Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fashion Forecast: 1814

So what was the well-dressed young woman wearing in 1814?

She was certainly keeping cozy in this Promenade Dress from the January 1814 issue of Ackermann's Repository. Enormous fur muffs remain in fashion (as they will for several more years.) Perhaps she's off to the bookstore to pick up a copy of Lord Byron's latest release, The Corsair, which sold 10,000 copies on its first day:

Or perhaps she's off to a elegant private party in this lovely Evening Dress (Ackermann, February 1814). I liked this dress so well that it will be making an appearance in my upcoming book--note the cute little frill around the back of the bodice--and I love that green! Note that the waistline has crept back up again on both this dress and the pelisse above. By the way, February 1814 was the last time the Thames froze over sufficiently to permit a Frost Fair, a sort of giant impromptu festival/carnival held on the frozen river's surface. Changes to the bridges crosing the Thames after 1814 meant that the river flowed faster, and therefore never froze solid again:

Short capes were definitely "in" this year--several of Ackermann's 1814 fashion plates feature them. This is one is for a Walking Dress, featured in the April edition. By the way, April saw the abdication of Napoleon Bonaparte in France, and kicked off the most glittering and exciting social season London had seen in years:

If the young lady in this Morning Dress looks a little tired, no wonder: London was one enormous party just now, celebrating the end of the war. In town to help whoop it up were Tsar Alexander of Russia and his sister the Duchess of Oldeburg (on the prowl for a new husband) and King Frederick William of Prussia. But the most popular visitor was probably the Prussian general Gebhard von Blucher, who could barely show his face in public without being mobbed (Ackermann's Repository, June 1):

August 1814 saw more excitement in London: the huge public celebrations of the end of the wars and commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the accession of the Hanoverian dynasty. Among the events were a recreation of the Battle of the Nile on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, balloon ascensions, and fireworks. Perhaps a young lady might have worn this Walking Dress to take some of it in. I especially like the charming hat (Ackermann's, August 1):

Autumn saw a return to quiet in London, but in Vienna the art of the party got carried to extremes with the opening of the Congress of Vienna in early October. This giant negotiation to re-form Europe after Napoleon's defeat was as famous for its balls as for its political machinations...which often occurred simultaneously. I wonder if this contemplative young lady wished she were there? (Walking Dress, Ackermann's Repository, November 1814):

This Walking Dress from the December issue of Ackermann's Repository is just such fun! The plum color is gorgeous, and check out the multi-layered collar. That's a borrowing from the coachmen's coats of the day, which were made with several layers of shoulder capes to help shed rain (don't forget, the coachman sat out in the open when driving.) So this is meant to be a very dashing outfit!

What do you think of 1814's fashions?

Friday, March 26, 2010

One a Penny, Two a Penny

Hot cross buns! Do you remember the old nursery rhyme? Nineteenth century young ladies and lads would have heard versions of it shouted in the streets in the week leading up to Good Friday, the Friday before Easter. Yes, I know, technically that’s NEXT Friday, but I wanted to give you time to plan in case you wanted to cook up a batch.

Cross buns were generally round buns made of sweetened dough, spices like cinnamon and allspice, and currants. The cross on top was to remind people of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Today the cross is piped on with pastry or icing; then it was more often incised with a knife. Knowing the tradition of eating the little buns on Good Friday, bakers sent out armies of street vendors in the days preceding to hawk their wares, hence the song. You picked up a dozen or two and took them home to eat hot for breakfast. Yum!

Besides street vendors, one of the most popular places to buy hot cross buns until 1839 was the Old Chelsea Bun House outside London. Legend has it that both King George II and King George III patronized the place. Supposedly up to a quarter million buns were sold on Good Friday, with over 50,000 people served!

