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The Road To Waterloo – Week 10. Napoleon is in a Fog, an Infamous Army Waits and Brussels Swarms With Spies

Week ten since Napoleon’s escape from Elba and the weather was so bad in France that it seemed that Spring would never arrive. Heavy frosts continued until the end of April and it would still be foggy in May: the Parisians must have thought Napoleon had brought perpetual winter with him.

There was alarm in Brussels, with press reports that the Imperial Guard had marched as far as Beauvais and that Napoleon was about to inspect the “frontier fortresses”. Wellington met Blücher on May 3rd for the conference of Tirlemont, the day Wellington had been intending to advance into France. The two agreed to mass their forces in the centre of the long line of defence, in front of Ghent and Brussels. The Russians had still not come up to join them and the Austrians were not hurrying either. Wellington could not predict when the advance would take place and he was not happy with the state of his forces. “I have an infamous army, very weak and ill-equipped and a very inexperienced staff. In my opinion they were doing nothing in England,” he told Charles Stewart.
Gentlemen in London could peruse the latest news about the situation while partaking of the “Table d’Hôte at the Adelphi Coffee-house (late Mansell’s Hotel), Adam-street, Adelphi. The Proprietor of the above respectfully informs Gentlemen frequenting the Theatres, and others, that he has established a Table d’Hôte, this and every day, at the moderate charge of 2s 6d each. Soups, Fish, Roast & Boiled Joints, Puddings etc included. Ready at 5 o’clock precisely. Choice of old Wines & Spirits of superior quality. Venison & turtle dressed every day, when in season.”
The Morning Chronicle gave the “Fashions For May”, copying the descriptions of the fashion plates in La Belle Assemblée and Ackermann’s Repository, including that for the “Angouleme Walking Dress” shown here.

Angouleme Walking Dress. Invented & to be had only of Mrs Bell, 26 Charlotte Street, Bedford Square

The gossip columns included the news that Earl Fitzwilliam had received a present of two black swans from New South Wales and had established them in his park and that Madame Catalini was in Brussels with her husband and proposed a series of concerts.

The Morning Post commented that it would not surprise their readers to learn that, “the present Ephemeral Ruler of France” would go to any lengths to establish the size of the armies massing against him and that Brussels was a hot-bed of French spies, including an apparently respectable French lady pretending to be in Brussels to see Madame Catalini perform – she was unmasked when one of her servants was recognised and surprised destroying compromising documents.

masquerade
Mrs Camac held a fashionable masquerade in Portman Square. “The entrance hall and staircase was tastefully ornamented with rural arches, alcoves & hedges formed of laurel and orange branches studded with real fruit and brilliantly illuminated by variegated lamps, A full band of Pandeans enlivened the scene.” Some of the costumes worn were given: “Mr Impey, first as a bride & then as a bridegroom; Mr Barnett, a witty French hair-dresser, Mr C. Caldwell, a busy soldier’s wife,… Mr Holmes, an Irish footman…” No characters were reported for the lady guests.

Pandean bands were popular entertainers on pan pipes, as can be seen in this print. The print above, showing a detail from a masquerade scene depicts a lady holding a mask made of painted metal gauze and through the arch a number of costumes including Mother Goose, a clown and various historical outfits.Pandean band

The French menace just across the Channel did nothing to reduce the popularity of the South Coast resorts and it seems that the presence of troops gathering on the south coast, with the consequent increase in the number of officers looking for entertainment in the seaside resorts, only added to the attraction. It was still rather early for the main season, but there was speculation in the press that the Queen, accompanied by her daughters, might be planning to spend a short time in Brighton for the sake of her health.

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The Road to Waterloo Week Nine – Mrs Wilmot Flops at Drury Lane, l’Orient Blows Up at Sadler’s Wells & Paris is Flooded By Arms

All the London newspapers began the week by printing long, stolidly indigestible, extracts from the Paris press along with editorial pieces sneering at Napoleon’s attempts at establishing a constitution and reports of arms and ammunition flooding into Paris for the army.
The Times reported that the Duke of Wellington was expected to make his headquarters at Brussels and that he commanded troops in a line from Ostend to Charleroi, but that opinion was very divided on the continent about whether war would – or should – break out. The Duke (shown in a portrait by Thomas Phillips) was reported to be in favour of it.

