Feb 172019
 

Ahead of giving a talk on 1st March in London to the English Dance Circle, I looked out a post I did in November 2014, when I discussed the role of the Master of Ceremonies at Bath. It still seems relevant, so here it is again:

Rowlandson print, published in March 1782, entitled “A Master of the Ceremonies Introducing a Partner”

Coming across this Thomas Rowlandson sketch on the fascinating Lewis Walpole site  at Yale University reminded me of the important role played by the Master of Ceremonies at venues such as Bath. If you went to a ball you couldn’t just go and chat up a bird you fancied – you had to be introduced. And that was one of the functions of the Master of Ceremonies – to vet the attendees, decide who they were appropriate to be introduced to, and later, to effect those introductions so that the evening would be a success. I imagine it was sometimes a case of “mix and match” – a title needed money, and vice versa, while on other occasions it was mixing “like with like”.

I am indebted to the Austenonly site here for the explanation of the MoC role, given by Joseph Moser in 1807. It was their function to:
“… introduce regularity into large assemblies, to keep order, to repress the ebullitions of passion, to banish, if possible, that contraction or thrusting out of the lips which Shakespear calls pouting; to prevent violent suffusions or flushings in the female countenance; to keep the ladies from tossing, and their noses from turning up, when precedence, partners, and people that nobody knows, with a hundred other serious circumstances, excite those emotions. He has also annexed to his office something clerical, it being his business to join hands: but he goes still farther, he frequently procures partners, who sometimes under his banners enlist for life.” (See The Sports of Ancient London. The Sporting Magazine. )
The print dates from 1795 and shows Richard Tyson, Master of Ceremonies, effecting an introduction of a gentleman who is clearly no longer in the first flush of youth, to a pair of ladies who definitely should only be seen by dim candlelight!
Richard Tyson had been MoC of the Upper Rooms at Bath for a number of years. Since 1771 there were two separate rooms – in time, the new (Upper) Rooms had a separate MoC from the (original) Lower Rooms – a far cry from when there was but one “King” of Bath, in the form of Beau Nash, who was in sole charge of proceedings from 1704 until around 1760.
According to Wikipedia “He (Nash) would meet new arrivals to Bath and judge whether they were suitable to join the select “Company’ of 500 to 600 people who had pre-booked tables, match ladies with appropriate dancing partners at each ball, pay the musicians at such events, broker marriages, escort unaccompanied wives and regulate gambling (by restraining compulsive gamblers).” Not bad for a days work!

Beau Nash, painted by Nathaniel Hone

It does seem a bit hard therefore, that when he died, the long-serving, long suffering Beau Nash ended up in an unmarked paupers grave. He had been a prodigious gambler, with enormous debts. Because of those debts he was forced to move in to the home of his mistress Juliana Popjoy. The poor girl was so distraught when he died in 1761 that she apparently went to live in a large hollowed-out tree. Which is entirely proper for the 18th Century, because of course that is what one did when feeling bereft and lonely!
Meanwhile, my thanks to Master Rowlandson for a rather lovely piece of observation of the manners, etiquette and style of Bath in its Georgian grandeur. Nice one!

***

For anyone interested, I will be giving a talk in London to the Early Dance Centre at 7.15 on 1st March. You can find details on the EDC website here. For tickets, contact the EDC secretary on:-  secretary@earlydancecircle.co.uk

or by telephone on:- 020 8699 8519

St Stephen’s revisited.

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Dec 262018
 

 A post dedicated to Stephen:

26th December marks the feast of St Stephen, named in honour of the first Christian stoned to death. It is not to be confused with ‘Boxing Day’ which may, or may not, fall on this day but is correctly the name given to the public holiday occurring immediately after Christmas Day. For instance where Christmas falls on a Friday, Boxing Day (a day when traditionally a Christmas Box would be given, containing coins) will fall on Monday 28th December. St Stephen’s Day is therefore a non-movable religious festival whereas Boxing Day is a movable, secular, one.

Today’s post looks at three different traditions associated with this day, starting with the horse. St Stephen was the patron saint of horses and in some parts of Northern Europe it is traditional to take the horses, suitably bedecked, to church to be blessed. Traditionally the Christmas break meant a ‘holiday’ for all working animals (of which the horse was the most important) and in some areas the horse was therefore awarded a special meal to mark the start of its ‘time off’. In other areas the equine connection is preserved in horse racing, where The King George VI Chase is the second-most important race in the jump-racing calendar (after the Cheltenham Gold Cup) and is held at Kempton Park today.

   

It is also the most important day in the fox-hunting calendar, with meets taking place across the country, despite the ban on hunting live animals.

                        A set of English stamps (1973) based upon the story of Wenceslas.

