Jun 032017

I came across this scene depicting a wedding ceremony in the eighteenth century and it reminded me of the various times Richard Hall mentions weddings – both his own, his friends, and his family. Nowhere does he say anything helpful – like what the bride wore – but he rarely forgot to mention the weather….

I am aware that there was no set idea that the bride must wear white – and for servants there was never any question of having a dress that could only be worn on one occasion.

But it is interesting to see how many of the paintings of weddings of the time do show the bride in an ivory coloured satin concoction. Take the painting  by artist Joseph Highmore used to illustrate to Pamela’s Wedding – one of four scenes  from Samuel Richardson’s ‘Pamela’.

The picture appears courtesy of Tate Britain, and the explanation with it states “On Pamela’s left is her humble but dignified father, who gives her away. In the background, behind the groom, is the housekeeper Mrs Jewkes, now also a reformed character. She grasps a bottle of smelling salts in case she is overwhelmed with emotion.”

Next up, a rather splendid wedding dress from around 1775 and which appears on the V&A site- now that really is a statement dress! Talk about tassels and bows….Pippa Middleton eat your heart out

However popular ivory may have been, some of the single colour dresses were rather special, none more so than this American wedding dress from 1776 which appears on the Metropolitan Museum site.

The last picture I wanted to include is one I have used in various talks ,but for the life of me cannot remember where I first saw it. I like to think it is a fair representation of what Richard Hall would have looked like when he married a wealthy heiress in 1754:

 And to end with, a couple of caricatures from the Lewis Walpole site on the topic of weddings, both entitled “Three weeks after marriage”. The first appeared in 1786 and is by Inigo Barlow:

The second appeared in 1822 and is by J L Marks.  Cynics, the pair of them!

Feb 202017

A blog post I have been itching to do for some time…..

Perusing back numbers of the Gentleman’s Magazine (as one does) I came across this helpful tip – I think nowadays I have to call it a “household hack” – from 1735. It is a remedy for eradicating “bed buggs” and is a reminder of the doggerel verse quoted in the title to this piece.bugg Gent Mag Vol. 5 Nov 1735 Page 671Now, I am not too sure how good an idea it is to paint mercury (ie quicksilver) into all the joints and cracks in your four poster bed, even if you have first made a nice mixture  using the whites of half a dozen eggs, but it looks like a fairly labour-intensive spring clean, involving dismantling the entire bed frame. Mind you, if your servants were too busy to do this for you, you could always enlist the services of the wonderfully named *Benjamin Tiffin “Bug Destroyer to His Majesty”, as per his trade card, shown courtesy of the Wellcome Library in London:

Wellcome Library, London.

The 18th Century saw a  veritable explosion of bed-bugs, and by 1730 for the price of a shilling you could buy a treatise telling you all about it, and what to do or not do if you were affected.

treatiseBugg hunting gave rise to this rather nice print from Isaac Cruikshank , shown on the excellent Library of Congress site, and entitled “Summer Amusements – Bugg Hunting”:

summer amusementNow excuse me, but all of this makes me want to scratch…

Original Title: XB3J3674 copy.jpg

The image appears on a somewhat esoteric site entitled The Bed Bugs Handbook, which you can find here if you are really interested!

*Post script: I had not appreciated that the Tiffin family have been pursuing the little blighters for over three centuries and are still going strong, and are based in Hemel Hempstead! Good for them – their website assures me that “The company has remained a ‘family’ firm for over 320 years, and to this day there has always been a Tiffin at the helm.” Those pesky bugs just wont go away – but fortunately, neither do the Tiffins!

Nov 022016

lwlA nice caricature by Thomas Rowlandson, first published in 1807 and entitled ‘The double disaster or new cure for love’. It is a reminder that whereas my ancestor Richard only did a “big” laundry four or five times a year (or, as he described in in his diaries, “Wash’d a great Wash”) the  process of laundry involved many of the household servants. Firewood needed to be collected, and lit under the copper cauldron using a candle. Water had to be pumped into the copper, and baskets would be used to collect the clean bed-linen and clothing to carry it outdoors – where as likely as not it would be spread out on the hedging to dry.