“Drury Lane Theatre – on Saturday night a most crowded and brilliant assembly were attracted to the representation of a new tragedy by Mrs. Wilmot, a Lady of Fashion, which had been got up with great splendour of decoration and in favour of which there was the most sanguine anticipation. It is a story of the Saxon era of our nation…There were abundant materials for dramatic interest and effect… The plot was pregnant with those high sentiments of honour and gallantry which distinguished our Saxon ancestors… The materials were, in short, ample for the production of a play of great interest but the Lady has rather produced a dramatic poem than a regular drama.” By the third act, despite Mr Kean in the leading role, the audience was getting restless and “the whole of the fifth act passed with the incessant impatience and condemnation.” The unfortunate Mrs Wilmot presumably retired discomforted and the piece was never heard again. The print below shows the fashionable crowd outside the boxes at Drury Lane – and the dashing young ladies hoping to attract one of the dandies on the strut there.

Drury Lane
Rather more successful productions were attracting audiences elsewhere. Astley’s Royal Amphitheatre was featuring a “new serio-comic equestrian pantomime called the Life, Death & Restoration of the High-Mettled Racer; or Harlequin on Horseback. In the course of 21 interesting scenes will be introduced a Real Horse Race and a Real Fox Chase.”
Sadler’s Wells, which had been showing a recreation of the Battle of the Nile “on real Water” had now, presumably reflecting the popular mood, added more ships and the “blowing up of l’Orient” along with an illuminated transparency of Nelson.
But in the real world things were becoming ever more real – on Saturday 29th Generals Ponsonby and Bing, along with their horses, embarked at Ramsgate on the “Duke of Wellington” for Ostend. Colonel Smith’s F Troop of Artillery had also arrived at Ramsgate and were expected to embark on the next tide.

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The Road to Waterloo – Week Seven. The Allied Sovereigns Snub Napoleon and Mr Barton Wallop Goes to A Ball

In Paris Napoleon was finding that the tide of popular acclaim that had swept to meet him on his journey to Paris was ebbing fast now that he was actually in power. There were threats of civil war in the south and west and his legislative reforms were in chaos, even though all the major public institutions had declared their loyalty to him. To be safe he had to keep the peace internationally while he consolidated at home, so he wrote to the Allied Sovereigns – but none of his letters were accepted. France was, therefore, put on a war footing while Napoleon tinkered with the constitution. The British Mercury commented gloomily that 300,000 French prisoners of war had been returned to France and were doubtless flocking to Napoleon’s banner to fight against Britain.

BON40706In London the social scene was buzzing and in the newspapers the “Fashionable Parties” and “Arrivals” columns were long. On Monday it was reported that, “Lady Castlereagh [shown left. She was one of the Patronesses of Almack’s] gave an elegant supper on the Saturday, after the opera, at her house in St. James’s-square to nearly 100 distinguished fashionables: among them were the Russian Ambassador and his lady, Prince and Princess Castelcicala, the Duke of Devonshire etc.”

“Lord Grantley, Sir John and Lady Lubbock, Lady Frances Wright Wilson, Mr. Anson, Mr. Barton Wallop, and a large company of distinguished friends, were entertained on Friday to dinner, by the Earl and Countess of Portsmouth, in Wimpole-street; and her Ladyship had a party in the evening which was a much enlivened by an elegant selection of music.” The magnificently named Mr Barton Wallop appears to have been Major William Barton Wallop (1781-1824) who was at one time in the Nova Scotia Fencibles. There can’t have been many men around with that name!

On Monday a marriage fated to become tragically famous was announced: “On Tuesday last, ColonWilliam_Howe_DeLanceyel Sir William de Lancey to Magdaline, second daughter of Sir James Hall of Dunglass, Bart. and Lady Helen Hall, sister to the Earl of Selkirk.” This was to prove a short-lived marriage, ending at Waterloo where Lady de Lancey nursed her dying husband [left] under terrible conditions.

In Parliament the House of Lords were almost entirely occupied with “The Crisis” while the Commons debated the Paving Bill, considered a number of petitions and gave the Chancellor of the Exchequer a hard time.

