Archive for the 'Customs and Manners' Category

The Lady’s Horse- Part II

The Lady's Horse- Part II

In the second installment of The Lady’s Horse, we will take a look at another source for equestrian wisdom in the Victorian Era, and see what it has to say about the nature of the horse appropriate for a lady:

Park riding with some remarks on the art of horsemanship, written by J. Rimell Dunbar, Professor of Horsemanship, 1859.

Those of you who read Part I will be relieved to know that this post will be much shorter, as this particular author says much less about the proper horse for the lady rider than Matthew Horace Hayes.

So much less in fact, that Dunbar’s thoughts can be summed up by the following:

“Horses with bad habits are never fit to carry ladies.”

That and his ‘Golden Rule’ which is that “a lady ought never, if can be avoided, chastise her horse: let someone else undertaking the breaking him of any vice”, which explains why the horse must not have bad habits. If a lady is not supposed to chastise her mount, then it had better behave for the entirety of her ride.

He discusses the issues of the equestrienne in the chapter titled ‘STYLISH RIDING’.

From the title we have chosen for this division of our work, the reader may discover our intention to confine it to that branch of riding, practiced by gentlewomen, thoroughly instructed in the equestrian art, in which we see displayed those inimitable beauties that have carried horsemanship to the highest pitch of perfection; and although we feel bound to admit that perfection in the art of riding, as in every other art, is the limit to which improvement can be carried, we trust we shall be excused for maintaining that perfection itself may be rendered more pleasing and agreeable by the aid of style, and where style is required, in how infinitely greater a degree do we sometimes find it in the female than the other sex. An accomplished horsewoman rides with elegance, propriety, and a good grace, united to a noble boldness, beautiful yet modest, which never fails to command attention and excite admiration.

Ah yes. The gentleness and style of the female rider. Very important.  On to the horse.

We will assume that a lady having selected a horse for her own use, before she purchased him, took an opinion, as to his qualities and ability to suit her, from a competent judge, and that he was found in all respects what a lady’s horse should be—wellbroke. No lady should ever attempt to ride a horse which does not in every particular answer this description.

Yup. That’s basically it. Dunbar writes more, but it’s to give instruction on riding, not in regard to the horse itself. I think that this book is probably a little more typical an example of Victorian views (‘the horse must be well behaved as to not distress the lady’) than the one written by Hayes; but I believe I prefer Hayes’ more progressive confidence (comparatively speaking) in the ability of a lady to ride well.

Allow myself to introduce…myself.

Allow myself to introduce...myself.

Greetings gentle readers of the Queen’s Scullery!

I have signed on for the remainder of the year to discuss the ins and outs of riding and horsemanship in the Victorian Era. I am really excited to do more research on this topic- I have a degree in History and loved All Things Equine since I was small (like many little girls, I just never grew out of it), but have never tried to combine the two interests. I will attempt to do so here.

Since the methods of horsemanship, equipment, and apparel for men has changed comparatively little since the nineteenth century, I will be concentrating on women of the era. The differences between then and now are legion and I will have a lot of fun researching them. For example, consider for a moment the image below:

Typical apparel for Hope and Cinder

Now compare it to the caricature below depicting Elizabeth the Empress of Austria published in Vanity Fair in 1884:

Different, no?

Also, you’ll notice in my picture there’s no groom present to ‘help the lady gracefully into the saddle’- the absence of such would have been a big no no for good Victorian ladies. Not that I was riding that day, which is why I’m not wearing a helmet (another difference between then and now- Victorians did not require brain protection), but even if I was, alas, I would not have had a male hand to guide me onto my noble steed.

So as you can see, there is a lot to delve into!

Serving as the springboard for my research will be Black Beauty, the novel written 1877 by Anna Sewell. The book is largely thought of now as a book for children, but Sewell a actually wrote it to bring awareness to the conditions endured by riding and working horses in England at the time. It’s useful for my purposes, because Sewell is very thorough in her descriptions of a wide variety of horsemanship and animal husbandry practices of the era. The ideas I find interesting in this work of Victorian Era fiction will provide the basis to then find the historical documentation in non-fiction riding manuals of the same era.

