On Tuesday 8th September 1761, in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace, the new King George III (he had ascended the throne a little less than a year earlier) married Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. The wedding took place only a few hours after their initial meeting.
The marriage ceremony began at 9 o’clock in the evening; beforehand the princess, attended by ten bridesmaids, sat under a white and silver canopy until the Duke of Cumberland conducted her to the side of the king and gave the bride’s hand to the bridegroom. Charlotte was nervous, and uncomfortably dressed on a hot evening in a heavy, sumptuous gown with a purple mantle laced with gold and lined with ermine, a diamond studded cap and small crown on her head. She spoke no English but was only required to say two words during the wedding; at the appropriate time and at the king’s prompting, she declared, ‘Ich will‘.
The new queen was just seventeen years old. Horace Walpole said of her that:
She is not tall nor a beauty. Pale and very thin; but looks sensible and genteel. Her hair is darkish and fine. Her forehead low, her nose very well except the nostrils spreading too wide. The mouth has the same fault, but her teeth are good. She talks a great deal, and French tolerably.
A kinder report, by the daughter of Charlotte’s German page, described Charlotte as having an ‘expressive and intelligent countenance… not tall, but of slight, pretty figure; her eyes bright and sparkling with good humour and vivacity’. Still, this same girl also claimed that George III was initially disappointed in his choice and by the bride’s appearance. In the end, however, none of this nor Walpole’s catty comments mattered: despite it being an arranged marriage, the royal couple quickly fell deeply in love with one another.
George III and Queen Charlotte’s long marriage produced a large family. In 1795, their eldest son, George, Prince of Wales (later the Prince Regent and George IV) married Caroline of Brunswick. There has always been intense interest in a royal bride’s wedding dress and in 1795 it was no different. This is how the media of the day reported on it.
The Princess of Wales was very superb indeed, and the dress was the most costly that could be made. The body and train were of silver tissue festooned on each side, and tied up with rich cord and tassels. The sleeves, and round the bottom of the robe, were covered with rows of the finest point lace. The petticoat was likewise of silver tissue, covered all over with silver Venetian net, and tassels hanging down the sides. The waist was not more than six inches in length. In the procession to the chapel, and during the ceremony, her Royal Highness wore a crimson velvet mantling, trimmed with ermine, and over the shoulders hung a rich silver cord and tassels. The hoop was very small, such as is used for morning dresses; and so were the hoops of the Bride-maids, that they might be as unencumbered as possible in the procession. Her Royal Highness wore a superb coronet of diamonds. She had on a very rich ornament of brilliants, resembling a knight’s collar, fastened upon the right shoulder by a brilliant bow, and long brilliant tassels; and on the left shoulder by a rich epaulette of brilliants; and in the centre, in the place of a stomacher, was the Prince’s picture richly set in brilliants.
The marriage took place on the evening of Wednesday, 8th April 1795, again in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace. Crowds lined the streets on the approach to the palace, and it was standing room only in the two ante-chambers leading to the drawing room where those lucky enough to have been issued with tickets to the event were congregating.
The king and queen, the Prince of Wales, Caroline and the rest of the royal family had dined at the Queen’s House (now Buckingham Palace), and around 6pm they left there in a procession of coaches for St James’s (or Carlton House in the case of the prince) where they dressed for the wedding.
The Prince, on leaving the Queen’s House, had a hearty shake of the hand from the King, which brought tears into his eyes. His Majesty saluted the Princess in the Hall, and then got into his carriage, The Prince, after seeing the Princess home, went to Carlton House.
The Prince of Wales wore a blue Genoa velvet coat and breeches, with a silver tissue waistcoat, and coat cuffs richly embroidered with silver and spangles. His Royal Highness wore a diamond star, with an embroidered garter at the knee; diamond shoe and knee-buckles and rich diamond hilted sword, and button and loop. His Royal Highness looked uncommonly well.
It was gone 9 o’clock before everyone was ready and the procession left the drawing room for the Chapel, the Duke of Clarence (later William IV) leading the bride. There was only one mishap. During the marriage ceremony, while kneeling in front of the Archbishop, the prince tried to stand up too soon and the service was stopped; the king noticed the dilemma, rose from his seat and whispered in his son’s ear. George kneeled once more and the service was concluded… was the Prince of Wales in a hurry to get the ceremony over and done with?
The wedding had been highly anticipated by everyone but the Prince of Wales! The following passage is from our latest book, A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs, which gives a different view of the wedding from that reported by the newspapers.
George IV, when the Prince of Wales, had married his first cousin, Caroline of Brunswick, under duress and because his father promised to sort out his debts and increase his allowance once he was wed. The marriage, as may have been predicted, was a total disaster. The exuberant Caroline was tactless and had a poor grasp of personal hygiene (she boasted that her personal toilette was but a ‘short’ one). The prince was rolling drunk during the wedding ceremony, recovering enough to consummate his marriage on the wedding night before falling drunk into the grate of the fireplace where Caroline left him. Later he was to claim that he had been intimate with his wife on only three occasions, twice on their wedding night and once on the following night but it proved enough and nine months later Caroline gave birth to a daughter, Princess Charlotte of Wales.
To end this blog, we’ll also share with you an extract from the pages of our second book, A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History, an anecdote relating to the marriage of George IV’s only legitimate child, his heir, Princess Charlotte of Wales. (George had several reputed illegitimate children; one that he acknowledged privately, if not publicly, was his daughter Georgiana Seymour whose mother was ‘the celebrated’ Grace Dalrymple Elliott.)
Back in London preparations were under way for the wedding of the Prince Regent’s daughter, Princess Charlotte, to the impoverished but handsome Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld (later known as Saxe-Coburg and Gotha); they married at the beginning of May 1816 in the Crimson Drawing Room at the regent’s London residence, Carlton House. The young bride was heard to giggle during the marriage ceremony, which took place on 2 May 1816, when Prince Leopold promised to endow her with all his worldly goods.
An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Joanne Major & Sarah Murden, Pen & Sword, 2016
A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History, Joanne Major & Sarah Murden, Pen & Sword, 2016
A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs, Joanne Major & Sarah Murden, Pen & Sword, 2017
Scot’s Magazine, September 1761 and April 1795
George III: A Personal History, Christopher Hibbert, Viking, 1998
I’ve driven past the old – and now fairly derelict – Ram Jam Inn on the A1 many times, and have always been intrigued by the name (largely because I can’t ever see the inn without hearing Black Betty by Ram Jam in my head!). But, I’ve never looked into the history of the Ram Jam Inn until now when it popped up during research into the old Great North Road.
Next time I travel past, instead of singing Black Betty, I’ll picture the notorious eighteenth-century highwayman Dick Turpin galloping into the inn yard for it turns out that he was a frequent guest there at the height of his ‘fame’.
The Great North Road linked London to Edinburgh, via York amongst other towns, and in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-centuries the mail and stage coaches regularly drove up and down its length. Now the A1 (the longest numbered road in the UK) has replaced the Great North Road, in places taking a slightly different route and bypassing most of the smaller towns and villages where the old coaching inns were to be found. But not all…
The Ram Jam in Rutland is one of the few coaching inns which can be seen by the side of the A1. Standing at Stretton, midway between the market towns of Stamford and Grantham in Lincolnshire, it was originally known as the Winchelsea Arms, named for the Earls of Winchelsea who were local landowners. By 1802 however, it was unofficially known as the Ram Jam House.
There are many stories detailing how this unassuming inn in sleepy Rutland acquired such an unusual name. One version has it that Dick Turpin himself was the root cause. He taught the landlady, a Mrs Spring, how to draw mild and bitter ale from a single barrel, telling her to “ram one thumb in here whilst I make a hole… now jam your other thumb in this hole while I find the spile pegs…”. Turpin then made off without paying his bill while the unfortunate landlady was stuck with her thumbs fast in the barrel. A slightly different version of this tale has the landlord trapped by his thumbs while the trickster, Dick Turpin or otherwise, escorts the landlady upstairs to the bedroom.
A sign which hangs outside the inn – now very weatherworn – depicts the unfortunate landlady. However, a correspondent to the Grantham Journal newspaper, writing in 1878, revealed that this may have been a relatively recent addition to the frontage.
It may be worth noting, that the sign of ‘The Ram Jam’ has never appeared on the front of the house, until September last; and the old sign, painted with the full coat of arms of the Earls of Winchelsea, remained up to last June, when it was replaced by a new sign-board, on which was painted (without the heraldic devices) ‘The Winchilsea Arms’. The sign only remained up for a few weeks, when it was repainted with the words ‘The Ram Jam Inn’ for the first time in its history. By the way, it was generally known as ‘The Ram Jam House’ and not ‘Inn’.
Grantham Journal, 26th October 1878
The most likely reason for the unusual name is a little less prosaic, however. Charles Blake was the landlord around the turn of the century, certainly by 1802, and he developed either a spirit or liqueur which he sold in bottles packed in small hampers for the convenience of the stagecoach passengers who alighted at his inn while the horses were changed. This drink he named Ram Jam, but again there is disagreement as to why. Some claim it is a variant of an Indian term for a table servant which the English soldiers in India corrupted to Rum John or Rum Johnnie. Others clearly thought differently.
The word is properly Ramzan, derived from Ramazan, the name of the month of fasting in the Mohammedan calendar. The custom among the natives of India, as well as in the case of the English people, was to pronounce the ‘z’ as ‘j’, hence the name became ‘Ramjan’. The change of the final ‘n’ to ‘m’ was an accident or a piece of fun to bring it into easy rhyming form. We can reasonably assume that the liqueur sold to travellers brought to the house the like celebrity enjoyed by the Bell at Stilton for the cheese that was to be purchased there.
Grantham Journal, 15th May 1937
Blake had, it is suggested, picked up the term during an earlier career as an Indian Army Officer’s batman. With the death of Charles Blake in 1810 however, the recipe for Ram Jam was lost, but the inn retained its moniker.
On the 4th November 1810, at Stretton in Rutland, Mr Charles Blake, gentleman, was buried.
While Ram Jam of Black Betty fame, despite the name, have no association with the inn, the soul singer Geno Washington named his backing band the Ram Jam Band after it. As this is a blog dedicated to the Georgian era, I won’t treat you to a rendition of Black Betty, even though it is now firmly lodged as an earworm after writing this. Instead, enjoy the legend of Dick Turpin as performed by the Horrible Histories gang!
Cary’s New Itinerary: Or, An Accurate Delineation of the Great Roads, Both Direct and Cross, Throughout England and Wales; with Many of the Principal Roads in Scotland, 1802.
Inns and Inn Signs of Leicestershire and Rutland by Eric Swift.
waymarking.com: Ram Jam Inn – A1, Stretton, Leicestershire, UK
Around midnight, or just shortly thereafter, Miss Mary Burton crept out of her father’s house at Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, into the waiting arms of her lover, William Fields, a draper from Hull in the East Riding of Yorkshire.
William must have had a carriage waiting for his lady, but the Stamford Mercury newspaper described their escape much more poetically.
WE FLY BY NIGHT… on “the wings of love”
It is possibly a slight disappointment, after knowing that they flew through the midnight hours on the wings of love, to find that their destination was not more glamorous than William’s home town, Hull. Mary’s father, Mr Burton, a miller and baker (Mary was his only daughter), certainly knew where his errant daughter had gone to and, as soon as he discovered that she was missing, he set off for Hull in hot pursuit.
But he was too late, the couple had already exchanged their vows to one another at the altar of Holy Trinity church and had married, by licence, on the same day that they had entered Hull, the 25th November 1812 in front of two witnesses, William Sotheran and Esther Fox.
Mary, it would appear, was just over 21 years of age; there is a baptism at All Saints in Gainsborough for Mary, daughter of William and Ann Burton (William’s trade is given as a baker) on the 29th October 1791.
William Fields was likely the same man who traded with a partner, George Benjamin Everington as Everington and Fields, linen drapers of Kingston-upon-Hull. Their partnership was dissolved shortly after William’s hasty marriage, on the 18th December 1812, with William alone carrying on the business and promising to pay all debts owing. He traded from no. 9, Whitefriargate. It is also likely that it was the same William Fields who, in February 1814, announced that he had taken the grocery shop formerly occupied by a Mr Smith at no. 3 North Bridge, Witham, where tea, coffee, spices and sugars could be purchased and if so, he was declared bankrupt before the end of 1815. Perhaps his irate father-in-law was right in his initial judgment of his son-in-law?
William and Mary Fields baptised a son, named William Burton Fields, in Hull on the 11th January 1814. He was to die young, aged only 11 years, and was buried in the churchyard at All Saints in Gainsborough on the 29th December 1825. We have so far been unable to trace the Fields further but, as William Burton Fields was living back in Gainsborough with his grandfather, we suspect that Mary had either sadly died or that she had returned, with her son, to her father’s home.
Stamford Mercury, 4th December 1812
Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette, 5th December 1812 and 2nd January 1813
Hull Packet, 17th August 1813, 1st February 1814 and 5th December 1815
Parson’s Green in Fulham still has two green, open spaces in the heart of its residential area. Back in the eighteenth-century, Fulham was a pleasant rural village outside the bustle of London complete with farms and market gardens that supplied the capital with fruit and vegetables, and Parson’s Green was a hamlet within the manor of Fulham where several fine villas were located.
Named after the village green and the parsonage where the rectors of St Anne’s, the Fulham parish church lived, it is perhaps best remembered today as the home of the novelist, Samuel Richardson.
Nearby was Peterborough House, a grand mansion set within large – and once immaculately designed – gardens. The house (originally called Brightwells, or Rightwells) was a large square building with a gallery around the rooftop, many large rooms and furnished with taste; rich frescos decorated the walls and a collection of fine paintings also hung there. Originally a fourteenth-century building, it had been remodelled and rebuilt in the early Stuart style. Passing through several owners, eventually it was inherited by Margaret (née Smith), wife of Thomas Carey, second son of Robert, Earl of Monmouth who refurbished the building and renamed it Villa Carey. By descent it passed to Charles, the celebrated 3rd Earl of Peterborough and Monmouth, and it was under his watch that the house enjoyed its heyday. Alexander Pope was a frequent visitor and a musical academy was instituted by the earl’s second – but secret – wife, the singer, Anastasia Robinson. Although Anastasia and her mother discreetly lived nearby rather than under the earl’s roof, she presided at his side as mistress of the house during entertainments.
Peterborough House passed to the 4th Earl of Peterborough and after his death, his widow Robinaiana (Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s maternal aunt) leased it to Richard Heaviside, a rich Lambeth timber merchant who was climbing the social ladder.
Although now fading into disrepair, the real beauty of Peterborough House, the impressive pleasure grounds which surrounded it, were still largely intact. By the 1780s, some of the land had been leased to market gardeners but there remained much of the former glory of this garden, a pleasant wilderness with shady cypress trees, inset with statues and fountains. Beyond the high brick walls on three sides of the mansion, market gardens dominated down to the riverbank while the front of the mansion faced the green with its picturesque pond. It was perfectly secluded and that was perfect for Heaviside’s nefarious activities. As we relate in our latest book, A Georgian Heroine, he abducted – for the second time! – a young girl who was a neighbour of his in Lambeth, Charlotte Williams and had her brought by boat to Peterborough House. You can discover more about Charlotte’s ordeal by clicking here. Suffice to say, it was akin to the plot of Clarissa, one of Samuel Richardson’s novels, the irony in the situation being that Richardson had lived, and written many of his works, in a villa which stood close by Peterborough House in Parson’s Green.
