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Historical Knotwork – The Sea Chest Becket

Historical Knotwork of a sea chest becketHistorical Knotwork – A Naval CV of Sorts This sea chest becket (handle) is exactly the sort which would have been found on the naval chests used by sailors in Nelson’s Navy. Not only is it a beautiful item in itself, it’s also an object which would have worked as a sort of “knotwork CV” for any boy who wished to be hired. Nelson himself joined the Royal Navy in 1771 at the age of twelve. In that era, children of this age were old enough to take up training or apprenticeships and it was normal for boys to go to sea to train as officers and, if they passed the examination before the Commissioners of the Admiralty, they could expect to be lieutenants at the age of eighteen. If any boy (or trained sailor for that matter) needed to prove his worth to a prospective captain or other marine employer, then a sea chest becket such as this one would show his skill with ropes, and prove that he would be a skilled pair of hands to have aboard ship. However, usually they would not be done by the sailor, but would come already installed on the chest. Those with the skill to make them would get the chest with plain beckets and then replace them when he had the time. How is it made? This sea chest becket is made from a rope centre, spliced at either end,  padded with canvas (or “pudding’d” to give it it’s technical (more…)
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Jane Austen’s Bracelet

Included in the collection at Jane Austen’s House Museum at Chawton are a few pieces of jewellery owned by the Austen women. These include Jane’s gold and turquoise ring, and the topaz crosses brought back from a voyage by the Austen’s younger brother, Charles. Both of these are available at the Jane Austen Gift Shop as beautiful replica pieces. And now, due to great demand, we have at last added our version of the third piece: Jane’s lovely beaded bracelet. Courtesy Jane Austen’s House Museum / Peter Smith Our lovely new replica Made exclusively for us in Somerset, each bracelet is intricately hand strung with Miyuki Glass Seed Beads, and completed with a Sterling Silver Gold Plated Box Clasp. It’s a must for fans and collectors alike, as well as a delightful accessory in its own right. Even Jane approves..! You can see our lovely new replica bracelet here Save (more…)
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Shapewear Nightmare – Regency Underwear

shapewear nightmareShapewear Nightmare A wonderful article on the (im)practicalities of underwear, from the Regency period through to the modern day likes of the Wonderbra. Kindly reproduced here with permission from its author, Laurie Viera Rigler, who is also the author of the popular Jane Austen Addict novels. *** It may be the third millennium, but not much has changed*  since the days of getting laced into a corset so stiff that one could barely lean over, let alone breathe. It’s no wonder ladies had to carry around smelling salts, or “vinaigrettes,” as they were called in Jane Austen’s day. Those Mr. Darcy types may have been swoon-worthy, but it was likely more a lack of oxygen than romantic flutterings that caused ladies to faint. It wasn’t only ladies who were wearing corsets or “stays.” The Prince Regent was a favorite target of cartoonists for trying to mask his size with a corset. Today, we call these instruments of torture “shapewear.” Sounds friendly and appealing, doesn’t it? After all, who doesn’t want to have a shape? The promise and the reality of shapewear, however, can be two very different things. If you’ve ever had a shapewear nightmare of your own, you will love Melissa McCarthy’s story.   But here’s where we can really explore the WHY of shapewear–and ROFL in the process. This is about three guys who decide to test out a girlfriend’s Spanx just for a laugh, and get more than they bargained for. Brilliant. If sheer discomfort isn’t enough to inspire you to (more…)
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Rural England in the Age of Jane Austen

Rural England in the Age of Jane Austenby Marc DeSantis A Rural England Though Jane Austen’s life of forty-one years was lamentably short, her time on earth, 1775 to 1817, was nonetheless one of great and momentous change.  England was still largely rural in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and the rhythm of its country life was tied to the seasonal needs of agriculture.  The population of Britain at the dawn of the nineteenth century was nine million, with four-fifths of this total living in the country.  Fully one-third of the population of England was employed in agriculture. Like farmers in all times and places, the rural folk of Jane’s English countryside were at the mercy of the weather, which was especially fickle in the late eighteenth century.  The winters were often very cold, and the springs very wet and late in arriving.  Summers could be either very dry or cold and wet.  Crops and livestock could be devastated by too much cold or not enough rain.  Poor weather also encouraged the spread of blights and rots.  When the wheat harvest was bad, the price of bread shot up, making it hard for the poor to feed themselves, and riots over food would sometimes erupt among the rural hungry. Life in the country had other hardships.  There were highwaymen on the roads ready to waylay travelers, groups of gypsies robbed countryfolk as well, and thieves stole horses and other valuables.  On some occasions there were even murders, particularly when it was thought that a vulnerable (more…)
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The Jane Austen Topaz Cross

