Category Archives: Jane Austen

Reconstructing the Regency – A Parminter Picture

Of all the buildings of the late eighteenth century, none is so remarkable, or so charming as the delightful ‘Cottage Ornee’ called A La Ronde. Not only is the house, a bizarre sixteen sided structure, wonderful, but it was decorated by its first owners, the Misses Parminter. The Parminter ladies were well travelled and very talented, and the house still contains many examples of their remarkable craftsmanship.

a-la-ronde

I am currently teaching a class on the Regency using objects and, having seen A La Ronde, remembered the curious way in which some pictures were mounted. This provided an excellent reason to visit the house again, so I could examine the pictures and try and recreate their technique.
The technique is now called ‘block mounting’, pasting a picture on a piece of wood. However the Parminter cousins added a decorative border. So to begin.

dsci2392

I first cut a suitable size piece of wood, larger than the print I wished to mount, and painted the edges. Then I pasted on a sheet of coloured paper.

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The print was then pasted in the middle of the board, and a decorative border, made from gold paper trimmed within pinking shears into a series of chevrons, added.

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I chose a suitable late eighteenth century print by a publisher called Carrington Bowles (incidentally he seems to have had a thing about hats, just about every lady he drew wears a big hat, even if she isn’t wearing anything else!).
For two independent ladies I chose an image of two Georgian Sportswomen.

Miss Trigger you see is an excellent shot, And forty five notches Miss Wicket’s just got

With young Catherine Morland in the background.

There is plenty of further inspiration to be found at A La Ronde, perhaps I will try something else in the future.

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Chance Meeting

Charli Mills from the Carrot Ranch prompts us thus this week
August 17, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a fossil or uses the word in its variant forms (fossilize, dino bones, petrification, gastroliths, ichnofossils, etc.). Dig into your imagination and go where the fossil record leads you. So here is another of my historical retellings.

“What have you there, child?” The tall lady smiled at the little girl.
“It’s a curtsy miss.” She replied. It was black and shiny, shaped like a coiled snail.
“She means a curiosity,” said her companion, “They are found in the cliffs, no one knows what they are.”
“What are you going to do with it?” asked Jane.
“Take it to father, he sells them.”
“Will you sell it to me?” The girl nodded, shyly.
“But she is Anning’s daughter, he overcharged us for that cupboard.”
“But she isn’t overcharging me.” The coin changed hands and a legend began.

In 1804 Jane Austen and her family visited Lyme Regis, in a letter to her sister she tells how they had been overcharged by a local carpenter, Robert Anning. As well as woodwork Robert also sold fossils that had been found in the local cliffs. His daughter, Mary Anning, the greatest fossil hunter of the age was his daughter, in 1804 she would have been five. Legend tells how she began her career as a little girl, selling a fossil she had found, to a lady she met on the beach. I have just brought Lyme Regis’s two most famous residents together.

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Going for a Dip – Dressed or Undressed

One of the pleasures (for gentlemen) at many of the seaside resorts to be found around the coast in the early nineteenth century, was watching the ladies bathing.

George Cruikshank, Hydromania Detail

There are even illustrations of this, such as this one of Lyme Regis,

V0012257 Five women bathing while a man peeps from behind a tree. Lin

or less realistically at Brighton.

But was this true? did women really disport themselves naked like this? Did Jane Austen, who went bathing at Lyme Regis in 1804, really go skinny dipping? Probably not – at Lyme it cost 1/3 to go bathing. This included the hire the bathing machine, the assistance of the ‘dipper’ – the lady who helped you in the water, as well as the bathing dress.

Bathing Machines were small sheds on wheels that the bather entered and changed. While this was going on the machine was pushed down into the sea, a canvas hood could be let down so that the bather could enter the water virtually unseen from anybody on shore. An anonymous poem, said to have been found in a Bathing Machine in Margate sums it up perfectly.

Though oft I have been

In a Bathing-Machine

I never discover’d till now

The wonderful art

Of this little go-cart

’Tis vastly convenient, I vow.

A peg for your clothes

A glass for your nose

And shutting the little trap-door,

You are safe from the ken

Of those impudent men

Who wander about on the shore.

Though this idyllic view of a Bathing Machine was not shared by my grandmother, who would have been one of the last people to have used one, in holidays on the Kent coast before the First World War. From her description, Bathing Machines were damp, slimy, wet and hot inside, and smelt horrible.

