Category Archives: Jane Austen

A Pattern for a Patten – Protection and Punishment

What’s a patten?

Well, here is a wet London day described by Dickens, and no one described a wet day better;

The sky was dark and gloomy, the air was damp and raw, the streets were wet and sloppy. The smoke hung sluggishly above the chimney-tops as if it lacked the courage to rise, and the rain came slowly and doggedly down, as if it had not even the spirit to pour. In the street, umbrellas were the only things to be seen, and the clicking of pattens and splashing of rain-drops were the only sounds to be heard. (Pickwick Papers)

Wet under foot.

Pattens were wooden soles on metal rings that raised the foot above the wet ground, they were usually worn by women, and the noise they made was a feature of urban life in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Everybody has their taste in noises as well as in other matters; and sounds are quite innoxious, or most distressing, by their sort rather than their quantity. When Lady Russell not long afterwards, was entering Bath on a wet afternoon, and driving through the long course of streets from the Old Bridge to Camden Place, amidst the dash of other carriages, the heavy rumble of carts and drays, the bawling of newspapermen, muffin-men and milkmen, and the ceaseless clink of pattens, she made no complaint. (Jane Austen, Persuasion)

It was the noise they made that was probably the reason they were banned from churches.

Trent, St Andrew, patten notice
Trent Church, Dorset

As the nineteenth century progressed the patten, which had been worn by women of all classes, gradually moved down the social scale. Though it remained in use in country districts until the end of the nineteenth century.

Patty
A fashionable woman in pattens in 1783

A woman had to learn to walk in pattens, wearing them was similar to a child wearing stilts, indeed child sized pattens were made so a girl could learn to wear pattens almost as soon as she learnt to walk. In 1872 Miss Berry Dallas and her sister Helen came to live with their uncle and aunt in rural Dorset. She not only kept a diary, but it was copiously illustrated and, on the first page, she shows how they learnt to walk in pattens.

Patten - Winterbourne St Martin 1

A teenaged Miss Berry helped to stand by an elderly gentleman

Patten - Winterbourne St Martin 2
Miss Helen smugly managing to stay upright.

Pattens were not just used to walk outside in wet weather, but were essential when wet jobs were to be done around the house, especially on washing days.

How are you off for soap

A cartoon of 1816, Vansittart was the Chancellor of the Exchequer who had just put a tax on soap!

There were other uses for pattens, Charles Dickens describes, at the end of Barnaby Rudge when the unpleasant Miss Miggs gets her dream job of a female turnkey (jailer) for the County Bridewell (jail).

Among other useful inventions which she practised upon offenders and bequeathed to posterity, was the art of inflicting an exquisitely vicious poke or dig with the wards of a key in the small of the back, near the spine. She likewise originated a mode of treading by accident (in pattens) on such as had small feet; also very remarkable for its ingenuity, and previously quite unknown.

Whilst in 1723 it was reported in the London Journal, that:

Some Days ago a Female Duel was fought at Greenwich, in which one of the Combatants kill’d her Antagonist with her Patten. The Coroner’s Inquest having sate upon the Body of the Deceased, brought in their Verdict Manslaughter.

I understandably wanted to get hold of one of these useful devices, but as something that was never really valued, I doubted that I ever would. How I managed to I will describe in my next blog.

 

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Filed under Charles Dickens, Georgian, Historical Reconstructions, Jane Austen, Victorian

Inspired by the Google doodle – Jane’s other language.

Today’s ‘Google Doodle’ celebrates British Sign Language and its development. This gives me the opportunity to re-blog something I wrote a little while ago in the series, Five things you might not know about Jane Austen.

 

Like most educated women of her time Jane Austen knew some French and Italian. But she knew another language, a far more unusual one. What was it?

She tells us in her own words, in 1808 she was living in Southampton and on December 27 she wrote to her sister, who was staying with their brother in Kent. In her long letter she mentions a visit they had made.

‘We spent Friday evening with our friends at the boarding-house, and our curiosity was gratified by the sight of their fellow-inmates, Mrs. Drew and Miss Hook, Mr. Wynne and Mr. Fitzhugh; the latter is brother to Mrs. Lance, and very much the gentleman. He has lived in that house more than twenty years, and, poor man! is so totally deaf that they say he could not hear a cannon, were it fired close to him; having no cannon at hand to make the experiment, I took it for granted, and talked to him a little with my fingers, which was funny enough. I recommended him to read “Corinna”.’

So there it is, Jane Austen could sign, she knew what was probably an early version of British Sign Language which had been developed in the late eighteenth century, and was already being taught to deaf people of all classes through several schools. The question then arises, how did she come to know sign language?

V0016541 The Dumb Alphabet. Coloured aquatint, W.T. Annis 1819.

One possibility is that she learnt, as do many hearing people do today, to communicate with a relative. In her case her brother George, little is known about him. He was born in 1766, ten years before Jane, and like her and her other siblings, was placed with a wet-nurse in the village of Steventon immediately after birth. However he never returned to live with his family and the majority of references to him are concerned with his care. He was clearly mentally or physically disabled and the fact that Jane Austen could sign suggests that he was either deaf or couldn’t speak.