In this particular wash-day hiatus, a young lad has been hiding under the wooden lid of the copper. He emerges as the heat spreads into his hidey-hole, only for him to be deluged with water spouting from the pump. On the left the young woman is startled by his sudden appearance, and stops filling her jug with beer, which continues to flow from the barrel onto the floor. A cat pursues a mouse, and the washing is in a small pile in a tub, above a wicker basket and yoke.

The scene takes me back – I once bought an unrestored 18th century house without electricity or running water, and it still had the original copper, the working pump, and the flag-stone floor to the washroom. What it didn’t have was the  two Rowlandson strereotypes – the ugly old crone, shown here on her hands and knees, and the smiling fresh-faced young maids in their mob-caps. They certainly bring the scene to life.

Post-script: it is funny how often I find more than one caricature with a similar theme. Having prepared this post I came across an interesting caricature from 1816 entitled “How are you off for soap?” The print was by William Elmes, published by Thomas Tegg, and appears courtesy of the British Museum. Their commentary on the print is: “A young woman stands over a wash-tub raising her hands in astonishment to see a little man standing waist-deep in the soapsuds, saying with a smile: “here am I!! Betty!! how are you off for Soap.” She answers: “Lord!! Mr Vansittart!!—who could have thought of seeing You in the Washing Tub.” She wears a mob-cap and pattens. Two tubs stand on a bench, with a basket beside it on which lies a pair of breeches. Through a window (right) are seen clothes on a line, and trees. A fire burns under a large copper (left) from which rise clouds of steam. Against the wall are coal-box, shovel, and broom.”

How are you off for soap. © British Museum.

How are you off for soap?  © British Museum.

The print satirises the sly introduction of a tax on hard soap – sly because it was ostensibly made to protect the whale fishing industry, but in reality was a device to raise £150,000 in excise duty. The man responsible fro the tax was Nicolas Vansittart (1766-1851), 1st Baron Bexley, a long serving and effective, although unpopular Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I see that I have previously blogged on washdays, washing machines and other matters of a laundry nature, so if you want more suds, go here.


Aug 252016

1A rather nice gentle caricature, originally by Henry William Bunbury, but engraved by Thomas Rowlandson, showing a group of gentlemen gathered to enjoy a smoke. It was only actually published in 1835, whereas Bunbury had died in 1811, and Rowlandson in 1827. The official title is ‘The Smoking Club’ – and the pencil comment underneath refers to ‘The Commercial Party’.

The print appears on the Lewis Walpole Library site and is typical of Bunbury’s kindly observation. The four gentlemen, wreathed in smoke, are smoking clay ‘churchwarden’ pipes, typically with stems up to twenty inches long. The pipes apparently became very popular in the second half of the eighteenth century and had originated in the Ottoman Empire, and were often associated with the Hungarian Hussars – hence their alternative name of ‘Hussar pipe’. In Germany it was known as “Lesepfeife” or “reading pipe,”  – presumably because the long stem took the smoke away from the smoker, enabling the user to read a book without getting smoke in his eyes. The other advantage of the long stem is that it makes for a much cooler smoke.

Why churchwarden? Probably because the church-wardens were responsible for keeping an eye on their church at night, and smoking such a long stemmed pipe left their line of sight clear.

1The stems were incredibly fragile and kept breaking, as shown by the pile of snapped-off stems  at the feet of the smoker shown in this detail from a print by Hogarth. I see that the film The Hobbit has helped  re-popularise the pipe, and the web is full of ‘Gandalf pipes’ most of them made from wood, carved and polished, but some of them are hand-made from white clay. So if you really crave authenticity, have a look at  this site on e-Bay – and make sure that you have your £46 ready!

