Tag Archive | Drury Lane

Bow Street: Thomas de Veil’s London

A House in Bow Street

Crime and the Magistracy

London 1740-1881

Anthony Babington, 1969

Thomas de Veil’s London

Some time in 1740 Colonel Thomas De Veil, a justice of the peace for the Count of Middlesex and for the City and Liberty of Westminster, decided to move his magistrate’s office from Thrift Street, now called Frith Street, in Soho to a house at Bow Street in Covent Garden.

Thomas de Veil

The Covent Garden area was once pasture land owned by the Abbots of Westminster. Later, it became the site of Inigo Jones’s famous Piazza, with fashionable terraced houses and a small church. The nobility and the gentry scrambled to build homes here.

By the beginning of the eighteenth century the character of Covent Garden was undergoing a perceptible change. It was, perhaps, inevitable that the ultra-fashionable Piazza and the locality all about it should attract a swarm of tradesmen, artisans and others who were needed to cater for the requirements of the wealthy. At the same time the narrow passages, the darkened alleys, and the secluded courtyard which separated the streets and the houses drew in a far less respectable segment of the community. Another factor affecting the type of inhabitant settling in the neighbourhood was the continual tendency of the nobility and the aristocracy to drift westwards as other areas were developed further and fruther from the walls of the City. Soon after the Restoration the newly-built St. James’s Square superseded the Piazza as the centre of fashion, and in the early days of the eighteenth century Mayfair was further developed with the setting up the palatial mansions of Cavendish Square, Hanover Square and Grosevenor Square. However, one of the major factors which contributed to the transformation of Covent Garden was that it was becoming the principal artistic and theatrical locality of London.

Covent Garden in 1737, by Nebot

Actors and actresses and their audiences flocked to theaters such as Drury Lane, the Opera House, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and Covent Gardens. Literary folk and ‘wits’ flocked to the coffee-houses such as Will’s, Buttons’s, and Tom’s. When Tom King died, his widow turned his coffee-house into a brothel. And so it was that “the streets of Covent Garden and the Strand became the chosen haunts of the prostitutes.”

Royal Opera House

“An age of lawlessness and disorder in which the power of the mob and the violence of the criminal were ever paramount”

It was becoming obvious that the current system of policing was inadequate. Streets were especially dangerous at night due to the lack of a proper lighting system.

Pickpockets

A guidebook of the period warned its readers: “A man who saunters about the capital with pockets on the outside of his coat deserves no pity.” As shown by Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist, young boys and girls could be very deft at this particular offense. Richard Oakey would trip up a woman from behind and remove her pocket (pockets dangled from the waist on the outside of a woman’s dress) before she hit the ground. Mary Young had a pair of artificial arms made so that she could sit primly in a church pew with the artificial arms folded on her lap while she used her real arms to rob from those sitting next to her.

Footpads

Henry Fielding said that the alleys, courts and lanes in London were “like a vast wood of forest in which a thief may harbour with as great security as the wild beasts do in the deserts of Africa or Arabia.” And not just at night either. Fanny Burney complained about footpads and robbers before breakfast.

Criminals operating in gangs made the situation even worse. In 1712, a band of thugs called the Mohocks would greet people in the streets and if they responded, beat them up. They attacked the watch in Devereux Court and Essex Street; they also slit two people’s noses, and cut a woman in the arm with a pen-knife. One night about twenty of them stormed the Gatehouse, wounded the jailor, and released their confederate from the jail.

No person was safe and equally no home was secure. Madam Roland… said that when the wealthy left London in the summer they took with them all their articles of value or else sent the lot to their bankers, because ‘on their return they expect to find their houses robbed.’

Highwaymen

The highwaymen were regarded both by the public and amongst the criminal fraternity as being the princes of the underworld. It is difficult to understand why they had so glamorous a reputation in the eighteenth century and, indeed, why their image has been so romanticised ever since. By and large they were simply robbers on horseback and many of them had deplorable backgrounds. Dick Turpin’s gang, for example, was well-known for violence, terrorism, rape, and even murder.

