As Lewis Troughton, the Beadle of Christ Church, Southwark walked along Blackfriars Road one crisp, fine November day in 1817, his attention was taken by a crowd gathered around two young and frightened boys who were dressed ‘in the French costume’. Only two years after the Battle of Waterloo, the youngsters garb might have excited some suspicions but when they began to explain their predicament the mystery only deepened. The younger of the two, aged around nine or ten years, was sitting in the road crying, his feet blistered and his legs swollen and no matter how much the elder lad, who looked to be about twelve, begged him to get up he refused; he could not, he cried, walk another step.
The beadle intervened and took the boys to Mr Evance, the Surrey magistrate where they were asked to give their names and the elder of the two, an intelligent lad, told their sorry tale, which was then reported in the newspapers as follows.
The two boys were brothers, Alexander and William Walker; their father had been an officer in a dragoon regiment and lived in County Tyrone, Ireland. Their maternal grandfather was a Frenchman who lived near to Amiens and, some four months earlier, the family had received news that the old man was dying and wanted to see his daughter one last time. Mrs Walker set off for her former homeland, taking her two sons with her, and they made it in time to pay their respects. However, a fortnight after her father’s death, Mrs Walker was taken ill and also died. The two boys were left all alone in a strange country, with no other relatives to care for them.
A French lady who had known their grandfather sold the clothes left by their mother, presumably fine ones, and dressed the two boys in poorer clothes. She then gave them a small sum of money, told them that it was all that was left and pointed them towards the road that led to Boulogne. Did she see an opportunity and cheat them or was this the best way she could provide for their journey home? However it came about, the brothers were destitute when they reached Boulogne but luckily they found a kindly captain of a Dover packet who took pity on them and allowed them to sail on board his ship.
From Dover, the boys decided to walk to London, begging their way and hoping to find a way to travel from there to Dublin where they had friends who would take them home to their father. And so they had been found, with their money spent and their legs so swollen that they could go no further. Luckily for them, the officers of Christ Church were charitable and, once the pair were recovered, they were helped to get back to Ireland and their home.
So, who was their father? Although the newspapers which reported on the story said he was an officer in a dragoon regiment, we do wonder if he was not the William Walker who was a private in the 8th (The King’s Royal Irish) Regiment of (Light) Dragoons? William Walker was born in Ballygreenan (Baile an Ghrianáin) in County Tyrone, c.1769, and enlisted at the age of nineteen. He was discharged in December 1814, at the age of 45, due to ill-health and in consequence of:
Asthma of long standing, worn out and lately returned from France where he has been a Prisoner several years.
This dragoon regiment had seen action at Bousbecque on the French/Belgian border in 1794 as part of the Flanders Campaign and had returned to England the following year. After that, they went to Africa and on to India where they remained until 1819. Had Private Walker been held a prisoner in northern France since the skirmish at Bousbecque until 1814? And had he met and married his French wife during that time, fathering two sons despite his status as a prisoner of war?
Finally in 1794 the 8th moved to the low countries for eighteen months of conflict. The first battle they fought on the continent in May surpassed even “The Charge of the Light Brigade” for bravery and devotion to duty. Two squadrons of the 8th charged a body of French infantry supported by four guns well positioned in a churchyard in the village of Bousbecque. The 8th Light Dragoons routed the infantry, jumped the churchyard walls and captured the guns. The casualties were staggering, of the 200 men who engaged the French, 186 were killed, wounded or captured. Lesser skirmishes followed for a year as the allies were pushed back into Germany and then left for England in November 1795.
NB: Private Walker’s discharge papers gave his birthplace as Ballygrina, Co. Tyrone, Ballygreenan is the closest approximation to this that we could find.
Evening Mail, 5th November 1817
The Queen’s Royal Hussar’s Association – click here for more
National Archives, British Army Service Records WO 97 – Chelsea Pensioners British Army Service Records 1760-1913, WO 97/137/100
Blackfriars Bridge and St. Paul’s by Francis Nicholson, c.1790. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
As the nights start to draw in, it’s a perfect time to curl up in the warmth by your fireside with a book or two and so we’re delighted that our publisher, Pen & Sword, have chosen to offer both our current biographies as a discounted bundle deal. Even more so as they are perfect companion books to each other, together telling the full story of the infamous eighteenth-century courtesan, Grace Dalrymple Elliott and her extended Scottish family as well as documenting the life of her daughter and granddaughter, continuing into the Regency and Victorian eras and culminating in a marriage into the British royal family.
