Dec 312018

To mark the end of the year, a snippet repeated from Richard’s diary for 1790:aa2

I have not come across a record of the disaster – although the century seems to have been marked by a number of catastrophic drownings in the canals around Amsterdam, often linked to fog. The Gallery of Natural Phenomena refers to a general disaster on  14th December 1783

“Holland – Fog. Fatal accidents, Amsterdam; coaches fell into canals”

and presumably this was repeated at the end of the century. Meanwhile Richard did love his entries about extreme weather – it must have rounded off his year nicely! What is sad is to see that people are still drowning in considerable numbers in the Dutch capital – though probably this was as a result of drink rather than fog. Fifty one deaths by drowning occurred in the three years, between 2009 and 2011, only one of them as a result of crime… presumably the other fifty were accidents, or suicide. Since that date an average of 400 people a year have fallen into the Amsterdam canals – with  an average of 18 deaths occurring in every year. But for 230 to perish in a single night of dense fog, as in 1790, was truly tragic.

Post Script:   Since this wasoriginally  published I received corroboration of the events of 31st December 1790 from the ever-so-helpful Baldwin Hamey, who does a fascinating blog called London Details here. He referred me to this engraving. The caption apparently reads “In the heavy fog several people and a coach have gone into the water. Torches produce more light to see.”

It appears on this Dutch site  and copyright belongs to Amsterdam City Archives. Thanks Baldwin!


Freedom at last! But not much else happening in the Hall household, May 1767.

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May 052017

Sometimes the diaries of my ancestor are interesting because of what he does not say – and in a way his diary from May 1767 is a case in point: basically, he only remembers to talk about two things, health and the weather.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, 5th May was a Tuesday – and it was cold, remarkably cold. So much so that London had a scattering of snow. Apparently Richard trudged over to see Mr Sykes, but I bet he didn’t stay late, partly because of the weather, and partly because the previous week had seen “an attempt by some rogues” to break into his house in the evening. Also, they cannot have had much to talk about, because the identical entry about visiting Mr Sykes appeared  three days earlier. Mind you, that was before he started his new medicine (“May the Lord’s Blessings attend it”).

The next day, Wednesday, was a real non-event: he didn’t go anywhere, he didn’t do anything and he didn’t see anyone – but it was “mostly dullish, a cold day.” Thursday saw rain in the morning but it was dull and mild in the afternoon. And then on Friday we had “Fine morning, dull in the afternoon, and very mild.”  But guess what, tucked in at the end “Went and took up my Freedom of the City.” You would have thought that there would have been more of a fanfare, something about what he wore, or who he met, or whether his wife came and watched – but no, just “took up my Freedom”.

It is not as if it wasn’t quite a big deal: he was not allowed to trade within the City boundaries unless he was a Freeman – and he had just opened his shop at Number One London Bridge  three weeks earlier. This had incensed the Haberdashers Guild – because Richard had served his apprenticeship in Southwark, where the long arm of the livery companies did not reach, and he had therefore escaped paying his dues to the Haberdashers for all his adult life. When he moved North of the River Thames into the actual City of London, they had him by the proverbials – and they duly fined him to make up for all the past payments he had avoided. Whether he knew this when he paid his £4/5/00  by way of an admin. charge I do not know – the actual fine of £25/14/06 was not imposed until September the following year – but that is bureaucracy for you! To get an idea of the scale of the fine, multiply by at least eighty. Or, to put it in context, he paid his maidservant about one quarter of that amount for the whole year. Still, she couldn’t complain, as she got her food and lodging thrown in for free….

I still have all Richard Hall’s papers relating to being made a Freeman – his Oath which he had to swear, the receipt for the fine, and so on. I reckon it should have been a red-letter day for Richard, so I am disappointed that he made no other mention of it.

Back to the diary: the following day, Saturday 9th May saw Mrs Snooke leave Town. Mrs Snooke was his sister in law – immensely wealthy and accustomed to coming up once a year to stay a few weeks with Richard in order to see something of her sister (Richard’s wife). It hadn’t been an easy year for Mrs Hall – she miscarried six weeks earlier. Richard’s diaries at the time  commented on the miscarriage with a laconic “My wife miscarried in the Evening – the Lord is gracious to her. A very fine day, mild.” And that was just about it – just one more mention that “Thru the Goodness of God my wife continued poorly, a raw dull cold Foggy day.”

On the Sabbath Richard went as he usually did to hear the great theologian Dr Gill preach – from Hebrews Chapter 9 verse 27 – and for good measure also got a sermon from the visiting Baptist Minister Mr Cole, who took as his text Isaiah 8:17 (“I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the descendants of Jacob. I will put my trust in him.” – Just thought that you would like to know…..).

