Tuesday, 28 September 2010

One of the greatest love stories of the 18th century?

 ' You are all to me.  You can always make me happy in circumstances apparently unpleasant and miserable ... Indeed, my dearest angel, the whole happiness of my life depends on you.’

So wrote Charles James Fox – aristocrat, Whig politician and one of the most brilliant men of his day – to the courtesan Elizabeth Armistead in 1785.  Their love story is one of the most unusual, fascinating and, perhaps, the greatest of the 18th century.

Elizabeth Armistead was born Elizabeth Cane in July 1750.  Her origins are obscure, and it is not known exactly how Elizabeth came to embark on a career as a courtesan.  According to one source, at sixteen, this ‘tall and genteel’ young woman ‘with a beautiful face and a most captivating eye’ was persuaded by Mr. R., a  friseur (hairdresser), to be his model and in return for his obligation, she yielded to his amorous entreaties.  Another source claimed she was abandoned by her shoemaker-turned-lay preacher father at nineteen and was forced to sell her charms to support herself.  Whatever the truth, there was no turning back for Elizabeth once her virtue and reputation were ruined in the eyes of Society.   In this‘distressed and deserted’ situation, she was taken in by Mrs. Jane Goadby, one of the most notorious procuresses in London.  

Elizabeth Armistead by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Mrs. Goadby’s brothel in St. James’,  London was an exclusive establishment, one of a number in the area which were named ‘King’s Place nunneries'.  Elizabeth was considered striking rather than a great beauty, but she had other qualities that inspired passion in men.  There was a stillness about her, a certain luminosity, that drew attention and entranced her admirers.  Most important of all, she had charm, as well as a genius for friendship and she was a good listener and perhaps it is these qualities which were the real secret of her success.  She soon acquired a succession of rich and aristocratic patrons – a practice known as ‘in keeping’ or ‘high keeping’ - and it’s possible that she took the surname Armistead from a former patron.  The Duke of Ancaster, the Earl of Derby, Viscount Bolingbroke, General Sir Richard Smith (a fabulously wealthy nabob) and the Prince of Wales were among her lovers.  Elizabeth became the toast of the town, a fashion setter and London’s most famous and sought-after courtesan, maintaining that position for a period of ten years, a remarkable feat in a world where a courtesan’s popularity was apt to quickly fade.  She secured the freehold of a house in Bond Street and a second house in Clarges Street, and her movements were reported in the fashionable magazines.  

Then, in 1783, Elizabeth fell in love with Charles James Fox.

Charles James Fox was one of the most brilliant, complex men of his generation.  He was the second son of wealthy politician Henry Holland and Lady Caroline Lennox, daughter of the second Duke and Duchess of Richmond.  As a child he was indulged by his parents, particularly his father, yet Charles was not spoilt by this indulgence and seemed to thrive on it.  He was an intellectual prodigy, reading plays by the age of five and devouring books by the score while at Eton and then Oxford.  A brilliant conversationalist and orator, he was a larger than life figure and after a trip to the continent, he took to wearing the most outrageous macaroni fashions.  He also became addicted to gambling, a pastime that was lead to losses on a staggering scale, even for his wealthy family.  

Charles James Fox by Karl Anton Hickel
His extraordinary physical appearance is well documented.   His thick dark brows (Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire nicknamed him ‘The Eyebrow’), hirsute air and less than fastidious personal hygiene make him sound unappealing yet Charles was a force of nature, inspiring a depth of affection among his friends that transcended even his death. 

Elizabeth and Charles knew one another for several years before they fell in love as they were part of the same (male) Whig circle.   Their affair started without expectation on both sides, but Charles’ early letters to ‘his dearest Liz’ display that she had his confidence and trust.  From the outset, he treated her as his equal and it was not long before the friendship between these two well-known figures was being reported in the press. 

In April 1783, Fox formed a coalition with Lord North, defeating Lord Shelburne.  He was appointed Secretary of State and he took to scribbling increasingly affectionate notes to Elizabeth from the House of Commons or his lodgings in St. James’.

‘I can not have a moment’s happiness or rest until I see you.  I had so set my mind upon seeing you now that I can not wean myself from it, and I know I shall be so nervous and out of spirits if you are not here by the 12th that I shall disgrace myself, and be thought to be oppressed by the accidents of fortune which God knows is far from the case.  On the contrary I think things look well, and if they did not I think I have courage enough to despise them; but I cannot bear the disappointment of your not coming.  Pray come even if you should think it wise to go away again, and come immediately.  You may be here by 7th or 8th.  Indeed I can not doubt your affection for me, but if you do love me, you must come.  Depend upon it there shall be no danger.  If you do not chuse to go to your house you may come to mine.  If I were to write forever it would be to say pray come, pray come.’

When his duties permitted it, Charles spent time with Elizabeth either in London, or at a house in St. Anne’s Hill in Surrrey which Elizabeth had recently begun to rent.  Elizabeth, however, was having doubts.  Now she was with Charles in what was undoubtedly an affair of the heart, she had no patron to pay her bills.  She was in debt and she must have wondered how long Charles’ ardour would last.  In desperation, she wrote to him in the autumn of 1783, breaking off the affair.  Her letter does not survive, but Charles’ heartfelt, pleading reply does:

‘It is impossible to conceive how miserable your letter had made me.  No, my dearest Liz you must not go indeed you must not, the very thought of living without you so totally sinks my spirits that I am sure the reality would be more than I could bear....You shall not go without me wherever you go.  I have examined myself and know that I can better abandon friends, country and everything than live without Liz.  I could change my name and live with you in the remotest part of Europe in poverty and obscurity.  I could bear that very well, but to be parted I can not bear.' 

In the face of such an outpouring of love and distress, Elizabeth capitulated, retiring from her profession to devote herself to Charles.  She sold her two London houses and the annuities bestowed on her by former patrons, but neither she nor Charles could bear to give up the house in St. Anne’s Hill. 

Over the following years, Charles and Elizabeth shared a blissful life together.  She stayed in Surrey and Charles joined her whenever he could escape his parliamentary duties.  He hated to be parted from her and during one long absence, he wrote:

‘It may sound ridiculous, but it is true that I feel every day how much more I love you than even I know.  You are all to me. You can always make me happy in circumstances apparently unpleasant and miserable... Indeed, my dearest angel, the whole happiness of my life depends on you.  Pray, pray do not abuse your power – Adieu.’

The drawing rooms of Charles’ married friends would be forever closed to Elizabeth (as a former courtesan), but she did not repine and made a life for herself and for Charles.  They enjoyed reading the classics together, gardening and planning improvements to the house.  

 In September 1795, Charles finally persuaded Elizabeth to marry him although at Elizabeth’s request, the marriage was to be kept secret.  For the next seven years, it remained so, even from their family and closest friends.  Their love only deepened over time and when Charles James Fox died on 15th September 1806, the name of the woman he loved - ‘my dearest  dearest Liz’ - was on his lips.  ‘Indeed’ wrote Lord Holland ‘if one had not known it before, his last hours would have convinced us that the ruling passion of his heart was affection and tenderness for her.’

Elizabeth passed away on 8th July 1842, aged 91 years.  She outlived her beloved husband by 36 years.  Her warmth of spirit and capacity for friendship remained with her, with many friends, relations, their children and grandchildren coming to visit and stay.  Dearest Liz, it seems, was not only loved by Charles, but by all those around her too.

