THE VERY PINEAPPLE OF POLITENESS

Pineapple by Theodorus Netscher, 1720, Fitzwilliam Museum

This is an oil painting of a pineapple grown in Sir Matthew Decker’s garden in Richmond, Surrey. The painting by Theodorus Netscher, made in 1720, is a celebration of the successful cultivation in England of a pineapple plant that actually produced fruit.

During the 18th century, a pineapple cost the equivalent of £5,000 today. They became such a symbol of wealth that the pineapple motif was used to decorate buildings – John Murray, the 4th Earl of Dunmore, built a 75ft-high stone pineapple atop a pavilion in his estate in 1761 (below).

Though native to South America, pineapples (scientific name: Ananas comosus) made their way to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, and it was here that Christopher Columbus first spotted their spiky crowns in 1493. Despite dogged efforts by European gardeners, it would be nearly two centuries before they perfected a hothouse method for growing a pineapple plant.

Thus, into the 1600s, the pineapple remained so uncommon and coveted a commodity that King Charles II of England posed for an official portrait (above) in an act then symbolic of royal privilege — receiving a pineapple as a gift. But was it a gift? Or had the pineapple been grown in his own hothouse? According to post entitled, “A pineapple? . . . Gosh, thank you Mr. Rose” on the Parks & Gardens UK blog, that question remains to be answered.

What is for certain is that on 9th August 1661 John Evelyn noted in his diary that he “first saw the Queene-Pine bought from Barbados presented to his Majestie…the first that were ever seen in England were those sent to Cromwell foure years since.”

Certainly plants must have survived the journey more than once, because King Charles used pineapples again on 14th August 1668, to impress the French ambassador, by serving them  at a banquet held in his honour.  Evelyn was there too and tasted “that rare fruite called the King-Pine” because ”his Majestie having cut it up, was pleased to give me a piece off his owne plate to taste of.” Sadly, Evelyn was mildly disappointed by the taste because  “in my opinion it falls short of those ravishing varieties of deliciousnesse described in cap. liggons history & others but possibly it might be, and certainly was, much impaired in coming so farr. It has yet a graceful acidity, but tastes more of the Quince and Melon, than of any other fruite he mentions.”

Of course, all this assumes that it is John Rose in the picture.  This attribution comes from Horace Walpole who had the original painting hanging in the Breakfast Room at Strawberry Hill.  It  features in his description of the house as  ” a most curious picture of Rose, the royal gardiner, presenting the first pine-apple raised in England to Charles 2d, who is standing in a garden. The whole piece is well painted , probably by Dankers. It was a present to Mr W from the Rev.Mr Pennicott of Ditton, to whom it was bequestheed by Mr London, grandson of him who was partner with Wise”. [A description of the villa of Horace Walpole,1774].

Author Lucy Ingless tells us more about 18th century pineapple cultivation in an article on The Foodie Bugle:

“In 1735, twenty-one year old American Robert Hunter Morris accompanied his diplomat father on a trip to London and on the 30th of June visited a friend’s garden of ‘luctutious plants’ (does this mean succulents?), which included ‘the pineapple, of which he had a great many and they seemed to flourish very well. They grew in pots of earth which were set in a bed of tanners bark’. Incidentally, Robert was an interesting young character, who was very conscious of his father’s welfare and notes many tiny details about London life that would otherwise be missed. His London diaries are short and worth a read if you come across them.

“An article on education in the London World during 1755 makes casual reference to the pineapple thus:

“Through the use of hothouses…every gardiner that used to pride himself in an early cucumber, can now raise a pineapple.”

“By 1772, pineapples were no longer the preserve of those with hothouses of their own. They were available to purchase at the markets, and also as plants to take home and grow for yourself, or with which to stock a nursery. I love the sound of Andrew Moffett’s ‘Pinery’ on Grange Road in Southwark, where ‘Fruiting and Succession Plants’ were to be purchased of the largest and sweetest sort, guaranteed ‘free of insects’.

“As the 18th century went on, the pineapple became a common theme on dishes, plates, teapots, tea caddies and even in architecture. Many believe it symbolises hospitality.

