Overmantle painting of Newport c.1740 from a private collection via "Another Pair Not Fellows"; Adventures in Research and Reinterpreting the American Revolution

Lieutenant Primrose Dalrymple and Susan Orr

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.

An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott. http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/A-Right-Royal-Scandal-Hardback/p/12374/?aid=1156

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.

Miniature of an unknown naval officer, c.1770 (via Ruby Lane).
Miniature of an unknown naval officer, c.1770 (via Ruby Lane).

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.

St Mary's, Islington in 1821 via Grosvenor Prints.
St Mary’s, Islington in 1821 via Grosvenor Prints.

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.

Featured image

Overmantle painting of Newport c.1740 from a private collection via “Another Pair Not Fellows“; Adventures in Research and Reinterpreting the American Revolution

Painted c.1780, Jenny Davis 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 on 16th April 1782, by licence and with the consent of her father.

Miss Jenny Davis as a bride, 1780

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.

Mrs Charles Davis (1726-1782) by Thomas Beach. Victoria Art Gallery
Mrs Charles Davis (1726-1782) by Thomas Beach; Victoria Art Gallery

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.

Miss Jenny Davis by Thomas Beach. Victoria Art Gallery
Miss Jenny Davis by Thomas Beach; Victoria Art Gallery

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.

Miss Davis as a Bride by Thomas Beach. Victoria Art Gallery
Miss Davis as a Bride by Thomas Beach; Victoria Art Gallery

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.

Mrs Charles Davis, Grandmother of Major C.E. Davis by Thomas Beach. Victoria Art Gallery
Mrs Charles Davis, Grandmother of Major C. E. Davis by Thomas Beach; Victoria Art Gallery

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. Townley’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.

Charles Davis (1741-1805) by Thomas Beach. Victoria Art Gallery
Charles Davis (1741-1805) by Thomas Beach; Victoria Art Gallery

 

Additional image in header: East View of Bath Abbey, c.1805 (Victoria Art Gallery, Bath)

Sources used:

Dictionary of pastellists before 1800 (online edition), Neil Jeffares

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.

Bell’s Weekly Messenger, 10th February 1822

James Turner and George White, beggars and artists’ models

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’.

James Turner by Nathaniel Hone the elder (inscribed James Turner a beggar aged 93 who valued his time at a shilling an hour, 1750). Adam's
James Turner by Nathaniel Hone the elder (inscribed James Turner a beggar aged 93 who valued his time at a shilling an hour, 1750). Adam’s

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.

An Unknown Man, possibly James Turner (b.1657) by Nathaniel Hone the elder. Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire
An Unknown Man, possibly James Turner (b.1657) by Nathaniel Hone the elder. Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire

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.

Count Ugolino and His Children in the Dungeon by Joshua Reynolds; National Trust, Knole
Count Ugolino and His Children in the Dungeon by Joshua Reynolds; National Trust, Knole

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’.

A Man's Head c.1771-3 by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Presented by Sir George Beaumont Bt 1826. Tate
A Man’s Head c.1771-3 by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Presented by Sir George Beaumont Bt 1826. Tate

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.

Pope Pavarius by Joshua Reynolds, via Wikimedia.
Pope Pavarius by Joshua Reynolds, via Wikimedia.

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.

Sketch for 'The Conjuror' 1775 by Nathaniel Hone. Tate
Sketch for ‘The Conjuror’ 1775 by Nathaniel Hone. Tate

 

More information on Nathaniel Hone, the elder can be found on Mike Rendell’s excellent blog by clicking here.

 

Sources not mentioned or linked to above:

Lowell Libson Ltd, 2015

General George Washington and the courtesan’s sister

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.

Copley, John Singleton; General George Washington (1732-1799); National Trust, Washington Old Hall; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/general-george-washington-17321799-169070
General George Washington (1732-1799) after John Singleton Copley; National Trust, Washington Old Hall

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

Dear Sir,

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,

RICHARD PETERS.