In time, and with the house and estate in ruins (part of the house had been torn down) Heaviside sold Peterborough House to John Meyrick who razed what was still standing to the ground and had a new mansion constructed in its stead.
The parsonage from which the hamlet took its name stood on the west side of the green until it was demolished around 1740 and replaced with two new houses. Writing of it in 1705, Bowack said, “the house in which the rectors of Fulham used to reside, is now very old, and much decayed. There is, adjoining to it, an old stonebuilding, which seems to be of about three hundred or four hundered years standing, and designed for religious use; in all probability, a chapel for the rectors and their domestics. Before the said house is a large common, which, within the memory of several ancient inhabitants now living, was used for a bowling-green”.
Cricket matches were also held on the green; two notable matches between teams from Fulham and Chelsea were contested there in 1731 and 1733.
In later years, Maria Fitzherbert, George IV’s ‘clandestine’ wife lived in East End House on the east side of Parson’s Green
Fulham, pp.344-424, The Environs of London: Volume 2, County of Middlesex. Originally published by T Cadell and W Davies, London, 1795
An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Joanne Major and Sarah Murden, Pen and Sword, 2015
A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs, Joanne Major and Sarah Murden, Pen and Sword, 2017
Oxford holds the distinction of being the location of the first coffee-house in England; an establishment trading under the sign of the Angel was opened in 1650, acting as a centre for gossip, news and academic discussions in equal measure. Coffee-houses were soon open in London and elsewhere and their popularity grew. Their heyday was the eighteenth-century. In time, they adapted to meet the requirements of their clientele; Lloyd’s Coffee House was a favourite haunt of merchants and sailors and so shipping information was shared and deals conducted. It is better known today as the insurer, Lloyd’s of London. The Grecian Coffee-House in Devereux Court just off Fleet Street catered for the Whigs while the nearby Rainbow attracted Freemasons and French refugee Huguenots. Slaughter’s (later Old Slaughter’s) establishment, on St Martin’s Lane, boasted an artistic clientele while the British Coffee-House on Cockspur Street was popular with the Scots in London and privy to Jacobite plotting. Some, such as Moll King’s coffee-house in Covent Garden, catered for lower tastes.
So, how to make the perfect cup of Georgian era coffee? Mrs Maria Eliza Rundell, in A New System of Domestic Cookery, 1808, gives us a recipe.
To make Coffee
Put two ounces of fresh ground coffee, of the best quality, into a coffee-pot, and pour eight coffee-cups of boiling water on it; let it boil six minutes, pour out a cupful two or three times, and return it again; then put two or three isinglass-chips into it, and pour one large spoonful of boiling water on it; boil it five minutes more, and set the pot by the fire to keep it hot for ten minutes, and you will have coffee of a beautiful clearness.
Fine cream should always be served with coffee, and either pounded sugar-candy, or fine Lisbon sugar.
If for foreigners, or those who like it extremely strong, make only eight dishes from three ounces. If not fresh roasted, ay it before a fire until perfectly hot and dry; or you may put the smallest bit of fresh butter into a preserving pan of a small size, and, when hot, throw the coffee in it, and toss it about until it be freshened, letting it be cold before ground.
Isinglass is a clarifying collagen, produced from the swim bladders of fish, prior to 1795 from sturgeon but after that also from cod; nowadays we’d use gelatin. Lisbon sugar, otherwise known as clayed sugar, was manufactured in the colonies of France, Spain and, as the name suggests, Portugal. Wet pipe-clay was laid on top of the sugar and water poured over which removed the molasses. Sugar candy is formed of large crystals of sugar, today known as rock candy or sugar.
Coffee, then as now, was a popular breakfast drink and an alternative to chocolate. Mrs Rundell also gives us a recipe for the ideal breakfast coffee.
Boil a desert-spoonful of ground coffee, in nearly a pint of milk, a quarter of an hour; then put into it a shaving or two of isinglass, and clear it; let it boil a few minutes, and set it on the side of the fire to grow fine.
This is a very fine breakfast; it should be sweetened with real Lisbon sugar of a good quality.
While tea was often drunk from a dish, or saucer, coffee (and chocolate) was usually – but not exclusively – drunk from cups with or without handles (often referred to as a coffee can). Saucers of the time were generally deeper than those we use today, and where coffee was tipped from the cup into the saucer, it was possibly in order to cool the drink more quickly.
An advert for a sale of chinaware in 1750 suggests that handled coffee cups were sold without saucers and that those with saucers were predominantly intended for breakfast.
A neat assortment of CHINA WARE, consisting of Table and Tea Table China, Soup Dishes, Fruit or Salad ditto, Bowls of all Sizes, Tea Pots, Milk Pots, Spoon Boats, Variety of Tea Cups and Saucers, Handled Coffee Cups, Coffees and Saucers, or Breakfast Cups, Chocolates and Saucers, Water Plates, Bread and Butter, or Breakfast ditto, Quart and Pint Mugs, Coffee Pots, Sauce Boats; with several other Pieces too tedious to mention.
Newcastle Courant, 28th July 1750
We’ve all heard of reading your fortune in the tea leaves in the bottom of your cup, but coffee grounds prove just as useful.
Here’s luck in the bottom, dear Jane, only see!
My dream & my coffee in a wedding agree.
But ah! my dear Sister, what fate me befall.
I fear I can wait, for no wedding at all.
In coffee ‘tasseography’ it is generally considered unlucky to read your own cup. If you want to know how to read fortunes in coffee, it is explained in the book, The Fortune-teller; or, Peeps into futurity by Louisa Lawford. Wavy lines are good, straight ones bad, circles denote money and human figures are positive omens, as are dogs but other animals are not so lucky.
In the 1770s, advertisements began to appear for English coffee, made to a balsamic recipe from herbs, barks and plants which extolled a myriad of health benefits for those who partook. A typical letter of fawning recommendation, published in regional newspapers alongside information on where the coffee could be bought, described the grateful customer as previously suffering from headaches, drowsiness, trembling, belching, wandering pains which flew from one part of the body to another, loss of appetite and more. A canister of this magical coffee, and a cup morning and evening, instantly banished all the complaints. (It perhaps was akin to dandelion coffee, a known coffee substitute.)
Towards the end of the eighteenth-century, in Britain coffee declined somewhat in popularity, losing out to tea which was cheaper and simpler to make.
In our earlier blog, looking at entertainments in Regency London, it was remarked that the Marchioness of Salisbury was unusual in opening her house to guests upon a Sunday. She always held a musical conversazione upon that day during the London season, attended by those of high rank and the best musicians.
Mary Amelia Hill (known as Emily Mary) was born in 1750, the daughter of Wills Hill, 2nd Viscount Hillsborough (later 1st Earl of Hillsborough and 1st Marquess of Downshire). In 1773 she married James Cecil, Viscount Cranborn of Hatfield House, Hertfordshire. Her new husband was the only son and heir of the 6th Earl of Salisbury and, just seven years after their marriage, James became the 7th earl and Emily Mary his countess (the couple were later elevated in the peerage to the 1st Marquess and Marchioness of Salisbury). Lady Salisbury was known as a prominent political hostess (a Tory and a fervent supporter of the monarchy) and was also a keen and talented sportswoman. It is perhaps unkind to describe her as eccentric, but she certainly paid little heed to many conventional norms as she determinedly walked her own path.
Lady Salisbury was seen as the political opposite to the Whig supporting Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and noted as a model female canvasser.
Her proceedings have been marked with such delicacy and dignity, as to shame the mobbing conduct of her rivals.
A trendsetter rather than a follower, Lady Salisbury was often to be seen in clothes of her own design and she rode enthusiastically to hounds well into her dotage, dressed in a sky blue riding habit with black collar and cuffs, a hunting cap on her head. Her slight frame belied her strength and she had an almost limitless energy. She took over the ownership of the Hertfordshire hounds in 1793 when her husband was forced by ill-health to resign his mastership and moved the kennels lock, stock and barrel to Hatfield House; they were subsequently known as the Hatfield hounds.
Archery was another of Lady Salisbury’s passions and she was also a talented artist.
Described as pretty, witty, intelligent and outspoken, she was married – reasonably happily it would seem – for thirteen years before having four children in quick succession, Georgiana Charlotte Augusta (1786), Emily (1789), James Brownlow William (1792) and Caroline (1793). Sadly, the youngest, Caroline, died in childhood and Lady Salisbury was widowed in 1823.
As the years passed and, well into her 70s, Lady Salisbury continued to run rings around people half her age; she was affectionately known as ‘Old Sally’. Even when her eyesight was failing and she had to be tied into her saddle, she still rode with the hunt.
The manner of Old Sally’s death was just as unconventional as her life had been. She had remained at Hatfield House after her husband’s death, living with her son, his wife and her grandchildren in her own apartments consisting of two suites of rooms. At 6 o’clock on the evening of the 27th November 1835, Lady Salisbury, after dressing for dinner, sat down at her writing desk. It is thought that some item of her clothing, perhaps the feathers she was wearing in her hair, caught alight from the three candles burning beside her but, whatever the cause, an intense fire broke out in her suite. By the time it was discovered (by a needlewoman named Brown who noticed the passageway was full of smoke), the room in which Lady Salisbury had been sitting was a mass of flames and so densely filled with smoke that it was impossible for anyone to enter.
A female servant, and one of old Lady Salisbury’s men-servants, attempted to do so; but the man fell down stupefied by the smoke, as soon as he had crossed the threshold, and was with difficulty saved. It appears certain that the fire must have commenced about twenty minutes before it was discovered; and the apartments being all wainscoted, its progress was terrifically rapid. No vestige of the Marchioness was discovered by any one; nor was a sound heard by those who first approached the room, except the moaning of an old favourite dog who was shut up with her.
Lord Salisbury arrived on the scene and had to be forcibly held back from attempts to rush into the flames and save his mother. The west wing of Hatfield House was destroyed and all that remained of the dowager marchioness were a few fragments of bone.
Spectator, 5th December 1835
Cecil [née Hill], Mary Amelia [Emily Mary], marchioness of Salisbury by E H Chalus, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
The social meetings of the fashionable world consist of balls, musical parties, and routs. The latter appear to be formed on the model of the Italian conversaziones; except that they are in general so crowded, as entirely to preclude conversation. Cards, upon these occasions, are usually provided for the senior part of the company.
General Expense of these Entertainments
The expense attendant on these entertainments depends entirely on the species of amusement which is provided. If balls are given, the expense is very considerable, as it is usual to give a supper to the company; and if in the early part of the season, April and May, the fruit is necessarily very scarce, and of high price. It is said, that a ball given by the Marquess of Anglesea [sic] cost 1,500l. These repasts are generally provided by some confectioner of repute, at a stipulated sum, (from 400l. to 1,000l.) who also provides chairs, glasses, and plates. The most celebrated of these are Gunter and Grange.
General Time of Assembling
The time for assembling is generally from ten to twelve o’clock, or even later, as many persons visit several of these places in one evening. The hours of departure are various and uncertain; but from balls, the latest being sometimes seven or eight o’clock in the morning before the whole have separated. In this case, it is usual to cause coffee, tea, &c. to be handed to the company.
The dress for these entertainments is that of the most reigning fashion. The persons who provide most fashionable for ladies on these occasions, are Mrs Gill, Cork Street; Mrs Griffiths, Little Ryder Street; Mrs Lacon, Albermarle Street; Miss Steward, &c. &c. The principal hairdressers and perfumers are, Woodman, in Piccadilly; Marshall, Wynne, Smyth, Rigge, &c.
Parties on Sundays are not very common. The Marchioness of Salisbury, however, has always a conversazione during the season on that day. It is usually attended by great numbers of persons of rank and distinction, and frequently some eminent musical professors are attendant on the occasion. The Countess St Antonio also sometimes gives musical parties on Sundays.
Many grand dinners are constantly given on this day.
Leigh’s New Picture of London: or, a view of the political, religious, medical, literary, municipal, commercial, and moral state of the British Metropolis: presenting a brief and luminous guide to the stranger, on all subjects connected with general information, business, or amusement. 1818
Courtesan, dancer and – reputedly – the first ‘dumb blonde’, Catherine-Rosalie Duthé was a true eighteenth-century celebrity.
She was born on the 23rd November 1748, in Versailles to Jean-François Gérard, an ‘officier’ or gentleman servant to the king at the royal palace, and his wife, Louise-Rosalie Caumont. At the registration of her birth four days later, Catherine-Rosalie’s father was absent – perhaps away in attendance upon Louis XV – and the official document was signed by her grandmother and Christophe Broilleux, her godfather.
After being educated at the convent of Saint Aure in Paris she was sent, aged 15, to live with an aunt, Madame Duval. It is claimed that Catherine-Rosalie’s aunt introduced her to two well-known courtesans and actresses, Marie and Géneviève Rinteau of Verrières, the beautiful daughters of a lemonade merchant who caught the eye of men such as Maurice, Count of Saxony. (In 1748, the same year as Catherine-Rosalie’s birth, Marie had given birth to an illegitimate daughter, Marie Aurore by the Count of Saxony.)
Marie and Géneviève took the young, pink-cheeked and fair-haired Catherine-Rosalie under their wing, and, at their home on the rue de la Chaussée d’Antin, taught her the tricks of their trade. Under their tutelage, she learnt signing, comedy and gallantry. Probably very intelligent, the tag of being the ‘first dumb blonde’ was given as Catherine-Rosalie was lampooned in her day due to her habit of leaving long pregnant pauses before speaking. Soon, the young Mademoiselle Gérard was dancing at the Paris Opera and adopted the name by which she is remembered, Rosalie Duthé.
She had watched Marie and Géneviève profit from their various lovers and determined to follow in their path. Arthur Richard Dillon, Archbishop of Narbonne, the French born son of Count Dillon (an Irish Jacobite), was her first protector; Rosalie was just 17, he was 44.
Many men were then seduced by Rosalie’s youthful beauty and she even captivated the young Duke of Chartres (the future Philippe, Duke of Orléans, Philippe Égalité). With this royal approval, even more men hastened to pay court to Rosalie, and the more lovers she collected, the wealthier she became. Even Christian VII of Denmark, on a visit to Paris, fell for her charms.
With her new found money and fame, Rosalie was painted by many of the best artists in France. The Count of Artois, youngest brother to Louis XVI (and the future Charles X) saw her portrait and hastened to Paris to court the beauty (his wife, Marie Thérèse of Savoy, was pregnant with their first child at the time).
Every night he came to follow her in the alleys of the Palais-Royal, publicly displaying a passion that he should have hidden for the sake of his rank.
Showering Rosalie with jewels and money, Artois conquered her affections and the two enjoyed a six month affair, from July 1775 to February 1776. One story relates that during these months, Rosalie was turned out of the Champs Elysées by Queen Marie Antoinette when she appeared with her carriage and equipage more sumptuously decorated with rare and expensive flowers than that of the Queen. Marie Thérèse of Savoy could not compete with Rosalie in terms of beauty. Playing on her surname (thé means tea in French) critics unkindly remarked that:
The prince, having had an indigestion with the cake of Savoy, comes to take tea in Paris.
