Regency Weather Lore

Wench weather caspar david friedrichJoanna here:  The other day, we had a bit of a storm — buckets of rain, impenetrable clouds walking up the hill and past my window, trees lashing back and forth like mad things, a march of roiling black thunderheads over the valley.  

This was our taste of Hurricane Arthur, and fairly mild it was when compared to other folks' experience.

It got me to thinking about weather in a historical sorta way. Before Arthur went strolling up the Wenches weather gustave callebottecoast,  I had a week of weathermen showing me charts and maps and making dire predictions.

If I'd had a herd of sheep I would have moved them to the lower meadow or the upper hill or whatever. I would have made sure the roof of the hen house was tapped down tight and in good repair. I could have gone out to the fields and brought the corn in. (We do Indian corn — maize — in this section of the world and it's getting ripe on the southern slopes.) I would have worried about the little baby peaches on the trees — not that I could do much about them.

Wenches weatherchristmas 1820ishBut all that last week before the storm the days were warm and sunny. There wasn't any warning in the sky. Without the internet, I would have been taken by surprise.

In all the ages before 'a cold front moving in from the west carrying moisture' and 'polar vortexes' and 'the jet stream shifting eastward' and 'European computer models' there would have been no warning. For my folks in 1800, rich and poor, every day of the growing season was another day disaster might strike.

Ottheinrich 2 folio 288rRev6a

my view of modern weather forecasting

They didn't have our modern weather shamans, but folks had weather lore and generations of experience and a double handful of superstitions about the weather.
Maybe these worked about as well.

Our Georgian and Regency characters, from the highest to the most humble, would have known all the old jingles and folk sayings.

"Red sky at night, sailor's delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning."

Shakespear said, "Like a red morn that ever yet betokened, wreck to the seaman, tempest to the field, sorrow to the shepherds, woe unto the birds, gusts and foul flaws to herdmen and to herds.”

Matthew XVI 2-3:  "When in evening, ye say, it will be fair weather: For the sky is red. And in the morning, it will be foul weather today; for the sky is red and lowering.”

Which is just a whole lot of general agreement on this principle.

Now, when I see a brilliant red sunset on the horizon, I figger there's dust flying around in the upper atmosphere.  Maybe a volcanic explosion somewhere in the world.


attrib Alvesgaspar

After the 1883 explosion of Krakatoa in Indonesia, the ash caused "such vivid red sunsets that fire engines were called out in New York, Poughkeepsie, and New Haven to quench the apparent conflagration."  These blood-red sunsets continued for years.

But I digress.

When our Georgian and Regency people saw these red sunsets or sunrises, they had some reason to guess at the day's weather.

Sunsets and dawns are colorful because at those times light from the sun passes through a lot of atmosphere to get to us and picks up coloring on the way.  That's why we don't so much get that 'red sun at noon, expect dragons soon' sorta vibe.

Wenches weather Stormclouds wikiIn Europe, weather tends to move from west to east, so red light from the west means we're getting good illumination all that long way from the west. It's clear in that direction. That's nice stability in the weather that's coming.
On the other hand, the same reddish tinge to the east — according to current meteorological lore — means lots of moisture and clouds in the atmosphere above the observer and thus the likelihood of rain.
(I keep reading these explanations and they strike me as fairly 'the dog broke the lamp' specious.)

Or, possibly, since the weather moves west to east, maybe red sunrise in the east is telling everybody that the good weather has scuttled past them and off that way and they missed it. Tough luck.

See a ring around the moon, a storm is sure to follow soon. Wenches Lunar_Corona

Here, meteorologists make the fairly simple and common-sense-ical explanation that the rainbow like ring that sometimes makes a halo around the moon is cause by ice crystals in the high atmosphere. These high altitude clouds are the early edge of a low pressure system moving in.

Logical enough. But yes, I do like the rhyme better than all that "low-pressure system front" guff.


St. Swithin, of course

Then there's St. Swithin's day, which is next week, July 15, and part of the reason I'm blogging this today.  If St. Swithin's day is dry, the the next forty days will be dry. Contrariwise, if it rains on that day, we got forty days of rain. Google boatbuilding.

There is a whole mass of folk belief that some people can predict the weather. Either they just 'know' or they 'feel it in their bones'.  Makes sense to me that changes in air pressure would be felt by the already-sensitive nerves around old wounds, healed bone breaks, and arthritic joints.

