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Egg Money

“Her home and her housekeeping, her parish and her poultry, and all their dependent concerns, had not yet lost their charms.”
Pride and Prejudice,
Chapter 38
by Jane Austen

In her book Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen repeatedly mentions how happy Charlotte Collins is with her chickens. We can guess that the birds were a wedding gift from her parents, by the way in which her mother enquires about them after Charlotte’s younger sister Maria returns home from a visit to the Collins parsonage.

“Lady Lucas was enquiring of Maria, across the table, after the welfare and poultry of her eldest daughter;”
Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 39
by Jane Austen

Not only will the chickens supplement meals, in Charlotte’s newly formed household, with eggs and meat, they will also provide Charlotte a small regular income from the sale of extra eggs at 1 shilling for 2 dozen eggs. She might also hatch some of the eggs to continuously replenish her flock of laying hens with younger birds and sell the capons for table use at 3 shillings each.

Charlotte’s flock of chickens is most likely of the dual purpose, eating and laying, Sussex breed. Sussex chickens are an ancient breed, which originated during the Roman occupation of Britain. Weights range from 9 ½ pounds for the cocks to 7 ½ pounds for hens. The original varieties were Brown, Red and Speckled. The light Sussex variety has a white body with a black tail and black wing tips and black feathers around the base of the neck. The light Sussex is the best layer of the breed and will lay approximately 240 to 260 eggs per year. The eggs are large and are cream to light brown in color. Sussex chickens are also excellent foragers searching for seeds and insects on their own.

By removing eggs from the nest, as they are laid, Charlotte could encourage her hens to keep laying. However, if she allowed the eggs to accumulate until there were 10 to 12 eggs in a nest, the hen would stop laying and spend most of her time brooding, or sitting on the nest of eggs, until the chicks hatched after a period of about three weeks. The hen would not start laying again until the chicks were old enough to look after themselves.

If Charlotte owned half-a-dozen hens, she could expect an income of around 60 shillings or 3 pounds from her poultry. Since a simple dress cost 5 shillings and a pair of shoes 6-11 shillings, in Jane Austen’s time, the chickens would actually allow Charlotte the independence to buy several things a year, without having to ask Mr. Collins for money.

 


Written for the Jane Austen Online Magazine Sharon Wagoner, Curator of The Georgian Index. Visit this site for a historical tour through Regency London!

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Advice to the Cook

The Cook must be quick and strong of sight: her hearing most acute, that she may be sensible to

when the contents of her vessels bubble, although they be closely covered, and that she may be

alarmed before the pot boils over; her auditory nerve ought to discriminate (when several

saucepans are in operation at the same time) the simmering of one, the ebullition of another, and

the full-toned warbling of a third.

It is imperiously requisite that her organ of smell be highly susceptible of the various

effluvia, that her nose may distinguish the perfection of aromatic ingredients, and that, in

animal substances it shall evince a suspicious accuracy between tenderness and putrefication:

above all, her olfactories should be tremblingly alive to mustiness and empyreuma.

It is from the exquisite sensibility of her palate, that we admire and judge the cook; from the

alliance between the olfactory and sapid organs it will be seen, that their perfections is

indispensible.

Good manners have often made the fortune of many, who have had nothing else to recommend them:

ill manners have as often marred the hopes of those who have had everything else to advance them.

Dinner tables are seldom sufficiently lighted, or attended; and active waiter will have enough to

do, to attend upon half a dozen good eaters: there should be half as many candles as there are

guests, and their flame be about eighteen inches above the table, our foolish modern candelabras

seem intended to illuminate the ceiling, rather than to give light on the plates, &c.

I am persuaded that no servant ever saved his master sixpence, but he found it in the end in his

own pocket.

A surgeon may well attempt to make an incision with a pair of sheers, or open a vein with an

oyster knife, as a cook pretend to dress a dinner without proper tools.

