Tag Archives: London history

The Road to Waterloo Week Five – The Allied Troops Gather While Mrs Bell Corsets the Corpulent

Bells Weekly

On Easter Sunday, the 26th, Bell’s Weekly Messenger stated that no-one had arrived in England from France since the 20th March and that most of the information about Napoleon’s invasion that had been reported so far had been inaccurate. Almost half the newspaper (an 8-page journal) was devoted to news of Bonaparte, and had the facts up to his arrival in Paris more or less correct.
The journal reported that dispatches had been sent on the 23rd from the Admiralty to all the ports in England and speculated that this was giving orders for a general impress of seamen, while every regiment of the line was under orders to prepare for active service and were expected to be marching to the coast to be embarked for Belgium.
Meanwhile, amongst the entertainment offered to Londoners this week, were two of a martial nature looking back to past Allied victories against the French.
At Sadler’s Wells: “Easter Monday, a new Scotch Dance composed by Mr Ellar, called a LOWP AN’ AWA’ – A new Pantomime (by Mr C. Dibden, music by Mr. Reeve) called The MERMAID; or Harlequin Pearl Diver – Clown, Mr. Grimaldi. A new Musical Piece, written by Mr C. Dibden, called LAW’S TWO TAILS; or Entail and Red Tail. Signor Francesco Zanini, from Paris, will make his first appearance in England as an Equilibriste Philharmonique. To conclude with a Naumachia on Real Water, representing the Battle of the Nile.”
At the Panorama, Leicester Square: “Just opened, a VIEW of the LAST BATTLE fought by the ALLIES, near the Butte St. Chaumont, previous to their entering Paris; with a view of the City, and Montmartre in the distance. The splendid BATTLE OF VITTORIA will continue for a few weeks. Admittance to each painting, One shilling. – Open Ten till Dusk.”
Mrs Bell, aMrs Bell adt her shop, the Magazine des Modes, 26, Charlotte Street, was advertising her Bandage Corset for pregnant ladies and those “inclined to Corpulancy”, while, for the more slender ladies, The Circassian Corset, made “without superfluities of Steel, Whalebone or Hard Substances, are declared by Physicians to be the only Corset that should be worn, as they give Ease, Gracefulness, and Dignity to the Shape, which no other Corset is capable of.”
Monday was the annual Lord Mayor’s Banquet, preceded by the grand procession from Mansion House to Christ Church, Newgate Street to hear a sermon preached by the Bishop of Oxford. The toasts at the banquet included, “Church and King”” (considerable applause), “The Prince Regent” (“the approbation expressed by the company did not appear to be so strong as on former occasions”) and “The Duke of York and the Army” and “The Duke of Clarence and the Navy” (to great applause.) the dancing commenced at 10 o’clock and continued until “a late hour”. The image below (from Ackermann’s Repository 1810) shows the portico of Mansion House on the right and Cornhill stretching away in the middle of the scene. The Bank of England is out of sight on the left and the royal Exchange is behind the buildings in the centre.

 

 

Mansion House
In Friday’s paper, an enterprising furniture salesman managed to get the following inserted as editorial: “The rage for French furniture and elegancies has been very prevalent amongst the Nobility and higher classes of this country, who have made large purchases at Paris, which, from recent events, it is probable they will never receive, this will of course enhance the value of what is to be sold next week at Mr. Squibb’s.”
On Wednesday the 19th, Wellington left Vienna to take up command of the combined armies. On Saturday, April 1st, it was reported from the Brussels papers that “the march of troops through this town is incessant” and that 50 ships had already arrived in Ostend, full of British troops. Londoners could be left in no doubt that the situation was now serious.

