How to Smell Like a Regency Era Gentleman

I fully admit to having a thing about the way my characters smell. I kinda get a bit obsessive about it. Maybe it’s because I can still recall which cologne each of my ex-boyfriends wore and, if I smell them today, the scent will bring back a distinct memory. And before you question that statement, I’m referring to smelling the cologne, not an ex-boyfriend.

Creating a distinct smell for a female character that lives during the Regency era is much easier than figuring out how I’d like my heroes to smell. I’ve read about so many male characters smelling of Bay Rum, that I was beginning to question whether there were other scents available to men. So during my recent trip to London I was on a mission to find out what scents gentlemen favored during the Regency era. There were two shops, in particular, that I wanted to visit because they’re chemists and perfumers who have been around since the late 18th century and catered more to a male clientele. Lucky for me, each shop had very helpful salesclerks that were happy to show me some of their oldest scents.

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My first stop was D.R. Harris & Co., Chemists and Perfumers on St. James’s Street. This shop was established in 1790. During the Georgian era they gained a reputation as purveyors of Lavender Water, Classic Cologne and English Flower perfumes. While I was there, I sampled some of the men’s fragrances that were around during the Regency era. Here is what I discovered. Classic Cologne is a typically fresh fragrance, Freshening Cologne has a tangy lemon note, and Traditional Cologne is a warmer scent with subtle orange notes.

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Two of their other oldest fragrances caught my eye. They were  Albany, named after the fashionable bachelors’ residence on Piccadilly, and Mayfair, named after the exclusive area of London where the Regency era elite resided. It was surprising to see such a modern technique of naming a product. I liked both of these fragrances so much, that I brought bottles of them back with me. Albany is a blend of lavender and citrus, and Mayfair had a sweeter floral fragrance.

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I also did smell Bay Rum. It was not to my taste at all and, for the record, none of my heroes will smell like it. I expected a very warm fragrance leaning more towards spicy rum. It actually smelled more like bay leaves.

 

 

Another shop I visited is Truefitt & Hill, which is also on St. James’s Street. This is the oldest barbershop in the world and was established in 1805.

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Famous Regency era men who were patrons of this shop include the sons of George III, the Duke of Wellington, Lord Byron, and Beau Brummell. Aside from the services of the barber shop, they also sell men’s cologne and shaving products. Sadly, I was not able to find out which scent was favored by Brummell.

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Statue of Beau Brummell on Jermyn Street in London

 

It was amusing to learn that their Freshmen Cologne was specifically blended in 1805 with fashion conscious Cambridge and Oxford students in mind. According to the shops description, it has “top notes of Lemon, Bergamot, Rosemary, Mint and Orange Blossom surrounding a heart of Clary Sage, Lily of the Valley, Jasmine and Ylang-Ylang which comfortably rest on a base notes of Musk and Oakmoss.”

Their Spanish Leather cologne dates back to 1814. I’ll often have my heroes smelling like leather, depending on what they are wearing or if they’ve been riding. To find a fragrance named leather made me laugh. It is described by Truefitt &Hill as “a rich, but subtle blend, with top notes of Fruit, Bergamot, Orange and Pimento, with a heart of Carnation, Cinnamon, Patchouli, Rose, Orris and woody notes, all resting on a base of Amber, Moss and Musk, Vanilla and Tonka.”

So now I have different scents to distinguish my characters, and you now know what a Regency era gentleman might have smelled like if you were standing beside him under the glittering chandeliers of a London ballroom. And best of all, you can still buy these fragrances today!

If you’re interested in learning more about these shops or buying some of there products, here are the links to their websites:

D.R. Harris & Co.

Truefitt & Hill

 

 

 

 

 

London’s Albany: An Exclusive Address for the Regency Era Bachelor

One of my favorite parts in developing a character is trying to determine where they live. I’m currently writing An Unexpected Countess and my hero, the Earl of Hartwick, would rather chew glass than live under the same roof as his father. After looking at a number of options, I decided Hart would live in one of London’s most exclusive addresses during the Regency era for a fashionable bachelor, an apartment-type building known as Albany. One of the best things about this building is that it has survived and continues to be one of London’s most exclusive residences. It’s located on Piccadilly next to the Burlington Arcade and is set back from the street by a private courtyard. For over two hundred years a sense of privacy has been valued here. Today, I’d like to tell you a little bit about it.

