Category Archives: Military

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.

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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)

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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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Filed under Buildings, Entertainment, Gentlemen, High Society, Medicine & health, Military, Seaside resorts, Travel

Protecting the Hanoverian Kings From the Jacobites

 

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My blog today is set a very long way north of London, but its subject – Fort George on Scotland’s Moray Firth – must have represented a great comfort to Londoners recovering from the shock of the ’45, Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s attempt to regain the throne of his grandfather, James VII of Scotland, II of England.
Charles, known as the Young Pretender or, more romantically as Bonnie Prince Charlie, had led his troops as far south as Derbyshire, causing widespread panic throughout England before he retreated back to Scotland with the realisation that the expected English support was not going to be forthcoming.
The forces of George II in London reacted with brutal force. Charles’s army was slaughtered in the Battle of Culloden in less than an hour on 16th April 1746 and the Young Pretender fled, the hopes of the Stuarts fleeing with him.
The government was not going to take any more chances with Jacobite sympathies in Scotland and put in place an ambitious plan to extend the military roads across the country and to build fortifications that would ensure a rising could never happen again.

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The old Fort George in Inverness had proved inadequate against the Jacobites and the town council was objecting strongly to having two thousand “wild and licentious” soldiery located in the heart of their respectable town, so the new fort was eventually located on a spit of land jutting out into the Moray Firth at Ardesier, a safe eleven miles away from Inverness’s citizens and commanding an excellent strategic position guarding the mouth of the Firth.
Fort George was begun in 1748, planned by Lieutenant-General William Skinner and built under the direction of the architectural dynasty of the Adams family – father William (who had worked on Edinburgh Castle), then son John and eventually even John’s brother Robert Adam, one of Britain’s most famous and fashionable architects.15-DSCN9504
The 42 acre fort cost £200,000, equivalent to £20 million now and more than Scotland’s entire GNP for 1750. It only ever saw one shot fired in anger – and that was by a panicky night-time guard firing on a cow that was approaching the outer defences. As a result the fort appears almost exactly as it did when it was completed and it is one of the most impressive fortifications of the period in Europe. To add to the atmosphere for the modern visitor it is still in use for troops who have been accommodated into the historic fort without adding to, or damaging, the original building.

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Today one can view the complex and seemingly impregnable series of outer walls, bastions and moats, designed to put any attacker under withering cross-fire.

22-DSCN9537Inside the walls the buildings are handsome and impressive, from the Governor’s house to the barracks (still in use for their original purpose, although with fewer men in each large room and more modern heating and plumbing!) to the gunpowder magazine, the stores and the simple chapel.

20-DSCN9523The recreated corner of one of the barrack rooms shows the draped blanket that was the only privacy a married couple had in a room sleeping eight men. In contrast one of the senior officers enjoys a room to himself with larger window panes and a smart fireplace. 21-DSCN9525

24-DSCN9540 The chapel contains many standards of regiments who have been stationed at Fort George, some of them from the early 19th century. The icing on the cake for me was the re-enactor in the dress of the original Scottish regiments garrisoned there who allowed me to try out all his weapons, including his musket and whose tales of the fort really brought it to life.

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Filed under Architecture, Buildings, Military