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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.

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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 compared to the Bath Assembly Rooms.  After we had deposited our cloaks in the cloakroom to the right on leaving the entrance vestibule, we turned and entered the ball room through the opposite doors on the left. The room was vast; it was at least one hundred feet in length and forty wide, and its ceiling was of triple height. Halfway up the duck-egg wall was a series of tall windows, flanked on either side by a painted Roman column set into the wall which were letting in the last light of the day. Around the room, below and above these windows, were intricate moulded plasterwork borders. And, in the centre of the room, there hung five great chandeliers which, as my Aunt whispered in my ear (though loudly enough to be heard above the noise) each held forty candles! Just think! What with this and the windows, the room was all light and beauty. Thankfully the four grand fireplaces, two set into each of the longer walls, which would also have raised the light levels in the room, were empty, but even so, given the sheer number of people in residence and coupled with the balmy June night, the heat in the room was a very great one indeed.

The number of people I have just mentioned fell into two categories; those seated on and standing by the three tiers of seats placed around the edge of the ballroom, and those who were up and dancing a country dance which I did not immediately recognize, but which might have been Lady Moncrieff’s Reel. The minuets had taken place already, beginning at six, and had then given way to the country dances at eight. Later the music would stop so that the tea, coffee and light refreshments might be served at nine in the large tea room on the other side of the Assembly Rooms. After that, the country dances would resume. By nine o’clock I was certain that the dancers who had arrived at six would be most glad of some refreshment, however light, not to mention the musicians who had been playing all evening.

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But then I must mention the musicians! In the balls which I have attended before (the larger ones are those I am referring to rather than the dances among friends which are struck up in the joy of the moment after a dinner) only four musicians have been engaged, as is the custom, and they have played the usual piano, cornet, violin, and violoncello. However, the number of dancers in attendance here is of such a great number; my aunt tells me that there are upwards of five hundred people here on a regular basis, and that there are a dozen musicians playing from the minstrel’s gallery.

“I do not envy them their role,” said my Aunt, turning to me as we watched the couples dance. “Not only do they play here but they are also employed each morning in playing at the Pump Rooms, and then in the evenings they take their turn playing here or at private concerts. Even their afternoons are not their own, for they might then be occupied in playing for a private party at a gentleman’s lodgings, or at one of the large inns. Imagine! I am sure I do not know how they do it!”

“Surely, there are other bands in Bath who might take some of their custom from them and therefore allow them a respite from constant playing?” I said.

“None such as they. They were fully employed to act exclusively as the Bath Orchestra. For that reason, despite their heavy workload, they are not so badly done by; at least they can live safe in the knowledge that they shall be paid and able to pay their rent.”

“I suppose you are right,” I said, and let my attention stray once more to the dancers.

It was as in London, and as my Aunt had said, that the most fashionable dress material was white muslin, and derivations thereof. Lady upon lady clad in white, cream, and ivory whirled about the room, escorted by gentleman in fine silk waistcoats and jet-black tailcoats. White was not the only colour worn by the ladies (there was one peacock blue dress in particular that I had trouble drawing my eyes away from), but it was by far the most popular.

As for the gentlemen, some of the gentlemen I saw had adopted another of the London fashions and sported finely starched cravats that were tied in such complicated styles which travelled so far up their necks that I was surprised that they were able to move their heads. Beau Brummel may be considered the arbiter of men’s fashion, but in my most-humble opinion I do think that he might also be the arbiter of much of their discomfort.

My Aunt and I left the ballroom, vowing to return by and by once we had seen the remainder of the Rooms. Not that they were a revelation to my Aunt, but she is such a kind and considerate woman that she said she could not dream of settling herself until I had been acquainted with the Rooms in their entirety.

