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

Tom Weston of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

Alas! Poor Tom has tumbled off the perch,

And left his gay Thalia in the lurch;

Once high he stood upon the comic pinnacle,

But when he slipp’d fell – Scrub – Sneak – Last – and Binnacle

(Epitaph to Tom Weston)

Thomas Weston was an actor/comedian who graced the stage of the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane but so much of his life seems to be told in tall tales that he has, to a certain extent, remained a man of mystery. Two facts are certain, however. That he was a great comedic actor is unquestionable, as is the fact that he was a larger than life character.

Mr Weston and Mr Garrick in the characters of Scrub and Archer in The Stratagem, 1771. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Mr Weston and Mr Garrick in the characters of Scrub and Archer in The Stratagem, 1771. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Tom was born in 1737, the son of a man who was a cook to the court of George II. Shortly after Tom’s death, his Memoir was published, by an anonymous author. In this Memoir, his father is named as Thomas Weston. However, the only man with the surname Weston who was the cook to the king, and who appears on the lists of office holders at court, is a Charles Weston. There appear to be two possible baptisms in existence; the first took place on 31st August 1737, at St Paul’s, Covent Garden with the parents named as Thomas and Elizabeth and the second on 16th October 1737, at St James, Westminster, son of Charles and Elizabeth.

If he was the son of Thomas and Elizabeth, the parish records of St Paul, Covent Garden show burials for both parents, Elizabeth on 22nd January 1755, wife of Thomas, and then Thomas’s burial on the 24th September 1757 (though Tom’s Memoirs suggest his father was alive after this date). We theorize that Tom Weston’s father was actually Charles Weston.

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

Charles Weston started off as a kitchen boy in the king’s kitchen in 1724, rising to the position of master cook to King George II in the same establishment thirty years later. A tale about Mr Weston the master cook is told in The Table Book or Daily Recreation and Information: concerning remarkable men, manners, times, seasons, solemnities, merry-makings, antiquities and novelties, forming a complete history of the year, 1827.

The Royal Table

Origin of Making the King’s Dishes with the Cook’s Names

King George II was accustomed every other year to visit his German dominions with the greater part of the officers of his household and especially those belonging to the kitchen. Once on his passage at sea, his first cook was so ill with the sea-sickness, that he could not hold up his head to dress his majesty’s dinner; this being told to the king, he was exceedingly sorry for it, as he was famous for making a Rhenish soup, which his majesty was very fond of; he therefore ordered inquiry to be made among the assistant-cooks, if any of them could make the above soup. One named Weston (father of Tom Weston, the player) undertook it, and so pleased the king, that he declared it was full as good as that made by the first cook. Soon after the king’s return to England, the first cook died; when the king was informed of it, he said, that his steward of the household always appointed his cooks, but that he would now name one for himself, and therefore asking if one Weston was still in the kitchen, and being answered that he was, “That man,” said he, “shall be my first cook, for her makes the most excellent Rhenish soup.”  This favour begot envy among all the servants, so that, when any dish was found fault with, they used to say it was Weston’s dressing: the king took notice of this, and said to the servants, it was very extraordinary, that every dish he disliked should happen to be Weston’s; “in future,” said he, “let every dish be marked with the name of the cook that makes it.”  By this means the king detected their arts, and from that time Weston’s dishes pleased him most. The custom has continued ever since, and is still practised at the king’s table.

In 1754 Mr Weston obtained the position of turnbroach for his son in the palace kitchen, which entailed turning the spit on which meat or poultry was roasting, a lowly position but one which was actually executed by a deputy. The position paid £30 a year and, of this, the deputy was paid some £7 or £8. Tom Weston seems to have lucratively retained this position until his death. It is also reported that he was made under-clerk to the clerk of the kitchen and sailed, with his father and the royal household to Holland on the way to Hanover. George II made his last visit to Hanover in April 1755, returning in the September of that year, so if Tom did indeed travel with his household this must have been the date of his trip.

King George II (1683-1760) by John Shackleton, c.1750; Government Art Collection
King George II (1683-1760) by John Shackleton, c.1750; Government Art Collection

Back home Tom spent most of his time frequenting the local public houses and theatres. Soon he was dismissed from his position of under-clerk for misbehaviour and sent to sea as a midshipman instead (as his father was determined to keep him from the stage). Samuel Foote, the actor, playwright and theatre manager, recalled that Weston was placed aboard the Warspite under the command of Sir John Bentley and, as Bentley took command of this ship in 1759, so this must be the date of young Tom’s short-lived naval career.

Weston’s genius triumphed over his father’s determinations; as soon after he was stationed on board this ship he contrived to run away; and being afraid to meet his father after this conduct, he entered into one of the strolling companies of the north, where he experienced all those strange vicissitudes of life which are so peculiarly incident to that situation.

Tom enlisted a friend in the war office to help him escape from the Warspite. This friend was persuaded to write to him whilst the ship was docked in Long Reach on the Suffolk coast before it sailed for Portsmouth, sealing the letter with an official seal, telling Tom that there was an army commission waiting for him in London. Sir John Bentley allowed Tom to go to London, bidding him to return if he did not obtain the commission. There was no commission but Tom did not return. Instead, he travelled with several acting troops before setting off for London where the Covent Garden and Drury Lane actors Ned Shuter and Richard Yates had taken booths at the Bartholomew Fair, which began every year on the 24th August and ran for two weeks. Tom engaged to play with them.

t Bartholomew's Fair, Smithfield, London; British School; 18th century; Museum of London
St Bartholomew’s Fair, Smithfield, London; Museum of London

