Category Archives: Gentlemen

George Hoby, Boot and Shoe Maker

I have posted before about shoemakers, cobblers and cordwainers (November 2014), but after a recent Twitter exchange about a George Hoby invoice I thought I would talk about it here, rather than in 140-character snippets! [I tweet as @LouiseRegency].

George Hoby (1759-1832) is probably the best-known London bootmaker, if only because he was the man Wellington went to to get his iconic Wellington boots made up. There is plenty of information about Hoby on-line, so I won’t repeat it here – but it took me ages to work out which corner of St James’s Street and Piccadilly his shop was on. The answer is the western corner which now has a shop selling caviar. Hoby, who died leaving £120,000, would probably have approved!

I own two of Hoby’s original invoices, from 1809 and 1818. Below is the 1808 one, both sides. It would have been folded so that the address was on the outside and sealed with red wax which is still visible on the front.

hoby-wood-front

 

hoby-wood-back Mr George Wood lived in Blandford Court which was on the south side of Pall Mall behind Marlborough House which is within a five minute walk of Hoby’s shop which is probably why the invoice appears to have been hand-delivered. I suspect that Mr Wood was a relative of Lieutenant-General Sir George Wood, ” the Royal Bengal Tiger” and his brother Sir Mark Wood, bt. Sir Mark certainly lived in Pall Mall.

The invoice is on very thick paper and shows that Hoby was ‘By Appointment” to four Royal Dukes – Kent, Cumberland, Sussex and Cambridge. The fact that he did a great deal of mail-order work is indicated by the box of “Instructions” for measuring yourself for boots. There is the hand-written number 311 on the left and 221 at the top right. These might be customer numbers, invoice numbers, ledger references – frankly, I have no idea, but the invoice for 1818 has 644 and 291.

Mr Wood’s bill was for:

Bill delivered £6 7s (ie he appears to be behind with his bills!)

Aug 9 1Pr (pair) Boots Soled & heeled 13s

1 Pr of [?] Bound 2s 6d

Sept 15 1 Pr Shoes 15s

1 Pr Boots soled & heeled 13s

The invoice is smaller than the later one and seems to have been cut off at the bottom because “Sir” can still be seen. It appears to have been sent like this because of the folds in the paper, so possibly the obliging note, shown below, did not apply to gentlemen owing £6 7s!

The 1818 invoice is on good paper, but nowhere near as thick. Hoby has retained the patronage of the four Royal Dukes and added their niece, the heir to the throne, Princess Charlotte and her husband, Leopold of Saxe-Cobourg.

hoby-crowder-front

hoby-crowder-back

This bill is to Major Crowder at the Plough Inn, Cheltenham. Major John Crowder was late of the 7th Regiment of Foot and had served with gallantry (according to his obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine) at Copenhagen and in the Peninsula being wounded twice, once severely. He retired on half pay in 1815 and was promoted Colonel and knighted in 1838, a few months before his death.

The Major’s bill is for:

May 29 1 Pair Boots £2 18s

1 Do (ditto) Dress (presumably dress or evening shoes) 17s 6d

June 2 1 Do Boots £2.18

1 Do Dress 17s 6d

Box (presumably for packing) 2s

On June 2nd a pair of shoes and a pair of boots were returned. These must be the shoes sent out on May 29th, which says something for the postal service!

The message on the bottom of the page has been cut off on Mr Wood’s bill.

Unfortunately we cannot compare the price of boots over the nine years, but shoes seem to have increased by 2s 6d – although, of course, the Major’s may have been of a more expensive type.

 

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A Tenant For Life – the Georgian Husband

The two illustrations of courtship and the unwanted baby below are details from a fan dated 1797 entitled The Lady’s Advisor, Physician & Moralist which takes a sharp look at everything from spinsters with cats to the unwelcome effects of jealousy.

fan courtship

The image of the courting couple above is captioned  “Look upon or listen to or an object which is agreeable to your mind & if you have the least sensibility you will most probably be over head & ears in pickle.” They are going to end up married out of an illusion of love, at least on her side, according to the cynical writer.