Their favorite hunting-grounds were the roads just outside London. For that reason, dwellers of the suburban areas organized vigilante patrols, and in some areas, squads of soldiers were used to escort travelers in and out of town. Horace Walpole told of an attack on a post-chaise outside his home in Piccadilly, and also of a personal encounter with two of them in Hyde Park.

Why the mounting lawlessness?

Some blamed it on the “large numbers of disbanded soldiers and sailors roaming the country without work and without subsistence. Others held that it was due to drunkenness and cheap gin. A few—but a very few—saw a possible cause in the harsh administration of the Poor Laws and the way in which homeless and the destitute were hounded from parish to parish, coupled with the terrible social conditions of the poor.”

Whatever the reasons, the precincts of the capital and its approaches were deteriorating into a state of lawlessness which bordered on anarchy, and the machinery for preserving the peace was becoming increasingly impotent. The ancient system with its corner stones in the amateur magistrate and the part-time constable, had worked comparatively well throughout the ages in the rural areas of Britain but had proved completely unadaptable to an expanding urban community. At the beginning of the eighteenth century the basic problem remained unsolved—and barely appreciated.

It was in a London such as this that Colonel Thomas De Veil opened his Office at Bow Street.

The Four Times of the Day

The Four Times of the Day, a series of paintings by Hogarth in 1738, illustrated the sort of place Covent Garden had become. Read more about it here.

Amusements of Old London: The Play and the Opera

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 Restoration and King Charles II

The puritanical opposition to everything connected with the drama… was now exchanged for the patronage of those in high places. There has perhaps never been so good a friend to the actor and to the theatrical interest generally as his Majesty King Charles. The king, by granting a patent to Mr. Tom Killigrew at the Cockpit in Drury Lane, established that principal of monopoly in things dramatic which lasted till well on in the present reign. The actors of Drury Lane were the king’s servants and a party of the royal household under the administration of the Lord Chamberlain; a certain number of them indeed wore his Majesty’s uniform of red cloth and silver lace, and ranked as Gentlemen of the Chamber. The king’s brother, the Duke of York, had his own company at the Lincoln’s Inn Theatre in Portugal Street, or at Sir Christopher Wren’s house in Dorset Gardens under Davenant, with privileges scarcely less valuable, including a patent to which theatrical historians will trace back all the subsequent glories of the great house in Covent Garden. It was under his Majesty’s auspices that women’s parts were first played by women, and he was good enough, as we know, to honour the profession by forming very intimate alliances with some of those ladies. Lastly, there has never been a more assiduous playgoer than his Majesty King Charles himself.

Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys

Relying on diarists such as Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, Mr. Boulton states

The theatre of the Restoration was in reality much more of a social resort than the play or the opera as we know them. The pit of the playhouse of the Restoration was a social exchange, where the young man of condition displayed his graces and exchanged pleasantries with his fellows; where the man of wit discharged his carefully-prepared impromptus; and where the actors and actresses, not actually engaged on the stage, were accustomed to keep themselves in evidence by mixing freely and ostentatiously with the audience. The stage-door and the green-room, too, were attractions for a large class of men whose attentions to the actresses became a source of embarrassment to the management… Finally, the patronage which Charles the Second gave to both the theatres of his time, and the nature of his relations with some of his subjects who appeared with him in the royal box, gave an interest to a visit to the play of those days which is lacking in later and more sedate times.

Theaters of the time consisted of the pit on the ground floor, rows of continuous boxes on the first, open seats and a few boxes on the second, and the shilling gallery on the third. “The stage ran out a distance of several feet… into the body of the theatre, and was thus exposed on three of its sides to the spectators who occupied the pit.”

Riot during a performance of Artaxerxes

Riot during a performance of Artaxerxes, 1763

The prices for each sector divided the spectators into social classes. A half-crown would get you into the pit. A shilling would get an apprentice to the gallery. A box on the second floor cost eighteen pence, and the best seats in the lower section would cost about four shillings. Although you could purchase tickets for all the seats in the box for your party, if you did not, you might well find yourself sitting next to strangers.

