London from Blackheath by Francis Nicholson.

The Fair Swindler of Blackheath

Elizabeth Frances Robertson was born c.1773, possibly in a humble house in the outskirts of the town of Huntingdon where her father worked as a porter to an oilman and her mother as a laundress. She clearly received an education somewhere for she gained employment as a teacher in a boarding school, and did so well that a lady from Cheshire recommended her to the attention of Miss Charlotte Sharpe who ran a boarding school for young ladies at Croom’s Hill in Greenwich. From 1795, Eliza and Charlotte ran the school in partnership.

Croom's Hill overlooking Hyde Vale, Blackheath by Thomas Christopher Hofland
Croom’s Hill overlooking Hyde Vale, Blackheath by Thomas Christopher Hofland; English Heritage, Ranger’s House

Short and somewhat plain in appearance, and badly marked by smallpox, Eliza soon endeared herself to the staff and pupils, not least with the melancholy – but totally fictitious – tale of her childhood. Her father, she said, was dead. He’d upset her grandfather when he married against his wishes and was driven from his home and country, forced to wander as an exile. Mr Robertson ended up in the United States and – claimed Eliza – was given shelter at Mount Vernon by General Washington. There Mrs Robertson joined him and several children were born. An older brother, Eliza told her rapt audience, had been killed in battle, but not before he had married a woman of great fortune and even greater beauty. A sister had married a Captain Pigot who, shortly afterwards, had been killed in a duel, but nothing lost, then attracted the attention, and hand in marriage, of Lord Paget, heir apparent of the Earl of Uxbridge. Eliza was outwardly amiable and sensible, appeared very religious although later described as insinuating in her manner and speaking in an elevated tone of voice.

General George Washington (1732-1799) by John Copley Singleton
General George Washington (1732-1799) by John Copley Singleton; NT, Washington Old Hall

As everyone seemed to have swallowed these lies without murmur, Eliza went further. She claimed that she was entitled to an estate in Scotland, Fascally (it doesn’t exist but she said it was near Perth), after the death of an uncle, Alexander Stuart Robertson, and was an heiress. Lord Kenyon, Eliza asserted, had said she was entitled to this estate. Then, in 1799, Eliza received the news of her mother’s death. She was distraught, bought mourning rings for all her friends (on credit!) and announced that she had come into more money, around 700l. a year. When her grandfather died, she would receive even more, around 15 or 20,000l. Determined to enjoy her supposed new-found wealth, with the help of Charlotte Sharpe, Eliza contacted Mr Creasy of Greenwich, a man of business, to help her gain control of her Scottish estate. Mr Creasy was instantly duped. A surveyor was applied to, who would go to Fascally to give his opinion on the rents and value the timber. The surveyor also later added a somewhat gruesome piece of information to the tale: he recalled seeing a wax model of a dead child… Eliza, while weeping over it, claimed it was a (macabre!) present from Lord Paget and was the likeness of her sister’s child. Miss Robertson didn’t do things by halves! We almost suspect she began to believe her own lies.

London from Blackheath by Francis Nicholson.
London from Blackheath by Francis Nicholson. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Eliza planned to enjoy her good fortune; she wanted a fine house and fixed on a handsome one in the Paragon, an elegant crescent at Blackheath, which was half built. In early 1800, she bought it on credit… Mr Creasy had advanced her 2,000l. of his own money in lieu of her settling matters at Fascally. This Blackheath villa (it was no. 3 on the crescent) was to be finished in the most expensive style. Creasy hired bricklayers, carpenters and painters. The drawing rooms were painted in watercolours by one of the best artists money could buy, the walls in landscape and the ceiling composed of clouds. Floor to ceiling looking glasses in richly carved, burnished gold frames were hung on the walls in other rooms; six mirrors came to 1100l. Mr Driver, a nurseryman, planted the shrubberies and improved the extensive pleasure grounds. Meanwhile, Eliza set up three carriages, a coach, a sociable and a post-chariot and had a card printed which read, ‘Miss Robertson, of Fascally and Blackheath’ which she distributed around all the best houses in the neighbourhood. As we have already pointed out, why go small when you can go large.

The Paragon in Blackheath.
The Paragon in Blackheath. London Illustrated News, 19 April 1947

Creasy also went to Thomas Haycraft’s ironmongery in Deptford; Mr Haycraft had gone to Bath, leaving his two sons in charge. After being assured of Eliza’s status by Mr Creasy, they extended her credit and supplied several items for her new house. In the end, across all the tradesmen, dressmakers and milliners who were approached by Eliza and Mr Creasy, she received credit amounting to an eye-watering 15,000l. against her future expectations.

During the building work, Eliza and Charlotte stayed at Croom’s Hill. (Charlotte Sharpe was later described, unkindly, as having large black eyes, with a rather ferocious expression, pallid skin and sharp features.) Towards the end of June, they set off for Brighton, where they ‘figured away with four horses and outriders’. In August they returned, and Eliza went to Hatchett’s the coachmaker and desired him to make her an elegant chariot, with silver mouldings and raised coronets of silver. A trip to Margate also took place, with Mr Creasy accompanying the ladies. Eliza realised that he might talk to people in Margate and unravel her tales so, near to Shooter’s Hill, she stopped the carriage and told her coachman not to announce Mr Creasy; he seems to have made no resistance to this. He was a married man so had no designs on her fortune, although he may have been in on the scam.

On Shooter's Hill by George Scharf.
On Shooter’s Hill by George Scharf. British Library

Furniture was supplied by Mr Oakley, an upholsterer who had a warehouse on Bond Street. Eliza told Oakley she had great expectations from rich relations in India and was continually receiving presents of great value. Among the number lately arrived was a chimneypiece then lying at India House, and she added that she intended to build a room in which to hold balls or musical evenings. Oakley’s order amounted to almost 4,000l., again, all on credit. With the house beginning to be furnished, servants were hired and Eliza and her ever-trusting companion, Miss Sharpe, moved into their fine new mansion. They were, perhaps, lovers.

A furniture warehouse similar to that owned by Mr Oakley.
A furniture warehouse similar to that owned by Mr Oakley. Morgan and Sanders, from Ackermann’s Repository of Arts.

John Cator, Esq., the wealthy Quaker timber merchant and MP who owned the land the villa stood on, had been a mortgagee on the house and became the landlord. Eliza told him she wanted 850l. to pay the workmen, and that she did not mean to have a lease, but to purchase the house. He loaned her the money.

Oakley was the first to grow suspicious and when half the order had been completed, asked for 1000l. Eliza was hurt by his lack of trust and indignantly said if he doubted her he could write to her sister, Lady Paget, or her cousin, the Bishop of London. If he had further doubts, he could apply to Sir Richard Hill who had known her from infancy or to Sir Edward Law, the present Attorney-General, who could vouch for her. Her boldness won the day, and Oakley proceeded without contacting anyone. But, as suspicions had started to be raised – somewhat too conveniently, perhaps – Eliza’s grandfather now died. She put her entire household into mourning while her creditors looked with interest at Eliza’s increasingly large inheritance.

‘From the manner in which she was going on, he [Oakley] took it for granted that she was a woman that had so much money that she did not know what to do with it, or that she had none at all.’

Then, just before everything was finished, Mr Oakley finally did what he should have done weeks earlier, and called on the Bishop of London and Sir Richard Hill; both gentleman only knew Eliza through her card, which she had left at their door. The game was finally up!

Print via the British Museum: Madora, c.1800.
Print via the British Museum: Madora, c.1800.

Oakley took out a writ and waited for Eliza and Charlotte to return home (she was dining out), but the crafty Eliza realised what was happening, sent her carriage home empty and vanished into the night. Oakley broke in and by 6 o’clock the next morning his men had cleared the mansion of its furniture. Three hours later came in an execution, by which the remaining part of the property was to be sold by auction on the premises.

Mr Creasey, at the last minute, had gained a warrant of attorney from Eliza and took two very heavy hampers from the Blackheath villa, part of the plunder. He also reportedly took the lease of the house, so that while the others were ruined, he was safe. Had he been in on the game, or truly a dupe? Eliza was spotted by a haberdasher in St Paul’s Churchyard who chanced on her in Bishopsgate Street, dressed in men’s clothes and boots, with Charlotte leaning on her arm. After that, the two women, both in their normal dress but heavily veiled, took the Devon mail-coach out of London. They eventually ended up in Penzance in Cornwall where they took rooms in a hotel, Miss Sharp going by the name of Sydenham and claiming Eliza as her distant relative and protégé Madame Douglas, a lady of large fortune from the north of England, travelling for the benefit of her health; being reclusive, Mme Douglas didn’t want to travel with a retinue as the anxiety that would produce would counterbalance any comforts. You bet it would!

Journal des Dames et des Modes, Costume Parisien, 1 décembre 1799, An 8
Journal des Dames et des Modes, Costume Parisien, 1 décembre 1799, An 8. Rijksmuseum

They stayed in during the day, only going out at night with veils over their faces; during their week’s stay they saw no one and the staff grew suspicious. A chambermaid overheard a conversation in which the names of Oakley and Creasy were frequently mentioned, and she’d been reading the newspapers which had reported the swindle. A letter was written to Blackheath but the two ladies got wind of it and left the next day. At length, in early April 1801, Eliza and Charlotte were traced to Huntingdon where they were lodging under the name of Cunningham. Eliza, who had signed everything, was arrested and thrown into the town jail. There, the jailer made a tidy sum by charging people to see his notorious prisoner while Eliza maintained her pretence to the end, insisting she had property sufficient to meet all her debts. She managed to publish ‘an apology’, purportedly to raise money for the support of her friend, Charlotte, who was struggling to pay for lodgings.

Eliza was transferred to Bow Street in London to be examined and ended up in the Fleet Prison from where, with no prospect of repaying her debts, she knew she had little chance of escaping. Thomas Haycroft took out an action against Mr Creasy in the Court of the King’s Bench in the Guildhall. Haycroft was asking for – and won – damages of 485l. 9s. 4d., claiming that Creasy had been the one who vouched for Eliza and said she was good for credit. In a somewhat ironic twist, given that Eliza had claimed he had been the man who said she was entitled to her Scottish estate, Lord Kenyon presided at the hearing.

View of the inner court of the Fleet Prison, with the prisoners playing rackets and skittles on the left, 1807.
View of the inner court of the Fleet Prison, with the prisoners playing rackets and skittles on the left, 1807. © The Trustees of the British Museum

During August 1802, Eliza was represented by no less a person than the famed Mr Garrow in a case she brought to Maidstone assizes to try to recover the goods and furniture Mr Oakley had ‘unlawfully possessed himself of’. Some of the furniture, Eliza claimed, was Charlotte’s property, brought from Croom’s Hill, and she suggested Oakley and his men had helped themselves to more than they were entitled to. Charlotte took to the witness stand, well-dressed and demure, wearing a fashionable ‘gypsy hat’ and said that she had believed all Eliza’s tall tales, and was as hurt and surprised as anyone else to find them false. It didn’t help; Garrow lost this case.

Fashion plate dated October 1801 from the Ladies' Museum: the hat on the left is a gypsy hat
Fashion plate dated October 1801 from the Ladies’ Museum: the hat on the left is a gypsy hat. Los Angeles Public Library

Eliza remained in the Fleet and continued to publish several works. There, in June 1805, aged 32-years, Eliza died of a decline and was buried, on 11 June, in the churchyard of St Bride’s, the only mourners her father, mother and one of the turnkeys of the fleet.

Sources:

Chester Courant, 24 March 1801

Salisbury and Winchester Journal, 6 April 1801

Caledonian Mercury, 9 April 1801

Morning Chronicle, 15 July 1801

Stamford Mercury, 17 July 1801

Caledonian Mercury, 14 September 1801

Oxford Journal, 20 March 1802

Morning Chronicle, 9 August 1802

Caledonian Mercury, 14 August 1802

Staffordshire Advertiser, 14 August 1802

The New Annual Register, Or General Repository of History, Politics, Arts, Sciences and Literature: For the Year 1805

The Paragon, Blackheath (published 16 September 2016 on The Regency Redingote website)

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The north front of Windsor Castle from Isherwood's Brewery in Datchet Lane c. 1765, by Paul Sandby.

The Isherwoods: Brewers of Windsor

The Nottingham born artist, Paul Sandby, painted and drew many scenes in and around Windsor and also informal portraits of some of the inhabitants. One of his drawings, held in the Royal Collection, caught our eye: the Miss Isherwoods, the Brewer’s daughters, c.1770-1780. Isherwood is an uncommon surname, and with the father’s occupation, surely it would be possible to track down the forenames of these two young women and complete the attribution?

Miss Isherwoods, the Brewer's daughters, Windsor, c.1770-1780, by Paul Sandby.
Miss Isherwoods, the Brewer’s daughters, Windsor, c.1770-1780, by Paul Sandby. © Royal Collection Trust

The father of these two young women was Henry Isherwood who owned an ale brewery which traded from premises on Datchet Lane/Lower Thames Street in Windsor (around where St George’s School now stands on Datchet Road). From the brewhouse yard, you had an excellent view of Windsor Castle.

View from Mr Isherwood's Brewhouse, Datchet Lane; view down a street, with wagons in a shed at the foot of it, and Windsor Castle beyond, by Paul Sandby.
View from Mr Isherwood’s Brewhouse, Datchet Lane; view down a street, with wagons in a shed at the foot of it, and Windsor Castle beyond, by Paul Sandby. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Henry Isherwood was reputed to be ‘a poor lad’ from Yorkshire who had made his way to Eton in Berkshire where he found work at the Christopher Inn. He married well, to Sarah Kendal (on 5 May 1737 at Hedgerley in Buckinghamshire) whose money helped her husband establish his brewery at Windsor (the town had a thriving brewing industry).

Part of Windsor from Datchet Lane c. 1780 by Paul Sandby. The viewpoint is taken from Datchet Lane to the east of Isherwood's Brewery.
Part of Windsor from Datchet Lane c. 1780 by Paul Sandby. The viewpoint is taken from Datchet Lane to the east of Isherwood’s Brewery. © Royal Collection Trust

The couple had three known children, a son, Henry (baptized 9 February 1739) and two daughters, the two young ladies in the drawing above, Sarah (born c.1743) and Christiana Maria (born c.1745). The family prospered and grew wealthy on their business’s profits.

Paul Sandby in 1761, painted by Francis Cotes. The Tate
Paul Sandby in 1761, painted by Francis Cotes. The Tate

Also in the Royal Collection is a drawing by Sandby which features another of the Isherwood family, although the name of the man depicted seems to have got muddled over time. When exhibited at the Royal Academy, the man stood on the far left was just denoted as ‘Isherwood the brewer’, a later mount now attached to the picture claims the man to be J. Isherwood and the notes on the RCT website mark the man out as Henry Isherwood senior. However, this drawing dates to 1760 and the man depicted looks to be very young; we believe that it is more likely the man shown is Henry Isherwood junior, who would have been around 21 years of age in 1760.

On Windsor Terrace, c.1760 by Paul Sandby; on the left is Isherwood, the brewer.
On Windsor Terrace, c.1760 by Paul Sandby; on the left is Isherwood, the brewer. © Royal Collection Trust.

The four men are standing on Windsor Terrace; in the middle is Davis, Windsor Castle’s smith and to the right a man identified as Captain Archibald Campbell (the RCT notes suggest that he is possibly the same man who married Amelia Ramsay, daughter of the painter Allan Ramsay, but as Amelia Ramsay’s future husband saw action in the Seven Years’ War, we’re not totally sure about this).

Windsor Castle from Mr Isherwood's Brewhouse in Datchet Lane, 1780 by Paul Sandby.
Windsor Castle from Mr Isherwood’s Brewhouse in Datchet Lane, 1780 by Paul Sandby. King George III’s personal coloured views collection – SPL Rare Books

Then tragedy struck the family. Henry Isherwood senior died suddenly in 1773… and it was hinted that he had been poisoned.

Henry Isherwood’s will left his family well provided for. His son took over the running of the brewery and also later – for just a short time – became New Windsor’s MP. Henry junior’s death, on 22 January 1797, cut short his parliamentary career. Sarah and Christiana Isherwood were both left financially secure by their father, each receiving 10,000l. They never married. Around 1790, the Isherwood family built a substantial mansion-house, situated in large grounds, at Bushey in Hertfordshire and named Laurel Lodge. There Sarah and Christiana lived in their old age, often visited by their brother’s children. (Laurel Lodge was remodelled in the late 1800s and has now been converted into flats known as Herne Mansions (formerly Sparrows Herne House); it stands in Bushey Heath down Fuller Close, a short distance from the junction of Little Bushey Lane and Elstree Road.) Sarah died in 1820 aged 77 and Christiana in 1827, aged 81. Both women are buried in the churchyard at New Windsor.

We’ve already mentioned Henry Isherwood senior’s melancholy end. We’ll relate the events leading up to his death and leave you to decide if he was indeed poisoned.

The north front of Windsor Castle from Isherwood's Brewery in Datchet Lane c. 1765, by Paul Sandby.
The north front of Windsor Castle from Isherwood’s Brewery in Datchet Lane c. 1765, by Paul Sandby. © Royal Collection Trust

Henry was a member of the Colnbrook Turnpike Commission and on 29 March 1773, he and the other members dined at an inn named The Castle, at Salt Hill outside Slough. The men present were the Hon Mr O’Brien, the Hon Captain Thomas Needham (aged 33 and the eldest son of ‘Jack’, 10th Viscount Kilmorey), Edward Mason Esq, Major Mayne, Mr Cheshire, Walpole Eyre Esq (aged 38 and whose godfather was Sir Robert Walpole, hence his name), Captain Salter, Henry Isherwood, Mr Joseph Benwell, a draper from Eton who was the Commission’s treasure, Mr Pote senior (on business) and Mr Burcombe, the Commission’s surveyor. Over the course of the next two weeks, all but one of the gentlemen were taken seriously ill. At first, the wine was suspected to be the cause; Captain Salter had preferred to drink punch instead, and Mr Cheshire had drunk very little. Both men were only mildly ill. It was initially believed that Mrs Partridge, the landlady, had added a little arsenic to the wine, to ‘refine’ it.

Bachelor's Hall, Robert Dighton.
Bachelor’s Hall, Robert Dighton. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

The dinner was turtle soup, followed by fish, jack, perch and eel, spatchcock fowls, bacon and greens, veal cutlets, a ragout of pigs ears, a chine of mutton and salad, a course of lamb and cucumbers, crayfish and, as if you needed more after that feast, pastry and jellies. All was described as:

…plain and innocent, nothing high-seasoned, or that could give cause of suspicion of any bad consequence; the wine, Madeira and Port, of the best sorts. In both articles of meat and drink, the company were moderate, and no excess appeared.

After their dinner, some people were brought in to be examined before the members of the commission, among them a poor man, in a ‘distressed, miserable condition’. He seems to have been in ill-health. Mr Pote, perhaps wisely it seems, had gone out to the gardens of the inn to stretch his legs; he was there on other business relating to the commission but had no need to be present during the examinations. Mr Pote was the only one of the company not to suffer any ill effects, all the others fell ill to varying degrees. Four of the men died: Captain Needham, Joseph Benwell, Walpole Eyre and Henry Isherwood.

The Honourable Thomas Needham (d.1773), in the Uniform of the 3rd Footguards at Ascott, Buckinghamshire, by Thomas Gainsborough
The Honourable Thomas Needham (d.1773), in the Uniform of the 3rd Footguards at Ascot, Buckinghamshire, by Thomas Gainsborough; National Trust, Ascot

Mrs Partridge was horrified and willingly allowed her kitchen and cellar to be fully inspected. Major Mayne’s doctor, Dr James, was of the opinion that his patient’s illness was due to an infection; if it had been poison, he assured the public, the men would have fallen ill within hours, not days. There were reports that a Clerk of the Justices, a Mr Mason who had dined on beefsteaks in a private room in the inn (confusingly, an Edward Mason Esq was said to be present at the commission’s dinner too), was also dangerously ill; the Justices had examined a poor man, brought before them in a ‘dying condition’ from Taplow to be passed to his own parish. This man later died, as did the farmer at whose house he lodged on his journey. Local gossip also claimed that several prisoners had travelled from Reading gaol on their way to London, to be transported for their crimes, and stopped at the inn. Gaol fever could have been the cause.

A view of the interior of a room at an inn in Salt Hill (prepared for the "Montem" dinner in 1793).
A view of the interior of a room at an inn in Salt Hill (prepared for the “Montem” dinner in 1793). © British Library

In short, it appears from the newspapers of the day that there was certainly an outbreak of a contagious fever in the area, but nevertheless, with all the talk of poison, trade at the Castle Inn dropped dramatically and Mrs Partridge struggled for a good twelve months afterwards. And, rumours abounded years later. Years later, Queen Charlotte’s Assistant Keeper of the Wardrobe, Charlotte Papendick, in her memoirs recounted the tale and claimed that Mrs Partridge, on her deathbed, confessed.

…she considered it right to disclose the secret of the poisoning now it could no longer hurt any individual, and was at the time purely accidental, she would confess that it arose from the turtle having been left in the stewpans cold, and then heated afresh for the dinner. The cook, renowned for the dressing of this favorite luxury, came down from London late the evening before, expressly for this purpose. He said that as the turtle was better for long stewing, he should do it through the night, during which time he would be preparing various other dainties. He didn’t keep to his word. He slept, let the fire out, and heated the turtle soup up again without removing it from the pan… From the acids used in dressing the turtle, the pan was covered with verdigris. When she showed it to the cook he said he wasn’t aware of harm…

In fairness, Mrs Papendick’s account contains many errors, so we’re not at all sure of her accuracy. Another account also blames the soup, however, again attributing the poisoning to an accidental cause. The soup had been allowed to stand in a copper vessel, and the gentlemen died of mineral poisoning. So, arsenic in the wine, mineral poisoning, a bad batch of turtle soup or an infectious pauper? Sadly, we’ll never know the true cause, but we’d love to hear your thoughts.

Sources not mentioned above:

The Bath Road: History, Fashion & Frivolity on an Old Highway by Charles G. Harper, 1899

Royal Academy: 1934 – Exhibition of British Art c.1000-1860, 6 January 1934 to 17 March 1934

Northampton Mercury, 26 April 1773

Reading Mercury, 26 April 1773

Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 5 February 1820

The Scots Magazine, vol 35, 1773

Collectanea topographica et genealogica, 1837

Court and Private Life in the Time of Queen Charlotte; Being the Journals of Mrs Papendick, Assistant Keeper of the Wardrobe and Reader to Her Majesty, 1887

The History of Parliament online

The north prospect of London taken from the Bowling Green, Islington.

Who was she? A mysterious stranger in Regency Clerkenwell

A few days ago, I was browsing through an 1819 copy of the Morning Advertiser looking for something completely different when this story caught my eye.

Around early July 1819, a pretty young woman, reckoned to be in her early 20s, turned up at a lodging house in George Court off Aylesbury Street in Clerkenwell. She was, she told the owner, a complete stranger in London, having just arrived from the country, and asked if she could take a room for a few weeks while she attended to some proceedings in Chancery.

The woman’s appearance was decent and, as she was happy to pay the rent on her lodgings in advance, she was accommodated in the house with no further ado.

It didn’t take the other women who lived there long, however, to notice that the lady was in the advanced stages of pregnancy, however well she might have tried to hide it. A nearby apothecary was called in to attend to her and, in the first week of August, this unnamed woman gave birth to a fine and healthy child (if the evidence we have is correct, on 2nd August 1819).

Extract of an 1806 map of Clerkenwell
Extract of an 1806 map of Clerkenwell, showing Aylesbury Street at the bottom, centre left, and the head of the New River and Sadler’s Wells top right. Yale Centre for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

The next day, against all advice to the contrary, the new mother got up and dressed herself.

She was remonstrated with on the danger to which she exposed herself, but she made light of it. This and other circumstances drew the attention of the people in the house more particularly towards her…

Four days after the birth of her child, and under close observation from the family and other lodgers, the young woman was seen to leave George Court, carrying a small box under her arm. Two women who were fellow lodgers followed her, one of whom was a Mrs Baker, a printer’s wife. The mysterious young woman and her two spies wended their way some distance across the fields of rural Clerkenwell towards the New River (really a form of canal dating from 1613, created to supply London with fresh drinking water from a series of Hertfordshire springs). When near Sadler’s Wells, where the New River terminated in a reservoir known as the New River Head, it looked as if she was going to throw the box she carried into the water, but then changed her mind and instead veered away over the adjoining fields.

