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Review: Two Last Nights! Show Business in Georgian Britain.
Foundling Museum. 20 September 2019 – 5 January 2020

title250Having made a spirited recovery in the late Stuart period following the Restoration and into early Georgian times, public entertainment venues in London remained few. This all changed as the 18C progressed and more of the population found themselves better off and with more leisure time. Pursuits that were mainly the domain of the well-off spread to the growing middle class. Simultaneously, forms of entertainment became more diverse, notably the emergence of pleasure gardens such as Vauxhall, Ranelagh, Bagnigge Wells and others.

This is the subject of a new exhibition at the Foundling Museum. While the growth of the entertainment industry was nationwide, the fountainhead was inevitably London. This show examines primarily the business of public entertainment rather than the forms on offer, although we get a bit of that too. So we are primarily looking at the theatres themselves, the marketing, the consumes, the fashions and – most entertainingly – how the theatre-goers were perceived, and also satirised.

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Miss Rattle dressing for the Pantheon, 1770s.

Entering the exhibition we are first met with marketing materials mainly in the form of printed handbills. all are in the distinct period multi-typeface, centre-ranged, capital-heavy form of the time. Nonetheless, competition was stiff and it’s quite sophisticated stuff from which the title of this show derives.

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Handbill for Theatre Royal, Covent Garden.

Most of the ephemera on display relates to tickets. Except in the cheapest of cheap seats in the pit or the ‘pidgeon holes’ (crammed sections in the Gods with heavily constricted views), theatre-going remained quite pricy and I think this is reflected in the beauty of the engraved tickets which often featured the architecture of the theatre and other classical forms. Some even bore wax seals. They could be anything from modern post card size almost up to A4 in some cases.

But for me, the most fun part was relating to the audience. Hogarth’s famous Laughing Audience is here, of course, but there are many more along the same lines including the best of Rowlandson – one in particular which makes the point that country audiences in rough and ready theatres enjoy themselves far more than the stiffy, sniffy city types. It is a point which one might care to refute knowing the reputation of a typical London audience which – as is shown in several pictures – is separated from the players literally with a rows of metal spikes.

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Comedy in the Country, Tragedy in London. By Rowlandson.

I would have liked to have seen something on two forms of public entertainment which were invented in this period: Satire, as presented by Samuel Foote (1720 – 1777) at his own patent theatre in the Haymarket; and Astley’s Circus, as presented by Philip Astley (1742 – 1814). Both were almost instantly successful and the latter in particular begat imitators which have continued down to today.

Print, satire, entertainment, fashion. All flourished in the Georgian period, and all are bought together here in this exhibition in a most pleasing way.


The entry to Two Last Nights! is free with your Foundling Museum ticket which is £13.20 for adults. National Art Fund members get into the museum entirely free of charge. 

 

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Firepower, the museum of artillery in Woolwich, closes its doors today for the last time. This is a tragedy. As a former gunner myself I am possibly biased, but in my opinion it was the best military museum in London with brilliant staff, brilliant volunteers and an outreach programme second-to-none.

The museum’s archive has already been shipped out, leaving military history researchers in the lurch. Now the guns, ammunition, displays, ordnance equipment, medals collection (including 22 VCs from the 62 awarded to gunners) will be crated up, transported and stored at the Royal Artillery HQ in Larkhill, to be seen again when – who knows?

I realise that there were – and are – challenging problems, mainly financial, relating to the museum, but I believe a better way forward could have been sought and found. Surely. The Regiment appears to have taken the easy way out and another strand of the thread connecting Woolwich with gunners has been severed. A “gunners gallery” is to be opened at the Greenwich Heritage Centre later this year apparently. Big deal.

I understand from speaking to various people that the ultimate decision to close the museum came from the Master Gunner, General Granville-Chapman.

Anyway, there you go. More heritage denied. I’ll pop into the museum for one last look today. I’d like to thanks all the staff and volunteers at Firepower for their enthusiasm and hospitality they’ve extended every time I’ve visited, an experience shared by many thousands down the years. Good luck with all future endeavours. Ubique!

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Today is self-proclaimed Postal Workers’ Day. Fair enough, it is shoulders to the wheel this time of year, though less so than in the past, one suspects. Talking of the past, take a look at this old capital and fluted column section which sits outside the excellent Vestry House Museum in Walthamstow E17.

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It turns out this rather incongruous street ornament was once part of the neo-classical General Post Office HQ in St Martin-le-Grand. The magnificent building was designed by Sir Robert Smirke and built between 1826 and 1829. At the height of Britain’s imperial power when edifices like these seemed to be ten-a-penny, it was demolished in 1912, in an act of careless vandalism at which London excels so well.

Engraving by Thomas Hosner Shepherd.

Engraving by Thomas Hosmer Shepherd.

When the building was being demolished the capital was purchased by a stone mason Frank Mortimer who presented it to the Borough of Walthamstow. It was first placed in Lloyd Park and then transferred to its present position in 1954.

Hat-tip to LH Member Joanna Moncrieff for background info on this. 

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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.

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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.

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

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

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

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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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Apologies to readers and the Kew Bridge Steam Museum alike for writing this the day before the end of the museum’s steam punk exhibition, which has been running the past few months. But if you’re quick, you can make it down there today or tomorrow. Engines will be in steam on both days and KBSM is one of those enlightened museums that gives you an annual ticket (£9).

Steam punk is the combining of old and new technologies and artefacts to create an artform that can be illustrations, costumes or jewellery, but mainly sculpture. Mostly it’s about using recycled objects, but some enthusiasts appear to create bits themselves from scratch, typically in brass. If you are familiar with my favourite movie – Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, with its computers comprising old telly screens, typewriter keyboards and tons of ducts – you’ll know what steam punk is about. Anyway, here are some pictures.

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stream punk kew bridge steam museumstream punk kew bridge steam museumstream punk kew bridge steam museumstream punk kew bridge steam museumIn order not to lose sight of what Kew Bridge Steam Museum is really all about, here’s the wonderful Hathorn-Davey engine in full chug.
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Careless Talk Costs Lives, 1940 Fougasse (Kenneth Bird) © Estate of Kenneth Bird

I love the Cartoon Museum in Little Russell Street. I rarely go to the British Museum without popping in: it’s just round the corner. Earlier this year they held exhibitions celebrating 30 years of VIZ and the art of Ronald Searle. I went to three of the associated talks, every one a treat.

Currently they have an exhibition on Kenneth Bird, ‘Fougasse’ (1887-1965). A Londoner, Bird was badly wounded in World War I, and while convalescing he submitted his first cartoon to Punch. He subsequently became a regular and went on to be one of our most celebrated propaganda and public information poster designers, particularly during World War II. He was also the only cartoonist to become editor of Punch.

I don’t need to tell you more, because it’s all here.

The museum is also hosting two talks, on the evenings of 13 October and 10 November. Book early because the space is tiny, about 40 seats I reckon.

Update: The Cartoon Museum have kindly allowed us to use this image. I like his clean style and distinctive lettering.

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