The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street – Lady Sarah Archer

Whilst it’s not clear to whom the original name Old Lady of Threadneedle Street pertained to, if anyone, but the caricature of 1797 by Gillray, relates to Lady Sarah Archer and it’s Lady Sarah  that we’re going to look at today. Lady Sarah Archer, was the wife of 2nd Baron, Andrew Archer.

The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street British Museum

Sarah was born in 1741, to parents, James West and Sarah, James who, according to the Bath Chronicle, 30 July 1761, was the joint Secretary to the Treasury and member of Parliament for St Alban’s, Hertfordshire. The couple were the owners of Alscot Park, Preston on Stour, Warwickshire, meaning that Sarah was born into an affluent family.

Alscot Park 1818. Courtesy of British Library

It was at the end of July 1761 that Sarah married the honourable Andrew Archer, son of Lord Archer of Umberslade Hall, Warwickshire and Pyrgo Park estate at Havering in Essex, so perhaps this was the union of two affluent families rather than a love match, but of course, we will never know.

We have no idea of the physical appearance of Andrew, nor do we really know what Lady Sarah looked like, as no portraits appear to exist, but we certainly have plenty of caricatures of her in later life, which are, to say the least, less than flattering.

Six Stages of Mending a face. Lady Archer. British Museum

The couple settled into married life and produced 4 daughters: Sarah (1762 – 1838), Ann Elizabeth (1763-1847), Maria (1765-1789) and Harriet (1769-1816).

The couple also had a son, according to Aris’s Birmingham Gazette 2 December 1771

On Wednesday last the lady of Lord Archer was delivered of a son and heir, at Umberslade, to the great joy of that family.

Their son was born 27 November 1771, but did not survive infancy, although there appears to be no documentary evidence to confirm the date of his death. This left the family with girls, therefore with no male to inherit the title.

It would be just seven years later that Andrew died in the April of 1778. He left no will and so a grant of administration of his estate was issued May 1778, in which his estate was placed in trust for his daughters, then aged 16, 15, 13 and 9.

As such, this left Lady Sarah widowed at the age of 37, with four children to care for. There is no evidence of her seeking a second husband, but she perhaps felt that being a wealthy widow there was no need of one; or possibly she was not the most attractive of women if the caricatures do bear any resemble to her, and as such didn’t find someone willing to marry her and take on four daughters, but of course, we will never know.

Lady Sarah facing right in ‘Race for a husband’. British Museum

All four daughters married well:

Sarah married on 20 May 1788, (not 1778, as I have read elsewhere), her husband sporting the unusual name of Other Hickman Windsor, 5th Earl of Plymouth. The couple were married by Special Licence at the home of Sir James Long of Grosvenor Place.

Maria was the next to marry. Her marriage to Henry Howard took place on November 26, 1788, by Licence, at Glaston, Northamptonshire, but she sadly died on 9 November, the following year.

Ann Elizabeth married Christopher Musgrave on 4 October 1790 by licence, at Edith Weston, Rutland.

Harriet also married on 5 December 1790, her husband being  Edward Bolton Clive. The couple married by special Licence at the home of Harriet’s brother in law, the Earl of Plymouth on Bruton Street.

According to the Morning Chronicle of 5 January 1789, Lady Sarah had died!

Friday died in Hereford Street. Lady Archer, relict of the late Lord Archer. The title extinct.

However, the Morning Post of 8 January 1789, corrected this rumour by stating that:

It is said that the dealers in Carmine and dead white, as well as the perfumers in general, have it in contemplation to present an address to Lady Archer, in gratitude for her not having died according to a late alarming report.

Throughout the 1790s Lady Sarah held regular ‘routs and card parties’ at her London home on Hereford Street.

The knave wins all. British Museum

According to Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, 30 July 1792 though, these parties came to an abrupt end … for a while at least.

Lady Archer has been struck with a paralytic stroke, which has totally deprived her of the use of one side, and has occasioned, in a great measure, the loss of her faculties; it is thought she cannot survive many day, nor is it to be wished, considering her melancholy situation She was warned of the probability of such an event by her physicians, about three years past.

