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Amusements of Old London: Sundry Diversions

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.”

“Modern” folks less brutal and more sophisticated

People of condition in the reigns of Anne and the Georges flocked to the Strand or to Covent Garden to see waxworks at Mrs. Salmon’s, or puppet-shows at Mr. Powell’s, or to watch Mrs. Saraband’s dogs and monkeys going through the operations of a siege with toy cannons and scaling-ladders.

Side by side with these innocent simplicities flourished the brutalities which we have examined in our inquiries into the humours of Hockley, the cockpit and the prize-ring, the last two at least of which famous institutions depended upon the support of well-to-do people for their prosperity and development. So too with the great mass of the people, separated in those days much more sharply from the classes than to-day. They delighted, as we have seen, in the primitive joys of Bartholomew’s Fair or the tea gardens, and were always ready to see much fun in the spectacle of a man grinning through a horse-collar. From such innocent diversion they would turn with joy to the horrors of the duck hunt or the cockshy; and a good place of vantage from which to see old Lovat’s head roll on the scaffold at the Tower, or Jack Rann swing into the air at Tyburn Tree, was held worth while spending the previous day to secure.

Whatever else may be said of the modern entertainments which appeal to the tastes and the purses of the London of to-day, it will not be contended that they lack humanity or err on the side of simplicity in execution or design.

“Simple and curious entertainments”

The naïveté of the audiences of the early part of the last century, and the ease with which they were amused, appear very plainly, we think, in the success which rewarded some very simple and curious entertainments of a spectacular character, which, by reason of that success, became serious competitors of the legitimate drama at Drury Lane.

Puppet Shows

Great people flocked to Mr. Powell’s establishment under the Piazza in Covent Garden in numbers which seriously reduced the takings of the patent houses, and hampered the progress of the exotic opera, then lately introduced into England.

These included marionette plays mixing biblical stories with Punch and Judy characters, such as “Punch and Judy dancing in Noah’s ark, Punch subsequently seating himself on the Queen of Sheba’s lap, fighting the Duke of Lorraine, and selling the King of Spain a bargain.”

Mrs. Salmon’s waxworks in Fleet Street near Temple Bar, foreshadowed Madame Tussaud’s.

Mrs. Salmon’s Waxworks

M. Bisset astonished the town… with his Cats’ Opera and troupe of other animals; monkeys taking wine together, riding on horses, and dancing minuets with dogs. One of M. Bisset’s hares walked on its hind legs and beat a drum… [He] also induced his six turkeys to walk through the steps of a country dance.

Pantomime, like Opera, crept into England at the beginning of the eighteenth century, “comique masques in the high style of Italie” were announced, and a ballet at Drury Lane of the Loves of Mars and Venus, where the whole story was told by gesture… foreshadowed the real pantomime which soon followed. Rich at Lincoln’s Inn Theatre produced a piece called “Harlequin Executed” in 1717, which is accepted as the first real pantomime by historians of the stage… Even Garrick himself found the pantomime a serious rival, and was wont to reproach his audiences in the prologues and epilogues which he turned so neatly.

GHL33155 Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre, 1811

In the “modern” Victorian era, Boulton cites the “silly performances of the medical mountebank. Katerfelto

…took advantage of an epidemic of influenza to work upon the nerves of audiences with magic langterns and fearsome images of microbes and animalculae. His darkened rooms, black cats, and electric machines impressed his visitors hugely, instead of anticipating the fairly obvious fact later established by a magistrate, when his fire balloons set haystacks alight, that he was a rogue and a vagabond.

Dr. Graham, with the help of the lovely Emma, advocated mud-baths and lectured on “perpetual youth and beauty,” with the illustration of “blooming nursemaid… as the ‘Goddess of Health.'” The Celestial Bed held “great attractions for those wanting heirs, the ‘rosy Goddess of Health assisting at the celestial matters… and that sacred Vital Fire over which she watches.’ “With such attractions as these, Dr. Graham contrived to fill his rooms with a mob of silly people at five shillings a head.”

Philip Astley of Astley’s Amphitheatre was a “true pioneer” in the equestrian entertainment business “and should be canonised as the patron saint of all ringmasters. Astley saved George III’s life on Westminster Bridge and received a royal license. See more about Astley’s Amphitheatre in a previous post.

Like Heidegger, Tyers and others, Philip Astley and his son “claim mention here as men whose fortunes were made by devoting their energies to the amusement of the London of their day.”

Then there was cudgel-playing at open spaces like Spa Fields that drew large crowds. In 1768, “an extraordinary battle was fought in the Spa Fields by two women against two taylors for a guinea a head, which was won by the ladies, who beast the taylors in a severe manor.”

At Spa Fields and other places, grinning matches were popular attractions. In 1779, the authorities took advantage of “such assemblies of British manhood” by offering “an ox roasted whole and unlimited beer to the “friends of their king and country,” hinting at the advantages of enlistment. “Some men were enlisted, but more were impressed, as the bloodhounds were on the scent, and ran breast high.”

Boulton feels that Londoners came late to appreciate the value of the Thames as a source of entertainment, although its value for transportation exceeded London roads as late as the Regency.

People did swim in the Thames from Stuart times to George IV, however. “Mr. Benjamin Franklin, has left record of a swim which he took through London from Lambeth to London Bridge in the reign of George the Third.” In 1807, Lord Byron swam from Lambeth three miles with the tide.

The Thames appears to have been used as an opportunity for the common people to express their views without fear of retribution. People of fashion who traveled to Vauxhall by boat would hire musicians, not just for the entertainment value, but also for protection from unruly hecklers. “It was the pride and joy of the average boatload of apprentices from the city to unite the vulgarity of their whole company in an epithet of suitable brevity, and fire it off upon every passing boatload of their betters they encountered on the voyage.

The Folly, the only floating place of entertainment of which there is record, a large hulk moored off Somerset House in the days of the Restoration, and fitted up as a musical summer-house for the entertainment of the quality, sank from a resort of the fashionables “to a receptacle for companies of loose and disorderly people for the purposes of drinking and promiscuous dancing.”

The Ranelagh Regatta of 1775 was the first of many such functions. Later on, the proprietors of Vauxhall Gardens began offering prizes for sailing races, and that spurred on more interest in leisure sailing on the Thames.

Vauxhall Sailing Match, engraving, 1800 (Minet Library, London, Lambeth Archives Department, V. fo. 57). This appears to be the only surviving image of one of the Vauxhall sailing matches.

Then there was the cock-shy, or cock-throwing, which was celebrated on Shrove Tuesday.

On that holy day you might see, in all open parts of the town, cocks or hens tied by the leg, their owners offering sticks at twopence a throw at a range of a chain, or twenty-two yards, just, in fact, as one used to throw at cocoa-nuts at a country fair. The cock had a certain length of strong in which to manoeuvre, and his master had trained him to avoid the knock over, which him the property of his assailant, as long as possible, and so to earn may twopences.

The duck hunt, however, was not limited to a season.

The duck-pond was a small affair, and boarded to the height of the knee round its edges to prevent the excited spectators from falling in in their eagerness to follow the incidents of the sport. These all arose from the movements of a pinioned duck which was put into the water and hunted by a spaniel or spaniels. “It escaped,” we are told, “as long as it was able by diving.”