To Jasper Yeates, Esq

A plan of the city of Philadelphia, the capital of Pennsylvania, from an actual survey, 1776. Library of Congress
A plan of the city of Philadelphia, the capital of Pennsylvania, from an actual survey, 1776.
Library of Congress

Unfortunately Jasper Yeates was at Pittsburg and did not receive the letter.  Richard Peters sent a further plea.

War-Office, October 9, 1776.

Gentlemen:

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.

Sir,

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.

General George Washington, 1776. National Army Museum
General George Washington, 1776.
National Army Museum

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.

Source:

American Archives: Documents of the American Revolution, 1774-1776

Header image:

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

An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Infamous-Mistress-Celebrated-Dalrymple-Elliott/dp/1473844835

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 the Christ Church Belle: Valentine’s Day 1816

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.

A View of great Tom the Christ Church Belle, from the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, Ohio State University.
A View of great Tom the Christ Church Belle, from the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, Ohio State University.

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.

A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Right-Royal-Scandal-Marriages-Changed/dp/1473863422
Available by clicking the link on the side bar or from Amazon and other leading book sellers

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

 

 

Thomas Bewick’s snowman

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.

(c) The Natural History Society of Northumbria Great North Museum: Hancock; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Thomas Bewick in later life, painted by Thomas Sword Good, 1827. The Natural History Society of Northumbria Great North Museum: Hancock

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.

bewick-snowman
© The Trustees of the British Museum

 

bewick-snowman-engraving
© The Trustees of the British Museum

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.

bewick-snowman-hunter-in-the-snow
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Cherryburn is now owned by the National Trust. For more information on Thomas Bewick, his life and works, see The Bewick Society.

 

Sources not mentioned above:

Berwick Gleanings by Julia Boyd (1886)

Nature’s Engraver: A Life of Thomas Bewick by Jenny Uglow (Faber & Faber, 2011)

 

Header image:

Cherryburn.

Thomas Bewick’s childhood cottage and farmhouse on a hillside, with fence at left, seen from an orchard; frontispiece to ‘A Memoir of Thomas Bewick’ (London, 1862). © The Trustees of the British Museum

Moll King, proprietress of King’s Coffee House in Covent Garden

‘What rake is ignorant of King’s Coffee House?’

(Henry Fielding, The Covent Garden Tragedy, 1732).

There are many tall tales told about Mary (Moll) King, 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.

moll-king

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.

Vegetable seller, Covent Garden market by Pieter Angillis, c.1726. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Vegetable seller, Covent Garden market by Pieter Angillis, c.1726.
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Tom King too has a somewhat fanciful story. The son of an obviously well-to-do family, he was born around 1694 at 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.[1] 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.

Covent Garden by Pieter Angillis, c.1726 Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Covent Garden by Pieter Angillis, c.1726
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

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.

Inside the King's Coffee House. British Museum
Inside the King’s Coffee House.
British Museum

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 in to 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 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.

British Museum
British Museum

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 then she willed that her estate by 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.

moll-king-hampstead
British Museum

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.

A Monument for Tom King of King's Coffee House British Museum
A Monument for Tom King of King’s Coffee House
British Museum

 

Notes:

[1] 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.

 

Header image:

Covent Garden Market by Balthasar Nebot, 1737 (The Tate)

 

Sources:

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

Tom King’s Coffee House on Wikipedia

Old and New London: Volume 5. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.

Derby Mercury, 13th October 1737 and 7th June 1739

National Archives: PROB 3/36/147, 20th December 1737

Art Detectives: The Family of Captain RD Pritchard

We came across a painting on the ArtUK website, simply titled The Children of Captain RD Prichard and dated 1827; the artist is Philip August Gaugain (1791-1865). It captured our attention and so we decided to turn art detectives and find out a little more on the history behind the portrait. As a result we can now put names to the two children and provide a little more information on Captain Pritchard.

