Tag Archives: Regency romance

The Perfect Regency Hero? Defender of the Common Man? The Saviour of the Scillies ? Pioneering Plant Collector? Or Sexual Predator? Who was Augustus Smith?

During a recent holiday on the Isles of Scilly I visited Tresco Abbey Gardens and discovered that they had been created by a man whose name was familiar from my childhood. Augustus Smith (1804-72) was the hero who defended the commoners rights in my home town of Berkhamstead when Lord Brownlow attempted to enclose the common land. Lord Brownlow erected steel fences, so Augustus Smith brought in a trainload of navvies who uprooted the barriers, rolled them up and dumped them on his lordship’s front lawn. Berkhamstead Common remains unenclosed to this day.

Then I read the quote under the picture of Augustus above – an image where he looks every bit the handsome and sensitive young Regency gentleman. Given that, amongst other things, I write Regency romance, I couldn’t help feeling that Lady Sophia Tower’s description of Augustus Smith sounded almost too good to be true:

A man of good presence, above the middle height, lithe in figure, firm in step, upright in carriage, with well-cut, handsome features closely shaven (it was the English fashion then) and an eye cold, grey, observant; he looked as if he had been accustomed to command, or was born to be a ruler, whilst his gentlemanly address was prepossessing, conversation with him quickly added to the good impression he first made; nature had well moulded him, education and refinement aided him to please and to reform others.”

So, who was this paragon? Augustus was born in 1804 to a wealthy banker, raised in Berkhamstead in Hertfordshire and educated at Harrow and Oxford. He soon developed an interest in social reform and in education and these passions were allowed free rein when, in 1834, he acquired the lease of the Isles of Scilly from the Duchy of Cornwall. The islanders had suffered dreadfully from the neglect of generations of absentee landlords and were without education, support or resources. Agriculture was at a subsistence level and the only industry was the burning of kelp to create soda ash, although by the time Smith took over it has been almost overtaken by industrial processes on the mainland. A niche business supplying the very fine white beach sand for sanding wet ink was also foundering with the use of blotting paper. Most families existed on fishing and scavenging from shipwrecks.

Smith descended like an incoming monarch – his word became law on the islands, regardless of what the islanders had to say. He made education compulsory up to the age of thirteen, built a church and a pier, renovated dwellings and built himself a magnificent house on the island of Tresco next to the ruins of the 12th century abbey.

Harbour on St Mary’s with the church that Augustus Smith had built (copyright A J Hilton)

Undoubtedly he raised the living standards of the islanders, but he also created considerable controversy by what the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography calls his “mix of liberalism and authoritarianism….In public life his reputation was for over-persistent and often footling controversy.” Many applauded his approach, but John Stuart Mill described it as “detestable”.

Tresco & Smith’s Abbey (copyright A J Hilton)

He began work on the fabulous gardens on Tresco in 1834, importing plants from all over the world to create what is now an internationally famous collection.

The Abbey Gardens on Tresco (copyright A J Hilton)

Smith certainly expected high standards from everyone else, but I wondered about his own character. He never married, but he had two children by islander Mary Pender who was twenty years younger than Smith and whose first child was born when she was seventeen. He is also reputed to have fathered children on his domestic servants. How consensual were those relationships, given that Mary was a shop girl and the servants probably had no other employment prospects? How do you say No to the King of the Islands?

So, not the perfect hero, certainly deeply flawed, but also the man who rescued the Isles of Scilly when their inhabitants were virtually starving. The image below (unknown artist or date) seems to show a man who had no doubts about his own rightness!

After my last visit to The Isles of Scilly I wrote a trio of books linked by the shipwreck of an East Indiaman: you can find the Danger and Desire series here.

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Filed under Employment, Gardening, Gentlemen, Historical Romance, Uncategorized

How Romantic Was An Elopement?

The romance and drama of an elopement is a popular theme in the historical love story, but it must have been an uncomfortable and expensive procedure, even without the risk of the rope ladder giving way and tumbling the young lady to the ground, or the furious father giving chase with his shotgun or horsewhip to chastise the bridegroom to within an inch of his life.

The post chaise was the fastest and safest way of evading Papa, although the popular name for these vehicles – yellow bounders – hints that expressions of passion must have been difficult as it swayed and lurched along the ill-made roads. How many nervous brides succumbed to travel sickness and second thoughts by the time the first inn was reached?