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Greenwood’s Map of London, 1827

Albany was originally designed by Sir William Chambers in 1774 as a residence for the first Lord Melbourne and his wife. In 1791 the Duke of York and Albany proposed a house swap to Lord Melbourne and an agreement was reached. The Duke, who was the second son of George III, and his wife lived there until 1803, when compounding debt forced him to sell the house to a young developer named Alexander Copland for £37,000.

Copland recognized the need for small London residences for fashionable gentlemen who didn’t wish to live alone in large townhouses and wanted to be close to the clubs and shops of St. James, as well as the Houses of Parliament. He worked with the architect Henry Holland to convert the mansion into a subscription house with a small garden behind it. Holland added two parallel buildings to the mansion and divided the entire structure into 69 apartments (or sets as Albany residents refer to them). The sets in the attached buildings are accessed from a 100ft. passageway known as the Rope Walk.

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Drawing by Thomas H. Shepherd, c. 1830, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The sets were marketed exclusively to wealthy, well-connected gentlemen who were either bachelors or men who did not live with their wives. Some of the notable residents in the early nineteenth century include Matthew “Monk” Lewis, Lord Byron, and George Canning. Residents had an option to lease or buy a set. In 1814 Lord Byron took a seven-year lease at £110 per annum, with the option of purchasing the set for £1900 within one year.

Occupants were, and still are, subject to certain rules and regulations established by a group of Trustees who are elected from among the residents. Some of the original rules stipulated that residents could not alter any part of the building structure and owners could not rent or sell chambers without the consent of the Trustees. And it was understood that no women or children were permitted on the premises, although there is a rumor that Byron’s lover, Lady Caroline Lamb, managed to enter this forbidden land dressed as a page-boy. It wasn’t until the 1880s that the ban on women was finally lifted and beginning in the twentieth century women were permitted to reside there.

In the early nineteenth century a standard set contained an entrance hall, two main rooms in the front of the unit, and two or three smaller rooms in the back. Each set came with a wine and coal cellar in the basement and accommodations for a servant on the upper floor. In 1818 gaslights were installed in the building, and in June of 1820 the Trustees agreed that the parish should light the entrance from Piccadilly, the courtyard and the portico of the mansion.

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London’s Albany. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Regency history buffs might find it interesting to discover that in 1804 Henry Angelo’s fencing school was located in Albany’s courtyard, and in 1807 the pugilist John Jackson might have used the same apartment. For a short time Jane Austen’s brother Henry, of the banking firm Austen and Maunde, also had his office in the courtyard.

I love that this building has retained its sense of the past and hasn’t changed much in over two hundred years. According to one of its current residents, there is such a sense of decorum that uttering a friendly hello to a neighbor as you pass on the stone stairs or the Rope Walk is frowned upon. For the residents of Albany, a nod or a hat tip to a lady is the appropriate greeting.

References:

British History Online: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vols31-2/pt2/pp367-389

Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, Jennifer Kloester. 2010. Print.

New York Times Magazine, London’s Best and Most Secretive Address. November 11, 2013. Print.

A Shocking Way to Entertain Guests During the Regency Era

 

Electrifying Machine

When you’re entertaining, you want your guests to have a good time. While good conversation over a meal and then cocktails afterwards can be the makings of an ideal dinner party, sometimes we have an urge to do something a bit more memorable. Our Regency era counterparts were no different, and in the early nineteenth century one way you could make an impression on your guests was with a spark of electricity.

During the Georgian era electricity was a hot topic. Benjamin Franklin completed his famous experiment with lightning, and Luigi Galvani was studying the reactions of muscles to electricity. By the later half of the eighteenth century, friction machines were used for generating electric shocks to amuse spectators at public exhibitions. In England, popular interest in electricity led to arguments about the propriety of demonstrating these effects in public. A political controversy arose along party lines in Parliament, with the Whigs championing the scientific demonstrations and the High Tories claiming that it was blasphemy to expose God’s secret before an “ignorant populace.”

