Regency Domesticity: The Vacation Home

From Ackermann’s Repository, October 1st, 1816, Volume II, the Tattler shares correspondence from a reader who is married to a Temple Bar shopkeeper.

The matron relates that business was profitable and in such a climate of prosperity her husband began to notice the fashion among other shopkeepers for keeping a second house in the country–a place away from the bustle and grime of London, for relaxation and recharging.

Appalled with the notion, she writes:

“It was in vain that I remonstrated on the inconveniences which it would inevitably produce, the probable neglect of business it might occasion, and the additional expense it certainly would produce.”

In spite of her arguments, the spirit of rivalry remained strong in the tradesman. He went so far as to hold up the example of Spangle, the laceman, who took a lease on a marvelous country home in Edmonton. Moreover, her husband had the effrontery to rely on the well-known principle that to appear to have a fortune is an easy means by which to acquire it. A summer residence is the very thing, he exclaimed, and did I not buy that handsome winter pelisse for you when you told me that keeping up appearances was critical to the status of a shopkeeper’s wife?

The result: they took out a lease on a very genteel home along a major coaching road from London, and not above four miles from the Exchange.

It was not long before the novelty of the summer house began to wear thin. The nearby turnpike rendered the environs dusty, so that the windows must be kept shut even in summer. The garden at the back, beautifully arranged with twining honeysuckles and jessamine, was nevertheless made unpleasant by the sounds and smells of the neighbor’s hog farm situated at the back of it.

The worst, however, was the continual plague of acquaintances from town. Full of excitement over the new acquisition of the “villa,” and with the easy manners of familiarity, these so-called friends of the tradesman began to make it their custom to ride out into the country for a visit, and of course, ask his long-suffering wife if they could take their Sunday’s “mutton” while there.

She relates:

“I was obliged to affect the appearance of satisfaction, and to use the language of hearty welcome, to the very people whom I wished in a horse-pond, or should have been glad to have scolded out of the house.”

In 1815, keeping a country house was not only a burden in time and inconvenience, it was a dashed expensive extravagance. The following is a list of the summer house accounts for that year, in pounds sterling:

rent – 60

taxes – 12

additional servants’ wages, board – 30

interest for money expended in furniture – 25

accidents and repairs – 10

coach-hire backwards and forwards – 10

extra entertainments – 30

“We have three children and this confounded country house,” the correspondent concludes, railing that the latter was far more expensive than maintaining and educating a dozen of the former!

A vicarage-house: "..purposed to be erected in a situation where the scenery is both rural and romantic.."

A vicarage-house: “..purposed to be erected in a situation where the scenery is both rural and romantic..” from the Magazine