Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Finding Your Future Spouse on Halloween

Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Maclise, Tasting the Custoc
Loretta reports:
It is mentioned by Burns, in a note to his poem on "Hallow E'en," that "The first ceremony of Hallow E'en is pulling each a stock or plant of kail. They must go out, hand in hand, with eyes shut, and pull the first they meet with. Its being big or little, straight or crooked, is prophetic of the size and shape of the grand object of all their spells—the husband or wife. If any yird, or earth, stick to the root, that is tocher, or fortune; and the taste of the custoc, that is the heart of the stem, is indicative of the natural temper and disposition. Lastly, the stems, or, to give them their ordinary appellation, the runts, are placed somewhere above the head of the door; and the christian names of the people whom chance brings into the house, are, according to the priority of placing the runts, the names in question."  . . . 

Burns says, that "Burning the nuts is a favourite charm. They name the lad and lass to each particular nut, as they lay them in the fire; and accordingly as they burn quietly together, or start from beside one another, the course and issue of the courtship will be." It is to be noted, that in Ireland, when the young women would know if their lovers are faithful, they put three nuts upon the bars of the grates, naming the nuts after the lovers. If a nut cracks or jumps, the lover will prove unfaithful; if it begins to blaze or burn, he has regard for the person making the trial. If the nuts, named after the girls and her lover, burn together, they will be married.

Hone’s Every-day book Vol. 1, 1827*
In Vol 2, Hone notes:
 The superstitious observances of this night, described in the former volume, are fast disappearing.  In some places where young people were acustomed to meet for purposes of divination, and frequently frighten each other into fits, as of ancient custom, they have little regard to the old usages.  The meetings on Hallow-eve are becoming pleasant merry0makings; the dance prevails till suppertime, when they take a cheerful glass and drink to their next happy meeting.

*The Google edition is 1837, but the volumes appeared in 1827.

Illustration, Maclise, Tasting the Custoc, Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What to Wear for the Very End of Summer, c. 1775

Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting:

No Nerdy History Girl visit to Colonial Williamsburg is complete without checking in to see what the stylish 18th c. mantua-makers in the Margaret Hunter shop are wearing.

Colonial Virginians had no fashion-rules about when to put away their summer clothes for the season, but simply wore their warm-weather clothes until the warm weather passed. Newspapers from 1774 noted that summer had lingered into mid-November, and summer wardrobes with it. This was also the case last week, when the temperatures were in the balmy 80s, with clothing to match.

The clothes shown here are replicas, meticulously copied from 18th c. originals, and cut and stitched by hand exactly as an 18th seamstress would have done. As always, click on the images to enlarge them for details.

Doris Warren, above left, is wearing a violet linen petticoat, stomacher, and laced jacket in the French style. The jacket is also lined with linen, making it a comfortable choice for a hot day. The sleeve ruffles, apron, and tucker (the ruffles at the neckline) are cotton, and the cap is also cotton, trimmed with a silk ribbon.

Sarah Woodyard, above right, may be a mantua-maker's apprentice, but here she's dressed for a summer stroll with an eye towards capturing a few hearts along the way. Her sack gown is made of summer dimity, trimmed with ruffled and pleated furbeloes (see the detail, left.) Silk ribbon bows in mint green add a touch of color, and around her throat is a cotton kerchief. Her hat is straw, covered in pleated silk and silk gauze and crowned with ostrich feathers. She's wearing her hat over a cotton cap, and tipped fashionably (and flirtatiously) low over her face to protect it from the sun.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Saving Lives in Hyde Park

Monday, October 29, 2012

Loretta reports:

Starting in the late 18th century, The Royal Humane Society had in Hyde Park a “Receiving House.”  When people fell—or threw themselves—into the Serpentine (and not many people at the time could swim), they were brought here to be resuscitated.

According to Thomas Smith’s (of Mary-le-bone) Historical Recollections of Hyde Park, 1836:

“More than 200,000 persons annually bathe in the Serpentine river, while an equal number visit it during the skating season in severe winters.  [Here's an ice rescue]  Since the year 1792, more than 600 cases have been brought to that house, not noticing many minor ones, and the treatment adopted has been successful in restoring life, in more than 500 of these cases, the remaineder having been taken out of the Serpentine, under hopeless circumstances, from the length of time the body had been immersed.”

You can read more about the Receiving House in this article from the Illustrated London News of August 1844, which includes detailed illustrations.

The Receiving House was still in existence in the 20th century.  Due, apparently, to WWII damage, it was demolished in 1954.  The boat house, however, remains.  Scroll down this page for a color illustration of the receiving house in later years.

Illustrations above left and below right are from Thomas Smith's book.  Please click on them to enlarge.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Blacksmith Can Be Stylish, Too, c. 1775

Saturday, October 27, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting:

Blacksmith apprentice Aislinn Lewis, left, last appeared in this blog as an intern in the blacksmith shop of Colonial Williamsburg. Now a full-time employee in the Historic Trades program, she raises more than a few surprised visitor-eyebrows as the only woman at the forge, despite the fact that there are documented examples of women working as blacksmiths in colonial Virginia.
In our last blog post about her clothes, Aislinn wore the practical short bedgown and petticoat popular with most working class women of the time. This time when I visited the forge, she was wearing a new gown that was equally typical, but more stylish. This is a fitted English nightgown (the 18th c. term for this gown, and not the modern garment that's worn to bed) with a pieced back, made from striped linen and lined with contrasting checked linen. The sleeves and shoulders are especially cut to give Aislinn a full range of motion as she works. As before, the linen fabric smolders rather than bursts into flame - an essential quality for work around the sparks of an open fire.

