As many of you will be aware, research into the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle and her family has been ongoing for quite some time now and today, at the suggestion of Etienne Daly, who has been researching the life of Dido for a number of years, we will take a look at some of Dido and John’s neighbours, in order to gain a glimpse into what living on Ranelagh Street would have been like for this newlywed couple.
When Dido Elizabeth Belle married John Daviniere in 1793, the couple set up home at 14 Ranelagh Street in Pimlico. It’s difficult to determine in which social circles Dido and John mixed after their wedding, or exactly where Dido lived immediately following the death of Lord Mansfield, earlier in 1793.
Her direct family, i.e., her father and Lord Mansfield had both died prior to her marriage, but her step mother, Lady Mary Lindsay was alive until 1799, but there is no surviving evidence to confirm that she and Dido had any contact at all, especially as Dido’s half siblings, John and Elizabeth were named Lady Lindsay’s will, but curiously, Dido was not. Maybe Lady Lindsay simply assumed her step daughter had been provided for by both Lord Mansfield and her husband.
Her cousin, Lady Elizabeth with whom she shared the famous portrait, had married George Finch-Hatton some eight year previously, and although they were obviously close whilst at Kenwood House, although there appears to be nothing left to history to confirm that they ever kept in touch after Lady Elizabeth married, but then their lives took very different paths, with Lady Elizabeth marrying into an aristocratic family and Dido marrying John Daviniere, who was a servant at the time of their marriage.
Sadly, there is also nothing to confirm that Dido had any contact with her half siblings, but as Elizabeth was in Scotland and John, out in Indian with their respective families, so perhaps this is not really surprising given the geography. This would have left Dido with few known contracts, despite her previous social standing as the great niece of one of the most affluent and influential men in the country and living in the grand, Kenwood House.
With a lack of information about her possible acquaintances after her marriage, especially any contact with family and at present there is no knowledge of her having many, if any, friends, the only things left to go by, are her neighbours in Pimlico.
Their new home on Ranelagh Street, Pimlico would have been similar to this one, advertised in the Morning Post, August 1800.
The search began with the rates book from 1794 when they moved there, up to around 1807, by which time it is known that John and their two sons had moved out after Dido’s death.
The first interesting piece of information I found, was that when John Daviniere left 14 Ranelagh Street North, Pimlico, the new occupants were a Martha and James White, a gardener. Martha had married James in November 1794 at the same church that Dido and John had married at just a year previously.
Why is this relevant? Well, in the marriage register for Dido, the marriage was witnessed by a Martha Darnell, and it transpires that it was this Martha, who went on to marry James White, so it would certainly appear from this, that Dido and John remained in contact with Martha when she married her first husband and also through to her second marriage, with Martha and James moving into Dido and John’s property after John and the boys moved out.
After the death of James, Martha and her second husband, William Parkes remained in the property for a few years, until they completely vanished from the radar. It seems feasible that Dido knew Martha from Kenwood House, where it’s possible Martha was a dairymaid or a ladies’ maid, and that maybe her first husband was one of the gardeners at Kenwood House too – pure speculation at this stage, but hopefully at some point tangible proof will come to light.
Another neighbour who lived next door to Dido and John was a John Mann, who was initially described as a perfumer, but by 1808 he had become a hairdresser and barber. He was clearly not operating his business from home as it’s known that he was renting out part of him home by this time, perhaps business wasn’t going so well.
It was in December 1808 that Mann’s life came to something of an abrupt end as we will now discover. The Hull Packet newspaper of 10 January 1809, amongst others carried reports of his demise.
A melancholy event occurred a few days since, at Pimlico, near London, accompanied with very extraordinary circumstance. Mr Mann, a hairdresser, who resided in Ranelagh Street, had, in consequence of a domestic misfortune, suffered mental derangement; but being, by medical aid, recovered, he had again resumed his occupation. A few morning since, he attended, as usual, to dress and shave several gentlemen in his neighbourhood, by whom he was much esteemed. He had, in all, dressed and shaved nine of his customers, the last of whom was Mr Palmer, of Drury Lane Theatre. Immediately upon his leaving Mr Palmer, he returned home, without attending to any of his other employers, and cut his own throat with one of his razors. The wound was so deep and extensive that he died in a few moments.
The gentlemen with whom he had been, all observed something very singular in his conduct: and there is no doubt that, during the whole of the morning, he was labouring under the terrible malady which induced him to put a period to his existence. Each of the nine has reason, therefore, to be thankful, that the razor was not applied to his neck, before the unfortunate maniac raised it against his own.
It’s not clear what the ‘domestic misfortune’ was, but it could have been connected to the death of his wife, Ann, who had died the previous year. Both John and Ann were buried at St George’s in the Fields, the same graveyard that Dido had been buried in a few years previously, in 1804.
Another of Dido and John’s neighbours was Anthony Fabiani, who, research shows, was one of the Treasury messengers, working directly for the 3rd Duke of Portland. Ranelagh Street was close to the Queen’s house, so arguably, it was a convenient place for him to live. Bentinck was a close friend of Sir John in his lifetime and therefore may well have been aware of Dido living in Ranelagh Street through Fabiani or government spies, and that she had a French husband.