There are also plenty of illustrations of ladies bathing, wearing rather unflattering costumes.

Mermaids at Brighton 1829

At Brighton

Yorkshire bathing machines 1813

And at Scarborough

But sea bathing wasn’t the only sort of bathing available, it was commonplace for bathing pools to be incorporated in improved gardens. I have just been reading The Secret Life of the Georgian Garden by Kate Felus, an absolutely fascinating book, and in her section on bathing she mentions several times that bathing took place naked. In the grounds of country houses, you could be as private as you liked but even here ladies still wore dresses, as this delightful watercolour shows.

Bathing at Dynes Hall 1812-3

Bathing at Dynes Hall 1812 or 13, drawn by the talented Diana Sperling, who’s watercolours were published many years ago as Mrs Hurst Dancing.

But, and there is a but, what about swimming? People tend to conflate the two, but bathing could be just splashing about in the water, fun and doubtless exhilarating, but not actually swimming. This is understandable, could a woman swim in the dress shown? and ladies certainly did swim, there are rare, but definite, references to some ladies being strong swimmers. The most delightful has to be the description of Harriot Hoare, the granddaughter of Henry Hoare, the builder of the great house and garden at Stourhead.

“Dear Harriot dives like a Di Dipper {Little Grebe} and there is no keeping her out of the water this hissing hot weather.”

Here I have had to take advice, as I am not female and cannot swim, but the general opinion is that whilst you could paddle and splash around in a bathing dress but not swim.

There are also a few drawings of ladies swimming naked that do not look like Regency soft porn. These, of the ‘Swimming Venus of Ramsgate’, despite the title, look more like illustrations of how to swim.

A Back-side and Front view of a modern fine lady vide Bunbury or the Swimming Venus of Ramsgate 1

So, mostly dressed, but occasionally undressed, seems to have been the rule of the Regency bather.

 

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Reconstructing the Regency – The Red Books of Humphry Repton

As part of a series of classes I will be giving on Regency life, using objects rather just pictures, I am reconstructing various objects that are either very rare or only survive in pictures. Amongst the rare, and fragile, items are the Red Books of Humphry Repton

Recently there have been a series of exhibitions commemorating the 300th anniversary of the birth of the great landscape gardener, Capability Brown. So naturally I want to talk about his successor, who was mentioned in Mansfield Park.

“Your best friend upon such an occasion,” said Miss Bertram calmly, “would be Mr. Repton, I imagine.”

“That is what I was thinking of.” said Mr. Rushworth. “As he has done so well by Smith, I think I had better have him at once. His terms are five guineas a day.”

If Mr Rushworth had employed Humphry Repton, instead of having to spend his money divorcing his newly married wife, who had run off with Henry Crawford, there would have been a Red Book produced for Sotherton.

The Red Books, so called from the colour of the leather in which they were bound, were Repton’s innovative method of attracting clients. As well as plans and descriptions of what he proposed doing to the estate, there were before and after paintings of what the view looked like now, and what it would look like when Repton’s works were carried out. Much of this had been done before, but what made Humphry Repton’s pictures remarkable was that before and after were to be found on the same illustration. You first saw the landscape as is at present, then you raised a paper flap and the view turned into what it would be.

 Lord Sidmouths in Richmond Park - merged

It must be said, however, that Humphry Repton had a major character flaw, he was a dreadful snob, always sucking up to his wealthy or titled clients, he was referred to as oleaginous (oily), and was more than happy to approve of his clients more morally doubtful schemes, such as this for enclosing a common and turning it into the park associated with a fashionable villa.

 A Common improved in Yorkshire - merged

Which reminds me of the famous verse;

            The law is hard on man or woman

            Who steals the goose from off the common

            But lets the greater villain loose

            Who steals the common from the goose

 View from my own cottage before

To create a facsimile of a Red Book illustration I first downloaded high resolution scans from the websites listed below. I decided to take the pictures showing how he improved his own house. I printed both the before and after views at exactly the same size, on heavy cartridge paper.

 DSCI2386

Then I cut out the tab and frame of from the ‘before’ view, this was then pasted over the ‘after view.