Even so, blacksmithing is not a trade for cowards. Like many blacksmiths, Aislinn wears a leather apron to offer additional coverage to her petticoat, but no gloves to protect her bare hands and arms. As she explained, gloves can be clumsy and limit the sense of touch, and if an errant spark flies down inside a glove and is trapped, the burn will be much worse than if it had landed on skin alone.

But there's still a nod to 18th c. London fashion in her dress. The curving seams of the nightgown's pieced back visually narrow her waistline, and echo the same lines to be found in lady's gowns of the 1770s. While Aislinn's skirts might be looped up to give her more mobility, she also achieves the same draped volume to be found in fashionable silks - and it's not that far removed from what the fashion-conscious mantua-maker's apprentice would be wearing. The flowered scarf around Aislinn's throat provides another stylish touch of international fashion: a block-printed cotton imported from India.

Photos top left and right by Susan Holloway Scott. Photo lower left courtesy Margaret Hunter shop, Colonial Williamsburg.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Morning Mist, Colonial Williamsburg

Friday, October 26, 2012
Susan/Isabella reporting:

Yes, I made it safely home to Pennsylvania ahead of Hurricane Sandy, and I'm now battening down the hatches and loading up on batteries and candles. In the mean time, I'll continue with more from my Colonial Williamsburg visit, and I'll try to post several in advance lose power.

Most of the photos I've shared have featured bright blue skies and brilliant fall foliage. But Thursday morning showed the more mysterious side of autumn, with a thick misty-fog that softened all those brilliant colors. Consider it nature's own Instagram.

These were all taken in the Governor's Palace gardens on Thursday. The Palace, above left, was so shrouded in mist that the golden weather vane was hardly visible, and the formal geometry of the hedges was softened by dew-laden spider webs scattered over the boxwood.

The Canal lies along one end of the Palace gardens, right. Here the mist gentled the fall colors of the leaves, reflected in the water's surface.

The terraced garden, below left, is also part of the Palace gardens, but it's doubtful that any of governor's guests ever strolled among these beds. It's the kitchen garden, situated between the free-standing kitchen buildings and the canal. The full bounty of the summer-garden has passed, of course, leaving mostly leafy autumn vegetables. Those yellow and orange marigolds near the top earn their place in the kitchen garden, too: they're there to garnish the serving plates for the governor's dinner.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Scurrying Away from Hurricane Sandy (and Colonial Williamsburg)

Thursday, October 25, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting:

Alas, I must bow to Mother Nature, bearing down on the east coast in the form of Hurricane Sandy. I'm cutting my Colonial Williamsburg sojourn short, and on Friday I'll be scurrying northward back home. But I still have lots of photos and stories to share from this week, and I'll continue to post them in the coming days. Stay tuned!

Above: Governor's Palace Garden, Colonial Williamsburg. Photograph by Susan Holloway Scott.

Another Fall Morning, Colonial Williamsburg

Isabella reporting:

Wednesday was another lovely autumn day in Virginia, with summer-like temperatures and clear blue skies in Colonial Williamsburg. There's likely one more day for pictures like these - but with Hurricane Sandy making its way of the east coast of America, I'm not counting on anything beyond that.

Left: Behind the blacksmith shop, looking east.
Below: Duke of Gloucester Street, looking towards the Capital.
Photographs copyright Susan Holloway Scott

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Silk Gauze Cap from the Milliner's Shop, c. 1775

Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Susan/Isabella reporting:

The staff at the Margaret Hunter shop, Colonial Williamsburg, are old friends of the Nerdy History Girls, and the shop is always one of the first stops I make when I visit. Lately mantua-maker Janea Whitacre and her staff have been studying and recreating fancy caps worn by English ladies c. 1770-1780. These caps were an early example of "fast fashion," extravagant styles that were only worn briefly before the next trendy, must-have cap appeared in the shops. Janea says that existing examples of these caps often have less-than-perfect craftsmanship in keeping with their short fashionable life.

The cap, left, is a recreation of the maidservant's cap worn in the 1770 print Tight Lacing, or Fashion before Ease by John Collet. Made of silk gauze and decorated with silk ribbons, there's no shoddy workmanship here: the stitches on the rolled hems and pinched and puffed trim are exquisitely tiny, making for a charming confection of a cap. (As always, click on the image to enlarge for details.)

But a cap on a painted mannequin head is no substitute for a lady. The photograph, right, comes from the Margaret Hunter shop's Facebook page, and shows the cap charmingly worn by summer intern Samantha.

More from the Colonial Williamsburg mantua-makers to come!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dinner at the Governor's Palace, Colonial Williamsburg

Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Isabella/Susan reporting:

Late this morning I stopped by the kitchen of the Governor's Palace, Colonial Williamsburg, where preparations were under way for dinner with the royal governor and his guests, c. 1775. Dinner was the main meal of the day, served around 2:00 p.m. Although this meal was being served in the colony of Virginia, far from London, the governor would have brought his own cook (we'd call him a master chef today) with him, this highly-trained and well-paid cook would have overseen the creation of the same kind of fashionable dishes being served in Britain.

