An early 19th Century Easter Miscellany

We herewith present an (admittedly) random selection of Easter snippets from the early 19th century newspapers; a true Easter miscellany.


On the 25th March, 1802, The Treaty of Amiens, which signalled peace between Great Britain and the French Republic, was signed. It was also the signal for a proposed long school holiday for the Eton schoolboys. Do any of our readers know if the Prince of Wales’ request was granted?

His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales has interceded with the Head Master of Eton School for extending the Easter holidays of the Etonians a week longer than usual, in consequence of the Peace.

(Salisbury and Winchester Journal, 26th April, 1802)

The following year, with the truce breaking down, and Britain about to declare war on France, while a few of the nobility remained in London, battle-lines were being drawn elsewhere.

The fine weather, and the Easter holidays, scatter a few of our fashionables around the Metropolis, that they may inhale a little fresh air, preparatory to the suffocating routs and balls of May. The SALISBURYS are gone to Hatfield; the ABERCORNS to Stanmore; the DERBYS to the Oaks; the MORTON PITTS to Corfe Castle; Earl ROMNEY to the Mote, near Maidstone; Lord and Lady HOBART to Roehampton; and Lord HAWKESBURY will take the air between Combe and Downing-street, though he may not always be able to take his breath.

(Morning Post, 5th April, 1803)

Tuesday evening a most furious battle took place between a Chimney Sweep and a Jack Ass Driver, at a small fair which is held on the Easter Holidays at the end of Tottenham-court-road. After half and hour’s hard and obstinate fighting, both being beat to that degree that neither was able to stand, they were forced to give up any farther contest.

(Hampshire Chronicle, 18th April, 1803)

Easter - Cockney Hunt

The Epping Hunt, or the ‘Cockney Hunt’ was traditionally held on Easter Monday.

Epping Hunt – Monday, at an early hour, the industrious sons of Spitalfields, Bethnal-green, and Whitechapel, disdaining the somnific powers, rose at the blush of Aurora, and prepared for the far-farmed Epping hunt, big with the fate of Cockneys. The road from town to the sportive scene was thronged by hunters of every description. Some were heavily dressed, and others as bare of covering as Meleager when he killed the Calydonian boar. The gallant troop displayed all the colours of gay Iris, and the sable bearings of a chimney-sweeper were often blazoned by the powderings of a barber’s apron. The cattle were composed of horses, asses, and mules, all high in bone and low in flesh; and the pack displayed every class of the canine species, from the bull to the lap-dog.

After having regaled with copious libations of geneva, the motley group arrived at The Eagle, Snaresbrook, and other houses contiguous to the forest. A fine stag had been previously carried from a stable. His horns were sawed off, as usual, except the front antlers, which were braided with ribbands, and he was turned out to the mercy of his pursuers, near Buckets-hill. Finding himself at liberty, he dashed into Fairmaid Bottoms and sought refuge in the forest. The scent was then given, and off went the Cockneys,

“Like wind and tide meeting.”

In a few moments the ground was covered with hats, wigs, and the bodies of fat Citizens. Riders were seen looking for their horses, and horses for their riders. The vendors of gin and eatables, who stood prepared for the scene, immediately rushed in to dispose of their ware, and glasses of cordial consoled the downcast hunters for bruises and pain. Several Nimrods, who had pursued the sport of the day in taxed carts, were overthrown with the loss of their wheels, and the confusion which prevailed produced considerable mirth, at the expence of tailors, tallow-chandlers, weavers, and soap boilers, who had not been able to restrain the fury of their vicious kicking donkeys, and mischievous cart-horses. The stag, as usual, escaped from the fury of its unqualified pursuers, and many of the hunters who had lost their horses returned on foot to the Bald-faced Stag, to celebrate their lucky escape from the perils of the chace. After sacrificing at the shrine of the Jolly God, they returned to town.

(Oxford University and City Herald, 8th April, 1809)

Easter - Sudden Squall Rowlandson

At the other end of the social spectrum, Easter Sunday was a chance to promenade in Hyde Park, dressed in your finery, but beware an importune April shower!


Owing, no doubt, to the extreme coldness of the weather, the Park yesterday was not so prolific in the display of the Spring fashions as was expected, and is as usual on Easter Sunday. Custom, assuredly, is the arbiter of fashion; but the closer such adheres to nature the better. Long waists, and tight stays, although much worn, are not deserving of panegyric. Natures always looks most beautiful as herself, without capricious whimsicalities of stiff ornament. Among the newest articles in the female costume, we noticed the Polish dress, or pelisse, composed of slate coloured sarsenet; it is made open in front, with a gold bordering, and gold buttons. The bonnet, boots, and redicule, were made of the same materials. Among the fashionable equipages were those belonging to the Duchesses of GRAFTON and LEEDS; Marchionesses of WELLESLEY, LANSDOWNE, and HEADFORT; Ladies CASTLEREAGH, CLONMELL, KINGSTON, MEXBOROUGH, D. SMITH, MANSFIELD, and SEFTON. A sudden storm of hail and snow, about half-past three o’clock, destroyed all the fair beauties of the scene in a moment. The company, male and female, who were in the pedestrian promenade, scampered off at the first approach of the enemy, to seek refuge under any covering, however humble, so that it afforded them a secure retreat from the pitiless element. The Park was completely deserted during the after part of the day.

(Morning Post, 3rd April, 1809)

Easter was also a time for balls; the ones held at the Mansion House in London being particularly spectacular.

The decorations and alterations making at the Mansion-house for the Easter ball are extremely splendid. A carpeting is made to imitate a gravel walk, and each side of the avenues leading to the Egyptian-hall will be ornamented with orange trees, and flowering shrubs.

The Prince of Wales has accepted the invitation of the Lord Mayor to dine and the Mansion-house on Easter Monday. This will be the first public visit ever made by his Royal Highness into the City, and the only instance, for many reigns, of an Heir Apparent going there on such occasion.

(Bury and Norwich Post, 14th April, 1802)

Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery
Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

Yesterday John Hawkins, an extra constable, was charged before the LORD MAYOR with concealing a diamond drop, which he found at the Mansion House on Monday night, at the Easter Ball, the property of the Duchess of GORDON, being part of a pair of elegant diamond ear-rings worn by her Grace that day, value above five hundred guineas, and for the recovery of which a reward was advertised.

Mrs. HORSFALL, of the Mansion House Coffee-house, stated, that she saw a constable have such an article in his possession that night, which he said he had picked up in the Mansion House, and described the man, from which circumstance he was discovered. The prisoner at first denied it, but the diamond drop being found, he pretended not to know the value of it. His Lordship, conceiving that he detained it with a felonious intent, fully committed him to take his trial for the same.

(Morning Post, 11th April, 1806)

And if you were attending such a ball, then, as a fashionable lady, you would need to look your best.

THE EASTER BALL and GALA will be particularly grand in Honour of the Regency, and as the Ladies will appear with extreme lustre on this occasion, it certainly accounts for the present great demand for HUBERT’S ROSEATE POWDER, which effectually removes superfluous hairs on the face, neck and arms, and highly improves the whiteness, delicacy and softness of the skin, thus bestowing a new charm on natural beauty. – May be had of the Proprietor, 23 Russell-street, Covent-Garden; Rigge, 35, and Overton, 47, Bond-street; Dunnett, 3, Cheapside; Davison, 59, Fleet-street, Thorn, 45, Oxford-street; Bowling and Co. 38, Blackman-street, Borough; Harding and Co. 89, Pall-mall; and of all Perfumers. – 4s. and 7s.

(Morning Chronicle, 8th April, 1811)

And we end with the best Easter Gift, (although personally, as chocoholic’s, we’d rather have an Easter egg . . . ), and an Irish Easter cake.

The best Easter Gift, a present to a young Lady, is a Ticket in TOMKINS’S Picture Lottery; which are selling in New Bond-street at Three Guineas each; and a red ticket and a black ticket are sure to gain a prize.

(Morning Post, 25th April, 1821)

CURIOUS CUSTOM – In Ireland, at Easter, a cake, with a garland of meadow flowers, is elevated upon a circular board upon a pike, apples being stuck upon pegs around the garland. Men and women then dance round, and they who hold out longest win the prize.

(Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 17th December, 1825)

Easter - Mansion House Ball

For more information on the Epping Hunt we recommend this excellent blog.


18th Century Stockings – how shocking!

lwlpr08916 - french fashion - note stocking
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

We know from our research into the life of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, one of the fashion icons of her day, that she spent a considerable amount of money on clothes, hats and finery. Looking at some of her receipts we noticed that stockings featured on them, so with that in mind we simply had to do some more investigating into stockings of the day. Clearly not a subject not to be discussed in polite society, but how else should a Georgian lady keep her legs warm? A glimpse of the calf was regarded as shocking and tantalizing.

Following a recent visit to the Wallace Museum this image was far too good not to include  – wonder what the gentleman on the ground was admiring?

The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806)
The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806)

Here on the left of the painting we have one of the prostitutes in Hogarth’s The Rake at Rose Tavern, Scene III of The Rake’s Progress, 1733, displaying her stockings whilst she adjusts her shoes, not a practice that would have been acceptable for a lady!

A Rake's Progress: The Orgy by William Hogarth.
A Rake’s Progress: The Orgy by William Hogarth. Sir John Soane’s Museum.

Many women today wear tights, although stockings are still extremely popular, especially the ‘hold up’ variety which sit toward the top of the thigh, although for some the suspender belt remains an important feature of the underwear as a means of holding the stocking in place. There was no such item in the 18th Century, so how were stockings worn and supported?  For those who are not aware, neither did pantaloons, drawers, knickers, pants etc. Pantaloons first put in an appearance in 1806.

The Georgian era saw both men and women wearing stockings, usually brightly coloured, especially for the men as generally theirs were on show whereas respectable women kept theirs covered. It wasn’t until 1758 that we saw the invention of the Derby Rib machine by a Jedediah Strutt of Derbyshire,  that allowed elastic to be added to stockings, but these were expensive so only the more affluent could afford them.

Taking water for Vauxhall
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole

How were they worn?

Well, unless you were wealthy enough to afford  stockings with elastic then you had to fasten them with a buckled garter or ribbon. The general consensus seems to be that they were tied just above the knee, although as we’re sure you’re can imagine that would probably have been quite uncomfortable, so it seems most likely that there was no right or wrong way to wear them and that women aimed for comfort, so either just above or just below the knee, in the way that we would for instance wear ‘knee highs’ today.  The garter or ribbon would have to have fastened fairly tightly to stop the stocking from sliding down the leg as she walked.

La Toilette, François Boucher.
La Toilette, François Boucher. ©Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

This portrait by Francois Boucher seems to demonstrate that the stocking was worn just over the knee. However, this one indicates that one was above the knee, whilst the other was possibly on or slightly below the knee. It isn’t possible to be sure as to whether the artist was trying to simply paint a risqué picture or whether the positioning of the stocking was factually accurate. Given that the use of elastic was not that common the stocking would have moved around quite freely on its own, so a degree of ‘slippage’ would occur.

Jean-Honore Fragonard – Useless Resistance
2010EE8115_jpg_ds- pink stocking V and A
Courtesy of the Victoria & Albert Museum

The description is taken directly from the V&A website –

Pair of knitted pink silk stockings with dark green clock and gusset. The welt is finished with four thin bands of green and there are three gauge holes. One stocking has the welt finished in white, and the other in yellow and green.

They are shaped but not fashioned, and have a green gore let in at the ankle. Around this they are embroidered with an undulating floral trail with a triangular spot design surmounted by a formal flower above which is a crown.

Many stockings at that time would have been manufactured in Nottinghamshire, home of the lace industry in England. The stockings were made using a framework knitting machine and by the early 1780’s the East Midlands over 90% of these frames were in Nottingham. To find out more about framework knitting we recommend these two websites The Nottinghamshire Heritage Gateway and The Framework Knitters Museum.

Stocking Frame at Ruddington Framework Knitters’ Museum

One of the major supplies of stocking in London was Collyers, of No 41, The Poultry, who, according to The True Briton, 1799, produced ladies china white stockings with cotton feet at only 7s 6d, which is about £12 in today’s money, so not particularly affordable for many. We did try to find a trade card for them but so far no luck!  We could not, however, resist including one or two that we thought you might enjoy.

lwlpr21011 - stocking trade card
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
lwlpr21006 - trade card
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Did you know that according to A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue,  what we would refer to today as a ladder or run in a stocking was known as a ‘louse ladder’ – delightful, hmm, wonder if there will ever be a revival of that term – perhaps not!

We couldn’t resist finishing our blog in our usual fashion, with the caricature ‘A Leg of Lamb’ courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library.

A leg of lamb Woodward 1799


The Stolen Kiss, Jean-Honore Fragonard

The Elopement of Lady Elizabeth Howard

Elopement - Lady Elizabeth Bingham, born 1795 - via Bonhams
Lady Elizabeth Bingham, daughter of Lord Richard and Lady Elizabeth Bingham, born c.1795.

Lady Elizabeth Hamilton was the daughter of Henry Belasyse, the 2nd Earl Fauconberg, and the wife of Bernard Howard, heir to the Dukedom of Norfolk, who she had married on the 23rd April, 1789. The couple had one son, Henry Charles Howard born on the 12th August, 1791. But in 1793 she eloped with the man who had been her first love, whom she had wanted to marry originally but had been stopped from doing so by her family.

That man was Richard Bingham, son and heir to the 1st Earl of Lucan.

Elopement - Richard Bingham, 2nd Earl of Lucan - via Christies

Lady Elizabeth was a minor when she married The Right Honourable Bernard Edward Howard, Esquire, in her father’s house in George Street, Hanover Square, the marriage witnessed by her father, her new father-in-law and a man who merely signed Petre (probably Robert Edward Petre the future 10th Baron Petre who had married Bernard Howard’s sister Lady Mary Bridget Howard three years earlier).

Elopement - Bernard Howard, 12th Duke of Norfolk - via wiki

Lady Elizabeth had told her unsuspecting husband that she was going to travel to visit her father, who was in the north of England, and Howard agreed to visit his sister rather than travel with her.  He accordingly left for his sister’s house, his wife telling him she planned to leave for her own visit the next day.  On the evening of her husband’s departure, 24th July, 1793, Lady Elizabeth took her carriage to a jeweller’s shop near Piccadilly where she bought some trinkets before sending the carriage home with her infant son, his nurse and a letter to her husband which the nurse was to leave on her master’s table.

But the nurse was suspicious and sent a footman back to the jeweller’s to enquire for Lady Elizabeth.  When the footman arrived back to say that the jeweller had reported that Lady Elizabeth left his shop around half an hour earlier with Mr Bingham, hasty despatches were sent to both her husband and father, but to no avail for the runaway couple had gone to ground.

The criminal conversation case was heard before the House of Lords on 7th April, 1794; Lady Elizabeth was represented by Mr Garrow and Mr Erskine. With all parties wanting a divorce the sticking points were the 12,000l. which Lady Elizabeth had brought to her marriage (Mr Garrow argued that some provision should be made for her) and a proposed clause which would bastardize any child born to her.  Lady Elizabeth was heavily pregnant, about to lie in, and Mr Garrow argued on her behalf that “it was not in the nature of evidence to prove that the infant was not Mr Howard’s”.

Elopement - Six Weeks after Marriage - LWL

Mr Erskine observed that the marriage contract between the lady and Bernard Howard was made in opposition to her desires and that she was involuntarily taken to the altar.

A divorce was granted and she married her first love on 26th May, 1794, becoming the Countess of Lucan when her husband ascended to his Earldom, but this second marriage didn’t last either, the couple separating ten years later.

Elopment - Before and after Marriage

Lady Elizabeth Bingham, Countess of Lucan, died on the 24th March, 1819, aged 49 years.

Sources used:

Caledonian Mercury, 8th August, 1793

Caledonian Mercury, 12th April, 1794

Header image: The Stolen Kiss, Jean-Honore Fragonard

Fanny Williams and the Amherst family of Kent

FASHIONABLE ANECDOTE, at present only whispered in the POLITE CIRCLES.

