Tag Archives: London history

Receiving the News – the Telegraph System

In my blog posts about the weeks leading up to the battle of Waterloo I mentioned how long it took for the news of Napoleon’s escape from Elba to reach Paris. This was particularly surprising because the French had a magnificent telegraph system – defeated on this occasion, just when it was needed most, by poor visibility. The first visual telegraph system was the invention of Claude Chappe, a French engineer, working with his brothers. The French government seized on the invention and installed a network of 556 stations covering the entire country. Stelegraph codestations were updated and added to and the system continued in use until the 1850s when electric telegraphy took over. A Chappe telegraph and the posible positions are shown on the left.
During the French wars the Allies were handicapped by poor communications while the French had this excellent system – provided visibility was good. The brothers invented a simple and robust system with two arms, each with a short upright at the end. This could be controlled by counterweights by one man. A message of 36 letters could reach Lille from Paris in about half an hour. Codes were also developed, so messages, including numbers, could be sent in plain, or code. in addition there was a 3-armed system  used from 1803 onwards at coastal locations to warn of invasion. The Emperor was so convinced of the benefits of the telegraph that he took portable versions with him on campaign.
The British government was quick to see that without a telegraph system they were at a distinct disadvantage. The Admiralty’s Shutter Telegraph was created in 1795 to a design by Lord John Murray and had six rotating shutters which were used to indicate a complicated code. It required a rectangular framework tower with six, five feet high, octagonal shutters on horizontal axes that flipped between horizontal and vertical positions to signal. One was set up on top of the Admiralty building in Whitehall – more or less where the modern telecommunications masts can be seen today doing much the same job.
With a staggering disregard for security it was possible to visit the telegraph station, provided one tipped the operator. Presumably only reputable persons were permitted to enter the Admiralty in the first place, but it is still hard to believe that this was not a security loophole. The newspapers kept an eye on telegraphSt Alabans activity and could deduce when something major was about to happen by the volume of traffic and where it was going, even if they could not decipher it
The first line ran from the Admiralty to the dockyards at Sheerness and on to Deal. It had 15 stations along the route and a message took an astonishing sixty seconds. The second went south from London to the naval base at Portsmouth and then on to Plymouth and was opened in May 1806. The third to Yarmouth on the east coast opened in 1808. The image on the left shows the telegraph array on top of the church on St Albans, Hertfordshire.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The intermediate stations were  wooden huts and with a staggering lack of foresight they were all abandoned in 1814 when peace was declared and had to be recommissioned hastily in March 1815 when the news of Bonaparte’s escape from Elba reached London.
When peace came the enterprising Chappe brothers promoted their system for commercial use and some of their stone towers can still be found – there is one in Saverne, for example, and one at Baccon on the Loire, just west of Orleans which I visited a few years ago. (Photo, left, shows it with its restored telegraph arms).
Later in 1815 the Admiralty secured funding for a new system using arms rather than shutters and used the system – weather permitSONY DSCting, until 1847. The brick tower on the right is the semaphore tower at Chatley Heath on the line to Portsmouth. It is now in the care of the National Trust.

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Going to the Library In Georgian London

In a recent post I used two of Cruickshank’s delightful monthly views of London to illustrate the state of the streets. When I looked at March I found it showed the effects of March gales on pedestrians passing the doors of Tilt, Bookseller & Publisher, which made me dig further into my collection to see what I had on access to books.

March
For the middle and upper classes in Georgian London reading was a significant leisure pastime, whether the book was a collection of sermons, a political dissertation, a scientific work or a scandalous novel full of haunted castles, wicked barons and innocent young ladies in peril.
To have a library, however modest, was the mark of a gentleman, but not everyone could afford every book that they wanted, or wanted to own every book that they read.  The subscription circulating library came into existence to satisfy the reading habits of anyone who could afford a few pounds annual subscription and who required “Rational Entertainment In the Time of Rainy Weather, Long Evenings and Leisure Hours”, as the advertisement for James Creighton’s Circulating Library at no.14, Tavistock Street, Covent Garden put it in October 1808.