Barbara Scherer and Melissa Blank, left, members of Colonial Williamsburg's Historic Foodways program, explained the recipes as they prepared a delicious assortment of Georgian dishes. (As always, please click on the photos to enlarge them for details.)

What was on the menu? On the table in the photograph, right, front row, left to right: a ragout of pig's feet, served with celery and onion in the thickened cooking liquid and crowned with the pig's curled tail; beef tongue on rounds of fried sweet potato; simmered ham from the kitchen's smokehouse; and tripe and onions. In the back row, left to right: the composed salad known as salmagundy; broccoli dressed with olive oil; and poached eggs with creamed spinach. Orange slices and marigold blossoms garnish the dishes.

Also on the table would have been the selection of small dishes, below left: almond-shaped chocolate comfits, fig jellies, and cakes made with cheese, cut into the shapes of stars and moons.

If you'd like to try your own hand at 18th c. cooking and baking, be sure to visit Colonial Williamsburg's History is Served web site. There you'll not only find more information about the Historic Foodways program, but also an ever-growing selection of 18th c. recipes complete with modern versions and instruction videos.

Early Fall Morning, Colonial Williamsburg

Isabella reporting:

I especially like Colonial Williamsburg early in the morning when the streets are empty except for the occasional dog-walker. The shadows are sharp, the sky is bright with a hint of mist, and it's much easier to imagine the 18th century town and its inhabitants. Who says ghosts only come out at night?

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Tailor's New Apprentice

Monday, October 22, 2012
Isabella reporting:

There's always something new in the Margaret Hunter shop in Colonial Williamsburg. This time what's new isn't a gown or hat, but a new apprentice tailor. Michael McCarty. left, joined the staff in August as a member of Colonial Williamsburg's historic trades program. Already a skilled modern costumer, he is now learning the craft of a tailor in much the same way as his 18th century counterparts would have done, using only traditional methods, materials, and tools.

Under the expert guidance of tailor Mark Hutter, Michael is beginning with relatively simple projects. (He is taking Mark's measurements, right, the way a Georgian tailor would measure his customer.) Most recently Michael has completed several men's linen shirts. His next project will be a sleeved waistcoat (we'd think of it as a light jacket), made from the striped worsted wool on the counter beside him. The body of the waistcoat will be lined with wool flannel or fustian, with the sleeves lined with linen. He's planning red-and-white striped death's head buttons to match, too.

In the Nerdy History Girl equivalent to red-carpet interrogation, I can also report what Michael was wearing today: a linen shirt, waistcoat, and nightcap. His breeches were white sheepskin leather, in a style much like these of buckskin. Around his throat was a blue printed cotton kerchief, patterned with a resist print and imported from India, exactly as an 18th c. apprentice with an eye for fashion would have worn.

Photographs copyright 2012 Susan Holloway Scott.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Coming Attractions: Colonial Williamsburg in the Fall

Sunday, October 21, 2012
Isabella reporting:

Yes, it's that time of year again - I'm heading to Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia for my autumn tonic of everything 18th century while Loretta races to meet the deadline for her next book.

I'll be posting photographs and notes gathered from around the colonial capitol throughout the week, and whenever I'm feeling especially inspired. Check back often!

Left: Duke of Gloucester Street, Colonial Williamsburg. Photo by Susan Holloway Scott

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of October 15, 2012

Saturday, October 20, 2012
Here's your weekly offering of Breakfast Links – our favorite links of the week via Twitter, including links to other blogs, web sites, photos, and articles you won't want to miss.
• 19th c. French ladies jumping from hot-air balloons, inventing parachutes, & starting restaurants.
• 'Bad Form in Dress', WWI government poster that advised women not to splash out on frocks during wartime.
• "The Jelly-House Maccaroni" print from 1772, and what the heck that means.
Collops of Rabbits, with Champagne wine: 18th c. recipe with modern version, too.
• A walk through long-gone London: A room to let in old Aldergate.
• Stunning emerald green silk velvet & gold 1920s shawl coat.
Mary of Guelders, 15th c. Queen of Scotland.
• What not to wear to high school in the 1960s.
• Victims of Caroline of Brunswick's funeral, 1821.
Nicolas Culpeper, 17th c. gardener & writer, in Spitalfields, London.
• Stumbling over a 200-year-old hotel - complete with gardens! - in the middle of Manhattan.
• 'One large frying pan & three paires of Irish stockings': what did pilgrims pack for the New World?
• Atlantic earthquakes.
• The corn doctor: 18th c. foot care.
• Voting with their feet: how shoemaking helped win the 1872 presidential election.
• Account of the London Beer Flood, which took place this week in 1814.
• Not to be outdone: the Molasses Flood in Boston, MA, 1919.
• President Teddy Roosevelt reportedly drank over a gallon of coffee a day.
• Thing of wonder: a 4,000 year old yew tree at Crowhurst Surrey, complete with a Georgian door.
• Jane Austen's beloved friend, Madame Lefroy, & the story told by her obituaries.
Comfortable corsets of 1893.
Mannequin morgue at the Chicago Museum - a year-round haunted house.
• Pair of Marie-Antoinette's shoes fetch 50,000 euros at auction.
• Lady Angela Forbes on her debut in Society, 1895.
• The Hasty Marriage, 1772.
Alaska P. Davidson, the FBI's first female Special Agent.
• Historic doll's houses as miniature windows on the past.
• Women fought long and hard for the right to vote - honor their legacy by making sure your vote counts this Election Day.
Crave more than a once-a-week update? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates every day.

