Thursday, 30 April 2020


Drawing Room, Berrington Hall (Author)

It is some while since I last posted about The English Country House. Much water has passed beneath the bridge in the park since the last; many words have been written and much head bashing/ hair pulling has taken place. There has been difficulty in daily life, joys and tribulations, and now a global pandemic the like of which the world has never before seen.

However, the glorious stones of our English country houses remain as strong as ever and are sure to withstand the rigours of this crisis as they have the others in England’s illustrious past. Since these wonderful estates are closed at the moment due to the Coronavirus lock-down, I thought I would take time out to continue our virtual tour.

Also called The Withdrawing Room, the origins of this chamber lie within the medieval castle, when the lord and his lady would retire to an antechamber to seek privacy or their bed. Later, the bed was removed to a privy chamber beyond. Gradually, this great chamber was favoured over the great hall for meals and so a room into which to ‘withdraw’ after eating became desirable. On occasion, it was even used for dining privately. It would seem that the term ‘with draughts’ was used for any small room adjoining a larger one; in 1453, a gentleman called John Paston had, in his
drawte chamber’, a writing board and various coffers in addition to his bed.

The privy chamber seems to have evolved from royal households, as an antechamber between the great chamber wherein the king slept and his personal privy, its function being where His Majesty made ready to avail himself of his facilities. In the forerunner of the en suite, his bed then moved into the ante or privy chamber, and later, around the late sixteenth or seventeenth centuries, moved to another apartment altogether. Thus the privy chamber was reinvented as a private reception and dining room.

This system was adopted in the great houses and very often a select company was invited to join the host and hostess in the withdrawing or drawing chamber after dining in the great chamber. Not everyone was in receipt of this honour. While resident at Knowle in Kent, Lady Anne Clifford, Countess of Dorset, made an entry in her diary for 4 April 1617 that read: ‘This day we began to leave the little room and dine and sup in the great chamber.’ It seems likely that the ‘little room’ was the withdrawing chamber and the removal was due to the advent of warmer weather, yet she appears to have dined in the ‘little room’ when she required privacy. Lady Anne mentions, on 13 April, that her husband, ‘...dined abroad in the great chamber and supped privately with me in the drawing chamber and had much discourse of the humours of the folks at Court.’

This idea of retiring to the drawing chamber after dining began to take over from the original purpose of a room adjoining a private one. Such rooms, unconnected with sleeping arrangements, came into being in about the early seventeenth century. However, it was long into the eighteenth century before a visitor would not expect to find a bedchamber beyond a withdrawing chamber.

Those readers of Georgian historical fiction will be familiar with the custom of ladies retiring from the dining table to allow the gentlemen to smoke and converse in more convivial terms over a glass or two of port’. At Hagley Hall in Worcestershire, the Gallery lies between these two rooms. This is because, according to an article in Country Life magazine of 1915, Lady Lyttelton was unhappy with the interior architecture of the house, disliking ‘dark closets and back stairs’, as Sir George Lyttelton wrote to the architect, Sanderson Miller. He also requested the latter to ‘...try his skill in the Greek architecture...’ because Lady Lyttelton ‘...wishes too for a room of separation between the eating room and the drawing room, to hinder the ladies from the noise and talk of the men, when left to their bottle, which must sometimes happen, even at Hagley.’

The reason for this withdrawal may lie in the advent of tea-drinking. Having become all the vogue since the late seventeenth century, tea and coffee were both served following dinner and supper. These were brewed and served by the hostess herself. In her closet at Ham, the Duchess of Lauderdale had a South China teapot from the Fujian province, described in an inventory of 1679 as ‘One Indian furnace for tea garnish’d wt silver’. The cream ceramic teapot has silver chains from the lid to spout and handle, and silver trimming to the edges. In the seventeenth century, the practice was to boil the tea over a brazier or lamp. (Treasures of the National Trust, Edward Fitzmaurice) Perchance it all began as a practical way for the ladies to put the kettle on before the gentlemen joined them, yet gradually the practicality became an aristocratic custom. Over time, the separation stretched ever longer until such notables as Robert Adam paid tribute, in his book Works in Architecture, to the hours of debate thus accommodated.

To understand thoroughly the art of living, it is necessary, perhaps, to have passed some time amongst the French, and to have studied the customs of that social and conversible people. In one particular, however, our manners prevent us from imitating them. Their eating rooms seldom or never constitute a piece in their great apartments, but lie out of the suite, and in fitting them up, little attention is paid to beauty or decoration. The reason of this is obvious; the French
meet there only at meals, when they trust to the display of the table for show and magnificence, not to the decoration of the apartment; and as soon as the entertainment is over, they immediately retire
to the rooms of company. It is not so with us. Accustomed by habit, or induced by the nature of our climate, we indulge more largely in the enjoyment of the bottle. Every person of rank here is either a member of the legislation, or entitled by his condition to take part in the political arrangements of his country, and to enter with ardour into those discussions to which they give rise; these circumstances lead men to live more with one another, and more detached from the society of
the ladies. The eating rooms are considered as the apartments of conversation, in which we are to pass a great part of our time. This renders it desirable to have them fitted up with elegance and splendour, but in a style different from that of other apartments. Instead of being hung with damask, tapestry, &c. they are always finished with stucco, and adorned with statues and paintings, that they may not retain the smell of the victuals.”