Then on the Monday  it was a “Dull, dribbling day” – what a lovely description, and so appropriate to the British climate! The wind was cold, and “Poor John” (servant) “was very bad at night.”

Richard noted the next day that John was “thro’ Mercy, better” but apart from noting that the weather was “Dull in the morning, Fine in the afternoon, Mild” all he had to say for himself was what he did NOT do – he didn’t go to Mr Sykes again – because Mr Sykes was not well.

So, not a lot to report 250 years ago. In his defence I have to say that having just opened his new shop, and moved house, Richard must have had his days pretty full, and his diaries get much more communicative and interesting once he retired, and had more time to  fill  in the entries every day.


May 092016

Dennis Severs' HouseOne of the most extraordinary museums I have ever visited was the highly evocative house of Dennis Severs at 18 Folgate Street in London. Each room is unique, and reflects the fact that the 18th Century occupier of that particular room has just popped out for a break. The low lighting, the sounds, the smells are all done to re-create a perfect Georgian atmosphere. Visitors go round in small, silent groups, so no coach parties of children, no flocks of foreign tourists with motor-driven cameras a-whirring, just you and a few other lucky people tip-toeing through history.

This June sees some unique joint visits to Dennis Severs’ House and the Museum of Immigration at 19 Princelet Street. The latter reflects the wave after wave of immigrants into the Spitalfields area, not just with the silk weaving Huguenots, but others right up until the 20th Century. And let’s face it, most of us come from families who were immigrants at one time or another. “Immigrants” just mean that people have yet to be assimilated into the melting pot. My lot were Anglo-Saxon immigrants. Anyway, the museum reflects all the diverse immigration waves over recent centuries and is one of those places where “the walls talk”. The joint venture is interesting because up until now it has been almost impossible to visit both museums on the same day – because of their very limited (and often conflicting) opening hours.

The first part, consisting of a tour of 18 Folgate Street, is to be followed by a short walk to Princelet Street and a tour around what has been described as ‘one of the most charismatic, moving, beautiful places in all London’. Apparently the joint tour is designed to take an hour and three quarters. Tours are at midday and at one p.m. and will be run on various days between 7th June and 25th June.

More information can be obtained via the website at  It sounds an interesting experience, and one I highly recommend if you are in London in June.

Mar 152016
DCF 1.0

Rev John Newton

John Newton was the fascinating individual who we remember today as the composer of Amazing Grace – fascinating because he was at one  stage actively involved in the slave trade, but eventually recanted and became a church minister campaigning tirelessly for abolition.

Not that he gave up his wicked ways overnight – despite an epiphany in May 1748 when the ship he was in nearly foundered off the coast of Donegal. The hull was smashed but the cargo broke free and miraculously wedged itself in the gaping hole – and the ship stayed afloat long enough to reach landfall.

It was a while before Newton abandoned all his links to the slave trade. The letter I discovered among Richard Hall’s papers show something of the inner torment he went through, including self-loathing, contempt etc.

Newton 5 001I came across it in an envelope written by my great aunt Annie some time in the 1930s – I vaguely recall her from the 1950s when I was a kid, having to bellow into her silver ear trumpet to say ‘thank you’ for the pocket money (all of one penny, if I remember right) which she had pressed into my eager palm. I remember it because even then a penny was a tad derisory, especially as the old bat was loaded. By then she was well into her nineties, and I never saw her again. Mind you she was quite a character: she and her sister never married and lived together in a commune in a remote part of Wales, rearing goats and ingesting prodigious quantities of  opium, in one form or another. It was a while before I understood what ‘coke-head’ meant – but Annie was definitely on a higher plane than the rest of us!

She did have her faults – one was being tee-total (no, opium is OK but the demon drink is a dreadful scourge of the working classes…) and when her father died she rushed over to his home in London’s Park Lane, and promptly poured all the contents of his rather extensive wine cellar down the drain…. so I am none too proud of Aunt Annie!

She would seem to have recognized who John Newton was, and why he was important, but that didn’t stop her taking a sharp knife to the letter and cutting off the wax seal with the imprint of Newton’s signet ring (perhaps she collected seals. Maybe she flogged it … or smoked it for all I know). It did rather leave a hole in the letter, but beggars cannot be choosers…

Newton 1 001Anyway, the letter was written by John Newton on 2 October 1775. It starts off with the words “Dear Sir, when your letter came to Olney I was in London, nor did I receive it till a little before my return, and since I came home I have been quite taken up with things which could not be deferred. Otherwise you would have heard from me much sooner. I should have made a point (tho’  in general I am not a very punctual correspondent) of answering  your first letter speedily as a proof of the value I set upon it – and especially when it brought me the interesting news of the great danger Mrs Robinson has been in, and the Lord’s goodness in bringing her through it and making her the Mother of a living child.”

