Category Archives: Books

The Earl of Wittering Goes to the Seaside: Part Six The Ladies (and Porrett) Visit the Library

It is raining today, the second of the Gatwick family’s stay in Weymouth, so Lady Ditherstone abandons her father in law and husband to their news sheets, deals firmly with her daughter Emily’s pleas that taking to the ocean in the rain can hardly make you any wetter than you will be already, and carries off her mother in law the Countess of Wittering, Emily and young Arthur to visit the subscription library.

library

‘You have researched the available libraries I trust, Mr Porrett?’ She is inclined to rather like the Earl’s secretary, such a thoroughly nice, intelligent young man and really, once he takes off those wire-rimmed spectacles, quite good-looking. Intelligent, good-looking men are in short supply in the Gatwick household, although young Arthur certainly has a keen interest in natural philosophy.

‘Certainly, Lady Ditherstone. There are several, but most are not of a standard that would suit you, I fear. However there is one excellent one. As The Guide to All the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places remarks, those who frequent a good circulating library rather than a ballroom “frequently enjoy the most rational and the most permanent pleasure.” ‘ He regrets the quote as soon as he makes it, for Miss Emily fixes him with a look that is anything but kindly. So far as she is concerned nothing, but nothing, can exceed the pleasures of the ballroom.

‘Mr Porrett can come with us and carry our books as he is so fond of libraries,’ she says pertly. ‘And the umbrellas.’

Porrett, no fool, even if he is blinded by hopeless love, enlists the umbrella-wielding support of two footmen leaving himself to shelter Miss Emily. He employs the walk to the library with regaining her good graces. ‘They have all the latest fashion journals,’ he assures her. ‘And the latest novels.’ From ahead he can hear young Arthur stating that he needs a book on rocks and something on seaweed as he intends to collect both. Porrett is not certain, but he thinks the Viscountess gives the slightest, most well-bred, shudder. ‘And there is a section selling toys (he means novelties and small frivolities for adults, of course) – all the finest fans and reticules and so forth and souvenirs.’

Pic105Emily gives him a beaming smile, much restored by thoughts of shopping, as they reach the circulating library. Porrett, having established that the monthly subscription is eight shillings, deals with the business side, taking out a subscription for both senior ladies. He also subscribes for himself, for he has a secret penchant for poetry and intends to take a slim volume off to the garden where he can brood on his heartache in peace. (Above, the artist of a Regency ‘bat print’ bowl has caught Porrett immersed in his poetry next to a beehive.)

The library they find themselves in very like the one shown at the top of the post (Illustration of 1813 by Rowlandson). Note the shelf of New Arrivals on the right and the two gentlemen in energetic dispute over a political pamphlet on the left. A horn sprouting writing quills hangs in the right-hand window and a poster advertises a new book on Westminster and Its Monuments. The younger ladies shown are all in the height of fashion whereas the older lady with her little dog, long stick and black footman in attendance wisely chooses rather wider skirts and a lower waistline. Note the parasol propped up against the counter – it has the handle at what, today, is the wrong end. This persisted until about 1815 when the point where a parasol or umbrella was held when not in use shifted ends.

This evening the family attends the Assembly Rooms for an evening of dancing and cards. Porrett is thrilled to have been invited to accompany them, but somehow this afternoon, he is going to have to purchase a new pair of black silk stockings. Dare he risk ones with a stripe? What are the shops likely to be like? Find out more in   The Georgian Seaside: the English resorts before the railways came.

 

 

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A Blue Plaque for Georgette Heyer

An absolute favourite writer for most lovers of the Regency is Georgette Heyer, and the great news is that on Friday 5th June English Heritage unveiled a Blue Plaque at 103, Woodside, Wimbledon, where Georgette was born on 16th August 1902.
I’ve been a Heyer fan as long as I can remember, and I particularly get a thrill when I’m in the History stacks at the London Library in St James’s Square and recall that this was where she did so much of her research.
Heyer’s novels are a treat for anyone who loves Georgian London and my favourite is Frederica, with its priceless image of the dreadful dog Lufra chasing the cows in Green Park, even if it does contain one of Heyer’s few research failures when she located the Soho Foundry, not in Birmingham, but in…Soho.
For anyone who is inclined to dismiss her writing as romantic froth, I would recommend Jenny Haddon’s post http://jennyhaddon.com/?p=973 “The Space Between the Words” on the understated power of her writing. And if you haven’t already read it, Jennifer Kloester’s biography Georgette Heyer, is the perfect accompaniment to her books.
I’ll leave you with a picture of two books from my collection, including one of my precious first editions. And if you like to see a (good) feature film, made of one of her novels, why not sign the petition http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/georgetteheyerfilm
Heyer_0002

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The Road to Waterloo Week Six – “The Belgians Undergo the Most Lively Sensations.”