If you'd like to read more about the enduring love affair between Elizabeth Armistead and Charles James Fox, I'd recommend Katie Hickmans' excellent book, Courtesans.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Georgian and Regency Recipes (1) - A Fine Syllabub

After browsing recently through a collection of 18th and 19th century recipes, I thought I'd share a few of them on here.  Hannah Glasse and Eliza Acton were two of the greatest English cookery writers from this period and most of the recipes come from their famous publications:  Hannah Glasse's The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy and Eliza Acton's Modern Cookery for Private Families.    Below is Hannah's recipe for 'A Fine Syllabub'.

Traditionally, syllabub was made by milking a cow into a bowl of ale or cider.  This gave a frothy top to the liquor and so it was partly eaten, partly drunk.  Gradually in the 17th century, milk and ale were replaced by cream and wine, whipped together, which produced a creamy froth on a liquor base.  During the 18th century, the proportion of cream was increased so that no separation took place and the resulting 'everlasting syllabub' existed alongside the separated version throughout the 1700s.

To make a fine syllabub from the cow: Make your syllabub of either Cyder or Wine, sweeten it pretty sweet, and grate nutmeg in, then milk the Milk into the Liquor; when this is done, pour over the Top half a pint or pint of Cream, according to the Quantity of Syllabub you make.  You may make this syllabub at Home, only have new milk; make it as hot as milk from the Cow, and out of a tea pot or any such thing, pour it in, holding your Hand very high.

- Hannah Glasse The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy.

Most of us haven't got a cow readily available to milk *g* so here's the recipe I use for an Everlasting Syllabub - and extremely delicious it is too!

1/2 pint double cream
finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon brandy
1 tablespoon sherry
2 oz. caster sugar

Place all the ingredients into a mixing bowl.  Whisk until light but not too thick.  Place the mixture into small glasses and refrigerate until required.  Serve with almond biscuits.

High Life by Thomas Rowlandson (1764)

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Georgette Heyer Celebration August 2010

As a fan of Georgette Heyer since my teens, yours truly was delighted to be asked to take part in a month-long celebration of her work over at Laurel Ann's fantastic blog, Austenprose.com. The event coincides with Heyer's birthday on 16th August and will feature thirty-four book reviews of her romance novels, guest blogs, interviews of Heyer enthusiasts from the blogsphere, academia and publishing and tons of great giveaways.

Special guests will be Heyer expert Vic Sanborn of Jane Austen’s World and Deb Werksman, acquiring editor of Sourcebook Casablanca and the catalyst in re-introducing Heyer to a new generation of readers in the US.

Thirty fellow Heyer enthusiasts will be joining in the festivities, contributing book reviews of all her romance novels - look out for my review of Lady of Quality on 31st August.

It's going to be fun so make sure you pop over to Austenprose.com and follow this bang up to the mark event as it happens!

Here's a full listing of what's coming up:

Georgette Heyer Event Schedule

Sun Aug 01

Event intro

Deb Werksman Interview

Review of Georgette Heyer’s Regency World, Laurel Ann – Austenprose

Mon Aug 02

The Black Moth, Aarti – Book Lust

Powder and Patch, Lucy – Enchanted by Josephine

Wed Aug 04

These Old Shades, Keira – Love Romance Passion

The Masqueraders, Helen – She Reads Novels

Fri Aug 06

Devil’s Cub, Meredith – Austenesque Reviews

The Convenient Marriage, Laurel Ann – Austenprose

Sun Aug 08

Regency Buck, Susan Holloway Scott – Two Nerdy History Girls

The Talisman Ring, Ana – An Evening at Almack’s

Mon Aug 09

An Infamous Army, Elaine Simpson Long – Random Jottings of a Book and Opera Lover

The Spanish Bride, Kelly – Jane Austen Sequel Examiner

Wed Aug 11

The Corinthian, Danielle – A Work in Progress

Faro’s Daughter, Joanna – Regency Romantic

Fri Aug 13

The Reluctant Widow, Jane Greensmith – Reading, Writing, Working, Playing

The Foundling, Claire – The Captive Reader

Sun Aug 15

Arabella, Kara Louise – Delightful Diversions

The Grand Sophy, Meg – Write Meg

Mon Aug 16

Interview with Vic – Jane Austen’s World

Friday’s Child, Vic – Jane Austen’s World

Wed Aug 18

The Quiet Gentleman, Deb Barnum – Jane Austen in Vermont

Cotillion, Alexa Adams – First Impressions

Fri Aug 20

The Toll-Gate, Laura – Laura’s Reviews

Bath Tangle, Deb Barnum – Jane Austen in Vermont

Sun Aug 22

Sprig Muslin, Laura – Laura’s Reviews

April Lady, Becky Laney – Becky’s Book Reviews

Mon Aug 23

Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle, Laurel Ann – Austenprose

Venetia, Laurel Ann – Austenprose

Wed Aug 25

The Unknown Ajax, Brooke – The Bluestocking Guide

A Civil Contract, Elaine Simpson Long – Random Jottings of a Book and Opera Lover

Fri Aug 27

The Nonesuch, Marie – Burton Review

False Colours, Kristen – BookNAround

Sun Aug 29

Frederica, Nicole – Linus’ Blanket

Black Sheep, Katherine – November’s Autumn

Mon Aug 30

Cousin Kate, Chris – Book-A-Rama

Charity Girl, Dana Huff – Much Madness is Divinest Sense

Tues Aug 31

Lady of Quality, Elizabeth Hanbury – Elizabeth Hanbury Blog

Event wrap-up

Sat Sep 07

Giveaway winners announced

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Masquerades and The Pantheon

Georgian London loved masquerades.

Promenades, assemblies and balls were all in the spirit of the era, but dressing up in exotic costumes with the added frisson of excitement brought about by disguise, gave masquerades and masked balls a touch of glamour.

The first person to introduce masquerades into England and stage them commercially was the Swiss impresario Count Heidegger. John James (Johann Jacob) Heidegger was manager of the King's Theatre, Haymarket and became known as the 'First Minister of Masquerades'. He later held the title of 'Master of the Revels' to George II. From 1710, when there were no stage performances, Heidegger transformed his theatre into a ballroom and charged a penny a ticket. The auditorium and pit were floored over and 500 candles lit the scene.

In this circa 1724 painting by Guiseppe Grisoni, richly costumed masked guests promenade between two side tables of food.

The moment of unmasking could lead to pleasure as well as disappointment. Fanny Burney wrote in 1770: The old witch in particular we found was a young officer. The Punch who made himself as broad as long was a very handsome man, but what surprised me was the shepherd whose own face was so stupid we could scarcely tell whether he had taken off his mask or not ... '

Masked balls in the houses of the nobility were events in the social calendar and highly anticipated. When the Duke of Richmond was taken ill and a masked ball had to be postponed, it caused, according to Horace Walpole, 'a sad alarm in the kingdom of white satin and muslin.'

Teresa Cornleys, a singer from Vienna, became known as the Heidegger of her age shortly after her arrival in London in 1756. Madame Cornleys as she became known dominated the masquerade scene for nearly 50 years. Following Vauxhall and Ranelagh, she developed subscription masquerades at Carlisle House, thus encouraging a fashionable clientele. They became incredibly popular and in 1770 the House of Commons was adjourned to allow people to attend. Lord Galway's daughter caused a sensation by appearing in a dress embroidered with jewels, said to be worth £60,000. Lord Shelburne went dressed as a Turk, the Duke of Grafton as a jockey and the Prime Minister Lord North as a Harlequin. Captain Watson, a Guards officer, appeared as Adam but in his clinging, flesh-coloured tights he appeared naked and was forced to leave!

Favourites choices for ladies' costumes were Diana the Huntress, a shepherdess, Melpomene and a Vestal Virgin. At Ranelagh and Vauxhall, there was a dressing room for last-minute disguising.

