Tag Archive | Charles Dickens

Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part IV

vauxhallbook

Vauxhall Gardens: A History

David Coke & Alan Borg

The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens is one of the places I’d love to slip back in time to visit, just to catch a glimpse of what it was like. After recently splurging to buy this lovely coffee-table book, I thought it might make a wonderful subject for a new blog series. But do buy the book too, if you can! The photos are fabulous!

Financial Setbacks & Bankruptcy

Vauxhall had suffered financial setbacks regularly over the years, but especially in its later years, when it changed hands frequently. Bankruptcy was declared in 1840, when the gardens were closed and auctions were held for “all sorts of fittings and decorations from the gardens, including many of the paintings; the Royal Nassau balloon, which had originally cost over £2000 was sold to [balloonist] Green for £500.”

Nevertheless, it opened again in 1841, when George Catlin’s “Red Indians” were introduced to the gardens. These tableaux vivant were made up of, in Catlin’s own words:

twenty living figures in Indian costumes, forming groups of their ceremonies, domestic scenes and warfare. These were got up and presented with much labour to myself, and gave great satisfaction; as by them I furnished so vivid and lifelike an illustration of Indian life as I had seen it in the wilderness.

From the satirical magazine Punch:

We wended our way to the ‘royal property’, to take a last look at the long-expiring gardens. It was a wet night—the lamps burnt dimly—the military band played in the minor key—the waiters stalked about with so silent, melancholy a tread, that we took their towels for pocket-handkerchiefs; the concert in the open rain went off tamely—dirge-like, in spite of the ‘Siege of Acre’, which was described in a set of quadrilles, embellished with blue fire and maroons, and adorned with a dozen drums, thumped at intervals, like death notes, in various parts of the doomed gardens. The divertissement was anything but diverting, when we reflect upon the impending fate of the ‘Rotunda’, in which it was performed.

Although it was announced that ‘Vauxhall would positively close its doors for ever’ on September 8th, 1841, it did open again for the 1842 season, but despite new acts such as Ducrow’s questions (now under the management of his black protégé, Mungo) and the exhibition of Napoleon’s state carriage taken from Waterloo, the gardens remained unprofitable. Vauxhall did not open at all in 1843.

In 1844, the new lessee brought the “Ioway Indians” to Vauxhall. An native encampment was established “on the old Waterloo Ground, from which the party of fourteen (three chiefs, five braves, four squaws, a child and a papoose) emerged from wigwams. They performed only in the afternoon and stayed in lodgings at night.”

This arrangement was one of very great pleasure to the Indians, as it allowed a free space to exercise in during their leisure hours, amongst trees and shrubbery, affording them almost a complete resumption of Indian life in the wilderness, as they had the uninterrupted range of the gardens during the hours that the public were not there to witness their amusements.

The next few years, surprisingly, were quite profitable for Vauxhall, with upgrades and new acts such as Monsieur Musard, “Napoleon of the Quadrille,” with his band of a hundred musicians.

Master Juba

One of the most famous of all Vauxhall performers, William Henry Lane, was an import from the saloons and dance halls of Manhattan.

juba-vauxhall

Anon., Juba at Vauxhall Gardens, engraving (David Coke’s collection) from the Illustrated London News (5 August 1848), 77. William Henry Lane, known as Master Juba, created a sensation in London and was known as the “Dancinest fellow ever was”. He is credited with the invention of tap-dancing.

Playing the banjo and the tambourine, he was known as the “Dancinest fellow ever was’ and hailed as the inventor of tap-dancing. Dickens made him famous in his American Notes, describing a lively young negro, who is the wit of the assembly, and the greatest dancer ever known. He never leaves off making queer faces, and is the delight of all the rest, who grin from ear to ear incessantly.”

