Spring Fashions & Easter Celebrations
As Spring springs around us and the Easter holidays arrive, our guest blogger Dr. Gabrielle Malcolm takes us back to to the nineteenth century and reveals how the Georgians celebrated this new season.
Easter in the early nineteenth century was a time for celebration and fresh air. Taking the air became an important pursuit in England around the time of the Industrial Revolution. After the confines, chill, and congestion of winter, with the coming of Spring the search for fresh air was paramount – as the ‘The Morning Post’ of 5th April, 1803, reported:
The fine weather, and the Easter holidays, scatter a few of our fashionables around the Metropolis, that they may inhale a little fresh air, preparatory to the suffocating routs and balls of May. The SALISBURYS are gone to Hatfield; the ABERCORNS to Stanmore; the DERBYS to the Oaks; the MORTON PITTS to Corfe Castle; Earl ROMNEY to the Mote, near Maidstone; Lord and Lady HOBART to Roehampton; and Lord HAWKESBURY will take the air between Combe and Downing-street, though he may not always be able to take his breath.
For the middle to upper classes, Easter was also a time for new fashions. As well as fresh air, a fresh wardrobe was desirable. The women’s gowns on show in promenades in the parks were topped off with new Easter bonnets. We know and love the numerous mentions of fashion, fabrics, and trimmings in Jane Austen’s novels, it’s one of the many elements of her stories that helps us to relate to her, her people, and her times. Lightweight muslin and cotton dresses were newly wrought ready for the walks and the dances of the spring season.
Festivities and holidays were also marked with baking, and amongst the treats for Georgian and Regency households were hot cross buns and Simnel cake. The early nineteenth century witnessed a proliferation of these kinds of recipes, or ‘receipts’ as they were called at the time, thanks to the abundance of spices, sugar, and dried fruits from around the world.
A perfect window onto this world of celebration, frugality, and household management when it comes to food and clothing in Austen’s time, is the reissue of ‘Martha Lloyd’s Household Book’ (2021), edited by Deirdre Le Faye and Julienne Gehrer. This is the actual handwritten kitchen manual and recipe book from the Austen house at Chawton. An interesting feature is how much use was made of almonds, ground almonds, and almond paste. The 21st century vogue for finding alternatives to wheat flour was shared by Martha Lloyd, Jane’s friend and housekeeper, but for her the purpose was economy. A version of the ‘receipt’ for White Soup, served in abundance in Pride and Prejudice, includes egg yolk, meat stock, anchovy paste, and ground almonds with fondant. The mixture of rich sweet, savoury, and intensely salty ingredients sounds quite difficult to stomach – but the result is said to be surprisingly good. Martha Lloyd’s advice in her Household Book also extends to making varnish for wooden furniture and mixing up a concoction ‘To clean white stockings’.
As much as Jane Austen was a home-loving person, always happy to return to her beloved Chawton, she was a great traveller. The Easter and Spring season marked that development in everyday lives. Society opened up again and there were festivities in the great parks for people of all classes. The hunting and racing seasons kicked off, and the roads were more agreeable and accessible. This is reflected in Pride and Prejudice, when Elizabeth departs Longbourn for Kent to spend time with her newly-married friend Charlotte Collins. She spends Easter with them at the parsonage near Lady Catherine’s estate at Rosings. This, of course, is the time when her path crosses that of Darcy again, and he surprises her with a marriage proposal.
So, how about it? A Georgian springtime, with a new bonnet, gorgeous cake, and fresh, white stockings in Bath. Perhaps, even a marriage proposal with a beautiful springtime backdrop? Take the air and ‘scatter’ to a fashionable watering-hole and have a Happy Easter!
Discover our guided walking tours of Jane Austen’s Bath here