Apr 132017
On a fine day in January 1821 seventeen year old Eliza Balsum was crossing the stream near her home in Hanham on the outskirts of Bristol. With her was her new beau William Waddy. They were laughing and joking as they used the stepping stones to keep clear of the water. On the other side of the stream appeared John Horwood. The same age as Eliza, John had previously been Eliza’s boyfriend but she had broken off the relationship towards the end of 1820 and he had threatened violence against her. Seething with jealousy, John observed the carefree pair and picked up a stone, hurling it at Eliza. It struck her on the temple, causing her to stumble and fall. The poor girl was supported back to her mother’s home nearby, still conscious but in obvious discomfort.

Dr Smith in his masonic robes .

After a couple of days being treated at home she attended the Bristol Royal Infirmary as an outpatient, where she was treated by Dr. Richard Smith, senior surgeon. He observed the depressed fracture at her right temple and decided to have her admitted as a patient to his hospital. Dr. Smith was present when a statement was made by Eliza, in which she named John Horwood as her attacker. Days passed, and Eliza’s condition got worse rather than better, until the good doctor decided that he needed to operate to relieve the pressure on the brain. Trepanning (i.e. drilling a hole in the skull) was a barbarous method of treatment in the days before anaesthesia, and with no understanding of antisepsis. Within a couple of days the girl was dead – and John Horwood was immediately charged with murder. The date was 17th February 1821. His trial took place at the Star Inn in Bedminster (Bristol) and lasted one day. Ironically the trial saw the two people who caused Eliza’s death to be present in the same room, Horwood and Smith, but in very different contexts: one as them as the accused; and the other as main witness. There was therefore no examination as to the actual cause of death, or whether the trepanning operation was bungled. Instead, Dr. Smith recounted the statement made by Eliza, outlined his valiant efforts to save the poor wretch, and convinced the court that it was all John Horwood’s fault. Found guilty, John was sentenced to death and the punishment was carried out within 48 hours. It was 13th April 1821 and John had turned 18 years of age just three days previously.

A contemporary description of John Horwood’s case

Horwood took several minutes to die by slow strangulation. The event was hugely popular with the populace of Bristol, with thousands of people turning out to watch. The prison was adjacent to the unfenced stretch of river known as the New Cut, and the authorities were seriously worried that the crush would lead to spectators falling in and drowning.

That was not the end of his family’s suffering. They were a mining family from Hanham. John was one of ten children and many of the family attended the hanging, intent on claiming the body afterwards so that it could be given a proper burial. Dr. Smith was having none of that – the body was requisitioned by him and he was determined to use it for dissection purposes.

Fresh cadavers were hard to come by legitimately, and here was a corpse he could examine without having to employ body snatchers, as in this etching from the Wellcome Institute, showing the watchman encountering two men who have dug up a recently buried body of a young woman.

A tussle broke out as the family sought to snatch the corpse of John Horwood away, but they failed and Dr. Smith took the body back to his rooms at the Royal Infirmary. After analyzing the body parts he kept the skeleton, still with the noose around its neck, in a specially made cupboard in his home, where it remained until his death on 24th January 1843.

The noose around Horwood’s corpse

It then passed to the Royal Infirmary and there to Bristol University where it remained until nearly two centuries after Horwood had died.

But that was not the only indignity: Smith was in the habit of composing rhymes about the deceased criminals who came before him in his laboratory, and Horwood was no exception. The verse, plus Smith’s notes on the case and Eliza’s confession, were then made up into a book…..and bound with John Horwood’s skin! This macabre practice was not all that uncommon in the 17th and 18th Centuries. It is known as anthropodermic bibliopegy and involves flaying the corpse and sending the skin away to be tanned. Smith’s book still has the invoice from the tanner (one pound ten shillings) inside, and the skin is embossed with a skull and crossbones in each corner. The original is still held by the Bristol Records Office, although it is now very fragile and the contents have been digitised. The sketch of John Horwood, shown at the beginning of this post, was included in the book.

Another examples of the practice of anthropodermic bibliopegy is this one using the skin taken from one of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators (Father Garnet). An impression of his features has been stamped upon the binding as a reminder of what he looked like, and is still visible, albeit in a very indistinct manner.

For Dr. Smith, it was business as usual: he was a hugely popular figure in his home city of Bristol, doing much charitable work for schools such as Red Maids School. He was a local councilor for many years, and was Deputy Grand Master of the Masonic Lodge close to his home at 38 Park Street. When he died, of apoplexy, in 1843 the whole city seems to have come to a stand-still in mourning. Crowds of many thousands thronged the streets and at one stage the jostling mass of humanity stopped the funeral cortege altogether. He was buried at Temple Church in Bristol. The Bristol  Mirror sadly reported “In his decease Bristol has lost one of her most devoted sons, and best and brightest ornaments.” It described his funeral with the words  “All associated together on this solemn occasion and felt the bitter pang of regret at the loss of one who was a benefactor to his race – a true philanthropist.”

