Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Regency Fashion For December

I am leaving tonight for a research trip to England. I will only be gone for a week, but I thought I would leave you with some December Fashions while I am rambling in Bath amongst other places. I promise to bring back lots of interesting information!

The first two pictures are early in the era, and not yet the official Regency, but enchanting nonetheless.

The first plate is from the December 1805 Lady's Monthy MuseumThe Walking Dress is a Straw Gipsey Hat, trimmed with French Gray. Morning Dress, Spotted Muslin. Habit Shirt of the same. Cloak of Black Velvet, trimmed with Deep Lace. Swandown Muff and Buff Gloves. Buff Boots.
And the Evening dress
Of White Satin, Silver Tassels. Crimson Shawl, tied close round the Neck. Deep White Lace Veil. White Muff and Gloves.

This second plate is from a year later, December 1806 and also from the Lady's Monthly Museum. Beneath the shawl you can clearly see the high waist and low neck that we have come to associate with this era.

For the morning a White Muslin short Dress, trimmed with Lace round the Bottom—A Grey Pelisse of Georgian Cloth—Embossed Velvet Bonnet the same Colour—Silver Bear Muff.

The full dress is quite magnificent with the crimson shawl, don't you think. It is described as a White Sarsnet Round Dress with a long Train, and ornamented with Lace—Long Shawl of Crimson Silk—Hair fashionably Dressed—Swansdown Muff—White Kid Gloves and Shoes.

I thought I would do something from later in the period and given the holiday season I am adding the Christmas Pellisse from December 1818, almost at the end of the Regency. You have seen this one before, I know, but it is a favorite. It also gives us a good sense of how the styles had changed.

I will be back in a week or so, and will hopefully have some images of Britain that can tie into my flora and fauna post for December, and with any luck some interesting stuff about Jane Austen's Bath. Until then. Happy Rambles.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Regency Debt and Prisons

First, let me wish all those of you in American a Happy Thanksgiving Day, though it is well nigh over.

I decided to continue on with this item because it caught my interest. The issue of imprisonment for debt seems so archaic, but it was long after the Regency era that it ceased. And debtors were considered just as much criminals as thieves who were also imprisoned in these places. In other words, owing someone money was like stealing. Remembering back to my parents attitude, debt was much feared, and it probably stemmed back to those times which after all were not so very long ago.

I talked about the Fleet in the last blog. In addition there were two other prisons primarily used for debt in London. One of these was the King's Bench in Borough High Street, Southwark. King's Bench was a much hated prison and had a reputation for being filthy and overcrowded that often resulted in outbreaks of typhus fever. As far as I can tell, all the prisons were the same. This first picture is of the main entrance. This picture of the inside looks little different to the picture of the inside of the Fleet, a mix of people wandering around, some games being played. I believe that the wall was noticeable high, however. Again, treatment very much depended on how much you could pay the jailor. Debtors had to provide their own bedding, food and drink. Those who could afford it purchased 'Liberty of the Rules' allowing them to live within three square miles of the prison. In these times the position of Prison Warder was purchased and the warders then earned their livings by charging their prisoners and therefore the less you paid the worse your lot.

This prison rebuilt after 1758 occupied a site of about 4 acres and contained at least 300 rooms, but was still very crowded in Regency times.There was a long range of four stories with a central chapel. The front rooms facing the yard were better those those around the back and there were also 8 superior rooms. Decent accommodations were much more expensive here than they were in Fleet Prison. Besides the rooms there was a kitchen, coffee house, stalls and public houses. The yard provided 3 pumps and racket grounds & fives courts. Women and children were excluded after ten o'clock.
Here is a description written by an inmate to his lawyer in 1817, one William Hone:
I have met with very little accomodation too at this place -- so that, though I am in general pretty adaptable to circumstances, no great comfort has been my portion.The prison is full and decent rooms not to be had but at an enormous price. I think I shall have one tomorrow which though dark & not very airy will be better than wandering in the area or idling in the coffee room without the power of writing in it. Like the Seer of old I shall get a table & a chair & a stool (& a few books withal)
While Mr. Hone was in trouble for popular liturgical parodies in this time of unrest, a time at which the Home Office was very concerned about public unrest, he also ended up a bankrupt. But I thought a personal if brief description of this prison brought it to life.

