During the autumn of 1806, the Prince of Wales (later George IV) and his brother William, Duke of Clarence (later William IV), undertook a tour of several of the counties of England. We are going to look at just one of their destinations today, their visit to the city of Liverpool and their stay at Knowsley, where they arrived on 16th September.
The royal brothers were travelling with a large retinue, including Colonel Leigh and Major Benjamin Bloomfield, one of the prince’s Gentlemen in Waiting. From Prescot onwards, they were escorted by a detachment of the Liverpool Light Horse Volunteers to Knowsley Hall, the Merseyside estate of Edward Smith-Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby and his wife, Elizabeth. (The Countess of Derby was the actress Elizabeth Farren who had been the earl’s long-term mistress during his first – somewhat disastrous – marriage to Lady Elizabeth Hamilton.) The prince, duke and their retinue spent a week at Knowsley, enjoying the hospitality of the earl and countess.
The prince was in a low mood. He had lost two of his close friends within the space of a week with the deaths of Edward Thurlow, 1st Baron Thurlow and Charles James Fox; George had been told about the death of the latter as he left his previous host, George Granville Leveson-Gower, Marquess of Stafford (later 1st Duke of Sutherland) at Trentham Hall in Staffordshire, and it fell to him to tell the Earl and Countess of Derby the sad news as he arrived at Knowsley. It was, therefore, a gloomy party who entered the gates of Knowsley. (The Countess of Derby, then Miss Farren of the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, had enjoyed a short-lived affair with Fox who reputedly said dismissively of Elizabeth that she had ‘no bum nor breasts!’)
The party spent the next day quietly and privately: Henry Clay was the mayor, and he and the Corporation of Liverpool turned up at the mansion to present an address to the prince and confer the freedom of the borough on him, presented in a handsome gold box.
Despite the prince’s private grief, the show had to go on. On Thursday 18th September, the royal entourage set out from Knowsley in the Earl of Derby’s coach and six, with twenty carriages following on behind. The vast crowds of people lining the route had hoped to see the prince, but to their disappointment, he was in a close carriage, virtually hidden from sight. Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester (George III’s nephew and son-in-law) greeted the party on their entrance into the city, along with various militia.
The prince was taken to inspect the docks and the Institution for the Relief of the Blind where he asked to become their patron and immediately donated one hundred guineas. After a cold luncheon at the mayor’s house, more visits and inspections followed throughout the afternoon. In the evening, the mayor hosted a grand dinner at Lillyman’s Hotel and the town was lit up afterwards with a magnificent illumination. The prince was delighted. On his return to Knowsley, he commented to the Earl of Derby that it had been ‘the proudest day of his life’.
To the delight of the citizens, on the following day, the prince paraded through Liverpool in an open carriage, drawn by six horses and with three postilions, to cheers and huzzahs. After calling on the mayor to thank him and the Corporation, the prince proceeded to the recently established Botanic Garden in the Mount Pleasant area of Liverpool (now incorporated within the Wavertree Botanic Gardens).
The visit was a great success but had come at a huge price. It was estimated that the Corporation of Liverpool had spent some 10,000l on the entertainments. Major Bloomfield wrote a letter of thanks to the mayor at the direction of the prince, from Knowsley where the Prince of Wales and Duke of Clarence remained, enjoying the hospitality of their hosts and friends, the Earl and Countess of Derby.
Knowsley, September 20th 1806
I am commanded by the Prince of Wales to express to you and the corporation of Liverpool, the strong sense his Royal Highness entertains of the very splendid and magnificent reception he has met with in your opulent and populous town. I have to lament the inadequacy of my powers to convey to you in the forcible language it requires, the feelings of his Royal Highness upon this occasion. The heartfelt satisfaction which seemed to pervade all ranks of people, could not fail to excite in his Royal Highness’s breast, the most sensible emotions of affection and regard, the impression of which, will ever remain indelible. His Royal Highness’s repeated exclamation, that “This is the proudest day of my life,” will, I trust, be sufficiently conclusive to you of the grateful sensations of his Royal Highness.
I am further commanded to request, that you will have the goodness to undertake the trouble of offering the subsequent bounties of his Royal Highness, to the following charities of Liverpool, viz.
One hundred guineas to the Infirmary
One hundred guineas to the Institution for the Blind
Fifty guineas to the Welch Charity
Fifty guineas to the poor debtors.
The Prince of Wales begs that you will personally accept the consideration of his high esteem and regard; and,
I have the honor to remain, &c.
H. Clay, Esq. &c, Liverpool.
The royal brothers, meanwhile, continued their tour into Cheshire and onwards through south Yorkshire and then on to Chatsworth in Derbyshire.
The History of Liverpool: from the earliest authenticated period down to the present times, 1810
Chester Courant, 23rd September 1806
Hampshire Chronicle, 29th September 1806
Leeds Intelligencer, 29th September 1806
Manchester Mercury, 30th September 1806
View of Liverpool Harbour by Robert Salmon, 1806. The Athenaeum.