The only manner of reserving seats in this period was to send someone ahead to pay for your ticket and hold your seat. Footmen quite frequently performed this duty for their masters and mistresses, after which they were admitted to the upper gallery to watch the play.  Boulton says that “they became a very noisy, and consequently, a very important part of the audience.”

Pepys records seeing women on the stage in 1661; prior to that, women’s parts were played by men. He complains about having to spend outrageous amounts on oranges (at sixpence each) for the ladies in his company. The seats in the pit were rows of benches without backs.

I was sitting behind in a dark place, and a lady spit backward upon me by mistake, not seeing me, but after seeing her to be a very pretty lady I was not troubled at it all.

Ah, but Pepys did have a fondness for a pretty face!

Lavania Fenton as Polly Peachum in The Beggar's Opera

Lavania Fenton as Polly Peachum in The Beggar’s Opera

He is in continual ecstasy about the beauty of one or the other of those ladies of the Court, most constant, however, to the Castlemaine, but appreciative of the Stewart, “with her little Roman nose,” or “pretty witty Nell,” or Mrs. Middleton “with a very excellent face, and body I think.” If neither Hart nor Nell nor Knipp [Mary Knep] were there the play, however good, would not please him. With Knipp present he would enjoy the worst of pieces even by the side of Mrs. Pepys. “But it is pretty to observe,” he says, “how I did look up and down and did spy Knipp, but durst not own it to my wife, who do not like my kindness to her.” Little wonder, indeed, for Mrs. Pepys surely had much to put up with. Samuel was decorum itself by her side, but when she was away he would find himself sitting in front of Knipp and Pierce, “who pulled me by the hair, so I addressed myself to them.” Knipp sang a song in the flies at the King’s House which pleased Samuel mightily, “where Knipp, after her song in the clouds, came to me in the pit.” Finally, the shameless rogue had the conscience to put on record his feelings at the performance of the “Virgin Martyr,” where “the wind musique when the angel comes down is so sweet that it ravished me, so that it made me realy sick, as I have formerly been when in love with my wife.”

Joseph Addison by Sir Godfrey Kneller

Joseph Addison

Joseph Addison of The Spectator tells about the ladies of fashion in 1711 who took the notion of wearing patches on the right or left side of the forehead to indicate their adherence to a certain political party. Addison “tells us of Rosalinda, a famous Whig partisan, who had unfortunately a very beautiful mole on the Tory part of her forehead, which misled several coxcombs “to converse in the wrong strain, when on a sudden she has given them an unexpected fire which sunk them all at once.” Then there was Nigranilla too, “unhappy in a pimple, which forces her against her inclinations to patch on the Whig side.”

The Trunkmaker of the Upper Gallery

Addison’s immortal paper begins:

It has been observed that of late years there has been a certain person in the upper gallery of the playhouse, who, when he is pleased with anything on the stage, expresses his approbation by a loud knock upon the benches or the wainscot which may be heard over the whole house.

The Trunkmaker was a large black man whom nobody knew, who was never seen to smile, “but upon hearing anything to please him takes up his huge oaken plank and laid it upon the next piece of timber that stood in his way with exceeding vehemence. If the audience does not concur with him, he smites a second time, and if the audience is not yet awakened, looks round him with great wrath, and repeats the blow a third time, which never fails to produce the clap. …[H]e seldom went away from any tragedy by Shakespeare without leaving the wainscot completely shattered. The players cheerfully repair at their own cost whatever damages he makes… [T]he actors valued no applause which had not the sound of the oak plank in it.

During this time, it was common for certain fashionable braggadocios to linger on the stage and distract the audience from the play. Although Queen Anne issued a royal proclamation against it in 1711, but it was obviously not enforced, as can be seen in Mr. Hogarth’s painting of the Third Act of The Beggars’ Opera, where, in addition to the actors on the stage can be seen in the box on the right, the “Duke of Bolton ogling Vinnie Fenton, who he will presently remove from the stage and marry…” and the crowd of spectators on the stage in 1727.

