Tag Archives: elopement

How Romantic Was An Elopement?

The romance and drama of an elopement is a popular theme in the historical love story, but it must have been an uncomfortable and expensive procedure, even without the risk of the rope ladder giving way and tumbling the young lady to the ground, or the furious father giving chase with his shotgun or horsewhip to chastise the bridegroom to within an inch of his life.

The post chaise was the fastest and safest way of evading Papa, although the popular name for these vehicles – yellow bounders – hints that expressions of passion must have been difficult as it swayed and lurched along the ill-made roads. How many nervous brides succumbed to travel sickness and second thoughts by the time the first inn was reached?

They also had a reputation for causing accidents because of the furious pace of escape, as a delightful print I picked up in Paris shows. A chaise and four, with the two postilions urging on the horses, leaves mayhem in its wake. A horse falls, its rider spills into the road and a pig bolts in terror while the lovers are lost to everything in their own private world inside the carriage.

The Great North Road by Charles G Harper (1901) casts a cynical eyes at the post chaise and its passengers –

“Everyone is familiar with the appearance of the old post-chaise, which according to the painters and the print-sellers, appears to have been principally used for the purpose of spiriting lovelorn couples with the-speed of the wind away from all restrictions of home and the Court of Chancery. A post-chaise was (so it seems nowadays) a rather cumbrous affair, four-wheeled, high, and insecurely hung, with a glass front and a seat to hold three, facing the horses. The original designers evidently had no prophetic visions as to this especial popularity of post-chaises with errant lovers, nor did they ponder the proverb, ‘Two’s company, three’s none’, else they would have restricted their accommodation to two, or have enlarged it to four.”

The gentleman planning an elopement would do well to visit his banker first – eloping in any style was an expensive business. There were the bribes of course – the lady’s maid, footmen who must turn a blind eye, the gardener whose ladder might be borrowed. The postilions, who would know at once that something illicit was afoot, would need their palms greasing liberally as would the landladies of the inns along the way if the happy, if queasy, couple wanted a good room for their first night of bliss.

The image above is from a book called Takings: or the Life of a Collegian. It is a satirical romp through the life of a young man by R.Dagley (1821). The picture is captioned ‘Taking Amiss’. Here the ‘hero’ Tom is eloping with his love – note the sign on the wall ‘To the Boarding School’ – the young lady is clearly below age.

At length the wished-for moment was at hand.

(Why should Time creep so slowly when we call?)

The cautious signal by the lovers plann’d,

Was heard and answere’d by the garden-wall

And now her drapery the nymph displays,

Now they [Tom has a friend along to support him] assist, and seat her in the chaise.

 

Not everything goes according to Tom’s plans, however: “One lodging, he conceived, for both would do, But Charlotte resolutely called for two”. Frustrated, Tom settles down to woo her, but has not succeeded by the time her furious relatives locate them and he finds himself facing a duel.

Another significant cost was the hire of the post chaise itself. A prudent lover would hire four horses, to achieve twelve miles an hour, and the chaise cost one-and-threepence a mile. On top of that there were toll gates to pay every few miles and food and accommodation. The canny eloper armed himself with Cary’s New Itinerary or an Accurate Delineation of the Great Roads (as does the writer trying to work out her hero and heroine’s route today!) This at least ensured that the post boys were not adding on a profitable mile here and there.

London to Gretna via Manchester, according to Cary, is 320 miles. That is £20 for the chaise and horses alone, at a time when a housemaid would be glad to earn £16 a year, all found.

Does an elopement still strike you as romantic? Would the thrill of the escape and the delight of being alone with the loved one at last outweigh the discomfort and expense? It is a while since I wrote an elopement into a book – I wonder, should I be thinking of another one?

If you are intrigued by the experience of travelling in Georgian Britain you can retrace some of the iconic routes in Driving Through Georgian Britain: the great coaching routes for the modern travellerAvailable in paperback and ebook it allows the modern traveller to drive the Great North Road, the Bath Road, the Brighton Road and the Dover Road finding what remains and discovering stories of elopement, murder, good meals and bare knuckle fights along the way.

 

 

 

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Filed under courtship & marriage, Love and Marriage, Sex & scandal, Transport and travel

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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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.

