Tag Archives: Regency London

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.

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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Crossing the Knight’s Bridge

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

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

Roque 1741

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aldin map 1

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

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

Spring Gardens

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

cahpel

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

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

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

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

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

Half Way House

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

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Londoners Take to Their Skates

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

Frost Fair

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

Morland skaters crop

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

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

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

St James Park

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

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

Walking dress crop

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

A Winter Walking Dress from La Belle Assemblée Feb 1812

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

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

Pray Remember Guy Fawkes!

 

Pyne Guy Fawkes

 

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

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

“Now boys with

Squibs and crackers play.

And bonfires blaze

Turns night to day.”

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

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

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

Cruickshank guy

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

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

 

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It Is August In London – Eat Oysters on Oyster Day or Run Away to the Seaside?

August in London was the time to celebrate “Oyster Day” – the arrival of the first oysters at Billingsgate fish market. The scene on the streets is shown in the first print from Crucikshank’s London Almanac. This was a significant day for the poor for whom oysters was a cheap staple. In London Labour and the Poor Mayhew wrote that “the number of oysters sold by the costermongers amounts to 124,000,000 a year. These, at four a penny, would realise the large sum of £129,650. We may, therefore, safely assume that £125,000 is spent yearly in oysters in the streets of London.”

London August

In the scene working people queue up at two trestle tables to buy oysters. The vendors are opening them and on the left we can see a coal heaver or dustman, distinguished by his hat with a protective neck flap, pouring some kind of relish or ketchup over his.

A small boy is rummaging under the trestle for empty shells and on the right one lad is building them into a construction while other children holding up shells mob a respectably-dressed couple begging for coppers. An article in the Illustrated London News of 1851 explains what must be happening.

“We will not pursue the calculation into how many grottoes might be built from the shells of a year’s supply of oysters…. The coming-in of oysters is observed as a sort of festival in the streets; and in such a nook of the metropolis as the present locality, the grotto is usually built of inverted oyster-shells piled up conically with an opening in the base, through which, as night approaches, a lighted candle is placed within the grotto, when the effect of the light through the chinks of the shelly cairn is very pretty. It is but fair that the young architects should be rewarded for their trouble accordingly, a little band, of what some churl may call urchins, sally forth to collect pence from the passers-by ; and the usual form of collecting the tax [is] by presenting a shell…”

Of course, you might choose to leave the heat and dust of London in August (to say nothing of the smell of discarded oyster shells) and go to the seaside. Brighton, Margate and Ramsgate were closest (if one leaves aside Gravesend, which even in the Georgian period was getting a reputation for being somewhat rough).

Brighton AugustCruikshank has chosen to show bathing machines at Brighton with four burly female “dippers” dunking their quailing customers in the sea. The machines have boards showing the names of the dippers – two for “Mrs Ducks” and one for “Mrs Dipps”. In the foreground a lady is entirely enveloped, head and all, in a flannel “case” while in the middle two dippers are about to plunge a slight figure – a teenage girl perhaps – in backwards. A furious baby is getting a relentless ducking at the far end.

The Margate design of bathing machine, invented by Quaker Benjamin Beale, had a hood which came down to shelter the bather’s modesty, and perhaps divert some of the force of the waves, but these were not used at Brighton.

Although the seaside holiday is often thought of as a Victorian invention they were very much a feature of the Georgian scene for those who had money and leisure. By 1800 every English county with a coastline had at least one seaside resort. Brighton is perhaps the most famous example, but it was by no means the first – Scarborough probably has best claim to the title, although Margate and Brighton were close behind and all three were flourishing in the 1730s, long before the Prince Regent made Brighton notorious.

Brighton did have the benefit of closeness to London that Scarborough did not. In 1821 Dr John Evans remarked on stagecoaches doing the journey in six hours and predicted that balloon travel would reduce it to four hours in the future and in 1823 Cobbett wrote of “stock-jobbers…[who] skip backwards and forward on the coaches, and actually carry on stock-jobbing, in ‘Change Alley, though they reside in Brighton.” In 1834 four hundred and eight passengers arrived by coach in Brighton in one day, and 50,000 were recorded for the year.