Originally one of six so-called “Ethiopian Serenaders”, Juba was unquestionably the most talented although it was at Vauxhall where he became a star attraction. From the Illustrated London News:

How could Juba enter into their wonderful complications so naturally? How could he tie his legs into such knots, and fling them about so recklessly, or make his feet twinkle until you lose sight of them altogether in his energy. The great Boz immortalised him; and he deserved the glory thus conferred.

The Final Seasons

royal vauxhall gardens

Poster advertising Van Amburgh and Juba, 1848 (British Library, London, EVAN.474). This illustrates current attractions at the gardens and features (clockwise from top left): the Grand View of Constantinople; the Grand Orchestra; the Rotunda Theatre; the Ballet Theatre; the Coral Cave; the Pavilion and Musical Promenade; the Neptune Fountain; and C.W. Pell’s Serenaders.

In spite of continued financial problems, Vauxhall limped on a few more years, with a lion tamer renowned for putting his head the lions’ mouths (Van Amburgh), the Algerine Family (“clothed in rich Arabian silks and reclining on luxurious divans”), boat races, masquerades, the Great Italian Singers (1851), military fetes featuring the Crimean War, and the American bareback rider, Mr. James Robinson in 1859.

But when the last night came, on 13 October, it must have been clear to all that Vauxhall could continue no longer.

Susana’s Vauxhall Blog Post Series

  1. Vauxhall Gardens: A History
  2. Vauxhall Gardens: Jonathan Tyers—“The Master Builder of Delight” 
  3. Vauxhall Gardens: A New Direction
  4. Vauxhall Gardens: The Orchestra and the Supper-Boxes 
  5. Vauxhall Gardens: The Organ, the Turkish Tent, and the Rotunda
  6. Vauxhall Gardens: Three Piazzas of Supper-Boxes
  7. Vauxhall Gardens: “whither every body must go or appear a sort of Monster in polite Company”
  8. Vauxhall Gardens: The Competition
  9. Vauxhall Gardens: The Artwork, Part I
  10. Vauxhall Gardens: The Artwork, Part II
  11. Vauxhall Gardens: The Music, 1732-1859
  12. Vauxhall Gardens: The Business Side
  13. Vauxhall Gardens: Developments from 1751-1786
  14. Vauxhall Gardens: Thomas Rowlandson’s Painting (1785)
  15. ‎Vauxhall Gardens: The Third Generation of the Tyers Family and the Jubilee of 1786
  16. Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part I
  17. Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part II
  18. Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part III
  19. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part I
  20. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part II
  21. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part III
  22. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part IV
  23. Vauxhall Gardens: Farewell, for ever

Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Decades, Part III

vauxhallbook

Vauxhall Gardens: A History

David Coke & Alan Borg

The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens is one of the places I’d love to slip back in time to visit, just to catch a glimpse of what it was like. After recently splurging to buy this lovely coffee-table book, I thought it might make a wonderful subject for a new blog series. But do buy the book too, if you can! The photos are fabulous!

The early 1830’s marked a low period in Vauxhall’s fortunes. The weather was often poor, causing cancellations of particular events, especially fireworks. There seems to have been a lack of cash for either further investment or spectacular displays.

Among the newer attractions were Michael Boai, the ‘celebrated Chin Melodist’; Joel, the ‘Altonian Siffleur’, who imitated birds; the Singers of the Alps; Don Santiago, the Lilliputian King, only 27 inches high; the great Boa Constrictor and Anaconda. Forty thousand attended on September 8, 1830 when the gardens were free all day to celebrate the coronation of William IV.

In 1832, charity events, flower shows, and other special events were held as a way of increasing income.  “Many of these events were run under the leadership of aristocratic or even royal patrons and attracted wealthy visitors.” These included a Ladies Bazaar and Fete Champetre in aid of the Royal Dispensary for Diseases of the Ear; a Fancy Fair sponsored by the Duchess of Kent for the cause of restoring the Lady Chapel at St. Saviour’s Church, Southwark; a fete for the abolition of slavery (1834), and the ‘Superb Gala for the benefit of the Distressed Poles’.

