To be an Accomplished Lady

During the Regency era, a proper education was crucial to a middle or upper class young lady’s future. Since a woman’s only ‘proper’ aspiration was to marriage, her education focused on making her noticeable to potential husbands. Her accomplishments enabled her to display cultural distinction and set herself apart from women who were merely ‘notable’—those who could only manage a household but not cultivate elegant socializing.

The number of accomplishments a young lady acquired reflected the financial state of her family and the level of sacrifice they were willing to make to improve her chances of marrying well.
Men of the middle and upper classes sought a wife who would be a social asset to them (in addition to a good dowry of course.)  A “social asset” was never be an intellectual threat to her husband, but able to follow conversation, and perhaps more importantly keep a conversation away from unpleasantries and steered toward good humor for all. She could understand what was being said around her, but did not have ready opinions or advice to offer.

Certain subjects were considered necessary for becoming that desired social asset.  These included:


No young woman could be considered accomplished without the ability to read. Not only was it necessary for basic household management and correspondence, but it formed a foundation for intelligent conversation and for reading aloud for the entertainment of others.

Though young ladies were not encouraged to read heavy subjects like philosophy and theology, serious books were considered appropriate as they enabled interesting conversation. Similarly, scripture to enable her to recognize passages and sermons, such as Fordyce’s, aimed at young women, were appropriate reading for an accomplished lady.


In this context, writing did not refer to a creative endeavor, but rather being able to create a letter with beautiful penmanship, correctly spelled and with excellent grammar.  Young women would be schooled in the art of letter writing, with books dedicated to the topic and offering examples of good letters for her to emulate. She might even copy particularly pretty phrases out of these book for use in her own letters.

No mistress could run a household or estate without a solid understanding of basic math.  She had to be able to keep accounts, balance a budget, calculate how much food and others supplies needed to be bought, track expenses and even forecast trends in the use of supplies.

Few women would have exposure to advanced algebra or other pure mathematics.  She had no practical use for them and would be dangerously close to challenging her husband’s expertise if she knew them.

Sciences and Social sciences
The natural sciences and social sciences were significant to young ladies only insofar as they facilitated the art of refined conversation.  General awareness and rote memorization in areas of history, politics, geography, literature and philosophy were sufficient for ladies of quality.

A cursory knowledge of botany was common.  Ladies who were more interested might also become learned in the use of plants as home remedies since the mistress of an estate was often the first one consulted in cases of injury and illness.

Despite the Napoleonic wars, a working knowledge of French was indispensable for a young lady.  Italian and German, for singing and understanding sung performances were also useful, but conversational fluency was not expected.  Greek and Latin, beyond a handful of commonly used phrases were the purview of men and not included in a young lady’s curriculum.


Though not expected to be virtuosos, quality young ladies were expected to be proficient musicians.  Playing and singing were considered seductive to men since they displayed her body and bearing to potential suitors. Furthermore, once married, musical skills would be useful for long evening of entertaining both her husband and her guests.

Only a few instruments were considered appropriate for young ladies.  Anything which needed to be blown into was a risk for causing a reddened face and heaving bosom, neither of which would be attractive, much less alluring, so they were out of the question. The violin, which required raised arms, was also inappropriate.  The short bodied dresses of the era presented too many possibilities for embarrassing mishaps.  Moreover, the violin required a higher level of expertise to perform and the potential for embarrassing oneself with a mediocre was greater.

The harp was the most desirable instrument, but most had to make do with the piano which had replaced the harpsichord in popularity. Some young ladies also learned the guitar.

Not only did girls need to be able to play and sing, but they had to be able to dance. The dance floor was the place for young ladies to interact with their suitors, a place where they could escape the watchful eyes of their chaperones and engage in somewhat private conversation and even touch, which was otherwise entirely forbidden. Skilled and graceful partners were highly desirable. Girls who danced poorly could expect to spend a lot of time without a partner.

Artistic endeavors
Girls were encouraged to draw and paint and given training in it whenever possible.  Particularly talented girls might even exhibit their work at local or national levels, or teach other girls, all of which could be valuable if she failed to obtain a husband.

Filigree work, now known as quilling, and japanning, now called decoupage, were also encouraged as ways for ladies to display their artistic skills. Screens, small chests and trunks and various bric-a-brac were frequently the object of their efforts.

Needlework (plain and fancy)

 Needlework was one of the most practical subjects for a young lady. No matter what her future might hold, clothing, plain or elegant, would be a part of it. Clothing required mending and making.  Even ladies who could hire out their own sewing would often engage in making garments for charitable cases in their parish. Fancy work included embroidery, cross stitch, knotting, netting and more.

Needlework need not be a solitary endeavor. Often, women would bring along their work baskets during social calls and work as they visited. If someone arrived without something to work on, a hostess might offer something from her workbasket to her visitor.  Of course, the elegance of the project would reflect upon the seamstress and fancy projects were more desirable for working in company than plain.