Artois commissioned Lié Louis Périn-Salbreux to paint Rosalie sitting naked on the end of her bath, a work of art which the count displayed in the bathroom at château de Bagatelle, his pleasure house in the Bois de Boulogne. Another portrait of Rosalie by Périn-Salbreux, possibly also painted for her royal lover, depicts her laying semi-naked on a bed, her hair loose and falling around her shoulders.
Criss-crossing the Channel, Rosalie entertained a succession of wealthy and influential men both in Paris and in London. Paris was her home though, and it was there that she invested her money is a series of fine mansions but, in 1786, she sailed once again for England, imported, as it were, by George Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont whom she ruined financially.
During the summer of 1786, the 4th Earl of Cholmondeley and Madame Saint-Albin were to be found in Kingsgate at Margate. The earl had been the former lover of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, until that infamous courtesan left for Paris and the arms of the Duke of Orléans. Marie-Françoise Henriette, Madame Saint-Albin had supplanted Grace in the earl’s affections and they were taking the sea air in the same house he had spent a summer of pleasure in with Grace almost a decade earlier. The couple were joined there by Lord Coleraine, another disreputable rake accompanied by his new courtesan of choice, Marie-Françoise Henriette’s countrywoman and compatriot, Rosalie Duthé. The two Frenchwomen moved in England, as they had in France, in similar circles. Mrs Elliott was also Rosalie’s contemporary; they both shared a lover in the person of the Duke of Orléans so were rivals, if not friends.
Rosalie escaped the terrors of the French Revolution, remaining in safety in England although she was declared an émigré and her house which she had owned since 1775 on rue du Mont-Blanc (at the corner of rue Saint-Lazare, formerly the rue de la Chaussée d’Antin and where she had lived with Marie and Géneviève Rinteau) was forfeit and declared ‘national goods’ in her absence.
She returned to Paris briefly to try to reclaim her property, aided by her friend and banker Jean-Frédéric Perregaux who commissioned a portrait of Rosalie by Danloux which was painted in London during 1792.
Perregaux was the banker of choice for foreign travellers to Paris including Rosalie’s friend, Lord Cholmondeley and of known spies, as well as of courtesans like Rosalie. He lived on the same Parisian street, the rue de la Chaussée d’Antin. It is said that when Perregaux died, in 1808, he did so while contemplating his portrait of Rosalie Duthé who had remained one of his greatest friends.
Rosalie remained in London until 1816, then returned to Paris. She continued to receive many visitors and lived peacefully although in her later years she was almost blind. She died 24th September 1830 aged 82 years and was buried in the Père-Lachaise cemetery underneath two cedar trees. Rosalie left no will but two of her cousins, Madame Malacrida, a widow living in the Rue Laffitte, and Marie-Angélique Malacrida profited from the sale of her furniture which made 9,000 francs.
Catherine-Rosalie’s father is named as Jean-Baptiste Gérard in many sources, but on the register of her birth, it is Jean-François.
The rue de la Chaussée d’Antin was renamed the rue de Mirabeau in 1793 in honour of the revolutionary leader Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Count of Mirabeau and then, when Mirabeau was proscribed in 1793, the rue du Mont-Blanc in 1793, but it reverted to its former name in 1815.
Marie Rinteau is the great-grandmother of the writer, George Sand.
Souvenirs de Mlle Duthé de l’Opéra (1748-1830), Louis-Michaud, 1909
Archives nationales, Paris
Registres paroissiaux et d’état civil, St Louis, Versailles
The Morning Post, 15th September, 1786
On Blondes by Joanne Pitman, 2004
Christmas Festivities: Tales, Sketches, and Characters with Beauties of the Modern Drama, in Four Specimens by John Poole, 1845
This is a little extra blog as, for those who have not yet read our books, we would like to let you know of not one, not two, but THREE money-saving offers across our titles; one of our books is now less than £1.
First, our publisher Pen & Sword is offering a ‘buy 2 get 1 free’ deal when you buy An Infamous Mistress, A Right Royal Scandal and our latest title, A Georgian Heroine together, saving an incredible £19.99. This offer comes with free UK P&P too, and you can take advantage by clicking here.
If you prefer eBooks, then Pen & Sword are also offering An Infamous Mistress (in ePub and Kindle format) for just £4.99.
And, for just 99p, you can download A Right Royal Scandal, again via Pen & Sword, as and ePub or Kindle book.
We’re not sure how long the bargain offers on the eBooks are going to be available for, so it’s a case of grab them while you can.
If you take advantage of any of these offers, we’d love to hear from our readers; you can contact us via this blog or find us on Twitter or Facebook. And, if you enjoyed reading, please do consider leaving a review online; it’s the best way you can thank an author.
Our latest book, A Georgian Heroine: the intriguing life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs is out now here in the UK and available to pre-order elsewhere (it’s due for release in the US in May). If you are outside the UK, Wordery is good value and offers free delivery worldwide.
A Georgian Heroine, the bizarre but true story of an astounding woman persevering in a man’s world.
In 1745, Joseph D’Acre of Kirklinton Hall in Cumbria, was one of His Majesty’s troops defending Carlisle Castle from the approaching Jacobite army. He had left his wife, Catherine and young children in the care of his father-in-law, Sir George Fleming, Bishop of Carlisle, and they were at Fleming’s Cumbrian estate, Rose Castle: Mrs D’Acre was in the late stages of pregnancy and about to be confined.
Bonnie Prince Charlie, Charles Edward Stuart, also known as the Young Pretender, had raised his standard at Glenfinnan in the Highlands on the 19th August 1745 and many of the clans had gathered at his side. The prince claimed the thrones of Scotland and England in the name of his father, James Francis Edward Stuart, the Old Pretender.
After taking Edinburgh – although not the castle – and vanquishing the government army at Prestonpans, the Highland army travelled south to invade England. One column reached the strategically important city of Carlisle on the 10th November 1745. They surrounded the city on the 13th and Carlisle Castle surrendered with surprisingly little resistance the next day. The men and garrison were allowed to leave a day or two later, on the condition that they did not bear arms against the bonnie prince’s army for twelve months (or, if they preferred, for a handsome bounty they could agree to be conscripted into the Highland army).
A letter to the newspapers, written in the aftermath of the Siege of Carlisle Castle, gave details of the marauding which had taken place in the immediate vicinity.
Hexham, Nov. 19th
I am sorry to tell you that CARLISLE is taken by the Rebels. They have plundered and destroyed all our Country. I was a Prisoner amongst them on Saturday sen’night, and made my escape from them with extream hazard of my life; I left them on Sunday sen’night. The Pretender’s son lay at my house all the last week. I left my brother and a servant maid to take care of my house; but they have destroy’d all my meat, drink, corn and hay…
Rose Castle lies a few miles south of Carlisle. On 15th November 1745, with her husband’s fate still in the hands of the Jacobite army, Catherine D’Acre went into labour and was delivered of a baby girl, who she named Rosemary. An hour after the birth, a company of Highlanders, led by a Captain Macdonald, arrived at the gates of Rose Castle, intending to plunder it of the plate and other valuables they had heard lay inside. A servant, old and grey-haired, bravely stopped the Scots and asked them not to venture inside, knowing that the new mother would be alarmed at their presence. Captain Macdonald asked when the lady had been confined and upon being told ‘within this hour’, he halted his men. The servant added, ‘They are just going to christen the infant’. Perhaps Rosemary was sickly at birth to warrant such a hasty, private baptism, hence the extra impetus to keep the troops from the door? Captain Macdonald swept off his bonnet and removed the white cockade from it, presenting the knot of ribbons to the old servant and saying, ‘Let her be christened with this cockade in her cap; it will be her protection now, and after, if any of our stragglers should come this way: we will await the ceremony in silence’.
The Highlanders withdrew to the coach-yard where beef, cheese and ale was sent out to them: after eating their fill they left without further disturbing mother and daughter.
The following year, on the 3rd November and shortly before her first birthday, Rosemary was publicly christened in the church at Kirklinton (as Mary D’Acre). Of course, in the first twelve months of Rosemary’s life, the Jacobite army had been defeated at Culloden (on the 16th April 1746), the survivors of that battle vanishing into the Highlands in the hope of outrunning the British troops who were ruthlessly hunting them down.
The white cockade was the symbol of the Jacobites, usually worn on a blue bonnet. There are a few myths and legends about this emblem, but it is often said to have come about because Bonnie Prince Charlie picked a wild, white rose and pinned it to his hat. The captain’s gift was preserved by the D’Acre family and, as an old lady, Rosemary recalled that:
My white cockade was safely preserved, and shewn to me from time to time, always reminding me to respect the Scotch, and the Highlanders in particular. I think I have obeyed the injunction, by spending my life in Scotland, and also by hoping at last to die there.
Rosemary, or Molly, as she was known to her friends and family, lived a long and happy life. In December 1777, at the age of 32, she married John Clerk of Penicuik (pronounced Pennycook) in Midlothian, Scotland, an officer in the navy and heir to the baronetcy of Penicuik.
Last week at Kirklington, in Cumberland, Capt. Clarke, to Miss Molly Dacre, daughter of Jos. Dacre, of that place, Esq; a young lady whose engaging temper and disposition, cannot fail of securing every wish’d for happiness in the marriage state.
In 1817, Rosemary sent an account of the particulars surrounding her birth to the Edinburgh Monthly Magazine, in which they were published. She did so, she wrote, with infinite pleasure, ‘as it reflects great honour on the Highlanders, (to whom I always feel the greatest gratitude,) that at the time when their hearts were set on plunder, the fear of hurting a sick lady and child instantly stopped their intentions’.
The subject of our first biography, Grace Dalrymple Elliott, was descended from a lowland family who had served in the military during the 1700s. But on which side? To discover more, click here.
N.B. Joseph D’Acre was also known as Joseph D’Acre Appleby.
Edinburgh Monthly Magazine, volume 1
The History and Antiquities of Carlisle: with an Account of the Castle, Gentlemen’s Seats and Antiquities in the Vicinity and Biographical Memoirs of Eminent Men Connected with the Locality by Samuel Jefferson, 1838.
One Wolfgang Mozart, a German Boy, of about eight Years old, is arrived here, who can play upon various sorts of Instruments of Music, in Concert, or Solo, and can compose Music surprisingly; so that he may be reckoned a Wonder at his Age.
The Mozart family made a grand journey around Europe during the 1760s and early 1770s which became a concert tour in which Wolfgang and his elder sister Maria Anna (Nannerl) performed under the supervision of their father.
After visiting various German towns, Brussels and then Paris, the Mozarts arrived in London in April 1764. It was something of an impromptu addition to the schedule: the family had not planned on performing in the British capital but after calls to do so after their performances in Paris, they hastily crossed the Channel.
An advertisement for these concerts announced that “the girl, in her twelfth year, and the boy, in his seventh will not only play on the harpsichord or the fortepiano, the former playing the most difficult pieces by the greatest masters, but the boy will also play a concerto on the violin, accompany symphonies on the keyboard and play with the keyboard completely covered by a cloth as well as though he could see the keyboard; he will also name, most accurately, from a distance, any note that may be sounded for him, singly or in chords on the keyboard, or on any conceivable instrument, including bells, glasses or clocks. Finally, he will improvise out of his head, not only on the fortepiano but also on the organ (for as long as anyone wants to listen, and in all the keys, even the most difficult, that he may be asked).”
Leopold wrote that he was ‘in a city that no-one from our Salzburg court has yet dared visit and to which perhaps no-one ever will go in the future’. He had high hopes of making a fortune while in the city but it did not go as planned. The London season was all but over and the nobility were retreating from the capital to their country estates, but Wolfgang appeared before the king and queen and made his debut in the concert rooms at Spring Gardens. Wolfgang and Nannerl then played at Ranelagh and Vauxhall: Leopold was awestruck at the sheer size of London and the multitude of people living in the city. One thing that did not impress Wolfgang’s father was, however, the English weather: Leopold fell ill with a ‘kind of native complaint, which is called a cold’. By the beginning of August, the Mozart family were lodging at a house in Ebury Row, Chelsea so that Leopold could recover in the country.
The London season began again in November and so, in anticipation of that, the family relocated during September back to London and took rooms in the house of Thomas Williamson and his wife, Jane, in Frith Street, Soho.
Frith Street, at the time, was known as Thrift Street and bounded at one end by Monmouth House, beyond which lay Soho Square, or King Square as it was then known. The Williamsons house, no. 15, was a brick built dwelling, three or four storeys high and dating from the 1720s. (Following the demolition of Monmouth House in 1773, the houses on Frith Street were renumbered: no. 15 is no longer standing, but its site is now occupied by no. 20 which is the back of the Prince Edward Theatre and opposite Ronnie Scotts Jazz Club.)
Thomas Williamson followed the joint and somewhat incongruous professions of staymaker and wax and spermaceti candle chandler, trading as Williamson & Tonson in the latter capacity by 1777.
Spermaceti candles – made from a waxy substance found in the head cavities of sperm whales – were preferred by those who could afford them as they were odourless: Thomas had royal patronage as two of George III’s younger brothers purchased their candles from him, Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland and Strathearn. A Daniel Williamson in Hull, East Yorkshire appears to have manufactured the candles and sold them from his premises. Possibly he was Thomas’ brother, the two siblings running a joint operation.
The London season normally began when parliament reconvened but that winter, due to tensions between King George III and his government, the opening was delayed until 10th January, a further setback for the finances of the Mozarts, additionally so when their concerts during the rest of their stay were not as well attended as they had hoped they would be. They performed at private houses and their final public concert was on 13th May 1765: thereafter they continued performances for which the public was charged admission at their rooms in Frith Street until June.
The family left London at the end of July and sailed for France on 1st August 1765. Thomas Williamson continued his joint professions from Frith Street until his death in the summer of 1778. By his will, he left his businesses and stock in trade to his wife and to his son, John.
The subject of our latest biography, Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs owned two houses on Frith Street in the early 1800s, inherited from her father. They stood about where Ronnie Scott’s is, so opposite the house in which Mozart had lodged. A relation had lived on Frith Street in the 1780s, so it is entirely possible that our Mrs Biggs had heard tales of the child prodigy’s stay in Soho from someone who had personally known the Williamson family.
Oxford Journal, 23rd February 1765
Newcastle Chronicle, 14th May 1768
Mozart, Stanley Sadie, Oxford University Press, 2006
We never initially set out to research Mughal India and the East India Company (EIC) but, time and time again, the people we were looking at took us east. It all started with the eighteenth-century courtesan, Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s family. Grace had a brother and three male cousins who all ventured to India in different capacities with the EIC. Perhaps best known of these is Colonel John (Jack) Mordaunt, who has been captured for posterity in the middle of a cock match against Asaf-ud-daula, Nawab Wazir of Oudh. Mordaunt, a keen cock-fighter, had imported birds from Europe which he thought were superior to those of the Nawab’s.
