Category Archives: High Society

The Story of a Square 5: Golden Square – or ‘Do Come Up & See My Etchings, Miss Austen.’

Today Golden Square is a pleasant area to sit – paved, planted, shaded by trees and liberally supplied with benches. It sits just South of Carnaby Street, East of Regent’s Street, a good place to rest from shopping and sightseeing, surrounded by corporate buildings housing mainly media companies.

It is a late 17th century construction, still showing as fields on William Morgan’s map of 1682. The London Encyclopedia suggests that its name is a genteel corruption of ‘gelding’ because Gelding’s Close, a field in the area, was used to graze geldings. It seems more likely to me that it was owned by a Mr Gelding – a genuine, if unfortunate, surname. However it began, by the early 18th century it was a popular place to live for aristocrats including the Duchess of Cleveland, the Duke of Chandos and Viscount Bolingbroke. By about 1715, however, the aristocrats seem to have moved out and professional men such as surgeons and artists of the top rank moved in. It was still very respectable. and in 1720 in his Survey of London John Strype described it as “a very handsome place railed round and gravelled with many very good houses inhabited by gentry on all sides.” None of the 17th century houses remain but four of the 18th century replacements do. (Numbers 11, 21, 23, 24). Below is a detail from Roque’s map of 1747. Warwick Street, to the left, remains, but Great and Little Swallow Streets vanished under Regent’s Street

Anastasia Robinson (c.1692-1755), was a singer for whom Handel created many pieces, beginning in 1714 when he wrote Ode For the Birthday of Queen Anne for her. Her father owned a property in Golden Square and that was where her first private recitals were held. She was the secret wife of the Earl of Peterborough, unacknowledged until shortly before his death. Another performer of Handel’s works was Elisabetta de Gambarini (1731-65) who was also a composer, conductor and skilled keyboard player on a range of instruments. She lived at number 13 from 1753 to 1763.  Artist Angelica Kauffman, a leading Society painter and one of the two female founding members of the Royal Society, lived at number 16 between 1767 and 1781. Artist Martin Archer Shee, later President of the Royal Society, lived at number 13 between 1795-6. Mrs Jordan the actress who became the mistress of the Duke of Clarence, later William IV, had three daughters by Edward Ford who lived at number 4. In 1803 she took number 30 to house the girls.

Diplomats also moved into the Square with the legations of Genoa, Russia, Bavaria, Brunswick and Portugal. A Blue Plaque on number 23 marks the location of the Portuguese Embassy, occupied 1739-44 by the eminent statesman the Marquess of Pombal. The Bavarian Legation took over 23 and 24 and both houses were bought in 1788 by Bishop James Talbot so that the Roman Catholic church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St Gregory could be built in the gardens. Number 24 became the presbytery. The church can still be seen with its entrance on Warwick Street.

Doctor James Stanier Clarke, Domestic Chaplain and Librarian to the Prince Regent, lived at number 37. He had met Jane Austen on November 13 1815 when she had visited Carlton House by invitation of the Prince Regent. Doctor Clarke’s role was to hint, heavily, that Miss Austen should dedicate her next work to his employer. Jane was no fan of the Regent, being a supporter of his estranged wife, Princess Caroline, and tried to wriggle out of it. Two days later she wrote to Doctor Stanier Clarke asking for clarification – had she received a suggestion, a request or an order? “I shd be equally concerned to appear either presumptuous or Ungrateful.” Eventually her publisher, John Murray, and her family persuaded her that she had no option and a presentation set of Emma, respectfully dedicated, was dispatched to Carlton House in December 1815.

Doctor Stanier Clarke (portrait c.1790 left) proved to be not just a fan of Miss Austen, but also a rather annoying groupie. He so irritated her with suggestions for plots and characters (“to delineate in some future Work the Habits of Life and Character and enthusiasm of a Clergyman—who should pass his time between the metropolis & the Country . . . Fond of, & entirely engaged in Literature—no man’s Enemy but his own”) that she eventually wrote the satirical Plan of a Novel, according to Hints from Various Quarters in 1816. In December 1815 Doctor Stanier Clarke invited  Miss Austen to visit his house in Golden Square to use his personal library. This was a quite shocking thing for an unmarried gentleman to do, although he assured her that a maid would be in attendance. Whether he was simply too star-struck to care or too insensitive to realise the impropriety or whether this was an invitation along the lines of, “Come up and see my etchings,” Jane did not accept.

