Summertime Pleasures in Regency England

A song I learned as a child summed up summer activities beautifully:

Oh, what do you do in the summertime, when all the world is green?
Do you fish in a stream, or lazily dream on the banks as the clouds go by?
Is that what you do? So do I!

Oh, what do you do in the summertime, when all the world is green?
Do you swim in a pool, to keep yourself cool, or swing in a tree up high?
Is that what you do? So do I!

Oh, what do you do in the summertime, when all the world is green?
Do you march in parades, or drink lemonades, or count all the stars in the sky?
Is that what you do? So do I! *

Even though children in the 21st century are more likely to while away their summer days on something electronic, this song has a timeless quality to it that also applies to Regency England.

When the whirl of the London Season wound down because Parliament’s session ended, the gentry and aristocracy went back to their country homes. Those lucky upper class who did not have responsibilities of government, an estate, or a career, could spend time doing whatever they liked, and summer offered a host of possibilities.

Those who were of athletic bent liked to swim, fence, wrestle, ride, go fox hunting, shooting, hawking, archery, and fishing.  They also loved the water and went boating and fishing. Some even rode bicycles they called velocipedes. (see picture above)

Parties were a popular pastime to keep up their image as well as pass time with friends. They had parties, balls, and soirees with local gentry. House parties, where guests came and stayed for a week or more were also common.

The beau monde prized wit and intellect. Riddling, where someone made up riddles for others to solve, entertained them. Talking, theorizing, philosophizing, discussing current events, and debating could fill entire evenings.

Literature played a big part of their lives. They read quietly or aloud. They wrote poetry, stories, and long letters. They often recited memorized poems and stories.

Art, including painting, water color, drawing, and sculpting were popular among men and women. Gluing flowers to hats, or shells to household objects were a popular craft among ladies. Ladies also sewed, knitted, crocheted, and embroidered.

Music played a major role in their lives. Many of them played multiple instruments, sang, and danced. Others simply listened and enjoyed the music. Most quiet evenings were spent with one or more members of the family playing music and singing. Often, they gathered with neighbors for musical performances where guest took turns entertaining each other.

Some enjoyed gardening both flowers and herbs. They went on fruit or berry picking parties and had picnics, also known as dining al fresco. Going on long walks, alone or with friends, also gave them a chance to enjoy the beautiful summer weather and the lovely countryside.

There are frequent references to the gentry putting on plays or puppet shows. They enjoyed artistic games such as charades, which usually took a large group, a great deal of planning, and even costumes.

The Regency nobility enjoyed games. Card games such as whist, piquet, vingt-et-un filled many an evening. Board games, too–chess, checkers, draughts, dice, backgammon, and tabula were common as were putting together puzzles.

Outdoor games included bocce, bowling often called nine pins, blind man’s bluff, cricket, and even tennis.

Also, since summer presented nicer weather than winter, many of them traveled and visited relatives, as well as went-sight-seeing. Remember when Elizabeth Bennett, with her aunt and uncle, visited a number of country mansions including Mr. Darcy’s Pemberly? That was quite a popular thing to do, and many of the stately mansions and castles opened to visitors.

I plan to do that this summer. In fact, I will spend three weeks in England visiting castles, big houses, churches, and all the best sites of Regency England. When I return, I will be armed with lots of new pictures and information to share.

So, for the Regency lady or gentleman, summertime could be as lazy or diverting as one chose, as long as one had the means and imagination to do it. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

What do you love best about summertime?

*LDS Primary Children’s Songbook pg 245

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