Jul 252014

a yoyoI must admit: I never thought that I would end up writing a blog about the yo-yo, but when I came across a 1791 picture on the British Museum site here showing the Prince of Wales reclining on his sofa while playing with his yo-yo it got my interest, Well, that, and also because the caricature  shows Richard Brinsley Sheridan having a good fondle of Mrs Fitzherbert’s left breast. She is holding the hand of the rather bored Prince, while stroking Sheridan’s cheek and apparently rather enjoying the attention… I wasn’t particularly aware of the insinuation that Sheridan was having an affair with his royal friend’s mistress, but apparently it stemmed from the fact that while building works were going on in their rented accommodation, the Sheridans (Mr and Mr) were living for a while in the house belonging to Mrs Fitzherbert, so who knows what shenanigans went on!

I like some of the other details in the print – the bust marked ‘Claudius Rom: Imp:’ on the mantelpiece, and the reference to the gambling habits of the Prince with the dice-box and dice. His fondness for alcohol is shown by the figure of a baby Bacchus, astride a cask and holding up a glass. The open door shows us a glimpse of balustraded steps, leading to the bedrooms upstairs…

The caricature is by James Gillray and is entitled ‘Bandelures’ – apparently the Prince made the toy so popular that the other name for it was the ‘Prince of Wales toy.’ * It was also known as a quiz, and by the French as l’emigrette or jeu-jeu de Normandie.

Louis_Charles_of_France yoyo

There are various other drawings from the period of the French Revolution showing people playing with their yo-yos – either as a toy or as a stress reliever. This is a picture of the four year old dauphin Louis Charles (otherwise ‘Louis XVII’) and sometimes attributed to Mme. Vigee-LeBrun and dating from 1787.

There are reports that Napoleon played with his, (yo-yo, that is) before the Battle of Waterloo, while General Lafayette was hurling his about, some twenty years before. They became a fashion accessory – ladies would absent-mindedly dangle them from a dainty finger while promenading, as seen from this French fashion print:

yo  yo Quel est le plus ridicule BM

Early_Yo-yo_playerMind you there was nothing new about the yo-yo – ancient Greek pottery shows the toy from 4 or 5 centuries BC and it also appears in ancient Chinese and Indian pictures. Supposedly the name comes from the Philippines where ‘yo-yo’ was a word meaning ‘come-back’ and described a weapon used to hunt animals. The user would hide in a tree and hurl a sharp, pointed, object attached to a rope at any animal passing below, hoping to stun or kill the poor beast. The rope would then be hauled back so that the yo-yo was ready to be re-used. For my money the word may just as well have been derived from the French ‘jeu-jeu’, or maybe both contributed to the word used to describe a toy which was obviously very popular, especially with Americans in both the 19th and 20th centuries.

1791-Yo-Yo-Bandalore French fashion plateFor a period of perhaps twenty years it was the “fashion accessory” and stress-buster to the Regency fops and ladies-about-town, before sinking back to being a popular child’s toy, in much the same category as the spinning top. Ah, the yo-yo life of the yo-yo!




*‘The ‘Prince of Wales toy’ is of course not at all the same thing as the toy Prince of Wales, shown here courtesy of a site called Obsessionistas:


Jul 192014

I have always been intrigued by Lady Skipwith – not because she had her portrait painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in May 1787, when she was 35. She had been born in 1752 as Selina Shirley and was the eldest daughter of the Honourable George Shirley, son of the 1st Earl of Ferrers.

Her husband Sir Thomas George Skipwith was already a man of fifty when they tied the knot, two years before the Reynolds portrait. They got married on 13th September 1785 but the marriage proved childless; her husband had become the Fourth Baronet Skipwith* on 6th December 1778 upon the death of his father but the baronetcy came to an end when he died in 1790, at Margate. He was buried at Monks Field.

Lady Skipwith had a reputation as a skilled horsewoman, and a nephew recorded that “there was something rather formidable in her powdered hair and [the] riding habit or joseph which she generally wore.”

Other than that I know little of her life: she outlived her husband by 42 years. In his will Sir Thomas appears to have given her a right to reside in the family home at Newbold Pacey Hall in Warwickshire. When she died on 23 March 1832 the Hall passed to her late husband’s cousin, Sir Grey Skipwith.

