The Curse of the Nine of Diamonds

lwlpr01257
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Whilst researching our book, An Infamous Mistress: the Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, we came across ‘The Curse of the Nine of Diamonds’, in reference to Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s paternal family.

Grace Dalrymple made a ‘marriage-a-la-mode’ to a wealthy doctor in 1771, but it was not a success! Grace was young, tall and beautiful and her husband, Dr John Eliot, was much older, and reputedly much shorter too, than his new wife. The workaholic doctor allowed his wife to be escorted around London by his friends and other young men, while he basked in the reflective glory of having a wife who was desired by many but ‘owned’ by him. When this ran to its obvious conclusion and Grace was discovered at a bagnio with Viscount Valentia, a divorce swiftly followed leaving Grace, although still not legally an adult, to survive on her looks and her wits.

And so Grace Dalrymple Elliott (she chose to spell her surname differently from her husband, possibly in defiance to him) became a courtesan, notorious amongst the ranks of the Cyprian Corps.

We know that Grace had longed to use the crest of George, 4th Earl of Cholmondeley, one of her lovers but, denied permission to have his arms displayed on the door of her new carriage, Grace instead opted to display those of Dalrymple of Stair instead (although truly not entitled to do so), promoting her aristocratic connection, albeit a distant one, with the then current head of that family, John Dalrymple, 5th Earl of Stair.

The heraldic arms of the Dalrymple of Stair family is known as The Nine of Diamonds, a reference to the nine diamond lozenges which are displayed on it.

Nine Diamonds - arms

There are numerous theories as to the origins of this curse, but the earliest one we have found dates back to 1708 where it was reported in the British Apollo or Curious Amusements for the Ingenious’, 3rd September.

Nine Diamonds - British Apollo (2)

Amongst these theories as to the origin of the curse, the one that appears reasonably plausible concerns John Dalrymple, 1st Earl of Stair, who ordered the massacre at Glencoe (1692). The massacre caused an outcry across Britain and as his family coat of arms contained the nine of diamonds at its centre the card, as a result, assumed this appellation.

The Massacre of Glencoe by James Hamilton (c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
The Massacre of Glencoe by James Hamilton
The Massacre of Glencoe took place on 13 February 1692, when government troops slaughtered 38 members of the Clan MacDonald in their homes. Some survivors managed to avoid the attack, as shown in this later painting, and attempted to escape through the snow.
(c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

There was also a somewhat later theory which, bearing in mind the above newspaper report, would now appear to be totally implausible. The account stated that it was due to the Duke of Cumberland who, on the evening before the Battle of Culloden in 1746, was playing cards with his staff when a young officer appeared and wanted to know the orders for the battle. The Duke, it is reputed, ordered “no quarter” to the Jacobites. The young man was worried by this possible massacre and asked the Duke to write down the order, he duly obliged and wrote it on the nearest playing card which happened to be a nine of diamonds.  This interesting theory we know now is impossible as the ‘curse’ was already in existence.

The Duke of Cumberland (1721–1765) by Stephen Slaughter (attributed to), c.1750. (c) Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
The Duke of Cumberland (1721–1765) by Stephen Slaughter
(attributed to), c.1750.
(c) Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Another suggestion seems to relate ‘Pope Joan’ which was a  card gambling game that was played from at least 1732. The nine of diamonds was a significant card and was called the pope.  The pope was regarded a villain amongst Scottish reformers and so the nine of diamonds was renamed the curse of Scotland in this game.

Lady_Godina's_rout;_-_or_-_Peeping-Tom_spying_out_Pope-Joan_by_James_Gillray

Clearly the mystery continued to make news and in 1786, The General Evening Post offered the following explanation:

‘… the proverbial expression of ‘The Curse of Scotland’ to have taken it’s rise from the Earl of Stair’s (who had a principal hand in the Union) bearing nine diamonds in his coat of arms, and as the Scotch have considered that event as an unfortunate one, and distinguished it as the ‘Bitter Onion’ they have since called the nine of diamonds ‘the Curse of Scotland’.