Update: Who Bought Jane Austen's Ring?

Isabella reporting:

One of our most popular posts of this past year was Would You Wear Jane Austen's Ring? The gold ring, left,  is one of the few possessions that were undeniably Jane's, with the special magic such a connection brings. This summer the ring sold at auction for £152,450, or about $236,000. At the time, the identity of the buyer was unknown, with much speculation as to whether the ring had been bought by a museum or a private collector.

At last the buyer's name is public, and I doubt anyone would have guessed it: chart-topping singer and American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson. Turns out Kelly is not only a Jane Austen fan - she also owns a first edition of Persuasion – but a self-proclaimed "really big history nerd." Kelly, welcome to the club.

But whether Kelly will ever be able to take her prize back home to Texas remains up in the air. She still has not been granted an export request; because the ring has been declared a British national treasure, she is not permitted to take it from the U.K. Will Kelly be taking the ring home with her at the end of her British tour? Stay tuned...the saga of Jane Austen's ring continues!

Above: A gold and gem ring, once belonging to Jane Austen. Photograph: Sotheby's.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday Video: The Year was 1963

Friday, October 19, 2012
Loretta reports:

From Cliff Richard to a Miss World contest to the Beatles.  An interesting year in hairstyles, too.  We can reflect as well upon what was deemed a great figure in 1963.  And I have to wonder if anybody out there actually owns one of those Beatles wigs.

Illustration: Coming! Coming! The greatest moving picture and stereopticon exhibition of the season, 1909. Courtesy Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

Readers who receive our blog via email might see only a rectangle or square where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Little Shameless Self-Promotion

Thursday, October 18, 2012
Isabella reporting,

This weekend I'll be doing my only booksigning of the fall, and if you're in the Philadelphia/Delaware area, I hope you'll stop by and say hello. Not only will I be signing my two new historical romances written as Isabella Bradford - When You Wish Upon a Duke and When the Duchess Said Yes - but I'll also have a few copies of my historical novels written as Susan Holloway Scott. I haven't yet figured out how I'll be two authors at the same time, but it should be entertaining.

Booksigning Event with Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott
Saturday, October 20 • 1:00-3:00 p.m.
Books-A-Million • Exton Square Mall
Exton, PA 19341 •  610-363-1156
Directions here

Also: Are you on Goodreads? My next historical romance, When the Duke Found Love, won't be in stores until the end of November, but my publisher is giving away twenty early-bird copies. Sign up here for a chance to win one. Good luck!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Exeter 'Change in 1802

Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Loretta reports:

One of my favorite sources, Robert Southey's Letters from England (links below), provides this lively picture of a slice of London early in the 19th century.
My way home from Charing Cross was varied, in as much as I took the other side of the street for the sake of the shop windows, and the variety was greater than I had expected. It took me through a place called Exeter Change, which is precisely a Bazar, a sort of street under cover, or large long room, with a row of shops on either hand, and a thoroughfare between them; the shops being furnished with such articles as might tempt an idler, or remind a passenger of his wants,—walking-sticks, implements for shaving, knives, scissars, watch-chains, purses, &c. At the further end was a man in splendid costume who proved to belong to a menagerie above stairs, to which he invited me to ascend; but I declined this for the present, being without a companion. A maccaw was swinging on a perch above him, and the outside of the building hung with enormous pictures of the animals which were there to be seen.

The oddest things which I saw in the whole walk were a pair of shoes in one window floating in a vessel of water, to show that they were water-proof; and a well-dressed leg in another, betokening that legs were made there to the life. One purchase I ventured to make, that of a travelling caissette;* there were many at the shop-door, with the prices marked upon them, so that I did not fear imposition. These things are admirably made and exceedingly convenient. I was shown some which contained the whole apparatus of a man's toilet, but this seemed an ill assortment, as when writing you do not want the shaving materials, and when shaving as little do you want the writing desk.

*A small case or box.
My cherished copy is the 1951 edition, edited by Jack Simmons
Or you can read it online: Volume 1 here and Volume 2 here.

Illustration; Exeter 'Change, from London in the 19th Century, Thomas Shepherd, 1829.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Astronomer Maria Mitchell, Discoverer of "Miss Mitchell's Comet", 1847

Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Isabella reporting:

Maria Mitchell (1818-1889) is one of those intrepid American women who deserves to be better known today. Not only was she the first American woman to work as a professional astronomer, the first woman member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the first professor at Vassar College, but she also discovered the first "telescopic" comet (a comet too distant to be visible to the naked eye.) Her accomplishments would be significant under any circumstances, but in an era when when few women were permitted either education or careers, they're truly extraordinary.

Maria had the good fortune to be born into a Quaker family on the island of Nantucket, MA. Contrary to most 19th c. conventions, Quakers believed in intellectual equality for women and men, and Maria received the same education as her brothers. Nantucket's whaling wives provided plenty of role-models of independent, self-sufficient women, and the seafaring community was accustomed to being guided by the stars. By the age of twelve, Maria was already aiding her self-taught astronomer father in calculating an annular eclipse. At seventeen, she opened her own school for girls, and at eighteen, she became the first librarian of the Nantucket Atheneum.