And what of the mortal remains of John Horwood? After languishing for 190 years in a cupboard, it was finally time for him to be laid to rest. So it was that in April 2011, on the exact anniversary and time of his death, John’s body was brought back to Hanham and given a proper funeral. It marked the end of a personal crusade by Mary Halliwell, the great-great-great-granddaughter of Horwood’s brother. The coffin was draped in velvet and carried on a wheeled bier in the manner of funerals of the period of his death. A dignified end at last to a somewhat undignified episode which shows us not just the barbarity of English justice but also the inadequacy of medical treatment some 200 years ago.

Feb 132017

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

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

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

It is allow’d, throughout the town,

The head upon the new Half-Crown,

Is not the George we so much prize—

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

This may be true—yet, on the whole,

The fault lies chiefly in the Pole!”

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

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

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

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

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

Jan 052017

twelfth-night-2Nowadays there is little to be said for Twelfth Night other than that you should take down your Christmas decorations. But if you live in Spain, 5th January is Three Kings  – an excuse for much celebration, and men on horse-back handing out sweets and other treats.

In Britain in bygone days Twelfth Night was celebrated with parties – much more so than New Year’s Eve. It was an occasion for much merriment, wassailing,  and consumption of cider – and a special cake. The cake would be a rich fruit cake, often made with exotic spices and maybe soaked in rum or brandy and flamed before being served. Nowadays it has been taken over by the Christmas pudding served on Christmas Day – which is a bit of a shame because let’s face it, by then you have already eaten more than enough….

Twelfth Night, by Thomas Tegg, 1807. © The Trustees of the British Museum: A party of men and women round a table look at caricatures of themselves.

Twelfth Night, by Thomas Tegg, 1807. © The Trustees of the British Museum: A party of men and women round a table look at caricatures of themselves.

Checking through the dairies of ancestor Richard Hall I cannot see any particular celebration for 5th January – 1st January always started with a comment along the lines of “Praise be to the Lord that I have been spared to see another year” and then was followed by a reference to the fact that he was suffering from indigestion and was confined to bed! By the fifth January Richard Hall was usually back to taking tea with neighbours, but nothing in any way celebratory. But then, my ancestor always was a miserable old blighter….

By the time we got to Richard’s great great grand daughter (in other words, my gran) I remember  it was a tradition in the family sixty years ago that we would play parlour games – and none were more typical than The Old Family Coach. I imagine that it was Victorian rather than Georgian in its origin, and I have come across a printed account of the “rules” of the game dating from the 1870s.

old-family-coachI suspect that each family had its own version. My grandmother said that the game very popular when she was a youngster in the latter years of the 19th Century. Each person was allocated a word associated with a trip to the seaside by coach – someone would be ‘the wheels’ another ‘the horses’ another the ‘whip’ ‘the dog’ and so on. A story was then read out by the narrator, along the lines of “The coach set off, the wheels spun round, the horses galloped, the dog barked and the driver spared the whip” and as each word was mentioned that particular person had to get up and turn a circle clockwise. If I remember right the trip to the seaside involved a wheel coming off the ‘old family coach’, so it had to be repaired before the assembled company could complete the journey.

Whenever the words ‘The Old Family Coach’ were mentioned the entire assembled company had to stand up and revolve anti-clockwise. Of course no-one could remember who they were supposed to be, or which way they should be turning, and great fun was had by all….when I tried to reprise this game with my own family they refused to have anything to do with it. I suspect if it had involved karaoke, or money, it might have been better received! As it is, I cannot see the tradition ever being revived, which is a shame. So, on this Twelfth Night, let me raise a toast to the Old Family Coach!


Happy Birthday to the Rain(coat) Man – Charles Macintosh

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Dec 292016

charles-macintosh-1766-to-1843I see that Google are today honouring Charles Macintosh, who was born this day in history 1766. We remember him for giving his name to a raincoat – using a method of rubberising fabric which he patented in June 1823

His success in keeping us all dry rather overshadows his other work as an Industrial Chemist – he made important contributions to the production of steel and was jointly credited with the patent awarded to James Beaumont Neilson in 1828 in connection with the ‘hot-blast’ process. In 1824 he was made  a Fellow of the Royal Society – and died in 1843.

And so, in memory of the demise of the lovely Debbie Reynolds a link from macintoshes to …  the film “Singing in the Rain”, here via YouTube with “You were meant for me.”