My ancestor enjoyed a good smoke, and recorded the occasion in his diary, as here:2 “Thursday 27th: Wife and Patty visited Mrs Cooper; Mr Rogers smoak’d a Pipe”


Dec 102015

In my last blog I included an extract from ‘The Rudiments of Genteel Behaviour’ demonstrating how a lady should curtsey in the Proper Manner. I realize of course that many men should also receive instructions in the art of doffing the hat, and how to retire gracefully. As ‘The Rudiments of Genteel Behaviour’ states: “It is an observation (which cannot escape Notice) that many Persons retiring, or taking leave of any Person or Company, either thro’ want of knowledge or Neglect in discovering a decent Carriage at their Departure, have appear’d very aukward Figures to Persons of Polite Behaviour.”

So especially for all those people now living in 1737 (and I am thinking re-enactors as well as the odd TV producer and any out-of-work film extras) here is the definitive guide:1 maleI was a little perturbed by the oddness of the left hand, tucked limply inside the jacket. It looks as though he is holding half the family silver, smuggled out from the dining room, under his waistcoat.

Here, a careful reading of the text may prevent embarrassing mis-understandings:

2 maleThe image is also a rather nice reminder of just how many buttons there were on men’s apparel – I think there are twenty-two on the outer jacket, not counting perhaps half a dozen  on each voluminous cuff, as well as thirteen on the waistcoat.

Ah well, time to practice rolling up a trouser leg to reveal the Georgian Gentleman’s well-defined  calf, turning the foot so that I am ‘shewing the leg to best advantage’ as Monsieur Nivelon would have said…


(The whole of the original book, complete with plates engraved by Boitard, has helpfully been digitised and can be found here.)

Dec 072015

I recently came across a book entitled ‘The Rudiments of Genteel Behaviour’ which contains some lovely descriptions of how ladies should hold themselves while curtseying, walking, dancing the minuet and so on. It also instructs gentlemen how to doff their hat, how to take their leave and so on. Each instruction is illustrated with the appropriate image.

WWW courtsie image

The book was written by a Mr F Nivelon, a French dancing master from Stamford in Lincolnshire, in 1737. It describes itself as “An Introduction to the Method of attaining a graceful Attitude, an agreeable Motion, an easy Air and a genteel Behaviour” and makes a rather nice change from the endless conduct books which rambled on about modesty, affability and good manners – before embarking on 500 pages of recipes and other items which young ladies were expected to master.


It is a reminder that in the eighteenth century dance instructors did much more than teach people the latest dance steps: they taught deportment, how to move gracefully, how to enter and leave a room, and so on. I had rather forgotten just how much was involved in giving a proper “courtsie”. I will now go and practice in front of the cheval glass….

Nov 112015

I came across this image on the Lewis Walpole site and thought it was worth sharing:chimney sweep lwl 1772

It is entitled ‘The Enterprizing Chimney Sweeper’ and carries the verse ‘ So fine a girl! you must belie her, would never let that sweep come nigh her. Or fine or not, the Thing was done And Kitty lik’d the Sweepers fun.’  The mezzotint appeared in 1772 and I love the idea of the grubby little urchin standing on tip-toes in order to get an embrace. It also features an interesting display of Eighteenth Century pots and pans, the pestle and mortar and so on.

It was of course  commonplace for the Master Sweep to employ young boys to scramble down the chimney to dislodge the soot – and it was a filthy job, often fulfilled by orphans. There was no safety equipment or protective clothing of any sort (traditionally the young sweeps would wear cast off costumes discarded by funeral undertakers, hence the tail coats and top hats associated with Victorian prints). Death and injury was not uncommon, with falling chimney stacks, or lads getting stuck in narrow flues. The worst abuses remained lawful until Lord Shaftesbury’s 1864 ‘Act for the Regulation of Chimney Sweepers’. Apparently a Bristol engineer called Joseph Glass  came up with the idea of brushing chimneys from the fireplace below using, malacca canes, imported from  the East Indies. It was all a great advance and rather more effective than the (alleged) medieval practice of stuffing a white goose down the chimney pot, its legs tied together, so that its flapping wings dislodged the soot. This gave rise to the saying ‘The blacker the goose the cleaner the flue’ – not exactly an oft-heard expression nowadays!