Whatever its true origins it was considered to be the unluckiest card in the pack. Grace would surely have known of these stories, but the distinction of displaying these arms on the door of her coach overcame any associations with a reputed curse.

book cover front

 

Divorced wife, infamous mistress, prisoner during the French Revolution and the reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ child, notorious courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott lived an amazing life in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century London and Paris. Strikingly tall and beautiful, later lampooned as ‘Dally the Tall’ in newspaper gossip columns, she left her Scottish roots and convent education behind, to re-invent herself in a ‘marriage a-la-mode’, but before she was even legally an adult she was cast off and forced to survive on just her beauty and wits. The authors of this engaging and, at times, scandalous book intersperse the story of Grace’s tumultuous life with anecdotes of her fascinating family, from those who knew Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and who helped to abolish slavery, to those who were, like Grace, mistresses of great men. Whilst this book is the most definitive biography of Grace Dalrymple Elliott ever written, it is much more than that; it is Grace’s family history which traces her ancestors from their origin in the Scottish borders, to their move south to London. It follows them to France, America, India, Africa and elsewhere, offering a broad insight into the social history of the Georgian era, comprising the ups and downs, the highs and lows of life at that time. This is the remarkable and detailed story of Grace set, for the first time, in the context of her wider family and told more completely than ever before. 

18th Century Riding Habits

Lady Worsley
Lady Seymour Worsley, courtesy of Harewood House.

Possibly one of the most iconic images of a woman of the Georgian era wearing a riding habit has to be that of Lady Seymour Worsley. So, with that in mind we thought we would take a look at this fashion statement outfit. We know from Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s receipts that she purchased her riding habits from the tailor to the Prince of Wales, one Louis Bazalgette, as did Mrs Fitzherbert, and it is more than likely that Lady Worsley did too.

The outfit would consist of a tailored jacket or redingote, possibly one of the most glamorous garments a woman could wear, so much so that even today fashion designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier use it for inspiration.

with long skirt, tailored shirt or chemisette, a hat, low heel boots, glove and a necktie or stock, based on the male coat and waistcoat of the day.  Needless to say though the breeches would have been totally unacceptable. As you can see in the portrait though of Lady W, she was clearly sporting a very elegant pair of shoes, hardly suitable for riding in.

Jane, Duchess of Gordon, née Maxwell, standing three-quarter-length, portrayed in a green riding habit, wearing only one glove on her right hand. By Daniel Gardner c.1775.

We came across this interesting letter about the wearing of riding habits in ‘The Ladies Complete Letter-writer – a collection of letters written by ladies’ of 1763 – the writer was clearly not a fan of this type of attire!

Censure of the Ladies Riding-Habits

Madam,

I was lately, in a beautiful evening, admiring the serenity of the sky, the lively colours of the fields, and the variety of the landscape everywhere around me, a little party of horsemen passing the road almost close to me, arrested my attention, and a fair youth, seemingly dressed up by some description in romance. His hair, well curled and powdered, hung to a considerable length on his shoulders, and was wantonly tied, as if by the hands of his mistress, in a scarlet ribbon, which played like a streamer behind him. He had a coat and waistcoat of blue camblet, trimmed and embroidered with silver; a cravat of the finest lace; and wore in a smart cock, a little beaver hat, edged with silver, and made more sprightly by a feather.

Mrs John Montresor by John Singleton Copley

His pacing horse was adorned in the same airy manner, and seemed to share in the vanity of the rider. As I was pitying the luxury of this young person, who appeared to be educated as an object of sight alone, I perceived, on my nearer approach, a petticoat of the same with the coat and waistcoat; and now those features which had before offended me by their softness, were strengthened into as improper a boldness; and she, who in appearance was a very handsome youth, was in reality a very indifferent woman. These occasional perplexities, and mixtures of dress, seem to break in upon that propriety and distinction of appearance in which the beauty of different characters is preserved, and would, if much more common, turn our assemblies into a general masquerade, the model of this Amazonian hunting-dress, for ladies, was first imported from France, and well enough expresses the gaiety of a people who are taught to do anything, so it be with an assurance; but I cannot help thinking it fits awkwardly on our English modesty.

(c) Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service (Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery); Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service (Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery); Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The petticoat is too a kind of encumbrance upon this dress, and if we go on in thus plundering the other sex’s ornaments, we ought to add to our spoils, methinks, the more commodious breeches. There is so large a portion of natural agreeableness among the fair-sex of our island, that they seem betrayed into these romantic habits, without having the fame occasion for them with their inventors: All that needs to be desired of them is, that they would be themselves, that is, what nature designed them; and to see their mistake when they depart from this; let them look upon a man who affects the softness and effeminacy of a woman to learn how our sex must appear to the men , when so near approaches are made by us to their resemblance

Your most affectionate servant

Lydia Armstrong

Portrait of a Lady in a Riding Habit by Enoch Seeman the younger (c) Chawton House Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The average cost of a riding outfit was around £5, which is around £350 in today’s money (the equivalent of just over 1 month’s wages for a craftsman of the day), so not exactly a cheap purchase. Then of course there was cost of keeping the outfit clean and needless to say there was money to be made by inventing a powder that would be perfect for the task, as this advert for Williams’s Kerseymere and woollen cloth powder shows.

Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, 21st October 1785.

We thought it might be nice to finish with a few of the portraits painted during the Georgian era depicting women in riding habit, we hope you like our choice.

B2001.2.246
Portrait of a Young Woman of the Fortesque Family of Devon by Thomas Hudson c 1745 Courtesy of Yale Centre for British Art
B1981.25.620
The Countess of Coningsby in the Costume of the Charlton Hunt by George Stubbs c1760, Courtesy of The Yale Centre for British Art
Double-breasted riding waistcoat, c.1790-5. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Double-breasted riding waistcoat, c.1790-5.
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The back lacing allowed a snug fit over stays and under a closely tailored coat. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The back lacing allowed a snug fit over stays and under a closely tailored coat.
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London 

An Infamous Mistress reviewed in Family Tree Magazine

Feb FT MagWe’re delighted to be featured in the February edition of Family Tree Magazine. As well as a great review of our new book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, we have also penned a genealogy article for them titled ‘The Truth Will Out’ showing how even the best documented facts can sometimes belie the true story.

There are also many other fascinating articles in the magazine, plus free access to selected records at The Genealogist, so please do check it out. Details on the February issue can be found by clicking here.

 

And for more details on An Infamous Mistress head over to the Pen and Sword website.


 

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A closer look at Thomas Gainsborough’s full-length portrait of Grace Dalrymple Elliott

book-cover-front

Our biography of the eighteenth-century courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott, which tells her story more completely than ever before, shedding light on her siblings and maternal family who were central to her experiences, is out this month in the UK in hardback. Also containing many rarely seen images relating to Grace and her family, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott is available from Pen and Sword Books and all good bookshops. It you are in America, it can be pre-ordered now and will be released there in Spring 2016.

 

Today we are going to have a closer look at a fabulous portrait of Grace, who had her likeness painted twice by Thomas Gainsborough. The first was a full-length, probably commissioned by her lover the Earl of Cholmondeley in 1777 and which hung in his London mansion at Piccadilly. When the portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy in Pall Mall during 1778 the General Evening Post newspaper called it a ‘striking and beautiful likeness’ of Grace, quoting some lines from The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope.

If to her share some female errors fall,

Look on her face, and you’ll forget them all.

Sadly for Grace, the picture proved to have a longer life in the earl’s household than she did; when he refused to marry the divorced Mrs Elliott she upped sticks for France and the Anglophile duc d’Orléans. Reputedly, the portrait was viewed, a few years later, by Cholmondeley’s boon companion, George, Prince of Wales, and he admired both the painting and its subject so much that Cholmondeley was despatched across the Channel to fetch Grace back home from the arms of her French duc and to deliver her into those of a British prince. The portrait is now held in New York, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough (Metropolitan Museum of Art).
Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Over the years the portrait’s condition meant that certain details had been lost, but these can be seen on an engraving made of it in 1779 by John Dean (or Deane, c.1754-1798, draughtsman and engraver (mezzotint)). On his engraving can be seen a flagstone floor and a burst of light coming over the trees in the background. During treatment of Gainsborough’s portrait of Grace, dark paint was visible under the sky suggesting that the picture may originally have been intended to be much narrower, possibly without the landscape in the background.

The left hand of the 1779 engraving and Gainsborough's portrait, side-by-side.
The left hand of the 1779 engraving and Gainsborough’s portrait, side-by-side.

An additional revelation also came about during the Met’s treatment of the portrait – the presence of a small dog which was once in the lower right hand corner was also revealed.[i]

Bottom right hand corner of the Gainsborough portrait - can you see an impression of a dog?
Bottom right hand corner of the Gainsborough portrait – can you see an impression of a dog?

And here is the 1779 John Dean engraving of ‘Mrs Elliot’ courtesy of the Yale Centre for British Art.

John Dean, 1754–1798, British, Mrs. Elliot, 1779, Mezzotint, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund
John Dean, 1754–1798, British, Mrs. Elliot, 1779, Mezzotint, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund

Notes:

[i] British Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575-1875, by Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), Katharine Baetjer, 2009.

