Nov 302015

11I love this futuristic bit of nonsense dreamed up by William Heath and published by George Humphrey in January 1828, entitled ‘March of Intellect’. It is very much in line with the  crystal-ball-gazing etching of the same name, by the same artist, which I blogged about here, That one came out the following  year.

The print is full of fantastical ideas. The problem is knowing where to begin!

1213Top centre is an airship, held aloft by two giant balloons, raining fire down upon three ships sailing off the coast. To the right of it at the top we can see the suspension bridge linking Dover and Calais, above which a type of sleigh, held aloft by a balloon, heads straight for the moon.

                        15  16 (2)

18 - CopyBelow the space flight, another vehicle, apparently towed by flying geese, crosses the English Channel. Beneath them is the tunnel built under the English Channel. Clearly Mr Heath thought that the Channel Tunnel was a bad idea – the weight of a ship crossing the sea immediately above the tunnel causes it to collapse. Water floods in.

19Moving down to the centre of the picture is a dust cart pulled by a pair of asses. The postilion is riding one of the animals, rather than walking alongside it, while his companion sits atop the dustcart playing the cello…

12At the bottom right we have groups of interesting characters – a pair of liveried servants walk arm-in-arm, one of them smoking a preposterously large pipe. An old lady selling apples is too busy reading Byron to notice the hand of a small boy stretching up to steal one of the apples. A ballad singer is shown with her mouth wide open, strumming her guitar while belting out a song, while a small child stands by her side holding a parasol above his head.


v13To his left two people are squatting down to play a game of chess: one is perched on a big joint of beef, the other on a bag. Their dog runs off with a piece of meat. Behind the chess players is a gas lamp – no ordinary gas lamp this, which merely emits light.

14This one is like the sun – it gives out heat, rather like a garden heater. Handy at this time of year when the streets get a bit chilly….

15A woman wearing a ludicrous but fashionably large hat steps off the pavement into the road almost knee-deep in mud, presumably with a view to going over to look into the millinery shop window opposite, where another lady is already admiring the monstrous creations. A road sweeper walking along on stilts sweeps the detritus towards a small boy, who is half-buried in the dirt.

12Behind them the yellow coach, drawn by two horses, seems to be devoid of any human control. The coachman, glasses perched on his nose, has dropped the reins and is busy reading The Times while the footman stands at the back of the vehicle, deeply engrossed in perusing his book.

12 (2)Alongside the coach a man operates a windlass to draw seated passengers up a ramp to gain access to the upper floors of the shop – perhaps a fanciful take on the idea of an escalator.






13Beyond, a group of musicians are standing on the street corner singing lustily, playing the harp, and tootling away on the flute with the sheet-music displayed on a stand. Beyond them there are a number of steam-drawn vehicles, including a splendid bus carrying rows of soldiers, all sitting with their bayonets fixed. There is even a small kite-powered carriage disappearing into the distance…

14Fantastical yes, but it shows the confusion brought about by change. The whole world was being turned upside down by new inventions and discoveries. Power seemed endless, engineering feats could see no limits – and the social order was being turned on its head. Street urchins read music, servants forget their duties, no-one seems to ”know their place”. Come to think of it, the print does have a certain resonance with today ….

I am grateful to the British Museum both for the use of the image, which is their copyright, and for the detailed explanation of what is going on. I have simply paraphrased it and identified some of the details. Theirs is a great facility for tracking down caricatures, found here on-line.

Nov 192015

Regency coverI am delighted to see that The Illustrated Introduction to the Regency (a companion volume to the Illustrated Introduction to the Georgians) has now been published. It is an odd experience – I suppose it must be like film actors who do all the work on a new film, and then have to wait for months and months before the actual premiere. So it is with the launch of a new title – I wrote the words for the book and identified all the images (some seventy of them) months and months ago and handed the manuscript in to Amberley. A year later, suddenly, hey presto it’s out in print!

It was an interesting experience, because the book had to follow a set format in order to fit in with the series. The size and layout of the illustrations was largely pre-determined, and indeed I started off by selecting all the images, and then wrote the text around them. It was quite a struggle finding all the illustrations without incurring copyright fees, and as ever I am so very indebted to the wonderful Lewis Walpole Library at Yale University for the use of their images. The National Portrait Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Yale Center for British Art also came up trumps, and I was able to top these up with my own photographs as I toured around the country looking at Regency gems. Plenty of angled shots of The Royal Pavilion at Brighton, and of terraces at Bristol and Cheltenham, plus pictures of long-favoured antiques – simple and effective!

