Tag Archives: Regency London

May Day

May DayHappy May Day! This is such a lovely image that I am reposting a 2015 blog. Above is one of Cruickshank’s great monthly images of London streets showing a May Day procession, led by a clown and followed by a couple – he is carrying a sword, she appears to have a large wooden spoon. Behind them comes an extraordinary character, disguised as a pile of greenery shaped into a crown at the top, and followed by a motley crowd led by a drummer and fife player. Suitably they are passing the shop of Budd, Florist.

To try and make some sense of the picture I turned to Brand’s “Observations on Popular Antiquities…Vulgar Customs, Ceremonies and Superstitions.” (1813) He records that, “It was anciently the custom for all ranks of people to go out a Maying early on the first of May…both sexes were wont to rise a little after midnight on the morning of that day, and walk to some neighbouring wood, accompanied with musick (sic) and the blowing of horns, where they broke down branches from trees and adorned them with nosegays and crowns of flowers. This done, they returned home with the booty, about the time of sunrise, and made their doors and windows triumph in the flowery spoil.”

He records, “In the Morning Post, Monday, May 2nd, 1791, it was mentioned, ‘that yesterday, being the first of May, according to annual and superstitious custom, a number of persons went into the fields and bathed their faces with the dew on the grass, under the idea that it would render them beautiful.’ I remember too, that in walking that same morning between Hounslow and Brentford, I was met by two distinct parties of girls with garlands of flowers, who begged money of me, saying, ‘Pray, Sir, remember the Garland.'”

The strange foliage figure in the print is presumably a walking May Day garland of branches and greenery and perhaps the procession is on its way to dance around a Maypole. He quotes a Mr Strutt: “The Mayings are in some sort yet kept up by the milk-maids at London, who go about the streets with their garlands and musick, dancing; but this tracing is a very imperfect shadow of the original sports; for May-poles were set up in the streets, with various martial shows, morris-dancing and other devices, with which, and revelling, and good cheer, the day was passed away.”

I wonder whether the wooden spoon the young lady is holding is some kind of dairy implement – a cream skimmer, perhaps – symbolic of the milk maids? The small boy just behind her may be a chimney sweep’s boy, holding his brush and dust pan. Brand records that, “The young chimney-sweepers, some of whom are fantastically dressed in girls’ clothes, with a great profusion of brick dust by way of paint, gilt paper etc, making a noise with their shovels and brushes, are now the most striking objects in the celebration of May Day in the streets of London.” This lad’s hat certainly seems to be decorated.

Save

Save

5 Comments

Filed under Entertainment, Street life, Traditions

A Slightly Soggy Smile

I bought a few pages from a 19th century scrap book which included this delightful cartoon about the state of London streets. It isn’t dated, but from the men’s clothes I would guess 1820s. St Paul’s can just be seen in the background.

The standing man, who seems to be perched on wooden pattens is saying, “Why friend, you are over shoe tops. Catch hold of my stick and I’ll help you out.”

The other, who it can just be seen is holding reins in one hand, replies, “I thank you, Sir, but I’ve a Horse under me that’s used to bad roads.”

1 Comment

Filed under Street life, Transport and travel

The Rural Beauties of Bayswater – a completely unrecognisable London scene

bayswater

This is a “View of the Conduit at Bays-Water” (1796) To find the location of this beautiful rural scene today  go to Leinster Terrace, about halfway between the Lancaster Gate and Queensway tube stations on the Bayswater Road on the northern edge of Hyde Park. Walk north for about 150 metres to Craven Hill Gardens and there you are.  Have a look on Streetview and you’ll see that you are in the middle of respectable early Victorian houses and shops because, until about 1839, this was open country.

Bayswater was well known for its springs and the name is said to originate in the principal one, Baynard’s Watering, known from the earliest Middle Ages. From 1439 until 1812 the Bayswater Conduit carried water from Baynard’s Watering to supply the City of London and the area around was one of London’s beauty spots. It really needs some imagination to conjure up what lies beneath the pavements!

 

Save

Leave a comment

Filed under Architecture, Buildings, Rivers

Cutting and Rumping – How to Snub in True Regency Style

We have all been there and experienced the moment when the last person we want to acknowledge is that old friend or acquaintance coming towards us down Bond Street. We used to be bosom bows but now they have committed some unforgivable sin – and what that might be will vary depending on our sex and our sensitivity – perhaps they  flirted with our beloved, wore the same gown as we did to a Drawing Room, made snide remarks about our virility at the club, were overheard sneering about our new French chef’s offerings at our last, vastly expensive, dinner party. Or they might have proved themselves unworthy of our acquaintance by some error of taste or action and can no longer be counted as one of us, one of the ton.

