Mar 212015

scissor grinderA nice little Rowlandson drawing, similar to many other “Street Cries,” with the knife grinder setting up his gadget out in the street and going about his business, surrounded by a gaggle of females presumably bringing out their blunt blades. The grinder stands inside the frame, operating a foot treadle which turns the small wheel,  linked to the larger wheel, which in its turn is linked by a belt to the small grindstone. No ‘Elf and Safety’ to protect his hands, no goggles to stop sparks flying, no ear defenders to reduce the din! I gather that the saw-sharpeners made an even worse racket! The image appears courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art, where you can find an extensive selection of Rowlandson pen-and-inks.

It is a reminder that steel blades went blunt easily – here the knife-grinder is sharpening a kitchen chopping knife: before steak knives with serrated edges, putting a fine cutting edge on a knife blade would have greatly assisted anyone chewing on their T-bone steak, or doing battle with a tough piece of old mutton.

a Korean scissors a scissors Tang 618 907Scissors do not appear to have changed much over the centuries – these on the left are bronze, made in Korea over a thousand years ago, and appear courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The same site shows the ones on the right made of beaten silver and dating from the Tang Dynasty in China (618–907). You would not have sharpened those out in the street, but the designs are much the same as those used in the Georgian era. Below is a pair from the Ruby Lane Antiques site. They were described as being “Late 18th Century Primitive Handmade Wrought Iron Scissors Shears. Nice example of a high quality pair of blacksmith made shears dating circa 1750-1780. Scissor shears such as this were used for a variety of functions such as to cut various articles of cloth, but also could have been used in leather work as well. They were expertly crafted with the smith working pieces of straight iron into large finger loops. Note the early center rivet and thick blades. Some slight pitting due to age but the blades open freely”

a scisThe other type of shears, made from a single piece of iron twisted and then “sprung” were used for sheep shearing, by thatchers when roofing, and for cutting grass. I still have a pair, and they function perfectly well. These are a different pair, which I found on the Laurel Leaf Farm site. a shearApparently they are stamped with the mark of those well-known cutlers (and razor manufacturers) Wilkinsons, founded in 1772 by Henry Nock. According to Wikipedia the pivoted scissors  we are familiar with today were not manufactured in large numbers until 1761, when Robert Hinchcliffe produced the first pair  made of hardened and polished cast steel. He lived in Cheney Square London  and claimed to be the first person who put out a signboard proclaiming himself  “fine scissor manufacturer”. That is possibly the case, although  James Bernardeau was trading from Russell Court in 1738 with a sign featuring a selection of cut-throat razors, scissors – and a pistol.shears

And to end with, a caricature which appears on the Lewis Walpole Library site, published by S W Fores in 1788. It is called the Fighting Taylors and shows two tailors battling it out, scissors drawn. One has snipped off the nose of his opponent, the other has cut off his opponent’s ear. The seconds respectively hold a cucumber and a cabbage – a reference to the fact that tailors reputedly lived off cucumbers all summer, while ‘cabbage’ was the name given to left-over materials which they pilfered.The foreground is littered with cucumbers and cabbages.

a scissors

Mar 182015
Louis Bazalgette

Louis Bazalgette

There are times when I seem to be surrounded by members of the Bazalgette family: on Sunday evenings Edward Bazalgette is up there on my TV screen,with a credit as the director of Poldark; up until last year my pension was in the hands of Vivian Bazalgette; while his third cousin Sir Peter is Chair of the Arts Council. I am always reading about Sir Joseph William Bazalgette, the 19th-century English civil engineer who, as chief engineer of London’s Metropolitan Board of Works, put an end to ‘the Great Stink’. And now I have news of another Bazalgette, Edward’s brother, now living in Canada, called Charles. He has written a fascinating book about ‘the Daddy of them all’ – a man called Louis Bazalgette, but generally known as Prinny’s Taylor.