Boarding Schools

Girl’s education was a bit of a controversial subject. Girls from wealthy and cultured homes were often educated by their mothers since they could hire enough help with the household work to have time to invest in their daughter’s education. They might enlist the aid of additional teaching masters for training in music, languages and dance. Alternatively, at the age of ten, parents might consider sending their daughter to a boarding school, sometimes for as little as a year or two to ‘finish’ their accomplishments. If the girls was in the way at home, she might be sent off for much longer. 

Boarding school could be a risky proposition.  Many girls’ school were underfinanced, badly managed that never quite managed to be respectable. Teachers frequently came from the ranks of  clever, but poor former students, impoverished gentlewomen, poor relatives of the clergy or retired servants of the upper classes.

Subjects taught at these schools included decidedly nonacademic subjects likesewing and fancy needlework, drawing, dancing, music. Polite literature, including mythology, writing, arithmetic, botany, history, geography, and French formed the balance of the more academic studies.  Rudiments of stagecraft and acting might also be taught as training in elocution and grace of movement.

Parents typically paid twenty to thirty guineas per year for these schools.  Some of these subjects, particularly those which required additional masters to be brought in, like dance, might incur additional fees. Washing and the privilege of being a ‘parlor boarder’ who enjoyed extra privileges like eating with the mistress of the school and using the parlor, also incurred additional fees.

Armed with these skills, a young woman would be considered ready to enter society and engage in the all-important task of finding a suitable husband.
Baird, Rosemary. Mistress of the House, Great Ladies and Grand Houses. Phoenix (2003)
Collins, Irene . Jane Austen, The Parson’s Daughter Hambledon (1998) 
Collins, Irene . Jane Austen & the Clergy The Hambledon Press (2002)
Davidoff, Leonore & Hall, Catherine. Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class 1780-1850 Routledge (2002)
The Female Preceptor. Essays On The Duties Of The Female Sex, Conducted By A Lady. 1813 and 1814
Fullerton, Susannah. Jane Austen & Crime JASA Press (2004)
Harvey, A. D. Sex in Georgian England Phoenix Press (1994)
Ives, Susanna  Educating Your Daughters – A Guide to English Boarding Schools in 1814, March, 10 2013.  
Jones, Hazel. Jane Austen & Marriage Continuum Books (2009)
Lane, Maggie. Jane Austen’s World Carlton Books (2005)
Laudermilk, Sharon & Hamlin, Teresa L. The Regency Companion Garland Publishing (1989)
Le Faye, Deirdre. Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels Harry N. Abrams (2002)
Martin, Joanna. Wives and Daughters Hambledon Continuum (2004
Selwyn, David. Jane Austen & Leisure The Hambledon Press (1999)
Sullivan, Margaret C. The Jane Austen Handbook Quirk Books (2007)
Watkins, Susan. Jane Austen’s Town and Country Style Rizzoli (1990)


 Maria Grace is the author of Darcy’s Decision,  The Future Mrs. Darcy, All the Appearance of Goodness, and Twelfth Night at LongbournClick here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, follow on Twitter or email her.

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A Touch of Quill and Ink: Regency Letter Writing

Line art representation of a Quill

Line art representation of a Quill (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before telegraphs or telephones, email or texts, Twitter or Facebook, letter writing was the only way to maintain connections with distant family and friends. During the Regency era, writing letters, reading them, and sharing the news they contained was an essential part of social life, one largely slated for the women of the household.


Typically, women would write letters in the morning, before breakfast. They kept track of the letters they received and to whom they owed letters as carefully as other important social obligation like dinner invitations and entertaining. Though the information in a letter might be widely shared, one did not read another person’s letters. Select portions of letters might be read aloud to an audience. Sometimes the correspondent would indicate what could be read aloud by underlining passage. Otherwise, letters were considered very private and kept in locked boxes and drawers to preserve them from prying eyes.


Letter writing was considered an art form. Young ladies learned it as part of their necessary accomplishments. Governesses or boarding schools would teach handwriting, spelling and grammar, and the construction of suitable phrases to use in correspondence. Collections of letters by famous figures were often published. Similarly, books of sample letters could be found to assist a letter writer in conveying an appropriate sentiment. Phrases might even be copied directly from such books to insure a beautiful turn of phrase.


Not only could it be complicated to craft just the right words to convey a desired message, the very act of penning a letter was far more complex than sending off a quick text message today. ‘Dashing off a quick letter’ was hardly swift or simple process by today’s standards. A correspondent required a number of expensive supplies and specialized equipment to produce a proper letter.


The first step to crafting a letter was preparing the paper. Paper was an expensive commodity during the Regency, not like today when hundreds of note pads of various shapes and colors litter drawers, desks and countertops all over my house.

 10 16 cross writing 1020

In the 1700’s, paper makers began standardizing paper sizes and watermarking them according to size. Foolscap, one of the most common (and smallest) paper sizes, was typically used for printing and letter writing. Even so, at 16 1/2 inches by 13 1/4 inches it was often too large for a specific task and was often trimmed to size. A writer would not waste paper by leaving large spaces empty. To fit more on a single sheet of paper, letters wold be crosswritten, sometimes several times.  It took some practice to learn how to read such documents.

