Monday, February 5, 2018

The Serpentine - Hyde Park's River/Lake

Hyde Park once contained a river--the Westbourne--which formed ponds (originally possibly monastic fish ponds) in the Park. In 1730 Queen Caroline ordered that the Westbourne be dammed to create a long, narrow artificial lake as part of the Park redevelopment.
Detail of the 1746 Rocque map showing the newly constructed Serpentine. (Wikipedia)

The Serpentine quickly became a focal point for the Park and a centre, during the Regency, of newsworthy activity. At the beginning of the century the news was all bad.

Morning Chronicle - Saturday 30 May 1801
Saunders's News-Letter - Friday 03 December 1802

Oxford University and City Herald - Saturday 05 December 1807
 Skaters on the Serpentine in Hyde Park by Julius Caesar Ibbitson (1786)

 In 1808, however, some pleasant stories about the Serpentine appeared.
Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal - Friday 15 April 1808

Globe - Tuesday 27 December 1808
View of the Serpentine River, Hyde Park, looking from Kensington Gardens 1787
 The Serpentine's walk was the site of sporting events
Morning Post - Thursday 17 June 1813
 And research was aiming to make the Serpentine and other urban bodies of water safer places.
Bury and Norwich Post - Wednesday 08 December 1813
 Frost was always a problem and the lure of ice skating and sliding created many issues in 
Morning Post - Saturday 03 February 1816
Morning Chronicle - Monday 23 December 1816
The great tragedy of the Serpentine was its use as a method of suicide. The desperate, too often young women, chose drowning as their escape from their troubles. 
Oxford University and City Herald - Saturday 25 June 1814

Sussex Advertiser - Monday 04 April 1814
In December 1816 Harriet Westbrook, the pregnant wife of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, was found drowned in the Serpentine. I cannot discover that the newspapers had anything to say about that event.

Despite its checkered past, the Serpentine is still a lovely feature of Hyde Park and a tribute to the vision of our Georgian forebearers.

'Til next time,


Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Patent Medicine -- Regency universal remedies

During the Regency era medical treatment, as we know it, was in its infancy. Establishments like the Medical Society of London and the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh were beginning to disseminate medical information and train doctors, but it would be later in the 19th century before significant medical strides were made. Until then the care of those requiring medical aid was in the hands of the hard-to-find trained physicians and the under-educated barber-surgeons. Those who did not have access to these practitioners relied upon apothecaries and wise-women educated in herbal lore and experiential healing.
The Book of English Trades: And Library of the Useful Arts by John Souter
The dearth of knowledge in the field of medicine led to the development of a huge quantity of 'patent' medicines, that is, herbal and alcoholic concoctions whose efficacy had no factual basis. Of course, patent medicines still thrive today, but at least we have agencies overseeing their ingredients, their claims, and their use.

During the Regency, there was no oversight. Patent medicines and the shops in which they were sold flourished.

Stamford Mercury - Friday 16 September 1803
Bell's Monthly Compendium of Advertisements for August 1807
Bristol Mirror - Saturday 28 April 1810
Manchester Mercury - Tuesday 09 September 1800
Birmingham Chronicle - Thursday 02 December 1819
Likely there were among the patent medicines some innocuous remedies that provided relief for some conditions. But too often they were adulterated, and worse, they were reliant on additives like alcohol, opium, and cocaine. These concoctions could have deadly results. This tragedy (below) occurred as a result of the use of an 'imitation' of a well-known cure-all "Godfrey's Cordial".
Aris's Birmingham Gazette - Monday 22 February 1808
It was common knowledge that patent medicines were dubious science. Even the cartoonists lampooned them:
T. Rowlandson and G. Woodward, 1801 (Credit Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images)
But the ultimate in chicanery came from one Dr. Sibly. The claims for his product were numerous, and culminated in an assertion that it could reanimate a person on the verge of death.
Chester Chronicle - Friday 06 November 1818
Leeds Mercury - Saturday 26 October 1816
 The sheer quantity of advertisements for patent medicines in publications of the Regency era indicates their availability, and their popularity. I just hope they helped more people than they injured.

'Til next time,



Monday, December 4, 2017

Merry Christmas - 1806

The Christmas Plum Pudding from an old print-Published in the book
Christmas: Its Origin and Associations, by William Francis Dawson 

          As last year at this time we looked at Christmas in 1805, I thought that this year we might look at 1806.  Christmas Day was a Thursday, and it was an unusually warm December.
 Bury and Norwich Post Wednesday December 24, 1806
 The retailers were prepared for the season, and the advertisements were tempting:
Morning Chronicle - Friday 19 December 1806
Stamford Mercury - Friday 19 December 1806
The festivities of the season were well described by the newspapers:
Oxford Journal - Saturday 18 January 1806
Bury and Norwich Post - Wednesday 31 December 1806
from Christmas: Its Origin and Associations, by William Francis Dawson
There were sad occurrences as well, in the Christmas season. It never seems quite right to me that sadness or evil should occur at that joyous time, but life of course goes on with its good and bad events.

