Men’s waistcoats of the Georgian era

In the 18th and early 19th century  it was very much the fashion for men to wear some stunning waistcoats, so today we’re going to take a pictorial look at some stunning waistcoats from a variety of museums and galleries. Why don’t we see anything quite like these today? Perhaps time for a revival, maybe!

A French embroidered waistcoat dated between 1785-1795 shows Dido and Aeneas in a scene from Didon, a 1783 opera by the Italian composer Niccolò Piccini (1728-1800) Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum
A French embroidered waistcoat dated between 1785-1795 shows Dido and Aeneas in a scene from Didon, a 1783 opera by the Italian composer Niccolò Piccini (1728-1800). Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum

The first items is truly stunning especially when you look at the detail of the bottom of it. I can’t imagine how long that must have taken to sew.

I thought it was worth also taking a look at newspaper adverts to  see who was actually selling waistcoats and how much they cost. Whilst there are plenty of adverts, none of them tell us how much such lovely items would have cost.

Bath Journal 01 January 1749
Bath Journal 01 January 1749
Waistcoat worn by Claude Lamoral II (1685-1766). Prince of Ligne and the Holy Empire. Courtesy of Palais Galliera, musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris
Leeds Intelligencer 13 May 1777
Leeds Intelligencer 13 May 1777
Courtesy of the MetMuseum c 1750-1770
This original design is that it identifies not only the artist but also the weaver, Peter Lekeux, and gives the date of sale — October 23, 1747. Metmuseum

The design of this piece was created by Anna Maria Garthwaite, known for creating vivid floral designs for silk fabrics hand-woven in Spitalfields, London, in the mid-18th century.

Peter Lekeux was one of the many weavers working in Spitalfields, London, who died in 1768. In his will he left bequests to his wife, Mary, his mother, Sarah and his sister, Mary Margaret.

To finish, look closely at the pockets on this one, such intricate detail

The embroidery motifs on this vest depict Aesop’s (620-560 BC) tale of “The Wolf and the Crane.” The fable, which was re-introduced in the 17th century by Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695), contains a wolf that needs assistance removing a bone from his throat with a crane kind enough to assist. The beautiful embroidery is very playful and indicative of the status of the waistcoat as decoration.. Courtesy of the MetMuseum

Guest post by RM Healey – The bizarre death of a young caricaturist

As always, it’s lovely to be able to welcome back to All Things Georgian, a now regular guest, Mr R M Healey who is going to share with us the bizarre death of  young caricaturist.

On 21st February (another source gives 21st May) 1828 those attending to the business of buying or hiring horses and carriages at the London Horse and Carriage Repository off the Gray’s Inn Lane (later renamed Gray’s Inn Road), just opposite the present King’s Cross station, must have been startled to hear the sound of a crash of broken glass and a terrible scream of pain. Those who rushed to the scene were met with a horrific sight. Lying on the pavement was a young man covered with blood who had seemingly fallen from a great height through glass, some of which was sticking out of his head and body.

As astonished spectators gathered around the unconscious figure two questions must have arisen. Who was he and how did he end up on the pavement in that terrible state.

Discovering how the accident had happened was easy enough, as people rushed down the stairs from the upper stories of the building. A man had somehow managed to step onto a skylight window and had fallen straight through the glass down onto the ground some forty feet below.

London Horse repository

He had been alone, so there was no-one there who knew who he was. But even if someone in the Repository had known him, he was so disfigured by the numerous cuts to his face that it would have been impossible to identify him.

Then, less than a year before the Metropolitan Police Act was passed someone present performed a very obvious act. He rifled through the dead man’s clothes, found a card case and took out a card. The man lying motionless before them was the celebrated young caricaturist and book illustrator Theodore Lane, who it turned out was just 27 years old.

British Museum

Some standing around the body may have seen the young artist eight years earlier as he carried out his apprenticeship at the premises of J. C. Barrow at Weston Place, no more than a stone’s throw away from the Repository.

Had they been the sort of person who had delighted in Pierce Egan’s  Life in London, that best-selling adventure of Corinthian Tom and  Jerry among the flesh pots of the metropolis, which had appeared in 1821, they could have noticed that a similar work, The Life of an Actor, had had some success the following year.

The man who had provided the six plates for this had been Theodore Lane. Had they cast their mind back a few months earlier they may have noticed that some of the anonymous anti-Queen Caroline caricatures that had issued from the print shop of Humphrey in 1820/1 were similar in style to those of Lane. In fact, Dorothy Richardson, an authority on British caricature, firmly attributes them to the artist.

Theodore Lane snuff box

Theodore Lane was born in Isleworth, Middlesex in 1800, the son of a poor drawing-master from Worcester. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to John Barrow, an artist and colourer of prints. Alongside his work as a book illustrator Lane exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1819, 1820 and 1826) as a watercolourist and miniaturist, but in 1825 took up oil painting. Following his modest success with The Life of an Actor the young Lane had met with Egan with a view to a collaboration. Thus, it was, that Life of an Actor, Peregrine Proteus, including 27 colour plates and many woodcuts, had been published in 1825. Two year later Lane illustrated Egan’s Anecdotes of the Turf ; and also, one of Lane’s best humorous full size plates appeared from the print shop of the well known George Hunt in Covent Garden. This shows a dandy emerging from his coach his face splattered with mud thrown by a young imp who had aimed it at his friend standing close by. ‘A Shilling Fare to a Christmas Dinner ‘must have appeared in the shop window some time in December 1827 in time for the Christmas trade.

British Museum

This was probably the last of Lane’s comic prints to appear. As a young artist whose stock in the public mind was rapidly rising, he had doubtless enjoyed a happy Christmas with his wife and three children in the country.

A new year brought the prospect of fresh commissions –and so as Lane waited at the newly opened London Horse and Carriage Repository for a friend to join him for a coach trip to see his family — he was doubtless in good spirits.

No-one could have imagined that he could have been as careless as to step onto a skylight. But this is what happened. The press described the disaster as an accident. It is certainly possible that Lane could have been drinking at the time. A more bizarre explanation is that he may have been pushed by someone who disliked his anti-Caroline caricatures, which were quite savage. He had shown himself to be a supporter of the King by dedicating some of his plates  to him. But in an age when perhaps only the faces of the most prominent public figures were publicly known, it seems unlikely that a stranger could have recognised such a young and comparatively unknown artist as Lane. It seems much more probable that the artist had indeed died as a result of a freak accident.

Lane was buried in the nearby Old St Pancras churchyard. His heartbroken family were partially provided for when one of Lane’s most famous paintings (‘The Enthusiast,’ aka ‘The Gouty Angler’) was engraved and later bought for the nation.

Lane, Theodore; Enthusiast (‘The Gouty Angler’); Tate

The Royal Academy also opened a subscription for his widow. As for the scene of his death, the London Horse and Carriage Repository seems to have been jinxed. It closed not long afterwards and reopened as the Royal London Bazaar—a rather up-market exhibition space for novelty attractions. In 1834- 5 this became for a brief period the first permanent exhibition of Madame Tussauds waxworks; by then it was also the site of Robert Owen’s Equitable Labour Exchange.


Pierce Egan’s The Show Folks (1831) contains a memoir of Lane.

Dorothy Richardson’s English Political Caricature (1959) is also useful on the anti-Caroline caricatures.

Simon Houfe’s Dictionary of  British Book Illustrators (1998) has a useful catalogue.

Guest post by the The Early Dance Circle

I am delighted to welcome back to All Things Georgian, Sharon Butler from the Early Dance Circle, who joins me today to publicise their upcoming event, which may well be of interest to you. With that, I will hand you over to Sharon:


For 40 years, The Early Dance Circle has promoted the enjoyment, performance and study of European dance from the 15th to the 20th century. Our website, will tell you all about us and our many activities as a small charity and an umbrella group for dancers all over the UK. The dances of Britain play a large part in this long history.

From time to time we sponsor events and here I want to tell you about our next one. It fits with our aims perfectly and offers some superb entertainment from the Georgian era as well. Try not to miss it.


The Remarkably Talented Mr Weaver Presents… an evening of drama, baroque music, song and dance the London of 1717

Join the Weaver Ensemble onstage to celebrate the 350th anniversary of John Weaver, choreographer, impresario and creator of the first ballet. Two comic romances, filled with notated baroque dance and authentic period music, make an entertaining introduction to his world.

You can experience the vivid performance potential of 18th century theatre on the London stage at the Marylebone Theatre on 21 January, 7:30 pm.


The flyer below provides more details and there is more information on the Eventbrite page itself. Please come along and bring your friends.

This show is a welcoming introduction to the pleasures of historical dance, with its huge repertoire that we can all continue to enjoy today.

Our two young stars are Chiara Vinci and Anton Zakirov:


18th century wigs and wigmakers

The use of wigs began prior to the 18th century, but they were very much in vogue throughout the 18th century and were known as either periwigs or perukes, and remained fashionable until the advent of  hair powder tax which was part of the government’s way to find more ways to increase the empty coffers, at which time their prevalence diminished, and it wouldn’t take many years for au naturel to become the fashion. The terms periwig and peruke appear to have been interchangeable terms and it’s interesting to note the decrease in size of wigs over the decades as we can see here.

Wellcome Collection

To have your wig powdered was a sign of your wealth, affluence and when you read newspapers about missing persons, there was frequently a physical description of the person, but also a reference to the type of wig they were wearing as we can see below with this gentleman who was sporting a curled wig powdered.

Police Gazette 18 March 1774

There were several reasons for wearing wigs, apart from being a fashion accessory, hair loss being the most obvious, but they were also worn to cover scarring caused by illnesses such as syphilis.

Needless to say, wearing a wig became something of  a vicious circle, you may have chosen to wear one to protect against head lice, but equally, wigs were often made from made from animal hair which could cause lice and other scalp conditions which they may not have suffered from prior to wearing it!

Wearing a wig was also a fire hazard due to the use of candles, something I have written about before, so candle light combined with the use of animal fats used for styling wigs, was a recipe for disaster.

A Doleful Disaster, Or Miss Fubby Fatarmin’s Wig Caught Fire. Lewis Walpole Library

Wigmakers and hairdressers not only benefitted from the sale of wigs, but also by selling accessories to ensure their client remained looking and smelling fragrant with the use of soaps, oils, powders and pomatums, as we can see below at Oaks’ Ornamental Hair Manufactory on Vine Street London.

Aris’s Birmingham Gazette 27 May 1799

We may think that grooming is a 21st century ‘thing’ but it was extremely important back in the 18th century too. If you visit a hairdressers, barbers or beauty salon today, secondary selling still takes place. Many adverts claimed that products developed by the wigmaker would not only make your wig look good, but also that their product was better than any others and that it could stop you from getting a headache or other ailments, as it was far superior to other products on the market – of course, no evidence exists to support some of their spurious claims.

Here we can see an example of a trade card for Thomas Ravenscroft, of Serle Street, London, not only did he sell all kinds of wigs, but also perfumes. From his will though, his business doesn’t appear to have been terribly successful, as he left a legacy to his wife in 1807 of just £20.

British Museum

Women rarely wore wigs, as they were very much a male domain, but I have also read that women never wore wigs, however, as we can see from this advert, which appeared in the Hereford Journal, 12 September 1798, Mr Bosley could provide hair services for you having brought with him from London – ‘Ladies’ wigs, fillets, braids and all kinds of false hair’. This was only one of many adverts, so clearly there was a requirement for women’s wigs. In fact the advert above for Oaks’ appears to have been very much aimed at women.

For women the fashion for large and high hair grew during the 1770s and 80s and as we can see here in this caricature below, some were enormous towers. For women who wished to replicate anything similar to this one would probably have used what today we would call hair extensions, which, with an experienced stylist could create some amazingly high hair, but quite how realistic images as we see below were, we can only imagine, as I would have thought taking your hair that high, might actually snap your neck.

Satire on fashion: a French hairdresser mounts a ladder to arrange with tongs the curls of a lady with an enormous coiffure, while another man with a long queue, evidently her husband, holds a sextant to measure the height. 15 July 1771. Matthias Darly. British Museum.

The Hampshire Chronicle 11 August 1798 tells us that apparently men preferred their ladies not to wear wigs (make of this what you will!).

This advert by William Johnston which appeared in the Caledonian Mercury, advises his customers that not only did he sell wigs for men, but also women and children in various sizes and colours. I wasn’t aware of children wearing wigs, so a new one to me.

Caledonian Mercury 25 May 1752

So where did the hair come from? It would appear that there were hair merchants, who would sell the hair either in its natural state or prepared for wig making, such a procedure would probably include dying it. We can see an example of a hair merchant here in this advert in the Northampton Mercury 9 May 1795:

Sadly, I have no context for this next piece which appeared in the Cambridge Intelligencer, 15 September 1798:

The hair merchants first introduced ladies’ wigs, in order to dispose of their over laden market, from the heads of the dead soldiers, during the war. Read this, fair country women, and shudder!

In the 1700s, wig or peruke making was very much a male occupation, with many of them being journeymen who travelled around the country to service their clients.  However, I did come across a few women who were wig makers, mainly having taken over their husband’s business upon his demise. Here we have an advert for Alice Rawlinson, whose husband Matthew,  had died, but rather than selling the business, Alice decided to continue running it.

Manchester Mercury 08 April 1783

And one for Elizabeth Perkins, again continuing to run her late husband’s business, but this woman’s skills knew no bounds, not only peruke making, but bloodletting, ladies ear boring (which presumably means ear piercing), cleaning and teeth drawing.

Leeds Intelligencer 28 August 1787 – Elizabeth Perkins

I’ll finish this article with a snippet from the Hampshire Chronicle of 20 August 1798, about Lady Emma Hamilton’s wigs. True or not, I couldn’t possibly comment, but she was in Naples at this time, so perhaps there is a grain of truth in it.

Update courtesy of Etienne Daly:

Others in the 18th century also grew their own hair and styled it to the fashionable perukes of the time as can be seen here, Admiral Sir John Lockhart Ross (1721-1790).

Christmas at Belvoir Castle

Today’s article is rather different to my usual ones, as today’s is a rather early festive post and will be the last one for this year, as I’m taking a short break until  the new year, when I’ll return with plenty more tales from the Georgian period for you.

© Sarah Murden

I recently had the pleasure to visit the historic Belvoir Castle (pronounced Beaver), which stands above the Vale of Belvoir, on the outskirts of Grantham.

The castle originally dates back to the eleventh century and is the ancestral home of the Manners family, the Dukes of Rutland and remains so to this day, so needless to say it well and truly pre-dates the Georgian period, but of course, for me I was very keen to see anything that was of the Georgian era – I was not disappointed. Belvoir Castle is said by experts to be one of the finest examples of Regency architecture in the country.

©Sarah Murden

Apart from the stunning architecture and the festive decorations, I just thought I would share a couple of Romany stories connected to Belvoir, that you might find interesting, not about the nobility as such, however. The first originating in the Derby Mercury, 6 September 1771:

We have an account from the Vale of Belvoir, that a numerous family of gypsies lately took up their lodgings in a barn at Redmile Field, near Barnston. The noble duke riding with an attendant that way, to take an airing, was alarmed with the cries of woman in labour, and on enquiry finding the gypsey female in great distress, he very humanely sent his servant for immediate assistance, and soon after a cart with plenty of refreshments. And we are further informed that on Sunday the child (which was a boy) was publicly baptised, a plentiful dinner being served up in the barn to a numerous company, and his Grace standing godfather by proxy.

So far, I haven’t had any luck tracing this baptism, but there is very little to go on, apart from the child being a boy. There was a girl baptised at Redmile in the August of that year, Lydia Lovett, the daughter of Henry and Angeletta, travellers, so it’s perhaps reasonably safe to assume that whoever this child was, his parents were travelling with the Lovetts. In all likelihood the reference to the duke, would have been John Manners, 3rd Duke of Rutland, who we see pictured here:

John Manners, 3rd Duke of Rutland, by Charles Jervis, 1725, Belvoir Castle

Some ten plus years ago I came across this article in the Leicestershire Notes and Queries, also concerning a child and Belvoir Castle and a famous, or rather an infamous Romany family, who travelled around the East Midlands:

One of Absalom’s daughters, Beatta by name, was considered to be extremely handsome. A fine painting of her in a red cloak is at Belvoir Castle. Beatta had twenty-four children. On one occasion she was confined in camp at Goadby lane, and was frequently visited by Mrs. Norman, from the Hall, who stood godmother to the child, and it was named after her.

It has been possible to trace this child, she was named Adeliza Smith, her parents being Absolom Smith (1802-1865) and Beatta or Beatrice (1800-1856), Beatta being the daughter of another Absolom Smith. The Mrs Norman, in the story was the daughter of 4th Duke of Rutland, Lady Adeliza Elizabeth Gertrude Manners (1810-1877), who later married Reverend F. J. Norman.

I did contact Belvoir Castle at that time, but sadly they were unable to shed any light on such a portrait, so quite where it vanished to I and they have no idea, but I did look for it again on my visit, but with no luck, so presumably it was sold at some stage.

So, there appears to have been at least a couple of instances of the Manners family coming into close contact with the travelling Romany families of the East Midlands and I’m sure there must be more stories that haven’t come to light as yet.

©Sarah Murden

Anyway, I’ll leave to enjoy a final photograph of the festive decorations at Belvoir and wish you all seasons greetings and a very happy new year, but before I go I would also like to take the opportunity to thank you all for your continued support over the years, and to say that All Things Georgian has now achieved over  two million views, which is amazing – so  a massive THANK YOU 🙂

©Sarah Murden

If you have the opportunity to visit the castle, I can assure you that the walk up the very steep hill, is well worth the effort.

Also, just a final note to let you know that  with all the changes Twitter is undergoing right now, that should you wish to follow me on social media I can now also be found at Mastodon 

Featured Image

Belvoir Castle, Rutland by William Daniell. Courtesy of YCBA

Education, Education, Education – for girls in the Georgian era

I have previously looked at employment for 18th century girls, so today we’re going to look at educational establishments for girls.

Lady Jane Mathew and Her Daughters c1790 YCBA

If you were middle or upper class, you would no doubt have been educated, but for the lower classes education may well  have been carried out by the mother in the home, and in a large part, a girl would have learnt the same skills as her mother, whether that be childcare or perhaps some sort of home based work, for example framework knitting.

We know that for girls born into noble families education was often carried out home, with tutors being brought into the household or by a live in governess, rather than the girl attending a school, but for many upper class young ladies they were educated and would perhaps attend boarding school. Sending your daughter to a boarding school could also be quite risky, as it meant your daughter was no longer under your roof and it would be difficult to assess how safe she might be in such a place, despite their seemingly impeccable credentials.

Trade card of Mary and Ann Favell (Eltham), school. c.1755. British Museum

Of course, it was a different situation for young gentlemen, as there were education establishments popping up all over. Once educated, it was common for an affluent young gentleman to go off on the Grand Tour and for others to go to university, or if not suited to academia, perhaps a career working for the East India Company might have been an option, or joining the military.  None of these options were on offer to young ladies.

Sloane House Boarding School. British Museum

Today, I’m going to look at adverts in the newspapers to see what schools offered young women and women who sought employment in them.

The Morning Herald, London seems to have been a popular newspaper for such establishments seeking both pupils and also for employees and there were certain skills required by potential teachers as we can see from these:

17 March 1802

Wanted, as one of the English teachers in a very superior ladies’ boarding school, a lady, not less than thirty, of genteel manners, an informed mind, and capable of teaching the English language, and different kinds of needle-works. It is also absolutely necessary that she should translate and speak French.

and another from 28 August 1807 by a school looking for

A young lady, who thoroughly understands teaching music. If acquainted with the French language, the more agreeable.

and this from 21 January 1806:

Wanted immediately, as an apprentice in an established ladies’ boarding school, a young lady, who upon reasonable terms will be instructed in writing, arithmetic, needlework, grammar, composition, geography, in the French and Italian languages, and in other departments of study requisite to qualify her for a school, or as a private governess. French and Italian are the languages chiefly spoken in the school.

Trade card of The Misses Lankester (London), school. c1800. British Museum

In the St James’s Chronicle 10 February 1801, we see an advert from a widower who had five daughters and was:

Desirous of their education being completed at home, rather than at boarding school. Any lady of respectability, perfectly qualified for such an undertaking, may meet with a very agreeable situation. Preference will be given if accustomed to the tuition of children. Satisfactory references will be expected.

We then move on to look at young ladies who offered their skills as a teacher such as this one potential candidate who, in 1801 offered her skills as an assistant teacher in a respectable school. She advised potential employers that she was

19 years of age and the daughter of a clergyman and that a potential employer should be aware that as this would be her first trial, salary will not be an object.

Which loosely translate to her being prepared to work for very low wages to gain additional skills.

Morning Post 6 July 1803

Wants a situation, in a ladies boarding school,  a young lady, who can teach the French and English language, needlework and the rudiments of geography.

The Sense of Hearing, Philippe Mercier.
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

From the adverts for both lessons being offered, and those equipped to teach them, the skills for a young lady would appear to be English and French, with French being a necessity for all young women. Art, needlework, music and geography were lessons appearing in most adverts, but dancing and music lessons, which I thought might have been included appear to have been offered as an extra-curricular  option and would have been taught by a dancing master, who would often offer this at home.

Featured Image

John Richard Comyns of Hylands, Essex, with His Daughters YCBA

Whaplode near Holbeach, Lincolnshire.

The Reverend Samuel Oliver of Whaplode, Lincolnshire … again!

The Reverend Samuel Oliver has probably received more publicity via All Things Georgian than he ever did during his life, as I have written several times before, he was the vicar who simply kept on giving.

He was not only the moral compass for Whaplode parish in rural Lincolnshire, but a great lover of the exclamation mark. Whilst for most of his parishioners he simply recorded the basic information, for some he would really go to town with more details than really necessary about them.

If a woman had a child out of wedlock, he seems to have felt the need to record the mother as a prostitute, whether this was accurate we will never know.

Today, I have inadvertently found myself revisiting his parish registers, this time it’s his comments about the baptisms of his parishioners children that I have been drawn to. He never held back in his comments, as we can see here in this first one for the baptism of Henry Wilson, the son of James, a cottager and his wife Elizabeth. The entry was on 26 November 1822, but it was not a usual baptism as noted by Rev. Oliver:

These people are stark raging ranters, who took the child (9 weeks old) to Mr Elsdale and imposed upon him with a lie!

For some reason the couple appear to have had the child baptised previously by the Rev Samuel Elsdale, master of the grammar school, in the neighbouring village of Moulton, which has obviously offended or annoyed Rev Oliver.

Next, we have the baptism of Betsey Makeman, on 9 December 1815, ‘the bastard daughter’ of Maria, the widow of William Lown.  Maria was said to be living in a small house, in the low fields of Whaplode and her late husband, was a farmer.

Maria nee Copeland had married William Lown in 1799 and shortly after, the couple had a son, William in 1800 and a daughter, Maria the following year, followed by Elizabeth, Snelson, Ann and Robert. Maria’s husband William, then died, leaving Maria with 6 children to raise alone. Clearly, Maria met someone new and had a child with him. Rev. Oliver clearly did not approve of Maria’s current living arrangements i.e., living in sin as he saw it.

This woman’s moral depravity is so great, that she prefers living in a state of adultery with one, William Makeman to a state of matrimony with the same man!!!

On 22 April 1817, Maria Lown presented a second child, William, for baptism, the child having been born 29 December 1815, so not long after she had presented her daughter Betsey for baptism, which seems slightly curious as to why she didn’t have both children baptised at the same time. Rev. Oliver seems to have had plenty to say about Williams mother, Maria once again. This time his thoughts seem to have had no filter.

This abandoned woman might be married but will not! The banns of marriage have been published, but she prefers a state of prostitution! Remarking or having it remarked that she is already a whore and can be no worse. Therefore, will e’en remain as she is!!!!

Sure enough, the banns had been read for William Makeman’s marriage to Maria and even then, Rev. Oliver felt the need to record her as Maria, (the prostitute).

The couple were married by Rev. Oliver on 1 August 1817. On this occasion however,  he simply stuck to the facts and there were no little asides noted about her former occupation.

Young William didn’t survive very long after his baptism dying in September 1817 and Rev. Oliver, once again saw fit to make a comment about Maria, despite her by this time being a respectable married woman, in Rev Oliver’s eyes it would appear that Maria could do nothing right.

With that, we move swiftly on to Rebecca, baptised 12 February 1816, the illegitimate daughter of Rebecca Winters. Rebecca, we are told was

bought into the parish by one, Edward Smith, a farmer’s son, as his wife, although he had another wife living at the same time, who was, shortly after delivered, in this parish of a dead child and what is more wonderful, the parish bore the expense of his wife’s confinement and suffered him to go at large, triumphing his wickedness as an affair which concerned no person!!!


The Carlton House Ball of March 1784

I have previously written about Georgian parties and let’s jut say, that no-one hosted more impressive parties than the ‘King of Bling’ himself, Prince George, later George IV.

Carlton House Plan in March 1784. RCT

During 1783 and early 1784 his London home, Carlton House was extensively renovated with a grand ball being held early March 1784. Looking at the royal accounts, just to give you an idea, he spent the equivalent of £123,000 on curtains alone!

The Gardens of Carlton House with Neapolitan Ballad Singers 1784. William Henry Bunbury. 10 May 1785. Gov’t Art Collection

A lengthy account by the Hampshire Chronicle 22 March 1784 reported that:

The elegant suite of apartments lately fitted up at Carlton House, were opened for the reception of a select party of the friends of the Prince of Wales.

The ball presented the most pleasing coup d’oeil of everything that was magnificent and delightful. The dresses of the ladies, with the charms of their persons, the sprightliness of the dances, and the excellence of the music, formed altogether a scene that was perfectly brilliant and enchanting. Among the beauties particularly distinguished on this occasion were the Misses Ingrams and Talbots, with Lady Beauchamp and sister, and many others of the first note for person and figure. The five above mentioned ladies all appeared in one uniform Spanish dress, composed on white crepe and gold, elegantly set off with precious tones.

The rooms were illuminated in the finest taste, and the supper was the most exquisite of whatever could be procured in the present season.

