Buying Bread and Milk in 18th and 19th Century London

"Milk Below Maid" by Francis Wheatley from 1790s

“The cry of ‘Milk’ or the rattle of the milk-pail, will never cease to be heard in our streets. There can be no reservoirs of milk, no pipes through which it flows into the houses. The more extensive the great capital becomes, the more active must be the individual exertion to carry about this article of food. The old cry was ‘Any milk here !’ and it was sometimes mingled with the sound of ‘Fresh cheese and cream;’ and it then passed into ‘Milk, maids below;’ and it was then shortened into ‘Milk below;’ and was finally corrupted into ‘Mio’ which some wag interpreted into mieau—demi-eau—half water. But it must still be cried, whatever be the cry. The supply of milk to the metropolis is perhaps one of the most beautiful combinations of industry we have. The days are long since passed when Finsbury had its pleasant groves, and Clerkenwell was a village, and there were green pastures in Holborn, and St. Pancras boasted only a little church standing in meadows, and St. Martin’s was literally in the fields. Slowly but surely does the baked clay of Mr. Stucco, ‘the speculative builder’ stride over the clover and the buttercup; and yet every family in London may be supplied with milk by eight o’clock every morning at their own doors. Where do the cows abide? They are congregated in wondrous masses in the suburbs; and though in spring-time they go out to pasture in the fields which lie under the Hampstead and Highgate hills, or in the vales of Dulwich and Sydenham, and there crop the tender blade,

‘When proud pied April, dress’d in all his trim,
Has put a spirit of youth in everything.’

yet for the rest of the year the coarse grass is carted to their stalls, or they devour what the breweries and distilleries cannot extract from the grain harvest. Long before ‘the unfolding star wakes up the shepherd’ are the London cows milked; and the great wholesale vendors of the commodity who have it consigned to them daily from more distant parts to the various Metropolitan Railway Stations bear it in carts to every part of the town, and distribute to the hundreds of shopkeepers and itinerants, who are anxiously waiting to receive it for re-distribution amongst their own customers. It is evident that a perishable commodity which every one requires at a given hour must be so distributed. The distribution has lost its romance. Misson, in his ‘Travels’ published at the beginning of the last century, tells of Maygames of ‘the pretty young country girls that serve the town with milk.’ Alas! the May-games and pretty young country girls have both departed, and a milk-woman has become a very unpoetical personage. There are few indeed of milkwomen who remain.”  — from A History of the Cries of London, Ancient and Modern, by Charles Hindley

My blog has been silent for almost a week. I was a single mom while my husband was in Europe for over ten days. He came home last night to find his kids alive and healthy and his wife on the verge of a nervous breakdown. But he brought presents and chocolate, so we are all happy again.

I thought I would make a short excerpt from the sections on bread and milk in John Trusler’s The London Adviser and Guide: Containing every Instruction and Information Useful and Necessary to Persons Living in London and Coming to Reside There. The technicalities of buying bread and milk in London called into my mind The Cries of London, (or London Cries) a book that featured the songs and calls of the urban street vendors. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an online version of the book, but I found many other resources and got a little carried away, as you can see. So, for this post, I’m excerpting information on bread and milk sellers from sources published in mid 1700s to late 1800s , including many images of milk maids (Surprisingly, there isn’t a great deal of art featuring bakers.)

Let’s dive into The London Adviser and Guide, published in 1786:

Continue reading “Buying Bread and Milk in 18th and 19th Century London”

In Search of Almack’s

The other evening I was browsing through old books and periodicals when I stumbled across an article on Almack’s in “The Illustrated London News,” 1843.  The text was hopelessly blurred and had run off the edge of the scanner. I lowered my screen resolution, squinted at my monitor and tried to transcribe some of the article, putting question marks where the text was lopped off.