And, is it yet too early to mention Christmas and Christmas shopping? These two books would make the perfect festive present for anyone who is interested in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century history, the French Revolution or indeed anyone who has an interest in the royal family or has enjoyed watching period dramas such as Victoria on ITV.
You can buy both An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott and A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History, in hardback, with a saving of 30% off RRP when bought together for a limited time by clicking here and selecting the ‘get this product as part of a bundle’ offer at the top of the page.
If you have enjoyed An Infamous Mistress and A Right Royal Scandal, watch out for our third biography, A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs, coming soon.
The Pastor’s Fireside: The family of Sir Thomas Acland, 10th Bt, Being Read to by the Vicar of Silverton by Henry Singleton (1766–1839); National Trust, Killerton.
As we recounted in our earlier blog about David Garrick’s Shakespeare Jubilee held over three days in September 1769, the all too typical British weather meant that the pageant which was to have been the grand finale of the event had to be cancelled. Instead, Garrick turned his pageant into a play, The Jubilee, which premiered a month later at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane on the 14th October, running for over ninety performances.
The comedic actress Frances Abington was among the stars of the day who appeared; she played the Comic Muse, Thalia, a role in which she was depicted by Joshua Reynolds.
The play was based on Garrick’s planned pageant and was also something of a tongue-in-cheek retrospective on the celebrations which had taken place in Stratford when the town had been so crowded with visitors that many had to sleep in their coaches and the persistent rain had led to flooding.
“The Stratford Jubilee was, in October, transferred to Drury-Lane. In order to give it a dramatic form, Garrick invented a comic fable, in which the inferior people of Stratford and the visitors were exhibited with great pleasantry. As it was never published, an exact account is not to be expected. We remember a scene in an inn-yard, with a postchaise standing at the remote end: when a crowd, after much diverting talk, withdrew from the place, a voice was heard from the inside of the chaise. Moody was within; he let down the blind, and, in the character of an Irishman, complained, that not being able to get a lodging, be was obliged to sleep in his chaise. He then came forward amidst bursts of applause; King soon joined him, and they two were the life of the piece. The dialogue throughout was carried on in a vein of humour. The songs that had been heard at Stratford were, occasionally, intermixed; and the whole concluded with a grand procession, in which Shakspeare’s plays were exhibited in succession, with a banner displayed before each of them, and a scene painted on the canvas to mark the play intended. A train of performers, dressed in character, followed the colours, all in dumb shew acting their respective parts. Mrs. Abington, at last, in a triumphal car, represented the Comic Muse. Dr. Arne’s music, the magnificence of the scenery and decorations, and the abilities of the actors, conspired to establish the entertainment in the public opinion in so powerful a manner, that we are assured, by a gentleman who has a collection of the playbills, that it was repeated no less than one hundred times in the course of the season. During the run of the piece, Garrick, on several intermediate nights, ascended a pulpit raised on the stage, and there spoke his Ode to the Memory of Shakspeare in a style of graceful eloquence.
Garrick had lost a huge amount of his own money on the jubilee celebrations in Stratford upon Avon, but he recouped his losses and more besides during his play’s run at the Theatre Royal. Despite his losses, he would appear to have been less extravagant than his brother during the celebrations.
During the celebration of Garrick’s Jubilee, his brother George, purchased an inkstand, which the poet is said to have used, and a pair of fringed gloves, which it was assumed he had worn. David Garrick, notwithstanding all his enthusiasm for Shakspeare, was too careful of his purse to part with its contents for reliques, the genuineness of which was so questionable.
All in all, the play proved to be more of a success than the jubilee held in Stratford, at least for David Garrick.
This dramatic piece was revived by Mr. Kemble, on the 23d of April, 1816, exactly two hundred years after the death of Shakespeare, but it was not very favourably received.
The manuscript copy of The Jubilee can be read here.
Quotations from Shakespeariana: plays, Volume 1, 1825
The actor and theatre manager David Garrick as Shakespeare’s Richard III by William Hogarth, c.1745. Walker Art Gallery.
