Category Archives: Entertainment

Keeping a Diary – and a lady who didn’t

I recently deposited my late father’s 40+ years-worth of diaries with the Great Diary Project , an incredible undertaking to preserve diaries of all kinds.  It made me think about keeping a diary – and how many good resolutions there must be to do just that which are never fulfilled. Which reminded me that I own a ladies’ memorandum book for 1822 –  and the owner didn’t use it either.

The book is beautifully bound in plain red Morocco leather with a tab to keep the covers closed and measures just over 4.5 x 3.25 inches.

But even though it contains no fascinating insights into the daily life of a lady in 1822 it is a lovely item in its own right, and it does contain two handwritten recipes and a mass of other useful printed material including “New Songs and Melodies”, instructions for country dances and quadrilles, the price of stamps and “Enigmas, Charades and Rebuses.”

The diary belonged to “Elizabeth Plant. Greatwood Lodge.” I did not have much confidence that I could find her – but an on-line transcript of a deed appointing Thomas Plant “Farmer of Greatwood Lodge in the parish of Eccleshall in the county of Staffordshire” as a trustee in 1879 gave me the parish. Greatwood Lodge is still there, a red-brick farmhouse that was perhaps quite new in Elizabeth’s time, and still a farm.

The frontispiece has a fashion plate and a view of a fine country house in Suffolk

As the frontispiece says the diaries were sold by a Bury St Edmund’s bookseller and throughout East Anglia the choice of a Suffolk house was probably for marketing purposes. Perhaps Elizabeth received it as a gift from a friend or relative.

I wonder if she took the picture of the walking dress to her local dressmaker, or even attempted it herself – and did she and her friends try out the country dances the book contained?

Amongst the poems I particularly like this cynical view off London – perhaps intended to convince the country-dwelling owners of the diary that they were in the right place:

The only things that Elizabeth wrote in her diary were two recipes, one for gingerbread and one for “toufy” or toffee, both on the accounts page for January. The  gingerbread sounds tasty!

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A Georgian Parlour Game

The Georgians were great believers in educational games and I own a battered and much-used copy of one of them – Wallis’s Tour Through England and Wales: A New Geographical Pastime, published in London in 1794.

The whole game measures approximately 500 x 630mm (20 x 26 inches) and is made up of 16 sections glued to a flexible backing. It folds up neatly into a slipcase approximately 175 x 140cm (7 x 4.5 inches). The slipcase has an imposing image of scrolls, flags and military drums on it, but it has had such a hard life that it is impossible to scan. There was another version of the game for Europe (on sale on the internet at over £1,000, I see) and one for the whole world. Unfortunately I doubt my battered copy of England and Wales is worth anything like that!

The same plate was also stuck onto wood and cut out so that each county formed a piece of a jigsaw – or dissected puzzle as they were known at the time. The children of George III played with these puzzles which survive at Kew Palace and can be seen here.

The instructions tell us that 2 to 6 “may amuse themselves with this agreeable pastime” for which they will need a “totum” and a pyramid (presumably some kind of marker) and four counters per player, each set in a different colour. A totum was a teetotum, a spinning top with a variable number of faces. I can recall making one as a child out of card cut as a polygon with a cocktail stuck through the centre. There are some lovely ones illustrated on this website.

Players spin the totum and the highest score starts. With their first score they place their pyramid on the corresponding town – 1, for example, would land them at Rochester. On their next turn they move on the number of towns they have scored – say 6 –  which would give them 7 and they can then move to Lewes, number 7 on the map. The winner is the first to reach London with exactly the right number. If a player exceeds the right number then he has to count backwards from London.

Each numbered town has a short description in the margins and some of these have a delay  involving missed turns. When a player lands on one of those they must deposit the stated number of counters and have to miss the next turn, or turns, until they have collected them back up again. (see 50. Worcester, in the top right hand corner of the first image). Presumably each player would be expected to read out the description of the towns they land on for the instruction of all the participants.

If you landed on 89, The Isle of Man, you would be shipwrecked and out of the game!

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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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The Statue of Charles I – a London landmark Jane Austen would have known

chas-i-in-brass

Standing on the southern edge of Trafalgar Square, facing down Whitehall, and in the midst of a permanent traffic jam, stands the bronze statue of Charles I, looking down towards the place of his execution as he has done since 1675. The surroundings have changed beyond recognition, but every Georgian Londoner and visitor would have been familiar with the statue which appears in numerous prints.

