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Archive for the ‘Stuart period’ Category

John Dryden, poetA guest post by LH Member, Ursula Jeffries.

I happened upon this description by Dryden of London on the day of a naval battle which eventually led to the Treaty of Breda in 1667. Something of a surprise appearing as it does at the start of his ‘Essay of Dramatic Poesy‘ but I thought you might like his description of how it felt in a time before news media!

It was that memorable day, in the first summer of the late war, when our navy engaged the Dutch: a day wherein the two most mighty and best appointed fleets which any age had ever seen disputed the command of the greater half of the globe, the commerce of nations, and the riches of the universe…the noise of the cannon from both navies reached our ears about the City; so that all men being alarmed with it, and in dreadful suspense of the event which we knew was then deciding, every one went following the sound as his fancy led him; and leaving the town almost empty, some took towards the park, some cross the river, others down it; all seeking the noise in the depth of silence.

He describes a group of friends taking a barge and then “they made haste to shoot the bridge, and left behind them that great fall of waters which hindered them from hearing what they desired: after which, having disengaged themselves from many vessels which rode at anchor in the Thames, and almost blocked up the passage towards Greenwich, they ordered the watermen to let fall their oars more gently; and then, everyone favouring his own curiosity with a strict silence, it was not long ere they perceived the air break about them like the noise of distant thunder, or or swallows in a chimney: those little undulations of sound, athough almost vanishing before they reached them, yet still seeming to retain somewhat of their first horror which they had betwixt the fleets.”

The friends pass the time as they return home discussing poetry inspired by the thought of all the terrible verses likely to be written by “those eternal rhymers, who watch a battle with more diligence than the ravens and birds of prey”. They get back to Somerset Stairs where they disembark: “The company were all sorry to separate so soon, though a great part of the evening was already spent; and stood a while looking back at the water, which the moon-beams played upon, and made it appear like floating quick-silver…”

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joseph bazalgetteJust for a lark. Turns out more difficult that you’d think, for most Elizabethans and early Stuarts had goatees attached, so discounted. As admirers of all things classical, Georgians tended to be clean-shaven. Many Victorians and Edwardians opted to augment their moustaches with enormous beards. No good either, but at least enough of them sported the standalone ‘tache, giving us something to work with at least, and this continued into the 20C, though in general more of a modest brush style. But how about those who draped their upper lip and cheeks with a moustache-mutton chop combo? Allowed, on the grounds that we simply must include one of London’s all-time heroes, Joseph Bazalgette, right.

Now I’m sure you could have found more pre-Victorian mo-men than me (this is just rapid fun), but any chance to give William Dobson a leg-up. He was a wonderful portraitist in Charles I’s circle during the English Civil War, but died drunk and penniless back in London, no one really knows the circumstances.

William Dobson

National Portrait Gallery, London.

How about comparisons and connections?

Gilbert and Sullivan

Gilbert and Sullivan

Harold Macmillan (Con) and Clement Attlee (Lab)

Harold Macmillan (Con) and Clement Attlee (Lab)

Leslie Green - Charles Holden

Leslie Green (1875 – 1908) Charles Holden (1875 – 1960)

Okay, I’ve broken my own rule: Charles Holden has a small goatee. But since these two gentlemen, born in the same year, designed dozens of our Tube stations, they belong together. But look when they died. Green, tragically in his early 30s. Holden’s best work was over 20 years later. Even almost precisely the same age, Green remains ever the Victorian whereas Holden is very much a 20C creature. This is the only known picture of Leslie Green, incidentally. Top ‘tache.

Leslie Ward

Leslie Ward, Illustrator (“Spy”)

Posh caracaturist Leslie Ward drew full length cartoon portraits of the governing classes and high society, mainly for Vanity Fair.

Norman Parkinson

Norman Parkinson

Norman Parkinson, fashion snapper to the rich and famous and purveyor of sausages (remember Porkinson bangers?) wore an extended upturned toothbrush, a quintessentially English ‘tashe for an eccentric English gent.

But out of the literally dozen or so Londoners I inspected over 10 minutes’ intense research, the laurels in the historic London moustache stakes go to Victorian illustrator John Tenniel. Well done, that man: it’s a doozy.