When the pot is coming to boil, there will always , form the cleanest meat and clearest water,

rise a scum to the top of it; proceeding partly from the foulness of the meat, and partly from

the water, this must be carefully taken off as soon as it rises; on this, depends the good

appearance of all boiled things. When you have scummed it well, put in some cold water, which

will throw up the rest of the scum. The oftener it is scummed, and the cleaner the top of the

water is kept, the cleaner will be the meat. If let alone, it soon boils down and sticks to the

meat; which, instead of looking delicately white and nice, will have that coarse and filthy

appearance we have too often to complain of, and the butcher and poulterer be blamed for the

carelessness of the cook in not scumming her pot.

In small families, we recommend block tin saucepans, &c as lightest, and safest; if proper care

is taken of them, and they are well dried after they are cleaned, they are by far the cheapest;

the purchase of a new tin saucepan being little more than the expense of tinning a copper one.

Let the young cook never forget, that cleanliness is the chief cardinal virtue of the kitchen;

the first preparation for roasting is to take care that the spit be properly cleaned with sand

and water, nothing else. When it has been well scoured with this, dry it with a clean cloth. If

spits are wiped clean, as soon as the meat is drawn from them, and while they are hot, a very

little cleaning will be required. The less the spit is passed through the meat the better, and

before you spit it, joint it properly, especially necks and loins, that the carver may separate

them easily and neatly., and take especial care it be evenly balanced on the spit, that its

motion may be regular, and the fire operate equally on each part of it.

A cook must be as particular to proportion her fire to the business she has to do, as a chemist;

the degree of heat most desirable for dressing the different sorts of food ought to be attended

to with the upmost precision.

A Good cook is anxiously attentive to the appearance and colour of her roasts, as a court beauty

is to her complexion at a birth-day ball.

Be very particular in frying, never to use any oil, butter, lard or drippings, but what is quite

clean, fresh, and free from salt. Any thing dirty spoils the look, anything bad tasted or stale

spoils the flavor, and salt prevents browning

There is nothing in which the difference between an elegant and ordinary table is more seen than

in the dressing of vegetables, more especially of greens; they may be equally fine at first, at

one place as at another; but their look and taste are afterwards very different entirely from the

careless way in which they have been cooked.

Unripe vegetables are as insipid and unwholesome as unripe fruits.

If you wish to have vegetables delicately clean, put on your pot, make it boil, out a little salt

in it, and skim it perfectly clean before you put in the greens, &c. which should not be put in

till the water boils briskly; the quicker they boil, the greener they will be; when the

vegetables sink, they are generally done enough, if the water has been constantly boiling. Take

them up immediately, or they will lose their colour and goodness. Drain the water from them

thoroughly before you send them to table. This branch of cookery requires the most vigilant

attention.

If vegetables are a minute or two too long over the fire, they lose all their beauty and flavor.

Made dishes are nothing more than meat, poultry or fish, stewed very gently till they are tender,

with a thickened sauce poured over them.

Be careful to trim off all the skin, gristle, &c. that will not be eaten, and shape handsomely

and of an even thickness, the various articles which compose your made dishes; this is sadly

neglected by common cooks; only stew them until they are just tender, and do not do them to rags.

Therefore, what you prepare the day before it is to be eaten, do not do quite enough the first

day.

Woolen blankets or woolen clothes of any kind as well as furs, may be preserved from moths by

sprinkling a little spirits of turpentine upon them, in the drawers or boxes where they are

deposited during the summer. The scent of the turpentine on the woolens or furs is immediately

removed on their exposure to air. Sheets of paper moistened with spirits of turpentine above or

below the clothes, furs, &c. will have the effect of keeping off moths, but not so effectually as

sprinkling.

When you open a bottle of catsup, essence of anchovy, &c. throw away the old cork, and stopit closely with anew cork that will fit very tight. Use only the best superfine velvet taper corks.Economy in corks is very unwise; in order to save a mere trifle, in the price of a cork, you run the risk of losing the valuable article it is intended to preserve. It is a vulgar error that a bottle must be well stopped, when the cork is forced down even with the mouth of it; this is a sure sign that the cork is too small, and it should be redrawn and a larger one put in.

