Is Your Victorian Gentleman Sponge-Worthy? Contraception in the Years 1826 – 1891

I’m doing some major league procrastination today! I didn’t mean to find this information; I bumped into it while looking for something else. Anyway, I think it’s just fascinating.

The following is excerpted from The Law of Population: its consequences and its bearing upon human conduct and morals, by Annie Wood Besant, 1878

The preventive check which is so generally practised in France that Dr. Drysdale—with a rarely wide French experience—stated that among the peasantry it was “used universally,” and was “practised by almost every male in Paris, and all over the country,” is one which depends entirely on the self-control of the man. It consists simply in the withdrawal of the husband previous to the emission of the semen, and is, of course, absolutely certain as a preventive. A few among the French doctors contend that the practice is injurious, more especially to the wife; but they have failed, so far as we can judge, in making out their case, for they advance no proofs in support of their theory, while the universal practice of the French speaks strongly on the other side.

The preventive check advocated by Dr. Knowlton is, on the other hand, entirely in the hands of the wife. It consists in the use of the ordinary syringe immediately after intercourse, a solution of sulphate of zinc or of alum being used instead of water. There is but little doubt that this check is an effective one, a most melancholy proof of its effectiveness being given by Dr. J. C. Barr, who, giving evidence before the Commission on the working of the Contagious Diseases Act, stated:—” Every woman who leaves the hospital is instructed in the best mode of preventing disease. These are cleanliness, injections of alum and sulphate of zinc.”

Professor Sheldon Amos, dealing with the same painful subject, refers to this evidence, and quotes Dr. Barr as saying again, ” my custom is to instruct them to keep themselves clean, to use injections and lotions.” These women are not meant to bear children, they are to be kept” fit for use ” by Her Majesty’s soldiers.

Apart altogether from this sad, but governmentally authorized use of this check, there are many obvious disadvantages connected with it as a matter of taste and feeling. The same remark applies to the employment of the baudruche, a covering used by men of loose character as a guard against syphilitic diseases, and occasionally recommended as a preventive check.

The check which appears to us to be preferable, as at once certain, and in no sense grating on any feeling of affection or of delicacy, is that recommended by Carlile many years ago in his “Every Woman’s Book.”

Susanna’s Note.  Here is a limited view of  What is Love  about Richard Carlile and contains his 1826 book  Every Woman’s Book  that is mentioned above. Amazon describes the book as “What is Love? provides a timely appreciation of Richard Carlile’s neglected shocker, Every Woman’s Book. Originally published in 1826, it scored a double first: as a progressive sex manual and as the first book in English to specify methods of contraception.”

Richard Carlile

To prevent impregnation, pass to the end of the vagina a piece of fine sponge, which should be dipped in water before being used, and which need not be removed until the morning. Dr. Marion Sims, who in cases of retroversion of the uterus constantly used mechanical support to maintain the uterus in its normal position, and so make pregnancy possible, gives much useful information on the various kinds of pessaries. He sometimes used a “small wad of cotton, not more than an inch in diameter,” which was “secured with a string for its removal this was worn during the day and removed at night. He says that the woman using a pessary should be able ” to remove and replace it with the same facility that she would put on and pull off an old slipper.” There is, in fact, no kind of difficulty in the use of this check, and it has the great advantage of unobtrusiveness.

There is a preventive check attempted by many poor women which is most detrimental to health, and should therefore never be employed, namely, the too-long persistence in nursing one baby, in the hope of thereby preventing the conception of another. Nursing does not prevent conception. A child should not be nursed, according to Dr. Chavasse, for longer than nine months; and he quotes Dr. Farr, as follows:—” It is generally recognized that the healthiest children are those weaned at nine months complete. Prolonged nursing hurts both child and mother: in the child, causing a tendency to brain disease, probably through disordered digestion and nutrition; in the mother, causing a strong tendency to deafness and blindness.” Dr. Chavasse adds: “If he be suckled after he be twelve months old, he is generally pale, flabby, unhealthy, and rickety; and the mother is usually nervous, emaciated, and hysterical. … A child nursed beyond twelve months is very apt, if he should live, to be knock-kneed, and bowlegged, and weak-ankled, to be narrow-chested, and chickenbreasted.” If pregnancy occur, and the mother be nursing, the consequences affect alike the mother, the babe, and the unborn child. To nurse under these circumstances, says Dr. Chavasse, “is highly improper, as it not only injures her own health, and may bring on a miscarriage, but it is also prejudicial to her babe, and may produce a delicacy of constitution from which he might never recover.”

The following excerpt is from Fruits of Philosophy, Charles Knowlton.  The Google book is credited to Charles Knowlton, yet the title page reads: Fruits of Philosophy, A Treatise of the Population Question, by Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant, 1891. The preface clears up the matter nicely:


The pamphlet which we now present to the public is one which has been lately prosecuted under Lord Campbell’s Act, and which we republish, in order to test the right of publication. It was originally written by Charles Knowlton, M. D., whose degree entitles him to be heard with respect on a medical question. It was first published in England, about forty years ago (Susanna’s note: this website states the first edition was published in 1832), by James Watson, the gallant radical, who came to London and took up Richard Carlile’s work, when Carlile was in jail.

