Archives

Amusements of Old London: The Cockpit

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.”

Cock-fighting in Georgian England

Cock-fighting in Georgian England

Cock-fighting is recorded as the diversion of ingenious schoolboys by Fitz-Stephen in the reign of Henry the Second… it was prohibited by Edward the Third… it was encouraged by Henry the Eighth, who built the first royal cockpit at Whitehall… it was so much the vogue in high circles in the reign of Charles the First that Vandyck painted a picture of the court watching a match in the royal pit… Oliver Cromwell quite naturally suppressed the diversion by an Act of 1654… and… all its ancient glories were revived by the joyful restoration of King Charles the Second. Modern England, as we contend, began with the days of that monarch, or soon after; we propose therefore to confine our survey of the sport to the days of his Majesty, and since.

Mr. Pepys’s cockpit experience (December 21, 1663)

Being directed by sight of bills upon the walls, I did go to Shoe Lane to see a cock-fight at a new pit there, a sport I never was at in my life. But, Lord, to see the strange variety of people—from Parliament man…to the poorest ‘prentices, bakers, brewers, butchers, draymen, and what not—and all these fellows one with another in swearing, cursing, and betting, and yet I would not but have seen it once. I soon had enough of it, it being strange to observe the nature of these poor creatures; how they will fight till they drop down dead upon the table and strike after they are ready to give up the ghost, not offering to run away when they are wearing or wounded past doing further, whereas when a dunghill brood comes, he will, after a sharp stroke that pricks him, run off the stage, and they wring off his neck without much more ado. Whereas the other they preserve, though their eyes be both out, for breed only of a true cock of the game. Sometimes a cock that has had ten to one against him will be chance give an unlucky blow, and it will strike the other stark dead in a moment, that he never stirs more; but the common rule is that though a cock neither runs nor dies, yet if any man will bet £10 to a crown, and nobody take the bet, the game is given over, and not sooner.  One thing more, it is strange to see how people of this poor rank, that look as if they had not bread to put in their mouths, shall bet three or four pounds at one bet and lose it, and yet bet as much the next battle (so they call every match of two cocks), so that one of them will lose £10 or £20 at a meeting; thence having had enough of it.

William Hogarth: The Cock Fight

William Hogarth: The Cock Fight

Cock-fighting

The sport of cock-fighting was not something that could be taken up by just anyone. The requisite breeding and training of the birds for at least two years prior to any matches required a great deal of money, as well as time and attention. But it could be very lucrative also, since the owners received the benefit of portions of the gate-money provided by the spectators.

Numerous books and treatises were written on the manner of breeding and training cocks, including how to choose them when small, how to feed them, and how to set them to spar with each other.

For a sparring match they covered “the cocks’ heels with a pair of hots made of bombasted leather,” that is, they improvised a sort of boxing-gloves for these interesting birds.

Prior to a match, the cock was trimmed for the fight, “his tail cut into the shape of a short fan… [and] his pinions… trimmed feather by feather, each quill being cut at a slant in order that in rising a lucky stroke might take out the eye of his adversary. Finally, his legs were furnished with the deadly ‘gaffles’ or spurs… some two inches in length, and curved like a surgeon’s needle… either of steel or a silver alloy.”

Birds were matched according to weight, those of middle weight (3-1/2 – 4-1/2 lbs.) being preferred for important venues such as the Royal Cockpit.

As you might imagine, this type of undertaking was not for any but the very rich. Poorer men, however, could and did enjoy the sport as spectators.

The Royal Cock Pit

The Royal Cock Pit

Three Orders

The Long Main—those between cities or countries—provided a full week of entertainment, since the time and expense of traveling made it impractical for an event of short duration.

The Short Main lasted a couple of days or even a few hours, and was much infiltrated by amateurs.

The Welch Main was fought for a prize of some sort—”a purse, a gold cup, a fat hog, or some other prize.” The Welch main was rather like a violent dodgeball tournament, something like the Hunger Games. Thirty-two cocks

…were arranged in sixteen pairs, and each couple fought to the death. The winners, or such as survived, were again matched in pairs, and the battle renewed. The eight winners of this second contest provided four pairs for the third; the survivors of the third contest made a couple of pairs for the penultimate combat; and the final issue of the Welch Main lay between this pair of devoted fowl, from which the much-enduring winner of the whole contest emerged… Its opportunities for betting were no greater certainly than in the Long Main… but it had great attractions for the choice spirits of the cockpit…

The Battle Royal, another variation, was simply a bloodbath of any number of birds in the pit, with the last survivor being the winner.