John Raphael Smith's painting 'Promenade at Carlisle House, Soho Square' is thought to show society beauties Harriet Montagu and Maria Townley, with the figure at the doorway the artist himself.

But things went downhill for Madame Cornleys. In 1771, she was fined £50 for holding a masquerade without a licence and was declared bankrupt the following year. The main cause of her downfall was the opening of the larger, more attractive assembly rooms in Oxford Street - The Pantheon. The Pantheon put on masquerades in open competition to Carlisle House and although Madame Cornleys staged comebacks, she was eventually forced to sell. Carlisle House was demolished in 1788.

The Pantheon was designed by the then almost unknown James Wyatt. Estimates of the building costs vary, but it was at least £30,000. The architecture echoed some of the features of it's Roman namesake and Mr. Burney stated some years later that it was 'regarded both by natives and foreigners, as the most elegant structure in Europe, if not on the globe… . No person of taste in architecture or music, who remembers the Pantheon, its exhibitions, its numerous, splendid, and elegant assemblies, can hear it mentioned without a sigh!'

At the outset, standards and social tone were high. When it opened on 27 January 1772, up to fifty pounds was paid for tickets for the first night which attracted over seventeen hundred members of high society including all the foreign ambassadors and eight dukes and duchesses. During the first winter there were assemblies only, without dancing or music, three times a week. In subsequent seasons the entertainments included a mixture of assemblies, masquerades and subscription concerts.

In the 1780s the popularity of the Pantheon declined. After the destruction of the King's Theatre by fire in 1789, it was converted into an opera house on a twelve year lease. James Wyatt was once again the architect. After only one complete season of opera the Pantheon was burnt to the ground in 1792.

By 1795 the structure had been rebuilt in a similar but not identical form and it was leased as a place of assembly to provide masquerades and concerts. The principal room of this reincarnation was not a rotunda but consisted of "an Area or Pit, … and a double tier of elegant and spacious Boxes, in the centre of which is a most splendid one for the Royal Family". The Pantheon reopened with a masquerade on 9 April 1795 but the revived assembly rooms were a failure.

From 1798 to 1810 the shareholders reverted to the original custom of managing the Pantheon themselves but the popularity of the entertainments continued to decline and it suffered the same decline in standards that affected Carlisle House.

It became the haunt of 'a motley crowd of peers and pickpockets, honourables and dishonourables, demireps, quidnuncs and quack doctors.' Ladies wore increasingly risque costumes while men were clad in loose-hooded cloaks and half-masks (known as dominos). Behaviour grew more licentious and this print (above) by Rowlandson gives a clue to the riotous evenings that were taking place by the early years of the 19th century.

In 1811–12 the building was converted into a theatre, but this was unsuccessful and the career of the Pantheon as a place of public entertainment came to a close in 1814, when it was turned into a Bazaar. The site is now occupied by Marks & Spencer.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Midsummer Eve

Midsummer Eve is fast approaching and to mark the event, publishers E-scape Press Limited asked me to do a Q & A session about my Regency short stories, Midsummer Eve at Rookery End.

I thought I'd post the results over here too :0)

You normally write novels, what inspired you to write a collection of short stories?

I’ve always loved reading short stories so it was a natural progression to write them. Midsummer Eve at Rookery End seemed a good way of introducing readers to my writing, and I liked the idea of stories being connected by a theme on which I could hang a number of plots.

I’ve never subscribed to the ‘I’ve just got into it and then it’s all over’ point of view on shorts. In my opinion a well-written, carefully crafted short story brightens any day. It can also act as a palate cleansing sorbet between novel-sized courses.

Short stories are fabulous when you are pushed for time and need a quick fiction fix. Contrary to perceived wisdom, they seem to be enjoying a revival in popularity if, indeed, the demand for them ever went away. There is no doubt the format suits today’s hectic lifestyle and desire for immediacy. Coupled with more small presses and publishing platforms springing up, conditions seem perfect for short stories. Let’s see more of them.

Of course, I love novels too. One form of storytelling is not worth less than another, they are just different.

Was it easier writing short stories?

The end is always in sight so that’s a big plus. It’s a cliché, but every word counts in a short story which makes for lean, elegant prose and a great read.

Also, it is often a better format for concepts that would feel overstretched in novels.

The main difficulty is amount of plot and characterisation. You have to get enough in there to engage the reader, but you can’t go overboard on detail because of the word count. It’s a fine balance, but if you can get it right - woohoo!

Why did you pick Midsummer Eve out of all the possible festivals in the year?

Midsummer Eve was one of the favourite times in the year for love divinations. The origins of these divinations are unclear, but they were widespread in England by the 17th century. Popular ones included girls throwing hemp seed over their shoulders at night in the hope of seeing the form of their future husband, and ‘Midsummer Men’ which involved placing orpines side by side in pairs to represent a man and his sweetheart. If one plant inclined towards the other, it indicated love. If it reclined, it indicated aversion.

The idea of a midsummer Regency ball to celebrate these ancient customs, and romance in general, seemed a very appropriate one and Rookery End provided the perfect stage for three tales of midsummer love and passion.

You have written wonderful heroes in your short stories. Which is your favourite and why?

Oh, this is so tough!

Let’s see ...

Sir Benedict’s been badly hurt in the past and a damaged hero is always appealing.

The Marquess of Shaftesbury is a rakish bad boy and who doesn’t want to see a rake tamed by love?

Sir Tristan is handsome, urbane and decisive, the ideal man to turn to in a crisis...

Each is wonderful in his own right so I can’t pick a favourite and, interestingly, neither can readers – votes flood in for all three! I will say the Marquess was great fun to write. Taking him from rake to hero in 7,000 words was an intriguing challenge ;0)

And the heroines. Which is your favourite and why?

They are all passionate, determined and resourceful, but by a whisker I’d say Verity from A Scandal at Midnight.

As a lady forced to eke out a living as a governess, Verity Brook is trapped between two worlds: her lowly position excludes her from the ton yet she’s treated with suspicion by other governesses and companions because of her background. Then, when she tries to avert a scandal at the Midsummer Eve ball, she falls for a man who is utterly out of her reach. You sympathise with the awful situation Verity finds herself in while admiring her pride and indomitable spirit.

But to find out if she gets the happy ending she deserves, you’ll have to read A Scandal at Midnight ;0)

Much of the action takes place outside of the ballroom. Was that deliberate?

All I knew at the outset was I wanted some scenes to take place in the garden – a garden on Midsummer Eve is a magical place for romance. As I went along the action evolved to incorporate more of Rookery End estate, and beyond. It worked well, giving me far more scope than if I had kept the characters in the ballroom.

What sort of research did you do for MSE?

Researching Midsummer Eve customs was great fun, but I also spent time drawing up a list of favourite features from my favourite historical properties. I used this list to create an imaginary, awe-inspiring country house and garden - Rookery End is the result.

The Regency period is a very popular one with readers. What attracts you to write in that time period?

The Regency has become synonymous with elegance, wit and refinement, but it was also a time of innovation in science, technology and the arts, and an age of excess and extravagance. Many crises and events – the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, the Industrial Revolution and the continuing ill health of the King – helped to shape society’s manners and mood. Regency society was on the cusp of reform at all levels. I’ve loved it since I was a teenager and for me, this dramatic, exciting and paradoxical era provides the perfect backdrop for romance.

Oh, and I should also mention the Regency fashions. There’s something very attractive about a hero in a well-fitting coat, elegantly-tied cravat, thigh-hugging buckskins and polished top boots *g*

Are we going to see more of Rookery End?

Yes. I don’t want to overstretch the premise, but I think there is room for one more story ;0)

And who knows, Rookery End might appear in future productions.

