Category Archives: Accidents & emergencies

The Earl of Wittering Goes to the Seaside: Part 11 Porrett Saves the Day!

The Georgian SeasideThe Earl of Wittering, his wife, son and daughter in law and grandchildren are all at the theatre, accompanied reluctantly, by Porrett the Earl’s secretary who is in the throes of a violent, whispered quarrel with his granddaughter, Emily.

‘I love you, Frederick!’ says Emily, her declaration covered in the shrieks from the stage where the melodrama put on by the touring company is reaching its climax with bodies strewn in all directions.

theatre

‘You cannot,’ he whispers miserably. ‘Look at the play – it was a wild success in Chichester.’

‘I don’t care if that is Mrs Siddons out there,’ Emily snaps. ‘Do you mean you do not love me?’

Poor Porrett – to do the honourable thing is to lie. ‘Of course I love you,’ he admits miserably. He cannot lie to his beloved even though, as a gentleman, he should. ‘And it can never be. Your grandfather is the Earl, my employer…’

‘Do not be so feeble,’ Emily says, almost in tears. ‘Tell them all how you feel, ask for my hand!’

‘No,’ says Porrett, resolute in his anguish. ‘I cannot.’ The villain stabs the hero on stage and then falls on his own sword. Porrett knows how he feels. ‘You deserve better.’

Emily makes a sound like a furious kitten and turns her shoulder to him. In the interval her father, the Viscount Ditherstone, announces his intention of taking out a pleasure boat and having a family picnic further along the coast.

‘The fishermen expect high winds tomorrow, my lord,’ Porrett, points out. ‘It might be safer to leave it for another day.’

‘Oh, don’t be such a coward,’ says Emily, nose (somewhat pink) in the air. ‘Papa knows all about sailing, don’t you Papa?’

The Viscount, who has spent two days being seasick on a friend’s yacht ten years ago, smirks ‘No need, for you to concern yourself, Porrett. My father will want you to do some work, I’ll be bound. You needn’t be nervous about getting your feet wet.’

Porrett is still smarting from Emily’s disdain the next morning and indeed, the weather looks set fair as everyone except himself and the Earl set out with picnic hampers to hire a small sailing boat. His last-minute plea to Emily to stay behind was met with a reproachful look and a muttered accusation of not having the courage to stand up to Papa for her sake.

But by midday, as he looks out of the window yet again instead of taking the Earl’s dictation , he sees the black clouds boiling up from the west. The wind is beginning to snap the flags along the promenade. ‘My lord, I have the gravest apprehension about the safety of the sailing party. I should hire a boat and go after them.’

The two men run to the harbour and Porrett hails a pair of fishermen who are just tying up. At first they refuse to take him out, but the sight of the banknotes the Earl is brandishing changes their mind. With Porrett clinging grimly to the mast they set sail. By the time they reach the stretch of coast the Viscount intended to land at for the picnic they see no sign of the boat – but then Porrett spots a slim figure on the shore waving a handkerchief. Emily! And, ‘There’s the boat, sir!’ cries a fisherman and, sure enough, mastless, the little sailing boat with a green-faced Viscount clinging to the thwarts, is just before them. They grapple it and haul him aboard – when he attempted to take the party off again in the face of the rising wind, he was washed out to sea, the mast snapped and the ladies and young Arthur were left stranded on the beach, trapped between the cliffs and the rising tide.shore

Porrett does not hesitate, he leaps into the fishing smack’s rowing boat, casts off and rows for shore. It is rough, dangerous and he is exhausted, but he makes it to land, runs onto the beach, helps the Viscountess and young  Arthur in, then takes Emily in his arms, kisses her passionately and wades into the sea to set her gently into the little craft. He feels he could swim back, he is so elated, but he rows back to the smack and is disconcerted when the Viscountess throws her arms around his neck and kisses him, declaring that he is their saviour, their Galahad, their knight in shining armour. Emily just sits and gazes at him with tears in her eyes. When they reach the jetty the Earl, with a look on his face that promises retribution later for his feckless son and heir, hurries his womenfolk and grandson back to the lodgings. Porrett is left to trudge, wet and exhausted, behind.

