The Time Traveller's Guide to
Regency Britain

On 5 August 2020 it was 100 days until the publication of the UK edition of The Time Traveller's Guide to Regency Britain. To celebrate the last three months of what has been a very long process, one miscellenous detail from the book, or one quotation, will appear on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram each day. The whole selection is also being made available here, arranged according to the number of days to the book's appearance.

  1. Tomorrow is the official publication date for my Time Traveller's Guide to Regency Britain. It's just beginning its long voyage out into the future, across the deep ocean of time, and so it seems fit to launch it on its way with a clip of me reading the last passage of the book.
  2. The bathroom at Colworth House in 1816 has a bath, a fire, a carpet, a sofa, an armchair, a mahogany cupboard for a chamber pot, a screen behind which to hide your modesty, and 8 gilt-framed paintings for you to admire as you wallow in hot water.
  3. Between 1790 and 1830 coffee consumption in the UK increases by 600 percent. That's much more than opium, which officially goes up from 7 tons per year to 10 tons.
  4. Officially, Regency people drink about 20 units of alcohol per head each week, which is only a little more than modern British people do. But this only includes what they pay duty on. Unofficially they consume farm more. Fruit wine. Whisky. Moonshine. My mother's family smuggles in French brandy.
  5. At least three men die in the year 1790 from cutting their toenails or fingernails carelessly with a penknife. Nail clippers at this time cost 5s. Penknives, as it happens, cost more.
  6. In 1813 several members of the royal family - including the queen and Prince Regent - taste Bryan Donkin's new invention of tinned beef and approve. The only problem is that no one has invented the tin opener: purchasers need a hammer and chisel to open a can.
  7. With just one week to go until publication, here is a clip of me reading a passage from the envoi, touching on "The soul of history..."
  8. By 1820 people are paying more in duty on a bottle of gin than they are for the gin itself. How many modern grumbles have their origins back in the early nineteenth century!
  9. Carbonated soda water is manufactured from the 1780s by Jacob Schweppe of Geneva. In 1792, Mr Schweppe relocates his business to London. Robert Southey, declares 'the fixed air . . . hisses as it goes down your throat as cutting as a razor, and draws tears as it comes up through the nose as pungent as a pinch of snuff'.
  10. In 1810 there is an Indian restaurant in London, established by Deen Mahomet, selling authentic curries to those nabobs who have developed a taste for them in India.
  11. The earl of Moira has six flushing loos installed at his gothic mansion, Donington Hall, in 1813, including one adjoining his study and another adjacent to his wife's dressing room.
  12. In 1700 you would spend 10 days travelling by coach from London to Edinburgh. By 1830 that time is down to 46 hours.
  13. Among the earliest department stores you'll find Hanningtons in Brighton, whose departments in 1808 include linen drapery, mercery, haberdashery and hosiery; and Harding, Howel & Co.'s Grand Fashionable Magazine in Pall Mall, where glazed partitions separate the five departments.
  14. "Regency life tumbles with jokes, japes and jocularisms..."
  15. A sudden dip in very cold water is considered good for a Regency gentleman's constitution. Thus you might see a marble-lined plunge pool in your host's basement, as at Wimpole Hall, or in an exotic building in the gardens, such as the gothic bathhouse at Corsham Court.
  16. In the Regency period bottled beer is sealed with a cork. Therefore you will need a corkscrew for beer as well as wine.
  17. In most periods of British history, the most deprived members of society have a life expectancy at birth of roughly 85&percent;-90&percent; of that of the least-deprived members. However, during the Regency period, that drops to 50&percent; in London. In some towns (e.g. Bury and Ashton-under-Lyne) it is below 40&percent;.
  18. The first reference to Ludwig van Beethoven in the Times is an announcement in the 22 April 1802 edition of a forthcoming performance of his septet. But the paper refers to him as 'Luigi van Beethoven'.
  19. A set of false teeth made from real human teeth pulled from willing donors (but still called 'Waterloo teeth') will set you bac about £30 per row in the 1820s. (Just pray the poor donors had no diseases...)
