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This is another monumental (and heavy!) book by Yale but its subject matter amply deserves such a sumptuous celebration.
James Wyatt had a fascinating career: his early triumphs were overshadowed by a reputation for delay and a maddening inability to finish even the most pressing commissions.He had a geographically wide-ranging set of clients and appears to have been unable to refuse any of them. Dissatisfied clients by the score was the result when Wyatt was unable, and it appears to me, sometimes unwilling to finish work on his commissions. But when Wyatt did turn up on site he appears to have been universally loved and well liked. His extravagant personal life, allied with a tendency to drunkenness meant that his reputation became sullied. His papers were burnt or lost. Many of his commissions have now been demolished, and some of those that did survive have been vilified (his restoration work on some of our great cathedrals Westminster Abbey, Salisbury and Litchfield for example ) His death in 1813 in a carriage accident was, in a way, fortuitous, for it prevented him and his family having to suffer the disgrace of him being dismissed from the office of Surveyor -General and Comptroller of the Office of Works, where he had succeeded Sir William Chambers in the post. From the evidence of this book he seems to have been a man of sudden enthusiasms, unsuited to the steady, plodding work of a journeyman architect/committee member necessary for the sometimes no doubt mundane and regular work overseeing of the Office of Works. His neglect of his business and financial affairs eventually left his and his family’s finances in a precarious position.
John Martin Robinson’s book attempts to re-establish him as one of the most important architects of the late Georgian era. His reputation was first secured by his early triumph of the design for the Pantheon in London’s Oxford Street -the Winter Ranelagh ( above). Built in 1772 the building is examined in wonderful detail in this book- with floor plans enough to satisfy even me.And of course, in a different guise it had an association with Jane Austen for Henry Austen, her brother who loved living the high life, had a box there. Sadly this building no longer exists, and the prints which illustrate it in this book make one sigh in distress at no longer being able to visit it. Mundane note: a branch of Marks and Spencer now occupies its site.
Wyatt’s Gothick “ruined abbey” at Fonthill (above) designed for the eccentric William Beckford, the country houses he designed or embellished here in the UK or in Ireland, his wonderful buildings at Oxford, including the Ratcliffe Observatory and the exquisite Library at Brasenose College are all covered extensively in the text and are superbly illustrated.
Wyatt’s ingenious turn of mind is shown in the small silver articles his designed for Matthew Boulton( whom he drove almost to distraction when working on his Birmingham home, Soho House). The Adam brothers, architects supreme of the last quarter of the 18th century, haughtily declined to design such small items, but Wyatt produced wonderful designs for Boulton, see the example below:
New research by the author of this book has made one very interesting discovery: that the Hepplewhite designs for furniture, famous for two centuries and thought to be illustrative of George Hepplewhite’s designs, and which were posthumously published as The Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Guide in 1788, 2 years after his death in 1786, were most probably not designed by any person called Hepplewhite but were Wyatt’s own work. As with any Yale production, this book is sumptuously produced, and I have enjoyed pouring over its pages over the Christmas holiday. The illustrations show an aspect of Late Georgian/Regency life -the works of James Wyatt-that have almost disappeared from view, and reading this wonderfully illustrated book restores Wyatt’s exquisite work to our notice.
Reading Enfilade is one of my regular morning pleasures, along with a bowl of porridge, strong tea and freshly squeezed orange juice. For those of you who are unaware of this wonderful blog, I ought perhaps to explain that it is a marvellous compendium of news about 18th century art and architecture, updated nearly every day. It often acts as a nudge to my memory, to remember to book tickets to see an exhibition or to buy a book. Which is very appropriate for today is the blog’s third anniversary and its Editor, Craig Hanson has requested that we mark it by buying a book, an art book preferably, in order to help safeguard that part of the publishing industry. As he writes with dismaying clarity..
So as a gesture of positive action, I’m asking all of you to buy a book today (and fellow bloggers to spread the word). It’s easy to think that it won’t matter, but it does. Most people are astounded to learn just how small the circulation numbers are for art history books published by university presses. However humbling it may be for those of us who spend years of our lives producing a book, it’s not uncommon for only 400 or 500 copies to be sold. Surpass 1000 and you’re a superstar. There’s a tendency to assume that university presses receive generous funding from their host universities. It’s almost never the case. If they’re not in the business to turn huge profits, they must still be economically viable. Several years ago, I heard Susan Bielstein, executive editor at the University of Chicago Press, give a talk on the nuts and bolts of publishing. How did she begin? By asking members of her audience (almost entirely composed of art historians) to go buy a book. She was entirely serious. So am I.
Therefore…in a spirit of solidarity, I have to announce that today I bought a book.(Those of you who know me well will be shocked by this behaviour, I know…well, I actually bought the book under review on Monday…but I did buy another art book today, so I qualify on all counts. Ahem). The purchased book is a splendid and weighty volume, The London Square by Todd Longstaffe-Gowan, published by Yale.
It is a history, from the 17th century to the present day, of the development of London’s Square, those lungs of green which have been so beneficial to the aesthetic of London and to the pleasure and convenience of its inhabitants. When I lived in London I lived in an area of small jewel-like squares and crescents-Barnsbury- and I still recall with delight walking around that area, enjoying its peace, set as it was between the impossibly busy Caledonian Road and Upper Street. Jane Austen knew London well, and, indeed, placed her characters in London with characteristic precision. For example, in Emma, Isabella Knightley lives in the “good air” of Brunswick Square, and in Pride and Prejudice, the Hursts, wealthy people of fashion, lived in Grosvenor Street, which adjoins Grosvenor Square, at a point in time when it was London’s most fashionable and largest square.
The development of the squares is explained particularly well. Aristocrats owned the parcels of land- in the Grosvenor estates case a mind-blowingly large parcel of 100 acres- and then leased the land to speculative builders. The book is especially good at winkling out interesting nuggets of information. For example, St. James’s Square-a place of terror in my mind, all related to the employment Appeal Tribunals I used to attend and which were held in what was once Lady Astor’s very grand house-did not at first have a green and secluded garden at its heart, but a large circular basin, filled with water. All as a result of the influence of one of Jane Austen’s ancestors, James Byrdges, the Duke of Chandos, a resident of the square, who had
… an amateur interest in hydraulics, who was a shareholder in the water company. It was in any regard a very practical conceit as it (the basin-jfw) served as a reservoir from which water could be drawn in the event of fire
In addition to being superbly written, this book is, as you would expect from Yale, fabulously illustrated. This illustration, below, of Hanover Square in 1769, for example, is fascinating and repays close inspection.(If you click on it a larger version will appear)
Cows graze in the middle distance, boys tease goats and fashionable ladies walk through it all with their trophies -small dogs on leads ( some things never change). I’m not sure this is exactly the scene Mary Crawford was imagining when she envisaged marrying Edmund Bertram here, in Mansfield Park. Or was it? Food for thought.
The second half of the book deals with the development of squares from the late Regency onwards, and I found the chapters dealing with the struggle to maintain the squares in the 1960s -grand and not so grand – when we seem to lose our way with regard to retaining the historical spaces of our cities, and London in particular, totally fascinating and riveting reading ( though I understand it is not a primary concern for those of you only interested in JAne Austen’s era).However, even Albert Square, of BBCs soap, Eastenders fame, gets an honourable mention, for Mr Longstaffe -Gowan is equally at home writing with authority of both grand projects and those that are rather more humble; for example, the Victorian squares in Hackney and Hoxton. But then he is the president of the London Parks and Gardens Trust. This is a wonderful book, and I think you would all enjoy it…and may even help establish a very worthy tradition of “Buy-a-Book Day”.
You may be interested to read Mr.Longstaffe-Gowan’s other book about an aspect of London life, The LondonTown Garden 1700-1840, shown below
First published in 2001, it has been a well-loved member of my library for over ten years, and I still enjoy reading its intelligent prose and devouring the sumptuous illustrations. Re-reading a book and enjoying it years after publication must be the highest practical praise a reader can bestow.
And finally, may I offer all at Enfilade my very sincere congratulations on your anniversary, and I hope for the continuance of my breakfast peace, more from you all to come for a very long time.
In our last post we posited the entirely plausible theory that, had Colonel Brandon wanted to eat a curry at Delaford it was probable that his cook would have known how to prepare a British version of a dish he may have eaten in the East Indies.
Today we shall look at the possibility of the Colonel enjoying a far more authentic version of curry, at what was most probably the first Indian restaurant in London. He could, had he so wished, eaten authentic Indian cuisine at The Hindostanee Coffee House which was established at George Street, just off Portman Square in London in 1809 by Sake Dean Mohomet.
Dean Mahomet was born in India, at Patna in 1759. In 1769, aged 11, after his father’s death, Mahomet followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the East India Company Army as a camp follower of Godfrey Baker who was an Irish Cadet.
He rose to the rank of subedar,which was the equivalent of the British rank of Lieutenant, but he let the army in 1782, aged 23 to accompany his patron, Captain Barker, who had been dismissed from the army. In 1784 Mahomet arrived at Dartmouth and then journeyed on to Ireland where he spent several years with the Baker family in Cork. It was here that he met his wife, Jane Daly, who was said to have been from an Irish family of “rank”. In 1786 they eloped, got married then returned to Cork where they set up home and had several children.
Mahomet moved to London around 1807 and took up residence in Portman Square which was then a fashionable area popular with Nabobs, who were the well off ex-British administrators in India returned to their homeland. In 1809 he opened what is now considered to be the first Indian restaurant in London - The Hindoostanee Coffee-House - at 34 George Street, Portman Square.
This is a section from my copy of Smith’s New Map of London (1809) annotated with an arrow which shows the approximate position of the coffee-house.
His coffee-house, like many other so-called coffee houses of the day, did not serve coffee: no, he served what would then have been considered very exotic fare, Indian cuisine and, within his restaurant, he created an Eastern ambiance wich distinguished it from all the other coffee houses in town.
His advert for the restaurant which appeared in The Times described what he could offer to a discerning pubic:
Hindostanee Coffee-House No. 34 George Street Portman Square- Mahomed, East-Indian informs the Nobility and Gentry he has fitted up the above house , neatly and elegantly, for the entertainment of Indian Gentlemen, where they may enjoy Hoakha, with real chinese tobacco,and Indian dishes, in the highest perfection, and allowed by the greatest epicures tone unequalled to any curries ever made in England with choice wines and every accommodation, and now looks to them for their future patronage and support,and gratefully acknowledges himself indebted for their former favours and trusts it will merit the highest satisfaction when made known to the public.
Apparently, the Coffee house was decorated with a range of paintings including some of Indian landscapes, showing scenes of sporting activities. The sofas and chairs in the coffee-house were made of bamboo. With that and the presence of the hookas, for patrons to smoke tobacco mixed with Indian herbs, it must have been a very exotic location in which to eat a meal.
Sadly, Dean Mohamet’s restaurant was not a total success. As Michael Fisher explains:
To be profitable… public houses either had to generate a loyal and substantial clientele, or to have a prime location, drawing many occasionally visitors…By the time Dean Mohamet began his enterprise the Jerusalem Coffee House (in Cornhill far closer to the City of London financial centre) already held the patronage of European merchants and veterans of the East Indies. The elite of the Portman Square neighbourhood, including the wealthy Nabobs, had their own private kitchens where their personal tastes would be satisfied; they could easily hire Indian servants or smoke in an Indian style regularly. Therefore the relatively exclusive location of the Hindostanee Coffee House and its novel and specialised cuisine and ambiance meant that its start-up costs exceeded Dean Mohamet’s limited capital.
(see The Travels of Dean Mohomet:An Eighteenth Century Journey through India, edited by Michael J.Fisher(1997))
The failure of the coffee house meant that Dean Mohamet had to file for bankruptcy and had no further association with the business. The Hindostanee Coffee House continued to trade and eventually did manage to generate a loyal clientele. It is thought the it continued to trade from its original premises at 34 George Street until 1833.
So this may indeed have been somewhere that Colonel Brandon might have patronised, while staying in St James Street when on his visits to London.
Poor Dean Mohamet failed in this particular enterprise but this is not the end of his story. In 1814 he moved from London to Brighton where he and his wife eventually established Mahomed’s Baths on the sea front, shown below as it was in 1821
My copy of the Guide to the Watering and Sea Bathing Places (1827) by John Feltham has this entry for his establishment:
These baths are kept by a native of India, and combine all the luxuries of the Baths of the East. They are adapted either for ladies or gentlemen and the system is highly salutary in many diseases, independent of the gratification it affords, particularly to those who had resided in the East.
And here is an advertisement for teh baths from Pigots National Directory of 1826
It was here that Dean Mohamet practised his Indian method of vapour baths and shampooing, which we would probably recognise now as some form of Indian Head Massage. He offered:
The Indian Medicated Vapour Bath (type of Turkish bath), a cure to many diseases and giving full relief when every thing fails; particularly Rheumatic and paralytic, gout, stiff joints, old sprains, lame less, aches and pains in the joints
In Brighton he was of course patronised by George IV who seems to have been fascinated by all things from the East. Dean Mohamet was a warrant holder as Shampooing Surgeon to both George IV and his brother, William IV. Here is Dean Mohamet pictured in his court robes, depicted standing proudly before the exotic facade of the Brighton Pavillion, George IV’s seaside folly, which you can just see to the left of the portrait:
So, there you are. The really intriguing story of Dean Mohamet and the first real Indian restaurant in London. Dean Mohamet wrote a book of his experiences, The Travels of Dean Mohamet published in 1794. And while this is a very interesting book, for me the sadness is that he stopped writting once he arrived in Ireland. The story of his marriage, his business enterprises in London and Brighton are not chronicled, and his experiences in england and Ireland must have been extraordinary It would have been fascinating to read of his experiences. You might like to note that the social importance of the Hindoustanee Coffee House has been recognised by Westminster Council and in 2005 a Green Plaque was placed on the present building at 34 George Street to recognise and record its existence:
“And here is my sweet little Annamaria,” she added, tenderly caressing a little girl of three years old, who had not made a noise for the last two minutes; “And she is always so gentle and quiet — Never was there such a quiet little thing!”
