This week I am delighted to welcome another guest to All Things Georgian. Today’s guest is Alice McVeigh, a London ghost writer and professional cellist, who has spent over fifteen years performing with orchestras including the BBC Symphony and the Royal Philharmonic.
Her first two novels were published to acclaim by Orion, marketed as ‘The secret life of a symphony orchestra’. Her latest book, Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel, was released just a couple of weeks ago and has already been rated 10 stars out of 10 by Publishers Weekly’s BookLife Prize.
With that introduction, I’ll hand over to Alice to tell you more about her new book and the music in the era of Jane Austen.
As Lady Catherine de Bourgh decrees in my own new novel:
‘In my opinion, every gentlewoman should be able to ride, to embroider, and to play tolerably on the pianoforte. To play too well on the pianoforte, however, might be considered vulgar.’
Music features in all Jane Austen’s works – one recalls Mary Crawford’s entrancing harp, Marianne Dashwood’s ‘magnificent concerto’ – the one enabling Elinor and Lucy Steele to speak without being overheard – not to mention Jane Fairfax’s effortlessly superior performances in Emma.
On a less-exalted level, everyone remembers the Pride and Prejudice scene in which Elizabeth Bennet’s sister Mary tests the patience of the company to exhaustion-point. While Austen’s Lady Susan wrote of her daughter:
‘I want her to play and sing with some portion of taste and a good deal of assurance, as she has my hand and arm and a tolerable voice. I was so much indulged in my infant years that I was never obliged to attend to anything, and consequently am without the accomplishments which are now necessary to finish a pretty woman.’
Music, drawing etc. – even foreign languages, to some degree – were often regarded in such a manner: not as a means of personal enjoyment or as an artistic end in themselves, but as props deployed to display the daughters of the house to greatest advantage. Brides apparently often abandoned music upon marriage – it’s impossible not to imagine with some level of relief. (As Mrs Elton observed sententiously to Emma Woodhouse, “… for married women, you know–there is a sad story against them, in general. They are but too apt to give up music.”)
As for the London music masters, most were barely scraping a living. It’s hard not to feel sorry for them. And yet, without teaching young ladies (more occasionally, young gentlemen) these music masters’ finances would have been rocky indeed. Beethoven himself was obliged to teach young Hungarian countesses, with whom he was – being Beethoven – occasionally presumptuous enough to fall in love… (One such instance was explored in Jessica Duchen’s novel Immortal, based on Beethoven’s famous letter to his “Immortal beloved…”)
In my own Jane Austen prequel,there is the following exchange between the sharp-elbowed Susan and her erstwhile music master.
Still accompanying another young lady, he said, very softly, without troubling to look up, ‘And so, Miss Smithson, we were betrayed.’
‘I did nothing wrong, yet it was I who was sent away.’
He glanced up then, with that strangely attractive smile – the smile that had first persuaded her that he was not, in fact, so very plain. As his fingers moved over the ivory keys, he asked, ‘And do you regret your expulsion, Miss Smithson?’
‘I do not.’
‘Of course not, for you were no more allowed to be your true self in that place than Mrs Ansruther’s spaniel… I presume that you do not wish to exhibit?’
‘Not in the least.’
‘Then I will shield you. But I beg, once you come into your kingdom, that you remember me.’
Flustered, Susan longed to say that she was in no need of shielding, but she did not dare. As for remembering him ‘once she came into her kingdom,’ she understood the implied compliment – that she might become a person of influence. She understood too the sadness in his tone, though only moments later he was light-heartedly castigating another of his charges. (‘My dear Miss Drayton, be so good as to count your rests!’) But he was true to his word, and, when the cry went up for more young lady performers and ‘Miss Smithson’ was named, Mr Maggini said, ‘Nay, for she has injured her finger. Miss Clara, perhaps you might charm us with an air?’
In terms of instruments, the pianoforte and voice were most often preferred, but the harp was considered ladylike, and there were isolated cases of the violin being chosen – though the instrument possessed connotations of devilishness, and its shape seemed too suggestive for some.
Another alternative was the newly designed harp-lute, whose inventor, Edward Light, taught it to Princess Charlotte, and paid for its production. There was quite a vogue for the harp-lute during the Regency period. These apparently sounded rather harp-like (and, presumably, lute-ish) but were delicate, decorative and small enough to hold on one’s lap.
And then there was the repertoire.
Unpretentious little tunes – such as ‘Robin Adair’ – the song Frank Churchill teased Miss Fairfax about in Emma – were generally favoured over more earnest and difficult works. In Susan, I have Miss Caroline Johnson – a good-natured young heiress – struggling woefully with a sonata by Dussek:
Thus, Susan was at least partly prepared, after supper, to find Frank Churchill proposing that they stroll to her favourite spot, as Caroline was rashly embarking on her Dussek sonata.
They left, pursued by the sound of fingers falling with dogged persistence on ivory keys. Once outside, he added, ‘I am grateful. Otherwise, the Dussek might have been the death of me!’
‘I’m sure I should play it no better. Rather worse if anything.’
‘You would have the very good sense not to play it at all.’
‘I suppose it to be rather a compliment – Were the Cuthbert’s here, Miss Johnson would have confined herself to her well-trodden songs and airs.’
‘If so, it is a compliment I could willingly dispense with. I would rather hear young Miss Laura at her scales!’ They paused, to admire the scudding clouds in the half-light, then he said, ‘Miss Smithson, I asked you a question yesterday that you were denied the chance to answer. I asked whether you might one day like me better than “well enough”.’
Susan laughed. ‘Oh, that must be evident to everybody! Why, at this very moment, we are probably the talk of the place!’
Susan, however, used music to her own advantage – particularly when Lady Catherine requests that she read to her:
Now Susan had a low, pretty voice and natural discretion in the use of it. Lady Catherine had only once to object that she spoke too low for her to discover the pace and pitch most grateful to her ear. Of course, the book was wearisome, and the room overheated, but she read until she noticed her ladyship nodding off – at which she could not wonder – then she scraped the heel of her boot upon the floor.
Lady Catherine started, saying, ‘Nay, I was not asleep. You should take care not to sink your tone at the end of a section, Miss Smithson. Now, be so good as to play to me upon the pianoforte.’
Susan seated herself at the instrument, recalling an early work by Corri, which she had recently memorised. Lady Catherine beat time with her forefinger throughout and at its conclusion announced that she had always been devoted to Haydn. But when Susan enquired whether she might like another air, she said, ‘No. You may go, Miss Smithson – but come tomorrow at half-past two, to read to me again.’
Susan, hiding her dancing eyes, promised to attend her with the greatest pleasure…
As a professional cellist myself, I grieve that the cello was considered insufficiently decorous for a lady in the early 1800s. Worse, women were not allowed to perform in orchestras, whichever instrument they chose, though Austen does hint in Emma that Jane Fairfax’s unusual musical brilliance might have made her even more employable as a governess…
It’s a terrible thought: the elegant Miss Fairfax toiling over Miss Sophia’s pianoforte studies and Miss Maria’s vocal scales…
I love introducing new guests to All Things Georgian and I’m excited to welcome Lynda O’Keeffe, researcher, writer and storyteller, today to tell us about John O’Keeffe (1747-1833), the blind playwright.
As her name denotes, she is a descendant of John O’Keeffe. Lynda has spent over eight years researching the life and works of this extraordinary man and with that she can safely say that she knows this man, everything from his favourite meal to the ribbons in his hair. The object of her research is that his story must be told, his life and experiences are as relevant today as in the 18th century.
Lynda has worked as a literary and creative arts agent – representing actors, musicians and writers. With a passion for theatre, obviously in the blood, the writing of The Blind Playwright is her first major foray into writing – an experience she says could be likened to an assault course! Finding herself on the other side of the fence, she sought out a writer that she both respects and admires, attended his workshops and now states firmly and unabashedly that without the encouragement and expertise of Niall Williams (author of This is Happiness, Four Letters of Love, etc.), she would not have had the confidence to embark on The Blind Playwright. Her writing has enabled her to escape the uncertainties of the Covid-19 pandemic to dash through the streets of 18th-century London, privy to O’Keeffe’s many amusing anecdotes and cavorting with some of his famous friends including R.B. Sheridan, Charles Macklin, Elizabeth Inchbald and Dorothea Jordan.
With her confidence bolstered, Lynda’s labours have now come to fruition with the completion of a historical novel based on his life, a play script of O’Keeffe’s life, the reworking of one of his previously unperformed plays and the transformation of several of his comedic poems into a story and play script. Her research has also earned her the support of academic institutions around the world including Trinity College Dublin and London Metropolitan University and national institutions include National Portrait Gallery, National Gallery Dublin and the Fitzwilliam Museum.
You can join Lynda on her Instagram page and find out more about her ancestor there: the_blind_playwright
18th century London was never going to be an easy place for a blind Irish playwright to prosper and thrive …
Introducing John O’Keeffe, a man who in his own time needed no introduction at all – the most prolific and significant playwright of the 18th century. With works including operas, comedic farces and poetry, he could be called the Andrew Lloyd Webber of Georgian theatre. John O’Keeffe’s story is one of survival and success in the face of adversity. He was born in Abbey Street, Dublin on 24th June 1747 into an affluent Catholic family; his father held an office of Prerogative and was a descendant of the Kings of Ireland. Being born into a life of privilege ensured a fine education, so John attended school in Dublin and soon became a Classics scholar proficient in four languages. Upon his parents’ own desire for their sons to become artists, John and his brother Daniel were sent to the Royal Academy of Art in the city. John’s skill with a paintbrush led to numerous commissions in both portraiture and landscape, but little did he foresee that the observational skills he learnt at the RAA would in the future be his treasured and most invaluable tools.
In 1761, John visited London and upon seeing David Garrick perform was mightily impressed. Unbeknown to the fourteen-year-old John, this was to be the catalyst behind his life choices. He went on to study at Trinity College Dublin, a bright young man with a character described as forever merry and good hearted. He was the life and soul of the party with a fine singing voice, a quick humour and a kindly disposition, and he was considered a man of principles. By this time he was already a published writer, flooding the newspaper editors’ desks with his poetry and amusing stories, forever using the pseudonyms of his classical heroes – Democritus was a favourite.
After completing his education, John decided upon a career change and became an actor, a strolling player travelling the length and breadth of Ireland. However, after a raucous night out with friends in Dublin, the twenty-two-year old thespian fell into the River Liffey, a watery accident that resulted in a rapid deterioration of his sight, with complete blindness setting in some eight years later.
With his acting career now thwarted, the indefatigable John turned his skills to playwrighting. His first play, The She Gallant, became a roaring success in Dublin, and he and his young family decamped to London to find fame and fortune.
London soon recognised John’s brilliance and he became one of the most prolific and significant playwrights of the 18th century, writing for the Theatre Royals of Covent Garden and the Haymarket. His portfolio totalled above seventy-nine pieces, and between 1778 and 1798 fifty-seven of his plays, amounting to over two thousand performances, were performed on the London stages.
He was the epitome of celebrity, enjoying royal patronage from King George III and the royal family, and lauded and praised by his illustrious friends and peers, including Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Sarah Siddons, Charles Macklin, Elizabeth Inchbald, Kane O’Hara, William Shield and Oliver Goldsmith. The finest actors, actresses and musicians of the 18th century performed in his works, with Dorothea Jordan, William Lewis, Ann Catley, Michael Leoni and Mrs Powell to be found on the cast lists. He was adored and courted by both society and the public.
But while John’s career was rising to exalted heights, his personal life was crashing down around him. His professional and private lives were on a collision course, and despite reaching the pinnacle of success as a writer, he was ravaged by tragedy and loss. If losing his sight at age thirty was not enough, his first child Gerald died in infancy, his marriage to Mary (née Heaphy) failed, he lost another son Henry at age ten years, and his brother Daniel died in 1787. The final nail in this ‘mental crucifixion’ was the death of his eldest son, the Reverend John Tottenham, at the age of 28 years.
Throughout all these tragedies, with his daughter Adelaide as scribe, John continued in his work, turning out operas, farces and poetry to enchant and amuse his audiences – even whilst his own heart had been blown wide open. A quote from his memoirs, Recollections of the Life of John O’Keeffe, displays his actions behind his broken human heart:
‘The effort to be envied, rather than pitied, often proves a successful stimulus to the greatest actions of human life.’
John’s blindness was a major contributing factor to many of his personality traits, influencing how he reacted to the events that befell him. His character could change in the blink of an eye; from being introverted and often reclusive, he would almost instantly become exuberant and flamboyant. He suffered with bouts of depression, anxiety and vulnerability, yet demonstrated confidence and enthusiasm when putting pen to paper and creating his theatrical masterpieces. The theatre was his Utopia. And even while beset with his own tragedies, this man of principles maintained a strong social conscience. He was a champion and advocate for gender equality, female authorship and the abolition of slavery – and he never missed an opportunity to express his own thoughts through his work. His example in and commitment to socio-political issues remain as relevant to modern times and resonate loudly with current equality movements and issues of modern slavery and human trafficking, immigration and world poverty. From the many pieces John wrote, the most famous over time has been Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp. In 1788 (pre-dating Disney by over 230 years) John dramatised the story of Aladdin as a harlequinade, with its first performance on the stage of the Theatre Royal Covent Garden – it having had resounding worldwide success since.
John’s play Wild Oats, first performed in 1791, remains a popular choice with modern theatre companies: hugely successful productions were staged in 1976 by the Royal Shakespeare Company, with a cast including Zoë Wanamaker, in 1997 by the National Theatre, and in 2012 by the Bristol Old Vic.
On this note, I will end John’s story with a review of the RSC production by Bernard Levin:
‘With ”Wild Oats” the RSC have struck gold and oil at once, and rubies and diamonds to the utmost profusion, mingled with vintage champagne, lightly chilled, caviar is there…A farce by an altogether forgotten Irish born man of the theatre.’
John O’Keeffe died in Southampton on 4th February 1833 in poverty, with only four people attending his funeral, somewhat forgotten too at the end of his own life after so many years feted in the spotlight. Remember him next time you see the posters going up for a Christmas production of Aladdin.
It’s always lovely to welcome guests to All Things Georgian and today I’m welcoming back the author, erAto who writes historic 18th century fiction, who will share with us information about 18th century songs.
My Exenchester Series is a dark and lurid take on the Georgian Era. In a world inspired by Old Bailey transcripts and by unusual authors like Thomas de Quincey, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and the Marquis de Sade, sex, crime and death are lurking everywhere.
The series consists of two novels and a short story. Within their haunting plotlines there is also a connection to another topic of 18th century interest: popular music. Some might think that this is an odd combination — gritty gothic noir and Georgian era songs — but let us take a look at the music of the Exenchester series and see how this all aligns.
STEPS OF THE MALEFACTOR & DOWN AMONG THE DEAD MEN
Gothic horror meets splatterpunk in Steps of the Malefactor. Giving the backstory of Francis Exenchester via his relationship with footman William Roxby, these two young men find themselves caught up in a “knot” of sex offenders. During what is likely the story’s most brutal scene, one character, Blore, spontaneously bursts into song: Down Among the Dead Men.
Here’s a health to the King and a lasting peace
To faction an end, to wealth increase.
Come, let us drink it while we have breath,
For there’s no drinking after death.
And he that will this health deny,
Down among the dead men, down among the dead men,
Down, down, down, down;
Down among the dead men let him lie!
Let charming beauty’s health go round,
With whom celestial joys are found.
And may confusion yet pursue,
That selfish woman-hating crew.
And he who’d woman’s health deny,
Down among the dead men, down among the dead men,
Down, down, down, down;
Down among the dead men let him lie!
In smiling Bacchus’ joys I’ll roll,
Deny no pleasure to my soul.
Let Bacchus’ health round briskly move,
For Bacchus is a friend to Love;
And they that would this health deny,
Down among the dead men, down among the dead men,
Down, down, down, down;
Down among the dead men let him lie!
May love and wine their rights maintain,
And their united pleasures reign.
While Bacchus’ treasure crowns the board,
We’ll sing the joy that both afford.
And they that won’t with us comply,
Down among the dead men, down among the dead men,
Down, down, down, down;
Down among the dead men let them lie!
Charles Mackay, in his collection of English folk songs, notes that this song’s composition is attributed to a “Mr. Dyer” (posited by some to be John Dyer) and said to have been first performed at the theatre at Lincoln’s-Inn-Fields.
The first publication is said to be from 1728 in a book called The Dancing Master, though it also appears in a slightly different, crasser form, in Scottish author Allan Ramsay’s Tea-Table Miscellany around the same time.
A circa 1740 broadside has yet another variant, and even crasser than Ramsay’s. The nature of folk songs means the tunes and lyrics are a bit unstable, for there was a time when one couldn’t rely on a recording to play the song back identically ad infinitum.
These old folk tunes tended to be communicated orally; and the transmission relies on the memory of the performer and on said performer’s own artistic take on the song. So it was that popular songs lived and mutated as they were passed along.
Best known as a drinking song, ‘Down Among the Dead Men’ has an implication in its lyrics of a person who is “dead drunk” — and this sometimes guessed to be the meaning of the “dead men” in the song.
Nevertheless, the patriotic note to the lyrics does suggest real animosity may be intended towards those who won’t drink to the King and Queen. It actually has a feel of the 17th century “Rump Songs” about it, and if it was already being collected by Ramsay as a folk song in the 1720s, the John Dyer attribution seems unlikely (or at least, it was not by the famous John Dyer who was born in 1699).
In the mirthful drama Molly Brazen, Annabelle the sex worker is baffled by the behavior and appearance of her young client, who seems to not actually want to have any sex; and as she interrogates him to discover his reasons why, his answers just get weirder and weirder.
The story was written as a promo piece for The Virgin and the Bull, but hints at many events from the then-to-be-written Steps of the Malefactor.
Technically, Molly Brazen contains no songs. However, the title of the story is reference to a sex worker character from The Beggar’s Opera, as well as a play on the old word for a homosexual (strictly speaking, mollyis the 18th century equivalent of sissy).
As with all songs from The Beggar’s Opera, author John Gay wrote the lyrics himself, but set them to an existing melody. In this case the song used was merely called “cotillion” — perhaps just an instrumental dance piece for which he created words. In the surrounding dialogue it’s referred to as a “French tune.”
The setting for this performance in The Beggar’s Opera is in a whorehouse, as is too the entire story Molly Brazen. There is consequently a bit of irony in its verses on fleeting love and hurrying to “drink and sport” as, like waiters at a restaurant table, the whores surely want to move along to their next client.
THE VIRGIN AND THE BULL & SWEET WILLIAM
Though a man of science, hero Charles Macgregor shows a great interest in poetry and literature, which proves to be what binds him to the gorgeous but troublesome Constance Fawkes. The tragic noir romance of The Virgin and the Bull opens with Macgregor’s suicide note, in which he quotes some lines from a song that is stuck in his head as he prepares himself for death.
