Singleton, Henry; The Pastor's Fireside: The family of Sir Thomas Acland, 10th Bt, Being Read to by the Vicar of Silverton; National Trust, Killerton

Infamy, scandals and heroines in the Georgian era: read on to discover more…

This is a little extra blog as, for those who have not yet read our books, we would like to let you know of not one, not two, but THREE money-saving offers across our titles; one of our books is now less than £1.

First, our publisher Pen & Sword is offering a ‘buy 2 get 1 free’ deal when you buy An Infamous Mistress, A Right Royal Scandal and our latest title, A Georgian Heroine together, saving an incredible £19.99. This offer comes with free UK P&P too, and you can take advantage by clicking here.

Buy 2 get 1 free. For a limited time save £19.99 when you buy all three of our books together in hardback from Pen & Sword. Plus, free UK P&P too.

If you prefer eBooks, then Pen & Sword are also offering An Infamous Mistress (in ePub and Kindle format) for just £4.99.

A View of Paris from the Pont Neuf by Nicolas-Jean-Baptiste Raguenet, 1763, Getty Museum (image via Wikimedia Commons)
A View of Paris from the Pont Neuf by Nicolas-Jean-Baptiste Raguenet, 1763, Getty Museum (image via Wikimedia Commons)

And, for just 99p, you can download A Right Royal Scandal, again via Pen & Sword, as and ePub or Kindle book.

Amazon UK are also offering A Right Royal Scandal for 99p, or, for readers in the US, it is on offer for just 99¢. It is also reduced in both Canada and Australia.

View of the west side of Berkeley Square; a carriage driving away from the viewer on the street, two men on the pavement to the right. 1813 Watercolour © The Trustees of the British Museum
View of the west side of Berkeley Square; a carriage driving away from the viewer on the street, two men on the pavement to the right. 1813 Watercolour © The Trustees of the British Museum

We’re not sure how long the bargain offers on the eBooks are going to be available for, so it’s a case of grab them while you can.

If you take advantage of any of these offers, we’d love to hear from our readers; you can contact us via this blog or find us on Twitter or Facebook. And, if you enjoyed reading, please do consider leaving a review online; it’s the best way you can thank an author.

Our latest book, A Georgian Heroine: the intriguing life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs is out now here in the UK and available to pre-order elsewhere (it’s due for release in the US in May). If you are outside the UK, Wordery is good value and offers free delivery worldwide.

A Georgian Heroine, the bizarre but true story of an astounding woman persevering in a man’s world.

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The Staymaker c.1745; William Hogarth; The Tate

Frith Street, Soho: Mozart’s London Tour

One Wolfgang Mozart, a German Boy, of about eight Years old, is arrived here, who can play upon various sorts of Instruments of Music, in Concert, or Solo, and can compose Music surprisingly; so that he may be reckoned a Wonder at his Age.

The Mozart family made a grand journey around Europe during the 1760s and early 1770s which became a concert tour in which Wolfgang and his elder sister Maria Anna (Nannerl) performed under the supervision of their father.

Portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart playing in Paris with his father Léopold and his sister Maria Anna by Louis Carrogis Carmontelle, 1763, Musée Condé.
Portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart playing in Paris with his father Léopold and his sister Maria Anna by Louis Carrogis Carmontelle, 1763, Musée Condé.

After visiting various German towns, Brussels and then Paris, the Mozarts arrived in London in April 1764. It was something of an impromptu addition to the schedule: the family had not planned on performing in the British capital but after calls to do so after their performances in Paris, they hastily crossed the Channel.

An advertisement for these concerts announced that “the girl, in her twelfth year, and the boy, in his seventh will not only play on the harpsichord or the fortepiano, the former playing the most difficult pieces by the greatest masters, but the boy will also play a concerto on the violin, accompany symphonies on the keyboard and play with the keyboard completely covered by a cloth as well as though he could see the keyboard; he will also name, most accurately, from a distance, any note that may be sounded for him, singly or in chords on the keyboard, or on any conceivable instrument, including bells, glasses or clocks. Finally, he will improvise out of his head, not only on the fortepiano but also on the organ (for as long as anyone wants to listen, and in all the keys, even the most difficult, that he may be asked).”