William Hogarth, Act III, Beggar's Opera

William Hogarth, Act III, Beggar’s Opera

As Boulton has stated, the activities of the stage were only part of the entertainment. Observing the other audience members—particularly the noble ones—was a particular interest of Samuel Pepys. A rejected swain might get his revenge by throwing rubbish at a pretty actress on the stage. A particular target for disgruntled audience was the harpsichord, but if the play or grievance was really bad, the benches and seats and other furnishings might be destroyed as well.

Opera at the King’s Theatre in Haymarket

Opera was first patronized by King George I, who “gave a subscription of £1000, as well as his own name, to the Opera House.”

Farinelli

Farinelli

Fashionable London was so fond of opera in 1735 that it paid £5000 a year to Farinelli, and when that incomparable singer was at the Haymarket an enthusiastic lady in the boxes was heard to exclaim in her ecstasy, “One God, one Farinelli.” Then singers and their competing merits were a continual joy to generations of noble patrons, and their preferences for one singer or another often inspired ladies of high fashion with very unfashionable feelings. Thus when the rival warblers Cuzzoni and Faustina were appearing at the opera in 1726, they each had a party of thick and thin supporters in distinguished circles. There was the Countess of Pembroke at the head of her party in a box, who was prepared to go all lengths for Cuzzoni; the Countess of Burlington and Lady Delaware, with their train of young men in another, were fierce and determined on behalf of the Faustina. So when Cuzzoni came on the noble faction which supported Faustina hissed her into silence, when Faustina appeared she was shrieked off the stage by the devoted band at the back of my Lady Pembroke.

By the early nineteenth century,

…there was a cult of deportment which developed in social London, and constituted a tyranny under which society groaned for a couple of generations. Beau Brummell and his set at the clubs in St. James’s Street represented the male element of this autocracy of fashion, the lady patronesses at Almack’s in King Street the feminine; and at the opera they both united their forces… There was the peerless Mr. Brummell, with his satellite exquisites in Fop’s Alley, the interest of the whole mankind of the house, we are asked to believe, centred in the question of his raiment for the evening… The ladies of the grand tier, we are told, including the chaperons, were more anxious for his notice than for that of the Prince Regent. The opera, in fact, like Almack’s, was a social function which entirely outclassed anything of the sort at Court after the retirement of the poor blind King George the Third. There was no question of getting in by the mere payment of money, a committee of ladies supervised the issue of every ticket, and a man or a lady went to the opera or did not, according as their social position was or was not considered worthy of that honour by the Lady Patronesses… who controlled London society from the time of the Regency until her Majesty came to the throne. [They] were accustomed to sit in conclave upon all the young men about to enter life, and decide as to whether or not they were eligible for admission such stately functions as Almack’s and the opera.

Interior of theater at Sadler's Wells, 1810

Interior of theater at Sadler’s Wells, 1810

 

Amusements of Old London series

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!

Sheri Cobb South: Too Hot to Handel (Giveaway)

Every novel contains, or should contain, certain scenes that stick in the reader’s memory long after the book is finished. The definitive scene in my newest release, Too Hot to Handel, finds Bow Street Runner John Pickett and his Lady Fieldhurst escaping a burning Drury Lane Theatre. This is the only book I’ve ever written that is centered upon an actual event; the Theatre Royal at Drury Lane really did burn down on 24 February, 1809. So, how much was real, and how much is the product of my imagination? Let’s take a look.

First of all, theatre fires were not a rare, or even a new, phenomenon. They had been regular occurrences since the theatres reopened after the Restoration of Charles II. Before that time, fire hadn’t been much of an issue. The theatres of ancient times had been outdoor affairs, and plays had been staged during the daytime. Even Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, although enclosed all around, had a roof that was largely open to the sky, in order to reduce as much as possible the need for artificial lighting. But advances in theatre brought added risk of fire: the Globe burned down in 1613, when a cannon used for special effects in a production of Henry VIII misfired, setting the thatching over the stage ablaze. Although the theatre was destroyed, the only injury reported was one unfortunate man whose breeches were set on fire. (Quick-thinking theatergoers extinguished the flames by dousing him with ale.)

