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In this post, the fourth in this series, we are going to concentrate on only one room in the Pavilion at Brighton, The Banqueting Gallery.

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

This was the room used by the Prince of Wales’ guests after they had finished dining in the Banqueting Room. The ladies would first withdraw to the Red Drawing Room, below…

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

marked 3 in red on the ground-plan of the rooms, below.

This room is not normally accessible to the public on the usual tour, as it is the room used for civil wedding ceremonies held at the Pavilion. The  ladies would then move back to the Banqueting Gallery, number 2 on the plan, when the gentlemen had left the Banqueting Room after their political and probably rowdy discussions. This room is marked number 1 on the plan.

Above is Nash’s View of the Gallery as it was in the 1820s, and you can see that it is very similar today, after the restoration projects of the 1950s and onwards. The Brussels weave carpet is particularly striking. If you enlarge the image ( which you can do by clicking on it-as you can for all the images in this post) you can just see the torcheres in the Banqueting Room which were made by Spode, in imitation of Servres,especially for the Prince’s quite overpowering dining room.

An interesting point is that this room, the Banqueting Gallery, encompasses the space that was all the original farmhouse , which in turn became part of the Princes’s Marine Villa and which finally and magnificently morphed into the Pavilion that we know now.

This is the first room in the Pavilion that contains clothes in the Dress for Excess exhibition. My photographs are, sadly, quite poor: the light levels in the room are understandably kept very low and there is only ambient artificial lighting. But the very kind staff at the Pavilion,  particularly Ellie Taylor, have arranged for me to use some of their professional photographs of the costumes, in order that you can see the details more clearly.

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

The first costume we see is a gentleman’s suit, made of fine silk, dating from circa 1760.


Here you can see it, along with a sack dress of the same era, in the setting of the Banqueting Gallery.

The sack dress was made of delicately embroidered silk…..

Here is the reverse view , showing the back detail

This photograph shows some of the detialing on the bodice….

I am always amazed at the tiny proportions of the gentlemen’s suits of this era: this one is rather small, and you would probably need to be a British size 6 woman to fit into it…

At the other end of the Gallery were some more costumes to view

Below is a Dandy’s outfit from circa 1825

This was accompanied by a very beautiful shawl backed dress circa 1790….

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

And finally a white muslin dress with white on white embroidered detail and lace dating from 1825….

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

These pictures of the shawl backed dress show the detail of the beautiful fabric used….

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

If you click on them( and indeed any of the photographs in this post) they will open in a separate window and enlarge so you can see the detail.

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

The small sleeves are exquisitely made…..

It is interesting to be able to compare the two dress styles – only 30 years apart , but vastly different…

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

If you enlarge this picture , above,you can see the lace and embroidery in some detail….

Next, some more costumes and the magnificent Music Room.

Continuing our tour of the Pavilion, today we are moving on from the magnificent Kitchen, as detailed in our last post in the series…

and today our tour recommences in the Pages Room, shown as number  6 on the  plan of the ground floor rooms in the Pavilion, below.

This is the room where the dishes for the Prince Regent’s banquets would be assembled and then rushed out by the footmen to the waiting guests in the Banqueting Room.

Again the placement of this room, so close to the kitchen and the grand rooms of the Pavilion, indicates the importance of food to the Prince regent. In most grand Georgian buildings the kitchen and domestic offices were deliberately situated a long way away from the formal dining room so that cooking smells (and noises) did not  intrude on the social life of the owners (see this piece on Kedleston and the arrangement of the kitchen there)

But in the Pavilion, the high-tech Kitchen and the Pages Room were directly next to the Banqueting Room.

No fear of any food being served below temperature here…

The Banqueting Room, adjoining, is an astounding, extravagant room. And is numbered “7” on the ground-plan above.

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

This is Nash’s watercolour of it as it appeared in the 1820s

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

In this close up of that picture, above, you can clearly see The Prince Regent, or George IV, as he was after the death of his father George III in 1820, sitting half way down the table, facing us. The male figure at the end of the table, on the same side as the King is the architect responsible for most of this exuberance,  John Nash. Do click on this and all the other images in this post to examine the detail.

