Tag Archives: Ackermann’s Emporium

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.


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


Filed under Architecture, Art, Shopping, Women

Lighting With A Bang

Dighton 2

Richard Dighton’s print of 1821 is sarcastically entitled “One of the Advantages of GAS over OIL” and, as it is from his “London Nuisances” series, demonstates that even thirteen years after the first demonstration of street lighting by gas, the new technology was treated with considerable wariness.

Throughout the eighteenth century scientists were aware of the light produced by both coal, wood and natural gases, but could see little practical use for it. Meanwhile streets contined to be dark, dangerous and crime-ridden, the only pools of light the lanterns put out by householders and the precarious illumination of the link-boys’ torches. SONY DSCOften the link-boys could not be trusted to guide the walker safely home and not into the hands of muggers and pickpockets and the air of danger was intensified by the identification of the boys, plunging their flaming torches into the dark snuffers, with illicit  acts. The presence of a link boy in a painting was enough to alert the viewer to a sexual sub-text. This snuffer is outside Chatham House in St James’s Square.

William Murdoch, an engineer working for Matthew Boulton and James Watt at their Soho Foundry steam engine works in Birmingham is the first person known to have lit a house by gas, although, having tried it at home in Redruth, Cornwell in 1792, he did not seem interested in trying to expand on that use. Instead he used gas to light the interior of the Soho Foundry in 1798 and four years later he illuminated the outside in a spectacular public display.

Meanwhile a German inventor, Fridrich Winzer, known in Britian as Frederick Albert Winsor, took out the first patent for a gas light in 1802. In 1807 he set up a retort in Pall Mall and produced a temporary display of street lighting on January 28th 1807 for the Prince Regent’s birthday. Prinny became a fan of the new technology and gave it his support.


Coal gas contains hydrogen, methane, carbon monoxide and sulphur – smelly, explosive, a fire risk and a definite health hazard and the technology to make it safer lagged beghind the ability to produce it. Gas in homes was very rare until the 1840s and did not really catch on until the 1860s when the gas lighting installed in the new Houses of Parliament allayed public fears. Even then the light was from a flame, in effect a powerful candle – the first gas mantle was not invented until 1885.

Meanwhile some shops risked introducing it. Entrepreneur publisher Rudolph Ackermann rebuilt his  luxurious Emporium in the Strand in 1810 and it was the first shop in London ‘to be lit solely by Gas, which burns with a purity and brilliance unobtainable by any other mode of illumination hitherto attempted.’ But it was slow to catch on , although its benefits for street lighting – and the reduction of crime –  were easily appreciated. In 1812 Parliament granted a charter to the London and Westminster Gas Light and Coal Company and on December 31st 1813 Westminster Bridge was illuminated permanently.

In 1804 Winsor had tried lighting the Lyceum theatre by gas, but it was not until 1817 that it was installed there and at the Covent Garden and Drury Lane theatres. In that year the Chartered Gas Company’s three stations produced 8,500 cubic metres of gas, capable of lighting gas lamps giving the equivalent light of 450,00 candles. Despite the dangers, gas light was here to stay and by 1826 virtually every city and large town in Britain had gas street lighting.

There are still gas lights on the streets of London today. Crown Passage, which runs between King Street and Pall Mall, is still very reminiscent of the network of alleys and courts that crisscrossed the fashionable St James’s area – home to gaming hells, brothels and lodging houses on the doorstep of St James’s Palace and Almack’s Assembly Rooms – and it still has gas light and a gas lighter, although when I met him he was simply setting the timing mechanism that turns the gas on and off these days. The other gas light shown is on the front of a house in St James’s Place, almost opposite Cleveland Court where Henry Austen, Jane’s brother, had his banking premises for a time.

SONY DSC                SONY DSC



Filed under Accidents & emergencies, Architecture, Street life