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Category: Daily Life

(Courtesy V&A Museum: Still Life by Isabel Agnes Cowper 1880)

My curiosity was piqued recently when a friend sent me photos of an 18th century room in Williamsburg, VA that included a desk displayed as though someone had just left it. On it was a beautiful Delftware ceramic inkwell/penholder. Delftware?

(Williamsburg Inkwell/Penholder)

I’d just been writing a scene where one of my Regency characters was writing letters at her writing table, and without mentioning them I’d pictured glass inkwells in brass, silver or other types of metal stands. Blue & white ceramics? Not so much. Or ceramics at all, for that matter. I hadn’t given any of it much thought, so down the rabbit hole I went and now invite you to follow!

What sort of “furnishings” would one of our Regency main characters have had on a working office desk, or a letter writing table, or a desk in their well-appointed library? If you add blotters, sand, sealing wax apparatus, quills, pen knives, etc., not to mention a lamp or candle stand–well, with all of that, how large a desk might one require to still have space enough to work? What exactly made a desk “elegant” as opposed to merely serviceable? 

We writers use the details of everyday life to help illuminate our characters, their lifestyle, social status and wealth. The amazing variety available in desk furnishings seems to me a wonderful opportunity to do that, and more. The character’s own taste, whether or not their desk was located in view of other “judge-y” people (as my son calls them) and whether those people were social guests, tenants or business associates all might factor in what objects resided there. Whether these possessions had come down from previous generations or been replaced by more up-to-date pieces, whether the items were treasured or purely practical all are variables in the choices we might make.

Desk sets (generally known as encriers, inkstands, pen trays, or standishes) answered the space problem with typical period ingenuity, combining several functions into one item. They varied not only in what materials were used and how elaborately they were designed, but also in what writing equipment they included.

Eighteenth century or earlier sets often included two inkpots, a pounce pot, a quill holder, candlestick and snuffer/wick-trimming scissors, all on a tray. These might be grouped around a central carrying handle for portability. Some sets also included a storage box for sealing wafers, a bell to summon servants, and even storage for pen knives, extra quills, etc.

(Courtesy of V&A Museum: square inkstand of Sheffield plate featuring two inkpots, a pounce pot and pot for wafers, with two quill holder openings)

If you were suddenly transported back to the Regency era and landed at someone’s desk, would you know what to do with all of these items? Sealing wax was the preferred method for the upper crust to secure a letter, and a method to heat it was necessary. Hence, a chamber stick or taper had two purposes, to give light and also to melt wax. Wafers, a more mundane way to seal a letter, did not require that extra equipment. The pounce pot contained fine sand that would be sprinkled lightly on a finished letter or other document to absorb extra ink and help prevent smudges. Pen knives were essential for trimming and reshaping the point on one’s quill when it wore down. The inkwells themselves were usually made of glass or porcelain and set inside the compartments or holders.

Consider this high-end Georgian silver set (below) dated to 1744: the rectangular tray with elaborate scroll-work edges features two oblong pen troughs and three circular wells into which fit an inkpot/quillstand, chamber-stick, and pounce pot. Besides the shells and other decorative motifs, the tray and both pots are engraved with the owner’s heraldic crest. Very elegant, and note: no wafer box with this set.

Author Joanna Waugh has a fascinating blogpost about the social significance of using wafers versus sealing wax here:  (

I can imagine that anyone as elevated as the former owner of this silver set, with its engraved heraldic crest, probably never deigned to use wafers on any correspondence handled personally.

Of course, the range in inkstands goes from the bare minimum if you had just enough money to need and have a desk to these top-of-the-line sets, and everything in between, with various levels of embellishment. The minimum: a pewter inkwell/quill stand.

At the other end? Consider this solid gold inkstand below (1817-1819) made by London jewelers Rundell & Bridge* for Lord Castlereagh after the treaties that ended the Napoleonic Wars. It was created out of the gold from 21 snuffboxes gifted to him by the representatives of all the delegations involved in the treaties, whose emblems decorate the base.

(Courtesy V&A Museum, used by permission) *For an article about this famous jewelry firm’s work for the British Crown, see: )

In between, those aspiring to elegant appearances perhaps beyond their means had the option of choosing Sheffield plate which had been invented in the 1740’s. The process of bonding thin layers of silver on either side of a copper base and rolling it out as a thin metal sheet made “silver” goods available to a much wider market –the slowly emerging middle class. Machines such as the fly press for pierced work and steel dies to stamp designs on sheets of Sheffield plate or silver sped up production, which lowered costs as well.

Styled very much like higher-end sets made from silver, this Sheffield plate set above features pierced design work on the wells for glass ink pot and pounce pot, plus candle holder, on a boat-shaped footed pen tray.

This set below is also made from Sheffield plate with typical pierced designs, and the three pots made from blue glass.

Many other quite high-end inkstands or encriers were made from a variety of materials such as bronze, or rosewood with brass inlaid designs, and in a variety of shapes. The Russians started a fashion for gilded inkstands with bases made from malachite with its distinctive green color. Some online auction houses have sold period sets for quite high sums, but you can find many pictures of examples, and since I can’t include them here, I urge you to take a look. I have found the most at

This one (dated 1800-1840) in the V&A Museum has fancy wood veneers and cut glass bottles:

This handsome set also in the V&A Museum is described as “silver gilt”and the ink and pounce pots are cut glass:

Many other styles incorporate statuary of various sorts including animals and classical figures. One of my favorites at an auction house site has a greyhound standing on top of the wafer box.

Meanwhile, those pretty blue & white Delftware sets would have been considered very old-fashioned by the Regency period. Most seem to date from 1674-1767 and probably would have been relegated to the attics unless a character loved one that belonged to a grandparent, or was too impoverished to replace an old family piece or gift with something more current. 

I could see a child becoming engaged with one as charming as this example below (L) from the Winterthur Museum Collection (dating 1761-1769), however, and as an adult later remembering a grandparent with fondness when using it at their personal writing desk.  Or one like this very simple ceramic inkwell (R) from the Smithsonian museum collection. (photos used by permission).

But do not think ceramic sets went out of style altogether! Below is a beautiful example made by Chamberlain & Co., Worcester, ca. 1800: inkstand and cover crafted with a pen tray at the front, inkwell and pounce-pot of porcelain painted with enamels and gilded, in imitation of Japanese Imari ware. (courtesy of V&A Museum, used by permission)

And this inkstand with taper stick c. 1820, also in the V&A Museum, shows the taste for Japanese decoration lasted: “Inkstand with two detached inkwells and covers of bone china painted with enamels and gilded, Spode Ceramic Works, Stoke-on-Trent.” While it doesn’t show very well in the photo, there is a trough at the front for a pen rest.

I will definitely be giving some thought now to what sort of inkstand might be on my character’s writing table. I think a porcelain one like either of these might suit her very nicely—elegant, beautiful, yet distinctive.

So what would you choose to have on your desk if you were the main character (MC) in a Regency romance?

(Note: Photos without credit specified are public domain or courtesy of the V&A Museum)

We looked at winter sports back in December 2020 and January 2021, and perhaps summer activities seem really obvious since when the sun shines and the days are warmer, what can’t be done outside? But some sports you might expect were not developed or popular until later than the Regency, and others you might not think of. So let’s take a look this month and next.

Boating during the Regency came in three forms based on the source of power. All three offered ways to get out on the water where it might be cooler on a hot summer day! In Sense & Sensibility Jane Austen uses the term “sailing” in reference to boating in general, not necessarily only with sails. Recreational boating was far more likely to involve rowing or punting, which were seldom done on rough waters and were considered to be under much more reliable control by their human operators than those relying on wind.

Sailing (with sails) purely for pleasure was still a little controversial during the Regency, because of safety concerns. For one thing, sailboat design still had a long way to go to reach the sort of safe and efficient crafts we have today. People were working on it, of course, and experimenting with such design is part of the hero’s interest in my old Signet Regency, The Rake’s Mistake. (Sorry, as mentioned last time, it’s out of print because I want to revise it and haven’t made time for that yet.).

However, recreational sailing in England dates all the way back to 1662, when King Charles II and his brother James, the Duke of York, raced their huge new “yachts” from Greenwich to Gravesend and back. By the 18th century pleasure sailing was popular enough for the Cork Harbor Water Club to be established in Ireland, sometime prior to 1720, although they did not race, but “promenaded in formation” when they went out to rendezvous at Spithead. However, an open sailing match was held on the lower Thames in 1749, from Greenwich to the Nore and back. The prize was a silver cup presented by the eleven-year-old Prince of Wales, afterward King George III.

Documented Thames sailing matches in the London vicinity began in 1775 when HRM the Duke of Cumberland offered a silver cup (valued at 20 guineas) for a yachting race. It was sailed from Westminster Bridge to Putney Bridge and back. The next month the Duke of Newcastle sponsored another regatta, and the “Cumberland Fleet” was formed by those who sailed that summer—what would later become the Royal Thames Yacht Club in 1830. The Cumberland Cup and other races were held most years from then on to at least 1812. Vauxhall Gardens also sponsored an annual race on the Thames from 1786 to 1810.

After 1812, the racing record stops, with a gap until some 20 years later. I believe the construction of new, more navigable bridges (Vauxhall, Waterloo, Southwark) complicated racing on the Thames during the building process and increased the river traffic afterward (which included steamboats) during those years. Significantly, between 1812 and 1815, forty-two of Britain’s most distinguished yachtsmen founded the Yacht Club (later to become the Royal Yacht Club) at Cowes on the Isle of Wight. They set a minimum size of ten tons for members’ vessels, and made the racing venue the Solent instead of the Thames.

Rowing, of course, is an ancient art. Think of Cleopatra’s barge! And note the rowers in the Vauxhall race picture above. I’m sure it was only natural that those who plied oars as their business might also indulge in competitions for pleasure and prizes, and others would see the potential for simple relaxation with oars as recreation.

One of the first documented Thames rowing races was held in 1715, to commemorate the anniversary of the accession of King George I. Thomas Dogget, a celebrated comedian, instituted the “coat and badge” as a prize to be rowed for annually on the river by six young watermen that had not been apprenticed longer than a year. In 1821 there was a similar boat race on the Serpentine during the coronation celebration for Prinny. By that time the river traffic and steamboats spelled an end to the rowing races on the Thames in town as well as those under sail.

The Boat Race is an annual set of rowing races between the Cambridge University Boat Club and the Oxford University Boat Club, traditionally rowed between open-weight eights on the upper River Thames from Putney to Mortlake. The men’s race was first held in 1829, quite late in the “extended Regency.” (The first women’s race was in 1927, almost a hundred years later.) The second men’s race was only held in 1836 due to disputes over the course and other matters.

The first Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, 1829

The first Henley Regatta for rowers wasn’t held until March 1839. It later became the Henley Royal Regatta and was moved to July when the weather was more cooperative. Rowing continued to be a popular recreation throughout the 19th century, as this lovely painting below (circa 1872) by Ferdinand Heilbuth shows. Women rowing and punting seems to be more evident later in the century. By that time, the railroads had taken the burden of transportation off the Thames, allowing the river to be used once again for recreation.

Rich or poor, if you were in town you could go out on the River Thames, or you might opt to try the more tranquil waters of the man-made lake in Hyde Park, the Serpentine. The 40 acre lake was created in 1730 by order of Queen Caroline. The bridge crossing it (dividing the lower 25 acres from the narrower “Long Water” at Kensington Gardens) was redesigned and rebuilt in 1827. A lone rower is at the right of the picture below, but far more people are on shore than on the water. I recently learned that starting in the late 18th century there was a rescue station on the Serpentine for assisting those “in danger of drowning”! Rowboats can still be rented to use on the Serpentine today (along with paddle boats).

Most of the wealthy left London for the country when the warm summer days set in. If you were out of the city, you could choose the River Thames farther upstream from London, or any of the local streams, rivers, ponds or lakes. You might be so fortunate and wealthy as to have your very own man-made lake on your country estate, a fad that came into full swing after the royals built the Serpentine. In my old 1996 Signet Regency, An Unlikely Hero (ebook available from Penguin Random House), the hero and heroine are among a party who go punting on just such an estate lake. Punting is essentially “poling,” rather like the gondoliers of Venice, only using the characteristic flat shallow boats called punts. It is still a popular method of boating on English waterways that can be very quiet and relaxing!

Punting on the Thames –Marcus Stone 1863

Do you like to go out on the water? If so, which form of Regency boating would you have enjoyed if transported back in time?

Next time, we’ll look at some other favorite (land-based) warm weather Regency sports.

(All pictures are public domain/Art)

As promised last month, here is more of our look at Regency summer sports and activities. When the sun shines and the days are warmer, what can’t be done outside? But you might be surprised at which sports were not developed or popular until later than our favorite period. Given the interesting details of the following two games, it looks like we will need to have a part 3 next month to keep this short enough!

Jeu de Volant, 1802


Battledore and Shuttlecock

In my almost-finished wip, Her Perfect Gentleman (releasing in November, I hope), a game of battledore and shuttlecock ends a bit disastrously for my heroine, Honoria. What happens is her own fault, for she insists on playing and the ground is still muddy from the previous day’s rain.

The game (known as Jeu de Volant in France, which means “the game of flight”) has been played in Europe for centuries. Western artworks from the 16th, 17th and 18th century document both adults and children playing it.

Young girl with a shuttlecock (p.d.)

The game differs from our modern sport of badminton, for it is played by individuals without “sides” or a net or defined court space, and the object is to keep the shuttlecock from landing. It can be played indoors (with an adequate space) or outdoors, using battledores (paddles or racquets) usually covered with parchment or gut-string net. The shuttlecock was made from cork (sometimes covered with leather) and feathers.

(c) National Trust, Ham House; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The British National Badminton Museum says of the earlier game: “If a single player played, they would hit the shuttle in the air counting the number times they could do this without it falling on the floor. Two or more players hit the shuttlecock back and forth. This was usually a cooperative rather than competitive game. The players purposely hit the shuttlecock towards rather than away from each other, their goal was to have as long a rally as possible keeping the shuttlecock up in the air and counting the number of consecutive successful strokes in each rally.”

Adults play at shuttlecock in a garden, 18th c (p.d.)

Indeed, in Diana Sperling’s delightful book Mrs Hurst Dancing we find the following charming (and humorous) entry and illustration: 

The Badminton Museum website says: “We know the game of ‘battledore and shuttlecock’ was played at Badminton House as early as 1830 because they still have in their possession two old battledores which have inscriptions handwritten in ink on their parchment faces. The oldest reads: ‘Kept with Lady Somerset on Saturday January 12th 1830 to 2117 with… (unreadable)’.The second says: ‘The Lady Henrietta Somerset in February 1845 kept up with Beth Mitchell 2018.’”

Illustration from Healthful Sports for Young Ladies, by Mlle St. Sernin, a French governess – 1822

Several sources say the more competitive badminton evolved from Poona, a game with sides and a net learned by the British military in India in the 1860’s. It took on the name badminton in the 1870’s, named after the country estate of the Dukes of Beaufort in Glocestershire where it was either played a great deal or introduced at a party. Other sources suggest that the later version of the game was invented at the estate during a house party in 1860. An article called ‘Life in a Country House’ in the December 1863 Cornhill magazine used the term “badminton” (albeit with an explanation required), so it may have been the first introduction in print of the name in use at the duke’s house. The reference says: “your co-operation will be sought for…badminton (which is battledore and shuttlecock played with sides, across a string suspended some five feet from the ground)….” The North Hall at Badminton House is the same size as a badminton court as we know it today, 13.4m by 6.1m, and five feet is still the standard height for a badminton net. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on this one!

Lawn bowling (not to be confused with the game of  skittles or nine-pin) is so ancient it goes back to the Egyptians 7,000 years ago, and it may have been played in Turkey before that. It is believed that the Roman Legions spread their version of the game (today called Bocce in Italy) to all the European lands, where each country adopted its own variations, influenced by climate and terrain.

“Figures on a Bowling Ground” by Pieter Angillis (Flemish-1685-1734) p.d.

Lawn bowling, where the objective is to roll a ball so that it stops as close as possible to a smaller, target ball named the kitty, or jack, was so well established in England by 1299 A.D. that a group of players organized the oldest established bowling club in the world that is still active, the Southhamptom Old Bowling Green Club. The sport was so popular that royalty in both France (where it is called Boules) and England passed laws restricting it for the common people during several centuries, because it had supplanted archery as a pastime and archery skills were essential for the national defense.

In England, Edward III in 1361, Richard II in 1388, and Henry IV in 1409 put restrictions on not only who, but when and for how long certain segments of the population could play. Henry VIII outlawed it entirely for the lower classes in 1541, excepting on Christmas Day, and in 1555 Queen Mary passed her own prohibition on it for the lower classes, on the grounds that it supported “unlawful assemblies, conventiclers, seditions, and conspiracies.” Her restriction on it lasted for 3 centuries!

Lawn bowling green on a large estate, 18th century p.d.

In the meanwhile, fashionable land owners and the aristocracy could play on private bowling greens, if they paid 100 pounds to the Crown. Samuel Pepys mentions in his diary being invited to “play at bowls with the nobility and gentry.” The cost of maintaining and grooming the greens was prohibitive enough to limit them to the wealthiest circles, such as royalty, or those most devoted to the sport. Many very old bowling greens are still in use today, including one at Windsor Castle, and one at Plymouth Hoe where Sir Francis Drake and his captains were said to be bowling in 1588 when they received the news of the invading Spanish Armada.

Lawn bowling was never restricted in Scotland where rich and poor alike embraced it wholeheartedly and it has remained very popular throughout the centuries. Early versions of the game used a round ball like those used in Boules or Bocce, but later the English version adopted a weighted or “biased” ball which rolls with a curve. One story attributes that development to the Duke of Suffolk in 1522, when his wooden ball split and he replaced it with a stair-banister knob that was flat on one side and could not roll straight, thus increasing the challenge and skill required to play.

But it was not until the Victorian era that the game reached its present-day mode. Three events played a large role in that progress: 1) the invention of the lawn-mower in 1830, which made maintaining a smooth, flat green both more attainable and less expensive; 2) the queen’s 1845 rescinding of the old prohibitions, which opened the game officially to all English people; and 3) the Scots (notably W.W. Mitchell, along with 200 other bowlers from various clubs) agreed upon standardized rules in 1848 and codified them into a uniform set of laws that were eventually adopted internationally.

In Part 3 next month we’ll take a brief look at more “summer games” and even quiz you on which ones would have been played during the Regency!

Can you identify which of the following games (all of them ways of hitting a ball) would have been activities for Regency people and which would not?  Tennis, baseball, rounders, nine pins, croquet, ground billiards, golf, cricket. Let’s take look at these and see how you did. Have you ever played any of these sports, or enjoyed Regency fictional characters who did?

A group of young ladies in Regency era gowns play at ninepins and bowling in an outdoor court enclosed by walls with a wide double gate behind them.
Playing bowls and ninepins in a courtyard, 1822

TENNIS: “Tennis” is a catch-all term that actually covers two types of the game with separate but related histories. While our modern sport of “tennis” has roots that go as far back as medieval times, it actually developed from “lawn tennis,” a later offshoot of the form of the game known as “royal” or “real” tennis.

Royal tennis evolved from a 12th century monastic French game, “jeu de paume” (“game of the palm”), where the ball was hit with hands. Eventually, gloves were used, and by the 16th century when the game was at peak popularity, racquets were introduced and the game was being played on enclosed courts. But as we have already seen with lawn bowling, only the very wealthy could afford to build and maintain special venues for games—hence the name “royal” tennis. The intertwined history of royalty between England and France easily explains how the game arrived in England and gained popularity there.

Wikipedia dates the game in England to Henry V (1413–22). Sports enthusiast Henry VIII added sporting venues to his palaces, including tennis courts. Whitehall was said to include four indoor tennis courts, and the tennis court at Hampton Court Palace still exists. Mary Queen of Scots played tennis on a court at Falkland Palace in Fife which also still stands. But during the 18th century in England with the German-based House of Hanover on the throne, tennis fell out of royal favor, and in France the royal sport was doomed by the French Revolution, followed by the Napoleonic wars.

Young lady dressed in late Victorian style clothing and large rbimmed straw hat, one hand holding it against a breeze and a tennis racquet clutched under her arm.

Although a reference to “field tennis, an invented game” is made by a memoirist from 1767, it was not until the 1870’s that “lawn tennis” came along, a version of the game that the general populace could play on smooth grass. As we have previously seen, the invention of the lawn mower no doubt played a key role in that evolution. So, tennis was played both before and after the Regency, but during the 18th and early 19th centuries it declined in popularity and is not a sport Regency folks would likely have played. They did, however, play racquets and squash racquets in very similar form to those games as known today.

CROQUET/Ground Billiards: Croquet is another game with ancient roots. Since croquet lawns in the 1870’s were venues for the first games of lawn tennis, let’s look at that quintessential summer game next. Croquet seems to have origins in either, or both, of two other games using balls, mallets and wickets. One is an earlier popular English game that, like tennis, has French origins—the game of pall mall (“paille-maille” in French), dating to the 13th century in France (using wickets made of wicker) and introduced in England in the 16th or 17th century (sources vary). The other root is the Irish game of “crooky” which by the earliest record dates from the 1830’s.

Thomas Blount’s Glossographia (1656) described pall mall as a game played in a long alley with wickets at either end, where the object is to drive a ball through the “high arch of iron” in as few mallet strokes as possible, or a number agreed on. Blount adds: “This game was heretofore used in the long alley near St. James’s and vulgarly called Pell-Mell.” (This is where the name of the famous London Street comes from.) The length of the alley varied, the one at St. James being close to 800 yards long. In 1854 an old ball and mallets were discovered, now in the British Museum, described thus: “the mallets resemble those used in croquet, but the heads are curved; the ball is of boxwood and about six inches in circumference.”

But how did pall mall evolve into croquet, a game with six or more wickets set in a pattern and spread over a much larger area than an alley? Or did it? An entire family of individually unidentified lawn games played in medieval times, collectively known today as “ground billiards,” were played with a long-handled mallet or mace, wooden balls, a hoop (the pass), and an upright skittle or pin (the king).” Any one of these games could have led to the development of “crooky” in Ireland, which locals are known to have played in 1834 at Castlebellingham. As with the earlier games, there is no record of the rules or method of playing.

However, a form of “crooky” was introduced in England in 1852. Isaac Spratt registered a set of rules for “croquet,” from a game he saw played in Ireland, around 1856. John Jaques published official rules and editions of croquet in 1857, 1860, and 1864 and manufactured sets. At first, croquet was played rarely, mostly by affluent or upper-class people. But the All England Croquet Club was formed at Wimbledon, London, in 1868. That same year the first all-comers croquet meet was held in Gloucestershire, England. Croquet became all the rage and spread quickly to all corners of the British Empire by 1870. Sad to say, croquet is thoroughly Victorian.

Victorian croquet match

Baseball/Rounders: The earliest reference to rounders, which may actually date back to Tudor times, was made in A Little Pretty Pocket-Book (1744) and included an illustration of “base-ball,” depicting a batter, a bowler, and several rounders posts. The rhyme refers to the ball being hit, the boy running to the next post, and then home to score.  

In 1828, William Clarke in London published the second edition of The Boy’s Own Book, which included the rules of rounders and also the first printed description in English of a bat and ball base-running game played on a diamond.

Rounders is very similar to the American game of baseball and is surely the ancestor of that game, evolved once brought across the pond. Clarke’s book including the rules and description was published in the U.S. in 1829, but English emigrants would have brought the game over with them far earlier. Rounders has been played by British children right up until modern times, so Regency children given the opportunity (most likely in the country or at school) would very likely have played the game. Would adults have played? Less likely, unless they were being particularly playful in re-enacting their childhood pursuits.

Ninepins/Skittles: Differing from lawn bowling, many lawn games involved rolling a bowl and hitting a pin or cone, or multiples of these. These games are the true ancestors of our modern day bowling. An early form of bowling was called “cones,” in which two small cone-shaped objects were placed on two opposite ends, and players would try to roll their bowl as close as possible to the opponent’s cone. The very old game of “kayles”—later called nine-pins, or skittles, after another name for the pins—usually involved throwing a stick at a series of nine pins set up in a square formation, although in some variations the players would roll a bowl instead. The object was to knock down all the pins with the least number of throws. Sometimes, the game would feature a larger “king pin” in the center of the square which, if knocked down, automatically granted a win.

Ninepins, 18th century “Modern Exercise”

Ninepins (1570s) or skittles (1630s) was generally played in an alley, like pall mall, and an arrangement of pins might stand at each end, or only at one. But it did not really require much more than a flat space of ground and became popular among all the classes, especially by the 18th century. Public houses with grounds often offered skittles accompanied by gambling, of course, leading the poor to become even poorer. Press gangs, too, found the pub-side ninepin alleys a fruitful place to gather men to serve the king.

Instructions to jurors from a Portsmouth magistrate, 1800

In the late 18th century, the moral outrage over the destructive effect of such gaming led to a movement to level the skittle grounds to counteract the problem. This merely led to the resurgence of another game, nine-holes (1570s), also known as “bumble puppy” later on. In this game, instead of pins to knock down, the object became to throw balls into nine holes (in a board or dug into the ground) arranged with successive number values and the player with the highest points won. Since this game wasn’t banned in the statutes against skittles or ninepins, the authorities could not stop the games. Eventually during the Regency, skittles reclaimed its popularity. (see illustration at top, from an 1822 book on exercise and sports for young women)

Cricket: There’s a theory that cricket, another “bats and ball game,” may have derived from a game like pall mall or bowling, by the intervention of a batsman stopping the ball from reaching its target by hitting it away. The game is so old it probably dates back to Saxon or Norman times in the southeast of England, but written references go back at least to 1590. The name comes from either Old French (criquet “goal post, stick”), Middle Dutch/Flemish (cricke “stick, staff”) or Anglo-Saxon (cricc “shepherd’s staff”).

A Village Game of Cricket

By the early 18th century cricket had become a leading sport in London as well as the south-eastern counties of England with organized clubs and some professional county teams, and continued to spread slowly. The switch to throwing the ball instead of rolling it along the ground came sometime around mid-century along with the change to straight bats instead of bent ones. Boys played cricket at schools, children played cricket in their villages, and adults of both genders apparently played as well. The first known women’s cricket match was played in Surrey in 1745. The famous Lord’s Cricket Ground opened in 1787 with the formation of the Marylebone Cricket Club. Interest in cricket has not waned from that time to the present day, so it was certainly being played during the Regency.

GOLF: Golf is another stick-and-ball game with roots in those early and unknown ancient lawn games. While the specifics of golf were developed by the Scots, the roots of the game (and even some of the early wooden balls used to play the game) came to them from the Dutch. The name “golf” is derived from the Dutch word “kolf” which means club. A Dutchman first described the game of golf in 1545, while it first appeared in Scottish literature in 1636, but there are other references to the Dutch game as early as the 13th and 14th centuries.

It was the Scots, however, who had the idea of making holes in the ground, laid out over a course, and made the object of the game to get the ball into each of those holes.

“The MacDonald boys playing golf,” portrait by 18th-century artist Jeremiah Davison

Golf has an interesting history, but it evolved quite steadily over time in Scotland with the exception of being banned by James II (1457), James III (1471) and James IV (1491) for distracting the military from training. James IV reversed his ruling by 1502, however. It seems the Scottish king was fond of the sport himself. Later in that century, King Charles I brought the game to England and Mary Queen of Scots introduced the game to France.

The Old Course at St Andrews, Scotland is one of the oldest courses dating to 1574 or possibly earlier. Diarist Thomas Kinkaid mentioned some rules in 1687, but the first “official” rules were not issued until 1744. James VI played golf at Blackheath near London in 1603 when he became James I of England, where the Royal Blackheath Golf Club was later established (1745 or earlier). Two English courtiers played against James VII of Scotland in 1681 at Leith for a wager, but there is little evidence the English took to the game until the Victorian era. But if you had a Scottish character in Regency London, he might be happy indeed to play at Blackheath if he were accepted as a member or knew someone else who was.

A group of 18th century gentlemen wearing tailcoats, breeches, boots and tricorn hats surround a putting green and hole watching as one man with a golf club prepares to sink his ball. In the background can be seen building of St. Andrews, Scotland.
Golf at St. Andrews, 18th century

“Golf is an exercise which is much used by a gentleman in Scotland……A man would live 10 years the longer for using this exercise once or twice a week.”–Dr. Benjamin Rush (1745 – 1813)

(illustrations in this post are public domain, as vintage art)

In researching Lord Grantwell’s Christmas Wish I came across some new-to-me Regency Christmas traditions. I’ve blogged about Regency Christmases before, like here at Risky Regencies in 2016, when Bound By a Scandalous Secret was a December release.

I mentioned things like Regency households did not have Christmas trees or send Christmas cards. Santa Claus came later, as did singing Silent Night. They did exchange gifts, decorate with winter greenery, and have special Christmas food. You can read the whole blog here.

Lord Grantwell’s Christmas Wish was set in Yorkshire, so a couple of new traditions popped up in my research.

The first was a tradition involving the lighting of the yule log. To bring good luck, a large log was brought in on Christmas eve to burn constantly in the hearth until it has completely burned itself out. Before supper, when the yule log is burning, all other lights are extinguished, everyone is silent, and the youngest one present must light two special candles from the yule log while everyone makes a wish. The wish must be kept secret or it will not come true. In my book it is Anna, the youngest of Lord Grantwell’s wards who lights the candles. And, of course, along with everyone else, Lord Grantwell makes his wish.

Another Yorkshire tradition I discovered took place on Christmas morning. For more good luck, on Christmas morning, before anything was taken out of the house, something green must be brought in, usually a leaf from an evergreen. Grant charges Anna and her brother William with this task.

Did you know there were different versions of The Wassail Song? Even though I was not absolutely sure the Wassail Song was sung in the Regency, I played upon the differences.

Here’s an excerpt from the book:

“You are forgetting something, m’lord,” Thompson said. 

“Forgetting something?” He was puzzled. “What?” 

“The wassailing song,” Thompson said.

Anna’s face fell. “I do not know the wassailing song.” 

“No?” Grant touched her cheek. “We will sing it for you.” He began and the servants joined in:

We’ve been a-while a-wandering,

Amongst the leaves so green.

But now we come a wassailing,

So plainly to be seen. 

For it’s Christmas time, when we travel far and near,

May God bless you and send you a happy New Year….

He paused. “Miss Pearson, why are you not singing?” 

She shook her head. “That is not the song I know.”

“That is the wassail song,” he insisted. 

“No,” she countered with a smile. This is the wassailing song.

 She sang: 

Here we come a-wassailing

Among the leaves so green;

Here we come a-wand’ring

So fair to be seen.

Love and joy come to you,

And to you your wassail too;

And God bless you and send you a Happy New Year

And God send you a Happy New Year…

“No. No. No,” he protested. The words were slightly different. The tunes were slightly different. He led the servants in the second verse:

We are not daily beggars,

That beg from door to door,

But we are neighbors children,

Whom you have seen before…

Lillian stopped them. “That is the third verse,” she said. “Here is the second.” 

Our wassail cup is made

Of the rosemary tree,

And so is your beer

Of the best barley.

He joined her in singing the refrain—his refrain along with hers, and they all continued singing verses with identical lyrics, Lillian’s differing version making a sort of harmony while the refrains sung together became a jumble. 

He and the others ended the song, but she kept singing. One last verse.

Her singing slowed and she held her gaze on his:

God bless the master of this house

Likewise the mistress too,

And all the little children

That round the table go.

When she mentioned children she walked over to William and Anna and put her arms around them. Grant joined them as they sang the refrains one last time with the children trying to join in. 

And God send you a Happy New Year…

Here’s the Yorkshire version:

Here’s Lillian’s more familiar version:

Love and Joy come to all of you from the Riskies….and to you your wassail, too!

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