Charles has for many years been researching the life and times of his Georgian ancestor, in what has many parallels with my own research into my predecessor Richard Hall. But whereas my ancestor kept his head down and never troubled the scorers, Louis moved in exalted circles, becoming tailor to the Prince of Wales and making many of the costumes which Prinny so adored. The amount of research is astonishing, and the result is a book which has just come out in Kindle format. You can find it  here.

Author Charles Bazelgette

Author Charles Bazalgette

If you are looking for a complete overview of Regency History, this is not for you. Rather, it nibbles around the edges of the picture, giving snippets of information about the Prince of Wales, until it builds up a fascinating insight into his life and times. Sure, some of the details may be more relevant to members of the Bazalgette family – indeed Charles never originally intended this as a book for a wider audience – but I for one am delighted that he has persevered and  “put it out for all to see”.

Some of the information about Prinny and his wardrobe is quite astonishing – the sheer volume of orders, delivered daily, sometimes as many as a hundred in one month, and on one occasion with more than twenty items being ordered on a single day.

It is interesting to read Louis’ own technical description of garments made for the Prince, often delivered in person by the ever-available tailor on the morning of the actual ball (or whatever) and comparing it with the description of it in The Times, the very next day. The Prince was for ever ordering costumes for masquerades, at Carlton House, or military uniforms for parades at Brighton. He ordered outfits not just for himself but for members of his entourage (such as Colonel Hangar). And then generally failed to settle his debts…

And what debts – far more to his tailor than to anyone else! Charles lists the amounts owed to his ancestor in detail, based upon an examination of the records at the Royal and National Archives, and builds up a picture of the incredible extravagance of the Prince of Wales. In time of course Parliament coughed up, and Louis got his money, which he then seems to have lent (sometimes unwisely) to politicians, noblemen and West Indian plantation owners. This in turn led him and his executor to endless court battles as he sought to recover debts from defaulters.

 Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana

The Prince of Wales painted by Thomas Gainsborough in 1781. Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana

The book gives, as expected, the background as to how and when Louis came to this country from France. It gives great detail about individual costumes made for the Prince, and has a helpful appendix of tailoring terms. Indeed it would have made a wonderful fully-illustrated tome featuring surviving outfits, but alas, it is not to be. After George IV died his wardrobe of amazing costumes was sold off, generally at a fraction of their cost, and used as theatrical costumes, for fancy dress or stripped down to make other outfits. Hardly anything remains, and nothing which can be definitely pointed to as being “that was Louis’ work”. However his skills live on, in the portraits painted at the time. He was a man who shared the prince’s innermost secrets – after all, who gets closer to the future king than the man responsible for be-decking him in his finery? He must have been party to countless intrigues and royal secrets. In Prinny’s Taylor you get a great glimpse into the world of Carlton House and the Prince’s retreat in Brighton. It is a book for the connoisseur, perhaps destined never to appear in printed form, which would be a shame. Catch it while you can in electronic format – it is indeed fascinating.

aaacTo give it its full title, the book is called: Prinny’s Taylor: The Life and Times of Louis Bazalgette (1750-1830). As the blurb says: ‘The reason why Louis Bazalgette has been a shadowy figure until now is that the relationship between the two men was discreet and almost clandestine. This biography, based upon 20 years of painstaking research, presents a detailed picture of an extraordinary man, of humble origins, whose influence on gentlemen’s tailoring, and upon the Prince himself, must have been far-reaching..

To end with, three portraits of the portly Prince  in his finery – the first dating from 1816. It is by Henry Bone, after Sir Thomas Lawrence, and below it a miniature portrait of the smartly turned-out Prince as a young man, made by Richard Cosway in 1792, © National Portrait Gallery, London. The final image is of gorgeous George, in a portrait held by the Vatican. No tailor could have asked for more…

An 1816 portrait of the Prince Regent in all his finery, by Henry Bone (after Sir Thomas Lawrence).

