Reenactment again – different century
We had our first event in costume with the Mannered Mob this weekend. We went down to Gilbert White’s house in Selbourne on Friday night and camped in a field adjoining his extensive back garden in order to be able to start, bright and early, on Saturday morning.
Gilbert White was an 18th Century naturalist, but for some reason the owners of the house decided that they wanted something more interesting to the public than just some servants in the house, and they also asked NFOE to attend. NFOE (New France and Old England) are a reenactment society which specializes in the French and Indian War. So while the house was occupied by the Mannered Mob, portraying servants, a couple of ladies, an English gentleman and a visiting Scottish Lord, the grounds were occupied with French, English and Native American troops. This was bizarre but fun, and we eventually compromised by deciding that we must be somewhere in Canada.
Andrew became Gilbert White’s gardener, and spent most of the weekend either hanging round the kitchen or terrifying small children with a gin-trap (which is like a bear trap, but for rabbits). At one point in the proceedings he got paid to keep silent about a run-away servant girl who had broken her indentures, and managed (later) to also get paid for turning her in. This struck me as highly appropriate behaviour for a mere servant.
He was very fond of the gaiters he’s wearing there, though mainly because they concealed the fact that he was wearing stripy red and black woolen stockings under his breeches.
I discovered the joys of 18th Century clothes too, and learned that when dressing in the morning it’s important to put your shoes on *before* your stays because you can’t buckle them up afterwards. So dressing goes: shift (which you sleep in), stockings + garters, shoes, first petticoat (gathered skirt) then stays on top. Then pockets tied on top of the stays, then a second petticoat, then a kerchief to make sure you’re not showing any cleavage, then a jacket, then an apron/pinafore and a cap on top.
I spent most of my time in the kitchen, where we made some nice 18th Century desserts. (Because we weren’t allowed to light a fire in the hearth, we had to cook stuff which didn’t need heat.) I made cream of preserved peaches – which was a sort of mousse which required whisking for an hour. Then marchpane, which we made from blanched almonds, sugar and rosewater, pounded together for four hours in a pestle and mortar, syllabub, and lemon sherbet. The lemon sherbet also needed grinding for a couple of hours to turn the sugar into a fine powder. Due to health and safety regulations we were not allowed to let the public try any of these, so we ate them all ourselves, and they were all really lovely. Especially the sherbet, which was amazing!
Meanwhile our silk clad upper-class members were in the parlour playing the harpsichord, singing, dancing and playing cards. Rose managed to get herself a cushy job as the Lady’s secretary and also sat in the parlour, writing out various legal documents. As a testament to her middling-sort status, she got to wear a much posher jacket than mine.
With all those layers, not to mention the corset, I expected the clothes to be something of a trial, but in fact they were very easy to wear. The petticoats are very gathered, so they fall quite far away from the legs and don’t encumber you at all from walking. The shoes are excellent. The stays – as long as you don’t do them too tight – are also surprisingly comfortable. They don’t stop you from breathing at all, but they do support the bust and back, give you amazing posture and mean that you move with noticeably more dignity and poise.
I only have this picture of the upper class men, dancing on the lawn, but I can certainly report that wigs are worn unpinned and look very fine, and that an embroidered golden silk waistcoat with a suit of dark green superfine wool, topped with wig and tricorne, is going to turn heads no matter who wears it 🙂