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Sicilian Amber— Amber Cross

Amber Cross

In Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, Fanny Price’s brother William, who is in the navy, gives her an amber cross from Sicily.

…the almost solitary ornament in her possession, a very pretty amber cross which William had brought her from Sicily…
–Jane Austen, Mansfield Park Chapter 26

Pieces of a rare type of amber called simetite are found on some of Sicily’s beaches. It is often said that Jane Austen never mentions the Napoleonic Wars. However, I would ask, why did she choose to mention Sicily?

A 15th century map of Sicily. Jane and Cassandra received topaz crosses from their brother Charles. Below, a piece of amber. Surely the gift inspired Fanny's cross in Mansfield Park.
A 15th century map of Sicily. Jane and Cassandra received topaz crosses from their sailor brother Charles (top). Below, a piece of amber. Surely the gift inspired Fanny’s cross in Mansfield Park.

Sicily was of major strategic importance during the Napoleonic Wars. It was a source of a mineral that was an ingredient in a compound that was of vital importance to the British war effort–gunpowder. Sulfur is one of the components of gunpowder. Gunpowder is a mixture of potassium nitrate (saltpeter), sulphur, and charcoal in the ratio 6:1:1. The British interest in Sicily was rooted in the largest Sulphur deposits in Europe. Sulphur was mined at several locations on the island. By 1800, Sicily was the source of most sulphur used by the British government.

On the other hand, at that time, saltpeter was produced most efficiently under hot, humid environmental conditions. Ample firewood and inexpensive labour also rounded out the necessities for saltpeter production. A navigable river to enable large scale loading and cheap shipping was also needed. India was one of few places that combined all of these conditions. In the single year 1815, the year of the Battle of Waterloo, the East India Company exported 7,300 tons of saltpeter.

Between the 15th and 19th centuries, Alder Buckthorn was most often used in charcoal production in Great Britain. In the 18th century, the northern parts of the Lea Valley were densely planted with Alder, Crack Willow, and Alder Buckthorn. Once they became established, these trees were regularly coppiced (cut back to just above ground level every 15 years or so) to make high quality charcoal –one of the ingredients in gunpowder. Charcoal production consists of piling short lengths of wood around a chimney created by longer lengths of wood. Then all the wood pile is covered with clay, leaving openings at the bottom for air and at the top of the chimney. Burning fuel is dropped into the chimney, creating a low oxygen burn of the wood—creating charcoal.

Left to Right, a drawing of a gunpowder grinder from the 1768 the Diderot Encyclopedia, the remains of the and a portrait of Sir William Congreve, inventor of the Congreve Rocket.
Left to Right, a drawing of a gunpowder grinder from the 1768 the Diderot Encyclopedia, the remains of the Royal Gunpowder Mill, and a portrait of Sir William Congreve, inventor of the Congreve Rocket.

Sulphur and saltpeter were shipped back to the British Isles where they were combined with locally produced charcoal. Major William Congreve oversaw gunpowder manufacture during the Napoleonic Wars. He was responsible for improving the process by using a more scientific approach to manufacturing and quality control. Gunpowder was manufactured at the Royal Gunpowder Mills, at Waltham Abbey in Essex on the banks of the Lea, England, and Woolley near Bath on the Avon was also the site of a royal gunpowder mill. Ballincollig Royal Gunpowder Mills was one of three Royal gunpowder mills that manufactured gunpowder for the British Government. It was located in Ballincollig near Cork in Ireland. About 2,000 barrels of gunpowder were produced per year at each site. In the Napoleonic Period there were four main types of powder casks; Barrels (holding 100 Ibs), half barrels (50 Ibs), quarters (25 Ibs), and budge barrels (38 lbs).

The importance of Sicily to the war effort would have been well known during the Napoleonic Wars. Even Miss Austen’s brief mention of the island would have conjured up images of its sulfur deposits, which supplied the Royal Gunpowder Mills, to people of the era. At over 200 years distance from Austen’s contemporary times, we must be reminded of facts that were then common knowledge.

Written for the Jane Austen Online Magazine by Sharon Wagoner, Curator of The Georgian Index. Visit her site for a historical tour through Regency London. Her novel, The Coronation, is available free of charge for the Amazon kindle.

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Tea Time

In 1662 King Charles II married the Portuguese Infanta Catherine de Braganza. Charles himself had grown up in the Dutch capital, while in exile. As a result, both he and his Portuguese bride were confirmed tea drinkers. When the monarchy was re-established, the two rulers brought this foreign tea tradition to England with them. Tea mania swept across England as it had earlier spread throughout France and Holland. Tea importation rose from 40,000 pounds in 1699 to an annual average of 240,000 pounds by 1708. Tea quickly proved popular enough to replace ale as the national drink of England. It was a hot item and boiling the water made it a safe drink. Tea became the favorite English beverage after 1750.

