Feb 272013

The Governess, by Chardin, 1739. (National Gallery of Canada)



My ancestor Richard Hall sent the 3 children by his first marriage away to boarding schools in London. The middle child, called Martha, appears to have been schooled at a private residence in Ponders End (now in the North London Borough of Enfield) under the auspices of a Governess (unnamed) and a Miss Lambe. I recently came across this charming letter dated 10th September 1776 – suggesting that term time extended through the whole summer. She writes in an amazingly formal way to her mother to ask what arrangements are to be made for her to return home (to One London Bridge where the family resided).


The text reads as follows:

“Honoured Madam

In answer to my Papa’s kind letter I beg leave to acquaint you that as the time draws nigh for my leaving school, (I ) should be glad of a line to inform me in what manner I am to come to Town whether in the Coach or I am to be fetched and whether I am to bring my drawers with me or to have them sent after.

My Governess and Miss Lambe present their compliments. I am pure well. ( I ) beg my Duty and love may be acceptable where due from, Dear Mamma

Your most dutiful Daughter, M Hall”

Unfortunately I have not got the response, so have  no way of knowing whether she left her drawers behind…

At the time Martha would have been 19 and so this appears to have been more of a ‘Finishing School’  where she would have been expected to acquire all of the  necessary social graces. Clearly she  could read and write fluently, and knew  how to do embroidery (the family still have some of her samplers): she would have been taught deportment and how to dance, along with other appropriate lessons for a young lady. She wrote a letter to one of her brothers, in fluent French, urging him to reply in the same language, and in it she speaks of her sadness at hearing that her mother was unwell.

She returned to assist her mother in running the household while her two brothers were apprenticed as hosiers to their father Richard. She later married ‘Mr Griffiths of Bath’ – a man to whom Richard lent £350 by way of a Marriage Bond, and went on to have eight children.

To end with, a Rowlandson water colour on the topic of female education: painted in 1803 “A Young Ladies’ Finishing School”, with a sign ‘Young ladies, boarded and educated’. A man climbs a ladder to reach the ladies who lean out of the windows.  It is shown courtesy of the Museum of London.

Feb 252013

There is nothing new about worrying about balancing the books of Gt. Britain plc. My ancestor Richard Hall was horrified at the way the government allowed the National Debt to spiral out of control. He even listed the debt for each year over a  ten year period up to 1800 (with a summary of the figures for the previous sixty years by way of comparison):

His fears were echoed in this James Gillray  caricature from 1807  shown courtesy of the National Portriait Gallery.  It is called  ‘John Bull and the sinking-fund – a pretty scheme for reducing the taxes & paying-off the national debt!’ and shows poor John Bull, pressed down against ‘The Rock of Broad Bottom’d Security’ under the weight of ‘The Sinking Fund  i.e. Taxations of 42 millions per annum’

Standing astride the Debt is the Chancellor of the Exchequer Nicholas Vansittart, Baron Bexley (1766-1851),  uttering the stirring words: “Patience, Johnny! Aren’t I tossing away as fast as I can? Aren’t I reducing your taxes to 17 shillings and sixpence in the Pound! Why, you ought to think yourself quite comfortable and easy Johnny!”

It is sort of reassuring to know that with or without George Osborne’s “help” we are still no nearer balancing the books after two hundred years!

Feb 222013

I rather like this Thomas Rowlandson print from 1812 – part of the series under the title “Miseries of London” – showing the problems of being harrassed by watermen working in London along the River Thames.

The caption reads: “Entering upon any of the bridges of London, or any of the passages leading to the Thames, being assailed by a groupe of watermen, holding up their hands and bawling out. Oars Sculls. Sculls. Oars Oars.”

It appears on the Lewis Walpole Library site here, and is a reminder of just how noisy it must have been for my ancestor Richard Hall, living as he did at Number One London Bridge. Stroll outside his front door and he would have been met with a barrage of importuning watermen – although in this case the scene is given as Wapping Old Steps. It just gives a rather nice flavour of what life was like – the fisherman asleep on a pile of nets, the man leaning out of the window smoking a ‘church-warden’ pipe, the men in their distinctive red livery, and so on.