He is disconcerted to discover a note commanding him to attend the ball at the Assembly Rooms that evening, wishing instead that he could just put his feet up and nurse his broken heart in decent privacy. But an order is an order. He comes down to join the family in the drawing room and, to his amazement, the Earl embraces him warmly, hails him as a hero and announces that he has secured him an influential post in the Home Office. ‘You’ll need it to keep my little Emily in the manner to which she has become accustomed,’ he announces. ‘I’ve had my eye on the pair of you and you, young Porrett, have the makings of a great man about you. More than my clodpole of a son,’ he murmurs in the stunned secretary’s ear. ‘Well, get on and ask her, don’t stand there like a looby.’

So Porrett finds his voice and, in front of the entire family, goes down on one knee and begs Emily for the honour of her hand in marriage. And Emily, throws her arms around him the moment he stands up (almost knocking him flat), bursts into tears and declares that no-one was ever such a hero as he is.

So off they go to the ball. You can see them just slipping off to the terrace (which leads to the gardens) in the far left of the picture. Sometimes Porrett is not quite such a saint as the Earl believes him to be…

ballroom

Pleasure boats were an essential part of the Georgian seaside holiday, but accidents were not at all uncommon, including one Margate party who were tossed around at sea for more than 24 hours before being rescued – no mobile phones, no life jackets…

You can find out more about the perils of the seaside, the Assembly Rooms, the theatres and their travelling companies of players, or, in fact any aspect of the life of the coastal resorts before the railways came in The Georgian Seaside.

 

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Filed under Accidents & emergencies, courtship & marriage, Dance, Entertainment, High Society, Love and Marriage, Seaside resorts

Curricle Crashes and Dennet Disasters – The Dangers of the Regency Road

On the road 1

In April 1811 Jane Austen was staying with her brother Henry and his wife Eliza at their home 64, Sloane Street and working on the proofs of Sense and Sensibility. Not that this prevented her from getting out and about in London and occasionally borrowing Henry’s carriage: ‘The Driving about, the Carriage being open, was very pleasant. I liked my solitary elegance very much, & was ready to laugh all the time, at my being where I was – I could not but feel that I had naturally small right to be parading about London in a Barouche,’ she wrote on a later visit.
But delightful as travel by coach might be, horse-drawn vehicles were dangerous and accidents were numerous, even if most were minor. In a letter home on 25 April 1811 Jane blames an inciHyde Park pike0001dent at the gates for giving her sister-in-law Eliza a chest cold. ‘The Horses actually gibbed on this side of Hyde Park Gate – a load of fresh gravel made it a formidable Hill to them, & they refused the collar; I believe there was a sore shoulder to irritate. Eliza was frightened, & we got out & were detained in the Eveng. air several minutes.’ You can follow Jane’s London travels in Walking Jane Austen’s London.
The wonderful Henry Alken snr. excelled at drawing horses, but he had a mischievous side and produced numerous prints of carriage accidents. [His Return From the Races is at the top of this post]. These are light-hearted, often mocking the young sporting gentlemen of his day and their ‘boy-racer’ equipages, but the potential for an accident to cause death or serious injury was very real. In one hideous stage coach crash in 1833 the Quicksilver coach overturned as it was leaving Brighton. Passengers were flung out into the gardens along the Steine and impaled on the spiked railings. Alken’s third plate in his Trip to Brighton series shows a stagecoach crash as a result of young bucks bribing the coachmen to let them take the reins and race. Discover more of the dangers of travel by stage or mail coach in Stagecoach Travel.accident

Alken’s ‘comic’ drawings show people thrown onto the rough stones of the road, against milestones or walls, at risk of trampling by the horses or of being injured by the splintering wood and sharp metal fittings of their carriages. One has to assume that like cartoon characters walking off a cliff they all bounce back safely with only their dignity ruffled. Real life would not have been so forgiving.  In this post I am sharing some of the Alken carriage disasters from my own collection.