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Filed under Buildings, Entertainment, Fashions, Napoleon, Prince Regent, Waterloo, Wellington

The Road to Waterloo Week Four – Napoleon Arrives In Paris & the London Exchanges Shiver

No doubt Londoners sitting down on Sunday morning, 19th March, read with relief the excellent  – and completely inaccurate – news from the continent. As Bell’s Weekly Messenger’s headlines said, quoting the Paris papers of the 15th – “Gratifying Change In The State Of Affairs –Bonaparte Still At Lyons – Marching of troops On Duchess_of_Courland_kauffmanAll Sides Against Him – Vigour of the Bourbons.”
In fact King Louis, whose reactions so far had been so far from vigorous as to be positively flabby, had fled Paris by night, heading for Brussels. The Duchess of Courland (shown left as a young woman in a portrait by Angelica Kauffman) set out at the same time to take the news to the Congress at Vienna. Meanwhile Napoleon continued to advance on Paris, despite further British headlines – “Reported Defeat of Bonaparte – Defection Of His Troops – His Probable Destruction.”
Meanwhile the London newspaper reader could pass on with relief to such good news as the signing of the peace treaty with the Americans and the assurances that Syphilis could be completely cured by doses of Velos’s Vegetable Syrup which “acts salutarily on the whole system, throws off all its impurities, and also removed the various forms of diseased Liver, Scrofula and Scurvy, that are so frequently left to medicines which aggravate their ravages.”
Bell’s Weekly Messenger’s “Died” column reported a curious selection of deaths in scrupulously alphabetical order, including:
O’Halloran, Sir Caesar Felix O’Neill, “the notorious swindler in Giltspur-street Counter.” [debtors’ prison]
Ripon, Mr Thomas of Nottingham, aged 75. “He was no more than 54 inches high. On a prodigious large head he wore an enormous cocked hat, and acquired a handsome income by former habits of mendicity (sic). ”
Saxe Cobourg, the Prince of, aged 77. “He commanded the Austrian Armies in the campaigns of 1793 and 1794.”
On Monday 20th Napoleon arrived at Fontainbleu and left again at 2 pm for Paris. He was met on the way by the 1st, 4th and 6th Chasseurs à Cheval anLargeNapoleonasGuardColonelbyLefevred the 6th Lancers who had been sent to intercept him. Instead of arresting him they presented arms and joined his forces.
Bonaparte entered Paris at 10.30 pm without a shot being fired and was carried shoulder-high into the Tuileries, eyes closed, a smile on his face.
Perhaps the relieved Londoners who had read that he was in the process of fleeing through France at that very moment flocked to the Adelphi Exhibition in Adam Street, off the Strand to see Robert Lefèvre’s portrait of Napoleon in the uniform of Colonel of the Guard of Chasseurs.
A stir was caused on Tuesday 21st by the escape of the quite impossibly colourful Admiral Cochrane from the King’s Bench prison. He strolled into the Palace of Westminster to take his seat in Parliament, from whence he was returned to custody. On the same day anyone still worried about Napoleon would have been reassured by the arrival of the Hyperion frigate in Plymouth, loaded with troops and en route for Holland.
Then on Thursday the devastating news arrived that Napoleon had entered Paris and the King had fled. The 24th was Good Friday, and in his diary Mr Oakes in Bury Saint Edmunds recorded, “This morning the London papers this morning announced the arrival of Bonaparte at Paris on Monday last, 20th Inst, without opposition. Not a gun fired.” The Duchess of Courland reached Vienna the same day to report the King’s flight to the Allies.
By Saturday the Congress had acted, ratifying the Treaty of Alliance against Napoleon in which each of the great powers (Britain, Austria, Prussia, Russia) agreed to pledge 150,000 men for the fight. The Duke of Wellington was made commander-in-chief.Bank
In London the crisis was having its predictable consequences on the Exchange. Bell’s Weekly Messenger reported “… a close holiday at the Bank, but in the private bargains the Three per cent. Consols, the leading Stock, have suffered a decline of one per cent, reckoning from the closing price on Thursday, and one quarter from the closing price yesterday. The causes of the depression are too obvious to require specification.” The view above is of the Bank of England in 1809 (from Ackermann’s Repository). It is a view from the north, standing in Lothbury and looking down Princes Street on the right towards Mansion House.

