Category Archives: courtship & marriage

Leap Year Proposals?

This postcard is from well outside my usual time frame, but I thought it too good not to share today. It was sent by a female friend in London in October 1910 to one of my grandmother’s cousins. So it was neither timely nor a nasty hint from a man! Perhaps, like me, the sender picked up cards when they caught her eye and just used them as the mood took her.

This one tickled me so much when we found it after Nancy died that I’ve kept it ever since. Enjoy!

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Cupid’s Proclamation to the Two-penny Postmen

I have just bought a bound volume of the Lady’s Magazine for 1815 and was curious to see whether St Valentine’s Day is mentioned. It is, but only in this “Proclamation” by Cupid, addressed “to the Two-penny Postmen, on Saint Valentine’s Day” “From our Court at Matrimony Place, in the Wandsworth Road.”

letter carrier

Letter Carrier and Bellman in red cut-away coat with blue collar, black top hat with gold band and cockade, grey waistcoat and trousers. From Cunnington & Lucas: Occupational Costume in England

“Heralds of my fame, on this auspicious morn outstrip the winds in their course; fly to accomplish my wishes, Leave not a cook-maid, a house-maid, or any other maid, from Hyde Park Corner to Whitechapel Church, without the dulcet murmurs of her faithful swain; who, in sending his tributary stanzas, not only soothes the soul of dear Dulcinea, but puts two-pence into the pockets of his majesty’s minsters. Remember that you are the bearers of hearts and darts, of fears and tears, of hopes and ropes, of pains and brains, of eyes and sighs, of loves and doves; of true lovers’s [sic] knots, of Hymen’s altars, and all the vast variety of inventions that fond affection so delights to lay at the feet of some adored object, on this day of days. Remember all this, I say; and if you think any letter you may have, from its paltry sneaking look; from it not being hot-pressed, wire-wove and gilt edged; or from its want of a kiss dropped in wax on the envelope, relates only to some petty affair of business, put it in your pocket to be delivered at your leisure, or not at all if you please; and hasten to deliver all those that relate to love and me, with the light foot, and the bounding speed of the mountain deer.

Ye mounted post-lads that amble on bony nags to all the environs of this great city, spare not the spur on this day of love; wear out your whips my boys, on the lank sides of your Rosinantes; be utterly careless as to whom you may cover with mud in your career of fame; emulate the never-to-be-forgotten Johnny Gilpin of Cheapside memory, and lay the dirt about you “on this side and on that”; for, oh think, some dairy-maid at Enfield, some bar-maid at Islington, some thresher of corn at Highgate, some turnpike-man at Bow, may be dying with expectation of the promised or expected Valentine.

Do this, ye letter-bearers, as ye hope for my favor. Do this, and I will prosper all your affairs of love; not a postman shall pine; but from my influence all the respective fair ones, of whom they may chance to be enamoured, if they offer marriage, shall embrace them and their offers together. But tremble if you disappoint me! The ceaseless sigh of love shall be your’s [sic]; I will make your hearts heavier than your bags of new halfpence are, since the old ones are laid aside; I will make all those females ye shall be in love with, cruel and flinty-hearted, til they shall drive you to despair, and suicides among the tribe of two-penny postmen be as common as a fog in November, or a cutting wind in March.

Farewell!”

The Two-penny Post replaced the Penny Post in London following an Act of 1802 which meant that the cost of sending a letter anywhere in the country was a uniform two pence (2d). In 1805 the cost to post a letter to the country rather than a town, went up to 3d leaving the town post at 2d. From the tone of the “Proclamation” (and the snide dig at money going into the pockets of ministers) the increase was still smarting thirteen years later!

From 1773 the postman would have worn a uniform, shown at the top of the post. His brass buttons were inscribed with his personal number. He would ring a bell so you could give him your letters to be posted (a sort of human letterbox, in effect) and he would deliver to the door using the ‘postman’s knock’ a distinctive double blow. There were no stamps as we known them on letters at the time – those came in during Victoria’s reign – and letters might be pre-paid or paid for on receipt.

I am intrigued that Cupid mentions only working women. Would those of the middle and upper classes expect their Valentines to be hand-delivered by their swain or his servant? Or would they coyly pretend they did not indulge in such behavior? And yet Cupid mentions expensive “hot-pressed, wire-wove and gilt edged” writing paper – surely beyond the means of the suitor of a milkmaid or thresher of corn?

post boy

Post boy 1805. His uniform is blue waistcoat with sleeves and brass buttons, buff-coloured breeches, black boots and brown top hat. (From Cunnington & Lucas. Occupational Costume)

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How Romantic Was An Elopement?