Talking of everyday life in the Eighteenth Century: The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman sold out in its original print run and I have just re-ordered another batch direct from the printer (in paperback). So if anyone would like to read my take on what life was like a couple of hundred years ago in London, do contact me on info@mikerendell.com or see Amazon or any of the usual e-pub. formats.

Feb 182013

In April 2012 the Royal mint issued figures suggesting that 3% of all one pound coins in circulation in Britain are forgeries – and only one month later police arrested three men in connection with a forgery operation, seizing over four million fake coins….

It reminds me that there is nothing new in dud coins, and it was particularly worrying for traders in the 18th Century. My ancestor Richard Hall noted in his diaries when dud coins were passed to him (e.g. if they had been clipped, and therefore were underweight). On one occasion the bank would only give him seventeen shillings and ten pence for a coin with a face value of twenty one shillings (that is to say, a guinea). Small wonder that a pair of scales would have been essential in the counting house at the rear of his shop at One London Bridge.

Mind you, even whores had to be on the look-out, as suggested in this rather fine mezzotint entitled “The light guinea, or, The blade in the dumps”.

It appears on the Lewis Walpole Library site and shows a hooker in her boudoir weighing the guinea proffered to her for her services by a young man wearing the outfit of a macaroni. It is clear that the coin is underweight. She gives him a wry smile as he looks on, arms akimbo: he isn’t going to get what he came for after all! The date is 1774 and the caption contains the following verse:

“Dull are the times, since trade I first began,

our gold was sterling then, and true each man

But now how changed are both in this great Town.

 Our money’s bad. Our men are Monkeys grown.”

Other problems were with outright forgeries – especially using brass gaming counters designed to look exactly like a spade guinea. Counterfeiters faced the death penalty if they were caught as did anyone passing off a coin in this manner. But if someone called at your shop one dark winter’s evening and produced a brass token, polished up like burnished gold, would the trader in the counting house see the difference, by the light of a flickering candle?

These brass counters were manufactured in great quantities – often with “impossible” dates (such as a George III ‘guinea’ issued with a date when Queen Anne was on the throne) in the vain hope that this would avoid a charge of counterfeiting. Here is a token which is shown on the Arminius Numismatics site:

Obv.: GEORGIUS III DEI GRATIA. , bust of George III right.

Rev.: G. Y. I. ET. F. G. REX. S. UF. ST. DS. T. M. S. ET.  1701 .

Starting after the date, these initials stand for George Yorke Iliffe and Frederick Gardiner, Suffolk Street, Die Sinkers, Tool Makers etc. The REX was thrown in to make it look more authentic. Traces of the original shiny surface remain.

Compare it with this genuine spade guinea, where the initials stand for the monarch’s full title. It is in Latin, but translates as “By the Grace of God, King of Great Britain, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, Duke of Brunswick and Luneburg,High Treasurer and Elector of the Holy Roman Empire” :

Strange to think that in the 18th century we still claimed the kingdom of France – but I suppose no more strange than the fact that ‘Dei Gratia’ (“By the Grace of God”) still appears on our coinage even though it was a title awarded by the Pope to Henry VIII before he went and broke with Rome!

So, returning to the cartoon earlier, my advice to the blade wanting to buy the lady’s favour has to be: if she possesses a pair of scales your best hope is to forget the clipped coin and go find yourself a nice shiny token… and hope that she never was never taught Latin!



