Monthly Archives: November 2016

George Hoby, Boot and Shoe Maker

I have posted before about shoemakers, cobblers and cordwainers (November 2014), but after a recent Twitter exchange about a George Hoby invoice I thought I would talk about it here, rather than in 140-character snippets! [I tweet as @LouiseRegency].

George Hoby (1759-1832) is probably the best-known London bootmaker, if only because he was the man Wellington went to to get his iconic Wellington boots made up. There is plenty of information about Hoby on-line, so I won’t repeat it here – but it took me ages to work out which corner of St James’s Street and Piccadilly his shop was on. The answer is the western corner which now has a shop selling caviar. Hoby, who died leaving £120,000, would probably have approved!

I own two of Hoby’s original invoices, from 1809 and 1818. Below is the 1808 one, both sides. It would have been folded so that the address was on the outside and sealed with red wax which is still visible on the front.

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hoby-wood-back Mr George Wood lived in Blandford Court which was on the south side of Pall Mall behind Marlborough House which is within a five minute walk of Hoby’s shop which is probably why the invoice appears to have been hand-delivered. I suspect that Mr Wood was a relative of Lieutenant-General Sir George Wood, ” the Royal Bengal Tiger” and his brother Sir Mark Wood, bt. Sir Mark certainly lived in Pall Mall.

The invoice is on very thick paper and shows that Hoby was ‘By Appointment” to four Royal Dukes – Kent, Cumberland, Sussex and Cambridge. The fact that he did a great deal of mail-order work is indicated by the box of “Instructions” for measuring yourself for boots. There is the hand-written number 311 on the left and 221 at the top right. These might be customer numbers, invoice numbers, ledger references – frankly, I have no idea, but the invoice for 1818 has 644 and 291.

Mr Wood’s bill was for:

Bill delivered £6 7s (ie he appears to be behind with his bills!)

Aug 9 1Pr (pair) Boots Soled & heeled 13s

1 Pr of [?] Bound 2s 6d

Sept 15 1 Pr Shoes 15s

1 Pr Boots soled & heeled 13s

The invoice is smaller than the later one and seems to have been cut off at the bottom because “Sir” can still be seen. It appears to have been sent like this because of the folds in the paper, so possibly the obliging note, shown below, did not apply to gentlemen owing £6 7s!

The 1818 invoice is on good paper, but nowhere near as thick. Hoby has retained the patronage of the four Royal Dukes and added their niece, the heir to the throne, Princess Charlotte and her husband, Leopold of Saxe-Cobourg.

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This bill is to Major Crowder at the Plough Inn, Cheltenham. Major John Crowder was late of the 7th Regiment of Foot and had served with gallantry (according to his obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine) at Copenhagen and in the Peninsula being wounded twice, once severely. He retired on half pay in 1815 and was promoted Colonel and knighted in 1838, a few months before his death.

The Major’s bill is for:

May 29 1 Pair Boots £2 18s

1 Do (ditto) Dress (presumably dress or evening shoes) 17s 6d

June 2 1 Do Boots £2.18

1 Do Dress 17s 6d

Box (presumably for packing) 2s

On June 2nd a pair of shoes and a pair of boots were returned. These must be the shoes sent out on May 29th, which says something for the postal service!

The message on the bottom of the page has been cut off on Mr Wood’s bill.

Unfortunately we cannot compare the price of boots over the nine years, but shoes seem to have increased by 2s 6d – although, of course, the Major’s may have been of a more expensive type.

 

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The Story of a Square 3: Lincoln’s Inn Fields

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Lincoln’s Inn Fields is the largest square in London and records exist concerning it from the 14th century when it really was a field – or rather, two – Purse Field and Cup Field. They adjoined the west wall of the grounds of Lincoln’s Inn, one of the four Inns of Court, and were the natural playground for the legal students’ ball games. The survival of this vast open space in the middle of the city, surviving Stuart property developers and massive Victorian road improvements and slum clearance, is due to an early example of NIMBYism.