The romance and drama of an elopement is a popular theme in the historical love story, but it must have been an uncomfortable and expensive procedure, even without the risk of the rope ladder giving way and tumbling the young lady to the ground, or the furious father giving chase with his shotgun or horsewhip to chastise the bridegroom to within an inch of his life.

The post chaise was the fastest and safest way of evading Papa, although the popular name for these vehicles – yellow bounders – hints that expressions of passion must have been difficult as it swayed and lurched along the ill-made roads. How many nervous brides succumbed to travel sickness and second thoughts by the time the first inn was reached?

They also had a reputation for causing accidents because of the furious pace of escape, as a delightful print I picked up in Paris shows. A chaise and four, with the two postilions urging on the horses, leaves mayhem in its wake. A horse falls, its rider spills into the road and a pig bolts in terror while the lovers are lost to everything in their own private world inside the carriage.

The Great North Road by Charles G Harper (1901) casts a cynical eyes at the post chaise and its passengers –

“Everyone is familiar with the appearance of the old post-chaise, which according to the painters and the print-sellers, appears to have been principally used for the purpose of spiriting lovelorn couples with the-speed of the wind away from all restrictions of home and the Court of Chancery. A post-chaise was (so it seems nowadays) a rather cumbrous affair, four-wheeled, high, and insecurely hung, with a glass front and a seat to hold three, facing the horses. The original designers evidently had no prophetic visions as to this especial popularity of post-chaises with errant lovers, nor did they ponder the proverb, ‘Two’s company, three’s none’, else they would have restricted their accommodation to two, or have enlarged it to four.”

The gentleman planning an elopement would do well to visit his banker first – eloping in any style was an expensive business. There were the bribes of course – the lady’s maid, footmen who must turn a blind eye, the gardener whose ladder might be borrowed. The postilions, who would know at once that something illicit was afoot, would need their palms greasing liberally as would the landladies of the inns along the way if the happy, if queasy, couple wanted a good room for their first night of bliss.

The image above is from a book called Takings: or the Life of a Collegian. It is a satirical romp through the life of a young man by R.Dagley (1821). The picture is captioned ‘Taking Amiss’. Here the ‘hero’ Tom is eloping with his love – note the sign on the wall ‘To the Boarding School’ – the young lady is clearly below age.

At length the wished-for moment was at hand.

(Why should Time creep so slowly when we call?)

The cautious signal by the lovers plann’d,

Was heard and answere’d by the garden-wall

And now her drapery the nymph displays,

Now they [Tom has a friend along to support him] assist, and seat her in the chaise.

 

Not everything goes according to Tom’s plans, however: “One lodging, he conceived, for both would do, But Charlotte resolutely called for two”. Frustrated, Tom settles down to woo her, but has not succeeded by the time her furious relatives locate them and he finds himself facing a duel.

Another significant cost was the hire of the post chaise itself. A prudent lover would hire four horses, to achieve twelve miles an hour, and the chaise cost one-and-threepence a mile. On top of that there were toll gates to pay every few miles and food and accommodation. The canny eloper armed himself with Cary’s New Itinerary or an Accurate Delineation of the Great Roads (as does the writer trying to work out her hero and heroine’s route today!) This at least ensured that the post boys were not adding on a profitable mile here and there.

London to Gretna via Manchester, according to Cary, is 320 miles. That is £20 for the chaise and horses alone, at a time when a housemaid would be glad to earn £16 a year, all found.

Does an elopement still strike you as romantic? Would the thrill of the escape and the delight of being alone with the loved one at last outweigh the discomfort and expense? It is a while since I wrote an elopement into a book – I wonder, should I be thinking of another one?

If you are intrigued by the experience of travelling in Georgian Britain you can retrace some of the iconic routes in Driving Through Georgian Britain: the great coaching routes for the modern travellerAvailable in paperback and ebook it allows the modern traveller to drive the Great North Road, the Bath Road, the Brighton Road and the Dover Road finding what remains and discovering stories of elopement, murder, good meals and bare knuckle fights along the way.

 

 

 

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Queen Victoria’s Papa Designs a Clock Tower

In my last blog post I described my Canadian encounters with William, Duke of Clarence, destined to become William IV, and his beautiful, somewhat older lover, Mrs Frances Wentworth. Now to discover what his brother Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathern, was up to in Canada – and why he had cause to be grateful to Mrs Wentworth.

Edward (1767 – 1820) was the fourth son of George III and, like his older brother William, eventually married as part of the desperate race to produce a Hanoverian heir to the throne after the death of George IV’s daughter and only child, Princess Charlotte. Edward married Princess Victoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield, widowed sister of Princess Charlotte’s husband Leopold. In 1819 Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent was born, destined to become Queen Victoria. But that was all in the future when Edward was in Canada.