If you wrote your autobiography, what would you call it?

I’m a fan of the Marx brothers and this quip from Groucho would do nicely:

‘A likely story – and probably true.’

Finally, who are your favourite authors?

Georgette Heyer, PG Wodehouse, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, the Brontes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Wilkie Collins, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Roald Dahl.

There are many romance authors whose books I enjoy, too numerous to list here.

When I want a complete change, I’ll pick up a Tom Sharpe, Clive Cussler or John Grisham novel, or some non-fiction. I’ll read anything by Simon Schama, Ian Kelly, Richard Holmes or Dan Cruickshank.

Midsummer Eve at Rookery End is available from E-scape Press Limited, Amazon UK, Amazon.com (paperback and Kindle editions) and The Book Depository (with free worldwide delivery).

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Oak Apple Day

Today is Oak Apple Day - hurrah!

Cue applause, cheering and general merry-making.

But hold on ... what exactly is Oak Apple Day? Well, it commemorates when Charles II rode into London on 29th May 1660 and restored the monarchy to England.

Charles II was said to have hidden in an oak tree in 1651 after the Battle of Worcester. He escaped from the Roundhead Army by hiding in an oak tree in the grounds of Boscobel House. Oak leaves and oak apples became a symbol of his restoration to the monarchy and Parliament declared 29th May a public holiday.

“Parliament had ordered the 29th of May, the King’s birthday, to be forever kept as a day of thanksgiving for our redemption from tyranny and the King’s return to his Government, he returning to London that day." - Samuel Pepys’s Diary 1st June 1660

2010 therefore marks the 350th anniversary of Oak Apple Day (or Royal Oak Day as it is also known).

The day was originally celebrated with special church services, bonfires, dancing and general merry-making. Houses and churches were decorated with oak boughs, but the dominant custom which came to symbolise the day was for people to wear sprays of oak leaves (preferably with a gall or apple attached).

This was done by almost everyone, high and low born, male and female, adult and child, throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. A traveller through Hertfordshire recorded in his diary in 1789 that 'every horse, carriage and carter was adorned with oaken boughs and apples, in memory of this once famous day'.

School children were given at least half a day off school and anyone who did not wear the emblem could face some form of punishment, such as pinching (hence the origin of the alternative name Pinch-Bum Day) or whipping with nettles (Nettle Day).

Although the public holiday was abolished in 1859, Oak Apple Day continues to be celebrated in some parts of England.

Castleton in Derbyshire hosts a garland custom every 29th May. It's custom that has been celebrated in Castleton for hundreds of years, originally possibly as a fertility rite, but today it is said to commemorate the restoration of Charles II. Villagers dress in Stuart fashions and chose a King and Queen for the day. They lead a procession through the village and the King wears a 3 feet high garland of flowers made from a wooden frame to which small bunches of wild flowers and leaves are tied.

Northampton still commemorates Charles II and his escape after the battle of Worcester. The town is also grateful to Charles II for giving the citizens one thousand tons of timber from the Royal forests of Whittlewood, after a great fire almost razed the town in 1675. A garland of oak-apples is laid at Charles II's statue on All Saint's Church each year on Oak Apple Day.

In Worcester, the 'Faithful City', Oak Apple Day is commemorated by decorating the entrance gate to Worcester's Guildhall with oak branches and leaves.

In a celebration with its roots in Oak Apple Day, the Shropshire village of Aston-on-Clun carries out a unique tree-decorating custom on the last Sunday in May (Arbor Day). A pageant and fete are held and the famous black poplar tree that stands in the middle of the village is decorated with gaily coloured flags. The story behind this custom is that when local landowner and squire John Marston married Mary Carter in May 1786, the tree was decorated to welcome the newlyweds to the village. The couple were so pleased with the gesture that they set up a trust to pay for the care of the tree and the flags.

Other events to mark Oak Apple Day take place in Upton-upon-Severn, Marsh Gibbon, Great Wishford and Membury in Devon.

There are a host of other local dialect names for Oak Apple Day, including: Shick-Schack Day, Shig-Shag Day, Yak-Bob Day and Bobby-Ack Day.

Right, I'm off to find my spray of oak leaves and apples before I get whipped with nettles *g*

Photo of Worcester Guildhall Oak Apple Day copyright Phillip Halling, reproduced under Creative Commons licence.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Snobs' Tunnel

Ever heard of one of these? There's one at Hanbury Hall in Worcestershire which I visited again recently. 'My' house *g* If only! As I type this, I realise I'm not certain where to put the apostrophe in snobs tunnel (should it be snob's or snobs'? I'm guessing the latter - more than one snob must have lived at Hanbury over the years ;0))

A snobs' tunnel sounds like something the aristocracy would have used, but it was actually the opposite - a specially constructed tunnel which allowed servants to move around without being seen by their masters.

At Hanbury, the snobs' tunnel goes under the Cedar Walk so servants could walk between the main house and areas of the garden (such as the ice-house) unobserved.

Here's the entrance...

...and the exit viewed from the rear of the house. You can see the tunnel in the centre of the picture just behind the bush.

Seems an astonishing amount of effort and expense just to keep servants out of sight!

Hanbury Hall was home to the Vernon family. Edward Vernon purchased Hanbury in 1631, but it was his grandson Thomas Vernon who began serious rebuilding after he inherited in 1679. The architect was possibly a local master stonemason William Rudhall. The rebuilding was completed in 1701 and if you look at the entrance front, you can see Hanbury has many key features of a William & Mary house:

Two stories with dormer windows in the attic
Side Pavilions
A central triangular pediment
A cupola (viewing tower)
Family coat of arms (above entrance door)
Corinthian pilasters either side of the entrance.
Hanbury Hall contains the Thornhill Murals in the entrance hall and staircase. When Sir George Vernon left Hanbury to the National Trust on his death in 1940, these murals saved the house for the nation - the National Trust recognised their value and took on the house for future generations to enjoy. The murals, depicting scenes from Greek mythology, were painted by Sir James Thornhill, a master painter whose fame was sealed by his work on the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral.

Thomas Vernon wanted a beautiful garden to go with his new house and in 1700 he commissioned George London to design it. London had been apprenticed to John Rose, the Royal gardener at St. James' Park who had in turn been trained at Versailles. It's likely that this connection inspired London to create a Baroque-style garden like that at Hanbury Hall.

The avenues and parterre at Hanbury are perfect examples of this. Much of London's design was swept away in the 1770s by Emma Vernon, who favoured the more natural landscapes of Lancelot 'Capability' Brown, the pioneer of the picturesque movement, but in the 1990s, the National Trust began a project to restore the gardens, based on an estate survey of 1730. The restoration is on-going with the focus on the re-planting of park features such as the Semicircle and the avenues.

Along with the snobs' tunnel, the ice-house, the mushroom house, the soon-to-be-restored dairy, magnificent 18th century orangery (above) and orchard are all worth well worth visiting.

I also learned details of a fascinating family story from the 18th century. The outline is definitely something I'd consider using in a novel and it just goes to show that fact is always stranger than fiction.

And I can't help wondering, for the purposes of fiction, what intriguing scenes might have taken place in that dimly-lit snobs' tunnel ... ;0)

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Pleasure Gardens - Part 2

In part 2 of Pleasure Gardens, we'll take a look at Vauxhall Gardens, the most famous pleasure garden of the Georgian and Regency periods. There's a lot to get through so bear with me - this is a lengthy ramble!

For nearly two hundred years, Vauxhall was the most celebrated pleasure garden in London and the most favoured al fresco entertainment haunt of Londoners. That Vauxhall Gardens remained ‘an excellent place of amusement’ for so long and standards remained so high is extraordinary, as is the universal appeal and praise that it seems to have enjoyed.

