Lavinia Spencer—amateur artist and Princess Diana’s great, great, great grandmother

I am delighted to welcome back R.M Healey, hot on the heels of his previous piece, A Georgian ‘Trip Advisor‘. Today’s topic is however very different, so I’ll hand over to him to tell you more:

I purchased this signed drawing below of Frances Molesworth by the talented amateur Lavinia Bingham a few years ago in a provincial auction house. It is interesting for a number of reasons, not least because the artist was Princess Diana’s great, great, great, grandmother.

The sketch shows Frances seated on a sofa, with a parrot perched on the top rail is dated 8 June 1780, when Lavinia was just eighteen years old and her sitter four years older.

However, the relationship between Lavinia and Frances is also significant, as the two girls were part of the same family.

Frances Molesworth, born in Wembury, near Plymouth, Devon, in 1758, the daughter of William Molesworth, and Elizabeth Smyth. Frances entered the household of her mother’s sister, Margaret Bingham (née Smyth), Lady Lucan, after the early deaths of her parents.

Margaret Bingham (née Smith), Countess of Lucan. NPG
Margaret Bingham (née Smith), Countess of Lucan. NPG

So, the two cousins grew up together and it is possible that among the archive of drawings by Lavinia at the Spencer seat of Althorp, there are others that depict Frances, for Lavinia was an enthusiastic sketcher, as we shall see. It would also be revealing to know how easily Lavinia accepted the introduction of Frances into the family circle. Perhaps the future discovery of such personal documents as letters and diaries, might shed some light. Unfortunately, although biographers, for obvious reasons, have focussed on Lavinia, nothing of significance has been published about Frances apart from the bare biographical facts. It is likely that the drawing, which Lavinia seemingly presented to Frances, was executed at the family home on the Thames at Laleham, though the present Laleham House dates from 1803.

Interestingly, the sitter seems to be wearing the same, or a very similar, wide brimmed hat trimmed with feathers that she was to wear in a later portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds. No doubt at the time the two girls were rivals in the marriage stakes.

Both had striking good looks, but whereas less than a year after the sitting Lavinia had married George, the second Earl Spencer, brother of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Frances rejected two very eligible suitors, including Lord North, before she agreed to marry John Jeffreys, Marquess of Camden, in 1785 bringing with her a generous settlement of £40,000 from Lord Lucan.

Camden’s name lives on, of course, as the developer of London’s Camden Town, which began to be built around 1791. At the time the couple were living at Bayham Abbey.

As an amateur artist Lavinia evidently inherited some of the skills of her mother, Margaret Smyth, whose miniature portraits, landscapes and book illustration were admired by Horace Walpole.

The sketch of Frances Molesworth shows that though the draughtsmanship is weak in some areas, the potential for improvement was there, and indeed by the 1790’s such productions as ‘Nice Supper’ and ‘A Pinch of Snuff’, which were both considered good enough to be engraved, demonstrated a great advancement in technique.

On 10 January, six months after the drawing of Frances was executed, Lavinia, evidently a little infatuated with her future husband, wrote to him describing her daily regime after getting up:

…I then go to breakfast—then to draw, sing and play, in order to improve those talents for your future amusement—then I write to you for your present amusement, then I take the air, or a long walk to get good looks for you—then I eat my dinner where I think of you—then I sit and fret until the post brings me a letter from you which I devour and read over for an hour and a half, then I send mine to you—then I draw again or improve my mind by good Books for you the rest of the Evening—then I go to Bed, where I dream of you—so you see that you always are the burthen of my song. Have I told you that Lady Edgcombe & Dickey came here the other day to see my drawings?

The following day Lavinia looks forward to finishing her portrait of George:

…there will not be vermillion enough in London to paint your picture if you sit again when you return—and I am out of my senses when I think how will you be when I see you next.

In a postscript she refers to her two pet dogs, Bow-Wow and Salvatori, and the tiny drawings she did of them, are added to the letter. She pleads with George to keep the letter, as the drawings on it hadn’t been copied. Perhaps, she suggests, he might hang up the letter ‘among your other Originals’.

Less than two months later, on 6 March, the pair were married. At the end of November Lavinia was ‘with child ‘and on 6 December was still drawing, though evidently suffering from morning sickness. She wrote from her new home at Althorp:

I am drawing away, but if I continue so most sick, as Mother Roberts says, I shall not be able to finish a great many things to show you, although you expect them, you unreasonable dog—for “what is the use of having her if she does not draw”.

Who could not be charmed by these letters, especially those written before her marriage? At this time Lavinia was described as a ‘sweet creature’, but her personality seems to have altered somewhat following her arriving at Althorp, where she was described by some as bitchy and arrogant.