The determination shown by the finest cocks was astonishing. It is no exaggeration to say that the best cocks of the game would show fight as long as a spark of life remained in their devoted bodies. They might be maimed and even blinded, but when confronted by their enemy they would concentrate what little vitality was left to them in the menacing ruffling of their hackles and an expiring peck. This was so well understood that a blinded cock was never declared beaten until his beak was rubbed against that of his adversary.

Cock-fighting, Henry Thomas Aiken

Cock-fighting, Henry Thomas Aiken

A somewhat secretive endeavor

It was probably due to its gory nature and the presence of “rough” company that caused aficionados of the “sport” to keep a low profile. Boulton suggests that it was never a particularly popular support among the fashionable men of St. James’s, since there is only one entry in an entire century mentioning cock-fighting in the betting-book at White’s. The Earl of Derby and the Earl of Sefton were known to be supporters, as well as “the families of Warburton, Wilbrahams, Egertons, and Cholmondeleys” and “Lord Mexborough, the Cottons and the Meynells, Admiral Rous, Lord Chesterfield, and General Peel.”

A continuous outcry

Protests about its cruelty were commonplace, as you can see by this satirical advertisement:

“This is to give notice to all lovers of cruelty and promoters of misery, that at the George Inn, on Wednesday, in the Whitsun week, will be provided for their diversion the savage sport of cock-fighting, which cannot but give delight to every breast divested of humanity, and for music, oaths and curses will not fail to resound round the pit, so that this pastime must be greatly approved by such as have no reverence for the Deity nor benevolence for His creatures.”

The Gloucester Journal, 1756

cocks

The Cruelty to Animals Act of 1835

This Act amended existing legislation to include (as ‘cattle’) bulls, dogs, bears, goats and sheep, to prohibit bear-baiting and cockfighting, which facilitated further legislation to protect animals, create shelters, veterinary hospitals and more humane transportation and slaughter.

In spite of this legislation cock-fighting did not expire without a struggle. There is an account of [a secretive meeting] in the interesting but rambling memoirs of the Honourable Grantley Berkeley, showing how the Count de Salis, a magistrate, lent his premises near Cranford to Berkeley and his friends for the purpose, gave him the keys of the whole place, and then called in the police and hauled Berkeley before the Bench at Uxbridge. There was much fun excited by the non-appearance of the count, “the cock who would not fight,” and Berkeley was fined five pounds.

Amusements of Old London series

Amusements of Old London: The Play Tables

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.”

Hazard & White’s

Hazard, the precursor of crap) was a game of pure chance where all players had a fairly equal chance of winning. But as it spread into the lower classes, “organized cheating at low taverns and gaming-houses became a regular profession.” Loaded dice was one way, but there were plenty of other ways. The often violent responses to cheating are illustrated in Rowlandson’s “Kick up at a Hazard Table.”

rowlandson-kickup-at-hazard-table

The game of hazard first became popular in the late 17th century at  the coffee-houses, such as (Mrs.) White’s Chocolate House and The Cocoa Tree. Early in the next century, the more fashionable gentlemen at White’s, wishing to avoid the card sharps and other unpleasant types that were inevitably present at these places, formed a more exclusive, private club, “where they could lose fortunes to each other in all privacy and decorum.” Considered by critics to be a “pit of destruction,” White’s saw many fortunes change hands at the turn of a dice.

Young Mr. Harvey of Chigwell, for instance, lost £100,000 to Mr. O’Birne, an Irish gamester. “You can never pay me,” said O’Birne. “Yes, my estate will sell for the money,” was the spirited reply. “No,” said O’Birne, “I will win but ten thousand, and you shall throw for the odd ninety.” They did so and Harvey won, lived to become an admiral, and to fight under Nelson at Trafalgar.

The Georges and Gaming at Court

It was a necessary qualification of a courtier of George the Second to be prepared to sit down with that monarch and the Suffolks and Walmodens and the other picturesque appanages of the court and lose a comfortable sum. Twelfth Night was always a fixture for a sitting of more than ordinary importance at St. James’s. On one of these occasions luck was in favour of Lord Chesterfield, who won so much money that he was afraid to carry it home with him through the streets, and was seen by Queen Caroline from a private window of the palace to trip up the staircase of the Countess of Suffolk’s apartments. He was never in favour at court afterwards.

George III, on the other hand, banished gaming at court and even White’s gambling became quite tame, which is why Almack’s (later Brooks’s) was opened as a venue for serious gamesters, such as Charles James Fox, who was known for playing carelessly “for the excitement alone,” without any concern for the consequences. On one particular day in 1771, after playing hazard for twenty-two hours and losing £11,000, he gave a speech at Westminster, went to White’s and drank until seven in the morning, and then to Almack’s, where he won £6,000, and later in the afternoon took off for Newmarket. A week later, he was back in London and lost £10,000.

Faro

The game of Faro evolved from a game called “basset,” played in the Stuart courts.

