header('Cache-Control: max-age=259200'); Regency Primer Series Archives – Kristen Koster
Jan 152014
Hyde Park section of "Improved map of London for 1833, from Actual Survey. Engraved by W. Schmollinger, 27 Goswell Terrace"

When talking about the Royal London Parks in the Regency, the first thing to remember the word “park” held different meanings from how we (especially Americans) typically think of them today.

So get those visions of benches, swing sets, picnic tables and those box-shaped grills on metal posts out of your head, because our Regency folks would often say a “park” refers to a large open tract of land that is often used for grazing cattle or a place where deer were hunted. You’ll often see the land surrounding a country manor house referred to as a park as well and the author just means that there is a lot of open land surrounding the place that may or may not be landscaped or fenced off.

London Parks in the Regency Era

Today, we’re going to talk a bit about some of the parks in London that Regency Era heroes and heroines might have visited. And I’m using Regency Era to mean the long Regency, which continues through the reigns of George IV, William IV and ends when Queen Victoria was crowned.
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Jul 032012
Fireworks display at Vauxhall Gardens, 1800.

With fireworks in the night skies this week as both Canada and the US celebrate their birthdays, I got to thinking about Vauxhall Gardens where fireworks were a common entertainment in the Georgian and Regency periods.

During the Regency, the relatively cheap price of admission (about 3 shilling and sixpence during the early 19th century) and a growing middle class drove the popularity of Vauxhall Gardens. You could go and listen to an orchestra play, see the fireworks, and find light refreshment or cold suppers served in one of the boxes or alcoves.

Fireworks display at Vauxhall Gardens, 1800.

Fireworks display at Vauxhall Gardens, 1800.

Like going to the fair today, the cost of such fare was not cheap. In 1817, a small dish of ham, two small chickens cost 11 shillings and dessert of assorted tarts, custards and cheesecakes were another four. Notably, the ham served was pronounced to be “as thin as muslin” or “able to read a newspaper through it”. The Gardens was also known for its arrack punch, made by mixing arrack (an Indian liquor derived from areca nut, a palm seed originating in India from the areca tree), rum and sugar.

One feature of note, especially to writers and readers of fiction in this era, was the practice of chartering boats from Whitehall and Westminster to reach the gardens located in Kennington, on the south bank of the Thames. This was an option for those who could afford it instead of crossing Westminster Bridge, which made the gardens accessible by road after 1750, and provided a way to show off their status.

Vauxhall GardensThe grounds of The Gardens were lush and expansive, decorated with waterfalls, stone and thatched pavilions, and a canal running through with two elegant cast-iron bridges, in the Chinese manner. A sham castle was also prominent and planted with several pieces of cannon, bowling greens, swings, and thatched umbrellas as a shelter from sudden rains and storms.

Another feature often mentioned in Regency Romances are the many paths illuminated by as many as 15,000 colorful glass lanterns hung among the trees. Most famous of these were the Grand Walk, a wide avenue lined with stately elms that was over 900 feet long, and the “Dark Paths”, a collection of less illuminated serpentine walks, which were far more suited to seduction and discreet rendezvous for the romantic leads.

By the Georgian era, The Gardens could accommodate crowds numbering above 60,000 for the jubliee celebration in 1786 with nightly entertainments that began in the month of May. In 1813, a fête was held on June 20th, to celebrate the victory at Vittoria. All sorts of people visited The Gardens ranging from families, to businessmen, to vendors looking to make a profit from visitors, to the cream of society wishing to be seen.

The wide variety of entertainments included acrobatics and tightrope acts, equestrian feats, and balloon ascents, and in 1827, the Battle of Waterloo was re-enacted with 1,000 soldiers participating. But as the 19th century progressed, the gardens fell into disrepair and the crowds and entertainments became less reputable as well and the popularity of the gardens faded and closed in July of 1859.

To learn a bit more about the history from 1660 to the present of these pleasure gardens, Jane Austen’s World has a wonderful blog post, A Visit to Vauxhall Gardens by Tony Grant, that includes a detailed map of Vauxhall dating from 1800.

More information regarding a variety of other Regency-themed topics including other Regency London Landmarks can be found on my Regency Resource page. If you’d like more information on a specific place or topic, please let me know in the comments section below.

Mar 062012
A painting entitled, "Kick-up at the Hazard Table" by Thomas Rowlandson.