Some years ago, the Lady of a noble Lord, who once held a high military post, and greatly distinguished himself in a former war, received a small basket by an unknown hand, which, on being opened, was found to contain a female child, with a letter addressed to the lady, written in a female hand, expressing the high opinion the writer entertained of her Ladyship’s liberality, and particularly from personal knowledge of her humanity. Appealing to it, for protection of the unknown infant, whose existence, with that of the mother’s, depended on her Ladyship.  A bank-note was inclosed for a considerable amount. The child was ordered to be taken all possible care of, and has been from that time attended and educated in no other manner than if she had been the daughter of the noble Lord and his Lady.

The young lady has been introduced at court, and is highly esteemed by all whom she is known to, and possesses, in the highest degree, the affections of her friends and protectress: she is now about eighteen years of age, and till within a few days, the history of her birth and parents were unknown to all but the parents themselves, and a confidential servant.

It however now appears, her father is a peer of Ireland, her mother the sister to a peer; they managed their tendresse with so much dexterity, that the circumstance of this beautiful gage de l’amour would ever have remained unknown; but the noble Lord her father, who was soon after married to another lady, and that lady being dead, his Lordship, perhaps, feeling remorse for his former unkind treatment of this young lady, who has remained unmarried; which event is about to take place. The have claimed their daughter from Lady ______, to whom the whole circumstance has been related, and whom, we hear, is nearly inconsolable for the loss she is about to sustain, in parting from her amiable and charming favourite.

[We insert this article with the greater confidence, as the first part of this story is a fact well known to have happened to Lady Am___st.]

Portrait of Elizabeth, Lady Amherst (1740-1830) (nee Elizabeth Cary) by Joshua Reynolds via Wikimedia

Lady Amherst, or Baroness Amherst of Holmesdale, formerly Miss Elizabeth Cary, was the second wife of Jeffrey Amherst, Baron Amherst, who was, at the time this article was written, Captain and Colonel of The Queen’s Troop of Horse Guards. She was born around 1740 to Lt-General the Honourable George Cary (son of the 6th Viscount Falkland) and his wife Isabella (nee Ingram).

The little foundling was given the name Fanny Williams and, as the Amherst’s had no children of their own, was brought up by them and treated in every way as their own daughter.  Fanny Burney recounted meeting the girl in 1791:

I was pleased in seeing Miss Fanny Williams, as she is called, the young person who was left an infant at the door of Lady Amherst, and who is reputed to be the daughter of every woman of rank whose character, at that date, was susceptible of suspicion. She looks a modest and pretty young creature, and Lady Amherst brings her up with great kindness and propriety.

NPG 150,Jeffrey Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst,by Thomas Gainsborough
Jeffrey Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst by Thomas Gainsborough
© National Portrait Gallery, London

Jeffrey Amherst, a ruthless and cruel man, was behind the attempt to introduce smallpox amongst the native Indians in America with infected blankets during the Anglo-Indian war.

In two sources Jeffrey Amherst is noted as having a natural son, the ODNB saying he was given the same name as his father and rose to become a Major General in the army, born around 1752 and dying in 1815. Jane Dalison had married Baron Amherst in 1753 (a year or so after the birth of his illegitimate son) but reportedly went insane whilst her husband travelled overseas with the army. She died in 1765 and two years later he married Elizabeth Cary.

2008_EX02_01 012

William Amherst (1732-1791)

Young Jeffrey was brought up by his aunt, Elizabeth Thomas. There is, however, another Amherst floating around, William Kerrill Amherst, whose unusual second name ties him in to the same family as Jeffrey Amherst but for whom no parentage is given.

Kerrill was the maiden name of Jeffrey Amherst’s mother, Elizabeth, and, by her husband who was yet another Jeffrey, she had four surviving sons:

Sackville Amherst (1715-1763) – a lawyer who ran up debts and caused his relatives much consternation by his scandalous behaviour

Jeffrey Amherst (1717-1797)

John Amherst (1718-1778) – Vice Admiral of the White

William Amherst (1732-1791)

William Kerrill Amherst (c.1761-1792) was sent out to Bengal in India as a writer for the East India Company in 1778. As if his middle name wasn’t clue enough to his ancestry, he wrote to the artist Ozias Humphry in 1785, when the latter arrived in India, saying he was anxious that they should correspond as they shared acquaintances in Sevenoaks, Kent (where Jeffrey Amherst had his estate, Montreal) and a love of the area. Certainly he was the son of one of the four brothers.

Montreal Park, the seat of Jeffrey Amherst, from a 1777 engraving
Montreal Park, the seat of Jeffrey Amherst, from a 1777 engraving

John and Sackville died without any legitimate heirs; William married Elizabeth Paterson and had three children, Elizabeth Frances, Harriet and William Pitt Amherst.  When both William and Elizabeth died young their children were taken into the household of Baron Amherst and brought up with young Fanny Williams, William Pitt Amherst becoming the heir to his uncle and the baronetcy.

Elizabeth Frances thought of Fanny as her sister, and indeed she may well have been.  It was known that the forename of the father could be bestowed on the child as a surname, in a similar way to that which Charlotte Williams, a subject of one of our former blogs, took the forename of her father William Cavendish, the 5th Duke of Devonshire, as her surname. Was Fanny then the natural daughter of William Amherst, brought up by her aunt Lady Amherst in much the same way that Baron Amherst’s natural son had been brought up by his own aunt, Elizabeth Thomas?

William Kerrill Amherst died on the 20th April, 1792, in India.

When Lord Amherst wrote his will in 1794 he did not omit to mention Fanny and left her a sizeable legacy; he provided for her by a thousand pounds in stock and asked his wife to supply proper mourning for her on his decease. No son, illegitimate or otherwise, was named in his will. He died three years later.

On the 23rd May, 1799, Fanny married Charles Pinfold, Esquire, at St. Marylebone Church, by licence, only to sadly die in childbirth just over a year and a half later (her son, Charles, did survive).


Sources used:

Stamford Mercury, 19th May 1786

The rising country: the Hale-Amherst correspondence, 1799-1825, Champlain Society, 2002

Diary and Letters of Madame d’Arblay, edited by her niece, Charlotte Barrett, vol. iii – 1788 to 1796

Royal Academy of Arts Collection, Letters of William K Amherst to Ozias Humphry

Header image: Montreal, near Sevenoaks, Kent, the seat of Lord Amherst of Holmsdale, McCord Museum


18th Century Masquerade Balls

Some things never change … today the newspapers and magazines are full of Royal  & celebrity gossip with images of our royals, aristocrats  and celebs. in their finery etc. Was it any different in the Georgian era? The simple answer is ‘no’, the media were just as fascinated with the nobility and aristocrats and one in particular  – the Prince of Wales, later George IV who loved to party, as did our very own Grace Dalrymple Elliott along with the other demi-reps, any excuse to don the finery or the fancy dress costume!  So with that in mind we thought we’d take a quick peek at how the media covered events such as Royal and masquerade balls.

Masqurade 1795
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

The masquerade ball season took place indoors during the winter months, with most being around Christmas and New Year, whereas open air balls and ridotto’s were held during the summer months.  In order to attend a ball you did of course have to purchase a ticket, these varied dramatically in price according to the event.

Bayswater Masquerade Pre Admission Ticket January 1818. Image courtesy of British Museum.

So, having purchased you ticket you would naturally require a costume.  As you peruse the newspapers you find an amazing number of shops and warehouses offering masquerade costumes at ‘very reasonable prices’ from fancy dresses to Venetian masks to domino’s, hoods and cloaks in assorted colours and fabrics. These balls would have been an amazing sight to behold. The domino was a large cloak designed to cover the whole body, sometimes it had a hood too, but mostly these were purchased separately.  They were usually black, but other colours were available.  Wardens Warehouse of No.1 Great Pultney Street, Golden Square, London were , in 1785, selling domino’s for as little as five shillings  which is about £15 in today’s money.  This image is from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and shows a typical beautiful silk domino that would have been worn.

18th c silk Domino

Metropolitan Museum of Art, c.1765-1770.

Oracle and Public Advertiser  28th April, 1795

Some very ugly old ladies are labouring to revive the horrible absurdity of long waists; and they ascribe the unnatural innovation to our illustrious Princess.  Her Royal Highness has more taste about her than to renovate deformity.