“By February 1798, any problems with planting environment had clearly been overcome, as Mr William North, at his Nursery near the Asylum in Lambeth, Surrey, was advertising new forms of dwarf broccoli above his pineapple plants. The advertisement from the Morning Chronicle gives an insight into 18th century horticulture, and also gives rise to the excellent title of this post: “To the curious in vegetables”. It is interesting to see that by this stage, the pineapple was worthy only of a nota bene but also interesting to note that a London tradesman was content to advertise not only the largest selection in England, but also in Europe: The largest collection of Pine-Apple Plants and Grape Vines in Pots for the Hot-house, &c., in Europe, with every other article of the first quality in Horticulture.”

The pineapple entered the broader Georgian culture in a number of ways. The phrase ‘a pineapple of the finest flavour’ was a metaphor for the most splendid of things. In Sheridan’s popular play The Rivals, Mrs Malaprop exclaims: ‘He is the very pineapple of politeness.’

Even after growing pineapples on English soil became a possibility, getting hold of one was still so costly that many nobles didn’t eat them, opting instead to simply display them around their homes as one would a precious ornament or carry them around at parties. Those who weren’t quite as affluent could rent a pineapple for a few hours at a time. This pineapple would be passed around from renter to renter for their respective parties over the course of several days until finally being sold to the individual who could afford to actually taste it.

Pineapples held pride of place on dinner tables and on Negri’s tradecard below, the premises soon to be known by the name of “Gunter’s.”

There were also pineapple-shaped cakes, pineapple-shaped gelatine molds, candies pressed out like small pineapples, pineapples molded of gum and sugar, pineapples made of creamed ice, cookies cut like pineapples and pineapple shapes created by arrangements of other fruits. There were also ceramic bowls formed like pineapples, fruit and sweet trays incorporating pineapple designs, and pineapple pitchers, cups and even candelabras.

An original eighteenth-century pineapple pit was discovered at the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall. In 1997, after much historical research and horticultural effort, the pinery saw its first twentieth century fruit – grown just as it would have been done in the past. In a nod to Charles II, the second pineapple produced there (the first was sampled by the staff …) was delivered to Queen Elizabeth on her 50th wedding anniversary. For an in-depth and technical look at the structure of early English hothouses and the construction of a “pinery,” see this post on the Building Conservation website.

Click here to read more on age old growing techniques and the world’s most expensive pineapple.

THE LONDON POST OFFICE 1850 – Part Three

In this series, we turn to the words of Mr. Charles Dickens which appeared in the March 30, 1850 edition of the publication he edited, Household Words. The following article is chock full of details about how the Post Office operated in Victorian London and also about the mail and other items it processed on a daily basis.

The piece follows the progress of two gentlemen who make a visit to the Post Office and Part Three continues –

The friends were informed that 70,000,000 newspapers pass through all the post-offices every year. Upwards of 80,000,000 newspaper stamps are distributed annually from the Stamp office; but, most of the London papers are conveyed into the country by early trains. On the other hand, frequently the same paper passes through the post several times, which accounts for the small excess of 10,000,000 stamps issued over papers posted. In weight, 187 tons of paper and print pass up and down the ingenious ” lift” every week, and thence to the uttermost corners of the earth—from Blackfriars to Botany Bay, from the Strand to Chusan.

The system of stamping, sorting, and arranging, is precisely similar to that in the District Branch; and, by his recently acquired knowledge of it, the person who posted the coloured letters was able to trace them through every stage, till they were tied up ready to be ” bagged,” and sent away.

In an opposite side of the enormous apartment, a good space and a few officials are devoted to repairing the carelessness of the public, which is, in amount and extent, scarcely credible. Upon an average, 300 letters per day pass through the General Post-office totally unfastened; chiefly in consequence of the use of what stationers are pleased to call ” adhesive” envelopes. Many are virgin ones, without either seal or direction; and not a few contain money. In Sir Francis Freeling’s time, the sum of 5000 pounds in Bank-notes was found in a ” blank.” It was not till after some trouble that the sender was traced, and the cash restored to him. Not long since, an humble post-mistress of an obscure Welsh post-town, unable to decipher the address on a letter, perceived, on examining it, the folds of several Bank-notes protruding from a torn edge of the envelope. She securely re-enclosed it to the secretary of the Post-office in St. Martin’s-le-Grand; who found the contents to be 1500 pounds, and the superscription too much even for the hieroglyphic powers of the “blind clerk.” Eventually the enclosures found their true destination.