No doubt the elegant gentleman at the foot of this post would have satisfied his reading habit from one of these libraries. (He is sitting in his garden with a large bee skip in the background and is one of my favourite designs from my collection of bat-printed table wares. Bat printing refers to the method, by the way, and has nothing to do with flying mammals!)
The only bookshop and circulating library of the period that survives today is Hatchard’s in Piccadilly. It was established in 1797 and shared the street with Ridgeway’s and Stockdale’s libraries. The photograph of a modern book display in Hatchard’s was kindly sent to me by a reader who spotted my Walking Jane Austen’s London on the table.Jane Austen in Hatchards. Henshaw (2nd from the right, 2nd row from the front).
Circulating libraries ranged in size from the modest collection of books in a stationer’s shop to large and very splendid collections.

At the top end of the scale was the “Temple of the Muses”, the establishment of Messrs. Lackington and Allen in Finsbury Square. The print shows the main room with the counter under the imposing galleried dome and is dated April 1809. The accompanying text, in Ackermann’s Repository, states that it has a stock of a million volumes. The “Temple” was both a book shop and a circulating library and the pLackingtonsroprietors were also publishers and printers of their own editions. As well as the main room shown in the print there were also “two spacious and cheerful apartments looking towards Finsbury-square, which are elegantly fitted up with glass cases, inclosing books in superb bindings, as well as others of ancient printing, but of great variety and value. These lounging rooms, as they are termed, are intended merely for the accommodation of ladies and gentlemen, to whom the bustle of the ware-room may be an interruption.”
Richards libraryCirculating libraries advertised regularly in all the London newspapers and the advertisement here is a particularly detailed one from a new firm, Richard’s of 9, Cornhill and shows the subscription costs which varied between Town and Country. Special boxes were provided for the transport of books out of London, which was at the cost of the subscriber. Imagine the excitement of a lady living in some distant country house when the package arrived with one of the two books a month her subscription of 4 guineas had purchased!

Reading bat bowl

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Filed under Books, Buildings, Entertainment, Gentlemen, Shopping, Street life, Women

Books For Christmas

Is Christmas present money or a book token burning a hole in your pocket? Here are four of the non-fiction books I enjoyed most in 2014 and which I’d recommend to anyone interested in London’s history or the Georgian era. They aren’t all 2014 publications, but they were new to me last year.

Firstly, and probably my favouriStreet viewte – the London Topographical Society’s reprint of John Tallis’s London Street Views 1838-1840. It has an index, introductory essay and a searchable index on CDRom. The views are a little later than my usual period of interest, but Tallis caught London just before the major Victorian rebuilding and redevelopments got under way and these strips maps showing the elevations of the buildings along each side, plus the names of the businesses in each are incredibly detailed. I own four of the original maps, but it was a lucky chance that I found them at a price I could afford – they are expensive collector’s pieces – so this volume is a real treat.street view actual The example above is a detail from one of my originals and shows part of St James’s Street.

Disorder2 My next choice is Ben Wilson’s Decency & Disorder: 1789-1837, a scholarly, but very readable account of how the boisterous Georgians, valuing liberty and personal freedom above civil order and ‘decency’ and shunning the idea of a police force as foreign and oppressive, changed to adopt ‘Victorian values’ and an organized police force.

I particularly enjoyed the story of the Georgian gentleman who, such was his sensibility, was so overcome by the beauty of the scene that he was lost for words and could only cast himself, face-down, into a flowerbed in Bath. And then there was the member of the Society for the Suppression of Vice who forced himself to buy hand-carved sex toys at a prisoner of war market and then found himself at a loss to send them to the London headquarters. They were, he complained, too bulky to be enclosed in a letter.

Thirdly there is John Styles The Dress of the Common People: everyday fashion in eighteenth century England. Despite the title this lavishly illustrated and very scholarly work covers the Georgian era rather than the 18th century exactly. I found it in, of all places, the National Park bookstore in Salem, Massachusetts, but it is available in the UK.costume2

It is a refreshing change from books of high-end fashion plates and includes information about fabrics and the cost of clothing, where people bought their clothing and a host of other details.

My final choice was too large to go on my scanner, so here is part of the cover of Royal River: power, pageantry and the Thames published for a major exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. (Guest curator, David Starkey).

River The illustrations are gorgeous and the book ranges from topics as diverse as the lord Mayor’s Procession, Lord Nelson’s funeral procession, royal yachts and the transformation of the Thames in the Victorian era.

Best wishes for Christmas and the new year to all my readers!

