Category Archives: Seaside resorts

The Earl of Wittering Goes to the Seaside: Part Six The Ladies (and Porrett) Visit the Library

It is raining today, the second of the Gatwick family’s stay in Weymouth, so Lady Ditherstone abandons her father in law and husband to their news sheets, deals firmly with her daughter Emily’s pleas that taking to the ocean in the rain can hardly make you any wetter than you will be already, and carries off her mother in law the Countess of Wittering, Emily and young Arthur to visit the subscription library.

library

‘You have researched the available libraries I trust, Mr Porrett?’ She is inclined to rather like the Earl’s secretary, such a thoroughly nice, intelligent young man and really, once he takes off those wire-rimmed spectacles, quite good-looking. Intelligent, good-looking men are in short supply in the Gatwick household, although young Arthur certainly has a keen interest in natural philosophy.

‘Certainly, Lady Ditherstone. There are several, but most are not of a standard that would suit you, I fear. However there is one excellent one. As The Guide to All the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places remarks, those who frequent a good circulating library rather than a ballroom “frequently enjoy the most rational and the most permanent pleasure.” ‘ He regrets the quote as soon as he makes it, for Miss Emily fixes him with a look that is anything but kindly. So far as she is concerned nothing, but nothing, can exceed the pleasures of the ballroom.

‘Mr Porrett can come with us and carry our books as he is so fond of libraries,’ she says pertly. ‘And the umbrellas.’

Porrett, no fool, even if he is blinded by hopeless love, enlists the umbrella-wielding support of two footmen leaving himself to shelter Miss Emily. He employs the walk to the library with regaining her good graces. ‘They have all the latest fashion journals,’ he assures her. ‘And the latest novels.’ From ahead he can hear young Arthur stating that he needs a book on rocks and something on seaweed as he intends to collect both. Porrett is not certain, but he thinks the Viscountess gives the slightest, most well-bred, shudder. ‘And there is a section selling toys (he means novelties and small frivolities for adults, of course) – all the finest fans and reticules and so forth and souvenirs.’

Pic105Emily gives him a beaming smile, much restored by thoughts of shopping, as they reach the circulating library. Porrett, having established that the monthly subscription is eight shillings, deals with the business side, taking out a subscription for both senior ladies. He also subscribes for himself, for he has a secret penchant for poetry and intends to take a slim volume off to the garden where he can brood on his heartache in peace. (Above, the artist of a Regency ‘bat print’ bowl has caught Porrett immersed in his poetry next to a beehive.)

The library they find themselves in very like the one shown at the top of the post (Illustration of 1813 by Rowlandson). Note the shelf of New Arrivals on the right and the two gentlemen in energetic dispute over a political pamphlet on the left. A horn sprouting writing quills hangs in the right-hand window and a poster advertises a new book on Westminster and Its Monuments. The younger ladies shown are all in the height of fashion whereas the older lady with her little dog, long stick and black footman in attendance wisely chooses rather wider skirts and a lower waistline. Note the parasol propped up against the counter – it has the handle at what, today, is the wrong end. This persisted until about 1815 when the point where a parasol or umbrella was held when not in use shifted ends.

This evening the family attends the Assembly Rooms for an evening of dancing and cards. Porrett is thrilled to have been invited to accompany them, but somehow this afternoon, he is going to have to purchase a new pair of black silk stockings. Dare he risk ones with a stripe? What are the shops likely to be like? Find out more in   The Georgian Seaside: the English resorts before the railways came.

 

 

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The Earl of Wittering Goes to the Seaside: Part Five The First Day

The Gatwick family are up early this first morning in their rented house on the Esplanade in Weymouth, even the Earl who has been parted from Gaston his chef and his breakfasts for three days, so is eager to get back to his devilled kidneys.

Lady Wittering relies on Porrett, the Earl’s secretary to have researched what the procedure is this first day. ‘But I want to go in the sea,’ complains Emily, making Porrett feel slightly faint – then seriously overheated – for a moment.

‘It would be advisable for the family to inscribe your names in the Master of Ceremonies’ book at the Assembly Rooms,’ Porrett explains when he has recovered from the mental image of Emily in the sea, breasting the waves… Oh goodness, now he needs a cold dip. ‘He will then call and inform the ladies of all the events planned for the next few weeks, ensure he knows your preferences, offer to perform any introductions you might wish and recommend suitable shops. I would suggest that after the Rooms that the ladies might like to inspect the libraries and see which they wish to subscribe to and call at the bath houses to decide which will have their patronage and view the various facilities available.’ Weymouth had gone through a number of Assembly Rooms and the new ones were at the Royal Hotel, only a few steps away from their lodgings. [The first Assembly Rooms were at the Ship Inn, below and the ones that the Gatwicks would patronise are below that to the right. ]

Pic165

Weymouth ass rooms

‘Facilities?’ Emily turns her large brown eyes on Porrett. ‘I thought it was just bathing machines for hire?’

