Apr 252014

I never cease to be amazed at the huge losses run up by wealthy gamblers in the Georgian Era. Caricaturists had a field day, as in this drawing showing the Prince of Wales being urged on by Fox  to throw the dice one more time  “for ten thousand”.

gambling at diceA famous gambler at cards was of course Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Rowlandson shows her with her sister at the card table. When the duchess died aged 48 in 1806 she had debts equivalent nowadays to three and a quarter million pounds. (“Is that all?” was apparently the response of her husband, upon hearing the news).


A variation of roulette – Odds and Evens – became popular  in the latter decades of the century, as shown in another Rowlandson drawing, called Private Amusements:

Private amusements

The extent of Eighteenth Century gambling was stunning – Sir John Bland, 6th Baronet, was born in 1722 and died at the age of 33 in Calais,unmarried. At the time when he inherited the baronetcy in 1743 the family estates included the entire city of Manchester and much of the surrounding countryside. By the time he died he had gambled away every single house, every single field, and he died intestate and penniless.

Another huge loss was reported in the Bath Chronicle of 29th March 1773:

Seventy thousand pounds at a single session! Multiply that by perhaps eighty and you get a loss of well over five and half million pounds in today’s money! Try telling an agricultural labourer, on a yearly wage of twenty pounds, that life was fair under the Hanoverians….

For some the losses were unsupportable – as in the curious case of John Damer, the son of Lord Milton. The writer Archenholz describes the man’s demise as follows:

“The conduct of the Hon Mr Damer, only son to Lord Milton was …extraordinary, and gave rise to a thousand melancholy reflections.Young, handsome, tenderly beloved by his father, nearly adored by the ladies, and with all the honours and dignified of the state within his reach he conceived a sudden disgust to life.
Having repaired to a bagnio he commanded twelve of the most handsome women of the town to be brought to him, and gave orders that they should be supplied with all manner of delicacies. Having afterwards bolted the door he made them undress one another and, when naked, requested them to amuse him with the most voluptuous attitudes. About an hour afterwards he dismissed them, loaded with presents, and then, drawing a pistol from his pocket immediately put an end to his existence.This happened in the year 1776″

Way to go! Others give different versions of the sad death – Boswell’s Johnson has him eating three buttered muffins, immediately before committing suicide and knowing that he wouldn’t be around to suffer the indigestion which would inevitably follow. Whatever – the Gentleman’s Magazine for that month gives the cause of death as “lunacy”.  I can believe the twelve naked ladies, but THREE buttered muffins! An unlikely story, about a man who had apparently never come across the word “excess” – I suppose the two stories may not have been mutually exclusive – maybe the muffins were consumed while the twelve naked ladies cavorted with each other. The mind boggles at the perversions of the Georgian Era…

The one thing which was certain is that John Damer could not face the financial burden of his gambling debts – nor the unhappy marriage which he had entered into with Anne Conway  seven years earlier. She, poor woman, was saddled with his debts, because her father-in-law insisted that she should accept personal responsibility for them. She did however go on to become a fine sculptress – the subject of another post another day.

Apr 182014

Two etchings from the same year, both courtesy of the British Museum, featuring a crop – the name given to a short haircut which started to come into fashion at the end of the 18th Century.

One suspects that anyone middle-aged would be grateful for the trend – after all, if you had spent years and years shaving your entire head and wearing a wig, only for wig-wearing to go out of fashion, your chances of growing back a fine head of luxuriant curly hair were not too good!  The ability to choose a crop was an obvious one – but it did not go un-noticed by the caricaturists of the day. The look was certainly ‘on trend’  – in the aftermath of the Revolution in France powdered wigs went out of fashion, and the crop was certainly an egalitarian alternative.


First up, “A natural crop – alias a Norfolk dumpling” showing the Duke of Norfolk. It was drawn by James Gillray and published in 1791. The British Museum describes it as “a whole length satirical portrait of the Duke of Norfolk, directed to the right; in his left hand is the baton of Earl Marshal; his right hand is in his waistcoat pocket. He wears top-boots, a slouched hat, and his hair is closely cropped. Earlier caricatures show the Duke wearing his own hair, without powder, hanging on his neck.”

Mmm, not exactly high fashion….


