Romance of London: Carlton House and the Regency

Romance of London: Strange Stories, Scenes And Remarkable Person of the Great Town in 3 Volumes

John Timbs

John Timbs (1801-1875), who also wrote as Horace Welby, was an English author and aficionado of antiquities. Born in Clerkenwell, London, he was apprenticed at 16 to a druggist and printer, where he soon showed great literary promise. At 19, he began to write for Monthly Magazine, and a year later he was made secretary to the magazine’s proprietor and there began his career as a writer, editor, and antiquarian.

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The frontage of Carlton House

Carlton House and the Regency

The Prince Regent’s residence at Carlton House is another place frequently mentioned in historical fiction that is no longer in existence. I had heard that it burned down, but Timbs reports the following:

Carlton House having grown dingy in its fittings, and its history prompting many disagreeable associations, the King projected the enlargement and eventually the rebuilding of Buckingham House; Carlton House was taken down in 1826; the columns of the portico have been transferred to the National Gallery. The exact site of this palace of a century is now the opening between the York Column and the foot of Regent Street.


Plan showing the main floor and the suite of reception rooms on the lower ground floor


Carlton House, as a royal palace, existed for nearly a century, and was the scene of many important state events, as well as of much prodigality and bad taste. The house, which fronted St. Alban’s Street and St. James’s Park, was originally built by Henry Boyles, Baron Carlton, on a piece of ground leased to him by Queen Anne, in 1709, at 35l. a year; it is described as “parcel of the Royal Garden, near St. James’s Palace,” and “the wood-work and wilderness adjoining.” From Lord Carlton the house and grounds descended to his nephew, Lord Burlington, the architect: he bested it, in 1732, upon his mother, the Countess Dowager of Burlington, who, in the same year, transferred it to Frederick, Prince of Wales, father of George III. The House was a building of red brick, with wings, and was afterwards cased with stone by Sir Robert Taylor. In Lord Burlington’s time, the grounds, which ran westward as far as Marlborough House, were laid out by Kent, in imitation of Pope’s garden at Twickenham. There is a large and fine engraving of the grounds by Woollett; bowers, grottoes, and terminal busts abounding.

Under the Prince Regent (George IV)

When, in 1783, the Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV, was allowed a separate establishment, Carlton House was assigned for his residence, and Holland, the architect, was called in, and added the chief features,—the Ionic screen and the Corinthian portico, fronting Pall Mall. [Horace] Walpole writes to the Countess of Ossor, in the autumn of 1785:

We went to see the Prince’s new palace in Pall Mall; and were charmed. It will be the most perfect in Europe. There is an august simplicity that astonished me. You cannot call it magnificent: it is the taste and propriety that strike. Every ornament is at a proper distance and not one too large, but all delicate and now, with more freedom and variety than Greek ornaments… As Gobert [French architect]… designed the decorations, I expected a more tawdry assemblage of fantastic vagaries than in Mrs. Cornelys’s masquerade-rooms. [Teresa Cornelys, operatic soprano, held many fashionable gatherings at Carlisle House, had many lovers, and bore a child of Casanova.]… There are three most spacious apartments, all looking on the lovely garden, a terrace, the state apartment, and an attic. The portico, vestibule, hall, and staircase will be superb, and, to my taste, full of perspectives; the jewel of all is a small music-room, that opens into a green recess and winding walk of the garden… I forgot to tell you how admirably all the carving, stucco, and ornaments are executed; but whence the money is to come I conceive not—all the tin mines of Cornwall would not pay a quarter. How sick one shall be after this chaste palace, of Mr. Adam’s [Robert Adam, popular 18th century architect] gingerbread and sippets of embroidery!


The main staircase, from Pyne’s Royal Residences (1819)

Timbs’s later assessment was not so kind. He says that the conservatory, “imitated from Henry VII’s Chapel, was a failure,” the blue velvet draperies “heavy and dark”; and the “Gothic dining-room was poor.” He found the armory to be “the most curious collection of arms in the world, [filling] four rooms.”

Here was John Hamden’s sword, said to be the work of Cellini; and a golden throne of the King of Candy was backed with a sun of diamonds and precious stones. Here, too, were arms from all nations—caps, boots, spurs, turbans, shields, bows, dresses, models of horses, helmets, sabres, swords, daggers, canopies, palanquins, guns, coats of mail, and other costly presents from all parts of the world.

