Cloth manufacturing was one of the first industries in Great Britain. Wool and cotton fabrics were available with some ease. Cotton printed muslin was often found upon the backs of people of the age. By the end of the Regency era, Great Britain had imported 90 million pounds of cotton. Messrs. Harding Howell & Co in Pall Mall was one of the leaders of choice linen-drapers. In 1811, Jane Austen described a shopping excursion she made to a London establishment that sold handkerchiefs, gauzes, nets, veils, trims, and cloth as . . .
We set off immediately after breakfast and must have reached Grafton House by 1/2 past 11 -, but when we entered the Shop, the whole counter was thronged & we waited a full half an hour before we c’d be attended to. When we were served however, I was very well satisfied with my purchases.
It was not unusual for customers to haggle over the prices, but, by the Regency, the shoppers saw more “set” prices on items. Unfortunately, for the shopkeepers, they were “obliged” to extend credit to the aristocracy, which saw the privilege as a necessary part of their positions in Society. Being paid was purely on the backs of the shopkeepers, who often went bankrupt with little recourse, for peers could not be sent to debtors’ prison for non-payment.
By the beginning of the 19th Century, it is estimated that 200 different shops could be found in London. These shops kept long hours, generally, 12-hour days. The shopkeepers and their assistants often lived on the premises. Warehouses were located in Covent Garden. Mercers and linen drapers could be found in Cheapside. Shops lined the streets with shopkeepers living above. We know that ladies of Society shopped on Oxford Street an Bond Street in Mayfair. Men frequented the shops and gentlemen’s clubs in St. James. Newer styled shops sprung up along the Strand.
Those of us who love Pride and Prejudice can easily recall Caroline Bingley’s disdain when speaking of Elizabeth Bennet’s unsuitable pedigree to Mr. Darcy.
“Yes; and they have another [uncle], who lives somewhere near Cheapside.”
“That is capital,” added her sister, and they both laughed heartily.
“If they had uncles enough to fill all Cheapside,” cried Bingley, “it would not make them one jot less agreeable.”
“But it must very materially lessen their chance of marrying men of any consideration in the world,” replied Darcy. (Pride and Prejudice, chapter 8)
From Jane Austen’s World, we learn, “Shop keepers advertised through circulars, trade cards, newspaper notices, or board-men, who were employed to roam the streets. In the 1760’s, the large shop signs that had once hung over shops and identified the shop’s merchandise to a populace that largely could not read were deemed hazardous. They were removed by law, but a few managed to survive, as this account in the Book of Days describes:
In Holywell-street, Strand, is the last remaining shop sign in situ, being a boldly-sculptured half-moon, gilt, and exhibiting the old conventional face in the centre. Some twenty years ago it was a mercer’s shop, and the bills made out for customers were ‘adorned with a picture’ of this sign. It is now a bookseller’s, and the lower part of the windows have been altered into the older form of open shop. A court beside it leads into the great thoroughfare; and the corner-post is decorated with a boldly-carved lion’s head and paws, acting as a corbel to support a still older house beside it. This street altogether is a good, and now an almost unique specimen of those which once were the usual style of London business localities, crowded, tortuous, and ill-ventilated, having shops closely and inconveniently packed, but which custom had made familiar and inoffensive to all; while the old traders, who delighted in ‘old styles,’ looked on improvements with absolute horror, as ‘a new-fashioned way’ to bankruptcy.“
The Mistress of Rosings Park: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary [arriving Friday, January 8, 2021]
I much prefer the sharp criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses. – Johannes Kepler
When she arrives at Hunsford Cottage for a visit with her long-time friend Charlotte Collins, Elizabeth Bennet does not expect the melodrama awaiting her at Rosings Park.
Mrs. Anne Darcy, nee de Bourgh, has passed, and Rosings Park is, by law, the property of the woman’s husband, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy; yet, Lady Catherine de Bourgh is not ready to abandon the mansion over which she has served as mistress for thirty years. Elizabeth holds sympathy for her ladyship’s situation. After all, Elizabeth’s mother will eventually be banished from Longbourn when Mr. Bennet passes without male issue. She inherently understands Lady Catherine’s “hysterics,” while not necessarily condoning them, for her ladyship will have the luxury of the right to the estate’s dower house, and, moreover, it is obvious Rosings Park requires the hand of a more knowledgeable overseer. Therefore, Elizabeth takes on the task of easing Lady Catherine’s transition to dowager baronetess, but doing so places Elizabeth often in the company of the “odious” Mr. Darcy, a man Lady Catherine claims poisoned her daughter Anne in order to claim Rosings Park as his own.
Excerpt from Chapter Nine: As part of her duties to aid Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s transition to the dower house at Rosings Park, Elizabeth must oversee the refurbishing of the rooms. The scene below should tease you into wanting to read more. ENJOY!
“Miss,” one of the workers interrupted Elizabeth’s thoughts. “We’s mean to walk up to the manor house for arn midday meal.”
Elizabeth glanced up to the clock and noted it was nearly half past time for the men to leave. “I apologize. I lost track of the hour. Please hurry along. I did not mean to keep you.”
“Wud ye care to walk up with us?” he offered.
“I thank you, but I had my sisters send me a basket when they returned earlier. I shall be kindly kept busy in your absence.”
The man nodded his understanding. “We shan’t be overlong.”
“Enjoy your meal and your rest,” she said in parting.
Within minutes, the house was silent, and Elizabeth allowed herself a few moments to breathe. She felt as if she had held her breath since . . . “Since taking Mr. Darcy’s acquaintance,” she admitted softly to the empty room she had claimed as hers while overseeing the house’s refurbishing. Despite saying otherwise, she had silently fumed over his refusal to attend the assembly and, naturally, stand up with her. Her anger and her shame had kept her awake for most of the night. “Well, no more,” she declared as she stood. “The man has no hold over me.”
