Category Archives: Shopping

A Fishy Business – Billingsgate Market

The New Family Cookery or Town and Country Housekeepers’ Guide by Duncan MacDonald (1812) begins its General Directions for Marketing with fish and with Billingsgate Market:

The comment in the penultimate paragraph is ironic, considering Billingsgate’s colourful reputation! When I was researching for my book Regency Slang Revealed I discovered that to talk Billingsgate meant to use particularly coarse and foul language.

Billingsgate Market was sited at the foot of Lower Thames Street from at least the 10th century until it was moved to the new market site on the Isle of Dogs in 1982. The first set of toll regulations covering it dates from 1016 and by the time of Elizabeth I it was dealing in corn, malt, salt and vegetables, although fish was always the main reason for its existence at the highest point where fish could be unloaded straight from the boats before London Bridge. It can be seen in Horwood’s map of London (c1800) below with the deep indentation of the dock taking a bite out of the waterfront and London Bridge on the left. This dock vanished with the Victorian rebuilding of the market in 1850. That building proved inadequate and was replaced with the present handsome structure by Sir Horace Jones, opened in 1877. It was refurbished after the closure and is now used for various commercial purposes. During the 1988 work extensive remains of the late 12th century/early 13th century waterfront were revealed.

The engraving from a print of 1820 shows the view of the dock from the river. At this date there was no covered market building, simply stalls and tables set out around the dock. In the days before a ready supply of ice dealers would come into Billingsgate from places within about twenty five miles – an outer ring that included Windsor, St Albans and Romford – and fish was sold in lots by the Dutch auction method where the price falls until a buyer is found. Many of the fish were caught in the Thames and in 1828 a Parliamentary Committee took evidence that in 1798 there were 400 fishermen, each owning a boat and employing one boy, who made a good living between Deptford and London catching roach, plaice, smelts, flounders, shad, eels, dudgeon, dace and dabs. One witness stated that in 1810 3,000 Thames salmon were landed in the season. By the time of the Commission,eighteen years later, the fishery had been destroyed by the massive pollution of the river from water closets and  the waste from gas works and factories that went straight into the river.

It was the fishwives of Billingsgate who became its most notorious feature. They were tough women, as they needed to be to thrive in such a hard, competitive business, and they did not shrink from either physical violence or colourful language. In Bailey’s English Dictionary (1736) a “Billingsgate” is defined as “a scolding, impudent slut.” Addison referred to the “debate” that arose among “the ladies of the British fishery” and Ned Ward describes them scolding and chattering among their heaps of fish, “ready enough to knock down the auctioneer who did not knock down a lot to them.”

The women of Billingsgate were an inevitable attraction to young bucks and gentlemen slumming, as the two prints below show. The top one is a drawing by Henry Alken for the Tom and Jerry series – “Billingsgate: Tom and Bob taking a Survey after a Night’s Spree.”  Below that is “A Frolic: High Life or a Visit to Billingsgate” from The London Spy.

Here two sporting gentlemen stand out in the crowd of working people as they watch a fight that has broken out between two bare-breasted fishwives. Another has just been knocked to the ground. Amongst the details note the woman sitting on a basket smoking a clay pipe, another (far left) taking a swig from a bottle and the porter’s hat on the man in the centre foreground with its long ‘skirt’ to protect the neck.

This print below is not dated, but as there is the funnel of a steam boat in the background amongst the masts it is probably 1820s.

Here a determined-looking lady in a riding habit, her veil thrown back and her whip under her arm, is negotiating the sale of a large fish head. Behind her is a smartly-dressed woman, perhaps a merchant’s wife, and an elderly gentleman in spectacles is talking to another fish seller on the far right. There are two men in livery, perhaps accompanying the lady in the riding habit. The man standing behind the seated fishwife is a sailor, judging by his tarred pigtail, and the porter walking towards us is wearing one of the black hats whose ‘tail’ can just be glimpsed over his shoulders. It is all fairly orderly and respectable, despite the crowd (and the smell, no doubt) but a hint to the other activities in the area may be the couple in the window!

 

 

 

 

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The View Down Fish Street Hill – the way to London Bridge

I love this print of 1796, “View of the Monument” published by L. Stockdale of Piccadilly. I’ve cropped it to focus in on the street scene in more detail and it is fascinating to go to Google Streetview and look down Fish Street Hill today past the Monument to the distinctive tower of St Magnus the Martyr. You can just make out its clock which used to overhang the beginning of London Bridge before the old bridge was demolished and moved a short distance upstream.  The modern view includes a glimpse of the top of the Shard which would have amazed the Georgian Londoner!

fish-street-hill

This image is so full of wonderful details. London Bridge is still the medieval Old London Bridge, shorn of its shops and houses and with little alcoves all along it so that pedestrians could take refuge from heavy vehicles coming over. (Westminster Bridge had similar alcoves and James Boswell, ever on the look-out for somewhere novel for a bit of nooky, records having sex in one). It was so narrow that it had men controlling an alternating traffic flow system and most stage coaches stopped in Southwark on the other bank rather than fight their way over.

