Category Archives: Reconstructing the Regency

The Curious Scissors Net, another Entomological reconstruction

During lockdown people have been encouraged to try handicrafts, also to get out and enjoy nature. Now as a reenactor who enjoys experimental history, there was an obvious thing to do – make an eighteenth century butterfly net.

Some time ago I described how I made a reconstruction of a Clap, or Batfowler net to see how this improbable looking butterfly net functioned. Rereading Moses Harris’s The Aurelian a little while ago I was inspired to make another improbable looking insect net, the Scissors or Forceps Net.

He begins by describing;

Racket Nets. Which are form’d of Wire about the Size of a Raven’s Quill, turned round to a Circle, bending the Ends outwards by way Shanks, which are made fast in a Brass Socket;  this Circle or Ring of Wire is covered with Gause, and bound round with Ferret [A stout tape most commonly made of cotton OED]; a round Stick of about two Feet in Length is fitted to this Socket, by Way of Handle. These Sort Of Nets are what an AURELIAN should at all Times carry about him; a Pair of these of about six Inches Diameter are the most convenient for that Purpose. The chief Use of these Sort of Netts are for catching Moths, sitting against a Tree, Wall, or Pales; or a Moth or Fly sitting on a Leaf, may be conveniently caught between a Pair of these.

The Fly Catching Macaroni

Then he tells us that;

The Scithers Net are no more than a small Pair of these Racket Nets; fixed on two Pieces of Iron which are rivetted across each other, with two of the Ends turn’d round in the Form of Rings, for the Admittance of the Thumb and Finger; in short, a Pair of Toupee Irons, or Curling Tongs, such as is used by a Hair-Dresser, are very well adapted for this Purpose, with a round Net fixed to the End of each Tong with binding Wire, or small Twine well waxed; these Nets are principally adapted to take small Moths, &c.

Scissors Net cartoon

So to make a Scissors Net, I first needed a pair of tongs. Whilst I have (as one does) a pair of Georgian Curling Tongs, I didn’t want to use these so I needed a pair of tongs of similar proportions. After a while I found some old barbeque tongs which could be adapted.

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I then needed to make the wire loops, I unfortunately don’t have a Ravens Quill, but online enquiries (thank you 18th Century Sewing facebook group) suggested just under 1/8 inch diameter. Fortunately wire coat hangers are about the right size.

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Unfortunately I cannot find anybody who produces ferret these days, but it was easy enough to create a stiff cotton tape, and finally create the net.

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Then I had to work out how they were to be used, the delightfully named Letitia Jermyn, in 1824, she tells us that;

The forceps are about ten or twelve inches in length, provided with fans of a circular or other form, and are covered with gauze; they are held and moved like a pair of scissors, and are used to catch the insects when at rest.

In later editions of her book (1836) she adds further advice

The leaves should be expanded as wide as possible, and the prey approached very cautiously, and when within reach, close them upon it suddenly, including the leaf or flower on which it rests.

Whilst William Curtis, in 1771, advised using them to catch wasps and bees as;

These insects being armed many of them with poisonous stings, it will be necessary to use the forcep nets to catch them with.

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I soon discovered that they were very easy to use, especially when taking insects sitting on flowers, and on a plant like bramble I was able to capture insects without risking the net being caught. As to why the net fell out of use, I suspect it was simply the problem of carrying a number of nets. Difficult when was no longer accompanied by a servant.

On day I might well make a pair of Racket Nets, as described by Moses Harris, or the oddest of all nets, and also the simplest.

The Casting Net, described by Letitia Jermyn in 1824 (she dropped it from later editions of her book);

If they {insects} are beyond your reach, you must use a casting net, which may be made thus:- tie a weight (a halfpenny for instance), in one of the corners of a piece of gauze, about the size of a common handkerchief, a lighter weight in the second corner, and a bit of very light wood in the third : the inequality in the weight and bulk of these substances, will occasion the gauze to open, when thrown from the hand : a thin piece of twine, a yard to two long, may be tied to the remaining corner, by which the net may be drawn in at pleasure. The art of spreading it to its full extent may be acquired with very little practice.

The vision of a Regency Lady throwing a weighted handkerchief over a butterfly of moth is a delightful one, which it would be lovely to recreate.

Sources

Curtis, William. 1771 Instructions for Collecting and Preserving Insects

Harris, Moses. 1776 The Aurelian or Natural History of English Insects

Jermyn, Letitia. 1824 The butterfly collector’s vade mecum; with a synoptical table of British butterflies.

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A Charity Case – the work of an ‘Accomplished Lady” ?

It has been some time since I described a discovery I had made in a charity shop, and the journey of discovery on which it could lead. My previous discoveries have included Playing Cards, a Kitchen Ladle and a collection of Regency Music.

 

It was in a glass case, it looked very tatty but old, the initial glimpse suggested a couple of hundred years or so old.

It was a small tray, the base of which was a picture, clearly of eighteenth century date. On initial examination it could be seen that the picture looked as if it was a print of a young couple. The rest of the tray was faded and discoloured, but immediately suggested something interesting, that it was not a professionally made object but something made by an amateur. I naturally bought it immediately and took it home for examination.

