What’s the Deal with Almack’s? by Susan Karsten

An exclusive venue, in the true meaning of the word “exclusive” (as in exclude!), Almack’s required membership fees (called subscriptions) and had a powerful doorkeeper.

Lady Jersey, a famous Almack's Patroness, via Wikimedia Commons
Lady Jersey, a famous Almack’s Patroness, via Wikimedia Commons

A committee of high-born ladies, known as patronesses, further added to the exclusivity factor. They controlled access to tickets and, therefore, who could enter the prized environs.

Though it cost money to get in, money alone didn’t guarantee entry, nor did birth status. Other factors considered were: wit, beauty, careful dressing, being a good dancer, or simply having good taste might tip the scales in your favor.

The despotic patronesses held weekly meetings to select attendees. Once “in”, there were still strict rules which had to be followed, or you risked being turned away. You must arrive on time, properly dressed.

Interior of Almack's via Wikimedia Commons
Interior of Almack’s via Wikimedia Commons

Six or seven patronesses ran Almack’s. Lady Jersey, daughter and wife of earls, was a chatterbox heiress, strictly maintained the cachet of the club. Lady Sefton, married to an earl, considered more amiable, was a renowned society hostess in her own right. Lady Cowper, know for her with, tact and affability, was known to smooth over quarrels. Formidable Lady Castlereagh, Icy Mrs. Drummond-Burrell, ruthless Countess Lieven, and spiteful Princess Esterhazy round out the committee.

It almost makes one not want to even try to gain entrance. Do you think you’d have made the cut? (fantasy here!)

Lighting Up the Night By Regina Scott

reginascott11-07smallSo glad to be back at Regency Reflections. Is that the bang of fireworks I hear in celebration? Sometimes it seems as if our neighborhood has returned to the Revolutionary War right before the Fourth of July there are so many sizzles, pops, and whistles!

Regency lords and ladies were no strangers to fireworks. The fire masters (the equivalent of today’s pyrotechnical engineers) performed their duties for public events like coronations and military victories as well as private events like balls and routs.

Plersch_Night_illumination_of_KaniówA fire-master was originally a commissioned officer in the artillery who ordered the instructions and directions for making fireworks, whether for military purposes such as rockets or for celebration. Each firework consisted of one or more tubes of paper of various diameters filled with different types of flammable powder and connected to a quick match or a slower burning fuse. Rockets might have a stick at the end to help steady the flight. How hot the fire burned, the direction in which it burned, and the diameter of the opening through which it shot all affected the size, shape, duration, and color of the firework.

vauxhall fireworksPeople didn’t seem to tire of fireworks, no matter how many times they saw the bright lights. Talented fire masters were in great demand. Of course, the displays had their down sides as well. In large crowds, there was the apparent danger of pieces of the rockets in particular falling back to the ground and striking people on the head or shoulder. Sparks could also burn as they fell. Perhaps to help prevent such calamities, some events were held near a body of water like a river or ornamental pond. The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens had some amazing displays along the Thames.

White_bright_fireworks-freeEmboldened by their acclaim, however, the fire masters became more and more creative over the years. Until the middle of the nineteenth century, most of the fireworks were orange or white. In the 1830s, fire masters discovered that burning metallic salts with potassium chlorate would give them many more colors to play with. Fireworks were affixed to wooden frames to spell out words or illuminate scenes. Others burst in the sky like stars, hissed and wove about like serpents in the air, or showered sparks down on amazed onlookers like hot rain. Musicians composed odes that could accompany the displays. Architects and engineers built revolving machines that could light up or shoot out fireworks at various angles. Even one of the Prince Regent’s favorite architects, John Nash, built a machine to house such displays.

Today, fireworks light up the night sky at sporting events, fairs and concerts, and civic events. But we owe much of our delight to the creativity and ingenuity those early fire masters.