The Rebuilding of Carlton House c1783 RCT

The account continues:

The ballroom exhibits a pleasing contrast to the state room, and is, from the style in which it is laid out, admitted to be as nouvelle as it is beautiful. The panels are of a beautiful white, framed with a light moulding, which appears to be entwined with foliage and flowers after nature. On each side of the room are placed give large looking glasses, the framing of which is light and well in character for a ball room. A very magnificent glass is placed in one end of the room, of such dimensions, that it reflects almost every object in the room. On the other end is an orchestra, elevated about eleven feet from the ground. A painted railing, of blue upon a most beautiful crimson damask drapery appears, hung in a well-disposed style, and blended with festoons of artificial roses and leaves, that give the most beautiful relief. Plumes of artificial feathers, fixed in small coronets, are placed in proper distances around the room.

With great thanks to one of my lovely readers, I now know from the diary of Mary Hamilton more about the event, along with newspapers reports. Mary Hamilton described her preparations for the ball.

The ball commenced about 10pm, so Mary, along with some of the other ladies began to get themselves ready for the ball about 5pm with the help of a hairdressers and dresser, everything had to look ‘just so’ as this was an extremely important event  – after all, it was being hosted by the Prince, so only new dresses would suffice.

Mary explained that a little after 10pm Lady Stormont (the second wife of Lord Stormont, later to become 2nd Lord Mansfield) and her step daughter, Lady Elizabeth Mary Murray, came to collect her. Sadly, there was no mention in her correspondence that Dido Elizabeth Belle was with them, so we have to assume with no evidence to the contrary, that Dido was not  at this social gathering, otherwise, I feel sure she would have been specifically named, just as Lady Elizabeth was.

Mary described meeting the prince when they reached the second room and said of him:

his R. H was very gracious & expressed great pleasure in seeing me — had two long conversations with him

Later in the evening, the prince asked Lady Stormont to dance, but she had to decline as she was pregnant with their 4th child, Henry, who was born early August 1784.

Mary Hamilton also confirmed something I had read in the press, that there were between 500 and 600 people at the event, so it wasn’t exactly what most of us would think of as a small gathering.

Mary described not taking part in the dancing as the ballroom was too full, so instead she walked from room to room to chat with people. She had planned to dine under the protection of Lady Finch, but the prince sent for her to dine at his table. Later, the prince joined the others in the ballroom and according to Mary ‘he dances very finely. There were 4 or 5 minuets danced, but without ceremony or precision as to rank.’ Mary confirmed that she finally ate at 2.30am in one of the lower rooms, describing everything as handsome, proper and well attended. The pages were all dressed in uniform, which was a very dark coloured cloath, trimmed handsomely with gold lace, with the footmen who waited at the tables dressed in Royal livery.

Mary left the ball at quarter to four in the morning, but by all accounts, it went on until about 9am. That was quite some party, wasn’t it?

The Montgomeryshire Ghost of 1827

There are plenty of ghost stories from the 18th and early 19th century, and I have previously written about The Hammersmith Ghost, but today I have a very different ghost story for your Halloween.

This story took place at a large, old mansion house, by the Welsh name of Tee Gwyn, or The White House, just outside the village of Llanfyllin in Montgomeryshire.

A gentleman by the name of Mr Thomas, a supervisor of excise, was ordered to take over responsibility for the district from another supervisor, as was often the case at that time. Mr Thomas was married with children, but rather than arrive with his family, he went on his own, on the assumption that once he’d settled in the area, his wife and family could join him.

He had never been to Wales before and  as you would imagine he wanted to find out more about the area and make sure that wherever he was bringing his family to that it was suitable. Unfortunately, the only vacant house was the large, old, dilapidated mansion house, which stood in decay, at the foot of a mountain. Mr Thomas was advised that it was that or nothing.

The house had a large garden which was full of weeds and the steps leading to the door covered with moss and several windows were broken, the whole place had an air of neglected grandeur.

Upon visiting the mansion house, he decided to see if there were a few suitable rooms that would be suitable to live in and the cheap rent proved a suitable inducement.

He was directed to a man whom he believed to have been the owner who instantly offered to let him the mansion at the low rent of five pounds a year. Mr Thomas didn’t really want or need a large house but didn’t think it was suitable to continue living at the local ale house for long as he wanted his family to be with him as soon as possible.

He decided that four or five rooms upstairs would be fine, so struck a deal, five pounds a year, and purchased a few bits and pieces to make it feel more homely until his family arrived with all their possessions.

On the first night he lit a large fire to make it feel more homely and to get rid of the dampness, had a cup of grog and settled down to enjoy a good night’s rest.

The following morning, he went into the village to the barber’s shop for a shave, where several people enquired how he had slept. He declared that he had enjoyed the best night’s sleep of his life, but was somewhat taken aback by the question, until the locals revealed that the house was believed to be have been haunted for over fifty years.

Mr Thomas was a very down to earth gentleman and  just laughed at the idea of ghosts and declared that he didn’t believe in ghosts.

Country characters no. 9: Exciseman. Digital Commonwealth

On returning to the house, he began sorting it out and preparing for the eventual arrival of his family and didn’t give the ghost story another thought.

Given his role as that of an excise officer,  he thought an empty house might have made the perfect place for working an illicit still, so he spent much of the next day checking out the vaults and all hiding places, but didn’t find anything to indicate any sign of anything suspicious.

As night drew on, he threw an extra log on the fire, and having borrowed a chair in the town, he at himself down in front of the fire, ate his bread and cheese, and once again, supped his cup of grog.

He did still have a niggling worry in his mind about the possibility of there being an illegal still, and that given the remoteness of the property, that if it were being used to brew illicit alcohol, someone could return during the night and that if someone found him there, he could have his throat cut and his body thrown into a tub, while his wife and family would be none the wiser.

Fears of the living, more than the dead, worried him until eventually he decided, in case he heard anything going on that he needed to remain as quiet as possible, and send all the information he could to the heads of his department. He could see by his watch that it was nearly twelve o’clock, but he couldn’t sleep.

All of a sudden, he heard footsteps on the staircase, and he felt or thought he felt his hair lift his hat involuntarily a least an inch off his forehead. His heart began to beat faster and faster, the logs did not seem to blaze as brightly; he listened anxiously … but heard nothing, not a sound.

Eventually, he plucked up the courage to open the door  and took himself off to bed, having given the fire a last poke, to keep it going. He had just begun to doze off when he was woken by a strange clattering on the staircase, as if ten thousand imps were ascending to his room.

In the panic of the moment, he jumped out of bed, rushed to the landing, where he distinctly heard the said imps clatter down the broad staircase again, making faint shrieking cries, which died away with the sound of their footsteps as they seemed to disappear into the vaults.

To him, it was clear that there were other tenants living in the house beside himself, he kept as quiet as possible, but was anxious about what he thought he had heard. Eventually, as he watched the dawn break in the east, he got up and began searching to find out where thee noises had come from.

He found absolutely nothing, the house was silent, not even a footstep on the staircase, although he could have sworn that he really did hear his disturbers ascend towards his room, and then depart.

On his visit to the town that morning, the previous day’s inquiries were repeated, but he strenuously denied having been disturbed, for fear he should be thought a coward. The next evening, he decided to find out whether anything really did climb the staircase, or whether it was mere fancy. With that, he spread a thick layer of sand on every step, imagining that if his tormentors were really substantial, they must leave some tracks behind them.

In the middle of the night, the same extraordinary noise was heard, so, armed with  with pistols, and a lamp, Mr Thomas set off downstairs as fast as he could. The imps, however, were too quick for him, and he couldn’t even get a glimpse of them.

Yet again, did he searched everywhere in vain, he was retracing his steps when he remembered the sand, which, in his terrified descent he had forgotten about, when, to his horror, he perceived some five or six hundred cloven tracts ! They were too small for goblins, and much too large for rats. Mr Thomas was more puzzled than ever, he had no idea what could have left such marks, certainly not a ghost, he thought.

The matter assumed rather a serious aspect, and he wrote to his wife, ordering his wife not to join him until he wrote to her again, he didn’t want to put his family in any danger. All day long, he racked his brain as to the species of creatures that had disturbed his peace and quiet.

Over and over again, he concluded that perhaps it was a trick, and as often did he abandon that notion as improbable ; but then he could not account for his not being able to see what had made the tracks.

He had given up every idea that rats could have made such a noise or tracks so large, but he decided to set a few rat traps to try to solve the mystery. Accordingly, he purchased six, as that was all he could get, and on the fourth night he carefully set them in a row on one of the steps of the staircase, so that if the imps ascended in a column, he was sure of catching at least one of them.

Still, he would not abandon his pistols or his lamp, but determined to be on guard all night.

About the mystic hour of twelve, he heard the jumping or hopping, as it seemed, up the stairs, and while he cocked one of the pistols, he heard a trap go off, then another, then another, succeeded by appalling shrieks, and the same clattering noise down stairs again.

He proceeded to the spot, and there, much to his surprise he found three fine fat rabbits, caught by the legs in the traps.

Herring I, John Frederick; A Happy Family; Leeds Museums and Galleries

The reality was, there was no ghost, just the inhabitants of an adjoining rabbit warren who used to make their way up through the sewers into the deserted mansion, and their gambols through the empty rooms first gave rise to the story of ‘Tee Gwynn’ being haunted.

With that, Mr Thomas was reassured and immediately sent for his family, and they now enjoy a house, and as many rabbits as they could eat, all for five pounds a year!

As to whether there was any truth in the whole story, who knows.


Hampshire Advertiser 3 November 1827

Featured Image

Bodfach house and grounds c1781 National Library of Wales

Guest post by Jenny Newbold ‘The ship was not the only “she” at sea’

I am thrilled to welcome a new guest to All Things Georgian, Jenny Newbold who has recently published a fictional book, ‘The Private Misadventures of Nell Nobody’  which was published in June 2022 by Luminare Press. It is an historical-fiction/adventure novel featuring Admiral Lord Nelson and a gender-ambiguous protagonist, examining from ‘Ned’s’ perspective the events of Horatio Nelson’s first tour of the Mediterranean.

Without further ado, I will hand over to Jenny to tell you more about women at sea.

When you envision the eighteenth century British navy, I can guess what you might see in your mind’s eye. Noble, self-sacrificing officers. Hardy tars with hearts of oak. The triumph of The Nile, the glory of Trafalgar, wreaths of laurel and cypress for the honour rolls of the wounded, dead, and missing. You could be forgiven for thinking that the Royal Navy during the heroic Age of Sail was exclusively a man’s world. After all, that’s what the Admiralty Board wanted you to believe.

There are no official records of women serving aboard warships in the Georgian Royal Navy, because officially, women were not allowed on board. With the possible exception of the captain’s wife (at his discretion), according to the Admiralty the only woman to be found on one of its ships would be the occasional passenger.

Reality, however, is a different story.

Yale Center for British Art
Yale Center for British Art

Women (and children) may not have been entered on the muster books and victualled, but they were part of the fabric of the warship. Most were probably wives: of officers, marines, and even occasionally ratings (ratings were seamen who were not commissioned or warrant officers). They had a legitimate reason for being there, even if they were not officially there. Interestingly, I have come across evidence of wives of captains, warrant officers, and marines shipboard, but no wives of lieutenants. Since wives were there at the discretion of the captain, it might have been an unspoken opinion that a lieutenant didn’t need a wife distracting him from executing his orders.

There were other women—of a certain persuasion—who came aboard when the ship was in port and who might not leave when the ship prepared to depart. There were wives, and then there were ‘wives’. If the officers’ wives were unofficial, one of these stowaways was practically invisible. Her survival aboard depended on the generosity of the man, or men, she was attached to, since she would have to share his hammock and his provisions.

Even for the legitimate wives, life on a warship cannot have been particularly pleasant. They would not have had their own quarters or their own rations. An officer’s wife might have the privacy of her husband’s partitioned-off sleeping place at night, but if you were the wife of a private soldier or an ordinary seaman, you slept in his hammock, both of you, 14 to 16 inches away from the next man (and whoever might or might not be sharing his hammock). Granted, you might get the hammock all to yourself for the four hours your husband was on watch, but you still slept in the same space with perhaps one hundred other men/wives/children.

Babies were inevitably born aboard. Presumably giving birth at sea was not much worse than giving birth on land—despite the apparent belief by some of the men that firing the great guns would hasten the birth process. I’m not sure science would back that up, but if the commander didn’t mind expending the powder, I don’t suppose it hurt to try.

On troopships, women travelling ‘on the strength’ were official – but on the army’s books, not those of the navy. These were soldiers’ wives, accompanying their husbands on campaign. The British Army allowed three women per one hundred men to travel with their regiment. Accommodations for them would not have been any better, but they were indisputably, officially, aboard.

What did these women do aboard? Unless they were passengers, they were almost certainly expected to contribute to the overall well-being of the ship. The Georgian military expected that if they were going to provision a woman, they would get their money’s worth.

So, a woman had to pull her own weight, although presumably not on the ship’s lines! In the official muster-rolls and quarter bills, however, all the roles in a well-governed warship were filled by men. What then, did she do?

I suppose we have to speculate a little here. It was very unlikely that she cooked. The ship had a cook whose job it was to manage the galley. The men in each mess (a mess was a group of men who ate together) rotated through the role of mess cook, retrieving the cooked food from the galley. I imagine no one wanted women anywhere near the stove. Rations were closely apportioned, and trust was not in great supply; everyone from the men to the officers probably suspected that the women were capable of thieving.

John Jervis Earl of St Vincent. Francis Cotes. NPG
John Jervis Earl of St Vincent. Francis Cotes. NPG

A woman probably maintained her man’s clothing, and conceivably might have done the same occasionally for his mates. Sir John Jervis, Admiral St Vincent, got snappish now and then about the women aboard using the fresh water, intended for cooking and drinking, for washing clothes. (St Vincent also, at one point, decided that the fleet’s lieutenants were getting rather podgy and decreed that they should not be allowed to use the ships’ entry ports, but be made to climb over the side. He sounds as though he could be quite a curmudgeon: it must have been an experience to serve under him!)

Much is made—and rightly so—of women participating in battle. But on a warship, everyone participated in battle, with the exception of passengers, who might have chosen to but probably were not expected to do so. Untrained in naval warfare, women probably carried powder from the ship’s magazines to the guns, or assisted on the surgeon’s deck, mopping up or giving whatever comfort and assurance they could offer to the wounded. Either job would have been horrific. It is unlikely there were any tasks in battle that were not.

Finally, there were the fighting women, the ones who the navy really did not see. They were the ones whose presence was cloaked in disguise, determination, and/or desperation. It is possible to find a handful of documented accounts of women who served, disguised as men, in the armies and navies of the age, and I personally believe that in some cases it must have been known what gender they actually were, but nobody was acknowledging anything. (The modern American military cannot have thought that they were onto something new and clever with their ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ sexual-identity policy of the 1990s).

Although not genuine transformations, these images give an idea of how relatively easy it would have been for a woman to transform from female to male
Although not genuine transformations, these images give an idea of how relatively easy it would have been for a woman to transform herself from female to male

Tolerance for women aboard depended largely on the command. For all that St Vincent groused about women and fresh water, he didn’t ban them from his ship. But some naval men considered women at sea bad luck. Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood thought they were disruptive to order and discipline and was known to have any woman he found on his ship put ashore. He much preferred his dog, Bounce, as a shipboard companion; presumably it was more obedient!

Vice Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood. by Henry Howard, after a painting by Giuseppe Politi. NPG
Vice Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood. by Henry Howard, after a painting by Giuseppe Politi. NPG

Admiral Horatio Nelson did not particularly care to have women aboard either, although he might justifiably be accused of hypocrisy in that regard. He always made sure his lady friends were ashore if he was contemplating a naval engagement, however. It has been said that Nelson once remarked that every man became a bachelor when he passed the Gut of Gibraltar. I personally do not think he meant that statement to provide a license for licentiousness. I believe it might have been an assertion that a man should put all concerns for home and family out of his head… or at least, put King and Country first! When Lady Hamilton, the love of his life, suggested that she come to the Mediterranean with their daughter Horatia and Horatia’s nurse, and that they all live aboard HMS Victory with him, his answer was an unqualified ‘NO’.

But obviously, regardless of what the Admiralty liked to pretend that the ship was not the only ‘she’ at sea!

Header Image

HMS Victory c1806. Royal Collection Trust


Watier’s Club

In Harriette Wilsons’ Memoirs, she described in great detail the ball that was held at Burlington House, in celebration of the English victory over Napoleon.

Watier’s 1 July 1814 on the reverse
Watier’s 1 July 1814 on the reverse

Harriette, along with her sisters, Amy and Fanny managed to obtain tickets, but their friend Julia was unable to obtain a lady’s ticket, so in order to attend she dressed as a boy.

The event was covered in minute detail in most of the newspapers of the day, such was the magnitude of the event, with about 1,700 guests attending the supper which was said to have been ‘the most magnificent thing of the kind ever seen’.

The event was organised by Mr Wattier (sic), after whom the famous Watiers Club was named, so rather than discussing the ball itself, as amazing as it appears to have been, today’s article is about Jean/John Baptiste Watier, after whom this club was said to have been named.

According to the author, Henry Benjamin Wheatley, Watier’s Club was

established in 1807, at 81 Piccadilly by Messrs, John Maddock and Calvert, and Lord Headfort.

Wheatley went on to say that:

The club was kept by Watier, the Prince of Wales cook, and Labourie was the cook who made the place celebrated for its dinners. Brummell was the supreme dictator… The club did not endure for years altogether, and died a natural death in 1819, when the house was taken by a set of blacklegs, who instituted a common bank for gambling.

These statements are rather confusing for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it has been widely acknowledged that from 1802 Sir Francis Burdett lived at No. 80, Piccadilly and according to the rates books, Mr Watier was living next door at 81 from 1804, therefore rather earlier than initially suggested above and there is no sign of the other gentlemen named. Was he living there as a private resident in 1804 or did he begin his club there at that time?

Here we have the rates return for 1804 with Watier (wrongly spelled as Walter initially) but it is clearly the same person as we can see his name written correctly by 1809.

1804 Rates
1804 Rates
1809 Rates
1809 Rates

The first name check I have come across for Watier’s Club, appeared in the Morning Post, 17 April 1805, which seems to confirm my thoughts that it began about 1804, not 1807 as suggested elsewhere:

The new amateur convert and assembly will be held this season at Willis’s Rooms, King Street, St James’s, under the direction of a Committee of twelve gentlemen, members of Watier’s Club, Piccadilly.

Watier’s Club was ‘the’ place for young men to be seen during the Regency period where gentlemen of the day would play cards and dice, often for high stakes.

According to Thomas Raikes, it was a place where it was easy for a young gentleman to be ruined through debt and cited a specific instance involving Beau Brummell:

One day, when he had lost considerably, he called to the waiter, with a tragic air, for a flat candlestick and a pistol, upon which one of the members (Bob Bligh, a madman) produced from his coat pocket two loaded pistols, and placing them on the table said ‘Mr Brummell, if you really wish to put a period to your existence, I am extremely happy to offer you the means without troubling the waiter’.

Here we see a relatively recent image portraying this event.

Illustrated London News 24 March 1923
Illustrated London News 24 March 1923

Virtually nothing is known of Jean Baptiste Watier’s early life, but we know that he became a Freemason, in the Ancient French Lodge from February 1789 when he was aged 25, therefore he would have been born about 1764. It also tells us that he was living on Broad Street, London at that time.

Freemasonry Membership Registers; Description: Register of Members, London, vol I, Fols 1-597

In 1796, he married Ann Crowther

Westminster Church of England Parish Registers; Reference: STJ/PR/6/8

Up to 1810 the Maitre D’hôtel to George, Prince of Wales was Charles Beckt, after which John Baptiste Watier took over the reins, as can be seen in the Household account book for George, Prince of Wales.  So, it would appear that for a number of years, Watier held down two jobs, club owner and Maitre D’hôtel.

Carlton House. Royal Collection Trust
Carlton House. Royal Collection Trust

By 1812 he was working at Carlton House as Clerk Comptroller, a position he held for several years according to the royal account books.

Royal Household Staff 1526-1924. GEO/MAIN/88983-89031

Between opening the club and then working for the Prince it seems difficult to know exactly how he earned a living. Having questioned all the reports of the club itself, I do wonder whether he ever was a chef, or was, more likely, a manager/ Maitre D’hôtel. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence to support him working for royalty as a chef.

Menu book for dinners held by the Prince Regent from 1811 onwards, principally at Carlton House and occasionally at Hampton Court, include includes a few dinners held by Princess Charlotte of Wales and one of the Ambassadors. Also included are details served to members of the Prince Regents Household, most notably Mr Watier (John Baptiste Watier, Clerk Comptroller of the Kitchen).

Above shows the royal accounts ledgers for Brighton for Thursday 7 January 1819 records Mr Watier and family dining at Brighton Pavilion numerous times and by this time Watier was working in a higher capacity for the Prince as, according to Brighton Pavilion

Jean Baptiste Watier, was a multi-talented figure who as well as acting as George’s furniture and decorative objects scout in Paris, was also at various times confectioner and a collector or rets in Brighton.

The Pavilion mention that he was a confectioner and whilst I’m not saying he wasn’t, we do know from the royal accounts that his nephew, Philip Watier was a royal confectioner, but I can’t find anything to confirm that Jean Baptiste Watier did. I do wonder whether the two names have become confused.

Bought in Paris for George IV by Jean-Baptiste Watier, entered in the Carlton House receipts’ ledger by Benjamin Jutsham on 30 November 1816: ‘Part of Mr Watier’s Purchases brought from Paris A Circular Seve Porcelaine Vase Blue Ground & Gold, with white Flutes, white & Gold Handles, Gilt Embossed wreaths on the Top, Gilt Metal Plynth on 4 Claws’. Royal Collection Trust
Bought in Paris for George IV by Jean-Baptiste Watier, entered in the Carlton House receipts’ ledger by Benjamin Jutsham on 30 November 1816: ‘Part of Mr Watier’s Purchases brought from Paris A Circular Seve Porcelaine Vase Blue Ground & Gold, with white Flutes, white & Gold Handles, Gilt Embossed wreaths on the Top, Gilt Metal Plynth on 4 Claws’. Royal Collection Trust

By 1816 Jean and his wife were no longer at the Club in Piccadilly, but had moved to Mall South, as can be seen here:

Their previous address had been taken over by a Thomas Maddison. It seems likely that he was the royal page named in various accounts about the club.

The Kettle calling the Pot ugly names. 23 September 1820. Royal Trust Collection RCT 1820
The Kettle calling the Pot ugly names. 23 September 1820. Royal Trust Collection

On 17 November 1820 an intriguing, anonymous letter was sent to John at Carlton House. Whilst I can’t be certain, it would appear, given the surrounding letters in the same folder at the National Archives, to have something to do with King George IV’s wife, Queen Caroline.

Was John passing on information about Caroline to her supporters or enemies? I really have no idea where John’s loyalties lay, to the King or Queen. Nationally, loyalties were definitely split at that time, as George IV was trying to divorce Caroline. Many of the public supported Caroline and were less impressed by their new king.


You are safe just at present so you may stop where you are a little longer – if it is possible. I will let you know of danger. Time enough to escape – you cannot know by any other means as we are wary who we trust, and our work will be sure so do not delay to escape when I give you notice which I will do if I am not watched.

I am your true friend.

We have no Edwards’s amongst us.

The next letter in the file was one threatening to set fire to the home of John Sympson Jessop, a lawyer. In his home at the time were his wife and 7 daughters. Jessop’s name appeared in the press as he publicly accused Caroline of adultery.

The News (London) 10 December 1820
The News (London) 10 December 1820

From there, John and his wife moved to Sloane Street, Chelsea, where they remained for the rest of their lives. In the case of John, this was on 22 September 1828. He was buried on 29 September 1828 at St James, Piccadilly at the age of 65.

As the couple had no children his estate went to his wife, Ann and other friends and relatives, but the key person being his nephew Philip, the royal confectioner, mentioned earlier.

In 1825, John’s nephew, Philip Watier, married Miss Anne Simes and rose through the ranks of the palace eventually becoming the Superintendent. The couple went on to have 5 daughters, none of whom married.

In 1835 John’s wife, Ann died and in her will she confirmed that as they had had no children that their nephew was to be her main beneficiary. She also left Philip a portrait of his uncle, painted by none other than Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Whether this portrait has survived over the centuries is unknown, perhaps it is in a private collection somewhere. Philip married and had 5 daughters, none of whom married, so assuming it was passed down through the family it must have been sold when Philip’s youngest daughter died in 1917 otherwise, we would have a likeness of John Baptiste Watier to view.


A Curious Case of Criminal Conversation

I am delighted to welcome a new guest to All Things Georgian, Elaine Thornton who trained as a linguist, has lived and worked in Germany, Russia and Cyprus. She has had a varied career, as an army officer, project manager, and development officer.

Her first book, a biography of the German-Jewish opera composer Giacomo Meyerbeer, Giacomo Meyerbeer and his Family: Between Two Worlds, was published by Vallentine Mitchell in 2021.

She is currently researching the life of Sir Henry Bate Dudley and is going to tell us more about a certain crim. con that he was front and centre of. It was a case that doesn’t make for a pleasant read – You have been warned!

In 1788 the Reverend Henry Bate Dudley, known as the ‘Fighting Parson’, found himself facing a charge of adultery, or ‘criminal conversation’. A clergyman, journalist, dramatist and duellist, Bate Dudley had been ordained in the Church of England, but had soon realised that his talents and temperament were better suited to the rough and tumble of the flourishing Georgian newspaper industry. He had been editor of the Morning Post from 1772 to 1780, when he had founded his own newspaper, the Morning Herald.

A modern history of journalism, the Encyclopaedia of the British Press, describes Bate Dudley as ‘undoubtedly, the star of his day’. The Georgian writer and wit Horace Walpole was less flattering, calling him ‘the worst of all the scandalous libellers’. Bate Dudley’s newspapers specialised in high-class scandal and ‘celebrity’ gossip, and at the time of Walpole’s comment, in 1780, he had been convicted of libelling the 3rd Duke of Richmond, by accusing him of treason. He was subsequently sentenced to a year in the King’s Bench prison.

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)

The charge of adultery against Bate Dudley concerned the wife of a Mr Edward Dodwell. Mrs Dodwell’s first name was never revealed publicly, but documents held in Lambeth Palace archives, relating to a later application by her husband for a legal separation, identify her as Frances Dodwell, née Jennings. Edward Dodwell was demanding £3,000 in damages from Bate Dudley for ‘alienating his wife’s affections’ (adultery was treated as a case of trespass on another man’s property, as a wife was considered a ‘chattel’ in law).