 

Louise

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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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Horse Guards Parade – Crocodiles, Cardinal Wolsey & Beach Volleyball

One of the emptiest, yet most evocative, spaces in London is Horse Guards Parade. In my last post I wrote about the Regent’s Bomb – the fantastical mortar and gun carriage that sits on one side of the Arch. This time I’m writing about a little of the history of the parade ground and another cannon with a wonderful gun carriage.Guardsman
Horse Guards Parade sits between Whitehall and St James’s Park and began life as open land next to the grounds of York Place, the London palace of the Archbishops of York. Its main entrance faced down the road that is now Horse Guards Avenue, the bishop’s route to his landing stage on the river. With the fall of Cardinal Wolsey Henry VIII seized York Place and then set about acquiring “…all the medowes about saynt James, and all the whole house of S.James and ther made a fayre manision and a parke…” according to Edward Hall.
When the king began his work on what was to become Whitehall Palace a willow marsh for the farming of osiers for basketwork, Steynour’s Croft, covered much of what is now Horse Guards, the Bell Inn stood at the southern edge and an old track crossed it from the scrubland that became St James’s Park.
By 1534 the Palace of Whitehall was largely complete. Part of the area, a longitudinal strip running west across Horse Guards became his tiltyard, scene of tournaments and knightly exercises. Under Elizabeth I the Tiltyard was used for animal baiting and tournaments and pageants which were set pieces for state occasions. Under James I elaborate masques were held – including one involving an elephant carrying a castle – but the increasingly theatrical nature of royal masques led to the building of the Banqueting House on the other side of what was then King Street (now Whitehall) and the last masque in the tiltyard was planned for 1624. After that it became known as the Bearstake Gallery and it continued to be used for baiting sports until 1660.
A standing guard was stationed in a specially built guardroom at the tiltyard from 1641 and the area continued to house soldiers throughout the Commonwealth period.
On May 8th 1660 Charles II was proclaimed on the site of the old Tiltyard ‘Green’ and the renovation of Whitehall Palace began. A plan of c1670 shows Whitehall as a wide street coming down from the north and ending at the pinch-point of a Tudor gate. The range of buildings that were the old Horse Guards were built in 1663 with a yard in front and behind the range the open expanse of ground that became Horse Guards Parade.
In January 1698 a great fire destroyed the Palace of Whitehall, sparing only the Banqueting Hall and Old Horse Guards. A letter of the time records, “All parts from near the house my Lord Lichfield lived in to the Horse Guards were yesterday covered with heaps of goods rescued from the flames.”
The king moved to St James’s Palace, across the park, and Whitehall became the location for many government offices and from the 1730s the buildings surrounding Horse Guards were gradually replaced. The dilapidated old building was demolished in 1750 and the new building – the one we see now – was designed by William Kent, with additions by Isaac Ware.

 

Horse Guards

The large open space was referred to as the Parade ground, but the first written reference to “Horse Guards Parade” as a title comes as late as 1817. By then the area looked much as it does today as can be seen in this print of 1809 by Rowlandson and Pugin, published by Ackermann. Only the high brick wall that closes off the gardens at the rear of Downing Street today (to the right of the picture) is missing.
The space is uncluttered now – when it is not being used for events such as Trooping the Colour and the Olympic Beach Volleyball, or in the Victorian era, the marshalling point for the vast funeral procession of the Duke of Wellington. However there are two interesting weapons exhibited there, either side of the arch. On one side is the Regent’s Bomb, on the other a 16th century Turkish cannon brought to the site in 1802 after its

capture in the siege of Alexandria (1801) when the British invaded Egypt to fight Napoleon’s army, an event that formed the setting for my recent novel Beguiled By

Her Betrayer.

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It was made in 1526 and the inscription on the barrel reads:
“The Solomon of the age the Great Sultan Commander of the dragon guns When they breathe roaring like thunder. May the enemy’s forts be razed to the ground. Year of Hegira 931.”
The gun carriage was made at Woolwich and depicts Britannia pointing at the Pyramids and a rather splendid crocodile.                                                                     You can visit Horse Guards Parade both in my Walks Through Regency London (Walk 8 Trafalgar Square to Westminster, which follows the length of Whitehall)
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00HZ35V4K
and Walking Jane Austen’s London (Walk 6 Westminster to Charing Cross, which goes through St James’s Park).
http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00CPOT0IC

 

 

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Writing Historical Fiction – The Westminster Way: a free all day event

On  Saturday 11th October I’ll be at the City of Westminster Archives Centre, 10 St Ann’s Street, London SW1P 2DE for a *free* all day event –

Writing Historical Fiction…
…the Westminster Way!