The statue was created by Hubert le Suer in 1633, but it was not erected immediately and by the time of the Civil War it had become a target for the Parliamentarians. It was sold to John Rivett, a brazier, in 1649 on the strict instructions that it was to be melted down. Rivett, obviously both a shrewd political forecaster and a businessman, buried it in his garden and made a great deal of money from small souvenirs allegedly made from the bronze. Charles II acquired it on his restoration and it was erected, more or less on the site of the medieval Charing Cross, in 1675. It can be seen on the map, just below the R of Cross. Behind it is the King’s Mews and the Golden Cross Inn, now occupied by Trafalgar Square. The bulk of Northumberland House is to the east, below the final S of Cross.

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The pedestal is said to have been designed by Wren and carved by Grinling Gibbons.

This print of 1811 from Ackermann’s Repository, shows the view east past Northumberland House and down the Strand.

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The statue was obviously a familiar landmark that enabled artists to locate their images. The 1823 print of ‘The notorious Black Billy “At Home” to a London Street Party’ (drawn by Samuel Alken, published by Thos. Kelly) shows it surrounded by lively street life. Despite being shown as white, “Black Billy” Waters (c. 1778–1823) was black and is said to have been a slave who escaped by joining the British navy and who lost a leg in a fall from the rigging. Whatever the truth, he was a popular street entertainer with his characteristic feathered hat and violin.

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By the middle of the 19th century street life was rather more decorous and this undated Victorian engraving shows a pristine Nelson’s Column, Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery (with columns recycled from Carlton House).

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Today the traffic around the statue is unrelenting, and so often jammed solid, that bus and taxi passengers have ample opportunity to study Charles in all his melancholy glory!

chas-i-pic-a

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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

The Earl of Wittering Goes to the Seaside Part 10: A Walk on the Beach

The broad sweep of sand was one of the factors that had decided Porrett in his selection of Weymouth for the Earl’s seaside visit. Now he finds himself delighted with his choice as the Countess and her daughter in law drive off in one of the charming little donkey carts for hire, their husbands stride along the seashore, young Arthur rummages happily amongst the seashells on the tide line and he is left to escort Miss Gatwick – Emily.

beach scene

She clings to his arm and laughs as they pass small children happily building sandcastles. ‘Mama would never have let me do that when I was small.’

‘The followers of Rousseau believe that childish play is healthy,’ Porrett observes, wondering why he has to sound so incredibly pompous when he speaks to Emily. ‘And here on the beach there is so much more room than at the inland spas. Children can play without disturbing anyone else.’

So can adults,’ Emily says as her mother and grandmother pass them in their donkey cart, Mama holding onto her hat and laughing. ‘Oh, do look at that very fetching bathing dress.’

She points to a lady wearing (to Porrett’s vast relief) a costume designed for the walk to a bathing machine rather than the actual costume for immersion itself. He is still finding the somewhat casual approach to ladies’ dress embarrassing.  ‘I assume it is supposed to be trimmed with seaweed,’ he says dubiously, hoping that Emily will not want to wear something so outlandish. (The example shown here is from La Belle Assemblee for 1809. In her hand she is holding the bag for her Bathing Preserver, the costume she will actually wear in the water, an invention of Mrs Bell, the modiste who was also responsible for this subtle little number.).

1809 Bathing dress‘Such a pity green does not suit me.’ They wander on a little, Porrett tongue-tied with love, Emily uncharacteristically silent. Finally she blurts out, ‘You went swimming this morning.’

‘Er, yes. I felt I should check the facilities.’

‘I saw you. From the window.’ She pauses and gulps audibly. ‘With Papa’s telescope.’

Porrett feels the blood drain from his face and tries very hard not to think about where it is heading. Emily had been watching him swimming. Him swimming naked. With a telescope. ‘Miss Gatwick…’

‘Emily, please, Frederick. You looked magnificent rising from the waves. Like a sea god,’ she adds breathlessly.

Porrett has no illusions about his personal charms. He is rather less than six foot tall, has sandy hair,  takes strenuous exercise to prevent a stoop as a result of so much desk work and has to wear wire-rimmed spectacles for documents in small print. If Emily thinks he looks like a god then either she is seriously ill and hallucinating or she… she…

1816 Costumes Parisien‘We cannot,’ he mumbles with nothing like his normal fluency. ‘You are the granddaughter of an earl. I am…’

‘The third son of a bishop and the second cousin of a duke,’ Emily says just as there is a shriek and a lady is hauled spluttering to the surface by two burly female dippers.