There have been several means proposed and practiced for checking conception. I shall briefly notice them, though a knowledge of the best is what most concerns us. That of withdrawal immediately before emission is certainly effectual, if practiced with sufficient care. But if (as I believe) Dr. Dewees’ theory of conception be correct, and as Spallanzani’s experiments show that only a trifle of semen, even largely diluted with water, may impregnate by being injected into the vagina, it is clear that nothing short of entire withdrawl is to be depended upon. But the old notion that the semen must enter the uterus to cause conception, has led many to believe that a partial withdrawal is sufficient, and it is on this account that this error has proved mischievous, as all important errors generally do. It is said by those who speak from experience that the practice of withdrawal has an effect upon the health similar to intemperance in eating. As the subsequent exhaustion is probably mainly owing to the shock the nervous system sustains in the act of coition, this opinion may be correct. It is further said that this practice serves to keep alive those fine feelings with which married people first come together. Still, I leave it for every one to decide for himself whether this check be so far from satisfactory as not to render some other very desirable.

As to the baudruche, which consists in a covering used by the male, made of very delicate skin, it is by no means calculated to come into general use. It has been used to secure immunity from syphilitic affections.

From online exhibit : Off the Pedestal – Images of Women In Victorian Broadsides, Ephemera & Fast literature CLICK TO VIEW SITE.

Another check which the old idea of conception has led some to recommend with considerable confidence, consists in introducing into the vagina, previous to connection, a very delicate piece of sponge, moistened with water, to be immediately afterward withdrawn by means of a very narrow ribbon attached to it. But, as our views would lead us to expect, this check has not proved a sure preventive. As there are many little ridges or folds in the vagina, we cannot suppose the withdrawal of the sponge would dislodge all the semen in every instance. If, however, it were well moistened with some liquid which acted chemically upon the semen, it would be pretty likely to destroy the fecundating property of what might remain. But if this check were ever so sure, it would, in my opinion, fall short of being equal, all things considered, to the one I am about to mention —one which not only dislodges the semen pretty effectually, but at the same time destroys the fecundating property of the whole of it.

It consists in syringing the vagina immediately after connection with a solution of sulphate of zinc, of alum, pearl-ash, or any salt that acts chemically on the semen, and at the same time produces no unfavorable effect on the female.

In all probability a vegetable astringent would answer— as an infusion of white oak bark, of red rose leaves, of nutgalls, and the like. A lump of either of the above-mentioned salts, of the size of a chestnut, may be dissolved in a pint of water, making the solution weaker or stronger, as it may be borne without any irritation of the parts to which it is applied. These solutions will not lose their virtues by age. A female syringe, which will be required in the use of the check, may be had at the shop of an apothecary for a shilling or less. If preferred, the semen may be dislodged as far as it can be, by syringing with simple water, after which some of the solution is to be injected, to destroy the fecundating property of what may remain lodged between the ridges of the vagina, etc.

I know the use of this check requires the woman to leave her bed for a few moments, but this is its only objection; and it would be unreasonable to suppose that any check can ever be devised entirely free of objections. In its favor it may be said, it costs nearly nothing; it is sure ; it requires no sacrifice of pleasure; it is in the hand of the female; it is to be used after, instead of before the connection, a weighty consideration in its favor, as a moment’s reflection will convince any one; and last, but not least, it is conducive to cleanliness, and preserves the parts from relaxation and disease…Those who have used this check (and some have used it, to my certain knowledge with entire success for nine or ten years, and under such circumstances as leave no room to doubt its efficacy) affirm that they would be at the trouble of using injections merely for the purposes of health and cleanliness.

By actual experiment it has been rendered highly probable that pregnancy may, in many instances, be prevented by injections of simple water, applied with a tolerable degree of care. But simple water has failed, and its occasional failure is what we should expect, considering the anatomy of the parts, and the results of Spallanzani’s experiments heretofore alluded to.

This much did I say respecting this check in the first edition of this work. That is what I call the chemical check. The idea of destroying the fecundating property of the semen was original, if it did not originate with me. My attention was drawn to the subject by the perusal of “Moral Physiology.” Such was my confidence in the chemical idea that I sat down and wrote this work in July, 1831. But the reflection that I did not know that this check would never fail, and that if it should, I might do someone an injury in recommending it, caused the manuscript to lie on hand until the following December. Some time in November I fell in with an old acquaintance, who agreeably surprised me by stating that to his personal knowledge this last check had been used as above stated. I have since conversed with a gentleman with whom I was acquainted, who stated that, being in Baltimore some few years ago, he was there informed of this check by those who have no doubt of its efficacy. From what has as yet fell under my observation, I am not warranted in drawing any conclusion. I can only say that I have never known it to fail. Such are my views on the whole subject, that it would require many instances of its reputed failure to satisfy me that such failures were not owing to an insufficient use of it. I even believe that quite cold water alone, if thoroughly used, would be sufficient. In Spallanzani’s experiments warm water was unquestionably used. As the seminal animalculæ are essential to impregnation, all we have to do is to change the condition of, or, if you will, to kill them ; and as they are so exceedingly small and delicate, this is doubtless easily done, and hence cold water may be sufficient.

