Christmas Eve According to Washington Irving

This excerpt is from Washington Irving, The Sketch Book, published in 1819. Washington Irving is famous for his tale “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” featuring Rip Van Winkle, and he spent some time in England beginning in 1815. Today we are featuring his writings about Christmas Eve. Monday we will publish his Christmas Day musings. 

It was a brilliant moonlight night, but extremely cold; our chaise whirled rapidly over the frozen ground; the post-boy smacked his whip incessantly, and a part of the time his horses were on a gallop. “He knows where he is going,” said my companion, laughing, “and is eager to arrive in time for some of the merriment and good cheer of the servant’s hall. My father, you must know, is a bigoted devotee of the old school, and prides himself upon keeping up something of old English hospitality. He is a tolerable specimen of what you will rarely meet with nowadays in its purity, the old English country gentleman; for our men of fortune spend so much of their time in town, and fashion is carried so much into the country, that the strong, rich peculiarities of ancient rural life are almost polished away. My father, however, from early years, took honest Peacham for his textbook, instead of Chesterfield; he determined in his own mind that there was no condition more truly honorable and enviable than that of a country gentleman on his paternal lands, and therefore passes the whole of his time on his estate. He is a strenuous advocate for the revival of the old rural games and holiday observances, and is deeply read in the writers, ancient and modern, who have treated on this subject. Indeed his favorite range of reading is among the authors who flourished at least two centuries since; who, he insists wrote and thought more like true Englishmen than any of their successors.”

Washington Irving
Portrait of Washington Irving, via Wikimedia Commons

We had passed for some time along the wall of a park, and at length the chaise stopped at the gate. It was in a heavy, magnificent old style, of iron bars, fancifully wrought at top into flourishes and flowers. The huge square columns that supported the gate were surmounted by the family crest. Close adjoining was the porter’s lodge, sheltered under dark fir trees, and almost buried in the shrubbery.

 

The post-boy rang a large porter’s bell, which resounded through the still frosty air, and was answered by the distant barking of dogs, with which the mansion-house seemed garrisoned. An old woman immediately appeared at the gate. As the moonlight fell strongly upon her, I had full view of a little primitive dame, dressed very much in the antique taste, with a neat kerchief and stomacher, and her silver hair peeping from under a cap of snowy whiteness. She came curtseying forth with many expressions of simple joy at seeing her young master. Her husband, it seemed, was up at the house keeping Christmas eve in the servant’s hall; they could not do without him, as he was the best hand at a song and story in the household.

 

My friend proposed that we should alight and walk through the park to the hall, which was at no great distance, while the chaise should follow on. Our road wound through a mobile avenue of trees, among the naked branches of which the moon glittered, as she rolled through the deep vault of a cloudless sky. The lawn beyond was sheeted with a slight covering of snow, which here and there sparkled as the moonbeams caught a frosty crystal; and at a distance might be seen a thin transparent vapor, stealing up from the low grounds, and threatening gradually to shroud the landscape.

We were interrupted by the clamor of a troop of dogs of all sorts and sizes, “mongrel puppy, whelp, and hound, and curs of low degree,” that, disturbed by the ring of the porter’s bell and the rattling of the chaise, came bounding, open-mouthed, across the lawn.

We had now come in full view of the old family mansion, partly thrown into deep shadow, and partly lit up by the cool moonshine. It was an irregular building, of some magnitude, and seemed to be of the architecture of different periods–One wing was evidently very ancient, with heavy stone-shafted bow-windows jutting out and overrun with ivy, from among the foliage of which the small diamond-shaped panes of glass glittered with the moonbeams. The rest of the house was in the French taste of Charles the Second’s time, having been repaired and altered, as my friend told me, by one of his ancestors, who returned with that monarch at the Restoration. The grounds about the house were laid out in the old formal manner of artificial flower beds, clipped shrubberies, raised terraces, and heavy stone balustrades, ornamented with urns, a leaden statue or two, and a jet of water. The old gentleman, I was told, was extremely careful to preserve this obsolete finery in all its original state. He admired this fashion in gardening; it had an air of magnificence, was courtly and noble, and befitted the good old family style.

