Romance of London: Strange Stories, Scenes And Remarkable Person of the Great Town in 3 Volumes
John Timbs (1801-1875), who also wrote as Horace Welby, was an English author and aficionado of antiquities. Born in Clerkenwell, London, he was apprenticed at 16 to a druggist and printer, where he soon showed great literary promise. At 19, he began to write for Monthly Magazine, and a year later he was made secretary to the magazine’s proprietor and there began his career as a writer, editor, and antiquarian.
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Carlton House and the Regency
The Prince Regent’s residence at Carlton House is another place frequently mentioned in historical fiction that is no longer in existence. I had heard that it burned down, but Timbs reports the following:
Carlton House having grown dingy in its fittings, and its history prompting many disagreeable associations, the King projected the enlargement and eventually the rebuilding of Buckingham House; Carlton House was taken down in 1826; the columns of the portico have been transferred to the National Gallery. The exact site of this palace of a century is now the opening between the York Column and the foot of Regent Street.
Carlton House, as a royal palace, existed for nearly a century, and was the scene of many important state events, as well as of much prodigality and bad taste. The house, which fronted St. Alban’s Street and St. James’s Park, was originally built by Henry Boyles, Baron Carlton, on a piece of ground leased to him by Queen Anne, in 1709, at 35l. a year; it is described as “parcel of the Royal Garden, near St. James’s Palace,” and “the wood-work and wilderness adjoining.” From Lord Carlton the house and grounds descended to his nephew, Lord Burlington, the architect: he bested it, in 1732, upon his mother, the Countess Dowager of Burlington, who, in the same year, transferred it to Frederick, Prince of Wales, father of George III. The House was a building of red brick, with wings, and was afterwards cased with stone by Sir Robert Taylor. In Lord Burlington’s time, the grounds, which ran westward as far as Marlborough House, were laid out by Kent, in imitation of Pope’s garden at Twickenham. There is a large and fine engraving of the grounds by Woollett; bowers, grottoes, and terminal busts abounding.
Under the Prince Regent (George IV)
When, in 1783, the Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV, was allowed a separate establishment, Carlton House was assigned for his residence, and Holland, the architect, was called in, and added the chief features,—the Ionic screen and the Corinthian portico, fronting Pall Mall. [Horace] Walpole writes to the Countess of Ossor, in the autumn of 1785:
We went to see the Prince’s new palace in Pall Mall; and were charmed. It will be the most perfect in Europe. There is an august simplicity that astonished me. You cannot call it magnificent: it is the taste and propriety that strike. Every ornament is at a proper distance and not one too large, but all delicate and now, with more freedom and variety than Greek ornaments… As Gobert [French architect]… designed the decorations, I expected a more tawdry assemblage of fantastic vagaries than in Mrs. Cornelys’s masquerade-rooms. [Teresa Cornelys, operatic soprano, held many fashionable gatherings at Carlisle House, had many lovers, and bore a child of Casanova.]… There are three most spacious apartments, all looking on the lovely garden, a terrace, the state apartment, and an attic. The portico, vestibule, hall, and staircase will be superb, and, to my taste, full of perspectives; the jewel of all is a small music-room, that opens into a green recess and winding walk of the garden… I forgot to tell you how admirably all the carving, stucco, and ornaments are executed; but whence the money is to come I conceive not—all the tin mines of Cornwall would not pay a quarter. How sick one shall be after this chaste palace, of Mr. Adam’s [Robert Adam, popular 18th century architect] gingerbread and sippets of embroidery!
Timbs’s later assessment was not so kind. He says that the conservatory, “imitated from Henry VII’s Chapel, was a failure,” the blue velvet draperies “heavy and dark”; and the “Gothic dining-room was poor.” He found the armory to be “the most curious collection of arms in the world, [filling] four rooms.”
Here was John Hamden’s sword, said to be the work of Cellini; and a golden throne of the King of Candy was backed with a sun of diamonds and precious stones. Here, too, were arms from all nations—caps, boots, spurs, turbans, shields, bows, dresses, models of horses, helmets, sabres, swords, daggers, canopies, palanquins, guns, coats of mail, and other costly presents from all parts of the world.
In the plate-room were some fine specimens of King Charles’s plate; other plate was disposed in the centre of the room, in columns of gold and silver plates, and dishes, and drawers filled with gold and silver knives, forks, spoons, &c.…
The palace was superbly fitted for the Prince’s marriage: 26,000l. Was voted for furnishing, 28,000l. For jewels and plate, and 27,000l for the expense of the marriage. Here was born the Princess Charlotte, January 16, 1796, and the baptism took place on February 11; here, also, the Princess was married, May 2, 1816.
The Fête of June 19, 1811
The most magnificent State event of the Regency was the event given at Carlton House on June 19, 1811, being then the only experiment ever made to give a supper to 2,000 of the nobility and gentry. Covers were laid for 400 in the palace, and for 1,600 in the pavilions and gardens. The fête was attended by Louis XVIII, and the French princes then in exile; and a vast assemblage of beauty, rank, and fashion. The saloon at the foot of the staircase represented a bower with a grotto, lined with a profusion of shrubs and flowers. The grand table extended the whole length of the conservatory, and across Carlton House to the length of 200 feet. Along the centre of the table, about six inches above the surface, a canal of pure water continued flowing from a silver fountain, beautifully constructed at the head of the table. Its banks were covered with green moss and aquatic flowers; gold and silver fish swam and sported through the bubbling current, which produced a pleasing murmur where it fell, and formed a cascade at the outlet. At the head of the table, above the fountain, sat His Royal Highness the Prince Regent on a plain mahogany chair with a feather back. The most particular friends of the Prince were arranged on each side. They were attended by sixty servitors; seven waited on the Prince, besides six of the King’s, and six of the Queen’s footmen, in their state liveries, with one man in a complete suit of ancient armour.
Timbs mentions that the portico of Carlton House was the site of the “first public application of the newly-invented lighting by gas.”
I’m thinking the fête might come in hand for a scene in my next story—as an example of the decadence and excess of the Prince Regent. What do you think?
Romance of London Series
- Romance of London: The Lord Mayor’s Fool… and a Dessert
- Romance of London: Carlton House and the Regency
- Romance of London: The Championship at George IV’s Coronation
- Romance of London: Mrs. Cornelys at Carlisle House
- Romance of London: The Bottle Conjuror
- Romance of London: Bartholomew Fair
- Romance of London: The May Fair and the Strong Woman
- Romance of London: Nancy Dawson, the Hornpipe Dancer
- Romance of London: Milkmaids on May-Day
- Romance of London: Lord Stowell’s Love of Sight-seeing
- Romance of London: The Mermaid Hoax
- Romance of London: The Bluestocking and the Sweeps’ Holiday
- Romance of London: Comments on Hogarth’s “Industries and Idle Apprentices”
- Romance of London: The Lansdowne Family
- Romance of London: St. Margaret’s Painted Window at Westminster
- Romance of London: Montague House and the British Museum
- Romance of London: The Bursting of the South Sea Bubble
- Romance of London: The Thames Tunnel
- Romance of London: Sir William Petty and the Lansdowne Family
- Romance of London: Marlborough House and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough
- Romance of London: The Duke of Newcastle’s Eccentricities
- Romance of London: Voltaire in London
- Romance of London: The Crossing Sweeper
- Romance of London: Nathan Mayer Rothschild’s Fear of Assassination
- Romance of London: Samuel Rogers, the Banker Poet
- Romance of London: The Eccentricities of Lord Byron
- Romance of London: A London Recluse