Some came in, and some went out. So, Hello George, and Goodbye Debbie….


Dec 152016

Among a large collection of Richard Hall’s letters which came to light just a couple of years ago is the correspondence from his father-in-law Benjamin Seward to the latter’s brother-in-law George Knapp, barrister. The collection includes this one from Badsey in Worcestershire dated 15 December 1736 – in other words, 280 years ago.

By way of background: Benjamin was a hosier, one of seven sons. He did rather well for himself in the aftermath of the Great Fire, buying up farmland in the area of North London and flogging it off for development. Most of his 6 brothers lived in Badsey, near Evesham, with their parents. By his early forties Benjamin had amassed enough of a fortune to buy The Mansion House at Bengeworth (now the Evesham Hotel) a couple of miles down the road. He chose the place in part so that his parents could assist him with the task of bringing up his two infant daughters, Frances and Eleanor. Their mother had died when Eleanor was born, and George Knapp was their mother’s brother. By the time of this letter the children were 5 and 3.

This background explains the keen attempt by Benjamin to find himself a new wife. I thought others might like to see the poetic (?) turn of phrase used to describe his interest in the Ladies (“My zeal for the Petticoat Pleasures”).

The letter reads:

“I blame myself for my long silence, at the same time I can’t help complaining of yours. Since my last I took a second tour to Birmingham where I was very agreeably entertained. I was at Two Balls and very merry amongst the Fair Lasses but as yet I am only a General Admirer.”

He then refers to his two young children: “ My two little charmers have so great an Ascendant over my Affections that I shall not I hope precipitously be a Particular One, tho my zeal for Petticoat Pleasures is too well known to admit of a Disguise. Therefore when I come to London again, which I propose doing soon after Xmas, I may chance to venture a Second Voyage if there is a Fair Prospect of Casting Anchor at the Cape Du Bon Esperance.”

In other words he made no secret of the fact that he was desperate to marry a second time if the chance came along…

The address section of the letter (known as an entire) showing delivery to Joe’s Coffee House at Mitre Court, Fleet Street.

In due course Benjamin did indeed find another wife – I think possibly it was his fortune rather than his flowery prose which did the trick! They married and moved into Bengeworth Mansion House and the daughters grew up in a happy and stable environment. My ancestor married Eleanor, the younger daughter, when she was 21, spending the honeymoon at Bengeworth while Dad and Step-Mama went up to London. Both parents were to die within a few weeks of the wedding, leaving the house and lands equally to Frances and Eleanor. By virtue of the Property Laws then in force, this meant Richard was suddenly a very wealthy 25 year old.

It may seem slightly curious that Benjamin’s younger daughter was able to keep her father’s letters; they came into her possession when George Knapp, (addressee) died and Richard (executor) discovered the letters with George’s effects. Even more remarkable is that no-one else thought of binning them in the intervening 280 years! For very many  years they have nestled safely and unseen in a concertina file of papers which my second cousin has kindly let me photograph. I am now reading through the correspondence and general ephemera and maybe eventually I will decide to bring out a Second Edition of the Journal of a Georgian Gentleman in order to include all this extra material.

Meanwhile a paperback version is available  for £9 + p&p. Do contact me via info@mikerendell.com if you are interested. No-one can say I don’t try and make Christmas shopping simple!


Nov 302016

Nowadays bankers are held in low esteem – hardly a day goes by without stories of their dubious morality. So, why don’t we just hang them? After all, we used to… the last crooked banker to meet his maker this way was Henry Fauntleroy, who went to the gallows for forgery (the last man to do so for that offence) on 30th November 1824 aged 40.





Henry Fauntleroy, courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.


Fauntleroy was the son of a Dorset bank clerk who helped form a private bank in London (at Berners Street in Marylebone) by the name of Marsh, Sibbald, & Co in 1782. At other times the Bank was known as Marsh, Stracey, Fauntleroy and Graham. The twenty-year old Henry joined the bank as a clerk, and took over the position of senior partner when his father died. The other partners took very little part in the running of the Bank and appear to have abandoned the young Fauntleroy without proper supervision. The Bank had agreed loans to a number of builder clients. By the very nature of their business the builders needed finance all the way through the building programme – withdrawing backing at any stage would mean a calamity for the bank as well as for the builder. So, when expenses rose and debts became overwhelming, Fauntleroy took to using client funds to shore up the business. The bank’s indebtedness stood at £60,000. By 1815 he was forging powers of attorney enabling him to sell stocks and securities lodged by clients with the Bank. In his papers he was quite thorough in recording these deals, and when he was eventually brought to trial these records, in his own writing, made any denial impossible.

