Saturday, 4 June 2011

Where Do I Start?

Where Do I start?
Where do you start in 18th century living history? Well I suppose much depends on the reason you want to get into it in the first place. Regardless of your gender, you may have multiple reasons. What was the first thing that attracted you to 18th century living history? For me I think it was the idea of frontier living & self-reliance. Outside of living history or historical trekking this does not really exist. It died sometime in the 19th century, when all the frontiers on earth had been conquered, when new gadgets came along to make life easier, & they are still being invented, all the time, & newbies no longer really know what a frontier was. Kids heroes are no longer Davy Crocket or Robin Hood, now they have super heroes who’s skills they can never hope to obtain except in their imagination or in roll playing games with pencil & paper.
But I am older, & I can still remember. I remember that young men could still go to Canada & work for the Hudson Bay Company when I was a kid. I can remember at the age of 5 years sitting in my parent’s garden with a camp fire cooking meat hanging on hooks. I remember my first knife, my first axe, & my first gun. The gun came after my first real wood bow.
So let us assume you were drawn to 18th century living history for much the same reasons as I, plus because you have an interest in history. Some people are put off by the expense, but really the cost of this activity is in your hands. You can either make your own clothing as best you can, & collect second hand equipment & tools, or you can purchase items off the shelf or even have them custom made. Personally I have never regretted making my own clothing when I started. It did not turn out so well, but I learnt a lot & I enjoyed doing it.

So let us start by kitting you out for 18th century camping. For me this is the fun part. Getting away from civilisation & camping in the woods. If you have to fit in with others in a group, then the first items of clothing I recommend are the low crown wide brimmed felt hat, & a frock. The frock will cover all manner of sins such as a modern shirt & trousers, & it is relatively easy to make. If the weather is cold, then get a blanket. This can be worn during the day as clothing, & as bedding at night. Steer away from light pastel colours if you can, but if all you can find is pink, then get it & dye it. Wear what ever you have on your feet until you can make yourself some moccasins.
This is an English moreland frock, just like an oversized shirt of the period.

A French frock, much the same. This one has no cuffs, but again it is long & covers all.


These are the real important items, & there are three major ones to get first. (1) flint, steel & tinderbox,  (2) a good hunting knife, & (3) an axe or tomahawk.  I will add a fourth for when the weather is wet, (4) an oil cloth or cotton canvas tarpaulin. This does not have to be large, so long as it is big enough to keep you dry when you use it as the roof of your shelter.
Your steel can be a piece of broken metal file. If you don’t have a fire in the house you can use, then simply make a camp fire outside. If you heat your metal file to a cherry red or hotter, then bury it in the ashes so it will cool slowly, you can cut & file it when it is cool enough to touch. File the teeth off the file on both edges, & cut it too length if needs be. You do not need or want a full length file.

When you have filed both edges smooth, reheat to cherry red, & cool quickly in water. This will reharden the carbon steel & you will be able to strike sparks from its smooth edges. For a stone you can use flint, agate, chert, quartz, or a similar hard piece of rock so long as it has a sharp edge.
A chunk of flint & a musket flint.



For a tinderbox you can use a tobacco tin or lolly tin until you can find something better.

For a knife, all you need is a good butcher knife. The butcher knife was the most popular & most frequently used blade by woodsmen & woodswomen in the 18th century. This blade is not for cutting wood, it is for skinning, butchering, eating with & self-defence. Keep it sharp, and make a good sheath for it from a second hand shoulder bag bought at the op-shop. Check out the second hand shops & markets for your knife. You are looking for an old one with pins securing the handle, not rivets, though you can always make yourself a new handle & make the pins out of nails.

One of these I found at the second hand shop for $6, the other cost me $14 at the market in Armidale. Both good knives.

There are a variety of small axes & hatchets to be found in the second hand shops. You want something light. You can make a new helve if needs be. You can even treat the hatchet head the same as the metal file, & cut it and shape it into a tomahawk head if you wish.

This axe I made from a heavier hatchet head. It has a round to oval eye & needs no wedge to secure the helve. I just used a camp fire to heat the head.

To start you can carry your billy tied to your blanket roll slung on your back & for a water canteen you can cover a glass wine bottle in a piece of wool blanketing, though you may need more than one. Just be careful using a glass bottle, they are fairly strong, but you would not want to trip and fall on the bottle on rocks, so take care. If you have something other than glass, use it. Now all you need is some plant tinder for your tinderbox, & you are ready to go.

This is an original glass costrel with a covering of leather. The top is broken, but would have included lugs to which a carry strap was attached.


Clariſse said...

This was all very interesting to read. Above all I loved your question at the beginning.

My very first motivation was actually falling in love with Handel's music as a kid. When I was about fifteen, I got a book about the 17th/18th century, and my favorite item in it was the photo of an old English copperplate print, how to dance the minuet. I tried to figure out how it would go, but didn't understand the explanations. After moving to a big city 10 years ago, I really found teachers, to learn it. That was years after I had already started writing with bird-feathers and reading original books.

I had to make the experience, that the majority in this scene is more in love with clichés, than with the reality in the past. Girls are actually living their kitschy ideas of being coquette -- being attractive to boys is actually more important than history. It looks like they're living their old little-girl-dreams of being a princess. In original books of early 18th century dancing teachers, I read about a totally different moral: Being coquette was impossible behavior -- behaving naturally and reasonable was the first rule. THAT is the message of the 18th century codex -- not how to get into adventures with the opposite sex!

It looks like these experiences made me a little more boyish, as I was anyhow. I learned fencing. My trainer was very good -- once he had even trained someone for Olympia. But this class actually worked to perform. It was all what audience likes: Casanova after having been untrue is being attacked by his girlfriend via rapier, and she gets him in a most delicate position, threatening to castrate him, so he had to beg and promise not to be untrue anymore. My teacher really gave me a few tips, how defend myself with an epée, but I didn't stay longer than a year, for my motivation was different and they weren't really fond of the days when Handel was still young.

So I see, the best way really seems to be: Going out into nature and leaving all those ridiculous clichés behind, as you're doing. It seems I do the same, if I 'withdraw into' an old book of my favorite time. I live in that old German language anyhow, it's just being in another world, while writing in this style -- I even use original dictionaries. It goes even farer, twelve years ago I dated my birthday 300 years back. So I started in 1999 with 1699. The advantage is: You know exactly to which generation you belong. You know who your people are, as who are much younger or older. Handel was kinda little boy to me, but in the meantime he grew up. It actually goes farer still, but the comment would get too long...

If I had to live in rococo, I would run away from civilization anyway, because people really tended to overdo being affected at that time. So no wonder most 18th century fans love that era best. It's better to die in war, than being choked in powder.

So it's kinda relief to read your stuff now. ;)

Ross said...

This is a great atricle. There are so many items we take for granted these days.

Are there any other water containers that would be period appropriate? I've seen leather containers and ones made of wood (like a small barrel) but I don't know if they were actually used at the time.

What is an appropriate 18th century pot for a trapper/person traveling on foot. Would it be a copper one like in the picture you posted?

Were any packs used or would things be wrapped in a blanket, etc and slung over the shoulder?

Thank you for your time, and all the information.

Le Loup said...

Ross, I will if you don't mind make a post on this rather than try & supply all the info in a comment here. As usual there are some grey areas when it comes to research, & I need more space!
Regards, Keith.