Jul 302012

It comes as no surprise to see that billiards and croquet share a common ancestry (perhaps both derived from the Italian game of troco, and in turn from ground billiards, popular in the Middle Ages).

Somewhere along the line (and I suspect because it was always raining) some bright spark hit on the idea of moving the game indoors, and playing it on a table. The table was covered in green baize (to simulate grass) and the sides were vertical barriers to stop the balls rolling off. They were known as banks (as in ‘grassy banks’ alongside the original lawn on which the outdoor game was played) – giving rise to the term ‘bank shot’ if a player deliberately played onto the bank so that it rebounded.

At that stage the table had no pockets and the game was played with wooden balls, and with a hoop (which is where the croquet link comes in). Players used a mace (a length of wood with a shaped head at one end, known in French as a billiart) and where the ball was left close to the bank players found it helped to turn the mace round and use the tail-end (in French, the “queue”, from which we get “cue”).



This was a sport for the men, and in particular noble men – ladies were considered unsuitable players because of their propensity for ripping the baize fabric by catching it with the end of the cue. It became known as ‘the noble game of billiards’ and was played by people such as the French monarch Louis XIV.

Louis XIV playing’ billard’ in 1694




By the Eighteenth Century different versions of the game were emerging – the French kept (and still keep) a pocket-less version of the billiard table for use in games of Carom Billiards (such as balk-line, straight rail, four ball and a thing called ‘artistic billiards’ which turns out to be the same sort of thing in relation to billiards as dressage is to show jumping – or figure skating to ice skating – in other words you have to play a series of set moves and get the balls to rest in precisely the required spot each move).

In the second half of the 18th Century a new variation of the game came across the Channel from France called carambole, where a red ball was added to the two white balls. As with modern billiards, each of the two players had their own white ball and could use it to hit the other balls (a carom or cannon) or to send one of the balls into pockets which started to appear on tables. Incidentally the tables were not necessarily oblong (as in this hexagonal version in a print from 1787).


Using the banks or cushions to effect caroms/cannons meant that it was easier to strike the ball with the cue end rather than push it via the mace end and by the 1820’s the mace had more-or-less died out. Originally the banks were made of compressed flannel wrapped in canvas and covered in baize. Then in 1845 along came Goodyear with vulcanized rubber cushions. By then the beds of the tables were being made of slate (rather than interlocking wood panels) and very few technical changes have happened since then, to the extent that most billiard tables today are still time-warped in mid-Victorian splendour. Mind you, snooker is now far more popular than billiards, but then snooker is a comparative newcomer to the scene, having  apparently been invented by bored army officers in India in the 1870’s.

The leather cue tip came out in 1823 and when allied to the use of chalk to enhance friction it enabled players to put spin on the ball (called ‘side’ in England, but because it was introduced to the United States from England, it is often called ‘english’ in America).

The picture of women playing billiards by Boilly in 1807 shows that suddenly in post-revolution France it was acceptable for women to play the game. Its popularity spread through all sections of society – it was no longer the preserve of the nobility or even the gentry.

The balls used by the well-heeled punters were made of ivory. These were always expensive since the centre of each ball had to coincide with the exact centre of the tusk (meaning that you could only get four or five balls per tusk). The reason for this is that a nerve ran through the centre of each tusk (as with a tooth) leaving a hole (usually filled with ebony, giving rise to the ‘spot ball’). By the middle of the nineteenth century tens of thousands of elephants were being slaughtered ( the smaller tusks of the female African elephant being particularly favoured). Fortunately artificial composites were just around the corner – celluloid being introduced in 1868 and eventually Bakelite, acrylic and polyester.

There is still running in Belgium a company called Iwan Simonis – formed in the 1680s and which still makes the highest quality baize for billiard tables – an astonishing run of nearly 350 years. Wikipedia says that the company has its origins back in the 15th Century but the company’s own website makes it clear that a fire destroyed all its earlier records and so an exact start date for the manufacture of baize for billiard tables is impossible to give.

What is clear though is that the game became fashionable throughout the Eighteenth Century and billiard halls sprang up in every town and city.