One report states: “So Henry Fauntleroy threw honesty to the winds and adopted the expedient of forgery, which at that time was punishable at the hands of the hangman. Among the clients of the Berners Street bank were innumerable holders of Consols, long and short annuities, Navy loans and other Government securities. Fauntleroy had a list of their stocks and was familiar with all their signatures. In every case the device was successful. The defrauded proprietor was never allowed to discover the theft. Forgery was used to cover forgery, until eventually nearly £400,000 worth of Government stock had been appropriated”.

Fauntleroy kept his activities covered by continuing to meet the dividends due to the owners of the stock, but eventually the enterprise collapsed like a pack of cards.

He was by all accounts a solemn person who exuded respectability and trust: he is described as being “a tall man and used to wear white trousers, white waistcoat and black coat.” Oddly, he believed that he bore a striking resemblance to Napoleon, and he aspired to be regarded by the world at large as a Napoleon of commerce. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography in 1821 Fauntleroy bought “a sumptuous Grecian villa at Brighton and erected a billiard room in the form of Napoleon’s travelling tent.”

Apparently in 1809 he was compelled to marry a woman with whom he had an affair and got pregnant: the girl’s brother demanded a duel, and Fauntleroy was obliged to marry the lady in order to save face. They did not live together, and by some accounts this enabled Fauntleroy to go off and have affairs with various ladies of ill-repute, most interestingly a woman known as Mrs Bang a.k.a. Mother Bang a.k.a. Mary Kent, Mary Berners and various other noms de plume. “Bang” was both a description of her activities and  the fact that she was “bang on” fashion.

The papers later sensationalised the stories about Fauntleroy and Mrs Bang, painting him as totally debauched and immoral. One paper described the arrangement as follows:

A female, of as much personal attraction as possible, was selected by a set of men then about town, who being themselves mined by the same means, both in fortune and in fame, were ready to become the willing instruments of ruin to others. This gang all pulled one way, and having got hold of a handsome and interesting woman, they established her in an elegant and splendidly furnished mansion in some fashionable street at the west end of the town. This woman, nominally the owner of the mansion, was hawked about, dressed in the most fascinating and gay attire to the Italian Opera, the theatre, and all other places of public fashionable resort where she had her male accomplices scattered about, offering their friendly services to all their young and inexperienced acquaintances, often men of fortune and of family, to introduce them to the great object of general admiration–Mrs. Such-a one. The introduction took place-the lady put forth all her powers of attraction-a fascinating invitation was given to the new aspirant for her favours, to join a supper-party, at her house that night; after the entertainment cards were introduced-something trifling was commenced with, the wine went round ; the ladies soon dropped off one by one from the table -a proposal was made to play for a few dozen of Champagne, to make a present to the lovely and hospitable hostess, the pigeon was most generally suffered to win this first and some following trifling stakes, to give-him confidence. Dice (false ones) now took the place of cards ; play became deeper and deeper, until the wine vanished, and the poor dupe of all this villainy was fleeced of every shilling he had about him, and then entered into securities, his own bills…

The Hecate of these infernal courts, for several years, was Mrs. Bertram, better known by the domestic name of “Mother Bang,” because she was ” bang up” to all the arts and intrigues of her calling. Mr. Fauntleroy unfortunately fell in with some of the destructive women above described, and amongst the rest this said Mother Bang. In this way, we understand, he has dissipated enormous sums, besides loans of a large amount, to fellows about town, whom he met at those places, and whose words he took to pay him when they would, and that was never.

By some accounts Fauntleroy and Mrs Bang went their separate ways when Fauntleroy seduced a young schoolgirl and set her up in a home in London. She allegedly bore him two children.

Fauntleroy was to deny these charges totally in Court. Indeed he seemed far more concerned at refuting the allegation of immorality than to defend himself against the charge of forgery.

On 14th September 1824 the Bank had announced that it was closing for business and Fauntleroy had been charged with “uttering a forged document knowing it to be forged.”  After a trial lasting less than five hours the jury returned a verdict of guilty and on 2 November 1824 the recorder pronounced the sentence of death.

Two appeals were made on points of law ; seventeen merchant bankers volunteered to give references as to his moral character and past dealings, but Robert Peel, the Home Secretary, saw no reason for leniency and on 30th November Fauntleroy was led from his cell in Newgate, paraded in front of a crowd estimated at 100,000 people, and was hanged. Mind you that was only after a curious claim by a mad Italian called Edmund Angelini who demanded to take his place on the scaffold….

