Tag Archives: Georgian theatre

Perambulations Through Late Georgian London or, All the Best Sights in One Week. Day Six

It is Saturday and we have reached day six in the action-packed itinerary recommended by Mr Herriott in his 1836 Modern Picture of London. Today’s expedition involves a river trip and seems slightly less exhausting, despite an early start.

Visit Covent Garden Market, before breakfast;

Covent Garden market has been in operation since 1656 and has always attracted visitors  – not always in search of fresh fruit and veg or hedgehogs to keep the slugs off their own gardens. In the heart of theatre-land it had a reputation for prostitution and wild nightlife but Mr Herriot was probably safe in sending his tourists there first thing in the morning to view the bustle of porters and shoppers.

The market today is the result of several campaigns of building work and the 1836 visitors would have seen the new market halls shown in this print from Thomas H Shepherd’s Metropolitan Improvements. In this view the east façade of St Paul’s church is to the left of us. The new building cost £70,000 and, according to The Gardener’s Magazine, was “a structure at once perfectly fitted for its various uses; of great architectural beauty and elegance; and so expressive of the purposes for which it is erected, that it cannot by any possibility be mistaken for anything but what it is.” Unfortunately only twenty five years later it was already inadequate and many more alterations have been made.

Return,

Presumably breakfast will be taken before the visitors

go over Hungerford Market,

This was on the site of what is now Charing Cross station. It was built in 1682 as a rival to Covent Garden and was rebuilt as a two-storey market for meat, fish, fruit and vegetables in 1833. The image is from 1850 and shows the view of the market from Hungerford Bridge, built 1841 by Brunel (and replaced by the present eyesore of a structure in 1864).

take a boat at the stairs, to Chelsea.

Before the bridge was built there was a landing stage for passenger boats in front of the market.

See Westminster Bridge, the Speaker’s House,

It must have been very restful, after all the walking over the previous days, to float upriver. The print shows St Stephen’s Chapel and the Speaker’s House from Westminster Bridge. (Ackermann’s Repository, 1815)

the Penitentiary,

Millbank Penitentiary was built on the site of what is now the Tate Gallery and was completed in 1821. It took male and female prisoners who previously would have been transported to New South Wales, but that was becoming overcrowded and the cost was high. It was originally intended to be a humane institution, according to the principles of Jeremy Bentham. Prisoners were to be constantly under the view of guards from a central ‘Panopticon’ and were expected to work in silence and isolation so they could reflect on their sins and on the virtues of honest toil. The reality was an inhumane nightmare. Prisoners were driven insane by the isolation and the site was so marshy and unhealthy that scurvy and cholera swept through the building. By the 1830s conditions had improved somewhat – candles were put in the cells and some education and recreation was provided while sanitary conditions were upgraded. It was finally closed in 1890.

 Vauxhall Bridge

The view is from the bank just upstream of the Penitentiary. This bridge was the first iron bridge over the Thames and was opened in 1816. It was replaced with the current bridge in 1906.

the Royal Hospital, at Chelsea.

The Royal Hospital is better known as Chelsea Hospital, home of the Chelsea Pensioners. It was founded in 1692 by Charles II to provide a home for veteran soldiers and has been fulfilling that function ever since.

David Wilkie’s 1822 picture of Chelsea Pensioners reading the news of Waterloo shows the Royal Hospital in the background

Walk to the Duke of York’s School

The Duke of York’s Royal Military School was founded by ‘the Grand Old Duke’ whose house the visitors passed on Friday’s expedition. It was a pioneering effort to help the previously neglected families of the common soldiers by providing education for fatherless children. A history of the school states that, “From its inception, the Asylum provided the country with the first large scale system of education of working class children.”

The building is now occupied by the Saatchi Gallery.

thence to the Pantechnicon, through Belgrave Square.

I imagine the visitors would take a cab to this large emporium, covering two acres, in Motcomb Street. It was opened in 1834 and sold carriages and household furniture. It was destroyed by fire in 1874 but the façade remains.

