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Monday, 21 June 2021

Dinnertime in the Regency

A Table D'Hote or French Ordinary in Paris by Thomas Rowlandson (1810) The Met Museum DP883708
A Table D'Hote or French Ordinary in Paris
by Thomas Rowlandson (1810) The Met Museum DP883708

When did a Regency lady eat her dinner?

When you’re writing a novel set in the Regency, it’s the simple things like mealtimes that can trip you up. It might not matter to everyone whether these facts are right or not, but I like to try and get the details as accurate as possible.

I’ve already blogged about breakfast here and lunch here. This post looks at dinnertime.

Did a Regency lady mean the same thing by the term ‘dinner’ as I do? And when did she eat her dinner? Was it at a fixed time every day or did it vary?

Dining Room, Saltram House (2014)
Dining Room, Saltram House (2014)
What was dinner in the Regency period?

The definition in the 1810 version of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary is:

Dinner – the chief meal of the day.1

The definition in Johnson’s earlier 1785 version is:

Dinner – the chief meal; the meal eaten about the middle of the day.2

 And the definition in Thomas Dyche’s 1771 dictionary is:

Dinner – the meal or quantity of food a person eats about noon.3

The latter definitions are throwbacks to earlier years when dinner was eaten around noon or even earlier. However, by the Regency period, dinner was no longer eaten in the middle of the day, but during the afternoon or evening. It seems that dinner continued to mean the substantial nature of the meal even when the time of eating changed.

This fits with my experience of the word dinner. I would only use the word dinner to refer to my main meal of the day, though I usually eat it in the evening and sometimes call it supper.

When was dinnertime?

There is no definitive answer to this question! Dinnertime varied as much in the Regency as it does today. That said, we can build up a picture of when people tended to eat their dinner using contemporary sources, such as letters, journals and novels written in the period. Some of the best sources I have found are the journals of foreign visitors, who tended to note customs that were different from their own.

Dinnertime was affected by many factors: class; town or country; fashionable or less fashionable; dining as a family or giving a dinner with guests; on the road or at home.

As a visitor to England in 1810, Don Manuel Alvare Espriella wrote:

The dinner hour is usually five: the labouring part of the community dine at one, the highest ranks at six, seven, or even eight.4

The Dashwoods at dinner with the Middletons   Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (1811) Illustration by Hugh Thomson (1896 edition)
The Dashwoods at dinner with the Middletons
  Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (1811)
Illustration by Hugh Thomson (1896)
The later, the more fashionable

In the country, people tended to eat earlier than in town. Because of its association with London, eating later was seen as more fashionable.

In December 1798, Jane Austen, at home in Steventon, wrote to her sister Cassandra who was staying in the more fashionable Godmersham with their brother Edward:

We dine now at half after three, and have done dinner I suppose before you begin—We drink tea at half after six.—I am afraid you will despise us.5

Jane’s dinnertime had shifted somewhat by 1808. She wrote to her sister in December:

Kitty Foote came on Wednesday; and her evening visit began early enough for the last part, the apple-pie, of our dinner, for we never dine now till five.6

In Pride and Prejudice, when Elizabeth is staying at Netherfield:

At five o’clock the two ladies retired to dress, and at half-past six Elizabeth was summoned to dinner.7  

The time of dining shifted later still as the Regency progressed and the start time for performances at the theatre were moved later to accommodate this. Feltham’s Picture of London for 1818 says:

The modern dinner hours of 7, 8, and 9 o'clock, have doubtless interfered with the frequent attendance of a large portion of the population, at entertainments which take place between the hours of 6 and 11; yet two theatres, through a season of 200 playing nights, each capable of containing 3000 persons, are moderately filled, and often crowded. To accommodate the public, the theatres have altered their times of beginning to seven o'clock.8

In her inimitable manner, Jane Austen poked fun at the fashionable custom of eating later and later in her unfinished novel, known as The Watsons:

He [Tom Musgrave] loved to take people by surprise with sudden visits at extraordinary seasons, and, in the present instance, had had the additional motive of being able to tell the Miss Watsons, whom he depended on finding sitting quietly employed after tea, that he was going home to an eight-o'clock dinner.

Tom Musgrave stayed past his stated dinnertime:

The carriage was ordered to the door, and no entreaties for his staying longer could now avail; for he well knew that if he stayed he must sit down to supper in less than ten minutes, which to a man whose heart had been long fixed on calling his next meal a dinner, was quite insupportable.9


Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Wickham at dinner   Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813) Illustration by C E Brock (1895)
Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Wickham at dinner
  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
Illustration by C E Brock (1895)

A dinner entertainment

According to Samuel Johnson’s dictionary (1810):

Dine – to eat, or give a dinner.10

A dinner entertainment would be more elaborate and last much longer than a family dinner.