You just get the feeling that the married couple may not have been very close – he had spent all his adult life as a bachelor and at 35 she must have assumed that with ‘the first blush of youth passed by’ she was unlikely to marry. Her husband had been an MP for a while, but never actually spoke in the House. It appears they may have had some fairly grandiose ideas for erecting a new stately pile at Newbold – plans were drawn up by Colen Campbell, chief architect of the Prince of Wales.

It looks as though the plans were never implemented (or certainly not in that form) and on the death of the baronet Lady Skipwith may have found herself somewhat strapped for cash. That is the only reason why I can think she came round to my ancestor Richard Hall with her begging bowl. She wanted £1100 – a not inconsiderable sum. Richard lent it to her at four and a half per cent interest, secured by way of mortgage. I do not know how they met, or whether there was a network of go-betweens putting aristo’s who were on hard times in touch with wealthy tradesmen like Richard. I can only assume that they met, some time in the autumn of 1795, because I cannot imagine he would have forked out that sort of money without checking his “investment”. Her house was perhaps 40 miles from where Richard lived.

Richard would have been well used to the idea of money lending to the cash-strapped but asset-rich members of the aristocracy – his brother in law William Snooke was most adept at the art of money lending to the well-heeled and would certainly have shown him how it was best done! Loans of up to a hundred pounds were covered by a promissory note (an I.O.U.) whereas sums above that amount but below a thousand pounds were covered by a bond (i.e. under seal). Loans of over a thousand pounds were secured on a mortgage. This was the routine long-practised to good effect by William Snooke, and this is what Richard followed.

In his list entitled “Of what I am possess’d” for 1795 Richard records the loan for the first time, and mentions it again each time he revised the list (usually once a year). It was still outstanding in 1801 – the year in which Richard died – and so presumably the loan would have been called in by Richard’s executors.


* My thanks to Nancy Mayer for pointing out that he became fourth ‘baronet’, not fourth ‘ baron’. As far as I am concerned baron is used to describe beef, but I appreciate that it is supposed to be used as a peerage title!

Jul 112014

A7 Portrait_of_Elizabeth_Farren,_by_Thomas_LawrenceWriting my blog on Robert Dighton, with its caricatures of Elizabeth Farron, reminded me of the splendid portrait of Miss Farron by Sir Thomas Lawrence, shown at the Royal Academy annual exhibition in 1790, and now held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This is a close-up of what is a fascinating portrait.

Eliza Farren.Chalk drawing by John Downman,1787.Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

Eliza Farren.Chalk drawing by John Downman,1787.Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

Elizabeth had started out as an actress as a teenager and first appeared on the London stage in 1777 aged 18. She was especially well received for her portrayal of Miss Tittup in David Garrick’s farce “Bon Ton or High Life above Stairs”, so Miss Tittup she will be. All went swimmingly for a year or two. Attractive, blue-eyed and tall, she quickly attracted the likes of Charles James Fox who very publicly lusted after her, until 11 July 1778 when she played Nancy Lovel in Colman’s “Suicide”. This was a ‘breeches’ part, and Fox, in company of many other males, was rather looking forward to seeing her in tight trousers. It was after all, a time when the theatre was much like the modern pantomime with its principal boy contrasting with the man playing a fat and florid female in a voluminous dress (think Widow Twankey…). But horror of horrors, Miss Farron did not have the legs for the part! Or more accurately, she had a backside which positively drooped and Fox was vociferous in his disappointment. Her derriere was a disaster. No matter that the poor girl was magnificent as Miss Hardcastle in “She Stoops to Conquer” or that her Hermione was second to none – she would henceforth be remembered for her saggy posterior. Mind you I am not sure what would be worse – being fancied by Fox, or not being fancied by him!

Ms Farren in character as Hermione, 1781, via the British Museum

Ms Farren in character as Hermione, 1781, via the British Museum




One person who continued to pursue Miss Tittup was the (married) Earl of Derby. But if she was chased she was also chaste, and she declined his advances for a number of years. Cartoonists suggested she was playing hard to get and in 1790 this etching appeared, entitled “Beatrice Fishing for a Coronet”.

