The Story of a Square 7: Finsbury Square

In my occasional series on the history of London Squares I am going eastwards to Finsbury Square, shown outlined in green in Horwood’s map of c1800.

Finsbury Square was built between 1777 and 1791 in an attempt, according to The London Encyclopaedia, to ‘recreate a West End atmosphere near the City’. The principal architect was Charles Dance, but others were involved, and each side of the Square was different. It was severely damaged during World War II and now none of the original buildings remain, nor the circular central garden.

It was built on the land marked on Roque’s map (1740s) below as Upper Moor Fields.

This was originally part of a larger marshy fen or moor outside the City walls which was fully drained in 1527. It ran from immediately north of the City walls and ditch, with the Wall Brook, draining into the City ditch, on the eastern side and a causeway (now the A501, City Road) to the west. Where the causeway met London Walls was the Moor Gate, built 1414 by the Lord Mayor Falconer ‘for ease of citizens that way to pass…into the fields…for their recreation.’ The print shows it at the time of its demolition in 1762.

On the western side Cheselstrete, now Chiswell Street, came in at a right angle to an area of the Moor called Mallow Field, bounded on the east by the parish boundary between St Leonard Shoreditch (east) and St Giles Without Cripplegate (west). The eastern part of the moor in St Leonard’s parish was simply called The Moor and, by the time of Roque’s map, was built over.

To the south of the junction of the causeway with Chiswell Street was the northern boundary of the City, By the 1740s narrow Ropemaker Alley ran along that line to the west and is now Ropemaker Street.

South of the City boundary and north of the Wall was Moor Field, its distorted rectangular shape preserved in the formal landscaped area behind the Bethlem Hospital marked as Moor Fields on Roque’s map. Finsbury Circus (1815-17) occupies much of this area today.

A 16th century illustrated map (below) shows these areas shortly after they were drained. Animals are pastured, archery practice is going on, laundry is laid out to dry and cloth is being stretched on tenterhooks. Finsbury Square occupies the area approximately where the horses are grazing.

By the 1740s the tenter grounds were clearly defined and laid out to the east and north of Upper and Lower Moor Fields and the adjoining Upper Moor Field to the west and, stretching up further north, was The Artillery Ground. The Honourable Artillery Company (who still provide the salutes at the Tower and on state occasions) continue to occupy the site which is now their sports field with the headquarters to the north. In 1672 Moor Gate was rebuilt and made higher so that the trained Bands (the local militia) could march through with their long pikes upright on their way to military exercises on the Moor.

In 1785, as work began on Finsbury Square, Vicenzo Lunardi, the Italian pioneer balloonist, took off from the Artillery Ground with a vast and excited crowd spilling out over the Moor all around. (He landed safely near Ware, in Hertfordshire.)

John Wallis, in his London (quoted below), incorporates  Pennant’s London Improved which mentions Moor Fields, describing the area immediately to the north of Bethlem Hospital as “The City Mall” a popular, tree-lined promenade.

The upper part which had been partly enclosed with a dwarf wall, contained waste, and was long a rendezvous for the boxers and wrestlers that composed old Vinegar’s [a bare knuckle boxer] Ring; and for mountebanks, methodist preachers, old iron stalls, etc.

Upper Moor Field might not, with its military drills, the gunfire of the Artillery Company and its use for such displays as balloon ascensions, fights and scrap iron sales,  seem to be an ideal place to erect a fashionable square. John Wallis in his London: Being a Complete Guide to the British Capital (1810) remarks:

A sudden transformation, as it were, of a marshy moor into the magnificent abodes of some of the wealthiest merchants in the metropolis, cannot be otherwise than interesting to the curious observer.

[An] improvement, truly magnificent, must certainly be admitted in the erection of Finsbury-square, and those new and elegant edifices which now cover all the northern site of ancient Moor-fields. This erection commenced about 1777. After this period the west side being erected first, the others rose with as little interruption as possible, and the whole was nearly inhabited in 1783; the rents, which then produced £4792, in 1797 encreased [sic] to £7598.