And there's lots of lore that says birds can sense a storm on the way and they take shelter. Or cows lie down in the field.

Mandy by Elaine1My dog, who is a great lump of a lazy hound most times, can feel thunderstorms coming long before the sky clouds over and the temperature drops and the air gets that crisp taste to it that tells even a human dolt like me that a storm's coming.  Mandy — the dog — goes searching frantically around the house for someplace safe to hide.  Behind the water pump. Under my desk. In the bedroom behind the bed where she cannot possibly fit.


Some lucky commenter will win of choice of any of Joanna Bourne's books.

So. Do you have an animal in your life who can sense bad storms approaching?
Can you predict the weather?

The Pastel Regency

 Finger_PaintingJoanna here:

I have fond memories of my early attempts at the visual arts.  Fingerpainting appealed to the squidgy, primitive side of me.  My big box of crayolas was a regiment of reassuring order.  And then there were poster paints.  So bright.  So vivid. Purple houses.  Green — I mean GREEN — fields.  Red cats.

When I run out of red, I use blue.
     Pablo Picasso

But settling down to talk about history. 

A-drawing-lad_nicolas-bernard C18

He's using a brass pastel holder.

Regency visual artists were about half way along the technological journey between the Neolithic Cave painters and one of those high-tech computer painting programs.  The fine work, the beautiful work, the Regency artists created was accomplished with the most simple tools and a limited array of colors.
Let me talk about pastels, because one of my characters, Pax, uses pastels.  I think of it as a portable and democratic art form in Georgian and Regency times.

Portraits in these readymade crayons offered tangible advantages over oil for the artist and the sitter: they required fewer sittings as there was no drying time; less paraphernalia; the materials were easily portable and the costs were lower.
      The Rise of Pastel in the Eighteenth Century, Margery Shelley

Pastelportraits ack the met

Just a whole bunch of pastels.  From the Met

They called pastels 'crayons' in the Regency — so confusing — because the waxy colored sticks we think of as 'crayons' wouldn't be invented for another century. 

These pastels were made by grinding natural white chalk — something you can pick up off the ground in places like Southeast England — into a fine powder. You mixed this with pigment and a binder like gum arabic.  You rolled the mixture into thin cylindrical sticks or long square sticks and dried them.  These were 'soft pastels'.  They were just super concentrated colors that transferred readily to the paper. 

A-drawing-lad_nicolas-bernard C18 detail

detail picture above

You had a potential for vivid color, but in a medium likely to crumble and come apart in your hand and smear.  So the pastel sticks were fitted into a sort of metal holder that protected them and provided control and precision for the artist. 

Conte crayon holder antique

A holder for conte pastels, about 6 inches long, brass




 Because pastels were intended to be inserted into a holder, they were thinner than the ones we use today.  A square shape gave them stability in the holder. 

ETA: I've not yet found an illustration of someone drawing with plain naked pastels, but it's very possible this is how it was actually done.  It's the way pastels are used today, so why not in 1800?





The first pencil, or rather crayon, that I possessed, was given to me by that right worthy cronie of my uncle Zachary, William Hogarth. It was one of those which may be still remembered by 'men of my standing'.  One end was of common commercial black-lead, the other red-chalk, ready pointed, and inclosed in a case of need.
     Literary Gazette and Journal, V 4, John Mounteney Jephson, 1820

Conté_crayons wiki

conte pastels and a holder.

 The most exciting recent innovation for our Regency pastel artist would have been the Conté crayon,  invented in France in 1794.  These were made from kaolin clay and graphite and fired in a kiln.  They were much harder than the chalk-based soft pastel sticks, and came in a smaller range of colors.  They could be sharpened.  They were good for tight, crisp lines and fine detail, and often used to lay down the first sketch on paper. 

Our Regency artist dealt with the fragility of those pastels by 'fixing' the finished art with dissolved Isinglass.  Isinglass, as you doubtless know — doesn't everybody? — is made from the dried bladders of fishes.  This was dissolved in alcohol and distributed in a fine spray of droplets over the paper. 

Which brings us to a consideration of color …

Constable's 1837 Tin box bladders white stone glass vial pwdered pigment

John Constable's oil paints, 1837

Oil paint came in only a few colors.  Oils were a couple decades from living in metal tubes.  In the Regency, they came in bladders that had to be pierced for each painting session.  They dried up quickly and had to be used fast, so artists didn't keep a wide range of colors handy about the atelier.  They mixed what they needed from ten or a dozen basics.