Clarendon hotel

So – do you swallow your dislike or distaste and greet them as warmly as always, or do you deploy one of the armoury of “cuts” that the Regency lady or gentleman had at their disposal? Above is a scene in Bond Street with some cutting in action. It is from the “Bores” series (published by Thomas Edgerton 1824) and the story is that the military dandy is being approached by a country gentleman whose acquaintance he is now ‘bored’ with, so he is using the Cut Direct. The young man looking towards us appears to be using the Cut Modest to avoid eye contact with either of them.

The simplest cut (and the one most suited to the ladies as it involves no actual action at all) is The Cut Modest, or, Indirect. This is easiest if you are some distance from them, on the other side of the road perhaps, or in your carriage at the fashionable time to drive in Hyde Park. Just avert your gaze and pretend you have not seen them, even if they wave, call out to you or brandish their umbrella.

If they are right in front of you then you must be more assertive and exercise The Cut Direct. You act as though they are not there and so you look right through them, even if they are under your nose outside Wilding & Kent’s shop where you have just purchased some delicious lace or they are emerging from Dolland’s the opticians with the new telescope they are about to show off at the club. Look them in the face, meet their eye and show not a flicker of recognition.

They may, of course, assume you are simply miles away, thinking of that delicious young man they (most unfortunately) saw you with last night, or nursing a monumental hangover (caused by their cheap and nasty brandy ). In that case they may well greet you anyway, an embarrassing moment that calls for The Cut Courteous. Smile faintly, enquire courteously, “Sir (or Madam)? Do I have the pleasure of your acquaintance?” Then sail on past, they will get the point.

The person you wish to cut may be simply a chance-met acquaintance, one who you acquired on your travels perhaps, and who now hails you in the street, ready to presume on the fleeting camaraderie of that rather lurid night out in Rome on the Grand Tour, or the endless tedium of the voyage back from India where almost anyone other than the ship’s cat became a welcome companion. This calls for The Cut Obtuse. You have never been to Rome, you protest, certainly not to that dubious-sounding bordello near the Forum. India? Never set foot in it and as for the good ship Nausea, no it could not have been you, you never travel anywhere by sea except on your own yacht. And finally, no, you are most certainly not the Earl of Wittering.

They may be particularly persistent, or you may not have much confidence in keeping a straight-enough face. This requires The Cut Circumbendibus involving direct action – dodge into that alleyway, dive into that shop (and straight out again if you are female and you have found yourself in Weston the tailor’s elegant male sanctuary) or cross the street.

There are two embellishments to the basic cut that may be employed by the skilled cutter. The Cut Sublime involves casting up your eyes to the Heavens. You may pretend to be receiving inspiration from on high, studying cloud formation or wondering if that is a flock of ptarmigan flapping across St James’s Park. A degree of skill in not falling over your own feet or down a coal hole is required and you will need to estimate accurately when they have passed you by, or they may be waiting patiently for you to look down so they can enquire about the weather, the prospects for shooting game or the likelihood of divine intervention in your card playing. Finally there is The Cut Infernal, the opposite of the Sublime. Simply bend down and attend to your shoelaces or your spurs until the person has passed. This is obviously unsuited to ladies or to any gentleman whose posterior is best not displayed in such a manner. (See Rumping below.)

royal rumpFinally, and most regally, there is The Cut Visible, the cut so blunt and obvious that no-one could mistake it. The Prince Regent’s version of this is known as Rumping. If he wishes to indicate that some former acquaintance is now persona non grata then Prinny simply turns his back on them at the last moment as they approach him. The unfortunate cuttee is then presented with a fine view of the expansive royal backside. (A fine view of the Royal Rump can be seen in this detail from a Cruickshank cartoon of 1819)

I am indebted for these social hints to Pierce Egan’s version of Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1823) and to John Bee’s Slang: a dictionary of the same year.

If you wish to stroll down Bond Street practicing your cutting technique the Walk 2 in Walking Jane Austen’s London will guide you to all the best places.

 

 

 

4 Comments

Filed under Gentlemen, High Society, Royalty

Looking Down on London Bridge

Last week I went up the Shard on the south bank of the Thames and, knees shaking at the height, looked down on London Bridge, 800 feet below. In the photograph you can see its northern end, the Monument to the Great Fire on Fish Hill and the spire of the church of St Magnus the Martyr.