Paper, sold at stationers, could be bought by the ream (480 sheets) or the bale (ten reams. It was most commonly sold by the quire (1/20th a ream, 24 sheets). In some cases, particularly for specialty paper, like drawing paper, it was sold by the sheet.


Writing implements

Once the paper was ready, a pen (most likely) or pencil would have to be readied.

Quill pens


By far the most common pen was a quill pen from goose, swan or crow feather. Goose quill pens enjoyed the greatest popularity.

English: Three goose feathers in stages of bei...

English: Three goose feathers in stages of being made into writing quills. Top: unmodified. Middle: polished. Bottom: cut and shaped. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Not just any feather was suitable for a quill pen. The best pens quills were those from primary flight feathers taken from living birds. A healthy goose could produce about twenty pen-quills a year. Large flocks of geese were maintained for the sole purpose of producing pen-quills. Feather from the left wing were favored because the curve made them easier for right-handed writers to use. Left handers preferred pens made from the right wing. Goose feathers were used primarily for writing pens. Swan pens produced very broad lines. In contrast, crow feathers produced very fine, flexible pen nibs, favored by artists and ladies who wrote with small, delicate lines.

 Freshly plucked quills had to undergo extensive treatment before they could be turned into pens. The process, called quill-dutching started with plunging the quills into hot sand to remove the inner and outer membranes. The heat treatment also hardened the barrel of the quill and made it transparent. A treatment to nitric acid might be used to improve the appearance, but some thought it made the quills to brittle, so not all quills underwent this procedure. As a final step, quill dressers would trim away a section of the feathery ‘barb’ of the feather to make the pens easier to handle and take up less space in shipping. Bundles of twenty five or fifty quills were baled together and shipped to stationers’ shops.

 The pens would not be ready for sale until they had the attention of a pen-cutters. These professionals used a small, sharp pen knife and cut the quill down to a usable writing nib. A well cut pen, if treated correctly, could be used for quite some time before needing to be recut, something typical done by the pen’s owner. A pen could be re-cut several times before it needed replacement.




ink jar and quills

ink jar and quills (Photo credit: studentofrhythm)

Pens were of little use without ink. That should be fairly easy, right, a little lampblack or charcoal and some water and we’re ready to go. No, not at all. Ink are very complex substances to create.

 The most common ink was iron gall ink, made from oak galls, iron sulfate and acacia gum. The galls were pulverized, soaked in rain water for seven to ten days, boiled half volume, then the iron sulfate and acacia gum were added. Sugar, salt or brandy might also be added to the infusion. The fluid was stored in a tightly stoppered stoneware jug and kept warm to ferment for two weeks. Finally it was strained and ready for use.

 When first applied to paper, iron gall ink would be light grey, but after exposure to air, it darkened to a very permanent, dark purplish black. Although a useful, all purpose ink, if the iron sulfate content was too high, it would disintegrate the paper over time.

Ink corrosion:iron gall ink has oxidized the c...

Ink corrosion:iron gall ink has oxidized the cellulose, causing the paper to disintegrate. The manuscript is exhibited behind glass in a church in Evora, Portugal (next to the Capela dos Ossos). I took the photo through the glass. The manuscript is exhibited there without any comment, as just a curious old object. The light is indirect daylight. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Red, blue, yellow and green writing inks were also available, each as complex to make as iron gall ink. Stationer’s made these inks available along with quills and paper. Some stationers would formulate their own ink, generating a brand loyalty in their customers.

 For those seeking less expensive sources of ink, traveling ink sellers made their way through the streets, crying their wares along with sellers of fish, scissor grinders, and other tradesmen. They carried their supply in small barrels and dispensed it directly into the bottles supplied by their customers.

Pen knife 

 Pen knives, some extremely ornate, some plain, and some with folding blades, were another necessary implement for letter writing. Ordinary models might be acquired at the stationer’s while highly decorated models might come from a jeweler.

 The knives were necessary to recut quill pens when the tips degraded from use. They were also indispensable for maintaining the other Regency era writing implement, the pencil. They were not, though, used in trimming paper.


 Though we take it for granted today, the pencil was the first truly portable, use anywhere, on almost anything writing instrument. Its introduction freed artists and writers from the constraints of quills and ink.

 At first, solid sticks of graphite were wrapped in string or paper to make them cleaner to use. By the 17th century, various wood and metal holders, like chalk holders used today, had been developed. The exact date that graphite was encased in wood to create a cased pencil is not known. At first, these were all handmade and very expensive, but as machines were developed to do the job, they became affordable to common folk.

Plant sap, known as gum elastic could be used to rub out marks made by pencils. It was so effective it became known as a ‘rubber’. These ‘rubber’ cubes could be purchased at a stationer’s right alongside pencils. They were not actually attached to pencils like they are today until the end of the 19th century.