From a booth in the George Inn yard, Shuter put on, in 1759, The French Flogg’d: or the English Sailors in America, a piece based on The Tempest. Yates had his own booth that year in the Greyhound Inn Yard where he put on a similar piece, The Ship-Wreck’d Lovers; or, French Perfidy Punished, ‘Interspersed with the comical and diverting Humours and Adventures of Lieutenant Fireball, a true English Tar; Noddy Nestlecock, a distress’d Beau; Snivel Thimble, a Taylor; Split-farthing, an old Userer; and Glisterpipe, a Finical Surgeon. Both were eminently suitable for a former young midshipman to take to the stage in. A friend got Tom an engagement with Samuel Foote and he made his first appearance on the London stage on the 28th September 1759, to the despair of his father, playing Sir Francis Gripe in Susannah Centilevre’s The Busy Body at the Haymarket. His next appearance in London was on the 28th June 1760, playing in Samuel Foote’s The Minor, and it is possible he returned to the strolling troop playing the provinces in the interim.

Samuel Foote and Thomas Weston in 'The Devil Upon Two Sticks' by Foote, Haymarket Theatre, 1768.
Samuel Foote and Thomas Weston in ‘The Devil Upon Two Sticks’ by Foote, Haymarket Theatre, 1768 (grisaille copy c.1769 after Johann Zoffany by John Finlayson); The Holburne Museum

Reputedly, he now met and married a young lady who was a milliner in the Haymarket. This unnamed lady was encouraged by Tom to take to the stage too, appearing as Lucy in The Minor. Mr and Mrs Weston travelled the provinces, returning to London to play Jerry Sneak at the Haymarket. A sojourn at Dublin (without great success) followed and then Tom was hired at Drury Lane where he was paid £3 a week.

His wife, if indeed she was so far no proof of a marriage has yet been found, had departed: she and Tom had argued whilst on tour in Wiltshire with Johnson’s Company and she took up with another actor, a Mr Price with whom she had several children, and she died around 1774 in Sunderland whilst on tour.

Tom, back in London, lived in St James’s Street above a glass shop with a lady named Miss Lee during a short-lived liaison which reputedly saw her debut on stage at the Haymarket as Cherry in The Beaux’ Stratagem. She was mentioned in the 1773 edition of Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies.

Miss Lee. Glass Shop, St. James’s-street

“Doats upon the silliest things.”

This lady had a connexion with a comedian of Drury-lane, which has lately been broke off, for what cause we cannot say, and madam now depends upon the generous public for support; but she is not unacquainted with the business, she is only returned to her old calling. She is a pretty black girl, about the middle size, with remarkable find dark eyes and hair. Her skin is very good, a little pock-marked, and not a bad companion.

She has performed two or three little characters at Foote’s and came off decently; and ’tis said she intends to take up with the stage, and live honest:- Very honestly intended; but we are afraid it is not a school to cause such a happy reformation.

Always short of cash, Tom was perpetually chased by creditors and, to evade them, often missed rehearsals and even performances, behaviour which led to his discharge from the theatre but Samuel Foote stepped in to help, starting a subscription among the nobility to pay Tom’s debts and taking Tom with him to Edinburgh at £5 a week.

The actor, playwright and theatre manager, Samuel Foote by Jean François Colson, 1769; National Portrait Gallery, London
Samuel Foote by Jean François Colson, 1769; National Portrait Gallery, London

At this time, Tom’s boon companion was Dick Hughes, brother to Mrs Elizabeth Steele (who was the confidante of the actress Sophia Baddeley). Dick was, apparently, famed for being able to hop upon one leg for an hour without changing and able to scale a brick wall with ease, a trick which got him in and out of the King’s Bench prison where he was often held for debt. When Tom was drunk he was inclined to be saucy and to get himself into trouble; Dick Hughes was the one to pacify the situation before it came to blows.

On one night Tom and Dick had been out at The Black Lion tavern and were returning home in the early hours of the morning, rolling drunk, when they met two women, described in Tom’s Memoirs as ‘a couple of Dulcineas, whose garb did not promise any great things.’  Tom feeling amorous, they followed the women to their lodgings in Mutton Lane, Holborn, ‘a most desirable situation, being surrounded with dunghills, pig styes, slaughterhouses, and many other equally as agreeable neighbours.’  Tom, when he awoke in the morning, was rather pleased with his conquest for, although she was coarse in manner, she was young, pretty and in the full bloom of health. This girl was named Martha and continued as his lover for the rest of Tom’s life, taking his surname although we doubt there was a marriage.

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

Foote reconciled Tom and the managers of the Drury Lane Theatre and had his wage increased to £5 a week, with a further twenty shillings for the lady who called herself Mrs Weston. Tom was now a habitual drunkard, often appearing on-stage intoxicated but never forgetting his lines. He continued to evade his creditors which led to various adventures in getting to the theatre for his performance.  For one whole season, he entered by the upper dressing room window which he was able to access, unnoticed, via the Tennis Court in St. James. Dick Hughes went ahead of him each time as an advance guard to make sure the coast was clear.

Tom’s drinking took its toll. The Public Advertiser on the 22nd December 1775, reported that The School for Wives, which had been deferred at the Drury Lane Theatre on account of Mr Weston’s illness, would be performed soon after Christmas.

Reports of his death at his lodgings in Newington appeared in the newspapers soon after, but the Morning Chronicle stated on the 3rd January 1776, that:

Mr. Weston, we hear, is not dead; but so dangerously ill, that he is given over by his physicians.

His death is generally acknowledged to have occurred on the 18th January 1776, although the newspapers were giving reports of his passing from the 30th December 1775. Even in the matter of his death, he continues to leave vague reports behind him!