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

This is how the room appears today, very  little changed from that scene in the 1820s. The most magnificent sight in the room is probably the chandeliers. They hang from a dome, painted as if it is open to a tropical and not a Sussex sky. The main chandelier hangs from giant 3-dimensional plantain leaves and  a huge gilded dragon grasps the chandelier in its claws. This cost £5,600 in 1820,and was then lit by gas-a new invention.

The four subsidiary chandeliers are in the form of lotus leaves and hang from mirrored stars. The quality of the lead crystal in these chandeliers is breath taking; rainbows of light beam from the prisms.

The painted clerestory windows, which can be seen either side of the chandelier in the picture below, were so designed that lamps could be placed behind them at night, so that they were not obscured by the darkness, but glowed in the evening light.

Princess Lieven, who was used to the grandeur and splendour of Imperial Russia, was nevertheless  impressed by this room and wrote:

I do not believe that since the days of Heligobalus there has been such magnificence and such luxury

The table is set as if for a dessert course,and the contents are  magnificent

( but my pictures of it sadly are not!)

Next, the Banqueting room Gallery and the first of the costumes in the Dress for Excess exhibition.

First, some news you will all welcome. Our good friend Amanda Vickery, now Professor of Early Modern History at Queen Mary College UNiversity of London is currently making a programme  for BBC TV on Sense and Sensibility to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of its Publication this year.

It is entitled The Prime of Miss Jane Austen, in a nod to Muriel Spark’s famous novel, and we spoke about it on Twitter yesterday. The programme is again being produced by Matchlight Productions,who were, of course, the production company who commissioned our favourite At Home with the Georgians programmes, which were based on Professor Vickery’s book, Behind Closed Doors.

This is what their Press release has to say about it:

In The Prime of Miss Jane Austen  Prof. Amanda Vickery returns to mark the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s first novel Sense and Sensibility. When Jane Austen died her slight reputation appeared to die with her. Her books soon went out of print. Now, 200 years later, she sits at the summit of English literature and thanks to television and film adaptations, as well as the internet, she is an international cultural brand. What interests Amanda is how different periods and generations have looked for their own reflection in the characters and plots of the novels. She wants to work out what that says about them, as well the hold Jane Austen’s fiction has on us now.

I will of course keep you informed of all developments. Amanda tells me the programme will be an hour long and it is due to be broadcast on BBC 2 in November or December of this year.

Next, Mansfield Park is being adapted as an opera.

The British composer Jonathan Dove and Heritage Opera will be performing it this summer, and I am lucky enough to be going to the first performance, to be held at the magnificent Boughton House in Northamptonshire, (seen below) in the presence of the owners, their Graces, the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch and Queensberry.

How very fitting! An opera of this theatrically themed novel in a private house in Northamptonshire! I am a fan of Jonathan Dove’s works,since I saw His Dark Materials at the National Theatre, which was an adaptation of Philip Pullman’s amazing trilogy of novels. I will, of course, be reporting back to you on this….

I’m going to interrupt our series on the Brighton Pavilion for a moment, because today I’ve been made aware, via my alert conveyancing solicitor of a husband, that a property which has strong associations with Jane Austen is currently for sale.

This house, above, in Ibthorpe Hampshire,  was the home of the Lloyds, who were, of course, great friends with the Austen family.  Mrs Lloyd, the widowed mother of Mary Lloyd, James Austen’s second wife and of Martha Lloyd, who was Jane and Cassandra Austen’s great friend, all lived there from 1792 until the death of Mrs Lloyd in 1805.  The house is now for sale with the agents, Frank Knight, at a guide price of £3.5 million.Go here to see all the details.

The house has many, many associations with Jane Austen.When she lived at Steventon she would often visit the Lloyds at Ibthorpe, travelling sometimes on her own via the nearby town of Andover, and it is mentioned in many of her letters. The Lloyd’s lodger , Mrs Stent, poor deaf Mrs Stent,  was often remarked upon too.

“Poor Mrs. Stent! it has been her lot to be always in the way; but we must be merciful, for perhaps in time we may come to be Mrs. Stents ourselves, unequal to anything & unwelcome by everybody”

And of course it was from Ibthorpe that a young Jane Austen made her debut into society in 1792.  She was staying at Ibthorpe with the Lloyds when she attended her first dance as an adult at Enham House near Andover.

