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An Invitation To A Regency Ball – 200th Anniversary of Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen's writing table at her cottage in Chawton, Hampshire. By kind permission of Jane Austen's House Museum.
Jane Austen’s writing-table at her cottage in Chawton, Hampshire. By kind permission of Jane Austen’s House Museum.

If there had not been a Netherfield ball to prepare for and talk of, the
younger Miss Bennets would have been in a very pitiable state at this time, for
from the day of the invitation, to the day of the ball, there was such a
succession of rain as prevented their walking to Meryton once. No aunt, no
officers, no news could be sought after—the very shoe-roses for Netherfield
were got by proxy. Even Elizabeth might have found some trial of her patience
in weather which totally suspended the improvement of her acquaintance with Mr.
Wickham; and nothing less than a dance on Tuesday, could have made such a
Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday endurable to Kitty and Lydia.

(Austen, J., Pride and Prejudice, 1813, Chapter 17)

When the dancing recommenced, however, and Darcy approached to claim her hand, Charlotte could not help cautioning her in a whisper, not to be a simpleton, and allow her fancy for Wickham to make her appear unpleasant in the eyes of a man ten times his consequence. Elizabeth made no answer, and took her place in the set, amazed at the dignity to which she was arrived in being allowed to stand opposite to Mr. Darcy, and reading in her neighbours’ looks, their equal amazement in beholding it. They stood for some time without speaking a word; and she began to imagine that their silence was to last through the two dances, and at first was resolved not to break it; till suddenly fancying that it would be the greater punishment to her partner to oblige him to talk, she made some slight observation on the dance. He replied, and was again silent. After a pause of some minutes, she addressed him a second time with:—”It is your turn to say something now, Mr. Darcy. I talked about the dance, and you ought to make some sort of remark on the size of the room, or the number of couples.”

He smiled, and assured her that whatever she wished him to say should be said.

“Very well. That reply will do for the present. Perhaps by and by I may observe that private balls are much pleasanter than public ones. But now we may be silent.”

“Do you talk by rule, then, while you are dancing?”

“Sometimes. One must speak a little, you know. It would look odd to be entirely silent for half an hour together; and yet for the advantage of some, conversation ought to be so arranged, as that they may have the trouble of saying as little as possible.”

(Austen, J., Pride and Prejudice, 1813, Chapter 18)

On 28th January, 1813, Pride and Prejudice, by Hampshire writer Jane Austen (1775-1817), was published in three hardback volumes by Thomas Egerton, Military Library, Whitehall, priced 18s. The novel had originally been titled, First Impressions and was written by Jane between October 1796 and August 1797.  On 1st November in the year of its completion, Jane’s father, Rev. George Austen (1731-1805), took the unusual step (for a Regency patriarch anyway) of writing to London publisher Thomas Cadell asking whether he would be interested in reading his daughter’s manuscript. Mr Cadell declined Rev. Austen’s offer, by return of post.

It was some years later before Jane returned to the manuscript. Between 1811 and 1812, she embarked upon many revisions of First Impressions, including a title change to Pride and Prejudice. She described the completed work as her “own darling child”. Copyright for Pride and Prejudice was sold to publisher  Thomas Egerton for the sum of £110 (Jane had wanted £150). T. Egerton published one thousand five hundred copies of the first edition, all of which sold-out straightaway. A 2nd edition was published in November 1813 and a 3rd edition in 1817.  It is estimated that this much-loved novel about marriage, love and class in Regency society, now sells approximately fifty thousand copies each year in the UK alone.

In this bicentenary year there will be many events happening worldwide to celebrate the first publication of Pride and Prejudice (for a round-up of some of the UK events, see the end of this article).  For an interesting article on how Jane Austen’s army of literary fans are celebrating the bicentenary, see ‘Pride and Prejudice: Jane Austen Fans Celebrating Novel’s 200th Anniversary’ by Tim Masters, Entertainment and Arts Correspondent, BBC News (25th January 2013). CLICK HERE.

Chawton House, country house of Edward Austen-Knight, Chawton, Hampshire.
Chawton House, the country seat of Edward Austen-Knight, Chawton, Hampshire.

Filming recently took place at Chawton House, Hampshire, the former country seat of Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Austen Knight (1768-1852), for a ninety minute documentary Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball (w/t). Chawton House is an Elizabethan manor house built by John Knight’s grandson, also called John. Building began c.1583 and continuing until the mid 1660s.Chawton House passed, by inheritance, to Jane Austen’s brother, Edward, on the death of their childless cousin, Thomas Knight (1735-1794). It was Edward who offered Jane, her mother and her sister the cottage in Chawton village which became their home and from where all her novels were published. Today the cottage is Jane Austen’s House Museum.

The documentary, will be shown on BBC Two in the Spring, was commissioned by Janice Hadlow, controller at BBC Two and Mark Bell, Commissioning Editor, Arts. The Commissioning Executive is Greg Sanderson, and the Executive for Optomen is Jon Swain.  Mark Bell, said: “With the enduring popularity of the novel and its many television and film adaptations, this special programme for BBC Two offers a fresh perspective, exploring with depth and detail of one Regency Britain’s most crucial functions.”

Across ninety minutes, a team of experts will weave together the planning and rehearsal of a typical early nineteenth century ball, look back at first-hand testimony of ball-goers of the time, and end with a stunning, authentic recreation based on Austen’s Netherfield Ball, a turning point in the romance between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. The ball takes place in the Great Hall at Chawton House, a room where members of the Austen family danced and enjoyed evening entertainments.

The team of experts who will play a key role in the recreation include: food historian Ivan Day; Professor Jeanice Brooks and Dr Wiebke Thormahlen from the University of Southampton, who will advise on the music and orchestral elements, and Hilary Davidson, curator of fashion and decorative art at the Museum of London, who will ensure an authentic recreation of Regency dress. Stuart Marsden and Dr Anne Daye will choreograph the dancing and literary expert John Mullan, Professor of English at University College London, will be on hand to ensure the ball’s accuracy and authenticity to Austen’s work. The programme’s main presenters will be Professor Amanda Vickery (The Many Lovers of Jane Austen) and Alastair Sooke (Modern Masters).