Catching up her sketchbook, she headed for the stairs. She had continued to outline and sketch what must be completed before Lady Catherine could take possession of Bourgh House. She wished to be free of this responsibility as quickly as the business could know an end. She desperately missed her home at Longbourn and the good sense of her father.
Reaching the family wing, Elizabeth took a peek into the sitting room she had worked on previously. Thankfully, the room had been properly aired out. She had sent for the draper: He was to arrive at three of the clock. She had provided Lady Catherine several suggestions on the colors to be employed in the room. Elizabeth had ordered the walls to be painted a soft cream color. Today, she would order the royal purple cloth Lady Catherine had insisted should remain in both the bedchamber and the sitting room. “Hideous,” she remarked under her breath. “At least, her ladyship has agreed to the lilac, leaf green, and gold accents I suggested,” she said in satisfaction, as she surveyed the room another time.
She had previously made the necessary notations for the guest rooms upon this storey. “The master’s suite is all that remains. Obviously, those rooms can be the last to know refreshening. Lady Catherine can make the final decisions on those particular rooms. I shall, for now, simply order a thorough cleaning and fresh paint.”
Decision made, Elizabeth crossed to the door she had entered but three days prior. “No Mr. Darcy to encounter this time,” she warned the hitch in her breath as her hand touched the latch and the image of a very virile man crowded her mind.
Feeling quite foolish, she made herself turn the mechanism and enter the room. However, a few steps in, she paused instinctively to inhale the slight scent of the cologne Mr. Darcy wore. The pleasant aroma lingered, and, like it or not, Elizabeth found herself closing her eyes to savor the moment. “You are a foolish woman, Elizabeth Bennet,” she murmured in self-chastisement.
Although her reason disagreed, she allowed the idea of dancing with a handsome gentleman, who may or may not be Mr. Darcy, to fill her mind. She turned in a small circle, her feet performing a dance she had, in reality, never danced, at least, not with a gentleman—only with her sisters and her Uncle Gardiner. The Meryton Assembly Hall musicians had never once played a “waltz,” such as those on the Continent were familiar, only a “country waltz,” which bore little resemblance to the dance many of Society had added to their evening entertainment, despite the dance being called “scandalous” by more than a few of Society’s matrons.
Practicing the steps in her head before executing the move, she stepped awkwardly into the first part of the form. Slowly. Meticulously. Elizabeth picked up the tempo, turning more and more quickly until with one final turn she found herself in the embrace of a real-life gentleman.
Her eyes sprung open to reveal a living, breathing version of the man she had been imagining: Mr. Darcy. “Sir,” she said in testy tones. “Release me at once!”
As if she had never spoken, his large hand briefly caressed her cheek, before lifting a loose curl to rest behind her ear. She waited for him to say something. To curse her as she had demanded. To fling her from him or to force her toward the waiting bed. Instead, he urged her into the dance pattern.
“You are omitting the half-step immediately preceding the turn,” he whispered into her hair. “Allow me to demonstrate. Walk. Walk.” He directed her backward. The skirt of her day gown rubbed against the cloth of his work trousers.
Elizabeth knew she should protest. Should slap his all-knowing features. Should rush from the room to the safety of her sisters’ bosoms. Should purchase a ticket on the next coach departing for Hertfordshire. She did none of these. Despite knowing she risked her reputation, she permitted the gentleman to guide her in a tight circle.
He tugged her to a soft stop. “Here,” he instructed. “Step back, but at a slight angle in anticipation of the turn: Do not transfer all your weight to that foot.”
“My Uncle Gardiner never demonstrated such a step,” she protested, despite noting the step Mr. Darcy suggested would make it easier for her to move into the turn.
The gentleman still held her closer than any man had ever dared to hold her previously. He said, “I am not familiar with your Mr. Gardiner. Has he performed the waltz at a ball hosted by a Society grand dame?”
Elizabeth frowned. “No. My uncle does not associate with such high flyers socially.”
Mr. Darcy’s expression remained implacable. “I have.”
He was once more ruining the experience of being close to him. He seemed to possess a knack for turning her world upside down. Sometimes she wondered if his disdain was purposeful. Surely, he could not be ignorant of his offensive mannerisms. Had no one dared to speak truthfully to his manners? “Then, lead on, Macduff,” she huffed in irritation.
“I sense your displeasure with me again, Miss Elizabeth,” he said with a scowl.
“Why must you be such a prat, Mr. Darcy?” she accused. “I was enjoying the moment. Were you not?”
She thought she noted an odd emotion crossing his features, but it was so quick, she could not name it. As he had been previously, Mr. Darcy was better at disguising his thoughts than was she.
“More than I should,” he said softly. His words were accompanied by his actual retreat. He dropped his hand from her waist and took a pronounced step backward. “I must apologize for my actions, Miss Elizabeth. It was never my intention to place you in a compromising situation. If it is your wish, I would offer you my hand.”
GIVEAWAY: I HAVE 2 eBOOK COPIES OF THE MISTRESS OF ROSINGS PARK AVAILABLE TO THOSE WHO COMMENT BELOW. THE GIVEAWAY ENDS AT MIDNIGHT, TOMORROW, THURSDAY, JANUARY 7, 2021. THE PRIZES WILL BE DELIVERED ON FRIDAY, JANUARY 8, 2021, WHEN THE BOOK GOES LIVE. WINNERS WILL BE NOTIFIED BY EMAIL.