One feature of the Square that Doctor Stanier Clarke would recognize today is the battered statue at the head of this post. It is a full-length standing figure in Roman military garb, generally considered to be George II  (although some insist it is Charles II). In the quote from Dickens below it is described as “mournful” and is reputed to have come from the roof of the Duke of Chandos’s seat at Canons Park.

By the mid 19th century the Square had gone down in the world and Dickens described it in Nicholas Nickleby:

“Although a few members of the graver professions live about Golden Square, it is not exactly in anybody’s way to or from anywhere. It is one of the squares that have been; a quarter of the town that has gone down in the world, and taken to letting lodgings. Many of its first and second floors are let, furnished, to single gentlemen; and it takes boarders besides. It is a great resort of foreigners. The dark-complexioned men who wear large rings, and heavy watch-guards, and bushy whiskers, and who congregate under the Opera Colonnade, and about the box-office in the season, between four and five in the afternoon, when they give away the orders, all live in Golden Square, or within a street of it. Two or three violins and a wind instrument from the Opera band reside within its precincts. Its boarding-houses are musical, and the notes of pianos and harps float in the evening time round the head of the mournful statue, the guardian genius of a little wilderness of shrubs, in the centre of the square. On a summer’s night, windows are thrown open, and groups of swarthy moustached men are seen by the passer-by, lounging at the casements, and smoking fearfully. Sounds of gruff voices practicing vocal music invade the evening’s silence; and the fumes of choice tobacco scent the air. There, snuff and cigars, and German pipes and flutes, and violins and violoncellos, divide the supremacy between them. It is the region of song and smoke. Street bands are on their mettle in Golden Square; and itinerant glee-singers quaver involuntarily as they raise their voices within its boundaries.”

You can take in Golden Square in Walk 5 (Soho to the British Museum) in my Walking Jane Austen’s London



Filed under Architecture, Art, Buildings, High Society, Prince Regent

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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










Filed under Architecture, Buildings, courtship & marriage, High Society, Love and Marriage, Religion

From Westminster Hall to Antarctica – the Coronation of George IV

I went to Antarctica in the Spring expecting to have a complete holiday from the Regency. When we sailed past Coronation Island in the South Orkney Group I assumed it was named for Queen Victoria’s crowning, or even a later monarch. But no, this island (one of three so named worldwide) commemorates George IV and was named in December 1821 by two very early Antarctic explorers, the sealers Captain Nathaniel Palmer (American) and Captain George Powell (British). Either news was reaching south very fast or Powell, knowing when he had left British shores that George had become king in 1820, named the island retrospectively. He certainly claimed the South Orkneys in the name of the King – quite how much discussion about  that went on with his American colleague is not recorded! If Powell was hoping for royal favour he unfortunately did not live to receive it, dying in Tonga in 1824.

Back in London on 19 July 1821 George IV was crowned in one of the most magnificent, and completely over the top, coronations in British history. The entire day was too packed with incident for one blog post – not least the dreadful spectacle of the distraught Queen trying to gain  admittance to the Abbey – so I’ll just concentrate on the procession itself. The print I am working from was published on July 24th, just three days after the coronation, and the artist is giving the view from approximately what is now the bottom of Whitehall looking out over the modern Parliament Square in the right foreground and New Palace Yard on the left, now enclosed by railings. The Thames can be glimpsed to the left and Westminster Bridge is beyond the large tree.

I have had to scan the print in halves because of its size. It shows clearly the covered processional way (coverings not shown in order to reveal the participants) weaving its way from the front of Westminster Hall on the left, snaking round the gardens in front of St Margaret’s Church (in front of the Abbey with the Royal Standard flying from its tower) and disappearing from sight before its entry at the West door of the Abbey.

The covered walk was twenty five feet wide (almost eight metres), covered in blue carpet and raised three feet (a metre) above the ground so spectators had the best possible view. The route was lined with stands and galleries with ticketed seats selling from two to twenty guineas each. (That might have helped pay for almost half a mile of blue carpet!)

The procession started half an hour late at half past ten in the morning and was headed by the King’s Herb-Woman and six attendant maids scattering sweet-smelling herbs and petals. Behind them came the chief officers of state, all in specially designed outfits and carrying the crown, the orb and the sceptre, preceded by the Sword of State and accompanied by three bishops carrying the paten, chalice and Bible to be used in the ceremony. The peers in order of precedent, splendid in the robes, followed next and those Privy Councillors who were commoners had their own uniform of Elizabethan costume in white and blue satin.