Divorced wife, infamous mistress, prisoner during the French Revolution and the reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ child, notorious courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott lived an amazing life in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century London and Paris. Strikingly tall and beautiful, later lampooned as ‘Dally the Tall’ in newspaper gossip columns, she left her Scottish roots and convent education behind, to re-invent herself in a ‘marriage a-la-mode’, but before she was even legally an adult she was cast off and forced to survive on just her beauty and wits. The authors of this engaging and, at times, scandalous book intersperse the story of Grace’s tumultuous life with anecdotes of her fascinating family, from those who knew Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and who helped to abolish slavery, to those who were, like Grace, mistresses of great men. Whilst this book is the most definitive biography of Grace Dalrymple Elliott ever written, it is much more than that; it is Grace’s family history which traces her ancestors from their origin in the Scottish borders, to their move south to London. It follows them to France, America, India, Africa and elsewhere, offering a broad insight into the social history of the Georgian era, comprising the ups and downs, the highs and lows of life at that time. This is the remarkable and detailed story of Grace set, for the first time, in the context of her wider family and told more completely than ever before.

A Gypsy Romance

Major Boswell was a gypsy – he was born in 1780, and baptized on the 6th August, in the Oxfordshire village of Bloxham where he was recorded as the son of John Boswell.

A noted fiddler, as a young man he earned his living by playing at different venues and one day he arrived at Longton in the Staffordshire Potteries – where ‘he was engaged to play for the dancing classes held at a young ladies’ academy’. This episode of Major’s life dates to the very end of the eighteenth- or the dawning of the nineteenth-century, as it must have occurred between 1798 and 1801.

The first and the second of these [classes] at which he was present passed without incident, but at the third or fourth a big bouncing girl answering to the name of Mary Linyon persisted in treading on his toes. She did it on purpose quite clearly, and Major recognising this, and attracted no doubt by her handsome face and wilful demeanour, was not slow to take the cue she afforded him. He spoke to her afterwards, ostensibly about her behaviour, but what the really said to one another is better judged from the fact that a night or two later Mary, who was no more than fifteen, jumped from a bedroom window into his cart drawn up beneath it, on to a thick pile of straw surmounted by blankets and a feather bed.

A Dancing Colleen in a Landscape by John Joseph (c) National Trust, Sunnycroft; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) National Trust, Sunnycroft; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The couple eloped together and stayed hidden in the countryside whilst, it is said, a hue and cry was raised and a reward offered for any information which led to Major Boswell’s arrest. Perhaps this inducement worked because, supposedly, Major was eventually arrested and charged with Mary’s abduction, although he protested his innocence. The story as it was told around the campfires of their descendants places Major in a courtroom to answer the charges against him and there Mary took to the witness box, telling the judge loud and clear that it was she who had insisted on the elopement. Because of her testimony Major was acquitted and the spirited and determined Mary chose to remain by his side rather than return home to her parents.

Some say she was a gamekeeper’s daughter, and others that her father was a farm bailiff or steward. No matter, she was, by all accounts, a woman of strong character, as Major, her children and more particularly her daughters-in-law, seem to have discovered when they crossed her will; a great lover of order and cleanliness, of fine clothes, old china, and shining silver; an expert needlewoman, who taught the craft to her daughters and granddaughters with considerable success…

We have yet to turn up any information which confirms that Major Boswell did indeed elope with Mary, or that he was charged in a court of law with her abduction. But Mary had certainly received an education somewhere, so perhaps the story that she trod on poor Major’s toes in the dancing class where they first met is true, and she did indeed run away with him. In 1837 Mary (as Mary Linion and recorded as 55 years of age) was arrested for ‘fraudulently obtaining half-a-dozen silver teaspoons, the property of Mr Thomas Shepherd, of Barrow-upon-Soar, on the 1st April 1835’ along with Major Boswell (aged 60 years), their 16 year old son Alfred and daughter Edingal, 21 years of age. The case was never brought into court but, in the calendar of prisoners for trial, it was recorded that while Major, Alfred and Edingal Boswell could neither read nor write, Mary could do both well.

A Gypsy Encampment by William Shayer (c) Nottingham City Museums and Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
A Gypsy Encampment by William Shayer
(c) Nottingham City Museums and Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Mary took to her new way of life with gusto, providing Major with seventeen children, becoming expert at telling fortunes and described as the ‘best Gypsy of the lot of ‘em’. They stayed mainly in the Staffordshire area but travelled into other parts of the country too. A daughter named Tieni (or Teany) was baptized at Beoley in Worcestershire on the 8th March 1801. They were in Lincolnshire during the first two decades of the nineteenth-century for the baptism of Charles Augustus, son of Major and Mary Smith at Stamford St Michael on the 27th June 1803 is likely to be them, with Major described as a tin plate worker. The next year Mary daughter of Major and Mary Boswell was baptized at Ewerby near Sleaford on the 7th October 1804 (a William and Mary Lovil, ‘traveller & gipsy’ baptized a son, William, on the 28th of the same month at Digby, less than ten miles away from Ewerby, and perhaps they were travelling in company with Major Boswell and Mary Linyon). And then on the 7th March 1819, at Rauceby again near to Sleaford, we find the baptism of Alfred, son of Major and Mary Boswell, traveller. The couple also had a daughter whose name is transcribed as ‘Elopeh’ on the baptism records for Quainton in Buckinghamshire (she was baptized on the 22nd October 1802) – does her name refer to her parent’s reputed elopement, and provide some confirmation of it?

