Regency Glossary: W
Waiting for dead men’s shoes–an heir waiting for the death of a father or uncle in order to inherit.
Wallflower–a lady who remains on the sidelines of a social occasion either from shyness or unpopularity.
Wallpaper–was available, but not as popular in the restrained Regency years as it had been in the mid-18th century with the craze for the hand-painted “Chinese” wallpapers of the rococo period, or the Victorian wallpapers, of often dark and heavy designs, that would become so popular in later decades.
Waltz–“a ballroom dance in ¾ time with a strong accent on the first beat. Considered scandalous by some. First danced at Almack’s about 1812.” (Hendrickson)
Washing stand–a bedroom table that holds a washing basin, a pitcher of water, soap dish and towels.
Wassail–a festive occasion at which healths were drunk, such as at Christmas, New Twelfth Night, and New Year’s Day. The drink consisted of ale, sometimes wine, sweetened with sugar and flavored with spices. It was served from the wassail bowl, which was then carried around from house to house as the wassailers went caroling. At each house, toasts were drunk, and donations were accepted to help refill the bowl.
Watch guard–chain that secures one’s fob watch.
Water butt–a barrel placed under the eaves to collect rainwater that could then be used for washing, etc.
Water closet–toilet aka “the convenience.” (Term referred to either indoor option: water closet or chamber
pot. The outhouse, conversely, was referred to as the necessary, the privy, or the earth closet. Ew.) The basic technology was known as early as 1597, when Queen Elizabeth I’s godson erected one at his home near Bath. The Queen then had one installed in her palace at Richmond, but it did not come into general use it was reinvented by Alexander Cummings in 1775 and Joseph Bramah in 1778. (Cowie.)
Water supply–the Romans introduced their famous water supply technology into England around the environs of Bath and their major settlements. From the Middle Ages, water was drawn by hand from streams, wells, or conduits, but some towns soon had a small system of wooden or lead pipes. Piped water schemes were
further developed in the 17thcentury. Many towns also built public pumps in the 18th and 19thcenturies, but
these sometimes became a source of cholera as populations increased. Pumps could be powered by hand, by draft animals (horses, oxen, donkeys), or by watermill power, to be pumped up into an underground cistern as a reservoir. Great houses had cisterns installed on the roof so that, by gravity, water would always be
available through the pipes whenever the household needed it. Hot running water for baths and kitchens was only just coming into use in Regency times, but this was the ultimate in luxury. Waterworks powered by steam engines were built from the early 19th c. with cast-iron pipes, able to drive water uphill and for long distances. It was not until 1875 that the Public Health Act required towns to provide residences with a 24-hour
supply of water.
Watermen–row paying customers across the Thames in their boats.
Watier’s–gentlemen’s club founded by the Prince Regent, with special emphasis on fine food, since the food at the other clubs was considered boring.
Weeds–a widow’s black mourning clothes.
Well-dressing–a curious old custom of Derbyshire dating from at least 1350, supposedly originating with survivors of the Black Death giving thanks for being spared, by decorating their water wells. However, some say the custom probably can be traced back to the Romans as propitiation to the water gods to keep the well water flowing during the dry season. Beginning at Tissington on Ascension Day, Derbyshire wells are “dressed”
with thousands of petals stuck on clay-covered boards to form a picture. (Durant)
Wetnurse–woman hired to breastfeed a baby not her own, however, this practice was falling out favor in all social classes by the late 1780’s. Medical experts proclaimed it was always better for the natural mother to breastfeed the child, with the length of time suggested from six to twelve months with nine the idea. (Durant)
West End–“the fancy part of London (as opposed to the City and the East End), reaching from Charing Cross west to the western boundary of Hyde Park. It included Buckingham Palace, Mayfair, and St. James’s Park.” (Poole.)