What has now been advanced in this work will enable the reader to judge for himself or herself of the efficacy of the chemical or syringe check, and time will probably determine whether I am correct in this matter. I do know that those married females who have much desire to escape will not stand for the little trouble of using this check, especially when they consider that on the score of cleanliness and health alone it is worth the trouble.

A great part of the time no check is necessary, and women of experience and observation, with the information conveyed by this work, will be able to judge pretty correctly when it is and when it is not. They may rest assured that none of the salts mentioned will have any deleterious effect. The sulphate of zinc is commonly known by the name of white vitriol. This, as well as alum, have been extensively used for leucorrhoea. Acetate of lead would doubtless be effectual—indeed, it has proven to be so; but I do not recommend it, because I conceive it possible that a long continued use of it might impair the instinct.

I hope that no failures will be charged of efficacy of this check which ought to be attributed to negligence or insufficient use of it. I will therefore recommend at least two applications of the syringe, the sooner the surer, yet it is my opinion that five minutes’ delay would not prove mischievous—perhaps not ten.

*Read Part II of Contraception in the Years 1826 – 1891

1870s Hodgepodge: His and Hers Dressing Rooms, Bathing, a Bride’s Trousseau, Rules of Victorian Mourning, and Many Fashion Illustrations.

Today, I’m going to be a bit global. I will excerpt from an American book and use ladies’ fashions from France and men’s fashions from England.  That’s the beauty of being a lazy researcher with a blog. Enjoy!

From “Les Modes Parisiennes,” 1870

From The Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Etiquette:  A Complete Manual of the Manners and Dress of American Society, by Eliza Bisbee Duffey, 1874

The Dressing-room.

The first necessity in properly performing the duties of the toilette is to have a regularly-appointed dressing-room. This room, of course, in many instances, is a bedroom as well; but that need in no way interfere with its general arrangements.

The walls should be decorated with a light-colored paper, with window-curtains and furniture covers all in harmony. A few choice prints or water-color drawings may be hung on the walls, and one or two ornaments may occupy a place on the mantel; but it should be borne in mind that the room is to be used exclusively for dressing and the toilette, so that everything interfering with these offices in any way should be studiously avoided.


From “Gazette of Fashion, and Cutting-room Companion,” 1870

Lady’s Dressing-room.

The furniture of a lady’s dressing-room should consist of a low dressing-bureau, a washstand, an easy-chair, placed in front of the dressing-bureau, one or two other chairs, a sofa or couch if the space admits, and a large wardrobe if there are insufficient closet conveniences.

On the dressing-bureau should be placed the lady’s dressing-case, her jewel-box, ring-stand, pin-cushion and hairpin-cushion. This latter is very convenient, and is made in the following way: It may be round or square, the sides of wood or card-board, loosely stuffed with fine horsehair and covered with plain knitting, worked in single Berlin wool with fine needles. This cover offers no impediment to the hairpins, which are much better preserved in this way than by being left about in an untidy fashion In addition, there should be a tray with various kinds of combs, frizettes and bottles of perfumes. There should be neither bottles of strong perfumery, such as musk or patchouli, nor hair-dye nor cosmetics, neither pots of hair-oil nor powder-puff nor rouge. A bottle of pure sweet oil, marrow or bear’s grease may be tolerated, to be used on very rare occasions hereafter to be described.

From “Les Modes Parisiennes,” 1870

The washstand should be furnished with a large bowl and pitcher, soap-tray, small pitcher and tumbler, china tray containing two tooth-brushes and nail-brushes, sponge-basin, holding two sponges (large and small), and a bottle of ammonia.

On the right of the washstand should be the towel-rack, on which should be found one fine and two coarse towels and two more very coarse huckaback or Turkish towels. Beneath the washstand should be placed the foot-bath.

On the wall should be hooks and pegs at convenient distances, from which maybe suspended sacques, dressing-gowns, dresses about to be worn, or any other article of general or immediate use.

From “Gazette of Fashion, and Cutting-room Companion,” 1870

The various articles of a lady’s apparel—dresses, skirts, crinolines, etc.—should be hung neatly away in the closet or wardrobe. The underclothing should be folded and placed in an orderly manner in the drawers of the dressing-bureau. The finer dresses are kept in better order if folded smoothly and laid on shelves instead of being hung up.

Gentleman’s Dressing-room.

From “Gazette of Fashion, and Cutting-room Companion,” 1870

The appointments of a gentleman’s dressing-room are similar in most respects to those of the lady’s dressing-room, the differences being in trifling matters.

A gentleman’s wardrobe need not be so large as a lady’s, but it should be well supplied with drawers to contain pantaloons and vests neatly folded. Indeed, no gentleman who wishes to make a tidy appearance will ever hang up these articles.

