Tag Archives: King George III

The Story of a Square 6: Queen Square

Today I’m visiting Queen Square, built in the first decades of the 18th century and named for Queen Anne. The first image shows it in 1786 in a painting by Edward Dayes. [Yale Center for British Art. Public domain image, US]. This is the view from the south.

The second image is from Ackermann’s Repository for September 1812 and the artist is standing in Guilford Street on the northern, open edge.

Now there are buildings on the plot of land enclosed by the iron railings but, according to the text with this print, The north side formerly commanded fine views of Hampstead and Highgate. This view can be clearly seen in the Dayes painting and on Roque’s map of 1738 with, to the north-east, Thomas Coram’s Foundling Hospital. Fanny Burney, the novelist, playwright and diarist, lived in the square 1771/2 with her father and wrote of,  A beautiful prospect of the hills ever verdant of Hampstead and Highgate. Dr Burney was visited here by Captain James Cook, just before his second voyage.

By the time of the 1812 print, Richard Horwood’s map (below) shows the extensive development over what had been Lamb’s Conduit Fields to the north and the private garden in the foreground of the image. Originally the site was an ancient reservoir, part of the waterways that formed the water source for Lamb’s Conduit and which supplied water to the Greyfriars in Newgate Street. If you look at the paved area at the southern end on StreetView you can see a black iron water pump, the late Victorian replacement for the original, which taps into the same source.

Number 31 (east side), now replaced by the Royal Homeopathic Hospital, was a school for young ladies, sometimes referred to as “the ladies’ Eton”. Deportment was clearly of great importance and the young ladies would travel by coach to attend the church of St George the Martyr, just a few metres away on the south-west end of the square. This meant they could practice getting in and out of a carriage in the correct manner and, according to the London Encyclopedia, when the carriage became too ancient to move it was installed in one of the schoolrooms so they could use it there.

St George the Martyr was built at the same time as the square as a chapel of ease, a subsidiary of St Andrew, Holborn. As London expanded these chapels sprang up in all the fashionable new developments and this one was created when (to quote Ackermann’s) several of those who resided at the extremity of the parish [of St Andrew] having proposed to erect a chapel for religious worship, Sir Streynsham Master [a prominent member of the East India Company] and fourteen other gentlemen were appointed trustees for the management of the building. Along with two houses it cost £3,500 and it was intended to recoup the cost by the sale of pews. However, by 1733 the density of new building was such that a new parish was created and the church, bought from the trustees, was named St George’s in honour of Master’s governorship of Fort St George in Madras (Chennai). Originally it was a plain brick building without steeple, and destitute of any pretensions to elegance, though convenient and well lighted. It was remodeled twice in the 19th century, a bell tower was added and the original exterior brickwork covered up, presumably adding some much-needed elegance. The 1786 painting at the head of this post shows the church in its original brick in the left foreground.

When George III first became unwell in 1788 he stayed for a short time in Queen Square with Doctor Willis before being treated at the White House at Kew. The King’s apparent recovery made Willis famous, fashionable and rich. Coincidentally, the statue of George’s wife, Queen Charlotte, that still stands in the square, was erected about 1775.

[Photograph by Stephen McKay, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10043271%5D

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Georgian Comet-Mania and the Man Who Began It

Last month I set out to research the Bath Road and stayed for a few days in Bath. Although I hadn’t intended finding out about the astronomer Sir William Herschel I found he was hard to miss and soon realised that his would have been a name on everyone’s lips in Georgian London – the instigator of a Georgian “comet craze.”

Looking at the comet.

“Looking at the comet.”

Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel was born in 1738 in Hanover, Germany which was, at the time, also ruled by the King of England, George II. His father was an army musician and he followed in his footsteps, joining the band of the Hanoverian Guards. When  the French occupied the state in 1757, he came to England, embarked on a career in music and in 1766 he was appointed organist of a fashionable chapel in Bath.

His music seems to have been accompanied by an interest in mathematics which led him to the science of optics and the construction of telescopes and from there to the study of the night sky.