By Monday April 3rd the book publishers had jumped on the Napoleonic bandwagon and advertisements began appearing in the newspapers –
“Letter to a noble lord on the present situation of France and Europe accompanied by official and original documents. John Murray Albemarle-street.”
“The CRISIS, addressed to the people of ENGLAND on the Emperor NAPOLEON’S returned to Power. By a barrister of the Middle Temple. James Ridgway Piccadilly (Price 2s)”
“The STATEMENT of BONAPARTE’S plot made to Earl BATHURST and the FRENCH AMBASSADOR in October and November last by WILLIAM PLAYFAIR Esq. is now ready, price 1s 6d. It contains also the Cypher in which Bonaparte corresponded, with the Key, his Proclamation in Cypher and Decyphered etc. At 41 Pall-mall.”

Fashion 1815
For those hoping to ignore the rumbling threat of war, an intriguing fashion advert describes garments that can be bought ready-made and then altered to fit the customer:
“Elegant, Nouvelle and Fashionable Millinery, Dresses, Pellisses, Mantles etc etc – Thomas and Co. agreeable to their usual plan, have (under the superintendence of Mrs. Thomas) completed the greatest choice of articles in the above branches, uniting in a pleasing style, the French with the English taste, and which are composed of prime and nouvelle materials. The above are particularly adapted for evening or full dress, the dinner party or the promenade and from being made in all sizes enables them to execute any commissions with all possible speed and thereby doing away (in a very material degree) the necessity of giving orders. 193 Fleet- street, west end corner of Chancery-lane.” The charming little image above is from a lady’s memorandum book for 1815.

The foreign papers, reported on Monday, told that the Belgians were undergoing “the most lively sensations” – as well they might. British ships had been permitted to enter Dieppe peaceably and that appeared to be the official port for communications, Meanwhile, in Paris, Napoleon seemed largely concerned with returning affairs as quickly as possible to the position before he left, including changing back the names of Paris streets.

“The Duc d’Orleans and his daughter, with their suite, arrived from Amsterdam and put up at Greillon’s (sic) Hotel, Albemarle Street.” It was not clear whether they intended staying for the duration of the emergency, or whether this was just a visit.

“Madame Catalini’s delightful retreat, The Hermitage, at Old Brompton is to be disposed of. In the event of her return from France, her engagements are so numerous and particularly during the summer months, when the Hermitage may really be compared to a paradise, that she has no means of enjoying thcatalanie advantages that its easy access to town will afford some more fortunate purchaser. The interior embellishments and furniture are spoken of in high terms of admiration. Mssrs. Robins are empowered to dispose of it, and report says, at a sacrifice to the fair warbler of many thousand pounds.” Madame Catalini (shown left) was a singer of huge international fame who would appear in Brussels to great acclaim as the crisis developed.

Wellington arrived in Brussels on Tuesday to take command of an Allied army that would total between 800,000-1,200,000 men when mustered and on Saturday 8th April Bonaparte ordered the general mobilisation of France. The situation was escalating.
The Marriages column of the Morning Post on Monday recorded one of the marriages of military men now gathering in Belgium.
“A few days since, by special licence, at Bruxelles Lieut. Colonel George H. Berkeley to Miss Sutton eldest daughter of Lady Sutton of Mosely House in the county of Surrey. His Grace the Duke of Richmond gave away the bride.”

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Going to the Library In Georgian London

In a recent post I used two of Cruickshank’s delightful monthly views of London to illustrate the state of the streets. When I looked at March I found it showed the effects of March gales on pedestrians passing the doors of Tilt, Bookseller & Publisher, which made me dig further into my collection to see what I had on access to books.

March
For the middle and upper classes in Georgian London reading was a significant leisure pastime, whether the book was a collection of sermons, a political dissertation, a scientific work or a scandalous novel full of haunted castles, wicked barons and innocent young ladies in peril.
To have a library, however modest, was the mark of a gentleman, but not everyone could afford every book that they wanted, or wanted to own every book that they read.  The subscription circulating library came into existence to satisfy the reading habits of anyone who could afford a few pounds annual subscription and who required “Rational Entertainment In the Time of Rainy Weather, Long Evenings and Leisure Hours”, as the advertisement for James Creighton’s Circulating Library at no.14, Tavistock Street, Covent Garden put it in October 1808.