In this Dutch drawing from the 1730’s I particularly like the seated figure (bottom right) who appears to be having a fish barbie while above him the players wield their maces…

Jul 292012

Once in a blue moon I think it is a good idea to leave the comfort of the Eighteenth Century and visit the present time: in this case it means a blog on a splendid exhibition of sculptures which has been taking place this month in the cloisters of the Cathedral at Chichester.

For those not familiar with Chichester it is a city on the South coast, largely contained within its original Roman walls. Streets running through the North, South, West and East gates converge on the old market buttercross in the centre of the city – a cross which for some reason carries a black effigy of a figure wearing a crown. It looks a bit like Charles Ist to me but the cross is a century earlier – no doubt someone will enlighten me!

I was in Chichester on a wet blustery day when I stumbled across the exhibition at the Cathedral – made all the more remarkable because I was the only person in the cloisters. It was a curiously powerful feeling to experience the statues ‘in private’ – some have a lovely sense of movement, others a hint of menace and hidden power.

Some are decidedly Georgian, as in Mr Bennet’s daughter,






while others are positively medieval in their feel (as in Exultate Jubilate)











I particularly liked this one entitled Gale Force Nun:

Another memorable sculpture entitled The Last Ball of Summer shows a woman about to step out of her ball-gown – the gold ribbon, lacing her in at the back, dangling undone.

The sculptures are the work of renowned artist Philip Jackson, who lives and works in West Sussex.

Here are a few more:




The Musician



The Magistrate

Jul 272012

I had not given much thought as to where Richard Hall would get his ink from. I assumed he would have bought it in powder form and added water to it – and indeed he may have done. The basic ingredient may have been linseed oil darkened with vegetable dyes and pigments – and in the latter years of the Eighteenth Century more and more inks were available made from the ink sacs of the cuttlefish (known as sepia – hence the name of the colour). Certainly the ink in the majority of Richard’s diaries is a pale brown.

Equally he may have bought his ink from a street vendor. I rather like the picture of this gentleman, courtesy of the British Museum, complete with his barrel of ink strapped across his back, with a  pouring beaker and funnel tied to his belt, and carrying some spare quills. It is part of a series entitled ‘The Cryes of the City of London Drawne after the Life – Fine writing ink’ and was published in the second half of the 18th Century.

Richard would have made his own quills – just as he made his own toothpicks from feathers! I still have a few in a small box marked “Good” along with his pen knife (in other words the knife which he used to make his pens). Sharp? As a razor…


Jul 252012

The wasps in this part of Spain are particularly aggressive. You don´t put out jam to entice them – you use beer. Or better still, since they seem to be cannibals, lure them into a trap with a few carcasses of their dear-departed brothers.

Swimming is a nightmare (well, it is if you want a wasp-free exercise) because no sooner than they sense the turbulence in the water than the little blighters come for a drink – and a sting too if you get too close! Which led me to an edition of The Gentleman’s Magazine from 1788. There had apparently been learned correspondence concerning the effectiveness of  “the topical application of laudanum” as a certain cure for stings, and whether this was more effective than a “concoction made of linseed oil two parts, vinegar of squills one part, honey one part: to be rubbed in hard about the wound as long as any smart is felt”







So, first work out if it is a bee or wasp. In the former case pull out the sting with a steady hand and suck (yes, I know it looks like something else, but it is a long ‘s’ not an ‘f” ). Rub in your hartshorn drops and Robert is your father’s brother!

 Now I  am not too sure about hartshorn drops with their “stimulating antispasmodic” qualities; not when I get the choice of applying lead-water instead, or even a cold saturnine poultice. Now you’re talking! Relief must surely be imminent…



But hang on a minute. Maybe we should go straight for the opium or laudanum – after all, it’s “analogous to that of lead”. I think I prefer the idea of some “increased heat upon the part (as opposed to a frigorific sensation)”. So, if you don’t mind, next time I get stung whether by a bee or by a wasp, I intend to raid the bathroom cabinet for a dose of laudanum. I will be in good company – I vaguely remember an elderly Great Aunt, then in her nineties, who was known in the family as being hopelessly addicted to morphine, derived of course from opium. Her sister was similarly addicted and was known to everyone as Aunt Trot – because she was so” hyper” all the time than she ran everywhere…Still, I bet she never suffered from bee stings!