Regina

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Though she hasn’t found a way to make her hero a fire master yet, Regina Scott has penned 27 stories set in Regency England. Her most recent novel, The Husband Campaign, was released in April 2014 from Love Inspired Historical. You can learn more about her at her website at www.reginascott.com or catch up with her online at www.facebook.com/authorreginascott.

Camy here: Thanks so much, Regina, for our guest post today!

More Caricatures from the Regency Era

In November, we looked at James Gillray and some of his more famous caricatures from the Regency Era. Today I wanted to introduce another caricaturist and illustrator, George Cruikshank. George was the son of caricaturist, Isaac Cruikshank (a contemporary of Gillray’s), and apprenticed with his father at an early age. After spending a decade or so making caricatures, George then turned his attentions to book illustrations. The most notable of his illustrations are those he did in the 1830s for his friend, Charles Dickens.

Cruikshank British_valour
From 1813, this mocks American boasting in the face of the British Navy.

This mocks some of the rather impractical fashions of 1818
This mocks some of the rather impractical fashions of 1818.

This mocks servants trying to act as their masters in the kitchen
This mocks servants trying to act as their masters in the kitchen.

This is one of Cruikshank's numerous illustrations for Oliver Twist.
This is one of Cruikshank’s numerous illustrations for Oliver Twist.

Do you like any of these caricatures and illustrations? Do you prefer the ones that satirize regular life or politics? Why?

The Final Frost Fair: What Do You Do When the Thames Freezes Over?

Kristi here. Has your winter been insane? Mine certainly has. In a single week in February, we had an ice/snow storm, a sunny 70 degree afternoon, and even felt the minor tremors of an earthquake. The ice and snow has definitely been the biggest surprise of this winter. Multiple crippling freezes have crossed this country, two reaching deep into the south.

Sail Tents on the ice during the frost fairThe ramifications of cold weather were l to the people of Regency England. 1816 is even famously known as the year without a summer. However, it was 200 years ago in February 1814 that the last of the great Frost Fairs occurred on the great Thames River.

It wasn’t the first time the Thames River froze over. Indeed it happened more than twenty times since 1309. This was, however, the last time. The replacement of London Bridge in 1831 and Victorian addition of the Embankment improved the water flow to the extent that a solid freeze hasn’t happened again and is highly unlikely to do so.

With the city pulled to a halt by the bitter cold and drifting snow, people were drawn to the novelty of solid ice, allowing them to walk and play where boats usually reigned. A thoroughfare of sailing vessels, to the tune of 1500 a day, brought to a halt by Mother Nature.

Among the frivolities included in the 1814 Frost Fair were:

–          An elephant crossing the river, demonstrating the thickness and security of the ice near Blackfriars Bridge.

–          A printing press set up on the ice, churning out commemorative books about the fair

–          Food and drink vendors galore and impromptu bars created with ship sails

–          Fires built right on the ice, with large oxen roasting over them

–          Ice skating, bowling, and every other game or sport imaginable

Everything was not all light and smiles, though.

Frost Fair on the Thames with London Bridge in the background.
Frost Fair on the Thames with London Bridge in the background.

With no way to earn their keep on the river, dock workers and ferrymen took to guarding the stairs and ladders that led to the icy surface, charging people a toll to attend the fair and then collecting a penny again when they wanted to leave. Pickpockets took advantage of all the slipping and sliding and drunken frivolity.

The party lasted four days. When the ice began to crack, it proved fatal for some of the final revelers. It also sent huge chunks of ice floating down the river, crashing into barges and doing thousands of pounds in damage.

Four short days, but they were legendary ones. There’s even a reference in Doctor Who, when The Doctor and River visit it for an ice skating outing (A Good Man Goes to War).  In some ways the fair marked the coming end of an era. As the Regency ended and the Victorian age began, life in England would alter considerably. Transportation, engineering, social habits, and opportunities would all change.

Never again would everything align perfectly to create such a unique experience as the Thames Frost Fair.