A7 eliza-fishing-for-a-coronet

It shows Miss Tittup visiting a fortune teller and appears courtesy of the British Museum. The BM site explains:

“A fortune-teller seated in his room receives a visit from Miss Farren (right) who sits facing him in profile to the left. She is fashionably dressed, wearing a high ribbon-trimmed hat, and a cloak bordered with fur; her hands are in a large muff. She says, “The woman at the Green Rails in Store Street gives me no hopes of a coronet, I wish to know your opinion, venerable Sage.” The sage, seated in a high-backed arm-chair, a gouty leg supported on a stool, wearing a nightcap and fur-bordered robe, peers through spectacles at a book whose pages are covered with symbols. Beside him is a table on which are a telescope, celestial globe, ink-stand, compass, and hour-glass. From under the table-cloth a skull seems to peer up at the lady. The room is crowded with the wizard’s stock-in-trade: an alligator hangs from the ceiling above a number of monstrosities in bottles; there is a diminutive skeleton and also another telescope and globe; there are books inscribed: ‘Aspects of the Planets’ and ‘Astrol[ogy]‘; papers inscribed: ‘Table of the Orbs, and Planets’; ‘the Twelve signs of the Zodiac’; ‘Prediction of future Events’…”

The etching is dated 1790.

NPG D9543; 'A peep behind the curtain at the Widow Belmour' by James Sayers

Another print of the time, showing Miss Saggybottom in a state of undress, appears courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery in an etching entitled “A peep behind the curtain at the Widow Belmour” by James Sayers. She is saying: “Here I stand a fresh proof of the Manager’s meanness, Not a rag to my back like the Medici’s Venus! At their second-hand wardrobe I turn up my nose, By the Lord I won’t act till they find my new clothes.” Lord Derby, a peeping Tom in the top left hand corner replies “Oh, fie you, Sheridan, curse your niggard heart. Why won’t you let Miss Farren dress her parts? Were I of Drury’s property the sovereign, I’d give the lovely maiden choice of covering.”

Things continued until the Spring of 1797 when the earl’s wife went and died, aged 44, on 14th March. Within days the Earl had proposed marriage, and so it was that Miss Tittup made her last appearance on stage on 8 April 1797 when she was thirty-eight years old. The marriage took place on 1st May – in other words just six weeks after the first wife died – and gave rise to this fairly vicious print from the normally light and frivolous Richard Newton. It is called “Darby and Joan or The Dance of Death.”


The British Museum describes it as:

“Miss Farren and Lord Derby dance together in frantic exultation from right to left. His right arm is round her waist, his left arm is raised, he gazes up at her. She, much taller and more active, leads him forward, a bunch of flowers in her right hand; a tress of hair streaming in the wind (from right to left) appears to be artificially attached to a wig decked with pearls. Her right foot kicks the back of a doctor who is departing on the extreme left, a medicine-phial protruding from his pocket; her leg is indecorously raised. A barking dog runs between the couple. She looks over her left shoulder at a coffin, one end of which is visible on the extreme right, on draped trestles. The end of the coffin lid is open to show the head of a dead woman (evidently Lady Derby), at which a lady looks down, weeping despairingly.”

The idea of “Darby and Joan” – in other words an elderly couple, all passion spent, content in each other’s company, had first appeared in print in the Gentleman Magazine some 60 years previously and cartoonists obviously liked changing “Darby” to “Derby” and mocking the idea that the relationship was purely platonic.

A7 eliza-contemplations-upon-a-coronetAnother etching from just before the betrothal was this one, also from the BM, called “Contemplations upon a Coronet”. The site describes the scene as:

“Miss Farren (left) sits at her dressing-table, contemplating with rapt admiration an earl’s coronet on a wig-block which is a caricature of Lord Derby’s head. The voluminous draperies of her dress define a thin and angular figure, with a long thin neck. At her feet is an open book: ‘Tabby’s Farewell to the Green Room’; near it is a torn paper: ‘Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady. How Lov’d how valued once avails thee not To whom Related or by whom Begot.’