Well, I delved into the Kings Bench Prison in far greater depth than I intended so will leave the last Prison until next time, as I have found an interesting story about that one too.

Until next time, Happy Rambles.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Regency Christmas ~~ Plum Pudding

Yesterday, our family made its Christmas pudding. It is a ritual at our house that starts off the Christmas season, although everything else is left until later in December. The first job is to buy all of the currants and raisins and other ingredients. I like to buy them fresh at the bulk store. And of course we have to buy the stout. We add all the ingredients to an enormous bowl, one daughter chopping the almonds, another grating the lemon and the orange, while I do the measuring. DH decided Christmas lights were the chore of the day and disappeared until stirring time. The whole process takes up a good part of the afternoon, as there is a great deal of talking and laughing and cups of tea.

Once the whole thing is in the bowl, all of us stirred the mix, and of course made a wish, I am not telling you mine because then it doesn't come true, but it must made while stirring with a wooden spoon in a clockwise direction. Then the mix is covered and left over night before it is put into the traditional bowl and steamed. That is what I will be doing today.

We followed this tradition in my family as a child, my mother did it in hers and my husband’s family did the same thing. And as far as I can tell, their parents and grandparents did it too. It got me to wondering whether in fact this was a tradition in the Regency.

I did discover that in Regency times, Christmas puddings were called plum puddings and were made on the Sunday before Advent, therefore five Sundays before Christmas Day. (I see I am early by one week.) Apparently, in the 1800’s poor people would put money into a club at the grocers so that they would have enough money to pay for the ingredients. Clearly, plum pudding, was an important part of the festivities if you had to save up for it. By the way, it was banned by Oliver Cromwell, and brought back into fashion by George I.

Christmas puddings were steamed in those days and I steamed mine today. Our ancestors steamed them in a pudding cloth, which gave them their round, ball shape and according to Dickens (who was born in the Regency) smelled like washing day when steaming. I use a basin.

It does seems that the tradition of wishing while stirring the pudding is of long standing, but I was unable to find a source which said it existed prior to or during Regency times. I did discover that plum puddings were often a starter course in those days, and were only turned into dessert in Victorian times.

Did you make your pudding yet, those who celebrate Christmas? Do you even have pudding on Christmas Day? I know lots of people who don’t like Christmas pudding.

If you are looking for a stocking stuffer, may I recommend Holiday in the Heart, it is a heartwarming anthology from Highland of twelve Christmas stories, one of them by me, and is available on Amazon everywhere.

Until next time, Happy Rambles.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Prisons in the Regency

I know this sounds like a bit of a gloomy topic, but it is rather fascinating, especially if one of our characters gets into a bit of trouble.

Law, Crime, Punishment and Policing were very different in the Regency than they are today. Often in our books our not so bad characters can end up in the hoosegow for debt. In other words if you could not pay your debts the merchant to whom you owed money could request the court to throw you in prison until you paid them. To us that seems a little bit of an oxymoron, since it would be difficult to earn money while in prison. The idea was, I think, that your family and friends would raise money to get you out, however often a man's whole family would be incarcerated with him, as per the next picture, because they would have no money and nowhere else to live.

There were several debtors prisons in and around London and of course many others across the country.

The Fleet was one of the oldest, a debtors' prison as early as 1290, situated on the east side of Farringdon Street, on the east side of Fleet market and derives its name from the Fleet stream, which flowed into the River Thames. The prison was burnt by the rioters in 1780, but was immediately rebuilt on the old plan.

