Let us hear it for “A high wind in St. Pauls Church Yard”

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May 282017

I have always liked eighteenth century prints featuring eighteenth century print shops – and here is one of my favourites.

It appears on the excellent Lewis Walpole site here and as today marks the anniversary of its publication (28 May 1793) I thought that I would dust it off and give it an outing. It was published by SW Fores and therefore, not surprisingly, shows the scene outside one of his premises ( No. 57 St. Pauls Church Yard, the other being at No. 3 Piccadilly) on a windy day.

It has got it all, really: the cleric on the left using his quizzing glass to admire the naked rump of the lady bending over to pick up her hat, unaware that his own hat, trimmed with  the cleric’s wig, has blown into the air; the two smart young things battling against the wind, which billows up the front of their skirts to reveal their stocking tops; the fish-wife sprawled on the roadway with her basket overturned and the fish flapping in the dirt; the elderly man trying to hold on to his hat and wig while having a good ogle; the young blade in what I think is called a Jean de Bray jacket.

In the background we have a porter carrying a bale on his head, and a couple who appear to have fallen against each other for support, hat to hat. And a sign above the bow-fronted shop window reminding us that Fores did not just sell individual prints but also supplied them wholesale to other print shops, as well as “for exportation”.

Samuel William Fores, to give him his full moniker, was born in 1761, the son of a cloth merchant. He went into the business of selling prints when he was 22, from premises at City Arms, 3 Piccadilly, near the Haymarket. From there he expanded and operated also from addresses at 50 Piccadilly and 312 Oxford Street. After he died in 1838 the business was carried on under the style of ‘Messrs Fores’ by his sons George Thomas Fores (1806-58) and Arthur Blücher Fores (1814-83). They moved the business away  from satirical towards sporting prints. Indeed the Fores name continued well into the 20th Century.

So, 224 years after it first appeared, many happy returns to a High Wind in St Pauls Churchyard!

May 212017

I came across this Thomas Rowlandson etching on the Lewis Walpole site, and as my ancestor Richard Hall spent a lot of his time and energy eating and drinking I thought it was worthy of closer inspection. The site says that it was published “not before 1828” – Rowlandson died in 1827 – and presumably it was therefore an earlier drawing, done in around 1800, and found among the artist’s papers after his death. Indeed there seems to be some disagreement as to where is being depicted. One title shows it as the Rainbow Rooms, Fleet Street, and another has it as The Wheatsheaf Eating House, Salisbury Court, Fleet Street.

I love the detail and the sense of animation which Rowlandson conveyed – his characters always seem to be talking. There is nothing static about his crowd scenes. Here, many of the faces are grotesques – but they are full of expression and movement. You can almost hear the buzz of conversation you get from a room full of men – and indeed all the customers are male, with just one serving girl to show that women did actually exist in Georgian England. And even she is being knocked out of the way by a male servant bringing a tureen of soup to the table.

I like the  hats lined up on the rail above the diners – and the way that the tables are separated by curtains, with the diners sitting on bench seats. The clock on the wall tells us it is 8.30, and the drinks which you can see include both beer, in tankards, and wine in glasses. I am never too keen on dogs begging at the table, but there you go….

Here are a couple of close ups, showing the faces of the diners:

Nice one Thomas – a good evocative scene of what a public dining area was like in Georgian England.


Napoleon – reptile, insect or earth worm?

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May 122017

I don’t often look at purely political caricatures but I came across these on the British Museum site, and it occurs to me that they  exhibit the same jingoistic patriotism (and anti-French sentiment) as currently fill our newspapers a propos Brexit. Of course, to get the flavour we would need to swap George III for the head of a certain T. May, and I rather feel that the head of Jean-Claude Juncker would be a fine substitute for  the Emperor Napoleon*.

First up,The Rival Gardeners by Charles Williams, published by S W Fores on 10th February 1803. According to the BM site”The gardeners, George III and Napoleon (right), stand on opposite sides of a stream, ‘The Channel’, in which floats a sailor’s cudgel inscribed ‘British Oak’. Each has a plant growing in a tub hooped with gold: Napoleon’s is a drooping weed on which dangles a small imperial crown. Behind him are serried rows of ‘Military Poppies’ in pots; beside him (right) is a wheelbarrow filled with coins, in which he has stuck his sabre; this is ‘Manure from Italy & Switzerland’. Napoleon, in military dress with apron and over-sleeves, bends over his plant, holding up the crown; he says: “Why I dont know what is the reason – my Poppies flourish charmingly – but this Corona Imperialis is rather a delicate kind of plant, and requires great judgement in rearing.” George III, plainly dressed and wearing an apron, holds a spade, and points to a sturdy oak-plant growing in his tub, whose summit is a British royal crown. He says: “No – No – Brother Gardener – though only a ditch parts our grounds – yet this is the spot for true Gardening, – here, the Corona Britanica, and Heart of Oak, will flourish to the end of the World.”

