Category Archives: Shopping

Lace Up Tight – In Corsets, Stays or Jumps?

I was puzzling the other day over whether it would be more correct for my heroine to be wearing a corset or stays – or what exactly jumps were – so I did a little research.

To begin with Stays: the Oxford English Dictionary has “Stays (also a pair of stays). A laced under-bodice, stiffened by the insertion of strips of whalebone (sometimes of metal or wood) worn by women (sometimes by men) to give shape and support to the figure: = CORSET.”

The word is used in the sense of ‘staying’ something – securing it or holding it firm.

The earliest use given is 1608 and the use of the plural “is due to the fact that stays were originally (as they still are usually) made in two pieces laced together.” Presumably in the same way that we speak of a pair of drawers, which used to consist of two separate legs tied at the waist.

As for the Corset, the OED goes back to 1299 for the first use of the word, although that was a medieval outer garment. The earliest example they give for it as an undergarment is in The Times for 1795 – “Corsettes about six inches long [presumably this means the depth top to bottom], and a slight buffon tucker of two inches high, are now the only defensive paraphernalia of our fashionable Belles.” From the spelling and the timing it would appear that this term comes via the French and relates to the light, often uncorsetted, Empire fashions of the Revolution. They also quote a patent application of 1796 for “An improvement in the making of stays and corsettes.”

And finally Jumps. A jump was man’s short coat (17th & 18thc) also used generally, in the plural, for clothes, especially in country areas. But also a “kind of under (or undress) bodice worn by women, esp. during the 18th century, and in rural use in the 19th; usually fitted to the bust, and often used instead of stays. From c.1740 usually as plural jumps (a pair of jumps).” Oxford English Dictionary.

They seem to have been laced at the front, often had shoulder straps and were only lightly boned, if at all. This made them particularly suitable for women performing manual work and for nursing mothers.

A pair of jumps can be seen here c. 1770. The jumps are on the far left, with a corset hanging next to them.

For those British ladies not following extreme French fashion, the ‘long stay’ was the most used until about 1810. It is well illustrated in the satirical drawing at the top of the page: Gilray, Progress of the Toilet: The Stays published in February 1810. It laces right up the back (with one lace), covers the hips and is made to cup and support the bust. Unusually for this early date the lady is wearing knee-length drawers.

The fabric for long stays was jean (a strong twilled cotton) or buckram (a stiff cotton or linen soaked in a size such as wheat starch).

At this period, before the mass production of metal eyelets, the lace holes were simply strengthened with buttonhole stitch and would not take the strain of ferociously tight lacing. Shape therefore depended a great deal on the original cut of the garment and on its stout cloth and boning.

Many styles of stays were invented, experimenting with various fabrics for more flexibility, support and comfort and some stay-makers advertised more than fifteen varieties.

The extreme compression of the long stay gave rise to various health concerns, to say nothing of discomfort, and from about 1810 the short stay came into fashion, along with the ‘Divorce Corset’ designed to push the breasts apart.

Even with the short corset, there were critics. C. Willett Cunnington quotes one (unfortunately without attribution) as ranting in 1811: “…in eight women out of ten, the hips squeezed into a circumference little more than the waist; and the bosom shoved up to the chin, making a sort of fleshy shelf disgusting to the beholders and certainly most incommodious to the wearer.”

By September 1813 Jane Austen was writing to her sister Cassandra with the latest fashion news from London. “I learnt from Mrs Tickar’s young Lady [presumably her lady’s maid], to my high amusement, that the stays are now not made to force the Bosom up at all: that was a very unbecoming, unnatural fashion.”

The short stays were much more like a modern bra and did nothing to restrain the stomach or hips. A French pair from 1810 are shown above in a print designed to show how easy they were to put on.

This pair, for which I do not have a source, are laced up at the front.

The advertisements in La Belle Assemblee show how stays were promoted, with makers striving to differentiate their products.

In February 1809: “The much approved entire new Cotton and Brace Corset, invented and made only by Misses Linckmyers, No.12, Frith-street, Soho-square….entirely obviate every inconvenience frequently attending long stays…”

In April the same year these two adverts appeared:

Mrs Barclay is also operating in Frith Street, a short distance from the Misses Linckmyers. Not only are her corsets ‘fashionable’, but they are also ‘cheap’ and the increasing desire for comfort can be seen in the reference to ‘the simple vest’.

After all that my heroine is definitely opting for a short corset, if not a nice comfy pair of jumps!

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The Story of a Square 9: Soho Square

Soho Square was built in the 1680s by Richard Frith who had obtained a license indirectly from the landowner, the Earl of St Albans. The area had been farmland that had become a popular location for hunting and the most likely origin of the area’s name is that ‘So-Ho!’ was a hunting cry. By the 1670s building in the area was gaining momentum and it was popular with significant courtiers and aristocrats.

The Square had forty one houses by 1691 of which the most significant was Monmouth House on the south side, London home of Charles II’s illegitimate son the Duke of Monmouth. The print of c. 1700 below looks south across the Square towards Monmouth House with its forecourt behind railings. Monmouth was executed after his failed rebellion against his uncle, King James II, in 1685. The house was eventually demolished in 1783. In John Evelyn’s Diary he records spending the winter of 1690 ‘at Soho, in the great Square.’

