May 082013
 

When my great grandfather Benjamin Hall died in 1936 (a wealthy man with a huge wine cellar) his two dreary sisters came to the funeral from their home in Mid-Wales. The fact that they were coke-heads (i.e.cocaine addicts) did not stop them from being teetotal (in other words they had “taken the pledge” to abstain from alcohol. Never a drop of the demon drink did pass their lips, but then, from all reports they were generally stoned out of their minds anyway…).

The story goes that after the funeral they traipsed back to the family home and set to with a fervent zeal, destroying every single bottle of wine to be found in the cellars. The whole lot was opened and poured down the drain.

I tell the story to indicate that the family may be weird, but we are not all the same! But what I like about the 18th Century is that it was a century of excess, not of moderation. The Temperance Movement really didn’t get going until 1833 when the word ‘teetotal’ was coined, and then had a renewed lease of life in the 1880’s. But none of their killjoy activities impinged upon the century which saw Hogarth rail against Gin, (as in Gin Lane) but condone and promote the consumption of beer (as in Beer Street). The earliest cartoon I can find giving a temperance view of the world is this one from 1828. It is entitled “The two fishermen : a dedication to the temperance society” and is by A Ducôte. It appears on the Lewis Walpole Library site.

On the left, under the banner of Habitual Drunkenness, the fisherman is in a spot of bother: his kids are fighting, his front door is falling off its hinges, his wife is embracing another man, and he has caught a fish marked ‘Sickness’. He cries out “The Devil”. Other fish in the sea are identified as Starvation, Hatred, Murder, Malice, Discontent ,Seduction, Rebellion, Atheism, Beggary and Enormous Taxation.

Contrast this unhappy scene with the prosperous happy family on the right blessed with Constant Sobriety, catching fish for their dinner. The waters abound with such delights as Civil and Religious Liberty, Peace & Quietness, Chastity, Happiness, Health, Wealth, Moderate Taxation, Cheap Bread and Contentment.

Just in case we haven’t got the message, the man on the left fishes in Gin, and on the right the supercilious young man with two ghastly children fishes in Water. The moral to me is quite clear: if you want ghastly kids and cheap bread, try being abstemious; if you want a bit of fun before you die, take another slug from the bottle.

For my distant ancestor Richard Hall, being a devout Baptist never seemed to prevent him from enjoying a prodigious quantity of wine (his tipple of choice). But he also brewed beer, and cider, as well as bringing a quarter Pipe of Port down from London whenever supplies ran short.

Late 18thCentury wine bottles – courtesy of Christies.com

But where I find his stamina truly remarkable is where he lists his household expenses for 1797 (when he was 68 years old). His account books show that he was spending roughly three times the amount on wine as he did on taxation. Way to go, Richard!

 

May 072013
 

Bristol_Blue_Cover_for_KindleEarlier this year I was fortunate enough to stay at the lovely Arizona Inn at Tucson. The dining area, somewhat dark and cavernous, was transformed into a warm, glowing, welcoming room by one thing: the tables were all set with water glasses made of cobalt blue. Here in Britain it is generally known as ‘Bristol Blue’. It gave some idea of the effect that introducing blue glassware must have had when it came into vogue in the last couple of decades of the Eighteenth Century. From decanters to wine glasses, from display dishes to glass coolers and finger rinsing bowls, they must have glittered and amazed in the flickering candle-light.

bristol blue 005So I have written a book. Not a very long one, but packed with full-colour photographs to give an idea of the beautiful rich translucent blue.

It is a history of how and where the blue glass was made (not necessarily in Bristol, which just happened to be the port where smalt – cobalt oxide – was imported). And it is also the story of the men behind the spectacular boom in popularity of Bristol Blue.

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I wrote it because I could not find anything which told me about the origins of the glassware – or if it did it was as part of a large dictionary of glass, usually printed in black and white (which frankly is a bit pointless when it comes to picturing coloured glass!). Also, I found it fascinating visiting one of the glass factories which is still producing ‘Bristol Blue’ in Bedminster, Bristol, on almost the exact site where glass was being produced 250 years ago. There is precious little of Bristol’s industrial heritage still standing, so what there is is worth remembering.