In the journal of his visit to London in 1810, the Persian ambassador wrote that a dinner lasted for four hours, from 6pm to 10pm.11

In Pride and Prejudice, Mrs Bennet mourns the fact that Mr Bingley is not able to join them for dinner because he has gone out of town:

After lamenting it, however, at some length, she had the consolation that Mr Bingley would be soon down again and soon dining at Longbourn, and the conclusion of all was the comfortable declaration, that though he had been invited only to a family dinner, she would take care to have two full courses.12

Dinner in Celebration of the Emancipation of Holland from France, City of London Tavern, Bishopsgate December 14, 1813 after Thomas Rowlandson (1814) The Met Museum DP885293
Dinner in Celebration of the Emancipation of Holland
from France, City of London Tavern, Bishopsgate

December 14, 1813 after Thomas Rowlandson (1814)
The Met Museum DP885293

Rachel Knowles writes clean historical romance set in the time of Jane Austen. She has been sharing her research on this blog since 2011. Rachel lives in the beautiful Georgian seaside town of Weymouth, Dorset, on the south coast of England, with her husband, Andrew.

If you have enjoyed this blog and want to encourage me and help me to keep making my research freely available, buy me a virtual cup of coffee by clicking the button below.

      

Notes:

    1.       Johnson, Samuel, Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language in Miniature, Rev Joseph Hamilton (1810).

    2.       Johnson, Samuel, A Dictionary of the English Language (6th edition 1785).

    3.       Dyche, Thomas and Pardon, William, A New General English Dictionary (14th edition 1771).

    4.       Espriella, Don Manuel Alvare, Letters from England, translated from the Spanish by Robert Southey 3rd edition (1814) Volume 1.

    5.       Austen, Jane, Jane Austen's Letters, Collected and Edited by Le Faye, Deirdre (Oxford University Press, 1995).

    6.       Ibid.

    7.       Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice (1813).

    8.       Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1818 (1818).

    9.       Austen, Jane, The Watsons (a fragment published in Austen-Leigh, James Edward, Memoir of Jane Austen (1871)).

    10.   Johnson, Samuel, Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language in Miniature, Rev Joseph Hamilton (1810).

    11.   Hassan Khan, Mirza Abul, A Persian at the Court of King George 1809-10, edited by Margaret Morris Cloake (1988).

    12.   Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice (1813).

    Sources used include:

    Austen, Jane, Emma (1815)

    Austen, Jane, Jane Austen's Letters, Collected and Edited by Le Faye, Deirdre (Oxford University Press, 1995)

    Austen, Jane, Mansfield Park (1814)

    Austen, Jane, Northanger Abbey (1817)

    Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

    Austen, Jane, Sense and Sensibility (1811)

    Austen, Jane, The Letters of Jane Austen selected from the compilation of her great nephew, Edward, Lord Bradbourne ed Sarah Woolsey (1892)

    Austen, Jane, The Watsons (a fragment published in Austen-Leigh, James Edward, Memoir of Jane Austen (1871))

    Cruickshank, Dan and Burton, Neil, Life in the Georgian City (1990)

    Dyche, Thomas, A New General English Dictionary (1740)

    Dyche, Thomas and Pardon, William, A New General English Dictionary (14th edition 1771)

    Espriella, Don Manuel Alvare, Letters from England, translated from the Spanish by Robert Southey 3rd edition (1814) Volume 1

    Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1818 (1818)

    Hassan Khan, Mirza Abul, A Persian at the Court of King George 1809-10, edited by Margaret Morris Cloake (1988)

    Johnson, Samuel, A Dictionary of the English Language (6th edition 1785)

    Johnson, Samuel, Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language in Miniature, Rev Joseph Hamilton (1810)

    Pettigrew, Jane and Richardson, Bruce, A Social History of Tea (2014 edition)

    Simond, Louis, Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain, during the years 1810 and 1811 (1815)

    All photographs © Regencyhistory.net


Saturday, 1 May 2021

Lunch in the Regency

Fruit on the table, Saltram (2014)
Fruit on the table, Saltram (2014)
Did Regency ladies eat lunch?

I eat breakfast in the morning and usually eat dinner or supper (terms I use interchangeably) in the evening. The meal I eat in the middle of the day, I call lunch, and it is a lighter meal than dinner.