Ballooning

Balloon ascents had been taking place at Vauxhall since 1802, but it wasn’t until the 1820’s and Charles Green that regular balloon ascents and rides were held, generating much-needed income to keep the gardens a viable enterprise.

Green’s first flight was from Green Park on 19 July 1821 in honor of William IV’s coronation. Green’s balloons were larger because he used coal gas instead of hydrogen, which was easier and safer to inflate, as well as cheaper and less harmful to the silk canopy.  Green’s

first flights from Vauxhall took place in July 1826. These were the first ever night ascents in Britain and were the climax of the firework displays. The aeronaut could be observed launching rockets and other incendiary devices from the car of the balloon beneath the main canopy.

Not only was Green a serious scientist, but also a skilled showman, which was a winning combination for Vauxhall. “In 1832 he and a ‘scientific gentleman’ went up at 6 p.m. To measure air pressures and carry out other experiments with barometers.”

Balloon ascents were the main reason for daytime opening. For the afternoon openings, Green staged balloon races with his brother and other family members, also giving rides to members of the public. Dickens went to see the spectacle and left a vivid description:

So we retraced our steps to the firework-ground, and mingled with the little crowd of people who were contemplating Mr. Green.

Some half-dozen men were restraining the impetuosity of one of the balloons, which was completely filled, and had the car already attached; and as rumors had gone abroad that a Lord was ‘going up’, the crowd were more than usually anxious and talkative. […] Just at this moment all eyes were directed to the preparations which were being made for starting. The car was attached to the second balloon, the two were brought pretty close together, and a military band commenced playing, with a zeal and fervor which would render the most timid man in existence but too happy to accept any means of quitting that particular spot on earth on which they were stationed. Then Mr. Green, sen., and his noble companion entered one car, and Mr. Green, jun., and his companion the other; and then the balloons went up, and the aerial travelers stood up, and the crowd outside roared with delight, and the two gentlemen who had never ascended before, tried to wave their flags, as if they were not nervous, but held on very fast all the while.

The Royal Vauxhall balloon

The proprietors of the gardens financed part of this balloon, which was intended by Green to be three times bigger than any previous gas ballon.

Measuring 150 feet in circumference and 80 feet high when inflated, it consisted of 2000 yards of raw Italian skill, dyed crimson and white and made up by Mssrs Soper of Spitalfields. Alternate 90-foot lengths were then stitched and glued together, producing a striking striped effect. The whole surface was coated in a varnish devised by Green himself and encased in a net of ropes. The car… was made of wickerwork, oblong in shape, with a bench seat all round the inside. On the exterior there were large gilded eagles at either end, and the sides were draped with purple and crimson velvet, richly embroidered. The cost of the whole machine was put at £2100, but since members of the public were charged for flights at the rate of £21 for gentlemen and £10 10s for ladies, this was soon recouped… Despite the cost, the public demand for flights was insatiable, as Benjamin Disraeli commented in 1837: ‘There is no news today: everything is rather flat and the room is thin as the world have gone to see the monster balloon rise from Vauxhall.

The Great Balloon of Nassau

(c) National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

John Hollins, A Consultation prior to the Aerial Voyage to Weilburgh, oil on canvas, 1836. Green is seated on the right, discussing the voyage with Robert Holland; between them stands Thomas Monck Mason, while the group by the window comprises (left to right) Walter Prideaux, Hollins himself and Sir William Melbourne James. The balloon is visible in the gardens behind them. (c) National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

On 7 November 1836—without any prior notice—Thomas Monck Mason, Robert Holland, and Green took off in an attempt at a long-distance record. Financed by Holland, the provisions included 40 pounds of ham, beef and tongue, 45 pounds of fowls, as well as preserves, sugar, bread, and biscuits—not to mention two gallons each of sherry, port and brandy, and a device for heating coffee using quicklime.