‘Oh no, Miss Gatwick. Shower baths, hot and cold seawater baths, steam rooms…’ Porrett’s brain begins to steam up giving him a vivid picture of Emily in the Warm Bath. He can’t cope with the thought of the Hot Bath… [Image from Political Sketches of Scarborough]

 

hot baths

‘Will you be accompanying us, Wittering? Ditherstone?’ The Countess studies her husband and son, both of whom have the air of men who would much rather take themselves off into town to locate the best library for the sporting papers, make enquiries about the prospects for some shooting, billiards and cards and generally avoid having to be grovelled to by the Master of Ceremonies.

‘I think not, my dear. I must go to the bank for one thing,’ Witttering emerges from his newspaper, obviously delighted to have found such an unexceptional excuse.

‘So must I,’ his son adds hastily. ‘Why not take Porrett to squire you about?’

Pic172‘I would be honoured, my lady. And, as it is such a pleasant day, perhaps you would care for a stroll along the main shopping streets?’ asks Porrett, in a seventh heaven. ‘I believe that Master Arthur has forgotten his hammer for extracting rock samples, so that could be purchased.’

‘Very well. Almira, Emily, Arthur, we will meet in the drawing room in one hour.’

Porrett makes a mental note to bring a footman along as well. he can hardly offer his arm to the countess (or, blissful thought) Miss Emily, if he is encumbered with a pile of shopping.

[Porrett will doubtless be taking his party along one of Weymouth’s bustling shopping streets – still full of Georgian buildings today]

The Georgian Seaside Cover_MEDIUM WEB

The Georgian Seaside: the English resorts before the railways came.

 

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The Earl of Wittering Goes to the Seaside: Part 4 The Journey

London to Weymouth

The day has dawned for the Gatwick family to set forth from their Mayfair Town house to their lodgings in Weymouth. Porrett, the Earl of Wittering’s much-tried secretary has driven the route recently, inspecting the available accommodation, but he went by stagecoach. Now he is in charge of the cavalcade of private conveyances his lordship’s party requires.

Cary mapThe first footman, two more footmen, two maids (more of those can be hired locally along with assorted kitchen skivvies) and Gaston the chef, left three days before to set up the house on the Esplanade and hire extra staff and furnishings required. That involved two lumbering old coaches plus a baggage coach.

Now Porrett is mustering a coach for the Earl and Countess; a coach for the heir, Viscount Ditherstone, his wife and children and a coach for himself, the two ladies’ maids, two valets and the dressing and jewellery cases. That is a tight squash, but Porrett is too soft-hearted to make one of the valets travel on the box, even though he easily outranks them in the household hierarchy. Behind them comes another baggage coach, a lighter one this time, which should be able to keep up. That contains the overnight essentials for the family and their wardrobes.Cary front

Porrett has studied the map in Cary’s Map of England and Wales [detail of the route above & slip case of the map  with the frontispiece of the Itinerary] along with Cary’s New Itinerary or an Accurate Delineation of the Great Roads… and knows it is 127 miles and 6 furlongs to Weymouth. [Page one of the route is shown right at the bottom of this post.]

Porrett would like to think they could travel at 10 miles an hour, but experience of the family tells him this is most unlikely, so he is estimating seven mph and has reserved rooms at the Angel Inn in Andover [below], a mere 63 miles and 4 furlongs along the route to allow for an inevitably delayed start. Porrett is braced for the journey – and armed to the teeth, as are the coachmen and grooms – because 9 miles into the journey is Hounslow Heath and, although the heyday of the highwayman is past, it still has a fearsome reputation.

Angel inn

Porrett tightens his fingers around the pistol in his pocket, daydreaming about rescuing Miss Emily from the loathsome clutches of a masked swine on horseback. Oh, Mr Porrett, Frederick… you are so brave, she whispers as he sweeps her up into his arms…

This happy fantasy lasts as far as Staines where Mullett, the viscount’s valet, jabs him in the ribs and inquires acidly if he is in pain, pointing out that they are crossing the Thames. And so onwards, stopping only to change horses at Hook where they refresh themselves at the Raven before passing through Basingstoke to Andover. The next morning Porrett succeeds in getting his travelling circus on the road by ten, which he considers a triumph.