It began life as New Spring Gardens which opened in 1661 on the south side of the Thames. New Spring Gardens featured several acres of trees and shrubs, and attractive walks hedged with fruit and vegetables such as raspberries, cherries, asparagus and beans. John Evelyn described it in July 1661 as ‘a prettily contrived plantation’ and Samuel Pepys, in a diary entry for May 1662, compared it favourably with the Old Spring Gardens, another public garden which occupied an adjacent site until the late 1660s:

'and there walked long, and the wenches gathered pinks. Here we staid, and seeing that we could not have anything to eat, but very dear, and with long stay, with went forth again without any notice taken of us….Thence to the New one, where I was never before, which much exceeds the other…and here we had cakes and powdered beef and ale, and so home again by water with much pleasure.’

New Spring Gardens were also known as Faulkes Hall, Faux Hall or Fox Hall until the end of the seventeenth century and Vauxhall appears to have emerged from these names. The venue enjoyed fluctuating fortunes, being renown for its music and its natural beauty but also gaining a reputation for illict and sometimes rowdy behaviour.

In 1728 New Spring Gardens were taken over by Jonathan Tyers. Tyers came from a relatively humble background, but he was an astute businessman and entrepeneur. He began an extensive programme of remodeling and took as his inspiration John Milton’s, the Masque of
Comus a very apt choice considering the theme of the play. Comus is the god of festivity, revels and nocturnal dalliance and described as being the son of Circe and Bacchus. The Pan-like Comus disguises himself as a villager and, using magical powers, urges a young lady who finds herself alone in the woods to drink his magical potion and thereby introduce her to the pleasures of the flesh. Tyers built the Temple of Comus in the New Spring Gardens knowing visitors would understand and appreciate the message.

Success was still not assured, however, and legend has it that the gardens’ greatest period of success began with a chance meeting between Tyers and the engraver William Hogarth. Hogarth, encountering Tyers in 1732 in a suicidal mood after a period of mixed fortunes, is
supposed to have begged him ‘Don’t hang or drown yourself today, my friend,’ before outlining an ambitious plan. Hogarth suggested a grand re-opening of the gardens which would take the form of a ridotto al fresco (which roughly translated means a dancing party held outdoors). It would be an evening party to attract fashionable society to the Gardens and Hogarth brought all his artistic flair to the project, arranging among other things for a series of paintings for the supper party boxes to be created by Francis Hayman and artists from Hogarth's own academy in St. Martin’s Lane.

Tickets were expensive at one guinea per person, but 400 people attended the opening of the renamed Vauxhall Gardens on 7th June 1732, including Frederick, Prince of Wales. Wearing legal gowns, domino masks and masquerade costumes, the guests banqueted, promenaded and danced until 4 am. It was a huge success and as a result Vauxhall’s future was secured. Prince Frederick became a regular visitor and continued to attend throughout his life. The admission price was subsequently set at a more affordable one shilling per person. For those wanting to visit regularly, season tickets could be purchased for one guinea. These were usually made of silver with a figure from classical mythology on one side and the subscriber's name engarved on the other. This is Mr. Wood's ticket for the 1750 season. Tyers presented Hogarth with a gold
ticket in return for his help.

A gentlemen visiting the
Gardens in 1752 wrote:

The garden strikes the eye prodigiously; it is set with many rows of tall trees, kept in excellent order, among which are placed an incredible number of globe lamps, by which it is illuminated, and when they are lighted the sound of the music ravishing the ear, added to the great resort of company so well dressed and walking about, would almost make one believe he was in the Elysian fields.

In the middle of the garden are two semicircles which appear like an amphitheatre, in which are placed a great number of small booths which may contain about six or eight people apiece, where they commonly refresh themselves with sweetmeats, wine, tea, coffee, or suchlike. The backs of these boxes or booths are adorned with curious paintings, all which are enlightened to the front with globes. They are all numbered, and very just attendance is given by a vast number of warders kept for that purpose. Near to this is a grand orchestra, where the music plays in fine weather; but this night the concert was held in a magnificent hall neatly furnished. At one side of the orchestra is a noble statue of Handel. The music no sooner began than we entered the hall, where fifty-four musicians performed. Mr. Lowe soon sang, whose character I need not
here mention, and after him the inimitable Miss Burchel.

In June 1750, Horace Walpole visited Vauxhall. Walpole tells his friend Montagu that Lady Caroline Petersham made up a party, including himself, Lord March, Mr. O'Brien, the Duke of Kingston, Lord Orford, Mr. Whitehead, Harry Vane, the "pretty Miss Beauclerk," the "foolish" Miss Sparre, and Miss Ashe, a lively girl of high parentage on her father's side, known in society as "The Pollard Ashe":

We marched to our barge, with a boat of French horns attending and little Ashe singing. We paraded some time up the river, and at last debarked at Vauxhall . . . Here we picked up Lord Granby, arrived very drunk from Jenny's Whim . . At last we assembled in our booth, Lady Caroline in the front, with the vizor of her hat erect, and looking gloriously jolly and handsome. She had fetched my brother Orford from the next booth, where he was enjoying himself with his petitie partie, to help us mince chickens. We minced seven chickens into a China dish, which Lady Caroline stewed over a lamp with three pats of butter and a flagon of water, stirring and rattling and laughing, and we every minute expecting the dish to fly about our ears. She had brought Betty the fruit girl, with hampers of strawberries and cherries from Roger's and made her wait upon us, and then made her sup by us at a little table . . In short, the whole air of our party was sufficient, as you will easily imagine, to take up the whole attention of the Garden; so much so, that from 11 o'clock till half an hour after one we had the whole concourse round our booth; at least, they came into the little gardens of each booth on the sides of ours, till Harry Vane took up a bumper and drank their healths, and was proceeding to treat them with still greater freedom. It was 3 o'clock before we got home.'

Before the building of Westminster Bridge in 1749 (which enabled increased numbers to come by carriage), visitors to Vauxhall arrived by water at Vauxhall Stairs.Like Cuper’s Gardens, approaching Vauxhall from the river added to the sense of excitement and anticipation for the visitor that they were about to enter an exotic world. The entrance gate in the brick wall was plain, perhaps to enhance the contrast with the wonderland beyond. Once ashore, visitors paid their shilling entrance fee or showed their embossed silver passes before going through a passage to emerge into the glittering gardens. The trees were hung with thousands of oil lamps and Handel’s music, frequently performed at the gardens, floated through the night air. Handel's reputation was so great that his statue by Roubiliac was installed in the Gardens in his homage, an honour then unknown in a person’s lifetime. The statue is now in the V&A museum. The orchestra played popular tunes of the day as well as premiering new pieces by Handel of course, Thomas Arne and William Boyce.

In this 1751 engraving by Samuel Wade, the entrance gate can be seen at the front. The Grand Walk was lined with elm trees and stretched 300 yards to the western boundary. The South Walk ran parallel to the Grand Walk and was spanned by three triumphal arches with a painted view at the end of the ruins of Palmyra. The building with the roof on the left was the Rotunda which was used for concerts on wet evenings. The Grand Pavilion can also be seen. The two crescents of supper boxes are beyond; the one on the left included the Temple of Comus. The Cross Walk cut through the gardens at right angles and an elaborate ruined folly at its north end. Also at its north end, it met the Lovers’ or Druid’s walk, popularly known as the Dark Walk. Any visitors enjoying an illicit tryst in these ‘dark walks’ were treated to birdsong from nightingales, blackbirds and thrushes.