Carried along on a north-westerly breeze, they passed Canterbury at 4 p.m., dropping a message for the mayor by parachute. Night fell after their Channel crossing between Dover and Calais so they sat down to a substantial supper.… Once it was light Green began seeking a landing site and brought the balloon safely to earth at 7:30 a.m., near the town of Wilbur in the Duchy of Nassau. The aeronauts had flown 480 miles in eighteen hours, easily setting the world record for the longest balloon flight.

More Balloons

Balloons with parachutes had been done since the 1790’s, and Robert Cocking developed a theory of aerodynamics that unfortunately led to his death. Besides the fact that his theory was faulty, the parachute was far too large and heavy. Green and others tried to dissuade him, but he was adamant, and when the parachute was detached from the balloon, it sunk like a stone, and Cocking died within ten minutes of landing from a serious head wound. Vauxhall held a benefit night for Cocking’s widow and Queen Victoria sponsored a public subscription to raise funds for her as well.

cocking's parachute

The tragedy of Cocking’s upside-down parachute

The plan for a lion tamer and a Bengali tiger to ascend never came to fruition, banned by the magistrate. “In 1850 Green went up on horseback, with his unfortunate mount locked onto a wooden platform by its hooves.

Handbill advertising Green's ascent on horseback, 31 July 1850 (Museum of London, A8955). This appears to be a complimentary ticket issued by Green himself. The flight did take place, with the horse firmly locked in place by the hooves.

Handbill advertising Green’s ascent on horseback, 31 July 1850 (Museum of London, A8955). This appears to be a complimentary ticket issued by Green himself. The flight did take place, with the horse firmly locked in place by the hooves.

George Cruikshank’s Comic Almanac for 1851

Would you want to have lived near Vauxhall with all these stunts taking place? The following piece purports to be from a disgruntled local resident:

Sir, I reside near a place of popular amusement ‘al fresco’. I am of a cheerful though quiet disposition, and should be perfectly happy but for one circumstance. During the entire summer season I am in a continual state of terror from balloons.

It was in my front garden that the Ourang-outrang descended in a parachute in 1836. I then said nothing of the annoyance caused by the mob rushing into my lawn and scrambling for fragments of the machine, of the destruction effected among my crockery by the animal attempting to escape through my scullery, nor of the alarm which his sudden appearance in the Dining room excited in the bosoms of myself and my family. I thought the balloon mania had reached its highest pitch—no such thing, Sir. After that came the Nassau Balloon which used to take a dozen people up at once exactly over my house, about once a week; till a terrible dream haunted me of seeing the whole party discharged into my premises.

Then Balloons with fireworks, waking me up every other night, and gazing at one of which, out of a window, I received a sudden blow in the eye from a firework case, descending fifteen hundred feet perpendicularly. My next alarm was occasioned by a hamper of champagne, which during a ‘perilous descent’, when a valve gave way, some intrepid aeronaut pitched through my roof at midnight.

Now folks go up on horseback. Can I walk at ease in my garden and know that the veteran Green is three miles above me, performing equestrian feats in the air? Pray, Sir, exert your influence in my behalf, or we shall shortly hear of a ‘Terrific Ascent in a cab,’ to be eclipsed by ‘First ascent of the Monster Balloon, taking up the Pimlico Omnibus.’.

