Category Archives: Prince Regent

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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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.

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1814 – the Summer of Celebrations

The summer of 1814 – and London is en fete to celebrate not only the victory over Napoleon but also the anniversary of Hanoverian rule. For three months Londoners had the opportunity to view, and enjoy, some of the most lavish celebrations the capital has ever seen.

Ack transp

On April 20 there was a triumphal procession for Louis XVII from Hyde Park to Grillon’s Hotel in Albemarle Street where he was staying with his entourage. On June 7 the Russian Czar Alexander I, King William III of Prussia, Marshal Blucher, Prince Metternich, the Prince of Liechtenstein, and Prince Leopold arrived in London and on June 11 the Prince Regent entertained all the Allied Leaders at the opera at Covent Garden. On June 16 they were the guests at a dinner held by the merchants and bankers of London in the City and on June 18 the Prince Regent, Marquess of Wellesley, Lord Liverpool, Marshal Blucher, Prince Metternich, Czar Alexander I, and Catherine Grand Duchess of Oldenburg were guests of honour at a dinner given by the Corporation of London.

On June 20, hopefully having had the opportunity for a rest and some digestion, the Prince Regent, the Duke of York, the King of Prussia, the Czar and  Generals Blucher, Lord Beresford and Hill reviewed 12,000 troops in Hyde Park. At 8pm that evening a re-enactment of the battle of Trafalgar was held in the park on the Serpentine with model ships three feet long (one metre) were deployed to recreate the main events of the battle. At the climax the French ships were sunk as the National Anthem was played.

The evening was staged as a popular entertainment and the park was transformed with stalls, arcades, and follies and pavilions. There were refreshments, taverns and fruit stalls and the crowd could listen to military bands as they watched acrobats or enjoyed the swings and roundabouts.

On June 22 the Allied Sovereigns watched a naval review at Portsmouth before leaving for the continent, but in London the celebrations were by no means over.

On June 28 Wellington was formally welcomed at Buckingham House by the Queen, and on July 1 a great ball was held in the Duke’s honour at Burlington House by White’s Club. It cost £10,000 and amongst the 1,700 guests was Jane Austen’s brother Henry. She was thrilled. On July 7 there was a Service of General Thanksgiving for the victory at St Paul’s Cathedral with Wellington carrying the Sword of State alongside the Regent and as a further sign of his pleasure the Regent held a fete in the gardens of Carlton House to honour the Duke on July 21.

Pagoda

August 1,1814 was the hundredth anniversary of the accession of George I of Hanover to the British throne. The Battle of the Nile was represented by rowing boats on the canal in St James’s Park which was crossed by a new ‘Chinese’ bridge with, in the centre, a seven-storey pagoda. According to Ackermann’s Repository “It appeared a blazing edifice of golden fire, every part being covered in lamps, and glass reflectors at proper intervals relieving the splendour with their silver lustre.” At the height of the fireworks the pagoda caught fire and two men and a number of swans perished, but the crowd thought it was part of the celebrations and cheered wildly.

Meanwhile in Green Park a castle-like structure was built. After firework display that lasted, according to Ackermann’s, “for more than two hours, a discharge of cannon enveloped the whole building in smoke so dense, that no part of it was visible to the innumerable spectators assembled…but when this obstruction cleared away, it burst upon them, metamorphosed into the Temple of Concord, most brilliantly illuminated… and revolving upon its centre.”

Concord

Many shops and businesses also rose to the patriotic occasion and decorated their premises. Ackermann’s Repository at 101, Strand, was decorated by a ‘transparency’ almost 30 feet (10 metres) high and “brilliantly illuminated” from the back “with carbonic gas.”. The lower section shows the seven Christian and Cardinal Virtues with the Royal arms above and the standards of the Allied nations. The upper part is the Temple of Peace with the word REGENT above and all crowned with the Prince of Wales’s feathers. It is shown at the head of this post.

You can  enjoy these two historic parks by taking Walks 4 and 6 in Walking Jane Austen’s London.