Of course, you could always make them yourself. Below is a traditional recipe for hot cross buns, simplified for today’s kitchen:

A Dozen Hot Cross Buns
4 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp allspice
¼ cup butter (half a stick)
½ cup raisins (or currants if you have them)
1 oz yeast
½ cup sugar
1 cup warm milk

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

Sift the flour, salt, and allspice into a large bowl. Cut in the butter. Add raisins. In a separate bowl, cream the yeast and sugar together and add warm milk. Leave for 10 minutes until the batter is sponge-like. Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture and combine to form a dough. Leave to rise in a warm place until the dough has doubled. Turn onto a floured surface and knead well then cut into twelve pieces. Flatten each piece into a circle and use a knife to mark each circle deeply with a cross. Allow the lot to rest again for 10 minutes, then bake on a cookie sheet in the hot oven for 20 minutes. Glaze with icing if desired.

And while you’re munching on these, don’t forget that the Young Bluestockings Book Club will be discussing Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer on April 23 right here on Nineteenteen! Get a copy and be ready to join us.

So, what’s on your menu for Easter?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bear Grease, Stirachia’s Italian Oil, and Mochrikufsky and Prince’s Russian Oil

We’re taking a bit of a detour from our discussion of cleanliness to talk about hair—who knew it would turn into such an interesting topic?

So we already know that washing your hair meant using regular soap, which tends to strip away too much oil and leave hair dry and straw-like. And since creme rinse/conditioner hadn't made it on the scene either, our young ladies turned to a number of products to improve their hair. Like, say, bear grease:

H. LITTLE, Perfumer, No.1 Portugal Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, acquaints the public, that he has killed a remarkable fine RUSSIAN BEAR the fat of which is matured by time to a proper state. He begs leave to solicit their attention to this Animal, which, for its fatness and size, is a real curiousity. He is now selling the fat, cut from the Animal, in boxes at 2s. 6p. and 5s. each, or rendered down in pots, from One Shilling to One Guinea each.

Yes, I know--pretty horrible. But bear grease had long been used as a hair improver, and its use lasted late into the century--in an 1879 publication for young ladies, either salad oil (plain vegetable oil) or bear grease are recommended. The procedure seems to have been brushing a small amount through the hair (or rubbing it on with the hands) and using a flannel to remove excess. Sort of a precursor to our leave-in conditioners, in a way.

If bears were a little too much for you, you could always turn to any of the elegantly named oils or pomades on the market, supposed to encourage hair growth as well as health. Note that no ingredients are listed: this is long before law required such a thing, and each product's components were jealously guarded secrets--many of the ads include warnings against imitators:

The unexampled success of Stiracia's Italian Oil has met with for upwards of twenty five years, in making the Hair grow, both thick and long, and preventing its fall off,(which it will do in twenty-four hours after illness,) continues to be the most Fashionable Pomade with Ladies of high rank, since powder is out of use; by keeping the head and hair perfectly clean; and making the hardest hair soft as silk, at the same time gives it a most beautiful natural appearance, prevents its turning grey, and even if on the change, will return the hair to its natural colour. The Dowager Lady Smith, of Sything House, near Dorchester, has done the proprietor the high honour of giving him the liberty to say [celebrity endorsement!], that Lady Smith has found great benefit from the use of Oils, both in lengthening and thickening the hair, and in keeping the head and hair perfectly clean, as to render the use of a small-tooth comb unnecessary.

Gulp--are they implying it repels lice?!

USED BY THE ROYAL FAMILY AND LADIES OF THE FIRST CIRCLE. Russia Oil, for promoting the Growth of Hair, and is so great a nourisher as to prevent its turning grey, becoming shaded, or falling off; restores Hair on bald places, if the least roots remain; several Gentlemen that were bald have declared, after using the Russia Oil for three Months, the bald places became covered with Hair. It is superior to any Article for moistening the Hair when dressing, as it prevents the ill effects occasioned by the heat of dressing-irons.

N.B. The Russia Oil will be found infinitely serviceable in restoring the loss of hair on horses, which often proves a great disfigurement to those valuable animals.

I like a good multi-use product! I wonder if Russia Oil contained any bear by-products?

And if these hair products aren't available, there's always home-made hair-care treatments, like this one from 1811 in The Mirror of Graces:

[This is a cleanser and brightener of the head and hair, and should be applied in the morning.]
Beat up the whites of six eggs into a froth, and with that anoint the head close to the roots of the hair. Leave it to dry on; then wash the head and hair thoroughly with a mixture of rum and rose-water in equal quantities.