In the plate-room were some fine specimens of King Charles’s plate; other plate was disposed in the centre of the room, in columns of gold and silver plates, and dishes, and drawers filled with gold and silver knives, forks, spoons, &c.…

The palace was superbly fitted for the Prince’s marriage: 26,000l. Was voted for furnishing, 28,000l. For jewels and plate, and 27,000l for the expense of the marriage. Here was born the Princess Charlotte, January 16, 1796, and the baptism took place on February 11; here, also, the Princess was married, May 2, 1816.

The Fête of June 19, 1811

The most magnificent State event of the Regency was the event given at Carlton House on June 19, 1811, being then the only experiment ever made to give a supper to 2,000 of the nobility and gentry. Covers were laid for 400 in the palace, and for 1,600 in the pavilions and gardens. The fête was attended by Louis XVIII, and the French princes then in exile; and a vast assemblage of beauty, rank, and fashion. The saloon at the foot of the staircase represented a bower with a grotto, lined with a profusion of shrubs and flowers. The grand table extended the whole length of the conservatory, and across Carlton House to the length of 200 feet. Along the centre of the table, about six inches above the surface, a canal of pure water continued flowing from a silver fountain, beautifully constructed at the head of the table. Its banks were covered with green moss and aquatic flowers; gold and silver fish swam and sported through the bubbling current, which produced a pleasing murmur where it fell, and formed a cascade at the outlet. At the head of the table, above the fountain, sat His Royal Highness the Prince Regent on a plain mahogany chair with a feather back. The most particular friends of the Prince were arranged on each side. They were attended by sixty servitors; seven waited on the Prince, besides six of the King’s, and six of the Queen’s footmen, in their state liveries, with one man in a complete suit of ancient armour.


Fencing Match between Chevalier de Saint-Georges and ‘La chevalière D’Eon’ on April 9, 1787 in Carlton House, painting by Charles Jean Robineau

Historical tidbit

Timbs mentions that the portico of Carlton House was the site of the “first public application of the newly-invented lighting by gas.”

Author’s Reflections

I’m thinking the fête might come in hand for a scene in my next story—as an example of the decadence and excess of the Prince Regent. What do you think?


Romance of London Series

  1. Romance of London: The Lord Mayor’s Fool… and a Dessert
  2. Romance of London: Carlton House and the Regency
  3. Romance of London: The Championship at George IV’s Coronation
  4. Romance of London: Mrs. Cornelys at Carlisle House
  5. Romance of London: The Bottle Conjuror
  6. Romance of London: Bartholomew Fair
  7. Romance of London: The May Fair and the Strong Woman
  8. Romance of London: Nancy Dawson, the Hornpipe Dancer
  9. Romance of London: Milkmaids on May-Day
  10. Romance of London: Lord Stowell’s Love of Sight-seeing
  11. Romance of London: The Mermaid Hoax
  12. Romance of London: The Bluestocking and the Sweeps’ Holiday
  13. Romance of London: Comments on Hogarth’s “Industries and Idle Apprentices”
  14. Romance of London: The Lansdowne Family
  15. Romance of London: St. Margaret’s Painted Window at Westminster
  16. Romance of London: Montague House and the British Museum
  17. Romance of London: The Bursting of the South Sea Bubble
  18. Romance of London: The Thames Tunnel
  19. Romance of London: Sir William Petty and the Lansdowne Family
  20. Romance of London: Marlborough House and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough
  21. Romance of London: The Duke of Newcastle’s Eccentricities
  22. Romance of London: Voltaire in London
  23. Romance of London: The Crossing Sweeper
  24. Romance of London: Nathan Mayer Rothschild’s Fear of Assassination
  25. Romance of London: Samuel Rogers, the Banker Poet
  26. Romance of London: The Eccentricities of Lord Byron
  27. Romance of London: A London Recluse

Lady P and Hyde Park

LadyP2Lady P is back! She stayed a bit longer with her grandchildren than expected, but hey, who wouldn’t want to spend Christmas with the little ones? But she became weary of cold English winters and couldn’t resist the temptation of spending the winter with Susana here in central Florida. Mrs. Barlow, who came for an interview in a previous post, had already spoken enthusiastically of the palm trees and alligators and orange trees, so she arrived post-haste this morning—Twelfth Day—following a lovely Twelfth Night celebration with her family in the 19th century.

Over a quick breakfast of coffee from Susana’s new Keurig (which fascinates her), yogurt and boiled eggs, they discussed the new story Susana is working on, which features Lady P herself and her daughter’s family. It’s a bit out of the usual thing for Susana, being a time travel with a heroine who travels back to the 19th century to find her family, and Lady P’s advice has been invaluable. For one thing, the heroine lands in 1817 Hyde Park, and right from the beginning Susana ran into problems trying to find out what Hyde Park looked like in 1817. For example, the Marble Arch wasn’t built until 1827.