Leopold wrote that he was ‘in a city that no-one from our Salzburg court has yet dared visit and to which perhaps no-one ever will go in the future’. He had high hopes of making a fortune while in the city but it did not go as planned. The London season was all but over and the nobility were retreating from the capital to their country estates, but Wolfgang appeared before the king and queen and made his debut in the concert rooms at Spring Gardens. Wolfgang and Nannerl then played at Ranelagh and Vauxhall: Leopold was awestruck at the sheer size of London and the multitude of people living in the city. One thing that did not impress Wolfgang’s father was, however, the English weather: Leopold fell ill with a ‘kind of native complaint, which is called a cold’. By the beginning of August, the Mozart family were lodging at a house in Ebury Row, Chelsea so that Leopold could recover in the country.

Childhood of Mozart; Ebenezer Crawford; Jersey Heritage
Childhood of Mozart; Ebenezer Crawford; Jersey Heritage

The London season began again in November and so, in anticipation of that, the family relocated during September back to London and took rooms in the house of Thomas Williamson and his wife, Jane, in Frith Street, Soho.

Frith Street, at the time, was known as Thrift Street and bounded at one end by Monmouth House, beyond which lay Soho Square, or King Square as it was then known. The Williamsons house, no. 15, was a brick built dwelling, three or four storeys high and dating from the 1720s. (Following the demolition of Monmouth House in 1773, the houses on Frith Street were renumbered: no. 15 is no longer standing, but its site is now occupied by no. 20 which is the back of the Prince Edward Theatre and opposite Ronnie Scotts Jazz Club.)

King Square in Soho, looking towards Monmouth House beyond which, to the right of the building, is Frith Street. © The Trustees of the British Museum
King Square in Soho, looking towards Monmouth House beyond which, to the right of the building, is Frith Street.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Thomas Williamson followed the joint and somewhat incongruous professions of staymaker and wax and spermaceti candle chandler, trading as Williamson & Tonson in the latter capacity by 1777.

The Staymaker c.1745; William Hogarth; The Tate
The Staymaker c.1745; William Hogarth; The Tate

Spermaceti candles – made from a waxy substance found in the head cavities of sperm whales – were preferred by those who could afford them as they were odourless: Thomas had royal patronage as two of George III’s younger brothers purchased their candles from him, Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland and Strathearn. A Daniel Williamson in Hull, East Yorkshire appears to have manufactured the candles and sold them from his premises. Possibly he was Thomas’ brother, the two siblings running a joint operation.

Trade receipt of Williamson & Tonson, Wax Chandlers. © The Trustees of the British Museum
Trade receipt of Williamson & Tonson, Wax Chandlers.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

The London season normally began when parliament reconvened but that winter, due to tensions between King George III and his government, the opening was delayed until 10th January, a further setback for the finances of the Mozarts, additionally so when their concerts during the rest of their stay were not as well attended as they had hoped they would be. They performed at private houses and their final public concert was on 13th May 1765: thereafter they continued performances for which the public were charged admission at their rooms in Frith Street until June.

Leopold and Wolfgang Mozart; Royal College of Music
Leopold and Wolfgang Mozart; Royal College of Music

The family left London at the end of July and sailed for France on 1st August 1765. Thomas Williamson continued his joint professions from Frith Street until his death in the summer of 1778. By his will, he left his businesses and stock in trade to his wife and to his son, John.

The blue plaque on the site of the house in Frith Street where Mozart lodged.
The blue plaque on the site of the house in Frith Street where Mozart lodged.

The subject of our latest biography, Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs owned two houses on Frith Street in the early 1800s, inherited from her father. They stood about where Ronnie Scott’s is, so opposite the house in which Mozart had lodged. A relation had lived on Frith Street in the 1780s, so it is entirely possible that our Mrs Biggs had heard tales of the child prodigy’s stay in Soho from someone who had personally known the Williamson family.