Have you had unique experiences with snow and ice this year? Tell us about it in the comments below.

The Parasol, a Necessary Regency Accessory, by Susan Karsten

Parasols were introduced to England from China. The earliest ones were silk and often shaped like a pagoda.

pagoda parasol

This elegant accessory was mainly to shade a lady’s delicate, fair complexion.  Jaunts through warehouses for accessories would have included buying parasols to match particular outfits.

matchy matchy

The frames were bamboo, cane, or steel. Funny for us 20th-21st century ladies to realize that suntans were extremely unfashionable until the 1920s, when Coco Chanel helped to popularize the suntan. Prior to that, only women who had to labor outdoors were tan. After the 20s, chic, wealthy women were outdoors because they alone had the leisure time for outdoor games like tennis and golf.

Bam!

Wear your sunscreen, ladies!

Mop Fairs and Michaelmas Day

Mop Fairs and Michaelmas Day
by Laurie Alice Eakes

 Michaelmas Day was one of the four quarter days in the British system, a day in which rents and wages were due. Michaelmas Day, or the Feast of St. Michael, the Archangel, is now the 29th of September. Under the old calendar, it was celebrated on 10th or 11th of October (sources are inconsistent on which day), which coincided with the annual hiring of laborers and household servants.

These fairs were called mop fairs for the fact that those needing work gathered with the tools of their trade in hand. A shepherd carried a crook, a cook carried a ladle and wore a red ribbon, and a maid wore a blue ribbon and carried a mop. Those with no particular skill also carried mops.

Black and white historic mop fair photo
Historic turn of the century mop fair from this site:http://www.nfa.dept.shef.ac.uk/images/strat8.jpg

Those needing to hire someone interviewed potential employees (during the Regency, the word was employé, as employee wasn’t used until the 1850s) as to their skills and experienced. When the employer chose someone, money exchanged hands, and the hiree donned a ribbon to signify she or he had been hired. They were then free to spend their token of employment at the local taverns or other establishments set up with games and goods.

Michaelmas Day was appropriate for this practice because the harvest was usually finished or nearing completion; thus farmers could either acquire more laborers or, having rid himself of these extras, left them needing employment elsewhere. The day being a quarter day, wages were settled up.

Michaelmas Day was also celebrated with some other traditions such as eating a goose for dinner. The goose tradition probably stemmed from tenants bringing a goose to the landlord to soften him up, geese being at their prime at this time from dining on the stubble from the fields. In 1709, the following verse appeared in The British Apollo:

Yet my wife would persuade me (as I am a sinner)
To have a fat goose on St. Michael for dinner:
And then all the year round, I pray you would mind it,
I shall not want money—oh, grant I may find it!

Many mop fairs continued well into the nineteenth century and on to the twentieth. Some of them were discontinued due to the drunken debauchery that became associated with the fairs; however, in the past couple of decades, these fairs have been revived with carnival rides and other festive entertainments. The fair at Marlborough, celebrated in October on the old Michaelmas Day,  has talked of moving the fair from the High Street to the commons; however, because of their charter for the fair, moving it would take an act of Parliament. This symbolizes how important these fairs are to British history.

 

Flashback Friday ~ Organized Sports During the Regency

We’re pulling out some of our favorite posts from our first few months of blogging. Many of our loyal readers hadn’t found us yet when these were posted, so we’re giving them a new life. 

As football season begins in America, the thrill of sports teams and competitions takes over a good bit of society. Today we pull an article from March of 2012 that looks at the organized sports men and women of the Regency would have gotten excited about. 

Flashback Friday ~ Originally published March 5, 2012.

Ah, Spring. When a young American man’s fancy turns to brackets and basketballs and he is likely to put more consideration into picking which college to root for than he did selecting which college to attend. There’s a reason it’s called March Madness.