However they ended up in wedlock, most Georgian husbands probably liked to think of themselves as ‘the Cove of the Ken’ – the master of the household, according to the slang dictionaries – but that might not be how their wives, or other men (including their fathers in law), saw them.  Wives acquired a ‘tenant for life’, and he might acquire a ‘petticoat hold’ on her fortune or, if he had a generous father-in-law he might receive ‘hand-basket portions’ or gifts from him.

But what if she has a lover, thus rendering him a cuckold? If he’s an old man with a young wife she might well have a ‘court of assistants’ who ensure that he is wearing ‘the bull’s feather’ and ‘horn mad’ with jealousy. Or she might be a nag – a ‘buttock and tongue’ – and the poor man lives ‘under the cat’s foot’ ‘in Queen Street’. He might then turn to drink, although if she is tolerant she might accompany him to the alehouse which makes him a ‘freeholder’ although if she marches down there to drag him out he will have been ‘arrested by the white sarjeant.’

He could, of course, be very happy with his ‘comfortable importance’, his ‘lawful blanket’ or his ‘rib’ but he might be ‘flying the kite’ with his mistress and if that leads to rows he might ‘divide the house’ with his wife, giving her the outside while he keeps the inside – and the front door key. Certainly someone turning up with a baby to lay at his feet would result in a serious rift, as in the scene below, captioned ‘The Unwelcome Present.’ the husband, looks very shifty as the old lady presents him with his child – and his wife is giving him a decidedly frosty look. Or perhaps she is simply appalled at what he is wearing.

baby

Of course the Georgian husband might be delighted with the arrival of babies – brats, chips, squeakers or bantlings – and I will leave you with this picture of domestic bliss – the happy father pulling his two youngest children in a ‘shay’ up Highgate Hill on a pleasure outing accompanied by his lovely wife and his son. Doesn’t he look happy with his lot in life?

Highgate

The Highgate Hill print is from a book of satirical verse, Takings, or the Life of a Collegian by R. Dagley (1821).

Lots more slang and cant may be found in Regency Slang Revealed

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The Earl of Wittering Goes to the Seaside Part 9: Adventures in the Bath House

bath house 4

The Earl of Wittering marshals his family after breakfast to decide on the morning’s activities. ‘Porrett has made a recce,’ he announces. (He commanded the local militia for four months and, in his imagination, is forever a soldier…) ‘The bath house is up to standard and there is the choice of taking a machine and having a dunking or using the facilities – plunge pools, shower baths, steam rooms and so forth.’

‘I would like to go in the sea,’ young Arthur announces. ‘I will search for marine life.’

‘In that case Porrett will accompany you.’

Porrett attempts to look delighted at the challenge and not like a man who has already been in the sea once that morning.

‘I will bathe too,’ says Emily casting Porrett a languishing look. ‘I am already quite over-warm.’ Quite how she proposes to get close to Porrett once in the water she has no idea, but pretending to drown might be a good start…

‘Over-warm’ is putting it mildly so far as her grandfather’s besotted secretary is concerned. The sea, he fears, will probably boil around him if she is in it too.

‘I intend sampling the warm bath,’ Lady Wittering announces. ‘You will no doubt wish to join me, Emilia,’ she adds to her daughter in law in clear command.

‘I’ll investigate the billiards room. May try a shower later,’ Viscount Ditherstone remarks. If nothing else, Porrett thinks, the wretched man will be investigating just how separate the male and female facilities are.

‘And I will go for a dunking, I suppose,’ the Earl grumbles. ‘No need for you after all, Porrett, so long as I’m with Arthur.’ Fortunately he does not see the expression on his granddaughter’s face. ‘We’ll go in fifteen minutes.’

The family is completely delighted with the facilities of the bath house (except for Emily, who is still sulking). The two older ladies take themselves off to the warm baths where Lady Ditherstone, at least, imagines herself as a beauteous Roman lady about to bathe in asses’ milk –

hot baths

The bathers, Emily chaperoned by her very reluctant maid, troop downstairs to their respective bathing machines and Porrett trails after the Viscount into the billiards room. He is not going to succumb to the temptation to take one of the telescopes out onto the balcony, he tells himself as he fidgets around, glancing at the well-stocked selection of newspapers and journals while keeping half an ear cocked for the click of billiard balls.