It is believed that Finsbury Square was the first public space permanently lit by gas.

The best-known occupant of Finsbury Square is probably Lackington’s Library, known as the Temple of the Muses, in the south-east corner. This vast shop, with a frontage of over forty three metres held a stock of thousands of volumes. I have devoted a post to London libraries, including Lackingtons, and you can read more about it here.

The exterior is shown below, in a print of 1828 when it was no longer owned by James Lackington. It burned down in 1841.

 

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A Christmas Turkey – And A Plum Pudding

I live in Norfolk, one of the major centres in the 18th and 19th centuries for rearing geese and turkeys for the London market. Both were favourites for eating at Christmas and in the weeks before the roads to the Capital were full of flocks of geese being walked slowly to their doom, their feet protected by being dipped in tar and then sand. The arrival of the stagecoaches made transporting birds much faster and they could be slaughtered in Norfolk, then loaded onto the coaches and arrive without having walked off a good part of their condition.

The image above shows the Norwich stage arriving at the Bull Inn in London hung about with geese, but turkeys were transported in the same way. Not all were dead, as Cecil Aldin’s marvellous little sketch of an escaping bird at the top of this post illustrates. the label around his neck says, ‘Leadenhall Market’ and he’s wisely heading back to Norfolk as fast as he can!

Turkey was not just food for the well-off and middle classes as I discovered when researching for Regency Slang Revealed  The slang for all kinds of poultry was hollow, presumably because birds were cooked hollow inside. A turkey was a Bubbly Jock or a Gobbler, references to the sounds they make, or a Cobble Colter. A roast turkey garnished with a string of sausages was an Alderman, a reference to the chain of office. Not much was wasted at this level of society – the part of a chicken we call the parson’s nose was the Pope’s Nose to the Regency underworld and The Devil was a dish comprising the gizzard of the bird, scored, peppered until it was very hot to the taste and then broiled.

A New System of Domestic Cookery; formed upon principles of economy by A Lady (various editions in the early 19thc, mine is 1829) has advice for the prudent housewife on selecting your turkey:

“A Turkey Cock – If young, it has a smooth black leg with a short spur. If fresh, the eyes full and bright and the feet supple and moist. If stale the eyes will be sunk, and the feet dry. Hen-Turkey is known by the same rules; but if old, her legs will be red and rough.”

This book contains a number of recipes for turkey including a version of the Devil, mentioned above:

“An Incomparable Relish, or Devil, of Turkey 

On the rump, gizzard , and a drum-stick, put salt, pepper and Cayenne. Let them be broiled, and brought back as hot as possible; cut them in small pieces, pour over a ladle of mustard, ditto of melted butter, a spoonful of soy, ditto of lemon-juice, and some of the gravy out of the dish; mix quickly, and hand round.”

The instructions for roast turkey give the traditional accompaniments still served today. The stuffing is sausage meat with chopped shallots, breadcrumbs and a beaten egg. Sausages and bread sauce are served separately along with the gravy.

When I transcribed the receipt book of Regency housewife Mrs Jean Mills for Mock Oyster Sauce and a Cure for Corns  I found only one turkey recipe, for Turkey Pie, which involved leaving the meat seasoned with pepper, salt, nutmeg, pounded clove and mace overnight before baking it in a rich gravy.

However Mrs Mills does include the instructions for Plum Pudding, that other staple of the Christmas dinner. She often gives the name of the person who gave her a particular recipe and she attributes this one to her late first husband, Captain Ryan of the East India Company. Like all the recipes for plum cake and plum puddings that I can find in Georgian recipe books this does not include plums!

Captain Ryan’s Receipt for Plum Pudding

12 Eggs, 1 lb Suet, 1 lb Raisins, 1 lb Currants, 3 Table Spoons Grated Biscuits, 3 of Sugar, 1 Nutmeg, 1 Tea Spoon grated ginger, a little sweetmeat, 1 Glass Brandy. This pudding takes 4 hours to Boil.

If you want to try this with modern weights and measures, 1 lb = 453.5 grams.