And as well as her male cousins out in India, Grace also had two female cousins – sisters – who travelled to the country on an ultimately successful husband-hunting trip. The EIC was concerned about its officers taking Indian women as wives and adopting Mughal dress and habits. In an effort to stem this, they encouraged British girls and young women to embark on ships for an Indian adventure and to provide suitable marriage material.
You can find more on Grace and her relations, who travelled the globe, in An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott.
Our second book, A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History, looks at the ancestors of the British royal family, specifically Anne Wellesley, her second husband Lord Charles Bentinck and their son, the Reverend Charles Cavendish Bentinck but, first, we examined Anne’s background. She was the daughter of Richard Colley Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley (the Duke of Wellington’s older brother) and Hyacinthe Gabrielle Rolland, a Parisian opera dancer whom the marquess fell in love with as a young man. Richard was posted to India as Governor-General but Hyacinthe Gabrielle, chronically afraid of the sea voyage, refused to accompany him, a decision which would ultimately lead to the break-up of their marriage.
And so we come to our latest book, A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs. Charlotte, as our heroine preferred to be known, fell in love when she was only sixteen years of age with a young lad who left her behind when he sailed to India in search of adventure, subsequently joining the EIC as a junior officer and rising to become a general and a baronet. This man, Sir David Ochterlony, remained Charlotte’s one true love throughout all her many adventures and exploits. Towards the end of their lives, David and Charlotte once again reached out to each other, albeit by letter and from one side of the globe to the other. Ochterlony, like so many before him, had ‘gone native’, dressing in flowing Mughal robes and smoking a hookah pipe while sitting cross-legged on his diwan, watching dancing girls. He could be spotted each evening with his multiple Indian wives, each atop an elephant as they perambulated around Delhi. Did Charlotte dare to dream that the only man she had ever loved would return to England to claim her, in her dotage?
If you’d like to discover more about Charlotte, all is revealed in our book. A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs is out now in the UK (and coming soon worldwide) and can be found at Pen & Sword, Amazon and all good bookshops.
Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs lived an incredible life, one which proved that fact is often much stranger than fiction. As a young woman she endured a tortured existence at the hands of a male tormentor, but emerged from that to reinvent herself as a playwright and author; a political pamphleteer and a spy, working for the British Government and later singlehandedly organising George III’s jubilee celebrations. Trapped in France during the revolutionary years of 1792-95, she published an anonymous account of her adventures. However, was everything as it seemed? The extraordinary Mrs Biggs lived life upon her own terms in an age when it was a man’s world, using politicians as her mouthpiece in the Houses of Parliament and corresponding with the greatest men of the day. Throughout it all though, she held on to the ideal of her one youthful true love, a man who abandoned her to her fate and spent his entire adult life in India. Who was this amazing lady?
In A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs, we delve into her life to reveal her accomplishments and lay bare Mrs Biggs’ continued re-invention of herself. This is the bizarre but true story of an astounding woman persevering in a man’s world.
Colonel Mordaunt and Nawab Asaf al-Daula of Oudh at a Cock Fight, Company School, Patna, circa 1840, after Richard Earlom’s mezzotint of Zoffany’s ‘Col. Mordaunt’s Cock Match’, via Sotheby’s website.
Cuper’s Gardens were described as a ‘scene of low dissipation… noted for its fireworks, and the great resort of the profligate of both sexes’. Opened in the late 17th century, they were pleasure gardens (and later a tea garden) in Lambeth on the Thames shoreline and named after Abraham Boydell Cuper, the original proprietor of the land which he leased from Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel (Cuper was the earl’s gardener). In the early days, the site was also known as Cupid’s Gardens.
Last Monday in the Evening, a Gentleman dropt down dead at Cupid’s Gardens, just as he was going to drink a Glass of Wine, having the Glass in his Hand.
Stamford Mercury, 21st May 1724
The ‘Georgian Heroine’ of our latest book, Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs, was born in the early 1760s and grew up in a house on Narrow Wall in Lambeth, close by Cuper’s Gardens, but this was after its days as a pleasure ground. Instead, Charlotte knew the land as a scene of industry, the once ornate grounds dominated by a vinegar and ‘mimicked wine’ factory owned by Mark Beaufoy who was a great friend to the Williams family. No doubt Charlotte heard the tales of the great entertainments which had taken place at Cuper’s Gardens, though.
Here are pleasant Walks and Places of great Report, particularly Cuper’s Garden, Spring-Garden, and Lambeth Wells, where they drink the purging Waters. Here, in the fine Season of the Year, a Multitude of young people from London divert themselves; and there is every Evening Musick, Dancing, &c.
The guests to the gardens even included royalty, for Frederick, Prince of Wales was known to occasionally frequent them. (Frederick, the heir to the throne, predeceased his father, King George II whom he was famously at loggerheads with.)
From 1738 until 1740 Cuper’s Gardens were owned by a man named Ephraim Evans who improved them by installing a bandstand from which he offered concerts in the evening; after his death his widow, Nem became the proprietor. Nem Evans was described as ‘a woman of discretion’ and ‘a well-looking comely person’ and she played the hostess behind the bar during the musical entertainments. Under her direction, the gardens continued their heyday, for a time at least.
We hear that at Cuper’s Gardens last Night, among several favourite Pieces of Musick, Mr Handell’s Fire Musick, with the Fireworks, as originally perform’d in the Opera of Atalanta, was received with great Applause by a numerous Audience.
London Daily Post, 10th July 1741
There is every Evening a very great Resort of Company at Cuper’s Gardens. The extraordinary Fireworks, which are almost every Night different, are allow’d to excel all that ever were before exhibited in this Kingdom.
Daily Advertiser, 3rd June 1743
On Monday next will be opened CUPER-GARDENS, kept by the Widow Evans; where there are great Alterations and Decorations in an elegant manner, and hopes the Continuance of the Favours of her Friends and Acquaintance, who may depend upon good Entertainment of all sorts, with a good Band of Musick, and Fireworks, with great Improvements; and the Bowling Green is in good Order.
General Advertiser, 4th May 1744
On the 1st May 1749, the gardens opened for the summer season with a recreation of the temple and fireworks which had been seen at Green Park to celebrate the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle.
The extravagant fireworks came at something of a cost, however, and accidents did occur.
On Monday Morning, as four Men were preparing the Fire-works to be exhibited in the Evening at Cuper’s Gardens, the Powder by some Accident took fire, and two or three of the Men were much hurt by the Explosion.
Remembrancer, 2nd June 1750
The Licensing Act came into effect in 1752 and Nem Evans was refused a licence for Cuper’s Gardens on the grounds – which she disputed – that the gardens were no longer ‘respectable’. In the summer of 1753, she reopened them as a tea garden and held occasional private evening entertainments for subscribers.
“I dined the other day with a lady of quality, who told me she was going that evening to see the ‘finest fireworks!’ at Marybone. I said fireworks was a very odd refreshment for this sultry weather; that, indeed, Cuper’s-gardens had been once famous for this summer entertainment; but then his fireworks were so well understood, and conducted with so superior an understanding, that they never made their appearance to the company till they had been well cooled, by being drawn through a long canal of water, with the same kind of refinement that the Eastern people smoke their tobacco through the same medium.”—Warburton to Hurd, July 9th, 1753.
By the time of Nem Evans’ death in July 1760, the gardens had closed for good. She was buried alongside her husband in the churchyard of St Mary’s, Newington and changes were soon afoot in her former pleasure ground.
It is said a new Street is going to be made from one End of Cuper’s Gardens to the other, and that each House will have a pretty Garden behind it.
St James’s Chronicle, 17th June 1761
They have for some time been cutting down the Trees in Cuper’s Gardens, in order to build a handsome Street upon that Spot.
Public Advertiser, 11th March 1762
In the 1740s, Mark Beaufoy had established a vinegar and ‘mimicked wines’ distillery near his three-storey house at Cuper’s Bridge Lambeth and, following the closure of the adjoining pleasure ground, he took on the lease, expanding his business.
There is a magnificence of business, in this ocean of sweets and sours, that cannot fail exciting the greatest admiration: whether we consider the number of vessels or their size. The boasted tun at Heydelberg does not surpass them. On first entering the yard, two rise before you, covered at the top with a thatched dome; between them is a circular turret, including a winding staircase, which brings you to their summits, which are above 24ft in diameter. One of these conservatories is full of sweet wine and contains 58,109 gallons; or 1,815 barrels of Winchester measure. Its superb associate is full of vinegar, to the amount of 56,799 gallons, or 1,774 barrels, of the same standard as the former.
Besides these, is an avenue of lesser vessels… After quitting this Brobdignagian scene, we pass to the acres covered with common barrels: we cannot diminish our ideas so suddenly, but at first we imagined we could quaff them off as easily as Gulliver did the little hogsheads of the kingdom of Lilliput.
In 1813, part of Cuper’s Gardens was bought for the construction of what is now Waterloo Bridge Road and the Beaufoys relocated to land off Walnut Tree Walk.
We’ll leave you with a little premonition of the future, which was displayed in Cuper’s Gardens.
Mr Moore’s undertaking to make carriages go without horses, having engrossed a large share of public attention, a Correspondent assures us, that something of the same nature was done several years ago by Mr Arthur, the comedian, who constructed a chariot, which went of itself several times up and down the Mall in St James’s Park; and that a person at Trowbridge also contrived a waggon to go without horses, which was shewn to many hundreds of people in Cuper’s-gardens, and for some little time afforded great satisfaction; but one of the springs breaking, the whole machine became disordered, and the mob at length broke it all to pieces.
Kentish Gazette, 12th April 1769
A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs is available now in the UK and coming soon worldwide and is available from Pen & Sword, Amazon and all good bookshops.
Will of Nem Evans, widow of Lambeth, PROB 11/857/434, National Archives
A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers, and Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800: Eagan to Garrett, Philip H. Highfill, Kalman A. Burnim, Edward A. Langhans, SIU Press, 1978
Le guide des etrangers: on le compagnon necessaire & instructif à l’etranger & au naturel du pays en faisant le tour des villes des Londres et de Westminstre. Joseph Pote, 1740
Handbook of London: past and present, Volume 1, Peter Cunningham, J. Murray, 1849
Beaufoys of Lambeth by David Thomas and Hugh Marks, Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society
London: Being an Accurate History and Description of the British Metropolis and Its Neighbourhood, to Thirty Miles Extent, from an Actual Perambulation, Volume 4, David Hughson, 1807
Cuper’s Gardens, John Cresswell, Vauxhall History online archive
London; or, An abridgement of the celebrated Pennant’s description of the British capital and its environs, John Wallis, 1790
We’re celebrating the release of our third biography, A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs which is out now in the UK (and coming soon worldwide) and can be found at Pen & Sword, Amazon and all good bookshops.
It has been an immense pleasure to research Charlotte’s life even if, at times, she has frustrated us beyond measure. Her almost pathological desire to remain anonymous in her lifetime tested our abilities to the limit, but we rarely admit defeat and eventually, we managed to piece together Charlotte’s story. And what a story it is!
If we had written her life as a novel, we’d probably have been accused of being too far-fetched but – amazingly – Charlotte’s story is all true, in parts tragically so but she triumphed over her adversities, continually adapted to her circumstances and succeeded in the most audacious ways possible.
We are also delighted to have finally given Charlotte ownership of her voice which, while it was heard during her lifetime across the country and in establishments ranging from the Houses of Parliament to royal palaces, was always heard anonymously, or at least so discreetly that the public at large were unaware of Charlotte’s identity. Because of this, she has been overlooked by history and her achievements remain largely unrecorded and, in some cases, wrongly ascribed to other women of her generation. Now we can finally put the record straight with the release of A Georgian Heroine.
Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs lived an incredible life, one which proved that fact is often much stranger than fiction. As a young woman she endured a tortured existence at the hands of a male tormentor, but emerged from that to reinvent herself as a playwright and author; a political pamphleteer and a spy, working for the British Government and later singlehandedly organising George III’s jubilee celebrations. Trapped in France during the revolutionary years of 1792-95, she published an anonymous account of her adventures. However, was everything as it seemed? The extraordinary Mrs Biggs lived life upon her own terms in an age when it was a man’s world, using politicians as her mouthpiece in the Houses of Parliament and corresponding with the greatest men of the day. Throughout it all though, she held on to the ideal of her one youthful true love, a man who abandoned her to her fate and spent his entire adult life in India. Who was this amazing lady?
In A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs, we delve into her life to reveal her accomplishments and lay bare Mrs Biggs’ continued re-invention of herself. This is the bizarre but true story of an astounding woman persevering in a man’s world.
Featured image: Hotwells and Rownham Ferry by William Williams; Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives. Charlotte lived in Bristol in later life.
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 jubilee [manuscript], 1769byGarrick, David, 1717-1779; Britton, John, 1771-1857, former owner; Waldron, F. G. (Francis Godolphin), 1744-1818, former owner; Barton, Thomas Pennant, 1803-1869, former owner
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 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 by 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.
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.
Between the 6th and 8th of September 1769, the town of Stratford-upon-Avon held the first jubilee celebration commemorating the life of the great playwright, William Shakespeare. The event was organised by David Garrick, who was both an actor and the manager of the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, Covent Garden. Garrick had portrayed many of Shakespeare’s best-known characters on the stages of London and of Dublin and so was invited to dedicate a statue of the bard at the new town hall: Garrick had other ideas however and turned the event into a three-day spectacular.
The 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee, also known as Garrick’s Jubilee, was ostensibly to celebrate Shakespeare’s birth but was held five years too late (Shakespeare was baptised in April 1564). Regardless of the discrepancy in dates, it was hugely popular and helped to fix Shakespeare as England’s national poet.
Stratford-upon-Avon was flooded – a somewhat unfortunate metaphor, as will be seen – with visitors for the duration of the Jubilee. The town’s only inn was fully booked and townspeople made a small fortune in renting out rooms (albeit while grumbling about the inconvenience to their daily lives) but even so, many visitors were forced to sleep in their carriages overnight. A masquerade warehouse had opened in the town, in anticipation of the extravaganza and, a new sight to the townsfolk, sedan chairs had been brought from London and Bath.
The celebrations opened on Wednesday 6th September to cannon fire and a breakfast at the town hall. A portrait of Shakespeare by Garrick’s friend Benjamin Wilson hung at one end of the dining room and one of Garrick by Thomas Gainsborough at the other (both portraits were sadly lost in a fire in 1946). At 11 o’clock Dr Thomas Arne’s Oratorio of Judith was performed in the church, featuring, amongst others, the celebrated Mrs Sophia Baddeley.
After that, attention turned to a specially built wooden structure on the banks of the River Avon, the Jubilee Pavilion or rotunda, where a dinner was held with almost a thousand ladies and gentlemen crammed in at the tables, many more than anticipated. The food was accompanied by the sound of workmen hammering in nails: the rotunda had not been completed in time and work was still ongoing to make it sound. Garrick, ever the showman, carried on regardless and proclaimed the toast while holding a goblet made of mulberry wood ‘cut out of the mulberry tree planted by Shakespeare’. Following the dinner was a ball which was opened by John Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset and the Duke of Ancaster’s sister, Lady Mary Greathead.
