Category Archives: High Society

The Road to Waterloo Week 11: Voter Apathy Hits Napoleon, London Debates Marrying Actresses and Spring Bonnets Are in the News

Despite everything that was happening politically, and the threat of war, Paris remained at the cutting edge of fashion as these delightful bonnets from Le Journal des Dames et des Modes show. (see also the end of this post)

Paris bonnets 1

This was not a good week for Napoleon. Having sent out his new constitution for a plebiscite it was greeted with profound apathy. Organisation for the vote was poor verging on chaotic. In one Breton village the mayor noted day after day in his diary, “No votes… rang the bell, nobody came.” In the end only 20% of the electorate voted. In Paris it was 13%.
Paris was jam-packed with troops, so perhaps the civilian population thought there was no point in voting and that they were living in a military dictatorship.
Napoleon did have support from a group called the Fédéres, a movement harking back to the days of the Revolution – “Terror advances us, death follows us; conquer or die,” ran the blood-chilling motto of one group. They were strongest in areas which had seen foreign invasion, such as Alsace Lorraine, and this week their influence reached Paris. Napoleon promptly harnessed their fervour to dig earth ramparts and fortifications to defend the capital.
Mrs MountainOn Sunday the London papers described the farewell performance of Mrs Mountain (shown left), not a name a glamorous actress would take today! Mrs Rosoman Mountain (c1768-1841) was the daughter of circus performers named Wilkinson and she made her debut in musical pieces at Covent Garden, then toured the provinces at the end of the century, returning to London in 1800. In that year she sang Polly in the Beggar’s Opera at Drury Lane, beginning a career there as one of the top London performers until ill-health curtailed her appearances.
“Mrs Mountain who has for so long and so deservedly been a great favourite of the public, took her farewell of the Stage last Thursday night, at the King’s Theatre. In the course of the evening Mrs Mountain delivered, or rather attempted to deliver, an Address of respectful gratitude to the public, for the long and warm patronage which she has experienced – her feelings during the recital powerfully affecting her utterance. This Address, as well as the whole of the entertainments, were received with the warmest applause, and she retired, or rather was borne off the stage, amidst the fullest testimony that the occasion admitted, of public respect and esteem. The pressure was so great that much of the iron railing in the passage to the Pit was broken away, and many persons were in imminent danger for some time, but happily no serious accident occurred.” (The Examiner)
On the subject of actresses, on Monday the Morning Chronicle carried an advertisement:
“Green-Room Wives! At the British Forum, removed to the Athenaeum Assembly Rooms, Duke’s-court, Bow-street, facing Covent Garden Theatre, on Tuesday next, the following interesting Question will be discussed, viz: “Is it any Degradation for a Nobleman or Gentleman of rank to marry an Actress? Doors open at seven. Chair taken at eight precisely. Admittance one shilling. Early attendance is earnestly requested, as a Gentleman of distinguished classical attainments has undertaken to open the debate.” In the scene below the audience is leaving Covent Garden theatre and Bow Street is crowded with their carriages.
1822 Covent GardenThe Monday papers also reported that “A little miserable Dwarf was exposed before the Queen and Princesses, the Prince Regent, the Dukes of York and Clarence etc on Friday. His name is Simon Paap, a native of Zandvoort, near Haarlem in Holland. He is 26 years of age, weighs only 27 pounds and is 28 inches in height.” (Morning Chronicle) The “little miserable dwarf” was actually a highly successful performer and I have blogged about his London visit at more length in another post.
The country may have been bracing itself for war, but fashionable ladies were still agog to hear about the Paris modes. On Wednesday the Morning Post reported on Paris millinery. Here is another plate from Le Journal des Dames et des Modes, which would have been available in London. Other journals, and London milliners, plagarised it freely!

Paris bonnets 2“Rose is the prevailing colour, and we still see roses in many hats. Fashionable milliners sometimes put at different distances up the bonnet bands of gauze, or ribbands, broadly plaited. The fashion of striped ribbons in one breadth, or in large squares, continues. The edges of these ribbons are almost always white, and the stripes are rose coloured, lilac or green. The white straw bonnets are less common than those of yellow straw. Last year a yellow straw bonnet always has a border of frizzed straw. This year the edging is either of ribbon or a half veil of lace.”
On Saturday the Morning Post’s Fashionable World column informed readers that the next ball at Almack’s would be on Thursday the 18th, and that, “The Duke of Wellington having given a Ball [ie a rout] at Brussels, he will next (it is hoped), give a grand route to the enemy.”
The big Society event of the week, however, appears to have been, “The Hon. Mrs Knox’s Ball. In Upper Grosvenor-street on Thursday night, the above Lady gave a superb Ball and Supper, to a host of fashionables. The mansion is fitted up in all the splendour of modern taste; it was on the above evening lighted up with unrivalled brilliancy. Precisely at eleven o’clock the dancing commenced. There were groups waltzing together in the one drawing room; and two sets, of twenty-five couples each, at the commencement of the country dances, in the other. At two in the morning the company sat down to a sumptuous cold collation, arranged with nouvelle elegance, in several rooms. Dancing re-commenced at three in the morning and concluded at six o’clock.” The guest list included two royal dukes, six duchesses, “the Foreign Ministers”, two marchionesses and endless other nobility.
Fashionable London was certainly managing to divert itself from the threat looming on the continent.