Pride and Prejudice: Having a Ball will take an intelligent look at the social history of Austen’s world and explore how, as well as drinking, dancing and jollity, balls had an important purpose – to help women find a husband. Playing an important role in Austen’s novels, the pomp and excitement of a lively ball would drive forward the plot, explore and reveal character and shine a light on the society of the day.

BBC Learning has contributed to the funding of the project and commissioned a range of additional supporting material, including Regency recipes devised by Ivan Day for the BBC Food website. There will also be a curated Regency art feature for the Your Paintings website, period fashion and dance resources for the BBC History site and additional materials by the presenters for adult reading groups.

Chief Executive of Chawton House Library, Stephen Lawrence, said: “Working and living at Chawton House often feels like being part of a film set. This weekend it truly will be! We are delighted to be part of this authentic recreation of an important element of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. She knew Chawton House very well and it seems fitting then this tribute to her work should be undertaken here.”

Now a research library, Chawton House Library, has a unique collection of over twenty-one thousand volumes focusing on women’s writing in English from 1600 to 1830. Novels, poetry and drama are all included, as well as autobiographical writing, published letters and a range of factual material from this period. In addition the Knight family library, one known to Jane, is held here on deposit. The Library is open to readers, free of charge by appointment from Monday to Friday, 9.30am-5pm. The house and grounds are available for venue hire, group tour bookings and special events. Details of tours as well as the many different events can be found on the website, CLICK HERE.

The Regency Ball in Context

‘Our ball was rather more amusing than I expected…you will not expect to hear that I was asked to dance – but I was!’

(Jane Austen, letter to Cassandra, 9th December, 1808)

‘We were very well entertained.. the Misses Lance have partners, Capt. Dauvernes’ friend appeared in regimentals, Caroline Maitland had an officer to flirt with and Mr John Harrison was deputed by Capt. Smith.. to ask me to dance.’

(Jane Austen, letter to Cassandra, January, 1809)

View of the ballroom (2012 - now called the Jane Austen Suite) at The Dolphin Hotel, Southampton, where Jane is said to have danced to celebrate her eighteenth birthday. It has of course been modernised but many of the original Georgian and Regency architectural features still survive.
View of the ballroom (2012 – now called the Jane Austen Suite) at The Dolphin Hotel, Southampton, where Jane is said to have danced to celebrate her eighteenth birthday. It has of course been modernised but many of the original Georgian and Regency architectural features still survive.
One of the two bay windows in the ballroom at The Dolphin Hotel, Southampton. If Jane had indeed spent her eighteenth birthday dancing the night away here, she may well have glanced out of the window between dances.
One of the two bay windows in the ballroom at The Dolphin Hotel, Southampton. If Jane had indeed spent her eighteenth birthday dancing the night away here, she may well have glanced out of the window between dances.
One of two original fireplaces in the former ballroom (now The Jane Austen Suite) at The Dolphin Hotel, Southampton.
One of two original fireplaces in the former ballroom (now The Jane Austen Suite) of The Dolphin Hotel, Southampton.

I will let you into a little secret, my mother named me after Jane Austen’s heroine Emma. Throughout my life I have been told that I possess a number of qualities similar to Jane’s leading lady but to what degree is for my friends and family to comment upon and not myself. However, although I have always enjoyed reading and re-reading Pride and Prejudice, it is the novel Emma (1815) that I prefer the most. My favourite adaptation by far is the BBC‘s four-part version written by Sandy Welch which aired in 2009 and starred Romola Garai as Emma and Jonny Lee Miller as Mr Knightly. Their on-screen chemistry perfectly captured the spirit of Jane’s original novel. Here is a short clip of the ball and supper at The Crown Inn which Emma and Mr Knightly both attend and share a dance together. CLICK HERE.

The Regency began in the spring of 1811 when the Prince of Wales was first appointed Prince Regent and terminated in 1820 on his accession to the throne as George IV (1762-1830). There is no doubt that Jane loved to attend a Ball, she wrote about them in many of her letters to family and friends. In 1793, her first dance is thought to have been on her eighteenth birthday at the Dolphin Hotel, Southampton. Jane was visiting the Butler-Harrison’s who lived at St. Mary’s near to the town and whose first child she had been appointed godmother to.

Interior architecture at The Dolphin Hotel.
Interior architecture of The Dolphin Hotel.
Architectural detail of main staircase at The Dolphin Hotel.
Detail of main staircase. The Dolphin Hotel.
View looking-up at the main staircase at The Dolphin Hotel.
View looking-up at the main staircase. The Dolphin Hotel.
Architectural detail of The Dolphin Hotel.
Architectural detail at The Dolphin Hotel.

In 1806, Jane, Cassandra and their mother joined brother Frank and his new wife Mary in Southampton, first living in lodgings and eventually moving to a rented house at No. 2 Castle Square in January 1807.

Martha Lloyd, Jane's lifelong friend whose was the Austen ladies housekeeper, cook and confidente in both Southampton and Chawton. Martha married Jane's brother Sir Francis Austen (1774-1865) following the death of his first wife. Martha was no blushing bride, she was 62!. Jane Austen's House and Museum.
Martha Lloyd (1765-1843), Jane’s lifelong friend who was the Austen ladies housekeeper, cook and confidante. In 1828, Martha married Jane’s brother Sir Francis Austen (1774-1865) following the death of his first wife. Martha was no blushing bride, she was 62 and became Lady Austen. Jane Austen’s House and Museum.

Also joining them in Southampton was Martha Lloyd, lifelong friend of Jane, Jenny the cook, Molly the maid and another servant, Phoebe, who was a “maid of all work”. The Austens remained in Southampton until they moved to Chawton Cottage in 1809.

