A Regency Era Breakfast: Various Times to Eat

foodHow did those in Regency London begin their days? The answer is not so simple. The various social classes went about their days in their distinct ways. They rose and ate at different times depending on their class structure. There was also distinct differences between the social habits of those who lived in London proper, usually referred to as the City or Town, and those who lived in the surrounding villages/towns (i.e., Winchester in Hampshire) or those in the country. As different as were the architectural structures for these two adjoining cities, so were there differences in the residents daily lives.

Bankers, merchants, etc., considered nine of the clock as the “breakfast hour.” The whole family gathered about the table. The said “breakfast” did not fit what we now think of the morning meal. Instead, it consisted of bread and tea. Karl Moritz in his Travels in England (1782) described a typical breakfast: “The slices of bread and butter, which they give you with your tea, are as thin as poppy-leaves – But there is another kind of bread and butter usually eaten with tea, which is toasted by the fire, and is incomparably good. You take one slice after the other and hold it to the fire on a fork till the butter is melted, so that it penetrates a number of the slices all at one; this is called toast.”

M.Grosley wrote of his visit to England  in A Tour to London, published in 1772: “The Butter and Tea which the Londoners live upon from morning until three or four in the afternoon, occasions the chief consumption of bread, which is cut in slices, and so thin, that it does as much honour to the address of the person that cuts it, as to the sharpness of the knife.”

Robert Southey in Letters from England {using the pseudonym Don Manuel Alvarez Espriella (1807)} described the breakfast table as holding a sporting a tea pot of silver of of fine porcelain, a smaller coffee vase.

The journeyman would take his breakfast at about eight of the clock. Normally, he would have been at work for 2-3 hours before breaking his fast. He, too, partook of bread and tea, which was available for sale at public houses. He could purchase it at the public house or the establishment would have it delivered to him.

The working man could also purchase a breakfast with tea from a street stall. Benjamin Franklin described his 1725 breakfast as one of “warm gruel, in which was a small slice of butter, with toasted bread and nutmeg.”

From Time and Work in England 1750-1830, by Hans-Joachim Voth, we discover, “Individuals would rise early, at around 6:00 in the morning. Within the next half-hour or so, people would start work. Breakfast would be taken later, at around 9:00 and afterwards. The morning’s work would finish with ‘dinner’–probably taken between 12:30 and 14:00. Work continued until late. For some, there was tea in the late afternoon, between 17:00 and 18:00. It would be common not to leave one’s work before 19:00. After the evening meal, people would go to bed at around 22:00.”

From The Regency Town House, we learn, “After breakfast with the children, the first job of the lady of the house would be to talk to the housekeeper. It would be important for them to communicate about the other servants, making sure they were doing their jobs properly and behaving correctly above and below stairs. They would also discuss the evening meal. If visitors were expected, the lady would choose meals that were lavish and unusual. (They loved showing off.) When these matters were dealt with the wife would then check through the household accounts. Bills for meat, candles and flour would usually be paid weekly. When the early morning activities were finished, the social whirl would begin! High society ladies would either receive calls or visit others. Tea would be drunk and snacks eaten.”

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About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
This entry was posted in British history, food, Great Britain, Living in the Regency, Regency era and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to A Regency Era Breakfast: Various Times to Eat

  1. junewilliams7 says:

    I would be starving! When did they begin eating eggs, sausage, bacon, and kippers?

  2. Right up until we left England in 1951 we being very working class had usual 3 meals a day, always breakfast, dinner and tea, the midday meal was always our main meal.
    As for butter I cannot recall having butter as a child growing up, during the war the butter ration was minimal to say the least and my mother being addicted to tea used to swap the family butter ration with a lady who didn’t drink tea but loved butter. I recall my first real experience with butter when I arrived in Australia. I’m still addicted.
    I suppose that when I was sent to Somerset for a while during the worst of the blitz I probably had butter but I would not have known what it was at the time!
    I still drink tea from first thing in the morning til last thing at night, my mothers breakfast was always “a cuppa tea an’ a fag”, ooooops there’s another meaning for fag which I forgot to mention the other day on your “F” sortee, a fag is also what cigarettes are called in England.

  3. Nancy says:

    I think breakfast must have changed as the dinner hour moved later as it did in the 19th century. Also, in Mansfield Park Jane Austen mentions that William Price and Henry Crawford had chops before setting off to London. By the regency, dinner had moved so late that some were eating luncheon /nuncheon around noon. Things were different in the various occupations. I think farm workers must have had more than bread for breakfast if they could afford it.

    • As you are the expert from whom I learned much of my information on the Regency, I hold no doubt you are correct, Nancy.

      • Nancy says:

        Most of the information I have read about breakfast agrees with what you have given. However, like a junewilliams7 , I wondered where the elaborate breakfasts of kippers and eggs, bacon, and ham and such came from. There is much more research done on dinner. Dinner moved from around noon to after 6PM for the fashionable during the first twenty years of the 19th century so breakfast had to change. I have wondered if that breakfast of bread and tea wasn’t like the petit déjeuner — or continental breakfast which seems to me to be a breakfast before a bigger breakfast later. I am still working my way around meals myself. I liked the blog and thought it interesting but I just have a hard time believing that men who could afford more started their work day with no more than pieces of bread. However, now that I think about it, perhaps the heavy dark bread was more nutritious and filling than oatmeal. The poor couldn’t afford eggs.

    • Who was it recently, Nancy, who did a post on what a penny might buy in the Regency period? It seems one of the items was a loaf of bread. Perhaps that is the answer. I must search that one out again.

  4. Ann Wass says:

    BTW, the picture is an Italian noble family at breakfast.

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  6. jane page says:

    Hello! From what I have read, breakfast in anything other than a poor household certainly included meat, and weak beer was also a common drink in country households at all times of day. Country houses had their own breweries. Perhaps the ladies breakfasted on bread and butter, but the British menfolk were known for eating beef for breakfast, and once the East India Company opened up India, dishes such as kedgeree (rice and smoked fish) were on the breakfast table, along with ham, eggs and the aforementioned beef.
    By the way, your geography is a little off – Winchester is not an ‘adjoining’ city to London, it is about 70 miles to the south west and would have taken at least one day, maybe two depending on the state of the roads, to reach in those times.
    I am not sure how the boundaries have changed since London grew so vast, but in Regency times, the counties adjoining London were Essex, Middlesex, Berkshire, Surrey and Kent. Hampshire adjoins Berkshire and Surrey.

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  8. Margaret Long says:

    Hi Regina. I found your Blog about Regency era breakfast, and I wonder if you can help. I’m doing props for a production of Blackadder, series III, the Georgian era. I don’t know if you know the series, but on the off chance that you do, some of the scenes take place in Mrs Miggins’ Coffee shop and has lots of bread and cakes. Can you tell me what bread and cakes are around today that might have been around then. In the Blackadder series, there seem to be rock buns and breads that look like croissants aw well as almond slices. Would this have been right?

    Many thanks

    Margaret

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