Before I wind up these posts from Colonial Williamsburg, I did want to mention the weather. While much of the country was suffering the effects of Winter Storm Freyr, Williamsburg's milder climate meant that the precipitation on the day after Christmas was heavy rain, not snow. But the temperatures did drop after that, and the addition of a blustery wind made for true winter weather, Virginia-style.
So how to dress for an 18th c. winter day? Georgian Virginians could have summed up their winter style in the same single word that their modern contemporaries do: layers. Quilted wool petticoats and waistcoats, thick stockings, scarves, mittens, caps, and mitts under heavy woolen cloaks were mandatory for those of every class who ventured out-of-doors, as interpreters Courtney Colligan and Amanda Davis demonstrate, right.
Yet even in a colonial city far from London, there were ladies who were as concerned about being fashionable as keeping warm. Although I didn't see our friends from the Margaret Hunter millinery shop outside during this visit, I found the photograph from an earlier Christmas season, left, of mantua-maker's apprentice Sarah Woodyard, ready to run an errand for her mistress. An 18th c. apprentice was a walking advertisement for her shop's wares, and Sarah's cloak is wool-lined silk, with a matching muff to keep her hands warm. (For more about her clothes, see the earlier post.)
A tailor's apprentice would also be expected to make a stylish figure when he left his shop. Michael McCarty, right, has been send out on his master's business, leather case in hand. He's chosen an uncocked, flat-brimmed hat and a neat, dark red woolen suit (waistcoat, breeches, and jacket.) His great coat of grey wool beaver may look familiar; we've seen it here before, worn by tailor Mark Hutter. (See here for more about the great coat.)
Today's post will be something of a "wreath round-up", with a few of my favorites of this year's crop. The restrictions for the decorations in Colonial Williamsburg are succinct: no plastic or glitter, nothing electric, nothing modern (sorry, Santa and Snoopy.) Materials must be natural, with an emphasis on things native to Virginia and plenty of imagination. As always, please click on the images to enlarge them to see the details.
The large wreath hung on the railing, above, features one of the favorite wreath-making fruits - apples - but in three ways. Among the pine cones and greenery are not only small lady apples, but also pineapples and large green hedge-apples (which, at least in my part of Pennsylvania, are also inelegantly called monkey-brains by middle school kids.)
The house, aboveleft, earns the title of the Apple House during the holiday season, because apples are always placed in the convenient little niches scattered through the brickwork. This year the house's decor also includes antique children's toys, with a wooden sled over the door and old-fashioned wooden tops hanging from the twin wreathes and over the door.
I wondered if the house with the colorful vertical garland, right, is owned by a cook or gourmet. Certainly all the foodstuffs hung in a row would please the palate as well as the eye, including sliced, dried oranges, pomegranates, artichokes, and cinnamon sticks.
Everyone does have their favorites, however, and it looks as if one of Colonial Williamsburg's favorite residents does, too, lower left. Sitting beneath the wreath of the Post Office is Shilling the head coachman-interpreter's cat, who is perhaps longing for a wreath decorated with catnip mice - all natural and indigenous, of course.
Photographs copyright 2012 by Susan Holloway Scott.
No matter the season, my favorite time in Colonial Williamsburg is always early in the morning, when Duke of Gloucester Street, above, belongs more firmly to the past. Here, too, you can see how gracefully the holiday decorations blend in with the architecture. I know they're not historically accurate (as I explained yesterday) to 1775, but the effect is still charming.
I especially like the decorations on the historic trade shops that imaginatively incorporate aspects of each trade into the design. The wreath, aboveleft, hangs beside the doorway of the Wig & Peruke-Maker's Shop. Woven into the boxwood greenery are not only pine cones and dried flowers, but also white 18th c. clay hair curlers, switches of false hair, and dainty strands of pearl beads that might have ornamented a stylish lady's hair.
The tools and bench visible through the window of the Joiner's Shop, right, indicate the fine woodworking done within. The trade also inspired the holiday decor over the window, a festive swag fashioned of branches and curls of hardwood created by the joiner's box plane.
One of our favorite trade shops in Williamsburg is the Margaret Hunter millinery shop, and each year I look forward to seeing how their wreath highlights the fashionable hats, fans, and gowns offered within the shop. (Here's the wreath from last year as an example.) Alas, this year I missed out. While the 2012 wreath was indeed lovely – here it is on the shop's Facebook page – apparently some Scrooge of a thief stole it one night earlier in December. Bah, humbug!