Southend-on-Sea c1822. British Museum
Southend-on-Sea c1822. British Museum

The Dodwell’s and Bate Dudley’s lived near each other in the Chelmsford area. The chief witness for the prosecution, Mrs Dodwell’s servant Elizabeth Serjeant, claimed that in September 1780, Mrs Dodwell had gone to Southend for a holiday without her husband. Bate Dudley had followed her there and had visited her frequently in her lodgings. One night, Serjeant claimed, she had opened her mistress’s door at two in the morning and had seen ‘Mr Bate and Mrs Dodwell on the floor in an act of adultery’.

Mrs Serjeant added that the affair had continued after Mrs Dodwell’s return to Chelmsford, citing an instance in February 1782, when Mrs Dodwell had returned from a carriage ride with Bate Dudley, and Mrs Serjeant, ‘having seen certain parts of Mrs Dodwell’s linen, was enabled to judge of her conduct that night’.

Bate Dudley submitted a plea of ‘not guilty in two ways’. In the first place, he claimed that he was innocent of the charge. The second part of the plea was related to the legal time limit on prosecutions for adultery. A charge could not be upheld if the alleged offence had taken place more than six years prior to the commencement of the action and Bate Dudley’s second plea was that he was not guilty ‘within six years’. Bate Dudley’s defence counsel, James Mingay, referred to October 1781 as the relevant date, so this would presumably exclude the evidence dating from 1780.

James Mingay (NPG)
James Mingay (NPG)

Mingay opened the defence by revealing that Edward Dodwell had a very strange hobby. He was passionately interested in the dissection of dead bodies, which he carried out in the couple’s home. A visitor to the Dodwells’ house testified that

‘Mr. Dodwell had a room near his bedchamber, which was called a dissecting room, where he [the visitor] once saw an arm half dissected.’

According to the defence, Dodwell did not bother to clean himself up before making advances to his wife, but ‘approached her with his hands covered with all the nauseous filthiness of such pursuits … while his hungry hounds were quarrelling over the flesh he had been slicing’.

The prosecution’s response to these revelations was the perfectly reasonable one that, even if Dodwell had

a laboratory wherein he dissected dead bodies … this surely could hardly give any other person a right to commit adultery with his wife’.

Bate Dudley’s next line of defence was that Mr Dodwell had positively encouraged his wife to take lovers. After she had had an affair with a baronet, Dodwell had sent his wife abroad, where she lived ‘in open adultery’ with a British army officer. On her return to England, he had installed her in lodgings in London, where he visited her for sex ‘as if she had been his kept girl’. Dodwell later introduced her to a retired military man, a General Desaguliers, whose mistress she became.

In defence counsel’s view, Dodwell had been ‘an accessory to the prostitution of his own wife’ and was in no position to accuse Bate Dudley of alienating Mrs Dodwell’s affections by breaking up a happy marriage. Dodwell himself unwittingly contributed to this defence, by suggesting that Bate Dudley was only one of many: ‘I have stuck the fork in the dung-hill, up came Mr. Bate, and it is his chance, and I cannot help it.’

'A baite. For the devil'. 1779. British Museum
‘A baite. For the devil’. 1779. British Museum

Bate Dudley’s final submission was a knock-out blow. He produced a witness to testify that he had actually been confined in the King’s Bench prison, undergoing his sentence for libelling the Duke of Richmond, in February 1782, when Elizabeth Serjeant claimed to have seen him consorting with Mrs Dodwell in Chelmsford. The King’s Bench books were brought to the court to verify the fact. The prosecution’s star witness had lost all credibility, and the jury took twelve minutes to find in favour of the defendant.

‘The Fighting Parson’ had triumphed in court, but was he really innocent? His wife, Mary, seems to have had her suspicions. One day in 1781, she had arrived at her husband’s room in the King’s Bench prison – where, characteristically, he was holding a musical party for his friends – and had met Frances Dodwell, who was just leaving, on the stairs. The unexpected encounter had resulted in a lively quarrel between the two women, and a temporary coolness between Mary and her husband.

Legal opinions on the case differed. A year after the King’s Bench trial jury had found Bate Dudley not guilty, the ecclesiastical Court of Arches granted Edward Dodwell’s application for a separation – based on his wife’s adultery with Henry Bate Dudley. Two years after that judgement, the Court of Doctors’ Commons, after several days considering the evidence for a divorce, ‘finally dismissed the suit of Edward Dodwell Esquire against his Lady’.


Anon, Adultery Trial, in the Court of King’s Bench … between Edward Dodwell, Esquire, Plaintiff, and the Rev. Henry Bate Dudley, Defendant, for Crim. Con., H. D. Symonds, 1789

Dennis Griffiths (ed.), The Encyclopaedia of the British Press 1422-1992, Macmillan, 1992

Lambeth Palace Library and Archive, Arches D611

Lloyd’s Evening Post

Town and Country Magazine, 1788, supplement

Horace Walpole, Last Journals, Bodley Head, 1910


The Oxford Sausage of the18th century

Bangers, or more correctly named, sausages, have been made for centuries, but today we’re going to look at those made in the 18th century and by whom.

According to the newspapers of the Georgian period, it would appear that the one of the most popular places in England at least, for making and selling sausages was Oxford (who knew!).

Sausage making appears to have begun in earnest from September each year. This would be because the pigs were reared on natural feed during the spring and summer, then slaughtered early September, ready to be made into pork products.

Today sausages are available in every supermarket in a wide variety of flavours, and we often just think of ‘bangers for the barbie’, but in the 18th century there was a very prescribed season for making and eating sausages, due to the lack of refrigeration at that time.

Many of the cookery books of the day had recipes for home cooks to make, such as this one from The Ladies Handmaid or a Compleat System of Cookery by Sarah Phillips of Duke Street in 1758:

To Fry Sausages

Take half a pound of sausages and six apples. Slice four apples about as thick as a Crown (coin), cut the other two into quarters. Fry them with the sausages until light brown, lay the sausages in the middle of the dish with the apples around them. Garnish with the quartered apples.

Or this one from 1769, in the  Professed Cook who recommended this recipe:

Boil short, thick sausages in a little white wine, two cloves, thyme, laurel and one sliced onion, one clove of garlic.

When done, peel the guts off and dip them in butter mixed with mustard, then roll them in grated Parmesan cheese.

Have as many bits of fried bread, as sausages, and as long.

Garnish the bottom of the dishes you intend to serve upon, with a little cullis (a strong meat broth) and breadcrumbs.

Put it on the ashes of the fire and mix a little Parmesan with it, then lay a bit of the fried bread and a sausage and so on till you have completed it.

Leave it on the fire until it forms a gratin.

Colour the top of the sausages with the salamander and serve upon a good clear cullis as sauce for it.


Morland, George; The Artist in His Studio and His Man Gibbs; Nottingham City Museums and Galleries (Man by the fire is frying a pan of sausages)

Charlotte Mason who wrote Mrs Mason’s Cookery in 1786 explained the difference techniques for making ordinary and very fine sausages:


Two pounds of learn pork, three pounds of chine fat free from skin, some sage leaves chopped, pounded cloves, pepper and salt; beat it fine and either press it into pots and roll it when it is used, or put it into skins.

Very fine sausages

Take part of a leg of leg of port or veal, pick it clean from the skin or fat. To every pound add two pounds of beef suet, shred both several very fine; mix them well with finely chopped sage leaves, pepper, salt nutmeg and pounded cloves, a little grated lemon peel. Put this close down in a pot, when it is used mix it with yolk of egg, a few breadcrumbs, roll it into lengths.

The ‘go to’ cook of the day, Hannah Glasse provided a similar recipe and advised cooking them either in butter or good dripping, ensuring that the pan was hot enough before frying them until golden brown.

One of the major sausage makers in Oxford from around 1775 was Sarah Herbert, the wife of John Herbert, a watch maker. Sarah trade from a premises close to the Angel Inn, an ideal place as being close to the Angel would, presumably have meant she would pick up trade from the coaches which frequently stopped there.

The Angel Hotel, Oxford c1820 British Museum
The Angel Hotel, Oxford c1820 British Museum

John and Sarah married in 1747, Sarah’s maiden name, was rather appropriately, Mace (an ingredient often used in early sausage making). Whilst John ran his business, Sarah developed quite a following for her sausages, using recipes she had learnt from her aunt, a cook, by the name of Dorothy Spreadbury. Clearly, her aunt’s name carried some kudos as Sarah referred to her when advertising her products in the press.

Oxford Journal 4 October 1760

On Saturday October 11, 1760, Sarah Herbert will begin selling sausages, at John Herbert’s, watchmaker in St Peter’s in the East, in Oxford. All persons she please to favour her with their custom, may depend upon being extremely well served, she having a receipt o the late Dorothy Spreadbury, her aunt.

Clearly, her business was going well, as by 1775 she has moved premises as we see here in the Oxford Journal 7 October 1775

Notice is hereby given, that Mrs Herbert, wife of Mr Herbert, near the Angel Inn, Oxford, will begin making sausages on Saturday 14 October 1775. Those gentlemen and ladies who will please to favour her with their custom, may depend on being well used by their obedient humble servant. Sarah Herbert

NB Mrs Herbert will send a printed bill of her own name with all sausages she sends out of town.

The best Durham Mustard, wholesale and retail.

Within a couple of years of that advertisement however, Sarah had acquired a rival:


Charles Dodd, Cook of New College, begs leave to inform his friends and the public that he has begun Making sausages for the winter season; by whom they may be supplied at his house, the Wheatsheaf, in the High Street, Oxford, with any quantity, fresh made very day.

They will be fried at a moment’s notice, if desired.

Also, that same year we have Martha West:

The original sausage maker for thirty years past, removed from the Anchor, near the Red Lion, in the High Street, Thame, Oxfordshire.

Martha confirmed that she would be making sausages all season along with fine collared brawn and potted beef.

Today, along with the more regular pork sausage, we have many of varieties, perhaps the most famous being Cumberland and Lincolnshire.

Guest post by Alix Nathan, author of ‘Sea Change’

I am delighted to welcome a new guest to All Things Georgian, Alix Nathan, who is here to tell us more about the background behind her latest book, Sea Change.

So without further ado, I’ll hand you over to Alix:

My recent novel Sea Change, begins with a balloon journey heading for disaster.

In 1802 when the flight takes place, balloon travel was no longer rare, having begun in Paris in 1783, but people still flocked to the launches. It was because of these flights that the word balloon entered the language to replace ‘aerostat’ or ‘aerostatic globe’.

The journey in Sea Change is based on a real one that took off from Ranelagh Gardens on 28th June 1802.

An elegant afternoon breakfaft was given at Ranelagh by the directors of the Pic Nic Society of which about 2000 perfons of the firft diftinction partook. About five o’clock, Mr Garnerin, the celebrated aëronaut, accompanied by Capt. Sowden, of the navy, ascended in his balloon.  Its afcent was, in the firft inftance, very gradual, in order that all poffible gratification might be afforded to the crowd of fpectators.

In my story I’ve replaced Captain Sowden with two of the principle characters, Sarah and Joseph, but André-Jacques Garnerin remains a real person, known not only for his frequent flights, but also for taking a woman up with him in 1798 in Paris which was something of a scandal, and also for inventing and demonstrating a parachute.  The intrepid Garnerin took his wife, who had once been his student, on many of his flights and ultimately was made Official Aeronaut of France.

I found the account of the original flight from Ranelagh in The Annual Register of 1802, in which extensive quotation is given from Captain Sowden, who, as a naval officer used to writing up logs, provides fascinating detail of the physical experience of rising through dense cloud, seeing and hearing the world laid out beneath them and then encountering drastically difficult weather conditions.  His account was a gift for me.  Sowden and Garnerin’s flight came down badly but on dry land, whereas I take the balloon out to sea.

Annual Registers are a marvellous source.  I have a run from 1789 to 1814, most in their very fragile eighteenth-century boards.  Begun in 1758, its first editor Edmund Burke, it aimed to cover history, politics and literature.  My volumes contain accounts of events in Europe and elsewhere, especially where war in concerned; parliamentary matters, state papers, lists of marriages (only those of the ‘first distinction’ of course!), promotions, deaths, tables of stock prices, imports and exports, barometer and thermometer readings, amount of tax for various things (e.g. letter money, alum mines, fines and forfeitures, four-wheel carriages, shops), diseases from which people died (e.g. convulsions, childbed, smallpox, dropsy, fever, lunatick (sic)).

A picture of each year gradually forms.  One of the best sections in every volume for me has been the ‘Chronicle’ which, taking a month at a time, provides often quite short reports of events that have happened all around the country.  Reports of extreme weather (frozen Thames, huge hailstones, lightning strikes), people living till 100 or more (rare then of course), odd discoveries, mysterious deaths and murders, gatherings of mobs, fires, explosions.

Most of the stories in my book His Last Fire came about because of an event or a name or a description from a report in one of the ‘Chronicles’.  Thus, the pedlar who on his death was found to be a woman; the day the Turkish ambassador’s coach broke down; the woman who didn’t leave her house for twenty years and whose carriage fell to pieces; the King’s Theatre going up in flames; a list of executions for coining in which the only woman criminal was burned at the stake (1789!).  My previous novel, The Warlow Experiment grew out of a short paragraph in the Annual Register ‘Chronicle’ for 1797.

Of course, Annual Registers are only one source.  In Sea Change the character Sarah (the mother who becomes separated from her young daughter Eve) grew out of a brief mention of a spy’s wife running off to America with a radical, while I was reading about the London Corresponding Society.  I wrote a short story about her and then Parthian Books commissioned a novel that became The Flight of Sarah Battle.

The character of Joseph in Sea Change owes a certain amount to what I read about Franz Schubert in Elizabeth Norman McKay’s excellent biography of him.  She believes that he may have suffered from cyclothymia, a lesser bi-polar condition, which I found helpful in my construction of Joseph’s difficult, erratic personality.

Mental conditions and early attempts to treat them are a theme in Sea Change even though its main subject is the love and loss between a mother and daughter.

Sarah and Eve, separated after the balloon comes down each believe the other is dead.  Which leads me to say that for all the reading and research I’ve done, over years now, for all the soaking in the period, helped greatly by those Annual Registers, my stories, short and long are always about fundamental human situations that are never pinned to one period alone.

Autumn fashion for 1822

Having taken a look at the summer fashions for 1822, it seems appropriate to follow it up with the autumn fashion for attending balls and court that year, with the help of the ever reliable guide by Rudolph Ackermann.

Rudolph Ackermann. NPG
Rudolph Ackermann. NPG

What were fashionable women wearing in autumn 1822 to ensure that they were fashionable and appropriate? Let’s find out:

Ball dresses were required each season and of course, you wouldn’t wish to wear the wrong one. Ackermann’s tells us that the dress below was the appropriate outfit to be seen in for September 1822.

A dress of fine tulle over a white satin slip, ornamented nearly half the centre, and a semicircle of small steel beads. Short full sleeve, composed of alternate rows of pink net and steel, and white tulle and steel scallops, confined by a band of pink net and steel. Tucker, a quilling of the finest tulle.

Tucker c1820. MetMuseum
Tucker c1820. MetMuseum

Sash of pink and white embroidered satin ribbon. Necklace, red cornelian and pearl. Gloves of white kids, shoes, white gros de Naples.

A wreath of roses confines the hair, which is in ringlets, as in the reign of Charles II and presented to our admiration in the beautiful paintings of Vandyke.

Below, although from slightly later, we can see the ringlet styled hair.

Wyatt, Henry; A Regency Lady; Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum. c1828

Court Dress

This elegant robe and petticoat were made for a lady of high rank and taste, as a presentation dress at the palace of Holyrood. It is of pale blue silver lama, over a blue satin slip; thus, combining Scotland’s national colour of blue and white, now so prevalent among the leaders of haut ton; the waist is of that graceful length which cultivate taste has adopted, and which we hope will long be retained. The stomacher is of silver vandykes: a double row extends over the shoulders and back, united by silver roses. The sleeve is short, and of novel construction, consisting of dozens of rows of silver vandyke trimming, separated by blue satin pipings; confined by a silver band round the arm, and finished with the same trimming. The tucker is fine blond lace. The robe and petticoat have an elegant border of large roses, of blue gofre crape (crepe) and silver, half encircle with thistles, which form a kind of radii, giving lightness and effect to the trimming, which is edged with a silver wave, and finished with loped gofre crape. The headdress is of diamonds, with a superb plume of ostrich feathers. Necklace and earrings of diamonds and sapphires. White kid gloves; white satin shoes, with blue and silver roses.

General observations

Silk pelisses were vey much in vogue with summer hues moving into more autumnal shades. Waists remained long; tight back are rather more worn that full ones. Shawls and Spencer’s remained the fashion of the day. Bonnets remained of a moderate size. The cambric muslin capotes worn in dishabille began to replace the straw bonnets. Flowers remained the order of the day with them often being seen around the edges of small bonnets.

The colours most in favour were lemon, shades of green, lavender and deep rose.

Patrick Colquhoun on the criminal code relating to capital offences in the UK compared with that which prevailed in Austria

I am once again, delighted to welcome back a now regular guest to All Things Georgian, the historian, Mr R M Healey. Today his article is about Patrick Colquhoun on the criminal code relating to capital offences in the UK compared with that which prevailed in Austria.

unknown artist; Patrick Colquhoun (1745-1820); Thames Police Museum

One of the best-known facts about life in Georgian England was that so many seemingly minor crimes were punishable by death. From stealing goods worth a few shillings, to forgery, with many minor infractions in between, murdering someone was not the only crime that attracted the death penalty.

The famous magistrate (for Middlesex, Surrey, Kent and Essex) and commentator on the penal code, Patrick (later Sir Patrick) Colquhoun, devoted a good deal of his best-selling Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis to the question on whether the death penalty for seemingly trivial offences was justified.

Colquhoun’s Treatise (5th edition of 1797) is essential reading for anyone who wants to know what dangers lay in store for offenders, sometimes driven by poverty and desperation, to steal, lie and forge. But Colquhoun was a reformer, not a hanger and flogger.

He sought remedies for the prevention of crimes, and he saw the irrationality of executing someone for stealing property worth a certain amount. To show just how harsh the punishments were for comparatively minor violations he listed all those offences which carried the death penalty. Here is a selection of the most iniquitous:

Forgery of deeds, bonds, bills, notes etc., bankrupts not surrendering, or concealing their effects, house breaking in the day time, shop lifting above five shillings, stealing above 40 shillings in any house, stealing linen &c from bleaching grounds or destroying the linen therein, stealing horse, cattle or sheep, breaking down the head of a fish pond, whereby fish may be lost, maiming or killing cattle maliciously, stealing woollen cloth from tenter grounds, uttering counterfeit money ,servants purloining their masters’ goods to the value of 40 shillings, robbery of  the mail, cutting down trees in an avenue, sending threatening letters, riots by twelve or more and not dispersing in an hour after proclamation, sacrilege, destroying turnpikes or bridges, gates, weighing engine locks, sluices, concealing the death of a Bastard child…

 Of course, it did not follow that those convicted of some of the most trivial of these offences paid the ultimate penalty. When the Annual Register recorded the monthly county reports of those convicted of capital crimes it invariably declared that most offenders were reprieved. We can surmise that perhaps only those convicted of murder, large-scale forgery, coining, arson, highway robbery and serious housebreaking, to name but a few heinous crimes, were hanged.

Bizarrely, certain offences, though seemingly as serious, or more serious, than the crimes listed by Colquhoun, did not carry the death penalty, but were merely punishable by ‘transportation, whipping, imprisonment, the pillory and hard labour in houses of correction, according to the nature of the offence.’ These included ripping and stealing lead, iron, copper, &c, or buying or receiving, assaulting with intent to rob, stealing children with their apparel, stealing fish from a pond or river, bigamy, manslaughter and killing without malice.

by D.P. Pariset, after Pierre-Étienne Falconet, stipple engraving, circa 1768-1769. © National Portrait Gallery, London

However, most lawmakers agreed that the crime which most deserved the noose was forgery. The Georgian period saw a number of high profile forgery cases involving eminent men. These included Dr William Dodd, the high-living ‘macaroni parson’ who Dr Johnson failed to save from the gibbet in 1777; the celebrated ‘Engraver to the King’ and inventor of stipple, William Wynne Ryland, who tried to defraud the East India Company and was hanged in 1783; and finally, the banker Henry Fauntleroy who in 1824 became the last person to die on the gallows for the crime of forgery.

Colquhoun then compared the legal code instituted by Emperor Joseph II of Austria that related to murder, manslaughter and other violent offences, with that which prevailed in the United Kingdom.

In Austria not one offence was punishable by death, though in some cases, the alternative punishment, which might involve being chained up for thirty years, sometimes without proper food, could have seemed a far worse experience—a sort of living death. Here are some of the offences and the punishments they carried.


Imprisonment not less than 15, nor more than 30 years…When a criminal is condemned to severe imprisonment, he has no bed but the floor, no nourishment but bread and water, and all communication with relations or even strangers, is refused him. When condemned to milder imprisonment, better nourishment is allowed; but he has nothing to drink but water.

Killing a man in self-defence if the layer exceed the bounds of necessity

Imprisonment, not less than one month, nor more than five years, and condemnation to the public works

Murder—with an intention  to rob or steal the property of the person, or other property intrusted to his care

Imprisonment not less than 30 years, with the hot iron; in cruel cases, to be closely chained, with corporal punishment every year. This punishment was inflicted with a ‘whip, rod or stick publickly on the criminal’; the degree of punishment ( within 100 lashes or strokes at one time) depends on the sound prudence of the Judge.

Assassination by stratagem, arms or poison.

Condemnation to the Chain, not less than 30 years…the prisoner is closely chained, that he has no more liberty than serves for the indispensable motion of his body…

Inducing another to commit murder by caresses, promises, presents or threats, whether death is the result or not

Imprisonment, not less than 5, nor more than 8 years, and condemnation to the public works—if murder is committed, the criminal shall suffer as a murderer

Duelling—or challenging another to combat with murderous weapon on whatever pretence the challenge be grounded —the person accepting the challenge is equally guilty…

Imprisonment not more than 12, not less than 8 years…If death ensues; condemnation to the Chain for 30 years, where the survivor is the challenger if the survivor be the party challenged.

 A woman with child using means to procure abortion.

Imprisonment, not less than 15, nor more than 30 years; and condemnation to the public works: augmented when married women.

Not all countries were as lenient as Austria. In 1772 the Annual Register (1772, pp. 132- 133) reported that the punishment meted out to the Swiss manager of a French vineyard, who had been convicted of rape and murder, was decided under the Swiss military code. It was that the prisoner be sawn in half while still alive. This barbaric practice was not confined to Swiss law but can be found in other nations around the world. 

It is interesting to note that the offence of duelling in England seems not to have carried any penalty, unless it came under ‘manslaughter’.

Throughout the Georgian period this method of satisfying an injury to honour or reputation was often practiced, sometimes by leading politicians and members of the aristocracy. Possibly the most infamous literary duel of the period, which occurred at Chalk Farm, near the present Primrose Hill in 1821, was fought over a number of hostile remarks on ‘The Cockney School’ by the critic J. G. Lockhart in Blackwood’s Magazine.

John Scott, the editor of the famous London Magazine, where Lamb’s ‘Essays of Elia’ were appearing at the time, took umbrage and retaliated with his own imprecations. Lockhart travelled to London to challenge Scott, but his friend and second, Jonathan Christie, agreed to take his place. The first shots were deliberately aimed wide, which should have ended the matter.  Tragically, a second round ensued, and Scott was fatally wounded. Christie was apprehended but was later acquitted by a jury.


P (atrick) Colquhoun), A Treatise on the Police of the Metropolis (fifth edition, 1797). See especially pages 284 – 288; 272 – 273.

Annual Register, or a View of the History, Politics and Literature…( 1758 –  ) passim.

Samuel Beazley of the Berners Street Hoax

Before my summer break we took a look at the Berners Street Hoax, so it seems somewhat fitting that we return to that story.

In the previous post I wrote about the wager  itself and today we’ll take a look at  Samuel Beazley who reputed to have been involved in the wager along with Theodore Hook.

Whilst trying to establish whether the hoax could have been genuine it seemed relevant to try to find out more about Samuel, to ascertain whether he could have been present observing the hoax as it unfolded at 54 Berners Street. I didn’t intend to disappear down this proverbial rabbit hole looking for more about Samuel, however, as usual, here I am.

The answer remains that I still don’t know with any degree of certainty, but who was Beazley? a prankster like his friend, Theodore, or simply a respectable member of Regency London society whose name has become linked to the hoax. Overall, I would have to say the latter, so let’s take a look at his life.

Samuel was born 6 July 1786 to parents Samuel Beazley senior, an army accoutrement maker and his wife Ann nee Frith. Samuel and his two siblings, Nancy and Emily were presented for baptism in 1797.  On 6 January 1802, Samuel was apprenticed to his uncle, Charles, an apprenticeship architect, which would be expected to last about 7 years.

On completion of his apprenticeship in 1809 he wasted no time on marrying. On 9 August 1809, he married who would be his first wife, an Eliza Foster Richardson, the marriage taking place at St Martin in the Fields, as can be seen below which just shows their signatures. Nothing out of the ordinary here.

The Sun, 21 August 1809 also reported their wedding

However, a very curious entry which I can’t explain, appeared in the parish register of St Mary Abbots, Kensington on 10 August 1810 at St Martin in the Fields, so just under a year later, with completely different signatures, but for the same couple.

Samuel didn’t remain married for very long, as according to the newspapers, Eliza filed for divorce on grounds of his adulterous behaviour in 1813.

Having spent 7 years training to be an architect, for some unknown reason, Samuel then appears to have given that up and joined the navy around 1815, although there is no sign of him in naval records.

The only reason this is known about is because of a letter and account of his time onboard ship, written to his mother and published long after his death, by his daughter, Emily. Samuel confirmed his travels in part of his diary entitled ‘The escape of the Duchesse D’Angoulême during the hundred days’.

Queen Marie Antoinette of France and two of her Children Walking in The Park of Trianon NationalMuseum
Queen Marie Antoinette of France and two of her Children Walking in The Park of Trianon NationalMuseum

Samuel returned to England sometime around 1815 onboard the Myrmidon accompanied by the Duchesse D’Angoulême.

In 1816 he resumed his career as an architect, but he had another string to his bow too, he was also a dramatist.

His career flourished and he was involved in designing many of London’s theatres, but his personal life was less straightforward. In 1820 Samuel was responsible for the rebuilding after a fire, of the Theatre Royal in New Street, Birmingham, and provided a design for the Theatre Royal in Hawkins Street, Dublin.