Next we have Gillray’s well-known image entitled The King of Brobdingnag. As usual with Gillray, it was published by Hannah Humphrey, and also appeared in 1803. The vitriolic verse ends with the words ” I cannot but conclude you to be one of the most pernicious, little odious reptiles, that nature ever suffer’d to crawl upon the surface of the Earth.”

Then there is The Brodignag Watchman (no idea why it is Brodignag and not Brobdingnag) preventing Gullivers Landing. It shows the king, illuminating the world with his ‘constitutional  lanthorn’ (i.e. lantern) while observing a tiny figure of Napoleon stepping off a boat onto the beach. The Emperor, sword in hand, looks terrified at the gigantic figure of the King. George III utters the words “Stand ho! What little Reptile’s that?” It was published by William Holland right at the end of 1803.

To end with A British Chymist analysing a Corsican Earth Worm. It was published by William Holland in 1803 and is described as being ‘after Temple West’. The B.M. site explains that it shows George III sitting in profile scrutinizing through a glass the contents of a small bowl, which he holds in his right hand. These come from a retort containing a figure of Napoleon, who looks with angry apprehension over his right shoulder. Napoleon wears his usual huge cocked hat and sabre; his legs merge with the liquid contents of the retort. This stands on a rectangular brick furnace, with a tap facing the King, who says: “I think I can now pretty well ascertain the ingredients of which this insect is composed – viz, – Ambition, and self sufficiency, two parts – Forgetfulness one part, – some light Invasion Froth, on the surfase and a prodigious quantity of fretful passion, and conceited Arrogance! in the residue!!”

Ah well, a nice bit of invective and a few choice insults never did go amiss! And of course the caricatures established a fine tradition for diminishing the size and physical prowess of our enemies. Napoleon was average size – yet nowadays even many French will take it that he was smaller than average and we talk of  a ‘Napoleon complex’.

The other thing I find interesting is the way that the caricaturists adapted comments made in peace time, turning them from criticisms into virtues. Take the constant depiction of George III as ‘Farmer George’, suggesting in numerous pre-war etchings that he was only interested in matters agricultural. Come the war with Napoleon, and this is turned into a virtue – he is ‘nurturing’ freedom and the Constitution. Similarly, there are many highly critical depictions of the King using a quizzing glass – a sign of short-sightedness, political and optical. With war, this attribute is turned around to become positive – here is a king who scrutinises things carefully, doesn’t let anything escape his notice, and uses his vision to make sound judgments. An interesting twist!

All images appear courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum – their collection is searchable online, which makes it an excellent resource


*O.K. I’ll give it a try. Here goes…….

An odious little reptile indeed! I know Juncker’s not French –  in fact he hails from Luxembourg, but that is close enough….

Apr 302017

Richard dentist


“Thursday 16th

Had a very indifferent night the past, with my Tooth – today was enabled to go through the operation of having it drawn out, which gave me great relief.  Part fine, part dull, not very cold.”










In his diaries my ancestor Richard Hall makes mention of several trips to the dentist – and it gives me the shudders just to think of what that would have entailed in an era before anaesthetics. But at least Richard was already in pain – and the procedure was aimed at reducing that discomfort. Imagine what it must have been like for someone with perfectly good teeth, volunteering  to have an

Extracting a tooth, by William Henry Bunbury

Extracting a tooth, by William Henry Bunbury

extraction. Why would they do that? Money. It is a fact of life that in some countries today people feel compelled to sell their organs to raise cash to pay off their debts – the trade in kidneys in India being a case in point. But in Georgian England the craze was for the rich (a description synonymous with excessive eating, rich foods – and gum disease) – to replace their blackened, stinking, stumps with nice fine white teeth. Where were  they going to get such pearly white replacements? Why, from the poor who, on account of their sugar-free diets, generally did not suffer from bad teeth.


This fashion started to become popular in the last 20 years of the 18th Century – before the trend to use ‘Waterloo Teeth’ ie the teeth removed from the corpses found on the battlefield of Waterloo, and harvested for dentists to use back in Britain. In her ‘Memoirs’ the writer Laetitia Matilda Hawkins tells the story of an impecunious Emma Hart, way before she became the mistress of Horatio Nelson, deciding to sell her front gnashers in order to pay off her debts. On the way to the dentist to face the horrors of the tooth-puller she met a fellow servant and was talked into selling something altogether different – her virtue. Somehow I think she made a wise choice – I doubt if she would ever have snared the Hero of the Nile if she had greeted him with a broad gummy grin where her front teeth had originally been.

John Hunter had been at the forefront of popularising the idea of using transplants: his book “Natural History of the Human Tooth” suggested that the dentist should always have  at least two potential donors in attendance. If the first one didn’t have teeth which fitted the recipient, try the stand-by! Once the dentist had found an approximate fit, he would then hold it firmly in position by wiring it in to the adjoining teeth. Other dentists used replacement teeth made out of pottery, ivory, bone or even gold. Contrary to some reports they were not made out of wood, which would have gone soggy and broken apart due to the acidity of the mouth.