  20. In November 1790, Johann Salomon, the virtuoso violinist and impresario, travels from London to Vienna, knocks on Joseph Haydn's door and declares, 'I am Salomon from London and I have come to fetch you.'. Thus Haydn is lured to England to compose his twelve London Symphonies.
  21. It is claimed that on 10 October 1796, a runner from Oxford called Weller runs a mile along the Banbury road in 3 minutes 58 seconds, for 3 guineas. Even if the judges exaggerate, just getting close to a 4-minute mile in leather shoes on ordinary dirt roads is a phenomenal achievement.
  22. Regency women's running events take place at village fairs for the traditional prize of a fine linen smock. They run wearing only the skimpiest clothing. It is not unknown for women to run completely naked. Such shows generate a lot of attention, as you can imagine.
  23. 'Football,' declares one writer in 1801, 'was formerly much in vogue among the common people of England, though of late years it seems to have fallen into disrepute and is but little practised.' Except in the major public schools. Ironically, that is where the game is saved from extinction.
  24. In 1804 the celebrated Italian opera singer Giuseppina Grassini arrives in London. Not long before she had been Napoleon's mistress. Afterwards she allegedly sleeps with the duke of Wellington too, thus 'conquering' not only Napoleon but his rival.
  25. In 1796 the London magistrates estimate that 50,000 women (one in five females aged 15-64) are living off 'immoral earnings' - in most cases, prostitution. By 1807 they reckon it has increased to 70,000, a similar proportion.
  26. At a high-society dinner, you should only raise your glass to drink in conjunction with a fellow guest. You can only do this with the same person once during each course. Serious drinking only begins after the meal is over (and the ladies have withdrawn).
  27. The first steamship appears on the River Clyde in 1803. By 1830, when the first regular steam train service starts operating, there are more than 300 steamships in British waters.
  28. The countess of Moira's bathroom at Donington Hall in 1813 is equipped with a bath, a gilt washbasin and ewer, a rosewood bookstand to allow her to read while in the bath and a copper kettle for her maidservant to supply her with cups of tea while she soaks.
  29. Shopping is a cultural barometer. When we only buy essentials we are in a very differential situation from when we browse for novelties and luxuries. In this respect, the 19th century is a golden age. As Louis Simond puts it, 'you are caressed for your money'.
  30. 'Promethean' matches are dangerous. The head is a small glass bulb of sulphuric acid, which has phosphorus on the outside. You're meant to break the bulb with pliers. But some people use their teeth - and burn themselves with the chemicals, if not the flame.
  31. Time might be universal but its reckoning is highly localised. Anne Lister notes that her friend arrives 'at 5 p.m. by the kitchen clock, three-quarters past four by the Halifax, & quarter past four by [the] Leeds & York', referring to the clocks of various stagecoach companies in the vicinity.
  32. Before 1727 spectacles are just round lenses in a frame that sits on the nose. But after that they are made with arms. It's a key difference: if you only use them when needed, they are utilitarian tools, but if you wear them all the time they become items of attire - and design matters.
  33. The Regency period sees a currency crisis. Just £1,800 of silver coins are produced between 1788 and 1815. No gold coins are minted between 1797 and 1817. Astonishingly, at the height of its prosperity, Britain cannot mint enough coins to meet its everyday needs.
  34. According to Beau Brummell, a gentleman should be clean, slim and elegant. His clothes should be made up of subtle, muted shades. Nothing showy. He should demonstrate his virtue through manners and words - and not simply drape himself in symbols of power.
  35. One day the politician John Wilkes provokes the earl of Sandwich to exclaim, 'Sir, I do not know whether you will die on the gallows or of the pox!' To which Wilkes calmly replies, 'That depends, my lord, on whether I embrace your principles or your mistress.'
  36. Already by 1806, Britain is unable to meet its own demand for food, importing £600,000-worth of butter and cheese every year and £2.2 million of corn.
  37. In the early 19th century, only about one in twenty people is aged sixty-five or over: an even smaller proportion than in Tudor times, and nowhere near the one in six in the twenty-first century.
  38. By 1831, the population of London and its suburbs reaches 1.9 million, overtaking Peking (modern-day Beijing) as the largest city in the world.