Faro was played between the dealer or keeper of the “bank” and the rest of the company, and, like hazard, it gave excitement to as many people as could find room round the table… Each of the company placed his stake upon any card of the thirteen he chose, and when the stakes were all set the dealer took a full pack and dealt it into two heaps, one on his right hand the other on his left, two cards at a time. He paid the stakes placed on such cards as fell on the right-hand pack, and received those of such as fell on his left hand. The dealing of each pair of cards was called a “coup,” and the dealer paid or received such stakes as were decided after each coup… [t]he odds were enormously in favour of the dealer. He claimed all ties, that is, when the same card appeared on both packs, the last card but one of the pack delivered its stake to him upon whichever hand it fell, and there was the impalpable but very real advantage of which was known as the “pull of the table” in his favour.

At Brooks’s, where faro reigned supreme, Charles James Fox and Richard Fitzpatrick (a Whig associate) had a very successful partnership. Lord Robert Spencer’s partnership with Mr. Hare enabled him to win £100,000, whereupon he gave up gambling entirely and purchased an estate in Sussex. “The success of the faro banks at Brooks’s was such that it led to the game being forbidden at White’s by a special rule of the managers.”

Faro, however, was played at many of the great houses and by women of fashion, who would “hire a dealer at five guineas a night to conduct operations, and to suggest that the profits of the table went to him and not to the hostess… to disguise the commercial nature of the transaction…”

Following the 1797 public scandal in the courts where three society ladies were each fined £50 for playing at a public gaming-table—and the popularity of Mr. Gillray’s prints, such as “Pharaoh’s daughters in the pillory and at the cart tail”—the game lost much of its following.

faros-daughters-gillray

E.O.

E.O., a type of of roulette with a ball and a special table, called roly-poly, from the Continent, found at race meetings, country fairs, and the streets of London, lent itself well to cheating. Colonel O’Kelly, the eventual owner of Eclipse set himself up in business by winning at E.O.

Gaming Houses and the Damage They Caused

Cheap gaming houses all over town featured hazard, roulette, rouge et noir, and macao for small stakes. Frequent raiding did not discourage them, since fines were easily paid.

A hazard table at Crockford's

A hazard table at Crockford’s

The mischief these places did is almost incalculable; bankruptcies, embezzlements, duels, and suicides resulting from gaming were of weekly occurrence, and it would seem that half the tradesmen and clerks of London were before the magistrates or the coroners of the last years of [the 18th] century and the first quarter of [the 19th].

Hazard and faro had gone out of the older clubs, and club gaming of the [early 19th century] was represented by extremely deep play at whist at White’s and Brook’s. Macao flourished for a while at Wattiers, where the members lived on each other for some eight or ten years until their estates disappeared and the club expired by the flight of its supporters to Boulogne.

Such were the houses in which round games flourished after their decline at the great clubs. They steadily drained the pockets of the aristocracy of England for nearly half a century, and there is scarcely a great family to-day which does not still feel the effects of the play that went on within their doors sixty years ago.

Crockford’s Club

crockford_william_npgthomasjonesWilliam Crockford, a fishmonger who had a shop in the Strand near Temple Bar, made a killing on a turf transaction and rose from partnerships in shady gaming establishments to spending £94,000 to open his own fashionable club, Crockford’s Club, in 1827.

There is one thing, and one only, to be said in favour of Mr. Crockford’s enterprise, which, is that this establishment did away with the practice of gentlemen playing against each other for large sums. At Crockford’s, the game was one of Gentlemen versus Players, the players being always Mr. Crockford’s officials at the French hazard table, and the sole object of his business was to win the money of his patrons.

A committee of gentlemen was given charge of accepting and rejecting members, with the effect of making “entry to Crockford’s as difficult as to White’s or Brooks’s.” The price of subscription to Crockford’s establishment was low, but “in exchange for the princely accommodation of his house, and such fare as was unobtainable at any other club, Crockford asked for nothing in return that gentlemen should condescend to take a cast at his table at French hazard.” This incarnation of the old game required a fee called “box money” and “the pull of the table” that went directly into the coffers of the house.

crockfords-club

The men who walked into Crockford’s with their eyes open to encounter these odds were the pick of the society of the day, the men who had fought the battles of the country under Wellington, and men who were making great reputations at Westminster, as well as mere butterflies like the Dandies who loafed through life at White’s. They were most of them men of exceptional parts, and distinguished for shrewdness and ability in one walk of life or another, and yet in the short space of ten years, between the opening of the club in 1827 and the succession of her Majesty, their losses converted Mr. Crockford into a millionaire at least. There is absolutely no record of any considerable sum of money ever won at the place by a player.