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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 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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Queen Victoria’s Papa Designs a Clock Tower

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

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

Edward

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

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

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

Bailey House

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

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

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

clock 2

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

 

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The Sailor Prince & the Society Lady – a Canadian Scandal

My surprise is down to my ignorance, obviously, but when I visited the Maritime Provinces of Canada last month I was intrigued to find myself bumping into two of George III’s sons at what seemed like every turn.

To begin with Prince William, (1765 – 1837), George III’s third son. He was created Duke of Clarence and St Andrews in 1789 and succeeded his brother George IV to the throne as William IV in June 1830. I have to confess that I had always regarded him as a kind of stop-gap between the Hanoverian kings and his niece, Queen Victoria, who succeeded him. In contrast to George IV he appeared to be a much nicer character with good intentions. I knew he had a lively love life and had a mistress for twenty years – the actress Mrs Jordan who bore him ten children all bearing the surname FitzClarence. They split in 1811, apparently because of William’s money problems, and in 1818, after the death of his niece, and heir to the throne, Princess Charlotte, the fifty three year old prince married twenty five year old Princess Adelaide of Saxe-Meiningen and joined the race to produce an heir, essential as it was clear that George IV would have no more children.

Against all the odds – their ages and his history of love affairs – this was a happy marriage and William stayed faithful, although it did not produce the hoped-for heir to the throne.

I also knew that William was a sailor. He joined the Royal Navy as a thirteen year-old midshipman and was present at the Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1780. His naval career, culminating in his appointment by George IV as Lord High Admiral, led to his nickname, The Mariner King. The unkind caricature of 1827 below shows William in the centre and suggests that only the fool of the family is sent into the navy.

Dof C

William was the only member of the British royal family to visit America before or during the American Revolution and George Washington wrote to approve a plot to kidnap him: “The spirit of enterprise so conspicuous in your plan for surprising in their quarters and bringing off the Prince William Henry and Admiral Digby merits applause; and you have my authority to make the attempt in any manner, and at such a time, as your judgment may direct. I am fully persuaded, that it is unnecessary to caution you against offering insult or indignity to the persons of the Prince or Admiral…” Word of the plot reached the British and William suddenly found himself  with a large armed escort.

That was the extent of my knowledge of William, so I was surprised to come across him in the harbour town of Lunenburg in Nova Scotia. We were staying at the historic Mariner King inn, built in 1830, and there I discovered the history of William’s scandalous connection with the province.

William was captain of the frigate Pegasus and put into harbour at Halifax, further along the coast from Lunenburg, in 1786. He was twenty one, of an amorous disposition, and soon found himself in the bedchamber of Mrs Frances Wentworth, aged forty two.

Portrait_of_Mrs._Theodore_Atkinson_Jr._(Frances_Deering_Wentworth)Frances was the wife of the Governor of New Hampshire and, as Loyalists, they and many others had been forced to flee by the American forces. Apparently she was very unhappy in Canada, missed her son who was in London and fretted at her diminished social status. An affaire with a prince must have raised her morale considerably! However, her husband wrote to the King to complain and William was recalled to England. (In the painting above of 1765 by John Singleton Copley she was still married to her first husband, Theodore Atkinson. he was her cousin, as was John Wentworth whom she married withing a week of Theodore’s death. Image in public domain.)

It seems William returned to Mrs Wentworth’s company in 1787 and again in 1788, causing a scandal in Halifax society. She apparently brazened it out  “like a haughty Queen” and her husband John left the city to serve as H.M. Surveyor of Forests, a sinecure presumably organised by the King as a sweetener. He did receive some reward for his patient humiliation when, in 1791, he and Frances visited London. Frances renewed her acquaintanceship with the Prince and he helped secure the appointment of John as Governor of Nova Scotia. John was created a baronet in 1795. (He is shown in the undated portrait below. Artist unknown. Image in public domain.)

Governor_John_Wentworth

So, back to Lunenburg, founded in 1753. The second owner of what is now the Mariner King Inn was an enthusiastic supporter of the new monarch and named his brigantine, The William and so it must have seemed an appropriate name for an inn.

Lunenburg is a World heritage site, still laid out on the original grid pattern of 1753 by army surveyors and full of delightful, well-maintained, houses of the 18th and 19th century – it is well worth visiting if you ever find yourself in Nova Scotia. At the foot of this post is a glimpse of its colourful streets with 18th century houses, ‘updated’ in the 19th century.

In my next blog post I will explore the connection of William’s brother Edward with Canada – and we meet Mrs Wentworth again.

Lunenburg

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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

 

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