Tag Archives: St James’s Park

1814 – the Summer of Celebrations

The summer of 1814 – and London is en fete to celebrate not only the victory over Napoleon but also the anniversary of Hanoverian rule. For three months Londoners had the opportunity to view, and enjoy, some of the most lavish celebrations the capital has ever seen.

Ack transp

On April 20 there was a triumphal procession for Louis XVII from Hyde Park to Grillon’s Hotel in Albemarle Street where he was staying with his entourage. On June 7 the Russian Czar Alexander I, King William III of Prussia, Marshal Blucher, Prince Metternich, the Prince of Liechtenstein, and Prince Leopold arrived in London and on June 11 the Prince Regent entertained all the Allied Leaders at the opera at Covent Garden. On June 16 they were the guests at a dinner held by the merchants and bankers of London in the City and on June 18 the Prince Regent, Marquess of Wellesley, Lord Liverpool, Marshal Blucher, Prince Metternich, Czar Alexander I, and Catherine Grand Duchess of Oldenburg were guests of honour at a dinner given by the Corporation of London.

On June 20, hopefully having had the opportunity for a rest and some digestion, the Prince Regent, the Duke of York, the King of Prussia, the Czar and  Generals Blucher, Lord Beresford and Hill reviewed 12,000 troops in Hyde Park. At 8pm that evening a re-enactment of the battle of Trafalgar was held in the park on the Serpentine with model ships three feet long (one metre) were deployed to recreate the main events of the battle. At the climax the French ships were sunk as the National Anthem was played.

The evening was staged as a popular entertainment and the park was transformed with stalls, arcades, and follies and pavilions. There were refreshments, taverns and fruit stalls and the crowd could listen to military bands as they watched acrobats or enjoyed the swings and roundabouts.

On June 22 the Allied Sovereigns watched a naval review at Portsmouth before leaving for the continent, but in London the celebrations were by no means over.

On June 28 Wellington was formally welcomed at Buckingham House by the Queen, and on July 1 a great ball was held in the Duke’s honour at Burlington House by White’s Club. It cost £10,000 and amongst the 1,700 guests was Jane Austen’s brother Henry. She was thrilled. On July 7 there was a Service of General Thanksgiving for the victory at St Paul’s Cathedral with Wellington carrying the Sword of State alongside the Regent and as a further sign of his pleasure the Regent held a fete in the gardens of Carlton House to honour the Duke on July 21.

Pagoda

August 1,1814 was the hundredth anniversary of the accession of George I of Hanover to the British throne. The Battle of the Nile was represented by rowing boats on the canal in St James’s Park which was crossed by a new ‘Chinese’ bridge with, in the centre, a seven-storey pagoda. According to Ackermann’s Repository “It appeared a blazing edifice of golden fire, every part being covered in lamps, and glass reflectors at proper intervals relieving the splendour with their silver lustre.” At the height of the fireworks the pagoda caught fire and two men and a number of swans perished, but the crowd thought it was part of the celebrations and cheered wildly.

Meanwhile in Green Park a castle-like structure was built. After firework display that lasted, according to Ackermann’s, “for more than two hours, a discharge of cannon enveloped the whole building in smoke so dense, that no part of it was visible to the innumerable spectators assembled…but when this obstruction cleared away, it burst upon them, metamorphosed into the Temple of Concord, most brilliantly illuminated… and revolving upon its centre.”

Concord

Many shops and businesses also rose to the patriotic occasion and decorated their premises. Ackermann’s Repository at 101, Strand, was decorated by a ‘transparency’ almost 30 feet (10 metres) high and “brilliantly illuminated” from the back “with carbonic gas.”. The lower section shows the seven Christian and Cardinal Virtues with the Royal arms above and the standards of the Allied nations. The upper part is the Temple of Peace with the word REGENT above and all crowned with the Prince of Wales’s feathers. It is shown at the head of this post.

You can  enjoy these two historic parks by taking Walks 4 and 6 in Walking Jane Austen’s London.

 

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Filed under Architecture, Entertainment, London Parks, Prince Regent, Royalty, St James's Park, Wellington

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

The Regent’s Bomb

Horse Guards’ Parade lies between St James’ Park and Whitehall and has many historical connections – it was Henry VIII’s tiltyard for the Palace of Whitehall, it was the only open place in London big enough for the funeral procession of the Duke of Wellington  to form up in, it is the location for today’s Trooping the Colour ceremony – and it was even the location for the beach volleyball in the 2012 Olympics.

It is also the home of possibly the most eccentric piece of ordnance in the British Isles – the Prince Regent’s Bomb. It is a mortar, a squat black cannon captured from the French during the battle of Salamanca in 1812. The battle resulted in the lifting of the siege of Cadiz and the mortar was presented to the Prince Regent “as a token of respect and gratitude by the Spanish nation.”

