Monday, June 30, 2008

Laundry in the Regency

I'm not sure why I picked this topic, except that one of the paintings of Deepdene at the Victoria and Albert exhibition of Thomas Hope was of the drying grounds. The place where the laundress dried the linens. It showed clothes laid out on a lawn, spread over bushes and blowing in the wind on a clothes line.

People took pride in having enough linen to manage without washing frequently. The process was a huge disruption to other domestic routines, taking up to four days even in good drying weather, that there were advantages in spacing it further apart. A visiting washerwoman might come for a couple of days every few weeks to undertake some or all of the work.(See Glasse's The Servant’s Directory, or House-keeper’s Companion.)

Bleaching by the sun or using lye and drying were outdoor activities. The stretch of grass set aside for these jobs was called a bleaching-green or drying-ground. Off-white linen was spread on the ground to bleach in the sun as well as laid out to dry. This picture is of an earlier era, but it was pretty much the same.

Household and personal linen was spread on the grass, soaked with buckets of lye at intervals, and eventually rinsed and dried. There were variations, like using plain water and no lye, and the process might last as much as three days.

Lye can mean various different alkaline concoctions. Some people favoured burning particular kinds of plants for the best lye: seaweed ash produced fine Spanish soap. Areas with plentiful bracken burnt that for lye, and potato plants produced "weed ash" in Ireland. The dictionary (OED) says lye can be "any detergent material used in washing" and may even be “urine used as a detergent”.

Clothes pins were quite simple pieces of wood: split twigs bound with wire or twine like these made by English Romanies.

The mangle (or wringer) was developed in the 18th century — two long rollers in a frame and a crank to revolve them. A laundry-worker took sopping wet clothing and cranked it through the mangle, compressing the cloth and expelling the excess water. The mangle was much quicker than hand twisting. It was a variation on the box mangle used primarily for pressing and smoothing cloth.

18th century inventors also mechanized the laundry process with various hand-operated washing machines. Most involved turning a handle to move paddles inside a tub.

I must say I am very happy with my washing machine.

Next time we will have our usual beginning of the month Flora and Fauna to be followed by fashion. Who knows where our ramble will take us after that.
Until next time, Happy rambles.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Writing about Real Life

Today you will find me over at Casablanca Authors with a post on the above topic. Drop by and say hello. I would love to see you there.

Until Next week, Happy Rambles.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Science in the Regency

The Regency was at the very start of the Industrial Revolution. The great manufacturies of the north of England were slowly coming into their own, wiping out the cottage industries which had continued for centuries and gentlemen dabbled in Science. But so did others.

In 1799 Count Rumford had proposed the establishment in London of an ‘Institution for Diffusing Knowledge,’ Finally called the Royal Institution house in Albemarle Street.
The picture is a satirical cartoon by James Gillray showing a Royal Institution lecture on pneumatics with Humphrey Davy holding the bellows and Count Rumford looking on at extreme right. Dr Garnett is the lecturer holding the victim's nose.

Sir Humphry Davy was a chemist famous for inventing the Davy lamp, in 1815 which gave a measure of protection to minors working underground in detecting dangerous gases. It replaced the canary -- who died -- so the miners knew it was time to leave. He became addicted to laughing gas, which he actually administered to interested patrons at some of his lectures.

In October 1813, he and his wife, accompanied by Michael Faraday, his scientific assistant and valet, traveled to France to collect a medal Napoleon Bonaparte had awarded Davy for his electro-chemical work.

The Royal Institution provide funds and a location for people like Davy to carry out their experiments and to bring them to the general public.

Another important institution for science of the time, though its history goes back to the 17th Century, was the The Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge, known simply as The Royal Society, located at Somerset House, a location provided by the crown. Again, it was primarily amateurs and gentlement who were members, until the reforms of 1820.

Advances were also being made in medicine. Charles Bell published detailed studies of the nervous system and brain in 1811, in his book An Idea of a New Anatomy of the Brain he described his experiments with animals and how he was the first to distinguish between sensory and motor nerves. This book is considered by many the founding stone of clinical neurology. It is he, who gives us the name of the condition Bell's palsy, since he was the first to describe it.