Jane Austen Topaz CrossIn response to huge demand, the Jane Austen Gift Shop is delighted to announce this beautiful replica of Jane Austen’s topaz cross pendant. Many months in the making, it is on sale now! Along with her turquoise ring, the topaz cross must be the most iconic jewellery item associated with Jane, and it’s of especial relevance to us here at the Jane Austen Centre, because she was living in Bath at the time she received it. In a lovely letter to Cassandra, written 26th and 27th May, 1801, Jane tells her sister that she had been “to the very top of Kingsdown and had a very pleasant drive,” before adding that “One pleasure succeeds another rapidly.” Buy the Jane Austen Topaz Cross On returning from her day out, she found two letters waiting for her, one from Cassandra and one from her brother Charles, who was serving with great distinction in the Royal Navy. Charles Austen had received a reward for his role in capturing an enemy privateer, and Jane’s response to Cassandra was appropriately wry: He has received £30 for his share of the privateer and expects £10 more – but of what avail is it to take prizes if he lays out the produce in presents to his Sisters. He has been buying Gold chains and Topaze Crosses for us; – he must be well scolded. Charles duly sent both Cassandra and Jane topaz crosses: the originals are shown below, and Jane’s is the one on the left: (more…)
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Quizzing Glasses: A History by Candice Hern

Miss Thorpe, however, being four years older than Miss Morland, and at least four years better informed, had a very decided advantage in discussing such points; she could compare the balls of Bath with those of Tunbridge, its fashions with the fashions of London; could rectify the opinions of her new friend in many articles of tasteful attire; could discover a flirtation between any gentleman and lady who only smiled on each other; and point out a quiz through the thickness of a crowd. Northanger Abbey Eyeglasses as we know them today, with side pieces that rest on the ears, were invented in 1727 by an Englishman named Edward Scarlett. Until that time, reading aids were often perched precariously upon the nose or were hand held. A “quizzing glass” was a single magnifying lens on a handle which was held up before the eye to enable closer scrutiny of the object in view. The quizzing glass is not to be confused with the lorgnette, which has two lenses, and more often than not a correctable (prescription) lens rather than a simple magnifier. A monocle is also a single-lens device but is meant to fit into the eye socket and therefore does not have the longer handle of the quizzing glass, which was held in front of the eye. The earlist examples of single-lens hand-held reading devices date back to the 12th century and were simple affairs with bone or brass handles used by scholars and clerks. It was not until (more…)
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The Journal of Eveline Helm, Part Five – At the Assembly Rooms, at last!

Dear Reader, I hope that this journal of my time in Bath should prove to be helpful to you. In reading it may you be spared the numerous faux pas and embarrassments that I was not. I truly feel that if this work should prevent even one other young lady from public ridicule in the Assembly Rooms of Bath then it will have been wholly worthwhile.  Humbly yours,  Eveline Helm. June 1797  I am incredibly pleased to report that the sedan chair bearers did not drop me on the way to the Assembly Rooms as I had feared they might. As it turned out, I rather enjoyed my short ride; it was a smoother journey than I had thought, and certainly a very grand journey. My Uncle went ahead of us on foot, as gentlemen in Bath are wont to do, and was there to greet us as the doors of my Aunt’s and my own respective boxes were held open for us. I succeeded in stepping out from the small compartment with what I hope was some degree of grace, and found myself in front of the entrance, which consists of a grand pediment held up by four pale stone columns. There was little time to take in the grandeur of the outside, however, as my Aunt linked her arm through mine and guided me inside. Once admitted, we proceeded to tour the Rooms. The assembly rooms near home, to which I have been to dance before, are nothing (more…)
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What Would Jane Drink? – Coffee in Jane Austen’s Work and World

By Rudy Caretti Tea or coffee? It’s one of the great British dilemmas… Despite our image as a nation of tea lovers, the numbers tell a different story. According to a report by Mintel Coffee UK, about 70 million cups of coffee were sold each day in Britain in 2008. Another report released in 2012 showed that almost every adult in the UK drinks instant coffee. This accounts for about 74% of the population that enjoys coffee. Today, one can find a café in every town with a wide range of different coffees to choose from. People enjoy their coffee while waiting for the train, at the numerous coffee houses, and in their homes. In Jane Austen’s day, tea-drinking was very much the preferred activity, though coffee certainly features in her novels. Miss Bates in Emma was in no doubt as to her preference: “No coffee, I thank you, for me — never take coffee. A little tea if you please, sir, by and bye…” But it is drunk with appreciation in Northanger Abbey, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park and –on no fewer than six occasions – in Pride and Prejudice. Britain’s first coffee shop was established in Oxford in 1650. Its name was Angel and was owned by a Jewish entrepreneur called Jacob. Oxford’s community known for its experimental culture and scholarly interests; their coffee houses would later be termed as penny universities. Two years after the inception of Oxford’s coffee houses, London acquired its first coffee house in (more…)