Thomas Carr of Lincoln was a hawker of almanacks and fish… and yes, we think that’s an odd combination too! He was well-known around the county’s markets, famous enough for a print to be made of him.
Underneath the print is some very helpful genealogical information about Thomas.
Thomas Carr of Lincoln
The well-known dealer in Almanacks & Fish being born at Hexthorpe near Doncaster and was christenened the 19th of October 1718.
So, Thomas wasn’t really a Lincolnshire man, but had obviously lived in the city of Lincoln for long enough that he was described as being of his adopted town. His baptism can be found, exactly as described on the print, in the parish registers of Hexthorpe, a small village on the outskirts of Doncaster in south Yorkshire.
He died in 1807, described as being of an advanced age: he was 89 years old, maybe not to us such an old age these days, but for someone back then, who had gained his living as a hawker which would have been a tough occupation for someone of advancing years, he didn’t do badly at all.
Last week died, at an advanced age, Thomas Carr, well known here, and to those who frequent Lincoln markets, as a vender of almanacks.
Stamford Mercury, 7th August 1807
Thomas’ funeral was held at St Swithin’s Church in Lincoln on the 26th July, and he was described in the burial register as a widower. St Swithin’s has undergone several reconstructions during its life. Originally located near the Sheep market, it was ravaged by fire in 1644 during the English Civil War and stood in ruins for just over a century and a half. The ruins can be seen in the drawing below, next to the The Greyfriars, the remains of a Franciscan friary dating back to the 1200s.
In 1801 a new church was erected on Sheep Square; a pencil drawing of this church can be seen be clicking here. In the 1880s the present church was built. The old Greyfriars buildings still stand next to it.
But when he slipp’d fell – Scrub – Sneak – Last – and Binnacle
(Epitaph to Tom Weston)
Thomas Weston was an actor/comedian who graced the stage of the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane but so much of his life seems to be told in tall tales that he has, to a certain extent, remained a man of mystery. Two facts are certain, however. That he was a great comedic actor is unquestionable, as is the fact that he was a larger than life character.
Tom was born in 1737, the son of a man who was a cook to the court of George II. Shortly after Tom’s death, his Memoir was published, by an anonymous author. In this Memoir, his father is named as Thomas Weston. However, the only man with the surname Weston who was the cook to the king, and who appears on the lists of office holders at court, is a Charles Weston. There appear to be two possible baptisms in existence; the first took place on 31st August 1737, at St Paul’s, Covent Garden with the parents named as Thomas and Elizabeth and the second on 16th October 1737, at St James, Westminster, son of Charles and Elizabeth.
If he was the son of Thomas and Elizabeth, the parish records of St Paul, Covent Garden show burials for both parents, Elizabeth on 22nd January 1755, wife of Thomas, and then Thomas’s burial on the 24th September 1757 (though Tom’s Memoirs suggest his father was alive after this date). We theorize that Tom Weston’s father was actually Charles Weston.
Charles Weston started off as a kitchen boy in the king’s kitchen in 1724, rising to the position of master cook to King George II in the same establishment thirty years later. A tale about Mr Weston the master cook is told in The Table Book or Daily Recreation and Information: concerning remarkable men, manners, times, seasons, solemnities, merry-makings, antiquities and novelties, forming a complete history of the year, 1827.
The Royal Table
Origin of Making the King’s Dishes with the Cook’s Names
King George II was accustomed every other year to visit his German dominions with the greater part of the officers of his household and especially those belonging to the kitchen. Once on his passage at sea, his first cook was so ill with the sea-sickness, that he could not hold up his head to dress his majesty’s dinner; this being told to the king, he was exceedingly sorry for it, as he was famous for making a Rhenish soup, which his majesty was very fond of; he therefore ordered inquiry to be made among the assistant-cooks, if any of them could make the above soup. One named Weston (father of Tom Weston, the player) undertook it, and so pleased the king, that he declared it was full as good as that made by the first cook. Soon after the king’s return to England, the first cook died; when the king was informed of it, he said, that his steward of the household always appointed his cooks, but that he would now name one for himself, and therefore asking if one Weston was still in the kitchen, and being answered that he was, “That man,” said he, “shall be my first cook, for her makes the most excellent Rhenish soup.” This favour begot envy among all the servants, so that, when any dish was found fault with, they used to say it was Weston’s dressing: the king took notice of this, and said to the servants, it was very extraordinary, that every dish he disliked should happen to be Weston’s; “in future,” said he, “let every dish be marked with the name of the cook that makes it.” By this means the king detected their arts, and from that time Weston’s dishes pleased him most. The custom has continued ever since, and is still practised at the king’s table.