not in my backyard

Susana’s Vauxhall Blog Post Series

  1. Vauxhall Gardens: A History
  2. Vauxhall Gardens: Jonathan Tyers—“The Master Builder of Delight” 
  3. Vauxhall Gardens: A New Direction
  4. Vauxhall Gardens: The Orchestra and the Supper-Boxes 
  5. Vauxhall Gardens: The Organ, the Turkish Tent, and the Rotunda
  6. Vauxhall Gardens: Three Piazzas of Supper-Boxes
  7. Vauxhall Gardens: “whither every body must go or appear a sort of Monster in polite Company”
  8. Vauxhall Gardens: The Competition
  9. Vauxhall Gardens: The Artwork, Part I
  10. Vauxhall Gardens: The Artwork, Part II
  11. Vauxhall Gardens: The Music, 1732-1859
  12. Vauxhall Gardens: The Business Side
  13. Vauxhall Gardens: Developments from 1751-1786
  14. Vauxhall Gardens: Thomas Rowlandson’s Painting (1785)
  15. ‎Vauxhall Gardens: The Third Generation of the Tyers Family and the Jubilee of 1786
  16. Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part I
  17. Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part II
  18. Vauxhall Gardens: An Era of Change (1786-1822), Part III
  19. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part I
  20. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part II
  21. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part III
  22. Vauxhall Gardens: The Final Years, Part IV
  23. Vauxhall Gardens: Farewell, for ever

The Dover Road: Rochester and Charles Dickens

dust jacket

The following post is the fifteenth of a series based on information obtained from a fascinating book Susana recently obtained for research purposes. Coaching Days & Coaching Ways by W. Outram Tristram, first published in 1888, is replete with commentary about travel and roads and social history told in an entertaining manner, along with a great many fabulous illustrations. A great find for anyone seriously interested in English history!

Comment to enter Susana’s October Giveaway, an Anne Boleyn necklace (see right) from Hever Castle in Kent.

Gad’s Hill Place: A Young Boy’s Dream

Gads-hill620_2032271b

Gad’s Hill Place

John Dickens used to point out this stately home as an incentive to his nine-year-old son Charles to work hard. He meant, of course, that his son might someday own such a home, but his son took it literally and used to walk over from Chatham to inspect his future home.

I used to look at it as a wonderful Mansion (which God knows it is not) when I was a very odd little child with the first faint shadows of all my books in my head – I suppose.

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

Years later, after Charles had achieved fame and fortune, he heard the house was for sale and purchased it, and it became his country retreat in 1857.

Here too from his house on Gad’s Hill (and a very hideous house it is) Charles Dickens…gave novel after wonderful novel to an astonished world, which was never sated with a humour and an observation of life which were indeed Shakespearean; but kept craving and calling for more, and more—till the magician’s brain was hurt, and the magic pen began to move painfully and with labour, and the chair on Gad’s Hill was found one June morning to be empty forever.

I remember the shock of that announcement well. It was as if some pulse in the nation’s heart had stopped beating. There was as it were a feeling that some great embodied joy had left the world, and silence had fallen on places of divine laughter… Yes, the feeling was general, I think, that English literature had suffered an irremediable loss by Dickens’s death; and time has confirmed the fear. We have abandoned laughter in these days for documentary evidence, psychology, realism, and other prescriptions for sleep, and have entered on a literary era which has lost all touch and sympathy with Dickens, and is indeed divinely dull.

Mr. Tristram goes on to quote from the numerous works in which Dickens featured Rochester and its environs: The Pickwick Papers, David Copperfield, Great Expectations and Edwin Drood.

According to Wikipedia, Dickens had in his study “dummy” books with titles such as:

  • Socrates on Wedlock

  • King Henry VIII’s Evidences of Christianity

  • The Wisdom of Our Ancestors: I Ignorance, II Superstition, III The Block, IV The Stake, V The Rack, VI Dirt and VII Disease.

  • A very thin volume entitled The Virtues of Our Ancestors

(I’m loving this man’s sense of humor. Aren’t you? I could think of a few such titles for my own office.)

chalet

Dickens’s chalet where he wrote many of his later works on the upper floor

In 1864 his friend, the actor Charles Fechter, gave him a gift of a Swiss chalet, in 94 pieces. Dickens had it assembled across the street and later had constructed a brick-lined tunnel so that he could go back and forth from his house unobserved. His works from then on were written from the upper floor of the chalet.

Note: The chalet was transferred to the now-defunct Dickens Centre at Eastgate House in Rochester, but you can still see the chalet in the garden.