It is easy to see from this how the drawing room became fashioned with a feminine eye and the dining room a masculine one, the two becoming of comparative size during the eighteenth century whereas before the withdrawing chamber had been considerably smaller. No longer was the latter an adjunct to a bedroom, but an important room in the country house for entertaining and conversation. This is illustrated very well by the Reverend Stotherd Abdy, who, in 1770 travelled to Welford in Berkshire to officiate at the wedding of Miss Susanna Archer to Jacob Houblon. The good Reverend was, fortunately for twenty-first century authors, kind enough to record many details of his journey and the house party. Here he describes his first evening at Welford, giving us a clear picture of the use of the drawing room by that time.

We were at Welford between six and seven, and were received with great kindness by the family. Within half an hour after we had seated ourselves in the drawing room, Tea and Coffee and many eatables of the Cake and Bread 81 Butter kind were brought. We chatted over them for some time, then Cards were called for, & we all sat down to Brag with the most eager desires of winning each others money. At Ten o'clock after I had got rid of some loose shillings (which had travelled with me only seven miles & yet seemed very ready to change their master), there came a summons to supper. Seven very elegant dishes appeared upon the table, and proper compliments were paid to several of them. We then talked over our Essex Friends, rejoiced that the Bush Fair folks had so fine a day, introduced a Pun or two, laughed not a little, and about twelve, retired to our apartments.”

Other amusements indulged in were reading, of books and newspapers (including reading a line from each column which produced ‘some laughable nonsense’), the composition of doggerel and Bouts rimés verses, buffoonery, impromptu dancing and fortune-telling. Indeed, through the remaining eighteenth century and into the nineteenth, the drawing room slowly lost its main purpose altogether and become ‘a room of all trades’.

Humphry Repton, landscape gardener and architect, had this to say in his notes about Stanage Park near Knighton, Powys, which he redesigned between 1803 and 1807:

The drawing-room which, in a house of this date, was called the parlour, may be fitted up with books, musical instruments, and card-tables, to render it the general living room for the family, according to the modern habits of life, which explode the old absurd fashion of shutting up a large comfortless room, to starve the occasional visitors by damp sofas, and bright steel grates.”

View from Saloon through Pedimented Doorway,
Croome Court (Author)

Furnishings and hangings were often the guide to the varying uses of saloons (yes, saloon not salon) and drawing rooms. Very often the former are positioned on an axis with the hall, as part of the ‘circuit’ of public reception rooms, and have lofty ceilings, large ornamented door-cases and enormous paintings on the walls. This can be seen at Hagley Hall in Worcestershire, where the visitor advances straight ahead from the hall into the saloon and then follows a right-handed tour through the drawing room, a large gallery and thence to the dining room, where a second door returns to the hall (or vice versa). A similar arrangement can be seen at Croome Court, also in Worcestershire, although here the Long Gallery leads into the staircase hall and the dining room lies to the left of the entrance hall. Here, too, the saloon is larger and boasts two fireplaces. 

Saloon fireplace, Croome Court (Author)

The rear entrance to the south lawns is also here, where a grand portico of unfluted Ionic columns gives a wonderful view over the park from a broad flight of steps. In contrast, the drawing room, in common with other houses of the era, is a good deal smaller. These latter are arranged on a less grand scale, with ceilings not so vaulted and pictures perhaps hung one above another, for greater comfort and intimacy. Nevertheless, when occasion demanded, the furniture could still be rearranged for a more formal effect.

Friend and companion of the Duchess of Portland, Mary Granville (Mrs. Delany) describes in some detail the flurry of activity in the drawing room when the Princess Amelia, daughter of George III, visited Bulstrode in Buckinghamshire. Her coming in the autumn of 1772 ‘...made some little disturbance even in this palace. All the comfortable sofas and great chairs, all the pyramids of books, all the tables, and even the spinning-wheel, were banished for the day, and the blew [sic] damask chairs set in prim order round the room, only one arm'd chair placed in the middle of the room for Her Royal Highness.’

Crimson silk damask was a favourite with the Georgians for the rich colour and warmth it transmitted to a drawing room. Hangings such as those at Holkham Hall were reflected in chair covers and curtains – and repeated in many other houses across England.

Hans A. Rosbach Attribution ShareAlike 3.0

At Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk, a ‘Flower’d Red paper’ was originally used and replaced at a later date with silk damask. Perhaps this was done on economic grounds, for silk furnishings were expensive, even though there was a ready source in London via the Huguenot weavers of Spitalfields. Other cost-cutting measures were using cheaper fabrics on the backs of chairs to be set against the wall and leaving the wall behind large pictures uncovered. Flocked wallpapers were very popular in the 1770s and 1780s, and were exported to American and France as well as the complicated designs imported from the Continent. Meanwhile, at Carlton House, London home of the Prince Regent, the Crimson Drawing Room outdid all comers in the stakes of opulence and grandeur. Little surprise there! Never one to do anything by halves, the Prince also had a Golden Drawing Room, fitted out with a golden dais with crimson chairs, tables and bookcases.