The Prince of Wales, by Richard Cosway (private collection).    a geirge 4

Mar 142015

wax works visitMy ancestor’s diary entry recording a visit to Mrs Wright’s Waxworks in Chidley Court, Pall Mall.

Mrs Wright was an interesting character, and one who played a part in the American War of Independence. She was born into a particularly strict Quaker sect as Patience Lovell, in around 1725, probably on Long Island, New York. She was the fifth of nine daughters born to a farming family, and as a child she and her sisters apparently made model figurines out of clay and dough, which they then coloured and dressed in clothing.

aa Patience_WrightIn her twenties she ran away to Philadelphia and married Joseph Wright in 1748. She said of her husband that he had “nothing but age and money to recommend himself to her” but she bore him five children, one of them born after Joseph died. She then discovered that Joseph had left her (and the fifth child of whom he had no knowledge) virtually nothing in his will. She turned to her sister Rachel Lovell Wells for assistance. This sister had continued her childhood hobby of modelling and showed Patricia how to make life-sized sculptures in wax. These they exhibited in a travelling show, earning commissions to sculpt likenesses along the way. Eventually Patricia had her own permanent exhibition in New York, but a fire in 1771 destroyed most of the exhibits. With the help of her sister she re-stocked and opened in Boston, where she met Jane Mecom, who was the sister of Benjamin Franklin. Jane gave Patricia a letter of introduction to her brother, and Patricia came to England intending to use the connection as an entree into London society so that she could meet and sculpt prominent figures of the Age.


Portrait courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

London society flocked to have their likenesses made, including the King and Queen whom she addressed as ‘George’ and ‘Charlotte’ in true egalitarian fashion appropriate to a colonial! Well, she did until the King  withdrew his support for her when she became too strident in her support for the Americans in the War of Independence. But by then she was famous and crowds clamoured to see her models, often full size, because of their uncanny likeness and life-like qualities. Apparently her party piece was to install one of her models in a reception room and then wait for people to realize that they were talking to a dummy!  Walpole welcomed her into his circle of friends, calling her ‘the artistress’

By all accounts she was no great oil painting, with sallow complexion and masculine features, but she soon became famous for her quick wit and coarse language. Not everyone liked her – the outspoken Abigail Adams, who later became the First Lady when her husband John became the second President of the United States (and a woman well known for a choice ‘bon mot’) succinctly  called her “the Queen of sluts.”

A London newspaper of the day reported that “the ingenious Mrs. Wright, whose Skill in taking Likeness, expressing the Passions, and many curious Devices in Wax Work, has deservedly recommended her to public Notice.” Another described her as ‘Promethean’ and another as ‘the American Sybil’ because of her almost magical ability in seeming to catch the soul of the sitter. She made models of royalty, the nobility, scientists and politicians – and on her own admission would secrete plans and overheard gossip about British plans for America and its preparations for war, and put them inside the wax models before shipping them Stateside to her sister.

In 1780 her daughter Phoebe married the English painter John Hoppner, and in the same year her son Joseph Wright (not to be confused with his namesake who chose to be known by the epithet  ‘Joseph Wright of Derby’) had his first picture exhibited at the Royal Academy. It showed his mother, apparently making a wax effigy of the head of Charles 1st immediately prior to his execution, while casting a meaningful glance at portraits of King George III and his wife Queen Charlotte in the background. That didn’t go down too well, and Mrs Wright hurried off to Paris to escape the fuss engendered by the portrait, taking her son in tow. Both made likenesses of Benjamin Franklin and after the war was over Joseph headed back to America to paint the portraits of the new leaders. His mother longed to follow but first of all returned to London in 1782. To her dismay she was no longer in demand, and people dismissed her as mad or bad, or possibly both. She made enquiries to see if her help as an informant, i.e. in passing on British plans, might be rewarded with a gift of a small piece of land back in her homeland. She also wrote to George Washington and gained his approval for the idea of her making a model of him. But alas for poor Patience it was not to be: she had a bad fall after visiting the American Embassy, and died in London on February 25th 1786.

aa Patience_Wright-William_Pitt-1779Very few of her wax models survived her, but there is this one of William Pitt the Elder, full-sized, still on display in Westminster Abbey. There is a likeness of Admiral Howe  attributed to her, made in about 1770, and held in the Newark Museum.