I was lucky enough to visit this house in 2006,and have lunch there in the company of friends, all courtesy of the house’s most generous present owner, Sabina ffrench Blake. Mrs. ffrenchBlake was very proud of her home’s association with Jane Austen and was very welcoming and gracious to others who had a genuine interest in seeing  a place with such happy associations with our favourite author.

She was convinced that it was in the quiet of Ibthorpe, away from the hurly burly of life at the rectory at Steventon, with all the Austen family and their troop of live- in scholars, that Jane Austen would find the peace she needed to compose her early works. Mrs. ffrench Blake would show the dining room, below, which in Jane Austen’s time served as the sitting room,

and, of course the bedroom, seen below, where Jane Austen stayed while she visited the Lloyds.

The house has other literary associations, notably with the Bloomsbury set. The artist, Dora Carrington lived there before the first World War and used this tiny garden building, below in one of my photographs, as her studio.

She lived there with the writer, Lytton Strachey and was often visited by other writers associated with the Bloomsbury set, notably Vita Sackville West and Virginia Woolf. Mrs. ffrench Blake related to me an interesting anecdote told to her by Nigel Nicholson, who was the son of  Vita and Harold Nicholson. While visiting Dora there with his mother, aged about 8, he had been interrogated by Virginia Woolf and Dora Carrington as to what he was going to do with his life.  He coud hardly think of any profession, so formidable were the women asking him the questions!

Yet another property I wish I could buy…Ah, well….let’s hope the next owner is just as  welcoming to Jane Austen aficionados.

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

In our last full post we studied  the exterior of that magical building,The Royal Pavilion at Brighton. A place Jane Austen would have truly detested for its associations with the Prince Regent, but still….

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

Today we are going to begin our tour of the interior. At this point I should sincerely like to thank, Sue Bishop and Ellie Taylor of the Royal Pavillion staff for all their help with my visit. Poor Ellie had to guide me around the Pavilion, and became my unofficial sherper bearer for the duration of my visit, carrying my heavy bags and coat to free me up for photography. The photographs I took were not of the highest standard. It is very , VERY rare to be granted permission to photograph the interior of the Pavilion and of course flash photography is not allowed. As you can see from the pervious posts, the day I visited was the darkest day of the year, and so ,even though these photographs were taken at noon, they tend to be rather dark. Ellie has rather wonderfully given me permission to use some of the Brighton Museums own photographs of the interior of the Pavillion and I will share them with you here as they do give a clear impression of the stunningly beautiful interiors to be found in the Pavilion.

Because the interiors are so special and unique I thought we’d take our time over our virtual trip and today and in our next post we shall visit some of the ground floor rooms and  then we will see some of the costumes on show on the ground floor. To help orientate you as we go on our tour, here, below,  is a close up of the ground plan of the Pavillion:

and here is it annotated in red with the route we are going to take today:  rooms numbers 1-4.

When you enter the Pavilion, you first enter a porte-cochere, ( number 1 in red on the plan) then the Octogon Hall,(number 2 in red on the plan)  so called because it has eight sides. Here you get the first intimation of the magnificent chinoiserie rooms that await you. Though the hall is quite plain compared with the rest of the building, it does have tiny bells that hang from the ceiling canopy …that would have tinkled in the breeze from the door….and a beautiful Chinese inspired glass lantern…

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

It gives you a tiny intimation of what delights are to come. I have seen this room described as being like a charming garden pavilion in its own right , and I do think that is the impression it gives. The watercolour reproduced above was one from a book commissioned by the Prince Regent from John Nash, his architect, to commemorate the rooms in his wonderfully fantastical palace.He used to give away copies to every favoured guest….do enlrage the images to see the exquisite detail.

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

This is how the room looks like today..it is not much changed, the bells still hanging from the ceiling and the burnished brass fireplace gleaming a very cheerful greeting to any visitors who had been ushered in here by the royal footmen. The room  also gives a glimpse into the next room, marked number 3 in red on the plan, the Entrance Hall proper…

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

This is Nash’s view of it in the 1820s. If you enlarge it you can see some privileged visitor arriving by carriage, a view through to the porte-cochere through the Octagon Hall.

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

This is how the room appears today. It still has its beautiful screen of painted glass and Chinese lanterns,and its decorating scheme of jade green

it is interesting to note that this room has always been carpeted. A departure from the norm, for most grand halls of great homes in the early nineteenth century had floors made of stone or marble. The Prince Regent was having none of that in his pleasure palace. He wanted comfort….and he got it.