Silence, except for the snores of some elderly gentleman over by the bookshelves. Ditherstone has vanished. Porrett hastens out. Goodness knows what trouble the amorous lord is about to get himself into. No-one is visible in the vestibule but the faint click of boot heels comes from the steps under an arch labelled Ladies’ Rooms. With true valour Porrett rushes down in pursuit, just as a piercing shriek echoes up. In front of him is a door labelled Shower Bath. It is open and just visible are the tips of Lord Ditherstone’s brown tail coat. Porrett seizes them in both hands, drags backwards and yanks the door closed, finding himself embracing an armful of very irritated Viscount.

shower bath

‘Thank Heavens, my lord! You had wandered into the ladies’ section in error,’ he gasps, somewhat impeded by an aristocratic elbow in the stomach as the Viscount storms back upstairs. ‘Really,’ he adds severely to the gawping attendants as they reach the vestibule, ‘You should ensure the notices are more legible. His lordship has just been severely discommoded, as might any gentleman, especially a scholar such as his lordship with weak eyesight.’ The Viscount has occasionally been known to glance at the sporting press but that is as far as his scholarship extends.

‘Coffee and brandy,’ Ditherstone demands. ‘In the billiards room, immediately.’ Porrett follows him, fearing instant dismissal, and finds his hand taken and wrung in a painful clasp. ‘Good man, quick thinking. Two cups and glasses,’ he snaps as the waiter comes in. ‘Mr Porrett will be joining me.’ All Porrett can feel is intense relief that he will not be forced to leave the household, forced to say goodbye to Emily for ever…

The photograph at the top of the post is of the Greek Revival-style bath house at Ilfracombe. This was a popular style intended to create a link with the Classical world and impart intellectual respectability to the pleasures of the bath. The two other images are from Poetical Sketches of Scarborough (1813).

Discover more about the Georgian bath houses – the gyms and fitness clubs of their day in The Georgian Seaside

Next time the family take some exercise on the beach.

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Cutting and Rumping – How to Snub in True Regency Style

We have all been there and experienced the moment when the last person we want to acknowledge is that old friend or acquaintance coming towards us down Bond Street. We used to be bosom bows but now they have committed some unforgivable sin – and what that might be will vary depending on our sex and our sensitivity – perhaps they  flirted with our beloved, wore the same gown as we did to a Drawing Room, made snide remarks about our virility at the club, were overheard sneering about our new French chef’s offerings at our last, vastly expensive, dinner party. Or they might have proved themselves unworthy of our acquaintance by some error of taste or action and can no longer be counted as one of us, one of the ton.

Clarendon hotel

So – do you swallow your dislike or distaste and greet them as warmly as always, or do you deploy one of the armoury of “cuts” that the Regency lady or gentleman had at their disposal? Above is a scene in Bond Street with some cutting in action. It is from the “Bores” series (published by Thomas Edgerton 1824) and the story is that the military dandy is being approached by a country gentleman whose acquaintance he is now ‘bored’ with, so he is using the Cut Direct. The young man looking towards us appears to be using the Cut Modest to avoid eye contact with either of them.

The simplest cut (and the one most suited to the ladies as it involves no actual action at all) is The Cut Modest, or, Indirect. This is easiest if you are some distance from them, on the other side of the road perhaps, or in your carriage at the fashionable time to drive in Hyde Park. Just avert your gaze and pretend you have not seen them, even if they wave, call out to you or brandish their umbrella.

If they are right in front of you then you must be more assertive and exercise The Cut Direct. You act as though they are not there and so you look right through them, even if they are under your nose outside Wilding & Kent’s shop where you have just purchased some delicious lace or they are emerging from Dolland’s the opticians with the new telescope they are about to show off at the club. Look them in the face, meet their eye and show not a flicker of recognition.