Amanda Foreman, biographer of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, called her ‘moody, vindictive, hypocritical ‘and ‘neurotically jealous’ of both Georgiana and the Countess of Bessborough. Certainly, she appears to have ruled her household at Althorp with a self confidence born of her elevated station. Nevertheless, her beauty and intelligence proved popular with her many guests and hers was generally a happy marriage.

She bore eight children and lived just long enough to see her eldest son, Viscount Althorp, become Chancellor of the Exchequer. Lavinia died in 1831, aged sixty-nine, two years after the death of Frances.

Sources

British Library Add MSS 75926 – 75938 1781 – 1830

Amanda Foreman, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.

 

 

A Georgian ‘Trip Advisor’ – Part Two

Today we’re following on from the previous article by R. M Healey with some more places in London to enjoy dining in the 18th century.

August 1788 

Windsor Castle, Richmond. 

Long has this house been in estimation. Rigby, who often formerly used to bait here, en tête-à-tête, used to say “ that further up you may fare worse! “. The apartments are all spacious, and the view from behind a most luxurious landscape! Good eels, good fowls, and good venison, are found here. The various courses are all served up in style, and there is not a wine but what is of the highest flavour, and best quality. The stables too are excellent in equestrian accommodation; and that is no secondary consideration with a man of feeling, who feeds his horse himself, while the cuisineur is preparing his own feed. The charge is by no means extortionate, and there is as grateful a fair hair’d curtsey at the bar to be had for a shilling as for a guinea. In the left front parlour is a room befitting even Middleton himself. It was lined by India, at least in painting—the panels were formed for the room, and then sent out for Asiatic gilding!

Three Tuns, Strand.

The fragments of royalty smoke here; and smoke, too, in additional perfume. It is a royal larder. Besides this luxurious conveniency, every choice article is to be had in season. The expence being tacked to the bill of fare, is no inconsiderable invitation to sit down. Bricklayers in their bills manage it otherwise. If Mr Hodd says that your demand is to cost ten pounds, it is ten to one that it will be thirty. The Lord Mayor himself cannot deny this. As for the Tuns, both upstairs and down stairs, all is activity, civility and good service too; nor should the company pass unnoticed, who though motley, are generally accomplished ; and where is the man of sense that would not choose  his company before his food? As to the bill, it is very moderate.

Below we have a snippet about a young man who couldn’t pay for  his meal at the Three Tuns:

Kentish Gazette 08 June 1768
Kentish Gazette 08 June 1768

Walker’s, the Assembly Rooms, Blackheath.

This tavern is very pleasantly situated on the Heath. The prospect to the north is rich, variegated and delightful; and this must certainly please the Scotch Golf Club, that when they look towards home from hence, it is viewing Thule in idea, through the most grand and attractive medium. The prospect to the south is not half so charming. It seems only a pleasing waste, not from sterility, but from the folly of continuing waste-grounds in a fertile country, mainly because we are free to do as absurd actions as we please. This liberal policy is a determined, though not rooted enmity against the wants of man. Why does not our patriot minister make all England yield that equal burthen which nature has intended?

As to Walker’s, they dress very good dinners. It is an excellent house for turbot. The Kentish Dispensary, it would appear, know this truism; for besides its being a centrical (sic) house for their dinners, it is an excellent and a reasonable house for making out a bill. All guests know that when a house is unreasonable, however wise it may appear in it’s (sic) own eyes, it ought either to be sent to Bridewell or Bedlam. Moderate profits, ready attendance and good cheer can only ensure business; and these recommendations, it may be with truth affirmed, are the characteristics of the Blackheath Assembly Rooms.

The Virginia, Newman’s Court, Cornhill.

This house is much frequented by ship carpenters, and ship brokers. Dinners are very well served up at 15d a head. Rural city merchants, that is, those who sleep in the country, generally dine here. The entertainment is good, and the charge moderate. As to the mistress at the bar, she is very obliging; she is as prolific in curtseys as a Frenchwoman, and as prolific in issue as a rabbit.

Mill’s, Gerrard Street, Soho

This house is remarkable for good red port, and good spirits. They dress dinners and suppers in style —and the breakfast are very comfortable. Several intelligent gentlemen, stricken in years, are it’s constant guests, and the conversation is both pleasing and instructive. The charges are indeed very reasonable, and the attention prompt and agreeable. It is celebrated for being the very first house that reduced the prices of wines and spirits, after the commencement of the French treaty.

Batson’s Coffee House, near ‘Change.

This is the English emporium for the Russian trade. The Baltic ships are regularly filed here. It is the great commercial mart, and city lounge for the Thornton’s. No dinners are dressed. Opulent and elegant clubs meet here. It is the coffee-house patron of Sunday schools. The ladies at the bar Flood their customers with good spirits, good coffee, and good looks. As to their proof brandy, it serves as excellent fur cloaks to the Russian captains.