This was the best I could do:

The plan of the establishment [Almack’s] is briefly as follows. To the left of the entrance-hall is a spacious supper-room, with orchestra-gallery, &c; it is tastefully decorated and to give stability to the dancing salon above, are several supports, in the picturesque forms of palm-trees. From the hall, you ascend by a handsome stone staircase to the suite of rooms, four in number, an anti-room, tea-room, and the ball-room, to the right of which is a large card-room. The ball-room is one of the most spacious salons in the metropolis, its dimensions being about 100 feet in length, ? feet in width; it is chastely coloured – white and straw, relieve  ? and medallions of classic design; the draperies are blue  ? and the vast apartment, when fully illuminated (with 500 wax lights) has a most brilliant appearance.  The greatest number of persons ever present in this room upon one occasion ? at 1700.

Curiouser and curiouser. What did Almack’s really look like?


So, rather than do laundry, dishes or boring web work, I ran searches through old internet archives.  And this is what I found:

From Club Life of London, by John Timbs, 1872

Almack’s large ball-room is about one hundred feet in length, by forty feet in width; it is chastely decorated with gilt columns and pilasters, classic medallions, mirrors, etc., and is lit with gas, in cut-glass lustres. The largest number of persons ever present in this room at one ball was 1700.

From Survey of London

Architectural description

There are two sources of information about the interior, one being the view of ‘The Ball Room, Willis’s Rooms in Old and New London, and the other being Cruikshank’s lively illustration in Life in London (1821). Different as they are in spirit, the two representations are not incompatible; in fact, interpreting the first by the second, a fair idea of Mylne’s interior can be formed. The illustration in Old and New London almost certainly shows the great room after its redecoration by Kuckuck in 1860, but under the heavy Victorian overlay can be seen the elegance depicted, rather vaguely, by Cruikshank. It seems clear, therefore, that the walls were divided into bays by a Composite order, with paired pilasters between the windows or panels of the long side walls, and single columns between the five bays of each end wall. Cruikshank suggests that the unfluted shafts were marbled or of scagliola. Between the capitals the bays were decorated with a frieze of festoons and paterae, and below these were oblong panels with relief subjects. In Cruikshank’s time the windows were furnished with elegant scrolled pelmet-heads of gilt wood supporting swagged draperies, and Rococo looking glasses filled some of the wall panels. He shows the orchestra playing in a balcony with a gilt trellised railing, but in a position it can hardly have occupied, and two-tiered crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling. In the Old and New London view, these have been replaced by huge lustres of cut glass, hanging from a flat ceiling with a shallow segmental cove, the general form of which was probably original.

According to the Survey of London, Almack’s was destroyed by “enemy action” in WWII.

Cruikshank’s depiction of Almack’s from Life in London



Image of ballroom from Old and New London

From Old and New London

Close by the St. James’s Theatre are “Willis’s Rooms,” a noble suite of assembly-rooms, formerly known as “Almack’s.” The building was erected by Mylne, for one Almack, a tavern-keeper, and was opened in 1765, with a ball, at which the Duke of Cumberland, the hero of Culloden, was present.

The large ball-room is about one hundred feet in length by forty feet in width, and is chastely decorated with columns and pilasters, classic medallions, and mirrors. The rooms are let for public meetings, dramatic readings, concerts, balls, and occasionally for dinners. Right and left, at the top of the grand staircase, and on either side of the vestibule of the ball-room, are two spacious apartments, used occasionally for large suppers or dinners.

As far back as 1840 it was pretty evident that “Almack’s” was on the decline.

The amazing Nancy Mayer sent me the floor plans of Almack’s from the Beau Monde archives. This is the ground floor

Almack’s First floor

Alas, after all this armchair research (procrastination) and emailing questions to Nancy, I feel the descriptions of Almack’s are too scant and confusing and we can’t depend on the accuracy of the images. So I suggest we do what authors and readers do best: just imagine it. Make your own private Almack’s.



