Thursday, March 25, 2021

A Message From Jenny Wren

 My Dear Friends and Neighbours,

I write you today with the worrisome news that our dear friend Old Mary has taken ill. I did not see her at church Sunday last, and went to Thisteldown to see if all was well, only to find Old Mary abed and quite weak. I sent word back to Carlyle House that I meant to stay with Old Mary and tend to her needs. Now that I am a married lady, I am no longer maid to Lady Elizabeth and I have taught Flossie, my friend and Elizabeth’s new maid, how to tend to Elizabeth’s hair and wardrobe so I am at liberty to stay with Old Mary.

Not two days after I came to Thisteldown, Mr. Penn came to pay a call upon Old Mary, for they are dear friends. He was worried for his friend and insisted we repair to his home where Old Mary may have every comfort. This was a kind gesture as the cottage can be draughty if the fire is not tended. Mr. Penn’s coach came, transported us to his house and that is where we have been for the last few days.

You are all kind folk and your good wishes, flowers and visits have been an uplifting sight but Dr. Thornton begs me to ask you please to allow Old Mary to rest so she may regain her strength. He thanks you all for your care and concern but feels Old Mary must not be disturbed so she may get well again. I shall keep you all abreast of Old Mary’s progress and ask that you remember her in your prayers.

Such ominous news, and not a fortnight after we were all so shocked by the fire at the Butcher’s Shoppe. Twas providence that had Alice Powell and Hetty Thorne out taking their exercise that day and noticing the smoke coming from the upper floor of the Butcher’s Shoppe. This allowed the men to form a bucket line from the horse pool at the Rose and Crown to put out the fire. Of course there is damage to the living quarters of the Owens’ but thankfully it was confined to the kitchen and part of the girls bedroom. Lady Elizabeth immediately said the girls must come and stay at Carlyle House whilst the repairs were being made, though Mary, a shy girl, would not leave her mother. Salley, was thrilled at the prospect of living with her best friend Sophia who attends La Forge with Salley upon her recently granted scholarship from the Amberleigh Trust.

Mrs. Medlyn, sister of Mr. Thomas who has come to live with him and keep his house was also happy to have the girls come and stay at the rectory. Such a kind woman, a recent widow herself, she helps her brother through his grief. Seeing how he enjoys tutoring her eldest son, she has encouraged him to take on more students which he has thought seriously about. He says another curate may be the thing to help with duties while he attends to educating some of the local children. He has applied for another curate who shall arrive in a few months’ time.

We are a strong village and look after one another, something that is a comfort to us all. I thank you all for your concern for my husband who is with his regiment en route to Gibraltar and thence to Corsica where he will surely see battle. I welcome your prayers on his behalf and beg you to also remember Alice Powell’s brother, William, who shall also be engaged at Corsica. I thank you dear friends most fervently for your friendship and love.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

A Useful Recipe

 A Word from Mr. Clutterback

As you know I recently had the pleasure of visiting my family in Kent for a week. I have not seen my parents and siblings since coming to Amberleigh to begin my Curacy, making it a happy homecoming. It is always a balm to go back home into the welcoming arms of one’s family.

While I was at home, my dear Mama, also one to practice frugality, shared a recipe she had recently acquired from a neighbour. She was eager that I should have this receipt, as it is for the creation of a necessary item to one’s writing desk that can be quite dear to purchase. This wonder item I speak of is the humble blotting powder we sprinkle upon our letters to dry the ink before sealing our missives.

You will be as surprised as I to find this powder may be made simply from an item you would normally consign to the compost heap. I refer to discarded egg shells. They may successfully be made into dusting powder for your needs, with no cost to yourself, just a few minutes of your time.

To make the powder, take the shells of ten eggs, washing them of all yoke and albumen. Place the shells on a baking tray or a pan taking care they are of a similar size for even baking. Bake the shells for 5 minutes. Do not leave them on the fire overlong or they shall brown, making your powder dark. Once the shells are baked and cooled, put them in the mortar and crush them with the pestle until they create a fine dust. The dust may then be decanted into your shaker and used as a blotting agent for your letters.

Mother also informs me, ladies, this fine powder may be employed on cheeks to achieve a porcelain appearance to the skin.

I hope this economic receipt may help you to save your money for items not so easily made at home, that must be purchased.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

A Very Necessary Thing

 The Reticule

Some things a lady may carry in her reticule, clockwise from the left: gloves, calling cards, pencil & notebook, small book to read and her work bag with her current needlework project.

The onset of the Regency Era brought many changes to English life; architecture, attitudes and of course fashion. Georgian gowns were eschewed for the more figure flattering, sleek lines of the Empire line gown made popular by Josephine Bonaparte. Of course, the problem of where to put one’s essentials arose when those pockets within the Georgian gown were no longer available, necessity bringing forth the advent of the reticule.