Around 1824 he left England and headed for Scotland to further his career, where he met a young lady, Emily Frances Conway. The couple married in Edinburgh on 18 July 1824. One thing worth mentioning is the recording of his surname – Bearley rather than Beazley. How did this happen, just a clerical error or could it have been slightly more suspicious?

A rather obscure newspaper, Fleming’s British Farmers’ Chronicle 9 August 1824 also reported the marriage.

It wasn’t until 1831 that some light is shed on his marriage to Emily Frances Conway in the London Courier and Evening Gazette 23 May, which reported a court case. It reported that

Samuel married Eliza at Kensington in May 1810 (which agrees with 2nd of his two marriages to Eliza in the parish register).

In 1813, a divorce, at the suit of Mrs Beazley, was pronounced against her husband, on the ground of adultery, by the Commissary Court at Edinburgh, he being resident in Scotland at the time; and a sentence of divorce, under the law of Scotland, being not mere separation, as in the Ecclesiastical Courts of England. Mr Beazley married a second time, in Scotland, Miss Const (sic).

His former wife, who had died in 1830, being alive at the time of such second marriage. Miss Const, otherwise, Beazley, promotes this suit to annul her marriage with Mr Beazley, on the ground that a sentence of a Scottish Court cannot dissolve a marriage had in England; and consequently, at the time of her marriage with Mr Beazley he had a wife still living. The question immediately before the court was, the admission of libel pleading the facts.

The outcome of this case being, Miss Conway wanted their marriage annulled as his first wife was still living at the time they married and that Samuel’s divorce from Eliza was a ‘pretend’ divorce, which took place in Scotland.

As Samuel and Emily Frances married in Scotland, Scottish law applied and as she knew about his first wife, it couldn’t not be annulled, so, in conclusion the couple remained married.

Whether they knew that Samuel’s surname had been incorrectly written in the parish register and perhaps could have been used to annul the marriage, is another matter.

Samuel’s first wife, Eliza Foster Richardson was married a second time in March 1827 as a spinster, having used her maiden name, her husband became James Moggridge. It was to be a short marriage, though as Eliza died in December 1830, she was buried 20 December 1830, at St Mary’s church, Reading.

In 1836 Samuel wrote his will, in which, bizarrely one of his bequests was a mourning ring should be purchased in memory of his late wife, Emily Frances. In his will he also ensured provision for several children, possibly his, but by whom we may never know.

By the 1841 census Samuel was living at 29 Soho Square, London, with his mother and sister, Emily and their sibling, Nancy (Tribe) who was visiting them. Samuel was still working hard as an architect and playwright.

On 24 November 1841, his 3rd wife, the somewhat mysterious wife, Marianne, gave birth to a daughter, named Emily Ann. The child being baptised at Christ church, Hoxton. There is no sign of Marianne on the census return and there is no marriage entry for them, so it perhaps has to be assumed that they were cohabiting rather than legally married. ODNB states that his third wife was Marianne Joseph, but I’m not sure where that has come from and to date, I haven’t found their marriage.

Samuel’s mother lived until 1846 and clearly mother and son remained very close until her demise, as he lived with him at 29 Soho Square, London.

The 1851 census shows Samuel living with his considerably younger, third wife, Marianne and their daughter, Emily Ann, having moved to Kent by this time.

Samuel died of an apoplexy at his home in Tonbridge Castle, Kent on 12 October 1851. He was buried at Bermondsey Old Church, London.

Samuel wrote his own epitaph:

Here lies Samuel Beazley, who lived hard and died easily



Reports of Cases Argued and Determined in the Ecclesiastical Courts at Doctors Commons

 London Church of England Parish Registers; Reference Number: P90/PAN1/063

1841 census. Class: HO107; Piece: 730; Book: 2; Civil Parish: St Anne Soho; County: Middlesex; Enumeration District: 4; Folio: 34; Page: 17; Line: 25; GSU roll: 438833

1851 census. Class: HO107; Piece: 1616; Folio: 10; Page: 12; GSU roll: 193517

Records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, Series PROB 11; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 2143

Berners Street Hoax – True or False?

Anyone familiar with the Georgian period will probably have heard of the Berners Street Hoax. So much has been written about this over the centuries that I was unsure as to whether it warranted yet another telling of the story, but as one of my lovely readers asked me about it, I felt it was worth checking out, if only for my own peace of mind and to confirm what everyone thought they knew about the story.

Let’s begin by setting the record straight about the name of the unfortunate recipient of  one of the most famous hoaxes. The lady in question was NOT, Mrs Tottenham, she was in fact Mrs Tottingham.

Almost all accounts I have read state that she was either just a Mrs T or Mrs Tottenham. I can now reveal that she was in fact, Mrs Mary Teresa Tottingham, a widow at the time the hoax is believed to have occurred, but as to why such a hoax was instigated, I have no idea. Nor do I know how Mary Teresa would have felt about such a prank or whether she even knew of it until she read it in the newspaper, as she would, no doubt, have had servants to receive guests and trades people.

Her late husband, John Tottingham (1735-1808) spent much of his life employed by the East India Company and was based in India, which is probably where he met his wife, Mary Teresa as there’s no record of them having married in England.

They had 4 children, Hester, born in India, Maria Teresia, born Sept 1773 in Munger in the Indian state of Bihar, followed closely by John James who was born in Danapur in October 1774. The couple’s youngest child being Jane Mary who was born in 1783 and baptised in London, so it’s fairly safe to assume that they had returned to England with their ever growing family by this time.

John, a retired colonel of the East India Company, died in 1808 and his will confirmed the street the couple lived in as being Berners Street, so I definitely had the correct family.

Mary Teresa remained at Berners Street until her death in 1833, at which time her 3 surviving, unmarried daughters, moved into their parents’ house where they remained until at least 1841 as we see here on the 1841 census.

Let’s now return to the prank itself; it is said to have taken place on 27 or 28 November 1809 or 1810, the year seems rather unclear, but the first public account of it  did not appear until  28 November 1810, in the Morning Post, which said that it

exceeded by far that in Bedford Street a few months since.  

Prankster and author, Theodore Edward Hook, apparently wagered a bet with a friend, Samuel Beazley, that

he could make any house in London the most talked about address in London within one week

He selected Mary Teresa’s home for this mischief.

Theodore Edward Hook, by Samuel De Wilde. Courtesy of Bonhams
Theodore Edward Hook, by Samuel De Wilde. Courtesy of Bonhams

To achieve this, he was said to have sent out around 4,000 letters to trades people who were to arrive throughout the day at the home of a Mrs T___, No. 54 Berners Street, London. This prank was said to have eventually created chaos on Berners Street, blocking the whole street with waggons laden with coals from Paddington wharf, upholsterers’ goods by the cartload, organs and pianofortes, linen, jewellery and a whole variety of furniture.

Even the Lord Mayor was invited to attend to house, but his stay was said to have been very short upon seeing the chaos being caused and he was driven to Marlborough Street police office to resolve the matter.

In case you needed any further proof as to the occupant of that now infamous address, here we have the burial register which confirms that Mary Teresa Tottingham lived at 54 Berners Street until her death at the age of 80. She was buried at the same church has her husband on 27 May 1833.

The Naval and Military Gazette and Weekly Chronicle of the United Service, 1 June 1833 also noted her demise, but no mention was made of the prank, perhaps it had faded from memory by this time, or perhaps it never really happened!

The 1841 census confirms that her three daughters, Maria, Jane and Hester took over the family home.

But was there really a hoax played upon the family, or, was the hoax something created for the newspapers only? I began to search the newspapers for similar such hoaxes and sure enough there were quite a few.

On 7 November 1809, one took place at 37 Bedford Street, near Covent Garden, at the home of a Mr Griffiths. Again, a mass of letters were sent out to trades people who were to attend 37 Bedford street bringing with them a diverse range of items.

Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Courtesy of Wiki Commons

They demanded to see Mr Griffiths, who, it transpired was out of town, leaving the servants to eventually lock and bolt the doors. His deliveries included a mangle, sofas, boots, tea and coffee, fiddles and flutes, pianofortes, prints and drawings, coal wagons and gigs to name but a few. Physicians, surgeons dentists and Pidock, of the Exeter Exchange Menagerie was required to purchase a live tiger. The most annoyed person, however, was an elderly man who had hobbled to town from Hammersmith to be paid a legacy of £700 which he was assured Mr Griffiths had received for him.

Edinburgh witnessed a very similar hoax, according to the Morning Post, 26 December 1810.

A singular hoax was practised on Tuesday, at Edinburgh. Cards were put into the post office, addressed to medical gentlemen, undertakers, upholsterers, grocers, confectioners, haberdashers, milliners, mantua makers, wig makers etc. desiring their attendance at a gentleman’s house, a few miles from Edinburgh, and requesting them to sen a hearse and mourning coaches for a funeral; and others to send out quantities of wine, grocery articles, etc.  In consequence of this the road was crowded with carriages, coaches, a hearse and twelve mourning coaches. After their arrival at the house to their utter astonishment they found the whole thing to be a hoax of some silly malicious wag!

Another one took place in London, according to the Evening Mail 14 March 1810:

Hoax – physicians, surgeons and apothecaries, jewellers, auctioneers and governesses, poulterers, pastry cooks, and undertakers etc have for the last four day besieged the house of Mr Hookham, 15 Old Bond Street, in consequence of two-penny and threepenny post letters, containing appointments, order etc.

Finally, the Suffolk Chronicle, 19 January 1811 reported the following hoax, which they believed to have been instigated by the same prankster as the Berners Street hoax:

On Sunday se’nnight every confectioner in the metropolis, from Whitechapel to Hyde Park, including the adjacent streets, to the amount of near 100, sent Twelfth Cakes of various dimensions, none less than 20 pounds weight, to Mr E I Samuel, West India merchant, Great Prescott Street, Goodman’s fields; circular letters having been sent to the different shops with the orders, stating that Mr S was recommended by an eminent city baronet. The whole of the gentleman’s friends were invited, most of whom did themselves the honour to accept the invitation, to the no small amusement of the authors, who it is suspected, attended as if invited. On Tuesday, circular letters were also sent to about 100 grocers, in consequence of which, from 9am to 9pm the neighbourhood was amused with arrival of parcels of tea and sugar about 30 pounds in weight each, and on Wednesday arrived, by the same plan, about one hundred fine large Cheshire cheeses, which cut a curious appearance from their uniformity, and sometimes 8 or 10 meetings at the door at one time!

From these, it would appear that 1809-1812 was a great time for carrying out hoaxes, if indeed any of them really happened, I remain unconvinced, what do you think?

Hoax at the Pavilion Sloane Street. August 31 1812. British Museum
Hoax at the Pavilion Sloane Street. August 31, 1812. British Museum

In the next article we will continue with this story by taking a look at Samuel Beazley, the other party involved in the Berners Street hoax, so do join me to find out more.


Hereford Journal 8 Nov 1809

Chester Chronicle 7 December 1810

Chester Courant 4 December 1810

Featured Image

By William Heath. Courtesy of British Museum

The Children of George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough

Today’s post is very much about the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough’s children, through art. I came across this copy of a portrait of George Spencer, 4th Duke of Marlborough, his wife, Lady Caroline née Russell and six of their children by Sir Joshua Reynolds, which is now on view in the Red Drawing Room,  at the Marlborough family home, Blenheim Palace.

George and Caroline were married 23 August 1762, by Special Licence, Caroline being a minor at the time. Although the marriage was registered at the parish church of St Leonard, Streatham, Lambeth, they were married at Caroline’s family home, Bedford House.

It would be a little over a year later, on 20 October 1763, that their first child was born. Possibly somewhat annoying, the child was a girl and as such, there was no fanfare or great celebration following the birth.

Caroline Duchess of Marlborough, With Lady Caroline Spencer her Daughter NPG
Caroline Duchess of Marlborough, With Lady Caroline Spencer her Daughter NPG

The couple would ideally have hoped for a son and heir, but on this occasion, this was not to be, instead this child was Caroline, named in honour of her mother and the Oxford Journal, 29 October 1763 simply noted that

About nine o’clock, her Grace the Duchess of Marlborough was safely delivered of a daughter, at Marlborough House in Pall Mall.

Their next child was again a girl, Elizabeth, and once again, the Oxford Journal 22 December 1764, repeated the same information as they had done previously, word for word.

It would be in 1766 that fortune smiled upon the couple and their first son, George, was born. The Sussex Advertiser, 17 March 1766 carried the following account of the birth:

Woodstock, March 8. It is impossible to express the joy diffused over every countenance on the news of the happy addition of a son and Marquis to the illustrious family of the Duke of Marlborough. The illuminations, bonfires, ringing of bells, firing of cannons etc continued for two days upon this occasion.

This gives you a very clear indication of how important it was for a noble family to produce a son and heir; it demonstrates a totally different reaction by the family and the media of the day to that of Caroline giving birth to two girls.

The next task for Caroline was to continue producing offspring until she produced a ‘spare’ to the heir.

The Leeds Intelligencer confirms that around 24 October 1769

Birth. The Grace the Dutchess of Marlborough, of a daughter, at Marlborough House in Pall Mall.

Oh dear, another girl, Georgina Charlotte (as she was baptised, although known as Charlotte), that spare was somewhat illusive.

Baptism of Georgina Charlotte 1769 at St Martin in The Fields
Baptism of Georgina Charlotte 1769 at St Martin in The Fields

It would be December 1770 when the spare arrived, Henry John, once again, to a fanfare and celebrations.

The Reading Mercury 31 December 1770 reporting that

Last week her Grace the Duchess of Marlborough was safely delivered of a son, at Marlborough House, in Pall Mall. Upon the arrival of this news at Blenheim House, there were great rejoicings and festivity.

It’s feasible to see how close Georgina Charlotte and Henry John were from this painting entitled, ‘The Young Fortune Tellers’, at the Huntington Library and Art Museum, painted c1775, again by Reynolds and I have to say it’s one of the sweetest portraits I have seen in a long time.

So, we now have an heir and a spare, plus 3 daughters, but the couple didn’t stop there. 8 November 1773, according to the Hampshire Chronicle the couple produced another daughter, Ann and again, being a girl, it was a simple, formal statement of fact.

The Mask. Original by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Ann and Charlotte. YCBA
The Mask. Original by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Ann and Charlotte. YCBA

It must have appeared that their family was now complete until out of the blue, some 6 years later, another son, Francis Almeric, arrived. The Northampton Mercury, 3 January 1780 reported that:

Her Grace Duchess of Marlborough was safely delivered of a son at Marlborough House, London.

No fanfare for this child, after all, the heir and spare was still very much alive and the line of succession complete.

British Museum
British Museum

According to many articles I’ve read, there was another daughter, Amelia Sophia, said to have been born 1774/5, so let’s set the record straight, she was not born then.

Whilst searching for her baptism, it seemed strange that there was no newspaper report announcing her arrival, and no sign of a baptism. However the family tree at Blenheim, have it recorded as 1785, so I wanted to check which date was correct. There was a possible clue in the burial register of St Leonard’s, Streatham on 7 February 1829.

Amelia Sophia (married by this time), died at the age of 44. If her true age was given when she was buried, then she wasn’t born in 1775, but some 10 years later in 1785.  Checking the newspapers and sure enough, the Oxford Journal 17 September 1785 reported that:

On Thursday the 8th Instant, her Grace the Duchess of Marlborough was safely delivered of a daughter, at Blenheim.

Whilst searching for portraits of the children, I did come across this very famous painting by Reynolds, ‘Age of Innocence’ at Tate. There have been a variety of possible sitters suggested for the portrait, including Lady Ann Spencer.

However, that suggestion was correctly dismissed as she was born 1773 and would therefore have been in her teens by the time Reynolds painted this portrait, which was thought to have been either 1785 or 1788.

Knowing now that Amelia Sophia was the youngest daughter rather than Ann, and that she was born in 1785, it seems feasible that the portrait may well have been of her aged just 3, but more research is needed to try to prove that theory.

The Age of Innocence ?1788 Sir Joshua Reynolds 1723-1792 Presented by Robert Vernon 1847

I also came across this mezzotint on the National Galleries Scotland website  and I have been able to indicate each of the children on there, and of course we’re missing the last two – Francis and Amelia Sophia, who weren’t born when Reynolds painted it which ties in with the family portrait being painted about 1778.

In his Catalogue Raisonné or a list of the pictures in Blenheim Palace, Sir George Scharf also notes that the family portrait was painted prior to the births of Francis and Amelia which very helpfully confirms my research.

As is so often the case, this article leaves me with more questions than answers, but you never know, it might be feasible over time to ascertain one way or another whether ‘Age of Innocence‘ is Amelia Sophia. I really do hope so.

Lavinia Spencer—amateur artist and Princess Diana’s great, great, great grandmother

I am delighted to welcome back R.M Healey, hot on the heels of his previous piece, A Georgian ‘Trip Advisor‘. Today’s topic is however very different, so I’ll hand over to him to tell you more:

I purchased this signed drawing below of Frances Molesworth by the talented amateur Lavinia Bingham a few years ago in a provincial auction house. It is interesting for a number of reasons, not least because the artist was Princess Diana’s great, great, great, grandmother.

The sketch shows Frances seated on a sofa, with a parrot perched on the top rail is dated 8 June 1780, when Lavinia was just eighteen years old and her sitter four years older.

However, the relationship between Lavinia and Frances is also significant, as the two girls were part of the same family.

Frances Molesworth, born in Wembury, near Plymouth, Devon, in 1758, the daughter of William Molesworth, and Elizabeth Smyth. Frances entered the household of her mother’s sister, Margaret Bingham (née Smyth), Lady Lucan, after the early deaths of her parents.

Margaret Bingham (née Smith), Countess of Lucan. NPG
Margaret Bingham (née Smith), Countess of Lucan. NPG

So, the two cousins grew up together and it is possible that among the archive of drawings by Lavinia at the Spencer seat of Althorp, there are others that depict Frances, for Lavinia was an enthusiastic sketcher, as we shall see. It would also be revealing to know how easily Lavinia accepted the introduction of Frances into the family circle. Perhaps the future discovery of such personal documents as letters and diaries, might shed some light. Unfortunately, although biographers, for obvious reasons, have focussed on Lavinia, nothing of significance has been published about Frances apart from the bare biographical facts. It is likely that the drawing, which Lavinia seemingly presented to Frances, was executed at the family home on the Thames at Laleham, though the present Laleham House dates from 1803.

Interestingly, the sitter seems to be wearing the same, or a very similar, wide brimmed hat trimmed with feathers that she was to wear in a later portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds. No doubt at the time the two girls were rivals in the marriage stakes.

Both had striking good looks, but whereas less than a year after the sitting Lavinia had married George, the second Earl Spencer, brother of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Frances rejected two very eligible suitors, including Lord North, before she agreed to marry John Jeffreys, Marquess of Camden, in 1785 bringing with her a generous settlement of £40,000 from Lord Lucan.

Camden’s name lives on, of course, as the developer of London’s Camden Town, which began to be built around 1791. At the time the couple were living at Bayham Abbey.

As an amateur artist Lavinia evidently inherited some of the skills of her mother, Margaret Smyth, whose miniature portraits, landscapes and book illustration were admired by Horace Walpole.

The sketch of Frances Molesworth shows that though the draughtsmanship is weak in some areas, the potential for improvement was there, and indeed by the 1790’s such productions as ‘Nice Supper’ and ‘A Pinch of Snuff’, which were both considered good enough to be engraved, demonstrated a great advancement in technique.

On 10 January, six months after the drawing of Frances was executed, Lavinia, evidently a little infatuated with her future husband, wrote to him describing her daily regime after getting up:

…I then go to breakfast—then to draw, sing and play, in order to improve those talents for your future amusement—then I write to you for your present amusement, then I take the air, or a long walk to get good looks for you—then I eat my dinner where I think of you—then I sit and fret until the post brings me a letter from you which I devour and read over for an hour and a half, then I send mine to you—then I draw again or improve my mind by good Books for you the rest of the Evening—then I go to Bed, where I dream of you—so you see that you always are the burthen of my song. Have I told you that Lady Edgcombe & Dickey came here the other day to see my drawings?

The following day Lavinia looks forward to finishing her portrait of George:

…there will not be vermillion enough in London to paint your picture if you sit again when you return—and I am out of my senses when I think how will you be when I see you next.

In a postscript she refers to her two pet dogs, Bow-Wow and Salvatori, and the tiny drawings she did of them, are added to the letter. She pleads with George to keep the letter, as the drawings on it hadn’t been copied. Perhaps, she suggests, he might hang up the letter ‘among your other Originals’.

Less than two months later, on 6 March, the pair were married. At the end of November Lavinia was ‘with child ‘and on 6 December was still drawing, though evidently suffering from morning sickness. She wrote from her new home at Althorp:

I am drawing away, but if I continue so most sick, as Mother Roberts says, I shall not be able to finish a great many things to show you, although you expect them, you unreasonable dog—for “what is the use of having her if she does not draw”.

Who could not be charmed by these letters, especially those written before her marriage? At this time Lavinia was described as a ‘sweet creature’, but her personality seems to have altered somewhat following her arriving at Althorp, where she was described by some as bitchy and arrogant.

Amanda Foreman, biographer of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, called her ‘moody, vindictive, hypocritical ‘and ‘neurotically jealous’ of both Georgiana and the Countess of Bessborough. Certainly, she appears to have ruled her household at Althorp with a self confidence born of her elevated station. Nevertheless, her beauty and intelligence proved popular with her many guests and hers was generally a happy marriage.

She bore eight children and lived just long enough to see her eldest son, Viscount Althorp, become Chancellor of the Exchequer. Lavinia died in 1831, aged sixty-nine, two years after the death of Frances.


British Library Add MSS 75926 – 75938 1781 – 1830

Amanda Foreman, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.



A history of child maintenance

I am once again delighted to welcome back Melanie Barnes, who is bringing her legal brain to bear on the history of child maintenance.

Throughout history, the payment of child support has been a recurring issue, though the policies applied by either the church or government have been remarkably similar.

Early records reveal that even if the father of a child was not known, the parish would still support the mother by payment of ‘Poore Reliefe’.  This payment (typically very low) was raised from a tax upon the parish residents, and the church would then seek a contribution from the father or family member to mitigate the cost.  In medieval England, canon law placed all parents under a duty to support their legitimate children, but later, the duty to provide for ‘bastard’ children was introduced through various ‘Old Poor Laws’ which aimed to provide better relief to the mother of the child or those in need.

Throughout the 16th and 17th century, legislation was introduced to meet the costs of illegitimate children on the parish.  For example, in 1576, the Acte for Setting of the Poore on Work, and for the Avoiding of Ydleness punished both parents for having a bastard child and allowed the mother’s name and fact of pregnancy to be publicly announced, thus making her known to her neighbours who would be taxed for the support of her child.  The mere fact of publicity encouraged neighbours to pressure the mother into marriage or to filiate their children on men who could maintain them – an act that was a lot easier before DNA samples could determine paternity.

After 1609, a mother could be sent to a ‘House of Correction’ for a year unless she gave security for her bastard child.  So unpopular were women who became dependent on the parish that child infanticide became common so that mothers could avoid the shame and punishment of giving birth to an illegitimate child.  In response to this widespread issue, the 1624 Act to Prevent the Destroying and Murthering of Bastard Children was introduced to provide that a woman would face the punishment of death if she gave birth and thereafter concealed the dead body; introducing a presumption that any child buried or concealed after birth had been illegally killed.

Later Poor Acts rather harshly made provision for what became known as ‘badging up’ where a person would have to wear a badge with the first letter of their parish followed by a ‘P’ showing that they were poor.   Any ‘able-bodied’ pauper who refused to work was liable to be placed in prison, thus distinguishing between those who were unable to work, and those who were simply seen as idle, a distinction that appears to be accepted in modern politics where policy has once again reverted to the belief system that the unemployed are somehow irresponsible.

Bastardy Bonds

Legislation was also introduced to try and discourage the birth of illegitimate children.  In the Bastard Child Act of 1732, the law provided that any person charged with being the father of a bastard child should be imprisoned until he gave security to indemnify the parish from expense.  It also became the responsibility of the woman to name the father in order to deter both parties.

Published by W. Darling. The Young Repentent Brought to a Bed of Justice. 1772. Lewis Walpole Library, 772.12.15.1. © Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.
Published by W. Darling. The Young Repentent Brought to a Bed of Justice. 1772. Lewis Walpole Library, 772.12.15.1. © Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

The indemnities that a father had to provide by law were known as ‘bastardy bonds’ and were registered in parish records.  Typically, the father was required to agree to pay the parish a lump sum if he failed to maintain the costs of bringing up a bastard child.  The following is an indemnification from parish records in the year of 1747:

 “I Abraham Atkinson of Cambridge, Cambridge apothecary am held and firmly bound unto the Churchwardens of the parish of Littlebury in Essex and the Overseers of the Poor of the said parish in the sum of 50 pounds of good and lawful money.  If this man and his heirs promise to support the child and all manner of costs, charges and expenses which shall or may in any wise hereafter means of the birth maintenance or bringing up of the said Bastard Child – then his obligation to be void

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the birth of an illegitimate child was not common.  However, as the church lost their moral hold over marital affairs, prenuptial sex became more accepted to the point where approximately half of all conceptions in the 18th century were out of wedlock.  Following pregnancy, it is estimated that around one in five actual births were recorded as illegitimate, which suggests that many prenuptial pregnancies were followed by a rather hasty marriage which under church law would legitimise the children – though not for the purposes of inheritance under Common Law.

Review of the Poor Laws

In the 1833 Poor Law Commission Report on Bastardy reported that the Poor Laws encouraged illegitimacy because parish relief was so readily accessible for bastards and their mothers.  It was thought that more relief was issued to maintain illegitimate children than to support legitimate children, and costs were rising because mothers were able to avoid responsibility by moving to their home parish.  This problem arose as at that time if a child was born legitimately then he would ‘inherit’ the parish of his parents.  If he was not legitimate, then a mother could move home to her own parish and leave responsibility of the child to the parish into which he was born.  In other words, the child would be considered a ‘no-one’ with no home and the parish into which he was born would have to maintain him.  Children and those who were vulnerable were generally cared for in what was known as an ‘alms house’ which still exist today and were similar to sheltered housing though no doubt very bleak.

Courtesy of Kindred Past website
Courtesy of Kindred Past website

The recommendations of the Poor Law Commission formed the basis of the Bastardy Clause in the New Poor Law of 1834 which provided that all illegitimate children were to be the sole responsibility of their mothers until they were 16 years old.   Shifting blame to the mother appears to be a direct result of the findings of the 1833 Poor Law Report which was led by Nassau Senior, an economist who was against the allowance system.