Sprig of Mistletoe
Photo credit: cohdra from morguefile.com

As we approached the house, we heard the sound of music, and now and then a burst of laughter, from one end of the building. This, Bracebridge said, must proceed from the servant’s hall, where a great deal of revelry was permitted, and even encouraged by the Squire, throughout the twelve days of Christmas, provided everything was done conformably to ancient usage. Here were kept up the old games of hoodman blind, shoe the wild mare, hot cockles, steal the white loaf, bob apple, and snap-dragon; the Yule log and Christmas candle were regularly burnt, and the mistletoe with its white berries, hug up, to the imminent peril of all the pretty housemaids.* [*note: The mistletoe is still hung up in farm-houses and kitchens at Christmas; and the young men have the privilege of kissing the girls under it, plucking each time a berry from the bush. When the berries are all plucked, the privilege ceases.]

 

So intent were the servants upon their sports that we had to ring repeatedly before we could make ourselves heard. On our arrival being announced, the Squire came out to receive us, accompanied by his two other sons; one a young officer in the army, home on leave of absence, the other an Oxonian, just from the university. The Squire was a fine healthy looking old gentleman with silver hair curling lightly round an open florid countenance.

The family meeting was warm and affectionate; as the evening was far advanced, the Squire would not permit us to change our travelling dresses, but ushered us at once to the company, which was assembled in a large old-fashioned hall. It was composed of different branches of a numerous family connection, where there were the usual proportion of old uncles and aunts, comfortable married dames, superannuated spinsters, blooming country cousins, half-fledged striplings, and bright-eyed boarding-school hoydens. They were variously occupied; some at a round game of cards; others conversing around the fireplace; at one end of the hall was a group of the young folks, some nearly grown up, others of a more tender and budding age, fully engrossed by a merry game; and a profusion of wooden horses, penny trumpets, and tattered dolls, about the floor, showed traces of a troop of little fairy beings, who, having frolicked through a happy day, had been carried off to slumber through a peaceful night.

 

While the mutual greetings were going on between young Bracebridge and his relatives, I had time to scan the apartment. I have called it a hall, for so it had certainly been in old times, and the Squire had evidently endeavored to restore it to something of its primitive state. Over the heavy projecting fireplace was suspended a picture of a warrior in armor, standing by a white horse, and on the opposite wall hung a helmet, buckler, and lance. At one end an enormous pair of antlers were inserted in the wall, the branches serving as hooks on which to suspend hats, whips, and spurs; and in the corners of the apartment were fowling pieces, fishing rods, and other sporting implements. The furniture was of the cumbrous workmanship of former days, though some articles of modern convenience had been added and the oaken floor had been carpeted; so that the whole presented an odd mixture of parlor and hall.

 

Yule Log being hauled to the house
Yule Log being brought to the house, via Wikimedia Commons

The grate had been removed from the wide overwhelming fireplace, to make way for a fire of wood, in the midst of which was an enormous log glowing and blazing, and sending forth a vast volume of light and heat: this I understood was the Yule clog, which the Squire was particular in having brought in and illuminated on a Christmas eve, according to the ancient custom.*[Note: The Yule clog is a great log of wood, sometimes the root of a tree, brought into the house with great ceremony, on Christmas eve, laid in the fireplace, and lighted with the brand of last year’s clog. While it lasted, there was great drinking, singing and telling of tales. Sometimes it was accompanied by Christmas candles; but in the cottages the only light was from the ruddy blaze of the great wood fire. The Yule clog was to burn all night; if it went out, it was considered a sign of ill-luck.

 

The Yule clog is still burnt in many farm-houses and kitchens in England, particularly in the north, and there are several superstitions connected with it among the peasantry. If a squinting person come to the house while it is burning, or a person barefooted, it is considered an ill omen. The brand remaining from the Yule clog is carefully put away to light the next year’s Christmas fire.]. . . .