The next chamber we entered upon leaving the ballroom was the octagonal card room. Decorated in a deep rich yellow, its centre was taken up with table upon table of gentlemen and ladies, but mainly gentlemen, all playing various card games. I spotted Speculation, Brag and Whist among the games in progress, and also after a short time I spotted my Uncle, happily ensconced at a table in the far right, next to another unlit fireplace (the card room, like the ball room, also had four). He was laughing and talking with many other fine gentlemen, for, prejudiced as I am, there really is no other way to describe my Uncle, whom I did not first recognise.

“I knew we should find him here,” my Aunt said to me with a fond smile in her voice. “It never takes him long to find himself a table. I fear we may have now lost him for the evening. Now my dear, where should you like to see next? I am afraid that we cannot enter the tea room at present, but we might peruse the octagon ante-chamber if you should wish?”

“Is there much to see in the ante-chamber?”

“As much as you might see in any other ante-chamber.”

“In which case,” I said. “If you don’t mind, I should very much like to go and watch some more of the dancing.”

“But of course.”

We wove our way back through the know of people surrounding the card room doors and into the ball room. The reel was still in progress so my Aunt and I scanned the tiers of seats and spotted two seats together in the second row; the front row being already full near to where we were, and navigating to another part of the room while the dance was in motion was not a wise idea. However, before we had moved more than two steps towards our intended destination, we found our way barred by Mr Dawson, the Master of Ceremonies.

“Mrs Denison, Miss Helm, allow me to introduce Mr Thomas Palmer…”

webJenni Waugh Headshot The journal of Eveline Helm’s time in Bath has made its way online thanks to Jenni Waugh, one of our tour guides at the Jane Austen Centre.

She writes: “I couldn’t resist sharing Eveline’s exploits. I hope everyone else finds them as interesting and entertaining as I did!”

 

 

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Regency Bucks, Beaus and Dandies

Beaus and Dandies

Bucks, Beaus and Dandies

Though not specifically mentioned by Jane Austen, it does not take much reading up on the Regency to come across descriptive terms for generalizing a young man’s London habits. Bucks, Beaus and Dandies (and Corinthians) make their appearance throughout fiction set in this era. It can be hard to decipher just which character qualities are inherent to which, now obscure, terms such as Beaus and Dandies. The following definitions, excerpted from Jennifer Kloester’s 2005 book, Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, give a more complete picture. Heyer, herself, was known for her meticulous research and knowledge of the era and is considered one of the foremost experts in the field. This book is based on her own catalog of facts and historical insights.

Northanger Abbey's John Thorpe is an ideal Regency Buck.
Northanger Abbey’s John Thorpe is an “ideal” Regency Buck.

Continue reading Regency Bucks, Beaus and Dandies

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The Well Dressed Clergyman

Mr Collins - the well dressed clergyman?

As the daughter and sister of Anglican clergymen, Jane Austen was intimately familiar with the rites, rules and habits of church ministers. Clergy members and their families were among her closest friends and feature strongly in all her novels.

What, however would a clergyman of her time have worn?

Portraits of the era give a good idea of what they would have had in their closet:

clergy
Clockwise from top left: James Austen (Jane’s brother), George Austen (Jane’s Father, circa 1764), Henry Austen (Jane’s Brother), John Wesley, Parson Woodforde.

The well dressed Clergyman, then, would have dressed somberly, in a black suit, with with stock or cravat. Over this, while preaching, he would have worn the black Cassock, mandatory to his office. Many clergy chose to augment this sober attire with white bands, also known as Geneva bands (named for the birthplace of the reformation). Additionally, while performing some sacraments, such as weddings, baptisms and funerals he might add a white surplice (hence the fee paid for such services was called a “surplice fee”.) Continue reading The Well Dressed Clergyman

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The Small Sword: Self Defense and the Georgian Gentleman

It is easy to imagine, from reading Georgette Heyer, for example, that all Georgian men walked about, sword on hip, ready to fight for their honor in a duel at a moment’s notice. This ‘spoiling for a fight’ attitude might be a bit over stated, but the sword was, at least during the early Georgian era, a perfectly acceptable, and even expected accessory for the well dressed man. By Jane Austen’s day, however, swords had been replaced by pistols as a means of personal defense (not that all men walked about armed!) and the sword had been relegated to a lovely, if practical accessory of the military man. As the sister of naval officers, Jane was, no doubt, familar with the small sword as a sidearm.