Secondly the day is always associated with ‘Good King Wenceslas’, who, as we all know, went out on the Feast of Stephen. And yes, there was a Wenceslas, who was pretty good by tenth century standards, though in truth he was a duke in Bohemia – now part of the Czech Republic – not a king. He was born in 907 into a family wracked by religious and political in-fighting. His grandparents had converted to Christianity and when Grandpa (Duke Borivoy the First) died he was succeeded by Ratislav. Borivoy’s widow Ludmila was entrusted to bring up Ratislav’s son Wenceslas, much to the chagrin of the boy’s own mother Drahomira. who had never converted to Christianity. When Ratislav died he was succeeded by young Wenceslas, a mere 13 year old, and the wicked Drahomira seized her chance, taking power as Regent. She ordered the death by strangulation of dear old Ludmila (well, that is what you did to mothers-in-law in those days) and a period of religious persecution followed. But when he reached the age of 18 Wenceslas saw off his wicked mother and took power for himself (I do hope you are following this at the back, questions will be asked later). He was a good but fair leader, ended the persecution of priests, and was generally a thoroughly good egg. His popularity didn’t go down too well with his duplicitous brother Boleslav, who had his own circle of followers opposed to the spread of Christianity. Boleslav invited his brother Wenceslas round for a cup of tea (or maybe something stronger) and then attacked him as he was going in to Mass. The rest of the dissidents piled in, and the hapless Wenceslas was killed, aged just 28. He quickly became Bohemia’s patron saint and most famous martyr.

 

 

In 1853 the English hymn writer John Mason Neale composed the now-familiar carol, setting the words to a medieval tune known as “Tempus adest floridum” (‘the time is near for flowering’) first published in the year 1582. And if you feel the need to hear it, put this in your browser:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfKtrJ1GvOU                           

Thirdly let us look at the oddest tradition of all, linked to that tiny little bird the wren, since today is also known as Wren Day in many areas of Ireland, and where traditions linked to stoning this smallest of birds to death are still to be found across the country. Echoes of the tradition are to be found on the Isle of Man and, centuries ago, on the English mainland and in particular in Wales. The tradition is so ancient it may well be druidic (the gaelic word for wren is dreolín, which possibly derives from draoi ean, or ‘Druid bird’). Why kill the bird? Well, perhaps the tradition simply marked the end of the year with a mid-winter sacrifice, or commemorated the early Christian attempts to drive out paganism, who knows for certain?

The wren has a reputation which its tiny frame belies. One story has it that the wren is the king of the birds, by virtue of a contest in the bird kingdom to find who could fly the highest: the mighty eagle soared into the skies, leaving all beneath him, except the wren which had hitched a ride on the eagle’s back. When the eagle tired and could ascend no more the wren flew a few feet above it, and landed to the acclamation that he was indeed the king of birds. In Druid lore the birds were a link between heaven and earth – it is possible the druids worshipped the wren and for this reason the Christians opposed it and celebrated the killing of the bird at Christmas time as a symbol of their new order.

But the bird also has a name for treachery, for betraying your whereabouts to your enemies. Legend has that it was a wren which alerted the Jews to where St Stephen was hiding, leading to his capture and death by stoning. And was it not the case that when Cromwell’s soldiers were asleep and the Irish were about to attack, a flock of wrens rose into the air and wakened the enemy with the sounds of their wing beats? Had the same thing not happened when the Viking invaders arrived eight centuries before?

There are a number of such myths and superstitions about the wren and for centuries the Wrenboys would spend the weeks leading up to Christmas either stoning and killing the wrens, or collecting them and tying them alive to a holly (or other evergreen) bush. The Wrenboys would then parade through the town on St Stephen’s Day, knocking on doors. Householders would be asked to give a penny ‘to pay for the funeral of the wren’ – anyone refusing would run the risk of the Wrenboys burying the bird outside their home, a certain way of bringing bad fortune for the year ahead. Anyone making a gift of money would be rewarded with a feather from the bird. This way the Wrenboys collected enough money to finance an evening of liquid revelry at the local hostelry… with singing and dancing. The wren on its decorated pole had pride of place.

Daniel Maclise illustration for S.C. Hall’s Ireland: Its Scenery and Character (1841).

Traditions varied: in some the Wren Boys dressed as mummers in straw costumes; in others they blackened their faces with cork and dressed in old clothes (sometimes women’s clothes). Meanwhile in West Kerry tradition has it that the dancers paraded with a wooden horse’s head – harking back to the time of pre-Christian horse worship. The introduction of Christianity meant that the horse effigy also had to be burnt, and it is this that the dancers commemorate.

The wren was also known as a wran and a number of songs grew up around the tradition. The most popular one (this, based upon a variant used in Cork)  goes:

The wran, the wran, the king of all birds,
St Stephens’s Day was caught in the furze.                                                                                      
Up with the kettle and down with the pan,

Give us a penny to bury the wran.

Nowadays of course there is no bird killing – either a stuffed bird is tied to the holly pole, or a model of one, and this is decorated with ribbons and holly and used for the parade. One particular group of mummers from South West Fermanagh known as the Aughakillymaude Mummers, keeps alive the tradition of such celebrations:

                     

Apr 262018
 

Following on from high-lighting some of Richard’s lists, here is a repeat of an earlier blog about the entire list of household contents at One London Bridge, at the time when Richard’s son William was in residence:

When Richard and  William terminated their partnership (selling hosiery and general haberdashery from Number One London Bridge) they commissioned an Inventory of the items at the premises. This excluded trade items but covered all the furniture and effects, right down to bed-linen, pictures and books. The inventory was dated 15th May 1794. William stayed a haberdasher but concentrated on the import of silks – and eventually became Master of the Haberdashers Guild (1820). His place in the family business was taken by his younger brother Francis, who remained living over the shop for another twentyfive years.