Instead of relief being readily available, it was recommended that those in need would first have to enter workhouses that were introduced nationally.  Through the Act, mothers of bastard children were expected to support themselves and their offspring and would have to enter the workhouse if they were unable to do so which ultimately was proposed in order to reduce the costs of children on the parish.  There would no longer be any penal sanctions against either the mother or the father for non-support of their illegitimate children and for the first time, the putative father was absolved of any responsibility for his illegitimate children.

The pass room, Bridewell
The passroom, Bridewell

It was hoped that the morality of women would be effected by such draconian laws, but the reality was that it led to many more men avoiding responsibility altogether and placed even greater financial pressure on a mother who already had the burden of an illegitimate child.  It is also thought that this Act may have led to the flourish of baby-farming in the Victorian age where discrete adverts were placed in journals or newspapers for ‘care’ of children which amounted to a sort of black-market trade in children.

The injustice caused by the Bastardy Clause, led to the 1844 Poor Law Amendment Act which provided that bastardy proceedings were to be a civil matter between parents.  Under this act, a mother could apply under oath for an ‘affiliation order’ which required the putative father to pay a weekly sum to the parish, although she still received maintenance from the church if this was not received.  It is thought that this law has probably come to reflect what has always been a de facto division of parental labour: mother as parent with care, and father as financial provider.

This of course, relates mostly to those children who are maintained by unmarried parents, although families who were poor would also receive relief from the parish.  Marriage was a clear advantage when it came to finance as a spouse had full property rights and legitimate children and widow could inherit or receive a pension through the rules of legislation, common and ecclesiastical law.  Given the importance of marriage, it was therefore crucial that any ceremony or union was seen as valid and legal.


Lawrence Stone “Uncertain Unions”

Marriage, Fertility, and Population Growth in Eighteenth-Century England (Marriage and Society 156-7, 162; E. A. Wrigley)

Gertrude Himmelfarb, The Idea of Poverty (New York: Random House, 1983),

Bastardy and baby-farming in Victorian England, Haller, DL

The Child Support Agency and the Old Poor Law (2006), Nutt, T

Gertrude Himmelfarb, The Idea of Poverty (New York: Random House, 1983)

Featured Image

Thomas Rowlandson, The Passroom at Bridewell


18th century trade cards for London book sellers

For those readers who are familiar with All Things Georgian, you will more than likely know of my passion for trade cards and the tiny clues they offer about the lives their former owners. Today we’re going to take a look at just a few of the booker sellers of 18th century London.

We begin with the card above which belonged to Mr George Sael of at No 192, the Strand, London, showing a female figure, possibly Minerva, seated to the right inscribing the text on an oval. George was not only a bookseller, but also sold stationery and purchased libraries or collections of books.

Although it’s not possible to date the card accurately, we do know from his will, that George died June 1799, at just 38 years of age, said to have been due to overwork. Before ‘going it alone’, George had been in partnership with another bookseller, Edward Jeffery, but they had mutually ended their business partnership in October 1788, so this narrows the window to around a ten year span. It would seem likely that George produced or acquired new business cards after the division of the company, to tells his customers where he was now to be found.

When George died, he left a wife, Sarah née Poole whom he had married in Chester on 19 April 1789, and three surviving daughters, Letitia Margaretta, (born 1790), Sarah (born1794), Elizabeth (born 1795) and a two year old son, George. In his will he specified that all his stock in trade and other financial assets should to go to his wife, then to the children when/if they reached the age of 21 and that his wearing apparel should go to his nephew. George was buried at St George’s Hanover Square on 17 June 1799.

As a former citizen of Chester, the Chester Chronicle provided the following notice of his death:

This next one was very attention grabbing, as it shows George III and Queen Charlotte, with an added name-check for the Prince of Wales. As can be seen in the bottom right hand corner this was advertising the bookseller, Alexander Hogg of Paternoster Row who had acquired a ‘New selection of British novels’



Alexander didn’t marry until he was aged, 56, his wife being Hannah May, of the parish of St Olave, Bermondsey. Rather unusually, it was Hannah who arranged the marriage licence on 15 September 1808, rather than Alexander. The couple then married at St Olave’s a couple of days later and on the day of their marriage Alexander also wrote his will, he clearly believed that he wouldn’t live for much longer and wanted to ensure that his new bride was provided for. Sure enough, their marriage was to be cut short, as Alexander died just over 3 months later, at the beginning of January 1809. This perhaps explains why Hannah organised the marriage licence, a ‘quickie’ wedding, Alexander was too ill to arrange it himself.

The Hull Packet, 17 January 1809 wrote:


On Sunday se’nnight, after a long and painful affliction, which he endured with exemplary fortitude, Mr Alexander Hogg, late a bookseller in Paternoster Row, London, in the 57th year of his age; whose strict adherence to honour and honesty, during life, rendered him universally respected and esteemed.

The next card belonged to a John Weble, bookseller at ‘The Pineapple’ in the City Road, London, showing the text inscribed on a sheet, a bookseller standing to right showing books to a gentleman and a lady; an ornamental border framing the image and is rather more elaborate and detailed than that of George Sael.

However, there’s a glaring error which doesn’t look very professional – have you spotted it yet? I think I might have been asking for a refund if I had paid for the card to be printed.

John ran his book selling and stationery business from at least 1770 and was based on Paternoster Row, London. The little we know of his life comes courtesy of the Oxford University and City Herald, 30 September 1820:

At Bromley, Kent, in his 74th year, John Wheble, Esq., the original projector, and till within these few years, the sole conductor, of the County Chronicle. Of an active, intelligent, and truly liberal mind, combined with generosity to a fault, it may be truly said that few men possessed in a greater degree the respect and esteem of the circle in which he moved, or quitted this transitory life more deeply or sincerely regretted. In 1805, Mr Wheble was chosen one of the Common Council of the war of Farringdon Within, an honour which he continue to enjoy until his death.

This one below belonged to a John Pridden, who operated his business in Fleet Street, from at least 1757 until his death in 1807. The card itself has text inscribed within a Rococo border, the Prince of Wales’s feathers in the upper section with piles of books at the sides and was dated 1757.

We know slightly more about John Pridden than we do about some of the other booksellers, courtesy of the Dictionary of National Biography which tells us that John was born in 1728 to a very affluent family, at Old Martin Hall, Ellesmere, Shropshire. He ran away from home to escape from his cruel step-father and headed for London, where he found employment working for Richard Manby, a book seller of Ludgate Hill, whom he eventually succeeded upon Manby’s death, in 1767.

John married Anne Gregory in 1757 and they had two sons, John and Humphry and six daughters, Anne, Elizabeth, Sarah, Frances, Isabella and Margaret. John outlived his wife, but only by a few years, Anne died in 1801 and John’s wish in his will was to be buried in the same grave as his wife so they could be reunited in death on 24 March 1807, at St Bride’s, Fleet Street.

An anecdote written upon his demise in the Oracle and Daily News, 17 March 1807.

Yesterday morning, in the 79th years of his age, Mr John Pridden, nearly half a century a bookseller in Fleet Street, who, by persevering industry, acquired an independent fortune, with strict integrity. The following anecdote of this worthy man must not go untold, as a specimen of the goodness of his heart: Seven years ago, on the failure of his less fortunate next-door neighbour, he invited him to his house, and relinquished business, to give him the opportunity of the remaining on the spot. His kind intentions met with success, and he frequently expressed the pleasure he felt on seeing his friend prosper under his roof.  

I have one final one to share, not because I had researched the books seller, rather that I am curious about a description on his trade card. He tells potential purchasers that he sells books bound in either calves or turkey leather – turkey leather is a new one to me, so if anyone knows about it, please do let me know.


All images are courtesy of the British Museum

London Gazette, 25 Oct 1788

George Sael.  Records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, Series PROB 11; ClassPROB 11; Piece1326

Alexander Hogg. Records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, Series PROB 11; ClassPROB 11; Piece1482

John Pridden.  Records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, Series PROB 11; ClassPROB 11; Piece1460

Art Detective: the portrait of Catherine Clemens and her son, John Marcus Clemens

This post is very much about art and family connections, but I have a slight query with this first one, which is a miniature by Richard Cosway, that I first came came across on social media.

Cleveland Museum of Art
Cleveland Museum of Art

Being a big fan of miniatures, especially those by Cosway, I wanted to find out more about the sitter and her child, but with no real success, as yet, despite contacting The Cleveland Museum of Art, who own the miniature , and according to their website it is dated c1800 or possibly c1790.

They directed me to further information on their website which described the portrait, but it still provided no clues as to  who this Catherine Clemens or her son were. They were unable to tell me anything more and recommended I should buy their the book, British Portrait Miniatures: The Cleveland Museum of Art, which would tell me all I needed to know. I duly did this, in anticipation of it learning about these two people. However, when it arrived, like their website, it told me about the miniature, absolutely nothing about the sitters, so whilst, I am still not certain of my findings, I do now think I know know who they are, so let’s see where it leads and maybe one of my readers can shed some light on the mystery.

The online book, Portrait Miniatures: the Edward B Greene Collection, tells us it was painted c1790, so assuming the child was about five at the time, the gap between the website and their online book is quite a large gap given the appearance of the child.

Firstly, despite having read everywhere that Catherine and her son were named Clemens, I believe that somehow, over time, their surname has lost the letter ‘t’ and that it should be Clements. Why do I think that?

I began my search looking for anyone in the world named John Marcus Clemens who would have been born around 1785 – 1800, with a mother named Catherine, and not a single person appeared, despite a variety of searches, which struck me as very strange.

There was, however, a John Marcus Clements, born in 1789 in Dublin, to parents, Henry Theophilus Clements and his second wife, Catherine née de la Poer Beresford. It strikes me that this is ‘our’ Catherine and her son, but proving it is far more difficult.

If am I correct, then Catherine (1761-1836), was the daughter of John de la Poer Beresford (1737-1805), an Irish statesman, Barrister at Law, First Commissioner of the revenue board, Knight of the shire for Waterford, and second son of Marcus, Earl of Tyrone

A watercolour portrait of John Beresford, M.P. by Richard Crosse. Gallery of Ireland
A watercolour portrait of John Beresford, M.P. by Richard Crosse. Gallery of Ireland

and his French wife, Mademoiselle Anne Constantia de Ligondes, who died towards the end of 1772, when Catherine was about eleven, leaving John with nine children to raise and needing a new wife as quickly as possible to help with his offspring.

Along came his second wife, and stepmother to Catherine, the celebrated beauty, Barbara Montgomery (1737-1788), who was immortalised in art, as one of the Montgomery sisters (Barbara, Elizabeth and Anne), in the famous painting by Joshua Reynolds, ‘Three Ladies Adorning A Term of Hymen.’

Reynolds, Joshua; Three Ladies Adorning a Term of Hymen; Tate

John and Barbara were married in 1774 and went on to produce a further eight children, so 17 known children in total – that was quite some family to support.

Returning to Catherine, in August 1778, aged just 16, she married, and married very well, her husband being the widower, Henry Theophilus Clements (1750-1795), son of Nathaniel Clements (1705-1777) and his wife, Hannah Gore (1710-1781).

Nathaniel Clements and Hannah Gore

Nathaniel had risen through the political ranks to become the main financial manager of the British and Irish Government in Ireland and Minister for Finance from 1740 to 1777.

The Viceregal Lodge in Phoenix Park, Dublin dated 1849 by Henry Newton. Royal Collection Trust
The Viceregal Lodge in Phoenix Park, Dublin dated 1849 by Henry Newton. Royal Collection Trust

Nathaniel was appointed to the office of Chief Ranger of the Phoenix Park and Master of Game and built the Ranger’s lodge to his own design in 1751, which is now Áras an Uachtaráin, the official residence of the President of Ireland.

Phoenix Park
Phoenix Park

He also had an extensive property portfolio, including Abbotstown, County Dublin, estates in County Leitrim and County Cavan and was a developer of property in Georgian Dublin, including part of Henrietta Street. Nathaniel was described one of the richest commoners in Ireland.

Henry Theophilus and Catherine settled into married life and produced at least seven known children, several of whom died young, but it is their son, John Marcus who appears in the miniature by Cosway with Catherine.

Just four years before the birth of Catherine’s son, John Marcus, we have a portrait of her, which is now at the Lady Lever Gallery, ‘in the style of Thomas Gainsborough’. This portrait seems to have originally simply been title ‘Portrait of a Lady’ but subsequently identified as Catherine. As we can see here, she would have been aged just 24. Having contacted the gallery they very kindly sent me more information about this portrait which does in fact dispute that it was Catherine, rather that it was more likely to have been Henry Theophilus’ first wife, Mary Webb, who died c1777. It is difficult to age her, as the fashion of the day dictated that women wore hair powder, which perhaps makes her appearance seem older than she was was.

Gainsborough, Thomas; Portrait of a Lady; Lady Lever Art Gallery

In 1788, just one year before the birth of John Marcus, when Catherine was aged 28, her portrait was painted again, this time by George Romney. We know this to be Catherine from Arthur Chamberlain’s book of 1910, George Romney, which confirms that:

Among his portraits of 1788 were Mrs. Clements, a half-length, sent to Dublin.

To have been painted by such famous artists tells us that Catherine was not only regarded as a beauty, but that the family must have been very affluent.

The couple had eight known children, their first being Anne Barbara, born just a year after her marriage and named after Catherine’s mother and her stepmother.

Just as an aside, another of their children, Selina (1780-1805) went on to marry Sir William Mordaunt Sturt Milner (1779-1855). When I came across his name, it rang very distinct, if distant bells.

With further investigation I soon realised that he was the great nephew of Dame Mary Lindsay (née Milner), who was Dido Elizabeth Belle’s stepmother. This was not an avenue I was expecting to travel along for one minute, and it just goes to what a very small world it was at that time, with so many of the upper class being related by marriage.

Catherine’s husband, Henry Theophilus died in 1795, as did one of their sons, but Catherine lived until 1836.

Her will, as you can see, was exceptionally brief, just seven lines, in which she stated that she wished to be buried near her daughter, Selina, at Harrow Road (Kensal Green Cemetery). However, Selina was buried in 1805, at Bolton Percy, Yorkshire, home to the Milner family so that makes Catherine’s request somewhat strange, unless the Selina she named was her granddaughter who died 1834 and who was buried at Kensal Green, which would make more sense.

Her will confirmed that her surviving son, was a colonel in India, this would have been Henry John (1781-1843) who we see below in a portrait by Martin Cregan.

Colonel Henry John Clements by Martin Cregan. Sold by Christies
Colonel Henry John Clements by Martin Cregan. Sold by Christies

The son in the portrait with Catherine, John Marcus, having died two years previously, in 1834. John Marcus left a widow, Catherine Frances nee Wentworth, daughter of Godfrey Wentworth Esq. of Woolley Park, Wakefield, Yorkshire and two surviving sons.

Catherine specifically asked that her son Colonel Clements, to ‘see that Harriet Cogan does not want, until her bother returns from India when he will be able to take care of her should she be alive.’ Unfortunately, it is not clear from Catherine’s will who this Harriet was, it may be another of Catherine’s children, but so far, I can’t find any Harriet Clements married to a Mr Cogan, so another mystery.

To finish, I thought it would be interesting to group all three portraits said to be of Catherine together, to see whether they were all of the same person. I am not convinced.

We know for certain that the middle one, by Romney is definitely a Mrs Clements and is confirmed as such not only by the reference in the book, but also from the portrait itself, in which the sitter has a letter on her lap with the name Clements on it.

As stated earlier, the Lady Lever Gallery have not been able to confirm the attribution of their portrait, but a leading art expert, Dr Alex Kitson, doesn’t believe it to be a Gainsborough, either, leaving yet another mystery to unravel.

Sadly, despite the book by Cleveland Art Museum, providing no information about the sitters, I still can’t say for certain that I’m correct, but I am pretty certain that there was only ever one Catherine Clements living at that time with a son named John Marcus, and that was Catherine Clements – with a ‘t’, so I can only conclude that it must have been the woman in the one in the centre and to the right of that group.

If anyone else can find a Catherine Clemens with a son named John Marcus Clemens, do please let me know.

A Georgian ‘Trip Advisor’ – Part Two

Today we’re following on from the previous article by R. M Healey with some more places in London to enjoy dining in the 18th century.

August 1788 

Windsor Castle, Richmond. 

Long has this house been in estimation. Rigby, who often formerly used to bait here, en tête-à-tête, used to say “ that further up you may fare worse! “. The apartments are all spacious, and the view from behind a most luxurious landscape! Good eels, good fowls, and good venison, are found here. The various courses are all served up in style, and there is not a wine but what is of the highest flavour, and best quality. The stables too are excellent in equestrian accommodation; and that is no secondary consideration with a man of feeling, who feeds his horse himself, while the cuisineur is preparing his own feed. The charge is by no means extortionate, and there is as grateful a fair hair’d curtsey at the bar to be had for a shilling as for a guinea. In the left front parlour is a room befitting even Middleton himself. It was lined by India, at least in painting—the panels were formed for the room, and then sent out for Asiatic gilding!

Three Tuns, Strand.

The fragments of royalty smoke here; and smoke, too, in additional perfume. It is a royal larder. Besides this luxurious conveniency, every choice article is to be had in season. The expence being tacked to the bill of fare, is no inconsiderable invitation to sit down. Bricklayers in their bills manage it otherwise. If Mr Hodd says that your demand is to cost ten pounds, it is ten to one that it will be thirty. The Lord Mayor himself cannot deny this. As for the Tuns, both upstairs and down stairs, all is activity, civility and good service too; nor should the company pass unnoticed, who though motley, are generally accomplished ; and where is the man of sense that would not choose  his company before his food? As to the bill, it is very moderate.

Below we have a snippet about a young man who couldn’t pay for  his meal at the Three Tuns:

Kentish Gazette 08 June 1768
Kentish Gazette 08 June 1768

Walker’s, the Assembly Rooms, Blackheath.

This tavern is very pleasantly situated on the Heath. The prospect to the north is rich, variegated and delightful; and this must certainly please the Scotch Golf Club, that when they look towards home from hence, it is viewing Thule in idea, through the most grand and attractive medium. The prospect to the south is not half so charming. It seems only a pleasing waste, not from sterility, but from the folly of continuing waste-grounds in a fertile country, mainly because we are free to do as absurd actions as we please. This liberal policy is a determined, though not rooted enmity against the wants of man. Why does not our patriot minister make all England yield that equal burthen which nature has intended?

As to Walker’s, they dress very good dinners. It is an excellent house for turbot. The Kentish Dispensary, it would appear, know this truism; for besides its being a centrical (sic) house for their dinners, it is an excellent and a reasonable house for making out a bill. All guests know that when a house is unreasonable, however wise it may appear in it’s (sic) own eyes, it ought either to be sent to Bridewell or Bedlam. Moderate profits, ready attendance and good cheer can only ensure business; and these recommendations, it may be with truth affirmed, are the characteristics of the Blackheath Assembly Rooms.

The Virginia, Newman’s Court, Cornhill.

This house is much frequented by ship carpenters, and ship brokers. Dinners are very well served up at 15d a head. Rural city merchants, that is, those who sleep in the country, generally dine here. The entertainment is good, and the charge moderate. As to the mistress at the bar, she is very obliging; she is as prolific in curtseys as a Frenchwoman, and as prolific in issue as a rabbit.

Mill’s, Gerrard Street, Soho

This house is remarkable for good red port, and good spirits. They dress dinners and suppers in style —and the breakfast are very comfortable. Several intelligent gentlemen, stricken in years, are it’s constant guests, and the conversation is both pleasing and instructive. The charges are indeed very reasonable, and the attention prompt and agreeable. It is celebrated for being the very first house that reduced the prices of wines and spirits, after the commencement of the French treaty.

Batson’s Coffee House, near ‘Change.

This is the English emporium for the Russian trade. The Baltic ships are regularly filed here. It is the great commercial mart, and city lounge for the Thornton’s. No dinners are dressed. Opulent and elegant clubs meet here. It is the coffee-house patron of Sunday schools. The ladies at the bar Flood their customers with good spirits, good coffee, and good looks. As to their proof brandy, it serves as excellent fur cloaks to the Russian captains.

Bull and Bush, North-End, Hampstead.

The bon-vivants for several miles around meet here every Friday. There is a very pleasant garden, in the midst of which is a bush, that can accommodate a dozen people to dinner. The rooms are cheerful, and the prospect, altho’ confined, is neatly rural, and somewhat romantic. Every article, both in eating and drinking is of the very best quality; and it being without the vortex of common Sunday pedestrians, it is a most delightful recess on that day as well as others. The bill is conscionable, and the service speedy.


The Windsor Castle inn seems to have disappeared.

Today, there are a couple of inns named The Three Tuns in the Strand area, but the one flourishing  in 1788, appears to have gone.

The Assembly Rooms in Blackheath have long disappeared, but The Royal Blackheath Golf Club, ancestor of the Blackheath Golf Club, still exists, though it has now moved to Eltham. This ‘Scotch Golf Club’ had its HQ at the Greenwich end of the heath. Although it could trace its origins to 1608, when Scottish courtiers based at Greenwich Palace practiced their skills on the nearby heath, it was formally established in the mid eighteenth century. The scathing reference to the free market ( ie ‘ liberal’) practice of concentrating waste-grounds in ‘ fertile ‘Blackheath reveals a sensibility towards the environment that was surely ahead of its time. The Kentish Dispensary was, like the voluntary hospitals of the period, a source of drugs and medical care that was funded by voluntary subscriptions. It’s good to discover that the tradition of City bankers living opulently in the shires and commuting into the square mile each morning was alive in the late eighteenth century, though the absence of a railway network in 1788 meant that the country in this period probably meant Edmonton, Woodford or Clapham, all villages that could be reached by a fast coach from the City. Soho continued to be a refuge for ‘intelligent gentlemen, stricken in years ‘where good conversation could be had right up to the early nineteen seventies. Alas, that reputation is no more. We confess to being perplexed by the references to the Thorntons and Flood, but perhaps historians of London will know more. According to a writer in the Connoisseur magazine for 1754 Batson’s was where physicians met their clients.  Food is still served at the famous Old Bull and Bush, and according to the deputy manager, there was once a bush in the garden. However, she could give no information on when it disappeared or whether it could once accommodate several customers.

A Georgian Trip Advisor – Part One

When we’re looking for somewhere to dine out, we often use a website, such as Trip Advisor (others available, of course), but did you know that something similar existed in the 18th century? Well, today’s guest, who I am delighted to welcome, is historian and biographer R. M Healey. He has also written and contributed to many books, journals, newspapers and magazines, during a long and varied life, including working in various museums and art galleries in the UK. With that, I’ll hand over to him to share some of these reviews with you.

Reviews of eating and drinking establishments are rare in any newspapers and magazines of the Georgian era. However, the idea was taken up in 1815 by the journalist George Rylance in his very extensive survey, The Epicure’s Almanack, a recent edition of which was edited by Janet Ing Freeman.

Here is a selection of the best descriptions of eating and drinking resorts taken from a ‘Review of Taverns, Inns, Coffee Houses and Genteel Eating Houses’ published anonymously in the New London Magazine in July and August 1788. Oddly, although she pays tribute to the many manifestations of similar reviews in earlier books on London, Ms Freeman neglects to mention this particular magazine’s earlier survey.

July 1788

 Brentford Eights, an island in the Thames off Brentford

This is rendered famous for pitch-cock eels. It is likewise celebrated for a very favourite Dutch dish called Vater Zuchee. This dish is composed of perch, parsley-roots and vinegar, served up in a deep dish, with slices of bread and butter. The visitors of the Eights, in gormandising this dish, have no occasion for any other knives and forks than what nature has given them. It is common to eat with digits only.

If any stripling of fortune, whether a coxswain of a barge, or the supercargo of a post chaise, wishes to be indulged, he may be served here with zouchee to the amount of eight shillings a head.

Marlborough Coffee-House, Bond Street

Lord George Gordon used to say that this house was excellent for good fish. Do they purchase it off Philips—the Carnaby-market Cat—the best of all anglers? The frequenters are fashionable, the fare is of the best quality, nor can ever the guests repine at summing up the total of their entertainment.

The Promenade in St. James's Park. 1793. Courtesy of YCBA
The Promenade in St. James’s Park. 1793. Courtesy of YCBA

New Spring Gardens, Chelsea

This is a foreign house where indeed, to do them justice, they dress all kinds of French dishes remarkably well. They have very good French and Portuguese wines. Their tevel is delicate and their red port strong and genuine, without the fiery aid of British brandy. This house is a bumper every Sunday, in the tea and ordinary style. The prospect from the pleasure ground is perhaps the richest rural view of any. In the fore-ground are the verdant lawns of Pimlico. In the side and backgrounds, St James’s Park, Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s stand proudly pre-eminent. The service is neat, the entertainment good, the bill very moderate indeed! Excepting in rich eating and rich drinking, it is a complete rus in urbe.

Guildhall Coffee- House, King Street, Cheapside.

Frequented by all classes of luxurious citizens. Aldermen, Deputies, Common Councilmen, Gentlemen of the Long Robe attending the Courts, with a variety of others whose interest in pleasure leads them near the city senate. Here you may lodge and board —or you may dine in private, aux prix raisonable. Rich soup is made here in the season, which the lawyers devour as eagerly as their briefs. The Port is good and the Sherry most excellent. It is, indeed, pretty plentifully distributed to the neighbouring cits*. Sometimes the lawyers and common council gill it in a morning; and Pownall’s cellar has caused many a citizen’s question to be carried, and many a doubtful cause to be won. The address of Mr Pownal, and the attention of Mr Pugh give pleasure to all it’s (sic) visitants. The bill is very moderate.

Red Lion Inn, Hounslow.

A good house for post-chaises, good horses and good beds. There are two gardens belonging to it that are very pleasant for a solitary or a  tête-à-tête walk. The larder is not variegated, but what it contains is of the prime. The port wine is good, and the tea and coffee excellent, nor should the clotted cream be forgotten. It is unadulterated, although chalk may be had very reasonable. The bill is very moderate for the western road, and the attendance prompt and pleasing.

The Red Lion, Hounslow. Courtesy of British Listed Buildings 1973. No old image of it available
The Red Lion, Hounslow. Courtesy of British Listed Buildings 1973. No old image of it available

Spread Eagle, Strand.