If you’ve ever come across the phrase “She was at sixes and sevens” in a historical novel and wondered what it meant, you may be surprised to learn it originated from the game of Hazard and generally is used to mean in a state of chaos or agitation. This popular dicing game has been around since the 14th century and the phrase “Set upon six and seven” first appeared in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and referred to betting one’s entire fortune on a single throw of the dice. We also get the modern meanings of “risk” and “danger” associated with the word “hazard” from this notion as well.

History of The Game of Hazard

A painting entitled, "Kick-up at the Hazard Table" by Thomas Rowlandson.

“Kick-up at the Hazard Table” by Thomas Rowlandson

Hazard is an old English game played with two dice. One of the more popular places to play Hazard in the late 18th and early 19th century was Crockford’s Club in London. The name is commonly thought to be Old French, but likely derived from the Spanish “azar”, which is “an unfortunate card or dice roll”. There’s some speculation the game was allegedly first played by the crusaders laying siege to a castle, called Hazart or Asart, in the 12th century or that the name came from the Arabic word “az-zahr”, meaning “dice” but little evidence can be found in classic Arabic dictionaries. The modern game of Craps evolved from Hazard, which is basically a variation, where throws of 7 or 11 always win.

Despite its complicated rules, Hazard was very popular during the 17th and 18th centuries and well into the 19th where gambling of the nobility was a favorite past time to chase away the boredom and make some extra money.

The Basic Rules of Hazard

In each of the many rounds the caster picks out a number between 5 and 9, inclusive. This is called the “main”, then the caster throws two dice.

If the caster rolls the main numbers, you win, which is called “throws in” or “nicks”. If you roll a 2 or 3 you will lose, or “throws out”.

If the caster rolls a 11 or 12, the result of that throw depends on the “main”:

  • a main of 5 or 9, the caster “throws out” with both an 11 and 12.
  • a main of 6 or 8, the caster “throws out” with an 11 but “nicks” with a 12.
  • a main of 7, the caster “nicks” an 11 but “throws out” with a 12.
  • if the caster doesn’t “nick” or “throw out”, that number is called the “chance”, then you throw the dice again.
  • if the caster rolls “the main” on a “chance” you will lose, unlike when you first threw.
  • if the caster rolls neither of them, they keep throwing the dice until one or other is rolled, either winning with “chance” or losing with the “main”.
19th Century ivory or bone dice and wooden cup.

Ivory or bone dice and wooden cup, 19th c.

As long as the caster keeps winning, he keeps on playing. If the caster loses three times in a row, the dice pass to the player on his left.

Bets on this game are usually between the caster and the bank, or “setter”. The remaining players may act in this role as well.

A nick on the first throw wins the caster an amount equal to his stake or wager. The setter or bank gives odds if the setter throws a “chance”.

You can even hone your skills for free by playing Hazard in a flash game at DeviantArt by Drakonlady.

More information regarding a variety of other Regency-themed topics including how to play Whist can be found on my Regency Resource page. If you’d like more information on a specific place or topic, please let me know in the comments section below.

Feb 282012

Many historical romance novels feature card rooms at balls, clubs or dinner parties and gaming hells where rakes wager over the turn of a card or toss of a dice. Many games that are no longer familiar to us are rattled off: hazard, piquet, faro, and whist. Often, the games chosen have meaning for the characters playing. A man who plays hazard is a great risk taker, where a whist player is a serious strategist and has a good memory for counting cards.

Today, we’re going to take a closer look at the game of whist. One of my projects involves a decisive game of whist, so last summer I decided I needed to learn how to play. Luckily, there’s lots of documentation available on the basic rules and strategies for play as well as some online game venues which allow for free play (link at the end!). So now you can experience the game for yourself and know what they’re talking about the next time you read about it in the context of a Regency romance novel.

How to Play Whist: Image of a playing card from Hall & Sons, early 19th century.

The Jack of Hearts. Early 19th c. playing card from Hall & Sons. Notice the face card has a single head and centered eyes compared to modern cards. The backs also would have been plain white.

History of Whist

“That’s not according to Hoyle!” and “According to Hoyle,…” were popular phrases in my grandparents’ house. Edmond Hoyle was considered quite the expert on cards and other games in the 18th century. He wrote many pamphlets or treatises on various games such as Whist, Quadrille, Piquet, Backgammon as well as a books on probability theory and chess. In 1748, his pamphlets were collected and sold under the title of Mr. Hoyle’s Treatises of Whist, Quadrille, Piquet, Chess and Back-Gammon.