The transplanted teeth did not of course grow – but there are instances where they remained in place for months, and sometimes even years. What had started as a craze in London spread to Paris. There, the dentist Pierre Le Mayeur perfected the technique before heading to America to make his fortune.

George Washington's dentures, courtesy of Mount Vernon

George Washington’s dentures, courtesy of Mount Vernon

He even treated George Washington and we know that Washington wore dentures – but there is no record that he received any transplanted teeth. However, his aide, Colonel Richard Varick, certainly did receive transplanted teeth – prompting Washington to write this fulsome endorsement: “I have been staggered in my belief at the efficacy of transplantation of living teeth”.

The New York newspapers of 1784 carried  advertisements from Le Mayeur, offering payment of £2.2.0 (two guineas) for a set of front teeth “on applying to Number 28 Maiden Lane New York.” Apparently there were not enough takers, and by the time Le Mayeur reached Richmond he was offering five guineas a tooth – “slaves teeth excepted.”

The latter comment reminds me that when I did my university thesis on organ transplantation nearly half a century ago I was in correspondence with a certain Christian Barnard, who of course used a non-white donor for the first heart transplant – into a white person. But 200-odd years ago, slave teeth were not considered suitable. Le Mayeur went on to advertise that he had transplanted upwards of a hundred and twenty teeth during a six month period “and that not one of his operations has failed of the wished-for success”. In practice however, few transplants stayed firmly in place for even six months, and back in England dentists were already pouring scorn on the practice. The view of Thomas Berdmore* and William Rae, both dentists to George III, was that the operations were “dangerous and immoderately expensive”. In particular they were of the opinion that the only way you could get a good fix was if the root of the tooth being transplanted was of the identical length, shape and size as the one which had just been removed. Mind you, that merely prompted the unscrupulous dentists of the period to resort to “re-planting” i.e. taking out the old tooth,  filling it, disguising the discolouration – and putting it straight back into its original socket without the recipient being any the wiser as to where his “new” tooth had come from!

Anyway, I am grateful to John Woodforde for his book ‘The Strange Story of False Teeth’ for the information which I have used: now for what I really like, a quick look at how caricaturists liked to show dentistry!

Transplanting of Teeth by Thos Rowlandson 1787

First up, a rather appropriate Thomas Rowlandson print shown courtesy of the British Museum site, and which first appeared in 1787. It is entitled ‘Transplanting of Teeth’ and the site contains this explanation:

“A fashionable dentist is extracting the teeth of the poor in order to insert ‘live teeth’ immediately into the jaws of his patients. In the centre a young chimney-sweep sits in an arm-chair, over the back of which the dentist leans, holding the boy’s head, and inserting an instrument into his mouth. Next (left) a lady sits in a similar chair watching the sweep with a pained and angry expression; she holds a smelling-bottle to her nose; she has just endured an extraction and is about to receive a transplantation. On the right a good-looking young lady leans back, her fists clenched in pain, while a spectacled dentist peers closely into her face, placing his instrument in her mouth. Behind her a lean, ugly, and elderly man wearing regimentals stands in profile to the right, holding a mirror in which he inspects his mouth with a dissatisfied expression. On the left a ragged boy and girl are leaving the room, both crying with pain: the girl inspects the coin in her hand. On the door is a placard: ‘Most Money Given for live Teeth’. A placard on the wall is headed by a coronet and two ducks, indicating quackery: ‘Baron Ron——Dentist to her High Mightiness the Empress of Russia’.


Another Rowlandson, on a more general dentistry theme, is this one from 1811, showing the proud (French) dentist displaying his handiwork ie a full set of artificial dentures:

Rowlandson's French Dentist 1811

Other artists loved depicting the cruelty and barbarism of the dentist. Here we have ‘The Dentist, or teeth drawn with a touch’ by Robert Sayer from 1790-2The Dentist or teeth drawn with a touch by Robert Sayer 1790-2

Or how about this one:The London Dentist after Robert Dighton pubd Bowles & CarverIt is entitled ‘The London Dentist’ and is described as being ‘ after Robert Dighton’ and was  published by  Bowles & Carver in or shortly after 1784. But for my money I always like the drawings made by John Collier, sometimes described as ‘the Lancashire Hogarth’. He used the pseudonym Timothy Bobbin:


I recall doing a blog post once before about John Collier and dentistry – here. So I will end with another chance to see one of the images which I used at the time – with the sadistic tooth puller brandishing a red hot coal under the nose of the ‘patient/victim’, forcing him to pull his head backwards thereby pulling out the tooth.

Shown courtesy of the Wellcome Institute

Shown courtesy of the Wellcome Institute

And for anyone planning a trip to the dentist later today – my apologies!


*PS I recall doing a separate blog on royal dentist Thomas Berdmore five years ago here.