The Princess of Wales wore at the Royal Ball and Supper, a spangled crape dress, exactly like the robe worn by Miss Wallis in Windsor Castle and among the fair styled ‘the Wallis robe’. 

beauty unmasked
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser  5th March 1783 provides us with an article entitled ‘Masquerade Intelligence’ which gives us a detailed account of the events of the evening. The event took place at one o’clock in the morning at the King’s Theatre, ticket prices were extremely high, but it did attract between six and seven hundred people.

The company was composed of mainly young men of fashion plus the usual distinguished demi-reps of the age. These ladies were mainly in fancy dress ‘admirably calculated to display their charms and to fascinate desiring youth’.   Food and drink was plentiful, but apparently not to the usual quantity and it was noted that shell-fish was missing – clearly quite a faux pas!

Perdita and Colonel Tarleton were present, the Colonel sporting the costume he wore in the painting by Reynolds. The press missed nothing and noticed that the couple had some sort of argument and Perdita stormed off to her box, just as Florizell (The Prince of Wales) was passing, apparently ‘linked and tantalised by  Mrs C_____ll_’ (Mrs Cornely).   Whatever the dispute, it was soon resolved.  The press had nicknames for many of the demi-reps; Mrs Mahon was The Bird of Paradise, Mary Robinson – Perdita and Grace Dalrymple Elliott was frequently known as ‘Dally the Tall’ among other sobriquets.

Colonel Banastre Tarleton by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1782
Colonel Banastre Tarleton by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1782 via Wikimedia Commons

Another newspaper Parker’s General Advertiser and Morning Intelligencer described the demi-reps as:

The rest of the Cyprian corps as vestals, virgins, nuns, flower girls, wenches, queens, sultanas, milk-maids, and all that sort of thing, were numerously dispersed through the rooms, and drank, and sang, and danced, and laughed, and seemed to be quite happy.

Betty Bustle

Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

The Morning Herald  24th May 1786:

Opera House Masquerade, King’s Theatre

In point of numbers, Monday night’s masquerade at this place was inferior to any former ones, but equal in insignificant dullness to what we have seen before. Harlequins without wit, clowns known only by the stupidity that is their natural characteristic; nosegay girls, men turned into women and vice versa, equally distinguishable by their impudence, together with a world of characters badly supported throughout, until the fumes of port and other such palatable wines, though we must own the best in their kind, had inspired the representatives with a fictitious glee, composed the whole group of above 600 masks assembled on the occasion.  However, the supper was good, the wines answerable and the purveyor, justly commended.

The least exceptionable of the masks in the room was a little brunette, who sung several songs in French and English, with tolerable good humour.  His Royal Highness, who came in late, was for a long while pestered, with a little blue eye nun of St Catharine, who was, and remained, masked so very close, that we could not guess at her sex, much less ascertain her real identity.

The dances introduced during the entertainment were highly relished by those who can feel the merit of some of the very best dancers in Europe. He whole, we understand, was under the direction of Mr Degville, the ballet master. We cannot congratulate him on the manner of which the entertainment was conducted, but give him joy of a well-earned and not inconsiderable gain on the occasion.

Rotunda 12 May 1789
Rotunda Masquerade Ball 12th May 1789 Click to enlarge Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

This image from the National Portrait Gallery depicts a masquerade ball at the Pantheon.

NPG D14263; 'Pantheon masquerade' by Thomas Rowlandson, and by Augustus Charles Pugin, aquatinted by J. Bluck, published by Rudolph Ackermann

And finally, the morning after…

© The Trustees of the British Museum

Gervase Thompson – a most unfortunate death (1781)

Swan ferrybridge
The White Swan, Ferrybridge

Gervase Thompson, a tapster at the White Swan inn at Ferrybridge in the West Riding of Yorkshire, suffered a most unfortunate death in the February of 1781.

A gentleman, named as Charles Frederick Vanburgh, Esquire, an officer in the Guards, (and not, as mistakenly reported, a son of Lord V___), was travelling in his carriage with his new wife.  They were returning from a ‘matrimonial excursion’ to Scotland, and stopped at the White Swan, an old coaching inn with grounds stretching down to the river Aire.

After the couple had rested and refreshed themselves, they alighted into their carriage and continued on their journey. When the staff at the White Swan were cleaning up, after their departure, they found that the gentleman had left behind his purse.

The landlord was obviously an honest man for he dispatched Gervase to follow the carriage, and to return the purse.  Gervase, alternately referred to as the under-tapster (bartender) and the bootcatcher (a servant responsible for cleaning the guest’s shoes) saddled a horse and set off in hot pursuit along the London Road.

Gervase Thompson

Although the carriage was travelling fast he soon caught up with it and, in his eagerness to return the purse, he pulled alongside, shouting through the window, “Your purse, your purse, Sir.”

But it was seven o’clock in the evening on that night in early February and so pitch black; the frightened couple inside the carriage didn’t recognize Gervase and, yes, you’ve guessed it! They thought that he was a highwayman, that they were being held up and that he was demanding their purse, not returning it. And so the gentleman let the window down, took aim with his pistol and, in what he thought was self-defense, shot the unfortunate Gervase Thompson dead.

Gervase Thompson 1

The carriage did not stop and had reached Doncaster before they realized the truth of the matter. The gentleman, full of remorse, and his lady were taken to Pontefract where the subsequent coroner’s jury agreed that it was an unfortunate and accidental death.

The lady was overcome and took to her bed, and the gentleman tried to make some small amends by giving five guineas to Gervase Thompson’s wife, Ann, and, when he discovered that she had been left with three young children to provide for (the youngest daughter, named Ann for her mother, had only been baptized on the 2nd November 1780) settled a yearly annuity of ten pounds upon her for the term of her life. Gervase Thompson had married his wife, Ann Tomlinson, in the nearby village of Darrington on the 8th November 1774 and the other two children were Thomas Thompson, baptized in the church of St. Edward the Confessor at Brotherton on the 10th December 1776, and another daughter, Mary, baptized at Darrington with Wentbridge on the 9th January 1778.

Gervase Thompson was buried, on the 6th February 1781, in the churchyard of the nearby church of St. Andrew at Ferry Fryston, where his youngest daughter had been baptized only three months earlier.

Copyright Guy Etchells © 2001



Ferry Fryston, Brotherton and Darrington with Wentbridge parish registers

The Old Inns of Old England, vol ii, Charles G. Harper, 1906

London Chronicle, 10th February 1781

Leeds Intelligencer, 13th February 1781

Derby Mercury, 16th February 1781


Anne Mee, 18th century artist

Anna Mee, born Foldsone, self portrait c.1795
Anna Mee, born Foldsone, self portrait c.1795


Whilst looking at various miniatures by Anne Mee in the Royal Collection we decided to try to find out a little more about her. Most sources seem to know exactly when Anne died, but there appears to be speculation as to exactly when she was born, with most sources including the DNB opting for c1775, although given the birth of her siblings c1771 would appear a more likely date.

Anne was the daughter of John Foldsone and Elizabeth nee Fell who were married at St James, Westminster 29th August 1767.  Just over 9 months after the couple married they produced their first child Frances Ann who was later to appear as a witness to Ann’s marriage. Anne was reputed to be the eldest child but there is no sign so far of any baptism for her, hopefully that will come to light at some stage.

Frances Ann Foldsone baptism

John certainly showed initiative, according to The Public Advertiser,  30th December 1769, John was advertising his services

As Mr Barrett a famous copyer of family and historical pictures is dead, permit me to offer myself to succeed him … 

He gave his address as ‘Little Castle Street, Oxford Market, name above the door.’

Foldsone exhibited at the Society of Artists of Great Britain 1769-70 and the Royal Academy 1771-83 and specialized in small portraits which he often painted at the sitter’s home.  He died 1787 (not 1784 as previous sources have recorded)  and was buried at St Marylebone on the 12th August 1787, leaving Elizabeth to raise all their children.

By the time of his death the couple had produced at least another 7 children – Henry John (1769),  Amelia (1773), Caroline (1776), Elizabeth (1777), John (1781) and William Henry (1783), although according to Horace Walpole, Anne was busy supporting her mother plus 8 siblings.