This to the left is Constable's paint box with its paint bladders.  About twelve of them. 

W reeves 1784 to 1789 paint box  from whimsies one time permissiontn

A nice 1794 paintbox with about a dozen blocks of paint and a couple of conte pastels




 Watercolor came in more shades. 

Regency watercolors looked surprisingly modern — little squares or oblongs with about the texture of today's watercolor, stamped with the maker's name.  The binder contained honey to give a softer, gummy texture. 

Since colors could be mixed as needed on a ceramic palette, even a very fancy watercolor box held a dozen or twenty colors.  Ackermann — yes the same Ackermann who made prints and produced Ackermann's repository — offered 68 prepared color choices in 1801.

(So many of these watercolors were so very poisonous.  I'm sure there's a good Regency mystery here somewhere.)

Pastels, on the other hand, came in myriad shades.  In the Regency these were available commercially and had been for a century.

As those students who attempt the art of crayon-painting may be readily supplied by the shops with every kind of crayon, we shall not enter into the manner of their preparation
     Pantologia: A New Cyclopaedia, John Mason Good, 1813

These dozens of prepared colors were not just convenience, but a necessity arising from the way the medium worked.  Pastels could be 'smudged' on the paper to create a blended hue or added in layers for subtle shading, but the artist had to start with a wide selection of excellent colors.

No great success in this mode of Painting can be expected, unless you have procured Crayons of brilliant tints, that are tender, corresponding with those in Nature.
     A Treatise on the Art of Painting, and the Composition of Colours, ‪M. Constant de Massoul‬. 1797

What startles and amazes is how few pigments they had. 

This is the palette they worked with, mostly from ground, natural stones:

Selection of Minerals

natural minerals used as pigments attrib Michael Price 











List of colors
Lead white
Ivory black
Naples yellow
Indian yellow
Prussian Blue
Yellow ochre
Red ochre
Rose madder
Burnt sienna
Brown madder
Cassel earth
Ultramarine blue


From this — everything.
All the art.  All the pastels and oil paintings and watercolors.   
I am so amazed.

Paint box with oils:  John Constable (English, 1776–1837), Paint Box, 1837. Tin box with
hinged lid housing eleven bladders, tied with string and filled with
pigment, a piece of white stone, and a glass vial of powdered pigment, 2
x 13 x 3 3/8 in. (5.1 x 33 x 8.6 cm). Sterling and Francine Clark Art
Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts (photo by Michael Agee)


If you were a Regency artist, what medium would you have chosen?  What would you have painted?

Some fortunate person from the comment stream will win one of Joanna's books — their choice.

Keeping it Clean – Georgian and Regency Bathing Customs

Joanna here, talking about Georgian and Regency bathtubs and the joys of getting clean.  The_bath-stevens C19
There is a general view that historical people were rather dirty, there being a dearth of historical folks getting up at six and grabbing a bar of soap and popping in to warble un bel dì vedremo in the shower.  I'm afraid we all feel rather smug about our acres of colored tile with the running hot and cold.

How clean were they?  The townsfolks as they merrily hung aristos from the lamposts, Ninon de l'Enclos, Voltaire, (Did you know Ninon left money in her will for the 9-year-old Voltaire to buy books?) Napoleon, Jane Austen, the kitchenmaid grinding coffee in the morning? How clean were they?

Degas woman washing her left leg 1883 to 6 the met This is a case where the written historical record tends to desert us, somewhat, as folks do not record in their diary, "I got up and Mary-the-perky-maid brought me six liters of water and I washed my face, hands, underarms and, last off, various parts south of the waistband." any more than we text to our BFFs to say we've had a morning shower.

So we end up making some 'best guesses' about this whole business.

You had your everyday getting clean.  You had your gDegas-edgar-the-tub-bathing-woman-1886etting wet for recreational purposes. And you had your washing the body to treat diseases.

This last one gets written about a lot in a 'I went to the baths to see if I could get rid of this nasty skin condition' or 'the physician prescribed a course of cold baths with sulfur powder in them and I feel much better now that I have stopped' sorta way.  Marat, you will recall, was in exactly such a medicinal bath when Charlotte Corday brought it, and him, to an abrupt end with a knife.

