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William Kent: His Story

William Kent (1685-1748) was an eminent architect, landscape designer, and furniture designer in the early eighteenth century. He was responsible for introducing the Palladian style of architecture as well as the “natural” style of gardening known as the “English landscape garden” into England.

In his first job as a sign and coach painter, Kent showed so much promise that a group of Yorkshire gentlemen provided the financial backing for a Grand Tour, where he painted, studied art, and was inspired by the palaces of Andrea Palladio in Venice. While his painting career did not flourish, he was fortunate to meet Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of  Burlington, “the architect earl,” who eventually assisted him in obtaining many major architectural commissions. After their return to England, the pair got along so well that Kent lived with the Burlington family for thirty years while they pursued their ideals for bringing the classical arts and Palladian architecture to England.

Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington

Kent worked on many public, private, and royal architectural commissions, serving as “Principal Painter in Ordinary” to George II from 1723-1748. Holkham Hall (see below) is “the most complete embodiment of Palladian ideals still to be found” (Wikipedia). His beautiful interiors can still be seen at Kensington Palace and Chiswick House, among others.

Landscape architecture

The Grand Tour, specifically Greece and Italy, proved to be the most significant factor in influencing the fine arts in Georgian England.

Kent, with Pliny’s garden in mind, transformed Stowe, Chiswick and Rousham into “landscapes worthy of an idealised pastoral painting by Lorrain.” Philip Southcote said that the Kent-Burlington partnership was responsible for ‘the fine natural taste in gardening.”

Chiswick

In 1733, Kent took the garden at Burlington’s new villa with its Palladian bathing house, Doric column, and Tuscan portico, and added a semi-dome of

clipped yews, to which he relocated antique statues from Hadrian’s villa at Tivoli. Most importantly for the development of the landscape garden, however, was the opening up of vistas in the groves to take in contrived views of the temples, statues and urns. This advance in gardening was received with great acclaim, and soon “No nobleman’s Gardens were thought to be of Taste unless Mr. Kent had dispos’d or planted them.’ English estates quickly filled up with similar classical features, as the upper classes rushed to assert their wealth and cultural authority through their choice of patronage.

Chiswick House, cascade

 

Chiswick House

Stowe

For his first ever landscape commission in 1731, Kent created the Temple of Venus, for which he painted provocative scenes Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen. Cobham, Stowe’s owner, was a leading Whig politician, so for the next several years, Kent embellished the property with political satire. In 1734, he enclosed forty acres of the estate to create the Elysian Fields, where he designed the Temple of British Worthies, which includes busts of famous historical persons such as Elizabeth I and Alfred the Great, and the Temple of Ancient Virtue. Across the water was a view of the Temple of Modern Virtues, with a statue of the decapitated Robert Walpole.

Temple of British Worthies, Stowe

…Kent was primarily employed to soften the rigid formalism of Stowe’s existing grounds, and transformed a disconnected series of garden features into a landscaped Arcadia of glimpsed views. To this end, he thinned the many harsh, axial avenues of trees.

Interestingly, it was Capability Brown who supervised the implementation of Kent’s designs for the Elysian fields, his first major commission. The River Styx “wound its way through a series of irregularly sited buildings and planted groves, furthering the fashion for naturalisation.”

Rousham

The trend toward escapist gardens which idealized “the pastoral bliss of ancient Rome” continued into the 1760’s, in stride with the political dominance of the Whigs. Rousham “is frequently hailed as representing the culmination of Kent’s Arcadian vision.”

The circuit walk at Rousham was a prototype of effective planting. It was designed to reveal different views and buildings in a pictorial fashion, including the Temple of Echo and a suggestively nude statue of Antinous, Hadrian’s boy lover. Arguable, Rousham was predisposed for its transformation into an informal Arcadia as the grounds curved naturally down to the River Cherwell. With its juxtaposition of Augustan values, castellated farm buildings and even a pyramid, Rousham was paving the way for the eclecticism of the Rococco garden. Most importantly, Kent opened out the views across the river y the addition of a Gothick eye-catcher and mill to the countryside opposite. From Rousham, Dormer [General James Dormer, Rousham’s owner]’s gardener John MacClary could enjoy the outward prospect of Carriers, Wagons, Gentlemen’s Equipages, Women riding, men walking.’ The Kentian landscape garden was as much about the enjoyment of outward views as it was an inward looking place of retreat. The fence had been well and truly leapt.