Sadler's Wells from the bridge over the New River.
Sadler’s Wells from the bridge over the New River. © The Trustees of the British Museum

With Mrs Baker and her friend still in hot pursuit, our mystery lady headed across the fields towards Islington and made for a secluded area where she sat down, opened the box, took something out and tied it in her shawl. Then she closed the box, picked up both it and the bundle tied in her shawl, and walked on until she came to a gentleman’s house. There she put both the box and bundle down and was about to walk away when Mrs Baker and her accomplice caught up: they darted forward and grabbed hold of her. Once the box was opened, as they’d suspected, they found the baby, naked and gasping for breath. The infant’s clothes were wrapped in the shawl.

Mrs Baker called for a watchman and ‘the inhuman mother’ (as a newspaper report termed her) was apprehended and marched to the watch house.

View from the New River, Islington in 1816.
View from the New River, Islington in 1816. © The Trustees of the British Museum

It was now that a sensational twist to the tale was revealed, if we believe the reports which surfaced. During a search of the woman, ‘upwards of 1000l. in good Country and Bank of England notes were found in her possession’. To put that into perspective, it’s the equivalent of over £50,000 in today’s money, a small fortune then, as now. Certainly enough for her to have disappeared and set up in a house with her child, rather than abandon the babe at the doorway of a gentleman’s house.

Taken overnight to the workhouse, before she could be hauled before the Hatton Garden magistrates the woman fell into a fever. A reluctant inmate, she slowly recovered but stubbornly refused to answer any questions about her identity.

Clerkenwell workhouse
Clerkenwell workhouse (via Wikimedia)

This snippet of factual evidence sounds like a great start to a work of historical fiction. We already have many different theories buzzing around our heads as to how the young woman had found herself in this position.

We’ve searched for more information on her, hoping to find out her name. That still, unfortunately, eludes us, but we did find one more newspaper report. The lady’s husband turned up to claim her! We’ll relate the report from the newspapers but, attempting to read between the lines, we are still left wondering as to the truth of the matter. Incidentally, no further mention was made of the huge sum of money that she was supposedly carrying: was this myth or just a further strand of the whole mystery? She had, remember, paid for her rent at George Court in advance. Money worries don’t seem to have been an issue for her.

The north prospect of London taken from the Bowling Green, Islington.
The north prospect of London taken from the Bowling Green, Islington. The head of the New River can be seen centre left, with Sadler’s Wells next to it. Beyond lies Clerkenwell and the hubbub of the City of London. Folger Shakespeare Library

The couple were from Yorkshire, and the husband was of ‘respectable appearance’ and seemed dutifully affected by his wife’s distress. He claimed that she was suffering from the ‘consequence of a severe hurt she had formerly received in her head, was at times deranged, and he could no otherwise account for her leaving a comfortable home, and acting in the extraordinary manner she had done, than by supposing she was under the influence of the disorder to which she was subject’.

The magistrate agreed to bail the woman as long as her husband entered into a recognizance for £50 and found two other householders who would each join him in promising £25 each, to secure her future appearance at the court. The Yorkshire husband pleaded against this: could he not provide the full £100 himself, for he didn’t know anybody in London who would be prepared to stand as the additional surety? He went further, urging as a reason:

the deplorable state of his family, one child having died since his wife left her home, and two lying at present in a state of imminent danger.

The magistrate commiserated with the man, but rules were rules. If he couldn’t meet the required bail conditions, then his wife must remain in custody.

And there, sadly, we must also leave her until such time as further information comes to light. In the meantime, we reckon there’s a novel in this story for anyone disposed to write it and rescue our mystery woman. Which way would you take it: was she fleeing from her husband or was his story of woe true? How did she come by the injury to her head in that case? Why did she want to give up her child? And, all that money! Where did that come from?

Sources:

Morning Advertiser, 12 August 1819

The Morning Chronicle, 18 August 1819

Dandy in a Droshky, Russia, 1820s

Chatsworth’s Russian Coachman

This is the third in a series of blogs in which we have taken a closer look at some of the staff and servants of the Dukes and Duchesses of Devonshire. Today we’re taking a look at the 6th duke’s trips to Russia and concentrating on just one man, a larger than life Russian coachman. He certainly merits his own blog.

William Spencer, 6th Duke of Devonshire by Thomas Lawrence
William Spencer, 6th Duke of Devonshire by Thomas Lawrence (via Wikimedia Commons)

In 1817, William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire (known as Hart due to his former title, the Marquess of Hartington) travelled to St Petersburg in Russia with a whole host of attendants for the wedding of his friend, the Grand Duke Nicholas Pavolvich of Russia (later Czar Nicholas I and Catherine the Great’s grandson). The bride was Charlotte of Prussia (subsequently known as Alexandra Feodorovna); Hart loved St Petersburg and thought it ‘more beautiful than Paris’.

The Empress Catherine the Great of Russia (1729-1796); Russian School
The Empress Catherine the Great of Russia (1729-1796); Russian School; The Bowes Museum

His Grace the Duke of Devonshire is about to sail for the Continent, in company with the Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia. His Grace has seceded to an invitation from the Grand Duke, to make a tour in Russia, and other parts of the Continent, which will occupy the whole of the ensuing summer.

During the trip, one of the duke’s attendants was his courier, Xavier Faldyer. He was ‘not agreeable, a sort of obstinate old Don Quixote, in an eternal wrangle with the Doctor, who had undertaken to regulate the expences and never ceased to exclaim, “terrible! terrible!”’ From the Chatsworth archives relating to the family’s servants, we can glean further information. Edwin Jones was the clearly long-suffering doctor who accompanied the duke.

Michael Lemm went along as a footman but didn’t think much of Russia, observing that ‘he would rather be hung in England than die in Russia’. Mr Worrall was the coachman.

Another expedition to Russia took place in 1826 when the 6th Duke of Devonshire travelled there to attend the coronation of Nicolas I. George Spencer Ridgway, the duke’s valet and ‘foster brother’ was by his side; George’s mother, Mrs Ridgway had been the duke’s wetnurse and George’s middle name, Spencer, indicates a close relationship with the family. He started at Devonshire House as a footman in 1802 and, when appointed the duke’s valet, Ridgway was his most trusted servant, acting as personal secretary, agent and steward too until 1858.

Miniature portrait of Emperor Nicholas I, 1826-1830; The State Hermitage Museum

In Russia, the duke and George were given a Russian coach by the emperor, known as a droshky. They also acquired a coachman who they brought back to Chatsworth along with the droshky. Peter Wisternoff (also Westerney, Wisternou and Ustinowica and born c.1796) was known as Peter the Russian or just the Russian Coachman; his helper was a man named Thomas Hawkins (who seems to have ended up the Porter at Devonshire House). Wisternoff stayed at Chatsworth until the early 1840s, a brilliantly eccentric character, tall and with a fine, intelligent countenance who wore his traditional Russian clothes rather than livery and sported the biggest and bushiest of beards.

Major General Norcliffe of Dalton Hall Riding in a Russian Droshky
This is titled ‘Major General Norcliffe of Dalton Hall Riding in a Russian Droshky’ although it’s very similar to a Russian print from the 1820s, ‘Dandy in a Droshky’ (see next image). Nevertheless, it is exactly how Peter the Russian must have appeared as coachman of the Duke of Devonshire’s Droshky. Portrait by David Dalry; Scarborough Collections

He is habited in the costume of his country, which consists of a large coat, generally green, which is gathered in folds round the waist, crimson sash, with an ample flow of black beard.

Dandy in a Droshky, Russia, 1820s.
Dandy in a Droshky, Russia, 1820s; The State Hermitage Museum

The Russian Coachman is one of the subjects in Bolton Abbey in the Olden Time by Sir Edwin Landseer, the original of which hangs in Chatsworth. The image below is a very good copy of the painting in tapestry; there are three men with beards but Peter the Russian is the one in the foreground, kneeling with the stag.

Tapesty of Bolton Abbey in the Olden Time
Tapestry of Bolton Abbey in the Olden Time; Massachusetts Collection Online

In 1832, Princess Victoria visited Chatsworth.

[Saturday 20th October, 1832] … we went to the stables where we saw some pretty ponies and a Russian coachman in his full dress, and the only Russian horse which remained reared at command; there were 3 other horses, English ones, but trained like the other.

A Russian Droshky (light horse-driven carriage) from the 1820s
A Russian Droshky (light horse-driven carriage) from the 1820s; The State Hermitage Museum

[Sunday 21st October, 1832] … Mamma and me drove in front in the pony phaeton and the Duke and Lady Cavendish behind; Lady Catherine and Lehzen going in another little phaeton; while Lord Morpeth and Mr Cooper went in the Russian drotchky. This curious carriage is drawn by one horse (which was the piebald one) in the shafts with a houp over its head, and the harness is golden without and winkers, and the horse in the shafts always trots, while the other, a pretty chestnut one, always gallops and puts its head on one side; the coachman, called Peter, sitting in his full dress on the box and driving the horses without any whip.

Princess Victoria by Henry Collen, 1836.
Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

Peter the Russian married a girl named Sarah from Clowne, Derbyshire by whom he had at least eight children, one of whom was disabled. He fell foul of the duke’s Steward, George Spencer Ridgway, who forbade Peter from taking beer from the cellar, a disagreement which seems to have culminated in Peter leaving the duke’s service.

Peter, the Duke of Devonshire's Russian Coachman, portrait painted soon after his arrival in England
Peter the Russian Coachman, portrait painted soon after his arrival in England; Chatsworth.org

In the early 1840s (certainly after the 1841 census when Peter was living with his family at the Chatsworth stables), the duke broke up his Russian establishment and granted a liberal pension to Peter who subsequently lived – rent-free – on a 10 acre farm at Nether Handley near Staveley where, in 1851, he described himself as a ‘retired gentleman’. One the 1861 and 1871 census returns his occupation was that of a farmer of 10 acres. Peter died on Saturday 4th May 1878 at the age of 82 years, having been a pensioner ‘on the bounty of the Dukes of Devonshire for nearly forty years’.

South west view of Chatsworth House, 1812.
Southwest view of Chatsworth House, 1812. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Sources for all three of our blogs on Chatsworth’s staff and servants not referenced in the relevant articles are:

The Eighteenth-century Woman by Olivier Bernier (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1981)

Queen Victoria’s Journals (online resource)

Chatsworth: Historic Staff and Servants database

Chatsworth blog: The Russian Coachman’s Beard

Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald, 18 May 1878

Carlisle Patriot, 15 March 1817

South west view of Chatsworth House, 1812.

The Servants of the Dukes and Duchesses of Devonshire: the stables, grooms, valets, butlers and housekeepers

In a previous blog, we looked at a few of the staff and servants mentioned in a great new resource from the Chatsworth House archives which has been released online. It documents those who have worked for the family over the years, both at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, Devonshire House in London and elsewhere, shedding light on people who might otherwise have been forgotten. We’ve picked out a few of those mentioned for a closer look and in this blog, we’re taking a peek into the stables, and also examining just a few of the people who worked as a groom, valet, butler, steward and housekeeper.

Devonshire House, Piccadilly, with carriage in front, 1761.
Devonshire House, Piccadilly, with a carriage in front, 1761. British Museum

The Stables

Starting work in 1773 as a stable hand in the coach house of Devonshire House, Francis Beeston became the 2nd coachman in 1777 before being promoted to 1st coachman nine years later and a wage of £20 paid half-yearly. He continued as the 1st coachman at Devonshire House until 1814.

Francis must have driven coaches carrying Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, her husband the 5th duke and Georgiana’s rival for the duke’s affection, Lady Bess Foster (later also Duchess of Devonshire); Georgiana married the duke in 1774, the year after Francis had begun his employment in the stables.

Lady Elizabeth Christiana Hervey (1759-1824), Lady Elizabeth Foster, Later Duchess of Devonshire by Angelica Kauffman
Lady Elizabeth Christiana Hervey (1759-1824), Lady Elizabeth Foster, Later Duchess of Devonshire by Angelica Kauffman; National Trust, Ickworth

Besides Chatsworth in Derbyshire and Devonshire House in Piccadilly, the Cavendish family also owned Burlington House and Chiswick House. Both houses were built in the Palladian style and were inherited by the Dukes of Devonshire via Lady Charlotte Boyle, daughter of the 3rd Earl of Burlington. Lady Charlotte, who died in 1753, was the wife of the 4th Duke of Devonshire (however, as she died before he became duke, Lady Charlotte’s title was the Marchioness of Hartington).

Lady Charlotte Boyle (1731-1754) by George Knapton
Lady Charlotte Boyle (1731-1754) by George Knapton; English Heritage, Chiswick House

Robert Hunter was one of the duke’s coachmen from 1759; from 1760 to 1765 he worked at Burlington House and later he was employed at Chiswick. Ann Hunter, who is mentioned in the accounts books for Chiswick and Burlington House between 1770 and 1774 is possibly his wife.

A View of Chiswick House from the South West by Pieter Andreas Rysbrack
A View of Chiswick House from the South West by Pieter Andreas Rysbrack; English Heritage, Chiswick House

Devonshire House was also located in Piccadilly, very close to Burlington House. Later, Burlington House was rented out (from 1770 was the London home of the 4th Duke of Devonshire’s brother-in-law, the 3rd Duke of Portland). However, between 1760 and 1765, the Cavendish family clearly had need of a paid coachman at the property to retain Robert Hunter there. The Dukes and Duchesses of Devonshire used Chiswick House as a country retreat.

Burlington House c.1748 by Antonio Visentini; Royal Collection Trust
Burlington House c.1748 by Antonio Visentini; Royal Collection Trust

Besides Robert Hunter, one other employee in Burlington House’s stables was John Higgs (between 1759 and 1765) who was employed as a postilion and worked his way up to coachman.

Burlington House, Piccadilly, as it appeared about 1730.
Burlington House, Piccadilly, as it appeared about 1730. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Joseph Marsden began working in Chatsworth House’s stables in 1757 when he was just a boy. Becoming a footman and then ‘his Grace’s Gent’ and ‘travelling gent’, Joseph ended up at Devonshire House as the duke’s Valet de Chambre. He was employed as such until 1798, a career spanning 41 years in the duke’s service.

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire by Henry Lark Pratt
Chatsworth House, Derbyshire by Henry Lark Pratt; Buxton Museum & Art Gallery

Grooms, footmen and valet

Another man employed at Devonshire House was David Bovey, or Beauvais, a ‘snuffy old French-man’ according to the 6th Duke of Devonshire. David’s role was Groom of the Chamber, a function he fulfilled from 1774 to 1801. As he entered Devonshire House in the year of Georgiana Spencer’s marriage to the 5th Duke, it is likely that David Bovey was Groom of the Chamber to the new Duchess of Devonshire. The position was considered so vital to the family that Georgiana’s niece, Lady Caroline Lamb, who spent a large part of her childhood at Devonshire House, once remarked on the extreme poverty of an acquaintance: “Would you believe that the unfortunate lady didn’t even have a Groom of the Chamber?”

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire with her infant daughter Lady Georgiana Cavendish by Joshua Reynolds; Chatsworth House.

The duties of the ‘snuffy French-man’ included announcing company, managing the duchess’ invitations and visitors and overseeing her receiving-rooms. He eventually was promoted to the position of Attendant.

Possibly he is the same 28-year-old David Bovey who married Jane Bache, by licence, at St George’s in Hanover Square on the 25th February 1775? Unusually, it was Jane Bache, aged 21 and upwards, who applied for the marriage bond and not David Bovey. And, a David Bovey was paying rates at a house on Little Jermyn Street North in St James, Piccadilly in 1783 so it appears that, as a married man, he lived in his own home, just a short distance from Devonshire House.

St George's, Hanover Square by T. Malton, 1787
St George’s, Hanover Square by T. Malton, 1787

David was succeeded in the position by James Lawton, who also was also a Groom of the Chambers and Attendant until 1811; in contrast to the ‘snuffy’ David, James Lawton was described as being very polite.

Devonshire House in 1844 by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd.
Devonshire House in 1844 by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd. British Museum

John Brown was a footman in Devonshire House’s dining room from 1773; in 1784 he became the 5th Duke of Devonshire’s footman. His wages included a yearly sum of 16s 6d for powder and shoes. In autumn 1798, John Brown landed the role of valet to the duke and, from the following year until 1804, when he was last recorded at Devonshire House, he received an annual salary of £42.

John Hawkins was Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire’s groom at Chatsworth between 1793 and 1797. He had started out as one of Chatsworth’s stable hands in 1771.

South west view of Chatsworth House, 1812.
Southwest view of Chatsworth House, 1812. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

The 6th Duke of Devonshire’s valet, Robert Meynell, seems to have been something of a rogue. Despite this, he served the duke from 1823 for at least 27 years, abroad and at home. Meynell drank, smoked, gambled and whored; at one Derby inn, the duke had to calm an irate innkeeper who took offence at being called a fool by the valet when he refused Meynell’s request for a woman to be sent to him. The final straw came in 1851 when Meynell was discovered in a London brothel. That in itself might have been overlooked, but Meynell had taken the duke’s dog, Vio, along with him. Even so, he received a pension from the duke which enabled him to live in comfort for the remainder of his life.

Meynell was responsible for getting another of the duke’s servants into trouble. Paul Santi, ‘a very handsome and picturesque person, with clever wicked eye’ was employed as a courier and attendant by the 6th Duke of Devonshire between 1825 and 1838, when he was dismissed, probably for gambling. In 1836, Santi had threatened to do away with himself when he was discovered to have been pilfering the housekeeping money to fund his gambling, a vice he blamed Meynell and George Spencer Ridgway (respectively the duke’s valet and steward) for encouraging.

William Spencer, 6th Duke of Devonshire by Thomas Lawrence
William Spencer, 6th Duke of Devonshire by Thomas Lawrence (via Wikimedia Commons)

Butler and steward

The position of Butler was, besides that of the Housekeeper, the most important in the household. Devonshire House’s butler, for six years from 1805, was James Duncan who, by 1811, was paid £80 a year.

Decades earlier, in the 1750s, Devonshire House’s Butler was a man named Thomas Elmes. As odd as it may sound, there was a clear ladder of promotion from starting out as a stable lad to becoming a footman indoors. A footman could aspire to become a butler and this is exactly the route Thomas Elmes took. In 1719 he began working at Chatsworth as a stable hand and by 1730 he was a Stud Groom. He was still there in 1743. In 1751 he became the Under Butler at Devonshire House and by 1759 was at the top of the ladder, as Butler.

Devonshire House in Piccadilly
Devonshire House in Piccadilly

John Edwards was the House Steward in 1792 and 1793 and, before that, he possibly worked in Devonshire House’s kitchens for several decades, starting as the Under Cook and eventually becoming the Head Cook. It is mentioned in the notes against John Edwards’ name that House Stewards are usually invisible in the wage books of stately homes, as they were in charge of these and did not often record themselves. But, during his tenure as Steward, John fell ill and the payments for doctors to attend to him are recorded. Sadly, it seems they could not help and John died in 1794; the 5th Duke of Devonshire paid for his funeral (which cost £32 12s 6d).

To leave you, we’ll just mention one other servant who, while just out of our period, merits a mention because the description of her made us smile. In the 1st Duke of Devonshire’s lifetime, Mary Hacket was the ‘angry housekeeper’ at Chatsworth between 1685 and 1697.

In a future blog, we’ll be looking at the servant from overseas who joined the family and became something of a celebrity. If you haven’t already done so, please do consider subscribing to our blog to be alerted to all our new posts.

In the meantime, if you want to explore the database of staff and servants further, you can find it by clicking here.

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire by Henry Lark Pratt

The Servants of the Dukes and Duchesses of Devonshire: maids, governesses and kitchen staff

A wonderful new resource from the Chatsworth House archives has been released online, looking at the staff and servants who have worked for the family, both at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, Devonshire House in London and elsewhere. It sheds light on people who might otherwise have been forgotten; we’ve picked out some for a closer look. In this blog, we’re concentrating on just a few of those who worked as maids, governess and in the kitchen.

Devonshire House in 1844 by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd.
Devonshire House in 1844 by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd. British Museum

Housemaids, laundrymaids, dairymaids and lady’s maids

Mary Austwick began working at the Cavendishes London residence, Devonshire House as a housemaid in 1795; eight years later she took over the duties of laundrymaid before, in 1811 (the year that the 5th Duke of Devonshire died), returning to her former occupation of housemaid at a yearly wage of £16. She was last recorded as an employee in 1814 but was remembered after her death by the 6th Duke of Devonshire with a clear fondness, despite her obvious quirks. He had known Mary for most of his life (the 6th Duke was born in 1795) and described her as ‘the swarthy, venerable, and cross housemaid, peace be to her soul!’. Perhaps, with his ascension to the dukedom, the 6th duke rescued Mary from the laundry?

A laundry maid leaning out of a sash window
A laundry maid leaning out of a sash window; Wellcome Library

Between 1803 and 1805, Maria Foley was Lady Harriet’s woman and, from 1800 to 1801, Elizabeth Winchester was Lady Georgiana’s dressing maid. Lady Harriet and Lady Georgiana were the daughters of the 5th Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Elizabeth remained with Little G, as Lady Georgiana was known when she married. It was another Elizabeth, Elizabeth Olenrainshaw, who was Little G’s maid from 1790 to 1799. She’s probably the Elizabeth Ollenranshaw who married the Nottinghamshire born Pinder Simpson, a solicitor, at St George’s, Hanover Square on the 23rd July 1799. Pinder Simpson and John Simpson had offices at Burlington Street, Piccadilly close to Devonshire House. The couple’s first child was a daughter who they named Georgiana.

A Lady's Maid Soaping Linen by Henry Robert Morland
A Lady’s Maid Soaping Linen by Henry Robert Morland; Tate

The extended Furniss/Furness family appear to have provided many of Chatsworth’s servants; the surname crops up time and time again over a period of several decades. Two of the earliest were sisters, Barbara and Alice. Barbara was one of Chatsworth’s Dairy Maids from 1793 to 1797 when she left to marry Thomas Pursglove (in London and at St Martin in the Field). She was replaced by her sister, Alice, who worked in the dairy until 1803; a year later Alice married a man named John Thornhill in the same church as her sister had wed.

View of Chatsworth Looking across the Lake; British School; Government Art Collection
View of Chatsworth Looking across the Lake; British School; Government Art Collection

Governess and nursery maids

Selina Trimmer, daughter of Sarah Trimmer, was the governess between 1789 and 1805, based mainly at Devonshire House.

During 1762, the 12-year-old Lady Dorothy Cavendish, eldest daughter of William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire was tutored in the nursery by a lady named Anne Gibbon. Lady Dorothy would go on to marry William Cavendish Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland; it is her descendants that we have written about in A Right Royal Scandal.

Devonshire House in Piccadilly
Devonshire House in Piccadilly

Mary Griffiths started working at Devonshire House in 1787 as a maid in the Still Room. Two years later she became a housemaid and then, in 1790, nursery maid to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire’s children.

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Thomas Gainsborough, 1787
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Thomas Gainsborough, 1787; Chatsworth House

The kitchen

A Frenchman worked as a confectioner in the kitchens between 1790 and 1805. Monsieur A Caille (his forename has not been recorded) once rushed to the rescue when a small fire broke out. He did so by pouring on to the flames ‘the contents of the kettle he was carrying’. His kettle contained melted sugar, which only made things worse.

Detail of syllabubs from A Sense of Taste by Philippe Mercier.
Detail of syllabubs from A Sense of Taste by Philippe Mercier.

In forthcoming blogs, we’ll turn our attention to the family’s coachmen and stables, and grooms, valets, butlers and stewards. If you haven’t already done so, please do consider subscribing to our blog to be alerted to all our new posts.

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire by Henry Lark Pratt
Chatsworth House, Derbyshire by Henry Lark Pratt; Buxton Museum & Art Gallery

In the meantime, if you want to explore the database of staff and servants further, you can find it by clicking here.

Portrait of Nelly O'Brien by Joshua Reynolds, c.1762-1763.

Revealing new information about the courtesan, Nelly O’Brien

Sir Joshua Reynolds painted the courtesan, Nelly O’Brien twice, between 1762 and 1764. Both paintings were paid for by her lover, Frederick St John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke, although she was introduced to Reynolds by Admiral Augustus Keppel, 1st Viscount Keppel. (Keppel was the great-grandson of Charles II by his mistress, Louise de Kérouaille, Duchess of Portsmouth.)

Nelly O'Brien by Joshua Reynolds; Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow
Nelly O’Brien by Joshua Reynolds; Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow

Bolingbroke also commissioned Reynolds to paint a picture of his wife, Diana Spencer, daughter of the 2nd Duke of Marlborough at the same time. Horace Walpole claimed that Bolingbroke had asked Reynolds to give Diana’s ‘eyes something of Nelly O’Brien, or it will not do’. Walpole continued, ‘as he has given Nelly something of his wife’s, it was but fair to give her something of Nelly’s; and my Lady will not throw away the present!’.

