A rummage through random aspects of the past that interest me and may be of use or interest to other readers and writers of period fiction. Please note that the stories featured and my artwork for the covers are copyright; and have the courtesy to ask permission if you wish to use anything that is mine, and duly acknowledge it if you do.
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Saturday, 29 August 2015
Time as measured in Jane Austen's time.
This is something of a rewrite of an earlier post, but I am concentrating on time for people in the late Georgian era, and have included a couple of useful charts for sunrise and sunset times in Britain through the year. This is London and will vary slightly to north and south. The whole of Britain only subtends a couple of degrees of arc, however, and for the purposes of the inexact time of the era will do just fine.
Time by the late Georgian era was no
longer measured by the Church and its offices, but they happened to coincide
with the times of day most people cared about – midnight, sunrise, rising time,
opening of offices and shops, noon, knocking off time or sunset, which depended
on the time of year which came first, and bedtime.Recent research suggests that people of the
18th century and before may have slept for four hours, woke and
either rose for a drink or engaged in sex for a couple of hours and then went
back to sleep again for four hours; this is apparently a natural
biorhythm.I’m a little sceptical,
myself, since the average working man would not have had ten hours overnight to
play about with like that.Possibly it
may have been a pattern followed by some of the leisured classes, but Austen
never mentions her characters getting up in the middle of the night, so I’m
inclined to go with her.As to natural
biorhythms, once I’m off, I’m off until my alarm clock puts his soft paws on my
face and bites my nose gently seven hours later.
Even in the Regency time was not
as all-important as it is now.Time
nowadays is measured in nanoseconds and consumes all our lives.Then the nearest quarter hour was good enough
– and likely to be different in every village or at every church steeple by
which gentlemen set their watches.Accurate chronometers for the use of sailors had been invented in 1750
for the purposes of calculating longitude at sea, but pocket watches were not
of that degree of accuracy, and nor did this particularly matter.Especially as the time from one place to the
next might be anything up to an hour different.
Country wide timekeeping only
became important with the widespread use of railways; when ‘railway time’ was
adhered to as the standard.
No Regency buck is going to look
at his watch and say ‘it is three seventeen’; for one thing that means of
expressing the time is modern, and for another it would not occur to him to be
that accurate – unless he was trying to break a record driving from London to
Brighton, when he would probably start on the hour or half hour in any
case.He would for every day purposes
say either ‘it’s about quarter past three’ or if he was trying to hurry up the
females in his life ‘hurry up, it’s coming up twenty past three already’.
sunrise times London
Sunset times, London
The country year, in common with the
medieval year, was governed by farming expediency; such religious festivals as
were retained in a Protestant country were those which, like the pagan
festivals, fitted in to the farming year. Most people by now had some idea of what the
date was, but most country people would still count time as being along the
lines of, ‘the day after old Mrs. Scroggins slipped on the ice, which is two
years since there was ice as bad as this and the river froze’.The state of the moon would also be something
more people would be aware of than in these times of street lighting, and high
rise buildings that block the moon.‘I’ll sow my seeds on the waxing moon next month’ would be a statement
that made sense to any countryman [and as a matter of interest some extensive
research seems to concur with the old country saying that seeds should be sown
with the moon waxing. Something to do with tidal drag.]
The farmworker’s day was
determined as it always has been by the time of year; he worked from dawn until
dusk. The hardest work of the year was during harvest, when the day was very
long too; in winter there were less tasks to do on the land save marling it but
the few animals that were not slaughtered still had to be cared for, and there
was repair to tools and fences.
The year was still divided into
quarters, and this was the day on which debts were settled, rents were paid,
quarterly pay was given, disputes were heard by magistrates, and many fairs
were held, including hiring fairs where country servants might hope to get a
Lady Day, 25th March, held as New Year’s day until 1751
and the reason for the superstition of cleaning the grate completely on New
Year’s eve [it makes sense at the end of spring to be without a fire where it
does not do so in the middle of winter]
Michaelmas Day 29th September
Christmas Day 25th December
Country folk were still
calculating by the quarter day up to the second world war in some places.
Moon phases as they relate to time of rising and setting.
Nothing irritates me much more
than to read things like ‘the sickle moon was just rising as they went to
The rising and setting times of
the moon are determined by the phases and though that may vary by some hours in
general the following is true.
The New Moon or dark of the
moon rises very early in the morning, between the late early hours and
early morning and sets in the early evening.This is only really noticeable when there is the first sliver of new
First Quarterrises quite early in the morning and sets
sometime at or after midnight.
Full Moon rises early
evening, sets very, very early in the morning
Third Quarter rises after midnight and setsduring the first part of the morning
During each of these phases of
course the time shifts slightly each day.
NOTE: tides will be high roughly
when the moon is at Zenith and Nadir . This is also affected by latitude. I
haven’t come across a reliable engine to do the maths for me yet.Just please, don’t have a high spring tide,
or any kind of high tide, as the sickle moon rises.High springs are with full moon.
Note 2: the graphs are drawn by me from data in books, so please attribute me if you use them.