 

Cleaning it confirmed what I had expected, the base had been decorated with a section cut from a larger print and then coloured, probably in watercolour. It was in excellent condition, having been protected by a sheet of glass, now heavily scratched from long use. The same could not be said for the sides of the tray. Made from thin wood they had been covered with ribbon and the top protected by a length of metal braid.

Whilst I was now pretty certain, that the box was of eighteenth century date, there were some things I could do to help confirm this. The first was to identify the print. Here the British Museum website proved invaluable. It allows you to enter a series of criteria to search their huge collections. It was a print, it was probably eighteenth century, the style looked to me to be French, and the young woman seemed to be feeding the young man cherries. I therefore entered these terms and in the few moments discovered this;

Les Sabots

The print dates from 1784 and shows a scene from a French comic opera ‘Les Sabots’, with the hero and heroine Colin and Babet. The opera was written by Jacques Cazotte, an unusual author who was claimed to be able to predict the future, and is supposed to have given detailed descriptions of what was to happen to his acquaintances during the revolution. This skill didn’t help him though, as he was guillotined in 1792.

 

The sides of the tray were decorated with what appears to be a ribbon with a woven pattern, probably a floral sprig and the top is covered with a metallic braid folded over the wood. This suggests that the tray was made at home of material readily available, and is typical of some of the craftwork done by the ‘accomplished ladies’ of the eighteenth century. Prints were used to decorate just about everything on which they could be stuck, from small items like this tray, to furniture and even entire rooms.

 

The tray was probably used on a dressing table, to hold small objects.

Dressing Tables

So I will add the tray to my collection, and keep exploring our local charity shops.

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Upcycling A La Ronde

In a previous blog I described the amazing house at A La Ronde, that ‘temple to female ingenuity’, and the wonderful craft work of the Parminter ladies. At the time I wrote that, ‘there is plenty of further inspiration to be found at A La Ronde, perhaps I will try something else in the future.’

Looking through the National Trust catalogue of the objects preserved at A La Ronde I found these two bough pots. A bough pot is a type of flower vase that displays flowers individually, not in a bunch. They were usually made of china, and were very decorative, but these are not china, they are tin!

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Tin (or rather tinned iron) was, and indeed is, a material used for making a range of objects, in this case semi-circular boxes with holes punched in the top to take the stems of the flowers. The tin would protect the iron from rusting so the container could be filled with water to keep the flowers fresh. The bough pots have been decorated with coloured paper, doubtless by one of the Misses Parminter.

These naturally inspired me to try and create something similar. So I found an old biscuit tin and drilled holes in the top.

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This was then painted and decorated with coloured paper. A high quality wrapping paper with a design reminiscent of Georgian wallpaper was used. Then the tin was half filled with water and used to display daffodils for St David’s Day.

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The Parminter ladies would certainly have approved.

 

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Making an Acorn Snake – A Vanishing Toy

When did you last see an Acorn Snake? Do you even know what one is or how to make it? I recently realised that very few people seemed to know about this ancient toy, so here it is.

 

First take a good handful or two of acorn cups, one or two large acorns, and some string.

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Drill a small hole in the base of each acorn cup.

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Sort them by size from the smallest to largest.

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Thread the cups on a length of length of string, stick a tiny cup over the knot at the small end, stick a large acorn into the biggest cup. Add a face and there you have it.

Pseudophidius quercii The Acorn Snake

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Reconstructing the Regency, or Protecting the Pound Coin with a Regency Toy!

The new One Pound Coin is being lauded as the most secure, most difficult to forge, coin ever produced. One of the many features is the ‘hologram’ on the obverse, just below the Queen’s head. This is a small feature that shows a £ sign when viewed from one direction and a figure 1 when viewed from another.

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Picture from the Royal Mint

However this isn’t a true hologram, rather it is a physical picture cut onto tiny ridges, one image is on one side of the ridge and one on the other. You can feel the ridges if you run a fingernail over the feature.

This type of picture is called an anamorphic picture, a picture that can only be viewed from a particular direction. The most famous example of this is the skull in Holbein’s picture ‘The Ambassadors’. However this type of anamorphic picture was developed much later and by the Regency was a children’s toy, and is described in The Boy’s Own Book published in 1834. The instructions are far from clear, if you would like to try and make one I give them here.

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Naturally, as soon as I discovered these instructions I wanted to make one, so I began by working out the geometry.

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Then I selected two suitable pictures (from the British Museum online catalogue) and printed them out.

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These were then cut into correctly sized strips, that was what all the geometry was about, and pasted onto the base sheet.

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When dry the strip was folded in a concertina fashion, the images are completely mixed up.

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But viewed from the side one picture becomes clear.

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And the other can be seen from the other side.

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So to protect the most advanced coin of the 21st century, you need a child’s toy from the 18th!.

 

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Regency Pot Plants, or Learning to Love a Hyacinth

On her first morning at Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland came down to breakfast, Henry Tilney was already there, in order to prevent him teasing her about her fears of the night before she changes the subject by looking at some flowers.

“What beautiful hyacinths! I have just learnt to love a hyacinth.”

“And how might you learn? By accident or argument?”

