You’re probably familiar with some of the many ways that the Regency super-rich whiled away their plentiful leisure hours, from gambling on cards, dice and prize-fights, to fox-hunting and horse-riding, stitching, and singing. But if you feel like taking up one of the more strange and surprising hobbies that had the haut ton seal of approval, here are seven you might try…


Making shoes

Unlikely as it seems that the aristocracy would take up tools like members of the labouring class and make something they had plenty of money to buy, they really did discover a passion for making their own footwear in the early 1800s.

Woman in a shop choosing a new dress
Woman in a shop deciding which dress matches her new hat. Note the simplistic style of the selection of shoes at her feet. Handcoloured engraving from Pierre de la Mesangere's Le Bon Genre, Paris, 1817. (Photo by: Florilegius/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Fashion favouring simple, slipper-like shoes made of fabric or kidskin meant it was not too difficult for an amateur stitcher to progress, with the right tuition, from merely embroidering a shoe to making the whole thing. Members of the ton eagerly purchased toolkits and clamoured for trained shoemakers to teach them the craft in the comfort of their drawing rooms.

During the 1808 ‘season’, it seems to have become a particular obsession for society ladies. Earl Spencer’s daughter wrote in April to tell him not to expect a letter from her mama, because she was “in so irresistibly attractive a part of the operation of sewing round her shoe, that she cannot tear herself from it, even to perform her conjugal duties”.

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It wasn’t just women switching their needlework for something new: young men about town took to it, too. “They are so busy learning to make shoes that they can think of nothing else, and all engagements are forgotten,” lamented another Mayfair mother in 1809, her hospitality and daughters neglected.


At least shoemaking was useful. It’s harder to understand the popularity of the near-pointless pastime of ‘drizzling’, thought to have been carried over to Britain by French émigrés in the 1790s.

Its intriguing name belies the fact that it was simply the rather boring art of unpicking braids, tassels, fringes, tapestries and other fine textiles to extract gold and silver threads.

The threads did have a monetary value and it’s feasible that even aristocratic ‘drizzlers’ were motivated by the thought of selling them to local goldsmiths. The action of unravelling provided a perfect opportunity for female drizzlers to put their delicate and graceful fingers on display in the drawing room, too.

But unlike conventional needlework or netting (the latter of which could be used to make all manner of things from reticules to rabbit nets), there was nothing useful to show for hours spent drizzling.

It seems chiefly to have been a means of killing time – one that could be combined with polite conversation as it required only a bare minimum of concentration and no particular skill.

Princess Charlotte of Wales was a drizzler, and after her tragic death in childbirth her husband Prince Leopold took up the hobby. Just the sight of him carrying his drizzling box into her house, ready to start work with “the monotonous regularity of an automaton” provoked a “yawning-fit,” said his dismayed mistress.

Taking a stage-coach for a spin

Tooling a light and sporty open carriage around the park at the fashionable hour sounds like a very ordinary amusement for a Regency buck. However, some aristocratic gentlemen took driving one step further, turfing their coachman off the box of their travelling carriage and taking the reins of the four-horse team that pulled that more cumbersome vehicle themselves.

By the start of the Regency period, two rival ‘whip clubs’ had already been established, whose members congregated several times during the season to drive themselves out of town to dine at a coaching inn, showing-off not only their smart equipages but their superior driving skills.

As the driver of a public stagecoach admitted, to handle four horses well was an “accomplishment” requiring “practice in order to become a master” (albeit it was a lot easier if you had expensive, high-bred horses to play with, and no talkative paying passengers to distract you).

Crowds gathered to watch a horse and carriage
The meets of the Four-in-Hand club were one of the spectacles of the London Season, as evidenced by the crowds gathered to watch. (Picture by Alamy)

But for these amateur enthusiasts, it wasn’t just about the driving. When they mounted the ‘box’ these ‘gentlemen-coachmen’ strove to imitate the dress, rough manners and slang of their working-class counterparts, donning livery and greatcoats, driving on through pouring rain and stopping at public houses and gin shops more usually frequented by those who drove for their living. One is even said to have had his front teeth filed to create a gap that would “enable him to expel his spittle” like a true professional.

Baffled Persian diplomat Mirza Abu’l Hassan Khan concluded – after watching amid a huge crowd as the Four-Horse (or Four-in-Hand) club were waved off on one of their jaunts in May 1810 – that its wealthy members were simply “trying to impose some kind of discipline on their idle lives”.

One Franco-American tourist could better see the amusement in it, though he warned “that the fashionable imitation of the vulgar by people of superior rank in France […] was one of the things that contributed to bring about the revolution”.