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Anne Mee, 1813. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Anne Mee, 1813. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Money was in short supply so it fell to Anne, who had been educated at Madame Pomier’s school in Queen Square, Bloomsbury, to be the main provider for the family. Anne was clearly regarded as having some talent as an artist  and had began to paint at age 12, with tuition from George Romney. She went on to receive royal and aristocratic patronage.

Princess Charlotte of Walesby Anne Mee, before August 1814. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Princess Charlotte of Walesby Anne Mee, before August 1814. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Walpole, in his inimitable fashion, complained about Anne ‘ I am out of humour with Miss Foldsone, though paid for, she has not yet sent me your pictures;  and has twice broken her promise of finishing them’. Walpole in a later letter, says that he has written to her several times, but ‘she has not deigned to even answer one in writing’.

Clearly from this next letter from Walpole to Miss Berry his patience had been sorely tested.

Miss Foldsone is a prodigy of dishonest impertinence—I sent her word a week ago by Kirgate that I was glad she had so much employment, but wished she would recollect that your pictures had been paid for these four months. She was such a fool as to take the compliment seriously and to thank m e for it, but verbally, and I have heard no more—so I suppose she thinks m e as drunk with her honours as she is—I shall undeceive her, by sending for the pictures again and telling her I can get twenty persons to finish them as well as she can —and so they could the likenesses, and I doubt, better …

Lady Cecilia Foley by Anne Mee, 1813. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Lady Cecilia Foley by Anne Mee, 1813. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

 By March 1791, Walpole says:

I have got a solution of Miss Foldsone: she has a mother and eight brothers and sisters, who make her work incessantly to maintain them, and who reckon it loss of time to them, if she finishes any pictures that are paid for beforehand—That however is so very uncommon that I should not think the family would be much the richer. I do know that Lord Carlisle paid for the portraits of his children last July and cannot get them from her-at that rate I may see you before your pictures!

On the 16th May 1793 Anne married Joseph Mee by licence at St Marylebone Church, the same church that her siblings had been baptized at.  Apparently Joseph would only consent to let her paint  ladies and they were not to be accompanied into the painting room by gentlemen but whether this was true we can’t confirm, nor can we confirm that as Joseph was proud of his wife’s hair after a violent quarrel she cut it close to her head just to spite him!*

Joseph Mee married Ann Foldstone 16 may 1793 St Marylebone

In November 1811 The Morning Chronicle reported that Anne was to publish  ‘The Gallery of Beauties of the Court of George the Third’.

Princess Sophia by Anne Mee. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Princess Sophia by Anne Mee. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Whatever the quality of her work, Anne appears to have working continually through her life, whilst also raising her family of 8 children, although there were various newspaper reports stating that her work was not of the highest standard. The couples children being – Joseph John (1795); Charles Henry (1796); Josephine Teresa (1797); Georgina (1799); Arthur Patrick (1802); George Augustus(1804) and John Edmund (1807). There was also Anna Eliza who although we haven’t found a baptism for her, her relationship to the family is proven on her marriage entry as most of the family was listed as being present at the service.

The Examiner of July 1826 said of Anne that she ‘fails in drawing but not in likeness‘.  Her works were also known to have been exhibited at the Royal Academy on occasion.

Lady Sarah Bayley by Anne Mee, 1813. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Lady Sarah Bayley by Anne Mee, 1813. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

The newspapers remained relatively quiet about Anne after 1826 so it is difficult to piece together the latter part of her life. Joseph who was reputed to have been a barrister  who possessed of a fairly large estate in Armagh, died 5th December 1849, aged 86, leaving his estate to his beloved wife Anne plus bequests to his 3 sons, Charles, Arthur Patrick and George Augustus. The 1851 census states that Anne was living in Hammersmith with her son Arthur and was a ‘landed proprietor‘.

The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Review, Volume 190 reported Anne’s death on 28th May 1851, giving her age as 76. She possibly knew she didn’t have long to live as she wrote her will 7th November 1850 leaving everything to her son Arthur Patrick, who was an architect and who exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1824 to 1837. Anne was reported as being aged 76 which would make her birth c1775 although given the dates of birth for her siblings this does appear unlikely.

NPG D5045; Louisa Catherine Osborne, Duchess of Leeds when Marchioness of Carmarthen by Thomson, published by Edward Bull, published by Edward Churton, after Anne Mee (nÈe Foldsone)
Duchess of Leeds when Marchioness of Carmarthen Engraving. Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery

Header image: The Exhibition of the Royal Academy, 1787. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

18th Century Taxes

taxes 1784

Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

We all complain about the taxes we pay, back in the 18th century things were no different, but perhaps government offered a little more clarity about exactly what you were paying for. If it could be taxed the Georgians found a way to tax it!

In this blog we’re going to take a quick peek at a few of these. Most of us are familiar with the existence of land tax and hearth tax, but some of these are somewhat more obscure. Mocking the government was a splendid ‘sport’ for caricaturists and let’s face with some of these taxes they were spoilt for choice! So, here we go –

The Brick Tax

1785 Taxes for America

Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

This was introduced in 1784 as a means of helping to pay for the wars being fought in the American Colonies. Tax was paid at the rates of 4 shilling per thousand bricks. Clearly this was not going to be popular so the way to reduce this levy was simple – make bigger bricks, so that you wold use less. That went well (not)! The government simply changed its rules and stipulated a maximum size for a brick. As you can imagine some of the smaller companies simply went out of business. The other option was that more timber was used as an alternative. The tax was finally abolished in 1850 as it was regarded as a detrimental tax to industrial development.

Mr Taxus: an unwelcome visit.
Mr Taxus: an unwelcome visit. Lewis Walpole Library.

 Candle or Beeswax Tax

How very blue the candle burns.
How very blue the candle burns. Lewis Walpole Library.

From 1709 the government created yet another tax, this one went further than simply a tax. The making of candles in the home was also forbidden unless you held a licence. As a result an alternative form of lighting known as rush lighting was used as this was exempt. Rushes were dipped in animal fat then left to harden; these could then be lit at both ends, they only provided light for a very brief period of time though, but they were tax free! That could also be where the saying ‘to burn the candle at both ends’ originated.

Clock and Watch Tax

An enquiry concerning the clock tax.
An enquiry concerning the clock tax. Lewis Walpole Library.

In an attempt to generate revenue for the country, in 1797 William Pitt imposed yet another tax – the clock tax. This tax required a payment of five shillings on every clock, even within a private home, two shillings and sixpence on pocket-watches of silver or other metal, and ten shillings on those of gold. As you can imagine this proved immensely unpopular and was scrapped after only nine months. So that went well!

Gin Tax

Gin Lane.
Gin Lane. Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

How many of us like the occasional gin & tonic, ice and a slice? Well, in 18th century London the massive increase in the rate of consumption gin aka ‘mother’s ruin’ became a cause for concern, leading to more increased rates of crime and laziness, so the government of the day simply increased the tax on it. As you can imagine, yet another tax that went down well, this increase in tax caused riots in London in 1743. The tax, although not abolished was significantly reduced over the next few years.

The Night Mare.
The Night Mare. Lewis Walpole Library.

 Glass Tax

In 1745 the Glass Excise Act came into effect. Glass has always been sold by weight and glasses traditionally had thick stems therefore weighed more than fragile thin stems. With this introduction of this tax, the solution was yet again quite simply – glass manufacturers simply switched to making glasses with hollow stems making them cheaper! However, in Ireland glass could be made without taxation meaning that Ireland was better placed to manufacture high quality, thick stemmed glasses as a reasonable price.

Hat Tax

Hat duty revenue stamp.
Hat duty. Revenue Stamp 1803 *

This tax was easy, the wealthier you were the more hats you were likely to own and the more expensive they were likely to be, so if you were poor you were unlikely to be able to afford a hat at all, therefore nothing to pay. The hat was required to have a revenue stamp stuck inside on its lining. Hefty fines were issued to milliners or hat wears who failed to pay the tax. The death penalty was available for anyone who made the mistake of forging a revenue stamp, so be warned!

The tax gatherer.
The tax gatherer. Lewis Walpole Library.

Medicine Tax

Paddy O Pitt's Triumphal Exit!
Paddy O Pitt’s Triumphal Exit! Lewis Walpole Library.