The Square was also known as King Square after Charles II. In 1720 John Strype wrote that the Square ‘hath very good Buildings on all Sides, especially the East and South, which are well inhabited by Nobility and Gentry.’ He described the garden in the centre as ‘a very large and open place, enclosed with a high Pallisado Pale, the Square within neatly kept, with Walks and Grass-plots, and in the midst is the Effigy of King Charles the Second, neatly cut in Stone to the Life, standing on a pedestal.’ It stood in a basin of water with figures representing the rivers Thames, Trent, Humber and Severn. The sculptor was Caius Gabriel Cibber. Stow’s view below looks north.

Soho or King’s Square, for ‘Stow’s Survey of London’, pub. 1754 by Nicholls, Sutton (fl.1700-40); hand coloured copper engraving; (out of copyright)

In 1748 a new wall and railings were erected. By 1839 the statues was ‘in a most wretchedly mutilated state’ and in the 1870s it was removed and sold, the last owner being  W.S. Gilbert of Gilbert & Sullivan fame. A half-timbered tool shed was erected in its place. The statue was returned in 1938, but without its basin. The view is looking south to where Monmouth House once stood.

The most fashionable residents abandoned Soho Square in the 1770s and moved westwards towards Mayfair but the area remained respectable and desirable and many merchants and country gentlemen had houses there, with various foreign diplomatic missions as neighbours.

By the beginning of the 19th century the residents were mainly professional men such as lawyers, doctors, architects and auctioneers. On the corner with Greek Street is what is now the House of St Barnabas, a Grade I Listed house built between 1744-7 and leased in 1754 to Richard Beckford, an immensely wealthy Jamaican plantation owner. It is now a charity for the homeless – one wonders what the slave-owning Mr Beckford would have made of that.

In 1816 Trotter’s, or the Soho Bazaar, was opened at what is now 4-6, Soho Square.  John Trotter was an army contractor and had built numbers 4, 5 and 6 as a warehouse. Having made a vast fortune from the war he turned his warehouse into a bazaar, or indoor market, to offer an outlet for craftwork created by the widows and daughters of army officers. They could rent a counter or stall at a cost of 3d per day per foot and sold jewellery, millinery, baskets, gloves, lace, potted plants and books. There was also a druggist in the bazaar, as a charming children’s book entitled A Visit to the Bazaar (1818) shows. The little book was intended to explain the origins of such goods along with moral lessons and instructions on how to make some of them.

The highly successful venture was patronised by the royal family and lasted until 1885.

If you leave the Square today and go around to Dean Street you can peer through the iron gates at the back of the original warehouse.

The print of 1812 shows the south-west corner of the Square. Frith Street enters to the left and the entrance to Carlyle Street can be seen top right. A mixed herd of cattle and sheep are being driven towards Greek Street, perhaps heading for one of the butchers serving the numerous eating houses in the district.

Soho is a fascinating area to explore. You can find it in Walk 5 in my Walking Jane Austen’s London and Walks 5 and 6 in Walks Through Regency London and discover its treasures, even at this difficult time, with the help of StreetView.

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Perambulations Through Late Georgian London or, All the Best Sights in One Week. Day Six

It is Saturday and we have reached day six in the action-packed itinerary recommended by Mr Herriott in his 1836 Modern Picture of London. Today’s expedition involves a river trip and seems slightly less exhausting, despite an early start.

Visit Covent Garden Market, before breakfast;

Covent Garden market has been in operation since 1656 and has always attracted visitors  – not always in search of fresh fruit and veg or hedgehogs to keep the slugs off their own gardens. In the heart of theatre-land it had a reputation for prostitution and wild nightlife but Mr Herriot was probably safe in sending his tourists there first thing in the morning to view the bustle of porters and shoppers.

The market today is the result of several campaigns of building work and the 1836 visitors would have seen the new market halls shown in this print from Thomas H Shepherd’s Metropolitan Improvements. In this view the east façade of St Paul’s church is to the left of us. The new building cost £70,000 and, according to The Gardener’s Magazine, was “a structure at once perfectly fitted for its various uses; of great architectural beauty and elegance; and so expressive of the purposes for which it is erected, that it cannot by any possibility be mistaken for anything but what it is.” Unfortunately only twenty five years later it was already inadequate and many more alterations have been made.

Return,

Presumably breakfast will be taken before the visitors

go over Hungerford Market,

This was on the site of what is now Charing Cross station. It was built in 1682 as a rival to Covent Garden and was rebuilt as a two-storey market for meat, fish, fruit and vegetables in 1833. The image is from 1850 and shows the view of the market from Hungerford Bridge, built 1841 by Brunel (and replaced by the present eyesore of a structure in 1864).

take a boat at the stairs, to Chelsea.

Before the bridge was built there was a landing stage for passenger boats in front of the market.