Survival of the Fittest

Of the amusements of our ancestors in London which we have examined in our inquiry, how many have survived to our times. Practically one, and one only, the theatre, which to-day perhaps fills a greater place than ever amongst the diversions of the town… Parks, of course, remain, but they are no longer the playground of fashion which London made of them in the days of the Ring or the Mall. The tea gardens and Vauxhall were features of the London of other days, which all who have studied their old delights must regret… We may congratulate ourselves upon the change in taste and manners which has rendered the excsses of the play tables impossible in these days. No one regrets the disappearance of Hockley in the Hole, or the closing of cockpits and prize-rings… Speaking generally, Londoners of all ranks have exchanged most of their former joys for diversions in which bodily exercise takes a chief part; the man who formerly lost his fortune at hazard or faro at White’s or Brooks’s now spends it in healthy forms of sport which take him over the country, and indeed, over the globe for its gratification. Men of a lower station play cricket and football or ride bicycles when they are young, and look on at others doing the same when age overtakes them. And London and England have surely gained by the change.

Amusements of Old London series

Amusements of Old London: Clubs and Coffee-houses

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.”

The origin of the gentleman’s club can be traced to the introduction of “the bitter black drink called coffee,” as described by Samuel Pepys, during the last years of William III. Boulton points to “a humble establishment which was opened for the sale of coffee in St. Michael’s Alley, Cornhill, in the year 1652, as the parent of institutions of such superfine male fashion as White’s, the Turf, or the Marlborough Clubs of our day.”

Coffee-house in Istanbul

Mr. Edwards, a Turkey merchant, who was accustomed to travel in the East, acquired the Oriental habit on his travels, and brought home with him to London from Ragusa… a youth who acted as his servant and was accustomed to prepare Mr. Edwards’ coffee for him of a morning. “But the novelty thereof,” says Mr. Oldys the antiquarian, “drawing too much company to him he allowed the said servant with another of his son-in-law to set up the first coffee-house in London at St. Michael’s Alley in Cornhill.

By the beginning of the eighteenth century the coffee-houses in the town were so increased in numbers that they were reckoned at 3000 by Mr. Hatton in his “New View of London,” and the coffee-house had already taken its place as one of the most remarkable among the social developments of modern England.

For by the time that Queen Anne came to the throne all London had arranged itself into groups of patrons for one or other of the different coffee-houses. City merchants went to Garraway’s in Change Alley, Cornhill, a house which combined business with pleasure, and had an auction-room on the first floor… Much of the gambling in connection with the South Sea Bubble of 1720 was conducted at Garraway’s. Jonathan’s, also in Change Alley, was another famous house of business devoted to stock-jobbers. Lloyd’s, the great organisation of the shipping interest… is the development of a coffee-house of the same name… The doctors had their meeting-house at Batson’s at the Royal Exchange, where physicians used to meet the apothecaries and prescribe for patients they were neer to see. The clergy, from bishops downwards, went to Child’s in St. Paul’s Churchyard or the Chapter Coffee-house in Paternoster Row.  Leaving the city and proceeding westward, Nando’s, the house at Temple Bar…; Dick’s…; Serle’s…; the Grecian…; and Squire’s… were all houses near the various Inns of Court and were much haunted by lawyers.

Lloyd’s

Then there were the coffee-houses for men of a certain intellectual interest.  “The great Dryden” held court at Wills’s, on the corner of Bow and Russell Streets. Dean Swift, along with Mr. Addison and Mr. Steele, took over the literary tradition after Dryden’s death at Button’s, on the other side of Russell Street. The Bedford in Covent Garden was the haunt of Foote, Fielding, Churchill, Hogarth, Dr. Arne, and Goldsmith.

Further west still can be found the birthplace of the social club, those clubs

supported by lounging men of fashion, the “pretty fellows” of Anne and the Georges, and by the adventurers and sycophants who had fortunes to push in such fine company. The most fashionable of these houses were clustered in or near the parish of St. James’s, taking their tone, as was natural, from the neighbourhood of the court. Many of these places had a political cast, but all were meeting-places of men of birth and condition.

Rowlandson: A Mad Dog in a Coffee-house

The St. James coffee-house was primarily Whig. The Cocoa Tree at Pall Mall “gathered the Tories and those discontented gentlemen who looked askance at the Hanoverian king at St. James’s, and drank furtive healths to the Pretender.” White’s Chocolate House (the true origin the social club) “was a meeting place for the more fashionable exquisites of the town and the court, and for the followers who lived upon them.

Mr. Mackay describes the coffee-houses in “Journey Through England” (1714).

About twelve o’clock, the beau monde assemble in several coffee and chocolate houses, the best of which are White’s Chocolate-house, the Cocoa Tree, the Smyrna, and the British coffee-houses, and all these so near one another, that in less than hour you see the company of them all. You are entertained at piquet or basset at White’s, or you may talk politics at the Smyrna or St. James’s,”

Tea, coffee, and chocolate, and wine were purveyed at these houses, with light viands like biscuit and sandwiches; set meals were supplied only at the taverns—houses of a different type in which… the sale of liquor was the chief object. “But the general way here,” says Mr. Mackay, “is to make a party at the coffee-house to go to dine at the tavern, except you are invited to dine at the table of some great man.”

Boulton suggests that the development of the coffee-houses was

the expression of a feeling of security among all classes of Englishmen after the troubled days of the seventeenth century… Men now for the first time for a hundred years saw opportunities both for business and relaxation which had been impossible during the period of civil and religious tumult… which was only attained by the Act of Settlement and by the acceptance of the Hanoverian dynasty. A period of social prosperity and expansion was then beginning which leveloped later under the wise rule of the sagacious Walpole, and made possible amenities of social life which had been unknown in England since the days of Elizabeth.

The Kit Kat Club was “the very expression itself of the security and beneficence of the new order of things under the wise Whig rule.

Dean Swift, who organized the Brothers Club, stated that “the end of our club is to advance conversation and friendship, and to reward learning without interest or recommendation.”

The Royal Society and the Dilettante Society were the two clubs devoted to scholarship as well as social intercourse. Notable members of the latter were Reynolds, Fitzwilliam, Charles Fox, Garrick, Colman, and Windham, but not Horace Walpole, who failed to be admitted and was fond of saying that “the nominal qualification is having been to Italy, and the real one being drunk.”

The tradition of the Sublime Society of Beefsteaks, which included such men as William Hogarth, Francis Hayman, Churchill, Mr. Wilkes, Lord Sandwich, Mr. Garrick, Mr. Chase Price, and the Prince of Wales, was “nothing more than the joviality arising from these meetings to eat beefsteak and drink port wine, the only viands allowed by its rules.”

The Literary Club was “[t]he most notable… of all these famous gatherings which were the solace of the leisure of men of distinction throughout the eighteenth century.” That choice society was so exlusive that it blackballed bishops and Lord Chancellors, and kept its own friends waiting for years for admission to its charmed circle because they expressed too much confidence of joining.

White’s Chocolate-house

Founded in 1693 by a man called Francis White, White’s was the parent of the English social club. It was here where gaming became fashionable, “Mr. Heidegger issued his tickets for the masquerade,” and where lost things, such as a sword or a lady’s lapdog, were returned in exchange for a reward.

White’s early 18th century

“The club, in its origin, was aristocratic, a lounging-place for the leisure of a lazy society.” But its reputation for nearly a century was as a location for serious gaming. The Earl of Orford called it “the bane of half the English aristocracy.”