Rowlandson comforts of bath the bath Medicinal Baths and Thermal Spas.  The mineral baths at Bath and other spa towns provided an immersion intended to improve the health, not so much wash the body, though it did that too.  Some places there were separate baths for men and women.  Some places, everybody bathed together.
They went into the water dressed. Wearing their periwigs and bonnets.  I should think the fumes did neither periwigs nor bonnets much good, frankly.

Up at four o’clock, being by appointment called up to the Cross Bath . . .  very fine ladies; and the manner pretty enough, only methinks it cannot be clean to go so many bodies together in the same water. Good conversation among them that are acquainted here, and stay together. Strange to see how hot the water is; and in some places, though this is the most temperate bath, the springs so hot as the feet not able to endure. . . . Carried away, wrapped in a sheet, and in a chair, home; and there one after another thus carried, I staying above two hours in the water, home to bed, sweating for an hour.
         Pepys' Diary

Let us leave the whole subject of medicinal baths very quickly, as it is generally unpleasant, even if you're not getting stabbed.

Though I should point out that folks still do this medicinal bath bit, in the way of putting baking soda in a bath for some poor sufferer from poison ivy, and modern herb baths hold anything from lavender to chamomile and thyme.  The 'it's good for you' bath is not going to disappear anytime soon.

Beaumont 3rd quat c19 Out in the Fresh Air.  The opposite of taking a bath because it was good for you was getting wet just for the fun of it.  Any warm day would probably see the local youths sporting in the local river.  There are a good many references to folks doing exactly this — including a Paris ordinance forbidding nude bathing in the Seine, but only near the bridges — to avoid the scandalizing the public.

Pepys, in his diary, notes the sad death of a young boy bathing in the Thames.
and at Somerset-stairs do understand that a boy is newly drowned, washing himself there, and they cannot find his body.

Or this Englishman travelling in America.
Early the next morning, my kind, attentive host entered into my bedroom and inquired if I should like to take a bath. I replied in the affirmative, and immediately rising, was conducted to one in an adjoining field which is filled by a small brook and is therefore always fresh.
          A summary view of America, Isaac Candler  1824

Period pictures are not an entirely reliable guide to actual practice.  Showing folks bathing in pools and rivers is a great excuse to paint nekkid people, after all.  But from an extensive personal survey,it looks like bathing — where folks actually got wet all over as opposed to wading in the water — tended to be young people and they were segregated into women and men.  

Bathing in the sea, for fun and medical benefit, became fashionable in the Eighteenth Century, with 'bathing machines' on offer from mid century. 

The fourth is its fondness for bathing-machines,
Which it constantly carries about,
And believes that they add to the beauty of scenes-
A sentiment open to doubt.
          Lewis CarrollMermaids at brighton 1825

Bathing machines were high-wheeled wagons, with a canvas or wood structure on top, towed from the shore into the sea. 

Image to yourself a small, snug, wooden chamber, fixed upon a wheel-carriage, having a door at each  end, and on each side a little window above, a bench below – The bather, ascending into this apartment by wooden steps, shuts himself in, and begins to undress, while the attendant yokes a horse to the end next the sea, and draws the Benjamin west last quarter C18 the bathing place at Ramsgatecarriage forwards, till the surface of the water is on a level with the floor of the dressing-room, then he  moves and fixes the horse to the other end – The person within being stripped, opens the door to the sea-ward, where he finds the guide ready, and plunges headlong into the water – After having bathed, he re-ascends into the apartment, by the steps which had been shifted for that purpose, and puts on his clothes at his leisure, while the carriage is drawn back again upon the dry land; so that he has nothing further to do, but to open the door, and come down as he went up.
                                   Tobias Smollett  1771

Men plunged into the waves starkers.  Small children, of course, went into the water naked, as they do in European countries today.  Women wore a long flannel shift, sometimes with lead weights sewn into the hem to keep the skirts from floating up.

In all this bathing, women took to one end of the beach and men the other, so modesty was maintained, in any case.  Hefty and agile attendants supervised so folks didn't drown, a real possibility when wrapped in several yards of soaking flannel, I should imagine.  

But how did people wash? I hear you asking.  How did they keep clean?

Public Baths.  In France, the custom of public bath houses, cheap, respectable and widely available, Le bain economic des incroyables de la rue dela tannerie a quinze centimes never died out.  This was an amazement and joy to travelling Englishmen and women who have left us detailed records of the process since this was something they did not have at home. 