Mr Weston in the character of Dr Last in Samuel Foote's the Devil Upon Two Sticks. The Folger Library
Mr Weston in the character of Dr Last in Samuel Foote’s the Devil Upon Two Sticks. The Folger Library

It was said that, in the days leading up to his death, Tom had drawn up a facetious mock last will and testament. This was vehemently denied by Martha Weston, and a document purporting to be his genuine will was given, one witnessed by his old friend Richard (Dick) Hughes. Richard Hughes also sent a letter to the papers in support of Martha Weston, affirming the truth of this. If this second will was genuine we can, however, find no record of it being proved and it was, after the religious preamble, particularly short and sweet.

First I give and bequeath my all to Martha Weston; and lastly my Scrub’s wig to Ned Shuter.

Thomas Weston

Witness, D. Holdstock, Richard Hughes and Henry Kaylock

For those who are interested, the mock will (which still has people arguing over its authenticity) is given below.

Mr. WESTON’s WILL

One afternoon, a few weeks before Mr. WESTON died, seeing a pen and ink upon the table, he said to a friend who was sitting with him, “If you’ll write for me, I’ll make my will,” which his friend accordingly did, and Tom dictated in the following manner:

I Thomas Weston, comedian, hating all form and ceremony, shall use none to my will, but proceed immediately to the explaining my intentions.

Imprimis. As from Mr. Foote I derived all my consequence in life, and as it is the best thing I am in possession of, I would, in gratitude at my decease, leave it to the said Mr. Foote, but I know he neither stands in need of it as a author, actor, or as a man; the public have fully proved it in the two first, and his good-nature and humanity have secured it to him in the last.

Item. I owe some obligations to Mr. Garrick, I therefore bequeath him all the money I die possessed of, as there is nothing on earth he is so very fond of.

Item. Though I own no obligations to Mr. Harris, yet his having shewn a sincere regard for the performers of his theatre, (by assisting them in their necessities, and yet taking no advantage thereof, by driving a Jew bargain at their signing fresh articles) demands from me, as an actor, some acknowledgement, I therefore leave him the entire possession of that satisfaction which must naturally result on reflecting, that during his management, he has never done any thing base or mean to sully his character as an honest man, or a gentleman.

Item. I having played under the management of Mr. Jefferson, at Richmond, and received from him every politeness, I therefore leave him all my stock of prudence, it being the only good quality I think he stands in need of.

Item. I give to Mr. Reddish a grain of honesty: ’tis indeed a small legacy, but being a rarity to him, I think he will not refuse to accept it.

Item. I leave to Mr. Yates all my spirit.

Item. I leave to Mrs. Yates all my humility.

Item. Upon reflection, I think it wrong to give separate legacies to a man and his wife, therefore I revoke the above bequests, and leave to be enjoyed by them jointly, peace, harmony, and good nature.

Item. Notwithstanding my illness, I think I shall outlive Ned Shuter; if I should not, I had thoughts of leaving him my example how to live, but that I am afraid would be of little use to him, I therefore leave him my example how to die.

Item. I leave Mr. Brereton a small portion of modesty. Too much of one thing is good for nothing.

Item. As Mr. Jacobs has been a long while eagerly waiting for dead mens shoes, I leave him two or three pair, (the worst I have) they being good enough in all conscience for him.

Item. Though the want of vanity be a proof of understanding, yet I would recommend to my old friend Baddeley to make use of a little of the first, though it cost him more than he would willingly pay for it. – It will encrease not only his consequence with the public, but his salary with the managers; but however, should his stomach turn against it, as nauseous, he may use for a succedaneum a small quantity of opinion, and it will answer the purpose as well.

Item. Mr. Quick has long laboured to obtain the applause of the public – the method he has taken is a vague one; the surest method to obtain his end is to copy Nature. – Experientia docet.

Item. Miss Young has had some disputes with the Managers, about dressing her tail, complaining of the want of fringe, as fringe seems to be an absolute requisite in the ornamenting ladies tails, and I always loved to see them as they ought to be; I leave her therefore the fringe about the flaps of my waistcoat, in which I usually played Jerry Sneak.

Item. As I would not forget my friends, particularly old ones, I leave Charles Bannister my portrait, to be taken when I am dead, and to be worn about his neck as a memento to him, that regularity is among the most certain methods to procure health and long life.

Item. Dibble Davis claims something at my hands from the length of our acquaintance, I therefore leave him my constitution; but I am afraid when I die, it will scarcely better than his own.

Item. I leave to the ladies in general, on the stage, (if not the reality, yet) the appearance of modesty; ’twill serve them on more occasions than they are aware of.

Item. To the gentlemen of the stage, some show of prudence.

Item. To the authors of the present times, a smattering of humour.

Item. To the public, a grateful heart.

Here his voice failing him, he told his friend he would finish it as the next day, and bade him put it into his pocket, which he did; but Tom left it, as he did all his promises of amendment, only just begun.

* * * * * * *

Apart from his Memoirs, a short account of Tom’s life was included in the book The Lives of The Players written by John Galt in 1831.

Header image: An Audience at Drury Lane Theatre, undated, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Advertisements

Elopement and the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball

ELOPEMENT IN HIGH LIFE – A young married Lady of rank, and highly distinguished in the fashionable circles by her personal attractions, absconded from the neighbourhood of Berkeley-square, a few days since, in order to throw herself into the arms of a noble gallant, the brother of an English Duke. The fair inconstant had shown a restless disposition for some time before her indiscreet departure, which took place by her going out immediately after breakfast, and walking to a street adjoining the New Road, where Lord ____ awaited her arrival in his gig, ascending which, she was instantly driven off to their amorous retreat, which the afflicted husband, Sir ____, has not yet been able to discover. Lady ____, either from hurry or singular design, went off without a single article of apparel besides the dress she wore. Her Ladyship is only in her 25th year, and in the full bloom of beauty; and the only palliation that can be offered for this indiscreet transfer of her charms, is, that “her mother did so before her!