We may never know the truth about her espionage activities, but she was certainly well-connected as a result of her link to Benjamin Franklin: who is to say what indiscretions passed the lips of politicians and military men as they sat before her, while she moulded and scraped the warm wax which she kept covered by her apron?








The wall plaque in Patience Wright’s home town of Bordentown, New Jersey.

Mar 102015

I always look forward to getting the latest catalogue through from Hampton Antiques, because there are some wonderful and often original items to look at. As usual I drool over their apothecary’s box, complete with all the tools of the trade, and boxes containing all manner of goodies. But I think the item which most caught my eye in the current catalogue was  this watch box, dating from around 1815, in the shape of a castle turret. To me it is the epitome of High Regency – ornate to the point of being flashy, beautifully crafted, and of course highly functional.az1

It is only five inches high; the lid has a bone handle and can be lifted out in order to access the watch, and the whole thing is beautifully decorated with pen-work. I love it, so if anyone has a spare  £695 now is the chance for you to make me extremely jealous!



Mar 052015

a George 3

The GeorgiansFollowing on from the publication of ‘An Illustrated Introduction to the Georgians’ I have been asked to co-author ‘An Illustrated Introduction to the Regency’  jointly with Philippa Sutcliffe. She just happens to be my wife, so it means that she gets lumbered with doing the research while I sit back and write what I am told….. well, that’s the theory!

But it does mean that we have the incentive to visit all sorts of Regency venues as part of the research – places such as the fine Regency terraces in Cheltenham, or Royal York Crescent in Bristol, or the splendid Soane Museum in London, about which I will blog separately. But best of all it gave us the incentive to visit Brighton and to go round the Royal Pavilion, and it really is ‘something else’!

Rather than visit Weymouth with his sanctimonious prig of a father (George III) the fun-loving Prince of Wales preferred to shack up with his rakish uncle at Brighton. For ‘fun-loving’, read whoring, drinking and gambling. So when the PoW entered into a form of marriage with the twice-widowed (and Catholic) Maria Fitzherbert he already knew Brighton well, and would escape there to get away from the prying eyes of the King and his courtiers. There are some lovely caricatures of the Prince belting along the London-Brighton road, mistress in tow.

    A Trip to Brighton, or, the P- and his reduced household retiring for the summer season, shown courtesy of the British Museum

The Prince and Mrs Fitzherbert in  a 1786 cartoon by William Dent, and  shown courtesy of the British Museum. The head-bands of the emaciated horses are inscribed ‘Whim’ and’ Caprice’, and inside the coach Mrs Fitzherbert reads a book called Principles of Oeconomy.” The plume of feathers is upside down, reflecting the parlous state of the Prince’s finances.

The companion to this was ‘Return from Brighton, or A journey to town for the winter season’ and was also by William Dent, published in 1789. Louis Weltje still controls the lead horse, but this time it is a coach and four, and Fox follows on the second pair, propelled by bellows with the words ‘Motion for Increase of Income’. Atop the coach sits George Hangar, still with a shillelagh under his arm,  but this time he is holding plans for finishing off Carlton House. The fortunes of the Prince are on the up  – and his plume of feathers is shown the correct way up. Intriguingly, the first print shows Maria with a pile of  bed-linen for a child,and on their return she is shown with a baby in tow. This would appear to echo rumours circulating at the time that the Prince had fathered a child by Maria – rumours which  continued for many years. The Prince, meanwhile, looks at a paper marked ‘Town Amusements.’ This caricature is on the  excellent Lewis Walpole Library site.

