Mulled wine & Morris men
Christmas at Gilbert White’s always kicks off with our Mulled Wine Weekend, this year we were jammed packed with choirs, families, Christmas shoppers, and Morris dancers! We were treated to a Wassail around the garden by Thomas Hoare, Gilbert White’s man servant; and of course no one could resist a glass of mulled wine, made to a eighteenth century recipe!
This Christmas at the house we’ve been getting quite theatrical with a fantastic turnout for our productions of The Snow Queen and A Christmas Carol, which were performed by members of Quantum Theatre; and on the 10th January to celebrate the end of the Christmas festivities we will be holding a Twelfth Night Feast with the help of Foot in the Door Theatre who will bring Shakespeare’s play to life whilst the audience eats, drinks and be merry!
The real showstopper every Christmas is our decorations, each room in the house is lovingly festooned with decorations appropriate to the age of the room. With Georgian traditions, Regency styles in the Tea Parlour and a splendid Victorian Christmas Tree in Bells Library. Upstairs in the Antarctic Gallery there is a replica of the tree made by the Terra Nova team mates on Mid-Winter’s Day in June 2011. Our decorations are made with produce from our own garden and lots of hard work has gone into making them by our volunteers! Gilbert White’s House is open this year until 3pm on Christmas Eve!
Regency-Period Charades, Enigmatical lists, and word puzzles
Chawton House Library recently held a Christmas Supper in celebration of the bicentenary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Emma. As part of the evening entertainment, the following charade was puzzled over and enjoyed by our guests. See how you fare!
… the only literary pursuit which engaged Harriet at present, the only mental provision she was making for the evening of life, was the collecting and transcribing all the riddles of every sort that she could meet with, into a thin quarto of hot-pressed paper, made up by her friend, and ornamented with cyphers and trophies.
In this age of literature, such collections on a very grand scale are not uncommon. Miss Nash, head-teacher at Mrs. Goddard’s, had written out at least three hundred; and Harriet, who had taken the first hint of it from her, hoped, with Miss Woodhouse’s help, to get a great many more.
Jane Austen, Emma, first published December 1815
Christmas Crackers were not commonly found during the festive period until the 1840s. But the jokes, charades or riddles in the crackers have a longer heritage. In Jane Austen’s Emma, the characters collect and challenge each other with riddles and word puzzles. Try your neighbours out on the puzzle below, taken from the Lady’s Magazine (we have some copies of the Lady’s Magazine in the Chawton House Library collections), which ran from 1770-1830.
From an ‘Enigmatical List of Flowers’:
What was white till dyed by Venus’ blood, when Adonis was slain?
Thanks to the team at the University of Kent currently researching the Lady’s Magazine for their help with collecting these puzzles. See: https://blogs.kent.ac.uk/ladys-magazine/
“A Present Plaything”
At Jane Austen’s House Museum Jane Austen’s birthday is celebrated on 16 December with Christmas Carols sung around the Clementi piano and free entry to the Museum. This date signals the beginning of our Christmas celebrations. The Museum closes for just three days over the Christmas period and opens again on 27th December to welcome visitors.
Jane was born in the village of Steventon in the north of Hampshire in the bitterly cold winter of 1775 and each year the Museum team wonder what the weather will bring. One recent year saw the Museum close for several days as Chawton was inaccessible, while other years glorious winter sunshine has brought many visitors out to the Hampshire Village where Jane spent the last years of her life.
Each year the house is decorated with greenery brought in from the surrounding woods and although we have little evidence of how the Austens celebrated Christmas in their cottage home we can assume that Church was attended and a special meal prepared. Family visits took place though there was not the flurry of gift-giving that we have today, and at the end of the month Cassandra and Jane were tasked by their brother Edward Austen Knight with distributing £10.0.0 to the poor of the parish.