The rules of whist as published in A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist in 1742 were considered authoritative until 1864, when they were supplanted by John Loraine Baldwin’s new rules which were adopted by the Arlington and Portland clubs.

Whist remained popular through the late 19th century and acquired a rigid set of rules, etiquette and techniques that required a large amount of study to become a successful player. In the early 20th century, Bridge replaced Whist in popularity, especially in the United States, although Whist is still played in Britain at local tournaments called “Whist Drives”.

How to Play Whist


What we think of now as a standard 52-card deck or during the Regency what was known as a French deck, is used. Cards are ranked in order from highest to lowest: Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, down to the deuce (or two).

Four players form two pairs and the partners sit opposite each other at the table. Pairs may be chosen by drawing cards: two highest against the two lowest. Players may not comment on the cards they are dealt in any way or signal their partners.

Shuffling & Dealing

Typically, two decks of cards are used to allow the dealer’s partner to shuffle one deck to have it ready for the dealer of the next hand while the dealer deals. Cards are shuffled by the player to the left of the dealer and cut by the player on his right.

All cards are dealt out face down until each player has 13 cards in their hand. The last card to be dealt, belonging to the dealer, is placed face up to indicate the trump suit. This card remains face up until the dealer plays the first “trick”. After all thirteen tricks are played, the dealer advances clockwise.

Taking Tricks

The first trick is lead by the player on the dealer’s left. He may play any card in his hand. Play continues clockwise with players following the leading suit if they if have any in their hand. If a player doesn’t possess cards in the suit lead in the trick, they may either discard any card or trump by playing a card of the trump suit. A trick is won by the highest card in the lead suit, unless a trump card was played. If multiple trumps were played the highest takes the trick.

The winner of the trick collects the 4 cards played and places them face down in a stack near him. He then leads the next trick. Only cards from the previous trick may be reviewed before the lead card of the next is played, otherwise players are expected to remember what has been played. Play continues until all 13 tricks are played and then the score is recorded.

How to Play Whist: A whist counter dating from 1820.

A whist counter dating from around 1820.

Scoring Hands & Determining the Winners

Once all 13 tricks have been played, the pair collecting the most tricks scores 1 point for each trick taken in excess of six (called ‘making book’). A game is over when a team reaches 5 points. Variations include playing to 7 or 9 points.

It was often popular to play a “rubber of whist” which meant that the winners were determined by the best of three games.

Whist Counters or Markers

How to Play Whist: Whist Tokens - with a storage tin.

Whist tokens and storage tin. Four tokens could be used to score 9 point games.

Tokens or chips were originally used to record the score, but later in the 19th century dial counters and hinged pegs (or turnups) that snapped up to keep track of the score. Cheaper versions included cardboard and leather dial types and the more elaborate more expensive varieties might include exotic woods, ivory, mother of pearl. Two of the well-known producers of whist counters or whist markerswere Goodall & Sons and De La Rue.

Basic Whist Glossary

The suit of the last card dealt in a hand that beats all others regardless of rank, cards within the trump suit rank normally against each other.
The first card played in a trick.
The 4 cards played by each participant
13 tricks, once through the deck.
Small Slam
When 12 of thirteen tricks are taken by one team.
Grand Slam
When all 13 tricks are taken by one team.
The first 6 tricks taken by a pair. Points for additional tricks taken are scored only after they ‘make book’.
Played to an agreed upon point total, usually 5, 7 or 9.
The winning pair is the best of three games.

You can even hone your skills for free by playing Whist Online at Games.com. If you’re just learning, I recommend choosing single player mode, which partners you with a computer player against two other computer controlled players. To view a wide variety of different styles of whist markers, visit Laurent Gimet’s collection at The Whist Markers Museum.

More information regarding a variety of other Regency-themed topics including how to play Hazard can be found on my Regency Resource page. If you’d like more information on a specific place or topic, please let me know in the comments section below.

A Regency Round-Up on Valentine’s Day

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Feb 142012

Regency Valentine: Oldest mailed Valentine's card from 1790, now at British Postal Museum.