The second Earl of Sefton lost £200,000 in his lifetime. His son, after paying off the debt, lost another £40,000. Sir Godfrey Webster lost £50,000 at a sitting. Other losers of enormous sums: Lord Rivers, Lord Chesterfield, Lord Anglesey, Lord D’Orsay.

Even before the Gaming Act of 1845, Crockford, having pretty much won all the money to be won, started consolidating and concealing his assets with a view toward retirement. When called to give evidence, he claimed that increasing age caused him to give over the management to the committee of gentlemen tasked with running the membership of the club.

“High play in England, as we believe, burnt itself out in those orgies at Crockford’s.”

The Scandal at Graham’s Club

Another reason for the decline of serious gaming in England was the cheating scandal at Graham’s Club in St. James’s Street.

…a man of an old and honoured name was detected cheating at whist, and was denounced as a dishonest trickster in a newspaper, the Satirist. He brought an action against his accusers, failed in it, went abroad, and died… the details of the trial disclosed ugly features in the circumstances which had much interest for thoughtful people, and undoubtedly tended to bring the whole institution of play for high stakes between gentlemen into great disrepute.

Witnesses at the trial testified that they had witnessed him cheating in any number of ways a hundred times and more, and not only did not turn him in, but continued to sit down with him to play at private clubs. Undoubtedly, many of them were cheating themselves, and thus had no wish to have their play scrutinized. Packs of his marked cards were produced in court. His hacking cough, which always resulted in producing a king of trump, became known as “—’s king cough.”

Since those days of Crockford’s and Graham’s and the Gaming Act, high play has ceased to be any considerable part of the social life of London at clubs or elsewhere.

The Gaming Act of 1845

made a wager unenforceable as a legal contract and stood as law, though amended, until 2007.

Crockford's today is an exclusive casino in Mayfair

Crockford’s today is an exclusive casino in Mayfair

 

Amusements of Old London series

Romance of London: The Bottle Conjuror

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

John Timbs

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

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

A “foolish experiment on the credulity of the public”

2nd Duke of Montagu

2nd Duke of Montagu

The Duke of Montague being in company with some other noblemen, proposed a wager, that let a man advertise to do the most impossible thing in the world, he would find fools enough in London to fill a playhouse, who would think him in earnest. “Surely,” said Lord Chesterfield, “if a man should say that he would jump into a quart bottle, nobody would believe that!” The Duke was somewhat staggered; but for the sake of the jest, determined to make experiment. Accordingly it was advertised that the next day, (Jan. 10, 1749,) a person would, at the Haymarket Theatre, “play on a common walking-cane the music of every instrument then used, to surprising perfection; that he would, on the stage, get into a tavern quart bottle, without equivocation, and while there, sing several songs, and suffer any spectator to handle the bottle; that if any spectator should come masked, he would, if requested, declare who he was; and that, in a private room, he would produce the representation of any person, dead, with which the person requesting it should converse some minutes, as if alive.” The prices of admission were—gallery, 2s; pit, 3s; boxes, 5s; stage, 7s. 6d.

Haymarket Theater

Haymarket Theater

4th Earl of Chesterfield

4th Earl of Chesterfield

At night the house was crowded with curious people, many of them of the highest rank, including no less eminent a person than the Culloden Duke of Cumberland. They sat for a little while with tolerable patience, though uncheered with music; but by-and-by, the performer not appearing, signs of irritation were evinced. In answer to the continued noise of sticks and catcalls, a person belonging to the theatre came forward and explained that, in the event of a failure of performance, the money should be returned. A wag then cried out, that, if the ladies and gentlemen would give double prices, the conjuror would go into a pint bottle, which proved too much for the philosophy of the audience. A young gentleman threw a lighted candle upon the stage, and a general charge upon that part of the house followed. According to a private letter—it was written by a Scotch Jacobite lady—”Cumberland was the first that flew in a rage, and called to pull down the house… He drew his sword and was in such a rage, that somebody slipped in behind him and pulled the sword out of his hand, which was as much as to say, ‘Fools should not have chopping sticks.’ This sword of his has never been heard of, nor the person who took it. Thirty guineas of reward are offered for it. Monster of Nature, I am sure I wish he may never get it.

Haymarket Theater

Haymarket Theater

At that point, most of the audience charged out of the theater, losing items of clothing in the process, but a few stayed long enough to demolish the inside and take away much of the furnishings for a bonfire on the street.

Cumberland-Reynolds

Duke of Cumberland, younger son of George II (and of Culloden fame)

 

The proprietor of the theatre afterwards stated that, in apprehension of failure, he had reserved all the money taken, in order to give it back; and he would have returned it to the audience if they would have refrained from destroying his house.

