Generation 491: 1800-1820. Back to the old ways

This is yet another turbulent time with war in Europe as the political map is redrawn – and then drawn again. Every continent sees conflict  – usually in resistance to one or another European empire. But what was it like for someone like you or me to be alive in this generation?

Let’s assume we live in one of the cities, and take a tour via the senses.

For someone from generation 500, the smell would probably assault us first. There are no flush toilets or mains drainage, so most houses have a cesspit for domestic waste. These have to be emptied periodically, and sometimes overflow. The nightsoil man sells the waste on to be used to manure the fields in the countryside. There is animal dung and other waste in the streets. People probably don’t wash as often as we do now. Piped domestic water is a luxury, and hot piped water non-existent. They don’t have as many clothes, as all are hand-made and expensive. The smell of smoke from open fires, the main source of heating, is also pervasive.

What about sounds? A few years ago air flights over our area were stopped for a while, because of ash from an Icelandic volcano. It was a noise that I hadn’t even known was there until it stopped, and I felt a new stillness in the air. That noise would be absent for generation 491, as well as the noise of everything electrical. No traffic noise, no machines apart from the rare puff and sputter of a steam engine. The background stillness and silence is almost unimaginable to a person of our generation. Maybe the nearest modern equivalent would be a snowy Christmas day in the countryside when all sounds are muffled, or being on a yacht far away from land. So what other sounds would we hear? Cartwheels and animal and human noise, probably. Cockerels crowing in the morning, dogs barking, the hum of conversation.

Visual impressions would be much less bright than now, as synthetic dyes have not yet been invented. All images are hand-drawn. As there is no photographic reproduction, the quantity of images is also reduced. There is less of an assault on the eyes as one walks along the street. Books and newspapers are dense with print in comparison to most of their modern equivalents, requiring more concentration to read them.

Fashions during this period reflect the spirit of the times. With the effects of the French and American revolutions still sending out ripples at the start of this generation, there is a reaction against formality and aristocratic stiffness. Women’s dresses have a low neckline, high waistline and loose flowing skirts. Older generations are shocked at how revealing they are.


By the end of the period aristocracy is acceptable again and the trend has turned back to more elaborate, discreet, starchy styles.


Turning to food, the range of tastes is probably recognisable to a person of our generation. Curry has become popular, along with other world foods that are a mainstay of our diet now. Canned food made its first appearance in this period, first used to supply troops in one of the many wars.


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