Before long William was determined to study the distant celestial bodies, and as this meant he needed telescopes with large, exceedingly expensive, mirrors he began to produce his own from discs of copper, tin, and antimony. What he wanted proved beyond the local foundries so he started to cast his own in 1781 in the scullery of his house. His early efforts resulted in floods of molten metal across the floor – the cracked flagstones are still visible in the photograph below– and almost poisoned himself with the toxic fumes. Eventually he was making telescopes which were superior to those at the Greenwich Observatory.


His sister Caroline, a plain little woman whose growth had been stunted and face pockmarked by childhood illnesses, escaped a life of domestic drudgery at home in Hanover when William invited her to live with him in Bath in 1772. Like William she was an accomplished musician and gave public performances.

Soon she was drawn into her brother’s astronomical work, sitting outside in their garden (shown below) for hours at night taking notes as he studied the sky.


Herschel’s fame began to spread but he became nationally known when, in 1781, he saw something that he recognised as highly unusual – he had discovered a planet. He called it after the king, but the astronomical establishment insisted on Uranus – the first new planet to have been discovered since ancient times.

William was awarded the Copley Medal, elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, given a royal pension of £200 which enabled him to devote himself entirely to science and was appointed as astronomer to

Caroline Hershel

George III. The Herschels moved to Datchet, near Windsor Castle because the royal family insisted on having ‘their’ astronomer on hand to give demonstrations.

He gave his sister her own telescopes and, as well as recording his observations, she began her own work, studying nebulae and the deep sky, searching for comets and making her own highly significant contributions to the science. Eventually they moved to Observatory House Slough in 1786 (demolished with a fine disregard for history in 1960) which sat right by the Bath Road. A vast shopping centre now covers the site.

In 1789 he constructed in the garden a vast telescope (left) with a focal length of 12 metres (40 feet).herschel-40-foot-telescope-e1426015573941 Herschel was knighted in 1816 and died in 1822 while Caroline lived to be 98, dying much honoured by the scientific community in 1848. She held the record for the number of comets discovered by a woman (eight) until 1987. (She is caricatured, right)

With the flood of new astronomical sightings the public interest was caught and  “Comet-mania” swept the country. Gentlemen could purchase a cometarium to study them, an expensive little instrument. “A Catalogue of Optical, Mathematical & Philosophical Instruments made and sold by W & S Jones 135, next Furnival’s Inn, Holborn London” lists them: “Cometariums for exemplifying the motion of comets from £1 11s 6d to £5. 5s.” cometarium

Comets became a source of popular entertainment, speculation, wild theories – and proved irresistible to the cartoonists.

The Herschel Museum of Astronomy at 19 New King Street, Bath preserves William and Caroline’s Bath home, right down to the cracked paving slabs and the garden where they did so much of their early work. (Their dining room is shown below with a full-size replica of one of the telescopes Herschel used in the room beyond.)



Filed under Regency caricatures, Science & technology, Women

High Society in Summer 1803

On 22 June 1803  The Morning Post set out to inform its readers what was going on in High Society in its Fashionable World column.

Image “Yesterday the QUEEN’S two dressers came to Town, to get the jewel cases ready; today Her MAJESTY will pack them up – to be deposited in Mr BRIDGES’S house, of Ludgate-hill, for the summer.”

Rundell & Bridge, jewellers, of 32, Ludgate Hill in the City of London, close to St Paul’s Cathedral, were the foremost late Georgian jewellers and goldsmiths and a great favourite of the royal family, especially the Prince of Wales. From 1805 they were known as Rundell, Bridge & Rundell.

 “Yesterday morning HIS MAJESTY, and the Princesses SOPHIA and AMELIA, attended by Ladies PITT and E. THYNNE, Generals GARTH and FITZROY, took an airing on horseback in the Great Park. HER MAJESTY, and the Princesses AUGUSTA and ELIZABETH, went to Frogmore, and walked in the gardens a long time.”

The royal family is obviously in residence at Windsor Castle which is still surrounded by its Great Park. Frogmore (http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/frogmorehouse) was built in the late 17th century and was bought by King George III as a country retreat for Queen Charlotte. It became a favourite of Queen Victoria and is the location of the mausoleum where her mother, the Duchess of Kent, is buried and the mausoleum where Vitoria herself lies next to the tomb of Prince Albert.