But instead of ending on that sour note, here's the tableau, lower left, that's on display inside the shop every holiday season. It's an 18th c. milliner's shop in miniature, complete with hoops to caps to a gentleman's cocked hat. One doll "baby" tends the counter, while another is a mantua-maker, draping a new gown on a customer.
The beautiful holiday wreathes and other decorations are much of what makes Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg so popular. There are walking tours to view the decorated houses, books and videos showing how to replicate the "look" at home, and even a contest to select the best of each year, with categories to separate the professional decorators from ordinary homeowners.
The catch is, however, that none of the lavish wreaths and pineapples are historically accurate to 1775. No sane 18th c. homeowner would dream of sticking out-of-season fresh fruit up on his or her front door to be eaten by squirrels and birds; a bit of greenery would have been the extent of holiday decorating.
The Della Robbia-inspired wreaths are products of the 1930s, when Colonial Williamsburg was still trying to balance its evolving mission as a museum devoted to 18th c. Virginia with the 20th c. Virginians who happened to be living in the town. The decorations based on natural greenery and colorful fruits were a compromise to ward off plastic Santas and multi-colored lights, and over time the 1930s-style decor has become accepted as traditional. Which, I suppose, it is –– just not traditional to the 18th c.
Still, the wreaths are beautiful, and the use of ingredients native to Virginia is imaginative and inspiring. I'll be posting more over the next few days.
It's Christmas Week, and once again I'm fortunate to be spending it in Colonial Williamsburg, VA. I'll be sharing quick posts with plenty of pictures of the gorgeous seasonal wreaths and other decorations. No white Christmas here - just rain - but all is decked out for a warm welcome, from the grand gates to the Governor's Palace, above, to the more modest windows of shops and houses, left.
For the next several days, the Two Nerdy History Girls will be taking a break from blogging to attend to holiday shopping, baking, wrapping, family time and—since we have manuscripts to finish—writing furiously amongst and between.
We won't be completely blank, though. You can look for holiday scenes from Colonial Williamsburg, coming soon.
We expect to return to our regularly scheduled blogging right after Christmas.
Meanwhile, we wish you a wonderful holiday season!
Breakfast Links are served! As the holidays approach, many of this week's links have a decidedly festive flavor, and who'll argue with that? Please enjoy our weekly collection of favorite links to other web sites and blogs, photographs, and articles gathered for you from around the Twitterverse.
• And the lady wore fur: 18th c. ladies keeping fashionably warm.
• How to survive the plague, 1603: avoid sex, drink wine, & put a clove in your mouth when going out.
• "Sensitive to the finest gradations in kittenly meditation & motion": animal painter Horatio Henry Couldery (1832-1918).
• The cover of the first edition of the classic cookbook Joy of Cooking was exotic & beautiful.
• Covert force: hundreds of women fought in the Civil War disguised as men.
• Meet the Duke of Devonshire, aka the duke of puppies.
• For your holiday baking: Georgian Sugar Cakes - 18th c. recipe, plus a modern version.
• Truth or myth? Early American women spun & wove their own fabric.
• Arms and the maiden: the symbols of Joan of Arc.
• Christmas Cake & the Little Mouse: excerpt from "Aunt Affable's New Book for Children", London, 1844.
• Pomanders, elegant & sweet-smelling personal jewels used from the 13th-17th c. to protect against disease.
• Ghosts from the past meld with the present: a walk through time in Spitalfields.
• A soldier's story of World War I in words and pictures.
• Scottish for Christmas: America's use of tartan for the holidays.
• Green 1890s purse & dress embellished with copper, green & silver beads & sequins.
• "Dickens, Scrooge, and the Victorian Poor", an outstanding exhibition site to explore.
• Skeletons from the Mutter Museum show the deformed ribcage of a 19th c. woman who wore corsets vs. a normal ribcage.
• A NYC retailer in 1906 solves the problem of low-paid working girls: marriage.
• Did the ancient Romans invent Christmas?
• Historical hair: the auction market for hair from long-dead famous heads.
• Eighty-five years of amazing Rockettes costumes.
• Not for the squeamish: long before the FDA, there were fecal medicines.
• Fancy a different dessert? Recipes for quaking pudding, 17th c. to present.
• A preacher & a policeman debate whether the use of bicycles cause ladies to develop loose morals, 1899.
• An antiquarian goes wine tasting in 1698.
• The height of 15th c. fashion: the wardrobe of Margaret of Denmark, Queen of Scotland.
• Georgian inventor Sarah Guppy: better at inventing things than choosing a husband.
