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

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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

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

The Jubilee: David Garrick’s ode to Shakespeare, 1769

As we recounted in our earlier blog about David Garrick’s Shakespeare Jubilee held over three days in September 1769, the all too typical British weather meant that the pageant which was to have been the grand finale of the event had to be cancelled. Instead, Garrick turned his pageant into a play, The Jubilee, which premiered a month later at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane on the 14th October, running for over ninety performances.

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

The comedic actress Frances Abington was among the stars of the day who appeared; she played the Comic Muse, Thalia, a role in which she was depicted by Joshua Reynolds.

Mrs Abington (c1737 - 1815) as The Comic Muse by Joshua Reynolds.
Mrs Abington (c1737 – 1815) as The Comic Muse by Joshua Reynolds; Waddesdon.

The play was based on Garrick’s planned pageant and was also something of a tongue-in-cheek retrospective on the celebrations which had taken place in Stratford when the town had been so crowded with visitors that many had to sleep in their coaches and the persistent rain had led to flooding.

“The Stratford Jubilee was, in October, transferred to Drury-Lane. In order to give it a dramatic form, Garrick invented a comic fable, in which the inferior people of Stratford and the visitors were exhibited with great pleasantry. As it was never published, an exact account is not to be expected. We remember a scene in an inn-yard, with a postchaise standing at the remote end: when a crowd, after much diverting talk, withdrew from the place, a voice was heard from the inside of the chaise. Moody was within; he let down the blind, and, in the character of an Irishman, complained, that not being able to get a lodging, be was obliged to sleep in his chaise. He then came forward amidst bursts of applause; King soon joined him, and they two were the life of the piece. The dialogue throughout was carried on in a vein of humour. The songs that had been heard at Stratford were, occasionally, intermixed; and the whole concluded with a grand procession, in which Shakspeare’s plays were exhibited in succession, with a banner displayed before each of them, and a scene painted on the canvas to mark the play intended. A train of performers, dressed in character, followed the colours, all in dumb shew acting their respective parts. Mrs. Abington, at last, in a triumphal car, represented the Comic Muse. Dr. Arne’s music, the magnificence of the scenery and decorations, and the abilities of the actors, conspired to establish the entertainment in the public opinion in so powerful a manner, that we are assured, by a gentleman who has a collection of the playbills, that it was repeated no less than one hundred times in the course of the season. During the run of the piece, Garrick, on several intermediate nights, ascended a pulpit raised on the stage, and there spoke his Ode to the Memory of Shakspeare in a style of graceful eloquence.

Mr. Garrick delivering his Ode at Drury Lane Theatre on dedicating a building & erecting a statue to Shakespeare
Mr. Garrick delivering his Ode at Drury Lane Theatre on dedicating a building & erecting a statue to Shakespeare. Lewis Walpole Library

Garrick had lost a huge amount of his own money on the jubilee celebrations in Stratford upon Avon, but he recouped his losses and more besides during his play’s run at the Theatre Royal. Despite his losses, he would appear to have been less extravagant than his brother during the celebrations.

During the celebration of Garrick’s Jubilee, his brother George, purchased an inkstand, which the poet is said to have used, and a pair of fringed gloves, which it was assumed he had worn. David Garrick, notwithstanding all his enthusiasm for Shakspeare, was too careful of his purse to part with its contents for reliques, the genuineness of which was so questionable.

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.

All in all, the play proved to be more of a success than the jubilee held in Stratford, at least for David Garrick.

This dramatic piece was revived by Mr. Kemble, on the 23d of April, 1816, exactly two hundred years after the death of Shakespeare, but it was not very favourably received.

The manuscript copy of The Jubilee can be read here.

Quotations from Shakespeariana: plays, Volume 1, 1825

Featured image

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

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

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.

The Sense of Hearing, Philippe Mercier.

Women in Music and Art in the Georgian Era

Needless to say in the 18th century women were regarded as being of lower status than their male counterparts, this was especially noticeable in music. How many well-known female composers of the 18th century have you heard of – not many, if any for a guess! Many women were however expected to study music and to be accomplished at playing an instrument or singing, merely as a form of entertainment for their family and friends. This went hand in hand with being the perfect hostess.

Adolphe, Joseph Anton; Caroline D'Arcy (d.1778), 4th Marchioness of Lothian; National Galleries of Scotland; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/caroline-darcy-d-1778-4th-marchioness-of-lothian-209742
Adolphe, Joseph Anton; Caroline D’Arcy (d.1778), 4th Marchioness of Lothian; National Galleries of Scotland

In this post we thought we would take a look at how art captured women playing a musical instrument, whether these women were actually able to play theses instruments we have no idea, maybe they were simply used as props in the paintings.  One of the most popular instruments for a woman to become accomplished at playing was the harpsichord and so we begin with Anastasia Robinson, mistress of the 3rd Earl of Peterborough followed by A Girl at a Harpsichord 1782 attributed to Mather Brown.