Kent “was a painter, an architect, and the father of modern gardening. In the first character he was below mediocrity; in the second, he was a restorer of the science; in the last, an original, and the inventor of an art that realizes painting and improves nature. Mahomet imagined an elysium, Kent created many.”

Horace Walpole

Holkham Hall

 

Kensington Palace

 

Kensington Palace

Source:

Mayer, Laura, Capability Brown and the English Landscape Garden, 2011, Shire Publications Ltd.

Amusements of Old London: The Fairs

Amusements of Old London

William B. Boulton, 1901

“… an attempt to survey the amusements of Londoners during a period which began… with the Restoration of King Charles the Second and ended with the accession of Her Majesty Queen Victoria.”

In a country such as England that drew much more of its income from agriculture than manufacturing in this time period, it is interesting to note that the most popular time for holidays and festivities was late summer and autumn, when farming activities intensified. Just at the time when gentlemen itched to be in the country at their hunting and field sports, the peers were called to London for the rise of Parliament.

And yet it was in those months that this instinct of the English taught them to lay aside their cares and get what enjoyment they could from the means nearest at hand. Before the era of railways and cheap travelling the great mass of the population of London never went twenty miles from St. Paul’s, and the sport they enjoyed took the form of the delights provided by Hockley in the Hole, the Ducking Ponds, and the Cockpits… And yet, as the summer passed away, and the dog-days raised a heat from the cobblestones which drove the dogs themselves into the shade of alley and entry, the common people of London, instead of panting for the water-brooks or the sea-shore, prepared themselves for the great carnivals which were prepared for their delight in one or other of the great fairs of the town.

These annual gatherings followed each other in quick succession in the hot months of the year in the not very promising surroundings of Smithfield, or Southwark, or Westminster. The glory of these entertainments was at its zenith at the beginning of the eighteenth century…

…[T]heir origin was religious, their development commercial, and their apotheosis an unrestrained indulgence in pleasure or license…

The St. Bartholomew Fair

(see more on the origins of the fair on another blog post)

In the late seventeenth century, amidst all the rope dancers, jugglers, and puppet shows, a well-known actor by the name of Penkethman set up a theatrical booth. A plethora of theatrical entertainers followed, including Doggett (a comedian famous from the annual waterman’s race on the Thames), Miller (from Drury Lane), Bullock, Simpson, Colley Cibber (poet laureate and member of White’s), Quin, Macklin, Woodward, Shuter, and many more. “The theatrical movement, in fact, became so pronounced that as time went on most of the favourite actors of the day did not disdain to tread the boards in the temporary booths of the fair.”

Colley Cibber, bust now at the National Portrait Gallery

Colley Cibber, bust now at the National Portrait Gallery

The dramatic entertainments which were in fashion at the fairs… consisted almost invariably of some prodigious long-winded scheme dealing with such portentous subjects as “The Loves of the Heathen Gods,” “The Creation of the World,” “The Siege of Troy,” “Jephthah’s Rash Vow,” “Tamerlane the Great,” lightened up with much comic relief, in which an eccentric English character took a part totally irrelevant to the particular epic comprised in the plot. These productions came to be called “drolls,” and you may trace int hese drolls the germs of many forms of variety entertainment popular to-day, including, perhaps, that of English pantomime… The puppet-shows… followed the dramatic taste set by the actors.

Bartholomew Fair indeed became so great a nursery of dramatic talent that many actors afterwards famous obtained their first chance at Smithfield. The fair became a sort of theatrical exchange, where managers during their annual visits were often able to find the valuable recruits, and where strolling players from the provinces were accustomed to attend in the hope of engagements with regular companies.

Henry Fielding

Henry Fielding

…[T]he managers of the great theaters found it profitable to close their houses altogether… and take their companies to Smithfield, where they found they could earn more money from the audiences who flocked to their shows during the whole day than from the single performances of the patent theatres… Mr. Henry Fielding, for instance, fresh from Eton and Leyden, but without a guinea in his pocket… set up a booth, and for ten years provided an entertainment for the people at the fair… Fielding produced “The Beggars’ Opera” at Smithfield, occasionally trod the boards himself, and received the honour of a visit from the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1732, who were much delighted with his historical drama of “The Fall of Essex.”

