Thank Goodness We Don’t Have to Do that Anymore: Hire Decorative Hermits



You know how, when you are a British noble in the eighteenth century, and you are redoing your landscaping and you’ve got Capability Brown doing the design and are adding some nice fountains and follies, but somehow it’s still just missing something? What if…you just hired a living human to come and be a hermit on your property? That would be just the ticket, right?

It sounds a bit nuts, but ornamental hermits were a fad among the rich in both England and France for a while in the 1700 and 1800s!

It had to do with a romantic notion of sadness and meditation, and what better to remind you of that than having a person act it out in your presence? Hermit grottos would be built as part of the landscaping design and then men would be hired to come in and be the hermit- often for quite a lot of money. But they would have to agree to grow out their hair and beards and not trim their nails. Sometimes they would be asked to dispense wise words to visitors and sometimes they would be silent in more of a living diorama. Some hermits would stay as long as seven years or more.

I first came across the concept in one of those reality shows where people have to live for months like they are in a historical time period- this one was called Regency House Party and they had an actor playing the garden hermit. At the time I was just like, oh yeah, the hermit, that makes sense in this wacky world where they take baths according to rank, using the same water for each person. But now, I look back on it and I’m like, WHAT? It’s such a strange concept. It really makes garden gnomes and flamingos look very rational and charming!

What Is a Linen Press?

You can actually go see this one in person at the Brooklyn Museum. [Via]

You can actually go see this one in person at the Brooklyn Museum. [Via]

You might know a linen press as a piece of furniture used to store linens, but did you know that there is an alternate meaning of this phrase? From the medieval period up until the 19th century, linen presses (also called napkin presses) were actual presses that were used to flatten cloth, sometimes give it a nice sheen, and interestingly, to create purposeful creases in the cloth. It was also used for storage- many books of household management reference getting tablecloths out of the napkin press and putting them back in when the meal was over. These were so common, they are mentioned in household lists of furniture and guides for housewives without any explanation of what they are for or how to use them other than that they are helpful to keep tablecloths and napkins neat.

They worked like any kind of press- you put the linen in between two boards and then tightened it down with a screw mechanism. So, kind of ironing by pressure instead of heat. Speaking of irons, though, did you know you can buy giant irons that you feed tablecloths and sheets and things through (if you want them smooth and not with purposeful creases)? I found that out recently and I want one so badly because I am a wack who loves ironed sheets, but alas, I cannot fit a monster appliance like that in my Brooklyn apartment. Someday though.



What Is a Chatelaine?



A chatelaine is like a really fancy, old timey keychain or Swiss Army knife mixed with a charm bracelet- it’s got a little of everything in a pretty package. Though they were around much longer, the term wasn’t coined as “chatelaine” until 1828.

Women traditionally wore it either around their waist or pinned to a belt or something at the waist and was meant to carry around all manner of useful objects to help with household tasks. It might have things like scissors, a little notebook, keys, seals, tweezers, etc. During many periods, these items were very valuable as well as useful, so it was good to keep them on one’s person so they would not be lost. During the period that chatelaines were popular, most women’s clothing didn’t have pockets and they didn’t really carry bags, so the chatelaine was a substitute.

It could also refer simply to the keys to the house. In many times and households where servants were common, much of the supplies and goods were kept locked up to prevent theft. Household silver and jewelry, obviously, but also pantries and linen closets, so having the keys to all of these was the task of the mistress of the house and the servants would have to go to her to have her unlock things so they could get supplies. Having the keys to a household was a powerful thing- and often little girls would copy their mothers by carrying “chatelaines” around that were much more like charm bracelets than any real use.

Chatelaines could be very plain or completely covered in diamonds, other jewels, and fine metals. They could also be specialized to a trade (like nursing- with thermometers, bandages, and such) or a hobby.

Of course, like everything, they could get so ridiculous that they were mocked in cartoons, like this one from a 19th century Punch magazine:


There is a book about chatelaines, apparently, if you are interested.

To love, to cherish, and to obey?

I want to have a Shepard Fairey Obey image here, but blah blah copyright. So please use your imagination.

I want to have a Shepard Fairey Obey image here, but blah blah copyright. So please use your imagination.