But her true passion continued to be stargazing, sweeping the night sky from the roof of her house with her telescope. On an October night in 1847, she discovered Comet 1847 VI, soon known as "Miss Mitchell's Comet." She was rewarded not only with world-wide fame for her discovery, but also received a gold medal as a prize from King Frederick VI of Denmark. The medal's inscription could have been a motto for Maria herself: Not in vain do we watch the setting and the rising of the stars.

Maria's knowledge continued to take her places where no other woman had ventured. She published her findings in scientific journals. She devised an apparatus for taking photographs of the sun. She traveled to Europe to speak and share her discoveries, and she calculated astronomical tables for the U.S. Nautical Almanac Office. She was the first woman member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and one of the first elected to the American Philosophical Society.

Yet Maria was not an isolated scientist. She was an ardent abolitionist and a suffragist, and her wide circle of friends included Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Julia Ward Howe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. She became the first professor of Vassar College in 1865 (and the only faculty member chosen by Matthew Vassar), and later director of the college observatory as well as professor of astronomy. At Vassar she trained and inspired the next generation of astronomers - astronomers who happened to be women, too.

Loretta and I have been long-time admirers of Maria Mitchell. I've visited the grey-shingled Mitchell House (now the home of the Maria Mitchell Association) on Nantucket, filled with memorabilia related to Maria, including an early telescope. Loretta, however, has seen (and posed in front of, right) Maria's most famous  telescope, an 1865 gift from Vassar College, now on display in the Smithsonian's Museum of American History.

Upper right: Maria Mitchell
Left: Maria Mitchell surrounded by the first astronomy class of Vassar College, c. 1860s. Vassar College photograph.
Lower right: Loretta & Maria Mitchell's telescope.
This blog is posted as part of the worldwide celebration of Ada Lovelace Day, October 16, 2012.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Nerdy History Girls Library: The Epicure's Almanack

Monday, October 15, 2012
Loretta reports:

Thanks to Candice Hern for alerting me to a beautiful new edition of The Epicure’s Almanack, the Zagat of the Regency.

“Working alone and on foot, Ralph Rylance visited and described some 650 establishments, ranging from City chop houses, ancient coaching inns, and London’s first Indian restaurant, to humble tripe shops and oyster rooms, dockyard, taverns, and village pubs.”

Following is an excerpt from the “Alimentary Calendar,” he included, listing the foods in season in a given month.
     The temperate weather that prevails this month (there are always fourteen fine days in it) is peculiarly favourable to the brewing of malt liquor, being neither too hot nor too cold.  For ales, however, which require long keeping, the month of March is by some deemed the preferable season.
     At this time the range of alimentary productions begins to extend itself; chickens, pullets, capons, and turkies, are in high order for the spit.  Beef and mutton improve in quality, while hares, pheasants, wild ducks, widgeons, teal, plovers, woodcocks, snipes and larks, are added to the former list of viands, and continue in season for the remainder of the year.  In the department of fish it is observable that cod, which has been absent from table since April, now re-appears for the winter season:  herrings also, having cast their spawn, are held by some connoisseurs in higher estimation than in the spring of the year: and oysters, particularly the native Milton and Colchester, are full fed and in high flavour.  Of esculent vegetables there is no sensible diminution; peas and beans indeed have disappeared, but potatoes having now attained their proper growth are become mealy; and carrots, with which London is chiefly supplied from Sandwich, in Kent, now arrive in large quantities.  The dessert of this period chiefly consists of peaches, grapes, apples, pears, and plums.

You can read an 1815 British Critic review here (it starts at the bottom of page 218).

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of October 8, 2012

Saturday, October 13, 2012
Here's your weekly serving of Breakfast Links - our favorite links of the week via Twitter, including links to other blogs, web sites, photos, and articles you don't want to miss.
• Mercury sent John Keats to his early grave.
Henry VIII's lost crown recreated.
• Comfort food or the devil's dinner? Toad-in-a-hole's remarkable history.
• Disappearing act: child in portrait of Maria Salviati & Giulia de 'Medici was once painted over. Why?
• The morals of ping & blue hair, or the craze for colored wigs, 1914.
• Floral print chiffon dress by Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, c. 1937.
• Atmospheric photos of magical, mystical Ireland.
• Remembering Marie Antoinette's wedding.
• His Royal Miserliness, in a milliner's shop.
• Gilded age magnificence: Fifth Avenue's 1891 Holland House hotel.
Antique fans from the Regency era.
• Truth or history myth? British soldiers wore red coats because it would show the blood.
• Photos of St. Andrews, Scotland, in the 1840s.
• More then & now film locations in NYC from Hitchcock's North by Northwest - New York, you've changed.
• The Georgian Joke Book: eighteenth century comedians were funny...and bawdy, of course.
Mark Twain blames Sir Walter Scott for the American Civil War (and he's not totally wrong, either.)
• The Times reports on what to wear to a balloon ascent, 1785.
• "I beg you to take my child": heartbreaking letters left with abandoned babies in NYC in the 1870s.
• Historical myth-busting: yes, Jack could have been saved when the Titanic sank.
• Inside the masterpiece: portrait of a young Catherine of Aragon.
Suffragettes, class, and pit-brow women.
• Early modern uses for chicken soup.
• Working the room: Abraham Lincoln's winning quips, including "If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?"
• Oh those flappers! The rebellious roll garters of the 1920s.
• The dinner that caused a riot in Birmingham, 1791.
Crave more than a once-a-week update? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates every day.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday Video: WAVES Boot Camp in the Bronx, 1943