I remember reading somewhere about a beauty salon that used mayonnaise as a hair treatment--not surprising, as the main ingredients of mayonnaise are oil and eggs. So maybe some of these 19th century hair treatments aren't so far-fetched after all.

Do you know any old-fashioned hair care treatments (preferably not bear-based)?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Nineteenth Century Heroines: First Place Always

I love research. Yes, I’ve said it before. But I adore finding golden nuggets among the millions of bits of data carried forward from the past. When I was preparing for my blog post a few weeks ago on Gentleman Jackson’s, I stumbled across a mention of Alicia Meynell, the first woman jockey in England. So, of course, I had to learn more!

Alicia Meynell was born in 1782, the daughter of a watchmaker from Norwich. She was lovely, with blond hair, blue eyes, and a winning manner. We know that she had at least one sister, very likely older than her, who married William Flint of Yorkshire, a gentleman very keen for horses. Perhaps through the Flints, Alicia met and fell madly in love with their neighbor, Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Thornton of the Second Regiment of the York Militia. He was a man of some property and respect in the area, and he cut a dashing figure. They were married before she was 22.

One of the things she and Thornton had in common was the ability to ride and ride well. Remember that this was a time when women were at least partly judged by their “seat”: how well they could handle a horse. Alicia was a dynamo. She too knew her horseflesh, and she owned no less than three hunters. She was pleased to ride to hounds, something that was still rather rare for a woman because of the difficulty in thundering over rough, unpredictable terrain in a side saddle.

One day while she was visiting her sister, Alicia and her brother-in-law went riding. She was on her husband’s favorite horse, a brute named Vingarillo. Flint was riding his favorite, a brown hunter named Thornville. As they argued good naturedly about which horse was better, they decided to race to prove the point.

Alicia won. Twice.

Nettled, Flint challenged her to a real race, at the Newmarket Race Track, and named a princely prize of 1,000 guineas (which would be equivalent to over $30,000 today!). I’m betting he thought she’d decline. Alicia accepted.

Immediately word spread far and wide. A woman? Racing? Who wouldn’t want to see that! They met on the last day of the York meet in August 1804. The York Herald reported that 100,000 people crowded the race track to watch, more than ten times the number that had assembled for the last “big” race between more famous horses. Even the military in the form of the 6th Light Dragoons was called in for crowd control. The total amount betted ran over 200,000 pounds (over $6M)!

Alicia was in rare form. She wore a dress spotted like leopard skin, with a buff waistcoat and blue sleeves and cap. The crowd adored her. She must have been quite a contrast to Flint, who rode all in white. But his heavenly apparel didn’t reflect his attitude. He refused anyone to ride alongside Alicia to help her if her side-saddle slipped (a common courtesy for women riders), and he ordered her to ride on a side of the track that deprived her of her whip hand. Neither trip handicapped Alicia. She was ahead from the start and stayed that way for nearly three quarters of the four-mile circuit. Reported the Herald, “Never surely did a woman ride in better style. It is difficult to say whether her horsemanship, her dress, or her beauty were more admired.” But something happened to Vingarillo in the last mile, causing him to falter, and Flint nipped ahead and won.

Alicia wasn’t pleased. After hearing people go on and on about how gentlemanly Flint had been to race with a woman to begin with, she wrote a letter to the editor of the Herald denouncing him and demanding a rematch. But it was a Mr. Bromford who next challenged her to ride the following year, with the prize a 2,000 pounds and a great quantity of French wine. She agreed, but on the day of the race Bromford decamped and the lady won by default. Alicia, in a new outfit with purple cap and waistcoat, buff-colored skirts, and purple shoes with embroidered stockings (I shudder to think how the reporter figured that out!), was not about to be sent to the sidelines. That same day, she raced 2 miles on a mare named Louisa against Buckle, one of the premier paid jockeys of the day. The Annual Register records that “Mrs. Thornton, by the most excellent horsemanship, pushed forward and came in in a style far superior to anything of the kind we have ever witnessed, gaining her race by half a neck.”