In  Learning to Drive Tandem (1825) learning to driveAlken shows a young gentleman who has got one of his pair turned around and one wheel off the road. The vehicle is a cocking cart used to transport fighting cocks and below the seat is a compartment ventilated by slats and a small image of a fighting cock on the armrest. In The Remains of a Stanhope (1827) the crash has already occurred, showing just how fragile these vehicles could be. A carpenter has been summoned and the owner is drawling somewhat optimistically, “I say my clever feller, have you an idea you can make this thing capable of progression?”

Stanhope

One of my favourite images is this one of a Dennet gig with the horses spooked by a passing stagecoach. The passengers’ faces as they watch the driver struggling with his team are priceless. Dennet accident sat

Several prints of the time show accidents at toll gates. Either the horses bolted or the driver wasn’t paying attention or perhaps they thought the gate keeper would fling the gate wide as they approached. This one is captioned “I wonder whether he is a good jumper!”

accident at toll gate Young men crashing their vehicles was obviously commonplace, and then as now, showing off to the ladies was also part of the joy of owning a sporting vehicle. Alken was not above titillating his audience with a glimpse of petticoat or a shapely leg, even when the owner of the leg was about to get seriously hurt. In “Up and down or the endeavour to discover which way your Horse is inclined to come down backwards or forwards” (1817) the driver takes no notice at all of his fair passenger vanishing over the back of his fancy carriage. There are some nice details in this print – the two-headed goose on the side panel is presumably a reference to the driver not knowing which way he is going and the luxurious sheepskin foot rug is clearly visible. backwardsIn the same series is an awful warning about the dangers of not choosing your horses with care. Captioned “Trying a new match you discover that they are not only alike in colour weight & action but in disposition.” One young man is heading out over the back of the carriage while his companion is poised to leap for safety amidst flying greatcoats, hats and seat cushions.

Bolting

 

 

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Filed under Accidents & emergencies, Gentlemen, Regency caricatures, Transport and travel, Travel

The Road to Waterloo: Week 17. The Battle is Fought, The Tourists Arrive, Napoleon Flees, The Regent Weeps

