Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair

Young Lady At Her Toilet  Combing Her Hair de Peters
















Joanna here, thinking about intimate Regency customs.
Hair washing, y'know.

There's a widely held notion that Regency folks were not scrupulously clean in their bodily habits. For instance, I hear, “They didn’t wash their hair. Not at all.
Not ever.

On the other hand, Regency folk might think we smell dreadfully of chemicals,
or we have no human smell at all,
so it may be somewhat in the way we look at things.

Moving on to the matter of hair washing.

In the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, except for a decade or two after 1790, about all women wore their hair long. Those with time and inclination curled, crimped, and powdered to match their highly decorated clothing as they went about town. The great fashionables showed up at grand balls or receptions in confections that towered a foot or more in the air, festooned with fruit, flowers, feathers and jewels.

Wenchjohn russell?1790ish

~1790s short hair

just really fancy hair

this is probably an exaggeration









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The Ritual of Tea …


Tea and conversation

One of the great ceremonies of Regency life, one that defined gentility, was the taking of tea.

The Regency is sorta midway in the story of tea in England. We’re past the Seventeenth and early Eighteenth Century with its careful, stingy measuring of tea by the mistress of the household, the leaves locked up safe in a decorative caddy. We haven’t reached the Victorian era where tea was the daily drink of every working man and city housewife.

John MacDonald, a footman in the last half of the Eighteenth Century, would negotiate a salary that included an allowance for tea and sugar. But when he writes:

“My master had always plenty of fine tea, of which I drank some in the afternoon, and with which I treated the maid, and the maid also at the next house.”

I’m pretty sure he’s helping himself to the household store. At this time, tea is still a particular treat belowstairs.

When we come to early Victorian times … Henry Mayhew, in London Labour and the London Poor, speaking of the 1840s, describes the street sellers.

Coffee and tea stall

Tea for sale, click for closeup

“There are, moreover, peculiar kinds of stalls — such as the hot eels and hot peas-soup stalls, having tin oval pots, with a small chafing-dish containing a charcoal fire underneath each, to keep the eels or soup hot. The early breakfast stall has two capacious tin cans filled with tea or coffee, kept hot by the means before described.”

In 1840, tea had ceased to be a servants’ perquisite, reluctantly granted by the employer and pilfered by the staff. Now it’s on the street. It’s Everyman’s drink.

But back to the parlor …

The taking of tea in the parlor meant slow, stylized ritual and unnecessary elaboration. It’s the opposite end of the spectrum from the hurried dipping tea out of a capacious tin can.

Consider this spread of tea complication.

Jean liotard still life tea set 1783

A pretty wild tea party, looks like

Going along from the left:

Teapot with its lid. Behind it, the tea caddy where the tea leaves live. In front of the tea pot, a cup, saucer, and silver spoon. The center spot on this tray is a shallow plate with orange slices. It might just as easily hold scones or muffins.

Working our way in from the right:

We have the slops bowl in back. That is a lovely useful thing to have, isn’t it? I kinda wish we had slops bowls for our lives where we could clear all the mess neatly away and go on with the tea party.

What else? There’s the bowl of sugar cubes. These cubes were not neatly square. They were nipped off the two-foot-high cone of sugar kept in the kitchen and came out irregular and all nobbly shaped. Over the sugar bowl are the sugar tongs. And here at the front of the sugar bowl is the milk jug.

Missing from this set is the strainer. About all the paintings I find of folks drinking tea,

Tea strainer 1780s V &A

Tea strainer

the tea strainer is nowhere in evidence. Yet they had them. They’re in museums. One would certainly have strained the tea leaves out of the drink at some point. Maybe they were considered too messy to put in the picture.

Also missing from this array is the kettle of hot water that sat over on the hearth

Tea kettle by the fire

The copper water kettle is by the fire click for closeup

keeping warm. The water would be used to warm up and dilute the tea in the teapot. You couldn’t hoist the teabags out of the water and put an end to the brewing, there not being any teabags yet. However long the tea party lasted, that was how long the tea steeped.

Here we have folks taking tea and the kettle is right there in evidence. One could also have a tea urn or samovar with coals under it, keeping warm, right there on the table.