Unfortunately, she was not so good at choosing husbands. Colonel Thornton turned out to be something of a scoundrel. When Flint won the first race, the colonel refused to honor the bet he and Alicia had made, insisting it had all been a joke. An outraged Flint showed up at the second race and literally horsewhipped the colonel in public before being confined to jail for assault. Several years of court battles led to a decision for the colonel. Even worse, however, is his treatment of Alicia in later years. In 1814, Thornton went off to visit France and never returned, leaving Alicia to raise their son alone. When he died 1823, he left the bulk of his estates to a woman named Priscilla Duins and his natural daughter by her (Thornvillia Diana Rockingham Thornton—so he named her after his ex-friend’s horse!). He left nothing to Alicia, although their son Thomas received a bequest of 100 pounds.

But in the end it was Alicia who triumphed. While Thornton is barely remembered as lacking honor, her name that would go down in history. Until 1943, she was the only woman listed in the records of England’s Jockey Club as having raced and won against a man.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Keep it Clean Part 3: Dean Mahomet, Therapeutic Massage, and Champi

It's hard to believe, when walking down the toiletries aisle at your local pharmacy or market, that all those colorful bottles of shampoo are a fairly recent innovation...like, 20th century recent. As I said last week, when you wanted clean hair, you lathered it up with the same soap you were using for the rest of you…which didn’t do your hair any favors. So where did our modern “shampoo”—a special soap for the washing of hair—come from?

It came initially by way of British India and a very interesting person known as Sake Dean Mahomet (in his native Bengali, Shekh Din Muhammad). Mahomet was born in 1759 and served in the Bengal Army of the British East India Company as a young man, starting out as a trainee surgeon. He came to Ireland with his former Captain, settled down to perfect his English, and married an Irish girl. His language studies went well enough for him to publish a book about India called The Travels of Dean Mahomet—it was, incidentally, the first book published in English by an Indian writer. Mahomet and his wife moved to England in 1810 and accomplished another first—he opened the first Indian takeout restaurant in England!

But before he moved into the restaurant biz Mahomet had worked with a certain Basil Cochrane who had just opened a bathhouse specializing in vapor bath cures, popular with the British in India, as a way to promote the health of London’s poorer classes. When his restaurant (the Hindoostanee Coffee House in George-street) was taken over by unscupulous partners, forcing him out, Mahomet returned to the bathhouse idea as a way of earning a living. He moved to Brighton, the seaside town where the Prince Regent’s favorite house, the Pavilion, was located, and opened a new bathhouse which also offered vapor bath cures and other health-promoting treatments. One of these was the therapeutic massage technique called Champi (which sounds similar to what we know as massage therapy today).

Mahomet’s baths caught on like wildfire and doctors praised his Champi treatments…which eventually changed in pronunciation to “shampoo” and the treatments to massage of the shoulders, neck and scalp, especially the last. Mahomet eventually came to be called “Dr. Brighton” by the happy citizens of that town; doctors referred clients to him, and in time he was appointed “Shampooing Surgeon” to both King George IV (the former Prince Regent) and King William IV. Mahomet lived a long and prosperous life after that, and one of his grandsons became an early and important researcher in high blood pressure studies at the famous Guy’s Hospital in London.

According to etymological dictionaries, by 1860 the word “shampoo” had come to mean the act of washing one’s hair, and a few years later it also meant products used for hair washing—which generally consisted of soap boiled in soda water and mixed with fragrant herbs or oils…not much of an improvement over plain soap, really. Though chemists soon attacked the problem of finding a shampoo that didn’t turn one’s hair to straw (in 1898 that a German chemist and pharmacist made a few improvements and created a shampoo powder that became highly popular), it wasn’t until 1930 that a much less alkaline (and therefore less harsh on the hair) shampoo was introduced to the world by Dr. John Breck. 1930--just eighty years ago.

Next week: Bear fat, Stirachia’s Italian Oil, and Mochrikufsky and Prince’s Russian Oil

Friday, March 12, 2010

Where the Boys Are: Playing with Sharp Things

In our continuing search to learn what the dashing young men of nineteenth century England were up to, we don’t have to look very far from Gentleman Jackson’s Boxing Emporium, which we covered here. If you tired of pummeling your fellow man, you simply waited a day and punctured him with a sword instead!

