Tag Archives: Regency London

The Road to Waterloo Week Six – “The Belgians Undergo the Most Lively Sensations.”

By Monday April 3rd the book publishers had jumped on the Napoleonic bandwagon and advertisements began appearing in the newspapers –
“Letter to a noble lord on the present situation of France and Europe accompanied by official and original documents. John Murray Albemarle-street.”
“The CRISIS, addressed to the people of ENGLAND on the Emperor NAPOLEON’S returned to Power. By a barrister of the Middle Temple. James Ridgway Piccadilly (Price 2s)”
“The STATEMENT of BONAPARTE’S plot made to Earl BATHURST and the FRENCH AMBASSADOR in October and November last by WILLIAM PLAYFAIR Esq. is now ready, price 1s 6d. It contains also the Cypher in which Bonaparte corresponded, with the Key, his Proclamation in Cypher and Decyphered etc. At 41 Pall-mall.”

Fashion 1815
For those hoping to ignore the rumbling threat of war, an intriguing fashion advert describes garments that can be bought ready-made and then altered to fit the customer:
“Elegant, Nouvelle and Fashionable Millinery, Dresses, Pellisses, Mantles etc etc – Thomas and Co. agreeable to their usual plan, have (under the superintendence of Mrs. Thomas) completed the greatest choice of articles in the above branches, uniting in a pleasing style, the French with the English taste, and which are composed of prime and nouvelle materials. The above are particularly adapted for evening or full dress, the dinner party or the promenade and from being made in all sizes enables them to execute any commissions with all possible speed and thereby doing away (in a very material degree) the necessity of giving orders. 193 Fleet- street, west end corner of Chancery-lane.” The charming little image above is from a lady’s memorandum book for 1815.

The foreign papers, reported on Monday, told that the Belgians were undergoing “the most lively sensations” – as well they might. British ships had been permitted to enter Dieppe peaceably and that appeared to be the official port for communications, Meanwhile, in Paris, Napoleon seemed largely concerned with returning affairs as quickly as possible to the position before he left, including changing back the names of Paris streets.

“The Duc d’Orleans and his daughter, with their suite, arrived from Amsterdam and put up at Greillon’s (sic) Hotel, Albemarle Street.” It was not clear whether they intended staying for the duration of the emergency, or whether this was just a visit.

“Madame Catalini’s delightful retreat, The Hermitage, at Old Brompton is to be disposed of. In the event of her return from France, her engagements are so numerous and particularly during the summer months, when the Hermitage may really be compared to a paradise, that she has no means of enjoying thcatalanie advantages that its easy access to town will afford some more fortunate purchaser. The interior embellishments and furniture are spoken of in high terms of admiration. Mssrs. Robins are empowered to dispose of it, and report says, at a sacrifice to the fair warbler of many thousand pounds.” Madame Catalini (shown left) was a singer of huge international fame who would appear in Brussels to great acclaim as the crisis developed.

Wellington arrived in Brussels on Tuesday to take command of an Allied army that would total between 800,000-1,200,000 men when mustered and on Saturday 8th April Bonaparte ordered the general mobilisation of France. The situation was escalating.
The Marriages column of the Morning Post on Monday recorded one of the marriages of military men now gathering in Belgium.
“A few days since, by special licence, at Bruxelles Lieut. Colonel George H. Berkeley to Miss Sutton eldest daughter of Lady Sutton of Mosely House in the county of Surrey. His Grace the Duke of Richmond gave away the bride.”

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Filed under Books, Entertainment, Fashions, Love and Marriage, Napoleon, Wellington

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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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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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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The Road to Waterloo Week One – The Emperor Escapes