The real change came with the Restoration, when the re-opening of the theatres was celebrated with a host of innovations. The most prominent of these, of course, was the appearance of actresses in female roles that had previously been played by boys. Another, perhaps less-discussed innovation was the rash of theatre-building, including venues at Lincoln’s Inn Fields (1661) Drury Lane (1663), the Haymarket (1720), and Covent Garden (1731). Unlike their open-air predecessors, these new venues were fully enclosed. This meant performances were no longer limited to daylight hours, but it also meant that all performances, even those staged during the day, required artificial lighting. And artificial lighting meant open flames—either candles or oil lamps—and lots of them.

When we consider the combination of open flames and rowdy crowds—capacity in the new theatres rose from 650 seats at Drury Lane in 1700 to 3,600 by the time of the 1809 fire—the number of theatre fires is no longer surprising. In those days before electricity, the theatre at Drury Lane burned twice (in 1672 and again in 1809), as did the one at Covent Garden, aka the Royal Opera House (in 1808 and 1856). Ironically, only fifteen years earlier, in 1794, the Drury Lane theatre had installed a fire curtain made of iron—the first theatre in London to do so—along with large water tanks beneath the roof that could be used for special effects as well as fire safety.

With all these precautions in place, how, then, did it burn? No one knows. The theatre season was greatly subdued during Lent, with fewer plays being performed, and nothing, not even a rehearsal, was taking place on that Friday night in 1809. Since the theatre was apparently empty, there were no injuries, but from the incident we get the wonderful (if apocryphal) account of Richard Brimsley Sheridan—playwright, Member of Parliament, and manager of the Drury Lane theatre, who in 1794 had bankrolled the construction of the enormous new theatre from his own private fortune—watching the blaze from a nearby pub. When urged by his friends to go home, he is reported to have said, “Can a man not enjoy a glass of wine by his own fireside?”

Of course, from a writer’s perspective, the destruction of an empty building makes for dull fiction. So for the purposes of my story, I filled the theatre to its full 3,600-seat capacity and staged a production of Handel’s oratorio Esther. Besides being suitably sober for Lent, it contains a passionate duet between Esther and the king that made it a natural choice for Too Hot to Handel, certainly the most romantic of the John Pickett mysteries. And the fact that so little is known about the cause of the fire gave me the freedom to create my own “what if?” scenario.

Click here to see Sheri’s photos of the Drury Lane theatre before and after the fire in 1809.

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About Too Hot to Handel

When a rash of jewel thefts strikes London, magistrate Patrick Colquhoun resolves to deploy his Bow Street Runners to put astop to the thefts. The Russian Princess Olga Fyodorovna is to attend a production of Handel’s Esther at Drury Lane Theatre,where she will wear a magnificent diamond necklace. The entire Bow Street force will be stationed at various locations around the theatre—including John Pickett, who will occupy a box directly across the theatre from the princess.

In order to preserve his incognito, Pickett must appear to be nothing more than a private gentleman attending the theatre. Mr. Colquhoun recommends that he have a female companion—a lady, in fact, who might prevent him from making any glaring faux pas. But the only lady of Pickett’s acquaintance is Julia, Lady Fieldhurst, to whom he accidentally contracted a Scottish irregular marriage several months earlier, and with whom he is seeking an annulment against his own inclinations—and for whom he recklessly declared his love, secure in the knowledge that he would never see her again.

The inevitable awkwardness of their reunion is forgotten when the theatre catches fire. Pickett and Julia, trapped in a third tier box, must escape via a harrowing descent down a rope fashioned from the curtains adorning their box. Once outside, Pickett is struck in the head and left unconscious. Suddenly it is up to Julia not only to nurse him back to health, but to discover his attacker and bring the culprit to justice.

Note: This book will be released on June 22, 2016. However, the previous book in the series is available.

