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I have just learnt that the Box Tale Soup theatre company will be performing their version of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey at Hatfield House next Thursday 6th December. Box Tale Soup is a company of two players, Noel Byrne and Antonia Christophers, below…
…..plus a supporting cast of…. puppets.( Do note that their costumes are printed with sections of text from the novel!)
Northanger Abbey is Box Tale Soup’s first production and, as they describe it, it sounds totally fascinating and great fun:
A classic story, two performers, a vintage truck and a handful of puppets: Austen, as you have never experienced her before!
Noel Byrne and Antonia Christophers have worked as professional performers for over 15 years collectively. Noel is also an award winning street performer, and his acting credits include original work for the Royal Court Theatre and Manchester’s Contact Theatre, as well as Doctor Who and Mission 2110 for the BBC. Antonia’s acting credits include playing Mhaegan in HBO’s award winning series, Game of Thrones, and Miss Peters in The Hour for the BBC.
If you would like to go you can book tickets through Hatfield house’s website, here .If you can’t go -alas I have to attend a Carol Concert that evening!-then here is a small teaser trailer: I must admit that I think I’m going to miss something rather special :(
I did promise to write about the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk a few weeks ago when I wrote about performances of Tim Luscombe’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s fascinating novel, Mansfield Park and of Mrs Inchbald’s Lover’s Vows...so here we are. Never say I renege on my promises…
The reason this theatre is interesting to anyone interested in Jane Austen, is that it is a rare survivor, an example of the type of provincial theatre she would have known. She visited the theatres in Bath and in Southampton as well as the lager London theatres, and so this type of building would have been very familiar to her. But for us, used to larger Victorian, Edwardian or modern auditoria, a Regency theatre is a very different space, and the experience for the audience was and is so very different from that which we experience today.
Being able to visit a Georgian or a regency theatre in the UK is a rare experience, for the theatre at Bury St Edmunds is the only Regency theatre still in existence and open for business. The only other working theatre of this type in England of which I am aware is the Georgian Theatre in Richmond, Yorkshire which was built in 1788. There is one in Scotland , the Theatre Royal, Dumfries, which was first built in 1792, and accordingly the Bury St. Edmunds theatre is the third oldest working theatre in the United Kingdom.
The theatre was built 1819 by the architect, William Wilkins for use by his own theatre company, the “Norwich Comedians”. Wilkins, born in Norwich in neighbouring Norfolk, was the son of a very successful builder, William Wilkins senior, who was a partner to Humphry Repton between 1785 and 1796. Wilkins senior established an independent practice designing houses in the neo-Gothic and neo-classical styles, most notably Donington Park, in Leicestershire and Pentillie Castle in Cornwall. He also owned a series of theatres in East Anglia. His son, educated at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, became an architect of some merit, and designed the newly established Downing College in Cambridge in 1804. As the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography states of his career:
Besides the prestigious East India House, however, he had recently finished the new St George’s Hospital at Hyde Park Corner, London (1825–8; now redeveloped as the Lanesborough Hotel). He was also supervising realization of his impressive classical edifice for University College on Gower Street (1825–32), in which he was assisted by J. P. Gandy,
and transforming a proposal to convert the old Royal Mews in Trafalgar Square into a design for a combined National Gallery and Royal Academy. Each of these commissions reflected the enlargement of Wilkins’s understanding of architectural function and of the social space in which it operated, which had been stimulated by reading the works of John Howard, Jeremy Bentham, and continental Enlightenment authors.
In 1815 Wilkins and his sisters inherited their father’s chain of East Anglian theatres. Wilkins junior re-designed many himself but sadly most of these- in Cambridge, Great Yarmouth,Colchester and Norwich- no longer exist, having been either demolished or, in the case of Norwich, burnt down( a fate shared by many theatres of this era). Four years later he obtained backing from the local brewer in Bury St Edmunds, Benjamin Greene, to build a theatre at Bury St Edmunds Greene loaned Wilkins £5000, an amazing sum. The intention was that the theatre would be patronised by the local gentry.
The Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds opened on the 11th October, 1819. Amazingly the fabric and design of the theatre remained true to its Regency origins, with very few alterations, until it closed in 1903. In 1906 it re-opened after alterations were made to the structure by Bertie Crewe, but in 1920 it was taken back into ownership by the local brewery, now Greene King, a combination of the Greene and the King family breweries, who still owned the land that surrounded the theatre site. The theatre closed again in 1925, and was effectively “put in mothballs” and used by the Brewery as a barrel store. Eventually in the 1960s some restoration was undertaken after support for a re-opening was generated by a local group led by Air Vice-Marshall Stanley Vincent, and it was re opened in 1965.
Since 1975, ownership of the theatre has vested in the National Trust on a 999 year lease and it is operated as an independent working theatre by the Bury St Edmunds Theatre Management Ltd. It is used for theatre performances throughout the year, and there is always a production of an annual Christmas pantomime. As you may already know the theatre has also been promoting the performance of Georgian plays which are no longer part of the repertoire. Its Restoring the Repertoire programme has enabled us to see, for the first time, forgotten plays which were very familiar to Jane Austen, Lovers Vows being only one example. And importantly we have been able to see them in their natural habitat: these intimate theatres.