John Tenniel

John Tenniel

Please add to my meagre list in Comments, if you have a mind to.
1) Must sport a standalone moustache
2) Must be a Londoner.

 

 

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A guest post by Luke Rees.

Gambling has long been ingrained in British society. This is perhaps due to the historically rigid class system and the fact that gambling is one of the most efficient redistributors of wealth – or simply due to the fact that, for many, gambling can be a lot of fun – the British have long had a deep and meaningful relationship with Lady Luck.

A relatively static working-class gaming culture has existed in taverns, inns, and various other dens up and down the country for over a millennia. In these primitive establishments, gambling was generally associated with some form of physical violence – animal baiting and other gruesome blood sports sadly being the most popular subjects for betting on. However, games of chance such as ‘hazard’, ‘queek’ and ‘chequers’ (all of which are played with dice and demand no skill) were commonplace from as early as the fourteenth century.

It was during the late eighteenth century that gambling became more sophisticated in England and began to influence all levels of society. This was a century of contrasts: an ‘Age of Enlightenment’, but one which propagated slavery and colonial expansion; an age of industrial and technological innovation, but with a corresponding escalation in poverty and squalor. In this period of contradictions and inequality, it was the palliative effects of gambling that seemed to hold universal appeal.

Thomas Rowlandson

‘The Hazard Room’ – a 1792 painting by Thomas Rowlandson.

The epicentre of British gambling migrated from Bath to London in the late eighteenth century, where many exclusive clubs began attracting men from the upper echelons of society. Between 1600 and 1880 London developed into a global centre for commerce, with its population increasing from 200,000 to around five million. The availability of luxuries increased at this time, as did a boom in the economy spurred by a diversifying trade system. This system allowed businesses to run on borrowed capital, which subsequently popularised the idea of speculation as a way of making profit. It is no wonder that a society addicted to luxury and speculation also institutionalised and glamorised gambling.

Some of the most famous gentlemen’s clubs of London included White’s, Brook’s, The Cocoa Tree, and Almack’s, and were often referred to as ‘golden halls’ (in contrast to the ‘copper hells’ which the lower classes frequented). These clubs developed out of coffeehouses and other existing meeting places for the privileged classes. White’s, for example, developed from a regular meeting of wealthy men at a chocolate house.

Membership to a gentlemen’s club was vital to the integrity of a man of standing. Each club had particular political affiliations and offered the member, through proximity to men of state and lawmakers, the opportunity for corporate and political networking. But don’t imagine these clubs were merely the setting for sober and serious dinner talk! This was a social, rather than a professional setting, and these men could drink, carouse, and gamble as rowdily as the next common swindler. The only difference was that the stakes were much lower, and the bets much higher.

The early nineteenth century was primed for an explosion in frivolous consumption from the aristocracy. Peace had returned to Europe after forty years of war with Napoleon, and a generation of bored young aristocrats found themselves with far too much time and money on their hands. Gentlemen’s clubs offered these men the chance to waste huge sums of money betting against the house and each other. In a society obsessed with wealth and status, this form of conspicuous consumption was a way to pass time, but also an important way for the aristocracy to assert itself.

The types of games played in gentlemen’s clubs were also a means for the aristocracy set itself apart from the lower classes. Whilst the majority of games played in the ‘hells’ were based on pure luck, gambling in gentlemen’s clubs required skill. As a result, playing cards were the main device used by the aristocracy, since they were more expensive than dice and involved more sophisticated games.

Whist was the most popular gentleman’s game and is a precursor to the modern game of Bridge. It involves a high level of concentration to keep track of cards, as well as knowledge of the extensive technical jargon. This was an exclusive game for the well-educated, and a skilful card player would be revered and respected by his peers. This was also a betting game, and the players who bet big could gain notoriety. The Duke of Wellington allegedly bet £100,000 on whist on any evening at White’s.

A game of whist.

A game of whist depicted by Samuel William Fores

Whites is the oldest existing gentleman’s club in London, and its books give us a glimpse into the absurd nature of the gambling culture that existed during the nineteenth century. Because money and time were not an issue for these men, there are numerous examples of bets made which appear simply in order to combat boredom. For example, ‘April, 1819. Sir Joseph Copley bets Mr Horace Sermour five guineas, that Lord Temple has a legitimate child before Mr. Neville.’

