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.

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The Season Then and Now

Trooping the colourNicola here, talking today about those elements of the London Season that feature in Regency historicals and are still going strong today. A photograph in the paper last week reminded me that although in many ways we have moved on from the Regency period in the UK (no climbing boys and a ban on fox hunting, for example), one aspect at least of the social life of the time is alive and well and that's The Season.

The photograph that reminded me of this was a picture of the Royal family watching the Trooping the Colour. Whilst you don’t see this mentioned in many Georgian or Regency-set historicals, this is actually a tradition of British infantry regiments that dates back to the 17th century. The ceremony arose out of the custom of using a regiment’s colours, or flags, as rallying points on a battlefield and takes place annually in June on Horse Guards Parade by St James’ Park. It was first held in the early 18th century and I imagine it would have been quite a show for the London crowds. The picture is quite interesting because when I first saw it I thought it was an old painting – then I saw the London Eye in the background!

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Ways of keeping warm in the Regency Period

SnowAs the wind whistled in from the Arctic this week and I
added another layer of thermals I started to wonder what it must have been like
trying to keep warm in the days before there was efficient heating. I love
gorgeous old stately homes but those high ceilings and large rooms must have
been impossible to keep warm in the winter. Like my little country cottage, the
old houses were also cursed with ill-fitting windows and doors, and wicked
little draughts that spring up from nowhere to chill your ankles. In the days
before central heating I imagine people needed to be very imaginative to find
ways to keep warm.

Fire

The wood burning stove in our living room is the hub of the
house at times like this and I imagine that
Open fire the vast open fires in old houses
served the same purpose in the past, with people huddled around them. In my
last house, built in the 17th century, the inglenook fireplace was
so vast it took up half of one wall and contained a bread oven as well as a
grate. An open fire is special. It provides heat, light and comfort with the
warmth, extremely important when the rest of the house might be so cold that
ice would form on the inside of the windows.

I do remember that with a big open fire it’s possible to
have a very warm body but a cold head! Of course ladies in the Regency would
actually use a fire screen – a decorated panel on a pole – to protect their
complexions from the direct heat of the fire. Larger room screens partitioned
off warmer parts of a hall or sitting room and kept out the draughts.

Wing chairSimilarly those gorgeous wing chairs weren’t just designed
in that style for the fun of it. The high back and sides are great for keeping
out the cold. In humbler cottages wooden high back chairs served a similar
purpose. You piled them high with cushions for a very cosy seat.

Clothes

Like me with my four layers of thermals, the savvy Regency
person would not wear a thin muslin dress in freezing cold weather but would layer
on a lot of clothes. Linen, cotton, wool and fur were popular with huge muffs
for ladies to wear. The heroine of my current book comments that in the
Scottish winter she was seen carrying such a huge fur muff that it gave rise to
reports that she was hiding a family of orphans inside it. Sailors on the
Arctic expeditions of the early 19th century wore coachmen’s great
coats in a vain attempt to keep out the cold.

Then there were the petticoats.
Four or five were in no way unreasonable, with socks, stockings, shawls,
gloves, caps and hats. If one was travelling on the outside of the stagecoach
every one of these layers would prove necessary in the winter and even then you
were risking death from exposure.

Keeping the feet warm

There is a school of thought that says that if you keep the
feet warm the rest of the body will follow.
Warming pan Regency footwear for women was
pretty flimsy and even the leather half boot wouldn’t necessarily keep you warm
and dry. For men the standard outdoor footwear was the riding boot, which was
considerably more hard wearing.

Carriages were not heated, so a hot brick to keep your feet
warm was essential. These would be heated up in a stove, wrapped in flannel and
could then retain their warmth for quite a while, particularly if insulated
under layers of travelling rugs.

And so to bed

The great bed of wareThese days the four poster bed is the height of luxury but
in Regency times a tester bed or four poster with thick bed hangings was a must
to keep the warmth in and the draughts out.

The earliest type of hot water bottle was the warming pan,
which dates back to the 16th century. A metal pan, it contained the
embers of the fire, and had a long handle so that it could be moved across the
bed to heat up those chilly corners! These were pretty dangerous if left in the
bed for too long since they could set it on fire, providing rather more heat than one actually wanted.

Large stone wear hot water bottles were safer. These were
also known as foot warmers. They followed the same principle as today’s hot
water bottles; they were filled with near boiling water, sealed and placed in
the bed.

If all else failed you could always go for shared bodily
warmth! You could also sleep in the same space as your animals. In many
Angus 1 cottages this is exactly what
happened; the one room housed both people and their animals. At Ashdown House
some of the servants’ quarters were above the stables. Apparently it was quite
cosy with the heat rising from the horses. And a dog or cat on the bed is as warm as a hot water bottle. More than
one of my heroines has let their pet sleep on their bed for warmth and one of
my relatives came across this on a recent stay at a castle in Ireland where the
hostess offered all the visitors a dog to keep them warm.