Apr 222017
Pattens from circa 1720, shown courtesy of the V&A

Pattens from circa 1720, shown courtesy of the V&A

It was not uncommon for women in the 18th Century to wear strap-on metal “shoe supports” to lift the shoe off from the ground, so that long coats and dresses did not drag along the mud and puddles which made walking around town so hazardous. Especially linked to working class women, the pattens often feature in caricatures, but I had forgotten how often Thomas Rowlandson makes use of them. Here are a few:

First up , from 1803 and shown on the excellent Lewis Walpole site, a Rowlandson entitled “A cat in Pattens”. The woman’s aspirations to being fashionable, complete with fur muff and collar, are clearly no more than a sight for sore eyes in the opinion of the one-eyed beggar and the chimney sweep. I love the poodle, trimmed and crimped.Pattens 3 Rowlandson 1803 lwlNext up, a Rowlandson from 1807 entitled “A Nincompoop or her henpeck’d husband”, also on the Lewis Walpole site. The ‘lady’ with her ostrich feather plumes, carries her fan, leaving her husband to tow alongside, umbrella under his arm, and carrying her bag – and pattens.Pattens 5 1807 Rowlandson lwl

Another Rowlandson, this time from 1811 and appearing on the British Museum site, shows a midwife on her way to see a client, clutching a lantern and a bottle of  cordial and passing the bored watchman and the yawning chimney sweep.

Pattens 7 1811 Rowlandson BMusA year later Rowlandson did a similarly unsympathetic  depiction of  a woman having to walk through rainy streets with his “Wet under foot” showing the woman wearing pattens and walking over cobbles. Again, it is on the Lewis Walpole site:

Pattens 4 Rowlandson 1812 lwlRowlandson was not of course the only caricaturist to highlight pattens. Here are two more. First up, “Piety in pattens, or Timbertoe on Tiptoe” showing the man with a wooden leg somewhat dwarfed by the mop-wielding woman perched on incredibly high pattens. Her smile suggests that she rather likes where he is putting his hands….

Pattens, circa 1720, courtesy of the V&A

To end with, a rather later drawing, once more from the British Museum site, by C J Grant. It dates from 1831 and shows what happened if you walked the streets without pattens…. although the lady in question is blissfully unaware of the dirt covering the back of her dress…. As she says “I’ve walked pretty clean, considering.”


Pattens 6 B Mus CJGrant 1831

Post script: you can find out more about the business of selling pattens etc on the excellent London Street Views site here, with its description of the premises of H E Morey in Bishopsgate Street.



Mar 312017

It seems to me that if you were going to the theatre in the Eighteenth Century, you probably wouldn’t want to take your wife with you! This view is reinforced by an interesting Rowlandson print, shown courtesy of the British Museum, entitled “The Lobby Loungers” showing people gathered in the foyer at Covent Garden theatre. The year: 1786.

AN00949544_001In the centre, the notorious lecher George Hanger is busy negotiating terms with a pair of prostitutes.

AN00949544_001 - Copy

AN00949544_001 - CopyThe girl next to him has a sexy, laced-up bodice and a daring amount of cleavage. She wears a polonaise gown and a fine feathered hat, and the point of her fan is directed towards the “lunch box” of Naughty Georgie, who was no doubt hoping to “Buy One – Get one Free.”

AN00949544_001 - CopyOn the right, there is a scene of misunderstanding and consternation, with a man, quizzing glass in hand, seeking to importune a “respectable lady” – well, she may or may not have been respectable, but she was already spoken for and has a much younger companion to her side.

AN00949544_001 - CopyOn the left is another chatting-up scene, with a bawd, basket in hand, hoping to negotiate a price for the young girl, sitting down.

Who then was George Hanger? A bit of a lad really, often featured by Gillray in his caricatures. Hanger was the third of seven children born to an M.P. in Gloucester. Never likely to inherit his father’s estates, he followed the well-worn route for third sons i.e. into the Army. Indeed he bought a commission and served with Tarleton in the American Revolutionary War. When Tarleton was indisposed due to illness, he led the British troops in an attack on Charlotte (North Carolina) but was ambushed, and his men took something of a  a mauling. Hanger was injured, but not seriously.George Hanger 4th_Baron_Coleraine

When he returned to England he became a close friend of the Prince of Wales, being made Equerry in 1791. He was great company, a great gambler and womaniser, and eventually succeeded to his father’s title having outlived both his elder brothers to become 4th Baron Coleraine. Women seemed to slip through his fingers – he reputedly married once, to a gypsy girl, but she ran off with a passing tinker….some you win, some you lose!

Gillray, in one of twenty etchings featuring Hanger held by the National Portrait Gallery, showed him riding a horse down Grosvenor Street, in “Georgey a’ Cockhorse”:

NPG D12584; George Hanger, 4th Baron Coleraine ('Georgey a' cock-horse') by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey
















He also features in one of the best-known Gillray prints, “The Royal Joke – or Black Jack’s Delight” shown courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery. The scene is at the home of the Prince of Wales (Carlton House). In the foreground The Prince of Wales holds the rather stout Mrs. Sawbridge across his knees and prepares to spank her; she holds out her arms imploringly. Her husband is shown enthusiastically playing a fiddle and dancing. On the left Lady Archer, dressed in her usual red riding habit, holds a driving-whip, and points angrily at Mrs Sawbridge. Next to her a little girl, the daughter of Mrs Sawbridge, looks on in horror at the way her mother is being treated. Various onlookers are in the background, including Mrs Fitzherbert who seems to have  the politician Fox draped amorously around her. Next to Fox, George Hanger stands in profile, looking to the left and wearing his military uniform.

