in the English language that I believe his black eyes may be the best of him.

Her decision to acknowledge him was within her power. Dancing did not imply a new relationship; this was impossible, considering the number of partners people had over a season.

Physical sacrifices were made in order to attend dances. Despite her eyes hurting, Jane attended a ball, where she knew there was dust in the room and her need to keep her eyes open all night would exacerbate the condition. When she wrote to Cassandra, her eyes were still hurting, but there was no question that is was worth it.

The number of dances, like the society, the room and the quality of the supper, varied. When there were more or fewer dances than usual, she commented on it;

There were twenty dances, and I danced them all, and without any fatigue.

There were only twelve dances, of which I danced nine, and was merely prevented from dancing the rest by the want of a partner. We began at ten, supped at one, and were at Deane before five. There were but fifty people in the room.

Dancing took youth and strength, two attributes that made you good marriage material.

The number of people and a gender balance were vital for a good evening. On one occasion there were only eight couples and twenty-three people in the room. Jane was concerned that all women should have the opportunity to dance.

Assemblies needed private transport. Carriages came before marriages, but owning private transport was expensive. It required in vehicles, stabling, servants and taxes, and needed an income of about £1000 per year in the 1790’s. The Austens were on the cusp of carriage company; at times they had one and other times not, and it deeply affected Jane’s lifestyle. How did you get to the ball, and get back at, without private transport? No eligible man or woman arrives at the ball on foot or donkey cart. Jane would regularly attend the Thursday assembly in Basingstoke It was their nearest large town, but a carriage was needed to get there, and they did not have one by November 1798, when she comments how pleased she is that the Basingstoke Assembly had declined just as their ability to get there had been reduced;

Our assemblies have very kindly declined ever since we laid down the carriage, so that disconvenience and disinclination to go have kept pace together.

This may have been a convenient excuse for what must have been a social blow, although favours from friends were possible. Jane often stayed with the Bigg-Wither family at Manydown Park after the Basingstoke Ball, and sometimes they would be lent a chaise, but they were vaguely unsatisfactory options. In her novels, Austen identified the exact type of private transport as a way of pinpointing people’s social status, so she knew exactly what her own was – fading gentry.

Jane Austen features as one of the seventeen interesting Georgians in my new book.

Publishers details here

Seventeen Interesting Georgians

Introducing my new book- Voices of the Georgian Age

I love to read historical diaries, especially eighteenth century ones. Did anybody else on the planet request the diaries of Parson Woodforde as their main Christmas present this year? I think not! So I decided to turn my obsession into a book for Pen and Sword, and you can see the result above. Seventeen cameos of Georgians who kept a diary, wrote an autobiography or committed their travel adventures to paper in the form of a travelogue. All the documents are available for free on the internet; that was a deal breaker; that’s why there was no Parson Woodforde in the book.

So our diaries, travelogues and memoirs are problematic, but no more so than other historical sources; just because they are attached to a named, frail human being does not change anything. All survivals from the past need to be treated with caution, and the normal questions asked about provenance. Some were commercial endeavours, written to be bought and read, others were private and reflective. The difference is easy to spot, and relatively easy to take into account. One major advantage is that our witnesses are already well-known people; our sources are not scraps of letters or diaries that have survived with no context, but documents that can be interpreted with specific background knowledge.

Who are the seventeen? They are in approximate chronological order (they overlap, as you would expect) and the first is William Hutton– a bragging and boastful Birmingham businessman and polymath who struggled very hard to make something of himself, succeeded and made his success self-righteously obvious. In order to tell us how far he progressed, he gives us a harrowing account of his early life and work; perhaps exaggerated for effect, but it is still an excellent portrayal of Georgian family life.

Our next voice (above) is our only foreigner, the Anglophile intellectual Karl Moritz, who came to England in 1782 and wrote about his travels. He arrived in Gravesend on June 1 determined to love everything about the country, but found his position increasingly untenable as he travelled through London, Windsor, Oxford and Birmingham. We leave him in Burton-on-Trent, where the whole population seemed to come out their houses, line the streets and jeer at him.

