Friday, October 20, 2017

5 Fun Facts about Regency England that May Surprise You

by Donna Hatch

1.       It was not scandalous for ladies to show their ankles during the Regency Era. A number of Regency fashion plates and caricatures depict ladies revealing silk stocking-clad ankles and low-cut slippers, which were much like todays ballerina flat, while dancing, sitting, and walking. During the Victorian Era, shoe fashions changed from slippers to the Victorian boot. This happened about the same time that hemlines lowered and skirts widened. In addition to the Victorians following their monarch’s example of becoming exceedingly prudish, it eventually became scandalous for ladies to show ankles. However, during the Regency, it really was no big deal for ladies to hold up their narrow skirts to avoid a mud puddle or to allow greater freedom of movement to walk quickly, thus exposing ankles. Fun fact: It was, however, scandalous to say “legs.” Apparently “limbs” was the more accepted word in polite company.

2.       A dance set at the ball included two dances, not just one. When a gentleman asked a lady to “stand up with him” they were committed to 20 to 30 minutes together. Of course, country dances were all the rage which allowed couples to change partners frequently during the course of the dance, so they weren’t truly “stuck” together much. This practice of dancing sets of two is partly why a gentleman seldom asked a lady for two dances, meaning two dance sets, and never three unless they were engaged, because it basically tied them up together for most of the evening, giving little opportunity for other partnering.

Drury Lane Theatre

3.       An evening at the theatre lasted most of the night. The main production was the play. However, after the main event, the theatre performed a light “afterpiece” – usually a comedy in the form of a pantomime or one-act play. A few theaters performed one short production prior to the main performance as well so there might be as many as three performances. With all these performances and intermissions, one expected to be at a London theater half of the night. Some patrons came and went, but many stayed all night, I suspect to people-watch rather than to enjoy the arts.

                      Evening Gown 1819

4.        A fashionable lady’s unmentionables did not include drawers or pantalettes. With the narrow, slender gowns fashionable during the Regency resembling statues dating back to ancient Rome, bulky drawers with drawstring waists would have messed up the silhouettes of ladies’ gowns. Also, I have not found evidence that ladies wore pantalettes during previous eras either. The only women who wore drawers or pantalettes during Georgian and Regency England were prostitutes who wore them underneath their slitted skirts. Ahem. And that’s all I care to say regarding the matter. During the Victorian Era, ladies began wearing drawers or pantalettes underneath their wide bell-shape skirts, possibly to preserve modesty should the skirt accidentally tip upwards too far. Oh my! Later, this garment was also known as “pantaloons,” however Georgian and Regency pantaloons were men’s knee-length breeches.

Yours truly modeling my shift and stays.

5.       It is a common myth that Regency ladies often fainted because their corsets were too tight. First of all, ladies during the Regency wore stays, not corsets. The difference is the shape and boning. Previous era corsets were made to cinch the waist. Regency stays, much more flexible and comfortable, were made to smooth and support. I’ve worn a corset and it is possible to feel truly uncomfortable if it is cinched up way too tightly. I even got a small bruise on my lowest rib on one side from having it laced tighter than it should have. What can I say? It was steam punk party and I wore it tighter than I would have it I’d planned to wear it all day. But I digress. I have also worn authentic Regency stays and they are so comfortable and well fitting that if they were easier to get into and out of (where’s my maid when I need her?), I would wear them every day.

My stays are a little too big as you can see since there is supposed to be a two or three-inch gap between the two sides, but one cannot fault my seamstress; I lost weight between my first and final fittings. I cannot, therefore, be unhappy about it.

I hope you enjoyed my fun facts. Comments and questions are welcome!


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Friday, October 13, 2017

English Drawing Room

by Donna Hatch

                        Petworth House

Few rooms are as quintessentially English as the Drawing Room. The very word Drawing Room inspires a host of images, doesn’t it? “Drawing room” is a shortened version of the term “Withdrawing room” for that time after dinner when ladies withdrew to allow the gentlemen to discuss manly pursuits not considered proper in mixed company such as politics, sports, news, etc. By the Regency Era, the term had shortened to simply “drawing room.”