The City around the Bank is still a fascinating place to walk – and Walk 8 from Walking Jane Austen’s London will take you from Temple Bar to the chop houses and coffee houses frequented by the Hellfire Club and Benjamin Franklin. (Not necessarily at the same time!)

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Filed under Art, Congress of Vienna, Napoleon, Royalty, Wellington

The Road to Waterloo Week Two – Londoners Riot & The News Arrives

With the government in London, and the Allies at the Congress in Vienna, still unaware that anything was amiss, Napoleon continued his march northwards. On Sunday 5th he arrived at Sisteron, where he was not greeted with any great enthusiasm, but he pushed on to Gap where he arrived on Monday and was joined by the 7th Regiment of Infantry under its colonel, Charles de la Bédoyère.
By Tuesday 8th Napoleon reached Laffrey, 77 kilometres from the coast and 26 kilometres south of the significant city of Grenoble. The road was barred by a battalion of the 5th Regiment of the Line. Napoleon rode out in front, within pistol range, dismounted, walked forward, threw back his greatcoat to show his uniform and challenged the soldiers to shoot their Emperor. Instead they cheered and surged forward to surround him – it was a significant moment.
That day news of Napoleon’s escape from Elba reached the Congress in Vienna – but without any information about where he was.
Meanwhile Londoners had violence of quite a different kind to be concerned about – the Corn Law Riots. With the end of war there was a drop in demand for wheat for the army. At the same time the removal of the danger to merchant shipping allowed grain imporPic010ts to flow in unimpeded and the price of wheat fell. This was a serious threat to landowners, just as it was a great relief for the poor, for whom bread constituted a major part of the diet, especially in the industrial towns.
The Corn Importation Bill was put before parliament in February and prohibited the import of foreign wheat at under 80 shillings a quarter, and also set minimum prices for other grains. It proved to be the start of one of the most furious political debates in British history and one that continued to divide opinion for thirty years.
Landowners argued that low wheat prices would prevent farmers from making a profit, they would have to cut labourers’ wages and the whole economy would suffer from a decline in purchasing power. It would also put the country at the mercy of foreigners. The cartoon below shows landowners refusing foreign wheat. The women and children harvesters are from a bat-print dish of about 1820.

Corn LawSamuel Whitbread, the brewer, pointed out that by this argument, the recent war had been a good thing as it had prevented the French exporting their wheat and that on those grounds, “it would be better to set Boney up again.” He was about to get his wish.
In the industrial towns, which were virtually unrepresented in parliament, there was furious opposition to the Bill. Petitions flooded in – for example one from Bristol signed by 40,000, and the petition from the City of London speaking of “unexampled distress and privation.” The newspapers were full of column after column detailing the petitions. Parliament panicked and the Bill was hurried through – within three weeks it was already receiving its third reading.
On Monday 6th the chanting of the mob outside Parliament could be heard in the Chamber “No Corn Bill! No Corn Bill!”
Although the mob was dispersed, violence broke out that night, supporters of the Bill had their houses attacked and violent disorder continued through the nights of Wednesday and Thursday. The army was called in, mob rule and revolution was feared and the Society pages noted that the Marchioness of Camden’s rout & card party at the family town house in Arlington Street was thin of company because of the unrest in the streets. Even the bad news of the retreat of British forces on 18th Jan, after an initially successful attack on New Orleans on 23 December, was lost in the furore over the riots and the Bill.
Then on Friday Napoleon entered Lyons in triumph and the garrison, in the process of being reviewed by King Louis XVIII’s brother, the Comte d’Artois, changed sides, pulling faces at the helpless prince. The same day the news of his escape finally reached London. The Corn Law Bill was pushed out of the headlines.Nathan_Mayer_Rothschild
In the words of the next day’s Morning Chronicle, “An extraordinary sensation was yesterday produced by the intelligence from France, of the landing of BONAPARTE at Frejus… the first notice of this most memorable event was announced by Mr Rosschild  [Nathan Mayer Rothschild, shown left], the Exchange Broker, who sold stock to the amount of 600,000l. on the receipt of the news by express from France.”
At the same time as the Rothschilds’ efficient intelligence network delivered the news, the British government received dispatches from Lord Fitzroy Somerset in Paris and the confirmation that Napoleon was in France reached Vienna.
Thanks to the stage and mail coach network the news spread across the country with incredible speed. James Oakes of Bury St Edmunds wrote in his diary on the 10th, “This morning by mail the acct came of Bonaparte’s making good his landing in France with 10 or 20,000 men.”
That day, the 10th March, the Corn Law was passed by 245 votes to 75 – without any disturbances on the street whatsoever.