                                                A mid-nineteenth century laudanum bottle, courtesy of BLTC Research


Jul 222012

If you enter the pantheon of great cartoonists of the “Long Eighteenth Century” you expect to find Hogarth, Gillray, and Rowlandson. But in the corner  there has to be room for a man who died at the ridiculously early age of 28, and yet who produced some splendidly scurrilous cartoons aimed at the Royal Family – and in particular at Queen Caroline, consort of George IV.

That man is Theodore Lane and he was born in 1800 at Isleworth, in Middlesex.  He was largely self taught as an artist, although he must have received encouragement from his father, who had been a drawing master at Worcester. At 14 he was apprenticed to the minature painter John Barrow at Battle Bridge. He studied watercolour portraits and miniatures, exhibiting at the Royal Academy from 1819. He  eventually  approached Pierce Egan ( a writer of articles on the London scene) with half a dozen sketches entitled Life of an Actor  and these were published in 1824.

There followed a series of etchings and woodcuts on sporting themes. Here are a few:

Rackets at King’s Bench Prison



Wallace the Lion fights Tinker and Ball in the factory yard in the town of Warwick

He also painted in oils and exhibited on at least two occasions at the Royal Academy (in 1827 and 1828) – including this one entitled The Enthusiast  (or, The Gouty Angler).

But for my money I rate the man for his splendid cartoons poking fun at Queen Caroline (originally Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, wife of George IV). She, poor dear, was treated monstrously by George IV (including being banished from his coronation) but for her part she was hardly blameless and had reputedly lived openly in exile with her Italian lover Bartolomeo Pergami. Lane delighted in portraying the Queen as an object of derision – fat, short and extremely ugly. Pergami as the be-whiskered lover is made to look idiotic. Great stuff! The etchings are all © National Portrait Gallery, London.


The Saint!

Installation of a Knight Companion of the Bath












The Knight Companion being installed in the Bath was done at a time when a Commission had been set up to consider whether the Queen was in an adulterous relationship with Pergami; representatives had travelled to Italy where the couple were living, and servants were bribed to give information (hence the two figures watching the scene from behind the half-closed door).

And to finish this particular series, Lane’s take on the Queen’s attempt to ‘gatecrash’ the Royal coronation, which took place in 1821:

These pictures ridiculing Caroline were all exhibited for sale at the print shop of George Humphrey, as in this picture of the shop by Theodore Lane entitled ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’ (the motto of the Royal Order of the Garter).

All was going swimmingly well for the young cartoonist: he was a sociable chap who was always to be found in some coffee house or another, often in the company of journalists, actors, and sportsmen. Then one day (21 May 1828) Theodore accidentally fell through a skylight at the Horse Bazaar in Gray’s Inn Lane, smashing the back of his head against the pavement. I have no idea why he was walking across the skylight, but the accident was fatal. He was buried a week later at Old St. Pancras Church leaving behind a wife and two children.

A tragic shame – he would have had a field day with Prince Albert and Queen Victoria had he lived!

(P.S. To finish with, two more anti-Caroline cartoons, the one in colour by Lane entitled An Armfull of Love shows the diminutive Queen standing on a stool to pucker up to to her ludicrous suitor , and the other by Cruikshank  called The Long and the Short of the Tale’ ridiculing the difference in height in much the same way).

(P.P.S. My special thanks to Anita Renaud for gently pointing out that in its original form this post had muddled Queen Charlotte (wife of George III) with Queen Caroline (estranged wife of George IV).  I was always hopeless at girls’ names….)

Jul 192012

Captain Cook encouraged the making of spruce beer on his long sea-voyages because he knew it helped prevent scurvy. Nowadays we know that the tips of the spruce trees are a rich source of vitamin C. In many pioneer communities there was a tradition of home-brewing and there are many examples of this sort of beer being made, both alcoholic and as a soft drink. In Quebec and in Newfoundland it is known as bière d’épinette and again, is available as a genuine beer or as a non-alcoholic beverage.

A Newfoundland recipe from 1776 states: Spruce Beer [is] the Common Liquor of the Country. The receipt for making it take as follows;  Take a copper that Contains 12 Gallons, fill it as full of the Boughs of Black spruce as it will hold; Pressing them down pretty tight; Fill it up with water Boil it till the Rind will strip off the Spruce Boughs which will waste it about one third, take them out & add to the water one Gallon of Melasses; Let the whole Boil till the Melasses are disolv’d; take a half hogshead & Put in nineteen Gallons of water & fill it up with the Essence. Work it with Barm & Beergrounds & in Less than a week it is fit to Drink.

