Hideous Hats?

Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

We’ve done the dresses, the cosmetics and the beauty tips, so how could we possibly not have one about those amazing Georgian hats that would put Royal Ascot to shame.  Large hats were very much the fashion and there were some stunning hats, however, we couldn’t resist a  ‘tongue in cheek’ look at the fashionable hats of the period.  Large hats often accompanied by large hair were very much in vogue and provided the most amazing ‘fodder’ for the caricaturists of the day too who took great delight in mocking both the British and French styles.

In one of our previous blogs we presented to the world a ‘never before seen hat’ sported by our one and only fashion diva, the beautiful  Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s hat, which the majority of our readers agreed overwhelmingly was to put it politely, ‘dreadful’, with that mind we thought we should find some more equally hideous hats for your delectation.

 Grace’s hat

The hats appear in no particular order, but we are sure you will have you own preferences!

After Grace we have another fashion diva and close friend of Grace Dalrymple Elliott  –  Gertrude Mahon, sporting something akin to a giant tea cosy or one of those hairdryers that were fashionable in the 1950’s,  in a fabric which hopefully is far lighter than it appears, otherwise it would have carried a health warning!

Gertrude Mahon, the Bird of Paradise, 1781.
Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Libray.


1950s hairdryer
1950s version!

The next really should carry a health warning especially if you have a feather allergy; are the three feathers those of the Prince of Wales one wonders?

large hat
Magasin des Modes, November 1787

When it gets too hot in the middle of the Summer we offer an alternative way of keeping cool, is it a bird, plane or simply a superhat?

Shady retreats for summer, or, The tip of the ton!!
Shady retreats for summer, or, The tip of the ton!! Lewis Walpole Library

…and an alternative hat for summer showers, complete with the ‘fake bum‘ for the children to shelter under.

Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
A lodging house lady of Bath
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

A lodging house lady of Bath, the hat is almost the same size as she is!

Hat Boxes
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Hat Boxes – words fail us with this one

scary hat
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The hat on the right looks lethal

It seems that by 1796 the reign of the ‘larger than life hat’ was all but over for a while at least and according to  the Morning Post and Fashionable World  dated Thursday, November 17, 1796 in their less than complimentary report, bonnets were now all the rage.


Guy's Hospital, London; Wellcome Library

The Scotch Giantess

Whilst researching our earlier article about the Nottinghamshire Giantess we stumbled across the following newspaper report from the London Standard dated the 1st February 1831. Although technically just outside our remit of ‘all things Georgian’, because William IV’s reign is sometimes incorporated into the Georgian era we thought we would include it here.


On Sunday morning last, about five o’clock, information was given to a police constable on duty near the Asylum, that heavy groans were heard to proceed from the travelling residence (a large carriage) of the celebrated Scotch giantess, situated in the Mall, an open space of ground between the Westminster-road and the New Bethlem, and that it was feared that murder had been committed. The constable procured further assistance, and repaired immediately to the spot. They found the door of the carriage open, and all in darkness and groans, as if of two persons, were heard to proceed from within. A light having been soon obtained, a man and a woman, of gigantic size, were found lying on the floor, in a state of insensibility.

The man, upon being asked what was the cause of their indisposition, pointed to the table, upon which was an empty cup, with a white sediment adhering to its sides, and on the floor was a piece of paper labelled poison, the contents of which they had both swallowed. The policeman lost no time in conveying them to Guy’s Hospital, where they were immediately attended to by Mr. Collet, the surgeon. The woman was in a very deplorable state, and seemed to be past all recovery, but her husband, although in a state of stupor, was not so powerfully affected by the poison. Reed’s patent pump was applied by Mr. Hills, the cupper to the hospital, by which a quantity of arsenic was taken from the woman’s stomach, as was also from that of her husband’s, and they were put to bed in a very feeble state, and still remain so; but it is expected they will ultimately recover.

It appears that a short time since the giantess, who stands six feet six inches high, was exhibited in St. James’s-street, as “Ann Freeman, the celebrated Scotch giantess,” and whilst there her husband became jealous of her, in consequence of a man, about her own gigantic stature, called the “Spanish giant,” having shown her more attention than was deemed necessary. The husband, who is not more than half the size of his wife, as soon as it was possible, removed his better half from the exhibition, and wheeled her off in his four-wheeled residence to the space of ground near Bethlem Hospital.

