Oct 302014

a2I have previously shown this lovely Rowlandson sketch of the good doctor undergoing a course of cupping, apparently to alleviate the symptoms of bruising. I assume the doctor in question was Dr Syntax and that he had a bruised backside from spending too long in the saddle. Numb bum time! I love the indignity of the naked old man being subjected to pain while being administered to by half a dozen onlookers, most of them female!

It reminded me to look out a blog I did a couple of years ago when I used Posterous (thank you WordPress, all is forgiven!)

a1Cupping, as shown on Gwyneth Paltrow´s back when she attended a New York film premiere in 2004, has been around for many hundreds of years. While the treatment may cause unpleasant looking blisters and skin discolouration these effects are short lived. It is thought that the cupping procedure helps reduce stress and pain. The person doing the cupping places small heated glass bowls – in this case across the back – and the heat causes a vacuum leading to the skin swelling. It apparently leads to increased blood flow and all sorts of beneficial results.The picture appeared on the BBC website using an image supplied by LFI (sorry, I cannot identify where credit is due any more than that).

While modern sceptics may dismiss it as an alternative medicine without proven results the fact remains that it has been popular for centuries, way before Richard notes it in his diary for 7th December 1768 where he records:

“Cupped at the Bagnio,  Newgate Street, 3/6d”

Richard would needed to have known which bagnios were respectable. In theory they were simply hot-water baths open to the public but in practice the term was often a euphemism for a brothel! Choose the wrong bagnio and you might catch something rather worse than blisters!

Bagnio scene, courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

“A Bagnio scene, with a white legg’d Chicken coaxking an old Dotard” courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library


18th Century medicine seems to have relished causing blisters, and then piercing them “to remove toxins”. On one occasion Richard had toothache and the doctor inserted a small dried pea behind his ear (as one does).  After a day or two the side of Richard´s head would no doubt have swollen with the irritation; the pea was removed; the fluid drained and hey presto the toothache was expected to have disappeared!

In practice I suspect that Richard felt such a huge relief at no longer having the irritant behind his ear that he completely forgot about his other aches and pains…

If you are interested in other quack remedies and treatments do have a look at the Journal of a Georgian Gentleman – there are a number of cures and recipes dotted around in the book and in particular in the appendices. Meanwhile I am busy researching bagnios as part of the background to “Sex Scandal and Satire – in bed with the Georgians” – since much of the  action seems to have been based there!

To end with, a drawing of ladies drumming up business outside the Turks Head Bagnio, shown courtesy of the Library of Congress. I love the detail in the drawing, with the fire plate for the Union Fire Office, and the cat symbolically sitting on the upstairs window ledge…



Oct 252014

avavavaIdly leafing through back-numbers of The Gentleman’s Magazine (as one does) I came across this obituary from November 1787:







I rather like the idea of William Elliott living to 93, and recording that his happiest times were when he was a beggar. It reminded me of the lovely portrait by Nathaniel Hone The Elder of a beggar (by the name of James Turner). Interesting though that Elliott not only ran a Lottery Office – but was also a lottery winner… £10,000 would have been more than three quarters of a million pounds in modern terms.

Mind you, he had quite a life – running a distillery; eating chicken for five years while  marooned a la Robinson Crusoe; getting a job as a strolling player; becoming a quack doctor; dealing in horses; ending up as a porter. Not many people get to try quite so many careers – you cannot say that the Eighteenth Century didn’t provide opportunities for entrepreneurship and  a change of job!

Oct 182014

I like the simplicity of this Rowlandson print from 1802, entitled The Concert. The caption above the old man, deafened by the cacophony around him, reads “Musick has Charms to soothe the savage Breast, to soften Rocks and bend the knotted Oak.”

It appears on the Lewis Walpole Library site and is a typical Rowlandson depiction of the anguished old man, the overweight wife, her musically inclined daughters – and the howling dog. The boy on the right, hammering out a drum rhythm, is sitting on a pile of books including Dr Burney’s Musical Travels.

Sixty years earlier Hogarth had published The Enraged Musician – although in that case the a”proper” musician is indoors listening to the noisy din of street musicians and the general populace ouside his open window.

Quite apart from the  man playing the hautboy, the drummer and the barking dog, notice the knife grinder, the young girl with a rattle, the urinating boy dragging a  slate on a piece of string so that it clatters along the street, the wailing cats on the roof line, the dustman with a basket on his back ringing a handbell, while a sow-gelder is blowing his horn, and a fishmonger shouts his wares.

Clearly influenced by Hogarth, Isaac Cruikshank has this variation on the same theme:

An Enraged Politician or the Sunday Reformer … Crying Stinking Fish

This satirizes the Lord’s Day Observance zealot Lord Belmont, here deploring the noise made by Sunday street-sellers outside his window, even as he ignores the equal noise made by the fashionable rout in the house opposite.