The way the pavements sit on little sloping ‘banks’ above the roadway was new to me and I like the bollards to keep wheeled traffic off them – there’s even a re-used cannon on the left. The road is lined with shops and the shoppers are probably respectable middle class – merchant and professional families rather than the high society of Mayfair and St James’s to the west. This is the City, after all. There are also porters with loads on their backs, one on each side of the street, and a woman with her basket of wares on her head.

In February last year I posted “Looking Down on London Bridge” with more about St Magnus the Martyr. Walk 8 in my Walking Jane Austen’s London will take you from Temple Bar, through the City, down Fish Street Hill and onto London Bridge. Alternatively Walk 10 in Walks Through Regency London will guide you down Fish Street Hill, over London Bridge and into Southwark.

 

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A Fleet Street Church

fleet-st-st-dunstans

The scene above (from Ackermann’s Repository ) 1812 shows the view west along Fleet Street towards Temple Bar, the point where the City of London becomes Westminster. The Regency Londoner  would have trouble recognizing it today – always assuming they could stand in the same spot without being mown down by the traffic. Temple Bar, after many adventures is now re-erected next to St Paul’s Cathedral and the church whose west end faces us – St Dunstan’s in the West – was demolished and rebuilt in 1830 when Fleet Street was widened by nine metres.

I found a mid-eighteenth century print of St Dunstan’s in a folder I bought at auction a few weeks ago and that image prompted me to look at the one above again. I have to confess an interest in St Dunstan’s – two of my ancestors were in London in 1643, died of the plague and were buried there.

st-dunstans

I love the street scenes these prints show, especially the shops. In the 18th century one you can clearly see the way shops have been built right around the walls of the church itself as was common at the time. Each has its hanging sign and the shop on the far left must be a clockmaker’s. By the time of the 1812 print the shops along the side have been swept away, but the ones of the east end remain.

St Dunstan’s was built in the 12th century, grew and was changed and even survived the Great Fire of 1666 which reached almost to its walls. Samuel Pepys, whose groping is one of his most unattractive features, tried it on with a servant girl while listening to a sermon in St Dunstan’s. She took out a packet of pins in a threatening manner and he took the hint!

Inside there are monuments rescued from the old church and the ring of bells is the original. The only survival of the old church on the outside is the clock projecting from a temple containing the figures of two men with clubs who used to hit a bell every fifteen minutes. It was erected in 1671 by the parishioners as a thank-offering for the escape from the Fire. The clock and the figures are set back a little now, so it is difficult to see them unless you are square in front of them, but they show up well on Streetview. The clock which according to the London Encyclopedia, was the first in London to have minutes marked and to be double sided, was a tourist attraction mentioned by Dickens in Barnaby Rudge and Sir Walter Scott in The Fortunes of Nigel.

When the church was demolished it was removed to the Marquess of Hertford’s Regent Park villa, but it was returned in 1935, thanks to Lord Rothermere the newspaper proprietor who brought it back to the heart of London’s newspaper world, Fleet Street.

 

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George Hoby, Boot and Shoe Maker

I have posted before about shoemakers, cobblers and cordwainers (November 2014), but after a recent Twitter exchange about a George Hoby invoice I thought I would talk about it here, rather than in 140-character snippets! [I tweet as @LouiseRegency].

George Hoby (1759-1832) is probably the best-known London bootmaker, if only because he was the man Wellington went to to get his iconic Wellington boots made up. There is plenty of information about Hoby on-line, so I won’t repeat it here – but it took me ages to work out which corner of St James’s Street and Piccadilly his shop was on. The answer is the western corner which now has a shop selling caviar. Hoby, who died leaving £120,000, would probably have approved!

I own two of Hoby’s original invoices, from 1809 and 1818. Below is the 1808 one, both sides. It would have been folded so that the address was on the outside and sealed with red wax which is still visible on the front.

hoby-wood-front

 

hoby-wood-back Mr George Wood lived in Blandford Court which was on the south side of Pall Mall behind Marlborough House which is within a five minute walk of Hoby’s shop which is probably why the invoice appears to have been hand-delivered. I suspect that Mr Wood was a relative of Lieutenant-General Sir George Wood, ” the Royal Bengal Tiger” and his brother Sir Mark Wood, bt. Sir Mark certainly lived in Pall Mall.

The invoice is on very thick paper and shows that Hoby was ‘By Appointment” to four Royal Dukes – Kent, Cumberland, Sussex and Cambridge. The fact that he did a great deal of mail-order work is indicated by the box of “Instructions” for measuring yourself for boots. There is the hand-written number 311 on the left and 221 at the top right. These might be customer numbers, invoice numbers, ledger references – frankly, I have no idea, but the invoice for 1818 has 644 and 291.