The papering of a room, when soiled in spots as often happens, may be cleaned by a piece of brick loaf or biscuit, one or two days old. After gently rubbing til the bread is soiled, the soiled part of the bread should be chipped off, or a fresh piece taken; some caution is requisite not to injure the fabric of the paper-hanging, or the figures on it.

From The House Servant’s Directory or A Monitor for Private Families: comprising of hints on the arrangement and performance of servants’ work, with general rules for settings out tables and sideboards in first order; The art of waiting in all it’s branches, and likewise how to conduct large and small parties with order; with general directions for placing on table all kinds of joints, fish, fowl, &c. with Full instructions for cleaning Plate, Brass, Steel, Glass, Mahogany: and likewise all kinds of patent and common lamps: Observations on servants’ behaviour to their employers; and upwards of 100 various and useful receipts, chiefly compiled for the use of house servants, and identically made to suit the manners and customs of families in the United States By Robert Roberts. With Friendly advice to cooks and heads of families, and complete directions how to burn Lehigh coal. by Robert Roberts, Butler to The Honorable Christopher Gore, Governor of Massachusetts, 1809

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A Visit to Stoneleigh Abbey

The Abbey stands in one of the most beautiful and luxuriant parts of the county, between Kenilworth and Leamington; the Avon winding through its pleasure grounds and deer park. In the medieval part of the building there is an ancient gate- house, upon which is still to be seen a stone escutcheon bearing the arms of Henry II., the founder of the Abbey.

In the days of the Stuarts the Leighs were ardent Royalists. It was in Stoneleigh Abbey that King Charles I. found a

resting-place in 1642. “The King was on his way to set up his standard at Nottingham and had marched to Coventry; but

finding the gates shut against him, and that no summons could prevail with the mayor and magistrates to open them, he

went the same night to Sir Thomas Leigh’s house at Stoneleigh, and there his majesty met with a warm and loyal welcome

and right plenteous and hospitable entertainment from his devoted subject Sir Thomas.” Was Sir Walter Scott, we wonder,

thinking of this same Sir Thomas Leigh when he described the character of his fine old cavalier, Sir Harry Lee, of

Woodstock?

In her book, Jane Austen and the Clergy, Irene Collins relates the following

fascinating history of Jane Austen’s own

 

connection with this great house.

During the interlude in which the Austen ladies quit Bath (with such happy feelings of escape) and the time that they

joined their Son and Brother, Francis Austen, in Southampton, “Mrs Austen decided to visit her relations in

Gloucestershire, taking Jane and Cassandra with her. She was proud of her descent from the young branch of the Leigh

family, which had owned Adlestrop Park since the Reformation. Most of the house built by her great grandfather had been

pulled down in the 1750s and replaced by a Gothic structure whose exquisite south-west front was the admiration of the

county. It was occupied by her cousin, James Henry Leigh, whose wife Julia was the daughter of Lord Saye and Sele. Mrs

Austen seems to have regarded the couple as above her touch; however, at the rectory alongside lived her widower cousin,

the Rev. Thomas Leigh, and his sister Elizabeth. It was to these that she now repaired.

Jane and Cassandra had visited Adlestrop twelve years earlier; Jane was fond of Elizabeth Leigh, who was Cassandra’s

godmother; but her feeling for the Rev. Thomas Leigh was less certain. In his younger days, he had been in the habit of

calling at Steventon on his way to London and had usually given the Austen boys a little present of money when he left.

Jane had not come in for these attentions but she had always heard of Mr Leigh spoken of in the family as a good and kind

person. This was probably how she had thought of him until her attitude was clouded by the situation which met them on

their arrival at Adlestrop.