                       Polesdon Lacey

During the day, a British host or hostess often received guests in the drawing room or parlor. During chilly months, they partitioned off one end of the room with screens to keep in the warmth, and gathered together near the hearth. When not entertaining, ladies went to the drawing room of paint or sketch, sew or tat, do crafts such as glue ribbons or feathers on hats, or shell or beadwork, write letters, or keep journals. Evenings when British families stayed at home together, they gathered to read aloud or silently, play music or games, or simply talk–all in the drawing room.

For entertaining, they opened up the entire room and filled it with guests dressed in their finery, enjoying drinks, making business deals, making matches (also often business deals), and delighting over the latest on dits.

                                        Petworth House

The drawing room also served as a ballroom for those houses without a dedicated ballroom. If the dance occurred spontaneously, servants—and sometimes guests—moved furniture to the edges of the room and rolled up the carpets to allow room for dancing.

For formal balls, all this preparation was done ahead of time, with chairs placed against the walls and perhaps a few small tables where ladies might leave their reticules or fans or shawls while they danced. Married and older ladies generally occupied these chairs so they could gossip with their friends while the younger folk enjoyed the often vigorous dances.

                        Chawton House Hall

If a house or castle did not have a formal drawing room, the great hall, also known simply as the hall, served this purpose just as well.

Can’t you just imagine these rooms filled with ladies dressed in silk ball gowns dancing with gentlemen in their fine tailcoats?


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Friday, September 29, 2017

Jane Austen Centre, Bath

The charming doorman of the Jane Austen Centre

When I visited the Jane Austen Centre at 40 Gay Street in Bath, I was unprepared for the “wow factor” I experienced. I entered their permanent exhibit in this Georgian home with high hopes of geeking out about one of my real-life heroines, a woman who defied the odds and met success as an author in an era when women were viewed as little more than baby machines or governesses, and when nice girls didn’t write and publish books.

However, this delightful place did more than feed my fan-girl hunger. From the doorman with his friendly smile, who, by the way, is the most photographed face in the UK, to the charming and lovely costumed guides who adore (worship?) Jane as much as I do, this is the ultimate destination for Jane-ites.

To educate and pique the interest of those who are not true fans of Jane Austen, the tour began with a movie highlighting Jane Austen’s life and career. Knowing more about her helped my husband have a greater appreciation for her and her influence on me as well as my writing.

Then the guides took us through the various exhibits describing her life, her family, her books, and how she first got published. She was ahead of her time in many ways, and ended up doing what is now known as indy publishing for her first few books.

Jane lived in Bath twice. And though many historians claimed she disliked her times there, it is irrefutable fact that her stays in Bath influenced her writing, and mostly in a positive way.

Do join me for a spot of tea.

Oh, Mr. Darcy!

There’s a place to try on authentic re-creations of Regency clothes for a photo shoot.

I swooned under the piercing gaze of the delicious Mr. Darcy!

Their gift shop, complete with a costumed cashier, was a fun place to browse tempting souvenirs. Yes, I indulged. I bought a lace fan, a bookend silhouette of Jane, some super fancy chocolates, and gifts for friends. Good thing I had limited luggage space or I might have come home with more!

They also have a tea shop where anyone can pop in and enjoy a spot of tea.

Do you enjoy Austen-era romances and Regency historical romances? Check out my novels, novellas, and short stories on my bookshelf or my Amazon author site.

To learn more about Jane Austen, visit these places:

Welcome to Jane Austen – www.janeausten.co.uk

https://www.biography.com/people/jane-austen-9192819?_escaped_fragment_=

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000807/bio

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jane-Austen


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Friday, September 22, 2017

Following Jane Austen’s footsteps in Chawton House

Chawton House is an Elizabethan manor in the village of Chawton in Hampshire, England. Formerly the property of Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Austen Knight, it is now is managed by the National Trust and open for tours. I couldn’t hardly wait to visit this historic site during my research tour in England.

The current Chawton house was built by the Knight family in the 1580s on the site of a medieval manor house dating back to the 1200s.  

The Knights were not quite in the class of gentlemen, but rather yeomen, which is a step below, but still considered respectable, ranking higher than the working class since they owned property with tenants. During the Elizabethan era, the Knight family embarked on the construction project for much of the present-day Chawton House. 

The 17th-century house was constructed of flint with a tile roof and stone dressings. The three gabled-south side has two storeys and an attic. It also possesses a famous library with an impressive number of books which were an expensive commodity in those days. Today many of those volumes are priceless. What makes this library so unique is the number of tomes written by women poets and novelists, and those written by men who were what people today would consider feminist they way they glorify women warriors. I wonder if they inspired Jane Austen in some small way.