See Westminster Bridge, the Speaker’s House,

It must have been very restful, after all the walking over the previous days, to float upriver. The print shows St Stephen’s Chapel and the Speaker’s House from Westminster Bridge. (Ackermann’s Repository, 1815)

the Penitentiary,

Millbank Penitentiary was built on the site of what is now the Tate Gallery and was completed in 1821. It took male and female prisoners who previously would have been transported to New South Wales, but that was becoming overcrowded and the cost was high. It was originally intended to be a humane institution, according to the principles of Jeremy Bentham. Prisoners were to be constantly under the view of guards from a central ‘Panopticon’ and were expected to work in silence and isolation so they could reflect on their sins and on the virtues of honest toil. The reality was an inhumane nightmare. Prisoners were driven insane by the isolation and the site was so marshy and unhealthy that scurvy and cholera swept through the building. By the 1830s conditions had improved somewhat – candles were put in the cells and some education and recreation was provided while sanitary conditions were upgraded. It was finally closed in 1890.

 Vauxhall Bridge

The view is from the bank just upstream of the Penitentiary. This bridge was the first iron bridge over the Thames and was opened in 1816. It was replaced with the current bridge in 1906.

the Royal Hospital, at Chelsea.

The Royal Hospital is better known as Chelsea Hospital, home of the Chelsea Pensioners. It was founded in 1692 by Charles II to provide a home for veteran soldiers and has been fulfilling that function ever since.

David Wilkie’s 1822 picture of Chelsea Pensioners reading the news of Waterloo shows the Royal Hospital in the background

Walk to the Duke of York’s School

The Duke of York’s Royal Military School was founded by ‘the Grand Old Duke’ whose house the visitors passed on Friday’s expedition. It was a pioneering effort to help the previously neglected families of the common soldiers by providing education for fatherless children. A history of the school states that, “From its inception, the Asylum provided the country with the first large scale system of education of working class children.”

The building is now occupied by the Saatchi Gallery.

thence to the Pantechnicon, through Belgrave Square.

I imagine the visitors would take a cab to this large emporium, covering two acres, in Motcomb Street. It was opened in 1834 and sold carriages and household furniture. It was destroyed by fire in 1874 but the façade remains.

 

Ride home, and in the evening go to the Opera House.

This is presumably the Italian Opera House at the junction of Pall Mall and Haymarket. It has been variously known as the Queen’s, the King’s, Her Majesty’s, His Majesty’s, or the Opera House. Her Majesty’s Theatre currently occupies about half the area of the Italian Opera House shown in this print. The building shown was built in 1790/1 on the site of Sir John Vanburgh’s theatre of 1704. The facades on three sides were added by Nash and Repton in 1816-18. The present theatre dates to  1897.

The interior was redecorated in 1814, not very well, as this extract The Times of 16 January 1815 describes. “Last night this Theatre opened for the season. From the squalid and disarranged state in which it closed, great room as well as great necessity for improvement and cleaning were left to the new Manager [Waters], and certainly much less has been done to restore it to its rank among decent places of public resort. The fronts of the boxes have all been newly coloured. . . . The cieling [sic] represents the Genius of Music, with Iris, and some nondescript figures encircling him. . . . The former cieling [sic] was a striking and vigorous representation. The present must convey to a stranger the impression, either that the arts in England were at the lowest imaginable ebb, or that the arts had nothing to do with this Theatre. . . . The chandeliers are numerous and rich, and the effect as dazzling as anything to be found within the magic of chandeliers. . . . The adoption of glass bells or shades would be devoutly wished for. . . . Last night they poured down their wax on the beaux in the most unsparing profusion; and from their situation over the principal avenues of the Pit, have means of annoyance clearly unrivalled by the noxie [sic] of any of the metropolitan theatres.”

To quote The Survey of London (1960), things improved. “The interior was redecorated under Nash and Repton’s direction, and new lighting was installed, a splendid gas-lit lustre suspended from the domed ceiling replacing the many chandeliers that hung from the tier fronts. An early-Victorian booking plan shows that the auditorium then contained 145 boxes, besides 32 smaller boxes in the arms of the top tier. There were eight rows of stalls, with 222 seats; a pit with fourteen rows of benches; and four rows of gallery stalls, with 112 seats.”

Tomorrow is Sunday, so our valiant tourists can look forward to a day of gentle exercise for the body and some uplifting church services to round off their week.

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Perambulations Through Late Georgian London or, All the Best Sights in One Week. Day Five

It’s a Friday in 1836  and, if you have been reading my previous four posts following Mr Whittock’s London tourist itinerary, you may be hoping the visitors are going to have a restful day today. I’m afraid not – they will have to wait until Sunday for that!

West end: walk to St. James’;

Mr Whittock recommended taking lodgings around Charing Cross, so the visitors would begin by walking around the southern edge of the Trafalgar Square building site and then down Pall Mall, passing through Waterloo Place, the southern end of Regent Street and continuing westwards.