The pegs and hooks in a gentleman’s dressing-room are for the convenience of articles of a gentleman’s toilet corresponding with those occupying the same place in the lady’s room.

From “Les Modes Parisiennes,” 1870

A gentleman’s dressing-bureau should contain the articles used in a gentleman’s toilet — razors, shaving-brush, shaving-soap and a small tin pot for hot water, together with packages of paper, on which to wipe razors. Cheap razors are a mistake, as they soon lose their edge. A good razor requires no strop. It has been suggested as an excellent plan to have a case of seven razors — one for each day in the week—so that they are all equally used.

A boot-stand, on which all the boots and shoes should be arranged in regular order, with bootjacks and boot-hooks, is a necessary adjunct to the gentleman’s dressing-room.

A couple of hair gloves, with a flesh-brush, may be added to the toilet appurtenances.

From “Gazette of Fashion, and Cutting-room Companion,” 1870

The Bath.

In most of our city houses there is a separate bath-room with hot and cold water, but country houses have not always this convenience. A substitute for the bath-room is a large piece of oilcloth, which can be laid upon the floor of the ordinary dressing-room. Upon this may be placed the bath-tub or basin.

There are various kinds of baths, both hot and cold—the shower-bath, the douche, the hip-bath and the sponge-bath.

Only the most vigorous constitutions can endure the shower-bath, therefore it cannot be recommended for indiscriminate use.

From “Les Modes Parisiennes,” 1870

A douche or hip-bath may be taken every morning, winter and summer, with the temperature of the water suited to the endurance of the individual. In summer a second or sponge-bath may be taken on retiring.

We do not bathe to make ourselves clean, but to keep clean, and for the sake of its health-giving and invigorating effects. Once a week a warm bath, at about 100° may be used, with plenty of soap, in order to thoroughly cleanse the pores of the skin.

After these baths the rough towels should be vigorously used, not only to help remove the impurities of the skin, but for the beneficial friction which will send a glow over the whole body. The hair glove or flesh-brush may be used to advantage in the bath before the towel is applied.


From “Gazette of Fashion, and Cutting-room Companion,” 1870

Before stepping into the bath the head should be wet with cold water, and in the bath the pit of the stomach should first be sponged.

There is no danger to most people from taking a bath in a state of ordinary perspiration. But one should by all means avoid it if he is overheated or fatigued.

The Air-bath.

Next in importance to the water-bath is the airbath. Nothing is so conducive to health as an exposure of the body to air and sun. A French physician has recommended the sun-bath as a desirable hygienic practice. It is well, therefore, to remain without clothing for some little time after bathing, performing such duties of the toilet as can be done in that condition.


From “Les Modes Parisiennes,” 1870

The Trousseau.

The trousseau may be as large and expensive as the circumstances of the bride will justify, but this expense is mainly put upon outside garments. There are certain requisite articles which must be supplied in a requisite number, and these all brides must have, and of a certain similarity in general character and make. They may be set down as follows:

Twelve chemises, six elaborately trimmed and six more plainly made.

Twelve pairs of drawers, made in sets with the chemises, and matching them in trimming.

Six fine and six plain night-dresses.

From “Les Modes Parisiennes,” 1870

Six corset-covers, three finely finished.

Four pairs of corsets, one pair white embroidered, two plain white and one pair colored, the latter to be used in traveling.

One dozen pair of fine thread hose, one dozen of heavy cotton and one dozen of fine merino hose are none too many.

Six trimmed skirts and six plain ones.

From “Les Modes Parisiennes,” 1870

Two balmoral skirts, one handsome and the other plain.

Six flannel skirts, three of them handsomely embroidered.

Four white dressing-sacques, two. of them of flannel.

Two loose wrappers of chintz or cashmere.

Six sets of linen collars and cuffs for morning wear.

From “Les Modes Parisiennes,” 1870

Six sets of lace or embroidered collars and cuffs.

One dozen plain handkerchiefs, one dozen fine handkerchiefs and six embroidered or lace trimmed.

Walking-boots, gaiters and slippers of various styles.

Two pairs of white kid gloves, two of light and two of dark tints, with others of thread and cloth.

From “Les Modes Parisiennes,” 1870

Of dresses there are required—morning-dresses, walking-suits, carriage-dresses, evening-dresses, one traveling-dress, one waterproof suit, one very handsome suit to return bridal calls, and last but not least the bridal-dress, which has already been referred to. These dresses may be multiplied in number according to the means and needs of the bride.


From “Les Modes Parisiennes,” 1870


[Susanna’s note: Sorry, but I don’t have illustrations of mourning dress. Bad Researcher! Bad Researcher!]

MANY sensible people have resolved to abjure mourning garments altogether; nevertheless, as there are a still larger number who adopt it in a greater or less degree when they are bereaved of their friends, it may be well to recount the established rules in regard to it.

Deep Mourning.

Deep mourning requires the heaviest black of serge, bombazine, lustreless alpaca, de laine, merino or similar heavy clinging material, with collar and cuffs of crape. A widow wears a bonnet-cap of white tarletan, known as the “widow’s cap.”