Edward

Destined for a career in the army, all went well at first and in 1789 he was appointed Colonel of the 7th Regiment of Foot. However he returned home without leave and was sent to Gibraltar in disgrace on a much-reduced rank. He found the weather too hot for him, requested a transfer and was sent to Quebec in 1791. He was joined by his mistress, Julie St. Laurent (who eventually spent 28 years with him) and soon settled into Canadian society, although his military service did take him down to the West Indies where he served with distinction.

There are even rumours that Edward married Julie in a Roman Catholic ceremony in Quebec, but I cannot find any proof. It would have been invalid in any case as he needed the King’s permission to marry and a Roman Catholic ceremony would not have been accepted, even if, improbably, Julie had been.

Edward travelled widely in Canada and I encountered him in Annapolis Royal, a delightful historic town on the Bay of Fundy when I stayed in The Bailey House (shown in the photograph below). Edward was entertained here in the 1790s by the Totten family, refugee Loyalists from Westchester, New York. The house retains all its original 1770 features and it was a thrill to stay there.

Bailey House

From 1794 Edward was stationed at Halifax, Nova Scotia, as Commander in Chief of Royal forces in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Halifax has a magnificent harbour and was the Royal Navy’s North American base. Towering above the harbour is the Citadel, a massively fortified military complex. I toiled up the hill in sweltering heat to view it and it is certainly impressive!

Edward brought Julie St. Laurent with him. She had been shunned by Quebec society so he must have been delighted to make the acquaintance the civilian Governor, Sir John Wentworth, and his wife Frances, who had been the lover of Edward’s brother, William.  They welcomed Julie, and the couples became close friends. Perhaps Frances understood the stresses of being a royal mistress!

Edward secured funding for the defenses of Halifax and was instrumental in many improvements in the city, including the building of the Round Church and the Garrison Clock which he apparently helped design. Unfortunately it is covered in netting and scaffolding for restoration at the moment, but it remains a significant landmark.

clock 2

Edward left Canada in 1800, still accompanied by Madame St. Laurent who remained with him until his marriage in 1818. They never returned to Canada.

 

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A Valentine Gift?

I have a tiny enamel box, just 4cm by 2cm high, that was surely given as a love-token, perhaps for Valentine’s Day.

Bilston 1

It is almost certainly a Bilston enamel patch box and, although the lid has suffered some damage a long time ago, the two lovers on the lid and the inscription are still clear.

 Sweets the Love That meets Return

reads the caption and a dashing chap with a curling feather in his hat and a dramatic cloak makes lingering eye contact with a fair maiden carrying flowers.

Bilston 2

You can tell it is a box for patches, or beauty spots, and not for tiny sweets or snuff because of the mirror inside. It is a pleasure to hold – the waisted design means that it fits securely between the fingers of one hand to hold it steady while the patch was applied with the help of the mirror.

The box itself probably dates for the 1770s or 80s when the fashion for patches was at its height. They served to cover up skin blemishes or to draw attention to a pretty dimple or to the eyes. In this portrait the lady is seated at her dressing table, about to apply a beauty spot. The patch box she holds has a mirror inside the lid and on the table is another box, much the same size as mine.

689px-Anne_de_La_Grange-Trianon_by_Circle_of_François-Hubert_Drouais

Circle of Francois-Hubert Drouais (1727-65). Via Wikimedia

Craftsmen in the small town of Bilston, just to the South-East of Wolverhampton, began to make enamelled items in about 1745 when Huguenot refugees settled there bringing the technique with them.  The industry was still flourishing in the early 1800s producing snuff boxes, trinket boxes and similar items, but by the 1820s it was in decline with the reduction in snuff-taking and the improvement in manufacturing techniques for fine bone china objects. Bilston enamellers had vanished by the 1850s.

Today Bilston enamels fetch hundreds of pounds. Mine, with its damage, was a very cheap auction bargain!

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St George’s Hanover Square – and Its Remarkable Neighbour, Trinity Chapel

 

A marriage between the aristocratic hero and his true love in St George’s Hanover Square forms the climax of many a romantic historical novel, and I’ve used that scene myself. The church, completed in 1724, was built to serve the new and expanding residential area between Piccadilly and Tyburn or Oxford Road (now Oxford Street). These handsome streets and squares were a magnet for the upper classes in Society and handsome St George’s was the perfect place to be married or to have your children baptised. The 5th Earl of Jersey, husband of Lady Jersey one of the famous Patronesses of Almack’s, was a churchwarden here, although their marriage was a private one by special licence in their Berkeley Square house.