The Rev. Thomas Leigh had recently heard some amazing news. On 1 July 1806 the last representative of the elder branch of

the Leigh family, the Honourable Mary Leigh, had died at the ancestral home of Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire. In her

will she had stipulated that the mansion and its huge estate should revert to the Adlestrop Leighs– to the Rev. Thomas

Leigh for his life, and then to James Leigh-Perrot (Mrs Austen’s brother) for his life, and finally to James Henry Leigh

of Adlestrop Park. The first two were childless old men. Nobody supposed that they would show much interest inthe legacy

or that the forty-year-old James Henry Leigh would be long in succeeding. Indeed the Leigh family lawyer imagined that

the two older legeatees would relinquish their claims at once for suitable financial compensation. The Rev. Thomas Leigh,

however, had other ideas. He was evidently tired of being regarded as the poor relation and was determined to enjoy a few

years of consequence. He had already paid one visit to Stoneleigh but had been obliged to return to London to establish

his claim with the lawyers. He was now so keen to secure possession that as soon as Mrs Austen and her daughters arrived

at Aldestrop he set out for Warwickshire, taking them with him.

The visit to Stoneleigh had its own rewards, as Jane was to make good use of it in her fiction. The ladies were

astonished at the sheer size of the mansion, as well as the sudden contrast between the older portions and the new

Palladian range. The Rev. Thomas Leigh introduced a strict regimenf prayers, morning and evening, in the private chapel,

which was draped in black on account of the previous owner. This was Jane’s first experience in a private chapel,

although she had probably heard about the famous on at The Vyne from Tom Chute. At Stoneleigh, visitors normally entered

the chapel from the first floor of the house, by a door leading into the gallery and left it by descending into the nave

where another door led straight into the garden. This layout provided Jane with a model for the chapel she was to

describe at Sotherton Court and hence with the setting for a crucial episode in Mansfield Park.”

Constance Hill, follows suit with this additional anecdote from her work, Jane Austen: Her Homes & Her Friends

 

:

“The visit of Miss Jane Austen and her mother to Stoneleigh Abbey is chronicled in the following amusing letter, written

by Mrs. Austen to a daughter-in-law, the greater part of which has fortunately been preserved:

STONELEIGH ABBEY,

August 13, 1806.

MY DEAR MARY, –

The very day after I wrote you my last letter, Mr. Hill wrote his intention of being at Adlestrop with Mrs. Hill on

Monday, the 4th, and his wish that Mr. Leigh and family should return with him to Stoneleigh the following day, as there

was much business for the executors awaiting them at the Abbey, and he was hurried for time. All this accordingly took

place, and here we found ourselves on Tuesday (that is yesterday se’nnight) eating fish, venison, and all manner of good

things, in a large and noble parlour, hung round with family portraits. The house is larger than I could have supposed.

We cannot find our way about it – I mean the best part; as to the offices, which were the Abbey, Mr. Leigh almost

despairs of ever finding his way about them. I have proposed his setting up direction posts at the angles. I had expected

to find everything about the place very fine and all that, but I had no idea of its being so beautiful. I had pictured to

myself long avenues, dark rookeries, and dismal yew trees, but here are no such dismal things. The Avon runs near the

 

house, amidst green meadows, bounded by large and beautiful woods, full of delightful walks.

At nine in the morning we say our prayers in a handsome chapel, of which the pulpit, &c. &c., is now hung with black.

 

 

At nine in the morning we say our prayers in a handsome chapel, of which the pulpit, &c. &c., is now hung with black. Then follows breakfast, consisting of chocolate, coffee, and tea, plum cake, pound cake, hot rolls, cold rolls, bread and butter, and dry toast for me. The house steward, a fine, large, respectable-looking man, orders all these matters. Mr. Leigh and Mr. Hill are busy a great part of the morning. We walk a good deal, for the woods are impenetrable to the sun, even in the middle of an August day. I do not fail to spend some part of every day in the kitchen garden, where the quantity of small fruit exceeds anything you can form an idea of. This large family, with the assistance of a great many blackbirds and thrushes, cannot prevent it from rotting on the trees. The gardens contain four acres and [Page 165] a half. The ponds supply excellent fish, the park excellent venison; there is great quantity of rabbits, pigeons, and all sorts of poultry. There is a delightful dairy, where is made butter, good Warwickshire cheese and cream ditto. One manservant is called the baker, and does nothing but brew and bake. The number of casks in the strong-beer cellar is beyond imagination; those in the small-beer cellar bear no proportion, though, by the bye, the small beer might be called ale without misnomer. This is an odd sort of letter. I write just as things come into my head, a bit now and a bit then.