So much has been written – and is being written – about the battle of Waterloo itself that this post is not going to go into any details but will concentrate on what was known to be happening in London. The detail below shows the fighting on the left wing of the battle.
Waterloo left wing bottom strip
On the 18th Londoners were going about their normal Sunday business – attending church, followed, for the gentlemen, by reading the papers which had no up-to-date news from Flanders. Readers could safely turn to lighter matters such as the report in thElopemente Marriages column: “Some days ago, at Gretna Green, Capt. Bontein, of the Life Guards, son of Sir G.B. to the daughter of Sir E. Stanley. The parties rode out from Lady Bontein’s to take an airing before dinner; they took post-chaise and four at Barnet, and proceeded to Gretna Green, wither they were unsuccessfully pursued by Lady Stanley. The only objection to the match, was, it is said, the age of the bride, who is under fourteen and has a handsome fortune. The parties have since been re-married in London.” Where, presumably, Captain Bontein was enjoying the company of his child bride and her handsome fortune while his comrades plunged into battle.cattle on street
A glimpse into the state of the London streets, with vast herds of livestock being driven through them daily, is captured in the report that, “On Friday-forenoon, a large bullock that ran from a drove in Newgate-street, ran into the shop of Messrs. Baldwin & Co. booksellers, and the parlour door being open, he walked in, where there were three or four ladies sitting who were very much frightened…they were at length rescued… by a drover…all the furniture had to be piled in one corner to make room for the animal to turn around: he then walked out very deliberately.” The picture shows a detail from a print of Soho Square (Ackermann’s Repository 1812)
By Monday 19th there was still nothing in the newspapers, but rumours of three days’ fighting around Brussels were beginning to spread by word of mouth from the Channel couriers.
Meanwhile, on the battlefield, the first tourists had arrived from Brussels, despite the desperate needs of the wounded in the city and on the battlefield, the state of the roads and the appalling scenes. In his Journal of the Waterloo Campaign, Kept through the Campaign of 1815, Cavalié Mercer, who commanded G Troop Royal Horse Artillery during the battle, records some of the very first tourists. On the morning of the 19th he recalls surveying the field, helping get water to the wounded and seeing his men were fed, surrounded by mangled corpses and the wounded. “We had not yet finished our meal, when a carriage drove on the ground from Brussels, the inmates of which, alighting, proceeded to examine the field. As they passed near us, it was amusing to see the horror with which they eyed our frightful figures; they all, however, pulled off their hats and made us low bows. One, a smartly-dressed middle-aged man, in a high cocked-hat, came to our circle, and entered into conversation with me on the events of yesterday. He approached holding a delicately white perfumed handkerchief to his nose; stepping carefully to avoid the bodies (at which he cast fearful glances en passant), to avoid polluting the glossy silken hose that clothed his nether limbs…With a world of bows my man took leave, and proceeded, picking his steps with the same care as he followed the route of his companions in the direction of Hougoumont.”
Finally some hard news reached the London papers on Tuesday 20th June, albeit four days out of date. Under the headline, “Commencement of Hostilities” the Morning Post reported, “Yesterday afternoon an Officer arrived with dispatches from the Duke of WELLINGTON, announcing the important fact of BONAPARTE having, soon after his arrival on the frontiers, put his army in motion, and attacked the Prussian outpost at Givet. This took place on the morning of the 16th, on the evening of which day a Prussian officer arrived in Brussels to communicate the intelligence to the Duke of WELLINGTON. His Grace lost not a moment in putting his whole army in motion…A general battle has in all probability ere taken place. In Heaven we trust that our confident hopes in regard to it will be speedily and completely realised.”
The Morning Post on the 21st reported rumours of a great battle and stated that, “an Officer was on the road to London with the official accounts, and in the meantime the report brought by MR SUTTON, the Packet Agent [ie in charge of the mail boats] was sufficiently circumstantial to prove its authenticity.” The article repeated the news about the 16th and stated that Wellington had brought Bonaparte into “a sanguinary contest” on the 17th. News of the death of General Picton was given, but all the details were unclear.
By now Napoleon had reached Paris and late that same evening Wellington’s exhausted aide Henry Percy arrived in London, having started out a few hours after the battle with the Duke’s dispatches and two captured eagles. He travelled day and night, with the eagles poking out of the chaise window, and reached Horse Guards between eleven and midnight. He found no-one in authority but eventually tracked Lord Liverpool down who insisted they go immediately to tell the Prince Regent who was dining with the Duke of York at Mrs. Boehm’s house (now no.14) in St. James’s Square.
Lord Liverpool, followed by footmen carrying the eagles, announced to the Prince Regent, “I have brought Major Percy, who comes with the news of a great victory for your Royal Highness.”
“Not Major Percy, but Lieut.-Colonel Percy,” said the Prince as Percy knelt and kissed his hand. ” We have not suffered much loss, I hope.”
“The loss has been very great indeed,” replied Percy and the Regent burst into tears. Major Percy was finally to escape and go to bed for the first time since the battle.
The second edition of the Morning Post on the morning of the 22nd carried “Official Bulletin of the Complete Overthrow of Bonaparte’s Army With a List of the British Officers Killed or Wounded.” The dispatch was brief and to the point, the list of casualties very long – and that was just the officers. Londoners would have been left in no doubt that a great victory had been won at enormous cost. The Morning Post wrote, “With hearts gratefully elate (sic) and all thanks due to Heaven for the event, we have this day the supreme happiness of announcing one of the most complete and comprehensive victories ever attained, even by British valour…While Bonaparte… coward at heart…narrowly effected his escape.”
As Londoners were reading the news, in Paris Napoleon was abdicating in favour of his son.
after the battle