It is estimated that there lies, from time to time, in the Dead-Letter-office, undergoing the process of finding owners, some 11,0007. annually, in cash alone. In July, 1847, for instance—only a two months’ accumulation— ,the post-haste of 4658 letters, all containing property, was arrested by the bad superscriptions of the writers. They were consigned—after a searching inquest upon each by that efficient coroner, the ” blind clerk”—to the Post-office Morgue. There were Banknotes of the value of 10107., and money-orders for 4077. 12s. But most of these ill-directed letters contained coin in small sums, amounting to 3107. 9s. 7d. On the 17th of July, 1847, there were lying in the Dead-Letter-office bills of exchange for the immense sum of 40,4107. 5s. 7d.

“I assure you,” said a gentleman high in this department, ” it is scarcely possible to take up a handful of letters without finding one with coin in it, despite the facilities afforded by the money-order system. All this is very distressing to us. The temptation it throws in the way of sorters, carriers, and other humble employes is greater than they ought to be subjected to. Seventy men have been discharged for dishonesty from the District-office alone during the past two years.”

“But the public do use the Money-Order-office extensively?”

This question was startlingly answered by reference to a Parliamentary return, which showed that there were issued in England and Wales alone, during the year which ended on the 5th of January, 1849, 3,468,823 Post-office orders for sums amounting to the enormous aggregate of 6,861,803 pounds.

 It was approaching eight o’clock, and the “Miller and his Men” above stairs were delivering their sacks from the mouth of the ever-revolving mill at an incessant rate. These, filled nearly to choking with newspapers, were dragged to the tables, which the brass label fastened to the corner of each bag marked as its own, to have the letters inserted. Our friends rushed to where they saw “Edinburgh” painted up on the walls, and there they beheld their yellow, green, and red letters in separate packets, though destined for the same place; just as they had come in at first from Fleet-street. The bundles were popped in a trice into the Edinburgh bag, which was sealed and sent away. Exactly the same thing was happening to every bundle of letters, and to every bag on the premises.
The clock now struck eight, and the two visitors looked round in astonishment. Had they been guests at the ball in ” Cinderella,” when that clock struck they would not have been more astonished; for hardly less rapidly did the fancy dresses of the postmen disappear, and the lights grow dim. This is the most striking peculiarity of the extraordinary establishment. Everything is done on military principles to minute time. The drill and subdivision of duties are so perfect that the alternations throughout the day are high pressure and sudden collapse. At five minutes before eight the enormous offices were glaring with light and crowded with men; at ten minutes after eight the glass slipper had fallen off, and there was hardly a light or a living being visible.

“Perhaps, however,” it was remarked, as our friends were leaving the building, ” an invisible individual is now stealthily watching behind the ground glass screen. Only the other day he detected from it a sorter secreting 140 sovereigns.”

It is a deplorable thing that such a place of observation should be necessary; but it is hardly less deplorable—and this should be most earnestly impressed upon the reader—that the public, now possessed of such conveniences for remitting money, by means of Post-office Orders and Registered Letters, should lightly throw temptation in the way of these clerks by enclosing actual coin. No man can say that, plac
ed in such circumstances from day to day, he could be steadfast. Many may hope they would be, and believe it; but none can be sure. It is in the power, however, of-every conscientious and reflecting mind to make quite sure that it has no part in this class of crimes. The prevention for this one great source of misery is made easy to the public hand, and it is the public’s bounden duty to adopt it. They who do not, cannot be blameless.

Such is the substance of information obtained by our friends before they took leave of the mighty heart of the postal system of this country.

The End

THE LONDON POST OFFICE 1850 – Part Two

In this series, we turn to the words of Mr. Charles Dickens which appeared in the March 30, 1850 edition of the publication he edited, Household Words. The following article is chock full of details about how the Post Office operated in Victorian London and also about the mail and other items it processed on a daily basis.

The piece follows the progress of two gentlemen who make a visit to the Post Office and Part Two continues –

” Is it possible?” exclaimed one of the visitors, regarding the piles of epistles on the numerous tables “that this mass of letters can be arranged and sent away to their respective addresses in time to receive the next collection, which will arrive in less than an hour?”