The reticule became an indispensable item for a lady to carry things like her handkerchief, her calling cards, and those necessary things a lady needs when making her morning calls or travelling. In time, the reticule, sometimes dubbed the “Ridicule” became quite a fashion statement, taking on many shapes, sizes and materials and was embellished in artful ways.

Today our handbags are still indispensable, housing all manner of things, but what did a lady of the 18th Century carry in her bag? The handkerchief and calling cards as we have already mentioned, but there were other things a lady deemed essential. A small coin purse, a comfit tin, her almanac or date book, a note pad and pencil and her vinaigrette, among other things.

Sweet breath was something all took seriously in this era making the comfit tin or box an item no one was without. Small confections with herb or spice flavours were used to combat bad breath which was unwelcome in polite society. These small containers were elegantly decorated and made of metal, wood or porcelain. Those little sweeties contained within ensured one’s breath did not terminate an advantageous introduction.

In a time when sanitation was not easily controlled and disease was often thought transmitted through the air, a vinaigrette was indispensable to ward off evil smells or to revive a lady should she swoon. It was also used to carry perfumes when a lady travelled. Silver phials or boxes were generally small, fitting in the palm of one’s hand, and most often made of silver and enamel, some were worn around the neck for easy access. As with any item, different shapes and sizes were available with a variety of designs. Phials simply held the decanted liquid, however the boxes, when opened, revealed a filigree, hinged lid, to allow the essence held within, contained in a small swatch of felt or fabric, to waft out. If a lady felt faint or swooned, her vinaigrette or that of a friend would be employed as a “smelling salt” to revive her. The scent, or vinegar held within, varied from lady to lady, just as the decoration of the box did.

The almanac, or date book was quite necessary in planning future visits or journeys. With no illumination other than that of the moon, evening travel was confined to those days when the light of the moon was ample enough to guide one’s coach. The almanac showed the monthly phases of the moon and also contained pertinent days of interest, such as Lady’s Day, Candlemas and so on. Employing your almanac ensured confidence when planning a meeting or journey.

When a lady made her morning calls these things were most essential, but when a lady travelled, she may also carry other items in her reticule, such as a small “work bag” or fabric folder which contained her current sewing project, a housewife so all her sewing implements were at hand and also small volumes of books so she may pass the time pleasantly when she is awaiting someone or something.

The reticule helped a lady to prepare herself for any eventuality when she left the house. It’s usefulness has never waned and today it is still a most essential item of a lady’s wardrobe.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Spring is in the air

 Spring foraging


Hello My Dears,

Spring is in the air, the birds are active and we have the cheerful faces of the aconites to greet us in the wood. I do love this time of the year when nature wakes from its long winter slumber. The sound of the woodpecker hollowing out a dead branch to make its nest tells me it is time once again to forage for those things I need to replenish my medical cupboard. It is also a nice time to enjoy a walk in the woods and see little vestiges of green, those harbingers of spring.

Since young Salley Owens got her scholarship to La Forge, she and Sophia Marlowe have been constant companions and I am missing her company on my foraging walks. I shall have to speak to her after church on Sunday to see how she fares. Lady Elizabeth tells me the girls have been inseparable since school commenced after the holidays. A life long friendship, I hope.

As I was going into the wood, I spoke to Good Tom Meyrick about the taps for the birch trees and he accompanied me into the woods to see if the sap was running. Once the days lengthen and the sap begins to flow it is time to tap the birch tree for a taste of its nectar. This is a special treat indeed. There is naught so sweet as the first juices of the birch, tis like a taste of spring itself.

We selected three trees to tap; you must alternate between the trees so no harm comes to them, and only take enough for your purposes. I filled two jugs and Old Tom, one, this day. It was a day when you can feel the first warmth of the season and we enjoyed a good conversation as we walked.

Tom fashioned the taps from sticks of the elder whose centre is soft and may be easily removed. Once that was done, he bored a hole into each of the selected trees and gently put in the taps. Meanwhile I cast around for a few good rocks to place the jugs on to catch the flow of the sap. Tis a slow process, I will make use of the time waiting to take my basket and forage. Then we may each have a taste of this ambrosia of the woods.

The day was just right for this job, the sun gently warms the air and the wood is heady with the early morning scents of its inhabitants. The daffodils are blooming in cheery little patches here and there lending splashes of sunshine to the earthy floor; the snowdrops just finishing their cycle.

Now the trees are devoid of leaves, it is easy to spot the gauls in the oak trees, needed to make ink. I have been fortunate to find several of those today as well as a nice owl feather to cut for a quill.

Once the jugs were filled, Tom and I made our way back to my cottage where we enjoyed the sweetness of the birch with our lunch of fresh bread, cheese and apples from the store. Days like these are the most enjoyable. I hope you are enjoying the kind of day you like best also.


Old Mary

 The birch sap, ready to enjoy.

Foraging with Old Mary

  Hello, My Dears, As you know, I like nothing better than to meander around the Ackley Wood, foraging for herbs and wild flowers to use i...