Employers everywhere probably shuddered at the report of the indictment of Elizabeth Fenning, for attempting to poison her employers (the household of Orlibar Turner – this seems to be the week for unusual names) with arsenic in elizabeth-fenning-book-1their dumplings because she was under notice of dismissal. She had, apparently, taken the arsenic out of a drawer where it was, rather conveniently, labelled “Arsenic, deadly poison.” She was found guilty and sentenced to death.

At Lambeth Street Magistrates’ Office the trial continued of Margaret Moore, accused of attempting to steal the crown from the Tower of London. She maintained that her motive was to relieve those who were in want. Her neighbours appeared to state that she was occasionally deranged.

1808 court dressOn Thursday the Queen held the Drawing Room which was “brilliantly attended”. The Morning Post reported that Her Majesty wore “a petticoat of jonquil starsnet covered with a beautiful Indian silver gauze, with draperies of the same gracefully intermerged with superb formed silver fringe, ornamented with handsome cords and tassels; robe to correspond ornamented with diamonds.” A long list of persons were to be presented and a one-way system was set up through the palace in order to manage the crowd. The image shows court dress – despite the fashion for high waists hoops were still compulsory, producing a truly odd silhouette.

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The Road to Waterloo Week Six – “The Belgians Undergo the Most Lively Sensations.”

By Monday April 3rd the book publishers had jumped on the Napoleonic bandwagon and advertisements began appearing in the newspapers –
“Letter to a noble lord on the present situation of France and Europe accompanied by official and original documents. John Murray Albemarle-street.”
“The CRISIS, addressed to the people of ENGLAND on the Emperor NAPOLEON’S returned to Power. By a barrister of the Middle Temple. James Ridgway Piccadilly (Price 2s)”
“The STATEMENT of BONAPARTE’S plot made to Earl BATHURST and the FRENCH AMBASSADOR in October and November last by WILLIAM PLAYFAIR Esq. is now ready, price 1s 6d. It contains also the Cypher in which Bonaparte corresponded, with the Key, his Proclamation in Cypher and Decyphered etc. At 41 Pall-mall.”

Fashion 1815
For those hoping to ignore the rumbling threat of war, an intriguing fashion advert describes garments that can be bought ready-made and then altered to fit the customer:
“Elegant, Nouvelle and Fashionable Millinery, Dresses, Pellisses, Mantles etc etc – Thomas and Co. agreeable to their usual plan, have (under the superintendence of Mrs. Thomas) completed the greatest choice of articles in the above branches, uniting in a pleasing style, the French with the English taste, and which are composed of prime and nouvelle materials. The above are particularly adapted for evening or full dress, the dinner party or the promenade and from being made in all sizes enables them to execute any commissions with all possible speed and thereby doing away (in a very material degree) the necessity of giving orders. 193 Fleet- street, west end corner of Chancery-lane.” The charming little image above is from a lady’s memorandum book for 1815.

The foreign papers, reported on Monday, told that the Belgians were undergoing “the most lively sensations” – as well they might. British ships had been permitted to enter Dieppe peaceably and that appeared to be the official port for communications, Meanwhile, in Paris, Napoleon seemed largely concerned with returning affairs as quickly as possible to the position before he left, including changing back the names of Paris streets.

“The Duc d’Orleans and his daughter, with their suite, arrived from Amsterdam and put up at Greillon’s (sic) Hotel, Albemarle Street.” It was not clear whether they intended staying for the duration of the emergency, or whether this was just a visit.

“Madame Catalini’s delightful retreat, The Hermitage, at Old Brompton is to be disposed of. In the event of her return from France, her engagements are so numerous and particularly during the summer months, when the Hermitage may really be compared to a paradise, that she has no means of enjoying thcatalanie advantages that its easy access to town will afford some more fortunate purchaser. The interior embellishments and furniture are spoken of in high terms of admiration. Mssrs. Robins are empowered to dispose of it, and report says, at a sacrifice to the fair warbler of many thousand pounds.” Madame Catalini (shown left) was a singer of huge international fame who would appear in Brussels to great acclaim as the crisis developed.