You see, Gentleman Jackson had originally been invited to share the rooms of another fine figure of a man, Henry Angelo the younger. Angelo was from a family well known for its fencing prowess. His father had come from Italy and used his considerable skills to defeat a number of England and Irish fencing masters. He’d tutored Prince George and his brothers in the fine art of fencing before establishing a School of Arms that his son took over early in the nineteenth century.

It may seem odd that, as the Industrial Revolution was beginning, less advanced weapons like swords were still so popular. Part of it has to do with the elegance of the sword: there’s something manly and classy about walking around with a length of steel strapped to your waist. Pistols, on the other hand, were rather bulky and still quit chancy when it came to self-defense. They weren’t very accurate, even in the hands of an expert; you couldn’t keep them primed and ready to go without risking blowing off some important body part; and getting them ready to shoot was a bit of a challenge when someone was rushing at you with deadly intent. So, swords were still the choice of many gentlemen when it came to dueling or self defense, and education in fencing was seen as an essential part of a gentleman’s education.

On alternative days from Jackson, the Angelos taught the proper way to fence: elegance of style, economy of movement. Students went through a series of training movements and then fought against the fencing master and finally each other. Like Jackson, the Angelos and their students fought in exhibitions and frequently came away with the prizes. The Angelos also sponsored fencing matches between noted experts from around the world.

Swords used at the school were mostly cutlasses (slicing and some thrusting) and foils (thrusting). During practice, those learning the cutlass might use a wooden sword instead; those learning the foil would work with a leather button on the tip. Students usually practiced with jackets off. (The tailored jackets of the early nineteenth century didn’t allow for much athletic movement.) Gloves were the only protective equipment used by the students. Although masks were available (introduced in 1780), many refused to wear them, and more than one fencer suffered scars and nicks as a result.

But the sword wasn’t just for amateurs. Being able to use the sword was a requisite for doing well in the military. In fact, Henry Charles Angelo, the son of Henry the younger, went on to become the fencing master to the British Army, developing an entire system of movements that was said to give officers an advantage on the field.

In 1857, Betrand Baptise, a French fencing master, set up a school in London that would eventually eclipse the Angelo school. He encouraged women to fence, and a number of ladies joined his school. It appears, however, that women fought women, and men fought men, and even the training times were coordinated so that never the two should meet.

Bummer! There’s nothing like going after the guy you’re sweet on with something sharp, and winning.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Keep it Clean! Part 2: Soap

So our young lady in need of a good wash has her hip bath filled with warm water (and I’m still thinking about those poor maids having to carry it all up for her!) set before the fireplace in her room and surrounded by screens for privacy and to keep the drafts out. There’s probably a chair set nearby too, with a towel warming on it. Our hypothetical young lady steps in and sits down, knees drawn up, maybe scoops some water over her shoulders…and then what?

Well, she reaches for the soap, of course.

Although Castile soap from Spain had been imported into England since the 16th century, the London Soapers’ Company was established in the 1630s to try to give them some competition. After some setbacks in mid-century (the puritanical Roundheads evidently did not believe that cleanliness was next to godliness), by 1700 there were sixty-three soap factories in London making soap in various qualities: speckled was the best and most expensive, then came white, and finally the cheapest, gray. Purchasers bought soft soap by the firkin (a small bucket) and added their own perfume, if they liked; lavender was a favorite.

In 1789 a new soap appeared on the market when an apothecary named Andrew Pears created his transparent bars of hard soap (and yes, that’s the Pear’s Soap you still see on market shelves today). The tax on soap, which had been established in the early 1700s, rose over the decades to three shillings per pound in 1815…which, considering that soap cost about that, meant the tax on soap was 100%—not exactly an inducement to cleanliness!

Fortunately for the noses of London, the tax was cut in half in 1833 and abolished in 1853, which may or may not have had something to do with the growing interest in bathing for health.

So our young lady lathers up…and that includes her head. Shampoo as we know it didn’t exist, so regular old soap was used for hair washing as well. The problem was that it tended to be very harsh and strip away too much oil, leading to a head full of straw-like frizz…which is why 19th century beauty manuals always exhort young ladies to brush their hair one hundred strokes morning and night—in order to redistribute naturally occurring oil and cut down on the frizzies.