Cover of the first edition published in 1877

When I can feasibly do so, I will be using my trusty assistant Cinder to try things out or as a model for explanation.

Thrilled I'm Sure.

Wattle Day – Welcoming the Aussie Spring

Wattle Day - Welcoming the Aussie Spring

Welcome to spring from south-eastern Australia!  The bush around Melbourne is a blaze of golden-yellow Wattle blossoms signaling the end of winter and offering the promise of sunshine to come. Now on the one hand I’m loving all the drought-breaking rain we are currently experiencing, on the other hand I’m OVER IT, bring on the sun!

In 1838 the movement to recognise the 1st of September as Wattle Day in Australia seeded in the island state of Tasmania.  This movement, grew throughout the mainland colonies, fully flowering as a day of national celebration in the early 1900′s. Traditions associated with this day include the wearing of a Wattle sprig as a buttonhole and the festooning of public buildings in Wattle garlands.

Our interest in Wattle Day has waxed and waned since 1838. Modern Australians don’t seem as comfortable as the Victorians were with overt demonstrations of national pride (unless we are beating another nation at a sporting event). So there has been no festooning this year. There was a flotilla of politicians wearing Wattle buttonholes just now on the News but that is just of whole lot of ‘baby-kissing’ as we still haven’t managed to form a Government (enough fussing with buttonholes guys and more focus on the politics).

Wattle - The Sprig for Spring

Historians argue that by tracking the history of Wattle Day and the debate to select our national floral emblem (the glorious Golden Wattle – Acacia pycnantha ) it is possible to track the creation of a national identity. This is a link to a really interesting article by the fabulous historian Libby Robin that follows that discussion.

Wattle Day is certainly the closest that we have ever come to developing a spring ‘May Day‘ tradition. Wattle Day was always more about nationalism than the rites of spring. It lacks the sex, drugs and rock and roll of an old fashioned fertility festival.

To the Indigenous Kulin Nations that lived in the Melbourne region Wattle has different associations. The blooming of Wattles signals a time to consider our ancestors and to acknowledge the passing of Elders in the late winter. The Kulin described seven seasons in Melbourne rather than the European experience of four. This time of the year is really a pre-spring or the Kulin Guling Orchid Season. While as a nation we are still battling to reconcile with each other, this landscape and our climate I take it as a sign of hope that the Wattle is often worn, as a substitute for rosemary in remembrance, by people of both Indigenous and European decent.

The Victorians urged us to unite as a nation beneath the golden blossom of the Wattle there may have been some deep wisdom in their musings after all.

I think the final word needs to go to Monty Python’s ‘Bruces’ Sketch.

“This here’s the wattle, the emblem of our land, You can stick it in a bottle, you can hold it in your hand.”

Weird animal heads fine; cheese too smelly.

Weird animal heads fine; cheese too smelly.

I’ve been reading a fair bit of Victorian literature lately, mostly Mrs Gaskell. I started with Cranford, inspired by the first season of the BBC series (the second series is pants, unfortunately), and have currently moved on to Wives and Daughters, which handily has the full text available online for anyone inspired to follow up.

Anyway, one of the recurring motifs in the book is that chaps like to eat cheese. Bread and cheese, usually, even if they are lords, and their wives find this vulgar.

There is one character in particular (the widowed Mrs Kirkpatrick) who is concerned about the gentility of cheese-eating, and eating in general. She is horrified to learn that her fiance, Dr Gibson, likes nothing better than a bit of bread and cheese, when she asks his daughter Molly what his preferences are.

‘Papa doesn’t care what he has, if it’s only ready. He would take bread-and- cheese, if cook would only send it in instead of dinner.’
‘Bread-and-cheese! Does Mr Gibson eat cheese?’
‘Yes; he’s very fond of it,’ said Molly, innocently. ‘I’ve known him eat toasted cheese when he has been too tired to fancy anything else.’
‘Oh! but, my dear, we must change all that. I shouldn’t like to think of your father eating cheese; it’s such a strong-smelling, coarse kind of thing. We must get him a cook who can toss him up an omelette, or something elegant. Cheese is only fit for the kitchen.’
‘Papa is very fond of it,’ persevered Molly.
‘Oh! but we will cure him of that. I couldn’t bear the smell of cheese; and I’m sure he would be sorry to annoy me.’