Some good-looking guy keeps photo bombing my pictures. Oh, wait; that’s my husband 🙂

 Today’s entrance hall was once the great hall. Screens to help cut down on drafts originally stood along the great hall near the door, but later descendants walled off a walkway or passageway to keep the great hall warmer. 

                                  Buckets in the entrance hall.

When I first walked in, I noticed buckets along the ceiling. Apparently, they were stored there in the event of a fire; the residents could quickly form a bucket brigade.  

In later years, the Knight family was plagued by a lack of sons, and so many males who were not direct descendants inherited the house and property over the generations, each changing their birth surname to Knight to assume ownership of the property. The Knight family adopted Edward Austen, one of Jane Austen’s older brothers. Adoption was a very rare event in those days, and it is not known exactly why they chose Edward as their adopted son. However, he also changed his surname from Austen to Knight and inherited the estate. 

My gorgeous husband who is 5’8″ illustrates just how low the doorways are.

Jane Austen stayed in this house on and off during her life. When Edward inherited the estate, he allowed his widowed birth mother and unmarried sisters, Jane and Cassandra, to live in a cottage nearby. It is here where Jane seemed most happy and enjoyed the most success as an author. 

                  The dining room at Chawton House

Chawton House was considered one of the big houses in the area. However, I was struck by its humble nature compared to other stately homes I toured during my visit to England. The rooms are small, dark, and cramped, with very low doorways. The floors on the upper levels slope dramatically. Still, compared to the cottage where Jane lived the last several years of her life, as well as the tiny and primitive tenant homes that must have been on the estate, it probably seemed grand, indeed. The house is full of quaint and charming rooms, many of which are furnished with the same furniture Jane and her brother used. I couldn’t help but reverently run my hand over the very table where Jane dined during her visits. 

Today’s estate on which Chawton house resides is approximate 275 acres. The grounds and gardens are lovely! I could have spent hours exploring them despite the record heatwave England suffered during part of my visit. The grounds offer a combination of a wilderness through which paths meander, and more formal gardens. Natural lawns spread out in all directions where animals graze, contained by discrete ditches cut into the hillside known as ha-has which are virtually unseen from the house. The grounds also have terraces, stone stairways, a profusion of flowers and flowering shrubs, fruit trees and shade trees, and comfortable places to sit and enjoy the great outdoors.

Edward’s house and garden made an impression on Jane Austen and seem to have influenced her novels, especially Emma. Some scholars believe Mr. Knightly’s Donwell Abbey was based upon the Knight family’s Chawton House. Perhaps this is why Jane chose the surname of Knightly for her fictional hero, who, by the way is one of my favorite Austen heroes. 

Tony & Julie Roberts in the back lawn of Chawton House. They are such a cute couple!

My friend and fellow Regency Author, Julie Roberts, and her husband Tony, were so kind to offer us their hospitality during this portion of our trip to England, and to bring us to this historic location. I will always appreciate their generosity.

Our friends, Tony & Julie Roberts sitting with my husband and me in their son and daughter-in-law’s backyard. We had a lovely visit with our attentive and gracious hosts!

 

Sources:

My visit in June of 2017, the Chawton House Guide, and Wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Friday, September 8, 2017

Bath, Time Traveling to Rome or Georgian England

by Donna Hatch

When Rome occupied England, the quaint English town now known as Bath was a hub for social, religious, heath, and recreational activities. The sick–those who could afford it–flocked to the healing mineral waters of a warm natural springs. They sought cures, or at least relief, from all manner of health complaints such as palsy, arthritis, gout, skin diseases including leprosy, and many chronic and terminal illnesses.  It seems that both genders bathed together, some clothed, some not. I’ll leave it up to your imagination to decide whether they stayed focused on getting relief from their ailments.

The engineering that went into creating the spa two thousand years ago is truly mind boggling. There are many rooms and a complex system of pumps and pipes that carry the water from the main spring to other parts of the elaborate Roman structure.