The Jubilee, despite Garrick’s best-laid plans, now began to descend into a comedic farce and the typically British weather was to blame. It didn’t just rain, it poured and the pageant and attendant processions through the streets of Stratford-upon-Avon, with participants dressed as characters from Shakespeare’s plays, had to be abandoned. Instead, after a public breakfast, Garrick delivered an ode in honour of the bard, wearing a medallion of Shakespeare on his breast and brandishing a wand both made, like his goblet, from mulberry wood. In the window frames, were large transparent portraits representing the most popular Shakespearian characters.
The evening entertainment was a masquerade ball, held in the rotunda, and a planned firework display. Unfortunately, the masquerade guests had to be carried in, or risk their footwear as they waded ankle-deep through the river water which was rapidly rising, and the roof was discovered to leak in places. Despite this, a good time was had by all, with the guests attired in a myriad of fantastical costumes. James Boswell, newly returned from Corsica, and having just published a memoir of his travels, appeared finely dressed as a Corsican. He subsequently had his picture engraved and published in the London Magazine with a puff-piece of an article written by himself.
One of the most remarkable masks upon this occasion was James Boswell Esq.
The fireworks ended up being little more than damp squibs in the deluge. At the close of the festivities, various masked guests including drunken witches, harlequins, sultans and one Corsican had to wade knee-deep across the meadow on which the rotunda was sited to reach their carriages and beds.
It rained until midday on Friday 8th September. The River Avon had overflowed to such an extent that the rotunda was flooded. All that could be salvaged of the last day’s planned entertainment was an extremely waterlogged horse race on Shottery Meadow but by this time it was too late and many guests had abandoned the Jubilee altogether and were heading as fast as they could on jam-packed roads away from the town. As Boswell noted:
After the joy of the jubilee came the uneasy reflection that I was in a little village in wet weather and knew not how to get away.
Bizarrely, there had been no performance of a Shakespeare play planned for the event, not even one scene, a fact which garnered much criticism. Referring to the event afterwards as ‘my folly’, Garrick was forced to admit that, although this was an intended omission with the idea that people would discover the bard ‘all around them’ instead of through his plays, this was a glaring error and – coupled with the complete washout of the event – it marked a low point in his career. He also lost a large sum of his own money in staging the event. However, as we shall see in a later blog, all was not yet lost. The redoubtable Garrick had one more trick up his sleeve with which he hoped to salvage both his reputation and the Jubilee celebrations.
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 14th September 1769
Boswell’s Jubilee: against the backdrop of the 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee, James Boswell’s willpower is tested. Andrew McConnell Stott, 2016 (Lapham’s Quarterly)
‘The borough of Stratford-upon-Avon: Shakespearean festivals and theatres’, in A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 3, Barlichway Hundred, ed. Philip Styles (London, 1945), pp. 244-247. British History Online
The actor and theatre manager David Garrick as Shakespeare’s Richard III by William Hogarth, c.1745. Walker Art Gallery.
We are taking our annual summer holiday from blogging and so this will be our last post until September when we will be back with plenty of new posts and some exciting news (CLICK HERE for a teaser and there’s a little more to be found at the end of this blog!). In the meantime though, we have taken a look back at a few of our favourite blogs from this year, in a summer reading recap for our readers, old and new.
We invite you to discover Henry Cope, the Green Man of Brighton. He dressed in ‘green pantaloons, green waistcoat, green frock, green cravat… He eats nothing but greens, fruits and vegetables; has his apartments painted green, and furnished with a green sofa, green chairs, green tables, green bed and green curtains. His gig, his livery his portmanteau, his gloves and his whips, are all green. With a green silk handkerchief in his hand and a large watch chain with green seals, fastened to the green buttons of his green waistcoat he parades every day on the Steyne, Brighton’.
What rake is ignorant of King’s Coffee House? Moll King was the proprietress of King’s Coffee House in Covent Garden and she counted Hogarth, Henry Fielding, Alexander Pope and John Gay amongst her customers. Separating fact from fiction, we present the true account of her life in our blog post.
Back in March, we were guest-blogging on the subject of the Allied Sovereigns’ Visit to England in 1814, when the Tsar of Russia, the King of Prussia and other European sovereigns were hosted by the Prince Regent to celebrate the Peace of Paris and the abdication of Napoléon Bonaparte, who had been exiled to Elba.
We have a post on folklore next: Fortune Telling Using Moles. No, not the small, furry creatures! Find out why a round mole is luckier than an angular one and whether your mole denotes a good marriage, health, wealth and wisdom or a testy contention and ungovernable spirit.
Upon stumbling across a painting of two children which captured our interest, we turned art detectives and delved into the history behind it, discovering the family of Captain Richard Davison Pritchard of the Royal Navy.
We hope that you enjoy your summer and we’d like to thank all our readers for their continued support of our blog and for your comments. When we come back in September, we will begin to share with you the incredible but true story of a woman who history has largely forgotten, a woman whose story has to be read to be believed and which proves the old adage that fact is often much stranger than fiction. If you haven’t already subscribed to our blog, please do give us a follow to be kept updated and – if you’re too impatient to wait until September – CLICK HERE for a little ‘spoiler’ and be one of the first to find out more…
Outskirts of a Town (detail from), British (English) School, Brighton and Hove Museums and Art Galleries
The earliest known portrait of the infamous eighteenth-century courtesan, Grace Dalrymple Elliott is a miniature painted by Richard Cosway around the time of her marriage to Dr (later Sir) John Eliot. It can be viewed on the cover of our biography of Grace, An Infamous Mistress.
Incidentally, Cosway lived on Berkeley Row where Grace was seen in a bagnio with the worthless Viscount Valentia, an indiscretion which led to a Criminal Conversation trial and her divorce; Cosway was called to the trial as a witness and testified to the disreputability of Mrs Jane Price’s house.
Then there are the two well-known portraits of Grace by Thomas Gainsborough, both now held in museums in New York. The full-length of Mrs Elliott was commissioned by her lover the 4th Earl (later 1st Marquess) of Cholmondeley and hung in his mansion in Piccadilly, and remained there even after their romance was over and Grace was in Paris, in the arms of the Duke of Orléans. Reputedly, the young Prince of Wales stood in front of this portrait and expressed his wish to meet the original; Cholmondeley was despatched to Paris to bring Grace home and she enjoyed a few short weeks as the Prince’s paramour and gained a permanent reminder and claim to the royal purse in the form of their daughter, born nine months later, Georgiana Seymour. We have examined this portrait, now in the Met Museum, in more detail in a previous blog post.
While her star burned brightly as Prinny’s courtesan (she replaced Perdita aka the actress and courtesan Mary Darby Robinson in the prince’s affections), Gainsborough was commissioned to paint a head and shoulders portrait of Grace. Although by the time it was finished, the prince had long since abandoned its subject, it is a stunning portrait and one that gained an instant fame when it was first exhibited. Grace, it was thought, exuded a much too ‘knowing’ look.
These are all the confirmed portraits of Grace. There is a chalk drawing by Hoppner which is traditionally thought to be of Grace, and the jury is out on this one with us. It could possibly be her (we’ve discussed this drawing before too, here).
But Grace was a noted beauty and, for many years, a fixture in the society gossip columns. We can’t believe that there were no other portraits of her. We know of none painted while she was resident in France, and the Duke of Orléans would surely have commissioned a portrait or at least a miniature of his stunning mistress. It was with some excitement then, that we noticed a pastel portrait supposed to be of Grace had been added on to The Getty site. The provenance for the sitter being Grace comes from a 1906 edition of The Connoisseur, in which the portrait is reproduced as a colour plate; it is this image which is on The Getty website. The publication gives no other evidence for claiming the sitter is Grace. However, we can’t see Grace in this portrait (although we’ll grant the nose is a similar shape). Doing a little digging we found that there are several versions of this portrait. Many have passed through various auction houses over the years, as a portrait of an unknown woman, one is held in Riga Castle and one in the Royal Collection where it is traditionally claimed to be a likeness of one of the daughters of George III. So, we’ll leave this one with you, for your response. Do you think it is Grace, or not?
Sarah Trimmer née Kirby, author, critic and religious and educational reformer, was born in 1741 at Ipswich, the only daughter of the Suffolk landscape painter Joshua Kirby (a close friend of Thomas Gainsborough) and his wife Sarah née Bell. The Kirby family, including Sarah’s younger brother, William moved to London in 1755 where Joshua Kirby tutored the Prince of Wales (the future George III) in perspective.
Many well-known personalities of the day counted the Kirbys as friends, including William Hogarth and Samuel Johnson and, as befitted the daughter of an artist, and one with social connections to the best artistic and literary talents of the day, Sarah later had her portrait painted three times, by Henry Howard, George Romney and Thomas Lawrence. She herself was a talented amateur artist, and several miniatures by her survive.
In time, the family moved to Kew when Joshua Kirby was appointed Clerk to the Works of the Royal Household at Kew Palace and it was at Kew that Sarah met her future husband, James Trimmer whose family owned a brick making business at Brentford; the young couple married on 21st September 1762, at Ealing. The notice of their marriage in the Ipswich Journal reveals the name by which Sarah was known to her family.
MARRIAGE – At Great Ealing, Mr. James Trimmer, of Brentford, to Miss Sally Kirby, of the Chapelry of Kew.
The Trimmers had twelve children in all, equally divided between boys and girls and – as she was responsible for their education – Sarah, both a mother and a teacher, discovered a lifelong passion for education. She founded the first Sunday school for poor children in 1786 and began to write and publish books, initially treatises on how to establish Sunday schools with a sub-text of social reform and then branching out into instructive works and fiction for children, such as her Fabulous Histories. She also reviewed children’s literature in her periodical, The Guardian of Education, with the aim of influencing both authors and publishers and redefining the content of these books.
She used to say, that as soon as she became a mother, her thoughts were turned so entirely to the subject of education, that she scarcely read a book upon any other topic, and believed she almost wearied her friends by making it so frequently the subject of conversation. Having experienced the greatest success in her plan of educating her own family, she naturally wished to extent that blessing to others, and this probably first induced her to become an author.
After James Trimmer died in 1792, Sarah and her unmarried daughters moved to Brentford, and it was there that she died on 15th December 1810, in the act of writing a letter.
She had been known to fall asleep at her desk in her study, and so when her daughters found her, with her head bowed forward onto her bosom, they assumed she merely slumbering and it was some time before they could be made to believe that she was dead. This gave rise to a few ‘Chinese whispers’ which were reported in the newspapers, with a slightly more lurid take on poor Sarah’s demise.
MRS TRIMMER – This authoress died under circumstances of a peculiar nature. Having received intelligence of the death of a favourite sister, she sat down to write a letter of condolence to her family; but soon after, on her female servant going into the room, she found her mistress sitting, apparently in the utmost composure, with her pen in one hand, and her head reclining on the other; in this attitude it appears that she died. What added to the singularity of this extraordinary occurrence was, that although she had been dead three weeks, her countenance had not changed in the least, and in consequence her relatives had directed that no interment should take place, in the hope (a vain one, it is feared) that the body might be recovered from a trance.
Sarah had no sister, favourite or otherwise, and her sister-in-law – and her brother – had both died some years previously. She was buried on the 5th January 1811, in a family plot in St Mary’s churchyard, Ealing, the delay between her death and burial probably being more to do with the weather and the season rather than any fanciful notions supposed to have been entertained by the children of such an eminently sensible, moral and instructive mother.
One of Sarah’s daughters, at least, followed in her footsteps; her daughter Selina was appointed by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire to be the governess to their daughters and their cousins, including the future Lady Caroline Lamb. You can read more about Selina and her life as a governess in the Cavendish household here, in a blog post by Lauren Gilbert.
Sources not mentioned above:
Ipswich Journal, 25th September 1762
Chester Chronicle, 1st February 1811
Chalmer’s General Biographical Dictionary, volume 30
On 2nd December 1823, the young Mary Elizabeth Williams, fourth daughter of John Williams, Baronet of Bodelwyddan in north Wales, married George Hammond Lucy, the eligible new owner of the magnificent Charlecote Park in Warwickshire.
Mary had been reluctant to accept George’s proposal; she thought him too old (Mary was not quite 20-years of age and her suitor was 34) and – besides – her elder sister Margaret (Miggie) was in love with him. But accept him she did, and he sealed their betrothal by placing a turquoise ring on her finger. During their short courtship and amid the whirlwind of preparing for the wedding, Mary quickly came to like and then to love her new husband.
On the day, Mary wore a bridal robe of snow-white silk and a lace veil, the ‘texture fine as a spider’s web’ falling over her carefully arranged hair which was decorated with orange blossoms. She was attended by six bridesmaids, her four sisters and two friends, all dressed simply in white cashmere with their bonnets lined with pink, Mary’s favourite colour. A whole fleet of carriages took the bridal party to St Asaph Cathedral where the ceremony – by special licence – was to take place.
All was perfect, and Mary and her new husband knelt at the altar as they were pronounced man and wife but, when she tried to stand, Mary fainted and fell to the ground, much to George’s consternation. She was soon recovered however, and left the church for her honeymoon, her uncle’s seat at Cerig Llwydion. The bridesmaids threw old satin shoes at the carriage as the Lucy’s departed, for good luck.
Mary’s wedding dress survives, and it was made in the height of fashion.
As you can see, the detailing on the bodice of the gown is very similar to one shown in Ackermann’s Repository, dated October 1823, and it gives us an idea of what the dress might have looked like in its entirety.
George Hammond Lucy’s father, John Lucy (born John Hammond), was a ‘pugnacious, hard-drinking clergyman’ who had found himself – a little unexpectedly – the heir in the male line to the Warwickshire Lucy family.
Early in 1823, at his father’s death, George had inherited Charlecote Park but it was in a dilapidated state. It became his life’s work to restore the estate.
Mary and George had a long marriage and many children. In her sixties, Mary wrote down her memories and they are published as Mistress of Charlecote: The Memoirs of Mary Elizabeth Lucy 1803-1889. It is a wonderful read and contains images of two portraits of the couple painted at the time of their wedding.
For more information on the Lucy’s of Charlecote Park, also see the blog Charlecote Park: Uncovered by the National Trust.
Mistress of Charlecote: The Memories of Mary Elizabeth Lucy 1803-1889, introduced by Alice Fairfax-Lucy (Orion, 2002).
In the late eighteenth-century, John Wilkes, journalist, radical and politician, took a cottage on the Isle of Wight in which he installed his middle aged mistress Amelia Arnold and subsequently he was a frequent guest at Knighton Gorges Manor, the nearby house of Maurice George Bisset and his wife. Bisset’s wife, formerly Harriat Mordaunt, was the illegitimate daughter of Charles Henry Mordaunt, the 4th Earl of Peterborough and his mistress (and later second wife) Robinaiana Brown and also cousin to the infamous courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott, as we reveal in our book An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliot. Another local landowner was Sir Richard Worsley whose wife Bisset had, some years earlier, eloped with, leading to a very public and shocking criminal conversation case (for more information on the infamous Lady Worsley see Hallie Rubenhold’s excellent biography, The Scandalous Lady W).
John Wilkes had a legitimate daughter, Mary (Polly) (to whom he wrote about Lady Peterborough and Miss Mordaunt in 1775) and two illegitimate children, a son by his housekeeper Catherine Smith who he passed off as his nephew and a daughter named Harriet by his mistress, Amelia Arnold.