 

Ride home, and in the evening go to the Opera House.

This is presumably the Italian Opera House at the junction of Pall Mall and Haymarket. It has been variously known as the Queen’s, the King’s, Her Majesty’s, His Majesty’s, or the Opera House. Her Majesty’s Theatre currently occupies about half the area of the Italian Opera House shown in this print. The building shown was built in 1790/1 on the site of Sir John Vanburgh’s theatre of 1704. The facades on three sides were added by Nash and Repton in 1816-18. The present theatre dates to  1897.

The interior was redecorated in 1814, not very well, as this extract The Times of 16 January 1815 describes. “Last night this Theatre opened for the season. From the squalid and disarranged state in which it closed, great room as well as great necessity for improvement and cleaning were left to the new Manager [Waters], and certainly much less has been done to restore it to its rank among decent places of public resort. The fronts of the boxes have all been newly coloured. . . . The cieling [sic] represents the Genius of Music, with Iris, and some nondescript figures encircling him. . . . The former cieling [sic] was a striking and vigorous representation. The present must convey to a stranger the impression, either that the arts in England were at the lowest imaginable ebb, or that the arts had nothing to do with this Theatre. . . . The chandeliers are numerous and rich, and the effect as dazzling as anything to be found within the magic of chandeliers. . . . The adoption of glass bells or shades would be devoutly wished for. . . . Last night they poured down their wax on the beaux in the most unsparing profusion; and from their situation over the principal avenues of the Pit, have means of annoyance clearly unrivalled by the noxie [sic] of any of the metropolitan theatres.”

To quote The Survey of London (1960), things improved. “The interior was redecorated under Nash and Repton’s direction, and new lighting was installed, a splendid gas-lit lustre suspended from the domed ceiling replacing the many chandeliers that hung from the tier fronts. An early-Victorian booking plan shows that the auditorium then contained 145 boxes, besides 32 smaller boxes in the arms of the top tier. There were eight rows of stalls, with 222 seats; a pit with fourteen rows of benches; and four rows of gallery stalls, with 112 seats.”

Tomorrow is Sunday, so our valiant tourists can look forward to a day of gentle exercise for the body and some uplifting church services to round off their week.

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The Earl of Wittering Goes to the Seaside: Part 11 Porrett Saves the Day!

The Georgian SeasideThe Earl of Wittering, his wife, son and daughter in law and grandchildren are all at the theatre, accompanied reluctantly, by Porrett the Earl’s secretary who is in the throes of a violent, whispered quarrel with his granddaughter, Emily.

‘I love you, Frederick!’ says Emily, her declaration covered in the shrieks from the stage where the melodrama put on by the touring company is reaching its climax with bodies strewn in all directions.

theatre

‘You cannot,’ he whispers miserably. ‘Look at the play – it was a wild success in Chichester.’

‘I don’t care if that is Mrs Siddons out there,’ Emily snaps. ‘Do you mean you do not love me?’

Poor Porrett – to do the honourable thing is to lie. ‘Of course I love you,’ he admits miserably. He cannot lie to his beloved even though, as a gentleman, he should. ‘And it can never be. Your grandfather is the Earl, my employer…’

‘Do not be so feeble,’ Emily says, almost in tears. ‘Tell them all how you feel, ask for my hand!’

‘No,’ says Porrett, resolute in his anguish. ‘I cannot.’ The villain stabs the hero on stage and then falls on his own sword. Porrett knows how he feels. ‘You deserve better.’

Emily makes a sound like a furious kitten and turns her shoulder to him. In the interval her father, the Viscount Ditherstone, announces his intention of taking out a pleasure boat and having a family picnic further along the coast.

‘The fishermen expect high winds tomorrow, my lord,’ Porrett, points out. ‘It might be safer to leave it for another day.’

‘Oh, don’t be such a coward,’ says Emily, nose (somewhat pink) in the air. ‘Papa knows all about sailing, don’t you Papa?’