Feb 152013

Two etchings today from John Collet, both on the subject of Women in a Man’s World. The first is entitled ”Miss Wicket and Miss Trigger” and is shown courtesy of the British Museum. That said, a black and white version appears on the ever-helpful Lewis Walpole site where this description appears:

“Two well-dressed young ladies meet before a farm house. On the left, Miss Wicket leans on her cricket-bat turning towards Miss Trigger who advances with her dogs, holding aloft a pheasant and two partridges, as she tramples a paper marked “Effeminacy”. Miss Wicket wears a chip (i.e. straw) hat and jacket with waistcoat, her sporting petticoat short enough to reveal her ankles. Miss Trigger wears a large hat of the bergere (i.e. shepherdess) style, a long coat with buttoned sleeves and boots. Behind the pair a young girl catches a ball.”

The print was made in 1778 and the caption reads “Miss Trigger you see is an excellent shot, And forty five notches Miss Wicket’s just got.”

For Americans not used to the game of cricket – well, there isn’t time to explain the rules! Suffice to say that the game may have originated with shepherds hitting a ball made from wood wrapped in a piece of sheep skin, using a curved shepherds crook (ie normally used for herding the flock). The wicket would have been a hurdle used to pen in the sheep. Nowadays the ball is extremely hard, the bats are straight, and the wicket consists of three stumps topped by two bails. In this drawing there are two stumps, supporting a stick.

What the caption is saying is that Miss Wicket, showing an immodest amount of ankle, has been able to score 45 runs (“notches”) – each run involving Miss Wicket in running 22 yards between wickets. The idea of ladies playing such an energetic sport was clearly shocking to Mr Collet, just as was the idea of Miss Trigger going off shooting, and coming home with a brace of partridge. And what pray was the young girl doing playing with a ball when she should have been indoors attending to her needlework or practising musical scales on her pianoforte?

A similar theme follows through to the next print entitled “The Ladies’ Shooting Poney” (sic)  which appeared in 1780.

 Again it is shown on the British Museum site, with the explanation:

“A lady, in profile to the right, is firing a gun which she supports on the neck of a pony which is quietly grazing. She wears a feathered hat, a coat of masculine cut over a narrow skirt, with high-heeled shoes. A powder-horn is slung across her shoulder. A man dressed as groom or postilion crouches down behind her (right). A second lady stands behind him putting a ramrod down the barrel of her gun. Trees and water form a background.“

Clearly these sports were seen as masculine activities, and the ladies in question were regarded as ‘trampling on femininity’ to behave in such a way. Whatever next? The vote?

I find it interesting that perceptions of gender – of what was or was not appropriate for women to do – has been a subject for cartoonists and satirists for hundreds of years. I have no further comment to make!

Postscript:  Women dressed in masculine attire, and men in effeminate costume, similarly engaged the attention of the satirist. I rather enjoyed finding this pair, engraved in 1787, by Henry Kingsbury:


The lady on the right has hitched up her skirt with her left hand and is revealing …shock, horror! her boots, her stockings and even a hint of petticoat.

The gentleman on the right looks decidedly effeminate with his curly hair, large hat, chest puffed out with ruffles and lace, and a derriere protruding as if in imitation of wearing a lady’s cork “bustle”.

Which all goes to show: metrosexual men are nothing new, any more than women being judged because they display “wardrobe malfunctions”

Feb 112013

Many moons ago (was it really ten years?) I was a lawyer. So I suppose I have always been interested in the public perception of lawyers because, let’s face it, we never have had a good press!

Which is why I like this Richard Newton etching from 20th April 1796  shown courtesy of the British Museum.


Entitled ‘Beggar my Neighbour’ it shows the lawyer playing cards. He holds the Ace, against the King held by his country neighbour, and he has already won all the money on the table.

And the moral is: if you come up against the lawyer, he will win – even though you won’t realize that you have lost until you have nothing left.

Turning to the Lewis Walpole Library collection gives a few more  digs at the unappreciated members of the legal profession, starting with two by Robert Dighton. The first, published in 1793, has the title” The Lawyer and his agent” while the second from 1812 shows the lawyer removing a large banknote from his somewhat shell-shocked cleint :

To end with, one entitled “The Lawyers last circuit” by J Baker, published in 1820:

The description is given as:

“A fat lawyer clutching a purse is sped toward the flames of hell on a skeletal horse ridden by Death who is depicted as a skeleton carrying a scythe. A naked long-haired devil holding snakes pursues them on a snorting white horse, while in the foreground, beside a chained Cerberus, jubilant demons welcome the new arrival”.