This beautiful jade room then led to one of the most outstanding rooms in the Pavilion, the Long Gallery. This is numbered 4 on the plan above.

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

This is how it appeared in the 1820s again in a watercolour by Nash. The decorations were created by that famous Regency decorator Frederick Crace. Though its primary use was as a corridor linking the main rooms, you can see from the books and furniture on show- the ivoery veneered Chippendale style chairs were brough by the Prince Regent from the sale of his mother,Queen Charlotte’s effects after her death in 1819- it also functioned as a very pleasant room, lit from above and by the splendid Chinese glass lanterns.

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

A lovely touch is that there are now gas fires lit in every fireplace in the Pavilion, giving the impression of life and  also adding some warmth for the attendants and visitors on cold wintery days.

The Long Gallery was used as a route from the Banqueting room to the Music Room , where after dinner entertainments were held. But before we go to the Banqueting room, lets visit below stair to the Great Kitchen.

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

This is Nash’s view of the room.And as you can clearly see it is a wonderfully practical and large kitchen( appropriately enough for the Prince who had a prodigious appetite) but that it also is in keeping with the exotically themed building: the cast iron columns supporting the roof are made in the form of palm leaves.

(©Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton & Hove)

The Prince Regent often showed his visitors around the Pavilion himself and took great delight in taking them to visit his whimsical but up to the minute kitchen. The Comtesse de Boigne recorded that

“If he (the Prince Regent-jfw) happened to meet any newcomers to the Pavilion, he took great delight in showing them over the palace himself, a special point being his kitchens, which were entirely steam heated by a system at that time new,with which he was charmed”

He employed many of the great chefs of the day here, most famously the French chef, Marie-Antoine Careme.

You can see the good ventilation in this room- something a lot of Georgian kitchen were without.

The magnificent roasting spits were powered by smoke jacks

There is still, in one corner the largest mortar and pestle I have ever seen

and every modern convenicne…General Tilney would have no doubt approved..

Next we go into the small but fascinating Pages Room and then the Oriental splendour of the Banqueting Room. Do join me!

For Cathy….and any other interested parties…..

 

I managed to find this old photograph in a very old Guide Book of the Pavilion-circa 1969 IIRC. You can see that the exterior of the Pavilion was quite a different colour then.

You may recall that a few months ago I went to see the Dress for Excess Exhibit at the magical Brighton Royal Pavilion. This is the Chinoiserie filled and Orientally inspired seaside home of the Prince of Wales in Brighton and was the centre of the fashionable Regency world. Before we go inside to see the interiors and the clothes on display, I think it might be helpful to have a post on the Pavillion itself and its history. Today we shall look at the exteriors and the development of this most extraordinary building.

When Jane Austen published Pride and Prejudice in 1813, and had the wayward Lydia Bennet going quite wild in Brighton with all its attendant temptations, the Prince of Wales’ home there was at first a completely different, comparatively simple building than the one we know now. (Do remember all the images in this post can be enlarged, simply by clicking on them,and you can see all the delicious detail if you do…)

The building, at first, was merely a “very superior farmhouse” and consisted only of the building to the left of the illustration. In 1787 Henry Holland was commissioned to add the rotunda in the centre, which contained the Saloon, and then another extension, seen on the right,  to echo the original farmhouse. At this point it was known as the Marine Villa. The ground plan, above, shows what happened to it when it was enlarged in 1801-1802.

The exact point at which the Prince began to Orientalise the building is still a matter of debate, but it was probably after 1815. In any event John Nash, shown here, below,  painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence,

(©The Principal,Fellows and Scholars of Jesus College,Oxford)

gradually aggrandized the building and in 1821,  this, below, is how it appeared. You can see the ground plan of the pavilion, the dome shaped stable and riding school and the grounds, all  built along the Steyne in the centre of Brighton.

And here is a map of Brighton from 1823, showing the position of the pavilion:

built at right angles to the sea …

Here is the entrance front of the Pavilion as it appeared in the early 1820s

and this is the Steyne front, again in the early 1820s:

And now, having set the scene, for my photographs, taken on the darkest day in the spring!, but still….let’s look at them…

The magnificent entrance front…..