But unfortunately, in bestowing these embraces, a pin in her ladyship’s head-dress slightly scratching the child’s neck, produced from this pattern of gentleness such violent screams as could hardly be outdone by any creature professedly noisy. The mother’s consternation was excessive; but it could not surpass the alarm of the Miss Steeles, and everything was done by all three, in so critical an emergency, which affection could suggest as likely to assuage the agonies of the little sufferer. She was seated in her mother’s lap, covered with kisses, her wound bathed with lavender-water, by one of the Miss Steeles, who was on her knees to attend her, and her mouth stuffed with sugar-plums by the other. With such a reward for her tears, the child was too wise to cease crying. She still screamed and sobbed lustily, kicked her two brothers for offering to touch her, and all their united soothings were ineffectual till Lady Middleton luckily remembering that in a scene of similar distress, last week, some apricot marmalade had been successfully applied for a bruised temple, the same remedy was eagerly proposed for this unfortunate scratch, and a slight intermission of screams in the young lady on hearing it, gave them reason to hope that it would not be rejected. She was carried out of the room therefore in her mother’s arms, in quest of this medicine, and as the two boys chose to follow, though earnestly entreated by their mother to stay behind, the four young ladies were left in a quietness which the room had not known for many hours.
Sense and Sensibility, Chapter 21
Ah, Lady Middleton. The cold, manipulative, too doting mother of spoilt, awful children. Creating these characters gave Jane Austen free rein to be scathing about both spoilt children and their appallingly self-centered mother. Adding, no doubt, fuel to the fire to some of the claims that Jane Austen “hated children”. Not at all, the evidence from her other novels and from her letters show JAne Austen to have been very keen on and kind to well-behaved,well brought up children and their mammas. I think this passage illustrates that she simply detested spoilt brats and their oblivious parents.
In this passage the Miss Steeles- Nan and Lucy- the sycophantic fools, are immediately on hand to pander to Lady Middleton’s poor, little, desperately wounded but calculating child. They proffer sugar plums( more on that subject next week) and bathe her “would” with lavender water.
From Roman times lavender water has been recognised as something good with which to bathe wounds, as it has a naturally antiseptic effect. In Jane Austen’s era you could, if you had access to lavender plants,or essence of lavender, make your own lavender water, by following some of the many recipes for it in the cookery books and advice books of the day.
Mrs Rafffald in her recipe book A New System of Domestic Cookery, (below is the title page of my 1819 copy of her book)
gave the more traditional, complicated manner of making lavender water, by using a still to extract the essence of lavender:
Martha Lloyd’s Household Book which is in the collection of the Jane Austen Memorial Trust at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, contains a recipe for making lavender water. In A Jane Austen Household Book with Martha Lloyd’s Recipes written by Peggy Hickman, published in 1977, the following recipe appears:
To one quart of the best rectified spirits of wine put 3/4 oz of essence of lavender and 1/2 scruple of ambergris; shake it together and it is fit for use in a few days
As you can see, Martha’s recipe is very similar to the simple method described in Mrs Rundell’s book, above. Martha was, of course, their life long friend and she lived with the Austen ladies in their Chawton home.
There was an alternative to making your own lavender water, of course, You could buy a proprietary brand.The brand that Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra seem to have preferred was Mr Steele’s Lavender Water. In her letter to Cassandra dated 14th January 1801 she commissions her, on behalf of Martha Lloyd, to purchase some of Mr Steele’s lavender water when she next visits london:
Martha left you her best love. She will write to you herself in a short time; but, trusting to my memory rather than her own, she has nevertheless desired me to ask you to purchase for her two bottles of Steele’s lavender water when you are in town, provided you should go to the shop on your own account, otherwise you may be sure that she would not have you recollect the request.
Mr Steele had his shop and lavender water producing workshop at 15 Catherine Street, London just off the Strand, near Somerset House. The approximate position of the shop is shown in these two sections taken from my copy of Smith’s New Map of London (1809)
The approximate position of the shop is shown by the red arrow on both the sections:
Mr Steel also had a small house and a lavender nursery at Feltham near Hounslow Heath on the outskirts of London, approximately six miles from the city. You can see the red arrow marking the position of Hounslow on the section of John Cary’s map of the Environs of London (1812) below:
He was also in business with his brother-in-law, one Mr Alley, who distilled the lavender into lavender water at the Catherine Street premises. And now prepare yourself to hear something very dreadful…Mr Steele met with an untimely end. He was murdered in 1802 while he was on Hounslow Heath. His murderer, John Holloway was eventually found guilty of the murder in 1807. If you go here to the magnificent Old Bailey On line website, you can read a full account of the trial. It is absolutely fascinating, and for me raises many, many questions. I thought, however, that you might like to read Mr Steels sad tale, which is a reminder that Jane Austen’s era was not all lavender water and lace, and that for some unfortunate souls, violence was not far from the surface ;)
Today, the 21st October, is the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. This decisive sea battle between the French (and their allies the Spanish) and English fleets took place in 1805. Jane Austen lived through this perilous period, and makes one direct reference to this battle in Persuasion. It is in Chapter 3 when Anne Elliot, while helping Mr Shepherd explain who is destined to be Sir Walter Elliot’s tenant, also reveals to us her keen interest in the fortunes of all the members of her beloved Frederick Wentworth’s family:
“And who is Admiral Croft?” was Sir Walter’s cold suspicious inquiry.
Mr. Shepherd answered for his being of a gentleman’s family, and mentioned a place; and Anne, after the little pause which followed, added –
”He is rear admiral of the white. He was in the Trafalgar action, and has been in the East Indies since; he has been stationed there, I believe, several years.”
Jane Austen, of course, was vitally interested in the fortunes of Nelson’s navy, not only as a patriotic Englishwoman, but because her brothers Frank and Charles were naval officers. Frank, below, served directly under Nelson as one of his captains. Indeed, Nelson wrote admiringly of him:
I hope to see [Captain Austen] alongside a French 80-gun ship, and he cannot be better placed than in the ‘Canopus’, which was once a French Admiral’s ship, and stuck to me. Captain Austen I knew a little of before; he is an excellent young man.
(quoted in Jane Austen: A Family Record by DeirdreLe Faye, page 151)
For most of 1805 Frank was involved in chasing the French fleet and its commander, Admiral Villeneuve, across the Atlantic to the West Indies and then back again to the entrance of the Mediterranean near the Straits of Gibraltar. Below is a scan of my copy of Kelly’s map of Spain and Portugal dating from 1816, which you can enlarge to see the detail:
This is a section of it showing the position of Cadiz and the Straits of Gibraltar:
Villeneuve and his fleet were kept blockaded in Cadiz by the British during the whole month of September. Nelson arrived on The Victory on September 28th and then Frank was ordered to Gibraltar to “complete supplies”, and then on to Cartagena to help protect a convoy which was en route to Malta, further into the Mediterranean to the east. As a result, he missed the action at Trafalgar, a circumstance he had feared might occur, as is revealed in this later to the woman who was his fiancée and future wife , Mary Gibson. Note this letter was actually written on the day of the battle:
Our situation is peculiarly unpleasant and distressing, for if they escape Lord Nelson’s vigilance and get into the Mediterranean, which is not very likely, we shall be obliged, with our small force, to keep out of their way; and on the other hand, should an action take place, it must be decided long before we could possibly get down even were the wind fair, which at present it is not. As I have no doubt but the event would be highly honourable to our arms, and be at the same time productive of some good prizes, I shall have to lament our absence on such an occasion on a double account, the loss of pecuniary advantage as well as of professional credit. And after having been so many months in a state of constant and unremitting fag, to be at last cut out by a parcel of folk just come from their homes, where some of them were sitting at their ease the greater part of last war, and the whole of this, till just now, is particularly hard and annoying.
“You, perhaps, may not feel this so forcibly as I do, and in your satisfaction at my having avoided the danger of battle may not much regret my losing the credit of having contributed to gain a victory; not so myself!
“I do not profess to like fighting for its own sake, but if there have been an action with the combined fleets I shall ever consider the day on which I sailed from the squadron as the most inauspicious one of my life.
And so it was: Frank missed the action, the decisive sea battle victory over the French, and regretted it bitterly, as he told Mary in his next letter to her , dated 27th October, a letter which was first published in Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers by J.H. and E .C. Hubback:
Alas! my dearest Mary, all my fears are but too fully justified. The fleets have met, and, after a very severe contest, a most decisive victory has been gained by the English twenty-seven over the enemy’s thirty-three. Seventeen of the ships are taken and one is burnt; but I am truly sorry to add that this splendid affair has cost us many lives, and amongst them the most invaluable one to the nation, that of our gallant, and ever-to-be-regreted, Commander-in-Chief, Lord Nelson, who was mortally wounded by a musket shot, and only lived long enough to know his fleet successful.
And that was the rub, the bitter in so much sweet. Nelson died as a result of injuries sustained in the battle. Frank Austen paid tribute to him in the same letter:
In a public point of view, I consider his loss as the greatest which could have occurred; nor do I hesitate to say there is not an Admiral on the list so eminently calculated for the command of a fleet as he was. I never heard of his equal, nor do I expect again to see such a man. To the soundest judgment he united prompt decision and speedy execution of his plans; and he possessed in a superior degree the happy talent of making every class of persons pleased with their situation and eager to exert themselves in forwarding the public service. As a national benefit I cannot but rejoice that our arms have been once again successful, but at the same time I cannot help feeling how very unfortunate we have been to be away at such a moment, and, by a fatal combination of unfortunate though unavoidable events, to lose all share in the glory of a day which surpasses all which ever went before, is what I cannot think of with any degree of patience; but, as I cannot write upon that subject without complaining, I will drop it for the present, till time and reflection reconcile me a little more to what I know is now inevitable.
Nelson’s body was returned to England, and lay in state at Greenwich. He was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral, with all the pomp of a state funeral. This is a picture of his tomb in the crypt :
Today in Britain, Trafalgar Day is not celebrated as a public holiday as it was during the mid 19th century, though recently politicians have tried to revive the idea that the Monday nearest the date be reinstated as a bank holiday. But the Sea Cadets do celebrate it on theSunday nearest the 21st October. Members of the Sea Cadets all over the country parade in towns to celebrate the great sea victory still .In London 500 sea cadets parade in Trafalgar Square under the beady eye of Nelson’s statue on his column in the square. This square, and its commemorative column did not, of course, exist in Jane Austen’s day. But I daresay her sentiments regarding the battle, especially knowing that Frank escaped injury, may have been similar to how she expressed her feelings on hearing of deaths in battles in the Peninsular War
How horrible it is to have so many people killed! And what a blessing that one cares for none of them!
(Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 31st May 1811)
The early 19th century was a very productive time for publishers of guides for the use of travellers who were discovering the joys of traveling in England and Wales. The restrictions on travel because of the wars with France meant that the domestic market was their only possible stamping ground..
As you know I love these types of books and thought that you may like to see some of the guides to London that someone like the Steele sisters might use to plot their next move from Bartletts Buildings…dreaming of the fashionable West and all its elegance, compared with the bustle of the city….
If they wanted to learn more of the historical background to London and its landmarks then they might refer to a set of publications like The Beauties of England and Wales by Edward Braylake Brayley and John Britton.
I wrote about the Middlesex volumes here (they contain of course all details of London for in the ealry 19th century London was to be found in the county of Middlesex). While they are not Guide Books per se, they do contain very interesting historical information about London and its main buildings.
But if the Steele sisters and their ilk wanted to know a little more about the workings of London’s sights, so as not to appear totally ignorant and so very obviously newly up from the country, then they needed a different sort of guide. One of my favourites is The Picture of London.
This was first issued in 1802 and the last was published in 1818.
They are very detailed guides of want to see and do when in London.They give fantastically detailed information, so that the traveller who was new to London would not feel awkward or idiotic. This extract below, for example ,is the information the Picture of London(1802) gives for Astley’s Amphitheatre in Bridge Street near Westminster Bridge:
This Theatre is situated in the Westminster-road near the bridge, and is built on the very ground on which Mr. Astley, sen. formerly exhibited feats of horsemanship and other amusements in the open air; the success and profits of which enabled him afterwards to extend his plan and erect a building, which, from the rural cast of the internal decorations he called the ROYAL GROVE.
In this theatric structure, stage exhibitions were given, while, in a circular area, similar to that in the present theatre, horsemanship, and other feats of strength and agility, were continued. About seven or eight years ago, it was accidentally burnt down, after which the present theatre was erected under the appellation of the AMPITHEATRE of ARTS.
The interior of the building, though for a summer theatre somewhat heavy in its style, has been rendered truly elegant by its late additional decorations; and the stage and scenery are also greatly improved. The horsemanship, for which a circular ride is provided, is still continued, though it forms a much smaller portion of the evening’s entertainment than formerly.