This salacious titbit of gossip was located in a provincial newspaper, the Bristol Mirror, on the 16th September 1815, on page 4.

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 © 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. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Page 2 of the same issue had a refutation of the allegation, interestingly above one which related to the Duchess of Richmond’s ball held on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo. The two claims, one spurious and one all too true, had something in common which would have been all too obvious to London high society. They both had a link to the Duke of Wellington.

LIES. – The statement of an elopement in high life, inserted in our fourth page (from a London paper) turns out to be UTTERLY FALSE. – The statement of a Female Conspiracy at Brussels, which has appeared in all the papers, and the object of which was said to be to make prisoners of the Duke of Wellington and his staff, at a ball given by the Duchess of Richmond, – is also a COMPLETE FICTION.

While the rumours of a conspiracy at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball might have been false, the former claim was, in fact, all too true. Let’s fill in the blanks on the names.

Lord ____ was Lord Charles Bentinck, younger brother of the 4th Duke of Portland. He was a widower with a young daughter (his first wife had been the former Miss Georgiana Seymour, daughter of the infamous eighteenth-century courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott and – reputedly – the Prince of Wales, later George IV).

The Rt Hon Lord Charles Bentinck as Treasurer of the Royal Household at the coronation of George IV.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

The afflicted husband, Sir ____ was Sir William Abdy, Baronet, reckoned as the richest commoner in England but rumoured to be impotent and unable to satisfy his gregarious young wife. And what of that wife? Lady ___ was, therefore, Lady Anne Abdy, née Wellesley, the daughter of Richard Colley Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley and his Parisian wife, Hyacinthe Gabrielle née Rolland. Although Anne was not exactly doing what ‘her mother [had done] before her’, Hyacinthe Gabrielle had been Wellesley’s mistress for many years before their marriage, and all their children had been born illegitimate. Hyacinthe Gabrielle might, in 1815, have been a marchioness but popular gossip still remembered her reputation as a courtesan.

Portrait of Lady Charles Bentinck (née Wellesley) by Sir Thomas Lawrence c.1825. Philip Mould
Portrait of Lady Charles Bentinck (née Wellesley) by Sir Thomas Lawrence c.1825. Philip Mould Historical Portraits.

Anne was the niece of the great Duke of Wellington who had been at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball in Brussels on the 15th June 1815, when the news that Napoleon Bonaparte was on the march had reached him. He later victoriously commanded the allied forces at the Battle of Waterloo on the 18th June where some of the officers, having not had time to change, fought in the clothes they had been attired in for the Duchess’ ball, and many young men never returned to waltz in a ballroom again.

The Duchess of Richmond's Ball by Robert Hillingford (via Wikimedia).
The Duchess of Richmond’s Ball by Robert Hillingford (via Wikimedia).

Brussels was known to be sympathetic to Bonaparte; a story had spread that Bonaparte suggested to the ladies of Brussels that they should encourage the Duchess of Richmond to hold her ball. It was even rumoured that he had men hidden outside waiting for his arrival only for one of the ladies to give the plot away. These rumours were totally false, the duchess had actually applied to the Duke of Wellington himself, asking his permission to hold her ball as it was known that the French were drawing close to the Belgian capital city.

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence, displayed in the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle. The Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence, displayed in the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle.
The Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Charles and Anne’s elopement, just weeks after the great battle, caused a scandal which set the gossip’s tongues wagging; they had been discussing Wellington’s great victory, now instead they tattled about the marital indiscretions of his niece.

Our book, A Right Royal Scandal: two marriages that changed history, documents the elopement and the ensuing Criminal Conversation trial and divorce. It follows the family through to the next generation when Charles and Anne’s eldest son made a marriage which was equally scandalous, if for different reasons.

And why a Right Royal Scandal? Because this is a branch of the British royal family’s tree, ancestors of Queen Elizabeth II, one which has not been researched in-depth before.

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

 

 

The actor and theatre manager David Garrick as Shakespeare's Richard III by William Hogarth, c.1745.

The Shakespeare Jubilee of 1769

Between the 6th and 8th of September 1769, the town of Stratford-upon-Avon held the first jubilee celebration commemorating the life of the great playwright, William Shakespeare. The event was organised by David Garrick, who was both an actor and the manager of the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, Covent Garden. Garrick had portrayed many of Shakespeare’s best-known characters on the stages of London and of Dublin and so was invited to dedicate a statue of the bard at the new town hall: Garrick had other ideas however and turned the event into a three-day spectacular.

The actor and theatre manager David Garrick in His Regalia as Steward of Stratford Jubilee, 1769 by Benjamin Vandergucht
David Garrick in His Regalia as Steward of Stratford Jubilee, 1769 by Benjamin Vandergucht; Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum

The 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee, also known as Garrick’s Jubilee, was ostensibly to celebrate Shakespeare’s birth but was held five years too late (Shakespeare was baptised in April 1564). Regardless of the discrepancy in dates, it was hugely popular and helped to fix Shakespeare as England’s national poet.

Ticket for the dinner, ode and ball at the Garrick Jubilee held in Stratford-Upon-Avon in 1769 to commemorate the life of William Shakespeare.
Jubilee entrance ticket. Folger Shakespeare Collection.

Stratford-upon-Avon was flooded – a somewhat unfortunate metaphor, as will be seen – with visitors for the duration of the Jubilee. The town’s only inn was fully booked and townspeople made a small fortune in renting out rooms (albeit while grumbling about the inconvenience to their daily lives) but even so, many visitors were forced to sleep in their carriages overnight. A masquerade warehouse had opened in the town, in anticipation of the extravaganza and, a new sight to the townsfolk, sedan chairs had been brought from London and Bath.