“Your sister taught me; I cannot tell how. Mrs. Allen used to take pains, year after year, to make me like them; but I never could, till I saw them the other day in Milsom Street; I am naturally indifferent about flowers.”

“But now you love a hyacinth. So much the better. You have gained a new source of enjoyment, and it is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible. Besides, a taste for flowers is always desirable in your sex, as a means of getting you out of doors, and tempting you to more frequent exercise than you would otherwise take. And though the love of a hyacinth may be rather domestic, who can tell, the sentiment once raised, but you may in time come to love a rose?”

Catherine had arrived at Northanger about the middle of March, so the hyacinths were probably not cut flowers, but ones in pots or glasses. Glasses for hyacinths were available at the time, William Cobbett in The English Gardener (1829) advises;

In water-glasses, the hyacinth makes a very agreeable show in the house during the most dismal part of the winter. Get blue glasses, as more congenial to the roots than white ones, fill them with rain water, with a few grains of salt in each, and put in enough water to come up the bulb about the fourth part of an inch. Change the water carefully every week, and place the plants in the lightest and most airy part of the room, or green-house, in which you keep them.

 However by March, and particularly in a house like Northanger Abbey which had large and extensive glass houses, the bulbs would probably have been grown in pots, so that they could be changed as soon as the flower began to fade.

Flowers were often grown in pots and, if you had a large collection, could be displayed in a fashion that seems strange to a modern reader, as Louisa Johnson in Every Lady her own Flower Gardener (about 1840) describes;

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We recollect once seeing a very interesting collection of more than two hundred species, growing in a high state of perfection, in the house of an amateur living in Brussels. The room containing them was fitted up much in the same way as an ordinary library, with abundance of light shelves round the walls, and a large table in the middle of the room, on which were placed the pots containing the plants. At night, the room was lighted up by an elegant glass lamp, and it was heated by one of those ornamental stoves which are so common on the Continent, Altogether, it had a very handsome appearance.

However, in smaller room she advises to use pot stands rather than stages, (the pretentious term jardinière didn’t come into England from France until the mid-nineteenth century). A Regency, or perhaps a facsimile of a Regency, plant pot stand is to be found in Lytes Cary, a country house in Somerset.

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Courtesy National Trust

I didn’t have the material to make a curved front, so settled on an angular form. Painted black with a gold chinoiserie pattern.

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Cobbett says that there were over a thousand varieties of Hyacinth available in his day, so I felt justified in using a range of colours, to give an impression of the display admired by young Catherine Morland.

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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.

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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.

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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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The Dangerous Kitchen, a Charitable Discovery

In some of my earlier blogs I have talked about discoveries in charity shops. Well the other day I found something else.

Hanging in the widow of a small shop was a rather battered ladle, even in the poor light of the window I could see that the bowl was of copper and it was obviously of some age. I didn’t even bother examining it closely but happily paid the two pounds requested.

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Back home, and after a vigorous polishing, I realised it would make an excellent addition to my collection of objects that illustrate Regency and Victorian life. The bowl is of a heavy gauge copper, whilst the handle is of iron. The detailing of the hook at the end is slightly asymmetrical which would suggest it was hand forged. All this makes me think the ladle is of some age, nineteenth or even eighteenth century.

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Cleaning revealed that the bowl showed signs of tinning, covering copper in tin was essential when cooking as copper salts could leach into the food and poison it. Modern copper vessels are now coated in steel as tin was a soft metal and could easily be worn away in use (that was one reason why wooden spoons were so popular). Copper vessels had to be re-tinned at regular intervals, and letters and diaries often mention having to send pots and pans to be tinned, and complaining of the expense.

So if the food was cooked using poisonous implements, and contained poisonous ingredients such as Laurel, and was served on lead-rich pewter plates it is a wonder that our ancestors survived the eighteenth century.

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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.

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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.

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

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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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Reconstructing the Regency – The Weymouth Cyclorama

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. One of the strangest is the Weymouth Cyclorama.

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In the collections at Weymouth Museum is a small cardboard box containing a roll of paper. The paper roll consists of a series of printed views of the Dorset coast, which have been stuck together on a linen backing to give a continuous picture of the coast from Portland Bill to Lulworth Cove as seen from the sea. From the steamships that are shown off Weymouth, I would date the roll to about 1825-30. It must have been part of a very expensive tourist souvenir.

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The box lid describes it as a Cycloramique View of Weymouth Bay, and incudes a drawing of the viewer. Clearly it was intended to turn the roll so the pictures moved in front of the viewer as though they were passing along the coast.
I naturally wanted to reconstruct the viewer.

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From high quality scans of the cyclorama images I was able to print off all the images and mount them together in a single strip. Even at ten centimetres high the strip was nearly four metres long.

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Then it was necessary to reconstruct the turning mechanism, I had no idea of how the original worked, but after several sessions of trial and error I created this.

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The surrounding box both contains the winding mechanism and holds it at a suitable distance from the viewers eyes. An internal partition gives a suitable frame for the view.

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The box was finally decorated and, by tuning the knobs, you can experience a voyage along the Dorset coast as it would have been nearly two hundred years ago.

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