The pavilion is now painted a cream/stone colour,  but in my childhood in the 1960s it was painted a rather bright shade of aqua blue with the details picked out in white like a wedding cake…..

The onion domes are a feature of the building

and have been used on the later additions,such as this one on the gate leading  to the Steyne…

The outside of this fantastical palace gathers its inspiration from India: this is part of the entrance front, and you can clearly see the influence in the shape of the windows and their tracery….

The Stables and Riding school, can be seen from the entrance front….

and are set within the gardens that were designed by Humphrey Repton. The view back towards the Pavilion shows the jumble of domes and minarets…

Passing onto the Steyne front 

we see the magnificent, symmetrical facade with its jali screens,

dominated by the central onion dome over the saloon

This front is simply a tour de force…

and here is a short video showing you the whole of the facade

I do apologise for the traffic noise, but it was a very busy day in Brighton.

Next, the interiors and the costumes.

Recently I have had a few emails from posters wanting to post comments, but they are experiencing a problem. They can’t find the Comments Box.  It used to be situated immediately under the post, or under the last comment made, but it’s not there any more…well, it is, but it’s rather difficult to find it.

Let me explain.

It would appear that while I was on holiday Word Press have made some alterations to the theme that I operate on this site and the Comments Box is now to be found right at the bottom of the page. So…. if you scroll down(and down and down) until you can scroll down no further, then the new style Comments Box ( with new buttons to allow you to comment on Facebook and Twitter etc) will be found and you can make a new comment there. Your comment will then appear under the post as normal.

Alternatively, if you click on the “add a comment”  link, to be found under the header to the post, or , if a comment has already been made, on the “2 comments ” link (or whatever the number of comments has been made is!)  you will then be taken directly to the Comments Box.

This is not a particularly helpful situation: I could shorten my sidebar, which determines the length of the page, to bring the Comments Box higher, but there is a lot of helpful information there, so I am loath to do that.

I will be asking WP to help resolve this rather ungainly situation on Monday, but in the meantime if you want to comment, please scroll down right to the bottom of the page and I do apologise for the confusion this has caused.

at Bonhams auction house in New York on the 22nd June in a sale of 20th century original book and magazine illustrations.

(©Bonhams)

It is in fact one of the illustrations we have already discussed in our series on Hugh Thomson’s illustrations for Sense and Sensibility. ( go here to see). Entitled Offered Him One of Folly’s Puppys, it shows Sir John Middleton offering Willoughby ( boo-hiss) one of the puppies recently brought forth by his favourite dog. The groom or huntsman is shown holding the tiny pup. The illustration was first drawn in 1896, and was included in Macmillan’s edition of the novel. Do click on the illustration to enlarge it and appreciate the fine and delicious detail.

It is being offered in a Lot with one more illustration by Hugh Thomson, Oi Goes to Market wi’ Vather’s Hay, but this is not related to Jane Austen. The estimate for the Lot of two illustrations is $800-1200 USD and I must admit I’m tempted at that price. Go here to see the auctioneer’s details of the lot, and here to see the details of the sale as a whole.

The catalogue’s contents, as a whole,  makes my mouth water, I have to admit! On offer are some of Hans Christian Anderson’s famed silhouettes,

(©Bonhams)

a marvellous “hollyhock” by Walter Crane from his book Flora’s Feast, and Ernest Shepherd ‘s Winnie the Pooh ( the companion of my childhood!) amongst other treasures.

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I’ll keep an eye out for the results…..and let you know if I bid!

This has recently become one of my very favourite books. I received it from the publishers  about six weeks ago and I have read it, and re-read it, since then. It now resides on my bedside table and I frequently take it up when insomnia strikes. It is simply one of the most well written and engaging books  on Mrs Delany I have ever read. But it is so much more than that…but before I get carried away in my enthusiasm, let’s first deal with the basics.

In this book, Molly Peacock,  the esteemed poet (shown above)has written a very detailed, readable and affectionate biography of that most accomplished woman, Mrs Delany. You will recall that last year I wrote about Mrs Delany, her accomplishments and her legacy to us of her copious and fabulously detailed correspondence, a boon for anyone studying domestic life of the 18th century, here

Mrs Delany is of course, now best remembered for her paper mosaiks of horticultural subjects. These amazingly accurate and detailed paper collages, now kept in the British Museum, were the work of her old age. She began making them when she was 72 and planned to complete 1000 of them. Sadly, her eyesight failed her and she put aside her work in 1783 having completed 985 of these astoundingly beautiful and accurate pieces of work.