Unfortunately, the activities of the fair were periodically harassed by “persecution from the puritanical busybodies… [who] frequently succeeded in closing the booths, and left the fair to the gin-stalls, gaming-tables, and jugglers, diversions which were presumably less vicious in their eyes…” Sometimes the “puritanical spirits” would persuade the city government to disallow the booths on the night before the fair. “The ordinary attractions of the fair would then be enlivened by a riot of first-class dimensions, which always resulted in assault and battery, and sometimes in sudden death.”

The end of the theatrical entertainments at Smithfield came about when the powers-that-be limited the fair from fourteen days to three. Three days didn’t pay an actor or manager enough to make it worthwhile. At that point, the attractions changed to such things as menageries of wild beasts, or spectacles such as the “double-cow” or the “mermaid.” As the nineteenth century approached and the audiences became less naïve, the entertainments became slightly more sophisticated, with lion tamers putting their heads in the lion’s mouth, rope-dancing, magicians, peep-shows, etc. Just the chance of rubbing shoulders with nobles and even royalty was enough to draw people to St. Bartholomew’s.

It was no uncommon sight at St. Bartholomew’s, to see an exquisite like Chesterfield, or a great minister like Sir Robert Walpole, with his star on his breast, tasting the diversions of the fair alone and on foot. Parties of bloods from White’s and Almack’s were not above exchanging humorous badinage with the fruit-sellers, or the prettier of the strollers or acrobats, or even chucking them under the chin.

Southwark Fair

The Southwark Fair, on St. Margaret’s Hill near Southwark Town Hall, originated in the year 1550 and continued for more than two hundred years.

As the 7th of September came around in each year, the same gin stalls, gaming-tables, gingerbread stalls, and theatrical booths which had delighted Smithfield were packed up, taken across the river, and displayed in all their attractiveness to new audiences of South Londoners at Southwark.

Although smaller in scale than the fair in Smithfield, the acrobat and rope-dancing acts excelled at Southwark, primarily because of the more laissez-faire attitude of the local government. Mr. Cadman, who used to swing his way on a rope across the street from St. George’s Church tower to the mint, eventually “came to a sad end in attempting a bold flight across the Severn at Shrewsbury.”

southwarkall

The humours of Southwark Fair inspired Mr. Hogarth in one of his finest efforts, wherein are reflected so admirably the life of his times, and that excellent plate of Southwark Fair is as good an illustration as need be of the importance of the festival among the popular diversions of the middle of the eighteenth century. The greatly daring acrobat on the rope stretching from the church tower to the Mint, which is out of the picture, is the great Mr. Cadman himself; the artist on the slack rope on the other side of the picture is a back view of the Violante. Mr. Figg, the famous “Master of the Noble Science of Self-defence,” displays his honourable wounds on the right. His booth is round the corner and he is riding through  the fair with very martial aspect to gather clients to witness a set-to between himself and some other bald-pated hero of the sword or quarter-staff. On the right of the pretty girl with the drum and the black page, who is effectively advertising the show which she represents, is Tamerlane the Great in full armour, being arrested by a bailiff. The enormous posters of the background, which almost blot out the church, and display the attractions of the Fall of Troy, the Royal Waxworks, and the wonderful performance of Mr. Banks and his horse, are all quite typical of the London fair, and Mr. Hogarth’s grim humour appears to perfection in the title of the show which he represents as tumbling into the street on the right, with its actors and orchestra and monkey on the pole, the “Fall Bagdad.” Note too the peep-show and the hag presiding over the gaming-table, and the pleasant glimpse of open country between the houses.

May Fair

See more about the May Fair here:

The End of the Great Fairs

These fairs mostly came to an end around the mid-eighteenth century, when the crowd became wilder, the entertainments more tawdry, and the patrons (such as the “great people of St. James’s”) harder to find. The days of when people could be entertained by simple things like tea gardens and fairs disappeared into the annals of history.

Romance of London: The Duke of Newcastle’s Eccentricities

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.

This particular book is available at googlebooks for free in ebook form. Or you can pay for a print version.