AIITR Vice roy lwl Prince Regent‘The Georgians’ came out a year ago, so it’s nice to have then both available in time for Christmas. I am especially pleased because ‘The ‘Regency’ volume is a co-authored project. My gorgeous wife Philippa co-wrote the book, doing all the work on etiquette, style and fashion, and it is rather good to see a collaborative project come to fruition. She has always been a Regency nut. Apparently when she was thirteen she changed her name to ‘Philippa’ – without her parents even knowing – because she felt it had more of a Regency ring to it than her given name. The Bishop made the change and it was registered before anyone knew. It was apparently a toss-up between either ‘Philippa’ or ‘Arabella’…..I blame it on Georgette Heyer and all those regency romances!

What goes in a book like this is very much a personal choice – I am bound to have missed out some things which readers would have liked to see. It is, as it says, merely an introduction and for that reason includes a list of places to go to, films to watch and books to see. I hope people like it as a readable, fun, introduction to one of the most intriguing periods of history. There is a lot about the Regent, Prince of Bling, but also about the changes which took place in the regency era. Hopefully it is short on battles and wars (already covered in ‘The Georgians’) which leaves more room for social history, inventions, dandies and style.

All in all it has been a busy 2015 – this is my third published title this year. Next year will see ‘In bed with the Georgians – Sex Scandal and Satire’ come to the shops. I can’t wait! Meanwhile there is a ninth book well under way. No title yet, but as a clue: it will be about the women in the eighteenth century who succeeded in a man’s world. You will be surprised how many there were. History remembers the male achievements (think Watt, Boulton, Wedgwood, Reynolds and Gainsborough et al.) but if you listen carefully enough, underneath the male cacophony there was a less strident, female, voice waiting to be heard.

The book will start with a quote from ‘The History Boys’, by Alan Bennett: “History is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men. What is history? History is women following behind with the bucket.”  

So my project is about the bucket, and the women who carried it … I am no feminist, and I see the project as a voyage of discovery: a penance for my male bigotry and ignorance. Watch this space!

Meanwhile, for anyone interested the new book on the Regency is available here for readers in the UK,  here on Kindle and here via  I do hope you enjoy reading it as much as my wife and I enjoyed writing it!

Nov 172015

The trial of the Duchess of Kingston (born Elizabeth Chudleigh in 1721) for the crime of bigamy was one of the sensations of the Georgian Age. The Press devoted endless column inches to the trial and its aftermath – to the lower orders it confirmed what they had always known: that their supposed social superiors were a load of lying degenerates. Even The Times was moved to comment in June 1788 that ‘Bigamy, it seems, is a greater crime than simple fornication or fashionable adultery.’

Elizabeth had risen from fairly humble origins – the family owned a small estate in Devon, but they were not wealthy. Her father had unwisely invested what family money there was (£1000) in South Sea Stock, and when the Bubble burst in 1720 he lost the lot. Her father died when he was only 38, leaving the five year old Elizabeth to be brought up in genteel poverty. Mother was forced to take in lodgers at her home in the newly-developed, but not yet fashionable, area of Mayfair in London.

1Elizabeth’s childhood seems to have involved little formal education. She was passed like a baton from the care of one country relation to another, until her mother used her friendship with the Earl of Bath to secure a position at Court for Elizabeth as maid of honour to Augusta, Princess of Wales. The year was 1743 and Elizabeth was 22. She desperately needed the annual sum of £200 which went with the position.

When she wanted to shock she could be coarse and vulgar. For instance, she developed a reputation for flatulence at the dinner table, and took repeated pleasure on blaming it on the dogs. She was however a popular figure at Court – vivacious, bright and witty. One day at Winchester Races she encountered a young naval officer called Augustus John Hervey. The two fell impetuously in love, and Hervey proposed marriage almost immediately. His prospects were not good – his salary was a paltry fifty pounds a year, and marriage would automatically mean that Elizabeth would have to abandon her position as Maid of Honour (since married ladies were no longer considered to be maids). More to the point he was about to leave on a two-year tour of duty. A long engagement might have been prudent, not least because it would reveal whether his prospects were ever likely to materialize. He was the second son of the Earl of Bristol but his elder brother was alive, albeit in bad health, and it was by no means certain that Augustus John would ever inherit either the title or the money which would go with it. But the headstrong couple rushed into marriage, deciding to keep it a secret from the outside world. That way, she kept her position at Court, and he was able to avoid the risk of alienating his family. The wedding took place at Lainston in Wiltshire, on 4 August 1744, and he left to join his squadron, en route to the West Indies, two days later.