Of course that is only a scratch on the surface, and hopefully we will revisit this topic. Until next time. Happy Rambles.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Pastimes for Regency Women - Part II

There was something I keep meaning to look up. Ah, found it. I knew I had it in one of my books. Carton in Ireland, owned by the Duke of Leinster, and inhabited by one of the famous Lennox sisters, boasted a shell cottage. The ladies of the house decorated the inside walls of the cottage with shells from all over the world. The young ladies spent hours picking the shells and designing the patterns.


Lace was always very expensive, so women learned different techniques for making things that looked like lace. Netting was one of these. Classical Netting, also called Filet Lace, embroidered net or Lacis is worked in two operations. First the ground is netted in rows going back and forth. After that the ground is stretched over a frame. Then a pattern is embroidered onto the ground.

It was often used for the production of purses to carry coins. In Jane Austen's Pride and Predjudice, Mr. Bingley notes the ladies industry, including netting.

A special needle is required. I checked out some of the instructions on the internet, but I must say, I think I would need to be taught. It doesn't look at all simple.


Purses were also crocheted. This is something I can do. The following extract is from a book dated 1842. A little later than Regency, but probably employed similar techniques

The Hand-book of Needlework By Lambert (F.), Miss Lambert: "Plain crochet purses are exceedingly strong and may be made prettily with a moderate sized netting silk Those worked rows of the length of the purse are the most easily made Make a chain in scarlet netting silk of one hundred and stitches on which crochet three plain rows in the same Then five plain rows in shade of green or stone colours two stripes are to be repeated until the purse is of a sufficient width When completed it is to be neatly sewn up or joined by crocheting the two sides together The ends are then be drawn up and the purse trimmed"

The Victoria and Albert Museum showed stocking purses of crocheted silk and carved wooden sliders.


Samplers were often used to teach children, and this is one example from the period. But ladies embroidered a great many things, from slippers, to fire screens to cushions. It was not only a pastime but also a form of art with a functional use.

Well that is it for me this week. Looking forward to starting a new topic next week.

Until then. Happy Rambles.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Pastimes for Regency Women - Part II

Pen Work

Pen Work was very popular with ladies during this era. Pictures, drawn by hand on wood using pen and ink.

This particular picture is of a ladies work box, where she would have kept her sewing supplies, her pens and ink, paints, and it is decorated with pen work. The item at the V & A to show this pastime was a wooden fan.

Here is another box. This one looks more of the home made variety don't you think?

It was very popular during our era and there was a very strong Chinese influence to much of it.


Knotting is the foremother of tatting. In doing a bit of internet research on the subject I came across the Tatting Ring. And since I Tat,I will be joining up. The internet is a wonderful place. Tatting does not seem to have taken off until about 1840, so too late for our period, but knotting, which was done with both silk and linen thread was produced prolifically.

This is a knotting shuttle. Some of them that survive are extremely exotic and expensive items, because it was something that wealthy ladies did. This example is tortoiseshell and silver.

For knotting, a fairly thick thread would be wound on to the large open-ended shuttle, about 4" to 6" long, and then the needleworker would make special knots at intervals thus producing a thread with a texture, rather like a string of beads or French knots by the yard.

Later she would couch the knotted thread on to fabric, laying it down in a design of flowers and leaves or scrolls.

Miles of knotting must have been produced as it was used on large scale household furnishings such as chair covers, bedspreads and curtains. The picture is an example of the finished work. The knotted length of string is now attached to the fabric. So now you can imagine what our Regency bottoms were parked upon.

I have a couple more pastimes to bring to you next time, then we will be off on our travels around England again.

Until then, Happy Rambles.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pastimes for Regency Women

As an author writing in the Regency, I am always looking for something for my ladies to do, so the Victoria and Albert display of pastimes from this era was perfect.

Painting on Velvet

Who would have thought that what is often thought of as tacky these days would be one of them? Apparently it replaced taffeta painting which had been popular in the previous century. The example they had was from 1809. The display showed a set of liquid colors supplied by Reeves & Woodyer, labelled 'Ackermann's brilliant carmine', 'W H Edwards's lilac purple', and 'W H Edwards's sunflower yellow'. The box included bowls for mixing colours, a tiny bone palette and brush rest, pairs of dividers and pincers, and brushes. To see an example of a painted reticule, follow this link.