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Filed under Agriculture, Employment, Food & drink, Napoleon, Regency caricatures, Riots, Waterloo, working life

A Most Scandalous Lady

When I was researching Knightsbridge for my last post I came to Kingston House (shown below in a Victorian print) and read about its extraordinary first owner, Elizabeth Chudleigh. I write historical romances, but I would never dare attempt a plot with anything like the story of her romantic life – no-one would believe it for a moment!

Kingston House

Elizabeth (c1720-1788) was the daughter of Colonel Sir Thomas Chudleigh who had a number of influential friends, including the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. Perhaps it was due to his good offices that she became a maid of honour to the Princess of Wales, wife of Frederick, Prince of Wales and mother to George III.

At court she met and became engaged to the Duke of Hamilton who promptly departed on the Grand Tour. While he was away Elizabeth met Captain Augustus John Hervey, a son of the Earl of Bristol who fell passionately in love with her. At first Elizabeth did not return his feelings,  but her aunt who favoured the match intercepted the duke’s letters from the continent and eventually Elizabeth, piqued at his apparent neglect, secretly married Hervey in 1744.

Incredibly the couple managed to keep their marriage a secret from the court and their families, even though it soon became apparent that it was not a success. Elizabeth was unfaithful to Hervey, and he probably was to her, and they effectively parted in 1749.

The Duke of Hamilton returned to England from his Grand Tour, still assuming they were engaged and pressed for a marriage date, only to be astounded by Elizabeth’s refusal. However much she might have wanted to marry a duke, she was not, at this point, ready to commit bigamy. Hamilton finally gave up and married one of the beautiful Gunnings sisters.

NPG D1106; Elizabeth Chudleigh, Countess of Bristol after Unknown artist

Elizabeth’s family were furious with her for apparently refusing a duke on a whim, and she left the country for to the court of Frederick the Great where she was very popular. On her return to London the vivacious “Miss Chudleigh” was equally in demand, and enjoyed a very lively social life as the portrait of her in the role of Iphegeia at a masque suggests! (Unknown artist 1749)

“… it has been asserted this lady appeared [at a masquerade] in a shape of flesh-coloured silk so nicely and closely fitted to her body as to produce a perfect review of the unadorned mother of mankind, and that this fair representative of frailty, … had contrived a method of giving as evident tokens of modesty, by binding her loins with a partial covering, or zone, of fig-leaves.” (The Life and Memoirs of Elizabeth Chudleigh. 1788)

But Elizabeth was still stuck with her secret husband and it is said that she eventually tore the leaf out of the church register where the marriage was recorded and bribed the clerk to say nothing. At which point her husband unexpectedly became Earl of Bristol so she bribed the clerk again and returned the page to the register!
At this crucial point she fell in love with the Duke of Kingston and became his mistress. Kingston and Bristol agreed between them that Bristol would relinquish all claims to Elizabeth and a marriage was performed on March 6th 1769 between the Duke of Kingston and Elizabeth – despite her first husband being very much alive and no divorce having taken place.
For years they lived as man and wife at Kingston House. Elizabeth became a leader of fashion, but in 1773 the duke died and she travelled to Italy. While she was away a Mrs Craddock, a witness to the true marriage, turned up at her solicitors and proceeded to blackmail the “Duchess”. When no money was forthcoming Mrs Craddock went to the Duke of Kingston’s family and all hell broke loose.