The presses churned out broadsheets like the one shown, eager to display his picture and last words. There were even coins over-stamped, as this Cartwheel Penny, with the words “Fauntleroy the Robber of Widows and Orphans, Executed at Newgate, such be the Fate of the Insolvent Bilking Bankers and Agents”

The centuries roll by, and some might argue we still havent found a more effective way of making sure that bankers toe the line…

Jul 022016

Picture1I know exactly what my ancestor Richard Hall was doing 220 years ago – he was playing a game with his children Anna and Benjamin. The game was published by Bowles in 1795, and I still have it. The canvas backing is coming apart a bit, but the print is still legible and the game combines a geography lesson with a variant of ‘snakes and ladders’.

The top section is simply a map of the known world, which still had large areas of Canada and Greenland as blank and, as can be seen in the close up, Tasmania was shown as being part of the Australian mainland because the Bass Straits were not discovered until George Bass circumnavigated what  turned out to be an island in 1798.



At the foot of the map are the instructions for the game – each player had a counter and moved his piece the number  shown on the spin of what was called  a teetotum. This was  a spinning top with numbered sides, used because in respectable households (of which Richard Hall’s was definitely one!) dice were frowned upon because of their gambling connotations.  By moving the counter the appropriate number of spaces he or she would land on different numbered places around the world.

Picture3Each  place was given a brief description and, as in Snakes and Ladders, sometimes you had to miss a turn, sometimes you had an extra go, and sometimes you were sent back to square one. The object was to be the first to reach London: “capital of Great Britain and greatest commercial city in the world”

Land on Constantinople and you caught the plague and were sent to Newfoundland to endure quarantine for two goes;  land on Mecca and you had to return from whence you came as an atonement for your folly; Botany Bay meant a compulsory stay for four turns while you make the acquaintance of the convicts.

Some of the stops have delightful snippets of information:

….“Gibraltar, the precious Rock of Old England, taken from the Spaniards in 1704”

…. “Otaheiti, discovered in 1767, where several missionaries have been sent to convert the natives to         Christianity”

…. “Delhi, where Khouli Khan murdered 70,000 Indians in one night”

…. “Calcutta – one of the richest countries in the world, but take care to avoid the Black Hole”

Picture4As you can see, the game started at the Azores (“belonging to Africa but subject to the Portuguese”) then went to the Canaries for its second stop, (“excellent wines, canary birds and Teneriff Peak – the highest land in the known world except in Borneo” ) and then on to the Senegalese coast alongside Cape Verde Islands, where you had to be “aware of the trade in gums, gold dust and Negroes. Before you proceed, take the Slave Trade into consideration.”

Interestingly, I will be giving a talk on Georgian entertainment as one of nine talks on board the Fred Olsen cruise ship “Boudicca” when she sails to Cape Verde in November, and I thought it would be fun to include details of the game, particularly as we will pass close to the first three stops shown on the map.

Carington Bowles first published his  “Bowles’s Universal Atlas” in 1780. He appears to have re-issued the atlas with revisions just prior to his death in 1793. He was succeeded by his son Henry Carington Bowles (1763-1830),  shortly after he formed a partnership with Samuel Carver. The firm was re-named ‘Bowles and Carver’ and continued trading at No. 69 St. Pauls Churchyard. One antiquarian map site states that: “Most publications by this firm are rare and ‘Bowles’s Universal Atlas’ is no exception”.  OK, this isn’t the Universal Atlas itself, but the ‘Geographical Game of the World’ is based on the August 1795 copy of the Atlas, and I have not  been able to find many other copies. Harvard University have a digital view of the game here. Indeed because their high definition scan shows the entire image far more clearly than I can with a photograph,   here is their image:

Courtesy of Harvard Library

Courtesy of Harvard University  Library

I will be interested to know of any Museums or collectors who can give me any more information….

Jun 272016
The Haymarket Theatre in 1815, before it was rebuilt o the design of John Nash

The Haymarket Theatre in 1815, before it was rebuilt to the design of John Nash

Visiting the Haymarket Theatre in London was not an especially good idea on 3rd February 1794 – particularly if you had anything to do with the College of Arms. The fact that the King, His Majesty George III, was making a visit that evening may have warned those wishing to attend the performance that there was likely to be a crowd, anxious to see the King. But for the Somerset and York Heralds (respectively, John Charles Brooke and Benjamin Pingo) it was a night neither would forget – or remember, come to that. Both were to die in the crush of eager onlookers, anxious to make their way to the Pit to listen to such masterpieces as ‘My Grandmother’ ‘The Prize’  and that perennial favourite ‘No Song, No Supper’.

J C Brooke, Somerset Herald

J C Brooke, Somerset Herald

Apparently a man in front of them tripped and fell down the stairs leading to the newly re-opened auditorium. Eager theatre-goers behind kept pushing forwards, causing a large group of some seventy people to be crushed. Fifteen people died on the spot, and a sixteenth succumbed to his injuries later. In addition, many suffered broken limbs and had to be helped to the local pharmacist for medical attention.