Thursday, Oct. 16, 1775
Lady Peterborough, Miss M___t, more gloomy and dejected than ever, and Miss G___d as pert and flippant as at Bath, more is impossible, are here, and no other ladies I believe of your acquaintance.
Wilkes wrote to his daughter Polly from Sandham Cottage, his house on the Isle of Wight, on 15th July 1791 to tell her that ‘Captain Bissett dined here yesterday, but I have neither seen nor heard of Sir Richard Worsley. The French ladies are at Knighton House, a grandmother, mother and little daughter’ and later that same month he wrote again, mentioning that he was kindly supplied with melons and other fruit from Knighton Gorges. The French ladies were perhaps aristocratic emigrants who had run for their lives before they lost their heads to the guillotine during the French Revolution. Grace Dalrymple Elliot and her friend Lady Seymour Worsley (Sir Richard’s wife) were not quite so lucky, and while they kept their heads on their shoulders, they were unable to flee Paris and had to endure the terror of those years, documented in An Infamous Mistress.
Knighton Gorges (now demolished) was one of the most magnificent houses on the island, a contemporary description in an island history says of it:
The manor house is an ancient building, but appears to have been constructed with much taste and judgment; and great attention has been evidently paid to it, to preserve its original beauty, in the various reparations which inevitably have been bestowed upon it. In particular we may observe, that one part of the building is finely variegated by the ivy that binds its gable ends, which perhaps, are too numerous to afford pleasure and delight to the eye; and that the windows in front are all latticed and retain their antique pillars of stone for their present supporters. It is finely situated on the gentle rising of a hill between some fine woods, but at a sufficient distance to afford some very beautiful prospects.
The picture at the head of the article is of (from left to right) John Glynn, John Wilkes and John Horne Tooke and is a copy after Richard Houston, (original 1769) (National Portrait Gallery London)
Letters from the year 1774 to the year 1796, of John Wilkes, Esq. addressed to his daughter the late Miss Wilkes, Volume 4, 1804.82-83
A New, Correct and much improved History of the Isle of Wight, John Albin, London, 1795
Caroline Isham, the eldest daughter of the Reverend Charles Euseby Isham, married Thomas Welch Hunt, the Squire of Wadenhoe in Northampton on 9th February 1824. The marriage took place at Polebrook where Caroline’s father was rector of the parish.
The couple were both young; Caroline was 22 years old at the time of her wedding and Thomas was 27. Moreover, Thomas Welch Hunt was a wealthy and amiable gentleman. Their future looked bright.
A short time after the marriage, the new Mr and Mrs Hunt took an extended Grand Tour of a honeymoon on the continent, heading for Italy. The Napoleonic Wars were at an end and British tourists were once more able to travel across mainland Europe. They made first for Rome and then travelled south, stopping at the coastal town of Salerno in the Kingdom of Naples before, in early December, continuing on to the small town of Eboli in order to visit the ruins of the three Greek temples at Paestum. They were in wild and dangerous countryside where banditti roamed and English visitors were warned to carry pistols.
The hills became less picturesque as the Hunts carriage travelled from Salerno but Eboli itself was a handsome town, built on the slope of the hills. Beyond Eboli was the plain of Paestum, with large tracts of dark green shrubs which had a dismal and desolate appearance when viewed from the higher ground of Eboli but which were myrtles, ten feet high, standing in a pasture which fed water buffalo (kept for making cheese from their milk). A traveller in 1822 was to recall that there ‘was something solemn and imposing in the silent loneliness of this monstrous expanse… [our driver] pointed out to us a spot, where, about two years since, two Englishmen had been stopt… [and] robbed of everything, even to their shirts, and sent literally naked back to Eboli, where these travellers had been so incautious as to exhibit diamond pins, and gold watches and seals’.
There were three groups of English tourists visiting Paestum; the Hunts, a Mrs Benyon and her two daughters and three midshipmen from the Revenge, Charles Alex Thorndike, a Mr Hornby and Mr Thompson. Thomas and Caroline Hunt spent the night at a ‘miserable little inn at Eboli’, and unwittingly placed themselves in mortal danger.
The landlord was a rogue and a villain, in league with the lawless men who terrorised the vicinity. Naples had changed hands a few times during the Napoleonic wars but, from 1823, was – for the second time – under the control of the Bourbon, King Ferdinand I of the Two Sicilies and maintained by an Austrian garrison. A Corps of sixty pardoned highwaymen had formed part of the king’s troops in Sicily under the command of a Chef de Brigade named Costa, also a former criminal and a fervent anti-Jacobin. They had not received their pay for some time and – it was rumoured – had reverted to their old trade, roaming the plains of Paestum and preying on visitors to the ancient ruins. Unbeknown to the Hunts, their landlord at the inn alerted the banditti. Mr Hunt had been careless – or imprudent – in putting his expensive travelling accoutrements on display. The eagle-eyed landlord had noted their value.
…the landlord, observing that he [Mr Hunt] had silver mounted cruets, and silver backed brushes in his dressing-case (a wedding present he had received), communicated with a band of brigands that infested the neighbourhood.
The next day – Friday 3rd December 1824 – the banditti were stationed, ready to pounce on the unwary tourists. Mrs Benyon and her daughters were their first victims. As they left the ruins at around one o’clock in the afternoon they were held up, threatened and relieved of their valuables but allowed to continue on to Salerno where they were expecting to meet up with the other two English parties. By nightfall, Mrs Benyon was convinced that misfortune had befallen her fellow travellers and penned a hasty and unfortunately prophetic letter to the Minister at Naples, ‘it is much to be feared that resistance… may have led to dreadful results’.
Thomas Welch Hunt and his wife Caroline were the next victims of the troop of brigands. They set off in their carriage from Paestum but had only travelled about half a mile when a man jumped out from behind a hedge and stopped the horses; another man leaped on to the footboard of the carriage and demanded money from the servant travelling on the box before throwing him to the ground and holding him fast there. In all, there were six highwaymen, all masked and armed; one pointed his musket at Mr Hunt (who was unarmed) and another targeted Caroline. Mr Hunt gave the men his purse but repeatedly asked for at least two or three carlins (a Sicilian silver coin worth about fourpence) to be returned to him, perhaps trying to convince them that he had no other money or valuables with him. Caroline – terrified – begged her husband to just hand over everything; the men knew there was a box in the carriage containing the silverware and they wanted more than just Mr Hunt’s purse. But Thomas Welch Hunt was obstinate and imprudent; he was also deaf to his wife’s pleas and bravely contemptuous of the threats made by the men pointing their muskets at the couple. “If you do not immediately give up everything, we will shoot you”. “You dare not do that”, responded Mr Hunt. Caroline recalled the fatal moment:
The words were no sooner uttered than we were both unfortunately shot. I wish he had not been so obstinate, and I am sure they would not have acted so rashly – but pray do not tell my husband I said so. They all made their escape without delay without taking a single article from us.
The servant who had been on the box took one of the horses and galloped as fast as he could back to the ruins at Paestum to find the three midshipmen. The carriage, with the wounded couple inside, headed back the same way.
Mr Hunt and his wife were gently carried into the ruins and it was clear that they were both mortally wounded. A ball had passed through Mr Hunt’s right breast, and another had passed clean through Caroline’s left hand and left breast. Medical aid was sent for and a message also sent to Mr John Roskilly, an eminent English surgeon resident at Naples (who had treated Percy Bysshe Shelley a few years earlier). Thomas Welch Hunt was too injured to be moved and he died amid the ruins of the Greek temples at seven o’clock that evening; Caroline had been taken to a nearby farmhouse where she was tended to but not told of her husband’s death. The next morning (Saturday) she was able to tell Mr Thorndike what had happened but after that she became weak and she died in the early hours of the Sunday morning. Mr Roskilly arrived at noon on the Sunday, too late to be of use but it was he who discovered what had become of Thomas Welch Hunt’s body. It had been taken to the church and the local surgeon had opened the body before placing it – upright – in a narrow closet, unclothed and with the body still open. Roskilly was able to prevent Caroline’s remains suffering the same fate.
The young, newly married couple were buried side-by-side, and a tablet to their memory is located nearby in the churchyard of Christ Church in Naples; another was placed back in the church at Wadenhoe.
The brigands were rounded up, accused and found guilty of the Hunts murder.
EXECUTION OF THE ASSASSINS OF MR. AND MRS HUNT
NAPLES, APRIL 28, 1825
The assassins of the unfortunate Mr. and Mrs. Hunt, whose case excited so deep and extensive an interest, were executed last Saturday, 23d inst. The Neapolitan journal, which, as you may remember, avoided making any mention of the distressing affair at the time it happened, and which only alluded to it lately, when the malefactors were discovered, inserted yesterday a long article on the subject. It appears, that immediately after committing the crime, the villains had kept themselves closely hidden, and by means of the wife of one of them, who denounced certain innocent individuals, misled for some time the pursuits of the police. At last, however, the whole mystery was cleared up, and the following individuals secured: – Felice Solito, aged 32, a peasant; Biagio Manzo, 32, a colono, (or little farmer); Liberato Letteriello di Vincenzo, aged 26, a peasant; Pietro Antonio di Pasquale, aged 28, a wine seller, or tavernajo; Maria Vittoria Calabrese, aged 39, wife of Biagio Manzo; Marianna Cirmo, aged 30, wife of Liberato Letteriello, Raffaele Frasca, aged 30, a guardiano campestre, (or man armed for taking care of country property); and Nicola Maria Petrelli, whose condition is not mentioned, aged 38. These persons were brought before the Military Commission of the Province at Salerno, according to a decree of King Ferdinand, dated 3d October, 1822, which orders that all briganti, or companies of robbers, be tried by martial law, and executed immediately after conviction. The Commission… declared Solito, Manzo, Letteriello, and Di Pasquale, guilty, recommending, however, Solito to Royal mercy, as his evidence had principally discovered the secrets of the crime, in which also he had taken the least part. Of the other individuals, accused of being privy to the desperate projects of the assassins, and of having lent them arms and assistance, one, viz. Cirmo, was acquitted in toto, and the other three detained in prison for further examination.
The three ordered for execution were carried down to Eboli and shot, at three o’clock in the afternoon of Saturday. The brutal ruffians, the sanguinary destroyers of defenceless youth and beauty, died like dastardly villains as they were. Those hearts which had the baneful energy to arrive at the excess of crime, which could dictate the cruel blow that was to send to a premature grave two beings rich in merit, in love, and in happiness; and that was to wound the hearts of thousands of the just and virtuous, trembled and sunk at their own sufferings. They moaned, they shrieked, nor could all the consolations of religion give them strength to face their punishment.
It appeared on the trial that the criminals took to the road, for the first time, the day before our unfortunate country people fell into their hands.
Probably the last likeness of Caroline Hunt née Isham which survives is a plaster cast medallion, done by Neri while she was in Rome and which was in the possession of a descendant of the Isham family, Gyles Isham, in 1950. Intriguingly, either the original or a second copy was bought at an antique show in Massachusetts and was in a fragile box alongside a similar one of Rosa Bathurst, another young Englishwoman who also died in Italy in 1824 (Rosa drowned in the Tiber). It is not known how their two medallions ended up together, but you can read more about them by clicking here.
In An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliot, we mention her uncle by marriage, John Dundas who married Helen Brown, Grace’s determined and strong-minded maternal aunt who was a constant presence in Grace’s formative years. In 1748, some six years before Grace was born, John Dundas was a Captain in the 34th Regiment of Foot and was placed in command of a troop of soldiers hunting two fugitives from Newgate Prison.
William Gray and Thomas Kemp had been arrested for smuggling, both members of the notorious Hawkhurst Gang of smugglers and thieves who terrorised the south coast of England from Kent to Dorset during 1735 to 1750. On the 30th March 1748, these two, along with five other smugglers who were all being held in Newgate, managed to escape, all taking different routes through the London streets. Five of them were soon taken, but Gray and Kemp got clean away. They evaded capture for some weeks until, in mid-May, the following report appeared in the newspapers:
By an Express from Hastings we have an Account, that William Gray, who lately broke out of Newgate, was last Tuesday Morning retaken by a party of Lord Cobham’s Dragoons, under the Command of Capt. Dundass, of Cholmondeley’s Regiment of Foot and carry’d to that Place; and that Kemp, who broke out at the same Time with Gray, narrowly escaped being taken with him.
William Gray stood trial and was sentenced to be transported for seven years; the Penny London Post reported on 27th July 1748, that Gray had given the Government information regarding smugglers and he was to be pardoned, however, he remained in Newgate and the General Evening Post, 19th November 1748 mentioned that he was so ill his life was despaired of. Thomas Kemp was recaptured along with his brother in 1749, after breaking into a house armed with pistols; both were sentenced to death.
More information on John Dundas and his wife Helen Brown can be found in our book which documents not only Grace’s life but those of her extended family as well.
The 15th of May marks the anniversary of the death of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, eighteenth-century courtesan and mother of the Prince of Wales’ reputed daughter.
Grace died in Ville d’Avray, Paris, in 1823, having lived a long and tumultuous life filled with adventure and experiencing both the highs and the lows of the society of her age. Although she is best remembered as a demi-rep, there is so much more to her than that: she was not merely the mistress of titled men, but a strong woman in her own right, one who lived on her own terms. Sadly though, at the end of her life, Grace had little left; her one remaining close family relative was her young granddaughter who she adored, and Grace’s dying regret was that she had nothing but her best wishes to leave her. She was buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery on the outskirts of Paris.
Grace left a will, one which caused a little trouble to the 1st Marquess and Marchioness of Cholmondeley, the guardians of her granddaughter. To the Cholmondeleys fell the trouble of sorting out her affairs as they related to England and to her granddaughter. An adopted daughter, formerly known as Miss Staunton, laid claim to Grace’s French assets.
The marquess hired an English attorney, Mr Allen, to sort the matter out. In his accounts he lists a payment for a woman he described as Grace’s sister, to cover the cost of a carriage she took to Sèvres to testify to Grace’s handwriting. A sister? Grace only had one known sister, Jacintha, who had died some years earlier, although a shadowy third sister is mentioned in some sources. In our biography, An Infamous Mistress, we suggest who this lady could be, the one lady left in Grace’s latter years who had both an interest in Grace’s will and a genuine affection for her.
Our biography of Grace, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, the product of many years of research into her life, is now available and published by Pen and Sword Books. It is the most definitive account to date of Grace’s life and also sheds new light on her equally fascinating wider family and ancestors, giving us a better understanding of the real woman behind her notorious persona.
Header image: Ville d’Avray, the Pond and the Cabassud House by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, c.1840. WikiArt.
A Jack-in-the-Green was once a traditional sight amongst English May Day celebrations. Dancing at the head of processions on the day, often noisy and drunk, the Jack-in-the-Green was a man who covered himself in a conical or pyramidal framework decorated with green foliage, concealing his body. He resembled a walking tree or bush. The parades were riotous affairs, usually consisting of a King and Queen (or a Lord and Lady) as well as the Jack-in-the-Green, together with jesters, clowns, chimney sweeps and musicians.