Golden Drawing Room, Carlton House (Public Domain)

Silk velvet was also exceedingly fashionable, with merchants importing plain and patterned Genoese fabrics along with the de rigueur scagliola tops for tables, statuary and Italian paintings. The plain velvets tended to be destined for drawing rooms, while the rich cut-velvets were hung in the saloons. Remember, the Georgians were all about the show! Scrolled Rococo papier-maché, carved wood or gilded rope were used to ‘frame’ expensive wall-hangings, door-cases and chimney-pieces to rich effect.

The arrangement of paintings and portraits in relation to the furniture – particularly chairs – was all-important. They often came in sets of half a dozen with a couple of settees. These would be smaller and less elaborate than those designed for the saloon, being fully upholstered and sometimes having on the backs nails to match fittings used in the wall-hangings. At Croome Court, the Earl of Coventry ordered a set of tapestry covers from the Royal Gobelins Manufactory in Paris in 1764. These were designed for the sumptuous Tapestry Room, which is now on display in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, but could as easily have been for a drawing room. In addition to luxurious and adjustable wall-hangings, there was a set of six chairs and a pair of settees, all in the warm crimson of high fashion.

Top: The Tapestry Room, Croome Court
Centre: Chair, one of a set of six
Bottom: Settee, one of a pair
The above are now on display at the Met. Museum (Public Domain)

This symmetry and pleasing disposition of moveable features could also be said to apply to mirrors and pier-glasses. At Berrington Hall in Herefordshire, two pier-glasses with side-tables below are set in balanced harmony between the windows.

Pier-glass, Berrington Hall (Author)

In the library, when this author visited, there was a beautiful crimson patterned settee set before the fireplace. At the time the house was built (1778-81) it was not the usual custom to hang mirrors on the mantelpiece, although one exception, it seems, was at Petworth House, West Sussex, where the White and Gold Room was redecorated in the 1750s. By the end of the eighteenth century, however, this French practice was becoming popular in Regency Britain and the beau monde vied with each other for the most elaborate gilt and rococo framing. This was also the case with furniture. Fantastic, Venetian-inspired mermaids, dolphins and Tritons; Cupid, Psyche and other classical figures; Florentine pietra dura panels (coloured inlays), Chinese lacquer work and other Oriental influences can be seen at Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, West Wycombe Park in Buckinghamshire and Uppark in West Sussex, where two drawing rooms flank a larger saloon.

At Berrington Hall, the drawing room ceiling is attributed to Italian Biagio Rebecca and was painted to commemorate the marriage of owner Thomas Harley’s daughter to George, eldest son of Admiral Rodney, celebrated naval commander of the time. The ceiling features plaster sea-horses and putti, surrounding gilt diamonds and semicircles about a decorative ‘frame’, within which is a circular depiction of Jupiter, Venus and Cupid. Other naval references can be found elsewhere in the house, including an inset marble panel of a figure with Britannia’s shield and trident on the dining room chimney-piece, and a frieze of entwined dolphins in the renowned Staircase Hall.

The drawing room at Croft Castle in Herefordshire is a light, airy apartment with pale cream walls and a white moulded ceiling. The chandelier is particularly pretty. Traditionally, the drawing room at Croft was used for musical events and has a grand piano. In the Regency era, this would have been a pianoforte, of course. The painted panelling in the room is early Georgian and portraits of the family date from the late Stuart period. Much of the furniture is from the Georgian and Regency eras.

By contrast, the drawing room (or Great Parlour) at Hanbury Hall in Worcestershire is often very dark, due to the blinds being pulled down most of the time. This is because the room is home to a beautiful eighteenth century Axminster carpet. The fireplace wall is a very Georgian colour of deep green and the wall facing the main windows has bookcases holding a collection of leather-bound tomes. The room is often cluttered with an oddment of tables and chairs in a homely, comfortable fashion and has big squashy sofas on which visitors are allowed to sit. There is also a heavy wooden cabinet, possibly walnut, which displays a delightful collection of porcelain. I am indebted to Mike Peel for sharing his photograph, since my camera was not equal to the task of taking a reasonable representation!

Great Parlour (Drawing Room), Hanbury Hall
Photograph by Mike Peel (

Axminster Carpet in Great Parlour, Hanbury Hall (Author)

In a rare display of relaxation, partly inspired by Italian Renaissance art rather than classical Greek and Roman influences, at Syon House Robert Adam created the Red Drawing Room in direct contrast to the elegance of the white and gold dining room (deliberate warm feminine tones versus cool masculine ones?) The walls are covered in a crimson brocade woven in Spitalfields. Gilt-framed chairs and stools are covered to match and gilt side-tables flank the classical fireplace, above which hangs an enormous pier-glass. The carpet of 1769, by Moore of Moorfields, was once vibrant reds and blues, and these are reflected in the painted ceiling (by either Cipriani – Syon House web site – or Angelica Kauffmann – The English Country House, A Grand Tour, Country Life magazine). There was obviously some professional rivalry between Robert Adam and fellow architect William Chambers, since the latter decried the medallions as having the appearance of ‘...a myriad skied dinner plates.’ Ouch. I can imagine Adam’s reaction to that one.