The disaster did not stop the Royal Command performance going ahead – indeed the King and Queen and the six Royal Princesses in attendance were not told of the incident until after the performance. They naturally expressed their deepest sympathy and regret. Even so, a pamphlet was soon in circulation accusing them of callousness in watching the performance, which was a bit hard considering they knew nothing about what had happened. I blame the theatre manager…

Further criticism followed, because the royal family did not refrain from public engagements in the days and nights afterwards – as borne out by a tub-thumping article which appeared in print on 17 February 1794:

“When the late dreadful Accident happened … it was said that Their Majesties were not acquainted with it. Did THEY know it on Tuesday 4th instant when Her Majesty had her Rout? Did THEY know it on Wednesday the fifth, when they went to the Ancient Musick, Tottenham Court Road; Did THEY know it on Monday the Tenth, when they went to the Covent Garden Theatre; Do THEY know it now?”

To rub it in even more, the criticism continued:

“Did THEY not suspend Public Amusements, and other mourning, for the death of Louis, the avowed enemy of this Country. Which of these circumstances ought to have caused the most public demonstrations of Sorrow?

Ah well, there is always someone wanting to make political capital out of anything to do with the royal family….

The Theatre Royal, Haymarket (also known as Haymarket Theatre or the Little Theatre) had originally opened in 1720 and is still in existence (the third oldest theatre in use in London today). On the other hand the present edifice was the Nash-modelled version opened in 1820

Thomas Rowlandson's 'Foyer at Haymarket Thetare

Thomas Rowlandson’s ‘Foyer at Haymarket Theatre shown courtesy of Wikigallery.org

John Charles Brooke had been made Somerset Herald at the College back in 1777. He was aged 48, and was secretary to the Earl Marshal, and a lieutenant in the militia of the West Riding of Yorkshire. He was also  a keen antiquarian. He had planned to spend the evening at the theatre with his friend Pingo. Apparently he died standing up, suffocated in the melee, or, in the words of an author of The Heralds  College  “Mr Brooke had died standing, as he was found as if asleep, and with colour still in his cheeks.” Slightly less peaceful in death, poor Pingo “being corpulent, was much disfigured.”

Pingo was the fifth son of an Italian medallist who had come to Britain in the 1740’s and was responsible for a number of finely engraved medals. In 1769 father had prepared models for Wedgwood representing the battles of Plessy and Pondicherry. He was assistant-engraver at the English mint from 1771 right up until the time of his death  in December 1776 at the ripe old age of 84. Son Benjamin  was originally working for the Customs Office (1772-4) before joining the College of Arms, where he spent his time preparing family genealogies. He was appointed ‘rouge-dragon pursuivant’ in 1780, and York Herald in 1786. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography “he officiated at the celebrations for the Treaty of Paris in 1783, and his equestrian portrait appears on an engraving published for the occasion.”  In all likelihood he was unmarried.

Wren's church of in Queenhithe, opened in 1683

Wren’s church at St Benet Paul’s Wharf in Queenhithe, opened in 1683

Both Brooke and Pingo had left their papers to the College of Arms – in the case of Brooke his will provided for  “a legacy of £100 to arrange them and £10 to bind them.” In practice the libraries of  both Pingo and Brooke were auctioned off by Leigh and Sotheby in 1794. Brooke was buried in a vault under the Herald’s Seat at St Benet Paul’s Wharf, London, after a funeral attended by such luminaries as the Duke of Norfolk in his capacity as Earl Marshall of England, the Earl of Leicester, president of the Society of Antiquaries, and Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society – and all the surviving heralds.


(Having prepared this post I came across one on the same topic by Geri Walton. Anyone wanting a different perspective on the tragic events of that fateful night  can  see it on her excellent website ).

Apr 222016
James Cox's trade card, courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

James Cox’s trade card, courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

My ancestor Richard Hall was fascinated by automata, particularly those marvelous exhibits to be found at Cox’s Museum in Spring Gardens. I still have his catalogue of the various exhibits, such as life-sized tigers made of solid silver studded with rubies and other precious stones. Seeing these figures sway from side to side must have been a wondrous experience.


The Bowes Museum silver swan with machinery by J J Merlin

The Bowes Museum silver swan with machinery by J J Merlin


The swan with its amazing articulated neck

The swan with its amazing articulated neck








You can still sense the amazing and complicated machinery if you visit Bowes Castle and see the famous silver swan – one of the few surviving exhibits from Cox’s Museum. Most of the other exhibits would have been melted down when James Cox went bankrupt and his stock failed to find a buyer at auction. The actual machinery for jjmerlinthe swan (and there are three separate machine parts) was made by my favourite Georgian entrepreneur J J Merlin, about whom I have blogged previously. He was a wonderful and indefatigable inventor and clock-maker, and I am sure that Richard Hall would have gasped in amazement at some of his pieces as they twirled, twisted and moved, often to music.