In the Middle Ages, and well into the 17th century, there was nothing resembling a civilized park – the fields were leased out as pasture and, occasionally, used as places of execution. In 1586 the Babington Plot conspirators were hanged, drawn and quartered there, Catholic martyrs were burned in the 1580s and Lord Russell was beheaded in about the centre in 1683 for his involvement in the Rye House Plot.

As London expanded outwards developers began to cast an eye over such a tempting expanse of open ground and the first attempt to build a house there was in 1613. This was successfully resisted by the Society of Lincoln’s Inn – lawyers powerful enough to influence the government on the subject. It was clear that improving the open space would assist in preserving this asset, so the Society and the neighboring parishes petitioned Charles I in 1617 that “for their general Commoditie and health [the fields should be] converted into walks after the manner of Morefeildes.” The proposal appealed to the King and the Privy Council supported the scheme “as a means to frustrate the covetous and greedy endeavors of such persons as dailye seeke to fill up that small remainder of Ayre in these parts with unnecessary and unprofitable Buildings.” Resistance to developers seems to be as strong then as it it now.

Neither development nor improvement as an ordered public space happened immediately, but in the 1630s the leaseholder of the fields petitioned the King to allow the building of 32 houses. After some wrangling the permission was granted but the developer agreed that the centre of the area was  “for ever and hereafter to be open and unbuilt.” The houses were built by 1641 and the area became a fashionable place to live despite the Fields themselves being a dangerous place with fights and robberies (and the odd execution) commonplace.

In 1716 John Gay wrote  in Trivia that, despite the square being railed, it was unwise to venture in at night. The beggar that the benevolent pedestrian had given coins to during the day would turn his crutch into a weapon at night “and fell thee to the ground” and the linkboy offering to guide him through the area will lead him into the clutches of robbers and “quench the flaming brand and share the booty with the pilfering band.”

Nell Gwynne had lodgings here, and another of Charles II’s mistresses, the Duchess of Portland, had a house. Numerous aristocrats, politicians and high-ranking lawyers lived around the Fields in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries but the person whose name is nowadays most closely associated with the square is the architect Sir John Soane. His house is now one of the most atmospheric and eccentric museums in London and is located in the middle of the north side. The print at the top of this post, from Ackermann’s Repository, shows the view from the north-west corner in 1810 and you can get more or less the same view today by standing at the point where Gate Street and Remnant Street enter the Fields. (The Remnant name reflects the fact that this was once the end of Great Queen Street before the Victorians drove Kingsway through the tangle of medieval streets to the west of the Fields.)

The tall buildings to the right of the print occupy the site of what is now the Royal College of Surgeons which contains the extraordinary Hunterian Museum, a fascinating, if gruesome place to visit for anyone interested in the history of surgery and anatomy.

Lincoln’s Inn Fields is included in Walk 7 of Walking Jane Austen’s London (an excellent stocking-filler for any history buff’s Christmas stocking!) As well as the two museums there are still a number of fine 18th century houses and the gardens themselves to enjoy – open to the public since 1894.

 

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Filed under Buildings, London Parks, Science & technology, Walks

A Classical Gold Rush – The Fagan Marbles

The Mediterranean lands in the 18th and early 19th centuries must have been like the Klondike – only this semi-lawless stampede was not for gold but for Classical antiquities. Wealthy collectors and aristocrats vied to own the most beautiful marbles, ceramics and precious metals created by the Greeks and Romans and numerous adventurers were only too happy to provide them by fair means or foul – and certainly by methods that bring modern archaeologists out in a cold sweat.

I knew about the early excavations at Pompeii (where plundering the finest art works was the aim) and about Giovanni Battista Belzoni who ruthlessly uncovered so many Egyptian antiquities ( using explosives while he worked). On the receiving end of these treasures were men like Sir William Hamilton, husband of Nelson’s Emma and a prolific and discerning collector. His collection was famous and his vast array of vases included the famous Portland Vase, copied by Wedgwood and still reproduced today. (A Wedgwood copy, below) Lord Elgin, who secured the Parthenon’s “Elgin Marbles”, was another immensely rich collector.portland

In the Museo Archeologico Regionale Antonio Salinas in Palermo, Sicily I came across Robert Fagan (c.1761–1816), an Irish artist and excavator responsible for many early digs and for amassing a substantial personal collection.