The Bottle-hoax proved an excellent subject for the wits, particularly those of the Jacobite party. In Old England appeared this advertisement: “Found entangled in a slit of a lady’s demolished smock petticoat, a gilt-handled sward of martial temper and length, not much the worse of wearing, with the Spey curiously engraven on one side, and the Scheldt on the other; supposed to be taken from the fat sides of a certain great general in his hasty retreat from the Battle of Bottle Noddles, in the Haymarket. Whoever has lost it may inquire for it at the sign of the Bird and Singing Land, in Rotten Row.”

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

Chatsworth: A Grand House, To Be Sure, But Would You Wish to Live There?

Charming Chatsworth

Since reading Amanda Foreman’s Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, which includes much of the infamous duchess’s letters and journal entries, I’ve been fascinated by the Devonshire family. The only thing missing among the highly dramatic history of this noble, highly-esteemed family—possibly the wealthiest in England in the Georgian era—is a happy ending. The Devonshires of this period are prime examples of failed British aristocratic marriage and family values. With a seemingly endless source of income and the highest social status, why were these people so desperately unhappy?

It also begs the question that if we all truly believe that money and possessions not only do not make us happy but tend to bring along with them worries and responsibilities to weigh us down, then why do so many of us never seem to have enough? How much is enough? A comfortable life with enough income to cover the bills sounds reasonable. But does that mean stately homes, expensive cars, and a yacht to sail around the world? If you have that, would you be satisfied, or would you yearn for even more? If the billionaires of this world were truly happy, then why do they keep going after more and more? What do you do with a billion dollars anyway, especially with tax loopholes that the ordinary citizen does not enjoy? In the end, do you get a solid gold casket or something? Do you get special privileges in heaven?

Enough preaching. I wanted to write about my Chatsworth experiences this week. Yes, there are lessons to be learned. Unfortunately, most people aren’t inclined to learn from the past, and thus we keep making the same mistakes over and over.

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire

Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire

Pronounced George-ayna, by the way. Georgiana was the oldest daughter of the First Earl Spencer and his wife, also Georgiana. The Earl and his wife were childhood sweethearts. If you visit Spencer House on St. James Place in London (see my Pinterest board here), you will be told about their great love and shown all sorts of decorative features that proclaim their love match. It truly warms the heart of a romance addict. Except that…it doesn’t ring true when you realize they subjected their beloved seventeen-year-old daughter to a loveless marriage that brought her much unhappiness. What went wrong?

Well, perhaps it wasn’t entirely their fault. Young Georgiana probably thought it was a dream come true to marry the richest man in England who also happened to be a duke (the 5th Duke of Devonshire). It must have been a shock, though, to discover that her husband had no intention of being faithful, that even at the time of their marriage, his mistress gave birth to an illegitimate daughter who was eventually brought into the Devonshire family to be raised after her mother died. Georgiana herself found it difficult to conceive and suffered miscarriages before producing three children, two daughters, and finally a son, sixteen years after her marriage.

William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire

William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire

Georgiana enjoyed her life as a leading lady of fashion and politics in the ton. A friend of Queen Marie Antoinette of France, they copied each other’s fashions, including excessively tall hairstyles and large hats. Georgiana was also a leader of the Whig movement, hosting popular salons at Devonshire House in London for all the prominent Whigs of the time. (See a blog post here about her political exploits.) But with all this, she wasn’t happy. She spent lavishly, and gambled excessively (see post about her gambling exploits here), to the point where even the coffers of the richest man in England were seriously threatened. Her mother, the Countess Spencer—who also gambled beyond her means, particularly after her beloved husband died—warned her to be honest with her husband and to be more prudent in her gambling. Didn’t happen. The duke only found out the truth about her debts after her death. I guess they didn’t have Gamblers Anonymous in those days, or they’d know an addict isn’t able to manage his addiction prudently without giving it up entirely.

Georgiana seemed to have everything, and yet, she didn’t. Desperate for a close friend, when she met Lady Elizabeth Foster, who was separated from her husband and sons and seemingly destitute, Georgiana insisted she reside with them, and so began the ménage à trois. Lady Foster bore Georgiana’s husband two illegitimate children, who were brought up in the Devonshire home with their half-siblings, and Georgiana didn’t seem to mind. She and Bess were the best of friends, although many, including Lady Spencer, believed Bess to be a con-artist of the worst kind.

Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey and later Prime Minister

Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey and later Prime Minister

After the birth of her son, who later became the 6th Duke, Georgiana felt free to have love affairs of her own. She fell in love with Charles Grey, later to become an earl and a prime minister, and bore him a daughter, who was raised by the child’s paternal grandparents. Her husband was enraged and exiled Georgiana to France for three years, during which time she worried that her son would never know her. (Okay, the duke was a man of his time and perhaps not so terrible as he seems today, but punishing his wife for something he’d been doing for all their marriage just does not give a good impression of his character. Maybe it’s just me?)