 In 1783 a tax was imposed on medicines that were sold by anyone who was not a surgeon, druggist or apothecary. In 1812 this was replaced with the Medicines Stamp Act which meant that the stamp duty paid had to be attached to the packaging if it was not deemed to be of a certain standard or made using a well-known recipe. If the medicine cost one shilling the tax was one and a half pence, it was charged proportionately.

Le Bonnet Rouge, or... John Bull evading the hat tax.
British Museum.

Playing Card Tax

This was certainly one we had never come across, and even more amazing is the fact that the act was still in place until 1960. Playing cards was seen as addictive gambling and as such proved to be an easy source of income generation. In order to prevent tax avoidance the Ace of Spades was held by customs and only issued once duty had been paid by the car maker. (More information about the history of playing cards can be found on the website of The Worshipful Company of Makers of Playing Cards.

Soap Tax

Lord N[ort]h, in the suds. Satire on the soap tax.
Lewis Walpole Library.

 Soap makers were charged a very high levy on the soap they manufacture, so much so that many of them left the country and moved abroad to avoid the tax. The way in which the law was worded effectively meant that soap production has to be in batched of no less than one ton. It was even reported that the pans used to make the soap had to be locked at night by the tax collector to ensure that no illegal production to take place ‘after hours’.  Soap was, therefore regarded as a luxury item and therefore wasn’t in common use until the mid-1800’s.

Wallpaper Tax

This tax was introduced into Great Britain in 1712 as using wallpaper was provided a cheap alternative option to tapestry or panelling.  The government saw this as another of generating much needed income, so with that the taxed people for buying patterned, painted or printed wallpaper. The tax was originally levied at 1 pence per square yard, this was increased to a shilling by 1809. The solution to paying this tax was easy – use plain paper and have it hand stencilled therefore no tax to pay. A totally legal form of tax evasion. Needless to say this tax didn’t work and was abolished in 1836. 

Window Tax

 This tax pre-dates the Georgian period but continued throughout and after the Georgian period. It was comprised of two parts.

There was a flat rate of two shillings per house then, and this where those with larger houses with more windows were penalized, a variable rate was charged for the number of windows above ten in the house. Tax due if you had over 20 windows was a colossal eight shillings!  There were of course some exemptions such as people in receipt of parish relief. The tax was amended several times and often regarded as unfair and seen by some as a tax of light and air. The tax was finally repealed in 1851.

Other taxes included newspaper tax, glove tax, perfume tax and hired horse duty. Those who were wealthy enough to own luxury items such as coaches, silver plate or male servants also had to pad specific taxes on these items too.

For our blog on hair powder tax, click here.

The King's Bench Prison from Ackermann’s Microcosm of London (1808-10)

The Feuding Pearce family

You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.

Feuding Pearce family

Never was the old adage as true as in the case of the feuding Pearce family.  We stumbled upon them, and their story, whilst looking for the husband of the subject of our last blog, Mary Ann Pearce, whose husband (or brother depending on the source) was reputedly an officer on the half-pay but, although this family has two men who were officers on the half-pay, other than the coincidence of the surname we can find nothing to definitively tie her into them, except for Mrs Caroline Norton saying that Edmund (or Edward) Wentworth Pearce was Mary Ann’s brother.  However, their story is so peculiar that we felt it was worth telling.

Caroline_Norton_(1808-77)_society_beauty_and_author_by_GH,_Chatsworth_Coll. (1)
Caroline Norton.

In 1818 Edmund Wentworth Pearce, on the half-pay of the 18th Royal Irish Regiment of Foot published a letter ‘To a Noble Lord containing a systematic and detailed account of Unparalleled Atrocities acted by Capt. Thomas Pearce, on the Half-Pay of the Royal Marine Corps, lately a Prisoner in the King’s Bench. Comprehending some Account of the Author’s Sufferings, as a perfectly Sane Man, at the Two Insane Houses of Bethnal Green, Middlesex. Between May 2, 1815, and Nov. 1, 1817, &c. &c. &c.’

Well, with that Edmund Wentworth Pearce had our full attention!

Sometimes an Edward rather than an Edmund, he claimed to be the godson of Edmund Burke and Lord Rockingham, Charles Watson-Wentworth, and was the son of Jane Maria, daughter of Samuel Turner Esq of County Wexford, and an unnamed father (a military man who, like his sons, had ended up on the half-pay) who in turn was the son of Colonel Pearce and the grandson of the Right Honourable Lieutenant-General Pearce, Commander in Chief of Ireland. Edmund’s father had been a schoolfellow of Edmund Burke.

NPG 406; Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham after Sir Joshua Reynolds
Charles Watson-Wentworth.
Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

The family lived on Cartwright Street and on Bennett Street in Westminster until Mr Pearce, the father of the family, passed away.  Besides Thomas and Edward there was another brother, James who was a Captain Lieutenant in the Marine Corps, and four sisters, Jane, Sarah, Charlotte who was sickly, and Mary.

In 1818 when his ‘Letter’ was published Edmund was living above Sandoe’s Ornamental Tunbridge-Ware Manufactory at 4 Devonshire Street, Queen Square, London. It begins by describing Thomas, many years older than Edmund, as a small, swarthy, ordinary and sickly child, born with crooked fingers and details many of Thomas’ childhood transgressions such as keeping most of a sum of money desired to be shared equally between him and his next brother. Thomas grew up to contract debts on account of his gin drinking and consorted with a gang of thieves at the house of the landlord of the Coach and Horses on St. Martin’s Lane. He was then packed off to join the Plymouth Division of Marines as a Second Lieutenant. Nothing good is said of Thomas’ character; indeed, he seems past redemption.

Whilst home on leave he encouraged his sister Mary Pearce to throw herself into the way of a rich Jewish Gentleman, Nathan Franks Esq of Great George Street, who was enamoured of her.  Franks took Mary to a bagnio and Thomas Pearce followed them, entering the room at an inopportune moment and after shouting at his sister and ordering her home, turned to Nathan Franks and threatened to expose him if he did not pay him one hundred pounds.

Returning home with the money Thomas gave a small share to his unfortunate sister, who, said Edmund, spent it on finery which subsequently led to her utter ruin.  Thomas’ share did not last long and he was perpetually in debt as he lived well beyond his means. Resorting to getting the other young naval officers drunk so they did not see him cheat at the gaming table, his boon companions at that time were Captain Ludlam who ended his days on the gallows convicted of forgery, and Captain Mence who, on his friends instructions, performed a sham marriage between Thomas and a girl named Polly Clarke, who was then often left to either pay her spurious husband’s debts or be taken into custody for them.

boxing baroness

Mary Pearce, with her reputation ruined, was now living in the keeping of a Mr James Cox, a man who was easily frightened by the bullying Thomas and who was persuaded to pay Mary an annuity and also to lend sums of money to her brother. James Cox had thoughts of making an honest woman of Mary until Thomas told him that she had ‘contracted a disease of danger and dishonour’. Edmund recorded in his ‘Letter’ that Mary died in a dreadful state a short time later and Edmund blamed Thomas for leading her into the habits that caused her death.

The family moved frequently as the widowed Jane Maria Pearce was virtually penniless and the family were often in penury.  Thomas lived with them off and on but never supported them financially, merely adding to their distress (while the family resided in Ranelagh Street, Pimlico, he was in the habit of standing naked at his bedroom window to expose himself to the daughters and female servants belonging to the house opposite).

His brother James meanwhile, had captured the affections of Rose Hickman, a wealthy widow and, even though Thomas tried to scupper the relationship, the pair married at St. Margaret’s in Westminster on the 13th May 1786 in the presence of Thomas, his mother Jane Maria and, somewhat surprisingly as Edmund has placed her death previous to this date, his sister Mary.

rose hickman

Towards the end of the ‘Letter,’ seemingly forgetting that he has killed her off in the earlier pages, Edmund says that his ‘sister Mary had left Ranelagh-Street, and gone to live at Chatham, in Kent.’  With Mary Pearce brought back to life, was the Boxing Baroness really then sister to Edmund Wentworth Pearce as Caroline Norton asserted?

The sickly Charlotte was married off by Thomas to ‘a low, drunken fellow, in consequence of which, after going through a series of complicated miseries, she died a most dreadful object.’ Her husband was William Norton (no known relation to Caroline Norton) and the marriage took place on the 19th June 1787, at St. Margaret’s, witnessed by Jane Maria Pearce and her three sons.