Our next voice is are only cabinet minister, William Windham. He was a member of the establishment by 1800, involved deeply in the struggle against Napoleon, but we follow him in his earlier years when he was racked with self doubt and introspection. This was an age of sensibility and sensitivity, but you get the feeling that Windham took it all much to far. He feels very modern with his relentless focus on his own feelings, and a bit less so when he does mathematics on his coach home to Norwich or searches the bookshops for Greek texts.

Our next witness was another traveller, John Byng. Byng had fifteen sightseeing holidays in England and Wales between 1781 and 1794, never earlier than May and never later than mid-September. He rode his horse from place to place, sending his servant ahead as an ‘avant courier’ to secure accommodation and stabling, and spent his days researching and sightseeing. There was little about the contemporary world that impressed him; he had loyal friends and family, and was married to William Windham’s sister. They didn’t impress him much either, at least not on the surface. He complains and comments a lot; so much that only a fraction of his journey could be covered. The key to Byng is that he is entertaining despite his apparent misanthropy. The folio society has published all his diaries in their normal beautiful book form; they have not done this for Windham.

Our next voice is Joseph Farington, a metropolitan artistic lovie type who step his days drinking tea, and gossiping. His machinations at the Royal Academy had no historic consequences so after his death he was soon forgotten; he is entertaining because he likes to tell stories and paint pen pictures; both of the rich and famous, and of the poor if they did something connected with death, money and sex. He loved it when people died in a strange and entertaining manner. He would have loved his own death. His reputation as a first rate Georgian artist has not survived; yet his work is still sold at auction houses for respectable amounts of money-expect to spend £10,000 at Christies for one of his more substantial works, but that is not why he is in the book.

At this point, you may be asking, where are the poor and powerless? The short answer is ‘not writing travelogues and diaries’. The exception is James Hardy Vaux, a plausible and highly literate criminal who is completely unrepresentative of his class, criminal or otherwise, but his description of Georgian underworld is accurate and fascinating. He is a lying, cheating, conniving thief, short on morals and long on excuses for his behaviour. I found him hard to dislike, because he was always interesting. This, to me, presents a dilemma for all human relationships- why often do people prefer interesting and dangerous to good and reliable?. Once again, we follow his adventures for only a small part of his journey, as his diary is dense and action-packed. For most of my readers, if they only follow up on one of my witnesses, this will be the one.

The radical priest is not a new phenomenon. Our unorthodox member of the establishment is Richard Warner. As well as opposing war- a brave position in the 1800s- he was also a fanatical pedestrian. Like Karl Moritz, he liked walking and writing down what happened to him. We follow his through a journey to Wales in the late 1790s. He walked through the Principality in August 1797 and August and September 1798, taking with him both his intellectual interests and his English prejudices about Wales, although to be fair, these prejudices were mild and not particularly directed at the Welsh, though he did prefer the Wales of the past. Like Byng, he looked backwards.

We have a fair number of genteel, educated ladies with time to kill. Our next witness, Jane, wrote one hundred and sixty letters (see her desk, right) to her her sister Cassandra, all full of gossip and family news, and I have concentrated on two aspects of her life- her dancing, and her moving about the country. The lady in question did lead the kind of sheltered life that was common amongst the unmarried, middle class woman, but she did meet ( and understand) people, and was able too use the material to write her novels.

Our next witness is Hannah Gurney. Hannah is a Quaker, deeply introspective and intelligent like Windham, but disconnected to the material world. We follow her journey to full membership of the Quaker faith, her marriage and family, but it is very hard going at times. Essentially, I read this so you don’t have to, and I can’t sat that about any pf the other witnesses. She would have seemed odd even at the time; the Georgians did not seem to be able to deal with the Quakers at all.

Our next witness is my favourite. She is Fanny Chapman, and unmarried middle class lady living in Bath in 1809 who is very dependent on men and knew it painfully. She is Jane Austen without the books. We follow her for one year in which her life is turned upside down. Her diaries are dealt with in more detail by Sarah Murden in this excellent blog, which was my inspiration for this chapter. Thank you, Sarah.