“Quite,” replied an obliging informant; ” I’ll tell you how we do it. We have divided London into seventeen sections. There they are, you perceive.” He then pointed to the tables with pigeon-holes numbered from one to seventeen; one marked “blind,” with a nineteenth labelled “general.” It was explained that the proper arrangement of the letters in these compartments constitutes the first sorting. They are then sorted into subdivisions; then into districts, and finally handed over to the letter-carriers, who, in another room, arrange them for their own convenience into ” walks.” As the visitors looked round they perceived their coloured envelopes—which were all addressed to Scotland, suddenly emerge from a chaotic heap, and lodged in the division marked ” general,” as magically as a conjuror causes any card you may choose to fly out of the whole pack. “These letters,” remarked the expositor, “being for the country, will be presently passed into the Inland-office through a tunnel under the hall. ” The ‘ blind’ letters have superscriptions which the sorters cannot decipher, and are sent to the ‘ blind’ table, where a gentleman presides, to whom, from the extreme sharpness of his vision, we give the lucus a non lucendo name of the ‘ blind clerk.’ You will have a specimen of his powers presently.”

While this dialogue was going on there was a general abatement of the noise of stamping and shuffling letters; and, when the visitors looked round, the place had relapsed into its former tranquillity. It was scarcely credible that from 30,000 to 40,000 letters had been received, stamped, counted, sorted, and sent away in so short a time. “A judicious division of labour,” remarked one of our friends, “must work these miracles.”

“Yes, sir,” was the reply of an official. “There are from 1200 to 1700 of us to do the work of the district post alone. When it was removed from Gerrard-street to this building there was not a quarter of that number. For instance—then, three carriers sufficed for the Paddington district; but, by the despatch you have just seen completed, we have sent off 2000 letters to that single locality by the hands of twenty-five carriers.”

” The increase is attributable to the penny system?” interrogated one of our inquiring friends.

” Entirely.”

The questioner then referred to a Parliamentary paper of which he had obtained possession. It showed him the history of general postal increase since the era of dear distance rates. In 1839—under the old system—the number of letters which passed through the post was 76 millions. In 1840 came the uniform penny, and for that year the number was 162 millions, or an increase of 93 millions, equal to 123 per cent. That was the grand start; afterwards the rate of increase subsided from 36 per cent. in 1841, to 16 per cent. in 1842 and 1843. In 1845, and the three following years, the increase was respectively, 39, 37, and 30 per cent. Then succeeded a sudden drop; perhaps the culminating point in the rate of increase had been attained. The Post-office is, however, a thermometer of commerce: during the depressing year 1848, the number of letters increased no more than 9 per cent. But last year 337,500,000 epistles passed through the office, being an augmentation of 8,500,000 upon the preceding year, or 11 per cent, of progressive increase. Another Parliamentary document shows, that, although the business is now four and a half times more than it was in 1839, the expense of doing it has only doubled. In the former year the cost of the establishment was not quite 690,000/.; in 1849 it was about 1,400,000/.

While one visitor was poring over these documents, the other deliberately watched the coloured envelopes. They were, with about 2000 other General Post letters, put into boxes and taken to the tunnel to be conveyed into the Inlandoffice upon a horizontal band worked by a wheel. The two friends now took leave of the District Department to follow the objects of their pursuit.

It was a quarter before six o’clock when they crossed the Hall—six being the latest hour at which newspapers can be posted without fee.

It was then just drizzling newspapers. The great window of that department being thrown open, the first black fringe of a thunder-cloud of newspapers impending over the Post office was discharging itself fitfully—now in large drops, now in little; now in sudden plumps, now stopping altogether. By degrees it began to rain hard; by fast degrees the storm came on harder and harder, until it blew, rained, hailed, snowed, newspapers. A fountain of newspapers played in at the window. Water-spouts of newspapers broke from enormous sacks, and engulphed the men inside. A prodigious main of newspapers, at the Newspaper River Head, seemed to be turned on, threatening destruction to the miserable Post-office. The Post-office was so full already, that the window foamed at the mouth with newspapers. Newspapers flew out like froth, and were tumbled in again by the bystanders. All the boys in London seemed to have gone mad, and to be besieging the Post-office with newspapers. Now and then there was a girl; now and then a woman; now and then a weak old man: but as the minute hand of the clock crept near to six, such a torrent of boys, and such a torrent of newspapers came tumbling in together pell-mell, head over heels, one above another, that the giddy head looking on chiefly wondered why the boys springing over one another’s heads, and flying the garter into the Post-office with the enthusiasm of the corps of acrobats at M. Franconi’s, didn’t post themselves nightly, along with the newspapers, and get delivered all over the world.