a george 7

a GeorgeWhen he was in Brighton, the PoW was able to indulge his love of horse riding by building a most impressive stable building, capable of housing fifty or sixty horses. As someone remarked at the time, the horses lived in rather more comfort than the Prince and his party, who stayed in a small farmhouse. But the Prince had ideas to build a suitable magnificent retreat. Initially he commissioned Henry Holland to come up with a building in the neo-classical style, but all that changed when  he opted for something really way over the top, a building based loosely on designs for Indian palaces from a couple of centuries earlier. Drawings showing Indian palaces had started to circulate in the last two decades of the Eighteenth Century, and influenced architects such as John Nash. He came up with ever-grander plans, reflecting the change of status as the PoW moved from Prince to Regent to King. What is more, the new King seemed to regard himself as being on a par with the great Chinese emperors, so to him it was entirely appropriate that this Indian-inspired edifice (from the outside) should be filled on the inside not with Indian furniture but with chinoiserie. Loads of it, preferably heavily gilded, and hopelessly over-the-top. Here was a man for whom bling could have been invented. Amazing ceilings bedecked with flying dragons, ornate chandeliers, elaborate ‘bamboo’ furniture made out of mahogany and painted to look like bamboo,  and rooms large enough to impress a multitude – they all are concentrated into one building in the centre of Brighton, just back from the sea-front.

a George 4‘The court at Brighton a la Chinese!!’ by George Cruikshank, 1816, showing the corpulent George IV as a Chinese emperor, attended by courtiers. On the King’s right sits Lady Hertford, mistress to the King until 1819, and on his left his daughter, who is suggesting that she should be married off ‘to a China man instead of getting me a husband among our German cousins’. It appears courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library.*

I rather like the idea that whereas George IV fancied himself as a sort of Far-Eastern emperor, what the public saw was a corpulent old roué who treated his wife abominably, and spent tax-payers’ money as if there were no tomorrow. If they saw His Royal Fatness (well, his waist did come to around fifty inches….) they laughed. So, to avoid the gaze of the Common Man, the King ordered a tunnel to be constructed leading from the Pavilion to his stables so that he could go riding without being seen. Later, as he got older, the journey down to Brighton got a bit too much for the King, so he retreated to Windsor and became something of a recluse. When he died (1830) it left his brother William to finish off the Pavilion, but of course when William IV died Queen Victoria took one look at it (well, two to be more accurate) and decided that it simply Would Not Do. So she stripped out the usable furniture, and sold the Pavilion to the local authority. For Victoria, it was pointless being so near the sea and yet too far away to see it from the main rooms, and also it was a bit of a bachelor-pad, not really suited to her married status. Besides, the Pavilion is in effect an island, surrounded by roads, which meant that she couldn’t set foot outside of its grounds without being gawped at. Oh, the hardships of being royal…

The Banqueting Hall, in a painting form the 1820's  shown courtesy of the British Museum

The Banqueting Hall, in a painting from the 1820’s shown courtesy of the British Museum, and showing the immense chandelier dangling from an ornate dragon.

a George 2Anyway, it is well worth a visit, as long as you can avoid Brighton’s appalling traffic. I went on a Saturday and spent over one hour crawling the four miles from the outskirts of town  through to the sea-front. I am sure that there are short-cuts for those in the know, but for those of us who simply follow the SatNav and have to wait for every temporary set of traffic lights, and endless road-works, it is a nightmare! And when you arrive, parking is difficult, so next time, I will go by train…



* I assume that the figure of a native woman on a pedestal, shown above the portrait of Lady Hertford, represents  Saartjie Baartman, known at the time as “The Hottentot Venus”.  She spent some years traveling in Britain and later in France, being exhibited in what was in effect a freak show, amidst great interest on account of her prominent buttocks. The poor woman died in 1815. Brief details appear here.