Even more informal is the Blue Drawing Room at Chatsworth, which is a homely jumble of big, comfy armchairs, writing tables, books, table lamps and pictures. Nevertheless, the apparent informality is, if you look closer, accentuated by that careful balance of furniture and pictures, of flower arrangements and old-fashioned grandeur. The curtains – so essential in a drawing room – are of a type now rarely seen outside the theatre. ‘Reefed’ curtains are divided and have cords fitted diagonally, thus each half may be pulled to the side as well as upwards. The curtain then parts at the centre to leave hanging ‘tails’ which decoratively frame the window. The room was redesigned for the 5th Duke of Devonshire by Carr of York in 1775, and has false pelmets of ‘carved and gilt swags’ behind which, one presumes, the real curtains are drawn, ensuring a tidy arrangement of the ‘folds’ is always displayed.

Other types of curtain to be seen in country house drawing rooms are the simple, single length of damask hung from an iron (with or without gilding) or brass pole. In Palladian mansions, however, due to the lofty ceilings, the most generally selected style was the ‘festoon’ curtain. Fabricated with four or more draw-strings, this type of curtain gathers up to form ‘festoons’ or folds above the window. This allowed the architecture of the window to be admired and also filled the space above the window between the frame and the cornice. Another advantage with this style was that it did not restrict the daylight as thick ‘normal’, that is, draw-curtains, could not but do. Funnily enough, draw-curtains were new during the Regency and, as with so many other fashionable trends, came from France. Shh, don’t tell them!

It was all part of the relaxing of formality and an increased preference for comfort to be seen during this short but influential era of British history. Just as the soft, flowing fabrics of gowns and robes were increasing in popularity, so were the full swathes of material in permanent pelmets above drawn curtains which overlapped and pooled on the floor. A new vogue, fostered by the Prince Regent at Carlton House, was for simplicity of form, where paintings were hung well apart and large mirrors reflected the light as well as giving the effect of greater space. Nevertheless, in direct contrast, Grecian-styled chaise longues appeared; chairs were littered about the room instead of sitting rigidly along the wall as in the mid-eighteenth century, when they were brought into a circle in the centre for formal conversation following dinner; pianofortes and music stands made their way from the music room; flower arrangements filled empty fireplaces and decorated side-tables; and occasional tables, cluttered with books, sewing-boxes and cases of watercolours, served springy, long-seated bergères (armchairs). In other words, the everyday clutter of people was now spreading from the individual rooms of former times into what was, in the words of Humphry Repton, ‘...more properly denominated the living-room, since the useless drawing-room is no longer retained, except by those who venerate the cedar parlour of former days.

In fact, we could choose no better gentleman to illustrate the transformation from grandeur to informality, since the following verse appears in Repton’s Fragments on the Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening of 1816.


No more the Cedar Parlour's formal gloom
With dulness chills, ’tis now the Living Room;
Where Guests, to whim, or taste, or fancy true,
Scatter’d in groups, their different plans pursue.
Here Politicians eagerly relate
The last day’s news, or the last night’s debate.
And there a Lover’s conquer’d by Check-mate.
Here books of poetry and books of prints
Furnish aspiring Artists with new hints;
Flow’rs, landscapes, figures, cram’d in one portfolio.
There blend discordant tints to form an olio.
While discords twanging from the half-tun’d harp,
Make dulness cheerful, changing flat to sharp.
Here, ’midst exotic plants, the curious maid
Of Greek and Latin seems no more afraid.
There lounging Beaux and Belles enjoy their folly.
Nor less enjoying learned melancholy.
Silent midst crowds the Doctor here looks big,
Wrap’d in his own importance and his wig.

This ideal of a living room we will all recognize today as a place for relaxing and lounging; for watching television, reading, listening to music and crafting; for gargantuan leather sofas, scatter cushions, throws and children’s (or dogs’) toys – a far cry, indeed, from those stately withdrawing rooms created by Adam, Chambers, Carr and their contemporaries for the formality of Georgian circular converse.

All photos, unless otherwise stated, are the property of the author and must not be copied or shared without the owner's expressed permission.

© Heather King

Friday, 20 March 2020

The Regency Groom, Ostler, Postilion and Stable Master

Here's another short excerpt from The Horse: An Historical Author's and Reader's Guide for your delectation. If you want the full section, I'm afraid you'll have to buy the book!!