Lady P: No rose garden either. Although that does seem a nice touch. I must mention it when next I encounter His Royal Highness.

Susana [sighing]: No, I’m going to have rewrite the entire first scene! I’m thinking she’ll have to land somewhere near Hyde Park Corner and the Rotten Row.

Lady P: Be sure to keep her well out of the way of the horses and carriages, then. Tattersall’s is there too, you know.


Susana: What about Sister Ignatia? Would a religious reformer be hanging about in Hyde Park, do you think?

Lady P: Generally, you don’t see the riffraff there. Hyde Park is primarily for the upper classes. But there are exceptions…servants who accompany their masters and mistresses, and there are Tattersall’s employees, of course. I have seen a few do-gooders handing out tracts from time to time.

Susana: Is it likely an unaccompanied young lady might be attacked by ruffians there?

Lady P [frowning]: An unaccompanied young lady might be attacked by ruffians anywhere, Susana! I regret to say that even gentlemen might try to take advantage. It’s not common, but crime in Hyde Park is not completely unknown.

Susana: Ah, so I won’t have to change the scene completely, then.

Lady P [peering out the window]: Are those ostriches out there? Do let us go for a stroll, Susana. And oh, what are those funny little vehicles with the canvas roofs? Can we ride in one?

Susana: Golf carts. People use them here to get around the park. I don’t have one myself, but I’m sure the neighbors will give you a ride. Oh, and the birds are sand hill cranes. Aren’t they pretty?

Regency Rites: Hyde Park

hyde-park-london-running-route-serpentine-rcOriginally, the Manor of Hyde was part of the Roman estate of Eia, and included what is now Green’s Park and Kensington Park. About 600 acres until the establishment of Kensington Park, it was given to Geoffrey de Mandeville by William the Conqueror. De Mandeville left it to the Holy Fathers of Westminster Abbey, where it remained for five centuries until Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries.

It was a great hunting ground, rich in deer, boar, hare, otter, wildfowl, and game birds.

Under Charles II, the route was called “the Ring” or “the Tour”. A French visitor said:

They take their rides in a coach in an open field where there is a circle, not very large, enclosed by rails. There, the coaches drive slowly round, some in one direction, others the opposite way, which, seen from a distance, produces as rather pretty effect, and proves clearly that they only come there in order to see and be seen.”

Paintings by pissarro3

Painting by Pissarro

Samuel Pepys wrote (of Charles II):

After dinner to Hyde Park. At the Park was the King and in another coach my lady Castlemaine , they greeting one another every turn:”

William II bought the manor at Kensington and Kensington house grew into Kensington Palace, and the western end of Hyde Park was taken for the Palace estate, which would one day become Kensington Gardens.

William III and Queen Mary used to drive along the road, and it became known as La Route du Roi, which became corrupted into Rotten Row.

For showing off coaches and their teams, Hyde Park remained the place to be.”

In 1730, George II laid down a radius of paths and his wife Queen Caroline had the Serpentine constructed by widening the Westbourne brook and draining its pools.

Hyde Park was also a popular location for duels, military floggings, and suicides (drownings). The gallows at nearby Tyburn was used for hangings until 1783, when it was moved to Newgate.


Painting by George Leslie Hunter

There were soldiers’ camps and military parades, and in 1814, 12,000 men marched past the Prince Regent, the Duke of York, the King of Prussia, the Emperor of Russia, General Blücher, and Lords Beresford and Hill. A reenactment of the Battle of Trafalgar was performed on the Serpentine.

In 1821, Hyde Park was the scene of an elaborate celebration of George IV’s coronation. There were Chinese lanterns, clowns, conjurors, swords swallowers, fire-eaters, acrobats, swings, roundabouts, fireworks, military bands, boat races, elephants, and dancing donkeys and dwarfs.

After John Loudon McAdam improved roads with stone broken small enough to make a hard smooth surface, all sorts of carriages appeared in Hyde Park, and being a good whip became a mark of social distinction. George IV was known to be an excellent whip, as was his daughter, Princess Charlotte of Wales. The Four-in-Hand Club made its appearance, with only the very best whipsters allowed as members.

Horse & Carriage: The Pageant of Hyde Park, J.N.P. Watson, London: The Sportsman’s Press, 1990.


Painting by William Heath

Episode #14: In Which Leticia, Lady Beauchamp, Pops In For an Interview On Her Personal Acquaintance With Princess Charlotte of Wales

Susana [to the Reader]: I’m afraid Lady P had to return to the 19th century for a christening (no, not Damian and Theresa’s this time, but one of her own daughters’ offspring). She promised to return after she’s had a comfortable coze with her daughters and grandchildren, but in the meantime, she sent someone who she said was a personal friend of Princess Charlotte, the daughter of the Prince Regent.