The print, from Ackermann’s Repository, shows the view looking back the way they had come. We are facing down the Strand with Northumberland House (demolished 1874) on the right. The site of Trafalgar Square is over our left shoulder and Whitehall runs off to the right. The statue is the only landmark we would recognise today – King Charles I looking down towards his place of execution. I blogged about it more extensively here.

see the Palace,

St James’s Palace, at the foot of St James’s Street, was not open to the public, but the Tudor red brick exterior with its guards was as interesting a sight then as it is, almost unchanged, now. It was no longer the residence of the monarch – that had moved to what is now Buckingham Palace – but it remained the main location for Drawing Rooms, the reception of Ambassadors and all the formal business of royalty. You can read more about it in two parts,  here and here.

The Palace in 1809

Club-houses,

The visitors would have already passed the Athenaeum in Waterloo Place, but a stroll up and down St James’s Street would allow them to see (from the outside only, of course!) Boodles (a favourite of country squires), White’s (the oldest and smartest), Crockford’s (famous for its gambling) and Brooks’s, one of Byron’s clubs, (seen in the print, 1808 – the room looks just the same today with the same tables)

In one corner of the Great Subscription Room a tense game is underway with a large pot of winnings in the centre

and British Gallery, if open;

That would involve walking back along Pall Mall a little to number 52, the home of the British Institution.  Otherwise known as Pall Mall Picture Galleries or the British Gallery, it was founded in 1805 and was considered elitist and conservative by many artists. It was disbanded in 1867. The print from Ackermann’s Repository (1805) shows artists copying the works on display. Interestingly, four of the seven artists are women.

walk through the Park,

This was Green Park and the visitor could access it by walking past the front of St James’s Palace.

see the New Palace, and York House;

They would see the imposing façade of York House, now renamed Lancaster House, on their left just before they entered the Park. (The modern visitor has to take a rather more circuitous route). The house is now managed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and is let out for filming, London Fashion Week, conferences and so on. It was commissioned in 1825 for ‘the grand old Duke of York’ – Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany – of the nursery rhyme. The website gives more of its history and some pictures of the lavish interior.

This is the view across Green Park, captioned “The Queen’s Palace from the Green Park.” It was printed in The Beauties of England and Wales published c. 1815. You can see the chimneys of the Palace on the right and some of Green Park’s famous dairy cows.

The New Palace is Buckingham Palace and would not have been open to the public. It was built as Buckingham House 1702-5 by the Duke of Buckingham and his wife, an illegitimate daughter of the deposed James II. The Buckinghams created the most opulent private house in London, apparently as a snub to the ‘usurping’ Hanoverians in their ramshackle Tudor palace across the park. George II bought it in 1762 for his wife and it became known as The Queen’s House, then, after her death, as The King’s House. His son, George IV, decided that his own palace at Carlton House was no longer adequate when he came to the throne and put in train elaborate and vastly expensive plans to enlarge and remodel the house in its stead. The final bill was £700,000, despite the Duke of Wellington, when Prime Minister in 1828, declaring, ‘If you expect me to put my hand to any additional expense, I’ll be damned if I will.’

It wasn’t finished when George IV died and his brother and successor, William IV never lived there. It was inherited by Queen Victoria in 1837 in a dreadful state – the drainage was abysmal, the windows would not open, the bells did not function…  Work continued throughout the 19th century with the final major change being the Portland stone façade on the east front in 1913.

 walk through the Green Park to Hyde Park;

This path would have been along the line of the present Constitution Road with the high walls of the Palace gardens on the left. The area in the angle formed by the junction of Piccadilly and the Palace wall was known as Constitution Hill, although there is no record of where it got that name.

see the Triumphal Arch,

This is the Wellington Arch designed by Decimus Burton. It was originally part of a scheme for improving the approach to Buckingham Palace but, just as the basic work was completed in 1828, funding cuts as a result of the vast Palace overspend left it without any of the intended decoration. In the 1830s committees were overseeing the erection of monuments to the two great military heroes, Nelson and Wellington. Nelson’s Column was achieved with little controversy but in 1838 an ill-judged decision was made to place a vast statue of the Duke on top of the arch. It was erected in 1846 to general mockery and disapproval for its disproportionate size, but the Duke threatened to resign all his posts if it was removed, seeing that as a personal slight. Eventually in 1883, when the arch itself was moved slightly to its present position in the centre of Hyde Park Corner, it was sent to Aldershot. The interior of the arch can be visited and you can see images of the original design and the arch with the statue in place on the English Heritage website.

and Statue of Achilles.

Mr Herriot’s tourists would have seen only the unadorned arch, but they would have been able to view the colossal statue of Achilles just inside the park gates behind Apsley House in all its glory. It was cast from captured French guns in 1822 to be given ‘by the women of England to Arthur Duke of Wellington and his brave companions in arms.’ Not only was it six metres high but it was completely nude – with everything in proportion. The outcry was such that a small fig leaf was added, causing further complaints that it was not large enough!

The Cruikshank print is entitled Monstrosities of London (1822) and it is the dandies and the ladies in their highly fashionable outfits that are being caricatured. The statue already has its fig leaf!