Our next witnesses is a hardened criminal who stole dead bodies from graveyards and sold them to doctors. He is generally agreed to be Joseph Naples. For about a year he committed to paper the crimes of the infamous Borough Gang, in neat handwriting and with spelling that was excellent unless written after drinking, which was often. Naples was the bookkeeper, keeping a tally of activities and revenues and distributing the money fairly to his colleagues, who were desperate men prone to mindless, drunken violence when holding a grievance. You may find yourself admiring his efficiency.

Our next witness is pathetic, in the correct sense of the word. He is Thomas Holden, sometimes Thomas Holding who was a convicted Luddite and was transported to Australia. His desperate, near illiterate letters to his wife and family have survived. It would take a heart of stone not to pity him, yet the reactionary government of the time had such a heart. His story does seem to have a happy ending, and I seem to be the first author to find it.

Is mindless, tick-box trophy tourism a new thing? Elisabeth Chivers proves this not to be the case. Elizabeth was 28 and unmarried when she set out with younger sister Sarah and an unnamed uncle for a twenty-day visit to London in March 1814. Her diary is mostly a list of every tourist site that she saw in London. Most of it is less informative than a normal tourist guide; the more interesting part is the glimpses of her life, family and experiences that appear in the gaps between the destinations.

Our next witness is the Scottish surgeon Thomas Lucas, who wrote about the goings on in Stirling in his published diaries (1808 to 1821) only ending with his own death in the year 1822, aged sixty-six. Like nearly all of the diaries, they are too long to do justice to in their entirety so a few years and a few themes have been selected. His interests include the weather, his garden, the war with Napoleon, the antics of the ruling class in his city, and the behaviour of the poor. He is cynical but not bigoted, and provides us with a excellent window on to provincial respectability.

Have you encountered a committed, intelligent radical reformer who despite the good intentions, is perhaps a little too self-regarding? This is another type of human who existed two hundred years ago. Our example is Samuel Bamford, self- taught poet and weaver who was hounded by the authorities because he wanted political reform. We follow him for four years; he is on the run, captured, put in prison and finally present at the massacre of the working people at Peterloo. For most people, he is easier to respect than to like

Our next Georgian voice is the polymath Ellis Knight. She was born in Westminster in 1757, but lived in Italy from 1776 to 1800, with spells in France and Vienna. She was highly educated; she painted (her work can still be bought today) and wrote poetry, knew modern and classical languages, and was the author of two novels. She was by no means the only educated and erudite woman in Georgian Britain, but Knight kept a diary and became a courtier, so providing a unique insight into late Georgian Society. She reminds us that a highly dysfunctional Royal family is not a new thing.

Finally, Rees Gronow is our loose-tongued witness to Georgian eccentric high society, as seen above. As with Farington, our task is to turn his gossip into historical evidence, but even if that fails, there are still the interesting stories of the Regency. Gronow is a member of the top 10,000 like Knight, Byng and Windham, but he alone was also a member of the often capitalized ‘Fashionable World’ as well; he knew Beau Brummell. He knew lots of other famous people, or just knew people who knew them, and he enjoyed collecting stories about them. He was a gossip without a judgmental bone in his body, so the stories are rarely about him, but there is enough confessional material to convince us that he was an adventurous, devil-may-care individual similar to the people he wrote about.


Amazon ( not always the cheapest)

Also kindle, kobo.

Turtle soup for the rich, and flavoured hot water for the plebs. Soup in the Regency

All of the classes, both the prosperous and the starving, ate their soup in the Regency. For the rich, as wealthy man- about- town Rees Gronow noted, the big evening meal started with soup, and then everybody developed a huge appetite and an even bigger thirst.

What was the most prestigious soup for the high-living nobility and gentry? That came from Barbados, in the shape of the turtle, or more precisely from its precious meat.  Fresh Turtles, when available, were advertised in the newspaper with a time and date when they were available. Turtles could be dressed and sent to the houses of the rich and enjoyed en familie. It was the number one soup. 

