Sep 282012

I rather like this etching by N Brett, entitled “Foppish Insignificance, Coquettish Allurements” and published in March 1795:

The print appears at the Lewis Walpole website and shows the gentleman, with studied nonchalance, raising his eyeglass beneath his elegant brimmed hat, cravat neatly tied and with just the right amount of ruff showing at the cuffs. The lady giving the come-on is splendidly plumed, with long tresses, and holds her fan down.

On an altogether more obvious note, a print from the British Museum showing a courtesan waiting for her next customer. It is entitled The Girl in Stile. The sketch on the wall behind her shows exactly what her game is!


Sep 242012

The date: 18 November 1799

The cartoonist: James Gillray

The Title: French Taylor fitting JOHN BULL with a Jean de Bry

Background: English opposition to the French idea of  “freedom” as advocated by the French Directory.

Shown courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

–Transcription of Speech–

French-Taylor: “Aha! – dere my Friend, I fit you to de Life! – dere is Liberte – no tight Aristocrat Sleeve to keep from you do vat you like! – aha! begar, dere be only want von leetel National Cockade to make look quite a la mode de Paris!!”

John Bull: “Liberty! – quoth’a! – why zound I can’t move my Arms at all! for all it looks woundy big! – ah! damn your French Alamodes, they give a man the same Liberty as if he was in the Stocks! – give me my Old Coat again, say I, if it is a little out at the Elbows.”

The Frenchman is as usual shown as a monkey (shades of modern consternation at racism in football !) while the English Gent is standing on a volume entitled ‘New Fashions’ while he complains about the tight fit of the jacket ( an allegory for the French ideas of Liberty). The French may look good in a Jean de Bry jacket but once it crossed the Channel and became a Jean Debry coat its days were numbered…

Jean de Bry was a French revolutionary leader famous for the slogan La patrie est en danger! (“The Fatherland is in danger!”) and was President of the National Convention for all of two weeks in 1793. He was later exiled to the Netherlands, and no-one has heard of his jackets since. Gillray ridiculed the fashion in this 1802 print entitled “… only look at the General, Madam”

Gillray obviously delighted in showing corpulent Englismen in tight jackets – here are  two  more:



Sep 212012

In what I think passes as humour in the early 1800s (or maybe the writer was simply a sexist male) I offer my ancestor’s “Model for a Lady’s Dressing Case”.

The writing is that of Benjamin Hall (Richard’s son, and hence my 3xgreat grandfather). In the centre is ‘A Mirror’, flanked on either side by ‘A mixture giving sweetness to the Voice’ and ‘A wash to smooth wrinkles’. Behind (left to right) is ‘A fine eye salve’, ‘Best White Paint’, and ‘Lip Salve’. In the front row appears ‘A pair of earrings’, ‘Best rouge’ and ’A General Beautifice’

Initially I had taken it at face value until I realized that each item covers a flap which opens up to reveal those virtues which were considered necessary for all Ladies if they were to match up to Benjamin’s standards: Benevolence, Innocence and Cheerfulness; Mildness & Truth, Humility and Contentment; Attention, Modesty & Health, Good Humour.

So there we have it: the virtues every Lady was expected to put on every morning when she sat at the Dressing Table. No mention of what the male of the species was getting up to with his toilet…

A Georgian Dressing Table, with separate compartments inside, courtesy of Walton House Antiques.


Sep 192012

A rather splendid but anonymous cartoon held by the V&A is entitled “Fashionable Information for Ladies in the Country”. It dates from 1795.

The caption explains that “the present fashion is the most easy and graceful imaginable: it is simply this – The Petticoat is tied round the neck and the arms put through the pocket holes!!!”

It reminds me of the Andy Pandy suits of my childhood!

Sep 142012

When I was hawking the manuscript of The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman around different publishers I asked why I was being turned down. I was informed by one publisher that there was a problem: my cleavage had not been surgically enhanced; I was not married to a footballer; and my book was not about gardening. So I failed the three main criteria for publishing success….

Public interest in ladies displaying their ample wares is nothing new (think Nell Gwyn…) and the popularity of sportsmen is deep-rooted (although in the 18th Century the adulation was reserved not for footballers but for the giants of the ring, the pugilists like Jack Broughton, James Figg and Daniel Mendoza). But what of gardening? How did that fare in the Georgian era?