They also had a reputation for causing accidents because of the furious pace of escape, as a delightful print I picked up in Paris shows. A chaise and four, with the two postilions urging on the horses, leaves mayhem in its wake. A horse falls, its rider spills into the road and a pig bolts in terror while the lovers are lost to everything in their own private world inside the carriage.

The Great North Road by Charles G Harper (1901) casts a cynical eyes at the post chaise and its passengers –

“Everyone is familiar with the appearance of the old post-chaise, which according to the painters and the print-sellers, appears to have been principally used for the purpose of spiriting lovelorn couples with the-speed of the wind away from all restrictions of home and the Court of Chancery. A post-chaise was (so it seems nowadays) a rather cumbrous affair, four-wheeled, high, and insecurely hung, with a glass front and a seat to hold three, facing the horses. The original designers evidently had no prophetic visions as to this especial popularity of post-chaises with errant lovers, nor did they ponder the proverb, ‘Two’s company, three’s none’, else they would have restricted their accommodation to two, or have enlarged it to four.”

The gentleman planning an elopement would do well to visit his banker first – eloping in any style was an expensive business. There were the bribes of course – the lady’s maid, footmen who must turn a blind eye, the gardener whose ladder might be borrowed. The postilions, who would know at once that something illicit was afoot, would need their palms greasing liberally as would the landladies of the inns along the way if the happy, if queasy, couple wanted a good room for their first night of bliss.

The image above is from a book called Takings: or the Life of a Collegian. It is a satirical romp through the life of a young man by R.Dagley (1821). The picture is captioned ‘Taking Amiss’. Here the ‘hero’ Tom is eloping with his love – note the sign on the wall ‘To the Boarding School’ – the young lady is clearly below age.

At length the wished-for moment was at hand.

(Why should Time creep so slowly when we call?)

The cautious signal by the lovers plann’d,

Was heard and answere’d by the garden-wall

And now her drapery the nymph displays,

Now they [Tom has a friend along to support him] assist, and seat her in the chaise.

 

Not everything goes according to Tom’s plans, however: “One lodging, he conceived, for both would do, But Charlotte resolutely called for two”. Frustrated, Tom settles down to woo her, but has not succeeded by the time her furious relatives locate them and he finds himself facing a duel.

Another significant cost was the hire of the post chaise itself. A prudent lover would hire four horses, to achieve twelve miles an hour, and the chaise cost one-and-threepence a mile. On top of that there were toll gates to pay every few miles and food and accommodation. The canny eloper armed himself with Cary’s New Itinerary or an Accurate Delineation of the Great Roads (as does the writer trying to work out her hero and heroine’s route today!) This at least ensured that the post boys were not adding on a profitable mile here and there.

London to Gretna via Manchester, according to Cary, is 320 miles. That is £20 for the chaise and horses alone, at a time when a housemaid would be glad to earn £16 a year, all found.

Does an elopement still strike you as romantic? Would the thrill of the escape and the delight of being alone with the loved one at last outweigh the discomfort and expense? It is a while since I wrote an elopement into a book – I wonder, should I be thinking of another one?

If you are intrigued by the experience of travelling in Georgian Britain you can retrace some of the iconic routes in Driving Through Georgian Britain: the great coaching routes for the modern travellerAvailable in paperback and ebook it allows the modern traveller to drive the Great North Road, the Bath Road, the Brighton Road and the Dover Road finding what remains and discovering stories of elopement, murder, good meals and bare knuckle fights along the way.

 

 

 

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Filed under courtship & marriage, Love and Marriage, Sex & scandal, Transport and travel

St George’s Hanover Square – and Its Remarkable Neighbour, Trinity Chapel

 

A marriage between the aristocratic hero and his true love in St George’s Hanover Square forms the climax of many a romantic historical novel, and I’ve used that scene myself. The church, completed in 1724, was built to serve the new and expanding residential area between Piccadilly and Tyburn or Oxford Road (now Oxford Street). These handsome streets and squares were a magnet for the upper classes in Society and handsome St George’s was the perfect place to be married or to have your children baptised. The 5th Earl of Jersey, husband of Lady Jersey one of the famous Patronesses of Almack’s, was a churchwarden here, although their marriage was a private one by special licence in their Berkeley Square house.