 

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The Road to Waterloo: Week 17. The Battle is Fought, The Tourists Arrive, Napoleon Flees, The Regent Weeps

So much has been written – and is being written – about the battle of Waterloo itself that this post is not going to go into any details but will concentrate on what was known to be happening in London. The detail below shows the fighting on the left wing of the battle.
Waterloo left wing bottom strip
On the 18th Londoners were going about their normal Sunday business – attending church, followed, for the gentlemen, by reading the papers which had no up-to-date news from Flanders. Readers could safely turn to lighter matters such as the report in thElopemente Marriages column: “Some days ago, at Gretna Green, Capt. Bontein, of the Life Guards, son of Sir G.B. to the daughter of Sir E. Stanley. The parties rode out from Lady Bontein’s to take an airing before dinner; they took post-chaise and four at Barnet, and proceeded to Gretna Green, wither they were unsuccessfully pursued by Lady Stanley. The only objection to the match, was, it is said, the age of the bride, who is under fourteen and has a handsome fortune. The parties have since been re-married in London.” Where, presumably, Captain Bontein was enjoying the company of his child bride and her handsome fortune while his comrades plunged into battle.cattle on street
A glimpse into the state of the London streets, with vast herds of livestock being driven through them daily, is captured in the report that, “On Friday-forenoon, a large bullock that ran from a drove in Newgate-street, ran into the shop of Messrs. Baldwin & Co. booksellers, and the parlour door being open, he walked in, where there were three or four ladies sitting who were very much frightened…they were at length rescued… by a drover…all the furniture had to be piled in one corner to make room for the animal to turn around: he then walked out very deliberately.” The picture shows a detail from a print of Soho Square (Ackermann’s Repository 1812)
By Monday 19th there was still nothing in the newspapers, but rumours of three days’ fighting around Brussels were beginning to spread by word of mouth from the Channel couriers.
Meanwhile, on the battlefield, the first tourists had arrived from Brussels, despite the desperate needs of the wounded in the city and on the battlefield, the state of the roads and the appalling scenes. In his Journal of the Waterloo Campaign, Kept through the Campaign of 1815, Cavalié Mercer, who commanded G Troop Royal Horse Artillery during the battle, records some of the very first tourists. On the morning of the 19th he recalls surveying the field, helping get water to the wounded and seeing his men were fed, surrounded by mangled corpses and the wounded. “We had not yet finished our meal, when a carriage drove on the ground from Brussels, the inmates of which, alighting, proceeded to examine the field. As they passed near us, it was amusing to see the horror with which they eyed our frightful figures; they all, however, pulled off their hats and made us low bows. One, a smartly-dressed middle-aged man, in a high cocked-hat, came to our circle, and entered into conversation with me on the events of yesterday. He approached holding a delicately white perfumed handkerchief to his nose; stepping carefully to avoid the bodies (at which he cast fearful glances en passant), to avoid polluting the glossy silken hose that clothed his nether limbs…With a world of bows my man took leave, and proceeded, picking his steps with the same care as he followed the route of his companions in the direction of Hougoumont.”
Finally some hard news reached the London papers on Tuesday 20th June, albeit four days out of date. Under the headline, “Commencement of Hostilities” the Morning Post reported, “Yesterday afternoon an Officer arrived with dispatches from the Duke of WELLINGTON, announcing the important fact of BONAPARTE having, soon after his arrival on the frontiers, put his army in motion, and attacked the Prussian outpost at Givet. This took place on the morning of the 16th, on the evening of which day a Prussian officer arrived in Brussels to communicate the intelligence to the Duke of WELLINGTON. His Grace lost not a moment in putting his whole army in motion…A general battle has in all probability ere taken place. In Heaven we trust that our confident hopes in regard to it will be speedily and completely realised.”
The Morning Post on the 21st reported rumours of a great battle and stated that, “an Officer was on the road to London with the official accounts, and in the meantime the report brought by MR SUTTON, the Packet Agent [ie in charge of the mail boats] was sufficiently circumstantial to prove its authenticity.” The article repeated the news about the 16th and stated that Wellington had brought Bonaparte into “a sanguinary contest” on the 17th. News of the death of General Picton was given, but all the details were unclear.
By now Napoleon had reached Paris and late that same evening Wellington’s exhausted aide Henry Percy arrived in London, having started out a few hours after the battle with the Duke’s dispatches and two captured eagles. He travelled day and night, with the eagles poking out of the chaise window, and reached Horse Guards between eleven and midnight. He found no-one in authority but eventually tracked Lord Liverpool down who insisted they go immediately to tell the Prince Regent who was dining with the Duke of York at Mrs. Boehm’s house (now no.14) in St. James’s Square.
Lord Liverpool, followed by footmen carrying the eagles, announced to the Prince Regent, “I have brought Major Percy, who comes with the news of a great victory for your Royal Highness.”
“Not Major Percy, but Lieut.-Colonel Percy,” said the Prince as Percy knelt and kissed his hand. ” We have not suffered much loss, I hope.”
“The loss has been very great indeed,” replied Percy and the Regent burst into tears. Major Percy was finally to escape and go to bed for the first time since the battle.
The second edition of the Morning Post on the morning of the 22nd carried “Official Bulletin of the Complete Overthrow of Bonaparte’s Army With a List of the British Officers Killed or Wounded.” The dispatch was brief and to the point, the list of casualties very long – and that was just the officers. Londoners would have been left in no doubt that a great victory had been won at enormous cost. The Morning Post wrote, “With hearts gratefully elate (sic) and all thanks due to Heaven for the event, we have this day the supreme happiness of announcing one of the most complete and comprehensive victories ever attained, even by British valour…While Bonaparte… coward at heart…narrowly effected his escape.”
As Londoners were reading the news, in Paris Napoleon was abdicating in favour of his son.
after the battle