Jane Austen's House Museum, Chawton, Hampshire. By kind permission thereof.
Jane Austen’s House Museum, Chawton, Hampshire. By kind permission thereof.
Glasses and case belonging to Jane Austen's mother. On display at Lyme Regis Museum.
Glasses and case belonging to Jane Austen’s mother. On display at Lyme Regis Museum.
The donkey cart that the Austen ladies used whilst living at Chawton. Jane Austen's House and Museum.
The donkey cart that the Austen ladies used whilst living at Chawton. Jane Austen’s House and Museum.

Don’t be fooled into thinking Jane’s recording of her ball-going experiences were all about head-turning fashions and heart-stopping moments. She loved to observe fellow guests and was not always kindly in her remarks, this can be seen in many examples of Jane’s private correspondences. She often demonstrates a considerable degree of acerbic wit about her subjects.

In 1884, Jane’s great-nephew, Edward Hugessen Knatchbull-Hugessen (1st Baron Brabourne, 1829-1893), edited a collection of her letters which were subsequently published by Richard Benley & Son: London, New Burlington Street (Letters of Jane Austen edited with an Introduction and Critical Remarks by Edward, Lord Brabourne)Lord Brabourne’s mother, Lady Knatchbull (née Fanny Catherine Knight – 1793-1882), was Jane’s niece and the two hundred letters were found in a box of her papers. The letters contain a hundred detailed descriptions, by Jane, of visits to country balls. Here are few of my favourites and watch-out for Miss Austen’s sharp tongue:

It was a pleasant ball, and still more good than pleasant, for there were nearly sixty people, and sometimes we had seventeen couple [s]. The Portsmouths, Dorchesters, Boltons, Portals, and Clerks were there, and all the meaner and more usual &c., &c.’s. There was a scarcity of men in general, and a still greater scarcity of any that were good for much. I danced nine dances out of ten — five with Stephen Terry, T. Chute, and James Digweed, and four with Catherine. There was commonly a couple of ladies standing up together, but not often any so amiable as ourselves.

(Jane Austen to sister Cassandra, November 1800)

It was a pleasant evening; Charles found it remarkably so, but I cannot tell why, unless the absence of Miss Terry, towards whom his conscience reproaches him with being now perfectly indifferent, was a relief to him. There were only twelve dances, of which I danced nine, and was merely prevented from dancing the rest by the want of a partner. We began at ten, supped at one, and were at Deane before five.  There were but fifty people in the room; very few families, indeed, from our side of the county, and not many more from the other. My partners were the two St. Johns, Hooper, Holder, and very prodigious Mr Mathew, with whom I called the last, and who I liked the best of my little stock.

There were very few beauties, and such as there were not very handsome. Miss Iremonger did not look well, and Mrs. Blount was the only one much admired. She appeared exactly as she did in September, with the same broad face, diamond bandeau, white shoes, pink husband, and fat neck. The two Miss Coxes were there: I traced in one the remains of the vulgar, broad-featured girl who danced at Enham eight years ago; the other is refined into a nice, composed-looking girl, like Catherine Bigg. I looked at Sir Thomas Champneys and thought of poor Rosalie; I looked at his daughter, and thought her a queer animal with a white neck. Mrs. Warren, I was constrained to think, a very fine young woman, which I much regret.

She has got rid of some part of her child, and danced away with great activity looking by no means very large. Her husband is ugly enough, uglier even than his cousin John; but he does not look so very old. The Miss Maitlands are both prettyish, very like Anne, with brown skins, large dark eyes, and a good deal of nose. The General has got the gout, and Mrs. Maitland the jaundice. Miss Debary, Susan, and Sally, all in black, but without any stature, made their appearance, and I was as civil to them as circumstances [“their bad breath”] would allow me.

(Jane Austen to sister Cassandra, Thursday 20th November 1800)

Balls, private or public, city or country, were an important part of Regency society, occasions where potential husbands could be snared and the etiquette of dancing acted as a form of pre-marital courtship.  In Pride and Prejudice The Netherfield Ball acts as a device to drive the plot forward. In Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814), Maria Bertram and Mr Rushworth attend a number of balls, dancing together on each occasion and finally enter into an engagement. The ball is a socially acceptable forum where young, old, single and married can mix with relative freedom without fear of being reproached for breaching social protocols.

Unlike modern times where arrival at a ball is usually 7pm and carriages are called at midnight, Regency balls were an all night affair, requiring a degree of stamina. Unfortunately, there were many instances when guests succumbed to physical injuries as a result of over exertion. During the course of my research I read that Lord St. Asaph (1760-1830), the Earl of Ashburnham’s son, suffered a burst blood-vessel as a result of attending The Duchess of Dorset’s Grand Ball and Supper at Knole Park in 1813. The injury was brought on by dancing too vigorously.

We are sorry to add, that an accident happened to Lord St. Asaph, which his Lordship had an opportunity of concealing from the company. Lord St. Asaph, finding himself indisposed, apologized and retired. From over exertion in dancing, on retiring to bed, a blood-vessel gave way; and he was very much reduced in consequence. Medical assistance was sent for; and an express sent-off to his father, the Earl of Ashburnham at Ashburnham Castle, who arrived the next day when this amiable young Nobleman was declared to be out of danger.

(Grand Ball and Supper given by The Duchess of Dorset at Knole Park, Sevenoaks, Kent Friday 8th January, 1813, reported in The Morning Post)

In many of the extracts from contemporary newspapers that I have quoted here, you will see a pattern of timings emerging for a typical Regency ball. Arrival was usually between 10pm and midnight, several hours of dancing followed as well as general socialising and mingling. Between 3am and 5am there would be a break for supper, which usually included: seasonal fayre; soups; water and cream ices; fruit; confectionary; coffee; tea and hot chocolate. Dancing then continued until dawn. The ball normally consisted of between nine and twelve dances, including reels and strathspeys.

The grander balls, given by the upper echelons of Regency society, often went one step further and spared no expense in creating a suitably decorated, lavish, interior. Mrs Dawson’s annual ball at Manchester Square, in 1812, saw the windows being removed and replaced with painted silk. The ballroom was also festooned with great quantities of laurel-leaves, which were a popular type of Regency decoration.

