Here in Britain summer temperatures have been increasing, which for those who like the heat it’s been glorious. In July 1808 Britain also experienced unusually high temperatures. So, given the British obsession with the weather, we’ve taken a look at how the newspapers reported this unusual weather.
The Scots Magazine confirmed that the previous winter was remarkable for its duration and severity and that the summer ‘had made ample amends, not merely its genial warmth, but by maintaining a steady high temperature which we have not for many years been accustomed’.
Reports from Brighton confirm that due to the excessive heat more and more people were visiting the resort. Their days seem to be divided into stages – dipping in the morning, sailing at noon, pony trotting and walking in the evening and the theatres and libraries at night.
Whilst the Morning Advertiser of 21st July 1808, reported that:
Despite this spell of very hot weather, the ladies did not alter their dress, for in fact, for some years past, they have had scarcely any covering to leave off!
A gentleman named Macrae, a native of Ross-Shire chose one of the hottest summers on record to walk from Vauxhall to Manchester in 69 hours. To ensure that he kept his feet supple for the walk he kept a quantity of oil in his shoes, but due to the excessive temperatures his feet were very badly blistered, and he was extremely fatigued which he blamed on the weather rather than the exertion.
London is said to have resembled an oven, the brick walls of the houses tended to accumulate the greater effect of the heat; in the shady side of the streets, the temperature was 100 degrees or two degrees above blood heat and five degrees more than is requisite to melt bees-wax.
It seems that the Northampton coroner, Thomas Marshall, was kept busy during July, as due to the excessive temperatures there was an unusually high number of sudden deaths. There were reports that the same thing was happening in Bedfordshire and Buckinghamshire, mainly to people who were working on the land.
The heat wave not only took its toll on humans but also on animals with between 40 and 50 post horses on the great north road being said to have:
fallen sacrifice to exposure to this extreme heat; some dropping down dead in the harness, and other expiring soon after they had completed their journey.
Crops benefited from the dry weather allowing farmers to harvest their crops early, but the honeycomb in bee-hives melted, and apparently, honey was seen running out from the base of the hives. Butter being transported to market turned to oil before reaching its destination.
In Kent, the cherry garden, a beautifully romantic spot about a mile and a half from Folkestone, was the place to be seen during the summer of 1808; the favourable state of the weather drew very elegant and numerous company there in early July for dancing on a platform similar to that at The Dandelion, near Margate.
Norfolk reported of its annual Water Frolic, generally called the Narrow Waters, a waterway between Breydon and Burgh flats which was covered with boats, barges and other small craft ready to witness a race which took place at one o’clock for a silver cup. Many spectators also lined the shore, making the most of the glorious weather.
The 1808 heat wave lasted until the end of July when thunderstorms and torrential rain took their revenge – so maybe we still have a few more days of it this year!
Shady Retreats for Summer or The Tip of the Ton! British Museum.
Today we welcome the lovely historian, writer and blogger, Anna Thane to our blog. Anna is the host of the blog ‘Regency Explorer‘ so if you haven’t taken a look at it, then we would highly recommend you take a peek at it, she has some fascinating information on there.
Imagine yourself a time traveller. It’s 10 February in 1756 in London. You are invited to a major event: The opening of Norfolk House, the London home of the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk. Your hosts, Edward and Mary Howard, have just finished redecorating their house and are eager to present it to high society.
Here are 6 tips to make your evening a success.
Dress to impress the “In” Crowd
A party at Norfolk House is a splendid affair. Mary and Edward entertain only the crème de la crème of high society.
“One might sooner be a knight of Malta than qualified for them,”
wryly notes author Horace Walpole (1717 –1797).
Dress in your most fashionable attire. Male time travellers should choose a richly decorated coat and matching waistcoat, breeches and silk stockings. Female time travellers will be envied by all other ladies when wearing a dress with a wide panier.
Ignore the sticklers
Upon approaching Norfolk House, 31 St. James’s Square, you find the street a bustle of carriages, servants and guests. Countless torches lighten the way to the location. They also illuminate the new facade of the house. It looks austere. ‘Not fit for a Duke’, you hear some of the arriving guests mumble.
Don’t listen to them. These people obviously have no idea of architectural trends. The façade of Norfolk House was built in the style of the Italian architect Andrea Palladio: Tasteful, and the height of fashion!
Don’t be afraid of ‘Mylord Duchess’
You enter the hall of Norfolk House and continue upstairs to the principal storey. Here, your hostess will greet you. Mary is said to be intelligent and forceful. Horace Walpole even calls her ‘My Lord Duchess’ – safely behind her back.
Mary’s reputation as ‘Power Woman’ is based on two aspects: She is more active in society than the Duke, and she has a keen interest in politics. As a matter of fact, Mary is the mastermind behind the political success of the family. In the early 18th century, the Dukes of Norfolk had Jacobite sympathies and played an active part in the affairs of the House of Stuart. Mary, however, realised that the Duke of Norfolk’s future is with the Hanoverians. Under her influence, her husband has been a loyal supporter of George II. for the past two decades.