I was going to discuss shampoo today as well, but my research turned up such an interesting (and multi-national) story that it deserves its own entry. And so, stayed tuned till next week for "Keep it Clean Part 3: Dean Mahomet, Therapeutic Massage, and Champi."

P.S. Below are some ads for soap drawn from the February 1808 Advertising Supplement to La Belle Assemblee magazine. Short and snappy ads had obviously not yet been thought of!!

The Nobility, Gentry, and Public are respectfully informed, that J. DELACROIX has prepared the above valuable Soap Paste from a recipe of Mr. Profkosky, his friend, an eminent Chemist at Warsaw, who is the sole inventor and proprietor of this precious Composition, which has universally been approved of by persons of the first rank, inhabiting that bleak and frozen country, for softening, nourishing, and whitening the skin, and allowed to be a certain preventive against the cold air, chopping
[I presume it means 'chapping'!] the face and hands.

This article cannot be offered at a more proper time than at the winter season, when a trial of two days will convince of its superior virtues, as well as superiority over any discovery of the kind ever presented to the public."


For preserving and softening the Skin, possessing also the true Flavour of that much admired Perfume, from which this newly invented Article takes its name.

Prepared by, and sold at J.T. Rigge's Perfumery Warehouses, No.65, Cheapside and No.52, Park-street, Grosvenor-square: where may also be obtained his much-admired Royal Almond Compound, and celebrated Violet-scented Almond Soap. with a most extensive assortment of every fashionable and useful Preparation for the Skin. Warren's genuine Milk of Roses; Gowland's Lotion; Cream of Almonds; and Blake's celebrated Cream of Almond Soap."


"The skin preserved from Chopping &c. during the most intense Winter, by the emollient Properties of


which is held in the highest repute throughout the Universe, for washing the Hands and Face beautifully clean, white, and smooth--preserving the delicate texture of the skin, particularly young Children, even if washed with hard water, and Gentlemen highly approve its efficacy in shaving.

When this celebrated Soap, which is the sole property and invention of J.W. Middlewood, Wholesale Perfumer, High-street, Whitechapel, London, was introduced to the Royal Family, they were graciously pleased to approve its agreeable properties, by honouring the proprietor with the appointment of Perfumer and Abyssinian Flower Soap Maker to the Princess of Wales, the Duke and Duchess of York, and the Duke of Cumberland, to whom, with the many illustrious Families, the Gentry, his Friends, and the Public in general, he feels deeply impressed with gratitude for their distinguished preference, and hopes, by unremitting attention to its fragrance, &c. to merit a continuance of their protection.

The Proprietor feels it his duty to caution the public against counterfeits, which are now circulating--one under the assumed title of Genuine--another the Improved Abyssinian Soap; indeed the word improved is become the denomination for deception, and which can only be effectually guarded against by desiring servants or carriers to be careful to ask for Middlewood's Soap, and to observe his name, with the Duke and Duchess of York's Arms, &c. are on the outside wrapper. Price 1s. the square, or 10s. the dozen."

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Things You Can and Cannot Learn from Magazines

Marissa and I have mentioned La Belle Assemblée many times. It was one of the premier ladies’ magazines in nineteenth century England. Some of the gorgeous fashion plates Marissa shares come from that magazine. In La Belle Assemblée, a lady learned what was in vogue, what was considered passé, how to dress, how to wear her hair, and what cosmetics to try.

But the magazine also covered other matters. It detailed deaths:

Died.—In Old Burlington-street, the Hon. E. Bouverie, M.P. for Northampton, and uncle to the Earl of Radnor.—Mr. Howe, a respectable tradesman in Mary-le-bone-street, expired without a groan, whilst in the act of stooping for a pipe, which he let fall from his mouth in the shop.—After a lingering illness, Lieut. Frederick Talbot Fowler, of the Royal Marines, aged 21, only son of Mr. Fowler, of Clement’s-Inn, Solicitor. His remains were interred in the burying ground at Chatham, with military honours, at which every Officer at headquarters attended.