Paris baths had private rooms with hot and cold running water, big tubs, fireplaces, nicely heated robes and towels, waitresses offering coffee and drinks, and a selection of bath oils and bath herbs.  There were also bathin g pools for both men and women and, in one bath on the Seine, swimming lessons for both.
I'm surprised English folks every went home again.

Meanwhile . . . at home. In England, in this period, folks did their actual getting clean by sponging off with a pitcher of water and a little basin on their dresser, or by immersing themselves in a tub not too different from a modern bath tub, or by standing in a smallish tub on the floor and washing with a pitcher of water.

The habit of washing the body and the introduction of wash basins and portable bath tubs began to spread among wealthy households in the late 18th century.
     The Family, Sex & Marriage in England 1500-1800 
Laurence Stone

You had yer bath tubs.

I think and feel that, after a day's bard riding, there is no luxury comparable with a 'warm bath—it is so grateful and refreshing, and disputes the title of "tired nature's sweet restorer" with sleep
The Inspector, literary magazine and review, Volume 2

These were not necessarily in a 'bathroom'. 

The idea of having a room devoted to washing in a tub goes right back to the Seventeenth Century.  Pepys mentions such a bath in a private home.

Thence with Mr. Povy home to dinner; where extraordinary cheer. And after dinner up and down to see his house. . . .  his grotto and vault, with his bottles of wine, and a well therein to keep them cool; his furniture of all sorts; his bath at the top of his house, good pictures, and his manner of eating and drinking; do surpass all that ever I did see of one man in all my life.

But this would have been rare.  Rooms devoted to bathing were for palaces and the grandest mansions.

Jonghe late c19 apres_le_bain Moveable tub baths were more common.
What folks of middling means did when they wanted to take a bath was fire up the hearth in their bedroom, pull a screen round to close off the drafts, and send for a tub. 

And water.  They had 'running water' of a sort.  They sent a footman to run and get it.  It came up in biggish cans, generally one hot and one cold.  A housemaid might linger nearby and keep a kettle on the fire and add more hot water from time to time as the bath cooled.
This process was what you might call, labor intensive.  Water and bath hauling was done by footmen.

Warning:  Author anecdote time.  My father grew up in a house with exactly this kind of 'running water'.  His job was to go to the well and carry in all the water used for cooking, cleaning, bathing and washing for a household of ten people.  It will come as no surprise that he ran away to sea.

How common were these tub baths? Adam 1842 crop

Every house of every nobleman or gentleman, in every nation under the sun, excepting Britain, possesses one of these genial friends to cleanliness and comfort (bath tubs).
           The Mirror of Graces (1811) 

So the British may have been well behind their continental counterparts in the matter of home bath tubs, just as they were in matter of public baths.

And when there was a tub in the house, it's worth noting that its use involved a whole production.  Boiling water, carting it upstairs, and then carting it down again after use.  I wonder how many of the ordinary gentry folk would have seen this as a daily necessity when you could get just as clean with . . .

Basin and Pitcher.  This was the standard wash equipment all through the period.  

Basin and pit 1795 sevres metWashing with a pitcher of water would be part of the morning routine, or undertaken again after a long day of work or play.  This was what you'd expect to find waiting for you in a decent inn.  This was the normal way folks got clean. 

Pitchers held about the largest amount of water one person could easily manage to pour.  Call it one to two gallons.  (Four to eight liters.)  You wet a towel or flannel and washed yourself, using the basin to catch the used water. Or you might pour the water in and splash it on yourself.  Basin stand mid c18 VandA

The towels, by the way, weren't the fluffy terry cloth we think of today when we say towel.  That's mid-nineteenth century fabric.  Our Georgian and Regency folks used woven linen to dry off.  Cassat woman bathing

The soap would most likely have been spherical, about the size to fit in the palm of the hand, because that's how it would have been form — piece by piece between the palms of the hand.  Your character might have called this a 'wash Silver soap ball attrib British museum ball'.  

It would be kept in a soap ball holder on the washstand. After the 1790's the soap might have been 'Pear's Soap', which was transparent and flower scented. And . . . There might be sponges. 

Your basin and pitcher might sit on a sideboard or Toulouse lautrec 1896 washing a dresser, or you might have a fancy, purpose-built washstand in the corner.  It was typically a maid who brought the pitcher of hot water up to you. The amount of water was limited by the amount you could lift and pour yourself.  That meant a maid could easily carry it. 