The King wearing a black curled wig and a black Spanish hat with white ostrich feather plumes had a twenty seven foot long train of crimson velvet spangled with gold stars and walked to the Abbey under a canopy of cloth-of-gold carried by the Barons of the Cinque Ports (also in special outfits). Music was provided by the Household Band.

After the ceremony, at four o’clock the King, now very weary, walked back to Westminster Hall and the great banquet served to three hundred and twelve male guests. Ladies and peeresses, who were not served any refreshments, had to watch their menfolk gorging themselves from the massed galleries that had been built inside the Hall. Amongst the food were 160 tureens of soup. 80 dishes of braised beef, 160 roast joints, 480 sauce boats, 1,190 side dishes and 400 jellies and creams.

The climax of the banquet was the arrival of the King’s Champion, in full armour, mounted on a white charger. The Champion threw down his gauntlet three times, but no-one stepped forward to challenge the King who toasted his Champion from a gold cup. Possibly the medieval glamour of the moment might have been diminished if people had realised that the Champion, from a family who long held the hereditary position, was actually the twenty year old son of a Lincolnshire rector and his charger had  borrowed from Astley’s Amphitheatre.

The Champion’s stable is visible on the extreme left of the print.










Filed under Buildings, Gentlemen, High Society, Prince Regent, Royalty, Traditions

The Story of a Square 2: Berkeley Square

Berkeley (or Berkley as it is often spelled on early maps) Square was built on the farmland owned by John, 1st Baron Berkeley of Stratton, a Royalist military commander in the English Civil War and close friend of James, Duke of York (later James III) who did very well for himself after the restoration of Charles II . Amongst other things he was a co-founder of the Province of New Jersey. Berkeley acquired extensive farmland to the north of the Exeter Road in London, now Piccadilly, and in 1665 he had a mansion built there. Today it would occupy the block bounded by Piccadilly, Stratton Street and Berkeley Street, with its gardens (partly designed by John Evelyn) stretching northwards. In the map below of 1682 ‘Berkley House’ can be seen just above the ‘ETC’  of The Road to Exeter Etc.’ (The area marked ‘St James Park’ is now known as Green Park.)


Evelyn records that it cost “neare 30,000 pounds” and called it a “palace”. After Lord Berkeley’s death in 1678 his widow sold off strips at the side of the grounds to create Stratton Street and Berkeley Street, much to Evelyn’s disgust. Princess (later Queen) Anne occupied the house 1692-5 during a spat with her sister Queen Mary and in 1696 it was sold to the Duke of Devonshire and renamed Devonshire House. It was rebuilt after a fire in 1734/7 and this is the house that can been seen in Horwood’s map of 1799/1819. The reservoir in Green Park mentioned in a recent post can be seen at the bottom.


One of the conditions of the sale was that view over the land to the north of the gardens should be unobstructed and this is one reason why, when the area was developed, that Lansdowne House is set to one side with its gardens respecting the view from the rear of Devonshire House and there was no building along the south side of Berkeley Square.

The square was laid out in 1730 with houses on the east and west sides.The east side was the first to be built and was finished about 1738 and the west side was completed in 1745. Of these houses only the western side remains intact – the 1930s saw the replacement of the eastern side and the garden wall of Lansdowne House – and the site of Mr Gunter’s famous establishment in the south-east corner is now under a branch of Prêt. The customers still take their refreshments outside to eat under the plane trees – although rather less elegantly than Mr Gunter’s patrons would have done. It was originally the shop of Dominicus Negri, an Italian pastrycook, who set up there in 1757, trading as The Pot and Pineapple.

In the centre was  an equestrian statue of George III – a not very successful effort whose legs soon collapsed. It was replaced by the little pump house with a Chinese roof which has survived. The famous plane trees are perhaps the most striking survival of the Georgian square and were planted in 1789.

Ackermann’s Repository featured the square in September 1813 with this view which appears to be the south-west corner with the wall of Lansdowne House’s gardens in the background.


According to the text “This square is distinguished from all the others in the British metropolis by its situation on the side of a hill, which gently slopes from north to south. the houses on the north side are, upon the whole, rather mean; those which form the east and west sides, though many of them, individually, very good buildings, do not, from the want of regularity, appear altogether to such advantage as where greater attention is paid to that point, and where the site is more favourable to it… The area, which forms an oblong square, containing about three acres, is inclosed by an iron balustrade; and the inhabitants, after the example of their neighbours, have, of  late years, caused it to be planted extensively with shrubs, which have thriven very rapidly, and give a rural air to the whole.”