The Children of Captain R. D. Pritchard (1827) by Philip August Gaugain (1791–1865) Walker Art Gallery
The Children of Captain R. D. Pritchard (1827) by Philip August Gaugain (1791–1865)
Walker Art Gallery

Their father was Captain Richard Davison Pritchard of the Royal Navy. Born on the 30th May 1788 to Samuel Perkins and Ruth Ann Pritchard, he was baptised at St Mary, Newington on the 19th June. Richard’s father was a naval man and, following in his father’s footsteps at a very tender age, he joined the navy as a Volunteer 1st Class on the 10th August 1797, serving on board HMS Prince and rising to the rank of Midshipman by 1799. Service on HMS George and Blenheim followed before he joined HMS Royal Sovereign, the ship on which he would serve, as Master’s Mate, during the Battle of Trafalgar which took place on 21st October 1805.

The Battle of Trafalgar, as Seen from the Mizen Starboard Shrouds of the Victory by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851) Tate Britain
The Battle of Trafalgar, as Seen from the Mizen Starboard Shrouds of the Victory by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775–1851)
Tate Britain

Richard Davison Pritchard subsequently served on many royal naval vessels, seeing action and receiving wounds, He was twice discharged from his ship; in 1808 from HMS Terrible upon which he had the rank of Acting Lieutenant he was ‘invalided and unserviceable’ and the following year he joined HMS Avenger as a Lieutenant but was discharged ‘invalided’ at the end of 1809.

At 22 years of age he married Mary Ann Davis, on the 3rd July 1810, at the church of St Andrew by the Wardrobe. Interestingly, banns had been read at St Clement Danes for three weeks from the 31st December 1809, but no wedding had taken place there. Did Mary Ann’s family object to her marriage to an out-of-employ naval officer? She was mentioned in the Naval Chronicle as being the only daughter of the late John Davis of Binfield, Berkshire.

Their son, the boy in the portrait, similarly named to his father as Richard Davis Pritchard, was born in the following year, at Langley near Windsor and then there was a gap of 10 years before their daughter Rosanne Mary Pritchard was born, on the 5th February 1821 at the Bank House in Southampton. Rosanne Mary was baptized on the 4th March 1821 at Holyrood, Southampton.

Oxford Journal, 11th May 1811
Oxford Journal, 11th May 1811

During these years, Pritchard had served in the Transport service between November 1813 and August 1819, attaining the rank of Captain by which he is denoted in his children’s portrait, before embarking on something of a different career path. Rosanne Mary’s birthplace, Bank House, gives a clue. In partnership with a man named John Kellow, Pritchard had gone into business at Southampton as a banker and trader, continuing in this vein until the partnership was dissolved on the 30th December 1827.

Old Boat House, West Quay, Southampton by an unknown artist Southampton City Art Gallery
Old Boat House, West Quay, Southampton by an unknown artist
Southampton City Art Gallery

It was in the same year that Pritchard’s banking business came to an end that his two children were painted by Gaugain, when they were aged 16 and 6 years. Gaugain also painted the portrait of a Captain Pritchard and a Mary Ann Pritchard three years earlier, and surely these must be their parents, Richard Davison and Mary Ann Pritchard.

Captain Pritchard by Philip August Gaugain (1791–1865) Southampton City Museums
Captain Pritchard by Philip August Gaugain (1791–1865)
Southampton City Museums

The portraits of Captain and Mary Ann Pritchard are held by Southampton City Museums and the portrait of their children by the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool.

Mary Ann Pritchard by Philip August Gaugain (1791–1865) Southampton City Museums
Mary Ann Pritchard by Philip August Gaugain (1791–1865)
Southampton City Museums

In later life Captain Richard Davison Pritchard returned to his former profession, serving on HMS Meteor and Avon as Lieutenant Commander from February 1838 to September 1841, before he gave up the sea for good. The home to which he retired was Keydell House, an ‘uncommonly pretty cottage villa’ at Horndean in Hampshire.