  10:00am- 4:00pm

10:00am- 10:45pm Tour: Westminster Archives search room

11:15am- 1:00pm Walk: A walk around Georgian Westminster

2:00pm- 4:00pm Talk: Resources for Writing Historical Fiction

 

Piccadilly

To get your free ticket simply call the Archives Centre on 020 7641 5180

Archive staff will talk you through how to explore the wealth of riches in their collection and will have fascinating items on display for you to take a close-up look. On my walk we will pass from some of the worst slums in London to the centre of power and privilege, join Wordsworth on Westminster Bridge, see where the semaphore towers sending signals to Nelson’s fleet have been replaced by modern wireless aerials, view the Prince of Wales’ Bomb and locate the site of Astley’s Ampitheatre before returning past where Charles II’s ostriches lived, down Cockpit Steps incockpit the wake of Hogarth and back to the Archives Centre.

In the afternoon I’ll be giving an illustrated talk about how the Archives can help you dig deep into the past for your historical writing.

Illustrations:

Top of the page: one of the vivid prints from the Archive Centre collection

Above: The Royal Cockpit by Hogarth

 

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The Funeral of Mr Edward Comely 1811

On April 11th 1811 a funeral procession made its way up Gray’s Inn Lane (now Road) to the New Burial Ground of the parish of St Andrew’s, Holborn. The burial ground is still there and is St Andrew’s Gardens now.
The funeral was that of Mr Edward Comely who had died five days earlier on the 11th April and it was “performed” by Samuel Page, Undertaker, Auctioneer and Appraiser of 232, High Holborn.
005 funeral
I have not been able to find out anything about Edward Comely, other than to deduce that the scale of his funeral and the fact that he lived in a City parish make it likely that he was in trade, probably a as merchant or shopkeeper. His executor who paid the bill, very promptly, on 18th April, was James Meycock, who was probably the same man who appeared as a plaintiff in a burglary case at the Old Bailey in 1809. He was a haberdasher in Broad Street in the adjacent parish of St Giles.
Under the handsome billhead with its picture of a black-clad woman mourning next to a tomb in a churchyard is the detailed account which paints a vivid picture of the details of an early 19th century funeral. Spelling and capitalization are as given in the invoice.
A Strong Elm Coffin covered with fine Black Serge close drove with double Rows of the best Japanned Nails on a Double Flowered Plate & Urn. 6 large Cherubim Escutcheons with wrought handles sett off and decorated with enriched ornaments chas’d and Blk Japanned in the best manner. Lined and furnished. £5 10s
A fine crape Mattress 12s
A fine Crape Shroud Cap and Pillow 18s
3 [?] with the Ditto 6s
Strong screws making up the Body [of the coffin] 3s
The use of a Handsome velvet Pall 7s
A Hearse and Mourning Coach with Pairs [of horses] each 12s
2 Coachmens Cloaks 2s
2 Hatbands and gloves for Ditto 10s
2 Porters in proper dresses to stand at the door and walk in procession 12s
2 Hatbands and gloves for Ditto 10s
4 men to Bear the Corpse 10s
2 Mourners Cloaks 3s
2 Hatbands for use of Ditto 2s
2 hoods and scarves 4s
A man attending the funeral 5s
A hatband and gloves for Ditto 5s
Gravedigger 5s

This totalled £13 16s but a discount of 13s 6d (for prompt payment perhaps?) was given.
Church service etc £4 7s
Paid to Mr Peckring (the clergyman?) £1 9s
The total bill came to £18 18s 6d

Price comparisons are notoriously difficult to make, but at this time a footman in a great house would expect to earn between £25 and £35 a year.
Catherine Arnold in Necropolis: London and Its Dead notes that undertaking as a specific trade developed in the 18th century, probably as a reflection of changing attitudes towards death by the middle classes who both wanted to show a refined sensibility by displays of mourning and meditation on death and also to reflect their growing wealth and confidence by a fine display.
The coachmen, coffin bearers, porters and the ‘man attending the funeral’ – presumably the funeral director’s representative – must all be correctly attired in black cloaks and gloves, with black bands on their hats and with long black scarves, the hearse would move at walking pace and passers-by would have ample opportunity to admire the coffin, draped in its hired velvet pall.
Mourning for the family and relatives would be another major cost to be considered, although that merits a post of its own. However, until I manage to collect all my images and scan them, here is “Evening Mourning Dress” from Ackermann’s Repository December 1810. The afflicted lady sits all in black and white, mopping her eyes next to a suitably funereal urn. Her jewellery is black jet. Although she has dressed formally for the evening she does not seem to be looking forward to socialising, poor thing.