When the time came for Hervey to return to England, he found that his bride had not exactly been pining away during his absence. She had developed a close friendship with James, Sixth Duke of Hamilton, and her flirtatious behaviour had attracted a host of other admirers, none of whom were aware of her marriage. Proposals from both the Duke of Hamilton and the Duke of Ancaster had been turned down. Hervey was shocked and appalled at her reputation, and the couple did not even meet up for three months. It appears that Elizabeth was keen to see that her debts were paid by Hervey, but not so keen to have to have anything else to do with him. According to later reports, Hervey engineered a private meeting at his apartments by threatening to go public about the marriage if Elizabeth refused to see him. She turned up, was locked inside, and in the words of the time “he would not permit her to retire without consenting to that commerce, delectable only when kindred souls melt into each other with the soft embrace.” In other words, he forced himself upon her. The report continued “The fruit of this meeting was the addition of a boy to the human race.”

This was in 1747. In order to conceal the pregnancy Elizabeth discreetly moved to Chelsea where she could have the child, away from the prying eyes and ears of the Court. But the child, a boy, only lived a few months. The couple agreed to separate a year after the birth, but, since the marriage was a secret, so was the news of the separation. From that point in time, Elizabeth could no longer look to Hervey for financial support and protection, leaving her in a most vulnerable position. Her impetuous behaviour and lack of decorum caused difficulties at Court – especially when she turned up at a masquerade ball at the end of April 1749, during the Jubilee celebrations of George II, wearing … virtually nothing.

Her fellow Maids of Honour were outraged at her bare-chested appearance. She went in the character of Iphigenia, who in Greek mythology was offered as a sacrifice to appease the gods offended by her father Agamemnon, and one of the guests remarked that she gave the appearance of being ‘so naked ye high Priest might easily inspect ye Entrails of ye Victim.’ As The Life and Memoirs of Elizabeth Chudleigh, published in 1788, put it:

“… it has been asserted this lady appeared in a shape of flesh-coloured silk so nicely and closely fitted to her body as to produce a perfect review of the unadorned mother of mankind, and that this fair representative of frailty … had contrived a method of giving as evident tokens of modesty, by binding her loins with a partial covering, or zone, of fig-leaves.”

The King was, as might be expected, far from disinterested in her appearance and as1ked if he might touch her breast, only to be met with the response that Elizabeth knew of something softer – and promptly placed the King’s hand on his head. His Royal Highness was enchanted by the near-naked nymph, and the gossip-mongers had a field day. Clearly she had the opportunity to become a royal mistress, but for Elizabeth this prospect did not feature in her long-term quest for security. Besides, the Hanoverian kings were notoriously parsimonious when it came to mistresses…
Instead she befriended the shy but rather well-connected Evelyn Pierrepont, Second Duke of  Kingston-upon-Hull. A cousin of Lord Bute (future Prime Minister) he was considered one of the most handsome men in England. Not for him the outrageous extravagances of Court – his interests were simple: fishing and cricket. Surprisingly, Elizabeth was happy to share these passions and by 1752 it was noted that the pair were an item. Their union meant that Elizabeth was able to spend money like water. A fine new house was built in London – called initially Chudleigh House, but later renamed Kingston House. Parties for their rich and influential friends were held, and Elizabeth was granted a fair amount of personal freedom, travelling on the continent, where she became a particular friend of the Electress of Saxony. When in England with the duke she was content to spend her time fishing and sharing his other interests – she reportedly even arranged a Ladies Cricket match in his honour.

The question of her marital status became an issue. Hervey had settled in England and wanted a divorce, which could only be obtained by a private Act of Parliament. Such a step would inevitably mean public gossip and adverse comments in parliament. If granted, the divorce would have meant that on any remarriage she would be seen to be “second hand goods”. Elizabeth therefore objected to the whole idea of a divorce and instead petitioned the Ecclesiastical Court for a declaration that she had never been married. The onus was on Hervey to prove that the marriage had taken place – but whereas servants were produced to say that they had heard of the wedding, no-one would testify that they had been present at the ceremony. Elizabeth swore blind that there was no such wedding. On 10th February 1769, sentence was pronounced, “that the said Elizabeth Chudleigh was and now is a Spinster, and free from all matrimonial contracts and espousals with the said Augustus John Hervey “ A month later, on her forty-eighth birthday, Elizabeth married the duke.

