Georgian influence on society
Financial:William III founded the Bank of England and the National Debt to help finance his continental wars, and by the end of the Georgian period the London Stock Exchange was in operation, banks were present in every urban centre, and we’d already suffered the first stockmarket crash (the South Sea Bubble in 1720).Britain embraced the idea of being a nation of shopkeepers because shopping meant disposable income, which showed a wealthy population. In gastronomic terms, a stable, wealthy population meant that new dishes could be developed, new ingredients embraced, and that cultural markers such as food became very important.
Figure 1: The south facade of the Bank of England (19th century print)
Figure 2: The Circus at Bath, designed by John Wood the Elder (finished 1768)
Fashion:Imported Chinese ceramics spurred the British to create their own version of hard-paste porcelain (bone china) at a variety of prices, so that people could display their identities painted on teapots or plates or vases. Rising literacy rates and cheap printing presses meant that the latest fads could be published in print, and a cult of celebrity was quickly born. Fixed shops changed the face of retailing, and window displays lured would-be-punters inside, in a way that market stalls and peddlers couldn’t compete with.
Food and drink:The first restaurants emerged in France in the mid-18th century, and reached London by the beginning of the 19th century. Chefs fleeing the French Revolution with their aristocratic employers saw new opportunities and brought French fine dining, available to anyone who could afford it, to urban Britain. French food was already seen as the finest the world had to offer: British aristocrats aspired to employ French chefs, and French became the language of high end food, still often the case today. Meanwhile along with restaurants came the first food critics, and food writing. Although 17th century introductions, the Georgian period saw the popularisation of many foods we love today: tea, coffee, chocolate, ice cream, porter, biscuits and cakes, jellies, sparkling champagne. It’s fair to say that the birth of a recognisably British cuisine was also a feature of the Georgian period, despite the emphasis on French cuisine at an aristocratic level. The importance of roast beef, in particular, increased in this period, laying the foundations of the ‘traditional’ British roast dinner. By the end of the 18th century, such classics as raised pies, puddings of an infinite variety, trifle, fruit and sponge cake, and roast beef and Yorkshire pudding had all been made more elaborate, named and recognised as something particular to Britain.If you’d like to find out more about the Georgian legacy on British culture today, then we would recommend Linda Colley’s Britons: Forging the Nation – 1707 -1837, Yale University Press, 2009.
A History of Royal Food and Feasting
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