Although it was “the club of the great noble, of the courtier and the statesman,” it wasn’t known for politics. Members included Sir Robert Walpole and William Pulteney, William Pitt and Henry Fox, Charles James Fox, and representatives from “most of the great families of that day, Russells, Churchills, Pelhams, Stanhopes, Herveys, and Cavendishes.”

Social distinction, in fact, was the chief qualification for membership… and its pretensions as an appanage of the aristocracy were never better described than by Horace Walpole, who declared that when an heir was born to a great house, the butler went first to White’s to enter his name in the candidates’ book, and then on to the registry office to record the birth.

White’s was the only club, according to Boulton, until Almack’s and Boodle’s came into to existence in the time of George III.

Member elections at White’s occurred so seldom that in 1743, certain gentlemen with aspirations to join started a second club, in its own rooms, calling itself “The Young Club at White’s (the first one thus becoming known as the “Old Club.”

The elders seem to have looked upon the junior concern with a mild and benevolent eye, and although, as we say, quite separate, with rules and a cook of its own, the Young Club at White’s was ultimately accepted by those potentates as a place of purgatory or probation, where the young man might, by the blessing of Providence, become purged from all contamination of intercourse with ordinary people, and worthy of communion with their own charmed circle.

Occasionally a candidate for the Old Club passed quickly from the Young Club, but he was invariably a man of parts and possessed of great influence; young Mr. Charles Fox, for instance, was elected to both clubs at White’s in the same year, owing no doubt to the efforts of his father, Lord Holland, who was a noted member of the Old Club. His friend George Selwyn, on the other hand, waited eight years in the junior concern, and another typical clubman of the same set, Lord March, was consistently rejected year after year, and only joined the old society when the two clubs were merged in the year 1781.

The famous betting-book contains many outrageous wagers such as the time when a man dropped dead in the doorway and the members made wagers as to whether he was alive or dead, but the most common wagers dealt with births, marriages, and deaths among the prominent society members.

On the 4th of November 1754, there was entered… the following wager: “Lord Montfort wagers Sir John Bland one hundred guineas that Mr. Nash outlives Mr. Cibber.” The bet refers, of course, to the aged poet laureate Colley Cibber, and to the equally venerable Beau Nash, for so many years a prominent figure at Bath. Below this entry is the very significant note in another handwriting (quite possibly Horace Walpole’s, who noticed the wager): “Both Lord Montfort and Sir Bland put an end to their own lives before the bet was decided.”

White’s betting-book

At the ascension to the throne of George III, who openly disapproved of gaming, White’s “became a place of meeting for serious men of affairs, the old gaiety and revel… sadly curtailed under the new dispensation… [A]nd the careless youth of the period began to look out for a place more to their liking.”

Almack’s (now known as Brooks’s)

[T]he origin of Almack’s was, as we say, a revolt of the gay youth of 1764 against the ordered decorum of White’s, and an effort to discover another place of meeting where the old rites of hazard and faro could be continued unmaimed. Almack’s assumed from the outset the greatest pretensions to fashion; the young Dukes of Roxburghe, Richmond, Grafton, and Portland were among its original members, aand its early elections included most of the famous young men about town of those days, Mr. Crewe, Sir Charles Banbury, Richard Fitzpatrick and his brother Lord Ossory, both the young Foxes, their cousin Lord Ilchester…, and the young Lord Carlisle, who seems to have been a typical pigeon of the play tables. A little later came Selwyn and Horry Walpole, Gilly Williams and March…; later still young Mr. Sheridan and the Whigs like Burke, Erskine, and Lord Holland, and the intellectuals like Gibbon, Reynolds, and Garrick; last, but not least, his Royal Highness George Prince of Wales and the Duke of York.

Brooks’s Club

Boulton claims Almack’s (Brooks’s) resembled the earlier White’s, although he says that “play revived at Brooks’s in a splendour which quite surpassed all the early glories at White’s, and was perhaps only equalled by the doings at Crockford’s during the first half of the [nineteenth] century.”

The most prominent member of Brooks’s, and its most reckless gamer, was Mr. Charles James Fox.

Charles James Fox

Mr. Fox’s first notable efforts in public life had taken the form of rather lighthearted revolts against his header, Lord North, whom he had opposed on such measures as Royal Marriage Bills, and in so doing had deeply offended the king. His Majesty had written to Lord North that he considered “that young man had cast off every principle of honesty,” and the royal scruples were increased fourfold by the reports which reached him of the excesses of wine and hazard at Brooks’s, in which Mr. Fox was the most eminent figure. Worst of all, the Prince of Wales, who was eager from the day he reached manhood to embrace every opportunity of making himself disagreeable to his Majesty, was pleased to humour Mr. Fox with his particular friendship and countenance, and to announce his intention of joining his friend’s favourite club. From that time forward Brooks’s was taboo at court, and party politics were introduced into club life for the first time.

The young Mr. Pitt, when he came into public life, realized that as long as George III was in power, any political effort that included Charles Fox was doomed. Therefore, he chose to join White’s instead, “and as long as those two great personalities remained in public life, the stormy politics of their times raged about the two clubs, and were directed from each.

In the early years of the nineteenth century, gaming-houses sprung up all over the West End, and the attraction of both of these clubs turned to the “extraordinary cult of male fashion” known as the Dandies.

The Dandies

The whole movement was the assumption by a small coterie of men of fashion of a social superiority above their fellows, and the supporting of their pretensions by an arrogance which had been unknown in polite society before their day. The inspiration was supplied by that pattern of fine gentlemen the Prince Regent, at a time of life when the charm of his youth has disappeared, and it was imparted to such among the younger men in St. James’s Street as were found worthy by the incomparable Mr. Brummell.

Brummell in 1815, the year he insulted the Prince Regent

Boulton finds it unaccountable that a man of middle-class origin who exhibited such rude and obnoxious behavior as he did, could have been made the “male fashion of an entire generation.”

The men who followed Mr. Brummell… made club life at White’s and Brooks’s well-nigh unendurable to any but their own set… Their savage blackballing decimated the club during a period of twenty years, and at least rendered necessary an alteration of rules which placed the ballot in the hands of a committee in order to save the club from extinction.

With White’s and Brooks’s off the list of possibility for most gentlemen of leisure, other clubs were established, such as the Alfred Club, for men of letters, judges, and bishops; the Travellers’ Club, founded by Lord Castlereagh, for men who had travelled “five hundred miles from London in a straight line;” and military and naval clubs, as well as others.

Amusements of Old London series

Amusements of Old London: The Parks

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.”

From Henry VIII’s Land Grab to a Public Park: Hyde Park

As the King’s most Royal Majesty is desirous to have the games of hare, partridge, pheasant and heron preserved in and about the honour of his palace of Westminster for his own disport and pastime, no person, on the pain of imprisonment of their bodies and further punishment at his Majesty’s will and pleasure, is to presume to hunt or hawk from the Palace of Westminster to St. Giles’ in the Fields, and from thence to Islington, to our Lady of the Oak, to Highgate, to Hornsey Park, and to Hampstead Heath.

With this proclamation, the abbot and monks of the Convent of Westminster were packed off to the provinces, and Hyde Park was established, encompassing at the time St. James’s, Green, and Regent’s Parks in addition to the present Hyde Park, in addition to additional square miles of land in the western and northern suburbs of London. The area remained a private royal park until Charles I opened it up to the public, dedicating Hyde Park to the enjoyment of the people “for ever.”