The book is an exploration and appreciation of Mrs Delany’s life in Georgian England and Ireland. We learn all about her two marriages, the first an arranged loveless thing; the second, to Dean Swift’s friend, Dr Patrick Delany, below, which was  a happier, fulfilling and companiable relationship. And then the years of her long widowhood and how  her artistic gifts enabled her to live a life  that was, despite the absence of her beloved Dr Delany, fulfilled and satisfying.

Molly Peacock has a immediacy in her writing so that in her company we swiftly and seamlessly time travel to the 18th century,taking in delicious details of coronations, the perils of 18th century travel,the world of the Bluestockings, and the last , productive years of the  life of Patrick Delany’s widow, sympathetically befriended by George III and his wife Queen Charlotte.

But the book is also part memoir,  a journey into Molly Peacock’s own life, both professional and personal. We learn of its parallels with Mrs Delany’s and how Molly’s fascination with these bewitching images has shaped the course of her life since she discovered them in the 1980s. More importantly, perhaps, she reveals to us  how researching these images  has affected her own attitude to life, her family, work and art. Without intending to sound too sentimental ( for this book most certainly is not prissy or sentimental at all) it is one of the most uplifting books I’ve read in years. Positive and creative. Attitudes that both Mrs Delany and Molly seem to share, and which ought to be examples to us all. To be frank I’m reminded of Miss Bates’s excellent attitude to life, as Jane Austen portrayed in Emma.If only she had had some artistic talent and a comfortabel pension….then she would not have been overlooked or patronised by anyone in Highbury society, and even our heroine might have paid her more due.

In less talented hands this  could have been a disjointed, difficult  book to read. But we travel effortlessly between detailed appreciations of the paper mosaiks, on to reminisces of Molly’s life, family and her journeyings(both mental and physical ); then to the minutiae of life in 18th century England and Ireland on to philosophical musings on the nature of modern life and contentment. It is an entirely satisfying and stimulating experience.

The book is also beautifully produced, reproducing 35 of Mrs Delany’s marvelous mosaiks in full colour. Link Beatrix Potter’s perfectly proportioned books, it sits perfectly in the hand and is very tactile: even the hard cover has been embossed poppy in its corner.(see above) I have adored living with this book it.

The publishers were kind enough to send me a copy, for it has already ben published in the U.S.A. but I had already ordered my own and it will be delivered when the book is published in the UK in July. As I am sure you will love this book I’m putting the publishers copy into the pile for the next Austen Only Annual Give Away in October. In the meantime,if you can’t wait for that, I urge you to buy it and savour every beautifully written word.

While I was on my recent Sabbatical a book with which we are slightly familiar came up for auction  again, and I thought you might like to hear about it. The Friendship Book of the Reverend James Stanier Clarke, seen below, who was the Librarian to The Prince Regent, later George IV, went on sale at auction two weeks ago at Christie’s auction house in London.

This book is an amazing document. Correctly titled the Liber Amicorum-  the Friendship Book-  it is a record of Stanier Clarke’s contacts amongst some of the most influential and famous people in Regency England. As a courtier he was continually meeting interesting people at Court, and he took the opportunity his portion afforded him to have them record some souvenirs within its pages. These friendship books were quite common in the 19th century, and I have one which contains drawings, autographs and poems collected by a great-great uncle of mine. Sadly, he didn’t meet as many famous people as did The Reverend Clarke …

The book is bound in gold toothed green morocco and contains more than 100 contemporary paintings, drawings, verses and autographs by notable artists, authors, poets, sculptors and naval characters of the late 18th/early 19th centuries, including George Romney, William Hodges, William Hayley, Anna Seward, Nicholas Pocock, Nelson’s Captain Thomas Masterman Hardy.

The book was found in the 1950s by Richard Wheeler in a secondhand bookshop in Canterbury in Kent. He made a detective study of the book and its contents, studying the watermarks of the paper to build up a comprehensive history of the book, its contents and its original owner. His son recently put the book up for sale after he had inherited it.