Lady Diana Beauclerk by Joshua Reynolds
Lady Diana Beauclerk by Joshua Reynolds; English Heritage, Kenwood

Frederick and Diana’s marriage was a disaster; he took lovers and so did she, famously having an affair with Topham Beauclerk (like Keppel also a great-grandson of Charles II, but by Nell Gwyn). When Bolingbroke divorced his wife in 1768, she promptly married her lover.

Frederick and Nelly (whose origins remain obscure) were an item certainly by 1763. Most sources seem to suggest that Nelly bore Bolingbroke a son, born c.1764, supposedly named Arthur and of whom nothing else is known. If she did bear a child by Bolingbroke, it’s more likely that he was born a year or two earlier. It was not Bolingbroke who fathered a child on Nelly in 1764, it was her new love, the splendidly named Sackville Tufton, 8th Earl of Thanet.

Frederick St John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke
Frederick St John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke (via Brigitte Gastel Lloyd)

Alfred (not Arthur) Tufton was born 23rd November 1764, and baptised almost a month later, on 20th December, at St George, Hanover Square. His birth was hardly a secret; Nelly was named alongside Sackville in the baptism register. The wit, George James ‘Gilly’ Williams, writing to his friend, George Selwyn on Christmas Day, 1764, said:

I told you Nelly O’Brien has a son. It was christened yesterday. Bunny and his trull were sponsors. Now for his name; guess it if you can; it is of no less consequence in this country than Alfred; but Magill was so drunk he had like to have named it Hiccup!

(Bunny is thought to be Sir Charles Bunbury, who had recently married Lady Sarah Lennox, daughter of the Duke of Richmond. Magill, the drunk, was Henry Magill, curate of St George’s.)

A year later, on 4 December 1765, a second son was born; this one was given his father’s name, Sackville Tufton, and baptised at the same church as his elder brother on New Years’ Day, 1766.

St George's, Hanover Square by T. Malton, 1787
St George’s, Hanover Square by T. Malton, 1787

After that, things rapidly went downhill for Nelly. Her earl was seeking a wife, and his family would certainly not countenance a union with a courtesan. In the summer of 1767 (on 30th July), Sackville Tufton married Mary daughter of Lord John Sackville. Beforehand, Nelly had been turned out of his Grosvenor Square house to make way for the new bride, although she appears to have moved only a few streets away and taken rooms on Park Street, almost certainly provided for her by the earl as Nelly was once again carrying his child.

Grosvenor Square c.1789; Robert Pollard
Grosvenor Square c.1789; Robert Pollard

Nearly six months after Sackville’s marriage to Mary, Nelly was delivered of a third son. Stanley Tufton was born 18th January 1768 and baptised 5th February. In the baptism register at St George’s, his parents were described as they had been with the older boys, Sackville Tufton, Earl of Thanet and Elinor O’Brien. Presumably, the new Countess of Thanet was fully aware. She was also pregnant herself and her daughter, Lady Elizabeth Tufton, was born that spring. Nelly was, however, furious at having to leave Grosvenor Square. As she complained to anyone who would listen, her former lover had a good precedent to follow: when the wife of Augustus Fitzroy, 3rd Duke of Grafton was pregnant in 1764, the duke moved his lover, the courtesan Nancy Parsons, into their London home where they lived together openly. The Earl of Thanet had moved his courtesan out!

Nancy Parsons, also Mrs. Horton and later Viscountess Maynard by Joshua Reynolds
Nancy Parsons, also Mrs Horton and later Viscountess Maynard by Joshua Reynolds;
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

A few weeks after Stanley’s birth, realising that she would never reclaim her position as the earl’s mistress and facing an uncertain future, Nelly wrote her will. All her wealth appeared to be in the form of fine clothes and a quantity of valuable diamond jewellery which, besides her three sons, were all that she had been left with. Her star, which had shone so brightly, was looking decidedly dimmed.

I Elinor O Brien do leave to my mother all my best cloaths, to my maid Ann Dixon all my old cloaths, to Miss ?Pyrott one of my best diamond rings, to Nurse Duran such token or legacy as they can chuse out. I beg Lord Thanet will take care of his children and believe them his own. To my children I give my diamonds to be equally divided between the three and I beg my ready money will be sent to my mother and some to poor Molly and I hope all my debts will be paid immediately my ??

Could ‘poor Molly’ possibly be Nelly’s sister? The will is frustrating in its ambiguity. Another mystery concerns the nurse, was she there for Nelly, or for her newborn son. Was Nelly ill? Although still just a young woman, she would be dead before the year was out. While she was afterwards said to have died in childbirth, and in anguish from being abandoned by her earl, the fact she wrote her will, to try to safeguard her children’s future, could indicate that she had indeed been unwell for several months. In March the Public Advertiser newspaper reported her demise, followed by a retraction:

Wed. March 23, 1768. Sunday last died in Park Street, Grosvenor Square, the celebrated Miss Nelly O’Brien.

Friday, 1 April, 1768. The account inserted in the Papers of the Death of Miss Nelly O’Brien in Mount Street, Grosvenor Square, is premature; that lady being in perfect health.

Unfortunately for Nelly, the account was not premature. On Saturday 2nd April 1768, Nelly O’Brien was buried at St George’s, Hanover Square (a new burial ground attached to the church had been consecrated in Bayswater three years earlier).

(A burial at St Ann, Rotherhithe on 29th December 1768 is often mistakenly thought to be hers. Likewise, Nelly’s assumed birth year of 1739 is taken from incorrect burial: the Elinor O’Brien buried in Rotherhithe was 29 years old. We still have no true idea of Nelly’s birth date.)

On 4th May 1768, one of her creditors was granted administration of her estate; the whereabouts of her diamonds are now unknown.

The two elder sons, Sackville and Alfred Tufton, joined the East India Company, Sackville in their naval service and Alfred as a writer, based at Kolkata. When his brother Sackville wrote his will in October 1788, Alfred was left the bulk of his wealth.

Stanley was not mentioned and, although we have not been able to trace him further, it would seem likely that he died young. In a later codicil, Sackville left bequests to his half-brothers and sisters, the sons and daughters from his father’s marriage to Mary Sackville, so it looks like he had been brought up as their sibling.

He also left legacies to his O’Brien aunts and uncles (sadly not named!), his mother Nelly’s siblings and to his grandmother (Nelly’s mother) who was still clearly alive in 1794. Sackville died the same year. Alfred lived to 1812; he had been promoted to the position of Judge at Gya but had returned home in the early 1800s in ill-health, and had never fully recovered. He was only 47-years of age when he died. Both Sackville and Alfred’s resting place is a shared grave in the church at Hothfield in Kent, where his ancestors, the Earls of Thanet, have their seat.

Portrait of Nelly O'Brien by Joshua Reynolds, c.1762-1763.
Portrait of Nelly O’Brien by Joshua Reynolds, c.1762-1763. © The Wallace Collection

In September 1809, almost 41 years after Nelly’s death, a gentleman named Edward Jeremiah Curteis wrote to Alfred Tufton, who had been detained in London due to illness. There had clearly been some conversation between the two, and Alfred had been under the illusion that his long-dead mother, who he hardly recalled, had died around the time of Sackville’s birth.

Mrs Curteis, Edward’s wife or mother, recalled that:

your mother did not die until about the period of Lord Tufton’s marriage, which was more than two years later than you suppose – she was then great with child and the probable cause of death was grief and vexation at the marriage and desertion of the Earl of Thanet.

She went on to say that the earl had been persuaded to marry by his family, but before that, he had previously taken a ‘small but elegant’ and admirably furnished house in Brook Street for his mistress (which Lady Thanet went to see incognita). A Mrs Toke had told Mrs Curteis that Lord Thanet had snubbed Nelly in public which ’caused chagrin and mortification to such a degree as that a miscarriage ensued, and that having miscarried a third infant she died in childbed’.

It’s possible that Nelly had been pregnant again, but her third child was Stanley, born a year before her own premature death. Mrs Curteis’ memories had possibly become confused.

Sources not mentioned above:

George Selwyn and his contemporaries, with memoirs and notes, vol. 1, John Heneage Jesse (1843)

Correspondence of the Curteis family of Windmill Hill, Battle, East Sussex Record Office, AMS 5995/5/8

The Diaries of a Duchess: extracts from the diaries of the first Duchess of Northumberland (1716-1776), edited by James Greig (1926)

National Archives wills: PROB 11/1247/21 and PROB 11/939/51

The Gentleman’s Magazine, and Historical Chronicle, vol 82, part 1 (1812)

The letters of Horace Walpole (ed by J Wright), 1842

We would like to thank the staff at the City of Westminster Archives for confirming the record of Nelly’s burial for us.

Gainsborough Old Hall, 1803 showing the courtyard. The theatre's outside staircase and other windows and doors no longer in existence can be seen.

Art Detectives: William Hornby of Hornby’s Bank in Gainsborough

I’ve long been intrigued by a portrait on the Art UK website of a rather dishevelled and – quite frankly – eccentric figure, which, so the label claims, depicts William Hornby (incorrectly labelled as Hornsby) of Hornby’s Bank in Gainsborough, a market town in North Lincolnshire.

The archives office in Lincoln claims differently; they believe it depicts William’s brother, Joseph who, they suggest, was a well-known eccentric character in these parts.

Which brother, then, is in the rather cruel portrait?

William Hornby, Manager of Hornby's Bank or his 'eccentric' brother, Joseph, both of Gainsborough, Lincolnshire by an unknown artist
William Hornby, Manager of Hornby’s Bank or his ‘eccentric’ brother, Joseph, both of Gainsborough, Lincolnshire by an unknown artist; Museum of Lincolnshire Life

Joseph was born at Gainsborough in 1729, the eldest child of Joseph Hornby senior, a prosperous mercer in the town. Seven more children followed but all except two, William (born in 1732) and John (1739), died in infancy. The elder two of the three sons, Joseph and William, followed their father into the mercantile trade.

At his death in 1762, Joseph Hornby senior left considerable inheritances to his three sons.

Gainsborough was a thriving and prosperous town in the eighteenth-century, boosted by trade from the busy River Trent which passes through. The Hornby family’s wealth grew and, together with Sir Joseph Esdaile, Esq, William opened a bank, the first known to exist in the town. In partnership with two other gentlemen, they also established the Chesterfield Bank in Derbyshire.

Gainsborough Old Hall, 1828.
Gainsborough Old Hall, 1828. © The Trustees of the British Museum

In 1760, William Hornby took out a lease on the medieval timber-framed Gainsborough Old Hall and established a coarse linen factory in part of the building and sublet the rest. The factory lost money and the old manor house was in a poor state of repair.

You peeped in and saw its great ground floor apartments occupied by joiners, and coopers and bricklayers – depositories for lime, hair, and bricks – and you turned away disgusted.

By 1790, Hornby had wound up his factory and sublet the Great Hall of the manor house to a Mr West, who used it as a theatre. The staircase which was temporarily added at this time to access the theatre can be seen on the print below.

Gainsborough Old Hall, 1803 showing the courtyard. The theatre's outside staircase and other windows and doors no longer in existence can be seen.
Gainsborough Old Hall, 1803 showing the courtyard. The theatre’s outside staircase and other windows and doors no longer in existence can be seen.

By the end of the century, troubles were mounting up. The partnership which ran the Chesterfield Bank (William Hornby, Joseph Esdaile, Samuel Raynes and Richard Gillett) was dissolved in 1799. By 1803, William Hornby could no longer meet his creditors’ demands and he was declared bankrupt. The Gainsborough Bank was no more.

A Gainsborough Bank banknote, exhibited in the Commission of Bankruptcy against Hornby and Esdaile in 1804.
A Gainsborough Bank banknote exhibited in the Commission of Bankruptcy against Hornby and Esdaile in 1804. © The Trustees of the British Museum

William Hornby is reputed to have ended his days in penury, being cared for by a woman who had formerly been his cook, dying ‘at an advanced age’ (he was 72) in February 1805 at Doncaster, just over the county border in South Yorkshire.

After all this, are we any closer to identifying which Hornby brother is shown in the painting? Well, there is no contemporary mention of Joseph being an eccentric. At his death in 1811 (he was buried in the churchyard of Gainsborough All Saints) he is described as formerly being ‘an eminent merchant’. No hint of madness or eccentricity.

It seems more likely that the painting is a cruel depiction of William Hornby. Perhaps in his pursuit of wealth and in his running of the bank, he made an enemy of someone who commissioned this painting in revenge? Or, was it painted after Hornby’s bankruptcy, the work of a creditor who was left out-of-pocket and wanted to leave a lasting visual legacy of the former banker, that of a miserly man down on his luck.

At this distance in time, and with no other evidence to hand, we are simply left to wonder.

Sources

Our Old Town, Thomas Miller, 1857

The London Gazette, 6-10 August 1799

Lincolnshire Archives

Portrait of Nelly O'Brien by Joshua Reynolds, c.1762-1763.

Quilted Petticoats: worn by all women and useful in more ways than one

Quilted petticoats were an item of clothing that transcended any notions of class or status; they were worn throughout most of the eighteenth-century by all women from nobility down to fish-wives and had a variety of uses. Usually tied at either side of the waistband, they had a gap in the side seams which allowed access to a pair of pockets worn underneath.

A mid-eighteenth-century British quilted petticoat with two bands of contrasting coloured material.
A mid-eighteenth-century British quilted petticoat with two bands of contrasting coloured material. The Met

Clearly, the primary function of the garment was that of warmth; in colder climates (and here in Britain we’re always complaining about the weather!) the padding provided an extra layer to insulate the wearer.

By the mid-eighteenth century, women’s gowns were worn open at the front and the petticoat underneath became a decorative item. Well-to-do ladies wore petticoats made of silk or satin, often in contrasting colours to their robe, although the backing was often made of a more robust material such as calico or coarse linen.

The courtesan, Nelly O’Brien is famously depicted wearing a simple diamond patterned pink quilted petticoat in her portrait by Joshua Reynolds, but embellishment is added with an embroidered gauzy apron worn over the top. Note the contrasting blue and white striped gown.

Portrait of Nelly O'Brien by Joshua Reynolds, c.1762-1763.
Portrait of Nelly O’Brien by Joshua Reynolds, c.1762-1763. © The Wallace Collection

Flat quilting, whereby two or three layers were stitched through using a running or backstitch, and corded quilted which involved parallel channels being sown through which cord was inserted from the reverse, were the most popular forms. The latter provided a textured relief.

This European eighteenth-century quilted silk petticoat resembles the one worn by Nelly O'Brien in her portrait.
This European eighteenth-century quilted silk petticoat resembles the one worn by Nelly O’Brien in her portrait. The Met

The designs used were often more decorative and elaborate than the simple pattern on the petticoat worn by Nelly O’Brien; flowers, intricate geometric patterns and even animals all featured.

Detail from the portrait of Mr and Mrs Atherton by Arthur Devis c.1743.
Detail from the portrait of Mr and Mrs Atherton by Arthur Devis c.1743. Walker Art Gallery

The following image gives an example of a linen quilted petticoat dating to c.1700-1725, designed to be worn under a mantua. Backed with linen, the quilting pattern was worked first and then both layers of linen were overstitched with embroidery. The notes against this petticoat suggest it was made domestically rather than professionally as the join and certain other details are clumsy.

A domestic English quilted petticoat c.1700-1725, overstitched with embroidery.
Museum of London

When just the front of the petticoat would be glimpsed, the decoration was concentrated on that area. As polonaise gowns became fashionable, where the skirts were gathered and looped up at the back, the full hemline of the petticoat was visible. This led to a trend for decoration all around the undergarment. John Wilkes’ daughter, Mary, in this next portrait, demonstrates the fashion; her green quilted petticoat, contrasting sharply with her pink gown, has the addition of a deep frill all around the hemline.

John Wilkes and his daughter Mary by Johann Zoffany, c.1779.
John Wilkes and his daughter Mary by Johann Zoffany, c.1779. National Portrait Gallery, London

Marseille (or French) quilting is a term used to describe the distinctive cotton quilting which was a feature of the Provence area of southern France, known for fine cording and stuffed designs. There, textiles were made for export, and the London weavers suffered as a result.

Quilted, Marseilles-type petticoat in sage green-colored silk satin quilted by machine. According to family tradition, this petticoat was worn by Hannah Hopkins (1731-1766) of Springfield, Massachusetts, for her marriage to John Worthington (1719-1800), a lawyer from Springfield, in 1759.
Quilted, Marseilles-type petticoat in sage green-coloured silk satin quilted by machine. Historic Deerfield

In the 1740s, a solution was found: a weaving technique was developed in England using a loom which imitated hand quilting, making the process both quick and inexpensive although it was not true quilting. Usually made with linen, while the fabric appeared to be quilted there was no middle layer of woollen wadding so, although cheap, petticoats made this way lacked the warmth of their ‘Marseilles’ counterparts.

A Sale of Ready Made Goods, &c. by JONAS CLIFTON, SILK-WEAVER and WAREHOUSE-MAN, from SHOREDITCH, LONDON: who now sells at the FOUNTAIN in MARGATE, His CURIOUS BRITISH LOOM QUILTING, for Ladies Petticoats, Bed-gowns, and Gentleman’s Winter Waistcoats, exceeding rich, neat and serviceable…

Kentish Gazette, 9th December 1769

The Polite Maccaroni presenting a nosegay to Miss Blossom.
Lewis Walpole Library

The profession of quilted petticoat maker is described in the London Tradesman, 1747. It was not a lucrative one.

I must just peep under the Quilted-Petticoat. Every one knows the materials they are made of: they are made mostly by women, and some men, who are employed by the shops and earn but little. They quilt likewise quilts for beds for the upholder. This they make more of than of the petticoats, but not very considerable, nothing to get rich by unless they are able to purchase the materials and sell them finished to the shops, which few of them do. They rarely take apprentices, and the women they employ to help them, earn three or four shillings a week and their diet.

Portrait of a woman seated beside a table by Arthur Devis, c.1739-1740.
Portrait of a woman seated beside a table by Arthur Devis, c.1739-1740. MFA Boston

An extra cost to the manufacturers of quilted petticoats was the price of the wool used for the wadding, which was subject to the attention of customs.

Last week, the Prince Frederick, a Collier, lately arriv’d from Newcastle, was searched by a custom-house officer, who found about 200 weight of the combings of wool, in two bags, the property of a female passenger on board the said ship, who follows the business of making quilted petticoats; whereupon he seiz’d the same, together with the ship and all her cargo, as forfeited by law, for bringing wool from any part of England without entering it at the custom-house and clearing it from thence; and modestly demanded 600l. of the owners for clearing her, which was refus’d…

Ipswich Journal, 29th October 1743

The Bradshaw Family by Johan Zoffany, exhibited 1769.
The Bradshaw Family by Johan Zoffany exhibited 1769. The Tate

Quilted petticoats provided shape to the skirts worn over them. Often the wadding used in the manufacture of these petticoats did not extend all the way to the waistband, so they were less bulky at the waistline. But, in an era when women wore a variety of hoops, bum rolls and panniers to enhance and alter their natural forms, quilted petticoats were a useful tool, providing a little extra padding where needed. In fact, evidence shows that they were worn in a variety of different ways throughout the century, both with and without a little extra support and definition beneath them depending on the desired silhouette. Perhaps, when Mary Hobbins went missing, she was trying to disguise her slim frame by wearing multiple quilted petticoats: even for late September, wearing two of these garments must have been quite warm.

September 26, 1724. Whereas one Thomas Robinson… went away with one Mary Hobbins of Swineshead near Boston in Lincolnshire: She is a slender thin-vizzag’d Woman, had two quilted petticoats on, viz. one green, and the other red and blue, with a white Gown with small Stripes or a Popple and white with broad Stripes…

Stamford Mercury, 29th October 1724

The painter Arthur Devis depicted women wearing quilted petticoats over hoops and panniers which gave definition and decoration to the fine silk gowns they wore, which are clearly very wide in the hips.

Mary Cawthorne (1724-1796), Mrs Morley Unwin, by Arthur Devis, c.1750
Mary Cawthorne (1724-1796), Mrs Morley Unwin, by Arthur Devis, c.1750; National Trust, Knightshayes Court
The Reverend Streynsham Master and His Wife, Margaret of Croston, Lancashire by Arthur Devis, c.1743-1744;
The Reverend Streynsham Master and His Wife, Margaret of Croston, Lancashire by Arthur Devis, c.1743-1744; Harris Museum & Art Gallery

Towards the 1770s, it was common for fashionable ladies to wear a bum roll underneath their quilted petticoat, to add emphasis to their rear (think Kim Kardashian today!), others simply wore only their shift or another petticoat underneath.

Love in a Village by Carington Bowles.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

A working woman would, of course, need to be able to move freely; they would wear very little under their quilted petticoats, relying on the bulkiness of the garment to provide any necessary shape, more concerned with practicalities than fashion.

A Girl Gathering Filberts by William Redmore Bigg, c.1782; Plymouth City Council: Museum and Art Gallery

By the end of the eighteenth century, women’s silhouettes became more slender and quilted petticoats were no longer in vogue with women of fashion although lower class women still clung to the practical, hard wearing and warm garment.

A Bottle of Wine by William Redmore Bigg, c.1815
A Bottle of Wine by William Redmore Bigg; Lancashire County Museum Service

So, we’ve looked at quilted petticoats being worn for decoration, for warmth and to add shape to gowns, what other possible reason could there be to wear one? Well, they were handy when smuggling items such as tea or lace past the strict customs officials of the day!

Another smuggler is committed to the Castle of Norwich; from whence ‘tis added, that the Officers of the Customs there had seized a considerable Quantity of Tea, India Silk Handkerchiefs brought up from Yarmouth by a Woman, who, when taken, had several Pounds of Tea quilted in her Petticoats.

Ipswich Journal, 9th January 1731

Miss Tipapin going for all nine, 1779.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Thursday a Gentleman and Lady put up at an inn at Dover, where they had just landed from France; when two Custom-house Officers came in, and insisted upon searching the Lady, on whom they found a quantity of Brussels lace, to the value of near 300l. which was concealed in her quilted petticoat… Some of our Nobility, it seems are suspected and even accused of harbouring smuggled goods. The truth is, so many Nobility and Gentry deal so much in smuggling, that a Correspondent says, he will venture to affirm that one half of the foreign lace that shall appear at Court on the ensuing birth-day, is smuggled.

Stamford Mercury, 4th June 1772

 

Sources:

Patchwork and Quilting in Britain, Heather Audin, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013

The Dreamstress: What to wear under a quilted petticoat, 6th January 2012

FIDM Museum: Quilted petticoat, c.1840-45

Five Colleges and Historic Deerfield Museum Consortium, Collections Database: Object Accession No. HD F.495A

The London Tradesman: Being a Compendious View of All the Trades, Professions, Arts, Both Liberal and Mechanic, Now Practised in the Cities of London and Westminster. Calculated for the Information of Parents, and Instruction of Youth in Their Choice of Business, R. Campbell, Esq, 1747

A Audience at Drury Lane Theatre, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Inspiring a rivalship amongst the gentry: a letter to the papers, 1773

We’re just going to give you this letter, printed in the Reading Mercury on the 25th October 1773, in full. The author has quite clearly had his fill of the fawning sycophancy over the nobility in his morning paper. The article that sparked his ire concerned Charles Bennet, 4th Earl of Tankerville who was a noted cricketer (a good fielder rather than a batter or bowler) and patron of Surrey cricket.

A game of cricket, unknown artist after Francis Hayman, 18th century.
A game of cricket, unknown artist after Francis Hayman, 18th century. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

To the PRINTER

SIR,

It was with the utmost pleasure, and with infinite surprise, that I read the following paragraph in a London paper a few days ago:

“At the cricket match between Kent and Surrey, a few days ago, Lord T__ker__e (as we can assure the public from the best authority) caught two very difficult balls, with his own hands.”

Earth! Air! Water! And fire! Is it possible – what!! Lord T__ker__e! – Lord T__ker__e himself! – to catch two balls – nay, two very difficult balls too – and with his own hands! – Immortal tidings, and more than Elysian raptures, welcome, welcome to our land, and let England ring from shore to shore! Happy for Britain, and very happy for Europe! Why, Mr Printer, if his Lordship is already so alert at catching, who knows but he will in time, instead of catching two cricket balls, catch – three? And if he does this with ease, who knows but he may next attempt the immortal feat of swinging on a gate? And if he swings upon a gate, who knows but he will give the finishing stroke to his reputation by leaping over a stile? And if he rises this length, the L__d only knows where his glories will end.