It is believed that the custom began from the tradition of making garlands of flowers for May Day and got a little out of hand, resulting in the Jack-in-the-Green being covered head to foot. Although no-one is too sure why the Jack-in-the-Green is usually associated with chimney sweeps. One theory is that it was the Sweeps Guilds who increasingly enlarged the size of the May Day garlands, hoping that the people watching the procession would give them their coins as they passed by rather than donate them to the other participants in the parade. (May Day was a traditional holiday for chimney sweeps; it is sometimes known as ‘Chimney Sweeper’s day’.) First recorded in London, Jack-in-the-Greens were soon appearing across the country.
Although Jack-in-the-Greens can still be seen in some town and village May Day celebrations, often associated now with the custom of the Green Man and signifying spring and rebirth, the custom largely died out in the Victorian era, replaced instead by a more sedate May Queen.
We’ve found some references to eighteenth-century May Day celebrations which include Jack-in-the-Greens in the newspapers. The earliest known reference dates to 1775.
Jack of the Green had made his garland by five in the morning, and got under his shady building by seven…
(Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser, 2nd May 1775)
May Day in London, 1786 was awash with events which caused the newspapers to take note. Warren Hastings, statesman and first Governor of the Presidency of Fort William in Bengal, India was facing questions by government ministers over his role in the Maratha War, Frances Lewis stood trial at the Old Bailey for the murder of Ann Rose and a Jack-in-the-Green merrily cantered through the London streets.
Yesterday being the first of May, several curious Circumstances took Place. – The Sweeps and Milkmaids, with Jack o’ th’ Green, danced through the Streets – Mr. Hastings appeared at the Bar of the House of Commons to defend his Cause, though no Impeachment is yet made out – And a Woman tried a the Old-Bailey for the Murder of another Woman, was found guilty of Manslaughter.
(Northampton Mercury, 6th May 1786)
Yesterday being the 1st of May, the Honourable Mrs. Montague entertained the Chimney-sweepers according to annual custom, with roast beef, mutton, and baked plumb-pudding, in the lawn of her house in Portman-square, and after their regale gave them each a shilling. Mrs. Montague appeared in good spirits among the Nobility whom she invited to see the motley company. The outside of the place was thronged with people, carriages, and carts; among the latter several broke down by being overloaded with spectators. The Duchess of York, in her curricle, stopped some time, and seemed highly delighted with the Jacks in the Green, the pyramids of tankards, and the dancing of the sweeps and their ladies on the lawn.
(Staffordshire Advertiser, 6th May 1797)
We’ll leave you with this video of a modern day Jack-in-the-Green, from the May Day Festival at Hastings in 2016.
Sources not mentioned above:
Jack in the Green – a chimney sweep’s tale by Lucy Lilliman, Social History intern at Leeds Museums and Galleries, 2013
Hugh Dalrymple, father of the celebrated courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott, had two surviving brothers, Cathcart Dalrymple, a Glasgow merchant and Primrose Dalrymple, a naval officer. Primrose’s wonderfully unusual forename is given a possible explanation in our book An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliot.
Primrose had a steady naval career, dying in London at the age of only thirty years and, in his will, leaving everything he owned to the woman he had loved and had intended to marry.
Primrose’s intended spouse was his cousin Susan, the daughter of the Reverend Alexander Orr and his aunt Agnes Dalrymple and, from his will written in 1766, he clearly loved her deeply. The marriage never took place though for Primrose died in 1767 and Susan, after a year of mourning for her lost love, married another man, William Murray of Murraythwaite. She was keeping it in the family too! William Murray’s mother was Elizabeth Dalrymple, and William Murray was therefore also related to both Susan Orr and Primrose Dalrymple.
Susan’s brother was Alexander Orr, a man who would become a Writer to the Signet, trusted (perhaps mistakenly) by all the extended Dalrymple and Brown family (Grace’s maternal relatives); he was named as executor on Primrose’s will but left it unadministered until 1773 when it was finally proved. Neither Hugh nor his family were mentioned at all in the will despite Hugh living in London and being the closest geographically to Primrose at his death, hinting at a rift in the family.
Lieutenant Primrose Dalrymple was buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s, Islington on 17th April 1767.
You can find out more details of Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s extended family in our biography of her, available now at all good bookshops and via the links above and in the sidebar.
Overmantle painting of Newport c.1740 from a private collection via “Another Pair Not Fellows“; Adventures in Research and Reinterpreting the American Revolution
Charles Davis (or Davies) was a painter and artists’ supplier who lived in Bath in the eighteenth-century. In 1778 he placed an advertisement in the Bath Chronicle which both promoted his own business and offered a house in Westgate Buildings for rental. The house was taken by another painter, Thomas Beach, who evidently got to know the Davis family very well for he painted Charles Davis as well as three other members of the family.
CHARLES DAVIS, Painter, the lower end of Westgate-street, near King’s mead-square, sells on the best terms, – All sorts of fine Colours, dry or prepared in oil or water… Crayons… N.B. A convenient House, with four rooms on a floor, situate in Westgate-Buildings, to lett.
Charles Davis had married Hannah Rotten in 1764 at St. James’s in Bath. Thomas Beach’s portrait of Hannah was executed shortly before her death in 1782.
The Davis’ only daughter was known as Jenny but was probably the Ann Davis born in Bath in 1766. She was painted by Thomas Beach twice.
In the second portrait of her, painted c.1780, Jenny is portrayed as a bride but it would be a further two years before she actually walked down the aisle of Bath Abbey to marry John Langton, a wholesale linen-draper from Cheapside. She married as Jenny Davis, on 16th April 1782, by licence and with the consent of her father; if hers is the baptism found in 1766 then she was only aged around 16-years at the time of her wedding and was a mere 14-years-of-age when she posed as a bride for Thomas Beach.
Eight years later, in 1790, the Davis’ eldest son, Charles Davis Jr, married Lydia Winter; by this union they are the grandparents of the noted Bath architect Major Charles Edward Davis. Lydia was also painted by Thomas Beach, after her marriage. (This painting is incorrectly noted in some sources as being the image of Charles Davis Senior’s second wife.)
MARRIAGES – Thursday, at St. Andrew’s church, Holborn, Mr. Charles Davis, jun. of Bath, to Miss Lydia Winter, of New Ormond-street.
Charles Davis Senior married for a second time on 18th October 1792, to Dorothy Townley. The marriage took place at St George’s in Bloomsbury. Dorothy was the sister-in-law of the Bath born actor, Richard Wroughton, who trod the boards of both the Covent Garden and Drury Lane theatres to some acclaim, and who was later a theatre manager. He was an ‘actor of the old school, in which he always maintained a most respectable rank; and as a private Gentleman he was throughout life deservedly respected and esteemed’. Dorothy was mentioned alongside Richard Wroughton in the will of the actress Elizabeth Bennet who died in 1791. Richard Wroughton’s first wife had been Joanna Wroughton.
MARRIAGES – Mr. Charles Davis, of Mount Beacon, near Bath, to Miss Townley, sister-in-law to Richard Wroughton, Esq; of Charlotte-street, Bloomsbury.
Additional image in header: East View of Bath Abbey, c.1805 (Victoria Art Gallery, Bath)
British and Irish Paintings in Public Collections: An Index of British and Irish Oil Paintings by Artists Born Before 1870 in Public and Institutional Collections in the United Kingdom and Ireland by Christopher Wright and Catherine May Gordon. (Yale University Press, 2006)
The Collected Letters of Robert Southey, part two: 1798-1803, edited by Ian Packer and Lynda Pratt.
A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers and Other Stage Personnel in London, 1600-1800, volumes 1 and 2, Philip H. Highfill, Kalman A. Burnim and Edward A. Langhans. (SIU Press, 1973)
A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers and Other Stage Personnel in London, 1600-1800: W. West to Zwingham, Philip H. Highfill, Kalman A. Burnim and Edward A. Langhans. (SIU Press, 1993)
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 18th April 1782
Kentish Gazette, 23rd April 1790 and 26th October 1792.
James Turner and George White were beggars and it might seem odd that they should have been immortalised in works of art by the likes of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Nathaniel Hone, the elder. In actual fact they were used by some of the greatest painters of the eighteenth-century as artist’s models, a nice side-line which supplemented their income derived from begging on the London streets and as casual labourers.
James Turner, with his long white hair and flowing beard and his wise, wrinkled and well-lived-in face was painted in miniature by Nathaniel Hone the elder in 1750. He was reputedly 93-years old and was paid one shilling per hour for his services to the artist, ‘which he asserted he always got by his profession of begging’.
Anglesey Abbey, a National Trust property in Cambridgeshire holds a miniature of an unknown man which is catalogued as possibly being an earlier miniature of James Turner by Nathaniel Hone.
After James, Hone and his great rival Sir Joshua Reynolds both used another beggar in their work, George White. Reynolds used him as the thirteenth-century Italian nobleman, Count Ugolino (featured in Dante’s Divine Comedy) in his 1773 depiction of the count and his children, starved to death.
George White, a Yorkshireman, became one of Reynold’s favourite models. He was discovered by the artist while working as a casual labourer, laying paving stones.
Old George… owed the case in which he passed his latter days, in great measure to Sir Joshua Reynolds, who found him exerting himself in the laborious employment of thumping down the stones in the street; and observing not only the grand and majestic traits of his countenance, but the dignity of his muscular figure, took him out of a situation to which his strength was by no means equal, clothed, fed, and had him, first as a model in his own painting room, then introduced him as a subject for the students of the Royal Academy.
In winter White would return to Yorkshire as ‘coals be cheap in the north, and warmth be the life of an old man’.
George White also appears in a portrait named Pope Pavarius (a pun on White’s former profession as a street mender or paviour) by Joshua Reynolds.
Nathaniel Hone too used White in his painting, The Pictorial Conjurer displaying the Whole Art of Optical Deception.
Portraits, memoirs, and characters, of remarkable persons (1820) – which does admittedly mix up James Turner and George White – has this to say of The Conjuror.
Some difference existing between Sir Joshua Reynolds and Mr Hone, the latter, in revenge, painted the figure of an old man, with a magic want, conjuring from the flames various designs from old masters, which Sir Joshua had taken for models of some of his best pictures; and had afterwards destroyed the originals. On the death of Mr Hone, in 1784, the whole of his collection of paintings, prints, and drawings, were sold by auction, at Hutchins’ rooms, in King-street, Covent-garden, when the picture of the Conjuror was purchased for sixty guineas, by an agent of Sir Joshua’s, and consigned to the same destructive element that had consumed the old masters.
More information on Nathaniel Hone, the elder can be found on Mike Rendell’s excellent blog by clicking here.
Grace Dalrymple Elliott, as we have been recounting to our readers, lived an adventurous life in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century England and France. However, our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, also documents the fascinating stories of her relatives.
Grace’s elder sister Jacintha showed no less enthusiasm for adventure and travel than her better-known sibling. The wife of Captain Thomas Hesketh of the Royal Fusiliers (the 7th Regiment of Foot), she bravely followed him to Canada and then into America during the American War of Independence. Like Grace, she had her fair share of charm and beauty and she came to the notice of no lesser a person than General Washington when her husband was taken prisoner.
Captain Hesketh was held in Philadelphia where he was treated fairly, and his name entered into the exchange of prisoners (at the personal request of Washington). There were problems however before his exchange, and the lack of Captain Hesketh’s personal possessions in Philadelphia was one of them as his baggage was at Lancaster, some miles away. Some of the letters referring to this ended up on the cutting room floor, so to speak, rather than in our book, so we give them in full here as a little extra detail for our readers.
In September 1776 the Philadelphian Secretary of War Richard Peters (whose father had been born in Liverpool, England) wrote to Jasper Yeates of Lancaster, Pennsylvania asking for assistance for Thomas Hesketh.
Philadelphia, September 27, 1776
A Captain Hesketh’s baggage is at Lancaster, under the care of his servant and Sergeant Cooper, prisoners of war. He wants it much at Philadelphia and does not know how to get it. Do be so good as to take the pains of inquiring after it and send it down, directed to my care. If it be in the custody of the Committee, this letter will, I fancy, be a justification for their delivery of it. He is a British officer, a prisoner of war and a very good, but a very helpless man, therefore requires assistance in this matter. I will pay any expense attending the baggage. The reason of troubling you is, that the chests are broke open and require either new locks or to be corded and sealed and sent in the care of some trusty person. As the baggage is under these circumstances, I know it is disagreeable to have anything to do with it. But he knows this and though he believes the people who have them honest, he must run the risk.
I am your affectionate, humble servant,
To Jasper Yeates, Esq
Unfortunately Jasper Yeates was at Pittsburg and did not receive the letter. Richard Peters sent a further plea.
War-Office, October 9, 1776.
A Captain Hesketh, a British officer, prisoner of war at this place, is in great want of his baggage. I wrote at his request, to Mr. Yeates to send it to him, but am informed by letter from Mrs. Yeates that he is at Pittsburg. If any of your body will be so obliging as to call on Mrs. Yeates and get from her that letter I wrote him and comply with the request therein made, you will oblige your very obedient servant,
Richard Peters, Secretary at War.
To the Committee of the Town of Lancaster
Captain Hesketh’s baggage consists of one trunk, one valise, one portmanteau, one pair of canteens.
Luckily for Captain Hesketh, this time the request did receive a response and the Lancaster Committee of Observation, Inspection and Correspondence, on the 12th October 1776, agreed to send on the baggage.
In Committee, Lancaster, Pa., October 14, 1776.
Our last post brought the Committee your letter of the 9th instant, upon receipt of which I applied to Mr. Yeates for your letter respecting Captain Hesketh’s baggage, which is now sent by Christian Schwartz’ s wagoner, being one trunk, one valise, one portmanteau, one pair of canteens, which Sergeant Cooper says contains all the baggage of Captain Hesketh which was under his care, except the coat and breeches mentioned in the Captain’ s letter to the Sergeant, which are delivered to Allen’ s wife by Cooper. Sergeant Cooper desires me to mention that Captain Hesketh’s late servant, Allen, is dead.
I have made no agreement with the man about the price he is to have for carriage, but leave that to you.
I am, sir, your very humble servant,
William H. Atlee, Chairman.
To Richard Peters, Esq
At a Committee of Treasury meeting held on the 17th October 1776 it was stated that there was due to Captain Thomas Hesketh $26, being his allowance of $2 a week between the periods 20th July to 19th October.
In December, Captain Thomas Hesketh was allowed to leave Philadelphia for New York, upon trust that the British would substitute another prisoner for him, on the express orders of General Washington.
I met Captain Hesketh on the road and as the situation of his family did not admit of delay, I permitted him to go immediately to New-York, not having the least doubt but that General Howe will make a return of any officer of equal rank who shall be required.
Captain Hesketh’s wife, Jacintha, was with him and heavily pregnant; had she personally interceded with the general on behalf of her husband? Washington specifically referred to Jacintha in a letter written at Brunswick on 1st December 1775 to Lieutenant-General Howe.
Besides the persons included on the enclosed list, Captain Hesketh, of the Seventh Regiment, his lady, three children and two servant maids, were permitted to go in a few days ago…
Thomas Dalrymple Hesketh was born in New York in January 1777. He would, in time, become Sir Thomas Dalrymple Hesketh, 3rd Baron Hesketh of Rufford Hall in Lancashire.