Bull and Bush, North-End, Hampstead.

The bon-vivants for several miles around meet here every Friday. There is a very pleasant garden, in the midst of which is a bush, that can accommodate a dozen people to dinner. The rooms are cheerful, and the prospect, altho’ confined, is neatly rural, and somewhat romantic. Every article, both in eating and drinking is of the very best quality; and it being without the vortex of common Sunday pedestrians, it is a most delightful recess on that day as well as others. The bill is conscionable, and the service speedy.

Notes.

The Windsor Castle inn seems to have disappeared.

Today, there are a couple of inns named The Three Tuns in the Strand area, but the one flourishing  in 1788, appears to have gone.

The Assembly Rooms in Blackheath have long disappeared, but The Royal Blackheath Golf Club, ancestor of the Blackheath Golf Club, still exists, though it has now moved to Eltham. This ‘Scotch Golf Club’ had its HQ at the Greenwich end of the heath. Although it could trace its origins to 1608, when Scottish courtiers based at Greenwich Palace practiced their skills on the nearby heath, it was formally established in the mid eighteenth century. The scathing reference to the free market ( ie ‘ liberal’) practice of concentrating waste-grounds in ‘ fertile ‘Blackheath reveals a sensibility towards the environment that was surely ahead of its time. The Kentish Dispensary was, like the voluntary hospitals of the period, a source of drugs and medical care that was funded by voluntary subscriptions. It’s good to discover that the tradition of City bankers living opulently in the shires and commuting into the square mile each morning was alive in the late eighteenth century, though the absence of a railway network in 1788 meant that the country in this period probably meant Edmonton, Woodford or Clapham, all villages that could be reached by a fast coach from the City. Soho continued to be a refuge for ‘intelligent gentlemen, stricken in years ‘where good conversation could be had right up to the early nineteen seventies. Alas, that reputation is no more. We confess to being perplexed by the references to the Thorntons and Flood, but perhaps historians of London will know more. According to a writer in the Connoisseur magazine for 1754 Batson’s was where physicians met their clients.  Food is still served at the famous Old Bull and Bush, and according to the deputy manager, there was once a bush in the garden. However, she could give no information on when it disappeared or whether it could once accommodate several customers.

A Georgian Trip Advisor – Part One

When we’re looking for somewhere to dine out, we often use a website, such as Trip Advisor (others available, of course), but did you know that something similar existed in the 18th century? Well, today’s guest, who I am delighted to welcome, is historian and biographer R. M Healey. He has also written and contributed to many books, journals, newspapers and magazines, during a long and varied life, including working in various museums and art galleries in the UK. With that, I’ll hand over to him to share some of these reviews with you.

Reviews of eating and drinking establishments are rare in any newspapers and magazines of the Georgian era. However, the idea was taken up in 1815 by the journalist George Rylance in his very extensive survey, The Epicure’s Almanack, a recent edition of which was edited by Janet Ing Freeman.

Here is a selection of the best descriptions of eating and drinking resorts taken from a ‘Review of Taverns, Inns, Coffee Houses and Genteel Eating Houses’ published anonymously in the New London Magazine in July and August 1788. Oddly, although she pays tribute to the many manifestations of similar reviews in earlier books on London, Ms Freeman neglects to mention this particular magazine’s earlier survey.

July 1788

 Brentford Eights, an island in the Thames off Brentford

This is rendered famous for pitch-cock eels. It is likewise celebrated for a very favourite Dutch dish called Vater Zuchee. This dish is composed of perch, parsley-roots and vinegar, served up in a deep dish, with slices of bread and butter. The visitors of the Eights, in gormandising this dish, have no occasion for any other knives and forks than what nature has given them. It is common to eat with digits only.

If any stripling of fortune, whether a coxswain of a barge, or the supercargo of a post chaise, wishes to be indulged, he may be served here with zouchee to the amount of eight shillings a head.

Marlborough Coffee-House, Bond Street

Lord George Gordon used to say that this house was excellent for good fish. Do they purchase it off Philips—the Carnaby-market Cat—the best of all anglers? The frequenters are fashionable, the fare is of the best quality, nor can ever the guests repine at summing up the total of their entertainment.