Here are an idea of some of the contents:

A verse written by Charlotte Smith, the novelist

“A telescopic appearance of the southern limb of the Moon on 7th August 1787 at 3 0’clock in the morning” by John Russell, the noted astronomer.

A drawing by John Flaxman, the sculptor.

James Stanier Clarke also included portraits he had executed of people in his circle in his Friendship Book.


Here, above, is one of Princess Caroline of Brunswick, dating from 1795.

And this next portrait, shown below,  is the one that has caused all the interest in this tiny book…for it purports to be of Jane Austen, taken when she met James Stanier Clarke on her visit to Carlton House, the London home of the Prince Regent. The negotiations regarding the dedication of Emma to the Prince regent had resulted in her being invited to view the Library there, and her visit took place on the 13th November, 1815.

James Stanier Clarke appears to have been quite smitten with Miss Austen and a correspondence between them lasted for a little while. Till frankly, Jane Austen could endure his suggestions for literary composition no longer. Her frustration with her correspondent took its revenge in her Plan of a Novel According to Hints from Various Quarters(1816).Their correspondence subsequently drew to a halt….

The portrait is not dated or named,but speculation has arisen that it might be Jane Austen, as she appeared on that visit.

Sadly, the National Portrait Gallery- which owns Cassandra Austen’s slight watercolour of Jane Austen, the only authenticated portrait showing her face- have steadfastly refused to authenticate the watercolour as being an image of Jane Austen. But others have been convinced by it. Go here to read a detailed discussion of the similarities between this portrait and the authenticated version. I would love to think that this stylishly dressed woman was Jane Austen, in her glad rags visiting the palace….

But , it seems that the current market is still not wholly convinced and the book failed to sell. It was given a pre-auction estimate of £20,000 -£50,000, and the highest bid received was for £28,000. Obviously, it failed to reach its fixed reserve. Frankly I would love to own this book for all its contents, not just the supposed picture of Jane Austen. And I am slighty puzzled as to why it hasn’t been bought by one of the great London museums bearing in mind it contains so many other interesting and less controversial items.

So, yet again we will have to wait and see what eventually happens to this intriguing book. I wonder if a facsimile edition has ever been considered. An annotated facsimile would be something to behold, don’t you think? I’d buy that in an instant!

If you would like to read about the walk around Lyme Regis as Jane Austen knew it, in the company of Admiral Croft ( a.k.a. Fred Humphrey, shown below on the Cobb in front of the steps known as “Granny’s Teeth” )…

(©The Lyme Regis Museum Blog)

…then do click here to go to a report of the talk on the Lyme Regis Museum’s blog.

It sounds to have been a fascinating time and though I like Lyme best in the winter, I do wish I’d been there to join in this particular piece of fun!

Andy English, my  Twitter friend, fellow Fenlander and fabulous illustrator of Philip Pullman and Susan Hill’s books, amongst others, alerted me to this item last week and I thought I ought to share it with you.

The Bowler Press of North Vancouver Canada have produced Captain Wentworth’s letter, THE Letter,  for fans of Persuasion. It was first made available to purchase on the 14th February, hence the reference to St Valentine’s Day in the header.  It has been beautifully printed as if it had been written on stationary that could have been found and used by visitors to the White Hart Inn in Bath which is where the Musgroves were staying in the novel. Complete with appropriate logo….

This is a fun idea. It comes compete with a snazzy envelope and is produced in a limited edition of 200.

Each set is priced at $25 Canadian dollars. Go here to order it. My only quibble is that the White Hart was really a great coaching inn, and was not known as a “hotel” in Jane Austen’s time…but you would  expect me quibble, wouldn’t you ;)

Running with this Austen theme, the Bowler Press is now in the process of producing a similar copy of Fitzwilliam Darcy’s letter to Elizabeth Bennet, written after his marriage proposal was rejected and while he was staying at Rosings. This should soon be available to buy, again for $25 Canadian Dollars. I’ll keep you informed of developments.

And, for the Austen theme does not end there, the Press are hoping to produce a three volume set of Pride and Prejudice…I will be intrigued to see what it looks like…

I do wish someone would attempt to reproduce a letter written by Charles Bingley , complete with ink blots and crossings out ;) But for now I am going to place some orders of these for myself;)

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