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

Martha Gunn – Brighton Celebrity

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

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

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

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

Bathing machine at Weymouth
Weymouth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hampshire Chronicle, 15th May 1815

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

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

Featured Image

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

The Green Man of Brighton – Henry Cope

Following one from one of our earlier posts about the colour green, we find ourselves once again on the same topic. This time however, it is about an English eccentric: Henry Cope aka The Green Man. It is reported that Henry loved anything and everything green. This extract about Henry comes from The Omnium Gatherum, 1809.

The Green Man at Brighton – Amongst the visitors this season is an original, or would-be original, generally known by the appellation of ‘The Green Man’. He is dressed in green pantaloons, green waistcoat, green frock, green cravat and though his ears, whiskers, eye-brows and chin are better powdered than his head, which is, however, covered with flour, his countenance, no doubt, from the reflection of his clothes, is also green. He eats nothing but greens, fruits and vegetables; has his apartments painted green, and furnished with green sofa, green chairs, green tables, green bed and green curtains. His gig, his livery his portmanteau, his gloves and his whips, are all green. With a green silk handkerchief in his hand and a large watch chain with green seals, fastened to the green buttons of his green waistcoat he parades every day on the Steyne, Brighton.

Henry Cope by an unknown artist, published 1806. © National Portrait Gallery, London
Henry Cope by an unknown artist, published 1806.
© National Portrait Gallery, London

He became so famous that a verse was written about him, also contained in the above book.

ballad-of-henry-cope-the-green-man

Virtually nothing seems to be known of his early life, but many tall tales were told about him. Henry was reputed to have been a descendant of Sir John Cope, owner of Bramshill House, Hampshire (now Bramshill Police College) and Henry’s ghost is one of many said to haunt the house. The Morning Advertiser (10 October 1806) however, claimed that The Green Man was a student of Lincoln’s Inn, his mental faculties deranged by intense study, and a near relative of the Duchess of Dorset, Arabella Diana née Cope, daughter of Sir Charles Cope, 2nd Baronet. Others said that he had lost his wits over his love for a beautiful woman. Perhaps she was the Crazy Jane mentioned in this snippet?

Morning Post, 13 October 1806

An interesting young female, in whimsical attire, resembling the costume of the time of Queen ELIZABETH, appeared on Friday evening on the Steyne, at Brighton, in quest, as she said, ‘of the “Knight of the Green Man, who had stolen the wits of Crazy Jane.” She, however, precipitately retired to her residence, before the crowd around her could increase.

A portrait on the Sotheby’s website supposedly shows Henry Cope, The Green Man, as a young man c.1765-1770, identifying him as one of the family of Cope of Bramshill House and holding a ring. The catalogue notes suggest that possibly the portrait was commissioned to mark the sitter’s marriage, but no record of a marriage exists. What happened to Henry Cope’s bride-to-be? Perhaps this might also be a clue to his mental affliction? The artist was Francis Cotes who died 1775.

Portrait of Henry Cope, 'The Green Man', half-length, wearing green and holding a ring in his left hand. Sotheby's
Portrait of Henry Cope, ‘The Green Man’, half-length, wearing green and holding a ring in his left hand. Sotheby’s

His fame soon spread, and the London newspapers continued to run stories, laughing at his expense.

Morning Advertiser, 16 October 1806

The servant of the Green Man at Brighton arrived yesterday in town, at the Green Man and Still in Oxford-street, for the purpose of contracting with an eminent Poulterer to supply him constantly with green geese at any price at which they can be obtained. The Physicians have pronounced that the unfortunate man is afflicted with the green sickness.

(A green goose is one which is killed when under four months old, and eaten without any stuffing, and hypochromic anemia was, historically, referred to as ‘the green sickness’.)

The Little Green Man or the Bath Bugabo, or the Widows Terror, 1802. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
The Little Green Man or the Bath Bugabo, or the Widows Terror, 1802.
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Henry Cope’s death is often said to have taken place in 1806 as a result of either committing suicide or accidentally falling off a cliff in Brighton. The newspapers of the day suggest that such an event occurred, but he did not die as a result of it.

Staffordshire Advertiser, 01 November 1806

Last Saturday morning, a little after six o’clock, the gentleman and other eccentricities (exhibited on the Steine, at Brighton, for several weeks past) had obtained the appellation of The Green Man, leaped from the window of his lodgings on the South Parade, into the street, ran from thence to the verge of the Cliff nearly opposite, and threw himself over the precipice to the beach below. Several persons immediately ran to his assistance, and carried him, bleeding at the mouth and ears back to his lodging. The height of the Cliff from whence he precipitated himself is about 20 feet perpendicular; but whether his fall has proved dangerous we have not yet heard. From the general demeanour of the above gentleman it is supposed he is deranged. His name, we understand is Henry Cope, and that he is related to some highly-distinguished family.

The Pavilion & Steyne at Brighton, 1806. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
The Pavilion & Steyne at Brighton, 1806.
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Morning Post, 24 October 1806

The Green Man of Brighton has received no serious injury from his late accident, though it has effected some change in his colour – for he has ever since looked rather blue.

Several newspapers related that The Green Man had fancied that there was a serious riot in progress, and that his presence was needed to quell the disturbance. The person in whose house he was living travelled to London, to contact Cope’s friends and ensure his future safety (Morning Post, 22 October 1806). It would seem, therefore, that the unfortunate Henry Cope lived primarily in London, and his friends did indeed take measures to prevent him from harming himself again for he found himself in St Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics in London.

st-lukes-hospital-london

Almost a year later, according to the Morning Advertiser of 5th September 1807, he was still alive but presumably in dire straits.

This day an auction at Fisher’s Rooms, St James’s Street, excited much attention. It consisted of the wearing apparel, gold watch, chain and seals, and other effects belonging to the well-known character, Mr. Henry Cope, commonly called The Green Man, taken in execution for board, lodgings etc. Most of the articles of dress were sold far below their original value and real worth. They were purchased by some of the most respected people, more for curiosities than for use. A full green suit, not much the worse for wear, and consisting of coat, pantaloons, and waistcoat were knocked down at 1l 6s; another green coat and pantaloons, of somewhat a darker hue, went off at 6s 6d; and a green great coat, of exactly the same tinge, at 1l, 12s.  The chapeau de bras, which had been so often and anxiously gazed at by all the fashionable fair upon the Steyne, and public promenades during last season, was disposed of at the moderate rate of one guinea; and for the same amount also went off the miniature set in gold of the beautiful Dulcinea, for whom it is said this unfortunate gentleman has gone mad. It is reported that he is at present in that unhappy state in St. Luke’s hospital, London. The most valuable article, however, disposed of upon this occasion, was a gold repeater, with its chain and seal, which originally cost Mr. Cope 188 guineas. Upon the seal was beautifully engraven the arms and supporters of Earl Vernor, the title this insane Gentleman thought to assume. In the inside of the watch were also engraven ‘the Right Hon. H. Cope, Earl Vernor’ but not withstanding these claims to rank and high estimation, it was sold at the reduced price of 39l 7s 6d. Such are the bargains to be got at Brighton. If sold in London these articles would, no doubt, from the eccentricity of the character to whom they once belonged have brought double the sum.

We have searched as many places as we can think of to locate his death and burial, but all in vain. If anyone out there has any luck please do let us know.