Georgiana died in 1806 at 48 of a liver abscess (an eerie coincidence since I had this same affliction last fall, but am completely healed, thank heavens), and three years later, Lady Foster married the duke and became the second duchess, whereupon she admitted the paternity of her two illegitimate children and demanded that the duke provide for them as handsomely (or more so) as his legitimate children. (No, I don’t like her. Can you tell?)

Elizabeth Cavendish, second wife of the 5th Duke of Devonshire

Elizabeth Cavendish, second wife of the 5th Duke of Devonshire

The 6th Duke

Georgiana’s son was sixteen when his mother died and twenty-one when his father died and he inherited. He was active in Whig politics, but his special interest was landscaping and architecture. He had a north wing added to the house and an extensive renovation of the gardens. He spent lavishly to improve the property, which at that time included about 83,000 acres. William never married, having courted Georgiana’s sister’s daughter, Lady Caroline Ponsonby (yes, the one who went nutso over Lord Byron) and lost her to William Lamb, who undoubtedly regretted his marriage in retrospect. Perhaps His Grace realized his good fortunate in escaping a miserable marriage and couldn’t bring himself to risk it again. Certainly the marriages in his own family must have given him quite a few qualms!

The Devonshire Arms

The Devonshire Arms

The Devonshire Arms

Described as “a picturesque country pub at the heart of village life, offering the charm and character of an historic inn with a contemporary twist,” the Devonshire Arms offers comfortable rooms, superb food, and a quaint, medieval building that won’t fail to inspire any dedicated history lovers who book rooms here. Check out my Pinterest board here. And the village of Beeley is equally charming.

Chatsworth

Chatsworth is such a beautiful place, filled with such priceless art and furnishings (see Pinterest board here), that one can’t quite understand how so many of its inhabitants, possessed of great wealth and just about anything they wished, were so obviously unhappy. I thought about this a great deal as I took my time touring the rooms and listening to the audioguide, and even as I walked among the rolling hills and sheep from my lodgings to the house. So much beauty and wealth, and yet, I am not envious. At this point in my life, I don’t aspire to such heavy responsibilities, no matter the grandeur and glamorous lifestyle. It is enough for me to have the privilege of seeing it and experiencing it this one time.

Lovely ceilings throughout the house

Lovely ceilings throughout the house

Sketches Room (my favorite)

Sketches Room (my favorite)

Countess Spencer, Georgiana's mother

Countess Spencer, Georgiana’s mother

Dining Room

Dining Room

Devonshire family portraits

Devonshire family portraits

Wellington Bedroom

Wellington Bedroom

On With the New: Wall sculpture of DNA maps of current Devonshire family

On With the New: Wall sculpture of DNA maps of current Devonshire family

What do you think? Would you like to live the life of a wealthy celebrity? I’m curious to know if others feel as I do that “enough is enough”, and that happiness is not found in great wealth and possessions.

The Regency Gentleman’s Passion For the Turf

racecourse

Breeding and training thoroughbreds for racing was the passion of many wealthy gentlemen of good birth. Even more participated in watching and wagering the races. Newmarket, with its network of race courses, sponsored seven race meetings a year, and a third of all the race horses in England were trained nearby. (Transporting horses was very difficult, and most horses were walked to the race course, so it was better to keep them as near as possible.)

Around 500 spectators—nearly all upper-class—gathered to watch the race on horseback, sitting on top of carriage roofs, or standing around the course at Newmarket, as there were no grandstands as there were at other courses. In 1809, the 2000 Guineas, a sweepstakes for three-year-olds was established at Rowley Mile. The 1000 Guineas, a race for three-year-old fillies was established in 1817 at the less taxing course of Ditch Mile.

newmarket

Prince George was an enthusiastic participant in racing in his younger days (1788-1791), but withdrew in a huff when the jockey of his horse Escape was involved in a dreadful scandal, and the Jockey Club—the organization that oversaw the sport—insisted that the Prince give the jockey his marching orders. What was the scandal? A matter of Escape losing a race one day, forcing the odds up for the next day, resulting in the Prince winning a large sum of money. The Prince continued to patronize the races, however. He just could not resist the lure of the excitement and gambling.

Types of Races

Horse matches were head-to-head contests where individual owners would agree on a wager, and the winner took all. Spectators would make side bets as well. In one famous match, Hambletonian vs. Diamond, almost 300,000 pounds changed hands.

Plate and cup matches, where the prize was a trophy, were quite common as well.

The sweepstakes, however, with a line-up of horses running against each other, was the most popular in the late 18th/early 19th century. The owners put up a specified sum to subscribe to the race, and the winner took everything.