 

Kristi here, and the fascination with sports is not a new one. The Regency era saw a culture on the cusp of the organized sporting events. While many games remained unofficial skirmishes, there were several championship challenges emerging by the beginning of the Victorian era. And of course, all of them got gambled on.

 Royal Ascot – Horse Racing

In 1711, Queen Anne acquired land near Ascot in which to hold horse races. The first race had a purse of 100 guineas. By 1813, races at Ascot were such a part of the fabric of England that Parliament stepped in, passing an act to ensure the racing grounds remained a public racecourse.

 

Prinny, the future King George IV, made Ascot one of the most fashionable social occasions of the year. After ascending to the throne, he had a new stand built for the exclusive use of guests of the royal family. The Royal Enclosure still exists today and admittance to it is very difficult to obtain.

The Royal Ascot was, and still is, a four day event. It was the only racing event held at the racecourse during the 19th century. England’s elite would gather to watch horses above the age of six barrel through the course in pursuit of the Gold Cup.

The grandeur of the original races continues today in the strict dress code requiring formal day dresses and those infamous hats for the attending ladies. Men must still wear the morning suits and top hats as a nod to the Regency era.

During the early 1800s, fashion was always important to the upper class and the Royal Ascot was certainly no exception. The importance of dressing right for the races even lent its name to the traditional wide morning tie, now known as an Ascot Tie.

The Royal Ascot takes place in June, one of the last hurrahs of Spring Season.

 Players Vs Gentlemen – Cricket

This amateur against professional game of cricket actually skipped over the true Regency. It began in 1806, disappeared for a while, and then re-established as a yearly tradition in 1819. It remained in place until 1962 where is phased out again only to be revived in recent years, with matches in 2010 and 2011.

At the time of conception the Gentlemen, or amateurs, were largely aristocratic men who had played during their school years. The Players were professionals, paid to play by various county cricket clubs.

Unlike professional athletes of today, the professionals weren’t hired to play each other but rather to play the gentlemen that were members of the cricket clubs. Rather like a tennis pro or golf pro at a modern day country club.

The game lasted for three days and usually took place at Lord’s. Not including the most recent matches, the Players had 125 wins to the Gentlemen’s 68. Today the Players are professional athletes from England’s competitive cricket circuit and the Gentlemen tend to be pulled from the University cricket teams.

 Intercollegiate Sports – The Boat Race

Colleges had always prized physical skill in addition to mental learning, but it wasn’t until the early Victorian era that they began to officially meet each other on the playing field. Prior to this point, most collegiate athletic competitions were between houses within the college.

Cricket and Rowing competitions between Oxford and Cambridge both started in the 1820s.

The Boat Race, as it is still referred to today, began in 1829 and has had a tumultuous history ever since. It would be another twenty-five years before the race settled into being an annual event, but the spirit and drive that propels people from different schools to meet on the field, or river in this case, of athletic competition was alive and well during the Regency. Currently Cambridge is on top, with 80 wins to Oxford’s 76. This year’s race will be held in April.

What sports competitions do you get excited over? What was the last major sporting event you went to see?

Disastrous Actor or Brilliant Satirist?

We shall never know whether or not a man name Robert Coates, come to known as Robert Romeo Coates, thought himself a brilliant actor, or if the farcical manner in which he played roles like Romeo were done as parody. What we do know is that he walked out on stage in a flowing cloak and tight pantaloons in blue and red, his garments sprinkled with diamonds, and proceeded to butcher the role of this tragic Shakespearean hero. His garments were so tight he moved stiffly.