In 1754 Mr Weston obtained the position of turnbroach for his son in the palace kitchen, which entailed turning the spit on which meat or poultry was roasting, a lowly position but one which was actually executed by a deputy. The position paid £30 a year and, of this, the deputy was paid some £7 or £8. Tom Weston seems to have lucratively retained this position until his death. It is also reported that he was made under-clerk to the clerk of the kitchen and sailed, with his father and the royal household to Holland on the way to Hanover. George II made his last visit to Hanover in April 1755, returning in the September of that year, so if Tom did indeed travel with his household this must have been the date of his trip.
Back home Tom spent most of his time frequenting the local public houses and theatres. Soon he was dismissed from his position of under-clerk for misbehaviour and sent to sea as a midshipman instead (as his father was determined to keep him from the stage). Samuel Foote, the actor, playwright and theatre manager, recalled that Weston was placed aboard the Warspite under the command of Sir John Bentley and, as Bentley took command of this ship in 1759, so this must be the date of young Tom’s short-lived naval career.
Weston’s genius triumphed over his father’s determinations; as soon after he was stationed on board this ship he contrived to run away; and being afraid to meet his father after this conduct, he entered into one of the strolling companies of the north, where he experienced all those strange vicissitudes of life which are so peculiarly incident to that situation.
Tom enlisted a friend in the war office to help him escape from the Warspite. This friend was persuaded to write to him whilst the ship was docked in Long Reach on the Suffolk coast before it sailed for Portsmouth, sealing the letter with an official seal, telling Tom that there was an army commission waiting for him in London. Sir John Bentley allowed Tom to go to London, bidding him to return if he did not obtain the commission. There was no commission but Tom did not return. Instead, he travelled with several acting troops before setting off for London where the Covent Garden and Drury Lane actors Ned Shuter and Richard Yates had taken booths at the Bartholomew Fair, which began every year on the 24th August and ran for two weeks. Tom engaged to play with them.
From a booth in the George Inn yard, Shuter put on, in 1759, The French Flogg’d: or the English Sailors in America, a piece based on The Tempest. Yates had his own booth that year in the Greyhound Inn Yard where he put on a similar piece, The Ship-Wreck’d Lovers; or, French Perfidy Punished, ‘Interspersed with the comical and diverting Humours and Adventures of Lieutenant Fireball, a true English Tar; Noddy Nestlecock, a distress’d Beau; Snivel Thimble, a Taylor; Split-farthing, an old Userer; and Glisterpipe, a Finical Surgeon. Both were eminently suitable for a former young midshipman to take to the stage in. A friend got Tom an engagement with Samuel Foote and he made his first appearance on the London stage on the 28th September 1759, to the despair of his father, playing Sir Francis Gripe in Susannah Centilevre’s The Busy Body at the Haymarket. His next appearance in London was on the 28th June 1760, playing in Samuel Foote’s The Minor, and it is possible he returned to the strolling troop playing the provinces in the interim.
Reputedly, he now met and married a young lady who was a milliner in the Haymarket. This unnamed lady was encouraged by Tom to take to the stage too, appearing as Lucy in The Minor. Mr and Mrs Weston travelled the provinces, returning to London to play Jerry Sneak at the Haymarket. A sojourn at Dublin (without great success) followed and then Tom was hired at Drury Lane where he was paid £3 a week.
His wife, if indeed she was so far no proof of a marriage has yet been found, had departed: she and Tom had argued whilst on tour in Wiltshire with Johnson’s Company and she took up with another actor, a Mr Price with whom she had several children, and she died around 1774 in Sunderland whilst on tour.
Tom, back in London, lived in St James’s Street above a glass shop with a lady named Miss Lee during a short-lived liaison which reputedly saw her debut on stage at the Haymarket as Cherry in The Beaux’ Stratagem. She was mentioned in the 1773 edition of Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies.
Miss Lee. Glass Shop, St. James’s-street
“Doats upon the silliest things.”
