Most people assume that ice didn’t exist in summers during the Regency, but the wealthy did have access to it. Ice houses were big, deep wells where ice harvested from nearby frozen lakes (or sometimes ordered and brought in from the Arctic) was kept through the year. A well-built ice house could keep ice for as long as 18 months, which is pretty amazing. That’s how the famous Gunther’s in London managed to provide ice cream throughout the summers.
There’s a scene in The Bachelor where Joshua, Gwyn, and Gwyn’s mother Lydia eat ice cream at Gunter’s. The wealthy did actually eat ice cream in summer during our period, using ice either shipped in from Norway or cut and placed in their own ice houses. Gunter’s was only the most famous purveyor of ices and ice creams. But the flavors were unusual by our standards. Muscadine ice was a lemon water or white currant ice scented with elderflowers. Flowers were popular flavors—lavender, bergamot, jasmine, and orange flower, for example—but there were also burnt filbert, rye bread, parmesan cheese, and tea flavors! One of these days I’m going to try my hand at some Regency ice cream. But I’ll skip the rye bread flavor!
The English in our period were quite fond of seafood. My period cookbooks have recipes for such things as smoked fish soup, mackerel pie, fried anchovies, collared eel, and even boiled crayfish (yes, they have crayfish in England). You don’t find recipes for periwinkles and whelks because they were common food for the common people. But they’re mentioned in the famous cookbook by Mrs. Beeton (1861), where she has a table of how much seafood of every type was sold that year in London. Apparently, Londoners ate 4 million whelks (compared to half a million crabs and a million lobsters) and an astonishing 304 million periwinkles!
Turtle soup was common on menus in England going back to before the Regency. It had to always be included as a dish for the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London, and was so popular (and so expensive) that the English even developed Mock Turtle Soup for those who couldn’t afford turtle meat. Mock turtle soup was traditionally made with a calf’s head, so if the idea of eating turtle makes you gag, you might like the mock version even less. Personally, having eaten plenty of it in New Orleans, I enjoy the real thing.
We tend to think of comics as modern, but the very first comics were humorous or satirical prints done by well-known artists like William Hogarth, James Gillray, and the Cruikshank brothers. The one I’ve included is of George IV (who was Prinny during our period). The caricaturists satirized him shamelessly, especially once he grew in girth. They were the first political cartoonists, but they didn’t limit themselves to political issues. Some of them just liked to poke fun at the rich and aristocratic. If you have time, check out their works online. Some of them were quite racy and amusing!
There was no photography in the Regency, so the only way you could capture your family’s images for all eternity was to have their portraits painted or their busts made. I was particularly moved by the bust of a young man commissioned by his family after his tragic death in his teens. They had no image of him to work from, so the artist did a likeness based on his siblings’ features and the descriptions of the family. Can you imagine having to endure your grief for a loved one without even being able to look at a picture of him? It really brought home to me how we take photographs for granted.
A prominent part of Hart’s story next July is his heroine’s love of hats and the feathers that adorn them. Lady Anne, who had a bit part in The Study of Seduction and wore outrageous hats, is his heroine, and he even gives her a peacock feather. Feathers were an important part of fashion in that period. Any young lady presented at court for her society debut was required to wear one or more towering plumes. Because of the expense, wearing a large ostrich plume showed that you were wealthy. But feathers could be found anywhere and incorporated into the design of hats, capes, reticules, etc. There were even professional feather-sellers called plumassiers, who ply their trade even today. So if you’re a lover of feathers, like me, you would be right at home in the Regency.
Even before the Regency, house renovation was becoming quite the thing. Horace Walpole took a nondescript cottage and redid it from the ground up to make it into the Gothic Revival villa Strawberry Hill. Some time after him, the first Duke of Northumberland renovated Syon House, but couldn’t finish because he ran out of money. You’d never be able to tell to look at it (yes, I’ve visited it; it’s lovely).
After the war ended, Regency ladies particularly enjoyed visiting Paris to check out the latest fashions. It was so common that daily trips were made by steam packet boats and diligences, a sort of omnibus coach where those willing to pay could travel more comfortably in the coach looking out a window than their less fortunate fellow passengers who were outside in the weather. Now we know where the idea of going first class comes from.
We are not the first generation to go touring other places for entertainment. The Lakes were a popular vacation destination for Regency travelers, but so was the Peak District, which lies mostly in Derbyshire. You may remember that when Lizzie expects to go to the Lakes for her vacation with the Gardiners in Pride and Prejudice, they have to go to the Peak District instead, which is how they end up seeing Pemberley (the stand-in for Pemberley’s outside scenes in the 2005 movie adaptation is the famous great house Chatsworth, which is also in the Peak District). Buxton, Derbyshire, was a spa town much like Bath, and there were caverns and other mountain beauties to explore in the district. One of these days I hope to visit it myself.