Keydell House via horndean.net
Keydell House via horndean.net

It is altogether a little snuggery, in a valley of extraordinary beauty. The house stands or rather nestles under the shadow of the hill, on a lawn resplendent in flowers and American plants, looking around its domain without a feeling of envy for any spot in England. It is, in fact,

A BIJOU on a PETITE SCALE…

Perhaps it was his wife’s illness which had prompted the end of his naval service, for Mary Ann Prichard died at Keydell House on the 12th March 1842, leaving her husband inconsolable. She was buried in the churchyard at the nearby village of Catherington a week later. Pritchard put Keydell House up for sale.

Bell's Weekly Messenger, 21st March 1842
Bell’s Weekly Messenger, 21st March 1842

The following year Captain Pritchard was living at Hampton Grove in Surbiton, Surrey, although he died at Fareham in Hampshire on the 4th January 1849. He was buried five days later at Catherington near to his former home, Keydell House, and alongside his beloved wife.

Catherington Church © Copyright David Martin and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Catherington Church
© Copyright David Martin and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

So, what of the two children in the portrait? Rosanne Mary married the Reverend Thomas Pyne, incumbent of Hook near Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey, at Wonston in Hampshire on the 8th October 1850. It was fated to be but a short marriage for Rosanne Mary died on Valentine’s Day 1853, at Surbiton. Her obituary named her as the ‘only surviving child’ of the late R.D. Pritchard Esq, so her elder brother had predeceased her. He was alive when his father wrote his last will and testament, on the 16th December 1843. In that will Captain Pritchard left everything to his daughter Rosanne Mary, stressing that it was not for want of affection for his son that he had done so, but simply because his son had been amply provided for already in ‘bringing him up to his present profession’. Possibly he is the Richard Davis Pritchard who was appointed as a surgeon by the Royal Navy in 1833.

Morning Advertiser, 18th February 1853
Morning Advertiser, 18th February 1853

 

Sources used not referenced or linked to above:

Trafalgar Ancestors, National Archives

Will of Richard Davison Pritchard, PROB 11/2807/24, National Archives

The Naval Chronicle, Containing a General and Biographical History of the Royal Navy of the United Kingdom, with a Variety of Original Papers on Nautical Subjects, Volume 24

Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, 8th January 1827

Globe newspaper, 15th May 1843

Fashions for December 1815

The December 1815 issue of Rudolph Ackermann’s Repository of arts, literature, commerce, manufactures, fashions and politics featured a design for an evening dress and a walking dress, both the creation of Mrs Bean, a milliner and dressmaker of Albemarle Street, Piccadilly.

FASHIONS FOR DECEMBER, 1815

Evening Dress

A crimson satin slip, underneath a frock of three-quarters length made of the silver-striped French gauze; the slip ornamented at the feet with clusters of flowers, and a narrow border of white satin edged with crimson ribbon: the frock has a border of white satin, edged to correspond, and is drawn up in the Eastern style, confined by a cluster of flowers. The body of the dress has open fronts, with a stomacher, which are severally trimmed en suite: short open sleeve, to correspond with a quilling of tull around the arm. Head-dress à la Chinoise, composed of pearl; the hair braided, and ornamented with a wreath of flowers. Ear-rings and drops, pearl; necklace, the French negligé. Gloves, French kid, worn below the elbow, and trimmed with a quilling of tull. Sandals, white kid.

fashion-december-1815-ackermann

Walking Dress

Pelisse of walking length, composed of blue twilled sarsnet, fastened down the front with large bows of white satin ribbon, and ornamented at the feet with a border of leaves formed of the same sarsnet, edged with white satin: the bottom of the pelisse, trimmed with white satin, is drawn into small festoons; sleeve ornamented at the shoulder and the hand to correspond; a French embroidered ruff. A French hat composed of the blue twilled sarsnet, trimmed with white satin edged with blue, and decorated with a large plume of ostrich feathers. An Indian shawl of crimson silk, richly embroidered in shaded silks. The pocket-handkerchief French cambric, embroidered at the corners. Shoes, blue morocco, tied with bows high upon the instep. Stockings with embroidered clocks. Gloves, York tan.