Friday, October 12, 2012

Isabella reporting:

A recent Friday Video recalled how even English ladies like the future Duchess of Devonshire helped with the war effort during World War II. This video features women from the other side of the Atlantic: the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.) The WAVES were a formal branch of the U.S. Navy, and few people today are aware of how many of them - over 80,000 young women from all over the country - did their boot camp training on the Bronx, NY campus of Hunter College. Author Nancy Lynch Castellano was one of the reservists, and she shares her experiences in this wonderful short video, created by the New-York Historical Society.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Prison Reform 1820s: Millbank Penitentiary

Thursday, October 11, 2012
Loretta reports:

The Millbank Penitentiary was conceived by a reformer, Jeremy Bentham, and intended to replace a brutal and disreputable system with one more humane.  The concept caught on in the U.S., and the Eastern State Penitentiary, which still stands, was built in the same decade.

Thomas Allen, in The History and Antiquities of London, (1839), expresses a less than heartening opinion of the place, when it wasn’t yet 20 years old.

Note: The Dante quotation ought to read “lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate: All hope abandon, ye who enter here.

And here it is on an 1830 map of London, (click on Map & Page Grid and you'll find it in the lower left quadrant).

Illustrations from Henry Mayhew & John Binny, The Criminal Prisons of London, and Scenes of Prison Life, 1862

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Knitting From History

Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Isabella reporting:

As well as being a Nerdy History Girl, I'm also a Nerdy Knitting Girl, and have been since, oh, all the way back into the last century. This Friday is national I Love Yarn Day, and knitters and other needleworkers are supposed to share and demonstrate their yarn-love however they choose.

Which, for me, is sharing several historical knitting patterns. First up is an amazing book which just might contain the earliest English directions for knitting patterns. Printed in London in 1655, the book has a typical 17th c. doozie of a title: Natura Exenterata: or Nature Unbowelled By the most Exquisite Anatomizers of Her. Any book that has "unbowelled" in the title better be exceptional, and this one must have delivered everything that 17th c. female readers could have wanted. Not only are there directions for knitting and other handiwork, but also medical cures, secrets, and receipts.

The authors are unknown, except as "several Persons of Quality," and the dedication to the accomplished and well-traveled Lady Alethea Talbot Howard, Countess of Arundell and Surrey acted as a kind of celebrity endorsement. Even so, the market for this book must have been small. England still feeling the effects of its Civil War, and books – especially books for women – would have been a luxury only a few could afford. The fancy knitting described here would have been a pursuit for a lady, another accomplishment like needlework. Here's a link to the title page plus the knitting directions, called "Selected Experiments in making Network." For the knitters out there, the directions will make sense once you get the hang of the language.

But if your taste is a bit more modern, here are the directions for a stylish Knitted Winter Spenser from a copy of the American Godey's Lady's Book, published during another Civil War in 1861. For the middle-class readers of Godey's, knitting would have been a useful skill as well as a pastime.

Still looking for more inspiration? Here are dozens of Victorian and Edwardian pattern books.

Above: Woman Knitting, by Francoise Duparc (1726-1778), Musee des Beaux-Arts, Marseilles.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Silk Dress for 1880

Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Loretta reports:

While late Victorian fashion is definitely unfamiliar territory for me, I’m drawn to its silhouette and complex construction—as in this 1880 dress.  Part of the Strawbery Banke Museum exhibition, Thread: Stories of Fashion at Strawbery Banke, 1740-2012,* it appears in a house interpreted for the time period.  I wasn’t able to get a profile photograph, but it's safe to assume a bustle was in use.

A farmer’s daughter married in June 1880 to the Assistant Post Master of Portsmouth wore this on the day after the wedding.  “Her complicated ensemble is made from silk, including a removable gathered train.”

The 1880 day ensembles in my 80 Godey’s full-Color Fashion Plates 1828-1880 show a tightly encased upper body and hips.  Jackets fasten snugly from hips up to neck, and the neckline is high, with either a mandarin style collar like this one or ruffles above a fold-over collar. 

While trying to learn about this fashion development, I came upon an interesting comment regarding the tiny waists of the 19th century.  The author of Victorian and Edwardian Fashion quotes Doris Langley Moore’s The Woman in Fashion:  “‘A distinction should be made between actual and corset measurements, because stays, as ordinarily worn, do not meet at the back.  Young girls, especially, derive intense satisfaction from proclaiming the diminutive size of their corset.  Many purchase 18 and 19 inch stays, who must leave them open 2, 3, and 4 inches.’”  Moore is quoted again in Valerie Steele’s** more recent The Corset: A Cultural History, which adds:  “‘Fifteen, sixteen, and seventeen inch waists are glibly chattered about, as though they were common enough . . . [yet] we question whether it is a physical possibility for women to reduce their natural waist measure below seventeen or eighteen inches.’”  Ms. Steele notes that a Guiness Book of Records winner proved it’s physically possible—but it’s not necessarily common, except among fetishists.  Since I can’t do justice to the topic in a short post, interested Nerdy History Persons might want to peruse Chapter 4 of Ms. Steele’s book.