Long noted among the society of the humorous and intelligent. The rooms are here remarkably spacious. Indeed, they are in stile. As to the bill of fare, it abounds with every article in the season, from a mutton chop to a bustard or John-dory. The wines are all pure and well flavoured. If there be any preferable to others, it is the sherry and the port. The master and waiters are as civil and patient at four in the morning as at eight in the evening; and the prices of the various articles are very moderate.

Toy, Hampton-court.

Pitch-cock eels are here in the utmost perfection. Being in the vicinity of the palace, it is ever frequented in the summer months, by the great, the dissipated and the inquisitive. The apartments are airy, the bill of fare is rich and diversified. The wines are all excellent. If the bill appears stretched sometimes, strangers cannot much repine, as they have always the best of everything for their money, and likewise the utmost alacrity of attention. The guests would rather pay a guinea at the Toy, from experience, that fifteen shillings for the same fare any where contiguous.

Northampton Mercury 15 July 1771
Northampton Mercury 15 July 1771

Click on the highlighted link which will take you to Part Two


Today, young and monied men about town will no longer find local fish dishes being served on Brentford Ait, a long, narrow island in the Thames, lying opposite Kew Gardens and Brentford High Street, which is now just a greensward. However, Eel Pie Island, further downstream off Twickenham, got its name by offering similar fishy fare in Victorian times and became a trendy hot spot in the swinging sixties. Incidentally, it is slightly worrying to read that parsley root was an ingredient in Zucher Zee. Back in 1788, when the Thames was less polluted, the deadly poisonous Hemlock Water Dropwort (cicuta virosa) would have grown profusely along its banks; and in the annals of toxicology there are numerous cases of ignorant people mistaking the roots of this dangerous plant for parsnips. Many died horrible deaths. Let’s hope no cooks on the Brentford ‘Eights’ made the same mistake.

*A cit in Georgian slang was a ‘townsman ‘who traded. We would certainly like to know more about Philips, the ‘Carnaby-market cat’.

Not surprisingly, all of the eateries described have long vanished, although some of the buildings have survived. The Red Lion in Hounslow High Street, which Dickens knew, was flourishing (much changed) at least until the 1930s. It is now a Barclays bank. The original Toy inn, possibly dating from the time of Henry VIII, once stood close to the Hampton Court palace gates, where one of its regular customers was King William the Third. In The Epicure’s Handbook (1815) the Toy is described as being ‘on a larger scale than the King’s Arms, and the charges, we believe, are rather higher, but the fare is such to leave you no shadow of cause to repine at the expence ‘. By 1840, however, it had become ruinous, and it that year was reconstructed, relocated and renamed ‘Ye Old Toye’. It was still doing business until recently, but now seems to have closed. 

Feature Image

Eagle Tavern and Coffee House near Somerset House formerly Bath and Liverpool Hotel. YCBA

18th century marriage customs

When people marry today, they can choose where they marry, be it a religious building, registry office or even by taking their vows whilst sky diving and anywhere in between, as long as an officiating officer is present.

In the Georgian period marriages had to take place in a religious venue, presided over by a religious official, unless you chose to elope over the border to Gretna Green, Scotland.

Gretna Green, or, the red-hot marriage, c.1795. Lewis Walpole Library
Gretna Green, or, the red-hot marriage, c.1795. Lewis Walpole Library

Forthcoming marriages were usually announced by banns read out in church. If the couple wanted more privacy, then they would apply for a Marriage Licence, which, if you could afford it, could be purchased for a whole variety of reasons such as  – they were in a hurry as the bride being pregnant or that the couple were of different social standings, so perhaps a master marrying his servant,  or there was a large age gap. There may have been opposition from the family, or the parties may have been of different religions. It could even have been that they had married overseas and wanted it to be legitimatised by the Church of England. Paying for a licence made it a quicker and easier option.

According to the Constitutions and Canons Ecclesiastical, marriages could only take places between the hours of 8am and midday. So perhaps with a marriage licence you would opt for the earliest time available, so you could simply ‘tie the knot‘ and slip away without anyone noticing.

Usually there were only one or two marriages per day in London churches, far less in local parish churches, but on extremely rare occasions as many as 8 could take place, but this would have made each one an extremely hurried affair, literally giving the couple enough time to make their vows and leave in order to allow the next wedding to take place. Not ideal nor romantic, in my opinion.

I was recently  reading about the life story of the Scottish poet and ballad writer, David Love, who, although Scottish, spent much of his life in Nottingham, when I came across some details of his first marriage which took place in Scotland and he described how different marriage in Scotland was, compared to England.

Barber, Thomas; David Love (1750-1827), Ballad-Writer; Nottingham City Museums and Galleries

In David’s own words:

Marriages in Scotland are not performed as is done in England, there is no ring put on the bride’s finger, no repeating of words after the minister, no common prayer book to read out of, nor any form of words till the minister bids them join their hands; the minister then says “Are you willing to have this woman to be your wedded wife” he bows as a token of his willingness: then he says to the woman “Are you willing to have this man to be your wedded husband” she makes a courtesy; the minister then says “ the presence of God and these witnesses I pronounce you man and wife, for whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” The minister then begins with an exhortation concerning the marriage-state, how each is to behave, respecting their duty to one another, concluding with prayers suitable to the occasion.

Today, the tradition is to throw the wedding bouquet, David tells us though, that in his time, the tradition was to throw one of  stockings of the bride. Then the process was repeated by the groom. (Hmm, I’m not so sure that throwing a man’s sock today would be seen as lucky though!)

Having read David’s account, I thought I would take a look at some of the other wedding customs of the Georgian period.

I came across this interesting piece in the Carlisle Journal, October 1846 which explains some of the tradition practised in the north of England (a similar article also appeared previously in 1823).

Marriage ceremonies in the north of England – The day of marriage has always been, and it is to be hoped, in spite of disconsolate old maids and love-crossed bachelors, will ever continue to be, a time of festivity.

Among the rustics in Cumberland, the is plentiful music, dancing and revelry. Early in the morning, the bridegroom, attended by his friends on horseback, proceeds in a gallop to the house of the bride’s father. Having alighted, he salutes her, and then the company breakfast together. The repast concluded, the whole nuptial party depart in cavalcade order towards the church, accompanied by a fiddler, who plays a succession of tunes appropriate to the occasion. Immediately after the performance of the ceremony, the company retire to some neighbouring ale house, and many a flowing bumper of home brewed is quaffed to the health of the happy pair. Animate with this earthy nectar, they set off at full speed towards the future residence of the bride, where a handkerchief is presented to the first who arrives.

The Village Wedding; National Trust, Waddesdon Manor

The Ribbon

In some of the country villages in the county of Durham, after the connubial knot is tied, a ribbon is proposed as the subject of contention, either for a foot or a horse race, supposed to be a delicate substitute for the bride’s garter, which used to be taken off while she knelt at the altar; and the practice being anticipated, the garter was generally found to do credit to her taste and skill in needlework.

In Craven, where this singular sport also prevails, whoever first reaches the bride’s habitation is ushered into the bridal chamber and having performed the ceremony of turning down the bedclothes, returns, carrying in his tankard of warm ale, previously prepared, to meet the bride, to whom he triumphantly offers his humble beverage, and by whom, in return, he is presented with the ribbon, as the honourable reward of his victory.

Lizars, William Home; A Scotch Wedding; National Galleries of Scotland

Riding for the kail

Another ancient marriage ceremony of the same sort, still observed in the remote parts of Northumberland, is that of ‘riding for the kail’, where the party, after kissing the bride, set off at full speed on horseback to the bridegroom’s, the winner of the race receiving the kail(today, written as kale), or dish of spice broth, as the chief prize.

The wedding ring

I have no idea whether there is any truth in this one from the Cheltenham Chronicle October 1815, but I do like it.

This custom was introduced by the ancients, who used to present their mistresses with a ring, meaning thereby to express as a ring has no end, so there shall be no end of that love which is necessary to constitute connubial felicity; and it was put upon the fourth finger of the left hand because anatomists affirm, that there is a vein in it having direct conveyance to the heart, which is the source of love and affection.

The Village Wedding, Thomas Falcon Marshall
The Village Wedding, Thomas Falcon Marshall; Fylde Borough Council

It was also custom to that ring was directed first to be put on the thumb, afterwards the second, then upon the third and lastly on the fourth finger, where it would remain. The Perthshire Courier of September 1824, also stated:

Married women are so rigid, not to say superstitious, in the notion concerning their wedding rings, that neither when they wash their hands, nor at any other time, will they displace it from this finger, extending, it should seem, the expression of ‘till death do us part’ even to this golden circlet, the token and pledge of matrimony.

Bride cake

I have previously written about wedding cakes and you find more about the first tiered wedding cake, by clicking on this link.

The bridal party after leaving the church repair to a neighbouring inn, where a thin currant cake, marked in squares, though not entirely cut through, is ready against the bride’s arrival. Over her head is spread a clean linen napkin; the bridegroom standing behind the bride, breaks the cake over her head, which is thrown over her and scrambled for by the attendants.

This sounds potentially rather messy, I would have thought, so perhaps not one for today’s brides given the cost of today’s wedding dresses.

The Country Wedding by John Lewis Krimmel, 1820

Bridal Pie

The bridal pie was so essential a dish on the dining table after the celebration of the marriage, that there was no prospect of happiness without it. This was always made round, with a very strong crust, ornamented with various devices. In the middle of it was a fat, laying hen, full of eggs, probably intended as an emblem of fertility, which was also garnished with minced and sweet meats. It would have been deemed an act of neglect or rudeness if any of the party omitted to partake of it. And on this occasion, it was the etiquette for the bridegroom always to wait upon the bride, from whence it is supposed the term bridegroom took its origin.


According to the Morning Post, December 1815:

Honey moon – it was the custom of the higher order of Teutonics, an ancient people who inhabited the northern parts of German, to drink mead, or Metheglin, a beverage made with honey, for thirty days after every wedding. From this custom comes the expression “to spend the Honey Moon”.


Constitutional Canons Ecclesiastical

Header Image

The Wedding Breakfast; National Trust, Waddesdon Manor

Summer fashions of 1822

As usual, to find out what the fashionable woman of the 1820’s should be seen wearing in the summer of 1822, ‘The Repository of arts, literature, commerce, manufactures, fashions and politics’, comes to the rescue. Needless to say, for the fashion conscious woman two outfits were needed, one for the day and one for the evening.

Morning Dress

The morning dress is composed of colonnade stripe muslin, worked round the bottom to correspond with the stripe, and trimmed with four narrow worked flounces, the upper one finished with a double row of cord. The body fastens behind, plain and high, but a little open towards the throat; trimmed with the same delicate work that decorates the cape, in which there are two rows, separated by a puffing of plain book-muslin, through which a lilac ribbon is drawn. The cape is square at the shoulder, where it finishes; but the upper row of trimming is continued to the bottom of the waist, adding to the gracefulness of the form.

Mechlin lace. Courtesy of the Metmuseum
Mechlin lace. Courtesy of the Metmuseum

The sleeve is worked at the end and tied with lilac ribbon at the wrist; above which, the work is arranged in a double angle trimmed, from each of which is suspended a small cord tassel. The cap is elegantly simple, of the cottage form, and composed of beautiful India worked muslin and Mechlin lace, tastefully decorated with fancy lilac ribbon. Shoes, lilac kid.

Evening Dress

Round dress, of delicately stripped net, over a white satin slip; the bottom of the dress extended by a double rouleau of rich white satin; above which are elegant festoons, arranged transversely, of puffed crepe lisse, confined diagonally by three narrow rouleau’s of white satin, and finished at the top with small clusters of the blue convolvulus. The corsage displays the chastest taste, cut round, and edged with a quilling of the finest tulle; the stomacher is formed of four rows of six minute folds of white satin, net appearing between each row. The tasteful trimming round the back, over the shoulder, and uniting with the stomacher to the bottom of the waist, is composed of short rows of folded satin, separated by the net at equal distances, and edged with blond, of a rich and elegant pattern. The sleeve short and full, confined by convolvuluses and divisions of small folded satin, which is again intersected by cheveronels. Head dress, turban of cerulean blue and white crepe lisse, and two white ostrich feathers. The hair parted in front, and elegant ringlets on each side. White satin shoes, long white kid gloves. Necklace and ear-rings of pearl and cornelian.

General observations on fashion and dress

It is Brighton, Cheltenham etc that we must now resort for an account of the prevailing modes among the fair votaries of fashion. We find that muslin robes made in the style of pelisses are a good deal worn for the morning promenade: the one which we are about to described is the most novel that we have seen: it is an open dress composed of cambric muslin; the skirt is of an easy fulness and less gored than they have been worn lately; the waist is the usual length; the back full, and the fulness confined by a row of points, which cross each other, and fasten in the middle of the back by buttons; the points are edged with embroidery.

The sleeve is nearly tights to the arm; and it is finished at the hand to correspond with the back, but the points are small. The collar falls over, it is rounded at the corners, and terminates in a point in the middle of the back. The trimming, which is very deep, and goes all round, is formed of clear muslin let in in a wreath of leaves; between each of the windings of the wreath is a small rose, also of clear muslin.

Spencer jacket courtesy of the MetMuseum c1815
Spencer jacket courtesy of the MetMuseum c1815

Silk pelisses are likewise in favour for the more advanced part of the day, and spencers are very fashionable. A good many of the latter button behind and are ornamented in front either with braiding and brandenburgs, or else with the same material as the spencer, disposed in various ways.

If the trimming be of brandenburgs, the half-sleeve, which is always full, is interspersed with them. These spencers are made in general without collars and are worn either with a lace falling collar or a ruff. We have seen a spencer composed on white lace, and lined with coloured sarsnet, of a very novel and pretty description; the lining was of lemon colour; the back was formed by a row of small silk buttons on each side and had a little fulness at the bottom of the waist. A short lace jacket, composed of three falls, gives the spencer a very jaunty air.

The capote. Courtesy of the MetMuseum
The capote. Courtesy of the MetMuseum

The kind of bonnet which the French capote, is a good deal in favour for the morning walk, but then it is always worn with muslin dresses. It is composed of cambric muslin, in some instances with embroidery, but not in general and has rarely any embroidery.

Silk bonnets are fashionable, but not so much as those that are transparent. Toques and turban are in favour in full dress, but not so much as head dresses en cheveaux.

Here in the Morning Post we can see an example of a London store which stocked Mechlin lace, so fabrics were readily available for seamstresses.

Here in this portrait of Henrietta Howard, c1724, we can see how fashions evolved over the 100 years.

Gibson, Thomas; Henrietta Hobart (c.1688-1743), the Honourable Mrs Howard, Later Countess of Suffolk; National Trust, Blickling Hall;

A Mansion, a Grand Dame, and a Portrait by George Romney

Today, I’m delighted to welcome a new guest to All Things Georgian, Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D. to tell us more about a fascinating portrait by George Romney housed at DACOR Bacon House, Washington D.C.

DACOR Bacon House
DACOR Bacon House

An oil portrait by George Romney graces the second-floor dining room of the historic DACOR Bacon House at 1801 F Street, N.W., Washington, DC. It is one of the very few Romney paintings found in the US, and you won’t find it on the internet. The portrait, hanging above the sideboard, is the focal point in a room furnished with exquisite antiques. It is Romney’s portrait of Lady Augusta Murray, holding her infant son, Augustus Frederick d’Este.

Unlike Romney’s many famous paintings of Lady Emma Hamilton, the portrait of Lady Murray is obscure, familiar mainly to those who frequent the DACOR Bacon House and know something of the mansion’s history. On the other hand, like Emma, and many of Romney’s female subjects, Lady Murray is portrayed in a charming manner. With dark curls encircling her face, she looks directly at the viewer with a tilt of her head and a shy, captivating smile. She wears a white, short-sleeved, high-collared dress and a turban. The boy, in a white frock, gazes into the distance, somewhere behind the viewer.

Romney’s portrait of Lady Augusta Murray and her son
Romney’s portrait of Lady Augusta Murray and her son

The DACOR Bacon House, the woman who owned the house and the portrait, and the portrait itself, all have complex histories that make for rich and fascinating tales of the Georgian Era and beyond, reaching into the twentieth century. Here are those interrelated stories.

The DACOR Bacon House

Built in 1825, the DACOR Bacon House is an architectural treasure; one of the best-preserved nineteenth-century, Federal-style landmarks in Washington DC. Just a short distance from the White House, the Capitol building, and the Supreme Court, the venue can boast almost two centuries of connections to the influential and the powerful who have conducted the nation’s domestic and foreign affairs.

The Entrance to the Bacon DACOR House
The Entrance to the Bacon DACOR House

To enter the house is to walk in the footsteps of presidents, justices, governors, senators, diplomats, military leaders, and dignitaries who lived there or visited to attend dinners, balls, receptions, and musicales. As a family home and sometime boarding house, the structure has been the residence of a diplomat, a US Marshall, Supreme Court justices, an heiress and one-time English countess, and a New York congressman, as well as social and cultural leaders. The house is named after Congressman Robert Low Bacon, and his wife, Virginia Murray Bacon, who owned the house from 1925 until her death in 1980.

Today the stately, four-story, beautifully appointed mansion is the headquarters of the Diplomatic and Consular Officers, Retired foundation, known as DACOR, a non-profit educational and cultural institution dedicated to excellence in the field of international understanding and discourse in shaping US public policy. The foundation hosts meetings, dinners, receptions, and conferences for discussions of literature, history, and topics related to and bearing directly on current foreign affairs. The National Trust for Historic Preservation holds an easement to preserve the property and structure for future generations.

The property on which the house sits was once part of Prince George’s County, Maryland. Census records show that it was a farm tract owned by David Burnes who emigrated from Scotland in 1721. Burnes expanded his holdings to encompass much of the area that would eventually become Washington, DC. Upon his death, the land passed to his son, James, who expanded the holdings, and eventually, in 1772, to his grandson, David Burnes II, who served as a lieutenant in the War for American Independence. In 1790, Congress established a federal city on the banks of the Potomac River. Within the following year, Burnes sold a portion of his holdings to the newly formed federal government. That land today forms a segment of the Washington Mall and the south half of the White House grounds.

David Burnes II retained the remaining portion of his land that had become situated in the District of Columbia. When he died in 1800, his property passed to his teenaged daughter, Marcia Brown Burnes. In 1802, her guardian, John Oakley, sold three lots of the property to William Hammond Dorsey, a prominent member of the nearby Georgetown community and a judge of the Orphan’s Court of Washington County, Maryland.

Subsequently, the remaining property passed through additional owners. Respectively, they were: Jacob Wagner, chief clerk of the Department of State and the owner of the Federal Republican newspaper; Tobias Lear V, former private secretary to George Washington and, afterward, a US diplomat serving under Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison; and Mr. Tench Ringgold, US Marshall for the District of Columbia, appointed by President James Monroe.

In 1824, Ringgold built a three-story, Federal-style house on the property with borrowed money (from his daughter, Sarah) and slave labour. He added two outbuildings; a storage/gardening shed and a carriage house.

Ringgold was well-placed socially. He attended the inaugural ball for President John Quincy Adams in May 1825. He befriended Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams who both died in 1826, as did Ringgold’s wife, Mary, with whom he had five children. In keeping with local custom, the Ringgold’s opened their home as a boarding house to non-resident, government officials. Chief Justice John Marshall and numerous associate justices and their clerks boarded at the Ringgold home. Former President Monroe and his wife were guests in 1829 and 1830.

When President Andrew Jackson took office in 1831, he dismissed Ringgold from his post as US Marshall, despite Ringgold’s strenuous objections. Ringgold fell into financial difficulties and defaulted on the loan, urging Sarah and her husband, John M. Thomas, to foreclose on the property and take ownership. The Thomas’s held possession from 1833 to 1835, when they sold the house to Samuel Sprigg.

Sprigg, born about 1783, was a wealthy landowner. He was married to Violetta Lansdale with whom he had two children. He was the first governor of Maryland, a position he held until December 1822. At his death in 1855, his estate was valued at $50,000, including 61 slaves. He bought the house as a residence for his daughter, Sally, and her husband William Thomas Carroll, who was a Supreme Court clerk appointed by Chief Justice John Marshall, a position he held for 36 years. The F Street house, known as the Sprigg-Carroll House, stayed in Sprigg’s name until his death, when it went in trust to his daughter. During the Carroll’s occupancy, the house underwent expansion and many renovations to include connections to city’s new water and sewer system in the 1860s.

The Carroll’s enjoyed affluence and social prominence. They entertained lavishly and spent summers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. They had four daughters and three sons, two of whom died in childhood. The daughters all married well. The surviving son was an officer in the Union Army, wounded during the Civil War, retiring as a major-general.

William Carroll died in 1863 at age 61. Sally Carroll remained in the house until her death in 1895 at age 81. Her son-in-law and executor to her will then sold the house to Mary Ellen (Mollie) Fuller, the second wife of Melville Weston Fuller, Chief Justice to the Supreme Court, nominated by President Grover Cleveland in 1888. The Fuller family lived at the mansion for 14 years, enlarging and modernizing the living spaces and outbuildings.

The Fullers were a fixture of Washington high society. They entertained with grand fetes and, as the Chief Justice aged, small dinner parties for close friends. Justice Fuller also opened his home to weekly conferences with associate justices. The family spent the summers in Maine, where, in 1904, Mollie died of a heart attack. Justice Fuller died in 1910, replaced by Chief Justice Edward D. White, grandson of Tench Ringgold, who built the house on F. Street.

In 1911, a new owner took residence. Alice Copely Thaw was one of 10 children born to William Thaw, a wealthy capitalist who left a fortune to his heirs upon his death in 1889. In 1903, she married George Francis Alexander (Seymour), Earl of Yarmouth and relocated to England. When the marriage failed in 1908, she returned to the US, bought the mansion in 1911, and retained ownership until 1923. She continued remodelling and improvements, to include installing electricity throughout the house. In 1912, she married Geoffrey Whitney, a broker from New York. The Whitney’s moved to New York and rented the home on F Street to various tenants.

In 1923, the newly elected US congressman from New York’s First District, Robert Low Bacon, and his wife, Virginia Murray Bacon, rented the house. They bought it from Alice Thaw Whitney in 1925.

Virginia Murray Bacon

Virginia Murray was born in New York City in 1890. Her father’s family was descended from Scottish nobility; her great-great-grandfather was Lord John Murray, fourth Earl of Dunmore, the last royal governor of Virginia. He fled the colonies under protection of the Royal Navy. Subsequently, he became the royal governor of the Bahamas.

Her father, Henry Murray, was the son of an English diplomat. As a young man, Henry moved from England to Canada, and eventually to New York, where he found work with a securities firm. In 1889, he married Fannie Morris Babcock, an heiress from a family of wealthy landowners, soldiers, bankers, and businessmen. Henry Murray enjoyed a successful career in finance and the couple quickly rose to social prominence. The Murrays had three children. The eldest was Virginia, born in 1890.

Virginia Murray Bacon as a young woman
Virginia Murray Bacon as a young woman

Virginia Murray was beautiful, well-educated, and well-connected. Her marriage to Congressman Robert Bacon was the highlight of the New York social season. Born in 1884, Robert was the son of a successful banker, soldier, and diplomat. Robert, himself, was a Harvard graduate and successful banker who went into politics and served in the Army Officer Reserve Corps.

Virginia rapidly became a grand dame of Washington society. She hosted presidents, noted musicians, statesmen, and social leaders. She generously supported organizations concerned with world affairs and the arts. She was named to several boards and committees and received prestigious awards.

She remodelled the mansion and planted majestic trees in the garden, where she often hosted buffet luncheons during World War II, inviting weary officials to drop by, unannounced, for a midday respite. She filled the rooms with tasteful furniture, much of it imported from Europe and England, and objects of art, especially historic lithographs, and family portraits.

The Bacon House Foundation

Robert Bacon served eight terms and died in office in 1938 at age 54. His wife remained in residence until her death in 1980 at age 89. Prior to her death, she considered options for leaving the building to an organization that would preserve its history and character. She wanted the Bacon house to “enjoy a lively existence consistent with the interests and connections of its occupants through the years, and be characterized by dignity, taste and intelligence.” In 1975, she established the Bacon House Foundation to that end.

The foundation took ownership of the house, with a permanent deed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The foundation then purchased adjoining lots, razed the homes on these lots, and sold the lots to the Organization of American States for the organization’s headquarters and offices. In 1980, with Virginia Bacon’s blessing, the foundation partnered with DACOR and the DACOR Educational and Welfare Foundation, to convert the home, upon her demise, from a residence to offices and an educational center. The DACOR Bacon House merger was finalized in 1985.

The house and outbuildings have undergone extensive renovations since 1980. DACOR added a library and a collection of diplomatic memorabilia. Every effort has been made to give the home a nineteenth century atmosphere and to preserve the beautiful furnishings and works of art that once belonged to the Bacon family. One such piece is the Romney portrait of Lady Augusta Murray and her son.

The History of the Romney Painting

The Romney oil painting that hangs in the DACOR Bacon House dining room has a small, gold plaque mounted on the bottom of the frame that reads:

George Romney R.A. 1734 – 1802. Lady Augusta Murray, 2nd Daughter of the Fourth Earl of Dunmore. Married the Duke of Sussex. Holding on her lap her infant son Sir Augustus Frederick d’Este in white frock. Collection of Lord Truro.

Lady Augusta Murray (1768 – 1830) was the daughter of John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore (hence, the connection to Virginia Murray Bacon, as described above). Her mother was Lady Charlotte Stewart, daughter of Alexander Stewart, 6th Earl of Galloway. She and Prince August Frederick (1773 – 1843), sixth son of King George III, met while he was a young man vacationing in Rome. They married in 1793 in a private ceremony in Rome in opposition to the Royal Marriage Act. They later married again in a religious ceremony in London, without revealing their true identities.

The royal family declared the marriage null and void. The couple remained together for eight years, producing two children: Augustus Frederick d’Este (1794 – 1848) and Augusta Emma d’Este (1801 – 1866). While the Romney painting is not dated, it was most likely painted in 1795 or 1796, in that the infant, Augustus Frederick, looks to be about 18 months old.

The couple parted company in 1801, when the prince grew frustrated with the monarch’s refusal to grant him a dukedom. The prince gave Augusta custody of the children, at which point she and the children took the surname d’Este (some sources say Ameland). In 1809, the prince took custody of the children, arranging a pension for his former wife. He became the Duke of Sussex.

After Augusta’s death, Prince Augustus married Lady Cecelia Buggin, daughter of the second Earl of Arron. Again, the marriage was contrary to the Royal Marriage Act. However, in 1837, Queen Victoria dubbed Lady Cecilia as Duchess of Inverness, granting a royal favor to her favourite uncle, and acquiring royal precedence for her consort, Prince Albert.