The Theatre’s website explains why it is important to restore these plays in an appropriate setting:
Due to the disappearance of all other Regency theatres in this country and their unique stages, the repertoire that was written for them in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries has lain dormant for over a hundred and fifty years.
The repertoire depends for its success on the combination of the physical circumstances which only the Georgian stage can offer. There are literally thousands of plays, many of which are fine examples of the literary and theatrical tradition of the period, and which offer a real opportunity to add a significant body of knowledge about the early nineteenth century English drama repertoire which has hitherto been overlooked.
So you can see that in this type of theatre, actors and audience were not separated by light, or rather dark, or space. An intimate space was created, perfect for exchanges between audience and actors. The lawyer and diarist, Henry Crabb Robinson, who visited the theatre during the first week it was opened, remarked:
“It is a handsome tho’ small house. There is from the upper boxes a cheerful breadth and airiness that is quite exhilarating contrasted with the pent-up chicken coops of most theatrical boxes…
This photograph, above, taken from the rear of the central box, gives you some idea of the intimate nature of the theatre. The boxes, which were the most expensive type of seating in this type of theatre, were arranged in a semi-circle , or horseshoe shape around the stage, almost level with it, and this type of seating was known as the Dress Circle.
This photograph, above, taken from one of the stage-right side boxes, shows you the stage, and you can clearly see just how close the audience is to the performers. The bench seats in the stalls, or The Pit as it was known then, slope down towards the stage, below the level of the boxes in the Dress Circle. You can just see the entrance to these types of seats, under the stage to the right of the photograph, as the steps go down from the pit under the stage to the exit.
This rather poor picture of mine, above, gives you some idea of the size of the auditorium, which you can gauge by the presence of some people. The theatre originally held 800 people, and they would have been squashed together in the pit and the gallery (which is as you can see in the photographs below was above the boxes in the Dress Circle and the Upper Circle.) Modern standards for health, safety and comfort have reduced that capacity to 350.
To give you some idea of the sweep of the semi-circle of boxes in the Dress Circle, here is a photograph of the entrance to the boxes and the semi-circular stone-flagged corridor that runs around them.
This is the view from the stage left boxes in the Dress Circle, showing the audience in the Upper Circle , sitting above:
The cheapest seats were to be found in the Gallery, which was above the Upper Circle, and you can see the audience sitting in the gallery in the central uppermost part of the photograph, below:
This amazing photograph also gives you some idea of just how small the theatre is: by my reckoning, there are only eleven people sitting in the front row of the pit.
Here is the same view, taken from the stage, but without the audience being present. It allows you to see the spaces they would occupy, in order: Pit, Dress Circle, Upper Circle and Gallery.
The first playhouses in England were open to the elements: think of Shakespeare’s great wooden”O’, the Globe:
Wilkins’ theatre was enclosed but paid homage to the open sky by having a painted one:
This wonderful photograph shows the sky painted on the ceiling looking upwards from the pit.
Do note that the entrance for the actors onto the stage is not from “the slips” but from a pair of wooden doors providing access from backstage.
This is my photograph, again rather poor quality, of the stage, taken from the viewpoint of the central box in the Dress Circle, which shows the doors set before the proscenium arch, and which allow access and egress to the stage.
And finally let’s compare this with an example of a real regency theatre.This picture. below, is a scan of a Regency theatre from my copy of Pierce Egan’s 1825 book, The Life of An Actor:
I’m afraid it is not of a very high-resolution and for this I apologise. ***
To resume….this images shows two actors on stage. To stage-right is a door allowing access to the stage, as at Bury St Edmunds. You can clearly see the Pit, ( this is a badly attended production, it has to be said!), and the Dress Circle of boxes with its solitary well-heeled on-looker. These boxes are at a slightly higher level than with the stage, note as at Bury St, Edmunds. Above the Dress Circle is the Upper Circle. The Gallery would have been above that level, no doubt. The similarities between this print and the theatre at Bury St Edmunds are remarkable don’t you think?
So, if you want to experience the theatre as Jane Austen would have known it, you now have the opportunity to do so by visiting the theatre at Bury St Edmunds. Not only can you see productions of Georgian plays there, which are not performed anywhere else, the modern 20 and 21st repertoire having no place for them, but you can also take backstage tours. I’ve not done this yet, but it is on my to do list for next year.
I should like to than the staff at the theatre for all their assistance in preparing this article, and for their extreme kindness in supplying me with theses wonderful photographs of the theatre’s exterior and interior. I only hope my description has done them justice.
*** The reason why I have resorted to doing this is that I have had problems recently with unscrupulous authors and publishers using my images for commercial purposes without my permission. I’m afraid that, from now on , my old images taken from my collection of 18th and early 19th century books and engraving will be published here but only at low resolution. A practice which will not affect your enjoyment of them but which will, hopefully, stop the theft of my images. I do hope you will understand why I have reluctantly had to take this step.
As you know, I love collecting cookery books from the 18/early 19th century. They are becoming increasingly hard to find in their original state, and prohibitively expensive to buy. But …there are always facsimiles (Hurrah!), and one of the best publishers of facsimiles and, indeed, anything to do with food, cookery and food history is Prospect Books.
The term National Treasure has become rather hackneyed due to over use in the past few years, but I doubt many in the foodie world would disagree that Tom Jaine, benevolent and genial proprietor of Prosepct Books, truly deserves the accolade/appellation.