Horation Hornblower, small sword in hand.
Horation Hornblower, small sword in hand.

The small sword or smallsword (also court sword, fr: épée de cour or dress sword) is a light one-handed sword designed for thrusting which evolved out of the longer and heavier rapier of the late Renaissance. The height of the small sword’s popularity was between mid 17th and late 18th century. It is thought to have appeared in France and spread quickly across the rest of Europe. The small sword was the immediate predecessor of the French duelling sword (from which the épée developed) and its method of use—as typified in the works of such authors as Sieur de Liancour, Domenico Angelo, Monsieur J. Olivier, and Monsieur L’Abbat—developed into the techniques of the French classical school of fencing. Small swords were also used as status symbols and fashion accessories; for most of the 18th century anyone, civilian or military, with pretensions to gentlemanly status would have worn a small sword on a daily basis. Continue reading The Small Sword: Self Defense and the Georgian Gentleman

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Beau Brummell and the Birth of Regency Fashion

Was Beau Brummell a Dandy?

It is a popular misconception that a Regency dandy was a powdered and patched horror, dressed in silk and affectation. Nothing could be further from the truth. The original and greatest dandy of them all – Beau Brummell – would have recoiled with horror to be compared with these creatures. Though he had very refined senses – claiming to have caught a cold after sharing a room with a damp stranger and nursing a delicate palate (when asked if he ate vegetables, he is said to have replied “Madam, I once ate a pea.”) – these pretensions were just adjuncts to his raison d’etre: his appearance. He was very clear that clothes should never attract attention, “nothing too tight or too fashionable” he admonished. If heads turned to follow a man along the street, he was not well-dressed. Brummell’s maxim was “fine linen and plenty of it” He was never flamboyant, but manly and dignified, and though not tall, strived to be perfect in every way. Every day, his toilette would take more than two hours and would involve brushing his teeth, shaving, a thorough wash and scrub; followed by brushing his body all over with a stiff brush and finally pursuing any errant remaining hairs with a pair of tweezers. He prided himself on never needing scent because he was so clean. Brummell’s search for perfection in his dress led him to devise a stirrup to go under the foot and stop his pantaloons from wrinkling, but it is the cravat for which he is most famous. A story recounts his valet leaving the room with his arms laden with linen cravats, “these are our failures” – no wonder that Brummell inspired the ditty

My neckcloth, of course, forms my principal care, For by that we criterions of elegance swear; And it costs me, each morning, some hours of flurry, To make it appear to be tied in a hurry.

He invariably dressed in a blue coat tightly buttoned at the waist with the tails cut above the knee, buff coloured pantaloons and waistcoat, finished with the whitest of white cravats and Hessian boots of the blackest black whose shine, it was said, extended to the soles and was maintained with champagne froth. The only jewellery would be his gleaming buttons and a simple signet ring. He said of himself “I have no talents other than to dress; my genius is in the wearing of clothes.”

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This companion piece to Joanna Brown’s article on Beau Brummell was copied by permission of Jane Austen’s Regency World. To learn more about this magazine, the only full color magazine devoted to Jane Austen, or to subscribe, visit their website: www.worldmags.com

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Neckcloths, Cravats, Stocks, Solitaires, Jabots & Macaronis

Cravats

Cravats were developed from Croatian mercenaries honored by Louis XIV in France during the 17th century. It was not until early 19th century that the cravat achieved the height of fashion in France and England. The French called it ‘cravate’, French for Croat or Croatian. The word “cravat,” lost its French final “e” when it crossed to England. Once in England the cravat replaced the neck-high lace collars of Charles I and II. At first it was a straight narrow strip of lace or linen, hanging down from the neck. In the 18th century the jabot took over, the ruffled and embroidered shirt-front billowing up over the opening of the waistcoat almost to conceal the neckcloth, which now buttoned at the back. Later the neckcloth reestablished itself over the jabot, covering the shirt-front and evolving into the stock, which grew freer and more voluminous in its proportions as time went on.