It marveled on marriages:

Married.—Henry Richard Wood, Esq. only son of Colonel Wood, of Hollin-Hall, in the county of York, to Miss Eckersall, eldest daughter of J. Eckersall, Esq. of Calverton-house, near Bath.—Lord Falmouth, to Miss Bankes, eldest daughter of Henry Bankes, Esq. The happy pair passed the honey-moon at Mr. Bankes’s seat in Hampshire.

But sometimes it told stories of odd happenings around town. I found this one from the September 1810 issue particularly interesting:

The passengers through Piccadilly, and many of the inhabitants, were thrown into great consternation on Sunday night, September 2, by the escape of a leopard from a caravan which was conveying it to Bartholomew Fair. The animal ran into the lower part of one of the houses which are re-building on the south side of the street between the church and the Haymarket. The keeper, who soon discovered the escape of the animal, ran about in great agony, calling for a blanket and some ropes; but when the people heard the purpose for which they were wanted, they retreated from the spot with the utmost precipitation.
[Well, I would think so!]

A gentleman walking near the end of the Haymarket, in Piccadilly, excited not a little of the fears of the spectators for his safety. The leopard lay couched on the flags [sidewalk], and the gentleman, apparently to avoid falling over him, stopped; upon which the animal raised himself up in the most awful manner, moving his tail. The spectators, and his keepers in particular, who had just arrived, cried out repeatedly, “For Heaven’s sake, Sir, take care, it is a tiger.” The gentleman, however, firmly kept his ground, nor did he move till the animal left him a free passage, by a most wonderful spring against the side of one of the houses, and then into the middle of the street. He then walked on with all the coolness imaginable, refusing to tell his name.

They caught the leopard, but I’d like to know more about the gentleman who faced it down. Who was he? Why was he so unconcerned to find a leopard in his path? Was it arrogance or supreme confidence in his own abilities that allowed him to look the creature square in the eye and demand obedience? Or did he simply not care about his life enough to challenge injury or death? What could have driven him to such a place?

It seems even the exalted La Belle Assemblée has --gasp!-- limitations!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Keep it Clean! Part 1

I may love to talk about the 19th century and sometimes dream a little about stepping into a time machine and visiting it, but there are a few facets of life in which I am firmly 21st century…and one of those is taking a nice hot shower every morning. How did our 19th century counterparts keep clean?

By the early 19th century, hundreds of years of aversion to getting wet had given way to the theory that bathing might actually be good for you. The health benefits of visiting places like Bath, where the Romans had built extensive public baths to take advantage of the natural hot mineral springs, were accepted and those who could afford it flocked to bathe in the public and private baths there. Sea-bathing also became a fashionable “cure” for everything from skin complaints to digestive problems. Eventually, keeping up the habit at home gradually caught on as cleanliness was accepted as a desirable—and healthful—quality.

If you were a young lady of fashion, how would you keep clean?

Unless your home had been recently built, it was unlikely it that it had a bathroom, at least in the way we define that word. Instead, the usual method of bathing was in a portable tub (often a hip bath, which we discussed here) set up by the fireplace in your bedroom on an oilcloth sheet in case of splashover and surrounded by screens to block drafts and provide privacy. Hardworking servants had to tote cans of hot water up from the kitchen to fill your bath for you. But taking a bath wasn't your only option; by this time a shower apparatus had been invented as well, though they were generally used with cold water which was poured into the top and released when the bather pulled a cord or chain to open the sluice. According to the wife of prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, her husband had great moral courage but no physical courage, so whenever he took a cold shower-bath (as they were called), she always had to come and pull the chain for him!

In between baths, you could have a sponge-bath in your room; a standard piece of bedroom furniture was the washstand, which held a broad, deep basin which your maid would fill with warm water. It was easy to wash the upper body this way, and certainly much easier than dealing with the hip bath.

By mid-century more houses were being built with bathrooms located near the bedrooms; earlier bathrooms had often been built on the ground floor, with the bathtub doubling as a clothes-washing vessel. Advances in plumbing engineering took a while to catch up, though, and there was often insufficient pressure to get water to those upper floors…which meant those maids had to continue toting water, poor things!

Next week, in Part 2: soap and shampoo