Rev. Thomas Robinson

Rev. Thomas Robinson

Mrs Robinson was the wife of the Reverend Mr Thomas Robinson of Leicester. Apparently in another letter from John Newton, addressed to John Thornton, he remarked: “that Mr Robinson preaches the gospel at Leicester…  Leicester is a dark place, but if the Lord is pleased to continue Mr Robinson there, who knows but that wilderness may soon blossom like the rose!”

Hmm, so much for Leicester. Some years earlier Rev. Robinson had apparently been passing through the town on election night and abhorred the place so much, and was so disgusted by the general behaviour of the population that he “had privately whispered a prayer to God that it might never be his portion to reside at Leicester”. The prayer was obviously muddled in transit, because back came the good Lord’s decision to make him accept the curacy of St Martin’s (now the cathedral). Not all our prayers are answered…

Robinson’s wife Mary (nee Boys) died in 1791 but at the time of Newton’s letter she had obviously just produced a son. I have no idea what happened to him.

The Newton letter continues: “The Providential turns in my life have indeed been very remarkable yet I can readily allow you to think your own case no less extraordinary, because you are acquainted with your own heart – I am a stranger to mine. Non omnia nec omnibus might have been the proper motto for my narrative. Alas the most marvelous proofs of the Lord’s patience and goodness to me are utterly unfit for publication, nay I could not whisper some things into the ears of a friend. It has been since my conversion, and not by what happened before it that I have known the most striking instances of the vileness and depravity of my nature. My heart, as the ancients fabled of Africa, has been continually producing new monsters…. I have good reason to believe that it is still comparatively  a terra incognita to me and that it contains treasures, mines, depths and sources of iniquity in it of which I have hardly  more conception than I could form of looking at the fishes that are hidden in the sea by taking a survey of the fish in Billingsgate.”

The next bit was excised by my aunt’s sharp knife cutting round the seal, but the epistle continues:  “… I believe most who are called by Grace can recollect previous periods of life when they felt something of the working of Grace put in with them and they derive instruction from them afterwards, yet I conceive that these impressions are for the most part different toto genere  from that great radical and instantaneous change which takes place within the moment of Regeneration when a new and truly spiritual light is darted into the soul and gives us such perceptions as we were before unacquainted with.”

Newton 4 001The letter ends “Cease not to pray for us, and believe me to be Your Affectionate and obliged servant and brother, John Newton”

Unfortunately the letter in with Richard Hall’s papers is in poor condition – it has split down the folds and looks somewhat ragged around the edges. Originally it was what was known as ‘an entire’ – in other words it was folded up so that the address appeared on the outside, with the ‘wings’ tucked in on each side. So, no need for an envelope, making for a cheaper postage rate.

Newton wrote many hymns, the most famous being Amazing Grace, which he wrote for a service on New Year’s Day, 1773. In 1780 Newton left Olney to become Rector of St. Mary Woolnoth, London, where he became a particularly effective preacher and a friend of William Wilberforce. Newton died on 21 December 1807. He lived long enough to see Wilberforce’s bill abolishing the slave trade passed in Parliament that same year.

pennyAll in all, an interesting piece of history, and one for which I suppose I must thank good old Aunt Annie. Much more interesting than the penny she gave me at the time…  come to think of it, I never got to spend my penny! I’ve still got it … hoarders of the world unite!


Jun 292015

As the holiday season is upon us I thought I would look back to the events of 1773, and see what my ancestor was up to. Sure enough, he was just about to set off from London to go down to Salisbury, do a spot of sight-seeing (Wilton House, Stonehenge etc) and then head for his ‘holiday home’ in the Cotswolds. A chance to take tea with loads of friends, attend a few sermons, eat and drink at lots of pubs called the White Hart, the White Swan, the White Almost-anything, and then head for Oxford and back to London via Uxbridge. His coach broke down on the way – ah, those were the days, with no RAC to come to the rescue….

Stonehenge in the 18th Century,image courtesy of the Salisbury Museum

Stonehenge in the 18th Century, image courtesy of the Salisbury Museum

For those with good transcription skills, here are the actual entries:-

one 001

Three 001

Four 001So, on Wednesday 30 June he set off in the coach with his wife, took Breakfast at the White Hart in Cobham, Dinner at the White Hart in Guildford and Supper at the White Hart in Alton. It was a dull day, with some rain, and not very hot.

The next day he managed a Breakfast at The Swan at Alresford and  Dinner at the Dolphin at Southampton (still there, if I remember correctly from my university days) and then took Supper at the White Horse at Romsey. By then it was very fine, not very hot, and as usual he noted that  he was “kindly preserved”. Presumably the coach would have passed what is now Broadlands at Romsey – acquired by Henry Temple, 1st Viscount Palmerston  in 1736, and the subject of a major refurbishment under the auspices of Henry Holland starting in 1767. By the time that Richard rode by, the massive landscaping works proposed by Capability Brown were well under way, part of a de-formalisation process designed to produce the ‘broad-lands’ i.e. the “gentle descent to the river.