Mourning 1810 crop

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Eating Out In Georgian London – A Regency Good Food Guide

My starrylanceting point for this post is a book that will fascinate anyone interested in Georgian London  – The Epicure’s Almanac: Eating and Drinking in Regency London by Ralph Rylance, edited by Janet Ing Freeman (British Library 2012).

In 1815 Rylance published the first guide to London eating, with, as he put it, the intention of guiding his readers to those establishments where they might ‘dine well and to the best advantage.’  Incredibly, Rylance claimed to have investigated all the locations himself, over 600 of them. His recommendations range from smart Mayfair hotels, inns, chop houses, markets, tea gardens and cake shops. Poor Rylance must have hoped his work would go into many editions, but it survived only the one and the publisher, Longmans, did not reprint.

Janet Ing Freeman has taken Rylance’s original text and investigated all the establishments he mentions, giving us notes on location and lots of interesting snippets about how they developed, who ate there and quotes from other sources. There are original maps to assist. Her detailed scholarly work turns Rylance’s book from a curiosity into a useable guide for the modern reader.

In addition to the places where one might eat there is a ‘Review of Artists Who Administer to the Wants and Conveniences of the Table’ ie shops for kitchen equipment and ingredients. These include Deakin’s Philosophical Kitchen Range which may be obtained from the inventor at 47, Ludgate Hill.  We are told it ‘combines economy with simplicity. It contains an improved oven for bread or pies; a capacious boiler, a place for several stewpans and saucepans with the addition of a moveable steaming apparatus…’ The boiler can also be used for distilling. The editor explains that ‘philosophical’ is used in the sense of ‘scientific’  and in 1817 prices ranged from 11 to 20 guineas.

One of the most frequently mentioned type of eating place is the oyster room. Oysters were cheap fast food and could be eaten at various shellfish warehouses and in most other eateries. Rylance mentions many oyster rooms such as Lynn’s at 145 Fleet Street where ‘the best accommodations are upstairs’, and Sawyer’s, St Martin’s Lane noting that it is, ‘One of the largest concerns of the kind in London, for the sale not only of shell-fish, but also of pickled and dried salmon, spruce beer and other beverages.’

In my collection I have this print, ‘A noted Oyster Room near the theatres -Time 3 o’Clock in the Morning’. (Drawn by Samuel AlOyster rooms_0001ken, published 1823). A very good time is being had by everyone and I strongly suspect that the gentlemen are not accompanied by their wives!

Another popular type of eating place was the coffee house, a very masculine preserve, where coffee was drunk, newspapers read and matters of business and politics discussed. Food was also served in many of them, for example the Piazza Coffee House in Covent Garden, founded by actor Charles Macklin, where ‘dinners for large and small parties are served up in the most consummate style of elegance.’

This illustration from Ackermann’s Repository of October 1811 shows the Auction Mart Coffee Room in Throgmorton Street. Auctions were often held in coffee houses and the Auction Mart was an attempt to move some of them into a purpose-built venue, although of course it still had to have its coffee room.  RylanAuction martce observes that it was ‘fitted up in very neat style. Here soups, and the usual coffee-house refreshments, are served up.’ The notes in the Repository are only concerned with the architecture, not the refreshments unfortunately, and the illustration shows an unconvincingly  quiet and uncrowded space.

Finally, for another type of establishment, we have the confectioners. As I have an invoice from Parmentier’s in my collection I’ve chosen that one from the many that Rylance describes. Parmentiers was located in Edwards Street (now part of Wigmore Street). ‘Here every article is perfected in the true Parisian style of excellence. You find eau de Cologne, pâte de guimauve [marshmallow confections], cachou à la rose, cachou à l’orange et à la violette [lozenge-shaped sweetmeats], papillottes avec devises [small candies wrapped in paper containing jokes or mottoes]. Here are to be had preserves and conserves, wet and dry, jellies, jams, coloured transparent pastes, fruits dried or preserved in French brandies, comfits, lozenges, drops of every colour and flavour, superior macaroons, and rout cakes of the most fanciful forms, with ices and creams.’ My invoice is for lemon and orange syrups.

