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Happy Easter, gentle readers. Many of the customs followed in the early 19th century by Jane Austen and her family are still followed today in one fashion or another. For this blog post, I have gathered information already known to many, and some that might be new. The following quote sums this holiday up nicely:

Easter during the Regency was both a holy day and a holiday.” – Lesley-Ann McCleod

Pancake Races Before Lent:

The 40 days before Easter or Lent began on Wednesday with a church service. This day was preceded by Shrove Tuesday, on which one would confess one’s sins. The date was also the last day to eat all the foods that would be prohibited during abstinence. This meant emptying the larder of rich foods, such as milk, eggs, butter, fat, wheat flour, and spices—ingredients commonly found in pancakes. An alternate name in Britain for Shrove Tuesday was Pancake Tuesday! Pancakes were made for consumption or for public races:

At the sound of a pancake bell, often the bell from the local church, women ran a course carrying a frying pan with a pancake in it. They had to successfully flip the pancake at least three times before they reached the goal. Some communities held pancake parties, with people dressed up [as] the Protector of the Pancakes, irst Founder of the Fritters, Baron of Bacon-flitch, and the Earl of Egg-baskets.” –  Regina Scott, guest author on The Regency Blog of Lesley-Anne McLeod

Pancake races with female contestants are still held today. In addition, street football, or hurling, where teams of men (country men against city dwellers, for instance) hurled the ball against the opposing team until one team won, is also a time-honored Easter tradition.

Easter Sermons:

Easter Sunday, which commemorated Christ’s resurrection from the dead, was a solemn occasion and one of obligation for parishioners, such as the Austen family and the community of worshipers. In the book, Jane Austen and the Clergy, Irene Collins writes that clergymen in Jane Austen’s day were not expected to write original sermons every Sunday, except on a few occasions.

Henry Crawford, assessing Edmund Bertram’s commitments at Thornton Lacey, judged that ‘a sermon at Christmas and Easter ‘would be’ the sum total of the sacrifice.”

She also wrote that Mr. Collins produced only two sermons between his ordination at Easter and his visit to Longbourn in November of the same year.- p. 96. Jane Austen and the Clergy, Irene Collins, August 1, 2002.

cover of Religion and Philosophy of a stack of Bibles and the title of a sermon Thomas Lloyd preached in a parish church on Easter-Day, April 8th, 1787

Easter Music

I will always remember Sunday Easter service with my parents when singing this uplifting Methodist Church hymn, “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.” (14th C. song rewritten in 1739 by: Lyricist Charles Wesley, Composer Samuel Arnold, initially titled Hymn for Easter Day). This hymn was also popular during Jane Austen’s day. My emotions well up when I watch this YouTube video of the King’s College choir singing the hymn.

Easter in Pride and Prejudice

When Elizabeth Bennet visits Hunsford and Rosings, she becomes aware of Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s omission in inviting the Collins’ and their guests in advance for this most important holiday:

In this quiet way, the first fortnight of her visit soon passed away. Easter was approaching, and the week preceding it was to bring an addition to the family at Rosings, which in so small a circle must be important.”

Elizabeth understands that Lady Lady Catherine de Bourgh has no time for herself or Mr and Mrs Collins, but an invitation finally came:

Colonel Fitzwilliam’s manners were very much admired at the parsonage, and the ladies all felt that he must add considerably to the pleasure of their engagements at Rosings. It was some days, however, before they received any invitation thither, for while there were visitors in the house they could not be necessary; and it was not till Easter-day, almost a week after the gentlemen’s arrival, that they were honoured by such an attention, and then they were merely asked on leaving church to come there in the evening. For the last week they had seen very little of either Lady Catherine or her daughter. Colonel Fitzwilliam had called at the parsonage more than once during the time, but Mr. Darcy they had only seen at church.”

The ladies, we presume, arrived wearing their new Easter bonnets and gowns made especially for such an important holiday. One assumes that Easter must have presented a busy schedule for Mr Collins, the vicar of his parish. Elizabeth Hawksley, who has written an interesting article about the clergy in Jane Austen’s novels, describes Mr Collins during the days surrounding Easter. His schedule is far from busy:

So what did the vicar of a parish actually do? Elizabeth Bennet and Sir William and Maria Lucas visited the Collinses around Easter – today, the busiest time of the church year. Nevertheless, we hear of Mr Collins driving his father-in-law round the countryside every day during his visit, and of dinners at Rosings with Lady Catherine de Bourgh; but there is no mention of any church activities.” – Jane Austen and the Clergy: How the System Worked, Elizabeth Hawksley.

