This blog is a little different in so much as it is primarily looking at some sketches that we came across whilst doing a spot of research at North Yorkshire archives. We were looking for a specific 18th-century person as part of our research for our book, A History of the Dukes of Bolton: 1600-1815, when the archivist told us that they had a book of sketches by Thomas Orde, 1st Baron Bolton (1740-1807), that she thought we might like to see.
Thomas Orde married the daughter of the 5th Duke of Bolton, Jean Browne Powlett and assumed the name Orde-Powlett in 1795. He was then created 1st Baron Bolton two years later.
Upon opening the sketchbook, we were amazed by who we found and are excited to share them with our lovely readers. These sketches have probably been safely preserved in the archives and rarely if ever been looked at for years.
So, bear in mind these are private sketches, never published as works of art, but merely drawings by Thomas. There are quite a few sketches in the collection which were drawn at an event in Buxton 1777 but they are mainly family ones, apart from one of the Duchess of Devonshire. So far we haven’t found any references to any event that took place in Buxton matching that year, so we can only presume it was a private gathering but presumably he took his sketchbook with him and you can almost imagine him sitting there sketching people. We are aware that other sketches are in the public domain, but we can’t find anywhere that shows these beauties. As to whether the individuals would have been flattered by their likenesses, who can say. Others are not dated, so we have no idea when or where they would have been sketched.
We have put the sketches alongside known portraits of the sitters, we would love to know what you think.
We begin with Emma, Lady Hamilton. This one is not dated.
Next we have Anne, Marchioness Townsend. She looks decidedly ‘matronly’ and not at all glamorous in this sketch unlike her portrait by Reynolds. We’re not at all sure she would have been flattered by this sketch.
Next, we have Mary Isabella, Duchess of Rutland. Note the fashionable ‘high hair’.
Then we have the beautiful Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and her sister, Henrietta Ponsonby, Countess of Bessborough.
There’s another one of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, this one is dated and was sketched at Buxton.
To find out more about the child that the Duchess of Devonshire raised as her own, Charlotte Williams, despite the child being the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Devonshire, follow the highlighted link.
Last, but by no means least we present the actress, Mrs Sarah Siddons.
We have the immense pleasure of welcoming our first guest to the blog, none other than Professor Chris Stephens of Bristol University. He has given us the following information about himself, his excellent new book and the Reverend Dr Thomas Sedgwick Whalley.
Professor Stephens retired in 2002 after 35 years in academic dentistry spent teaching orthodontics and undertaking pioneering work in the application of computers to dentistry and dental education. By this time he was also a professional dry stone waller and had helped to establish a SW England Branch of the Dry Stone walling Association of Great Britain.
In 2006 Chris was asked by the Woodland Trust if he could assist them in restoring the perimeter wall of their Dolebury Warren Wood property on the north slope of the Mendips. The work, undertaken with the help of local volunteers took three years to complete during which time Chris discovered that the walls had formed part of the estate which surrounded Mendip Lodge, an Italianate house built in the late 18th century by the flamboyant Reverend Dr. Thomas Sedgwick Whalley.
This long lived would-be poet and playwright had married a series of rich widows, the first of whose riches enabled him to buy a house in Royal Crescent Bath which became a centre of social life in Bath at the end of the 18th century.
By 1790 he had built Mendip Lodge high above Upper Langford looking out over Somerset and the Severn estuary as his summer retreat. While his life in outline is known from his letters edited and published by his great nephew in 1863, research over the past 10 years has revealed a far more interesting and complete account, much coming from his extensive correspondence with his friends Mrs Thrale (Piozzi), Hannah More, Anna Seward and the actress Sarah Siddons.
Whalley was a highly intelligent, sensitive and generous man who spent a large part of his long life and much of his wealth supporting his beautiful and talented young niece after the tragic death of her mother when she was only 8 years old. This recently published book is one of very few to detail the long of life of a sensitive and wealthy 18th century man from the correspondence of his friends both male and female. Much of Whalley’s estate, which included Dolebury Camp now in the ownership of the National Trust, is accessible to the public. A foot path runs past the remains of Mendip Lodge which was sadly demolished in the 1950’s.
Chris also appears in the new film Hannah More which is due out early next year, in the role of Rev Thomas Sedgwick Whalley.