His current catalogue is truly astounding, and so very tempting. This year he produced his fourth incarnation of Hannah Glasse’s amazing book, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, which was first published in 1747. Also included are the additional receipts added by Hannah Glasse to the fifth edition of her book. This was the first recipe book published in English to give us a recipe for curry- The Indian Way- and should be an essential part of the collection of books of anyone who is interested in the social history of the 18th century, in my very humble opinion. If you go here, you can view a very generous sample of some pages from the Introduction and main text of this edition.
If you have never read an 18th century cookery book before, then I would urge you to begin with this scholarly but very accessible edition. In addition to the facsimile text, there are wonderful essays by Jennifer Stead and Priscilla Bain which aim to explain and dispel the myths about Hannah Glasse that have grown along with the fame of this book: namely that Mrs. Glasse did not actually write the book, and also that somewhere in her book exists the famous phrase, First catch your hare… something which is wittily alluded to in the woodcut on the cover, shown below:
The facts of Mrs Glasse’s life are fascinating: she was, in addition to being an author of books on cookery and servants, a supplier and marketer of Dr Lowers Tincture and a habit maker with her warehouse (shop) in Tavistock Street, London, patronised by the “court” of Frederick, Prince of Wales. She followed a career pattern common to many female writers of the 18th century: she wrote her book to in order to survive poverty and the improvidence of her husband, John. Her book was very successful, and was printed in many editions, though she lost control of the copyright after the fifth edition was sold, consequent upon her bankruptcy, in 1754.
Her writing methods are typical of the 18th century: to put it rather delicately, she borrowed a lot of her recipes. Priscilla Bain’s essays , Quizzing Glasse; or, Hannah Scrutinized and Recounting the Chickens: Hannah Further Scrutinized are tremendously interesting reads as she tracks down the sources for the recipes Hannah adopted, adapted, improved or simply failed to understand .
And in addition to all the above, the book also has a wonderfully scholarly and interesting Glossary, which is an education in itself. If anything confuses you- a cooking term or an ingredient- while you are reading Mrs Glasse’s fascinating recipes, then simply refer to the glossary to be found near the rear of the book, illustrated with some necessary and delightful line drawings, and all will be made instantly clear.
If you only have space for one 18th century cookery book, then I urge you to buy this one. It is a bargain, especially as at present there is a 25 % discount being offered on the list price of all the titles for sale from Prospect Books.
I thought I would post a short update to let you know how some Austen-related lots fared at auction recently.
The uniformly bound set of five Jane Austen first editions plus the second edition of Sense and Sensibility which I wrote about, here was sold by Christies at their sale on the 21st November for £39,650. The sale estimate was between £30,000 and £50,000.
The first edition of Emma which was due to be sold by Bonhams on the 13th November,and which I wrote about here does not appear to have sold. Will this have any bearing on the forthcoming sale of Anne Sharp’s presentation copy of Emma at Sotheby’s? It remains to be seen…The Ackermanns all sold, as did the collection of mementos presented to Anne Percy, the Royal wet nurse, by the family of George III. This lot sold for £6000 including the buyer’s premium.
And finally, though it has little to do with the topic of this post, may I take this opportunity to wish all my US readers a very happy and peaceful Thanksgiving!
I am indebted to Emile de Bruijn of the fabulous Treasure Hunt blog for highlighting this feature last week. The National Trust have developed a Virtual Tour of Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire, which can now be accessed by anyone unable to visit it in person.
Wimpole Hall is a great place to visit for those of us interested in the 18th century. Not only is it a splendid building, it also has an early 19th century model farm, an 18th century ruined castle folly, and the grounds were designed by Bridgeman, Brown and Repton. It was the largest private house in Cambridgeshire, and it was also the home of Phillip Yorke, first Earl of Hardwicke, shown below in his Lord Chancellor’s robes.
He is of interest to because he was responsible for introducing into Parliament and the laws of England the famous Marriage Act of 1753 (otherwise known as An Act for the Better Preventing of Clandestine Marriage). This was an important statute because it reorganised, tightened and strengthened the laws relating to marriage, and passed responsibility for the administration of the laws relating to marriage from the Church to the State. After the Act had been introduced for a marriage to be valid it had to be performed in a church and after the publication of banns or the obtaining of a licence. Those under the age of 21 had to have prior parental consent if they married by licence. Their marriages by banns were valid as long as the parent of the minor did not actually forbid the banns. Of course the Act did not apply in Scotland, hence the growth in elopements to Gretna Green ….tell that to Mr Wickham :)
The Hall also boasts some wonderful Regency interiors, including the Yellow Drawing Room, an almost shape-shifting space, with its clever use of perspective and mirrors, designed by Sir John Soane.
This room is made extra special by its majestic gasolier which can be lowered into the throng waiting below, or can be retracted back up to its cupola. Amazing.
The Hall also has the intriguing Regency Shower and Plunge Bath, and there are many wonderful rooms for you to explore in the two floors of the Virtual Tour.
