Archive for the ‘19th century’ Category

Today’s post is a guest post by Ben Knowles, a blacksmith of English lamp posts. He works for ww.EnglishLampPosts.co.uk. Ben, thank you for your article!


As a blacksmith at the English Lamp Post Co, I am extremely privileged to be able to immerse myself in an art form and an era I am so passionate about on a daily basis. Having been an enthusiast of the Victorian age and all it had to offer, ever since my first breath-taking trip to Ironbridge Gorge as a child, taking in the magnificent bridge, not to mention the Victorian village, I have been hooked.  I thoroughly enjoy keeping the traditions of my craft alive and sharing the must have accessories of the Victorian age with fascinated visitors, here I would like to share with you just how I create one of the everyday Household essentials of the period.


One of my favourite pieces to create is an authentically period candle holder, think Dickensian, Victorian style, the type of candle holder clutched by Scrooge while walking around his vast rooms after dark. Though the process is relatively straight forward I am always so thrilled to hold on to something truly Victorian in both inspiration and design.
I begin with a perfectly formed disc of iron, working each individual piece from the base to the candle stand itself at the blisteringly hot coals of the gorge. With the candle holder crafted I am able to add the finishing touch, a final flourish in the shape of a classical yet perfectly reserved and ever so Victorian, scroll handle. The handle is heated within the scorching coals and beaten in to shape at the anvil to create my traditionally beautiful candle holder.


With a tapered candle in place the Victorian stand looks effortlessly period and is a stunning feature for any property or room looking for an enhanced sense of character.

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Drinking from saucers

Looking for something else, I happened upon these pictures:


By Boris Kustodiev. Found here.


By Konstantin Makovsky. Found here.

From Ingalls-Wilder’s Farmer Boy we know tea was poured from the cup in the saucer, and then drank from the saucer. This was generally done by older people, while younger people thought it was bad form or old-fashioned to drink from the saucer. Research online seems to show most drinking-from-saucers took place in Scandinavia en Russia, and that the habit was probably taken to America by European immigrants.

I wonder though, how this habit came about? It seems the tea cools faster when drank from a saucer, which is understandable for busy farmers but it seems strange that mostly people from really cold countries (Northern Europe and Russia) would like their tea to cool fast. I cannot really find an origin or reason for the drinking from saucers, except that it was just a habit. Any thoughts?


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I use Grammarly for proofreading because I’m certain Victorian journalists would have used it, too, if they’d just had laptops and internet!

A question many visitors ask me on this blog is about the daily life in the 19th century. Not about the big historical happenings or affairs, those are usually fairly well-known. It’s mostly the smaller details: what people ate, what they thought about, what they did in the evenings since they didn’t have TV, that spark people’s interest.

A very good source to get a glimpse of Victorian life are children’s books. While most adult novels assume the reader knows how things in life works, and spends his words instead on greater themes like life, love and death, children’s books are slower-paced and take the time to really explain daily life to you.

The 19th century was a period in which children’s literature as a genre grew and developed at an amazing pace. The urban middle classes were expanding at a high rate. This meant there was more money to buy books, more leisure time to read books, and more children who had had enough education to be able to read for pleasure. In the 18th century and prior to that, there had been some texts especially for children. These were usually religious tracts or educational booklets. In the 19th century, many other genres of literature were developed. There was something for everyone: adventure books, schoolbooks, fairy tales and fantasy novels. But the books that are most valuable if you want to learn about life in the Victorian era, are the girl’s novels with a focus on domestic life.

These books were written partially to entertain, and partially to shape the minds of young girls and prepare them for a life of domesticity. By reading about exemplary good girls, who were happy, patient and caring, it was hoped that this spirit was distilled in little girls also. Showing girls who overcame their flaws (like impatience or vanity) or poor girls who ended up well by being sweet and good, these books meant to inspire young girls to be a valuable part of society.

By their very nature, some of these books might be a little flavorless. However, I compiled a small list of books that are not terribly exciting, yet sweet and comforting and very educating on the daily life of the 19th century. Download them onto your ereader and read some whenever you feel you need a bit of calm, and I promise you, you will get not just a great glimpse of Victorian life but really start to understand the minds and world views of those who lived in the 19th century.

Cornelia de Groot: When I was a girl in Holland (1917)

I’ve written about this book before and it’s still one of the best finds as a first-hand historical source. This book tells of a young girl growing up on a farm in a small town in the Netherlands, around 1880. The book was part of an American series about children all around the world, and therefore makes a point to really explain very clearly how things were done in the 1880s. The writer and protagonist grew up as a fairly rich farmer’s daughter in a small town in Friesland, The Netherlands. Even though the book relates many things that are country-specific (for example the national holidays or certain habits), there’s a lot of general information about daily life. The book is incredible detailed, telling you what they ate, how they traveled, how animals were kept (cow’s tails were washed weekly, just because it’s nice to have clean cows!), how the school was organized, and what it’s like being a smart and ambitious girl in a small town.