Scene at the High Cross, Garrick Jubilee of 1769, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire; Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
Scene at the High Cross, Garrick Jubilee, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire; Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

The celebrations opened on Wednesday 6th September to cannon fire and a breakfast at the town hall. A portrait of Shakespeare by Garrick’s friend Benjamin Wilson hung at one end of the dining room and one of Garrick by Thomas Gainsborough at the other (both portraits were sadly lost in a fire in 1946). At 11 o’clock Dr Thomas Arne’s Oratorio of Judith was performed in the church, featuring, amongst others, the celebrated Mrs Sophia Baddeley.

The actor and theatre manager, David Garrick leaning on a bust of Shakespeare, after Thomas Gainsborough. The original portrait (presented to mark the Garrick Jubilee in 1769) hung in Stratford-upon-Avon town hall but was destroyed by fire in 1946.
David Garrick leaning on a bust of Shakespeare, after Thomas Gainsborough. The original portrait hung in Stratford-upon-Avon town hall but was destroyed by fire in 1946. Folger Shakespeare Library.

After that, attention turned to a specially built wooden structure on the banks of the River Avon, the Jubilee Pavilion or rotunda, where a dinner was held with almost a thousand ladies and gentlemen crammed in at the tables, many more than anticipated. The food was accompanied by the sound of workmen hammering in nails: the rotunda had not been completed in time and work was still ongoing to make it sound. Garrick, ever the showman, carried on regardless and proclaimed the toast while holding a goblet made of mulberry wood ‘cut out of the mulberry tree planted by Shakespeare’. Following the dinner was a ball which was opened by John Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset and the Duke of Ancaster’s sister, Lady Mary Greathead.

John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset by Joshua Reynolds, 1769. Knole, National Trust via British Art Studies.
John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset by Joshua Reynolds, 1769. Knole, National Trust via British Art Studies.

The Jubilee, despite Garrick’s best-laid plans, now began to descend into a comedic farce and the typically British weather was to blame. It didn’t just rain, it poured and the pageant and attendant processions through the streets of Stratford-upon-Avon, with participants dressed as characters from Shakespeare’s plays, had to be abandoned. Instead, after a public breakfast, Garrick delivered an ode in honour of the bard, wearing a medallion of Shakespeare on his breast and brandishing a wand both made, like his goblet, from mulberry wood. In the window frames, were large transparent portraits representing the most popular Shakespearian characters.

Mr. Garrick reciting the ode in honor of Shakespeare at the Jubilee at Stratford, with the musical performers, &c., 1769.
Mr Garrick reciting the ode in honour of Shakespeare at the Jubilee at Stratford, with the musical performers, &c., 1769. Lewis Walpole Library

The evening entertainment was a masquerade ball, held in the rotunda, and a planned firework display. Unfortunately, the masquerade guests had to be carried in, or risk their footwear as they waded ankle-deep through the river water which was rapidly rising, and the roof was discovered to leak in places. Despite this, a good time was had by all, with the guests attired in a myriad of fantastical costumes. James Boswell, newly returned from Corsica, and having just published a memoir of his travels, appeared finely dressed as a Corsican. He subsequently had his picture engraved and published in the London Magazine with a puff-piece of an article written by himself.

One of the most remarkable masks upon this occasion was James Boswell Esq.

The fireworks ended up being little more than damp squibs in the deluge. At the close of the festivities, various masked guests including drunken witches, harlequins, sultans and one Corsican had to wade knee-deep across the meadow on which the rotunda was sited to reach their carriages and beds.

James Boswell in full Corsican dress at the Shakespeare Jubilee, 1769. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
James Boswell in full Corsican dress at the Shakespeare Jubilee, 1769. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

It rained until midday on Friday 8th September. The River Avon had overflowed to such an extent that the rotunda was flooded. All that could be salvaged of the last day’s planned entertainment was an extremely waterlogged horse race on Shottery Meadow but by this time it was too late and many guests had abandoned the Jubilee altogether and were heading as fast as they could on jam-packed roads away from the town. As Boswell noted:

After the joy of the jubilee came the uneasy reflection that I was in a little village in wet weather and knew not how to get away.

The paviliion - or amphitheatre - built on the banks of the River Avon for the Garrick Jubilee in 1769.
The pavilion – or amphitheatre – built on the banks of the River Avon for the Garrick Jubilee in 1769. Shakespeare Birthplace Trust/RSC via The Guardian.

Bizarrely, there had been no performance of a Shakespeare play planned for the event, not even one scene, a fact which garnered much criticism. Referring to the event afterwards as ‘my folly’, Garrick was forced to admit that, although this was an intended omission with the idea that people would discover the bard ‘all around them’ instead of through his plays, this was a glaring error and – coupled with the complete washout of the event – it marked a low point in his career. He also lost a large sum of his own money in staging the event. However, as we shall see in a later blog, all was not yet lost. The redoubtable Garrick had one more trick up his sleeve with which he hoped to salvage both his reputation and the Jubilee celebrations.

 

Sources:

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 14th September 1769

Boswell’s Jubilee: against the backdrop of the 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee, James Boswell’s willpower is tested. Andrew McConnell Stott, 2016 (Lapham’s Quarterly)

‘The borough of Stratford-upon-Avon: Shakespearean festivals and theatres’, in A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 3, Barlichway Hundred, ed. Philip Styles (London, 1945), pp. 244-247. British History Online

Featured image:

The actor and theatre manager David Garrick as Shakespeare’s Richard III by William Hogarth, c.1745. Walker Art Gallery.