The silver-striped French gauze is a novel and elegant article, which, fashioned by the ever varying and approved taste of Mrs. Bean, requires to be viewed, before a just idea can be received of its fascinating effect: it is allowed to be the lightest and most splendid costume ever yet presented by the amateur to the votaries of fashion.

Mrs Charlotte Bean, the wife of Thomas Bean, was a milliner and dressmaker located at 32 Albemarle Street just off Piccadilly. Her designs were frequently featured in Rudolph Ackermann’s Repository of arts, literature, commerce, manufactures, fashions and politics, and she was a court dressmaker to ‘Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Kent and also the Princess Charlotte of Saxe Coburg by special appointment’.

Indeed, Mrs Bean made twenty-six dresses and pelisses for Princess Charlotte’s wedding trousseau in 1816. We list a few of them here.

A Prussian blue and white striped satin dress, with a beautiful garniture; above which is a rich broad blond lace, tastefully looped up in the form of shells.

We imagine this striped satin dress to look something like the one Charlotte is wearing in this picture. Brighton Museums
We imagine this striped satin dress to look something like the one Charlotte is wearing in this picture.
Brighton Museums

A full dress over a rich white satin, ornamented with silver, the garniture silver leaves intermixed with full puffings of tulle; this forms at the bottom a tasteful scallop, above which are large bunches of silver double lilacs, the sleeves striped with silver, and finished at the top with a narrow wreath of corresponding flowers.

A train dress of net, richly embroidered with a beautiful border of roses and buds a quarter and a half deep round the train, the embroidery coming up to meet the waist; body and sleeves richly worked to correspond; the whole dress lined with rich white satin.

A beautiful primrose silk high morning dress, trimmed and worked in a most unique style of elegance.

Could this high morning dress, which seems to have defied description, possibly be this one? FIDM Museums
Could the high morning dress, which seems to have defied description, possibly be this one, known to have been worn by Princess Charlotte?
FIDM Museums

An elegant violet and white striped satin pelisse, lined with white satin, trimmed with leaves of violet, and white blond cuffs and collar; bonnet to match, with a beautiful plume of white feather.

Very beautiful clear India muslin dress, most elegantly worked in lace work and satin stitch, forming bunches of wheat ears and corn flowers; at the bottom a waved border of the same, finished with very full rows of elegant English lace; short sleeves, composed of rows of satin, and lace body to correspond, made low to meet the waist, with a satin slip, which forms a very elegant dress.

A very rich evening primrose satin dress, with a deep flounce of blond lace, of a very beautiful tulip pattern, above which is a broad embroidery of pearls, in grapes and vine leaves; the top and sleeves ornamented with pearls to correspond.

Perhaps the rich evening primrose satin dress looked something similar to this detailed gown, embellished with pearls and finished with a deep flounce of lace?
Perhaps the rich evening primrose satin dress looked something similar to this detailed gown worn by Princess Charlotte, embellished with pearls and finished with a deep flounce of lace?

Possibly Anne, the wife of Sir William Abdy, Baronet, had been one of Mrs Bean’s best customers? Abdy was reputed to be the richest commoner in the land and his beautiful wife would have ensured that she was dressed in the latest fashions. However, if Anne perused the December 1815 issue of Ackermann’s Repository, she would have known that the gowns pictured were now beyond her means. She had eloped from her home on Hill Street, Berkeley Square just months earlier, stepping into a gig with her (somewhat impoverished) lover, Lord Charles Bentinck, and into a new life. By the end of the year she was living with him, pregnant with his child, and awaiting the outcome of the Criminal Conversation case which had been brought by her husband and which had commenced on the 1st December 1815.

Her fateful decision to elope was to have far reaching consequences, as we detail in our latest book, A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History, affecting people as far away on the social scale as the daughter of a Romany gypsy and the British royal family themselves.