The Viscount, who has spent two days being seasick on a friend’s yacht ten years ago, smirks ‘No need, for you to concern yourself, Porrett. My father will want you to do some work, I’ll be bound. You needn’t be nervous about getting your feet wet.’

Porrett is still smarting from Emily’s disdain the next morning and indeed, the weather looks set fair as everyone except himself and the Earl set out with picnic hampers to hire a small sailing boat. His last-minute plea to Emily to stay behind was met with a reproachful look and a muttered accusation of not having the courage to stand up to Papa for her sake.

But by midday, as he looks out of the window yet again instead of taking the Earl’s dictation , he sees the black clouds boiling up from the west. The wind is beginning to snap the flags along the promenade. ‘My lord, I have the gravest apprehension about the safety of the sailing party. I should hire a boat and go after them.’

The two men run to the harbour and Porrett hails a pair of fishermen who are just tying up. At first they refuse to take him out, but the sight of the banknotes the Earl is brandishing changes their mind. With Porrett clinging grimly to the mast they set sail. By the time they reach the stretch of coast the Viscount intended to land at for the picnic they see no sign of the boat – but then Porrett spots a slim figure on the shore waving a handkerchief. Emily! And, ‘There’s the boat, sir!’ cries a fisherman and, sure enough, mastless, the little sailing boat with a green-faced Viscount clinging to the thwarts, is just before them. They grapple it and haul him aboard – when he attempted to take the party off again in the face of the rising wind, he was washed out to sea, the mast snapped and the ladies and young Arthur were left stranded on the beach, trapped between the cliffs and the rising tide.shore

Porrett does not hesitate, he leaps into the fishing smack’s rowing boat, casts off and rows for shore. It is rough, dangerous and he is exhausted, but he makes it to land, runs onto the beach, helps the Viscountess and young  Arthur in, then takes Emily in his arms, kisses her passionately and wades into the sea to set her gently into the little craft. He feels he could swim back, he is so elated, but he rows back to the smack and is disconcerted when the Viscountess throws her arms around his neck and kisses him, declaring that he is their saviour, their Galahad, their knight in shining armour. Emily just sits and gazes at him with tears in her eyes. When they reach the jetty the Earl, with a look on his face that promises retribution later for his feckless son and heir, hurries his womenfolk and grandson back to the lodgings. Porrett is left to trudge, wet and exhausted, behind.

He is disconcerted to discover a note commanding him to attend the ball at the Assembly Rooms that evening, wishing instead that he could just put his feet up and nurse his broken heart in decent privacy. But an order is an order. He comes down to join the family in the drawing room and, to his amazement, the Earl embraces him warmly, hails him as a hero and announces that he has secured him an influential post in the Home Office. ‘You’ll need it to keep my little Emily in the manner to which she has become accustomed,’ he announces. ‘I’ve had my eye on the pair of you and you, young Porrett, have the makings of a great man about you. More than my clodpole of a son,’ he murmurs in the stunned secretary’s ear. ‘Well, get on and ask her, don’t stand there like a looby.’

So Porrett finds his voice and, in front of the entire family, goes down on one knee and begs Emily for the honour of her hand in marriage. And Emily, throws her arms around him the moment he stands up (almost knocking him flat), bursts into tears and declares that no-one was ever such a hero as he is.

So off they go to the ball. You can see them just slipping off to the terrace (which leads to the gardens) in the far left of the picture. Sometimes Porrett is not quite such a saint as the Earl believes him to be…

ballroom

Pleasure boats were an essential part of the Georgian seaside holiday, but accidents were not at all uncommon, including one Margate party who were tossed around at sea for more than 24 hours before being rescued – no mobile phones, no life jackets…

You can find out more about the perils of the seaside, the Assembly Rooms, the theatres and their travelling companies of players, or, in fact any aspect of the life of the coastal resorts before the railways came in The Georgian Seaside.

 

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Filed under Accidents & emergencies, courtship & marriage, Dance, Entertainment, High Society, Love and Marriage, Seaside resorts