Getting Taxed to Death in Georgian London, Finding a Good Water Company and Emptying Your Privy

I’m sorry the blog has been silent for the last several days. I’ve been  partying in Phoenix with my writer friend Tina Whittle to celebrate the release of her new book from Poisoned Pen Press titled Darker Than Any Shadow. It’s a fabulous read!

Anyhoo, tonight is another installment in my ongoing project to translate into readable English John Trusler’s masterpiece, The London Adviser and Guide: Containing every Instruction and Information Useful and Necessary to Persons Living in London and  Coming to Reside there.

However, I must apologize in advance for a little historical whiplash on this post. I found this wonderful book from 1827 titled Metropolitan improvements; or, London in the nineteenth century: displayed in a series of engravings of the new buildings, improvement, etc, by James Elmes and had to use the images.  So, all the graphics on this post were created several decades after the publishing of The London Adviser in 1786  If you are an historian of London, you know that the Prince Regent made many architectural enhancements, as well as built new streets, parks and squares. Trusler’s London was a bit different than the images here.  But the pictures were so cool that I couldn’t help myself. And it’s my blog, so I do what I want.

From The London Adviser and Guide: 

20. The taxes of a house in London are nearly half the rent, and are as follow:

1. Land-tax, a tax on the ground, paid by the tenant, half yearly, but generally allowed by the landlord in the rent, if no agreement to the contrary.

This is generally four shillings in the pound, but in some parishes less than others.

Theatre Royal

2. There is also a small sewer tax, for cleansing the sewers, a few shillings a year, generally paid by the landlord.

3. A house-tax paid to government, by the tenant, of six-pence, nine-pence or one shilling in the pound according to the rent. The rent in this tax is rated to the full.

St. James Street


4. The poor’s-rate is another tax, but a parochial one, paid by the tenant to the overseers of the parish, for the maintenance of the poor. This is collected every half year, and the assessment is from one to six shillings in the pound, or more, according to the number of poor in the parish. This assessment is made by the parish-officers, and ratified by a bench of justices. The book, with this ratification, and the sums each house-keeper is to pay, is brought round to every house, when the money is collected, and each inhabitant may see how much others pay, then or at any other time, an paying six-pence or a shilling. The rent of each house is generally estimated in the parish-book at two-thirds of the real rent paid; and if any person finds that he pays more in proportion than the rest of the parish, he may obtain redress, by an application to the quarter-sessions, at a very little expence.

Any person occupying any house, &c. out of which any other person assessed has removed, or which, at the making the rate was empty, every person so removing and the person so coming into and occupying the same, shall pay to such rate in proportion to the time he occupied the same. In case of dispute, the proportion to be ascertained by two justices.

St. Andrew’s Place

5. Another tax is the window-tax, paid by the tenant to Government, and collected half-yearly.

This is assessed in the following manner:

 Windows of out-houses are to be reckoned into the number.

Windows lighting two rooms to be reckoned as two.

Two or more windows, not twelve inches apart from each other, are reckoned but as one.

No window deemed stopped, unless with stones, brick, or plaster.

Opening a window, without notice to the assessor, forfeits twenty shillings.

Glass-doors, and lights over doors, do not pay according to this act.

Bridge Over Serpentine — Hyde Park

6. But, in addition to the above, windows pay a second duty, in lieu of the duty on tea taken off; this is as follows:

Persons are to pay only for two houses, and those containing the greatest number of windows.

Glass doors and lights over doors are here considered as windows, and the assessors have the peculiar privilege of examining them, by looking round the outsides of the house.


7. The next tax is the church-wardens rate, for repairing the church. The county-rate is generally collected with it. This is only collected occasionally, and may be from three-pence in the pound or two or three shillings, according to the exigencies required.

8. Another rate or assessment is the paving-tax, for repairing, cleaning, and lighting the streets. This is one shilling and six-pence in the pound, of two-thirds of the rent or value.

Park Lane

9. Another is for watching them, but this is a trifle. Private lamps, at private doors, are put up at the expence of those who contract to light them, and painted annually, and if broke are replaced also at their expence. Price for lamp lighting, 7s. per quarter, each.