At the end of the book the writer fearlessly travels to America by steamer, and tells of the amazing things she sees. The book is at times fairly stiff because of the many descriptions, but at times really moving and personal. Most of all, it’s one of the clearest accounts of 19th century daily life.

You can read When I was a Girl in Holland here.

 Laura Ingalls Wilder: Farmer Boy (1933)

This book is part of the Little House series. While the other books in the series focus on the life of pioneers on the prairie, this book recalls the daily life of a farmer in the 1860 in Malone, NY. It gives a lot of great information on the amount of work that was done and how it was done, from sowing the seeds and hoeing the weeds to spinning and weaving cloth to make clothes. It’s very amusing to read about how much the young protagonist likes store-bought items (they were much fancier than handmade ones) and how the American national holidays were celebrated. It also shows you a good deal about the morals and kind of upbringing many young boys got (and let me tell you, it’s different from today’s!)

This book is incredibly centered on food, so if you’re ever in doubt about what 19th century American families ate, just have a read! A summary for you: lots and lots of pies, mostly apple pie and rhubarb pie, lots of mashed potatoes and mashed turnips, big roasts of meat and chicken, preserves and jams. The books even describes how icecream and candy was made, and it’s described so clearly that you can try it out yourself.

Did you know? In the 19th century, rhubarb was sometimes referred to as “pie plant”. Also, vinegar pies were baked when there were no lemons to make lemon pie. Yuck!

You can read the book online here.

Louisa May Alcott: Little Women (1868-67)

Joy Kasson wrote that “Alcott chronicled the coming of age of young girls, their struggles with issues such as selfishness and generosity, the nature of individual integrity, and, above all, the question of their place in the world around them.” Young and adolescent girls could find in this book examples of strong, brave and ambitious women.

Many people know the novel Little Women, most because they saw the movie. But did you know there were actually four novels in this series? If you want to learn about the role of women in Victorian society and about stereotypes, docility and feminine behavior, these books are a great way to start. These books feature four women who all navigate life quite differently. It’s a very interesting read, showing you a lot about the role of women in society and the way women dealt with their lot.  The latter books, especially the third and fourth, are not as strong on storyline or as interesting as the first book, but they’re still a pretty good read. Also in book 3, you’ll get some great tips on baking! Did you know soured milk was used to make cakes rise when there was not enough baking powder around?

The books are called Little Women, Little Men, and Jo’s Boys. You can read them and all other novels by Alcott here.

 Louisa May Alcott: An Old-Fashioned Girl (1869)

Another one of Louisa May Alcott, this book is much lesser known. I’ve quoted from it on my blog, mostly because I was very surprised to find some info on make-up use by Victorian women. This is not something you’ll find in textbooks or formal history books, only literature will reveal such small but significant details. There are two books in this series, centering around the girl Polly. The books are sweet and charming though somewhat moral, and will give you a great look in the mind of people from the 19th century. Especially nice I found the passage where a grandmother tells stories from her youth. No dates are mentioned but you might assume the stories take place in the early 18th century or even late 18th century. To hear what girls did for fun in those times is truly something special.

An Old-Fashioned Girl can be read here.

(As you can see this post was sponsored by Grammarly, which I found to be an excellent and very convenient tool. Do check it out, if you do a lot of writing. It doesn’t just check grammar but also punctuation, context and even checks for plagiarism, which I know will be helpful for a lot of college students!)

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Jean de Büren, a long time friend of this blog, wrote a book about his ancestor Henri de Büren. Here’s a short summary:


Blending adventure and social commentary, the journals and letters of Henri de Büren, a young Swiss nobleman, detail his grand tour from his family castle overlooking Lake Neuchâtel, Switzerland, to the still youthful Americas of the 1850s. His voyage—on foot, horseback, and by boat—would take him through the Eastern United States, the waters of the Caribbean, the vast expanses of Mexico and the stunning lakes and mountain ranges of South America. Henri would not return home for two years.

Henri’s first-hand accounts of his travels in the New World reflect his observations on a variety of subjects: the grandeur of nature (made both from the vantage point of an artist and avid botanist); racial injustice and social inequality; his meetings with noted Swiss scientists such as Louis Agassiz; and his colorful encounters with European emigrants and wily government officials.

Henri’s journals and letters to his family, seeing the light of day for the first time in over 150 years, will fascinate readers who value wit, history, and the broadening qualities of travel. His thoughts and observations on the 19th century open a larger window into the past, one that shows at times how far we have come and at others how far we still have to go.
19th century travel journals and first-hand descriptions are incredibly popular right now, and with good reason. To really step in the mind of a person and see the world through their eyes really helps you understand and interpret history.