This late Victorian print shows the southern end of the square, looking west with the Lansdowne wall on the left.

Nowadays it needs some care to recapture the Georgian spirit of the square, but it can be done, especially when sitting in the shade of the plane trees and looking at the wonderful ironwork of the western side. But don’t expect to hear a nightingale singing in Berkeley Square – they probably flew off in the 1730s when the builders moved in!

You can visit Berkeley Square on the Mayfair walk in my Walking Jane Austen’s London.





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Filed under Architecture, Buildings, High Society, Walks

“One of the Most Agreeable Walks in London” – a stroll through The Green Park

Green Park0001

“No inhabitant of the metropolis, and scarcely any person who has visited it, needs to be told that the spot delineated in the annexed view [above] forms one of the most agreeable walks in London.” (Ackermann’s Repository October 1810).

This shows the eastern end of The Green Park (these days ‘The’ is always dropped) from Piccadilly, looking south. It seems the artist would have been somewhere between Clarges Street and Bolton Street. Westminster Abbey can be seen in the distance and on the left are the houses looking out onto the Queen’s Walk. St James’s Palace is hidden behind them at the far end. Nowadays Green Park tube station would be just out of sight on the left with the Ritz (on the site of The White Horse Cellar) just beyond that.

“In summer the eastern end of the Green Park forms a favourite promenade for the inhabitants of the metropolis: and in fine weather, on every evening and on Sundays in particular, is always extremely crowded with genteel and well dressed company. At the north-east corner of this park there is a fine piece of water, which is supplied by the water-works of Chelsea [The reservoir was built in 1775 and filled in in 1856] and forms at once a beautiful embellishment and a useful reservoir. The guards parade every day between ten and eleven o’clock, and a full band of music renders this spectacle cheerful and attractive.” (John Wallis London: Being a Complete Guide 1810)

Green Park is a triangular space of about 53 acres. To the south Constitution Hill divides it from the gardens of Buckingham Palace and St James’s Park butts up to it in the south-east corner with the Mall. In the 17th century it was part of St James’s Park, the Tudor hunting grounds, which swept around the south and west of the palace, but by the time of Roque’s map of 1738 the tree lined avenue of the Mall leading up to Buckingham House cut it off and it is labelled The Green Park. The gardens of Buckingham House were much smaller and the park crossed Constitution Hill, occupying the area that is now the large roundabout of Hyde Park Corner. The second print is from The Beauties of England & Wales Vol. 1 (1801) and shows the view west from the southern edge of the park towards Buckingham House which, by that time, had become The Queen’s Palace or House.

Green Park Q House

Before Henry VIII seized monastic properties St James’s Palace was the site of a religious foundation and a leper hospital and the legend persisted that Green Park was so green (and without flowers) because it was the burial place for the lepers. There is no evidence for this! Charles II was responsible for the park’s lay-out and Constitution Hill is thought to be named because it was a favourite walk, or ‘constitutional’ of his. He also built a snow, or ice, house and the mound can still be seen in the park opposite 119, Piccadilly.

The park, as well as being a fashionable promenade, was also popular for duels in the 18th century. Count Alfieri fought Lord Ligonier the husband of his mistress there and famously remarked (when he returned from the fight to finish watching the play at the Haymarket Theatre with a wounded arm) “My view is that Ligonier did not kill me because he did not want to, and I did not kill him because I did not know how.” The park was also an excellent location for balloon ascents and firework displays such as the 1814 Peace celebrations.

The gravel walk on the eastern boundary of the park is known as The Queen’s Walk and was created for Caroline, the wife of George II. She had a pavilion built for breakfasts looking out on the park, but no trace of it remains. The most distinguished house overlooking the Walk is Spencer House. It can be seen in the top print, identified by the roof ornaments, and in the print below. (1831  Earl Spencer’s House). It is open to the public  on Sundays (except in August) by bookable guided tours.









Filed under Architecture, High Society, London Parks, Royalty, St James's Park, Walks

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.


‘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…


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.











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

The Earl of Wittering Goes to the Seaside: Part Seven. The Ladies Go Shopping (& so does Mr Porrett)

As a confidential secretary Porrett has a well-developed instinct for what will make the ladies of his employer’s household happy – and therefore what will keep the Earl of Wittering himself content. Nothing irritates his lordship more than his wife, daughter-in-law and granddaughter fidgeting about, bored and demanding his attention. Nothing, that is, but Porrett himself attempting to persuade the Earl to cast an eye over his accounts.

seaside shop

Therefore, now that the family is established in elegant lodgings in Weymouth, have signed the Master of Ceremony’s book, subscribed to the library and taken the air the next priority is to introduce the ladies to the retail opportunities that the town holds.