Sealing wax and wafers

Since envelopes did not come into general use until 1840, Regency era writers had to resort to other means to keep their correspondence sealed and private. The least expensive alternative was to wafers of flour and gum. Letters were folded to form an envelope and a person would lick the wafer to stick the paper shut.

 Those who could afford more elegant means used sealing wax which provided a tamper evident seal for their documents. Despite its name, sealing wax contained little or no actual wax.

Museum - FreimaurersiegelArt and science were required for the production of a high-quality sealing wax. Each maker tended to have their own special formula, and some included wax, while others did not. A formula from The Encyclopedia Britannica (1773), included beeswax, rosin, olive-oil and Venice turpentine. Other formulas included shellac, sandarac, rosin, pitch or mastic. “Spanish wax” contained shellac, mastic, turpentine, chalk or gypsum, color and fragrance.

 In general, people preferred red sealing wax and it was the most commonly used wax. Black sealing wax marked letters bearing the news of death and during periods of mourning. Green was the only other color available during the Regency era, used by the office of the Exchequer and the courts, of both the government and the Church.

 Sticks of sealing wax were about seven to eight inches in length and did not have a wick. They would be held over a candle to soften, then pressed down on the paper to be sealed. A seal or signet pressed into the soft wax made any tampering with the seal evident.

 With all the specialized tools and supplies for letter writing it is little wonder that elaborate writing desks and desk sets to store everything were common in the era. Clearly our concept of dashing off a quick text in seconds on a cell phone bears little resemblance to the production that penning even a brief letter would have been during the Regency era.

Chelsea Porcelain Factory - Inkstand - Walters 48842 (2)


 All About It:or: the History and Mystery of Common Things. New York: W. Townsend &Company, 1859.

Collins, Irene. Jane Austen, The Parson’s Daughter. Hambledon (1998)

Copeland, Edward, McMaster, Juliet, The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Kathryn Kane.The Regency Redingote. Sealing … Wax? 16 November 2012

Kathryn Kane.The Regency Redingote.The Precious Regency Pencil 23 October 2009

Kathryn Kane.The Regency Redingote.Ink — Regency Writing Fluid 18 September 2009

Kathryn Kane.The Regency Redingote.The Quill — The Regency Pen 11 September 2009

Kathryn Kane.The Regency Redingote.A Pen Knife was not always a “Pocket-Knife”. 8 January 2010

Kathryn Kane.The Regency Redingote.Oh, foolish Foolscap! 31 October 2008

Lane, Maggie. Jane Austen’s World. Carlton Books (2005)

Le Faye, Deirdre. Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels. Harry N. Abrams (2002)

Martin, Joanna . Wives and Daughters. Hambledon Continuum (2004)

Selwyn, David .  Jane Austen & Leisure The Hambledon Press (1999)

Todd, Janet M., Jane Austen in Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Watkins, Susan.  Jane Austen’s Town and Country Style Rizzoli (1990)

Willich, Anthony Florian Madinger, MD. and Cooper, Thomas, MD., The domestic encyclopedia: or A dictionary of facts and useful knowledge chiefly applicable to rural & domestic economy. With an appendix, containing additions in domestic medicine, and the veterinary and culinary arts. The whole illustrated with numerous engravings and cuts. In Three Volumes. Volume II.Phildadelphia: Abraham Small, 1821


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A Little Colorful Language: Cacklers, Mowers, Woolbirds and Swing tails

Francis Grose, author of Dictionary of he Vulgar Tongue


We have a house full of cats and a dog who thinks she a momma-cat.  They all have their own proper names. But they’ve also got multiple nicknames each. I may just incorporate a few of these regency Era slang terms as new nicknames for them!



  • Grimalkin. 

  • Tibby.

Ram Cat. A he cat.

Gib Cat. A northern name for a he-cat, there commonly called Gilbert.

Cherry-coloured Cat. A black cat, their being black cherries as well as red.

Smellers. A cat’s whiskers.



  • Buffer

  • Jugelow

Gnarler. A little dog that, by his barking, alarms the family when any person is breaking into the house.

Rum Bugher. A valuable dog. 



  • Grogham

  • Keffel

  • Prad

  • Prancer

Rip. A miserable rip; a poor, lean, worn-out horse.

Roarer. A broken-winded horse.

Rum Prancer. A fine horse. 

Star Gazer. A horse who throws up his head

Queer Prancer. A bad worn-out foundered horse

Scarlet Horse. A high red, hired or hack horse: a pun on the word hired.

Galloper. A blood-horse, a hunter.

Gibbe. A horse that shrinks from the collar, and will not draw.


Chickens ect

  • Cackler. 

  • Margery Prater.

  • Chick-a-biddy. 

Sucking Chicken. A young chicken

Cackler’s Ken. A hen-roost. 

Cackling Cheats. Fowls. 

Cackling Farts. Eggs. 

Cobble Colter. A turkey.

Gobbbler. A turkey cock.

Quacking Cheat. A duck.

Tib Of The Buttery. A goose.



  • Dunnock. 

