Monthly Archives: August 2013

High Society in Summer 1803

On 22 June 1803  The Morning Post set out to inform its readers what was going on in High Society in its Fashionable World column.

Image “Yesterday the QUEEN’S two dressers came to Town, to get the jewel cases ready; today Her MAJESTY will pack them up – to be deposited in Mr BRIDGES’S house, of Ludgate-hill, for the summer.”

Rundell & Bridge, jewellers, of 32, Ludgate Hill in the City of London, close to St Paul’s Cathedral, were the foremost late Georgian jewellers and goldsmiths and a great favourite of the royal family, especially the Prince of Wales. From 1805 they were known as Rundell, Bridge & Rundell.

 “Yesterday morning HIS MAJESTY, and the Princesses SOPHIA and AMELIA, attended by Ladies PITT and E. THYNNE, Generals GARTH and FITZROY, took an airing on horseback in the Great Park. HER MAJESTY, and the Princesses AUGUSTA and ELIZABETH, went to Frogmore, and walked in the gardens a long time.”

The royal family is obviously in residence at Windsor Castle which is still surrounded by its Great Park. Frogmore (http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/frogmorehouse) was built in the late 17th century and was bought by King George III as a country retreat for Queen Charlotte. It became a favourite of Queen Victoria and is the location of the mausoleum where her mother, the Duchess of Kent, is buried and the mausoleum where Vitoria herself lies next to the tomb of Prince Albert.

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 “The marriage takes place at Fife House at five o’clock on Friday evening, and the Duke and Duchess sleep at Woburn.”

This rather sparse announcement refers to the marriage of John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford to his second wife, Lady Georgiana Gordon, daughter of the Duke of Gordon. Fife House was one of the houses in Whitehall Yard, part of the palace of Whitehall, and was owned at this time by the Earl of Fife. It was demolished in 1867. Woburn is the seat of the Dukes of Bedford.  In this print (above) from Ackermann’s Repository, which shows the view through to the distant dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, Fife House is the redbrick house seen through the trees.

 With the arrival of summer many people were leaving London.

“The people of Brighton are looking forward with anxious eyes for the PRINCE, and hope to see him about the 4th of next month.”

At this date the Prince of Wales’s pleasure palace at Brighton had not reached its final magnificence. He first used it in 1786 and Henry Holland enlarged it in 1787. In 1801-2 it was further enlarged and in the year this piece appeared the prince had purchased a considerable area of land around the Pavilion and plans were in hand to build the magnificent riding school and stables. It was not until 1815 that Nash began the work that created the building we see today. The presence of the prince and the fashionable crowd he attracted was of enormous economic importance to the local community.

This charming litle sketch of people enjoying a stroll on the beach is from the background of one of Ackermann’s fashion prints for 1815.

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 Meanwhile “Among the fashionables at Tunbridge are, the Duke and Duchess of RUTLAND, Ladies DELAWAR, DYNEVOR, BOWYER, Sir J. and Lady BURGESS, Sir W. and Lady JERNINGHAM etc.”

Tunbridge Wells in Kent is only forty miles south of London, so was a convenient spa for those wishing to take the waters from the chalybeate springs and stroll along the Walks, now known as the Pantiles. (Shown in this print from The Guide to the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places. 1818) The town was made famous during Beau Nash’s reign as Master of Ceremonies, but by 1803 was beginning to suffer a little from the rise in popularity of sea bathing and seaside resorts. Even so, the stage coaches made nine return journeys to London daily. Image

Others were also going into the country. “The Bishop of DURHAM left town yesterday for his seat in Oxfordshire. The Countess of GERABTZOFF and suit [sic] have left WARNE’S Hotel, Conduit-street, for Russia.  William ORD, Esq. M.P. and C. J. BRANDLING Esq. are gone to Newcastle races, the former with his beautiful bride.”

 But despite the warmer weather other fashionables remained. “Lady DUNGANNON never looked handsomer than at the ball at Devonshire House; her dress was white and silver, made in style to show her fine neck to perfection. Her Ladyship did not dance until after supper.”