Wellington arrived in Brussels on Tuesday to take command of an Allied army that would total between 800,000-1,200,000 men when mustered and on Saturday 8th April Bonaparte ordered the general mobilisation of France. The situation was escalating.
The Marriages column of the Morning Post on Monday recorded one of the marriages of military men now gathering in Belgium.
“A few days since, by special licence, at Bruxelles Lieut. Colonel George H. Berkeley to Miss Sutton eldest daughter of Lady Sutton of Mosely House in the county of Surrey. His Grace the Duke of Richmond gave away the bride.”

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The Road to Waterloo Week Five – The Allied Troops Gather While Mrs Bell Corsets the Corpulent

Bells Weekly

On Easter Sunday, the 26th, Bell’s Weekly Messenger stated that no-one had arrived in England from France since the 20th March and that most of the information about Napoleon’s invasion that had been reported so far had been inaccurate. Almost half the newspaper (an 8-page journal) was devoted to news of Bonaparte, and had the facts up to his arrival in Paris more or less correct.
The journal reported that dispatches had been sent on the 23rd from the Admiralty to all the ports in England and speculated that this was giving orders for a general impress of seamen, while every regiment of the line was under orders to prepare for active service and were expected to be marching to the coast to be embarked for Belgium.
Meanwhile, amongst the entertainment offered to Londoners this week, were two of a martial nature looking back to past Allied victories against the French.
At Sadler’s Wells: “Easter Monday, a new Scotch Dance composed by Mr Ellar, called a LOWP AN’ AWA’ – A new Pantomime (by Mr C. Dibden, music by Mr. Reeve) called The MERMAID; or Harlequin Pearl Diver – Clown, Mr. Grimaldi. A new Musical Piece, written by Mr C. Dibden, called LAW’S TWO TAILS; or Entail and Red Tail. Signor Francesco Zanini, from Paris, will make his first appearance in England as an Equilibriste Philharmonique. To conclude with a Naumachia on Real Water, representing the Battle of the Nile.”
At the Panorama, Leicester Square: “Just opened, a VIEW of the LAST BATTLE fought by the ALLIES, near the Butte St. Chaumont, previous to their entering Paris; with a view of the City, and Montmartre in the distance. The splendid BATTLE OF VITTORIA will continue for a few weeks. Admittance to each painting, One shilling. – Open Ten till Dusk.”
Mrs Bell, aMrs Bell adt her shop, the Magazine des Modes, 26, Charlotte Street, was advertising her Bandage Corset for pregnant ladies and those “inclined to Corpulancy”, while, for the more slender ladies, The Circassian Corset, made “without superfluities of Steel, Whalebone or Hard Substances, are declared by Physicians to be the only Corset that should be worn, as they give Ease, Gracefulness, and Dignity to the Shape, which no other Corset is capable of.”
Monday was the annual Lord Mayor’s Banquet, preceded by the grand procession from Mansion House to Christ Church, Newgate Street to hear a sermon preached by the Bishop of Oxford. The toasts at the banquet included, “Church and King”” (considerable applause), “The Prince Regent” (“the approbation expressed by the company did not appear to be so strong as on former occasions”) and “The Duke of York and the Army” and “The Duke of Clarence and the Navy” (to great applause.) the dancing commenced at 10 o’clock and continued until “a late hour”. The image below (from Ackermann’s Repository 1810) shows the portico of Mansion House on the right and Cornhill stretching away in the middle of the scene. The Bank of England is out of sight on the left and the royal Exchange is behind the buildings in the centre.

 

 

Mansion House
In Friday’s paper, an enterprising furniture salesman managed to get the following inserted as editorial: “The rage for French furniture and elegancies has been very prevalent amongst the Nobility and higher classes of this country, who have made large purchases at Paris, which, from recent events, it is probable they will never receive, this will of course enhance the value of what is to be sold next week at Mr. Squibb’s.”
On Wednesday the 19th, Wellington left Vienna to take up command of the combined armies. On Saturday, April 1st, it was reported from the Brussels papers that “the march of troops through this town is incessant” and that 50 ships had already arrived in Ostend, full of British troops. Londoners could be left in no doubt that the situation was now serious.