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Filed under Accidents & emergencies, Agriculture, Battle of Waterloo, Love and Marriage, Napoleon, Prince Regent

The Perils of the Pavement – Winter in Georgian London

February always seems to bring muddier, messier weather than January, perhaps because the ground is already so sodden. Negotiating the slushy snow, puddles and potholes as I crossed the street in my local market town this morning made me think about what London streets were like at this time of year in the early 19th century.Snowfall
The first print is from Richard Deighton’s London Nuisances series – A Heavy Fall of Snow – with the unfortunate gentleman getting a load of snow on his hat from the men clearing the ledge above the shop he is passing.
Rather appropriately the establishment belongs to Mr Careless, a skate maker, and pairs of skates are hanging in the window. The engraving shows very clearly the flagstones of the pavement, as opposed to the much rougher cobbled street surface which is just visible above the caption.
For all the accident with the snow, this seems a very clean and tidy street. For a rather more likely pair of images I’ve copied two of a monthly series of prints of London street scenes by George Cruikshank (thanks to Stephen Barker for the identification!). They were cut out and pasted in an album, hence the clipped corners. Except for the style of the women’s dresses and the gas lamp they could be any time from about 1800.

Street JanIn the first, January, the town is experiencing a hard frost. The men in the carts are breaking up ice and taking it away, while three chilly individuals are marching under a placard reading “Poor Froze Out Gardeners” – presumably with no work because the ground is frozen solid. Behind their placard is the ship of W. Winter, Furrier and the shop window on the left is advertising “Soups”. A gang of boys seems to have fallen to the ground while sliding on the ice.Street Feb
The second scene is February and shows the effects of the thaw. Men are shoveling snow off the high roofs in the background onto unwary passers-by and the cobbled street surface is a potholed mess. The lady in the middle with her skirts lifted almost to her knees is wearing iron pattens on her shoes to raise her out of the mire and street cleaners are shoveling mud into a cart behind her. The housewife on the corner is obviously doing her bit to sweep at least a section of the pavement clean. On the right the postman is doing his rounds. Here is one of a pair of late 18th century pattens like the ones being worn.

54.61.127a-b 0004

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Filed under Accidents & emergencies, Street life, working life

Coach-fevered, coach-crazed and coach-stunn’d

“Coach-fevered, coach-crazed and coach stunn’d” was how the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge described himself after arriving at Hatchett’s Hotel, Piccadilly in November 1817 after an all-night journey on the Bristol to London mail coach. It made me wonder if everyone had such a ghastly experience of coach travel and the result of my research is my new book Stagecoach Travel, out in the UK this month from Shire Publications (September in the US).

The first 1-Stagecoach coverstagecoaches appeared in the mid-17th century – and wise passengers made their will before setting out as well as allowing considerable time – the 182 miles from London to Chester took six days in 1657 (if the weather was kind). But at least in those days speed was not going to kill you and the coach would stop overnight so you had a chance of a meal at your leisure and a night’s sleep. (Prudent travellers would bring their own bed linen). If you were very hard up and could not afford the £1 15s for the London-Chester route you could perch on the roof (no seats or handrail) or ride in the basket with the luggage. To be ‘in the basket’ became slang for being hard-up. Passengers riding this way can be seen in this print of the quite fabulous sign (below) for the White Hart, Scole, Norfolk. The sign really was this ornate and was unfortunately demolished as a traffic hazard in the 19th century. The inn is still operating.

inn sign

 

By the early 19th century roads had improved greatly, at least along the turnpike routes, coach design incorporated lighter bodies and better springs and reliable timetables were in place. But although this meant the passengers got to their destination faster and on time it did not necessarily translate into greater SONY DSCcomfort or safety. I measured the interior of one of the few, genuine, surviving stagecoaches – the Old Times (Shown left in Birmingham Museum stores). It carried six inside passengers who would have been wearing bulky outdoor clothing. Each had 14 inches (35 cm) width on seats 13.5 inches (34 cm) deep. They and the passenger seated opposite had 18.5 inches (47 cm) of leg room to share. It makes budget airline seating seem luxurious.