In pretty much every movie for my whole life, when a couple is getting married, the bride makes a BIG DEAL out of not wanting to say “obey” as part of the marriage vows. Which, yeah, duh. But is it really as big an issue as Hollywood makes it seem? Not really…

For the record, I am going to focus on Christian marriage vows because as far as I know, other religions don’t have a tradition of using it.

Firstly, to my great surprise, the Catholic church has NEVER had the word “obey” as part of their vows of marriage. Their wording goes like this:

I, ____, take you, ____, to be my (husband/wife). I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honour you all the days of my life.

The usage of “obey” actually comes from the Anglican church, as the vows included “obey” in the very first Book of Common Prayer written in 1549:

Wilt thou have this man to thy wedded houseband, to live together after Goddes ordeinaunce, in the holy estate of matrimonie? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honor, and kepe him in sickenes and in health? And forsaking al other kepe thee onely to him, so long as you bothe shall live?

Which eventually became:

Bride: I,_____, take thee,_____, to be my wedded Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth.

Many other Protestant denominations, such as Lutherans, cribbed from this in America as immigrants came over and changed their services over from their native tongues.

HOWEVER, the Anglican and Episcopal churches voted in 1922 to remove “obey” from the vows, so honestly, at least 4-5 generations of women have not been instructed to use “obey” in their vows, making much of our cultural rage about the subject a bit of a tempest in a tea pot. And especially now when people are increasingly having civil wedding ceremonies and writing their own vows, there is significantly less pressure to even use traditional vows, let alone obsolete ones that include “obey.” Of course, this excludes the ultra religious nutters who have started to ADD obey into wedding vows that normally wouldn’t include them just so they can show that they are going be a submissive wife…but that’s a whole other situation.

What about your experiences? Did you, your mother, or grandmother say “obey” at her wedding? Did you even use traditional vow wording or did you write your own?

How to Pee In Regency England

Francois Boucher "La Toilette"

Francois Boucher “La Toilette”

There is nothing that demonstrates the change in etiquette over time like the etiquette around bodily functions. To a great extent, this is because of practicality. It is only the technology that allows us to distance ourselves from our excretions that allows us to be squeamish about them, in the past they were a fact of daily life that people had to see up close.

For example: during a dinner party, once the men and women had separated, a man might pull out a chamberpot and use it without even breaking the flow of conversation.

The French were appalled at the uncivilized behavior of the English.

The French were appalled at the uncivilized behavior of the English.

What did people use?

There was actually quite a variety of privies (what toilets were called). Some London houses had a kind of toilet like we have today, with water that flushes the waste. However, they didn’t have the technology to trap the smells, so they could be a bit unpleasant. Some homes had ‘earth closets’ which used a fine dirt to contain smells.

Most common people used a privy/outhouse, a hole in the ground with some kind of seat over it. These emptied into cesspools, which were ideally emptied regularly by “night soil men,” but in poorer areas, they were allowed to overflow and were a large contributing factor to disease.

Of course, at night, you wouldn’t want to go too far from your warm bed, so people would use a chamberpot. A chamberpot is a bowl or container (as plain or fancy as your circumstances would allow) that is kept under the bed (or sometimes in a special stool to conceal it and provide a seat) to be used during the night. You (or your maid) would empty it in the morning.

But what about when you were out and about? Many places didn’t have public toilets back then, so a well of lady would travel with a bourdaloue, a very small chamberpot that she could discreetly put under her skirts and then hand to a maid for disposal. Of course, men could always use a handy wall or alley.

Bourdaloue (don't mistake it for a gravy boat in an antique shop!)

Bourdaloue (don’t mistake it for a gravy boat in an antique shop!)

How did they go?

If you’ve ever helped a bride to the bathroom, you know that it can be difficult to maneuver when you are wearing a fancy dress. However, we have difficulties because we don’t do it every day! Women in the Regency period didn’t wear underwear (well, they didn’t wear confining underwear like we do), so they didn’t have to futz around under their skirts. And with a chamberpot, you could just move it under you rather than trying to fit yourself around a stationary toilet.

For wiping, there might be scrap fabric, moss, or straw. That one ply toilet paper in public restrooms doesn’t seem so bad now, does it?