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The Road to Waterloo – Week Three: the French King Dithers, Princess Charlotte Sniffles

While Napoleon held court in LLouis_XVIII_of_Franceyons, the alarmed Londoners must have fallen on the Sunday papers and would have been lulled into a false sense of security by reports from Paris that Napoleon had received no support following his landing. The weather in France had apparently made telegraphic signals difficult to use, but even so, the French court seems to have been trying to convince itself that all was well.
By all accounts King Louis XVIII (left) was driving his advisors distracted by his lack-lustre approach to the crisis. He had either deluded himself that all Frenchmen in their right minds would  be  ecstatic at the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty and that Napoleon had therefor no hope of securing support, or, more likely, he was simply so lacking in any sort of leadership qualities that he stuck his head in the sand and hoped it would all go away.
The date that Napoleon left Lyons is unclear, but the best estimate seems to be Monday 13th, the day that further falsely reassuring dispatches arrived in London. That same day, at the Congress of Vienna, the Great Powers of Europe (Austria, Great Britain, Prussia and Russia) and their allies declared Napoleon an outlaw. The possibility of a peaceful outcome seemed to be fading, especially as on Tuesday Napoleon proclaimed the Bourbons unfit to reign and Princess Charlottecalled on all French troops to join him.
Londoners who had been planning a visit to the continent, and who were reassured by the news from the Paris press, might have studied with interest an advertisement for packet boats from London via Gravesend to Ostend. They sailed every Sunday and, potential passengers were assured, took less than 24 hours. Private cabins were available.
Meanwhile, at Windsor, Princess Charlotte (right) was reported to be slightly indisposed and confined to Cranborn Lodge. She had been visited by the Queen & Princesses from Windsor Castle.
In London the Lord Mayor, as was usual, set the price of a wheaten quartern loaf at 11¾ d and the Earl & Countess of Jersey, one of the influential Patronesses of Almack’s, arrived in London for the Season from their Oxfordshire seat. Business as usual, in other words, and no sign of alarm.
On Thursday 1Ney6th Napoleon reached Avallon where two more regiments defected to his army and, finally, a more realistic report arrived in London from Paris to the effect that all troops sent against Napoleon had joined him, and that he had entered Lyons on 10th March. By Friday, the news was even gloomier – Bonaparte was in Paris, the papers declared, inaccurately, also reporting that the King had fled. Rioting over the Corn Law was reported from Norwich, but spirits rose on Saturday when another falsely encouraging report arrived from Paris.
Meanwhile Napoleon arrived in Auxerre where he was met by Marshal Ney (above) who had promised the King to bring the invader back to Paris “in an iron cage.” The two men embraced and Ney rejoined his old commander.
Despite the worrying news, or lack of it, from France, at least there was no rioting on the streets of London and audiences venturing out could be entertained to a rather strange combination of performances at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane – King Richard III, with Edmund Kean as the king, followed by “A new Farce called ‘Past Ten O’clock & a Rainy Night.’” Edmund Kean as Richard III The print to the right shows Kean in the role and below is a detail of the Ackermann’s Repository plate of Drury Lanethe theatre in 1809. The artist must have been standing right outside the Bow Street Runners’ HQ. The theatre is little changed today and you can visit it on walk 7 in Walking Jane Austen’s London.

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The Road to Waterloo Week One – The Emperor Escapes