How clean did you get, washing this way? 

I don't see any reason to believe you couldn't keep yourself just as clean as bathing in a tub.  Even today, this is 'how it's done' for most of the world's population. 

Whether our Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century folks felt the need to wash as often as we do today or righteously refrained from washing on the grounds that it 'opened the pores' and let sickness in . . . I don't think anybody will really know.

It's not a British reference, but:

Having completed it, [my work]  I went to the stream to wash myself thoroughly, and then to the sailor's chest to change my coat, that I might make a decent appearance at breakfast, and give my sons an example of that cleanliness which their mother was at all times eager to inculcate.
                   Swiss Family Robinson 1812

And Beau Brummel advocated frequent washing. 
On the other hand, he felt he had to advocate frequent washing.

Rub a dub dub.  A couple final questions remain in my mind.

Bad-mit-schokolade c17 Why the devil did women sometimes wear their shifts in the bathtub?  And what is with putting a sheet along the bottom of the tub?

I have cogitated upon this from time to time when I am not concerned with other great issues of the day like, 'Why does the car always break down when I have to be somewhere in twenty minutes?' and 'Why are taxes so complicated?' and 'Why would anyone name his kid Cedric? Isn't it obvious he's going to be a supporting character and come to a sticky end in a graveyard?'

I won't call this the final word on sheets in bathtubs . . . But this is what I think:
There is cloth on the bottom of the tub because these tubs were either (a) wood and full of splinters or (b) metal and cold.

  So why are women wearing a shift in the water?

I think bathing in a tub was seen not so much as washing to get clean, as it was an enjoyable interlude. 

Think of modern habit of spending an hour reading in the bathtub.  If it took a couple man-hours to prepare and clear out that tub, it seems to me you wouldn't put your household to that much trouble and then not take full advantage of it. 

Washing with a basin and pitcher was solitary, but tub bathing, by its Romanet2 1774 le bain nature, was a group effort.  It seems to have been something of a social occasion for some folks.

Marie Antoinette wrote:  I dictate from my bath, into which I have just thrown myself, to support, at least, my physical strength. I can say nothing of the state of my mind;"

If Marat had not been of the opinion that receiving visitors in the bathtub was an unexceptional practice he might have lived a while longer.

So maybe — a shift was worn for modesty when the bedroom was apt to be crisscrossed by servants running errands and you planned to be in the tub a while? 

washstand from the Victoria and Albert. Ewer and basin, soap ball, and the Degas statue of Woman Washing Her Leg are from the Metropolitan Museum. 


What do you think?  Were they clean and sweet in Regency times, or deplorably . . . uncleanly. 
(Not Mr. Darcy.  Say it ain't so.)

How Far the Candle

Sargent-carnationlily 1885lily Joanna here, talking about light, and how folks avoided being the thing that went bump in the night and banged its shins in 1800 or so.

"How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world."  William Shakespeare
The Lacemaker-s
For the most part, people took the low tech approach.  Daily life followed the sun.  Country folk got up with the chickens, not just because the chickens were making an almighty determined racket, but because there was a day of work to get to.  Every hour the family stayed awake past sunset cost money.   

They made good use of the daylight while they had it.  The well-to-do had tall  windows in their houses, the better to invite the sunlight inside.  Even the stables had windows. In 1800, if you wanted to shell peas or sew some fine embroidery, you'd take it to the windowseat or go sit on the doorstep of the cottage. 

Edmund_Blair_Leighton_-_On_the_Threshold The hero is apt to find the heroine reading a letter on the garden bench because that's where the light's good. 

"When Thomas Edison worked late into the night on the electric light, he had to do it by gas lamp or candle. I'm sure it made the work seem that much more urgent. "
George Carlin

When you didn't have free light from the sky, or didn't have enough of it, you made your own.

The oldest form of lighting known to man is probably collecting a stick of something that burns reliably and poking it into the fire till it catches and then walking around with it till, ouch, it singes the fingers.  The final flowering of this line of thought is the rushlight and the torch.

A rushlight — sometimes the name says it all — is made from a rush.  That's a tall weed that grows in Rush lights after being dipped picture from 1904 marshy places, with which the British Isles are plentifully supplied.   Women and children collected rushes in the summer, peeled off all but a thin layer of the tough greeRush pith hung up to dry after stripping picture from 1904n skin.  The pith was long and thin.  Think reeeealy thick spaghetti about two feet long.  This was hung up in bunches, dried, and then drawn through melted  fat.  You can see the dilemma for a poor family here.  They can eat that fat or they can burn it for light.  If you stayed up late chewing the fat, you were also burning it.