*Previous posts are here, here, and here.
**Late-breaking news:  Ms Steele will be speaking at the Designers and Books Fair at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC on 27 October.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Wrap It Up: One Amazing 18th c. Button

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Isabella reporting:

At first glance, the object, left, might appear to be an exotic piece of modern art, destined to dominate a large gallery wall. But the enlargement is deceiving. In fact, it's an 18th c. button, about an inch in diameter, and 250 years ago it (and twenty or so twins) likely decorated the front of a costly English or French gentleman's coat.

This button is an extreme example of a wrapped button (click on the image to enlarge for detail.) Sometimes called Leek buttons or death head buttons, wrapped buttons like this one are small masterpieces of patience, precision, and geometry.

Their construction is easy to explain, but difficult to do: threads are wrapped and woven around a wooden mold, with each successive wrap securing the one before. No glue is used. The silk or linen thread wraps of the most basic death head button form a simple but elegant cross-shaped pattern (like the button on the top of this hat.) The most elaborate examples, like this one using metallic thread over a colored foil backing, are so complicated that it would be almost impossible to replicate. Perhaps even more daunting is the back of the button, right, that shows how neatly all those metallic threads are secured with linen.

Many wrapped buttons were made as a cottage-industry, both in rural areas and in cities, and others could be made by tailors. A button like this one, however, was most likely made by a specialist craftsman. In our mass-produced modern world, it's hard to imagine devoting each work day to such painstaking – and beautiful – creation.

See here for another example of a beautiful 18th c. button.

This button was spotted on eBay by historical seamstress, scholar, and re-enactor Hallie Larkin. We're grateful to her for posting photographs of the button first on her blog – one of our favorites!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Breakfast Links: Week of October 1, 2012

Saturday, October 6, 2012
Here's your weekly offering of Breakfast Links – our favorite links of the week via Twitter, including links to other blogs, web sites, photos, and articles you won't want to miss.
• An appropriate abode: housing the middle classes in Victorian Bloomsbury.
• Long before Justin Bieber, there was Beatlemania, c. 1963.
• Clever coded masked letter from Lt. General Sir Henry Clinton in 1777, during American Revolution.
• Fascinating raw silk coat, c. 1905.
• Taking the bull by the horns: the decline of bull running in 19th c. English town of Stamford.
Jane Austen and lovers' vows.
• Medicines for the poor: Birmingham's Dispensary, c. 1790.
• Finding the NYC locations of Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest.
• Untold stories of ten children evacuated during the Second World War.
Animals occupied an important place in medieval art & thought.
• Paper doll book c. 1819 featuring Cinderella.
• Tips for an Edwardian Ball.
Abigail Adams' thoughts on living in the White House.
Shirley Temple, juvenile trendsetter, 1930s.
• Newly discovered portrait of King Charles I's wife Queen Henrietta Marie by Anthony Van Dyck.
• Edwardian motoring clothing, or how to dress for a ride in a 100-year-old car.
• "Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army": story behind slogan from Katz's Delicatessen, NYC.
• Rebel Rose Greenhow, the widow turned Confederate spy who was lost at sea.
• An open letter to the young women of America from "The Reformed Bundler."
• A dignified 1830s home off Washington Square becomes a brassy night spot during NYC's Roaring 20s.
Sweet potato dinner, curtsey of the Swamp Fox.
• Embroidered butterflies on a girl's ensemble, 1865.
• Fabulous description of a Georgian masquerade held at the King's Theatre, January, 1783.
• Stunningly beautiful pictures from the first fashion photographer, Clementina, Lady Hawarden.
Crave more than a once-a-week update? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates ever day!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Friday Video: The Princess Victoria at Chatsworth House

Friday, October 5, 2012
Courtesy Ancestry Images
Loretta reports

Chatsworth House remains one of my favorite stately homes, partly because it still feels like a home rather than a museum—and that, I think, is thanks to the indefatigable Dowager Duchess of Devonshire (who appears in a previous Friday Video).

Today’s clip comes from a series tracing Queen Victoria’s travels through England.  This one deals with her visit to Chatsworth House when she was thirteen, and not yet the Queen of England.  I particularly enjoyed the downstairs scenes.

And since it's the same time of year, I'm adding this little sonnet, I found in Hones' Every-day Book for 3 October.

Top left illustration from The Beauties of England and Wales 1806, courtesy Ancestry Images.

Readers who receive our blog via email might see only a rectangle or square where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Accessorizing like a French Lady, c. 1750

Thursday, October 4, 2012
Isabella reporting:

Paris Fashion Week is coming to a close, and the fashion writers are sighing in rapture over the accessories: this Chanel bag, that Dior hat, and oh, the shoes at Celine!

But there has always been a mystique about French women and their innate ability to add a scarf and a brooch to their oldest outfits and somehow instantly become the best-dressed women in the room. This is nothing new. One look at the Marquise de Lamure, left, and there's no doubt that the ability to accessorize was born in her blood.