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The Road to Waterloo Week 13: War Is Declared at Last, the Prince Regent Builds and the Mob Protests

France was still in the grip of a miserable, cold, foggy Spring but Napoleon would have been encouraged by Britain’s reluctance to declare war, giving him more time to wrestle with his constitutional and political problems and continue to expand his army.
An insecure British government was facing Radical opposition within the Commons and on the streets, the economy was shaky and everyone was depressed by the weather. The price of bread was rising, the farmers were having a tough time because of the rain and the King’s health kept him out of the public eye – “his disorder continues without any sensible alteration,” according to the bulletins.

Carlton House detail
Only the Prince Regent seemed to be in a good mood – or perhaps he was keeping his spirits up with an orgy of lavish building works. A gothic-style dining room was added to Carlton House along with a library in the same style and a golden drawing room. Above is a detail of the Blue Velvet Room at Carlton House, a good example of the Regent’s lavish taste. At the same time John Nash was working on a “cottage” for the Regent in Windsor Great Park, a large and elaborate house the cottage orné style, with thatched roofs, verandas, and a conservatory. (It was demolished by William IV and the Royal Lodge now stands on the site). Nash was also working on further plans for the Pavilion at Brighton. Below is an example of the cottage orné style, although this is a much smaller example than Nash’s would have been. The drawing is from Ackermann’s Repository (November 1816)

