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Thursday, 20 December 2012

Regency History nominated for One Lovely Blog Award


The best part about writing a blog is when people take the time to let you know that they have enjoyed what you have written. Last week, I was delighted to receive an email from Susan Ardelie, author of the Life Takes Lemons blog, thanking me for my blog and nominating me for the One Lovely Blog Award.

What a wonderful way to encourage others! It is all too easy to criticise rather than praise, so I am taking this opportunity to encourage other bloggers, which is particularly appropriate during this season of goodwill. So, thank you, Susan, for nominating me – I hope you continue to enjoy my blog for a long time to come and that this post will encourage others as much as you have encouraged me.

Seven things about me

Ben Ainslie wins gold in the Olympic sailing,
held in the waters of Weymouth and Portland
1. My favourite book is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and for me, the BBC dramatization with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle is the best adaptation ever.
2. I used to live in Alton, Hampshire, near to Chawton where Jane Austen once lived.
3. Now I live by the sea (which I love) in Weymouth, Dorset, where George III visited almost every year from 1789 to 1805.
4. I started researching my family tree when I was thirteen and have since discovered ancestors who lived in the 1700s.
5. When I was at school, I played the part of Josephine in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, the Pirates of Penzance.
6. I graduated from university the day before I got married.
7. Every Christmas I watch Scrooged (a 1980s film based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens) starring Bill Murray and Karen Allen.

Seven blogs to look at over Christmas

I am nominating the following seven blogs for the One Lovely Blog Award :

1. The Regency World of Author Lesley-Anne McLeod – lots of wonderful information about the Regency period, including a post (on 14 December) with puzzles from 1809-14 to tease your brain.
2. Georgian Gentleman by Mike Rendell – includes a wealth of original material from his ancestor, Richard Hall.
3. Laura Purcell - a blog by a lady in love with the Georgians.
4. Regina Jeffers – includes entries from a Regency era lexicon.
5. Austen only – everything about Jane Austen. Definitely one to keep an eye on with the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice coming up next year.
6. Word Wenches – lots of fascinating historical posts.
7. 30daybooks by Laura Pepper Wu – a blog full of advice on writing and publishing.


The six rules for a One Lovely Blog Award post:
1. Thank the person who nominated you.
2. Add the One Lovely Blog Award image to your post.
3. Share seven things about you.
4. Nominate seven blogs for the award.
5. Include this set of rules.
6. Let the writers of your nominated blogs know.

All photographs by Andrew Knowles - www.flickr.com/photos/dragontomato

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Did they have Christmas trees in the Regency?

Christmas tree at Windsor Castle
from The Illustrated London News
Christmas supplement (1848)
With the approach of Christmas, I decided to do a little research into what a Regency Christmas might have been like. I knew there were Christmas trees in Victorian times, but did they have Christmas trees in the Regency, and if so, were they the same as those we have today?

Queen Charlotte’s Christmas tree 1800

It was back in 1800, more than a decade before the Regency began, that I found the earliest reference to a yew tree being used in Christmas celebrations. The Christmas custom of taking a tree inside your house and decorating it was well-established throughout the German states, and Queen Charlotte, who came from the German duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, introduced this tradition to England.

Queen Charlotte
from Memoirs of her most excellent majesty
Sophia-Charlotte, Queen of Great Britain
by John Watkins (1819)
John Watkins describes the royal family Christmas celebrations of 1800 in his biography of Queen Charlotte:

“At the beginning of October the royal family left the coast for Windsor, where Her Majesty kept the Christmas-day following in a very pleasing manner. Sixty poor families had a substantial dinner given them; and in the evening the children of the principal families in the neighbourhood were invited to an entertainment at the Lodge. Here, among other amusing objects for the gratification of the juvenile visitors, in the middle of the room stood an immense tub with a yew-tree placed in it, from the branches of which hung bunches of sweetmeats, almonds, and raisins, in papers, fruits, and toys, most tastefully arranged, and the whole illuminated by small wax candles. After the company had walked round and admired the tree, each child obtained a portion of the sweets which it bore, together with a toy, and then all returned home quite delighted.”

It is interesting to note that the tree stood in an “immense tub” in the middle of the room, presumably on the floor; all the other references that I found talk about table-top Christmas trees.

Princess Victoria’s Christmas 1832

Christmas trees continued to be part of the celebrations in the royal household. Queen Victoria’s mother was also German, and the young Princess wrote of Christmas trees in her diary for 24 December 1832:

“We then went into the drawing room near the dining room. After Mamma had rung a bell 3 times we went in. There were two large round tables on which were placed two trees hung with lights and sugar ornaments. All the presents being placed round the tree. I had one table for myself and the Conroy family had the other together.”