  39. Regency people love to gamble. If you look in the betting book at Brooks's, a gentlemen's club in London, you will see some bizarre wagers. Lord Cholmondley places a bet of 500 guineas, payable 'whenever Lord Derby fucks a woman in a balloon a thousand yards from the Earth'.
  40. Bill Richmond is born into slavery in New York and brought to England by Lord Hugh Percy. But he gets into many fights on account of his colour. Thus he becomes famous as a boxer. He ends up teaching the art to gentlemen of fashion, including William Hazlitt and Lord Byron.
  41. Stale urine is kept for the purpose of cleaning clothes, because it contains ammonia. In Lancashire it is called 'lant', while southerners euphemistically refer to it as 'chamber lye'. In some places, neighbours empty their chamber pots into a common vat, which is then used by the whole street.
  42. In 1809 the then Secretary of War, Lord Castlereagh, challenges the Foreign Secretary, George Canning, to a duel. The War Secretary shoots the Foreign Secretary in the thigh, forcing him to return home to seek medical attention. Ah, those were the days!
  43. Harriot Mellon begins her life as the illegitimate daughter of an Irish peasant woman and goes on to become a multi-millionairess, courtesy of her much older first husband, and the duchess of St Albans, by her much younger second.
  44. Among the poor in Regency Devon, potatoes are boiled, mashed and mixed with a little flour to make bread. This is eaten for breakfast and, with peas pottage, for supper.
  45. Regency tollgate keepers are not obliged to give travellers any change, so most tolls are in multiples of 6d - 1s 6d, 2s 6d, 3s 6d and so on. If you don't have the exact money you end up overpaying every time.
  46. Phoebe Hessel dies on 12 December 1821, aged 108, having been baptised in Stepney on 13 April 1713 - and she achieves that age despite receiving a bayonet wound when fighting alongside her lover at the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745.
  47. Almost one million sheep and lambs change hands at Smithfield Market, London, every year in the 1790s.
  48. The most densely settled place anywhere on Earth today is a slum in Mumbai, India, where 800,000 people live in 0.81 of a square mile (1,562 per acre). Parts of 19th-centuy Liverpool are almost as bad: 777 per acre in the 1790s, rising to 1,307 in the mid-nineteenth century.
  49. In the 1790s it can take ten months for a correspondent in England to receive a letter from Australia.
  50. When Anne Lister sees the newly built Regent Street, London, in the 1820s she declares 'surely there is not so fine a street in Europe - so long, so spacious, so consisting entirely of beautiful buildings. Houses like palaces, noble shops.'
  51. "Regency Britain can provide you with every form of entertainment that the modern world has to offer - as long as it does not require electricity, a combustion engine or wings." (The Time Traveller's Guide to Regency Britain, p. 321)
  52. In 1791 the physician Erasmus Darwin writes The Botanic Garden in which he declares: 'Soon shall thy arm, unconquered steam, afar / Drag the slow barge, or drive the rapid car; / Or on wide-waving wings expanded bear / The flying chariot through the fields of air.'
  53. The government sets up a scheme in 1798 whereby people can pay more tax than they have to - in order to help with the war effort. It brings in an extra £2.8 million.
  54. You can have your hair washed with shampoo in Brighton in 1815 - just head to Mahomed's Warm, Cold and Vapour Baths by the seafront.
  55. The doctor Sir Henry Halford (1766-1844) is so popular with his patients that one lady declares that that she 'would rather die under his care than recover under that of any other physician'.
  56. Fonthill Abbey in Wiltshire, designed by James Wyatt for the eccentric plantation owner William Beckford, has front doors 35ft high, which open into a baronial hall 68ft long & 78ft high, which leads to the Great Octagon, which is a room 132ft high, beneath a 276ft-high central tower.
  57. James Morrison is the orphaned younger son of a Hampshire innkeeper. At the age of twenty he joins a London haberdashery business and marries the senior partner's daughter. By the time he dies in 1857 he will be a millionaire six times over.
  58. In the early 19th century, a guilty verdict on a charge of sodomy often results in the death penalty. At least forty-five men are hanged for this offence between 1805 and 1830.