Then there was the question of your fellow passengers who might be smelly, noisy, offensive or simply excessively chatty. As the Hon. John Byng ranted “…box’d up in a stinking coach, dependent on the hours and guidance of others, submitting to miserable associates and obliged to hear their nonsense, is great wretchedness!” Nor were the live human passengers the only source of discomfort. Coaches might carry the occasional turtle (live and strapped to the roof) on its way to some nobleman’s soup tureen, a smuggled veal calf (also live) in the guard’s box (definitely against regulations) or the sinister ‘box of book’ containing a body-snatcher’s ill-gotten corpses addressed to a London surgeon for dissection.

Travelling outside was cheaper and you were in the fresh air, but you were also exposed to the weather. Jane Austen’s nephews Edward and George arrived in Southampton in October 1808, “…very cold, having by choice travelled on the outside, and with no great coat but what Mr Wise, the coachman, good-naturedly spared them of his, as they sat by his side. They were so much chilled when they arrived, that I am afraid they must have taken cold.” They were fortunate, during very cold spells passengers sometimes died of exposure on the outside seats.

Then there were the inns, another source of misery, although foreign travellers usually wrote with admiration of “…that picture of convenience, neatness and broad honest enjoyment, the kitchen of an English inn.” (Washington Irving). With overnight stops a thing of the past, the 19th century innkeeper had to make his money where he could which meant over-priced, rushed meals. A useful trick was to serve it slowly and make it very hot but to prevent passengers removing any uneaten portions of the meal once the coach was ready after its 20 minute stop. The half-eaten food would go back in the pot for the next arrivals. You could, of course, bring your own picnic or buy from a vendor. The scene below is of an inn yard with passengers waiting to board their coaches with, to the left, the pie-seller carrying his wares on his head.inn yardI’ll post again about the pleasures of coaching, its dangers – from the highwayman (uncommon) to overturnings (all too frequent) – and those essential ingredients of the experience: the coachman, the guard, the vehicle and, of course, the horses.

Stagecoach Travel is available from Shire Publications http://tinyurl.com/ot6p2os, Amazon.co.uk  http://tinyurl.com/nafrkfs and, for pre-order, Amazon.com http://tinyurl.com/k52g7bd

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A Stroll In St James’s Park

DSCN2018 soldierThe sun is shining – just the afternoon for a stroll in St James’s Park. The other day I started off at St James’s Palace where the scarlet-coated guardsmen were fending off the advances of crowds of camera-wielding tourists and then walked down narrow Marlborough Road between the Palace and Marlborough House. This access to the park did not exist until the 1850s and effectively cuts off Marlborough House and the Queen’s Chapel on one side from the Palace on the other.

The Queen’s Chapel, although a Chapel Royal is not The Chapel Royal which is within the Palace and which is where Prince George was christened recently. The Queen’s Chapel was designed by Inigo Jones in the 1620s for Queen Henrietta Maria, the Roman Catholic wife of Charles I, although since the 1690s it has been used as a Protestant place of worship.DSCN2019

Crossing the Mall, with its view of BuckinghamPalace to the right, I dodged the Royal Parks gardeners getting ready for the post-picnic lunch clear-up in the Park and entered through the gorgeous wrought iron gates.

St James’s Park is the oldest royal park and dates back to Tudor times. Elizabeth I hunted deer here but by the time of James I there was a physic garden, a menagerie (including crocodiles) and an aviary, which is recalled in the name of Birdcage Walk on the northern edge of the park.

Charles II had considerable work done to create the central canal by joining up several ponds and marshy areas, planting trees and stocking it with deer. It is from this date that the pall mall alley was laid out. The Russian ambassador presented Charles with a pair of pelicans in 1664 and there are still pelicans amongst the exotic birds on the lake today. Occasionally one creates havoc by pouncing on a passing pigeon and swallowing it whole.