NPG D12996; 'The royal joke, - or - black jacks delight' by James Gillray, published by Samuel William Fores

One of the more curious aspects of his life was that when he got into serious financial difficulties – on account of his gambling – he showed that he was far from afraid to get his hands dirty. He became a coal merchant! Gillray shows him lugging a sack of coal in this caricature from 1800, entitled “Georgey in the coal-hole” and shown courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

NPG D12741; George Hanger, 4th Baron Coleraine ('Georgey in the coal-hole') by James Gillray, published by  Hannah Humphrey

Hanger died in 1824 at the age of 73 – the title died out with him. Speaking of his experiences in life, he apparently stated “I was early introduced into life, and often kept both good and bad company; associated with men both good and bad, and with lewd women, and women not lewd, wicked and not wicked; — in short, with men and women of every description, and of every rank, from the highest to the lowest, from St. James’s to St. Giles’s; in palaces and night cellars; from the drawing-room to the dust cart….Human nature is in general frail, and mine I confess has been wonderfully so.”


That’s all very well, but I still don’t think I will allow him to accompany my wife to the theatre….! He does however get a mention in my book “In bed with the Georgians: Sex, Scandal & Satire” as being one of those rakish, lovable, rogues who drifted in and out of the story of the Prince Regent. Farewell General George, the randiest coal merchant I have ever encountered!

Feb 132017

announcementOn 13th February 1817 a massive banking upheaval got under way. The “old” coinage in circulation was called in and exchanged for  a completely new coinage and within a mere two weeks the transfer was complete. It marked the culmination of a secret plan, headed by William Wellesley-Pole who was Master of the Royal Mint, and represented a determined effort by the British Government to restore public confidence in the coin of the realm. For years the public had suffered chronic inflation. They had had paper currency forced on them, which they generally distrusted, and for fifty years the Mint had not minted any silver in significant quantities. Smaller currency was often replaced with locally-minted coper tokens, many of which were only valid in the town of issue.

An added problem had been that the price of silver bullion had gone through the roof. Remember, all coins had a face value which was the same as its intrinsic value, so if the Royal Mint was making a one penny silver coin, it ended up as an absolutely minute sliver of silver – smaller than the size of a  pinkie finger nail. It had also got so thin that the design on one side of the coin interfered with the design on the other. The decision was made to decrease the purity of the silver being used. At the same time, the gold currency was given a total overhaul. Previously it was based on the guinea, a coin having a face value of twenty one shillings. From 1817 the guinea disappeared and was replaced with the pound – and a splendid new design by the Italian engraver Pistrucci was introduced.

bull-headThe whole re-coinage was done in total secrecy, so as not to alarm the public. The distribution of millions of the new coins to Banks throughout the country was done without fuss or loss of any sort, and the whole thing was a huge success. Not that the public liked the new coins, with what was known as the “bull head” of the monarch George III. The problem for Pistrucci was that no-one had seen the King for some years – George III was totally senile, deaf, blind and unshaven, so Pistrucci had to ‘imagine’ a likeness. As with many engravers before and since, he chose to make the royal portrait younger. Wellesley-Pole was already hugely unpopular, as was Pistrucci. The latter was disliked because he was a foreigner, but Wellesley-Pole was despised even more. Not only had he refused to select designs submitted by members of the Royal Academy, preferring Pistrucci’s handiwork, but he was vain enough to have his initials, WWP, appear on the face of the coin. The bull head was considered ugly if not treasonous, giving rise to the ditty:

It is allow’d, throughout the town,

The head upon the new Half-Crown,

Is not the George we so much prize—

The Chin’s not like—the Nose—the Eyes.

This may be true—yet, on the whole,

The fault lies chiefly in the Pole!”

_The_new_coinage wikimediaThe original intention had been to swap all the coins between 3rd and 17th February but the start was delayed by a few days and got under way on the 13th. It gave rise to this caricature by Charles Williams and published by J Sidebotham on 13th February and entitled ‘The New Coinage, or John Bull’s visit to Mat of the Mint! ‘

It shows Wellesley-Pole, referred to as “Master and Worker of his Majesty’s Mint,” shovelling money into a sack, saying “There, Johnny! see how I have been working for you for months past; you can’t say I get my money for nothing.” John Bull replies, “You be a very industrious man, Master Mat, and the prettiest Cole merchant I have dealt with for many a day.”  His sack is inscribed: ‘New Silver to enable the people to give intrinsic value for Bank rags & worthless Tokens.’ Behind him, his wife carries a baby while her children, dressed in rags and with bare feet, scrabble on the floor. A large crowd are gathered behind the family, waiting for their turn to get their hands on the new coins which are being shovelled  in the manner of a coal merchant loading coal.