Sources:

Oxford Journal, 23rd February 1765

Newcastle Chronicle, 14th May 1768

Mozart, Stanley Sadie, Oxford University Press, 2006

National Archives, PROB 11/1041/84

Eastern Promise: Mughal India and the East India Company

We never initially set out to research Mughal India and the East India Company (EIC) but, time and time again, the people we were looking at took us east. It all started with the eighteenth-century courtesan, Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s family. Grace had a brother and three male cousins who all ventured to India in different capacities with the EIC. Perhaps best known of these is Colonel John (Jack) Mordaunt, who has been captured for posterity in the middle of a cock match against Asaf-ud-daula, Nawab Wazir of Oudh. Mordaunt, a keen cock-fighter, had imported birds from Europe which he thought were superior to those of the Nawab’s.

Colonel Mordaunt's Cock Match c.1784-6 by Johan Zoffany. The Tate.
Colonel Mordaunt’s Cock Match c.1784-6 by Johan Zoffany. The Tate.

And as well as her male cousins out in India, Grace also had two female cousins – sisters – who travelled to the country on an ultimately successful husband-hunting trip. The EIC was concerned about its officers taking Indian women as wives and adopting Mughal dress and habits. In an effort to stem this, they encouraged British girls and young women to embark on ships for an Indian adventure and to provide suitable marriage material.

A Sale of English Beauties in the East Indies. © The Trustees of the British Museum
A Sale of English Beauties in the East Indies. © The Trustees of the British Museum

You can find more on Grace and her relations, who travelled the globe, in An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott.

Our second book, A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History, looks at the ancestors of the British royal family, specifically Anne Wellesley, her second husband Lord Charles Bentinck and their son, the Reverend Charles Cavendish Bentinck but, first, we examined Anne’s background. She was the daughter of Richard Colley Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley (the Duke of Wellington’s older brother) and Hyacinthe Gabrielle Rolland, a Parisian opera dancer whom the marquess fell in love with as a young man. Richard was posted to India as Governor-General but Hyacinthe Gabrielle, chronically afraid of the sea voyage, refused to accompany him, a decision which would ultimately lead to the break-up of their marriage.

A Cheetah Hunt in Lord Wellesley's Park at Barrackpore by Charles D'Oyley, 1802, British Library, India Collection.
A Cheetah Hunt in Lord Wellesley’s Park at Barrackpore by Charles D’Oyley, 1802, British Library, India Collection.

And so we come to our latest book, A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs. Charlotte, as our heroine preferred to be known, fell in love when she was only sixteen years of age with a young lad who left her behind when he sailed to India in search of adventure, subsequently joining the EIC as a junior officer and rising to become a general and a baronet. This man, Sir David Ochterlony, remained Charlotte’s one true love throughout all her many adventures and exploits. Towards the end of their lives, David and Charlotte once again reached out to each other, albeit by letter and from one side of the globe to the other. Ochterlony, like so many before him, had ‘gone native’, dressing in flowing Mughal robes and smoking a hookah pipe while sitting cross-legged on his diwan, watching dancing girls. He could be spotted each evening with his multiple Indian wives, each atop an elephant as they perambulated around Delhi. Did Charlotte dare to dream that the only man she had ever loved would return to England to claim her, in her dotage?

Major-General Sir David Ochterlony (1758-1825), Soldier by Arthur William Devis; National Galleries of Scotland.
Major-General Sir David Ochterlony (1758-1825), Soldier by Arthur William Devis; National Galleries of Scotland.

If you’d like to discover more about Charlotte, all is revealed in our book. A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs is out now in the UK (and coming soon worldwide) and can be found at Pen & Sword, Amazon and all good bookshops.

 Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs lived an incredible life, one which proved that fact is often much stranger than fiction. As a young woman she endured a tortured existence at the hands of a male tormentor, but emerged from that to reinvent herself as a playwright and author; a political pamphleteer and a spy, working for the British Government and later singlehandedly organising George III’s jubilee celebrations. Trapped in France during the revolutionary years of 1792-95, she published an anonymous account of her adventures. However, was everything as it seemed? The extraordinary Mrs Biggs lived life upon her own terms in an age when it was a man’s world, using politicians as her mouthpiece in the Houses of Parliament and corresponding with the greatest men of the day. Throughout it all though, she held on to the ideal of her one youthful true love, a man who abandoned her to her fate and spent his entire adult life in India. Who was this amazing lady?