Says it all really!

Feb 082013

When I did a blog on Philip Astley, and the popularity of the circus in the latter half of George III’s reign, it produced an interesting response from Pietro Micheli. He wanted to know if I had any ephemera relating to Eighteenth Century conjurers, in particular one called Breslaw. It wasn’t a name I had come across and as Pietro has written a book on the subject of conjurers and magicians (entitled “They lived by Tricks” I suggested he did a guest blog for me.

By way of background: Philip Breslaw is believed to have been born into a Jewish family near Berlin in 1726. Some reports suggest that he died in 1783, but there are various different dates attributed to him and Pietro gives the date of death as 1803. When he was in his early-thirties (around 1759) Breslaw came to live in England. There are records that he was performing in Ireland in 1767.  There were few business openings for Jewish immigrants in Britain at that time – it was difficult for them to get apprenticeships or open business premises, and Breslaw became a travelling magician, with an act which contained tricks with cards, watches, rings and so on. At that time being a travelling entertainer was considered only one up from vagrancy, yet in the course of his career Breslaw managed to raise it to something far more respectable and popular. He in effect developed the role of the impresario, heralding in the birth of the Music Hall the following century.

In his early days he was playing in taverns, but by 1771 was performing in rooms at London’s Haymarket. Breslaw is believed to have been one of the first eminent figures of the era to have explored the field of mind reading and thought transmission, most likely drawing inspiration from the French conjurer Comus. He would have relied on verbal codes (and possibly physical gestures) given by a stooge or confederate.

Pietro explains an interesting conflict between Breslaw and Philip Astley, especially concerning Astley’s trick with his “Little Military Learned Horse”. Sometimes also called ‘Little Conjuring Horse’ Astley claimed the horse could “count, could turn a gold watch into an orange, and an orange into a living bird” and was obviously treading on Breslaw’s toes in what he regarded as “his territory” – conjuring and mind reading.

Pietro explains:

“In June 1772 Breslaw was presenting his sleight-of-hand shows in London, at his Exhibition Room in Cockspur-Street. Some of his newspaper advertisements and playbills contained an abrasive – however indirect – mention of his opponent Philip Astley (1742 – 1814), referring to him as the “Hobby-Horse Rider, or pretended conjuror, at the foot of Westminster Bridge”.

Astley was primarily a brilliant rider and showman and he was also trying to compete with the growing number of conjurers who were working in London : he extended his act by making forays into the territory of the magician/conjurer, taking advantage of the fact that it was very much in vogue thanks to people like Breslaw. In 1785 Astley had published a book called “Natural magic: or physical amusements revealed”.

Astley saw Breslaw as a rival. The antagonism between the two was unforgiving: having been denigrated as a “hobby-horse rider”, the equestrian publicized his “little learned military horse” as being able to equal if not surpass all the present conjurors and to exhibit every trick, “the town of Breslaw not excepted”, clearly aiming – using a pun – at the Prussian performer. The animosity between the two apparently led a few inquisitive gentlemen to see, and test, the abilities of Astley’s much publicized Little Military Learned Horse at Westminster-bridge. Evidently, these spectators were not satisfied with the results and, sensing that the whole thing was but hot air, proposed to toss the puffer in a blanket. Afterwards, they seemingly advised Breslaw not to pay much attention to the rider’s claims.

Equestrian figure from Astley handbill

At the same time, Astley published an article in a local journal hinting at a previous incident that occurred to Breslaw during one of his performances in Cambridge, where the Prussian magician apparently had been tossed in a blanket for his vulgarity demonstrated towards female spectators. Then, Astley, distancing himself from the conjurer, underlined that he, on the contrary, had never been punished for such improper acts.