"It is not economical to go to bed early to save candles if the result is twins."
Chinese proverb

A typical rush light would burn maybe a quarter hour to as long as an hour.  The rush went into the jaw of a split piece of wood or a metal holder that held it at an angle so it wouldn't burn up all at once.

Rushlight was the poor man's candle — it gave off about the same amount of light as a candle — and the rushlight was made even more attractive because candles were taxed in England between 1709 and 1831.  Candlemaking required a license.  That's why your Regency heroine messes about making perfumes, cosmetics, herbal remedies for the poor and maybe some potent cherry cordial, but does not make interestingly scented candles.

Moving along to the other primitive light source — torches.  A torch is a stick with something at the end Linkboy C18 that burns . . . not too fast and not too slow.  Pitch is the traditional torch fuel. 

Your Georgian and Regency folks would most often encounter the torches carried by linkboys as they made their way home from the theatre or a party.   According to Samuel Pepys, “links were torches of tow or pitch to light the way.”  Linkboys were men and boys who, for a farthing, ran in front of the carriage, or accompanied sedan chairs and those on foot, to light the road ahead.  In thieves' cant a linkboy was called a "moon-curser" because they didn't find work on moonlit nights.

 Here's a GeorGeorgian link extinquisher wikigian link extinguisher on the side of the house for the linkboy to douse his glim and save the torch till the next customer.

The other old form of lighting is the oil lamp.  In its simplest form, an oil lamp needs only three elements — the liquid oil, the wick and the fire.  It's nice if you can add a glass chimney around the fire to keep the flame steady and to keep it from Oil lamps attrib surajramk blowing out.  On the other hand, open lamps lit everything from caves to igloos . . . (Igli?) . . . for millennia before glass chimneys.  Long after 1800, primitive crofts in the hills and fishers' huts by the sea might still have an oil lamp on the table that would have been at home in Babylon.

I experimented with primitive oil lamps technology as I was sitting down to write.  I poured olive oil into a dish — actually a big ole' spoon rest — and cut a shoelace for a wick and laid it in to soak up the oil.  My 'lamp' burned pretty durn well, with a fine, steady, smokeless yellow light.  I don't know how long it would have continued to burn.  (I was pleased to get it started at all.)  The oil didn't smoke or smell in the slightest.

What's technically interesting about the whole 'oil lamps' thing, is that the wick doesn't burn.  What the wick does is 'wick up' the burnable oil toward the fire.  The fire drinks it off and more oil gets pulled up but the flame burns 'on top' of the wick.  Little, if any, of the wick is consumed. Lighting a lamp at sea 3 q c19 louvre
Oil lamps lit the streets of London.  Lamplighters made their rounds, cleaned the glass, trimmed the wick, and refilled the reservoir.  Oil lamps stood at the mouths of harbors to mark the entry to safety.  Oil lamps went underground with the miners. Cavid alphonse leroy lamp maybe 1785




 The snazziest oil lamp of the Regency period was the Argand — above and to the left.  This was the space-age technology of the Regency.  It was patented in 1780 and would  have been  a familiar sight in the study of every Regency gentleman.  The oil resevoir is there in the middle and fed down to the lamp.  It had a tubular wick, so it must have produced a round circle of flame, I should think.

"With darkness diminished, the opportunities for privacy and reflection are lessened."

Candlesticks cc And we come to candles, candles candles — the go-to choice for carrying upstairs at that country houseparty the heroine is attending.  She picks a candleholder from the table at the bottom of the stairs, lights herself up from the central candle there, and heads off through the long, dark, chilly halls . . . doubtless with the hero sneaking along behind in the Stygean gloom, taking an interest.

Authorial Real Life Tidbit here.  When I was in the upcountry in Africa, some places didn't have any electricity.  When night falls in a land without electricity, it gets DARK.  Walking about a village from house to house I was perfectly willing to believe in hobgoblins, will-o'-the-wisps, boggarts, trolls, witches, nightsneaks, ghoulies, ghosties, long-legged beasties and werewolves.  Dark is scary.