Lady Beauchamp: I would not characterize our acquaintanceship in quite that manner, Miss Ellis.

Susana: Forgive me, Lady Beauchamp, but I am not finished speaking to the readers.

Lady Beauchamp: Well, do hurry, then. I have an important social engagement this afternoon.

Susana [taking a deep breath]: Yes, well, Lady Beauchamp is the former Leticia Snodgrass, who was presented in London about the same time as Lady P’s niece-by-marriage, Theresa Ashby. You can read more about that in the epilogue to Treasuring Theresa, which is a free read on my web site:


Leticia, Lady Beauchamp, née Snodgrass

Lady Beauchamp: Is it really? I daresay I should like to see how I am characterized in the story.

Susana [hurriedly]: Perhaps we should get back to the subject at hand, you being a marchioness and your time being so valuable and all. Why don’t you begin by telling us about your marriage and your family?

Lady Beauchamp: Of course. I was quite sought-after in my first season—many offers were made for my hand, you know—but there were only a handful of dukes that year and they were all married, so I chose to wed Lord Beauchamp. We had a fabulous wedding at St. George’s, and the Prince kissed my hand and called me the most beautiful bride he’d ever seen.

Susana: And your husband and family? Please tell us about them.

Lady Beauchamp: Fortunately, my youngest, George Augustus, takes after his mother. [Smiling] He has the most adorable cherubic face and blue eyes so like mine. I think it quite likely that his hair will lighten before long as well.

Susana: And your older son?

Lady Beauchamp [grimacing]: It is most unfortunate that Robert William takes after his father. Sturdy, bookish, and quite dull. At least dear Robbie has not lost his hair as his father has. Lord Beauchamp is much older than I, you know. His first wife gave him only daughters, but it was I who gave him his heir and a spare. [Preening]

Susana: I…see. Well, now that my readers are informed as to your…uh…pedigree, let us move on to the topic at hand. How did you become acquainted with the Princess Charlotte, Lady Beauchamp?

Princess Charlotte of Wales, during her pregnancy

Princess Charlotte of Wales, during her pregnancy

Lady Beauchamp [wrinkling her nose]: Of course. Well, we had met in passing at ton events when she was a child, although rarely with her mother, since her father wished to limit her exposure to her mother’s eccentricities. [Coughing delicately]. Blood will tell, however. Lady de Clifford, who had the charge of her at the time—only a baroness, you know—gave her far too much freedom. The girl had no sense of propriety—quite the hoyden as a child, but it was far worse when she reached adolescence.

Susana: Well, adolescence is a difficult time for everyone. I taught thirteen-year-olds for twenty-five years, you know. The best thing about it is that it eventually passes. I suppose the Princess showed the usual interest in the opposite sex?

Lady Beauchamp [shaking her head]: Oh, much worse than that, my dear Miss Ellis! If it wasn’t one of her cousins (illegitimate, you understand), it was William, Duke of Gloucester. They all took her fancy at one time or another. The rumors were rampant all over Town! Upon this proof that she took after her scandalous mother, the Prince Regent made arrangements for a marriage with William of Orange, hoping for an alliance with the Netherlands. It all came to nothing of course. Stubborn, stubborn girl! Not at all the sort of girl who ought to be a princess!

Susana: Do you know why she didn’t like the Prince of Orange?

Lady Beauchamp [curling her lip]: Indeed I do. She confided in me once—quite soon after she and Prince Leopold had settled at Claremont House—which is near Beauchamp’s estate in Surrey, you know—that he refused to promise to allow her mother to visit them after they were married because of her scandalous reputation, and after that, she steadfastly refused to have him. [Leaning closer to Susana] Of course, by then her mother had already fled to the Continent, and she never saw her again anyway.

Susana: How sad!

Lady Beauchamp [shrugging]: Was it? Many would say it was all for the best.

Princess Charlotte's silver lace wedding gown

Princess Charlotte’s silver lace wedding gown

Susana: So you socialized with the royal pair after their marriage. What can you tell us about them?

Lady Beauchamp: Quite a boring pair, really. Prince Leopold—who was quite impoverished, you understand, before he wed the heir to the throne of England—took rather too much of an interest in agriculture for my taste. Of course, he and Beauchamp used to tramp all over looking at crops, of all things. Her Royal Highness thought it was quaint.

Susana: But they got on well together?