Grooms, ostlers (or hostlers) and postilions were always male. In the stables of a gentleman, the head groom was in charge, served by several under-grooms and a stable-boy or two. Often, the head groom was responsible for teaching the daughters of the house to ride, and thereby frequently held a position of respect and licence. He was usually provided with a cottage on the estate, invariably sited near the stable yard and his charges. He was responsible for the smooth running of the stables, from hiring and firing staff to ordering feed and sending horses to the farrier.
  • The groom wore shirt, waistcoat, riding breeches, stockings or gaiters and stout shoes, over which he wore a felt hat and a mid-length coat. As the eighteenth century passed into the nineteenth, the coat became shorter until jackets became the norm. When mucking out and grooming, he was expected to remove the coat and roll up his shirt sleeves.
  • Ostler (hostler predates the more recognizable term) was the name given to the groom in coaching inns and livery stables. The latter could also be a stableman (early eighteenth century).
  • Postilions (or post-boys) were the men hired to conduct a post-chaise to the desired destination. They rode the near-side horses to control the vehicle, which did not have a coachman.
  • Stable Master is a term generally, although not exclusively, applied to the man in charge of a Royal Stables. It does not appear in either the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary or Historical Thesaurus.
  • Tiger – a diminutive groom who hailed only from London and could range in age from fifteen to twenty-five. Most were ‘…perfect masters of their horses, were they ever so big.’
In shape and make he was a man in miniature, his proportions perfect, his figure erect and somewhat defiant: his coat fitted as if it had been moulded on him; his white buckskin breeches were spotless; his top boots perfection; his hat, with its’ narrow binding of gold or silver lace, and brims looped up with gold or silver cord, brilliant with brushing, was worn jauntily. As he stood at his horse’s head, ready to receive his noble master, you might expect him to say, “My master is a duke, and I am responsible for his safety.”—Hooper, quote from Sir W. Gilbey

Lord Grosvenor's Arabian Stallion with a Groom
George Stubbs, c 1765

(C) Heather King

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Equine Conformation Descriptions

The following are a few useful conformation phrases with their meanings taken from The Horse: An Historical Author's and Reader's Guide. Not all are necessarily correct for the Regency era.

