Monthly Archives: March 2013

Detox the Georgian Way

taking physic edit 2Detox diets are nothing new. At a time when those who could afford it would eat large amounts of meat and drink copious quantities of alcohol, while at the same time being wary of the effects of eating green vegetables in any quantity, stomach upsets, constipation and feeling ‘liverish’ were common complaints. A good internal clear-out was considered highly beneficial and taking ‘physic’ or purges and even vomits was commonplace. Physic could be administered as routine, even if the recipient was not experiencing any symptoms and children were regularly dosed, although not everyone thought it a good thing.

In Emma John Knightly says “Well, Emma, I do not believe I have any thing more to say about the boys; but you have your sister’s letter, and every thing is down at full length there we may be sure. My charge would be much more concise than hers, and probably not much in the same spirit; all that I have to recommend being comprised in, do not spoil them, and do not physic them.”

Most housewives would have their own recipes for purges. A fairly standard one consisted of thinly sliced liquorice root and coriander seeds boiled in water, then strained and senna added. Eliza Smith’s The Compleat Housewife of 1758 gives an elaborate recipe for, “An opening drink” which contains pennyroyal, red sage, liverwort, horehound, maidenhair, hyssop, figs, raisins, blue currants, liquorice, aniseed and coriander, all boiled in spring water and bottled. She recommends drinking half a pint in the morning and again in the afternoon, meanwhile keeping warm and eating little.

Most people felt the need for a combined tonic and purge in Spring after a long winter of preserved foods and little greenery. Eliza Smith has the following “Purging Diet-Drink in the Spring”.
Take six gallons of ale; three ounces of rhubarb; senna, madder-roots and dock roots, of each twelve ounces; twelve handfuls of scabious, and as much agrimony; three ounces of aniseeds; slice and cut these, put them in a bag and let them work in the ale; drink of it three or four times a day.

None of these sound particularly pleasant, but at least you knew what was in them. Purges and physics were the stock in trade of quack doctors and those sometimes contained quite dangerous substances. Even the products of respectable chemists had their perils, however this advertisment is for a product from reputable chemist Thomas Savory of Bond Street (see below).

Aperient advert crop

One of the most popular products during the 19th century was Seidlitz powders, a potent mixture of sodium bicarbonate, potassium sodium tartrate and tartaric acid. This was mixed with water until fizzy and drunk. Over-dosing was dangerous, with reported deaths from internal ruptures, but it was widely used and made the fortune of fashionable chemist Thomas Field Savory of the firm Savory and Moore who acquired the UK licence to sell it. The handsome shop front of his store in New Bond Street is the only early frontage remaining in the street. Wellington and Lady Hamilton were amongst his customers and the Duke of Sussex was a personal friend and often dined with Savory. It is not recorded whether he dosed any of them with his famous powders!


The unfortunate gentleman resisting his physic is from R. Dagley’s Takings (1821). The advertisement is from The Observer, Sunday October 29th 1809. The photograph shows the shopfront of Savory and Moore in New Bond Street, now the Ralph Lauren store.


Filed under Food & drink, Medicine & health

The Great Fire of Conduit Street

Conduit Street, the the heart of fashionable Mayfair, runs off Bond Street to the north-east, about half way down, From it George Street turns off north to Hanover Square, passing St George’s church, famous for Society weddings, on the way.

Conduit Street itself had a number of hotels during the late 18th-early 19th century, including Limmer’s, the dirtiest hotel in London according to Captain Gronow, despite being a favourite of the rich squirearchy. Another was Warne’s, located on the northern side, half way between George Street and Mill Street.


It is no wonder, when fire broke out at Warne’s Hotel, threatening St George’s church itself, that it caused chaos. The Globe of Monday of 30th January 1809 reported the scene. (My comments are in square brackets.)