After all, Mr Printer, and to be serious with you, it gives me pleasure to hear that such actions of our illustrious nobility are recorded as the vulgar dare not, cannot rival them in; for where is the scoundrel commoner that will even pretend to catch two cricket balls? The historian of the day, however, has omitted some very material incidents in the description; such as, whether his Lordship caught the balls with one or with both hands; which parts of his Lordship’s sacred fist the balls first hit; whether they came in a south or north, east or west direction; what was his Lordship’s attitude, &c &c and these circumstances would have certainly made the matter much more important and interesting to mankind.

Cricket played by the Gentleman's Club, Whiteconduit House by Robert Dighton, c.1784.
Cricket played by the Gentleman’s Club, Whiteconduit House by Robert Dighton, c.1784. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

To conclude I repeat the immensity of my joy. For though some of our nobility have excelled in spitting maggots and burning mice, the act of catching a cricket ball was never before performed by mankind – no, nor the nobility themselves.

While I was ruminating on these things, Sir, it occurred to me, that publishing all such like acts and feats of our nobility and gentry, would be of the greatest service to the community, by inspiring a rivalship among them to excel in deeds of such singular praise; and this scheme I myself begun in the following part of my letter, a careful perusal of which will show at once to you and your readers, both the manner and the merit of recording such important incidents. In humble imitation, therefore, of the T__ker__e paragraph, I insert the following:

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, anonymous painting dating to c.1775.
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, anonymous painting dating to c.1775.
Victoria & Albert Museum.

Last night, at the door of Drury Lane Theatre, Lord F___ was observed actually to lift his lapdog into the chariot, without once seeking the footman’s assistance.

We have it from the best authority, that his Grace the Duke of St A____s precisely at eleven yesterday morning, picked his teeth without drawing blood from his gums, which is very singular.

A portrait enamel of George Beauclerk, 3rd Duke of St. Albans (1730-1786) by Gervase Spencer.
A portrait enamel of George Beauclerk, 3rd Duke of St. Albans (1730-1786) by Gervase Spencer. Philip Mould Historical Portraits.

Lord T____t was observed yesterday to swallow a spoonful of soup, in the king’s kitchen, without chewing it.

The king actually pares his nails twice a week.

George III by Allan Ramsay.
George III by Allan Ramsay.

Lord C____e has slept very soundly these three nights past which is a thing he has not done these three years before.

It is not true that one of her Majesty’s right fingers, as was villainously reported, is affected with a pimple. It is one of her left fingers.

Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818) by Thomas Gainsborough
Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818) by Thomas Gainsborough; National Trust, Wimpole Hall

This morning S___n F_x stepped over the kennel at Charing Cross, though it is both deep and broad, without being drowned in it.

Satirical print of Stephen Fox, 2nd Baron Holland, as the Sleepy Macaroni, 1772.
Satirical print of Stephen Fox, 2nd Baron Holland, as the Sleepy Macaroni, 1772. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Lord S_ff__k has of late dedicated his whole time to trap-ball, in which science he has made a prodigious progress. It is said that he will next study the noble game of cricket; and after he has studied it three years, it is not doubted but he will catch a ball with all the dexterity of Lord T___ker__e.

Trap Ball played at the Black Prince, Newington Butts by Robert Dighton, c.1784.
Trap Ball played at the Black Prince, Newington Butts by Robert Dighton, c.1784. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

It is remarkable that Lord M____d was not yesterday, when he appeared in the Court of King’s Bench, so close shaved as usual. The reason is not known. Some attribute it to his barber’s razor having been blunt, and other to his Lordship’s chin increasing in wrinkles.

The Lord Chancellor drinks asses-mile every morning for the establishment of his health, his physicians being of the opinion that it is the food most natural to him.

Henry Bathurst, 2nd Earl Bathurst, Lord Chancellor (1771–1778); David Martin
Henry Bathurst, 2nd Earl Bathurst, Lord Chancellor (1771–1778);
David Martin; Balliol College, University of Oxford

We are informed that the Premier eats a very hearty breakfast every day before dinner.

Lord S____t, the publick may be assured, is come to town: And it is thought he will continue in it – till he goes out of it.

PETER PARAGRAPH

 

 

Whaplode near Holbeach, Lincolnshire.

The Weather in Whaplode, Lincolnshire

It’s a well-known fact that we Brits are obsessed with the weather… and with talking about it. Being an island, the old saying of ‘four seasons in a day’ sometimes seems more than a little accurate, and the weather can – on occasion – change quite dramatically in the space of a few hours. However, despite this, more often than not, the climate is generally reasonably calm and mild. Still, we love nothing better than a grumble about the rain and it’s quite frequently either ‘too hot’ or ‘too cold’ for us.

One theory is that the British are known for polite detachment when dealing with others, and hate to show too much emotion. The weather is a safe and neutral topic of conversation… but we think it’s more than that. We are, as a nation, genuinely fascinated by the subject. And so, it came as quite a delight to find that the Reverend Samuel Oliver (c.1756-1847), the Eton and Cambridge educated curate of St Mary’s church at Whaplode in the remote Lincolnshire fenland, was obsessed to such a degree that he carefully recorded information about the climate in the spare pages of his parish burial registers.

Whaplode near Holbeach, Lincolnshire.
Image via South Holland Life.

Sunday, February 2nd, 1817

During the last ten days, the weather has been more serene; warm; & remarkably mild; than ever I knew it in the month of May, during the term of my residence here; which is nearly fifteen years.

Sunday, February 9th, 1817

Last night, for the first time (I think) these twenty years, the atmosphere was very strongly illuminated with Aurora Borealis. The moon entered her last quarter yesternight, a 46 min. past 7 o’clock. Today has been exceeding warm, & mild.

Monday, March 29th, 1819

This last has been the most mild, warm, & open winter ever known, in the memory of any man living. Polyanthuses & Anemonies have always been in flower.

Friday, June 29th, 1821

The season has been so excessively cold, that we were under the necessity of having large fires in the Keeping Room up to this day; when, suddenly, it became very hot!

Friday, July 6th, 1821

The cold weather has returned, so violently, as obliges us to rekindle our K. Room fire.

A View in the Fens; John Leslie Thomson
A View in the Fens; John Leslie Thomson; Perth & Kinross Council

Thursday, July 25th, 1822

The former part of last winter was excessively wet, the new year brought fine weather, the spring was uncommonly dry & warm; & the season altogether the most forward & plentiful ever known.

Friday, November 7th, 1823

From the first week in July to the first week in September, we were scarcely 12 hours without rain; from thence to October 30 was remarkably fine; October 31 and November 1 were most excessively tempestuous.

Thursday, July 22nd, 1824

The last winter very much resembled that [of] 1821, 2; the spring was indescribably dry, cold, & unhealthy; the wind being nearly due east for the space of two months. Midsummer brought fine weather, & the prospective harvest is good as a human heart could wish.

Friday, December 31st, 1824

There have been more storms, tempests, inundations, & shipwrecks; & a greater quantity of rain has fallen this year, in various parts of Europe, than for a century back. Yet we had a fine spring seed time, hay time, & harvest. Not many apples.

Drainage mills in the Fens, John Sell Cottman
Drainage mills in the Fens, John Sell Cottman. Yale Center for British Art. Paul Mellon Collection.

Thursday, March 22nd, 1827

From the beginning of March 1826 to this day, has been the driest year ever known. Hay, oats, beans, & barley, were very deficient, so were potatoes, wheat good, both crop & quality.

Saturday, September 15th & Tuesday, September 18th, 1827

These two evenings the Aurora Borealis was remarkably brilliant; & merry dancers, very active.

1829

This was an excessive wet, cold, & stormy summer. Wheat good, crops & quality. About November 18, the snow & frost commenced, & was not completely gone before March 1st, 1830.

Old Draining Mill in the Huntingdonshire Fens; Edward William Cooke
Old Draining Mill in the Fens; Edward William Cooke; Norris Museum

Monday, August 27th, 1832

We have had four very cold, wet, & luxuriant summers, in succession; wheat is generally well got in. Last winter was very much like that of 1818, 19.

Thursday, July 22nd 1824, Dr Goddard the Archdeacon made his Parochial Visitation; & ordered repairs of the Vestry Room, a new fence to the Vicarage yard, & all necessary repairs to the House & Premises.

March 20th, 1835

The dykes, within the last three weeks, have become tolerably full of water, at least a foot deep; where, for the last three years, the water has never stood, 12 hours together, at the depth of six inches.

November 20th, 1839

These two last summers have been remarkably wet & cold.

Fenland Scene by J. Lamnier
(c) Rossendale Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

And, from the back of the marriage register, we find this entry. Not about the weather but also clearly a subject of huge importance to the curate, judging by his increasing use of exclamation marks.

May 28th, 1821

On this, & the three subsequent days, the population of the parish was taken (by Act of Parliament). Mr Longstaff, the Overseer of the Poor, taking Mr Roberts, the Vestry Clerk, to assist him. I also went round the Parish, in my Ecclesiastical capacity, & found 154 Persons unXtned; & eight couples who notoriously cohabit, as Man & Wife, together! Four of these couples call themselves Methodists, & regularly attend the Meeting Houses! One couple holds a Meeting in their own House! Two couples are within the degrees of Affinity! And five couples have had children born!! I likewise found another couple, who will not acknowledge that they sleep together, tho’ they both sleep in one room!!!

Reverend Samuel Oliver, Curate

Rev Oliver was the curate at Whaplode for 42 years, preaching three times every Sunday, until, in 1842 the vicar of the parish died and the Rev Oliver was removed from his curacy. A few months later, and despite his advanced years (he was 84), Rev Oliver was appointed to the living of Lambley in Nottinghamshire, worth £1,000 per year. There he died on the 9th August 1847.

Sources not mentioned above

Lincolnshire Chronicle, 13th January 1843

Nottingham Evening Post, 2nd June 1950

The remains of Lincoln's Roman East Gate, drawing by Nathan Drake c.1740.

Lincoln’s History: Sir Cecil Wray

Sir Cecil Wray, 13th Baronet Wray of Glentworth, was born in 1734 into an ancient Lincolnshire family. In 1752, still some months away from his eighteenth birthday, Cecil inherited the baronetcy and the family estates (in Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Yorkshire) when his father, Sir John Wray, 12th Baronet died.

Sir Cecil stood for parliament as a Whig representing Retford in Nottinghamshire (he won the seat in 1768) and then Westminster between 1782 and 1784. However, during this latter period, Sir Cecil stood up in the House of Commons to oppose the East India Bill proposed by Charles James Fox and he denounced the coalition between Fox and Lord North; subsequently – and with the support of the Tory party – at the 1784 election, Sir Cecil tried to oust Fox from representing Westminster. In the print below, the naval officer Sir Samuel Hood (Tory) is shown as Themistocles, Charles James Fox, the Whig candidate is Demosthenes and Sir Cecil Wray, who had switched allegiance from the Whigs to the Tories is depicted as Judas Iscariot. In the end, Sir Cecil finished last, a result which he contested for some time.

The Rival Candidates: Sir Samuel Hood, Charles James Fox and Sir Cecil Wray
© The Trustees of the British Museum

The wits and wags of the day had a field time with Sir Cecil after the 1784 election; not only had he appeared to betray Charles James Fox but he was also – reputedly – a bit of a skinflint. He drank ‘small beer’, his grand house in Pall Mall was left unfinished and he proposed plans to abolish Chelsea Hospital and to tax maid-servants in order to ease the National Debt.

Sir Cecil's Budget for Paying the National Debt. In the foreground, the veterans with wooden legs and on crutches try to get away from the crumbling facade of the Chelsea Hospital. In the background, a group of women, outraged by the proposal to abolish the Chelsea Hospital and to tax employers of maid servants, attacks with brooms and a slop jar the proposal's author, Sir Cecil Wray.
In the foreground, the veterans with wooden legs and on crutches try to get away from the crumbling facade of the Chelsea Hospital. In the background, a group of women, outraged by the proposal to abolish the Chelsea Hospital and to tax employers of maidservants, attacks with brooms and a slop jar the proposal’s author, Sir Cecil Wray. Met Museum

We have a different reason to pour scorn upon Sir Cecil, however. In 1750 he built a house on Eastgate in Lincoln, to the northeast of the Cathedral. This house, named Eastgate House, was extended in 1763 but an old stone structure interrupted Sir Cecil’s views of Lincoln Cathedral. That couldn’t be allowed, and so the edifice was demolished… unfortunately for us today, that structure was the remains of the Roman Upper East Gate to the city.

The remains of Lincoln's Roman East Gate, drawing by Nathan Drake c.1740.
The remains of Lincoln’s Roman East Gate, drawing by Nathan Drake c.1740. Image via It’s About Lincoln.

This particular gate had only been rediscovered in 1730 as it had been walled up and formed part of the north gable end of a house on one side and a stable on the other.

Eastgate House was further added to in the nineteenth-century; Sir Cecil’s original house has gone the same way as the remains of the Roman Upper East Gate and no longer survives but one of the later wings can still be seen. It is now part of the Lincoln Hotel and, in front of the hotel, the foundations of the old East Gate – all that remained after Sir Cecil’s handiwork – are visible. They were uncovered in 1945 during excavations to lay new sewers. Before it was pulled down, the East Gate looked very similar to the nearby Newport Gate, which – as it was not blocking an important view – has managed so far to stand the test of time, although, in recent years, lorries have been known to get stuck beneath it, causing damage.

Newport Arch, Lincoln by Nathan Drake, 1756
Newport Arch, Lincoln by Nathan Drake, 1756; The Collection: Art & Archaeology in Lincolnshire (Usher Gallery)

Around the same time as he was destroying the Roman heritage of the city of Lincoln, Sir Cecil started building a country seat at Fillingham, about ten miles north. This fine house, built in the style of a Gothic castle, he named Somers or Summer Castle after his wife, Dame Esther Wray née Summers (or Somers), although it is also now known as Fillingham Castle.

Little is known of Dame Esther; she was born around 1735 and is said to be the daughter of a James Summers. We love a challenge, and have tried our hardest to uncover Dame Esther’s origins but – at the moment – we are having to admit defeat although we can add a little more information to her story. From our research, it appears likely that she is from Essex and certainly the Wrays were married by the summer of 1763 for the Leeds Intelligencer newspaper recorded ‘Sir Cecil Wray and Lady’ amongst the arrivals in Scarborough in their 19th July edition.

Summer Castle, Fillingham, Lincolnshire, 1804.
Summer Castle, Fillingham, coloured plate from A Selection of Views from the County of Lincolnshire, 1804.

Her brother John Summers (variously recorded as Sumers and Sommers) lived at Fairsted in Essex in the mid-1760s. There, together with his wife, Jane, he baptised three children, Esther and Eades in 1764 and a second daughter, Charlotte a year later. Eades and Charlotte later lived with their aunt at Summer Castle. Another of her nieces, who also lived at the castle, was Esther Taylor who, in 1785, married Captain Charles Hare, RN; various others of this family lived at Billericay in Essex.

On the 11th January 1804, when Sir Cecil Wray wrote his will, he named his wife’s great-niece, Elizabeth Ann Jeffries who was residing at his castle. Elizabeth Ann was born c.1786 in Essex; during 1804 she made not one but two marriages, both – luckily – to the same man, William Thomas Goodchild, a naval officer who had been born on Christmas Day 1777 at Christiansted, St Croix in the Virgin Islands. Goodchild was the grandson of Isabella Wray, the sister of Sir John Wray, 12th Baronet.

South east view of Fillingham Castle in Lincolnshire, from The Tatler, 30 October 1901.
The Tatler, 30 October 1901

Sir Cecil Wray died in 1805 and was buried at Fillingham; his wife, Dame Esther Wray lived at Summer Castle until her death in 1825, aged 89 years. What remains of Summer Castle is now a private residence: the remains of a gatehouse and lodge can be seen on the side of the A15.

Remains of the gate and entrance lodge to Summer Castle, Fillingham, Lincolnshire.
The remains of the gate and entrance lodge, via Google Maps.

 

Sources not mentioned above:

Will of Sir Cecil Wray of Fillingham, Lincolnshire, National Archives PROB 11/1421/217

Will of Dame Esther Wray, Dowager of Summer Castle, Lincolnshire, National Archives PROB 11/1697/79

Relevant parish registers

Lincolnshire Echo, 22nd October 1945

View of Bath by Edmund Garvey

How George III’s 1809 Golden Jubilee was celebrated in Bath

On the 25th October 1809, the jubilee of King George III was celebrated across the nation. Opinion was divided as to whether the jubilee had been celebrated a year too early; 25th October 1809 was the first day of the 50th year of George III’s reign, he had not actually reigned yet for a full fifty years. It was a grand project instigated – and to a large degree planned – by a middle-aged, middle-class lady living in the Welsh borders, a truly amazing woman who is the subject of our latest book, A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs.

George III (1738-1820) by Edward Bird, c.1810-1815
George III (1738-1820) by Edward Bird, c.1810-1815; Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives.

The jubilee was celebrated across the nation, and even on board ships and in foreign territories under British rule. Today, we are going to look at the celebrations that took place in Bath 209 years ago today.

Bath Abbey by an unknown artist
Bath Abbey; Victoria Art Gallery

The Jubilee was this day celebrated here with every demonstration of loyalty. The festival was ushered in by the ringing of bells, and display of flags on the different churches. At eleven o’clock the Mayor and Corporation, accompanied by the Bath Volunteer reg. of Infantry, the Young Gentleman of the Grammar School, the children of the Charity Schools, and the Friendly Societies, (33 in number, containing 2,487 members, each Society distinguished by its particular banner and colours,) went in grand procession to the Abbey Church where an admirable sermon was preached by the Rev Mr Marshall. Part of the Societies went to Walcot Church, where an equally excellent discourse was delivered by the Rev Mr Barry. Collections were made at the doors of both churches for the benevolent purpose of releasing the debtors in the County Gaol.

Looking down Grove Street to Walcot Church.
Looking down Grove Street to Walcot Church. Victoria Art Gallery

On returning to the Hall, cakes and wine were given to the juvenile part of the procession. The Volunteers marched to the Crescent Field, where they fired a feu de joie; and the members of the Friendly Societies departed to their respective club-rooms, in which they dined together in much harmony; each man received towards his expenses 1s. 6d. from the public subscription for that purpose. The Children of the Blue Coat Charity School, about 120 in number, sat down in their school-room to a plentiful dinner of roast beef and plumb pudding, provided at the expense of a highly-respected and loyal gentleman, a resident of this city.

The Crescent at Bath
The Crescent at Bath. Victoria Art Gallery

The Mayor and Corporation, the clergy, with a select party, dined at the White Hart. In the evening there was a ball at the Town Hall. Jubilee medals, with ribbons having suitable mottos in gold letters, were generally worn.

The 'White Hart' Inn, Bath by John Charles Maggs
A slightly later view of the ‘White Hart’ Inn, Bath by John Charles Maggs; Victoria Art Gallery

John Jones, esq, of Woolley, near Bradford, gave to 800 poor persons of that neighbourhood, a sufficient quantity of bread, strong beer, and mutton, in the presence of a large concourse of loyal subjects.

Messrs Divett, Price, Jackson, and Co. regaled nearly 500 persons employed in their manufactory at Bradford by giving them three fine fat sheep roasted whole, plenty of bread, and a large potion of good Wilthshire strong beer.

Bradford, Wiltshire, c.1805.
Bradford, Wiltshire, c.1805. Victoria Art Gallery

The debtors in our city gaol, five in number, were this morning liberated from confinement by the munificence of the sheriffs, Geo. Crook, and Geo. Lye, esqrs, who, from their private purse, settled the creditors’ claims, amounting to 80l.

Mrs Biggs was no radical in her political views, and she initially fought against the jubilee being used for charitable aims; she wanted to see grand and joyous celebrations, with people feasting well and toasting their king with a mug of ale or a glass of wine. Her plans were hijacked to a certain degree and she had to accept that money was put to other uses than celebrating on the day, but she lobbied – anonymously and successfully – for the continuation of her original aims. You can discover how in our book, A Georgian Heroine.

As some of our long-term readers will know, we also host a ‘sister-blog’, The Diaries of Fanny Chapman. Fanny was a middle-class spinster who lived in Bath through the late Georgian and into the Victorian eras, often in company with her aunts. Her diaries from 1807-1812 and 1837-1841 have survived and we were given permission to publish them; they are a wonderful first-hand resource.

Unfortunately, while Fanny heard the jubilee celebrations in Bath, and no doubt was told all about them by the family servants who took advantage of the impromptu holiday, she herself largely stayed indoors, only venturing out for a quick errand. Still, we thought it might be interesting to read her diary entries for the relevant days.

An Account of the Celebration of the Jubilee on the 25th October 1809

Tuesday, 24 October, 1809

A most beautiful day.  My Aunt was so unwell she did not get up till near dinner time.  Admiral and Mrs Phillip calld and sat some time.  He came up stairs.  They were both very friendly and kind.  I went to Mrs Vassall’s to ask if she intended to fulfill her engagement of dinner with us today.  She said she did.  Saw Mrs Horne with her.  I went and ordered a couple of chicken and then calld at my mother’s, but they were not at home.  Only Mrs Vassall and Betsey dined here.  Mr Wiltshire came in while we were at dinner, but did not stay long.  It raind fast in the evening and Mrs Vassall and Betsey went home in a Chair between eight and nine o’clock.  We went to bed early, but were disturbed after twelve o’clock by the ringing of bells and firing of guns to usher in the Jubilee, which is to take place tomorrow on the King’s entering the 50th year of his Reign.  My Aunt heard from Cooper!!!

View of Bath by Edmund Garvey
View of Bath by Edmund Garvey; Number 1 Royal Crescent

Wednesday, 25 October, 1809

A beautiful day.  The whole town was in motion early to see the Processions of the Corporate Volunteers and different Clubs to Church.  All the servants, except Kitty, went out before breakfast and did not return till after two o’clock.  Mrs Gibson calld (for the first time) and sat an hour here.  Miss Workman came in the morning, before we were up, to say she had got a room in the square to see the Procession, where she wishd us to come.  My Aunt P was not well enough to go, but tried to persuade me.  However, I had not the least inclination and was not sorry to be able to stay at home.  I was obliged to go to the Sidney Hotel before dinner to enquire if Mr Gale had heard any thing about the house he mentiond to my Aunt. He told me the proprietor of it was come to Bath and would call on my Aunt today or tomorrow. There was a constant noise of ringing of bells and firing guns the whole day and the bouncing of squibs and crackers in the evening.  I heard from my Uncle James to say all our shares, except one, were blanks and that one was only fifteen pounds.  It began to rain about ten o’clock and continued, I believe, most part of the night.

The Sydney Hotel, Bath
The Sydney Hotel, Bath. Victoria Art Gallery

(To discover more about Fanny Chapman and her diaries, follow the link at the bottom of this page.)

Sources not mentioned above:

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 26th October 1809

Covent Garden Market by Balthasar Nebot, 1737

The family of Allan Ramsay, principal portrait painter to George III

During research into Allan Ramsay, we have noticed that the information given online concerning his children is incorrect and – in some cases – missing altogether. So, today’s post is something of a genealogical exercise to fully document Ramsay’s twelve children, five sons and seven daughters, which, we hope, will prove informative for anyone else interested in Ramsay’s family. Plus, it is also just a fantastic opportunity to showcase some wonderful portraits and sketches.

Allan Ramsay, self portrait c.1755-1756.
Allan Ramsay, self-portrait c.1755-1756. National Galleries Scotland.

Born in Edinburgh and baptised on 6th October 1713 (according to the Gregorian calendar; 11 days need to be added to correspond to the Julian calendar), Ramsay was the eldest son of the poet and bookseller, Allan Ramsay (who was a wigmaker at the time of Allan’s birth) and his wife Christian neé Ross. Three of his siblings survived into adulthood, Janet, Catherine and Anne.

Miss Ramsay in a Red Dress c.1760-5 by Allan Ramsay. Believed to be one of Ramsay's two sisters, Janet or Catherine.
Miss Ramsay in a Red Dress c.1760-5 by Allan Ramsay. Believed to be one of Ramsay’s two sisters, Janet or Catherine. The Tate

Allan Ramsay junior’s talent was evident from an early age; his father described him as painting ‘like a Raphael’ and raised money to send Allan to Italy in order that he might study there.

By 1738, Ramsay was back in England, and he took rooms in the piazza in Covent Garden.