At the eastern end of the park was SpringGardens, a pleasure garden dating from the 17th century. All that remains of it now are two stubs of roads cut across by the Mall and with Admiralty Arch sitting in the middle. By Jane Austen’s day they were notable for various indoor places of entertainment, art galleries and so on. The Picture of London (1807) recommends Wigley’s Royal Promenade rooms here. They were open 10am to 10pm, admission one shilling. The visitor could ‘meet’ two invisible girls who spoke or sang on demand, or listen to a performance on the panharmonium, a mechanical orchestra.DSCN0397

The Society of Painters In Water Colours exhibited at Spring Gardens. On 24 May 1813 Jane wrote of a visit with her brother Henry and reported that she was well-pleased with what she saw, especially, ‘with a small portrait of Mrs Bingley…exactly herself, size, shaped face, features & sweetness; there never was a greater likeness. She is dressed in a white gown, with green ornaments, which convinces me of what I had always supposed, that green was a favourite colour with her.’ Deirdre le Faye identifies this picture as the charming Portrait of a Lady by J F-M Huet-Villiers.

However pleasant it was in broad daylight, Miss Austen would have been cautious about walking in the park after dusk without a male escort for it was a notorious haunt of prostitutes of both sexes. Even though the park was locked at night it was thought that almost 7,000 keys were in  private possession, so it might just as well have been open. James Boswell records various encounters with prostitutes there but it was also a dangerous place for a man by himself, for gangs of blackmailers operated under cover of its shrubberies. One man, his breeches undone, would leap out at the victim, crying that he had been attacked, while his confederates threatened to fetch the watch and swear they had witnessed an indecent assault. At a time when homosexual acts were criminalised and could lead to the gallows, many men paid up rather than risk not being believed.

The Globe newspaper for January 7th 1809 reports, We were in hopes that the conviction of Cannon and his companion Wilkinson, for extorting money from Mr Butterworth the silversmith, in St James’s Park, would have put a stop to the depredations of those execrable wretches who are making a miserable existence by the diabolical practices of threatening respectable persons with a most detestable crime. But they regret to have to report yet another instance had just come to light.

In August 1814 the park was the site of a series of extravagant celebrations: first for the centenary of Hanoverian rule, then the anniversary of the Battle of the Nile and finally the peace celebrations following Napoleon’s exile to Elba. The architect Nash designed an exotic seven-storey pagoda, which unfortunately caught fire during a firework display. Ironically this was organised by Congreve, the inventor of the military rockets which went on to cause almost as much alarm and confusion amongst British troops as amongst the enemy at the Battle of Quatre Bras the following year. There was also a bridge, which lasted rather longer, until 1825, although in a half-burnt condition and made perilous by the remains of the hooks that had held the Catherine wheels.St J Park0001

Festivities were also held on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, which had a miniature navy afloat on it, and at the temple of Concord in Green Park, both events open freely to the public. The organisers at St James’s Park, however, decided to charge half a guinea and erected barriers and toll gates. Despite the charge the event was hugely popular and the gates had to be closed. Despite the crowds none of the public were killed during the fire, although two unfortunate workmen died.

After the event the park was left in a dreadful state and it was not until 1827 that the government found the money to renovate it. Nash was chosen for the job and he remodelled the canal into a sinuous lake, added a duck island, a new bridge, widened the Mall and replanted the trees, shrubberies and flowerbeds.

The park now is much as Nash left it, although the bridge is a replacement and the view includes the London Eye. FroStrand0002m the modern bridge there is an excellent view of DSCN0389-001Buckingham Palace. Jane Austen knew it as the Queen’s House and it only took on its present appearance when George IV began its enlargement to fit his concept of a fitting palace. The black and white print of skaters shows the Queen’s House with the park before Nash’s remodelling.

Often I will walk from the bridge to Horse Guards Parade, this time I went down to Bird Cage Walk and along to Westminster Abbey to catch a bus up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square – I’ll be talking about exploring London by bus in my next post.

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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.

Image

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.

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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.

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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.]

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 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.

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