Society Balls in the Regency Era

There were 300 ‘Fashionables’. The principal drawing-room, and the secondary apartments, were rendered agreeably cool, by the removal of the window, and substituting transparencies painted on silk.  The principal designs, among these novelties, were – 1st – A rural landscape of enamelled meads, cottages, and sheep grazing – the village church in the background; 2nd – wood and water, with rocky cliffs and mountains the ruins of an ancient castle. The balcony was fancifully decorated with variegated lamps, intermixed among flowering shrubs. Chandeliers of chrystalline brilliancy illumined the ballroom, the splendour of which was considerably heightened by the aid of mirrors of a vast size being placed in such, direction, as to multiply every object ad infinitum. Great quantities of laurel-leaves were introduced to add to the tout-ensemble. The dancing commenced at eleven o’clock, and was kept-up with unusual spirit. An excellent collation was provided, consisting of soups, and all the delicacies of the season, of which the company partook at two o’clock. About five o’clock an elegant dejeune was served-up; then reels and strathspeys commenced, and continued until between the hours of six and seven.

(Mrs Dawson’s Ball and Supper at Manchester Square, London, as reported in The Morning Post, Monday 22nd June, 1812)

Dancing began at midnight with the Lady Matilda Bruce – a new reel. At half-past three o’clock the company sat down to a sumptuous banquet, the viands and wines being of the first description, with a desert of ices, strawberries, cherries, and grapes by Mr Gunter. Music was provided by Mr Gow’s Band.

(The Duchess of Bedford’s Ball and Supper at Bedford House in Hamilton Place, Piccadilly, Friday 31st May 1811)

There were 350 guests who arrived at 9.30pm. The Queen came in a new state chair, which has been made since the last ball and supper, in consequence of the weight of the chair the Queen then went in being so heavy then, that the Chairmen were obliged to rest in the Park. The new chair is made of paper of a similar manufacture the tea-trays are made of. The ornaments are extremely neat and elegant. It is lined with crimson velvet, the draperies crimson silk.

(The Prince Regent’s Ball and Supper at Carlton House mansion, London, reported in The Morning Post, May 13th, 1813)

Drinking tea was fashionable and popular across all classes in Regency society. Display from Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.
Drinking tea was fashionable and popular across all classes in Regency society. The tea service shown here is Chamberlain’s Worcester porcelain, c.1810. The table is mahogany c. 1775. The tea-chest is burr wood, c.1825, it was made by Robert James of Bristol. The casket contains teas and a glass bowl in which the two could be blended. Until 1830, all tea came from China. Display from Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

Regency Ball – Food

Soon after one in the morning the party supped; and about four o’clock they separated. The supper was a most sumptuous banquet, served on the most costly porcelain; the tables were abundantly supplied with the choicest viands, displayed with unique elegance, in a style which did great credit to ingenuity of the cooks and confectioners employed.

(Grand Ball and Supper given by The Duchess of Dorset at Knole Park, Sevenoaks, Kent -Friday 8th January, 1813, reported in The Morning Post)

The Prince’s table was laid for 65, allowing 18 inches for each person, in the most superb and elegant manner. The Queen and Prince Regent sat the head. The princess Charlotte sat at the right of the Duke of York…When seated the tout ensemble presented a most magnificent scene. The desert, under the direction of Mr Bonuar, comprised every delicacy the season afforded, and was most excellent. The pages in their state uniforms, the yeomen of the guards, the servants in their state liveries, added much to the splendor of the effect.

(The Prince Regent’s Ball and Supper, Carlton House, London, Friday 5th February 1813)

11.30pm dancing commenced. A supper, the most abundant and excellent, with ices, fruits, and confectionary, provided by Mr Gunter, formed the repast, and of which the company partook about half-past two o’clock. Dancing was afterwards resumed, and kept-up with great spirit, under the able superintendence of the Noble Marquis (Lansdowne), who did not quit the “Merry Round” until long after the dawn of the day. To complete this unrivalled entertainment, a dejeune of tea, coffee, chocolate, was provided; it was served up about six o’clock, in a very superior way.

(Mrs Calvert’s Ball at Mansfield Street, Portland Place, London on Friday 10th May 1811, reported in The Morning Post, Monday 13th May, 1811)

At 2am the company then adjourned to the supper-tables. Here a most sumptuous display indeed was made, there were no less than six supper-rooms, all fitted-up in the most beautiful and appropriate manner. Each table was brilliantly ornamented with trophies of war and peace; emblems emblematic of the arts and sciences: the costume of all civilized nations of the earth, exemplified in waxen images, modelled for this fete expressly…the plate, and the china, displayed and the brilliancy of the lighting-up of the tables, the effect was grand in the extreme.  To render the coup l’oeil complete, about two hundred beautiful women (for the major part of the females were really beautiful) sat in such prominent situations as to be seen in every part without the least difficulty. The supper, we need not add, was most excellent; the wines abundant, and all of the rarest kinds. The dessert fruits, and confectionary, were equally deserving of panegyric: the Duke of Clarence spoke in raptures of them.

(Mrs Beaumont’s Grand Ball and Supper, reported in The Morning Post, Wednesday 14th April, 1813)

In 1799, confectioner extraordinaire James Gunter (1731-1819) took over sole proprietorship of the Pot and Pineapple confectionary shop from Italian cook Domenico Negri. The Pot and Pineapple was located at 7-8 Berkeley Square, London. Gunter changed the name to Gunter’s Tea Shop. Gunter’s son, Robert (1783-1852) studied confectionary in Paris and subsequently took control of the business in 1819, hiring his cousin John as a partner in 1837. The Tea Shop moved to Curzon Street in 1936-7 and closed in 1956. Gunter’s Tea Shop was a fashionable place for both ladies and gentlemen in the Regency era to visit.  The range of delicious toothsome treats was extensive, biscuits, cakes, sugar plums, creams, ices and sweet meats, to name but a few.  Gunter confectionary was a popular addition to the supper table at a Regency ball. Both Mrs Calvert and The Duchess of Bedford’s ball suppers, of 1811, showcased his confectionary.