A few years later, the park was sold by the House of Commons “for ready money,” in three lots for £18,000.  The new owners

…imposed a price for admission. Londoners still drove their coaches and rode their nags in Hyde Park in the spring, grumbled sadly, but paid their shillings and sixpences nevertheless, and flocked there as usual to flirt and ogle in its drives, or to watch the horse matches and chariot races, the foot races and the games of hurling, which had a surprising vogue from the very year the gates were opened to the public. There was little real interruption of the gaiety of which Hyde Park was the chosen retreat, and the traditions of the Restoration were in no way violated when the enterprising purchasers of the royal property found their titles treated as null and void by the courts of law.

That same epoch of the Restoration marks the first great period of Hyde Park as a public pleasure-ground. All classes had been quick to appreciate the value of a breezy open place, where fashion, jaded in the stuffy rooms and playhouses of the London of the day, could forgather in its chariots or on its horses, exchange its repartees, and gaze over an open country right on to the hills of Surrey and Kent on the one hand, and to the northern heights of London on the other.

The Ring Road

The Ring Road was a circular space some three hundred yards in diameter, around which was a carriage road, “enclosed in a rough fence of stakes and rails.” Along this road, horses and vehicles traversed in two circles, both running in opposite directions so that the visitors could pass each other. The idea was “to exchange witticisms with the acquaintances you saw for a moment,” without stopping, which was only allowed for King Charles II, “as he often did when the proper lady appeared in the other circle.”

Samuel Pepys says “the Dukes of York and Gloucester haunt the place much,” which, along with the “simpering beauties of Lely taking a turn in the Ring—Castlemaine, Stewart, Hamilton, Chesterfield, and the rest,” gave him a significant motivation for wanting to put in an appearance there himself. He comments on “the origin of the lady’s riding-habit, which first appeared in the Ring on the fair persons of the “Amazones,” as he calls them; “ladies with coats and doublets and deep skirts,” says Samuel, “just for all the world like mine, and their doublets buttoned up their breasts, with periwigs and with hats, so that only for along petticoat dragging under their men’s coats nobody would take them for women in any point whatever.”

Riding Habit, 1720

By the time England had settled down under Anne and the first George a fashionable turnout in the Park had become a serious undertaking. The private coach of that day was a sprawling structure as large as a modern hearse, its ugly body hung on straps between widely separated legs, and its team no less than six grey Flanders mares. Its panels bore the quarterings of the coats-of-arms of its owners on a generous scale, and its coachmen and footmen were in liveries of a splendour which survives only to-day in those of the Mansion House. It was only the magnate of an assured position who could turn out in proper style in the Ring; the aspiring man of fashion of modest income, if he were wise, confined his equipage to the more modest proportions of a well-groomed hack, and made up for the modesty of his stable by the fineness of his wardrobe and the gallantry of his bear.

The Military Displays

During the public feeling of unrest which preceded the Jacobite rising of 1715, General Cadogan marched the Life Guards and Horse Grenadiers, the Duke of Argyll’s regiment of foot, and three battalions of Foot-guards, with field pieces and ammunition waggons, from the Tower into the Park, encamped them under canvas on the south side, just within the wall along Knightsbridge and Kensington Gore, and London was regaled with the first of those military displays which later became one of the chief attractions of Hyde Park. There were great doings on the 1st of August, the anniversary of the king’s accession. The Guards were paraded in their new uniforms to the admiration of the people, and the day concluded with fireworks and illuminations. There followed reviews by the king, the Prince of Wales, and the Duke of Marlborough at intervals during two months, and as the weather broke up in October, the troops went into winter quarters by exchanging their canvas tents for wooden huts, and wooden stables were provided for the horses. When the Prince of Wales’ birthday came round in November there were prodigious rejoicings. The officers commanding gave great presents to the troops. We read of the Duke of Montague providing five hundred pounds of pudding, two hogsheads of wine, two of ale, and an ox to be roasted whole at the head of the first troop standard. We can imagine the joy of the open-mouth Londoner at such proceedings, at the terrific huzzas as they drank his royal highness’s health in illuminated circles at night, at the volleys of cannon and small arms which followed each toast. The Ring was deserted, and one immediate result of the presence of the soldiers was the unwonted safety of the Park for passengers, the footpads being quite disconcerted.

Military Encampment, 1785

In 1722, again, no less than 7000 men, with a field train, took up their position in Hyde Park… The whole town flocked to the Park, and the popularity of the meeting was so great that a full-blown fair arose on the skirts of the camp, with dancing saloons, puppet-shows, and billiard-tables and dice for the people of quality.

No wonder that the Ring was deserted, and the ladies, from duchesses to nurserymaids, flocked to the camp. They even adopted military habits, and red cloaks were much in vogue out of compliment to the soldiers. Grub Street grew furious at the luxury of the officers’ quarters, at the tea-parties, and the invitations to drink ratafia, at the gravel walks and gardens laid out round the marquees of the higher officers… The floors of the tent were boarded and carpeted, and the camp beds adorned with green and red curtains.

By 1780, however, the military presence became seen as a threat to personal liberty, and George III was persuaded to move them out of the park for the summer.

Rotten Row

Hyde Park, as a resort of fashion gained greatly by the adoption of Kensington Palace as one of the royal residences. William the Third gave London the first experience of a well-lighted road when he placed lamps along the carriage-way leading to Kensington Palace through the Park, and a new name to that road itself, which was called the King’s Road. “Route du Roi,” some hold, supplies the derivation of the modern “Rotten Row.”

Queen Caroline
(c) National Galleries of Scotland; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Queen Caroline’s ambitious plans for expanding the gardens at Kensington Palace included taking three hundred acres from Hyde Park, as well as adding the Ring Road and even St. James’s Park. When she asked Sir Robert Walpole what it would cost, his answer was “Three Crowns, your Majesty.” She did, however, spend massive amounts of money in the park, convincing her husband that it was coming from her own funds and not the Privy Purse. The creation of the Serpentine is one example of her accomplishments.

St. James’s Park

As previously mentioned, the land acquired by Henry VIII included St. James Park, which still consisted of swampy meadows frequently flooded by the river, where he built his palace of St. James.

But St. James’s Park remained a wild boggy tract fit for little but the flushing of herons until the Stuarts were well established, and the first tradition of social pleasure in St. James’s was established only when the young princes, the Prince of Wales and Charles, and their companions, set up a tilting-ring and made a playground in the fields. Then the Park gradually became a walk for the courtiers, people of condition were afterwards admitted, and the tenants of the houses on the Westminster side obtained leave of entrance, a privilege afterwards extended to the general public.

The whole Park, indeed, was a menagerie and an unfailing attraction for Londoners at a time when Zoological Gardens were unknown, and a taste for wild creatures could only be gratified by a visit to the mangy collections of the Tower.

The Mall, St. James’s Park, 1741

A big attraction was, of course, the opportunity to mingle with the king himself and his court. His ministers and everyone but the king himself was fearful of some lunatic with a knife, but “the king, as he told his brother, was certain that they would not kill him to make James king, and continued his walks in the Park… and encouraged the troops of his subjects who followed him about, to their huge delight.

The Park, indeed, was a great place for the loafer, then as now. It was an appanage of the court which was free from the tyranny of the king’s writ, and anyone guilty of a crime less heinous than high treason was safe in its precincts from bailiff or Bow Street officer. This immunity brought together a constant population of unpromising individuals, who sunned themselves on the grass, filled the benches, begged alms or told fortunes, and picked pockets. Their only enemy was the press-gang, which enjoyed privileges denied to the officers of the law, and swooped down at intervals to make hauls of as many as 150 in one day.