Sweeps have been regraded as ‘lucky’ for centuries, and kissing a sweep is said to ensure a happy marriage. Finally, to end with a delightful image of a trade card I found on the site for Ruchala Chimney Sweeping here.

chimney sweep miller_kerwood

Nov 062015

In a way this caricature by Richard Newton, published in August 1796 and shown courtesy of the British Museum, encapsulates the life of my ancestor Richard Hall: 

It is called ‘Contrasted Lovers’ and shows a young man (on the left) and an older version (on the right). The young swain looks at a miniature of his beloved, and utters the words:

 “Give me sweet nectar in a Kiss,

 And let me taste ambrosial bliss!”

On the right, the corpulent older man clutches a printed sheet headed “Wine Tax” (Pitt had raised the duty on wine by the equivalent of sixpence a bottle in April 1796) and for him the caption reads:

“Give me Nectar in a Glass

And as for Kissing – kiss my A….!”

Richard, as a young man in his mid-twenties, had fallen head-over-heels in love with Eleanor Seward, then aged 21. The daughter of a  self-made-man called Benjamin, who was a wealthy landowner, Eleanor was a real catch – attractive, young and immensely wealthy. And yes, his cash book notes that he had her portrait painted, and it is probably still held by my elusive second cousin, also called Richard Hall. Frustratingly, I have never seen it….

As a young man Richard was  a real lightweight in physical terms – he recorded his weight as being 112 pounds (eight stone) in 1757,  and when he weighed himself 32 years later he was not much heavier at 122  pounds. A gain of ten pounds over three decades is not bad, especially when you consider that Richard’s father tipped the scales at 168 pounds (12 stone). But over the years Richard continued to pile on the pounds and I have little doubt that he ballooned in weight in old age. His beloved first wife died, and I suspect that his second wife, Anna, was altogether more keen on good, solid, country cooking . And it is hard to escape the conclusion that the second attempt at matrimony was born out of economic common sense rather than ‘True Lurv.’

He ate huge quantities of chocolate (buying Chuchman’s chocolate at regular intervals) and consumed prodigious quantities of cheese (often recording purchases of cheese by the hundred weight!). And above all he consumed alcohol in large quantities. His diaries showed that he brewed beer and made cyder – and  drank wine by the bucket.

Port was sent down from London by the quarter pipe  (that is to say, some twelve dozen cases!) Richard made currant wine to supplement his stocks of alcohol and his diaries and accounts for 1797 showed that he was spending more than three times as much on wine as he spent on taxes!

Other facts point to a rotund  old age – the fact that he resorted to keeping a sedan chair to get around the village of Bourton on the Water suggested that he was none too mobile. He walked with a limp having broken his leg as a young man, and there are contemporary reports that the children would follow after him through the streets shouting “Hobbledy-Hall” – and then run away!  I can well imagine him resembling the portly figure on the right in Newton’s drawing…

Oct 262015

6I have just returned to Spain after a fascinating couple of days in York, courtesy of Fairfax House (more of whom in the next day or so). Fairfax House had organized a very successful symposium (a fancy word for a conference….) spread over two days, looking at “the retail realm”.

I hope that my talk managed to be something of a counter-balance to the rather more academic approach of some of the other speakers. I confess that I found that the “gender agenda” got in the way of some of the papers: why not simply accept that 18th century society was extraordinarily unfair and unequal, and that women rarely had the chance to do anything apart from act as breeding stock? Yes, it was an appalling, obscene, waste of talent but it happened, and no amount of research into what women might have been thinking “behind closed doors”, or in literature, can alter the injustice. Indeed the harder some of the papers seemed to emphasize female involvement and importance, the more they seemed to show the exact opposite. It merely reinforced my view that I don’t think that I would enjoy going back to  university to do a course on History in the Eighteenth Century. If one or two of the speakers, who came from both sides of the Atlantic, are anything to go by, I would rather take up wearing a hair shirt by way of penance for being male, or else practice trepanning on myself as a DIY hobby.