Of course, in the late 1740s-early 1750s, about the time when the marquise sat for this portrait in pastels, the word "accessory" did not exist, either in French or in English. Clearly the concept did, however, with all those delicious little extras that the lady is wearing doubtless purchased in any number of elegant Parisian shops specializing in luxury goods. (See here for another pair of 18th c. French ladies who also carried the stylist-gene.)

Where to begin with the marquise, leaning on her velvet cushion? First, click on her portrait to enlarge it to show all the details. While all 18th c. women wore caps for style and as a sign of modesty, the marquise's cap is face-framing frill of fine lace that mingles with her powdered curls. The over-sized double-drop pearls at her ears are not real - even Marie-Antoinette wore faux jewels mixed with her diamonds – but likely wax-filled glass pearls. In her hand is a fan, probably with ivory blades and a hand-painted floral design.

Her pink silk gown has full lace ruffles pinned inside the cuffs of the sleeves. Also pinned in place is the icy-pale silk stomacher, a separate triangular piece that fills in the open front of her gown's bodice. The stomacher has rows of silk tassels, and is further enhanced by the centered jeweled brooches. Around her throat is a fur tippet, most likely of marten, a favorite 18th c. status fur. Her gloves are exquisitely thin; they could be kidskin, chicken-skin, or even the skin of unborn calves.

But most striking are her blue velvet wrist covers, edged with more fur (and probably lined with fur, too, from the slight puffiness of the velvet) and buttoned with silver buttons.  Women's sleeves seldom extended beyond the elbows in the 18th c., but no lady would risk exposing her pale forearms to the sun or cold. Most ladies wore decorative elbow-length mitts like these, but the marquise's wrist covers are more elegant, much warmer, and far, far more luxurious. After all, one mustn't always suffer for fashion....

Above: Marquise de Lamure, née Charlotte-Phillippine de Chastres de Cange, by Charles-Antoine Coypel (1694-1752). Pastel, before 1752. Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, MA.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Maidservant in 1829

Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Loretta reports:

Leigh Hunt's description in the 1829 Gentleman's Pocket Magazine is so delightful that it was difficult to choose an excerpt.  I chose this section because it offers a poignant glimpse of the maidservant's private life—the precious little she had.  You can read the entire piece (and I think it's well worth reading) here.

Please click on the text to enlarge it to readable size.

Excerpted from The Gentleman's Pocket Magazine, Volume 3, 1829

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Men Behaving Badly: "The wicked Lord Lyttelton"

Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Isabella reporting:

Rakish English aristocrats are ever-popular in romantic fiction, rollicking through brothels and gaming houses until they're tamed by their heroines. Rakish heroes are charming, and a lot of fun; the reality, as exemplified here by Thomas Lyttelton, 2nd Baron Lyttelton (1744-1779), isn't nearly as appealing.

Like so many gentlemen who tumble down the wrong path, Thomas Lyttelton was a boy of great promise, talent, and charm. With unfortunate prescience, his father noted that "my only fear is that he may please the ladies too well." It was a well-founded fear, with the gossip-mongers already linking sixteen-year-old Thomas with unsavory women. He was swiftly hustled off on a Grand Tour of the Continent with the hope that travel would bring moderation and maturity. It didn't.

He ran up enormous gambling debts, fought duels, and frequented brothels. The young lady-bride chosen for him wisely had second thoughts, and to pay his ever-mounting debts he instead hastily married the older, wealthy widow of the governor of Calcutta. Within a year, the marriage had failed, and Thomas was off to Paris again in the company of a barmaid. He tried his hand at politics, but his reputation as a hot-tempered libertine with a weakness for actresses and courtesans, made him a regular in broadsides and pamphlets.

When his father died (some said of despair) in 1773, the new baron took his place in the House of Lords, and by luck was granted a Privy Council office. His temper and impulsive nature were not naturally suited to politics, however, and though his speeches were often eloquent, he alienated many, switched allegiances, and spoke too impulsively to achieve any real success. He was on the verge of being dismissed from his office when he died unexpected at his home in Surrey, aged thirty-five and decidedly unreformed.

But the gossip that had followed his misadventures throughout his life also swirled around his death. This excerpt from a letter from Elizabeth Montagu to the Duchess of Portland - respectable ladies, not scandal-sheet writers - demonstrates exactly why the baron was notorious as "the wicked Lord Lyttelton."

"Oh, Madam, did not the sudden death of Lord Lyttelton make you rejoice that his good father did not live to see an event for which the poor young man was so little prepared! My servants saw him pass my door with three gay* females at two o'clock; these girls were three sisters, and his cousins; by eleven o'clock that night he was called to another world! He carried these Miss Amsletts in his coach to his villa near Epsom; at supper, I hear, he declared himself hungry, soon after complained of pain at his stomach, and expired. The usual tenor of his life, the horrid party of pleasure he was at the time of his death engaged in, would fill one with unspeakable terrors, if one had not some reason to imagine there was a tincture of madness in him....It is said he has £5,000 to each of these Miss Amsletts; poor amend for their loss of reputation, if that be all they have lost."
       - from The Calendar of the Manuscripts of the Marquis of Bath, Vol. I.

*"Gay" used here with the 18th c. meaning: prostitutes, or women of easy virtue; party girls.
Above: Portrait of Thomas Lyttelton, 2nd Baron Lyttelton, by Richard Brompton. National Portrait Gallery, London.
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