Mr Wood’s bill was for:

Bill delivered £6 7s (ie he appears to be behind with his bills!)

Aug 9 1Pr (pair) Boots Soled & heeled 13s

1 Pr of [?] Bound 2s 6d

Sept 15 1 Pr Shoes 15s

1 Pr Boots soled & heeled 13s

The invoice is smaller than the later one and seems to have been cut off at the bottom because “Sir” can still be seen. It appears to have been sent like this because of the folds in the paper, so possibly the obliging note, shown below, did not apply to gentlemen owing £6 7s!

The 1818 invoice is on good paper, but nowhere near as thick. Hoby has retained the patronage of the four Royal Dukes and added their niece, the heir to the throne, Princess Charlotte and her husband, Leopold of Saxe-Cobourg.

hoby-crowder-front

hoby-crowder-back

This bill is to Major Crowder at the Plough Inn, Cheltenham. Major John Crowder was late of the 7th Regiment of Foot and had served with gallantry (according to his obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine) at Copenhagen and in the Peninsula being wounded twice, once severely. He retired on half pay in 1815 and was promoted Colonel and knighted in 1838, a few months before his death.

The Major’s bill is for:

May 29 1 Pair Boots £2 18s

1 Do (ditto) Dress (presumably dress or evening shoes) 17s 6d

June 2 1 Do Boots £2.18

1 Do Dress 17s 6d

Box (presumably for packing) 2s

On June 2nd a pair of shoes and a pair of boots were returned. These must be the shoes sent out on May 29th, which says something for the postal service!

The message on the bottom of the page has been cut off on Mr Wood’s bill.

Unfortunately we cannot compare the price of boots over the nine years, but shoes seem to have increased by 2s 6d – although, of course, the Major’s may have been of a more expensive type.

 

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

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

seaside shop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Georgian Seaside Cover_MEDIUM WEB

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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 Regency Print Room – DIY Decoration and Early Scrapbooking

On a recent visit to Blickling Hall in North Norfolk I was delighted to see an example of one of my favourite kinds of Regency interior – the Print Room.

Blickling 1

These were usually small rooms with painted walls on which the homeowner would paste prints, surrounding them with fancy borders made to resemble picture frames and perhaps with tromp l’oeil ribbons and cords to ‘hang’ them from.

Print rooms were attractive projects to undertake for a number of reasons, especially since the selection and arrangement of the prints themselves served to demonstrate your personal taste and discrimination, to be admired by friends and visitors. It was a form of satisfying collecting to track down and assemble the prints and, very importantly, it was a craft skill that was perfectly acceptable for ladies to carry out, involving nothing more than a pair of sharp scissors, a ruler, a pot of flour paste and a footman with a step ladder.

Illustrated books were popular conversation pieces, to be handed round and discussed in the evening and many would have been sacrificed for their prints of classical antiquity, foreign lands or plant and animal life. Gentlemen on the Grand Tour might buy prints on their travels and come home with them for their mothers or sisters to use to create a large-scale souvenir of the journey.

Contemporary journals, such as Ackerman’s Repository always contained prints of fashionable ladies of the day or of interesting scenes, and print shops abounded in London and the larger towns.

The prints used in the more formal print rooms seen by visitors were usually black and white or sepia and not the hand-painted coloured types.

Rudolph Ackermann was the foremost artistic supplier to the well-off amateur as well as to professional artists. He was born in Saxony in 1764 and opened his shop at 101, Strand in 1797. His portrait hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, a mark of how successful and influential he became. He sold paints and colours, other supplies for artists, illustrated books, journals and prints.

He even sold prints of his own shop – excellent publicity, of course. This one shows customers browsing through the prints and hints at the size of his stock. As well as buying the actual prints, anyone creating a print room could also buy borders in lengths to cut to fit, and the other decorative details to create the impression of a collection of hanging pictures.

ackermanns 2

The two photos from Blickling show how the entire room was designed as whole, with a border around the doors and windows to match the ‘frames’ on the pictures. The detail shows one wall with prints mainly from the Grand Tour – the large one in the centre at the top is the Pantheon in Rome – and also shows the variety of ribbon bows available.Blickling 2

Ladies might also decorate the inside of closets or their dressing rooms – places that were private and not on display to visitors – in more of a ‘scrapbook’ style, building up the decoration as they found something that appealed. An extreme example of the desire to cover any available surface is the interior of the lid of this 18th century chest that I own – it has amateur drawings and watercolours, a print of the Battle of Vittoria, newspaper cuttings and even Moses with the Ten Commandments.

chest

I’m sure Regency ladies would have loved the modern craze for scrapbooking!

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