Covent Garden Market by Balthasar Nebot, 1737
Covent Garden Market by Balthasar Nebot, 1737; Tate

A year later, on 29 April 1739, Ramsay married Anne Bayne, a fellow Scot and the daughter of Alexander Bayne of Rires. Around the time of their wedding (which took place at St Benet, Paul Wharf), Ramsay painted Anne’s portrait.

Anne Bayne, the first Mrs Allan Ramsay who died in 1743. Portrait painted by her husband around the time of their marriage, c.1739.
Anne Bayne, the first Mrs Allan Ramsay who died in 1743. Portrait painted by her husband around the time of their marriage, c.1739. National Galleries of Scotland

Three children were born to the couple, two sons Allan and Bayne, who both died young before Anne herself died in childbirth early in 1743 giving birth to a daughter who was named Anne, for her mother. She survived, at least for a few years. On 11 January 1747 another Anne Ramsay was buried in the churchyard at Covent Garden, this one a spinster. It seems probable that this was Ramsay’s sister, Anne.

Allan Ramsay's infant son, Allan, who survived to just 14 months of age. Painted by Ramsay c.1740-1741.
Allan Ramsay’s infant son, Allan, who survived to just 14 months of age. Painted by Ramsay c.1740-1741. National Galleries of Scotland

Ramsay spent much of the following years in Scotland, where his fame grew, if not his wealth. He was supporting not only his young daughter but his two spinster sisters too, Catherine and Janet. Certainly Sir Alexander Lindsay of Evelick didn’t consider Ramsay a suitable husband for his 26-year-old daughter, Margaret, whom Ramsay was teaching to draw. Denied her father’s approval, Margaret eloped with Ramsay and they married on 1 March 1752 at the Canongate in Edinburgh.

Margaret Lindsay, the second Mrs Allan Ramsay. Portrait painted by her husband c.1758-1760.
Margaret Lindsay, the second Mrs Allan Ramsay. Portrait painted by her husband c.1758-1760. National Galleries of Scotland

Later that year, just a day shy of 33 weeks after the marriage, Margaret gave birth to twins. In an attempt to placate her father, who still disapproved of her husband, the babes were named Alexander and Amelia after Margaret’s parents; they were baptized on 17 October 1752 at St Paul’s in Covent Garden and sadly buried there the very next day. By the end of 1753, the Ramsays were back in Scotland, living in Edinburgh and there, in February 1754, another son was born, again named Alexander. This infant was left behind in Scotland when his parents travelled to Italy the following year. Margaret was soon pregnant once again.

A daughter, Amelia was born in March 1755 at Rome but sadly, back in Edinburgh, little Alexander had died; he was buried on 23 June 1755.

By the end of 1758, Ramsay had brought his family back to London and taken lodgings on the western side of Soho Square (then called King’s Square, the name given because of the statue of Charles II which stood there).

King Square in Soho, looking towards Monmouth House.
King Square in Soho, looking towards Monmouth House.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

On 9 November 1758, another daughter was born to Allan and Margaret Ramsay; she was baptized with the name Elisabeth eight days later at St. Anne’s, Soho. Two more daughters were to swiftly follow, Frances born 16 February 1760 and Grizelda on 19 July 1761. Sadly, none were destined to live long: Grizelda lived for less than six weeks and was buried (as Grizell Ramsay) at Chiswick on 29 August and Elisabeth died almost a year later at three years of age. She was laid to rest in the Soho churchyard on 22 August 1762 where her sister Frances joined her on 4 July 1765.

A ray of light amongst the darkness was the birth of Charlotte in 1765, the youngest daughter of the family. Charlotte was strong and healthy and would survive.

Amelia Ramsay, daughter of the artist. Painted by her father and dated 8 July 1776.
Amelia Ramsay, daughter of the artist. Painted by her father and dated 8 July 1776. National Galleries of Scotland.

The final child born to Ramsay was a son, named John, who was baptized at St Marylebone on 14 June 1768. Probably he was named after his uncle, Margaret’s brother Sir John Lindsay who is perhaps better remembered as the father of Dido Elizabeth Belle (of whom we have written previously).

Captain Sir John Lindsay (1737-1788 by Allan Ramsay)
Captain Sir John Lindsay (1737-1788 by Allan Ramsay); Glasgow Museums

Allan Ramsay suffered ill health during his later years and died at Dover on his return to London from Florence on 10 August 1784; Ramsay’s wife, Margaret had passed away two years earlier. But, what of their three surviving children, Amelia, Charlotte and John?

All three Ramsay siblings appear to have shared a love of adventure, for they travelled the globe. Amelia married an army officer, Archibald Campbell (later General Sir Archibald Campbell) at St Marylebone on 8 July 1779. Campbell was posted abroad (he was governor of Jamaica between 1781 and 1784) and Amelia and her sister, Charlotte sailed to be with him in 1780. They were aboard the storeship, British Queen, captain Hodge, in a convoy of 63 ships bound for the West Indies.

Major-General Sir Archibald Campbell of Inverneil and Ross KB, Governor and Commander-in-Chief, Madras by George Romney, 1790.
Major-General Sir Archibald Campbell of Inverneil and Ross KB, Governor and Commander-in-Chief, Madras by George Romney, 1790. National Army Museum

The ships were East and West Indiamen, storeships, victuallers and transports (with the 90th Regiment of Foot on board), and while it might have been felt that there was safety in numbers, it was a perilous time. Spain had sided with the US in the American Revolutionary War and declared war on Britain. At Cape St Vincent in the Algarve, on 9 August 1780, the convoy of British ships met a combined Spanish and French fleet and it was disastrous. All but eight of the British vessels were captured.

The action of 9 August 1780 when all but 8 ships out of a British convoy of 63 were captured by a combined force of French and Spanish.
The action of 9 August 1780 when all but 8 ships out of a British convoy of 63 were captured by a combined force of French and Spanish. Image via Wikimedia

The new Mrs Amelia Campbell and her sister, Charlotte Ramsay were incredibly lucky; their ship, the British Queen, was one of the eight which evaded capture and they managed to make it unscathed to Jamaica and Campbell’s protection.

Seven years later, on 1 February 1787 and possibly in India, Charlotte married Lieutenant Colonel Henry Malcolm, Adjutant-General to the East-India Company’s troops on the coast of Coromandel [New Zealand].

John Ramsay joined the army and he too made his way to India. In 1789 a ship returning to England from Madras via St Helena numbered among the passengers:

Sir Archibald Campbell, K.B, family and suite; Mrs Malcolm… Capt. John Ramsay…

Amelia and Sir Archibald Campbell had no children, but she did bring up two children as her own, a boy who shared her husband’s name, Archibald Campbell and a girl born c.1784, Mary Macleod, who Amelia thought of as her adopted daughter.

Amelia Campbell née Ramsay died in 1813 and was buried (on 15 July 1813) in Westminster Abbey alongside her husband, Sir Archibald who had died 23 years earlier. (Their grave is in the south transept of the abbey, next to that of George Frederic Handel.) After Amelia’s death, Mary Macleod went to live with Charlotte who became as close to the girl as her sister had been; both Amelia and Charlotte left the bulk of their wealth to Mary. Indeed, Charlotte, in her will, declared that she viewed Mary as a daughter.

On 6 January 1837, Charlotte Malcolm née Ramsay was buried at St Marylebone. John Ramsay, who was promoted to the rank of general, lived until 1845; he died in Geneva.

John Ramsay; soldier, son of Allan Ramsay by François Ferrière, 1794.
John Ramsay; soldier, son of Allan Ramsay by François Ferrière, 1794. National Galleries of Scotland

To recap, the children of Allan Ramsay are as follows:

By Anne Bayne:

Allan – 1740-1741

Bayne – 1741-? (died young)

Anne – 1743-? (died young after 1752)

By Margaret Lindsay:

Alexander and Amelia (twins) – 1752-1752

Alexander – 1754-1755

Amelia – 1755-1813

Elisabeth – 1758-1762

Frances – 1760-1765

Grizelda – 1761-1761

Charlotte – 1765-1837

John – 1768-1845

Notes:

For ease, we have used new style rather than old style dates, except where noted.

Ramsay’s daughter Anne, from his first marriage, was alive when he remarried in 1752 as she was mentioned in a letter he wrote to his father-in-law, but she did not survive into adulthood.

Elisabeth, born 9 November 1758, seems to have been confused in most, if not all sources for Charlotte born 1765. In fact, the short-lived Elisabeth, Frances and Grizelda appear to have been totally overlooked and Charlotte, known as one of only two Ramsay’s daughters by Margaret Lindsay to have survived to adulthood, ascribed to the 1758 birth on the basis of a letter written by Ramsay to Sir Alexander Dick congratulating Sir Alexander on the birth of a daughter and remarking that he had recently been similarly blessed.

In the 1851 census, Mary Macleod said she had been born at sea but was a British subject.

The Fancy Dress Ball at the County Assembly Rooms in Lincoln, January 1866.

Lincoln’s History: The County Assembly Rooms

Until 1745, Lincoln’s County Assembly Rooms were in a one-storied house on Eastgate (opposite James Street) which was known as Atton Place. (Atton Place was re-fronted in the late eighteenth-century and later had an extra storey added.)

The architect Joseph Hayward was responsible for the new Assembly Rooms, located on Bailgate, just a short distance from Newport Arch, the remains of a 3rd-century Roman gate. Bailgate was once the site of a Roman Colonnade, and the Forum stood opposite the site of the Assembly Rooms.

Newport Arch, Lincoln by Nathan Drake, 1756
Newport Arch, Lincoln by Nathan Drake, 1756; The Collection: Art & Archaeology in Lincolnshire (Usher Gallery)

Featuring a spacious ballroom and ‘convenient refreshment rooms’ the building was opened to the public in 1745, and still stands to this day although it has been added to and adapted over the years.

The County Assembly Rooms on Bailgate, Lincoln.
The County Assembly Rooms on Bailgate, Lincoln.

Those who lived ‘downhill’ were not permitted to set foot in the ‘sacred’ precincts of the County Assembly Rooms, which were for the ‘uphill’ gentry and county magnates. A City Assembly Rooms was built in 1757 above the Butter Market on the High Street at the bottom of Steep Hill, for the Lincoln tradesmen and their wives; in appearance it was remarkably similar to the County Assembly Rooms as it appears today (the façade of the City Assembly Rooms still exists, but it has been located to the Central Market on Sincil Street).

The Butter Market with the City Assembly Rooms above (the red brick building on the right, prior to being pulled down in the 1930s), as glimpsed through the Stonebow on Lincoln High Street.
The Butter Market with the City Assembly Rooms above (the red brick building on the right, prior to being pulled down in the 1930s), as glimpsed through the Stonebow on Lincoln High Street.

During September 1776, George III’s brother, Prince Edward, Duke of York made a visit to Lincoln. He saw the play, Midas performed by Mr Steven’s Company and then ‘repaired to the grand assembly room above Hill, where a ball was prepared for his entertainment, which was very brilliant. There was a great appearance of Nobility and Gentry richly dressed. His Highness opened the ball with the Countess of Scarborough, and staid near two hours in the room.’

The Duke of York, after a short naval career, devoted himself to a life of pleasure. In the same year that he came to Lincoln, the duke was described by Horace Walpole as ‘a milk-white angel, white even to his eyes and eyelashes’; he died the following September in Monaco.

Edward, Duke of York (1739-1767).
Edward, Duke of York (1739-1767). Royal Collection Trust.

From 1789, the Lincolnshire Stuff Ball was held every October at the County Assembly Rooms. This was an annual event which encouraged and promoted the manufacture and industry of a fabric known as Lincolnshire stuff. Each year the lady patroness chose the colour theme for the ball and all the guests had to order new clothes made in good Lincolnshire stuff which came from Lincolnshire wool and had been manufactured and dyed – in the colour chosen – in the county. You can read more about the Lincolnshire Stuff Balls in a previous blog post.

During the Regency period, the people of Lincoln were tricked by a con man by the name of Jones. In October 1815, this man circulated bills in and around Lincoln, announcing his intention of giving a concert and ball at the County Assembly Rooms. A small company assembled on the night.

During the ball, the manager [Jones] took French leave of Lincoln, leaving the printer, the musicians and attendants engaged for the night, and some other persons whom he had duped, to make the most of the comfort of companionship in misery! He has been heard of in other parts of the county since. If he elude the grasp of those whom he has incensed, this notice of his tricks may at least be serviceable to others.

I took the chance to visit the Assembly Rooms recently; there is a tea room in the side of the building (the Arches Tearoom, which I highly recommend) and research is always best undertaken with a slice of cake and a cup of coffee, I find. By 1813 the state of the rooms had necessitated immediate repairs, funded by a subscription although we have no description of the works carried out.

Originally, the Assembly Rooms sat well back from the Bailgate, with a courtyard in front. Although we have been unable to find any contemporary image from the original building, we do know that a portico adorned the front in 1866 as it was specifically mentioned.

The County Assembly-rooms are being richly decorated for the Fancy Dress Ball to be given by the High Sheriff on the 19th [of January]. The portico will be closed in and used as an ante-room. A passage will also be made in the court-yard, and at the end of it will be the entrance. This promises to be a great improvement.

Fancy Dress Ball given by the High Sheriff of Lincolnshire at the County Assembly Rooms
Illustrated London News, 10 February 1866

Renovations were carried out in 1908, to specifications by the Lincoln architect William Watkins, but a newspaper report at the time specifically mentions the exterior of the building and no additions were made to the frontage at that time.

Visitors to the Lincoln County Assembly Rooms during the coming winter season will recognise and appreciate a series of ingenious alterations and improvements that are just approaching completion. They are concerned with the entrance, and include the provision of a large crush-room and a more commodious gentleman’s cloak room, while the lighting and seating arrangements have been brought to perfection. The ballroom has, of course, long held the reputation of being one of the finest in the country, and the new additions to the premises (which have not, however, necessitated any external structural alterations) make the approach considerably better than previously. Under the old arrangement the cloak rooms bordered the entrance hall on either hand, and the main corridor was crowded at times of the departure and arrival of the company, often to the point of inconvenience.

The improvements will be admitted at once. On the right, the creation of a large lobby greatly increases the space, preventing any crowding near the door, and a gentleman’s cloak room has been evolved from a store room further back, which has been fitted with larger and deeper shelves, etc., and is altogether better than the old ones. But the chief improvement is obtained by the cutting out, further along the main corridor, of the wall separating the corridor from the gentleman’s waiting room. That room and the corridor are now thrown into one, making a very satisfactory crush-room, which has been very beautifully decorated and furnished.

However, in 1914, the Assembly Rooms received a substantial makeover. A new frontage and facade was added, covering the old courtyard and almost doubling the space within the building and bringing the front level to the Bailgate. (Pevsner says of this addition that ‘the front in dry classical style is of 1914, but some yards behind can be seen the bold quoins and fine entablature of the original front of 1745. The interior is certainly the finest Georgian room in Lincoln.).

If you look down the passage at the left-hand side of the Assembly Rooms, you can indeed see the ‘bold quoins and fine entablature’ of the original front.

Interior of the Lincoln County Assembly Rooms; looking through into the original 1745 building from the frontage added in 1914. Photo © Joanne Major
Interior of the Lincoln County Assembly Rooms; looking through into the original 1745 building from the frontage added in 1914. Photo © Joanne Major
Plaque above the internal doorway in the Lincoln County Assembly Rooms. Photo © Joanne Major
A plaque above the internal doorway in the Lincoln County Assembly Rooms. Photo © Joanne Major

Sources

Williamson’s Illustrated Guide to Lincoln, 4th Edition

The Buildings of England: Lincolnshire, Nikolaus Pevsner and John Harris, second edition revised by Nicholas Antram, Yale University Press, 1989

History, gazetteer, and directory of Lincolnshire, and the city and diocese of Lincoln, William White, second edition, 1856

Stamford Mercury, 9th October 1766, 22nd October 1813, 13th October 1815 and 12th January 1866

Lincolnshire Echo, 26th August 1908

The Stonebow and Guildhall, Lincoln, 1836. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Lincoln’s History: The Butter Market and City Assembly Rooms

In the early eighteenth-century, the women who sold butter, milk, poultry and eggs on Fridays at the Butter Market in Lincoln had to do so with no shelter from the elements. Until 1572 their forebears had sold their wares at the Butter Cross on Newland but when that was taken down the Butter Market moved to the churchyard of St Peter at Arches.

For ten years, the Corporation of Lincoln agreed, at the instance of the mayor, John Lobsey, Esq, to forego its annual feast, saving £1,000 (their feasts must have been something to behold!) and they donated this to pay for a new market, providing shelter for the traders, which was erected in 1736.

The Butter Market was located on the High Street in ‘downhill’ Lincoln, close to the junction with Silver Street and just behind St Peter at Arches church (the market still extended into the churchyard). The Stonebow is on the other side of Silver Street. Neither the Butter Market or St Peter’s still stand; for anyone who knows Lincoln, the corner building (dating to the 1930s but built in a Georgian style) which now houses The Works is where St Peter’s and the Butter Market once stood.

The Stonebow and Guildhall, Lincoln, 1836. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
The Stonebow and Guildhall, Lincoln. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
The Butter Market can be seen on the right hand side.
The Butter Market can be seen on the right-hand side.

The openings along the side of the building were originally open arches but they were later glazed to make things more comfortable for the stallholders. The façade had a fine pediment made of Portland stone with the city shield carved into it.

Early 1900s postcard showing Lincoln High Street with St Peter at Arches and the Butter Market on the right.

Early 1900s postcard showing Lincoln High Street with St Peter at Arches and the Butter Market on the right.
Two early 1900s postcards showing Lincoln High Street with St Peter at Arches and the Butter Market on the right.

In 1744, Lincoln gained an Assembly Room on Bailgate, in the ‘uphill’ area of the city (Lincoln is famous for the aptly named Steep Hill, neatly dividing the city into uphill and downhill sections). In the twentieth century, a newspaper columnist recalled that:

Those who lived ‘downhill’ were not permitted to set foot in the ‘sacred’ precincts of the County Assembly Rooms, which were for the ‘uphill’ people and county magnates.

Harlequin Inn, Lincoln, at the top of Steep Hill
Harlequin Inn, Lincoln, at the top of Steep Hill; Colchester and Ipswich Museums Service

And so, it was decided that the people living ‘downhill’ needed their own assembly room. Funds were raised by public subscription and, in 1757, the council allowed the upper floor of the Butter Market to be developed to include an assembly room with a tea room and a small card room, overlooking the street. Accessed by a staircase from the rear of the Butter Market, it was the finest ballroom in the lower part of Lincoln and the scene of many important gatherings. Subscription Assemblies were hugely popular and well attended by the ‘city’ tradesmen who, together with their wives, were not admitted to the County Assembly Rooms uphill. The façades of both buildings are strikingly similar.

The County Assembly Rooms on Bailgate, Lincoln.
The ‘uphill’ County Assembly Rooms on Bailgate, Lincoln.

In 1813, some bronze statues and elegant decorations were contributed by Lady Monson (Sarah Elizabeth Grevile, wife of John Monson, Baron Monson of Burton). Gradually though, over the decades, the building declined and while the ground floor continued to be used as a market hall (selling fruit and vegetables in the week as well as milk, butter, eggs and poultry on a Friday), the upper rooms saw service as a ‘People’s News Room’, were the home of the mechanics institute and housed the city library for a time; by 1934 the school medical service used the space.

The Butter Market (prior to being pulled down in the 1930s), as glimpsed through the Stonebow on Lincoln High Street.
The Butter Market (prior to being pulled down in the 1930s), as glimpsed through the Stonebow on Lincoln High Street. Library of Congress

The Butter Market (prior to being pulled down in the 1930s), as glimpsed through the Stonebow on Lincoln High Street.

A bugbear of any Lincoln resident to this day is traffic congestion in the city; in the 1930s Lincoln was undergoing redevelopment and the Ministry of Transport had stipulated that the roadway in that area had to be 50 feet wide. The Butter Market and St Peter at Arches were in the way and had to go, despite their history.

St Peter at Arches Church, Lincoln by Samuel Hieronymous Grimm, 1784.
St Peter at Arches Church, Lincoln by Samuel Hieronymous Grimm, 1784. British Library

We have the Bishop of Grantham (the Right Rev E M Blackie) to thank for the fact that the façade of the Butter Market has survived. The bishop wrote a paper, Architecture and the Ordinary Man, in which he referred to the Butter Market as a fine specimen of eighteenth-century work, pointing out that very few towns in England possessed anything of its kind quite so good. He urged that the beautiful façade facing High-street should be taken down and carefully rebuilt.

“What is going to be its fate? Will it be pulled down and destroyed and forgotten? I am told that this is likely to happen, and I can only hope that the prophecy is not entirely true.”

As a precuation against the south wall of the Butter Market collapsing during the demolition of St Peter-at-Arches Church adjoining, it has been shored up.
Lincolnshire Echo, 13 October 1933

The bishop’s advice was heeded and the façade was taken down, brick by brick, each carefully numbered, and it was rebuilt on Sincil Bank, the focal point of a new central market where the stallholders from the Butter Market could share the space with the vendors from the existing Cornhill Market. This new building, four times as big as the former market, was opened on the 18th May 1938. Within the fabric of the building, care had been given to provide space to continue an old custom which would have been familiar to the eighteenth-century residents of Lincoln.

Stones of the facade of the old Lincoln Butter Market, which were numbered as they were removed, being reassembled on the new site at the entrance to the market hall which is being erected in Sincil Street.
Lincolnshire Echo, 15 November 1937.

An Old Custom: An interesting feature of the new market was the fact that the Corporation had provided sittings for the sale of butter, eggs and poultry, thus continuing an old-established custom, and indeed a custom which was almost unique in England.

The provision of these sittings on Fridays in each week had meant, of course, that the building had to be built sufficiently large to accommodate the sittings and ordinary stall-holders as well, the sittings were used only one day per week.

The old facade of the Butter Market in its new home, fronting the Central Market on Sincil Street, Lincoln.
The old facade of the Butter Market in its new home, fronting the Central Market on Sincil Street, Lincoln. Geograph

Sources:

Lincolnshire Chronicle, 1st July 1904

Lincolnshire Echo, 19th February 1932

Lincolnshire Echo, 22nd January 1934

Lincolnshire Echo, 19th May 1938

Williamson’s Illustrated Guide through Lincoln, 4th Edition

A Survey of the Antiquities of Lincoln

Tudor and Stuart Lincoln, J.W.F Hill, Cambridge University Press, 1956

A later depiction of a eighteenth-century game of battledore and shuttlecock by Johan Friedrich Hennings. (Titled The Badminton Players.)

Battledore and shuttlecock

Battledore and shuttlecock was the forerunner of the game we now know as badminton; shuttlecock games go back around 2,000 years and are found in many different countries. Today, we are going to take a look at the game during the long eighteenth-century.

A game of battledore and shuttlecock can be seen in the bottom right hand corner of this scene of the Norman Gate and Deputy Governor's House, Windsor Castle by Paul Sandby
A game of battledore and shuttlecock can be seen in the bottom right-hand corner of this scene of the Norman Gate and Deputy Governor’s House, Windsor Castle by Paul Sandby; Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

The battledores were small racquets, made of rows of gut or of parchment stretched across wooden frames. Shuttlecocks were made of cork, trimmed with feathers. The French botanist, zoologist and painter François Alexandre Pierre de Garsault described battledore and shuttlecock as it was played in France during the first half of the eighteenth-century (where it was known as jouer de volant) and he said feathers from pigeon’s wings were used in the shuttlecock.

Tin glazed earthenware tile depicting a game of battledore and shuttlecock, c.1760-1770.
Tin-glazed earthenware tile depicting a game of battledore and shuttlecock, c.1760-1770. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The game was perennially popular, especially with children but also adults too and could be played with just two people or with more; the premise was simple, you kept the shuttlecock in the air for as long as possible by batting it from one to another player. No net was used.

The diversion of battledore and shittlecock [sic] by Nathaniel Parr after Francis Hayman.
The diversion of battledore and shittlecock [sic] by Nathaniel Parr after Francis Hayman. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
As a cheap, easy and fun game, it was thought eminently suitable for children. It could be played anywhere, indoors or outdoors and developed hand to eye coordination while providing plenty of physical exercise too.  For more of a challenge, if a group of friends were playing, two shuttlecocks could be used.

Le Volant (battledore and shuttlecock) (1802), from Le Bon Genre.
Le Volant (battledore and shuttlecock) (1802), from Le Bon Genre. Bibliothèque Nationale de France

One contemporary account, somewhat disparagingly when talking of the game played by adults, says it was fit only for women to play; men required something more strenuous.