I think we can take it that life in the Eighteenth Century was never quiet, whether indoors or out!

Oct 102014

In researching  interesting characters for my forthcoming book: ‘ Sex Scandal and Satire – In bed with the Georgians’ I came across Augustus FitzRoy, third Duke of Grafton. He was mad about horses, in particular the races on Newmarket Heath, and was also very keen on hunting. Unfortunately for him, these passions were not shared with his wife Anne. She just liked playing cards. And gambling, which she did with a singular lack of success over quite a few years.

Once she had done the obligatory ‘ heir  and a spare’  bit – plus giving him a daughter Georgiana – she realized that she had nothing in common with the Duke, who by then was a Privy Councillor. He in turn took to bringing various hookers home for supper, including the notorious courtesan Nancy Parsons. Indeed he went further, and used Nancy as a piece of arm-candy when he went to the opera. Society may have been shocked, but not half as much as his wife. She told him that she hated him, so he chucked her out and installed Nancy in her place, holding dinner parties and conducting his social life in public without a care in the world. And this from a man who, in 1768, was to become Prime Minister – an office he filled with a total lack of talent. Poor man, he was utterly out of his depth, grappling with problems such as those Revolting Americans, or the even more repellent John Wilkes.

The Press had a field day, and he was shown in the “Histories of the tête-à-tête annexed” in the Town and Country magazine, with Nancy Parsons described as ‘The Female Pilot’. It appears courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library.


The denizens of Grub Street heaped scorn upon the Duke – not least  ‘Junius’ who immortalized the Duke in his poem entitled  ‘Harry and Nan’. The poor chap never recovered from the onslaught, and stood down from the premiership in under two years, gave up politics altogether and became a devout Unitarian.

His wife meanwhile, embarked on a somewhat public affair with the Duke of Portland, who subsequently rather let her down by announcing that he was getting engaged to another lady, but apparently had forgotten to mention it to Anne. She then flounced off with the Earl of Upper Ossary, and immediately got pregnant by him. The Duke of Grafton was not amused, and divorced her via a Private Act of Parliament. To his credit the Earl of Ossary stood by her, and three days after the divorce came through he whisked her off to get a special licence. Having married, she appears to have found a measure of happiness in rural retirement from public life. She had more children, and then entered into a long and fascinating correspondence with Horace Walpole. Some 455 letters from him have survived – although, oddly, only one or two of her replies. They give a wonderful picture of how Walpole viewed the world around him.

2aReturning to the Duke of Grafton: he decided that he wouldn’t make an honest woman of Nancy Parsons – so she went off in a huff and became the wife of Viscount Maynard. Instead the Duke married Elizabeth Wrottesley – a woman much more to his liking. She too was into horses in a Big Way, and was parodied as the ‘Female Turf  Macaroni’ in a 1771 caricature by M Darly (also shown courtesy of the lovely Lewis Walpole Library). She had a dozen children by the Duke, of whom eight reached adulthood.

I rather like the portrait of her done by Thomas Gainsborough. It is apparently in a private collection and, as indicated, cannot be used for commercial purposes – so it won’t be appearing in my book! I like the luminous quality and the details of the lace – and it certainly makes her appear rather more attractive than the Darly caricature suggests!


Besides, from what I can see Elizabeth Wrottesley behaved herself admirably, albeit rather boringly, so she shall have no place in my story of sex and scandal in the 18th Century. Now Nancy, she will probably have a chapter all to herself, she really was a bit of a go-er….

Oct 042014

“Mountebank” ( n):   A charlatan.

According to Wikipedia (and we all know that to be the fount of all knowledge don’t we, boys and girls) the word apparently comes from the Italian phrase monta in banco – literally referring to the action of a seller of dubious medicines getting up on a bench to address his audience of potential customers. I looked it up on account of the variant spelling in this seventeenth century  image of a “Mountabanck or charlatan” by the Dutch artist Marcellus Laroon:a3

Charlatans appearing to turn glass into diamonds,  or quacks promoting spurious cures (“snake oil salesmen”) or mountebacks promising great fortune were obviously a feature of street life in the Georgian era. I came across this snippet from the London Gazette 26 October 1776:


I hadn’t come across the phrase “plate lottery” before but I assume it related to a form of unregulated raffle where people purchased the chance of winning some trinket or bauble – in this case a pair of ear-rings worth no more than five or six shillings.  Apparently it was not uncommon for minor lotteries to be based upon silver plate and jewellery or even, on occasion, books.