Lady Dungannon was the wife of the Irish peer Arthur Hill-Trevor, 2nd Viscount Dungannon. At this period “neck” was the term used to describe not only the neck itself, but also a lady’s shoulders and the upper slope of her bosom, considered a very important feature for a good figure. Devonshire House was the London home of the Cavendish family, Dukes of Devonshire, and occupied the land between the south side of Berkeley Square and Piccadilly. It was demolished in 1920 and the gates moved across Piccadilly to form one of the entrances into Green Park. In this print of Berkeley Square in 1813  (Ackerman’s Repository) the northern boundary of the gardens can be glimpsed. Image

And lastly there was news of some of the capital’s more eccentric residents. “TOMMY ONSLOW glories that he is superior to BONAPARTE as a whip and daily astonishes the citizens by turning the sharp corners with his phaeton and four.”

Tommy Onslow, or T.O., was Thomas, 2nd Earl of Onslow, a passionate enthusiast for carriage driving. He is remembered in the epigram:

What can little T. O. do?
Drive a phaeton and two.
Can little T. O. do no more?
Yes, — drive a phaeton and four.

The illustration is from the series The Road to a Fight and shows sporting gentlemen hurrying to a prizefight. Image

Without further comment the newspaper’s last Society final snippet reported, ‘General DUNDAS has imported a most beautiful Zebra from the Cape of Good Hope.’

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Filed under High Society, Medicine & health, Royalty

Would Darcy Have Ridden a Bicycle?

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The combination of this fantastic print and the discussion in the UK press recently about encouraging cycling and making it safer prompted this post. Unfortunately the “Pedestrian Hobby Horse” arrived in England soon after Jane Austen’s death – I’ve love to know if she’d have ever given one of her characters a ride. I can imagine Lydia Bennett, skirts flying, shrieking with laughter!

The print, from Ackermann’s Repository (1819) is entitled Pedestrian Hobbyhorse and the text says it was invented by Baron von Drais, “a gentleman at the court of the Grand Duke of Baden.” The baron apparently invented a horseless carriage powered by two servants but it proved heavy and expensive so was abandoned, much to the relief of the unfortunate servants, I imagine!

 The baron went on to invent the hobbyhorse which he used for getting around large parks and gardens and it was introduced to London by Denis Johnson, a coach maker of 75, Long Acre. The Repository considered it simple, cheap and useful, especially in the country and in gentlemen’s pleasure grounds and parks. Medical men in France were already recommending it as a form of exercise.

 “The swiftness with which a person, well practised, can travel, is almost beyond belief: eight, nine, and even ten miles may be passed over within the hour, on good and level ground…the principle of this invention is taken from the art of skating.”

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The rider sat astride a padded seat and rested his forearms on a padded board while steering with a small handle right at the front. Although it appears incredibly simple to us, used to bicycles and motorbikes, it was apparently necessary to take lessons and the  print above shows one of Mr Johnson’s Hobbyhorse Riding Schools. He opened one at 377, Strand and another at 40, Brewer Street, Golden Square in 1819. As you can see from the dress of the riders, this was a sport for well-to-do gentlemen. A hobbyhorse cost between £8-£10.

In Georgette Heyer’s novel Frederica the engaging youth Jessamy Merriville who cannot afford to hire a horse tries out the cheaper option of  a hobbyhorse, which Heyer calls a Pedestrian Curricle.

After a few lessons he hires one and,“Boy enough to want to startle his family with his unsuspected prowess, Jessamy had said nothing to them about his new hobby. Once he had perfected his balance, and could feel himself to be master of the Pedestrian Curricle, he meant to ride up to the door, and call his sisters out to watch his skill…he could not resist the temptation to coast down the long slope of Piccadilly, both feet daringly lifted from the flagway. This feat attracted a great deal of attention, some of it admiring some of it scandalised….”

Poor Jessamy finds himself in the midst of a dog fight and “…trying to control his balance, charged into a man mending chairs, lost control of his machine, and was flung on to the cobbled highway almost under the hooves of a high-stepping pair harnessed to a landaulet.”

The hobbyhorse proved impractical for any surface other than very well-maintained paths and so dropped out of fashion by the early 1820s. Two-wheeled progression lapsed until the invention of a device in 1865 called a velocipde which had pedals which worked directly on the front wheel. It became known as the Boneshaker and was almost entirely made of wood, with metal tyres and no springs – hence the name.

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This photograph shows one in the Birmingham Museum’s Store.

Which of Jane Austen’s characters would you like to see on a Pedestrian Hobbyhorse? Would it be below Mr Darcy’s dignity? Perhaps Mr Collins would think it an improving way to take exercise…

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August 15, 2013 · 1:41 pm