  59. It is said in 1793 that London has more than 8,000 lanes, courts and streets, 152,169 houses, almost 500 places of worship, 43 law courts, 19 prisons, 822 coffee houses, 742 taverns, 580 inns and almost 8,000 alehouses. By 1830 it has grown by a further 80% and is the largest city in the world.
  60. In 1827, Joseph Niépce comes to England to show his 'heliographs' - photographs - to the Royal Society. Prince Pückler-Muskau apparently sees a camera in 1828 and describes it as 'a machine which draws of itself all the objects visible within its horizon, in perspective'.
  61. "The soul of history does not lie in separating the past and the present and examining the former in isolation, as if it were the fossil record of an extinct species, but in connecting the two and discovering they are equally full of life." (The Time Traveller's Guide to Regency Britain, pp. 365-6)
  62. By 1793, the English and French have been at war for almost 200 of the previous 600 years. They then fight for 20 of the next 21 years.
  63. In early-ninteenth-century Birmingham, there are 1,600 pigsties in people's backyards.
  64. You cannot help but feel sorry for Elizabeth Ham, a farmer's daughter born in 1783, when she writes in her memoir: 'I know I have had a most oppressive feeling of my own inferiority to everyone about me, and this feeling, I am convinced, has influenced the whole of my life.'
  65. Mrs Jordan, 'the muse of comedy', the discarded mistress of William IV (who bore him ten children), dies alone in a boarding house at Saint-Cloud, near Paris, on 5 July 1816. Two days later, the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan - the man who made her famous - dies. Both are buried on 13 July. Makes you wonder - with whom might you share a funeral day?
  66. Such is the competition to be the fastest stagecoach on the London-to-Brighton route that the horses are driven to breaking point. In 1816, fifteen horses die in one week on that one route alone.
  67. In the 1790s fashionable ladies wear a high feather in their hair. Dressing rooms have to be provided at assembly halls where they can put on their feathers, as no coach can accommodate a 3ft- or 4ft-high feather-topped mound of hair and the lady herself beneath it.
  68. In 1795 the Prince Regent's debts amount to some £630,000 - at a time when most lords receive less than £10,000 per year and most ordinary people less than £40.
  69. In early 19th-century London, the old street markets are closing at the rate of one every two years. By 1830, fifteen of the thirty-four will have disappeared. People are choosing to visit shops rather than outdoor market stalls.
  70. Many old lanes in Devon and Cornwall are too narrow for two vehicles to pass. But coaches have no reverse gear. One driver must get down and back up the horses, manoeuvring his coach into a passing place. Don't expect to travel at more than 5mph in the southwest.
  71. William Jennens - the miser of Acton - has £107,000 deposited in five London banks, plus a rent roll of £8,000 and shares paying him a further £150,000 per year when he dies at the age of 97 in 1798. That's sixteen times as wealthy as Mr Darcy! The legal case to determine his heir drags on until 1915.
  72. How often you do your laundry in Regency Britain depends on your status. If you are wealthy and have enough linen to see your household through a whole month, then you might only do the washing every four or five weeks.
  73. There are just 8 mischievous boys at John Bowring's school in 1800 - and only one teacher. They cut up his cane and put it back together on his desk. They put gunpowder in his candle snuffers, & they saw through the staircase down into the cellar, which they fill with water.
  74. In 1789 the ex-slave and mariner Olaudah Equiano, who has settled in London, publishes his autobiography, which becomes a bestseller. When he dies in 1797, he is able to leave an estate worth about £1,000 to his daughter.
  75. In the early 1780s, Lord Malden bets 1,000 guineas that no one can seduce his mistress, the actress Mary Robinson. He stands to lose both the girl and the money - especially when she finds out that he is taking her constancy for granted. Colonel Tarleton soon reaps both rewards.
  76. On 25 July 1826, in South Africa, the military doctor James Barry becomes only the second person to carry out a caesarean operation in which both the mother and baby survive. Only when Dr Barry dies at the age of 75 does it emerge he is actually a woman.
  77. If challenged to take part in a duel in Regency Britain, you will be expected to allow your challenger to take the first shot at you before you return fire. Mad, I know. I recommend you stand sideways on, when looking down the barrel of his gun.
