History A’la Carte May 2017


Grab a cup of copy and enjoy a selection of fascinating history tidbits. 



Sit up Straight! Bad posture and the ‘Neck Swing’ in the 18th century.

Devices to make us sit or stand ‘straight’ are certainly nothing new. What have changed are attitudes towards posture. For the Georgians, posture was partly medical, certainly, but perhaps more of a social and cultural issue. Put another way, the ‘polite’ body stood straight and tall; to hunch over was unnatural and uncouth.

Who would have thoghtt these contraptions were from the 1800’s?

What about fathers? Men and childbirth: some evidence from nineteenth-century Ulster.

While it is true that the rituals of childbirth were gendered, this did not necessarily mean that men were denied a place in the birthing room. Like today, childbirth was an event that not only interested men as fathers, but also demanded their assistance and support as husbands. 

Kind of nice to think that we were not the only ones to think fathers were important!

Dangers of Walking in Vienna in the 1820s

Pity the poor pedestrian in Vienna in the early 1820s. Here’s what an English visitor had to say about the dangers of walking in Austria’s capital 

How to Express Your Feelings, 1689

Need a quick sentiment for that greeting card? One of these lines will be perfect for the intercourse of your affection. 

Excerpts from The Theatre of Compliments, Or, A Compleat New Academy: Expressions of Love and Friendship of Men towards Men, Complemental Expressions of Ladies to each other. Amorous Expressions of Gentlemen to Ladies, Gentlewomen and Maidens, &c.

More female misers

We recently told you about the miser Mary Luhorne, that we came across in the book Lives and Anecdotes of Misers. Needless to say we unearthed a few more, but unfortunately, unlike Mary, we are unable to validate most of these, apart from to confirm that details of their stories also appeared in the newspapers some years later. Once again, amongst many questions, it does beg the question ‘where were the relatives when they were alive?‘ sadly, we have no answer to that question.


Many household recipe books had recipes for snail water. These recipes generally called for shelling the snails and cleaning and boiling them in a mixture of milk and white wine or ale. This recipe from Mrs. Elizabeth Hirst’s recipe book (early 18th century with some contemporary additions) is fairly typical, though it includes and additional ingredient: slimy, gooey earthworms.

Oooh, ick. Just ick.

A Disagreement Between Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette

During the reign of King Louis XVI, many Frenchmen disliked the King’s wife, Marie Antoinette. In fact, they often blamed Marie Antoinette for coercing her husband into making unpopular decisions. While Louis XVI often agreed with her and allowed Marie Antoinette’s to give gifts and rewards to her favorites, he did not allow her to coerce or sway his decisions when it came to matters of state.

Of gambolling lambs and woolly economics

Sheep have a reputation for being incredibly stupid. Not that I can boast of any in-depth relationship with a sheep, but what interaction I’ve had indicates that they couldn’t care less about us humans, they’re more into grazing and staring unstintingly at us if we get too close. Somewhat uncomfortable, that eye-balling of theirs. Had they been carnivores, I’d have suspected they’re selecting just where to bite me. Fortunately, sheep rarely bite. They can, however, butt—hard.

Leprosy and Plague in St Giles in the Fields

In a curious quirk of history, the epicentre of the Great Plague of 1665 was also the location of London’s primary medieval leprosy hospital. To the likes of Samuel Pepys, Nell Gwynn and Charles II, St Giles in the Fields was London’s largest outer parishes. Close to the capital’s burgeoning playhouses, it was a dirty, disorganised and poverty-stricken suburb of ramshackle tenements (just under 2000 households in total) and narrow streets, containing inns, brothels, butchers, watchmakers, booksellers, beltmakers, justices of the peace and nobility. Cosmopolitan and heavily populated, at its centre was the parish church of St Giles in the Fields, rebuilt in the late 1620s/early 1630s upon the site of the medieval original. For Pepys and his contemporaries, it was a place that became synonymous with plague and the deaths of tens of thousands of Londoners. Yet, turn the clock back five and a half centuries and the area was associated with a very different (although no less devastating) affliction.



What can you say after that? Until next time!


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