This theatre always opens on Easter Monday; and its amusements continue till October or November. There are two tiers of boxes, a pit, and gallery.
The prices of admission are four shillings, two shillings, and one shilling. The doors open at half past five, and the performances begin at half past six.
It really does contain everything you really needed to know, don’t you think?
These books were illustrated with engravings of the buildings they described.The early editions with full-page illustration of a single buildings, then the later versions, as in this plate from The Picture of London for 1810 tried to illustrate at least four buildings on one page, landscape form:
The last edition, of 1818, further simplified this by having four illustrations on one page all executed in a similar style,but placed them so that the book did not have to be turned to appreciate them:
These guides were all pocket-sized , 3 inches by 5 inches approximately, and could easily be carried around. They also included maps of London and sometimes of its environs, which folded out for ease of reference:
This is the map of London that was used in edition of The Picture of London from 1803 onwards.
One of the interesting things to note about these guides is that not much is known about the people who write and published them. The author of the Picture of London was John Feltham and try as I might I’ve not found any meaningful information about him. I fear he may have been one of a number of hack writer that the publishers employed to write copy. And indeed such was the nature of their work that not many of them used their own name, preferring pseudonyms.
The publisher of these books, Richard Phillips is a slightly different matter. There is a little more information available about him, and his life makes for interesting reading. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography actually has an entry for him and his early life was common place enough:
….the son of a Leicestershire farmer, was born in London; his name at birth may have been Philip Richards. He was sent to schools in Soho Square and at Chiswick by his uncle, a brewer in Oxford Street, but his home surroundings were distasteful to him, and in 1786 he started on his own account as usher in a school at Chester. In 1788 he moved to Leicester, where he invested his small means in a commercial academy in Bond Street. A year later he opened a hosier’s shop, which he stocked with borrowed capital; but it was not until the summer of 1790, when he commenced business as a stationer, bookseller, and patent medicine vendor, that he found his proper vocation. He soon added a printing press, and, when his already heterogeneous business began to prosper, he expanded by selling pianofortes, music, caricatures, and prints, and running a circulating library.
He held somewhat unorthodox views on most subjects. For example, he really did believe that Newtons theory on gravity was idiotic. He was a radical and held strong republican political views and even served 18 months in Leicester gaol for publishing a copy of Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man. For such a radical it is surprising to realise that he was knighted. This event occurred in 1808 rather in the manner I have always thought Sir William Lucas received his knighthood from the King:
At midsummer 1807 Phillips was elected a sheriff of London, and as the bearer of an address from the corporation to George III, he was knighted by the king on 30 March 1808. During his shrievalty Phillips established the sheriff’s fund for the relief of poor debtors, and placed the sponging-houses under better regulations. In this capacity he wrote and published A Letter to the Livery of London Relative to the Duties and Office of Sheriff (1808), and A Treatise on the Powers and Duties of Juries, and on the Criminal Laws of England (1811).
)(Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, online version )
I do wonder if George III had a liking for people who were as eccentric as himself…?
Another London guide writer I can find no information about is David Hughson, Doctor of Law. He is sometimes referred to as David Pugh. It’s all very mysterious. In any event, his books are fabulously detailed and very worthwhile obtaining. One of the most useful for people visiting London was his two-volume work, Walks through London, a larger format series of books than The Picture of London.
This is a series of walks, each illustrated by a detailed map, as below of the area around the Tower of London (and please do remember you can enlarge these illustrations by clicking on them)
These maps were supplemented by individual plates of interesting or notable buildings, as in this one of Fishmongers Hall
For the traveller interested in the then countryside around London, Hughson also produced a series of books from 1805-1819 London being an accurate History and Description of the British Metropolis and its Neighbourhood to Thirty Miles Extant
This was a part work, issued gradually and eventually it comprised six volumes, copiously illustrated with single plates, as in this one, below, of Carlton House ,the London home of the Prince of Wales.
The engravings in these books are fabulous, very detailed and are by far my favourites of this type. Each includes a vignette of life in early 19th century London, and they have a charm not many other engravings possess. Such a pity I cannot find out anything about Dr Hughson..if indeed that was his real name.
You wil recall that last year we learnt a little about the actors that Jane Austen admired: Miss O’ Neil and Mr Young. As I have not written about Jane Austen and the Theatre for some time I thought today might be the day to resume our interest in matters theatrical. Writing to her niece, Anna Austen, Jane Austen thougth that Miss O’ Neil was most elegant- one of her highest terms of praise for a female- but was not as good an actress as she had been led to believe:
We were all at the Play last night, to see Miss o’Neal (sic) in” Isabella”. I do not think she was quite equal to my expectation. I fancy I want something more than can be. Acting seldom satisfies me. I took two Pocket handkerchiefs but had very little occasion for either. She is an elegant creature however and hugs Mr Younge delightfully.
( Letter to Anna Austen, dated 29th November 1814, written from 23 Hans Place, London)
I have found another admirer of Miss O’ Neil, a contemporary of Jane Austen, and thoguht you might like to share his impressions of her acting ability, to compare and contrast it with Jane Austen’s acute preception and theatrical criticism ;)
The person in question is one of my favouite diarists of the era, Joseph Ballard
Joseph Ballard was a Bostonian, born in 1789 in Bromfield’s Lane, Boston, Massachusetts, where his father had a livery and hack business. In fact his father established the first hackney carriage business in Boston. Jospeh Ballard was mostly aself-educated man, but on his journey to England and Wales in 1815 he kept what is now a fascinating journal, full of delicous detial of all he did and experienced, contrasting Amercian habits and customs with those he observed in England.
From his observations made in London, he was obviously a fan of theatre in America. So it is interesting to note his reaction to Miss O’Neil, with whom Jane Austen was ever-so-slighlty disappointed. And it is also interesting to note the tiny details he noticed and recorded, some that Jane Austen ignored, or just didn’t think necessary to note.
He first went to see Miss O’Neil on the 20th April 1815, when she was appearing in one of her most famous roles,Shakespeare’s Juliet. Here is his dairy entry for that night:
This evening attended Covent Garden Theatre. The outside as well as that of Dury Lane and the Opera is guarded by soldiers to keep proper order. The play was Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Miss O ‘Neil sustained the character of Juliet in a style which far surpasses our actresses as the celebrated Cooke did our actors.The funeral scene was extremely solemn; the friars and attendants were over sixty persons who chanted the service in the manner of the Romish church. The music and singing was very fine. The after-piece was ‘Lembucca’ a modern melodrama resembling ‘Tekeli’. The scenery and dresses to this were very handsome. There were frequently one hundred performers on the stage at once. The decorations of this house on the audiots parts ( in the auditorium-jfw) are not so elegant as those of Drury Lane yet I think the scenery more elegant.
There is always attending these theatres an immense number of women of the town( prostitutes-jfw). With the exception of the first boxes which are designated as dress boxes they go into all parts of the house and seat themselves as they please. I have often seen many of them in boxes with ladies and gentlemen apparently respectable. The streets are thronged with these miserable wretches who acost every person who passes along. Many of them have no where to lay their heads and pass the night in the street in any corner which will afford them shelter.
At Covent Garden Theatre, Liston,( John Liston a noted comedian-jfw) one of the performers, is enuded with such comical powers of countanance that one must have a perfect command of the risible powers to prevent himself from laughing before he utters a word.
(John Liston in 1817 by George Clint)
There are also some fine dancers at this house but these ladies are so thinly clad and throw themselves into such indecent postures that I think a New England audience would not have tolerated them.
This is a much fuller and very different account of a night at Covent Garden that Jane Austen ever gives us, I am sure you will agree.
Then on 4th May, after having watched the procession of grandees arrive at St James Palace for a levee held by the Queen, Mr Ballard again went to Covent Garden to see Miss O’ Neil.
At night attended Covent Garden theatre to see Mr Kemble and Miss O ‘Neil in the play of ‘The Stranger’. The performances in this play were never in my opinion surpassesd for excellence. Kemble has a singular voice and I think is a little too formal and precise yet his acting is elegant. When I speak of Miss O ‘Neil I cannot find words to express sufficiently my admiration of her acting. It is said she excels Mrs Siddons when she first appeared opon the London boards. Her person is most beautiful. She posesses a fine tonic voice and a very expressive countnance.
I think we can clearly discern that Mr Ballard was rather taken with the elegant Miss O’Neil. Rather more so than Jane Austen,who was rather cool about her acting ability. But interestingly, he gives us far more detail of the evenings entertainment than Jane Austen ever did: a forgeiners eye picks up on details that Jane Austen most probably noticed but took as normal- the prostitutes-women of the town- sitting all around the theatres, the same poor wretches lying in squalor on the streets.
Mr Ballard has a lot more to say about Jane Austen’s England and so I think we can all profit by following him about. There will be more posts about his travels soon.Do join me, won’t you?
I posted a review of this book last year ,and I sadly had left it too late for you all to act on as the hardback edition was already sold out in the UK and became sold out in the USA a few weeks later.
The good news is that it has recently been released in paperback form and is now freely available from the your local bookshop, main internet book sites and the publishers,Phillimore. I should like to thank my good friend, Rae, for this information.
As I noted in my review, linked above, this is mainly a gazetteer of 190 houses and villas built as country retreats around London from the 17th century onwards, and is written with great authority and verve by the distinguished architectural historian, Caroline Knight.
If you possibly can, do not miss this chance to buy this really fantastic book. As with any gazetteer it is meant to be dipped into, not read at one sitting, and I have spent many an enjoyable evening virtually visiting some grand houses all situated within the confines of the M25 orbital motorway.
It puts into context areas of London that are now almost totally urban in character but in Jane Austen’s era were rural places, villages separated from London by great estates like Osterley and Syon . It is a great help when reading Mansfield Park and Emma: I can thoroughly recommend it to you. Get it while stocks last this time!
Some events at the Foundling Museum have just been announced, and as they are being held in conjunction with the famed Threads of Feeling exhibition, I thought you might like to know about them.
First, a talk on the subject of Bonds of Love and Affection at the London Foundling Hospital in the Eighteenth-century by Dr Alysa Levene:
In conjunction with Threads of Feeling, Dr Alysa Levene explores the emotional experiences of the children left at the Foundling Hospital. Over 18,000 babies and young children were left at the Foundling Hospital between its opening in 1741 and the end of the eighteenth century. We know almost nothing about the emotional experiences of any of them .
However, we can tease out something of the emotional bonds that existed between these children and their parents by examining the letters and tokens left with them. Very few of these children were ever taken back by their families, but this was not the end of their experiences of family life. Most were sent to be wet nursed in foster homes in the countryside, and here too, we can see some evidence of their experiences via the letters written by the inspectors of nurses back to the hospital. Not all of these experiences were happy, but this talk will illustrate how much the Foundling Hospital records can tell us about mothering, nurture and the model of childhood in the eighteenth century.
Dr Alysa Levene is a Senior Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University and author of Childcare, health and mortality at the London Foundling Hospital, 1741-1800: ‘left to the mercy of the world’ (Manchester University Press, 2007). She was also the general editor Narratives of the Poor in Eighteenth-Century England (Pickering and Chatto, 2006).
This talk will be held on Tuesday 25 January, 7pm- 8.30pm (doors 6.30pm, includes pay bar) Tickets will cost £12, concessions: £10.
On the 16th February renowned costume designer and historian Jenny Tiramani will give a talk on how Georgian women dressed. Here are the detials:
Here are some details of Jenny Tiramani’s work to entice you….
She was the Director of Theatre Design at Shakespeare’s Globe, London until 2005. She received the 2003 Olivier Award for her costume designs of TWELFTH NIGHT with that company. From 1979 – 1997 she was Associate Designer at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, London. Jenny Tiramani has worked with director Mark Rylance and composer Claire van Kampen since 1991 – starting with their Phœbus’ Cart company production of THE TEMPEST at the Rollright Stone Circle, Corfe Castle and on the foundations of Shakespeare’s Globe. During Mark Rylance’s period as Artistic Director at the Globe, Jenny Tiramani worked with him researching into the original practices of Shakespeare’s actors, their clothing, properties and the possible decoration of the theatre itself.
Jenny Tiramani is currently completing an academic book on Elizabethan costume and is visiting professor at the University of Nottingham.
It sounds a tremendous evening…..I’m considering going, very seriosuly…but will the never-ending snow permit? Here is the link to the Foundling Museum should you want to contact them to buy tickets.
The Foundling Museum whose exhibit Threads of Feeling I wrote about here, is situated in Brunswick Square. I thought you might like to know a little more about the museum, the original Foundling Hospital and the connection between that institution and the use of Brunswick Square by Jane Austen in my favourite of all her novels, Emma.
Here is a section from my copy of Smith’s New Map of London (1809) which shows the original hospital buildings, which were, by that time, in the newly developed Brunswick Square.
The Foundling Hospital was founded by Captain Thomas Coram, and it was the first home for abandoned children to be established in England, though on the continent there were many long established examples of such institutions. For example, the Conservatorio della Ruota, in Rome was one such home and was founded by Pope Innocent III in the thirteenth century. Thomas Coram retired to Rotherhithe in 1719 after achieving financial success in the New World, establishing a shipwright’s business in Boston, Massachusetts and later in Taunton, also in Massachusetts.
This is his magnificent portrait painted by William Hogarth, which is still on display in the Foundling Museum.