Joseph Bell,  Marie Antonin Carême (1784-1833), Frederick Nutt, Mrs Rundell (1745-1828) and Mrs Mary Holland all played an important part in the development of Regency cookery.  Joseph Bell worked for the Prince Regent and Antonin Carême for Prince George. Even Jane and her family had their own trusty house-keeper and cook, Martha Lloyd (who was also Jane’s lifelong friend).

Historian, Kate Colquhoun, states: ‘Regency fancy was tempted as much by capillaire syrup (flavoured with dried maidenhair fern), Chartreuse and brandies as by the taste nougat, pistachio, maraschino, mint, aniseed and even – for the first time – caramel made from gently browned sugar and cream.’ (Taste: The Story of Britain Through Its Cooking, 2008, p.248).  According to Colquhoun, the Austen ladies loved their ices and in September 1804 Cassandra wrote from Weymouth to Jane, complaining about the lack of ice in the town to satisfy her cravings. (2008, p.249).

Create Your Own Regency Ball Supper

Below are selection of recipes from publications by some of the above cooks.  If you want to hold your own Regency ball supper, then ices, syllabubs, fruit, confectionary, biscuits, coffee, tea and hot chocolate should all be on the menu. In The Housekeeper’s Instructor or, Universal Family Cook (1809 edition) by William A. Henderson, includes a rather modest ‘Ball Supper for Twenty People’ which includes: millfeuille; fricandeaux; marangles; ham; jelly; lobster; cheesecakes; roast fowls; custards; prawns; blancmange; galanteens; raised pie; roast lamb; Savoy cake; raspberry ice; lemon ice; orange ice; grapes; peaches; nutt of veal; potatoes; French beans; boiled fowls; rabbits; Italian cream; harrico of mutton; turtle; Chartreuse; patties; mutton; stewed pigeon; custard; tongue; sweetbreads; peas and for breakfast at the end of the ball: boiled chickens; trifle; raspberry cream; ham; tartlets, sweetbread raised pie; custards; jellies; veal patties and cheesecakes.  Quite a list, it is a wonder that the young ladies retained their figures.

Orange Heart Biscuits (Frederick Nutt, The Complete Confectioner, 1819 – 8th edition)

Take three-quarters of a pound of powdered sugar, and put it in a pewter basin with thirty yolks of eggs, and take seven preserved orange peels, pound them in a mortar very fine, quite to a paste, then take a handful of sweet and half a handful of bitter almonds, pound them very fine, and mix them with a little orange flower water; then take four eggs, yolks and whites together, and put them in the basin with the sugar, eggs, and peel, mix them all well together with a wooden spoon in each hand, and beat them till you see the batter rise very much (though you can hardly beat them too light), till it turns quite white and puffs up in bladders; then put in half a pound of sifted flour, and mix it with the batter very lightly; then butter the hearts, fill them, and sift a little powdered sugar over the top of them, before you put them in the oven, which must be rather quick, but not too hot, otherwise they will not be light, and take them out of the tins while they are hot.

King’s Biscuits (Frederick Nutt, 1819)

Take half a pound of butter and work it about in a basin with a wooden spoon, then take six eggs and whisk them well; put half a pound of powdered sugar in them, and whisk them about ten minutes; mix the eggs and sugar with the butter, then take six ounces of currants well washed, and put them with the eggs, and six ounces of flour, and mix it altogether; put three sheets of paper on the plate, take a tea-spoon and drop the paste on the paper about the size of a shilling; put them in a sharp oven, and cut them off while they are hot.

Lemon Wafers (Frederick Nutt, 1819)

Take six lemons, and squeeze into an earthen pan; pound and sift some double-refined sugar and mix it with the lemon juice, put one white of an egg in with it, and mix it well up together with your wooden spoon, to make it of a fine thickness; take some sheets of wafer paper, and put one sheet of it on a pewter sheet, or tin plate, put a spoonful on, and cover the sheet of wafer paper all over with your knife; cut in twelve pieces, and put them across a stick in your hot stove, with that side the paste is on uppermost, and you will find they will curl; when they are half curled, take them off carefully and put them endways in a sieve, that they may stand up; let them be in the hot stove, and you will find they will be all curled, and then they are done.

Raspberry Jelly For Ices (Frederick Nutt, 1819)

Put your raspberries in the preserving pan; wash them well with your spaddle, put them over the fire, stirring them all the time they are on; when they are ready to boil take them off, and pass them through a hair sieve into a pan, let no seed go through; put your jelly into another pan and set it on the fire, and let it boil twenty minutes before you put the sugar in it; stir it all the time or else it will burn at bottom; put fourteen ounces of sugar to every pound of jelly, let it boil twenty minutes, stir it all the time, when cold put it in a brown pan or pots, sift a little powdered sugar over it, let it stand one day and then cover it up: this jelly is good to make ice-cream with.

Everlasting Whip Syllabub To Put Into Glasses (Frederick Nutt, 1819)

Take five half pints of thick cream, half a pint of Rhenish wine, half a pint of sack, and the juice of two large Seville oranges; rasp in the yellow rind of three lemons and pound of double refined sugar well pounded and sifted; mix all together with a spoonful of orange-flower water, beat it well together with a whisk half an hour, then with a spoon fill your glasses. This will keep above a week, it is much better being made the day before it is used.

Floating Island (Frederick Nutt, 1819)

A pretty dish for the middle of a table, at a second course, or for a supper.

Take a soup dish according to the size and quantity you would wish to make, but a deep glass dish is the best, put it on a china dish; first take a quart of the thickest cream you can get, make it sweet with fine powdered sugar; pour in a gill of fine mountain, and rasp the yellow rind of a lemon in; whisk your cream very strong as carefully as you can; pour the thin from the froth into a dish; take some Naples biscuits and cut them as thin as possible; lay a layer of them as light as possible on the cream, then a layer of currant jelly, again a layer of Naples biscuits, over that put your cream that you saved; put as much as you can make the dish, without running over, garnish outside with sweetmeats and what else you like.

Lemonade (Frederick Nutt, 1819)

Rasp two lemons and squeeze six, put to them three gills of syrup and the rest water; taste it, and if it is not to your palate, alter it till it is right; then strain it through a lawn sieve, and put it in your glasses for use.