I might have been tempted to bathe in a shallow tub of the mineral water if I’d been allowed, but I would never have gone into that enormous pool of murky green water that occasionally bubbled unless I was desperate. It was also kinda creepy not being able to see the bottom. Still, I had to admire the workmanship that went into the design and construction of the building, and the fact that such an ancient structure remains. It is truly a testament to those who lived and worked here so long ago. In the midst of that venerable structure, I imagined people long gone visiting the spa. In the waters, some frolicked for pleasure, and others simply immersed themselves hoping for a miracle. All of them walked or were carried across the rocks that still bear the wear marks of thousands of feet.

Today, the original bath is open for tours but not for bathing so as to preserve its structure. Visitors are admonished not to even touch the water. Modern bath houses provide visitors the opportunity to bathe in the warm mineral waters that many agree has healing properties. Unfortunately, England was in the throes of one of the worst heat waves on record during my visit, so a warm bath lacked its usual appeal.

After the Romans pulled out of England, they abandoned this unique area to the ancient Saxons and Normans. Later, Christian churches arrived.

During the Georgian Era, Bath became a fashionable resort town. People came here to “take the waters,” a Georgian term meaning bathe in the warm mineral pools.

“Taking the waters” also meant to drink water from the Pump Room, which became a gathering place to socialize and flirt, as well as drink the water they believed had additional healing properties if ingested. Inside the Pump Room is a lovely, antique pump that squirts out water in a continuous fountain to allow those with the desire to sample its offering. The Pump Room I visited was a new version built in 1777 to replace an older one originally constructed in 1706. Apparently, the excavation process of this new Pump Room led to the discovery of the Roman Temple.

In case you are wondering, I did not drink the water when I was there. Remembering its green, murky origins a few feet below, not to mention its smell of Sulphur and its reputation for tasting awful, was enough to discourage my sense of adventure. I suppose if any of my characters ever drink the water, I will have to get more detailed second-hand accounts of its taste.

But let us return Georgian society in Bath. With the arrival of the wealthy, some of whom only stayed for the summer, and others who made Bath their permanent home, beautiful homes and neighborhoods cropped up, including The Circus, a circular-shaped neighborhood of beautiful townhomes, and Royal Crescent, an even more upscale set of luxury mansion-style townhomes in the shape of a crescent as its name suggests. I toured one of these townhomes, Number One Royal Crescent, which is a glimpse into life as a wealthy, Georgian gentleman.

                                         The Royal Crescent

Jane Austen lived in Bath for several years with her family. While many claim that Jane disliked living in Bath, a large portion of two of her novels, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, took place in Bath which she portrays as an exciting and lovely place.

Bath Abbey

Beyond enchanting, Bath has a timelessness about it. Walking the streets, I easily imagined myself a character in a Jane Austen novel. Strolling along the river, having afternoon tea in the Pump Room, prowling the streets,  and exploring the Roman Baths creates a sense of having time traveled. With each step I took, I could almost see images of those who’d trod those cobbled paths before me including kings and queens, lords and ladies, and poets and authors including our beloved Jane Austen.

My interest in Bath began long before I visited this fascinating city. Five years ago I wrote my Regency Romance novel, A Perfect Secret, which has a few chapters that take place in Bath. Now I may have to write another book that takes place in this ancient and unique town just to relive my adventures there.

The Avon running under Pulteney Bridge

 

Sources:

My research for this post comes from personal experience as I toured Bath. However, you might enjoy these other sites for more information:

Taking Cure in Bath


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Friday, September 1, 2017

The Lakes District and Slate Rock

Like the millions who visited before, the Lakes District instilled in me a sense of wonder and awe. The beauty of the area is balanced by a yesteryear charm, including unspoiled vistas, the multitude of lakes, also called “meres,” and “waters,” delightful names such as Windermere, Ambleside, and Loweswater, and the preservation of history. The Lakes District even has a stone circles called Castlerigg which predates Stonehenge.

There is something magical about the Lakes District. The colors are more vivid, the light more pure, the landscape more natural and more passionate than any I’ve ever visited. I could point my camera in any  direction with zero to no set up and capture a print-worthy image. Even the photos of me in the area turned out well, and that’s saying something!

Once of the many fascinating aspects of the area was the use of slate stones to build fences, barns, bridges, businesses, and pretty much any type of structure. When the early settlers found farming difficult due to the multitude of stones in their fields, they removed the offending elements, and like any enterprising settler, put these rocks to good use in constructing all their buildings. Slate rock was readily available, study, and durable—perfect for building material.