Restoration House in Rochester

There is a passage in Great Expectations referring to this very Restoration House, a place which always took his fancy, and well it might.

restoration-house-satis-house-small

Restoration House, Rochester

“I had stopped,” thus the passage runs, “to look at the house as I passed, and its seared red brick walls, blocked windows, and strong green ivy clasping even the stacks of chimneys with its twigs and tendons, as if with sinewy old arms, made up a rich and attractive mystery.”

This mystery held him to the end. On the occasion of his last visit to Rochester, June 6th, 1870, he was seen leaning on the fence in front of the house, gazing at it, rapt, intent, as if drawing inspiration from its clustering chimneys, its storied walls so rich with memories of the past. It was anticipated, it was hoped, that the next chapter of Edwin Drood would bear the fruits of this reverie. The next chapter was never written.

 Index to all the posts in this series

1: The Bath Road: The (True) Legend of the Berkshire Lady

2: The Bath Road: Littlecote and Wild William Darrell

3: The Bath Road: Lacock Abbey

4: The Bath Road: The Bear Inn at Devizes and the “Pictorial Chronicler of the Regency”

5: The Exeter Road: Flying Machines, Muddy Roads and Well-Mannered Highwaymen

6: The Exeter Road: A Foolish Coachman, a Dreadful Snowstorm and a Romance

7: The Exeter Road in 1823: A Myriad of Changes in Fifty Years

8: The Exeter Road: Basingstoke, Andover and Salisbury and the Events They Witnessed

9: The Exeter Road: The Weyhill Fair, Amesbury Abbey and the Extraordinary Duchess of Queensberry

10: The Exeter Road: Stonehenge, Dorchester and the Sad Story of the Monmouth Uprising

11: The Portsmouth Road: Royal Road or Road of Assassination?

12: The Brighton Road: “The Most Nearly Perfect, and Certainly the Most Fashionable of All”

13: The Dover Road: “Rich crowds of historical figures”

14: The Dover Road: Blackheath and Dartford

15: The Dover Road: Rochester and Charles Dickens

16: The Dover Road: William Clements, Gentleman Coachman

17: The York Road: Hadley Green, Barnet

18: The York Road: Enfield Chase and the Gunpowder Treason Plot

19: The York Road: The Stamford Regent Faces the Peril of a Flood

20: The York Road: The Inns at Stilton

21: The Holyhead Road: The Gunpowder Treason Plot

22: The Holyhead Road: Three Notable Coaching Accidents

23: The Holyhead Road: Old Lal the Legless Man and His Extraordinary Flying Machine

24: The Holyhead Road: The Coachmen “More Celebrated Even Than the Most Celebrated of Their Rivals” (Part I)

25: The Holyhead Road: The Coachmen “More Celebrated Even Than the Most Celebrated of Their Rivals” (Part II)

26: Flying Machines and Waggons and What It Was Like To Travel in Them

27: “A few words on Coaching Inns” and Conclusion

The Dover Road: Blackheath and Dartford

dust jacket

The following post is the fourteenth of a series based on information obtained from a fascinating book Susana recently obtained for research purposes. Coaching Days & Coaching Ways by W. Outram Tristram, first published in 1888, is replete with commentary about travel and roads and social history told in an entertaining manner, along with a great many fabulous illustrations. A great find for anyone seriously interested in English history!

Note: Comment to enter the contest for Susana’s September Giveaway, a lovely necklace from London’s National Gallery (see photo at right).

Blackheath: Dark-Colored Heathland

The area of Blackheath is about seven miles from London Bridge. Originally the name of an open space for public meetings of the ancient hundred of Blackheath, this name was also given to the Victorian suburb that was developed later in the 19th century. While this area was certainly used for burial pits for the victims of the Black Death in the 14th century, it was only one of many used for such a purpose in London and was not the source of the name. Blackheath comes from Old English, “dark-colored heathland,” undoubtedly referring to the color of the soil.