This handmade puzzle card is from 1790, now kept at the British Postal Museum, is not for sale. Text on face of the card reads:
“My dear the Heart which you behold,
Will break when you the same unfold,
Even so my heart with lovesick pain,
Sure wounded is and breaks in twain.”

There isn’t a lot of information available regarding how Valentine’s Day was celebrated in the early 19th Century. Most Regency Valentine’s cards (mostly handmade love letters) were considered ephemera and not held onto except in rare circumstances. You’ll notice I didn’t title this post as a primer, because I didn’t feel I could speak on the topic with much authority. I could have gone with the language of flowers for today’s topic, but many others have done that as well, and I didn’t feel it was limited to Valentine’s Day as it is now.

The commercialization of Valentine’s Day, as well as Christmas, can be laid at the feet of the Victorians. Industrialization was in full-swing and mass production of cards and trinkets was easier and cheaper than ever before. The Regency swains would have had to be much more resourceful, personal and creative to present their sweethearts with something memorable. Lucky, ladies! However, in the early 19th century, it wasn’t just the upper class that was sending notes and tokens of love and affection to their sweethearts, but something that was done across all classes.

Regency Valentine: Oldest printed Valentine's Day Card from 1797.

The oldest “printed” card was published in January 1797 by John Fairburn of 146, Minories, London. The text around the edge reads:
"Since on this ever Happy day,
All Nature’s full of Love and Play
Yet harmless still if my design,
‘Tis but to be your Valentine."

Instead of distilling many similar posts down today, I’m going to link you directly to the sources I would have used in penning today’s primer.

Ruth Axtell’s Reflections on Valentine’s Day at the Christian Regency blog

Bronwen Evans’ A Regency Valentine’s Day on her blog

Elaine Golden’s Getting Ready for Valentine’s Day? post at GoodReads

Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee’s Valentine’s Day! post at Risky Regencies

Loretta Chases’ Valentine’s Day in the early 19th century at Two Nerdy History Girls

Susan Holloway Scott’s post A Father Warns Against the “Depravity” of Valentines at Two Nerdy History Girls

Wishing you a happy Valentine’s Day!

Jan 242012
The Frost Fair, London 1814.

In the last entry in the Regency Primer Series we learned three ways to tie a Regency era cravat. This week, we’re going back in time to the last last frost fair. The last time the River Thames was frozen solid and the ships stood still and Londoners organized an impromptu festival in the middle of the river was in 1814.

The Little Ice Age

The Last Frost Fair: Painting of London Bridge Frost Fair in 1814.

London Bridge Frost Fair 1814

Between 1408 and 1814, the Thames River froze over 26 times in great solid sheets of ice. During this period, British winters were harsher and the river was wider and slower moving than it is today. This period was referred to as “The Little Ice Age” as a description of the severe winter weather characterized it.

The Last Frost Fair: Painting of the frozen Thames River off Three Cranes Wharf in 1814.

View of the Frozen Thames River off Three Cranes Wharf in 1814.

The Frost Fair of 1814 began on February 1st, lasted for four days. No one knew it  was to become the last Frost Fair in London, but the previous time the Thames had frozen over was in 1795. The city was ready to brave the ice and celebrate with a sprawling festival in the middle of the river.

John Ashton described the frolickers of the Frost Fair in his book, Social England under the Regency. He mentions that they drank in tents “with females,” played skittles, and danced reels. He also includes depictions of more sedate coffee-drinking and gaming booths. Printing presses were set up on the ice to print souvenir cards. The Annual Register noted that the frivolity continued until the ice began to break up forcing people scrambled for safety, not all successfully.

Old London Bridge Demolished

The Last Frost Fair: The Frost Fair, 1814 LondonIn addition to the climate growing milder, Old London Bridge was demolished in the 1830s and the new bridge supported wider arches, allowing the tide to flow more quickly and freely past. Combined with the embanking of the river that occurred during the 19th Century, this sped up the current and prevented the Thames from fully freezing over again.

The Last Frost Fair: The Frost Fair, London 1814.

The Frost Fair of 1814, by Luke Clenell.