Royalty enjoyed turtle soup; it was the only hot item on the menu in 1813 when 900 people led by the Duke of York and all of his brothers bar the Prince Regent celebrated Wellington’s victory at Vitoria in June 1813; then, as if to justify Gronow’s words, there was Port, Madeira and Claret for all; often, the soup was accompanied by a cold alcoholic punch. 

Turtle soup was available in the street; perhaps the best was in New Bond Street, at the Albion   or the confectionary and cook shop of Charles Waud. Perhaps Charles Waud would be a slightly better bet. He was, after all, purveyor of turtles to the King, and that’s what turtle soup was made from. There was, of course, mock turtle soup, which contained a sheep’s head instead of turtle meat, and mocked the poor as much as it mocked the posh version of the soup- sheep’s head was offal.  That sounds obvious, but, as you went down the social scale, it was less and less true. 

He also provided confectionary and sweetmeats to the Prince Regent and his royal bothers and sold theatre tickets to the Theatre Royal in Haymarket. He was top drawer.

Waud   was a great food sourcing entrepreneur.  He provided the food for the Grand Masquerade at Vauxhall Gardens (below) in 1813.  The weather had been awful all day, despite being July, and the 2500 guests were rained on until about 11pm. This did not stop the dancing, drinking and morally dubious behaviour. The Tripod magazine reported that; 

the night becoming more favourable over head than could have been expected about eleven o clock a crowd of the thoughtless dissipated and debauched assembled together under various disguises and dripping trees.

Pleasure Garden Masquerade, Museum of London

They ate at one in the morning. The main dishes were   150 dozen of fowls; 150 dishes of lamb; 200 tongues and hams; 300 lobsters raised pies; 200 Savoy cakes, 250 dishes of pastry; 300 jellies quarts of ice creams; 500 pottles of strawberries and 300 hundredweight of cherries ….

And of course, more alcohol than anybody was counting. All provided by the great Charles Waud.

It was a masquerade, and everybody was in disguise; and lots thought it was hilarious to dress as the poor, and as grotesque characterisations of the poor;

Dustmen, chimney sweepers, waggoners, clowns, harlequins, watchmen, scavengers, jackass men, chambermaids and courtesans were very numerous and excellently supported. Among the best noticed one groups we chimney sweepers who threw soot in the eyes of the company another of coal heavers who d—–d and bl—-d with all the volubility of St Giles’s

Meanwhile, the real poor of St Giles and elsewhere were starving. The worst year of the Regency for hunger was 1814; bread prices were high, the winter was as severe as anybody could remember (the snow did not clear in the south of England until March), and casual work outside for the poor was in short supply.

Soup was needed for the poor. The grateful, obedient poor deserved soup, but not of course, the turtle soup slurped by the rich as a preface to gargantuan eating and drinking. The soup of the poor was prefaced by deference and followed by nothing, or potatoes.

The newspapers overflowed with soup recipes. In January 1814, the Morning Post’s correspondent HUMANITAS (as they often styled themselves) offered this recipe;

In the view of the rich, charity like this carried the danger of moral hazard- the moderately poor could not afford beef, so the abject poor had to be denied it.  With the inclusion of a small amount of beef and some bones, this would have done the job adequately.  It was never a permanent solution to the problems of starvation, but then it was believed that such a thing was neither possible nor very desirable. The poor were given the scrapings at the bottom of the culinary barrel and the rich were entitled to feel good about it.

Two days later, the same newspaper was pleased to announce a local resident-possibly HUMANITAS himself- had been feeding twenty families a day on soup for one penny a quart. It was given a meaty flavour by the   pot liquor from Mr Austen’s Beef Shop in St Martin’s Court, who provided the liquid from the bottom of a soup pot that had had meat in it. It was not made clear whether the same twenty families were to live on this soup forever or twenty families live on it for one day only.

The man who fed the poor and maintained social order with this cost-efficient way of avoiding starvation, was, of course, Charles Waud of New Bond Street.

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