  • The bay gelding was standing four-square with his hocks well underneath him. This means the horse was standing squarely with all four feet lined up with each other and the joints midway down his back legs (the hocks) correctly supporting his hindquarters.
  • Back at the knee – indicates a concave line of the joint when horse viewed from the side. Also called calf-knee. Along with Over at the knee, is a weakness and therefore to be avoided.
  • Bone – a horse is said to have ‘good bone’ when it has a circumference around the cannon bone, directly below the knee, of eight inches or more depending on type.
  • Bowed tendons – this means that the horse has sustained injury to the ‘pulley system’ of (usually) the front leg/legs, leaving him with a convex swelling which may be either soft or hard, depending on the severity and age of the injury. As with humans, the tendons are responsible for the movement of the legs.
  • Boxy feet – small, upright feet.
  • Bull-neck – short, thick neck.
  • Carty – a cold-blooded, common draught-type horse, 1863.
  • Clean-legged – a horse with no blemishes, or a well-bred one with no ‘feather’ in its’ heel.
  • Close-coupled – a short, deep bodied and compact horse with well-sprung ribs.
  • Cock-tailed – the tail is docked, 18th century.
  • Cock-throttled – similar shape to that of a cock; poorly set on with convex gullet. High head carriage.
  • Coffin head – coarse and ugly head where the jowl is not sufficiently pronounced.
  • Cow-hocks – the horse’s hock joints point towards each other in the manner of a cow’s.
  • Cresty – a thick, rounded neck usual in stallions. 20th century colloq.
  • Croup-high – the hind quarters are higher than the withers. Young horses will sometimes be this after a growth spurt.
  • Deep through the girth – this means the horse has good depth of body allowing plenty of room for heart and lungs.
  • Dipped back – although a weakness, a concave-backed horse often gives a comfortable ride. Age produces a similar if lesser shape in many equines.
  • Dished face – a concave profile which indicates Arab blood. The English Thoroughbred evolved from three such horses: The Byerley Turk, The Darley Arabian and The Godolphin Barb (Arabian). 
  • Ewe-neck – looks set on the wrong way up, with hollow crest and thick underside.
  • Fiddle-headed – a large, coarse, plain head.
  • Flat-catcher – a showy mover with (usually) flashy looks and fine coat which belie conformation faults. Often sold by unscrupulous dealers to the inexperienced ‘flats’.
  • Flat-footed – the horse goes on heels more than on toes due to low hoof wall.
  • Flat-sided/slab-sided – the ribs lack roundness, making the horse narrow and often uncomfortable to ride.
  • Good front/rein – a term for the good sloping shoulders, length of neck and saddle position on a horse which provide an excellent ride.
  • Goose rump – the hindquarters slope steeply from highest point to top of tail. Good jumpers often have goose rumps. From behind, a horse’s rump should be rounded at hip, the muscle swelling gradually on each side. The hips should be level and not stick out unduly. 
  • Herring gutted – underside of horse’s body traces high into hindquarters like that of a greyhound.
  • Knees and hocks to the ground – describing [desirable] short cannon bones and shanks. Also ‘well to the ground’.
  • Knock-kneed – the horse’s knees turn towards each other.
  • Leery’ – a horse without much heart or appetite for work; hesitant rather than nappy or vicious.
  • Legs out of one hole’ – narrow-chested horse where front legs are very close together.
  • Let down’ – normal, well-conditioned body.
  • Loaded shoulder – one covered with thick, heavy muscle.
  • Long in the tooth’ – literal description of an old horse.
  • Lop ears – floppy ears which are wide apart and droop downwards. Often indicates a placid, genuine horse.
  • Mealy nose – oatmeal coloured muzzle, characteristic of the Exmoor.
  • Narrow behind – the croup and thighs lack muscle and so appear narrow when viewed from behind.
  • Narrow in front – front legs set close together.
  • Near side – the left-hand side of the horse.
  • Off side – the right-hand side of the horse.
  • Over at the knee – the knee appears permanently bent. If exaggerated, the horse may be prone to stumbling. Along with Back at the knee is a weakness and therefore to be avoided.
  • Overshot – the front teeth in the upper jaw protrude over those in the lower. Also Parrot mouth.
  • Parrot mouth – when the upper jaw is malformed, causing the incisors to overhang the lower jaw. This prevents proper mastication and often causes digestive disorders.
  • Peacocky’ – a very high neck carriage where the head is strongly bent at the poll, coupled with a flashy appearance attractive to the uninitiated. ‘Proud’ 1860s.
  • Pigeon-toed – as with people, the horse’s front feet point inwards instead of straight forward.
  • Pig-eye – a small eye, often appearing mean, disinterested or lacking intelligence.
  • Proppy – the movement is stilted and ‘choppy’, caused by lack of flexion in knees or pasterns. Often the horse also has straight shoulders. (Mid 20th century)
  • Ram-headed – the profile is convex, the term sometimes employed by aficionados of the Arab with respect to the Barb.
  • Rangy – a big horse with lots of scope. (Late 19th century)
  • Rat tail – a tail with little or no hair at the dock.
  • Razor-backed – refers to a sharp and prominent spine.
  • Roach back – arched back caused by a malformation of the spine. Difficult to fit a saddle to.
  • Roman nose – a convex profile, sometimes found in horses with ‘heavy horse’ blood, such as the breeds associated with ploughing and pulling beer drays, Shire, Suffolk Punch, Irish Draught and Percheron. Roman-nosed horses often have kind and genuine temperaments.
  • Running up light’ – poorly conditioned, showing under-muscled quarters and hollow flanks.
  • Short-coupled – short, deep body with well-sprung ribs.
  • Short of bone – lacking circumference of bone below the knee.
  • Sloping shoulder – The length of the shoulder should match the length of the head for the horse to be in proportion, and should be gently sloping to provide a good stride length and a smooth ride. An upright shoulder makes for a short, choppy step. This would be extremely uncomfortable for the rider if travelling more than a short distance. It would also be undesirable in a hunter as such a fault would make it difficult for the horse to recover after a jump should there be a problem.
  • Star gazer – the horse’s head is held too high, making it dangerous to ride over fences.
  • Straight pasterns – this means the horse has upright legs between the ‘ankle’ joint (the fetlock) and the hoof. This area (the pastern) should be gently sloping on the same angle as the hoof. Straight, upright pasterns lead to a choppy, uncomfortable ride.
  • Swan neck – obvious shape of neck which also tends to be ewe-necked at lower end.
  • Sway-backed – back with sharp dip behind the withers.
  • Tail carriage – should be high and expressive, which shows quality and breeding, most characteristically so in the Arabian.
  • Tied-in below the knee – cannon bone measurement is less below the knee than further down the leg. Bad fault.
  • Top line – the line of the back from neck to croup.
  • Undershot – the lower jaw protrudes out past the upper.
  • Upright shoulder – provide faulty action and uncomfortable ride, often jarring when accompanied by upright pasterns. Not so detrimental in harness horses.
  • Up to weight’ – a horse capable of carrying a heavy rider; has a lot of bone.
  • Well ribbed-up – deep, short body with well-sprung ribs which is also well rounded.
  • Wide behind – the hind legs are farther apart than the norm from quarters to hoofs. Can also describe splayed movement of the hind limbs.
  • Windgall – soft, round swelling filled with fluid, sited above or behind the fetlock joint on either side. Rarely cause lameness, yet being a sign of wear and tear, their presence should be viewed with caution by prospective purchasers.

*Lady Henrietta Childs was riding a spirited chestnut mare, rising sixteen hands and one inch, with neat ears and a dainty head. She carried herself with a lively presence and possessed a good depth of girth, well-sprung ribs and a fine sloping shoulder.

© Heather King

Additional phrases, and much more besides, can be found in The

Horse: An Historical Author's and Reader's Guide.

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Stable Practice in the Georgian Era

The following excerpt comes from The Horse: An Historical Author's and Reader's Guide.