1 Sunday 26th February – Saturday 4th March 1815

Two hundred years ago today the King of Elba – Napoleon Bonaparte – was putting the final touches to his audacious plan to escape from his tiny island kingdom and take back his empire. He knew his position was increasingly insecure – at best he faced an impoverished exile, for he knew King Louis was unlikely to keep paying his pension. At worst he feared assassination or imprisonment. The print below is a detail of one published by Phillips in 1814 showing Napoleon on his way to Elba.
At the Congress in Vienna the great powers negotiated over the future of Europe while in London people argued aboElbaut the falling price of wheat, worried over the problem of unemployed ex-soldiers – many of them seriously disabled – begging on the streets and enjoyed some of the fruits of peace such as cheap bread for the poor, continental tourism for the rich.
I was intrigued to discover just what Londoners knew about the crisis on the continent as it unfolded and how they were spending their time when they did know that the “Corsican Monster” was on the loose again, so in addition to my usual blogs about life in Georgian London I will be posting a weekly account every Thursday of London life in the shadow of war and the countdown to the Battle of Waterloo.
On Elba that Sunday morning the weather was fine and calm. Rumours were rife on the island that Napoleon was escaping, although they did not appear to have reached the naval ships who were, rather casually, keeping an eye on him. Napoleon gave his morning levée dressed with great care in the coat of a grenadier officer in the Guards and wearing the Légion d’Honneur. He spent the day in last-minute preparations and paperwork and finally, after nightfall, accompanied his suite down to the harbour, to board the brig Inconstant along with the grenadiers of the Guard and his suite – about five hundred people in all. Other troops – Polish lancers, gunners and so forth, were loaded into the Saint Esprit, a merchant ship and the Caroline, a small flat-bottomed ship that could be run up on to a beach. In total there were about 1,100 men, four cannon, and forty horses. A cannon fired and, on a dangerously light breeze, Napoleon was carried slowly away from Elba.
Meanwhile, in London, divine service was held at Carlton House by the ReverendPanoramas Blomberg and Clerke and the newspapers were speculating that another row of properties were to be purchased by the Prince Regent in Brighton to allow for the expansion of the Pavilion. The likely cost was commented upon – unfavourably.
On Monday, while Napoleon’s little flotilla was creeping north-west on the very lightest of winds, missing British warships by the skin of his teeth and incredible good luck, Henry Aston Barker, proprietor of the Panorama, Leicester Square was advertising that “The beautiful VIEW OF MALTA will positively CLOSE on Saturday 11th March. The splendid Battle of Vittoria will also be closed in a few weeks. Open from 10 till dusk. Admission to each painting 1s.” Interest in the French wars was, perhaps, fading. In this print the entrance to the Panorama can just be seen to the side of Isaac Newton’s drapery business with “Rome, Malta” over the door.
Ironically most newspapers carried an advertisement informing readers that “PRINCE LUCIEN BONAPARTE’S MAGNIFICENT COLLECTION OF PICTURES is now open to the Public, and will be Sold by Private Contract, individually, at the New Gallery, no.60 Pall-mall. Admittance 1s. Descriptive catalogue 1s 6d.”
The local papers had, understandably, more parochial concerns. Readers could discover that a reward of £100 was offered for the discovery of the murder of Mary Hall, wife of Henry Hall, labourer at Dagnall in Buckinghamshire, with a free pardon to any accomplice making such discovery, or be amazed by the item in the Birmingham Daily Post announcing under the heading “Early Closing” that the “drapers of the town of Bromsgrove have resolved in future to close their establishments at ten instead of eleven o’clock on Saturday nights.” Such liberality to the employees! The London papers also reported that, “In consequence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer not having proposed any new tax on beer the principal brewers of Portsmouth and neighbourhood have met together and have decided to lower the price of beer this day to 5d per pot.”
Far more seriously, from Vienna, the Times reported, ”The discussions on the slave trade have been very warm at the Congress. Lord Castlereagh was extremely anxious to take with him its abolition, but he met with opponents worthy of him. It was in vain that he made a pompous display of philanthropy; it was thought to be visible that he was more occupied by the interest of his own country, than by the love of humanity.”
For those for whom the cost of beer was of little importance, Mr T W Lord advertised dancing lessons: “to give instruction in the most fashionable style and by his easy & superior methods they are soon perfectly qualified to appear in the first circles. The German Waltz may be attained in Six Lessons.” The print below is from La Belle Assemblee (1817) and shows a waltz class in action.BA 1817 waltz
Meanwhile Napoleon’s ships continued unmolested, or even challenged, and at 1 p.m. on March 1st they passed Antibes and anchored at Golfe Juan. The first troops to land met no opposition and just after 4 p.m. Napoleon was rowed ashore to set foot once more on French soil. Antibes was too well defended to attack, so Napoleon went into Cannes, where he met neither opposition, nor much enthusiasm, and led his army north up the rough road that led to Grasse and the north.
By hard marching over very difficult terrain he reached Digne, 87 miles from the coast, on Saturday 4th March. He was greeted with enthusiasm – and the news of his landing finally reached Paris by telegraph. London and Vienna were quite unaware of what had occurred.
On 5th March I’ll blog about the next week, as London, in the grip of the Corn Law riots, continued in ignorance of the invasion, the King of France dithered and the news of Napoleon’s escape reached Vienna – and the Duke of Wellington.