Walpole wrote again in June, 1750:

I had a card from Lady Caroline Petersham to go with her to Vauxhall. I went accordingly to her house and found her the young bloods lying in wait for unprotected females on the lesser avenues, known as the Dark Walk, the Druid Walk and the Lover's Walk.'

These dark walks accounted for much of Vauxhall's attraction. The behaviour of some guests in them led magistrates to order Tyers to fence them off in 1763. Young men often ogled the ladies as they passed and newspaper advertisements were taken out by bucks and bloods who had taken a fancy to a certain lady. Even John Keats entitled one of his works, "Sonnet to a Lady Seen for a Few Moments at Vauxhall."

This report from The Gentleman's Magazine of Friday, 21 April, 1749 gives a clue to the popularity of the gardens:

'Was performed at Vauxhall Gardens the rehearsal of the music for the fireworks by a band of 100 musicians, to an audience above 12,000 persons (tickets 2s 6d). So great a resort occassioned such a stoppage on London Bridge that no carriage could pass for three hours. The footmen were so numerous as to obstruct the passage, so that a scuffle happened, in which some gentlemen were wounded.'

Thackeray’s Vanity Fair has this description of Vauxhall:

And the truth is, that of all the delights of the Gardens; of the hundred thousand lamps, which were always lighted; the fiddlers in cocked hats, who played ravishing melodies under the gilded cocked hats, who played ravishing melodies under the gilded cockle-shell in the midst of the gardens; the singers, both of comic and sentimental ballads, who charmed the ears there; the country dances, formed by bouncing cockneys and cockneyesses, and executed amidst jumping, thumping, and laughter; the signal which announced that Madame Saqui was about to mount skyward on a slack-rope ascending to the stars; the hermit that always sat in the illuminated hermitage; the dark walks, so favourable to the interviews of young lovers; the pots of stout handed about by the people in the shabby old liveries; and the twinkling boxes, in which the happy feasters made-believe to eat slices of almost invisible ham;—of all these things, and of the gentle Simpson, that kind smiling idiot, who, I daresay, presided even then over the place—Captain William Dobbin did not notice.

Vauxhall was as famous for its good food and wine as it was for its entertainment and décor. Food was brought to the numbered tables by numbered waiters who hurred from the service window across the gravel walk to waiting customers. Chickens no bigger than a sparrow were served and in the excerpt above Thackeray comments on the ‘almost invisible ham’. For about a hundred years there was a running joke about the thickness of the ham slices sold at Vauxhall - they were supposedly cut so thin that you could read a newspaper through them! It was also said that one carver could cut enough slices from a single ham to cover the whole twelve acres of the gardens. Thomas Rowlandson's illustration from 'The Tour of Dr. Syntax though London' shows Dr. Syntax holding up a wafer thin slice of ham. The food was costly. In 1817, a minute portion of ham and two tiny chickens cost eleven shillings, assorted biscuits and cheese cakes were another four shillings, sixpence and a quart of Arrack fetched seven shillings

Everyone who visited Vauxhall wanted to sample the famous, or infamous, Arrack or rack punch*. Here’s an excerpt from the ‘rack punch’ incident in Vanity Fair, when Jos Sedley drinks, rather to excess, on his visit to the gardens with Becky Sharp, George Osborne and Amelia.

The two couples were perfectly happy then in their box: where the most delightful and conversation took place. Jos was in his glory, ordering about the waiters with great majesty. He made the salad; and uncorked the Champagne; and carved the chickens; and ate and drank the greater part of the refreshments on the tables. Finally, he insisted upon having bowl of rack punch; everybody had rack punch at Vauxhall. “Waiter, rack punch.”

That bowl of rack punch was the cause of all this history. And why not a bowl of rack punch as well as any other cause? … so did this bowl of rack punch influence the fates of all the principal characters in this “Novel without a Hero,” which we are now relating. It influenced their life, although most of them did not taste a drop of it. The young ladies did not drink it; Osborne did not like it; and the consequence was that Jos drank up the whole contents of the bowl; and the consequence of his drinking up the whole contents of the bowl was, a liveliness which at first was astonishing, and then became almost painful; for he talked and laughed so loud as to bring scores of listeners round the box, much to the confusion of the innocent party within it; and, volunteering to sing a song (which he did in that maudlin high key peculiar to gentlemen in an inebriated state), he almost drew away the audience who were gathered round the musicians in the gilt scollop-shell, and received from his hearers a great deal of applause.

After Tyers died, his sons took over in 1767 and Vauxhall continued with little change until 1792 when the entrance fee was doubled to 2 shillings, although tickets for the gala nights and masquerades cost more.

During the early years of the 19th century Vauxhall underwent further changes and improvements. By this time, the mood of the public had changed and Vauxhall could no longer rely on the charm of the gardens and the excellence of its food and music to attract customers. They wanted more for their money and this was duly delivered. Acrobats, jugglers, circus horses, tightrope walkers, along with man-made caves, grottos and waterfalls all made an appearance and fantastic firework displays from the specially built tower became permanent fixture from 1813. There was even a Hermit's Cottage where a hermit could be seen studying by lamplight.

In 1797, CH Simpson became the master of ceremonies at Vauxhall. Simpson – the gentle
Simpson, that kindly smiling idiot – as Thackeray refers to him in the first excerpt above – presided over the gardens for thirty eight years. Simpson was a larger than life character and became one of Vauxhall’s institutions. He appeared in a Cruickshank drawing greeting the Duke of Wellington, dressed in his usual garb of black silk knee breeches, frilled shirt, black coat and carrying a cane. A 45 foot effigy of Simpson adopting his welcoming pose was exhibited in the gardens from 1833.

The Prince Regent loved Vauxhall and often entertained there. His parties were not always a resounding success though. The fete given by the Prince to celebrate the victory at Vittoria in 1813 was a fiasco. Billed as the most 'splendid and magnificent' fete to be held in England, it began with a dinner for over a thousand guests including all the Royal dukes. But when the public began to arrive, it soon became clear that the number of people the gardens could accommodate had been overestimated by the organisers. The demand for tickets had been so heavy that the price had rocketed on the black market; even so, many of those with tickets never got into the gardens. The Duchess of York had to wait outside in her carriage for two hours before a passage could be forced through the crowds. The ladies, who had been summoned to arrive at 9 o'clock, either could not get in or found no places had been reserved for them. To complete a disastrous evening, the Princess of Wales arrived and was refused a seat in the royal box. She departed in a rage.

Vauxhall also led the way in spectacular re-enactments. In 1814 at the end of the Grand Walk, a Sea Battle Enactment was built. Cannons were fired during the display and burning ships sank amidst clouds of smoke. In 1827, the Battle of Waterloo was re-enacted by one thousand soldiers.

Daytime balloon ascents began in 1836, but without the cover of darkness to give a frisson of excitement, Vauxhall was not the same. Its popularity was fading fast and closure was announced in 1841. There were several reprieves and attempts to maintain interest, but Vauxhall’s glory days were over.
In the late 1850's, a Mr. Timbs wrote this rather sad account of a decayed Vauxhall:

'Though Vauxhall Gardens retained their place to the very last, the lamps had long fallen off in their golden fires; the punch got weaker, the admission money less; the company fell off in a like ratio of respectability, and grew dingy, not to say "raffish" - a sorry falling off from the Vauxhall crowd a century before. Low prices brought low company; the conventional wax lights got fewer; the punch gave way to fiery brandy and doctored stout. The semblance of Vauxhall was still preserved in the representation of the orchestra printed upon the plates and mugs, and the old firework bell tinkled away as gaily as ever; but matters grew more and more seedy; the place seemed literally worn out; the very trees grew scrubby and shabby, an looked as if they were singed; and it was high time to say, as well as to see in letters of lamps Farewell."