DSCN7278edit

London Bridge is broken down,
Gold is won and bright renown.
Shields sounding,
War-horns sounding,
Hildur shouting in the din!
Arrows singing,
Mailcoats ringing,
Odin makes our Olaf win!

Not quite the cheery little 17th century nursery rhyme we are familiar with but a Norse poet writing of the attempt of Saxon King Ethelred the Unready (who wasn’t really Unready but Unraed-y – suffering from bad councillors) to recapture London from King Cnut (who never really believed he could hold back the tide, but chroniclers don’t seem to have any sense of irony) with the help of King Olaf of Norway in 1014.
This was the wooden London Bridge that had been rebuilt several times since the Romans left and, for centuries, was the only crossing point in London.
(Oddly, despite burning the bridge, Olaf became a popular saint. His church at the southern end of the bridge is now under an office block bearing his name.)
Even without the intervention of marauding Vikings, wooden bridges needed constant repair, so in 1176 work started on a stone bridge, completed in 1209. All the versions of London Bridge for over a thousand years have been more or less on the same spot, but we know exactly where this one, now known as Old London Bridge, was located because it survived, albeit endlessly adapted, until 1830. DSCN7280edit
The bridge had a drawbridge in it to allow taller ships to pass, gatehouses to guard it – and, from the 14th century, to act as convenient places to stick the heads and assorted limbs of traitors – and a chapel. Almost from the beginning houses and shops were built along the bridge, narrowing the roadway to between 12 and 15 feet (3.7 – 4.6 metres). After the Great Fire in 1666 when some were destroyed they were rebuilt hanging further out over the river, but even so it was hideously congested.
From 1722 tolls were charged on vehicles which meant that they tended to stop in Southwark on the southern side and unload their passengers and goods. Numerous inns grew up to deal with this business. In an attempt to control the flow on the bridge three men were employed to try and enforce driving on the left, the first time a ‘keep left’ rule was applied in England. Stonegate at the southern end was rebuilt in 1728 with a wider arch but even so, when there was a major event at Vauxhall gardens, for example, three hour traffic jams were not uncommon.London Bridge Frost Fair
By the time Westminster Bridge opened in 1750 London Bridge was looking decidedly shabby by contrast and drastic modifications were carried out between 1757-62. All the buildings were demolished, a wider central arch was created and the bridge was widened by 26 feet (8 metres) and refaced in Portland stone. Alcoves were added along its length, some with domes, and the lighting was improved. In 1763 the Stonegate was demolished and arches made in the tower of the church of St Magnus the Martyr at the northern end for pedestrians using the widened road. The clock that overhung the roadway is still there, blocked from the river now by an ugly modern office Monument0002building. In the print looking down Fish Hill you can see the tower of St Magnus and the clock.
Even with the renovations the old bridge was failing and the final straw was the damage in the severe winter of 1813-14 when the last Frost Fair was held on the Thames. (The black and white print above shows one of the arches during the Frost Fair). Work began in 1824 on a new bridge, built alongside the old one so that traffic could continue. The new alignment shifted the approach to the bridge westwards from Fish Hill, site of the Monument, and obliterated the waterworks on the upstream side of the old bridge. The works had waterwheels that took 4 million gallons a day from the river to supply 10,000 customers and they can be seen on the far side in this print of 1814.

Monument0003
The new bridge, designed by John Rennie, opened in 1831 and the old bridge was demolished over the next two years. Rennie’s bridge was replaced in 1972 with the present structure.
So what remains of Old London Bridge? Not a lot, considering what an iconic feature of the London landscape it was for so long. One of the 18thc alcoves is in the grounds of Guy’s Hospital, two are in Victoria Park, Hackney and a fourth in the gardens of a block of flats in East Sheen. A stone from an arch is in the churchyard of St Magnus the Martyr where the clock can still be seen and you can walk through the arch in the tower. There is an excellent model of the old bridge with its houses and shops in the church and an even bigger model in the Museum of London.
If you walk into Southwark and find Newcomen Street you’ll see the King’s Arms, a Victorian pub with a fine stone coat of arms on the front. This used to say GIIR, for George II, and was fixed on the Stonegate, the entrance to old London bridge from the Southwark side, in 1728. When the gate was demolished in 1760 it was removed, the inscription changed to 1760 and GIIIR for the current king, and put up on a tavern that stood in Axe Yard.

DSCN7281edit

 

3 Comments

Filed under Architecture, Buildings, Monuments, Transport and travel

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.

4 Comments

Filed under Buildings, Crime, High Society, London Parks

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.

7 Comments

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