The Promenade in St. James's Park. 1793. Courtesy of YCBA
The Promenade in St. James’s Park. 1793. Courtesy of YCBA

New Spring Gardens, Chelsea

This is a foreign house where indeed, to do them justice, they dress all kinds of French dishes remarkably well. They have very good French and Portuguese wines. Their tevel is delicate and their red port strong and genuine, without the fiery aid of British brandy. This house is a bumper every Sunday, in the tea and ordinary style. The prospect from the pleasure ground is perhaps the richest rural view of any. In the fore-ground are the verdant lawns of Pimlico. In the side and backgrounds, St James’s Park, Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s stand proudly pre-eminent. The service is neat, the entertainment good, the bill very moderate indeed! Excepting in rich eating and rich drinking, it is a complete rus in urbe.

Guildhall Coffee- House, King Street, Cheapside.

Frequented by all classes of luxurious citizens. Aldermen, Deputies, Common Councilmen, Gentlemen of the Long Robe attending the Courts, with a variety of others whose interest in pleasure leads them near the city senate. Here you may lodge and board —or you may dine in private, aux prix raisonable. Rich soup is made here in the season, which the lawyers devour as eagerly as their briefs. The Port is good and the Sherry most excellent. It is, indeed, pretty plentifully distributed to the neighbouring cits*. Sometimes the lawyers and common council gill it in a morning; and Pownall’s cellar has caused many a citizen’s question to be carried, and many a doubtful cause to be won. The address of Mr Pownal, and the attention of Mr Pugh give pleasure to all it’s (sic) visitants. The bill is very moderate.

Red Lion Inn, Hounslow.

A good house for post-chaises, good horses and good beds. There are two gardens belonging to it that are very pleasant for a solitary or a  tête-à-tête walk. The larder is not variegated, but what it contains is of the prime. The port wine is good, and the tea and coffee excellent, nor should the clotted cream be forgotten. It is unadulterated, although chalk may be had very reasonable. The bill is very moderate for the western road, and the attendance prompt and pleasing.

The Red Lion, Hounslow. Courtesy of British Listed Buildings 1973. No old image of it available
The Red Lion, Hounslow. Courtesy of British Listed Buildings 1973. No old image of it available

Spread Eagle, Strand.

Long noted among the society of the humorous and intelligent. The rooms are here remarkably spacious. Indeed, they are in stile. As to the bill of fare, it abounds with every article in the season, from a mutton chop to a bustard or John-dory. The wines are all pure and well flavoured. If there be any preferable to others, it is the sherry and the port. The master and waiters are as civil and patient at four in the morning as at eight in the evening; and the prices of the various articles are very moderate.

Toy, Hampton-court.

Pitch-cock eels are here in the utmost perfection. Being in the vicinity of the palace, it is ever frequented in the summer months, by the great, the dissipated and the inquisitive. The apartments are airy, the bill of fare is rich and diversified. The wines are all excellent. If the bill appears stretched sometimes, strangers cannot much repine, as they have always the best of everything for their money, and likewise the utmost alacrity of attention. The guests would rather pay a guinea at the Toy, from experience, that fifteen shillings for the same fare any where contiguous.

Northampton Mercury 15 July 1771
Northampton Mercury 15 July 1771

Click on the highlighted link which will take you to Part Two

Notes. 

Today, young and monied men about town will no longer find local fish dishes being served on Brentford Ait, a long, narrow island in the Thames, lying opposite Kew Gardens and Brentford High Street, which is now just a greensward. However, Eel Pie Island, further downstream off Twickenham, got its name by offering similar fishy fare in Victorian times and became a trendy hot spot in the swinging sixties. Incidentally, it is slightly worrying to read that parsley root was an ingredient in Zucher Zee. Back in 1788, when the Thames was less polluted, the deadly poisonous Hemlock Water Dropwort (cicuta virosa) would have grown profusely along its banks; and in the annals of toxicology there are numerous cases of ignorant people mistaking the roots of this dangerous plant for parsnips. Many died horrible deaths. Let’s hope no cooks on the Brentford ‘Eights’ made the same mistake.

*A cit in Georgian slang was a ‘townsman ‘who traded. We would certainly like to know more about Philips, the ‘Carnaby-market cat’.

Not surprisingly, all of the eateries described have long vanished, although some of the buildings have survived. The Red Lion in Hounslow High Street, which Dickens knew, was flourishing (much changed) at least until the 1930s. It is now a Barclays bank. The original Toy inn, possibly dating from the time of Henry VIII, once stood close to the Hampton Court palace gates, where one of its regular customers was King William the Third. In The Epicure’s Handbook (1815) the Toy is described as being ‘on a larger scale than the King’s Arms, and the charges, we believe, are rather higher, but the fare is such to leave you no shadow of cause to repine at the expence ‘. By 1840, however, it had become ruinous, and it that year was reconstructed, relocated and renamed ‘Ye Old Toye’. It was still doing business until recently, but now seems to have closed. 

Feature Image

Eagle Tavern and Coffee House near Somerset House formerly Bath and Liverpool Hotel. YCBA