A Nincompoop, or Henpecked Husband. © The Trustees of the British Museum
© The Trustees of the British Museum

A few evening after, whilst Freeman and his wife were sitting in the caravan, which is very commodiously constructed, Mr. Freeman, to his astonishment, perceived his rival, the “Spanish Giant,” looking through his carriage window, which, from his immense height, he could do without much trouble. He ran out, but the intruder had disappeared; but from that moment Freeman and his spouse had lived upon the most unhappy terms, and she would frequently seize her husband by the back of the neck, and hold him at arms length till he was nearly choked.

Lewis Walpole Library
Lewis Walpole Library

On Saturday night Freeman went out and did not return till early on Sunday morning, when he found his wife had taken poison (arsenic), and perceiving a portion of it left in the tea-cup, he swallowed it off, and was immediately after seized with violent retchings, and soon became insensible, as discovered by the police constable.

Header image: Guy’s Hospital, London; Wellcome Library

Covent Garden Theatre from Microcosm of London, courtesy of British Library

Covent Garden Theatre 1808 fire and rebuild

The first theatre on the site opened as the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden on the 7th of December 1732 with the first play performed being that of William Congreve’s, The Way of the World. Over the next sixty years or so there were various alterations to it.

Covent Garden Theatre. As altered prior to opening on 15th September 1794. Courtesy of British Museum
Covent Garden Theatre. As altered prior to opening on 15th September 1794. Courtesy of British Museum

In the early hours of the 20th of September 1808 a fire broke out and the theatre was razed to the ground, taking with it Handel’s own organ and many of his manuscripts. The fire raged so fiercely it almost took with it other buildings including Drury Lane Theatre, but that one was to survive for a further year before it suffered the same fate.

Covent Garden Theatre from Microcosm of London, courtesy of British Library
Covent Garden Theatre from Microcosm of London, courtesy of British Library

Fires were a relatively common occurrence in theatres at that time due to the lighting and the draperies, the vast majority happening purely by accident. In order to prevent such fires, The London Fire Code stated that eight blankets soaked with water were to be kept on each side of the stage which could be used immediately should anything catch fire; this is apparently where the term ‘a wet blanket’ originated.

According to the newspapers of the day, in particular, the Morning Chronicle of the 21st September 1808, the fire began at 4am and within three hours the whole theatre was demolished. The books, accounts, deeds and cash were saved due to the exertions of Mr Hughes, the treasurer. A small amount of scenery survived, but all the wardrobe was destroyed. Unfortunately, the day prior to the fire the mains water supply had been cut off due to some complaints about an irregular supply so work was in progress to rectify this fault, therefore the fire engines struggled to provide sufficient water to dampen the fire. The fire was also in danger of spreading due to a westerly wind blowing towards properties on the nearby Bow Street, however, that apparently was short lived. The wind changed direction and did, however, cause the loss of several buildings in the vicinity. According to an eyewitness who was setting up on Covent Garden market, there was an ‘unwholesome smell of the London smoak‘ which was thought to be coming from a local brewhouse; this was not the case and the fire was discovered by a poor girl who had made her bed in the porch of the theatre.

The newspaper provided gruesome details of the dead including 11 mutilated bodies in the grounds of St Paul’s church, Covent Garden. Many others were conveyed to nearby hospitals.  Initial reports stated that as many as 20 lives were lost with far more seriously injured casualties. The press reported ‘on the whole, there has not been any domestic catastrophe more fatal for many years, even the disaster at the Old Bailey and at Sadler’s Wells, not excepted.’  Properties completely destroyed on Bow Street included numbers 9 -15, with 16 & 17 being very badly damaged. Even the Beef Steak Club did not escape unscathed, it lost its stock of wine which could not be replaced! The Coroner for Westminster, Anthony Gell Esq. observed that ‘in his opinion this melancholy event was accidental and that there was not the slightest blame on the theatre’s management’. Ruins of old Covent garden after the fire 1808 V and A  Although very faint the image above depicts the ruins of the theatre.

A clearer image can be found on the Victoria and  Albert Museum website.