More information on Jacintha and her husband’s time in America can be found in An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott.
American Archives: Documents of the American Revolution, 1774-1776
An East Perspective View of the City of Philadelphia, in the Province of Pensylvania, in North America, taken from the Jersey Shore, 1778. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Divorced wife, infamous mistress, prisoner in France during the French Revolution and the reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ child, notorious eighteenth-century courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott lived an amazing life in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century London and Paris.
Strikingly tall and beautiful, later lampooned as ‘Dally the Tall’ in newspaper gossip columns, she left her Scottish roots and convent education behind, to re-invent herself in a ‘marriage-a-la-mode’, but before she was even legally an adult she was cast off and forced to survive on just her beauty and wits.
The authors of this engaging and, at times, scandalous book intersperse the history of Grace’s tumultuous life with anecdotes of her fascinating family, from those who knew Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and who helped to abolish slavery, to those who were, like Grace, mistresses of great men.
Whilst this book is the most definitive biography of Grace Dalrymple Elliott ever written, it is much more than that; it is Grace’s family history which traces her ancestors from their origin in the Scottish borders, to their move south to London. It follows them to France, America, India, Africa and elsewhere, offering a broad insight into the social history of the Georgian era, comprising the ups and downs, the highs and lows of life at that time.
This is the remarkable and detailed story of Grace set, for the first time, in the context of her wider family and told more completely than ever before.
Great Tom is the name of the bell which hangs in Tom Tower at Christ Church, one of the colleges at Oxford University. The following print was produced for Valentine’s Day in 1816, playing on the names, with two Oxford men fleeing underneath Great Tom away from a Christ Church Belle.
We were drawn to this print as it relates, in a loose way, to our latest book, A Right Royal Scandal. Valentine’s Day 1816 found Lord Charles Bentinck, a younger brother of the Duke of Portland, embroiled in a highly scandalous Criminal Conversation trial following his elopement the previous year with the wife of Sir William Abdy. The lady was the niece of the famed Duke of Wellington and the amorous couple had eloped just weeks after his triumph at the Battle of Waterloo. Tongues had not stopped wagging since!
A divorce and a swift remarriage followed and for a while the Bentincks lived quietly and tried to let the scandal die down.
But it was the eldest son of Lord and Lady Charles Bentinck who we think of when we see the print above. Charley Cavendish Bentinck did not attend Christ Church, instead studying at Merton from 1837, and he did not flee from his Belle: instead he ran directly into her arms! In the village of Summertown, just outside Oxford and nestled against the Cumnor Hills, lived the Lambournes, a humble working class family.
James Lambourne was a horse dealer known to settle disputes with his fists and his wife Sinnetta was a full blooded gypsy who had left her family and peripatetic way of life upon her marriage. The couple had a daughter, named Sinnetta like her mother, who was a dark-haired beauty, and she captivated not only the aristocratic Charley but a rival too. Charley won her heart but it was a romance which had to be kept secret and one which had devastating consequences for the two star-crossed lovers.
Not a few Oxford men, of nine or ten years’ standing, could tell a tale of frantic passion for a Gipsy girl entertained by two young men at one time, one of them with ducal blood in his veins, who ultimately wooed and wedded his Gipsy love. So that it is no way impossible (the heirs to the dukedom being all unmarried, and unlikely to marry) that the ducal coronet of ____ may come to be worn by the son of a Gipsy mother
And why was it a right royal scandal? Because Charley Cavendish Bentinck is the great-grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II. Our book looks at the Cavendish Bentinck and Wellesley families, at their ‘scandalous marriages’ and shows how our modern history, as it concerns the British royal family, could look very different indeed, if not for a young gypsy girl.
Reviews for A Right Royal Scandal
…Major and Murden keep their text entertaining and light throughout, making for an easy read of a subject that keeps you engrossed from start to finish. This book is brilliant for those who enjoy the scandals of historical television, with the added authenticity of historical fact. History of Royals, February 2017
Awesome real life biography that could be a scandalous historical romance novel. Loved it. NetGalley, reviewed by Nikkia Neil
The biography reads like a saucy Regency/Georgian novel with love affairs, mistresses, illegitimate offspring, elopements and unsuitable (and unhappy) marriages galore. A golden thread weaves through this colourful tapestry of indiscretions leading us from the Battle of Waterloo to the present day, from the Duke of Wellington’s niece to our very own Prince William… Buy it, read it, you won’t be disappointed – a true 5* gem of a book! Amazon, reviewed by Lally Brown
This really is a case of ‘You couldn’t make it up’. The plots may seem to come straight out of the world of Regency Romance but they are all true, and carefully annotated and verified by Major and Murden. Amazon review – reviewed by Nomester
Here in Lincolnshire in the English Midlands, we’re yet to see any real snow this winter and it’s beginning to look a little unlikely now. Certainly, we have not yet been able to build a snowman so, while we wait for a good snowfall, today we’re going to take a closer look at an engraving of a snowman built by a young boy and his friends in the eighteenth-century.
Thomas Bewick, wood engraver and natural history author, was born in 1753 in the village of Mickley in Northumberland, in a cottage known as Cherryburn. With a talent for drawing, young Thomas was apprenticed at the age of fourteen years to Ralph Beilby, a Newcastle engraver, later becoming a partner in his business.
The following two vignettes supposedly show Thomas Bewick as a child, building a giant snowman at Cherryburn. Bewick is the boy standing on the stool, putting the finishing touches to the snowman, while his childhood friend, Joe Liddell, stands behind him, shivering and with his arms crossed.
The cottage shown in the background is Cherryburn and, in the latter image, Bewick’s bedroom window, which was next to his bedhead, is visible to the right of the horse’s head. The image appeared as a tailpiece woodcut engraving at the end of British Birds, 1797. Another tailpiece in the book shows Joe Liddell out hunting in the snow.
(Henry Fielding, The Covent Garden Tragedy, 1732).
There are many tall tales told about Mary (Moll) King, a shrewd businesswoman and proprietress of King’s Coffee House in London’s Covent Garden. Several sources also say that she was a pickpocket, stealing watches from ladies’ pockets, and spent time in Newgate for her crimes as well as being transported on more than one occasion, each time returning home to England post haste. She was, it was alleged, an accomplice of the notorious Jonathan Wild, one of his gang of thieves, and while in Newgate met Daniel Defoe who, it is alleged, used her as the inspiration for Moll Flanders. Later she settled down with her husband to run their very successful coffee shop, from where she operated as a form of bawd and was prosecuted for keeping a disorderly house.
It all seems a little far-fetched and, if we’re completely honest, we don’t believe the half of it. A certain Moll King appeared before the judges for thieving in 1693, and our Moll wasn’t born until 1696 (as claimed in a pamphlet, The Life and Character of Moll King, late mistress of King’s Coffee House in Covent Garden published anonymously in 1747 shortly after her death).
Mary King is not an uncommon name and we’re sure more than one Mary or Moll King would have been in trouble with the authorities in London in the first half of the eighteenth-century. It seems that the history of the pick-pocketing Moll King, who had a criminal career lasting between at least 1693 and 1728 and who Defoe based Moll Flanders upon, has become entwined in popular imagination with that of Moll King, mistress of King’s Coffee House. The pick-pocketing rumours abounded even during Moll’s own lifetime, as they are specifically discredited in The Life and Character.
Moll was born in 1696 in a garret in Vine Street (now Grape Street) in the heart of St Giles in the Fields, the daughter of a shoemaker and a fruit, fish and greens seller. As a child, she helped her mother in the market and had a brief spell as a servant but hated being indoors all day and went back to selling fruit from a barrow. According to The Life and Character, in 1717 at the Fleet, she married one Thomas King.
Tom King too has a somewhat fanciful story. The son of an obviously well-to-do family, he was born around 1694 in West Ashton in Wiltshire. E.J. Burford, in Wits, Wenchers, and Wantons: London’s Low Life: Covent Garden in the Eighteenth Century says he was the son of Thomas King, a squire of Thurlow in Suffolk and Elizabeth, daughter of Sir John Cordell, Baronet, who had married in 1691 at St Paul’s in Covent Garden. In 1708, at the age of 14 years, he went to Eton and then, in 1713, to King’s College, Cambridge. Three years later he left Cambridge under a cloud, either expelled or in apprehension that his fellowship would be denied to him, depending upon which account you read. Whatever the cause, he ended up working in Covent Garden market where he was known as Smooth’d-Fac’d-Tom, and there he met Moll.
Around the time she met Tom, it is alleged that Moll also had an affair with a gentleman named John Stanley who, in 1723, met his end at the gallows on Tyburn; he had stabbed his mistress. A pamphlet published the same year gave his history, including details of his brief dalliance with Moll five years earlier.
Is it true? Almost certainly not; it’s another of the many myths which surround Moll’s life, and probably relates to Moll the pick-pocket. The Life and Character admits only an affair with a man named Murray who was in high public office, whilst noting that the handsome Moll was never short of male admirers. One son was born to Tom and Moll, named Charles (Moll names him in her will as her only child and subsequent claims that she educated him at Eton appear to be a falsehood stemming from Tom King’s education there).
The next sighting of either Tom or Moll upon which we can rely comes in 1730 when ‘Thomas King, the Market’ appeared amongst the list of victuallers in St Paul’s, Covent Garden in the licensing register.
The Kings, or rather Moll, had made a tidy profit selling nuts from a stall in the Covent Garden market, and with the money rented a shabby little house (in fact nothing more than a wooden shack) in the Piazza at Covent Garden market and began selling coffee, tea and chocolate to the market sellers, naming their business King’s Coffee House. It was soon known informally as King’s College. As they opened in the very early hours of the morning, when the market traders began work and started to sell strong liquors as well as coffee, they began attracting the custom of those who had ventured to Covent Garden after dark, seeking pleasure, everyone from prostitutes to fashionable young beaux. Soon they were open all through the night. It is said that the clientele included Hogarth, Henry Fielding (who mentioned the coffee house in two of his works), Alexander Pope and John Gay. By 1732 business was booming and the Kings bought the two adjoining properties to expand their business. The new Covent Garden Theatre opened next door to their coffee house.
The business thrived. It is said that Moll acted as a procuress and bawd, but had no beds in the coffee house (except hers and Tom’s in an upstairs room, accessed via a ladder which they pulled up behind them) so she could not be prosecuted for running a brothel. Instead, the assignation would be made at her coffee house and she would then send a servant to light their way to a nearby bagnio. It is also suggested that she operated as a money lender. To deter outsiders from knowing what was going on within their doors, Tom and Moll, and their customers, started ‘Talking Flash’, their own secret language.
Their good fortune enabled Tom to build two or three ‘substantial houses’ and a villa on Haverstock Hill on the road to Hampstead, and he and Moll moved into one of them. The dancer and actress Nancy Dawson (famous for her hornpipe between acts in The Beggar’s Opera) later lived in the villa. Tom King died in the October of 1737 at his Hampstead home after a lingering illness exacerbated by his drinking and was buried at St Paul’s in Covent Garden on the 11th of that month. Moll was granted administration of his estate (goods in Hart Street, Covent Garden and the Coffee House in Covent Garden were mentioned) and took over the running of their coffee house, together with her nephew, William King.
Moll now took to drink – she was previously known for remaining sober – and the coffee house gained a worse reputation than that which it had previously enjoyed under Tom’s management and she began to appear before the courts charged with keeping a disorderly house. It was around this time that Hogarth depicted King’s College in his painting Morning, one of ‘The Four Times of the Day’ series. The scene shows two rakes and their prostitutes who have just staggered out of King’s into the early morning sunshine of a wintry day; icicles can be seen hanging from the timber roof of the coffee shop. Inside, a fight can be seen taking place.
Moll stayed a widow for a twelvemonth, and when her year of mourning was over she married again, on the 11th October 1738 at St Dunstan in the West, to John Hoff, a carpenter and builder who lived on Compton Street in Soho. It was thought that John Hoff married Moll for her money, and indeed she did continue to use her former married name, at least in connection with her coffee house, but none of the evidence suggests that Mr Hoff was after Moll’s fortune. He died just less than four months into their marriage and his will, written on the 6th February 1739, appoints Moll as his executrix and everything is left to her. Moll proved the will on the 9th February before her husband was even in his grave. (John Hoff was buried at St Paul’s in Covent Garden on the 14th February 1739.)
It was in 1739, shortly after Mr Hoff’s death, that a disturbance at King’s Coffee House made the newspapers. A young gentleman claimed that Moll had beaten him in her house and the case ended up in the Court of the King’s Bench. Moll was found guilty. She was told that she was to be fined the considerable sum of £200, had to find sureties for her future good behaviour and that she would be held in prison until the fine was paid. Moll stubbornly went to prison refusing to pay the fine for, as she said, “if she was to pay two hundred pounds to all the insolent boys she had thrash’d for their impudence, the Bank of England would be unable to furnish her with the cash”. In her absence, the coffee house was run by her nephew and Moll languished in prison. It was said that she eventually came to an arrangement to pay less than half the fine in return for her release.
Moll retained her Hampstead villa (which was known locally as Moll King’s Folly), but when she came to write her will on the 6th June 1747 she was ‘Mary Hoff of the parish of St Paul Covent Garden, widow’. She left a few small bequests to her sister-in-law and friends, but the bulk of her reputedly considerable fortune she left to her only child, Charles King, in trust for him until he reached 30 years of age. If he died before that, she willed that her estate was to be used by the parish of St Giles in the Fields to benefit poor children. Moll obviously hadn’t forgotten her roots. She died later that year, on the 17th September 1747 and was buried ten days later in the same churchyard as her two husbands, St Paul’s Covent Garden.
It was after Moll’s death that The Life and Character of Moll King appeared on the streets, which gave details of her criminal career. But how much truth is there in it? To be honest, we’re still not completely sure. Our opinion, and it is no more than that, is that the legend of the pick-pocketing Moll King has become entwined with that of Moll King, mistress of King’s Coffee House. You could accuse the latter Moll of being a bawd, a drunk and the keeper of a disorderly house, but we’re not sure that you could accuse her of much else. Unfortunately, it’s probably one of those cases which will never truly be proved one way or the other.
 E. J. Burford says Thurlow in Essex, but the marriage register at Covent Garden gives Thurlow in Suffolk. Thomas was the son of Robert King of Great Thurlow in Suffolk; Robert’s will c.1709 mentions his ‘unfortunate son’ Thomas and a grandson named John King, but not a grandson named Thomas.
Covent Garden Market by Balthasar Nebot, 1737 (The Tate)
The Records of Old Westminsters, Up to 1927
The Life and Character of Moll King, late mistress of King’s Coffee House in Covent Garden, 1747
Women in Business, 1700-1850 by Nicola Jane Phillips, Boydell & Brewer Ltd, 2006
London – The Wicked City: A Thousand Years of Prostitution and Vice by Fergus Linnane, Robson, 2007
Wits, Wenchers, and Wantons: London’s Low Life: Covent Garden in the Eighteenth Century by E. J. Burford, Robert Hale Ltd, 1986
Transactions of the Royal Historical Society: Volume 11: Sixth Series, The Royal Historical Society, Cambridge University Press, 2003