Tea Service
A Georgian Tea Service

Tea bowl or Tea cup and saucer: Getting a handle on Tea
The first tea cups in England were handless tea bowls that were imported from China and then later copies made in England. The first saucers appeared around 1700, but took some time to be in common use. The standard globular form of teapot had replaced the tall oriental teapots by 1750. Robert Adam’s Classically inspired designs for tea sets popularized handles and other Greek and Roman motifs.

 

Enjoy a selection of delicious teas and treats in our Tea Rooms.

Continue reading Tea Time

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Mr. Collins’s Garden

 

“…the chief of the time between breakfast and dinner was now passed by him (Mr. Collins) either at work in the garden, or in reading and writing, and looking out of window in his own book room, which fronted the road.”
Chapter 30 Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

A vegetable garden and small orchard were a necessity for a country parson. The produce provided food for his table and helped to stretch a modest income. In Pride and Prejudice, we are also told that Mrs. Collins encouraged this occupation in order to gain a respite from her loquacious husband.


When Mr. Collins gave Sir William, Elizabeth, and Maria a tour of his garden, Jane Austen is silent as to what they were shown. Indeed, why bore her contemporary readers with a list of well know plants that would hardly forward the plot of her romance. At a distance of some 200 years, we may well wonder what plants might have grown in Mr. Collins’s garden.

Apple orchards have been a part of English gardens, since medieval times. If space was very tight, the trees may even have been espaliered to the garden walls. Sweet eating apples must come from grafted trees, since all apple seeds produce only tart apples. Grafting was well understood, since medieval times. Apples provided easily stored fruit for eating, cooking in tarts, and for ciders. In 1658, John Evelyn, the famous diarist, wrote The French Gardener: instructing how to cultivate all sorts of Fruit-trees, a how-to book on cultivating fruit trees.

Espaliered trees, like this one in the Chawton House Library garden, were pruned to grow against a wall or wire frame.

Due to the wet climate, vegetables were often cultivated in raised beds that would drain well. Vegetable beds were created by surrounding an area with planks, staked to the ground and filled with earth.

This photo of the gardens at Jane Austen’s Chawton Cottage shows a planked garden.

Root crops might include potatoes and carrots. Potatoes were introduced to England from the New World in the late 16th century. Cold weather during the Icelandic volcanic eruptions, in the 1780s, helped to promote acceptance of the cold tolerant plant. Potatoes also store well in cool, dry, and dark rooms. Carrots came to England, from Holland, in the 1740s, and recipes for soups and puddings using carrots began to appear at that time, also.

Mr. Collins probably grew pumpkins. The American plant was introduced to Tudor England by the French. However, Charlotte would most likely cook pumpkin by cutting off the top of the pumpkin, scooping out the seeds and filling it with a mixture of milk, honey, apples and spices. She would then replace the top and roast the entire pumpkin in hot ashes.

Climbing vegetables, such as peas, were generally supported by cone shaped trellises made of bundles of willow branches, tied together near the top. Peas probably came to England with the Romans, since the English word has Latin origins. The green vegetable became very popular by the 17th century, particularly when served fresh. Peas can be dried and stored for long periods of time, making them a winter staple.

Cucumbers were probably introduced to England by the Romans. Pickling is an ancient art, so Charlotte, who often helped in the kitchen at home, probably put up pickles. Curiously they were called cowcumbers at this time.

Hugh Thomson’s frustrated gardener (Northanger Abbey)

There would, almost certainly, be a row of cabbages in the garden Mr. Collins tended. Cabbages are supposed to have been spread by the Celts, so they had long been present in England. Greens such as lettuce and spinach would also have been planted in the garden. Lettuce probably arrived with the Romans. Spinach came to England from Spain in the 14th century, probably brought back by pilgrims who visited Santiago de Compostela.

Salads dressed with vinaigrettes came into vogue, in England, after the French Revolution forced many French refugees to flee to England.

Tomatoes would probably not be found in Mr. Collins’s garden. Many people believed that they were poisonous and would not eat them, because they belong to the nightshade family. Tomatoes were not widely eaten until the 1820s.

Herbs would have been important plants in any garden of this period. Lavender would be grown and dried, for use in sachets, to be placed in cloths chests. Lavender smells nice but prevents the ravages of insects on clothing made of natural fibers, as all clothes, at that time were. Lavender was also used in soap making. Mint was used in sachets and in cooking. Dill would have been used in pickling and sprinkled over some breads.

The parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme of the old song would also have grown in the garden. Parsley had come to England by Elizabethan times and was an important garnish and ingredient by Jane Austen’s time. Sage was already used with fatty meats such as sausage, and with sage Derby cheese. Surprising, sage was also used as a tea. Rosemary was commonly used as an aromatic herb, as a hair rinse and to season lamb. Thyme probably arrived with the Romans. The herb was used on meats and in stews. It was also burnt as incense.