This lady had a connexion with a comedian of Drury-lane, which has lately been broke off, for what cause we cannot say, and madam now depends upon the generous public for support; but she is not unacquainted with the business, she is only returned to her old calling. She is a pretty black girl, about the middle size, with remarkable find dark eyes and hair. Her skin is very good, a little pock-marked, and not a bad companion.
She has performed two or three little characters at Foote’s and came off decently; and ’tis said she intends to take up with the stage, and live honest:- Very honestly intended; but we are afraid it is not a school to cause such a happy reformation.
Always short of cash, Tom was perpetually chased by creditors and, to evade them, often missed rehearsals and even performances, behaviour which led to his discharge from the theatre but Samuel Foote stepped in to help, starting a subscription among the nobility to pay Tom’s debts and taking Tom with him to Edinburgh at £5 a week.
At this time, Tom’s boon companion was Dick Hughes, brother to Mrs Elizabeth Steele (who was the confidante of the actress Sophia Baddeley). Dick was, apparently, famed for being able to hop upon one leg for an hour without changing and able to scale a brick wall with ease, a trick which got him in and out of the King’s Bench prison where he was often held for debt. When Tom was drunk he was inclined to be saucy and to get himself into trouble; Dick Hughes was the one to pacify the situation before it came to blows.
On one night Tom and Dick had been out at The Black Lion tavern and were returning home in the early hours of the morning, rolling drunk, when they met two women, described in Tom’s Memoirs as ‘a couple of Dulcineas, whose garb did not promise any great things.’ Tom feeling amorous, they followed the women to their lodgings in Mutton Lane, Holborn, ‘a most desirable situation, being surrounded with dunghills, pig styes, slaughterhouses, and many other equally as agreeable neighbours.’ Tom, when he awoke in the morning, was rather pleased with his conquest for, although she was coarse in manner, she was young, pretty and in the full bloom of health. This girl was named Martha and continued as his lover for the rest of Tom’s life, taking his surname although we doubt there was a marriage.
Foote reconciled Tom and the managers of the Drury Lane Theatre and had his wage increased to £5 a week, with a further twenty shillings for the lady who called herself Mrs Weston. Tom was now a habitual drunkard, often appearing on-stage intoxicated but never forgetting his lines. He continued to evade his creditors which led to various adventures in getting to the theatre for his performance. For one whole season, he entered by the upper dressing room window which he was able to access, unnoticed, via the Tennis Court in St. James. Dick Hughes went ahead of him each time as an advance guard to make sure the coast was clear.
Tom’s drinking took its toll. The Public Advertiser on the 22nd December 1775, reported that The School for Wives, which had been deferred at the Drury Lane Theatre on account of Mr Weston’s illness, would be performed soon after Christmas.
Reports of his death at his lodgings in Newington appeared in the newspapers soon after, but the Morning Chronicle stated on the 3rd January 1776, that:
Mr. Weston, we hear, is not dead; but so dangerously ill, that he is given over by his physicians.
His death is generally acknowledged to have occurred on the 18th January 1776, although the newspapers were giving reports of his passing from the 30th December 1775. Even in the matter of his death, he continues to leave vague reports behind him!
It was said that, in the days leading up to his death, Tom had drawn up a facetious mock last will and testament. This was vehemently denied by Martha Weston, and a document purporting to be his genuine will was given, one witnessed by his old friend Richard (Dick) Hughes. Richard Hughes also sent a letter to the papers in support of Martha Weston, affirming the truth of this. If this second will was genuine we can, however, find no record of it being proved and it was, after the religious preamble, particularly short and sweet.
First I give and bequeath my all to Martha Weston; and lastly my Scrub’s wig to Ned Shuter.
Witness, D. Holdstock, Richard Hughes and Henry Kaylock
For those who are interested, the mock will (which still has people arguing over its authenticity) is given below.
Mr. WESTON’s WILL
One afternoon, a few weeks before Mr. WESTON died, seeing a pen and ink upon the table, he said to a friend who was sitting with him, “If you’ll write for me, I’ll make my will,” which his friend accordingly did, and Tom dictated in the following manner:
I Thomas Weston, comedian, hating all form and ceremony, shall use none to my will, but proceed immediately to the explaining my intentions.