Jean Jacques Rousseau claimed that:

When a child plays shuttlecock he practices hand and eye co-ordination; but he learns nothing. You prefer the shuttlecock because it is harmless and less tiring? You are mistaken. The shuttlecock is a woman’s game; but there isn’t one who hits a moving ball. The white skins mustn’t be roughened by violence; but we, who are vigorous and robust, cannot be so without sweat and how do we expect to defend ourselves if we are never attacked?

Henry Stawell Bilson-Legge (1757-1820), Later 2nd Lord Stawell, as a Boy by Adriaen Carpentiers, 1764
Henry Stawell Bilson-Legge (1757-1820), Later 2nd Lord Stawell, as a Boy by Adriaen Carpentiers, 1764; National Trust, Lodge Park and Sherborne Estate

Rousseau compared it to ‘real tennis’, jeu de paume (palm game, a variant played initially without racquets, instead hitting a small ball back and forth with just the palm of your hand),  saying the latter, played mainly by men, required more skill and strength. (After a time, gloves began to be worn when playing jeu de paume and then racquets.)

La fillette au volant by Jean Siméon Chardin, 1740
La fillette au volant by Jean Siméon Chardin, 1740 (via wikiart).

The World newspaper, on the 13th January 1790, reported on Charles James Fox and his mistress (later his wife), the former courtesan Elizabeth Armistead (who had dallied with the Prince of Wales for a time). Ending their gossipy tidbit with a Latin motto, dulce est desipere in loco [it is pleasant to be frivolous at the appropriate time], they somewhat sarcastically reported on the pair leaving Bath, saying that:

Charles Fox and Mrs Armistead, set off for town yesterday, he, though in high health, has very rarely appeared abroad, and not once at any place of public resort. His mornings have been chiefly spent in sweet converse with his DULCINEA – occasionally, indeed, in the manly amusement of Battledore and Shuttlecock.

We’ll not get into arguments about it now, but we are pleased to say that Garsault, however, disagreed; his opinion was that more force not less was needed to propel a shuttlecock the same distance as the ball used in jeu de paume.

A later depiction of a eighteenth-century game of battledore and shuttlecock by Johan Friedrich Hennings. (Titled The Badminton Players.)
A later depiction of an eighteenth-century game of battledore and shuttlecock by Johan Friedrich Hennings. (Titled The Badminton Players.)

During the very early eighteenth-century, Philippe II, Duke of Orléans (1674-1723), who was Regent for the young Louis XV of France at the time, reportedly played a version of battledore and shuttlecock but on a tennis court, instead of ‘real tennis’. Garsault, in The Art of Tennis Racket Maker, 1767, said that this version was particularly fashionable at the French court and it was the duke’s favourite game. Comparing it to jeu de paume, this account is interesting as it describes battledore and shuttlecock being played on a court and using a net, some 150 years before badminton as we know it developed. Up to eight people could play indoors, Garsault said, but the game was best with just four or six.

Large shuttlecocks, two inches in diameter at the base, and with feathers 2½ inches long are used. One serves with the racket as in the Jeu de paume. From the sidewall of the service-side is stretched a second cord and net, three feet from the real one and parallel with it. An attendant of the court serves; for this he stands at the door of the hazard-side. The service is given in two ways; the attendant either throws the shuttlecock into the air with his hands to the server, or else he uses the crank. It is forbidden to send the shuttlecock against the walls or throw it between the two cords.

Frances Delaval (1759-1839), Later Mrs Fenton, with Her Sister, Sarah Delaval (1763-1800), Later Countess of Tyrconnel, with a Shuttlecock and Battledore, in an Interior by William Bell, 1771
Frances Delaval (1759-1839), Later Mrs Fenton, with Her Sister, Sarah Delaval (1763-1800), Later Countess of Tyrconnel, with a Shuttlecock and Battledore, in an Interior by William Bell, 1771; National Trust, Seaton Delaval

The earliest reference we have found to the game being described as badminton and played using a net (or string) comes from The Cornhill Magazine, volume 8, 1863.

Life in a Country House: After lunch, everybody is expected to hold themselves at the disposal of the lady of the house, for a ride, drive, or walk, as the case may be. If the weather be such as to induce you to remain within doors, your co-operation will be sought for in a game at pool, badminton (which is battledore and shuttlecock played with sides, across a string suspended some five feet from the ground), and similar amusements.

Portrait of Two Boys by Francis Hayman, c.1740-1742
Portrait of Two Boys by Francis Hayman, c.1740-1742; Gainsborough’s House

Sources not mentioned above:

Badminton: An Illustrated History – From ancient pastime to Olympic Sport, Jean-Yves Guillain

Notionnaire ou mémorial raisonneé de ce qu’il y a d’utile et d’intéressant dans les connoisances acuises depuis la création du monde jusqu’ à present, François Alexandre Pierre de Garsault, 1761

The Sense of Taste by Philippe Mercier.

Georgian era recipes for cheesecakes, custards, tarts and syllabubs

In our last blog, we looked at the Cheesecake House in Hyde Park where you could feast upon all manner of delicious cheesecakes, custards, tarts and syllabubs. Today, we thought we would share a few Georgian era recipes for these delicacies. One thing we need to get straight from the start, you don’t need cheese to make these cheesecakes… they were more akin to a Yorkshire curd tart.

The Cheesecake House in Hyde Park by Paul Sandby, 1797.
The Cheesecake House in Hyde Park by Paul Sandby, 1797. Royal Collection Trust

Observations upon Creams, Custards, and Cheesecakes

When you make any kind of creams and custards, take great care your tossing-pan be well tinned, put a spoonful of water in it, to prevent the cream from sticking to the bottom of your pan, then beat your yolks of eggs, and strain out the treads, and follow the direction of your receipt.

As to cheesecakes they should not be made long before you bake them, particularly almond or lemon cheesecakes, for standing them makes them oil and look sad, a moderate oven bakes them best, if it is too hot it burns them and takes off the beauty, and a very slow oven makes them sad and look black: make your cheesecakes up just when the oven is of a proper heat, and they will rise well, and be of a proper colour.

The Sense of Taste, English, c.1750.
The Sense of Taste, English, c.1750. Te Papa Tongarewa/Museum of New Zealand.

To make Cheesecakes

Set a quart of new milk near the fire, with a spoonful of rennet, let the milk be blood warm, when it is broke drain the curd through a coarse cloth, now and then break the curd gently with your fingers, rub into the curd a quarter of a pound of butter, a quarter of a pound of sugar, a nutmeg and two Naples’ biscuits grated, the yolks of four eggs, and the white of one egg, one ounce of almonds well beat, with two spoonfuls of rose water, and two of sack, clean six ounces of currants very well, put them into your curd, and mix them all well together.

To make Citron Cheesecakes

Boil a quart of cream, beat the yolks of four eggs, mix them with your cream when it is cold, then set it on the fire, let it boil till it curds, blanch some almonds, beat them with orange-flower water, put them into the cream, with a few Naples’ biscuits, and green citron shred fine, sweeten it to your taste, and bake them in tea-cups.

Enter Cowslip with a bowl of cream.
Enter Cowslip with a bowl of cream. © The Trustees of the British Museum

To make Bread Cheesecakes

Slice a penny loaf as thin as possible, pour on it a pint of boiling cream, let it stand for two hours, then take eight eggs, half a pound of butter, and a nutmeg grated, beat them well together, put in half a pound of currants well washed, and dried before the fire, and a spoonful of brandy, or white wine, and bake them in raised crusts, or petty-pans.

To make an Apple Tart

Scald eight or ten large codlings, when cold skim them, take the pulp, and beat it as fine as you can with a silver spoon, then mix the yolks of six eggs, and the whites of four, beat all together as fine as possible, put in grated nutmeg, and sugar to your taste, melt some fine fresh butter, and beat it till it is like a fine thick cream, then make a fine puff paste, and cover a tin petty-pan with it, and pour in the ingredients, but do not cover it with your paste; bake it a quarter of an hour, then slip it out of the petty-pan on a dish, and strew fine sugar, finely beat and sifted all over it.

Detail from Mock Turtle, Puff Pastry by Thomas Rowlandson. Royal Collection Trust (from their website: a buxom female chef rolls out pastry as she is caressed by a lascivious footman wearing green livery. On the table are coddling tarts, apple dumpling and batter pudding.)
Detail from Mock Turtle, Puff Pastry by Thomas Rowlandson. Royal Collection Trust (from their website: a buxom female chef rolls out pastry as she is caressed by a lascivious footman wearing green livery. On the table are coddling tarts, apple dumpling and batter pudding.)

To make Solid Syllabubs

Take a quart of rich cream, and put in a pint of white wine, the juice of four lemons and sugar to your taste, whip it up very well, and take off the froth as it rises, put it upon a hair sieve, and let it stand till the next day in a cool place, fill your glasses better than half full with the thin, then put on the froth, and heap it as high as you can; the bottom will look clear, and keep several days.

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

To make Lemon Syllabubs

To a pint of cream put a pint of double refined sugar, the juice of seven lemons, and grate the rinds of two lemons into a pint of white wine, and half a pint of sack, then put them into a deep pot, and whisk them for half an hour, put it into glasses the night before you want it: it is better for standing two or three days, but it will keep a week, if required.

Detail of syllabubs from A Sense of Taste by Philippe Mercier.
Detail of syllabubs from A Sense of Taste by Philippe Mercier.

To make a common Custard

Take a quart of good cream, set it over a slow fire, with a little cinnamon, and four ounces of sugar; when it is boiled take it off the fire; beat the yolks of eight eggs, put to them a spoonful or orange-flower water to prevent the cream from cracking, stir them in by degrees as your cream cools, put the pan over a very slow fire, stir them carefully one way till it is almost boiling, then put it into cups, and serve them up.

The Pretty Bar Maid, 1778. An officer can be seen eating a custard or syllabub.
The Pretty Bar Maid, 1778. An officer can be seen eating a custard or syllabub. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Almond Custards

Put a quart of cream into a tossing-pan, a stick of cinnamon, a blade or two of mace, boil it and set it to cool, blanch two ounces of almonds, beat them fine in a marble mortar with rose water, if you like a ratafia taste put in a few apricot kernels, or bitter almonds, mix them with your cream, sweeten it to your taste, set it on a slow fire, keep stirring it till it is pretty thick, if you let it boil it will curdle, pour it into cups, &c.

Source:

The experienced English house-keeper, consisting of near 800 original receipts by Elizabeth Raffald, 1808 (first published in 1769)

The Cheesecake House, Hyde Park.

The Cheesecake House in Hyde Park

Today we are going to take a look at a building which stood in Hyde Park, on the north side of the Serpentine next to the Ring (a circular track around which the nobility could drive in their carriages). It was known as the Cheesecake House, (among other names) and was a place where refreshments could be purchased.

The Cheesecake House in Hyde Park by Paul Sandby, 1797.
The Cheesecake House in Hyde Park by Paul Sandby, 1797. Royal Collection Trust

An ancient building, made of timber and plaster with a flat tiled roof, the Cheesecake House stood in the park from at least the reign of Charles II (and perhaps even earlier). To gain access to the front door, the visitor had to cross the small stream which ran in front of the building via a rudimentary wooden bridge. Samuel Pepys was a visitor; in 1669 he took his wife for a visit and they sat in their coach and ate ‘a cheesecake and drank a tankard of milk’.

The Cheesecake House, Hyde Park by Thomas Hearne, c.1795.
The Cheesecake House, Hyde Park by Thomas Hearne, c.1795. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

In the time of Queen Anne, it was known as the Cake House or Minced-pie House and later was called Price’s Lodge (later sources say after Gervase Price, chief under-keeper of Hyde Park). By the late seventeenth-century Price’s Lodge was run by a widow named Frances Price.

St James’s Park is frequented by people of quality; who, if they have a mind to have better and freer air, drive to Hyde Park, where is a ring for the coaches to drive around; and hard by is Mrs Price’s where are incomparable syllabubs.

A Journey to London in the year 1698 by Dr William King (1663-1712)

But, it is best remembered as the Cheesecake House, after one of the delicacies which could be bought there as cheesecakes, custards, tarts and syllabubs were all on the menu.

Detail of syllabubs from A Sense of Taste by Philippe Mercier.
Detail of syllabubs from A Sense of Taste by Philippe Mercier.

Mrs Price was still the landlady in 1712 when a famous duel was fought literally on her doorstep in Hyde Park between James Hamilton, 4th Duke of Hamilton and Charles Mohun, 4th Baron Mohun on 12th November 1712.

Lord Mohun’s coach was stopped by the keeper of Hyde Park but, telling him they were headed for Price’s Lodge, he allowed it to pass. Mohun and his second, an Irish officer named George Macartney, got out of the coach and walked away, bidding the coachman to go into the lodge and ask John Reynolds, the Drawer, to get some ‘burnt-wine’ ready for when they returned. Reynolds was wise to their tricks. He said he would not do so, ‘for very few came thither so soon in the morning but to fight…’.

The Cheesecake House, Hyde Park, 1786.
The Cheesecake House, Hyde Park, 1786. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The duel was fought with swords and the seconds joined in too; both Hamilton and Mohun were wounded, Mohun fatally but the Duke of Hamilton only received a cut on his arm, at least at that point. Accounts differ, but it was claimed that the duke then dropped his sword and Macartney, Mohun’s second, delivered a fatal blow to him. John Reynolds came out and tried to help the duke walk to the house but before they reached the bridge, Hamilton said ‘he could walk no further’ and died on the spot.

With both the main protagonists dead, the two seconds, Macartney and the duke’s man, Colonel Hamilton were charged with manslaughter; Macartney fled to Hanover but Hamilton stood trial and was found guilty.

The Cheesecake House, Hyde Park.
The Cheesecake House, Hyde Park. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Frances Price died around 1719 and her will, written seven years earlier, left Price’s Lodge to her grandson, John Price. However, Frances’ will stipulated that, if she wanted to take over the management, her widowed daughter, Anne Silver, who lived with her mother in Hyde Park, should be allowed to do so, paying John Price an annual sum of £10 a year for the use thereof. Sadly, Anne Silver was to predecease her mother.

By 1801 the Cheesecake House was in use as a boat-house and in the nineteenth-century was demolished altogether. Except when there was a fair, for around a hundred years no refreshments were allowed to be sold in Hyde Park, a situation which caused many complaints. Finally, on 1st April 1909, the Ring Tea House was opened, a newly built Georgian rustic style circular building which catered for the park’s visitors.

You might be interested to know that cheesecakes of the period contained no cheese and were akin to a Yorkshire curd tart. In our next blog post, we will take a look at some Georgian era recipes for cheesecakes, custards, tarts and syllabubs.

Sources:

Edward Walford, ‘Hyde Park’, in Old and New London: Volume 4 (London, 1878), pp. 375-405. British History Online

The Gentleman’s Magazine, May 1801

London Past and Present: Its History, Associations, and Traditions by Henry Benjamin Wheatley and Peter Cunningham, Cambridge University Press, 2011

Daily Telegraph and Courier (London), 9th April 1909

The Original Works in verse and prose of Dr William King, vol 1, 1776

The substance of all the depositions taken at the coroners’ inquest the 17th, 19th, and 21st of November, on the body of Duke Hamilton. And the 15th, 18th, 20th, and 22nd, on the body of my Lord Mohun, 1712

National Archives:

PROB 11/573/157, Will of Frances Price, widow of Hyde Park, 19 March 1719/1720

PROB 11/542/334, Will of Anne Silver, widow of Hyde Park, 25 October 1714

The Dipping Well in Hyde Park, engraving by James Godby after Francis Wheatley, 1802.

The Dipping and Drinking Wells at Hyde Park

In the early eighteenth-century, the Serpentine in Hyde Park was no large and ornamental lake, but rather a series of ponds described as consisting of dirty and stagnant water which were supplied by the Westbourne, a river which originated in the Hampstead and which, before entering Hyde Park, was joined by the ‘Cool Bourne’ (Kilburn) and a tributary called the Tyburn Brook or Stream. The Westbourne carried on under Knightsbridge to meet the Thames near Chelsea Hospital but, in Hyde Park, it ‘wandered about in a series of ponds’ until in 1730 Queen Caroline, the wife of George II, ordered that it be banked, forming the artificial lake we know today as the Serpentine.

Queen Caroline of Ansbach
Queen Caroline of Ansbach; Warwick Shire Hall

St Agnes’ Well was at the northern end of the lake (it was located about where the statue of Edward Jenner now stands). In the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries the springs of this well had two distinct uses.

The Drinking Well in Hyde Park by William Pickett c.1812.
The Drinking Well in Hyde Park by William Pickett c.1812.

St. Agnes’s Well, Hyde Park, considered one of the holy wells, existed as late as 1804, near the head of the Serpentine on its east bank, in a part of Hyde Park formerly known as Buckden Hill. There were two springs: one was used for bathing the eyes, and for the immersion of children, and is mentioned by Dr. Clippingdale in his paper on West London Rivers, as the ‘Dipping Well’; the water of the other, said to be medicinally potent, was sold in glasses by an attendant to visitors, amongst whom were many children of the richer classes, sent by their parents. The water was also taken away in jugs or bottles for consumption at home. It was probably mildly chalybeate.

The Drinking Well in Hyde Park, engraving by James Godby after Maria Spilsbury, 1802.
The Drinking Well in Hyde Park, engraving by James Godby after Maria Spilsbury, 1802. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

The image above of the drinking well, showing a paid attendant allowing women and children to fill glasses from the small trough like well is an engraving from an original by the artist, Maria Spilsbury (1776-1820), who lived immediately opposite the site at her family’s house, 10 St George’s Row. Maria would have known this scene well.

The Illustrated London News, in 1908, contained an advert for Pears soap (invented in 1789) which waxed lyrical on the pastoral charms of old Hyde Park.

The spot was one of sweet sylvan beauty, to which mothers and nurses resorted in the morning hours with their infant charges, for the purpose of washing and bathing them in the fresh bubbling spring, caught at its source in a rustic open well. What more delightful mode of having a bath could be imagined than here in the pure open air, with the luxuriant glades dissolving into the distance behind, and deer loitering in the leafy shade? It is, indeed, a scene of grace, natural beauty, and enjoyment.

The Dipping Well in Hyde Park, engraving by James Godby after Francis Wheatley, 1802.
The Dipping Well in Hyde Park, engraving by James Godby after Francis Wheatley, 1802. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

The dipping well may also be depicted in the painting Juvenile Tricks by Joseph Mallord William Turner, c.1808. The notes on the Tate website suggest that, as there appears to be a level of organisation in the boys’ activities in Turner’s depiction, that it might represent an apprentices’ initiation rite.

Juvenile Tricks by Joseph Mallord William Turner, c.1808. The scene may depict the Dipping Well in Hyde Park
Juvenile Tricks by Joseph Mallord William Turner, c.1808. The Tate

Sources:

Illustrated London News, 20th June 1908

Old London’s spas, bath, and wells by Septimus Sunderland, 1915

Maria Spilsbury (1776-1820): Artist and Evangelist by Charlotte Yeldham, Routledge, 2017

Two Engravings (dated 1802) of the Drinking and Dipping Wells in Hyde Park by Sir StClair Thomson, M.D. (from the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine)

Fournier Street, Spitalfields

Discover the Huguenots of Spitalfields during October 2018

October is Huguenot Month and we’re delighted to promote this with Huguenots of Spitalfields who are holding a month of events to celebrate Huguenot history and enable people to discover more about these unique and talented people.

Town House, Fournier Street, Spitalfields

Huguenots were French Protestant refugees who fled persecution during the 16th to 18th centuries, many of whom settled in London. They contributed their skills to many fields, including silk weaving, furniture design,  spinning and dyeing, silversmithing, clock making and jewellery.

The Hanbury Plaque at Hanbury Hall. Twenty Delft tiles decorated with scenes and symbols important in Huguenot history, such as early church buildings in the area and some Huguenot occupations: silversmiths, horticulture, clockmaking and silk dealing.

Highlights include:

A Georgian-style ‘Back in time for Dinner’. This talk will take a tour of a Georgian kitchen and dining table to describe the food on the table and explore the complex network of trade, commerce and cultural influences behind it.

Visit a rare and beautiful 18th Century silk weaver’s house.

Explore a Georgian home  ‘from garret to kitchen’; learn about those who lived and worked in the kitchen, parlour, bedchamber and garret.

Take a step back in time to the 1700s. Visit the unique and atmospheric ‘still-life drama’ of  Dennis Severs’ House at 18 Folgate Street.

A talk about Queen Anne’s dazzling candlelit birthday ball at St James’s Palace, when the Queen’s Maids of Honour danced with courtiers in the fashionable dances imported from France. This talk looks at what they wore and how they learned the dances – many of which have survived from the 18th century to today.

Listen to Georgian organ music in the stunningly beautiful Christ Church Spitalfields, designed by Hawksmoor.

Hear Dan Cruickshank talk about Queen Mary II’s cultural patronage of the arts.

Spitalfields silk: inside a silk weaver's house in Spitalfields. © Marenka Gabeler

Huguenots of Spitalfields is a registered charity promoting public understanding of the Huguenot heritage and culture in Spitalfields, the City of London and beyond.

We arrange tours, talks, events and schools programmes to raise the Huguenot profile in Spitalfields.

For full programme visit: www.huguenotsofspitalfields.org/walks-events.html

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Fournier Street, Spitalfields

Adophus Frederick IV, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Duke Ernest Gottlob of Mecklenburg, probably by Daniel Woge, painted after January 1766 as Christiana wears the red sash denoting the Order of St Catherine.

Queen Charlotte’s sister: Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz

Princess Christiane Sophie Albertine of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was the elder sister of Queen Charlotte, consort of George III.

Born on the 6th December 1735 at Mirow (in north east Germany, then in the duchy of Mecklenburg-Strelitz), Christiane (also known as Christiana) was destined to have her heart broken, and it was all because of the good fortune of her sister, Charlotte.

Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; German school, 1766 or later (as she is wearing the Order of St Catherine).
Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; German school, 1766 or later (as she is wearing the Order of St Catherine). Royal Collection Trust

Duke Louis Frederick of Mecklenburg and Princess Elisabeth Albertine of Saxe Hildburghausen had ten children, six of whom survived infancy. Christiane was the first born, and after her came:

Adophus Frederick IV, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1738-1794)

Charles II, Grand Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1741-1816)

Duke Ernest Gottlob of Mecklenburg (1742-1814)

Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen Consort to George III (1744-1818)

Duke George Augustus of Mecklenburg (1748-1785)

Lid of a snuff box, c.1770 depicting Queen Charlotte (seated, centre left), her sister, Princess Christiane (wearing a blue dress and the red sash of the Order of St Catherine), their brothers, Charles, Ernest, George and Adolphus and on the far right is Charles' wife, Frederica and their infant daughter.
Lid of a snuff box, c.1770 depicting Queen Charlotte (seated, centre left), her sister, Princess Christiane (wearing a blue dress and the red sash of the Order of St Catherine), their brothers, Charles, Ernest, George and Adolphus and on the far right is Charles’ wife, Frederica and their infant daughter. Royal Collection Trust

Together with her sisters, Christiane received a rudimentary education; Charlotte’s upbringing was later described as one similar to an English country gentleman although accounts suggest the girls were taught Latin, French and Greek as well as botany and history. With a good grounding in how to run a household and, as the eldest daughter, Christiane could perhaps have expected to make a highly advantageous marriage. However, by 1761 – aged 25 years – she was still unwed.

Adophus Frederick IV, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Duke Ernest Gottlob of Mecklenburg, probably by Daniel Woge, painted after January 1766 as Christiana wears the red sash denoting the Order of St Catherine.
Adophus Frederick IV, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz and Duke Ernest Gottlob of Mecklenburg, probably by Daniel Woge, painted after January 1766 as Christiana wears the red sash denoting the Order of St Catherine. Staatliches Museum Schwerin

In the early 1760s, John Ker, the young 3rd Duke of Roxburghe, was undertaking the Grand Tour. Travelling through Europe, in 1761 he met Christiane, and fell in love.  Christiane returned his affection and the romance between them progressed far enough for an engagement to be proposed.

John Ker, 3rd Duke of Roxburghe by Thomas Patch, 1761.
John Ker, 3rd Duke of Roxburghe by Thomas Patch, 1761. National Portrait Gallery

But, a spanner was about to be thrown into the works. In England, George III had ascended the throne and started to search for a wife amongst the European royalty and nobility. His choice eventually settled on the 17-year-old Princess Charlotte and a proposal of marriage was made, and accepted in the summer of 1761, at exactly the same time that the Duke of Roxburghe was negotiating for the hand of Christiane.