On his frequent walks through London on winter mornings, Coram was appalled at the sight of dead and dying babies abandoned on the streets. This tragedy spurred him into action. His petitioned the king for a charter to create a non-profit-making organization supported by subscriptions to house and educate such children, but at first this idea was rebuffed, as the establishment , both church and politicians, were worried that such an institution would encourage wantonness and prostitution. Eventually George II’s consort, Queen Caroline, became sympathetic to Coram’s aims, having been impressed by the establishment of a similar institution in Paris which had received the support of many fashionable women of the day.
On 17 October 1739 the King signed a Royal Charter, bringing the Foundling Hospital into existence, a place established for the
‘education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children’.
The Governors and Guardians of the Hospital met at Somerset house in the Strand to receive the Charter on 20th November 1739. The group included many of the important figures of the day: dukes and earls, magnates and merchant bankers, such as George Arnold depicted by Hogarth below,
Dr Richard Mead, the foremost physician of the day, Captain Coram and Hogarth.
The Hospital was designed by Theodore Jacobsen as a plain brick building consisting as you can see, above, of two wings either side a central chapel, built around an open courtyard. The western wing was finished in October 1745. An eastern wing was added in 1752 in order to house the girls separately from the boys.
The Foundling Hospital was first built on this site in the 1740s, known then as Bloomsbury Fields, in order to house the children in an area known for its good air, on the edge of London away from the insanitary and crowded conditions of the city. The foundlings were originally housed in a building in Hatton Gardens, until the new building was ready to receive them.
William Hogarth and his wife Jane were very important patrons of the Hospital. A childless couple, they became very involved with the day to day running of the hospital and were active fundraisers. Hogarth designed the children’s uniforms,
the Hospital’s Coat of Arms, and he was an Inspector for Wet Nurses( the children admitted as babies were farmed out to villages surrounding London to be brought up initially by wet nurses in the good and clean air of the countryside before returning to the Hospital to be educated and made ready to be apprenticed out to a trade) William and Jane Hogarth also fostered foundling children when they left the institution.
Hogarth also and very importantly donated works of art to decorate the walls of the hospital as the Governors were unwilling to spend money on such unnecessary ornaments He gave many works including this, The March to Finchley
which is still part of the Museum’s collection.
His example encouraged other artists such as Thomas Gainsborough and Francis Hayman to donate paintings to the Founding Hospital, and the Court Room of the Hospital, shown below, became in effect the first Public Art Gallery in London, where playing customers could come to look at the magnificent art on display, their enthusiasm for art producing a significant income for the Hospital.
Though the original Foundling Hospital Building no longer exists( it was demolished in 1926) the Court Room where these painting were originally on display to the public, has survived. It was dismantled and stored and then installed in the new Foundling Museum building at 40 Brunswick Square in 1937.
My Twitter Friend, Patrick Baty of Papers and Paints was involved in the restoration of the room, and discovered this magnificent ( in his words) ”mucky green” to have been the original paint colour on the walls. The room still is use as the Governor’s meeting room, and has a magnificent Rococo plasterwork ceiling created by William Wilton, and a marble overmantle by John Michael Rysbrack.
Here is Hogarth’s stunningly beautiful painting, Moses Brought to Pharaoh’s Daughter which was painted specifically to hang in the Court Room. The subject matter is, of course, entirely appropriate for the hospital, showing the moment when Moses is about the breach the tremendous gulf between his impoverished state as an abandoned child, to accepting being helped by the magnificently attired Pharaoh’s daughter.
George Frederick Handel was also a patron of the hospital, donating the profits of his work, The Messiah to it. Concerts were also directed by him (The Messiah was performed annually) and performances open to the paying public were held in the chapel, the place where all the foundling children were baptized each Sunday after having been admitted to the hospital is shown below: this illustration comes for my copy of The Micrcosm of London published by Rudolph Ackermann, and was executed by Rowlandson and Pugin, circa 1808.
He is celebrated on the top floor of the Museum where there is a room with comfortable chairs fitted with speaker where is it possible to sit and listen to selections from his works. The Museum holds manuscript copies of many of Handel’s works including the Messiah.
The Governors of the Foundling Hospital decided to develop their land surrounding the Hospital in 1790 when they lost their very important Government grant, and they commissioned the builder, James Burton, to create a garden square surrounded on three sides by town houses. Construction began with the south side, which was completed in 1801. The square was named after Caroline of Brunswick, wife of The Prince of Wales.
The square was, as you can see from Smith’s map above, then on the very outskirts of developed London and was still regarded as a place of “good air” when Jane Austen was writing Emma in 1814 .And it was here that Jane Austen chose to house John Knightley and his wife, the hypochondriacally inclined Isabella, nee Woodhouse. JAne Austen as ever made her choice of their home very carefully. The square was not uber- smart like the developments in the west ,but was, in truth, socially smart enough for that second son of the gentry, detester of High Society and barrister, John Knightley, Significantly it was not far from the Inns of Court, where he would no doubt have had his chambers. And of course, being famous for its salubrious position enabled Isabella to be able to honestly reassure her health obsessed father in Chapter 12 of Emma that
“No, indeed — we are not at all in a bad air. Our part of London is so very superior to most others! You must not confound us with London in general, my dear sir. The neighbourhood of Brunswick Square is very different from almost all the rest. We are so very airy! I should be unwilling, I own, to live in any other part of the town; — there is hardly any other that I could be satisfied to have my children in: — but we are so remarkably airy! Mr. Wingfield thinks the vicinity of Brunswick Square decidedly the most favourable as to air.”
And it was of course while staying with the Knightleys in Brunswick Square that Harriet Smith-the natural Daughter of Somebody- was finally reconciled with Robert Martin. How very appropriate. And I’m sure,very deliberately done on Jane Austen’s part.
The original building that housed the Foundling Hospital no longer exists: it was demolished in 1926. The Hospital moved the foundling children still in its care to a new school at Redhill in Surrey. In 1935 the school moved to a new purpose-built school at Berkhamsted, in Hertfordshire. Seven acres of the original site was purchased to be preserved as a playground for children in this now deprived inner city area of London and this eventually became administered by an independent charity, known as Coram’s Fields.
The Foundling Hospital bought back 2.5 acres of the land and in 1937 Number 40 Brunswick Square was built in the Square to serve as the administrative headquarters for the Foundling Hospital and a museum, together with a Children’s Centre in 1939. The hospital then began a new life as the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, today known as Coram (insert link). Brunswick Square has subsequently been re developed and bears little resemblance to the home of the cadet branch of the Knightley family ( all the original Georgian houses have been replaced over the years by modern University of London buildings including the School of Pharmacy and International Hall and also the Brunswick housing and retail complex). It still retains the garden in the centre of the square, which was restored in 2009, and still has a beautiful plane tree as its centrepiece.
I do hope that you have enjoyed reading about the connections between the Foundling Hospital and Jane Austen, and that you might also visit the Museum one day.
..to view two exhibitions, Threads of Feeling at the Foundling Museum in Brunswick Square
and Thomas Lawrence , Regency Power and Brilliance at the National Portrait Gallery.
I will of course be giving reports of my impressions of the exhibitions and their respective catalogues when I return, so I do hope you will then “virtually” join me to talk about them in depth.
As Jane Austen knew well, a house in town (London) was the “pineapple of perfection”, “Everything that is charming!” to quote Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, a distinctive social marker of the most financially secure of her male characters and the highest social aspiration for many of her female characters( though I always feel that Austen herself preferred the safety and security of country society to that of town, that Scene of Dissipation of Vice). As Professor Edward Copeland writes in The Cambridge Companion to Jane Austen, in the chapter on Money:
In terms of consumer show any income over £4000 a year is characterised by its ability to provide a house in London for the social season, the beguiling consumer temptation that brings romantic disaster to both Mary Crawford and Maria Bertram.
After the devastation of old London in the fire of 1666, the development of the fashionable west end of London- Mayfair and its surrounding districts-far away from the fire devastated City- saw a major period of building of grand town house, squares and crescents, with which we visitors to, or inhabitants of London are now totally familiar. This building gradually spread northwards from the streets around St James’s Palace in the first decades of the eighteenth century, and by the mid 17690s there were extensive developments built to the west and north of Cavendish Square in Marylebone, in the streets bounded by Oxford Street, the New Road (which is now known as the Euston Road)to the north and Portland Place to the east. At the same time, the Bedford Estate was being developed with the establishment of the squares and streets of Bloomsbury, and there were other isolated developments, such as the Adelphi, south of the Strand near the river Thames, that were attracting fashionable tenants.
(Adam House Adam Street Adelphi,London a survivor of the ill-fated development designed by Robert and James Adam, circa 1770,and which the eaged -eyed amongst you will recognise as the location used for Mr and Mrs john Dashwood’s town house in the film adaptation of Sense and Sensibility 1995)
Much of the land was owned outright by aristocratic families –The Russell’s of the Bedford estates, the Grosvenors of Mayfair etc.,etc.,- and was therefore entailed and could not be sold, or it was in the hands of corporate landowners who developed it to provide a long-term steady income: a result of this prime ownership was that most houses were held on leases and building was large-scale and uniform, despite the occasional individual house built for a very rich patron.
Rachel Stewart’s book, The Town House in Georgian London addresses the development of this phenomenon from the view of the architect and his patrons, male and female. She explains with wonderful clarity the role of these houses, and why the location, planning, furnishing and finish of a house was of vital importance, something with contributed seriously to the image of the owners/lesees.
The finances involved in buying and affording a house in the West End is one of the most revealing and informative chapters in the book, and the financial crises of George III’s reign make for uncomfortable reading bearing in mind our current troubled times. She also includes fascinating chapters on 18th century architectural design and practices , explaining the use of pattern books and the development of the design of the town house as an architectural entity in its own right, complete with is own characteristics and formulae:
The typical town house in practice was never the country house built small, but many pattern book designs for town houses seem more or less interchangeable with those for country houses of equivalent size, both in external appearance and planning….A five bay house calculated for a large family town situation could easily be taken for a modest country house with its pedimented central section and balanced disposition of rooms either side of a corridor running backwards a form the central entrance…Where authors suggest that the same design can be used for a house in town or country, this interchangeability is often questionable.
The book is wonderfully produced by Yale Publishing and illustrated beautifully, generously and very appropriately. There are enough reproductions of plans of houses to satisfy even me.
This is a readable and enjoyable book, full of interesting detail, and for those of us who have ever wondered what Darcy’s house in town looked like, reading this book will enable our speculation to have some sound basis in fact. I highly recommend it.
A confession: I have had this book on my To Be Reviewed Pile for far longer than I ought to have done. For months and months in fact(as you can tell by the rather battered front cover which I scanned, above) The paperback version is soon to be released in the UK…Goodness..How tardy. I do apologise. As we have been gadding about too much recently I decided to give you a book review on serious topic today, and leave the country houses till later in the week. A change is after all, as good as a rest…
In fact, this book was transferred from my To Be Read pile some months ago, for as soon as it arrived I devoured it. I am a complete fan of Dan Cruickshank’s works. His book on the buildings of a Georgian town and how they functioned, Life in the Georgian City, co-written with Neil Burton, is one of my favourite books on this era.
His latest book, The Secret History of Georgian London is a fascinating and very detailed history of the sex industry in the long 18th century in Georgian London. It is thoroughly readable and enjoyable- if enjoyable is entirely correct word for what I think is a tragic subject. And being an architectural historian he takes a lively interest in the buildings that housed the Georgian sex industry and the areas of London where they were mostly congregated. I’m not completely sure that he really proves his premise that the city was shaped by the development of the sex industry, but some of his conclusions will startle; for example, the number of people involved in it will undoubtedly shock many of you. He give us a very detailed account of that world, one that it is all too easy to forget existed side by side with the glamour we often first associate with the Georgian era-the beautiful houses and dresses etc
But what does all this have to do with Jane Austen, I hear you ask. She was actually very aware of the dangers to poor, unprotected women of the predatory nature of the London sex industry. As is evidenced from her novels and letters. In Pride and Prejudice, the spiteful old ladies of Meryton were also well aware to the fate reserved for those who publicly strayed from the strict moral path and were most disappointed when Lydia, happily living in sin with Wickham in London, was retuned, safely married, to the Longbourn fold.
The good news quickly spread through the house, and with proportionate speed through the neighbourhood. It was borne in the latter with decent philosophy. To be sure, it would have been more for the advantage of conversation had Miss Lydia Bennet come upon the town; or, as the happiest alternative, been secluded from the world, in some distant farm house. But there was much to be talked of in marrying her; and the good-natured wishes of her well-doing which had proceeded before from all the spiteful old ladies in Meryton, lost but little of their spirit in this change of circumstances, because with such an husband her misery was considered certain.
The phrase “to come upon the town”, was of course referring to a woman involvement in prostitution, a fate to which many fallen women, without the support of the Bennet family and the perseverance and long purse of Darcy, were subject.
The melodramatic story of Eliza Brandon the sad, adulterous wife of Colonel Brandon’s less honourable brother in Sense and Sensibility, is one echoed in many tales of fallen women in this book.