"Let the night teach us what we are, and the day what we should be."
Thomas Tryon, 1691

Ok.  Back to candles.
Candles use the same wicking principle as a lamp.  The wick can slurp up only the fuel that's melted at Candle 2 cc the top in the upper cup of the candle.  The whole 'puddle of melted wax' situation at the top of a candle is an integral part of its operation, which will certainly make me more understanding next time I have to clean drops of wax out of the carpet.

It was 'one fuel for the rich, another for the poor'.  Beeswax for the parlor; tallow candles in the kitchen.  Tallow candles apparently did not fill the air with a pleasant aroma.  To add insult to injury, beeswax candles burned 30% brighter than tallow.

Let me quote a modern source experimenting with historical candle lighting:
"I had expected the wax candles to smoke and smell more than they did, in line with a number of contemporary references. . . .  a second batch of tallow candles . . . as unrefined as possible, just animal suet in effect, . . . still failed to create a smelly fug.
Martin White

Candles were expensive — remember the tax?  To light the night with beeswax candles was a statement of wealth.  There was nothing democratic about candlelight.  In Georgian and Regency England it was the province of the wealthy and the growing middle class.   

Lantern as early as 1700 metal met Macret the kitchen maid lantern france 17801 For those who had to venture out into the night, the lantern was the flashlight of its day.  It could hold oil, but was more frequently a candle affair.  There'd be glass or horn on the four sides to keep it from blowing out.  Others were made of metal where one side opened to show the road ahead.  These 'dark lanterns' were discreet, of course, but they were not solely used to be secretive.  The dark lantern had the advantage of sturdiness — no glass to break — and cheapness in a time when glass was expensive.

A single light in a dwelling place, like a single source of heat from the fire, meant that everybody 800px-Vincent_Van_Gogh_-_The_Potato_Eaters gathered round sociably.  Or not so sociably, depending upon the family.  There was an enforced togetherness in a time when candles were not made to be wasted, rooms were not lit without a good reason, and the bedside taper was extinguished at once to lessen the chance of fire.

"One 60-watt electric bulb generates the light of approximately 60 candles."

Candles often had a reflective surface behind them to double the illumination in a thrifty way.   Folks would place them next to mirrors.


Lampstand drawing by me 2 My single bottle for lacemaker And there were  'lacemakers lamps' — used for fine work during the day — concentrated light by focusing it through a globe filled with water. 

Pepys writes of something that may be similar.  ". . . and so home to my office, and there came Mr. Cocker, and brought me a globe of glasse, and a frame of oyled paper, as I desired, to show me the manner of his gaining light to grave [note — engrave] by, and to lessen the glaringnesse of it at pleasure by an oyled paper. This I bought of him, giving him a crowne for it; and so, well satisfied, he went away, and I to my business again, and so home to supper, prayers, and to bed."

"I shall make electricity so cheap that only the rich can afford to burn candles."  Edison

[lantern is from the Met, here.  open oil lamp cc attrib surajramk]


How do you feel about night?  Aside from the obvious, what do you want your hero and heroine to get up to at night?


One lucky commenter will win a copy of The Forbidden Rose, or Spymaster's Lady trade edition, your choice.


Joanna here, pondering that puzzling phenomenon of the holiday season — boxsitting.

Cattsitting 12 cc michelleagain The affinity of cats for boxes remains one of the great evolutionary mysteries.  What possible competitive advantage does a small predator gain from fitting into a box? 

Science is baffled. 

Yet, worldwide, millions of cats of all stripes and persuasions practice boxsitting.

Wenches boxsitting 7The argument that this behavior is not some genetic happenstance, but ancient cat custom, is a strong one.  There's a notable increase in boxsitting toward the end of the year.  Is it merely an increase in the number of available boxes?  Or could boxsitting be related to the Roman Festival of Janus, God of Doorways, celebrated the first of January?

Janus-Vatican2x2Web Cats can be seen paying their everyday homage to Janus by passing, slowly, lingeringly, through doorways, stropping on the doorframe.

(You've wondered why they do this.  Now you know.)
Cats may perform this doorway ritual several times an hour. 

Wenches boxsitting 6Janus, who oversees 'openings and closings' in general, is also considered the patron of crates, cartons and packaging.  Perhaps this is why cats find the occupation of boxes an act of particular merit. 

Boxsitting — mysterious hereditary urge or ancient ritual?  Catwatchers can only speculate as discarded Christmas boxes fill with felines and the New Year approaches. 

photocredits: redbox Michelleagain