Wednesday, April 18, 2012

And what would Jane Austen's hero have packed for the weekend? Travel in the second half of the Eighteenth Century.

by Mike Rendell

Apparently Jane Austen wrote her first novel Love and Freindship (sic) in 1789 when she was 14. It is classed as part of her "Juvenilia" - one of 29 stories bound up into three manuscript books. So, if she had her hero pay a visit for the weekend, what would he have packed in his bags? Well, I can say what Richard Hall would pack for a weekend away, because he noted it in his diary in May 1784. (He was my great, great, great, great-grandfather.)



Some of the entries are hard to decipher but it appears to start off with shirts; first a couple of night shirts, then what appears to be two "neck shirts" including a "new fine plain" one. He packed two Ruffles plus "One fine Holland Ditto" as well as three pairs of silk stockings. One piece of gauze, three pairs worsted (stockings, presumably) went into the case along with a couple of night caps made of "linnen".

"W. shoes" may have referred to walking shoes but I cannot be sure and I have been unable to decipher the following line apart from seeing that it involved "one Blue Ditto and One Silk"

He needed a cloth coat and waistcoat (he called it "cloath") as well as a silk waistcoat and a white dining waistcoat. Silk breeches and five stocks were packed as well as "muffatees". Sadly I have no record showing what these were made from - they were fingerless gloves or wrist bands, often knitted but sometimes made of elasticated strips of leather, or even fancy ones made of peacock feathers. They remained popular for many years - even Beatrice Potter has Old Mrs. Rabbit earning her living by knitting rabbit-wool mittens and muffatees (~ The Tale of Benjamin Bunny).

One knitting site called Dancing with Wolves, states: "in the days before central heating, keeping warm in winter was a major challenge. We think we know about dressing in layers, but most of us don’t have to resort to wearing coats and hats and gloves indoors. But heavy layering was necessary. Working with your hands in mittens is clumsy at best. The solution? Wear muffatees.

"Muffatees are tube-like, fingerless mitts that cover wrist and hand up to the middle of the fingers, usually with an opening along the side for the thumb. The simplest, and possibly earliest form was comprised of the cuff or leg of a worn-out stocking, minus the foot. But in the 18th and 19th centuries, many pairs were sewn from warm cloth, or simply knitted of wool in plain or fancy patterns."


Several sites give patterns - and incidentally Richard often called them wrist bands (pronounced "risbans" according to the one of the entries in his diary, at the same time as remembering that "waistcoat" was pronounced "wescote").



They were thought to work on the basis of keeping the blood warm at the point where the pulse is felt at the wrist, but leaving the fingers completely unfettered.



For longer journeys Richard would then record how many items of luggage were needed. For a trip lasting a fortnight (travelling the 264 miles from Bourton on the Water to Weymouth and Lulworth Castle and back) he needed seven items, all of them charged separately by the coachman. And then as an afterthought Richard showed an eighth item - his steam kettle! This would have gone on board along with the Great Trunk, the blue box. the wainscot (i.e. wood-panelled) box, his green bag, his great coat, his shoes and his wig box.

The actual cost of travel was considerable. Richard shows a coach journey from Bourton to Evesham of 41 miles costing over one pound eleven shillings.



This would have been the equivalent of perhaps a hundred pounds (around 150 dollars) today. This included his dinner at four shillings and ten pence (equivalent to a buying power of perhaps $22 today); the waiter at sixpence (a couple of dollars); the horsler i.e. ostler a shilling (four dollars); and turnpikes one shilling and sixpence (six dollars). The actual coach fare came to a guinea (getting on for a hundred dollars nowadays), and these figures have to be seen in the light of farm labourers having to get by on ten shillings a week!



Why the turnpikes? Their frequency increased as a direct result of the Duke of Cumberland's campaign against the Jacobites in 1745/6 . Moving troops north to meet the rebels was handicapped by the dreadful state of the roads, and in the wake of the Duke's criticism, Parliament encouraged local communities to form Turnpike Trusts. In return for filling in potholes, and re-surfacing and maintaining the roads, each Trust was entitled to levy a toll. Within a couple of decades roads had improved dramatically - to the extent that some coach operators were able to run throughout the night. Think Georgian carriage lamps and think of a coach-and-four thundering through the darkness! The result was a dramatic decrease in journey times. The cost of travel in turn came down, as the operators reduced their overheads by cutting out the need to stay overnight, for instance on the journey between London and Bristol.