  • Mower. 

Cow’s Spouse. A bull.

Churk. The udder.



  • Blater

  • Cow’s Baby

  • Essex Lion

  • Quaking Cheat

  • Rumford lion



  • Bleating Cheat

  • Woolbird

  • Havil

Bleating Rig. Sheep-stealing. 



  • Grunter. 

  • Swing Tail. 



  • Active Citizen 

  • Creepers 

  • Scotch Greys  


Other Animals

Dickey. An ass.

Roll your dickey; drive your ass.

Kingswood Lion. An ass. Kingswood is famous for the great number of asses kept by the colliers who inhabit that place.

Long One. A hare: a term used by poachers.

Pantek. A hart; that animal is, in the Psalms, said to pant after the fresh water brooks

Sea Lawyer. A shark.


Quoted from:   Grose, Captain (Francis). (2004) Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811 ed. Ikon Classics


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Dancing at a Regency Ball and a new feature

I decided to do a little spring cleaning on the site here. So I am retiring the Tuesday Technology feature and replacing it with something I hope you will enjoy even more: Regency Life. You can find it in the menu below the header. It contains articles and bits of fascination about life in the regency era.  There are already a number of posts under that heading, but today’s will be the first official ‘Regency Life’ Post and we’ll celebrate it with a bit of dancing!

Dancing at a Regency Ball

In a society governed by strict rules regulating the interaction of the sexes, the dance floor provided only of the only places marriage partners could meet and courtships might blossom. The ballroom guaranteed respectability and proper conduct for all parties since they were carefully regulated and chaperoned.  Even so, under cover of the music and in the guise of the dance, young people could talk and even touch in ways not permitted elsewhere despite the supervision of chaperons.

A young woman did not dance more than two pairs of dances with the same man or her reputation would be at risk.  Even two dances signaled to observers that the gentleman in question had a particular interest in her.  Pairs of dances and usually lasted half an hour, so an undesirable dance partner could have been quite a burden, especially considering dancing in a large set involved a lot of standing around waiting one’s turn to dance. However, if one’s partner were pleasing company, it was possible to have private conversations under cover of the crowd.

Dances of this era were lively and bouncy. Ladies pinned up the trains of their ball gowns for ease in performing the steps. This also signaled potential partners that they meant to dance that night.

Steps ranged from simple skipping to elaborate ballet-style movements.  Country dances, the scotch reel, cotillion, quadrille made up most of the dancing.  Many versions of these dances existed and often the lady of the leading couple would get to select the specific one that was to be danced.

In the country dance, a line of at least five couples progressed up and down the line in various figures as dancers would swing from partner to partner. As they reached the top, each couple in turn would dance down until the entire set had returned to its original positions. In large sets, this could take an hour to complete.

Country dances basically had only one step that was used to create various chain patterns and shapes along the dance floor. These dances were very flexible in the number they could accommodate.

English Country Dance

Some insisted that reels were better suited to private balls than public assemblies because of their merry character. In this dance four, or sometimes six, dancers would perform interlacing figures with one another then pause for a sequence of fancy footwork similar to a Highland Fling.

The cotillion was a French import, with elaborate footwork. It was performed in a square or long ways, like the country dance. It consisted of a “chorus” figure unique to each dance which alternated with a standard series of up to ten “changes” (simple figures such as a right hand star) common to cotillions in general). Some considered cotillions out of fashion by 1800.


The quadrille was a dance for four couples, in a square. It consisted of five distinct parts or figures assembled from individual cotillions without the changes, making it a much shorter dance. The music for the dance was often adapted from popular songs and stage works.



One dance not likely to be found in a Regency era ball was the waltz. When it was first introduced, the waltz was regarded as shocking because of the physical contact involved. Even Lord Byron was scandalized by the prospect of people “embracing” on the dance floor. It was unlikely to have been seen often in public assemblies until the latter part of the Regency era, and even then, not often.


by Maria Grace Copyright 2013, all rights reserved

Confound it all!

Girl pulling hair, screamingConfound it all! One of the frustrations of writing historical fiction is discovering your character could not do/hear/see/say something because it had not been invented yet!

Such is my plight as I just discovered my heroine could not say ‘Confound it!’ as the saying did not exist for nearly another 40 years!

A few other things she could not say (and the year in which she could have said them) include:

  • botheration – c. 1835
  • by gum – c. 1825
  • cheeky – c. 1830
  • cheerio – c. 1910
  • confound it – c. 1850
  • darned – c. 1815
  • drat – c. 1815
  • fancy that – c. 1834
  • frightfully – c. 1830
  • (all) right – c. 1837
  • right you are – c. 1865
  • smashing – c. 1850

But, when frustrated, as I  am,  she could have said any of these (and the year they made their appearance):