cottage ornee
The Whigs were attacking the head of the diplomatic corps, Lord Castlereagh, and, through him the Congress of Vienna, dominated by Russia, Prussia and Austria who, they said, were a threat to independent nations. Vociferously led by Samuel Whitbread they argued that Napoleon had the support of the French people and it was wrong to go to war simply because Britain did not like him. Whitbread argued that the Emperor was now peace-loving, Castlereagh countered that once he had assembled 400,000 troops it would soon become apparent how peace-loving he was.
The harassed government was faced with mobs on the streets protesting about the Corn Law, the Income Tax, the slave trade and the Prince Regent’s extravagance, but they finally decided that Napoleon was secure on the French throne and that war was inevitable. The Allied Treaty, signed at Vienna on 25th March, was laid before the House at last – if Parliament ratified it, it became a declaration of war. It was approved in the Lords by 156 votes to 44 and in the Commons by 331 to 92 on 25th May. War was now inevitable, the only question was – when?
The firebrand Samuel Whitbread fell strangely silent after this, his place as the radical leader taken by Francis Burdett and Henry Hunt. Whitbread may have been in financial difficulty and earlier in the month he had resigned his management of Drury Lane Theatre, in which he had invested a great deal of money.
At Drury Lane on the 24th, there was a benefit performance by Edmund Kean, announced as a never-before performed tragedy by Shakespeare. The newspapers the next day were respectful of Kean, but sarcastic about the play.
“MR KEAN took his benefit last night. A tragedy by SHAKESPEARE – “never acted” had been announced as the performance of the evening; but “insurmountable difficulties” opposing the execution of this design, (no great wonder, bye the bye, for what play, undoubtedly SHAKESPEARE’S, can we at this time of day, take upon ourselves to assert, had never been acted?) the tragedy of the “Revenge”, was substituted, and MR KEAN appeared for the first time as the representative of Zanga.”

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

Bells Weekly

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

 

 

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

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Travelling The Great North Road With The Georgians

The Great North Road – the ancient route from London to Edinburgh – must have seen the foot prints, hoof prints or wheel tracks of virtually every Georgian of note. Part of the fun of tracing the historic route under today’s roads and motorways for my book Following the Great North Road: a guide for the modern traveller was bumping into Georgian characters at every bend in the road. Here I will take a dozen, almost at random, and travel north with them from London.
The great clown Joseph Grimaldi was an early commuter and would travel from his home in the village of Highgate to the London theatres. Just south of Islington on the first stage out of the city the road passes Sadler’s Wells theatre and Grimaldi often appeared there. One night in 1807, on his way back home, he was stopped by footpads on Highgate Hill, but when he showed them his watch, engraved with him in costume, they recognised him and let him go. (The print on Archway early 1the left shows the foot of Highgate Hill).
Beyond Highgate lies Finchley Common, one of the most notorious haunts of highwaymen on the entire Great North Road. Amongst the infamous men who haunted it were Jack Shepherd who led a life of dangerous celebrity and was caught on the Common in 1724 after his fifth, and final, breakout from Newgate prison. He was hanged in November at Tyburn. Dick Turpin, whose violent exploits were romanticised by the Victorians, also haunted the Common. The so-called Turpin’s Oak tree stood just before the road reaches the modern North Circular Road and was said to be peppered with musket balls from hold-ups. The enclosure of the common began in 1816 and put an end to the dangers. We meet Turpin all along the road north, at least in the imagination of the Victorians who thrilled to Alfred Noyes’s Ballard of Dick Turpin. dickturpin
Charles Dickens was a frequent traveller along the Great North Road, right from his early days as a young journalist, and he writes feelingly about the discomforts of stage coach travel. (You can find more of Dickens’ travels in my book Stagecoach Travel. )
He certainly described the towns he passed through with an acid pen – poor Eaton Socon, 55 miles north of the capital was, in his opinion, so dull and backward that he called it Eaton Slocombe.
Another 40 or so miles north stands the oddly-named Ram Jam Inn, named, so the story goes, for the mysterious liquor that the landlord, returning from India, sold there. It was pointed out to travellers as the lodging of Molyneux, the black bare knuckle boxing champion, on the night before he met the equally great Tom Cribb at Thistleton Gap nearby on 28th September 1811. Cribb, who was the winner, stayed at the Blue Bull (99 miles), which was a small inn further north.    (The image at the foot of this post is the final one in Henry Alken’s series ‘The Road to a Fight. 1821)
Sir Walter Scott was a regular traveller from his Scottish home to London and he used the Great North Road in his novels. He described Gonerby Hill, a long and difficult hill 112 miles north of London, in Heart of Midlothian (1818) where Jeanie Deans walks from Edinburgh to London and encounters thieves and murderers at its foot. Harrison Ainsworth mentions it in his novel Rookwood (1838) where Dick Turpin crests the hill only to be faced, prophetically, with a gibbet holding two mouldering corpses.
Newark, 125 miles north of London, has a dramatic castle and a fine market square surrounded by coaching inns. Lord Byron often stayed at the Clinton Arms, then called the Kingston Arms, and mentions it in a letter of 1807. His first publisher, Ridge, had offices at number 39 on the corner of the market and Bridge Street and you can still see the handsome door-case and the knocker Byron would have used.
The Prince Regent travelled the Great North Road, and would visit Doncaster races. The racecourse is still there, 161 miles from London, and so are the handsome Georgian houses of South Parade, including the one where the Regent lodged. The print below shows the grandstand on Doncaster racecourse in 1804.