The list reveals that the building (other than the shop and counting room) consisted of thirteen separate rooms. No mention is made of a privy – presumably because it was outside.

Even the shop had a feather bed – no doubt because an apprentice slept there overnight. Indeed it is the sheer number of beds which catches the eye. Assuming that a bolster would not have been appropriate to a single bed, it looks as though there were seven double beds, one single, plus a “straw pallice” i.e. palliasse. In theory sixteen people could be in occupation. From the description of the Hall household it is assumed that there were only two domestic servants “living in” – presumably in “Room No. 3 – Left hand” with its “Stump bedstead…a wainscoat chest of drawers, round table, square dressing glass” (i.e. mirror) and stove with “tin fender”.

The other rooms contain rather more furniture and benefit from “window curtains” (as distinct from “bed curtains”).

In the main bedroom there is a half tester bed (i.e. with a canopy) with what is described as “Harrateen furniture” (Harrateen being a type of woollen fabric, used here for the drapes, canopy and curtains). The main bed had a goose feather mattress and pillows – other mattresses appear to have been mostly “feather” (of unspecified origin) or “flock” or straw. “Scotch carpet” appears to have been laid in strips – presumably around the sides and bottom of the bed – in most rooms. Only the Dining Room had a Wilton carpet.

As the Hall family would only have justified half the beds, the rest were either an indication that rooms were let out (a common way of generating an income, then as now) or shows rather more than one apprentice or shop assistant living in.

I appreciate that a mere list can seem as dry as dust, but just in case any novel writers out there are looking for authenticity, here is the list of all the things at One London Bridge this week, 218 years ago.

Inventory of the Household Furniture Linen China & Books taken at Mr Wm. Hall, hosier

No.1 London Bridge May 15, 1794

No. 1 Right hand and spair back

A half-tester bedstead and crimson Harrateen Furniture

A goose-feather bed, bolster and pillow. 2 blankets and a quilt

A truckle bedstead – a feather bed. Bolster, three blankets and a quilt

A walnut chest of drawers. 6 stained chairs – canvas seats

A corner night chair. A table clock – black Ebony Case by Smolling (?).

3 slips of carpets. A Harrateen window curtain

No 2 Right hand front

A bath stove, serpentine fender. Shovel, tongs and fender

A 4-part bedstead, Linen furniture. A feather bed, bolster & pillow

3 blankets. A linen quilt. A pair glass in a walnut tree Gilt frame.

A walnut tree kneehole dressing table. A ditto low chest of drawers.

6 black dyed chairs – matted seat A square Scotch carpet 2 slips of Ditto.

A wainscoat. Pillow, Chair, Table.  5 paintings on Glass.

No 3 left hand

A Stump (?) bedstead. A feather bed bolster & pillow. 3 blankets a wainscoat chest of drawers a ditto round table. A square dressing glass

A Scotch carpet. A brass front stove, tin fender.

No 4 Back room

A high wire fender. A parrot cage. 3 Cloaths horses. A large round table

A (?) Lanthorn (lantern). Sundry boxes. A folding board and sundries

A hatch and stairs

No. 5 Spair back room

A 4 part bedstead with Green Damask furniture – a goose feather bed bolster,

2 pillows, a flock mattress. A blanket, a green damask window curtain.

A Mahogany one drawer table. An oval swing Dressing Glass.

4 Mahogany Chairs – horse hair seats. Sundry fossils and shells.

A  basin stand, a wainscoat bureau. A Scotch carpet to go around the bed.

No. 6 – Spair right hand front room

A bath stove. Shovel tongs and poker. A 4 part bedstead, mahogany feet.

Pillows. Printed cotton furniture. A feather bed, bolster, 2 pillows. A straw pallice.

3 blankets, a white cotton counterpane. 2 sets of cotton festoon window curtains.

A compress front mahogany Chest of drawers. A swing glass in a Mahogany frame.

A Mahogany double chest of drawers. 6 Mahogany chairs, horsehair seats.

A Scotch carpet and 2 bedsides (i.e. slips). A Mahogany basin stand Jug and Basin

A small ditto Cloaths Horse. Side bed. A small feather bed.

2 pillows, 2 flannel blankets a Marseilles quilt, an India picture. 2 China jars & Covers. 2 ….(?) & 2 pieces blown glass.

No. 7 – Spair left hand

An iron grate on hearth stones. A harrateen window curtain & rod

A Mahogany cloaths press with folding doors & drawer under.

A Mahogany bureau. A small ditto. An easy chair. Cushion. Linen case.

A Scotch carpet 2 setts of window curtains. ….….(?) A purple ditto.

Linen

4 Diaper Table cloths,2 small ditto. 4 Damask Breakfast Ditto

4 Diaper Table Cloths. 1 pair Lancashire Sheets

4 pairs Russia Ditto, 3 pair Ditto. 2 pair Lancashire Ditto, 2 odd sheets

8 pairs Pillowcases, 6 Diaper Hand Towels. 9 Huckerback towels – 2 Jack Ditto

2 old Ditto. 20 hand towels. A breakfast cloth – 2 Pudding Ditto

A cotton counterpane. A sett of blue check bed Curtains

Books

One vol. Folio ½ bound. 1 Ditto unbound. 5 Ditto 4to (Quarto). Plates to ditto. Miscellaneous Tracks (tracts) relating to Antiquity. Baileys Dictionary. Buchans Domestic Medicine. Thompsons Travels. Non-conformists Memorial, 2 volumes, Winchesters Tracks. Philadelphian Magazine. A Dictionary. Harveys Meditations. Herberts Poems. James Beauties (?). 36 bound books. Sundry pamphlets – 4 bound. Pashams Bible. Hymns & Psalms. A family bible. Crudens Concordances. Clark on the Testament.4 maps of Europe Asia Africa & America. An orrery. 3 Portraits framed & Glazed.