Broadlands, Romsey

The house at Broadlands, Romsey, designed in the Palladian style.

The pace continued  the next day (2 July) with Breakfast at Mr James Sharp’s, Dinner at Mrs Futchers before going on to take tea with Richard Sharps. No mention of Supper that day – perhaps he ate all the cake at tea time. Or maybe his appetite was tempered because the day was rather dull, and not hot.

Richard presumably borrowed a horse the next day, because he rode over to Broughton and the Wollops on 3 July, where it was warm in the sun, being pretty fine. He drank tea at Mr Comleys. Mr Comley’s name doesn’t appear elsewhere in Richard’s diaries, but the family were presumably close friends because he stayed the following day with them (Sunday, so attending church for a double whammy of sermons by both Mr Porter and Mr Gregory) with a quick visit to Mr Madgwicks for tea. A spot of Breakfast and Dinner the next day with the Comley’s was followed by a leisurely drive over to Salisbury, arriving just in time to take Supper at the Antelope. No matter that he called it The Antilope, the hotel/restaurant is still going strong, in the Vale of Pewsey, and is a well-known, 300 year-old, coaching inn. They owe me a  pint for the mention….

The Antelope Inn

The Antelope Inn

Whereas the previous day seems to have been marked by “a little mist of rain”  Monday was “part dullish, some rain, not sultry.”

The stunning Wilton House, Double Cube Room.

The stunning Wilton House, Double Cube Room.

On Tuesday he had Breakfast and Dinner at Mr Moon’s at Salisbury, no doubt giving him an opportunity to look round the cathedral. Certainly he jotted down elsewhere the number of windows and doors in the cathedral, so he was presumably impressed…. then he trotted off to see the stunningly magnificent Wilton House ( – often featured in period dramas such as  The Madness of King George, Mrs. Brown, Pride and Prejudice and The Young Victoria)  and then dashed over to see Stonehenge.

twoThat evening saw him in Devizes, where he supped and laid at The Bear, another famous coaching Inn, where the young artist Thomas Lawrence would entertain the guests with his drawings and sketches, and with his poetry recitations. Mind you, I may have got the place wrong, because Richard may well have written The Boar rather than The Bear, and I know nothing whatsoever of The Boar….

The weather seems to have been typically British – fine but with rain, and warm in the sun. The next day saw him break his fast at Chippenham and take Dinner at Tetbury, staying at the Overbury’s place. On July 8th he set off early and got to Bourton in time for Dinner (lunch to you and me). A chance to take Tea with the Widow Collet, but by mid-week it was very hot. I am not quite sure what “I sat down” on Sunday 11 July signified, but it must have been pleasant because  it was very fine, very hot, but “with an air.”

The Mansion House at Bengeworth, now known as the Evesham Hotel

The Mansion House at Bengeworth, now known as the Evesham Hotel

On 16 July he headed off with his wife and brother-in-law William Snooke to go to Bengeworth – no doubt to visit Bengeworth Mansion House  (now known as The Evesham Hotel) which Richard had inherited some twenty years previously on the death of his in-laws the Sewards.  All was well (it was tenanted by the local vicar at £25 p.a.) and through Mercy he was  safely returned.  That week was marked by thunder and lightning, and he appears to have had a narrow escape when his Old Grey nearly threw him on 19 July.  The next day saw him go to Burford Races where he appears to have got a soaking in the rain, although it was fine by the evening. I can just imagine him humming the tune as he rode home after the summer showers….

Burford Races

Some more Tea, and then his brother in law appears to have volunteered to see him off the premises, driving him in his Chaise as far as Witney.  Richard and his wife then got the Stage Coach to Oxford, staying at The Star. No doubt he was grateful that it was  “a fine travelling day, not much sun, moderate in heat.”

Friday 23 saw the last leg of the journey, so he Breakfasted at Tetsworth, and took Dinner at Uxbridge but only after the coach broke down. “Through Mercy, no hurt done”. He got in safe home that evening, recording faithfully his gratitude to the Almighty – “Lord give a deep sense of thy favours – dullish”.

Ah well, holidays were over, and it was back to the grindstone of life as a haberdasher at One London Bridge, where he had left his 18 year old son William in charge of the shop…..

Apr 152015

Today I am delighted to offer a guest blog-spot to author David Ebsworth, who brought out a fascinating book earlier this year entitled The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour. Over to you David!


a4 Ebsworth1“They say that, on the day after the battle, you couldn’t find a pair of pliers for love nor money. Not for fifty miles around. The new fashion – in London, Paris, Berlin and St. Petersburg – was for dentures fitted with real teeth.