  • bah –c. 1600
  • balderdash – c.1675
  • barmy — c. 1600
  • beastly – c. 1200
  • blasted – (damned) c. 1600
  • by (Saint) George – c. 1719, by Jove – c. 1570
  • by the bye – c. 18th C.
  • criminy – c. 1700
  • daft – c. 1450
  • dang — c. 1790
  • darn – c. 1790
  • deuced (damned) — c. 1785
  • devilish – c. 1450
  • devil of a… – c. 1750,
  • dickens (What the dickens?) – late 1600
  • egad — c. 1675
  • fiddle-de-dee – c. 1785
  • fiddle faddle – from 18th C.
  • fiddlesticks – from 17th C.
  • gads — from 17th C., gadzooks — c. 1655
  • ghastly – c. 1325
  • golly – c. 1775
  • good gracious – from 18th C.
  • goodness! – mid 19th C.
  • gosh – c. 1760
  • go to the devil – from 14th C.
  • gracious – from 18th C., gracious me – from 19th
  • I say – from 17th C.
  • la – from 16th C.
  • lo and behold — by 1810
  • oh! – c. 1550, oh-oh — c. 173
  • pah — c. 1600
  • pish — c. 1595
  • pooh — c. 1600
  • pshaw — c. 167
  • rot it – 17th — 18th C.
  • rubbish — c. 1630
  • son of a gun — c. 1710
  • tosh – (nonsense) c. 1530
  • What (how) the devil – from 17th C.
  • zooks – c. 1635
  • zounds – c. 1600

And to make matters worse, my family looks at me like I’m nuts for caring whether or not she could have said any of these phrases. Confound it all!

English Through the Ages, by William Brohaugh, Writer’s Digest Books, 1998
Etymology of Expressions compiled by Joanna Waugh

by Maria Grace Copyright 2013, all rights reserved

From Portreath to Scorrier, the Railway before the Train

Please Welcome David W. Wilkins as he comes by to talk about some railway history.

Guest post by David W Wilkins

The research for The End of the World is something of a chicken and egg story. I should imagine that many tales that end up as novels have similar births. One thought leads to another and then a third and more. Finally a story of plot begins to germinate and then research follows.

For The End of the World I had long had an interest in Steam Engines. And then the age of locomotives that was shortly to come. Near the end of the Regency. But as I did research without thought to writing a Regency Romance I came across this line on the Wikipedia, ‘In 1809 a horse drawn tramway was constructed between Portreath and Scorrier…’

Laying down railway tracks before we even thought to create a train engine. Why? How?

The distances here are from Portreath to Scorrier not five miles, so not too excessively far, but certainly a novel concept. Why not have my hero be the man who starts the use of such, for before one puts carts on rail tracks, it is donkeys, mules, carting the ore to Portreath.

Still horse power to cart the output to the ships for transport, but faster, better, smarter. The call of the industrial age on the horizon.

R.F. Delderfield in God is an Englishman has a notion that the cartage business has merit, I remembered from reading over 20 years ago. There was a way to do things faster, better, cheaper.  So that was one of the skills of my hero, Samuel Billingsly Lynchhammer.

I delved into the Cornwall mining industry during the Regency, setting our tale near the end of the period of the Napoleonic war. Samuel’s father and brother were to be serving naval officers.

Some of the other influences on the story for The End of the World, an allusion to Cornwall being the End of the World, were decidedly American. There is an old Troy Donahue/Karl Malden movie called Parrish. They grew tobacco in Connecticut instead of mining copper in Cornwall.

Copper mining had begun to surpass tin mining at this time in which I set my story and from 1819 to 1840 just the Consolidated mine alone yielded 300,000 tonnes which sold for over ₤2 million. Using some of the research that I did on currency, that would be about $4 billion today. And that is one large mine, but only one mine in the area. If one mine is doing $200 million a year, then one can see that these are lucrative businesses for the aristocracy to own.

The Gwennap area of Cornwall would become the ‘ “Copper Kingdom” and then the richest known mineralised area in the world.’

In 1842 at the Tresavean Mine, in Lanner near Redruth, very close to where my story takes place, the first ever man-engine was installed. This was the height of Cornwall copper mining. So setting the scene 30 years before, when the first rail line is installed and Steam Engines are used to pump the water out of the mines, so the miners won’t drown are plot points for the The End of the World.

In 1824, the rails were made into an actual railway from Redruth to Chasewater.


Mr. Wilkin writes Regency Historicals and Romances, Ruritanian (A great sub-genre that is fun to explore) and Edwardian Romances, Science Fiction and Fantasy works. He is the author of the very successful Pride & Prejudice continuation; Colonel Fitzwilliam’s Correspondence. He has several other novels set in Regency England including The End of the World and The Shattered Mirror. His most recent work include the humorous spoof, Jane Austen and Ghosts, a story of what would happen were we to make any of these Monsters and Austen stories into a movie and  Two Peas in a Pod, a madcap tale of identical twin brothers in Regency London who find they must impersonate each other to pursue their loves.

He is published by Regency Assembly Press

Read his blog  The Things That Catch My Eye which hosts the Regency Lexicon and the current work in progress, the  Regency Timeline .