 “The marriage takes place at Fife House at five o’clock on Friday evening, and the Duke and Duchess sleep at Woburn.”

This rather sparse announcement refers to the marriage of John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford to his second wife, Lady Georgiana Gordon, daughter of the Duke of Gordon. Fife House was one of the houses in Whitehall Yard, part of the palace of Whitehall, and was owned at this time by the Earl of Fife. It was demolished in 1867. Woburn is the seat of the Dukes of Bedford.  In this print (above) from Ackermann’s Repository, which shows the view through to the distant dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, Fife House is the redbrick house seen through the trees.

 With the arrival of summer many people were leaving London.

“The people of Brighton are looking forward with anxious eyes for the PRINCE, and hope to see him about the 4th of next month.”

At this date the Prince of Wales’s pleasure palace at Brighton had not reached its final magnificence. He first used it in 1786 and Henry Holland enlarged it in 1787. In 1801-2 it was further enlarged and in the year this piece appeared the prince had purchased a considerable area of land around the Pavilion and plans were in hand to build the magnificent riding school and stables. It was not until 1815 that Nash began the work that created the building we see today. The presence of the prince and the fashionable crowd he attracted was of enormous economic importance to the local community.

This charming litle sketch of people enjoying a stroll on the beach is from the background of one of Ackermann’s fashion prints for 1815.


 Meanwhile “Among the fashionables at Tunbridge are, the Duke and Duchess of RUTLAND, Ladies DELAWAR, DYNEVOR, BOWYER, Sir J. and Lady BURGESS, Sir W. and Lady JERNINGHAM etc.”

Tunbridge Wells in Kent is only forty miles south of London, so was a convenient spa for those wishing to take the waters from the chalybeate springs and stroll along the Walks, now known as the Pantiles. (Shown in this print from The Guide to the Watering and Sea-Bathing Places. 1818) The town was made famous during Beau Nash’s reign as Master of Ceremonies, but by 1803 was beginning to suffer a little from the rise in popularity of sea bathing and seaside resorts. Even so, the stage coaches made nine return journeys to London daily. Image

Others were also going into the country. “The Bishop of DURHAM left town yesterday for his seat in Oxfordshire. The Countess of GERABTZOFF and suit [sic] have left WARNE’S Hotel, Conduit-street, for Russia.  William ORD, Esq. M.P. and C. J. BRANDLING Esq. are gone to Newcastle races, the former with his beautiful bride.”

 But despite the warmer weather other fashionables remained. “Lady DUNGANNON never looked handsomer than at the ball at Devonshire House; her dress was white and silver, made in style to show her fine neck to perfection. Her Ladyship did not dance until after supper.”

Lady Dungannon was the wife of the Irish peer Arthur Hill-Trevor, 2nd Viscount Dungannon. At this period “neck” was the term used to describe not only the neck itself, but also a lady’s shoulders and the upper slope of her bosom, considered a very important feature for a good figure. Devonshire House was the London home of the Cavendish family, Dukes of Devonshire, and occupied the land between the south side of Berkeley Square and Piccadilly. It was demolished in 1920 and the gates moved across Piccadilly to form one of the entrances into Green Park. In this print of Berkeley Square in 1813  (Ackerman’s Repository) the northern boundary of the gardens can be glimpsed. Image

And lastly there was news of some of the capital’s more eccentric residents. “TOMMY ONSLOW glories that he is superior to BONAPARTE as a whip and daily astonishes the citizens by turning the sharp corners with his phaeton and four.”

Tommy Onslow, or T.O., was Thomas, 2nd Earl of Onslow, a passionate enthusiast for carriage driving. He is remembered in the epigram:

What can little T. O. do?
Drive a phaeton and two.
Can little T. O. do no more?
Yes, — drive a phaeton and four.

The illustration is from the series The Road to a Fight and shows sporting gentlemen hurrying to a prizefight. Image

Without further comment the newspaper’s last Society final snippet reported, ‘General DUNDAS has imported a most beautiful Zebra from the Cape of Good Hope.’