At Oxford Street Gate, ride to the Zoological Gardens, spend two hours,

The Zoological Society of London was founded in 1826 and its collection of animals was opened in 1828 on the site at the north of Regent’s Park. There were 30,000 visitors in the first seven months. The contents of the Rooyal Menagerie from Windsor were added in 1830 and the animals from the Tower of London were moved there in 1832-4. Mr Herriott’s visitors would have been able to view monkeys, bears, llamas, zebras, kangaroos, emus, turtles, an Indian elephant, an alligator, huge snakes, Tommy the chimpanzee, four giraffes and visit the camel house (shown in the print of 1835).

 return by Portland Place to Oxford Street; visit the Bazaars,

There were shops in Oxford Street, but it was not until later in the century that the great department stores we associate it with now were developed. It would have had many smaller shops and bazaars which would have been cheaper than the establishments in, for example, Bond Street.

return home, dine, and in the evening, visit Braham’s New Theatre, recently erected in King Street, St. James Square.

The theatre, better known as the St James’s Theatre, was situated immediately opposite the junction with Bury Street. It was demolished in 1957 and replaced by a bland office block.

This theatre is the last erected, and is certainly the most beautiful minor theatre in the metropolis; it is opened under a licence from the lord chamberlain, granted to this favoured votary of Apollo, who has been the leading singer, not only of England, but of Europe, upwards of thirty years. The exterior is plain, but the interior is superb. The boxes are supported by cariatydes [sic], and the ornaments are of the most gorgeous description, in the style used in France during the reign of Louis XIV. The performances are operas, and farces; Braham frequently appears in both, and being seconded by an excellent company, it would be a matter of surprise if the theatre was not fashionably and numerously attended. The prices of admission are, to the boxes, five shillings; pit, three shillings; gallery, one shilling and sixpence: the half-price commences at nine o’clock.

One has to wonder whether Mr Whittock was getting paid for this detailed endorsement. The theatre was a vanity project of opera star John Braham which cost him £28,000 to build. The programme was, apparently, considered unexciting and the location too far west and it consistently lost money – even ‘going dark’ in 1841. It struggled on into the 20th century under numerous managements, maintaining a reputation as an unlucky theatre. The print is by Crace, 1835, and supports Mr Whittock’s enthusiasm about the interior.

If you would like to try more detailed perambulations yourself you will find Hyde Park Corner in Walk 1 and St James’s and Pall Mall in Walk 4 of Walking Jane Austen’s London and Walks 1 & 2 of Walks Through Regency London.

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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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Directions to the Cook for March

Shivering as the snow is whirled round the house by winds of over 40mph I’ve turned to my Georgian cookery books for inspiration for today’s blog in the hope of something warming.

The New London Family Cook or Town and Country Housekeeper’s Guide by Duncan MacDonald “Head Cook at the Bedford Tavern and Hotel [on site of present Maple Leaf, Maiden Lane], Covent Garden, and Assistants” is probably the most comprehensive cookery book I own. My copy, dated 1812, is battered and without its covers or any of the index after “Daffy’s elixir, old receipt for…” but it has a large section of “Instructions for Marketing”, monthly guides to what is in season and several suggestions for entire dinners and recipes and carving instructions. The “Family Recipes” section provides solutions for everyday problems – thinning and falling hair, cramp, scorched linen – and “restoring the life to drowned persons.”

You can see Duncan MacDonald in the damaged frontispiece above surrounded by the tools of his trade. He looks a good advertisement for his recipes!

Many of these recipes and receipts occur in other cookery books – trying to work out who was stealing whose recipes – or copying wholesale, come to that – is a work of archaeology.

For March, Mr MacDonald informs us, beef, mutton, veal “house-lamb” and pork are the meats in season. The poultry and game are turkeys, fowls, capons, chicken, duckling, tame rabbits and pigeons. (I’m not clear what the difference between a fowl and a chicken is.) A wide range of fish is in season including oysters, flounders, eels, roach, crab, turbot and mackarel [sic]. The vegetables he lists are mainly roots and the cabbage family including borecole – what we now call Brussel Sprouts – plus mushrooms, tansy, parsley, fennel and celery. Lettuce and cucumbers are listed – presumably grown under glass – and a wide range of herbs.

The list of fruit is sometimes baffling – “Golden pippins (an apple variety dating from the 17thc), rennetings (one of the group of apples called reinettes now), love (no idea – unless it is ‘love apple’ ie tomato), pearmain and John-apples (there are a number of apples whose name includes ‘pearmain’ but I can’t trace John-apples), the bon-chretien (nowadays usually known as the Williams pear) and double blossom pear, oranges and forced strawberries.

Here is the menu and table layout for the first of his suggested March dinners. This is service à la française – the dishes are brought out all together in two or more ‘courses’ for the diners to help themselves and each other to whatever combination they like, as opposed to service à la russe, the modern method, where each dish is served separately by a waiter or footman.

Given how cold the weather is, I’ll give the two soup recipes – and a warning – I haven’t tried these, so I cannot vouch for what they’ll taste like if you try them at home!