When she marries, she upsets her new household by moving dinner from mid-day to evening, and then she starts in on her husband (who is a busy doctor) and his habit of snatching a snack in the kitchen. The new Mrs Gibson is constantly worried about the smell of food permeating the dining room, but it’s cheese that really agitates her.

Of course, this made me wonder if Mrs Beeton condoned recipes for cheese (toasted or otherwise). Actually, as it turns out, Mrs Beeton is credited with popularizing cheese on toast (aka Scotch Rare-bit), and macaroni cheese, according to some sources. Her recipes include an putting mustard or anchovy paste in cheese sandwiches, and there’s a rather dashing Brillat Savarin fondue recipe replicated verbatim.

Although apparently free from anti-cheese prejudices, given that she does present a number of cheese-based recipes, Mrs Beeton does have a few cautionary words to say:

CHEESE.– It is well known that some persons like cheese in a state of decay, and even “alive.” There is no accounting for tastes, and it maybe hard to show why mould, which is vegetation, should not be eaten as well as salad, or maggots as well as eels. But, generally speaking, decomposing bodies are not wholesome eating, and the line must be drawn somewhere.

That’s a no to casu marzu, then.

The cheese course Mrs Beeton describes seems to be designed for a rather fancy dinner, with little bits of cheese cut up and accompanied by “Rusks, cheese-biscuits, pats or slices of butter, and salad, cucumber, or water-cresses”. This fiddly method of serving would seem to be right up Mrs Gibson’s alley, since she insists on serving a “dessert” of nuts and dried fruit, whether anyone wants to eat it or not.

So, although Molly knew full well, and her stepmother knew full well, and Maria knew full well, that neither Mrs Gibson nor Molly touched dessert, it was set on the table with as much form as if Cynthia had been at home, who delighted in almonds and raisins; or Mr Gibson been there, who never could resist dates, although he always protested against ‘persons in their station of life having a formal dessert set out before them every day.’ And Mrs Gibson herself apologized as it were to Molly to-day, in the same words she had often used to Mr Gibson, – ‘It’s no extravagance, for we need not eat it – I never do. But it looks well, and makes Maria understand what is required in the daily life of every family of position.’

Mrs Beeton does allude to bread and cheese as being filling and thus popular with labourers, in her recipe for cheese sandwiches, which is perhaps the source of Mrs Gibson’s horror at the doctor’s overt enjoyment of such a meal.

Mrs Gaskell seems quite fond of using food and food preferences as a way of giving an insight into her characters’ social and economic status. The ladies in Cranford, for instance, have a hilarious pretense of being surprised by the contents of meals they have cooked themselves. Here, she’s clearly building up what eventually becomes a very unflattering portrait of a shallow and materialistic woman in Mrs Gibson, who is desperately trying to appear of a higher status than she is, while her husband, confident in his own character and merits, sends her into conniptions by eating bread and cheese in the kitchen.

Bringing in the May!

Bringing in the May!

In the northern hemisphere the 1st of May is celebrated as the arrival of spring and a harbinger of summer to come. There are many folk traditions across Europe, that are still practiced today, that relate to this time of the year and all seem to have their origins in ancient celebrations of the Earth’s burgeoning fertility. We know that the Victorians were avidly interested in folklore but how did they interpret and incorporate fertility celebrations into their world view and its obvious associations with sex, intemperate behavior and fecundity?

What does Mrs Beeton have to say?

May, the Milk-month of our Saxon Ancestors, is said to have derived its name from the pastoral custom of English maidens – the Mays of our older authors – of rising early on May morning, and proceeding to the meadows to milk the cows, and elect the most beautiful of their companions as the Queen of the Mays. In process of time, when the name was established, and the custom in which it originated had become a tradition, another Mayday custom had crept in, when, according to old Herrick, Not a budding boy or girl that day, But is got up and gone to bring in May. Mrs Beeton’s Garden Management.