What about you? Do you think you could have survived a
Regency winter? What is your favourite way of keeping warm in a cold climate?
 

Neighbourhood

Nicola here. A week or so ago we Wenches were chatting about history and the way that places changeIMG_1096 through time. Shops and houses come and go, building change their purpose. It made me think about my own neighbourhood and what has changed in the time that we have lived here. So I thought I would share some stories about the place where I live, a bit about its history and the changes that have occurred through time.

I live in the south of England in a tiny hamlet near a larger village on the Lambourn Downs. The first written record of my village in history comes from a Saxon Charter of AD 840 in which Ethelwulf, King of the West Saxons, granted land for a manor here to one of his followers. In the Domesday Book of AD 1086 the village was recorded as having two water mills and a church, signs of a thriving settlement. The water mills were powered by the springs that flowed down from the chalk hills to the south. These mills probably ground corn for the local population to make bread but they may also have been used for timber cutting (we know that a saw-yard was established in the village in the medieval period) and possibly even to power a forge. At this time it was the English monasteries that were the most technologically advanced places and it was the church that owned the manor here up until the IMG_1101Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. There was certainly a blacksmith's forge here from the 15th century as the Roman road that passes through the village was an important thoroughfare. This is the forge today.

These days there are still two mill houses in the village, Upper and Lower Mill. These are buildings on the site of previous mills that date back to Norman times. Their function has changed though. Although Lower Mill House still has its 18th century wheel, as you can see in the picture at the top of the blog, and Upper Mill was rebuilt in 1792 according to this plaque,IMG_1106 both of them are now houses not working buildings. In fact they have been transformed into some of the most desirable properties in the village.

The Manor House itself, dating from the 15th century and pictured below, has also changed in function. It used to be the monastery guest-house for travellers from Glastonbury Abbey in the south west on their pilgrimage to Oxford and Canterbury in the east. Now it too is a beautiful home. Many of the cottages that were built for workers on the estate have been gentrified with modern interiors beneath their thatched roofs. I set one of my early books, The Larkswood Legacy, in this village, using a local house as inspiration for the Larkswood of the story.

One house standing all on its own on the outskirts of the village is the medieval Pest House. This wasIMG_1098 built as an isolation hospital for patients suffering from leprosy and other communicable diseases. It originally belonged to the Abbey and was run by the monks. Like many other houses in the village it has been transformed into a beautiful country cottage and in recent times has been rented by a film star seeking some rural peace and quiet!

If we skip forward to the Regency and Georgian period there was plenty going on in the village. A “charity school” was established in the early 18th century to educate the poor.  The very first Sunday school in the UK was set up here in 1777. The village sent men to fight in the Napoleonic Wars and one villager was a sailor who died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. During this period there were watercress beds to the south of the manor where cress was grown commercially and sold at market in the local towns. These markets are still held on Saturdays in the same towns that hosted them in the Middle Ages. Some things don’t change.

Some things do change, though. In the 19th century the village was a hive of industry with shops and small businesses. These included a haberdasher, a shoemaker, a carpenter, two wheelwrights, a baker and grocer, and even a greyhound trainer! There was a reading room and a library. The local grocer’s shop also served as the Post Office, and this role continued up until a few years ago when both shop and post office were closed because it was no longer economically viable to keep the service going. Nowadays we have a travelling library visiting every two weeks and some different small businesses have grown up. One is a chocolatier so it’s not all bad!

IMG_1100With the plentiful supply of water here, there was also a malt house making beer. Often these breweries were run by the local innkeeper. Which brings me to the local pub. The Rose and Crown, which is now a pub, hotel and restaurant, was once a coaching inn and dates from the 16th century. It was established during the reign of Henry VIII and the sign featuring the Tudor rose and a crown indicates loyalty to the monarch and to England. You can see in the photograph where the original gateway for coaches has now become a window. Public houses are in decline in Britain now as a result of high taxes on alcohol and changes in the way that people enjoy their leisure time. It’s no longer as popular to spend your evenings in a smoky pub drinking a pint of warm beer and chatting to the neighbours.

Back in the Regency period, tourism became popular in these parts. The Stone Age long barrow ofWaylands Smithy Wayland’s Smithy was excavated by an antiquarian and turned into a beauty spot to take advantage of the popularity of romantic looking ruins with a mysterious history. Trees were planted around the barrow and people would travel by carriage to enjoy picnics there. These days walkers and cyclists along the ancient track, The Ridgeway, do exactly the same thing.

Red kiteSometimes things go full circle. The Red Kite, a bird of prey, disappeared from English cities and countryside in the nineteenth century, hunted to extinction. Prior to this it had been a common sight even in the streets of London, swooping down to take carrion. Kites reintroduced from Wales during the 20th century have spread so successfully that they are now a common sight in the skies here again.

What is your neighbourhood like? What do you like about it and how has it changed in the time you have lived there?