Happy New Year

Before Christmas I listened to a radio programme in which a lady who worked for  the publisher Constable & Robinson Ltd was discussing the most popular books their company publishes. One of the most popular authors was called M. C. Beaton. I had never read any of her books. To my delight I was given ‘ Belinda Goes to Bath’ for Christmas. This is very appropriate as we live in Bath.  It turned out to be an enchanting little story about a matchmaker in 1800.  There are 6 books in the matchmaker series and I would like to read the others too. The historical details were good and the story was very entertaining. A third of the way through the book there is a coach accident and the bedraggled travellers are taken in at a nearby stately home where they are given ‘hot negus’. I have never heard of this drink and it prompted a little research. It seems to be another name for mulled wine and the word was much used in the Regency period. Ingredients vary but the base is wine with sugar, lemon, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. There are several recipes on the internet. I also discovered another favourite with the ladies was a non alcoholic drink called ‘Orgeat’ made from barley or almonds, ratafia or orange- flower water.

Many gentlemen from the late 18th and early 19th centuries did drink large amounts. Alcohol was inexpensive. Although wine bottles were slightly smaller, in the early 1800s,  three bottle a day men were often seated at a fashionable dinner party. Port was consumed in large quantities at the end of the meal and it seems drinking alcohol was as fashionable then as it is today. Pubs never closed and there were around 50,000 inns and taverns around the country in 1820 (the population being approximately 14 million). Ale or claret was drunk at breakfast, Madeira, sherry or ratafia (a liqueur flavoured with fruit and almonds) mid morning, wine with lunch and wine, Champagne, brandy and port for dinner. Oh help!!!

Glasses were shared between guests at dinners and washed out by servants in a bowl hidden behind a screen or by the guests themselves in their own bowl on the table. Drunkeness was considered quite acceptable and even the Prince Regent fell over drunk and was sick while on the dance floor on one occasion. The recommended cure for a hangover was to take a glass of hock and soda!

The men who went hunting and shooting took a silver hip flask of brandy to keep them warm and happy.

The poor drank gin as it was very cheap and pubs never closed. Water was not safe and was virtually never drunk on its own. However tea, coffee and chocolate were becoming available to a wider public. What a relief!

The wrapping paper WP124 below shows original Georgian and early Victorian glasses holding drinks and deserts. The contents are as near as we could manage 200 years later.

A Happy New Year to any who should read this.

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