When you meet the formidable Duchess, prove yourself worthy of her invitation by showing countenance and composure. If you want to ingratiate yourself with her, you can pay her a clever compliment. For example, congratulate her on the embroidered chair covers in the rooms. This will be received well, as Mary, an accomplished needlewoman, did many of the chair covers at Norfolk House herself.
Mind your step
Mary, the driving force behind rebuilding Norfolk House, has spared no costs to decorate the interior in the latest fashion, Rococo splendour. Everything is magnificent and tasteful.
You can join in the “Oh” and “Ah”, but don’t get carried away and forget your manners. It’s vulgar to gawp, and you wouldn’t want to find yourself the object of Horace Walpole’s caustic comment on society: “You would have thought there had been a comet, everybody was gaping in the air and treading on one another’s toes”, he wrote about the opening party on 10 February in a letter.
Boast with insider knowledge
A party is only fun when you know at least some of the guests. Being a time traveller, you are at a disadvantage: You don’t know anybody. How to make contact?
Apply a trick: Join a group of guests and remark that Norfolk House reminds you of famous Holkham Hall in Norfolk.
You can’t go wrong with this: Norfolk House and Holkham Hall were built by the same architect: Matthew Brettingham. – Okay, William Kent was in charge of building Holkham Hall, but Brettingham was his assistant. His architectural taste was formed there, and he derived most of the Palladian detail of Norfolk House from Holkham Hall (add this as additional information).
As you obviously are in possession of insider knowledge about the high society, people will consider you as a part of the ruling elite and thus worth being talked to.
Be cosmopolitan and liberal
Mary and Edward are Roman Catholics, and they head one the most high profile recusant families of England. Being Catholic means that Edward can’t take his seat in the House of Lords. Nevertheless, Mary and Edward use their position as high-ranking peers to promote religious tolerance.
Mary, the charming hostess and a born diplomat, is totally at her ease at entertaining both catholic and protestant nobility. Her formula for success: cosmopolitanism. Nothing about her is ‘Popish’. Her talk is clever, and her political ideas are well balanced. Under her influence, the protestant ruling élite loses their suspicion of Roman Catholics.
Be smart, follow her lead, and help laying the fundament of religious tolerance. Besides, you will find many budding political talents among her guests, and most of them will be very influential in the decades to come. Wisely network: Your cosmopolitan attitude can securemore invitations to glorious 18th-century parties.
Alice Drayton Greenwood: Horace Walpole’s world – A sketch of Whig society under George III.; G. Bell and Sons: 1913
Clare Haynes: Of Her Making: The Cultural Practice of Mary, 9th Duchess of Norfolk; in: Tulsa Studies in Women’s’ Literature 31(1):77-98, March 2012
Matthew Kilburn: Howard [née Blount], Mary, duchess of Norfolk (1701/2–1773), noblewomen in: Oxford dictionary of National Biography: 2004.
Robert L. Mack: The Genius of Parody: Imitation and Originality in Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century English Literature; Palgrave Macmillan: 2007.
Horace Walpole, John Wright, George Agar-Ellis Dover: The letters of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford: including numerous letters now first published from the original manuscripts; in six volumes; volume 3 (1753-1759); London: 1840.
British History Online, Survey of London, Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1
Edward Bamfield or Bamford (1732-1768), the ‘Staffordshire Giant’, pictured with John Coan (1728-1764), the ‘Norfolk Dwarf’. They both earned a living as sideshow performers; giants and dwarfs were special attractions around the Fleet Street area of London during the 18th century. Engraved by Hawksworth after a portrait by Benjamin Rackstrow and sold by James Roberts, 4th May 1771.
Whilst researching Bartholomew Fair we came across John Coan and thought he was fascinating and worth adding to our blog – we hope you agree. Bartholomew’s Fair was primarily a trading event for cloth and other goods as well as a pleasure fair and drew crowds from all classes of English society, but it also featured sideshows, prize-fighters, musicians, wire-walkers, acrobats, puppets, curiosities and wild animals.
On the 5th December 1727 the marriage took place between a John Coan and Sarah (nee Negus) at Tivetshall St. Margaret, then on 31 May 1730, at the same church the baptism of their son John took place, who later was to be known by the epithet of ‘John Coan, The Norfolk Dwarf’ or ‘The Jovial Pigmy’. Having looked at the parish registers there appears no evidence that John had any siblings.
Many reports about John’s life refer to him as being born in 1728, which may well be correct but for whatever reason his baptism didn’t take place until he was around two years old, which possibly implies that at birth he was a normal healthy baby, therefore, his parents saw no reason to have him baptised immediately. Having looked for his baptism at the place named in most reports i.e. Twitshall and found no mention of such a place existing, we revised our search to Tivetshall and that’s where we found him.
According to Edward J Woods book, ‘Giants and Dwarfs’ John, aged one, appeared to have developed at the same rate as other children of the same age, however, after this age, his growth slowed down and by 1744 he was just three feet tall and weighed 27.5 just pounds. Regarded as a freak or curiosity John was ‘exhibited’ at the Lower Half Moon, Market Place, Norwich in July of 1744 when he was a mere 16 years old.