Imprimis. As from Mr. Foote I derived all my consequence in life, and as it is the best thing I am in possession of, I would, in gratitude at my decease, leave it to the said Mr. Foote, but I know he neither stands in need of it as a author, actor, or as a man; the public have fully proved it in the two first, and his good-nature and humanity have secured it to him in the last.
Item. I owe some obligations to Mr. Garrick, I therefore bequeath him all the money I die possessed of, as there is nothing on earth he is so very fond of.
Item. Though I own no obligations to Mr. Harris, yet his having shewn a sincere regard for the performers of his theatre, (by assisting them in their necessities, and yet taking no advantage thereof, by driving a Jew bargain at their signing fresh articles) demands from me, as an actor, some acknowledgement, I therefore leave him the entire possession of that satisfaction which must naturally result on reflecting, that during his management, he has never done any thing base or mean to sully his character as an honest man, or a gentleman.
Item. I having played under the management of Mr. Jefferson, at Richmond, and received from him every politeness, I therefore leave him all my stock of prudence, it being the only good quality I think he stands in need of.
Item. I give to Mr. Reddish a grain of honesty: ’tis indeed a small legacy, but being a rarity to him, I think he will not refuse to accept it.
Item. I leave to Mr. Yates all my spirit.
Item. I leave to Mrs. Yates all my humility.
Item. Upon reflection, I think it wrong to give separate legacies to a man and his wife, therefore I revoke the above bequests, and leave to be enjoyed by them jointly, peace, harmony, and good nature.
Item. Notwithstanding my illness, I think I shall outlive Ned Shuter; if I should not, I had thoughts of leaving him my example how to live, but that I am afraid would be of little use to him, I therefore leave him my example how to die.
Item. I leave Mr. Brereton a small portion of modesty. Too much of one thing is good for nothing.
Item. As Mr. Jacobs has been a long while eagerly waiting for dead mens shoes, I leave him two or three pair, (the worst I have) they being good enough in all conscience for him.
Item. Though the want of vanity be a proof of understanding, yet I would recommend to my old friend Baddeley to make use of a little of the first, though it cost him more than he would willingly pay for it. – It will encrease not only his consequence with the public, but his salary with the managers; but however, should his stomach turn against it, as nauseous, he may use for a succedaneum a small quantity of opinion, and it will answer the purpose as well.
Item. Mr. Quick has long laboured to obtain the applause of the public – the method he has taken is a vague one; the surest method to obtain his end is to copy Nature. – Experientia docet.
Item. Miss Young has had some disputes with the Managers, about dressing her tail, complaining of the want of fringe, as fringe seems to be an absolute requisite in the ornamenting ladies tails, and I always loved to see them as they ought to be; I leave her therefore the fringe about the flaps of my waistcoat, in which I usually played Jerry Sneak.
Item. As I would not forget my friends, particularly old ones, I leave Charles Bannister my portrait, to be taken when I am dead, and to be worn about his neck as a memento to him, that regularity is among the most certain methods to procure health and long life.
Item. Dibble Davis claims something at my hands from the length of our acquaintance, I therefore leave him my constitution; but I am afraid when I die, it will scarcely better than his own.
Item. I leave to the ladies in general, on the stage, (if not the reality, yet) the appearance of modesty; ’twill serve them on more occasions than they are aware of.
Item. To the gentlemen of the stage, some show of prudence.
Item. To the authors of the present times, a smattering of humour.
Item. To the public, a grateful heart.
Here his voice failing him, he told his friend he would finish it as the next day, and bade him put it into his pocket, which he did; but Tom left it, as he did all his promises of amendment, only just begun.
* * * * * * *
Apart from his Memoirs, a short account of Tom’s life was included in the book The Lives of The Players written by John Galt in 1831.
Header image: An Audience at Drury Lane Theatre, undated, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
During the autumn of 1806, the Prince of Wales (later George IV) and his brother William, Duke of Clarence (later William IV), undertook a tour of several of the counties of England. We are going to look at just one of their destinations today, their visit to the city of Liverpool and their stay at Knowsley, where they arrived on 16th September.