On the same page you can see Mrs Edwards’ Plain Cake and Batter Pudding. The ‘do’ – ditto – makes me think Mrs Edwards contributed that too.

Have fun planning your Christmas dinner!

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An English Poet in Georgian Malta

On my holidays this year I seem to have been bumping into the long arm of the Georgian navy at every turn. In August and September I wrote about encounters in Canada with Queen Victoria’s father, the Duke of Kent, and uncle, William IV when he was a naval officer. Last month I visited Malta and, standing in front of the Grand Master’s Palace in the heart of Valletta, found myself looking up at an unmistakable coat of arms on the opposite side of St George’s Square.

Even without seeing the date of 1814, this is clearly a Georgian coat of arms with the white horse of the house of Hanover as the other supporter with the British lion. So what was it doing there? I should have remembered that Malta was one of the Mediterranean islands that fell to the British after the defeat of the French navy at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. Translated the motto reads: “The love of the Maltese and the voice of Europe assigned these Islands to great and unconquered Britain. A.D. 1814.” No shortage of self-confidence there…

The Grand Harbour is one of the greatest harbours of the world, as the Knights of St John who had governed Malta for hundreds of years appreciated. In 1798 the French ousted the Knights and took over the supremely strategic island and even after the Battle of the Nile the French clung on to Malta, with some of the surviving ships of the fleet sheltering in the harbour. The British navy promptly blockaded the island. They were helped by the Maltese population who, although they were weary of the Knights’ rule, seem to have liked the French even less. In September 1800 the French ships tried to break out and were captured and the island fell. In 1814, the date on the coat of arms, Malta became a British colony, finally achieving independence in 1964.

Throughout history Malta has been of huge strategic importance in the Mediterranean which has made it all too often the target of fierce fighting – notably under the Knights and during the Second World War where its population endured the most appalling conditions and were awarded the George Cross as a tribute to their courage. With the arrival of the British in 1800 the island found an unexpected peace and prosperity. British merchants came in droves and it became an invaluable distribution point for British exports and the harbour and the presence of the fleet created huge commercial and employment opportunities. Not all was sweetness and light – the history of Anglo-Maltese relations is too complex to explore here – but the British presence for over 160 years has left a deep impression on the island.

The Grand Master’s Palace (below) became the seat of government and the residence of the British Governor.

Opposite is the Main Guard Building (below) which was built by the Knights in 1603 as the guardhouse for the Palace. The neo-classical portico was added, along with the coat of arms, in 1814.

So what was the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, perhaps now most famous for his poems The Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, to do with this? To my surprise I found a plaque to him on a building on the corner of St George’s Square. Apparently, in 1804, despite health problems and an increasing opium addiction, he travelled to Sicily and then to Malta where he found a post as Acting Public Secretary under the Civil Commissioner, Sir Alexander Bell. Despite being successful in the role he resigned and returned to England in 1806.

 

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How Romantic Was An Elopement?

The romance and drama of an elopement is a popular theme in the historical love story, but it must have been an uncomfortable and expensive procedure, even without the risk of the rope ladder giving way and tumbling the young lady to the ground, or the furious father giving chase with his shotgun or horsewhip to chastise the bridegroom to within an inch of his life.

The post chaise was the fastest and safest way of evading Papa, although the popular name for these vehicles – yellow bounders – hints that expressions of passion must have been difficult as it swayed and lurched along the ill-made roads. How many nervous brides succumbed to travel sickness and second thoughts by the time the first inn was reached?

They also had a reputation for causing accidents because of the furious pace of escape, as a delightful print I picked up in Paris shows. A chaise and four, with the two postilions urging on the horses, leaves mayhem in its wake. A horse falls, its rider spills into the road and a pig bolts in terror while the lovers are lost to everything in their own private world inside the carriage.