The second one, entitled simply “The Crop” also came out in 1791 and was by Isaac Cruikshank. It features a rather fine-looking gentleman, looking glass in hand, observing the world  so as to make sure that the world was noticing him. From his high-crowned hat to his striped waistcoat, and his long buttock-clenching pantaloons –  laced around the ankles – we see a man of fashion casually surveying the world, with his jacket slipped nonchalantly over his left shoulder. I love the high collar and the splendid cravat, and what the Museum site call ‘very short top-boots.’ His mincing style, pursed lips and inquisitive stare make him a striking figure, which the Museum suggests may represent Lord Barrymore.

For myself, I can’t see the likeness – but will do a blog on the Lords Barrymore and their marvellously nick-named family shortly. There was Hellgate, there was Newgate, there was Cripplegate – and how could one forget the foul-mouthed sister known to all as Billingsgate? Follow this space….

Apr 152014

16Just a note to put a date in your diary if you are likely to be in London on Tuesday 29th July. I am giving a talk that evening at Guildhall Library – on Philip Astley, his life and achievements. I rather like the second part of the title: “From Westminster Bridge to the World” because he really was a remarkable man. The link to the Guildhall Library site for tickets is here.

Anyway, it starts at 18.00  and, allowing for the wine reception, goes on for a couple of hours.  I am looking forward to it – even if it is all a bit of a rush! I am due to get back from Canada that week, give a talk on a different subject that morning in the Cotswolds, and then will dash up to London in time for the talk and hopefully to meet as many people as possible.

As for the book, well, I cannot honestly say that it is “selling like hot cakes” – more “like warm scones,” but that is to be expected. You can find out more here (Britain) and here (the rest of the world). Amazon have included a couple of really nice reviews.Astleys Circus

Apr 122014

I rather like the  way that caricaturists in the Georgian period liked to include their employer’s print shop in the background. Indeed there must have been an explosion of such shops in the last twenty years of the eighteenth century, to cope with all the series of caricatures, drolls and so on churned out by the latest breed of artists, satirists and moralisers.

Here are a few showing the print shop premises – either as central to the drawing, or by way of background, and unless otherwise stated they appear on the Lewis Walpole Library site:

First up, Robert Dighton’s “A Windy Day” showing hats and wigs flying in the face of a fearsome gale as the crowd jostles in front of an un-named emporium selling prints:

Dighton windy day

In a rather similar vein, a high wind outside No. 57 St. Pauls Church Yard, [1793]. While the girls in the centre struggle to remain modest, the female on the left reveals that she is not wearing underwear, while a parson walking past  inspects her derriere most carefully, apparently oblivious to the fact that his tricorn hat has sailed away on the breeze… on the right a fisher-woman has fallen, scattering the day’s catch across the pavement outside the printshop of S W Fores, who just happens to be the publisher of the print.


There was clearly something about foul weather and print shops – here is Gillray’s “Very slippy weather.”


It shows an old man, holding a thermometer, slipping to the pavement outside Hannah Humphrey’s print shop. His gold coins and his snuff box tumble out of his pockets: no-one notices as they are looking intently at the prints on display. The window is filled with Gillray drawings, and the print itself was published by Hannah Humphrey with whom Gillray lived for twenty years.

Some people apparently enjoyed seeing themselves lampooned – others were not so keen as in this print:


The fat parson looks at his caricature and exclaims “Be sure as I am Parson Puzzletest – they have clapped me up in the Print shop. I have a great mind to break their window” The soldier rather admires his image and says “Don’t be angry neighbour, you shouldn’t be surprized at anything in London. Why look ye here I declare they have got my look in my Volunteer Uniform.”

cc8Theodore Lane drew this one of a scene outside  the bow-fronted window of George Humphrey’s print shop  – and it is possible to identify some of his prints on display. The motto – taken from the Loyal Order of the Garter – is ‘Honi Soit Qui Mal y Pense’ – shame on he who thinks evil of it

The British Museum has this image  showing  the owner of an unspecified print shop standing outside his premises in 1820:



But my favourite  one is this:


Entitled “The Caricature Shop” it takes place outside the print shop of P Roberts at 28 Middle Row, Holborn and displays the full range of the caricaturist’s stock in trade – the hunchback, the fat lady, the woman of fashion, the limbless man on a sled – and in the background, very much out of things, a solitary black servant trying to see what is going on.

