Tag Archives: Georgian shops

Story of a Square 4: Leicester Square – From Common Land to Fashionable Residence to Popular Entertainment Centre

For Jane Austen the Leicester Square area was the location of some of her favourite shops. Until 1630 it was Leicester Fields, common land available for parishioners of any class to dry clothes and to pasture their livestock after Lammas Day (12th August). But London was moving out from its old centres and the Earl of Leicester acquired the area in 1630 in order to build Leicester House. That occupied, more or less, the area between today’s Lisle Street and the Northern edge of the Square. To the East it finished more or less where Leicester Place is and to the West on a line where the edge of the Empire cinema stands. Lisle Street ended at the Western edge of its gardens.

The parishioners were, naturally, unhappy about this incursion on their land and rights and Charles I had to appoint a Privy Council committee to arbitrate. His lordship was ordered to make compensation and he had a high brick wall built along the Southern boundary (the current pavement line, more or less) and, in accordance with the committee’s instructions, had the rest of the land – the present Square – turned ‘into Walkes and planted with trees along the walkes and fitt spaces left for the Inhabitantes to drye their clothes there as they were wont, and to have free use of this place.’ As the other sides of the open area were built on the contractors railed off the centre and planted elms. The map at the top is a detail from Roque’s map of 1740.

In 1670 Leicester Square was laid out for ‘the benefit of the family, the advancement of their revenue, and the decency of the place before Leicester House.’ This was an indication that fine houses were being built around the Square. By the early 18th century there was a brick wall with iron railing and in 1784 a statue of George I in armour and on horseback was moved from the garden of the Duke of Chandos’s house to the centre. The gardens gradually deteriorated and so did the statue which lost a leg. It was finally sold for scrap for £16 in 1872.

Part of the Leicester estate, including the Fields and surroundings was acquired by the Tulk family in 1808. By this time all four sides of the Square were built up with fine houses and no commercial development had been permitted although by 1782 there was a linen draper by the name of Gedge operating at the corner with Cranbourn Street (running from the top Eastern corner of the Square). Six earls had residences in the Square and several artists, writers and men of business lived there. Hogarth created Marriage à la Mode, Rake’s Progress, Industry and Idleness and Gin Lane at no.30 and Joshua Reynolds lived at no.47 from 1760 to 1792. All the fine 17th and 18th century houses have gone now, replaced by buildings of the late 19th century onwards.

By the end of the 18th century the area had become rather less select and had taken on the form shown in the second map above. The Earl of Rockingham had lived at no.27 until his death. It became a bagnio – technically these were bathhouses, but more usually were brothels. This was the location for the great hoax of 1726, the place where anatomist Nathaniel St Andre brought Mary Tofts, a poor women from Surrey whom, he claimed, had given birth to a litter of 15 rabbits after being frightened by one when walking through a field. The story attracted George I’s surgeon who was taken in and claimed to have delivered her of part of another rabbit. Sir Hans Sloane, President of the Royal Society arrived to view the birth of yet more rabbits. Eventually she was caught buying rabbits and the scam was exposed.  The bagnio and the sensational hoax perhaps mark the beginning of Leicester Square as a centre for popular entertainment, although as this print of 1812 (from Ackermann’s Repository) shows, it was still a very smart area.

The view is from Leicester Place down to the North-East corner of the Square. If you stand there today you can still see the indentation in the street on the right hand side – I love how landholdings like this are reflected years later in the modern building line.

