A Valentine Gift?

I have a tiny enamel box, just 4cm by 2cm high, that was surely given as a love-token, perhaps for Valentine’s Day.

Bilston 1

It is almost certainly a Bilston enamel patch box and, although the lid has suffered some damage a long time ago, the two lovers on the lid and the inscription are still clear.

 Sweets the Love That meets Return

reads the caption and a dashing chap with a curling feather in his hat and a dramatic cloak makes lingering eye contact with a fair maiden carrying flowers.

Bilston 2

You can tell it is a box for patches, or beauty spots, and not for tiny sweets or snuff because of the mirror inside. It is a pleasure to hold – the waisted design means that it fits securely between the fingers of one hand to hold it steady while the patch was applied with the help of the mirror.

The box itself probably dates for the 1770s or 80s when the fashion for patches was at its height. They served to cover up skin blemishes or to draw attention to a pretty dimple or to the eyes. In this portrait the lady is seated at her dressing table, about to apply a beauty spot. The patch box she holds has a mirror inside the lid and on the table is another box, much the same size as mine.

689px-Anne_de_La_Grange-Trianon_by_Circle_of_François-Hubert_Drouais

Circle of Francois-Hubert Drouais (1727-65). Via Wikimedia

Craftsmen in the small town of Bilston, just to the South-East of Wolverhampton, began to make enamelled items in about 1745 when Huguenot refugees settled there bringing the technique with them.  The industry was still flourishing in the early 1800s producing snuff boxes, trinket boxes and similar items, but by the 1820s it was in decline with the reduction in snuff-taking and the improvement in manufacturing techniques for fine bone china objects. Bilston enamellers had vanished by the 1850s.

Today Bilston enamels fetch hundreds of pounds. Mine, with its damage, was a very cheap auction bargain!

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From India to Fulham – On the Track of a Love Story

Some time ago I bought a battered little book from an on-line auction site for a few pounds. It measures approximately 8 x 6.5 inches (10 x 6 cm), the cover was battered and the thin spine had given way completely. The pages inside were loose and covered in handwriting in ink that, in places, had faded badly.

whole thing

Many pages were difficult to read but I saw at a glance that it was what I had hoped – a book of household recipes and hints  that some careful 19th century housewife had collected. But who was she and when did she keep her notebook?

Inside one cover was “9, High Row 60£” and “G.G.Mills Esq, North End Terrace, Fulham”.  Somehow I didn’t think that Mr Mills himself was carefully collecting recipes for raspberry vinegar or fish sauce. The other cover, amidst various scribbled notes, had, “Mrs Bernard Ryan”, the date 31st August 1812 and “Kensington Wilds Library Hornton St.” There was also a strip that had been torn from a letter and stuck in with instructions for restoring the lustre to silverware written on it. The letter had been addressed to Mrs Mills. The glue obscures the notes in the top left hand corner of the inside cover but it is possible to read “1819 Sept 21st”, “G.G.M 10th Dec 1819” and very faintly below that “To make good curry.”

inside cover

So, I had a Regency housewife’s notebook – but if this belonged to Mrs Mills, who was Mrs Bernard Ryan? And why had someone apparently tried to copy Mrs Bernard Ryan’s name in wobbly handwriting above it as “Mrs Renard Ry”? A child, perhaps?

I began with the library by digging in on-line newspaper indexes and soon found that F. P. Wild’s Library at 8, Hornton Street, Kensington appears in newspaper advertisements for newly-published books  between 1816 and 1825. It seemed I was definitely dealing with someone living in London

Then I turned to genealogy websites and discovered that a George Gillam Mills was resident at North End Terrace, Fulham when he died in May 1844 aged 74. He was buried in the District Chapel of the Parish of St Mary’s, North End, Fulham on 17th May. I tried to find North End Terrace on maps but could not pin-point it but but North End Road joins Hammersmith Road just where St Mary’s Chapel, now a church, stands. It seems likely that it was at the northern end of the road that Jean and George lived. Until the late 19th century North End was a scattered hamlet of houses along North End Road surrounded by fields and market gardens and included many substantial properties and villas owned by prosperous middle class and aristocratic families.