The walkway approaching the house would probably have been surrounded by flowers and shrubs. However, we would not see roses or bulb flowers, which were still expensive imports, in Jane Austen’s day. Fruit trees and native foxgloves and hollyhocks would be the most likely decorative plantings at a country parson’s house. Hollyhock seeds had come back from the crusades, in the crusader’s saddle bags, and were long established in England.

Though a tour of Mr. Collins’s garden, may seem a bit silent without commentary from Mr. Collins, hopefully a good idea of the similarities and differences of that time and place was conveyed. I beg you will forgive me, for taking over that earnest man’s role.


 

Written for the Jane Austen Online Magazine Sharon Wagoner, Curator of The Georgian Index. Visit her site for a historical tour through Regency London. Her novel, The Coronation, is available for free, for the Amazon kindle.

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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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Amateur Furniture Design

“Tell your sister I am delighted to hear of her improvement on the harp, and pray let her know that I am quite in raptures with her beautiful little design for a table, and I think it infinitely superior to Miss Grantley’s.”

Caroline Bingley asks Darcy to include her comments in his letter to his sister Georgiana in Pride And Prejudice by Jane Austen

What exactly does Caroline Bingley mean by her comment about Georgiana’s “beautiful little design for a table”? Though furniture could be purchased ready made at a furniture warehouse, many wealthy people of Jane Austen’s time had furniture custom made to fit a particular space or to a design they created or asked a furniture maker to create for them. Apparently Georgiana has created a design for a table and Darcy may well have a furniture maker create the custom piece of furniture. That Miss Bingley has seen the design implies that the drawing was sent to Darcy either for his approval or for him to have it made up or both. Continue reading Amateur Furniture Design

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Rolled Paper Crafting and Quilling

rolled paper crafting

Try your hand at Regency rolled paper crafting…

“It is amazing to me,” said Bingley, “how young ladies can have patience to be so very accomplished as they all are.”
“All young ladies accomplished! My dear Charles, what do you mean?”
“Yes all of them, I think. They all paint tables, cover skreens, and net purses. I scarcely know any one who cannot do all this, and I am sure I never heard a young lady spoken of for the first time, without being informed that she was very accomplished.”
Pride and Prejudice

If you are familiar with the BBC/A&E production of Pride and Prejudice, you may have wondered what the Bennet sisters were doing with a number of pieces of rolled paper spread over the table in one scene.

One genteel pastime for young ladies in the late 18th and the first part of the 19th century was decorating objects with rolled paper crafting.

Undecorated wooden frames were often sold for this purpose. Ladies then decorated the object with pieces of paper rolled and cut into different patterns. After being rolled up, the papers were cut in short lengths and glued to the wooden frame in a filigree pattern. The project might be finished by painting and gilding. Sometimes a focal point was created using a watercolour or print. Objects decorated in this way might include mirror frames, jewel boxes, tea caddies, and even a screen.

Similar results to rolled paper crafting can be created by experimenting in Quilling, an ancient art form that has been practiced since ancient Egyptian and/or 4th Century Grecian times. Although they obviously would not have used paper in the 4th century, it is believed the Greeks used thin metal wires to decorate containers, especially boxes, and Egyptian tombs have been found containing similar wire shapes akin to modern quilling.

During the Renaissance, nuns and monks picked up the art to decorate book covers and religious items. They used gilded paper strips in order to imitate the original metal wires. The name quilling is said to be derived from the fact that the nuns and monks originally used feather quills as their tool to roll the paper. Later, the rolled paper crafting spread throughout Europe and to the Americas.

Quilling is seing a resurgence in popularity today. You will very often see it used to decorate wedding invitations, birth announcements, greeting cards and such.

According to the DIY network:
The art of paper quilling dates back three or four centuries to a time when nuns used the gold edges trimmed from Bible pages to create simple but beautiful works of artistry. The scraps of paper were wrapped around goose quills to create coiled shapes — hence the name “quilling.”

These instructions for a Quilled Flower are reproduced from Nancy’s Wonderful World of Quilling

Step 1:

You Need: Four 6″ strips of 1/8″ paper(your choice of color)

Roll into loose circles with end glued. Pinch to form teardrop, make sure the glued end falls in the center of rounded part of teardrop.

Step 2:

You Need: One 5″ length of 1/8″ green paper.

Roll into tight circle for flower center. Glue four teardrops to tight circle.

Step 3:

You Need: One 4″ length of 1/8″ green paper.

Fold paper in half and roll each end into a loose scroll in the same direction, rolling about half-way to fold.

