What could be found on a Georgian Gentleman’s Desk?

WP163 catalogueWhen you think of what a man would have on his desk today, there are very few items which would have been similar to those found on a Georgian gent’s desk. For a start there would be no computer, printer, calculator, mobile phone, photos of the family, biro, can of coke or chocolate bar. The modern man sits in a centrally heated room with overhead lighting. Our Georgian gent would have worked by candlelight and probably had his desk not too far from an open fire to keep warm. I have found it very interesting to see the candle lighting used in the filming of Wolf Hall. Apparently £20,000 was spent on candles. It must have been very difficult for the film crew but a special camera was developed for filming in low light. It makes you think how difficult it would be to read when wholly depending on candlelight. My great grandfather used to love carpentry and my grandmother, when a little girl, used to hold a candle for him to see while he worked.

However I do think there would have been at least one similar item on the desk of both the Georgian gent and the modern man. There might quite likely have been a pair of glasses or spectacles.

A Georgian gent would have had a pair of magnifying spectacles. They might have had a rim of silver, gold, steel,brass, horn, bone or tortoiseshell. The lens would be made from thin glass or crystal and they would often fold into a silver or leather case.

glasses red

This pair of silver rimmed glasses in a red Morroccan leather case were made in 1770. Another interesting pair are below. They are also made in the 18th century and have polished steel frames and a case which is engraved ‘Francis Gibson 1760’.


The earliest glasses are recorded as having been made in Italy circa 1268-1286. They were not just made for the wealthy. A pair of 15th century rivet glasses were discovered during renovations under the floorboards of the nun’s choir stalls at Kloster Wienhausen in Northern Germany in 1953.

Examples of glasses made before 1700 are very rare. In 1629 King Charles I granted a charter incorporating ‘The Worshipful Company of Spectaclemakers.’ During the 17th century tinted glasses became popular. Bifocals or split lenses were introduced in the 1760s.

Perhaps a visit to the Museum of Spectacles in Amsterdam would be enlightening. I would love to go.


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A Physiognomy

According to the Oxford English Dictionary this word means: ‘Art of judging character from features of face or form of body.’ In the 18th century this assessment of character by virtue of a person’s drawn features was considered a science. In 1743 an Act of Parliament passed a law to prevent the practice. It was thought to be a lowly occupation carried out by the lower echelons of society. After the law was passed punishments for performing these character assessments could be anything from internment to public whippings! It did not seem to have had too much effect on the practice, and must have been difficult to police.

However Physiognomies had been practised since as early as 500 BC. Pythagoras accepted or rejected students on how they LOOKED. It became popular in 16th century Europe too. An Italian scholar, Giambattista della Porta, was one of the most famous writers on the art of Physiognomy.  He attempted to deduce character by observation of physical features and compare human and animal heads to aid characterisation.

In the latter part of the 18th century Johann Caspar Lavater wrote a book called ‘Essays on Physiognomy’ which set out the assessment of character and morality from outer appearances. Lavater commissioned Johan Henrich Fuseli and William Blake to illustrate this tome. He disected the face into different parts, each part giving clues to character. The expression ‘stuck up’ comes from this period when a person with an upturned nose  was thought to show a person with a superior and/or contemptuous attitude.

Scientists still study the science of faces today.

Below is a print called ‘Physiognomies’ by Isaac Cruickshank printed in 1796.Physiog 30.10.13 I found all this so fascinating I made a wrapping paper/poster ‘Physiognomies’. Could you judge the characters of the folks in the print above?






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Georgian Food and Drink

WP124 blogGeorgian Food and Drink

Wrapping paper/poster WP124 Glasses filled with drinks they may have contained when made.

At the beginning of the Georgian period ale, wine, gin, brandy, punch, milk and water were the drinks available. Gin was a poor man’s drink and caused much distress and ill health. Water was not very safe to drink but tea and coffee were beginning to arrive in London as early as 1706 when Thomas Twining took over Tom’s Coffee House on the Strand in London. This shop is still there and serving tea today. It is wonderful to see all the different kinds and definitely worth going to the shop to try out some samples.