Anyway, I am reminded of this because I received notification of a forthcoming sale in Geneva by Sotheby’s. I was sent notification of it by Enfilade the online serial newspaper for Historians of Eighteenth Century Art and Architecture. The news snippets are great at drawing attention to books, exhibitions and so on, and they can be followed on Twitter using @Enfilade_HECAA

clockThe auction is next month (May 14) and doubtless if I had a spare half a million dollars to spare I would put in a bid for the star of the show, a magnificent piece of musical automata dating from the 1820s. It is a clock which HECAA describe as being a “stunning object (which) proudly showcases the very finest of Swiss craftsmanship: its external appearance combines exquisite design and detail, while its inner mechanics represent the most advanced horological complications of the age. The bird cage features two charming singing birds as well as a captivating butterfly. Thanks to three automaton mechanisms, the elements combine to form a delightful scene filled with movement and music.” What’s not to like?

Pedro Reiser, head of Sotheby’s watch division in Geneva says “This wonderful automaton is a rare find—all the more exceptional because it features an automated butterfly. Records suggest that only one other double-bird cage clock with an automaton butterfly is currently known. We are delighted to be able to present this exquisite creation, which would be equally at home in the collection of a connoisseur or in a museum.”

According to the HECAA report “Inside the rectangular cage are two singing birds, which jump from one perch to another, opening and closing their beaks alongside an animated fountain. The fountain is topped by a beautiful butterfly, whose hand-painted wings move as it turns within the cage. The mechanism articulating these delicate movements, built in brass and steel, are ingeniously concealed inside the lower section of the cage. The birdsong, mimicking canaries and nightingales, is reproduced by a combination of bellows, whistles and cams, enabled by an intricate fusee-and-chain mechanism. This feat of horological complexity can be attributed to a highly accomplished craftsman, Jean-David Maillardet  from La Chaux-de-Fonds.”

perpetual motionMaillardet died on 15 November 1834 , at the age of  86 years; like Merlin he worked on a number of “perpetual motion” clocks, such as this one alongside. Along with his uncle Henri, the Maillardet’s were working in London in the 1790s and came up with some wonderful moving figures. I gather that the most famous are  the large magician and the small magician, which can still be admired in the International Museum of Clock Making in La Chaux-de-Fonds (Switzerland).

magicianThe Sotheby’s catalogue states that “The music box, which is concealed inside the base of this striking piece, plays three melodies which are triggered on the passing of each hour or on demand. The mechanism triggers brass cylinders, which in turn vibrate the 93 blades of the clavier, or the ‘comb’. The clavier is signed ‘C. F. Nardin’ for Charles-Frédéric Nardin from La Chaux-de-Fonds”

It does rather look to me that the place to visit is La Chaux-de-Fonds – next time I can engineer a visit to Switzerland I will make a point of visiting the museum!

What links Grace Dalrymple Elliott and a house on wheels ? A guest post.

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Apr 192016

Today I am delighted to hand over the reins of the blog to Sarah Murden and Joanne Major, who have just brought out a long-awaited biography on the life of one of the most fascinating courtesans of the Georgian era. So, Sarah and Joanne, take it away …


1 book cover frontGrace Dalrymple Elliott (c.1754-1823) is best remembered to history as a courtesan after her divorce from Dr (later Sir) John Eliot (she was first the mistress of the Earl of Cholmondeley, then the duc d’Orléans and finally the Prince of Wales who was reputed to be the father of her child) and also from her experiences as a prisoner in France during the Revolution. However, her notoriety belied her true self and we hope our biography on Grace and her family will finally give a true picture of her life.

Her maternal family has lain largely hidden from view and it was a thrill when we unlocked Grace’s ancestry to discover that so many more members of her family had experienced adventures too, and we couldn’t help but document them alongside Grace.

It’s a long forgotten fact that Grace’s maternal aunt, Robinaiana, had achieved what Grace herself failed to – she had gone from being the mistress of an earl to being his countess. After bearing several children to Charles Mordaunt, 4th Earl of Peterborough, they finally married and she bore him two more children. One of the escapades of Grace’s Mordaunt cousins mentioned in our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliot ended in disaster.

Having read Mike’s post about George Pocock and his splendid Charvolant, we thought you might enjoy this story about Robinaiana’s sons Henry and Charles Mordaunt, who would definitely have benefitted by some assistance from George Pocock!