What did Breslaw do to the ladies in Cambridge? Probably, we will never know exactly, but we can guess what the matter was about reading this extract of a letter dated 9 November 1771 and cited in “The Virginia Gazette”, 13 February 1772:

“Last night we had a new exhibition: One Breslau, who shows slight [sic] of hand, came here, and in his performances he gave a piece of paper to three ladies to read, the only three in the room. As soon as they looked at it, they rose; and without speaking, left the place. The gentlemen of the University, immediately guessing that there must be something very gross in what was given them to read, in revenge of the insult tossed the conjurer in a blanket.”

In 1784 a book was published entitled ‘Breslaw’s Last Legacy; Or the Magical Companion: Containing All that is Curious, Pleasing, Entertaining, and Comical; … Including the Various Exhibitions of Those Wonderful Artists: Breslaw, Sieur Comus, Jonas, &c. … With an Accurate Description of the Method how to Make the Air Balloon’. Rather than being written by Breslaw, Pietro is almost certain that it was simply seeking to cash in on the Breslaw name, and was a re-hash of earlier material. It did however become very popular and original copies of the book sell for large sums. One in January is being offered at auction with a guide price of $2200. A check on Amazon shows that re-prints are still being produced.

The Biographical Dictionary of Actors Actresses and Musicians refers to a playbill in the Finsbury Public Library dated 4th June 1781 advising the public that at Breslaw’s Great Room in Cornhill “Miss Rosomond, a young lady about 9 years of age, will deliver a satirical lecture …” Another describing ‘Breslaw’s Italian troupe’ at ‘Merchants Hall Bristol beginning 16th October 1775’ had a Sieur Romaldo on the bill, who offered bird imitations. Another gives the list of birds imitated on stage by these supporting acts: finch, goldfinch, canary, skylark, blackbird linnet, robin, thrush, crow and of course the nightingale, whereupon the performer would oblige “the above birds” to obey his call and “on his imitation of the last bird all the birds will fly around the stage”. Sounds like chaos!

Some of the tricks apparently performed by Breslaw give an interesting insight into the work of 18th century illusionists. Pietro gives us the following:

1.     To make an egg jump out of any person’s pocket into a box on the table, and back again;

2.     To make a piece of money fly out of one handkerchief into another, at one yard distance;

3.     To replicate  any word (unseen) which another person has written in another room;

4.     To make a living bird fly out of a fresh egg;

5.     To change a card under any person’s hand, at two yards distance;

6.      To make a ring hang in the air, over a table, for several minutes by itself

Breslaw had his detractors. From “A Full detection and explanation of all the delusive tricks performed by Mr Breslau” printed in Dublin in 1767 we have some idea of his alleged repertoire – getting a piece of gold to jump from one hand to the other; borrowing a ladies ruffle or handkerchief and appearing to cut in in pieces and setting fire to the fabric, only to produce the item undamaged; exchanging an orange for a dove inside a hat (described as ‘a poor low trick which is equally as well performed by every puppet-show man in the country of Ireland’); and somewhat bizarrely, producing a freshly made pancake, still hot, from the inside of a man’s hat!

It looks as though the ‘detection and explanation’ was written by a rival determined to denigrate Breslaw, no doubt jealous of his huge success.

I am most grateful to Pietro for introducing me to this extraordinary man, and for providing me with much of the material for this post.