The more real danger was that sporting squires – or young wannabes – were apt to try bribing the drivers of public stagecoaches to let them “take the ribbons” for a time, which, on occasion, had disastrous consequences for the unwitting passengers.

Riding a ‘dandy horse’

For a short time at the end of the Regency, horses were actually old hat for thrill-seeking young men, who were early adopters of their putative mechanical replacement: the velocipede.

Popularised in 1819 by an entrepreneurial coachmaker who improved the design of a vehicle first seen on the continent, and otherwise known as a dandy horse, hobby horse and pedestrian curricle, it was essentially a precursor to the bicycle: a two-wheeler without pedals, propelled along by the rider pushing their feet on the ground.

The Duke of Marlborough had one; the Prince Regent reputedly owned four (though it’s not clear whether he ever rode them as he was grossly overweight and overfond of laudanum by that point).

Caricatures of men riding hobby horses
Caricatures of men riding hobby horses. (Picture by Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images)

Regency bucks with the appropriate stamina, however, took lessons, then tore about London’s parks at speeds between 8ph and 10mph, and raced their dandy horses long distance. The London to Brighton run was particularly popular: in July 1819, newspapers quipped that donkeys were likely to be rivalled by the two-wheelers that summer.

Some were nonplussed, like poet John Keats, who described velocipedes as “the nothing of the day” and seemed bemused by their eight guinea price tag.

Others were made cross by the number of accidents and near-misses that resulted from riders taking to the pavements to avoid rough and bumpy roads, or flying past horses so close that they were spooked.

In the end, restrictions on their use, financial penalties for reckless riders, the ridicule of caricaturists and the condemnation of the medical profession (who warned of ‘ruptures’ or hernias), combined to make riding them more of a passing fad than a serious pastime, which was over by the early 1820s.

Watching the House of Commons debates through a hole in the ceiling

Hot footing it through the streets on a hobby horse was not for society ladies, but if you think fashionable, wealthy women were doomed to pursue only domestic hobbies, think again.

Politically minded ladies of the ton were likely to be spending their time in a pokey room in the loft space of the Palace of Westminster, home from 1818 to a ventilation shaft which opened into the House of Commons chamber below.

There they could, through the gaps in the shaft, catch a glimpse of what was going on below. More importantly, they could hear almost every word, allowing them to form their own opinions from what was actually said, rather than what was reported; and to be ready to discuss them with the politicians of their acquaintance.

Hot and dark, this space was nowhere near as comfortable as the public gallery (from which women had been banned in 1778 after refusing to leave), but ladies like Harriet Arbuthnot, married to the Secretary to the Treasury and a confidante of the Duke of Wellington, valued it all the same. She frequented it alongside friends like Lady Bessborough and Lady Shelley, who were presumably passing up invitations to stuffy ballroom squeezes to be in attendance in the evenings.

Wrenching off door-knockers

What the young, well-heeled gentlemen of the marriage market enjoyed doing when they were missing from the ballrooms would, however, be regarded as shockingly anti-social behaviour today.

A favourite sport during alcohol-fuelled nights on the town was to “parade the streets…and wrench the brass knockers off the doors”. Another was “boxing a Charley” – knocking over the small huts in which the (often snoozing) night watchmen sat, trapping them inside and leaving them to kick and shout to be let out.

A riotous evening might also be enlivened by pinching everything from shop signage to barber’s poles and other people’s hats, as Lord William Lennox later reminisced, adding “many a man about town […] could boast of a well-stocked museum of purloined articles”.


Talking of museums, with so much disposable income it’s to be expected that members of the ton turned to collecting in their spare time – but some of them favoured the unusual.

American ambassador Richard Rush learned of someone who had (to his amazement) “laid out several thousand pounds sterling” on a collection of pipes. He also saw the collection of zoo animals belonging to Lady Castlereagh.

Oil painting on canvas of Lady Castlereagh
Lady Amelia Anne Hobart, Viscountess Castlereagh. (Picture by Alamy)

Meanwhile, Lord Petersham – a mildly eccentric peer who liked his horses, carriages and servants’ livery to be exactly the same shade of brown, and never stirred out of doors before 6pm – was famous for collecting teas and snuffs.


These he stored in a shelf-lined room “more like a shop than a gentleman’s sitting-room” in his father’s London house, along with his collection of snuff boxes and canes.

If you enjoyed this feature, why not explore the period further with our short course on the Regency, compiled with the help of 18th and 19th-century expert Dr Lizzie Rogers? This offering is part of the HistoryExtra Academy, exclusive to our members. Discover more here


Felicity Day is a journalist specialising in British history and heritage. Her book, The Game of Hearts: True Stories of Regency Romance, is out now.