Now I knew Mr Mills’ first names I could chase him further and found that on the 15th May 1815 he had married Jean Ryan, a widow, at St Luke’s, Chelsea. They had married by licence and on the bond which he signed to obtain the licence George stated that he was over twenty one years of age, unmarried and living in the parish. It seemed highly likely that Jean Ryan was the Mrs Bernard Ryan named on the inside cover of the book.

I was able to find George’s christening record at St Alfege’s church in Greenwich on 24th November 1771 with the note that he had been born that month. His parents were Samuel Gillam Mills, a surgeon, and Catherine. So George was from a middle class home and was forty four when he married Jean Ryan.

Could I find ‘Jean’ marrying a Barnard Ryan? To my delight I found that on 26 August 1805 Lieutenant Bernard Ryan married Miss Jean Forbes in Secunderabad in British controlled Bengal, India. But sadly the marriage lasted only six years. He died, a Captain in the 12th Regiment of Native Infantry of the Honourable East India Company, aged twenty eight and was buried 17th October 1811 at Fort William in Calcutta (now Kolkata). His will leaves everything to his wife Jean.

This image of the fort is from 1754, but it must have looked very much like this when the Ryans knew it, and having seen it when in Kolkata myself, it is still recognisable today.

Fort_William 1754

In September 1812 the records of the Lord Clive Military Fund Pensions Committee in the Madras (now Chennai) Presidency show that a pension of two shillings and four pence a day was granted to Mrs Jean Ryan, widow. Soon after this she must have set sail for England, a voyage of perhaps a year unless she was very lucky with the weather.

How did the widowed Mrs Ryan meet Mr Mills? How old was she? That at least I could answer because her burial record for 19th March 1825 gives her age as only forty. She had been twenty when she married Bernard and thirty when she married George. But her second marriage to a man fourteen years her senior seems to have been a happy one  because below a recipe for stewing flounders she wrote: “13th April 1820 – recd. a New Crown Piece from Darling Husband. Keep Sake.”

What happened to George? He was a prosperous businessman and civil servant, it seems. In 1815 he was Cashier of Half-Pay at the Army Pay Office in Whitehall and in 1819 had been promoted two steps up to Ledger Keeper. The Royal Kalendar and Court and City Register for 1817 and 1819 lists him as one of the directors and an auditor of the British Fire Office, “for assuring Houses, Goods and Ships” located at Cornhill in the City. How did he pass the nineteen years of widowerhood? I hope he had a good housekeeper who cooked him some of the familiar recipes from Jean’s notebook.

The notebook itself has a wide selection of recipes with notes on who gave them to her, a good selection of curries – not surprisingly perhaps – and notes on everything from making mistletoe grow to polishing a mahogany table. I transcribed the whole book and Mock Oyster Sauce and a Cure For Corns: A Regency Lady’s Receipt Book is out in April but available to pre-order now.

Cover 2

 

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A Splendid Pew and an Encounter With an 18th Century Lady

Some time ago I wrote about the organisation of space inside churches in the Georgian period. Social stratification became very clear in the way seating was organised and splendid box pews were built and were bought and sold or rented out. “To be SOLD, A PEW, in the West Gallery of the Parish Church, at Leeds, well situated for both Hearing and Seeing, and containing Sittings for Five People,” read the advertisement in the Leeds Intelligencer in October 1789.

I was reminded that as well as private pews in the body of the church it was possible to construct even more exclusive accommodation if you had the status and the position in the parish.

I had travelled to the Norfolk church of Holy Trinity, Stow Bardolf, to the south of King’s Lynn, in pursuit of one particular (and startling) memorial – of which more later – and was struck by the family pew of the lords of the manor which is situated like nothing so much as a theatre box next to the choir.

Stow Hall, which was sited within sight of the church, was the home of the Hare family who acquired the estate in 1553. In 1641 they were created baronets and this is probably what prompted them to construct a family chapel on the north side of the chancel with its own exterior door. It has a number of imposing monuments including Sir Thomas Hare who died in 1693 and is shown reclining in full Roman armour but, ludicrously, wearing his wig.