**                  **                   **                  **     **                  **                   **                  **

As a post-script for those who have asked about the practice of tossing in a blanket – here is a detail from a caricature by Richard Newton dated 1795:


Feb 052013

When Georg Ludwig, ruler of the Duchy and Electorate of Brunswick-Lüneburg, became George Ist of England in 1714 it ushered in an era of German immigration to England. Not necessarily a flood, but a steady stream of people from all walks of life came into the country, sometimes as part of the Royal Court, and then stayed. The musician Handel was one, the astronomer Herschel another. And at a totally different level came a Jewish family from Frankfurt am Main headed by one Lazarus Jacobs. He arrived in Bristol in 1760 in his early fifties just as the strict medieval rules prohibiting interlopers were beginning to fall by the wayside. Just 3 years earlier the City had prosecuted one Moses Cohen for operating a shop where gold and silver items were sold. But Lazarus Jacobs was able to start a business selling seconds and bankruptcy stock. An advertisement from 1771 in the Bristol Journal states that “ At Mr Lazarus Jacob’s glass cutter, nearly opposite Temple Church during the ensuing fair, will be sold by auction or otherwise a very good and large assortment of superfine best seconds and livery, broadcloth. They will be sold at prime cost, the maker of them being about to go out of business.”

At some stage Lazarus acquired a wife, Mary Hiscock from nearby Templecombe. She was twenty four years his junior and they had at least three children in quick succession. Combining his skill as a glass cutter and his ability as a wheeler-dealer appears to have enabled Lazarus to prosper and when the major glass manufacturing business of Perrots went into bankruptcy in 1774 Lazarus bought a pair of adjoining houses in Temple Street belonging to the business, so that he could develop his glass cutting and engraving skills. In this he was assisted by his son Isaac, then aged 16. They were fine craftsmen and their skills proved ideally suited to working the newly developed Flint glass (i.e. lead crystal).

In my earlier post I mentioned the introduction into Bristol of smalt – cobalt oxide used to give porcelain a soft blue colour, and the Jacobs family were among the first glass workers to extend the process to glass-making. The result was a gorgeous blue glass which quickly became fashionable, so much so that by 1786 a German lady called Sophie La Roche who was lunching at the home of the Danish Ambassador remarked in her diary “The blue glass bowls used for rinsing hands and mouth are quite delightful”

Bristol Blue cruet, courtesy of the V & A Museum

When Lazarus, then an old man of 87, fell ill and died in 1796 he handed Isaac a business which had prospered greatly. In his will he left his widow £100  per annum by way of annuity together with his plate and main household property. His two daughters had both married well, and Lazarus also made provision in his will for his four grand-children.

Isaac had plans for further expansion of the business and in 1805 opened the Nonsuch Glass Manufactory. According to an advertisement of the time he announced to the world that “He will continue manufacturing every article in the glass line on the largest possible scale, even the common articles in that superior quality which has hitherto given him decided preference over every other glass house in the Kingdom.” A year later and he was describing himself as “glass manufacturer to His Majesty” and had opened a retail shop displaying examples of the dessert set sent to the King, where similar sets were offered for sale for fifteen guineas. He specifically drew attention to the fact that “coats of arms, crests and cyphers done in the grandest style by some of the finest artists in the country” were available. Ironically  I can find no record of the regal gift having been either commissioned or acknowledged, so I suspect that  “glass manufacturer to His Majesty”  meant no more than “I sent some glassware to George III and I would like to think he uses it”.

By 1809 Isaac had decided to build himself a really imposing residence. Not for him the industrial and polluted atmosphere of central Bristol, but a large seaside residence nearly twenty miles away in Weston Super Mare. It was bigger by far than any of the neighbouring houses – it was fit for a family which had truly “arrived”. By now Isaac appears to have been earning a staggering £15,000 to £20,000 per annum. When the Bristol City Council decided to make him a freeman he was granted his own coat of arms – nothing too ostentatious, just “four cinquefoils, a canton gules, charged with an eagle displayed on the field. Crest: a wreath of colours, a lion rampant erminois, supporting a cross corselet fitchee erect and charged on the shoulder with cinquefoil gules”. No I’m not too sure what a gules was, or what it looked like when rampant, but it sounds terribly impressive.