In Salisbury the countess wants to stop to sketch the cathedral, but her husband over-rules this fancy. He has been separated from Gaston the chef and his dinners far too long. From Salisbury to Blandford for refreshments and then on to Dorchester where the Land’s End road that they have been following continues westwards and they turn south to Weymouth.

Finally they draw up in front of their home for almost two months, with the bay and seascape laid out before them. Emily,  young Arthur and the senior Ditherstones are delighted with the scene. The Countess is obviously itching to find her sketch pad. The Earl stomps inside calling for brandy. Porrett braces himself – will his employer like the house?

The next episode of Porrett’s love affair (if only… he sighs) and the family’s activities in Weymouth  will follow here soon. Meanwhile read more about the world of the Georgian seaside in  The Georgian Seaside: the English resorts before the railways came.

And to follow one of the iconic coaching routes (by car, or on Google Streetview from the comfort of your armchair) try Following the Great North Road

route to Weymouth 1

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The Earl of Wittering Goes to the Seaside. Part 3 – Where to Stay?

‘Well?’ The Earl of Witting glares at his  unfortunate secretary making Porrett drop the pile of paperwork he is juggling. ‘Here we are in June already – where have you found us to stay in Weymouth?’

Weymouth estate agent

[Porrett would have used a local agent, like this modern Weymouth estate agent. Or consulted advertisements in a guidebook or the local newspapers]

‘As you know, my lord, I returned yesterday and I have fully reviewed the options. There are boarding houses, where meals and domestic services are included in the charge. Meals would be taken communally, however and I am not certain large private drawing rooms will be available…’

lodging house breakfast

‘Communally! Have you taken leave of your senses, Porrett? Gatwicks do not take meals communally. Heavens knows what type of people one might encounter – medical men, clergy – ‘ (A nasty dig that, Porrett’s father is a clergyman) ‘ – merchants, even!’

[Above: a communal breakfast at a boarding house by J Green, etched by Rowlandson, in Political Sketches of Scarborough]

‘Quite, my lord. I dismissed those. Then there are lodgings where one might take a floor or the entire house. The lodgers would have to provide their own servants and cook, however, or rely on paying extra for whatever the landlady has to offer.’ The earl is becoming puce in the face, so Porrett adds hastily, ‘I assume you would be taking Gaston with you?’ Always assuming the French chef would condescend to cooking in an unknown kitchen.

‘Of course we are taking Gaston, unless I can rely on decent food. What about these hotels one reads about? Jumped up inns, eh?’

‘So I understand, my lord, although apparently some are being created with er, new facilities.’

‘Facilities? I should damn well hope they have facilities!’

‘No, my lord, I mean sanitary facilities. Water closets.’

‘Outrageous! Probably most unhealthy. What’s wrong with a chamber pot? So, does Weymouth have hotels?’

‘Not that you would find acceptable, my lord. I feel that lodgings might be most suitable. My researches show that there are, at present, one hundred and eight lodging houses.’ [Standardized rows of houses were built for lodgings, as these, below, in Weymouth probably were – and they still are ‘lodgings’ today]

Weymouth houses

The colour of his lordship’s face, which had begun to subside, becomes more vivid as Porrett hastens to explain, ‘I have reduced the number to six, my lord.’ And now, the question he has been aching to ask, the question that will tell him whether his summer is to be spent labouring in London on the receiving end of his lordship’s demands by post or whether, oh bliss!, he is to accompany the family. The family and Miss Emily. Emily with her dark curls and blue eyes, Emily with her rosebud mouth and the freckle just on the –

He pulls himself together. ‘How many chambers will be required, my lord? I collect that Viscount Dithermore and his family are to accompany you and the Countess, but will you require me with you, my lord. Or do I remain here?’

‘Hah! Leave you to frivol your time away in Town? The mice at play while the cat’s away? No, you will come with us, Porrett.’

It is hard for Porrett to keep the blissful smile from his lips. ‘I have the perfect house, in that case, my lord. On the Esplanade, newly built with a fine balcony on the principal floor to give views of the sea.’ And a little balcony on the floor above. As soon as he saw that little wrought iron confection he could imagine Emily standing upon it, the breeze stirring her hair as she turned to him. ‘Oh Porrett, Frederick… I have long lov-‘

Weymouth balconies

[Above: could this be Porrett’s romantic little balcony (left?) I’m not certain it would take the weight of two lovers… Houses on Weymouth’s Esplanade]

‘Then reserve it! Don’t stand there with that look on your face like a distressed halibut! We leave within the week.’

‘At once, my lord.’ Ah, bliss….