Pall Mall

Charles II planted elm trees along the road from Spring Gardens to Buckingham Palace, added walks with avenues on each side, and played the game of Pall Mall there until the game was moved to St. James’s Park.

Pall Mall seems to have been a species of croquet, on a heroic and athletic scale. The game required a long straight course, finely kept, down which a wooden ball could be driven with a mallet, and through a bridge of iron at either end. Players scored by the fewness of their strokes, as at golf, and the driving of the ball a long distance in a proper direction was one of the qualifications for success, qualifications possessed by the king and his brother James in an eminent degree.

Green Park

About 1786 fashion left its shades and avenues to the middle-classes, the city ladies, and the country cousins, and moved off unaccountably to the Green Park. The Green Park, since Charles the Second enclosed it about 1660, had been little more than a hunting-ground for footpads and a duelling-ground for drunken or quarrelsome combatants…[until in 1780] it suddenly became the habit of the well-bred to make their evening promenade up the Queen’s walk and round the reservoir which filled the north-eastern corner of the Green Park… Here for a few seasons fashionable London displayed itself in its evening dress after dinner, and incidentally and accidentally gave a great value to the houses on the west side of Arlington Street… The view across the Green Park at that time was very impressive. There was no building in Pimlico or Belgravia; the Thames could be seen from these windows; Lambeth was a marsh with pastures, ponds, willows and cattle, recalling a Dutch landscape, and behind all rose the hills of Sydenham, covered with wood unspoiled by building and unclouded by smoke.

Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries

Driving in the parks became the fashion, and there, as the present century opened, might be seen those strange vehicles from which all modern carriages have been evolved. The phaeton of that day was a spider-like arrangement with four sprawling wheels, four horses, and holding but two persons. There was the curricle, an invention of more sanity, but still requiring three horses and carrying only two persons. The gig was the father of the tilburies, whisks, and all other two-wheeled vehicles, many of which still survive. The horses, as we learn, were of a heavy breed, “Cleveland blacks and long-tailed bays,” approaching in type those used for light drays and omnibuses to-day.

Spider Phaeton

With materials such as these the youth of both sexes of the Regency and George the Fourth superseded the old promenades of the Mall, and revived the tradition of equestrianism and equipage of Hyde Park which survives in our own day, and has produced such organisations as the Four-in-Hand Club.

In addition to social opportunities for the fashionable, people were known to skate on the ice of the canal at St. James’s and on the Serpentine. An early form of cricket was played by Frederick Prince of Wales and other men of station. Also popular were prize-rings improvised on the premises, and duels to be ogled.

Skating in Hyde Park, 1782

Amusements of Old London series

An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens: Part IV

An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens, Part IV

In our last installment, Susana suffers a panic attack as the crowd stampedes to view Madame Saqui’s performance on the tightrope—which she found quite remarkable for the early nineteenth century—and makes the acquaintance of the son of the Marchioness of Hertford and finds herself in the company of the Prince Regent himself!

Isabella Seymour-Conway, Marchioness of Hertford

Isabella Seymour-Conway, Marchioness of Hertford

“Why Isabella, it has been over a year at least… since the Royal Wedding, I believe.”

With His Royal Highness the Prince Regent at Lady Hertford’s side, Lady P could not avoid acknowledging him, nor introducing them both to me, since they were both looking from her to me with puzzlement in their eyes.

“Your Royal Highness, how delightful to find you taking in the delights of the Royal Gardens this evening!”

She performed an elegant bow and then took my hand. “May I present to you my American friend, Miss Ellis? She is here to visit relatives, and was eager to see the famed Vauxhall Gardens.”

My muscles were quivering so much I thought I was going to faint, but one look at the expression in Lady P’s eyes was enough to motivate me to get myself together. I did my best to emulate her regal bow, which was sadly inelegant. Still, I managed to stay on my feet, and as Lady P has often told me, my American status was enough of an excuse for my awkward behavior.

regent_later“Your Highness,” I managed, my hand flying to my chest in an attempt to slow my racing heart. “I’m so—thrilled—to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you. I never thought to meet an actual king of England.” Lady P squeezed my shoulder, and I scrambled to correct my error. “That is, a future king of England.” Another squeeze. “And, of course, Lady Hertford. You have such a lovely home.”

I stopped myself from saying more, but it was too late. I’d visited the former Hertford residence on Manchester Square more than once on my trips to London, as it has been open to the public—together with the exquisite furniture and art collected by some Hertford family member or another—for a hundred years or so. But that hadn’t happened yet. Oh dear.

I swallowed. “Or so I’ve heard, your ladyship.”

With the entire party giving me looks that could be described as incredulous, surprised, or furious—that last was Lady P—I added quickly, “The word of your exquisite taste in art has reached across the pond.”

Lady Hertford tapped her son’s arm with her ivory fan.

“Gracious me, I cannot accept any credit for the collections. Francis here is the true connoisseur. Why, after his Grand Tour, we had boxes and crates delivered to our door for weeks.”

The Prince Regent cleared his throat, and we all turned our attention back to him.

“Miss Ellis, it is a pleasure,” he said, his scowl belying his words. “Isabella, dear, we are expected at Carlton House.”

Lady Hertford smiled. “Of course, Your Highness.” She gave us an apologetic smile. “We really must be going. It has been good to see you again, Agatha. And to meet you, of course, Miss Ellis. A visit to our home can be easily arranged, if you would like to see it yourself. Apply to the housekeeper for an appointment.”

I believe I managed to convey my thanks as they took their leave of us.

“Well,” I said. “I have met the Prince Regent.”

Hertford House, known as the Wallace Collection, on Manchester Square

Hertford House, known as the Wallace Collection, on Manchester Square

Lady P rolled her eyes. “The less said about that, the better. Perhaps we should return to the future now.”

“Oh no! The evening is still young!” I protested. “And I’ve been invited to Manchester Square!”

Her ladyship snorted. “Invited? That was no invitation, my dear Susana.”

I blew out a puff of air. “Well, perhaps not. But I still want to go.”

“That’s not what we agreed and you know it. One evening at Vauxhall Gardens. And then you return to your own time. I won’t be responsible for disrupting the space-time continuum.”

I burst out laughing. “What nonsense! You do that all the time! What about those gifts to your grandchildren…?”

“A lapse in judgment. In any case, Henry has had them all destroyed.” But the flush that crept across her face told me I had made my point.

“Look, I’ve already mortified you in the presence of the Prince Regent. What else could possibly go wrong?”

Famous last words. Tune in next week to see what happens when Susana explores the mysterious and ever-so-scandalous Dark Walks…

Sir Richard Wallace

Sir Richard Wallace

Historical Note: Francis Seymour-Conway, 3rd Marquess of Hertford and the son of Prince Regent’s last mistress, was an avid collector of art, as were his son and grandson. It was his grandson who left the house and art collection to his illegitimate son, Sir Richard Wallace, whose widow bequeathed it to the nation. The Wallace Collection was opened to the public in 1900 and is open today, free of charge.

Wallace Collection Website

Susana’s Pinterest Page

An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens, Part III

In our last installment, Susana and Lady P made the requisite trip to the “ladies’ retiring room,” which Susana declined after a brief perusal of the facilities. Returning to the fringe of the dancing, she made the acquaintance of a child who offered to obtain a voucher for her to Almack’s (!!!), and listened to several songs by the sweet-voiced warbler, Mrs. Maria Theresa Bland.