But the signs of imminent financial problems were already apparent: taxation on Flint glass was prohibitively high; cheap imports from Ireland were hitting trade; fashions and tastes in interior decoration changed, and the banks became reluctant to lend Lazarus a further ten thousand pounds which he needed to finish Belvedere, without charging a punitive rate of interest. At the same time Isaac had begun to hand over day-to-day control of the business to his son Joseph but father and son fell out. Joseph demanded a one third share of all the profits but finally settled for an annuity of three hundred pounds, and promptly departed in 1814 for Madeira and the West Indies to drum up demand for the family glassware. That put father back in daily management of the business, hardly convenient when he was hoping to be living in opulent luxury a day’s ride away in Weston. In vain he sought a tenant for Belvedere. Trade dipped, and highly qualified and experienced workmen were laid off. Rashly, Isaac signed bills totalling two thousand pounds to help a friend – the friend went bankrupt, leaving Isaac to pay. By now the banks were circling the wagons: Isaac was clapped in gaol (albeit only for a few days)  and, indignity of indignities, was declared bankrupt as being “a dealer and chapman”. Quite a fall from grace for a man claiming to be a royal warrant-holder!

Bowl, courtesy of the V & A

Scandal followed as it was suggested that Isaac and his son had acted fraudulently by trying to pay Joseph an inflated salary out of the business at the expense of other creditors. The family were ruined, and even worse, disgraced in the eyes of their synagogue. Isaac became a recluse. He suffered a long illness before he died in 1835 and was buried in Rose Street burial ground. He had bought the burial ground in his glory days – but now the site is almost totally obliterated by the sprawling Goods Yard of Temple Meads station.

Eventually Belvedere was divided up. Part became a crammer (i.e. preparing young men for University) while the billiard room was large enough to be made into a girls school. Belvedere  was finally pulled down in 1925 to make way for the town’s Bus Station. All in all, a sad end to a business which had mushroomed and later sank without trace – well, apart from some exquisite blue glass!

I am indebted to an article entitled ‘The Jacobs of Bristol, Glass makers to King George III’ by Z Josephs for the information about the Jacobs family and to The Blue Glass SW Glass Museum for the images (unless stated otherwise). The Museum is tremendously helpful and the staff are happy to answer queries from all over the world. Do see their website  at http://www.museum.bristolblueglass.com/


      A very rare (and collectable) example of a piece signed by “I Jacob”

And because no post on the 18th Century is complete without a caricature, here is one by Rowlandson entitled “Dr Syntax in the Glasshouse” – a somewhat fanciful view of the  hot, sweaty, noxious, filthy, fume-laden conditions in which glassworkers actually toiled!


Feb 042013

In the 18th Century Bristol was famous for the manufacture of glass. Indeed the city gave its name to a particular type of glass – Bristol Blue – although much of the blue glassware was actually made elsewhere, and Bristol itself produced vast quantities of clear glass (used in bottles, windows etc.) as well as the brilliantly coloured rich blue glass used in decorative tableware.

How did this come about? There are records to show that small quantities of blue glass medicine bottles were being manufactured in Bristol in the middle of the seventeenth century. The underlying glass-making skills flourished due to a huge local demand: the fine new houses in the city and in nearby Bath all needed large quantities of glazing. Indeed it has been estimated that over fifty per cent of all glass used in England in the 18th Century was produced in Bristol (to say nothing of the glass exported to the colonies). Added to this was the demand for bottles to cope with the burgeoning wine trade. Harveys and Averys were both wine shippers based in Bristol with their roots in the 1790s.