Macgregor’s tune is a version of a song known variously as Sweet William, Sweet William’s Ghost, Lady Margaret, My Willie-O, Lament of the Border Widow, or simply nowadays as Child Ballad 77.
Francis James Child has seven versions of Sweet William in his original collection of popular ballads (of which it is the 77th entry). Some versions of this song are more or less cheerful in content, some have a more or less Scottish dialect to them, some are longer or shorter, some particular details get changed, but there is typically something consistent enough to make it a recognizable version of a single song. The Sweet William songs involve a woman (often called Margaret) receiving a visit from the ghost of her lover (usually called William or Willie) who has died while away from her. William’s promise to marry Margaret has gone unfulfilled, and he either wishes to fulfil the promise or be freed from it, so he may rest in peace.
Child’s oldest version of the ballad dates to 1740, via a later edition of Allan Ramsay’s Tea Table Miscellany.
However, in Child’s introduction he speculates it’s a variant of a song he can trace to 17th century in Scandinavian sources. The Virgin and the Bull’s Charles Macgregor uses a version similar to that found in Jamieson’s Popular Ballads of 1806 (though in which version the tragic hero is named “Clerk Saunders”).
When seven years were come and gane,
Lady Margaret she thought lang;
And she is up to the hichest tower,
By the lee licht o the moon.
She was lookin oer her castle high,
To see what she might fa,
And there she saw a grieved ghost,
Comin waukin oer the wa.
‘O are ye a man of mean,’ she says,
‘Seekin ony o my meat?
Or are you a rank robber,
Come in my bower to break?’
‘O I’m Clerk Saunders, your true-love,
Behold, Margaret, and see,
And mind, for a’ your meikle pride,
Sae will become of thee.’
‘Gin ye be Clerk Saunders, my true-love,
This meikle marvels me;
O wherein is your bonny arms,
That wont to embrace me?’
‘By worms they’re eaten, in mools they’re rotten,
Behold, Margaret, and see,
And mind, for a’ your mickle pride,
Sae will become o thee.’
‘O, bonny, bonny sang the bird,
Sat on the coil o hay;
But dowie, dowie was the maid
That followd the corpse o clay.
‘Is there ony room at your head, Saunders?
Is there ony room at your feet?
Is there ony room at your twa sides,
For a lady to lie and sleep?’
‘There is nae room at my head, Margaret,
As little at my feet;
There is nae room at my twa sides,
For a lady to lie and sleep.
‘But gae hame, gae hame now, May Margaret,
Gae hame and sew your seam;
For if ye were laid in your weel made bed,
Your days will nae be lang.’
In my book, Macgregor, of course, is feeling many of the song’s visions of graves and rotting corpses as he quotes from it; and surely, he’s also experiencing his own shock and betrayal at a broken promise of marriage, leading to this chilling tune churning amongst his final thoughts.
In Steps of the Malefactor, the character of Garcifer also makes a verbal reference to this song, addressing William Roxby as “Sweet William” while threatening to torture him (implying that he’s already marked for death).
These are all popular tunes of the 18th century (as opposed to art songs, such as the operatic tunes of Handel, Arne and others that are intended for a trained voice and large orchestra) and would have probably been known and heard comparably to modern multi-decade standards like Tubthumping, Holiday and Major Tom. It is nevertheless interesting to note the preoccupation with death and mortality in these songs, even in the cheerful one. In a sense, these songs reflect the darkness that existed within the Enlightenment, which was also rather the goal of the Exenchester series.
We have now reached the final part of the story and just in case you missed any, the previous parts can be found by clicking these links – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
In this final part we return again to George and his wife Mary. In 1817 and they went on to have a daughter, Julia in 1817, about whom nothing more is known, so it perhaps has to be assumed that she died in infancy, but two year later the couple had a second daughter, Felicia.
It appears though, that their marriage didn’t last very long, as Mary left England and went to Italy, taking Felicia with her. During this time Mary was said to have had an affair with the Marquis Busca, Visconti of Milan and a son was to follow from this liaison. In 1835 Mary died in suspicious circumstances, allegedly via poison, at which time the Marquis adopted the boy and raised him as his own. Upon the death of the Marquis the boy inherited the bulk of the estate.
After the death of his adopted father, the child was due to marry the Countessa Della Porta, but in 1851 this was still on hold until his father’s estate had been sorted and his claim verified.
Felicia, however, returned to England at some stage and lived briefly with her father, George, but this was short lived as their relationship was described as being a somewhat volatile one and in 1839 she married an Italian widower, Louis Philippe Baldersar Mazzara at St George, Hanover Square, after which they returned to Italy, where they had two sons, Felix Alexander, who we will return to later, and Nicholas Charles.
The final part of this story concerns, the end of George’s life. He all but disappeared from public view in England and it has been note that he travelled abroad for much of his later life, returning to England just prior to his death, at which time when he was living at 8 Victory Cottages, in Peckham, Surrey, but no-one seems to know how he was living or what he was doing. To date, there is no sign of him on ether the 1841 or 1851 census returns, so it’s feasible that he travelled abroad for quite some time or was simply missed from the census returns.
The property at which he died didn’t seem to exist on the 1851 census so it must have been a recent build when George lived there. George died on 29 February 1806, his death being witnessed by an Ann Chapman, who simply made her mark, so unable to write her name.
George was buried a few days later, at Kensal Green Cemetery and left a will in which his small remaining estate was bequeathed to his sister in law, Clara, nee Leech Leake.
Following George’s death Messrs. Puttick and Simpson, auctioneers sold some of his possessions including a Stradiuarious (now known as Stradivarius, the oldest were known by the former name) and an Amati, two of the finest and now rarest violins ever made.
So, who initially purchased these items, was George ever paid enough to purchase them himself, or were they courtesy of the Prince of Wales? Maybe the royal accounts could shed some light on this matter.
The complicated story of the family and its ancestors didn’t end at the end of George’s life, no, not at all.
The Newcastle Journal, 3 February 1868 noted that Frederick Joseph Bridgetower was making claims to the throne of Abyssinia. This Frederick Joseph was the grandson of George’s brother, Frederick, who was mentioned much earlier.
He claimed that he was descended on his father’s side from the original heir to this empire and that his great grandfather was an Abyssinian nobleman who had two sons born in England i.e. George and Frederick. He explained that his grandfather had married in 1808 and died in 1813, leaving a son and daughter, the former being the claimants’ son. The claimants’ father was born in 1812 and married Catherine Richardson in 1836 and died in 1859. He hoped to be recognised also as great nephew to the black prince, Sir George Bridgetower (of course, George was never knighted!).
He claimed that family misfortunes had deprived him the means of proving his antecedents until recently the claims of his second cousin, Felix Alexander, recognised as the descendant of King Solomon the son of David, had revealed the fact of his right in claiming the empire of his forefathers by paternity.
So, that was two claims to this throne being made by both sides of the family. This sounds very much like one of those stories that get passed down through the family, but one which is to this day completely unprovable.
The Liverpool Mercury of 2 May 1868 weighed in on the debate and suggested that if he believed he had a claim to such a throne then he had better go there and take it.
We are sure that the British Government will never be so foolish as to support his pretensions.
This claim of royal connections rumbled on for a few more years and the Isle of Wight Observer, 7 May 1870 had an interesting article:
Frederick Bridgetower appeared before the Southampton Bench, describing himself as ‘The Emperor of Abyssinia’. He was described as a printer of Simnel Street, Southampton, was charged with being drunk and disorderly in the High Street. On being placed in the dock and questioned as to his name and address, he said he was King Frederick Joseph and the rightful heir to the throne of Abyssinia. The previous evening the defendant was discovered making a great deal of noise and appeared to be going through a theatrical performance. He was very drunk and wearing a crown, making claims about the throne. He was found to be carrying a card, on which it was printed H.R.H Frederick Joseph S Bridgetower, Emperor of Ethiopia and Abyssinia. Mr Palk the magistrate, told him that he would be sentenced to prison for seven days and advised him not to drink once freed.
How much truth there has been in this we may never know, but some of it seems highly unlikely and something of a very tall tale, passed down through the generations with much credibility by all who were told of the story.
What happened to Joseph Frederick after these claims, well there was one final sighting of him, leaving England and heading to America, what became of him from there, maybe someone will be able to shed some light on what became of him.
Another of Joseph’s siblings, John Henry spent much of his life in the lunatic asylum from the age of fifteen until his death at the age of forty-six and one of their siblings, Catherine, named after her mother, died aged about one, following an accident caused by her sitting down on a smoothing iron and burning to death, the inquest partially blamed her mother for neglecting the child.
Given the number of descendants, it would seem highly likely that George and Frederick’s ancestors are still out there somewhere.
We begin the third part of George’s life in March 1794, but just in case you missed the earlier parts, click on the highlighted links to read part 1 and part two .
George had been busy studying and performing at the New Theatre Royal, still under the pupillage of Barthélemon. Over the subsequent weeks his name regularly appeared in the press, still working at the same theatre.
From the quarter ending October 1795 until 1809 George’s name appeared on the Royal Household payroll as a musician, along with a Mrs Bridgetower, could this possibly have been his mother, reputed to be Mary Ann nee Schmid, whose name appeared between 1802 and 1809, as a recipient of an annuity of seven pounds, ten shillings?
On 19 October 1796 Lloyd’s Evening Post confirmed that George was still employed by the royal family, by this time, George was about sixteen and continued to be mentioned regularly by the press until the end of the century.
The Princess of Wales has music three or four times a week; last night the party consisted of Mazzinghi, Atwood, Cole Bridgetower (the black boy) who generally plays concertos on the violin, and Schram. Her Royal Highness also plays on the pianoforte and sings with Lady Willoughby.
In 1802 George was granted leave to visit his mother and an unnamed brother, a cellist in Dresden. We know from earlier that there was a possible brother for George, Johannes, but could the cellist have been another sibling? We will find out later.
It was whilst in Dresden that young George gave at least two concerts and having gained success with these, he went on to Vienna. It was whilst there that he was introduced by Prince Lichnowsky to Beethoven who wrote for him Sonata No 9 in A Major Opus 47, which was originally named ‘Sonata Mulattica’, but was quickly renamed following an argument between Beethoven and Bridgetower over a woman becoming now known as ‘Kreutzer Sonata’. Despite the renaming, the Rodolphe Kreutzer never actually played the sonata.
Towards the end of May 1805, according to the British Press, George advertised a forthcoming concert at the New Rooms, under the patronage of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, where he would play the violin and his brother Frederick, the violincello, on 23 May. Tickets being sold at half a guinea each could be obtained from his lodgings at 4 Great Ryder Street, St James, London.
Rates returns for that period show that the property was owned by a Richard Davies, but there are no clues as to who he was, but it was clearly a property in an affluent area, as his next-door neighbour was The Honourable Mrs Keppel.
Was this the mysterious brother, Frederick, who had travelled with him back to England? It would certainly appear to be and so, we will look at what became of him later, but he was certainly in England with George by 1805 if not before.
In September 1805, George’s father made a re-appearance in the newspaper, things were clearly not going well for him. This time he was in Exeter, alongside a woman who had been found to be an imposter. The article went on to describe the imposter as:
Rev. John Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower, otherwise Lieutenant General Mentor, lately serving under Touissaint L’Ouverture, otherwise the Black Prince. This person speaks fluently English, French, German, Italian and Polish languages.
Therefore, it would appear that George’s father was no longer in an asylum, but had instead, headed south for reasons unknown.
The last public sighting of George for some time was in the Morning Post, 30 March 1808, still performing at Hanover Square. He then vanished for a while once his payments from the Prince of Wales ceased in 1809, but where did he go? It is known that he attended Cambridge University, where he continued learning his craft and began composing music. From the National Register, 30 June 1811 we learn that:
His Royal Highness will attend at St Mary’s in the afternoon, when the sermon will be preached by the Rev Dr. Butler’ after which a musical exercise will be performed, composed by Mr Bridgetower, as an exercise for his Bachelor’s degree.
It is now known that his brother, Frederick had moved to Ireland, presumably from London, as that was stated at the time of his marriage in January 1808 to Elizabeth Guy, the daughter of John Guy.
Frederick continued to perform as a cellist and to develop his skills as a composer  and on 13 April 1808 made his debut performance in Dublin, as a cellist, at the Rotunda on Upper O’Connell Street in the city.
Not only was Frederick a performer, but he was also a composer and teacher.
According to The Hibernia Magazine and Dublin Monthly Panorama volume 3, 1811, Frederick performed some ‘charming instrumental music’ for the Beefsteak Club, at Morrison’s Hotel on Dawson Street.
It was around that time that Frederick composed ‘Six Pathetic Cantonets’ which were dedicated to the Italian Opera singer, Madame Catalani. Copies of his works, ‘A Pastoral Rondo for the pianoforte’, dedicated to a Miss Martha Collins, ‘Six Chromatic Waltzes’ and Multum in parvo’ are held by the National Library of Ireland, Dublin.
Life however was not kind to Frederick and his wife as around the time of the birth of their one son, Frederick Joseph, Frederick senior died on 18 August 1813, leaving Elizabeth alone to raise her child. We know that Elizabeth and her son remained in Ireland as Frederick junior was to find himself in trouble with the law in 1833.
According to The Pilot, 12 April 1833 young Frederick found himself involved in the Newry riots, between Catholics and Protestants, also known as Orange Men, during which he fired a pistol which resulted in him being sentenced to sixteen months in prison with hard labour.
After serving his sentence he left Ireland for Liverpool, where in 1836 he married a Catherine Richardson and they had eight known children. Frederick’s career was somewhat confusing as he was noted as a journeyman shoemaker, so didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps, however, on the marriage entry for one his daughters (Jane Guy), he was described as a professor of music, so quite which occupation he followed we may never know.
Frederick and Catherine’s eldest son, a Frederick Joseph, named after his father, born in 1840, we will return to later as his story is very relevant to George’s history.
We can only assume that Eliza remained in Ireland as her name appeared in the newspaper in the Newry Telegraph in 1849 when she developed cholera, whether she died from that remains unclear at present.
Returning back again to George, and in March 1816, at St George, Hanover Square he married Mary Leach Leake, the daughter of Edward Leech (rather than Leach) an affluent businessman (a cotton manufacturer according to his will) late of Kensington Square, London and a Mary Leake.
In the Times, 23 October 1832 there was a report of the death in 1807 of a woman who appears to have been George’s mother, so if that were the case, then money was being paid by the privy purse for some considerable time after her death:
Notice to Heirs and others – All persons who have any claim on or to Property, amounting to about 800 Saxon Dollars, left by the late Mary Ann Bridgetower, who died at Budissen on the 11th of September, 1807, are hereby directed to make known and prove the same by themselves, or their attornies, at the sittings of the magistrates of the said town, on or before the 12th of March, 1833, or they will forfeit all right and title to the said property – Dated at Budissen, in the kingdom of Saxony, 8th August, 1832. By order of the Sitting Magistrates.
At the time George married in 1816 a newspaper report came to light from the other side of the world, which raises some interesting questions about who exactly George’s father was.
This was a gentleman who went by the name of Augustus de Bundo who, on the face of it led an amazing life, but how much of his life story reported in the Royal Gazette, Jamaica, 26 October 1816 was true will forever remain questionable.
This elderly black man presented a petition before the Corporate Body of Jamaica requesting poor relief. In order to obtain this, he had to provide details of how he had come to find himself in such dire straits and with that, he set about providing them with a lengthy account of his ancestry, education and travel. He gave his full name as
Augustus Frederick Horatio, Prince de Bundo and stated that his mother was a Cherokee Indian Princess and his father was Almas Ali Achmet, a Turkish merchant, formerly of Mahometan and that his parents married in London.
He also claimed that his grandfather was the high priest of Bundo, Africa and it was through him that he claimed his title of Prince de Bundo. There appears no such place as Bundo, but there is a Bundu, so it is feasible that was where he meant.
He stated that he was born at Staines, Surrey and that at the age of seven was sent to Eton to be educated, where he remained until the age of sixteen; from there he travelled to Besançon, France where he studied for five years at the College of St Paul. Then went to Strasbourg where he entered St Bartholomew’s College to study theology, then on to Gottingen, Hanover.
In 1776/7 aged thirty-three, he returned to England, attended Oxford College, for four years, entered the university, and after a residence of sixteen months, took a Bachelor of Arts degree. Following this he was
Ordained a priest of the Church of England by the Bishop of Derry, who also promoted him to be a Deacon, that being a higher order in the church. He was then appointed as a Minister of a church in Pyrmont, Hanover and officiated there for four years until he was driven out by the French under General Junot in 1800. He travelled all over the continent and was well received at different courts.
Having carefully checked every fact in his account, the conclusion would have to be that, as fascinating a story as it is, it has more holes in it than a colander. His name does not appear in the registers of Eton, nor at Oxford, nor in the Church of England records, but that of course depends upon what name he would have been known by. Also, I can find no such college as St Paul, nor St Bartholomew’s. If he were ordained into the Church of England it would have been by Frederick Hervey, 4th Earl of Bristol, also titled Bishop of Derry.
His notion of being promoted to deacon could not be correct, as deacon was a lower position than a vicar/priest. It isn’t possible to provide any validity into his claim about General Jean-Andoche Junot, but date wise it doesn’t appear to make sense.
It does, however, appear that whoever he was, he was either someone who was extremely well-read or very well-travelled or both.
Now, here is the only part of his story which has some elements of familiarity, although again, it doesn’t quite add up. His testament continues –
He married a Polish Princess, the daughter of Prince Morowski and receive a dowry with her, in money, lands, castles etc which he enjoyed until the troubles in that country which obliged him to quit Poland. It was at Pyrmont where he first saw his wife, she went to a nunnery there for her education. After leaving Poland he returned to England and was well received by the Prince Regent, with whom he was on the most intimate and friendly footing, having received from him a general invitation to visit at all times, of which he availed himself, particularly at Brighton. The prince introduced him to the Queen and the rest of the Royal family, who were all kind and attentive to him.
In his testament he asserted that the Prince Regent had stood godfather for his son, who was the leader of the Princes private Chamber Music, his other son was also in royal service and that
The Prince Regent also asked that he be introduced at the British Court in the costume of a Mahometan on horseback.
This reference to him having a least two sons is extremely interesting and their connection with the Prince Regent, begins to make sense in terms of George and Frederick, in all likelihood is one of the few verifiable parts of his testament. How could this man have known the prince or have known about George and his brother?
He said that he frequently attended court balls, however, being a clergyman, he never danced. He was intimately acquainted with, and dined with, William Wilberforce.
He had a brig built, called The Isabella, which he jointly owned with his mother, which he registered at Lloyd’s, (having trawled through the Lloyd’s register from 1800 – 1815 there is no obvious sign of such a ship). He claimed to have loaded The Isabella, sailed to Barbados where he sold the cargo and took on another of sugar and rum for Cape Henry on the coast of Virginia.