In a detail from John Roque’s map of 1747 (below) the new church sits with Burlington House to the South and Berkley (as it was then spelled) Square to the South West.

True, it is not in Hanover Square at all, but on the East side of George Street and its position gives the West front a cramped outlook, almost but not quite, looking down Maddox Street. The view at the top of the post (1812, from Ackermann’s Repository) is probably the best angle, then and now.

It is sometimes easy to forget that the occupants of these fashionable squares, great mansions and elegant terraces were serviced by a multitude of tradesmen, servants and labourers, all of whom ‘lived in’ with their employers or set up shop close by or who lodged within easy walking distance of their employment. St George’s was their church too and in between the glamorous christenings and marriages the humbler parishioners were in and out, tying the knot, naming their babies and being buried.

This was brought home to me by discovering my great-great-great grandfather James Wood marrying Mary Baldwin at St George’s. This was a surprise – James was a humble labourer turned chair mender and caner from Berkhamstead in Hertfordshire. What was he doing in London, let alone getting married in Mayfair? Then I discovered that he was a ‘servant’ (no idea what kind) of the Earl of Bridgewater whose country house was at Ashridge, close to Berkhamstead. The Earl had a London home in Albemarle Street (bottom, centre on the map), so presumably James Wood was there serving his employer in some capacity.

After that discovery ancestors marrying or having children baptised at St George’s in the 18th and early 19th century started appearing in large numbers – all from the concentration of piano makers in Marylebone, just North of Oxford Street. Possibly St George’s was seen as an aspirational place to be married because the Marylebone piano key makers, piano string makers, piano striker coverers and occasional dolls’ eyes makers did have other options in the various chapels of ease that had been built to help ease the pressure on the churches in these new and crowded districts.

One of those chapels  can be seen on the map on Conduit Street facing up George Street. This was Trinity Chapel and had one of the strangest histories of any London place of worship. A Chapel of Ease was a chapel either built before a parish church was in existence or added later to take the strain in a very large or crowded parish. This one started life as a moveable Roman Catholic chapel on wheels used by King James II. After he fled the country in 1688 to be replaced by William and Mary, the chapel was abandoned on Hounslow Heath where James had abdicated. Probably he took mass there in one of his last acts as king. It was transported to Conduit Street and turned into an Anglican Chapel of Ease on the initiative of Archbishop Tenison. Later it was acquired by bookseller and High Bailiff of Westminster James Robson, who had it demolished and rebuilt in brick, but because it was on leasehold land it was not eligible to be a parish church, hence the need for St George’s to be built. Unfortunately no images of the remarkable ‘traveling tabernacle’ seem to have survived and Trinity Chapel was demolished in 1875, the owner of the ground having decided that secular buildings would be more profitable.

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A Ceremony Never Omitted Among the Vulgar

letter-on-balcony

“It is the ceremony…never omitted among the vulgar, to draw lots, which they term Valentines, on the eve before Valentine Day. The names of a select number of one sex are, by an equal number of the other, put into some vessel; and after that, everyone draws a name, for the present called their Valentine, and is look’d upon as a good omen of their being man and wife afterwards.” (Bourne Antiquitates Vulgares 1725)

lottery

By “the vulgar” Bourne means the common people, but Valentine’s Day customs appear to have appealed to all levels of society – and nations. In this French fan of the end of the 18th century young women have lots drawn by cherubs for the name of their lovers, each of which has a list of their virtues attached – one young man has none (hence the weeping female in the centre!), one has one virtue and so forth. The luckiest young lady – whose name is Clemence – scoops the jackpot and her lover will be handsome, brave, honourable, true… I found the fan at auction at the same time as I was writing The Piratical Miss Ravenhurst – the heroine of which is called Clemence. Naturally, the hero has to find the same fan in a shop and buy it for her.

John Brand in his Observations on Popular Antiquities (1813) quotes examples of names being drawn for Valentines and also of various ways of divining who your lover will be – for example taking five bay leaves, pining one to each corner of your pillow and one to the middle the night before the 14th and you would then dream of your beloved. The  sending of written Valentines or cards appears to have developed as the postal service improved at the end of the 18th century and the unimaginative male could turn to The Young Man’s Valentine Writer (1792) and copy out one of the sickly-sweet verses it contained.

small-kiss-biggerWhether you picked your bay leaves, sent a card or received a delightful verse – happy Valentine’s Day!

(The little detail of the kissing couple and the naughty young lady at the top of this post are from the French series of prints Modes et Manieres)

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