Suddenly it struck six. Shut, Sesame! Perfectly still weather. Nobody there. No token of the late storm—Not a soul, too late!

But what a chaos within! Men up to their knees in newspapers on great platforms; men gardening among newspapers with rakes; men digging and delving among newspapers as if a new description of rock had been blasted into those fragments ; men going up and down a gigantic trap—an ascending and descending-room worked by a steam-engine—still taking with them nothing but newspapers. All the history of the time, all the chronicled births, deaths, and marriages, all the crimes, all the accidents, all the vanities, all the changes, all the realities, of all the civilised earth, heaped up, parcelled out, carried about, knocked down, cut, shuffled, dealt, played, gathered up again, and passed from hand to hand, in an apparently interminable and hopeless confusion, but really in a system of admirable order, certainty, and simplicity, pursued six nights every week, all through the rolling year. Which of us, after this, shall find fault with the rather more extensive system of good and evil, when we don’t quite understand it at a glance; or set the stars right in their spheres?

Part Three Coming Soon!

THE LONDON POST OFFICE 1850 – Part One

In this series, we turn to the words of Mr. Charles Dickens which appeared in the March 30, 1850 edition of the publication he edited, Household Words. The following article is chock full of details about how the Post Office operated in Victorian London and also about the mail and other items it processed on a daily basis.

The piece follows the progress of two gentlemen who make a visit to the Post Office –

 

Great National Post-Office in St. Martin’s-le-Grand

Most people are aware that the Great National Post-office in St. Martin’s-le-Grand is divided into halves by a passage, whose sides are perforated with what is called the ” Window Department.” Here huge slits gape for letters, whole sashes yawn for newspapers, or wooden panes open for clerks to frame their large faces, like giant visages in the slides of a Magic Lantern; and to answer inquiries, or receive unstamped paid letters. The southern side is devoted to the London District Post, and the northern to what still continues to be called the “Inland Department,” although foreign, colonial, and other outlandish correspondence now passes through it. It was with the London District Branch that the two gentlemen first appeared to have business.

Having been led through a maze of offices and passages more or less dark, they found themselves—like knights-errant in a fairy tale—” in an enormous hall, illumined by myriads of lights.” Without being exactly transformed into statues, or stricken fast asleep, the occupants of this hall (whose name was Legion) appeared to be in an enchanted state of idleness. Among a wilderness of long tables, and of desks not unlike those on which buttermen perform their active parts of legerdemain in making ” pats”—only these desks were covered with black cloth—they were reading books, talking together, wandering about, lying down, or drinking coffee—apparently quite unused to doing any work, and not at all expectant of ever having anything to do, but die.

In a few minutes, and without any preparation, a great stir began at one end of this hall, and a long train of private performers, in the highest state of excitement, poured in, getting up, on an immense scale, the first scene in the ” Miller and his Men.” Each had a sack on his back; each bent under its weight; and the bare sight of these sacks, as if by magic, changed all the readers, all the talkers, all the wanderers, all the liers-down, all the coffee-drinkers, into a colony of human ants.

For the sacks were great sheepskin bags of letters tumbling in from the receiving-houses. Anon they looked like whole flocks suddenly struck all of a heap, ready for slaughter; for a ruthless individual stood at a table, with sleeves tucked up and knife in hand, who rapidly cut their throats, dived into their insides, abstracted their contents, and finally skinned them. “For every letter we leave behind,” said the bagopener, in answer to an inquiry, ” we are fined half-a-crown. That’s why we turn them inside out.”