Many know of Capability Brown, some know of Humphry Repton, but one name largely overlooked is Batty Langley. Batty (sometimes used as a diminutive form of Bartholomew) was baptised at Twickenham on 14th September 1696, the son of Daniel and Elizabeth Langley. His father was a jobbing gardener who seems to have been working for a David Batty, so the name may have been given to the baby in tribute to this patron. Batty Langley grew up in his father’s footsteps, keen on gardening but determined to spread his wings rather than pottering around with a spade and pruning knife. (I nearly said “secateurs”, but they were not invented until the Marquis Bertrand de Moleville fled to England after the French Revolution).

At the age of 23 Batty married, but his wife Anne died after producing four children from seven years of marriage. He remarried and went on to sire another ten children, to whom he bequeathed such fanciful names as Euclid, Vitruvius and Archimedes. Shades of my grandfather, who had to be persuaded that ‘Vaseline’ was not a suitable name for one of  his male offspring, nor ‘Alopecia’ or ‘Lanolin’ for a girl…

Batty Langley received a commission to do some design work for Thomas Vernon at Twickenham Park. There he encountered a large sandpit and managed to convert “this perfect nuisance” into “a very agreeable beautiful” spiral garden, using hornbeam hedges. It was the start of a fascination with shapes and serpentine mazes which led him in 1728 to publish his oeuvre “New Principles of Gardening; or The Laying out and Planting Parterres, Groves Wildernesses, Labyrinths, Avenues Parks etc”

The sub-title gave claim to the fact that the methods described in the book were more ‘Grand and Rural’ than anything before, listing “Experimental Directions for raising the several kinds of fruit trees, Forest Trees, Ever Greens and Flowering shrubs with which gardens are adorn’d.”

 The book contained very little new, but the illustrations were influential in bringing to people’s attention the use of shapes and winding vistas – he wanted gardens to lead the visitor through the design, rather than have everything in full view. There should be surprises around each corner or, as he put in the introduction: ‘Nor is there any Thing more shocking than a stiff regular Garden; where after we have seen one quarter thereof, the very same is repeated in all the remaining Parts, so that we are tired, instead of being further entertain’d with something new as expected.’

In other words it marked a move away from the rigidly, geometrical knot gardens favoured by the Elizabethan and Stuart gardeners, even if the world was not yet ready for the picturesque gardens of Capability Brown. Batty loved mazes, but often introduced swirls and patterns far removed from the traditional honeycomb designs.

Langley’s design for the gardens at Orleans House, Richmond.

In some ways his ideas were right at the start of the rococo movement; the problem was that this self-publicist thought that he was now the arbiter of taste in all areas of everyday life. He brought out books on carpentry and furniture design, prompting Horace Walpole to utter “All that his books achieved, has been to teach carpenters to massacre that venerable species, and to give occasion to those who know nothing of the matter, and who mistake his clumsy efforts for real imitations, to censure the productions of our ancestors, whose bold and beautiful fabrics Sir Christopher Wren viewed and reviewed with astonishment, and never mentioned without esteem.”

He submitted a design for a new Mansion House in London in 1735, only to have it described in the ‘St. James’s Evening Post’ as ‘a curious grotesque temple, in a taste entirely new…’ Undeterred, he pursued his ideas of “arti-natural” gardens, linked with what is now termed “Batty Langley Gothic” architecture. He felt that his writhing shapes and flowing designs were ‘exceeding beautiful in building, as in ceilings, parquetting, painting, paving, &c.’.

He published numerous tomes on building techniques, and on architecture under such inspiring titles as ‘The Builders Compleat Assistant’ (1738); ‘The City and Country Builder’s and Workman’s Treasury of Designs’ (1740); ‘The Builder’s Jewel, or the Youth’s Instructor and Workman’s Remembrancer’ (1741); ‘Ancient Architecture, restored and improved, by a great variety of Grand and Useful Designs’ and in 1748 ‘A Survey of Westminster Bridge, as ’tis now Sinking into Ruin.’

In general though, he was ridiculed for his designs for buildings. But for his gardening book he deserves to be remembered. ‘Arti-natural’ may not have been revolutionary but at least Langley encouraged trees to have a natural form rather than being pollarded out of existence. Look at a serpentine shape or a paisley design, and remember Batty Langley with affection.

He died at his Soho home in London in 1751, but I post this today on the anniversary of his baptism 316 years ago….

Sep 122012

Two etchings under the heading “Fashions a little before 1800” appeared at Akermans Gallery at 101 Strand in London in 1800. They each show fashions from the front, rear and side. Gentlemen first:

They wear Jean de Bry coats, hats, and high, tasseled boots and carry walking sticks.

Now for the same trio showing female fashion for c. 1800 with the woman wearing a poke bonnet and carrying a parasol.