At other times the wagers could have a much darker side. Horace Walpole recollected an infamous bet made between two of White’s members that a man could survive for 12 hours under water. Allegedly the men hired a ‘desperate fellow’, sunk a ship with him on board, and never heard from him again (the stake was £1,500). Although there is no evidence in White’s books of this bet being made, it helps to illustrate the rampant gambling culture that existed.

Brook’s is often considered the most infamous and fashionable of the top clubs, with the average age of its members being just 26. Needless to say, aristocratic manners and gentility were not the priority for these young patrons. A peculiar etching from 1772 depicts the club’s members around the gambling table, all dressed up as witches and uttering a spell: ‘Double, bubble, toil and trouble. Passions burn and bets are double!’ It seems gambling was a ritualistic compulsion for these men – a compulsion undercut by the caption to the photo which delivers a fateful prophecy: ‘ruin enters as fate runs out’.

The dissolute Regency Period saw the craze of heavy gambling reach fever pitch. William Crockford was one of the most prominent figures of this age, whose incredible rags to riches tale was fuelled entirely by his aptitude for gambling. Beginning his career as a fishmonger, half a century later he had founded the ‘Crockford’s’ gambling club and become one of the wealthiest men in England (worth the equivalent of £95 million today).

crockford's

Crockford’s original location at 50 St. James’s Street.

Crockford made his fortune taking money from the pockets of reckless aristocrats, thereby helping to democratise the British gambling culture. And whilst he cut away the elite nature of gaming, the government also cracked down on the spread of new ‘hells’ at the bottom end of society. Clubs and gambling houses held different motives and intentions by this time, with the divide between upper and lower class gaming rituals gradually being reduced. Towards the middle of the nineteenth century, the establishment of institutionalised gambling – the casino – had emerged.

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Luke is a history writer from London who is associated with Europalace Casino. He enjoys reading, cooking, and playing piano.

 

 

 

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Review: Lady Bette and the Murder of Mister Thynn by N.A. Pickford.

lady bette and the murder of my thynnIn an age when women – no matter how high born – had few rights, wealthy heiresses found themselves sometimes to be both bargaining counters of their guardians and targets for kidnappers after rich pickings. Lady Bette was one such, but so much more than that: she was a Percy and the heiress to the Northumberland estates: the very top echelon of the English aristocracy. Think Syon House in Brentford and Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, both still with us. Add to this the magnificent Northumberland House near Charing Cross – lost to the railways and urban expansion of the late 19C; and Petworth House and it’s clear that in the late Seventeenth Century, the Percys of Northumberland were an ancient and noble family of the first rank. They still are today.

So when Bette’s father, the 11 Duke of Northumberland died in 1670 when she was just three, and her elder brother himself having died two years previously, little Bette became the heiress to vast estates. She instantly became a pawn in a marriage game played by two deadly rivals: her mother and her grandmother, the formidable Dowager Lady Howard.

Having already lost her childhood husband from her initial arranged marriage (they appeared to be a fondly devoted young couple), Bette – still in her early teens – was fixed up with Thomas Thynn, an unpleasant character who rubbed shoulders with the emerging Whig faction surrounding the Duke of Monmouth – desperate chancers as history would later prove.

These years of scheming and intrigue – skillfully woven by the author in the narrative – culminate in the event of the title: a drive-by assassination of Thynn in his coach at the cross-roads of Pall Mall and Haymarket. The killers were a group of down-at-heel desperadoes in the pay of the mysterious Count Konigsmark and his right hand man, Christopher Vratz, fortune hunters and mercenaries to a man.

London at this time was a haven for resting military types from the Continent, common soldiers now impoverished habitues of the capital’s less salubrious inns and ale houses. They were easy recruits for this mission.

Apart from Bette herself, no one comes out of this story with any credit. Honour there is none. Everybody, high and low alike, is on the make. My favourite – and likely yours will be too – is Ralph Montagu, sometime ambassador to Paris and step-father of Bette, whose strategic womanising and scheming are utterly shameless, leading ultimately to his disgrace at Court. A morality tale within a tale.