Fagan moved to Rome in 1781 and ingratiated himself into aristocratic and court circles and began dealing in antiquities as well as painting portraits of wealthy visitors. (His portrait of Miss Emily Manley, below) With backing from British patrons he started excavating sites around Rome and in 1793 had the good fortune to come to the attention of the visiting Duke of Sussex, Prince Augustus Frederick. The Royal Duke secured permission from the Pope for Fagan to export antiquities which he obtained by dealing and by excavation.

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The French occupation of Rome meant that Fagan had to flee to Naples in 1797, then to Florence, but he returned to Rome and managed to retrieve his art works. In 1807, in financial difficulties, he moved to Sicily where he rapidly gained favour with Maria Carolina, Queen of Naples and Sicily. In 1809, he was made British Consul General in Sicily.

In 1812 he began excavating at the necropolis of Tyndaris, much to the alarm of the custodian who was fighting to keep the finds from the site intact and in Sicily and who had heard rumours of Fagan’s unscrupulous methods.

faganFagan (above, in a self-portrait with his second wife Maria Ludovica’ Flajani depicted  ‘à la Greque’ 1803) eventually fell out of favour with the court and found himself increasingly in debt. He returned to Rome and in 1816 committed suicide by jumping from a window. His widow managed to sell his Roman collection to the Vatican museums but in Sicily the authorities seized his possessions to prevent their export. In 1819 the “Fagan Marbles” were purchased by the Museum of the Royal University and remain as an intact collection, now in the Palermo museum. As the display in the museum today notes, this was a turning point in awareness of the importance of retaining materials from different sites together and raised the consciousness of Sicily’s archaeological treasures.

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It was fascinating to see the collection of an individual all together, but it is very noticeable to modern eyes that all that was deemed worthy of collection were art works, not everyday or utilitarian objects. (A few of the objects from his collection, above.)

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Bats on the Shelf

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No, this is not a belated Hallowe’en post but one about a collection of mine – bat printed china.

Bat printing, also known as black printing, was a technique for transferring engraved designs onto china and porcelain that was invented around 1766. It was used by many of the great English china producers including Spode and, although quite a fiddly technique, it was far cheaper than hand-painting.

Rather than try and explain it myself there is a clear description of the process here.

Bat printing meant that many middle class families who had never been able to afford the exquisite hand-painted sets of dinner and tea wares could own a substantial number of matching pieces, printed in very fine detail. The wares were all the rage between 1800-1820 after which, probably because of the complex nature of the technique, it was almost entirely abandoned.

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This certainty about dates makes bat printed wares an ideal collecting area for anyone interested in the late Georgian/Regency period and items are surprisingly affordable for antiques of the period – tea cups or decorated saucers can be picked up for around £20.

The designs are fascinating. There are floral designs, but mainly they are pictorial, showing scenes of stately homes and parks, mothers and children (usually from Adam Buck’s paintings) and country life. I began buying bat prints when I discovered this one, a wide, shallow dish. pic039 At first I thought the gentleman was presenting his lady with a flower, but if you look carefully, it is a cutting with the correct slanted cut at one end. I can’t decide whether she is as fascinated by horticulture as he obviously is, or disappointed with the offering!

My next one was a bowl with an elegant young gentleman lounging in the garden with a book. He seems to be sitting rather too close for comfort to a bee hive. As you can see from the crack, I collect for the designs and not for perfection. I also have the same gentleman on a tea cup.

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The other illustrations are all from my collection and show country scenes, stately homes and parks and mothers and children. (And don’t you just love the one with the startled shepherdess and the guy in a kilt with the trumpet?)

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Filed under Art, Domestic life