London Orphan Asylum

10. There is a further call on every householder for Easter offerings, for the rector or vicar of the, parish; this is four-pence a-head for every one in each family capable of receiving the sacrament, paid once a year, at Easter. But this seldom is collected; it is generally left to each family to give what they please; but it is always expected that they give something; perhaps a few shillings.

Pall Mall

11. Once or twice a year the church-wardens generally bring round a book, to make a collection for the lecturer or afternoon preacher. At this time a housekeeper generally gives a few shillings; but this is optional.

12. In some parishes, twenty or thirty shillings a year, more or less, are paid by house-keepers, in proportion to their rent, in lieu of the tithes.

Charing Cross

13. A further expence to the inhabitants is the river water, with which each house is served, from about twenty-four to thirty shillings a year, according to the time of serving, whether every day or three times a week.


London Bridge

Supplying Water

1. The London-bridge water-works supply the city, and the greatest part of its liberties, with Thames water, at the rate of from twenty-four to thirty shillings (paid half-yearly) according to the distance from London. The pipes of this Company spread all over the City to Tower-hill, Snow-hill, Shore-ditch, and St. Dunstan’s-church, Fleet-street. Office at Londonbridge.

2. The York-building water-works, (office in Villiers-street, attendance from three in the afternoon till seven) supplies Westminster, and the west end of the town, as far as Holborn, with Thames-water, and will convey the water, if desired, to the upper stories of a house, the second or third story, according to their situation. The higher the house stands from the water side, the less height can they convey the water. The prices of the water is the same with the London-bridge waterworks; only, if the water is to be conveyed to the second or third story, more money is paid annually, from thirty shillings to five pounds. The Thames-water is reckoned softer than that of the New river. If a fire happens in the night, application for water from this Company, and that of London-bridge, must be made at the respective offices and it will be some time, half an hour or more, before they can get their engines to work.

Military House and Haymarket

3. The New-River Company (office in Dorset-street, Fleet-street) supplies all London on the north side of the Thames, from mile-end turnpike to Hyde-park-corner, with water brought twenty miles from London, to a reservoir at Islington. The terms of this Company are rather higher than those of other water companies, but the water is generally clearer and better. They serve families from twenty-four shillings a year to five pounds, according to the quantity of water they require, which is settled by the collector of the district, whose name may be known, by applying at the office, in Dorset-street. This collector also will furnish families with the names of the turn-cocks in his district, printed on paper, to whom application is to be made in case of fire; and in the collector’s receipts will be found the place to apply to, in want of water and other complaints. This company conveys the water to the upper stories of houses, without any additional expence than the lead pipes, which are the property of, and must be fixed by, the tenant; the nearer a house stands to the Thames side, that is, the lower it is from the reservoirs, the higher in the houses the water can be conveyed. In the New River Water-Works the water runs from an eminence; in the London-bridge and York company, it is forced up by fire; of course, the higher it is conveyed, the more money annually is required.

London House – Gray’s Inn Road

4. There are other water-works, those of Chelsea, Hampstead, Bayswater, Shadwell, Lambeth, &c. that supply other parts of the town, and the borough of Southwark, with soft water, and on nearly the terms. Thrale’s water-works, that supply part of Southwark, serve so low as 20s. a year.

5. The lead pipes from the main, that is, from the middle of the street, are considered as belonging to the house, and must be paid for, and kept in repair by the tenant; other repairs and expences are paid by the several companies.

Covent Garden Market

6. Attendance is always given at the respective offices from morning till night, and complaints immediately redressed. It is proper to send to these office immediately on a fire breaking out, especially those that supply the Thames water.

7. It is advisable for every house-keeper, on first coming to London, to apply to the offices for the names of the turn-cocks, and where they live; and also to fire offices, for the places where the fire engines are; also to the vestry-clerks of the different parishes, for the places where the ladders are kept, and from year to year, who are the constables and parish-officers, and to write these down and stick them up in the kitchen, or other part of the house, that the earliest application, in case of fire, may be made for every necessary assistance.

