Category Archives: Medicine & health

High Society in Summer 1803

On 22 June 1803  The Morning Post set out to inform its readers what was going on in High Society in its Fashionable World column.

Image “Yesterday the QUEEN’S two dressers came to Town, to get the jewel cases ready; today Her MAJESTY will pack them up – to be deposited in Mr BRIDGES’S house, of Ludgate-hill, for the summer.”

Rundell & Bridge, jewellers, of 32, Ludgate Hill in the City of London, close to St Paul’s Cathedral, were the foremost late Georgian jewellers and goldsmiths and a great favourite of the royal family, especially the Prince of Wales. From 1805 they were known as Rundell, Bridge & Rundell.

 “Yesterday morning HIS MAJESTY, and the Princesses SOPHIA and AMELIA, attended by Ladies PITT and E. THYNNE, Generals GARTH and FITZROY, took an airing on horseback in the Great Park. HER MAJESTY, and the Princesses AUGUSTA and ELIZABETH, went to Frogmore, and walked in the gardens a long time.”

The royal family is obviously in residence at Windsor Castle which is still surrounded by its Great Park. Frogmore ( was built in the late 17th century and was bought by King George III as a country retreat for Queen Charlotte. It became a favourite of Queen Victoria and is the location of the mausoleum where her mother, the Duchess of Kent, is buried and the mausoleum where Vitoria herself lies next to the tomb of Prince Albert.


 “The marriage takes place at Fife House at five o’clock on Friday evening, and the Duke and Duchess sleep at Woburn.”

This rather sparse announcement refers to the marriage of John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford to his second wife, Lady Georgiana Gordon, daughter of the Duke of Gordon. Fife House was one of the houses in Whitehall Yard, part of the palace of Whitehall, and was owned at this time by the Earl of Fife. It was demolished in 1867. Woburn is the seat of the Dukes of Bedford.  In this print (above) from Ackermann’s Repository, which shows the view through to the distant dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, Fife House is the redbrick house seen through the trees.

 With the arrival of summer many people were leaving London.

“The people of Brighton are looking forward with anxious eyes for the PRINCE, and hope to see him about the 4th of next month.”

At this date the Prince of Wales’s pleasure palace at Brighton had not reached its final magnificence. He first used it in 1786 and Henry Holland enlarged it in 1787. In 1801-2 it was further enlarged and in the year this piece appeared the prince had purchased a considerable area of land around the Pavilion and plans were in hand to build the magnificent riding school and stables. It was not until 1815 that Nash began the work that created the building we see today. The presence of the prince and the fashionable crowd he attracted was of enormous economic importance to the local community.

This charming litle sketch of people enjoying a stroll on the beach is from the background of one of Ackermann’s fashion prints for 1815.


 Meanwhile “Among the fashionables at Tunbridge are, the Duke and Duchess of RUTLAND, Ladies DELAWAR, DYNEVOR, BOWYER, Sir J. and Lady BURGESS, Sir W. and Lady JERNINGHAM etc.”

Tunbridge Wells in Kent is only forty miles south of London, so was a convenient spa for those wishing to take the waters from the chalybeate springs and stroll along the Walks, now known as the Pantiles. (Shown in this print from The Guide to the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places. 1818) The town was made famous during Beau Nash’s reign as Master of Ceremonies, but by 1803 was beginning to suffer a little from the rise in popularity of sea bathing and seaside resorts. Even so, the stage coaches made nine return journeys to London daily. Image

Others were also going into the country. “The Bishop of DURHAM left town yesterday for his seat in Oxfordshire. The Countess of GERABTZOFF and suit [sic] have left WARNE’S Hotel, Conduit-street, for Russia.  William ORD, Esq. M.P. and C. J. BRANDLING Esq. are gone to Newcastle races, the former with his beautiful bride.”

 But despite the warmer weather other fashionables remained. “Lady DUNGANNON never looked handsomer than at the ball at Devonshire House; her dress was white and silver, made in style to show her fine neck to perfection. Her Ladyship did not dance until after supper.”

