We will be taking our usual summer blog break until the end of August when we’ll be back with more Georgian stories for you, but in the meantime, we’ll leave you with this one.
Monday, 1st August 1814 was both the anniversary of the Battle of the Nile and the centenary of the ascension to the throne of the Hanoverian monarchs; to celebrate these and the signing of the Treaty of Paris, which ended hostilities between Britain and France, the day was chosen for a grand national Jubilee. (British weather being what it is, in the run-up to the event it was advertised that the date was moveable, depending on predicted rainfall but all went to plan and the 1st August proved to be dry.)
London virtually shut up shop for a day out at the three parks chosen to host the celebrations, Green Park, St James’s Park and Hyde Park, and people journeyed from miles around to witness the spectacle.
Thomas Smith of Marylebone, in his Historical Recollections of Hyde Park, left us a detailed account of the day.
Many hundreds of workmen had been employed for several weeks in making the necessary preparations, while a numerous body of artists from the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich were occupied in arranging the fire-works under the superintendence of Sir W. Congreve, in temporary buildings erected for that purpose in the Green Park. The most judicious precautions were adopted to prevent accidents from the pressure of the crowd, by taking down the iron railings and part of the wall in several places, thus affording free access to the immense multitude that had been attracted from all parts of the country. It is an indisputable fact, that such a number of persons were never brought together on any former occasion of public rejoicing.
In St. James’s Park, the principal object was a bridge thrown across the canal on which an elegant Chinese pagoda of seven stories was erected, profusely ornamented and hung with lamps, with fire-works affixed to various parts, the interior of the enclosure being appropriated to those who paid for admission; numerous booths and tents were pitched, while boats filled with elegantly dressed females on the canal, presented to the eye a scene of enchantment not easily to be imagined or described.
The illuminations formed a complete blaze of light, the trees in the Mall and Bird-cage walk, being encircled with lamps, and Chinese lanterns fancifully painted, glittered among the foliage. Her Majesty and the Princesses entertained a party of 250 of the nobility at dinner in Buckingham House, the front of which was also brilliantly illuminated, in uniformity with the Royal Booth in the Green Park, the devices exhibiting the names of our most celebrated military and naval heroes.
In the early part of the evening Mr. Sadler ascended with his balloon from the space in front of Buckingham House to the great gratification of the royal party, who had taken a lively interest in witnessing the preparations for the ascent; at a later period of the evening, an unfortunate accident happened which threw a damp over the whole proceedings at this point, the fire-works having set fire to the pagoda; two of the men employed were so seriously injured that they expired on the following day; and before the fire could be got under, five stories of the pagoda were consumed.
A revolving temple was erected in Green Park. This edifice was the work of Sir William Congreve, Baronet, of Congreve’s Rockets fame. Not surprisingly, a very loud and impressive display of artillery and fireworks was planned for the evening’s entertainment.
At ten o’clock a long and continued discharge of artillery announced the commencement of the pyrotechnic display; a grand discharge of fire-works from the battlements and walls continued for two hours, when the metamorphosis of the fortress was effected during the prevalence of a dense cloud of smoke created for the purpose of concealing the method by which it was accomplished. The smoke having cleared off, the Temple of Concord, brilliantly illuminated, and ornamented by numerous transparent allegorical paintings burst forth to the delighted gaze of the multitude. By an ingenious contrivance the Temple was rendered moveable on an axis, each face being presented at intervals and in succession to every point of the compass.
In Hyde Park booths were erected for a Great Fair (which descended, after nightfall, into a scene of drunken dissipation); the highlight of the day at this location was a mock sea-battle, to be held on the Serpentine.
The entertainments in Hyde Park although of a different description, were not the less interesting, the whole space being converted into an extensive fair; between 400 and 500 booths were erected, where every delicacy that could please the eye or suit the taste of the most fastidious gourmand might be obtained. The liberty of the press was here also proudly recognised, a number of printing presses being set up, whence issued with great rapidity engraved views of the Temple, Pagoda, &c. and random records of great variety, which were eagerly purchased by the visitors as mementos of the pleasurable sensations they experienced. Many shows and theatres were also to be seen where the heroes of the sock and buskin, afforded infinite amusement to His Majesty’s lieges.
Unusual anxiety was however evinced to witness a mimic naval engagement on the Serpentine river; this splendid sheet of water, presented the singular spectacle of two hostile fleets, viz. an English and American, riding in proud defiance on its bosom, both shores being lined with a dense mass of people assembled to witness this novel scene.
Built at Greenwich out of timber from old ships, each miniature frigate was manned by three sailors; they fired blank ammunition at each other.
About six o’clock the action commenced by a cannonading by the ships in the van of the opposing fleets, until the whole line gradually neared each other; after a severe struggle the Americans were ultimately driven on shore; at dark, however, the British line formed and bore down upon the American fleet then lying at anchor, and set fire to the whole of their ships which were burnt to the water’s edge. The effect of this conflagration was surprizingly magnificent, indeed the whole of this exhibition was calculated to afford infinite gratification to the middling and lower classes of a maritime nation like Great Britain. The entertainment terminated at this point by a display of fire-works, among which the water-rockets, a new species of combustible, attracted much notice.
This day all business appeared to have been suspended in London and the suburbs, and John Bull, Mrs. Bull, and their numerous progeny, seemed to have thrown themselves with perfect good humour into the vortex of public rejoicing and festivity, and in spite of the eccentricities of his nature, gave vent to feelings and expressions of joy and gladness, at the restoration of peace and harmony to his native land.
The fair was allowed to continue during the whole of the week; the park being cleared by order of the Secretary of State on Monday the 8th, and such was the injury done to this beautiful spot by the influx of so many visitors, that a lapse of two years passed away ere it recovered its pristine beauty.