Sandpit near Sudbury, Suffolk by Joshua Kirby (1716-1774)

Sarah Trimmer née Kirby (1741-1810), author, critic and educational reformer

Sarah Trimmer née Kirby, author, critic and religious and educational reformer, was born in 1741 at Ipswich, the only daughter of the Suffolk landscape painter Joshua Kirby (a close friend of Thomas Gainsborough) and his wife Sarah née Bell. The Kirby family, including Sarah’s younger brother, William moved to London in 1755 where Joshua Kirby tutored the Prince of Wales (the future George III) in perspective.

Sarah Kirby (née Bull) and her husband (John) Joshua Kirby by Thomas Gainsborough, c.1751-52. © National Portrait Gallery, London
Sarah Kirby (née Bull) and her husband (John) Joshua Kirby by Thomas Gainsborough, c.1751-52. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Many well-known personalities of the day counted the Kirbys as friends, including William Hogarth and Samuel Johnson and, as befitted the daughter of an artist, and one with social connections to the best artistic and literary talents of the day, Sarah later had her portrait painted three times, by Henry Howard, George Romney and Thomas Lawrence. She herself was a talented amateur artist, and several miniatures by her survive.

Sarah Trimmer by Sir Thomas Lawrence, c.1790. © National Portrait Gallery, London
Sarah Trimmer by Sir Thomas Lawrence, c.1790. © National Portrait Gallery, London

In time, the family moved to Kew when Joshua Kirby was appointed Clerk to the Works of the Royal Household at Kew Palace and it was at Kew that Sarah met her future husband, James Trimmer whose family owned a brick making business at Brentford; the young couple married on 21st September 1762, at Ealing. The notice of their marriage in the Ipswich Journal reveals the name by which Sarah was known to her family.

MARRIAGE – At Great Ealing, Mr. James Trimmer, of Brentford, to Miss Sally Kirby, of the Chapelry of Kew.

A View of the Palace at Kew from the Lawn, in the Royal Gardens at Kew, 1763. This plate was engraved after Joshua Kirby for William Chambers’s Plans, Elevations, Sections and Perspective Views of the Gardens and Buildings at Kew, published in 1763 and dedicated to the Dowager Princess of Wales.
A View of the Palace at Kew from the Lawn, in the Royal Gardens at Kew, 1763. This plate was engraved after Joshua Kirby for William Chambers’s Plans, Elevations, Sections and Perspective Views of the Gardens and Buildings at Kew, published in 1763 and dedicated to the Dowager Princess of Wales. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

The Trimmers had twelve children in all, equally divided between boys and girls and – as she was responsible for their education – Sarah, both a mother and a teacher, discovered a lifelong passion for education. She founded the first Sunday school for poor children in 1786 and began to write and publish books, initially treatises on how to establish Sunday schools with a sub-text of social reform and then branching out into instructive works and fiction for children, such as her Fabulous Histories. She also reviewed children’s literature in her periodical, The Guardian of Education, with the aim of influencing both authors and publishers and redefining the content of these books.

She used to say, that as soon as she became a mother, her thoughts were turned so entirely to the subject of education, that she scarcely read a book upon any other topic, and believed she almost wearied her friends by making it so frequently the subject of conversation. Having experienced the greatest success in her plan of educating her own family, she naturally wished to extent that blessing to others, and this probably first induced her to become an author.

After James Trimmer died in 1792, Sarah and her unmarried daughters moved to Brentford, and it was there that she died on 15th December 1810, in the act of writing a letter.

Sarah Trimmer by Henry Howard, c.1798. © National Portrait Gallery, London
Sarah Trimmer by Henry Howard, c.1798. © National Portrait Gallery, London

She had been known to fall asleep at her desk in her study, and so when her daughters found her, with her head bowed forward onto her bosom, they assumed she merely slumbering and it was some time before they could be made to believe that she was dead. This gave rise to a few ‘Chinese whispers’ which were reported in the newspapers, with a slightly more lurid take on poor Sarah’s demise.

MRS TRIMMER – This authoress died under circumstances of a peculiar nature. Having received intelligence of the death of a favourite sister, she sat down to write a letter of condolence to her family; but soon after, on her female servant going into the room, she found her mistress sitting, apparently in the utmost composure, with her pen in one hand, and her head reclining on the other; in this attitude it appears that she died. What added to the singularity of this extraordinary occurrence was, that although she had been dead three weeks, her countenance had not changed in the least, and in consequence her relatives had directed that no interment should take place, in the hope (a vain one, it is feared) that the body might be recovered from a trance.

Sarah had no sister, favourite or otherwise, and her sister-in-law – and her brother – had both died some years previously. She was buried on the 5th January 1811, in a family plot in St Mary’s churchyard, Ealing, the delay between her death and burial probably being more to do with the weather and the season rather than any fanciful notions supposed to have been entertained by the children of such an eminently sensible, moral and instructive mother.

Portrait of Sarah Trimmer by George Romney (1734-1802). Image taken from Illustrated Catalogue of the Fifth Series of 100 Paintings by Old Masters, being a portion of the Sedelmeyer Gallery, Paris, 1899.
Portrait of Sarah Trimmer by George Romney (1734-1802). Image taken from Illustrated Catalogue of the Fifth Series of 100 Paintings by Old Masters, being a portion of the Sedelmeyer Gallery, Paris, 1899.

One of Sarah’s daughters, at least, followed in her footsteps; her daughter Selina was appointed by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire to be the governess to their daughters and their cousins, including the future Lady Caroline Lamb. You can read more about Selina and her life as a governess in the Cavendish household here, in a blog post by Lauren Gilbert.