The change-over involved some 2.6 million pounds-worth of currency – that is, some 57 million coins – being delivered nationwide, using boxes containing £600 of coins (a bag of half crowns, four bags of shillings and another one of sixpences). The destination of each box had to be labelled for each of the 700-odd banks involved nationally, and the Mint employed over one thousand staff to oversee the arrangements. The boxes would then be used to return the old coinage by way of exchange. Astonishingly not one coin went astray – the books balanced to the penny.

The copper coinage was largely  left alone for the time being, but the popularity of smaller value silver coins led to the introduction of the groat (4d) and, during the reign of Queen Victoria, to a half-hearted attempt at decimalisation involving the florin (one tenth of a pound i.e. two shillings) and double florin. One thing was certain: the coins never looked the same again.

Reverse Geo III sov Ben PistThe reverse of Pistrucci’s iconic design for the sovereign i.e one pound coin, shown courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art.

Nov 252016

I came across this caricature dated 1827 on the website for Albion Prints. It was sold some time ago, and although I could have used the version on the British Museum site I prefer this one because it has been coloured more delicately.


It is called “A Fishing Party – What great enjoyments rise ‘from trivial things’…”. and features the grossly overweight and somewhat immobile King George IV being man-handled via a rather splendid ‘Royal Baby Walker’ by  a very fat Lady Conyngham and by the King’s private secretary Sir William Knighton. Lady C, the King’s mistress at the time, pulls him along by using the royal sceptre as a tow-bar.

The contraption runs on little wheels and the King carries his fishing rod in the direction of Virginia Waters (shown on the finger board in the background). Knighton pushes the contraption, and in his pocket carries a petition in support of unborn babies – and a clyster pipe. The King’s hat is marked as being “a la Townsend” and at his side is a giant reticule, marked “fish bag”. The King carries a book marked “Old Izac” – a reference to Isaac Walton and his definitive guide to fishing, the Compleat Angler.

Please note that the king’s fishing rod has accidentally caught up in the clothing covering the voluminous backside of Lady C. She is clearly feeling the strain of pulling the Royal Personage.  She wears a huge ribbon-trimmed bonnet and a  dress displaying  bare shoulders, and she sings “Rule Britannia” to which Knighton responds “Send him Victorious”.

The caricature encapsulates perfectly the derision felt towards the King – he was loathed by just about everybody – because of his wastefulness and extravagant spending, because of his hypocrisy with regards to the late Queen Caroline, because of his womanising and low morals. People were fed up with him. They were living through hard economic times while he continued his lavish spending at Brighton and on Buckingham Palace. Mind you, it was quite a brave thing to show the King as being grossly overweight – the writer Leigh Hunt had been sent to prison for seditious libel for writing a poem in which the king was compared to a fat blubbery whale.

Elizabeth, Marchioness Conyngham, was an English courtier and noblewoman  and was the last mistress of George IV. Dorothea Lieven, wife of the Russian Ambassador in London at the time, described her as having ” not an idea in her head…not a word to say for herself … nothing but a hand to accept pearls and diamonds, and an enormous balcony to wear them on.” Certainly she was renowned for the size of her “balcony” as well as for the enormity of her posterior. She was also considered vulgar and ‘common’. She made sure that her whole family benefitted from her control over the King, ensuring that her husband was made up to marquess, and installed as a Privy Counsellor, while her son received advancement and later became Lord Chancellor in the reign of William IV.

As for Knighton, yes he “pushed and pulled” King George around, but largely to good effect, and he was responsible for bringing some semblance of control to the royal finances by the end of the King’s reign.

I haven’t come across the walking frame on wheels before. It is rather grand, with two of the supports being modelled out of Buddha-like mandarin emperors. The King’s legs are huge – affected by gout and rotten circulation. No wonder he rarely ventured out, if it hurt so much and if he was always greeted with derision.

Interestingly the King died three years  after the print came out. As the Times reported on that occasion: “There never was an individual less regretted by his fellow-creatures than this deceased king”.

Good old William Heath: he is a somewhat under-rated caricaturist. He only lived to the age of 46, having been born in 1794. In his early days he mostly drew military-themed images but turned to more general satire after 1820. He sometimes used the pseudonym ‘Paul Pry’. I have featured two of his works before under the heading “The March of Intellect” – here and here. His works have an immense amount of detail in them, and can be great fun!




A Rowlandson take on Wash-day blues – entitled ‘The double disaster or new cure for love’

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Nov 022016

lwlA nice caricature by Thomas Rowlandson, first published in 1807 and entitled ‘The double disaster or new cure for love’. It is a reminder that whereas my ancestor Richard only did a “big” laundry four or five times a year (or, as he described in in his diaries, “Wash’d a great Wash”) the  process of laundry involved many of the household servants. Firewood needed to be collected, and lit under the copper cauldron using a candle. Water had to be pumped into the copper, and baskets would be used to collect the clean bed-linen and clothing to carry it outdoors – where as likely as not it would be spread out on the hedging to dry.