The mysterious visitors closely scrutinised the letters that were disgorged. These were from all parts of London to all parts of London and to the provinces and to the far-off quarters of the globe. An acute postman might guess the broad tenor of their contents by their covers:—business letters are in big envelopes, official letters in long ones, and lawyers’ letters in none at all; the tinted and lace-bordered mean Valentines, the black-bordered tell of grief, and the radiant with white enamel announce marriage. When the despatch of the Fleet-street receiving-house appeared the visitors tracked it, and the operations of the clerk who separated the three bundles of which it consisted were closely followed. With the prying curiosity which now only began to show itself, one of the intruders took a copy of the bill which accompanied the letters. It set forth in three lines that there were so many ” Stamped,” so many ” Prepaid,” and so many ” Unpaid.”

The clerk counted the stamped letters like lightning, and a flash of red gleaming past showed the inquirers that one of their epistles was safe. Suddenly the motion was stopped; the official had instinctively detected that one letter was insufficiently adorned with the Queen’s profile, and he weighed and taxed it double in a twinkling. Having proved the number of stamped letters to be exactly as per account rendered, he went on checking off the prepaid, turning up the sender’s green missive in the process. He then dealt with the unpaid, amongst which the lookers-on perceived their yellow one. The cash column was computed and cast in a single thought, and a short-hand mark, signifying ” quite correct,” dismissed the Fleet-street bill upon a file, for the leisurely scrutiny of the Receiver-General’s office. All the other letters, and all the other bills of all the other receiving-houses, were going through the same routine at all the other tables; and these performances are repeated ten times in every day, all the year round, Sundays excepted.

” You perceived,” said one of the two friends, “that in the rapid process of counting our stamped letter gleamed past like a meteor, whilst our money-paid and unpaid epistles remained long enough under observation for a careful reading of the superscriptions.”

“That delay,” said an intelligent official, “is occasioned because the latter are unstamped. Such letters cause a great complication of trouble, wholly avoided by the use of Queen’s heads. Every officer through whose hands they pass—from the receiving-house-keeper to the carriers who deliver them at their destinations—has to give and take a cash account of each. If the public would put stamps on all letters, it would save us, and therefore itself, some thousands a year.”

” What are the proportions of the stamped to the prepaid and unpaid letters which pass through all the post-offices during the year?”

” We can tell within a very near approximation to correctness: 337,500,000 passed through the post-offices of the United Kingdom during last year, and to every 100 of them about 50 had stamps; 46 were prepaid with pennies; and only 4 were committed to the box unpaid.”

While one of the visitors was receiving this information, the other had followed his variegated letters to the next process; which was that of stamping on the sealed face, in red ink, the date and hour of despatch. The letters are ranged in a long row, like a pack of cards thrown across a table, and so fast does the stamper’s hand move, that he can mark 6000 in an hour. While defacing the Queen’s heads on the other side, he counts as he thumps, till he enumerates fifty, when he dodges his stamp on one side to put his black mark on a piece of plain paper. All these memoranda are afterwards collected by the president, who reckoning fifty letters to every black mark, gets a near approximation to the number that have passed through the office.

 

Part Two Coming Soon!

ROYAL WEDDING UPDATE

Just a little over two months to go until this year’s most anticipated wedding day arrives, so here’s a round-up of some of the news and a bit of the speculation surrounding the royal nuptials –

Here’s the lowdown on Harry’s childhood friend, Violet von Westenholz who, it’s finally been revealed, was the matchmaker who actually introduced Harry to Meghan

Meghan has finally chosen a designer for her wedding dress – but who is it?!

Entertainment Tonight further speculates about the dress and ceremony and offers up some Will & Kate news while they’re at it.

 

Town and Country Magazine ponders the royal wedding invites

Speaking of which, it seems that Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, won’t be getting one.

Hello Magazine explains the seating plan for the church service. 

It’s been rumoured that the Spice Girls may make their comeback at the wedding reception. Two days ago, Mel B fueled those rumours during an appearance on “The Real,” but the world awaits definitive confirmation.

And on Wednesday, William and Kate and Harry and Meghan made their first joint appearance together on behalf of The Royal Foundation.

Breaking just a few hours ago, Harry and Meghan have announced that they will invite 2,640 members of the public inside the Castle grounds in order to watch the carriage procession. 

And finally, learn why Meghan won’t be wearing the crown jewels until after the wedding. 

Are you as excited as we are?!