A pad for inflating the figure lies across a stool (right). A ‘Genealogical Chart of British Nobility’ hangs from the dressing-table; the tree issues from the recumbent figure of ‘Willm Conqr’; on it lies a small-tooth comb beside which is an insect. Behind Miss Farren are the closed curtains of an ornate bed, whose valance is decorated with the cap of Libertas and the words ‘Vive la Egalite’. On the wall hangs a ‘Map of the Road from Strolling Lane to Derbyshire Peak’; the places, from S. to N., are: ‘Strolling Lane’, ‘Beggary Corner’, ‘Servility Place’, ‘Old Drury Common’, ‘Affectation Lane’, ‘Insolence Green’, ‘Fool-Catching Alley’, ‘Derbyshire Peak viz Devils Ar.’

A jewel-box, bottles, &c, are on the dressing-table, some inscribed: ‘Bloom de Ninon’, ‘For Bad Teeth’, ‘Cosmetick’, ‘For the Breath’. On the ground, under the valance of the table, is a large bottle of ‘Holland[s]‘. After the title: ‘”A Coronet! – O, bless my sweet little heart! – ah, it must be mine, now there’s nobody left to hinder! – and then – hey, for my Lady Nimminney-pimmenney!– O, Gemmini! – no more Straw-Beds in Barns; – no more scowling Managers! & Curtsying to a dirty Public! – but a Coronet upon my Coach; – Dashing at the Opera! – shining at the Court! – O dear! dear! what I shall come to!”


So it was that Miss Tittup lost a soubriquet but gained a coronet, and went on to give her husband a son and two daughters. The stage lost a fine comic actress – someone described by Horace Walpole as being one of the most perfect actresses he had ever seen. Even Sarah Siddons mourned the loss of “our comic muse” on the day she became Lady Derby.

Her husband was not actually quite the poisoned dwarf shown by the caricaturists. Here he is as Edward Smith-Stanley, otherwise known as the Right Honourable the Earl of Derby, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Privy Councillor.


He lent his name to horse races which still bear his name today – the Epsom Derby and the Kentucky Derby, to name but two. And The Oaks – named after his house.

Jul 062014

My ancestor Richard Hall clearly liked to be able to decipher his prescriptions. Mind you, he kept them for years and many of them have survived to this day. They mostly relate to his “nervous disposition” and stomach disorders. Here he sets out the Apothecaries’ Weights and Measures:

I had forgotten that a ‘scruple’ was an extremely small measure i.e. one twenty fourth part of an ounce (or twenty grains).

He also noted abbreviations used by the doctors when writing up the prescriptions which they gave him (big on prescriptions was Richard).

It would not be unfair to say that Richard “enjoyed ill health” and liked nothing more than confiding his illnesses to his diaries.

Mention of apothecaries gives me the opportunity to show one of my favourite satires involving the Duchess of Devonshire, entitled ‘The Devonshire Member to Restore a Lost Member’ (and I am not for one moment suggesting that my ancestor visited his apothecary with any such problem!) It appears courtesy of the British Museum site which goes on to explain:

“The interior of the shop of an apothecary or quack medicine vendor. Three persons have entered (left): the Duchess of Devonshire stands full-face offering the apothecary (right) a purse, while she holds out her right hand to Fox who stands beside and slightly behind her. She says, “His Tail restore, You shall have more”. The apothecary, standing in profile to the left, takes the purse saying, “My Famous Pills cure many Ills”. He is well dressed and wears a doctor’s tie-wig. Fox puts his left hand to his forehead with a distressed expression; under his foot is a paper inscribed ‘Dr Leakes Antivanerial Drops’. A lady standing behind Fox, her hands in a muff, says, “Oh poor Fox will Loose fits tail”. Behind the apothecary is the shop-window with a counter in front of it. On the counter are two small phials, each labelled Mr Fox, and a pill-box, besides glass jars. In the window are displayed glass bottles of various shapes filled with coloured liquids.  The duchess wears a ‘Fox’ favour in her hat which is trimmed with a fox’s brush and three ostrich feathers, worn as an emblem of the interest taken by the Prince of Wales in the (Westminster) election. Her companion (identified as Lady Duncannon, the Duchess’s sister ) wears a fox’s brush in her hat.”

Lovely caricature – rude, crude and lewd! Bring them on!