Parmentier0001It is still possible to eat in some of the establishments that Rylance mentions. For example The Cheshire Cheese is still in Wine Office Court off Fleet Street, and close to the Bank of England you can eat at Simpson’s Tavern in Ball’s Court and the nearby George and Vulture in George Yard.

For my next post I’ll be discovering some recipes for popular foods in Georgian London.

 

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Miss Austen Buys Fabric

The most frequent item mentioned by Jane Austen when she writes home to Cassandra about her London shopping expeditions is fabric for her own use and for Cassandra and their mother. Ready made gowns were unusual and ladies in modest circumstances, such as the Austens, would buy dress lengths of fabric and either make them up at home or use a local dressmaker.

Mostly ladies would browse at the drapers’ shops and make their choices there, but Ackerman’s Repository of Arts, Science etc, was innovative enough to give samples of real fabrics in the magazine and a page for February 1810 is shown here.
1-Ackermann fabrics
Top left: A royal embossed satin: a splendid and elegant article for robes or pelisses. Sold by Harris, Moody & Co., silk-weavers, Pall-Mall.

Top right: A superfine imperial orange bombazeen, particularly calculated for Ladies’ dresses. It is sold, of every colour, by Messrs. Waithman and Everington, No,104, Fleet-street.

Bottom left: An imitative Angola shawl dress of blended green and amber. Sold by Messrs. Brisco & Powley, No.103, New Bond-street, from 38s to 50s per dress.

Bottom right: An India rib permanent green print. A patent has lately been obtained by Hewson, Higgins & Hett, for printing green on cotton goods. Sundry cotton goods for waistcoats are printed exclusively for Kestevens, York-street, Covent-garden.

On 24th May 1813 Jane wrote, “I went the day before (Friday) to Layton’s as I proposed, & got my Mother’s gown, 7 yds at 6/6.” [ie six shillings and six pence a yard]. Layton’s drapery shop, Bedford House, was at 9, Henrietta Street in Covent Garden, right next door to Henry Austen’s bank at number 10. Henry was on the point of moving to live in he apartments over the bank and Jane reports going next door to inspect the work, “which is all dirt & confusion, but in a very promising way…”

She does not say what kind of fabric she had purchased, presumably the ladies had agreed about that in advance, but in mid-September she was staying with Henry at number 10 and reports, “We did go to Layton & Shear’s before Breakfast. Very pretty English poplins at 4 [shillings and] 3 [pence]. Irish ditto at 6 [shillings] – more pretty certainly – beautiful.” Later in the same letter she writes to Cassandra, “…I am going to treat myself with spending [my superfluous wealth myself. I hope at least I shall find some poplin at Layton & Shears that will tempt me to buy it. If I do, it shall be sent to Chawton, as half will be for you … I shall send 20 yards.”

The invaluable English Women’s Clothing in the Nineteenth Century by C.Willet Cunnington describes poplin as being “made of a silk warp and wool or worsted weft, having a fine cord on the surface, and produced in several varieties, brocaded, watered and plain.”

Jane also patronised Christian & Sons at 11, Wigmore Street where she bought dimity (“A stout cotton fabric, plain or twilled, with a raised pattern on one side.”) and Newton’s, just of Leicester Square, for Irish linen.

One of the most up-market fabric shops were Wilding & Kent at Grafton house on the corner of New Bond Street and Grafton Street. On 17 April 1811 Jane and Manon, Eliza Austen’s maidservant, ‘…took our walk to Grafton House, & I have a good deal to say on that subject. I am sorry to tell you that I am getting very extravagant & spending all my Money; & what is worse for you, I have been spending yours too…’ she told Cassandra. It was a very busy shop and in November 1815 Jane complains of ‘the miseries’ of shopping there and most of her references to it mention an early start and long waits to be served – not that this stopped her going there frequently.

One fashionable drapers, Harding, Howell and Co., is not mentioned by Jane, although she must have known it, for it was located in Pall Mall in the seventeenth century red brick Schomberg House which still stands out in this street of stone and stucco.

According to Ackermann’s Repository, which is where the illustration below appeared, ‘It is fitted up with great taste, and divided by glazed partitions into four departments.’ These were: furs and fans; ‘haberdashery of every description, siHarding, Howel0001lks, muslins, lace, gloves etc.’; jewellery and ornamental items including perfumery and finally, ‘millinery and dresses; so that there is no article of female attire or decoration, but what may here procured in the first style of elegance and fashion.’