Fabiani’s role was to be responsible for seeking out felons and taking them to prison, along with carrying documents the length and breadth of the country and travelling on behalf of the King and ministers all over Europe. I first spotted his name in the Hampshire Chronicle, 28 July 1798, which noted that:
Tuesday morning a Captain Coppinger, of Ireland, brought a few days since from Guernsey, where he had been arrested on suspicion of being one of the leading men in the rebellion in that Kingdom found means to effect his escape from the house of Mr Fabiani, at Pimlico, one of the Treasury Messengers, where he was in custody. The charges against him are said to be of a most serious nature.
With a little more searching I discovered several arrest warrants issued by the 3rd Duke of Portland, which bore Fabiani’s name, as the messenger sent to apprehend them; most being wanted for High Treason. Interestingly on the subsequent page of warrants was a name that jumped out at me – Edward Marcus Despard.
Despard was famously arrested in 1798, not by Fabiani, but one of his colleagues, George Higgins. Despard was hanged for treason in 1803, despite pleas from his wife, Catherine, who, like Dido was a woman of colour. It would be interesting to know whether Dido was familiar with Despard’s case and of Catherine, but it does seem quite likely that she would have read about it in the newspaper. Etienne has suggested that Dido’s husband, could possibly have been a spy, but of course, as you can imagine, there’s no tangible evidence yet to support this but it’s an avenue he is pursuing.
Fabiani lived at No. 3 Ranelagh Street until just after the turn of the century when he moved to Silver Street, Golden Square, where he died in 1810 and again, like Dido, he too was buried at St George in the Fields on 3 November 1810.
At No. 19, lived a music seller, dealer and chapman, Louis Von Esch, who was declared bankrupt in 1796, but presumably life began to dramatically improve, as by the turn of the century his musical talent was recognised.
Whilst it’s not conclusive, I’m fairly certain that this article in the Morning Chronicle of 1802, relates to Louis rather than his brother, Dominique, also a musician, and it would appear that he has become responsible for the musical education of Prince George’s daughter, Princess Charlotte:
It was around this time that he moved from Ranelagh Street and had moved to Edward Street. The same year, Louis had joined the Freemasons at the Lodge De L’Esperance, an Ancient French Lodge, giving his occupation as composer of music, along with his brother, Dominique, a music master, the brothers being aged 37 and 33, respectively. Fellow members of the lodge included the artist, Domenico Pellegrini.
It would appear that Louis’s music was extremely popular at the time. He socialised in the upper echelons of society and would eventually travel to Milan and the Palace of Visconti, which was where his life reached its conclusion in 1829.
Another long term resident of Ranelagh Street, living at no. 22, so just a few door away from Dido and John, was the watch and clock maker, George Philip Strigel. The couple would, more than likely, have known him in passing at least, as the elderly gentleman who made clocks and Watchmaker to Queen Charlotte.
According to the Royal Collection Trust, Strigel was described as the ‘blunt, high-dried, honest German’ who ‘had the care of his majesty’s clocks’. He was apparently, once interrupted by the George III whilst attending to a clock dial at Buckingham House, ‘standing upon a stool, placed upon a table, his hands extended above his head’ as he adjusted a clock dial in Buckingham House.
He was made an honorary freeman of the Clockmakers’ Company in 1771 – conferred on those who the Company believed could help to advance its interests – socially and influentially.
Maybe John and Dido even purchased a clock from him for their new home, who knows. Strigel died in 1798, and like other residents, was buried on 23 December 1798 at St George in the Fields.
In addition to these, Paula Byrne noted in her book, ‘Belle’, that other neighbours included the miniature painter and engraver, Charles Wilkins, an architect, George Shakespeare and probably the most interesting characters of all, was the herbalist, Mrs Ringenberig, who examined morning urine from which she could provide cures for female complaints – I wonder if Dido ever used her services?
Hopefully, this post will provide a glimpse into the lives of some of the people that Dido and John would have rubbed shoulders with whilst living in Pimlico and it would appear that several residents were employed by the royal family with others employed in a whole variety of roles. Needless to say, apart from her friend, Martha, no women are named, that is because none are known of as yet, but it would be difficult to believe that she had no female acquaintances.
Etienne Daly has found out that Margaret, Dowager Duchess of Portland was a close friend to Lord and Lady Mansfield, and that she was also a good friend to the ‘blue stocking’, Mary Delany and that both women visited Kenwood House whilst Dido was living there, so would most likely have met her, or at least been aware of her presence within the household. The Dowager’s son, 3rd Duke of Portland was mentioned earlier, so would possibly have known that Dido lived in Pimlico, but there is no conclusive proof of this.
To find out more about the lives of Dido Elizabeth Belle, her family and descendants, click in this link.
Manchester Mercury 9 August 1796
London Courier and Evening Gazette 29 June 1802
Royal Collection Trust
Byrne, Paula. Belle: The True Story of Dido Belle