Doncaster_0001
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.

boxing

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The Eloping Lord Chancellor

On the 18th November, 1772, a twenty year old university student called John Scott crept along Sandhill on the bank of the Tyne in Newcastle under the shadow of the castle. He was equipped with a ladder and, when he reached the very handsome half-timbered house that stands on the corner of Sandhill and Side, the steep street up to the cathedral, he propped the ladder against the wall and helped Miss Elizabeth “Bessie” Surtees to climb down from a first floor window.SONY DSC
Conveniently, the Great North Road runs along Sandhill and up Side so it was easy enough to hand the daughter of wealthy banker Mr Aubone Surtees into a post chaise and head for the Scottish border. They were married at Blackshiels on the next day, eighty eight miles from Newcastle, so John must have left the major road and taken the most direct route towards Edinburgh, via Jedburgh on what is now the A68.

So far, so romantic, although you are probably wondering by now what this has to do with Jane Austen’s London. Young John Scott was the third son of a respectable coal-fitter (a sort of broker) of Newcastle and was studying at University College Oxford with the intention of entering holy orders. His school career appears to have been marked by truancy and regular whippings for misdemeanors so his father was probably hoping he would settle down, study hard and become a respectable clergyman. All looked set when he graduated in 1770 and was awarded a fellowship.
The elopement ruined all chance of a career in the church and he lost his fellowship as a result. However his father stood by the pair and John entered the Middle Temple in 1773 to study for the bar. Despite his father’s support the young couple seem to have been hard up. “Many a time have I run down from Cursitor Street to Fleet Market to buy sixpenny-worth of sprats for our supper,” he recalled later.
However he did well eventually, argued several difficult and interesting cases and began to rise in his profession. He became a Member of Parliament, then entered the Lords as Baron Eldon in 1801 to become Lord Chancellor. He held that position for over twenty years and was known for his opposition to Catholic emancipation and his support for the Prince Regent against his wife, Princess Caroline. He was created Earl of Eldon by George IV in 1821, probably in recognition for that support.SONY DSC
William Hazlitt wrote of him, “Lord Eldon has one of the best-natured faces in the world; it is pleasant to meet him in the street, plodding along with an umbrella under his arm, without one trace of pride, of spleen, or discontent in his whole demeanour, void of offence, with almost rustic simplicity and honesty of appearance – a man that makes friends at first sight, and could hardly make enemies, if he would; and whose only fault is that he cannot say Nay to power, or subject himself to an unkind word or look from a King or a Minister. …There has been no stretch of power attempted in his time that he has not seconded: no existing abuse so odious or so absurd, that he has not sanctioned it. He has gone the whole length of the most unpopular designs of Ministers … On all the great questions that have divided party opinion or agitated the public mind, the Chancellor has been found uniformly and without a single exception on the side of prerogative and power, and against every proposal for the advancement of freedom.”
I first came across Eldon when I was researching Walks Through Regency London and explored Bedford Square where he had a very fine town house at number 6. He also had a pretty uncomfortable time there! In 1815 he was besieged by Corn Law rioters who fixed a noose to the lamp post outside. The only way he could get out to attend Parliament or the King was to creep through his back garden into the grounds of the British Museum escorted by Townsend the Bow Street Runner.
Probably just as uncomfortable was to be laid up with gout and have the Prince Regent barge into the house and refuse to leave until Eldon appointed one of the Prince’s cronies to the office of Master of Chancery. Eldon yielded.
And then to cap it all his daughter Lady Elizabeth eloped in 1817 with George S Repton (son of Humphry Repton) after Eldon had refused to allow them to marry. Given that the circumstances of Elizabeth’s parents’ marriage were well known there was considerable satirical humour at Eldon’s expense.Elopement
Even more ironic was that when George III was asked to give his consent for a reform of the marriage laws he found that both his Lord Chancellor and his Archbishop of Canterbury had made run-away marriages!

I was reminded of Lord Eldon during my current research for a book on the Great North Road. It seems that Eldon liked to take a holiday from the pressures of London and used to stay at the Wheatsheaf, a posting inn at Rushyford Brook, a charming hamlet on the Great North Road just south of Ferryhill and the River Wear. At least it used to be charming. Now a large roundabout sits right on top of “…a pretty scene, where a little tributary of the Skerne prattles over its stony bed and disappears under the road…” Eldon established a cellar at the inn and he and Holt the landlord used to dispose of seven bottles a day of ‘Carbonell’s Fine Old Military Port.’ According to Sidney Smith they would drink eight bottles on Sunday to fortify themselves before church service. Apparently Eldon always went to church at Rushyford, but rarely in London. When reproached because, in his position he should be “a buttress of the church” he retorted that he was merely “an outside buttress.”

Modern newspapers would have a field day with Lord Eldon!

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