Mourning garments are made in the severest simplicity. They should have little or no trimming; no flounces, ruffles or bows are allowable. If the dress is not made en suite, then a long or square shawl of barege or cashmere with crape border is worn.

The bonnet is of black crape; a hat is inadmissible. The veil is of crape or berege with heavy border. Black gloves and black-bordered handkerchief.

In winter dark furs may be worn with the deepest mourning. Jewelry is strictly forbidden, and all pins, buckles, etc., must be of jet.

From “Gazette of Fashion, and Cutting-room Companion,” 1870

Second Mourning.

Lustreless alpaca may be worn in second mourning, with white collar and cuffs. The crape veil is laid aside for net or tulle, but the jet jewelry is still retained.

Lesser Degrees Of Mourning.

A still less degree of mourning is indicated by black and white, purple and gray, or a combination of these colors. Crape is still retained in bonnet trimming, and crape flowers may be added.

Light gray, white and black, and light shades of lilac indicate a slight mourning. Black lace bonnet with white or violet flowers supersedes crape, and jet and gold jewelry is worn.

It is poor economy to buy cheap and flimsy materials for mourning. Only the best black goods wear well without becoming rusty and shabby. Foulards make serviceable half-mourning dresses, either as wrappers or walking-suits.

From “Les Modes Parisiennes,” 1870

The following are the rules laid down by authority competent to speak on these matters regarding the proper degree of mourning and length of time it should be worn:

“The deepest mourning is that worn by a widow for her husband. It is worn for two years, sometimes longer. Widow’s mourning for the first year consists of solid black woolen goods, collar and cuffs of folded, untrimmed crape, a simple crape bonnet and a long, thick, black crape veil. The second year, silk trimmed with crape, black lace collar and cuffs, and a shorter veil may be worn, and in the last six months gray, violet and white are permitted. A widow should wear the hair perfectly plain if she does not wear a cap, and should always wear a bonnet, never a hat.

“The mourning for a father or mother is worn for one year. The first six months the proper dress is of solid black woolen goods trimmed with crape, black crape bonnet with black crape facings and black strings, black crape veil, collar and cuffs of black crape. Three months, black silk with crape trimming, white or black lace collar and cuffs, veil of tulle and white bonnet-facings; and the last three months in gray, purple and violet.

From “Gazette of Fashion, and Cutting-room Companion,” 1870

“Mourning worn for a child is the same as that worn for a parent.

“Mourning for a grandparent is worn for six months: three months, black woolen goods, white collar and cuffs, short crape veil and bonnet of crape trimmed with black silk or ribbon; six weeks in black silk trimmed with crape, lace collar and cuffs, short tulle veil; and six weeks in gray, purple, white and violet .

“Mourning worn for a friend who leaves you an inheritance is the same as that worn for a grandparent.

Mourning for a brother or sister is worn six months: two months in solid black trimmed with crape, white linen collar and cuffs, bonnet of black with white facing and black strings; two months in black silk, with white lace collar and cuffs; and two months in gray, purple, white and violet.

“Mourning for an uncle or aunt is worn for three months, and is the second mourning named above, tulle, white linen and white bonnet-facings being worn at once. For a nephew or niece, the same is worn for the same length of time.

“The deepest mourning excludes kid gloves; they should be of cloth, silk or thread; and no jewelry is permitted during the first month of close mourning. Embroidery, jet trimmings, puffs, plaits—in fact, trimming of any kind—is forbidden in deep mourning, but worn when it is lightened.

“Mourning handkerchiefs should be of very sheer fine linen, with a border of black, very wide for close mourning, narrower as the black is lightened.

From “Gazette of Fashion, and Cutting-room Companion,” 1870

“Mourning silks should be perfectly lustreless, and the ribbons worn without any gloss.

“Ladies invited to funeral ceremonies should always wear a black dress, even if they are not in mourning; and it is bad taste to appear with a gay bonnet or shawl, as if for a festive occasion.

“The mourning for children under twelve years of age is white in summer and gray in winter, with black trimmings, belt, sleeve-ruffles and bonnet ribbons.”

From “Gazette of Fashion, and Cutting-room Companion,” 1870


From “Les Modes Parisiennes,” 1870

That’s all until next time!

March 29, 2012 – I’m appending a sad painting of a widow created by Edward Killingworth Johnson in 1877



Lost in the Regency Mail

When I wrote my first book RAKES AND RADISHES, I had to do a great deal of research on the exciting details of British mail delivery. Not only did I need to learn how a person retrieves her mail, but also the timing of communications.  That was years ago, and, like everything I learn, I quickly forgot it. Now I’m storing my research on my shiny blog in the server sky! So the information is organized and available anytime I may need it (and illustrated with lots of pretty pictures.)