 Reconstruction

By lifting the flap you can see how he improved his garden, planting rose bushes, enclosing the village green and getting rid of the geese and inconvenient disabled poor people.

A great gardener but not a very nice man.

 View from my own cottage after

Repton’s books can be found on the University of Wisconsin website:

Sketches and hints on landscape gardening, 1794.

Observations on the theory and practice of landscape gardening, 1803.

Fragments on the theory and practice of landscape gardening, 1816.

 

 

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Blood and Beauty – A Gruesome Georgian question

I was recently reading The Castle of Wolfenbach, a gothic tale of 1793, which is only known today as one of the seven ‘Horrid’ novels listed by Isabella Thorpe in Northanger Abbey, when I came across the following passage. The heroine Matilda is recovering from the shock of being pursued by her ‘uncle’.

Mme de Bouville payed her a visit in the evening: she was sitting up, and, from the quantity of blood taken from her in the morning, she looked uncommonly delicate and beautiful.

L0005745 A surgeon bleeding the arm of a young woman: she is being co

Bleeding a Young Woman picture from the Wellcome Collection

Bleeding was one of the commonest treatments in pre-modern medicine, it was the standard treatment for so many conditions, it seems to have often been carried out ‘just in case’. Some people seem to have been bled even when they weren’t ill, just as people today take vitamin supplements, and for more or less the same reasons.

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Lancet (above) for bleeding people, and Fleam (below) for bleeding animals

Since Eliza Parsons describes Matilda looking ‘uncommonly delicate and beautiful’ shortly after a ‘quantity of blood’ had been taken from her, other people must have noticed this effect of bleeding, and considering how crazy people have been are, when it comes to looking good, I wonder if bleeding was ever done for cosmetic reasons?

I have found no accounts of cosmetic bleeding, I rather hope they don’t exist, but would love to know if they did.

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Picking Darcy’s Pocket – A Model Dinner

As people who have read my blog before may realise, my study is a little cluttered, OK very cluttered. For this reason when I am looking for something in the back of a cupboard, or a draw, I often find something I had either forgotten I had, or which I thought I had lost. This happened the other day when I came across a box containing a group of old, miniature, china.

 Model plates

Now I had been looking for this group of china ever since I saw a compete set in Lytes Cary, a National Trust house not too many miles from here. There it was suggested that it dated from about 1800 (with which I would agree) and was a travelling tradesman’s sample set (with which I disagree). The pottery is simply too coarse to be a sample set of anything other than the roughest kitchen china, and who would carry around a set of that. No, I suspect that it is an educational toy, to help a young Georgian or Regency lady learn the complicated business of laying a table.

Today we dine in courses, a dish of fish or meat or something similar is served with a range of accompanying vegetables. These are all placed on the table, served, then the table would be cleared before the next course. This is technically called dining ‘à la russe’, however in the eighteenth century the practice was for dining ‘à la française’ where all the dishes, savoury as well as sweet would be laid on the table at once, the diners would then sit and serve themselves. If there were a large number of dishes, or the dinner was very formal or elaborate there would be two or three removes, when all the dishes would be cleared and a fresh set of dishes laid on the table.

This system was so complicated that cookbooks and advice manuals gave outline plans of how the table should be laid.

 Female Instructor Family Dinner Plan

From; The Female Instructor or Young Woman’s Companion being a guide to all the accomplishments which adorn the female character C1811

And this is where I think the miniature china comes in. I believe that it would have been used by a girl in about 1800 to lay out an imaginary meal, I like to think of Georgiana Darcy with such a set, laying out an elaborate dinner, under the helpful eye of Mrs Younge (before she turned bad and tried to arrange for Wickham to seduce her). Then nervously using this knowledge to plan the dinner at Pemberley for Elizabeth and the Gardiners, that they were never to eat as the letter from Jane announcing Lydia’s elopement arrived at just the wrong time.

But what was it like to go to a real dinner at this time, that will be the subject of a later blog.

 

In May 1812, Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy is walking down a London street. As has been his practice of late, he had been turning over the words of Elizabeth Bennet in his mind. ‘Had you acted in a more gentlemanlike manner’. Distracted, he doesn’t notice a shabby young man in a long coat brush past him. Israel Fagin, at the beginning of his long and disreputable career (which was to lead to literary fame and the condemned cell at Newgate), had taken something from his pocket – but what?

