Travels with William Porden: Regency era toilets abroad

It’s been a long while since I’ve blogged from Mr Porden’s diary, but we catch up with him now, at the English Hotel in Dieppe where he, his daughter Eleanor, and their fellow passengers on the Eliza arrived after their long channel crossing in 1816.   The town is unpleasantly smelly owing to a lack of sewers, and a French toilet is also described, not the kind of detail you usually find in letters and diaries, even now, so this particularly intrigued me…

With regard to another Accommodation, that was not quite so bad as what I found in Scotland.  I visited two of the Repositories which were in the very roof of a lofty House.  I must not say they were like poor Winifreds Tub with a pair of tongs across but  they were truly nothing more than a wooden tub in the shape of a Yorkshire Horsing block upon which you mounted and sat in trepidation lest any violent motion should overset you and blend you and the contents of the vessel on the floor.

I’m not entirely sure what makes a Yorkshire horsing block special, but generally horsing, or mounting blocks look like a short run of stone steps. You can still see them around these parts, like this one in Church Street, Matlock: 

 

 

 

 

Given the somewhat euphemistic description, I couldn’t be absolutely certain that Mr Porden was describing a toilet without tracing the mention of Winifred’s Tub.  That might not have been much to go on but as he had previously written ‘Sister Tabitha’s tub’ and then crossed it out, an internet search led me to Tobias Smollet’s 1771 novel, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker.

The principal reason it’s taken me so long to write this blog was that I felt compelled to read my way through Humphry Clinker to check the reference, and it’s taken me a while!  It’s a picaresque, rambling, epistolary novel about a family journeying around England and Scotland, and as such it’s a very suitable book for our much-travelled architect.  I suspect it was one of Mr Porden’s favourites (perhaps he had taken it with him for holiday reading) as I picked up another reference to an episode from it elsewhere in his diary.

I finally found the right passage on page 257 of my edition, in which maidservant Winifred Jenkins writes in a misspelled letter to her friend about her experiences in Edinborough:

… there is nurro geaks [privies] in the whole kingdom nor any thing for sarvants but a barrel with a pair of tongs thrown a-cross; and all the chairs [commodes] in the family are emptied into this here barrel once a day; and at ten o’clock at night the whole cargo is flung out of a back windore [window] that looks into some street or lane.

I imagine the pair of tongs formed a kind of rudimentary toilet seat, which seems to be missing from the ones in Dieppe.  Given the lack of sewers and overall bad smell, one assumes that the wooden tub in Dieppe was also emptied out of the window – yuck!

I still shudder when I remember the old squat toilets that were still common in French campsites when I was a child.  It sounds, however, like they were an improvement on the ones that the British travellers in 1816 had to contend with.

If you enjoy reading about eighteenth century life in its more eccentric and earthy forms, then I very much recommend Humphry Clinker.  Smollett fills in the details on some of those more practical ‘accommodations’ that you don’t always find in other writers of the time!

Travels with William Porden: a channel crossing from Brighton to Dieppe, 1816

We’re jumping to 1816 this time, and a diary documenting William Porden’s travels in France (archive ref D3311/4/7).  The crossing (his first sea voyage) is described in detail.

In early August, William Porden and his daughter Eleanor embarked for France on the ‘Eliza’ packet (a ‘packet’ is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘a ship travelling at regular intervals between two ports, originally for the conveyance of mail’).  Mr Porden has conveniently drawn us a little diagram to show how the ship was arranged:

d3311-4-7-eliza-packet

William Porden’s sketch of the Eliza. ‘These Cabinetts are stretched rather too large and the Great Cabin too small’

The journey took about 18 hours and just getting to and from the ship wasn’t easy:

About 8 o’clock in the Evening we embarked in a large row boat and were pushed into the water by the sailors as usual. …  There was little wind but a very considerable Swell & when we arrived at the Vessel Eleanor was much disordered.  With the assistance of the Gentlemen present she was got into the Packet and I deposited her in a Cot on the floor of one of the Inner Cabins in which there were four of these Catacombs or Cabinettes, two on each side one over the other.  I took my birth in the Cabinett over Eleanor.  Opposite to me was another young Lady and the Stewards Wife on the Ground floor below.

I found my situation comfortable and notwithstanding the motion of the ship and the noise of working the Vessel I should have slept very well if the Steward’s Children and Friends had not been perpetually in and out to relate the State of their friends and the other passengers for it seems all were ill except myself.  We had a brisk breeze till two o Clock when the wind fell and we were becalmed at the distance of 20 miles from Dieppe.

At 10 o’clock we were approached by a Clumsy Sailing boat from the Shore, manned by 4 Rowers and a Steersman. Into this we entered and were rowed toward the Shore; but our Seamen were so awkward and lazy, as well as too few in number that we were four hours before we arrived at the Beach before Dieppe on which the boat was run aground and the passengers carried to shore on the Shoulders of men that waded from the Beach.