In this particular wash-day hiatus, a young lad has been hiding under the wooden lid of the copper. He emerges as the heat spreads into his hidey-hole, only for him to be deluged with water spouting from the pump. On the left the young woman is startled by his sudden appearance, and stops filling her jug with beer, which continues to flow from the barrel onto the floor. A cat pursues a mouse, and the washing is in a small pile in a tub, above a wicker basket and yoke.

The scene takes me back – I once bought an unrestored 18th century house without electricity or running water, and it still had the original copper, the working pump, and the flag-stone floor to the washroom. What it didn’t have was the  two Rowlandson strereotypes – the ugly old crone, shown here on her hands and knees, and the smiling fresh-faced young maids in their mob-caps. They certainly bring the scene to life.

Post-script: it is funny how often I find more than one caricature with a similar theme. Having prepared this post I came across an interesting caricature from 1816 entitled “How are you off for soap?” The print was by William Elmes, published by Thomas Tegg, and appears courtesy of the British Museum. Their commentary on the print is: “A young woman stands over a wash-tub raising her hands in astonishment to see a little man standing waist-deep in the soapsuds, saying with a smile: “here am I!! Betty!! how are you off for Soap.” She answers: “Lord!! Mr Vansittart!!—who could have thought of seeing You in the Washing Tub.” She wears a mob-cap and pattens. Two tubs stand on a bench, with a basket beside it on which lies a pair of breeches. Through a window (right) are seen clothes on a line, and trees. A fire burns under a large copper (left) from which rise clouds of steam. Against the wall are coal-box, shovel, and broom.”

How are you off for soap. © British Museum.

How are you off for soap?  © British Museum.

The print satirises the sly introduction of a tax on hard soap – sly because it was ostensibly made to protect the whale fishing industry, but in reality was a device to raise £150,000 in excise duty. The man responsible fro the tax was Nicolas Vansittart (1766-1851), 1st Baron Bexley, a long serving and effective, although unpopular Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I see that I have previously blogged on washdays, washing machines and other matters of a laundry nature, so if you want more suds, go here.


Oct 142016

zebra 2Standing in the dappled shade on the edge of a woodland  a zebra looks majestically … around the gardens of Buckingham House. The scene was painted by George Stubbs and the picture, shown courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art, is one of a number of exotic wild animals painted by Stubbs. Normally this artist was known for his equine paintings, and he achieved his amazing lifelike studies by spending hours dissecting dead horses. By revealing the muscles and ligaments and by attaching weights and pulleys, he was able to see how the animal moved. But this time the subject, a zebra, was still very much alive and kicking. Besides, its owner was no less a person than Her Majesty the Queen and she was rather fond of her zebra, or she-ass as it was known, on account of the fact that it/she was a wedding present.

The Queen, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, had married King George III on 8 September 1761 in the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace and of course that raised an immediate problem for all the officials, diplomats, courtiers and hangers-on: what to give the royal couple as a wedding present? For the governor of the Cape in far off South Africa it was simple – round up a couple of Cape zebras, one male and one female, load them on board HMS Terpsichore under the command of Sir Thomas Adams, and pack them off to London. Unfortunately the male zebra died on the way, but the “Queen’s Ass” (as she was rudely known from the outset) was a favourite of the young Queen. The year was 1762 and a constant stream of visitors called to see the beast, reputedly the first such zebra ever observed in  Great Britain. As one observer noted: “The Queen’s she-ass was pestered with visits, and had all her hours employed from morning to night in satisfying the curiosity of the public. She had a sentinel and guard placed at the door of her stable. . . . The crowds that resorted to the Asinine palace were exceeding great.”  Was the zebra lonely for company? Apparently not, because she was  given the company of a royal elephant (my, how those royals must have loved opening their presents from far away countries!).

I rather like the story recounted by Sir David Attenborough to the effect that the Queen wished to breed from the zebra, and in the absence of a male of the species resorted to the ploy of getting a male donkey, painting white stripes across its backside, and introducing it to the “Queen’s Ass”. Incredibly the ruse worked – the zebra became pregnant and in due course gave birth to a “zebroid”. The Queen’s Ass lived until 3 April 1773, having been moved to the Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London. Apparently the taxidermists then got to work and before long the stuffed remains were on display at The Leverian, after it had moved for Leicester Square to its new home at the end of Blackfriars Bridge.

The Queen's Ass - otherwise known as the Prince of Wales.

The Queen’s Ass – otherwise known as the Prince of Wales.