Soup Sante or Gravy Soup

“Take turnips and carrots, shred them small with celery heads about two inches long; wash and steam them separately in a little water until nearly done; when quite done, cut the white of the celery small, likewise a small quantity of leeks, cabbage, cos lettuces, endive and chervil; put all the vegetables to boil til quite tender, with three quarts of cleared brown consumes [presumably consommé]; if in season, add green peas, tops of asparagus, and button onions, stewed, etc.

You may put in a small piece of bouille beef stewed; but dry it with a cloth, and put it in the soup with the vegetables when you serve it. This, however, is not very general.”

Rice Soup

“Put a pound of rice and a little cinnamon [stick, not powder] into two quarts of water. Cover close, and let it simmer till the rice is quite tender. Take out the cinnamon, sweeten it to your taste, grate in half a nutmeg, and let it stand until cold. [This sounds more like a cold rice pudding than a soup.]”

“Another way

Wash a handful of rice in warm water, put it into a stewpan, with as much stock as it is wanted to make, and let it simmer slowly for two hours. Season it to your taste, and serve it up.”

I’m now going to go off and try out the recipe for Portable Soup…

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Story of a Square 4: Leicester Square – From Common Land to Fashionable Residence to Popular Entertainment Centre

For Jane Austen the Leicester Square area was the location of some of her favourite shops. Until 1630 it was Leicester Fields, common land available for parishioners of any class to dry clothes and to pasture their livestock after Lammas Day (12th August). But London was moving out from its old centres and the Earl of Leicester acquired the area in 1630 in order to build Leicester House. That occupied, more or less, the area between today’s Lisle Street and the Northern edge of the Square. To the East it finished more or less where Leicester Place is and to the West on a line where the edge of the Empire cinema stands. Lisle Street ended at the Western edge of its gardens.

The parishioners were, naturally, unhappy about this incursion on their land and rights and Charles I had to appoint a Privy Council committee to arbitrate. His lordship was ordered to make compensation and he had a high brick wall built along the Southern boundary (the current pavement line, more or less) and, in accordance with the committee’s instructions, had the rest of the land – the present Square – turned ‘into Walkes and planted with trees along the walkes and fitt spaces left for the Inhabitantes to drye their clothes there as they were wont, and to have free use of this place.’ As the other sides of the open area were built on the contractors railed off the centre and planted elms. The map at the top is a detail from Roque’s map of 1740.

In 1670 Leicester Square was laid out for ‘the benefit of the family, the advancement of their revenue, and the decency of the place before Leicester House.’ This was an indication that fine houses were being built around the Square. By the early 18th century there was a brick wall with iron railing and in 1784 a statue of George I in armour and on horseback was moved from the garden of the Duke of Chandos’s house to the centre. The gardens gradually deteriorated and so did the statue which lost a leg. It was finally sold for scrap for £16 in 1872.

Part of the Leicester estate, including the Fields and surroundings was acquired by the Tulk family in 1808. By this time all four sides of the Square were built up with fine houses and no commercial development had been permitted although by 1782 there was a linen draper by the name of Gedge operating at the corner with Cranbourn Street (running from the top Eastern corner of the Square). Six earls had residences in the Square and several artists, writers and men of business lived there. Hogarth created Marriage à la Mode, Rake’s Progress, Industry and Idleness and Gin Lane at no.30 and Joshua Reynolds lived at no.47 from 1760 to 1792. All the fine 17th and 18th century houses have gone now, replaced by buildings of the late 19th century onwards.

By the end of the 18th century the area had become rather less select and had taken on the form shown in the second map above. The Earl of Rockingham had lived at no.27 until his death. It became a bagnio – technically these were bathhouses, but more usually were brothels. This was the location for the great hoax of 1726, the place where anatomist Nathaniel St Andre brought Mary Tofts, a poor women from Surrey whom, he claimed, had given birth to a litter of 15 rabbits after being frightened by one when walking through a field. The story attracted George I’s surgeon who was taken in and claimed to have delivered her of part of another rabbit. Sir Hans Sloane, President of the Royal Society arrived to view the birth of yet more rabbits. Eventually she was caught buying rabbits and the scam was exposed.  The bagnio and the sensational hoax perhaps mark the beginning of Leicester Square as a centre for popular entertainment, although as this print of 1812 (from Ackermann’s Repository) shows, it was still a very smart area.

The view is from Leicester Place down to the North-East corner of the Square. If you stand there today you can still see the indentation in the street on the right hand side – I love how landholdings like this are reflected years later in the modern building line.