House of Lords — King’s Entrance

8. In frosty weather, to secure water to the house is the care and business of the tenant. For this purpose, fresh horse-dung should be laid over the pavement under which the lead-pipes pass, and some should be wound round the pipe as it crosses the area. Dung can be had at any of the stables for a trifle, and the expence of fetching it in a wheelbarrow is not much.

Bank of England

9. If your water fails, and you apprehend the defect is in the pipe under the pavement in the street, by applying at the office belonging to the company that serves you, they will send a pavior to open the .pavement.; if the defect is found in the lead-pipes between the main and the house, the expence must be paid by the tenant; if not, it will be repaired at the expence of the water company.

Fleet Street

10. If your drains are stopped, they must be opened and cleaned; it is the part of the tenant to clean the drains into the common sewer; but if the sewer is choked, application must be made to the officers common-sewers in your district. No person can make a new drain from the privy into the common-sewer, without the consent of the commissioners; but if such a drain has been once made, it may be kept up.

11. Emptying of privies is not only expensive, but very disagreeable. It is enacted by law, that none shall be emptied in London before 2 o’clock at night; the price is 5s. a ton for all they carry out, and the carts generally hold 3 tons, but are marked as to what they hold. Night-men, if not watched, will not fill their carts, of course, you are imposed on: a confidential person should attend them in this business, and keep an account of the quantity carted off. The men employed expect, in this business, plenty of bread and cheese, beer and gin.

Belgrave Square


18th Century London — Obtaining Fire Insurance for Your Home and Protecting Against Fire.

And now for another installment from John Trusler’s The London Adviser and Guide: Containing every Instruction and Information Useful and Necessary to Persons Living in London and Coming to Reside There, 1786.  

This post could possibly be the most boring post in the history of blogs, as Trusler explores the different insurance plans offered.  I would advise reading a few of the policies and then skip  down to the more interesting sections on preventing fire, as well as the city’s preventive measures and responses to fire.

I’ve tried to break up the tedium of the information with images from London: being an Accurate History and Description of the British metropolis and Its Neighbourhood : to Thirty Miles Extent, from an Actual Perambulation, 1809

Let’s dive in…


Insurance Offices from Fire

19. When your house is furnished, the next precaution to be taken is, to insure it from fire: this may be done at several public insurance-offices, and at a very small annual premium. The landlord generally insures the buildings,

Continue reading “18th Century London — Obtaining Fire Insurance for Your Home and Protecting Against Fire.”

How to Lease a Home in 18th Century London

Today I’m going to begin the first of what will be an ongoing, long and possibly unfinished project– to make an easy-to-read version of the  late 1700s book The London Adviser and Guide by John Trusler.  I think the extended title says it all: 

THE London Adviser and Guide: Containing every Instruction and Information Useful and Necessary to Persons Living in London and coming to reside there; In order to enable them to enjoy Security and Tranquility, and conduct their Domestic Affairs with Prudence and Economy* Together with an Abstract Of all those Laws which regard their protection against the Frauds, Impositions, Insults and Accidents to which they are there liable. Useful also to Foreigners.

* Note, This Work treats fully of every Thing on the above Subjects that can be thought of. 


So, let’s get started with the fine print details of leasing a home in London.

Houses and lodgings in London are let either furnished or unfurnished, and their prices are according to their size, their situation, and their manner of sitting up. In the central part of London and Westminster, such as the neighbourhood of St. James’s, Charing-Cross, the squares, -Covent-Garden, the theatres, St. Paul’s Churchyard, Cheapside, the Royal Exchange, &c. they are high rented; in more distant parts they are cheaper, and in by-streets, courts, lanes, alleys, and such obscure places, cheaper still.

Continue reading “How to Lease a Home in 18th Century London”