The Regency Era: A Time of Peculiarity
Ah, the Regency Era!
A time of luxury, elegant balls, and proper manners!
A period of extravagant dresses, hearty dinners…
…and murder scenes that served as entertainment!
Oh, you heard that right!
For all its glamour and obsession with decorum, the Regency Era became the birthplace of a few very strange, and dome downright inexplicable things!
Let’s take a look at a few of them!
A Walk In The Park...Or Not!
Regency society decreed that a lady must not walk or ride along St. James Street in London where a number of the famous men’s clubs such as “White’s”, “Boodle’s” and “Brook’s” were situated. A lady risked her reputation and being impertinently ogled if she dared venture into this male precinct.
St. James was the gentlemen’s preserve. For a woman to simply walk down St. James’ Street was considered a social solecism. Even more so, for a woman of quality to be seen entering a gentleman’s lodgings or area of entertainment, alone, would mean swift and certain ruin.
A celebrity chef is a kitchen chef who has become a celebrity. Today, chefs often become celebrities by presenting cookery advice and demonstrations, usually through the mediums of television and radio, or in printed publications. While television is ultimately the primary way for a chef to become a celebrity, some have achieved this through success in the kitchen, cookbook publications, and achieving awards such as Michelin stars, while others are home cooks that won competitions.
The idea of the “celebrity” chef emerged during the Regency with the most famous being Marie-Antoine Carême who charged astronomical amounts of money for his services, wrote bestselling cookbooks and was employed by both Napoleon and the Prince Regent.
How Many Candles Does It Take To Light A Ballroom?
It cost at least £15 – an average working man’s yearly wage – to light a ballroom with wax candles for one night. Candles were sold in four-hour or six-hour burn lengths, and they dictated the length of the ball. One can imagine the delight of walking into a ballroom and finding the room ablaze with six-hour candles, and the disappointment of finding only the four-hour kind in the candelabra.
I can’t imagine how high the electricity bill would have been…
Pineapples Were Symbols Of Wealth
Pineapples were very exotic and so expensive that hostesses used them as centerpieces on their dinner tables to show their wealth. They were hardly ever eaten as they were too precious and were often passed from hostess to hostess to use as decoration until they rotted.
Reusable Tea Leaves
I do love tea, and I simply can’t imagine re-using the tea leaves, but that is precisely what happened during this era, when tea was an expensive import.
The common scenario went like this – the first use was made by the householder. After they had enjoyed their tea, the housekeeper would collect the leaves and dry them out, whereupon she would enjoy the second steeping of the leaves. She may then pass them onto some lucky individual among the members of staff who had fallen into her favor, blessed to enjoy the third use of the tea.
You Could Flash Your Ankles Without Ruining Your Life
It was not scandalous for ladies to show their ankles. In fact, several drawings and engravings of the era show ladies with skirts barely reaching their ankles. Since their dancing slippers were similar to today’s ballerina flats, the ankles were clearly visible. As shoe styles changed from slippers into the boots of the Victorian Era, it also became a sign of modesty to keep one’s ankles covered. Hence, showing ankles was scandalous during the Victorian Era, but not the Regency Era.
The Stale Bread Law
Due to the Napoleonic Wars and subsequent blockages, wheat was hard to come by. This meant that bread, a main staple in the Englishman’s diet, became scarce. In an attempt to prevent a massive shortage, Parliament passed the Stale Bread Act. This outlawed the sale and/or consumption of fresh bread, and only allowed stale bread, or bread baked more than 24 hours ago, to be sold. Apparently stale bread filled bellies faster than fresh bread. Penalties for the offense were severe, but as you can imagine, it was very hard to enforce due to the poverty rates. The government repealed it about a year later, but the shortage persisted until after the war ended.
Romantic Dinners…Not So Much!
Austen wrote that "to be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love", and country balls were seen as an excellent way for Regency women to hook a husband. The food on offer was "fancy" finger food that could be eaten without too much mess. Like…
…chicken stuffed with hogs' tongues.
And While We’re On The Matter Of Romance…
The upper classes liked to swan around at balls, but rural communities had more practical methods of helping people find a match. If a girl's parents approved of a boy, he'd be invited to stay the night in her bed. To prevent premarital hanky-panky, they'd be sewn into a bag with a seam down the middle to keep them on their own side.
Ah, what a time to be alive! 😉
Written by Emma Linfield