Jane Austen was well aware of the reputation of London and its dangers: in her letter written to her sister Cassandra from London dated 23rd August 1796, she refers to London as
This Scene of Dissipation and Vice
And in her letter 18th September 1796, again written to Cassandra, this time from Rowling in Kent, Jane Austen makes this throw away remark, referring to her aborted plan to visit the Pearsons, the family of Henry Austen’s then fiancée, alone:
I had once determined to go with Frank tomorrow and take my chance etc; but they dissuaded me from so rash a step-as I really think on consideration it would have been : for if the Pearsons were not at home I should inevitably fall sacrifice to the arts of some fat Woman who would make me drunk with small beer…
She is here clearly referring to one of Hogarth’s prints of the seedier and dangerous die of London Life, as depicted in his series of prints The Harlots Progress
The first of these shown above depicts the arrival in London of an innocent country girl, here being befriended by, in Jane Austen’s own words, a fat Woman. This was none other than one of the most famous, or should I say, notorious procuresses of the Gregorian era, Elizabeth “Mother” Needham and this must be the source for Jane Austen’s interesting remark.
So, having established the London sex trade of the Georgian era as a legitimate topic of Austenian conversation, let’s now turn to the book in question.
There have been many ,many books on the Georgian sex industry published in the last few year, notably those written by Hallie Rubenhold,viz, The Covent Garden Ladies
and Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies: Sex in the City in Georgian Britain.
a fact ruefully acknowledged by Dan Cruikshank in his preface to his book.
His book adds, however, a different perspective, for being an architectural historian he has been able to research and describe the buildings and settings used by the sex trade. His chapter on Bagnios and how they operated is an eye opener. It is also very comprehensive, discussing moral and political attitudes towards prostitution as well as documenting the trade, its vicious ways, and the people engaged in it.
Though he is clearly primarily interested in the buildings , he never loses sight of the human stories trapped by the walls of these same edifices. He has a compassionate and vivid story telling manner and recounts the tale of many crimes, such as the stories of the murder of Anne Bellwith sense and compassion. He includes interesting chapters on mens’ then attitude towards women(very enlightening, indeed) and on the Evangelical campaign against prostitution. We are also shown the results of the trade on buildings and institutions: the human stories behind the founding of such institutions as the Foundling Hospital to take in the unwanted by-product of the trade-illegitimate babies, of the Lock Hospital for the treatment of venereal disease, and of the Magdalen Hospital built to house penitent ex-prostitutes.
The grand courtesans are not forgotten: we are given interesting descriptions of the lives and loves of Mrs Abington
and Kitty Fisher,
both associated with Sir Joshua Reynolds,who painted their portraits, above.
It is a marvelously detailed book, such as I have come to expect from Dan Cruickshank, and one that I can heartily recommend, as providing a vivid background to what we can often forget was a difficult life for the poor and the unfortunates: and was also the fate of those females-some elite women, note- who transgressed the strict moral code that prevailed in Jane Austen’s era and who had no supportive family or a Colonel Brandon or a Mr Darcy to rescue them, as well Jane Austen knew.
I know…I reneged on my promise about Sense and Sensibility posts last week.So here is another to placate you.
About this time, the two Miss Steeles, lately arrived at their cousin’s house in Bartlett’s Buildings, Holborn, presented themselves again before their more grand relations in Conduit and Berkley Street; and were welcomed by them all with great cordiality.
Let’s examine the place where the ambitious Lucy Steele usually stayed when she was in London, Bartlett’s Buildings.
This is a print by Thomas Shepherd circa 1838 but it in effect shows Bartlett’s Buildings as they were when Lucy was staying there.
Here is a map of the area where Bartlett’s Buildings were situated, in the commercial district of London,the City: this is a section taken from my copy of Smith’s New Map of London (1809)
Here is the same section, annotated with the position of Bartlett’s Buildings:
This is a close up of the section showing Bartlett’s Buildings, just off Fetter Lane:
This is an appropriate location for the Steeles, bearing in mind that Mrs Jenning’s husband’s wealth had been made in the city though she lived in splendour in Berkley Street in the elegant west of London:
Though Mrs. Jennings was in the habit of spending a large portion of the year at the houses of her children and friends, she was not without a settled habitation of her own. Since the death of her husband, who had traded with success in a less elegant part of town, she had resided every winter in a house in one of the streets near Portman Square.Chapter 25
And Mrs Jennings, being Mrs Jennings, still kept up with her friends in the City despite the disapproval of her daughter, the foul Lady Middleton. This map of London from my copy of The Picture of London (1803) by John Feltham shows the relative positions of Berkley Street (1),Mrs Jennings home, just off Portman Square and (2) Bartlett’s Buildings, just off Holborn.
Miles and social eons apart. This is a description of Bartlett’s Buildings by Constance Hill from her book, Jane Austen : Her Homes and Her Friends:
Near at hand is Conduit Street, where the Middletons lodged, and, at no very great distance is Berkeley Street, leading out of Portman Square, where Mrs. Jennings’ house stood in which Elinor and Marianne visited her. The Miss Steeles, we remember, stayed in a less elegant part of the town – namely in Bartlett’s Buildings, Holborn. These Buildings are still to be seen, forming a quaint alley of dark brick houses with pedimented doorways and white window-frames. We have looked up at the windows and wondered behind which of them Edward Ferrars had his momentous interview with the avaricious Lucy, while her sister Nancy made “no bones” of listening at the keyhole to their conversation.
She visited Bartlett’s Buildings and recorded her impressions at the end of the 19th century. This illustration also from Contance Hill’s book and shows the old fashioned detailing around one of the entrance to the houses, recognisable from the Thomas Shepherd illustration above:
Bartlett’s Buildings in the early 19th century was known as a place where solicitors and attorneys had their offices,and lived, together with some silver and gold merchants. It was not far from the Inns of Court, and indeed a medieval inn of court, Thavies Inn, had once stood near to Bartlett’s Buildings.
It was very commercial, and not at all like the elegant, well-planned and prosperous streets surrounding Portman Square. Boyle’s Court Guide for April 1811,the year Sense and Sensibility was published,
lists,out of the 11 people living in Bartlett’s Buildings, five attorneys. Attorneys were the less fashionable section of the law,certainly not as smart socially as barristers, note. Remmber Miss Bingley’s sneering comments to Darcy in Pride and Prejudice about Elizabeth’s uncle , the attorney Mr Philips and this reflected the differing social scale within the legal profession at the time.
The same publication lists the residents of Berkley Street as being two earls( of Dunmore and Carysfort),the dowager Countess of Mansfield and and one baron,Lord Saye and Sele , all living in Berkley Street amongst non titled residents .Very different I’m sure you will agree. This is an engraving of Mrs Mongaue’s house (she was of course,the famous founder of the intellectual circle of women known as th Blue Stockings ) from the 1803 edition of A Picture of London.
It contrasts greatly with the rather crowded and old fashioned surroundings of Bartlett’s Buildings, and perhaps explains part of Lucy’s determination to escape to the richer and more elegant surroundings of the west. In whatever way she could;-) It is a tiny engraving and not in very good condition,but it shows the elegant houses and peaceful , leafy surroundings. Note the children running and the elegant people walking around. Jane Austen knew this area well; her brother, Henry lived at Number 24 Upper Berkley Street from 1801-1804.
You cannot visit Bartlett’s Buildings as Lucy Steele knew them, sadly.
They were bombed and totally destroyed in an air raid in 1941 during World War II. If you go here you can view three photographs of the bomb damage as well as some watercolours of the jumble of buildings that made up the rear view of Bartlett’s Buildings.
So there you are, an illustration of the origins of Mrs Jennings wealth and the great gulf that separates Lucy from her goal. Mrs Jennings’ attachment to her friends in the city speaks volumes about her character as does Lucy determination to live up West. Yet again Jane Austen placed her characters with utmost precision and careful thought, reflecting their social conditions in their surroundings. Brilliant woman.
To make amends for my shocking revelation last week that Sense and Sensibility is my least favourite Austen novel ( I did say “low be it spoken”!)I thought I ought to post a little more about it, and so I shall, during this coming week.
As it is a beautiful Spring Sunday I thought you might like to learn a little more about Kensington Gardens, where Elinor Dashwood met with the gossiping and indiscreet Nancy Steele, on an equally beautiful Spring Sunday, though in the novel the month was March and not May:
The third day succeeding their knowledge of the particulars, was so fine, so beautiful a Sunday as to draw many to Kensington Gardens, though it was only the second week in March. Mrs. Jennings and Elinor were of the number; but Marianne, who knew that the Willoughbys were again in town, and had a constant dread of meeting them, chose rather to stay at home, than venture into so public a place.
Here is a section from my copy of John Cary’s map of The Environs of London, showing the position of the then separate village of Kensington relative to London in 1812, one year after the publication of Sense and Sensibility:
Here is the same map annotated with the position of (1) the fashionable West End of London where most of the rich characters live in Sense and Sensibility (the Dashwoods,the Middletons, Mrs Jennings, Willoughby etc); (2) shows the position of Kensington Gardens and Palace; and (3) shows the position of the city of London wherein Bartlett’s Buildings is situated …
And that is where, of course, Lucy Steele lives while in London along side her cousins: all a long way both socially and geographically from the world the Ferrars, Jennings, Dashwood and Middleton families inhabit. No wonder she was an ambitious little madam…
Back to the gardens.
Kensington was a separate village as we have seen. Daniel Lysons in his magnificent work The Environs of London , had this to say about the village:
The village of Kensington lies on the great western road, at the distance of about a mile and a half from Hyde-park Corner. The parish, which is in the hundred of Ossulston, is bounded by Chelsea, St. Margaret Westminster, St. George Hanover-square, Paddington, Wilsdon, Acton, and Fulham. The hamlets of Brompton, Earl’s Court, the Gravel-pits, and a part of Little Chelsea are in this parish. The palace at Kensington, and about 20 houses on the north side of the road, are in the parish of St. Margaret Westminster. On the south side, the parish of Kensington extends till after you pass the Gore.
The parish of Kensington contains about 1910 acres of land; about half of which is pasture and meadow; about 360 acres are arable land for corn only; about 230 in market gardens; about 260 cultivated, sometimes for corn and sometimes for garden crops; and 100 acres of nursery ground. At Brompton-park was a very celebrated nursery, first established about the latter end of the last century by George London and Henry Wise, Esquires, gardeners to King William and to Queen Anne. Bowack, who wrote an account of Kensington in 1700, speaks of the stock as almost incredible; and says it was affirmed, that if the plants were valued at but Id. a-piece, they would amount to 40,000l. This ground belongs at present to Messrs. Gray and Wear.
The gardens that Jane Austen mentioned in Sense and Sensibility surround Kensington Palace.
The palace, originally called Nottingham House, was then home of the Earl of Nottingham, but it was purchased and enlarged and much enriched by the later Stuart monarchs. First William and Mary and then Queen Anne. The Hanoverians liked it , developed both the palace and the gardens greatly and all the Hanoverian monarchs lived there until George III ascended to the throne in 1760. As John Feltham wrote in The Picture of London (1808)
This palace was made a royal residence by William III. The garden or park was originally but twenty-six acres; King William greatly improved them; Queen Anne added thirty acres; and Queen Caroline, consort of George IL extended their boundaries by 200 acres of park lands taken from Hyde Park. Their present circumference is about two miles and a half.
The palace is a large and splendid edifice of brick, and has a set of very handsome state apartments, and some beautiful staircases and ceilings, painted by Verrio and are also many highly curious pictures by Holbein, Albert Durer, and other early masters. William and Mary, Queen Anne, George I and George II made this palace their place of frequent residence. The Dukes of Kent and Sussex, and the Princess of Wales, have apartments here.
Near the palace, within the pleasure grounds, is a very noble green house, and adjoining are excellent kitchen and fruit gardens.
The whole may be seen any day except Sundays, by applying to the housekeeper, for a trifling douceur.
George III did not like the place: it has been speculated that because his parents were estranged from his grandparents, George II and Queen Caroline, who lived at Kensington, this may have influenced him and prejudiced him against the palace. So, instead of living at Kensington, he purchased Buckingham House-The Queens House- for his new wife Queen Charlotte, preferring to live there and conduct matters of state at St James’s Palace, a little further down the Mall.
The gardens that surround the palace were open to the public. Here is a plan of them as they were circa 1733, which was executed by Charles Bridgeman.
In the annotated plan below, you can see the position of the Palace (1), the Serpentine (2), and the Round Pond (3)which still are features in the gardens today. You can also see the outlines of the allees radiating like stars (4) These features survived the improvements made by Capability Brown in the mid 18th century,when he swept away the more intricate formal plantings that you can see on this plan.
Here is a close up of Cary’s plan of the gardens in 1812: you can just discern the Serpentine and the ride known as Rotton Row in Hyde Park which ran parallel to Park Lane. Hyde Park adjoined Kensington Gardens.
Being seen promenading in the gardens was the fashionable thing to do in Jane Austen’s era. In the 1818 edition of The Picture of London we are given a very precise and detailed description of the gardens and the promenade:
One of the most delightful scenes belonging to this great metropolis, and that which most displays its opulence and splendour is formed by the company in Hyde Park and Kensington gardens in fine weather, chiefly on Sundays, from March till July.
The spacious gravel roads, within the park, are, on a fine Sunday, covered with horsemen and carriages, from two till five o’clock’jn the afternoon. A broad foot-path, that runs from Hyde Park corner to Kensington Gardens, is frequently so crowded during the same hours, with well-dressed people passing to, or retiring from the gardens, that it is difficult to proceed.