No.8 Spair back room

A fretwork Mahogany Tea Table. A Japan Ditto. A variable (?) one-draw Table.

A Draft Board. A slip of floor cloth. Sundry stones shells & fossils.

A painting of fruit, sundry shells in a drawer.

No. 9 Dining Room

Fender shovel Tongs & Poker. 3 sett of blue Damask festoon window curtains.

A steel stove.  2 oval pier glasses in carved gilt frames. A square pillar & claw Table.

2 square mahogany Dining Tables with 2 flaps.  A round Ditto.

A Mahogany Dumb Waiter. 6 Ditto Chairs Sattin hair seats brass nailed. 2 Elbow Ditto. A Wilton carpet.

A marble slab on a Mahogany stand – a Mahogany book Case, Glass Doors.

A Harpsichord in a walnut tree case by Kirkhoffe …(?), a violin, a flute, a high Mahogany Chair, a Ditto stool, a Japan’d Urn, a Mahogany stand, 2 waiters.

Cut(lery) and knife tray. Sundry Moths & insects framed & Glazed. Sundry Stones Shells & Fossils. A Canary Bird & Cage. A Mahogany Knife case.

A set of cruets with Silver Tops – 2 small miniature portraits.

No. 10 Kitchen

1 Trivet, 2 Crane Hooks. Footman(i.e. kettle stand) 2 Spits…(?) Dripping Pan Stand.

2 Gridirons. A copper Boiler. A Tea Kettle. 2 Porrage pots & covers. 3 Saucepans.

A chocolate pot. A pair of Princes metal candlesticks. 1 pr shorter Ditto.3 high brass Ditto. A brass ladle. A tin fish kettle plate & cover. 5 Saucepans & covers.

6 candlesticks. 10 patties. Loose tea ware (?). Bread basket. Japan Sugar Ditto. 3 Tin Cannisters. 14 Oval & round dishes.12 large plates. 6 small Ditto.

Sundry Queens Ware. 4 water (?) plates. A meat steamer(?) lined with Tin. A Deal table with 2 flaps.6 wood chairs. A pair of bellows. Salt box. Spice Box.2 sieves. A Japan Patent Jack. A Deal cupboard under Dresser. A Hatch on stairs.

No. 11 Store Room

An eight day clock in a walnut tree case by Wright. A Square Mahogany 2-flap Dining Table. A 2-flap Deal Table. A small cloaths horse. A plate warmer.

2 Frying pans. A footman (i.e. kettle stand). A tin Fish Kettle. A copper warming pan. A brass Ditto. A small Lanthorn (lantern). A Japan Tea Tray. 3 Flat irons & 2 stands.

A pewter(?) water dish. 4 round dishes. 10 plates. A tureen. A copper stew pan. A bell. Metal Saucepan.

1 brass 1 copper Urn. Part of a set of China containing 35 pieces. A tea-pot

Cover.6 cups & saucers. 6 blue and white cups & saucers. Basin. 6 candle

Basins & Saucers. 27 china plates. 3 Ditto bowls. A dragon basin. 2 mugs.

A tureen cover. 14 soup plates. 4 Dishes. 9 Patties. 4 basons.2 jugs. 4

Round dishes. 15 pieces of Queens Ware.4 Red dishes & sundry Jars. 2

Glass Decanters. 20 wine & jelly Glasses. A Tumbler. A Mahogany

knife tray. 2 Waiters. 1 Japan Ditto. Candle box, lamp, 2 pairs of plated

Candlesticks. A dish cross (?). 2 pairs of snuffers. A plated stand. A plated

Cruet (?) with 5 glasses. 12 brown-handled knives & forks.12 small Ditto.

10 forks.

Shop No. 12

A feather bed, bolster & pillows. 2 blankets & a rug.

No. 13 Cellar

A beer stand. 2 wash tubs. 2 pails. Sundry Garden Pots

All the Effects in the Foregoing Inventory is valued at One Hundred & Twenty Five pounds fifteen shillings & 6d by

John Fletcher

for Samuel Burton, Houndsditch.

The family interest in astronomy was reflected in the “orrery” – a clockwork mechanism used to show the movement of the planets around the sun, and named after the Earl of Orrery. Some years earlier the Earl had commissioned the instrument maker J Rowley to make just such an instrument copying the invention of George Graham.

The list of linen is interesting with its reference to “Diaper Table Cloths” – diaper meaning “diamond patterned”, Huckerback towels – which the Oxford Dictionary defines as being “made of stout linen or cotton fabric” and “Jack Towels” meaning roller towels. The family appear to have been musical, with a “harpsichord in a Walnut Tree case” along with a violin and a flute. Ornaments seem to have been dominated by shells and fossils,many of which are still in my possession, along with miniature portraits and “sundry Moths and Insects framed and glazed”.