Jane Austen came to the area to shop, especially when she was staying with her brother Henry in Covent Garden. Prices were slightly lower than those in the Mayfair area and she patronised Isaac Newton the linen draper in Leicester Place whose unimaginative approach to window dressing can be seen in this print. Next door is a doorway with a sign over it “Rome Malta” which was the entrance into Barker’s Panorama, opened in 1793. It was a rotunda of 27 metres in diameter. It’s two rooms, one above the other, displayed perspective views of famous scenes and locations which could be viewed ‘in the round’ from the centre

of each room. Jane Austen also shopped for bonnets and caps in Cranbourn Alley.  On a snowy day in March 1814 she wrote to her sister Cassandra,

‘Here’s a day! The Ground covered with snow! What is to become of us? We were to have walked out early to near Shops, & had the Carriage for the more distant… Well, we have been out, as far as Coventry St; Edwd escorted us there & back to Newtons, where he left us, & I brought Fanny safely home.’ On that snowy shopping trip she saw, ‘A great many pretty Caps in the Windows of Cranbourn Alley! I hope when you come, we shall both be tempted.’ Intrigued, I set out to find Cranbourn Alley which runs between Cranbourn Street and Bear Street. It is still there – and a horrible little passageway it is now. I wouldn’t want to walk down it in daylight, let alone at night!

By the mid 19th century the ‘garden’ in the centre of the Square was so derelict that it had the Great Globe, a vast ball-shaped panorama built on it in 1851. Later it became a wasteland with occasional circuses, poor quality stalls and was used as a waste tip. It was surrounded by high wooden hoardings covered in advertisements  until in 1873 the Master of the Rolls had them removed and ordered that the area be returned to use as a garden. It was rescued in 1874 when it was bought by the flamboyant, and very rich, MP for Kidderminster, Albert Grant, who was created a baron by the King of Italy. He had the garden laid out much as it is today with a fountain and bust of Shakespeare in the centre. It was refurbished in 1992.

It seems difficult to see anything of the Georgian and Regency periods in Leicester Square today with its vast crowds of tourists queuing for theatre and cinema tickets, its souvenir shops and its endless food outlets. However, when I researched the area for Walking Jane Austen’s London and Walks Through Regency London I found plenty of fascinating reminders within a short distance. There’s Freibourg & Treyer’s shop, the oldest surviving in London,  in Haymarket. In Gerrard Street you can climb the stairs that Doctor Johnson and Joshua Reynolds would have used in the days when no.9, now a Chinese supermarket, was the famous Turk’s Head coffee house. The area has numerous Regency-era shopfronts too, especially in Lisle Street. Then you can have a drink and sandwich in Tom Cribb’s pub on Panton Street and escape the crush around the Square!

 

 

 

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A Fishy Business – Billingsgate Market

The New Family Cookery or Town and Country Housekeepers’ Guide by Duncan MacDonald (1812) begins its General Directions for Marketing with fish and with Billingsgate Market:

The comment in the penultimate paragraph is ironic, considering Billingsgate’s colourful reputation! When I was researching for my book Regency Slang Revealed I discovered that to talk Billingsgate meant to use particularly coarse and foul language.

Billingsgate Market was sited at the foot of Lower Thames Street from at least the 10th century until it was moved to the new market site on the Isle of Dogs in 1982. The first set of toll regulations covering it dates from 1016 and by the time of Elizabeth I it was dealing in corn, malt, salt and vegetables, although fish was always the main reason for its existence at the highest point where fish could be unloaded straight from the boats before London Bridge. It can be seen in Horwood’s map of London (c1800) below with the deep indentation of the dock taking a bite out of the waterfront and London Bridge on the left. This dock vanished with the Victorian rebuilding of the market in 1850. That building proved inadequate and was replaced with the present handsome structure by Sir Horace Jones, opened in 1877. It was refurbished after the closure and is now used for various commercial purposes. During the 1988 work extensive remains of the late 12th century/early 13th century waterfront were revealed.

The engraving from a print of 1820 shows the view of the dock from the river. At this date there was no covered market building, simply stalls and tables set out around the dock. In the days before a ready supply of ice dealers would come into Billingsgate from places within about twenty five miles – an outer ring that included Windsor, St Albans and Romford – and fish was sold in lots by the Dutch auction method where the price falls until a buyer is found. Many of the fish were caught in the Thames and in 1828 a Parliamentary Committee took evidence that in 1798 there were 400 fishermen, each owning a boat and employing one boy, who made a good living between Deptford and London catching roach, plaice, smelts, flounders, shad, eels, dudgeon, dace and dabs. One witness stated that in 1810 3,000 Thames salmon were landed in the season. By the time of the Commission,eighteen years later, the fishery had been destroyed by the massive pollution of the river from water closets and  the waste from gas works and factories that went straight into the river.

It was the fishwives of Billingsgate who became its most notorious feature. They were tough women, as they needed to be to thrive in such a hard, competitive business, and they did not shrink from either physical violence or colourful language. In Bailey’s English Dictionary (1736) a “Billingsgate” is defined as “a scolding, impudent slut.” Addison referred to the “debate” that arose among “the ladies of the British fishery” and Ned Ward describes them scolding and chattering among their heaps of fish, “ready enough to knock down the auctioneer who did not knock down a lot to them.”

The women of Billingsgate were an inevitable attraction to young bucks and gentlemen slumming, as the two prints below show. The top one is a drawing by Henry Alken for the Tom and Jerry series – “Billingsgate: Tom and Bob taking a Survey after a Night’s Spree.”  Below that is “A Frolic: High Life or a Visit to Billingsgate” from The London Spy.