So I am not entirely sure what some of the residents of la-la land made of my paper, which looked at the shopping experience from the point of view of the shopkeeper. Some of my ancestor’s customers were women, some were not, but what interested Richard Hall was not their gender, but whether they paid him in good, hard, currency. He worried about clipped coinage, about customers defaulting on their debts, about shop-lifting and damaged stock. He agonized over the risk of fire, worried about whether his customers were small-pox carriers, and dreaded periods of royal mourning because it meant that his brightly coloured fabrics strayed on the roll while he had to endure eight, sometimes twelve, weeks of selling nothing but black satin and black lace. Richard was simply a product of his time, and branding him as a misogynist or a bigot surely misses the point: this was his world. He accepted it, because he knew no other, and while feminists can argue that he kept each of his two wives in the background, as second class citizens, that is not the way he saw it. Nor, I suspect, is it how his wives saw it…

A Milliner's Shop, courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

A Milliner’s Shop, courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

Certain aspects of the conference were fascinating, not least the evolution of the shop as a physical structure: from market stall to dedicated shop. It was interesting to see how glass changed the display concept; how bow-fronts to the shops developed, how trade descriptions evolved, and how trade cards and bill-heads helped differentiate one supplier from another. There was a  splendid contribution from Vanessa Brett on the Deards family toy-shops in Bath, London and elsewhere, and fascinating accounts from others about tea-smuggling from Gothenburg, about Josiah Wedgwood’s skills  as a salesman, and about how foreigners marvelled at our shops and our shopping habits. I certainly learned a lot, met some lovely people, and thoroughly enjoyed presenting a  paper to people who knew an awful lot more than I do about certain aspects of life two centuries ago. They received me kindly, and for that I am grateful. It was good to be able to produce the diaries and journals of Richard Hall to people who could appreciate and understand them.

The Bum Shop, courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

The Bum Shop, courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

The Virgin Shape Warehouse, courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

The Virgin Shape Warehouse, courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

Diatribe over: what of the shops themselves? Here are a few images to remind you of the eighteenth century shopping experience, both exaggerated and real. I have used the Bumshop and the Virgin Shape Warehouse images before, but they are interesting simply as confirmation that shop assistants (usually male) would be scurrying around, obsequiously reassuring  customers and tempting them to buy. There were mirrors, there were trade counters, and there were facilities for trying on (though not, of course, in full view of other shoppers!).

The image  at the start of this piece is a Rowlandson, showing a gentleman sampling snuff in a tobacconists. Again, it is interesting for its array of storage jars and containers, separated from the customer by the long wooden counter. I had not appreciated that so many Georgian shops were simply ‘carved out’ of residential buildings, meaning that their frontage was often only one half of the building, but stretching back to at least two rooms deep. It meant that for many shoppers, they would enter a room 7 to 10 feet wide, separated in its entire length by a long counter, so that the shoppers would enter in single file on one side, looking across the counter at the goods which would then be presented to them for inspection by the shopkeeper. The Wedgwood-inspired idea of shops where customers could wander round inspecting the goods must have been revolutionary, to say nothing of supplying goods on approval, free delivery, BOGOF and money-back guarantees. Poor Richard must have despaired at such extravagance! Until 1768, shopping was far less of a window-shopping experience, although I rather liked the description by Newcastle University’s  Professor Helen Berry of  ‘women who ramble’ going by the cant name of “silkworms”.

4To end with, a couple of the images I used in my talk, showing the interior of a haberdasher’s shop.  This one, dating from 1810 (shortly after Richard died, and therefore highly likely to be representative of his shop at One London Bridge) shows the counter, the innumerable drawers for bits and bobs, the shelves for material, and the  lace and ribbons hanging across the window.