In the case of these toys, perhaps it is in about 1820, and Mr Darcy has just seen a group of china in a shop window, remembering the set his sister once owned he buys one for his own, or Jane Bingley’s, daughters.

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Sugar, the first Fair Trade product

A little while ago I wrote about reconstructing the taste of Georgian tea, this was invariably drunk with sugar. Sugar doesn’t seem to have altered in taste in the past two hundred years, only the way it is presented. Sugar arrived in syrup form and was refined in Britain, this process led to the purest sugar being sold in conical ‘sugar loaves’ which had to be broken up into lumps for dissolving in tea and coffee, or ground down for use in cooking.


Sugar was broken up with a specialist tool, sugar nips or cutters. Children always enjoyed helping with this task, as did Jane Austen who had a sweet tooth, not surprising as she was the first person to use the term ‘Sponge cake’. In one letter she wrote about enjoying breaking up the sugar loaf.

But for many middle class households there were moral doubts about using so much sugar. Not the health worries of today’s parents, but a much more serious one. Most sugar came from the West Indies where it was produced by slave labour. But there was an alternative, sugar from India was grown using free workers. Not only was Indian  sugar promoted as not being made by slaves, but specially designed sugar bowls were made to advertise your abolitionist credentials.

However when some abolitionists suggested reducing the tax on Indian sugar the pro-slavery lobby began to get very concerned. They suspected a plot by the East India Company (the organisation importing Indian sugar) to increase their profits. This famous cartoon is the result, showing hypocritical abolitionists, with bribes in their pockets, misleading the public about the horrors of slavery.

So as you stir your sugar into the tea, remember the moral women, and it was mostly women, who carried out the first public boycott and bought the first fair trade product.

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Eggs for Easter – in the time of Jane Austen

I recently came across a couple of curious egg cups, they bear the inscriptions, ‘[A] Trifle from Ramsgate’ and ‘A Present from Clifto[n]’. They date from the early nineteenth century and are tourist souvenirs.

Then, as now, Ramsgate was a seaside resort on the Kent coast, and so was an obvious place from which a souvenir might be sent. Clifton was a fashionable part of Bristol (I believe it still is) and was where Jane Austen moved with her mother and sister after her father’s death. It was also just above the Hotwells, a spa which had a certain popularity, Catherine Morland missed out on a trip there in Northanger Abbey, but it never seriously rivalled Bath and was in decline by the 1820’s.

Egg production, was unusual in British agriculture, it was essentially a female pursuit. In The Lady’s Country Companion, the indomitable Mrs Louden tells her correspondent;

My hints for teaching you how to enjoy a country life would be sadly deficient if I were to omit poultry, as the duties of attending on them are so completely feminine, that even in farm-houses they are entirely under the care of females; and, indeed, few artists or authors would think a picture of rural life complete, if they did not introduce into it the image of a fair young girl feeding poultry.

She then quotes a few paragraphs from a popular novel, before returning to her usual style.

I must now, however, return from the region of poetry to plain matter of fact.

And goes on to discuss the correct methods of heating a hen house, and ways of looking after chickens.

As poultry rearing was such a feminine occupation it is hardly surprising that Lady Lucas was concerned to know about her married daughter’s, ‘health and poultry’, whilst it was the theft of Mrs Weston’s turkeys that finally precipitated Emma and Mr Knightly’s marriage.

Stephens curing a sick chicken by hunting it round the yard – Harriet and Diana looking on.
An unusual method of curing a sick chicken, drawn by the talented Diana Sperling, and published many years ago as Mrs Hurst Dancing.

Eggs were semi seasonal, in that far fewer were laid in the winter than in the summer, recipes abound for preserving eggs, and for testing that they were fresh. Indeed it was around Easter time that hens began to lay well again, and the price of eggs dropped. Eggs for breakfast were commonplace.

After seeing William to the last moment, Fanny walked back to the breakfast-room with a very saddened heart to grieve over the melancholy change; and there her uncle kindly left her to cry in peace, conceiving, perhaps, that the deserted chair of each young man might exercise her tender enthusiasm, and that the remaining cold pork bones and mustard in William’s plate might but divide her feelings with the broken egg-shells in Mr. Crawford’s.

And they were cooked in similar fashion to today.