They may, of course, assume you are simply miles away, thinking of that delicious young man they (most unfortunately) saw you with last night, or nursing a monumental hangover (caused by their cheap and nasty brandy ). In that case they may well greet you anyway, an embarrassing moment that calls for The Cut Courteous. Smile faintly, enquire courteously, “Sir (or Madam)? Do I have the pleasure of your acquaintance?” Then sail on past, they will get the point.

The person you wish to cut may be simply a chance-met acquaintance, one who you acquired on your travels perhaps, and who now hails you in the street, ready to presume on the fleeting camaraderie of that rather lurid night out in Rome on the Grand Tour, or the endless tedium of the voyage back from India where almost anyone other than the ship’s cat became a welcome companion. This calls for The Cut Obtuse. You have never been to Rome, you protest, certainly not to that dubious-sounding bordello near the Forum. India? Never set foot in it and as for the good ship Nausea, no it could not have been you, you never travel anywhere by sea except on your own yacht. And finally, no, you are most certainly not the Earl of Wittering.

They may be particularly persistent, or you may not have much confidence in keeping a straight-enough face. This requires The Cut Circumbendibus involving direct action – dodge into that alleyway, dive into that shop (and straight out again if you are female and you have found yourself in Weston the tailor’s elegant male sanctuary) or cross the street.

There are two embellishments to the basic cut that may be employed by the skilled cutter. The Cut Sublime involves casting up your eyes to the Heavens. You may pretend to be receiving inspiration from on high, studying cloud formation or wondering if that is a flock of ptarmigan flapping across St James’s Park. A degree of skill in not falling over your own feet or down a coal hole is required and you will need to estimate accurately when they have passed you by, or they may be waiting patiently for you to look down so they can enquire about the weather, the prospects for shooting game or the likelihood of divine intervention in your card playing. Finally there is The Cut Infernal, the opposite of the Sublime. Simply bend down and attend to your shoelaces or your spurs until the person has passed. This is obviously unsuited to ladies or to any gentleman whose posterior is best not displayed in such a manner. (See Rumping below.)

royal rumpFinally, and most regally, there is The Cut Visible, the cut so blunt and obvious that no-one could mistake it. The Prince Regent’s version of this is known as Rumping. If he wishes to indicate that some former acquaintance is now persona non grata then Prinny simply turns his back on them at the last moment as they approach him. The unfortunate cuttee is then presented with a fine view of the expansive royal backside. (A fine view of the Royal Rump can be seen in this detail from a Cruickshank cartoon of 1819)

I am indebted for these social hints to Pierce Egan’s version of Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1823) and to John Bee’s Slang: a dictionary of the same year.

If you wish to stroll down Bond Street practicing your cutting technique the Walk 2 in Walking Jane Austen’s London will guide you to all the best places.

 

 

 

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Can You Tell Your Dandy From Your Tulip or Your Corinthian From Your Swell? (And what about Pinks, Gilliflowers, Kiddys and Dandyzettes?)

In 1823 Slang, A Dictionary of the Turf, the Ring, the Chase, the Pit and of Bon-Ton and the Varieties of Life… by ‘Jon Bee, Esq.’ appeared in print.John Bee front

John Bee was actually the pseudonym of John Badcock, a sporting writer and contemporary of the much more famous Pierce Egan, for whom he appears to have felt intense antagonism.

This was an era of popular slang dictionaries, the most well-know of which was Grose’s The Vulgar Tongue, and in the same year as ‘Jon Bee’s’ effort Egan produced what he said was the third edition of Grose, although it was more of a straight lift with some additions.

Bee’s dictionary, as well as including a vitriolic attack on Egan in the preface, contains many quite discursive and highly prejudiced definitions and I was entertained by his descriptions of gentlemen of fashion.

At the pinnacle of well-dressed sporting gentlemen is the Corinthian:

A man highly togged was so termed, by reason of the supereminence of that order of architecture. In process of time (1761), the term was applied to superlative articles of dress… We would confine the word to nobility and gentry of education, who join heartily in the sports of the turf or the ring, the latterly particularly: but well-dressed prigs assume the envied name, or seedy sordid knaves, who have no soul for those things.