“We are not disposed to be severe on Mr. Coates performance,” reports Kirby’s  Wonderful Magazine in 1815, “which afforded singular amusement; but it is necessary, in order to give a just idea of it, to say, that for some time it was not so much below mediocrity, that it appeared likely to pass off in that flat routine which is neither forcible enough to affect the feeling in the pathetic, nor absurd enough to amuse by provoking risible faculties. At length a sudden start, or rather frisk and jump, in one of the love speeches, called forth so universal a burst, and from that moment the laugh was not discontinued, nor the audience composed for one instant to seriousness, for the remainder of the night; and whether Romeo addressed Juliet; or Juliet pronounced the praise of Romeo, laughter convulsed the house, and made it sometimes impossible for the love-sick maid herself (though represented in a very superior manner by a young lady of the name of Watson) to forbear from a smile and a titter, where a sob and a tear would be appropriate, if the tragedy had not been so superlatively commedyized, or rather farcified by her lover.”

Mr. Coates was not a professional. He only took to the stage for charitable events; however, every time he did, the houses were packed with audiences who ended up laughing themselves sick. After a while, actresses refused to play opposite Mr. Coates and theater managers refused to let him take to the stage, even with the bribes he was known to offer them.

You see, gentle reader, Mr. Coates was a wealthy man. The only survivor of a wealthy West Indian planter, he moved to Bath, where he had caused to be built, a curricle. “It was literally covered with brass cocks; the saddle of the horses (weighing fourteen pounds) as well as the buttons and buckles of the harness, and every ornament that could be turned into a cock, wore the resemblance of that biped; even the buttons on his servants coats were stamped with a cock; …”

Is it any wonder that boys crowing “Cock-a-doodle-doo” often followed him through the streets?

Mr. Coates was not all amateur actor, over-dressed dandy and flamboyant whipster. He also held strong principles on matters such as gambling. He didn’t do it. The idea he would do so offended him, as he claimed he had enough (money) and intended to spend it himself.

He did spend it, building a new curricle of whimsical design after the first was wrecked somehow. Eventually, he fell into financial difficulties and retired from his outrageous lifestyle for a while. In this time, he married a well-bred young lady, got financially on his feet again, and lived a quiet, respectable life until he died in a street accident in the 1840s.

Of all the colorful characters the Regency produced, Robert Romeo Coates is one of the most colorful of them all—quite literally. Probably to the relief of Mr. Shakespeare, no one has ever performed the role of tragic Romeo quite like Mr. Coates, nor have audiences laughed until they cried during this tragedy, instead of simply crying.

Fête or Famine: The Everyday Holiday

Holiday 2

One cannot have too large a party. A large party secures its own amusement. 

                                               ~ Jane Austen, Emma (1816)

I’m sitting in an Italian restaurant in downtown Indianapolis on a perfect Sunday afternoon, with my hands wrapped around the warm mug of an after-dinner cappuccino. As I look around the table at my friends (authors with whom I share a particular passion for reading and writing Christian fiction), I see familiar smiles. There’s laughter. Good food being passed around family-style. Talk of husbands and children. We engage in chat about the publishing industry and brainstorm storyline this and character that… And although none of us had to drive all that far to reach our small Sunday feast, this quiet afternoon in June became something of an unexpected getaway.

It made a holiday out of the everyday.

Our topic of focus this month is vacationing. And while many of us immediately think of vacationing as going away on a retreat (perhaps to the seashore or to an English cottage in the countryside), there are many definitions of a holiday that can remain quite close to home. Though the outdoor balls, picnicking and formal parties of the Regency defined the summer holidays in many ways, we may find that our modern celebrations are not all that different…

So in homage to the feast, festival, backyard barbecue and the good old county fair, here’s a little fun for finding a holiday in the commonplace, everyday gathering – the party!

Holiday 3

Village Fête (La Fête villageoise), Claude Lorrain (1639)

 To Fête or Not to Fête  

n. a feast or festival, a celebration, party; v. to celebrate or throw a party

The first use of the term fête is debatable. My mighty authors’ Thesaurus Rex App cites its first use in England by art historian and writer Horace Walpole (1717-97), followed by the first use of verb form in 1819. However, numerous historical resources cite the term to have been widely used in 17th Century Europe, as in the famous The Village Fête painting by Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (1635) Village Fête by French painter Claude Lorrain (1639), and in the 18th Century, to describe painter Jean Antoine Watteau’s work as fête galante (a French term used to describe the lofty yet idle recreation of the aristocracy under the reign of Louis the XIV).