Mind you, there was still the risk of being ordered to "stand and deliver" by highwaymen. This picture shows the moment when a coach is hijacked.



But justice was as swift as it was lethal, and here we see the miscreant swinging from the gallows. I love the nonchalant behaviour of the horse-riders as they gossip nearby!

Incidentally all these cut-outs were made by my ancestor Richard Hall. He was born in 1729 and died in 1801 and I suspect that most of the cut-outs were made in the last twenty years of his life, possibly to entertain his young family. I am fortunate enough to have all his journals and papers, from diaries to accounts, and from shopping lists to inventories. These have enabled me to write a social history of England as seen through the eyes of my ancestor.

             

You can buy Mike's book The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman HERE.

Mike also blogs on aspects of Eighteenth Century life (on a more-or-less daily basis) at his blog, Georgian Gentleman.

14 comments:

  1. As I have come to expect, another fabulous post. And Richard's diary entries are always so illuminating. He is fast becoming my all-time favorite diarist.
    I am of course wearing knitted fingerless gloves aka muffatees as I type this in NZ!
    Thanks for sharing!

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  2. Thank you very much for this post! I found it of great interest and educational value! Oh, I can just imagine to have all those journals, papers and diaries...

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  3. Personally, I feel ashamed to be related to the sort of guy who makes lists of things to pack, or itemises the distance and cost of every journey! Yes it is fascinating to read two hundred years later, but oh boy what a bore to have lived with! I don't know how great granny (x4) managed it....Seriously though, it is great to have the diaries and I really enjoyed writing my book based on them.

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  4. Thank you so much for this fascinating article. This is the kind of personal detail that makes history really come alive.

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    1. Thanks - I am delighted you enjoyed it. Hopefully anyone writing a novel set in the Georgian era will find this sort of information helpful. Mike

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  5. Mike, while your ancestor Richard may have been a bit obsessive/compulsive, it's just such records that make it possible to reconstruct what life was like. And it takes generations of people KEEPING the papers (or were they lost somewhere?) Eleanor de Montfort, Countess of Leicester, lost her account roll (strips of vellum sewn end to end much like an old adding machine tape) into a chink in the wall of the convent where she spent her last years. Thanks to that role surfacing when the convent was destroyed during the French Revolution, we now know that her kitchen boys were named Garbag and Slingaway, and what she paid for socks for her son and for de-pilling of a woolen cloak and for leather riding chaps for herself (sidesaddles didn't come in until the time of Richard II, I believe.)I suppose the chaps were worn under the skirt -- good idea for long days of travel.
    Where would we be as writers were it not for the obsessive/compulsive list-makers, the keepers of old papers and the occasional mishap of lost accounts?

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    1. I "found" the diaries in a pile of tea chests in the back of the garage when I bought my grandmother's house 30 years ago. In turn she had lived in that house for 50 years without opening the chests, so they were kept almost by accident! The amazing thing is why and how they survived the first hundred years after Richard died - when they had no historical or family value. But I am glad they did...

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  6. It is such a challenge reading those old papers. Spelling was so arbitrary and it seems that things had several names.

    Thanks for sharing your research and family papers!

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    1. Luckily, in time, I get used to Richard's hand writing. I must admit I have given up (at least for now) with his son Benjamin's diaries because his scrawl is almost illegible! So I dont think the Journal of a Victorian Gentleman is going to come out in print any time soon! As for spelling, Richard simply did not see that as being as important as grammar or punctuation.Even surnames were given different spellings in the same paragraph...

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  7. How cool that you have such treasures and thank you for sharing them with us. Muffatees are back in style! I have a pair.

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    1. I am chortling at the idea of Richard being stylish and an arbiter of fashion! Quite made my day...

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  8. Another great History Blog found! Thank you!

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    1. It is great fun being a contributor to a blogsite which is enjoyed by so many people - it makes it all worthwhile, so, thanks! Mike

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  9. Thank you, Mike, for this charming and informative post! These are the wonderful bits that make up delicious stories, real and imagined!
    Best,
    Cerise

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