N.A. Pickford weaves complex threads together with great skill and tells this amazing story with panache and style. His research is clearly both deep and wide-ranging  and he manages his sources masterfully. Any history lover will enjoy this pacy true story, but if you’re particularly into the scheming, the intrigues, the power-broking of the Restoration elite, you will adore this book.

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The footnotes, references and index are excellent: all you would want.

Lady Bette and the Murder of Mister Thynn (309pp) is published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson with a cover price of £20 although it is available for less.

 

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trinity house

Trinitas in Unitate.

Many happy returns to Trinity House which was granted its Royal Charter this day in 1514 by Henry VIII, early in his reign when he was yet young, handsome and worthy.  Trinity House is the charity which takes care of all of our lighthouses and coastal buoys, ensuring the safety of thousands of mariners down the ages.

As with many ancient organisations, Trinity House has a religious foundation and a wonderfully convoluted name: The Master, Wardens, and Assistants of the Guild, Fraternity, or Brotherhood of the most glorious and undivided Trinity, and of St. Clement in the Parish of Deptford-Strond in the County of Kent. Deptford, of course, was in times gone by London’s major centre of ship building and maritime marine. The initial function, according to the Charter, was “so that they might regulate the pilotage of ships in the King’s streams”.

As a fraternity, the top of the organisation comprises 31 Elder Brethren, led by a Master. Today’s Master is HRH The Princess Royal, the latest in a long line of senior royals who have held the position. Former non-Royal Masters have included Samuel Pepys (as you’d expect), The Duke of Wellington and William Pitt the Younger.

The Trinity House HQ is in Trinity Square, overlooking the Tower of London and the Tower Hill Memorial which commemorates all merchant seamen and fishermen lost in the two world wars. All Hallows by the Tower, which also remembers seafarers, is close by. The late-Georgian building by Samuel Wyatt dates from 1796. It has a magnificent staircase, beautifully-appointed rooms and is festooned with portraits, ships models, silverware and other seafaring objects.

Trinity House

Trinity House, London

Trinity House, London

Trinity House, London

Trinity House, London

Trinity House, London

Last Saturday as part of the 500th anniversary celebrations, Trinity House was open to the public, a rare occurrence. These photos are from our visit, all by LH Member Fiona Pretorius. It will next be accessible one day on Open House weekend this September and booking will be necessary, so look out for that.

 

Further Reading.

Our Trinity House photos on Flickr.
Trinity House History.
Trinity House History Blog.
Trinity House home page.
Trinity House FAQs.
Trinity House on Wikipedia.

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This museum was re-opened in March after a substantial revamp. Last Friday we were privileged to have a private tour led by curator Jennifer Adam. The whole business was fascinating with a massive array of artifacts to Mammon. We only had an hour before the doors were opened to the public, so I’ll definitely go back for a more substantial look, I’d suggest it needs a good several hours. Here’s a piece of trivia. When the currency was decimalised in 1971, the ten bob note was to be continued as a 50p note, but the idea was scotched at the last minute. And whose head was going to appear on it? Sir Walter Raleigh.

bank of england museum

One of our group, LH Member Chris West, writes:
Our visit to the Bank of England Museum on Friday was fascinating. We were straight away talking about the beautiful floor mosaics and then Jenifer Adam introduced herself to us as our host – we saw the structure of the building in model form, which showed the complexity of the various extensions and the way expense was not spared to reflect the national importance of this world famous financial hub. We were expertly shepherded from room to room, seeing beautifully presented displays from early history, displays from the vaults (no you are not allowed to view the gold down below), a clever hands on ‘ship’ designed to involve youngsters, bank notes ancient to modern (we all remembered the ten shilling note) and a sprinkle of the famous people who just popped in to exchange their money, including Handel! It’s always a delight to listen to such a passionately interested, devoted expert, and Jennifer Adam  did us proud- so much to see (I nearly forgot that we were all able to pick up the gold bar, which today was worth £360000+ (but you wouldn’t get far with it- it’s encased except for room to slide your hand in) so I’ll have to go back again as soon as I can.

bank of england museum

Charters from the 17C establishing not only the Bank, but the National Debt.

bank of england museum

Lottery tickets, early bank notes and a book listing customer authorities.

old lady of threadneedle street gilray

The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, first coined by the cartoonist James Gillray in 1797. The bank being ravished by William Pitt the Younger.

bank of england museum

Where you have Gillray you must have Cruickshank. Satirical banknote, protesting the hundreds of executions of forgers.

