Miniature painting of a Gentleman, 1810-1815, showing the 'Brutus' haircut popular at that period.

Diagram of a table setting for the French
Service from Elizabeth Raffald's
The Experienced English Housekeeper, 1796.

Detail of decoration on Chelsea-Derby dessert
plate, c. 1769

Vinagrette box manufactured in Birmingham by Nathaniel Mills, 1833-34.

Enamel Patch Box, made at Bilston, Staffordshire, 1750-1760. The top, a typical Neo-Classical design, bears the legend 'Esteem the Giver'.

Lancet Case with its original tortoise-shell-and-steel lancets. Made by Joseph Willmore, Birmingham, 1833-4.


Mr. and Mrs. John Custance,1778 by Benjamin West (1738-1820), a painting in allegorical style also known as A Gentleman and Lady, Painted in Commemoration of Their Marriage. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, USA.

Though the life of the upper classes in Georgian England would have been wealthy and privileged, their circle of social contacts, drawn mainly from their own class, was relatively restricted. They may have enoyed seasons spent in London or Bath but for much of the year their regular acquaintances came from within a short carriage or horse ride of their grand houses.

John Custance (1749–1822) of Weston House in Weston Longville, Norfolk was a typical Georgian gentleman.  From a family that had made its fortune wool-trading in Tudor England, he was fortunate – and canny enough – to marry in 1778 a rich heiress, 21 year-old Frances, the second daughter of Sir William Beauchamp-Proctor (1722 – 1773) of Langley Park, Norwich. The couple had eight children.

A fascinating insight into the social life of a country gentleman can be found in the journals of Custance’s Rector, James Woodforde, who spent nearly 30 years at Weston Longville and documented his life there, which included 'the Squire and his Relations', in detail. A dominant topic was the voluminous dinners served to guests in mid-afternoon, as was common at that time, in the style à la française: soup, meat and dessert dishes served simultaneously in a succession of courses, with ‘removes’ or absences from the table as the servants reset it between each course.

That style of eating was not the only custom that now seems strange to us: indeed, much of the life of the Georgian gentleman and his milieu as evidenced by the range of artefacts displayed by Dr David Allen in his presentation, revealed a world far removed from our own. A Georgian gentleman or lady would have worn fine silk clothing but as they washed infrequently and their clothes were hardly ever cleaned, they often carried a small vinaigrette box filled with sweet-smelling herbs that they would have waved in front of them in the presence of others.

A rare George lll bright-cut tooth powder box and brush made by Joseph Taylor, Birmingham, 1797.

Some would have carried their own personal tooth powder and brush with a changeable head of badger’s hair to clean their teeth. During dinner, however, they would have used a toothpick freely.  Many would have small boxes containing patches to apply over the pox marks on their face; and in an age where blood-letting was a commonplace medical procedure to relieve the imbalance of the 'humours', it was wise to carry your own set of blood-letting knives rather than risk your physician using some he had used on someone else.

Pocket and hem of an embroidered silk gentleman's court waistcoat (indicated by the three-pointed edge to the pockets), 1765.

A gentleman would have had his own snuff box and carried his own expensive nutmeg in a box with an integral grater so that he could add it to his food. Even the items of tableware found on a gentleman’s table reveal the habits of the time and social position: for example, pickle and butter dishes and asparagus holders set at each place – the Georgian gentry avoided vegetables like potatoes and carrots because they came from under the soil. Tea was drunk, as in China, from bowls, and wine glasses were small, containing just a mouthful, though consumption of alcohol was enormous and port was considered a restorative and good for health

The books and web lnks below will give you deeper insights into thisfascinating period.

Moira Goff, John Goldfinch, Karen Limper-Herz and Helen Peden Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain, London: The British Library, 2013
Elizabeth Raffald The Experienced English Housekeeper, Lewes: Southover Press, 1996 (New edition of 1769 edition)

James Woodforde Diary of a Country Parson, 1758-1802, Norwich: Canterbury Press, 1999 (paperback)

Kedelston Hall, Derbyshire – where the dining table is laid out in the French style.

The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies
The Parson Woodforde Society