In its lifetime the poor animal became a pseudonym for any of the Queen’s favourites, most notably the Prince of Wales, shown here with his striped jacket, waistcoat and stockings. In time the epithet was applied to others such as William Pitt and a number of other sycophantic politicians. It became an easy symbol for caricaturists. The public were quickly familiar with the expression “The Queen’s Ass” especially after this rude ditty was published:

queens ass 2Ye Bucks and ye Jemmies who amble the Park,

Whose Hearts and whose Heads are as lightsome as Cork,

Through “Buckingham Gate”, as to “Chelsea” you pass,

Without Fee or Reward, you may see the Q—‘s A–.

“See the Q—‘s A–. See the Q—‘s A–, Without Fee or Reward”, &c.


(The Queen’s Ass. A new humorous allegorical song . . . By H. Howard, To the Tune of “Stick a Pin There”. Broadsheet, shown courtesy of the British Museum).

The Queens female zebra 1762 LWL










‘The Queens Female Zebra’  shown on the Lewis Walpole Library site and appearing first in 1762 in The London magazine; or, Gentleman’s monthly intelligencer.

Other caricatures lampooned a variety of political allies of the Queen, as here in ‘The Asses of Great Britain’ (also via Lewis Walpole Library). It came out in 1764 and was drawn and published by John Jones, and is having a go at the Earl of  Bute, George Whitefield,  the magistrate Sir John Fielding, Irish writer Arthur Murphy,  and the Scottish poet and author Tobias Smollett.

John Jones' asses of GB 1762 Bute Whitefield Fielding Murphy Smollett LWL


Sometimes the Queen’s Ass was a metaphor for the Queen herself, as with this caricature, apparently  by Thomas Rowlandson, from December 1788 and entitled ‘The Q.A. loaded with the spoils of India and Britain”. It is shown on the British Museum site who describe it as “Pitt rides (right to left) a zebra; he sits on the animal’s hind quarters, flourishing a whip; before him are two panniers filled with jewels…The zebra (the Queen) is led by Dundas (left) … and urged on by Richmond (right), who prods it with a goad. It says, “What are Childrens rights to Ambition – I will rule in spite of them if I can conceal things at Q.” [Kew.] In front of Dundas (left) is a signpost: “To Tower Hill by B——m [Buckingham] house”.


So, the zebra became a shorthand for  royal greed and stupidity. In Return to the Political Ark, also on the British Museum site, we see William Pitt as the Queen’s Ass:

Return to the ark

He is shown as one of a procession of Members of Parliament heading for the ark (representing the House of Commons). The British Museum commentary states: “In the lower left corner is Pitt as a zebra on his hind-legs ; he holds a bunch of grapes to his mouth, in his other forefoot is a paper inscribed ‘Pay to my Order on Demand five Millions for Bouncing. P. To John Bull’; beside it is a paper inscribed ‘Open to future Insult’. On his back is a saddle-cloth inscribed ‘Art of preventing War’. He excretes ‘Convention Drops’ which are eagerly devoured by geese, dogs, a cock, and two asses with human profiles”

Given that this was supposedly the very first time a zebra had been seen in the country these caricatures give some idea how quickly the exotically marked animal captured the human imagination. Others quickly followed – in 1779 one was being exhibited at Astley’s Amphitheatre near Westminster Bridge. I came across the occasion when researching for my book “Astley’s Circus – the Story of an English Hussar” about the great exhibitionist Philip Astley. Mind you, Astley was keen to get rid of the creature and advertised that it was available for purchase for 400 guineas. I suspect that he would have despaired of training the animal, since obedience was the keystone of the Astley act. A disobedient zebra, however pretty, was never going to make it as a star. It was never going to rival General Jackoo, his performing monkey, and so the zebra went the way of the ostrich, another of Astley’s exotica …

Another zebra collector was Robert Clive. I am not quite sure why “Clive of India” chose an African animal but presumably no self respecting nabob wanted to be upstaged by the Queen. Apparently he had his own private menagerie – and the same story is told that he successfully introduced his (female) zebra to a paint-striped male donkey, with successful results. When Clive died in 1774 an inventory of the livestock at his home showed a zebra and foal, two small cows, two spotted deer,  two antelopes, six hog deer and, bracketed together as “very troublesome”, seven goats and an African bull. According to a helpful paper published by the University of York:  The running and Grazing of the Young Zebra cost 3s. a week, while in 1777 £18 8s.6d. was spent on the Young Zebra being sent into Shropshire. Quite what happened after it got to Shropshire I do not know – perhaps it got sold to Astley.

Years later, George III was presented with a quagga. A sub-species of the Plains Zebra, the quagga was extinct by the late 1870s, but for some years  a royal specimen was kept at Kew. This is shown courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art.

Rather more about the exotic animals collected by the Georgians can be found in Christopher Plumb’s excellent book “The Georgian Menagerie: Exotic Animals in Eighteenth-Century London” details of which appear here.  Christopher was kind enough to draw on some of the records kept by my ancestor Richard Hall, so the least I can do is return the mention!

James Sowerbys portrait of a quagga, painted in 1824

James Sowerby’s portrait of a quagga, painted in 1824