Mrs. Bates, let me propose your venturing on one of these eggs. An egg boiled very soft is not unwholesome. Serle understands boiling an egg better than any body. I would not recommend an egg boiled by any body else; but you need not be afraid, they are very small, you see–one of our small eggs will not hurt you.

Actually Mr Woodhouse is right to praise Serle, as to successfully soft boil an egg in days before egg timers took quite a bit of skill.

An if you want to enjoy chocolate in the manner of Jane Austen, you will have to wait until after dinner – and drink it.

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Historical Reconstruction – A Nice Cup of Tea

In previous blogs I have looked at food and drink from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, trying to get some idea of what the food of the past tasted like. Some have been delicious, some have been delicious and not very good for you, whilst others have been downright poisonous.

Today I will consider something delicious and safe, tea. You might think that it is unnecessary to try and reconstruct the taste of Georgian tea, surely it is the same as today – well read on and see what you think.

One thing ‘everyone knows’ about tea in the eighteenth century, was that it was very expensive. This was true, both because of how much it cost in China (then the source of all tea), transport costs in bringing it halfway round the world, and finally the massive tax put on it by the British government when it arrived. Heavy taxation had several results, it upset some colonials (particularly in Boston), and it naturally encouraged smuggling. Hence the description of Smuggler Bill in the Victorian poem, The Smuggler’s Leap, one of my fathers favourites.

Smuggler Bill is six feet high,
He has curling locks, and a roving eye,
He has a tongue and he has a smile
Trained the female heart to beguile,
And there is not a farmer’s wife in the Isle,
From St. Nicholas quite
To the Foreland Light,
But that eye, and that tongue, and that smile will wheedle her
To have done with the Grocer and make him her Tea-dealer;

But there could be a problem in purchasing unlicensed tea, adulteration. Tea was often bulked up with dried Ash or Blackthorn leaves, if you look at the tea leaves after making a full leaf tea you will see how similar the tea leaf is to that of the Ash or Blackthorn. Well at least it wasn’t poisonous! The only way to guarantee that you were getting a proper tea was to use a reputable tea dealer, one that you could trust. Jane Austen did this, though she complained about the cost,

‘I am sorry to hear that there has been a rise in tea. I do not mean to pay Twining till later in the day, when we may order a fresh supply ‘ letter to Cassandra 6/3/1814

This expensive tea was kept in a Tea Caddy, a lockable box that was brought out when tea was made. These boxes contain one or two compartments, and sometimes a glass bowl. The compartments would contain a black tea, generally known as Bohea (pronounced to rhyme with tea) and a green tea, these were or several varieties, Hyson being the most widespread and general term.

Three Tea Caddies and an eighteenth century tea bowl

The glass bowl is often referred to as a mixing bowl, it being explained that the tea would be blended before being made, other people suggest it was a sugar bowl. I suspect the latter, there are numerous descriptions in Georgian and Regency novels, letters and diaries of people making tea, and I can find no reference to tea being mixed before serving.

So now let’s try to reconstruct the sort of tea that would have been drunk by Jane Austen. The green tea is fairly easy to obtain, several varieties of nineteenth century tea are still available, my favourite is Gunpowder.

Black tea is more difficult, at the time all tea came from China. Bohea seems to have been regarded by the Chinese as a very poor quality tea, however it travelled well which is why the Europeans bought it in large quantities. There seems to be a general opinion that Bohea was a type of Oolong tea, and when tea from Assam was first marketed in Britain it was said to have the scent ‘of a good Bohea.” So I went to our local tea merchant, who was very interested in my experiment and, after a pleasant half hour amongst some wonderfully scented teas, settled on a Black Pearl Oolong as having a scent, when dry, not too dissimilar from an everyday Assam tea.

A Family taking Tea (1745) – note the servant bringing in the hot water

So now let’s make the tea, this was not done in the kitchen, but the ingredients were brought to the room where the tea was to be drunk, and the tea made there. Which leads to the first point, the water, though tea kettles were made, to heat water at the table, for the most part hot water was carried from the kitchen. This would have meant that it was not boiling when the tea was made, this was probably quite a good thing as tea connoisseurs tell us that hot but not boiling water is best for some varieties of tea, indeed the merchant suggests that the oolong I was using was best made with water at 80 C.
Teapots haven’t changed in essentials since they were first brought from China, so it is easy to make up the brew, then it has to be served.

