Story Excerpts

Sunday, January 15, 2012

18th Century Fun Facts

1. An "Axminster" carpet was like a Coach purse.  If you were wealthy, you had one.  Preferably in every room of your house.  They were made of wool, hand knotted, and famous for their bright colors and intricate designs.

Photo by Gary Tanner

2. "Yes" was used in the 18th century, though "aye" and "yea" were more common.  Even "yeah" was used as slang.  The word "aye" was synonymous with "really".  "Truly" and "verily" could be used to emphasize an affirmative reply.

3. Christmas was celebrated as more of a season than a day, and the twelve days of Christmas were filled with feasts, balls, plays, games, and family reunions.  December 25th was acknowledged as a religious "holy day", and celebrated by going to church, decorating with holly, ivy and other greenery, and having a nice meal.  Shops and businesses did not close.  While a parent might give their child a gift, or a master their servant, gift-giving didn't catch on until close to the 1800s.  Calvinists and Puritans wouldn't observe Christmas because it was similar to Catholic traditions. 

4. "Twelfth Night" was a bigger celebration than Christmas.  (I know, I was surprised too.)  It fell on January 5th, and acknowledged the arrival of the Magi to Jesus' birthplace.  This was the perfect day to hold a grand masked ball, an elaborate feast, or even a wedding.  The Twelfth Night cake was beautiful, elaborate and the most anticipated part of the feast.  An ornament was traditionally baked inside of it, and the guest who received the ornament in his or her piece was crowed the king or queen of Twelfth Night.  The Christmas holly, ivy and mistletoe came down before midnight, and was burned according to superstitious tradition regarding the new year.

5. While Georgian England's wealthy class didn't give envelopes a second thought, the lower classes rarely used them when mailing letters since they paid the postman per quantity of sheets of paper.  A letter was folded into three sections, around the "face" where the address was written.  Every inch of the paper was filled with writing, and it was common to cross-write when running out of room.  The edges were sealed with wax (called a "wafer"). 

6.  The 1765 Stamp Act didn't catch on quickly.  Buildings were still referred to as "opposite St Dunstan's Church" or "the tavern on Thames Street" in addresses until the nineteenth century.

7. Many ladies inserted cushions and pillows into their hair to create the unique Georgian "pouf".

8. The French carriage for hire was called a "fiacre".  It looked and operated just like an English hackney coach and taxied within the city.  The king's highways were left to the stage coaches.

9.  "Macaroni" was adopted as a term for something of high fashion or "cool", and it all started with a group of Englishmen who fell in love with Italian pasta while on a tour of Europe.  (Italian pasta wasn't well-known in England yet.)  It really sheds some light on the patriotic song "Yankee Doodle", considering that British officers came up with it to make fun of the Colonial soldiers during the Seven Years' War.  ("Dandy" was the term for a man who was overly concerned about his appearance and obsessed with the latest fashion.)

10. Wallpaper was very "macaroni", and exploded in the 1700s.  Large patterns were popular, as well as "flocked" velvety textiles.  Often applied to panels and edged in gilt.  Wallpaper from China was the most coveted.

18 comments:

Jaye said...

i love the fun facts. thanks!

Loree Huebner said...

Gwen, this is a great post.

I've written about The Twelfth Night in my recent novel. My character burns her holly garlands.

I'm catching up on Ways of Impression. Good work, Gwen!

Gwendolyn Gage said...

You're welcome, Jaye! I collect a lot of research information for my novel project, and don't use the half of it. Fodder for blog entertainment makes it seem less of a waste of time. ;-) Glad you enjoyed them!

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Thanks Loree! You have a Twelfth Night scene in your book?!?! I want to read it all the more now!

I'm so excited about finishing TWOI. I'm working on one of the final chapters tonight! Okay, now that I'm reminded, I'd better get off the blog...back to work, lol!

Susan said...

Wow!I'm all about writing contemporary, and find plenty of research involved in that! Looking at your list, I don't know that I could write a historical, but I loooove to read them. You need to go on Jeopardy-Historical Edition;)

Brandi said...

Cool facts, Gwen, especially the ones about Twelfth Night and what the ladies put in their hair. I suddenly have an urge to write a story centered around a masquerade now :-)

Have a great day!

Elizabeth Young said...

Oh what wonderful information Gwendolyn, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post today! No. 6 answered a personal riddle for me. As you know I grew up in a little village in the North of England where the way of life has changed little for hundreds of years (in my last telephone conversation with my brother he told me he had never watched a full movie!) We always gave directions like the following: opposite The Star Inn, the house with the spotty dogs, up at the Rectory, over from the Blacksmiths etc. Thank you for enlightening me!

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Susan, its not all that hard to write historical fiction, but you must be willing to research, research, research. Me on Jeopardy? LOL! Nope, not going to happen. :-)

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Thanks Brandi! I'm so glad I was able to inspire you! Seriously. I feel like I've accomplished something today...

Gwendolyn Gage said...

You're welcome, Elizabeth! I'm glad that I was able to solve the riddle for you!

That's funny about your brother! He must live a fascinating life -- much more so than us who park our bottoms on couches and stare at electronics all the time. ;-)

Rhonda (Ritty) said...

I have to say, I absolutely love this post. Definitely keeping this handy for quick reference. Thanks for doing the research and being willing to share. Blessings to you!

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Thanks Rhonda! I'm so glad to hear that these fun facts will be of some use to you, and I'm very happy to share them! I collect so much information and don't use it all, so it's gratifying to know that my work is helpful, if not to me, then to my friends and blog followers. May God bless you too! :-)

Stacy said...

Those are some fun facts, I think I learned something new with each one! Thanks! :)

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Hi Stacy! I'm glad you enjoyed them! Thanks for stopping by!

Laura Frantz said...

Oh, love this, Gwen! I so wish we could have one of those Ax. rugs! You, too, huh? There's just something about this sort of history that is so delightful and FUN. Or maybe it's just YOU;)!

Gwendolyn Gage said...

I'm with you, Laura! I'd love to have an Axminster rug. They're so pretty! 18th century history is a lot of fun. I get so many hits on my blog for information about the 18th century that I thought hey, I should turn my research into entertainment ;-)

Shannon Milholland said...

Where do you learn this stuff? I am amazed at the treasure trove of your knowledge. These are all cool and super fun!

Gwendolyn Gage said...

They are, Shannon! I do a lot of research while writing on my novel projects. I use the internet 75% of the time, and I try not to accept what I read on the internet as fact unless I find several different sources that say the same thing. I should probably site my sources at the bottom of such posts, shouldn't I?