From The picture of London, for 1803: being a correct guide to all the curiosities, amusements, exhibitions, public establishments, and remarkable objects, in and near London; with a collection of appropriate tables. For the use of strangers, foreigners, and all persons who are not intimately acquainted with British metropolis, by John Feltham 

Continue reading “Lost in the Regency Mail”

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


An American House Servant’s Directory from 1827

A few weeks ago, I came across a curious volume titled The House Servant’s Directory by Robert Roberts. Published in 1827, this book is filled with wonderful details about early nineteenth century household management in America. What is particularly interesting is that Robert’s work may be the first commercially published book by an African American author. According to Wikipedia’s sparse entry, Robert’s was born in Charleston but worked in Boston as a freeman and supported the abolitionist movement.

I have excerpted from several sections of the book in this post.  Please keep in mind, the original work is much more detailed. Enjoy!


IN the first place, I shall address myself to my young friends Joseph and David, as they are now about entering into gentlemen’s service, which they will find in course of time a very critical station for them to fulfil in its proper order; therefore I most sincerely intreat them to practise and study these few directions and observations, which I have laid down in the following pages, for their benefit and instruction, likewise for the benefit of those families whom they may have the honour to serve.


IN order to get through your work in proper time, you should make it your chief study to rise early in the morning; for an hour before the family rises is worth more to you than two after they are up; for in this time you can get through the dirtiest part of the work, which you cannot well do after the family rises; for then you always are liable to interruption; therefore by having the dirtiest part of your work executed, it will prove a very great comfort to you. As there is nothing more disagreeable than to run about with dirty hands and dirty clothes; and this must inevitably be the case if you defer this part of your work until every body is stirring and bustling about.

In the next place, you must have a proper dress for doing your dirty work in; for you should never attempt to wait on the family in the clothes that you clean your boots, shoes, knives, and lamps in; for the dress that you wear to do this part of your work is not fit to wait in, on ladies and gentlemen.

There is no class of people to whom cleanliness of person and attire is of more importance than to servants in genteel families. There are many servants, whom I have been eye witness to, through negligence as I must call it, who are a disgrace to the family that they live with, as well as to themselves, by appearing in their dirty clothes at a time of day that they should have all the dirtiest part of their work done. Every man that lives in this capacity should have a sufficient quantity of clothes to appear always neat and respectable; both for his own credit, and for the credit of the family he serves; therefore I shall give you a few hints on what clothes are suitable for his different work. In the first place for doing your dirty work, you should have you a round-a-bout jacket of a dark colour, with overalls, or loose trowsers, of the same colour, with a vest, and a cap of some description to keep the dust from your hair, with a green baize apron. This is a very suitable habiliment for your morning’s work, that is, before your family come down to breakfast; at which time you should have on a clean shirt collar and cravat, with a clean round jacket, white linen apron and clean shoes, with your hair neatly combed out. This is a most neat and clean attire for serving breakfasts. You must always make your calculations what time it may take to get through your work, so as to clean yourself for breakfast.

In the next place, I shall give you some directions on your dress for dinner. You should make it a general rule always to have a good suit of clothes or two, for attending at dinner, as a servant should always at this time look neat and tidy, but not foppish; what I mean by being foppish is, to wear a great bunch of seals to your watch, and a great pin sticking out of your bosom. There is nothing looks more ridiculous than to see a servant puff out above his ability; it really puts me in mind of the fable of the frog and the ox; there are many, I know, who never think of laying by a little sum of money against the time of need, but spend it all, as fast as they earn it, on fine dress.

I never find fault with a man for dressing neat and plain; but to go beyond extremes is ridiculous; you should always have a good suit for dinner, and I shall here give you a few hints on a suit which is very genteel and becoming. For the winter season you should have comfortable clothing, such as a good superfine blue body coat, blue cassimere trowsers, and a yellow cassimere vest. This is a very neat and becoming dress to wait on dinner. You should have at least two or three suits of light clothes for the summer season; as they require to be changed once or twice per week, if they are light coloured; but black bombazine is preferable.


As these things are often wanted in a hurry, therefore you should always have them in readiness, if possible. In this operation, you should always have good brushes and good blacking. These are implements that are indispensably necessary; without which, no credit will be given to the operator. In the first place you must remove all the dirt from your boots or shoes, with your hard brush.

When perfectly clean you must stir up your blacking with a stick, then apply a little on your black brush, and apply it lightly and smoothly over your boots or shoes, then apply your polishing brush quick and lightly over them, and in a few minutes you will have a beautiful polish. Should any brown spots appear, which often do, by not putting on the blacking even, then apply your blacking brush lightly over it a second time, and by this process you will have a beautiful polish.

When you have ladies shoes to clean, be very clean and careful about them. As the linings are generally white, you must have clean hands, as the lining is apt to get soiled; some of these shoes are cleaned with milk, or the whites of eggs, such as Morocco, or any kind of glazed leather whatever. You must apply the mixture with a sponge, and lay them before the fire or in the sun to dry; then take a soft brush, or a silk handkerchief; this will give them a fine polish.