An endless variety of cravats appeared, including cravats of tasseled strings, plaid scarves, tufts and bows of ribbon, lace, and embroidered linen all had their staunch adherents. Nearly one hundred different knots were recognized. Collars grew higher at the turn of the 19th century. Pointed edges around the chin and cheeks became fashionable. Cravats were wrapped tightly around the neck ending in bows of varying length. Cravats, at this period, were sometimes as much as a foot high, with the points of the collars rising half-way up the face and obliging gentlemen to keep their chins and their heads well up in the air.

It was George “Beau” Brummel who first elevated the cravat into a cult by starching his neckwear, creating novel, intricate knots that might take up to an hour to tie. He was the first to introduce starch into it, insisting that it should be stiffened to the “consistency of fine writing paper”. Cravats grew more casual again as the 19th century went on and gradually shrank into smaller bows as the century progressed. Collars became lower, with wide enough gaps between the points to allow the head to move freely from side to side.

 

Alternative Neckclothes

There were a variety of alternatives to the cravat available to 18th and 19th century men and boys. The most common was the “stock”. A cravat was a generally long piece of cloth that wound around the neck and tied in front. Stocks were fastened in back by a hook or knot. The stock in front had what to the modern eye looks something like a pre-tied bowtie. Some stocks appeared to be a wide cravat swathing the neck almost like a poultice. They were not the most comfortable of neckwear. A man or boy wearing one would be forced to stand or sit upright in a rather stiff position. The “solitare” appeared in the mid-18th century and was attached in the back to the wig, wrapped around the neck, and brought to a bow in front over a cravat. “Macaronis” appeared in England during the mid-18th century on dandies affecting an Italian-inspired fashion, coloring their cheeks with rouge, wearing diamond-studded pumps, and cravats with huge bows. Those who adopted these massive cravats were called the incroyables, meaning the “incredibles”. They wore such large cravats that their chins were hidden.

It was the necktie which finally replaced the cravat in the late 19th Century. Inexpensive, it lasted for ever, and was easy and quick to knot.

Buy a Regency Cravat at our online giftshop, click here!

 

Alwyn Garden works from her home studio as a historical costumier. She enjoys researching historical sewing methods and particularly enjoys making 18th and 19th century costume for both men and women. She is the resident seamstress for the historical dance troupe ‘The Bordonian Heritage Dancers’ and organises monthly costume balls in Canberra. View her designs at Regency Reproductions.com.

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Shoes Make the Man: Regency Footwear

Perhaps no image so thoroughly denotes the Regency Hero as that of a Gentleman elegantly, yet casually dressed in dark coat, buff troussers and tall boots. Who could resist a Mr. Darcy or Knightley presented in such a favorable light? And yet– those boots that so epitomize the time were still a new fashion only just becoming popular during Jane Austen’s day.

Jessamyn Reeves Brown is an historian of Regency Fashion. Her research into Regency footwear shows that ‘prior to the Regency, both women and men wore what we now call “court shoes”: high-throated pumps with curved heels and side pieces that tied or buckled elaborately at the throat. As dresses became less structured and suits less elaborate, shoes did too. Heels dropped rapidly through the 1790s and by 1800 were very small indeed, while material was pared away to a minimum from the uppers. Men’s dress shoes lost their heels even before women’s did, but some retained the fine buckles of the 18th century for the most formal of occasions. Men’s shoes also became basic black quite early in the century – almost no other color is seen after 1800.