BB3Anyway, a harmless hobby, and I brought the book out on Amazon where you can find it here if in the U.K. and in the States here. I am hoping that it will also be available on kindle, although at present they are not playing ball and I would be the first to admit that this is not my favourite platform for displaying pictures of the gorgeous blue glass. The images appear courtesy of the V&A Museum, and the Bristol Blue Glass South West Glass Museum.

 

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May 052013
 

“Bachelor’s Fare – or Bread and Cheese with kisses”  – a quotation from Jonathan Swift.

The quotation gave rise to a number of Eighteenth Century illustrations, and here are three:

The first one, by John Collet, appears on the Port Cities site and was first published in November 1773. The original is with the National Martime Museum.

It shows an apparently innocent scene of a couple sitting at a table eating bread and cheese. Things start to get amorous, and the sailor is slipping coins into the lady’s pocket – buying her favours. In the background on the wall a picture of two ships side by side has the caption “The Free Briton closely engaged with the charming Sally”.

Version Number Two appears on the Library of Congress site:

The site gives the explanation:

“Print shows a man, seated at a table, embracing and kissing a woman; around the table are seated three women; a fourth, carrying a tankard of beer, enters through a door on the right; on the table are bread and cheese, a visual reference to a quote by Jonathan Swift, ‘Bachelors fare; bread and cheese, and kisses.’ Two illustrations are on the wall in the background, one of a church, and the other of a swarm of bees around a hive”.

My favourite, with a fascinating amount of detail of the interior of an Eighteenth Century tavern, is the final one, a cartoon by Rowlandson. It appears on the Lewis Walpole site and was first published in 1813, but is an almost mirror-image of his earlier version entitled “A kiss in the kitchen”.

The site describes the scene as  “A young man with a grotesquely long chin sits in a high back chair, kissing a pretty young woman who stands between his legs. Behind him a dog has his paws on the cloth-covered table on which is laid cheese and bread; a cat drinks from a pitcher on the ground. Through the door on the right, a fat older man sits on a stool, smoking his pipe as he looks up at another pretty girl. On the wall hangs his gun and game; above them hangs a bird in a cage”.

The young man with the grotesquely long chin reminds me of a younger Bruce Forsyth (surely he wasnt around THAT long ago!).

May 032013
 

An intriguing fellow, was Francis Burdett. Born on 25th January 1770 in Wiltshire, he was the  grandson of the Baronet of Foremark. He was educated at Westminster School and Oxford University and after completing his education, he did what was expected of him – he went off on his Grand Tour through Europe. Back he came in 1793 and soon married Sophia Coutts, the daughter of the banker, Thomas Coutts. Her dowry was a staggering £25,000, making young Francis a very rich man. In 1797 Coutts purchased the rotten borough of Boroughbridge from the Duke of Newcastle for £4,000; he gave the seat to his ambitious son-in-law and Francis became an independent MP.

He declined to join either the Whigs or the Tories and in his maiden speech on the thorny topic of Ireland he upset nearly all his parliamentary colleagues by declaring that that the government was guilty of the “oppression of an enslaved and impoverished people”.

In 1797 he became the Fifth Baron of Foremark following his grandfather’s death that year.

Burdett strongly opposed William Pitt’s suspension of the writ of Habeas Corpus in 1796 and was highly critical of the government’s efforts to suppress the rights of the individual. As he himself later declared “The best part of my character is a strong feeling of indignation at injustice & oppression and a lively sympathy with the sufferings of my fellows.” A less endearing quality was his melancholia, pedantry, and quick temper. Also, despite fathering six children by his long suffering wife he appears to have had several more by his mistress Lady Oxford.

Burdett denounced Great Britain’s war with France, and was one of the few members of the House of Commons who supported the idea of parliamentary reform in the early years of the 19th Century.

