Monthly Archives: April 2016

A Set-to at the Fives Court

Boxing

“FIVES-COURT. A place distinguished (in addition to the game of fives) for sparring matches between the pugilists. The combatants belonging to the prize-ring exhibit the art of self-defence at the Fives-Court with the gloves; and it is frequently at this Court where public challenges are given and accepted by the boxers. The most refined and fastidious person may attend these exhibitions of sparring with pleasure; as they are conducted with all the neatness, elegance and science of FENCING. Admission, 3s. each person. It is situated in St. Martin’s Street, Leicester-fields.”

(Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, revised and corrected…by Pierce Egan. 1823)

I was comparing the first, 1785, edition of Francis Grose’s Vulgar Tongue with the 1823 edition edited by that aficionado of ‘Boxiana’, pioneer sporting journalist and creator of Tom and Jerry, Pierce Egan, when I came across this reference to the Fives Court, obviously added by Egan.

The print at the top of this post is from my collection and I had wondered where the Fives Court was located – it was obviously a very large structure, judging from the light streaming in from a high window. It was built as a court for the game of fives, a sort of hand-ball, or hand-tennis, originally thought to have been played against church buttresses, but then adopted at the public schools of Rugby and Eton and refined. Like Real (Royal) tennis it is played on an indoor court with high walls and various slopes and ledges.

In 1802 a sparring exhibition was held between Mendoza and Bill Warr – two boxing superstars. It was held on the floor of the court, not on a removable platform ring as shown in my much later (1823) print, that was introduced at the suggestion of black pugilist Bill Richmond.

Initially the admission was two shillings or two and six pence up to three and six, but, as Grose states, it was soon standardised at three shillings. Vincent Dowling, another sports writer, noted that there was a small dressing room at one end that had a window looking down on the Court and this was set aside for “…some dozens of noblemen and persons of high rank, whose liberal contributions (many of them giving a guinea for a ticket) added greatly to the receipts of the beneficiary.”

Bill Richmond (left) & Dutch Sam - two boxers whose physique drew artists to the Fives Court

The quote reminds us that most of these exhibition bouts were benefit performances for one of the pugilists who would stand at the door with a collecting box soliciting further donations in advance of the bout. Bill Richmond (shown above, left), like many retired pugilists, owned a pub. His was the Horse and Dolphin, located strategically next to the Fives Court, and tickets for bouts were sold there as well as in other sporting taverns.

The Court could accommodate an audience of up to 1,000 and, if full, admission might raise £200. The chief beneficiary would have to pay a fee for the court and to the referee and Master of Ceremonies. Lesser fighters, who would appear earlier on in the programme as warm-up acts, also got a payment from the takings. The great ‘Gentleman’ Jackson controlled who could have bouts at the Court and appears to have done so with few complaints, although in 1821 he refused the application of his bitter rival, Mendoza.

The bouts were for exhibition purposes, which is why gloves were worn, and Richmond was the first to strip to the waist, sparring without vest or shirt, so that his musculature could be admired by the fans. This display attracted artists including Benjamin Haydon, Joseph Farington (President of the Royal Academy) and John Rossi the sculptor who ‘much admired Dutch Sam’s [shown above, right] figure on account of the symmetry and the parts being expressed.

The 1823 print at the top of the post, ‘ “A Set-to” at the Fives-Court for the benefit of “One of the Fancy”’ is by Samuel Alken. The crowd is orderly and the gentlemen to either side in the foreground are very fashionably dressed. Respectably-dressed tradesmen can also be seen – one in an apron is in the audience sitting up on the right. The central figure facing us wears an apron and his arms are full of what look like giant cream horns. Close inspection shows that the contents are within conical containers stitched up the side – my guess is that these are some kind of bread roll, perhaps with a filling. I’d love to hear any other suggestions.

Fives red

The Fives-Court operated as a boxing venue from 1802 until it closed in 1826 and was demolished as part of the redevelopment of the Royal Mews area into what became Trafalgar Square. The site is now under the northern edge of the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery and it is possible to pass this rather dreary location without the slightest inkling that it was once one of the sporting hot-spots of London. It is marked on the map in red.

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The Regency Print Room – DIY Decoration and Early Scrapbooking

On a recent visit to Blickling Hall in North Norfolk I was delighted to see an example of one of my favourite kinds of Regency interior – the Print Room.

Blickling 1

These were usually small rooms with painted walls on which the homeowner would paste prints, surrounding them with fancy borders made to resemble picture frames and perhaps with tromp l’oeil ribbons and cords to ‘hang’ them from.

Print rooms were attractive projects to undertake for a number of reasons, especially since the selection and arrangement of the prints themselves served to demonstrate your personal taste and discrimination, to be admired by friends and visitors. It was a form of satisfying collecting to track down and assemble the prints and, very importantly, it was a craft skill that was perfectly acceptable for ladies to carry out, involving nothing more than a pair of sharp scissors, a ruler, a pot of flour paste and a footman with a step ladder.

Illustrated books were popular conversation pieces, to be handed round and discussed in the evening and many would have been sacrificed for their prints of classical antiquity, foreign lands or plant and animal life. Gentlemen on the Grand Tour might buy prints on their travels and come home with them for their mothers or sisters to use to create a large-scale souvenir of the journey.

Contemporary journals, such as Ackerman’s Repository always contained prints of fashionable ladies of the day or of interesting scenes, and print shops abounded in London and the larger towns.

The prints used in the more formal print rooms seen by visitors were usually black and white or sepia and not the hand-painted coloured types.

Rudolph Ackermann was the foremost artistic supplier to the well-off amateur as well as to professional artists. He was born in Saxony in 1764 and opened his shop at 101, Strand in 1797. His portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, a mark of how successful and influential he became. He sold paints and colours, other supplies for artists, illustrated books, journals and prints.

He even sold prints of his own shop – excellent publicity, of course. This one shows customers browsing through the prints and hints at the size of his stock. As well as buying the actual prints, anyone creating a print room could also buy borders in lengths to cut to fit, and the other decorative details to create the impression of a collection of hanging pictures.

ackermanns 2

The two photos from Blickling show how the entire room was designed as whole, with a border around the doors and windows to match the ‘frames’ on the pictures. The detail shows one wall with prints mainly from the Grand Tour – the large one in the centre at the top is the Pantheon in Rome – and also shows the variety of ribbon bows available.Blickling 2

Ladies might also decorate the inside of closets or their dressing rooms – places that were private and not on display to visitors – in more of a ‘scrapbook’ style, building up the decoration as they found something that appealed. An extreme example of the desire to cover any available surface is the interior of the lid of this 18th century chest that I own – it has amateur drawings and watercolours, a print of the Battle of Vittoria, newspaper cuttings and even Moses with the Ten Commandments.

chest

I’m sure Regency ladies would have loved the modern craze for scrapbooking!

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