Hereford Journal - Wednesday 31 December 1806
Norfolk Chronicle - Saturday 27 December 1806
After Christmas, New Year's loomed large, and this advertisement below offered a lottery 'share' as gift and, as we are still lottery lovers, the emotions it engenders are ones we understand very well.
Morning Advertiser - Monday 29 December 1806
 But parties, then as now, were the main focus of New Year celebrations, and 1806 was no different:

Evening Mail - Friday 03 January 1806
Finally I leave you with a delightful contemporary imagining of a Regency Christmas.
Mrs. Hurst's Christmas by Pauline Baynes  1996
If you repost this picture, please keep the credits with it--the artist deserves the recognition.

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to you all!

'Til next time,



Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Who Doesn't Love a Library?

During the Regency era, circulating libraries in England were popular, both for the lending of books, and the safe sociability of their venues.
Lackington's Circulating Library, London
 Construction of a new library was noteworthy as these clips from the book "Local Records; or Historical register of remarkable events....Northumberland and Durham" indicate:

For a subscription fee, the client could borrow books for a designated period. They could also browse the additional items which the shop offered, everything from stationery to perfumes and patent medicines.
Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser - Thursday 09 February 1815

Gloucester Journal - Monday 21 July 1800
Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette - Saturday 10 January 1807
Nottingham Review and General Advertiser for the Midland Counties - Friday 17 April 1818
In this last item, it can be seen that return of library books was a concern two hundred years ago, as it is today.

La Belle Assemblee, the popular ladies' journal, carried advertisements for circulating libraries:
The Gentleman's Magazine of 1808 carried criticism of such libraries:
Specialty circulating libraries were likewise popular. This one in Bath must have been of great service to many people:
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette - Thursday 11 April 1816
Scotland was not behind in its establishment of lending libraries, in fact that library established by Allan Ramsey in 1725 was one of the earliest of all libraries:
The Scotsman - Saturday 11 November 1820
Circulating libraries have appeared in many Regency novels, including my own. They were an important adjunct to the social life of the Beau Monde and a delightful place for an assignation or a chance meeting.

Having to pay a fee for library services seems odd to many of us, though we do pay for our lending privileges with our taxes. It is interesting to reflect that we share the tradition of borrowing books with our Regency ancestors.

'Til next time,

Monday, October 9, 2017

Magdalen Hospital for the Reception of Penitent Prostitutes

The Magdalen Hospital from The Picture of London for 1829 
I find this a difficult blog to write, as the mere creation and existence of the Magdalene Asylums upsets me. The double standard of the Regency and Victorian eras is illustrated so plainly by the Magdalene hospitals. Women were viewed as weak, aberrant and sinful. They needed warehousing and punishment. Men were just doing what men do, without consequences or reproach; they had no part in the 'downfall' of these women.

Nevertheless the Magdalen asylums were an important aspect of Regency life, and so were the attitudes and hypocrisy that supported them. The 'good people' of the Regency era believed they were doing 'good work'. It is an important thing for those reading and writing about the Regency in England to remember.

Perthshire Courier - Monday 20 November 1809
The first Magdalen institution had been opened in London in 1758.
London Courier and Evening Gazette - Monday 15 September 1817

By the time of the Regency, the Magdalen was well-established in society's charitable planning.
Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser - Thursday 20 July 1809
London Courier and Evening Gazette - Monday 18 April 1814
The one saving grace of the Magdalen hospitals is that they did provide re-training for young women, and a certain amount of protection from the streets for a period of time. This led at least one young woman (under what is surely an assumed name) to publication and sermonising on her fate and future.

Globe - Friday 22 April 1808
From the beginning the Chapel of the Magdalen Hospital provided a platform for preaching and moralizing by notable church figures.
Evening Mail - Wednesday 26 March 1806
Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser - Monday 17 May 1819

Salisbury and Winchester Journal - Monday 01 August 1803
None of the newspaper articles that I have found have mentioned that tours of the facility were given as a means of raising money from the more privileged classes. Apparently this was a popular pastime among the upper classes. But one notable visitor was mentioned in the press.
London Courier and Evening Gazette - Thursday 14 April 1814
Unfortunately for the virtuous and righteous gentlemen of the Magdalen Hospital Committee, human nature kept asserting itself. But of course it was the women who were blamed:
Morning Advertiser - Saturday 06 March 1819
One wonders why there is the discrepancy between the date of the letter and its publication. And I wonder if the problem was ever resolved.

In later Victorian times, the some of the Magdalen hospitals apparently devolved into harsh penitentiary-like establishments. Certainly they did not solve the issue of prostitution. And we have not solved it to this day. Food for thought indeed....

'Til next time,


P. S. I am including the following long newspaper article for those who are interested in pursuing the Magdalen Hospital information further. It is from the Morning Post of Thursday, 16 May 1811.