At some point someone had the bright idea of knocking through the wall behind the north choir stall to create the open front of a large family pew, enclosed in wood panelling and with a door into the family chapel. The Hares could therefore walk or drive to the churchyard gate nearest the Hall and enter through their own private door without having to mingle with the lesser folk of the parish.

family pew

Above is the view from the altar steps. Once seated in their pew, high enough to look down on the heads of the choristers below, the family were almost completely private. Behind the pew you can glimpse some funeral hatchments and below them the outside door.

mary hareThe 19th century family would have worshipped under the gaze of the figure of Hope on the memorial to Mary Hare who died in November 1801. Hope is leaning on an anchor (her symbol) which also serves as a reminder that Mrs Hare’s father, Sir Francis Geary, Bart., was an Admiral of the White. The upside-down torch leaning against the urn is a symbol of a life snuffed out. Usually the length of the torch is an indication of the length of the life of the deceased.

In the photograph of the pew you can just see the pointed top of something wooden and that is what I had come to Stow Bardolf to see. At first sight it appears to be a cupboard, almost like a small, rather shallow mahogany wardrobe.dsc09570

Over the door is an inscription which reads:

Here Lyeth the Body of Sarah Hare Youngest Daughter of Sr Thomas Hare Bart. And Dame Elizabth. His Wife And Sister To The Present Sir Thos Hare Who Departed This Life The IX Day Of Apr MDCCXLIV [1743] And Ordered This Effigies [sic] To Be Placed Here.

That is all the warning the unwary visitor has before they open the door and come face to face with Sarah Hare.

dsc09569

She is life-sized, the only wax funerary effigy in the UK outside Westminster Abbey and she died aged eighteen from blood poisoning after pricking her finger with a needle while doing embroidery. Poor Sarah lived long enough to realise that she must make her will and in it she left very specific instructions.

She was to be buried by six poor men of the parish who were to be paid five shillings each. “I desire to have my face and hands made in wax with a piece of crimson satin thrown like a garment in a picture, hair upon my head and put in a case of Mahogany with a glass before.” Her grieving family carried out her instructions to the letter. After the first shock on opening the cabinet it is very moving to come face to face with a woman of the 18th century shown just as she was, without any attempt to make her look ‘perfect’. Sarah has a double chin, a rather severe mouth and a mole on her right cheek and she looks beyond the viewer as though failing to notice that we are there. Her right hand looks swollen – perhaps a result of the infection that killed her.

An unsettling, but fascinating, encounter with a real woman.

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Spice Up the New Year

I’ve been trying out gingerbread and spice cake recipes as warming treats so here are some genuine 19th century recipes for you to try (Warning! I haven’t tried these as they are, so it is at your own risk!).

DSCN0184

I made mine using the smaller of the the three antique biscuit moulds that I own – the only one that will produce a biscuit small enough for a modern oven.  This is the result – not quite firm enough, I think, it has lost definition so more experimentation needed. It tastes great though.

gingerbread

First here are Gingerbread Cakes, a simple recipe from The Housekeeper’s Instructor; or Universal Family Cook (1807). Given the amount of nutmeg these might be quite hallucinogenic!

Take three pounds of flour, a pound of sugar, the same quantity of butter rolled in very fine, two ounces of beaten ginger, and a large nutmeg grated. Then take a pound of treacle, a quarter of a pint of cream, and make them warm together. Work up the bread stiff, roll it out and make it into thin cakes. Cut them out with a tea-cup or small glass, or roll them round like nuts, and bake them in a slack oven on tin plates.

DSCN0188There’s a very similar recipe in The Complete Confectioner (1815) by Fredrick Nutt with the note: N.B. These are very good for the stomach in cold weather.

Mr Nutt has a more elaborate recipe for Spice Biscuits. It uses Lisbon sugar – cane sugar imported from the West Indies and double-refined in Portugal leaving it an off-white colour. A third refining was necessary to make it pure white, which would be more expensive.

Take three pounds of flour, and three pounds of sweet almonds cut in half, and put them with the flower [sic] and three ounces of spice, such as cinnamon and mace pounded, and one pound of powdered sugar, and mix them together on your dresser; then take three pounds of Lisbon sugar, and put it in a saucepan with some water, and just boil it, then mix it with the other ingredients on the dresser; when it is all mixed to a paste, heat your oven very hot, and put three papers next your plate; then roll your paste to the size of a large rolling-pin; then put it on your paper and flat it down with your hand about three inches wide, but higher in the middle than at the ends, then put them in the oven; when they are baked take them out, while hot, cut them with a sharp knife about the eighth part of an inch thick, in the form of a rusk, and you will see the almonds very well in them.