If you’re wondering about the practicalities of the accommodations and being sea sick on a vessel like this, then wonder no longer.  I can’t help feeling sorry for the cabin boys:

All the business of the Cabins was conducted with decency and though men and women were in the same apartment and within reach of one another All were in their cloaths and shut up by Curtains in their Cabinetts. Even the disagreeable circumstances attending Sea Sickness was very little offensive as it was managed.  The Cabin Boys attended and removed the Basons in silence and returned clean ones so that nothing was left of Annoyance.  Eleanor was sick every half hour; but slept well in the Intervals.

Eleanor, though, doesn’t seem to have suffered as much as another passenger, Miss Elizabeth Appleton:

She was dreadfully ill from the Moment she entered the Row boat at Brighton to her landing at Dieppe.  She was so unable to assist herself that she was left in the packet (I know not whether by neglect or no) when all the other passengers got into the french boat and followed us in the ships boat.  We received her and placed her as well as we could but she lay helpless and almost insensible till we reached Dieppe and scarcely knew herself how she got into the Inn or any thing that had passed.

Miss Appleton was certainly an intrepid young woman to be travelling alone on the continent in the early 19th century.  Mr Porden describes her thus:

She is a tall and Elegant figure, not unhandsome – well-bred, sensible, speaks French fluently and has a literary turn.  She is active, courageous as appears by her venturing alone on such a journey and fully adequate to take care of herself on land.  I have found her very useful from her knowledge of the French language and my daughter has found in her a very agreeable companion.

After passing through customs, the travellers were collected by Mr Taylor of the English Hotel, where they subsequently stayed and “dined in the English way for which we paid English prices, though our dinner was far from having the English elegance of a Good Inn”.

Explore Your Archive – Prisoners of War

I first became aware that there had been Napoleonic prisoners in Derbyshire when I came across an unusual gravestone at St Mary and All Saints church, Chesterfield, aka the Crooked Spire.  The inscription translated as ‘In memory of Francois Raingeard, thirty years of age, Prisoner of War, died 1oth March 1812’ and bore the message ‘Stop Traveller!  If thro’ Life’s journey, Sympathy Has found a seat in thy Breast; thou’ll drop a pitying tear to the memory of one who…’; the last line started ‘In Friendship…’, but the rest had worn away.

This wasn’t the first time there had been prisoners of war in Derbyshire.  During the Seven Years’ War with France, the Victoria County History (Vol 2) states that 300 French prisoners were sent to Derby in July 1759.  Apparently the churchwardens of Derby All Saints made an “absurdly boastful and vainglorious entry” in their books concluding:

Their behaviour at first was impudent and insolent; and at all times vain and effeminate; and their whole deportment Light and Unmanly; and we may venture to say from our observation and knowledge of them that in any future war, this Nation has nothing to fear from them as an Enemy.  During their abode here, the road from this place to Parliament was by an Act of Parliament repair’d; the part from St. Mary’s Bridge (which by reason of the floods was impassible) being greatly raised.  Numbers of these people were daily employ’d, who work’d in their Bag Whigs, Pigtails, Ruffles, &c., a matter which afforded no small merriment.  But to their Honour let it be remembered, yet scarce an Act of Fraud or Theft was committed by any of them during their stay amongst us.    

Whilst prisoners of war from the lower ranks were held in prisons or on prison ships, officers were placed on a parole of honour in which they promised not to leave or escape from the town they were sent to.  Derbyshire’s central geographic position made it an ideal place to hold the men.  Our local studies library copy (940.27) of part of the National Archives’ general entry book of French prisoners of war on parole shows that from December 1803-July 1812 there were 172 prisoners on parole at Ashbourne and from November 1803-June 1811 there were over 400 held at Chesterfield.  The parish registers for Chesterfield show that aswell as Frenchmen there were at least a few Polish, Swiss, German, Italian and Hungarian prisoners too.

D302 Z/W 1 Weekly accounts, December 1812

D302 Z/W 1 Weekly accounts, December 1812

We have at the Record Office a bound volume of letters, accounts and reports (to the Transport Board) by John Langford (D302 Z/W 1) who was appointed as the agent for the care of parole prisoners at Ashbourne in March 1812.  The accounts and the discharge information can sometimes record prisoner’s names, the name of the prize i.e. from which vessel or place the prisoner was captured, whether the prize was a man of war, privateer or merchant vessel, what rank the prisoner held, and in some records the date of the beginning of their parole at Ashbourne, their date of discharge and how much they were paid.  One particular list which records prisoners at Ashbourne who hadn’t been held on parole or in prison anywhere else in the country, also records details of their age, height, hair colour, eye colour, face shape, complexion, figure, and any wounds or distinguishing marks.

D302 Z/W 1 Accounts of subsistence paid, 1812

D302 Z/W 1 Accounts of subsistence paid, 1812

Whilst the papers don’t reveal that much about their day-to-day activities, there are some letters which let us glimpse into individual lives, such as one from 26th November 1812 giving the account of a Monsieur Frohart who was judged to be in a state of insanity.  He was lodging with a Mr Mellor in the town and it was Mellor who reported to Langford that Frohart, having been restless and singing and making a noise the preceding night, appeared deranged the next morning and ran into the street only half-dressed and broke the windows of several neighbouring properties.  Apparently a couple of years previously he had been in a similar state whilst being on parole in Chesterfield.