Queen Charlotte, when Princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz c.1760. Royal Collection Trust. This portrait may be the one sent from Mecklenburg to George III before Charlotte's arrival in England for her marriage.
Queen Charlotte, when Princess of Mecklenburg-Strelitz c.1760. This portrait may be the one sent from Mecklenburg to George III before Charlotte’s arrival in England for her marriage.

The younger sister’s marriage proved to be a detrimental and insurmountable barrier to the elder’s; German etiquette precluded Christiane, almost a decade Charlotte’s senior, becoming the new British queen’s subject… and George III quite possibly disliked the idea of one of his subjects, albeit one who was high in his favour, becoming his brother-in-law. Reluctantly, Christiane and the duke took the decision to part.

Unfinished portrait depicting the marriage of George III to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz on 8 September 1761 by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Unfinished portrait depicting the marriage of George III to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz on 8 September 1761 by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Royal Collection Trust

While George III and Queen Charlotte had a long and very happy marriage (they fell deeply in love with one another), neither Christiane nor the duke ever married. It is believed that, having suffered the loss of each other, they never found anyone else who matched up to their ideal. Sir Walter Scott knew the duke personally, and said of him that:

Youthful misfortunes, of a kind against which neither rank nor wealth possess a talisman, had case an early shade of gloom over his prospects, and given to one so splendidly endowed with the means of enjoying society that degree of reserved melancholy which prefers retirement to the splendid scenes of gaiety.

John Ker, 3rd Duke of Roxburghe by Pompeo Batoni, 1761.
John Ker, 3rd Duke of Roxburghe by Pompeo Batoni, 1761. Scottish National Gallery

A personal friend of George III, Roxburghe was rewarded with positions at court. Christiane lived for a time in Neustrelitz with her brother, Adolphus. As he too was unmarried, Christiane acted as his representative when necessary and later she was made a canoness in Herford Abbey (an ancient religious establishment for women in the Duchy of Saxony), although she continued to live with her brother rather than enter the abbey’s precincts. On the 13th January 1766, Empress Catherine II (the Great) of Russia bestowed the Order of St Catherine on Christiane.

Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wearing the badge, star and ribbon of the Order of St Catherine of Russia, c.1766. Previously attributed to Daniel Woge.
Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, wearing the badge, star and ribbon of the Order of St Catherine of Russia, c.1766. Previously attributed to Daniel Woge. Royal Collection Trust

Christiane died on the 31st August 1794. Her younger sister, Queen Charlotte, was in Weymouth with the royal family when she heard the news; the court was ordered to go into mourning.

The ladies to wear black silk, plain muslin or long lawn, crape or love hoods, black silk shoes, black glazed gloves, and black paper fans.

Undress, black or dark-grey unwatered tabbies.

The gentlemen to wear black cloth, without buttons on the sleeves or pockets, plain muslin or long lawn cravats and weepers [strips of cloth sown onto coat cuffs], black swords and buckles.

Undress, dark-grey frocks.

Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; German school c.1775.
Princess Christiane of Mecklenburg-Strelitz; German school c.1775. Royal Collection Trust

The Duke of Roxburghe, who became a noted bibliophile, died in 1804.

 

Sources:

Hillyard, B. (2004-09-23). Ker, John, third duke of Roxburghe (1740–1804), book collector. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Stamford Mercury, 19th September 1794

Бантыш-Каменский Н.Н. Списки кавалерам российских императорских орденов Св. Андрея Первозванного, Св. Екатерины, Св. Александра Невского и Св. Анны с учреждения до установления в 1797 году орденского капитула. Издание подготовил П.А. Дружинин. Москва, «Трутень»®, «Древлехранилище», 2005. – 228с. 500 экз. Тв. переплет. (Типогр. «Гриф и Ко», г. Тула). ISBN 5-94926-007-4.

The Great Chaise Match, Newmarket, 1750 by James Seymour

The Great Chaise Match on Newmarket Heath, 29th August 1750

In the early summer of 1750, the Earl of March (later the 4th Duke of Queensberry and more commonly known as ‘Old Q’) and Alexander Montgomerie, 10th Earl of Eglinton made a wager with Theobald Taaffe, Esquire that a four-wheel carriage (or chariot/chaise), carrying a man, could run 19 miles on Newmarket Heath within an hour. The stakes were high, as the bet was for 1,000l.

The Earl of March and His 'Blossom' by William Shaw, 1754
The Earl of March and His ‘Blossom’ by William Shaw, 1754; Northampton Museums & Art Gallery

Theobald Taaffe was from an Irish Roman Catholic family. Having married a wealthy English heiress and through her gained rights in a Jamaican property and a house in Hanover Square he had a brief interest in politics before setting to in squandering his fortune in high living. During 1750, Taaffe was one of the boon companions of the Duke of Bedford and Lord Sandwich, who were spending their whole time that summer in ‘riot and gaming’. This perhaps gives some indication of the atmosphere in which the Newmarket wager was conceived.

In 1751, Horace Walpole wrote to his friend, Horace Mann describing Theobald Taaffe as:

an Irishman, who changed his religion to fight a duel, as … you know, in Ireland a Catholic may not wear a sword. He is the hero who having betted Mrs. Woffington five guineas on as many performances in one night, and demanding the money which he won, received the famous reply, double or quits. He is a gamester, usurer, adventurer, and of late has divided his attentions between the Duke of Newcastle and Madame de Pompadour, travelling with turtles and pineapples in post-chaises, to the latter, flying back to the former for Lewes races—and smuggling Burgundy at the same time.

William Douglas, Earl of March, was cut from much the same cloth as Taaffe; he too had a reputation as a dissolute gambler and a rake. He also had a keen interest in horses and horse racing and was so frequently seen on the turf at Newmarket that it was almost his second home.

The 4th Duke of Queensberry ('Old Q') as Earl of March by Joshua Reynolds, 1759
The 4th Duke of Queensberry (‘Old Q’) as Earl of March by Joshua Reynolds, 1759; The Wallace Collection

The match was to be run in August; it was supposed to take place in the middle of the month but was pushed back to the 29th. Lord March and Lord Eglinton commissioned a lightweight four-wheeled carriage from Mr Wright, a coachmaker in Long Acre, Covent Garden, to be built in haste. Long Acre was known for coachbuilding and Wright was one of the most noted, along with John Hatchett who also had premises on the street.

View of Mr Hatchett's Capital House in Long Acre, 1780.
View of Mr Hatchett’s Capital House in Long Acre, 1780.

The first prototype of the four-wheeled race carriage was not an unbridled success; in trials on the heath two horses were killed and one lamed. Another carriage was built and conveyed to Newmarket which proved much more successful.

It is a most surprising piece of mechanism, and ‘tis said it does not weigh much more than 100 weight.

(Newcastle Courant, 7th July 1750)

This second carriage was extremely light and almost skeletal, and not at all what Taafe had envisaged when he made his bet. The Earl of March was a canny and astute operator and never bet when he thought the odds were against him; he almost certainly had a carriage of his own design – moreover one pulled by trained horses – in mind when he agreed to the challenge.

Even so, in early July, the bets were three to two that they didn’t do it.

Alexander Montgomerie, 10th Earl of Eglington by Joshua Reynolds c.1766.
Alexander Montgomerie, 10th Earl of Eglington by Joshua Reynolds c.1766. Abe Bailey Collection

Eventually, the date was set, to great excitement. Despite the report below, it was actually run on 29th August 1750 which was a Wednesday.

The Four Wheel Carriage, so long talked of, will certainly be run on Newmarket Heath on Tuesday next, when it is expected there will be the greatest number of nobility, &c that has been for many years at that place.

(Derby Mercury, 24th August 1750)

The carriage had one of Lord March’s postilions seated in it and four horses to pull it. Just before seven o’clock in the morning, they were off, starting at the Six Mile House on the Newmarket racecourse.

The near fore horse was a brown one, named Tawney, late Greville’s; the off fore horse was a dark grey, named Roderick Random, late Tom Stanford’s; the near wheel horse was a chestnut, named Chance, late Duke Hamilton’s; and the off wheel horse a grey, named Little Dan, late Parson Thompson’s of Beverley.

The Chaise Match Run on Newmarket Heath on Wednesday the 29th of August, 1750 by James Seymour.
The Chaise Match Run on Newmarket Heath on Wednesday the 29th of August, 1750 by James Seymour. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Three boys were assigned seats on the horses while the fourth was ridden by William Everett, groom to a Mr Panton, all four of them wearing blue satin waistcoats, buckskin breeches, white silk stockings and black velvet caps. Another groom, dressed in crimson, rode in front to clear the way. The poor postilion, sitting precariously in the carriage, wore a white satin waistcoat, black velvet cap and red silk stockings (although in the picture above he appears to be dressed similarly to the riders).

Immense crowds had come to watch, the ‘greatest part of the Sporting Gentlemen in England present’ and betting had changed to five to three in favour of the 19 miles being covered in less than an hour.

Luckily for the Earls of March and Eglinton, everything ran to clockwork. The first four miles were run in just nine minutes and there was then little doubt in the minds of the spectators but that Lord March and Lord Eglinton would be victorious. In the end, the spectacle was completed in well under the allotted hour (the London Evening Post said in 53 minutes and 20 seconds, and the Whitehall Evening Post had the time at 54 minutes 30 seconds but both newspapers agreed that the carriage could actually have covered 20 miles in less than an hour).

The Great Chaise Match, Newmarket, 1750 by James Seymour
A slightly different version of the Great Chaise Match, Newmarket, 1750 by James Seymour; The National Trust for Scotland, Brodick Castle, Garden & Country Park

At least three of the horses, Tawney, Roderick Random (named after the eponymous hero of Tobias Smollett’s, The Adventures of Roderick Random which had been published two years earlier) and Little Dan were auctioned off at Newmarket a few weeks later. Perhaps Chance was the horse ridden by William Everitt, and described below as Evrat’s Horse?

On Thursday last the Chaise Horses were sold at Newmarket as follows:

  1. Tawney, for 110 guineas to Mr Horsley
  2. Roderick Random, for 90 guineas to Sir Thomas Sebright
  3. Little Dan, for 55 guineas to Mr Prance
  4. Surly, for 56 guineas to Mr Vernon
  5. Single Peeper, for 50 guineas to Lord Chedworth
  6. A Bay Horse, got by Fletcher’s Arabian, for 80 guineas to Mr Prance
  7. A Grey Horse, got by Dusty Miller, for 28 guineas to Sir William Beauchamp Proctor
  8. Evrat’s Horse, for 27 guineas to Mr Allen

(Derby Mercury, 12th October 1750)

Sources not mentioned above:

The Ipswich Journal, 9th June 1750 and 1st September 1750

Taaffe, Theobald (c.1708-80), of Hanover Sq., London, published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754, ed. R. Sedgwick, 1970

The Fleet on the Serpentine River, Commemoration of the Battle of the Nile, August 1st 1814.

The Grand Jubilee of 1814

We will be taking our usual summer blog break until the end of August when we’ll be back with more Georgian stories for you, but in the meantime, we’ll leave you with this one.

Monday, 1st August 1814 was both the anniversary of the Battle of the Nile and the centenary of the ascension to the throne of the Hanoverian monarchs; to celebrate these and the signing of the Treaty of Paris, which ended hostilities between Britain and France, the day was chosen for a grand national Jubilee. (British weather being what it is, in the run-up to the event it was advertised that the date was moveable, depending on predicted rainfall but all went to plan and the 1st August proved to be dry.)

London virtually shut up shop for a day out at the three parks chosen to host the celebrations, Green Park, St James’s Park and Hyde Park, and people journeyed from miles around to witness the spectacle.

The Fair and Naumachy or sham sea fight in Hyde Park was in honour of the Peace.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Thomas Smith of Marylebone, in his Historical Recollections of Hyde Park, left us a detailed account of the day.

Many hundreds of workmen had been employed for several weeks in making the necessary preparations, while a numerous body of artists from the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich were occupied in arranging the fire-works under the superintendence of Sir W. Congreve, in temporary buildings erected for that purpose in the Green Park. The most judicious precautions were adopted to prevent accidents from the pressure of the crowd, by taking down the iron railings and part of the wall in several places, thus affording free access to the immense multitude that had been attracted from all parts of the country. It is an indisputable fact, that such a number of persons were never brought together on any former occasion of public rejoicing.

In St. James’s Park, the principal object was a bridge thrown across the canal on which an elegant Chinese pagoda of seven stories was erected, profusely ornamented and hung with lamps, with fire-works affixed to various parts, the interior of the enclosure being appropriated to those who paid for admission; numerous booths and tents were pitched, while boats filled with elegantly dressed females on the canal, presented to the eye a scene of enchantment not easily to be imagined or described.

The Chinese Bridge and Pagoda previous to the fire, 1st August 1814.
The Chinese Bridge and Pagoda previous to the fire, 1st August 1814. King George III Topographical Collection, British Library

The illuminations formed a complete blaze of light, the trees in the Mall and Bird-cage walk, being encircled with lamps, and Chinese lanterns fancifully painted, glittered among the foliage. Her Majesty and the Princesses entertained a party of 250 of the nobility at dinner in Buckingham House, the front of which was also brilliantly illuminated, in uniformity with the Royal Booth in the Green Park, the devices exhibiting the names of our most celebrated military and naval heroes.

The fortress (which inclosed the Grand Pavillion) in the Green Park, with the ascent of the balloon (1814).
The fortress (which inclosed the Grand Pavillion) in the Green Park, with the ascent of the balloon (1814). Prints, Drawings and Watercolors from the Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection. Brown Digital Repository. Brown University Library.

In the early part of the evening Mr. Sadler ascended with his balloon from the space in front of Buckingham House to the great gratification of the royal party, who had taken a lively interest in witnessing the preparations for the ascent; at a later period of the evening, an unfortunate accident happened which threw a damp over the whole proceedings at this point, the fire-works having set fire to the pagoda; two of the men employed were so seriously injured that they expired on the following day; and before the fire could be got under, five stories of the pagoda were consumed.

View of the Chinese bridge and pagoda over the canal in St James's Park, as it appeared at midnight during the firework display, the pagoda in flames, 1st August 1814.
View of the Chinese bridge and pagoda over the canal in St James’s Park, as it appeared at midnight during the firework display, the pagoda in flames. © The Trustees of the British Museum

A revolving temple was erected in Green Park. This edifice was the work of Sir William Congreve, Baronet, of Congreve’s Rockets fame. Not surprisingly, a very loud and impressive display of artillery and fireworks was planned for the evening’s entertainment.

The Temple of Concord in Green Park, 1814.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

At ten o’clock a long and continued discharge of artillery announced the commencement of the pyrotechnic display; a grand discharge of fire-works from the battlements and walls continued for two hours, when the metamorphosis of the fortress was effected during the prevalence of a dense cloud of smoke created for the purpose of concealing the method by which it was accomplished. The smoke having cleared off, the Temple of Concord, brilliantly illuminated, and ornamented by numerous transparent allegorical paintings burst forth to the delighted gaze of the multitude. By an ingenious contrivance the Temple was rendered moveable on an axis, each face being presented at intervals and in succession to every point of the compass.

A View of the Temple of Concord in Green Park, 1814.
The Met Museum

In Hyde Park booths were erected for a Great Fair (which descended, after nightfall, into a scene of drunken dissipation); the highlight of the day at this location was a mock sea-battle, to be held on the Serpentine.

The entertainments in Hyde Park although of a different description, were not the less interesting, the whole space being converted into an extensive fair; between 400 and 500 booths were erected, where every delicacy that could please the eye or suit the taste of the most fastidious gourmand might be obtained. The liberty of the press was here also proudly recognised, a number of printing presses being set up, whence issued with great rapidity engraved views of the Temple, Pagoda, &c. and random records of great variety, which were eagerly purchased by the visitors as mementos of the pleasurable sensations they experienced. Many shows and theatres were also to be seen where the heroes of the sock and buskin, afforded infinite amusement to His Majesty’s lieges.

The View of the Fair in Hyde Park, August 1st 1814
© Cambridge University Library

Unusual anxiety was however evinced to witness a mimic naval engagement on the Serpentine river; this splendid sheet of water, presented the singular spectacle of two hostile fleets, viz. an English and American, riding in proud defiance on its bosom, both shores being lined with a dense mass of people assembled to witness this novel scene.

The Fleet on the Serpentine River, Commemoration of the Battle of the Nile, August 1st 1814.
© Cambridge University Library

Built at Greenwich out of timber from old ships, each miniature frigate was manned by three sailors; they fired blank ammunition at each other.

About six o’clock the action commenced by a cannonading by the ships in the van of the opposing fleets, until the whole line gradually neared each other; after a severe struggle the Americans were ultimately driven on shore; at dark, however, the British line formed and bore down upon the American fleet then lying at anchor, and set fire to the whole of their ships which were burnt to the water’s edge. The effect of this conflagration was surprizingly magnificent, indeed the whole of this exhibition was calculated to afford infinite gratification to the middling and lower classes of a maritime nation like Great Britain. The entertainment terminated at this point by a display of fire-works, among which the water-rockets, a new species of combustible, attracted much notice.

The action between the British and American frigates on the Serpentine, Hyde Park, 1st August 1814
King George III’s Topographical Collection; British Library/SPL Rare Books

This day all business appeared to have been suspended in London and the suburbs, and John Bull, Mrs. Bull, and their numerous progeny, seemed to have thrown themselves with perfect good humour into the vortex of public rejoicing and festivity, and in spite of the eccentricities of his nature, gave vent to feelings and expressions of joy and gladness, at the restoration of peace and harmony to his native land.

The fair was allowed to continue during the whole of the week; the park being cleared by order of the Secretary of State on Monday the 8th, and such was the injury done to this beautiful spot by the influx of so many visitors, that a lapse of two years passed away ere it recovered its pristine beauty.

The Duchesses of Devonshire in the long eighteenth-century

We all know of the famous (or infamous) Duchess of Devonshire, Georgiana Cavendish née Spencer. But, what of the other Duchesses of Devonshire during the long eighteenth-century? Today, we are taking a whistle-stop tour to look at them one-by-one.

We start with Lady Mary Butler (1646-1710), daughter of James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde. In 1662 she married William Cavendish (1640-1707), then merely Lord Cavendish, the eldest son of William Cavendish, 3rd Earl of Devonshire; in 1684 Mary became the Countess of Devonshire when her husband succeeded to the earldom. His support of the Glorious Revolution in 1688 brought him the support of William III (of Orange) and in 1694 the Earl and Countess of Devonshire became, additionally, the 1st Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.

Lady Mary Butler (1646-1710), Duchess of Devonshire by Willem Wissing
Lady Mary Butler (1646-1710), Duchess of Devonshire by Willem Wissing; National Trust, Hardwick Hall

Next is the Honourable Rachel Russell (1674-1725), daughter of William Russell, Lord Russell and the wife of William Cavendish, 2nd Duke of Devonshire (c.1672-1729) (you might be gathering by this point that the Cavendish family weren’t that imaginative when it came to naming the heir!). William and Rachel married on 21st June 1688 and had five children.

Rachel Russell (1674-1725), Duchess of Devonshire by Godfrey Kneller
Rachel Russell (1674-1725), Duchess of Devonshire by Godfrey Kneller; National Trust, Hardwick Hall

The eldest son of the 2nd Duke and Duchess was… you’ve guessed it! William Cavendish, 3rd Duke of Devonshire (1698-1755). At a young age, he married Katherine Hoskins or Hoskyn (c.1698-1777) of whom little appears to be known.

An interesting snippet concerning the 3rd Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, they are the most recent common ancestors of Charles, Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer; Charles is descended from the 3rd duke’s eldest son (who we will come onto next, go on, have a guess at his name!) and the second eldest daughter of the family, Lady Elizabeth Cavendish (who married John Ponsonby) was the direct ancestor of Diana.

Katherine outlived her husband by more than 20 years.

Portrait of Katherine Hoskins, Duchess of Devonshire as St Catherine by Charles Jervas
Portrait of Katherine Hoskins, Duchess of Devonshire as St Catherine by Charles Jervas; Chatsworth House

Yes, you’re correct! The next to hold the title was William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire who, when Marquess of Hartington, married Lady Charlotte Elizabeth Boyle, the only surviving daughter of Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington (it was a wedding which had been planned since they were both children, and was a very happy one). Charlotte inherited all her father’s estates and the title of Baroness Clifford in her own right.

Lady Dorothy Boyle (1724-1742), Countess of Euston, and Her Sister Lady Charlotte Boyle (1731-1754), Later Marchioness of Hartington by Dorothy Savile
Lady Dorothy Boyle (1724-1742), Countess of Euston, and Her Sister Lady Charlotte Boyle (1731-1754), Later Marchioness of Hartington by Dorothy Savile; National Trust, Hardwick Hall

Now, strictly speaking, Charlotte should not be included here as she never actually became the Duchess of Devonshire. She died of smallpox at Uppingham in Rutland at the beginning of December 1754, mere months before her husband became the duke upon the death of his father (and tragically, she died just over 8 months after the birth of her fourth child). So, Charlotte was only ever Marchioness of Hartington, but we felt she should take her place on this blog.

Lady Charlotte Boyle (1731-1754) by George Knapton
Lady Charlotte Boyle (1731-1754) by George Knapton; English Heritage, Chiswick House

And so we come to William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire (1748-1811), who married Lady Georgiana Spencer (1757-1806) in 1774, on her 17th birthday at Wimbledon parish church. It is well-known that the marriage was unhappy; the duke was emotionally cold to Georgiana although he continued to entertain mistresses.

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Thomas Gainsborough, 1787
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Thomas Gainsborough, 1787; Chatsworth House

In 1782, the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire made the acquaintance of Lady Elizabeth (Bess) Foster née Hervey (1758-1824), the daughter of Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol who was separated from her own husband (and three sons). The two ladies became friends, and Bess and the duke more than that; Bess went to live with the couple and something of a ménage à trois developed, reluctantly tolerated by Georgiana (Bess and the duke had two illegitimate children together).

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and Lady Elisabeth Foster, miniature by Jean-Urbain Guérin, 1791.
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and Lady Elisabeth Foster, miniature by Jean-Urbain Guérin, 1791. The Wallace Collection

Georgiana embarked upon an affair of her own after having given birth to two daughters (Lady Georgiana Dorothy Cavendish, known as Little G and Lady Harriet Elizabeth Cavendish, or Harryo) and a son and heir, William George Spencer Cavendish, aka Hart (as his title from birth was Marquess of Hartington). Her lover was the politician Charles Grey (later Earl Grey), and the affair resulted in a daughter, known as Eliza Courtney, in 1792, resulting in the duchess being banished abroad for a period of time before she was allowed home to live with her husband, children and Bess.

After Georgiana’s early death in 1806 (she was 48), the 5th Duke of Devonshire married Bess, so she too gained the title of Duchess of Devonshire although the duke died just two years after their wedding.

Lady Elizabeth Christiana Hervey (1759-1824), Lady Elizabeth Foster, Later Duchess of Devonshire by Angelica Kauffman
Lady Elizabeth Christiana Hervey (1759-1824), Lady Elizabeth Foster, Later Duchess of Devonshire by Angelica Kauffman; National Trust, Ickworth

Hart (otherwise William Cavendish, 1790-1858), the eldest son of the 5th Duke of Devonshire and Georgiana did in time become the 6th Duke (in 1811) but he never married.

After Hart’s death, in 1858, the title passed to the eldest son of George Cavendish, 1st Earl of Burlington who, in turn, was the eldest son of the 4th Duke of Devonshire and Lady Charlotte Boyle. With excellent forward planning, he too was named William Cavendish and, although we’re well out of the ‘long eighteenth-century’ now, we’ll share one last image with you, of another woman who took her place in the Cavendish family tree but who never became Duchess of Devonshire.

In 1829, the 7th Duke, before he had come into his estates and titles (he was, from 1834, the 2nd Earl of Burlington), married Blanche Georgiana Howard (1812-1840), the daughter of George Howard, 6th Earl of Carlisle and Georgiana Cavendish who we have already mentioned above as ‘Little G’, the eldest daughter of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.

Lady Blanche Georgiana Howard (1812-1840), Countess of Burlington by John Lucas
Lady Blanche Georgiana Howard (1812-1840), Countess of Burlington by John Lucas; National Trust, Hardwick Hall

It was to be a short but happy marriage, engineered by Hart, the childless 6th Duke of Devonshire; five children were born to the couple before Blanche died in 1840, aged just 28. For the last two years of her life, Blanche, Countess of Burlington, was one of Queen Victoria’s Ladies of the Bedchamber.