A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Right-Royal-Scandal-Marriages-Changed/dp/1473863422

Source:

Hone’s authentic account of the Royal Marriage, 1816

Header image: Mrs Bean’s trade card, British Museum

 

If you have already read An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, then A Right Royal Scandal forms a sequel to Grace’s story, continuing the life of her granddaughter through to the publication of Grace’s memoirs (set during the French Revolution), and beyond and the second family of Grace’s son-in-law, Lord Charles Bentinck. But A Right Royal Scandal can also be read as a stand-alone book. It is available now in the UK (and to pre-order in the US and elsewhere) from our publisher Pen and Sword, Amazon and all good bookshops.

(Readers outside the UK might find Book Depository useful, as they ship free worldwide and have competitive prices.)

The destruction of Speldhurst Church in Kent on the 20th October 1791

On Wednesday the 19th October 1791, the sea off the Kentish coast ‘ran mountains high, without any apparent cause’. Ships hastily made for harbour and lucky that they did for, on the following morning, a tremendous storm hit the south-east of England, with Kent particularly suffering.

On Thursday 20th October, at half past eleven o’clock and amidst high winds, thunder, lightning, hail and rain, a bolt of lightning struck the wooden steeple of Speldhurst Church near Tunbridge Wells in Kent. Some sources say that a ‘ball’ entered the shingled roof, others that lightning struck the weather vane atop the steeple. However it started, almost instantly flames and smoke could be seen.

speldhurst-church-near-tunbridge-wells
Speldhurst Church set on fire by lightning – 20th Oct 1791
Source: © British Library

As the fire was, so far, confined to the steeple, some people who were nearby rushed into the chancel to save the pulpit cushions, the plate and the parish chest. They did not have time to save anything else for the rain and hail stopped and the wind drove the flames on to the church which was soon engulfed in the inferno. Four hours after the lightning had struck, all that remained of the ancient and beautiful church was ruins, with the tombs and head stones which were closest to the doomed building also suffering damage. Bizarrely the font, which was still whole, had been turned upside down.

Amongst the items lost to the fire were the four bells housed in the steeple (they were melted) and the church monuments.

The monuments (one of which was very ancient, belonging to the Waller family, on a large scale, and a most curious piece of workmanship in marble) crumbled to dust.

For Speldhurst villagers William Card and Elizabeth Cole the tragedy was on a very personal level; they were due to marry in the church on the following day. Determined that the wedding should go ahead, a small space was cleared in the rubble by the chancel door and the couple were married there but, it was reported, ‘the bride’s new shoes were completely spoiled’.

Mulready, William; The Wedding Morning; Lady Lever Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-wedding-morning-102616
The Wedding Morning by William Mulready; Lady Lever Art Gallery

It was not just Speldhurst which had suffered, although the village saw the most devastation. In Tunbridge Wells itself the hail broke windows and caused other damage, and a man shooting a mile away from Speldhurst had ‘his gun twisted out of his hand by the lightning’. The church at Rainham near Canterbury was also struck and damage was noted at Newport on the Isle of Wight due to lightning strikes as the storm spread through the south-east of the country. It desisted during Thursday afternoon (although the wind continued to blow), but overnight and into the Friday morning there were further storms.

The Waller family lived at Groombridge manor house in Speldhurst; Sir Richard Waller (who died in 1431) had custody of a French royal hostage for many years. Charles, Duke of Orléans (1394-1465) had been taken prisoner by Waller after the battle of Agincourt in 1415, and both the duke and Waller were benefactors to the church which was destroyed in 1791. The dukes arms, which had been granted to Waller to quarter with his own, were displayed in stone above the porch of the church.

A new church was built (it opened in 1805), but that was demolished in 1870 and a further church now stands on the site. The website of the current church says that ‘remarkably, a few relics of the old church survive, including the coat of arms of the Duke of Orléans over the South door, a sundial and the very weather vane which was [reputedly] struck in 1791’.

 

Header image:

Speldhurst Church, Tunbridge Wells, Kent, Struck by Lightning; British (English Naive) School; Tunbridge Wells Museum and Art Gallery

 

Sources:

Hereford Journal, 2nd November 1791

Derby Mercury, 3rd November 1791

St Mary’s, Speldhurst.

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 3 (1797) via British History Online.