But what I find most interesting about the Hall was that its last owner was Elsie Bembridge. She was the daughter of Rudyard Kipling, an avowed admirer of Jane Austen, and author of the famous Janeites poem ( though he didn’t coin the term: that honour goes to the literary critic,George Saintsbury, who knew Kipling and, apparently, it was after a conversation with Saintsbury, and a visit to Bath that Kipling was inspired to write his now famous poem.) Mrs Bembridge restored the Hall, presumably using the money left to her by her father, and eventually passed the custodianship of the Hall to the National Trust. So, bear do that in mind when making your virtual visit :)
Do note that not everything in the house is include on the Tour: the Chapel is not shown for example, but what is there is fascinating and this is an initiative I applaud, and while I appreciate it must no doubt be a costly process, it would be lovely to see it adopted by other houses in the Trust’s collection.
As you all know I found out about the existence of this book a few weeks ago and was really taken with the concept. The authors and their publishers contacted me after reading my article, and very kindly sent the copy which I (rather reluctantly!) included in my Third Anniversary Giveaway last week.
For those of you who may not be familiar with it, the book-a beautifully photographed board book- is a shortened version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. It tells the story using key words and concepts from the novel, illustrated by photographs of felt figures acting out the episode. Obviously the book is intended for use by small children. As the adult reading the book with the child, you are expected to explain the pictures and ” fill in the blanks”. And of course these explanations can get more elaborate as the child grows in understanding….till eventually they will want to pick up a copy of Jane Austen’s own text.
The authors, Holman and Jack Wang explained their vision for this series of books in their email to me:
Here are some examples from the book.
The Christmas Market is attracting some very interesting auction lots…ones that we ought to be interested in, certainly. As we have seen, there are some wonderful Jane Austen offerings to be had this year, but the one that I really covet is Anne Sharp’s first edition set of “Emma”, published by John Murray, which was presented to her by her friend, the authoress, Jane Austen. This set first came to my attention in 2008, when Christiaan Jonkers of Jonkers Rare Books bought the set for £180,000. *gulp* Then two years later, the BBC reported that it had sold for £325,000.*double gulp*
Now Sothebys are offering the same set for sale in their auction of English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations to be held in London on the 12th December 2012.
Here is the condition report of Lot 86 from the online catalogue:
12mo, three volumes, first edition, presentation copy inscribed “From the author”in a clerk’s hand within volume one together with ownership signature of Anne Sharp in each volume, half-titles, contemporary half-calf with marbled boards, marbled endpapers, collector’s red morocco box, some light spotting, corners occasionally creased, bindings worn at extremities, some minor loss to calf, some splitting and loss to joints, slight loss to ends of spines, leaves trimmed.
The Catalogue notes record its history..up to a point…
One of twelve presentation copies recorded in the publisher’s archives and presented to Jane Austen’s “excellent kind friend”: the only presentation copy given to a personal friend of the author.
In a letter to the publisher John Murray dated 11 December 1815, Austen noted that she would “subjoin a list of those persons, to whom I must trouble you to forward a Set each, when the Work is out; – all unbound, with From the Authoress, in the first page”. Most of these copies were for members of Austen’s family. David Gilson in his bibliography of Austen lists these presentation copies, based on information in John Murray’s records, as follows:
two to Hans Place, London (presumably for Jane Austen and Henry Austen)
Countess of Morley
Rev. J.S. Clarke (the Prince Regent’s librarian)
J. Leigh Perrot (the author’s uncle)
two for Mrs Austen
Captain Austen (presumed to be Charles Austen)
Rev. J. Austen
H.F. Austen (presumed to be Francis)
Miss Knight (the author’s favourite niece Fanny Knight)
Miss Sharpe [sic]
Anne Sharp (1776-1853) was Fanny-Catherine Knight’s governess at Godmersham in Kent from 1804 to 1806. She resigned due to ill-health and then held a number of subsequent positions as governess and lady’s companion. Deirdre Le Faye notes that by 1823 she was running her own boarding-school for girls in Liverpool (see Jane Austen’s Letters, third edition, 1995, p. 572). She retired in 1841 and died in 1853.
In 1809 Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra Austen that “Miss Sharpe… is born, poor thing! to struggle with Evil…” Four years later Jane wrote to Cassandra that “…I have more of such sweet flattery from Miss Sharp! – She is an excellent kind friend” (which may refer to Anne Sharp’s opinion of Pride and Prejudice). It is known that Anne Sharp thought Mansfield Park “excellent” but she preferred Pride and Prejudice and rated Emma “between the two” (see Jane Austen’s Letters, third edition, 1995, p. 573).
There is one known extant letter from Jane Austen to Anne Sharp, dated 22 May 1817. She is addressed as “my dearest Anne”. After Jane Austen’s death, Cassandra Austen wrote to Anne Sharp on 28 July 1817 sending a “lock of hair you wish for, and I add a pair of clasps which she sometimes wore and a small bodkin which she had had in constant use for more than twenty years”.
“In Miss Sharp she found a truly compatible spirit… Jane took to her at once, and formed a lasting relationship with her… [she occupied] a unique position as the necessary, intelligent friend” (Claire Tomalin, Jane Austen A Life, 2000).