Jane Austen came to the area to shop, especially when she was staying with her brother Henry in Covent Garden. Prices were slightly lower than those in the Mayfair area and she patronised Isaac Newton the linen draper in Leicester Place whose unimaginative approach to window dressing can be seen in this print. Next door is a doorway with a sign over it “Rome Malta” which was the entrance into Barker’s Panorama, opened in 1793. It was a rotunda of 27 metres in diameter. It’s two rooms, one above the other, displayed perspective views of famous scenes and locations which could be viewed ‘in the round’ from the centre

of each room. Jane Austen also shopped for bonnets and caps in Cranbourn Alley.  On a snowy day in March 1814 she wrote to her sister Cassandra,

‘Here’s a day! The Ground covered with snow! What is to become of us? We were to have walked out early to near Shops, & had the Carriage for the more distant… Well, we have been out, as far as Coventry St; Edwd escorted us there & back to Newtons, where he left us, & I brought Fanny safely home.’ On that snowy shopping trip she saw, ‘A great many pretty Caps in the Windows of Cranbourn Alley! I hope when you come, we shall both be tempted.’ Intrigued, I set out to find Cranbourn Alley which runs between Cranbourn Street and Bear Street. It is still there – and a horrible little passageway it is now. I wouldn’t want to walk down it in daylight, let alone at night!

By the mid 19th century the ‘garden’ in the centre of the Square was so derelict that it had the Great Globe, a vast ball-shaped panorama built on it in 1851. Later it became a wasteland with occasional circuses, poor quality stalls and was used as a waste tip. It was surrounded by high wooden hoardings covered in advertisements  until in 1873 the Master of the Rolls had them removed and ordered that the area be returned to use as a garden. It was rescued in 1874 when it was bought by the flamboyant, and very rich, MP for Kidderminster, Albert Grant, who was created a baron by the King of Italy. He had the garden laid out much as it is today with a fountain and bust of Shakespeare in the centre. It was refurbished in 1992.

It seems difficult to see anything of the Georgian and Regency periods in Leicester Square today with its vast crowds of tourists queuing for theatre and cinema tickets, its souvenir shops and its endless food outlets. However, when I researched the area for Walking Jane Austen’s London and Walks Through Regency London I found plenty of fascinating reminders within a short distance. There’s Freibourg & Treyer’s shop, the oldest surviving in London,  in Haymarket. In Gerrard Street you can climb the stairs that Doctor Johnson and Joshua Reynolds would have used in the days when no.9, now a Chinese supermarket, was the famous Turk’s Head coffee house. The area has numerous Regency-era shopfronts too, especially in Lisle Street. Then you can have a drink and sandwich in Tom Cribb’s pub on Panton Street and escape the crush around the Square!

 

 

 

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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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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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Cordwainer, Shoemaker, Cobbler? Where would Georgian Londoners Buy Their Shoes?

I have shoemakers in my ancestry through the 15th to 19th century. Sometimes they are described as cordwainers, sometimes shoemakers. So what is the difference, and where would you have gone to buy your shoes if you were a Georgian Londoner – from a cordwainer, a shoemaker or a cobbler?
(Greetings, by the way, if you have Hurst ancestors in Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire or Oxfordshire we are probably cousins!)
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The term cordwainer, according to the Honourable Cordwainer’s Company’s website, “is an Anglicization of the French word cordonnier, which means shoemaker, introduced into the English language after the Norman invasion in 1066. The word was derived from the city of Cordoba in the south of Spain… Moorish Cordoba was celebrated in the early Middle Ages for silversmithing and the production of cordouan leather, called “cordwain” in England… Crusaders brought home much plunder and loot, including the finest leather the English shoemakers had seen. Gradually cordouan, or cordovan leather became the material most in demand for the finest footwear in all of Europe.”
Shoemakers who chose to call themselves cordwainers were implying that they used only the finest materials, and therefore produced only the finest footwear. Cobblers, on the other hand, were not working with new leather. They were repairing shoes, or “cobbling together” new shoes from old.

tradecard 1802This trade card was produced by “The Friendly Institution of Cordwainers of Leeds” in 1802. The reference to “the Sons of Crispin” is to St Crispin, the patron saint of shoemakers.
If you were a Georgian in London looking for footwear you had a choice ranging from the finest made-to measure products of a high-end cordwainer to the reworked product of the cobbler on the corner – or even simply second-hand from a market stall.

blue shoesThese exquisite blue satin shoes are in the Museum of London and date from the 1760s. The label inside reads ‘Fras Poole, Woman’s Shoemaker in the Old Change, near Cheapside London’. They show the high level of craftsmanship required for top-end footwear – and the range of craftspeople who would have been employed. Much simpler, and closer to Jane Austen’s day, are these delicate pink silk-satin ankle boots with their thin soles and fragile silk laces in my collection (below). They had absolutely no internal support for the sole of the foot.

