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Writing with a Quill Pen, at Home with the Austens

June 27, 2012

Another of the activities provided for everyone to try during the Diamond Jubilee weekend was a chance to write with ink using a quill pen. The Kitchen, below, was the venue for this event.

Quill pens, ink and papers were provided, free of charge.

And the results were left on show for everyone to see…

At a time when writing with fountains pens is fast becoming a thing of the past, many of our visitors enjoyed the opportunity to write using tools with which Jane Austen would have very familiar

It would seem from the evidence on show that most of our visitors managed very well, and like Fitzwilliam Darcy, didn’t need the assistance of a Miss Bingley:

“I am afraid you do not like your pen. Let me mend it for you. I mend pens remarkably well.”

“Thank you — but I always mend my own.

 Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 10


You may be interested to know that in Martha Lloyd’s Household Book, which is currently on show at the Museum,

there is a receipt-or recipe if you like- for ink, which suggests that the Austen household at Chawton made their own. An example of their careful housekeeping, perhaps.

Here is the receipt:

To Make Ink

Take 4 ozs of blue gauls, 2 ozs of green copperas, 1 ½ ozs. of gum arabic. Break the gauls. The gum and the copperas must be beaten in a mortar and put into a pint of strong stale beer; with a pint of small beer. Put in a little refin’d sugar. It must stand in the chimney corner for fourteen days and be shaken two or three time a day.

If you would like to try your hand at writing with a quill pen, then do come along to the Museum this Saturday,the 30th June, for, as part of the events of Alton’s Regency Week, the museum will be holding a day of events that reflect its theme, which this year is At Home with the Austens. In addition to writing with quills, there will be a chance to hear about how Jane Austen’s replica bed was created,  the opportunity to see some of the most unusual items from the Museum’s collection and  there will also be the chance  to experience The Madding Crowd folk ensemble play music and lead dancing in the garden. All the details of the events can be found here, or in the right hand column of the blog. Do come if you can, as it promises to be a most interesting and fun day!

20 Comments leave one →
  1. Lili permalink
    June 27, 2012 11:26 am

    I must confess that life sounds so simple and kind in those times. I think I was born at the wrong time.

    • jfwakefield permalink*
      June 27, 2012 5:08 pm

      Thanks for commenting Lili! As for me…. if I could take my painkillers, some immunity to disease and my rights as a woman with me,I’d quite like to go back in time and visit but not stay 😉

      • Lila permalink
        June 27, 2012 6:37 pm

        I’m not so sure we have more rights now… Maybe on the paper…
        In Jane’s novels at least we see ladies and gentlemen (a specie extinct these days) treating each other with respect and politeness… And it is very sad when you compare it with modern reality… And somehow Jane’s heroines managed to get along quite successfully even with their few rights, but at least they had some respectable men to rely on… The world her characters live in is sure attractive, but had it much to do with the real world back then? Perhaps she just wrote of things as they should be…

      • jfwakefield permalink*
        June 27, 2012 7:49 pm

        I think we will have to agree to disagree ;)….I think I’d only go back if I had a guaranteed return and an Invisibility Cloak ;)..but that’s a different author’s idea!

  2. June 27, 2012 4:26 pm

    Thank you for including so many lovely images. I visited Chawton and the Jane Austen’s House Museum many years ago during a study abroad program, and reading your blog brings back many wonderful memories.

    • jfwakefield permalink*
      June 27, 2012 5:10 pm

      Hello Sara, and thank you for commenting. I’m so glad you like the images, they make a blog post don’t they, and of course, if you cant read English fluently,at least there are the photographs to consider. I’m so glad you have such happy memories of visiting the Musuem, and I’ll pass your comments on 🙂

  3. Lila permalink
    June 27, 2012 6:48 pm

    I’ve always realised that it took a lot of talent not just to write books, but to actually write them, literally, you know 😀 Certainly requires a lot of practice, skill and patience. Writing at that time wasn’t for lazy people… If it wasn’t for typewriters and subsequently computers we wouldn’t have had as many scribblers…mmm? :o)

    Lovely kitchen 🙂

    • jfwakefield permalink*
      June 27, 2012 7:47 pm

      Yes, its a very different thing to write with a quill pen.I write as someone who still prefers to use a fountain pen!

    • jfwakefield permalink*
      July 3, 2012 6:27 am

      Thanks, Lila, the kitchen is a very interesting space. I’m very glad for Word processing programmes. I often wonder how Jane Austen would have reacted using a lap top ……

  4. Jenny permalink
    June 27, 2012 9:43 pm

    Wish I could have come along on Saturday to try what it’s like to write with a quill pen! At least I have the receipt/recipe for ink now, will keep my eyes open for a goose or swan willing to provide the quill 😉

    Good luck with your Regency events.

    • jfwakefield permalink*
      July 3, 2012 6:25 am

      Thank you , Jenny. It was a lovely day and the rain, for once this year kept away 😉

      • Jenny permalink
        July 5, 2012 8:10 pm

        Happy to hear it didn’t rain on you. I did see something in the news about how wet it’s been in Britain this year.

      • jfwakefield permalink*
        July 6, 2012 11:53 am

        It has been quite awful-the highest recorded rainfall we’ve ever experienced in both April and June…and July seems likely to set new records too!

  5. cathyallen permalink
    June 27, 2012 10:42 pm

    I’ve never really considered how much trouble it must have been to write a whole novel in such a manner. Seeing all the debris on the table top, and reading the recipe for ink, and connecting it with Jane Austen’s words from Pride and Prejudice made it leap off the screen at me! It’s most interesting to think about. The museum’s staff is operating up to it’s usual high standard, as I’ve come to expect from your blog. Thank you, Julie.

  6. kfield2 permalink
    June 28, 2012 12:31 am

    On this side of the Atlantic, I learned to use a quill pen in Williamsburg, Va. I bought mine there and, I would imagine, the ink as well, but since I lived a few hours away, I had to come up with some kind of ink. There are these bushes with sort of purple berries on them that we called ink berries. So, I literally went out to pick some, mash them, strain them, and use my quill to write in my diary with the liquid. It was fun, but if I’d had to do school that way, whew, I think I’d have had a much different reaction. If one didn’t know about other methods of writing, I would think one would be glad to have the quill and paper.

    • jfwakefield permalink*
      July 3, 2012 6:24 am

      Ah, Karen, you are so lucky! One day I hope to visit Williamsburg….till then I content myself with their website, books and excellent online store!

  7. July 3, 2012 12:53 am

    Here in the Midwest part of the United States I have had good luck using walnuts as the means of creating the color in the ink. Did this with scout programs at the museum I am with. Cutting quills is another matter and I have never learned that very well. That, like writing with a quill, is a nearly forgotten art.
    I have also seen ink made up with iron that does not stand the passage of time as it tends to destroy the paper. I believe the iron rusts and takes the paper with it. Almost like the words burnt themselves off the page.

    • jfwakefield permalink*
      July 3, 2012 6:23 am

      You have anticipated me! Do look out for a post in the next few days which will discuss the corrosive nature of gall ink! I agre, cutting quills is something I’ve always found difficult, mostly because I’ve never mastered the fear of cutting myself accidentally with the sharp pen knife. Thank you for commenting!


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