The final concert was held on Monday 25th July 1859 and by 1864 the Vauxhall site had been built over.

What a pity so little survives of this extraordinary place, one of the fore-runners of modern entertainment parks. But rather than end on a downbeat note, we’ll leave the last word to a London guide book of 1815 which describes Vauxhall at the height of its popularity. This should have inspired even the most jaded tourist to visit and includes a description of the famous cascade which could be seen every evening at 10pm for fifteen minutes only :

This delightful and much frequented place of summer amusement, which has so long been the resort of the gay world, is situated about a mile and a half from London, on the south side of Lambeth. These gardens are beautiful and extensive, and contain a variety of walks, brilliantly illuminated with transparent paintings, and disposed with so much taste, that they produce an enchanting effect on first entering the gardens.

Facing the west door is a large and superb orchestra, decorated with a profusion of lights of various colours. The whole edifice is of wood, painted white and bloom colour. The ornaments are plastic, a composition something like plaster of Paris, but only known to the ingenious architect who designed and built this beautiful structure. In fine weather the musical entertainments are performed here by a select band of the best vocal and instrumental performances. At the upper extremity of this orchestra, a very fine organ is erected, and at the foot of it are the seats and desks for the musicians, placed in semicircular form, leaving a vacancy at the front for vocal performers. The concert is opened with instrumental music at eight o’clock, which having continued about half an hour, the company are entertained with a song; to these are added several other songs, with sonatas or concertos between each, till the close of the entertainment, which is generally about eleven o’clock though the company seldom depart till midnight, or early in the morning.

A curious piece of machinery has of late years been exhibited on the inside of one of the hedges, which is announced at ten o’clock by the ringing of a bell, situated in a hollow, on the left hand side, about halfway up the walk. By raising a curtain, is displayed a most beautiful landscape, in perspective, of a fine open hilly country, with a miller’s house, and a water-mill, all illuminated by concealed lights; but the principal object that strikes the eye is a cascade or waterfall. The exact appearance of the water is seen flowing down a declivity, and turning the wheel of the mill…this moving picture, attended with the noises of the cascade, has a very pleasing and surprising effect on both the eye and the ear. About ten o’clock the curtain is drawn up, and at the expiration of ten or fifteen minutes let down again....Fireworks of the most ingenious kind have lately been introduced on gala nights, to increase the allurements of this charming spot….The best refreshments are provided with the utmost attention, and charged according to the bill of fare. From five to sixteen thousand well-dressed persons are occasionally present. The gardens open about the middle of May and close about the end of August.

*Rack punch, or Arrack punch, was a heady liquor made from mixing grains of the benjamin flower with rum.

List of images shown:

View of the Grand Walk, Vauxhall Gardens by Canaletto, 1751

Engraving of Vauxhall Gardens by Samuel Wade, 1751

Vauxhall Gardens as drawn by Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin for Ackermann's Microcosm of London (1808-11).

An Entertainment in Vauxhall Gardens by Thomas Rowlandson, circa 1789

Tom and Jerry and Logic Making the Most of an Evening at Vauxhall, by Cruickshank circa 1822

For further information, see The English Pleasure Garden 1660 -1860 by Sarah Jane Downing and David Coke's excellent web-site at www.vauxhallgardens.com

Monday, 8 March 2010

Pleasure Gardens - Part 1

There were more than sixty pleasure gardens in the London area by the mid-eighteenth century, with many more to be found in the larger towns or spa towns of England. They grew out of fashionable society’s desire for a sanctuary from city living, places free of the pungent odours, overcrowding and other city hazards where they could promenade and gossip. Good health was also keenly sought and spas and springs became fashionable as their waters were used as a cure for almost everything.

The smallest pleasure gardens were of modest size, usually a public house with an outdoor bowling green and tea garden. If a spring or spa was discovered and could be claimed to have curative powers, that was a bonus – patrons could enjoy themselves and treat their ailments at the same time. The second, slightly larger variety not only offered tea and bowling, but other entertainments too. Their attractive spaces were larger, incorporating gravelled walks.

The third form of pleasure gardens offered the greatest decadence. Through artful design, the finest pleasure gardens offered entertainment amid a romantic landscape that appeared natural and unspoilt. Visitors could an escape to the pleasurable delights of an exotic, magical world with lantern-lit walks, grottos, triumphal arches, artificial ruins and cascades. Here they could see and be seen by fashionable society and for the first time, entrance was not by invitation according to title or class, but for everyone who could afford the entrance fee. Royalty paraded alongside debutantes and courtesans. Famous figures such as Pepys, Walpole, Dr. Johnson and Admiral Nelson partook of the pleasures of the gardens and attending them became a vital part of the London Season. Here's more detail on some of the most popular London pleasure gardens:-

Sadler’s Wells 1684-1698

In June 1683, Dick Sadler, surveyor to the King, built a ‘Musik-House’ near a country footpath leading from Clerkenwell to Islington. By chance that summer he had discovered a medieval well in the grounds of his house. The enterprising Mr. Sadler was quick to promote the water's health-giving properties, believing it could rival the popular spa at Tunbridge Wells. The gardens were extended and Sadler’s Wells soon became a fashionable attraction. People flocked there to stroll in the gardens and enjoy the entertainment. Jugglers, tumblers, rope-dancers, ballad-singers, wrestlers, stage-fighters, dancing dogs, a tightrope walking monkey and even a singing duck performed there.
It became a theatre after 1698.

Cuper’s Gardens, Lambeth 1686-1753

It was Boydell Cuper, gardener to the Howard family, who first visualized a resort on the south bank of the Thames. Vistors approached from the river via a landing stage (known as Cuper’s Stairs) next to an octagonal gazebo. A lane led down to the entrance of the Gardens, beyond which lay winding pathways, a central walkway (lined with some of salvaged antiquarian marble statues and busts that Thomas Howard, the Second Earl of Arundel had brought back from his foreign travels eighty years earlier), a bowling green and a lake. It opened in 1691 and in the early days the Gardens were mainly a place to stroll and relax. After Cuper’s death, others developed the gardens, introducing orchestras and firework displays and they soon became popularly known as Cupid’s Gardens, perhaps because of the amorous and dissipated overtones that they became renown for! The resort closed in 1753 and was subsequently bought by a wine and vinegar manufacturer. The National Theatre now stands on roughly the same site.

Marylebone Gardens 1668-1778

After Vauxhall and Ranelagh, Marylebone Gardens was the most famous pleasure garden of the 18th century. Marylebone Gardens originally consisted of two bowling greens adjoining the Rose Tavern. Its size was increased by the acquisition of land in the grounds of Marylebone Manor House (once one of Henry VIII’s hunting lodges) and it became a recognized pleasure garden in 1738, when Daniel Gough, the proprietor of the Rose of Normandy tavern in Marylebone High Street made it a venue for concerts and other entertainments. An organ was installed, a bandstand built and an admission fee was charged. Many of the foremost musicians and composers of the day, including Handel and Hook performed works at Marylebone Gardens.
Caterer John Trusler, who took over the management circa 1756, presented public breakfasts and dinners and his daughter made the popular Marylebone tarts and cakes. From 1763 to 1768 the Gardens were run by Thomas Lowe, with the musical management undertaken by Samuel Arnold who took over the ownership and management with the violinist Thomas Pinto which continued from 1769 to 1774.

During the height of its popularity, splendid fetes, balls and concerts were given, including one, for the King’s birthday on June 4 1772, which featured a representation of Mount Etna and a grand fireworks display. The Duke of Buckingham held an end of season dinner at Marylebone Gardens, offering the same toast each year: 'May as many of us as remain unhanged next spring meet here again.'