Corinthians must, by definition be Gentlemen:

None can be considered a true English gentleman by us, who has not stored his mind with English lore, spells every word rightly, and is capable of forming a sane off-hand judgment upon every subject that may come upon the carpet.

And they are undoubtedly Pinks:

One above the common run of mankind in his manful exertions is a pink.

morning

(left) A Corinthian in his many-caped greatcoat waits atop the mailcoach for an opportunity to take the ribbons and ‘wagon it’.

Rather less impressive than the Corinthian, but related, is the Swell:

A man highly dressed, in white upper tog* and lilly shallow**, (for example,) is a swell, however circumstanced in pocket; but to keep up the name he must lay out his blunt freely; bet, and swear ‘damme, Sir.’ If he does not fight, at least he ought to know how, and take lessons – or give them. No fighting man by profession can be a swell, he is a tulip, if he dresses thereafter, and looks swellish: – ‘tis esteemed the first grade towards Corinthianism, which he can never reach by any possibility whatever. No man who ever performed any duty or service for hire (except doctors, lawyers, parsons, and statesmen) can possibly be a real swell, certainly not a Gentleman, most indubitably not a Corinthian.

*Upper tog – a great coat ** Lilly shallow – a white, low-crowned driving hat

So who is this lesser-ranking Tulip?:

Fine habiliments of various colours and strong ones, compose the tulip… Tulips compared with Swells are what gilt gingerbread is to a gilded sign-board; the one fades soon, the other is at least intelligent to the last.

A variety of Tulip is a Gillyflower:

None can be a gillyflower, who does not wear a canary* or belcher** fogle*** round his twist****: if he put up many more colours, he becomes a tulip.

*Yellow ** yellow silk handkerchief with a little white & black. Named for Jem Belcher the pugilist *** a silk handkerchief **** neck

But what about Dandies?

Lord PetershamAn invention of 1816, and applied to persons whose extravagant dress called forth the sneers of the vulgar; they were mostly young men who had this designation, and they were charged with wearing stays – a mistake easily fallen into, their wide web-belts having that appearance. Men of fashion became dandy soon after; having imported a good deal of French manner in their gait, lispings, wrinkled foreheads, killing king’s English, wearing immense pleated pantaloons, the coat cut away, small waistcoat, with cravat and chitterlings* immense: Hat small; hair frizzled and protruding. If one fell down he could not rise without assistance. Yet they assumed to be a little au militaire, and some wore mustachios. Lord Petersham was at the head of this sect of mannerists.

*Shirt frills

Above: Lord Petersham and his eponymous trousers

Our Dandy may very well be seen with his female counterpart – the Dandyzette – on his arm:

Her characteristics were, a large poked bonnet, short petticoats much flounced, and paint. When she walked she kept the step with her Dandy, as if they had been drilled together in Birdcage-walk.

And finally those ancestors of the modern Kidult – the Kiddy:

Big bum 2Kid, Kiddy and Kidling implies youth; but an old evergreen chap may be dressed kiddily, i.e. knowingly, with his hat on one side, shirt-collar up on high, coat cut away in the skirts, or outside breast-pockets, a yellow, bird’s-eye-blue , or Belcher fogle*, circling his squeeze**, and a chitterling shirt*** of great magnitude protruding on the sight, and wagging as its wearer walks. These compounded compose the kiddy; and if father and son come it in the same style, the latter is a kidling.

*Yellow or blue-spotted or black-spotted yellow silk handkerchief ** neck or throat *** large shirt-front frills

 

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The Earl of Wittering Plans His Summer

This May morning in 1816 the Gatwick family gather around the breakfast table in the Small Dining Room of their vast Mayfair mansion. It is obvious that the head of the family, the Earl of Wittering, has something on his mind, although the Countess of Wittering supposes it is only his bowels troubling him again. Like most of the upper classes of his age his diet – heavy on meat and alcohol, low on fruit and vegetables – means that his lordship frequently feels liverish, or to put it more bluntly, he’s appallingly constipated. She makes a mental note to send off another order to Savory & Moore, chemists (by Royal Appointment) in New Bond Street. (Shown below) Thomas Field Savory is making his fortune after acquiring the patent for internationally best-selling laxative, Seidlitz powders but, naturally, she does not mention such a subject at the meal table.