Lady Dungannon was the wife of the Irish peer Arthur Hill-Trevor, 2nd Viscount Dungannon. At this period “neck” was the term used to describe not only the neck itself, but also a lady’s shoulders and the upper slope of her bosom, considered a very important feature for a good figure. Devonshire House was the London home of the Cavendish family, Dukes of Devonshire, and occupied the land between the south side of Berkeley Square and Piccadilly. It was demolished in 1920 and the gates moved across Piccadilly to form one of the entrances into Green Park. In this print of Berkeley Square in 1813  (Ackerman’s Repository) the northern boundary of the gardens can be glimpsed. Image

And lastly there was news of some of the capital’s more eccentric residents. “TOMMY ONSLOW glories that he is superior to BONAPARTE as a whip and daily astonishes the citizens by turning the sharp corners with his phaeton and four.”

Tommy Onslow, or T.O., was Thomas, 2nd Earl of Onslow, a passionate enthusiast for carriage driving. He is remembered in the epigram:

What can little T. O. do?
Drive a phaeton and two.
Can little T. O. do no more?
Yes, — drive a phaeton and four.

The illustration is from the series The Road to a Fight and shows sporting gentlemen hurrying to a prizefight. Image

Without further comment the newspaper’s last Society final snippet reported, ‘General DUNDAS has imported a most beautiful Zebra from the Cape of Good Hope.’

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Filed under High Society, Medicine & health, Royalty

Detox the Georgian Way

taking physic edit 2Detox diets are nothing new. At a time when those who could afford it would eat large amounts of meat and drink copious quantities of alcohol, while at the same time being wary of the effects of eating green vegetables in any quantity, stomach upsets, constipation and feeling ‘liverish’ were common complaints. A good internal clear-out was considered highly beneficial and taking ‘physic’ or purges and even vomits was commonplace. Physic could be administered as routine, even if the recipient was not experiencing any symptoms and children were regularly dosed, although not everyone thought it a good thing.

In Emma John Knightly says “Well, Emma, I do not believe I have any thing more to say about the boys; but you have your sister’s letter, and every thing is down at full length there we may be sure. My charge would be much more concise than hers, and probably not much in the same spirit; all that I have to recommend being comprised in, do not spoil them, and do not physic them.”

Most housewives would have their own recipes for purges. A fairly standard one consisted of thinly sliced liquorice root and coriander seeds boiled in water, then strained and senna added. Eliza Smith’s The Compleat Housewife of 1758 gives an elaborate recipe for, “An opening drink” which contains pennyroyal, red sage, liverwort, horehound, maidenhair, hyssop, figs, raisins, blue currants, liquorice, aniseed and coriander, all boiled in spring water and bottled. She recommends drinking half a pint in the morning and again in the afternoon, meanwhile keeping warm and eating little.

Most people felt the need for a combined tonic and purge in Spring after a long winter of preserved foods and little greenery. Eliza Smith has the following “Purging Diet-Drink in the Spring”.
Take six gallons of ale; three ounces of rhubarb; senna, madder-roots and dock roots, of each twelve ounces; twelve handfuls of scabious, and as much agrimony; three ounces of aniseeds; slice and cut these, put them in a bag and let them work in the ale; drink of it three or four times a day.

None of these sound particularly pleasant, but at least you knew what was in them. Purges and physics were the stock in trade of quack doctors and those sometimes contained quite dangerous substances. Even the products of respectable chemists had their perils, however this advertisment is for a product from reputable chemist Thomas Savory of Bond Street (see below).

Aperient advert crop

One of the most popular products during the 19th century was Seidlitz powders, a potent mixture of sodium bicarbonate, potassium sodium tartrate and tartaric acid. This was mixed with water until fizzy and drunk. Over-dosing was dangerous, with reported deaths from internal ruptures, but it was widely used and made the fortune of fashionable chemist Thomas Field Savory of the firm Savory and Moore who acquired the UK licence to sell it. The handsome shop front of his store in New Bond Street is the only early frontage remaining in the street. Wellington and Lady Hamilton were amongst his customers and the Duke of Sussex was a personal friend and often dined with Savory. It is not recorded whether he dosed any of them with his famous powders!