 

Sources not mentioned above:

Ipswich Journal, 25th September 1762

Chester Chronicle, 1st February 1811

Chalmer’s General Biographical Dictionary, volume 30

Brentford High Street Project: The Trimmer family

 

Featured image:

Sandpit near Sudbury, Suffolk by Joshua Kirby (1716-1774)

Martha Gunn (1726-1815), Brighton 'dipper'

Martha Gunn – Brighton Celebrity

We’re not quite sure that Martha’s claim to fame would work in today’s celebrity culture, for Martha, who was born Martha Killick daughter of Friend and Anne Killick in 1726 (baptized 19 September 1731) , was a ‘dipper‘. Much has been written about her already, but we thought we would add a few extra bits.

'A Calm' by James Gillray (1810).
‘A Calm’ by James Gillray (1810). Courtesy of Princeton University Library

What was a ‘dipper’? Well, in the 1700 and early 1800s doctors would recommend that people bath in sea water to restore their health. Needless to say this concept was terrifying for many, so in places such as Brighton people were employed as ‘dippers‘.

Huts on wheels, like the one below were used to allow the bather to protect their modesty, the bather would climb into the hut, change into their swimming attire, the machine was then pulled by dippers into the sea. Dippers were also expected to ensure that people were not swept away by the current, arguably like a modern day lifeguard, so they would need to be very strong.

Bathing machine at Weymouth
Weymouth

This occupation in itself was never going to give Martha celebrity status, but her royal connection to the Prince of Wales, later George IV, did. She was a favourite of his and apparently enjoyed special privileges including free access to the kitchen at the Royal Pavilion.

The portrait of her below, is reputed to show Martha holding the Prince of Wales as a small child, however, this is not feasible as  the Prince did not visit Brighton until September 7th, 1783, he was 21. So despite the annotation at the top of the painting this must have been added at a later stage.

Todd’s print catalogue of 1799 simply described the painting as being with an unnamed child

There was also another copy of the piece produced by William Nutter which is now held by The Met, dated 1797. It does not state that the child was the Prince of Wales, but that the original was in his possession and this one was dedicated to the Prince of Wales.

V0017100 Martha Gunn, a Brighton bather holding a small child that she has just saved from drowning.
Coloured engraving by W. Nutter, 1797, after J. Russell.
1797 By: John Russellafter: William NutterPublished: 1 June 1797

It also appeared in the following catalogue which confirmed the artist to be John Russell – ‘A catalogue of all the capital and valuable finished and unfinished original works of the distinguished artist, John Russell, Esq. R.A where it was to be sold along with other paintings by Mr. Christie on February 14th, 1807.

Martha Gunn and the Prince of Wales by John Russell
Martha Gunn and the Prince of Wales by John Russell; Brighton and Hove Museums and Art Galleries
The Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV born 1762 and Mrs Gunn

Martha was a large and strong woman and was well respected by the town and she even featured in the caricature below.

A scene at Brighton; some Frenchmen have landed on the beach; others are in broad clumsy boats which have left French men-of-war. In the foreground old women and yokels are dealing with the invaders. A woman resembling Martha Gunn, the bathing-woman, trampling on prostrate bodies, holds out at arm's length a kicking French soldier. Courtesy of British Museum
A scene at Brighton; some Frenchmen have landed on the beach; others are in broad clumsy boats which have left French men-of-war. In the foreground old women and yokels are dealing with the invaders. A woman resembling Martha Gunn, the bathing-woman, trampling on prostrate bodies, holds out at arm’s length a kicking French soldier. Courtesy of British Museum

She died in May 1815 and was buried in the local churchyard.

Hampshire Chronicle, 15th May 1815

Long after her death a plaque was added to the house where she and her family lived.

Plaque on the Brighton house where Martha Gunn lived. It says: Martha Gunn 1727-1815, the original bathing woman lived here.

Featured Image

British School; Martha Gunn (1726-1815); Brighton and Hove Museums and Art Galleries

Charlectote Park from Morris's Picturesque Views of Seats of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland, 1880.

Mary Elizabeth Williams’ marriage to George Hammond Lucy of Charlecote Park, 1823

On 2nd December 1823, the young Mary Elizabeth Williams, fourth daughter of John Williams, Baronet of Bodelwyddan in north Wales, married George Hammond Lucy, the eligible new owner of the magnificent Charlecote Park in Warwickshire.

Mary had been reluctant to accept George’s proposal; she thought him too old (Mary was not quite 20-years of age and her suitor was 34) and – besides – her elder sister Margaret (Miggie) was in love with him. But accept him she did, and he sealed their betrothal by placing a turquoise ring on her finger. During their short courtship and amid the whirlwind of preparing for the wedding, Mary quickly came to like and then to love her new husband.

Mary Elizabeth Williams (1803-1890), Mrs George Hammond Lucy by Richard Buckner, 1847; National Trust, Charlecote Park;
Mary Elizabeth Williams (1803-1890), Mrs George Hammond Lucy by Richard Buckner, 1847; National Trust, Charlecote Park

On the day, Mary wore a bridal robe of snow-white silk and a lace veil, the ‘texture fine as a spider’s web’ falling over her carefully arranged hair which was decorated with orange blossoms. She was attended by six bridesmaids, her four sisters and two friends, all dressed simply in white cashmere with their bonnets lined with pink, Mary’s favourite colour. A whole fleet of carriages took the bridal party to St Asaph Cathedral where the ceremony – by special licence – was to take place.

All was perfect, and Mary and her new husband knelt at the altar as they were pronounced man and wife but, when she tried to stand, Mary fainted and fell to the ground, much to George’s consternation. She was soon recovered however, and left the church for her honeymoon, her uncle’s seat at Cerig Llwydion. The bridesmaids threw old satin shoes at the carriage as the Lucy’s departed, for good luck.