In My Lady’s Chamber

Excerpt

Pickett opened the door of the theatre box, and immediately stepped back as he was struck with a wall of heat. The corridor was alive with flame, and as they stood staring into the inferno, a burning beam from the ceiling fell almost at their feet. He slammed the door shut.

“We won’t be going out that way,” he remarked, glancing wildly about the box for some other method of exit. He seized one of the heavy curtains flanking the box and pulled until it collapsed into his arms in a pile of red velvet. He located the edge and began ripping it into long strips.

“What are you doing?” asked her ladyship, her voice muffled by the folds of his handkerchief over her mouth.

Pickett jerked his head toward the sconce mounted on the wall between their box and its neighbor. Its many candles, so impressive only moments ago, now appeared pale and puny compared to the flames dancing all around them.

“I’m making a rope to tie to that candelabrum. You can climb down into the pit and escape from there. And don’t wait for me. As soon as your feet reach the floor, I want you to forget everything you ever learned about being a lady—push, shove, do whatever you have to do, but GET OUT, do you understand?”

“And what about you, Mr. Pickett?”

He glanced at the brass fixture. “I’m not sure if it will bear my weight, my lady. I suppose I’ll have to try—I don’t much fancy my chances in the corridor—but I’ll not make the attempt until I see you safely down.”

She leaned over the balustrade and looked past the three tiers of boxes to the pit some forty feet below, then turned back to confront Pickett. “Setting aside the likelihood that I would lose my grip and plummet to my death, do you honestly think I would leave you alone up here, to make your escape—or not!—as best you might? No, Mr. Pickett, I will not have it! Either we go together, or we do not go at all!”

The crash of falling timbers punctuated this statement, and although there was nothing at all humorous in the situation, he gave her a quizzical little smile. “ ‘ ’Til death do us part,’ Mrs. Pickett?”

She lifted her chin. “Just so, Mr. Pickett.”

The author is offering a trade-size paperback ARC of Too Hot to Handel to a random commenter.

About the Author

Five Star author photo copyAt the age of sixteen, Sheri Cobb South discovered Georgette Heyer, and came to the startling realization that she had been born into the wrong century. Although she doubtless would have been a chambermaid had she actually lived in Regency England, that didn’t stop her from fantasizing about waltzing the night away in the arms of a handsome, wealthy, and titled gentleman.

Since Georgette Heyer was dead and could not write any more Regencies, Ms. South came to the conclusion she would simply have to do it herself. In addition to her popular series of Regency mysteries featuring idealistic young Bow Street Runner John Pickett (described by All About Romance as “a little young, but wholly delectable”), she is the award-winning author of several Regency romances, including the critically acclaimed The Weaver Takes a Wife.

A native and long-time resident of Alabama, Ms. South recently moved to Loveland, Colorado, where she has a stunning view of Long’s Peak from her office window.

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Romance of London: Nancy Dawson the Hornpipe-Dancer

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.

Nancy Dawson

nancy dawson portraitNancy Dawson, the famous hornpipe-dancer, of Covent Garden Theatre, in the last century, when a girl, set up the skittles [a form of bowling] at a tavern in High Street, Marylebone. She next, according to Sir William Musgrave’s Adversaria, in the British Museum, became the wife of a publican near Kelso, on the borders of Scotland. She became so popular a dancer that every verse of a song in praise of her declared the poet to be dying in love for Nancy Dawson; and its tune is so lively as that of Sir Roger de Coverley. In 1760, she transferred her services from Covent Garden Theatre to that other house [Drury Lane]. On the 23rd of September, in that year, the Beggar’s Opera was performed at Drury Lane, when the playbill thus announced her: “In Act iii, a Hornpipe by Miss Dawson, her first appearance here.” It seems that she was engaged to oppose Mrs. Vernon in the same exhibition at the rival house, and there is a full-length print of her in the character. There is also a portrait of her in the Garrick Club collection.

Nancy died in Hampstead, on the 27th of May 1767; she was buried behind the Foundling Hospital, in the ground belonging to St. George the Martyr, where is a tombstone to her memory, simply inscribed “Here lies Nancy Dawson.”