Before the stranger enters Kensington Gardens, we recommend him to pause on some spot in Hyde Park, from which his eye can command the entire picture of carriages, horsemen, and foot passengers in the park, all eager to push forward in various directions, and on the more composed scene of the company sauntering in the gardens. Such a spot will present itself more than once as he walks through the park but, perhaps, the best situation for this purpose, is the broad walk at the foot of the bason, as it may be called, of the river, where it falls into a narrower channel.
It has been computed, that 50,000 people have been seen taking the air at one time in Hyde Park and the Gardens. Nor is this a modern practice, for this spot has been equally resorted to for the same purpose during two hundred years past.
Do note that Jane Austen was once again scrupulous in her use of the gardens in the novel. The description above tells us that fashionable society would promenade in the gardens especially on Sundays from March to July, just as she has her character do.
The Serpentine was known to freeze in the harsh winters of the early 19th century:
In severe winters, when the Serpentine River is frozen over, the ice is almost covered with people. In the winter of 1813-14, there were counted more than 6000 people at one time on the ice, chiefly skaters.
From the number of accidents which happen annually on this river when frozen over, the king 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 persons apparently drowned.
Though Hyde park was open all year round, Kensington Gardens had restricted access, and the details of these regulations make for interesting reading:
All the doors of Kensington Gardens are open only from spring till autumn; and from eight in the morning till eight at night. There are four gates belonging to these gardens: two that open into Hyde Park, open all the year; one opening into the Uxbridge Road; and another opening into a road belonging to the king, and leading from the palace into Kensington. The last of these gates, called the Avenue Gate, is open till nine at night, all the year. No servant in livery, nor women with pattens, nor persons carrying bundles, are admitted into the gardens. Dogs are also excluded.
How severe: no riff-raff indeed.
But they let Jane Austen in…what a relief. Her she is writing to her sister ,Cassandra Austen, in her letter dated 25th April, 1811,when her mind was focused on Sense and Sensibility (how appropriate) and a Sunday walk in Kensington Gardens:
No, indeed, I am never too busy to think of “S and S” I can no more forget it than a mother can forget her sucking child; and I am much obliged to you for your inquiries. I have had two sheets to correct, but the last only brings us to Willoughby’s first appearance…..
Your lilacs are in leaf, ours are in bloom. The horse-chestnuts are quite out, and the elms almost. I had a pleasant walk in Kensington Gardens on Sunday with Henry, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Tilson; everything was fresh and beautiful.
Everything fresh and beautiful, indeed. I hope you too have enjoyed your jaunt around Kensington Gardens this fine Spring Sunday.
Dear, sweet Charles Bingley defending the connections of his new-found love from attack by his snobbish sisters in Chapter 8 of Pride and Prejudice…..unfortunately he has no means of refuting Darcy’s worldly wise but snobbish comment which ends this particular argument:
“But it must very materially lessen their chance of marrying men of any consideration in the world,”
To this speech Bingley made no answer; but his sisters gave it their hearty assent, and indulged their mirth for some time at the expense of their dear friend’s vulgar relations.
So..what was wrong with Cheapeside in the Bingley sisters eyes? Modern readers are sometimes led astray by the sound of the name, assuming that it must have been a slummy, run down, cheap area. This is completely wrong. Cheapside was a very fashionable shopping area in the City of London during Jane Austen’s era, and its name actually derived from the Saxon word for market:
We now enter the rich and busy street, called Cheapside ,which received this name originally from the splendour and multitude of its shops, “Chepe ” signifying a market. This street was, in the year 1246 , an open field denominated from an inn at its east end, The Crown Field, at which period and for 200 years after it none of the street of London, excepting Thames Street and the space from Ludgate-hill to Charing Cross were paved. The view of Cheapside previous to its destruction by the great fire, represents it as spacious and beautiful.
(From: A Topographical and Statistical Description of Middlesex (circa 1810) by George Alexander Cooke)
Here is a section from my copy of Smith’s New Map of London(1809) showing in detail the area of the City where Cheapside was:
And here is the same section, annotated with the relative positions of (1) Cheapside and, (2) Gracechurch Street ,where the Gardiners, Elizabeth and Jane Bennet’s aunt and uncle, actually lived and ran their business:
Do remember you can enlarge all these illustrations by clicking on them ;-)
This is a map of London circa 1805 from A Picture of London by John Feltham,
and here it is again, annotated with the relative positions of (1) Grosvenor Street- the home of the Hursts and well within the Circle of Fashion where the most influential and rich people lived in London- and (2) Cheapside and (3) Gracechurch Street, the commercial heart of the city of London.
No wonder Elizabeth Bennet muses that
Mr. Darcy may, perhaps, have heard of such a place as Gracechurch Street, but he would hardly think a month’s ablution enough to cleanse him from its impurities, were he once to enter it…
As you can see from this print of Cheapside published in Ackermann’s Repository of 1812, at the time Jane Austen was writing Pride and Prejudice, Cheapside was a very elegant thoroughfare, with many fabulous shops, the now fashionable shopping areas of west London-Bond Street, Oxford Street etc, had not yet overtaken the shopping areas in the City of London-Cheapside Gracechurch Street and Ludgate Hill-as the places to shop and be seen. (Note the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral looming behind the smart shops). Ackermann’s description conveys some of the sumptuousness of these warehouses or shops:
The annexed engraving represents the western extremity of Cheapside …The first house on the left, which is supposed to stand on the site of the residence of Richard Tonstal, Lord Chamberlain to HenryVI, is Millard’s East India warehouse for every species of silk linen and cotton goods, the taste and elegance of which our monthly patterns bear ample testimony.the front has recently been fitted up in a very handsome style. The intermediate houses between Millard’s and the corner of St Paul’s Churchyard as exhibited in our view are occupied by Messrs Shapland, hosier; Brown, gold and silversmith; Giesler,furrier; Stark and Son,patent retiring stove and grate manufactures; Bunn,silk mercer; Hawkins, trunk maker;Seabrook of the same profession and two or three others. In the back ground at the one corner of Paternoster-row appears Butler’s newly erected patent medicine warehouse adorned with a neat balcony and stone balustrade at the top; and at the other corner Dunnetts long-established Tunbridgeware and toy shop,the recollection of which we do not doubt calls forth agreeable associations in the minds of many of our metropolitan readers…
Here is another contemporary description of the retail trade of London which shows the distinction between the great shopping area of the City of London and the emerging fashionable shopping area to the west of New Bond Street etc, from Felthams’ A Picture of London (1818 edition)
The extent and value of the retail trade of London have been already intimated. There are two sets of streets, running nearly parallel, almost from the eastern extremity of the town to the western, forming (with the exception of a very few houses) a line of shops. One lying to the south, nearer the river, extends from Mile End to Parliament Street, including Whitechapel, Leadenhall Street, Cornhill, Poultry, Cheapside, St. Paul’s Church Yard, Ludgate Street, Fleet Street, the Strand, and Charing Cross. The other to the north, reaches from Shoreditch Church almost to the end of Oxford Street, including Shoreditch, Bishopsgate Street, Threadneedle Street, Cheapside (which Street is common to both these lines) Newgate Street, Show Hill, Holborn, Broad Street St. Pauls’s, and Oxford Street. The southern line, which is the most splendid, is more than three miles in length ; the other is about four miles.
Besides this prodigious extent of ground, there are several large streets also occupied by retail trade, that run parallel to parts of the two grand lines, or diverge a little from them, or intersect them amongst the most remarkable of which are Fenchurch Street and Gracechurch Street, in the city of London ; and Cockspur Street, Pall Mall, St. James’s Street, the Hay Market, Piccadilly, King Street Covent Garden, and New Bond Street, at the west end of the town.
The Opulence of multitudes of merchants, traders, and shopkeepers, in this metropolis, and the easy circumstances of the larger part, are proofs of its prodigious commerce. To say that there are a few merchants and bankers whose revenues equal those of many princes, is no more than may be said of some towns on the continent. But our opulent traders are not confined to one class, or to a few fortunate individuals. Shopkeepers accumulate noble fortunes; which, in some instances indeed, form a singular contrast with the pettiness of the articles from which they are derived, a pastry-cook having been known to leave more than 100,000 to his heirs. And as to the number of the wealthy, they seem, from external appearances, to be the greater part ; and are, in truth, more abundant than auy imagination would picture, unaided by a knowledge of the country. To speak generally, it is by industry, and the employment of large capitals, that the London merchants and wholesale traders raise their immense revenues. The retail trade is, as may be expected, more lucrative. A shopkeeper, with a moderate capital, is, generally speaking, able to maintain a family in plenty, and even with a great share of the luxuries of Ibe, and at the same time provide a fund sufficient to enable his children to move with the same advantage in a similar sphere.
And that passage gives us some idea of Mr Gardiner’s riches: no wonder he could have all the trappings of a gentleman, even though he actually earned his money from trade.
So there you are: the only problem with Cheapside ( and Gracechurch Street) was its association with Trade. Something of which the Bingley sisters were of course hyper aware -their own wealth being most firmly established from trade and not from income derived from landed property. Snobbish, foolish girls. Luckily ,Mr Darcy manages to overcome his aversion to the Gardiners and at the end of the novel can acknowledge their superior qualities
Mr. Gardiner was a sensible, gentlemanlike man, greatly superior to his sister, as well by nature as education. The Netherfield ladies would have had difficulty in believing that a man who lived by trade, and within view of his own warehouses, could have been so well-bred and agreeable. Mrs. Gardiner, who was several years younger than Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Philips, was an amiable, intelligent, elegant woman, and a great favourite with all her Longbourn niece
I’m so glad he managed to reconstruct himself….
Elliston, she tells us has just succeeded to a considerable fortune on the death of an Uncle. I would not have it enough to take him from the Stage; she should quit her business, & live with him in London
Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 20th Feburary ,1807
This of us who may occasionally be keen to hear some gossip about out favourite actors and actresses can take hart: Jane Austen like to gossip about her faves too. As this tiny snippet of gossip referring to Robert Elliston, rather confirms. He was it appears one of her favourite actors.
And his rise to fame coincided with Jane Austen’s stay in Bath from 1801-6.
He was born on the 7 April 1774 in Orange Street, London, the only child of Robert Elliston , a watchmaker, and his wife. Sadly, his father was an alcoholic,and Elliston was cared for by two uncles, Dr William Elliston, master of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and Dr Thomas Martyn, professor of botany, of the same college. And it was form one of these uncles that in 1807 he inherited £17,000……but we are getting ahead of ourselves in his story….
Under his uncles supervision he was educated at St Paul’s School, London, where he took a special interest in oratory. It would appear that his uncles intended him for the church but spurning this role they had mapped out for him, he “ran away to the theatre” at Bath. Scandalous!
A this time as we have already noted, the Orchard Street theatre in Bath was second in importance in the English dramatic world only to the two London patent theatres- the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and Covent Garden. In conjunction with the theatre at Bristol the Bath company provided a very fashionable and knowledgeable audience with entertainment suitable for the most discerning of tastes.
Eliston made his first appearance at the Orchard Street Theatre in Bath in 1791. He stayed at the Bath theatre till 1804, performing many roles in plays with which Jane Austen was very familiar. Of particular note is the fact that he played the part of Frederick in Mrs Inchbald’s adaptation of Kotzebue’s Lover’s Vows at least ten times in that period.
In 1796 he eloped with and married Elizabeth Rundell, a Bath dance teacher. They had ten children before she died in 1821. Through her dancing academy she helped Elliston’s productions when he later became a theatre manager. Interestingly, she continued her occupation after her marriage despite Ellistons sucess as a leading actor. She first, from 1801, had premises in Trim Street and then from 1812 in Milsom Street. Hence Jane Austen’s rather interesting comment above…..
Elliston finally left Bath for London in 1804, as Richard Sheriden wanted him to appear at his Drury Lane theatre . Initially Elliston had refused a permanent postion in Sheridan’s company but gradually the lure of the London theatre and the riches it could command sucked him in. On 20 September 1804 Elliston began appearing as the leading actor at Drury Lane. He had played successfully in London during the summers of 1796 and 1797, mainly at the Haymarket Theatre, run by the playwright George Colman, but cannily waited until his reputation in Bath was secure before making a complete break with Bath and Bristol in order to move to London.
Although he was versatile, Elliston’s appearance was thought rather against him for the playing of tragedy, for his face was described as:
…the very Mirror of Comedy. His countenance was round and open, his features small, yet highly expressive; laughter lay cradled in his eye, and there was a muscular play of lip, so pregnant of meaning, as frequently to leave the words that followed but little to explain.
(See G. Raymond, Memoirs of Robert William Elliston,(1844)
He seems to have been best in the Charles Surface sort of role from Sheridan’s play The School for Scandal: rakish but generous and warm-hearted chaps, versions of which character were available by the score in the comedies of this era.
He was known as a great lover on stage, just as he was a notorious womanizer off stage……The theatrical critic Leigh Hunt has left us an interesting analysis of Elliston’s skill in this area, when Elliston played opposite Dorothy Jordan in 1805 in the facre Matrimony by James Kenney . They provided
‘altogether the most complete scene of amorous quarrel that I have witnessed’
(see Leigh Hunt Critical Essays on the Performers of the London Theatres (1807)page 190.)
When Drury Lane was destroyed by fire in 1809, Elliston looked around for new worlds -or rather theatres- to conquer and hit upon theatre management. He became known as ‘the Great Lessee’ and ‘the Napoleon of the Theatre’ for his interest in acquiring new property. He also tried very hard to break the monopoly held by the two patent theatres on performing plays. In this aim he was not successful.