In this quote Mrs Beeton is referring to two country traditions that the Victorians, with their love of all things floral, were keen to embrace and promote.  The first custom is the tradition of electing a local ‘Queen of the May‘.  The May Queen is usually a young girl dressed in white and crowned with a wreath of spring flowers. The Queen presides over a village festival or local celebration for the day. In folk tradition the May Queen represents the Earth Goddess in her aspect as the Maiden. Maia, Mary, Flora and Persephone and the multitude of other virginal spring goddesses relate to this tradition across many cultures. From what I have read it seems that the Victorians promoted this aspect of the traditional Beltane celebrations as it is less ribald than many others (shagging a stranger by the local bonfire, spilling the blood of the May Queen to promote summer crops or getting stonking drunk and dancing around dressed as a horse). Dressing up like the Goddess of spring seems to have appealed to Victorian aesthetics (the internets are full of Victorian pictures of girls dressed as the May Queen) and obvious love of dressing up (Mmmm not a very scholarly conclusion but I’m going with it).

The second tradition that Mrs Beeton alludes to is ‘Bringing in the May’.  Bringing in the May means to rise up early on the first of May and collect flowers and greenery from woodlands for personal adornment, decorating houses and village streets.  In large Victorian households this meant that the Head Gardener would be expected to put on an extra fine show around the house in early May. In present day Cornwall this tradition is still honored in Padstow where the whole village is decorated with branches of greenery in preparation for the Obby Oss celebration.

Padstow Obby Oss Maypole - 1st May 2002

In Helston on May the 8th villagers collect Lily of the Valley from the surrounding countryside to wear as buttonholes during Flora Day celebrations. In the Victorian language of flowers the Lily of the Valley symbolizes the ‘return of happiness’. On Flora Day only people born in Helston are entitled to wear the Lily.  Men wear the Lily in its upright position and women wear their buttonholes pointing down (this might be to allow ease of telling gender once all the ale has been drunk).

Flora Day is believed to be a very ancient tradition where villagers dance and sing through the main street and each others houses all day.  Historians differ on how old they think the tradition is – most talk about this festival going into abeyance during the Victorian era due to the influence of the temperance movement on quietening down the drunk revelries.

The Victorian’s seem to have embraced Maypoles with maidens dancing around winding and weaving ribbons back and forth but were less keen on anyone talking about their obviously phallic associations with fertility.

The Obby Oss (Hobby Horse) at Padstow is a festival that I have watched twice and it is really something to experience in person. The crazy looking horse puppet rolls and stumbles into the crowd, the villagers dance, drink and sing all day as the ancient ‘heart beat drum’ leads the Oss round and around the village. The whole day feels very pagan but much of its tradition and custom are impenetrable to outsiders like myself.  The Obby Oss is documented back to the 1300′s; it may be older!

Historians mention that it has undergone a number of revivals with its popularity waxing and waning from era to era. In Donald Rowe’s book Padstow’s Obby Oss and May Day Festivities he talks about the Maypole being removed from the celebrations during early Victorian times. He portrays the Victorians as being in two minds about the Obby Oss festival on one hand idealizing it as an example of English rustic charm and on the other hand deriding the locals for the debauchery and drunkeness.

May Day Down-under!

In Australia by contrast May is the turning of Autumn into frosty winter weather. As you would expect European settlement did not transplant May day spring celebrations into the culture of white settlement. The thing that I find really interesting about colonial culture is how little of English folklore became incorporated into Australian culture – actually white Australia has very little folklore beyond Ned Kelly (bushranger), football (intensely boring) and mateship (?).  Spring for us Aussies is September and the 1st of September is Wattle Day.

Wattle

Wattle Day has its origins in the surge of nationalism that seems to have occurred late in the Victorian era in Australia. I can imagine that my Cornish ancestors, waking in a canvas tent, on a cold and frosty May morning on the gold-fields in Ballarat in 1852 perhaps feeling a little bereft at not being able to find Lily of the Valley.  I wonder if they walked into the bush and picked sprigs of green and tucked them into their buttonholes. I can imagine that they felt along way from home in a very alien land.

Unite and unite and let us all unite, For summer is acome unto day, And whither we are going we all will unite, In the merry morning of May. Padstow Morning Song.