Anne Sharp is known to have visited Chawton on at least two occasions: in June 1815 and in August-September 1820. Deirdre Le Faye notes that James-Edward Austen-Leigh described her as “horridly affected but rather amusing” (see Jane Austen’s Letters, third edition, 1995, p.573)
However, what is interesting to me is the current auction estimate ….which is £150,000-£200,000…and which even I with my rudimentary grasp of maths can deduce means that someone may be anticipating they might be taking a hit on this set. Or not….it all remains to be seen. I will be watching this one….and reporting back, you can be assured.
Also for sale in the same sale is Lot 87, a first edition set of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion by Jane Austen, published by John Murray. This also has another interesting connection to Jane Austen. The set is inscribed F C Fowle, and would appear to have been owned by Fulwar-Craven Fowle, the brother of Tom Fowle, who was engaged to Cassandra Austen but he sadly died in the West Indies before they could marry.
The catalogue notes:
It appears that this set was the property of the Revd Fulwar-Craven Fowle (1764-1840). He was a pupil of Rev. George Austen at Steventon between 1778 and 1781. He is occasionally mentioned in Austen’s letters; it appears he participated in a game of vingt-un in 1801 and sent a brace of pheasants in 1815. Fulwar-Craven Fowle’s brother, Thomas (1765-1797) had been engaged to Cassandra Austen in 1792.
Deirdre Le Faye notes that he had “an impatient and rather irascible nature” and “did not bother to read anything of Emma except the first and last chapters, because he had heard it was not interesting” (see Jane Austen’s Letters, 1995, p. 525).
This has a sale estimate of £4000-6000, which is more affordable than Lot 86(well, everything is relative!) but I know which set I would prefer to own. I’ll report back.
This morning, my very kind daughter made the draw for the winner of this year’s give-away.
We wrote all your names onto individual slips of paper, put them into an early 19th century punch bowl…which we thought highly appropriate….
…and then my daughter, who unlike her mamma has beautifully manicured nails, picked one at random.
And thus the winner is…
…Hazel Mills! Congratulations, Hazel! If you’d like to contact me by email ( you can find the address on my About Page, here) , we will exchange details and I’ll send your prizes to you!
Episode 25 of series 32 of the BBC’s Bargain Hunt programme included a section filmed at Number One, Royal Crescent which is a marvellous museum devoted to displaying and explaining the workings of a grand house in Bath in the Georgian era.
The programme had a five-minute section during which we were shown some of the items on show in the study and hall of the house. First, items that may have provided amusement –the Comforts of Bath -during the season were displayed on a green baize-lined card table:
A blue transfer decorated punch bowl, sadly denuded of its alcoholic contents…
and a twist of the Virginian tobacco which would have been smoked in them.
The bureau bookcase in the same room also had interesting items on display.
A portable, table-top celestial globe…
and two theatre tokens which were used in the theatre at Bath.
One for the cheap seats in the Gallery, above and one for the more exclusive seats in the boxes, below.
The programme gave us a rare opportunity to examine a sedan chair, a very popular form of transport in Bath due to the steep and narrow streets which made travelling by carriage somewhat difficult.
The chairs were made of a wooden frame, covered with leather which was then painted to provide a degrees of waterproofing …
The edges and corners were protected by decorative stud work…
The domed roof lifted up for ease of access, and internally there were blinds for privacy, and glazed windows…
And the all-important internal upholstery, including a down filled cushion seat, to protect the traveller from the bumps and bangs of a journey from his home to the Upper Rooms, perhaps, just like Catherine Moreland in Northanger Abbey.
The programme is still available to view via the BBC iPlayer, here, and I do urge you to look at it if you can as this section is very informative and enjoyable.
I thought you all would appreciate advance notice of the Foundling Hospital’s next major exhibition. It is to be entitled, Fate, Hope and Charity, and will tell, for the first time the stores behind some of the Museum’s most famous tokens. These tokens were left behind by foundling children’s parents as identifiers.You may recall that the Threads of Feeling exhibition curated by Professor John Styles examined the fabric tokens that exist in the Museum’s collection. This was fascinating and a well deserved critical success. Threads of Feeling will soon be on display at Colonial Williamsburg and I do hope many of you will take that opportunity to see it.
The forthcoming exhibition in London concentrates on the physical tokens, and you can see some of them above and below.
This is what the Museum’s Press release has to say about the exhibit:
By reuniting the eighteenth century tokens with the foundlings to whom they belong, Fate, Hope & Charity uncovers stories, which are a testament to the grief of separation and ever lasting bond between a mother and her child. Tokens, small everyday objects, were left by mothers with their babies at the Foundling Hospital, which continues today as children’s charity Coram. Left between c.1741 -1760, tokens were a means of identification should the mother ever return to reclaim her child. Hundreds of these small items were removed from the Hospital’s admission records in the 1860s, severing links with their history-until now.
Now over 250 years later these incredible, heart wrenching stories are revealed. Each story offers a glimpse into the lives of the women in the eighteenth century who left their children at the Hospital. Most poignant of all is the story of Margaret Larney.
Under sentence of death in Newgate Prison in 1757, Margaret, falsely tried and found guilty of counterfeiting money, wrote a letter requesting the admission of her unborn child to the Foundling Hospital. Her newborn son was lucky and was admitted. Margaret was less fortunate. Immediately after the birth, she was taken to Tyburn where she was executed by “strangulation and burning”! Her astonishing letter of petition to the Hospital will be on display and is shown above.
