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The Microcosm of London: Astley’s Amphitheatre

Edward and Frank are both gone out to seek their fortunes; the latter is to return soon and help us seek ours. The former we shall never see again. We are to be at Astley’s to-night, which I am glad of. Edward has heard from Henry this morning. He has not been at the races at all, unless his driving Miss Pearson over to Rowling one day can be so called. We shall find him there on Thursday.
Jane Austen to Cassandra
August 1796

In 1808, Rudolph Ackerman (famous for his Repository of Arts and Literature) published a multi volume set entitled The Microcosm of London, wherein, he described various locals and hotspots with a tour guide’s enthusiasm, leaving an illustrated, detailed record of the London that Austen knew. Astley’s Amphitheatre, famous for both the riding school and circus type show they offered was just such an attraction, attended by Jane and her brothers on at least one trip to London in 1796. Advertising for the Amphitheatre offered such delights as an eight year old girl who could ride two galloping horses, simultaneously, Astley’s son, who was reported to dance the minuet on the backs of three running horses, and of course, ‘the Little Military-Learned Horse’ who could, it is said, “play dead, set a tea table and heat a kettle to make tea, jump through hoops, play hide-and-seek, do mathematical calculations and fire a pistol.”*

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The Choker Necklace

This supposed drawing of the Austen family shows Mrs. Austen wearing a fashionable black ribbon choker.

Chokers (necklaces that sit tight to the throat) have been popular throughout history– from Anne Boleyn’s famous “B”, to Empress Sisi’s simple black ribbon. Today they can be found made of anything from hemp to diamonds.

choker necklace
Georgian Aquamarine & Diamond Garland Choker

During Jane Austen’s lifetime, chokers were worn in many forms, from this vintage Georgian aquamarine and diamond creation, tied on with ribbon, to strands of pearls, to a simple ribbon tied about the neck. During the French Revolution, female French expatriots used to wear a thin red ribbon choker as a silent testament to their own narrow escape and in memory of their many friends and family members who were not as lucky. Soon all of London wanted to wear the red ribbon, beginning one of the first times in history when a ribbon has been used as a gesture of solidarity and sympathy with a class of victims.

Ribbon chokers might also be accented by a jeweled slide or cameo pin.

choker necklace
Georgian society women had a penchant for black ribbon chokers. Left: Young Georgiana with her Mother, Georgiana, Countess Spencer (1761) Right: Actress Sarah Siddons, 1785.

Here are a few images of chokers throughout history, from Anne Boleyn (1507-1536), to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744–1818) to Queen Victoria (1819–1901) and Mary of Teck (1867–1953) who preferred the style with ropes of pearls.

choker necklace
Chokers have been a popular choice for Britain’s queens.

 

Laura Boyle is an avid Regency enthusiast. Find more fashion information or purchase your own choker necklace from her shop, Austentation: Regency Accessories