One visitor describes it this way: "The court into which you enter is the whole length of the building which is about 90 feet. Passing through the lobby, you enter the inner court, where the prisoners entertain themselves with tennis fives, and other amusements, as represented in the print. The keeper is called the warden of the Fleet, and his fees from the prisoners for turning the key, for chamber rent, etc. and this amounts to a considerable sum."

Apparently an additional fee was charged not to put the prisoner in chains; the most unfortunate souls were put in the cellars, called sarcastically by the prisoners, "Bartholomew Fair", subterranean dungeons where perishing from illness was almost guaranteed. The conditions were deplorable; when ill-treated prisoners died, their deaths were chalked up to "jail-fever.". While there were improvements to this prison early in the nineteenth century, it was really horrible.

So, make sure you pay your credit cards.

We look at another prison next time. Until then, happy rambles.

Monday, November 12, 2007


I am happy to report that both book-signings went extremely well the past two weekends. The last one in Chapters in Scarborough, was highly exciting, because they had actually shelved copies of No Regrets. At both stores customers were fabulous to talk to and I made lots of new friends.

I am working hard on the next book, which is due to my publisher next week, so I am going to leave you with this picture of a happy me, with Kayla Perin and Teresa Grenieri, the other author was Stephanie Bedwell-Grime who kindly took the photo. We all sold lots of books and had a wonderful visit.

Until next time Happy Rambles

Friday, November 9, 2007

Regency Fashions for November

In the Regency, just like now, the nights were drawing in, as we say in England. This really means the sun was rising and setting early in the evening. And of course, the temperatures were dropping. So just what sort of fashions were they promoting for these cooler months.

This one is from November 1814 La Belle Assemblee. Short pelisse of deep lilac, shot with white; and on each hip a Spanish button. It is made with a collar up to the throat, and trimmed round with rich fur; sleeves long and loose, with a fur at bottom to form a cuff, rather shorter in front than behind, and two Spanish buttons are placed just at the bottom of the pelisse in front, which fastens with a loop crossing from one to the other. The bosom is ornamented in the same manner; a belt of embroidered ribband round the waist, and a gold clasp in front. A bonnet of the same materials as the pelisse, crown a helmet shape, front very small, and a wreath of laurel round it; three white feathers are placed at the back of the bonnet, and fall over the front; broad ribband, same as the bonnet, is pinned plain under the chin. The hair is brought very low at the sides, and a single curl on the forehead. Buff gloves, and dark brown kid boots. Large silver bear muff."

Quite lovely and it looks reasonably warm.

These on the other hand, from Ackerman's Repository look like they would only be worn indoors although one is labelled "walking".Walking Dress [standing]— Robe of White Indian muslin, with Spanish vest and Flemish skirt, ornamented at the bottom, bosom, and sleeves with needlework, or appliquéd lace; antique cuffs, pointed collar, fastened in the center of the throat with a topaz broach. Bonnet á la Mary Queen of Scots, composed of intertwined crape and straw, and lined throughout with rose-coloured sarsnet; the extremity of the crown finished with Vandyke scallops in white satin, the edges terminated with straw; a small bouquet of autumnal flowers in front, blended with bows of white satin ribbon, and tied under the chin with the same. French tippet of leopard skin shag. Shoes and gloves of rose-coloured kid. Now bonnet a la Mary Queen of Scots sounds interesting.
Morning Dress [seated] — A plain muslin round gown with long sleeves, and embroidered habit shirt; short sleeves over, composed of alternate lace and muslin; habit shirt trimmed round the throat with a deep lace. Muslin spencer jacket without sleeves, very short, trimmed round the arm-holes, bosom, and waist with lace. A helmet cap, formed of alternate lace and stripes of embroidery; finished on the crown with a square of lace, edged with beading; in the front, full quillings, or gathered lace, formed in a sort of turban; the cap tied under the chin with white ribbon. Gloves and shoes of buff-coloured kid.