Coffee houses were gaining popularity and men of all classes would congregate to discuss business, gossip and drink. Women did not go to the coffee houses. In Bath we still have many coffee shops but I thought it was exciting to learn that their coffee dregs are collected and used to grow mushrooms under Green Park Station. An excellent bit of recycling. The famous London markets Smithfields for meat, Billingsgate for fish and Covent Garden for fruit and vegetables were all in operation during much of the Georgian period. Billingsgate is still selling fish today.

The housekeeper or cook purchased the food for wealthy families who could afford staff. Mothers and wives also shopped for their food. There is nothing new about our obsession with cookery books. Huge numbers of cookery publications were printed in the 18th century. These offered advice on all aspects of purchasing food, preparation, cooking and entertaining. There are a few foods described which we seldom, if ever, eat such as carp, tench and calf’s head. Rye and barley bread were looked on as a very poor substitute for wheat. Now the artisan bakery offers these breads as speciality breads. We have several artisan bakers in Bath and jolly good they are too.

Typical 18th century fare would be sweetbreads and chicken fricassee, roast turkey, beef olives, boiled rabbits and tongue with a sweet sauce. Oysters were cheap and more like a quick snack which we might have today. At a formal dinner in the Regency period there could be up to 25 dishes served with meat, fish and an array of puddings.

Here is a recipe from the mid 18th century for a sweet Chicken Pie (with modern spelling):

‘Take 5 or 6 small chickens, pick, draw and truss them for baking: season them with cloves, mace, nutmeg, cinnamon and a little salt. Wrap up some of the seasoning in butter and put it in their bellies: and your coffin being made, put them in. Put over them and between them pieces of marrow, Spanish potatoes and chesnuts, both boiled, peeled and cut, a handful of barberries stripped, a lemon sliced, some butter on the top to close up the pie and bake it; and have in readiness a caudle (thickened mixture) made of white wine, sugar, nutmeg, beat it up with yolks of eggs and butter; have a care it does not curdle; pour the caudle in, flake it well together, and serve it up hot.’ I might give this a go over the Christmas holiday.

About two thirds of a working man’s budget was spent on food and drink. The other third covered rent, fuel clothes and boots. The labourer’s diet was mainly bread and cheese and occasionally fat bacon. Tea would be used over and over again as it was so expensive. Hence the locked tea caddies in the grand houses. The wealthier the family the more meat was eaten. Fruit and vegetables were enjoyed more as the century progressed. Potatoes improved the diet of the poor too. Throughout the 18th century more tea, coffee and chocolate was drunk by more people.

Wishing you all a very Happy Christmas and enjoy your Christmas lunch or dinner. Frederica

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Widcombe Christmas Craft Fair

Frederica Cards are once again exhibiting at the Widcombe Craft Fair, at St Matthew’s Church, Widcombe Hill, Bath BA2 6AA. We will have all our cards and wrapping paper designs available. The doors open at 10.30am on Saturday 22nd November. Do hope you can come if you live in thisWidcombe-Craft-Fair-2014_Page_1 area.


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Hyacinth Bulbs

It is not too late to plant hyacinth bulbs in glass bulb vases. The best time to plant them is in September for Christmas flowering, however you could plant some now and they would almost certainly flower over the Christmas/New Year holiday. You need to buy ‘forced’ hyacinth bulbs from your garden centre and make sure you use the plastic gloves supplied to pick them up. They can cause a very allergic reaction when they touch the skin. I decided not to bother with the gloves one year and my hands developed a horrible rash which lasted for several days.

You then add water to the vase and pop the bulb into the top (sometimes I have found jam jars with narrow tops which also work). It is really important not to get the base of the bulb wet. Once planted I always put them in a dark place and it takes about 5-10 days (sometimes longer) for the first roots to appear. Once the tip of the bulb and the roots are showing put them on a windowsill and turn them occasionally to encourage them to grow with a straight stem. There are some really good tips on the web for growing Hyacinth bulbs in this way. Have a look at Youtube “Tips For Easily Forcing Hyacinths Bulbs to Bloom Indoors”.

