In 1811, George, became the Prince Regent, taking over from his father who was incapacitated. One of the first things he did was organise a Grand Fete at his home, Carlton House, reputedly to celebrate his father’s birthday, but for a guess it was simply an excuse for a party, and this was no ordinary party.
There’s bling and then there is Royal bling – and as everyone knows, the Prince Regent loved his bling, preferring gold to silver, as it was said to be warmer and ‘showier’, and where better to show it off, than at his Grand Fete.
On 22 May 1811 preparations began for the Grand Fete. Upwards of 100 men were employed in the furnishing and arranging of the different ornamental decorations to be introduced. Every room of Carlton House was to be thrown open during the celebrations. Rooms were to be hung with crimson silk damask, all the Chinese, Etruscan, Grecian and Hindoostan cabinets in ebony and ivory were to be exhibited for the first time.
Not only the interior would be used but also the gardens which would covered in and formed into one immense tent, resembling a marquee. The Gothic conservatory was to be filled with all kinds of rare exotics and illuminated by crystal lamps ‘of uncommon beauty’.
There were to be seven spacious rooms to promenade in, and the supper was to be given under the awning in the garden. The Prince Regent ordered 1500 chairs for the use of the banquet alone. The trees were to be illuminated with variegated lamps next to the park entrance which would be opened, and an avenue was to be formed for sedan chairs only.
To allow easy access and exit to the grand tent, three temporary flights of steps extending from the principal state apartments were to be added.
Everything was set for this grand event, but … ‘hold you horses, Prinny, not so fast’ the newspapers duly reported on 1 June 1811 that ‘party time’ was to be postponed as the King was unwell.
It was then postponed again at short notice following a letter from his mother, Queen Charlotte, who wrote to him to let him know that for a variety of reasons it was best to briefly postpone it. You can read the letter to her son in full here.
By the 15 June all preparations were complete in the temporary ‘Chinese rooms’ which were located on the lawn of Carlton House, 13,214 square feet, with 45,824 square feet of canvas (oil cloth) was used to cover the roofs.
The aisle (north and south) was 186 feet by 22 feet; the end one, 159 feet by 22 feet. At the end of the aisle, opposite to the grand entrance from the conservatory, was to be placed a large mirror, the dimensions – 12 feet high by 9 feet, the aim being to reflect every object by well-disposed girandoles and candelabras.
The whole aisle was to resemble an allée vert, or green walk, with garlands and festoons of roses of every colour, honeysuckle, pinks carnations and tulips, both real and artificial. Also, dwarf fruit trees, consisting of oranges, cherries. All the chandeliers were to be suspended from chains covered with wreaths of artificial flowers stretching for 2,000 yards.
Four superb marquees were erected in the interior of the treble cross as it was known, with connecting rooms for the servants. There were to be two principle rooms for dancing, the other was the grand council chamber. In the centre was G.III.R with the Royal Crown. The whole area encircle in a highly emblazoned manner, by the rose, the thistle and the shamrock, emblematic of the arms of the United Kingdom.
The Prince Regent’s Attire
The Prince Regent wore a Field Marshall’s uniform (as did the Duke of York), and a superb, brilliant star, a large diamond loop and button in his hat and feather, and wore a sabre, the handle and scabbard of which were richly studded with jewellery.
In the conservatory, was the Prince’s table, elevated on a platform, about 6 inches from the ground. From this table there were a range of tables, extending in line over the further extremities of the Prince’s bed-chamber, occupying a space of around 600 feet. Every table was covered with gold or silver gilt plate. Covers were laid on tables for his 140 particular friends.
The Prince sat at the head of the table, seated on a superb state chair, covered with crimson Genoa Velvet, embroidered with gold. The masterpiece being a serpentine bubbling brook of water which occupied a central space down the Prince’s table, 170 feet in length and 14 inches in depth. It was a running stream, produced by a reservoir at one end and waste pipes at the others. The canal was filled with gold and silver fish which meandered over the artificially created weeds and soil. A space in each side was allocated for moss and flowers, to give the banks a natural appearance.
The supper was described as being ‘the most superb ever exhibited in this country’. The whole dinner service was in gold. The food consisted of everything that was in season, along with fruits, confectionery and copious amounts of wine.
The tables ran through to the lower suite of rooms were so arranged that the Prince Regent could distinctly see and be seen from one end to the other. Along those tables the royal family of England, and that of the Bourbons.
The Grand Fête eventually took place at nine o’clock, on Wednesday 19 June 1811 with over 2,000 of the nobility and gentry in attendance. This was said to have been the largest event known in Europe at the time, with 1,600 guests under canvas and a further 400 in the house itself.
The family of the house of Bourbon entered through the gardens at about 10 and were ushered into the Privy Council Chamber, where the Prince Regent was sitting. Guests were attended by 60 servants, seven waited on the Prince, besides 6 of the King’s and 6 of the Queen’s footmen in their state liveries, with one man in a complete suit of ancient armour.
Musicians played throughout the event and during the night a brilliant discharge of fireworks too place. The company sat down to supper about one o’clock and after taking refreshments they resumed their dancing until daylight.
Companies were always keen to be associated with anything royal and Charlton, Ladies Boot and Shoe Makers of Silver Street, Hull were no exception, telling potential customers that read the Hull Packet, 11 June 1811, that Mr Charlton had just returned from London and Windsor, where he has procured a variety of new patterns such as are now being made for the Prince Regent’s Grand Fete, called the ‘Regent’s Slipper’.
The Ipswich Journal 25 May 1811
Northampton Mercury 1 June 1811
Hampshire Chronicle 24 June 1811
Te Grand Service. The Service was made by the Royal Goldsmiths, Rundell, Bridge & Rundell, following an initial commission of £60,000 worth of plate. Royal Collection Trust