Other letters record the various escapes of prisoners, such as Jacques Perroud, the captain of the privateer the ‘Phoenix’, who ran away in the night in April 1812 and was believed to be heading to the Kent coast.  A physical description of him is included and it also reports what he could be wearing, topped by a new hat with a narrow crown, broadish brim, a ribbon and a small white buckle.  Captain Perroud left behind at his lodgings a trunk, four small French dictionaries, three pairs of cloth pantaloons, four old cotton shirts and two cotton pillow cases.

Between 1803 and 1815, around ten prisoners (all men on parole at Chesterfield) appear in the Quarter Sessions Calendars of Prisoners, though I’m sure the actual figure was much higher.  Half of them are being tried on charges of breaking or exceeding their parole and the other half are up on bastardy charges for fathering illegitimate children.  There are at least twelve prisoners of war, including Francois Raingeard, buried in the Crooked Spire churchyard.  From 1806 onwards there are approx. ten marriages of prisoners of war to local women and about eighteen baptisms of children of prisoners, either with wives who were also taken as prisoners or women they had met and married in Chesterfield, and also a few illegitimate children.  

The Ashbourne St Oswald registers seem to show that one local family was particularly welcoming:  15th August 1808, Vincent Pierre Fillion, a French Prisoner of War, married Hannah Whitaker, spinster; 7th May 1810, Louis Hugand, a French prisoner, married Mary Whittaker, spinster; 30th December 1811, Peter/Pierre Dupre, Prisoner of War in Ashbourne, married Elizabeth Whittaker, spinster; 26th November 1812, Otto Ernst d’Heldreich, Prisoner of War, married Margaret Whittaker, spinster. 

Whilst a few remained in Derbyshire, most of the prisoners of war, and their families, eventually returned to mainland Europe.  But aswell as the legacy of a method of glove-making which carried on and thrived in Chesterfield during the nineteenth century, as the story goes it was a French prisoner who first introduced the recipe for what is known as Ashbourne Gingerbread, which is still made and sold in the town two hundred years later.

EYA-poster-poetry-workshop

Explore Your Archive – On This Day: French Prisoners of War

From the Derby Mercury, 14th November 1811:

On Wednesday the 6th inst. Dominique Ducasse, Captain and Aid-de-Camp to Gen. Dufour, Tugdual Antoine Kerenor, Lieutenant, and Julien Deslories, Ensign, three French prisoners of war at Chesterfield, were conducted from the house of correction there, by a military escort, on their way to Norman Cross Prison, for having broken their parole of honor.  The two former were apprehended at the Peacock Inn, (along with George Lawton, of Sheffield, cutler,) about 10 o’clock on Saturday night, the 26th ult. by the vigilance of Mr. Hopkinson, the landlord, who much to his credit, refused to furnish a post-chaise to carry them to Derby, and dispatched a messenger to the Commissary at Chesterfield, detaining them until the return of the messenger; the next day they were conveyed back to Chesterfield, and Lawton is now in our county gaol to take his trial for assisting in the escape. 

D5459/1/5 French Prisoners, George M. Woodward, 1783

D5459/1/5 French Prisoners, George M. Woodward, 1783

The same escort took another prisoner (Monsieur Bernier, an Ensign) from Newark, where he was recaptured, on the information of the Waiter, at the Saracen’s Head Inn, having also escaped from Chesterfield; and the Transport Board have ordered 15 guineas to be paid for the recapture of these three prisoners. 

In short, that Board have since, in consequence of the great number of escapes of French prisoners of war on parole in this kingdom, ordered that in future, the following rewards shall be paid, for recaptures, viz., 10 guineas for every commissioned officer, 5 guineas for every non-commissioned officer, and 20 guineas for every British subject convicted of assisting such prisoners to escape. 

And we are sorry to find, that this Government have lately been under the necessity of ordering the French aspirants and midshipmen on parole in this country, into close confinement in consequence of the French Government having sent the English midshipmen on parole in France, to prison, and their not releasing them though remonstrated with, by our Government; this conduct of the French Ruler, in the present situation of affairs, is too obvious to need comment.

There will be more about Napoleonic prisoners of war on the blog next Thursday.

explore-flyer (cropped)

Jack Junk’s Opinion of the French Language

To mark European Day of Languages (http://edl.ecml.at/), here is a cartoon by Derbyshire-raised cartoonist George M. Woodward, taken from the large collection of his works held here:

 

 The sailor on the left asks:

Why Jack! You was so long in a French Prison, I suppose you larnt to patter their Lingo a little?

The sailor on the right replies:

No Bob, I never some how fancied it, they call things out of their names so d–nably, – why would you believe it.  They call a Horse a Shovel and a Hat a Chopper!!

Uncoloured print. 348 x 245 mm.

Date: Aug 1805

Catalogue number: D5459/2/39