1 Sunday 26th February – Saturday 4th March 1815

Two hundred years ago today the King of Elba – Napoleon Bonaparte – was putting the final touches to his audacious plan to escape from his tiny island kingdom and take back his empire. He knew his position was increasingly insecure – at best he faced an impoverished exile, for he knew King Louis was unlikely to keep paying his pension. At worst he feared assassination or imprisonment. The print below is a detail of one published by Phillips in 1814 showing Napoleon on his way to Elba.
At the Congress in Vienna the great powers negotiated over the future of Europe while in London people argued aboElbaut the falling price of wheat, worried over the problem of unemployed ex-soldiers – many of them seriously disabled – begging on the streets and enjoyed some of the fruits of peace such as cheap bread for the poor, continental tourism for the rich.
I was intrigued to discover just what Londoners knew about the crisis on the continent as it unfolded and how they were spending their time when they did know that the “Corsican Monster” was on the loose again, so in addition to my usual blogs about life in Georgian London I will be posting a weekly account every Thursday of London life in the shadow of war and the countdown to the Battle of Waterloo.
On Elba that Sunday morning the weather was fine and calm. Rumours were rife on the island that Napoleon was escaping, although they did not appear to have reached the naval ships who were, rather casually, keeping an eye on him. Napoleon gave his morning levée dressed with great care in the coat of a grenadier officer in the Guards and wearing the Légion d’Honneur. He spent the day in last-minute preparations and paperwork and finally, after nightfall, accompanied his suite down to the harbour, to board the brig Inconstant along with the grenadiers of the Guard and his suite – about five hundred people in all. Other troops – Polish lancers, gunners and so forth, were loaded into the Saint Esprit, a merchant ship and the Caroline, a small flat-bottomed ship that could be run up on to a beach. In total there were about 1,100 men, four cannon, and forty horses. A cannon fired and, on a dangerously light breeze, Napoleon was carried slowly away from Elba.
Meanwhile, in London, divine service was held at Carlton House by the ReverendPanoramas Blomberg and Clerke and the newspapers were speculating that another row of properties were to be purchased by the Prince Regent in Brighton to allow for the expansion of the Pavilion. The likely cost was commented upon – unfavourably.
On Monday, while Napoleon’s little flotilla was creeping north-west on the very lightest of winds, missing British warships by the skin of his teeth and incredible good luck, Henry Aston Barker, proprietor of the Panorama, Leicester Square was advertising that “The beautiful VIEW OF MALTA will positively CLOSE on Saturday 11th March. The splendid Battle of Vittoria will also be closed in a few weeks. Open from 10 till dusk. Admission to each painting 1s.” Interest in the French wars was, perhaps, fading. In this print the entrance to the Panorama can just be seen to the side of Isaac Newton’s drapery business with “Rome, Malta” over the door.
Ironically most newspapers carried an advertisement informing readers that “PRINCE LUCIEN BONAPARTE’S MAGNIFICENT COLLECTION OF PICTURES is now open to the Public, and will be Sold by Private Contract, individually, at the New Gallery, no.60 Pall-mall. Admittance 1s. Descriptive catalogue 1s 6d.”
The local papers had, understandably, more parochial concerns. Readers could discover that a reward of £100 was offered for the discovery of the murder of Mary Hall, wife of Henry Hall, labourer at Dagnall in Buckinghamshire, with a free pardon to any accomplice making such discovery, or be amazed by the item in the Birmingham Daily Post announcing under the heading “Early Closing” that the “drapers of the town of Bromsgrove have resolved in future to close their establishments at ten instead of eleven o’clock on Saturday nights.” Such liberality to the employees! The London papers also reported that, “In consequence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer not having proposed any new tax on beer the principal brewers of Portsmouth and neighbourhood have met together and have decided to lower the price of beer this day to 5d per pot.”
Far more seriously, from Vienna, the Times reported, ”The discussions on the slave trade have been very warm at the Congress. Lord Castlereagh was extremely anxious to take with him its abolition, but he met with opponents worthy of him. It was in vain that he made a pompous display of philanthropy; it was thought to be visible that he was more occupied by the interest of his own country, than by the love of humanity.”
For those for whom the cost of beer was of little importance, Mr T W Lord advertised dancing lessons: “to give instruction in the most fashionable style and by his easy & superior methods they are soon perfectly qualified to appear in the first circles. The German Waltz may be attained in Six Lessons.” The print below is from La Belle Assemblee (1817) and shows a waltz class in action.BA 1817 waltz
Meanwhile Napoleon’s ships continued unmolested, or even challenged, and at 1 p.m. on March 1st they passed Antibes and anchored at Golfe Juan. The first troops to land met no opposition and just after 4 p.m. Napoleon was rowed ashore to set foot once more on French soil. Antibes was too well defended to attack, so Napoleon went into Cannes, where he met neither opposition, nor much enthusiasm, and led his army north up the rough road that led to Grasse and the north.
By hard marching over very difficult terrain he reached Digne, 87 miles from the coast, on Saturday 4th March. He was greeted with enthusiasm – and the news of his landing finally reached Paris by telegraph. London and Vienna were quite unaware of what had occurred.
On 5th March I’ll blog about the next week, as London, in the grip of the Corn Law riots, continued in ignorance of the invasion, the King of France dithered and the news of Napoleon’s escape reached Vienna – and the Duke of Wellington.