He began his theatrical property empire with the Royal Circus in St George’s Fields, which he transformed and managed for five years. At the same time he leased the Manchester Theatre Royal from 1809–10 then purchased Croydon in 1810 but it was seized by creditors in 1826. He leased Birmingham from 1813–18,
to which he added Worcester and Shrewsbury in 1815 to make up a midlands area theatrical circuit, where his company of players could perform.
He then purchased the Olympic Pavilion in London-also known as Astleys for it was built by none other than Phillip Astley- in 1813,and this may have been the site of Harriet Smith and Robert Martin’s reconciliation in Emma!
Elliston leased Lynn in Norfolk from 1817–18, Leicester, and Northampton both from 1818 and Leamington (where he also had a lending library and assembly rooms!!) from 1817, and Coventry in 1821.
When he became the manager of the newly built Drury Lane in 1819 Elliston was indeed “king of the theatre”, and was soon to play that role in his magnificent coronation spectacle of 1821. During his “reign” at Drury Lane, Elliston had many successes with spectacular melodramas, operas, and pantomimes but with not a single new ‘legitimate’ play of any significance ,even though he was at last the manager of a patent theatre which could legitimately perform plays. Theatrical extravaganzas, not drama, and novelty of every kind were what the public now demanded. Edmund Bertram would clearly not have approved ;-)
Following a severe stroke in August 1825, by which time the now sadly severely alcoholic Elliston was but a shadow of his former self, his place as manager was taken over by his eldest son, William Gore Elliston, who formed a successful partnership with his brother, Henry Twissleton Elliston. The results of his pressured lifestyle and alcoholism were making themselves felt earlier than this, however. Certainly in 1814, Jane Austen-that very acute observer- on seeing him perform in London had noted that something was taking a toll on his performance and his appearance:
We were quite satisfied with Kean. I cannot imagine better acting, but the part was too short; and, excepting him and Miss Smith, and she did not quite answer my expectation, the parts were ill filled and the play heavy. We were too much tired to stay for the whole of “Illusion” (“Nour-jahad”), which has three acts; there is a great deal of finery and dancing in it, but I think little merit. Elliston was “Nour-jahad,” but it is a solemn sort of part, not at all calculated for his powers. There was nothing of the best Elliston about him. I might not have known him but for his voice.
(See Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 5th March 1814)
Elliston returned to the stage, however, to create his last original role, “Falstaff” in The First Part of King Henry IV, in May 1826. As sometimes happens, he was brilliant in the final rehearsal but unable to reproduce that quality in public. Elliston finished his career as a theatrical manager of the Surrey theatre , where he also acted out his last appearances.His last appearance was as “Sheva” in Cumberland’s The Jew, one of his most popular characters, on 24 June 1831. Two weeks later, on 8 July 1831, Elliston died of an ‘apoplexy’,which was, presumably, a cerebral haemorrhage, and was buried at St John’s Church, Waterloo Road London’
Given his womanising reputation, it would seem that Jane Austen’s advice to his wife was, as ever, quite perceptive….
“It is a very simple story. He went to town on business three days ago, and I got him to take charge of some papers which I was wanting to send to John. He delivered these papers to John, at his chambers, and was asked by him to join their party the same evening to Astley’s. They were going to take the two eldest boys to Astley’s. The party was to be our brother and sister, Henry, John — and Miss Smith. My friend Robert could not resist… However, I must say that Robert Martin’s heart seemed for him, and to me, very overflowing; and that he did mention, without its being much to the purpose, that on quitting their box at Astley’s, my brother took charge of Mrs. John Knightley and little John, and he followed with Miss Smith and Henry; and that at one time they were in such a crowd, as to make Miss Smith rather uneasy.”
Emma, Chapter 54
“Harriet was most happy to give every particular of the evening at Astley’s, and the dinner the next day; she could dwell on it all with the utmost delight”
Emma, Chapter 55.
So all is well: Harrriet and her lover are reunited at Astleys.
But what exactly was Astley’s? And it may interest you to know that there was more than one in London…so which one is referred to here?
Let’s attempt to find out, shall we?
The most famous of Astley’s theatres was Astley’s Amphitheatre which is pictured above. This print is by Rowlandson and Pugin, and is from my copy of the Microcosm of London published by Rudolph Ackermann.
This theatre was built on the south side of the river Thames in London over Westminster Bridge, opposite the houses of parliament. It was the property of the theatrical entrepreneur, Phillip Astley . Hopefully you can clearly see the position of the theatre in this section from my copy of Smith’s New Map of London 1809:
Do remember – you can enlarge all these illustrations by clicking on them.
It was first opened in 1770 and was originally merely an open air circus ring, surrounded by seats for the audience (which were mercifully covered to protect them from the elements). It became famous for its equestrian performances. By 1780 it boasted a compete roof and became known as The Amphitheatre Riding House. In 1794 the amphitheatre burnt down-a common hazard for early 19th century theatres. It was rebuilt and when in 1796 Jane Austen visited it, it was performing elaborate spectacles, on a scale unknown in England before:
We are to be at Astley’s tonight,which I am glad of...
(see: Letter to Cassandra Austen dated 23rd August 1796)
It was an unpatented theatre, which meant that it could only stay within the confines of the law regarding theatrical performances in the 18th/ early 19th centuries if it had a license for performance, and also performed anything but plays. The 1737 Licensing Act (which was in effect a piece of legislation sponsored by the Walpole government to control and censor the content of stage performances) confined the professional , paid, performance of legitimate, spoken word theatrical performances ( plays, in short) to the two patent theatres in London: Covent Garden and the Theatre Royal,Drury Lane .They were the only theatres that had licenses to perform plays on a permanent basis in London.
The establishment – more by accident than design- of Samuel Foote’s Little Theatre in the Hay ( as mentioned in Pride and Prejudice) did not provide open competition to the two existing drama houses. Foote’s theatre was licensed to stage plays but they could only be performed in the summer,when the two other main houses were closed. As Drury Lane and Covent Garden concentrated on performing during the autumn, winter and spring, the Little Theatre in the Hay did not really compromise their monopoly of serious theatrical performance.
As one of the un-patented theatres Astleys was not therefore supposed to perform plays- performances of the spoken word. But it –along with the growing number of other “illegitimate” theatres in London-often tried to circumvent the law by adding straight plays in among the permitted equestrian exhibits and burlettas. Astley’s Amphitheatre operated only on a summer license obtained from the Lord Chamberlain, as is clear from this description of the theatre taken from my copy of A New Picture of London 1803, one of the first tourist guides to London:
This Theatre is situated in the Westminster-road near the bridge, and is built on the very ground on which Mr. Astley, sen. formerly exhibited feats of horsemanship and other amusements in the open air; the success and profits of which enabled him afterwards to extend his plan and erect a building, which, from the rural cast of the internal decorations he called the ROYAL GROVE.
In this theatric structure, stage exhibitions were given, while, in a circular area, similar to that in the present theatre, horsemanship, and other feats of strength and agility, were continued. About seven or eight years ago, it was accidentally burnt down, after which the present theatre was erected under the appellation of the AMPITHEATRE of ARTS.
The interior of the building, though for a summer theatre somewhat heavy in its style, has been rendered truly elegant by its late additional decorations; and the stage and scenery are also greatly improved. The horsemanship, for which a circular ride is provided, is still continued, though it forms a much smaller portion of the evening’s entertainment than formerly.
This theatre always opens on Easter Monday; and its amusements continue till October or November. There are two tiers of boxes, a pit, and gallery.
To get a taste of the type of performances which were staged at Astleys, do look at this description of a visit to Astley’s by one of my favourite diarists of this period, Joseph Ballard, an American -a Bostonian-who visited England in 1815.
This extract from his diary gives a vivid impression of the type of entertainment Astley’s offered:
This evening went to Astleys Amphitheatre near Westminster Bridge.
The interior is very pretty lighted by a splendid chandelier, which descends through the ceiling and when coming down makes a beautiful appearance.
The performances were of the pantomime and equestrian kind, the subject being the Life and Death of the high-mettle racer. During this piece there was a correct representation of a horse race. The pit was railed through the centre and the horses started from the back of the stage at a long distance from the audience and passed through the pit.
A fox chase was also admirably done, from the starting of the fox till his death, the dogs and horses in full speed after the little animal.
This was so illustrative that the audience heartily joined in the tally–ho of the huntsmen etc.
In the course of the harlequinade a curious transformation set the house in a roar.
A barber as carrying a wig box whereupon was written “Judge Wisdom’s Wig” The clown desiring to see it, he set it own and opened it, when a large wig (such as the judges in this country wear upon the bench) appeared. Harlequin struck it with his word and out marched a venerable owl who majestically stalked across the stage and made his exit. Such success has this piece met with that tonight was the one hundredth night of its representation.
There were in fact two Astleys theatres. And the second Astleys also tried to circumvent the law regarding spoken performances.
Astley opened another theatre on Wych Street near Newcastle Street , just off the Strand, in London in 1806.
Besides the Amphitheatre, Messrs. Astleys have a very elegant Pavilion, for exhibiting amusements of a similar description, which they have lately erected, and fitted out in a most complete style, in Newcastle-street in the Strand, and named ASTLEY’S PAVILION. At this place the horses have displayed some feats of so wonderful a description, as could not easily be conceived unless they were seen. In this place eight horses have lately performed country dances, &c. in a manner that has astonished all the spectators. To this have been added divers horsemanships, the twelve wonderful voltigers, &c.
(See The Microcosm of London etc )
This was called the Olympic Pavilion, but it was as can be seen from the above quotation, known as Astley’s Pavilion, the Pavilion Theatre the Olympic Saloon, or simply, and confusingly, Astley’s.
Phillip Astley staged equestrian performances here, and through the influence of Queen Charlotte, managed to botain a license from the Lord Chamberlain also to perform musical perforamces, burlettas, including dance.
This buiding itself was very interesting as it as built from the reclaimed timbers of naval ships– prizes -that Astley had bought. The deck of a ship was used to make the stage and the floors. The new theare was built just like a traditional playhouse compete with stage orchestra side boxes galleries and a pit surrounding the ring:
One of Jane Austen’s favourite actors, Robert Elliston bought the license from Astley in 1812. He decided to make a concerted effort to break the monopoly on spoken drama held by the two patent theatres: initially he tried to rename Astley’s, The Little Drury Lane Theatre.
Of course, objections to this name were made from the legitimate parent holders, and he had to close. But he re-opened again simply as Astleys and introduced a programme of
“farce, melodramas, and pantomine-burlettas”
He also managed to again circumvent the prohibition on licensed theatres from performing the spoken word by continuing to add plays to the programme of events. Obviously, what made it daring of Elliston to do this was the closeness of his theatre in the Strand to the patent theatres, Covent Garden and especially, Drury Lane.(You can see how close he was from the map above of the area)
Paula Byrne in her book, Jane Austen and the Theatre argues that Jane Austen probably approved of Elliston’s stance against the two patent theatres. She may be right – we will never know for sure, but we do know that the Austen family were not afraid to patronise the illegitimate theatres and often went to others apart from Astley’s : Henry Austen, Jane’s brother, in particular patronized illegitimate theatres. He had a box at the Pantheon on Oxford Street, which from 1812 also staged a mixed bill of burlettas and ballet to try to circumvent the law on performing plays.
Paula Byrne is of the opinion that Jane Austen chose to reconcile Robert and Harriet at Astleys, because it was an illegitimate theatre, where performances were not of the most rarefied nature, and it was exactly the type of place where a yeoman farmer and a girl carrying the “stain of illegitimacy” could meet with and be seen in the company of the gentry (the Knightley family) without raising adverse comment. Perhaps.
But what is interesting to me is that cannot be exactly certain at which of the two theatre Harriet and Robert Martin reconciled their differences.
The Amphitheatre on the south bank of the Thames was, as we have noted , a summer theatre, but also ,as we have seen, it could stage performances into September, October and sometimes even in November. The Astleys of the Strand was not a summer theatre but began its season in September.
Though Jane Austen does not tell us exactly when Harriet’s fateful trip to the theatre took place, it appears to have been in late summer , possibly early September: it could not be late September as that was when Harriet was married to Robert Martin:
Before the end of September, Emma attended Harriet to church, and saw her hand bestowed on Robert Martin
Emma, Chapter 55.
Paula Byrne argues that it is the crowds that frighten Harriet which give the game away:
Given that the Austens patronized the Lambeth Amphitheatre Jane may well have intended the same theatre. On the other hand the genteel John Knightley’s visit Astley’s as a treat for their boys and Harriet on quitting their box is made uneasy by the size of the crowds. This suggest the superior Olympic Pavilion. The Lambeth Amphitheatre had its own separate entrance for the boxes and the pit with the gallery entrance fifty yards down the road, so it would be more likely that Harriet encountered large crowds at the Olympic.
I suppose it doesn’t really matter in the end , given the similarities between the two theatre, but its good to know I think, that there were two different Astley’s. Given that there were two and that one fits the bill a little better than the other we can’t necessarily assume that the Westminster Bridge Astleys was The One. And fun to speculate which one was the location for Harriet and Robert’s romantic evening of low comedy, equestrianism and burletta. And yes, its just this type of conundrum that keeps me awake at night…..