Porrett closes his eyes in dismay – this lady has gone in without her flannel ‘case’ – then opens them again with a yelp when Emily digs her elbow into his ribs in a most unlover-like manner. ‘Oh, Papa,’ she says. ‘Do go and distract him before he causes a riot.’ And, of course, the Viscount is on the waterline gawping. Porrett, ready to tackle dragons to save Emily the slightest embarrassment, strides off to deal with her father. Yet again. Dipping crop

Find out more about the many attractions of a walk on the beach and the changing attitudes to children’s play in The Georgian Seaside.

Next time – a rift between the lovers puts Emily’s life in danger. Can Porrett save the day and win her hand? Find out in the concluding episode.

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1814 – the Summer of Celebrations

The summer of 1814 – and London is en fete to celebrate not only the victory over Napoleon but also the anniversary of Hanoverian rule. For three months Londoners had the opportunity to view, and enjoy, some of the most lavish celebrations the capital has ever seen.

Ack transp

On April 20 there was a triumphal procession for Louis XVII from Hyde Park to Grillon’s Hotel in Albemarle Street where he was staying with his entourage. On June 7 the Russian Czar Alexander I, King William III of Prussia, Marshal Blucher, Prince Metternich, the Prince of Liechtenstein, and Prince Leopold arrived in London and on June 11 the Prince Regent entertained all the Allied Leaders at the opera at Covent Garden. On June 16 they were the guests at a dinner held by the merchants and bankers of London in the City and on June 18 the Prince Regent, Marquess of Wellesley, Lord Liverpool, Marshal Blucher, Prince Metternich, Czar Alexander I, and Catherine Grand Duchess of Oldenburg were guests of honour at a dinner given by the Corporation of London.

On June 20, hopefully having had the opportunity for a rest and some digestion, the Prince Regent, the Duke of York, the King of Prussia, the Czar and  Generals Blucher, Lord Beresford and Hill reviewed 12,000 troops in Hyde Park. At 8pm that evening a re-enactment of the battle of Trafalgar was held in the park on the Serpentine with model ships three feet long (one metre) were deployed to recreate the main events of the battle. At the climax the French ships were sunk as the National Anthem was played.

The evening was staged as a popular entertainment and the park was transformed with stalls, arcades, and follies and pavilions. There were refreshments, taverns and fruit stalls and the crowd could listen to military bands as they watched acrobats or enjoyed the swings and roundabouts.

On June 22 the Allied Sovereigns watched a naval review at Portsmouth before leaving for the continent, but in London the celebrations were by no means over.

On June 28 Wellington was formally welcomed at Buckingham House by the Queen, and on July 1 a great ball was held in the Duke’s honour at Burlington House by White’s Club. It cost £10,000 and amongst the 1,700 guests was Jane Austen’s brother Henry. She was thrilled. On July 7 there was a Service of General Thanksgiving for the victory at St Paul’s Cathedral with Wellington carrying the Sword of State alongside the Regent and as a further sign of his pleasure the Regent held a fete in the gardens of Carlton House to honour the Duke on July 21.

Pagoda

August 1,1814 was the hundredth anniversary of the accession of George I of Hanover to the British throne. The Battle of the Nile was represented by rowing boats on the canal in St James’s Park which was crossed by a new ‘Chinese’ bridge with, in the centre, a seven-storey pagoda. According to Ackermann’s Repository “It appeared a blazing edifice of golden fire, every part being covered in lamps, and glass reflectors at proper intervals relieving the splendour with their silver lustre.” At the height of the fireworks the pagoda caught fire and two men and a number of swans perished, but the crowd thought it was part of the celebrations and cheered wildly.

Meanwhile in Green Park a castle-like structure was built. After firework display that lasted, according to Ackermann’s, “for more than two hours, a discharge of cannon enveloped the whole building in smoke so dense, that no part of it was visible to the innumerable spectators assembled…but when this obstruction cleared away, it burst upon them, metamorphosed into the Temple of Concord, most brilliantly illuminated… and revolving upon its centre.”

Concord

Many shops and businesses also rose to the patriotic occasion and decorated their premises. Ackermann’s Repository at 101, Strand, was decorated by a ‘transparency’ almost 30 feet (10 metres) high and “brilliantly illuminated” from the back “with carbonic gas.”. The lower section shows the seven Christian and Cardinal Virtues with the Royal arms above and the standards of the Allied nations. The upper part is the Temple of Peace with the word REGENT above and all crowned with the Prince of Wales’s feathers. It is shown at the head of this post.

You can  enjoy these two historic parks by taking Walks 4 and 6 in Walking Jane Austen’s London.

 

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