In A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs, we delve into her life to reveal her accomplishments and lay bare Mrs Biggs’ continued re-invention of herself. This is the bizarre but true story of an astounding woman persevering in a man’s world.

Featured image

Colonel Mordaunt and Nawab Asaf al-Daula of Oudh at a Cock Fight, Company School, Patna, circa 1840, after Richard Earlom’s mezzotint of Zoffany’s ‘Col. Mordaunt’s Cock Match’, via Sotheby’s website.

Cuper’s Gardens, Lambeth’s pleasure ground

Cuper’s Gardens were described as a ‘scene of low dissipation… noted for its fireworks, and the great resort of the profligate of both sexes’. Opened in the late 17th century, they were pleasure gardens (and later a tea garden) in Lambeth on the Thames shoreline and named after Abraham Boydell Cuper, the original proprietor of the land which he leased from Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel (Cuper was the earl’s gardener). In the early days, the site was also known as Cupid’s Gardens.

Last Monday in the Evening, a Gentleman dropt down dead at Cupid’s Gardens, just as he was going to drink a Glass of Wine, having the Glass in his Hand.

Stamford Mercury, 21st May 1724

The ‘Georgian Heroine’ of our latest book, Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs, was born in the early 1760s and grew up in a house on Narrow Wall in Lambeth, close by Cuper’s Gardens, but this was after its days as a pleasure ground. Instead, Charlotte knew the land as a scene of industry, the once ornate grounds dominated by a vinegar and ‘mimicked wine’ factory owned by Mark Beaufoy who was a great friend to the Williams family. No doubt Charlotte heard the tales of the great entertainments which had taken place at Cuper’s Gardens, though.

Here are pleasant Walks and Places of great Report, particularly Cuper’s Garden, Spring-Garden, and Lambeth Wells, where they drink the purging Waters. Here, in the fine Season of the Year, a Multitude of young people from London divert themselves; and there is every Evening Musick, Dancing, &c.

The guests to the gardens even included royalty, for Frederick, Prince of Wales was known to occasionally frequent them. (Frederick, the heir to the throne, predeceased his father, King George II whom he was famously at loggerheads with.)

Frederick, Prince of Wales, and his sisters by Philippe Mercier; National Portrait Gallery, London.
Frederick, Prince of Wales, and his sisters by Philippe Mercier; National Portrait Gallery, London.

From 1738 until 1740 Cuper’s Gardens were owned by a man named Ephraim Evans who improved them by installing a bandstand from which he offered concerts in the evening; after his death his widow, Nem became the proprietor. Nem Evans was described as ‘a woman of discretion’ and ‘a well-looking comely person’ and she played the hostess behind the bar during the musical entertainments. Under her direction, the gardens continued their heyday, for a time at least.

We hear that at Cuper’s Gardens last Night, among several favourite Pieces of Musick, Mr Handell’s Fire Musick, with the Fireworks, as originally perform’d in the Opera of Atalanta, was received with great Applause by a numerous Audience.

London Daily Post, 10th July 1741

Map showing Cuper's Gardes, 1746. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
Map showing Cuper’s Gardens, 1746. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

There is every Evening a very great Resort of Company at Cuper’s Gardens. The extraordinary Fireworks, which are almost every Night different, are allow’d to excel all that ever were before exhibited in this Kingdom.

Daily Advertiser, 3rd June 1743

View of the Savoy, Somerset House and the Water Entrance to Cuper's Garden (bottom right). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
View of the Savoy, Somerset House and the Water Entrance to Cuper’s Garden (bottom right). Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

On Monday next will be opened CUPER-GARDENS, kept by the Widow Evans; where there are great Alterations and Decorations in an elegant manner, and hopes the Continuance of the Favours of her Friends and Acquaintance, who may depend upon good Entertainment of all sorts, with a good Band of Musick, and Fireworks, with great Improvements; and the Bowling Green is in good Order.

General Advertiser, 4th May 1744

On the 1st May 1749, the gardens opened for the summer season with a recreation of the temple and fireworks which had been seen at Green Park to celebrate the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle.