At age 18, the younger Augustus was commissioned in the Seventh Royal Fusiliers and fought in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans. Although he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel, he was known for his unlikable, pretentious personality. He died in 1848, unmarried, with no heirs, and crippled by the first-ever diagnosed case of multiple sclerosis.

His sister, Emma, was the second wife to Thomas Wilde (1782 – 1855), 1st Baron Truro, Lord Chancellor of Great Britain 1850 – 1852, formerly the Solicitor General, Attorney General, and Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. They married in 1845. She had no children. She inherited the Romney portrait of her mother and brother. Thus, it became part of the Truro Collection.

The Romney portrait hangs on the left wall of the DACOR Bacon House second floor dining room
The Romney portrait hangs on the left wall of the DACOR Bacon House second floor dining room

Little else is known about the portrait, until 1921, when Charles W. Schwab, a wealthy American industrialist, bought it at an auction in London. Three years after Schwab’s death in 1939, the portrait again came up for auction in New York. Virginia Bacon bought it and placed it in the second-floor dining room of her home at 1801 F Street, Washington, DC where it remains today.

The portrait delights all visitors who appreciate seeing one of the few works by Romney to be found in a private collection in the US.


Since Judith wrote this article I have been made aware that there has been some doubt as to the identity of the portrait, which led me to carry out some of my own research.
DACOR Bacon House understands it to be Lady Augusta Murray, as you can see on the plaque beneath it, and it was certainly believed to have been that of Lady Augusta Murray, when it was sold by auctioneers, Christie’s in 1900.
The portrait formed part of a collection belonging to the estate of the then, late Lord Truro. The painting achieved a mere 500 guineas in comparison to another portrait of her which sold for £3,800 guineas, some 6 years previously.
The Illustrated London News, 30 June 1900, included a copy of the portrait, as can be seen below:
The Morning Post described it thus:
Morning Post 29 April 1901
Could this reduction in sale price indicate that it was of interior quality in comparison to the other known portrait of Lady Augusta Murray, whose whereabouts are still unknown? 
Art historian, Dr Alex Kidson, who has recently produced the catalogue raisonné  of Romney’s painting, did not include this portrait in his catalogue, as he did not believe it to be by Romney.  Therefore, if not by Romney, then it would appear that more work needs to be carried out to ascertain who painted it.
The is another portrait of Lady Augusta by Romney which was sold back in the 1960’s and has since disappeared from public view, so if anyone knows where it is please do let me know.
Romney - The Graphic 1923
Romney – The Graphic 1923


William D. Calerhead, DACOR Bacon House. (Archetype Press, Inc. Washington, D.C. 1999)

Lady Augusta Murray Wikipedia

Lady Truro of Bowes Augusta Emma d’Este Wilde.

Thomas Wilde, 1st Baron Truro. Wikipedia

Harriet Bouverie of Delapre Abbey

A while ago I wrote about an article about the ‘scale of Bon Ton’ which was used to rank twelve high society ladies for their ‘virtues’. It was subsequently published in the Morning Post of 2 October 1776. Coming in at number 4 was Mrs Harriet Bouverie, one place above the famous Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.

I was then contacted by Avril Gilbert, who is a volunteer at Delapre Abbey in Northampton where Harriet Bouverie lived. During lockdown, Avril was part of a group that researched her life  and she’s with us today to tell us more about their scandalous findings, but to begin with, we have a portrait of  Harriet.

 Harriet Bouverie (née Fawkener, later Lady Robert Spencer); Edward Bouverie. Courtesy of NPG
Harriet Bouverie (née Fawkener, later Lady Robert Spencer); Edward Bouverie. Courtesy of NPG

So who was Harriet, a mere ‘Mrs’ surrounded by five Duchesses, a Countess and three Ladies?

In Northampton, a group of volunteers at Delapré Abbey, the home of Harriet’s husband Hon Edward Bouverie, spent lockdown piecing together her life story and we think that the scandal we discovered makes for very interesting reading!

Harriet was born in 1750 to Sir Everard Fawkener and his wife Harriet Churchill. However, in 1758 Sir Everard died leaving his widow with a mass of debts. It was probably due to this that Harriet needed to marry at just fourteen. Whilst she had no wealth to offer a husband, Harriet certainly had the right family connections; through her mother’s line, she was related to the Churchills of Blenheim and connected to the Spencer’s of Althorp.

Harriet’s prospective husband was Mr Edward Bouverie, an eligible bachelor from a wealthy Huguenot refugee family.

A copy of a portrait of Edward Bouverie (left) hanging at Delapré Abbey. Courtesy of the website Helpful Hiker
A copy of a portrait of Edward Bouverie (left) hanging at Delapré Abbey. Courtesy of the website Helpful Hiker

Edward’s grandfather had purchased the title Viscount Folkestone and his older brother was the first Earl of Radnor. Although Edward did not have a title, his mother had left him her land and property in Northamptonshire and when neighbouring Delapré Abbey came up for sale, it was purchased, creating an estate of considerable size. All that he needed was a suitable bride, someone with the right connections.

Courtesy of Delapre Abbey
Courtesy of Delapre Abbey

On 17th June 1764, the twenty-six-year-old Hon. Edward Bouverie married the fourteen-year-old Harriet Fawkener by special license at St George’s Church in Hanover Square, Westminster.

Aged 16, Harriet fell pregnant and delivered Edward an heir, the healthy baby boy shown in the Reynolds portrait above. Over the next twenty-two years, Harriet had 7 more children, five daughters named Harriet, Frances, Mary Charlotte, Jane, and Diana, and two sons named John and Henry Frederick.

This is where the story gets really interesting! During our research, we discovered a letter written by Lady Louisa Stuart in 1802 which stated 

Mrs Maxwell is the tell-tale Bouverie, for there never was such a perfect indisputable Spencer, Lord Robert’s walking picture, the very prettier creature that ever was seen.

We realised that Mrs Maxwell was Harriet’s fourth child, Mary Charlotte,  who married William Maxwell Esq in 1799. This raised a number of questions:

  • Who was Lord Robert Spencer?
  • How did he and Harriet meet?
  • Was there any evidence of an affair?
  • What was Edward’s reaction?
  • If Robert was the father of Mary, which other Bouverie children did he father?

Robert was the youngest son of Charles Spencer, the third Duke of Marlborough who lived a very privileged life. Educated at Harrow then on to Christ Church College, Oxford, where he met and made a lifelong long friend, Charles James Fox. In 1766, Robert went on a grand tour arriving back in England in 1768 when he was ‘elected’ MP for Woodstock.

Reynolds, Joshua; Lord Robert Spencer (1747-1831); National Trust, Woolbeding

Harriet and Robert must have met at some point afterwards. By the 1770’s they were both key members of the Devonshire House ‘circle’, Robert a close relative of Georgiana and Harriet a member of Georgiana’s inner circle. (Edward also hovered somewhere in ‘the circle’).

Both Robert and Harriet shared a passion for Whig politics. Whilst researching her life, we uncovered the following in a letter dated 1793 written by Sylvester Douglas, Baron Glenbervie:

“Mrs Bouverie… looked very handsome and is still armed with a great deal of matron-like seduction….Lord Orford (Horace Wimpole) said a good, though very severe thing about her… Mrs Bouverie had been talking a great deal of democratical language and had declared that she hoped to see the time when there would be no overgrown fortunes, and when the poor would be in easy circumstances and the fine ladies would lay down their coaches and walk the streets.”

Had she been allowed to stand for Parliament, we would have voted for her!

However, Lord Orford went on to say:

“he had no doubt a great deal of regard for his relation Mrs Bouverie”, but that he “always thought she had turn for street walking”.

Ouch! Was he hinting at her adultery?

In 1784, Harriet and Robert must have spent a lot of time in each other’s company owing to the snap general election that was called. The ladies of the Devonshire House Circle were determined to get Robert’s great friend and fellow Whig, Charles James Fox, elected as MP for the Westminster constituency and they canvassed hard for him, perhaps even more so than the men!

Unfortunately, our research didn’t lead us to a love letter, but we did find further gossip about Harriet and Robert’s relationship in letters from the time.

Our earliest source was a letter from 1777 in which George Selwyn, a well-known gossip, mentioned that Robert, Edward and Harriet had been at Brighthelmstone together at the home of Lady Holland.

In November 1781, Selwyn wrote:

“Bob’s political tenants will be very tardy in remitting him their rents. but between Foley House and the run of Mrs Bouverie’s kitchen, with his own credit at Brookes’s and his shares in and an affinity to an opulent bank, and flourishing trade, he may find subsistence.”

Selwyn certainly knew that Robert was very well acquainted with Harriet!

Although a few years after the deaths of Harriet and Robert, in 1844 letters of the former celebrity gossip Beau Brummell were published. He wrote:

“Mrs Bouverie was a very attractive and engaging woman, and her conduct when living with Lord Robert, who was very constant to her, was in other respects so amiable and exemplary, that it elicited from Charles Fox, the paradoxical remark that “they made adultery respectable”.

In Brummell’s collection there was also this poem about Harriet written by Charles James Fox.

She loves the truth, though she lies till she’s black in the face;

She loves virtue, though none in her conduct you trace;

Her delicate feelings all wickedness shocks;

 Though her lover’s Lord Robert, and her friend is Charles Fox!

Whilst we discovered much about Harriet and Robert, very little was written about Edward, perhaps because he was a very quiet man, never once speaking in all his years in Parliament.

We found a letter written in 1803 by the MP Thomas Creevey which stated that he had supped with Fox and the Whig leaders at Mrs Bouverie’s house and noted that Mrs Bouverie lived in tranquil amity with Lord Robert, Mr Bouverie raising no objection.

Brummell wrote that, sometime after her last child was born, Harriet “placed herself under the protection of Lord Robert”. This was not as harsh as it sounds. Harriet went to live with Robert, yet Edward still spent a lot of time with them both! A letter written in 1808 by Lady Lyttleton following a visit to Robert’s house at Woolbeding in Sussex revealed that Edward was there too and told us more about him:

“The honours of the house were done by Mrs Bouverie, a lady still very beautiful though past fifty, and who is in more than one sense the mistress of that abode. Her ill-fated husband, a poor old twaddler, was there too.”

Edward died in 1810 and a year afterwards, Harriet finally married Robert, the love of her life. They had a further fourteen years together before Harriet passed away in 1825. Robert lived on until 1831 and was buried next to Harriet in the grounds of All Hallows Church on his Woolbeding estate.

In Lady Lyttleton’s letter, she also wrote

“Papa saw several children playing about but thought it not prudent to inquire minutely into their heritage for fear of getting into some scrape.”

So how many of the children were Edward’s and how many were Robert’s?  We know that Harriet fell pregnant with Edward, her first child, in 1767 whilst Robert was on his Grand Tour of Europe, so baby Edward was Edward’s legitimate son.

The first daughter, Harriet, was born in 1771 but we can’t be sure that the affair had started by then. Harriet married James St Clair, the Earl of Roslyn. Although she died before Robert, her husband James is mentioned in Robert’s will. Was that an acknowledgment of paternity?

Frances Bouverie never married. She died in1848 and was buried with Harriet and Robert at Woolbeding. Could she be Robert’s child?

Mary Charlotte, the tell-tale Bouverie, was highly likely to have been Robert’s child.

John Bouverie became the Rector of Woolbeding and was also buried with Harriet and Robert. Given that he was born after Mary, he probably was Robert’s child.

Jane Bouverie was born in 1781, so probably Robert’s.

Sir Henry Frederick Bouverie was born in 1783. At the time it was rumoured that he was Robert’s son, and he probably was. He was also mentioned in Robert’s will.

Diana Bouverie was definitely Robert’s child. What more evidence do you need than the fact that he left Woolbeding to her.

Earlier we mentioned the story of Lord Melbourne, a silent character who visitors to Devonshire House barely noticed, who once Lady Melbourne had presented him with an heir, allowed her the freedom to do and see whom she pleased. Perhaps this was the same for Edward; maybe once he had his heir, he allowed his young wife to follow her heart? We will leave you to make up your own minds!

If you would like to find out more about Delapre Abbey and the lives of the people who lived there, please click on this link.

Finding Adelaide O’Keeffe in 2021

Lynda A. O’Keeffe is a researcher/writer who lives between England and Ireland. She has contributed to numerous publications including History Ireland and various online publications including the Irish Literary Society. She has recently completed a historical novel about the life and works of John O’Keeffe and is currently writing a stage play about John’s extraordinary life reflecting the effect of blindness in shaping his work, and intends to write about Adelaide.

Lynda has joined me a couple of times now to share some of her research into the lives of John O’Keeffe, the blind playwright and his devoted daughter, Adelaide. Well, she’s back with  lovely story about one of her discoveries – the gravestone of Adelaide. So without further ado, I’ll hand over to Lynda:

Under what guise would the intention of grave hunting be labelled? Some may say, curiosity, even morbid curiosity, familial research, genealogy or just the simple desire to reify a particular relationship?

In the case of Adelaide it was a stubborn desire to know more about an extraordinary woman. A woman who from the age of twelve years worked for forty five years as her blind father’s amanuensis, companion and carer. Although as his amanuensis she  lived in the shadow of his playwright fame, she shone her own bright light in the books she authored. In 1833, Adelaide’s father died leaving the then fifty seven year old spinster alone and in poverty. She had declined offers of marriage to care for her father, and some may say, she sacrificed her entire life for him.

Courtesy of NPG
Courtesy of NPG

After her fathers death, Adelaide led a somewhat itinerant life, staying for short periods around the villages on the Sussex coastline. There are so many questions about the day to day circumstances of a woman who played an important and vital role in the education of children, yet as a person remained somewhat unknown and now forgotten. Like so many women in the 18th and 19th century, Adelaide must have battled hard for recognition in a gender biased society, were the employment of women was frowned upon.

Photo credit: L.A.O’Keeffe
Photo credit: L.A.O’Keeffe

Did the income from her writing provide periods of relief from her poverty, did she work as a governess, have  friends to support her, and did she ever regret the sacrifices she made on account of her father’s disability? There is something there that demands respect and admiration for a woman living alone in a time that cannot be compared with life today.

Adelaide, her life and work is an enigma, with a thought and a whisper, Adelaide should have recognition. With so many unanswered questions, the quest to find her final resting place began. A quick trawl on Ancestry showed that she died in Brighton. On the 1861 Census, she is listed as a boarder aged eighty five; the other boarders are women half a century or more younger than her.

Photo credit: L.A.O’Keeffe
Photo credit: L.A.O’Keeffe

Armed with the date of Adelaide’s passing, an email was sent to Brighton cemeteries and shortly after a reply, stating Adelaide’s final resting place as the Extra Mural Cemetery on Lewes Road, Brighton. The kindly man in the office, listened patiently as the story of Adelaide was told, persuading him to dig out the burial records from 1865. Adelaide’s burial was not that of a pauper, he said, but of average cost, her casket was oak and the funeral rites were led by a chaplain. There is no indication of who attended her funeral, bought the burial plot or placed the gravestone with its tender inscription.

A strong urge, or perhaps a compulsion, a nagging insistence that Adelaide’s grave needed to be visited, to say that first hello, utter a prayer and lay flowers for a person who gave up so much for her father, and gave so much to the world through her literary genius. This compulsion was not borne of pity, but of admiration for a woman who quietly achieved. The kindly man in the cemetery office dug out a map of the burial grounds and thereupon the location of Adelaide’s grave was revealed, but only literally, not physically!

The pandemic struck and all notions of locating and visiting Adelaide’s grave were put on hold, as the world hunkered down in terror of this ghost like virus that lurked unseen, devastating lives in its wake. A miserable, dark time when visiting a cemetery seemed the last thing on anyone’s mind.

In November 2021, the world seemed to relax and the virus loosened its grip and the terror began to dissipate, as if in celebration the sky was blue, hardly a cloud in the sky and the sun shone on the day the long journey to the Extra Mural Cemetery in Brighton began.  With a car packed with spade, forks, secateurs, trowel, gardening gloves, the obligatory hand sanitiser, face masks and a box of chocolate truffles to thank kindly man for his help; all set for the long awaited discovery of Adelaide’s grave. However, now reading this back, it sounds more like preparations for a grave robbery or that of a body snatcher.

Arriving promptly at 12 noon as pre arranged with kindly man in the cemetery office and with all the ‘grave-hunters’ paraphernalia slung over a shoulder, said kindly man proceeds to march in an authoritative fashion in the direction of where Adelaide’s grave should be. Up a slightly hilly road, turning left and down a steep gravelly path it was becoming increasingly difficult to balance with one heavy spade in left hand and large bag with gardening tools in right, but onwards kindly man marched without a thought for the ‘pack person’ struggling behind him. You might well ask where the chocolate truffles were at this stage of the journey, I had given them on meeting kindly man.

Back to our story, it was at this point that the questioning began for the the reasoning  behind this unlikely excursion. Upon reaching the end of the gravelly path, he turned sharp right onto a tarmac path and comes to an abrupt halt and points to a wall, saying, ‘Her grave is somewhere over there.’ The sight of the wall presented a conundrum…a ladder had not been thought of, how to get over the wall? So near, yet so far. Recognising the concern about the wall, kindly man, then marches further along the tarmac path and says, ‘No need for a ladder, we can go this way’.

Further we yomp, until arriving at a small muddy track that leads upwards into an area of thick undergrowth, a luxurious green carpet woven with ivy, bramble and periwinkle – all made treacherous by their ability to tangle around an unsuspecting foot, the area was also on a slope! The only paths that criss crossed the green carpet, were those of rabbits. There were no headstones that could be used as markers, it was only then that the reality kicked in that it was going to be near impossible to find Adelaide in this overgrown wilderness with it’s residents sleeping silently underfoot.

Kindly man stops and stretching out his arms, announces, ‘Her grave should be somewhere around here.’ This somewhere could have been one hundred metres radius or half a metre, what difference did it make? The challenge was there, we had come so far… In desperation, a plea, which was intended to be silent, poured forth, ‘Oh come on, Adelaide. show us where you are.’

Kindly man, looked concerned and in an attempt to ignore, busied himself by pushing and clearing the undergrowth with his booted foot. ‘Hang on’ he says, ‘Here’s something, it says authoress.’ Of course it had to be Adelaide! Further clearance of the tangled ivy and bramble revealed part of the inscription of the gravestone – Adelaide, we had found her, hooray.

Now dear reader picture this, sloping ground covered in undergrowth and one  person on hands and knees with secateurs excitedly cutting away the  ivy, whilst trying to maintain an element of dignity whilst slipping down the slope, being watched over by a solemn cemetery officer. How glorious were the words when, kindly man says…’Excuse me, if you don’t mind…’ At last he was to take charge of the spade, clear the undergrowth, oh the delight…he continued,  ‘…I will go for my lunch.’ ‘Oh…’ was the slightly miffed reply, ‘Is it safe here, in this secluded part of the cemetery?’ As he strode off in his authoritarian gait in search of his lunchbox, he stopped and turned for a second to say,  ‘We’ve never had any trouble, you have my telephone number if you do have a problem.’

Now alone with Adelaide in her secret garden, her gravestone revealed, and  the inscription exposed.  A prayer was uttered and flowers laid and somewhere in a far away place, perhaps in one’s psyche or imagination, or maybe, Adelaide was there, laughter could be heard and a smile imagined.

Did Adelaide regret the sacrifices she made? Read the inscription and then conclude.

Photo credit: L.A.O’Keeffe
Photo credit: L.A.O’Keeffe

Rest in peace, dear Adelaide

Photo credit: L.A.O’Keeffe
Photo credit: L.A.O’Keeffe

Featured Image

View of Brighton Extra Mural Cemetery


The Original Chelsea Bun House

As it  is approaching Good Friday I thought I would share some information about the original Chelsea Bun House. Easter is traditionally the time for hot cross buns which are slightly different to Chelsea buns as the Chelsea bun is made of a rich yeast dough flavoured with lemon peel, cinnamon or mixed spice and are much sweeter and stickier than hot cross buns.

The Chelsea Bun House is believed to have originated in the early 1700s and was run by the same family for over 100 years, producing what we still know today as Chelsea Buns, although the recipe may have changed slightly over the centuries to cater for modern tastes.

The shop was owned by the Hand family and for some considerable time was run by Richard and Margaret Hand. Richard died in 1767 leaving the business to his second wife, Margaret. The couple raised two sons, but according to Richard his eldest son, Richard Gideon, was by his first wife, Ann, although he was baptised in 1752 stating Richard and Margaret were his parents. Their second son, somewhat confusingly was named Gideon Richard and was born 1760, clearly they weren’t very inventive in their name choices.

Margaret died 1798 at which time she left the shop which made buns, to her step son Richard Gideon, and should he decide he didn’t want to continue running it, then he should assign it to their other son, Gideon Richard. When Margaret died The Gentleman’s Magazine noted:

At Chelsea, Mrs Margaret Hand, who for more than 60 years kept the Royal Bun-House there (so denominated by express permission).

Their elder son, Richard, was a military man and served for many years, joining as an ensign in 1773, in the 13th Regiment of foot. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1776. He remained in the military until at least the turn of the century, leaving his brother, Gideon continued to run the bun shop and who was described as

An eccentric character ad used to dress in a very peculiar manner. He dealt largely in butter which he carried about the streets in a basket on his head.

Bun Man by John Dempsey
Bun Man by John Dempsey

The Chelsea Bun House was so successful that even royalty and the nobility visited, including George II and Queen Caroline and the princesses, as did George III and Queen Charlotte. Queen Charlotte presented Mrs Hands with a silver half-gallon mug with five guineas in it.

On Good Friday mornings, upwards of 50,000 people assembled to buy buns, when disturbances broke out among the people gathered there. In one day, more than £250 was taken in sales.


Interior 1838
Interior of the Bun House. 1838

Gideon died 19 February 1820, so it would appear that his brother took over running the business, although it isn’t quite clear.

Around that time there were two bun shops on the same street, Grosvenor Row, selling Chelsea buns  in direct competition with each other. The rates return from 1821 show that Richard was living at Grosvenor Row, as was possibly his competitor, Edward Chapman.

The above rates also show, although faint, the name Martin, which may well have been Mr Martin of Martin’s Tea Warehouse, whose name appears in the picture of the bun shop.

Richard died at the ripe old age of 84 and was buried at the same cemetery as his brother, on 2 March 1836.

Following his death there was a court case bought against a David Loudon who claimed to have lived with the Hands and whom he said Richard, who died intestate, had given him all his money.

Loudon claimed he was related to Richard by marriage, he claimed to have married Richard’s daughter who was ‘born in indignant circumstances‘, but this appears to have been proved false. The man who was trying to claim the whole of Richard’s estate describing Richard as being ‘of eccentric habits‘ and that he was one of ‘the Poor Knights of Windsor’.

Loudon was found guilty and sent to prison for seven months for breach of trust in obtaining Richard’s money and remaining at the Bun House. It was proven to the court that Richard had no heirs.

The Bun House had been frequented by visitors to Ranelagh, but after it closed in 1803, trade began to decline, but apparently on Good Friday, April 18, 1839, about 240,000 buns were sold.

Given that both Richard and Gideon Hand were both dead by this time, it’s difficult to know who was running the Bun House, unless Loudon returned there after his spell in prison. Soon after this the Bun House was sold and demolished to make way for improvements to the neighbourhood.

The Globe 10 April 1839
The Globe 10 April 1839


Timbs, John. Curiosities of London: exhibiting the most rare and remarkable objects of interest in the metropolis 

The Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction: VOL.XXXIII

London Courier and Evening Gazette – 30 April 1838

Morning Advertiser 28 May 1838


Courtesy of The Royal Borough of Chelsea and Kensington

Death by burning – Elizabeth Boardingham 1742-1776

Elizabeth Boardingham was one of the last women in England to be sentenced to death by burning, but was this really how her life came to an end?  Today, we’ll take a look at her life and discover a little more about its end.

Elizabeth, you would imagine, was happily married to her husband, John, with the couple living in the picturesque costal fishing village of Flamborough, Yorkshire. During their marriage the couple had five children, the eldest, Mary, born in 1766, followed by Ann, John, Robert and Thomas, the youngest, who was born early summer 1775.

However, life for Elizabeth was no bed of roses, as her husband sailed rather close to the wind and found himself in court on occasion, reputedly for smuggling, thereby leaving Elizabeth to run the home and care for their children.

Eventually Elizabeth had had enough, and despite having five children, all aged under 10, she took up with a man, some six years her senior, a Thomas Aikney of Thwing, Yorkshire, some 12 miles away from where she lived, according to the newspapers, although his correct surname was Hakeney.  Perhaps she was hoping for a better life with him, but the choice she made was to elope with him, leaving her young family and fleeing to Lincolnshire for about three months, but was this in reality everything she had hoped for? Elizabeth reputedly told Thomas that,

if her husband was dead, Tom and her would be married, and no longer live like a whore and rogue as they had done for some time.

According to Thomas’s account of events, he didn’t want to go through with such an horrendous act as killing Elizabeth’s husband, rather, it would be much better if they simply eloped to be free of him, which they did.

This elopement didn’t last long, and Elizabeth returned to John, who it seems welcomed her back into the marital home. Thomas however, remained in her life and Elizabeth could bear life with John no longer, and with those few words from Elizabeth about wishing her husband dead, ringing  Thomas’s ears, a plot was hatched.

Eight days after she returned home, on the 14 February 1776, about eleven at night, Elizabeth woke her husband, telling him that there was an intruder.  She had already persuaded Thomas to go along with her plan and had left the door unlock to make it easy for him to enter the house unnoticed.

Quickly dressing in his coat and waistcoat, John went downstairs after Elizabeth told him she could a noise at the door. Thomas was waiting for him and stabbed him, firstly in his thigh, then one of the left side, leaving the knife in the wound. Elizabeth headed outside crying ‘murder’ and a neighbour immediately came to her assistance, but of course, it was too late.

John's burial at Flamborough. 17 February 1776
John’s burial at Flamborough. 17 February 1776

Thomas and Elizabeth were captured and charged with the murder of John Boardingham and convicted on the clearest of evidence.

York Castle. York Museums Trust
York Castle. York Museums Trust

During the trial Elizabeth claimed that she knew nothing of Thomas’s plan to kill her husband. Thomas however, showed remorse for his actions and acknowledged that the sentence was just. Elizabeth it is reported, showed no remorse what so ever, declaring right until the very end that she knew nothing about his intention to kill her husband.