Waterloo teeth

Waterloo teeth

And there, on those few square miles of Belgian soil, lay no less than 50,000 potential donors, most of them dead, the rest so close to it that it didn’t much matter. And it wasn’t just the nature of dentistry that changed in June 1815. The battles fought in Belgium over those few brief days brought an end to 22 years of almost continuous fighting between the European powers in what had been, effectively, the first “world war” – and historians estimate that as many as 7,000,000 military and civilian casualties occurred between 1804 and 1815 alone. Until 1917, this was known as “The Great War.”

a6 Panorama2Those battles also brought an end to that military rivalry between Britain and France which had flared so violently and plagued each of the six centuries since the Anglo-French War of 1202-14.

From now on, France would be our ally in all subsequent conflicts – the beginning of a new and more modern Europe in which Germany and Italy would be born, and the seeds of social democratic government would slowly begin to replace the despotism of the old Royal Houses. It’s a process that’s still evolving, of course. But many other things remained entirely unchanged. International banking continues to fund all sides in current conflict, exactly as they did in 1815. The arms industry is still the main beneficiary of warfare, exactly as it was in 1815. And regardless of the original spark, which may ignite the bonfires of war, it has generally been international banking and the arms industry that have fanned the flames and kept the bonfires burning.

a 1 Bonaparte1So, with this in mind, and the bicentenary of Waterloo coming up, I began to think how I might tell the story from a slightly different perspective.   As usual, I began by looking at the controversies.

Was victory at Waterloo

(a) won by the brilliance of Wellington and the resolute steadiness of his British infantry,  or

(b) truly threatened by the alleged cowardice of his Dutch and Belgian contingents, or

(c) snatched from the jaws of an ignominious British defeat by the timely arrival of Wellington’s dogged Prussian allies, or

(d) simply thrown away, against all the odds, by the French.

You’ll find whole battalions of eminent historians, this year, fighting their own battles, for and against each of these viewpoints.

a5 Catherine Baland at ChiclanaAnd then there were the legends – none striking me so hard as the tale of Charles Napier (95th Rifles) and the broken body of a beautiful female French cavalry trooper he discovered among the thickest of Bonaparte’s dead. It was this tale that set me on the path of researching the many feisty women who fought, in their own right, in their own way, in the French front lines.

By the time I’d finished that research, I knew what I didn’t want to write. Not yet another “boy’s own adventure” story of Waterloo. Not another one-sided account that failed to recognize the battlefield fever and frenzy, the heroism, that gripped British, Dutch-Belgian, Prussian and French alike – nor to at least acknowledge that all the protagonists genuinely believed they were “on the right side.” Hindsight, and the pen of the victors, might have shaped the way we’ve been taught about Waterloo over the past 200 years but, on the day, among the French ranks, it all looked very different indeed!

So I became a bit fixated on some little-known and often forgotten issues.  First, Napoleon faced two very powerful armies, not one – and each of those armies was numerically as strong as his own.  By the time of Waterloo itself, over the previous three days, the French had already fought two major battles and several smaller ones. The French army, and its commanders, had slept little over those few days. By the end of the battle, many French Divisions, almost a third of Bonaparte’s total force, had still not fired a shot nor been engaged. For at least half the battle, a relatively small number of French soldiers held off wave after wave of Prussians trying to come to Wellington’s rescue – in some of the bloodiest fighting which those taking part had ever seen.

And, for most of the battle, Bonaparte – either by choice or through illness – was not even present on the field.

The result of all this has been The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour – a tale of Waterloo told from the viewpoint of two French women participants. But is this Napoleonic chicklit? Definitely not. This is a very traditional action story, and will hopefully appeal to all readers of historical fiction. Somebody’s said that the novel’s perhaps akin to Thomas Keneally’s The Daughters of Mars and, if so, that’s a great compliment.

But I’ll leave readers to make up their own minds!”




David has published three previous novels: The Jacobites’ Apprentice, Finalist in the Historical Novel Society’s 2014 Indie Award; The Assassin’s Mark, set during the Spanish Civil War; and The Kraals of Ulundi: A Novel of the Zulu War. Each of these books has been the recipient of the coveted B.R.A.G. Medallion for independent authors.


Thanks for that, David. More details of David’s work are available on his website here. The Last Campaign of Marianne Tambour was published on 1st January and is available through all normal outlets.