By the early nineteenth century, electrifying machines became hugely popular and eventually cheap enough to find their way into the homes of the gentry. Scientific experimentation was one of the few areas of Regency life in which women could participate on something approaching an equal footing with men. Therefore, using an electrifying machine was an ideal activity to entertain both the male and female guests during an evening at home.

The watercolor painting at the top of this post shows a fun glimpse of Regency life. It’s dated May 25th 1817 and was painted at Dynes Hall in Essex, England, by a young English woman named Diana Sperling. Diana enjoyed capturing scenes of everyday life. This painting depicts an evening after her brother-in-law, Henry Van Hagen, had purchased an electrifying machine, possibly to entertain his family and friends.

He is shown cranking the machine to create friction, which would carry an electric shock through the string. His wife is behind him, apparently having no desire to take part in the experiment. Henry’s mother starts the chain of guests and has the honor of holding the machine’s string. When enough friction was created, all the guests would receive a shock. I suppose this was considered a novel way to have fun. My favorite part of the painting shows Diana’s sister Isabella, leaning against the wall. It appears as if she is either swooning or cannot believe her family has convinced her to take part in this odd experiment.

I recently held a dinner party for a few friends, and I think they would have been shocked if I suggested we have a go at running electrical current through our bodies for amusement. I think enjoying cocktails and amusing conversations probably was entertaining enough.

References used include:

Longford, Elizabeth, Mrs. Hurst Dancing and Other Scenes from Regency Life 1812-1823, (c. 1981)

Jago, Lucy, Regency House Party (c. 2004)

 

How To Spy On A Suitor Without Looking Like You’re Trying

fatwomanspyImagine attending a performance at the Theatre Royal, and you discover the object of your affection is sitting in a box to your right. You have no desire to make a spectacle of yourself by leaning out of your box to see who they are with, so you take out what appears to be a straight-barrel spyglass and point it at the stage. While it looks as if you are focusing your attention on the performance, the ingenious spyglass you are holding is allowing you to watch the people in the box to your right. Now you can stare to your heart’s content and no one will be the wiser.

While researching a pair of antique opera glasses this past week, I stumbled across a fun accessory I’d never heard of, known as the “jealousy glass.” It looks like a single barrel opera or field-glass, but it actually contains an oblique lens and side aperture that allows the user to discretely see what is happening to their left or right.

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The jealousy glass, also known as a polemoscope, was invented by the German-Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius in 1637. Hevelius believed his invention could have military uses, but the viewing angle was found to be too narrow. During the 18th century, the general population began using the polemoscope to spy on other people.

Jealousy Glass c.1750-1770

As time went on and the demand for jealousy glasses increased, innovations were made to Hevelius’s original design. The jealousy glass pictured above was made in France and dates from 1750-1770. It has a brass eyepiece and blue enamel casing with white decorative embellishments. A hinged “lens cover” conceals a storage compartment that was probably used for snuff or a pomade. The oval mirror with a surrounding green cord opens to the side and allows the user to view the reflected image.

 Jealousy Glass (English, c. 1760)

Jealousy glasses were also designed with specific genders in mind. This jealousy glass is from England and was made in 1760. It was specifically designed for a gentleman and holds a number of accoutrements. The brass body is covered in green stained snakeskin, and there is a magnetic compass set into the brass cap. The core contains a gentleman’s manicure set and includes nail scissors, a hinged ivory note-slide, a pencil, folding knife, needle and tweezers with a file handle. It reminds me of an 18th century version of a Swiss Army Knife.

Jealousy Glass (French, early 19th century)

The ladies also had jealousy glasses created especially for them. This early 19th century jealousy glass was made in Paris by Bointaburet. It contains a pill case under the lid and a miniature scent bottle just 2cm wide that fits within the barrel. Should the behavior of a certain gentleman cause a lady to swoon, the bottle’s contents could help revive her.

Source used:

The College of Optometrists: http://www.college-optometrists.org/en/college/museyeum/online_exhibitions/optical_entertainment/jealousy.cfm

What’s So Rotten About Rotten Row?