Here two sporting gentlemen stand out in the crowd of working people as they watch a fight that has broken out between two bare-breasted fishwives. Another has just been knocked to the ground. Amongst the details note the woman sitting on a basket smoking a clay pipe, another (far left) taking a swig from a bottle and the porter’s hat on the man in the centre foreground with its long ‘skirt’ to protect the neck.

This print below is not dated, but as there is the funnel of a steam boat in the background amongst the masts it is probably 1820s.

Here a determined-looking lady in a riding habit, her veil thrown back and her whip under her arm, is negotiating the sale of a large fish head. Behind her is a smartly-dressed woman, perhaps a merchant’s wife, and an elderly gentleman in spectacles is talking to another fish seller on the far right. There are two men in livery, perhaps accompanying the lady in the riding habit. The man standing behind the seated fishwife is a sailor, judging by his tarred pigtail, and the porter walking towards us is wearing one of the black hats whose ‘tail’ can just be glimpsed over his shoulders. It is all fairly orderly and respectable, despite the crowd (and the smell, no doubt) but a hint to the other activities in the area may be the couple in the window!

 

 

 

 

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The View Down Fish Street Hill – the way to London Bridge

I love this print of 1796, “View of the Monument” published by L. Stockdale of Piccadilly. I’ve cropped it to focus in on the street scene in more detail and it is fascinating to go to Google Streetview and look down Fish Street Hill today past the Monument to the distinctive tower of St Magnus the Martyr. You can just make out its clock which used to overhang the beginning of London Bridge before the old bridge was demolished and moved a short distance upstream.  The modern view includes a glimpse of the top of the Shard which would have amazed the Georgian Londoner!

fish-street-hill

This image is so full of wonderful details. London Bridge is still the medieval Old London Bridge, shorn of its shops and houses and with little alcoves all along it so that pedestrians could take refuge from heavy vehicles coming over. (Westminster Bridge had similar alcoves and James Boswell, ever on the look-out for somewhere novel for a bit of nooky, records having sex in one). It was so narrow that it had men controlling an alternating traffic flow system and most stage coaches stopped in Southwark on the other bank rather than fight their way over.

The way the pavements sit on little sloping ‘banks’ above the roadway was new to me and I like the bollards to keep wheeled traffic off them – there’s even a re-used cannon on the left. The road is lined with shops and the shoppers are probably respectable middle class – merchant and professional families rather than the high society of Mayfair and St James’s to the west. This is the City, after all. There are also porters with loads on their backs, one on each side of the street, and a woman with her basket of wares on her head.

In February last year I posted “Looking Down on London Bridge” with more about St Magnus the Martyr. Walk 8 in my Walking Jane Austen’s London will take you from Temple Bar, through the City, down Fish Street Hill and onto London Bridge. Alternatively Walk 10 in Walks Through Regency London will guide you down Fish Street Hill, over London Bridge and into Southwark.

 

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A Fleet Street Church

fleet-st-st-dunstans

The scene above (from Ackermann’s Repository ) 1812 shows the view west along Fleet Street towards Temple Bar, the point where the City of London becomes Westminster. The Regency Londoner  would have trouble recognizing it today – always assuming they could stand in the same spot without being mown down by the traffic. Temple Bar, after many adventures is now re-erected next to St Paul’s Cathedral and the church whose west end faces us – St Dunstan’s in the West – was demolished and rebuilt in 1830 when Fleet Street was widened by nine metres.

I found a mid-eighteenth century print of St Dunstan’s in a folder I bought at auction a few weeks ago and that image prompted me to look at the one above again. I have to confess an interest in St Dunstan’s – two of my ancestors were in London in 1643, died of the plague and were buried there.

st-dunstans

I love the street scenes these prints show, especially the shops. In the 18th century one you can clearly see the way shops have been built right around the walls of the church itself as was common at the time. Each has its hanging sign and the shop on the far left must be a clockmaker’s. By the time of the 1812 print the shops along the side have been swept away, but the ones of the east end remain.

St Dunstan’s was built in the 12th century, grew and was changed and even survived the Great Fire of 1666 which reached almost to its walls. Samuel Pepys, whose groping is one of his most unattractive features, tried it on with a servant girl while listening to a sermon in St Dunstan’s. She took out a packet of pins in a threatening manner and he took the hint!

Inside there are monuments rescued from the old church and the ring of bells is the original. The only survival of the old church on the outside is the clock projecting from a temple containing the figures of two men with clubs who used to hit a bell every fifteen minutes. It was erected in 1671 by the parishioners as a thank-offering for the escape from the Fire. The clock and the figures are set back a little now, so it is difficult to see them unless you are square in front of them, but they show up well on Streetview. The clock which according to the London Encyclopedia, was the first in London to have minutes marked and to be double sided, was a tourist attraction mentioned by Dickens in Barnaby Rudge and Sir Walter Scott in The Fortunes of Nigel.

When the church was demolished it was removed to the Marquess of Hertford’s Regent Park villa, but it was returned in 1935, thanks to Lord Rothermere the newspaper proprietor who brought it back to the heart of London’s newspaper world, Fleet Street.

 

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