Tithing at Easter

Interestingly, people were punished for non-payment of tithes or attendance at Easter. In his book, The Parish Registers of England, Charles Cox (1843-1919) writes:

“…On conviction for divers of the less serious offences, such as non-payment of tithes or Easter dues, or for the non-observance of Sundays or Saints’ Days, offenders were admonished, and if obstinate excommunicated; but in such cases absolution and discharge could  usually be obtained on payment of a fine…”


The Monday After Easter—Merriment at Greenwich Park:

This image depicts Easter day for the masses in Greenwich Park in London. At the top of the hill is the Royal Observatory with astronomical equipment. According to a contemporary description, a sojourn to the park is well worth the visitors’ time! The Monday after Easter the park is filled with throngs of merry makers (ten to thirty thousand) from all walks of life and many ages. The hill is steep, with celebrants running down it in pairs or groups of males and females, sometimes tumbling head over heels, and most likely giggling.

Black and white engraving of Greenwich Park with crowds celebrating Easter

Greenwich Park with the Royal Observatory on Easter Monday, Modern London, Edward Pugh

Greenwich is crowded at these holidays.  In the public-houses is dancing from morning to evening.  Almost every private house of the lower and middle sort make tea and coffee; yet it is often difficult to find room even for a small company; and it is very usual for parties to take a cold repast and wine with them, and dine beneath the trees in the Park, in spots a little retired from the throng. “Mapping Modern London, Horwood’s Map, Greenwich Park

To view the incredible details of the park, click on an image, which will open to enlarged version.

Food:

Hot cross buns, ham, lamb in season, and potatoes were common dishes at Easter, as were colored eggs for an Easter egg hunt. These foods are still popular today. Kirstin Olsen writes about Pastor Woodforde, the author of Diary of a Country Parson,

Woodforde and his friends tended…to prefer the grass lamb, and it is in the spring that most of his references to eating lamb occur.” – Kirstin Olsen, Cooking with Jane Austen (pp. 66-67)

Grass lamb, or young lambs that still drink milk from their mothers were prized by many. Soon after they are born, the lambs start to eat hay, grass, or grain, but much of their food intake is still from their mothers’ rich milk. The lambs are slaughtered within 2-15 months of birth, weigh from 135 to 140 lbs, and are available only from April to September. Their taste is not as intense as an older lamb’s, but it is one that Pastor Woodforde prefered.

Jane Austen’s Easter

This 2011 article from the Jane Austen Centre, written by Laura Boyle, is worth reading in full. It is a comprehensive discussion about Jane Austen’s celebration of Easter, both as a solemn religious holiday and as a festive event. Click here to enter it.

All Things Georgian

I also recommend this website and its many fact-filled blog posts with well-researched, hard to find information. This link lead to an article entitled “An Early Easter Miscellany.”

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Have a happy Easter everyone. As with many of you, mine will be spent with the family. The sky is cloudless, the day is warm and perfect for the smaller fry to find Easter eggs.

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Inquiring readers, I can’t gush enough about this website, which started out as a research project by Matthew Sangster “to explore the life and culture in London in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.” I discovered the site when I wanted to trace Jane Austen’s trip from her brother Henry’s house on Henrietta Street to Carlton House, the home of the Prince Regent, after the Prince’s librarian, James Stanier Clarke, invited her to visit in 1815, just as she was completing the final touches on Emma. I found the route in Horwood’s Plan of the Cities of London and Westminster in the Borough of Southwark, and Parts Adjoining Shewing every House (1792-99).

Logo of the title

Horwood’s Plan of the Cities of London and Westminster in the Borough of Southwark, and Parts Adjoining Shewing every House (1792-99).

Romantic London, the website, is divided into a number of topics of vast interest to historians, lovers of Jane Austen and the Regency era, authors, researchers, and teachers and students. In addition to Horwood’s Plan, Sangster offers tabs entitled Harrris’s List (1788), Antiquities (1791), Picturesque Tour (1792-1801), Modern London (1804), Microcosm (1804–10), Life in London (1821), and Wordsworth’s Prelude (1850). He includes a blog and provides an email address for those with questions.