The Gypsies by William Simpson (c) Dumfries and Galloway Council (Kirkcudbright); Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
The Gypsies by William Simpson
(c) Dumfries and Galloway Council (Kirkcudbright); Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

A Major Boswell had married in 1798 at Breedon on the Hill in Leicestershire, to Lucy Boswell (a short lived son had been the product of that marriage), and if this was the same man it may explain why Mary continued to use her maiden name (as at her 1837 arrest), and could not legally marry her husband although they lived as man and wife. The couple are to be found at Willenhall near to Wolverhampton in Staffordshire in the 1861 census, living in a caravan parked in a field on the High Street; Major Boswell was aged 87 years, a tinman born at Bloxham in Oxfordshire and Mary, his wife, was 82 years of age and gave her birthplace as Gravesend in Kent.

Major Boswell ended his long life in Longton in Staffordshire, the village where he reputedly met his wife, his age exaggerated by a good few years at his death.

Major Boswell, who for the last seven years has made a tent on the Stone-road, Longton, his principal place of abode, died on Sunday, at the advanced age of 108 years. The body is ‘laid out’ in characteristic gipsy style. He ‘lies in state’ on a bed on the ground, covered with a white sheet, and a tuft of grass on the chest. The part of the tent where the body lies is lined with white, decorated with flowers, a picture of the Saviour, and wax candles on either side. The old man has not a wrinkle on his face, had only lost three teeth, and never consulted a doctor during his long earthly pilgrimage. He was twice married, and had by his second wife seventeen children, amongst whom he numbered fifty-nine grandchildren. His remains will be interred in Dresden churchyard to-day, and will no doubt be followed to the grave by an unusually large number of relatives.

 

Sources:

Leicester Chronicle, 11th March 1837

Staffordshire Advertiser, 21st May 1870

Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, Third Series, Vol III, 1924

 

Header Picture:

Potteries Landscape by Henry Lark I Pratt from The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery via Your Paintings

The Newcastle Eccentrics of Hell’s Kitchen

Eccentric Characters of Newcastle by Henry Perlee Parker (after) (c) Laing Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Eccentric Characters of Newcastle by Henry Perlee Parker (after)
(c) Laing Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

In the taproom of The Flying Horse public house in the Groat Market, colloquially known as Hell’s Kitchen, various of the Newcastle Upon Tyne ‘Eccentrics’ were to be seen, many of them mentioned in popular local ballads and folk-songs. They were well known on the Newcastle streets and on the quayside, and in the ale-houses. Fourteen of them were painted by the artist Henry Perlee Parker around 1817, shown in Hell’s Kitchen, immortalising their images. The original has been lost, but engravings have survived.

(c) Laing Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

 

Old (or Aud) Judy Dowlings was the keeper of the Newcastle upon Tyne ‘hutch’, a form of strongbox used by the City Treasurer. She was a formidable guard, wielding a hefty stick in its defence and is also depicted in another painting by Henry Perlee Parker. You can read more about Old Judy in one of our previous posts by clicking here. Peering over Old Judy’s shoulder is Jenny Ballo and beside her Whin Bob, or Robert Cruddace. The dog is Timour, belonging to Doodum Daddum.

(c) Laing Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

 

 

 

Next is Jacky Coxon who is mentioned in a song written by Robert Emery (a Scot living in Newcastle) called ‘The Pitman’s Dream – or a description of the North Pole’. The others are Pussy Willy, Cull (or Cully) Billy and Donald. Cully (also known as Silly Billy) was really William Scott and lived in St John’s poorhouse and was the subject of various local folk songs. He lived with his diminutive mother who was only 4ft tall and who made her living as a hawker. Both mother and son were often cruelly ridiculed but Cully was a gentle man with a good nature and a quick sense of humour. He died in the poorhouse on the 31st July 1831 at the age of 68 years. Donald, obviously a Scotsman from his tartan tam o’shanter, also revelled in the name Lousy Donald.