Mar 182015
Louis Bazalgette

Louis Bazalgette

There are times when I seem to be surrounded by members of the Bazalgette family: on Sunday evenings Edward Bazalgette is up there on my TV screen,with a credit as the director of Poldark; up until last year my pension was in the hands of Vivian Bazalgette; while his third cousin Sir Peter is Chair of the Arts Council. I am always reading about Sir Joseph William Bazalgette, the 19th-century English civil engineer who, as chief engineer of London’s Metropolitan Board of Works, put an end to ‘the Great Stink’. And now I have news of another Bazalgette, Edward’s brother, now living in Canada, called Charles. He has written a fascinating book about ‘the Daddy of them all’ – a man called Louis Bazalgette, but generally known as Prinny’s Taylor.

Charles has for many years been researching the life and times of his Georgian ancestor, in what has many parallels with my own research into my predecessor Richard Hall. But whereas my ancestor kept his head down and never troubled the scorers, Louis moved in exalted circles, becoming tailor to the Prince of Wales and making many of the costumes which Prinny so adored. The amount of research is astonishing, and the result is a book which has just come out in Kindle format. You can find it  here.

Author Charles Bazelgette

Author Charles Bazalgette

If you are looking for a complete overview of Regency History, this is not for you. Rather, it nibbles around the edges of the picture, giving snippets of information about the Prince of Wales, until it builds up a fascinating insight into his life and times. Sure, some of the details may be more relevant to members of the Bazalgette family – indeed Charles never originally intended this as a book for a wider audience – but I for one am delighted that he has persevered and  “put it out for all to see”.

Some of the information about Prinny and his wardrobe is quite astonishing – the sheer volume of orders, delivered daily, sometimes as many as a hundred in one month, and on one occasion with more than twenty items being ordered on a single day.

It is interesting to read Louis’ own technical description of garments made for the Prince, often delivered in person by the ever-available tailor on the morning of the actual ball (or whatever) and comparing it with the description of it in The Times, the very next day. The Prince was for ever ordering costumes for masquerades, at Carlton House, or military uniforms for parades at Brighton. He ordered outfits not just for himself but for members of his entourage (such as Colonel Hangar). And then generally failed to settle his debts…

And what debts – far more to his tailor than to anyone else! Charles lists the amounts owed to his ancestor in detail, based upon an examination of the records at the Royal and National Archives, and builds up a picture of the incredible extravagance of the Prince of Wales. In time of course Parliament coughed up, and Louis got his money, which he then seems to have lent (sometimes unwisely) to politicians, noblemen and West Indian plantation owners. This in turn led him and his executor to endless court battles as he sought to recover debts from defaulters.

 Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana

The Prince of Wales painted by Thomas Gainsborough in 1781. Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana

The book gives, as expected, the background as to how and when Louis came to this country from France. It gives great detail about individual costumes made for the Prince, and has a helpful appendix of tailoring terms. Indeed it would have made a wonderful fully-illustrated tome featuring surviving outfits, but alas, it is not to be. After George IV died his wardrobe of amazing costumes was sold off, generally at a fraction of their cost, and used as theatrical costumes, for fancy dress or stripped down to make other outfits. Hardly anything remains, and nothing which can be definitely pointed to as being “that was Louis’ work”. However his skills live on, in the portraits painted at the time. He was a man who shared the prince’s innermost secrets – after all, who gets closer to the future king than the man responsible for be-decking him in his finery? He must have been party to countless intrigues and royal secrets. In Prinny’s Taylor you get a great glimpse into the world of Carlton House and the Prince’s retreat in Brighton. It is a book for the connoisseur, perhaps destined never to appear in printed form, which would be a shame. Catch it while you can in electronic format – it is indeed fascinating.

aaacTo give it its full title, the book is called: Prinny’s Taylor: The Life and Times of Louis Bazalgette (1750-1830). As the blurb says: ‘The reason why Louis Bazalgette has been a shadowy figure until now is that the relationship between the two men was discreet and almost clandestine. This biography, based upon 20 years of painstaking research, presents a detailed picture of an extraordinary man, of humble origins, whose influence on gentlemen’s tailoring, and upon the Prince himself, must have been far-reaching..

To end with, three portraits of the portly Prince  in his finery – the first dating from 1816. It is by Henry Bone, after Sir Thomas Lawrence, and below it a miniature portrait of the smartly turned-out Prince as a young man, made by Richard Cosway in 1792, © National Portrait Gallery, London. The final image is of gorgeous George, in a portrait held by the Vatican. No tailor could have asked for more…

An 1816 portrait of the Prince Regent in all his finery, by Henry Bone (after Sir Thomas Lawrence).

The Prince of Wales, by Richard Cosway (private collection).    a geirge 4

Mar 142015

wax works visitMy ancestor’s diary entry recording a visit to Mrs Wright’s Waxworks in Chidley Court, Pall Mall.

