A Little Bit of Switzerland in Regency England!

Ye_Olde_Swiss_Cottage_pub_Swiss_CottageNicola here. When I was a student in London, I lived near the Finchley Road. This was one of the main roads that led North out of the centre of London and it was often very busy with traffic. At one large roundabout there was a sight that always struck me as very odd: A Swiss chalet in the middle of the road. It was a pub and it was called, perhaps unsurprisingly, “Swiss Cottage.” The roundabout and the nearby underground station were named after it, and for such a busy and modern place it looked total incongruous.

I didn’t realise then that when the original “Swiss Tavern” was built there in 1804, it was part of a Switzerland vintage
larger fashion for recreating Swiss landscapes in England and elsewhere as part of the Romantic movement. Yes, as is often the case, the poet William Wordsworth had a hand in bringing back the idea of “Swissness” as something that represented freedom and beautiful scenery. In 1790 he and a friend took a walking tour of Switzerland and he was awestruck by the landscape and also by a scale model he saw of Lake Lucerne, the mountains and the alpine cottages. He brought home the idea of creating little Switzerlands in the English countryside.

Read more

Aprons

Anne here, considering the humble apron. RegencyApron

When I was a kid, pretty much every woman I knew wore an apron when in the kitchen or elsewhere in the home. My maternal grandmother wore one almost all the time.  The apron wasn't just to protect her dress and to wipe her hands on, it carried all sorts of things; fruit and vegetables from the garden, fresh-laid eggs, pegs from the line, wood chips for the fire. When visitors came the apron would be whipped off, or if it was dirty, she'd pop on a fresh one. She had maybe a dozen aprons, some workaday, some pretty.

My mother, who was a professional woman, would get home from work, walk into the kitchen, put on an apron and get to work. She also had a number of different aprons, from the ones that covered her dress well, to pretty ones made from worn-out old dresses.  

Me? The truth is, I hardly ever put on an apron from one month to another.

Read more

What We’re Reading in February

Hi Folks. 

Joanna here with a round up of the great reads that got us through a blustery cold February.

Wenches discovery witchesMy own wonderful read was Deborah Harkness' A Discovery of Witches, Book One in the All Soul's Trilogy.  The elements of this story — withces and vampires living among us, ancient manuscripts, conspiracies, ancient secrets — are familiar.  They seem almost hackneyed.  What lifts this book above the ordinary is Harkness' beautiful writing. 

And … well … the first book of the trilogy is set mostly in Oxford.  I'm a sucker for Oxford. 

I've already acquired Book Two in the trilogy, Shadow of Night, and look forward to settling down in a comfy chair with it.  Maybe when we get this next wave of snow that's coming in. 

Cara/Andrea saying:Wenches heir apparent

I’m very interested in the Edwardian era, so when I read the great reviews for The Heir Apparent, Jane Ridley’s new biography of “Bertie,” King Edward VII, I immediately grabbed it.

It’s an absolutely fascinating read. Ridley had access to extensive Royal archives and private family correspondence—and the picture painted of Queen Victoria, Albert and their extensive brood and relatives is  . . .well, I’m not quite sure of the adjective to use. Chilling might be one of them. Talk about a dysfunctional family! It’s a wonder poor Bertie wasn’t committed to Bedlam. He actually comes off as a very sympathetic character, far brighter and more interested in the welfare of his country than he is given credit for.

On the other hand, the Queen and her consort come across as cold, manipulative people who had absolutely no emotional interest in their children. It also gives a wonderful look at the social whirl of the Victorian age, with descriptions of the house parties, the foreign travel, the royalty of Europe. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in the time period.

 

Read more

The Well-dressed Maid.

Joanna here:  Most of us have a picture of what a historical housemaid should look like.  
E. Phillips FOX - Déjeuner, 1911 

She'll wear black with a crisp white apron pinned to her bodice and a little cap on her head.  A Downton Abbey maid; an Upstairs Downstairs maid; a Victorian or Edwardian maid.  And for Victorian era maids, this is an accurate picture.
The maid would buy her own clothing, with the type and style stipulated by the mistress. 