(c) Laing Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The four gentleman here are Bugle-Nosed Jack, Hangy (or Hangie), Bold Archy (or Airchy) and Blind Willie. Bugle-Nosed Jack was also known as Cuckoo Jack and Bold Archy was really Archibald Henderson, a huge, well-built man but absolutely a gentle giant, devoted to his mother who often had to lead him away from fights as he was a magnet for trouble due to his size. He died, on the 14th May 1828, at the age of 86 years. Blind Willie, or William Purvis, was probably the best known of the Newcastle Eccentrics. Born in Newcastle, and baptised at All Saints’ Church on the 16th February 1752, his father John was a waterman and his mother Margaret lived to a grand old age, dying in All Saints poorhouse at well over 100 years of age. Blind Willie (blind from birth or from very early in his childhood) was a fiddler, song writer and performer, often to be found in ale houses where he asked for a drink and entertained the regulars. He was a great favourite on the streets of Newcastle, renowned for never wearing a hat, no matter what the weather, having got fed up of it being stolen from his head by idle boys. Like his mother, he ended up in the All Saints poorhouse where he died on the 20th July 1832 aged 80.

(c) Laing Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Finally, we have Shoe-tie Anty, ‘Captain’ Benjamin Starkey and Doodem Daddum, owner of Timour the dog. Benjamin Starkey, extremely short in stature, had pretensions to grandeur, hence his appellation of ‘Captain’, and certainly had some education as he was noted as a very neat writer. In his youth he had been an usher at a school, William Bird’s Academy in Fetter’s Lane in Holborn, London (where the essayist Charles Lamb remembered him from). He was born around 1757 and died on the 9th July 1822, and was an inmate of both Freeman’s Hospital and the poorhouse. Doodum Daddem is identified as John Higgins in an eprint from Nottingham University, a jack-of-all-trades and also the Town Crier or Bellman of Newcastle Upon Tyne. However, from census records, John Higgins would appear to be too young to be the man in the painting.

Woodcuts of Blind Willie and ‘Captain’ Benjamin Starkey appear in Allan’s Illustrated Version of Tyneside Songs, in which many of the Newcastle Eccentrics are named. It also provides an engraving of the Hell’s Kitchen portrait with a key underneath to the identities of the people within it.

Eccentric - Blind Willie 2
Blind Willie (Newcastle Libraries via Flickr)

Eccentric - engraving

 

Sources:

Newcastle Courant, 28th July 1832

Allan’s Illustrated Edition of Tyneside Songs, 1891

18th Century Beds and Bedding

The Garrick Bed, ca.1775. A four-poster bed designed by Thomas Chippendale with 20th century reproduction hangings. Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Even today our bed is one of the most important objects we purchase, so we thought we would take a look at the beds and bedding of the Georgian Era.

Houghton Hall
Courtesy of Houghton Hall, Norfolk http://www.houghtonhall.com/hall/state-rooms/

The quality of your bed was very much dependent upon wealth.  A four poster bed with Harrateen (a fabric of linen or wool) hangings would have cost in the region of £5 (about £300 in today’s money).

Silk Damask curtain for half tester ca. 1710 Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The more expensive option being a four poster made using Mornine, a fabric of wool and or cotton, these beds would set you back almost £7. A feather bed would have been significantly cheaper with price ranging from 50 shilling up to around £4.

Then of course you would need a mattress which could have been purchased for around 15 shillings (£50 in today’s money).

George Miller feather beds trade card
Trade Card for George Miller, Southampton. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

The ‘gold standard’ in blankets, if you could afford them were the ‘Witney blankets’. The price of blankets varied dramatically from 7 shillings a pair to a staggering £2 a pair.

loom
Courtesy of Farfield Mill

Next came the quilt at an average cost of 18 shillings. A white cotton counterpane at somewhere in the region of £1. Bed ticking at 14 pence a yard and finally a cover lid at 5 shillings.

The majority of us today are perfectly happy to use a duvet, making the bed toasty warm and easy to make. However, in the Georgian Era things were not so straightforward. The concept of a duvet had been thought of and was in use in climates colder than here in the UK, but the concept took a further 200 years to take off over here.

The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser  of Thursday, January 14, 1779 carried the following advertisement for the attention of the nobility and gentry for what we would today regard as being a duvet or quilt.

This down is greatly superior to any other, as it is not taken off the bird itself, but with great trouble collected out of the nest of the bird, so of course must be very scarce and valuable, and is much sought after by those who know its worth. The use made of it is for bed coverings; it is put up in silk, linen or cotton cases, its peculiar lightness and warmth beyond any other down, as it has that singular quality of cohesion, or cleaving to itself, that though it falls round you in bed, the upper part of the person is covered equal with the sides, and the warmth is thereby the same round the whole body.  Its great lightness is so extraordinary, that it is not so heavy as one blanket, and is as warm and more genial than three or four; it is very comfortable for those afflicted with the gout who require warmth, and cannot bear a weight. There are bags made to keep the legs and feet warm in travelling.

lwlpr06701

The majority of us today have warm homes with central heating, but in the Georgian era  we might have used a bed warmer to warm the bed for us, what a welcome companion on cold nights.