The Great North Road by Charles G Harper (1901) casts a cynical eyes at the post chaise and its passengers –

“Everyone is familiar with the appearance of the old post-chaise, which according to the painters and the print-sellers, appears to have been principally used for the purpose of spiriting lovelorn couples with the-speed of the wind away from all restrictions of home and the Court of Chancery. A post-chaise was (so it seems nowadays) a rather cumbrous affair, four-wheeled, high, and insecurely hung, with a glass front and a seat to hold three, facing the horses. The original designers evidently had no prophetic visions as to this especial popularity of post-chaises with errant lovers, nor did they ponder the proverb, ‘Two’s company, three’s none’, else they would have restricted their accommodation to two, or have enlarged it to four.”

The gentleman planning an elopement would do well to visit his banker first – eloping in any style was an expensive business. There were the bribes of course – the lady’s maid, footmen who must turn a blind eye, the gardener whose ladder might be borrowed. The postilions, who would know at once that something illicit was afoot, would need their palms greasing liberally as would the landladies of the inns along the way if the happy, if queasy, couple wanted a good room for their first night of bliss.

The image above is from a book called Takings: or the Life of a Collegian. It is a satirical romp through the life of a young man by R.Dagley (1821). The picture is captioned ‘Taking Amiss’. Here the ‘hero’ Tom is eloping with his love – note the sign on the wall ‘To the Boarding School’ – the young lady is clearly below age.

At length the wished-for moment was at hand.

(Why should Time creep so slowly when we call?)

The cautious signal by the lovers plann’d,

Was heard and answere’d by the garden-wall

And now her drapery the nymph displays,

Now they [Tom has a friend along to support him] assist, and seat her in the chaise.

 

Not everything goes according to Tom’s plans, however: “One lodging, he conceived, for both would do, But Charlotte resolutely called for two”. Frustrated, Tom settles down to woo her, but has not succeeded by the time her furious relatives locate them and he finds himself facing a duel.

Another significant cost was the hire of the post chaise itself. A prudent lover would hire four horses, to achieve twelve miles an hour, and the chaise cost one-and-threepence a mile. On top of that there were toll gates to pay every few miles and food and accommodation. The canny eloper armed himself with Cary’s New Itinerary or an Accurate Delineation of the Great Roads (as does the writer trying to work out her hero and heroine’s route today!) This at least ensured that the post boys were not adding on a profitable mile here and there.

London to Gretna via Manchester, according to Cary, is 320 miles. That is £20 for the chaise and horses alone, at a time when a housemaid would be glad to earn £16 a year, all found.

Does an elopement still strike you as romantic? Would the thrill of the escape and the delight of being alone with the loved one at last outweigh the discomfort and expense? It is a while since I wrote an elopement into a book – I wonder, should I be thinking of another one?

If you are intrigued by the experience of travelling in Georgian Britain you can retrace some of the iconic routes in Driving Through Georgian Britain: the great coaching routes for the modern travellerAvailable in paperback and ebook it allows the modern traveller to drive the Great North Road, the Bath Road, the Brighton Road and the Dover Road finding what remains and discovering stories of elopement, murder, good meals and bare knuckle fights along the way.

 

 

 

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Regency Ice Cream Anyone?

Fred Nutt0003I love ice cream – which is fortunate as my husband, who is the cook in our house, has bought an expensive Italian ice cream maker which means we’ve got to eat lots to make it earn its keep!

But ice cream was a real luxury in the early 19thc. There was no way of making ice artificially – it had to be harvested and stored which was easy enough if you had a large estate with lakes and ponds which would freeze in winter and staff to do the work. Slabs of ice were cut and packed in ice houses where they could be insulated with thick walls and straw to keep the ice right through the year. But how did they manage in towns and cities? Presumably loads of ice were brought in by wagon, melting all the time, and would be stored in insulated rooms.

Once you had your ice, making frozen or chilled desserts was still hard work. I own a copy of The Complete Confectioner or, the Whole Art of Confectionary Made Easy by Frederick Nutt (1815). The book has a frontispiece (above) of a lady with a magnificent pineapple – a real status symbol at the time and so expensive that you could hire one as a centrepiece for your smart dinner party and then return it, untouched, the next day.

Mr Nutt has pages of receipts for ice creams and water ices. Here is the one for barberry ice cream, which gives the basic method used for all the others.