Growing Hyacinths in this way has been done since the 1730s but it was the Victorians who really embraced the fashion. Some Victorian homes had several bulb vases on their windowsills. This passion for growing Hyacinths hydroponically went completely out of fashion after the Victorian period. My family always used to grow some each year. When we were children my brother and I had one each and there was always a race to see whose came out first. Needless to say mine was pink, his was always blue.

George Piercy Tye who was born in 1810 was a Birmingham industrialist. He began his career as a die-sinker and seal engraver. He was the first person to design and produce a glass vase for growing forced Hyacinths. In 1850 he patented his design. His vases were one of the few bulb vases marked by the manufacturer which were moulded and stamped on the bottom. Many other designs were made but usually they were hand blown at that time. There were many vase colours, blue, green, cranberry, amber and amethyst were the most popular.

Georgian bulb vases are very tall about 19cm high and often in rich blue glass. You can occasionally see them at antique fairs or in antique shops. The Victorian versions are not so tall and can be found for £40-£60. I cannot find any information about the colour of the flowers grown in the 18th and 19th centuries. These days you can buy pink, blue, white, yellow, dark pink and lilac flowering bulbs. Don’t be surprised if they come up a different colour than the one you thought you had bought. It occasionally happens. They do smell wonderful when they are flowering and in my opinion the white and the blue ones have the best perfume.

I have 2 bulb vases on the go. The blue one is Victorian and is probably made from Bristol Blue glass. The amethyst one is modern and was made in China. You can see the roots growing best in this one.

2 bulb vases


bulb roots

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September is the start of the harvest and after such a wonderful summer we have bumper crops to gather. I have been bottling plums using a recipe a friend has given me. Plum Compote Cook 1kg of plums with 200gms dark brown sugar, 100ml water, 1 cinnamon stick and 4-5 whole star anise. When cooked add 1 tabs of cornflour blended with 2 tabs cold water and 3 tabs of balsamic vinegar and then bottle in a sterilised jar. They will keep for up to a month in the fridge or you can freeze them. We have a James Grieve and a Bramley apple tree in our garden. The James Grieve’s apples are yellow with a flash of pink and taste lovely but bruise very easily. The Bramleys are great cooking apples and I especially like baking them stuffed with raisins which have been soaked overnight in Calvados.

I designed a wrapping paper/poster depicting older varieties of apples. The head gardener at wonderful Snowshill Manor gave me permission to photograph apples collected for their Apple Day. Look out for Apple Days near you. They really are a great out. There are over 6,000 named varieties recorded in the UK. Some of these have different local names but are the same variety but it still means there are an awful lot of apples! (We produce an apple greeting card and gift tag too.)

WP201 catalogue

As I live in Bath I cannot help but mention the Beauty of Bath apple. It was first propagated by George Cooling’s nursery  in 1864 which is near my home. It was awarded an RHS first class certificate in the Royal Jubilee year of 1887. It is a lovely rosy colour and  in the spring has pretty pink blossom. I came across this wonderful print called ‘The Amiable Fruiterer’ which I have had printed as a card. It is such a quirky title. It will be available from next week. The print was published circa 1820 by P & P Gally.  I think it has a companion print called ‘The Charming Florist’. I love the oriental boat and little bridge. You can see the big Georgian house high above the lake in the background.

The Amiable Fruiterer

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Southwold – a Georgian Seaside Town

Southwold in Suffolk is a lovely Georgian seaside town and we have spent a few days this month renting a cottage by the sea. As we walked around the town I took a few photographs of the Georgian architecture. There are some very interesting buildings and we thoroughly enjoyed walking through the streets licking our chocolate ice creams before having a swim in the sea. That doesn’t happen often!

People began arriving in Southwold by sea 3000 years ago.  The Romans came in 43 AD, followed by the Angles and Saxons. Next the Vikings and then the Normans. The town has gone through many ups and downs and probably the worst was a great fire which struck Southwold in 1659. Much of the town was burnt to the ground. After the fire new people arrived and many went into the brewing industry. John Kirby, who wrote the ‘Suffolk Traveller’ in 1735 mentions Southwold’s springs of good water. This was probably one of the reasons why the beer was so good. There was also a thriving salt industry and of course the shipping business. Sail makers and rope makers had traded since the earliest times and continued to flourish into the nineteenth century. Flour milling started in medieval times and continued into the nineteenth century. There were many windmills in Southwold. It is a very windy place!