Just as beach-wear and cruise-wear figure in the fashion magazines today, outfits for seaside visits were carefully chosen. Here is one from La Belle Assemblée designed by Mrs Bell for “Sea Coast Promenade”. personally I think the wearer has located the gentlemen’s bathing beach and has no intention of promenading any further…

1809 telescope

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All About April – Fools and Showers

April showers

These days April is famous for its showers and its fools, and I love this illustration by Cruickshank showing two ladies caught out in the rain while everyone else is either sheltering under an archway or buying a new umbrella from J. Gingham, Umbrella Depot. I’m not sure what the three lads are doing – possibly they are up to some kind of April Fool’s Day prank. As always with these tiny Cruickshank drawings the fun is in the details – behind the pieman with his basket is a shower bath standing outside T. Brass, Ironmonger. And, of course, the scene is set in St Swithin’s Lane. There is a real lane of that name in London, running between Cannon Street and Lombard Street in the City. St Swithin’s Day is July 15th, but the connection with rain was obviously too much for the artist to ignore.

St Swithun’s day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St Swithun’s day if thou be fair
For forty days ‘twill rain nae mare.

For April Fool’s Day in the Georgian era I turned to Observations on Popular Antiquities, Chiefly Illustrating the Origin of our Vulgar Customs, Ceremonies and Superstitions by John Brand (1813). They don’t write titles like that any more. Brand considered it to be of Druidical origin (but then he considered a great deal was) and comments that it was observed from ancient times all over the kingdom, and in France. “The wit chiefly consists in sending persons on what are called sleeveless errands, for The History of Eve’s Mother, for Pigeon’s Milk, with similar absurdities. ” He quotes rather a charming little love poem, dated 1798:

To  A Lady, who threatened to make the Author an April Fool

Why strive, dear Girl, to make a Fool,

Of one not wise before;

Yet having ‘scaped from Folly’s School,

Would fain go there no more.

Ah! if I must to school again,

Wilt though my teacher be?

I’m sure no lesson will be vain

Which though canst give to me?

And finally, as we are buffeted here in England with a windy beginning to the month, I’ll leave you with this delightful little watercolour sketch. It isn’t signed or dated, unfortunately.

Windy weather

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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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The Perils of the Pavement – Winter in Georgian London

February always seems to bring muddier, messier weather than January, perhaps because the ground is already so sodden. Negotiating the slushy snow, puddles and potholes as I crossed the street in my local market town this morning made me think about what London streets were like at this time of year in the early 19th century.Snowfall
The first print is from Richard Deighton’s London Nuisances series – A Heavy Fall of Snow – with the unfortunate gentleman getting a load of snow on his hat from the men clearing the ledge above the shop he is passing.
Rather appropriately the establishment belongs to Mr Careless, a skate maker, and pairs of skates are hanging in the window. The engraving shows very clearly the flagstones of the pavement, as opposed to the much rougher cobbled street surface which is just visible above the caption.
For all the accident with the snow, this seems a very clean and tidy street. For a rather more likely pair of images I’ve copied two of a monthly series of prints of London street scenes by George Cruikshank (thanks to Stephen Barker for the identification!). They were cut out and pasted in an album, hence the clipped corners. Except for the style of the women’s dresses and the gas lamp they could be any time from about 1800.

Street JanIn the first, January, the town is experiencing a hard frost. The men in the carts are breaking up ice and taking it away, while three chilly individuals are marching under a placard reading “Poor Froze Out Gardeners” – presumably with no work because the ground is frozen solid. Behind their placard is the ship of W. Winter, Furrier and the shop window on the left is advertising “Soups”. A gang of boys seems to have fallen to the ground while sliding on the ice.Street Feb
The second scene is February and shows the effects of the thaw. Men are shoveling snow off the high roofs in the background onto unwary passers-by and the cobbled street surface is a potholed mess. The lady in the middle with her skirts lifted almost to her knees is wearing iron pattens on her shoes to raise her out of the mire and street cleaners are shoveling mud into a cart behind her. The housewife on the corner is obviously doing her bit to sweep at least a section of the pavement clean. On the right the postman is doing his rounds. Here is one of a pair of late 18th century pattens like the ones being worn.

54.61.127a-b 0004

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