Have you ever wondered how ladies of Jane Austen's time used to manage to keep the hems of their gowns clean? At a time, when country roads were mostly dirt lanes, likely to get muddy throughout winter, and city roads were covered in rubbish and dirt, one would think that their hems would always be "six inches deep in mud" like Elizabeth Bennet's in Pride and Prejudice. And how on earth did ladies protect those delicate shoes?
The answer to Regency shoe issues lies in pattens. These were a type of overshoe, often consisting of a wooden sole raised on an iron ring, lifting the wearer several centimetres above the ground, which would have protected their shoes and hems. Pattens were like an early version of galoshes, a type of overshoe. My grandad, ever the gentleman, always used to wear galoshes to protect his finer polished shoes.
I was excited to come across a pair of pattens on holiday at Chippenham Museum (near Bath) in their local history section. In this picture from the museum, you can see a child's pair on the left and an adult pair on the right.
In Persuasion, Jane Austen writes about "the dash of other carriages, the heavy rumble of carts and drays, the bawling of newspapermen, muffin-men and milkmen, and the ceaseless clink of pattens...these were noises which belonged to the winter pleasures" (Chapter 14). Anne feels alien in Bath with all the noises surrounding her after years of quiet country life (perhaps like Jane Austen?).
It was very common for ladies to wear these when out and about - more so amongst the working ladies. One could easily imagine Jane wearing pattens, as she comes across quite a practical person. Jane's niece, Anna Austen, wrote, "I recollect the frequent visits of my two Aunts, & how they walked in wintry weather through the sloppy lane between Steventon & Dean in pattens, usually worn at that time even by gentlewomen.”
I can't imagine pattens being comfortable to wear over long distances - what do you think? Would they be difficult to balance on? On the other hand, I couldn't imagine living without a pair either, what with all those white gowns, and no modern detergents!
References and further reading:
Tomalin, C. (1997) Jane Austen: A Life. Penguin Books.