The Duchess of Kent,
Queen Victoria's mother
From La Belle Assemblée (1825)
Prince Albert’s Christmas tree 1848

However, Christmas trees did not become fashionable in Victorian England until after the Illustrated London News printed an engraving of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their family gathered around their Christmas tree at Windsor in 1848. This has led to some people wrongly attributing the introduction of Christmas trees to Prince Albert, whereas, as we have seen, they were already well-established in the Christmas celebrations of the royal family by this time.

Christmas tree at Windsor Castle
from The Illustrated London News
Christmas supplement (1848)
Princess Lieven’s Christmas fête 1829

Charles Greville
from The History of White's (1892)

But did anyone outside of the royal family have Christmas trees before their widespread popularity after 1848? It would seem that some people did, especially those with German connections of their own.

Charles Greville, who stayed with the Cowpers at Panshanger for Christmas 1829, described the Christmas celebrations there in his diary. Princess Lieven, one of the patronesses of Almack’s, was also staying there.

“On Christmas Day the Princess [Lieven] got up a little fête such as is customary all over Germany. Three trees in great pots were put upon a long table covered with pink linen; each tree was illuminated with three circular tiers of coloured wax candles – blue, green, red, and white. Before each tree was displayed a quantity of toys, gloves, pocket-handkerchiefs, workboxes, books, and various articles – presents made to the owner of the tree. It was very pretty. Here it was only for the children; in Germany the custom extends to persons of all ages.”

A watercolour box c1820
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Regency Christmas trees

So, did they have Christmas trees in the Regency? The royal family did, from at least 1800, and some people copied the royal tradition.

This was true of William Cavendish-Bentinck, Duke of Portland, who is recorded as having a Christmas tree at Welbeck Abbey in 1807. His descendant Matthew Ward says: "He picked the habit up from court as he was the Prime Minister at the time."(1)

Also, other families connected with Germany may have brought the Christmas tree custom to England by that time, quite independent of the royal family.

However, it would appear that Christmas trees as we know them were not popular until after 1848, and that many of the trees that people had were smaller and placed on tables rather than the floor. If you know any more about Christmas trees in the Regency, please let me know by leaving a comment.


Note
(1)  I am indebted to Matthew Ward, a descendant of the Duke of Portland, for this information. The Duke of Portland's papers are held at the University of Nottingham.

Sources used include:
Bell, John, La Belle Assemblée (John Bell, 1825, London)
Bourke, Hon Algernon, The History of White's (1892)
Greville, Charles, A journal of the reigns of King George IV and King William IV, edited by Henry Reeve (Longmans, 1874)
Illustrated London News (1848)
Queen Victoria's journals online - December 24 1832
Watkins, John, Memoirs of her most excellent majesty Sophia-Charlotte, Queen of Great Britain (1819, London)

All photographs by Andrew Knowles - www.flickr.com/photos/dragontomato

Friday, 7 December 2012

An unusual gift idea for your parents for Christmas 1813

I was amused when I found this advertisement entitled "Christmas presents" in the January 1814 issue of Ackermann’s Repository:

 

Some of the words are quite difficult to decipher, but I think that it reads like this:

CHRISTMAS PRESENTS

Christmas approaching, every absent child feels anxious to receive the customary favours of their indulgent Parents. During this inclement, but auspicious season, what could be more acceptable than a pair of MARSTON’S PATENT STAYS or CORSETS, which are admirably well calculated to improve the shape, and comfort and support the weak and debilitated; and which are selling at the OLD PRICES, notwithstanding the exorbitant charge for materials: warranted to be manufactured by the first hands in the business and in the most elegant and fashionable style, full TWENTY-FIVE PER CENT under the regular trade price.
Genteel rooms for Ladies to try on.
Country Orders executed with integrity and dispatch on the most liberal terms
– 25, HOLYWELL-STREET, STRAND.

-----

The advert suggests that,  whether your parents are “weak and debilitated” or “elegant and fashionable”, “a pair of Marston’s patent stays or corsets” would be a most acceptable gift! What an unusual idea for a Christmas present for your parents!

Front cover of
Ackermann's Repository
(Jan 1814)
Note
I assume that the January 1814 issue must have been available in December or otherwise that the advertisement was submitted late. 

Sources used:
Ackermann, Rudolph, The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics (1814)