Unable to complete with Vauxhall and Ranelagh because it was by then said to cater for the gentry rather than the haut ton, Marylebone Gardens declined and finally closed in 1776. The area was built over in 1778.

Ranelagh Gardens 1741-1803

James Lacey, co-owner and manager of Drury Lane theatre, along with his fellow shareholders, acquired the former grounds of Lord Ranelagh's house (near the river in Chelsea and next to the Royal Hospital) to create a pleasure resort. After some delays, work began early in 1742 on a ‘noble structure’ which excited great interest and curiosity. The promoters wanted to create something unusual which would allow the resort to be used all year round.

The ‘noble structure’ was the Rotunda. Five hundred and fifty five feet in circumference, one hundred and fifty feet in diameter, the Rotunda was modeled on the Pantheon in Rome but on a larger scale. It held fifty two supper boxes on two floors, each of which was illuminated by lamps and able to accommodate eight people. The domed ceiling was lit by chandeliers. The orchestra was originally intended to be at the centre, but it was moved to the side and a massive central fireplace was installed, around which the crowds could promenade (as can be seen in this 1751 painting by Canaletto). The gardens featured a Great Walk, several other gravel walks, a circular temple, a canal and the Chinese Pavilion, added in 1750.

Horace Walpole, in attendance at the opening of Ranelagh in 1742, wrote: ‘You can’t set your foot without treading on a Prince or Duke of Cumberland. Nobody goes anywere else…My Lord Chesterfield is so fond of it that he says he has ordered all his letters to be delivered thither.'

Ranelagh was famous for its regales of tea or coffee with bread and butter, included in the admission price and also for its Masquerades, for which it became best known. The ‘Grand Jubilee Masquerade in the Venetian Taste’ on 26th April 1749 was described by Walpole as ‘the prettiest spectacle I ever saw; nothing in a fairy tale ever surpassed it.’ For the Ranelagh Regatta and Ball - the social event of 1775 - the Thames became a floating town with over 2,000 pleasure boats offering all manner of entertainments and an octagonal temple was built in the gardens.

Ranelagh fell into decline in the late 1770’s and finally closed its doors in 1803. The organ was sold to Tetbury Church in Gloucestershire and the name only survives in Ranelagh Gardens which borders the modern Chelsea Bridge Road.

If you’d like to know more about Pleasure Gardens, including those in the provinces, I’d recommend Sarah Jane Harding’s excellent book The English Pleasure Garden 1660-1860.

Mr. Deputy Dumpling and & Family enjoying a Summer Afternoon by Robert Dighton 1781
A view of Sadler's Wells at Islington from 'The Pleasure Gardens of London by H. A. Rogers 1896

A view of the Orchestra with the Band of Music, the Grand Walk &c' engraving from a drawing by J. Donowell 1761
The Chinese House, the Rotunda and Company in Masquerade, engraving by T. Bowles 1754

Next time, Vauxhall Gardens….

On a vaguely related 18th century note, I’m keeping everything crossed for a second series of the excellent BBC history drama, Garrow’s Law, which was recently shortlisted for a Royal Television Society award. Tony Marchant is working on scripts, and Mark Pallis, the legal and historical consultant, has said that he’s working on a second series too. Let’s hope we get official confirmation soon.

In the meantime, here’s a great fanvid from YouTube featuring the Garrow’s Law ensemble and set to The Clash’s version of ‘I Fought the Law'.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

St. Valentine's Day Miscellany

Love it or loathe it, St. Valentine's Day shows no sign of going out of fashion. In fact, it's increased in popularlity over the years, although many think its commercialisation has gone too far. Despite having an undisputed history of at least 600 years, the origins of St.Valentine’s Day are obscure.

The record really begins with Geoffery Chaucer and his contemporaries in the fourteenth century. Chaucer’s 700 line poem Parlement of the Foules, written sometime between 1376 and 1382, relates how birds choose their mates on St. Valentine’s Day every year. John Gower and Oton de Grandson used the same theme. It’s not clear if these writers invented the idea of birds choosing their mates on that day, but they forged the link between Valentine’s Day and romance, among birds at least. The connection with humans was made not long after. John Lydgate’s poem ‘A Valentine to her that Excelleth All’ (c1440) includes several verses that describe people choosing their love on this day.

Once made, the connection between St. Valentine’s Day and human romance was regularly referred to by poets and playwrights, including Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, John Donne. It also had a place in real people’s lives. On 19 February 1654, Dorothy Osborne wrote to her absent sweetheart, Sir William Temple:

I’ll tell you something that you don’t know, which is, that I am your Valentine and you are mine. I did not think of drawing any, but Mrs. Goldsmith and Jane would need make me write some for them and myself; so I writ down our three names, and for the men, Mr. Fish, James B.,and you. I cut them all equal and made them up myself before they saw them, and because I would owe it wholly to my good fortune, if I were pleased, I made both them choose first that had never seen what was in them, and they left me you. Then I made them choose again for theirs, and my name was left. You cannot imagine how I was delighted with this little accident…. I was not half so pleased with my encounter next morning. I was up early, but with no design of getting another Valentine and going out to walk in my night-clothes and night-gown, I met Mr. Fish going hunting, I think he was; but he stayed to tell me I was his Valentine…

Dorothy and William were married on Christmas Day the same year (fortunately Dorothy didn’t get inflammation of the lungs from wandering around in her night wear in February!)

Samuel Pepys mentions this Valentine custom in his diaries. In contrast to modern times, the choice of partner was left to fate. At parties and gatherings, names were written on pieces of paper which were drawn at random. People were thus paired up to play at lovers, and were expected to pay their Valentine compliments for the next few days. The men were expected to buy presents, and Pepys, in typical fashion, complained about how much it would cost him.

It was also widely believed that the first eligible person you saw on the morning of Valentine’s Day was your true love. This prompted Elizabeth Pepys to keep her eyes covered for much of the morning in February 1662, to avoid seeing the painters working in the house!

Commercially produced Valentine cards did not appear until the early nineteenth century. They soon became popular and ranged from simple offerings to expensive handcrafted cards made of silk, feathers and lace. Today, as we know, all manner of items are sent in the name of romance on Valentine’s Day.

And talking of birds…..I read an interesting article this week on courtship rituals in the animal kingdom. Here are a couple of weird and wacky examples, cited by Mark Fletcher, producer of a BBC wildlife special Bringing up Baby on BBC2 today.

Most male mice are happy with just a short moment of passion before he scoots but a male Californian Mouse is the opposite. He seems a perfect mouse-husband who stays in to help groom and feed his mouse wife, bringing her water, doing the housework and helping to look after their babies. Proof that he’s fallen in love? No, simply that the clever female has drugged him. She produces hormones in her urine that he finds intoxicating. Something in his brain is triggered by the scent, and he becomes her slave, working to exhaustion.

Sounds familiar? It should do, because love is a drug for humans, too. When we fall in love, our brains swim with opioids – a natural intoxicant from the same class of chemical as heroin – and similarly addictive.

The more successful a male Wolf spider is at finding food, the darker his legs become. As proof of his prowess, he holds these legs up in front of a prospective female mate, and makes rumbling noises. You would have thought, therefore, that the female always selects a partner with the darkest legs she can find. But she doesn’t. She judges only on enthusiasm. The more times the male cocks his legs the more alluring he becomes, whatever the colour!

The full article can be read here

Happy St. Valentine’s Day!

St. Valentine's Morning by John Callcott Horsley

Oil on Canvas 1863