Tea wter kettle on stand 1753

Silver kettle to heat water

This here is a silver tea kettle that would have had pride of place. The comment on this piece at the Victoria and Albert:

“The tea kettle and stand would have been the most expensive part of the tea service. For example, Mrs. Coke paid the goldsmith … £25 13s 1d for her kettle and lamp. Her teapot cost just £10 1s 8d.”

That comparative value is not set in stone. The best porcelain would cost more than uninspired silver,  but all things being equal, a silver tea service was the conspicuous consumption of the time. When the aged retainer staggers in with a tea tray full of silver teapots and silver slop bowls and what have you, it’s not just heavy. It’s (staggeringly) expensive.

But by the Regency, not all tea was drunk in the parlor with such magnificent display.


Be nice to have somebody bring this to your desk

We also have a cozier, more informal tea taking. One little pot of tea, prepared in the kitchen and brought up with a cup or two at the side. That was the tea laid down at the hero’s elbow while he worked on his accounts or the tea brought to the heroine and her sister as they put their heads together and plotted.

Making tea

Morning tea. Yellow and red tea caddies at the back

Chardin 1735

This is my tea service there on the left. Rough and ready. But see that tea pot? It is of an ancient design. See it there in the painting by Chardin? And the little tea bowl is handmade by an artist in such things. I’m happy using this set. It makes me feel good, every time.


Do you have a tea set or a coffee service that is a joy to hold in your hands? Maybe something you inherited or bought at a special time of your life. Maybe a present.

Adoption in the Regency

I was doing a little rTelling storyesearch into one of the Regency staples the other day – the rescued waif.  This story standby typically involves a girl adopted into a noble family, treated as one of them, inheriting with the others.  

Would this actually work? I asks meself. 

So I look about a bit and decided,
loosely speaking — yes.
Strictly speaking — no.

And isn't that helpful?

Sometimes we
speak of 'adoption' in a fuzzy, imprecise way.  But there's an important distinction
between legally taking a child to stand in the position of a biological
child with all the rights and responsibilities that come with that versus assuming care and
custody of a child in a limited or informal way. 

the 1920s, there was no formal legal mechanism for adopting children in
Great Britain.
No.  I didn't know that either.
I just love finding out stuff when I go researching.

"Why any kid would want to be an orphan is beyond me."
Miss Hannigan

What you had in Britain was just a whole variety of fostering, indenture,
wardship, guardianship,
apprenticeship, and various less-formal-arrangement-ships . . .  but
nothing that put the child on an equal footing with children born in a

So how did they manage the whole orphaned-child problem?Late c19 photoe

working folk, from simple decency or from a desire for another pair of
working hands, would often take in a neighbor's child when the parents
died.  Mistress Taylor down the road might take in a girl who could help with her little ones.  The local vicar might find space for another scullery maid in
the kitchen.  No official legal guardianship was established, but
everybody in the village likely sighed in relief and went on to other problems,
of which they doubtless had a plenitude.

If no
one stepped forward to care for orphans, they 'fell upon the parish',
which was a hard place to land.
George-cruikshank-oliver-asking-for-more-illustration-for-oliver-twist-by-charles-dickens-colour-litho-_i-G-65-6508-IHN6100ZLocal officials might solve the
problem of these pesky orphans by apprenticing them. 

apprenticeship was a mixed bag. 

For parish orphans, it might be called
the poor man's guardianship.  The contract gave the master rights over
the child, but also bound him to feed, clothe, care for the child, and
train him
or her up in a trade.  In
earlier centuries, apprentices were often treated as part of the
household — an extended quasi family of Master, servants and
apprentices.  Even in 1820, in Rural Rides, Cobbett could still
speak of traditional farms where master and servants, dairymaids and the
farmer's daughters sat down at the same table, a disparate but united

Unfortunately, few localities had the
funds to bid children to desirable places.  (One common form of charity was
to leave money in one's will to buy apprenticeships for poor boys.)  

Some orphans got lucky. Some, like Oliver Twist, not so much.