Today, the skill used to build these stone structures is in danger of becoming a lost art. They use a technique called dry stone. Builders literally use dry stones with no mortar or cement to glue them together. Like a master puzzle solver, the specialist meticulously chooses each rock for its shape and size, and fits them together to create a strong structure that holds up to animals, weather, and even time itself.

A technique called stone cladding places a thinner layer of stone to the outside of buildings. Unlike shingles, siding or stucco, stones never need painting and seldom need repairs or replacing. Some of the buildings are covered with a white material called pebble dash, and many have a combination of slate and pebble dash.

Slate rock structures are just one of the many unique and memorable reasons I fell in love with the Lakes District of England.

I suspect a not-so-distant-in-the-future book I write will take place in this enchanting area of England. Have you visited the Lakes District? 

 


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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

London Townhouse, the Mews

London Mews, June 2017

As any proper Regency lady or gentleman would tell you, the quintessential London home of the upper classes was the townhouse. Each home, attached at both sides to its neighbors, were as unique as its owners. Built in central London, these exclusive dwellings provided easy access to many beautiful city parks, as well as being within walking distance of shopping and all the iconic Regency areas such as Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Gunther’s Tea House, and the famous Almack’s assembly rooms.

As London grew and townhouses sprang up to house the rich and beautiful, the need for stables also grew because the only way to get around in London was by foot or by horse (either horseback or carriage). The plentiful cabs were good enough for the working class, but the elite preferred using their private conveyance. The rich who could afford horses needed a place to keep their animals, tack, carriages, as well as drivers, grooms, and stable workers. But space was limited.  

Mews houses with garage doors where once horses and carriages dwelled

The solution was simple; build stables behind each townhouse with a road that leads to it. In London, these stables were known as mews. The mews were (and still are) tucked behind grand mansion-style townhouses in London’s most exclusive neighborhoods.

Mews cobbled lane

A mews had many advantages. It kept the horses and staff nearby when the lord or lady of the house needed them, although it took considerable time to hitch the team to the carriage. Having the mews around back kept the sounds and smells of the animals away from the house’s residents and guests. The cobbled lane kept the area clean and provided good drainage of waste. 

Opposite the mews and cobbled lane is another row of stables behind another row of townhouses facing the next street. Often one end of this is yet another mews, or sometimes a pub, so it makes a sort of courtyard. Reportedly, many London mews had a tunnel under the garden connecting with the ground floor or basement of the house. This would have provided an easy way for servants to access the stable without disturbing their employers.

Entrance to a London mews

From what I have been able to determine, the term mews mews means both the London stables and the lane that leads to them. This cobbled back street, a narrow lane not much bigger than a bike lane, leads to the stables. Most of these lanes are named after the street nearby with the word mews tacked on. For example, Colville Road has the nearby Colville Mews. 

The only stables that are called mews are those in London attached to the back of a London townhouse. Anywhere else, and associated with any other type of dwelling, the term stables is used. 

Anciently, the mews is where the royals housed their falcons. Falcons, like most birds, moult or mew (from the French verb ‘muer’), which became the name of the place where they lived and therefore did this moulting or mewing. The word mews, oddly, is singular. Anyway, later they moved the falcons out and moved in the horses. The name mews stuck, despite the change in resident animals.

Horse names are still found on some doors that lead to today’s mews houses

Horses lived on the ground floor of the mews. Many of the doors had the names of the horses who lived there. Some still do. A larger area provided room for the carriages and tack. The first floor (up one level) provided rustic accommodations for the driver and ostlers (groom or stablemen a.k.a. stable lads). Above this floor, many London homes had other floors where their house servants’ quarters were located. Some London townhouses also had gardens, but since I didn’t see any set up this way, I’m not certain exactly how they were laid out.

Lovely London mews homes

Today, most mews houses are beautifully restored homes which open onto a safe, quiet, cobbled lane with virtually no traffic. It has become a coveted, and therefore expensive, place to live partly because they have what are now garages, which are difficult to come by in London. And mews houses and neighborhoods really are so lovely now that one can hardly believe their humble beginnings. I found a lot more photos on this blog called A Lady in London showing today’s exclusive London mews home and a few other photos here on Mother Lindas blog

Sources:

Most of my sources are my years of study, as well as what I observed and learned during my trip to London. However, I also refereed to this sources: http://www.lurotbrand.co.uk/mews-gems/what-is-a-mews

 

 

 


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