Follow him on Twitter at @DWWilkin  and  at Pinterest Regency-Era

The 19th Century British Post

Guest post   by Wendi Sotis.

British mail coach

“Mail Coach” Public Domain photo


 In 1784, the British postal system was reformed by John Palmer, a theatre owner in Bath, who had found a way to transport actors at high speeds and applied it to the mail. With the introduction of mail coaches, security increased dramatically over that of employing post boys, who often conspired with robbers to arrange thefts.

By 1811, more than two hundred mail coaches ran regular deliveries on “post roads.” The coaches were painted black with red wheels; the doors and bottom panels were maroon and sported the Royal Coat of Arms. Light and fast, they eventually carried four passengers inside and three outside – none of which were allowed anywhere near the Mail Guard who stood at the back above the coach, facing forward.

Not only were Mail Guards well paid, but they were granted sick leave and pensions as well to avoid the corruption seen in the past with post boys. Tips were expected from passengers travelling by the coach—a shilling a passenger was expected for a lengthy trip. Wearing the uniform of the Royal Guard, their scarlet coats with blue lapels and gold trim were hard to miss. They were equipped with two pistols, a blunderbuss, and a timepiece in order to keep records of the coachman’s progress. Mail coaches did not pay tolls; the Guard would blow a special horn when approaching a tollgate, and if the toll keeper did not raise the gate in a timely manner, he would have to pay a hefty fine. There were horn signals for several events, including a warning to other coaches to make way, that the mail coach was about to make a turn, and serving as advance notice to a post office that the coach would soon approach.

Postmasters were private business owners, usually innkeepers who were permitted to make extra money by charging a fee to deliver mail to non-post office villages and estates. As the coach passed through towns and villages that were not scheduled stops, the guard would throw out bags of incoming mail while grabbing bags of outgoing mail from the Letter Keeper or Postmaster.

Travelling by a mail coach was faster than by other methods, but the trip could be uncomfortable for passengers. They stopped only for post office business, such as changing horses, and not for meals or any other “convenience.” Travelers were expected to walk up steep hills to spare the horses the strain of pulling their weight.

cross written letter

Private post services were slow and unreliable, but cost less than the Royal Mail. If someone wished a letter to be sent more quickly than the regular post, an express was sent through the post office. A private servant could also carry a letter, but their master would have to pay all fees associated with their ride, including meals and changes of horses. Since the post had become so reliable, many did not use express service.

Before 1840, stamps as we know them today did not exist. Fees could be paid in advance in some cases, such as London’s Penny Post, but it was an accepted practice that the recipient would pay. Since the cost was determined by the number of pages used as well as by the mile, to save money, many would write down the page and then turn the paper sideways and “cross”, writing between the words. Re-crossing would be when the person wrote diagonally as well, but the letter would be very difficult to read.


“Franking” was free mail usually limited to members of Parliament and officials, though the practice of gifting blank franked pages to friends became a problem. The Clerk of the Roads franked newspapers. Members of the military were granted a reduced mail rate beginning in 1795.

There were no envelopes – the outside of the page would be intentionally left blank with only the address and return direction written there. The page was folded in such a way that would keep the writing on the inside and the ends tucked together. Some used wax seals to hold the letter together.

Permission to repost photo from Iowa State University Library Preservation Department

Based on the mileage from The Regency Encyclopedia’s Map Gallery, assuming they were one-sheet, the letters that Elizabeth Bennet sent from Rosings to Jane at the Gardiner’s house in London cost Mr. Gardiner six shillings. Mr. Bennet would have had to hand over ten shillings to the Postmaster in Meryton to receive a letter from his favorite daughter, Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy of Pemberley.


Mail coach, Public Domain Photo, “Mailcoach”, WikiMedia commons, Web, 31, October, 2006

Crossed Letter, Public Domain Photo, “From Caroline Weston to Deborah Weston; Friday, March 3, 1837”, WikiMedia Commons, Web, 8 July 2010

How to Post a Letter, 19th Century Style, Iowa State University Library Preservation Department, Web, 14 Feb. 2011

British Postal Museum & Archive

J. C. Hemmeon, PhD. The History of The British Post Office. Harvard Economics Studies, Published under the direction of the Department of Economics Vol VII, From the Income of the William H. Baldwin, Jr., 1885, Fund, Cambridge Harvard University. 1912

The Regency Encyclopedia – Map Gallery

About the Author

Wendi Sotis lives on Long Island, New York with her husband and twelve-year-old triplets–a son and two daughters. Her books including Promises and Dreams and Expectations are available at most online booksellers.


Nom nom nom ~ Regency style

A fascinating post on one of my favorite subjects, the history of food.

Nom nom nom ~ Regency style

 by M.M. Bennetts

…The first meal of the day was generally taken at ten.  It lasted for about an hour and it was a good solid English breakfast.  ‘Morning’ itself then lasted until dinner at perhaps three or four in the afternoon.  Dinner went on for about two hours…For the most part, there were two courses, often called removes, plus dessert.  And the servants didn’t serve each individual from a tray onto their plate either.