Dreadful Fire

At half-past four, yesterday afternoon, a most alarming fire broke out at Warne’s hotel, in Conduit-street, Bond-street. The hotel consisted of two houses, being No.19 and 20. [The numbering has remained the same, so the site is easily identified today]. The appearance, on its first breaking out, was most frightful. A great body of smoke issued from the premises, which entirely prevented the passengers [ie pedestrians] from seeing their way in the street. The inmates of the house, including several gentlemen and families, flew in every direction. In an instant afterwards, the flames burst out from every window of the house, and the whole side of the street, from the corner of George-street, Hanover-square, to Mill-street, was enveloped in flames, threatening destruction to the whole neighbourhood.

The drums beat to arms, and the St. James’s, Bloomsbury, and St George’s, Hanover-square, volunteers, [organised by the parishes] repaired to the spot with the greatest alacrity. Engines arrived in all directions, but water could not be immediately procured.

The fire burned with the greatest rapidity; the first house was nearly consumed before the engines could be brought to play with any effect, though the firemen used every exertion in their power; – the wind being very high, the flames spread to such an extent, that it was almost impossible for them to work. Many of them rushed into the Hotel to save some of the property, and, we are sorry to say, that, according to the latest account we could collect, four firemen and a boy were missing. The fire was got under about nine o’clock at night.


The Hotel is entirely destroyed, and part of an adjoining house, including the back premises, which extend nearly to the gates of St. George’s Chapel, in George-street, Hanover-square. The evening service was not over at the time the fire broke out; the flames seen through the windows of the chapel alarmed the congregation. The service was immediately stopped, and the congregation made their escape. Great confusion ensued; the charity children, who always attend there, ran in every direction – some without their hats, the girls without bonnets or cloaks. We are afraid that many persons were hurt, as the confusion was very great, and the congregation numerous. We understand the church plate was secured, as the Chapel, at one time, was thought in great danger.

Great praise is due to the Earl of Chesterfield. On hearing of the accident, he sent for a party of horse [cavalry], who instantly repaired to the spot, and cleared the carriages in Bond-street, which were four a-breast, and entirely impeded the progress of the engines.


Earl Percy also ordered the engine from Northumberland House [ie his private fire engine] to attend; and the Duke of Portland sent out a supply of ale to those who were employed at the fire. Sir Walter Farquhar ordered his servants to render every assistance, and great part of the furniture saved from the flames was brought into his house. A fireman of the Phoenix-Office [insurance company], of the name of Rushfield, was very much injured; the hair of his head was entirely burnt off, and part of his clothes. He was rescued from his perilous situation by a milkman who served the house, and ran to give every assistance; he was also very much burnt in the hand.

Most of the families that were in the hotel, as soon as the alarm was given, went to Bates’s and other hotels, in Jermyn-street, St. James’s.

The fire broke out in Lady Falkland’s dressing-room. Her Ladyship has lost all her jewels. [This was only the beginning of a disastrous year for Lady Falkland, the wife of Charles John Cary, 9th Viscount Falkland. She was widowed on 2nd March 1809, three days after her husband was fatally wounded in a duel.]


 The scenes of fire and the details of the fire engines and firemen pumping are from a print by Rowlandson and Pugin, published by Ackermann in 1808. It is entitled “Fire in London” and shows a house on fire at the southern end of Blackfriars bridge.

The print of George Street from the junction with Conduit Street shows St George’s on the right. It appeared in Ackermann’s Repository in 1812.


Filed under Accidents & emergencies

Taking Tea at Mr Gunter’s

High class pastry cooks and caterers were an essential part of the infrastructure of Georgian London. The most famous, of course, was Gunter’s in Berkeley Square but others included Parmentier’s in Edward’s Street (now part of Wigmore Street)  and Farrance’s on the corner of Spring Gardens and Cockspur Street, a popular resort for ladies visiting the exhibitions in the Spring Gardens’ galleries.

These luxury establishments were not cheap. This bill from Parmentier’s to a gentleman living in Harley Street is for a bottle each of orange and lemon ‘syrop’ and a dozen rout cakes and totals 18 shillings.