During the mid 17th century the town was on alert for French privateers. The town has always been vulnerable to attack from the sea.

During the First World War the people of Southwold, on a still night, could hear the guns from the Allied front. They were only 80 miles away.

By the turn of the 18th century Southwold had become a holiday destination and has continued to be right up to the present day. There are lovely walks, cycle rides and plenty of fresh fish to eat.

In 1953 the town experienced gale force northerly winds, a massive deluge hit the coast and the town was badly flooded. Five inhabitants lost their lives. Since then there have been storms and only last year, 2013, the coast was hammered by huge seas which increased the erosion which is such a problem in Suffolk.

The town is small but below are some of the many Georgian buildings and mention of a few of the local inhabitants.

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Punch and Judy

Last Friday we took my grandson to the Bath & West Show at Shepton Mallet. As always it was a great day out. The farm animals were beautifully groomed for showing and our 4 year old Toby stroked a very old tortoise standing three feet high and a very young brown and white rat. He was equally interested in both. There were three performances of Punch and Judy performed by Tony James. We watched a Georgian version and there was a Victorian and Edwardian play later in the day. This started me thinking about the history of the Punch and Judy Show.

Punch & Judy There were travelling puppeteers in Elizabethan England and even Shakespeare mentions  puppets. There seem to have been marionettes (pulled by strings from above) and worked at puppet shows at markets and fairs around the country. One of the earliest records of the Italian puppet play featuring Mr Punch was by Samuel Pepys in 1662. He went to see a puppet show in Covent Garden and a fortnight later took his wife to see the same show. At that time Punch was called Punchinella and the show would have taken place in a tent. Punchinello was a character from the Italian Commedia dell’arte. The King also saw the show that year and it is recorded that in 1672 he allowed a puppet showman to perform at Charing Cross. These shows were for adults as much as for children.

In the early days Punch did not have his own show but provided entertainment between plays. It was not until the end of the 18th century that the story of Punch, his wife (who used to be called Joan) and the other characters evolved.

The tent and later portable booths were carried on carts from fair to fair by the puppeteers. Sometimes Punch would appear in the window of a wealthy home in a lovely Georgian square booked to perform by a wealthy family. Puppeteers were at their most active in Norwich which still boasts a tradition of Punch and Judy shows today.

In 18th century London the puppet show became fashionable entertainment for adults. By 1777 there were four puppet companies in the West End of London. By the end of the 18th century the glove puppet version of  Punch began to appear and shows in booths were seen on the streets of  London. It was at this time that Joan became Judy for reasons unknown.  Punch always had his amazing squeeky voice and conical hat. Directions for a 17th century play noted that Punchinello should speak in Punchinello’s voice. They seemed to have used a tin squeeker to make Punch’s voice. This was called a ‘pivetta’ but is now called a ‘swazzle’.

Of course Punch is the most terrible crook and hits his wife, baby and anyone else who seems to come near with his stick. Nearly all children brought up in the United Kingdom know some of the stories of Punch and his long suffering wife, Judy. Fancy it lasting all those years!


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Georgian Shoes

It is time to put away the UGG boots and bring out the spring and summer shoes and sandals. It always kickstarts my thoughts about the Georgians and their shoes. One of my wrapping papers/posters has a pair of canvas and red leather shoes signed inside W. Cross. This was the maker’s hand written signature much as the shoe designers and sellers will mark their makes and designs today. Sometimes marked inside the shoes or in the case of my UGG boots, on the outside of the heel.


In 1786, it was noted by Sophie von la Roche when she visited Oxford Street in London, that there were 24 Boot & Shoemakers (just think how many there are now!). The shoes belonging to those who lived in the early Georgian period were made of silk and kid leather. Some had silver gilt braid and this was referred to as ‘lace’. Often a silver buckle adorned the shoe and embroidered shoes and heels were popular too. Steel buckles were a cheaper option. In the late 18th century the pointed toe and tiny heel was just coming into fashion as it did a few years ago in Europe. The shoes mostly had leather soles and linen lining. Striped shoes were all the rage.