Anastasia Robinson c.1727 via Wikimedia
Anastasia Robinson c.1727 via Wikimedia
A Girl at a Harpsichord by Mather Brown (attributed to), 1782 (c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
A Girl at a Harpsichord by Mather Brown (attributed to), 1782
(c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The harp was also immensely popular as we can see here in the painting by Joshua Reynolds, who captured  the Countess of Eglinton playing it, then we have  A Young Lady Playing the Harp  by James Northcote.

The Countess of Eglinton, 1777 by Reynolds, Sir Joshua (1723-92) Private Collection © Agnew's, London English, out of copyright
The Countess of Eglinton, 1777 by Reynolds, Sir Joshua (1723-92)
Private Collection © Agnew’s, London
English, out of copyright
A Young Lady Playing the Harp by James Northcote, exhibited 1814 (c) Tate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
A Young Lady Playing the Harp by James Northcote, exhibited 1814
(c) Tate; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Lady Frances Seymour Conway (1751–1820), Countess of Lincoln by William Hoare (c) The University of Nottingham; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Lady Frances Seymour Conway (1751–1820), Countess of Lincoln by William Hoare
(c) The University of Nottingham; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Sarah Curran (1782–1808), Playing the Harp by William Beechey (c) Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Sarah Curran (1782–1808), Playing the Harp by William Beechey
(c) Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The guitar was also a popular instrument for women to play as we can see in these next paintings.

(c) The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
A young Woman playing the Guitar with a Songbird on her Hand by Louis-Léopold Boilly
(c) The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Artist-Painting-a-Portrait-of-a-Musician
Artist Painting a Portrait of a Musician, Marguerite Gerard, Before 1803 courtesy of the State Hermitage Museum

And finally, an all female quartet.

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

But the post would not be complete without Gillray’s take on an old woman playing the harpsichord now would it!

A curious case of child stealing in nineteenth-century London

At the beginning of March 1821 a gentleman naming himself as Mr Probus, a minister of the Episcopal Church, took lodgings at the house of an undertaker, no. 12 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden. Mr Probus was around 35 years of age, slender with a sallow complexion marked by small-pox scars, dark haired and with, as was realised too late, an ‘insinuating’ manner of address. He applied for a smart and genteel looking boy to wait on and be a companion to a young gentleman at a fine boarding-school (nearly equal to a college, he claimed) in the city of Lincoln. The boy would be brought up in a most respectable manner and given a first-class education, in return for doing little more than fetching fruit and pastries for the young gentlemen from a nearby village. He was inundated with applications.

JMW Turner's birthplace in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden. © The Trustees of the British Museum
JMW Turner’s birthplace in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Mrs Mary Ann Hurrell was the wife of a somewhat impoverished boot and shoemaker who lived at no. 27 Upper Ogle Street, Foley-lace, and at 36 Goodge Street, Marylebone. (Perhaps one address was her home and one her husband’s business premises?) She had two children from a previous marriage, a son named Benjamin Hawthorn aged 13 years and his sister, Georgiana, aged 11. Benjamin, a fine looking lad, had a good singing voice and Georgiana, every bit as charming as her brother, was articled to Mr Warburton, a professor of dancing in Burton Crescent. Mrs Hurrell saw Mr Probus’ advertisement and thought it would be an ideal opportunity for Benjamin. Accordingly, mother and son waited upon the minister on the 3rd March.

(c) National Trust, Wimpole Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
At the shoemakers shop, British School, c.1825. (c) National Trust, Wimpole Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Mr Probus was especially taken with Benjamin and put his mother’s apprehensions at rest, saying that his own son was a pupil at the Lincoln academy. A Dr Nutall was to give young Benjamin a character reference but Mr Probus called on the Hurrell’s a few days later to say that he had met with a gentleman who knew Dr Nutall, who had given him every satisfaction concerning Benjamin, and there was no longer any need to call on him. The next day Mrs Hurrell took her son to Mr Probus’ lodgings where the young lad was fitted out with a new suit of clothes provided by Probus, who asked if Benjamin might stay with him that night (he had taken a bed for him at the next house). If any alarm bells were ringing for Mrs Hurrell, she ignored them.

The next day Benjamin told his mother that Mr Probus’ son was not at the Lincoln academy but had in fact died six months earlier, of water on the brain. Mr Probus now proposed to adopt Benjamin as a replacement for his own son and to bring him up as a gentleman, and also confessed that it was he who owned the boarding-school. He then asked if Mrs Hurrell would bring Georgiana to his house as he wished to ‘make her a present of a handsome dress’. The gullible woman duly did as she was bid, despite the ever-changing story, and left her two children alone with Probus. On her return, little Georgiana was so richly attired that her mother hardly recognised her.