Henry Mordaunt, born before his parents’ marriage and therefore ineligible to inherit the earldom, was sent to India to make his fortune as an officer in the East India Company’s army. Whilst home on a visit from India he had borrowed and overturned a coach belonging to his younger brother during an escapade to Portsmouth in the snow with his friend, the memoirist William Hickey (who fortunately left behind an account of their adventures).

William Hickey by William Thomas, oil on canvas, 1819

William Hickey by William Thomas, oil on canvas, 1819

The younger brother and owner of the coach, Charles Henry, had been born after the 4th Earl had married Robinaiana and, as the only legitimate son, he had succeeded to the earldom after his father’s death in 1779, around eighteen months before this coaching contretemps. For Henry, it was something of a bitter pill to swallow seeing his younger brother inherit and knowing it was denied to him because of an accident of birth and he did, perhaps understandably, have a bit of a chip on his shoulder.

The overturned coach could not be repaired and, around March 1781, John Hatchett of Long Acre was contracted by the young earl to build a replacement. The whole project seems to be a fine example of a young gentleman about town with far more money than good sense, and it provides us with a glimpse into the character of Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s cousin, the new Lord Peterborough.

 John Hatchett, Master of the Coachmakers Company

John Hatchett, Master of the Coachmakers Company

John Hatchett was responsible for the principal improvements in carriages in London between 1770 and 1790. However, although carriages intended for use on the Continent were built to be stronger than those destined for use in England, as the condition of the roads abroad meant that six horses needed to be used to pull the carriage instead of the usual two used at home, adding extra and unnecessary weight was totally impracticable. Though he was advised against it for that very reason, Charles seems to have set out to build what sounds like a very early version of a Gypsy Vardo or travelling caravan, albeit a very elegant and sumptuous one.

Hickey and Henry Mordaunt visited the coach maker to view their progress:

In size it was nearly, if not full as large as the Lord Mayor of London’s state carriage. It accommodated three persons on each side with superabundant room. In the centre there drew up from the bottom, by springs, a table, sufficiently large to dine six persons comfortably. Under the floor were all the requisite apparatus of saucepans, gridiron, &c., for cooking, likewise knives, forks, plates, dishes and other articles of a sideboard. Beneath the seats complete bedding for four persons was stowed, which, when wanted for use, were taken out and placed upon a frame, crossways, four capital beds being made ready in five minutes. In a projection from the back of the body of the carriage and the same forward was ample stowage for wines and all sorts of liquors, handsome cut glass bottles of various sizes being secured in fixed frames, so that no motion, short of an absolute upset, could injure or derange them. In short, this stupendous vehicle was a moving house, having in and about it every convenience appertaining to a mansion. It was finished in point of workmanship and decorations in the highest manner, the Peterborough arms and heraldic ornaments being painted in a style of taste and with a delicacy that did the artist infinite credit.

5 Miseries of Human Life Lewis Walpole LibraryThe young Earl’s object in building so uncommon a vehicle was to ensure for himself every common comfort when travelling upon the Continent, especially through Italy, where by woeful experience he knew the inns were execrable, abounding in dirt and filth, the beds swarming with bugs, fleas and vermin of every description… [William Hickey] asked the coach maker whether he did not apprehend its extraordinary weight might prove so serious as to render it useless, to which the mechanic candidly replied, “Undoubtedly it will, sir. Its weight is an insuperable impediment to its ever being of any real use, much less that for which it is intended, for no number of horses that could be attached together in harness would ever be able to drag it along the dreadful roads of Italy, Germany and many parts of France and so I have taken the liberty of telling his Lordship over and over again since this carriage has been in hand and although I am convinced his own good sense satisfied him of the truth of what I said, he insisted upon my completing the work.

Mr Hatchetts Capital House in Long Acre

Mr Hatchetts Capital House in Long Acre

Whilst Henry and his companion Hickey were at the coachbuilders, Lord Peterborough arrived. He acknowledged the mechanic’s opinion of his coach, agreed that he would probably never be able to use it in the way he first intended, but had no regrets as, “it certainly has been a source of much amusement to me and my friends whilst building.” He offered the carriage to his brother Henry, should it not prove up to travel on the Continent, as, in his opinion, it would suit Henry and his Oriental ‘sultanas’ very well.  More money than sense would certainly seem to be an apt description of the young 5th Earl of Peterborough who had no other object than his own pleasure and entertainment in view.

6 The baron on his voyage to Africa

For more information on Grace’s life and her wider family see An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott available from our publisher Pen and Sword, Amazon and all good bookshops.

You can also visit us at www.georgianera.wordpress.com where we blog about anything and everything to do with the Georgian era.