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St James’s Palace – Part One

One building we can be certain would be completely recognisable to Jane Austen in today’s London is St James’s Palace which lies at the bottom of St James’s Street with Green Park to the north-west and St James’s Park to the south.

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It had an unglamorous beginning for a royal palace – as a leper hospital. In the 11th century the parish of St Margaret’s, Westminster (whose church sits in the grounds of Westminster Abbey) was given land for the establishment of a hospital for fourteen leprous women. The hospital was dedicated to St James the Less and was remote from habitation in a swampy area, regularly flooded by a branch of Tyburn Brook. What is now Piccadilly was a track on a ridge leading from the City of London to the west, but it was completely without habitation.

Successive kings and queens granted the hospital money until 1348 when the Black Death seems to have killed off the inhabitants and the buildings were leased out to various occupiers until 1439 when Henry VI granted the hospital and its lands to Eton College. In 1531 Henry VIII took it from the College in a swap with some royal lands elsewhere.

In the City of London and the City of Westminster Henry already possessed the Tower of London, Bridewell Palace, Baynards Castle, Whitehall Palace and Westminster Palace. He had another palace just downstream at Greenwich, plus Hampton Court upstream which he seized from Cardinal Wolsey. Despite all this he decided to build another palace at St James’s and had the old building demolished to make way for it. By acquiring the St James’s property he vastly extended his Westminster/Whitehall lands with a hunting park over a wide area, including what is now St James’s Park.The new palace was begun in 1536 and the great gatehouse that stands at the foot of St James’s Street dates from this phase of building. (Photograph at the top of the page). Edward VI, Mary and Elizabeth all lived at St James’s Palace from time to time and, with the accession of the Stuart dynasty, more work was done to make it a fit residence for the heir. Prince Henry, however, died in 1612, after which it was taken over by his brother, later Charles I. The palace was still remote, with parkland to the south and fields to the north. The only significant development was the Queen’s Chapel, built by Inigo Jones  in anticipation of Charles’s marriage to Henrietta Maria, a Roman Catholic who lived at the palace whilst Charles had his base at Whitehall.

During the Commonwealth the palace became a barracks and a prison, but after the Restoration the Duke of York (later James II) used it and considerable building work was carried out. James moved to Whitehall on his accession leaving St James’s to his queen. It was during this period that the palace’s first water closet, ‘The Stool Room’, was built complete with Dutch wall tiles and brass and ivory fittings to operate the flushing cistern.In the years after Charles II’s return to the throne the entire St James’s area was developed and became a major centre for courtiers, hangers-on at the court and the tradesmen who serviced them. After the Glorious Revolution William and Mary did not live at St James’s but Mary’s sister, Queen Anne, did, and had an extensive building programme carried out with a new suite of royal apartments designed by Sir Christopher Wren. The queen held ‘Drawing Rooms’ during the winter months when anyone of respectable appearance would be admitted, along with the courtiers and ministers there to do business, but they were dull occasions and the queen disliked the palace, preferring Windsor Castle or William and Mary’s Kensington Palace.When the Hanoverian monarchs took over the throne in 1714 George I moved into St James’s Palace and used it more intensively than his predecessors. George II disagreed, apparently concurring with the Prussian Baron Bielfeld who called it ‘crazy, smoky and dirty’ and Daniel Defoe who considered it ‘mean’ and beneath the dignity of the court.But it was the official London royal palace – Westminster and Whitehall had become Parliamentary and governmental complexes and the Tower was impossibly medieval. Winter was the time for the court to be in residence there with monarchs preferring Kew, Windsor and Kensington during the summer months.

Prince George, who was to become the Regent, then George IV, was born at St James’s Palace in 1762 and the baby was displayed less than two weeks after his birth to all those attending the Drawing Room. The king and queen considered the palace,  described by Sir John Fielding as ‘the jest of foreigners’, to be a ‘dust trap’, so they lived at the Queen’s House (later to become BuckinghamPalace). However that had no state rooms, so the Court was still officially at St James’s – where it remains to this day. All ambassadors are still accredited to The Court of St James’s.

I will visit the Court of St James under George III and George IV, as Regent and king, in my next post.

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