I have already blogged about breakfast in the Regency here. But what about lunch?

Did people eat a meal in the middle of the day in the Regency period? Was it called lunch? And if so, what did they eat?

Luncheon or nuncheon?

There are two words that seem to be most often used for a lunchtime snack in Regency literature: luncheon and nuncheon.1 But what do these words mean?

Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language (1785) defines both terms:

Lunch or luncheon: As much food as one’s hand can hold.

Nunchion: A piece of victuals eaten between meals.2

In both cases, it seems to refer to a quantity of food rather than a meal. What we, perhaps, would call having a bite to eat, taken at no set time.

To complicate matters, an earlier dictionary by Thomas Dyche (1771) gives the following entry:

Nunchion or lunchion: A meal between the set time of dinner and supper; or a piece out of the cup-board that boys get as soon as they come home from school.3

This suggests that luncheon was a meal taken in the afternoon and not at what we would call lunchtime at all!

Hot spiced gingerbread from Modern London by R Phillips (1804)
Hot spiced gingerbread from
Modern London by R Phillips (1804)
When did you eat luncheon in the Regency?

At first sight, Dyche’s definition of nunchion or lunchion is confusing, but I think it can be explained by the gradual shift of the dinner hour from noon to later in the day.

In Johnson’s dictionary (1785), it says:

Dinner: The chief meal; the meal eaten about the middle of the day.4

But by the early 1800s, dinner was no longer eaten at noon, but later. How much later is the subject of another blog on Regency dinnertime, but about 5 o’clock would not be unusual.

As the gap between breakfast and dinner grew, there was now a need for something to eat around noon (which used to be dinnertime) rather than in the afternoon ( which was the new dinnertime).

Hence, Johnson referred to quantity of food eaten rather than the timing of it, which had changed.

Pastry-cook shops

Lunchtime snacks were readily available for purchase. Louis Simond wrote of his visit to Britain in 1810-11:

Pastry-cook shops, which, about the middle of the day, and of the long interval between breakfast and dinner, are full of decent persons of both sexes, mostly men, taking a slight repast of tarts, buns, &c, with a glass of whey; it costs 6d or 8d sterling. A young and pretty woman generally presides behind the counter, as in the coffee-houses of Paris.5

Luncheons and nuncheons in Austen’s novels

Red Lion, Adderbury, Oxfordshire (2019)
Red Lion, Adderbury, Oxfordshire (2019)
In her novels, Jane Austen’s characters often had something to eat between breakfast and dinner. The terms nuncheon and luncheon seem particularly to apply to lunchtime meals taken at inns.

In Sense and Sensibility, Willoughby stops to eat during his journey:

“I left London this morning at eight o'clock, and the only ten minutes I have spent out of my chaise since that time procured me a nuncheon at Marlborough.”6

In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia and Kitty “treated the other three with the nicest cold luncheon in the world” at the George inn:

These two girls had been above an hour in the place, happily employed in visiting an opposite milliner, watching the sentinel on guard, and dressing a salad and cucumber.

After welcoming their sisters, they triumphantly displayed a table set out with such cold meat as an inn larder usually affords, exclaiming, “Is not this nice? Is not this an agreeable surprise?”

“And we mean to treat you all,” added Lydia, “but you must lend us the money, for we have just spent ours at the shop out there.”7

Cold meat and collations

Other lunchtime eating is mentioned, but doesn’t seem to be referred to by any particular name. In Pride and Prejudice, Mrs Gardiner and Elizabeth Bennet pay a morning call on Miss Darcy at Pemberley and are seated in the saloon when presented with cold meat, cake and fruit.

The next variation which their visit afforded was produced by the entrance of servants with cold meat, cake, and a variety of all the finest fruits in season; but this did not take place till after many a significant look and smile from Mrs Annesley to Miss Darcy had been given, to remind her of her post. There was now employment for the whole party – for though they could not all talk, they could all eat; and the beautiful pyramids of grapes, nectarines, and peaches soon collected them round the table.8

In Mansfield Park, a large party descends on Mr Rushworth to inspect his estate and suggest improvements:

After the business of arriving was over, it was first necessary to eat, and the doors were thrown open to admit them through one or two intermediate rooms into the appointed dining-parlour, where a collation was prepared with abundance and elegance. Much was said, and much was ate, and all went well.9

According to Johnson’s dictionary (1785):

Collation: A repast; a treat less than a feast.10

Though this collation sounds like a feast!