Disaster befell him on 25 June 1816, when the ship was wrecked, and he lost everything. The crew were dispersed, and he went to Havana, from where he obtained passage in his Majesty’s ship The Tay. The Tay was being captained from 24 January 1816, by a Captain Samuel Roberts who sail from Portsmouth to Havana then on to Jamaica, having apparently taken on board Augustus at Havana. Augustus made specific reference to Captain Roberts in his testament, saying that the captain would testify to the accuracy of his claim. So, it seems feasible that perhaps one or two elements of his account may have had a grain of truth in them.
He also stated that his mother, who was nearly 80 years old was living in Antigua along with her sister, and that she had many possessions which she inherited from her ancestors and that he had some £12,000 in funds, he believed, in the Stock Exchange and his wife, a Polish princess lived in Staines, at a farm that they owned.
However, the following day, he was called back for a further interview, and clearly overnight he must have realised that his story sounded too far-fetched and so provided a much shorter revised account. He no longer made claims about being a Prince, but instead, said he was a Knight of the Thimble i.e. a tailor.
According to this revised testament, Augustus said that he was a native of Barbados, where he was born a slave, but being very intelligent he was sent to England as a servant to one of his master’s sons, where he learnt to read and write. His young master completed his own studies and was to return to Barbados, along with his servant, but Augustus had other ideas, decamped and passed himself off as a free man.
Now this does have more credibility, especially in light of a woman who lived in Barbados by the name of Rachel. Now, bear with this apparent digression from the story, but it may have some relevance.
She was born about the same time as Augustus and was the daughter of a William Lauder and a slave woman. She developed a friendship with a Thomas Pringle and changed her surname to his. Rachel opened an hotel in Bridgetown, where she provided entertainment for sailors and royalty after a long sea voyage. When her relationship with Pringle finished, she met a man called Mr Polgreen and took his name too becoming known as Rachel Pringle Polgreen. There was a plantation in Barbados connected to the Polgreen family, so that may have been who she had a relationship with.
Rachel died in 1791 leaving some considerable assets. Now, could there have been some connection between Rachel’s gentleman Mr Polgreen and George’s family, hence George taking that as a middle name, combined with a reputed family connection with Barbados? This may well remain pure speculation of course.
Returning to Augustus, this is the only documented part of his life story so far, but as you can imagine, the authorities were less than impressed and believed it to be pure fantasy. With that, he was dismissed with a caution to behave himself and in reply he said he would find the first opportunity to leave the country.
The testament took place in October 1816, and just four months later, an application was made to the court by Augustus, still sticking to his story that he was of princely origin, only this time he was requesting that the court procure for him a passage to England.
This was eventually agreed to and they gave him ten pounds to purchase provisions and a few days later he was sent packing on board the Queen transport ship, bound for Portsmouth. It would appear that the authorities were pleased to finally see the back of him and happy to send him on his way back to his alleged home – England.
Augustus returned to England and what became of him from then is still unknown. The only vague sighting of him was an entry in the Poor Records for St Martin-in-the-Fields in 1817. The entry simply references a man, named Frederick Bridgetower, aged 63 i.e. born c1754, seeking poor relief, which would make this gentleman about the right sort of age and given the unusual surname it does sound feasible that he did return to England, but penniless.
Could Augustus have been George’s father? We will probably never know, but if so, then it adds another dimension to his life. Do join me next week for the end of this tale.
Today we continue with the story of George’s life, but if you missed last weeks and would like to catch up, just click on this highlighted link.
We begin this part of George’s life with the assistant keeper of Queen Charlotte’s wardrobe was a Mrs Papendeik, who very helpfully kept a journal and clearly knew of George and his family and in her journal made the following notes of their meetings 
About this time an adventurer of the name of Bridgetower, a black, came to Windsor, with a view of introducing his son, a most prepossessing lad of ten or twelve years old, and a fine violin player. He was commanded by their Majesties to perform at the Lodge, when he played a concerto of Viotti’s and a quartet of Haydn’s, whose pupil he called himself.
Both father and son pleased greatly. The one for his talent and modest bearing, the other for his fascinating manner, elegance, expertness in all languages, beauty of person, and taste in dress. He seemed to win the good opinion of everyone and was courted by all and entreated to join in society; but he held back with the intention of giving a benefit concert at the Town Hall.
Mr. Jervois insisted upon the Bridgetowers coming to him after the boy had played at the Lodge, as he wished to hear him before he took tickets or interested himself in the business. Charles Griesbach and Neebour had promised to come to assist in the performance, but there was to be no audience beyond the regular set or squad — Papendieks, Stowes and Mingays. After supper, the music-room was ready, and then the father would not let his son play!
Also present at the gathering was the artist, Johan Zoffany who had recently returned from India. In her journal she continued to provide additional snippets of information about the Bridgetower’s, curiously naming George’s father as Ralph West Bridgetower, which is not a name that appears to have been noted anywhere else, was this another pseudonym or more likely a simple mistake on her part?
While I was playing the duet with Rodgers, he sat on the ground between us, after which that dear little soul kissed us and went off to bed. The duet, which we played without a fault, pleased greatly, and was followed by more singing, and Bridge tower’s two quartets and a symphony to finish made a long second act. Then we again had refreshments, and supper in the parlour for the performers. Over this meal we had a pleasant chat. Ralph West Bridgetower (as he was named) was most fascinating, young Lawrence elegant and handsome, and very attentive… Twenty- five guineas Mr. Papendiek put into Bridgetower’s hand, taking nothing from Mr. Jervois as he compelled him to come. The ladies being gone I went to bed, after making arrangements for Zoffany, but the gentlemen made a merry evening of it.
Abbott, Lemuel Francis; Sir William Herschel; National Portrait Gallery, London;
This circumstance occurred in the spring of this year, 1789. Madame de Lafitte educated the daughters, and many lent a helping hand. Indeed, through life did this family experience the same kind friendship on all sides. I now went to town for a few days to see my mother and brother, and finding that the Herschels were also going to London, I took a seat in the afternoon post coach, contrary to my usual custom of travelling in the morning, in order to accompany them. William HerschelI was much surprised, when taken up, to find Bridgetower in the coach. He said he was going to engage lodgings, preparatory to their settling in town for the winter. I knew the Herschels would not like being in his company, but it was a public coach, and nothing could be done, so we proceeded all together. At the White Horse Cellar, I urged the Herschels to take a hackney coach and see me safe to my mother’s; but no, they went on by the same conveyance to Paternoster Row, and I proceeded alone to St. James’s. In the dark passages in the Palace, that black, Bridgetower, suddenly presented himself, under the desire of being introduced to my father and mother. I told him that my parents from age and ailments did not allow these freedoms to their children, and I entreated him not to trouble me, as the door on the staircase where we stood led to the public apartments of the Palace, and, as I was generally known, I should not like to be so seen. He then said he wanted to borrow a little money. I took my purse out quickly and gave him all I had, a guinea and a half, and begged he would not attempt to call, as he would not be admitted. I watched him safely away, and then ran quickly to my home. I dared not tell my father, as he was angry enough about our exertions at the concert, observing that he knew from experience that no foreigner who asks anything from one, ever returns one’s aid either in gratitude or kind. … On my return, Bridgetower called, having previously sent the money, so he was straightforward enough in this instance, but I told him in Mr. Papendeik’s presence never again to ask us to lend money, for we had already done what we could. I added that he must not conclude that the whole of the 25/. put into his hands after the concert had been received for tickets. He, of course, was not over well pleased with this speech, but I began, as did many others, not to be altogether satisfied with his conduct. He shortly went to London with his son, and obtained an introduction to the Prince of Wales, who took a particular liking to the lad, and admired the father for his general elegance.
The Morning Post of 25 November 1789, under the heading ‘Bath’ reported that,
Amongst those added to the Sunday promenade was the African Prince in Turkish Attire. The son of this African Prince has been celebrated as a very accomplished musician.
The local newspapers in Bath were constantly singing the praises of both father and son. Before and after the performance George’s father strolled along the promenade with George dressed in Turkish attire, attracting a great deal of attention.
The Morning Post of December 8, 1789 noted:
The young African prince, whose musical talents have been so much celebrated, had a more crowded and splendid concert on Saturday morning than has ever been known in this place. There were upwards of five hundred and fifty persons, and they were gratified by such skill on the violin as created general astonishment, as well as pleasure. Rauzzini was enraptured and declared that he had never heard such execution before, even from his friend, La Motte, who was, he thought, much inferior to the wonderful boy. The father was in the gallery, and so affected by the applause bestowed on his son, that tears of pleasure and gratitude flowed in profusion. The profits were estimated at two hundred guineas, many persons having given five guineas for each ticket.
A further insight into George’s father was provided by The Derby Mercury 10 December 1789, but with no mention being made of his mother, was she with them? It would later appear that George was only accompanied by his father.
The father is quite black, about the age of 35, tall, well made and remarkably agile. The son is of a mixed colour, his mother being a European, and one of the Polish nobility. They both speak most of the modern languages (particularly English) very fluently.
Just two days later, the Morning Post 12 December 1789, noted George’s performance.
The favourite concertante of Pleyel, a concerto on the bassoon by Holmes, another on the pianoforte, by Mrs Miles (Late Miss Guest) and one on the violin by Master Bridgetower, the little mulatto, who is not eleven years old, and yet a wonderful performer, were the instrumental excellences.
One of the most famous black musicians at the time was the Chevalier de Saint Georges, who, it appears was a good friend to the family.
The accomplished negro and his boy Bridgetower was born in Jamaica, and generously emancipated by his owner, on the score of wonderful talents. He has since visited Russia, Italy, Germany and France. It was his good fortune at Paris to acquire the friendship of the Chevalier St. George. He married a Polish lady of quality, from whom this miraculous child descended. The boy has been tutored by Haydn, the consequence is eminently honourable to the musician and his disciple.
According to the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette (17 Dec 1789), George remained in Bath and on Christmas Eve entertained an audience with a violin concerto between the first and second Acts of Handel’s Messiah, at The Assembly Rooms.
The Oxford Journal 16 January 1790, excitedly reported that Oxford
Would have the pleasure of informing the public in general, and the cognoscenti in particular, they are likely soon to be gratified by hearing the wonderful abilities of Master Bridgetower on the violin, he being daily expected in this city.
It was rapidly becoming apparent from the media though, that George’s father was becoming more of a hindrance than a help in progressing his son’s career. Was he simply a ‘pushy father’ or was there something more concerning about his behaviour? That will become clear later.
Miss Cantelo’s benefit concert at Bath was not equal to her friends’ expectations, notwithstanding Harrison and young Bridgetower both exhibited.
The Black Prince, father of the violinist, by being too officious, has lost the countenance of most of his benefactors, as his concert showed last Saturday morning at the Lower Rooms, – not fifty attended.
However, on 12 February 1790, The Public Advertiser announced that the following week, George would make his first performance in London at Drury Lane, when he was again to play a concerto between the first and second parts of Handel’s Messiah.
The day after the event, Woodfall’s Register, and The Public Advertiser provided their reviews of his performance and once again, this raises questions about George’s age, as in an earlier account he was said to be nearly eleven, this time, not yet ten!
Master Bridgetower, son of the African Prince, is a phaenomenon in the musical world. After the second part of the oratorio, he performed a concerto on the violin, which though not ten years of age, he executed with a degree of delicacy and skill that would have done credit to any professional man of the most established reputation.
By this time, George’s father was beginning to create major problems and appeared to be somewhat unstable, and there was an outburst in March 1790, which was alluded to in The Times, 15 March:
The Black Prince would do well, before he dare to disturb the peace of the English audiences – to study the old ballad – of “There’s a difference I sing, “Twix a Beggar and a King.”
Yet another snippet from Mrs Papendeik’s journal also appears to support this:
During this time, we were again annoyed by a visit from Bridgetower. He, one morning, going as he said to Salt Hill or somewhere in the neighbourhood, left his son with us, who took the opportunity to disclose to us his unhappy situation. He said that his mother was left in distress, and that the money he could earn by his music was wasted in crime even in his presence, and added that the brutal severity of his father must soon lead him to some desperate act. Mr. Papendiek could only pity and persuade the poor lad to be careful not to provoke or aggravate this man, now found out in his wickedness. When he returned, we had luncheon, and then they went off to London.
We heard in a short time that the son had taken refuge at Carlton House, and that the father had returned to Germany. Mr. Papendiek called to inquire into the business, when the Prince of Wales told him that one evening Bridgetower, having returned home with a companion, had desired his son to get under the sofa and to go to sleep. The first part of the command he obeyed, and, watching his opportunity, made his escape. He ran to Carlton House, where from having often been there to perform, he was well known and on supplicating protection, he was taken care of till the morning when the circumstance was related to the Prince.
His Royal Highness at once sent for the father and desired him to leave the kingdom immediately, saying that he would furnish him with a proper sum of money for the journey, and that hearing of his return to his wife and family, he would remit a trifle for present emergencies that he might have the opportunity of looking out for employment of a more honourable nature than he had pursued in this country. If he made arrangements for his immediate departure, the Prince said he would permit him to call for the money and to take leave of his son whom he and treated so cruelly. The prince from that time took the lad entirely under his protection and treated him from first to last with the utmost kindness.”
So, that was that, George’s father had disgraced himself in royal circles with his behaviour and treatment of his son and it appears that within a week, according to the Derby Mercury 8 April 1790, matters came to a head, with George’s father being placed in a lunatic asylum:
The father of the young performer on the violin, who styles himself the African Prince, is at present a resident in a receptacle for lunatics. The Prince of Wales, with his wonted goodness has humanely taken his son under his royal protection.
Just a few weeks later George was performing alongside another violinist, an Austrian, Franz Clement and performing at Hanover Square, under the patronage of His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales
For the benefit of Master Bridgetower, and Master Clement on Wednesday 2 June 1790, will be performed, a concert of vocal and instrumental music. The place of the performance will be advertised in a few days.
On 26 May 1790, tickets for the concert were available from either, 9 Piccadilly where Clement resided or 20 Eaton Street, where George lived.
It becomes clear from the rates returns for Eaton Street, that George was by this time in fact residing at the home of Thomas and Mary Attwood, with George’s name later appearing in A Musical Directory for 1794, showing that he remained with the Attwood family for a number of years.
So successful was George, that the Prince Regent took even more interest in the young man and appointed tutors for him, the likes of the French violinist, François Hippolyte Barthélemon, the leader of the Royal Opera, and Thomas Attwood who became the organist of St Paul’s Cathedral, composer of the Chapel Royal and musical instructor to the Duchess of York, and then the Princess of Wales, so it is clear that George, despite still being a child, was mixing at the highest level of British society.
George was certainly now gainfully employed as a musician as in February 1792 he performed at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, according to the Public Advertiser. Then on 28 May he featured at Mr Barthélemon’s Concert at Hanover Square and later that year The Morning Post, confirmed that he played at The London Tavern, in a benefit concert, under the patronage of the Prince of Wales.
Over the next few weeks we are having a slight change to the usual weekly format in so much as I’m going to take a fairly detailed look at one person in particular and tell you a little about his life story and that of his family, so please do tune in each week for the next part of the story, be warned, we’re in for a long, complicated and very bumpy ride.
George’s early years
‘Genius does not solely belong to the tincture of a skin’ a quote from the Chester Chronicle, 1789 used when describing a certain child protégé. Who was this child, apart from being someone who was extremely talented?
The answer appears to be someone with a very complicated and confusing ancestry, which, over the centuries no-one has actually been able to completely fathom out. Despite the advances in technological access to archival material, which has given access to more nuggets of information, the same degree of uncertainty about some parts of his life remain today, even his surname seems to confuse, it was either Bridgetower, with the ‘e’ or Bridgtower without. The majority of people who have written about George favour the former, so I’ll go with that for now.
Over the next few weeks, I shall recount some of his life story, and, for a guess, by the end of it you will remain as stumped by it as I am about his genealogy.
For those who haven’t heard of him, let me introduce you to George Augustus Polgreen/Polegreen Bridgetower who was believed to have been born on 11 October 1778 in Biala, Poland according to an article in The Musical Times of 1981, although different sources offer different dates of birth for him, but this appears to be the most likely, as it on George’s application to join the Royal Society of Musicians.
The other date offered being 13 August 1778 and that he was baptised as Hieronymus Hyppolitus de Augustus. His father being Joanis Fredericus de Augustus and his mother being Maria Ursula de Augustus (née Schmid/Schmit/Sovinki) or possibly Mary Ann.
As you can imagine trying to track down a copy of George’s birth has proved elusive, to say the least.
The only nugget of information I have come across which might make sense of that entry, was the one below possibly for possibly son, Johannes Albertus Bridgetown, not Bridgetower, in Mainz, Germany some nine years after George was born, but of course this could be a red herring and to date there is no evidence of this child surviving to adulthood and his name is never mentioned in any biography about George.
The surname used by the family is unusual, which perhaps does indicate that Johannes was one of their children, but whether this child survived into adulthood, who knows. Hopefully one day it will be possible to see George’s baptism, just to set the record straight once and for all.
Just to confuse matters further, George’s father seems to have been referred to as either John Frederick Bridgetower or Friedrich de Bridgetower and worked in the household as a servant of Prince Nikolai Esterházy, where he gave several different stories about his origins (a favourite being that he was an African prince), but again there is no conclusive evidence.
The castle of Prince Nikolai contained an opera house and a puppet theatre where the composer Haydn was the Kapellmeister (musical director). If George had been spotted as a child prodigy, Haydn would have been the perfect person to help him develop his talent.
Sometime before 1789 the family left the court of Prince Nikolai and, according to The World newspaper of 2 January 1789, George made his performing debut as a violinist:
A young negro, named George Frederick Augustus Brigdetower, has made his entrée into the world as a musician. He played at a public concert on the 2d instant at Cleves, with very great applause, and promised to be one of the first players in Europe. His natural genius was first cultivated by the celebrated Hayden, and afterwards by the Sieur Schick He speaks many languages and appears distinguishingly from others of his cast and colour.
In April of that year in Paris, according to an article on the British Museum website, by Dr Mike Phillips,
The journal Le Mercure de France raved about his performance, concluding that “his talent is one of the best replies one can give to philosophers who wish to deprive people of his nation and his colour of the opportunity to distinguish themselves in the arts”.
George was obviously an exceptionally gifted young musician and his father, a great public relations machine for his son, trying to get his talent showcased at all the best venues – Paris, London and Bath, places that would have been popular with the elite.
In a plan to drum up interest in George, his father was telling all the right people that his son was the ‘son of the African Prince’ and, to ensure that the message got across loud and clear, he would wear exotic costumes and parade through the streets. His father was certainly no shrinking violet.