Nowadays the term spruce beer is used by the Wigram Brewing Company and is based on Captain Cook’s first beer brewed in New Zealand in 1773. The flavour was originally obtained from the green shoots collected in the Spring, and in addition the sap would be boiled up with the molasses to give a distinctive flavour.

In Scandinavian countries a Norway Spruce is used in place of hops, whereas Colonial America made theirs from red or black spruce or even Sitka Spruce. Garrisons Spruce Beer describes itself as “North America’s oldest beer style brewed with local Spruce & Fir tips, blackstrap molasses and dates. Dark amber and brown colouring. Aroma is a comforting mix of spruce boughs, caramel malts, molasses and dates. Complex and full-bodied, it balances the crisp bitterness of spruce and fir gum with the warming flavours of molasses and bittersweet chocolate”.

Mmmm, sounds delicious!

And a more modern and accessible recipe? I am indebted to Pioneer Thinking for this, from their website here

5 gallons of water

1/8 pound of hops

1/2 cup of dried, bruised ginger root

1 pound of the outer twigs of spruce fir

3 quarts of molasses

1/2 yeast cake dissolved in 1/2 cup of warm water or 1/2 cup of liquid homemade yeast

In a large kettle combine the water, hops, ginger root and spruce fir twigs. Boil together until all the hops sink to the bottom of the kettle. Strain into a large crock and stir in the molasses. After this has cooled add the yeast. Cover and leave to set for 48 hours. Then bottle, cap and leave in a warm place (70-75 degrees F) for 5 days. It will now be ready to drink. Store upright in a cool place.

So, there you have the genuine taste of Eighteenth Century ale – now go pick some spruce shoots and you will be toasting Captain Cook in barely a week!

Jul 172012

I think it is rather curious that Charles Grey, the British Prime Minister who oversaw the introduction of the 1832 Reform Act (leading eventually to universal suffrage for all adults, genuine constituencies, and secret ballots), is best remembered for the tea which carries his name.

Grey in an etching dated 1789 by James Sayers.

So, who was he and what lies behind the tea? Well, if you have seen the film The Duchess you probably have a mind’s eye’ picture of Dominic Cooper as the younger Charles Grey. The real Charles Grey was described as ‘tall, slim and strikingly handsome’. He had been born on 13 March 1764 into a prominent Northumberland family, with its country seat at Howick Hall. One of seven children he went to Eton and Trinity College Cambridge, and at the age of 22 was elected to Parliament. He gravitated towards Whig politics and was closely associated with Charles James Fox, Richard Brinsley Sheridan and the Prince of Wales.

Shortly after becoming an MP he was introduced to Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. She was of course already married but he pursued her with headstrong impetuosity. She became pregnant by him in 1791 but their relationship was doomed: Georgiana went abroad to have their child Eliza Courtney, returning to her husband in September 1793 and handing the child over to Grey’s parents.

There followed a string of affairs, notwithstanding his marriage in 1794 to Mary Ponsonby. The poor woman not only had to put up with his infidelities – she also went on to give birth no fewer than 16 times in the 23 year period between 1796 and 1819.

Gillray's scurrilous " L'Assemblee Nationale" based on the premise that if George III were executed Charles Fox and his crony Charles Grey would head a republic

In 1806 Grey’s political ambitions received a boost when a broad-based coalition led by Fox formed a government and Grey was made First Lord of the Admiralty. By then he was known as Lord Howick (his father having been elevated to the peerage). Later that year, Fox died and Howick took over as both Foreign Secretary and leader of the Whigs, but was unable to hold the coalition together and the government fell from power in 1807. Howick succeeded his father as Earl Grey and went to the Lords, continuing in opposition for the next 23 years.

James Gillray "Charon's Boat" commenting on Grey's attempt to steer the Whig ship of state (1807),



Eventually in 1830 the Whigs got back into power and Grey became Prime Minister. Under his leadership the Reform Bill finally reached the statute book (1832) and in the following year slavery was finally abolished throughout the British Empire. In 1834 Grey retired from public life, leaving Lord Melbourne as his successor.