By the time the Regency period kicked in, heels had been superceded by flat shoes, with tiny or no heels. White or dyed grosgrain ribbons bound the shoe to the foot like a ballerina’s. Sometimes the leather was pierced to reveal a contrasting colour beneath.  These two styles were known as sandals. With the ability to dye kid leather in different colours, shoes were coloured and often patterened with stencilled designs. Pastel shades were favoured and often matched their outfits. By the end of the Regency period shoes were being decorated in more elaborate ways. Braids of straw and horsehair with silk ribbon and silk taffeta were in use. Tassels and bunched ribbons were extremely popular too.

There are some wonderful examples of Georgian shoes at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the Fashion Museum in Bath. During 2014 the Fashion Museum’s special exhibitions ‘Georgians’ has 40 original Georgian outfits and ensembles from the Museum’s collection. It is open from 10.30 – 5.00 every day until October when it closes an hour earlier. It really is worth a visit.

Boots were made of leather in the 18th century both for men and women. Ladies wore ankle to mid length boots in satin, kid or cotton. ‘Nankin’ boots were made from cotton fabric dyed yellow/brown with a galosh section of black leather around the base of the foot to keep out the wet.

My long time favourite pair of shoes are inspired by the Regency period and were bought many years ago in ‘Office’ shoe shop in Bath. They were made in China and are the softest leather in pearlised purple. They have the pointed toe, tiny heels and rouching beloved of the Georgians in the late 1790s and early 19th century. I still love them and wear them regularly.

modern shoes











For the servants wooden clogs and pattens were worn to go out particularly in wet and damp weather. Pattens were wooden overshoes mounted on an iron ring and were generally worn by countrywomen and servants. In Bath even the fashionable women wore them to protect their smart shoes. For the fashionable ladies the pattens would often match the shoe they protected.

Gentlemen’s boots were made of soft leather and the English boot was the ultimate in quality and fit. Even the French were impressed by the quality of the English boot. The fashionable top boot  was worn with breeches and buckskins and looked like a riding boot. They were knee high with a light coloured top. The design was inspired by the military boot. Working men’s boots were made of harder more durable leather or canvas. Indoor footwear for the gentleman were flat leather shoes fastened either with decorative buckles or tie laces. Not unlike the ballet pumps of today.

If you find yourself in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, try and visit Top Banana Antiques at 1 New Church Street. It is great fun and so many cabinets to look at as well as antique furniture, pictures and books. One rooms houses wonderful antique lights. I found an excellent one for our kitchen. All lights are rewired and safe. For trade buyers, Wednesday is a good day to go, as the shop opens at 7.00am and free coffee and croissants are available with many antique dealers congregating and bringing in new stock.

Visit www.topbananaantiques.com

After you have had a good wander round try lunch or tea at the nearly Cafe 53. They have just built a new conservatory and there is a garden to sit in too. The food is excellent. There are plenty of other antique shops to visit in Tetbury and don’t go home before you have visited Twig. I think this is the most stylish flower shop I have ever visited.

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The Clove Box

The mystery box made of cloves is solved. A lady has come to the rescue with the answer.

Mallaca is the 3rd smallest Malaysian state after Perlis and Penang. It is by the straits of Mallaca in the southern region of the Malay Peninsula and is one of the Spice Islands. The little box made of cloves, which I mentioned in my last blog, is almost certainly from this area.

In the 19th century it was popular to make boats out of cloves too. I have seen a picture of one of these. The workmanship is amazing. Apparently the Science Museum has a heart shaped clove box. Cloves were thought to protect from disease and the smell, especially when filled with cloves, must have covered up many an unpleasant odour. My box still smells very strongly. We still use Oil of Cloves for toothache today so perhaps cloves have some natural anaesthetic properties too. I think my box must be from the 19th century but these items are very difficult to date, as they have obviously been made for many many years, and still can be bought today.

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