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In the country house of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the stable yard was a busy and important part of a gentleman’s establishment. When the family was in residence, horses would be required at all times of the day, for pleasure rides, carriage journeys, sending messages etcetera. In grand establishments – and many a smaller one too – the stables were positioned around large courtyards, allowing plenty of space for a carriage and four to manoeuvre. Since these were often cobbled, it meant a deal of hard sweeping for the stable-boys in order to keep the yard clean and tidy. A tall archway, frequently topped by a clock tower, provided ingress and egress, as well as acting as a statement of the owner’s rank and worth. In these noble mansions, the stables were in long brick or stone buildings and usually had two storeys.
A narrow passage, stretching the length of the structure either centrally or along the front, gave access from the stable yard to the horse accommodations and harness rooms. The latter were usually sited in a central position for convenience, although sometimes in a separate building. In large establishments, it was often the case that there was one in each stable block. In the space above the stables, fodder was stored in a hayloft, or living quarters were provided for the grooms and other stable staff. Within the courtyard there was a coach-house as well as feed rooms and other storerooms.
It was not unusual, in a less grand establishment, for one stable building to house a loose box at each end and stalls in-between. Some gentlemen’s residences also had a stall(s) or open-ended box for washing down sweaty or dirty horses. Nevertheless, the majority of Regency households would have had mainly stalls with perhaps a stallion box or two and a large loose box for an expectant mare or sick individual.
In many establishments, a gentleman’s hunters and riding horses would have been housed in loose boxes, while his quality driving cattle and ordinary carriage horses were quartered in stalls. The farm stock would have been tucked away in less commodious and salubrious surroundings in a separate stable yard.

Stables in Marchfeld, Austria, Public Domain

Stables must be light and airy. The ones pictured above are lofty and open, which is perfect. It is better to provide warmth with clothing than to restrict ventilation. Stabled horses require plenty of fresh air if they are to avoid respiratory problems.

Loose Box or Stall?
Loose Box – a single stable in which the horse is free to move about at will.
Stallion/Foaling Box – larger stable for a stallion or a mare with, or yet to, foal.
Stall – narrower stable, open at the rear, in which a horse remains tied.

The horse wore a leather headstall (the modern headcollar) to which was attached a rope or chain. This was fed through a ring on the wall or manger and weighted with a ‘log’ – a wooden or metal ball. This contraption, known as a ‘log and rope’, allowed the horse a measure of movement and freedom to lie down, but prevented him from turning around.
Frequently, chains were attached to the partitions at the rear of stalls. These could be fastened across behind the horses to prevent them pulling backwards. Often as not, they were only put into use at night.

The generic term stable covers both types. As stated above, the best stables went to the most prized animals.

A ‘good stable should be eighteen feet wide inside and each stall should be six feet wide,’ says an eminent veterinary surgeon of the late nineteenth century. He recommends that the wall divisions be nine feet long, allowing a nine foot wide passage, with ten feet divisions being preferable. It was considered acceptable for a cart-horse stable to be only sixteen feet wide, but the width of stalls had to remain at six feet.
Good dimensions for a loose box were 10 x 12 feet, he states; nowadays this would be considered the size for a pony! A modern hunter would expect a stable of at least 12 x 12 feet, if not 12 x 14, and as of yesteryear, a foaling box is considerably larger – usually around 12 x 16 feet.