In 1802 he was elected to Parliament as Member for Middlesex but later elections were rigged against him and Burdett spent a fortune (estimated at £100,000) successfully contesting the results. In 1807, following the death of Charles James Fox he stood for Westminster on a Reform ticket and was returned with a huge majority – gaining more votes than all the other candidates put together.

In 1810 he spoke in the House against the imprisonment of a radical by the name of John Gale Jones and then compounded his unpopularity with the government by “leaking” the entire speech to  William Cobbett’s Weekly Political Register (a clear breach of Parliamentary privilege). The authorities were outraged. He was arrested, charged, and ordered to be imprisoned in the Tower of London. He responded by barricading himself in his home for two days. Soldiers forced their way in and carted him off to prison. Later (1820) he was charged with seditious libel, heavily fined and again imprisoned for criticising the government’s handling of the Peterloo Massacre (in which eleven people died and hundreds were injured when the army fired shots into a crowd of activists).

Burdett campaigned for parliamentary reform and in particular called for universal male suffrage. He wanted reform of the Parliament so that all constituencies had the same number of voters. He opposed corporal punishment in the army, sought strenuously to stamp out corruption and nepotism, and supported the abolition of the Slave Trade. He also supported Catholic Emancipation. But as he got older his enthusiasm for radical ideas started to fade, and he ended up representing the Tories as MP for North Wiltshire until his death.

His wife, Lady Burdett, to whom he had eventually become devoted, died on 13 January 1844. Sir Francis simply lost the will to live – gave up eating and drinking, and died ten days later just two days short of his 74th birthday. He and his wife were buried at the same time in the same vault at Ramsbury Church, Wiltshire.

The man was certainly a thorn in the side to the Government on many issues, and his opponents  did all they could to smear his name and ridicule his ideas. Take this caricature from 1810:

 

“A Rough Sketch of the Times as Deleniated by Sir Francis Burdett” appears courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library site and invites the viewer to decide whether the true character of Frances Burdett is the fine upstanding gentleman on the left, or the duplicitous rogue on the right. The figure on the left is described as The Genius of Honour and Integrity and sports such attributes as:

A sound mind, an eye ever watchful to the welfare of his fellow citizen, a tongue that never belied a good heart. He bends a knee to religion, is a staunch supporter of the Bill of Rights, an advocate of fair representation for the people [well, the males at any rate] and is a lover of peace.

Contrast that with his alter ego wearing the collar of corruption, with hands of extortion holding a bag containing Pensions Reversions and Perquisites of Office. He carries secret service money in his back pocket and has a cringing soul, while sitting for a rotten borough. He has an eye to interest and a pampered appetite, legs of luxury and goes under the heading The Monster of Corruption.

Take  your pick!

May 012013
 

When I wrote the Journal of a Georgian Gentleman I included facsimile copies of Richard Hall’s lists (he loved lists!). One of these included the items which he packed and loaded on the roof of the stage coach for a trip from Bourton, via Bath, to Weymouth – a journey which he calculated at 264 miles, return.wigbox (2)

The list is unremarkable and starts with his Great Trunk, his blue box, his Wainscot ( i.e. wood-panelled) box, his green bag, great coat and shoes – and ends with his wig box.

I have never really given any thought to the wig box, but recently came across one for sale at the ever-fascinating Hampton Antiques site.

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The period is absolutely spot-on (1780) and it would be rather nice to think that Richard would have something smart like this in which to keep his powdered wig to change into at the end of a long, dusty, journey!

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Hamptons describe it as being a  “Sheraton Oval Wig box veneered in Harewood. It has a Tulipwood cross-banding to its top and bottom edge. The box has been beautifully painted with floral sprays and foliate garlands of tied ribboned bows of flowers all round this wonderfully shaped box. It still has its original polished surface and fantastic patination.

The interior contains an unusual hollowed out surface with a green baize cloth to protect the Wig.”  It measures 33cm x 20.5cm x 16cm, but as it would set me back £1850 I won’t be adding it to the vast array of Richard Hall memorabilia I already have. There are enough problems already, trying to accommodate everything in the house! Shame… because I rather like it. Now, if only it had been fitted with a carrying handle…

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