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Monday, September 23, 2013

An English Autumn

It's fall to Americans, but Autumn has come again, and in Regency England this was the time of year for country events.

Actually, most anyone who could leave London in the heat of summer would do so. July and August were not great months in a city that still used the Thames for its sewer and refuse.

The harvest began in August and September. In fact, September 24 was a day associated with beginning harvest in much of medieval England.

During harvest time, Corn Dollys would be crafted—by tradition the dolly held the spirit of the corn (and do remember that corn in England means any grain). The dolly would be tied in a design specific to the area, so a Yorkshire dolly would be different from one made in Shropshire.

One Corn Dolly, a countryman's favor, was usually a plait (or braid) of three straws that was tied into a loose knot to represent a heart. If a young man gave this to a girl and she wore it next to her heart he knew his love was reciprocated.

The traditional last day of harvest is still September 29, Michaelmas Day, which is the feast of Saint Michael the Archangel, who is also the patron saint of the sea and maritime lands, of ships and boatmen, of horses and horsemen. Michaelmas Day is sometimes called Goose Day, and Goose Fairs were held in some English towns, such as Nottingham.

Because it was quarter's end, Michaelmas was the time for Mop Fairs, when servants and laborers would hire themselves out again for the next year’s work. The name comes from maids who, looking for work, would carry a small mop to show her skills (a shepherd had wool, a gardener had flowers, and so on). Gentry folk, or even tenant farmers looking for help, might visit a mop fair (usually the great houses hired their staff through agencies, and from families who had worked for the house for generations).

Autumn was also the time to begin training young hounds for the coming hunt season.

Fox hunting began after the first frost, and after all the harvest had been brought in. Before that, however, the hunt master would take out his young hounds and start to train them with a "drag" (the scent of a fox in a bag, possibly even a dead fox in a bag) so they would learn to hunt properly and obey the master's and the huntsmen's commands. This season of "cub hunting" (the cubs were the young hound, not young foxes) was, and still is, an excellent time to begin training young horses as hunters, and a season to start getting older horse fit for the hunt again. (Most hunters were put out to pasture in the spring and summer so they could have some rest between hunting seasons.)

Shooting season began in mid-August, with grouse. Additional game birds came in season as of September 1, and woodcock and pheasant seasons opened on October 1. Originally, the Forest Laws covered hunting and shooting rights. Put into place by William the Conqueror, these acts carried harsh penalties for poaching or for even using the king's forests. Gradually, the acts relaxed and opened up to allow for nobles, and then for landowners to hunt, shoot, and use the forests--and the forests themselves were reduced over the centuries for building ships, houses, and cities. However, the Black Act of 1723 put into place the death penalty for over 50 crimes, including being found in a forest while disguised (poachers were blackening their faces to hunt for food--a necessity, given the widespread poverty from the bursting of the South Seas Bubble). It was not repealed until the reforms of 1823. 

The Game Act of 1831 further loosened restrictions, and the right was at last given to anyone to kill game on their own land, or on that of another with permission.
Autumn months when a time when owners ate pheasant, partridge, duck and grouse. Fish for meals included perch, halibut, carp, gudgeons, and shell fish. Poachers also looked to snared hares for their pot. Beans were still fresh, and the fruits of summer gave way to pears, apples, nuts and the last harvest of grapes.

With the harvest put away, those in the country could settle into winter's hibernation, or look to return to London when Parliament again met in November.

Shannon Donnelly Bio
Shannon Donnelly’s writing has won numerous awards, including a RITA nomination for Best Regency, the Grand Prize in the "Minute Maid Sensational Romance Writer" contest, judged by Nora Roberts, RWA's Golden Heart, and others. Her writing has repeatedly earned 4½ Star Top Pick reviews from Romantic Times magazine, as well as praise from Booklist and other reviewers, who note: "simply superb"..."wonderfully uplifting"....and "beautifully written."

Her Regency romances can be found in print or as ebooks on all formats, and her Regency Historical, The Cardros Ruby is currently on sale this September at

1 comment:

Ella Quinn - Romance Novelist said...

Terrific post, Shannon! I tweeted and shared.