A Perspective View of the Building for the Fireworks in the Green Park, Taken from the Reservoir, 1749. Yale Center for British Art, Yale Art Gallery Collection.
A Perspective View of the Building for the Fireworks in the Green Park, Taken from the Reservoir, 1749. Yale Center for British Art, Yale Art Gallery Collection.

The extravagant fireworks came at something of a cost, however, and accidents did occur.

On Monday Morning, as four Men were preparing the Fire-works to be exhibited in the Evening at Cuper’s Gardens, the Powder by some Accident took fire, and two or three of the Men were much hurt by the Explosion.

Remembrancer, 2nd June 1750

The Licensing Act came into effect in 1752 and Nem Evans was refused a licence for Cuper’s Gardens on the grounds – which she disputed – that the gardens were no longer ‘respectable’. In the summer of 1753, she reopened them as a tea garden and held occasional private evening entertainments for subscribers.

I dined the other day with a lady of quality, who told me she was going that evening to see the ‘finest fireworks!’ at Marybone. I said fireworks was a very odd refreshment for this sultry weather; that, indeed, Cuper’s-gardens had been once famous for this summer entertainment; but then his fireworks were so well understood, and conducted with so superior an understanding, that they never made their appearance to the company till they had been well cooled, by being drawn through a long canal of water, with the same kind of refinement that the Eastern people smoke their tobacco through the same medium.”—Warburton to Hurd, July 9th, 1753.

By the time of Nem Evans’ death in July 1760, the gardens had closed for good. She was buried alongside her husband in the churchyard of St Mary’s, Newington and changes were soon afoot in her former pleasure ground.

It is said a new Street is going to be made from one End of Cuper’s Gardens to the other, and that each House will have a pretty Garden behind it.

St James’s Chronicle, 17th June 1761

Entrance to Cuper's Gardens, North Lambeth, c. 1750. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
Entrance to Cuper’s Gardens, North Lambeth, c. 1750. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

They have for some time been cutting down the Trees in Cuper’s Gardens, in order to build a handsome Street upon that Spot.

Public Advertiser, 11th March 1762

In the 1740s, Mark Beaufoy had established a vinegar and ‘mimicked wines’ distillery near his three-storey house at Cuper’s Bridge Lambeth and, following the closure of the adjoining pleasure ground, he took on the lease, expanding his business.

Beaufoy's Distillery in Cuper's Gardens, c.1798
Beaufoy’s Distillery in Cuper’s Gardens, c.1798

There is a magnificence of business, in this ocean of sweets and sours, that cannot fail exciting the greatest admiration: whether we consider the number of vessels or their size. The boasted tun at Heydelberg does not surpass them. On first entering the yard, two rise before you, covered at the top with a thatched dome; between them is a circular turret, including a winding staircase, which brings you to their summits, which are above 24ft in diameter. One of these conservatories is full of sweet wine and contains 58,109 gallons; or 1,815 barrels of Winchester measure. Its superb associate is full of vinegar, to the amount of 56,799 gallons, or 1,774 barrels, of the same standard as the former.

Besides these, is an avenue of lesser vessels… After quitting this Brobdignagian scene, we pass to the acres covered with common barrels: we cannot diminish our ideas so suddenly, but at first we imagined we could quaff them off as easily as Gulliver did the little hogsheads of the kingdom of Lilliput.

Beaufoy's Vinegar Works, Cuper's Gardens, Lambeth by Charles Tomkins, c.1800.
Beaufoy’s Vinegar Works, Cuper’s Gardens, Lambeth by Charles Tomkins, c.1800.

In 1813, part of Cuper’s Gardens was bought for the construction of what is now Waterloo Bridge Road and the Beaufoys relocated to land off Walnut Tree Walk.

We’ll leave you with a little premonition of the future, which was displayed in Cuper’s Gardens.

Mr Moore’s undertaking to make carriages go without horses, having engrossed a large share of public attention, a Correspondent assures us, that something of the same nature was done several years ago by Mr Arthur, the comedian, who constructed a chariot, which went of itself several times up and down the Mall in St James’s Park; and that a person at Trowbridge also contrived a waggon to go without horses, which was shewn to many hundreds of people in Cuper’s-gardens, and for some little time afforded great satisfaction; but one of the springs breaking, the whole machine became disordered, and the mob at length broke it all to pieces.