Stephens, C. The Rev Dr Thomas Sedgwick Whalley and the Queen of Bath – A true story of Georgian England at the time of Jane Austen. (Candy Jar Books, 2014) ISBN 978-0-9928607-6-9. £9-99
The first theatre on the site opened as the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden on the 7th of December 1732 with the first play performed being that of William Congreve’s, The Way of the World. Over the next sixty years or so there were various alterations to it.
In the early hours of the 20th of September 1808 a fire broke out and the theatre was razed to the ground, taking with it Handel’s own organ and many of his manuscripts. The fire raged so fiercely it almost took with it other buildings including Drury Lane Theatre, but that one was to survive for a further year before it suffered the same fate.
Fires were a relatively common occurrence in theatres at that time due to the lighting and the draperies, the vast majority happening purely by accident. In order to prevent such fires, The London Fire Code stated that eight blankets soaked with water were to be kept on each side of the stage which could be used immediately should anything catch fire; this is apparently where the term ‘a wet blanket’ originated.
According to the newspapers of the day, in particular, the Morning Chronicle of the 21st September 1808, the fire began at 4am and within three hours the whole theatre was demolished. The books, accounts, deeds and cash were saved due to the exertions of Mr Hughes, the treasurer. A small amount of scenery survived, but all the wardrobe was destroyed. Unfortunately, the day prior to the fire the mains water supply had been cut off due to some complaints about an irregular supply so work was in progress to rectify this fault, therefore the fire engines struggled to provide sufficient water to dampen the fire. The fire was also in danger of spreading due to a westerly wind blowing towards properties on the nearby Bow Street, however, that apparently was short-lived. The wind changed direction and did, however, cause the loss of several buildings in the vicinity. According to an eyewitness who was setting up on Covent Garden market, there was an ‘unwholesome smell of the London smoak‘ which was thought to be coming from a local brewhouse; this was not the case and the fire was discovered by a poor girl who had made her bed in the porch of the theatre.
The newspaper provided gruesome details of the dead including 11 mutilated bodies in the grounds of St Paul’s church, Covent Garden. Many others were conveyed to nearby hospitals. Initial reports stated that as many as 20 lives were lost with far more seriously injured casualties. The press reported ‘on the whole, there has not been any domestic catastrophe more fatal for many years, even the disaster at the Old Bailey and at Sadler’s Wells, not excepted.’ Properties completely destroyed on Bow Street included numbers 9 -15, with 16 & 17 being very badly damaged. Even the Beef Steak Club did not escape unscathed, it lost its stock of wine which could not be replaced! The Coroner for Westminster, Anthony Gell Esq. observed that ‘in his opinion this melancholy event was accidental and that there was not the slightest blame on the theatre’s management’. Although very faint the image above depicts the ruins of the theatre.
A clearer image can be found on the Victoria and Albert Museum website.
With the inquest concluded plans began immediately for a new theatre to be built in its place with various suggestions made by the media as to how this should be done with comparisons being made to other theatres, both positive and negative! The architect appointed was Robert Smirke, an exponent of the Greek revival style of architecture which he used to great effect, the new theatre was the first building in London to use the Greek Doric order.
On the 2nd of January 1809 rebuilding commenced according to The Morning Post with the Prince of Wales present accompanied by much pomp and ceremony and including many Freemasons. The first Portland stone was said to weigh one ton. Smirke presented his Royal Highness with a plan of the new building. The cement ready for the stone was laid by the workmen, then the immense stone lowered into place, this was ceremonially positioned by his majesty giving it three strokes with a mallet. Following the ceremony all dignitaries including the Prince of Wales retired to the Free Masons Tavern for a meal, the Prince still wearing his Freemasons regalia – a white apron, lined with purple and edged with gold.
On completion, which took around nine months, the media took great interest in the finished structure. Apparently, the pit was very spacious, but the two galleries were comparatively small, only capable of holding 150 – 200 people. The upper gallery was divided into 5 compartments and under the gallery was a row of 26 private boxes, constituting a third tier. These boxes also had a private room behind each and not connected with any other part of the building allowed total exclusivity.
The following day a correction was published regarding some parts of the description of the theatre, this article provides a much more detailed description
The Morning Post of Thursday 14th September 1809 confirmed that the newly built Theatre Royal, Covent Garden would open on Monday the 18th with the tragedy Macbeth starring Mrs Sarah Siddons.
However, in order to recoup some of the enormous building costs, the price of tickets was increased which resulted in 3 months of rioting and ended with John Kemble the manager of the theatre being forced to apologise; they became known as the Old Price Riots.