History A’la Carte June 2017


It can’t possibly be a surprise that I read tons of history articles each week. I just can’t help myself–I’ve got to share some of the fascinating things I’ve come across. Here are a few of my recent favorites: 



Caught out, or why expense fiddling is not a modern phenomenon

There was the occasion when “the late Lord Chatham”, as he was known, turned up four and a half hours late to a royal function; the newspapers po-facedly traced his lacklustre attendance at Board meetings while First Lord of the Admiralty. Even in private life he was a bit of a flake, and spent five weeks screwing up the courage to propose to his future wife, while everybody about him (including the object of his affections) got increasingly tetchy.

Good night, sleep tight, hope the buggs don’t bite….

Perusing back numbers of the Gentleman’s Magazine (as one does) I came across this helpful tip – I think nowadays I have to call it a “household hack” – from 1735. It is a remedy for eradicating “bed buggs” and is a reminder of the doggerel verse quoted in the title to this piece.

Georgian Chimney Sweeps

In Georgian England, chimney sweeps took boys from orphanages and homeless children from the streets as indentured servants and apprentices. What they looked for were small boys, usually between five and ten years of age, to clamber up narrow chimney flues and clean out the deposits of soot. Newer kinds of house design, taller buildings and regulations against house fires had resulted in flues twisting and turning as they avoided living spaces and becoming ever narrower as they rose higher.

Care of Infants 1837

Well into the 20th century, a great many children did not survive infancy. In this context, the idea of “strengthening” and “hardening” a child makes sense, though we may find some of the practices a little alarming.

–I think ‘alarming’ is putting it mildly–horrifying is more the way I’d put it.


A Victorian Era Criminal Leads Police On A High Speed Bicycle Chase

In September of 1896, British newspapers reported the remarkable use of a bicycle in a New Jersey murder case.  The case involved two men who had both emigrated to America from London in the early 1890s.  One of these men was a farmer named Mr. Haggett who settled down with his family on a farm near Somerville.  The other man was a fellow named Mr. Clossen who Haggett employed as a farm laborer.  Sometime in 1896, Haggett caught Clossen stealing.  In consequence, he not only fired him from his job, but also refused to pay him the thirty dollars in wages that Clossen believed he was owed.

How the meaning of ‘high speed’ has changed!

The Unpopular Tudor

On February 18, 1516, the Tudor court celebrated the birth of Princess Mary. After struggling to give her husband an heir, Katherine of Aragon was thrilled with the healthy baby regardless of her gender. King Henry VIII was pleased to have evidence of their ability to procreate, even if he would never grow comfortable with the idea of this little girl as a future queen. While Mary is at best ignored and at worst villainized in modern discussions of the Tudor era, she was looked upon more favorably during her own lifetime.

Tales of Louis XV’s Harem

Some years later, the name Parc-aux-Cerfs, which literally means stag park, began to be whispered at Louis XV’s court. Parc-aux-Cerfs, also known as the King’s Birdcage, was alleged to be where the King’s “harem” lived. Parc-aux-Cerfs was in a quarter of Versailles called Parc-aux-Cerfs, and it also happened to be the same neighborhood where Madame de Pompadour, the Louis XV’s favorite, settled after her physical relationship with him ended in 1752.

Complaining about doctors in the 12th century

This text began as a conversation between Ibn Jumay and the Sultan, in which the doctor talked about “why the art of medicine is effaced and obliterated and why its merits are erased and destroyed”, and ways it could be reformed. Ibn Jumay explained that in ancient times the medical practice had its high and low points, with famous healers like Hippocrates and Galen reviving the profession. The situation had deteriorated in more recent years, and Ibn Jumay offered these reasons why:

The more things change, the more they stay the same, eh?


For Molly Hughes’s mother, for Mrs Beeton, Henry Southgate and all the other cookery writers in the nineteenth-century, timing was the key to good food, well-planned meals and to a life well lived. With their increasing emphasis on timing and timekeeping, nineteenth-century cookbooks may not tell us everything there is to know about what people ate, but they can tell us an awful lot about what writers and their readers understood about the passage of time.


What can you say after that? Until next time!


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