The English term fête comes from the French for the same word, and could also refer to the formal party or social gathering that was frequented in the Regency.

“Formal visits, balls and other social occasions feature largely in Jane Austen’s letters… those who could afford it, and who had time and the space, gave parties. Such social gatherings were the recognized means of meeting people…”    

            Dominique Enright, The Wicked Wit of Jane Austen

 

In Great Britain, the fête was a village fair, or carnival of sorts, that would include any number of amusements. They showcased games, outdoor activities, crafts, livestock and produce, and homemade baked goods and canning. (This would be comparable to the modern street fair or country festival in the States.) Though not all specific to the Regency alone, an interesting list of village fête attractions included raffles, coconut shies (late 1800s), bat-a-rat, tug of war, fashion shows, and music and dancing.

 One Mighty Famous Fête

As parties were frequently held by the Regency Era’s elite, there are several notable events that stand out through history. One such famous party was the Prince Regent’s Fete, held on June 19, 1811 at Charlton House. This was a marvelously sumptuous party thrown to celebrate the King’s birthday (though history argues that the true reasoning was to celebrate the lavishness of the Prince’s Regency). Invitations went out, though not everyone made an appearance. The Queen and her daughters (including Princess Charlotte) would not attend out of protest for such a party being held while the king was taken with illness.

[Wish to read more? Click HERE. Wondering what the impacts were for the Prince Regent after the famous event? Click HERE.]

Another famous fête occurred at the Tower of London in 1840. It’s a bit after the Regency Era, but still worth noting because of the guest list: a young Charles Dickens, artist George Cruikshank and host, novelist William Harrison Ainsworth. [Wish to read more? Click HERE.]

Holiday 1
From left: Kristy Cambron, Sarah Ladd, Dawn Crandall, Liz C. and Joanna Politano

Fêtes in Fiction

The ball, formal party, or fête, is a common setting for many Regency romances – just as are the notable guests that may make an appearance at them. I happen to adore Jane Austen’s ball at Netherfield Park, as a major setting in the iconic Pride and Prejudice.  That may be the one that gets the most press, but there are so many others! So while I finish off the last of my sweet Italian cappuccino and say a final fare-thee-well to my dear author friends, we’d like to hear from you, our readers. You’re here because you adore the Regency. So tell us –

What’s your favorite Regency fête in fiction, and why?

Share your favorite fête scenes with us here – we look forward to adding them to our recommended reading list with those deliciously lavish parties as setting number one!

[And for a little extra fun, here’s a link to the Regency Ball at Bath, 2010. Click HERE.]

In His Love,

Kristy

Similarities Found Between Modern-day Vacations & Regency Vacations ~ by Susan Karsten

In researching what Regency folk did on their trips to vacation towns, I was surprised how well I could relate to what they did. Some of it reminded me of trips to places like Minocqua, Wisconsin.

downtown Minocqua, a popular tourist town in WI

Because when you’re there, staying in a rustic cabin or resort on a nearby lake, you do a lot of the same things that Regency vacationers did. Bored, or having a cloudy day, we go into town and visit: the library, the coffee shop, perhaps a theater’s open somewhere. One might buy clothes (t-shirts nowadays), or hats (caps, visors), or a newspaper.

Sydney Gardens of Bath held a grotto, a falls, a ruined castle, an echo and a labyrinth.

Active people took walks, made rendezvous, picnics, tours, visited waterfalls, paid to enter local attractions, went to dances and concerts, and out to breakfast. I’ve done all those activities on vacation.

It would seem our vacations aren’t as completely different as we may have thought.

What’s your favorite vacation activity? Do you go to resort/vacation communities?