028

The Countess would much rather finish her toast and return to her sitting room where she is putting the final touches to a highly imaginative, and exceedingly dramatic, sketch of an Alpine pass. What she would really like would be to paint the sea. Ever since she read Edmund Burke’s tract On the Sublime and the Beautiful and learned that the ocean was “an object of no small terror” she has been fascinated by it.

On either side of the breakfast table sit the Earl’s heir, the Viscount Ditherstone (coughing, as is his irritating habit at breakfast) and his wife, flanked by their children, seventeen year old Emily and twelve year old Arthur. Ditherstone, ever tactless, enquires if there is anything on his father’s mind.

Porrett, the earl’s secretary has, it transpires, been making enquiries about his lordship’s intentions for the summer so that he can begin to put in place the arrangements and, for once, Lord Wittering is undecided. Normally, after the London Season the family embark on a lengthy round of summer visits to the far-flung branches of the family, their travels greatly eased by the splendid condition of the network of turnpike roads across the country. The tour would always culminate in two weeks spent toadying to his elderly, terrifying and exceedingly wealthy aunts. But the aunts had died that winter, their money left, as he had always desired, to their godson, Master Gatwick, the future earl. Now his lordship wonders if he really wants to spend three months travelling about before he can retire to his country estate for the autumn and set about slaughtering anything with fur, feathers or fins. What he would like to do is recover his health in a spa, as his father would have done, but Bath is hopelessly dull these days, quite out of fashion.

“Perhaps we should take a house at a seaside resort,” ventures his daughter-in-law. “I am sure the pure air would be a benefit to Ditherstone’s lungs.” Ever since she read that amusing novel Emma she has not been able to forget the phrase, The truth is, that in London it is always a sickly season. Nobody is healthy in London, nobody can be. And was it not the case that the great Mr Wordsworth was only able to write his beautiful verses “Upon Westminster Bridge” The beauty of the morning; silent, bare, Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie Open unto the fields, and to the sky; All bright and glittering in the smokeless air… because he was amazed to find, for once, the atmosphere free of polluting smoke?

Ditherstone himself perks up. He rather fancies a dip or two in the briny. He’s heard exciting stories about the ladies bathing and what they might, or might not wear, to say nothing of amorous encounters in bathing rooms. And all kinds of dashers visit the seaside, so his bachelor friends tell him.

“Oh, Grandpapa,” Emily breathes. “I would love to go to the seaside.” She bats her eyelashes. “The south coast, they say, is so warm and quite delightful.” And, facing the enemy France, as it does, it is stuffed with troops. All those officers in scarlet coats. Oh, the opportunities for flirtation. (Below: tourists admire the militia parading at Cromer in Norfolk)

Cromer militia

Young Arthur extracts his nose from a scientific journal – he is showing an alarming tendency (in his grandfather’s opinion) towards natural philosophy and not manly sports. “The south coast, it said in a paper I was reading the other day, has much of interest to the fossilist and the mineralogist. I would like to go.”

The Earl glowers down the table. He doesn’t like change. On the other The Georgian Seaside Cover_MEDIUM WEBhand the sea-water cure sounds as though it would be helpful for what ails him. His wife keeps leaving prints of craggy cliffs and tossing waves about, so he supposes it would keep her happy and the rest of the family seemed keen enough. He would think on it.

What will the earl decide? Will the Gatwicks go to the seaside and, if so, to which resort? You can follow their summer adventures here over the next few months and read about the vibrant world of the early English seaside holiday (definitely not a Victorian invention!) in  The Georgian Seaside: the English resorts before the railways came.

