Country House Pursuits

Bohea teaNicola here. Today I'm talking about some of the things people in the 18th and 19th centuries did when they stayed in the the country (the respectable activities, I mean, rather than the complicated business of creeping in and out of bedrooms in the dead of night. I'm talking here about the leisured classes, of course, the ones who didn't distinguish between a week day and the weekend. This may be a Wench re-post; because of stuff I have going on at the moment I've had to dust down and add to a piece I'd written a while ago, but even if it is I hope you enjoy it!

One of the questions I’m often asked when I am showing visitors around Ashdown House on guided tours is what did visitors to country houses do all day? Life in London or Bath was exciting, with plays, concerts, opera, shopping and many more entertainments. In contrast the country lifestyle was sometimes mocked as slow and boring, especially on a rainy day. “Morning walks, prayers three times a day and bohea tea” was how the poet Alexander Pope described it.

It was a pleasantly relaxing, of course, at least for the visitors, unlike the servants who attended to their every need. They were free to pursue whatever activity and interests they wished and, mostly, had the money to indulge those interests.

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Regency Storage

Chest
Sandra O’Connor asks: “. . .exactly how large would the (storage) wardrobe generally be for a lady of the ton.”

Pat here: The wenches do try to answer reader questions as time permits, but we get so absorbed in our own research that the really good questions are left to languish until we come out of our writing caves. Since I just wrote The End on my draft, I reached into the question hat today. Sandra O’Connor has an excellent query about how ladies of the ton managed to store all those beautiful gowns and petticoats and whatnot in which we dress our heroines. Sandra, I owe you a book!

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The Big Stink

Pumpingstation abbey millsPat here—dragging you down into the sewers with me. Silly me, I started poking around Roman sewers for a plot point in next spring’s School of Magic series, and then, of course, I had to look up Victorian sewers to see how my various heroes would repair the plumbing in their respective renovations. (Ask me about our 21st century plumbing problems, and you’ll know where I get my ideas!)

My poking dropped me down a research bunny hole I thought you might find entertaining. I don’t suppose any of you have ever seen the fabulous Victorian pumping stations in London? (That's the Abbey Mills station in the photo) Absolutely enormous, decorated better than any early 20th century movie palace—for sewage. The mind boggles. So does the story.

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Poisonous Photography!

Daguerreotype._Portrait_of_a_couple.

Daguerreotype Portrait of a couple.

Pat here, still deep in Victorian research. I’ve had a character pop up who claims to be a photographer, and I had a bit of panic because the book is set in 1871. How much photography could my Victorian lady do in those early stages of cameras? Kodak hadn’t even come along yet!

Even after digging through research files, I can’t claim to understand the entire process of what early photographers went through to fix pictures onto paper, but photography was a booming business by 1870. Much of the history involved finding the right combination of chemicals in the photographic paper and in the developing process. I was interested in killing off a character with cyanide or mercury because these chemicals were used in early photos, but by 1870, the profession had moved on to less deadly chemicals. But aha! Cyanide continued to be used for architectural blueprints, even if daguerreotypes and their mercury backing were going out of style. That doesn’t help my Victorian lady though.

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Pterotype Anyone?

Crystal_Palace_-_Queen_Victoria_opens_the_Great_Exhibition
Pat here:

I’m really digging into this Victorian research. I had the Regency era down, all the books and websites bookmarked, so I only had to hunt weird little things. But the Victorians. . . they were a busy lot. While society itself became very conservative, following the path set by Queen Victoria, science and industry proceeded full speed ahead. The Great Exhibition in 1851 was just a sample of Rice_MagicintheStars600what was to lie ahead. Since my Malcolm characters have always been non-traditional females (all the way back to their Celtic origins and to being called witches in every century), I don’t worry too much about the staid position of most Victorian females. Note that “most.” More progressive women demanded the vote, better education, and set up nursing and charitable organizations that were models for the changes to come—not all were imitations of the queen.

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