Fresh Raspberry Water (Frederick Nutt, 1819)

Take one pint of fresh raspberries, and pass them through a sieve with a wooden spoon; put two large spoonfuls of powdered sugar in, squeeze one lemon in, and let the rest be water; make it palatable, and put a little cochineal in to colour it: pass it through a sieve, and it is fit for use.

How To Make Ice-Cream Using a Freezing Pot (Frederick Nutt, 1819)

Put mixture into the freezing pot and cover it; put the freezing pot into a pail, and some ice all round the pot; throw a good deal of salt on the ice in the pail, turning the pot round for ten minutes, then open your pot, and scrape it from the sides, cover it up again, and keep turning it for some time, till your cream is like butter, and as thick; put it in your moulds, put them into a pail, and cover it with ice and salt for three-quarters of an hour, till you find the water is come to the top of the pail; do not be sparing of salt, for if you do not use enough it will not freeze: dip you mould into water, and turn it out on your plate to send to table.

Raspberry Ice Cream (Frederick Nutt, 1819)

Take a large spoonful of raspberry jam, put it into a basin and squeeze one lemon in; add a pint of cream and a little cochineal to colour it; pass it through a sieve into a basin; put it into your freezing pot.

Apricot Ice Cream (Frederick Nutt, 1819)

Take one spoonful of apricot jam, put it in a basin, and squeeze one lemon in; take a handful of bitter almonds pounded with a little powdered sugar, put them all to a pint of cream, and put it into your freezing pot.

Coffee Ice Cream (Frederick Nutt, 1819)

Take one ounce of coffee whole, and put it in a stewpan with one pint of cream; put it over the fire, and let it simmer and boil ten minutes or a quarter of an hour; drain all the coffee from it; break four eggs into a pan, and add one gill and a half of syrup: beat them well up together, put the cream that comes from the coffee into it; give it a boil, stir it all the time, pass it through a sieve and freeze it.

Chocolate Ice Cream (Frederick Nutt, 1819)

Take one ounce and a half of chocolate, and warm it over the fire; take six eggs, one gill of syrup, and one pint of cream; mix it over the fire till it begins to thicken; mix the chocolate in, pass it through a sieve, and freeze it.

Damson Water Ice (Frederick Nutt, 1819)

Take a quarter of a pound of preserved damsons, and break the stones, put them into a basin and squeeze in one lemon, add almost a pint of water and half a gill of syrup; pass it through a sieve, and freeze it rich.

Virtues of Coffee (Mrs Rundell, 1819)

Coffee accelerates digestion, corrects crudities, removes colic and flatulencies. It mitigates headaches, cherishes the animal spirits, takes away listlessness and languor, and is serviceable in all obstructions arising from languid circulation. It is a wonderful restorative to emaciated constitutions, and highly refreshing to the studious and sedentary. The habitual use of coffee would greatly promote sobriety, being in itself a cordial stimulant; it is a most powerful antidote to the temptation of spirituous liquors. It will be found a welcome beverage to the robust labourer, who would despise a lighter drink.

A coffee pot, Spode, C. 1805. Basaltware (a type of stoneware), hand-thrown then turned on a lathe to create the precise shape, smooth surface and tooled decoration. On display at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.
A coffee pot, Spode, C. 1805. Basaltware (a type of stoneware), hand-thrown then turned on a lathe to create the precise shape, smooth surface and tooled decoration. On display at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

Regency Ball – Music and Dance

The preparations occupied the attention of upholders, cooks, and confectioners, for many days previous. The Duchess of York arrived at ten o’clock…the dancing was led-off by a Military Officer and the Hon. Smith….To aid to the general effect, the musicians attached to the regiment of dragoons, quartered in neighbourhood (we believe the 17th), appeared about 11 o’clock, richly habited in the most glittering attire we ever witnessed….A supper, the most sumptuous and abundant, was served-up on massy plate, with central ornaments, on a highly enriched plateaux. Three hundred guests, military in full uniforms. Her Highness of York wore a splendid Roman tunic and edged with beautiful white lace; her head-dress à-la-Grec with a profusion of diamonds. Ball ended at 3.30am.

(Duchess of York and her circle of friends host a Grand Ball at the Star and Garter in Richmond, reported in The Morning Post, Wednesday 11th December, 1811)

One name that crops-up time and again in contemporary accounts of Regency Balls is Mr Gow’s band. Neil Gow (1727-1807) was born at Inver, near Dunkeld, on March 22nd, 1727. He was a famous fiddler, composer and dance instructor who enjoyed a rapid rise to fame. Following his death, his four surviving sons, William, John, Andrew and Nathaniel – all composers of music – carried on the family tradition. Nathaniel (1763-1831) composed over one hundred and ninety-seven tunes, including Strathspeys, reels, jigs, quick steps, laments, waltzes, and slow airs. Andrew and John moved to London in 1780 and in addition to their profession as musicians the pair also sold music from 1788, when they occupied premises at 60 King Street, Golden Square. Andrew died in 1790 and John continued as a band leader. Mrs Dawson of Manchester Square favoured Mr Gow’s band at her annual grand Balls.

Evening dress for a summer ball, 1811.
Evening dress for a summer ball, 1811.

Regency Ball – Fashion and Beauty

A robe and petticoat of white satin, with short sleeves, trimmed with green or yellow chenille; over which is worn a light green drapery of crape, fastened on the left shoulder with an amber or cornelian brooch: folded over the left side of the figure in front, nearly concealing the waist on that side, the hind part of the drapery is simply bound in at bottom of the waist and confined underneath the drapery in front, entirely ornamented round with yellow chenille.  With this dress is worn a Turkish turban of green crape, with trimming to correspond, small round curls, divided on the right side. The hair in small round curls, divided on the right side. Amber or cornelian necklace. Gloves of white kid. Shoes of green kind, or silk.

