Category Archives: Domestic life

Keeping a Diary – and a lady who didn’t

I recently deposited my late father’s 40+ years-worth of diaries with the Great Diary Project , an incredible undertaking to preserve diaries of all kinds.  It made me think about keeping a diary – and how many good resolutions there must be to do just that which are never fulfilled. Which reminded me that I own a ladies’ memorandum book for 1822 –  and the owner didn’t use it either.

The book is beautifully bound in plain red Morocco leather with a tab to keep the covers closed and measures just over 4.5 x 3.25 inches.

But even though it contains no fascinating insights into the daily life of a lady in 1822 it is a lovely item in its own right, and it does contain two handwritten recipes and a mass of other useful printed material including “New Songs and Melodies”, instructions for country dances and quadrilles, the price of stamps and “Enigmas, Charades and Rebuses.”

The diary belonged to “Elizabeth Plant. Greatwood Lodge.” I did not have much confidence that I could find her – but an on-line transcript of a deed appointing Thomas Plant “Farmer of Greatwood Lodge in the parish of Eccleshall in the county of Staffordshire” as a trustee in 1879 gave me the parish. Greatwood Lodge is still there, a red-brick farmhouse that was perhaps quite new in Elizabeth’s time, and still a farm.

The frontispiece has a fashion plate and a view of a fine country house in Suffolk

As the frontispiece says the diaries were sold by a Bury St Edmund’s bookseller and throughout East Anglia the choice of a Suffolk house was probably for marketing purposes. Perhaps Elizabeth received it as a gift from a friend or relative.

I wonder if she took the picture of the walking dress to her local dressmaker, or even attempted it herself – and did she and her friends try out the country dances the book contained?

Amongst the poems I particularly like this cynical view off London – perhaps intended to convince the country-dwelling owners of the diary that they were in the right place:

The only things that Elizabeth wrote in her diary were two recipes, one for gingerbread and one for “toufy” or toffee, both on the accounts page for January. The  gingerbread sounds tasty!

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Filed under Domestic life, Entertainment, Fashions, Food & drink, Women

A Georgian Parlour Game

The Georgians were great believers in educational games and I own a battered and much-used copy of one of them – Wallis’s Tour Through England and Wales: A New Geographical Pastime, published in London in 1794.

The whole game measures approximately 500 x 630mm (20 x 26 inches) and is made up of 16 sections glued to a flexible backing. It folds up neatly into a slipcase approximately 175 x 140cm (7 x 4.5 inches). The slipcase has an imposing image of scrolls, flags and military drums on it, but it has had such a hard life that it is impossible to scan. There was another version of the game for Europe (on sale on the internet at over £1,000, I see) and one for the whole world. Unfortunately I doubt my battered copy of England and Wales is worth anything like that!

The same plate was also stuck onto wood and cut out so that each county formed a piece of a jigsaw – or dissected puzzle as they were known at the time. The children of George III played with these puzzles which survive at Kew Palace and can be seen here.

The instructions tell us that 2 to 6 “may amuse themselves with this agreeable pastime” for which they will need a “totum” and a pyramid (presumably some kind of marker) and four counters per player, each set in a different colour. A totum was a teetotum, a spinning top with a variable number of faces. I can recall making one as a child out of card cut as a polygon with a cocktail stuck through the centre. There are some lovely ones illustrated on this website.

Players spin the totum and the highest score starts. With their first score they place their pyramid on the corresponding town – 1, for example, would land them at Rochester. On their next turn they move on the number of towns they have scored – say 6 –  which would give them 7 and they can then move to Lewes, number 7 on the map. The winner is the first to reach London with exactly the right number. If a player exceeds the right number then he has to count backwards from London.

Each numbered town has a short description in the margins and some of these have a delay  involving missed turns. When a player lands on one of those they must deposit the stated number of counters and have to miss the next turn, or turns, until they have collected them back up again. (see 50. Worcester, in the top right hand corner of the first image). Presumably each player would be expected to read out the description of the towns they land on for the instruction of all the participants.

If you landed on 89, The Isle of Man, you would be shipwrecked and out of the game!

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Filed under Domestic life, Education, Entertainment, Maps

Every Home Should Have One – An Ottomane Couch

Rummaging in the treasure trove of prints I bought recently I found this from Ackermann’s Repository of Arts (July 1814). It is captioned “Design for an Ottomane [sic] Couch” although I doubt whether any citizen of the Ottoman Empire would recognise it!

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It is obviously designed for a very large house and it looks decidedly uncomfortable – but fashion overrides comfort, presumably. I’m at a loss to identify ‘Ottoman’ influences – the two half-figures of naked women look decidedly Egyptian in origin.

If it was mine I think I’d be worried about male guests dangling a hand over the end and groping the ornaments…

 

 

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Bats on the Shelf

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No, this is not a belated Hallowe’en post but one about a collection of mine – bat printed china.

Bat printing, also known as black printing, was a technique for transferring engraved designs onto china and porcelain that was invented around 1766. It was used by many of the great English china producers including Spode and, although quite a fiddly technique, it was far cheaper than hand-painting.

Rather than try and explain it myself there is a clear description of the process here.

Bat printing meant that many middle class families who had never been able to afford the exquisite hand-painted sets of dinner and tea wares could own a substantial number of matching pieces, printed in very fine detail. The wares were all the rage between 1800-1820 after which, probably because of the complex nature of the technique, it was almost entirely abandoned.

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This certainty about dates makes bat printed wares an ideal collecting area for anyone interested in the late Georgian/Regency period and items are surprisingly affordable for antiques of the period – tea cups or decorated saucers can be picked up for around £20.

The designs are fascinating. There are floral designs, but mainly they are pictorial, showing scenes of stately homes and parks, mothers and children (usually from Adam Buck’s paintings) and country life. I began buying bat prints when I discovered this one, a wide, shallow dish. pic039 At first I thought the gentleman was presenting his lady with a flower, but if you look carefully, it is a cutting with the correct slanted cut at one end. I can’t decide whether she is as fascinated by horticulture as he obviously is, or disappointed with the offering!

My next one was a bowl with an elegant young gentleman lounging in the garden with a book. He seems to be sitting rather too close for comfort to a bee hive. As you can see from the crack, I collect for the designs and not for perfection. I also have the same gentleman on a tea cup.

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The other illustrations are all from my collection and show country scenes, stately homes and parks and mothers and children. (And don’t you just love the one with the startled shepherdess and the guy in a kilt with the trumpet?)

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Filed under Art, Domestic life