Lady Sarah Archer and Albinia Hobart, Countess of Buckinghamshire in ‘The Exaltation of Faro’s Daughters’. British Museum

Perhaps in light of this illness, the following year, Sarah made her will whilst at her house at Umberslade. Her wish was to be buried alongside her husband, Andrew. She left £1,000 to her sister, Harriet West. To her maid Elizabeth Gallon, he left her wearing apparel, but not her jewellery, plus £100. To her housekeeper, Mary Walklett, again £100. The remainder of her estate to be divided equally between her 3 surviving daughters, Sarah, Elizabeth Ann and Harriet who were to be her joint executrixes.

The Morning Herald 4 March 1793 reported that Lady Sarah was still unwell, but as the saying goes, ‘the show must go on’.

In the Faro campaign of this winter, Mrs Monolieu has gained some advantage, as to visitors, over Mrs Hobart, and both find themselves assisted by the indisposition of Lady Archer. Since this game, it seems, must go on, why not licence it to a certain extent, and let five per cent of the profits to the widows of our seamen and soldiers!

By late 1793, she appears to have made something of a recovery and was back playing the card tables.

The Female Jockey Club, or A Sketch of the manners of the age by Charles Piggot, 1794 provides and interesting sketch of Lady Archer which aimed to summarize her life to that point:

Her Ladyships figure has been for many years common to this metropolis, but the natural complexion of her face, is no more remembered, it having been so long disguised by cosmetic art, that flesh and blood seem not to form the least part of its composition.

The art of painting, however, of brushing up an old decayed picture, is not the only art in which she excels. The noble dame is perfect mistress of all our polite, fashionable arts. In the art of driving phaeton with superior grace and dexterity; of shuffling the cards and raising a cock at Faro.

According to the Hampshire Chronicle April 1797,

Lady Archer let out her house in Albemarle Street, dismissed her servants, turned out the door Faro and his Host, and retired to her seat at Ham Common, Surrey, where she intends to lead a private life.

The Oracle and the Daily Advertiser 23 February 1801 reported the demise of Lady Sarah in almost mocking terms referring to her excessive use of cosmetics:

The death of Lady Archer has alarmed all the female dabbers in those cosmetics which are confessedly pernicious, but which cannot be dispensed with by those who enamel the skin; a mode of painting which requires repairing but about once a month.

Whereas the Bath Chronicle kept their report of her death extremely brief and factual:

Cause of death – as a result of injury by her clothes taking fire.

Lady Sarah died at her home on Charles Street, Grosvenor Square and was buried  on 27 February 1801, as per the wishes in her will, at the same church in Tanworth, Warwickshire, as her late husband.

Given all the caricatures of Lady Sarah, which would have been in the print shops and the references to her gambling in the press, both sources of which she would be very well aware of, couldn’t possibly have been happy about being depicted in such a derogatory fashion, but clearly not enough to stop her gambling or to tone down her excessive use of cosmetics.


Lady Sarah’s burial – Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service; Worcester, Worcestershire, England; The Diocese of Worcester Bishop’s Transcripts; Reference: b736/BA2015/357b


6 thoughts on “The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street – Lady Sarah Archer

  1. mistyfan

    You must remember that in those days cosmetics was very dangerous because it was full of lead, mercury and arsenic. It made fast work of destroying the appearance it was intended to enhance. And Lady Sarah was certainly taking cosmetics to excess; perhaps she was desperate to improve a plain appearance, but the poisons in the cosmetics would only make it worse.


    1. Sarah Murden

      Absolutely correct and I do wonder whether this use of cosmetics could have caused the ‘stroke’ assuming that’s what she actually had. There are so many cases of women using too much makeup and suffering from poisoning as a result of it, no wonder it was eventually made illegal.


  2. Fascinating. It seems that vicious public comments on ‘celebrities’ appearances are nothing new. I feel sympathy for poor Lady Sarah Archer, who was presumably using cosmetics in an effort to improve her looks, only to be mocked for doing so.


    1. Sarah Murden

      Thanks Penny. No! we don’t seemed to have learnt anything from the past really when it comes to the way celebrities are treated. I agree, I’m sure she was using cosmetics to improve her looks, but sadly they contained mercury etc

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Eddith9021

    It’s so interesting that we found another person who also seemed to reside in Hereford Street, the very same street as Lady Elizabeth Murray. could Lady Sarah might be her neighbour? interesting thought


    1. Sarah Murden

      I think in light of the calling card, that it was Lady Elizabeth and her husband who used the property on Hereford Street as their town house and Lady Archer lived just a few doors away according to the rates returns, but both women also had their main residence elsewhere, as we know.

      Liked by 1 person

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