George Hammond Lucy (1789-1845), MP by Friedrich von Amerling, 1841; National Trust, Charlecote Park;
George Hammond Lucy (1789-1845), MP by Friedrich von Amerling, 1841; National Trust, Charlecote Park

Mary’s wedding dress survives, and it was made in the height of fashion.

Detail of the white silk wedding dress worn by Mary Elizabeth Williams when she married George Hammond Lucy on 2 December 1823.
Detail of the white silk wedding dress worn by Mary Elizabeth Williams when she married George Hammond Lucy on 2 December 1823.

As you can see, the detailing on the bodice of the gown is very similar to one shown in Ackermann’s Repository, dated October 1823, and it gives us an idea of what the dress might have looked like in its entirety.

Morning Dress, fashion plate dated October 1823 from Rudolph Ackermann's Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions, &c, third series, vol 2.
Morning Dress, fashion plate dated October 1823 from Rudolph Ackermann’s Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions, &c, third series, vol 2.

George Hammond Lucy’s father, John Lucy (born John Hammond), was a ‘pugnacious, hard-drinking clergyman’ who had found himself – a little unexpectedly – the heir in the male line to the Warwickshire Lucy family.

Early in 1823, at his father’s death, George had inherited Charlecote Park but it was in a dilapidated state. It became his life’s work to restore the estate.

Charlecote Park from Jones's Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen, 1820.
Charlecote Park from Jones’s Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen, 1820.

Mary and George had a long marriage and many children. In her sixties, Mary wrote down her memories and they are published as Mistress of Charlecote: The Memoirs of Mary Elizabeth Lucy 1803-1889. It is a wonderful read and contains images of two portraits of the couple painted at the time of their wedding.

For more information on the Lucy’s of Charlecote Park, also see the blog Charlecote Park: Uncovered by the National Trust.

 

Sources:

Mistress of Charlecote: The Memories of Mary Elizabeth Lucy 1803-1889, introduced by Alice Fairfax-Lucy (Orion, 2002).

The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986

National Trust images

Featured image:

Charlecote Park from Morris’s Picturesque Views of Seats of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland, 1880.

(From left to right) John Glynn, John Wilkes and John Horne Tooke and is a copy after Richard Houston, (original 1769) (National Portrait Gallery London)

John Wilkes and Knighton Gorges Manor House

In the late eighteenth-century, John Wilkes, journalist, radical and politician, took a cottage on the Isle of Wight in which he installed his middle aged mistress Amelia Arnold and subsequently he was a frequent guest at Knighton Gorges Manor, the nearby house of Maurice George Bisset and his wife.  Bisset’s wife, formerly Harriat Mordaunt, was the illegitimate daughter of Charles Henry Mordaunt, the 4th Earl of Peterborough and his mistress (and later second wife) Robinaiana Brown and also cousin to the infamous courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott, as we reveal in our book An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliot. Another local landowner was Sir Richard Worsley whose wife Bisset had, some years earlier, eloped with, leading to a very public and shocking criminal conversation case (for more information on the infamous Lady Worsley see Hallie Rubenhold’s excellent biography, The Scandalous Lady W).

John Wilkes's Cottage [near Sandown Fort] on the Isle of Wight.
John Wilkes’s Cottage [near Sandown Fort] on the Isle of Wight. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
John Wilkes had a legitimate daughter, Mary (Polly) (to whom he wrote about Lady Peterborough and Miss Mordaunt in 1775) and two illegitimate children, a son by his housekeeper Catherine Smith who he passed off as his nephew and a daughter named Harriet by his mistress, Amelia Arnold.

Brighthelmstone,

Thursday, Oct. 16, 1775

Lady Peterborough, Miss M___t, more gloomy and dejected than ever, and Miss G___d as pert and flippant as at Bath, more is impossible, are here, and no other ladies I believe of your acquaintance.

Wilkes wrote to his daughter Polly from Sandham Cottage, his house on the Isle of Wight, on 15th July 1791 to tell her that ‘Captain Bissett dined here yesterday, but I have neither seen nor heard of Sir Richard Worsley. The French ladies are at Knighton House, a grandmother, mother and little daughter’ and later that same month he wrote again, mentioning that he was kindly supplied with melons and other fruit from Knighton Gorges.  The French ladies were perhaps aristocratic emigrants who had run for their lives before they lost their heads to the guillotine during the French Revolution. Grace Dalrymple Elliot and her friend Lady Seymour Worsley (Sir Richard’s wife) were not quite so lucky, and while they kept their heads on their shoulders, they were unable to flee Paris and had to endure the terror of those years, documented in An Infamous Mistress.

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

Knighton Gorges (now demolished) was one of the most magnificent houses on the island, a contemporary description in an island history says of it:

The manor house is an ancient building, but appears to have been constructed with much taste and judgment; and great attention has been evidently paid to it, to preserve its original beauty, in the various reparations which inevitably have been bestowed upon it. In particular we may observe, that one part of the building is finely variegated by the ivy that binds its gable ends, which perhaps, are too numerous to afford pleasure and delight to the eye; and that the windows in front are all latticed and retain their antique pillars of stone for their present supporters. It is finely situated on the gentle rising of a hill between some fine woods, but at a sufficient distance to afford some very beautiful prospects.

Knighton, the Seat of George M. Bisset, Esq.
Knighton, the Seat of George M. Bisset, Esq. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Featured image:

The picture at the head of the article is of (from left to right) John Glynn, John Wilkes and John Horne Tooke and is a copy after Richard Houston, (original 1769) (National Portrait Gallery London)

Sources:

Letters from the year 1774 to the year 1796, of John Wilkes, Esq. addressed to his daughter the late Miss Wilkes, Volume 4, 1804.82-83

A New, Correct and much improved History of the Isle of Wight, John Albin, London, 1795