A bell rang and the organ music stopped as we were swept away with the noisy crowd to the end of one of the walks where we could see a tall pole (a ship’s mast, as it turned out). A trio of young hooligans elbowed their way past us; at least one trod on the train of my gown and nearly knocked me down. Lady P threw her arm around my back and kept me vertical, but in the second or two it took me to recover, the impatient crowd behind us tossed us a few angry looks and impolite murmurs as they pushed past us. A rush of heat came over me and I could hear my heart racing, so I knew a panic attack was coming on.

madame-saqui-descending

“Can we get out of this crowd?” I asked her ladyship, trying to peer over the heads of the crowd in search of escape.

After one look at my face, she put on her stern “countess” face and aimed it at the crowd behind us. “Susana, my dear,” she said loudly. “I believe that is the Prince Regent waving at us from the Rotunda.”

A slew of people behind us stopped in their tracks and craned their necks to peer at the Rotunda. Lady P and I took the opportunity to duck out of the crowd and into a clump of trees on the right, where she took out her handkerchief and wiped the moisture off my face. The floral scent on the linen had a calming effect on my nerves, and gradually I began to feel more myself.

“Is the Prince Regent really here?” I asked her when I finally caught my breath.

“I do hope not,” she answered, lips pressing into a white slash. “Because if he is, I shall have to pay my respects, and more than likely, he will wish to be presented to you, and with you not having the slightest idea of court etiquette…”

My eyes were bulging. The thought of seeing the Prince Regent would be a thrill beyond my wildest dreams, but to actually be presented to him was a far more intoxicating notion. I started to feel a bit dizzy.

“Susana!” Lady P pounded me on the back. “Get hold of yourself or I shall have to put my hartshorn to you.”

“No, no, I’m fine. I just need to sit down.”

Fortunately, we espied a white wrought-iron bench behind a clump of trees in the near distance. Just as we were seated, we heard the sound of fireworks, and suddenly the sky was ablaze with colored lights and smoke, brief images of crowns, hearts, initials and other indistinct figures flashing in the haze.

“It’s starting!” I said, jumping to my feet, still feeling a bit dizzy, but not willing to miss the main attraction. “Let’s move ahead of these trees!”

small-saqui

We cleared the obstructions just in time to see a tiny figure dart out of the darkness and smoke, her feet moving with surprising agility on the narrow rope toward the summit of tall pole, which had to be at least eighty feet high and a steep climb. I wondered what it was her husband did to her shoes to keep her from sliding backward. [I knew from my Vauxhall blog series that her husband was the only one in the family who was not a rope walker, but that he had important other responsibilities.]

Rockets exploded all around her, causing the spangles on her skirts to sparkle and make her a magical figure. The long ostrich feathers on her elaborate hat dipped and swayed as she ascended, and I found myself holding my breath like the others in the crowd lest she lose her balance or the rope become severed by a rocket [even though I knew from my research that she died of old age, her life taken over by her nostalgic memories of the past]. Reaching the midpoint, she paused for a moment to make a slight bow in our direction. Following her gaze, I looked behind us and saw a rotund figure with a familiar face about ten feet away.

1819_prince_regent_g_cruikshank_caricature“Is that…?”

“… the Prince Regent,” Lady P hissed. “Don’t stare.”

Turning my attention back to the spectacle at hand, I saw Madame Saqui take the final quick steps to the top of the pole, where a man seated there [her husband, I assumed] grabbed her hand while she turned around and made a rapid descent amid a flash of blue lights, again stopping at the center, this time making bows in both directions and executing some graceful balletic moves before continuing her descent and dancing her way back into the smoke.

“She dances exquisitely on the horizontal rope,” said a voice behind us. “I’ve seen her at Covent Garden. As graceful as a ballerina on a stage.”

We whirled around to face a middle-aged gentleman with a smattering of reddish brown hair still remaining on his balding pate. He bowed briefly to Lady P and sent a questioning look in my direction. “A pleasure to see you again, Lady Pendleton. I hope you are enjoying yourself this fine evening.”

Lord Yarmouth, eventually 3rd Marquess of Hertford

Lord Yarmouth, eventually 3rd Marquess of Hertford

Lady P gave me a look that I interpreted as a “don’t-even-think-of-embarrassing-me” warning as she plastered a smile on her face and bobbed. “We are indeed, Lord Yarmouth. On a fine night such as this, Vauxhall never fails to delight us.” She nodded in my direction. “Your lordship, I’d like to present my good friend, Susana Ellis, from America. Susana, I’d like you to meet Lord Yarmouth, the son of the Marquess of Hertford.”

I swallowed and tried to gather my chaotic thoughts. Hertford. Something to do with Lady Hertford, the Prince’s mistress? What should I do? Any schooling on polite discourse I’d ever had from Lady P disappeared from my brain. I vaguely recalled her own actions and did my best to reproduce her bob. “A pleasure to meet you, Lord Yarmouth.” To my ear, it came out squeaky and I could feel my cheeks reddening. Don’t faint. Lady P will kill you if you do.

He bowed in my direction, his eyebrows furrowed. “American, you say. How delightful. They seem to be everywhere these days.” His voice signaled boredom, however.

I was saved from having to answer that by the voice of a woman calling to him from behind. “Come along, Francis! We’re removing our party back to Carlton House for dinner and dancing.”

lady_hertford_1800

Isabella, 2nd Lady Hertford

Lord Yarmouth gave us an apologetic-yet-relieved smile. “My apologies, ladies. It seems I must take my leave of you.”

Lady P let out a deep breath, no doubt relieved that she would not have to present me to royalty after all, and then the woman behind the voice approached us.

“Agatha? Is that you? It’s been an age. How are you faring these days?”

Approaching us in all her royal blue splendor was a woman I assumed to be the prince’s mistress, Lady Hertford, and behind her was the magnificent royal dandy, His Royal Highness the Prince Regent, the future George IV, and he was looking at me!

More next week, same bat-time, same bat-channel!

descent-of-madame-saqui-surrounded-by-fireworks

An Evening at Vauxhall Gardens, Part II

In our last installment, Susana and Lady traveled by carriage to the Royal Vauxhall Gardens, bespoke a supper-box, chatted with a waiter, and partook of shaved ham “so thin you could see through it,” as well as other delicacies.

Ladies Retiring Room at Vauxhall

Ladies Retiring Room at Vauxhall

After our meal, Lady P excused herself to visit the “ladies’ retiring room.” Curiosity induced me to follow her to a large tent in a secluded area, where a young woman dressed in servant garb brightened at our approach. When Lady P shook her head slightly, the woman shrugged and looked hopefully behind us for another potential “client.” Her ladyship whispered to me that such women were there to collect tips for assisting ladies who had come without maids to help with their private needs.

Peering into the darkly-lit interior, I saw a half-dozen women seated on what appeared to be wooden seats similar to those scene in outhouses when I was a child (or the latrines at Girl Scout camp). The better-dressed ladies had maids attending to them, but I didn’t get a good glimpse because Her ladyship squeezed my shoulder and I could see by her tight jaw and raised eyebrows that it was not the thing to be staring in such a place.