L0023717 Elizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Kingston, attending her tria

[Elizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Kingston, attending her trial. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org. Etching 1776 by John Hamilton Mortimer. Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ ]

Proceedings were brought and Elizabeth returned home to face trial for bigamy. The case began on April 15th 1776 and she was, unsurprisingly, found guilty. At the time the penalty for bigamy was transportation or imprisonment, but Elizabeth claimed the privileges of a peeress and was discharged without sentence.
But her “in-laws” were still in hot pursuit of the property she had acquired from the duke on his death and she knew she had to leave the country. She kept her planned flight a secret, even going to the lengths of inviting a large number of people to a dinner party on the night in question. They arrived to find Kingston House empty.
Elizabeth lived in Calais for a while, then moved to Paris under the protection of the king’s brother. She was residing there when her lawyers told her that a suit concerning an estate she had bought with the duke’s money had been found against her. She flew into such a furious fit of temper that she burst a blood vessel and died on August 26th, 1796. Perhaps a fitting end to such a tumultuous life!

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Filed under courtship & marriage, Crime, High Society, Love and Marriage, Sex & scandal, Women

Crossing the Knight’s Bridge

Today if you want to travel from the middle of London to visit the smart shops of Kensington and Chelsea, or the museums of South Kensington, or go to a concert at the Albert Hall, you will travel along Knightsbridge, the road that stretches for a mile from Hyde Park Corner to the east to the Royal Albert Hall in the west (becoming, these days, Kensington Road and the beginnings of Kensington Gore in the process). Are you in London? Of course you are.

When Jane Austen was staying with her brother Henry in his homes in Sloane Street and Hans Place, she was just as clear that Knightsbridge (or Knights Bridge, as it was known almost until the 19th century), was not London. ‘If the Weather permits, Eliza & I walk into London this morng.’ she wrote in April 1809 from 64, Sloane Street.

Roque 1741

(Above: Detail of Roque’s map of London 1741 showing Knight’s Bridge and the beginning of Kensington)

Although the tentacles of development were reaching out from the new Sloane Street, down the Brompton Road and along towards Kensington, London still began at the Hyde Park Turnpike, situated until 1825 just about where Grosvenor Place meets Knightsbridge today. Apsley House, which became the home of the Duke of Wellington, was the first dwelling you came to entering through the gates – Number One, London, in fact.

Knights Bridge was never a parish or a manor, only a locality, known from Saxon times as Kyngesburig, or Knightsbrigg. There are many legends about the origins of the name, but none appear to have any basis in fact. The bridge in question crossed the Westbourne River, one of London’s “lost rivers”, as it left Hyde Park, where it had been turned into the Serpentine. The Westbourne ran on south along a meandering course which marks the boundary of Chelsea and St George’s parishes to meet the Thames in the grounds of Chelsea Hospital. It was finally covered over in 1856/7 and became the unromantically-named Ranelagh Sewer and its outfall can still be seen at low tide. The Albert Gate of Hyde Park marks the point where it went under the road and William Street follows its line southwards.Hyde Park pike0001

If you had ventured this far in the time of the Tudors you would have encountered an appalling road, the “Waye to Reading”, mired so deep in mud that it contributed to the defeat of Sir Thomas Wyatt’s rebel army. They marched against Queen Mary, but arrived so exhausted by the state of the ‘road’ that they were easy prey for the royal troops. Things did not greatly improve for hundreds of years and even as late as 1842 reports were made of pavements ankle-deep in mud.

Worse than the mud were the highwaymen and footpads who infested this road. The last highway robbery on Knightsbridge was as late as 1799, after which a light horse patrol was sent out from the barracks to patrol the road and it was one of the earliest to have street lighting. Mr Davis in his “History of Knightsbridge” (1854) records that even after the armed patrols were instituted, “pedestrians walked to and from Kensington in bands sufficient to ensure mutual protection, starting their journey only at known intervals, of which a bell gave due warning.”

If we are feeling brave we can set out along this perilous mile, guided by the charming little map from Cecil Aldin’s The Romance of the Road (1928). East is at the top and we begin with the Hyde Park Corner tollgate and just before it, at the junction with Grosvenor Place, is St George’s Hospital. That is still there, but is now the Lanesborough Hotel. Behind it was Tattersall’s sale ring until it moved in 1865.