The royal brothers were travelling with a large retinue, including Colonel Leigh and Major Benjamin Bloomfield, one of the prince’s Gentlemen in Waiting. From Prescot onwards, they were escorted by a detachment of the Liverpool Light Horse Volunteers to Knowsley Hall, the Merseyside estate of Edward Smith-Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby and his wife, Elizabeth. (The Countess of Derby was the actress Elizabeth Farren who had been the earl’s long-term mistress during his first – somewhat disastrous – marriage to Lady Elizabeth Hamilton.) The prince, duke and their retinue spent a week at Knowsley, enjoying the hospitality of the earl and countess.
The prince was in a low mood. He had lost two of his close friends within the space of a week with the deaths of Edward Thurlow, 1st Baron Thurlow and Charles James Fox; George had been told about the death of the latter as he left his previous host, George Granville Leveson-Gower, Marquess of Stafford (later 1st Duke of Sutherland) at Trentham Hall in Staffordshire, and it fell to him to tell the Earl and Countess of Derby the sad news as he arrived at Knowsley. It was, therefore, a gloomy party who entered the gates of Knowsley. (The Countess of Derby, then Miss Farren of the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, had enjoyed a short-lived affair with Fox who reputedly said dismissively of Elizabeth that she had ‘no bum nor breasts!’)
The party spent the next day quietly and privately: Henry Clay was the mayor, and he and the Corporation of Liverpool turned up at the mansion to present an address to the prince and confer the freedom of the borough on him, presented in a handsome gold box.
Despite the prince’s private grief, the show had to go on. On Thursday 18th September, the royal entourage set out from Knowsley in the Earl of Derby’s coach and six, with twenty carriages following on behind. The vast crowds of people lining the route had hoped to see the prince, but to their disappointment, he was in a close carriage, virtually hidden from sight. Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester (George III’s nephew and son-in-law) greeted the party on their entrance into the city, along with various militia.
The prince was taken to inspect the docks and the Institution for the Relief of the Blind where he asked to become their patron and immediately donated one hundred guineas. After a cold luncheon at the mayor’s house, more visits and inspections followed throughout the afternoon. In the evening, the mayor hosted a grand dinner at Lillyman’s Hotel and the town was lit up afterwards with a magnificent illumination. The prince was delighted. On his return to Knowsley, he commented to the Earl of Derby that it had been ‘the proudest day of his life’.
To the delight of the citizens, on the following day, the prince paraded through Liverpool in an open carriage, drawn by six horses and with three postilions, to cheers and huzzahs. After calling on the mayor to thank him and the Corporation, the prince proceeded to the recently established Botanic Garden in the Mount Pleasant area of Liverpool (now incorporated within the Wavertree Botanic Gardens).
The visit was a great success but had come at a huge price. It was estimated that the Corporation of Liverpool had spent some 10,000l on the entertainments. Major Bloomfield wrote a letter of thanks to the mayor at the direction of the prince, from Knowsley where the Prince of Wales and Duke of Clarence remained, enjoying the hospitality of their hosts and friends, the Earl and Countess of Derby.
Knowsley, September 20th 1806
I am commanded by the Prince of Wales to express to you and the corporation of Liverpool, the strong sense his Royal Highness entertains of the very splendid and magnificent reception he has met with in your opulent and populous town. I have to lament the inadequacy of my powers to convey to you in the forcible language it requires, the feelings of his Royal Highness upon this occasion. The heartfelt satisfaction which seemed to pervade all ranks of people, could not fail to excite in his Royal Highness’s breast, the most sensible emotions of affection and regard, the impression of which, will ever remain indelible. His Royal Highness’s repeated exclamation, that “This is the proudest day of my life,” will, I trust, be sufficiently conclusive to you of the grateful sensations of his Royal Highness.
I am further commanded to request, that you will have the goodness to undertake the trouble of offering the subsequent bounties of his Royal Highness, to the following charities of Liverpool, viz.
One hundred guineas to the Infirmary
One hundred guineas to the Institution for the Blind
Fifty guineas to the Welch Charity
Fifty guineas to the poor debtors.
The Prince of Wales begs that you will personally accept the consideration of his high esteem and regard; and,
I have the honor to remain, &c.
H. Clay, Esq. &c, Liverpool.
The royal brothers, meanwhile, continued their tour into Cheshire and onwards through south Yorkshire and then on to Chatsworth in Derbyshire.