Bomb 2

The plain and simple mortar was sent to Woolwich Arsenal and there a support and plinth was made for it in the shape of a dragon. It is a truly stupendous and bizarre construction and was unveiled, with great ceremony, on the 12th August 1816, the Prince’s birthday. Immediately it attracted  ridicule, for not only was the design completely over the top, as only something designed to appeal to the Prince of Wales’s taste could be, but “Bomb” sounded irresistibly like “Bum” and the Regent’s substantial backside was already the subject of many coarse caricatures.

Perhaps the cruelest is a companion to the verses below. I have not been able to locate a copyright-free image, but you can find it here in the British Museum’s collection  http://tinyurl.com/p6fxayy

The verses come from a broadsheet published by William Hone in 1816. I have filled in names that have been left blank in square brackets [ ]. The three ‘secret hags’ are the Regent’s three mistresses. ‘Old Bags’ was the Lord Chancellor, Lord Eldon (More about him in my post of April 21 2014: The Eloping Lord Chancellor). Vansittart was Nicholas Vansittart, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Tory Wellesley was Wellesley-Pole, elder brother of the Duke of Wellington, Castlereagh was Foreign Secretary and leader of the House of Commons and George Rose was Treasurer of the Navy. (My thanks to fellow historical novelist Melinda Hammond for help filling in the blanks (http://www.melinda-hammond.co.uk)

 

ON THE REGENT’S BOMB
Being uncovered, in St. James’s Park, on Monday, the 12th of August, 1816, His Royal Highness’s Birth-Day.

Oh! all ye Muses, hither come—
And celebrate the Regent’s bomb!
Illustrious Bomb! Immortal capture!
Thou fill’st my every sense with rapture!
Oh, such a Bomb! so full of fire—
Apollo—hither bring thy lyre—
And all ye powers of music come,
And aid me sing this mighty Bomb!

And first, with reverence this I note—
This Bomb was once a Sans culotte—
And next, by changes immaterial,
Became, at length, a Bomb Imperial!
And first exploded—pardon ladies!—
With loud report, at siege of Cadiz—
At which this Bomb—so huge and hearty,
Belonged to little Buonaparté;
But now, by strange metamorphosis,
(A kind of Bomb metempsychosis)
Has—though it odd may seem—become
Our gracious R[egen]t’s royal Bomb;
Who, after due consideration,
Resolved, to gratify the Nation—
Nor let his natal day pass over
Without some feat—to then uncover,
And there display—to strike us dumb—
His vast—unfathomable Bomb!

Oh, what a Bomb! Oh, Heaven defend us!
The thought of Bombs is quite tremendous!
What crowds will come from every shore
To gaze on its amazing bore!
What swarms of Statesmen, warm and loyal,
To worship Bomb so truly royal!
And first approach three ‘secret hags,’
Then him the R[egen]t calls ‘Old Bags;’
Methinks I see V[ansittar]t come,
And humbly kiss the royal Bomb!
While T[or]y W[ellesle]y, (loyal soul)
Will take its measure with a Pole;
And C[astlereag]h will low beseech
To kiss a corner of the breech;
And next will come of G[eorg]y R[os]e,
And in the touch-hole shove his nose!

For roundness, smoothness, breech, and bore,
Such Bomb was never seen before!
Then, Britain! be not this forgotten,
That, when we all are dead and rotten,
And every other trace is gone
Of all thy matchless glory won,
This mighty Bomb shall grace thy fame
And boast thy glorious Regent’s name!
In every age such pilgrims may go
As far t’outrival fam’d St. Jago!
And, centuries hence, the folks shall come,
And contemplate–the Regent’s Bomb!

[by] BOMBASTES.
August 12, 1816.

Bomb 1

“Bombastes” might have been surprised to discover that two hundred years later folks still come “and contemplate the Regent’s Bomb!” You’ll find the Prince’s Bomb on Walk 6 in my Walking Jane Austen’s London.

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Filed under London Parks, Monuments, Prince Regent, Regency caricatures, Royalty, Walks

A Stroll In St James’s Park

DSCN2018 soldierThe sun is shining – just the afternoon for a stroll in St James’s Park. The other day I started off at St James’s Palace where the scarlet-coated guardsmen were fending off the advances of crowds of camera-wielding tourists and then walked down narrow Marlborough Road between the Palace and Marlborough House. This access to the park did not exist until the 1850s and effectively cuts off Marlborough House and the Queen’s Chapel on one side from the Palace on the other.

The Queen’s Chapel, although a Chapel Royal is not The Chapel Royal which is within the Palace and which is where Prince George was christened recently. The Queen’s Chapel was designed by Inigo Jones in the 1620s for Queen Henrietta Maria, the Roman Catholic wife of Charles I, although since the 1690s it has been used as a Protestant place of worship.DSCN2019

Crossing the Mall, with its view of BuckinghamPalace to the right, I dodged the Royal Parks gardeners getting ready for the post-picnic lunch clear-up in the Park and entered through the gorgeous wrought iron gates.