“Take a large wooden spoonful of barberry jam, and put it in a bason with one pint of cream; squeeze one lemon in, mix it well; put it into the freezing pot and cover it; put the freezing pot into a pail and some ice all round the pot; throw a great deal of salt on the pot in the pail, turning your pot around for ten minutes; then open your pot and scrape it from the sides, cover it up again and keep turning it for some time, till your cream is like butter, and as thick; put it in your moulds, put them into a pail, and cover it with ice and salt for three quarters of an hour, till you find the water is come to the top of the pail; do not be sparing of salt, for if you do not use enough it will not freeze: dip your mould into water, and turn it out on your plate to send to table.”

He uses jams and cordials extensively as flavourings for his ices and it was possible to buy syrups ready made. Here is the billhead for F Parmentier & Co. Confectioners of 9, Edwards Street, Portman Square for 1812. The purchaser had bought a bottle of orange syrup for 7 shillings, another of lemon at the same price and rout cake at 4 shillings.

 

Gunther’s in Berkeley Square was the most famous of the London tea rooms and there you could have ices brought out for the ladies to eat in their carriages under the spreading lime trees that shaded the square.

The illustration of the three young women is French, from Le Bon Genre series of the early 1820s. It is called L’Embarras du Choix, although the lady on the left seems more interested in staring at the handsome waiter than choosing her ice cream from the menu!

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If You Decide to Visit Sanditon -Here is What to Wear

The new adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sanditon is all the rage on British TV as I write this post, so here is a collection of fashionable outfits to help you decide what to wear to the seaside. First of all, remember to pack your telescope (or you can hire one from most circulating libraries.) A lady never knows when she might need to check that the gentlemen are sticking to their allocated section of beach.

telescope shoppedThe image above is from La Belle Assemblée for October 1809 and shows ‘Sea Coast Promenade Fashion.’

Telescope0001Somewhat later – I do not have a date for this, but it is c1820 – is this ‘Walking Dress’ from Ackermann’s Repository. I can’t help feeling that this lady is looking positively shifty as she readies her telescope.

 

 

Also in October 1809 the same periodical  showed, ‘Bathing Place Assembly Ball Dress’ (below), illustrated with the neat trick of having a mirror at the back. I can’t help feeling that the head and the bosom are slightly out of proportion… It is interesting that both are published in October – surely far too late for the seaside ‘Season’.

Oct 1809 Bathing Place Assembly

If you feel daring you might like to try one of Mrs Bell’s more… interesting (?) confections….

Bathing evening0001

This extraordinary garment (La Belle Assemblée September 1810) is described as ‘Bathing Place Evening Dress’ and looks like nothing more than some form of night-wear with its buttons right down the front and the display of the shocking pantalettes.

Walking dresses for the seaside show a complete disregard for sea breezes, with bonnets and parasols deployed by every lady. These ladies on the beach at Southend seem to be hanging on to skirts and parasols with some difficulty.Southend

dog walking

This lady, walking her dog on the beach with bathing machines behind her, seems positively agitated as she clings to her hat with her shawl whipping around her. This is a plate from Ackermann’s Repository August 1822.

A rather more tranquil day is shown here in another dog-walking scene, although I would not like to be her lady’s maid, trying to get salt water and sand out of those trailing skirts!

parasol dog bathing machines

1809 Bathing dressWhat did one wear to get to and from those bathing machines? The ever-inventive Mrs Bell produced a magnificent ‘Sea Side Bathing Dress’ for the August 1815 edition of La Belle Assemblée. This is not the costume for entering the sea but for wearing to get there, and it is lavishly trimmed in drooping green, presumably to imitate seaweed. Note the bag she is carrying. This contains Mrs Bell’s ‘Bathing Preserver’ which she produced in 1814. You can see it in its bag again below (La Belle Assemblée September 1814). Here the lady is wearing ‘Sea Side Morning Dress’ with ‘Bathing Preserver. Invented & to be had exclusively of Mrs Bell, No.26 Charlotte Street, Bedford Square.’ The Preserver is in the bag lying beside her chair.