Individual stories will be told through their tokens, which include coins, jewellery, buttons, poems, playing cards and a simple nut, together with art works and artefacts from the period. Many of the tokens address issues that are still current today; the hardship faced by military wives and widows and childbirth debates around the benefits of male doctors versus female midwives.
The stories behind these tokens have been unearthed by Janette Bright and Dr Gilliam Clarke, who are also the authors of the booklet, An Introduction to the Tokens at the Foundling Museum, which I reviewed, here. The Museum’s Press Release tells us that:
A chance meeting in 2005 in the Hospital archive united textile artist, Janette, and social historian Gillian, whose earlier work on the Foundlings includes the time they spent with foster families outside London. Through their exhaustive detective work, orphaned tokens have been reunited with their foundlings. The new research reveals fascinating information about the tokens themselves, the circumstances surrounding the mother’s decision to give up her baby and the moving stories of the individual foundlings to whom the tokens belonged.
The Foundling Museum has also commissioned prominent artists, authors, songwriters and musicians to create new stories for these tokens in their chosen medium. Contributors will include artist, David Shrigley and DJ, poet and writer, Charlie Dark, folk group ,The Unthanks and poet and novelist, Jackie Kay. Collected in a special publication to coincide with the exhibition, these stories will shed new light on the small, poignant scraps of history that make up Fate, Hope & Charity which will be curated by Stephanie Chapman.
As you know I favour the theory that Jane Austen chose to reunite the star-crossed lovers, Harriet Smith and Robert Martin, in Brunswick Square as a nod to the Foundling Hospital’s existence, especially given Harriet’s status as the natural daughter of somebody, who was, at that point, unknown. She had a happy ending…others were not so lucky as she. I shall look forward to visiting the Museum to see their stories. The exhibition will run from Thursday 25 January – Sunday 19 May 2013
As you know, the Industrial revolution is a favourite topic of investigation of mine, and industrial tourism is one aspect of the Revolution that I find terribly interesting. Today, I thought you might like to know about some industrial innovations which were and still are part of the scenery around Jane Austen’s childhood home at Steventon, and which were part of the tourism trail even then. In one of her friend, Mrs Lefroy’s letters, dated Wednesday 17th June 1801, she mentions visiting the silk mill at Overton;
The two Miss Carletons Miss [Vyse] & Miss Speed came to spend the day in the morning we went first to the Silk & then to the Paper Mills
Overton was not far from the Rectory at Ashe, as you can see from this section from my map of Hampshire in 1797. Ashe is marked number 1, and Overton is marked number two.
Sadly, the Silk Mill at Overton is no longer operational, but if you would like to follow in Mrs Lefroy’s footsteps it is still possible to do so for another Mill, which was established in the area in the early 19th century still stands at Whitchurch, which is another small town that Jane Austen often visited. She mentions it in her letter to her sister, Cassandra Austen of the 30th November, 1800:
Martha ( LLoyd-jfw) has promised to return with me & our plan is to [have] a nice black frost for walking to Whitchurch…
The Silk Mill at Whitchurch was built around 1813 and in 1817 William Maddick ,who was a silk weaver from Spitalfields, in London, bought it and owned it until 1844. The Overton Mill, which was about 4 miles away from Whitchurch, “threw” or wove silk and was the main employer in Overton during the 18th and early 19th centuries. These mills employed mainly women, and children from the ages of 10 to 14. The Overton Mill went out of business in the 1840s following a fire and all its remaining machinery , contents and building materials were sold at auction .
The Whitchurch Mill was powered by a water wheel. The Mill is built on the River Test. This is famed as one of the finest trout streams in England.
It has wonderful clear water, running over chalk beds, and the quality of it is so pure that the area is famed not only for its fishing but for the production of watercress, which needs pure,free-flowing water to provide a healthy crop.The river actually rises in Mrs Lefroy’s village of Ashe, and then it wends its way down to Overton and Whitchurch. It eventually travels though the southern part of Hampshire to enter the estuary about Southampton water.
You can see the whole process of making silk fabric at the mill,and while the machines now used are older than our era, the process was very much the same when Jane Austen knew Whitchurch. Hanks of Silk are imported from China and are dyed and then would onto a winding machine:
and then they are onto bobbins, in preparation for making the warp. Any colour can be produced, for the dying process takes place on site.
The silk is drawn from the bobbins onto the creel by the warping mill, in sections to create the warp.
All the machinery is powered by the water wheel, though the bands are all now covered to comply with modern health and safety legislation.
Fabric for clothing or for upholstering furniture is produced here. The types of silk that can still be made at the mill include taffeta, bombazine, ottoman, faille and organza.The mill can also produce ribbons, twills and satins. And, as you may have guessed, costume departments in the television and movie industries often call upon the mill to make authentic materials for them to use in costuming for period dramas. The mill can make small fabric runs which larger businesses might find uneconomic, and this is perfect for costuming departments .
Many of the 1990 adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels used the mill to provide fabric for them, and there is a small display at the Mill showing stills from various films and adaptations including, Becoming Jane, a bio of Jane Austen that sadly really missed the mark for me:
The BBC’s production of George Elliot’s Middlemarch:
and The Aristocrats, based on the story of the Lennox sisters, who lived fascinating lives in 18th century England and Ireland:
Since 1990 the Mil has been restored and administered by the Whitchurch Mill Silk Trust, and it is a most delightful place to visit ( the on-site shop is very tempting too).It is fascinating to see an example of the type of industry of which Jane Austen would have been aware when she lived in this area, and to realise that though the area of Hampshire around Steventon was primary an agriculturally based economy, other industries flourished there too.
