When did you last see an Acorn Snake? Do you even know what one is or how to make it? I recently realised that very few people seemed to know about this ancient toy, so here it is.
Picture from the Royal Mint
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;
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.
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.
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.
Of all the buildings of the late eighteenth century, none is so remarkable, or so charming as the delightful ‘Cottage Ornee’ called A La Ronde. Not only is the house, a bizarre sixteen sided structure, wonderful, but it was decorated by its first owners, the Misses Parminter. The Parminter ladies were well travelled and very talented, and the house still contains many examples of their remarkable craftsmanship.
I am currently teaching a class on the Regency using objects and, having seen A La Ronde, remembered the curious way in which some pictures were mounted. This provided an excellent reason to visit the house again, so I could examine the pictures and try and recreate their technique.
The technique is now called ‘block mounting’, pasting a picture on a piece of wood. However the Parminter cousins added a decorative border. So to begin.
I first cut a suitable size piece of wood, larger than the print I wished to mount, and painted the edges. Then I pasted on a sheet of coloured paper.
The print was then pasted in the middle of the board, and a decorative border, made from gold paper trimmed within pinking shears into a series of chevrons, added.
I chose a suitable late eighteenth century print by a publisher called Carrington Bowles (incidentally he seems to have had a thing about hats, just about every lady he drew wears a big hat, even if she isn’t wearing anything else!).
For two independent ladies I chose an image of two Georgian Sportswomen.
Miss Trigger you see is an excellent shot, And forty five notches Miss Wicket’s just got
With young Catherine Morland in the background.
There is plenty of further inspiration to be found at A La Ronde, perhaps I will try something else in the future.