 

Supper was announced shortly after our arrival. It was served up in a spacious oaken chamber, the panels of which shone with wax, and around which were several family portraits decorated with holly and ivy. Besides the accustomed lights, two great wax tapers, called Christmas candles, wreathed with greens, were placed on a highly polished buffet among the family plate. The table was abundantly spread with substantial fare; but the Squire made his supper of frumenty, a dish made of wheatcakes boiled in milk, with rich spices, being a standing dish in old times for Christmas eve.

The supper had disposed every one to gayety, and an old harper was summoned from the servant’s hall, where he had been strumming all the evening, and to all appearance comforting himself with some of the Squire’s homebrew. He was a kind of hanger-on, I was told, of the establishment, and, though ostensibly a resident of the village, was oftener to be found in the Squire’s kitchen than his own home, the old gentleman being fond of the sound of harp in hall.”

 

The dance, like most dances after supper, was a merry one; some of the older folks joined in, and the Squire himself figured down several couple with a partner, with whom he affirmed he had danced at every Christmas for nearly half a century. . . .

 

The party now broke up for the night with the kind-hearted old custom of shaking hands. As I passed through the hall, on the way to my chamber.

My chamber was in the old part of the mansion, the ponderous furniture of which might have been fabricated in the days of giants. The room was panelled with cornices of heavy carved work, in which flowers and grotesque faces were strangely intermingled; and a row of black-looking portraits stared mournfully at me from the walls. The bed was of rich though faded damask, with a lofty tester, and stood in a niche opposite a bow-window. I had scarcely got into bed when a strain of music seemed to break forth in the air just below the window. I listened, and found it proceeded from a band, which I concluded to be the waits from some neighboring village. They went round the house playing under the windows. I drew aside the curtains to hear them more distinctly. The moonbeams fell through the upper part of the casement, partially lighting up the antiquated apartment. The sounds, as they receded, became more soft and aerial, and seemed to accord with the quiet and moonlight.

The Chimney Sweep ~ Guest Post by Louise M. Gouge

Louise M. GougeRegency Reflection is happy to welcome Louise M. Gouge to the blog today. Be sure to check out Louise’s new book, A Suitable Wife after reading the article below. 

Thanks for stopping by, Louise!

Christmas Tree and Fireplace

Nothing can cheer up a wintery night more than a fire in an old-fashioned fireplace, especially at Christmas time. Although today most of us have other methods of heating our homes, we enjoy the nostalgia generated by a cozy blaze so much that we put up with all the work that goes into maintaining our hearth.

In Regency times, of course, people had no choice but to warm their homes with a wood or coal fire. Wealthy people had the advantage of having servants to keep the home fires burning. But when it came time to clean the chimney, a specialist was called in: the chimney sweep.

Chimney Sweep Boy With Tools

 

Armed with their circular brushes and metal scrapers, these men removed all of the caked on soot and ash that could cause a larger fire and perhaps even burn down the entire house. In order to remove the flammable matter from the smaller upper reaches of the chimney, the master sweeps would buy small boys (from desperately impoverished parents) and force them up inside the cold flue to scrape away the dangerous substances. No child labor laws protected these little “climbing boys,” and countless numbers of them suffered stunted growth, lung disease, sterility as adults, and early death from breathing in the soot.

A Chimney Sweep and his climbing boyToday we are shocked and saddened to hear of any form of child abuse, and efforts are made to save children in similar dangers. Even during the Regency era, many godly reformers sought to make changes in social inequities. But it was not until 1864 that Lord Shaftesbury succeeded in eliminating the use of “climbing-boys” through the Act for the Regulation of Chimney Sweepers, which established a penalty of £10.00 for offenders. That was a hefty sum in those days.

When I learn such an interesting historical fact, I like to incorporate it into my stories so that my readers can get a realistic picture of the past along with the romance. Although I didn’t plan this particular scenario to link the first two books in my Ladies in Waiting series, it turned out that in the first book, A Proper Companion, my hero’s titled brother had a severe bout of pneumonia and almost died. Then Lord Greystone became the hero of A Suitable Wife, so it was natural for him to have great empathy for anyone with breathing problems. When he encounters two little brothers. . .but that would give away too much of the story. Let’s just say that Lord Greystone’s efforts would have made Lord Shaftsbury proud.