Kentish Gazette, 12th April 1769

A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs is available now in the UK and coming soon worldwide and is available from Pen & Sword, Amazon and all good bookshops.

Featured image: View of Beaufoy’s Distillery, formerly Cuper’s Gardens; the site of the Waterloo Bridge Road; a large warehouse on the left with barrels piled up outside, 1809. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Sources not referenced above:

Will of Nem Evans, widow of Lambeth, PROB 11/857/434, National Archives

A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers, and Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800: Eagan to Garrett, Philip H. Highfill, Kalman A. Burnim, Edward A. Langhans, SIU Press, 1978

Le guide des etrangers: on le compagnon necessaire & instructif à l’etranger & au naturel du pays en faisant le tour des villes des Londres et de Westminstre. Joseph Pote, 1740

Handbook of London: past and present, Volume 1, Peter Cunningham, J. Murray, 1849

Beaufoys of Lambeth by David Thomas and Hugh Marks, Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society

London: Being an Accurate History and Description of the British Metropolis and Its Neighbourhood, to Thirty Miles Extent, from an Actual Perambulation, Volume 4, David Hughson, 1807

Cuper’s Gardens, John Cresswell, Vauxhall History online archive

London; or, An abridgement of the celebrated Pennant’s description of the British capital and its environs, John Wallis, 1790

Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs: A Georgian Heroine

We’re celebrating the release of our third biography, A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs which is out now in the UK (and coming soon worldwide) and can be found at Pen & Sword, Amazon and all good bookshops.

"A remarkable story, beautifully told." A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs.

It has been an immense pleasure to research Charlotte’s life even if, at times, she has frustrated us beyond measure. Her almost pathological desire to remain anonymous in her lifetime tested our abilities to the limit, but we rarely admit defeat and eventually we managed to piece together Charlotte’s story. And what a story it is!

If we had written her life as a novel, we’d probably have been accused of being too far-fetched but – amazingly – Charlotte’s story is all true, in parts tragically so but she triumphed over her adversities, continually adapted to her circumstances and succeeded in the most audacious ways possible.

Three eldest princesses by Thomas Gainsborough. Royal Collection Trust
Three eldest princesses by Thomas Gainsborough. Royal Collection Trust. Charlotte came to the attention of the royal princesses.

We are also delighted to have finally given Charlotte ownership of her voice which, while it was heard during her lifetime across the country and in establishments ranging from the Houses of Parliament to royal palaces, was always heard anonymously, or at least so discreetly that the public at large were unaware of Charlotte’s identity. Because of this, she has been overlooked by history and her achievements remain largely unrecorded and, in some cases, wrongly ascribed to other women of her generation. Now we can finally put the record straight with the release of A Georgian Heroine.

 Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs lived an incredible life, one which proved that fact is often much stranger than fiction. As a young woman she endured a tortured existence at the hands of a male tormentor, but emerged from that to reinvent herself as a playwright and author; a political pamphleteer and a spy, working for the British Government and later singlehandedly organising George III’s jubilee celebrations. Trapped in France during the revolutionary years of 1792-95, she published an anonymous account of her adventures. However, was everything as it seemed? The extraordinary Mrs Biggs lived life upon her own terms in an age when it was a man’s world, using politicians as her mouthpiece in the Houses of Parliament and corresponding with the greatest men of the day. Throughout it all though, she held on to the ideal of her one youthful true love, a man who abandoned her to her fate and spent his entire adult life in India. Who was this amazing lady?

In A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs, we delve into her life to reveal her accomplishments and lay bare Mrs Biggs’ continued re-invention of herself. This is the bizarre but true story of an astounding woman persevering in a man’s world.

Featured image: Hotwells and Rownham Ferry by William Williams; Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives. Charlotte lived in Bristol in later life.

Bude Haven by Joseph Stannard.