Battlefield Brides – three Waterloo heroes and the women who went to war with them:
Sarah Mallory – A Lady For Lord Randall (May 2015)
Annie Burrows – A Mistress For Major Bartlett
Louise Allen – A Rose for Major Flint (July 2015)

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Sea bathing – 1756

I have recently acquired this  print of Scarborough dated 1756 which I believe was originally a fold-out illustration in the Gentleman’s Magazine.

Scarborough 1

What is so lovely about it is that it shows bathing machines at this very early date. Scarborough was in the vanguard of the new craze for sea bathing, helped by the fact that its original spa was actually on the beach.

Scarborough 2

The first mention of bathing machines is in 1721 when a Nicholas Blundell mentions “a Conveniency for Bathing in the Sea.” In 1735 “Conveniencies” were being provided at Scarborough for ladies (gentlemen simply walked into the sea naked (regardless of spectators) or jumped in from rowing boats. I can count five machines in the sea and another six waiting at the foot of the cliffs (rather indistinct, but behind the furthest carriage with horses on the beach).

The machines in the sea are of two types – one looks like a modern garden shed on wheels, rectangular with a pitched roof. The other is square with a pyramidal roof.

Scarborough bathing huts

None of them have the “modesty hood” or “tilt” invented in 1753 by Benjamin Beale, a Quaker from Margate. This unfolded like an umbrella at the front allowing the bather to swim modestly hidden. Ladies and gentlemen in elegant clothes have been driven down to the beach in their carriages and would have had a perfect view of the bathers, all of whom would have been naked. Sack-like garments for ladies soon appeared but it was considered effeminate for men to wear anything until well into the 19th century.

if you want to read about the Georgian Seaside, which was flourishing long before the  Victorian seaside holiday, you’ll find it in my book, The Georgian Seaside: the English resorts before the railway age

The Georgian Seaside Cover_MEDIUM WEB

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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.

 

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Story of a Square 4: Leicester Square – From Common Land to Fashionable Residence to Popular Entertainment Centre

For Jane Austen the Leicester Square area was the location of some of her favourite shops. Until 1630 it was Leicester Fields, common land available for parishioners of any class to dry clothes and to pasture their livestock after Lammas Day (12th August). But London was moving out from its old centres and the Earl of Leicester acquired the area in 1630 in order to build Leicester House. That occupied, more or less, the area between today’s Lisle Street and the Northern edge of the Square. To the East it finished more or less where Leicester Place is and to the West on a line where the edge of the Empire cinema stands. Lisle Street ended at the Western edge of its gardens.

The parishioners were, naturally, unhappy about this incursion on their land and rights and Charles I had to appoint a Privy Council committee to arbitrate. His lordship was ordered to make compensation and he had a high brick wall built along the Southern boundary (the current pavement line, more or less) and, in accordance with the committee’s instructions, had the rest of the land – the present Square – turned ‘into Walkes and planted with trees along the walkes and fitt spaces left for the Inhabitantes to drye their clothes there as they were wont, and to have free use of this place.’ As the other sides of the open area were built on the contractors railed off the centre and planted elms. The map at the top is a detail from Roque’s map of 1740.

In 1670 Leicester Square was laid out for ‘the benefit of the family, the advancement of their revenue, and the decency of the place before Leicester House.’ This was an indication that fine houses were being built around the Square. By the early 18th century there was a brick wall with iron railing and in 1784 a statue of George I in armour and on horseback was moved from the garden of the Duke of Chandos’s house to the centre. The gardens gradually deteriorated and so did the statue which lost a leg. It was finally sold for scrap for £16 in 1872.

