Monthly Archives: January 2018

Bringing Spice to the Kitchen – Or the British and ‘Curry’

The British in India, from the 17th century onwards, cheerfully lumped the many and varied styles of cooking, and the subtle differences in dishes they encountered, under the term ‘curry’, a word copied from the Portuguese. Pietro della Valle (died 1652) described as ‘caril’ or ‘carre’ the ‘broths… made  with Butter, the Pulp of Indian Nuts… and all sorts of Spices, particularly Cardamons and Ginger… besides herbs, fruits and a thousand other condiments [which are] poured in good quantity upon … boyl’d Rice.’

The British in India ate ‘curry’ with every meal, using the term to cover anything in a spicy sauce. No British lady would dream of undertaking her own cooking, so she would have no idea about how the dishes her Indian household served up were made. Eventually curry powder came to be considered a spice in its own right, completely ignoring the infinite varieties and combinations that might be used. Anglo-Indians might think they were immersing themselves in local culture – like the young East India Company employee above, listening to Indian musicians amongst his European furniture – but they seemed to have no appreciation of the subtleties of the cuisine.

As East India Company officials came back to Britain they brought their taste for curry with them and often they brought their Indian cooks with them. These men had learned to create the first Anglo-Indian cookery style to suit their employers and soon curry began to appear in ordinary household cookery books.

One enterprising India entrepreneur, Sake Dean Mahomed [Sidi Deen Mahomet in some sources], opened the first Indian restaurant in Britain in 1810. I discovered it (or, rather, where it had been) when I was researching for Walking Jane Austen’s London. It was located on the corner of George Street and Charles Street, just North of Portman Square, a fashionable area and one that was home to many retired Anglo-Indians.  The Hindostanee Coffee House even had a smoking room where patrons could smoke hookahs. Despite serving ‘Indian dishes in the highest perfection… allowed by the greatest epicures to be unequaled to any…ever made in England’ the business became bankrupt the following year. Possibly his choice of location was unfortunate and many of the Anglo-Indians could eat curry at home made by their own Indian cooks or they preferred to combine business with curry by patronising the various City coffee houses that served curry alongside English food. Norris Street Coffee House on Haymarket had been serving curry since 1773 when its ‘Mistress’ advertised in The Public Advertiser ‘true Indian curey paste.’ ‘At the shortest Notice [she would send] ready dressed Curey and Rice, also Indian Pilaws, to any Part of the Town.’ East India Company merchants had created almost a club for themselves at the Jerusalem Coffee House on Cornhill. No specialist Indian restaurant appeared again in Central London until the 1920s.

Sake Dean Mahomed (right. Painted by Thomas Mann Baines c.1810) had far more success with his bathing establishment in Brighton. “Mahomed’s Baths. These are ascertained [sic] by a native of India, and combine all the luxuries of oriental bathing. They are adapted either for ladies or gentlemen, and the system is highly salutary in many diseases, independently of the gratification it affords, particularly to those who have resided in the East.”  [W. Scott. The House Book or Family Chronicle of Useful Knowledge (1826)] The ‘luxuries of oriental bathing’, I learned when I was researching for The Georgian Seaside, included shampooing – not of the head, but of the whole body in a foaming massage.

The Epicure’s Almanac (1815) has a section on seasonal foods and for July mentions that ‘various preparations of curry afford a delectable repast to those who have acquired a taste for this Indian diet.’ Ready-made curry powder could be bought alongside other spices and was first mentioned in Hannah Glasse’s Art of Cookery (1747).

Here is a recipe for curry made with curry powder from The New London Family Cook (1811) by Duncan McDonald, head cook at the Bedford Tavern and Hotel, Covent Garden. The Bedford Tavern and Hotel was a large establishment on the Great Piazza. It opened in 1726 and continued in business throughout most of the 19th century.

And this is from A New System of Domestic Cookery (1807)

curry 2

curry 3 For a fascinating history of Europe’s love affair with curry, try Lizzie Collingham’s Curry; a biography (2005).

 

1 Comment

Filed under Domestic life, Food & drink, Seaside resorts

Two Hundred Years Ago – the Birth of Circus in England?

The Sunday Times newspaper on 7 January mentions the celebrations planned to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Astley’s Amphitheatre as the beginning of circus in England. This reminded me that I own a playbill for Astley’s for November 10th 1813  which features a tightrope act “being  justly allowed the First Performer in the United Kingdom”. The Unparalleled Wilson’s act was complete with Wonderful Somersets (somersaults) and Surprising Leaps. Philip Astley, a six foot tall cavalryman, rose to the rank of sergeant major and left the army in 1768. With two horses he began to give unlicensed shows of horsemanship and riding lessons on open ground in Southwark. According to the London Encyclopedia he obtained a licence with the patronage of George III after subduing an out of control horse near Westminster Bridge. This enabled him to open ‘The Royal Grove’, a canvas-covered ring close to the southern end of Westminster Bridge in 1769. Today if you stand on the bridge and look towards St Thomas’s Hospital on the far bank you can see a patch of trees where the hospital gardens are. This is approximately the location of Astley’s, shown below in 1777.