• The horrifying balloon ride of death, 1875.
• How the American Civil War helped sentimentalize Christmas.
• Fantastic food photos recreate a 16th c. supper with Shakespeare.
• Debunking another history myth: why Americans call porcelain dinnerware "china."
• Christmas stocking tradition comes from recently laundered ladies' stockings that were hung to dry. Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter at @2nerdyhistorygirls for daily updates!
In modern holiday celebrations, mistletoe has become something of a kitsch-y joke, the inevitable prop for I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus humor.
But in the 1790s, when the print, left, was published, mistletoe still had an aura of wickedness, even danger. The ancient Druidic traditions linking mistletoe and fertility had not been forgotten, and kissing beneath the mistletoe was thought to lead to more promiscuity, or even - shudder! - marriage.
Certainly the four merry young couples in this print appear to be enjoying themselves. Some scholarly descriptions refer to this as a dance scene, and perhaps it does show nothing more than a particularly rollicking country dance.
Still, I can't help but think that at any moment some stern-faced, indignant elder is going to appear in the doorway and demand to know what exactly is going on down here. I'm guessing the artist thought that, too, from the caption he added to the bottom: "Whilst Romp loving Miss is haul'd about/With gallantry robust." (The attribution to Milton is incorrect; the line is from a poem by the 18th c. Scottish poet James Thomson.) In any event, there's no doubt that these are romp-loving misses being haul'd about by their robust gallants. No wonder Christmas mistletoe was so popular!
Above: The mistletoe, or, Christmas gambols, by Edward Penny, 1796, London. Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.
Historian Jill Lepore’s lecture on board games at the American Antiquarian Society last June gave me food for thought about the way popular board games reflect society’s values at a given time. But while we got to see slides, you can see the games for yourself, and speculate about the differences between board games then and now.
I was in New York yesterday, and like every other out-of-towner, I had to stop by the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, left. Even on a murky grey day, seeing a magnificent tree like this in the middle of midtown Manhattan really is a holiday wonder. Of course, this being New York (and Fifth Avenue), the tree is meant to impress: seven stories high, decorated with hundreds of lights and ornaments, and crowned with a 550-pound Swarovski crystal star valued at $1.5 million.
But it wasn't always so flamboyant. The first holiday tree on the spot was considerably more modest. In 1931, construction workers put up a 20-ft. tree on their work site and decorated it with improvised garlands and decorations. From these humble beginnings rose not only the grand Christmas tree of today, but also the landmark buildings of Rockefeller Center. Click here for a slide show featuring historic images and facts about the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. Above: Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center, December 10, 2012, by Susan Holloway Scott.
Another in my series on historical occupations. I’ve blogged about ticket porters. They were licensed to carry items. These women, apparently, simply showed up at a regular post, to carry goods hither and yon. It's hard to imagine the level of strength and stamina this job demanded.
It's time for Breakfast Links - this week's collection of our favorite links to other web sites and blogs, photographs, and articles, all gathered for you from the Twitterverse.
• The grand wardrobe of Queen Elizabeth I - a collection of ostentatious hand-me-downs?
• England's Great Storm of 1703 devastates her ships and her oak trees alike.
• The Wheatsheaf Inn, Popham Lane, and Jane Austen; part two here.
• Sir Winston Churchill: politician, man of action; also grower of roses & collector of butterflies.
• Accessory of the Day: Andre Perugia shoes, 1925.
• In 1858, NYC's famed Crystal Palace burned to the ground.
• Stealing Charlie Chaplin: a macabre grave-robbery.
• St Katharine's by the Tower: London's forgotten medieval hospital.
• Bleak House no more: Charles Dicken's home reopens after restoration.
• In honor of the holiday season: shopping & advertising in Georgian Britain.
• It lasted four days and led to the deaths of 4,000: the 1952 Great Smog of London.
• Christmas carols, Regency style.
• Unhappy but politically important: Margaret of Denmark (1456-1486), Queen of Scotland.
• A magic-carpet ride for young lovers in 18th c. India.
• Even royalty finds comfort in needlework: Queen Mary's pillow.
• A magnificent blue corset, c. 1868-1874.
• The secret contents of second-hand books.
• Love advice to a young woman from the Sausalito (CA) News, December 1912.
• Interested in Tudor dentistry? "Here foloweth medycynes for ache in the tethe."
• Bad Santas: a roundup of truly objectionable Christmas advertising.
• Why American parents don't name their daughters Mary anymore.
• Drinking tea was once considered an irresponsible, reckless pursuit for women.