Part of the Leicester estate, including the Fields and surroundings was acquired by the Tulk family in 1808. By this time all four sides of the Square were built up with fine houses and no commercial development had been permitted although by 1782 there was a linen draper by the name of Gedge operating at the corner with Cranbourn Street (running from the top Eastern corner of the Square). Six earls had residences in the Square and several artists, writers and men of business lived there. Hogarth created Marriage à la Mode, Rake’s Progress, Industry and Idleness and Gin Lane at no.30 and Joshua Reynolds lived at no.47 from 1760 to 1792. All the fine 17th and 18th century houses have gone now, replaced by buildings of the late 19th century onwards.

By the end of the 18th century the area had become rather less select and had taken on the form shown in the second map above. The Earl of Rockingham had lived at no.27 until his death. It became a bagnio – technically these were bathhouses, but more usually were brothels. This was the location for the great hoax of 1726, the place where anatomist Nathaniel St Andre brought Mary Tofts, a poor women from Surrey whom, he claimed, had given birth to a litter of 15 rabbits after being frightened by one when walking through a field. The story attracted George I’s surgeon who was taken in and claimed to have delivered her of part of another rabbit. Sir Hans Sloane, President of the Royal Society arrived to view the birth of yet more rabbits. Eventually she was caught buying rabbits and the scam was exposed.  The bagnio and the sensational hoax perhaps mark the beginning of Leicester Square as a centre for popular entertainment, although as this print of 1812 (from Ackermann’s Repository) shows, it was still a very smart area.

The view is from Leicester Place down to the North-East corner of the Square. If you stand there today you can still see the indentation in the street on the right hand side – I love how landholdings like this are reflected years later in the modern building line.

Jane Austen came to the area to shop, especially when she was staying with her brother Henry in Covent Garden. Prices were slightly lower than those in the Mayfair area and she patronised Isaac Newton the linen draper in Leicester Place whose unimaginative approach to window dressing can be seen in this print. Next door is a doorway with a sign over it “Rome Malta” which was the entrance into Barker’s Panorama, opened in 1793. It was a rotunda of 27 metres in diameter. It’s two rooms, one above the other, displayed perspective views of famous scenes and locations which could be viewed ‘in the round’ from the centre

of each room. Jane Austen also shopped for bonnets and caps in Cranbourn Alley.  On a snowy day in March 1814 she wrote to her sister Cassandra,

‘Here’s a day! The Ground covered with snow! What is to become of us? We were to have walked out early to near Shops, & had the Carriage for the more distant… Well, we have been out, as far as Coventry St; Edwd escorted us there & back to Newtons, where he left us, & I brought Fanny safely home.’ On that snowy shopping trip she saw, ‘A great many pretty Caps in the Windows of Cranbourn Alley! I hope when you come, we shall both be tempted.’ Intrigued, I set out to find Cranbourn Alley which runs between Cranbourn Street and Bear Street. It is still there – and a horrible little passageway it is now. I wouldn’t want to walk down it in daylight, let alone at night!

By the mid 19th century the ‘garden’ in the centre of the Square was so derelict that it had the Great Globe, a vast ball-shaped panorama built on it in 1851. Later it became a wasteland with occasional circuses, poor quality stalls and was used as a waste tip. It was surrounded by high wooden hoardings covered in advertisements  until in 1873 the Master of the Rolls had them removed and ordered that the area be returned to use as a garden. It was rescued in 1874 when it was bought by the flamboyant, and very rich, MP for Kidderminster, Albert Grant, who was created a baron by the King of Italy. He had the garden laid out much as it is today with a fountain and bust of Shakespeare in the centre. It was refurbished in 1992.

It seems difficult to see anything of the Georgian and Regency periods in Leicester Square today with its vast crowds of tourists queuing for theatre and cinema tickets, its souvenir shops and its endless food outlets. However, when I researched the area for Walking Jane Austen’s London and Walks Through Regency London I found plenty of fascinating reminders within a short distance. There’s Freibourg & Treyer’s shop, the oldest surviving in London,  in Haymarket. In Gerrard Street you can climb the stairs that Doctor Johnson and Joshua Reynolds would have used in the days when no.9, now a Chinese supermarket, was the famous Turk’s Head coffee house. The area has numerous Regency-era shopfronts too, especially in Lisle Street. Then you can have a drink and sandwich in Tom Cribb’s pub on Panton Street and escape the crush around the Square!

 

 

 

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Filed under Architecture, Buildings, Entertainment, Shopping, Walks