Mrs Wright was an interesting character, and one who played a part in the American War of Independence. She was born into a particularly strict Quaker sect as Patience Lovell, in around 1725, probably on Long Island, New York. She was the fifth of nine daughters born to a farming family, and as a child she and her sisters apparently made model figurines out of clay and dough, which they then coloured and dressed in clothing.

aa Patience_WrightIn her twenties she ran away to Philadelphia and married Joseph Wright in 1748. She said of her husband that he had “nothing but age and money to recommend himself to her” but she bore him five children, one of them born after Joseph died. She then discovered that Joseph had left her (and the fifth child of whom he had no knowledge) virtually nothing in his will. She turned to her sister Rachel Lovell Wells for assistance. This sister had continued her childhood hobby of modelling and showed Patricia how to make life-sized sculptures in wax. These they exhibited in a travelling show, earning commissions to sculpt likenesses along the way. Eventually Patricia had her own permanent exhibition in New York, but a fire in 1771 destroyed most of the exhibits. With the help of her sister she re-stocked and opened in Boston, where she met Jane Mecom, who was the sister of Benjamin Franklin. Jane gave Patricia a letter of introduction to her brother, and Patricia came to England intending to use the connection as an entree into London society so that she could meet and sculpt prominent figures of the Age.


Portrait courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

London society flocked to have their likenesses made, including the King and Queen whom she addressed as ‘George’ and ‘Charlotte’ in true egalitarian fashion appropriate to a colonial! Well, she did until the King  withdrew his support for her when she became too strident in her support for the Americans in the War of Independence. But by then she was famous and crowds clamoured to see her models, often full size, because of their uncanny likeness and life-like qualities. Apparently her party piece was to install one of her models in a reception room and then wait for people to realize that they were talking to a dummy!  Walpole welcomed her into his circle of friends, calling her ‘the artistress’

By all accounts she was no great oil painting, with sallow complexion and masculine features, but she soon became famous for her quick wit and coarse language. Not everyone liked her – the outspoken Abigail Adams, who later became the First Lady when her husband John became the second President of the United States (and a woman well known for a choice ‘bon mot’) succinctly  called her “the Queen of sluts.”

A London newspaper of the day reported that “the ingenious Mrs. Wright, whose Skill in taking Likeness, expressing the Passions, and many curious Devices in Wax Work, has deservedly recommended her to public Notice.” Another described her as ‘Promethean’ and another as ‘the American Sybil’ because of her almost magical ability in seeming to catch the soul of the sitter. She made models of royalty, the nobility, scientists and politicians – and on her own admission would secrete plans and overheard gossip about British plans for America and its preparations for war, and put them inside the wax models before shipping them Stateside to her sister.

In 1780 her daughter Phoebe married the English painter John Hoppner, and in the same year her son Joseph Wright (not to be confused with his namesake who chose to be known by the epithet  ‘Joseph Wright of Derby’) had his first picture exhibited at the Royal Academy. It showed his mother, apparently making a wax effigy of the head of Charles 1st immediately prior to his execution, while casting a meaningful glance at portraits of King George III and his wife Queen Charlotte in the background. That didn’t go down too well, and Mrs Wright hurried off to Paris to escape the fuss engendered by the portrait, taking her son in tow. Both made likenesses of Benjamin Franklin and after the war was over Joseph headed back to America to paint the portraits of the new leaders. His mother longed to follow but first of all returned to London in 1782. To her dismay she was no longer in demand, and people dismissed her as mad or bad, or possibly both. She made enquiries to see if her help as an informant, i.e. in passing on British plans, might be rewarded with a gift of a small piece of land back in her homeland. She also wrote to George Washington and gained his approval for the idea of her making a model of him. But alas for poor Patience it was not to be: she had a bad fall after visiting the American Embassy, and died in London on February 25th 1786.

aa Patience_Wright-William_Pitt-1779Very few of her wax models survived her, but there is this one of William Pitt the Elder, full-sized, still on display in Westminster Abbey. There is a likeness of Admiral Howe  attributed to her, made in about 1770, and held in the Newark Museum.

We may never know the truth about her espionage activities, but she was certainly well-connected as a result of her link to Benjamin Franklin: who is to say what indiscretions passed the lips of politicians and military men as they sat before her, while she moulded and scraped the warm wax which she kept covered by her apron?








The wall plaque in Patience Wright’s home town of Bordentown, New Jersey.

Jul 192014

I have always been intrigued by Lady Skipwith – not because she had her portrait painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in May 1787, when she was 35. She had been born in 1752 as Selina Shirley and was the eldest daughter of the Honourable George Shirley, son of the 1st Earl of Ferrers.

Her husband Sir Thomas George Skipwith was already a man of fifty when they tied the knot, two years before the Reynolds portrait. They got married on 13th September 1785 but the marriage proved childless; her husband had become the Fourth Baronet Skipwith* on 6th December 1778 upon the death of his father but the baronetcy came to an end when he died in 1790, at Margate. He was buried at Monks Field.