(The Morning Post, from La Belle Assemblé, Wednesday, May 1st, 1811)

A Ball or full dress. A Roman robe of pink crape, worn over white gossamer satin. A long Spanish slashed sleeve, with an antique cuff of fine net lace; horizontal stripe front, with a quilling of fine net round the bosom. The slashes of the sleeve filled with folds of white satin, and their terminations finished with silver filigree, or mother of pearl buttons. A cestus of white satin, with correspondent clasp and brooch. Hair in waved curls confined round the head with a wreath of Persian rose, separated in the centre of the forehead. Neck-chain and cross Peruvian gold; eardrops of the same. An occasional scarf of Paris net, starred with silver. White satin slippers ornamented with pink rosettes. White gloves of French kind, and fan of spangled grape.

General Observations. The hair is worn dressed in full flat curls over the face, twisted behind the ends brought forward and blended with the front of hair. The gloves are worn every short the fans are increasing in size; trains are more laid aside through convenience than fashion. The prevailing colours for the season are yellow, primrose, pink, lilac, straw, and blue celeste feathers in full-dress were never so universal.

(From Ackerman’s Repository of Arts and Fashion, 1811)

Fashion periodicals such as La Belle Assemblé, The Ladies Magazine and Ackerman’s Repository of Arts and Fashion, were influential in promoting the latest fashion trends and styles. By the end of the Regency, Paris correspondents were employed by these periodicals to respond to the growing consumer interest in French fashions.  The waistline in early Regency was situated under the bust and evening dresses were worn with short sleeves and long gloves. Popular fabrics for the Classical effect gown included muslin, cambric and fine cottons in a range of pastel shades. After 1814, skirts became fuller with plenty of trimmings of lace and ribbon. The width of the hem increased and by 1825 assumed a conical shape. Puffed sleeves were also a popular addition. The cloak, pelisse and spencer were worn as outer garments during the Regency.

Regency stocking coin purse. On display at Lyme Regis Museum.
Regency ‘stocking’ purse used for coins. On display at Lyme Regis Museum.

To Clean Silk Stockings (Family Receipt Book by Mrs Maria Eliza Ketelby Rundell, 1819, 2nd American Edition)

Wash your stockings first in white soap liquor, lukewarm, take out the rough dirt; then rise them in fair water, and work them well in a fresh soap liquor.  Then make a thirdstone blue, wrapped in a flannel bag, till your liquor is blue enough, then wash your stockings well therein, and take them out and wring them. Then let them dried so that they remain a little moist; then stove them with brimstone, after which, put upon the wood leg two stockings, one upon the other, observing that the two fronts, or outsides, are face-to-face then polish them with a glass. NB. The two first soap liquors must be only lukewarm, the third soap liquor as hot as you can bear your hand in it. Blonds and gauzes are whitened in the same manner, only a little gum is put in the soap liquor before they are stoved.

The Useful Properties of Charcoal for Sweetening the Breath, Cleaning the Teeth (Mrs Rundell, 1819)

All sorts of glass vessels and other utensils may be purified from long retained smells of every kind, in the easiest and most perfect manner, by rinsing them out well with charcoal powder, after the grosser impurities have been scoured off with sand and potash. Rubbing the teeth, and washing out the mouth, with fine charcoal powder, will render the teeth beautifully white, and the breath perfectly sweet, where an offensive breath has been owing to a scorbutic disposition of the gums. Putrid water is immediately deprived of its offensive smell by charcoal.

The French dentist, Dubois de Chemant - print by Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827). The woman has just had fitted de Chemant's double row of mineral paste teeth and gums. They certainly had a sweet tooth in the Regency.
The French dentist, Nicholas Dubois de Chemant (1753-1824) – print by Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827). The woman has just had fitted Dubois de Chemant’s famous double row of mineral paste teeth and gums. Dubois de Chemant was a famous Parisian society dentist. They certainly had a sweet tooth in the Regency.

To Make Lip-Salve (Mrs Rundell, 1819)

Take an ounce of white wax and ox marrow, three ounces of white pomatum, and melt all in bath heat, add a dram of alkanet, and stir it till it acquire a reddish colour.

To Make Rose-Water (Mrs Rundell, 1819)

Gather roses on a dry day, when they are full-blown; pick of the leaves, and to a peck put a quart of water, then put them into a cold still, make a slow fire under it; the slower you distil it the better it will be; then bottle it, and in two or three days you may cork it.

To Make Jessamine Butter or Pomatum (Mrs Rundell, 1819)

Hog’s lard method, and well washed in fair water, laid an inch thick in a dish, and stewed over with jessamine flowers, will imbibe the scent, and make a very fragrant pomatum.

For Preserving The Nails (Mrs Rundell, 1819)

One ounce of oil of bitter almonds; one dram of oil of tartar per deliquium; one ounce of prepared crab’s-eyes. Mix-up with essence of lemon to send it. La Forest recommends rubbing the nails with lemon as a detergent.

Regency gentleman's waistcoat. On display at Lyme Regis Museum.
Regency gentleman’s waistcoat. On display at Lyme Regis Museum.
Regency waistcoat detail. Lyme Regis Museum.
Regency waistcoat detail. Lyme Regis Museum.