The Country Estate
Even into Victorian times, loose boxes were not common. In the majority of houses, horses were kept in stalls, although it is probable that at some point during the nineteenth century it became fashionable to convert stalls into loose boxes. Indeed, this belief is borne out by Giles Worsley in an article for Country Life about Houghton Hall in Norfolk. He states that the stables at Houghton, in common with ‘all country-house stables’ had been altered with the addition of loose boxes in the nineteenth century. He goes on to say that in many stable yards the original fittings were also replaced in that timescale, but a number survive at Houghton, where the stables are still used for horses.
Sir Robert Walpole, Prime Minister during the 1730s, improved Houghton for political reasons. He needed strong local support and knew how to get the Norfolk gentry on his side. He hunted most days he was at Houghton, kept his stables stocked with superb hunters and built stables to impress. To further his aspirations, he entertained friends and supporters in fine style at the beautiful house and park he created.
The current stables were the second quadrangle to be built after the original was demolished, being deemed to be in the wrong position after only thirteen years. They were erected to house eighty animals, carriage horses and cart-horses in addition to the hunters. Constructed of the local, coarse yellow Snettisham stone, with brick to the interior of the courtyard, there were varying degrees of opulence for the occupants. In order to display his wealth and quality horseflesh, Sir Robert stalled his hunters in palatial surroundings in the north-eastern block. Dark timber partitions or stall-divisions, finished with alternate columns (each topped with a ball) and stone pillars (leading to the vaulted brickwork overhead), separate each bay and the floor is laid with pinkish-red and blue-grey bricks. Diocletian windows line the wall above the stalls. The original hay racks are composed of twisting uprights and the mangers, also to the front of each stall, have survived unaffected by modernization. Bridle pegs decorate the walls above the feed bins, with a harness or tack room nearby where the saddles would have been stored. Wooden panelling lines the wall of the tack room, which still has semicircular wooden pegs for bridles and other items of harness.
In the opposite corner of the courtyard, a stable for six horses indicates a lesser degree of comfort. Probably for carriage and coach horses, there is a partition for each pair of animals, as opposed to one between every horse in the hunter stable. Between each pair, hooks survive for the hanging bails (heavy lengths of wood hung on chains) which would have been used to separate them. Nevertheless, similar racks and mangers head each double bay. The adjoining block was, in all likelihood, used for the farm horses, since there are no partitions and only a sloping hay rack – the equivalent of travelling economy class!
This arrangement bears out family records, where pairs of cow stalls occupied one side of a barn while stabling filled the other, with another stable for cart-horses a short distance away. Both had haylofts above.
While stables had been built around a courtyard before, they were mostly created for royalty, and according to Giles Worsley, it was those at Houghton Hall which began the custom of adding the associated feed rooms, harness rooms and carriage houses, so all were accessible in one quadrangle. In this way, the mundane activities of the stable yard were not only secure, any noise and odour would not cause offence to the family.
Royal stables, and those of the nobility, were frequently decorated as richly as houses, boasting moulded ceilings, decorative lamp holders and even painted reliefs. These accommodations were wide and roomy, the best stalls having solid wooden partitions with grilles of metal or wood above so that horses could see each other but not fight. Often, as described above, they were finished with beautifully carved posts and arched tops.
In all types of stall, the floor sloped slightly to the rear to allow urine to escape to an open drain in the passage, (see photograph of Marchfeld above) which was kept swept clean by the grooms.
In the stables of posting houses and other establishments catering to public need, stalls were the order of the day, of a size appropriate to the grandeur of the establishment. The more fashionable the premises, the better care given to the horses, as with the patrons. Coach horses were kept in their harness all day in order to be ready when required. (This will be covered in more detail in Volume II.)

Stable Block, Croft Castle, Herefordshire
(C) Author

While young and breeding stock were usually kept at pasture, most working horses spent their leisure hours stabled so that they were on hand when required. They were bedded on thick straw, since that was freely available, the choice of rye, wheat, barley or oat straw being dictated by the crops grown on the estate. The horseman’s preference is rye or wheat, since both are tough, springy and drain well. Before the advent of combine harvesters, barley straw was soft and full of ‘ears’, while oat straw was liable to be eaten. The former could cause irritations, while for racehorses, hunters or carriage horses needing to maintain fitness, the latter was inadvisable. The bedding was (and still is where good management is practised) banked up around the walls to provide protection from draughts and to prevent the occupant becoming ‘cast’ from lying down too close to the wall. ‘Cast’ means being unable to rise without assistance, either from the proximity of the wall or partition, or from lack of space. The bed was kept scrupulously clean, being mucked out twice daily and droppings removed to a skep as required. This is now termed a skip, the procedure being ‘skipping out’. The word skep dates from the thirteen hundreds and means a basket.

From Thomas Wallis' Farrier's and Horseman's Complete Dictionary, 1766:

When there is stable-room enough, partitions are to be made for several horses to stand in; these should always allow room enough for the horse to turn about, and lie down conveniently in; and they should be boarded up so high toward the head, that the horses placed in separate stalls, may not be able to smell at one another, nor molest each other any way. One of these stalls ought to be covered in, and made convenient for the groom to lie in, in case of a great match, or the sickness of a valuable horse.
Behind the horses there should be a row of pegs, to hang up saddles, bridles, and other necessary utensils; and some shelves for the hanging up brushes, &c. and the standing of pots of ointment and other preparations.
The other requisites for a stable are a dung yard, a pump, and a conduit; and if some pond or running river be near, it is greatly the better.

(C) Heather King

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

A Slight Detour

Recently I have strayed away from my usual Regency path. Inspired by the antics of my own dog, I have diverted into Children's Fiction and am thrilled to be able to reveal the result!

In collaboration with the incredibly talented Sarah Waldock, who has produced the wonderful illustrations and cover art, I have just published Harvey and the Black Hole. Like me, Sarah writes Regency fiction. She also writes YA and Jane Austen fan-fiction.

This is the first in what will hopefully be a series of adventures and is aimed at 6 - 8 year olds, although I suspect younger children will enjoy hearing it read to them! Harvey is available in both print and Kindle formats:

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The passage wound left and right like a rabbit on the run. For a moment, Harvey thought bad things about the rabbit which had put him in this mess and what he would like to do to the furry creature.

However, being a kind dog, he very soon forgot to be cross because without the rabbit, he wouldn’t have had this wonderful adventure. Here and there, more passages joined the main corridor but Harvey did not stop to look.

Bit by bit, the air was becoming fresher. He trotted faster, eager to be free of this underground home. He hardly noticed the pictures on the walls or the big walnut chest. The tunnel was getting wider. It was also getting lighter!