Gunter’s establishment was in the south-east corner of Berkeley Square and was originally the shop of Dominicus Negri, an Italian pastrycook, who set up there in 1757, trading as The Pot and Pineapple. Pineapples, often referred to as ‘pines’, were an exotic luxury, so expensive that people would hire them to form the centrepiece at a dinner party and then return them, uneaten, the next day, so the name of the establishment hinted at its quality. This pineapple below is from the frontispiece of Nutt’s The Complete Confectioner (1815).

Negri’s tradecard advertised “all sorts of English, Fench and Italian wet and dry sweet meats, Cedrati and Bergamet chips and Naples divolini.”

Pineapple0001ParmentiersNegri took Gunter into partnership in 1777 and by 1799 Gunter had taken over the business. He obviously established his reputation for quality as this extract from The Morning Chronicle, 16 June 1801, shows.

“(From a Correspondent)  Mrs Morton Pitt’s Masquerade –

Mrs Morton Pitt opened her house in Arlington-street, for the first time, upon the debut of her beautiful and accomplished daughter in the beau mond: this of course attracted a most brilliant and dazzling assemblage of all the fashionable world; and, whether from the condescending manner of the beautiful hostess, or the high glow of spirits which universally reigned throughout the whole company, the writer protests he has not, in the career of fashion of this year, seen so much conviviality. The supper was such as everyone must expect, when they hear that Mr Gunter, of Berkeley-square, superintended in that department.”

He did not cater only within London. On 25 August 1804 The Morning Post reported, in its Fashionable World column:

“Lady Smith Burgess’s Fete at Havering Bower in Essex…about 200 of the neighbouring nobility and gentry, and many others from town were present…. About five o’clock [in the afternoon] the company…returned into the Saloon, where a most sumptuous Breakfast was set out. The entertainment consisted of every delicacy which the munificence of her Ladyship could provide, and the taste of Mr Gunter, the confectioner, could display.”

I cannot find any advertisements in the London newspapers for Gunter’s – possibly the glowing references in all the accounts of parties, masques and balls was sufficient.

Mr Gunter kept a very fine house in the village of West Kensington, set in 30 acres of grounds which contained the kitchen gardens, orchards and hothouses that produced the vegetables, and more importantly, the pineapples and exotic fruits for the business.

It was his ice creams that he is most known for today. They were made from fresh cream, fresh fruit and sugar and were sometimes frozen using ice shipped in from the Arctic as well as from English ice houses. During the summer the fashionable would drive their carriages to Gunter’s and the waiters would bring out the ices to be consumed under the plane trees that still shade the square. It was considered perfectly respectable for a lady to take tea with a gentleman there. Gunter also enjoyed royal patronage – if enjoyed is quite the right word. Between 1819 and 1828 the Duke of Sussex ran up unpaid bills of almost £700 with him!Ice cream parlour 2

This print shows young ladies chosing their ices in a Paris confectioner’s.

 Gunter’s business continued until 1936 when the east side of the square was demolished and it moved to Curzon Street. By the 1950s the tea shop closed and the catering business continued, only to be shut down in 1976 as more modern tastes and budgets could no longer support the high style of the operation.

Today there is still a catering establishment on the site of the Berkeley Square shop, and the customers still take refreshments from there to eat in the square under the plane trees. In this picture of the square in 2013 you can just see the red sign – although what Mr Gunter would have made of Prêt is anyone’s guess!DSCN0136


Filed under Food & drink

Walking Jane Austen’s London – the Cover!

Image  Here is the cover for Walking Jane Austen’s London to be publshed 23 July.  I’m delighted with it – it has prints from my collection at the bottom and a present-day photograph at the top to emphasise the past-into-present theme of the     eight walks.

You can pre-order the book now at and

I’ll be talking about Jane Austen’s London, and the book,  at Berkhamsted Library, Hertfordshire on 19th March as part of Hertfordshire LitFest. More details of the whole LitFest programe, including how to buy tickets, is at

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Filed under Books