It’s that well-known place people go to see and be seen. Today it might be an expensive restaurant, exclusive nightclub or even a famous seaside town. But during the Regency Era one place English aristocrats went to strut their stuff was a bridle path in London’s Hyde Park known as Rotten Row. This pathway was the ultimate place to people watch. On any given day the Prince Regent, Beau Brummell, or Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire might promenade down the bridle path for all of London to see. Quite simply, Rotten Row was the place to be.

Rotten Row

The show began around 5:00 in the afternoon when members of the ton would descend on Hyde Park for the fashionable hour. Beautifully turned-out men and women on horseback shared the bridle path with their finely dressed peers who rode in expensive carriages. One did not gallop on Rotten Row during the fashionable hour but instead walked, trotted or cantered along. This gave everyone plenty of time to find out the latest gossip, mingle with influential people and perhaps even engage in a discrete flirtation. Of course being able to show off your riding clothes, equipage and mounts was an added bonus. If you were inclined to stroll or did not have a horse and carriage, you could use the footpath beside Rotten Row and observe the spectacle going on just a few feet away.

Rotten Row

Walking in the Footsteps of History

When I was in London last year I spent a beautiful day in Hyde Park and made it a point to take a long walk along Rotten Row. If you’d like to see Rotten Row for yourself, it’s easy to find inside Hyde Park. Enter the park through the Grand Entrance, which is also known as Queen Elizabeth’s Gate. This gate is at Hyde Park Corner next to Apsley House. Just ahead and to your left you’ll see the sand and dirt bridle path which is Rotten Row. Grass and trees border the south-side. To the north, black posts separate the bridle path from a bike lane and footpath. As you stroll along Rotten Row you’ll pass an arbor, flower gardens, green space and eventually you’ll spot the Serpentine to your right.

Rotten Row

Today you can find walkers and joggers on Rotten Row as well as the Queen’s Household Cavalry. Hyde Park Stables, located inside the park, offers horseback riding as well as lessons if you’d like to ride on this path yourself.

Rotten Row

A royal commemorative plaque was erected near Rotten Row’s entrance in 1990 and provides a brief history of this notable location:

“Rotten Row The King’s Old Road Completed 1690

This ride originally formed part of King William III’s carriage drive from Whitehall to Kensington Palace. It’s construction was supervised by the Surveyor of their majesties road, Captain Michael Studholme, and it was the first lamp-lit road in the kingdom. Designated as a public bridleway in the 1730’s, Rotten Row is one of the most famous urban riding grounds in the world.”

So why would such a fashionable place have such an odd name? One of the most popular explanations is that the path was called “Route du Roi,” which is French for King’s Road. Eventually the French was corrupted by the English to Rotten Row. Although this explanation makes sense, I still find it a funny name for such a prestigious place.

Sources used include:

The Power of the Quizzing Glass

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The quizzing glass or quizzer was a popular accessory during the Georgian and English Regency eras.  It consists of a single round, oval or oblong lens rimmed in gold, silver or pinchbeck.  Some of the handles are quite elaborate and might even have compartments containing such items as vinaigrettes or a lock of hair.  The loop of the handle often swivels to make it easier to lay flat when hung from a chain.  Depending on the owner’s needs a quizzing glass was either set with a magnifying lens or a corrective lens.  The lenses were made by opticians and were most likely set into frames provided by goldsmiths and jewelers.

The quizzing glass appears to be an innocuous item that would have been used to assist a person who had poor vision, but when you look deeper you discover it was much more than that.

I first became enamored with antique quizzing glasses when I read Slightly Married by Mary Balogh.  The novel introduced the powerful and coldly disciplined Wulfric Bedwyn, the Duke of Bewcastle, who had the ability to intimidate people by simply studying them through his quizzing glass.  Georgette Heyer also featured this Regency accessory in some of her novels such as An Infamous Army, The Corinthian, and Devil’s Cub.  Maybe it’s because of stories like these that people often associate quizzing glasses with haughty English aristocrats or dandies.  But the popularity of using lenses for more than reading might actually have begun in France with the use of the lorgnette.

The lorgnette is a pair of glasses a person would hold up to their eyes by a handle and was popular in France during the late eighteenth century.  Lorgnette comes from the French lorgner, “to peer at.”  Frenchmen began using them for unashamed observation of feminine beauty.  In an article entitled “Les Lorgneurs” by Mercier, published in the Tableau de Paris in 1793, there is a wonderful description of how bold these Frenchmen were.