Selection of UK Events Celebrating The 200th Anniversary of Pride and Prejudice

  • Music! It is of all subjects to my delight – Music at Jane Austen’s House, Chawton, Hampshire. Musician Anthony Noble will play an informal recital of Hadyn, Mozart and Beethoven on the Museum’s piano. Sundays, 2pm: 7th April; 5th May; 2nd June; 7th July and 4th August 2013. Entrance fee to Museum applies. CLICK HERE.
  • Jane Austen’s House, Chawton, Hampshire. There are many events happening at Jane’s home in the pretty village of Chawton to mark the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice‘s publication. An exhibition, ‘The Story of Pride and Prejudice’ opens on Saturday 2nd February 2013. It will tell the story and history of the book, also on display will be a letter that Jane wrote to her sister Cassandra on first receiving her copy of the book. Another highlight will be a display of Hugh Thomson’s (1860-1920)illustrations that first appeared in an 1894 edition of Pride and Prejudice.  For more information about events at Jane Austen’s House, CLICK HERE. For details of the Museum’s opening times, CLICK HERE.
  • Tea with Miss Austen – Winchester Cathedral. Sunday 16th March (Mothering Sunday), 3pm. Traditional afternoon tea followed by a spoken-word performance, ‘Jane Austen: A Women of Her Time – and ours?’ by Chapter & Verse. Costs £14.95 per person. CLICK HERE.
  • The Jane Austen Story – Winchester Cathedral. A permanent exhibition that celebrates Jane’s life in Hampshire. Open 9-5pm when the Cathedral is open to the public. Entrance charges apply to the Cathedral. CLICK HERE.
  • Jane Austen Tour and Cream Tea – Winchester Cathedral. Jane died in Winchester on 18th July 1817 and is buried in the north aisle of Winchester Cathedral. Accompanied by one of the Cathedral guides, the walking tour will explore Jane’s close links with Winchester and the Cathedral. The tour will include a visit to Inner Close and the house on College Street where Jane and Cassandra lodged during the last few weeks of Jane’s life. The tours take place on the first Saturday of every month between February and September 2013. The next tour takes place on Saturday 2nd February. Cost = £10. CLICK HERE. To read more about Jane’s brief time in Winchester, CLICK HERE.
  • Evening Talk Simon Langton – Filming ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and Other Costume Dramas – Chawton House Library, Chawton, HampshireThursday 18th April 2013. 6.30pm for 7pm talk, finishes 8.30pm. Director Simon Langton will discuss directing the iconic BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in 1995. Tickets: Adults £10; Students/Friends £7.50. For further information on this event, CLICK HERE.
  • Regency Dancing – Hillier Gardens, Romsey, Hampshire. Sunday 5th May, 1-3pm. The Hampshire Regency Dancers will perform a selection of Regency dances in the stunning Hillier Gardens. After the performance why not take Regency High Tea in the restaurant. The Regency dance display is free and the afternoon tea is £12.50 per person. Normal admission charges to the garden also apply. For more information, CLICK HERE.
  • Celebrating Pride and Prejudice – 4 Day residential/non-residential course exploring key characters in the 1995 BBC adaptation of the novel. Begins Monday 27th May (6pm) and ends Friday 31st May (2pm). Course tutor is Hazel Jones. Included will be visits to the various film locations used in the production.  The course takes place in the Cotswolds (Farncombe Estate, Worcestershire) and is run by Farncombe Courses. Cost ranges from £359-£520, depending on your choice of accommodation. Tel: 01386 854100. For further information, CLICK HERE. 
  • Pride and Prejudice  – Open Air Production – Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – Regent’s Park, London. The production runs from 20th June 2013 until 20th July 2013, reduced price previews between the 20th and 24th June. For further information, CLICK HERE.
  • 4th Jane Austen Festival Regency Costumed Summer Ball – the Banqueting Room at the Guildhall, Bath. Full details will be available soon, so keep an eye on the Jane Austen Centre in Bath’s website, CLICK HERE.
  • Jane Austen Festival – Bath. This annual event is a must for all fans of Jane Austen and indeed visitors travel from all over the world to attend. Why not dust-off your Regency gowns that you wore to the Costumed Summer Ball at the Guildhall and immerse yourself in the life and times of Regency Bath. This year the Jane Austen Festival takes place between 13th September and 21st September. I visited the event a couple of years ago, Bath never looked so alive. For further information, CLICK HERE.

    Jane Austen Festival, Bath, 2011.
    Jane Austen Festival, Bath, 2011.
Jane Austen Festival, Bath, 2011.
Jane Austen Festival, Bath, 2011.
Jane Austen Festival, Bath, 2011.
Jane Austen Festival, Bath, 2011.

Jane Austen Inspired Books

  • The Jane Austen Cookbook by Maggie Black and Deirdre Le Faye (2002). Published by McClelland & Stewart. The book contains many recipes from the Georgian and Regency era, updated for the modern cook, including a selection of Martha Lloyd’s recipes detailed in her “Household Book”. Martha recorded over one hundred recipes during her time as housekeeper and cook to the Austen ladies. Some of the recipes featured include Martha’s almond cheesecakes, pyramid creams, the famous white soup and salmagundy. CLICK HERE;
  • The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne (Jan. 2013). Published by Harper Press Books. To watch a short film in which Paula talks more about her new book CLICK HERE. The filming, for this film, took place at Jane Austen’s House, Chawton, Hampshire;
  • A Dance with Jane Austen: How a Novelist and her Characters Went to the Ball by Susannah Fullerton (2012). Published by Frances Lincoln. Susannah takes the reader through all the stages of a Regency Ball. CLICK HERE. 
  • Happily Ever After: Celebrating Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice by Susannah Fullerton (Jan. 2013). Published by Frances Lincoln. CLICK HERE.

Walking In The Footsteps of Jane Austen

  • Jane Austen Trail. Self-guided walking tours of Alton and Chawton. The tours are produced by Alton Chamber of Commerce and Industry. There is also an annual Jane Austen Regency Week, usually held in June. The dates for 2013 have yet to be announced but keep an eye on the Jane Austen Regency Week website. CLICK HERE. To download the comprehensive maps for the walking tours, CLICK HERE.  
  • Literary Walks in East Hampshire. Self-guided walking tours of the attractive countryside in East Hampshire. The well-written tour also includes a walk around the village of Selborne, only five miles from Chawton, where the parson naturalist Rev. Gilbert White (1720-1793) lived at The Wakes which is now a Museum. He penned The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne in 1789 whilst living in Selborne. I am currently writing several feature articles on this Museum and its collection so do check back shortly. For further information on Gilbert White’s House and Garden and The Oates Collection which is also housed there, CLICK HERE. For a self-guided walking tour of Selborne, walking in the footsteps of Rev. Gilbert White, CLICK HERE.

    Gilbert White's House
    Exterior of Rev. Gilbert White’s House, The Wakes, Selborne, Hampshire.


Social historian, based in the UK.

One thought on “An Invitation To A Regency Ball – 200th Anniversary of Pride and Prejudice

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