What is perhaps less surprising than Jane Austen holding a conversation in sign language, is that she takes the opportunity to suggest something to read!

 

Finally, if anyone doubts that sign language is a real language, British Sign Language was officially recognised as a minority language in 2003.

 

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The Wizard of the North

Written in response to Charli Mills May 18, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a wise story. It can be about wisdom, expressing wisdom or advice for turning 50! It can be a wise-cracking story, too. Go where wisdom leads you. So I am writing about a real wizard, though this is not one of my imagined historical events, as most of the words are not my own.

 

The Wizard of the North

“Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones.”

“But Jane, nobody knows who wrote it. How can you be so sure?”

“Because it is just like him, but it’s not fair. He has Fame and Profit enough as a Poet, and shouldn’t be taking the bread out of other people’s mouths.”

Cassandra smiled as her sister picked up the book again.

 “I do not like him.” Jane continued, “And do not mean to like Waverley if I can help it – but fear I must.” Silently she thought, “I wonder if he will like Emma?”

He did.

 

Emma title

 

Sir Walter Scott, who was known as The Wizard of the North, was a very well-known and successful poet, so he published his first novel Waverley anonymously and for years no one knew for certain who had written it. Jane Austen, however identified the author almost immediately. All her words in the above passage are taken directly from her letters.  Emma was published shortly after Waverley, Sir Walter Scott was delighted with the novel and gave it what we would call a rave review in The Quarterly, the top literary magazine of the day.

 

Purists may notice that, in order to meet the word count, I have edited Jane Austen’s words slightly, turning is not into isn’t and should not into shouldn’t.

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Filed under Georgian, Historical tales, Jane Austen, Literary puzzle, Regency

An Early Visitor to Jane Austen’s House

The other day I visited Jane Austen’s house museum, recently refitted for the bicentenary. One of the things that had been done was a revision of the guide book, which reminded me of something that I had found tucked in a copy of the first ever guidebook, dating from shortly after the house first opened to the public in 1949.

This is a description of the house, clearly written when the house was newly opened, possibly before the guidebook was published. Whilst we were there a vintage bus arrived, a perfect illustration to the account. Here it is.

 

Jane Austen’s House at Chawton

It is still in the country & for this I suppose we must be thankful.
The little cottages so near & round about are mostly thatched & very old. They are I feel, exactly as they were when Jane Austen lived here.
No modern housing estate has engulfed them. The countryside is very wooded but there are fields & where there are fields there are cows – all very peaceful.
It is, then, with a sense of shock that when one alights from the bus by the cottages adjoining J.A.’s house a large untidy yard given over to some kind of car business seems to jump into view.
I suppose the J.A. trust will never be rich enough to buy it up and hand it back to the cows but it just shouldn’t be there.
J. Austen’s house itself stands on the corner where two main roads meet & this was always so.
It looks very plain & unadorned – quite commodious – a house not a cottage & very near the road, but with an old world garden.
It is brick built & looks rather strange with two entrances, one on each side – but I imagine the present side entrance was once a door leading into an outbuilding which was indeed the kitchen as a tablet in the side walk indicates.
The front of the house was not improved by a very large window having been bricked up which is often the case with houses in & around Winchester.
I saw the whole side of a house blocked out in this way, the outline of the windows clearly discerned & with the pelmets left as these were.
This very large window with rounded pelmet on one side of the house must have improved the appearance & broken up the plain look of the front of the house.
However it was so blocked up when the Austen’s took over & was left there.
They probably felt it was too near the road was privacy & had another put in at the side of the house.
Inside the house is magic.
Not all the rooms are on view but in those that are I am sure that Jane Austen’s spirit moves.
It is her home & must have been serene & cheerful, cared for & loved.
I was spellbound to see her music on the pianoforte with her name on the cover & titles of the pieces, written in her own hand.
The fine needlework & pencil drawings are exquisitely finished.
The music (much, much of it) that she copied is so beautifully transcribed that it might be printed. I could hardly believe it was hand copied.
The letters she wrote, even in illness have an ease & even flow of language – so lovely – that the most everyday affairs become alive & interesting.
The people she talked about come to life & the world she lived in – no crossings out – no word out of place – all so easy & natural & so enjoyed.
The bedroom seemed just right for her. There is very little furniture in it but the original fire place is still in being & here she sat by the fire in her last illness.
Some of her hair is enclosed in a locket. It is a rich brown.
The patchwork quilt she was making is on view.

 

Dear Jane Austen
I silently give thanks for all the pleasure you have given me & for your lovely nature without which your books could never have been written.

Jane Austen Visitor

The Original Guidebook & Written Account

There is no indication who wrote it or why, but I am sure you will agree that it is a lovely piece, written by a true Janeite.

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Regency Pot Plants, or Learning to Love a Hyacinth

On her first morning at Northanger Abbey, Catherine Morland came down to breakfast, Henry Tilney was already there, in order to prevent him teasing her about her fears of the night before she changes the subject by looking at some flowers.

“What beautiful hyacinths! I have just learnt to love a hyacinth.”

“And how might you learn? By accident or argument?”