Oh, and there was no allotted placement either, with the exception that the host would be the first into the room, escorting the ‘senior’ lady, and taking his place at the foot of the table, while the hostess sat at the upper end of the table and the guest(s) of honour sat near her.

When the family or family and guests walked into the dining room, the table would already be spread with an array of dishes of every kind of food–soup, fish, game, poultry, meat, pies, sauces, pickles, vegetables, puddings both sweet and savoury, jellies and custards.  Depending upon the occasion, there might be anything from five to twenty five different dishes, all arranged symmetrically around a centre dish.

Continue reading

Georgian Cookery: Chocolate Tart!

I love old cookbooks, the older the better. With as much time as I spend in the kitchen trying to feed three teen-aged sons, old fashioned cookery fascinated me.  When I found these videos, I just had to share them.  There are several, but, in true chocoholic fashion, I have to share dessert first!

Here’s a link to the site you can download the recipe.  I may just have to try this one! Georgian Recipes

From the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue: Soldiers

 I have to admit, all the research on the army, officers, militia and war has left me rather down, so I thought I would post something a little more light hearted on the subject today.

I am captivated by language and how it relates to a culture. With three teen aged sons living at home with me I get to hear a lot of the slang they encounter and I never cease to be fascinated by the terms that come up.  Since every era has its own unique slang, I thought it would be interesting to share some Regency era slang with you as it pertains to soldiers.

Terms for soldiers:

  • Bad bargain: a worthless soldier. Usage: One of his majesty’s bad bargains
  • Bloody Back: A jeering name for a soldier, for his scarlet coat.
  • Brothers of the blade: A soldier
  • Fogey or Old Fogey: A nickname for an invalid soldier.
  • British unforms circa 1812

    British red coat uniforms, circa 1812

    Foot wabbler: A contemptuous name for a foot soldier, commonly used by the cavalry.

  • Light bob: A soldier of the light infantry company.
  • Lobster: A nickname for a soldier, from the color of his clothes.
  • Parish soldier: A militiaman, from substitutes being frequently hired by the parish for those who do not wish to serve.
  • Skulker: A soldier who by feigned sickness evades his duty; a sailor who keeps below in time of danger
  • Swad or Swadkin: A soldier.

Interesting terms related to the military:

Act of parliament: A military term for five pints of beer. An act of parliament had formally obliged a landlord was formerly to give to each soldier this amount free.

 Black Guard: A shabby, mean fellow; derived from a number of dirty, tattered roguish boys, who attended at the Horse Guards and Parade in St. James’s Park, to black the boots and shoes of the soldiers, or to do any other dirty offices.

Blue plumb: A bullet.

Brown Bess: A soldier’s firelock.

Brown Bess musket

Brown Bess musket

Camp candlestick: A bottle, or soldier’s bayonet.

Halbert: A weapon carried by an infantry sergeant.

He carries the halbert in his face: a saying of one promoted from a sergeant to a commission officer.

Lumber: Live lumber; soldiers or passengers on board a ship are so called by the sailors.

Messmate: A soldier who eats at the same mess, companion or comrade.

Nightingale: A soldier who sings (cries) out at the halberts.

-It is a point of honour in some regiments never to cry out under the discipline of the cat of nine tails; to avoid which, they chew a bullet.

 Rag fair: An inspection of the linen and necessaries of a company of soldiers, commonly made by their officers on Mondays or Saturdays.

Sank, Sanky, Centipees: A tailor employed by clothiers in making soldier’s clothing.

A series of pole mounted weapons called halberts

Various Halberts

To be brought to the halberts: to be flogged. Soldiers of the infantry, when flogged,being commonly tied to three halberts, set up in a triangle, with a fourth fastened across them.

To boil one’s lobster— for a churchman to become a soldier: lobsters, which are of a bluish black, being made red by boiling.

To get a halbert: to be appointed a sergeant.

To hug brown Bess: to carry a firelock, or serve as a private soldier.

Smart money: Money allowed to soldiers or sailors for the loss of a limb, or other hurt received in the service.

Soldier’s mawnd: A pretended soldier, begging with a counterfeit wound, which he claims to have received at some famous siege or battle.

Surfeited with a blue plumb: wounded with a bullet.

Tattoo: A beat of the drum, of signal for soldiers to go to their quarters and for ale to stop being served.

Finally, in the category of not exactly slang but still pretty interesting:

Cold burning. A punishment inflicted by private soldiers on their comrades for trifling offences, or breach of their mess laws; it is administered in the following manner: The prisoner is set against the wall, with the arm that is to be burned tied as high above his head as possible. The executioner then ascends a stool, and having a bottle of cold water, pours it slowly down the sleeve of the delinquent, patting him, and leading the water gently down his body, till it runs out at his breeches knees: this is repeated to the other arm, if he is sentenced to be burned in both.

Quoted from:

Grose, Captain (Francis). (2004)  Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1811 ed. Ikon Classics

by Maria Grace Copyright 2013, all rights reserved