Battlefield Brides – three Waterloo heroes and the women who went to war with them:
Sarah Mallory – A Lady For Lord Randall (May 2015)
Annie Burrows – A Mistress For Major Bartlett
Louise Allen – A Rose for Major Flint (July 2015)

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The Story of a Square 7: Finsbury Square

In my occasional series on the history of London Squares I am going eastwards to Finsbury Square, shown outlined in green in Horwood’s map of c1800.

Finsbury Square was built between 1777 and 1791 in an attempt, according to The London Encyclopaedia, to ‘recreate a West End atmosphere near the City’. The principal architect was Charles Dance, but others were involved, and each side of the Square was different. It was severely damaged during World War II and now none of the original buildings remain, nor the circular central garden.

It was built on the land marked on Roque’s map (1740s) below as Upper Moor Fields.

This was originally part of a larger marshy fen or moor outside the City walls which was fully drained in 1527. It ran from immediately north of the City walls and ditch, with the Wall Brook, draining into the City ditch, on the eastern side and a causeway (now the A501, City Road) to the west. Where the causeway met London Walls was the Moor Gate, built 1414 by the Lord Mayor Falconer ‘for ease of citizens that way to pass…into the fields…for their recreation.’ The print shows it at the time of its demolition in 1762.

On the western side Cheselstrete, now Chiswell Street, came in at a right angle to an area of the Moor called Mallow Field, bounded on the east by the parish boundary between St Leonard Shoreditch (east) and St Giles Without Cripplegate (west). The eastern part of the moor in St Leonard’s parish was simply called The Moor and, by the time of Roque’s map, was built over.

To the south of the junction of the causeway with Chiswell Street was the northern boundary of the City, By the 1740s narrow Ropemaker Alley ran along that line to the west and is now Ropemaker Street.

South of the City boundary and north of the Wall was Moor Field, its distorted rectangular shape preserved in the formal landscaped area behind the Bethlem Hospital marked as Moor Fields on Roque’s map. Finsbury Circus (1815-17) occupies much of this area today.

A 16th century illustrated map (below) shows these areas shortly after they were drained. Animals are pastured, archery practice is going on, laundry is laid out to dry and cloth is being stretched on tenterhooks. Finsbury Square occupies the area approximately where the horses are grazing.

By the 1740s the tenter grounds were clearly defined and laid out to the east and north of Upper and Lower Moor Fields and the adjoining Upper Moor Field to the west and, stretching up further north, was The Artillery Ground. The Honourable Artillery Company (who still provide the salutes at the Tower and on state occasions) continue to occupy the site which is now their sports field with the headquarters to the north. In 1672 Moor Gate was rebuilt and made higher so that the trained Bands (the local militia) could march through with their long pikes upright on their way to military exercises on the Moor.

In 1785, as work began on Finsbury Square, Vicenzo Lunardi, the Italian pioneer balloonist, took off from the Artillery Ground with a vast and excited crowd spilling out over the Moor all around. (He landed safely near Ware, in Hertfordshire.)

John Wallis, in his London (quoted below), incorporates  Pennant’s London Improved which mentions Moor Fields, describing the area immediately to the north of Bethlem Hospital as “The City Mall” a popular, tree-lined promenade.

The upper part which had been partly enclosed with a dwarf wall, contained waste, and was long a rendezvous for the boxers and wrestlers that composed old Vinegar’s [a bare knuckle boxer] Ring; and for mountebanks, methodist preachers, old iron stalls, etc.

Upper Moor Field might not, with its military drills, the gunfire of the Artillery Company and its use for such displays as balloon ascensions, fights and scrap iron sales,  seem to be an ideal place to erect a fashionable square. John Wallis in his London: Being a Complete Guide to the British Capital (1810) remarks:

A sudden transformation, as it were, of a marshy moor into the magnificent abodes of some of the wealthiest merchants in the metropolis, cannot be otherwise than interesting to the curious observer.

[An] improvement, truly magnificent, must certainly be admitted in the erection of Finsbury-square, and those new and elegant edifices which now cover all the northern site of ancient Moor-fields. This erection commenced about 1777. After this period the west side being erected first, the others rose with as little interruption as possible, and the whole was nearly inhabited in 1783; the rents, which then produced £4792, in 1797 encreased [sic] to £7598.

It is believed that Finsbury Square was the first public space permanently lit by gas.

The best-known occupant of Finsbury Square is probably Lackington’s Library, known as the Temple of the Muses, in the south-east corner. This vast shop, with a frontage of over forty three metres held a stock of thousands of volumes. I have devoted a post to London libraries, including Lackingtons, and you can read more about it here.

The exterior is shown below, in a print of 1828 when it was no longer owned by James Lackington. It burned down in 1841.

 

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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.

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