Pitt the Younger. There is much statuary throughout the bank and the museum, notably of William III who was on the throne when the bank was founded in 1694.

Pitt the Younger. There is much statuary throughout the bank and the museum, notably of William III who was on the throne when the bank was founded in 1694.

The Bank of England Museum is open from 10 am to 5 pm Monday to Friday. Entrance is free.

London Historians frequently organises behind the scenes group visits which are mostly for Members only.

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royal hospital chelseaIf you watched the moving Remembrance concert at Albert Hall on Saturday evening you will have seen the contingent of Chelsea Pensioners prominently featured. This is one of their busiest times of year, understandably. But you see small numbers of them out and about at other great occasions and if you’re ever in Chelsea, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter them simply out for a walk.

I had walked past their home – the impeccably symmetrical Royal Hospital Chelsea – many times, usually on my way to the National Army Museum nearby. With three sets of imposing gates out front, I had no idea that the place was open to members of the public. But it very much is (see below for details). During the summer I joined a group of our friends from the Westminster Guide Lecturers Association for a wonderful tour of the complex. Led by the excellent Michael Allen, who features in these pictures.

The moving spirit behind the Royal Hospital was Charles II, inspired during his exile by Les Invalides in Paris. With a waft of the royal hand, Sir Christopher Wren – with quite enough on his plate thanks very much – was contracted to design our very own version, using 66  acres of land originally acquired by James I in Chelsea, then of course pretty much countryside. Unsurprisingly, he did a fantastic job, which is more or less unchanged to this day.

In Wren’s day and from medieval times, the word hospital had a much wider meaning than today, being a derivation of “hospitality” rather than more narrowly a place for sick people, although it did generally imply a charitable function. There are usually around 300 in-pensioners (colloquially: “Chelsea pensioners”). As these terms imply, for a place in the Royal Hospital,  you must be over 65 and surrender your army pension in return for total accommodation and provision. You must be able to look after yourself in day-to-day normal routine and until very recently, you had to be male. There is a tiny handful of female pensioners. (In a ballot, the overwhelming vote by the pensioners in favour of staying all-male was overruled.). Generally, inmates are from “other ranks”. The only officers who may apply will have spent 12 years or more in the ranks. Pensioners retain the rank they left the forces with, hence you will see badges of rank on the tunics of some.

Royal Hospital Chelsea

Figure Court. Accommodation in the wings ot the left and right. Great Hall and Chapel immediately left and right of the main portico and tower.

Royal Hospital Chelsea

Statue of Charles II in classical garb, by Grinling Gibbons. Gilded for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002. I’m not convinced such a great idea.

Royal Chelsea Hospital

Central cupola.

Royal Hospital Chelsea

The Great Hall, where the pensioners take their meals.

Royal Hospital Chelsea

The chapel.

Royal Hospital Chelsea

Extremely rare example of a Royal Mail letter box with two slots, for when the gate is locked.

Royal Hospital Chelsea

The public cafe does excellent cream teas.

Royal Hospital Chelsea

Warriors on mobility scooters. Old soldiers are less steady on their pins than once they were.

In addition to what you see in these pictures, the Royal Hospital also has an excellent museum and shop, the entrance to which is the Wellington room, featuring portraits or the Iron Duke himself, Her Majesty, a superb diorama of the Royal Hospital in the 18C and a panorama of the battle of Waterloo painted in 1820.

You may visit the places here described for free if you’re on your own or in a small group. Groups of 10 or more must make a group booking which comes with a Chelsea pensioner guide. Or you can join an existing group booking if you want the tour. These occur twice a day. Details and opening times here.

For more of our images from the Royal Hospital Chelsea, see our Flickr account here.

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