You should always make it a regular rule to set up your candles in the morning, and particularly your chamber candlesticks, as they are often called for in the course of the day, to seal letters, &c. The others should likewise be put up, and in order, for suppose they are called for in a hurry, and at a time when you cannot find leisure to get your candles and set them up? besides, when you are in a hurry and bustle, you are very apt to break them, and this causes great delay, and it looks very bad to see the company waiting so long, after they have been ordered, and it likewise puts yourself into a state of confusion, &c. Should you have wax candles for use, be careful and have your hands clean, or you will soil them. Before you set them up in candlesticks, you should rub them with a piece of soft paper, and dip the tops of the wick in spirits of wine; this will make them easy to light.

There are some servants that light the candles before they put them up; but I do not approve of this plan, for you cannot light them and blow them out again, without causing them to swale or drop down the sides, which makes them have a bad appearance. You should have some wax tapers on purpose to light your candles with, as paper makes a dirt, and flies about the room; besides it generally sticks to the candle and causes it to burn dim. If you have branches around your drawing room, and they are to be lit up when there is a party, you must trim your wax candles most sublimely, with some white paper cut in the form of a rose, to go round the end of the candles, and fit neatly round the socket of the branch; this looks very well at night. You should likewise have a piece of taper tied on the end of a piece of rattan, on purpose for lighting them, as it is very awkward to bring steps into the room.


My young friend, I have always been thus particular about my knives and forks, because they are things that, from the appearance of which, not only the lady and gentleman of the family, but every one that sits down at table, forms an opinion of the cleanliness and good management of the servant to whose care they are intrusted; and I sincerely wish that you may gain the same approbation.


These, and polished steel fire irons, are things that require great care and attention to keep them bright and free from rust; I therefore shall give you some instructions how to keep them in good order. In the first place if the bright bars are very dirty and black, use the following mixture.

Take half a pound of soft soap. Put it into one quart ofsoft water and boil it down to a pint, then take some emery and mix in a portion of this liquid. Brush off all thesoot and dirt from your grate, and take a piece of thick cloth and dip it into the mixture, then rub quick and hard, and in a few minutes you will get off all the black and dirt. After which take some crocus and wet it with N. E. rum, or gin, to the consistency of paint, with a piece of flannel dipped into it, and rub it quick and hard, until the bars, &c. become bright, then take some old pieces of linen or cotton, which you must have for this purpose, and rub all the mixture clean off. Then take a piece of leather and some dry rotten stone, and in a few minutes quick rubbing, you will have a beautiful polish.


This is another part of a house servant’s business, which requires a great deal of care, as good clothes are often spoiled through neglect and bad management. Therefore I shall endeavour to give you some directions and insight of brushing and folding them up in a proper manner. In the first place, if your gentleman’s clothes should happen to get wet or muddy, hang them out in the sun or before the fire to dry. Do not attempt to brush them while wet, or you will surely spoil them, but as soon as they are perfectly dry, take and rub them between your hands where there are any spots of mud, then hang them on your clothes horse, which you must have for the purpose; then take a rattan and give them a whipping, to take out the dust, but be careful and don’t hit the buttons, or you will be apt to break or scratch them.

When this is done, take your coat and spread it on a table at its full length. Let the collar be towards the left hand, and the brush in your right, then brush the back of the collar first, between the shoulders next, then the sleeves and cuffs, then brush the farthest lapel and skirt, then the near one, observing to brush with the nap of the cloth, as it runs towards the skirts. When all these parts are properly done, then fold as follows.–Double the off sleeve from the elbow towards the collar, the other the same way; then turn the lapel over the sleeve as far as the back seam, and the other in the same manner; then turn up the off skirt so that the end may touch the collar; the near one the same; give it a light brush over, and then turn one half the coat right even over the other, and you will find the coat folded in a manner that will gain you credit from any gentleman, and will keep smooth for any journey.


The pantry is the place where the footman generally does the most part of his work, such as to clean his plate, trim his salts and casters, and trim his lamps and candlesticks, wash his breakfast things, and his glasses and silver after dinner, and several other articles; therefore you should be very particular in keeping it clean and neat, and have all your drawers and lockers for their several uses. Make it a general rule always to have every thing in its proper place, as nothing looks worse than to see every thing topsy turvy; this is an English phrase, but the meaning is, to see every thing in its wrong place; for the beauty of a good servant is to have a proper place for every thing that is used in common, that he may know where to lay his hand upon it, when it is wanted; this will be greatly to your advantage.

In the next place you must have a small tub to wash your breakfast things in, and another for your glasses, as the one you wash your breakfast things in generally is greasy, as you often have eggs, sausages, ham, &c. for breakfast. You should likewise have a sufficiency of towels, as it is impossible to do work without good materials to do it with, therefore you should have cloths for your glasses, tea things, and likewise for your knives, knife trays, and lamps, and always use your towels for their proper uses; your water for your tea things should be as hot as you can bear your hands in it. Put in a little soap, as it gives china a fine polish and keeps them from having a greasy feeling; do not put too many tea cups or saucers in at a time for fear of breaking them; be particular and wipe them very dry and clean, and put them by neat and tidy; there is nothing stands more high for the reputation of a servant, than to see his pantry kept neat, and every thing in it handsomely arranged in its place.