“Your sister taught me; I cannot tell how. Mrs. Allen used to take pains, year after year, to make me like them; but I never could, till I saw them the other day in Milsom Street; I am naturally indifferent about flowers.”

“But now you love a hyacinth. So much the better. You have gained a new source of enjoyment, and it is well to have as many holds upon happiness as possible. Besides, a taste for flowers is always desirable in your sex, as a means of getting you out of doors, and tempting you to more frequent exercise than you would otherwise take. And though the love of a hyacinth may be rather domestic, who can tell, the sentiment once raised, but you may in time come to love a rose?”

Catherine had arrived at Northanger about the middle of March, so the hyacinths were probably not cut flowers, but ones in pots or glasses. Glasses for hyacinths were available at the time, William Cobbett in The English Gardener (1829) advises;

In water-glasses, the hyacinth makes a very agreeable show in the house during the most dismal part of the winter. Get blue glasses, as more congenial to the roots than white ones, fill them with rain water, with a few grains of salt in each, and put in enough water to come up the bulb about the fourth part of an inch. Change the water carefully every week, and place the plants in the lightest and most airy part of the room, or green-house, in which you keep them.

 However by March, and particularly in a house like Northanger Abbey which had large and extensive glass houses, the bulbs would probably have been grown in pots, so that they could be changed as soon as the flower began to fade.

Flowers were often grown in pots and, if you had a large collection, could be displayed in a fashion that seems strange to a modern reader, as Louisa Johnson in Every Lady her own Flower Gardener (about 1840) describes;

2-dr-syntax-misfortune-at-tulip-hall

We recollect once seeing a very interesting collection of more than two hundred species, growing in a high state of perfection, in the house of an amateur living in Brussels. The room containing them was fitted up much in the same way as an ordinary library, with abundance of light shelves round the walls, and a large table in the middle of the room, on which were placed the pots containing the plants. At night, the room was lighted up by an elegant glass lamp, and it was heated by one of those ornamental stoves which are so common on the Continent, Altogether, it had a very handsome appearance.

However, in smaller room she advises to use pot stands rather than stages, (the pretentious term jardinière didn’t come into England from France until the mid-nineteenth century). A Regency, or perhaps a facsimile of a Regency, plant pot stand is to be found in Lytes Cary, a country house in Somerset.

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Courtesy National Trust

I didn’t have the material to make a curved front, so settled on an angular form. Painted black with a gold chinoiserie pattern.

3-dsci2483

Cobbett says that there were over a thousand varieties of Hyacinth available in his day, so I felt justified in using a range of colours, to give an impression of the display admired by young Catherine Morland.

4-the-florists

 

 

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Jane Austen’s Bicentenary – Looking forward with Regret

2017 is going to be a Jane Austen year, it is her bicentenary being 200 years since her death in 1817. As well as banknotes and coins there will doubtless be a great deal of memorabilia produced. I will certainly collect some of it, and add it to my collection – of memorabilia I collected during the celebration of her last bicentenary.

dsci2460

Some memorabilia from 1975

I was a young man in 1975 when the bicentenary of her birth was celebrated, and don’t feel that ancient now we are commemorating the bicentenary of her death. Sir Walter Scott was sadly correct when said that ‘it was a tragedy that so talented a creature died so young.”

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Jane’s other language.

This is the last of my series of blogs, Five things you might not know about Jane Austen.

 

Like most educated women of her time Jane Austen knew some French and Italian. But she knew another language, a far more unusual one. What was it?

She tells us in her own words, in 1808 she was living in Southampton and on December 27 she wrote to her sister, who was staying with their brother in Kent. In her long letter she mentions a visit they had made.

‘We spent Friday evening with our friends at the boarding-house, and our curiosity was gratified by the sight of their fellow-inmates, Mrs. Drew and Miss Hook, Mr. Wynne and Mr. Fitzhugh; the latter is brother to Mrs. Lance, and very much the gentleman. He has lived in that house more than twenty years, and, poor man! is so totally deaf that they say he could not hear a cannon, were it fired close to him; having no cannon at hand to make the experiment, I took it for granted, and talked to him a little with my fingers, which was funny enough. I recommended him to read “Corinna”.’

So there it is, Jane Austen could sign, she knew what was probably an early version of British Sign Language which had been developed in the late eighteenth century, and was already being taught to deaf people of all classes through several schools. The question then arises, how did she come to know sign language?

V0016541 The Dumb Alphabet. Coloured aquatint, W.T. Annis 1819.

One possibility is that she learnt, as do many hearing people do today, to communicate with a relative. In her case her brother George, little is known about him. He was born in 1766, ten years before Jane, and like her and her other siblings, was placed with a wet-nurse in the village of Steventon immediately after birth. However he never returned to live with his family and the majority of references to him are concerned with his care. He was clearly mentally or physically disabled and the fact that Jane Austen could sign suggests that he was either deaf or couldn’t speak.

What is perhaps less surprising than Jane Austen holding a conversation in sign language, is that she takes the opportunity to suggest something to read!

 

Finally, if anyone doubts that sign language is a real language, British Sign Language was officially recognised as a minority language in 2003.

 

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Filed under Georgian, Jane Austen, Regency