  78. Before 1832, only about 450,000 men in Great Britain have the right to vote in a general election. No women are. And many of those men are directed how to vote by their landlords. The aristocracy and landed gentry thus dominate both Houses of Parliament.
  79. In the early 19th century, more than one-third of the population is aged under fifteen; in the twenty-first century, less than one-fifth is.
  80. In the 1830s it is claimed that the largest painting ever made is the 360-degree panorama of London drawn by Thomas Hornor from the top of St Paul's Cathedral and painted by Edmund Parris.
  81. John Metcalfe is blind but works as a musician, jockey, horse dealer, coach-hire merchant, smuggler and expert road builder. To what does he attribute his success in road building? His blindness. Because it makes him pay attention to every single detail.
  82. Regency shopkeepers sometimes charge a premium for paying with paper money due to the number of forged notes - and the risk of being transported to Australia for the crime of merely possessing a single counterfeit banknote.
  83. Mantraps - which break the legs of those poachers unfortunate enough to step on one - are outlawed in 1826. They are then re-introduced in 1830. So much for social progress.
  84. The crushed stones used to cover London streets in the 1820s create a lot of dust in the summer months - so much so that the fashionable squares have to be doused in water twice a day.
  85. Your average medieval cow would yield about 170lbs of beef but in the early 1800s its descendant is carrying more than 500lbs.
  86. The first successful steam-powered cotton factory in Manchester is built in 1806. But then more than 2,000 steam-driven cotton mills are constructed in just twelve years.
  87. Proportionately, the fastest-growing large town in Great Britain between 1789 and 1830 is Brighton. The population increases from about 4,000 to more than 40,000.
  88. The last woman sentenced to be burned at the stake in England is Catherine Murphy, who is burned for coin-clipping in 1790.
  89. A Regency 'rich list' would include many self-made men. The jeweller Philip Rundell has £1.4 million when he retires in 1823; the ironmaster Richard Crawshay has £1.5 million in 1810, and John Marshall, the flax-spinner, retires in 1830 with about £2 million.
  90. If you go to Regency Britain, take an umbrella. It rains more than it does in modern times. Manchester sees an average annual rainfall of 36 inches, compared to just under 32 inches today.
  91. In 1826 Sir Walter Scott reads Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice for the third time and declares 'That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with.'
  92. Acording to Anne Lister's diary, in 1821 you can send live hedgehogs by the Royal Mail
  93. In 1815 Francis Ronalds builds the world's first electric clock. The following year he sends the world's first electric telegraph message. But the Admiralty decide they do not need electric long-distance communication - because they have semaphore signals.
  94. In 1795, Matthew Flinders notes in his diary that the winter is 'uncommon severe' because it snows incessantly for three months. The average temperature that January is minus 3.1 degrees Centigrade - the coldest monthly average ever recorded in England.
  95. On 5 August 1797 The Times carried an obituary of Daniel Bull Macarthy esq., who died at the age of 111. He put his longevity down to lots of exercise & heavy drinking . He married his 5th wife at 84 when she was just 14. They had 20 children together over the next 20 years.
  96. The average working-class child in Bury or Ashton-under-Lyne can expect to live to nineteen in the early nineteenth century but in the unsewered slums of one of those towns, life expectancy at birth drops to just 13.
  97. Two Regency prime ministers fight duels when in office. In 1798 William Pitt faces George Tierney MP over the defence of the realm. And in 1829 the duke of Wellington takes issue with the earl of Winchilsea concerning reforming anti-Catholic legislation.
  98. Regency slang includes a variety of curious words. If you hear 'blue ruin' or 'strip-me-naked' the speaker is talking about gin. A 'gullgroper' is a money lender. 'To lush some slop' means 'to drink tea'; and a 'slubberdegullion' is 'a dirty nasty fellow'.
  99. In 1791, the population of Great Britain is about 9.8 million. By 1831 it has increased to 16.26 million - the fastest rate at which it has ever grown, before or since.
  100. George IV's obituary, published in The Times the day after his funeral, declares he was 'of all known beings the most selfish... If [he] ever had a friend - a devoted friend - in any rank of life, we protest that the name of him or her has not yet reached us.'