Astley’s fame spread rapidly and in 1772 he performed before King Louis XV at Versailles. Patty, his wife, was also an accomplished rider. At first she assisted by beating out rhythms on a large drum but she soon joined in with horseback tricks including riding with a “muff” of swarms of bees over her hands and arms. Her husband began to incorporate comedy into his tricks, including his most famous act, The Tailor of Brentford.

As the popularity of his shows increased Astley gathered other acts, scouring fairs and going as far afield as Paris to find good street performers. The shows began to incorporate many of the circus acts we would recognise today – acrobats, jugglers, rope-dancers, clowns, strong men and, of course, the equestrian acts. The arena was roofed by 1780 so that he could continue to give shows year-round.

Astley is credited with discovering that the ideal size for a circus ring is 42 feet in diameter, allowing the optimal use of centrifugal force to keep him on the horse’s back as he galloped round the ring. However, Astley did not use the name ‘Circus’ for his show as this had been appropriated by Charles Dibden whom opened The Royal Circus nearby in 1782, stealing many of Astley’s ideas.

When The Royal Grove was destroyed by fire in 1794 he rebuilt in splendid style, this time calling it Astley’s Amphitheatre. By now it was so established, eclipsing Dibden’s Circus, that he could attract famous performers such as the clown Grimaldi and he added melodramas, comic sketches such as the one entitled ‘Honey Moon’ in the poster and dramatic sword fights. Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra on 23 August 1796 that she had arrived safely in London and that “We are to be at Astley’s tonight, which I am glad of.” Unfortunately there is no letter describing what she saw, but she sends lovers Harriet Smith and Robert Martin to Astley’s in Emma and Harriet “could dwell on it all with the utmost delight.”

As well as the ring  the Amphitheatre had a stage with a proscenium arch linked to it by ramps allowing dramatic gallops from ring to stage. By the time the building was destroyed by fire again in 1803 Astley could afford to rebuild on a far more impressive scale as the print of 1803 [“*57-1633, Houghton Library, Harvard University”] shows.

Astley died in 1814 but the Amphitheatre continued to be wildly popular and would include crowd-pleasing shows recreating the battles of the Napoleonic Wars. Astley also contributed to the development of the circus  by taking shows on tour in the summer months to wooden amphitheatres he’d had constructed throughout Britain and in eighteen cities on the Continent. He died in Paris and is buried there. The 1803 building lasted until a third fire in 1841. Charles Dickens describes it in Sketches By Boz as “delightful, splendid and surprising.” It was rebuilt in 1862 as the New Westminster Theatre Royal, but demolished in 1893.

 

5 Comments

Filed under Entertainment

The Story of a Square 5: Golden Square – or ‘Do Come Up & See My Etchings, Miss Austen.’

Today Golden Square is a pleasant area to sit – paved, planted, shaded by trees and liberally supplied with benches. It sits just South of Carnaby Street, East of Regent’s Street, a good place to rest from shopping and sightseeing, surrounded by corporate buildings housing mainly media companies.

It is a late 17th century construction, still showing as fields on William Morgan’s map of 1682. The London Encyclopedia suggests that its name is a genteel corruption of ‘gelding’ because Gelding’s Close, a field in the area, was used to graze geldings. It seems more likely to me that it was owned by a Mr Gelding – a genuine, if unfortunate, surname. However it began, by the early 18th century it was a popular place to live for aristocrats including the Duchess of Cleveland, the Duke of Chandos and Viscount Bolingbroke. By about 1715, however, the aristocrats seem to have moved out and professional men such as surgeons and artists of the top rank moved in. It was still very respectable. and in 1720 in his Survey of London John Strype described it as “a very handsome place railed round and gravelled with many very good houses inhabited by gentry on all sides.” None of the 17th century houses remain but four of the 18th century replacements do. (Numbers 11, 21, 23, 24). Below is a detail from Roque’s map of 1747. Warwick Street, to the left, remains, but Great and Little Swallow Streets vanished under Regent’s Street

Anastasia Robinson (c.1692-1755), was a singer for whom Handel created many pieces, beginning in 1714 when he wrote Ode For the Birthday of Queen Anne for her. Her father owned a property in Golden Square and that was where her first private recitals were held. She was the secret wife of the Earl of Peterborough, unacknowledged until shortly before his death. Another performer of Handel’s works was Elisabetta de Gambarini (1731-65) who was also a composer, conductor and skilled keyboard player on a range of instruments. She lived at number 13 from 1753 to 1763.  Artist Angelica Kauffman, a leading Society painter and one of the two female founding members of the Royal Society, lived at number 16 between 1767 and 1781. Artist Martin Archer Shee, later President of the Royal Society, lived at number 13 between 1795-6. Mrs Jordan the actress who became the mistress of the Duke of Clarence, later William IV, had three daughters by Edward Ford who lived at number 4. In 1803 she took number 30 to house the girls.