The family now moved to 19 Marsham Street, Westminster. Here Jane Maria applied to William Wilberforce for relief and he granted her £25 a year and she also secured £5 a year from a family connection to the late Lord Archbishop of York. This was the sum total that she had to survive on and provide for her younger children who were still living with her. Eventually Edmund and his mother moved to a small house, no. 6 Buckingham Row, still in Westminster.  Thomas was back with his marine regiment in Plymouth, on full rather than half-pay, but, when his mother asked him for a trifling sum of money to pay her rent he did not respond.  Jane Maria’s furniture was taken and sold for a fraction of its true value to pay the debt and she and her youngest son took a cheap furnished apartment in Bowling Street. Edmund subsequently found out that on the morning that his mother could have received a reply from Thomas (she wanted but one guinea to save her furniture), he had instead sent his latest strumpet, Molly Goodey, a remittance of three guineas.

Molly Goodey, who seems to have given birth to Thomas’ child during their relationship, was soon out of the picture as far as Thomas was concerned though: at Kingston Church on the Isle of Wight (according to Edmund) he married a Miss Maria Cresswell, a pretty women who was as poor as a church mouse. Maria!  We started this journey by looking for a Mary Ann Pearce; could this be she?  Maria Cresswell’s mother died due to excessive drinking, having lived with Maria’s father for some years before he married her.

Two of Maria’s sisters were named as Mrs Rickman, who ‘lived and died an abandoned prostitute’ and whose husband died among chimney sweeps in a Southwark hovel, and Mrs Cooke, who was seduced by a married man and died ‘in all the agonies of remorse and extreme poverty’. On the face of it with a background like that she would seem a good match for Mary Ann Pearce whose love of gin led to all her problems.

Thomas now evaded going away to sea with his regiment as he was afraid that his new wife would be seduced by another man in his absence, and this, combined with his general conduct, led to him being ignominiously dismissed from the Marines upon half-pay.

By this time Edmund was old enough to consider a career, and family connections were employed to gain him, in June 1794, an Ensigncy without purchase in the 18th Royal Irish Regiment of Foot but Edmund, by his own admission, was granted a year’s private leave of absence due to a ‘long and severe personal illness’ and then permission to retire upon the half-pay of £32 per year. This was the full extent of his military career.

Feuding Pearce ensign

Now that he had obtained his discharge from the army Edmund’s health suddenly improved and he set about endeavouring to add to their family finances, but not by doing any actual work.  He managed to secure a place as an annual participator at the King’s Maundy for his mother and, via the Countess of Liverpool, a sum of £60. The Countess, once confirmed as a soft touch, then seems to have been approached for further sums and annuities, all of which she seems to have tried her best to initially charitably comply with.

Thomas, as always in debt and with little to live on, wanted to move with his wife back into his mother’s house, but Edmund prevented this, even going so far as to obtain a warrant for Thomas’ arrest when he allegedly attacked his brother and mother. Instead Thomas left his wife in lodging in Chester and joined the Northumberland Fencibles as an Ensign.

Edmund was now living on £62 a year, having gained an extra annuity of £30 from somewhere or someone. By his own admission he was suffering from a nervous complaint and Thomas used this as an excuse to have him taken up and committed to the Bethnal Green insane asylum as a prelude to taking control of both Edmund’s and his mother’s annuities. Edmund entered the White House on the 2nd of May 1815. Here he claims he was treated appallingly, the men who ran the house being in the pay of his brother Thomas. He was informed that he would spend the rest of his life there. In actual fact he spent a year and ten days in confinement at the White House, all the while trying to obtain his release: he managed to write to the Countess of Liverpool asking for help, but, after so many former appeals, she neglected to reply.

When he finally did leave, on the 12th of May 1816, it was only to the Red House, another insane asylum next door to the White House, but one where he was treated infinitely better. Finally, on the 7th of September 1817, after a total confinement of two years and four months, Edmund Wentworth Pearce, dressed in rags and without a penny to his name, made his escape with the help of a friend and was once more at liberty.

The case against Thomas, from Edmund’s ‘Letter’ seems pretty cut and dried but a slightly different version of Edmund’s incarceration was told before a legal counsel at the Court of the King’s Bench on the 14th April 1818, when Edmund tried to gain access to his mother and his missing pay which were both in the custody of Thomas. Claiming he was his mother’s favourite son, he merely said he had been absent from home for some time from the 15th April 1815. Returning and arranging with Thomas that their mother should be brought to an address in Bloomsbury to meet him, he was instead seized and forced into a carriage and taken away to a private mad-house, from which he escaped in December 1817. When his mother was brought before the court and asked if she was under any constraint to remain with Thomas she replied that she was not, that she wished to live and die with her eldest son who was the best of men and who had always treated her most kindly and dutifully.  Free to go she happily went home with Thomas.

The King's Bench Prison from Ackermann’s Microcosm of London (1808-10)
The King’s Bench Prison from Ackermann’s Microcosm of London (1808-10)

It transpires that Edmund was no angel and something of a fantasist. Choosing to style himself as Captain Pearce and letting it be known that he was ‘an officer of long-standing in the British army,’ he’d actually ended up as the oldest Ensign in his regiment and a notorious cheat on the streets of London. In May 1827 he turned up at the Marlborough Street police station, described as a ‘remarkably tall, erect, and gaunt-looking personage, covered with a profusion of flour and pomatum, and altogether presenting a most eccentric and Quixotic appearance’ accusing one, William Allenby of assault.

Two years earlier, when Allenby owned a confectioner’s shop, Edmund had arrived at his door and seeing only a young girl in the shop helped himself to nine jellies costing a shilling each, quickly devouring each in succession, before turning his attention to the other fare on offer.  Having eaten 18 shillings worth of produce he stuffed his pockets with cakes and left. Allenby appeared just as Edmund had left and tracked him to his lodgings where Edmund airily said he had no money on him and gave his name as Mr Wellesley Pole.  Soon after William Allenby learned that Edmund had played this same trick on other shopkeepers and tradesmen and was nought but a swindler and when he later met Edmund once more he carried him away to Marlborough Street. Lampooned for this episode in the press as Captain Gobble, Edmund wrote a pompous letter to The Times, protesting his innocence of all charges and saying he left a new pocket handkerchief in payment for the jellies, ending his letter with a postscript.

P.S. The unexampled infamy of treatment that I met with some years ago, has given birth to a subsequent and complicated course of pecuniary embarrassment continuing ever since; and the utmost in my power to do is, to pay both former and recent debts by instalments, which I neither have or shall ever want principle to do, as frequently as the means come into my hands.

In 1835 Edmund endured a spell in the King’s Bench for debt and then four years later was accused of exposing himself to a group of women at the corner of a court in Salisbury Square on the evening of the 27th August, but was acquitted due to a lack of evidence.

A year later he was back in court accusing a brushmaker of assaulting him and annoying the magistrates by insisting on reading a long statement, written in the most pompous style. The argument had arisen when the brushmaker had (perhaps wisely) prevented his brother-in-law from offering Edmund a lodging in his house, knowing his character all too well. And then in the last days of that year Edmund was accused of stalking Mrs Caroline Norton, a woman deprived of her children following a notorious criminal conversation case: he was allowed to go free after promising not to molest or annoy the lady again, and once more defended himself in a letter to The Times, pleading total innocence, but the press knew better, describing him as ‘well known about town as a very eccentric character [who had] figured at most of the police-offices for refusing to pay his carriage and cab fares, tavern bills, &c’.  Another paper described him as an ‘antiquated beau, all powder and white waistcoat.’

In 1825 Thomas Pearce and his son William ended up accused of causing merry mayhem in the house of a girl whom the son wished to marry (her mama prudently had other ideas!). Another son of Thomas’ named Villiers was actually sentenced to ten years transportation for the crime of forgery.

What a pair and what to believe!  Each is as bad as the other, obviously, neither given to telling the truth or paying their way and both, to put it mildly, are eccentric and workshy. Whether or not Mary Ann Pearce was related to Thomas and Edmund, it seems that London was plagued by the three of them for several years to the despair of tradesman, tavern keepers, police officers and magistrates.