1814 Seaside walking dress & bathing preserver.jpg

Ladies normally wore a simple flannel garment with head and arm holes and possibly a weighted hem – ‘a flannel case’. One could provide one’s own or hire one, and this is what Mrs Bell is referring to in her description of the Perserver:

‘The Bathing Preserver‘ is a most ingenious and useful novelty for ladies who frequent the sea-side; as it is intended to provide them with a dress for bathing far more adapted to such purposes than anything of the kind at present in use; and it will be found most necessary and desirable to those ladies who go to the sea-side unprovided with bathing dresses and will relieve them from the nauseous idea of wearing the bathing coverings furnished by the guides [the ‘dippers’ or bathing-women]. Mrs Bell’s Bathing Preserver is made in quite a novel manner to which is attached a cap to be removed at pleasure, made of a delicate silk to keep the head dry. The Preserver is made of such light material that a lady may carry it in a tasteful oiled silk bag of the same size as an ordinary lady’s reticule.’

Discover all about the Georgian seaside, from bathing dresses to royal patronage, in The Georgian Seaside: The English resorts before the railway age. 

The Georgian Seaside Cover_MEDIUM WEB

 

 

 

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Queen Victoria’s Papa Designs a Clock Tower

In my last blog post I described my Canadian encounters with William, Duke of Clarence, destined to become William IV, and his beautiful, somewhat older lover, Mrs Frances Wentworth. Now to discover what his brother Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathern, was up to in Canada – and why he had cause to be grateful to Mrs Wentworth.

Edward (1767 – 1820) was the fourth son of George III and, like his older brother William, eventually married as part of the desperate race to produce a Hanoverian heir to the throne after the death of George IV’s daughter and only child, Princess Charlotte. Edward married Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield, widowed sister of Princess Charlotte’s husband Leopold. In 1819 Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent was born, destined to become Queen Victoria. But that was all in the future when Edward was in Canada.

Edward

Destined for a career in the army, all went well at first and in 1789 he was appointed Colonel of the 7th Regiment of Foot. However he returned home without leave and was sent to Gibraltar in disgrace on a much-reduced rank. He found the weather too hot for him, requested a transfer and was sent to Quebec in 1791. He was joined by his mistress, Julie St. Laurent (who eventually spent 28 years with him) and soon settled into Canadian society, although his military service did take him down to the West Indies where he served with distinction.

There are even rumours that Edward married Julie in a Roman Catholic ceremony in Quebec, but I cannot find any proof. It would have been invalid in any case as he needed the King’s permission to marry and a Roman Catholic ceremony would not have been accepted, even if, improbably, Julie had been.

Edward travelled widely in Canada and I encountered him in Annapolis Royal, a delightful historic town on the Bay of Fundy when I stayed in The Bailey House (shown in the photograph below). Edward was entertained here in the 1790s by the Totten family, refugee Loyalists from Westchester, New York. The house retains all its original 1770 features and it was a thrill to stay there.

Bailey House

From 1794 Edward was stationed at Halifax, Nova Scotia, as Commander in Chief of Royal forces in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Halifax has a magnificent harbour and was the Royal Navy’s North American base. Towering above the harbour is the Citadel, a massively fortified military complex. I toiled up the hill in sweltering heat to view it and it is certainly impressive!

Edward brought Julie St. Laurent with him. She had been shunned by Quebec society so he must have been delighted to make the acquaintance the civilian Governor, Sir John Wentworth, and his wife Frances, who had been the lover of Edward’s brother, William.  They welcomed Julie, and the couples became close friends. Perhaps Frances understood the stresses of being a royal mistress!

Edward secured funding for the defenses of Halifax and was instrumental in many improvements in the city, including the building of the Round Church and the Garrison Clock which he apparently helped design. Unfortunately it is covered in netting and scaffolding for restoration at the moment, but it remains a significant landmark.

clock 2

Edward left Canada in 1800, still accompanied by Madame St. Laurent who remained with him until his marriage in 1818. They never returned to Canada.

 

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