This report was noted in many of the regional newspapers of the day, from the Kentish Gazette, to Saunders Newsletter in Dublin to the Stamford Mercury. It appears that the whole country was taking an interest in this very talented young man and the Whitehall Evening Post decided to share a little background to the family.
The African Prince now at Brighthelmstone has a son of ten years old, possessed of amazing talents.
This extraordinary genius has been presented to the Prince of Wales, who intends to recommend him to the professional concert, as an acceptable novelty to the admirers and lovers of music. He plays with exquisite Mastership on the violin.
The grandfather of this extraordinary youth was committed to the care of a Dutch captain with diamonds to a great amount, and gold dust to be carried to Europe and educated.
After experiencing much barbarous treatment from the avaricious Hollander, the unfortunate prince was sold, as a slave, to a Jamaican planter.
The unhappy man met, however with a kind master to alleviate his misfortunes, and married an African woman, by whom he had the father of this boy.
At the grandfather’s demise, the father was still high in his master’s favour, at whose expense he was instructed in several languages. At the age of fifteen, he was permitted to make a voyage to Africa, with proper testimonials of his birth; but by a singular fatality was shipwrecked and lost his documents. Being conversant in several languages, he gained a subsistence by acting as interpreter to various foreign Potentates in Europe.
By 14 August 1789, it was the Chester Chronicle who were writing about George in the most glowing terms
The musical world is likely to be enriched by the greatest phenomenon ever heard – a youth of ten years old, pupil of the immortal Haydn – he performs the most difficult pieces on the violin, and goes through all the mazes of sound with wonderful spirit, execution and delicacy. His name is Bridgetower a sable plant of an African growth: Thus, do we find that genius does not solely belong to the tincture of a skin. He is now at Brighthelmstone, under the patronage of the Prince of Wales.
So, it would appear that young George’s career was definitely on the up and had come to the attention of the royal family as noted in The Morning Star, 3 October 1789 –
On Friday evening the son of the African Prince performed on the violin with exquisite skill, before their majesties and the princesses at Windsor Lodge. This musical phenomenon gave inexpressible delight to his royal auditory. His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales was his recommendatory introducer to the access of his royal parents.
In the 18th and 19th centuries people were fascinated with people who were different in some way to the ‘average person’ and people such as the Sussex Giantess were bought by often unscrupulous people, to be on show for the paying public. So let’s find out a little more about Jane Cobden and her family.
William Cobden and Millicent Amber were married in 1798 and together they had eleven children, five boys and six girls, including their famous second son, Richard Cobden, who was noted in history as being a politician.
Their children were – Frederick (1799); Emma (1800-1836); Millicent (1802); Richard (1804-1865); Jane (1806); Charles (1808); Priscilla (1809); Miles (1812); Henry Andrews(1813-1858); Mary (1815); and their youngest, Sarah (1817).
Richard was probably best known for his association with two major free trade campaigns, the Anti-corn law league, and the Cobden Chevalier Treaty, which promoted closer interdependence between Britain and France. He was so well respected that he even has a memorial bust in the west aisle of the north transept of Westminster Abbey.
To give you a little background into the family, they were a long-standing Sussex family who could trace their ancestors back to the fourteenth century. They lived in the hamlet of Heyshott, near Chichester, Sussex in an old farmhouse, known as Dunford.
They were not a wealthy family and Richard’s father was described by Richard’s biographer, John Morley as
a man of soft and affectionate disposition, but without the energy of affairs. He was the gentlest and kindest of men. He was cheated without suspecting it, and he had not the force of character enough to redeem a fortune which gradually slipped away from him.
Millicent, however, appears to have been the stronger character, described as being
endowed with native sense, shrewdness and force of mind.
She would have to have been a strong character, given the number of children she had to raise. It must have been difficult trying to raise such a large family with limited income, always trying to find ways to make ends meet. In 1809, the family had to be sold and the family moved to a smaller farm, Gilder’s Oak.
By 1813, the family hit hard time and had to move again, finally settling in West Meon, Hampshire.
By this time their third daughter, Jane was only seven years old, but was there anything unusual about Jane at that time? We will never know. The first sighting of a Jane Cobden was not until 1824, when her name appeared in the Norfolk Chronicle where she was described appearing as part of a travelling show of ‘curiosities’ at Mr Hubbard’s’ Great Room, Kings Head, upper side of the market. Sadly, the advert carries no further information as to quite where Mr Hubbard’s Great Room was, given that the notice appeared in a local newspaper, possibly Norfolk.
Jane was described as being
Only 18 years of age, stands near seven feet high. This young lady is allowed by all ranks of people, to be the tallest, handsomest, most elegant and accomplished young lady ever exhibitedto be British public.
She was appearing alongside Mr Thomson, the Scottish Giant, who stood at over seven feet tall and Mr Robertson who stood a mere twenty-six inches tall. Admittance being one shilling for ladies and gentlemen and just six pence for servants.
In July 1825, Jane’s mother, Millicent Cobden died at the age of 50, did Jane know as she was busy travelling around the country?
It was the festival at York in December 1825, that provided just one more clue as to her identity when it specified that she was a native of Chichester and that:
This British phenomenon is a striking instance of the power of nature and the natural beauty of this young lady has proved a magnet of irresistible attraction to a wonderful world.
The final sighting of Jane was in the Evening Mail, 9 June 1826, when she appeared at Ascot Races, accompanied by a ‘dwarf from the Low Countries’, a ‘Bohemian who balanced coach wheels on his chin’, a black sleight of hand player, several dogs and a lady who ‘took money’, all dwelling in a covered cart not twelve feet square, and all to be seen for just one penny.
Jane simply vanished after this, but it is reputed that she died in Hertfordshire in 1830, making her just 24 years of age. Whilst I cannot be absolutely certain that this young lady was the sister of Richard, she was the only Jane Cobden, born in Sussex whose year of birth matches or even comes close and there seems nothing to suggest that it wasn’t her – perhaps someone out there might be able to confirm one way or the other.
I have now found a burial for Jane and the ages ties in nicely with it being Richard’s sister. She was buried at Chipping Barnet 31st May 1830, aged 24 years.
The life of Richard Cobden by Morley, John, 1838-1923
We had thought about writing about his acting career, but we’re sure there are enough websites that provide all of that, so we decided to take a look at the man behind the theatre – if that’s at all possible. There has always been much speculation about his parents and so, as is our want, went on a hunting trip to see if we could unearth anything new.
His life appears to be a mixture of fact and fiction, some of which he possibly made up himself and the rest which has been ‘tweaked’ then repeated over the centuries with so much of it untrue, so let’s try to set at least some of the record straight if we can.
There is no disputing he was regarded as one of the best Shakespearean actors of his days. He was short in stature – true. His body being well-proportioned but a mere 5 feet 6 and three-quarter inches in height.
Born 4th November 1787, apparently, although there’s nothing to confirm that apart from books written some thirty years after his death, but let’s assume that is correct. His mother – now, the book about his life has this to say:
George Saville Carey was cursed in a worthless inhuman daughter. Ann Carey had, at the age of fifteen, ran away from home to join a company of strolling players; and when itinerant business was at a standstill, she figured in the streets of London as a hawker. It was in the latter capacity that her not unprepossessing face attracted the attention of Aaron Kean, an architect, who took her under his protection, but subsequently abandoned her. Shortly afterwards she became the mother of Edmund Kean.
We have managed to find her baptism, in 1763 at St Bride, Fleet Street which nicely confirms her as George Saville Carey’s daughter.
Mary Ann was one of several children that George Saville Carey (son of the poet Henry Carey*) and his wife Mary Ann née Phipp had, including two with the interesting names of Martha Udosia and Tempest Hazard.
Moving on to Edmund, there is no sign of a baptism for him, but it would appear that he was a child protégé and appeared on the stage when a mere 4 years old, with his mother, Mrs Carey, who we know was an actress and regularly appeared in the bill programmes for the London theatres. In his formative years, Edmund was simply known as Master Carey.
Who could his father have been? Well, we have seen references to it being an Edmund Kean, an architect’s clerk; an Aaron Kean, architect; Aaron Kean, a tailor; and Moses Kean, a ventriloquist who apparently took a keen interest in young Edmund’s career. Yet again, no categorical answer to that question.
We came across this newspaper article below advertising the first stage performance for a Mr Edmund Kean, who couldn’t be ‘our’ Edmund as he would only just have been born. Given the theatrical connections, this could either be his father or Edmund simply adopted the name in later life. There were three brothers, Aaron, Edmund and Moses who were all tailors by trade who lived at No. 9 St Martin’s Lane.
There were also rumours that Edmund’s mother was a Charlotte Tidswell (1766-1841), an actress, but that seems exceptionally unlikely, it’s possible that she may have been a relative, but more likely a family friend who was involved in Edmund’s theatrical education.
On 17th July 1808, Edmund married Mary Chambers at Stroud, Gloucestershire and a couple of years later they produced a son, Charles John, who, after attending Eton, went on to become an actor, although, not in the same league as his famous father.
After Edmund had a very public affair with Charlotte Cox, the wife of a London Alderman. He was then sued by Mr Cox for crim. con and damages of £800 were awarded against him.
Needless to say, this had an impact on his career and his loyal wife, Mary remained loyal no longer and in 1825, she left him and moved in to Keydell House, Catherington Hampshire, which her son bought from a Captain RD Pritchard, who lived there from about 1826 until 1842 and who, coincidentally we have written about before. Mary Kean died in 1849 and was buried in the parish church.
Edmund moved to Richmond where he spent his remaining years. By all accounts he outlived his fortune and died penniless, whether that’s true or not, like the rest of his life, we may never know.
His death came 15th May 1833 and given his theatrical status, a request was sent to the Dean of Westminster Abbey to have him buried there – this was declined, and he was buried instead at Richmond parish church following a post-mortem carried out a couple of days after his death. The newspapers sparing their readers none of the gory details of the postmortem, which is how we know his exact height.
It would appear though that in May 1833 there was a flu epidemic and presumably they were expecting that to be the cause of death, but having read the details of the autopsy, that seems unclear as to what the cause was. Interestingly his mother was living with him at that time as she too was unwell. Apparently, she took one last view of her son in his coffin and retired to her room where in just a few days, she too died. A request, by Charles, was made for her to be buried with her son, but there wasn’t space.
It seems that we will never know the full truth about Mary Anne Carey’s relationship with the tragedian, Edmund Kean, but at least we’ve been able to add a little more factual information to the myth.
Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser 20 May 1833
Worcester Journal 30 May 1833
John Hoppner, R.A. byMcKay, William Darling, 1844-1924; Roberts, W. (William), 1862-1940
Hawkins F.W. The Life of Edmund Kean in two Volumes 1886
Highfill, Kalman, Burnim, Langhans. A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers …
* George Saville Carey was born 3rd December 1738 at Clerkenwell, the son of the poet Henry Carey and his wife Sarah Harrison. Despite reports to the contrary, he was not born posthumously. Henry Carey was reputedly the illegitimate son of George Savile, Marquis of Halifax, but so far we have not been able to confirm this one.
Richard ‘Beau’ Nash, dandy, Bath’s Master of Ceremonies and unofficial ‘king’ of the city was born in 1674. He set the rules by which Bath society regulated their days, and established it as a resort of fashion. You had to pass Beau Nash’s scrutiny just to be granted admission to the balls and card parties and even the highest in the land had to do as he said.
When Kitty, Duchess of Queensberry, one of the era’s fashion icons, appeared at the Assembly Rooms with a delicate white apron over her skirt (which was against the rules), Beau Nash snatched it away and threw it onto the back benches, where the ladies attendants sat, acidly remarking that ‘none but Abigails appeared in white aprons!’ The duchess good-humouredly played the game and laughing, begged pardon of the Master of Ceremonies.
Even after his death in 1761, Beau Nash’s rules continued to be the basis for the Rules of Bath. The list below is from 1771, as published by Nash’s successor, William Wade and printed in The new Bath guide; or, useful pocket companion (1771).
Bath, October 1, 1771. This day the following new rules were published by the Master of the Ceremonies, and hung up in the Assembly-Rooms.
It being absolutely necessary, that a propriety of dress should be observed at so polite an assembly as that of Bath, it is humbly requested of the company to comply with the following regulations:
That ladies who dance minuets be dressed in a suit of clothes, or a full-trimmed sack, with lappets and dressed hoops, such as are usually worn at St James’s.
It is requested of those ladies who do not dance minuets, not to take up the front seats at the balls.
That no lady dance country-dances in a hoop of any kind and those who chuse to pull their hoops off, will be assisted by proper servants in an apartment for that purpose.
That no lady of precedence has a right to take place in country-dances after they have begun.
The places at the top of the room are reserved for ladies of precedence of the rank of a Peeress of Great Britain and Ireland, it being found very inconvenient to have seats called for and placed before the company, after the ball has begun.
That gentlemen who dance minuets, do wear a full-trimmed suit of clothes, or French frock, hair or wig dressed with a bag.
Officers in the navy or army in their uniforms are desired to wear their hair or wig en queue.
Ladies are not to appear with hats, nor gentlemen with boots, in an evening, after the balls are begun for the season; nor the gentlemen with spurs in the Pump Room in a morning.
The subscription balls will begin as soon as possible after six o’clock, and finish precisely at eleven, even in the middle of a dance.
That no hazard or unlawful games will be allowed in these rooms on any account whatever, and no cards on Sundays.
That in case any subscriber to the balls should leave Bath before the season is over, such subscriber may, by leaving an order under their hand, transfer his or her tickets for the remaining part of the season.
The major part of the company having expressed their desire that the tea, on public ball-nights, may be paid for by every person that comes into the rooms; the managing committee at the New Rooms, and Mr Gyde at his room, are come to a resolution, that each gentleman or lady on a ball-night are to pay six-pence on their admission at the outer door, which will entitle them to tea.
For anyone not familiar with Harriette Dubochet who used the assumed surname of Wilson whilst alive, (although when buried her baptismal name was given) I would definitely recommend both volumes of her memoirs published in 1825, as they make fascinating reading and are online via Internet Archive.
Harriette lived life to the full and was virtually penniless at the end. Her death certificate gives cause of death as ‘old age’, although in all likelihood a cause of alcohol related disease might have been more accurate. As well as finding religion toward the end of her life, she also found the bottle. She was apparently extremely fond of brandy, to the point of dependency and was reported to have been having a tipple or several just 24 hours prior to her death.
I came across this extract from Frances Wilson’s book, The Courtesan’s Revenge and wanted to check out what became of Harriette’s siblings and possibly find Harriette’s burial.
Harriette’s place of burial has always been something of a mystery, but I can now reveal that she was buried at Brompton Cemetery and the location of her grave is still visible.
The newspapers were not at all kind to her in life as can be observed in this article about her in 1826.
The present appearance of this unfortunate woman makes it difficult to conceive that she could ever have been attractive, either as to person or manner: her features are now ugly and coarse, her person bad and her manners vulgar, with a harsh discordant voice.
A correspondent informs us that the notorious ‘Harriette Wilson’ resides at Chelsea and has become a convert to Popery, and is a very active promoter of the objects of the virtuous priesthood! What next? Is she a candidate for the office of a Lady Abbess, or Principal of a Nunnery?
And even more derogatory about her death:
We have now done with this woman, and we hope no stone will be erected to commemorate her memory and disgrace the place of her burial.
Just for the record, Harriette was born 22nd February 1786 and baptised on 19 March the same year at St George’s, Hanover Square, the same place her other siblings were baptised.
Back to her memoirs, she thought nothing of naming and shaming the gentlemen in whose company she and three of her sisters, Amy, Frances, better known as Fanny and Sophia spent much of their youth.
When Harriette wrote to the Duke of Wellington advising him she was about to publish her memoirs and that to keep his name out she wanted money from him, his famous response was reputed to have been ‘publish and be damned‘, so with that she went ahead and published (the famous phrase is probably not strictly accurate).
I’m not planning to revisit the memoirs in this article as there’s already more information about Harriette and her memoirs online than you can shake a stick at. I will, however, say that in a letter I came across, Harriette was described as being ‘the worst and wickedest bitch in the world’.
Harriette was one of 15 children (11 girls and 4 boys, not all of whom survived childhood), born to Amelia Gadsden, not Cook as previously named elsewhere, Amelia was raised by John Cook and his wife, which is probably where the assumption of her surname has come from, and John James Dubochet, a Swiss coal merchant.
I have noticed that John seems to have had several occupations including that of a stocking cleaner, a mathematician and watch maker, but there’s no evidence to support this. On the children’s baptism and in his will, proven in 1826, he continued to give coal merchant as his occupation.
Little is known of several of Harriette’s siblings in particular that of the boys. The family seems to have been of mixed repute.
Rose (1799 – ?)
After her baptism there appears to be no proof that she survived into adulthood.
Known in Harriette’s memoirs as Diana, remained single and taught the piano from her home 34 Chapel Street, in the St Marylebone area of London.
Mary (1784 – ?)
Mary was referred to as Paragon, in Harriette’s memoirs. She married an Irish gentleman, Richard Borough(s), in 1812 in Dublin, and the couple went on to have four children, Mary, John, Henry and Augusta Sophia. At least one child was baptised in France so it looks likely that they remained there at least until Richard died at Calais in 1847.
Charlotte (1801 – 1873)
Charlotte, born 1801, married a surgeon and apothecary, William Jones Percival in 1825. The couple moved about with William’s business, from Poplar to Soham, Suffolk and finally to Birmingham to raise their family, where William ultimately took on the post of surgeon at the Kings Norton and Union Workhouse. After his death Charlotte moved to Aberystwyth to live with one of her three daughters, Mary Sophia and her husband the renowned Dr Charles Rice Williams and it was there that she died in 1873.
Julia Elizabeth (1808-1883)
Like her sister Jane, Julia also remained single and spent her later life living with her, by then, widowed sister and former courtesan, Sophia, Lady Berwick (1794-1875), at 7 Clarendon Crescent, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. After the death of her sister, Julia moved to The Mansion, Richmond (now home to Richmond Golf Club).
Frances (Fanny) (1782-1815)
Also a courtesan who, according to Harriette, produced three children with her lover, then upon his death, moved on to have a relationship with a Colonel Parker, who in all likelihood was John Boteler Parker, the son of Sir Hyde Parker. She took his name as if they were married although they were not. Frances was buried in 1815, at Kensington as Frances Parker, her assumed surname.
Amelia, aka Amy (1781-1838)
In 1794, at the age of 13, Amelia became apprentice to a Mary Barker, mantua maker. However, like her sisters, she became a courtesan and had a relationship with George Campbell, 6th Duke of Argyll, with whom, according to Harriette she had a son around 1810. The child, it would appear was William George Campbell and baptised at St Marylebone in 1810.