Besides a queen devoted to junketings [Queen Caroline, who lived at Montague House], a letter-writing father, bent on directing his son to the deuce [Lord Chesterfield], and a great warrior [Major General James Wolfe, conqueror of Quebec], rebellion has in the good old days…raised its head on this celebrated spot; and it raised its head in the person of Wat Tyler, who was here in 1381 at the head of one hundred thousand other heads (which was wise of him seeing that he had previously cracked a poll-tax collector’s head at Dartford, after drinking too much ale, I suppose, at the celebrated Bull Inn). Another rebel was here, at Blackheath 1497. Lord Audley to wit, who went through the somewhat aimless exercise of bringing troops all the way from Cornwall, pitching their tents, and immediately afterwards suffering defeat at the hands of Henry the Seventh.

Montague House, residence of Queen Caroline

Montague House, residence of Queen Caroline

The Predecessor of Rotten Row?

For this celebrated spot occupied in the annals of England much the same sort of position apparently as Rotten Row occupies in the annals of contemporary fashion. It was the place where kings and ministers met casually on their way to or from London, and babbled of the weather, the price of corn, the latest hanging, the odds on the next bear-fight, the state of the unemployed, or any other kindred subject which might suggest itself to medieval brains, in an open space, where it was not too windy.

blackheath

Henry the Fifth a Spoilsport?

On his return to London, “The Victor of Agincourt” was greeted here by “the mayor and five hundred citizens of London. The mayor and aldermen had prepared an elaborate reception, with wine and scarlet and gold robes and all the trappings. But Henry “nipped all the worthy mayor’s preparations in the bud,” refusing to accept the praise and thanks that should go to God.

A pious decision, but one which must have been extremely unsatisfactory to town councillors who had launched forth in the way of dress and decorations, and to the thousands of Londoners who had flocked out to Blackheath to see the show.

Henry V: not in a proper mood to be fêted

Henry V: not in a proper mood to be fêted

Henry the Eighth: A Guilty Conscience?

It was here on Blackheath that the already muchly married king publicly received his fourth wife, with all due decency and decorum, having already made up his royal mind to put her away privately. For Henry on this occasion did not play fair; and though he pretended to Anne of Cleves herself that it was at this meeting on Blackheath that he had first seen here—in saying so, he said that which was not; for he had already privately inspected her at the Crown Inn at Rochester. It was on this occasion it may be remembered that the bluff Tudor gave way to a regrettable license of speech at first sight of the goods the gods had provided for him, and said many things unfit for publication; which shocked the onlookers, and made Cromwell put his hands to his head to feel if it was still in his shoulders.

Alas, Cromwell, as the advocate for this marriage, paid for his folly with his head. Anne of Cleves, however,

was content to forego the dubious joys of married life for the possession of the several manors in Kent and Sussex that her grateful late lord bestowed upon her. The number of these manors exceeds belief, and at the same time gracefully gauges Henry’s conception of the magnitude of the matrimonial peril past. Indeed, it seems to me that…whenever he had nothing villainous on hand, and was disinclined for tennis, he gave Anne of Cleves a manor or two simply to while away the time.

setWidth320-The-Manor-Gatehouse1

The Manor Gatehouse is all that is left of the manor Henry VIII presented to Anne of Cleves as “one of the first manors granted to this little-married but much-dowered lady.”

Charles II’s Triumphant Procession

…it was in 1660 no doubt that the grandest of its historical pageants was to be seen: when the long reaction against Puritanism had suddenly triumphed, and all England went mad on a May morning at the Restoration of her exiled king; when through sixty-one miles as it were of conduits running wine, triumphal arches, gabled streets hung with tapestry—through battalions of citizens in various bands, some arrayed in coats of black velvet with gold chains, some in military suits of cloth of gold or silver—Charles, who had slept at Rochester the night before, rode on to Blackheath between his brothers, the Dukes of York and Gloucester.