The third of my moulds is so long that it wouldn’t fit in any modern domestic oven – and it is a pig to photograph, but here goes!

DSCN0186

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Time For A Pudding

The evenings are drawing in, there’s a nip in the air – what better time to think about making a warming pudding?

Recipes0001

I’ve been consulting A New System of Domestic Cookery formed upon Principles of Economy and Adapted to the Use of Private Families by A Lady. It was published in 1829 by John Murray (Jane Austen and Byron’s publisher) and cost seven shillings and six pence.

Some of the recipes certainly would have been very economical, using up left-overs in a way that resonates with today’s concern about food waste. There are a number of recipes using bread such as this one:

A Rich Boiled Bread Pudding

Over half a pint of crumbs (from a previous recipes I think these must be stale white bread crumbs) pour half a pint of scalding milk; cover for an hour. Beat up four eggs, and when strained, add to the bread, with a tea-spoonful of flour, an ounce of butter, two ounces of sugar, half a pound of currants, an ounce of almonds beaten (I assume these would be ground almonds), with orange-flower water, half an ounce of orange, ditto lemon, ditto citron (juice??). Butter a basin that will exactly hold it, flour the cloth and tie tight over and boil one hour.

I rather like the sound of this savoury pudding although I’d add  more cheese myself. I imagine it would be baked in a pie dish:

A Cheese Pudding

Grate three ounces of cheese and five of bread (stale, I assume); and having warmed one ounce of butter in a pint of new milk (making this today I would use full fat milk), mix it with the above; add two well-beaten eggs and a little salt. Bake it half an hour.

Another one that I’d like to try is:

An Exceedingly Good Orange Pudding

On half a pound of crumbs of bread pour a pint of milk; let it boil up; stir in two ounces of butter and one of marrow (I think I might give the marrow a miss and add a bit more butter!), keeping the pan over the fire until all is incorporated. Let it become cold then mix in two eggs, two ounces of sugar, the same of orange marmalade, and a spoonful of orange flower water. Choose a basin that will exactly hold it, and tie over with a floured cloth very closely. Boil it an hour and a quarter. For sauce, melted butter, sugar, a little lemon-juice, and a spoonful of brandy.

Finally here’s a real novelty. I’m trying to persuade the cook in our household to try it to see if it lives up to its name. If I succeed, I will let you know!

Transparent Pudding

Beat eight eggs very well; put them into a stew-pan with half a pound of sugar pounded fine, the same quantity of butter, and some nutmeg grated. Set it on the fire and keep stirring it until it thickens.  Then set it in a basin to cool; put a rich puff pastry round the edge of the dish; pour in your pudding, and bake it in a moderate oven. It will cut light and clear. You may add candied orange and citron, if you like.

I haven’t tried any of these – so if you do, it is at your own risk! Happy baking.

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Be a Man – Leave That Umbrella At Home!

We’ve arrived at that windy season when raising an umbrella is asking for trouble, as this delicious original water colour sketch (unfortunately undated) reminds me.

windy-weather

The interesting thing about this is that the men are using umbrellas, something that they probably wouldn’t have considered before the early 1800s.

Although parasols as protection from the sun date back to the 4th century BC in the Near East, and possibly earlier in China, the idea of using them to hold off the rain appears to be a 17th century innovation in France, Italy and England – but for ladies only. By the mid-18th century continental gentlemen would happily be seen sheltering from a downpour under an umbrella covered in oiled silk and English ladies would routinely use them, but there was a distinct stigma about Englishmen resorting to an umbrella.

Umbrellas were, it seems, ‘French’ and therefore, by definition, an effeminate accessory. Beau Brummell would never carry one, considering that no gentleman should, and advocated taking a sedan chair if there was the slightest risk of rain.

