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 upon 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. 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.
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, 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 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. 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 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.
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.
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