Grey retired to Howick but became physically feeble in his last years. He died 17 July 1845, forty-four years to the day since first taking up occupation there. He is buried in Howick church.

But does his name roll on our tongues as we marvel at his political achievements? No, but it does so whenever we take a fine cup of tea, named after the great man because he popularised it and made the recipe available for all to copy. Silly old duffer, he could have patented it and made a packet…

The story goes that in the early 1800’s he was given a sample of tea by a Chinese diplomat. It was a blend of tea from China flavoured with rind of bergamot (a citrus fruit named after the Lombardy city of Bergamo). The Earl liked it because it was ideal for use with the water at Howick, with its high lime content. Lady Grey took to serving the concoction at her London soirees and soon friends were clamouring to know the ingredients. According to Robert Jackson & Co, Grey gave the recipe to their partner George Charlton in 1830 and their recipe has used tea from China ever since. Twynings also had their own version, using teas from Ceylon. Many other tea producers have their own recipe, some of them featuring blue cornflowers in the mix.

There is a memorial to Earl Grey in the city centre at Newcastle. But who needs a statue on top of a pillar when your name is still on people’s lips  167 years to the day after your death?


Jul 152012

The sheer cacophony of London’s 18th Century street vendors must have been deafening, especially when  they resorted to blowing their own trumpets!

I am indebted to the British Museum for two engravings, part of a series entitled “The Cryes of the City of London Drawne after the Life.”  The first is headed  “Buy my fine singing glasses” It was originally etched in 1688, but was reworked (buckles on the shoes, and a more modern style of hat)  and published again some time after 1750.

The second shows a toy-seller playing a trumpet with half a dozen hobby-horses in a frame, on a stick over his right shoulder.

I can just imagine Richard being nagged by his son William in the mid-1760’s, begging to be allowed to have a new hobby horse, and Richard agreeing to it simply in order to get the din of the trumpet out of his ears!

Mind you, this  cartoon  from 1808 by Isaac Cruikshank suggests that of all the noises to assail the eardrums of Londoners in the Georgian era, the noise of the carpenter sharpening his saw was perhaps the most offensive, and likely to set your nerves on edge! It is entitled Miseries of Human Life – a reference of course to the din rather than to the inconvenience of a man having to wait while his wife does the shopping…

The caption underneath reads ” During the endless time you are kept waiting in a carriage while the ladies are shopping having your impatience soothed by the setting of a saw close to your ear.”

The image appears courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library.

Jul 122012

 In his diary for 1788 Richard Hall mentions that on July 12th ‘Their Majesty’s the King & Queen and Princesses, went to Cheltenham to drink the Water, return’d to Windsor, Saturday August 16th.”

Various points are interesting: firstly that Richard often used the American style of putting the name of the month before the number i.e. July 12, not 12 July (“Nine-eleven” apart, the English generally put the month last).

Secondly, it shows that what the royal family got up to was of constant interest to Richard – it rated as being of sufficient importance to go in his personal diary.

A view of Cheltenham in 1742

Thirdly – the family chose not Bath, but Cheltenham, and stayed there for an entire month. It was the making of the Town – Farmer George stayed with his entourage at Bayshill, and was often to be seen walking around and greeting the amazed populace. He tasted the waters – I only hope they tasted better than those  at Bath, which frankly are pretty vile!

The royal visit brought about a huge increase in tourism. New wells were dug to locate the spring water, and a number of new spas were created between 1801 and 1825. These included Montpellier Spa with its magnificent gardens( created after 1809) and Sherborne Spa which was created in 1818.

Meanwhile the town’s population soared. In 1801 it had a population of just over 3,000. That may seem miniscule to us but in its day this was typical of a medium sized market town. Within another fifty years the population of Cheltenham had expanded ten-fold (35,000 in 1851).

Many new buildings were erected in the early 19th century. Royal Crescent was built in the years 1806-1810. The Promenade was laid out as a tree lined walk in 1818 and it became built up in the 1820s. The Pittville Pump Room was built in 1830. Cheltenham College opened in 1841. Cheltenham Ladies College opened in 1854.

All in all, the royal visit was the start of something big for Cheltenham (after all, its fame as a spa town only started in 1740 when the local medic. by the name of Dr Short wrote a book commending the benefits of the water).