The Ringers of Launcells Tower

The Ringers of Launcells Tower; Frederick Smallfield. This painting was inspired by a poem called 'The Ringers of Launcells Tower' by Reverend Hawker of Morwenstow. The bell ringers who had rung the bells at the accession of George III in 1760, were still alive and able to ring the bells on his Golden Jubilee in 1810. The church of Launcells is midway between Stratton and Bude. As the painting was done 77 years after George III's Golden Jubilee, it is a reconstruction.
The Ringers of Launcells Tower; Frederick Smallfield; Royal Institution of Cornwall

We came across this piece of art whilst researching the heroine of our latest book, Mrs Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs. The painting was inspired by a poem called ‘The Ringers of Launcells Tower’ that was written, some decades after the event, by Reverend Hawker of Morwenstow and which we thought we would share with you.

Reverend Hawker of Morwenstow in 1864, who wrote a poem called ‘The Ringers of Launcells Tower’.

The Ringers of Launcells

They rang at the Accession of George the Third and lived to ring again at the fiftieth anniversary of his reign.

They meet once more! That ancient band –

With furrowed cheek and failing hand, –

One peal today they fain must ring

The Jubilee of England’s King!

*************

They meet once more – but changed are now

The sinewy arm and laughing brow:

The strength that hail’d in former times

King George the third with lusty chimes!

*************

Yet proudly gaze on that lone tower!

No goodlier sight hath hall or bower, –

Meekly they strive – and closing day

Gilds with soft light their locks of gray!

*************

Hark! Proudly hark! With that true tone

They welcomed Him to Land and Throne,

So ere they die they fain would ring

The Jubilee of England’s King!

*************

Hearts of old Cornwall! Fare ye well,

Fast fade such scenes from field and dell,

How wilt thou lack, my own dear land,

Those trusty arms, that faithful band!

*************

Launcells is a rural hamlet between Stratton and Bude in Cornwall where, during the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century, there lived six bell ringers. The six men are identified as John Lyle (1736-1832), Richard Hayman (1739-1816), John Ham (1742-1825), Richard Venning (1744-?), Henry Cade and John Allen.

Stratton by Charles Henry Branscombe
Stratton by Charles Henry Branscombe; Bude-Stratton Town Council

John Lyle was the longest living member of the group and was born and bred in Launcells and remained there his entire life. He was reputed to have rung a merry peal for King George III’s coronation in 1760, then again for his golden Jubilee in 1810, then for the coronation of King George IV in 1821 and, as unlikely as it seems, also for the coronation of King William IV in 1831, just one year before he died at the ripe old age of 96. That was quite some achievement. Two others also lived long enough to join John Lyle in ringing the peals for George IV’s coronation, Richard Hayman and John Ham.

George III (1738-1820) by Allan Ramsay
George III (1738-1820) by Allan Ramsay; City of London Corporation

The only other member we managed to find out anything about was John Ham who began his working life as an apprentice cooper to the Lyle family in 1754 and who married Anna Maria Lisle in 1761 at the parish church in Launcells.

The painting was a reconstruction of the scene as Frederick Smallfield imagined it would have looked, depicting the six bell ringers ringing the bells as part of the celebrations for the golden jubilee of King George III. It was clearly important to Smallfield that he captured everything correctly so he studied bell ringers at his local church as well as visiting the church tower in Launcells.

Bude Haven by Joseph Stannard.
Bude Haven, Cornwall by Joseph Stannard; Newport Museum and Art Gallery

We know that great celebrations were held across the country to celebrate the jubilee of King George III in 1809 as it was our very own heroine who instigated them. References to this painting seem to confirm though that the bell ringing took place in 1810, i.e. at the end of King George III’s 50th year on the throne.

Three eldest princesses by Thomas Gainsborough. Royal Collection Trust

A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs – cover reveal

We’re massively excited to reveal the cover for our next book A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs which is due to be published later this year, again by Pen & Sword Books. It is now available to pre-order via Pen & Swords Books or Amazon and all other bookshops.
A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden

Rachel or Charlotte as she preferred to be known, really has tested our detective skills as she spent her life ‘under the radar’ despite everything she actually achieved in life and remained something of an enigma.

Lambeth Palace and St Mary's Church with St Paul's by William Marlow
Lambeth Palace and St Mary’s Church with St Paul’s by William Marlow; Government Art Collection

This book really has been a long time in the writing, as every time we thought we had found out all there was to know about her, Charlotte threw us another snippet, as if from nowhere, and off we disappeared again down yet another rabbit hole.