She did however marry the musician Nicholas Robert Charles Bochsa, in 1818 despite him still being married to the Marquis Ducrest’s daughter who was, apparently still alive. Bochsa was both famous and infamous throughout the Georgian and Victorian eras!
He was believed to have been born around 1789 in France, where he studied music at the Paris Conservatoire. Regarded as a child protégé he could play both the flute and piano competently, by the age of just seven. In 1813, he apparently became harpist to the Imperial Court, however, by 1817 he allegedly became involved in counterfeiting, fraud and forgery and fled to London to avoid being prosecuted. In his absence he was sentenced to twelve years hard labour and a fine of 4,000 Francs, so clearly, he was unlikely ever to return to his place of birth.
By 1821, the couple were the height of respectability, with Bochsa, in 1822, becoming one of the founders of the prestigious Royal Academy of Music, London together with John Fane, 11th Earl of Westmorland.
He was however, required to sever his ties with the Academy when news of his previous misdemeanours were discovered and two years later he was bankrupt, but became the musical director of the King’s Theatre, London. Newspapers began reporting that he not only committed the crimes of forgery and fraud, but also that he was a bigamist. We can find no proof of the final accusation, but there was probably some truth in his dubious reputation, as he found himself with a five-pound fine, this time for assault.
On 27th December 1837 Amelia died at her home, 2 Orchard Street, St Marylebone from an inflammation of the intestines and was subsequently buried at Kensal Green Cemetery.
Bochsa eloped with Mrs Anna Bishop, the wife of Sir Henry Rowley Bishop. Frances Wilson, in her book, queried whether Bochsa had eloped with Anna Bishop prior to Amy’s death; the jury’s out on that one, but clearly he wasn’t with her on the day she died as her death was not witnessed by him, but by a John Knight, a collector, who lived there with his wife, Sarah, eight children and their servants.
Bochsa and Bishop left England and reappeared eventually on the other side of the world, having spent the subsequent years touring Europe, America, Mexico and then Australia, where Anna appeared on stage as his protégé. They continued to perform on the stage until his death in 1856, in Sydney.
Harriette’s male siblings were Charles Frederick (1791 -?), Henry Cook , John Emmanuel and George Edward. Very little is known about the first three boys and in all likelihood Charles died during childhood, although there is no evidence of a burial for him.
John Emmanuel (1790-1821)
Apart from his birth and death, the only snippet of information about John comes from the marriage entry for his sister, Sophia, where he was present as a witness.
Henry Cook (1804-1855-9)
After his baptism, there is little known of Henry, apart from one mention of a brother to Lady Berwick in Naples, Italy in 1848. I eventually discovered his death dated simply as being sometime between 1855 and 1859, in Naples (British Armed Forces and Overseas deaths and burials records).
George married Christiana Hadden in 1816 and the couple had 4 children. At the baptism of their youngest child, George was a piano maker, then, by the time his youngest daughter married he had died, but had been ‘of the Treasury‘.
We also wrote a guest post a while ago about Harriette. In case you missed it why not hop over to Mike Rendell’s blog to find out more.
The London Gazette 1839
Berkshire Chronicle, 14 March 1829
John Bull 10 May 1840
Bell’s New Weekly Messenger 06 April 1845
Croome Collection at Worcestershire Archives.
The National Archives; Kew, England; Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 1708
Ann Street was born April 8th, 1733, the daughter of James Street, an eminent apothecary of Bath. Her brother William later became the mayor of Bath. On March 17th, 1754 at Bedminster, Somerset Ann married the actor, William Dancer who, by all accounts appears to have been the most unpleasant of men.
The couple performed on stage in London around 1758, where Ann became the doyenne of the tragedies. This marriage was short-lived as in 1759 Dancer died, leaving Ann a mere 26-year-old widow, but as she was already having a close relationship with a fellow actor, the renowned Spranger Barry she sought solace in his arms.
Barry, born 1719, was an Irish actor, who had originally been trained by his father as a silversmith but was said to be a descendant of Lord Santry. Certainly, he lived like a lord. He married a woman who bought with her a £15,000 dowry, so life was good. The problem was that he spent money like water and became bankrupt very quickly. So, with an interest in the theatre, he took to the stage, to earn more money. Barry first performed at Smock Alley, Ireland and was affectionately known as the ‘silver-tongued actor’ and rapidly became regarded as a brilliant actor.
The couple met whilst working in Dublin and began an affair prior to the death of Ann’s first husband, then after his death, they decided to move to the bright lights of London where Barry had worked previously. The couple continued their stage work performing on the stage at Drury Lane, then Covent Garden.
On January 10th, 1777 Barry died at their home in Cecil Street and was buried in the cloisters at Westminster Abbey, but his rival throughout his career, Garrick was buried inside! He did, however, leave Ann a well provided for widow. She was named in his will as the sole beneficiary of his not insignificant estate. He left her a house in Streatham, Surrey, leasehold plus the Theatre Royal, Crow St, Dublin along with a property adjoining it. Having written his will he did however lease the Dublin theatre to a Thomas Ryder, so quite how much Ann benefitted from this legacy we do not know for sure, but in a letter written by John Ord (barrister), in ‘Letters Addressed to Mrs Bellamy occasioned by her Apology’ it would seem that Ann’s solicitor advised John Ord, that Mr Barry had died insolvent, and that the theatre in Dublin would not pay the creditors there.
John Ord then tried to personally sue Ann and husband number three, who she married within two years of becoming widowed, was a Thomas Crawford, a successful young lawyer, again from Ireland, for the money owed, but somehow Ann’s husband
‘kept out of the process of the Court of Chancery; and though Mrs Crawford performs at Covent Garden, her person is safe, having made her husband the scapegoat’.
Quite how and when Ann met husband number three we can’t work out and there is no sign of a marriage for the couple, but a variety of documents confirm that they were a couple, so it seems feasible that they were married in Ireland.
Ann’s final performance on the stage was in mid- April 1798 at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden and some two years later she died, on November 29th, 1801, at her apartments in Queen Street, Westminster. Ann was buried alongside her second and apparently favourite husband, Spranger Barry in Westminster Abbey having outlived her third husband.
A Century of Great Actors 1750-1850
The Life of John Philip Kemble
Letters addressed to Mrs Bellamy, occasioned by her Apology
On Saturday 1st May 1813 at the King’s theatre a serious disturbance broke out, proceeding apparently a call from the audience for the reappearance of Madame Catalani, who had withdrawn her services from the theatre as they had not paid her monies owed for previous performances.
At the start of the performance (Pucitta’s La caccia di Enrico IV), there were some hisses and boos, which increased as the performance continued, with calls of ‘Off, Off’ Taylor! Manager’. No-one took any notice and the curtain dropped amidst the noise, which rendered the latter part of the performance inaudible.
After a brief interval, the curtain rose again for the next part of the performance and the boos and hisses grew louder. The performance continued with the actors playing the role of dead French soldiers strewn across the stage, noises began behind the scenes too and the performance stopped. The audience had at this point stormed the stage, the scenery of trees and mountains now began to shake; the ‘dead’ French soldiers got up and joined their companions, the dancers fled the scene like a flock of sheep.
The actors in black formed a complete contrast to the soldiers. Here, in true Buonaparte style, the drop fell, to prevent the public discovery of the chaos ensuing on stage, but they could not hide it all, as the feet of the flying Frenchmen now visible due to the shortness of the drop. The drop was now torn to pieces and the audience discovered the victors who were cheered.
A gentleman now, for the time came forward, surrounded by the storming party, and after much difficulty was heard. He was addressed by an orator or two in the pit and was told that an apology for his misconduct would be expected in all the newspapers. He bowed submissively enough and gave a brief apology to the audience, although this was barely audible. The actors tried to tidy and clear the stage so that the performance could continue, but were stopped in their tracks by a party of guards who entered from the left of the stage with charged bayonets. Another fight broke out until the guards were ordered off the stage by their commanding officer. Some of the performers dressed as soldiers had their weapon thrown into the orchestra among the lamps and desks. The orchestra panicked and fled the impending danger, gathering up every violin, bassoon and trombone and their music books as fast as possible.
Peace now seemed likely to be restored. Those who have fought bravely moved to the side boxes, shaking hands with those in the lower circle and bowing to those above, as if they had been actors performing a play. But this tranquillity was soon to come to an end as some in the gallery disapproved of the conduct of the conquerors and from among them, a short, young man walked backwards and forwards on the stage, in contempt of remonstrances, with triumphant insolence, shouting some unintelligible words in a vulgar manner. This offender was intoxicated and was dragged to the front of the proscenium and an apology insisted on upon his bended knee, or if he was not prepared to do this he would be thrown off the stage into the orchestra. They managed to get him down onto his knees, but he showed no remorse and was unwilling to apologise. His coat was pulled off, along with his waistcoat and his cravat was grabbed so tightly that he was almost throttled, he was twisted and squeezed about until he apologized properly.
All thoughts of resuming the performance were well and truly over, another spokesman made his appearance, none other than Mr Robert ‘Romeo’ Coates. Somewhat surprisingly, he quickly managed to get silence from the audience, which was somewhat unusual, as he was normally received with laughter and ridicule (he really was thought to be the worst actor of the day).
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a great misfortune, we must allow, to be deprived of the talents of Madame Catalani, but it is of no use for us to go a rioting.
Here the party on the stage thought fit to be content with their own exertions, and with very little ceremony they drove Mr Coates off the stage. Many now left the stage and retired to the boxes. The clock was just striking twelve and the curtain finally fell.
Mr Coates again attempted to address the audience from the pit, but without any luck at all. The company departed.
Afterwards, the Lord Chamberlain issued an order, that no-one should ever be admitted behind the scenes, under penalty of withdrawing the licence from the theatre.
Windsor and Eton Express 2 May 1813
London Courier and Evening Gazette 3 May 1813
The Gay Lothario, 16th March 1813. Courtesy of the Met Museum
Ann was born around 1745, one of two daughters born to Robert Catley and his wife Jane. Her younger sibling was Mary, also known as Polly. Family life was not easy, her father was a coachman, then publican of a tavern in Norwood, London. Her mother was a washerwoman and expected Ann to follow in her footsteps. As a young girl, she was expected to help her mother with the laundry, washing it and returning it when clean.
When she was fifteen she was regarded as a talented singer and was apprenticed for £200, to a William Bates, a music teacher. This was the start of her career in the theatre and one to which she would become very accomplished and one which would serve her well. Her first appearance was aged seventeen, at Vauxhall in the summer of 1762 and later that year she appeared for the first time on the stage at Covent Garden and remained with the company until 1784.
However, unknown to her father things were not quite as they seemed with Bates, the two did not get on well, and he regarded Ann as difficult and threatened to return her to her father and to sue him, instead in 1763, he sent her to Sir Francis Delaval, allegedly to continue her education, but the reality was somewhat different.
This whole sorry saga made headline news when a court case ensued, heard before the leading judge of the day, Lord Mansfield who was shocked by what had been going on. Behind the scenes a lawyer had drawn up a contract which stipulated that Bates should receive profits from Ann’s signing, Delaval should pay Bates £200 for Ann. Ann had effectively been sold as a mistress. The judge was appalled by this and declared that the sale of Ann was grossly against common decency. He ordered that Ann be released from Delaval and that she should not be returned to her father.
During her time with Delaval she reputedly had two children and another, Edward, who, she claimed was the son of King George III’s son Edward, Duke of York, this seems unlikely as he died 1767, and there appears to be no evidence of Ann having children until the end of 1768, but rumours abounded about her having relationships with a variety of gentlemen. Ann was now left to her own devices with three children to provide for, she continued working in theatres around Britain, earning significant sums of money, so the likelihood of her need to make money in other ways seems unlikely.
Ann, took her sister Mary in to look after her children, but, by all accounts, she treated her sibling dreadfully. Mary was abused both verbally, Ann had a very sharp tongue and even sharper nails. She frequently caused Mary to have a black eye or a bloody nose.
Ann, did, however, have some sort of moral compass as this anecdote confirms.
A married and somewhat debauched gentleman paid a great deal of attention to Ann. Ann repelled his advances, but he kept trying and on this occasion sent her a hamper of champagne of the most expensive champagne money could buy. Ann had had enough of this, she received the hamper with thanks. But that evening she sent it back to his home address, with a card directed to his wife informing her of the fact. At supper that night at dinner, the wife proposed a glass of champagne. Her husband was furious at his wife’s extravagance and she said that it had been given to her as a present and showed him the card, sent by Ann.
The outcome of that is left to your imagination.
Ann was very much the ‘darling of the theatre’ at that time and a fashion icon, with ladies wishing to emulate her, having their hair ‘Catleyfied’. Whilst working in Dublin, there were in 1763, rumours that Ann was pregnant, but if so, no proof of birth seems to exist, but ‘fake news’ is nothing new. Around 1767, Ann met Francis Lascelles and to the world, they appeared as husband and wife, however, to date, no proof of this marriage exists.
Francis, whether the father to all of Ann’s children or not, Francis accepted responsibility for them when he gave his name as the father at their baptisms. The children were
Rowland (possibly known as Francis)
Charlotte (always named as their second daughter) and George Robert, for whom no baptisms have been found to date. Both children were named in her will.
In 1780, some difference had arisen between Ann and the theatre managers concerning the terms upon which she was to be engaged, for the season. One of the managers called upon her, at her lodgings on Drury Lane to settle it. The maid was going to show the gentleman upstairs and to call the mistress ‘No, no’ cried the actress, who was in the kitchen, and heard the Manager’s voice,
‘there is no occasion to show the gentleman to a room, I am busy below making apple dumplings for my brats. You know whether you have a mind to give me the money I ask, or not. I am not one of your fine ladies, who get a cold or a toothache and can’t sing. If you have a mind to give me the money, say so; my mouth shall not open for a farthing less. So good morning to you – and don’t keep the girl there in the passage; for I want her to put the dumplings in the post while I nurse the child’.
We can only assume that Ann got her own way on that occasion as she appeared to do with most things, she was nothing, if not feisty. The couple seemed to live in harmony with their brood and during her later years, Ann had become very charitable and frequently helped the poor with gifts and money.
Helpfully, Ann left a will, which, without saying as much, confirms her status as being unmarried, it was written as Miss Ann Cately (sic). At that time, had she been married her estate would have automatically transferred to her husband, whereas Ann was able to make her own will and left virtually everything including a house that she purchased for her daughters, to her surviving children who she named as Francis (presumably Roland), Rowley, Frances, Charlotte, Jane, George Robert, Elizabeth and Edward Robert.
When Francis Lascelles died some ten years later on 2nd September 1799, he too acknowledged the children so it would appear that they were all well provided for. Francis, Rowley, Frances, Charlotte, Jane, George Robert, Elizabeth and Edward Robert.
The couple owned a handsome house near Brentford where Ann was to spend her remaining days until her death in the middle of October 1789 from consumption which she had suffered from for some considerable time. Ann was buried on 14th October 1779 at St Mary’s, Little Ealing as Mrs Ann Lascelles*.
Thanks to one of our lovely readers we have been alerted to the above portrait which appears to be a relatively unknown painting of Ann (Nancy) Catley. It was loaned by John Rhodes of Potternewton House, Leeds, (a major art collector in the north of England), to the National Exhibition of 1867.
The label on the reverse of the painting records it as having been painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, We finally managed to track down a record of it exhibited at the above exhibition. So hopefully this really is a portrait of Ann.
Portrait of Ann Catley courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
Mary Stephens Davies was baptised on 14th December 1761 in the village of Little Haywood near Colwich, Staffordshire, the daughter of Thomas Davies and his wife, Anna. At the tender age of just six, Mary had visited the theatre for the first time and the following day, much to the annoyance of everyone in the household, she kept singing one of the songs she had heard the night before. Her potential future in the theatre was secured.
Thomas Davies was a skilled gilder and woodcarver who operated with a partner, a Mr Griffith; Davies was employed to make a box from the wood of the mulberry tree which had reputedly been planted by William Shakespeare himself in his garden at nearby Stratford-upon-Avon. This casket was presented to the Shakespearian actor – and theatre manager – David Garrick, an act which initiated Garrick’s three-day Shakespeare Jubilee extravaganza in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1769 (the mulberry wood casket is now in the care of the British Museum).
A short time later, Mr Griffith, who had his eye on Mrs Davies, contrived to have Thomas Davies sent to prison and then judged to be insane and committed to the asylum in Birmingham, where he died. Mrs Davies spurned Griffiths’ advances and, to support Mary and her siblings, one brother and sister ran a tavern frequented by the acting fraternity and then embarked on a modest stage career, playing provincial towns. According to Mary’s memoirs, her mother arranged for the children go to London with their servant, Sally. So, off they went to Warwick Street, London but Mary led an unhappy existence as she was ill-treated by Sally.
At the age of fourteen, Mary followed her mother on to the stage and was playing the role of Juliet in a theatre in Gloucester when she met her Romeo, Ezra Wells. After a whirlwind romance, the couple married by licence in 1778 at St Chads, Shrewsbury, apparently against her mother’s better judgment although Anna Davies did give her consent to the union.
Her mother clearly knew best in this instance and she should have listened to her, for Ezra soon deserted his young bride and wrote the following letter to her mother.
Madame, – As your daughter is too young and childish, I beg you will for the present take her again under your protection; and be assured I shall return to her soon, as I am now going on a short journey.
As you may have anticipated, Ezra never returned for his bride but instead ran away with one of the bridesmaids.
Mary continued with her acting career, touring around the country until finally, in 1781, making it onto the London stage where she gained fame playing a wide variety of roles, both male and female. She acted under her married name (perhaps in the hope that Ezra would return) and was sometimes billed as Becky instead of Mary Wells. The nickname Cowslip, her role in The Agreeable Surprise, persisted for many years.
Toward the end of the 1780s, Mary met a fashionable young gentleman named Captain Edward Topham, (the tip-top adjutant), an Eton educated bewhiskered officer in the lifeguards who would become a playwright and journalist: he started The World and Fashionable Advisor newspaper in 1787, primarily to print puff pieces about his Cowslip (or Pud, as he also affectionately called her; she termed him Whiskerandos). Mary was captivated by the beauty of his mind but, as she could not legally be married to him, the relationship eventually fizzled out but not before Mary had given Topham four daughters, Juliet, Harriet, Maria Cowslip and the last who was born two months prematurely ‘in consequence of a fright’ and did not survive. In his book, Retrospections of the Stage, John Bernard later wrote that:
Of all Becky’s peculiarities, perhaps the greatest was her imagining that every man she saw or spoke to, fell in love with her… Becky’s malady reached its climax in her supposing that our late beloved and most virtuous monarch was among the number of her victims.
At Weymouth in 1789, Mary spectacularly embarrassed herself on the esplanade in her efforts to attract the attention of George III and his queen and then chartered a yacht on which she sat astride a gun mounted on the deck and sang God Save the King as she chased the royal party to Plymouth. Public opinion was divided as to whether Mary had inherited her father’s insanity or if her eccentric behaviour was because she was too fond of a drink.