Now, my young friends, I shall here give you some instructions how to proceed with your morning’s work, in winter time. In the first place, make it your business to have plenty of wood, coal, or whatever fuel you burn, in its proper place over night, as it will save you a great deal of time in the morning, as the mornings are so short at this season of the year, and it is a great advantage to have these necessaries in readiness, where perhaps you have three or four fires to make, and grates and fire irons to clean before the family rises. In the next place you should rise early so as to be able to have your fires made and the rooms warm before you clean yourself for breakfast. Therefore, when you first come down, make as little noise as you possibly can in opening your rooms where you have fires to make, then proceed to take up your ashes, clean your grates, or fire irons, and tidy up your hearth. When this is done, proceed to make your fires. When they are all made, and burning well, then wash your hands, and open your shutters, and proceed to set out your breakfast table. When this is done, go round and see that all your fires burn well, or if they want replenishing, that the rooms may be warm and comfortable against your family come down stairs. Keep all your doors shut, and then, if you think you have time to clean your front-door brasses before they come down, it is a very desirable job to get out of the way before the family come down; but you can judge as to what time you have to spare. As you should have yourself clean and tidy against they come down to breakfast, you should always clean your boots and shoes over night, because it gives you more time in the morning.


As soon as you have all the clean articles put by in their proper places, and your room put to rights, then proceed to gather up your plate, &c. It is oftentimes that spoons, forks, &c. are thrown into the swill tub after a party, as the servants are generally in a bustle or hurry; so the present time is the best to count over your spoons, forks, &c. that if any are missing, you can make search immediately. In the next place, when the party has broken up, and all dispersed, proceed to extinguish your lamps, &c. Your lamps must be turned down, not blown out. Then push up the keys of your lamps, that the oil may not flow over, to spoil the carpets, for this would be a sad disaster; and it oftentimes happens through the neglect of servants not attending properly to the lamps. When all your lights are extinguished, see that your fireguards are put to your fires, and that every thing is safe in the rooms before you go out; then fasten your front door; then go round to all the doors and windows on the back part of the house, to ascertain whether they are all safe fastened. This is the most important part of a servant’s duty, to see that the house, and all the fires are safe. It is so great and important a part of your duty, that the lives and property of your employers depend on it. How many instances have we heard and seen, of houses being burnt through the neglect of the servants not having paid proper attention tothe fires and lights? and on the other hand how many houses have we heard of being robbed, through the neglect of the servant not paying proper attention to shutting the doors and fastening the windows? Another thing, you should have your hall door fastened at dusk, to prevent any one from coming in and stealing coats, cloaks, hats, &c. as this very often is the case in a city, and owing to the servants not fastening it in proper season.


Now, David, in the first place I shall address myself particularly to you, and give you a few hasty remarks on the propriety of servants in dressing, &c. There is no class of people that should dress more neat and clean than a house servant, because he is generally exposed to the eyes of the public; but his dress, though neat and tidy, should not be foppish, or extravagant. A man that lives in a family should have two or three changes of light clothes for the summer, that he may always appear neat and clean. You should likewise have a good suit of clothes on purpose to wear while waiting on dinner, as there is nothing that looks more creditable than to see a servant well dressed at dinner. It is a credit to himself and the family whom he has the honor to serve. Make it a rule always to brush your dinner suit, when your morning’s work is done, and every thing put in order, that you may have them ready when you want to dress for dinner.

You should never wear thick shoes or boots in the parlour, or waiting on dinner. You should have a pair of light pumps, on purpose for dinner, and a pair of slippers is the best thing you can wear in the morning, as they are easy to your feet while running about and doing your morning’s work; likewise you are free from making a noise to disturb the family before they are up. You must always be very clean in your person, and wash your face and comb your hair, &c.

In the next place wash your feet at least three times per week, as in summer time your feet generally perspire; a little weak vinegar and water, or a little rum is very good for this use, as it is a stimulant, and there is no danger of taking cold after washing in either. Servants being generally on the foot throughout the day, it must cause perspiration, which makes a bad smell, which would be a very disagreeable thing to yourself and the company on whom you wait.


This is a part of a house servant’s business, that requires a great deal of attention. Whenever your parlour or drawing room bell rings, lose no time in going to answer it; never wait to finish what you are about, and leave the bell unanswered; you never should let the bell ring twice if you possibly can avoid it, for it seems to be a great part of negligence in a servant, besides, it is an aggravating thing to those who ring twice or thrice without being answered. In the next place, when your front door bell rings, you must always step quick to answer it, before it ring the second time; because perhaps it might be some person of distinction, or on some business of great importance to your employers, wherein no one coming to answer the bell, they might go away and think that the family are not at home.

In the next place, you should never admit any person or persons into the parlour or drawing room, without first announcing their names to your mistress or master. This you can readily find out by saying, “What name shall I say, ma’am?” or “sir?” Therefore by this way you will find out whether your employers wish to see them or not. If not, tell them your mistress, master, or whoever they wish to see, are engaged, &c. in a polite and civil manner.