Putney Bridge and Village from Fulham, London
Putney Bridge and Village from Fulham, London; Museum of London

We thought we would share with you a little about how we came across Charlotte and what a complete nightmare and joy she has proved to be. We have gone through so many emotions we can’t begin to describe whilst piecing together her life.

Briton Ferry, Glamorgan by Julius Caesar Ibbetson
Briton Ferry, Glamorgan by Julius Caesar Ibbetson; Tate

Whilst researching Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s life (for our first book, An Infamous Mistress) we came across Charlotte’s name in connection with the home of one of Grace’s relatives. Our first thought was that it was a vaguely interesting snippet of information and perhaps worth, at the very most, a paragraph in Grace’s book, but absolutely nothing more than that.

An Account of the Celebration of George III's Jubilee in 1809

We then came across Charlotte’s ‘Testament’, her version of events that took place during her teenage years. At this point we knew her full life story needed to be told – she would either be immensely proud or absolutely furious that we haven’t left her to rest in peace (probably the former, if we’re honest).

Covent Garden Theatre from Microcosm of London, courtesy of British Library
Covent Garden Theatre from Microcosm of London, courtesy of British Library

At first, we couldn’t decide whether her Testament was a work of fiction or a factual account of shocking events that took place during her teenage years. We debated for months about her, swaying from completely believing her account, to thinking it was mere fiction as it read so much like a tragic Samuel Richardson novel.

Hotwells and Rownham Ferry by William Williams; Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives
Hotwells and Rownham Ferry by William Williams; Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives

I (Sarah) was less convinced than Jo that she was telling the truth, but the more we uncovered the more persuaded I became that the majority of it was true, too many of the facts checked out for it to be fiction.

House of Commons from Microcosm of London. Courtesy of the British Library
House of Commons from Microcosm of London. Courtesy of the British Library

So, with that one part of her life pieced together, in our usual detective fashion we simply had to find out more, where did she come from and what happened to her after this shocking ordeal? So off we went, desperate to find the missing pieces of the jigsaw.

The Conciergerie, Paris, by Henry Edridge,. Courtesy of The Yale Center for British Art
The Conciergerie, Paris, by Henry Edridge,. Courtesy of The Yale Center for British Art

What we discovered about her was far from anything we could ever have imagined. After a horrendous ordeal, she completely reinvented herself.

The York to London Coach at Bedale, c.1840; The British Postal Museum
The York to London Coach at Bedale by Anson Ambrose Martin; The British Postal Museum & Archive; c1840 (not quite Georgian)

We came across Professor Linda Colley’s book ‘Britons: Forging The Nation 1707-1837’ in which our heroine gets a mention. Colley describes her as:

an obscure, middle-class widow from the Welsh border’

From the Welsh borders – almost true. Obscure – well perhaps, she shunned the limelight, not that limelight was easy to achieve at that time for a woman. Middle class – probably. A widow – well, that’s another mystery which we’ll reveal in our book!

Rather than tell you more about the story itself we have included rather a lot of what appear to be random images, for which we offer no explanation, apart from to say that if you read the book they will make sense to you.

Louis XVI of France bids his farewell to the people of Paris, 1793. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Louis XVI of France bids his farewell to the people of Paris, 1793. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images

Charlotte was in fact, the instigator of our ‘All Things Georgian‘ blog as we needed to find somewhere to store pieces of information we had found about her, so we have been writing about events in Charlotte’s life in a variety of blogs for quite some time now as we’ve pieced together her life, these include:

Reverend William Dodd

‘Clarissa’ and ‘ Pamela’ by Samuel Richardson

Countess Leonor D’Oeynhausen (1750-1839)

Rolinda Sharples (1793-1838)

Helen Maria Williams

Arabella Williams – Le Petit Matelot

Robert Carpenter, Drury Lane actor

Rehab for 18th-century prostitutes – The Magdalen Hospital

The Dunston Pillar: celebrating the 50 year reign of King George III

Finally, to whet your appetite we’ll leave you with the back of the jacket.

A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden

Header image: The three eldest princesses by Thomas Gainsborough. Royal Collection Trust.