Mind you, for my money when it comes to poke bonnets I don’t think you can beat this, entitled A Pig in a poke and her Litter.

All images are courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library.

Sep 102012

Keeping caged birds appears to have been popular in the Eighteenth Century – at least if my ancestor’s diaries are anything to go by. He refers to his sister in law having a family parrot – and even wrote an ode to it when it died! Indeed one of my earliest problems in deciphering the  diaries of Richard Hall was that he kept referring to”Polly” (“Polly unwell…Polly went away…Polly much recovered..”) and it took me a while to work out that Polly was his parrot rather than the nick-name for his daughter!

The inventory of household effects at One London Bridge identifies both a parrot cage and a cage for a canary.

 Richard Hall also noted that on 10th November 1790 he received a present of a canary from Mr Pratt.

I am unsure who the kind benefactor was, since Mr Pratt does not feature elsewhere in the diaries (unless he was the Pratt who was the author of Pratt’s Gleanings – a man renowned for his love of animals, and not, I would have thought, the sort of person to give caged birds as a present). Birds such as canaries and finches could be bought from street vendors, as in this engraving (copyright of the British Museum).

For my part I have never liked the idea of keeping birds in a cage. Mind you I was given one when my children were young. It was a type of canary called a Gloster (with a strange flattened crest like a Beatle haircut). It sang nary a single note! Then one day we got Rentokil in to fumigate the house for woodworm, and poor Ringo ended up on the bottom of his cage with his feet in the air, stiff as a board. Deciding to educate the children (then five and three) I held a solemn burial service in the garden to explain to them about the transience of life: the problem was that the next day the cat dug up Ringo and brought him back indoors to play with, so we had to learn about the Resurrection as well….

Sep 072012

“Belle’s and beaus, or, A scene in Hyde Park : the little dog bark’d to see such sport-shaming an honest nation”. This print by William Heath, who lived between 1795 and 1840, is a lovely example of how cartoonists showed contemporary fashions. It was published in 1814 and is shown courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library.

Sep 032012

The Third of September 1736 saw a botched double hanging at Gallows Acre, St Michael’s Hill Bristol. Joshua Harding had been sentenced to death for housebreaking. Another man, John Vernon, had been caught stealing from a shop. Thanks to the ferocity of the laws protecting property, and the willingness of judges to impose the death penalty in cases where nowadays even a custodial sentence might be dispensed with, hangings were commonplace and were considered ‘public entertainment’.

Imagine the amazement of the Bristol populace when they realized that the two men cut down after hanging were in fact still alive, after they had been lain out in their coffins. Presumably they were cut down too soon (eight minutes was one estimate for the time they were hanged – half an hour was perhaps more usual). Or maybe the two men were both of slight build (the heavier the victim, the quicker the death).

As the newspaper of the day reported:

“But to the Surprize of every one, after hanging the usual Time, and being cut down, Vernham was perceived to have Life in him, when put into the Coffin; and some Lightermen and others, who promis’d to save his Body from the Surgeons, carried him away to a House; and a Surgeon being sent for, immediately open’d a Vein, at which he recovered his Senses, that he had the Use of Speech, sat up, rubb’d his knees, shook Hands with divers persons that he knew, and to all seeming Appearance, a perfect Recovery was expected. The Rumour of this, soon came to the Under-Sherif’s Ears, who, with Mr. Legg, and several Officers armed, went to know the Truth, and finding it certain, were about to remove him to a proper Place, in order to have him again under their Care for a second Execution,and finishing the Law; which we hear would have been done in a private Manner, without any Ceremony: But whether any secret Method was used to dispatch him, or not, he died about Eleven o’ Clock.

And to our second Surprize, Joshua Harding is also come to Life again, and is actually now in Bride-well, where great Numbers of People resort to see him, Particularly Surgeons, curious of Observations. He lies in his Coffin, covered with a Rug, has Pulsation, breathes freely, and has a regular Look with his Eyes; but he has not been heard to speak, only motions with his Hand where his Pain lies. ‘Twas thought he would be executed a second Time; but we are now told, he is to be provided for in some convenient House of Charity, with Restraint, he being to all Appearance defective in his Intellects. Two such Resurrections happening at one Instant in the World, was never heard of in the Memory of man.”

So the unfortunate Vernon died anyway, by fair means or foul, but the records show that Harding recovered, was generally known by the name of “Half-hanged Harding”… and was eventually transported to the colonies for fourteen years.

And to end this sad piece, one of Richard Hall’s own paper cut-outs, showing the nonchalance of the two riders having a gossip: to them the gallows were a common sight, not worthy of their attention: