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Mothering-Sunday-BannerIf you assumed that the British holiday of “Mothering Sunday” (this coming Sunday) is the equivalent of the American “Mother’s Day”, only celebrated two months sooner, you’d be making a historical mistake that even lots of Brits make. While it may be mostly true today, that was not always so. Mothering Sunday as observed in Regency times, and centuries before, sprang from both religious and more practical concerns. Did it still have anything to do with honoring mothers? If it didn’t, where does the name come from? Read on, my friends.

Mothering Sunday is always celebrated on the fourth Sunday in Lent. That should tell you it’s rooted in Christian tradition, unlike the secular American holiday. Depending on what sources you consult, some claim the early Christians co-opted the Roman celebration in March that honored mothers and the Mother Goddess Cybele, and in its place established Mothering Sunday to be a time of devotion to Mother Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus Christ. Madonna by memling4 priestess_cybele

The timing worked well. Early Christians were no dummies, and giving everyone a little break in the middle of the long 40-day fast of Lent no doubt increased the chances that people would stick with the disciplines expected of them. In some places, this mid-Lent Sunday was called “Refreshment Sunday”, or “Sunday of the Five Loaves”.

But as with anything that old, there are multiple roots entwined with these beginnings, and very little documentation. This particular Sunday was also known as Laetare Sunday in the pre-Reformation times. As Christianity and the proliferation of churches spread during the medieval period, the distinction was made between smaller parish churches (known as “daughter” churches) and the major cathedrals in each diocese (the “mother” churches). Important sacraments, such as baptisms, were done at the “mother” churches, presided over by bishops, rather than the local parish priest. On Laetare or Mothering Sunday, families were expected to gather together to make the pilgrimage to their “mother’ church to honor Mary and their own baptisms.

Mothering Sunday-Victorian Church

Victorian children bring flowers to church to honor the Virgin Mary.

Since most children were put to work by the age of ten, many lived away from home, serving as apprentices or learning to be domestic servants. A half-day holiday was often not long enough for them to be able to return home, so once a year, on Mothering Sunday, they would be given a full day holiday to visit their families and go to their “mother” churches. That they might pick flowers on the way and perhaps bring small gifts to their mothers is easy enough to believe. Mothering_Sunday2

The first known dated written reference to Mothering Sunday is from 1644, when a royal officer from Essex was visiting Worcester and reported that “…all the children and godchildren meet at the head and chief of the family and have a feast.”

Special foods like simnel cake became associated with Mothering Sunday. (In some places it was called Simnel Sunday!) Kind of like the holiday itself, simnel cake is a mixture of things, part fruitcake and part pastry, both boiled like a pudding and baked like a cake. It may have a hard outer crust, and may be coated and decorated with almond paste (11 marzipan balls represent the Apostles minus Judas). Simnel Cake-classic  An early reference to it being brought as a gift for “mothering” also dates from the early 17th century. It was usually served with “braggot” (hot spiced ale) or “frumenty” (a spiced drink made from boiled wheat), depending on location.

Simnel Cake-pc

After the Reformation, and increasingly up to the Regency period, the emphasis for Mothering Sunday focused far less on the church-going and far more on the day for apprentices and servants to be given time off to visit their families. Imagine how important that day would have been to them, if they could only see their families once a year!

The observation of the holiday declined during the later 19th and early 20th centuries as other kinds of employment became more common. Mothering Sunday had about died out by WWI. But the United States had created Mother’s Day in 1913, and other countries adopted the idea.

Christopher Howse, writing for The Telegraph (2013), says “the revival of Mothering Sunday must be attributed to Constance Smith (1878-1938), and she was inspired in 1913 by reading a newspaper report of Anna Jarvis’s campaign in America. …Under the pen-name C. Penswick Smith she published a booklet The Revival of Mothering Sunday in 1920.” Smith did not want the day to be connected to any one Christian denomination and pushed the revival through secular organizations such as scout groups. Howse adds, ‘“By 1938,’ wrote Cordelia Moyse, the modern historian of the Mothers’ Union, ‘it was claimed that Mothering Sunday was celebrated in every parish in Britain and in every country of the Empire.’” Transformed into a modern holiday! Has it become less meaningful?

Do you live near your parents? How often are you able to visit your family? Do you believe “absence makes the heart grow fonder” or would you stay close if you could? Did you already know this history of Mothering Sunday?



Have you been out to dinner at a nice restaurant lately? When you told your friends, did they look at you with pity and then gossip about you behind your back? Is your reputation ruined? How times change, LOL!

The fact is, during the Regency in England, dining out as a social event the way we know it was not done. The very concept of the modern restaurant was still in its infancy –it evolved in France (of course?) in the later 18th century and had not successfully caught on yet in England. But there was a glimmer on the horizon, and a few eating establishments were heading in the right direction. (I’ll come back to these near the end.)

People did “eat out”, of course. You could obtain a meal in a tavern, pub, or an inn or a fine hotel, particularly if you were traveling. You could purchase specific foodstuffs from street vendors, but that wasn’t a “meal.” And any of these were, in general, patronized out of necessity or convenience, not for pleasure. There were no menus offering choices –only perhaps, a list of what was to be served. Generally only the simplest inexpensive meats and vegetables were served, except for a few taverns that catered to a specific well-heeled (male) clientele.



If you were an upper-class male, you could enjoy a meal at your private club. The food offerings might be somewhat more elegant, but would still be limited. You ate what they served, at the time they served it. Men could also patronize the coffee and oyster houses, which often served other food in addition to their main focus. For females to dine in public was quite shocking, however, unless in a coaching inn, and if you were of the upper class, you would still insist on a private parlor.

Part of the stigma, of course, came from the fact that acceptable households employed their own cooks. Why would you prefer to eat out when you could eat in? “Dining out” socially meant going to dinner at someone else’s private home, eating food prepared by their cook instead of yours.

Another part of the stigma was the idea of rubbing elbows with the hoi polloi –the general public. Not done! People forced to “eat out” were the poor who had no cook, and often, no kitchen at all. Taverns were noisy and crowded, with communal tables. “Even a moderately well-to-do person would have preferred to order food delivered to a private home or a room at an inn or hotel or an elegant salon rented for the occasion…” (1)

No wonder your friends viewed you with pity! What calamity caused you to need to eat out? And if you were female in mixed company, oh, dear. Shocking!

These social aspects of dining out offer a clue to why the modern restaurant was born in France (and why England resisted). The French Revolution brought in sweeping social changes that coincided with some new developments. “Restaurant” originally meant a type of meat soup, like consommé or bouillion, used medicinally as a “restorative”. In 1765 a bouillion-seller had opened a shop with tables where ailing customers could sit and eat their soup. Different customers required different types of restoratives, so the idea of individual customized servings was introduced. Others copied the idea. In the early 1780’s a man named Beauvilliers, the former chef of the Count of Provence, carried the conceit further and opened the first real restaurant with small individual tables and a menu listing individual choices with prices.

In 1786 he opened the first “luxury” restaurant in the Palais Royale, featuring mahogany tables with white tablecloths, trained waiters, chandeliers, a wine list and an extensive menu of fine food choices. That same year, the Provost of Paris issued a proclamation officially recognizing and authorizing these new types of establishments. These developments paired with a ready supply of cooks and servants no longer employed by the artistocracy, the dissolution of the guilds that had restricted how and by whom food could be prepared, and a customer base of displaced provincials without families in Paris, journalists and businessmen, a newly important middle class. Two different principles were suddenly wedded in a successful new way to do business –the personal tastes, budget and choices of the individual now controlled the purchase of a meal, while the egalitarian social climate celebrated that “Eating [well] was no longer the privilege of the wealthy who could afford to maintain a cook and a well-supplied kitchen.” (2)

Dining Out-3estates_2Within ten years there were more than half a dozen restaurants in Paris, and “dining out” was accepted practice there enough to provide the basis for a political cartoon about the 3rd Estate in France (above), entitled “Separate cheques please”:


Rules with Glass Ceiling

Rules with Glass Ceiling

Meanwhile, back in London, the oldest still-surviving restaurant in London, Rules, was started in 1798, on Maiden Lane in Covent Garden. Although at first it was simply an oyster bar, as their website states: “Contemporary writers were soon singing the praises of Rules’ “porter, pies and oysters”, and remarking on the “rakes, dandies and superior intelligence’s who comprise its clientele”.

Two other London establishments might challenge the “oldest” claim by Rules, but one (Wilton’s, opened 1742 as a seafood street stall, 1805 as an oyster room) has changed locations and nature many times, while the other (Simpson’s Tavern) is more of a pub, and ancient pubs are not rare anywhere in England! Note ladies were not admitted to Simpson’s Tavern until 1916.

Simpson’s-in-the-Strand (not related) was founded in 1828 primarily as a chess club/coffee house/smoking room (“The Grand Cigar Divan”). They are still famous for serving meats at tableside from antique, silver-domed carving trolleys, a practice said to have evolved to avoid interrupting the play during chess games.  Simpson's history

You can see these were not yet exactly “restaurants” in the Parisian sense at the time they opened their doors. The modern form of “dining out” really didn’t take hold in Britain until the mid-Victorian era, when the swelling ranks of the new middle class provided an enthusiastic customer base for it.

Have you written or read characters who needed to dine out for one reason or another? Are you surprised to know what a big difference existed between customs in Paris and London during this time period? Have you ever eaten at any of the London restaurants mentioned, or have a favorite restaurant there to share?

Sources quoted:

(1) “The Rise of the Restaurant,” Food: a Culinary History, Jean-Louis Flandrin & Massimo Montanari

(2) Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999)

For further reading online:

Also, check out:

A History of Cooks and Cooking, Michael Symons [Universtiy of Illinois Press:Urbana IL] 1998 (p. 289-293)


The heroine in my current work-in-progress, an earl’s daughter, is an athletic, active, outdoors-y sort of young woman but she does have one bit of domestic expertise. After her bookish sister has lectured on the medicinal properties of some spring flowers, Honoria tells the hero, “I do have some skills in the still-room, but I will confess I am more likely to make an essence of violets to flavor biscuits or sugar drops, and to turn the cowslips into wine before I would use them as medicines.” (Yes, her sweet tooth has a role in the story. <g>)

17th century still room

Making wines and distilling flavor essences as well as making medicines were all tasks performed in a large home’s still-room (alternatively “stillroom”, and “still room”). As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, well-to-do Regency people who didn’t wish to purchase expensive perfumes from merchants like Floris might make their own scents in their estate still-rooms as well.

Exactly what was a stillroom?

I love this description from Wikipedia: “a working room, part science lab, part infirmary, and part kitchen.” It was always a separate room, really a small “auxiliary kitchen” that provided space for making herbal remedies and other health products, creating essential oils, brewing and distilling beer and wines, making jams and preserving food by fermentation and pickling, among other functions, all out of the way of the business taking place in the main kitchen. It would usually be equipped with its own fireplace/stove, work table, still, shelves and storage cupboards or dresser and racks for hanging dried herbs, etc. Finished products might be moved to a storage room or stored in the stillroom if space allowed.

The name is a shortened form of “distillery room.” According to author Sharon Lathan (whose wonderful article (The Georgian Kitchen) includes a section on the still-room), The History of Hengrave claims “The earliest recorded “still-room” was at Hengrave Hall, Suffolk, in 1603….” Merriam-Webster’s dictionary dates the word (not hyphenated) to 1710. But distillery rooms are ancient. They were not only features in medieval castles (sometimes as a separate structure), but even date back as far as the Romans and Greeks, who had dedicated rooms for creating herbal medicines and distilling essentials oils from plants including roses, lavender, and rosemary.

Definitions of the still-room as “a room connected with the kitchen where liqueurs, preserves, and cakes are kept and beverages (such as tea) are prepared” (Merriam-Webster) are referencing the modern role the stillroom took on when its former functions gradually became obsolete. Some 21st century hotels and restaurants still have a “stillroom” used for these later purposes, and lists of equipment and definitions can be confusing because of this fact. But the most basic purpose of the stillroom is intact –it removes these functions and procedures from the busy main kitchen and gives them their own space.

Late period still-room at Tatton Hall (photo: wikimedia commons)

What changed? The commercial availability of items that were at one time made in the still-rooms of estates—medicines, perfumes, cosmetics, cleansers, alcoholic beverages, even the essential oils used in all these things and as flavorings for food. As physicians and apothecaries (even barber shops, as we saw in Part 1) became more numerous and widespread, the need for these items to be made at home diminished, and in many cases, including perfumes, the quality of the commercial products (at least then) was better than could be achieved at home because of the greater access to ingredients. By the mid-19th century (1860’s) references relegate the still-room to the province of the housekeeper or stillroom maid, but also note that “our grandmothers” used to be the ones who presided there –in other words, the lady of the house in the Regency part of the century and earlier.

For centuries, the lady of the manor was responsible for handing down the precious knowledge from previous generations and teaching her daughters the skills to produce the life-saving substances the household and all its dependents (staff, servants, tenants…) needed. Treating illnesses and preserving food were skills that also enhanced a young woman’s value as a marriage partner. Work in the still-room required the ability to read the receipts, keep records and follow precise procedures, so an educated woman was still required even after the responsibility devolved to servants. In the later 19th century, the position of stillroom maid was a possible precursor to one day becoming a housekeeper, a very respected position.

Starting the process…

Let us now picture our young Regency miss in the still-room at her parents’ country estate, with a basket full of flowers she has gathered from the garden or the fields. Perhaps she has a family receipt for a particular scent that her mother and grandmother also enjoy, or perhaps she plans to experiment with such a receipt to try to create a new scent that will be her own.

(Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, public domain)

What will she need?

To begin, she’ll need an “essential oil” that captures a fragrance for the basis of her scent design. More than one if she plans to create a mix. Common flowers, herbs, spices and fruits are her most likely available sources—she wouldn’t have access to the exotic ingredients the commercial perfumers would have, like these:

48 aromatic oils from India shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851

She’ll need to know which of these ingredients are easier or harder to work with to produce the oils. In our period, there were four ways to extract those: 1) distillation, 2) expression, 3) maceration, and 4) absorption. So, she’ll also need to know which of these methods works best for the substances she’s planning to use.

In Part 3 (May 10), we’ll look at Recipes and Family Skills –how scents were made (including why Lily-of-the-Valley would not be one your heroine could make at home!).


Meanwhile, what stillroom skills have you practiced? Have you ever canned your own produce, made beer or wine, created a tincture, or even distilled an essential oil? There is a movement to go back to home-made perfumes and remedies today, because of all the chemicals now used in commercial products. (Some commercial businesses are also catering to this trend.) I would love to hear about what you’ve done!

P.S. Sharon Lathan’s article (The Georgian Kitchen, linked above and here) has some great photos I’m not sharing here because of copyright concerns. Well worth a look, however! She also includes a great list of items that a stillroom might produce. Since my focus in this series is specifically on scents, I resisted sharing that here. (rabbit hole side tunnel!!)

I also found these on another source that was slanted much later than Regency, but still pre-dates refrigeration and was based on records from various estates: “some products of the Stillroom could be Cherries in Brandy, Strawberries in Madeira, dried Apricots, and pickling anything from onions to cabbage. Spicey chutneys influenced by contact with the Indian sub-continent and Piccallili. In those days there was also the need to pickle eggs, as hens naturally go ‘off lay’ during winter.”

Pickled eggs are not a favorite of mine, but cherries in brandy? Yes, please! Perfumes, soaps and medicines were only part of the magic being practiced in the still-room.

Passive solar heating is a “hot topic” these days (no pun intended). Did you know it was being used on Regency estates and even 150 years before the period? (Rabbit hole warning!!)

I asked my fellow members in the Regency Fiction Writers about the availability of citrus fruit in remote Derbyshire in April 1814. I asked because many of the Regency recipes I have seen require oranges or lemons as part of the ingredients, and the characters in my current wip, Her Perfect Gentleman, needed some for a project. These fruits grow best in places like Spain, Italy, the Caribbean or Florida, and I wondered how much the Napoleonic Wars disrupted these imports.

An interesting discussion followed and uncovered some wonderful sources. The answer was: not as much as you might think, because the trade was so important and the Royal Navy made sure to protect the shipping trade routes. But I still wondered how far north the distribution of imported fruit would reach, and how far from the main cities and towns. I was reminded that some of the very wealthy might have orangeries on their estates, and their surplus would be sold. But how common were orangeries, and how far north could they still be effective?

The earliest orangeries began as shelters created to protect fruit trees being grown against south facing “fruit walls” in gardens. The use of fruit walls in northern Europe to create a micro-climate for growing fruit dates to the mid-16th century, not coincidentally about the same time as the start of the so-called “Little Ice Age” (c. 1550-1850). A Swiss botanist named Conrad Gessner observed in 1561 how well the sun-heated warmth of a thick south-facing wall improved the ripening of figs and currants. Such a wall, built of brick or stone, both absorbs heat and reflects sunlight during the day and releases heat during the night, which in cold seasons could protect against frost.

English fruit wall –(PD Wikimedia Commons)

Intrepid fruit growers experimented to improve the effectiveness of fruit walls, adding canopies of thatch (or glass, later on) or woven mats or canvas curtains that could be drawn over the fruit trees to protect them from rain, hail or bird droppings, for instance. When techniques to create panes of clear glass came out of Italy, growers began to make cold-frames to start seedlings early and also to tilt frames with panes of glass against the fruit walls to increase the solar heating effect, protect the trees from winds or other weather and extend the growing season.

The Dutch were particularly adept at innovations in improving the solar growing techniques and were the first to build actual framed glass enclosures along the fruit walls, creating the first “orangeries.” They also began to add other heat sources to supplement the sun, including small stoves inside the enclosures, for example. They also were the first to try building channels within the fruit walls themselves for artificial heat to supplement the sun, developing what became known as a “hot wall” (not to be confused with certain portions of the fortifications at Portsmouth harbour which also bear this label!).

“Fan” style espaliered pear tree (PD: Wikimedia Commons)

From this common point, the further development of orangeries and hot walls diverges. The French, who discovered improved yields by training their fruit trees or vines along their fruit walls in the method known as “espalier,” also had entire towns adopt fruit walls as an industry. But their walls produced mostly peaches or grapes, not citrus.

Orangeries, meanwhile, began to be built as separate facilities, designed by landscapers and architects not only to shelter citrus fruit trees but also as places for entertainment, a way to show off a luxury only the very wealthy could afford. Walkways, statuary, fountains, even grottos were added features among the citrus trees, although the buildings needed to be long and narrow to allow light from the windows to reach all the way into the space. The buildings were often designed to echo the architectural style of the main house. As interest in exotic plants grew, the function of orangeries’ micro-climate expanded to offer shelter and display for such other choice and tender specimens.

Orangery at Kensington Palace, 1704 (PD: Wikimedia Commons)

Some early examples still exist: the orangery at Kensington Palace designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor was built for Queen Anne in 1704 and featured a heated floor. The orangery built at Versailles in the 1680’s was the largest in Europe, designed to hold Louis XIV’s 3,000 orange trees.

Orangery at Versailles (PD: Wikimedia Commons)

Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire has one designed to hide the view of the servants’ quarters from the main house. Built in 1701, it had, like all orangeries at this early period, a solid roof. Humphrey Repton is credited with replacing the slate roof with a glazed one in 1801, about when the technology to do so first began to be feasible.

The Kew Gardens orangery was designed by Sir William Chambers in 1761. At the time, it was the largest in England, but it wasn’t very successful because of low light levels. Its orange trees were removed to the Kensington Palace orangery in 1841 and renovations were made to the building at Kew. Orangeries can be found at more than a dozen estates managed by the National Trust, and many are now used as cafes or restaurants, their many windows and bright light still providing very pleasant surroundings.

Orangery (Wikimedia Commons)

Many private estates that chose not to build an orangery boasted a fruit wall as part of their gardens, however. In England, the added expense of building these in the form of “hot walls’ was often worthwhile because of the colder climate, especially in northern counties. The earliest hot walls were heated by fires actually lit inside the flues, in addition to the sun. Later, the supplemental heat came from small furnaces located at intervals along the back (north) sides of the walls. They were common enough to be described in detail in Phillip Miller’s Gardener’s Dictionary in 1754.

Interior hot wall flue at Croome Court, by Amanda Slater from Coventry, West Midlands, UK, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The science of creating a successful hot wall is quite impressive, requiring different thicknesses of bricks or stone for various parts of the structure, support for the channels that run through the structure, plastering of the interior heat channels to facilitate cleaning them, and stove chimneys built at regular intervals as part of regulating the heat. Some wall chimneys were fitted with ornamental chimney pots made of Coadestone. Specially skilled masons as well as the expensive custom-made materials were required to construct them. However, none of this provided enough warm shelter to grow citrus successfully in mid-to-northern England without fully enclosing the space. From extant accounts, it appears that the fruits most commonly grown on fruit walls were peaches, nectarines, and Morrell cherries.

How many estates had hot walls is not known. Fruit walls were a labor intensive, high maintenance undertaking, and hot walls added a second layer of labor to maintain and clean the heating system itself as well as to monitor and regulate the heat. The need for hot walls declined as railroads came along, for improved transportation made importing fruit cheaper. Many of the walls were left derelict and were later torn down.

Portion of the hollow hot wall at Eglinton in Ayreshire, showing flue opening blocks at three levels, which could vent or be used for cleaning. (PD: Wikimedia Commons)

The article on JSTOR cited at the end of this post lists specific estates where hot walls have been recorded: Yorkshire (17), Cheshire (5), Lancashire, (1), and Essex (1). Probably half a dozen more are mentioned in the text also, including Staffordshire (1), Norfolk (1). Wikipedia mentions the one at Croome Court, Worcestershire, as well as two in Scotland in its article on walled gardens. Recent interest has sparked some research and increased awareness that may contribute to more “remains” of old hot walls being recognized and recorded as time goes on.

Improved technologies in the 19th century led to changes in the orangeries rather than their demise—no doubt why more remain to be seen today. But as orangeries became “greenhouses” with more and more glass, they became less and less energy efficient. They lost the balance between heat absorbing, insulating materials like brick and stone to offset the sunlight-providing glass and relied more and more on artificial heating, especially piped hot water. Today, the newest trend in greenhouse agriculture is heading back towards using solar power for both heating and regulating light.

If you’d like to learn more about these early growing technologies, I recommend the following articles:

(Hot Walls: An Investigation of Their Construction in Some Northern Kitchen Gardens by Elisabeth Hall)

Or simply see Wikipedia (see “Orangery” and/or “Walled Garden”) for an overview on these!

At this time of year many of us are engaged in a holiday ritual–what gifts to buy that special man in our lives. I’m here to help. Of course, you must first transport yourself to Regency England to discover what you might purchase for that special Earl in your life.

You could go to Floris at 89 Jermyn Street in Mayfair and ask them to create a special scent for your man?

The Floris Shop was founded in 1730 by Juan Famenias Floris. England from his native island of Menorca to seek fortune. Shortly after his arrival in England from his native Menorca he secured premises in Jermyn Street, where the shop still uses the mahogany counter that was purchased directly from the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park in 1851. Beau Brummel used to discuss scents with Floris. Mary Shelley sent an order to Floris to send her two brushes and a toothbrush during her time abroad when she wrote Frankenstein.

Perhaps your dear Earl is a studious sort of man. He might prefer a book from Hatchards, the oldest surviving bookshop in London. Hatchards, on Piccadilly since 1797, has served such famous historical figures as Wellington, Byron, Queen Charlotte.

What book would you buy him? Endymion: A Poetic Romance By John Keats, perhaps? Or something educational, like The History of England: From The Earliest Times To The Death of George II by Oliver Goldsmith.

Maybe you cannot give your dear Earl such a personal gift such as scent or a book of poetry. You can always fall back on the holiday standby. Food. He might delight in some tea or spices or preserves from Fortnum and Mason, right next door to Hatchards.

Fortnum and Mason have been selling quality foods since the 1700s, started by a footman to Queen Anne, who enterprisingly remelted and sold the candle stubs, supplementing his income.

I can hardly believe we have to start thinking of holiday gifts! I don’t know about you, but I wish I could be doing my Christmas shopping in London. I’d look in all three of these shops, which I never fail to do when in London, and then I’d visit the Buckingham Palace Gift Shop. Instead, I’ll probably settle for surfing Amazon.

Where in the world would you like to shop?

(a version of this blog originally appeared in 2010)


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