• Meanwhile, George (and Martha) Washington were drinking hot chocolate.
• The wonders of unicorn horns: preventions and cures for poisoning.
• Worn, torn, ripped, and shattered 18th c. shoes.
• This silk flag belonged to the 84th Regiment of Infantry, United States Colored Troops.
• New York's 1916 Children's Courthouse processed 10,000 "imps of Satan" a year.
• How Christmas traditions help to preserve archaic and obsolete language.
• The distinguished pedigree of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle: the truth about medieval hedgehogs. Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter at @2nerdyhistgirls for daily updates!
Anyone who has endured a long journey can sympathize with the young Frenchwoman in this beautiful photogravure. With her eyes closed, she dozes against her luggage, unaware of how her hat's been knocked askew. Where is she going, traveling alone? What – and who – has she left behind? Or is she dreaming of the destination and future before her?
Above: En Wagon, by Gui de la Bretoniére, 1895, Exposition d'Art Photographique. This image is from a wonderful web site, The Art of the Photogravure – well worth exploring! And now for a bit of Shameless Self-Promotion....
My two-sided writing personality is at again! This Saturday I'll once again be signing my historical romances as Isabella Bradford (including my super-new WHEN THE DUKE FOUND LOVE) and my historical novels as Susan Holloway Scott. If you're in the Philadelphia-Delaware area this weekend, I hope you'll stop by and say hello.
Booksigning Event with Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott
The Worcester Art Museum, a jewel of a small museum in Central Massachusetts, has mounted countless intriguing, beautiful, and thought-provoking exhibitions, (I’ve blogged about one here), some garnered from its own collection.
That’s the case with Kennedy to Kent State: Images of a Generation, a show of photographs covering the period we all think of as The Sixties. Many of the images are burned into the national psyche. But even those who’ve lived through the era might be surprised at the show’s emotional impact, which I attribute to a combination of the images, the exhibition design, and the understated narrative. In the middle of the exhibition area you can retreat into little rooms, each of which contains a a bit of television from the time. It’s . . . intense.
Those of you who can’t make the trip to Worcester by 3 February 2013 can get a good sampling of the show from the Boston Globe review embedded below.
While my historical romances (like my latest, When the Duke Found Love) are firmly set in 18th c. London, I'll freely admit that there are aspects of that place and time that don't turn up in my books. Romances are meant to be fine escapist fare where love conquers all with a happy ending, not grim reminders of the darker sides of the past. It's not that I'm squeamish or prudish – remember, I subjected the heroine in my historical novel The French Mistress to mercury-bath treatments for the venereal disease she'd contracted from her royal lover – but there are certain places I'm just not going to take my romance characters.
All of which is why none of my romance heroes will be attending that favorite 18th c. pastime, the cockfight. Today cockfighting is illegal in America, but most Georgian-era males (and more than a few females) would have regarded the fights and the accompanying drinking and betting as a good night's entertainment, equal to watching Monday Night Football with friends.
But the cockfighting spurs like the 18th c. examples, left, show the brutality of the "sport." The natural spurs on the roosters' legs were cut away, and replaced with the exaggerated and more lethal metal spurs. Whether the spurs were made of leather bands and iron like these, or sterling silver like the ones favored by gentlemen, they were still designed to maim, blind, and kill. A pair of game cocks was released into the ring, bets were made on favorites amidst loud cheers of encouragement and oath-filled threats, and the two birds fought until one was unable to continue.
A night of cockfighting inevitably left a pile of dead and dying roosters, including many of the so-called winners. As William Hogarth observed in his engraving, right, the blood-lust fury wasn't confined to the birds, either – though those wagering on the fights (usually) survived.
Just don't look for my heroes in the crowd.
Left: Box, made by Samuel Toulmin, London, England, 1765-83. Wood, shagreen. Inscribed under the lid: "Samuel Toulmin/Silver Cockspur Maker/Successor to Smith & Gatesfield/at the Deal & Crown in Burleigh Street/near Exeter Change in the Strand/LONDON." Cockfighting Spurs, Made in England, 1765-1800, iron and leather. Winterthur Museum. Right: Royal sport pit ticket design'd and engrav'd by Willm. Hogarth, by William Hogarth, 1759, London. Lewis Walpole Digital Museum, Yale University.
After the mid 1820s, as waistlines descended, the skirts widened. So did the shoulders and sleeves. Also, hair & hats started going wildly upward and outward. This kind of reminds me of the 1980s: big shoulders & big hair.