Jean is giving away 5 Ipad copies! That’s great news, right? A free book is always a good thing in my world. Simply leave a comment on this post, you can just state that you’re entering the contest or make it more fun and let me know if your ancestors were travelers as well! I’ll pick 5 winners and you’ll receive an Ipad copy of the book.

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ImageRecently I received the book The Real Jane Austen by Paula Byrne, the book I posted a trailer from earlier. If you read through this blog you will notice a lot of Austen-related subjects. It’s true, I’m a big Austen fan. I read all the books, multiple times. And then the annotated copies. So I was glad to read this book. Not just because it’s an Austen biography, but because this biography promises to show us an Austen that is “far tougher, more socially and politically aware, and altogether more modern than the conventional picture […] allows”.

I am always surprised at people trying to put down Jane Austen as a modest, gentle, kinda boring woman. The short biographies on the dustcovers of the book never seem to coincide with the person you feel the author is. If you read an Austen novel carefully, really listening well, you can sort of feel that Jane Austen was a quick-witted woman, who saw many strange things in society, social unright and unbalanced situations, and saw the books as her way to remark upon that. Also, clearly she was in a sense mischievous, and addressed issues on her mind in a playful manner. Even though she was clearly also a product of the society in which she lived, she was someone who was able to look further. Reading a biography that promises to show us more of Austen, is very good news!

In the book The Real Jane Austen each chapter starts of with examining an object, after which the focus shifts to examining a part of the life of Austen. The book is a very dynamic read because of this. There is a chronological order but it’s not the leading motive, rather several subjects are examined up close, one by one. This makes you really able to envision and imagine Austen’s life.

Objects that are mentioned and researched in the book are, among others: a royalty check, researching Austen’s desire for her books to be acknowledged despite being anonymous at first; a laptop, telling us of Austen books being printed and being received favourably; the topaz crosses, recounting the stories of Austen’s brothers in the Navy. Because of this in-depth look and the thorough research, this book will definitely give the reader a well-rounded and complete idea of Jane Austen and her world.

I loved the look of this book, it being rather big and heavy with a wonderful pale greyish-blue cover, and inside filled with amazing colour plates and a pleasant font. Definitely recommend for present-giving to Austen fans.


To purchse the book, go here.

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If you like to read Jane Austen, there inevitable comes a point where you’ve read all the books, but are not yet ready to leave the Austen universe. Luckily, there are many annotated versions and biographies to peruse. A new biography just came out, promising to shed a whole new light on Austen’s life. I’ll be reading and reviewing it in a bit but in the meantime, you can watch the author, Paula Byrne, talk about it here:


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Because so many people come to this blog for tips on hosting a Victorian-style dinner, I thought this would fit right in. It’s from an article I read recently describing the fashions of serving food and laying tables in the 19th century.


“Dinner Old English style, which actually originated in the 18th century, referred to the style of placing all food items on the table before the diners sat down. In this service, guests could help themselves to the food items set out before them, within the bounds of proper manners. Where servants were unavailable it was considered, by some writers as late as the 1870s, “acceptable” behavior to help oneself to any dish on the table within reach. This service changed throughout the 19th century, taking on bits and pieces of other styles.

 A departure from the Old English style called for food items to be replaced by decorative centerpieces. This style was commonly referred to as à la Russe in late 19th-century guidebooks. Serving dinner à la Russe became fashionable among European elites during the 1850s and 1860s, and by the 1870s it has also become fashionable in the United States.” (82)

 Because the high cost of employing the many servants that were needed for the dinner à la Russe, and the shortage of good servants at the end of the 19th century, a new style called American style arose. “In the American dinner service the table was laid in the same manner as that of the à la Russe style, the major difference between the two was that the American style required the host and hostess to divide food portions on individual plates and then pass them or have them passed around the table by a servant. Food items from each separate course were placed on the table and then served from there or a side table.” (83)

 How a table looks like is described here by describing a boarding-house table: “If the table is void of flowers, and other side decorations, including olves, rashishes, and celery, tastefully arranged napkins and wineglasses, an impression is given os a boarding-house table.” (84)

 When the courses grew larger in number, the plates grew smaller to accommodate the smaller portions served. At the end of the 19th century, plates were on average 2 inch smaller in diameter than earlier on in the century.

(All info and citations from “A la Russe, à la Pell-Mell, or à la Practical: Ideology and Compromise at the Late Nineteenth-Century Dinner Table” by Michael T. Lucas, which appeared in Historical Archaeology, Vol. 28, No. 4, 1994.  




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