As the century drew to its conclusion so did her wealth, despite still performing on the stage and we arrive a point when Mary ran out of money and men to support her, partly due to the fact she had bailed her brother-in-law Emmanuel Samuel out of his own money woes. Mary now found herself in the confines of the Fleet debtors’ prison, and said of her sorry circumstance that,
I came to London to see one of Mr Reynolds plays, How to Grow Rich, struck by the name, I determined to learn a lesson; but, notwithstanding the attention I paid, I benefitted nothing by it.
Whilst in the Fleet her life made a dramatic change, for she met a wealthy Jewish gentleman, Joseph Haim Sumbel, ‘rich, young and handsome; but haughty, irascible, and jealous, to the greatest degree’. Formerly the secretary to the Moroccan ambassador, Sumbel was in prison for contempt of court. They fell in love but once again there was the obstacle of her first husband who she claimed not to have seen for over 20 years.
Desperately seeking the security of a marriage (Sumbel was reputed to be a millionaire), she was brushed off any worries about committing bigamy and converted to Judaism so that she could marry Sumbel in a traditional Jewish ceremony in October 1797. As part of her conversion to Judaism, Mary, aka Becky Wells, took a new name, Leah Sumbel. The newspapers wrote of the marriage that they followed the full Jewish wedding ceremony in the presence of ten witnesses.
Any happiness was short lived. A year after the wedding, Mary applied to the magistrate for her husband’s arrest on the grounds of his attempted murder of her, saying that he was ‘tainted by the green-eyed monster’. Joseph retaliated and put a notice in the newspaper advising people not to give his ‘wife’ credit as she was using his name unlawfully to which Mary responded with another advert stating that she was seeking a divorce and maintenance. So began a lengthy game of both Sumbel and Mary hurling insults at each other in the press. Mary claimed that Sumbel had tried to strangle her and, on another occasion, the owner of the house they were living in took them both to court for destruction of his property after Joseph threw a chamber pot (hopefully empty!) at Mary, breaking it in the process. Sumbel made a futile attempt to shut Mary up in a madhouse, and when that failed he sought to annul his ill-fated marriage. Despairing of legal redress in the matter, Sumbel chose to end the matter simply, with a hand-written slip of paper:
When a man hath taken a wife and married her and it comes to pass that she hath no favour in his eyes because he hath found some uncleanness in her, then let him write her a bill of divorcement and give it in her hand and send her out of his house.
Eventually, Sumbel slipped out of the country on a passport acquired by his friend, the Duke of Portland, and Mary, who renounced Judaism, saw no more of him although she continued to use his surname.
As a way of making some money, Mary published her memoirs: there’s nothing like selling your soul but even this was not sufficient to pay off her creditors. She spent her remaining days in lodgings with her elderly mother, living on little more than the £55 a year she received from the charitable Covent Garden Theatrical Fund: The Wells’ landlady, a Mrs Bellini, became a great friend. Mary’s three daughters by Topham grew up in Doncaster and were reckoned ‘the best horsewomen in Yorkshire’.
They all made good marriages, and this was perhaps some comfort to Mary, who died on 23 January 1829 aged 67, and was buried at St Pancras church. She is remembered as a great actress whose eccentricity and misfortunes prevented her from reaching her full potential.
Dallas, Eneas Sweetland. Once a Week, Volume 11
Highfill, Philip H. Burnim, Kalman A. Langhans, Edward A. A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers
St Chads Shrewsbury, Marriage Register
Morning Star, Tuesday, June 2, 1789;
Oracle and Daily Advertiser, Monday, December 31, 1798
Oracle and Daily Advertiser, Wednesday, December 5, 1798
Craftsman or Say’s Weekly Journal, Sunday, October 22, 1797
True Briton (1793), Wednesday, December 5, 1798
Morning Post and Gazetteer, Monday, December 17, 1798
London Packet or New Lloyd’s Evening Post, December 24, 1798 – December 26, 1798
Morning Post and Gazetteer, Wednesday, December 26, 1798
In a previous blog post ‘Miss Jenny Davis as a bride’ we briefly mentioned Richard Wroughton, so thought we would take a closer look at him to see if we could find out anything more about his life.
Little is known of Richard’s early life. He was born in Bath, Somerset the son of Charles Rotton, or Rotten as recorded in the baptism register of St James’s church, Bath, 22nd October 1749. A small entry for a man who was to become one of the leading players of the London theatre circuit. Quite why he changed his name we can only speculate, perhaps Wroughton appeared more suitable for the theatre than Rotten!
It is reputed that whilst Richard was ill he fell in love with his nurse, Joanna Townley, and later married her. We know he was under 21 as the parish registers of 1769 tell us that his father needed to give his consent. There was no such entry for his bride to be, however, implying that she was older than him.
Richard and Joanna left the confines of Bath so that Richard could pursue his passion for the theatre, and so they set off for the glamorous life in London. Reading about him, Richard was clearly never short of work taking on a wide variety of predominantly Shakespearian roles at both Covent Garden and Drury Lane from the late 1760s until his retirement from the stage in 1798. He also performed in Liverpool and was the manager of Sadler’s Wells.
However, his ‘exit stage left’ was a little premature as he returned to acting a year or so later and remained an actor until 1815 when he finally retired, exhausted.
We tracked down his will, in which he left everything to his ‘beloved wife Elizabeth’ – who? He had remarried, so we began to search for the death of his nurse, later to be his wife, Joanna and found a curious burial entry in the parish register of Speenhamland, Berkshire for the 14th November 1810, the burial of a Joanna Wroughton, her residence given as Bath, Somerset. Her age at the time of her death was given as 71, making her birth 1739. Was this Richard’s wife? It would certainly appear to have been, so she was a good ten years his senior.
This entry makes sense when you check the newspapers for February 1811. A mere three months later Richard married for a second time, his new bride being Miss Elizabeth Thomas, daughter of Reverend Dr Thomas. He didn’t exactly waste any time finding a replacement which when you read Michael Kelly’s description of him, doesn’t exactly make him a great ‘catch’ –
‘a sterling person, sound and sensible. His person was bad, he was knock-kneed, his face was round and inexpressive, and his voice was not good. He had, however, an easy and embarrassed carriage and deportment, was never offensive’.
Richard was clearly a popular man as he was named as a beneficiary in several wills we have come across, most notable being that of the renowned actor Robert Baddeley.
Richard was buried 22nd February 1822 at St George, Bloomsbury, Camden.
Richard Wroughton, by Robert Laurie, published by William Richardson, after Robert Dighton mezzotint, published 10 July 1779. Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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 was charged admission at their rooms in Frith Street until June.
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 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.
Oxford Journal, 23rd February 1765
Newcastle Chronicle, 14th May 1768
Mozart, Stanley Sadie, Oxford University Press, 2006
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.)
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 jubilee [manuscript], 1769byGarrick, David, 1717-1779; Britton, John, 1771-1857, former owner; Waldron, F. G. (Francis Godolphin), 1744-1818, former owner; Barton, Thomas Pennant, 1803-1869, former owner
Quotations from Shakespeariana: plays, Volume 1, 1825
The actor and theatre manager David Garrick as Shakespeare’s Richard III by William Hogarth, c.1745. Walker Art Gallery.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
An Audience at Drury Lane Theatre, undated, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The actor and theatre manager David Garrick as Shakespeare’s Richard III by William Hogarth, c.1745. Walker Art Gallery.
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.
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.
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 guitar was also a popular instrument for women to play as we can see in these next paintings.
And finally, an all female quartet.
But the post would not be complete without Gillray’s take on an old woman playing the harpsichord now would it!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stamford Mercury, 17th August 1821
Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser, 27th August 1821
‘The Wellington Coach’ (The Newcastle-York-London Mail) by John Cordrey, c.1818. Ferens Art Gallery.
Roll Up! Roll Up! Today we invite our readers to visit Pidcock’s Royal Menagerie at Exeter ‘Change and also touring the country, so all can join in. All manner of incredible and rare animals, some never seen before. And all for just one shilling.
Come on in, and prepare to be amazed…
TO THE CURIOUS
Whatever deserves the Epithet of RARE, must certainly be worthy the Attention of the Curious.
JUST Arriv’d from the ISLAND of JAVA, in the East-Indies, and ALIVE, one of the greatest Rarities ever brought to Europe in the Age or Memory of Man,
The GRAND CASSOWAR.
It is described by the late Dr. Goldsmith as follows, viz. The Head inspires some Degree of Terror like a Warrior; it has the Eye of a Lion, the Defence of a Porcupine, and the Swiftness of a Courser; but has neither Tongue, Wing nor Tail. Its Legs are stout like the Elephant, Heel as the Human Species, and three Toes before; it is upwards of six Feet high, and weighs above 200lb. Its Head and Neck is adorned with a Variety of beautiful Colours, the Top a Sky Blue, the Back Part Orange, the Front Purple, adorned on each side with Crimson, curiously beaded, and its Feathers resemble the Mane of a Horse – and what is more extraordinary, each Quill produces two Feathers.
The Dutch assert that it can devour Glass, Iron, Stones, and even burning Coals, without Fear or Injury.
This Bird laid a large Egg at Warwick, on the 14th of January last, which is of a green Colour, spotted with white.
Ladies and Gentlemen One shilling each.
PIDCOCK, the Proprietor of this BIRD, will be at Sheffield Fair the 28th Instant; and will visit all the other principal Towns in Yorkshire.
(Leeds Intelligencer, 16th November, 1779)
GRAND MENAGERIE of WILD BEASTS and BIRDS, all alive, is just arrived, and now exhibiting at the White Lion, Corn-Market, DERBY. This invaluable Collection consists of two Mountain Lion Tygers, Male and Female – two Satyrs, or Ætheopian Savages, ditto – a He Bengal Tyger – a Porcupine – an Ape – a Coata Munda – a Jackall – four Macaws – two Cockatoos, one of which will converse with any Person in Company; with a Number of other Curiosities not inserted.
N.B. The large Beasts are well secured, so that the most timorous may approach them with the greatest Safety.
Admittance 1s. each – a Price by no means adequate to the Variety of Curiosities exhibited.
(Derby Mercury, 31st December, 1789)
Just arrived from the Lyceum, and Exeter Exchange, Strand, London, and to be seen during the fair, in the market-place, two of the grandest assemblages of living rarities in all Europe: consisting of two stupendous and royal OSTRICHES, male and female. These birds exceed in magnitude and texture of plumage all the feathered TRIBE in the CREATION. They already measure upwards of NINE FEET high, although very young! – Also a BENGAL TYGER, a young LIONESS, a real spotted HYÆNA, a ravenous WOLF, two ring-tailed PORCUPINES; an AFRICAN RAM, with four circular horns; and twenty other animals and birds, too numerous to insert. – Admittance, 1s. – Servants, half-price. – Likewise in the other exhibition is the ROYAL HEIFER with TWO HEADS, a beautiful COLT, of the race kind, foaled with only THREE LEGS, got by Sir Charles Bunbury’s Diomed, out of Barcelli, which was the dam of Marcia, now the property of Lord Derby; also a RAM with SIX LEGS. – In addition to the animal curiosities one of the most extraordinary productions of the human species will be shewn, namely the double-jointed IRISH DWARF, who will engage to carry two of the largest men now existing, both at the same time. – Admittance, as above. – Birds and beasts bought, sold, or exchanged, by G. Pidcock. – The above collection will proceed to Warrington, Liverpool, Manchester, &c.
(Chester Chronicle, 14th October, 1791)
Things did not always go to plan though. In 1792, Friday the 13th really lived up to its reputation as a day for disaster, as least as far as Gilbert Pidcock’s travelling menagerie was concerned while travelling through Lincolnshire . . .
On Friday the 13th inst. as Mr Pidcock was proceeding from Gainsborough to Brigg, with his exhibition of birds and beasts, a terrible clap of thunder, attended with lightning, took place, which frightened the horses, and they set off on full gallop, threw the ostrich carriage over, broke it to pieces, broke the back of the female ostrich which died the next day, and the male ostrich was bruised in so terrible a manner, that it died at Newark, on Wednesday the 25th. The Irish dwarf had his collar bone broke, and was otherwise much hurt, but is now in a fair way of recovery.
We had no plans to write about Elizabeth, wife of Richard Brinsley Sheridan as much has already been written about her and we have always aimed to add something new to already published information. However, having watched historian, Hallie Rubenhold on BBC 2’s Newsnight programme relatively recently, talking about women who were famous in their own right at the time but who have been overshadowed by their more successful spouses we decided to look again at Elizabeth’s life.
The first thing that jumped out was that no-one was quite sure when she was born, apart from September 1754, so, although we have not found her birth we can now confirm her baptism as it appears in the parish records, 25th September 1754 at St Michael’s church, Bath, Somerset. Elizabeth was one of 12 children born to Thomas and Mary Linley, Thomas, being a renowned composer. Elizabeth began her singing career in 17661 when she was put forward as a public singer in the rooms at Bath aged only 12. She went on to make her debut at London’s Covent Garden in 1767 alongside her brother Thomas.
Three years later when Elizabeth was a mere 16 years of age she was betrothed by her father to an elderly but extremely wealthy gentleman, Walter Long. Not long after this Elizabeth made it clear that she would never be happy in this marriage – why would she be, she was around 16, he 60 and apart from the age gap she had already fallen for Richard Brinsley Sheridan. With this, the marriage was cancelled and Walter paid Elizabeth’s father a settlement figure of £3,000 (approx. £270,000 in today’s money) and Elizabeth was allowed to keep the jewels and gifts that he had already given her.
The Public Advertiser Friday 6th July 1770 described Elizabeth in the following glowing terms:
A young lady from Bath whose general excellence in every accomplishment which can adorn and render amiable the female character and whose particular talents as a singer justify the most extravagant description. The inimitable sweetness of her voice dispelled the gloom of disciplinarian austerity, nor could the sober, morose Fellows of Colleges refrain from joining many an enamoured academic in bearing testimony by repeated bursts of applause to her great merit and graceful deportment.
However, the episode with Walter Long returned to haunt her when the whole episode which she would undoubtedly have wished to remain private became very public courtesy of Samuel Foote, who chose to write a play about it – ‘The Maid of Bath’ which opened in 1771 at the Haymarket theatre. The play only lasted for a few performances and ridiculed Elizabeth. Following that, Elizabeth and Sheridan eloped to France with the assistance of his close friend, Mr Ewart (senior), a brandy merchant, who not only helped them to obtain safe passage but also provided them with letters of recommendation. According to Sheridan’s memoirs, the couple married at the end of March 1772 in a small village near Calais by a priest well known for his services of this kind. Eloping in such a fashion caused an outcry and Sheridan was branded a scoundrel and liar.
However, when the couple returned to England and no proof could be found of their marriage they were eventually officially married on the 13th April 1773 in the presence of her father as she was still as a minor.
After their marriage Sheridan’s fame began to spread and at the same time Sheridan decided that he would no longer permit his new bride to perform on the stage as it apparently reflected badly upon his professional reputation, a fact that appears to be confirmed in his memoirs, dated 1773:
The celebrity of Mrs Sheridan as a singer was, it is true, a ready source of wealth; and offers of the most advantageous kind were pressed upon them by managers of concerts in both town and country. But with a pride and delicacy, which receive the tribute of Dr Johnson’s praise, he rejected at once all thoughts of allowing her to reappear in public; and instead of profiting by the display of his wife’s talents, adopted the manlier resolution of seeking a reputation of his own. An engagement had been made for her some months before by her father, to perform at the music meeting that was to take place at Worcester this summer. But Sheridan, who considered that his claims upon her had superseded all others, would not suffer her to keep this engagement.
Lloyd’s Evening Post of the 16th July 1773 provides an interesting article!
at the late Installation at Oxford, immediately after the honorary Degrees had been conferred in the Latin Proscenium, to which the words Caufa Honoris always are made use of, Lord north, filled with admiration at Mrs Sheridan’s excellent vocal performance, said to Charles Fox, who sat by him “I think we should give her husband a Degree Caufa Uxoris”, “I think so too, my Lord,” (replied the young commoner), and I should be very glad to be admitted on this ground ad Eundem!
In the mid-January of 1774, The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser reported that Elizabeth was ‘dangerously indisposed’ and that there was virtually no chance of her singing anywhere during the season. This opinion was followed up by Adam’s Weekly Courant a few weeks later which indicated that her health was still showing no sign of improvement
Mrs Sheridan is dangerously ill. The Queen has offered her 200l a year for life for private concerts.
Whether Elizabeth took up this offer we have no idea, but in today’s money that would have been worth about £12,000, but given newspaper references later, it seems highly likely that she complied. The next reference to Elizabeth’s health does not appear until December 1774, so whatever her illness at the time it clearly lasted some considerable time, but she appeared to be fully recovered. There were few mentions of Elizabeth in the press over the next few months.
Sheridan’s play The Rivals was first performed at Covent Garden on the 17th of January 1775 and despite no longer being in the public eye The Middlesex Journal of the 26th January 1775 provides us with a glimpse as to how Elizabeth had been spending her time and more importantly her involvement in what is arguably one of her husbands most famous works:
We hear that the admired Epilogue to the Rivals is the composition of Mrs. Sheridan. There is a delicacy in the thoughts and in the expressions of this poem, that claim the warmest approbation, and leave us in doubt which we shall most applaud, Mrs. Sheridan’s excellence in music, or in poetry.
Sheridan was now enjoying the trapping of city life was in stark contrast to that of Elizabeth who preferred to remain in the country and apparently, as a result, their marriage became somewhat tempestuous. However, despite their differences on the 16th November 1775 Elizabeth gave birth to a son, Thomas/Tom at the couple’s home in Portman Square according to the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser. The couple’s address was, at the time, regarded as one of the most fashionable addresses in London and they appear to have enjoyed socializing with the rich and famous, but of course entertaining such people by giving twice weekly concerts came at a price and not one that the couple could really afford. They were reputed to be permanently in debt.
January 19th, 1776 the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser reported that David Garrick had sold his share in Drury Lane theatre to a Dr Forde, Mr Ewart and two very familiar names – Mr Linley (father in law of Sheridan) and Richard Sheridan – the purchase price being 35,000l. Although not mentioned in this report we do know that the ‘villain’ in one of our other planned books was also involved in the purchase of the theatre and was a close friend of Sheridan’s which is another reason that Elizabeth’s story is of interest to us as our heroine would more than likely have been well acquainted with her. We can only presume that both Elizabeth’s father and Sheridan used some of the money provided by Walter Long to help fund this project.
The next mention of Elizabeth in the press was in June 1776 when she gave a private performance for the Queen where she sang several songs for their Majesties. These private concerts continued, with reference in the press being made regularly. Sheridan may have wanted his wife to quietly retire but the press were not going to let her slip into obscurity quite so readily, with her name being mentioned frequently with her setting the ‘gold standard’ for other singers to aspire to – no-one quite bettered her though for some considerable time.