Or was he was weather-beaten as the companion of Admiral Baldwin in Persuasion who had, according to the disapproving of Sir Walter Elliot ,
..a face the colour of mahogany, rough and rugged to the last degree; all lines and wrinkles
Persuasion, Chapter 3.
The evidence appears to be that Charles Austen certainly knew how to care for a complexion in the early 19th century, and this post here, which I wrote for the Jane Austen House Museum Blog ,last week, explains all. These roses- Rosa mundi and The Apothecary’s Rose- below, which were cut from the Museum’s garden in the summer and are shown in a table in teh Drawing Room of the Museum, are a clue ;)
This is a reminder that the draw for the Austenonly Third Anniversary Give-away will take place next Wednesday, so if you want to be entered into the draw, please add a comment on this post here. Anyone who adds a comment is eligible to be entered into the draw, wherever you are in the world.
And, last week I forgot to add two items to the current haul of prizes (*slaps forehead*). So….in addition to all those listed in the post the winner will also receive…
A Toy Theatre Kit of the Regency Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk . This enchanting theatre is the sole surviving example of a Regency playhouse in this country, so once you have assembled the kit , you can envisage what it is like to stage plays there….who knows, you may even be tempted to put on your own version of Lovers Vows! (Oh, the scandal!)
And, finally a copy of the Cozy Classic version of Pride and Prejudice, by Jack and Holman Wang which the publishers were so kind as to send to me. I’ll be reviewing this within the next week too, so do look out for that!
To conclude our series on Mrs Lefroy, I thought I would review this book, although it is not new. It was published by the Jane Austen Society in 2007, but is still in print and is available to purchase from many outlets, but beware for the prices quoted for it varies greatly. You can purchase it for its Recommended Retail Price from the shop at the Jane Austen House Museum in person or by mail order via this link (and of course the profits from this purchase help maintain the museum!).
Any cache of letters from our period are of interest to me, but this collection is doubly fascinating, for Mrs Lefroy had many associations with Jane Austen and her family. They moved in the same social circles and by reading Mrs Lefroy’s letters to her family we meet many of the same characters who were mentioned in Jane Austen’s early letters and who played vitally important and influential parts in her life: the Biggs-Wither family, the Bramstons, the Portals, the Harwoods and the Heathcotes. However, we see them through a very different pair of eyes, that of a mature, intelligent, humorous and compassionate woman. Reading Mrs Lefroy’s letters adds greatly to our knowledge of the society around Steventon, and for that reason alone I would recommend you buy a copy of this book.
The 140 letters date from 1800 to 1804 (the last later included in the book is a very melancholy one, written by Charles Lyford, the surgeon, announcing the unexpected death of Mrs Lefroy, due to a fall from her horse). The members of the Austen family appear : James Austen, is mentioned most often, and as fellow neighbouring clergyman this is not a surprise. Tantalizingly there are few mentions of Jane, but we do hear of the Miss Austens when they are visiting the area from Bath, where they moved in 1801. In her letter of the 23rd September 1801 we learn that the Austen sisters are visiting Ashe:
The Miss Austens spent the day here- next week they mean to return to Bath& after that I suppose it will be long before they again visit Steventon
On 20th october 1803 in a letter to her son, Edward, Mrs Lefroy wrote:
Miss Austens have been with me these two or three days & I believe stay till Monday next…
We learn a lot about the defensive measure the locality had to take in preparation for any attempted invasion by Napoleon, in particular the formation of The Ashe Volunteers, a group of about 60 men, with which the Lefroy’s elderst son, George, served. That Mrs Lefory took a lively interest in the world outside the confines of the society of Ashe and Steventon is apparent from her remarks in the letters: for example, in Letter 50 we hear of her reading the Anti Jacobin Review and Magazine a short-lived periodical which strongly espoused Tory political views ; she also refers to Buonapartes(sic)
cruelties with regard to the massacre of the Garrison at Jaffa & the poisoning of his prisoners”
in addition to news of her innoculation programme:
I am now again very busy in Cowpox inncoluation as the Smallpox is in many of the Village around us the common people are all now eager to be secured from infection ..
The book is sympathetically and sensibly edited by Gavin Turner and Helen Lefroy. They take pains to explain obscure points in the correspondence and there are five short essays which give ample and clear information regarding the complexities of Mrs Lefroy’s family and the Hampshire of the time. There are a few black and white illustrations, but the primary joy of this book is to further our acquaintance with Mrs Lefory by reading her intimate correspondence. We have already seen from the obituaries of her and by Jane Austen’s reaction to her death, that she was an exceptional person. Reading her letters we find ample evidence of her being a vibrant, sensible, compassionate woman. Someone who loved her family and her parishioners and took her role as a rector’s wife seriously. She was not without humour and seems to have been a terrible “empty -nester”, but never empty headed. The impression gained by reading these later is that she was an exceptional woman, interested in her parish and the outside world. It really is no wonder then that she was Jane Austen’s “beloved friend”.
