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

Summer in Regency England

By Ozzie Diaz Duque (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ah, summer! It conjures up images of lazy summer days sipping lemonade and swimming. In mid June to early July, when the whirl of the London Season wound down because parliament ended, the gentry and aristocracy went back to their country homes. Which begs the question, since they were so rich and didn’t have to work for a living, what did they do all day–especially in the summer? The answer to this may surprise you.

By Neil Gallagher – Own work, Copyrighted free use, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1359639

The British nobility did not traditionally divide their wealth among their children; they left all of it to their heirs–usually their firstborn son. If they had no son, their entailed estate went to the next closest living heir and that was all pre-determined; there was no choosing an heir. (Certain things could be willed to those who are not the heir but that’s a topic for another time) A younger son may inherit a lump sum when he reached adulthood, or he may receive an annual or month allowance. Sometimes that was enough for him to live off of, thus freeing him to enjoy hedonistic pleasures. However, most younger sons needed an occupation unless they inherited an in-entailed estate or money. They often became officers in the Royal Navy or army because they were educated. This was crucial when needing to read orders and write correspondence. Many became involved in the law as barristers, attorneys, and magistrates. Occasionally I hear of a younger son becoming a physician, but that seems to be rare. But for now, I will focus on those who don’t have to work in an occupation for a living and who have a large estate for which they are responsible.

Wealthy landowners such as Mr. Darcy spent a great deal of time managing their lands. Think of it as being the CEO of a multi-million dollar corporation. Yes, he has upper- and mid-management, in the form of solicitors, land stewards, and workers, but he had the responsibility to care for a huge estate which usually included many different locations, houses, lands, and tenants. Think of it as owning a whole bunch of rental properties with tenants who constantly needed repairs and help with all sorts of things which affected the overall prosperity of the estate. He might also be involved in investing and buying or selling properties which might involve travel. How he managed the family estate would affect generations to come, a heavy responsibility to shoulder with much at stake, so most took this seriously.

In addition to caring for their estate, most landowners were involved in politics. If they were titled, they were expected to serve in the House of Lords. If not, many served in the House of Commons. Parliament met for months at a time, which took them away from their lands in the country. Those who served in the House of Lords could be called into serve as jury if a peer went to trial. 

So even though a number of them did enjoy hedonistic pleasures, an honorable landowner’s life was not all fun and games, not even in the summer.