The unfortunate gentleman resisting his physic is from R. Dagley’s Takings (1821). The advertisement is from The Observer, Sunday October 29th 1809. The photograph shows the shopfront of Savory and Moore in New Bond Street, now the Ralph Lauren store.


Filed under Food & drink, Medicine & health

Braving the Dentist With Jane Austen

With a dental check-up looming next week my thoughts have turned to teeth!


Jane Austen wrote to Cassandra from Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, 15-16 September 1813 about the experience of her nieces, the daughters of Edward Austen Knight:

 Going to Mr Spence’s was a sad Business & cost us many tears…& alas! we are to go again to-morrow. Lizzy is not finished yet. There have been no Teeth taken out however, nor will be I believe, but he finds hers in a very bad state, & seems to think particularly ill of their Durableness. They have all been cleaned, hers filed, and are to be filed again. There is a sad hole between two of her front Teeth.

 The next day she wrote again

The poor Girls & their Teeth! …we were a whole hour at Spence’s, & Lizzy’s were filed and lamented over again & poor Marianne had two taken out after all, the two just beyond the Eye teeth, to make room for those in front. When her doom was fixed, Fanny, Lizzy & I walked into the next room, where we heard each of the two sharp hasty Screams. Fanny’s teeth were cleaned too & pretty as they are, Spence found something to do to them, putting in gold & talking gravely & making a considerably point of seeing her again before winter…The little girls teeth I can suppose in a critical state, but I think he must be a Lover of Teeth & Money & Mischief to parade about Fanny’s. I would not have had him look at mine for a shilling a tooth & double it.

 Poor Marianne was twelve and Lizzie thirteen. I am not sure what the filing was for unless this is Jane’s misspelling of “filling”. Or perhaps it was to remove jagged edges from a broken tooth. Image

Mr Spence was probably George Spence, dentist to George III, who had his business in Old Bond Street. He patented a brand of tooth powder and was wealthy enough to buy a country estate at Cranford and to see his sons well educated and launched on successful careers in the law, the navy and the church. “The World In Miniature” edited by W.H.Pyne (1827) contains a series of descriptions of various typical characters and occupations. In the section on Boxers it describes Mr Spence being interrupted while attending to a lady by the arrival of a gentleman who had made the mistake of trying to settle a dispute with a drayman and who had swollen lips, front teeth “beaten in” and his mouth left in “a deplorable state”. Mr Spence pushed his teeth back into place and called on him the next day to finish the job. It does not record what the unfortunate lady who was abandoned part-way through her treatment thought!


Tooth brushes looked very much like modern ones but tooth powders must have been quite abrasive and contained all sorts of substances, including soot. Various pastes and gums were also used to fill cavities and disguise damaged teeth, but these must often have done more harm than good: I would love to know what the Ceylon Exotic consisted of! The advertisements for Trotter’s Tooth powder and the false teeth are from The Spectator of February 1809, the Ceylon Exotic was advertised in the same newspaper, June 1806.

False teeth ranged from wooden ones to various porcelain and metal varieties to real teeth taken from corpses – even on battlefields. This must have carried with it grave risks of infection and Mr Spence himself wrote a paper on, “Observations on a Disease Consequent to Transplanting Teeth” in 1790. One does wonder what e happened to the teeth he extracted from Marianne!

 Dentists like Mr Spence were for the well-off, of course. For the working people it was probably a case of putting up with toothache until it got too bad and then getting someone to pull it out for you or using the services of someone at a market or fair. This photograph of a roadside dentist, with a picture of gleaming white teeth displayed outside his tent, was taken in Rajasthan, India, last year and I wonder if perhaps his ministrations would not be preferable to Mr Spence’s after all! Image


Filed under Medicine & health