Not being especially inclined to use such things as outhouses and porta-potties except in case of emergency—and I decided I could wait until I got home—I abandoned the tent and strolled about a hundred yards away until I had left the unpleasant smells behind. From my position, I had a good view of the dancing in front of the Orchestra. It was so amazing to see the vibrant colors of the ladies’ gowns—as well as the gentlemen’s waistcoats—and I could not help but marvel at the sight of the diversity of the dancers. A soberly-dressed gentleman in charcoal gray who was partnered with a woman in serviceable blue circled among an older, elegantly-dressed couple and an energetic young couple dressed in servant garb, and they all seemed to be having a good time. Among the bystanders I could see a gentleman looking through his quizzing-glasses at me, and fearing that he might be thinking of asking me to dance—Lady P would kill me, and in any case, I have two left feet and have never waltzed in my life—I backed a little further back into the hedges, and nearly trampled a little girl.

“Oh dear, I’m sorry! I didn’t see you there, sweetheart. Are you all right?”

Print; Mezzotint engraving. Childhood: Lady Emily Caroline Catherine Frances Cowper, later Countess of Shaftesbury (1810-1872) after Sir Thomas Lawrence.Half length portrait of a child, a string of pearls round her neck. Unframed.

Lady Emily Caroline Catherine Frances Cowper, later Countess of Shaftesbury (1810-1872) after Sir Thomas Lawrence.Half length portrait of a child, a string of pearls round her neck. Unframed.

The child—about six or seven I thought—blinked rapidly after she had moved a safe distance away. Wavy dark hair curled around her childish round face, tied at the top with a pink ribbon. Dressed in white, her gown trimmed with pink bows, she didn’t have the appearance of a child who would be abandoned on her own in a place like Vauxhall.

Her eyes widened at the sound of my voice, and before she answered, she gave me a long glance from head to toe. My hands started to sweat, knowing that my gown—beautiful though it was—would not stand up to close scrutiny, created as it was from an unauthentic pattern and materials made with 21st century technology.

“You speak strangely,” she said. “You’re not from Hertfordshire, are you?”

“Uh no, I’m from America.”

She nodded as though her suspicions were confirmed. “That’s a great distance from here.”

“It is,” I agreed. “I came to visit my friend Lady Pendleton.”

She smiled. “I like her. She invited me to come to tea with Emily and Theodosia.”

Emily and Theodosia are two of Lady P’s grandchildren. [They appear in A Home for Helena.]

“I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting them as yet.”

She tilted her head. “They live in Kent. Sometimes they come to London to visit their grandmother. I visit mine as well, but she is quite ill at present.” She crossed her arms in front of her. “She is an important lady, you know.”

“She is?” I was quite eager to know the identity of this child, but I had a feeling I shouldn’t be encouraging her to talk to strange people. And I know Lady P would have a fit. I gave a quick glance behind me in case she was approaching, but the coast was clear.

“Yes. And my mother as well. She is one of the patronesses of Almack’s.” She inclined her head toward me. “Have you attended there?”

Almack's Assembly Rooms

Almack’s Assembly Rooms

I smothered a laugh. Me? At Almack’s. Not likely. But then… who could have imagined I’d ever be at the Vauxhall from two hundred years ago?

“No, I’m afraid not.”

She smiled. “You do not have a voucher? Perhaps I can prevail upon my mother to get you one. You are a proper lady, are you not?”

Now that was a loaded question. I was pretty sure Lady Pendleton would not describe me thus, and I certainly didn’t feel like a Regency lady.

“I am quite certain Lady Pendleton would not invite me to her home otherwise,” I prevaricated. “I am Susana Ellis. I’m a novelist.”

almacks-voucher-stg_misc_box7-trimmed-to-voucher“You are?” she breathed. “Like Mrs. Edgeworth and Mrs. Burney?”

“More like Miss Austen,” I said before I could stop myself. I knew that Jane Austen had published her novels anonymously at first and wasn’t sure when her identity was finally revealed.

She wrinkled her brow. “Miss Austen?”

Fortunately, I was saved from responding by the sudden appearance of my time-traveling Regency friend.

“Dear Susana, I see you have found a friend.” There was a hint of irritation in her voice. “Lady Emily, have you accompanied your parents here this evening? I wonder why you have been left alone without your maid.”

Lady Pendleton’s voice was firm but kind as she viewed the little girl. Lady Emily fidgeted under her gaze. “I came with Mama and Lord Palmerston. Alice was too ill. I’m just here waiting while they finish the dance.”

Her ladyship shook her head. “I shall give your mama a talking-to when next I see her. Leaving her child unaccompanied indeed!”

Lady Emily flushed. “No! Please don’t do that! I am meant to be sitting with the Howard party.” She bobbed us a curtsey and made her adieux. “I must return in all haste.” She fled just as the music stopped.

I turned toward Lady P. “Is that—?”

lady-emily-cowper-by-sir-2

Lady Emily Cowper (1787 – 1769) by Sir Thomas Lawrence. The daughter of the famous Whig hostess, Elizabeth Lamb, Lady Melbourne, Emily was likely the result of her mother’s affair with Lord Egremont. Emily had plenty of extramarital affairs of her own, including a long one with Lord Palmerston, whom she married after the death of her husband.

“Lady Emily Caroline Catherine Frances Cowper,” confirmed my mentor. “The daughter of Lady Emily Cowper and the granddaughter of the Melbournes.”

I let that knowledge sink in. Then I giggled. “She offered to help me get a voucher to Almack’s!”

Her ladyship lifted an eyebrow. “Indeed. And what did you say to her to elicit such an offer?”

“Nothing!” I insisted. “All I said was that I am an American visiting you, and she told me she knew your granddaughters and asked me if I’d been to Almack’s…”

Lady P snorted. “Because she knew you hadn’t, of course.”

That stung a little, but I knew she was right. I’m not a proper Regency lady and never will be. I was there to observe—and that in itself was a rare privilege.

Maria Theresa Bland, née Romanzini (1769-1838) was a popular singer at Drury Lane and other venues. Sister-in-law to the actress Mrs. Jordan, she had two sons who were also musical. Her mezzo-soprano voice was idea for the singing of English ballads.

Maria Theresa Bland, née Romanzini (1769-1838) was a popular singer at Drury Lane and other venues. Sister-in-law to the actress Mrs. Jordan, she had two sons who were also musical. Her mezzo-soprano voice was ideal for the singing of English ballads.

Our conversation was interrupted with cheers and applause as a rotund little lady in a blue gown with a laced-up bodice and an enormous cap topped with colorful flowers that accentuated the roundness of her face, stepped up on the stage in front of the musicians, giving a deep bow at her introduction by the organist, Mr. James Hook. She—her name was Mrs. Bland—proceeded to sing a charming little song called “Pray Excuse Me,” that had everyone smiling and cheering for more. Her exquisite voice and cheerful vivacity more than made up for the incongruity of her appearance. Following that, she sang “Jesse o’ the Dee” and several other other songs until it was announced that the musicians would take a short respite while Mr. Hook entertained the crowd with his lively organ-playing. In spite of that, I noticed the audience starting to thin out, many heading in the same direction.

James Hook by Lemuel Francis Abbott

James Hook by Lemuel Francis Abbott

“Madame Saqui!” I breathed. Lady P nodded, and we set out to follow the crowd to the venue where the popular French tight-rope dancer would perform.

More next week, same bat-time, same bat-channel!

Susana’s Adventure at the Carriage Museum

Grand Oaks Resort

Weirsdale, Florida

weirsdale-map

If you think you must travel across the pond to find great historical inspiration, you would be wrong! I’ve been living half the year in Florida for several years now, and just this month discovered the existence of this fabulous museum—only a half-hour drive away!