“Paris is full of these lorgneurs, setting their eyes on you, fixing your person with a steady and immobile gaze.  This behavior is so widespread that it is not even considered indecent anymore.  Ladies are not offended when they are observed arriving at the theatre or whilst taking a walk.  But should this happen when they are amongst themselves the lorgneur is considered uncouth and accused of insolence.”

In England the single lens quizzing glass became a fashionable way to observe people and objects.  It was possible to issue a set-down simply by peering through the lens of a quizzing glass with a critical eye.  Hogarth, Rowlandson and Cruikshank all caricatured its use.  And famous quizzing glass users included Beau Brummell and Charles James Fox.

The fashion was not limited to men as women also took to wearing them.  Typically a man would wear his quizzing glass about his neck with a black ribbon and a woman would suspend hers around her neck by a long chain.  In the painting below of Miss Rosamond Crocker by Sir Thomas Lawrence you can see how fashionable this accessory had become.

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So the next time you are on line at a shop and some rude patron tries to cut you off, just think how fabulous it would be if you could simply peer at them through a quizzing glass to put them in their place.  Oh and by the way, the one that I wear has also come in handy when my friends are trying to read the small type on restaurant menus.  It really is quite a versatile accessory.

Sources used include:

  • Candice Hern’s Website
  • The College of Optometrists Website
  • The Georgian Index Website
  • Mercier, “Les Lorgneurs” Tableau de Paris (1793)
  • The Word Wenches Blog 

What is a Love Token?

American Love Token                  "WJ"                 1876

American Love Token
“WJ”
1876

Most people think of a love token as a small gift or gesture that expresses affection for someone we care about. In actuality, a Love Token is a coin that’s been rubbed smooth and hand engraved with initials, names or sayings. These coins were given as gifts until the early twentieth century and were symbols of promise or remembrance.  So, how did this practice start?

For centuries, coins have been carried for luck.  Unfortunately, it was easy to confuse your lucky coin with any other coin in your purse and people would accidentally spend them.  In Great Britain it became common to mark your lucky coin to prevent that from happening by bending it twice, one side up and the other side down.  These coins were known as benders and this is where the term a crooked sixpence came from.

During the late seventeenth century people also began to engrave their lucky coins.  These coins were appropriately referred to as engraved coins and many of them had simple linear designs.  In addition to marking lucky coins, people also began to engrave coins to mark births, deaths, unions and marriages.

American Love Token "FWP" c1853

American Love Token
“FWP”
c1853

Coins were also engraved by people being shipped from England to the penal colonies in Australia.  Some mention the name of the imprisoned and the number of years to be served and others have sentimental references.  A classic engraving is: “When this you see, remember me.”

It’s believed that during the late Georgian era suitors began to present engraved coins to young ladies as tokens of love.  By the early nineteenth century the custom of presenting “Love Tokens” made its way to the United States.

To create a Love Token a person would take their coin to a jeweler or engraver who would smooth out one, and sometimes both, sides of the coin.  The coin would then be re-engraved by hand with the initials of the giver, names, an important date, place or event.  They were usually given as an expression of love and sometimes were used in the proposal of marriage.  Keep in mind coins were worth a lot more in those days, so destroying your currency for someone you loved was a way to show how much they meant to you.

English Love Token "Merry Xmas" 1906

English Love Token
“Merry Xmas”
1906

In the later half of the nineteenth century, Love Tokens were also given as gifts to family members as well as friends.  Some Love Tokens have holes in them so the recipient could wear the token around her neck or on her wrist.  At the beginning of the twentieth century, the United States Government outlawed the practice of engraving coins and the custom of exchanging Love Tokens went out of style in America.

I currently have four Love Tokens in my collection.  Unfortunately the oldest one I own, which is from 1823, does not photograph well since the engraving of the initials “MJB” is a bit worn down.  I like to believe the engraving’s worn because the lady who owned it rubbed it each and every time she thought of her one true love.

Sources used include:

  • The Love Token Society
  • The British Museum