Even the canary in its cage was listed in the inventory (in the Dining Room, next to the Mahogany Knife Case). The parrot cage in the Back Room was presumably without an inmate (since none was mentioned) but indicates the popularity of keeping caged birds as pets.

The total value of the entire household contents came to a modest £125.15s.6d. (the equivalent of perhaps £6,500) but this may well have reflected that at ten pounds per room this was a “family valuation”.

A picture showing One London Bridge (then, the postal address of premises North of the River Thames, immediately to the left of the Church of St Magnus the Martyr, and behind the old water wheel).

Many more details about One London Bridge can be found in The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman but I find it fascinating to think that I actually know in which room in the house some of the items I now own were originally kept.

A Georgian gem in Martinique … Château Dubuc

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Feb 052018
 

View over the sugar refining area towards the Atlantic coast

Ruined outbuildings

 

Arriving on Martinique I was expecting it to be French – very French – and indeed it carries all the hallmarks of its status as an overseas department of France. There are four arrondissements and the island has decent roads, many of them dual carriageways. It has blocks of flats. It has endless commercial parks filled with French supermarkets and building-supply stores. It has innumerable main dealerships for Renault and Citroen – and is quite distinct from any of the other islands where we have visited on our cruise. No shacks or shanty towns – but also, far less picturesque “typically Caribbean” simplicity.

Iron collecting bowl

The twelve pillars supporting the cane grinding area

To me, the bonus was discovering Chateau Dubuc, way out on the eastern peninsula known as  Presqu’ile de la Caravelle. It is in ruins, and never was a castle – more a manor house situated on a superb elevated site with magnificent sea-views.

Martinique, showing the peninsula on the eastern coast, where Chateau Dubuc is situated.

The Dubuc family apparently came over from Normandy in the late 17th Century and established tobacco, sugar and (unusually) coffee plantations. A scion of the family then moved to Caravelle and in 1721 decided to build himself a fine plantation house, using granite and blocks of coral limestone. What I admire is his vision – this wasn’t just a home, it was a complete economic unit in one place, where he and his family, with no doubt numerous slaves, could grow their own sugar cane, process it, make it into brown sugar (like muscavado) and distil it into rum. For good measure the mountain-growing coffee beans could be collected, processed on the same site, and all the produce would then be barrelled and trundled down a hauling way to the harbour where ships would be gathering to take the produce back to France for sale.

The family were obviously hit hard when earthquakes damaged the building in 1726, just as the main plantation house had been finished, and again in the 1750s when there were earthquakes and hurricanes in successive years. But the Dubuc family were no quitters and they carried on until 1794 when the British came along, sacked the place, and the Dubucs gave up and went home to France. It then deteriorated over the centuries, allegedly a haunt of pirates and smugglers, until the 2.5 hectare site was taken over by the French Department of Works, and sympathetically restored. Well, made safe at any rate. Because what is nice is that there has been very little attempt to restore – more, to repair, to explain the significance and use of buildings, and to preserve a fascinating piece of history. You can see where the sugar cane was fed under giant rollers. The 12 stone pillars supporting the roof to the mill are all that remains of the external structure – now looking rather like an industrial Stonehenge – but a scale replica of the grinding machine has been constructed in situ. You can see where the cane juice ran through channels to be collected in huge vats where it was boiled, refined, and made into molasses. A separate process  produced the refined sugar, and anther area converted it into rum after being distilled.

Coffee-bean washing tunnel

 

 

 

 

All in all a fascinating insight into 18th Century colonial life.

 

Jan 302018
 

Exterior of the coffee plantation building

Landing at Santiago de Cuba (on the southern side of the island of Cuba) I must admit that I was at a loss to decide what to see – memorials to Fidel Castro and Che Guevara are not really my cup of tea. Somewhat unenthusiastically I signed up on a taxi trip to see the Gran Piedra – a large rock on top of a big hill, which necessitates climbing some 500-plus  steps. The tour was also to take in a coffee plantation. Now, that did not really fire the imagination – been there, bought the T shirt, tasted the coffee. …  But this was different – although not billed as such it was an evocative and effective explanation of the lives lived by slaves working on a coffee plantation on the island two centuries ago.

Coffee drying area

Until the slave revolution on Haiti, which overthrew French colonial rule in 1804, no-one realized the economic significance of growing coffee on Cuba. Coffee grows in the mountains – and the land was dirt cheap because it was considered unproductive. So, when the French fled Haiti they bought up large tracts of mountainous woodland, and dragged their slaves across from Haiti to provide the labour.

The plantation house we visited was at Cafetal la Isabelica, and it was especially poignant to see all the slaving memorabilia in the context of the actual house where they served. This was no dry exhibition behind glass cabinets, with lengthy written explanations. This was a slave plantation house recently restored and with UNESCO status   – and the slavery exhibits were not shut away but rather, left lying around.

The tools of the trade….

The guide rang the brass bell on the porch. The sound of the bell could apparently be heard for several miles – one chime to send the slaves out to the fields, another single chime to bring them back in, and a continuous chime to alert neighbours to fetch their dogs and join a man-hunt for any slave escaping into the hinterland. You could see where the beatings took place – even the shallow hollow where pregnant slaves could lie face down (to protect their unborn child) while being flogged across the back.