First Foot Forward: New Year’s customs and manners

First Foot Forward: New Year's customs and manners

Unlike in the current day, when New Year’s Eve has developed into an occasion to test the properties of alcohol as an emetic, in the Victorian era, New Year’s Eve celebrations tended to be more musical than alcoholic in nature, although as the century progressed, there is evidence of rather less genteel behaviour being exhibited at public gatherings. The fact that Church authorities at St Paul’s in London decided against continuing the tradition of bell-ringing at midnight suggests that the crowds had become less interested in quiet enjoyment than in raucous entertainments.

It should be noted that crowds continued to gather, perhaps replacing the sound of the bells with musical entertainments of their own, although whether they featured traditional New Year’s carols, or versions of Eskimo Nell, history does not divulge. Let us imagine hearty and wholesome folk tunes, then, like the following:

To-night it is the New Year’s night, to-morrow is the day
And we have come for our right and for our ray
As we used to do in King Henry’s day
Sing, fellows, sing Hagmen heigh!

New Year’s (charmingly known as Hogmanay, or even more charmingly as Hegmena, in Scotland) was a quintessentially Scottish celebration; the passion for all things Scottish (including, but not limited to Mr Brown) cultivated by the Queen and passed on as a fashion to her subjects, is suggested as one of the reasons for the rise in popularity in New Year’s celebrations across the Empire. In earlier eras, New Year’s was the time for gift giving and the payment and rewarding of loyal servants and subjects. Court records as far back as Edward III document New Years gifts both given and received by the sovereign.

This custom of New Year’s gifts was still common in Victorian times; tied to it is the idea that something must enter the house on New Year’s Day before anything leaves it. Traditional gifts were often symbolic of prosperity in the coming year – bread, salt and coal, perhaps a green branch or plant (perhaps symbolising health and growth), and whiskey.

The first person across the threshold on that day should bring a such a gift, and no cheating, such as having a party guest go outside and then come in again after the stroke of midnight. The identity (or perhaps more accurately, the characteristics) of the first person across the threshold were the subject of a number of folk customs, or superstitions.

Victorians, keen navel-gazers and collectors of folk trivia, wrote, in response to a call for information about First Foot customs and superstitions in Folklore, and the results of the correspondence were summarized in a table by John Rhys and T.W.E Higgins in the June 1892 edition. Although customs do vary widely from region to region, it is safe to say that a flat-footed bearded red-headed woman would be unlikely to receive any invitations for January 1.

In some rural areas, this tradition was taken so seriously that newspapers reported women wandering the streets at all hours after midnight, being forced to wait until their fathers or brothers came home before they were allowed to cross the threshold.

Interestingly, while the table and the strict observance of the custom of the First Foot might lead readers to infer it was a medieval or ancient tradition, it is actually traceable only to 1850 or so, making it an authentically Victorian practice.

New Year’s gifts traditionally exchanged after the first foot were often symbolic of wealth: gilded nutmegs, oranges stuck with cloves, and papers of pins all have clear connections to money and coins. Another tradition tied to the idea of promoting prosperity in the coming year included the belief that a person, no matter how young, should have money in his or her pocket on New Year’s day, or risk poverty.

Among the things that were unlucky on the first day of the year were throwing out ashes (the hearth should be cleaned before midnight on the 31st, so that a new fire could be laid), doing laundry specifically (presumably because this required the throwing out of dirty water), or any kind of work in general. Also unlucky was having the fire leave the house, either in the form of a lantern or candle being carried out, or having the fire in the stove or hearth go out.

The idea of one’s actions at the turn of the year setting the course for the next 12 months seems to be deeply ingrained into many of these traditions and beliefs. It is interesting to think about how they appear to have evolved into a practice of determining one’s own actions by making resolutions. Victorians focussed more on predicting events to come than resolving to shape them. Divination games, like reading ashes or tea leaves, were popular, as was the practice of “dipping” into the Bible to find a verse that would predict the course of the new year.

Another predictive tradition is that whatever one is doing at the time the bells chime midnight, is what one will be doing for the most part of the new year; this is no doubt in part responsible for the tradition of staying up at least until midnight – lying in bed might predict illness or incapacity.

So, perhaps rather than resolving to read more improving literature, drink less and exercise more, one should ring in the new year while simultaneously reading and riding an exercise bicycle and drinking water.