Friday, December 19, 2014

Holiday Break

Friday, December 19, 2014
Loretta & Isabella report,

As the year winds down, we're taking our annual holiday break from blogging, tweeting, and general social-networking to spend less time staring at our computer screens and more with family and friends.

Look for our photographs from Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg later next week, and we'll be back to our regularly scheduled blogging on New Year's Day.

Meanwhile, we wish you all a wonderful, joyful holiday season!

Above: Central Park in Winter, by Currier & Ives, c. 1865.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Winter in London 1893

Thursday, December 18, 2014
British Museum

Loretta reports:

Every year near the holidays, I either re-read A Christmas Carol or one of Dickens’s novels, because the London of my imagination is his, mainly, as is my sense of a 19th century Christmas.

But recently I came upon this interesting quotation from Henry James’s Essays in London and Elsewhere.  His love of London comes through in evocative images of the British Museum as he paints a picture of London in winter.

Henry James's London

British Museum image ca 1852 courtesy Wikipedia

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Big Furry Mittens from the 19th c.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Isabella reporting,

The holidays are nearly here and winter travel is a popular topic, with many people studying long-range weather forecasts, air and train schedules, and perhaps investing in new snow-tires. But no matter how long that trip home may be, odds are it's much easier now than it would have been in the 19th c., when these furry mittens were first worn.

They're made from buffalo leather and likely buffalo hide (the museum that owns them isn't quite certain about the fur/hair, but it does look the same as the popular shaggy buffalo coats and robes from the same era), and they would have qualified as serious cold-weather wear. Mittens are always warmer than gloves because the fingers are kept together. But there's a definite trade-off between warmth and dexterity, as anyone who has tried to do much of anything wearing mittens can attest.

But I'm guessing these mittens had a specific purpose. Stage, coach, and sleigh drivers were a hardy breed. The position required skill with horses, knowledge of the roads, and the necessary strength to drive and control a team of horses in all weather and on all kinds of roads. Driving in winter weather must have been especially cruel. The painting, right, shows the English Dover to London coach laboring through a snow storm, while the one, lower left, features a pair of Canadian sleighs, one having driven the other off the road.

North American drivers often wore long, gauntlet-style mittens like these for extreme weather. The extended cuffs stretched over the sleeves driver's coat, protecting his hands and forearms from driving snow and wind, while the leather palms could securely hold the reins. The mittens would have to have been removed to make any adjustments to the harnesses, but during a long, cold drive, they must have offered a welcome warmth - and probably made quite the style-statement at stage posts and inn yards.

I spotted these mittens on the The Clothing Project, a tumblr devoted to the clothing collections of the Fenimore Art Museum and the Farmers' Museum. Many unusual American pieces here, and worth checking out!

Top left: Men's Mittens, 19th c., Bison Hide & Fur, Farmers' Museum, Cooperstown, NY. Photo by The Clothing Project.
Right: London to Dover Coach, Winter, by Henry Alken, private collection.
Lower left: Run Off the Road in a Blizzard, by Cornelius Krieghoff, c 1850, Art Gallery of Ontario.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Princess Charlotte's House

Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Warwick House

Loretta reports:

This entry from Ackermann’s Repository for December 1811 intrigued me for a couple of reasons.  One was “the simple and even homely” appearance of Princess Charlotte’s residence.  Pretty striking, considering the grandeur of her father’s digs at Carlton House, not to mention his Royal Pavilion at Brighton or what he made of Buckingham House.  (His "improvements" of the latter continued throughout his successor's reign.) Second was, Where the heck was it? Close to Carlton House, apparently.  If you look at this map, you’ll see Warwick Street.  So it’s somewhere in there.

A little more sleuthing will probably pinpoint it, but
Warwick House description
my initial map searching hasn’t cleared things up.  It'll have to wait for another blog post when I have more time.  In any event, Warwick House apparently came down when Carlton House did, in 1826-27, although rumors of impending destruction appeared at least as early as 1818, as you can read here in Leigh Hunt’s Examiner.

Images courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art via Internet Archive.

Clicking on the image will enlarge it.  Clicking on the caption will allow you to read at the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Update: The 1772 "Grippine" Mystery Solved

Sunday, December 14, 2014
Isabella reporting,

One of our most popular blogs last month was The Hazards of Traveling by Chaise, which included a letter by Hester Pitt, Countess of Chatham, recounting the trials and setbacks that she, her daughters, and the rest of their party encountered on their journey to Hayes Place in Kent from their home at Burton Pynsent.

While most of the letter described rutted roads, broken traces, and other travelers' mishaps, there was one passage that puzzled me, and many of you readers as well.

"...William [went] forward to fetch a fresh chaise from Amesbury to meet Bradshaw, who was to march on foot till they came to him with his grippine."

What could "his grippine" be? Reader suggestions included overshoes, a saddle, and a small suitcase, as well as another horse, but the correct answer was tantalizingly unknown.

But we Nerdy History Girls hate to leave a history-question unanswered, and fortunately for us, historian Jacqui Reiter (who provided us with the original quotation) is just as persistent. Since the version of the letter we were discussing had been transcribed and printed in a 20th c. biography (William Pitt, Earl of Chatham by Brian Tunstall), Jacqui decided to seek out the original letter to see what could be learned from the complete text, and made a journey of her own to the UK National Archives in Kew, where the Chatham papers are housed. The letter is several pages long, written in Lady Chatham's brisk hand, and the page with the "grippine" passage is above.

But as often the case with transcriptions, the one in the Tunstall book was not quite correct, nor was it complete. The actual words - underlined for emphasis by Lady Chatham -  in the letter are "with his favorite Gippine." The capital G makes it seem as if Gippine is a proper name, and a further passage in the letter leaves little doubt that Gippine is a horse, referring to Gippine as Bradshaw's "faithful attendant":

"The Fresh Chaise found Bradshaw got forward with his faithful attendant about a mile and a half, so he was quit for only a Comfortable perspiration."

Jacqui also found another letter that humorously refers to Bradshaw as "Gippine's travelling Friend." As she notes, "The way Lady Chatham refers to Gippine as nearly human is quite typical of the Pitts' attitude towards their horses. In fact I am still somewhat confused about which names in the correspondence refer to horses, and which to servants...not sure whether this reflects better on their attitude towards their animals, or worse on their attitude towards their staff!"

Incidentally, Bradshaw was a trusted upper servant in the Pitt household. As Jacqui notes, he was sufficiently literate and valued to witness Lord Chatham's will. And yet in the letters, he does indeed seem to take second place to the noble Gippine.

One final note: once we had the horse's name identified as Gippine, I wondered what, if anything, the name might mean. The "ine" ending seemed more French than English to me, and given the 18th c. penchant for phonetical spelling with foreign words, I tried searching for Jippine - and had success. While the name doesn't appear to have a translatable meaning (and if any of you know it, please share!), I did discover that today it's still a name used for French horses, as seen in this performance record for a pony called Jippine du Rietz.

Another history mystery solved!

Many thanks once again to Jacqui Reiter for tracking down this information for us.

Above: Excerpt from Letter from Lady Chatham to Lord Chatham, UK National Archives, Chatham MSS, PRO 30/8/9f 100, dated 9 April [probably 1772]. 
Below: A Saddled Bay Hunter, by George Stubbs, 1786. Private collection.
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