In a detail from John Roque’s map of 1747 (below) the new church sits with Burlington House to the South and Berkley (as it was then spelled) Square to the South West.

True, it is not in Hanover Square at all, but on the East side of George Street and its position gives the West front a cramped outlook, almost but not quite, looking down Maddox Street. The view at the top of the post (1812, from Ackermann’s Repository) is probably the best angle, then and now.

It is sometimes easy to forget that the occupants of these fashionable squares, great mansions and elegant terraces were serviced by a multitude of tradesmen, servants and labourers, all of whom ‘lived in’ with their employers or set up shop close by or who lodged within easy walking distance of their employment. St George’s was their church too and in between the glamorous christenings and marriages the humbler parishioners were in and out, tying the knot, naming their babies and being buried.

This was brought home to me by discovering my great-great-great grandfather James Wood marrying Mary Baldwin at St George’s. This was a surprise – James was a humble labourer turned chair mender and caner from Berkhamstead in Hertfordshire. What was he doing in London, let alone getting married in Mayfair? Then I discovered that he was a ‘servant’ (no idea what kind) of the Earl of Bridgewater whose country house was at Ashridge, close to Berkhamstead. The Earl had a London home in Albemarle Street (bottom, centre on the map), so presumably James Wood was there serving his employer in some capacity.

After that discovery ancestors marrying or having children baptised at St George’s in the 18th and early 19th century started appearing in large numbers – all from the concentration of piano makers in Marylebone, just North of Oxford Street. Possibly St George’s was seen as an aspirational place to be married because the Marylebone piano key makers, piano string makers, piano striker coverers and occasional dolls’ eyes makers did have other options in the various chapels of ease that had been built to help ease the pressure on the churches in these new and crowded districts.

One of those chapels  can be seen on the map on Conduit Street facing up George Street. This was Trinity Chapel and had one of the strangest histories of any London place of worship. A Chapel of Ease was a chapel either built before a parish church was in existence or added later to take the strain in a very large or crowded parish. This one started life as a moveable Roman Catholic chapel on wheels used by King James II. After he fled the country in 1688 to be replaced by William and Mary, the chapel was abandoned on Hounslow Heath where James had abdicated. Probably he took mass there in one of his last acts as king. It was transported to Conduit Street and turned into an Anglican Chapel of Ease on the initiative of Archbishop Tenison. Later it was acquired by bookseller and High Bailiff of Westminster James Robson, who had it demolished and rebuilt in brick, but because it was on leasehold land it was not eligible to be a parish church, hence the need for St George’s to be built. Unfortunately no images of the remarkable ‘traveling tabernacle’ seem to have survived and Trinity Chapel was demolished in 1875, the owner of the ground having decided that secular buildings would be more profitable.

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Filed under Architecture, Buildings, courtship & marriage, High Society, Love and Marriage, Religion

A Regency Romance Through Victorian Eyes

I discovered this charming little story in The Graphic magazine Christmas number for 1880. The colours have faded to blues and browns I’m afraid, but then it is over one hundred years old!

“Grandpapa’s Recollections”

“Although there is no amusement which pleases children better than to hear reminiscences from their parents of their own childhood, it is very hard for them to realise that Papa and Mamma were once little soft creatures like themselves. Still more difficult is it to realise anything about the preceding generation. According to their fancies, probably, Grandpapa was always bald, always hobbled on a stick, always sat in the big armchair with his feet on a gouty stool, and always read the paper through spectacles. These pictures may induce them to believe that there was in the far distant past, an epoch when even poor old Grandpapa was young.”

Regency Xmas 1

Grandpapa’s First Step

Regency Xmas 2

He Feels Lonely, As His Nurse Is Fond of Chatting With a Friend

Regency Xmas 3

Grandpapa In Disgrace

Regency Xmas 4

He Meets Grandmamma For The First Time: He Does Not Forget The Good Old Custom of Ye Mistletoe

Regency Xmas 5

Grandpapa Goes To School

Regency Xmas 6

Home For The Holidays: Grandpapa Comes To Grief On a Slide

Regency Xmas 7

Grandpapa Meets Grandmamma For the Second Time:He Dares Not Take Advantage of Ye Mistletoe Bough

Regency Xmas 8

Grandmamma Says “Yes”

Wishing you a very happy New Year!

Louise

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