It seems to me that it would require a balmy day to be abroad in these two outfits, unless you are promenading around your drawing room. Which is something we see in Pride and Predjudice, the two ladies walking and talking as around the room, while others look on. How constraining that must have felt.

By the way I will be at Chapters, Scarborough (Kennedy Commons), signing No Regrets. Yes, indeed, it is on the shelf. If you are out and about on Saturday, do drop in and say hello.

Until next time, Happy Rambles.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Guy Fawkes in the Regency

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder Treason and Plot
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot

Of course, since it is November 5 today, I thought I would remind you that celebrating the failed attempt of Guy Fawkes to blow up the British Houses of Parliament in 1605 has been an ongoing event in Britain since that time.

As early as 1607, there is a record of bonfire celebrations taking place in Bristol on November 5th and it was traditional for children to black their faces with the ashes in imitation of Guy Fawkes who, it was believed, performed a similar function in order to try and camouflage himself.

The exact date when "guys" were first introduced into the November 5th festivities is not known, but it would have been while James I was still on the throne. Later, after the reign of Charles II, children began making guys a few days prior to the event and then parading their creations throught the streets while chanting: "Penny for the guy." The money collected was later used to purchase fireworks. The tradition of tossing the guy into the bonfire probably began in the Eighteenth Century and included effigies of the Pope, the Young Pretender and Devils as much as they did Guy Fawkes. The custom of burning the guy had become an integral part of the celebrations by the Nineteenth Century.

Therefore, in Regency times it was most likely celebrated with a village bonfire and the burning of an effigy of Guy Fawkes or the Pope. Over the years, fireworks were added and these days many people celebrate the evening in their backyards rather than communally.

It would be quite all right to find a bonfire on this day in the Regency and since I am contemplating a book set in November I may well keep this little tid bit in mind.

Until next time, Happy Rambles.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Flora and Fauna of Regency Britain - November

I thought I would do a bit of fauna today, and I would actually like to focus on the British red squirrel which is now an endangered species, because of the introduction of the North American grey squirrel.

The red squirrel would have been the only squirrel you would have seen in Britain during the Regency. Note the tufts on their ears and their very reddish color. Grey squirrels were not introduced into Britain until 1876, when they were imported as a novelty.

Baby squirrels are called kittens. I did not know that! Squirrels can swim and they are right or left handed. Not that you would ever need this level of detail.
But they would be seen busily collecting and storing nuts and seeds for the winter around this time. Red squirrels do not hibernate, by the way, so they are seen all year round. I just recall them being more noticeable at this time of year.

November tends to be a cold month with frosts and rain, "dull and cheerless" our naturist calls it. But the weather is local and changeable, so you can never be sure.

Another creature you might see on your rambles in the woods at this time of year is the hedgehog. The hedgehog is the only spiny mammal in England and does not shoot its quills. Its main means of defense is to roll up in a ball and look prickly. Not much good if they are on a modern day road let me tell you. They can often be found in gardens, but they are mostly nocturnal, so you might find one during the day, curled up under a hedge. November is a time when they are busy eating insects and worms, building themselves up to survive a winter of hibernation. Gypsies used to eat them. They would cover them in a clay-like soil and bake them in the embers, much like a baked potato. While I don't have a hedgehog in the novel I am working on at the moment, I did use the little creature in a simile.

All right, just a bit of flora for balance.

The naturist is very insistent that November is a time for mushrooms in England. I thought this useful from two perspectives, first you would see them, and secondly you would eat them!

Beechwoods have their own species of edible fungi, from something called a horn of plenty to another called chanterelle, which is bright yellow. And of course beech trees are simply beautiful. This picture looks more like what I think of when I think of a mushroom. it is called a field blewit mushroom and is certainly available in November. It is found in open fields, pastures and marshes, often after the first frosts.

Now that is the kind of mushroom I like to see on top of a well buttered slice of toast for breakfast.

Until next time, Happy Rambles.