Step 4:

You Need: One 6″ length of 1/8″ green paper

Roll into loose circle with end glued. Pinch at seam and exactly opposite of seam to form leaf shape. Glue greenery to flower and attatch flower to gift tag, card, scrapbook, or wherever desired.

 

Sharon Wagoner is Curator of The Georgian Index. Visit this site for a historical tour through Regency London!

 

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The Necessaire

Open Box

Travelers in Georgian times were expected to provide their own eating utensils. These sets were called necessaire and could include anything from a lowly bone-handled knife and fork to a sort of elaborate dressing case that includes gilded silverware and a cup. At first the forks in these sets were two tined and looked more like a meat fork. By Regency times forks had begun having three tines. The handles might be silver or ivory.

The fiddle shaped handle was all the rage during the Regency.

Closed Box

These items were also taken along to parties as hostesses did not begin providing silverware for all their guests until the late 18th century. When during the Regency London surpassed Amsterdam to become the richest city in the world hosts flaunted their wealth with large dinner parties and huge sets of silverware and silver serving pieces.

 

 

Sharon Wagoner

is the webmistress of

The Georgian Index. Visit her site for a treasure trove of little know information about the Georgian period. A fascinating collection!

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Beaver Hats Build a Nation


But the merit of the curricle did not all belong to the horses; Henry drove so well — so quietly — without making any disturbance, without parading to her, or swearing at them: so different from the only gentleman-coachman whom it was in her power to compare him with! And then his hat sat so well, and the innumerable capes of his greatcoat looked so becomingly important! To be driven by him, next to being dancing with him, was certainly the greatest happiness in the world.
Northanger Abbey
Jane Austen

Beaver fur was the raw material for a high quality felt suitable for hat making. Felted beaver fur can be processed into a high quality hat that holds its shape well even aftersuccessive wettings, making it the material of choice for the hats worn by English gentlemen.

At first, British hatters imported beaver pelts from Russia and Scandinavia. When these populations dwindled under the overtraping due to the high demand for beaver fur, hatters turned to the American Colonies for their raw materials. Hats made exclusively from the undercoat of a beaver were the most expensive and of the highest quality. Lower quality, half-beavers, hats could be made of beaver fur mixed with wool or hare fur, to produce a hat that was similar in style, less durable, and less expensive in price.

Hat production was a staple of the British economy. This industry employed many workers from low skilled carders to highly skilled journeyman and master hatters. Their production supplied not only the fashion industry, but also military contracts.

Beaver pelts for hat making were acquired from trappers who were often Native Americans by a network of trading posts. The revenue from beaver pelts and deer skins fueled the economy of the Colonies and Federal America and moving on to areas that weren’t trapped out created a westward push. The price a beaver pelt brought rose steadily over the 18th century, progressing from around 5 shillings to about a Guinea by the year 1800, when the animals had become nearly extinct. John Jacob Astor controlled the largest American fur trading company. The beaver pelt was the first great American commodity and the trade in them made Astor a millionaire. Something on the order of 30,000 beaver pelts a year were exported from North America in the 1790s. The introduction of steel traps and heavy demand for pelts brought the animal to the brink of extinction. By 1834, Astor recognized that all fur-bearing animals were becoming scarce and retired.

The felt hats were produced in a process that involved removing the unwanted outer guard hairs, shaving the dense inner coat, arranging the shaved fur or fluff in random directions know as carding, and agitating the fluff producing a loose felt called a batt. Then the shaping of the hat could begin with the addition of heat and moisture and finally a stiffing agent like gum Arabic followed by steaming and ironing. At last, a silk lining could be sewn in.

Britain exported several hundred thousand pounds worth of beaver hats per year to other European nations. In 1700, 69,500 beaver hats were exported from England and almost the same number of felt hats. By 1760, just over 500,000 beaver hats and 370,000 felt halts passed through English ports. Over the seventy years from 1700 to 1770, 21 million beaver and felt hats were exported from England.

The clothing industry and fashion are important forces in history that are often overlooked in a war based history perspective. A swimming rodent with a luxeriant coat played an important role in the development of North America. Beaver pelts were the first great American trade commodity. The beaver pelt provided an article of exchange that brought metal manufatured trade goods to America and bullion to English coffers. Maybe it is time the teaching of history went into the closet.

A. Carding (combing the fibers) and Bowing (cleaning and fluffing)

B. Matting (various layers of the fiber into felt)

C. Basoning (manipulated the batt of felt into a triangular shape called a capade or gore that will become the crown of the Hat)

D. Flanging (attaching the brim)

E. Blocking (forcing the hat body onto a wood form
and stamping the moisture from it)

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


Reprinted with persmission Sharon Wagoner, Curator of The Georgian Index. Visit this site for a historical tour through Regency London!