A housemaid's dress is of some importance. When engaged in her morning work, washable materials are the best; a wide holland apron should always be worn over [an apron] of white material whenever house-cleaning is going on. If the servant be required to appear at the front door, or wait upon the family whilst at dirty work, by casting aside the outer apron she is able to appear at a moment's notice in a presentable manner. For afternoon wear in the winter, very dark or black French twill dresses are suitable, inexpensive, and easily washed. In the summer light cotton materials look best. At all seasons a neat white crochet cap is the best head-gear.
      Cassells Household Guide, c.1880s

George-kilburne 1Where heavy work was required, the maid would try to get that done in the morning and change to better and cleaner clothing after the worst of it.  This is not just for neatness sake.  The maid is representing the household.

If the parlour-maid answers the door, she should be neatly attired, and ready at a moment's notice to present herself creditably before strangers. A servant of good address at a professional man's door, is as much a matter of personal recommendation of the employer as the situation of his residence. Some amount of forethought on the part of the mistress is necessary to ensure cleanly appearance in a door-servant; but the attempt is worth making, if only for the sake of favourable first impressions on the part of strangers.
      Cassells Household Guide

One purpose of the Victorian maid's clothing is to establish her position in the social hierarchy.  The servant's clothing is this era is a sort of uniform that show she is a servant.   How embarrassing for all concerned if she were unmistaken for a lady of the house or a guest.

Thus the lady's maid, even when she has the perquisite of cast-off dresses, would not wear them going about her duties.  If she wears them on her day off, she'd best nip out of the house smart and not be seen.  "As a general rule, ladies do not like to see their maids dressed in the clothes they themselves have worn – except in wearing a black or a dark-coloured silk – the difference in the social scale of mistress and maid renders this unpleasing." Cassells Household Guide

Taking just a moment to talk about the nanny's clothing. 
Maidservant carrying breakfast tray albert goodwin 1893This is more likely to be light colored and easily washable, with black saved for 'best' when she brought the children out to meet guests and the family after dinner.

The dress of a nurse needs some words of comment. Long skirts should not be worn, tripping little children up, as they are liable to do. Gowns made of washable materials are most suitable. These are easily cleansed if soiled by nursery duties, and cost but little to renew. A waterproof apron worn under the ordinary white apron will be found a great comfort to a nurse, and might be supplied with advantage at the cost of the employer. Every nurse should also be furnished with a long, loose, warm wrapper, made like a dressing-gown, for night wear, when her duties require her to rise from her bed to take a baby to and from the mother's room. This garment should be purchased by the mistress, and kept for the use of any nurse who may succeed to the situation.
     Cassells Household Guide

Leslie,_George_Dunlop_-_Her_first_place before 1921But what about the Regency?
Moving a couple generations back in time and looking at the clothing of a Georgian or Regency maidservant, we discover an entirely different situation.  In 1760 or 1800, a maidservant wore essentially the same clothing as others of her class.  She wasn't required to buy special clothing to suit her job. 

Perhaps the maid dressed better than her cousins back home because she might have access to her mistress' castoffs.  Contemporary journals and letters complain of maids wearing clothing unsuitable to their station and their work.  But whether the maid wore her lady's silks to sashay about the parlor, dusting, or saved it for her day off, or thriftily sold it to the used clothing dealer, it must have presented a continual temptation to finery. 

There was no distinctive 'uniform' required for the Regency maid.  No necessity for drab and black.  No regimentation.  When the maidservant opened the door to the Regency hero she was as likely to be wearing flowered muslin as black serge.

The housemaid by william henry pyne 1827

Gilroy the stays

 
The chocolate girl jean ettienne liotard
Joseph Caraud - The Levee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What about you?  Have you ever had to wear a uniform?  Was it good, reasonable, proper to wear one … or just a pain in the neck?

Did it make you feel differently?
Do you treat people differently because they're wearing a uniform?

One lucky commenter wins a copy of one of my books, your choice.