After examining the lower part of the house, Mr Rushworth encourages them to move outside to survey the grounds, worried that they will run out of time, saying:

“It is past two, and we are to dine at five.”11

This suggests that the collation was probably eaten around midday – lunchtime – but it is not referred to as luncheon.

In Emma, Mrs Elton emphasises that the strawberry picking party is “a morning scheme” and is in favour of sitting under the trees to eat. Mr Knightley has other ideas:

“My idea of the simple and the natural will be to have the table spread in the dining-room. The nature and the simplicity of gentlemen and ladies, with their servants and furniture, I think is best observed by meals within doors. When you are tired of eating strawberries in the garden, there shall be cold meat in the house.”12

In Northanger Abbey, cold meat was eaten between breakfast and dinner, on Sunday at least:

The next day afforded no opportunity for the proposed examination of the mysterious apartments. It was Sunday, and the whole time between morning and afternoon service was required by the general in exercise abroad or eating cold meat at home; and great as was Catherine’s curiosity, her courage was not equal to a wish of exploring them after dinner, either by the fading light of the sky between six and seven o’clock, or by the yet more partial though stronger illumination of a treacherous lamp.13

Soup

Soup bowl and ladle, A la Ronde (2015)
Soup bowl and ladle, A la Ronde (2015)
In Northanger Abbey, Maria Thorpe gives Catherine a report of the outing that she missed. Lunch consisted of a bowl of soup:

They had driven directly to the York Hotel, ate some soup, and bespoke an early dinner, walked down to the pump-room, tasted the water, and laid out some shillings in purses and spars; thence adjourned to eat ice at a pastry-cook's, and hurrying back to the hotel, swallowed their dinner in haste, to prevent being in the dark.14

Nooning

During my research, I came across another word that could refer to a lunchtime meal:

Johnson’s dictionary (1785) says:

Nooning: Repose or repast at noon.15

Dyche’s dictionary (1771) is similar:

Nooning: Any exercise or refreshment done or taken at noon, or the middle time of the day.16

Was lunch eaten?

My research suggests that a meal was eaten, at least on some occasions, by some people, between breakfast and dinner. Sometimes, particularly if eaten at an inn, it was referred to as a nuncheon or luncheon. The meal seems to have been informal, and was not always eaten sat around a dining table.

Eating lunch may not have been universal in the Regency. But then, is it today? I know of a number of people who eat little if anything between breakfast and dinner, whereas lunch is a well-established meal in our household.

 

Rachel Knowles writes clean historical romance set in the time of Jane Austen. She has been sharing her research on this blog since 2011. Rachel lives in the beautiful Georgian seaside town of Weymouth, Dorset, on the south coast of England, with her husband, Andrew. 

 

If you have enjoyed this blog and want to encourage me and help me to keep making my research freely available, buy me a virtual cup of coffee by clicking the button below.

 

 Notes

1.       Nuncheon and luncheon seems to vary in spelling and are sometimes spelt nunchion and lunchion. I have used the first spelling apart from direct quotes.

2.       Johnson, Samuel, A Dictionary of the English Language (6th edition 1785).

3.       Dyche, Thomas and Pardon, William, A New General English Dictionary (14th edition 1771).

4.       Johnson op cit.

5.       Simond, Louis, Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain, during the years 1810 and 1811 (1815).

6.       Austen, Jane, Sense and Sensibility (1811).

7.       Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice (1813).

8.       Ibid.

9.       Austen, Jane, Mansfield Park (1814).

10.   Johnson op cit.

11.   Austen, Jane, Mansfield Park (1814).

12.   Austen, Jane, Emma (1815)

13.   Austen, Jane, Northanger Abbey (1817)

14.   Ibid.

15.   Johnson op cit.

16.   Dych op cit.

Sources used include:

Austen, Jane, Emma (1815)

Austen, Jane, Mansfield Park (1814)

Austen, Jane, Northanger Abbey (1817)

Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

Austen, Jane, Sense and Sensibility (1811)

Cruickshank, Dan and Burton, Neil, Life in the Georgian City (1990)

Dyche, Thomas, A New General English Dictionary (1740)

Dyche, Thomas and Pardon, William, A New General English Dictionary (14th edition 1771)

Johnson, Samuel, A Dictionary of the English Language (6th edition 1785)

Pettigrew, Jane and Richardson, Bruce, A Social History of Tea (2014 edition)

Simond, Louis, Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain, during the years 1810 and 1811 (1815)

All photographs © Regencyhistory.net