SONY DSCFor the well-to-do, shoes were purchased from a shop which might display the products of one maker, or several. The trade card at the top of this post shows a fashionable lady being served. In the background are display cabinets containing a range of styles. As the card says, “Large Assortment of Ladies fashionable Shoes always on Sale.” For such a tiny scrap of cardboard the detail is considerable. The lady is seated with a mat in front of her to protect her unshod feet (or the new shoes?). She is being served by a man – the norm in high-class retail establishments – and he is carrying shoes over his arm in a way that shows that pairs were tied together. The assistant is smartly dressed, but wearing a long apron, which makes me wonder whether he would kneel down for the lady to place her foot on his knee.
This is certainly the case lower down the social scale. The print below shows a shoe shop which appears to be selling only products made on the premises – both men’s and women’s boots and shoes. One lady has her foot on the knee of the salesman while her friend, wearing a riding habit, tries on a boot. In this much less refined setting a passerby ogles the ladies.

shoe makers

At the end of the 18th century small change was scarce and many businesses produced copper tokens which took the place of low denomination coins. I have two from shoemakers. One is for Carter of Jermyn Street. Dated 1792 it shows an elegant lady’s shoe with heel. The other is for Guests Patent Boots & Shoes of No.9, Surry Street, Blackfriars Road (1795) and shows a lady’s slipper, a man’s shoe and a boot.

Boots 2 copyboots token obv09

 

 

Fashionable gentlemen took great pride in their boots and perhaps the most famous of all the London bootmakers was George Hoby whose shop was at the top of St James’s Street. Hoby was arrogant, and far from subservient to his aristocratic patrons, but he died a very rich man, famous for producing the iconic Wellington Boot to the duke’s special requirements.
This billhead is from an account sent by Hoby to Major Crowder (who, incidentally, was the officer who intercepted the coach carrying Napoleon’s secret codes in the Peninsula). The billhead shows the royal coat of arms and names Hoby’s royal patrons. It also includes a do it yourself guide for measuring for boots –  presumably this was for the convenience of officers serving abroad, or country gentlemen.

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To see a range of men’s footwear across the classes, this print by Thomas Edgerton from the ‘Bores’ series of 1828 is ideal. The gentleman has been interrupted as he pulls on his boots after breakfast. A beadle accompanies an aggrieved father who is complaining about the seduction of his daughter by the valet. These boots are elegant items in very soft leather with the spurs already attached, and they are pulled on using special boot-pullers and loops in the top of the boot. The gentleman’s backless bedroom slippers are by his chair. His valet wears black pumps with natty striped stockings, contrasting to the solid and old-fashioned respectability of the beadle’s buckled shoes. Finally the father wears practical riding boots with tan tops.

valet no text
At the lower end of the market, shoemakers would produce a range of sizes and the customer would come in and buy ‘off the peg.’ For made to measure shoes a wooden last would be made to the customer’s exact measurements, kept in store and modified by cutting away wood, or adding leather patches, as the foot shape changed over time. To see a last-maker in action you can go into Lobb’s in St James’s Street. Although established a little later than the Regency they still produce hand-made shoes in the traditional manner and their display cases have some fascinating old examples.

1-DSCN53041-DSCN5305 I was in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, recently  and visited the shoemaker’s shop there. The photo is of him working to produce the everyday leather shoes that the re-enactors use on the site. These are sturdy, off the peg styles, and are very similar to the shoes and boots illustrated by W H Pyne in his “Rustic Figures”, a series of sketches to guide amateur artists.

shoes

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