However, some practical men did ignore the jeers, the most well-known of them being Jonas Hanway (1712-1786), a much travelled man, who designed his own, rather large and cumbersome umbrella and persisted in using it. He was verbally attacked by the hackney carriage drivers who saw this as a direct attack on their business but he ignored their threats and one of the slang terms for an umbrella at the time was a Hanway. (The Victorian ‘gamp’ was named after Dickens’s Mrs Gamp, not the other way around.) The below detail from a Victorian imagining of Mr Hanway shows the interest he attracted.

Hanaway2

By the early 19th century practicality had won over prejudice for most gentlemen and the use of a rain umbrella became usual for both sexes. In 1814 in Mansfield Park Jane Austen writes of the rescue of a very wet Fanny Price:

“… when Dr Grant himself went out with an umbrella there was nothing to be done but to be very much ashamed and to get into the house as fast as possible; and to poor Miss Crawford, who had just been contemplating the dismal rain in a very desponding state of mind, sighing over the ruin of all her plans of exercise for that morning, and of every chance of seeing a single creature beyond themselves for the next twenty four hours, the sound of a little bustle at the front door and the sight of Miss Price dripping with wet in the vestibule was delightful.”

Street Feb

Cruickshank’s delightful series of sketches of various months often show umbrellas. This one (February) has a man using his as a walking aid to negotiate the muddy street while the lady with her skirts hitched up has a far less substantial version.

In this undated sketch (a little earlier than the Cruickshank) both men hold umbrellas, although I suspect that the use of one on horseback may just be part of the joke.wet men

Specialist shops soon started selling umbrellas, as can be seen in another Cruikshank scene which shows one belonging to J. Gingham. The ladies are using what look more like parasols whereas the gentleman inside the shop is having a much more sturdy version demonstrated.

April showers

A gentleman travelling by stagecoach might take a umbrella, as can be seen in this image of someone missing the stage –

missing

Of course you had to be considerate in how you used your umbrella. In 1822 Stanley Harris recalls sitting in front of a woman with an umbrella who would “shove it below your hat so adroitly as to send a little stream of water down the back of your neck.” This delightful drawing by Cecil Aldin shows the misery of being on top of the stage in the rain, even with a brolly. But even in this downpour, it is only a female passenger who is using one.

Rain

Finally here is a print showing  a French invention – an umbrella complete with lightening conductor. Somehow I cannot see any English gentleman consenting to be seen with such an inelegant contraption!

Umbrella_fitted_with_lightning_conductor

(This is an out of copyright image from Louis Figuier: Les merveilles de la science ou description populaire des inventions modernes (S. 596 ff.) (1867), Furne, Juvet)

 

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Sea bathing – 1756

I have recently acquired this  print of Scarborough dated 1756 which I believe was originally a fold-out illustration in the Gentleman’s Magazine.

Scarborough 1

What is so lovely about it is that it shows bathing machines at this very early date. Scarborough was in the vanguard of the new craze for sea bathing, helped by the fact that its original spa was actually on the beach.

Scarborough 2

The first mention of bathing machines is in 1721 when a Nicholas Blundell mentions “a Conveniency for Bathing in the Sea.” In 1735 “Conveniencies” were being provided at Scarborough for ladies (gentlemen simply walked into the sea naked (regardless of spectators) or jumped in from rowing boats. I can count five machines in the sea and another six waiting at the foot of the cliffs (rather indistinct, but behind the furthest carriage with horses on the beach).

The machines in the sea are of two types – one looks like a modern garden shed on wheels, rectangular with a pitched roof. The other is square with a pyramidal roof.

Scarborough bathing huts

None of them have the “modesty hood” or “tilt” invented in 1753 by Benjamin Beale, a Quaker from Margate. This unfolded like an umbrella at the front allowing the bather to swim modestly hidden. Ladies and gentlemen in elegant clothes have been driven down to the beach in their carriages and would have had a perfect view of the bathers, all of whom would have been naked. Sack-like garments for ladies soon appeared but it was considered effeminate for men to wear anything until well into the 19th century.

if you want to read about the Georgian Seaside, which was flourishing long before the  Victorian seaside holiday, you’ll find it in my book, The Georgian Seaside: the English resorts before the railway age

The Georgian Seaside Cover_MEDIUM WEB

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