5The other shows a young lady apprehended as she tries to leave a haberdasher’s shop when she is stopped because she has been hiding lace and ribbons up under her skirt. The constable is called, and stands at the doorway, as an eager young lad ferrets around to see what else she has pilfered…

I have also added two of Richard’s actual display cards. You can just imagine them sitting discreetly on a pile of velvet and of cotton wadding, ready to catch the eye of the eager shopper…


7  8

Jul 142015


annenbergOn holiday in the States a couple of months ago I visited the Annenberg Estate at Rancho Mirage, California. The place is a pretty impressive monument to what wealth can buy, most of it involving excess in one form or another. But I was taken by the sheer extravagance of an item from an earlier age, tucked away in a corner. It is shown here – sorry it is a lousy photograph but I could only take it against a background of agarve leaves… a silver gilt epergne by the English silversmith Thomas Pitts 1 (apparently his son bore the same name and he was therefore TP2…).

The epergne is interesting because of its role in the changing face of the dinner table throughout the 18th and 19th Centuries. In the early years of the 18th century the English had adopted the French fashion of having a surtout, holding casters and containers for condiments, and this would be exchanged for a fruitier when fruits were brought to the table towards the end of the meal. Both items were designed to take as little space as possible on the table and therefore made use of tiers of dispensers. Eating had traditionally been a communal activity – no-one was “plated up” one course at a time, and instead the whole groaning table would have been laid out with all the courses at the outset. A “remove” would then lead to a completely new set of dishes.

The tiered surtout in the centre became more and more elaborate. It developed into the epergne (originally anglicized as “aparn”) so that by the 1750’s these were extremely popular and gave rich owners the chance to show off their wealth and taste for opulence.

The word “epergne” apparently derives from the French “epaigner,” meaning thrifty or economical. At first the item was called a Save All because it saved the servant from serving each guest, since all the diner had to do was lean towards the centrepiece and help him or her self to condiments, pickles, fruits, nuts, sweetmeats, and other small items held in the bowls at the end of each radiating arm. The central bowl would have held exotic fruits of rare flowers. The “economy” was from the fact that it was space saving, and, as well as saving the servants from serving every single item, it also saved wastage – unused items were simply left in the centrepiece for use on another occasion.

And the foremost silversmith designing these elaborate edifices was Thomas Pitts. He was born in the Parish of St. Mary Whitechapel and was apprenticed to Charles Hatfield on December 6, 1737. In February 1742 his training was transferred to David Willaume II, son of a prominent French immigrant silversmith. He qualified and became a freeman of the City of London in 1744 but does not appear to have registered his first mark as an independent worker until 1758. He really got going with his epergnes in the 1760’s and 1770’s


The Leeds Art Fund site here  in describing this epergne at Temple Newsam House bedecked with fruit states “The centrepiece is in the form of a Chinese pagoda or garden pavilion, complete with upturned eaves, hanging bells, pierced baskets and dishes. They would have contained fruits and delicacies for the dessert course at dinner and the table might have had additional ornaments such as porcelain figures and sugared sculptures”

sothebysSothebys describes the George III silver nine basket epergne shown above as being by Thomas Pitts, London 1762 and having “a frame on four beaded scroll supports linked by openwork aprons of fruit and flowering foliage, rising to the neck pierced with panels of trellis and supporting a matching large oval basket and eight scroll branches topped by four circular hanging baskets and four circular dishes.” It apparently sold for $37500 in October 2012.

Another Thomas Pitts epergne, in the neo-classical style, is this one:

Neoclassical style epergne by Thos Pitts 1789

The popularity of the epergne started to wane by the time Queen Victoria came to the throne. Fashions changed and in came the “new” style of serving, service a la russe, with each course being brought in separately. This left more room on the table for the display of flowers and so on. But for sheer extravagance the Annenberg epergne takes some beating – imagine the effect this theatrical masterpiece would have had on diners, with the dancing candle light bouncing off the fretwork gilding, casting shadows as it glittered in the golden light, and no doubt tinkling its bells whenever a guest removed an item. Magnificently O.T.T.!

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