“Gambols on the river Thames, Feby. 1814” by the famous caricaturist, George Cruikshank, shows a frost fair in the region of Blackfriars Bridge. As was his custom, no one was safe from ridicule and mockery. To the right in the foreground is a waterman with skittles and behind him a man’s wooden leg has caught in the ice. To the right is a printing press and in the center a woman has slipped on the ice next to a fiddler playing music as a couple dances.
The Last Frost Fair: Gambols on the River Thames, Feby. 1814 by George Cruikshank

Never Say Never

In true British fashion, in 2003 there was a revival of sorts of the spirit of the Frost Fairs of old. In Bankside, the one-day festival quickly grew to an event that spanned two weekends. The Bankside Winter Festival was modeled after the Christmas markets and featured many other events, including a lantern parade. Unfortunately, it looks as if 2008 was perhaps the last time it was held. I’d love to be proven wrong! It sounds like an amazing time.

More information regarding a variety of other Regency-themed topics can be found on my Regency Resource page. If you’d like more information on a specific place or topic, please let me know in the comments section below.

Jan 102012
A Regency Cravat tied with a Barrel Knot.

The last entry in the Regency Primer Series wrapped up our look at Twelfth Night and Wassailing which signaled the end of Christmastide during the Regency Era. This week, we’re going to take a closer look at some ways to tie a cravat. Three knots in which a gentlemen (or his gentleman’s gentleman or valet) could tie his cravat were The Mail Coach, The Napoleon, and The Barrel Knot.

The art of tying a cravat is certainly a lost one. Just look at how many men need help tying a regular necktie in a half-Windsor knot, which is the modern, simplified version of the fancy cravat worn by the dandies as they sought to out peacock each other in all matters sartorial. I must say, in looking for images to use with this post, guys, you can’t go wrong with a cravat if you want to look dashing and elegant while sweeping a girl off her feet. Don’t scoff when you’re forced to wear one for a wedding. Learn to tie a cravat, then wear it with style and panache! But be advised, you may end up in the parson’s mousetrap next!

Ways to Tie a Cravat: A very nice example of a Mail Coach Knot in a Regency Cravat.

A very nice example of a Mail Coach Knot.

How to Tie A Cravat with the Mail Coach Knot

Named for the mail coach drivers who wore them as part of their uniform, this knot is simple enough to require no assistance in type, yet quite distinguished looking. No one would want to hold up the dashing fellow sporting one of these!

1. Hold one end of the cloth in your right hand and the other in your left so the cloth is stretched out.

2. Find the midpoint of the cloth. Place the midpoint of the cloth at the front of your neck. Wrap the right side of the cloth behind your neck so the right end of the cloth comes out on the left side of your neck, draping over your collarbone.

3. Wrap the left side of the cloth around the back side of your neck so that the end comes out on the front right side. Continue crisscrossing your cloth, layering the cravat so that it covers your entire neck. Leave at least a foot of slack on the ends of the cloth for tying.

4. Bring the ends of the cloth to the front. Place the left piece of cloth over the right piece of cloth to create an “X”. Pull the end of the top layer of cloth through the hole made at the top of the “X”.

5. Tighten the knot at the top of your neck. Arrange the top layer of cloth so that it covers the bottom layer and hides the knot. Spread the top layer of cloth so that it lies flat against your chest.

How to Tie A Cravat with the Napoleon “Knot”

This knot is not well documented except in Neckclothitania, published in 1818. It is very casual in demeanor, as it is little more than a simple crossing of the ends of the cravat. A cavalier hero would certainly be able to pull this one off. His heroine would require little assistance in pulling it off as well.

1. Stretch your cloth in front of you with one end in each hand to find the midpoint.

2. Put the midpoint of the cloth on the back of your neck. Bring the ends of the cloth to the front.

3. Cross the ends of the cloth around your neck so that they drape over your shoulder or chest in an “X”.

4. Add a safety pin or brooch to the top of the ends to keep them in place or drape the top layer of cloth over the opposite shoulder.

Ways to Tie a Cravat: A Regency Cravat tied with a Barrel Knot.

The Barrel Knot.

How to Tie A Cravat with a Barrel Knot

One of the more “old fashioned” styles you see cravats worn in at weddings. Neat and tidy, yet not overblown or ostentatious.

1. Place the length of cravat cloth around your collar so the right side is a bit longer than the left.

2. Create a loose loop with the cloth, right side over the left, and pinch the ends of the loop together in an “X” , leaving two loose ends free.

3. Wrap the right side over once more, creating a loop around the “X”.

4. Pull the loose left side end through the loop you have just made and pull as tightly as desired.

5. Use your fingers to straighten the knot and cravat and position it against your shirt.

You can find more information on the Necklothitania with descriptions of how to tie these styles at this site and links to more information about Regency fashion and life on my Regency Resources page. If you’d like more information on a specific place or topic, please let me know in the comments section below.

