Wednesday, 18 April 2012

And what would Jane Austen's hero have packed for the weekend? Travel in the second half of the Eighteenth Century

by Mike Rendell

Apparently Jane Austen wrote her first novel Love and Freindship (sic) in 1789 when she was 14. It is classed as part of her "Juvenilia" - one of 29 stories bound up into three manuscript books. So, if she had her hero pay a visit for the weekend, what would he have packed in his bags? Well, I can say what my ancestor Richard Hall would pack for a weekend away, because he noted it in his diary in May 1784. (He was my great great great great grandfather).

Some of the entries are hard to decipher but it appears to start off with shirts; first a couple of night shirts, then what appears to be two "neck shirts" including a "new fine plain" one.
He packed two Ruffles plus "One fine Holland Ditto" as well as three pairs of silk stockings. One piece of gauze, and three pairs worsted (stockings, presumably) went into the case along with a couple of night caps made of "linnen".
"W. shoes" may have referred to walking shoes but I cannot be sure and I have been unable to decipher the following line aprt from seeing that it involved "one Blue Ditto and One Silk". Logically it would have been an outer jacket or frock coat, as this does not otherwise appear to have been mentioned.
He needed a cloth coat and waistcoat (he called it "cloath") as well as a silk waistcoat and a white dining waistcoat. Silk breeches and five stocks were packed as well as "muffatees". Sadly I have no record showing what these were made from - they were fingerless gloves or wrist bands, often knitted but sometimes made of elasticated strips of leather, or even fancy ones made of peacock feathers. They remained popular for many years - even Beatrice Potter has Old Mrs. Rabbit earning her living by knitting rabbit-wool mittens and muffatees (~ The Tale of Benjamin Bunny).
One knitting site called Dancing with Wolves, at states:" in the days before central heating, keeping warm in winter was a major challenge. We think we know about dressing in layers, but most of us don’t have to resort to wearing coats and hats and gloves indoors. But heavy layering was necessary. Working with your hands in mittens is clumsy at best. The solution? Wear muffatees.
Muffatees are tube-like, fingerless mitts that cover wrist and hand up to the middle of the fingers, usually with an opening along the side for the thumb. The simplest, and possibly earliest form was comprised of the cuff or leg of a worn-out stocking, minus the foot. But in the 18th and 19th centuries, many pairs were sewn from warm cloth, or simply knitted of wool in plain or fancy patterns."
Several sites give patterns - and incidentally Richard  called them wrist bands (pronounced "risbans"). They were thought to work on the basis of keeping the blood warm at the point where the pulse is felt at the wrist, but leaving the fingers completely unfettered.
For longer journeys Richard would then record how many items of luggage were needed. For a trip lasting a fortnight (travelling the 264 miles from Bourton-on-the-Water to Weymouth and Lulworth Castle and back) he needed seven items, all of them charged separately by the coachman. And then as an afterthought Richard showed an eighth item - his steam kettle! This would have gone on board along with the Great Trunk, the blue box. the wainscot (i.e. wood-panelled) box, his green bag, his great coat, his shoes and his wig box.

The actual cost of travel was considerable. Richard shows a coach journey from Bourton to Evesham, a distance of 41 miles, costing over one pound eleven shillings.
This would have been the equivalent of perhaps a hundred pounds today. This included his dinner at four shillings and ten pence, the waiter at sixpence, the horsler i.e. ostler a shilling, and turnpikes one shilling and sixpence. The actual coach fare came to a guinea, and these figures have to be seen in the light of farm labourers having to get by on ten shillings a week! Why the tuirnpikes? Because in the aftermath of the problems faced by the Duke of Cumberland in moving troops north to meet the Jacobite invasion of 1745, parliament granted permission for local parishes to form Turnpike Trusts. In return for filling in the pot-holes and carrying out maintenance work the Trusts were able to charge a fee to all road users. Within a few years travel had become so much easier that it was sometimes possible to travel all through the night. Think carriage lamps and imagine the coach and four thundering through the night, cutting journey times considerably.
Mind you, there were still difficulties: highway robbers still might order the coach driver to "stand and deliver" - but then, justice caught up with the miscreants in the end and the gallows awaited!

And incidentally, all of these paper cut-outs were made by my ancestor Richard Hall. He was born in 1729 and died in 1801 and probably made the cut-outs in the last twenty years of his life, to entertain his young family. I have included many of them, with extracts from Richard's diaries and papers, in my book entitled The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman.
My book can be obtained from

I also do a blog most days, on aspects of life in the Eighteenth century at