It is worth your while to read the introduction to each section, starting with Introducing Romantic London. I’ll describe a few of the wonderful features on this site, and will leave the rest for you to discover on your own.

Horwood’s Map (1792-9):

Image of the full Horwood Map

Notice the 32 pages that comprise Horwood’s Map. Image from Sangster’s website.

The entire map, as drawn, is composed of grids or 32 sheets. All one needs to do with this digital map is to place a cursor over an area. I chose one near Mayfair, and pressed “+” until I honed in on Carlton House. Click anywhere on this map and explore to your heart’s content.

Closeup of Carlton House and surroundings, with pale coloration of grass, trees, and squares

Detail of Carlton House, Carlton House Gardens, St. James’s Square, and Kings Mews.

The level of detail in this close up image is simply amazing. We see Carlton House and Carlton House Gardens in a bird’s eye view. All houses, with their back yards, stables or mews, common areas and gardens are delineated. Pale colors mark squares, grassy areas, and trees.

Included in this tab is a history and texts that show how Sangster uses Horwood’s Map for his and our benefit. As an example, let’s study the tab, Modern London, which is an 1804 guide to the city, published by Richard Phillips.

Modern London (1804):

While the guide was written by Richard Phillips, the 22 views of key buildings and landscapes were engraved from designs by Edward Pugh and images of street traders and seller by William Marshall Craig. Many of us are already familiar with these images, but where were they exactly located? This tab answers that question in detail.

Orange markers and gray arrows superimposed over the entire Horwood's Map

Markers showing the locations described in Modern London

Superimposed on Horwood’s entire map are orange hiker tabs and gray arrow tabs. Hover your cursor over one, and the location is identified with a title of the images created by Pugh or Craig.

Black and white engraving of Greenwich Park with crowds celebrating Easter

Greenwich Park with the Royal Observatory on Easter Monday, Modern London, Edward Pugh

A street trader image:

Image of woman, dressed in red and blue, pushing a wheelbarrow with new potatoes past Middlesex Hospital

New Potatoes, Middlesex Hospital, by William Marshall Craig

Other tabs of note:

All the tabs lead to information for those of us interested in Austen’s era. In this section, I will detail only a few—those with images of and information about London created during Austen’s life. Each tab is designed like the one described in Modern London. You will first see Horwood’s Map with corresponding tabs, and then the engravings or lithographs and their descriptions (if they exist).

  • Antiquities (1791-1800) by John Thomas Smith shows plates of buildings, architectural details, and objects found in London.
  • Malton’s Picturesque Tour (1792-1801) consists of black and white engravings of major buildings and thoroughfares. 
  • Microcosm of London features images of Rudolph Ackermann’s famous Microcosm of London (1808-10). 
  • Select Views, or Select Views of London; with Historical and Descriptive Sketches of Some of the Most Interesting of its Public Buildings (1816) compiled by John B. Papworth and published by Rudolph Ackermann. 

In conclusion:

One reason this site excites me is that with Horwood’s map I can trace Austen’s visits to the places she and her family mentioned while staying with Henry in London, such as the Wedgwood Shop in Regent’s street. In the accompanying images that sit at the bottom of the various tabs, I can view how London looked in her day, and read contemporary accounts about these locations.

I am struck by how quickly London turns from city streets to rural surroundings; how closely houses are stacked together in the city’s center, each with their own chimneys and need for refuse removal. I can imagine how, on dry windy days, the dust from unpaved streets must have settled everywhere, and the smell of urine and feces from horses and cattle driven by drovers to Smithfield Market must have permeated through every nook and cranny, and windows and door cracks on hot summer days.

This map and the accompanying images, along with current accounts and subsequent histories, provide us (as readers and authors), with a way to follow the movements of historical and fictional people who resided in the largest city in Europe. It will also allow me to map my next visit to London, and choose specific locations to visit as I learn more about the time in which Jane Austen and her contemporaries lived.

Resources

British Library: Online Gallery: Plan of the Cities of LONDON and WESTMINSTER, Richard Horwood, 1795, includes a zoomable image, full size printable image, and a short history.

Layers of London: London Maps: Choose historical maps of London, and overlay them with information about a range of topics and themes.

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