Both men’s and women’s shoes of the 18th century had flaps attached at the instep and outstep that came up over the throat and were held in place with a buckle (most commonly) or were tied in place with bows. These flaps were called latchets, and they did not entirely disappear in the Regency.’

Discover more fascinating details of men’s footwear on her Regency Companion Page.

“Polished” Hessians

Hessian (from Hesse in Germany) refers to a style of boot that became popular in the 18th century. Initially used as standard issue footwear for the military, especially officers, it would become widely worn by civilians as well. The boots had a low heel, and a semi-pointed toe that made them practical for mounted troops as they allowed easy use of stirrups. They would reach to the knee and had a decorative tassel at the top of each shaft. The Hessian boot would evolve into the rubber work boots known as “wellies” and the cowboy boot.

When describing the appearance of Marley’s Ghost in A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens mentions the tassels on his boots, indicating that they were Hessian style.

The Wellington Boot

The Wellington boot, also known as a willy, a wellie, a topboot, a gumboot or a rubber boot, is a type of boot based upon Hessian boots. It was worn and popularised by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington and fashionable among the British aristocracy in the early 19th century.

The first Duke of Wellington instructed his shoemaker, Hoby of St. James’ Street, London, to modify the 18th century Hessian boot. The resulting new boot designed in soft calfskin leather had the trim removed and was cut closer around the leg. The heels were low cut, stacked around an inch, and stopped at mid-calf. It was hard wearing for battle yet comfortable for the evening. The Iron Duke didn’t know what he’d started—the boot was dubbed the Wellington and the name has stuck ever since. (The Duke can be seen wearing the boots, which are tasseled, in this 1815 portrait by James Lonsdale.) These boots quickly caught on with patriotic British gentlemen eager to emulate their war hero. Considered fashionable and foppish in the best circles, and worn by dandies, such as Beau Brummell, they remained the main fashion for men through the 1840s. In the 1850s they were more commonly made in the calf high version and in the 1860s they were both superseded by the ankle boot, except for riding.

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Further information from Wikipedia. The Online Encyclopedia.

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Officer’s Uniforms of the British Navy

Dressing Captain Wentworth

Ah! Who can resist the thought of a man in uniform? Certainly not Mrs. Bennet (“I remember the time when I liked a red coat myself very well — and indeed, so I do still at my heart…”) From her ever warm admiration, Jane must have had similar feelings for Naval Officers. She would have been surrounded by them during her stay in Portsmouth, living with her brother, Captain Francis Austen. There, she would have had firsthand knowledge of “the character of the navy; their friendliness, their brotherliness, their openness, their uprightness… convinced of sailors having more worth and warmth than any other set of men in England; that they only knew how to live, and they only deserved to be respected and loved.”

What then, made up the uniform of a Captain in the British Navy?

British Naval Uniform Regulations were first implemented by Lord Anson in 1748. They were, reportedly, lobbied for by the officers, themselves, who “wished to be recognized as being in the service of the Crown.” The color blue, while seemingly a natural one for the Navy to choose was actually decided upon by the then monarch, George II, who, seeing the Duchess of Bedford ride out in a habit of blue faced with white, was so taken by the combination that he chose the same for his officers’ uniforms.

The “best uniform”, consisting of an embroidered blue coat with white facings, worn unbuttoned with white breeches and stockings, was worn for ceremonial occasions; the “working rig” was a simpler, less embroidered uniform for day-to-day use. In 1767 the best uniform was abolished and replaced by the working rig, with a simpler “undress” uniform for day-to-day use. By 1795, as a result of the French Revolutionary Wars, a plain blue “undress” coat had been introduced for everyday use, and epaulettes were officially introduced.*

According to the National Maritime Museum, “With undress uniform, [Officers] wore a plain hat, and epaulettes only some of the time. Captains with less than three years seniority wore only one epaulette on the right shoulder. Commanders wore one epaulette on the left shoulder. Lieutenants wore the uniform with white lapels introduced in 1787 until 1812. Warrant officers’ uniform was unchanged from 1787 until 1807 (this rank included pursers, gunners, boatswains, carpenters and, until 1805, surgeons).” The white collar patch of the Midshipman first appeared about 1758 and their uniform did not change after the modifications introduced in 1787.