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Daniel Defoe was another Great North Road “regular”, viewing it with an eye even more jaundiced than Dickens’. The village of Croft on the River Tees (237 miles north of London) was a flourishing little Georgian spa, long since decayed into a village. On the north bank of the river is one of those features that provided scope for local legends and stories to entertain bored coach passengers. The road follows the bend of the river over the tributary River Skerne and in a pasture to the right are two deep pools known as Hell’s Kettles. Unfortunately they are no longer visible from the road so the modern traveller cannot peer into their depths and see the impious farmer and his plough team who were swallowed up for working on St Barnabas’s Day. Daniel Defoe would have none of it, observing, “’Tis evident they are nothing but old coal-pits, filled with water by the River Tees.”
In an earlier post I wrote about the Regent’s Lord Chancellor, Lord Eldon, who enjoyed regular holidays at the Wheatsheaf Inn in Rushyford, 250 miles from London. The inn is now the Eden Arms and the once pretty little brook-side spot has a large roundabout in the middle of it. In his reckless youth the Chancellor was one of the numerous young men who chose the Great North Road as his route to elope to the Scottish border. We meet him again in Newcastle in 1772, armed with a ladder and assisting pretty Bessy Surtees to climb down from a window in her father’s fine half-timbered house on the corner of Sandhill and the steep hill called Side. The house and window are still there.SONY DSC
The road is into Northumberland now and passes through the town of Alnwick (308 miles north). Its ancient castle was drastically ‘modernised’ in the later 18th century by the first Duke of Northumberland, a man who married well and who changed his name to Percy from Smithson on acquiring the castle through his wife. He asked George III for the Order of the Garter, pointing out that he would be the first Percy to have been refused it. The king, who apparently did not take to the ex-apothecary, retorted, “You forget, you are the first Smithson who ever asked for it.”
Thirty miles further north and the road enters Berwick on Tweed and the eloping couples were almost on safe Scottish ground. Finally, 341 miles from London the road enters Scotland at Lamberton Bar. The famous toll house, which used to have a notice in the window reading, “Ginger beer sold here and marriages performed on the most reasonable terms”, is no longer there, alas.
East Linton (370½ miles), where the road crosses the River Tyne on a red sandstone bridge, was the birthplace in 1761 of John Rennie, the pioneering engineer and builder of London Bridge.
Only three miles from Holyrood House in Edinburgh the Great North Road enters Portobello, now a coastal suburb, but once a salt-producing fishing village with a flourishing china industry. The sands were excellent for exercising cavalry horses and it was here that the quartermaster of the Edinburgh Light Horse, Sir Walter Scott, was kicked in the head during a drill. Enforced bed-rest allowed him to finish the Lay of the Last Minstrel.
The traveller now entered Edinburgh, although if they were expecting a comfortable hotel, or even a coaching inn, they were disappointed. Until James Dun opened the first Edinburgh hotel in the New Town in 1774 accommodation was very rough indeed. Perhaps we should end with an image of Dr Johnson, whose unflattering views on Scotland are well known. He put up at the White Horse in Boyd’s Close and Boswell visited him there to find him in a towering rage because the waiter had sweetened his lemonade using his fingers, not the tongs, to add the sugar.

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