Aldin map 1

Going east we would have passed the White Hart Inn on the north side and a barracks for foot soldiers (demolished 1836) on the south. The narrow entrance to Old Barrack Yard still marks the spot. We cross the Westbourne as we pass William Street and can see today the unlovely round tower of the Sheraton Hotel. Once this was the site of a house owned by a Mr Lowndes and behind it, where Lowndes Square is now, was a rural pleasure garden, Spring Garden (not to be confused with the one of the same name next to what is now Trafalgar Square) at the sign of the “World’s End”. It is referred to in Pepys’s diaries several times, including in the final entry, May 31st 1669: “To the Park, Mary Botelier and a Dutch gentleman, a friend of hers being with us. Thence to the ‘World’s End’ a drinking house by the Park, and there merry, and so home late.”

(Below: Spring Gardens from a Victorian engraving of an earlier drawing.)

Spring Gardens

More or less opposite was Trinity Chapel which was probably medieval in origin and functioned as a hospital, or lazar house, for the poor. Traditionally it was said to have taken in plague victims in 1665 and the dead were buried opposite under Knightsbridge Green at the present junction of Knightsbridge, Sloane Street and Brompton Road. Eventually the chapel fell into total disrepair and was rebuilt. Its present incarnation is further along the road in Kensington.
For a long time before the passing of Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act in 1753 it was the location for irregular, clandestine or runaway marriages and the registers for the chapel contain entries with notes such as “secrecy for life” or “secret for fourteen years” added to them. Possibly the most famous person married there was Sir Robert Walpole who wed a daughter of the Lord Mayor of London. (The chapel is shown below in a view of part of the north side of Knightsbridge in 1820)

cahpel

Now we reach the Albert Gate into Hyde Park, the point where the Westbourne still runs under our feet. On the park side of the bridge was the Fox and Bull Inn (shown as the Fox on Aldin’s map), patronised by artists such as George Morland and Sir Joshua Reynolds, who painted its sign. Less pleasantly it was a receiving house for the Humane Society, founded to assist drowning persons, or deal with their bodies. It was to this inn that the body of Harriet Shelley, the poet’s first wife, was brought after she drowned herself in the Serpentine in 1816. Immediately after the Fox and Bull was the Cannon Brewery, so called from the cannon mounted on its roof. That was surrounded by “low and filthy courts with open cellars” – a far cry from the elegant Kuwaiti and French Embassy buildings which occupy the site now.

Almost opposite is the junction with Sloane Street, developed after 1780 along the old track from the King’s Road in Chelsea. Another old road, the Brompton Road, comes in at an angle at the same point and led to the village of Brompton and on to Fulham. At this junction was Knightsbridge Green with a watch house for the constable, a pound for straying livestock, and possibly the site of Trinity Chapel’s plague pit. This was the point where the granite sets that made up the road surface ceased and the mud really began. It is also close to this point that Tattersall’s moved in 1865.

Just past the brewery were the barracks for the Horse Guards, giving them direct access into Hyde Park, just as they have today. Originally built in 1794/5 the barracks were rebuilt in 1878/9 and then again in the 20th century, slightly further west on Knightsbridge. From here on there were virtually no buildings on the north side, only the brick wall of Hyde Park. The road now becomes Kensington Road.

On the south side of Knightsbridge, following the Brompton Road turning, were the Rose and Crown (the oldest of Knightsbridge’s inns, shown below) and the Old King’s Head and then the floor-cloth manufactory of Messrs. Smith and Barber. It had been established in 1754 and lasted well into the Victorian era.

Rose and Crown
Then came three mansions that were, when they were built, true “country houses”. The first was Rutland House, the next Kent House, home for a while of the Duke of Kent, Queen Victoria’s father, and then Kingston House. Kingston House was built in 1769 for the scandalous Elizabeth Chudleigh whose story is so amazing that I will save it for another post. She died in 1796 and it later became the home of the Marquis of Wellesley who died there in 1842. He was the elder brother of the Duke of Wellington.