‘The Cabinet of Curiosities: Or, Wonders of the World Displayed’ written in 1824, says that when surgeon William Arderon wrote to his colleague Mr Henry Baker F.R.S on the 12th May 1750, he gave a detailed account of John, aged 22 by this time. At this encounter, Arderon weighed John and noted that with all his clothes on he weighed no more than 34 pounds. He also measured John – 38 inches, this, however, included his wig, hat and shoes. He noted that his limbs were no larger than those of a child aged around 3 or 4; his body perfectly straight, the lineaments of face accorded with his age, he had a good complexion, his voice a little hollow, but not disagreeable; he could sing with tolerable proficiency and could read and write English well. He was also known for his amusing company by mimicking very exactly the crowing of a cock. Arderon’s letter gave the most detailed comparison that he carried out between John and a child aged 3 years 9 months. A full report was included in The London Magazine or Gentleman’s Monthly Intelligencer of 1751 in an Extract from Philosophical Transactions. As it was so comprehensive we thought it worthy of reproduction in its entirety:
The weight of the dwarf 34 pounds, the child 36 pounds.
The dwarf The child
Round the waist 21 20 & 5/10’s
Round the neck 9 9 & 7/10’s
Round the calf 8 9
Round the ankle 6 6
Round the wrist 4 4 & 3/10’s
Length of arm from shoulder
to wrist 15 13
From the elbow to the end
of the middle finger 10 & 4/10’s 10 & 7/10’s
From the wrist to the end
of the middle finger 4 4
From the knee to the
bottom of the heel 10 & 4/10’s 10 & 7/10’s
Length of the foot
with shoe on 6 6 & 4/10’s
Length of face 6 6 & 4/10’s
Breadth of the face 5 4 & 8/10’s
Length of the nose 1 & 2/10’s 1 & 2/10’s
Width of the mouth 1 & 8/10’s 1 & 8/10’s
Breadth of the hand 2 & 5/10’s 2 & 5/10’s
In the early part of the 18th century dwarfs were very popular with the upper classes and also the monarchy which could explain John’s move from rural Norfolk to London as, according to The London Magazine, Or, Gentleman’s Monthly Intelligencer, Volume 20 he was presented to the Prince of Wales on the 5th December 1751 and then exhibited to the Royal Society.
His notoriety rapidly spread and his name appeared with great regularity in the newspapers around this time. On Friday the 10th of January 1752 he was introduced to his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, Prince Edward and all the other Princes and Princesses, where he stayed upwards of two hours. It was reported that ‘by the pertinency of his answers, actions and behaviour, their Royal Highnesses were most agreeably entertained the whole time and made him a very handsome present’.
Much of John’s appeal was the combination of very small limbs, his jovial personality, wit and intelligence. The General Advertiser of Tuesday 7th January 1752 described him as being a ‘perfect man in miniature, to be seen at the Watchmakers, opposite Cannon Tavern, Charing Cross … that it is impossible for anyone to form a true judgement of him without ocular demonstration.’
According to the newspapers, he made regular appearance at London taverns and aged 23 appeared at The Swan during the Bartholomew Fair. Advertisements such as the one below were frequently seen with spectators paying a shilling to see this ‘curiosity’ of nature.
Public Advertiser, Wednesday, December 25, 1754
The Public is hereby informed that Mr. John Coan the famous Norfolk Dwarf, is to be seen, for One Shilling each person, at Mr Syme’s, the Black Peruke, facing the Mew, Charing Cross. This Man in Miniature is twenty seven years of age, barely thirty seven inches high, and thirty four pounds weight, is (contrary to the generality of small productions) straight as an arrow, of just symmetry of parts throughout the hole and perfect in his faculties, delightful in conversation, to the astonishment of all who have seen him.
In the late 1750s Christopher Pinchbeck established the ‘Dwarf Garden’ at Chelsea where John soon became a fixture entertaining visitors with other persons of his stature. However, by 1762 John began to show the infirmities normally associated with someone much older. His health was showing clear signs of failing; his skin was wrinkled and sallow. Despite this he was fond of wearing bright clothing; sometimes blue and gold, other times purple and silver. Due to his small stature the cost of having clothes made for him was easily within his reach.
For a brief time John lived and performed at The Dwarf’s Tavern in Chelsea Fields which ran along with the proprietor of the neighbouring Star & Garter became extremely popular due to John being regarded as such an oddity, not to mention to excellent food that was served such as ham, collared eels, potted beef washed down with bright wine and punch like nectar.
John died at The Dwarf’s Tavern on the 16th March 1764 according to The Daily Advertiser, dated 17th March 1764,yet despite his premature death his ‘manager’ decided he could make still some money from John unique physique and exhibited his body for as long as possible. John was finally laid to rest on the 14th April 1764 at St Luke’s, Chelsea.
Edward Bamfield or Bamford (1732-1768), the ‘Staffordshire Giant’.
The corpse of Mr Bamford, usually called the giant, was interred in a vault in St Dunstan’s, Fleet Street, London, Nov. 10. He died in the 36th year of his age, of a fever, and has left a widow, and three young children, one of which was baptised on the morning of the day he died. He was seven feet four inches high. It is said that 200l. would have been given for his body, could the surgeons have had it for dissection.