Cut Paper Work

It is the border that is cut paper work. Can you imagine the hours and the patience. Designs came from Ackermans and patterns material and tools from S. J Fullers Temple of Fancy.

This is another form of cut paper work. the Silhouette. The word 'silhouette', describing images in outline, came into use in English in the 19th century. Before this date such works, particularly portraits, were called 'profiles'. The word 'silhouette' came from Etienne de Silhouette (1709-1769), a keen amateur paper cutter and a French finance minister who introduced petty tax reforms. The popular mind apparently came to associate his meanness with the inexpensiveness of his hobby, and the word 'silhouette' caught on. To see a particularly fine example follow this link.

Miniature cutwork pictures were also done for lockets. They were absolutely lovely.

Clearly women had lots of time on their hands.

There are more pastimes I want to share, but I will keep them for next time. Until then, Happy Rambles.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Searching for Regency England

One trip we made in the Spring was to a place I had never visited before. Jersey. Very interesting place, brought to England by William the Conqueror in 1066 with his Normandy holdings, it has remained part of England ever since.

It lies about 14 miles off the French Normandy coast. Much closer to France than to Britain. We could see it from the top of one of the castles we visited.

Yes it has two castles, one of them, Mont Orgueil Castle, yes a very French name as are most of the place names and Streets on Jersey. A castle in this location dates back to 1212.

If you like castles, or are interested in the medieval era this one is so much fun and is beautifully preserved and very accessible to the explorer. However there are lots of narrow winding stairs. We spent a full afternoon there and felt we could have spent longer. But apart from the fact that it stood there during the Georgian era, it really is not very relevant.

The other castle is Elizabeth castle, built in the mid to late 1500's because Mont Orgueil became out-dated by the use of cannon. Originally a religious site, it was Sir Walter Raleigh who named it after his Queen when he was governor of Jersey. It was built as an artillery fortress. In 1804 it had sixtytwo guns, which included five massive 68-pounders.

The fascinating thing about the casstle is that it is completely surrounded by the sea for seven hours out of every twelve. Only at low tide can you reach the castle on foot. Here is my picture of us walking across the causeway (which is marked). You can see the castle in the distance.

The next picture is a great view back towards the town and shows how the projections in the walls could be used to cover off any attempt to scale the walls from the beach.

While this makes the cast impregnable, but not great for defending the town of St. Helier. In 1781 the French landed at La Rocque, and captured the town, while the garrison sat in the castle. It was an active garrison until 1923.

I of course was thrilled to discover that the barracks are all Georgian.

The parade ground was the centre of the castle and the barracks are now set up as museums.

You can see the castle in the background--above, where the cannons were placed and it was the first defensive works on the island. The building on the left was for officers, with rooms comensurate with rank. and the builing on the left for the common soldiers and their women/children slept in the attics. The women would do work around the barracks, washing for the officers, cooking, while the children would be expected to help out with other jobs.

This is a picture of the barracks and parade ground from above. The end building we can see from this angle was partly destroyed in the 2nd world war and it housed the kitchen. You can see the town and the harbor.

And of course a picture of a cannon. They fired this while we were there. I must say I kept looking at that ocean in case we got stuck. No - not possible, there was an amphibian bus, that went to and fro, tide or no tide.

The last picture is of a Martello tower. These were located all along the coast every few hundred yard and each one could see at least two, one in each direction provided it wasn't foggy. Which it quite often is, I gather.

Lots of them are homes. Very quaint. I wanted one!

You probably know this, but because the de Carterets held Jersey for the King during the Civil War King Charles II granted them a large grant of land in the American colonies of the time. De Carteret named it New Jersey.

I have lots more pictures of both castles, but I think this is a good overview. It is a lovely place with a very mild climate and I highly recommend that you visit if you can.

Until next time, Happy Rambles.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Wow, here we are again, where do the months go. If anyone can tell me, I would love it. In the meantime, back to the wild things.

How about a little peek at what the Naturlist said for June 1817. he ought to know what he was talking about.