 

 

 

Slave quarters

Inside took visitors to a room where all the instruments of slavery were hanging on a wall – the manacles, the shackles, the neck irons. You could see the tiny cramped quarters where the slaves lived, see the kitchens where the slave cooks worked – and where they were required to eat the same supper as the Master, but one hour before he ate his meal, to ensure that the food was not poisoned. Another display was of iron objects found in the fields and forest  – adzes, hoes and so on. The drying bays, the areas for getting rid of the outer skin from the coffee beans, the area where the beans were washed, weighed, bagged and shipped out were all there to see. And upstairs you could walk round the Masters living quarters, and see the bed where the Master would enjoy the company of whichever female slave took his fancy. It was a fascinating display. Even if it was reached by possibly the most appalling piece of mud-track I have ever had the misfortune to be driven down – it really had to be seen to be believed! The place echoed its sad past – it was eerily quiet, rather damp, and with enough neglect to make it interesting – restoration had not taken away its power as a memorial to past horrors.

His Master’s bedroom…

Part of the machinery turned by slaves to wash and peel the outer skin of the coffee beans…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All pictures courtesy of Wikimedia (on account of the fact that the museum charges for cameras to be used, and I am too stingy to pay when I have already bought my entrance ticket….).

Jan 052018
 

The announcement in the national newspapers yesterday that Colman’s are closing its main mustard-production in Norwich made me think that I would dust off an earlier blog I had written about mustard.  Nowadays Colman’s Mustard is owned by Unilever, and they have decided to close the Norwich factory at the end of 2019, although apparently they wish to preserve something of the connection with the city by continuing to mill mustard seeds, and to package dried mustard, somewhere around Norwich. Anyway, here was the story:

 

Samuel Pepys, writing on Saturday 25th October 1662 entered the following in his diary:

“Up and to the office, and there with Mr. Coventry sat all the morning, only we two, the rest being absent or sick. Dined at home with my wife upon a good dish of neats’ feet* and mustard, of which I made a good meal.”

*as in Cow Heel Pie

There was of course nothing new about mustard – the Romans probably brought it here, but it was a weedy concoction obtained by grinding leaf and seed alike in a pestle and mortar. Nevertheless it had its admirers, because it helped disguise the smell of rotten meat… It probably got its name from the way the early versions consisted of seeds mixed with the must, the left-over product from fermenting grapes in the wine-making process.

The English  manufacture of mustard had long been centred in Tewkesbury. Then along came Mrs Clements, from Durham. Discarding the pestle-and-mortar approach of crushing everything, she instead treated the mustard to the full works i.e. the same as the way wheat was milled before being turned into flour. It was finely milled, separated from the stems etc and the resulting fine powder contained all the flavour you could possibly wish for.

The story goes that on 10th June 1720 she trotted off to see her neighbours and to flog them a jar or two of her ‘new improved’ mustard. Word spread and before long she headed for London and introduced the new King (George Ist) to the delights of her condiment. Royal admirers were quick to emulate the King’s good taste, and her success was assured. You can still buy a jar of mustard which carries her name from the East India Company (yes, there is still a business trading under that name).

George III mustard pot, c. 1792

Others followed – particularly  a Mr Keen, who was responsible for the slogan ‘Keen as mustard’ and who set up his business in London in 1742 supplying taverns and chop-houses. And then of course Mr Jeremiah Colman came along and cornered the market with his bright yellow square tins with the bull’s head. He took over the business of Keen and Sons and quickly established his base in Norwich as the centre of ‘all things mustard’. He started his mustard and flour business on the outskirts of the town in 1814, and his commitment to the area included building a school and housing for employees. I think we can take it that today old Jeremiah is turning in his grave at the idea that the business is moving elsewhere.

 

And to show how quickly ‘Durham Mustard’ became synonymous with ‘hot and fiery’ here is a Cruikshank cartoon from 1798 entitled ‘Durham MUSTARD too Powerful for Italian Capers’.

It shows the Bishop of Durham striding on to the stage to protest at the antics of the opera chorus girls. Crossing over the (candle) footlights  and wearing a mitre and holding his crozier as if to strike the pirouetting dancers he shouts:

“Avaunt the Satan, I fear thee not. Assume whatever shape or form thou wilt. I am determined to lay thee, thou black Fiend!”

Against the wall (left) are a carved satyr and a play-bill: ‘The Divil of a Lover – He’s much tlame’ [to blame] and ‘Peeping Tom’ (by O’Keefe, 1784). The first was a musical farce played once only on 17 March 1798, the second was first played on 13 February 1798, so this play-bill gives a good clue of the date of the episcopal outburst.

Nov 102017
 

A couple of years ago I found myself in Bergerac on Bastille Day (July 14th): Roads were cordoned off, crush barriers erected, stands became packed, and at the appointed hour there was a solemn march-past of be-medalled and be-ribboned members of the armed forces. Then there was silence and a lone man approached the microphone and sang an unaccompanied solo version of La Marseillaise. It was stunning and very moving.

I remember how strange it was to feel a lump in the throat listening to such a beautiful and stirring patriotic song, when it wasn’t my country which was being eulogized. It made me wonder at the origins of the song….