Bed Warmer Raised, flat - chased, pierced, engraved silver with turned ivory handle, ca. 1730 Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.
Bed Warmer Raised, flat – chased, pierced, engraved silver with turned ivory handle, ca. 1730 Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.

With the cost of all these individual items mounting up it is no wonder that so much bedding etc was sold at auction when a person died.

We end with the joys of the matrimonial bed courtesy of, as usual, the Lewis Walpole Library.

lwlpr09576

 

Sources:

Witney Blanket Story

Does this chalk drawing depict Grace Dalrymple Elliott?

Unidentified lady, thought to be Grace Dalrymple Elliott by John Hoppner, British Museum.
Unidentified lady, thought to be Grace Dalrymple Elliott by John Hoppner, British Museum.

A chalk drawing dating to around 1782 by John Hoppner, whilst unproven, is reputed to depict the celebrated courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott.  If there is a corresponding portrait it has yet to be discovered.  There certainly does look to be a good similarity between the Gainsborough portraits of her and, if it is Grace, it dates from the time of her pregnancy with the reputed child of George, Prince of Wales (and the end of her relationship with her royal lover).  The lady in the portrait is wearing a chemise à la reine, a diaphanous white muslin gown made popular in France by Queen Marie Antionette and in 1782 the latest fashion.  Grace was one of the first women in London to appear dressed in one of these gowns, along with Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire and the Prince’s former mistress, the actress and courtesan Mary Robinson (Perdita).

Mrs Mary Robinson (1758–1800), as 'Perdita' by John Hoppner, c.1782. (c) Chawton House Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Mrs Mary Robinson (1758–1800), as ‘Perdita’ by John Hoppner, c.1782.
(c) Chawton House Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Hoppner was connected with the Court, having been encouraged to paint by George III and eventually becoming Principal Portrait Painter to the Prince of Wales in 1793 after the death of Sir Joshua Reynolds.  Is it just possible that this chalk drawing is Grace, sitting for a portrait commissioned by the Prince and that nothing more than a preliminary sketch was produced following the rupture of their union? What do our readers think?

Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough. Courtesy of the Frick, New York.
Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough.
Courtesy of the Frick, New York.

You can read more about Grace in our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, which is the product of many years of research into her life and which is available now in the UK, published by Pen and Sword Books. Containing much information that is new to Grace’s story, and some rarely seen illustrations and pictures too, our book is also a broad insight into the social history of the Georgian era, interspersed with the fascinating lives her family led across the globe. It is both the story of Grace’s life and her family history.

Divorced wife, infamous mistress, prisoner in France during the French Revolution and the reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ child, notorious eighteenth-century courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott lived an amazing life in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century London and Paris.

Strikingly tall and beautiful, later lampooned as ‘Dally the Tall’ in newspaper gossip columns, she left her Scottish roots and convent education behind, to re-invent herself in a ‘marriage-a-la-mode’, but before she was even legally an adult she was cast off and forced to survive on just her beauty and wits.

The authors of this engaging and, at times, scandalous book intersperse the history of Grace’s tumultuous life with anecdotes of her fascinating family, from those who knew Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and who helped to abolish slavery, to those who were, like Grace, mistresses of great men.

Whilst this book is the most definitive biography of Grace Dalrymple Elliott ever written, it is much more than that; it is Grace’s family history which traces her ancestors from their origin in the Scottish borders, to their move south to London. It follows them to France, America, India, Africa and elsewhere, offering a broad insight into the social history of the Georgian era, comprising the ups and downs, the highs and lows of life at that time.

This is the remarkable and detailed story of Grace set, for the first time, in the context of her wider family and told more completely than ever before.

book cover front

 

Sources:

British Museum

 

An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott released early

Well, we have some exciting news to share, and a thrilling start to 2016 for us! Our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott has been released ahead of schedule in the UK. If you have pre-ordered a copy (and we sincerely thank you if you have) your copy should be winging its way to you and you should have it in your hands soon.

book cover front

We are also absolutely thrilled and blown away to have been given a glowing recommendation by the brilliant historian and author Hallie Rubenhold who has read a review copy of our book.

Courtesan. Spy. Survivor. A gripping and meticulously researched account of the swashbuckling life of one of history’s most overlooked heroines.