Yes, more sale news to tempt you. The Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Photographs sale to be held at Bonhams at their Knightsbridge premises on the 13th November,2012 looks set to be a fantastic sale.
If I could I would buy it all lock, stock and barrel, so tempting are the contents of the catalogue. That’s not likely to happen, but perhaps you might like to see what I think are the highlights. First , Lot 13, a first edition of Emma, written by Jane Austen and published by John Murray, dated 1816.
The catalogue notes that the lot comprises:
Emma, 3 vol, FIRST EDITION, half-titles in vol. 2 and 3, spotting, one gathering working loose and blank lower margin torn away from advertisement leaf at end of volume 3, one front free endpaper near detached, bookplate of “John Hawkshaw, Esq., Hollycombe”, contemporary half calf, gilt lettering on spines, headbands frayed (volume 2 with small loss at head and foot of backstrip) [Gilson A8; Keynes 8], 8vo, John Murray, 1816
and the sale estimate is between £6000-8000.
Also on offer is a series of three lots of books published by that doyen of Regency publishers, Rudolph Ackermann. First, Lot 1
half-titles, engraved portrait, 95 hand-coloured aquatint or engraved plates after Pugin, Westall, Mackenzie, Unwins and Pyne, tissue guards, some offsetting onto text, bookplate of George Burnham Wells, contemporary calf gilt, upper covers with central coroneted monogram “MM” (identified in pencil as Maria Miquel of Portugal), g.e. [Abbey, Scenery 80; Tooley 4], 4to (335 x 270mm.), R. Ackermann, 1815.
The sale estimate is between £2000-3000 for this set. Ackermann employed some of the foremost illustrators of his age, and some of you know that I collect his books and illustrations. They give us a unique glimpse of what Jane Austen’s world looked like, and in this case, we get to see the Cambridge that was the alma mater of Geroge Wickham, for as Darcy tells us in his later to Eliabeth in Chapter 35 of Pride and Prejudice, his father financed his education there:
Mr. Wickham is the son of a very respectable man, who had for many years the management of all the Pemberley estates, and whose good conduct in the discharge of his trust naturally inclined my father to be of service to him; and on George Wickham, who was his godson, his kindness was therefore liberally bestowed. My father supported him at school, and afterwards at Cambridge; — most important assistance, as his own father, always poor from the extravagance of his wife, would have been unable to give him a gentleman’s education.
Lot 2, The Microcosm of London, 3 vol.,first edition, is a wonderful publication, of which I am lucky to possess a set. These books allow you gain some impression of what London was like when Jane Austen visited it in the early part of the 19th century. They are totally fascinating, and the plates, originally created by Pugin and Rowlandson, are lively and always full of detail and interest.
The sale catalogue description is as follows:
half-titles, wood-engraved pictorial titles, engraved dedication leaves, 104 hand-coloured aquatint plates after Rowlandson and Pugin (watermarked 1806-1808, 2 small tears repaired to blank margin of plate 65), some offsetting from plates to text, occasional light spotting (mostly to titles), contemporary russia gilt, sides with wide decorative borders, skilfully rebacked with gilt panelled spines[Abbey, Scenery 212; Adams 99; Tooley 7], 4to (340 x 275mm.), R. Ackermann, [1808-1810]
and it has a sale estimate of between £2500-3500
Lot 3 is also by Ackermann, The History of the Abbey Church of St. Peter’s Westminster,its Antiquities and Monuments, 2 vol., first edition (Westminster Abbey-jfw)
Perusing its pages would allow you to see what it was like when Dr Grant of Mansfield Park spent his last days on earth there:
Dr. Grant, through an interest on which he had almost ceased to form hopes, succeeded to a stall in Westminster, which, as affording an occasion for leaving Mansfield, an excuse for residence in London, and an increase of income to answer the expenses of the change, was highly acceptable to those who went and those who staid.
These books have a sale estimate of between £500-700.
There are other tempting lots but the last one I would like to share with you is Lot 68, a collection of mementos presented to the wet-nurse employed by George III and Queen Charlotte:
Presented in a display case the mementos include: George III’s Garter Sash in blue silk, the Duke of Cumberland’s white kidskin gloves, presented on 30 April 1771, the Prince of Wales’s Garter Sash in blue silk, presented on 12 May 1769, the Princess Royal’s cambric and lace mittens, presented on 12 May 1769, Prince William’s brown kid child-sized gloves, presented on the same day, the lace cap worn by the infant Prince Edward, and Prince Frederick, Duke of York’s Bath Sash in crimson silk; also framed with a piece of the christening bonnet of Prince Edward, embroidered in red silk with silver thread, labelled as given by Elizabeth Meade, daughter of Anne Percy, to Lady Cremorne; and a pair of tweezers given by the Prince of Wales to Anne Cleveland Percy.
Anne Percy, in addition to being the Royal Wet-Nurse was also the wife of the literary scholar Thomas Percy, future Bishop of Dromore. What a fascinating relict of the intimate life of the Royal Household.
There is much, MUCH, more of interest in this sale- a letter from Nelson to Emma Hamilton, wonderful topographical books etc from our era amongst many others- so I am sure you will enjoy looking at the on-line catalogue. I will keep an eye out for the results ;)