Gillray’s caricature of the Kemble family going to the Duke of Northumberland for funds as Covent Garden burned. Courtesy of the British Library
Gillray’s caricature of the Kemble family going to the Duke of Northumberland for funds as Covent Garden burned. Courtesy of the British Library

With the inquest concluded plans began immediately for a new theatre to be built in its place with various suggestions made by the media as to how this should be done with comparisons being made to other theatres, both positive and negative! The architect appointed was Robert Smirke, an exponent of the Greek revival style of architecture which he used to great effect, the new theatre was the first building in London to use the Greek Doric order.

Robert Smirke. Courtesy of Royal Academy of Arts
Robert Smirke. Courtesy of Royal Academy of Arts

On the 2nd of January 1809 rebuilding commenced according to The Morning Post with the Prince of Wales present accompanied by much pomp and ceremony and including many Freemasons. The first Portland stone was said to weigh one ton. Smirke presented his Royal Highness with a plan of the new building. The cement ready for the stone was laid by the workmen, then the immense stone lowered into place, this was ceremonially positioned by his majesty giving it three strokes with a mallet. Following the ceremony all dignitaries including the Prince of Wales retired to the Free Masons Tavern for a meal, the Prince still wearing his Freemasons regalia – a white apron, lined with purple and edged with gold.

Robert Smirk's drawing of the new Covent Garden theatre, courtesy of the British Museum.
Robert Smirk’s drawing of the new Covent Garden theatre, courtesy of the British Museum.

On completion, which took around nine months, the media took great interest in the finished structure. Apparently, the pit was very spacious, but the two galleries were comparatively small, only capable of holding 150 – 200 people. The upper gallery was divided into 5 compartments and under the gallery was a row of 26 private boxes, constituting a third tier. These boxes also had a private room behind each and not connected with any other part of the building allowed total exclusivity.

New theatre description

The following day a correction was published regarding some parts of the description of the theatre, this article provides a much more detailed description

New build - correction wrong info supplied

The Morning Post of Thursday 14th September 1809 confirmed that the newly built Theatre Royal, Covent Garden would open on Monday the 18th with the tragedy Macbeth starring Mrs Sarah Siddons.

Sarah Siddons and Philip Kemble in Macbeth
Sarah Siddons and Philip Kemble in Macbeth

However, in order to recoup some of the enormous building costs, the price of tickets was increased which resulted in 3 months of rioting and ended with John Kemble the manager of the theatre being forced to apologise; they became known as the Old Price Riots.

Theatre tickets for Covent Garden, 1809
Theatre tickets 1809. Courtesy of the British Museum
Caricature of the Old Price riots!
Caricature of the Old Price riots!

Secrets of the Cosmetic Art (Part 4)


Part 4 of our ‘Secrets of the Cosmetic Art’ looks the use of  ‘patches’ as a feature of the Georgian beauty regime.  Although in existence prior to this period they were very much a feature of ladies beauty regimes.  As early as 1708 in an article regarding morals, Oswald Dykes stated the following:

A good face needs no band: and what necessity of ‘sets offs’ to a perfect beauty : patches do but hide the features and deface nature, as if the fair lady stuy’d deformity, was industrious to make herself ugly or less charming and had resolved to wear the blemishes of her mind upon her forehead.

Clearly a few years later ladies took no heed of his remarks!  These facial adornments served various purposes, the primary one being to cover pox marks.

However, the New Lady’s Magazine suggests an altogether different use for them, so please take note and ensure that should you decide to make use of them that you place them in exactly the precise location otherwise you could potentially send a possible suitor totally the wrong message about yourself and that would never do!

Image courtesy of Lewis Walpole Collection


From the New Lady’s magazine, or, Polite and entertaining companion for the fair sex: entirely devoted to their use and amusement, January, 1787.

A Correspondent was lately at an assembly where he had the sight of several fine faces, but very improperly patched. Amidst the whole circle, which consisted of more than thirty Ladies, our correspondent saw but two patches properly placed. He had always been a declared enemy against the rage of plastering little bits of black silk upon the human face; but as he has not eloquence enough to persuade the fair-sex to lay it aside entirely, he thinks it a duty incumbent upon him to lay down at least certain rules for judiciously placing the patch, to such of them as think that it heightens their charms.