Wednesday 7th May 1777 tragedy struck the couple as Elizabeth was delivered of a still born child. Clearly, this loss took its toll on Elizabeth as physicians were called to see her just a couple of days later. The Public Advertiser 12th May carried the same report about the still birth and directly below it reported the birth of a female, likely to live forever– daughter of Sheridan’s Muse!
A little over a year later on the 5th August 1778, Elizabeth’s brother tragically drowned in a boating accident and the press described Elizabeth as being inconsolable. There appear very to be few references in the press after this date pertaining to Elizabeth, perhaps she had become the dutiful wife; the press only reported the couple appearing in public at concerts and the like.
Although women were unable to vote it did not appear to preclude them from taking an active interest in the politics of the day as The Public Advertiser of 4th April 1782 confirmed Elizabeth’s presence at the hustings:
The Duchess of Devonshire, Mrs Bouverie, Lady Milner, Mrs Sheridan and some other ladies were on the hustings. The ladies joined in the shouts and applauses of the people and The Duchess of Devonshire and Mrs Bouverie who wore blue and buff riding habits and Lady Milner who was likewise in a riding habit took off their hats and joined the huzzahs of the people.
We move then on a few years to the 17th February 1784 when once again Elizabeth had been taken gravely ill at the seat of the Honourable Mr Bouverie in Northamptonshire. Sheridan immediately left London to be by his wife’s side, her life being described as in ‘immediate danger’.
After this event the press remained exceptionally quiet again for the next few years apart from a few mentions about her social diary, until 13th October 1791 when, yet again there appear grave doubts about her surviving her present illness, but as if by magic she made a full recovery some two weeks later, but then disappeared to Southampton a few weeks later to assist with her recovery, Sheridan going to collect her on the 8th of March 1792 once she was fully recovered. We know from Lord Fitzgerald’s letters to the Duchess of Leinster that he was having a relationship with Elizabeth and was fully aware of Elizabeth’s trip to Southampton; the couple had a child, Mary, born 30th March 1792.
By the 17th April 1792, Elizabeth was expected to die within 6 months according to her physicians and the media. Reports stated that as soon as she was well enough to undertake the journey she should be moved from London to Bath. A few weeks later this account was rectified and an apology printed stating that now her health was much improved, although less than one month later, initial worries were proved correct and Elizabeth was in fact dying.
Elizabeth, who was never physically strong, succumbed to tuberculosis which proved fatal and she died on the 28th of June 1792, aged just 38. The press reported her death as happening at 5 o’clock in the evening at Bristol Hot Wells with her husband present. She was buried in the same vault as her sister Mary, at Wells Cathedral on the 7th July 1792 and was followed to the grave by her legitimate daughter Mary shortly after.
The Chester Chronicle, 30th August 1799 described Elizabeth as ‘A lady of unrivalled beauty and the rarest talents’. So despite not having performed publicly for almost 30 years her reputation as a talented and beautiful singer remained.
The politician John Wilkes described Elizabeth as ‘the most modest, delicate flower he had ever seen’ when referring to Sheridan’s loss.
The Gentleman’s Magazine 138, dated 1825 includes a letter purported to have been written by Elizabeth to her close friend Miss Saunders which makes for fascinating reading.
So, Elizabeth clearly was unrivalled in her talent and beauty, but it does appear that she remained in the shadow of her husband, whether this was largely due to his ego or whether her health was the main reason, it seems hard to determine. The impression created is that he was overwhelmingly anxious about his wife’s state of health throughout their marriage and clearly, rightly so as she was incredibly fragile. Certainly, whatever the reason, Elizabeth supported her husband in not only his writing but also in his political career and she was much involved in the politics of the day, being present at the hustings with the Duchess of Devonshire.
1 Thomas Linley, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and Thomas Mathews, their connections with Bath (1903)
Whilst researching our earlier article about the Nottinghamshire Giantess we stumbled across the following newspaper report from the London Standard dated the 1st February 1831. Although technically just outside our remit of ‘all things Georgian’, because William IV’s reign is sometimes incorporated into the Georgian era we thought we would include it here.
SCOTCH GIANTESS AND HER HUSBAND
On Sunday morning last, about five o’clock, information was given to a police constable on duty near the Asylum, that heavy groans were heard to proceed from the travelling residence (a large carriage) of the celebrated Scotch giantess, situated in the Mall, an open space of ground between the Westminster-road and the New Bethlem, and that it was feared that murder had been committed. The constable procured further assistance, and repaired immediately to the spot. They found the door of the carriage open, and all in darkness and groans, as if of two persons, were heard to proceed from within. A light having been soon obtained, a man and a woman, of gigantic size, were found lying on the floor, in a state of insensibility.
The man, upon being asked what was the cause of their indisposition, pointed to the table, upon which was an empty cup, with a white sediment adhering to its sides, and on the floor was a piece of paper labelled poison, the contents of which they had both swallowed. The policeman lost no time in conveying them to Guy’s Hospital, where they were immediately attended to by Mr. Collet, the surgeon. The woman was in a very deplorable state, and seemed to be past all recovery, but her husband, although in a state of stupor, was not so powerfully affected by the poison. Reed’s patent pump was applied by Mr. Hills, the cupper to the hospital, by which a quantity of arsenic was taken from the woman’s stomach, as was also from that of her husband’s, and they were put to bed in a very feeble state, and still remain so; but it is expected they will ultimately recover.
It appears that a short time since the giantess, who stands six feet six inches high, was exhibited in St. James’s-street, as “Ann Freeman, the celebrated Scotch giantess,” and whilst there her husband became jealous of her, in consequence of a man, about her own gigantic stature, called the “Spanish giant,” having shown her more attention than was deemed necessary. The husband, who is not more than half the size of his wife, as soon as it was possible, removed his better half from the exhibition, and wheeled her off in his four-wheeled residence to the space of ground near Bethlem Hospital.
A few evening after, whilst Freeman and his wife were sitting in the caravan, which is very commodiously constructed, Mr. Freeman, to his astonishment, perceived his rival, the “Spanish Giant,” looking through his carriage window, which, from his immense height, he could do without much trouble. He ran out, but the intruder had disappeared; but from that moment Freeman and his spouse had lived upon the most unhappy terms, and she would frequently seize her husband by the back of the neck, and hold him at arms length till he was nearly choked.
On Saturday night Freeman went out and did not return till early on Sunday morning, when he found his wife had taken poison (arsenic), and perceiving a portion of it left in the tea-cup, he swallowed it off, and was immediately after seized with violent retchings, and soon became insensible, as discovered by the police constable.
The first theatre on the site opened as the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden on the 7th of December 1732 with the first play performed being that of William Congreve’s, The Way of the World. Over the next sixty years or so there were various alterations to it.
In the early hours of the 20th of September 1808 a fire broke out and the theatre was razed to the ground, taking with it Handel’s own organ and many of his manuscripts. The fire raged so fiercely it almost took with it other buildings including Drury Lane Theatre, but that one was to survive for a further year before it suffered the same fate.
Fires were a relatively common occurrence in theatres at that time due to the lighting and the draperies, the vast majority happening purely by accident. In order to prevent such fires, The London Fire Code stated that eight blankets soaked with water were to be kept on each side of the stage which could be used immediately should anything catch fire; this is apparently where the term ‘a wet blanket’ originated.
According to the newspapers of the day, in particular, the Morning Chronicle of the 21st September 1808, the fire began at 4am and within three hours the whole theatre was demolished. The books, accounts, deeds and cash were saved due to the exertions of Mr Hughes, the treasurer. A small amount of scenery survived, but all the wardrobe was destroyed. Unfortunately, the day prior to the fire the mains water supply had been cut off due to some complaints about an irregular supply so work was in progress to rectify this fault, therefore the fire engines struggled to provide sufficient water to dampen the fire. The fire was also in danger of spreading due to a westerly wind blowing towards properties on the nearby Bow Street, however, that apparently was short-lived. The wind changed direction and did, however, cause the loss of several buildings in the vicinity. According to an eyewitness who was setting up on Covent Garden market, there was an ‘unwholesome smell of the London smoak‘ which was thought to be coming from a local brewhouse; this was not the case and the fire was discovered by a poor girl who had made her bed in the porch of the theatre.
The newspaper provided gruesome details of the dead including 11 mutilated bodies in the grounds of St Paul’s church, Covent Garden. Many others were conveyed to nearby hospitals. Initial reports stated that as many as 20 lives were lost with far more seriously injured casualties. The press reported ‘on the whole, there has not been any domestic catastrophe more fatal for many years, even the disaster at the Old Bailey and at Sadler’s Wells, not excepted.’ Properties completely destroyed on Bow Street included numbers 9 -15, with 16 & 17 being very badly damaged. Even the Beef Steak Club did not escape unscathed, it lost its stock of wine which could not be replaced! The Coroner for Westminster, Anthony Gell Esq. observed that ‘in his opinion this melancholy event was accidental and that there was not the slightest blame on the theatre’s management’. Although very faint the image above depicts the ruins of the theatre.
A clearer image can be found on the Victoria and Albert Museum website.
With the inquest concluded plans began immediately for a new theatre to be built in its place with various suggestions made by the media as to how this should be done with comparisons being made to other theatres, both positive and negative! The architect appointed was Robert Smirke, an exponent of the Greek revival style of architecture which he used to great effect, the new theatre was the first building in London to use the Greek Doric order.
On the 2nd of January 1809 rebuilding commenced according to The Morning Post with the Prince of Wales present accompanied by much pomp and ceremony and including many Freemasons. The first Portland stone was said to weigh one ton. Smirke presented his Royal Highness with a plan of the new building. The cement ready for the stone was laid by the workmen, then the immense stone lowered into place, this was ceremonially positioned by his majesty giving it three strokes with a mallet. Following the ceremony all dignitaries including the Prince of Wales retired to the Free Masons Tavern for a meal, the Prince still wearing his Freemasons regalia – a white apron, lined with purple and edged with gold.
On completion, which took around nine months, the media took great interest in the finished structure. Apparently, the pit was very spacious, but the two galleries were comparatively small, only capable of holding 150 – 200 people. The upper gallery was divided into 5 compartments and under the gallery was a row of 26 private boxes, constituting a third tier. These boxes also had a private room behind each and not connected with any other part of the building allowed total exclusivity.
The following day a correction was published regarding some parts of the description of the theatre, this article provides a much more detailed description
The Morning Post of Thursday 14th September 1809 confirmed that the newly built Theatre Royal, Covent Garden would open on Monday the 18th with the tragedy Macbeth starring Mrs Sarah Siddons.
However, in order to recoup some of the enormous building costs, the price of tickets was increased which resulted in 3 months of rioting and ended with John Kemble the manager of the theatre being forced to apologise; they became known as the Old Price Riots.
In 1792, the Carlton House Magazine ran an article, with an accompanying illustration, of two female petticoat duellists. The participants were identified, in the magazine, as Lady Almeria Braddock and Mrs Elphinstone.
The ladies were taking tea when Mrs Elphinstone, after an exchange of ‘bloated compliments’ between them, said to Lady Almeria, “You have been a very beautiful woman.”
Lady Almeria: “Have been? What do you mean by ‘have been’?”
Mrs Elphinstone: “You have a very good autumn face, even now . . . The lilies and roses are somewhat faded. Forty years ago I am told a young fellow could hardly gaze on you with impunity.”
Lady Almeria: “Forty years ago! Is the woman mad? I had not existed thirty years ago!”
Mrs Elphinstone: “Then Arthur Collins, the author of the British Peerage has published a false, scandalous and seditious libel against your ladyship. He says you were born the first of April 1732.”
Lady Almeria: “Collins is a most infamous liar; his book is loaded with errors; not a syllable of his whole six volumes is to be relied on.”
Mrs Elphinstone: “Pardon me. He asserts that you were born in April 1732 and consequently are in your sixty first year.”
Lady Almeria: “I am but turned of thirty.”
Mrs Elphinstone: “That’s false, my lady!”
Lady Almeria: “This is not to be borne; you have given me the lie direct . . . I must be under the necessity of calling you out . . . “
Mrs Elphinstone: “Name your weapons. Swords or pistols?”
Lady Almeria: “Both!”
The ladies met at Hyde Park and set to with pistols. Mrs Elphinstone proved the better shot, putting a bullet hole through Lady Almeria’s hat. Their seconds pleaded with them to end it there but Mrs Elphinstone refused to apologise and so hostilities resumed, this time with swords. Lady Almeria managed to inflict a wound on her opponent’s sword arm and, with honour deemed to have been satisfied, both ladies quitted the field.
It’s no doubt an intriguing tale and has been repeated time and time again over the intervening two centuries. Unfortunately, it is also most probably completely untrue. There never was a Lady (or a Lord) Braddock, and no contemporary account can be found of such a duel being fought, and it would certainly have excited plenty of attention if it had.
There was a contemporary Lady Almeria, but she was Lady Almeria Carpenter (20th March 1752-1809), daughter of the 1st Earl of Tyrconnell and the mistress of Prince William Henry, the Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh (1743-1805, son of King George II). She was mother to the duke’s natural born daughter, Louisa Maria La Coast.
The True Briton (28th June 1798) said of her that, ‘Lady Almeria Carpenter was at the Haymarket Theatre on Monday last; and though she has been celebrated as a Beauty for near thirty years, she may still vie in personal attractions with the fairest Toasts of the present day.’
If Lady Almeria Carpenter is not the person alluded to, we do wonder if the fictitious Lady Almeria Braddock is somehow referring back to the Georgian actress George Anne Bellamy (1727-1788)? She played Almeria in Congreve’s The Mourning Bride and was a close acquaintance of one General Edward Braddock (1695-1755). She claimed to have known him from her infancy, and in her memoir ‘An Apology for the Life of Mrs. George Anne Bellamy,’ in which she mentions him often, she said of him:
This great man having been often reproached with brutality, I am induced to recite the following little accident, which evidently shews the contrary.
As we were walking in the Park one day, we heard a poor fellow was to be chastised; when I requested the General to beg off the offender. Upon his application to the general officer, whose name was Drury, he asked Braddock, How long since he had divested himself of brutality, and of the insolence of his manners? To which the other replied, “You never knew me insolent to my inferiors. It is only to such rude men as yourself, that I behave with the spirit which I think they deserve.
In 1718 Braddock had fought a duel, using both swords and pistols, with Colonel Waller in Hyde Park. George Anne Bellamy also knew a Mrs Elphinstone; again in her ‘Apology’ she writes:
The most attached patronesses I had, besides those of the Montgomery family, which were numerous, were the Duchess of Douglas, and the Miss Ruthvens, the eldest of whom soon married Mr. Elphinstone. The latter were partial to me to a degree of enthusiasm. Lady Ruthven likewise honoured me with her support.
We can, however, give one, much earlier account of a ‘petticoat duel’ which did take place, however not with swords and pistols but with pattens (protective wooden overshoes).
Some Days ago a Female Duel was fought at Greenwich, in which one of the Combatants kill’d her Antagonist with her Patten. The Coroner’s Inquest having sate upon the Body of the Deceased, brought in their Verdict Manslaughter.
In an earlier article, we looked at John Coan, the Norfolk Dwarf. As a companion piece to that article, we now turn our attention to Frances Flower, the Nottinghamshire Giantess.
Frances was baptized at Newark-on-Trent in Nottinghamshire on the 25th October 1800, the daughter of John and Catherine Flower. Her father John was a gardener and perhaps he tended to his family as well as he did to his plants for his daughter Frances grew unusually tall. By the time she was in her late teens she was around seven feet in height and being exhibited by Mr Samuel Gear, incongruously a fishmonger from Nottingham, who had spotted an opportunity for making a little extra money. Billed as the ‘Nottinghamshire Giantess,‘ Frances appeared at fairs around the country.
On the 15th October 1820 at Hull in Yorkshire, Frances married a man named Sampson Bark, late the landlord of the Case-is-Altered and the Lion and Lamb public houses in Nottingham, possibly he also seeing chance to exploit Frances’ height to his own advantage for she continued to travel the country to exhibit herself to a curious public.
Shortly after her marriage, she was exhibited at Hull as ‘the greatest Natural Curiosity ever Exhibited in EUROPE,’ her age erroneously given as ‘not yet seventeen’ years when she was actually twenty.
The Morning Post newspaper ran a few lines on her on the 21st September 1821, mentioning the ‘universal admiration’ she excited and referring to her as Mrs Bark, the Nottinghamshire Giantess.
To her the meed of admiration,
What mortal can deny!
For ‘mongst all classes of the nation,
She must stand very high.
Sampson Bark died in Edinburgh in December 1825. The Stamford Mercury reported his death in their 2nd December edition.
At Edinburgh, on Sunday se-nnight, Mr. Sampson Bark, well known as having formerly kept the Lion and Lamb in Nottingham; but after his marriage with Miss Flower, “the Nottinghamshire Giantess,” he travelled from fair to fair with a caravan.
In 1827 Frances, having reverted back to her maiden name, appeared at Humberstone Gate in Leicester with the Albion Company as the Yorkshire Giantess, alongside such attractions as a Ladies Fortune-telling Pig (which we would dearly love to know more about!), a New Zealand Cannibal and a woman who was only 30 inches tall.
Unless Nottinghamshire had gained another Giantess, Frances was still exhibiting herself in 1837 at a Michaelmas Fair in Kent where she was the chief source of attraction and described as an Amazon. Her trumpeter proclaimed her the ‘finest, tallest, stoutest, and the most proportionable woman of the age,’ and she shared a snug booth at the fair with two other women whose appearance, unfortunately, marked them as in some way different.
We lose track of Frances after this but hope she did eventually manage a life away from the fairs where she was paraded as an object of curiosity.
In our last article on Samuel Derrick, we mentioned that he lived for a time with ‘the celebrated Mrs L’, otherwise known as the actress Jane Lessingham. As we have managed to find out some new information on her children and relatives we thought the following might be of interest to our readers.
Jane Lessingham was born Jane Hemet around 1734, the daughter of Francis Hemet, an ‘operator of teeth’ (dentist) and his wife, the splendidly named Polehampton Feuillet whom he had married in 1725 – both of whose families had been Huguenot refugees.
Jane was their youngest child, three older brothers having already been born of which only two, John René and Jacob Hemet surviving infancy.
Jane’s paternal grandfather Peter Hemet, had been ‘operator of the teeth’ to King George II and her brother Jacob was to fill the same post to King George III’s wife Queen Charlotte, to the Prince of Wales and to the King’s favourite daughter, Princess Amelia. Jane’s maternal grandfather, René Feuillet, was a history painter. Learn more about the Hemet family of dentists.