Race Courses

Ascot, with its close proximity to London, became a popular venue for fashionable race fans. In 1814, popular heroes such as Blücher, Tsar Alexander, the King of Prussia and Hetnan Platov provided additional entertainment for the race-mad hordes.

epsom downs

Epsom Downs

Epsom Downs, home of the legendary horse Eclipse, drew large crowds of the fashionable on Derby Day (named after the Earl of Derby who was instrumental in its development), a one-and-a-half mile race for three-year-olds. The only permanent structure on the course was Prinny’s stand, a miniature “castle” with Gothic arches where he could sit with his cronies to enjoy the races.

Eclipse

Eclipse

Other race courses were Goodwood in Yorkshire, Newcastle, Chester, Warwick, Winchester and Doncaster. Raikes (a dandy, banker and diarist) says:

“The Prince made Brighton and Lewes the gaiest scene of the year in England. The Pavilion was full of guests; the Steyne was crowded with all the rank and fashion from London during that week; the best horses were brought from Newmarket and the North, to run at these races, on which immense sums were depending; and the course was graced by the handsomest equipages.”

The Jockey Club

The organization responsible for regulating the racing world was the Jockey Club, whose members in 1790 included the Prince Regent, the Dukes of Bedford, Cumberland, Devonshire, and Norfolk. The Jockey Club established rules for such things as record-keeping and ensured that they were followed.

Wagering

As in London clubs and gaming hells, fortunes were won and lost at race courses. Brummell, too, lost large sums on horse racing. Raikes says:

“…I was never more surprised than when, in 1816, one morning he confided to me, that he must fly the country that night and by stealth. The next day he was landed in Calais, and, as he said, without any resources. I had several letters from him, at that time written with much cleverness, in which his natural high spirits struggled manfully against his overpowering reverses; but from the first he felt confident that he should never be able to return to his own country.”

Stud Book

Stud Book

Laudermilk, Sharon H. and Hamlin, Theresa L., The Regency Companion, Garland Publishing, 1989.

The Regency Gentleman series

The Regency Gentleman: His Upbringing

The Fashionable Gentleman

The Rise and Fall of Beau Brummell 

Gentlemen’s Clubs in Regency London

Captain Who?

Gentlemen’s Sports in the Regency

The Gentleman’s Passion for Horses

Riding to the Hounds

The Regency Gentleman’s Passion for the Turf

Gentlemen’s Clubs in Regency London

Gentlemen of birth and/or wealth aspired to membership at one of London’s exclusive gentlemen’s clubs, where they could indulge in drink and gambling without the intrusion of lesser men. Potential members could be refused membership by one blackball.

Captain Gronow comments in his “Reminiscences” that

“female society amongst the upper classes was notoriously neglected….How could it be otherwise, when husbands spent their days in the hunting field, or were entirely occupied with politics, and always away from home during the day; whilst the dinner party, commencing at seven or eight, frequently did not break up before one in the morning. There were then, four- and even five-bottle men, and the only thing that saved them was drinking very slowly out of very small glasses.”

White's: note the famous Bow Window

White’s: note the famous Bow Window

White’s

White’s was the unofficial headquarters of the Tory party, while Brooks’s was for the Whigs, although several gentlemen belonged to both. From 1812 to 1816, Beau Brummell reigned supreme at White’s, along with his circle of friends, which included Lord Alvanley, the Duke of Argyll, “Poodle” Byng, “Ball” Hughes, Sir Lumley Skeffington, and Lords Sefton, Worcester, and Foley. Brummell approved who was allowed to sit in the famous Bow window, and decreed that there would be no acknowledgments of passersby. After Brummell’s fall from grace, Lord Alvanley replaced him. This is reportedly where Alvanley wagered 3,000 pounds on which of two raindrops would reach the bottom of the window first. It is not known whether he won or lost.

Gambling and betting were the two main forms of entertainment. The famous White’s Betting Book contains documentation for bets on a wide variety of subjects, including births, deaths, marriages, and battles. In the card rooms, fortunes were won or lost playing card games, the most popular of which was whist.

Gaming room at Brook's

Gaming room at Brooks’s

Brooks’s

The club that became Brooks’s was founded by William Almack, also the founder of Almack’s Assembly Rooms. Brooks’s was the preferred club of many famous Whigs, such as the Prince Regent, William Wilberforce, William Lamb, Charles James Fox, Lord Carlisle, Lord Robert Spencer, and General Fitzpatrick. The preferred card games here were faro, hazzard and macao.

Boodle's

Boodle’s

Boodle’s

Another establishment founded by the industrious William Almack, Boodle’s also had a famous bow window. Boodle’s was mostly patronized by country gentlemen who came to town for the good food and the gambling. Brummell, Wellington, and Wilberforce held memberships here as well.