Hallie Rubenhold, author of The Scandalous Lady W

And on top of that, some advance news for you – we are going to be featured in the February edition of Family Tree Magazine, available to buy from 22nd January – we’ll bring you more on that nearer the time.

We’re looking forward so much to being able to discuss Grace’s life and family with you – we’ve had to keep so much under wraps as there’s a lot of new information in our book which you won’t find elsewhere on the internet as yet. But, now we will be able to talk about it and we have some blog posts planned for the coming weeks where we’ll elaborate on Grace and her maternal family. And you might be a little surprised when you find out about her maternal family…

We’ll leave you with that teaser for now! An Infamous Mistress is available from our publishers, Pen and Sword Books, and all good bookshops in the UK. For American readers, it is available for pre-order and will be released this spring. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we’ve enjoyed researching Grace’s life and writing about the exploits of both Grace and her extended family!

Sarah and Jo

Old Judy – keeper of the Newcastle upon Tyne town hutch

We loved this portrait of ‘Old Judy’, keeper of the Newcastle upon Tyne town hutch, and thought we’d take a closer look at both the hutch and Old Judy for our latest blog.

Judy Dowling, Keeper of the Town Hutch by Henry Perlee Parker, c.1815-1820 (c) Laing Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Judy Dowling, Keeper of the Town Hutch by Henry Perlee Parker, c.1815-1820
(c) Laing Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The ‘town hutch’ was a strongbox, a sturdy wooden chest located in the Guildhall (also known as The Exchange) in which the Corporation officials kept the money the town paid in their dues (the Newcastle upon Tyne one has a hole in the lid to admit the money – a similar idea to the money boxes and piggy banks we all owned as children).

Photograph taken c.1830. Newcastle Libraries via Flickr.
Photograph taken c.1930.
Newcastle Libraries via Flickr.

The Newcastle hutch had eight locks – the Mayor had the key to one and seven chamberlains the others, and the hutch could only be opened in the presence of all the key-holders (or with their explicit consent if they couldn’t be there). But when these illustrious officials were absent, the hutch was guarded by the formidable Old Judy.

The Old Exchange, Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear by George Bouchier Richardson. (attributed to) (c) Newcastle Guildhall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
The Old Exchange, Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear by George Bouchier Richardson (attributed to).
(c) Newcastle Guildhall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

In the early nineteenth-century Judith Dowlings (also Downey or Downing) was the keeper or guardian of the town hutch and wielded a stout stick, which she was not afraid to use in its defence to keep away anyone she thought should not be near, including unwary boys loitering nearby. A newspaper report written in 1863 quoted the Handbook to Newcastle-on-Tyne by the historian Dr John Collingwood Bruce, which wryly noted that ‘some shoulders still ache at the thought of her’. Presumably that is the same stick which Old Judy has hold of in her portrait.

The Black Gate, Newcastle Upon Tyne by George Balmer (attributed to). (c) Lady Lever Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
The Black Gate, Newcastle Upon Tyne by George Balmer (attributed to).
(c) Lady Lever Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

In 1816 the artist Henry Perlee Parker settled in Newcastle upon Tyne (he stayed there until 1841 when he moved to Sheffield) and painted some of the local characters, including Old Judy, people that history would probably otherwise have forgotten all about. Her portrait was executed at some point in the first four years of his residence in Newcastle. We’ll take a look at some of his other paintings in due course – including one in which Old Judy makes another appearance. Both the town hutch and Henry Perlee Parker’s portrait of Old Judy, a half-length in oils on canvas, were moved to the new offices of the Newcastle City Treasurer when the hutch ceased to be used – fittingly Old Judy could gaze down from the wall and keep a watchful eye on the hutch she had so formidably guarded for so many years. Her portrait is now held by the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Henry Perlee Parker by Ralph Hyde Parker. (c) National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Henry Perlee Parker by Ralph Hyde Parker.
(c) National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

As Judy Downey her death is immortalised in a verse of The Newcassel Props by William Oliver. The earliest date we’ve found for this ballad in 1827, which puts Old Judy’s demise prior to that date.

But when maw lugs was lectrified

Wiv Judy Downey’s deeth,

Alang wi’ Heufy Scott aw cried,

Till byeth was out o’ breeth;

For greet and sma, fishwives an’ a’,

Luik’d up tiv her wi’ veneration –

If Judy’s in the Courts above,

Then for au’d Nick there’ll be ne casion.

 

Sources:

Newcastle Courant, 20th November 1863.

Notes:

Header image is a View of Newcastle upon Tyne, Taken from a Windmill to the East of St Ann’s by William Daniell, painted c.1802-1803.

The Newcastle upon Tyne town hutch can be seen in the Discovery Museum.