The fields of clover (trifolium pratense), which are now in blossom, produce a delightful fragrance. Of this plant there are two varieties, the white and the purple; from the latter, the bees extract much honey. The bean blossoms also shed a still more exquisite odour.

It is true that clover has the most wonderful scent. Bees are important and so is honey. I am told there is quite a dearth of bees at the moment -- so plant clover.

Another wild flower blooming at this time is the pimpernel (anagallis arvensis). I expect most of you are familiar with this little flower. It is so very tiny and very pushy. It shows up everywhere, but it is something I remember fondly from my childhood. I expect because it is the right size for a child. And children don't care if things are weeds. You might also be aware of the novel by the same name, but I am sure you know that it wasn't written until the early 1900's and first appeared as a play.

Oops. Off topic.

Now here is an interesting quote.

The poppy (says Cowley) is scattered over the fields of corn, that all the needs of man may be easily satisfied, and that bread and sleep may be found together.

What do you think of that?

But if you have been in England at this time of year and through into July, you will have seen golden ears of corn (wheat, barley, oats, not indian corn or maze) or hay fields with a haze of red. It really is quite startling at first. And very pretty. We see them in North America now too, but they did come from Europe. Though of course we are more likely to see fields and fields of sickly yellow rape seed now. Personally, I don't like it, but perhaps because I remember how it used to be and after all we must progress.

And last but not least, Among the various ornaments of the garden, The Rose, that queen of flowers, stands pre-eminent;

The Austrian rose blossoms in the early part of the month, as does also the Chinese rose: these are followed by the common garden rose, the single yellow rose (Rosa lutea), and the white rose (R. alba); last of all comes the loveliest of floral attractions—the Moss Rose—which should be termed The Rose—par excellence!

Well, that is it from me. Until next time, Happy Rambles.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Fashion for the Month of June

If you are up for some fun, the Casablanca Authors, me included, are running a round robin story. It started on Sunday. Here is the link.

Now for the serious business. Fashion. I realize that since I started this series of articles I have only posted one gown for June. So I have lots of choice.

I chose this fashion plate because of the child. It comes from the Lady's Monthly Museum for June 1812

Of particular note is the announcement that these dresses were invented by Mrs. Osgood of Lower Brook Street.

This first gown is called a Morning Domestic Dress. My guess is that this means you wear it at home.

it is described as —A white jaconet muslin gown, buttoned down the front with white regency buttons and trimming formed en lozenge; handkerchief, gloves, and sandals of dragon fly green; figurante cap ornamented with a rose in front. Interesting to find the term regency buttons in this description. I have no idea what it means, do you? Also note that the handkerchief is tied at the neck.

The child's outfit is described as a dress: A la matelot Hollandois. Certainly the term refers to a dutch sailor. But was this a girl or a boy. Given that there are definitely trousers going on here, I think it is a little boy.

This plate is also from the Lady's Monthly Museum. This time from 1804.

The first gown is a walking dress.

A Straw Hat turned in Front, ornamented with Roses. A short round Dress of pale Pink Muslin, trimmed round the Bottom with broad White Lace; White Tassels. Habit Shirt of Muslin, trimmed with Lace.
So, since the dress is the short pink tunic, then does the habit shirt go all the way to the ground? Or are we looking at the petticoat. The habit shirt would refer to the kind of shirt one wore beneath a riding habit, but my guess is that this one goes all the way down to her feet. the way it is depicted, it looks almost see through. Very daring, I think.

The next is a full or evening dress.

A Turban of White Muslin, White Ostrich Feathers. Long round Dress of White Muslin, embroidered down the Front, and round the Bottom, with Gold; each Side of the Gold trimmed with Blond Lace: Sleeves looped up in Front, with Gold Cord and Tassels. Fan, and Ridicule.

I actually this this woman looks quite miserable. Something to do with the turban? Or is it the low neckline. If she so much as breathes, she is in danger of popping right out! Here we also see the reticule given its nickname of ridicule.

Well that is it for me this time. I look forward to talking with you again soon. Next time we will have our usual Flora and Fauna article.

Until then, Happy Rambles.