Jul 112012

Bowdler-ise, -ize: expurgate (book etc). Hence bowdlerisation. From T.Bowdler, expurgator of Shakespeare, + ize”

So sayeth the Oxford English Dictionary. I have only ever thought of the word as having a pejorative meaning i.e. to spoil the original by cutting out bits which were best left in, or to act as censor, but clearly when the word was first used, it was meant in a complimentary way.

Thomas Bowdler was perhaps something of a prude by modern standards. Born in 1754 in the village of Box (near Bath) he was one of six children. His father was a wealthy banker. He had qualified as a doctor after going to University in Scotland, and had then spent some time travelling in Europe. In 1781 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society, but although he was admitted to the College of Physicians he apparently gave up medicine when he found that it made him feel queasy! It is indeed an unfortunate trait in a doctor…

He devoted his energies to promoting prison reform – and to playing a mean game of chess, at which he was particularly adept. In 1800 he moved to the Isle of Wight and at the age of 52 decided to rush headlong into marriage. And promptly regretted it! The marriage did not last and the couple quickly moved apart.

That left Bowdler with time on his hands; time which he used to reflect on the fact that when he was a boy his father used to recite Shakespeare to all of the children, sitting around the fireside. When he became grown up Thomas realized that his amiable parent had been prone to edit out those passages which were unsuited to the tender ears of the children. Thomas decided that there was a call for a zealously applied red pen to be put to the entire works of Shakespeare so that other, “less circumspect and judicious readers”, could benefit from these necessary reforms.

An advertisement from The Times

The result: in 1807 he brought out The Family Shakespeare, a book which ran to four editions in his lifetime (he died in 1825). Many other editions were published posthumously. The book was a considerable success from the outset: suddenly the works of the Bard were opened up not just to children but to the fairer sex, who might otherwise be offended by the original words. In fairness, Bowdler did not seek, as others had done, to re-write or add new words. He simply struck out anything resembling bad language, and removed anything which might prove alarming or distressing. Hence any suggestion that Ophelia committed suicide was expunged from Hamlet, so that the girl was simply described as having drowned! And where there were particularly immoral characters, well they were removed from the storyline altogether (such as the bawdy Doll Tearsheet in Henry V (Part II).

Mercutio’s “the bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon” was changed to “the hand of the dial is now upon the point of noon”. (The wonder really is that there was anything left to fill the four volumes which covered the twenty four plays attributed to Shakespeare!).

The actual expurgating was almost certainly a collaborative process involving Thomas and his sister Henrietta (sometimes called Harriet). Presumably, credit for her input was omitted from the published edition because it would show that she had read all the naughty bits in the first place…

Harriet was an evangelical Christian, about whom it was said  by Gilbert Elliot, Earl of Minto: “She is, I believe, a blue-stocking, but what the colour of that part of her dress is must be mere conjecture, as you will easily believe when I tell you that … she said she never looked at [the dancers in operas] but always kept her eyes shut the whole time, and when I asked her why, she said it was so indelicate she could not bear to look.”

The reasons for the ‘censorship’ were explained fully in the preface to The Family Shakespeare, where Bowdler writes of Shakespeare as follows: “The language is not always faultless. Many words and expressions occur which are of so indecent Nature as to render it highly desirable that they should be erased. Of these the greater part were evidently introduced to gratify the bad taste of the age in which he lived, and the rest may perhaps be ascribed to his own unbridled fancy. But neither the vicious taste of the age not the most brilliant effusions of wit can afford an excuse for profaneness or obscenity; and if these can be obliterated the transcendent genius of the poet would undoubtedly shine with more unclouded lustre.”

And while we may scoff at the prudishness of the Bowdler family, the fact remains that they opened up Shakespeare to a far wider audience than ever before. Suddenly Shakespeare was ‘safe’ for a family with Victorian values, and his works soared in popularity. Apparently ‘Bowdlerised’ editions of the works of Shakespeare were used in schools until the 1960´s.

Thomas Bowdler was buried  in the Churchyard at Oystermouth Parish Church near Swansea (where he had been living for  the last ten years of his life). July 11th  was once described as Bowdler Day – in memory of his birthday.


Picture courtesy of http://www.findagrave.com/