The History of Liverpool: from the earliest authenticated period down to the present times, 1810
Chester Courant, 23rd September 1806
Hampshire Chronicle, 29th September 1806
Leeds Intelligencer, 29th September 1806
Manchester Mercury, 30th September 1806
View of Liverpool Harbour by Robert Salmon, 1806. The Anathaeum.
ELOPEMENT IN HIGH LIFE – A young married Lady of rank, and highly distinguished in the fashionable circles by her personal attractions, absconded from the neighbourhood of Berkeley-square, a few days since, in order to throw herself into the arms of a noble gallant, the brother of an English Duke. The fair inconstant had shown a restless disposition for some time before her indiscreet departure, which took place by her going out immediately after breakfast, and walking to a street adjoining the New Road, where Lord ____ awaited her arrival in his gig, ascending which, she was instantly driven off to their amorous retreat, which the afflicted husband, Sir ____, has not yet been able to discover. Lady ____, either from hurry or singular design, went off without a single article of apparel besides the dress she wore. Her Ladyship is only in her 25th year, and in the full bloom of beauty; and the only palliation that can be offered for this indiscreet transfer of her charms, is, that “her mother did so before her!”
This salacious titbit of gossip was located in a provincial newspaper, the Bristol Mirror, on the 16th September 1815, on page 4.
Page 2 of the same issue had a refutation of the allegation, interestingly above one which related to the Duchess of Richmond’s ball held on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo. The two claims, one spurious and one all too true, had something in common which would have been all too obvious to London high society. They both had a link to the Duke of Wellington.
LIES. – The statement of an elopement in high life, inserted in our fourth page (from a London paper) turns out to be UTTERLY FALSE. – The statement of a Female Conspiracy at Brussels, which has appeared in all the papers, and the object of which was said to be to make prisoners of the Duke of Wellington and his staff, at a ball given by the Duchess of Richmond, – is also a COMPLETE FICTION.
While the rumours of a conspiracy at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball might have been false, the former claim was, in fact, all too true. Let’s fill in the blanks on the names.
Lord ____ was Lord Charles Bentinck, younger brother of the 4th Duke of Portland. He was a widower with a young daughter (his first wife had been the former Miss Georgiana Seymour, daughter of the infamous eighteenth-century courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott and – reputedly – the Prince of Wales, later George IV).
The afflicted husband, Sir ____ was Sir William Abdy, Baronet, reckoned as the richest commoner in England but rumoured to be impotent and unable to satisfy his gregarious young wife. And what of that wife? Lady ___ was, therefore, Lady Anne Abdy, née Wellesley, the daughter of Richard Colley Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley and his Parisian wife, Hyacinthe Gabrielle née Rolland. Although Anne was not exactly doing what ‘her mother [had done] before her’, Hyacinthe Gabrielle had been Wellesley’s mistress for many years before their marriage, and all their children had been born illegitimate. Hyacinthe Gabrielle might, in 1815, have been a marchioness but popular gossip still remembered her reputation as a courtesan.
Anne was the niece of the great Duke of Wellington who had been at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball in Brussels on the 15th June 1815, when the news that Napoleon Bonaparte was on the march had reached him. He later victoriously commanded the allied forces at the Battle of Waterloo on the 18th June where some of the officers, having not had time to change, fought in the clothes they had been attired in for the Duchess’ ball, and many young men never returned to waltz in a ballroom again.
Brussels was known to be sympathetic to Bonaparte; a story had spread that Bonaparte suggested to the ladies of Brussels that they should encourage the Duchess of Richmond to hold her ball. It was even rumoured that he had men hidden outside waiting for his arrival only for one of the ladies to give the plot away. These rumours were totally false, the duchess had actually applied to the Duke of Wellington himself, asking his permission to hold her ball as it was known that the French were drawing close to the Belgian capital city.
Charles and Anne’s elopement, just weeks after the great battle, caused a scandal which set the gossip’s tongues wagging; they had been discussing Wellington’s great victory, now instead they tattled about the marital indiscretions of his niece.
Our book, A Right Royal Scandal: two marriages that changed history, documents the elopement and the ensuing Criminal Conversation trial and divorce. It follows the family through to the next generation when Charles and Anne’s eldest son made a marriage which was equally scandalous, if for different reasons.
And why a Right Royal Scandal? Because this is a branch of the British royal family’s tree, ancestors of Queen Elizabeth II, one which has not been researched in-depth before.