If you’ve enjoyed reading this, then you might enjoy our Georgian and Victorian era biographies which are available with worldwide free postage from Book Depository or from all good retailers.

Featured image

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire with her infant daughter Lady Georgiana Cavendish by Joshua Reynolds; Chatsworth House.

An Exact Perspective View of Dunmow, late the priory in the County of Essex, with a Prepresentation fo the Ceremony, & Procession in that mannor, on Thursday the 20 of June 1751

Conjugal bliss and a flitch of bacon

An old custom, practised in Dunmow in Essex, entailed the award of a flitch (or side) of bacon (essentially half a pig, cut sideways) to any couple who had been married for at least a year and a day and who could prove that they had never had a cross word nor repented of their marriage.

The origins of this custom are murky. It may date to as early as 1104 and the foundation of Little Dunmow Priory by Lady Juga Baynard and as a practice to encourage church weddings as opposed to less formal marriage contracts like handfasting. Other sources say that Reginald Fitzwalter, the Lord of the Manor, and his wife appeared at the gates of the Priory a year and a day after their marriage, dressed as peasants and begging the Prior’s blessing. The Prior did not recognise the petitioners and – impressed by their devotion – he made a gift to them of a flitch of bacon. Fitzwalter, in return, bestowed land on the Priory with one very explicit condition: a similar flitch must be awarded to any couple who presented themselves at the Priory and could claim, after a year and a day’s marriage, to be as devoted as he was to his own wife.

Whatever its origins, the Dunmow flitch was well known enough by 1387 to be mentioned by Geoffrey Chaucer in Canterbury Tales. The wife of Bath said:

The bacon was not set for him, I trow,

That som men have in Essex at Dunmow.

Little Dunmow Priory fell victim to the dissolution of the monasteries in the sixeenth-century and the custom lapsed into abeyance until 1701.

The Dunmow Flitch; Robert Alexander Hillingford
The Dunmow Flitch; Robert Alexander Hillingford; Museums Sheffield

That year, at Dunmow, the flitch of bacon was awarded twice, once to John Reynolds of Hatfield Regis and his wife Ann, wed for ten years, and secondly to a butcher from Much Easton named William Parsley and his wife Jane who had been married – quietly, peaceably, tenderly and lovingly – for around three years. (The Parsley’s marriage is probably the one which took place at Hatfield Broad Oak in 1698, between Will. Parsley and Jean Judd.)

Bringing witnesses with them to prove their marriage and their fidelity to each other, and to their conjugal bliss in their marriage, the couples were brought before a ‘judge and jury’ where they were questioned.  The jury who sat to decide if the Parsleys qualified for the flitch of bacon were five spinsters, Elizabeth, Henrietta, Annabella and Jane Beaumont, and Mary Wheeler. Upon passing this ‘trial’ the man and wife knelt on two pointed stones placed near the door of the church and an oath was administered (the Lady Chapel of the old Priory remains in use as the parish church).

Remains of Dunmow Priory, Essex

You do swear by custom of confession

That you ne’er made nuptual transgression

Nor since you were married man and wife

By household brawls or contentious strife

Or otherwise in bed or at board

Offended each other in deed or in word

Or in a twelve months time and a day

Repented not in any way

Or since the church clerk said Amen

Wish’t yourselves unmarried again

But continue true and in desire

As when you joined hands in holy quire.

After the oath came the sentence. Then, the pair were borne aloft in a wooden chair and carried around the village to the general acclaim of the gathered crowd, and merry-making commenced.

Since these conditions without any fear

Of your own accords you do freely swear

A whole Flitch of Bacon you do receive

And bear it away with love and good leave

For this is the Custom of Dunmow well known

Tho’ the pleasure be ours, the Bacon’s your own.

The chair in which the couples obtaining the bacon were carried.

Next to receive a flitch of bacon in Dunmow were Thomas Shakeshaft and his wife, Anne, née Amis, who had married in the village of Wethersfield in Essex in 1744. Thomas, an eminent weaver (or woolcomber) was, in one report, said to be 80 years of age and Anne was his second wife. After they had been married for seven years, on the 20th June 1751 they journeyed to Dunmow together with witnesses to make their oath.

It had been fifty years since the last claimants, and the Shakeshafts were treated as minor celebrities. Supposedly a crowd of 5,000 people from all over the country came to see the ceremony and when Anne was examined by a jury she admitted that she had only repented once since her marriage; she wished that she had married sooner.

Taking the oath for the gammon of bacon, Thomas Shakeshaft, and Ann, his wife, on June 20th, 1751.

The canny couple cashed in on their windfall. They sold slices of their ham to several of the ladies and gentlemen who had come to Dunmow to join in the celebrations, most of whom were ‘whimsically merry on the occasion’. On returning to their cottage in Wethersfield, the Shakeshafts were £50 richer than when they had set off.

An Exact Perspective View of Dunmow, late the priory in the County of Essex, with a Prepresentation fo the Ceremony, & Procession in that mannor, on Thursday the 20 of June 1751
An Exact Perspective View of Dunmow, late the priory in the County of Essex, with a Prepresentation fo the Ceremony, & Procession in that mannor, on Thursday the 20 of June 1751. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

If the newspaper who reported Thomas’ age as 80 was anywhere close, then his second wife must have been quite a few decades younger: it was claimed that, on the 18th July 1753, Anne and Thomas became the proud parents of twin sons, named George and Edward. Supposedly baptised at Wethersfield (we have been unable to verify this), their godfathers were the Hon Charles Grey, Esq and Hugh Brampton, Esq and Lady Abdy was godmother (the Abdy’s estate was Felix Hall in Essex). (NB. there is a burial at Wethersfield in 1773 for a Thomas Shakeshaft; unless he reached his centenary and then some, it is likely he was, in fact, a fair bit younger than 80 when he journeyed to Dunmow with his wife.)

Although there are reports of other couples claiming the flitch of bacon at Dunmow during the Georgian era, they appear to be fictional. In 1767 it was said that an Irish nobleman and his wife had headed to the village to undertake the trial, the first instance of anyone of rank to do so.

Claiming the Flitch of Bacon, 1796. A justice tricks a married couple who claim never to have quarrelled in seven years out of their claim to the flitch of bacon.
Claiming the Flitch of Bacon, 1796. A justice tricks a married couple who claim never to have quarrelled in seven years out of their claim to the flitch of bacon. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Five years later, the lord of the manor refused admittance to John and Susan Gilder of Tarling in Essex when they made a very public entry into Dunmow at the head of a great concourse of spectators and supporters, demanding to be allowed to take the oath and receive the bacon. They found the gates of the old priory nailed shut and returned home empty handed.

Montagu Burgoyne by George Ramsay, c.1782
Montagu Burgoyne by George Ramsay, c.1782, via Wikimedia

The last noted report concerned Montagu Burgoyne, Esq, named as a commissioner with the Victualling Board and who was later a politician. He had actually demanded – and, it is claimed, received – the flitch, after going through all the requisite ceremonies and oaths. The Burgoynes’ marriage was described as a ‘pattern of conjugal affection’ and so perhaps that gave rise to the notion that the couple had journeyed to Dunmow.

Elizabeth Burgoyne née Harvey by George Romney, c.1785
Elizabeth Burgoyne née Harvey by George Romney, c.1785, via Wikimedia.

Even King George III and Queen Charlotte were not immune to the tradition. A paragraph had appeared in a newspaper suggesting that ‘two Great Personages’ who intended to tour England during the summer of 1770 would make a stop at Dunmow to claim the flitch of bacon.

The Great Personage on reading it shewed it to his consort, who smiled and said, on its being explained to her, that his Majesty should not have it all, for she would have half of it. The person who was in waiting at the time, said, he supposed it was some nonsense of Mr Such-a-one’s. Nonsense, replied the Great Personage, you may call it what you please, but whoever the author of it is, he has paid me a greater compliment than I have ever received since I was King of England.

Unfinished portrait depicting the marriage of George III to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz on 8 September 1761 by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Unfinished portrait depicting the marriage of George III to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz on 8 September 1761 by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Royal Collection Trust

The eighteenth-century gossip, Horace Walpole, noted that in Wychnor, Staffordshire where the tradition was also reputedly followed, a flitch was awarded c.1730. However, after 1760 Wychnor didn’t even bother to keep a flitch ready at the manor for any claimants but instead merely displayed a carved wooden replacement over the fireplace in the main hall to pay lip service to the old custom.

Claiming the Wychnor Flitch; John Massey Wright, 1817
Claiming the Wychnor Flitch; John Massey Wright, 1817; Brampton Museum

In the Victorian period, the tradition was revived at Dunmow and continues to this day with the ‘trials’ now carried out every four years (in mid-July during a leap year).

Sources:

History of the Dunmow Flitch of Bacon, William Andrews, 1878

Popular Antiquities, vol 2, J Brand, 1841

Derby Mercury 7th June 1751, 3rd August 1753 and 6th July 1764

Ipswich Journal 29th June 1751

Caledonian Mercury, 13th June 1767

Kentish Gazette 18th September 1770

Hereford Journal 12th October 1786

[Anon.] (2004-09-23). Burgoyne, Montagu (1750–1836), politician. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Dunmow Flitch Trials (website)

Dessert Still Life by John F. Francis.

Strawberries and cream: a Wimbledon tradition with a long history

With the commencement of Wimbledon, our thoughts – naturally – turn towards that perennial British summer favourite, fresh strawberries and cream.

Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey (or rather, his cook!) is often credited with first serving this treat; legend has it that the king and court descended on Wolsey’s home, Hampton Court and the harassed cook, in an inventive moment, decided to serve wild strawberries and cream as one of the desserts at the banquet. Perhaps he was running out of time to produce anything more complicated? Dairy produce was considered  ‘peasant food’ but, if the king ate it, then everyone else was going to as well. And so the combination gained popularity which continued, and during the long eighteenth-century people enjoyed their strawberries and cream just as much as we do today.

Dessert Still Life by John F. Francis.
Dessert Still Life by John F. Francis. Yale University Art Gallery

A popular cookbook, Cookery reformed; or, The Lady’s assistant, 1755, had this advice:

There are two sorts of strawberries, those that grow in gardens, and those that will not. The garden strawberries are best, and most in esteem, of which some are red, and some are white. They should be chosen large, ripe, full of juice, with a fragrant smell, and a vinous taste. They are cooling, quench thirst, promote urine and take off the heat of the stomach. They may be eaten after dinner with cream, and sugar, or with wine, without any prejudice, avoiding excess. They are very useful in hot weather, especially to those of warm constitutions.

Still Life with Wild Strawberries, Adriaen Coorte, 1705.
Still Life with Wild Strawberries, Adriaen Coorte, 1705. Mauritshuis

STRAWBERRIES AND CREAM

ARCHIBALD DICK informs his friends, and the public in general, that he continues as formerly to sell STRAWBERRIES and CREAM, at his house on Leith Walk, the first above the Botanic Garden. Besides the different apartments in the house, he has pitched two Marquees in his garden, for the better accommodation of company.

Families in the New Town may be served with the above, at his Spirit Shop, west end of Register Street, where the fruit will arrive fresh from the garden three times every day, viz. at six o’clock in the morning, one o’clock in the afternoon, and seven in the evening. Other FRUITS likewise in their season.

Calendonian Mercury, 19th June 1788

Strawberrys, Scarlet Strawberrys from The Cries of London, 1795.
Strawberrys, Scarlet Strawberrys from The Cries of London, 1795. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

The basket in hands of the seller above is a pottle, and up to around 50 or 60 of these would be carried in the large basket balanced on her head.

Strawberries – Brought fresh gathered to the markets in the height of their season, both morning and afternoon, they are sold in pottles containing something less than a quart each. The crier adds one penny to the price of the strawberries for the pottle which if returned by her customer, she abates. Great numbers of men and women are employed in crying strawberries during their season through the streets of London at sixpence per pottle.

A Lady in Full Dress, Seen from Behind by Samuel Scott.
A Lady in Full Dress, Seen from Behind by Samuel Scott. The Tate

In June 1813, Lady Smith Burges held a public breakfast on the terrace of her Piccadilly townhouse, resembling a fête champêtre. As the guests arrived, at the fashionably late hour (for a breakfast) of 3 o’clock in the afternoon, serenaded by Mr Gow’s Band, they were provided with delicacies laid out on various tables, all provided by the well-known Regency caterers, Gunters. Strawberry and cream ices were a highlight of the repast.

Frederick Nutt, formerly apprenticed to the confectioner Domenico Negri (who sold ice cream from his shop under the sign of The Pot and Pineapple in Berkeley Square from the 1760s), published a recipe book, The Complete Confectioner, in 1789. From that book, we have a recipe for strawberry ice cream which may be similar to that served by Gunters.

Strawberry Ice Cream

Take a large spoonful of strawberry jam, add a pint of cream and a little cochineal; put it into your freezing pot and cover it; put the freezing pot into a pail, and some ice all round the pot; throw a good deal of salt on the ice in the pail, turning the pot round for ten minutes, then open your pot, and scrape it from the sides, cover it up again, and keep turning it for some time, till your cream is like butter, and as thick; put it in your moulds, put them into a pail, and cover it with ice and salt for three quarters of an hour, till you find the water is come to the top of the pail; do not be sparing of salt, for if you do not use enough it will not freeze: dip your mould into water, and turn it out on your plate to send to table.

A basket of strawberries
A basket of strawberries, English school. Christie’s

So, in what other ways did the Georgians devour strawberries. Well, never mind deep fried Mars Bars today, how about battered strawberries? From Cookery reformed; or, The Lady’s assistant, 1755, we offer a recipe for Strawberry Fritters.

Having made a batter with flour, a spoonful of sweet oil, another of white wine, a little rasped lemon-peel, and the whites of two or three eggs, make it pretty soft, so as just to drop with a spoon. Mix it with some large strawberries, and drop them with a spoon into the hot fritters. When they are of a good colour, take them out, and drain them on a sieve. When they are done, strew some sugar over them, and glaze them.

Basket of Strawberries, Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, 1761.
Basket of Strawberries, Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, 1761. The Athenaeum

The 1808 (unofficial) edition of Elizabeth Raffald’s, The Experienced English Housekeeper (first published in 1769) contains recipes for preserving strawberries and for making strawberry jam, both perfect to make the fruit last through to the colder months.

To preserve strawberries whole

Get the finest scarlet strawberries with their stalks on before they are too ripe, then lay them separately on a china dish, beat and sift twice their weight of double refined sugar, and strew it over them, then take a few ripe scarlet strawberries, crush them, and put them into a jar, with their weight of double refined sugar beat small, cover them close, and let them stand in a kettle of boiling water till they are soft, and the syrup is come out of them, then strain them through a muslin rag into a tossing-pan, boil and skim it well, when it is cold put in your whole strawberries, and set them over the fire till they are milk warm, then take them off, and let them stand till they are quite cold, then set them on again and make them a little hotter, do so several times till they look clear, but do not let them boil, it will fetch the stalks off; when the strawberries are cold, put them into jelly glasses, with the stalks downwards, and fill up your glasses with the syrup; tie them down with brandy papers over them.

They are very pretty among jellies and creams, and proper for setting out a dessert of any kind.

Still Life of a Bowl of Strawberries, Standing Cup, a Bottle of Rose Water, a Sugar Loaf and a Box of Sugar; The Merchant's House
Still Life of a Bowl of Strawberries, Standing Cup, a Bottle of Rose Water, a Sugar Loaf and a Box of Sugar; The Merchant’s House

To make Red Strawberry Jam

Gather the scarlet strawberries very ripe, bruise them very fine, and put to them a little juice of raspberries, beat and sift their weight in sugar, strew it among them, and put them in the preserving pan, set them over a clear slow fire, skim them and boil them twenty minutes, then put them into pots or glasses for use.

Sources not mentioned above:

Morning Post, 24th June 1813

Itinerant Traders of London in their Ordinary Costume with Notices of Remarkable Places given in the Background, William Marshall Craig, 1804

Modern Exercise, one of twelve illustrations to Contemporary Life and Diversions by Robert Dighton.

Skittles and Nine Holes, or Bumble Puppy: sporting pastimes in the Georgian era

The nine pins used in the game of skittles were originally known as kayle pins, a term derived from the French word for bowling, quilles.

Miss Tipapin going for all nine, 1779.
Miss Tipapin going for all nine, 1779. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The kayle-pins were afterwards called kettle, or kittle-pins; and hence, by an easy corruption, skittle-pins, an appellation well known in the present day.

Gentlemen Playing Skittles, 1740; Balthasar Nebot
Gentlemen Playing Skittles, 1740; Balthasar Nebot; National Trust, Hartwell House

It is a game similar to bowling; the player stands at a predetermined distance and bowls a ball at the pins; the winner is the person who knocks them all down in the fewest throws. And, while you might have thought it quite a simple game, in 1786 a quite comprehensive list of rules and instructions were issued by a Society of Gentlemen.

Rules and instructions for playing at skittles. By a Society of Gentlemen, 1786.
Rules and instructions for playing at skittles. By a Society of Gentlemen, 1786. © The Trustees of the British Museum

During the eighteenth-century, and especially in and around London, skittles was a popular pastime, often played in the grounds of public houses and accompanied by gambling upon the outcome of the game. Although pictured here being played by gentlemen, the game was known as one which was notorious among the lower classes.

Modern Exercise, one of twelve illustrations to Contemporary Life and Diversions by Robert Dighton.
Modern Exercise, one of twelve illustrations to Contemporary Life and Diversions by Robert Dighton. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Lewdness, profaneness, Sabbath-breaking, and gaming, are by all good men, reckoned to be the cause of so much distress among the lower ranks of society. Of these vices none are more destructive to the poor families, than the Skittle and Nine-pin Alleys, Cards and other games at low Public houses.

(Kentish Gazette, 14th July 1784)

As if this wasn’t enough, with the skittle grounds a known haunt for ne’er-do-wells, they featured on the radar of the press gangs. Further distress must have been caused to families when their menfolk were taken up from skittle grounds and impressed into the armed or naval services, a practice which happened not infrequently as reports in the newspapers record.

Monday and Tuesday the Constables were very assiduous about Moorfields and the Publick Houses, especially about those that had skittle grounds, where they impressed several for the army and navy, by virtue of impress warrants delivered to them, and backed by the justices of the peace for that division. Several also, who were found gambling in the fields were laid hold of, as useful hands to serve his Majesty.

(Sussex Advertiser, 26th April 1762)

In the notorious Fleet Prison and also the King’s Bench Prison, where people were held for debt, they were afforded the opportunity to squander more of what they didn’t have by betting on the outcome of various games. Of course, skittles – and a similar game named bumble-puppy – were two of those. A writer claimed that:

Here racquets are played against the wall, – also cards, bumble-puppy and skittles.

(Bristol Mirror, 23rd November 1811)

View of the inner court of the Fleet Prison, with the prisoners playing rackets and skittles on the left, 1807.
View of the inner court of the Fleet Prison, with the prisoners playing rackets and skittles on the left, 1807. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Nine holes, otherwise bumble-puppy, was a childhood game; known to have been played in the early seventeenth-century, it met with a revival, particularly in London, in the late eighteenth-century. Around 1780, the magistrates caused the skittle grounds to be levelled in an attempt to stop the ‘lower orders’ playing the game in the gardens of London pubs, and losing whatever income they had on the outcome of the games. Into the breach stepped the game of nine-holes.

The game is simply this: nine holes are made in a square board, and disposed in three rows, three holes in each row, all of them at equal distances, about twelve or fourteen inches apart; to every hole is affixed a numeral, from one to nine, so placed as to form fifteen in every row. The board, thus prepared, is fixed horizontally upon the ground, and surrounded on three sides with a gentle acclivity. Every one of the players being furnished with a certain number of small metal balls, stands in his turn, by a mark made upon the ground, about five or six feet from the board; at which he bowls the balls; and according to the value of the figures belonging to the holes into which they roll, his game is reckoned; and he who obtains the highest number is the winner.

It is suggested that the game of nine holes was also known as ‘Bubble the Justice’ as it could not be banned by the magistrates because nine holes was not named in the prohibitory statutes. Another popular name for it was, however, bumble-puppy.

The game of Bumble Puppy or Bubbling, 1803.
The game of Bumble Puppy or Bubbling, 1803. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Justice: Hallo there, what game do you call that, I’ll have you all taken up for disturbing the Neighbourhood.

Player: No Sir you won’t – It’s Bumble Puppy an please your Worship

Justice: O’ Lounds, I’m smoked here I must be off.

By the early nineteenth-century, skittle alleys had once more become common-place in public houses, although no less notorious.

"The Poacher's Progress:" Poachers Scuffling with the Constables in the Skittle Ground; C. Blake, c.1825.
“The Poacher’s Progress:” Poachers Scuffling with the Constables in the Skittle Ground; C. Blake, c.1825. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Nine-pins, Dutch-pins and Four Corners (which we have blogged about before) are all variations of skittles which is now mainly played indoors, the practice still kept alive in several public houses which retain a skittles alley.

Sources not mentioned above:

Curiosities of London: exhibiting the most rare and remarkable objects of interest in the metropolis, John Timbes, 1855

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, c.1778. Formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany.

Dido Elizabeth Belle – we reveal NEW information about her siblings

We’re very excited to be able to bring you some new information about Dido Elizabeth Belle.

Dido was the natural daughter of a former African slave woman and Sir John Lindsay; she was brought up alongside her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Murray at their great-uncle William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield’s estate, Kenwood House in Hampstead, London. You may have seen the film about Dido’s life, Belle (2013).

Lauren Julien-Box as 'Young Dido' and Matthew Goode as 'Captain Sir John Lindsay' in Amma Asante's Belle.
Lauren Julien-Box as ‘Young Dido’ and Matthew Goode as ‘Captain Sir John Lindsay’ in Amma Asante’s Belle.

Well, today you are going to be the first to know a little bit more about Dido’s family.

Her father, John Lindsay, from a well-connected Scottish family, was a career naval officer who, in the summer of 1764, was knighted and eventually became an admiral.

It is well-known that he fathered Dido; less well-known are his other illegitimate children. In his will, written in 1783, Lindsay left a sum of money for the benefit of his two ‘reputed’ children, John and Elizabeth (he didn’t mention Dido in this document as she was provided for by the Earl of Mansfield and his family).

Captain Sir John Lindsay (1737-1788) by Allan Ramsay
Dido’s father, Captain Sir John Lindsay (1737-1788) by Allan Ramsay; Glasgow Museums

Speculation has long been rife as to the birthplace and true identity of John and Elizabeth… well, we can shed some light on this, and share some information about two further children as well.

Dido Elizabeth Belle was the eldest of Lindsay’s brood of illegitimate offspring, and she was born in June 1761 (her year of birth worked out from a notation against her baptism). Lindsay had arrived in Jamaica in the summer of 1760 aboard HMS Trent (1757), a Royal Naval 28-gun Coventry-class sixth-rate frigate of which he was captain. He had been appointed to the ship since its launch and had already seen action off Cape Finisterre, Spain in 1759 and at the Siege of Quebec (Battle of the Plains of Abraham) in the same year. During the September of 1760 (Dido, if she was born in June 1761, must have been conceived around this time), the Trent was patrolling off the coast of Senegal, returning back to Jamaica at the end of the year.

On 4th January 1761, the Trent, captained by John Lindsay, captured the richly laden French merchant frigate Bien Aimè off Cape Tiburon after a forty-five-minute duel, arriving back in Port Royal, Jamaica with his prize later that month.

View of Port Royal, Jamaica by Richard Paton, 1758
View of Port Royal, Jamaica by Richard Paton, 1758; National Maritime Museum

At Dido Elizabeth Belle’s baptism, which took place in England some five years after her birth, her mother was named as Maria Bell. Reputedly, Maria was a slave being transported in a Spanish galleon which Lindsay had captured.

Thomas Hutchinson, the former governor of Massachusetts met Dido and recounted something of her background in his diary. He claimed that Maria Bell was brought to London on board the slave ship, heavily pregnant. However, it was not a slave ship but the captured Bien Aimè carrying sugar (which had been destined for France), which was the Trent’s prize and which sailed into the Downs under convoy in May 1761.

And, far from travelling home to England himself, Lindsay appears to be fully occupied elsewhere. In the early summer of 1761, the Trent captured a French slave ship off the coast of Guinea-Bissau and brought her into Bunce Island, off Sierra Leone.

On 31st October, he brought two prizes into port at Kingston, Jamaica, a Dutch schooner and a sloop richly laden with indigo, which he took near Haiti. And, there is one further pressing reason why John Lindsay must have been present on the island of Jamaica around May 1761.