At some stage the manufacturing process received a huge boost with the (English) invention of the conical chimney, enabling noxious gasses from the furnaces to be drawn upwards and out into the atmosphere. Coal needed to fire the furnaces was readily available – it was mined in many areas around the city. The choking and often dangerous conditions in which the men worked started to improve and the cone-shaped kilns started appearing all over the city – at one stage there may have been as many as sixty, and a commentator at the time remarked that in Bristol there were as many glass chimneys as church spires. Only one chimney remains (or at least in part) as The Kiln Restaurant in what is now the Ramada Plaza Bristol Hotel near St Mary Redcliffe

Churning out window glass and bottle glass established the skill and manufacturing base, and it was from this base that the next phase took off: the development of lead crystal (then known as Flint Glass). The process had been invented by the chemist George Ravenscroft in the 1670’s. He discovered that adding lead gave the glass a harder, more brilliant, finish – one which could be engraved to give a sharp image. Lead was available from the nearby Mendip hills, where it had been extracted since Roman times. For a time factories had to choose between making either window glass or Flint Glass – they were prohibited from combining the two because up until 1845 Flint Glass was taxed at a much higher rate. Excise Men toured the factories to make sure that no Flint Glass was produced unless the tax was paid. One effect of this was to make it more logical for the Flint Glass to move “up-market” with smaller factories producing high class products. This in turn meant links were established between the glass manufacturers and the skilled craftsmen needed to engrave and decorate the glassware.

It is at this juncture that two men appeared on the scene to transform the City’s glass-making reputation. The first was the Bristol merchant and potter named Richard Champion. He used the glass-making technology to develop a recipe for making porcelain. This he patented and then approached the chemist William Cookworthy – he wanted a way of emulating the blue-on-white porcelain of the Far East. Cookworthy knew of the cobalt oxide, known as smalt, which was being mined at the Royal Saxon Cobalt Works in Saxony. When production ceased in around 1753 Cookworthy bought the exclusive rights to all remaining smalt stocks, and over the next twenty years they were brought into England by ship into just one port – Bristol.

And so it was that the Flint-glass makers of Bristol suddenly found themselves with easy access to the mineral which they could mix with the lead glass to make a beautiful soft-blue material. Other glass makers in other cities had to buy the cobalt from Cookworthy in Bristol and this helped give rise to its name – Bristol Blue.

I am indebted to the Bristol Blue Glass SW Glass Museum in Bedminster (South Bristol) for the images of Bristol Blue – they have a splendid collection of  glassware (and visiting is free!). You can even see the modern blue glassware being hand-blown right in front of your eyes! See their website at http://www.museum.bristolblueglass.com/

P.S  I am bringing out a booklet on Bristol Blue Glass in the next couple of weeks. Anyone interested in more details is welcome to contact me  on info@mikerendell.com

Feb 012013

I intend making very little comment about this caricature, published in 1801 and with the title “A correct front view of a lady’s dickey!! : recommended to the fair sex in general but particularly to those maiden ladies who are subject to belly-ache and pains in the limbs”.

According to the Lewis Walpole Library site it shows a short, plump woman looking directly at the viewer, dressed in a short dickey baring her breasts as she stands, legs apart, between a dresser and an armchair. A cat with a shocked expression looks up under her short chemise.

All I will say is it is a shame that there were no female caricaturists around recording the inelegance of men getting dressed…

Post script… on the other hand I did come across this one entitled The Macarony Dressing Room which is rather good at ridiculing the particular male fashion of high powdered wigs. While the dresser administers powder to the wig, the seated gentleman takes snuff.

I like the officer lunging his rapier at the door just as the manservant is entering, causing the tray of glasses to be hurled to the floor so that the  fop  is forced to turn to make sure his trousers are not splashed…

Post script:

Post script: In response to this post my Dutch friend on Twitter (Rob,  @Dezilvereneeuw  ) kindly put me in touch with this splendid image of a periwig maker powdering his latest creation in the street! The original engraving is apparently by De Sallieth and was made between 1780 and 1790.

The powdering of wigs had a long history but by the 1770’s many women were starting to powder their natural hair. A decade later and many men were following suit, although older, less forward thinking men (perhaps the big wigs!)  kept going with the wig and powder. But then the British government levied a tax at a guinea a year on hair powder and swiftly  both wigs and powder went out of fashion.

And because no post is complete without a Gillray here is one entitled “Leaving off POWDER – or a Frugal Family saving the Guinea” from March 1795