Trivia

Hard

What Ornamental Feature Did 19th Century English Aristocrats Keep On Their Estates?

Bakeries
Glass Dragons
Jesters
Hermits
An 1870 photo of hermit John Smith.
Unknown Photographer/Wikimedia

Answer: Hermits

For a brief period in the 1800s, there was a rather bizarre and short-lived fad that swept through wealthy aristocratic households: keeping a hermit. You read that correctly; for a period of time it was very fashionable in upper class English households to have a hermitage built on the grounds of their estates and a man employed as a hermit to live in it.

This hermit was paid well, given room and board, and his entire job was to wander around the estate and, well, be as much of an eccentric hermit as he could muster. That was the hermit’s only true task: to provide a sort of eccentric entertainment for the master of the house and his guests.

In fact, for a man who wanted lots of time to himself without the toil of labor or industry, finding a gig as an ornamental hermit was a dream job. Many of the aristocrats that installed such on-estate hermitages and ornamental hermits kept them on for years and, after the initial novelty wore off, left the hermits to their own devices. We don’t know about you, but collecting a decent salary for living on the grounds of a huge English estate with nothing to do but meditate, wander, and read books sounds like a pretty awesome way to enjoy a young retirement.

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