Innocence: Head of a Young Girl by William Etty, c.1820; Paintings Collection; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/innocence-head-of-a-young-girl-32746
Innocence: Head of a Young Girl by William Etty, c.1820; Victoria and Albert Museum

Probus now wanted to take both children with him to Lincoln, promising to care for them as if they were his own and to place Georgiana with a friend of his in Lincoln who kept a school. To this the Hurrell’s consented, believing that they were giving the two children a chance to be brought up in a genteel fashion, and the little party left London for Lincoln the next day with promises to write at every opportunity. The first letter Mrs Hurrell received was dated the 17th March but written from York, not Lincoln.

Old Ouse Bridge, York by G. Wilson, c.1820; Fairfax House; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/old-ouse-bridge-york-9734
Old Ouse Bridge, York by G. Wilson, c.1820; Fairfax House

Mr Probus had swiftly abandoned any attempt at maintaining his deception. Signing himself as F[rederick] Williams, he told the wretched mother that her daughter, now renamed Caroline, was dancing on the York stage and that he ‘could sooner part with my life than with [the children]’. Georgiana added a few lines to the letter from her new ‘dear papa’ and said that they were happy. She signed herself Caroline.

Mr Hurrell replied to the letter and asked for the two children to be returned to their home but the only answer was another letter dated the 10th April, briefly saying they were too busy to write more than once a month, were all well but leaving York and asking the Hurrell’s to address any future letters to the Rev. F. Williams at Mr Smith’s, shoemaker, Stonegate, York. On the 3rd May the Hurrell’s received another letter, in the handwriting of Mr Probus aka Williams but signed by ‘Benjamin and Georgiana Frederick Jameson’ (the trio’s new surname) and written from Hull where they were performing and making a great deal of money. Their ‘father’ performed slight-of-hand tricks, Georgiana danced and Benjamin sang, to the admiration of all. They enclosed a paragraph from a Hull newspaper.

There is now performing at the Music Hall, Albion-street, in this town, a Miss Jameson, only nine years of age, a most beautiful and interesting child, In dancing she is, for her age, unrivalled, and her singing is admirable; Mr. Jameson’s slight-of-hand performance gives the greatest satisfaction; and Master Jameson, as a singer, though only 13 years old, is a second Braham. Mr. J. and his interesting young family will perform in Leeds this present Saturday evening, and on Monday and Tuesday next, when they will quit Leeds for Wakefield.

Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette, 11th May 1821.
Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette, 11th May 1821.

The Hurrell’s received no further communication and, worried that their children might be carried out of the country, scraped together enough money to allow Mr Hurrell to travel north in search of his stepchildren. He set off on the 1st July, heading first to York where he found that the ‘Reverend Williams’ had made a large sum of money from their exploits upon the stage before absconding the city, leaving behind a quantity of unpaid debts with the local tradesmen. Mr Hurrell tracked them to Leeds, Wakefield, Hull, Lincoln, Boston and Stamford where the ‘Reverend Williams’ had become Munro Ridgway, then to Coventry, Leicester, Doncaster and Birmingham. The imposter frequently changed his name and his supposed character, defrauding shopkeepers as he went. The trail went cold and a heartbroken Mr Hurrell returned to London and his wife. They applied to the Magistrates, who asked that the case might receive some publicity in the hope that the children could be traced, but could offer little else in the way of assistance. Mrs Hurrell, it was recorded, left the office in tears.

Stamford Mercury, 15th June 1821.
Stamford Mercury, 15th June 1821.

But the publicity had the desired effect!  On the 12th August the little troop were recognised in Billesdon, Leicestershire and the imposter was soon safely in custody in Leicester gaol. Mr Hurrell hurried there to a tearful but joyful reunion with his two step-children. Money was found for Georgiana to return to London by coach but Benjamin and his step-father had to walk the distance. But eventually they were all home and reunited. Mr Probus, alias Williams had been convicted under the Vagrant Act and, unless anyone he had defrauded acted to prosecute him, he stood to get clean away with his crime as the Hurrell’s were too poor to afford to prosecute him, much as they wished to do so. With no further mention of the fraudster in the newspapers, it would appear that is exactly what happened.

N.B. Joseph Hurrell married the widowed (and pregnant) Mary Ann Hawthorne on 18th February 1817 at St James’s in Westminster. At least three children were born to the couple, William Flower Hurrell on the 5th June 1817 and Oscar and Maria who both seemed to have died as infants. Benjamin may be the Benjamin Workman Hawthorn who was born c.1809. He grew up to be a piano forte tuner and maker and also a professor of music, relocating to Doncaster where he died in 1869.

Sources:

Stamford Mercury, 17th August 1821

Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser, 27th August 1821

 

Header image: ‘The Wellington Coach’ (The Newcastle-York-London Mail) by John Cordrey, c.1818. Ferens Art Gallery.