Initially tea cups were small, without handles, as they still are in the Far East, hence the term ‘a dish of tea’. Soon handles were added to create the cup we see today. Also added was sugar, almost as soon as records begun of serving tea in Britain sugar was included. I will talk about sugar in another blog, but for now add a lump of sugar (the closest we can easily get to the loaf sugar of our ancestors) and stir it in. Teaspoons, almost certainly a British invention, rapidly became an essential part of the tea service, indeed became part of kitchen equipment (by the end of the eighteenth century the teaspoon had become the standard measuring device it is today).

A Family of Three at Tea (Richard Collins) – note the different ways of holding the tea bowl

Milk seems to have come later, but by the middle of the century it was being advised as an addition to make the drink healthy. It was not as universally added to tea as sugar, possibly because of the difficulty, in towns at least, of getting fresh milk. In Portsmouth Fanny price was understandably disgusted by;

‘the tea-board never thoroughly cleaned, the cups and saucers wiped in streaks, the milk a mixture of motes floating in thin blue.’

So for an eighteenth century cup of tea, take a good green or black Chinese tea, make it as strong as you like and serve it with milk and sugar – and enjoy.

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Historical Reconstructions – The Table is Laid


In my previous blog I looked at changes that had happened to the simple dining fork during the eighteenth century. I roughly laid out a place for dinner, using contemporary artefacts, so now to consider the other changes that have taken place in the way we ate.

First the spoon, spoons have been around almost as long as there have been people. But during the eighteenth century something rather strange happened. Originally spoons were placed on the table in the fashion shown, with the open side of the bowl downwards. Then, for some unknown reason, the fashion changed and the spoon was laid with the open side of the bowl uppermost. The little spoon I used shows this change perfectly. It is silver, hallmarked for London in 1807. The first owner was rather old fashioned and had his or her initials engraved on the back of the bowl, in typical early nineteenth century lettering. Another owner, in the later nineteenth century, who placed the spoon on the table in the way we do also wanted to have their initials on the spoon and had them cut on the handle.

The Regency initials on the bowl of the spoon

The Victorian initials on the handle of the spoon

My brother, in a comment on my previous blog, had another query about spoons;

“Now what about soup spoon being pushed away from you?”

This practice, of dipping the spoon in the soup by moving it away from you, and then bringing it to the mouth where you would drink the soup from the spoon, never putting the spoon in the mouth, seems to have developed in the late eighteenth century. It appears in at least one book of etiquette from the early nineteenth century and seems to be associated with the rule of sitting straight upright at dinner. Eating soup in this fashion also makes it less likely to spill the soup. 

The Georgian initials on the Pewter plate

Second, the Plate. Here it is a plain pewter plate of eighteenth century date, this one doesn’t have a makers mark, but bears the initials of the owner in typical eighteenth century characters. Pewter was the most widespread material for plates, bowls and drinking vessels until well into the eighteenth century. It can be polished until it looks like silver and makes a splendid show, unfortunately pewter of this date is rich in lead which just adds to the healthiness of the meal (see my earlier blogs). At the beginning of the eighteenth century pottery plates were less commonly used as they broke easily, were heavier and the soft glaze chipped readily. It wasn’t until the development of high quality earthenware, and later bone china, by inventors like Wedgewood and Spode that pewter fell out of fashion and ceramic plates became the norm.

And finally the glass, drinking glasses had been common in England since the seventeenth century when improvements in glass making made glass cheaper and stronger. Incidentally this led to the development of first bottled beer (in London in the early seventeenth century) and sparkling wine (in Herefordshire in the mid seventeenth century) the making of which eventually spread to France! This is an eighteenth century wine glass of a type not often seen, because it was so common. It was the sort you might have found in an Inn or Assembly Rooms, it is made of thick glass with a heavily ribbed bowl. These ribs were so that it was easier to hold when the drinker was Foxed or Full as a Goat, or any of the other terms for slightly inebriated. This was needed as hard drinking was very common, in a diary I own from1800, a series of wagers are listed, made by the young gentleman who owned it, most of the time the stakes were bottles of wine!

So sit down, eat your dinner and wonder how we got the place (setting) today.

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