Francis Hemet died in 1736 and his widow, Polehampton married again in 1739 to a confectioner and grocer, John Francklin of St. Martin in the Fields, a friend of the Hemet family.
Five Francklin children, half brothers and sisters to Jane, quickly followed, another Polehampton, Edward, James, Frances Isabella and George.
Jane Hemet, when she came of age on her twenty-first birthday, could expect a small inheritance, having been named in both her father and paternal grandfathers wills.
On the 28th December 1755, at St. Paul’s Covent Garden (commonly known as the Actor’s Church), she married John Stott a widowed naval captain, Jane herself applying for the licence to enable them to marry.
The couple had lived together for little more than two years when, in February 1758, John Stott left to sail for America aboard HMS Gramont of which he was the commander. After travelling to Portsmouth to wave goodbye to her husband Mrs Jane Stott proceeded to take lodgings in London, living first in Mattock Street, Hanover Square before moving to Dean Street in the parish of St. Anne’s, Soho.
At around the time that John Stott had left, Jane’s half-sister Polehampton came to live with her to keep her company whilst he was away.
Before Stott had sailed the family had lived in Twickenham and Polehampton had been at a boarding school in Hounslow since the beginning of 1757. She had visited the Stott’s in Twickenham weekly, leaving the boarding school to move to London and Mattock Street with Jane in March 1758 and she remained with Jane until January 1763.
It was at the Dean Street house that Captain John Stott discovered his wife on his return to England in July 1761, visibly pregnant and with a two-year-old daughter, neither of them were his!
The daughter, Amelia, was born in Dean Street on the 7th June 1759, delivered by Dr Hunter and baptized on the 13th June 1759 at St. Anne’s, Soho, as the daughter of John and Jane Stott.
This daughter was cited in the divorce proceedings brought by John Stott against his errant wife in 1765, various witnesses testifying to both the birth of the daughter and to the impossibility of John Stott being the father.
Curiously, the child Jane had been carrying at Stott’s return was not mentioned. This child proved to be a son, named George and born on the 11th of November 1761. He was baptised fifteen days later in the same church his sister had been, again recorded as the son of John and Jane Stott.
Amongst the witnesses brought to the divorce trial was Jane’s half-sister Polehampton, who stated herself to be the wife of James Martin but lodging with Joseph Burnin of Litchfield Street in St. Anne’s Soho. Her testimony was dated the 6th April 1765 and there is the possibility that she had copied the behaviour of her elder sister for in the baptismal registers of St. Anne Soho are the following two entries:
16th October 1763 – baptism of Joseph son of Joseph and Polehampton Martin
14th April 1765 – baptism of Jane Margaret daughter of Joseph and Polehampton Bernin, (the child was born the day before).
In the divorce trial, Polehampton’s husband was James and not Joseph Martin, but she would appear, in the April of 1765, to be the wife of one man whilst having a child by another with whom she is lodging. It’s also worth noting that she left Jane’s house in the January of 1763, around the same time she must have fallen pregnant with Martin’s son.
In the early days of Jane’s marriage, she first appeared on the stage in 1756, as Desdemona in Othello and Samuel Derrick has been cited as the man who first brought her to the stage although Tate Wilkinson, in his Memoirs, says that she was a pupil of John Rich in this year.
She was certainly the mistress of Samuel Derrick at some point in the 1750s and/or 1760s, even being known as Mrs Derrick for a time, one account saying this was before her marriage and another during it and with no further proof it is entirely possible that this cohabitation coincided with her husband’s absence and that Derrick was the father of one or more of the two children baptised as being Stott’s.
No possible father was named in the divorce proceedings, the proof of Jane’s infidelity being all too present in the person of her daughter, the father’s name being irrelevant to the trial.
After Jane’s initial appearance on stage in 1756 she did not appear again until February 1762. From March of that year, she used the surname Lessingham as her stage name.
Jane was reputed to take other lovers, including a naval officer senior to her husband, Admiral Boscawen, who died in 1761. If this rumour is correct he must also be a candidate for the father of one or both of her children.
The Captain referred to in the reference below is not Jane’s husband but Captain William Hanger, son of Baron Coleraine and one of the many lovers of the actress Sophia Baddeley. It was written in 1772 at the time of his affair with Sophia but recounted the many amours of his past, which included, according to the author, Jane herself.
At the time Mrs. L____m, the actress, was supported in a most splendid manner by Admiral B___n, whilst he was gaining laurels for himself, and glory for his country abroad, the Captain most politely attended her at home, to prevent her grief becoming too violent in the absence of her naval admirer.
MEMOIRS OF CAPTAIN H___ and MRS. B____Y
Middlesex Journal or Chronicle of Liberty, 30th May 1772
Towards the end of the 1760s she became the mistress of Thomas Harris, one of the managers of the Covent Garden Theatre formerly owned by another of the people we have written about, John Rich, and was the cause of a quarrel between the theatre managers, Harris believing that she was not given the parts which she deserved.
Jane bore three sons to Harris, all baptised at the Percy Chapel in St. Pancras. The eldest, Edmund John Thomas Harris, was born on the 31st March 1768 and baptized a month later, his parents were recorded in the baptism register as Thomas and Jane Harris alias Jane Lessingham.
Just a month before his birth she was on stage at Covent Garden as Nerissa in The Merchant of Venice at a benefit performance for Charles Macklin, appearing alongside Macklin himself, his daughter Maria and Ned Shuter.
Jane was given a benefit at the same theatre at the end of March, her address been given as Charlotte Street at the top of Rathbone Place, Oxford Road, the actors including Miss Macklin and George Anne Bellamy.
Jane and Harris’s second son, Charles, followed shortly after, being born on the 1st June 1769 and baptized on the 18th of the same month and lastly the third son, Edwin, born on the 2nd February 1771 and baptized 10th April 1771.
The baptism register records the parents of the last two children simply as Thomas and Jane Harris. Thomas Harris and Jane parted in 1771. Mr H___ in the article below is obviously Thomas Harris.
To the Editor of the GENERAL EVENING POST.
Since the misfortunes and indiscretions of the fair sex seem to engross more particularly the attention of the world, than any other topic, I must beg leave, for the entertainment of your readers, to acquaint them with the enlargement of Mrs L____m – who, to the unspeakable distress of Mr. H___, has eloped to some corner of the earth, with a new paramour, utterly unknow[n] to the afflicted Menelaus. This Helen of an actress very young married to Capt. S___, of the navy – she left him for Delaval; Delaval for Boscawen; Boscawen for Pembroke; Pembroke for Colbourne; Colbourne for Mason; and Mason for H___; and alas! H___ for whom neither he nor I know. By all these she has had sweet children – Is it not a pity, that so fruitful a mother has not a consideration from Government, who has made so much food for gunpowder! Mr H___, poor gentleman, is all in the fuds upon this melancholy elopement. Could he stimulate the theatric Grecians, as the injuries of Menelaus of yore did, we might be entertained with the siege of some old castle surrounded with a moat, and defended by rooks, where this delectable run-away is supposed to be immured.
General Evening Post, 27 August 1771
Towards the end of June 1772, a Mrs Lessingham was recorded passing through Canterbury on her way to France in company with a Mr Ashley Esquire.
In the mid-1770s, whilst under the protection of Sir William Addington, Bow Street magistrate, Jane Lessingham applied for the right to build herself a lodge on Hampstead Heath. Although first granted through her influential friends, objections were raised leading to a ‘riot on Hampstead Heath’; Jane herself possibly composed a pamphlet titled ‘The Hampstead Contest’ which was inscribed to her.
She got her way, buying a cottage at Littleworth in 1776 to get around the objections and building Heath Lodge complete with pleasure grounds, enclosed from the surrounding heathland. A description of the house in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 9: Hampstead, Paddington gives it as a ‘three-storyed cube with a central semicircular bay and flanking two-storyed wings designed by James Wyatt on the model of a villa in Italy.’
Addington was then discarded for a Covent Garden actor known as a ‘teapot actor‘, possibly from his habit of standing with one hand on his hip. As Mrs Lessingham, Jane continued to perform at the Covent Garden theatre up to 1782, largely in comedic roles which she performed best in.
The understrapper Justice of Bow-street Lock has received his dismission in form from the suite of his long admired actress, Mrs. L____m of Covent-garden Theatre, which has so much affected his worship for this fortnight past, that even his attendant thief takers pity him, and say, it will bring the old buck’s grey hairs with sorrow to the grave!
Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, 22nd April 1777
It is not known what became of Jane’s daughter, Amelia Stott; she seems to vanish without a trace from the records.
Her son George Stott was possibly buried in the churchyard at St. Anne’s in Soho on the 12th August 1772, being recorded in the register as a child from Pancras although his absence from the divorce trial may well indicate he had died previous to that.
Her three sons by Harris were all named in Jane’s will which she wrote on the 12th December 1782; she left whatever she died possessed of to Thomas Harris in trust for the sole use of these three boys, stipulating that one further son, Frederick, was to take his share if he was not better provided for.
We have not yet discovered Frederick’s birth or baptism but, as it seems that Jane hoped he would be provided for, his father was possibly a man of means. He was born c.1772 and used the name of William Frederick Williams in later life and may have penned four novels, Sketches of Modern Life; Or, Man as He Ought Not to be (1799), Fitzmaurice: A Novel in two volumes (1800), Tales of an Exile (1803) and The Witcheries of Craig Isaf (1805).
Jane signed herself as Jane Hemet on her will; she died on the 13th March 1783 at her house on Hampstead Heath and was buried on the 17th in Hampstead churchyard, the burial register and her tombstone recording her under her maiden surname.
Although her house was sold just months after her death, her will was not proved by Harris until more than a year later. The house sold for substantially more than it had cost to erect and was bought by Lord Byron, uncle of the poet.
By Mr. BARFORD
On the premises, on Friday the 30th instant, punctua’ly at one o’clock, unless previously Let or Sold by Private Contract.
A Small, but elegant Villa, situate on the most elevated part of the north side of Hampstead Heath, with about two acres of land laid out with distinguished taste in pleasure grounds, shrubberies, and kitchen gardens, &c. This beautiful erection, entirely detached from any neighbourhood; has been the admiration of all who have seen it. To the North-east and West, a series of prospects richly adorned by the hand of Nature, and agreeably variegated by the innovations of Art, open to the view, and form a landscape replete, with every decoration that can delight the eye, or gratify the judgment. The premises are copyhold, and although at present adapted to the reception of a small family, may be considerably enlarged, and an additional quantity of land, if necessary, obtained. The contiguity of the situation to the metropolis, and the uncommon salubrity of the air, renders the whole a most amiable retreat to a person whose avocations may require an attendance in town.
To be viewed, and particulars known, by applying to Mr. Barford, Covent Garden.
Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, 19th May 1783
The elegant villa of the late Mrs Lessingham was on Friday put up by public auction, when it was bought in at the very low price of 560l. The whole expence attending this villa, including the taking up of the ground in Copyholders Court – law contests thence ensuing – enclosing – planting and building, are computed at near 3000l.
General Evening Post, 7th June 1783
Lord Byron, who bought poor Mrs Lessingham’s little Villa, near Hampstead, keeps it exactly in the order in which she left it. – His Lordship, both in this place and at Newste[a]d Abbey, shews an imagination negligent of art, and addicted to the wilder beauties of nature.
Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, 20th September 1784
After the divorce was finally granted in the late 1760s Captain John Stott married for a third time in Soho on the 18th October 1770 to a woman named Elizabeth Graham. When he wrote his will in 1771 he was Captain of his Majesty’s Ship of War the Juno and he left his entire estate to his ‘dear wife‘ whom he made sole executor of his will. He died on the 22nd August 1778, in command of a 32 gun frigate, the Minerva, in the West Indies.
Unaware that the American War of Independence had broken out and that France had declared war on Britain, he approached the Concorde, a French ship; the Concorde fired a broadside at Minerva causing an explosion of the powder held below deck. Amongst the dead and wounded was Captain John Stott, fatally injured by two wounds to his head.
These words were written of Jane in her lifetime; we are unable to say if they are applied to her fairly or unfairly:
What shall we say of LESSINGHAM, the fair,
She has of managers been long the care;
Oh, that regard would make her all their own,
And snatch a tasteless milksop from the town;
One who for parts eternally would fight,
Without the sense, or talents, to be right.
The Theatres. A Poetical Dissection by Sir Nicholas Nipclose, Baronet, 1771
[pseudonym of Francis Gentleman, Irish actor, poet and writer]
However, we shall leave her with a testament to her from one of her sons and she was obviously a much beloved and lamented mother. When she was buried at Hampstead in 1783 her memorial recorded her name as Mrs Hemet. Jane’s youngest child replaced this almost twenty years after her death with the following inscription on her tomb in the churchyard although the age given makes her about five years younger than she would actually have been.
MRS JANE LESSINGHAM,
late of the Theatre Royal
Obt 13 March 1783
Her grateful and affectionate son WILLIAM FREDERICK,
caused this tomb to be repaired, anno 1802,
as a last token of respect to her memory.
William Frederick was to die young just three years later. His last request was to be buried in the same grave as his mother, adding his name to her memorial.
Irish poet, sometime comic actor and most notably the author of Harris’s Ladies of Covent Garden; over the past few weeks we have been reading Harris’s guides to the seedier side of London 1760s – 1790s not really questioning who wrote them until we noticed an article written a few years ago in the Camden New Journal, in which the author of The Covent Garden Ladies, Hallie Rubenhold, said that she had unearthed the author, but that she was still hoping to find his burial.
So, of course, we were curious now to find out more about Samuel and hopefully provide her with the missing piece of her jigsaw – we simply love a challenge!
As usual, we began by searching the internet and, as anticipated, much has already been written about the poet’s life, with conflicting information about the date of his death. We rapidly found ourselves confused by this man.
Apparently, he died penniless with requests being made to help fund his funeral, then conflicting information saying that he was actually very wealthy when he died.
The newspapers contained much information, but the more we read the more confused we became about his death.
The St James’s Chronicle dated the 3rd – 5th March 1768 reported:
Mr Derrick who has laboured under a lingering disorder from which he was supposed to have been nearly recovered was on Tuesday evening seized of a relapse; and now lies very ill at his house in Orange Grove.
By December 1768 he had made a recovery, but in February 1769 it was reported that once again he was very ill whilst at Bath and was being attended by physicians.
A month later the same report was made in The Whitehall Evening Post. By the 11th March, 1769 St James’s Chronicle informed its readers that he had died. Lloyd’s Evening Post of the 13th March also referred to him as the late Mr Derrick, saying that in his position of Master of ceremonies he earned upwards of 1000l per annum. We thought that was an end to our search, there it was in black and white – his death! No, they got it wrong!
Four days later, lo and behold he was still alive, although the newspapers said he wouldn’t be for much longer. The Whitehall Evening Post a few days later received a letter from Bath dated the 16th March:
Notwithstanding the newspapers have killed Mr Derrick, Master of Ceremonies sometime ago, yet he is still living but in so wretched a state of health, that he is not at all to be envied…
An advert appeared on the 19th March 1769 in Pope’s Bath Chronicle about letting his house, perhaps a tad inappropriate given that Samuel was not yet deceased!
To be Lett, and enter’d on immediately, a house in Bradley’s Building, very convenient, and in excellent repair, now inhabited by Samuel Derrick Esq, master of the Ceremonies of this city. The goods, which are new and in elegant taste, will be sold by private contract on the premises, or otherwise when the house is disposed of. Enquire of Mr. Smith, within two doors of the said tenement on the Horse Parade.
Finally, after much searching we found the confirmation we were looking for – he was dead! … his death being reported in the St James’s Chronicle dated Saturday 1st April 1769, confirming his death as the previous Tuesday i.e. 28th March 1769. Apparently, at the time of his death he was worth a considerable sum of money which he left to a number of relatives in Ireland.
Oh no, a few days later this rumour of wealth was quashed by The London Chronicle, who said he died totally penniless with members of the nobility making donations to help finance him in his dying days. According to Charlotte Hayes, the courtesan and brothel keeper, Samuel bequeathed the profits of the final edition of Harris’s List to her, if that were true then he must have left a will, but no trace of it remains today!
We can finally confirm that Samuel’s burial took place at St Peter and St Paul’s church, Bath on the 2nd April 1769.
Shortly after his actual death The London Chronicle(29th April 1769 – 2nd May 1769) wrote anecdotes of his life in which they confirmed him to be the author of Harris’s Lists, the first edition being written by Derrick whilst confined at Ferguson’s spunging house ( a place where debtors were held), which he sold to a publisher thereby obtaining his liberty.
Ever attached to the beautiful part of the creation, he devoted his labours to them even in confinement; and whilst he was at Ferguson’s spunging-house, he produced the first edition of Harris’s List, which he sold to a certain Bookseller; and thereby obtained his liberty.
It might be supposed, from this universal partiality of the Ladies to him, that his person was so comely and elegant as to be resistible. This was far from the case. He was of diminutive size, with reddish hair and a vacant countenance; and he required no small quantity of perfume to predominate over some odours that were not of the most fragrant kind.
It said that he lived with the celebrated actress Mrs. Jane Lessingham. It seems likely that Harris simply lent his name to the book and possibly helped in providing some of the information, but Derrick actually wrote it (and wisely left his own name off!).
There was also a not very complimentary physical description given for him:
… of diminutive size, with reddish hair and vacant countenance and required no small quantity of perfume to predominate over some odours that were not of the most fragrant kind … he had a propensity for external gaiety which often induced him to appear in a laced coat, with a very dirty shirt.
Doesn’t that make him sound like a great catch??!
Foote apparently commented:
He was a very impudent fellow to have five embroidered coats and only one shirt.
From Derrick’s Jests there was a comment made by an Irish friend of his on seeing him in his coffin.
Ah poor Sammy, till this time hast been continually amidst a scene of bustle and noise; but, thank God, art now still for once in thy lifetime!
Hopefully, we have finally managed to lay Samuel Derrick to rest in peace. Find out more about the life and children of his mistress Jane Lessingham.
To find out more about the women in Harris’s List we would highly recommend reading Hallie Rubenhold’s fascinating books The Covent Garden Ladies and The Harlot’s Handbook.
‘If you ever wondered what Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy and his ‘fellows’ got up to on their numerous trips to London read this edition of the book they would have certainly carried around…Harris’ “List of Covent Garden Ladies” was a bestseller of the eighteenth century, shifting 250,000 copies in an age before mass consumerism. An annual ‘guide book’, it detailed the names and ‘specialities’ of the capital’s prostitutes. During its heyday (1757-95) Harris’ “List” was the essential accessory for any serious gentleman of pleasure. Yet beyond its titillating passages lay a glimpse into the lives of those who lived and died by the List’s profits during the Georgian era. Hallie Rubenhold has collected the funniest, ruddiest and most surreal entries penned by Jack Harris, “Pimp-General-of-All-England” into this hilarious book’.