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A Royal Birth, A Duchess “in the straw” and Some Dynastic Speculation

Felix Farley 2 crop

As I write this post the newspapers are full of discussion about the Duchess of Cambridge’s pregnancy, the birth and any other royal or baby detail they can try and make remotely relevant. I had always assumed that the Georgian papers were slightly more restrained and respectful about royal births, even when the royals themselves were often cruelly lampooned. Imagine my surprise when reading a copy of Felix Farley’s Bristol Journal of December 28th 1816 to find this snippet on the front page:

 Wednesday the Princes Augusta of Salms, daughter of the Duchess of Cumberland, arrived at Cumberland House from the continent.

In the straw crop

The information about the Duchess of Cumberland was in amongst a very mixed bag of news!

The Duchess of Cumberland is better. Her Royal Highness expects to be in the straw early next week. 

 “To be in the straw”, Grose’s Index to the Vulgar Tongue (1785) informs me is, “to be in childbed.” Is anyone else as amazed as I was to see a respectable newspaper using slang about such a subject? I would have thought they would say, the duchess “expects to be confined early next week.” Or has anyone come across the use of this phrase in a “respectable” context?

 I was intrigued enough to find out more about the Duchess of Cumberland and what happened. Even more intriguing was the discovery that she might well not have become the Duchess of Cumberland, for she had very nearly married another prince – the Duke of Cambridge!

 Princess Frederica of Mecklenberg-Strelitz was born in 1778, the niece of Queen Charlotte, wife of George III. She was therefore the first cousin of the numerous British royal offspring, including Prince George, later Prince Regent and King George IV.

Frederica’s married life was, to put it mildly, eventful. First, when she was only fifteen, she married Prince Louis, younger son of King Frederick William II of Prussia, but it was an unhappy match and he died in 1796 leaving her, at the age of eighteen, the mother of two children, Prince Frederick and Princess Frederica.

A year later she met and became unofficially engaged to Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, King George III’s seventh son. But to marry they needed the king’s permission and the queen, Frederica’s aunt, was adamantly opposed to the match and persuaded the king to refuse his consent.

The next year, Frederica became pregnant during an affair with Prince Frederick William of Solms-Braunfels who married her rapidly to prevent the scandal becoming any worse. It was another unhappy marriage, despite the birth of seven children, for Prince Frederick was dissipated and a heavy drinker. Three of the children lived to marriageable age and it was one of those, the Princess Augusta, who was mentioned (her title misspelt) in the Journal report.

Things were so bad between the couple that Frederica was advised to divorce, a remedy supported by the King of Prussia. It was at that point, in 1813, that she met Prince Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, and fifth son of King George III, who was visiting one of his German relatives. The couple fell in love and, very conveniently, Frederica’s husband died, creating rumours that she had poisoned him.

Frederica and Ernest married in Germany two years later and again at a second ceremony at Carlton House, the Prince Regent’s London home, on 29th August 1815. The king and Parliament gave their consent, but Queen Charlotte was still strongly opposed to the match, refused to attend the wedding and advised the couple to live on the continent as much as possible.

 The pregnancy that the Journal comments on was the first of this marriage, but tragically the baby, a girl, was stillborn. After a further stillbirth a son, Prince George, was born to the couple in 1819.

Ladies gather to admire the new arrival. A charming image from a ladies' memorandum book of 1806

Ladies gather to admire the new arrival. A charming image from a ladies’ memorandum book of 1806

 At the time of the newspaper report the expected birth of a child to the king’s fifth son was not of any great significance in the eyes of the public. The heir, the Prince Regent, had a very popular and healthy daughter, Princess Charlotte, and the Duke of Cumberland had three other brothers between himself and the throne. But as it turned out the unfortunate Charlotte died in childbirth in 1817 and there was a rush for the royal dukes to marry and produce heirs. Prince Frederick, the second son, died childless. The third succeeded George IV as William IV, but he had no legitimate children and it was the daughter of the fourth son, Edward, Duke of Kent, who became Queen Victoria.

But the British kings were also Kings of Hanover and Hanover operated under Salic Law which meant that no woman could succeed to the throne. So on William IV’s death Ernest became King of Hanover and Frederica his queen and eventually their son George became George V of Hanover. If Victoria had not been born then the throne of Great Britain would have gone to  Ernest  and then to his son. We would have had King Ernest I and then George V, who lived to 1878 – a continuation of the Georgians and no Victorians!


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