Diplomats also moved into the Square with the legations of Genoa, Russia, Bavaria, Brunswick and Portugal. A Blue Plaque on number 23 marks the location of the Portuguese Embassy, occupied 1739-44 by the eminent statesman the Marquess of Pombal. The Bavarian Legation took over 23 and 24 and both houses were bought in 1788 by Bishop James Talbot so that the Roman Catholic church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory could be built in the gardens. Number 24 became the presbytery. The church can still be seen with its entrance on Warwick Street.

Doctor James Stanier Clarke, Domestic Chaplain and Librarian to the Prince Regent, lived at number 37. He had met Jane Austen on November 13 1815 when she had visited Carlton House by invitation of the Prince Regent. Doctor Clarke’s role was to hint, heavily, that Miss Austen should dedicate her next work to his employer. Jane was no fan of the Regent, being a supporter of his estranged wife, Princess Caroline, and tried to wriggle out of it. Two days later she wrote to Doctor Stanier Clarke asking for clarification – had she received a suggestion, a request or an order? “I shd be equally concerned to appear either presumptuous or Ungrateful.” Eventually her publisher, John Murray, and her family persuaded her that she had no option and a presentation set of Emma, respectfully dedicated, was dispatched to Carlton House in December 1815.

Doctor Stanier Clarke (portrait c.1790 left) proved to be not just a fan of Miss Austen, but also a rather annoying groupie. He so irritated her with suggestions for plots and characters (“to delineate in some future Work the Habits of Life and Character and enthusiasm of a Clergyman—who should pass his time between the metropolis & the Country . . . Fond of, & entirely engaged in Literature—no man’s Enemy but his own”) that she eventually wrote the satirical Plan of a Novel, according to Hints from Various Quarters in 1816. In December 1815 Doctor Stanier Clarke invited  Miss Austen to visit his house in Golden Square to use his personal library. This was a quite shocking thing for an unmarried gentleman to do, although he assured her that a maid would be in attendance. Whether he was simply too star-struck to care or too insensitive to realise the impropriety or whether this was an invitation along the lines of, “Come up and see my etchings,” Jane did not accept.

One feature of the Square that Doctor Stanier Clarke would recognize today is the battered statue at the head of this post. It is a full-length standing figure in Roman military garb, generally considered to be George II  (although some insist it is Charles II). In the quote from Dickens below it is described as “mournful” and is reputed to have come from the roof of the Duke of Chandos’s seat at Canons Park.

By the mid 19th century the Square had gone down in the world and Dickens described it in Nicholas Nickleby:

“Although a few members of the graver professions live about Golden Square, it is not exactly in anybody’s way to or from anywhere. It is one of the squares that have been; a quarter of the town that has gone down in the world, and taken to letting lodgings. Many of its first and second floors are let, furnished, to single gentlemen; and it takes boarders besides. It is a great resort of foreigners. The dark-complexioned men who wear large rings, and heavy watch-guards, and bushy whiskers, and who congregate under the Opera Colonnade, and about the box-office in the season, between four and five in the afternoon, when they give away the orders, all live in Golden Square, or within a street of it. Two or three violins and a wind instrument from the Opera band reside within its precincts. Its boarding-houses are musical, and the notes of pianos and harps float in the evening time round the head of the mournful statue, the guardian genius of a little wilderness of shrubs, in the centre of the square. On a summer’s night, windows are thrown open, and groups of swarthy moustached men are seen by the passer-by, lounging at the casements, and smoking fearfully. Sounds of gruff voices practicing vocal music invade the evening’s silence; and the fumes of choice tobacco scent the air. There, snuff and cigars, and German pipes and flutes, and violins and violoncellos, divide the supremacy between them. It is the region of song and smoke. Street bands are on their mettle in Golden Square; and itinerant glee-singers quaver involuntarily as they raise their voices within its boundaries.”

You can take in Golden Square in Walk 5 (Soho to the British Museum) in my Walking Jane Austen’s London

 

2 Comments

Filed under Architecture, Art, Buildings, High Society, Prince Regent