Looking up into the upper echelons of society, since that's where the fictional orphan above will end up —

laws and customs of primogeniture meant that men of substance, titled
or untitled, would often consider themselves
responsible for a widespread group of family, friends and dependents. 
They'd snabbled the property and money.  The flip side of that
concentration of wealth was they were expected to take care of the

So your average Merchant Prince or belted earl (why belted
and how was everybody else holding up their trousers?) might have a
pack of widows, spinsters, dotty great uncles and assorted orphans,
only tenuously connected to him, land on his doorstep, expecting to be
provided for. 

Remember in Heyer's Frederica.   Our heroine applies to the 'head of the family' — a very distant
cousin — for assistance.   He was the winner in the big primogeniture
lotto.  Time to pay up, bucko. 


Another sort of fosterage was not uncommon.   Couples without children of their own would often foster a child,
usually related, and raise it as their own.  The child would inherit
from this couple through the will.  For instance, Jane Austen's brother
Edward left his birth family to be fostered by a much richer cousin, Thomas Knight, and eventually inherited
the Knight estates.

Then there were guardianships.  I do not know why Romance heroes and heroines are so unlucky, but there are just troops of them under some kind of guardianship. 

There were several sorts of legal guardians.

 First off were guardians in socage.  This is for heirs and heiresses of landed property.  You do not have real estate, this is not for you. 

Blackstone says, "socage . . . who are also called
guardians by the common law.  These take place only
William Blackstonewhen the minor is
entitled to some estate in lands, and then by the common law the
guardianship devolves upon his next of kin, to whom the inheritance
cannot possibly descent ; as, where the estate descended from his
father, in this case his uncle by the mother's side cannot possibly
inherit this estate, and therefore shall be the guardian .
For the law judges it improper to trust the person of an infant in his
hands, who may be possibility become heir to him."
  Blackstone's Commentaries   

that is saying is that if the young woman has a piece of property —
say a nice house or half of Northumberland or something — her guardian will not be the
father's brother who is just bound to have wicked intentions toward her.  The custody of the child goes to the closest blood
relative who cannot inherit, who will scheme to marry her off to his fish-lipped son. 

Second, we
have guardians by nature.  That's going to be the father, first off, and
the mother, if the father is dead. When the father does not explicitly
appoint a guardian for a female
under sixteen, the guardian was the mother.  Her guardianship extends
until the girl reaches 21.  An mom doesn't get control of the property. 
Only to the
custody of the child. A man will be appointed guardian for the property.

Joan Wolf's The Arrangement deals with a situation of this nature.

Finally, there's the 'guardian by statute', or 'testamentary
guardians'.  This guardian is the one spelled out
in a will.  If we want young Hannah Tweeting to be left in the care of Lord
Farthing, all we have to do is put Farthing's name in her father's will.

". . . enacts, that any father, under age or
of full age, may by deed or will dispose of the custody of his child,
either born or unborn, to any person, except a popish recusant, either
in possession or reversion, till such child attains the age of one and
twenty years."
Blackstone's Commentaries

Only the father could appoint a guardian, not the mum.  If the appointed guardian was
unable or unwilling to serve, the guardian didn't have the right to
substitute another.  If nobody was named guardian or if the unfortunate man died, this ended in the Court of Chancery, where nobody wins.  One didn't inherit a guardianship. 

What all these formal and informal relationships had in common was that the child did
not legally become the child of the foster parents, equal in all
respects to those born to that couple.  The relationship
between foster child and foster parent or between guardian and ward was always more limited than modern adoption.

In Her Ladyship's Companion, my heroine Melissa was abandoned on
the doorstep of a Vicarage and raised by the Vicar as his own.  The
difference between a foster child taken in by kindness and a legally
adopted daughter of the modern sort becomes apparent when, upon the death of the Vicar,
poor Melissa is kicked out to fend for herself.  

So, could a titled nobleman adopt a child?
As I say, sorta.

While I
was looking at this subject, adoption, I ran down a mental list of fictional orphans  –  Jane Eyre, Heathcliff
in Wuthering Heights, (just about everybody in Wuthering Heights), Tom
Jones, Superman, Pip of Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, Harry Potter, Fanny
Price, Moll Flanders, John Worthing (The Importance of Being Ernest),
Penelope Creed (Heyer's Corinthian), Tarzan.

My favorite is Kim.
I just like his sass and style.


So tell me, who is your favorite fictional orphan and why?

One lucky commenter (US only) will win a copy of Mischief and Mistletoe.

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.