Half Way House

An area of nursery gardens followed on the south side of the road, part of the great expanse of fruit and vegetable-producing land that surrounded London. Somewhere along this stretch we enter what is now known as Kensington Gore – nothing to do with blood, but named after Gore House which stood on the site of the Royal Albert Hall. It was built in the 1750s, decorated by Robert Adam and was the home in the 1780s of Admiral Lord Rodney. It was acquired in 1808 by William Wilberforce, the great campaigner for the abolition of the slave trade, who lived there until 1821.
Opposite Gore House, a most insalubrious neighbour for a fine mansion, was the Halfway House Inn (shown above). This was where the spies for the highwaymen of Hounslow Heath would congregate to see who was travelling and pass the word on to alert the highwaymen about fine carriages or vulnerable riders. Just beyond it on the park side was the first milestone from the Hyde Park turnpike, the point where we can leave the dangers of Knightsbridge behind us and enter the village of Kensington with a sigh of relief for our arrival safe from the mud and the footpads.

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Londoners Take to Their Skates

Everyone has heard of the Thames Frost Fairs where the river froze solid and Londoners could walk across, drive across – and on one notable occasion in 1814, lead an elephant across. The first recorded frost fair was in 1608, the last in 1814, after which warmer winters changes in the river’s flow because of  alterations to the bridges prevented it ever being possible again. Below is a detail from Luke Clennel’s picture of that last fair.

Frost Fair

But the Thames did not freeze every year, even before 1814, and when it did the ice was covered in booths and stalls. More reliably Londoners could take to the frozen ponds and lakes in their parks and skate. Below is a detail from an original pen and ink sketch by George Morland in my own collection and you can see the simple skates laced onto the boots or shoes of the skaters.

Morland skaters crop

The Serpentine, the lake in Hyde Park formed from the Westbourne River, provided a particularly popular venue. The Picture of London for 1807, my favourite London guidebook describes it:

‘In severe winters, when the Serpentine River is frozen over, the ice is almost covered with people. One winter there were counted more than 6000 people at one time on the ice. A number of booths were pitched for the refreshment of the populace; and here and there was a group of six, eight or more, fashionable young men, skating, and describing very difficult figures, in the manner of a country dance, with particular neatness and facility of execution. In general, however, the English do not excel in this very exhilarating and wholesome exercise.
From the number of accidents which happen annually on this river when frozen over, his majesty gave the Humane Society a spot of ground on its banks on which they have erected a most convenient receiving-house for the recovery of the apparently drowned; it cost upwards of £500 and is worthy the inspection of the curious. The society, during the time of frost, keep men on the river to guard the unwary from danger, and to relieve those who may require their aid.’

The lake in St James’s Park was also a good size for skaters as this detail from an undated print shows. Some skaters are obviously far better than others!

St James Park

The building on the far bank is the Queen’s House – Buckingham House – which eventually became Buckingham Palace.

Finally here is the image I am using for my Christmas card this year. The lady in her gorgeously warm-looking crimson pelisse seems very snug as she watches the skaters, especially the gentleman with his frozen fingers tucked into his armpits! Her rather bizarre hat is decorated with holly and there is a full description of her outfit at the end of this post.

Walking dress crop

A Very Merry Christmas and Happy 2016 to all my readers!

A Winter Walking Dress from La Belle Assemblée Feb 1812

A scarlet Merino cloth pelisse, lined with straw coloured sarsnet, trimmed with light coloured spotted fur, and attached with loops of black silk cordon and rich frog tassels; the broad fur in front, forming a tippet, pointed at the back. A narrow fur passes from the top of the sleeve,
is brought down the side seams, and relieved by fastenings of black silk cordon; four loops with frog ornament the shoulders and cuffs; plain standing up collar tied with cordon: a fine cashmire (sic) shawl, with brown ground, and richly variegated border, is generally thrown over the dress, in which is united both comfort and elegance. A Swedish hat of the same materials as the pelisse, lined with straw colour, and fastened up on one side; the crown trimmed with two rows of narrow spotted fur, and one still narrower at the edge of the hat; a bunch of the Christmas holly in front, and two tassels falling from the summit of the crown, of black, to answer the pelisse, which is worn over a white round dress, either plain or corded cambric. Beaver gloves, and demi-broquins of scarlet Morocco,
laced with black, and lined with fur, complete the dress.

