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Friday, March 29, 2019

(East) Indians in Georgian and Victorian Britain

Usually when we hear of Britain and Indians, we think of the East India Company and the British Raj—British colonialism. But were you aware that Indians were in England and Ireland in the 1700s (or earlier)? By 1850, there were over 40,000 Indians recorded as living in London. And that’s only the recorded ones.

Sake Deen Mahomed
When you think about it, it makes sense. British merchants who lived in India tried to stick as close as possible to the same quality (or better) lifestyles they had in England, so they'd hire Indian servants. When these merchants came home, they frequently brought some of those servants with them. Or they'd send their children back with their ayahs (nursemaids) with them. 

Some of these Indians returned to India, but a large number of them stayed. A handful were able to create successful lives in England (like Sake Mahomed, Shampooing Surgeon to George IV), but the majority of them were less fortunate. 

Abdul Karim (the Munshi) and Queen Victoria
"Since many Indian servants were discharged without ceremony after their arrival in England, it was not uncommon to see destitute Indians begging in the streets of London" (18 Vizram) and the East India Company made several attempts to discourage bringing Indian servants over, including imposing fees. Abdul Karim, Queen Victoria’s Munshi (teacher), was one such servant—he was brought over to help serve during her Golden Jubilee.

A large number of those who stayed were Indian sailors (lascars) who deserted their ships upon arrival to avoid abuse from their superiors (including other lascars). Towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars, over 1,000 lascars arrived in London each year.

If the lascars or ayahs and other servants were unable to find a new position or a way back to India, then they might have lived in a group home that one of any number of missionary societies had set up. In one home for ayahs, there were as many as 60 women crammed in. The lascars were in an even more desperate situation.

Fortunately, not all Indians who came to England were left in poverty. A large number of Indians voluntarily came for education. They could not take the higher-paying positions in civil service without certain qualifications, available only through English universities.
Princess Sophia Dhuleep Singh

Several maharajahs also came to experience European culture and to pay their respects to the British crown. Some, such as Maharajah Dhuleep Singh and his daughter, Sophia, were raised in England as part of the aristocracy and with Queen Victoria’s approval. 

While we're fortunate to have the personal records of some of the more educated Indians, we've lost a great deal of information about the lower classes who managed to survive in Britain. Perhaps some day more information will manage to make its way into public consciousness again. 

Sources: Ayahs, Lascars, and Princes: The Story of Indians in Britain 1700-1947 by Rozina Visram

Friday, March 15, 2019

by regular blogger, Donna Hatch

A fun aspect of reading and writing historical novels is the clothing. Who wouldn't want to dress up in a silk gown and dance or promenade, even if it's only vicariously? It's become one of my life's missions to seek out and sigh over any historical clothing while visiting museums. What started with a thirst for historical accuracy has morphed into a nerdy passion. This latest find is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. This exhibit is circa 1815 to 1820--perfect for the Regency Era.
The gentleman's ensemble would be appropriate for all informal daytime occasions. Any gentleman would look sophisticated and dashing in this cutaway tailcoat, waistcoat (which most people pronounce waist-coat but I'm told the truly posh pronounce it wes-kit), and expertly tied cravat. The bottom portion of his ensemble is not shown but a pair of knee breeches and tall boots would have been the most likely finishing touches.

The lady's ensemble is called walking dress or promenade dress. The garment itself is a lovely pelisse meant to protect the gown from the dirt of the streets as well as make a fashion statement. Notice the lovely detail on the bodice, sleeves and above the hemline. I love that dusty rose color!
The lady wearing this pelisse would have probably worn half boots which were sturdy enough for walking, cut short at the top for ease of movement, and still fashionable. Nankeen, a type of cotton, was a popular fabric to use for the upper portion of ladies walking books.

The couple wearing these clothes would have turned heads while walking or going for a carriage ride in Hyde Park.  

Friday, March 8, 2019

During the Regency, going to the park wasn't just for children; gentlemen and ladies of fashion frequented the parks in London to ride, walk, and make a fashion a statement. Regency ladies and gentlemen often chose Hyde Park as a favorite place to ride on horseback to get some fresh air and exercise. However, it was most popular as a place to drive in open carriages to show off clothing, or the latest rig, or horses. It was THE place to see and be seen.

Hyde Park section of "Improved map of London for 1833, from Actual Survey. Engraved by W. Schmollinger, 27 Goswell Terrace"[/caption]
According to one source, the "fashionable hour" was, in fact, three hours; from four thirty to seven thirty in the evening, though most ladies didn't appear until about half past five. By seven thirty, it was time to return to one's townhouse or lodgings and change into evening dress for dinner.

The Ton, or members of the 2,000 aristocratic families at the height of English society, as well as a few social climbers trying to fit in, promenaded at Hyde Park, peacocking and flirting with others drawn to the park to take part in the social rituals.

A brick wall enclosed Hyde Park in 1660 at the order of James Hamilton, the Keeper of the Park under Charles II. The avenue fashionable for disporting oneself in Georgian Times was Rotten Row. The name Rotten Row is believed to be a corruption of La Route du Roi, or King's Road, which was its original name. Another likely possibility as to the name comes from the materials of the road made of a mix of gravel and crushed tree bark to create a firm, yet pliable surface. Some definitions of "rotten" are "friable," "soft" or "yielding" which describes the surface ideal for horses' feet and legs. Think of the tracks which runners use, firm yet slightly springy--perfect for running without causing undue strain on athletes' bones, muscles, and tendons.
Recently, I heard another possible explanation for the name: Rotten Row led to Eton College, and since French was commonly spoken among the aristocracy then, they called it Rue d'Eton - easily corrupted into Rotten. That doesn't explain how Row came into use, however.

Regardless of its origin, on Rotten Row a Regency lady or gentleman could flirt, greet friends, and show off beautiful driving clothes and equipage or mount. Gentlemen wearing the ankle length drab coat and yellow striped blue waistcoat of the Four-in-Hand club were sprinkled in the passing cavalcade.
Carriages bearing the painted and gilded family crests of the Ton and the living ornament of a Dalmatian coach dog and liveried servants glide by in spotless splendor. The pair of footmen riding at the back of the coaches are as well matched as the teams of horses in their coloring and six-foot or better height. Among the carriages are those of courtesans bearing faux crests meant to remind them of the crests of their titled lovers.

C. J. Apperley writes of the fashionable hour in Hyde Park, "on any fine afternoon in the height of the London season…he will see a thousand well-appointed equipages pass before him…Everything he sees is peculiar, the silent roll and easy motion of the London-built carriage, the style of the coachmen - it is hard to determine which shine brightest, the lace on their clothes, their own round faces, or flaxen wigs - the pipe-clayed reins - pipe-clayed lest they should spoil the clean white gloves…not forgetting the "spotted coach-dog, which has been washed for the occasion…such a blaze of splendor…is now to be seen nowhere but in London."

The movie An Ideal Husband shows a scene of a Victorian drive in Hyde Park, and many of my heroes and heroines go driving or riding in Hyde Park.

The last time I was in England (February 2019), I spent a few hours in this lovely park. Though I didn't see any carriages, this park serves as a quiet haven from the bustling city where people of all ages stroll, dogs run and play, and children scamper. It may not be as fashionable as it once was, but it still plays a vital role in the city.

Bellamy, Joyce, Hyde Park for Horsemanship. London: J.A. Allen, 1975
And the many careful researchers and fellow history geeks at the Beau Monde chapter of RWA.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Childbirth During Medieval Times

Childbirth during the Medieval period was viewed with great joy and great anxiety. Medical treatment was crude and usually ineffective, so it was probably for the best that childbirth was considered a woman’s domain and not a medical proceeding. Even so, the statistics show that one in three women died during their child-bearing years, most often from childbirth or postpartum complications of it.
Women in labor were attended by a midwife and her assistants, mid-wives in training, because the skill of midwifery was learned by experience only. As midwives were called on to baptize babies in case of impending death, a woman had to have the recommendation of her parish priest in order to begin her training.

In noble households a special lying-in chamber would be prepared months ahead of time. The best bed linens would be used and the floor would be strewn with fresh rushes mixed with sweet herbs. Once the labor began, the door of the chamber was shut and the windows blocked to keep light out. After the birth, mother and child remained in the lying-in chamber for a month.

In addition to the midwife and attendants, the laboring woman would have up to six female relatives or friends with her for comfort and encouragement. Remember, girls during this period were married at 12 or 14, so often the laboring mother was a child herself by our standards. With no type of anesthesia to ease the pains, save oil rubbed on the belly by the midwife, the presence of other women who had gone through the ordeal and lived to tell the tale were probably welcomed by the mother-to-be.

Women in labor often used a birthing chair with a horseshoe-shaped seat, allowing the midwife easy access to her and taking advantage of the slight help gravity provided. According to Melissa Snell, “Birth was usually expected within 20 contractions; if it took longer, everyone in the household might try to help it along by opening cupboards and drawers, unlocking chests, untying knots, or even shooting an arrow into the air. All of these acts were symbolic of opening the womb.” Often charms, such as the gemstone jasper, credited with child-birthing powers, or a cranes’ foot were used to assist in difficult births.

After a successful birth, the umbilical cord would be tied and cut at four fingers’ length.

The child would be washed in warm water, or milk or wine if the house was affluent. Its gums would be rubbed with honey to give the babe an appetite and it would be wrapped in swaddling cloths to make its limbs grow straight. These cloths were changed every three hours.

Despite the pain and suffering of childbirth, it was a natural and expected occurrence. Women, then as well as now, looked forward to the blessed event with both fear and anticipation, hoping for a job well and swiftly done.

“The Medieval Child: Part 2, Entry Into the Medieval World,” by Melissa Snell
“The Midwife at Work,” by Lupita Diaz