Watier's: nicknamed the Dandy Club by Lord Byron

Watier’s: nicknamed the Dandy Club by Lord Byron

Watier’s

Considered the greatest gambling club of the Regency before its demise in 1819, Watier’s was founded in 1805 when the Prince Regent and his dinner guests were complaining about the monotonous food at the gentlemen’s clubs. The Prince asked one of his cooks, a Mr. Watier, if he would consider taking a house and starting a club.

Byron called it the Dandy Club. As the acknowledged arbiter of gentlemen’s fashions and behavior, Brummell reigned supreme here as well. The game of macao was the preferred game of chance, and Brummell himself lost a fortune here.

Gaming Hells

There was no lack of gaming establishments for the lesser souls who did not qualify for the exclusive men’s clubs. The play at these gaming “hells” was not always above-board, and many a greenhorn was exploited there, along with many unfortunate highly-ranked players. Many of these were owned by shady characters who operated under the radar of law-enforcement.

brook's chips

Gronow, Rees Howell, Reminiscences of Captain Gronow, Kindle edition free on Amazon

Laudermilk, Sharon H. and Hamlin, Theresa L., The Regency Companion, Garland Publishing, 1989.

The Regency Gentleman series

The Regency Gentleman: His Upbringing

The Fashionable Gentleman

The Rise and Fall of Beau Brummell 

Gentlemen’s Clubs in Regency London

Captain Who?

Gentlemen’s Sports in the Regency

The Gentleman’s Passion for Horses

Riding to the Hounds

The Regency Gentleman’s Passion for the Turf

A Regency Gentleman: His Upbringing

Privileged children were born at home, typically with the aid of a midwife, and immediately handed over to a wet nurse, since upper class ladies did not nurse their own children. Brought up by servants or dependent relatives, children saw their parents rarely, always accompanied by servants.

Later, a young gentleman might be tutored by a local clergyman or by a hired tutor or governess. When he could read and write, he would be sent off to public school, such as Eton, Rugby, Harrow, Westminster, Winchester and Charterhouse. The course of study centered on the classics, the French language (used often in polite society when servants were present), drawing and fencing. However, life at public schools could be traumatic.

Eton

Eton

In spite of the outlandish fees charged by these exclusive schools, the accommodations were abominable. Sleeping chambers were cold and damp, food barely edible and scant, and the older boys bullied the younger ones unmercifully. The older—and bigger—boys forced the younger ones as servants—a system known as fagging—and often such treatment resulted in revenge against a headmaster who allowed such brutal bullying to occur. Headmasters, too, were known to cane a boy’s bare buttocks until it bled.

The idea was that a boy who could survive public school and learned the meaning of obedience could be trusted to command—servants or regiments— or succeed in whatever place in Regency society he was fated to take.

Following public school, our young man could go on to Oxford or Cambridge, although he could devote himself to other pleasures—eating, drinking and wenching—as well. Most university students did a fair amount of both.

On the Town

Prior to the Napoleonic Wars, a young man would go on a tour of Europe with a tutor (“bear-leader”) to sample the pleasures of Europe. During the Regency, a young man was more likely to take up a commission in the army (particularly if he was a younger son) or simply learn his way around London, therefore earning his “town bronze.”

A young gentleman was expected to be skilled in fighting with fists, swords, and firearms, as well as gaming. Coolness, courage, and a “stiff, upper lip” were essential for a young man about town. He was also expected to be stylish enough to be accepted into gentlemen’s clubs and ballrooms, including Almack’s Assembly Rooms. Gentlemen, too, were scrutinized by the patronesses before being issued the coveted vouchers.

Other frequent amusements by young bucks might be parading up and down Bond Street and “accidentally” tripping people with their canes, catching the edge of a lace gown with their spurs, or quizzing people with their quizzing glasses. These young men “raising Cain” were the scourge of the night watchmen with their tricks on unwary passers-by.

And then there were their “bits of muslin” or wenches. A young man was expected to marry for money or connections, make sure his heir was his, and then proceed to find passion with a series of mistresses. While discretion was expected, most of society turned a blind eye to these foibles, at least on the part of gentlemen. Ladies’ behavior was much more closely scrutinized.

Laudermilk, Sharon H. and Hamlin, Theresa L., The Regency Companion, Garland Publishing, 1989.

The Regency Gentleman series

The Regency Gentleman: His Upbringing

The Fashionable Gentleman

The Rise and Fall of Beau Brummell 

Gentlemen’s Clubs in Regency London

Captain Who?

Gentlemen’s Sports in the Regency

The Gentleman’s Passion for Horses

Riding to the Hounds

The Regency Gentleman’s Passion for the Turf