‘It will be intolerably provincial, I suppose,’ Lady Ditherstone observes with a sniff.

‘I venture to hope that your ladyship may not find it so,’ Porrett hastens to interject, seeing Miss Emily’s lower lip beginning to quiver in disappointment. Only one thing mars his optimistic daydreams of a life of bliss with Emily and that is the sneaking suspicion that his income would not satisfy her whims for all things novel, pretty and expensive. Then his romantic nature overcomes these moments of realism. “My darling,” she would cry, throwing herself on his manly (if rather skinny) chest. “I would live in a cottage and learn to cook if only I can be with you.”

‘Mr Porrett? You are gaping like a stricken haddock,’ Lady Wittering observes sharply.

‘Your ladyship’s pardon, I was mentally assembling the list of desirable emporia.’ He blushes in mortification at being so shamed, but Miss Emily sends him a speaking look of commiseration – it seems that perhaps she finds the haddock an attractive fish, or, more likely, she has been on the receiving end of her grandmother’s reproofs before now.

Porrett’s blush is now glowing like the sunset over the English Channel, but he clears his throat and delivers his report. ‘Many of the shops are temporary for the season, my lady. The most select establishments in Dorchester and Salisbury have a branch here during the summer, and, given the royal patronage, so do many London shops of distinction.’ He produces a town plan and begins to point out the highlights. ‘A jeweller with a royal warrant, here… three milliners in this street. A modiste here and here. A bazaar selling elegant trifles that may amuse is located on this corner and…’

‘And we must go and investigate immediately,’ Emily cries. ‘You are so clever Mr Porrett! I must have a new bonnet for I declare none of mine are fit to be seen.’

‘We must also acquire some of Mrs Bell’s Patent Bathing Preservers. Nothing would persuade me to be dipped in some hired bathing dress.’ Emily’s mother produces a shudder that would have made Sarah Siddons proud.

‘As you had the foresight to mention that before we left London I have made enquiries, my lady, and Arthbuthnott’s Haberdashery, Notions and Fancy Goods carries a stock of them.’

And right next door is Madame Ernestine’s hat shop. Porrett was up and about at dawn this morning checking out the shops and there is the most exquisite bonnet in the window that would look enchanting on Miss Emily’s dark curls.

‘We will go immediately. We will not require you, Porrett, as you have so efficiently marked the map. We will take one of the footmen to carry parcels.’

‘But – ’ Porrett’s lower lip begins to quiver with as much pathos as Miss Emily’s ever did.

‘But I have turned my ankle a little, Mama. I need the support of a gentleman’s arm if I am not to strain it and be unable to dance tonight. Mr Porrett would be perfect.’ Periwinkle blue eyes smile into his yearning grey ones.

‘I would be only too happy, Miss Emily.’ Although I may need a cold bath before and after the experience.

Dizzy with delight Porrett shepherds his little party through the streets of Weymouth, Claude the footman bringing up the rear and young Master Arthur tagging along too, for Porrett has promised him a shop selling shells, fossils and geological curiosities. Miss Emily holds tight to Porrett’s arm, limping just enough to give credibility to her tale of a painful ankle, and causing his bosom to swell with protective fervour.

Outside Arbuthnott’s store she hangs back, her gaze on the pretty bow window of the milliner’s shop. ‘I will just look in here, Mama. Mr Porrett will look after me.’ Arthur makes his escape – he has spotted the shell shop. (The one shown above is on the Terrace in Scarborough)

bonnet‘There is a bonnet here I thought might suit you, Miss Gatwick,’ he confesses, remembering to address her properly and not by her given name as he always thinks of her. ‘You see? That one on the stand.’

‘Oh! Oh, Frederick,’ she gasps as his head spins. ‘You are wonderful. It is perfection.’

Will Emily get her bonnet? Will the ladies obtain their bathing preservers? Will Porrett’s blood pressure ever return to normal? In the next installment the Gatwicks (and Porrett) will go sea bathing.

Discover more about the world of the Georgian Seaside – and its shopping opportunities –  in The Georgian Seaside

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Filed under Fashions, High Society, Seaside resorts, Shopping