I love the splendidly Biblical description of “these locusts, who prey upon the vitals of the unwary.” What is remarkable is how successful the guy was – the article refers to “immense sums”  which he had accumulated with his fraudulent money-raising scheme, as evidenced by the fact that he was able to pay the fine of fifty pounds – the equivalent of several thousand pounds in modern money.

Extract from Giovanni Michele Graneri's Village Market Scene with Quack

Extract from Giovanni Michele Graneri’s Village Market Scene with Quack

Nowadays our man would be selling fake Rolex watches, or operating in a fairground booth, offering a prize of a giant teddy bear to anyone buying a winning ticket – of which none had been printed. Nothing changes – only that most modern mountebanks seem to make their money by offering on-line fake medicines, based in countries where “locusts preying upon the vitals of the unwary” appear to be immune from prosecution. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!

Now, where did I put my snake oil…




Oct 012014

October 1st sees the end of the need for cars on British roads to exhibit a current Vehicle Excise Duty Tax Receipt (in other words a tax disc) on the windscreen. An army of spy cameras in police cars and on motorway bridges will instead monitor us as we go about our driving day, to see that we have paid our taxes… Big Brother is well and truly Out There, and he has you in his sights…

Much is made of the fact that the duty was introduced in 1921 – certainly that is when it was made compulsory on all vehicles with an internal combustion engine.

Courtesy of Jerry "Woody" on flickr

Courtesy of Jerry “Woody” on flickr

I am not sure if steam cars have ever been caught, but no doubt someone will know. I suspect so, as they would have come within the definition of “mechanically propelled”. In any event Excise Duty has been around to cover vehicles for rather longer than 95 years – even longer than the other date given for when Vehicle Excise duty was introduced, namely 1889.

H M Customs and Excise had begun experimenting with levying a charge on vehicles – horse drawn that is – way back in the mid-1700’s as a specific means of trying to reduce congestion in and around London Bridge. These were desperate times, with the bridge representing the main if not only crossing over the Thames. 100,000 people a day converged on the old bridge, swearing and cursing at the higgledy-piggledy shops and houses jutting out into the carriageway, fuming at the bottlenecks caused by the old medieval gates, and experiencing frustrating delays as Kentish cattle drivers tried to get their animals into the meat market at Smithfield.

The authorities did have an early attempt at charging a toll – but  that caused even greater delays as people queued to pay the fee. They even introduced the weird concept of traffic “lanes” so that traffic kept to the left, so as to lessen the congestion as people met oncoming traffic. The trouble was that the road simply wasn’t wide enough for two separate lanes – but it did give rise to the present  problem we have where the French, and so many other foreigners, insist on driving on the right. I say: we got there first; and the left is where we drive. Think how much simpler it would be if the cars of the world all obeyed the same arrangement! Mind you, the earlier chaos when there was no “side” at all reminds me of when I went cycling in Xian, the Chinese city where the Terracotta Warriors are situated. The entire population, millions of them, were all trying to cross town at the same time, with no lane sense whatsoever. I literally could not fall off the bike because the crowds were so dense. “Thick” might be a better word – there was no attempt whatsoever to keep in lane, and it gave some idea of the frustration which people must have had when crossing London Bridge.

The authorities then tried to tax local users to dissuade them from keeping their horse drawn carriages in the crowded vicinity of the bridge. In other words, taxation has been used for a long time to penalize vehicle owners. As a method of cutting down on congestion it was probably not very effective – if you lived in the area you had very little choice: you paid your tax, and just added it to your business overheads.


Well, that was what happened to my ancestor Francis Hall – Richard, about whom I wrote The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman – was only 18 at the time. Dad went out and paid two pounds and got a receipt from the Tax Office, and stuffed in in his bottom drawer. Years passed, and Richard decided to keep his two-wheeled carriage near the old bridge, next to the house he had built at One London Bridge. By then the  tinkerers at the Customs and Excise had tweaked the fee to a more reasonable half a guinea (ten shillings and sixpence). Richard paid up, got his receipt – and promptly turned it over and used it as his shopping list for when he next ventured out to his version of Lidl’s. Well, no  that isn’t right, he would have been a Waitrose man, if ever there was one….

So, farewell tax disc. It is a shame it isn’t also farewell to the concept of taxing motorists through the nose, of trying to avoid congestion by imposing financial penalties, but there you go.

P.S. I gather that collectors of old tax discs are called VELologists (Vehicle Excise Licence – ologists). Sad old bastards might be a better name. I am proud to be amongst that number – and my aged VW bears testament to this, with its plastic wallet on the windscreen bulging with out-of-date tax discs.

P.P.S.  No, I have not given a list of those vehicles which are exempt from paying the road tax, such as low emission and electric cars, or special vehicles for the disabled – this is not a public announcement or a mouthpiece for Her Maj’s Customs and Excise! I reserve the right to be as biased and unhelpful as possible at all times.