A Suitable Wife Book CoverHere’s the story: It’s an impossible attraction. Lady Beatrice Gregory has beauty, brains—and a wastrel brother. With her family fortune squandered, her only chance of a Season is as a lowly companion. London’s glittering balls and parties are bittersweet when Beatrice has no hope of a match. Still, helping Lord Greystone with his charitable work brings her genuine pleasure…perhaps more that she dares to admit. Even when every marriageable miss in London is paraded before him, the only woman to capture Lord Greystone’s attention is the one he shouldn’t pursue. Attaching himself to a ruined family would jeopardize his ambitions. Yet Lady Beatrice may be the only wife to suit his lord’s heart.

Passion for Regency Fashion ~ the Spencer, by Susan Karsten

During the Regency, an extremely fashionable item was the spencer, a very short jacket, resembling the bodice of the pelisse (see my earlier post on the pelisse) with long sleeves extending over the hands.

Designed to cover the chest, spencers were made of a variety of materials, including wool, silk, satin, and velvet. Many chose spencers with high, frilled collars, but some were collarless. In our day, the bolero, shrug, or cardigan serve the purpose of filling in a low neck, offering warmth for the chest, or simply completing an ensemble.

I find this item of apparel to be quite useful. Do you wear the modern version of the spenser, known as the bolero or shrug?

Get to Know Our Own Laurie Alice Eakes (And win that gift basket!)

If you’ve been reading Regency Reflections for a while then you already know a lot about Laurie Alice Eakes. Today I’m chatting with Laurie Alice to learn a little bit more about what she thinks about Regency England and her new book, Flight of Fancy.

Be sure to check out the trivia question at the end of the post for another chance to win that amazing gift basket!

Laurie Alice EakesIf you were to travel back in time to Regency England, what do you think would be your favorite part?

Hmm. About a dozen flitted through my mind here, from hot chocolate brought to my bedroom before I got up in the morning, to gentlemen being gentlemen, which sounds sexist to our contemporary views, and still seems appealing.

What would you miss the most?

Cleanliness. No question about that. We gloss over it in our books, and, in truth, things weren’t terribly clean back then, not by our standards.

Ballooning is a large part of your new book, Flight of Fancy. Did you have the opportunity to go up in a balloon while you were researching it?

Unfortunately no, and I interviewed many people who have. It’s still something I intend to do.

What’s your favorite, unique Regency aspect of the novel, something you wouldn’t be able to include in a novel set in another place or time?

The Luddites are so uniquely Regency. They symbolize the stirrings of the consequences of mechanization and the burgeoning Industrial Revolution. The Luddite rebellion signifies how the world was beginning to change, one of the things about the Regency that endlessly holds my fascination. Although other riots occurred over other industrial innovations, the Luddite rebellion is unique, as men and women struggled against losing their way of life to a massive degree, to the extent soldiers had to be called in, and both rebels and soldiers died.

Flight Of FancyYou include a lot of historic events in your novels. Do you enjoy the research? How much time do you spend researching versus writing?

I’d say the time is equal. I knew little about ballooning or the Luddites before starting this book, so had to read a lot of books and original documents to get a true sense of both aspects.

Do you share any personality traits with your heroine in Flight of Fancy?

I’m not as nerdy—or as smart—as she is, and I can be a bit nerdy, esp. over history. And then there are the aspects of forgiveness, self-forgiveness that is, and inner healing with which she has to cope, that I related to sometimes so much it was painful to write.

What makes your hero different from other great gentlemen you’ve written before?

He has a few aspects that are different such as his closeness to his mother, and his own interests and skills with mechanical devices. I’ve also never written a story where the hero and heroine have had a long-standing relationship before the book begins, one that makes things worse between them than better.

What was your favorite aspect of writing Flight of Fancy?

Getting these two to grow up not only in maturity about relationships, but also in their relationship with the Lord. They were particularly aged walnuts with shells terribly difficult to crack, so I had to torture them both a great deal, break them so I could show them healing. Like a limb that was broken before and wrongly set, the Lord has to break some of us to get us to healing.