Charles II riding into London

Charles II riding into London

Sir Walter Scott, in his novel Woodstock (1826), paints a picture of Charles catching a glimpse of the characters of the novel in the crowd and making a point to dismount, prevent the aged Sir Henry Lee from rising, and ask for his blessing, after which, “his very faithful servant, having seen the desire of his eyes, was gathered to his fathers.”Quite a poignant scene, but could not have happened in real life since Sir Henry had passed away fifty years earlier. Don’t you just love historical fiction?

Charles Dickens: “veritable genius of the road”

His memory burns by the way—as all but the wicked man who has not read Pickwick and David Copperfield will remember—and indeed A Tale of Two Cities. For in the second chapter of that wonderful book the very spirit of the Dover Road in George the Third’s time is caught as if by magic.

A Tale of Two Cities: read Chapter Two here: http://www.online-literature.com/dickens/twocities/2/

Who does not remember these things? Who has not read them again and again? I declare that I think this second chapter of A Tale of Two Cities a picture of the old coaching days more perfect than any that has been painted. Every detail is there in three pages.

tale

George IV Insulted at the Bull Inn

In 1822

…while the great Fourth George was majestically reposing in his royal post-chaise in front of the old archway he experienced an unpleasant surprise. A very ungentlemanly man named Calligan, a working currier who ought to have known better, suddenly projected his head into the carriage window, and observed in a voice of thunder, “You’re a murderer!” an historical allusion to the king’s late treatment of Queen Caroline, which made the royal widower “sit up”. Upon which a bystander named Morris knocked the personal currier down,and the window of the post-chaise was pulled up, and the post-boy told to drive on as quickly as possible.

The Royal Victoria and Bull Inn (formerly the Bull Inn)

The Royal Victoria and Bull Hotel (formerly the Bull Inn)

 

 Index to all the posts in this series

1: The Bath Road: The (True) Legend of the Berkshire Lady

2: The Bath Road: Littlecote and Wild William Darrell

3: The Bath Road: Lacock Abbey

4: The Bath Road: The Bear Inn at Devizes and the “Pictorial Chronicler of the Regency”

5: The Exeter Road: Flying Machines, Muddy Roads and Well-Mannered Highwaymen

6: The Exeter Road: A Foolish Coachman, a Dreadful Snowstorm and a Romance

7: The Exeter Road in 1823: A Myriad of Changes in Fifty Years

8: The Exeter Road: Basingstoke, Andover and Salisbury and the Events They Witnessed

9: The Exeter Road: The Weyhill Fair, Amesbury Abbey and the Extraordinary Duchess of Queensberry

10: The Exeter Road: Stonehenge, Dorchester and the Sad Story of the Monmouth Uprising

11: The Portsmouth Road: Royal Road or Road of Assassination?

12: The Brighton Road: “The Most Nearly Perfect, and Certainly the Most Fashionable of All”

13: The Dover Road: “Rich crowds of historical figures”

14: The Dover Road: Blackheath and Dartford

15: The Dover Road: Rochester and Charles Dickens

16: The Dover Road: William Clements, Gentleman Coachman

17: The York Road: Hadley Green, Barnet

18: The York Road: Enfield Chase and the Gunpowder Treason Plot

19: The York Road: The Stamford Regent Faces the Peril of a Flood

20: The York Road: The Inns at Stilton

21: The Holyhead Road: The Gunpowder Treason Plot

22: The Holyhead Road: Three Notable Coaching Accidents

23: The Holyhead Road: Old Lal the Legless Man and His Extraordinary Flying Machine

24: The Holyhead Road: The Coachmen “More Celebrated Even Than the Most Celebrated of Their Rivals” (Part I)

25: The Holyhead Road: The Coachmen “More Celebrated Even Than the Most Celebrated of Their Rivals” (Part II)

26: Flying Machines and Waggons and What It Was Like To Travel in Them

27: “A few words on Coaching Inns” and Conclusion