What will the journey be like? Will Gaston condescend to accompany them? Will Emily even notice Porrett? Find out in the next installment and meanwhile read about the vibrant world of the early English seaside holiday  in  The Georgian Seaside: the English resorts before the railways came.The Georgian Seaside Cover_MEDIUM WEB

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The Earl of Wittering Goes to the Seaside Part 2 – Where to go?

A week after the first suggestion that they should spend the summer at a seaside resort the Witterings gather in the Egyptian (soon to be Chinese if the countess has her way) drawing room before dinner to decide where to go.

‘Brighton,’ says Viscount Ditherstone decisively. Wherever Prinny favours is bound to be lively and he might be able to get an invitation to the Pavilion. (Photo below) Besides, he has heard that all the Cyprians decamp to Brighton during the summer, so there is sure to be some high-class lightskirts to… er… admire.

Brighton pavilion

‘Certainly not,’ two firm female voices announce in concert. For once his wife and his mother are in accord. ‘One hears the most disgraceful things about the company there,’ his wife Almira adds with a significant look in the direction of her daughter.

‘Weymouth is highly respectable, as is Hastings,’ she suggests. ‘And dear Princess Charlotte visited Southend on several occasions (Print below). I have heard it is most select.’

Southend

‘The scenery is nothing out of the ordinary in any of those places.’ The countess is eager to draw scenes of wild seas and craggy cliffs. ‘The Isle of Wight or Scarborough, now, those are said to have fine Romantic views.’

‘Scarborough? Full of northern merchants, I’ll be bound,’ the Earl snorts. ‘You’ll be suggesting Blackpool next! And the Isle of Wight involves a sea crossing.’

‘Fossils and geology though,’ young Arthur pipes up. ‘The Isle of Wight, that is. And interesting sands and cliffs and the Needles for Grandmama.’

‘A good Assembly Room, a theatre and shops are essential.’ Miss Emily, seventeen, has heard about the troops stationed along the Channel coast. So many officers in scarlet coats. Why, it must be a patriotic duty to flirt with such heroes. But she knows better than to mention the fact.

‘Weymouth,’ the Earl decides with unusual firmness. Respectable, lively and good enough for the royal family. ‘You’ll have all the views a person could want, my dear and there are bound to be rocks for young Arthur. And it is as far as I’m prepared to drive, so let that be an end to it. Porrett!’

Weymouth bay from Weymouth and Melcombe Regis New Guide-cropped

His secretary, lurking discretely in a corner where he can sigh over Miss Emily’s perfect profile, jumps like a scalded cat. ‘My lord!’

‘Weymouth it is. Sort out accommodation. We will travel at the beginning of June and stay until the end of August.’

‘My lord, I will attend to it with all dispatch.’

Where will Porrett find them to stay? Will Porrett be allowed to come too? You can follow their summer adventures here over the next few months and read about the vibrant world of the early English seaside holiday  in  The Georgian Seaside: the English resorts before the railways came.The Georgian Seaside Cover_MEDIUM WEB

 

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The Earl of Wittering Plans His Summer

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

028

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cromer militia

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

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

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

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

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October In London

Return homeThe Cruickshank print for October shows the end of the summer for Londoners – the return home from their holidays, probably at the seaside. One party are disembarking from a mail coach on the left while on the other side a family are getting out of a hired post chaise. The new season is indicated by the man selling a pheasant in the centre and the poster for the start of the Theatre Royal’s winter programme.

These travellers are very much of the ‘middling sort’, respectable tradespeople or perhaps lawyers or merchants. A decade or so before and they would not have dreamed of taking a holiday – that was reserved for the upper classes and aristocracy, people with an income they did not have to work for, and ample time on their hands. But times were changing and improvements in transport, as well as changes in society, meant that the middle classes could manage to get away to perhaps Margate or Folkestone or one of the other growing resorts along the South and South East coasts.

The other print is from over twenty years earlier and shows the journey back to Town from the other end – The Departure is the final print in Political Sketches of Scarborough by J Green, illustrated by Thomas Rowlandson. The lady in her fashionable travelling outfit is sheltering from the rain while her luggage is loaded onto a hired chaise – Departureone of the “yellow bounders” famous for both colour and the wild swaying of their springs. She seems to be of a  higher rank than the unsophisticated travellers in the Crucikshank image and the verse indicated that she is following the lead of the most elevated visitor to Scarborough that season:

The chilling winds and rain combine,

That all should Scarbro’s sweets resign;

First one by one – then four by four,

And then they’re off by half a score;

Her GRACE is gone – with her a host

Of charms to captivate, are lost:

When she withdraws her genial ray,

The sun has set of Scarbro’s day.

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