Jan 032012
Image of wassailing

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Conventionally on the Western Christian calendar, the twelve days begin the day after Christmas, on Boxing Day. When the tradition began, days were counted from sundown to sundown. So Christmas evening is First Night.

This means that last night, January 5th, is what has been known as Twelfth Night since the Middle Ages. The Twelfth Day of Christmas falls on January 6th and is celebrated as the Feast of the Epiphany to commemorate the arrival of the three wise men in Bethlehem.

The wise men, who came to be known as the Three Kings – Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar – who brought the Christ child gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh. These gifts were traditional Epiphany gifts for centuries. Kings and queens became traditional representatives of Twelfth Night. And to this day, in predominantly Catholic cultures, Christmas presents are not given out until January 6th — something that would not have happened in England during the Regency.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Twelfth Night parties, or revels, were popular and featured games, charades, drinking punch or wassail and eating. A special Twelfth Cake, the forerunner of today’s Christmas cake, was the centerpiece of the party, and a slice distributed to all members of the household. By tradition, both a dried bean and a dried pea were baked into the cake.

The man receiving the slice with the bean was named King for the night; the pea’s presence identified the Queen. For the rest of the evening, they ruled supreme. Even if they were normally servants, their temporarily exalted position was recognized by all, including their masters.

By the early 19th century, the cakes had become very elaborate creations with sugar frosting, gilded paper trimmings, and sometimes decorated with delicate plaster of Paris or sugar paste figures, but no longer contained the dried beans and peas.

During the Regency period, the guests at the revels were expected to pick a slip of paper and maintain the role of the character written upon it for the evening. Besides the King and Queen, a variety of characters, often pulled from popular literature and plays, were put into the hat. Enterprising stationers even sold sets of characters for Twelfth Night celebrations.

One superstitious tradition that signaled the end of Christmastide was that by the End of Epiphany, all the decorations would be taken down and the greenery burned lest the household invite bad luck for the coming year.

Here We Come A-Wassailing



Many people went visiting or wassailing on Twelfth Night, a practice with roots in the Middle Ages’ custom of a reciprocal exchange between the feudal lord and their serfs. This was to distinguish this form of recipient initiated charity from begging as emphasized in the song, “Here We Come A-Wassailing”:

“we are not daily beggars that beg from door to door but we are friendly neighbours whom you have seen before.”

The lord would provide food and drink to the serfs for their blessing and goodwill, as communicated by the song. Wassailing is also the context alluded to in the English carol “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”, which dates to sixteenth century England, which mentions the English tradition where wealthy community members hand out Christmas treats, like “figgy puddings” to carolers. The not leaving “until we get some” line refers to the rowdy groups of young men who demanded free food and drink more along the lines of extreme trick-or-treating, where refusal was met with a curse instead of a blessing and frequently included vandalism.

In the Western counties of England (notably in Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire) where cider is produced, wassailing also refers to drinking (and singing) to the health of trees in the hopes of waking the trees and scaring off the evil spirits to ensure a good harvest the next Autumn.

Orchard wassailing ceremonies vary from village to village but share common elements. A wassail King and Queen lead the song and/or a processional tune to be played/sung from one orchard to the next, the wassail Queen is then lifted into the tree where she places toast soaked in Wassail from the Clayen Cup as a gift to the tree spirits (showing the fruits created the previous year). Then an incantation is usually recited such as

Here’s to thee, old apple tree,
That blooms well, bears well.
Hats full, caps full,
Three bushel bags full,
An’ all under one tree.
Hurrah! Hurrah!

Then the assembled crowd sings, shouts, bangs drums and pots & pans and generally make a terrible racket until the gunmen give a great final volley through the branches to make sure the bad spirits are chased away and then they’re off to the next orchard.

This ancient English tradition is still practiced today. The West Country is the most famous and largest cider producing region of the country and two of the most important wassails are held annually in Carhampton (Somerset) and Whimple (Devon), both on 17 January (old Twelfth Night before the calendar shifted).