 

Now it’s your turn! Answer the following question in the comments for a chance to win a Flight of Fancy gift basket. See details here. And don’t forget to check out Monday’s post to learn more about balloons and two additional chances to win the basket.

Trivia Question #4:

In A Flight of Fancy, Cassandra Bainbridge is the oldest unmarried daughter of a baron. How should she be addressed?

A: Lady Cassandra
B: Lady Bainbridge
C: Miss Cassandra
D: Miss Bainbridge

 

This contest is now closed. Please see the final post for answers to the trivia questions. 

Taking to the Sky

To celebrate A Flight of Fancy, we’re running a special week-long contest. Starting October 5, 2012, through next Friday, October 12, we’ll feature Regency quiz questions at the end of each post. To enter the contest, you’ll need to correctly answer the questions in the comment section below. For every correct answer, your name will be added into the drawing for a Regency Food and Frolic gift basket. There will be five questions in all, which means your name can be entered up to five times (if you get all five questions right). The deadline to answer ALL CONTEST QUESTIONS will be Saturday, October 13 at midnight.

Photo on Scenic Reflections

A Flight of Fancy has a heroine who would be considered a nerd nowadays. For fun, she reads Greek and Hebrew, translates ancient documents into English, and executes mathematics. She regrets not being able to go to university, but since she cannot, she determines to make her mark on the world through creating a balloon one can steer.

Balloons could not be steered except per the caprices of the wind currents. These change at various heights of the atmosphere, so a balloonist had to raise and lower the gas—hydrogen—level in the balloon to affect their direction. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it did not. Usually it did not. Sails and paddles were employed in an attempt to create steerage to greater or lesser success—mostly lesser.

Considering one had to go aloft with live fire to create the hydrogen, and the car or basket was not all that large, limiting the quantity of fuel, long journeys in a balloon without touching down were simply not possible. Decades later, Jules Verne’s book, Around the World in 80 Days, was considered fantasy. It was the science fiction of its day. (He is, of course, the founder of steam punk, a steam punk author told me.) But I digress.

How grand getting from London to Lisbon, sailing over the heads of the French enemy, sailing high enough to be out of range of their guns, would be! Much safer from the enemy than taking a ship.

Unfortunately, steering was the first problem with long-range travel, and having enough fuel to keep gas in the balloon was another problem.

It doesn’t mean people did not attempt, and come close, to sailing long distances. Sophie Blanchard, a famous French balloonist, sailed across the Alps. No problem. Balloons could go extremely high; therefore, getting over the mountains was not a problem for her. She was also not sailing over enemy territory, being French.

During the Regency, Mr. Sattler decided to fly from Ireland, across the Irish Sea, and to England. He did so with great success. Several times, he had to raise and lower his level to catch favorable currents, but the coast of Cumberland drew into his sites.

So he decided to go down to Liverpool, and that’s when he ran into trouble. He caught a strong current. The waxed canvas tubing that carried the hydrogen from the beaker of acid and iron shavings, to the balloon, began to tear away from the balloon, causing him to lose altitude at an alarming rate.

Mind you, he reports that he was around three miles in the sky. Plunging from that height would have been rather frightening, not to say deadly.

With great risk to life and limb, he managed to affect repairs while poised above a live fire and that beaker of acid and iron shavings to make the hydrogen. I won’t say how because I use this incident for the basis of an important scene in A Flight of Fancy.

Mr. Sattler ended up in the sea near Liverpool. A flock of sea birds attacked him for the food he had carried with him, and several ships sailed past him. Eventually, as night fell, a naval vessel stopped and picked him up.

That Lord Whittaker is against Cassandra going aloft in a balloon makes a great deal of sense. Men and women, including Sophie Blanchard, died because of their fascination with taking to the sky in a balloon. Cassandra, however, is like thousands of men and women throughout history, who risked their fortunes and their lives to bring us new inventions and scientific discoveries—she will not let the danger stop her from trying to improve balloon flight and make it a practical form of transportation.

For more details on how balloonists made hydrogen and why they went aloft with a live fire, read my article at: http://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/

Today’s questions:

1: How did aeronauts steer a balloon?

A: They used sails.

B: They used paddles.

C: They used wind currents.