From Wikipedia:

512px-1stDukeOfNewcastleOld

Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle

Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle upon Tyne and 1st Duke of Newcastle-under-Lyne KG PC (21 July 1693 – 17 November 1768) was a British Whig statesman, whose official life extended throughout the Whig supremacy of the 18th century. He is commonly known as the Duke of Newcastle.

A protégé of Sir Robert Walpole, he served under him for more than twenty years, until 1742. He held power with his brother, Henry Pelham (the Prime Minister of Great Britain), until 1754. He had at this point served as a Secretary of State continuously for thirty years—dominating British foreign policy.

Walpole gladly welcomed the young Newcastle into his coterie, firstly because he believed he could easily control him, and secondly because it would strengthen his hand against the rival Whig factions. Newcastle joined with Walpole because he, correctly, believed that he was going to dominate British politics for a generation.

Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford

Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford

After Henry’s death the Duke held his late brother’s position for six years, in two separate periods. While his first premiership was not particularly notable, Newcastle precipitated the Seven Years’ War, which would cause his resignation from his high position. After his second term as Prime Minister, he served for a short while in Lord Rockingham’s ministry, before retiring from government. Few politicians in British history matched his skills and industry in using patronage to maintain power over long stretches of time. He was most effective, however, as a deputy to a leader of greater ability, such as Walpole, his brother, or Pitt.

Historian Harry Dickinson says that he became:

notorious for his fussiness and fretfulness, his petty jealousies, his reluctance to accept responsibility for his actions, and his inability to pursue any political objective to his own satisfaction or to the nations profit…. Many modern historians have depicted him as the epitome of unredeemed mediocrity and as a veritable buffoon in office.

The Duke of Newcastle’s Eccentricities

Horace Walpole

Horace Walpole

There is scarcely any public man in our history of whose manners and conversation so many particulars have been preserved, as of the Duke of Newcastle, the well-known leader in the Pelham Administration under George II. Single stories may be unfounded or exaggerated. But all the stories about him, whether told by people who were perpetually seeing him in Parliament, and attending his levées in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, or by Grub Street writers who had never more than a glimpse of his star through the windows of his gilded coach, are of the same character. Horace Walpole and Smollett differed in their tastes and opinions as much as two human beings could differ. They quite different society. Walpole played at cards with countesses, and corresponded with ambassadors. Smollett passed his life surrounded by printers’ devils and famished scribblers. Yet, Walpole’s Duke and Smollett’s Duke are as like as if they were both from one hand. Smollett’s Newcastle runs out of his dressing-room, with his face covered with soap-suds, to embrace the Moorish envoy. Walpole’s Newcastle pushes his way into the Duke of Grafton’s sick-room to kiss the old nobleman’s plasters. No man was so unmercifully satirised. But in truth he was himself a satire ready made. All that the art of the satirist does for other men, nature had done for him. Whatever was absurd about him, stood out with grotesque prominence from the rest of the character. He was a living, moving, talkng caricature. His gait was a shuffling trot; his utterance a rapid stutter; he was always in a hurry; he was never in time; he abounded in fulsome caresses and hysterical tears. His oratory resembled that of Justice Shallow. It was nonsense effervescent with animal spirits and impertinence. Of his ignorance many anecdotes remain, some well authenticated, some probably invented at coffee-houses, but all exquisitely characteristic:—”Oh—yes—yes—to be sure—Annapolis must be defended—troops must be sent to Annapolis—Pray where is Annapolis?”—”Cape Breton an island! wonderful!—show it me in the map. So it is, sure enough. My dear sir, you always bring us good news. I must go and tell the King that Great Britain is an island.”

And this man was, during near thirty years, Secretary of State, and during near ten years, First Lord of the Treasury! His large fortune, his strong hereditary connections, his great parliamentary interest, will not alone explain this extraordinary fact. His success is a signal instance of what may be effected by a man who devotes his whole heart and soul, without reserve, to one object. He was eaten up by ambition. He was greedy after power with a greediness all his own. He was jealous of all his colleagues, and even of his own brother. Under the disguise of levity he was false eyond all example of political falsehood. All the able of men of his time ridiculed him as a dunce, a driveller, a child who never knew his own mind for an hour together; and he overreached them all round.—Lord Macaulay, on Walpole’s Letters.

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