On 25 April 1792, the mayor of Strasbourg requested that his guest Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle compose a song “that will rally our soldiers from all over to defend their homeland that is under threat” At the time France was at risk from invasion by armies from Austria and Prussia. That evening, Rouget de Lisle wrote ‘Chant de guerre pour l’Armée du Rhin’ (‘The War Song of the Army of the Rhine’) and dedicated the song to Marshal Nicolas Luckner.

Here is a picture painted fifty years later, showing the composer singing his rendition of the song:

The melody soon became the rallying call of the French Revolution and was adopted as La Marseillaise after the melody was first sung on the streets by volunteers from Marseille at the end of May 1792. A young officer from Montpelier called Francois Mireur had sung it at a patriotic gathering in that city. Later, when volunteers entered the city of Paris on 30 July 1792 printed copies were handed out to supporters, and the troops adopted it as the marching song of the National Guard of Marseille. The irony is that Rouget de Lisle was actually a royalist, and he narrowly escaped a trip to the guillotine…

Subsequently La Marseillaise was made the official French national anthem (14 July 1795) although it subsequently fell out of favour. Napoleon disliked it, and later French rulers banned it altogether. In the middle part of the eighteenth century it became the anthem of the international revolutionary movement, being adopted as such by the Paris commune in 1871. Its status as the national anthem was restored in 1879.

This is how Richard Newton illustrated the words in a drawing published on 10th November 1792

Newton is one of my favourite caricaturists from the end of the eighteenth century – he only lived to the age of  21 and died in 1798 but in his lifetime displayed an irreverence and a sense of humour – often lavatorial – which I still find appealing!

This is his self portrait:I have often included Newton in my blogs – see here for a post about him from way back in 2012.

 

Oct 252017
 

This day 257 years ago a young man was informed of the death of his grandfather, King George II, who was just short of his 77th birthday. It meant that the young Prince of Wales was now King of Great Britain and Ireland, at the age of 22. He was also, let us not forget, ruler of the American colonies…. His life, previously highly sheltered, thanks to an overbearing mother and a very protective Lord Bute, would never be the same again.

Within one year, on 8 September 1761 in the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace, the King married Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. He only met her on their wedding day – her measurements having been sent over previously from Germany so that her dress could be tailor-made without her being present. A fortnight later on 22 September 1761 both were crowned at Westminster Abbey.

Here he is, in all his sumptuous finery, as painted by Allan Ramsay, at the time of his coronation. Now that is what I call understated elegance….

You needed a ticket enabling you to attend Westminster Abbey that day, and the Abbey site contains an image of  what you would have needed to see the happy pair in their crowning glory:

Copyright Westminster Abbey

Ironically, the crowning ceremony took place before the new coronation coach – specially commissioned for the occasion and dripping with bling – was ready. My blog here explains why it was not used until the State opening of Parliament in 1762. But  even so the procession must have been mighty impressive – as shown in this painting, a copy of which wends its way round the Royal Mews.

Meanwhile a number of medals had been struck to mark the accession of George to the throne, and I came across one of them on the Metropolitan Museum of Art site here. It really is a very impressive piece of sculpting, done by a designer called Thomas Pingo. You can just make out his name at the base of the shoulder armour, immediately above the date MDCCLX (1760). The Pingo family were prolific medallists – Thomas was appointed Assistant Engraver at the Mint in 1771, a post which passed to his son Lewis when Thomas died in 1776. Another son, John Pingo also designed medals, but  for my money father Thomas was the pick of the crop.

It was not however the official coronation medal – that was designed by L Natter and is shown below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In gold, these are very rare, with  just 800 being minted. Even rarer were the coronation medals commemorating Queen Charlotte, who was also of course crowned at the same ceremony. Just 400 were minted:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just in case you were a really keen supporter of the monarchy you could also have looked out for the commemorative plaque – some five and a half inches across, and made from brass:But as always there were other unofficial mementoes of the great occasion – here a commemorative tea caddy and a brooch with a cameo portrait of the king and queen:

By the time George III celebrated his fiftieth anniversary on the throne there were a positive plethora of medals issued in a variety of metals, including one referring to the Grand National Golden Jubilee event. Some of the medals appear below, and are based on images on e-bay, whereas the one at the bottom  appears on the site of Whitmore & C0. It is larger than its fellow commemoratives, at 48mm – and was designed by the medallist Hyde. It has a rather mawkish depiction of children playing at Frogmore on the reverse. This is a reference to the fact that in 1792 the King had purchased an estate at Frogmore as a present to his wife, for her to use as a retreat for her and the unmarried daughters.

 

 

 

And to end with, a superb example of the George III And Queen Charlotte Jubilee Medal – available in gold, silver and silver-gilt. A nice way to commemorate  the reign of a monarch who staggered on until 1820 – albeit with the benefit of the Regent.

          

 

Beware of tigers, Hannah Twynnoy: Oops! Too late…

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Oct 032017
 

3rd October marks the anniversary of the death in 1703 of a 33 year-old woman called Hannah Twynnoy. Her ‘claim to fame’ is that she is perhaps the first person in this country to be killed – by a tiger.

The eighteenth century saw a fashion for exotic animals being towed around from pub to pub. My ancestor Richard  Hall kept the handbill for one such menagerie show, at the Talbot Inn in 1754.