Lady Beauchamp [reluctantly]: I suppose they must have. I never heard talk of rows between them, and her manner of dress became more sedate after her marriage. Indeed, Prince Leopold seemed to have a calming influence on her. We shared a box at the races once, and when Her Royal Highness began to show rather more enthusiasm than was proper, her husband caught her attention and said, “Doucement, chérie,” and she immediately smiled and regained her composure.

Susana [eyes filling with tears]: How sweet! What a shame their time together was so short! Were you around her during her pregnancy?

Lady Beauchamp: Her confinement, Miss Ellis. Do try to exercise a bit of restraint in your speech, even though you are American. [Sighing heavily]. Indeed I did see her a few times, although as her condition advanced, she was kept in seclusion. Considering all of the doctors who were consulted, one would have thought at least one would have been able to assist her safely through her trial. But no, she was allowed to eat until she reached elephantine proportions, and then they tried to starve her until she turned despondent. Why, Sir Richard Croft was not even a physician! My own husband would never have allowed a mere accoucheur near me when I was brought to bed. But it’s like my mother says, everything the Prince Regent touches ends in failure. Born under an unlucky star, she believes.

Susana: I understand Prince Leopold never recovered from the death of his wife and son.

Lady Beauchamp: Nor has England either. One would think the world has come to an end. The King has no legitimate grandchildren and his youngest son is over forty. The city closed down for two weeks and within a few days there was no black cloth to be had, as all of England was in mourning. Beauchamp said there wasn’t a dry eye to be seen during the funeral, when she was laid to rest with her son at her feet in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle. To be sure, I can’t imagine what will happen to the succession now. I suppose all of the royal princes will run out and marry and try to sire an heir as quickly as possible. [Pursing her lips] Well, all I can say is they’d be well advised to do it soon, because the King’s health deteriorates as we speak, and the Regent isn’t much better. [Sliding her chair closer to Susana] My dear Miss Ellis, it occurs to me that you must be in possession of—shall we say?—interesting information about what happened with the succession. Perhaps you would be kind enough to indulge my curiosity?

Susana [glancing at her watch]: Oh dear, look at the time! If you do not return immediately, Lady Beauchamp, I fear you will be late for Lady Pritchard’s Venetian Breakfast. Do accept my sincere thanks for condescending to speak with me this morning!

Lady Beauchamp [with narrowed eyes]: As it happens, you are correct, Miss Ellis. I really must take my leave of you. However, you can be sure that I shall seek out Lady Pendleton as soon as may be to discover what she knows. [She waves her arms and disappears.]

Susana [gripping the arms of her chair]: I do wonder how this time travel thing is managed. Lady P has mentioned something about an old lady who runs the apothecary shop on Dapple Street, but she has so far declined to go into detail. [Frowning] When she does return, we are going to have a long chat about a few things I discovered after she left. For one thing, my digital camera is missing…after she went on a photography binge taking pictures of everything, even the engine of the car. And then there is a little matter of charges on my credit card for $800 at Toys R Us and more than $300 at the Battery Warehouse. Did she hear nothing I told her about the Prime Directive?

Lady P will be back soon. As always, please do comment if you have any questions you’d like to ask Lady P about the late Georgian/Regency era. She does love to chat!

The Lady P Series

Episode #1: Susana’s Adventures With Lady P: The Introduction

Episode #2: Lady P Talks About… Pride and Prejudice?

Episode #3: Lady P and the Duchess Who Lost a Billion Dollars

Episode #4: Lady P and the Face On the $100 Bill

Episode #5: In Which Lady P Discovers Sparkly Fabrics and Ponders Violating the Prime Directive

Episode #6: Lady P Dishes the Dirt on the Duchess of Devonshire

Episode #7: The Political Exploits of Lady P and the Duchess of Devonshire

Episode #8: Lady P and the Prince Regent’s Illicit Marriage

Episode #9: In Which Lady P Depletes the Cooking Sherry During Her Discussion of Caroline of Brunswick

Episode #10: Lord Byron: Mad, Bad, and Dangerous to Know

Episode #11: In Which Lady P Talks About Hannah More and the Rights of Women

Episode #12: Lady P’s Revelations Regarding George III and His Peculiar Progeny

Episode #13: Lady P Discusses the Luddite Uprising, the Assassination of Spencer Perceval, and the General Unfairness of Life

Episode #14: In Which Leticia, Lady Beauchamp, Pops In For an Interview On Her Personal Acquaintance With Princess Charlotte of Wales

Episode #15: Lady P On Assignment in 1814 Kent

Lady P Quizzes Jane Livingston, the Hero’s Sister From “A Twelfth Night Tale”