 PATCHES may be reduced to NINE sorts, which ought to be placed in the following manner:

 1. The passionate, or smart patch at the corner of the eye.

2. The majestic, almost in the middle of the forehead.

3. The gay, on the brink of the dimple formed by a smile

4. The gallant, in the middle of the cheek

5. The kissing, at the corner of the mouth

6. The brisk, near the nose.

7. The coquettish, upon the lips.

8. The discreet, or prudish, under the lower lip, towards the chin.

9. The concealing, upon a pimple.

Those who avert to these rules may be convinced, that a promiscuous manner of patching may be productive of ill consequences, and ruin many a fair character, as well as lead the enamorate to many a mistake.

beauty marks

It is also reputed that the use of patches indicated your political allegiance, whether this is correct or not, we can’t confirm – if you were a supporter of the Tories you would wear the patch on the left, Whigs on the right. How many of you will now look back at paintings to check the position of patches to see you can work out whether that statement was true or false.

It was fashionable to store these patches in a box similar to this one and positioned as required, taking care to follow the instructions provided above. This one is a Bilston enamel box dated c1780.


Today’s question is ‘What do you make of the positioning of Grace’s patch? Was she ‘Gallant’?’  or does it relate to a political allegiance? We would love to know your thoughts.


In case you missed our previous posts about cosmetics here are the links.


Secrets of the Cosmetic Art (Part 1)

Secrets of the Cosmetic Art (Part 2)

Secrets of the Cosmetic Art (Part 3)

The nosegay seller

Georgian Nosegays

The dictionary definition of a Nosegay is:

A small bunch of flowers, typically one that it sweet-scented. A nosegay was usually worn at the waist or bodice.

_18th Century Fashion Plate 45 (c1778)
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Collection

The Fashionable Magazine of September 1786 wrote an ‘Essay on Nosegays‘ that we thought might be of interest to our readers.

Among the different appendages of female dress, none are perhaps more ornamental than the beautiful bouquets so much worn at present by ladies of fashion; and which, it seems,  were first introduced into this country by the French ladies.  Some years ago, a few ladies began to appear at court with large nosegays in their bosoms; the fashion soon became more general, and has been since universally adopted.

Ann Dashwood - 1764 Metmuseum
Image courtesy of Met Museum – Ann Dashwood, dated 1764, clearly ‘sporting’ a nosegay.

In the latter end of the last reign, the French ladies carried that fashion to an extreme wearing nosegays preposterously large; and even at the present day many continue to wear them so. The size, however, depends greatly on fancy; but certain it is that the larger they are, the more girlish and youthful a wearer appears.

 In France and Italy and other parts of the continent, it is still customary for the ladies to wear, on particular days, bouquets of a most enormous size; on their name’s day, for example, which answers to our birthday, and particularly on their wedding day and perhaps for a month afterwards, the new married lady appears in public with a bouquet de marrie, or wedding nosegay, sometimes so monstrous large as to shade the greater part of her face.

The polite macaroni presenting a nosegay to Miss Blossom.

On Sundays and principal holidays, in many of their chapels, a young lady, generally very beautiful, goes among the congregation to collect money for the poor.  Her dress on this occasion is splendid in the extreme; and a luxurious bouquet de cote, or side nosegay, uncommonly large, always adorns the bosom of the fair petitioner.  Such a powerful solicitor, it may easily be imagined, is seldom refused.  But the nosegay, on all these occasions, is considered as the most important ornament of the fair, and seems an indispensable part of the dress.

Nosegay seller
Nosegay seller. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library.

When we consider the natural beauties of flowers, with the luxurious and attractive perfume, it is by no means wonderful that they are so much worn.  Some splenetic ladies have attempted to decry them; but they will find it difficult talk to prevent their being encouraged by the wisest and most elevated personages in the kingdom.  Though many ladies wear their nosegays in the centre of the bosom, it is certain they have a much more pleasing effect when worn rather high on the left side, which mode seems now to be most generally adopted by ladies of taste and fashion.  The French ladies always wear their bouquets on the left side of the bosom as high as the ear.

 Those ladies who are fond of flowers and wish to keep them fresh in their bosoms, usually wear them in a large glass or silver fountain, made purposely to fit their stays, by which means they preserve their bouquets quite fresh the whole day.

collection nosegays 1765
A collection of nosegay holders produced by the Chelsea Porcelain factory dated c.1765. Courtesy of Metmuseum.