But back in 1703 young Hannah, the local barmaid, enjoyed teasing and taunting the big cat in a cage in the garden at the back of the  White Lion pub in Malmesbury. Then one day the tiger found its cage door unlocked – and took its revenge on young Hannah, mauling her to death. Her epitaph in Malmesbury Cathedral reads:

In bloom of life

She’s snatched from hence

She had not room to make defence;

For Tyger fierce

Took life away

And here she lies

In a bed of clay

Until the Resurrection Day.

Another memorial to her apparently appeared in Hullavington Church, which reads

“To the memory of Hannah Twynnoy. She was a servant of the White Lion Inn where there was an exhibition of wild beasts, and amongst the rest a very fierce tiger which she imprudently took pleasure in teasing, not withstanding the repeated remonstrance of its keeper. One day whilst amusing herself with this dangerous diversion the enraged animal by an extraordinary effort drew out the staple, sprang towards the unhappy girl, caught hold of her gown and tore her to pieces.”

So, let us remember poor Hannah: a terrifying end to a life of a woman who liked to play with pussy cats – big pussy cats….

 

Aug 042017
 

On Tuesday, it was great to get the chance to get up to London and visit the Royal Mews, next to Buckingham Palace, at the invitation of the Royal Collection Trust. Complete with Press pack, it gave the opportunity to have a close look at the State landaus, Semi- State landaus and royal carriages used by the royal family from the Victorian period to the present day. OK so I wasn’t especially impressed by various  modern cars driven by Her Maj, and some of the modern replica carriages, complete with electric windows, hydraulic suspension, heating and so on are “interesting” but somehow are not ‘the real thing’…

 

 

 

 

 

 

For that, I didn’t think you can beat the Gold State Coach, used by every monarch at his or her coronation since George IV. I remember seeing it  when Queen Elizabeth attended her coronation back in June 1953 – and I recall playing with  a tinplate model, complete with eight miniature grey horses. Seeing the original, close to, was fascinating.

It is housed in the Royal Mews in its own room, and it is vast, with the main carriage having a body 24 feet long and 12 feet high. It weighs in at a massive four tons, and needs to be pulled by four pairs of Windsor Greys, each of sixteen hands. That’s an impressive horse power, but necessary for something of that weight. Indeed once those giant golden wheels start rolling, it takes some stopping. A footman has to apply the brake – and even then it takes 30 feet to roll to a halt.  For that reason the carriage is only ever drawn at walking pace, so that the grooms can walk along side it and are on hand in case anything goes amiss. Four pairs of postilions  ride the horses, and by the time you add in footmen/grooms and so on, it is a highly labour-intensive means of moving the monarch from Palace to Abbey.

Somehow it is rather satisfying to know that it is excruciatingly uncomfortable. William IV, otherwise known as ‘the sailor king’ described the motion as being like being tossed in heavy seas, while Queen Victoria hated it for its ‘distressing oscillations’ and in the end transferred her affections to other means of transport such as the Imperial Coach. Poor George VI – he reckoned that it gave him “one of the most uncomfortable rides I have ever had in my life.”

The irony is that it was never actually available for use at the coronation of the monarch who commissioned it – George III. He ordered it to be made in 1760, and splashed out £7562 – that is the equivalent of well over a million pounds nowadays, and for that you got a really spectacular set of wheels, adorned with tritons, cherubs and mythical creatures. The actual coach was designed by architect William Chambers, and was constructed by coach-builder Samuel Butler

Construction took longer than anticipated and George didn’t get to use his new toy until he attended the State opening of Parliament in 1762, and it must have caused quite a stir. The panels are magnificently decorated by the Italian artist Giovanni Cipriani – full of allegorical images of Peace and of Roman gods of War. What I found especially impressive is the thought that there are still people with the skill to repair and renovate a masterpiece like this. My first father-in-law was a coach builder, and I spent many a happy hour watching him apply layer after layer of paint to hand finished panels, rubbing them down with meticulous care, and then using gold leaf to form decorative devices. I remember that the gold leaf was kept inter-leaved in something the size of  a small notebook, and was applied with the softest of brushes. Goodness knows what gold leaf like that would now cost, given the current price of gold…. The end result was as smooth and reflective as a mirror, and it is good to see that these skills are still being practised.

The other rather impressive thing is that all the way round the display room is a huge long painting, by Richard Barrett Davis, entitled “The Coronation Procession of William IV”. Above is just a tiny extract. It was painted in 1831 and shows the procession – all the great and the good, occupying carriage after carriage – as well as showing the golden State Coach in splendid pomp. The catalogue accompanying the display also shows this picture of the carriage being used to convey George III to the Houses of Parliament on 25 November 1762:

George III in procession to the Opening of the Houses of Parliament, attributed to John Wootton

The carriage  is exhibited in a long hall, and is so big that moving outdoors into the Mews courtyard involves dismantling doors and windows. It is just part of a really interesting tour of the Royal Mews. You can see the horses, the tack room, and the stables in the building housing the horses and designed by John Nash.  Well worth a visit, and the exhibition is open through the autumn. There are particular displays linked to the Buckingham Palace Family Festival which opens tomorrow, Saturday 5th August. Details are at www.royalcollection.org.uk