Meanwhile, now the smog has gone, you can find Savory & Moore’s shop for yourself in Walk 2, Walking Jane vis1Band admire Wordsworth’s view in Walk 6, of Walking Jane Austen’s London

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A Set-to at the Fives Court

Boxing

“FIVES-COURT. A place distinguished (in addition to the game of fives) for sparring matches between the pugilists. The combatants belonging to the prize-ring exhibit the art of self-defence at the Fives-Court with the gloves; and it is frequently at this Court where public challenges are given and accepted by the boxers. The most refined and fastidious person may attend these exhibitions of sparring with pleasure; as they are conducted with all the neatness, elegance and science of FENCING. Admission, 3s. each person. It is situated in St. Martin’s Street, Leicester-fields.”

(Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, revised and corrected…by Pierce Egan. 1823)

I was comparing the first, 1785, edition of Francis Grose’s Vulgar Tongue with the 1823 edition edited by that aficionado of ‘Boxiana’, pioneer sporting journalist and creator of Tom and Jerry, Pierce Egan, when I came across this reference to the Fives Court, obviously added by Egan.

The print at the top of this post is from my collection and I had wondered where the Fives Court was located – it was obviously a very large structure, judging from the light streaming in from a high window. It was built as a court for the game of fives, a sort of hand-ball, or hand-tennis, originally thought to have been played against church buttresses, but then adopted at the public schools of Rugby and Eton and refined. Like Real (Royal) tennis it is played on an indoor court with high walls and various slopes and ledges.

In 1802 a sparring exhibition was held between Mendoza and Bill Warr – two boxing superstars. It was held on the floor of the court, not on a removable platform ring as shown in my much later (1823) print, that was introduced at the suggestion of black pugilist Bill Richmond.

Initially the admission was two shillings or two and six pence up to three and six, but, as Grose states, it was soon standardised at three shillings. Vincent Dowling, another sports writer, noted that there was a small dressing room at one end that had a window looking down on the Court and this was set aside for “…some dozens of noblemen and persons of high rank, whose liberal contributions (many of them giving a guinea for a ticket) added greatly to the receipts of the beneficiary.”

Bill Richmond (left) & Dutch Sam - two boxers whose physique drew artists to the Fives Court

The quote reminds us that most of these exhibition bouts were benefit performances for one of the pugilists who would stand at the door with a collecting box soliciting further donations in advance of the bout. Bill Richmond (shown above, left), like many retired pugilists, owned a pub. His was the Horse and Dolphin, located strategically next to the Fives Court, and tickets for bouts were sold there as well as in other sporting taverns.

The Court could accommodate an audience of up to 1,000 and, if full, admission might raise £200. The chief beneficiary would have to pay a fee for the court and to the referee and Master of Ceremonies. Lesser fighters, who would appear earlier on in the programme as warm-up acts, also got a payment from the takings. The great ‘Gentleman’ Jackson controlled who could have bouts at the Court and appears to have done so with few complaints, although in 1821 he refused the application of his bitter rival, Mendoza.

The bouts were for exhibition purposes, which is why gloves were worn, and Richmond was the first to strip to the waist, sparring without vest or shirt, so that his musculature could be admired by the fans. This display attracted artists including Benjamin Haydon, Joseph Farington (President of the Royal Academy) and John Rossi the sculptor who ‘much admired Dutch Sam’s [shown above, right] figure on account of the symmetry and the parts being expressed.

The 1823 print at the top of the post, ‘ “A Set-to” at the Fives-Court for the benefit of “One of the Fancy”’ is by Samuel Alken. The crowd is orderly and the gentlemen to either side in the foreground are very fashionably dressed. Respectably-dressed tradesmen can also be seen – one in an apron is in the audience sitting up on the right. The central figure facing us wears an apron and his arms are full of what look like giant cream horns. Close inspection shows that the contents are within conical containers stitched up the side – my guess is that these are some kind of bread roll, perhaps with a filling. I’d love to hear any other suggestions.

Fives red

The Fives-Court operated as a boxing venue from 1802 until it closed in 1826 and was demolished as part of the redevelopment of the Royal Mews area into what became Trafalgar Square. The site is now under the northern edge of the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery and it is possible to pass this rather dreary location without the slightest inkling that it was once one of the sporting hot-spots of London. It is marked on the map in red.

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