Lady Skipwith had a reputation as a skilled horsewoman, and a nephew recorded that “there was something rather formidable in her powdered hair and [the] riding habit or joseph which she generally wore.”

Other than that I know little of her life: she outlived her husband by 42 years. In his will Sir Thomas appears to have given her a right to reside in the family home at Newbold Pacey Hall in Warwickshire. When she died on 23 March 1832 the Hall passed to her late husband’s cousin, Sir Grey Skipwith.

You just get the feeling that the married couple may not have been very close – he had spent all his adult life as a bachelor and at 35 she must have assumed that with ‘the first blush of youth passed by’ she was unlikely to marry. Her husband had been an MP for a while, but never actually spoke in the House. It appears they may have had some fairly grandiose ideas for erecting a new stately pile at Newbold – plans were drawn up by Colen Campbell, chief architect of the Prince of Wales.

It looks as though the plans were never implemented (or certainly not in that form) and on the death of the baronet Lady Skipwith may have found herself somewhat strapped for cash. That is the only reason why I can think she came round to my ancestor Richard Hall with her begging bowl. She wanted £1100 – a not inconsiderable sum. Richard lent it to her at four and a half per cent interest, secured by way of mortgage. I do not know how they met, or whether there was a network of go-betweens putting aristo’s who were on hard times in touch with wealthy tradesmen like Richard. I can only assume that they met, some time in the autumn of 1795, because I cannot imagine he would have forked out that sort of money without checking his “investment”. Her house was perhaps 40 miles from where Richard lived.

Richard would have been well used to the idea of money lending to the cash-strapped but asset-rich members of the aristocracy – his brother in law William Snooke was most adept at the art of money lending to the well-heeled and would certainly have shown him how it was best done! Loans of up to a hundred pounds were covered by a promissory note (an I.O.U.) whereas sums above that amount but below a thousand pounds were covered by a bond (i.e. under seal). Loans of over a thousand pounds were secured on a mortgage. This was the routine long-practised to good effect by William Snooke, and this is what Richard followed.

In his list entitled “Of what I am possess’d” for 1795 Richard records the loan for the first time, and mentions it again each time he revised the list (usually once a year). It was still outstanding in 1801 – the year in which Richard died – and so presumably the loan would have been called in by Richard’s executors.


* My thanks to Nancy Mayer for pointing out that he became fourth ‘baronet’, not fourth ‘ baron’. As far as I am concerned baron is used to describe beef, but I appreciate that it is supposed to be used as a peerage title!

May 272014

My 5xGreat Grandfather Francis Hall was a hosier in Red Lyon Street, Southwark. His own apprenticeship (as a haberdasher) lasted seven years and he qualified in 1728. A few years later he appears to have taken on his own apprentice and I recently stumbled across the Indenture.

“Indenture” refers to the fact that the document is indented, leaving room in the margin for the stamp duty to be paid. The blue stamps were validated with a tiny square of silver sewn through the front page, and you can just make  this out, up at the top on the left hand side.

The indenture is on parchment, and would have been prepared in duplicate. The wavy line across the top was cut with a sharp knife as a way of stopping forgery. Both copies of the deed were cut at the same time with the same wavy line, as a way of ensuring both versions were identical – no-one could substitute the front page or add a second page because they would not be able to match the original border  exactly.

The indentured man was Henry Keene, and it appears that he (or rather his father) paid twenty pounds for the privilege of being trained how to make silk stockings. I rather like the prohibition on fornication  or getting married during the seven year training!  “He shall not  haunt Taverns or Playhouses” sounds fair enough, but seven years of no nookie sounds a tad Draconian! Especially as he was also banned from playing Cards, Dice or the Tables…

For all I know Master Keene completed his training and qualified, in 1741. Not all apprentices were prepared to buckle down for so long, and it is interesting reading in the newspapers of the day the reports of apprentices who had done a runner. One such is this one from the Leeds Intelligencer of 25th October 1774:a2

I love the woodcut image of the man on the run! It is interesting that there is no mention of a reward for anyone handing in Mark Whittaker – more a warning that anyone harbouring him would be prosecuted.

Post script: I am grateful to Philip Allfrey for pointing out my error in describing the Indenture as getting its name  from the indented margin. He helpfully points out that the wavy line was the indenture, not the margin. As evidence he  has referred me to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Indent (v. 1) II 2
To sever the two halves of a document, drawn up in duplicate, by a toothed, zigzag, or wavy line, so that the two parts exactly tally with each other; to cut the top or edge of two or more copies of a legal document in such an exactly corresponding shape; hence, to draw up (a document) in two or more exactly corresponding copies.
Thanks for putting me right on that one, Philip. I stand corrected.