Please note the delightful reticule worn with the green dress.
Since I'll be traveling today (and I know better than to attempt to write a blog tapping away on my phone), I'm reposting this one about thrummed hats. What better way to prepare for winter than with a thick, warm knitted cap?
Most surviving examples of clothing from the past belonged to the wealthy upper classes. The clothes worn by ordinary folk were usually worn out, not preserved for posterity. There aren't many written descriptions of how milkmaids or blacksmiths dressed, either, especially not compared to the detailed reports of this duke's waistcoat or that princess's gown.
So since we've already discussed a cocked hat of an 18th c. gentleman, today we're featuring a hat popular with men who worked hard for their livings. This woolly hat (worn left by Andrew De Lisle, a journeyman wheelwright with Colonial Williamsburg) is called a thrum, or thrummed, cap, and in a cold winter wind, it couldn't be beat. The base was knitted of wool, and extra pieces of yarn or fleece were thrummed into the surface – either knitted in or woven in afterwards – to make the shaggy surface. Then the whole thing was fulled (much like felting) in hot water to shrink the knitted stitches, secure the thrums, and lock the wool's fibers together. The result was a dense, sturdy, windproof hat that resembles fur (or the 18th c. version of dreads.)
The same technique was also used inside mittens and carriage blankets when extra warmth was needed. The more a thrummed piece is used, the more dense and warmer it becomes; thrummed goods are sturdy, and can stand up to hard use. There are surviving examples of gauntlet-style thrummed mittens that were worn by 19th c. stage drivers who likely also welcomed the wind-proof warmth.
Thrummed caps were especially popular with English sailors from Elizabethan times onward (see the fellow to the right), and working men in general. They also made a wild-man fashion statement that must have had a certain appeal to men like sailors who proudly lived on the edges of respectable society. Personally, we think it's a style worth reviving, and not only because it's the warmest had imaginable. To this end, here's a link to download directions for knitting one for yourself, or any other wild-man of your acquaintance.
Photos courtesy of Sarah Woodyard.
Below: Detail of an English sailor, illustration from Habiti Antichi e Moderni by Cesare Vecelli, 1600.
Time for a heaping serving of Breakfast Links! This week's favorite links to other web sites and blogs, photographs, and articles, all collected for you from the Twitterverse.
• Beard caught in bicycle chaing - a cautionary tale, especially for Movember.
• Streets of Old London captured in early photographs, c. 1900.
• Could Aaron Burr and his daughter haunt this one-time blacksmith shop in NYC?
• The beautiful Maria Gunning and the trials of being a celebrity in the 18th century.
• Twenty-seven reasons why "Scientific Gossip" of the 1870s is the best newspaper column of all time.
• Unpublished Rowlandson drawings discovered in Princeton University Library.
• Stunningly matter-of-fact letter home after the battle from a Waterloo soldier.
• Ultra-stylish designer coat for a pampered pooch, 1920s.
• Fortune-telling, Iron-Age style: the Crosby-Ravensworth spoons.
• Lard baths for Junior! The worst baby advice in history.
• Marriage contract of Mozart and Constanza Weber.
• Can you crack the code? WWII pigeon message stumps modern decoders.
• One of England's worst-ever storms hit the country on November 24, 1703.
• The alcoholic delights of syllabub to brighten a dreary day - especially when it's straight from the cow.
• Romeo and Juliet....and they lived happily ever after in this finale from the Norwich Theatre, 1758.
• "Housewives! Save waste fat for explosives!" 1939-1945
• Do you know what an aquamanilia is? Functional vessels & decorative tableware in the Middle Ages.
• An 18th c. 'Marriage most Horrid.'
• November, 1812: John Adams writes from St. Petersburg of Napoleon's disaster.
• Holiday baking: "Black Cake, much esteemed", 1837 recipes, more.
•"Mightly lewd books": 18th c. appetites for pornography (with ladies buying, too.)
• Remains of elite archers identified on the Tudor Mary Rose shipwreck.
• Hipparchia, the female philosopher who flouted the conventions of Ancient Greece.
• Odds for a lottery win, 18th century style.
• The WWI trench talk that's now entrenched in the English language.
• Counterfeit foods, from asses' milk to Westphalian ham.
• When a First Lady cuddled a raccoon.
• Highwaymen: some famous, some not, but both here and here.
• The wonders of Victorian beards.
• When kids (literally) played with fire: adorable & dangerous early 20th c. toy stoves. Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter at @2nerdyhistgirls for daily updates!
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.