Halloween in the 1800s

Painting by William Sidney Mount from 1838 of a Tea Leaf Reading at a Halloween Party, Public Domain
Painting by William Sidney Mount from 1838 of a Tea Leaf Reading at a Halloween Party, Public Domain

The name “Halloween” evolved over time. It was shortened from All Hallows’ Even and All Hallows Day — the evening of All Hallows’ Day and another name for All Saints’ Day, respectively. Eventually, it was contracted to “Halloween.”

Just as the name Halloween evolved, the holiday evolved too. It was initially influenced by Celtic-speaking countries with traditions such as Samhain, the ancient Celtic New Year celebrated near the end of October. Another influence was All Hallows’ Even. It was a day commemorated in May by Catholics for saints. Despite uneasiness by the church, the day became associated with supernatural ideas, particularly after repeated outbreaks of the bubonic plague occurred. All Souls’ Day also influenced Halloween. It was celebrated to honor the dead, and, similar to All Hallows’ Even, there was increased interest in death and the supernatural. Continue reading

Kensal Green Cemetery

Kensal Green Cemetery Plan, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Kensal Green Cemetery Plan, Courtesy of Wikipedia

From the beginning of the 1800s, public attention was drawn to the problems associated with cemeteries and their overcrowding in the midst of London. For instance, city sextons reputedly testified that “they did not generally put more than sixteen bodies in one grave,” and that during internment ceremonies “the more sensitive curate stood a considerable distance to windward, and read the service with a handkerchief to his face and a bottle of Cologne in his pocket.” In fact, in some neighborhoods it was claimed the putrefaction of the dead was so strong when a man walked out his door and past the graveyard he was uncertain as to whether not “he was … drawing into his lungs the sublimated particles of his dearest [dead] friend or next door neighbour.” Continue reading

The Importance of Fans and Fan Language

Parts of a Fan, Author's Collection
Parts of a Fan, Author’s Collection

Hand fans served many purposes in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. One purpose was they  functioned as an indispensable and ornate fashion item. As fashion items, the most  common style was a rigid shape handle. However, there were four other fan styles that were popular.

The four fans styles besides the rigid shaped handle were folding, pleated, brisé, or cockade. The folding fan was popular during the 1700s. It contained a guard on either side and was linked together at its base by a pin, pivot, or rivet. The pleated fan was different from the folding fan. It had sticks, a shaped or rounded base, and its guards were wider than its sticks. The brisé fan was made with separate sticks and held together at the top by a ribbon, but its base used a pin, rivet, or pivot similar to the folding fan. Lastly, the cockade fan was the least popular as it was considered too large and too flamboyant. It opened into a full circle from the pivot and closed into a single guard. Continue reading

Père Lachaise Cemetery

View of Paris from Père Lachaise Cemetery, Author's Collection
View of Paris from Père Lachaise Cemetery, Author’s Collection

In the 1840s Père Lachaise Cemetery was considered to be one of the most celebrated cemeteries in the world. It received its name from Louis XIV’s confessor, a French Jesuit priest named Père François de la Chaise, and because the land was attached to his name, that was the name Napoleon decided to give it when he created the cemetery. It was tastefully laid out, planted with cypresses and willows, and consecrated in early 1804. The first person buried there was a common 5-year-old girl named Adélaïde Paillard de Villeneuve. She was the daughter of a door bell-boy. Continue reading

The Pelisse

Pelisse, Public Domain
Pelisse, Public Domain

Hussar cavalry soldiers originally wore what was known as a pelise, a short fur-lined and trimmed jacket that was fastened with a lanyard and slung loosely over their left shoulders. By the early nineteenth century the soldier’s pelise inspired a warm outer garment worn by fashionable women, known as a pelisse. Between 1800 and 1850, the style of the pelisse changed several times and the fur and military details that it began with disappeared.

Originally the pelisse for women was about hip length, with set-in sleeves, trimmed with fur, and open down the front. Often it also had a large collar and sometimes a hood. However, after 1810, the pelisse was longer, often to the shins, empire-waisted with long sleeves, and warmer than a Spencer as they were usually made from satin. The only military association was the frog fastenings or, perhaps, braided trim, and, as the pelisse was regularly worn over pastel gowns, the colors were often deep—warm brown, brilliant blue, or rich greens. Continue reading

Puerperal Fever

puerperal fever
Ignaz Semmelweis, Courtesy of Wikipedia

From the 1600s through the mid-1800s, puerperal fever, or childbed fever as it was more commonly called, affected women with severe and acute symptoms such as abdominal pain and fever. Puerperal was considered to be just a dreaded consequence of childbirth and motherhood. That was because beginning in the seventeenth century “lying-in” hospitals became popular throughout Europe, and these hospitals were rife for infections with their unsterilized instruments, crowded conditions, and unclean practices.

Before the lying-in hospitals became popular, Jane Seymour, wife to Henry VIII and mother to Edward VI, died from it. One of the more famous women of the eighteenth century who died from puerperal fever was the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft who died in 1797 after giving birth to her second daughter, Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein. Another well-known woman affected by puerperal was Isabella Mary Beeton, author of Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management. She contracted it a day after giving birth to her fourth child and died a week later. Continue reading

Slang, Euphemisms, and Terms of the 1700 and 1800s – Letter C

The following are interesting slang, euphemisms, and terms for the letter C and are primarily taken from Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue published in 1811.


Today a CAB is a form of transportation that takes us to and from places, but in the 1700 and 1800s it referred to a brothel.

A military term used by soldiers to signify a solemn vow or a resolution promising not to get drunk for a certain length of time was known as a CAGG.

In Ireland, if you were CANDY you were drunk.

Preaching with a whining affected tone was referred to as CANTING. The term was probably derived from the famous Scottish preacher Andrew Cant who used the same whining tone when he preached. Continue reading


Bloodletting, Public Domain
Bloodletting, Public Domain

Bloodletting or phlebotomy began in ancient times to cure or prevent disease. It was based on ancient medicine and the idea “humors” — blood and other bodily fluids — needed to be in proper balance because when a person was ill, it was believed an imbalance in humors existed. People of the eighteenth and nineteenth century thought the best way to restore a humor imbalance was to draw blood. Additionally, curing illness was elusive, and, as doctors wanted to cure people, bloodletting was better than nothing because it worked in some cases, although that was likely due to a placebo effect. Continue reading

Correct Forms of Address

Correct Address-x350Writers often get confused when trying to apply the correct forms of address in their stories. It is a complex subject and can vary depending upon whether or not a person holds a title, is single, or married or widowed. It also depends on whether or not a child is older or young. Correct forms of address were also different in speech versus in writing.

This post is a brief explanation about the correct forms of address in speech. Continue reading

Slang, Euphemisms, and Terms of the 1700 and 1800s – Letter B

The following are slang, euphemisms, and terms for the letter B and are primarily taken from Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue published in 1811.


BALLCOCKS referred not only to the testicles but also to a vulgar parson.

BALUM RANCUM was a dance by naked prostitutes.

Like amorous congress, BLANKET HORNPIPE was a socially acceptable and indirect term for sexual intercourse. It likely originated with sailors, as a hornpipe was a sailor’s dance.

A person whose knees knocked together when they walked was referred to as being BAKER-KNEED.

Continue reading