By 1846 all officers wore epaulettes. The white facings came and went over the years, briefly becoming scarlet (1830-1843). Though stripes of lace on the cuffs had been used to distinguish the different ranks of admiral since 1795, the first version of current rank insignia, consisting of stripes with a “curl” in the top one, was introduced for all officers in 1856.

Again, the NMM offers, “Admirals had three silver stars on each epaulette and three rows of lace on the coat sleeve, vice-admirals two and rear-admirals one, worn with both dress and undress uniform. In practice, as opposed to the regulations, the sleeve lace seems to have been sewn on the cuff.

A flag officer’s full dress blue coat had one row of gold lace round the lapels, buttonholes, tails, pockets and pocket flaps. There was an extra row on the cuffs in addition to the distinction lace. It had a white lining and was worn with a gold laced hat, white waistcoat and breeches. The buttons remained those introduced in 1787. The undress uniform was similar but without lace on the lapels, pockets, buttonholes and the extra row on the cuff.

Captains’ dress uniform was similar to that of flag officers but without laced buttonholes and with two rows of lace on cuffs. Epaulettes were plain.”

In 1825, the white breeches were replaced by trousers for officers serving in the United Kingdom. Throughout the nineteenth century, there was great variation in uniform; officers paid for their own uniform, and often adapted it to fit civilian fashion of the time, as the Admiralty regulations governing uniform were not highly prescriptive.*

Headgear tended to follow the fashion of the times. Even a brief review of the period will show a number of variations on a theme, though the bi-corn was quite popular. Other items, such as vests and cravats or neck stocks were, to a certain extent left to the discretion of the wearer. A review of Lord Nelson’s wardrobe shows a number of “non-regulation” items including hose, waistcoat and black velvet stock.

The question is often asked as to why Captain Wentworth is not portrayed thus in most story illustrations and films. In Mansfield Park, Jane Austen, herself, answers the question:

William had obtained a ten days’ leave of absence, to be given to Northamptonshire, and was coming, the happiest of lieutenants, because the latest made, to shew his happiness and describe his uniform.

He came; and he would have been delighted to shew his uniform there too, had not cruel custom prohibited its appearance except on duty.

So the uniform remained at Portsmouth, and Edmund conjectured that before Fanny had any chance of seeing it, all its own freshness and all the freshness of its wearer’s feelings must be worn away.

According to Navy Regulations in 1861, “Officers on furlough will not wear their uniform, and officers are strictly prohibited from wearing any part of it while suspended from duty by sentence of a court martial.” Another portion of the regultions state that ” A person who is discharged honorably or under honorable conditions from the…Navy…may wear his uniform while going from the place of discharge to his home, within three months after his discharge.” Coupled with Jane’s suggestion of “cruel custom” it is clear that while on shore, Captains Wentoworth, Harville and Benwick would have been in civilian dress, as modeled by the newest version of Persuasion. A pity, but a historical necessity. Still, I cannot fault any costume department for desiring to change history. Wouldn’t we all like to imagine the dashing Captain in his gold laced coat, sweeping Anne off her feet and carrying her away?

Why not browse our costume section at our online giftshop for costume, patterns and accessories?

*Historical Information from: Wikipedia, the Online Encyclopedia, with additional material from The National Maritime Museum. Visit their site for further information on Regency Sailors’ dress as well as photographs of actual Georgian era uniforms, including that of Admiral Lord Nelson.

A complete description of United States Navy Uniform Regulations from 1814 can be found here. The details found in this document would strongly resemble those in the British Regulations.

Minature portrait of Capt. Francis Austen, by kind permission of owner. All other reproduction prohibited.