Edmund Wentworth Pearce died in the latter months of 1848 in the St. Giles area of London.

Edmund Wentworth Pearce burial 1848
Edmund Wentworth Pearce’s burial at St Giles, 14th February 1848, aged 77.

Sources used:

A Letter to a Noble Lord containing a systematic and detailed account of Unparalleled Atrocities acted by Capt. Thomas Pearce, on the Half-Pay of the Royal Marine Corps, lately a Prisoner in the King’s Bench. Comprehending some Account of the Author’s Sufferings, as a perfectly Sane Man, at the Two Insane Houses of Bethnal Green, Middlesex. Between May 2, 1815, and Nov. 1, 1817, &c. &c. &c., 1818

The Examiner, Issue no. 538, 19th April 1818

Cambridge Chronicle and Journal, 24th April 1818

The Times, 7th January, 1825, 12th May and 14th May 1827, 24th September 1839, 28th December 1840

The Morning Post, 13th November 1840

Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser, 26th December 1840


The Truth about Lady Barrymore, the Boxing Baroness


Courtesy of National Library of Scotland from the Balcarres Heritage Trust

Behold that shivering female there,

Who plies her woeful trade!

‘Tis ten to one you’ll find that GIN,

That hopeless wretch has made.

(The Gin-Shop; Or, a Peep into a Prison, Hannah More)

Our blog today concerns Lady Barrymore aka ‘The Boxing Baroness’ aka Mary Ann Pearce (sometimes Pierce).

In her youth ‘Lady Barrymore’ had been a beauty and the mistress of Richard Barry, the 7th Earl of Barrymore (1769 – 1793), a notorious rake known as Hellgate (his brothers were Newgate (after the prison) and Cripplegate (due to a deformity) and his sister Billingsgate because she swore like a fishwife).

Lady Barrymore - les trois magots

For an all too brief time, Mary Ann Pearce enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle with a splendid house together with her own carriage provided for her.  Their relationship had presumably come to an end by the time Barrymore eloped with Charlotte Goulding, the daughter of a London sedan chairman and niece to Lady Letitia (Letty) Lade who had made a scandalous marriage with Sir John Lade, one of the inner circle of the Prince of Wales. Before her marriage, Letty had been the mistress of both the Duke of York and John Rann, the highwayman.

Barrymore died the following year aged only 23. He was a Captain in the Royal Berkshire Militia and had been driving a gig which was taking French prisoners of war to Dover when his musket accidentally discharged.

Subsequently, Mary Ann was known as ‘Lady Barrymore’ because of her previous connection but she had no entitlement to that name.  Her fondness for gin was her downfall and her undoing and led to numerous appearances before the Justices of the Peace and many spells in Tothill Fields Bridewell, often on the treadmill.

Let’s just set the record straight about ‘Lady Barrymore’ as there is plenty of conflicting information out there: the ‘boxing baroness’ and the woman who made regular appearances in the London courts, usually for being drunk and disorderly, was Mary Ann Pearce, not Charlotte Goulding who Richard married in June 1792. Poor Charlotte would be spinning in her grave at the thought of such an error!

Courtesy of the British Museum
Courtesy of the British Museum

Pearce was reputedly Mary Ann’s married name, one source having Lord Barrymore marry her off to a servant when he’d tired of her but another says her husband is mentioned as being an officer on the half pay.  Caroline Norton (née Sheridan, granddaughter of Richard Brinsley Sheridan) who became notorious when her husband, the Honourable George Norton, brought a criminal conversation case against her said she was the sister of Edward Wentworth Pearce.

Now Edward (or Edmund) Wentworth Pearce’s family are fascinating in their own right and, on face value, look an ideal match for the hapless Mary Ann.  Far from being servants, they are reasonably well-born and have two brothers who were on half-pay, one from the navy and one from the army, and their story is littered with family feuds, whoring, drunkenness (like Mary Ann a fondness for gin) and claims of insanity. There was a Mary and a Maria Pearce in this family but the Pearce’s are worthy of a blog in their own right, which you can find here.

Whoever Mr Pearce was, the marriage was an unhappy one and he seems to have abandoned Mary Ann by the beginning of the 1820’s when her descent into the gutter led to her notoriety.  She was often found insensible around the Drury Lane area of London, sometimes almost naked, and, if she wasn’t insensible, all too prone to using her fists, especially on the watchmen trying to arrest her, hence her sobriquet of ‘The Boxing Baroness’.

A picture of her, fists raised, appeared in the March 1819 edition of the Bon Ton Magazine in which she was linked to Viscount Ranelagh who had stood accused of an assault on some men who had trespassed on his property in the December of 1818.

Mary Ann’s is a tragic story: although she cuffed Beadles and police officers and swore at the magistrates, once she was in prison and away from the gin-shops she behaved with so much decency and propriety that Mr Nodder, the governor of Tothill Fields Bridewell, appointed her as a matron to look after the female prisoners whilst she was detained.  He often declared that he could not have selected a more fit person to act in that capacity and always regretted her release from prison as she invariably made straight for the nearest gin-shop and ‘in half an hour after she might be seen staggering through the streets, followed by a crowd of idlers, plaguing and annoying the wretched woman’.

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library
Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

To avoid this crowd she would hide in a public-house and, if refused more drink, took to destroying everything around her and smashing the windows.  Rather than a cossetted courtesan she now had to resort to the lowest form of prostitution to raise money for her next tot of gin.

At last her lifestyle caught up with her.  On Mary Ann’s last appearance at Bow Street her appearance led the official to believe her ‘in a consumption’ and she told Mr Minshull that “it was her last appearance on that stage”.

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library
Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

Just before her death she was taken to the station house in Covent Garden twice, both times being wearily discharged.  The last time Mary Ann, knowing her end was near, told the superintendent Mr Thomas, as she left, that “I have given you a great deal of trouble, Sir, but I shall not give you much more. It is almost over with me.”

The superintendent told her to go home and go to bed as she was clearly ill and although she promised to do so she instead went to a gin-shop.  Finally arriving back at her lodging, a miserable attic at No. 8 Charles Street (now called Macklin Street), Drury Lane, it was clear that she would not survive the night and around midnight the lodging house keeper came to the station to see Mr Thomas.  This kindly man went straight to the house as he thought she must have met with ill-treatment but found that she had died ten minutes before he got there.  She died in the early hours of the 9th October, 1832 and her cause of death was suffocation, occasioned by the excessive use of spirituous liquors.

mary ann pearce burial

Mary Ann was buried on the 23rd October 1832  at St Giles in the Field

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library
Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library




AH! who is she whose haggard eye

Shrinks from the morning ray?

Who, trembling would, but cannot fly,

From the busy day!

Mark her pale lip, and cheek all o’er,

How deathly it appears!

See! how her blood-shot eye-balls pour

Torrents of briny tears.

Behold! alas, misfortune’s child,

For whom no kindred grieves ;

Now driven to distraction wild,

Her tortur’d bosom heaves!

Despis’d, yet dreaded, ruin’d, lost

Health, peace, and virtue fled ;

On misery’s stormy ocean tost,

Now stretch’d on dying bed.


Once were her prospects bright & gay,

Hope, smiling, blest her hours;

A vile seducer cross’d her way,

And cropt the blooming flower.

Dazzled by shining grandeur, she

Quits parents, friends, and home :

But soon reduc’d to misery,

An outcast vile to roam.

She, for relief, to liquor flies,

Which soon full havoc made;

Vanish’d the lustre of her eyes,

Her beauty soon decay’d.

Oft did she brave the winter’s wind,

The driving sleet and rain;

And oft in prison drear confin’d

For months she would remain.


At length by drink and fell disease

Worn down to skin and bone,

Upon a wretched pallet laid,

No kindred nigh – not one.

She yields to death, – no pitying friend,

Her hapless fate deplores

Ye fair, take warning by the end

of Lady Barrymore.


Printed by J. Catnach, 2 Monmouth-court, 7 Dials.


Sources used:

The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton, Diane Atkinson, 2012

The Examiner, 14th October, 1832

The Extraordinary Life and Death of Mary Anne Pierce, alias Lady Barrymore, National Library of Scotland