Now I wish to give you some idea of the inside of this vast house – first premising that there are forty-five windows in front, which is quite straight, with a flat roof, fifteen in a row. You go up a considerable flight of steps to the door, for some of the offices are underground, and enter a large hall. On the right hand is the dining-room and within that the breakfast-room, where we generally sit; and reason good, ’tis the only room besides the chapel, which looks towards the view. On the left hand of the hall is the best drawing-room and within a smaller one. These rooms are rather gloomy with brown wainscot and dark crimson furniture, so we never use them except to walk through to the old picture gallery. Behind the smaller drawing-room is the state-bedchamber – an alarming apartment, with its high, dark crimson velvet bed, just fit for an heroine. The old gallery opens into it. Behind the hall and parlours there is a passage all across the house, three staircases and two small sitting-rooms. There are twenty-six bedchambers in the new part of the house and a great many, some very good ones, in the old. There is also another gallery, fitted up with modern prints on a buff paper, and a large billiard-room. Every part of the house and offices is kept so clean, that were you to cut your finger I do not think you could find a cobweb to wrap it up in. I need not have written this long letter, for I have a presentiment that if these good people live until next year you will see it all with your own eyes.

Our visit has been a most pleasant one. We all seem in good humour, disposed to be pleased and endeavouring to be agreeable, and I hope we succeed. Poor Lady Saye and Sele, to be sure, is rather tormenting, though sometimes amusing, and affords Jane many a good laugh, but she fatigues me sadly on the whole. To-morrow we depart. We have seen the remains of Kenilworth, which afforded us much entertainment, and I expect still more from the sight of Warwick Castle, which we are going to see to-day. The Hills are gone, and my cousin, George Cook, is come. A Mr. Holt Leigh was here yesterday and gave us all franks. He is member for, and lives at, Wigan in Lancashire, and is a great friend of young Mr. Leigh’s, and I believe a distant cousin. He is a single man on the wrong side of forty, chatty and well-bred and has a large estate. There are so many legacies to pay and so many demands that I do not think Mr. Leigh will find that he has more money than he knows what to do with this year, whatever he may do next. The funeral expenses, proving the will, and putting the servants in both houses in mourning must come to a considerable sum; there were eighteen men servants.”

The Lady Saye and Sele alluded to was a cousin of the Austens, her mother having been a Leigh. It is the same Lady Saye and Sele whom Fanny Burney met “at a rout” in 1782, and of whom she gives an amusing account in her “Diaries. This lady seems to have been a sort of “Mrs. Leo Hunter.” On being introduced to the author of Evelina, she exclaimed, “I am very happy to see you; I have longed to see you a great while; I have read your performance, and I am quite delighted with it! I think it’s the most elegant novel I ever read in my life . . . . I must introduce you,” continued her ladyship, “to my sister (Lady Hawke), she’ll be quite delighted to see you. She has written a novel herself, so you are sister authoresses. A most elegant thing it is I assure you. It’s called the ‘Mausoleum of Julia!’ . . . Lord Hawke himself says it’s all poetry . . . . My sister intends to print her ‘Mausoleum’ just for her own friends and acquaintances.”

What ecstasies would Lady Saye and Sele have experienced could she have foreseen the future renown of the young cousin with whom she was walking and talking at Stoneleigh Abbey!”

Visit Stoneleigh Abbey.org for more information about the house and the special Jane Austen tours they provide.

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