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Filed under Christmas, Entertainment, Fashions, London Parks, St James's Park

Pray Remember Guy Fawkes!

 

Pyne Guy Fawkes

 

The 5th November is the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 when a group attempted to blow up the House of Lords, along with King James I, during the State Opening of Parliament. The aim was to install James’s nine year old daughter Elizabeth as a Catholic head of state, but the conspirators were betrayed and Guy Fawkes, who had been guarding the thirty six barrels of gunpowder stacked in the cellars under the Lords’ Chamber, was captured.

Most of the conspirators managed to get out of London but were found and, after a fight, some were killed and the others captured. At their trial in January 1606 the eight survivors, including Guy Fawkes, were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered. With the popular feeling so strong against Roman Catholics at the time, celebrations on the  anniversary of the discovery of the plot rapidly became a fixed part of the calendar and persisted nationally. Bishop Robert Sanderson (d.1663) preached, “God grant that we nor ours ever live to see November 5th forgotten, or the solemnity of it silenced.” By 1677 Poor Robin’s Almanac had the verse:

“Now boys with

Squibs and crackers play.

And bonfires blaze

Turns night to day.”

By the early 19th century the visible elements of the celebration – the bonfire, the effigy of the “guy” with small boys parading their own homemade versions and begging for “A penny for the guy” and the setting-off of fire crackers – were still as popular as ever. The idea of a bonfire, fireworks and the opportunity for a party was doubtless as appealing then as it is now and perhaps few people thought about what was being represented and the horrors of either the planned explosion or the hideous end of the conspirators.

I love the detail in the picture at the top of this post. It is from Pyne’s The Costumes of Great Britain, 1805 and shows urchins parading their guy. He is dressed in old clothes with a handful of firecrackers pushed into his coat front. in the background another guy has been hung over the bonfire with his hands full of firecrackers. In the right foreground are a group of tradespeople. A man carries a joint of meat in a wooden hod on his shoulder, too preoccupied to look up, but a girl selling something from her basket, a cooper with barrel hoops over his shoulder and his tools tucked into the front of his apron and a woman blacking boots look on in amusement. The shoe-black is wearing a soldier’s uniform jacket, two scarves over a white cap and a voluminous black skirt. Her pot of blacking is on the stool beside her and she is rubbing it into a boot with a small brush.

My copy of Observations on Popular Antiquities: chiefly illustrating the origin of our Vulgar Customs, Ceremonies and Superstitions by John Brand has the following for November 5th: “It is still customary in London and its vicinity for the boys to dress up an image of the infamous conspirator Guy Fawkes, holding in one hand a dark lanthorn, and in the other a bundle of matches, and to carry it about the streets begging money in these words, “Pray remember Guy Fawkes!” In the evening there are bon-fires , and these frightful figures are burnt in the midst of them.” The original edition was 1795, but the editor of the 1813 edition has added “Mr Brand was mistaken in supposing the celebration of the fifth of November to have been confined to London and its neighbourhood. The celebration of it was general.”

Cruickshank guy

Almost thirty years after the print by Pyne was published Cruickshank’s little image for November in London shows a very similar guy, although this one has a clay pipe in his mouth. Another guy is being carried in the distance on the right and he is wearing a tall white dunce’s cap which may be intended to represent the hats worn by heretics burnt at the stake by the Spanish Inquisition.

It is obviously November – fog is swirling in the street, the figure in the centre has his nose and mouth muffled and the advertisements pasted to the boarded-up window are for cloaks, greatcoats and furs. There is also an advert for fireworks.

 

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