From Wikipedia:

Nancy Dawson was the stage name of Ann Newton (c.1728-1767), a famous London dancer and actress. She rose to fame performing a solo rendition of a hornpipe between acts in The Beggar’s Opera at Covent Garden Theatre in 1759.

Her early life is unclear; she may have been born at Axminster, Devon. At sixteen she joined the company of a certain Griffin, a puppet-showman, who taught her to dance; and a figure dancer of Sadler’s Wells, seeing her performance, found her a place at his own theatre. As the story goes, her figure, novelty and technical excellence made her career.

In her second summer season at Sadler’s Wells Nancy Dawson was promoted to the part of Columbine, and in the following winter she made her first appearance at Covent Garden Theatre under Edward Shuter, in The Prophetess by Thomas Betterton. On 22 April 1758 the Merry Wives of Windsor was played for her benefit. In October 1759, during the run of The Beggar’s Opera, the man who danced the hornpipe among the thieves fell ill, and his place was taken by Nancy Dawson. From that moment she became a celebrity. The production enjoyed an unusually long run, and the house was crowded nightly.

Nancy Dawson was induced by an increase of salary to move to Drury Lane, where she appeared for the first time on 23 September 1760 in The Beggar’s Opera. Here for the next three years she dance in its frequent revivals, and in a variety of Christmas entertainments, such as ‘Harlequin’s Invasion,’ ‘Fortunatus,’ and the ‘Enchanter’ in which there also appeared Joseph Grimaldi and the Miss Baker who succeeded Nancy Dawson in popular favour as a dancer. On Christmas Eve 1763 a pantomime called the ‘Rites of Hecate’ was produced at Drury Lane, and on that day and the 26th of the month Nancy Dawson appeared; but her name is absent from the bills of subsequent representations.

The Hornpipe

From Sonny Watson’s Sweetswing.com:

tbhp_M2The lively Hornpipe is really very characteristic of the English in nature and is a very old Celtic solo dance that is very much based on the sailor’s abilities during the dancing with the sailors originally performing it with folded arms. The steps are clearly ship wise such as hauling in the anchor, climbing or rigging ropes etc. The Sailor’s Hornpipe was most popular during the 16th to 18th Centuries but the original (Hornpipe) goes much farther back and was originally done by men only.

It is said that the English sailing ship and Royal Navy Captain James Cook (1728-1779) thought dancing was most useful to keep his men in good health during a voyage. When it was calm, and the sailors had consequently nothing to do, he made them dance —

Sailors’ hornpipe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBU0z3xdC0o

2006AN9345_rowlandson_ballet_etching

The Ballad of Nancy Dawson*

Of all the girls in our town,

The red, the black, the fair, the brown,

That dance and prance it up and down,

There’s none like Nancy Dawson.

 

300px-Dawson2Her easy mien, her shape so neat,

She foots, she trips, she looks so sweet;

Her every motion’s so complete,

I die for Nancy Dawson.

 

See how she comes to give surprise,

With joy and pleasure in her eyes:

To give delight she always tries,

So means my Nancy Dawson.

 

Was there no task, t’obstruct the way,

No shutter old, no house so gay,

A bet of fifty pounds I’d lay,

That I gained Nancy Dawson.

 

See how the opera takes a run

Exceeding Hamlet, Lear and Lun

Though in it there would be no fun,

Was’t not for Nancy Dawson.

 

Lithograph of Nancy Dawson c 1760Though beard and brent charm ev’ry night

And female peachum’s justly right,

And filch and lockit please the sight,

‘Tis kept by Nancy Dawson.

 

See little davey strut and puff,

‘Confound the opera and such stuff,

My house is never full enough,

A curse on Nancy Dawson”.

 

Though G[arric]k he had has his day

And forced the town his laws t’obey,

With Jonny Rich is come in play,

With the help of Nancy Dawson.

 

*Lyrics attributed to George Alexander Stevens. Tune attributed to Thomas Arne

Hear it performed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YTan2rliiKU

 

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