(Funeral Procession by Thomas Rowlandson, circa 1810 )
The great Mrs. Churchill was no more…
Mrs. Churchill, after being disliked at least twenty-five years, was now spoken of with compassionate allowances. In one point she was fully justified. She had never been admitted before to be seriously ill. The event acquitted her of all the fancifulness, and all the selfishness of imaginary complaints…
Short letters from Frank were received at Randalls, communicating all that was immediately important of their state and plans. Mr. Churchill was better than could be expected; and their first removal, on the departure of the funeral for Yorkshire, was to be to the house of a very old friend in Windsor, to whom Mr. Churchill had been promising a visit the last ten years..
Emma, Chapter 45
So, poor Mrs Churchill who ruled her family with an iron fist, died in Richmond, in Surrey, after apparently really having been ill all the time. It always makes me smile that as soon as his domineering wife is dead, Mr Churchill suddenly appears free enough to be able to visit an old friend, whom he had been promising to visit for ten years! How wickedly funny Jane Austen is in those passages from Chapter 45….
On to more serious matters…..The funeral was to be in Yorkshire at the great Enscombe estate. And really we would have expected nothing else…I can imagine Mrs Churchill resting forever in some great mausoleum like the one at Castle Howard ( also in Yorkshire)
But could a corpse be transported a journey of at least 200 miles? Let’s see shall we?
In “The English Way of Death” by Julian Litten, there are some descriptions of 18th century funerals, rather in the grand manner, where the dead body was to be transported some distance for burial. The story of Edward Colston is a very interesting one.
Edward Colston died at his home in Mortlake in Surrey, near London in 1771. His funeral instruction were to the effect that his dead body was to be taken to Bristol and after having been paraded through the streets of the town he was to be buried in All Saints Church.
The journey in 1771 would have taken 6 days, involving five overnight stays at inns( and while on the road luncheons and breakfasts) for 16 attendants who attended the corpse. Together with stabling for 20 horses, shelter for the funeral car and the three mourning coaches which followed it. An extra room was taken at each inn for the corpse to lie alone, in state each night.
But before the body could embark on this journey, the Archbishop of Canterbury had first to be applied to, in order for him to give permission for the corpse to be transported from the parish in which Colston died- in the Surrey diocese -to the parish in Bristol in which he was to be buried.
The whole funeral cost £513…an enormous sum. It was also not unknown for coffins to be transported by river and canal was well as by road.
By the time Jane Austen was writing Emma, funerals for the gentry and middles classes of people were, in the main, organised by professional firms of undertakers. They were suspected of insisting on elaborate mourning rituals to increase their profits sometimes ignoring the wishes of the deceased, a situation that reached its peak in the Victorian era.
The cost and details of one funeral of a person known to Jane Austen has been transcribed by Deirdre Le Faye and published in Volume VII of Bath History (1998) and this, indeed, reflects the conflict between a desire for a simple funeral and the reality of unnecessary ritual and cost. The account of the costs of the funeral of Mrs Lillingston, a friend of the Jane Austen’s aunt and uncle, the Leigh Perrots in Bath, who left Jane Austen a legacy of £50 in 1806 (which said sum which was enough to pay all her living expenses for one whole year) makes for interesting reading.
The Bath undertakers, Ballans and Bradley of Bond Street, presented their detailed account of 8th February 1806 for her funeral costs, and though it was supposed to be done in the plainest manner according to Mrs Lillingston’s wishes, it still entailed providing expensive mourning for all Mrs lillingston’s old servants, and four horses to pull the hearse and the following mourning coach,which was thought to be essential by the undertakers. In her will Mrs Lillington had asked for only two horses to be used. The final bill for this “simple” funeral amounted to £115 and 12 shillings.
So though it was undoubtedly expensive, Mrs Churchill’s corpse could most certainly be transported back to her Enscombe estate, at least 200 miles along the Great North Road from London, provided that expense could be met (and I’m sure it could) and the Archbishop of Canterbury provided his permission.
On a slightly different tack…I think it might now be appropriate to mention that funeral arrangements and customs were slightly different in northern England and Yorkshire, where Enscombe is situated, than in other parts of the country.
A really quite quaint and interesting habit of distributing special funeral biscuits and hot red wine to the mourners existed in the North of England throughout the 17th, 18th and into the 19th centuries.
The biscuits served at northern funerals came in a variety of shapes and sizes and textures. In the 18th century/early 19th century the most fashionable type resembled Naples or Savoy biscuits, which were similar to the crisp sponge finger type biscuits -manufactured under the commercial term Boudoir or LadyBiscuits- which can be brought from confectioners shops and supermarkets today and are usually used to make the spongebase of puddings like tiramisu or trifle.
Do look at the following extract from The Gentleman’s Magazine (1802) Volume I, p 105:
At the funeral of the richer sort…they had burnt wine and Savoy biscuits, and a paper with two Naples biscuits sealed up to carry home to their families. The paper in which these biscuits were sealed ( always with black sealing wax-JFW) was printed on one side with a coffin, cross bone, skulls, hacks, spades, hour-glasses etc…
Many confectioners specialised in producing them and here are some illustrations of the wrappers which have been preserved in various museum collections in the north,and are included in Laura Mason’s book, Food and the Rites of Passage, published by the fabulous Prospect Books:
(Do note you can enlarge all these illustrations in order to see the detail, merely by clicking on them)
Sometimes mourners were met at the deceased’s house by servants prior to the funeral procession leaving for the church and were then presented with the biscuits and wine. In Lincolnshire port or sherry was the preferred drink. Sometimes the wrapped packs of biscuits were simply left on a table in the house, so that mourners could carry them to the church, each taking a package as they left with the funeral procession.
A recipe for the biscuits was published in Chesterfield, Derbyshire in 1816 in S. W. Stanley’s book The New Whole Art of Confectionery:
Take twenty-four eggs, three pounds of flour, and three pounds of lump sugar , which will make forty eight finger biscuits for a funeral.
As Mrs. Churchill was most definitely “of the richer sort” I feel sure the mourners at her funeral would have gone away clutching some funeral biscuits in a fancy wrapper, together with appropriate sentiments, and sealed with black sealing wax, obtained from the swankiest confectioner in Yorkshire.
Jane Austen possessed some Wedgwood china : let’s read this extract from her letter to Cassandra Austen of the 6th June 1811,wherein she articulates many feelings common to modern mail-order purchasers :
On Monday I had the pleasure of receiving, unpacking and approving our Wedgwood ware. It all came very safely and upon the whole is a good match, tho’ I think they might have allowed us rather larger leaves, especially in such a year of fine foliage as this. One is apt to suppose that the Woods about Birmingham must be blighted.
There was no bill with the Goods-but that shall not screen them from being paid. I mean to ask Martha to settle the account. It will be quite in her way for she is just now sending my Mother a Breakfast set, from the same place. I hope it will come by the Waggon tomorrow; it is certainly what we want and I long to know what it is like: and as I am sure Martha has great pleasure in making the present,I will not have any regrets..
Such a sort passage for one letter: but such a lot of points to consider.
First to the showroom. This a print above is from my copy of Ackerman’s Repository of Arts for February 1809. I love this print. It gives us such a lot of detail about Wedgwood’s tempting wares and his method of selling them.
Let’s consider some of the detail;
Here is the manager showing his customer the ware….The manager of the Wedgwood showroom in Bath was of course Mrs Radcliffe’s father ,and her uncles was Wedgwood’s business partner, Thomas Bentley…..
In 1771-2 Ann Ward stayed with her uncle Thomas Bentley in Turnham Green while her parents prepared for their removal to Bath, where her father was to manage the Wedgwood showroom, a position obtained for him by Bentley, who was Wedgwood’s partner and a man of refined taste.
.(see Mistress of Udolpho:The Life of Ann Radcliffe by Rictor Norton)
In the showroom are some well-behaved children…
Tables laden with wares….
and a rather fagged lady wanting to go home and drink tea from the wares and not to have to look at any more cups and pots.
The showroom where Martha Lloyd placed her order, was just off St James’s Square in London, in York Street. This was a very fashionable and smart address being not far from St James’s Palace where the court of the King (and the Prince Regent) held all its official levees etc.Wedgwood clearly wanted to appeal to the highest classes of society.
This is a description of the showrooms from my copy of A Picture of London (1809), one of the early guidebooks to the Metropolis:
Upon the north side and near the middle of Pall Mall is St James Square, having a circular bason inclosed within an octagonal railing, in its centre; the houses surrounding this square are chiefly inhabited by nobility. The town residence of the bishops of London a large inelegant pile of brick building occupies along with its neighbour Norfolk House in which our present sovereign was born, all that portion of the eastern side of the square, intercepted between Charles Street and Pall Mall. At the corner of York Street an avenue leading from this street to Jermyn Street is the large house and manufactory of Mr Wedgwood in whose exertions much of the late reformations of public taste is to be ascribed. This house has been originally the habitation of the Spanish Ambassador to which was attached the adjoining chapel,which, upon his quitting this place was used as a place of worship by sundry sectarians and is at present in the possession of a Mr Proud one of the adherents to the singular tenets of an eccentric Swedish Baron Emanuel Swedenborough for an account of whose doctrine we must refer our readers to Evans’s useful comprehensive yet concise account of the various denominations of Christians.
Of course the wares would not be made in London: they were only retailed there. They were created in Staffordshire, which is where Jane Austen’s knowledge of geography is shown to be slightly lacking in the letter I quote from above. She is confusing Birmingham in Warwickshire with Burslem in Staffordshire where Josiah Wedgwood and his descendant had their factory.
She might be doing so because the Wedgwoods were famously a radical family and were part of the Lunar Society group based primarily in Birmingham-along with Richard Lovell Edgeworth( father of Maria) and Matthew Bouton, Joseph Priestly etc. But who knows for certain?
This is a picture of the Wedgwood works at Etruria as they appeared in the late 18th century. The pottery industry was of vital importance to the Staffordshire economy in the late 18th /early 19th centuries as this extract from England Described etc (1818) by John Aikin M.D. explains:
Staffordshire has long been noted, and is now particularly famous, for its potteries, the chief seat of which is near Newcastle, in a line of villages extending about ten miles. The neighbourhood affords abundance of the most bulky materials for this business, namely fire-clay and coals; but their finer clays are brought from Purbeck in Dorsetshire and other parts of that coast; and flints from the chalk pits near Gravesend, with some from Wales and Ireland. For the conveyance of these articles they have the benefit of water-carriage, either from Hull or Gainsborough, by means of the Trent which communicates with the southern extremity of the Staffordshire Grand Trunk Canal; or from Liverpool by means of the Mersey, and the duke of Bridgwater’s navigation, to the northern extremity of the same canal. The manufactured goods are sent away by the same conveyances. The perfection to which this manufacture has been brought, and the great elegance of the useful and ornamental articles of which it consists, have rendered it a very important object of commerce, both foreign and domestic.
Burslum was the site of Wedgewood’s Etruria Works,a name inspired by the classical vases, particularly those illustrated by Sir William Hamilton in his book “Etruscan Vases’, upon which Josiah Wedgwood based his neoclassical designs. Look at this extract, again from England Described, and note that the whole area became known as The Potteries,a name that is still applied today even though the manufacture of pottery is sadly in decline there:
The principal place in the Potteries is Bruslem, lately raised to the priviledge of a market town,and supplying the wants of a very populous neighbourhood, the inhabitants which have been drawn together by this demand are very numerous and are employed chiefly in various branches of manufacture.
Jane Austen tells us how these delicate and precious gods were transported to her in Hampshire: by Waggon. The waggon system of transporting goods and livestock was operated by private contractors all over the country. Nearly every small town possessed a company which supplied waggons travelling to and from London,and delivering parcels of goods to their area.
While Jane Austen was living at Chawton the waggon services available in Alton, her nearest market town were as follows:
Coaches,Waggons etc. Collier’s Alton Coach from the Bell Savage Ludgate Hill, 3 times a week. A Southampton coach passes daily Sundays excepted to and from the same inn; also a Gosport dilligence daily to the White Horse Fetter-lane. Knight’s waggons leaves the New Inn, Old Bailey every Tuesday and Friday morning and arrives at Alton every Thursday and Saturday evening. Falkner and Lamport’s Farnham and Alton waggon leaves the George, Snows-hill every Tuesday and Friday and other waggons pass through the town almost every day.
(See the entry for Alton, Hampshire in Crosby’s Complete Pocket Gazetteer of England and Wales (1807). NOTE : this was the same firm of publishers, owned by Benjamin Crosby, who bought the copyright of Northanger Abbey, then known by the title “Susan”, in 1803 for £10 but never published it. Jane Austen eventually purchased the manuscript back from them . The correspondence between them included her famous letter of April 5, 1809 which she wrote under the pseudonym of Mrs Ashton Dennis thus enabling her to end the letter with the following phrase, I AM GENTLEMEN, MAD.)
Jane Austen and her mother were not the only fans of Wedgwood’s wares in the Austen family. Still extant at The Jane Austen House Museum is the set of Wedgwood ware that Edward Knight, Jane’s brother ordered, exactly as Jane Austen described it : The pattern is a small Lozenge in purple,between lines of narrow Gold ; & it is to have the (Knight) crest
And so, there you have a little explanation of that small mention of Wedgwood ware in Jane Austen’s letter. We have seen the showroom in London, learnt about where the wares were made and just how Jane Austen would have received them form London via waggon.
I trust you have enjoyed this little excursion into the retail world of the early 19th century, and that your own excursions in the realms of 21st century Christmas shopping is as pleasant and satisfactory as were Jane Austen’s goods from The Potteries and St James’s.