Westminster–“Before London expanded so enormously during the 19th century, there lay to its west the city of Westminster. This was the home of the monarch and it also housed Westminster Abbey, the royal palaces of Whitehall and St. James, and the Palace of Westminster, where the courts of Parliament met. (Due to its meeting place, Parliament was sometimes spoken of as Westminster.) As London grew, Westminster was absorbed into it.” (Poole.)
Westminster Abbey–said to have been built on the site of an old church of the 7thcentury. Became a Benedictine monastery in the age of St. Dunstan, ca. 960 AD. Edward the Confessor rebuilt it with a Palace
nearby shortly before the Norman Conquest. William the Conqueror chose it for his coronation, and since then, all British monarchs have been crowned there. The building of the present Abbey in the French style began under Henry III in 1245, the latest addition being the fine eastern chapel completed in 1519 by Henry the VII. Christopher Wren and Nicholas Hawksmoor rebuilt the western towers and the front in the 18thcentury. (Cowie.)
Westminster, Palace of–was probably founded by Edward the Confessor before the Norman Conquest. The kings of England moved there in the 11th century. After a fire in 1512 it was abandoned as a royal residence in favor of Whitehall and became the meeting place of Parliament.
Wheeler/s–the horse/s nearest to the carriage wheels. The ones out front were called the leaders.
Wherry–boat or ferry, especially one used for taking passengers across the Thames.
Whigs–The liberal faction in English politics, opposed to the Tories. They changed their name to Liberals in the 1830-40’s.
Whip–a gentleman who is a skilled carriage driver.
Whisky–a spirit distilled from cereal grains and malt. Began in Ireland by at least the 12th century, but caught on to an even greater degree in Scotland, where most famous whisky comes from to this day. It was not until the 1890’s, however, that its popularity began to rival that of brandy in England.
Whiskey gig–a light, two-wheeled carriage for a single horse or pony, popular from 1812.
Whist–The quintessential 19th c. English card game. The ancestor of bridge, for four players, two opposing pairs. Huge sums were wagered on whist at the gentlemen’s clubs of London.
Whitehall–a district in Westminster named for an old royal palace that did, indeed, have a white hall in it. A governmental hub, it was the location of the Admiralty, the Treasury, the Prime Minister’s residence at 10 Downing Street, and the Horse Guards, i.e. the Army headquarters. (Poole.)
White’s–most prestigious gentlemen’s club in London, Tory.
Wife-sale–until 1857, a cheap alternative to divorce for those on the lower rungs of the social ladder.
Divorces were very expensive and almost impossible to get. Wife sales provided a way for breaking up an unwanted marriage. Such sales frequently took place at Smithfield Market, but the sale was usually arranged beforehand with the full agreement of the wife. Prices could range from a few pence to a few pounds.
“Although widely accepted, the practice (medieval in origin) never had a legal basis, and indeed attempts were made to stop in the early eighteenth century. Wife sales were most frequent in the 18th century, but the last recorded case was in 1887.” (Durant)
Wigsby –an elderly man from the white-powdered wig generation.
Window glass-two kinds of antique window glass can be found in old British buildings. The oldest kind is called crown glass, manufactured in London from the 15th century. These small panes will each have curves in it like the bottom of a wineglass. That’s because it was hand blown into a large flat disk about three feet across, and then cut into small squares or diamonds as it was cooling. When these little panes hardened
they could be used in mullioned windows. The second kind, ‘broad glass’ came into production in the early seventeenth century. Improved technology allowed a slightly larger, rectangular window pane to be formed, as seen in the many, white-grilled windows of classic Georgian houses. Broad glass was used in the sash windows that were fashionable until the 1850’s, and was only superseded by sheet and plate glass in the Victorian age.
Window tax–a tax of two shillings annually on inhabited houses, begun in 1696. An additional tax was levied according to the number of windows. The sum required was increased or lessened depending on national circumstances over time. For example, during the war with France, the tax was tripled.
Workbox or workbag–a lady’s box or bag where she keeps her sewing and embroidery equipment.
Workhouse–public-sponsored shelter where the able-bodied poor were given food and lodgings, but made to work.