Thomas was ordered to be hanged, and his body was then taken to the surgeon for dissection, Elizabeth was to be ‘burnt with fire till you are dead‘.

The couple were transported from York castle to Tyburn, near the city, Thomas in a cart, Elizabeth drawn on a sledge, where they were executed amidst one of the largest crowds ever seen there.

The press also stated that during their time in York Castle gaol, the couple cohabited and that Elizabeth admitted that she liked Thomas and that she would like to be buried in the same grave as him, that that was never going to happen does not appear to have entered her head.

According to the newspapers, just before the unhappy couple died, they shook hands and saluted each other.

An account of the sentenced passed on the pair was recounted well over a century later, in 1909, which stated that the judge was Sir Henry Goulding, who, when sentencing Elizabeth to death for aiding and abetting in the murder of her husband, observed:

The sentence which the law obliges me to pass upon you is, that you, Elizabeth Boardingham, shall be led from here to the gaol, whence you came, and from thence upon Wednesday next, you shall be drawn upon a hurdle to the place of execution and there you are to be burnt with fire till you are dead, and your body consumed to ashes.

There is nevertheless such a spirit of lenity in the common law of this country, though this is the sentence you have received, and for my own part, do not believe that sentence could ever be more properly executed, in the strict letter thereof, than upon you, however severe the punishment is, that you would have been found guilty of a crime of the great magnitude, are condemned to undergo the law has allowed some mitigation.

You are first to be strangled at a stake and then burnt with fire. You have reason to admire the excellency of that consideration by which you have been tried and found guilty.

As we can see though, the judge showed leniency, so it appears that Elizabeth was strangled first, then her body then burned, not the other way around, as has been noted in other accounts, thereby making the first sentence of this account not strictly accurate.

John was buried in the graveyard of St Oswald’s church, Flamborough, Yorkshire, but as Elizabeth was burnt there appears to have been nothing to mark her grave.


Derby Mercury 22 March 1776

Leeds Intelligencer, 27 February 1776

Yorkshire Gazette 12 March 1887

Western Daily Press 15 May 1909

Featured Image

Richardson I, Thomas Miles; Off the Coast near Flamborough Head; National Trust, Cragside

A very public and messy divorce – Beaufort v Beaufort

Today’s post is a little unusual, as I welcome back legal eagle, Mel Barnes who has worked with me in a joint article, to tell the story of a very messy divorce (quite literally), as you’ll discover later.

As most of us know from experience, the golden rule when talking to someone about their divorce is that almost always, ‘the other spouse is always to blame’, a principle enshrined in natural law when Adam pointed his apple-scented finger at Eve and told God it was all her fault.  But that’s all about to change with the introduction of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 on 6 April 2022 with a no-fact, no-fault, quickie online divorce.  While the country perhaps celebrates this long-awaited change, in this post we will instead commiserate with a divorcing couple from the eighteenth century.

Historically, the Ecclesiastical Court could only pronounce a divorce mensa et thoro, separation from bed and board, now known in law as judicial separation for couples who do not want to divorce for religious reasons.

A divorce à vinculo matrimonii, one that dissolved the marriage, was only possible with a private member’s bill and were very rare, with only sixty divorce acts were passed between 1715 and 1775.

Holland House, Kensington. Yale Center for British Art
Holland House, Kensington. Yale Center for British Art

This brings us to our unhappy couple who wed on 14 June 1729 at Holland House in Kensington: Henry Somerset, the 3rd Duke of Beaufort (aged 22), and Frances Scudamore (aged 18); otherwise, Lord and Lady Beaumont.

Henry Somerset, the 3rd Duke of Beaufort
Henry Somerset, the 3rd Duke of Beaufort

Sadly, for the young couple, their respective fathers both died young, but fortunately at a time when they were fantastically rich.  This was the marriage of two extremely affluent families, bringing to it both money and land and a union of wealth and assets, though Henry gifted jewellery with a value of £500 to Frances (about £60,000 today), which shows he was committed to the union.

Part of the marriage agreement included the requirement for Henry to also take Frances’ surname:

Obliging the duke and Duchess of Beaufort and her children to take the additional surname and bear the arms of Scudamore, pursuant to a settlement made by James, late Lord Scudamore and vesting in the duke in fee the manors of Wickhall and Ditton Camois and lands in Cambridgeshire, late the testate of Lord Scudamore, in lieu of the portion provided by him for his daughter, the said Duchess and other provisions.

As the years went by, the couple’s separate lives and absence of the pattering of small feet began to attract attention.  The lack of an heir and a spare would have been seen as a major problem for these two dynasties, and it was highly likely that medical advice would have been sought about why Fanny couldn’t conceive (obviously, this was automatically assumed to be her fault).

Married life wasn’t great for Frances and Henry  and it became a whole lot worse when, in 1736 Frances it would appear, contracted small pox and returned to the family home, Holme Lacy in Herefordshire to rest and be treated by the Scudamore physician, but she did recover from this.

Holme Lacy
Holme Lacy

In 1740, Frances met William, Lord Talbot (1710-1782), at that time a lawyer and politician referred to by Horace Walpole as having

some wit, and a little tincture of a disordered understanding; but was better known as a boxer and man of pleasure than in the light of a statesman.

William had also married for money, his wife being Mary de Cardonnel, but after two children (a daughter, Cecil (1735-1793) and a son, William who only survived until 1742), she was advised that she was unlikely to survive another pregnancy, so with that, he declared that he was ‘deprived of her sexual services’ and sought solace elsewhere.

Ramsay, Allan; Mary de Cardonnel (c.1719-1787), Countess Talbot; National Trust, Newton House, Dinefwr Park and Castle

With Frances looking for love and William for pleasure, the couple made a perfect match.  They began an indiscrete relationship, which soon led to tongues wagging and an open secret that they were having an affair.

Initially, Henry was pragmatic about the affair and he and Frances executed a Deed of Separation under which each agreed not to make a claim against the other’s estate.  This amicable relationship would not last long, as just few months later, Frances discovered that she was pregnant to William – this was not good!

As far as high society was concerned, indiscretion was forgivable, but public adultery was not.  On 13 September 1741, Frances gave birth to a daughter who she named Fanny Matthews to hide her real identity.  With Henry being in poor health, Frances hoped that he would soon die, so she could pass off her daughter as his, but alas, he recovered!

Meanwhile, William had grown bored with Frances, and he ended their relationship, but it’s not clear at that stage what became of their daughter, was she raised by Frances or perhaps William who had returned to his wife, something which was not unusual at that time.

Henry, continued with his mission and by June 1742, had obtained all the damning statements and evidence he could against Frances, and issued divorce proceedings against her for adultery.

What he hadn’t bargained on though, was that Frances would make a counter-application on the basis of his impotency, a claim that she knew would involve humiliating Henry with a very intimate examination.

In his Reply, Henry claimed that they had slept together in one bed for ten years and produced witness statements from servants swearing that they had ‘actually seen the stains’ on the bedding, proving their intimacy.

None of the evidence was given much weight, and a judge eventually held that Henry needed to prove once and for all that ‘duke-junior’ could ‘rise to the occasion‘.

This would involve either: masturbating and ejaculating, or having sex with a woman before court-appointed witnesses.  Soul-crushing shame aside, what we want to know is whether the woman was also to have been appointed by the court.  What sort of terrible employment would she have agreed to? However, a very embarrassed Henry eventually decided on the former and was successful.  Thereby, winning his case, which gave him damages and costs of £80,000 (about £1 million in today’s money).

After a protracted bill through Parliament, the parties were finally divorced in March 1744, when the Act took effect.  Any happiness with the freedom to marry would be short lived for our unhappy couple, as Henry died less than a year later, in February 1745.

As for Frances, well, she married again, not to Lord William Talbot, but to Colonel Charles Fitzroy, the illegitimate son of the 2nd Duke of Grafton. The couple married on 4 July 1748, at Holme Lacy, Herefordshire.

Francs died just seven months later, and was buried on 27 February 1749 at Holme Lacy, aged just 38. This was just six days after giving birth to another daughter, Frances, who was presented for baptism at St George’s, Hanover Square on 14 February 1749.

Derby Mercury 16 February 1749
Derby Mercury 16 February 1749

For anyone recently separated, know that everything will now be a lot easier in terms of the process, and be thankful for a divorce that no longer has anything to do with ‘private members!’.

As for Frances’s illegitimate daughter, Fanny, little is known about her life, but in his Will of 1782, William referred to his daughter Cecil, but, also, more curiously, ‘my very dear daughter, Miss Fanny Talbot, now living with me’.

So, it looks as if his illegitimate daughter ended up being cared for in a loving home, which means we can end on a happy note.


Hansard debates 3 June 1830 

The Story of Bathsheba Spooner

I am delighted to welcome, author, Andrew Noone, whose book, ‘Bathsheba Spooner, A Revolutionary Murder Conspiracy’ makes for a fascinating read. Bathsheba was was the first woman in American history to be executed following the Declaration of Independence. Today Andrew is going to share with us a little about Bathsheba, followed by some questions and answers.

Bathsheba Spooner was the next-to-last of seven children born to Timothy Ruggles and Bathsheba Bourne Newcomb; Mrs. Ruggles had birthed eight children from her first marriage. Her mother’s roots were firmly planted in one of Cape Cod’s oldest families, her father’s from Roxbury. Timothy was born in 1711, descendant of a family long involved in Massachusetts politics, but none enjoyed the status to which he would rise.

A Brigadier General in the French and Indian War, he had also served as Speaker of the House for two years. His reputation suffered dramatically when, as delegate to the Stamp Act Congress of 1765 in New York, he refused to join those protesting the actions of Parliament and King George III. Now firmly placed in the camp of those loyal to the king, he freely accepted the position of mandamus councillor, one of the men who were appointed by the king’s governor to the upper Massachusetts house,
to do the king’s bidding.

Few men were as loathed in Massachusetts in the year 1774. That year, he was banished from his new hometown of Hardwick, a town his ancestors had
founded and he himself nurtured. He remained in British controlled Boston until Evacuation Day, March 17, 1776, when he was removed with most Tories to Staten Island.

In the meantime, daughter Bathsheba had married Joshua Spooner of Boston, a
businessman/land speculator/lumber salesman.

The couple settled in Brookfield, not far from nearby Hardwick; the marriage may have been an arranged one, a marriage which gossipers usually characterized as inharmonious.

Sixteen- year- old militiaman Ezra Ross of Topsfield (a native of Ipswich) left his hospital camp in 1777 in Peekskill, NY to venture home. En route, he was taken in by Bathsheba in Brookfield, and nursed back to health. He returned to Topsfield, then headed west again that fall to join what would become the Battle of Saratoga. The British had hoped to cut New England off from the remaining nine colonies, General Burgoyne’s troops heading south to meet up with General Howe’s troops heading north. It was not to be; Howe instead focused on Philadelphia, leaving
Burgoyne to fend off the increasing masses of American troops north of Albany. His entire army surrendered to American General Gates. Marched to Boston, the British prisoners of war were quartered in Cambridge and Charlestown.

Both Sgt. James Buchanan and Private William Brooks managed to escape (not a difficult task), and likely met each other in Worcester for the first time. Now February 1778, the men were apparently headed to Springfield for work when during a fierce snowstorm, they were called in to the Spooner home.

They remained there for the next few weeks, Bathsheba plotting her husband’s
murder with them. In the meantime, young Ezra Ross, just having attempted to poison Mr. Spooner, left with him to prepare his Princeton property, soon to be handed over to Spooner’s brother.

Ross never made it to Princeton, apparently, borrowing Spooner’s horse to return to Topsfield. All rendezvoused in Brookfield the evening of March 1, 1778; it is unclear if their meeting was coincidental or arranged. Having dined with a friend and his wife, Joshua returned home alone through the snow, and was assaulted at his well, beaten to death, and thrown in while his wife finished eating her dinner.
The clothes he wore and those from his chamber, along with his cash, were distributed among the three men, who fled on horseback and foot.

All were arrested the next day. The trial took place in late April, Abraham Lincoln’s distant cousin as defence attorney, Robert Treat Paine, a signer of the Declaration as prosecutor, in a trial organized by Gov. John Hancock. With a trial lasting just over a day plus, all were found guilty.

Courtesy of Historic Ipswich
Courtesy of Historic Ipswich

The date of execution was originally set for early June, but the four received a stay until July 2.

Bathsheba claimed pregnancy; the officials in Boston allowed an exam to be done, proving that she was not with child. She insisted; a second exam, not authorized, instead confirmed her pregnancy, but the Boston authorities would not relent.

Despite an informal third exam proving her right, her execution date was not changed.

On June 10, Abigail Adams wrote to her son John Quincy, with his father in Paris:

… the Modern History of our own times furnishes as black a list of crimes as can be paralleled in ancient time, even if going back to Nero, Caligula, or Cesare Borgia.

All four accomplices were hanged July 2; an autopsy requested by Bathsheba confirmed her pregnancy of five months, with a male child.

Timothy Ruggles eventually found his way to Nova Scotia, where as a loyal servant to the Crown he was granted a multi-hundred acre estate which he fostered as he had his legendary estate in Hardwick; his wife chose to stay behind in Massachusetts with their son. Timothy died in 1795, and was buried near his home in Nova Scotia.

Timothy Ruggles. Library of Congress
Timothy Ruggles. Library of Congress

To this day, the burial site in Green Hill Park of Bathsheba and her unborn son has never been located; it remains Worcester County’s favourite mystery.

What inspired you to write this book?
When my family bought our first home across the street from Green Hill Park, a friend came by for dinner a few weeks later. He reminded me of the infamous tale of Bathsheba Spooner. A lifelong devotee of Worcester’s history, especially as a village during the Revolution, I wanted to learn more. This being the late 90’s, besides a mid-19th c. essay and the odd article or two, no full scale study had ever been done. I decided that my first book would tackle the notorious episode. While in the middle of research, and with the book about a third written, Deborah Navas’ book appeared in 1999. Well written and scholarly, I admired her contribution, yet I still
hungered for a less academic approach, one which would comprehensively relate the details of the case; while nonfiction, I wanted to tell the story more like a novel. And I wanted to do more than just relate a true-to-life melodrama. Since the early 19th century, historians, poets and other writers from eastern Massachusetts have been Boston-centric in their retelling of the colony’s role in the Revolution, to the neglect of many other towns. Worcester’s contribution to the conflict and the events leading up to the opening gunshot looms dramatically larger than the mere 1,800 residents of 1778. I chose the tale of Bathsheba and her murderous lovers as the frame upon which to re-construct Worcester’s significant role in the rebellion.

Was Bathsheba insane?
Playing armchair psychologist from nearly two-and-a-half centuries away is tenuous for a professional; for me, impossible. We can only speculate, and the facts might lend themselves to characterizing Ms. Spooner as imbalanced. She had a sharp temper, and was involved sexually with at least two, and more likely five men, none of whom were her husband. She freely welcomed two enemy prisoners of war into her home, and on occasion, a handsome teenager, in her husband’s presence. Her actions were often erratic. She allowed her two-year-old daughter to touch her husband’s corpse. She jeopardized the future lives of her three surviving children. She lied incessantly. Would we be safe in assuming that she at least exhibited signs of a disordered personality? Although her attorney suggested insanity during the trial, it would take many more decades before such a defence would be admissible in a court of law.

Was teenager Ezra Ross truly guilty? And of what?
This is one of the hardest to answer, and the overall situation perhaps the most poignant of the saga. Age wise, the eighteenth-century freely condemned teenagers. But what exactly was his role? It appears that he had no knowledge of the murderous March 1 plot before that date. He had spent many days before at his Topsfield home (had Bathsheba sent him any letters while there? Given the slow pace of mail, it’s unlikely). He turned up in Brookfield only hours before
the murder, which he did discuss with the two British men, and Bathsheba. And keeping in mind that weeks earlier he had tried to poison Spooner, and had planned to try again before leaving for Topsfield, his background certainly did not incline the jury to consider his role more leniently.

To read the whole story Andrew’s book is available via the link at the beginning of the story.

Featured Image

Homestead of General Timothy Ruggles, Hardwick, Massachusetts Worcester Art Museum

The mystery of John Edward Despard

So far we have looked at Catherine Despard’s life and the demise of her husband, Colonel Edward Marcus Despard, but of course there was a son, John Edward  which today’s post will take a brief look at. If you have missed the three articles about Catherine this link here will take you back to the beginning of her story.

But what became their son, John Edward Despard?

If you watched Poldark, you would know that Edward and Catherine had a son, but he didn’t make his appearance into the world until about 1801, whereas in reality he was born in the late 1780’s and joined the army in England. However, there remains a great deal of confusion about his life and his military career.

His grandmother, Sarah confirmed in her will that he was serving as a lieutenant in his Majesty’s East London Regiment, but it’s impossible to make out his middle name. It would make sense for it to have been John, after his famous uncle, General John Despard and his father Edward, but the middle name in his grandmother’s will begins with B, which is  of no help at all.

Trying to track down John Edward Despard however, has become somewhat problematic. His grandmother was very specific about his rank and regiment, which I thought would surely simplify things – but no!

In December 1799 a John Edward Despard joined army as an ensign in 62nd Regiment, without purchase, but wasn’t promoted to lieutenant until 1801 i.e., after Sarah’s death. This one listed in the army records, was aged 19 when he joined up, so born c1780.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Having chased this John Edward Despard’s life up hills and down dales, it appears that on 12 May of 1799 he had married a Mary Hilder and was then promoted to lieutenant in 1801. According to his military records, he remained with the same regiment throughout his career, until his death in 1836.

In the letter from Joseph Plymley, mentioned previously, Plymley made specific reference to Edward’s son, who he said, had arrived at Shrewsbury gaol and wishing to see his father. Plymley confirmed the boy had arrived from Ireland upon military duty and was in Shrewsbury to receive volunteers from the Glamorgan Militia, was then heading to South Wales.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Now, we know from John Edward’s military record below, that he sustained an eye injury whilst serving in Ireland.  This document of 1828 confirms not only his marriage in 1799, but that they had no children, so I thought I had correct person. His address was given as 50 Britannia Terrace.

He stated that he had never been able to receive any augmentation on his half pay and that the injury he sustained in Ireland was the loss of his left eye. He received no grant or civil employment, so was utterly reliant upon just the half pension.

This John Edward died in 1836, leaving Mary to apply for a widows pension. Again, she confirmed everything exactly as above, about her husband, and here we have his burial, Friday 6 May 1836, Lieutenant John, otherwise John Edward Despard, aged 58 of Britannia Terrace, London. Mary also confirmed that her husband died from dropsy.

I was quite happy, with what I had discovered although unsure about his grandmothers account of his rank and regiment, until I found another John Edward Despard, in the army at the same time.

For this second one we know nothing of his early career i.e., when he joined or at what rank, but we do know that in 1813 this one was serving in the East London Militia and was promoted to Captain following death of a Captain Benwell.

On 11 September 1820, The British Press noted that

Captain John Edward Despard, late of the Royal East Regiment of London Militia, to be quartermaster.

This one had been a lieutenant and served in the East London Militia, so was this someone else with the same name, and was this Catherine and Edwards’ son? If so, who was the other Edward John Despard?

Several newspapers reported on 29 June 1828 that at the Court of King’s Bench amongst others a John Edward Despard was brought up for judgement, having been convicted for the illegal sale of a cadetship, in the East Indian Company’s service. Despard was sent to King’s Bench prison for six weeks. Now, as to which John Edward Despard that account related to, I really don’t have a clue.

On Sunday night last, about 12 o’clock, the London Courier and Evening Gazette, of 29 January 1830, reported that

As Captain J.E Despard, residing at No 50, Britannia Terrace, Hoxton Old-Town, was going from Pittfield Street, towards his residence, he was met by two ruffians …

the story continued, but either the newspaper got his rank wrong or John Edward had been promoted, which seems unlikely.

There were either two John Edward Despard’s about the same age, both in the military, both in London at the same time, but of different ranks or the whole thing has got into quite a tangle.

The final snippet of information about Edwards’ son appears in Mike Jay’s book and which apparently came from Edward’s older brother, General John Despard.

He was leaving a London theatre with another of his brothers when they heard a waiting carriage-driver calling the name ‘Despard’. They made their way towards the carriage, which has been ordered in their name, ‘and there appeared a flashy Creole and a flashy young lady on his arm, they both stepped into it’.

I really don’t know which was John and Catherine’s son, so if anyone can untangle this, I would love to hear from you. Maybe this mystery is one for someone with military knowledge.


All sources not included elsewhere in the articles about Catherine, Edward and their son:


Bannantine, James. Memories of Edward Marcus Despard.

Cloncurry, Valentine, Baron (1773-1853) Personal Recollections of the life and times, with extracts from the correspondence of Valentine, Lord Cloncurry.

Connor, Clifford C. Colonel Despard: the life and death of an English/Irish Jacobin. P137

Gurney, Joseph & Gurney, William. The trial of Edward Marcus Despard for high treason: at the Session House, Newington, Surry, on Monday the seventh of February 1803

Jay, Mike. The Unfortunate Colonel Despard: And the British Revolution that never happened

Linebaugh, Peter. The many-headed hydra: sailors, slaves, commoners, and the hidden history of the revolutionary Atlantic

Linebaugh, Peter. Red Round Globe Hot Burning

Omen, Charles. The Unfortunate Colonel Despard and Other Studies

Trahey, Erin. Free Women and the Making of Colonial Jamaican Economy and Society (1760-1834) (PhD thesis, History Department, University of Cambridge, 2018).  Will of Sarah Gordon, 19 May 1799, LOS66, fol 6. Register General, Twickenham Park, Jamaica

Oracle and the Daily Advertiser 22 February 1803

Letter from the Venerable Joseph Plymley, Archdeacon of Shropshire and Visiting Magistrate of Salop County Gaol. 12 June 1800. HO 42/50/81

Letter by Catherine Despard – HO 42/43/127. Folio 291-293.

Letter by Attorney General, Spencer Percival. HO 42/70. Folio 77-80.

Edward Despard’s Petition HO42/70. Folio 81-85

Letter from Lord Mayor to Lord Pelham HO42/70 Folio 181

Letter regarding Catherine HO 42/70. Folio 77-80 and 101-104

Letter regarding Despard’s request for Catherine to visit. HO 42/48. Folio 188-190

True Briton. 15 July 1795

Catherine, the wife of Colonel Edward Marcus Despard – Part 3

Today we are concluding the story of Catherine Despard, but if you missed the previous articles, part one can be found here and part two here.

In February 1799 the Whitehall Evening Post provided a transcript of events in Parliament including a speech by Mr Courtenay M.P, supporter of Edward and Catherine, which was stated to be Colonel Despard’s petition, in which Edward said he was aware of letters being written by Catherine which had been published in the newspaper and that he concurred with the contents of them. Edward stated that he had only been able to see Catherine through an iron grate and that his son, who had travelled a great distance had been denied permission to see him. He also confirmed that the Duke of Portland had refused to see Catherine.

The Courier, 22 August 1799, tell us that Edward was transferred over 100 miles away to Shrewsbury gaol, but there appears little by way of explanation as to why this should have occurred, it simply says:

At five in the morning, a King’s messenger and Bow Street officer took Edward out of the house of correction, Cold Bath Fields where he had been incarcerated for the past 17 months. They set off in a post-chaise for Shrewsbury gaol.

Catherine must have been aware of this where did that leave her, apart from being all alone in London without her beloved husband and fighting for his freedom?

On 2 October 1799, whilst Edward was still in gaol at Shrewsbury, a letter sent on his behalf, by the visiting magistrates, Reverend John Rocke and the Reverend Edmund Dana, asks:

In case Mrs Despard should come to Shrewsbury, in what manner and for what length of time will she be permitted to have access to him?

The original letter in Edward’s hand appears to be quite scribbled with crossing outs throughout it, but clearly, Edward was anxious that Catherine should visit him whilst there.

So, despite a notice in the Star and Evening Advertiser just a month earlier saying that

the orders strictly prohibit any communication either with persons without or prisoners in the gaol

it would appear from the letter that Edward was making representation to have Catherine visit him, so clearly, he wanted to see his wife and it’s probably safe to assume the feeling would have been mutual.

In his recent book, Red Round Globe Hot Burning, Linebaugh states that:

Catherine visited her husband in three prisons that we know of: Cold Bath Fields, the Tower and Horsemonger Lane Gaol. He was incarcerated between 1798 to 1799 in Cold Bath Fields, in the Tower in 1802 and in Horsemonger Lane for his trial and execution in 1803. In these years he was also imprisoned in Shrewsbury, in Tothill Fields, and in Newgate, though we do not have documentary evidence that Catherine visited him in those places.

Despite Lineburgh’s observation and the content of the piece in the Star and Evening Advertiser, saying that he was not to be permitted visitors, we do now have evidence that Catherine visited her husband whilst he was in Shrewsbury.

This comes courtesy of a letter written on 12 June 1800, to the Home Secretary, from Venerable Joseph Plymley, who was the Archdeacon of Shropshire and visiting magistrate of Shropshire County Gaol. He stated that Catherine was Edward’s only visitor at Shrewsbury, apart from the chaplain of the goal and quarterly visits by magistrates.

However, Plymley, also helpfully provided a snippet of information about their son being briefly in Shrewsbury:

Last night Colonel Despard’s son, an officer in His Majesty’s Service, arrived in this town from Ireland, upon military duty, viz to receive volunteers from the Glamorganshire Militia.

Edward’s son was then travelling on to South Wales and wished to see his father whilst he was in town, but the gaoler refused him admission. The gaoler immediately contacted Plymley who, in turn urgently wrote to the Home Secretary to find out if this would be acceptable. Plymley stressed that Edward was a model prisoner and only spent time with Catherine and suggested that any message for Edward from their son, could be conveyed by Catherine and therefore their son was not permitted to visit his father.

Given that we now know that Catherine visited him whilst in Shrewsbury, she must have travelled there by the regular coach service, or mail coach similar to the one below.

The journey from London to Shrewsbury was extremely long and arduous given the condition of the roads at that time.  There was usually a ‘stop over’ enroute of a night, so the journey could well have taken at least two, very long days each way. A journey following the same route today, would take about four hours today by car, so we can only begin to imagine how hard this would have been for Catherine.

Cordrey, John; The London to Birmingham Stage Coach; Science Museum, London

There was, however, a regular coach which travelled from London to Shrewsbury three times a week, via Henley on Thames, Oxford, Stratford upon Avon and finally arriving in Shrewsbury.