St James’s Park is the oldest royal park and dates back to Tudor times. Elizabeth I hunted deer here but by the time of James I there was a physic garden, a menagerie (including crocodiles) and an aviary, which is recalled in the name of Birdcage Walk on the northern edge of the park.

Charles II had considerable work done to create the central canal by joining up several ponds and marshy areas, planting trees and stocking it with deer. It is from this date that the pall mall alley was laid out. The Russian ambassador presented Charles with a pair of pelicans in 1664 and there are still pelicans amongst the exotic birds on the lake today. Occasionally one creates havoc by pouncing on a passing pigeon and swallowing it whole.

At the eastern end of the park was SpringGardens, a pleasure garden dating from the 17th century. All that remains of it now are two stubs of roads cut across by the Mall and with Admiralty Arch sitting in the middle. By Jane Austen’s day they were notable for various indoor places of entertainment, art galleries and so on. The Picture of London (1807) recommends Wigley’s Royal Promenade rooms here. They were open 10am to 10pm, admission one shilling. The visitor could ‘meet’ two invisible girls who spoke or sang on demand, or listen to a performance on the panharmonium, a mechanical orchestra.DSCN0397

The Society of Painters In Water Colours exhibited at Spring Gardens. On 24 May 1813 Jane wrote of a visit with her brother Henry and reported that she was well-pleased with what she saw, especially, ‘with a small portrait of Mrs Bingley…exactly herself, size, shaped face, features & sweetness; there never was a greater likeness. She is dressed in a white gown, with green ornaments, which convinces me of what I had always supposed, that green was a favourite colour with her.’ Deirdre le Faye identifies this picture as the charming Portrait of a Lady by J F-M Huet-Villiers.

However pleasant it was in broad daylight, Miss Austen would have been cautious about walking in the park after dusk without a male escort for it was a notorious haunt of prostitutes of both sexes. Even though the park was locked at night it was thought that almost 7,000 keys were in  private possession, so it might just as well have been open. James Boswell records various encounters with prostitutes there but it was also a dangerous place for a man by himself, for gangs of blackmailers operated under cover of its shrubberies. One man, his breeches undone, would leap out at the victim, crying that he had been attacked, while his confederates threatened to fetch the watch and swear they had witnessed an indecent assault. At a time when homosexual acts were criminalised and could lead to the gallows, many men paid up rather than risk not being believed.

The Globe newspaper for January 7th 1809 reports, We were in hopes that the conviction of Cannon and his companion Wilkinson, for extorting money from Mr Butterworth the silversmith, in St James’s Park, would have put a stop to the depredations of those execrable wretches who are making a miserable existence by the diabolical practices of threatening respectable persons with a most detestable crime. But they regret to have to report yet another instance had just come to light.

In August 1814 the park was the site of a series of extravagant celebrations: first for the centenary of Hanoverian rule, then the anniversary of the Battle of the Nile and finally the peace celebrations following Napoleon’s exile to Elba. The architect Nash designed an exotic seven-storey pagoda, which unfortunately caught fire during a firework display. Ironically this was organised by Congreve, the inventor of the military rockets which went on to cause almost as much alarm and confusion amongst British troops as amongst the enemy at the Battle of Quatre Bras the following year. There was also a bridge, which lasted rather longer, until 1825, although in a half-burnt condition and made perilous by the remains of the hooks that had held the Catherine wheels.St J Park0001

Festivities were also held on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, which had a miniature navy afloat on it, and at the temple of Concord in Green Park, both events open freely to the public. The organisers at St James’s Park, however, decided to charge half a guinea and erected barriers and toll gates. Despite the charge the event was hugely popular and the gates had to be closed. Despite the crowds none of the public were killed during the fire, although two unfortunate workmen died.

After the event the park was left in a dreadful state and it was not until 1827 that the government found the money to renovate it. Nash was chosen for the job and he remodelled the canal into a sinuous lake, added a duck island, a new bridge, widened the Mall and replanted the trees, shrubberies and flowerbeds.

The park now is much as Nash left it, although the bridge is a replacement and the view includes the London Eye. FroStrand0002m the modern bridge there is an excellent view of DSCN0389-001Buckingham Palace. Jane Austen knew it as the Queen’s House and it only took on its present appearance when George IV began its enlargement to fit his concept of a fitting palace. The black and white print of skaters shows the Queen’s House with the park before Nash’s remodelling.

Often I will walk from the bridge to Horse Guards Parade, this time I went down to Bird Cage Walk and along to Westminster Abbey to catch a bus up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square – I’ll be talking about exploring London by bus in my next post.

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