Tag Archive | Foundling Hospital

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


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

Vauxhall Gardens: The Artwork, Part II


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 Paintings in the Pillared Saloon

The Pillared Saloon was built onto the Rotunda in 1750-51 to provide more wall space for paintings and, of course, draw more visitors. The original idea was to have allegorical paintings of the royal family—Prince Frederick and his family—demonstrating how love of the arts manifested his virtue and patriotism. Frederick’s untimely death in 1751 put paid to this idea and delayed the project for almost ten years.

Two full-length portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte in their coronation robes did appear soon after their marriage in 1761. The royal pair is known to have sat for the painter—undoubtedly Frances Hayman—in person as a special favor to Jonathan Tyers.

The Seven Years’ War Paintings

In contrast to the lightheartedness of the supper-box paintings and the drama of the Shakespearean scenes, the four remaining paintings for the Pillared Saloon were to be patriotic history paintings. These were not the typical classical scenes or representations of events from the distance past, but “very recent military actions populated by real living people wearing contemporary costume.”

[Hayman] chose not the violence of heroic death or even topographical portrayals of military action, but rather its aftermath, in order to convey the virtues of the individual British military commanders, magnanimous and humane in victory.


The Surrender of Montreal to General Amherst

Amazingly, this painting appeared in the Pillared Saloon in 1761, only eight months after the event it depicts.

It was the most overtly propagandic of the four military scenes, emphasising the selfless humanity of General Jeffrey Amherst: Hayman showed him handing out food to the starving and defeated population and returning to them their possessions; this was intended to be in stark contrast to the merciless treatment they might have expected from the French, had they been victorious, and especially from their Indian allies.

In the Description (1762), much is made of the contrast between the defeated and miserable French and the victorious but humane British, and the author instructed readers to view the paintings as a true representation of one of ‘the most glorious transactions of the present war’.


The Triumph of Britannia

The second painting, which was installed for the opening of the 1762 season, was a representation of the defeat of the French fleet at Quiberon Bay in November 1759. “As its allegorical title would suggest, it was intended to glorify the British military leaders involved in the action and the natural alliance of Britannia with Neptune that had given Britain mastery of the seas.”

However, because it did not entirely succeed in capturing the essential majestic dignity that was necessary to this type of allegorical work, the Triumph of Britannia was not always taken seriously by its audience. It is specifically and humorously singled out in Fanny Burney’s novel Evelina of 1778; during a visit to Vauxhall, Mr. Smith ridiculously mistakes the figure of Neptune for that of a famous general, despite the fact that he is wearing ‘the oddest dress for a general ever I see’.

Lord Clive, Hayman, 1760

Lord Clive Receiving the Homage of the Nabob

A companion piece to the Surrender, this painting was installed in time for the 1763 season. The historical event depicted was the Battle of Plassey, at which Robert Clive ousted the ruling Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-daula and, “in an apparently magnanimous act, [Clive] then supported the claim to supremacy of the elderly general Mir Jafar (c. 1691-1765), Nawab of Murshidabad, who had actually fought against the British, but who was more easily persuaded to the British point of view.”

In that battle the British forces were famously outnumbered by twenty to one, but were nevertheless victorious with the loss of only eighteen men (according to Clive), lending it the heroic ideal; in fact this was undeserved, and the British were saved from probable defeat only by the quick thinking of their artillerymen who covered their weapons and powder during a downpour, while the enemy did not.

The description of the painting started with “The subject of this picture is of the most interesting nature, to every Briton who regards the honour and propsperity of this country’, no doubt insinuating that it would be unpatriotic to criticize it.
The second description

praises General Clive for his leadership, and for his generosity in giving the sultanate to Mir Jafar;

therefore performing for his Country a most important Service, as well as procuring for the India Company and Individuals the Sum of Three Millions Sterling, for their Losses sustained at Calcutta; with such Privileges, Immunities, and Advantages, as they never enjoyed before. And this Revolution hath been moreover the Means of the India Company’s acquiring the Territorial Possessions, to the Amount of Seven hundred thousand Pounds per Annum.

In retrospect, General Clive’s generosity seems less altruistic considering the huge commercial gains resulting from the acquisition of this territory.

Britannia Distributing Laurels

A companion piece to the Triumph of Britannia, Britannia Distributing Laurels was installed in 1764. Unfortunately, no version of this piece is known to be in existence. However, it is known to have depicted the full-length figures of Generals Granby, Monckton, Albemarle, Coote, Townshend and Wolfe, all in Roman costume, allegorical in nature.

The story goes that, when Granby came to Hayman’s studio in St. Martin’s Lane, he challenged Hayman to a boxing match before the sitting. After a hesitant start, which Granby overcame by saying that the exercise would give animation to his portrait, Hayman apparently floored the marquis with a tremendous punch to the stomach, and Mrs. Hayman, hurrying upstairs to see what the noise was, found them ‘rolling over each other on the carpet like two bears.’

Tyers as the Ultimate Patron of 18th century British Art

The inscription under the engraving of Hayman’s Triumph of Britannia describes him as a ‘”Lover and Encourager of the Arts.’” He was described by Henry Angelo as having “laid out more money in the encouragement of English art than any man of his time. Indeed, his house was so full of pictures, that after hanging them, even on his stair-case, there were still some to spare.”

Jonathan Tyers didn’t just use art to further his commercial ambitions; he was a true conoisseur. And it was his dream to open up the arts to all layers of society, not just the upper class.

The huge developments in British art through the middle of the eighteenth century were in large part due to the concurrence of Vauxhall Gardens, the Foundling Hospital, the Society of Artists and the Royal Academy and to the men involved in those institutions, notably Hogarth, Hayman and, of course, Tyers… After the collaboration of Tyers and Hayman, the visual arts at Vauxhall never again received the same degree of patronage from its proprietors.

The paintings and sculpture at Vauxhall Gardens would have been the best-known works of art in England at the time, seen by tens of thousands of people, including significant numbers of artists, every year. Although Tyers owed much to Hogarth, initially the driving force behind the artistic concept of the gardens, it was Hayman, Tyers’s artistic director, who could be seen as the more influential figure. This was partly because of the huge exposure of his original work at Vauxhall, and also because he was the linchpin that held together the London art profession, with a finger in all the principal artistic pies of the time—the St Martin’s Lane Academy, Vauxhall Gardens, the Foundling Hospital, the Society of Artists and, eventually, their august offspring, the Royal Academy.

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