D: They used the balloon itself.

 2: Which of the following was not used to make hydrogen for the balloon.

A: Fire

B: Acid

C: Wax

D: Iron

This contest is now closed. Please see the final post for answers to the trivia questions. 

Strange Taxes of the Regency Era

Kristi here. If you live in the United States and you’re reading this article it means either A) you’ve already finished your taxes or B) you’re avoiding doing your taxes by perusing the internet. If the latter I suggest you hop to it because Tax Day is right around the corner.

 “The only things certain in life are death and taxes.” – Benjamin Franklin

How true, how true. Taxes are a way of life if you want to have a funded government. During the Regency, with the American Revolution having just wrapped up and the Napoleonic Wars raging, not to mention a Prince Regent with an eye for expensive decor, the English government taxed the citizens in every way it could think of. Newspapers, soap, tea, pins, sugar, coffee, even horses and dogs were taxed. By the time the Regency rolled around the English government had gotten very good at taxing people in unique ways.

The Window Tax

Bricked In WindowProbably the most infamous of the taxes was the window tax. It was doubly bad because there was also a Glass Excise tax. So you got taxed when you bought the glass for the window and then taxed for having the window.

Any portal that allowed you to see outside of the house – even a small ventilation hole – counted towards a home’s total number of windows. Homes were classed into three groups: less than 10 windows, 10-20 windows, and more than 20 windows. The rates were occasionally raised, coming to their peak during the Regency, before slowly decreasing until the tax was eradicated altogether in 1937.

While some people, particularly poor people, did brick up certain windows to avoid the tax, false windows were also a popular architecture feature. This was awfully convenient if you did want to brick up a window because it kept it from looking out of place.

The Servant Tax

Next time you’re reading (or writing!) a Regency novel, pay attention to the number of people running around performing services for all the characters. All of them drew a tax from their employers. Footmen, butlers, valets, game-keepers, grooms, and gardeners all added together to make money to fund wars on the American and French fronts. The scale was as difficult to figure out as their money.

Families were charged different rates than bachelors. Eventually a sliding scale, based on the number of servants you employed, was applied to the rates.

Originally the law applied only to male servants working in homes or on estates. By the time Prinny came to power, women servants, waiters, book-keepers, clerks, stewards, and even factory workers and farm laborers were being taxed. The rates had also been risen to their highest point in history, making the sheer effort of making a living and running a household an expensive endeavor. While things did get better after 1823, the tax was not entirely repealed until 1889.

The Church Tax

Yes, the Church of England was also in the game of raising funds. At the time the church was responsible for much more than religious education, fellowship, and Godly worship. They also cared for the roads, the poor, and upkeep of certain public buildings – including the place of worship.

This was separate from the tithes expected from farmers and craftsmen which paid the living for the clergy. Also, while not a requirement, it was expected that people pay pew rental fees to the church to secure their seats for worship services. One would also have to tip the person who opened your pew box for you to sit down.

 

Tax stamp on wallpaper
Tax stamp on a piece of wallpaper, proving the tax had been paid.

All of this taxation served to make the poor poorer and the rich a little irritated. The poorest of people lived in houses without ventilation and didn’t wash because of the tax on soap. This made them sick and unable to care for themselves, in which case they had to rely on the church which meant the church had to collect more in taxes as well which led the rich to go to great lengths to drive the poor to another district. What a vicious circle.

Sadly, things haven’t changed much. Between income tax, property tax, sales tax, ad valorem tax, and other things like estate and capital gains taxes, just about everything we touch is taxed as well. I guess Ecclesiastes is right… there’s nothing new under the sun.

 

Sources:
What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew
Godly Mayfair
English Historical Documents 1660-1714
Regency Redingote
Regency Redingote

 

Sporting Madness ~ The Existence and Growth of Organized Competition


Even the president of the United States takes time to fill out his basketball predictions.

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

Ascot, 1791

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.

An example of a modern day hat worn by an attendee in the Royal Enclosure.

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

A Cricket Game at Darnell

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.

Cricket Ball. Image courtesy of Ed g2s

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

The Boat Race, Oxford V. Cambridge, 1841

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?