I travel to the UK every year and have seen some of the best museums and historical sites out there, and I have to rank this one right up with them. The London Transport Museum in Covent Garden is wonderful, but honestly, it doesn’t hold a candle to this one, at least in terms of carriages. The Carriage Museum here has more types of curricles and phaetons and landaus and broughams than I have ever seen in one place. I will definitely be returning here often.

carriagehorsebarb3-copy

We had a lovely drive around the 340-acre property lined with scenic pastures and oak trees in a carriage drawn by two beautiful Clydesdale horses. Afterwards, we browsed in the gift shop and had lunch in the bistro. There is a luxurious spa on site that people come from all over central Florida to enjoy.

The Grand Oaks Resort is also a major center for equestrian events for spectators and competitors, including polo and dressage. Also offered are first-class boarding and training facilities. (Heather King would love this place, especially the dressage competition in mid-January!)

The Grand Oaks Resort is only an hour drive from Orlando, so if you’re heading this way to take in the Disney and other attractions, consider setting aside a day in the countryside away from the crowds. You won’t be disappointed, and neither will your family.

1874 Omnibus

1874 Omnibus

From MuseumsUSA:

The Grand Oaks Museum is home to one of the world’s largest private collections of carriages and equine artifacts. Step back in time and enjoy the elegance and pageantry of over 160 European and American Carriages, including the elaborate 1850 Armbruster Dress Chariot once owned by Emperor of Austria Franz Joseph, and his wife, Elisabeth. Our Museum uniquely offers a glimpse into the history of the relationship between man and horse and clearly defines the manner in which the horse has helped shape the history of man.

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1850 Armbruster Dress Chariot once owned by Emperor of Austria Franz Joseph, and his wife, Elisabeth

Livery

Livery

Since 1995, The Grand Oaks Museum has opened its doors to the public with an extraordinary display of historical artifacts, while educating visitors with tours, seminars and special programs in a live setting. Take a journey through time into the world of man’s most vital mode of transportation of past centuries. Museum visitors have a rare opportunity to see an English Omnibus, a horse-drawn fire fighting apparatus, a World War I supply wagon, the colorful and ornate Sicilian Caretta and a Dutch Tikker. This Tikker is one of a pair; the other was displayed by Count de Hamptinne in the Hotel Particulier in Ghent, Belgium. And that’s only the beginning of what this Museum has to offer.

Website

The Brougham (1895)

brougham-copy

1895 Brougham

Inspired, if not only designed by Lord Brougham, a statesman of the early 19th century, this lovely vehicle seats 2 passengers facing forward. The low-slung body affords easy entry to this elegant coach luxuriously upholstered for the comfort of a noble gentleman. The interior was often fitted with ashtrays, a clock, and mirrors.

Coachman-driven, the passenger is able to communicate with the driver through a tubular whistle hanging on the interior of the carriage. A system of long and short whistles would inform the driver to turn left, right, stop, or proceed on homeward.

Many Broughams were driven to a strong single horse; but others were set up for a pair, as this one is.

The Clarence (1897)

The Clarence, 1897

The Clarence, 1897

Like the Brougham, the Clarence is a coachman-driven vehicle, but this larger carriage affords seating for four people, two facing forward, and two riding backward. Fitted with lamps for evening use, it would carry a gentleman and his friends to the opera or a formal dinner party.

This larger vehicle required a pair of horses, and a footman in livery would ride next to the coachman to assist when passengers entered or exited the carriage. He would also “head” the pair if a vehicle waited while the party enjoyed their evening’s activities. Blankets for the horses would be carried in the boot under the coachman’s seat.

The Four-Wheel Dog Cart (1894)

Four-wheel dog cart (1897)

Four-wheel dog cart (1897)

This rare example of a Dog Cart seats six, rather than four, persons. Notice the bench seat between the front and back seats. It would be used for children or small adults agile enough to mount the carriage over the back wheel.

The wheel on the right side of the driver’s seat operates the friction brake on the back wheel of the carriage just below the level of the axle. This wheel design is generally seen on vehicles made in France, but is not favored on British carriages because the driver, or Whip, must shift his position on the seat in order to apply the brake.

This vehicle is set up for a pair of light horses.

George IV Phaeton (1910)

George IV Phaeton (1910)

George IV Phaeton (1910)

This vehicle was copied from one made for King George IV in 1824, who needed an “easy entry,” more stable vehicle than the highflyer of his youth. As more and more ladies began to take up the art of driving, the carriage design appealed, permitting them to mount the carriage easily despite their long skirts. The high curving dashboard obliterated the horses’ hindquarters from view, saving the lady any embarrassment and protecting fashionable clothing.

When driving classes for ladies were introduced at some American horse shows in the late 1890’s, Brewster and other builders quickly offered George IV Phaetons with their own unique features.

Spider Phaeton (1881)

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Spider Phaeton (1881)

During the latter part of the nineteenth century, when park driving was at its peak, the Spider Phaeton became the perfect vehicle for showing a spirited single or pair of horses. The body of the vehicle resembles that of a Tilbury Gig, and the carriage almost always has a hood. The groom’s single seat, which is often on branch irons, is connected by an iron framework, giving the appearance of lightness and elegance. The fine lines of this vehicle would flatter a horse’s action, and the lighter weight would allow the animal free flowing movement.

With open futchels, this vehicle can be put to either a pair or a single horse.

Traveling Coach (1800)

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Dating from the early 1800’s, this coach was used for long distance travel before the advent of the railroads. A luxurious vehicle, this one seats two persons facing forward with room for two seated backwards. The seats can be made into a bed where two occupants can stretch their legs out under the driver’s seat to offer the possibility of a night’s sleep, as accommodations at inns and post houses were generally poor. The body is moving on Cee-springs and is connected to the perch with leather straps to prevent excessive side sway.

This vehicle has a driver’s seat, but these coaches were often posted to allow more room for luggage and cargo to be carried. Teams of horses would be changed out a stage stops along the way.

The patina on this vehicle simulates the look of a traveling coach which has been on the road for some time. The interior is newly re-upholstered, but the other appointments are original to the carriage. The shutters can be used to shade the occupants from both daylight and inclement weather.

Goat Caleche

Goat Caleche

Goat Caleche

Another vehicle intended to be put to a goat which would have been led by a liveried groom, this beautiful caleche follows the same curving lines as its full-sized counterpart. The upholstery is light and rich in appearance, and the folding hood is lined in the same material.

A nanny might take her charges out for an afternoon stroll with this vehicle.

Hansom Cab (1895)

Hansom Cab (1895)

Hansom Cab (1895)

The Hansom Cab is named for its early designer, Mr. J.A. Hansom, but cabs used for public transport in the latter half of the 19th century bear little resemblance to earlier models.

The driver sits at the rear of the box, high above for a better view of the city. An unusually strong and quiet cab horse was required to pull the vehicle, as the shaft weight was extremely heavy. At rest, the driver would release the “spoke” under the carriage and ask the horse to back a few steps. This would help to pull some of the carriage weight off the animal’s back and save him for further work.

The public Hansom was thought to be an improper vehicle for a lady to use by herself. But many privately owned, immaculately appointed Hansoms, like this beautiful example, were used instead of a Brougham or a Victoria for simple trips around town.

Char-de-côté

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a Swiss invention, built for viewing scenery, especially lakes

Three Abreast Phaeton (1890)

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