According to several diaries from the 1800s revealed that inhabitants of Somerset practised the old Wassailing Ceremony, singing the following lyrics after drinking the cider until they were “merry and gay”:

“Apple tree, apple tree, we all come to wassail thee,
Bear this year and next year to bloom and to blow,
Hat fulls, cap fulls, three cornered sack fills,
Hip, Hip, Hip, hurrah, Holler biys, holler hurrah.”

Do the winter holidays hold special traditions for you and your family? Have you ever participated in traditions with friends or extended family from another religion or country that you’ve come to incorporate into your own celebrations?

More information regarding a variety of other Regency-themed topics can be found on my Regency Resource page. If you’d like more information on a specific place or topic, please let me know in the comments section below.

Dec 272011
A 19th Century Christmas Tree


Christmastide (the Christmas season from Christmas Eve or First Night through Twelfth Night and Epiphany) during the Regency Era seems to be more easily defined by the differences in traditions and what they didn’t have or do at the time rather than the specifics of what they did or didn’t. A quick survey of what’s written up on the web reveals a few highlights that people seem to focus and mostly agree upon.

Some now familiar traditions that were not observed during the Regency include, Santa Claus (Victorian), elaborate kissing balls (although simple mistletoe boughs were popular), and stockings. Queen Charlotte, introduced the German idea of an evergreen being brought indoors and decorated to celebrate the season, but many resisted as it was thought to bring bad luck to bring greenery inside before Christmas Eve and the idea was not made popular until Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s time.

Christmastide: A 19th Century Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree and accompanying pile of presents was introduced in England by Queen Charlotte, but was not popularised until Queen Victoria's reign.

Also, during the Regency, many household hearths, especially in the city, would not have had the capacity to hold traditional Yule logs that could burn the entire twelve days, although the custom of a Christmas fire remained popular. Christmas candles, lit on Christmas Eve and expected to burn through Christmas Day were much more common during this period.

Christmas Day was a serious religious celebration with the family attending their local parish church in the morning and coming home for the Christmas Feast. The next day has come to be known as Boxing Day as old clothing and surplus items were boxed up and handed out to the servants and tradesmen who made the rounds that day.

In addition to schoolboys returning home for the holidays, visiting family or neighbors during this season was commonplace and people gave little regard to the weather as they knew they could find welcome and shelter even with strangers.

New Year’s

Christmastide: A pen & ink drawing of Father Time and Baby New Year.Celebrating New Year’s Day also held superstitions as a central part of the festivities. The family or gathering would sit around in a circle before midnight and when the clock began to strike the hour, the head of the family would go to the door and open it, “ushering out the old, and bringing in the new”. The more superstitious would cleanse the house of ashes, rags, scraps and anything perishable so that nothing was carried over from one year to the next, in order to preserve their good luck and banish any poor luck.

One thing that seems to be consistent is the emergence of the New Year’s Eve tradition of singing Old Lang Syne, which literally translates to “old long since” or colloquially to “days gone by”. After a long tradition of being sung during the Scottish celebration of Hogamany on New Year’s Eve, the Scottish poet, Robert Burns, collected and wrote down the lyrics in 1788 and it was first published in 1796. It quickly spread to much of the English-speaking world and is now sung at the stroke of midnight instead of when the guests leave the party.

Next week we’ll take a look at Twelfth Night and why it falls on January 5th, not December 25th as the marketing people have recently been pushing. Christmastide reform is not a new notion as we’ve seen with the increased nostalgic traditions that were added during the Victorian Era.

Wishing everyone a happy and prosperous New Year and glad to be counting so many of you among those “old acquaintances”!

Do the winter holidays hold special traditions for you and your family? Have you ever participated in traditions from with friends or extended family from another religion or country that you’ve come to incorporate into your own celebrations?

More information regarding a variety of other Regency-themed topics can be found on my Regency Resource page. If you’d like more information on a specific place or topic, please let me know in the comments section below.

Dec 202011

White Poinsettias Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and that your holiday season is merry and bright!

I’m going to be visiting with family for the next couple of weeks, and as you see today’s Regency Primer post wasn’t done in time and I might not get one next week, but they will definitely be back on January 3rd, just in time for Twelfth Night. I need to get ahead on those! Ahh, 2012 a year for a clean slate and a fresh start to building better habits.

I will still be doing the Friday “How I Write” posts, so the blog won’t be completely dark. And I have some special things in the works for the blog in the next year. So, exciting.

Thank you for being part of the conversation here! You guys always make me smile.