Apr 062014

Trawling through the Gentleman’s Magazine for July 1792 I came across a lovely letter to the Editor, giving details of a coach trip in 1719, leaving London on 18th May for Carlisle. It lists every overnight stop – and although the same pubs and Inns seem to attract the identical comment on different visits, it is an interesting comment on the precursor of “motorway hospitality”. Think of it as a 1719 version of Tripadvisor.1111121212




























The  article continues:

1112I love the distinction between “mean but honest” houses and those with “intolerably small beds” or those with a “very negligent Landlord and Landlady”! And it is fascinating to see how the writer of the letter could declare that  he now lived “in a flying age” compared to  his 1719 predecessor – a reminder of the huge improvements made in the main highways such as the Great North Road, accompanied by faster, lighter carriages complete with springs. Gone were the cumbersome  dreadnoughts of eighty years earlier – and suddenly a mere twenty three miles a day seemed positively pedestrian. And the idea that travel stopped on the Sabbath – love it!

It is also interesting to consider how many of the coaching inns are still in business – I don’t suppose the Bell at Stilton was too keen at its bills being called “extravagant” but at least the meal was good and it is still going strong three centuries later. I am dubious as to whether the “Eelpye house at Newark is still in business, but no doubt there is a Newark resident out there who can put me right!

Apr 022014

I thought it  would be fun to look at a trio of caricatures with the same title – “A pig in a poke”

The initial two come via the British Museum site. First up, a somewhat jaundiced look at the artifices of ladies’ fashion:AN00102407_001

On the left, a fashionista in all her glory, and on the right a scrawny individual  standing naked in front of a mirror. The moral would appear to be: you don’t know what you are getting until you get her undressed!

As the Museum site states: “The interior of a lady’s dressing-room: she is represented fully dressed on the left and naked on the right, her attitude in both cases being the same, and imitating that of the Venus de’ Medici, a statuette of whom stands on a wall-bracket. The two figures stand back to back, looking towards the spectator. The dressed figure wears a large feathered hat, puffed-out hair with pendant tresses, a projecting gauze-covered bust on which her right hand rests, her petticoats extend backward in a sweeping curve, a small foot in a high-heeled shoe projects from her petticoat. The naked figure is lean, with flat breasts, and entirely without the feminine curves which are added by her dress. Her hair is straggling and lank; her feet large and ill-shaped, her face pale. She stands before the mirror on her dressing-table, on the ground is a false ‘derriere’, a similar arrangement hangs on the wall, other garments are draped over a chair. Three pictures are on the wall: on the extreme left in an oval frame is partly visible a picture of a seated lady on whom Death, a skeleton, is making a furious onslaught. Above the head of the dressed figure is ‘In the Poke’, a countryman holding a bulky sack. Above the naked figure is ‘Out the Poke’, in which the pig scampers away from the empty sack.”

It was published by James Phillips and first appeared in 1786.

The second one of the same title is by James Gillray and came out a couple of years later:AN00132701_001

It is a political satire, rather lost on us nowadays, but the Museum site describes it as:

” Four men, their feet cut off by the lower margin, play whist at a rectangular table; each has one card in his hand and is about to play the last trick, the tricks piled on the table show that each side has six tricks. Sir Joseph Mawbey (left) looks at his partner (right), a very stout man wearing a legal wig, both hold court cards (diamonds). The man seated on the farther side of the table looks sideways at Mawbey, saying, “O—h! you’ve brought your Pigs to a fine Market!” His partner, in back view, is a very thin man whose hair extends grotesquely on each side of his head; he holds the five of diamonds. From Mawbey’s pocket projects a document, ‘Surrey Commission’, and a book, ‘Burn Justice’ (Burn’s well-known ‘Justice of the Peace and Parish Officer’, used by all acting J.P.s ). Above his head is a picture of a pig feeding from a trough.”

I can’t say I know much about Mawbey – Wikipedia tells me he was a distiller and politician, and a supporter of John Wilkes. He was a member of the Bill of Rights Society and stood for Parliament as the representative for the County of Surrey. According to Wikipedia, “Mawbey was unpopular with the local gentry.He claimed to be above party, but was in the end a figure of fun and satire.” I suspect that what Gillray is saying is “Vote for this man and you will not have the faintest idea what you are getting” – emphasised by the allusion to gambling on the turn of the cards.

And to end with, my old favourite, with our porcine friends in their poke bonnets, shown courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library:

a pig in a poke 3 lwlEnjoy!