No doubt the elegant gentleman at the foot of this post would have satisfied his reading habit from one of these libraries. (He is sitting in his garden with a large bee skip in the background and is one of my favourite designs from my collection of bat-printed table wares. Bat printing refers to the method, by the way, and has nothing to do with flying mammals!)
The only bookshop and circulating library of the period that survives today is Hatchard’s in Piccadilly. It was established in 1797 and shared the street with Ridgeway’s and Stockdale’s libraries. The photograph of a modern book display in Hatchard’s was kindly sent to me by a reader who spotted my Walking Jane Austen’s London on the table.Jane Austen in Hatchards. Henshaw (2nd from the right, 2nd row from the front).
Circulating libraries ranged in size from the modest collection of books in a stationer’s shop to large and very splendid collections.

At the top end of the scale was the “Temple of the Muses”, the establishment of Messrs. Lackington and Allen in Finsbury Square. The print shows the main room with the counter under the imposing galleried dome and is dated April 1809. The accompanying text, in Ackermann’s Repository, states that it has a stock of a million volumes. The “Temple” was both a book shop and a circulating library and the pLackingtonsroprietors were also publishers and printers of their own editions. As well as the main room shown in the print there were also “two spacious and cheerful apartments looking towards Finsbury-square, which are elegantly fitted up with glass cases, inclosing books in superb bindings, as well as others of ancient printing, but of great variety and value. These lounging rooms, as they are termed, are intended merely for the accommodation of ladies and gentlemen, to whom the bustle of the ware-room may be an interruption.”
Richards libraryCirculating libraries advertised regularly in all the London newspapers and the advertisement here is a particularly detailed one from a new firm, Richard’s of 9, Cornhill and shows the subscription costs which varied between Town and Country. Special boxes were provided for the transport of books out of London, which was at the cost of the subscriber. Imagine the excitement of a lady living in some distant country house when the package arrived with one of the two books a month her subscription of 4 guineas had purchased!

Reading bat bowl

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Books For Christmas

Is Christmas present money or a book token burning a hole in your pocket? Here are four of the non-fiction books I enjoyed most in 2014 and which I’d recommend to anyone interested in London’s history or the Georgian era. They aren’t all 2014 publications, but they were new to me last year.

Firstly, and probably my favouriStreet viewte – the London Topographical Society’s reprint of John Tallis’s London Street Views 1838-1840. It has an index, introductory essay and a searchable index on CDRom. The views are a little later than my usual period of interest, but Tallis caught London just before the major Victorian rebuilding and redevelopments got under way and these strips maps showing the elevations of the buildings along each side, plus the names of the businesses in each are incredibly detailed. I own four of the original maps, but it was a lucky chance that I found them at a price I could afford – they are expensive collector’s pieces – so this volume is a real treat.street view actual The example above is a detail from one of my originals and shows part of St James’s Street.

Disorder2 My next choice is Ben Wilson’s Decency & Disorder: 1789-1837, a scholarly, but very readable account of how the boisterous Georgians, valuing liberty and personal freedom above civil order and ‘decency’ and shunning the idea of a police force as foreign and oppressive, changed to adopt ‘Victorian values’ and an organized police force.

I particularly enjoyed the story of the Georgian gentleman who, such was his sensibility, was so overcome by the beauty of the scene that he was lost for words and could only cast himself, face-down, into a flowerbed in Bath. And then there was the member of the Society for the Suppression of Vice who forced himself to buy hand-carved sex toys at a prisoner of war market and then found himself at a loss to send them to the London headquarters. They were, he complained, too bulky to be enclosed in a letter.

Thirdly there is John Styles The Dress of the Common People: everyday fashion in eighteenth century England. Despite the title this lavishly illustrated and very scholarly work covers the Georgian era rather than the 18th century exactly. I found it in, of all places, the National Park bookstore in Salem, Massachusetts, but it is available in the UK.costume2

It is a refreshing change from books of high-end fashion plates and includes information about fabrics and the cost of clothing, where people bought their clothing and a host of other details.

My final choice was too large to go on my scanner, so here is part of the cover of Royal River: power, pageantry and the Thames published for a major exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. (Guest curator, David Starkey).

River The illustrations are gorgeous and the book ranges from topics as diverse as the lord Mayor’s Procession, Lord Nelson’s funeral procession, royal yachts and the transformation of the Thames in the Victorian era.

Best wishes for Christmas and the new year to all my readers!

 

Louise

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Writing Historical Fiction – The Westminster Way: a free all day event

On  Saturday 11th October I’ll be at the City of Westminster Archives Centre, 10 St Ann’s Street, London SW1P 2DE for a *free* all day event –

Writing Historical Fiction…
…the Westminster Way!

  10:00am- 4:00pm

10:00am- 10:45pm Tour: Westminster Archives search room

11:15am- 1:00pm Walk: A walk around Georgian Westminster

2:00pm- 4:00pm Talk: Resources for Writing Historical Fiction

 

Piccadilly

To get your free ticket simply call the Archives Centre on 020 7641 5180

Archive staff will talk you through how to explore the wealth of riches in their collection and will have fascinating items on display for you to take a close-up look. On my walk we will pass from some of the worst slums in London to the centre of power and privilege, join Wordsworth on Westminster Bridge, see where the semaphore towers sending signals to Nelson’s fleet have been replaced by modern wireless aerials, view the Prince of Wales’ Bomb and locate the site of Astley’s Ampitheatre before returning past where Charles II’s ostriches lived, down Cockpit Steps incockpit the wake of Hogarth and back to the Archives Centre.

In the afternoon I’ll be giving an illustrated talk about how the Archives can help you dig deep into the past for your historical writing.

Illustrations:

Top of the page: one of the vivid prints from the Archive Centre collection

Above: The Royal Cockpit by Hogarth

 

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Eating Out In Georgian London 2 – Some Recipes

In my last post I wrote about the world of Regency London eating places described by Ralph Rylance in his Epicure’s Almanac, so this time I thought I’d track down some typical recipes of the period.
These are all taken from original cookery books in my collection, but I haven’t tried them all myself, so experiment at your own risk!

Oysters were one of the most easily obtainable cheap fast foods and could be bought for home consumption in oyster warehouses, eaten in speciality oyster shops or from itinerant oyster-sellers in taverns such as the Cock in Fleet Street. ‘Marsh, the oyster-man, attends here the whole season with his Native’s, Milton’s, and Pyfleet’s…he has the dexterity of the squirrel in opening them.’
The Cock Inn is not the same as the building of that name today which is a heavily restored building of the 1880s, close to, but not on the same site as the original.

Cook & Albany

The title page from The Housekeeper’s Instructor by Jacob C Schnebbelie (1807) with his portrait above the front of the Albany where he was head cook.

March the oyster-man’s oysters would have been eaten raw, but The Housekeeper’s Instructor by Jacob C Schnebbelie, principal cook at the Albany (1807) has ten oyster recipes: fried; in Bechemel sauce; stewed; scalloped; fricassee; in a ragoo; sauce; loaves; pickled and soup. Here is the one for oyster sauce:

When the oysters are opened, preserve the liquor, and strain it through a fine sieve. Wash the oysters very clean, and take off the beards. Put them into a stew-pan, and pour the liquor over them. Then add a large spoonful of anchovy liquor, half a lemon, two blades of mace, and thicken it with butter rolled in flour. Put in half a pound of butter, and boil it up till the butter is melted. Then take out the mace and lemon, and squeeze the lemon juice into the sauce. Give it a boil, stirring it all the time, and put it into your sauce boat.

Oyster sauce seems to have been a relatively quick and cheap way of adding interest to boiled meat. Boiled fowl and beefsteaks in oyster sauce were two staples of club and chop house fare and it was to avoid both that the Prince Regent suggested to his chef, Jean-Baptise Watier, that he establish a gentlemen’s club with fine dining. As a result Watier’s, the “dandy club”, opened in 1807 on the corner of Bolton Street and Piccadilly. Brummell was perpetual president and fortunes were won and lost at the high-stakes macao tables.

To Fry Beef-Steaks from The Female Economist by ‘Mrs Smith’ (1810).
Take rump-steaks; beat them well with a roller; fry them in as much butter as will moisten the pan. For sauce, put to the gravy that comes out of them a glass of red wine, half an anchovy, a little nutmeg, pepper, salt and a shallot, cut small; give it a boil; pour it over the steaks, and send them hot to table.
If you like them done in a plainer way, you may put a little flour and water into the pan, with the gravy, when you have taken the steaks out; and a spoonful of ketchup and walnut-pickle, and use onion, or shallot, as you like, and omit the wine and anchovy.

Recipes0001

Frontispiece from A New System of Domestic Cookery (1817) showing a servant surrounded by ingredients

To Boil Chicken, from The Housekeeper’s Instructor

After you have drawn them, lay them in skimmed milk for two hours, and trus [sic] them. When you have properly singed, and dusted them with flour, cover them close in cold water, and set them over a slow fire. Having taken off the scum, and boiled them slowly five or six minutes, take them off the fire, and keep them close covered for half an hour in the water, which will do them sufficiently, and make them plump and white. Before you dish them, set them on the fire to heat; then drain them and pour over them white sauce, which you must have made ready in the following manner:
Take the heads and necks of the chickens, with a small bit of scrag of veal, or any scraps of mutton you may have by you, and put them into a saucepan, with a blade or two of mace, and a few black peppercorns, an anchovy, a head of celery, a slice of the end of a lemon, and a bunch of sweet herbs. Put to these a quart of water, cover it close, and let it boil till it is reduced to half a pint. Then strain it, and thicken it with a quarter of a pound of butter mixed with flour, and boil it five or six minutes. Then put in two spoonful of mushrooms, and mix the yolk of two eggs with a tea cup full of cream, and a little nutmeg grated. Put in your sauce, and keep shaking it over the fire, till it is near boiling; then pour it into your boats and serve it with your chickens.

Turtles were a luxury food and so popular that mock turtle soup features in most family cook books. The unfortunate turtles were shipped into the country alive from the West Indies towards the end of May and then kept in vast tanks to be sent to caterers, taverns or private buyers. One of the main suppliers was Mr Bleaden at the King’s Head in Poultry – very conveniently situated for supplying elaborate City banquets. He kept large tanks in his yard and had scores of turtles at any one time.
When I was researching for my new book Travelling By Stagecoach in Britain (Shire, July 2014) I came across a mail coach superintendent who declared that, ‘such a thing as a turtle tied to the roof directed to any gentleman once or twice a year might pass unnoticed, but for a constancy cannot be suffered.’ The guard would have received a sizable tip for accepting the turtle and the mail coach companies tried to stamp out such private enterprise.

Schnebbelie gives detailed and complex instructions on how to kill, prepare and cook your turtles, but this is something no-one would want to do these days so here is a recipe for Mock Turtle Soup from Mrs Smith.
Scald a calf’s head with the skin on; saw it in two, take out the brains; tie the head up in a cloth, and let it boil for one hour; then take the meat from the bones, cut it into small square pieces, and wash them clean in cold water; then put the meat into a stew-pan, with as much good broth as will cover the meat; let it boil gently for an hour, or until tender; then take it off the fire; put a piece of butter into a stew-pan, and half a pound of lean ham, or gammon, cut very fine; some chopped parsley, sweet marjoram, basil, three onions, chopped mushrooms, and a few shallots; put a pint of broth or gravy to the herbs and butter; put them on a stove or slow fire, and let them simmer for two hours; put as much flour as will dry up the butter; add good broth or gravy, so as to make two tureens; also add a pint of Madeira, or sherry; let it boil a few minutes, rub it through a sieve, and put it to the calf’s head; put force-meat balls and egg-balls; season it with Cayenne pepper, and a little salt, if wanted; squeeze two Seville oranges and one lemon; add a little fine spice and sugar to make it palatable. You may add oysters if you like.

Pineapple0001

The ultimate luxury ingredient, a pineapple, from one of the leading confectionery cookbooks of the day – Fred Nutt’s The Complete Confectioner (1815)

This is obviously very time-consuming, and not very cheap either, with its spices and wine. Finally, to take our mind off the poor turtles, we can follow Rylance on a country walk to Chalk Farm tavern where there was ‘a large room for public tea-drinking, an oven for baking hot rolls, and a stock of milch cows for the supply of milk for syllabubs.’
Here is Schnebbelie’s recipe for Common Syllabub which does require that you have a cow to hand so that it could be milked directly into the bowl, thus creating a thick foam.
Put a pint of cyder and a bottle of strong beer into a large bowl, grate in a small nutmeg, and sweeten it to your taste. Then milk from the cow as much milk as will make a strong froth. Let it stand an hour, and then strew over it a few currants, well washed, picked and plumbed before the fire and it will be fit for use.

First, catch your cow!

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