Oddly, polite society turned against the couple. Everyone knew that she had been married, and whereas it was one thing to be the Duke’s mistress, received at Court and by the great and the good, it was another to be seen as a flagrant bigamist. Elizabeth found herself shunned, and she and her husband retreated to their country estates. All was well for a few years, but the Duke suffered a series of strokes and died in 1763. Under his will, everything passed to his widow, on condition that she did not remarry. Enter the jealous relations, outraged at either having to wait, or worse still, having to be cut out of their inheritances altogether.

Elizabeth set out for the continent. She was received with the courtesies due to a duchess by the Pope, Clement XIV. Meanwhile, March 1775 saw her first, and therefore legal, husband succeed to the Earldom of Bristol, making her the Countess of Bristol. It was not a title she wished to be known by!

Later in 1775 she was forced to return to England because the Duke of Kingston’s nephew, Evelyn Meadows, brought proceedings against her based on the fact that she had married bigamously. He wanted to show that the Will should be set aside, either on the basis that there was no marriage, or that Elizabeth had used undue influence. In vain Elizabeth sought to have the hearing set aside by virtue of the earlier decision of the Ecclesiastical Court. In vain she tried to get George III to intervene, or to help her get the case transferred to the House of Lords. All this was duly reported in the papers of the day. Worse still, the actor play-wright Samuel Foote tried to put on a play called A Trip to Calais, in which the thinly disguised figure of the Duchess was represented by a coarse, avaricious woman named Kitty Crocodile. Foote’s purpose may have been no more than to extort money from Elizabeth – he reportedly turned up at her house and read aloud passages to the mortified lady, and demanded two thousand pounds in return for agreeing not to have the play published. By all accounts Elizabeth tried to outflank Foote by using her influence with the Lord Chamberlain, who was happy to have the play banned. Outraged, Foote took the story to the papers. Matters were made worse when Elizabeth responded to a letter written by Foote – he simply published the exchange of letters, which brought the entire saga out into the open. The whole story became public property.

1The bigamy trial in April 1776 was a sensation: Elizabeth was unwell and therefore escaped being locked up in the Tower prior to the trial. Instead, she was in effect put under house arrest. 350 tickets were printed granting entrance to the court – even Queen Charlotte turned up one day. The general consensus was that Elizabeth would be found guilty –and there was much conjecture as to whether she could be sent to a penal colony, given that Britain was by then at war with her American colonies.

Witnesses who had previously denied the wedding suddenly appeared out of the woodwork and agreed that they had been present at the ceremony. Others, who might have helped Elizabeth, simply declined to give evidence or went on long holidays abroad. The result was inevitable – she was found guilty, probably not helped by the fact that in 1759, before her bigamous union, she had taken the extraordinary step of registering the original marriage in the Parish Church at Lainston. Quite why she had done this was unclear – maybe it was a safety precaution in case the Duke did not marry her, perhaps she wanted to be able to fall back on the idea of being a Countess if and when Hervey became Earl. Whatever the reason, it hardly helped her case, although she personally addressed the court for three quarters of an hour. The decision of the Lords was unanimous – 119 peers took it in turns to give a verdict of guilty. Only her rank (i.e. as Countess of Bristol) spared her from imprisonment. Instead she fled to the continent, her fortune intact but her reputation in tatters.

1This cartoon, shown courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library, is entitled ‘Iphigenia’s late procession from Kingston to Bristol, by Chudleigh Meadows’ and shows the duchess in a voluminous gown entering the court, followed by three elegantly dressed Maids of Honour, a fat chaplain, her physician and finally by an apothecary carrying an enormous clyster or syringe. It alludes to the fact that as a result of the trial, Elizabeth progressed from being the Duchess of Kingston to being the Countess of Bristol. The speech bubble coming out of the mouth of the duchess reads “By God and…” – the opening words of her sworn statement before the earlier ecclesiastical court.

Within days, pamphlets giving lurid details of the trial appeared not just in London but across the country. One ran to thirty-two pages and was published by Joseph Harrop, printer and proprietor of the Manchester Mercury. He sold it for three pence, or offered it for free to subscribers of his newspaper. In effect it was the forerunner of the free supplements which accompany today’s gossip magazines.

The run-in with Samuel Foote led to a secondary scandal, which was to ruin the poor playwright. Elizabeth employed the Reverend William Jackson as her secretary. He wrote articles in the ’Public Ledger’ suggesting that Foote was a homosexual. Foote successfully sued for libel, but the Reverend, probably bankrolled by Elizabeth, and using the nom de plume of Humphrey Nettle, published a lengthy attack on Foote under the title of ‘Sodom and Onan.’ It contained a recognisable portrait of Foote, together with an illustration of a large naked foot. The satire attacked Foote as a sodomite, using language which was neither subtle nor appropriate for a man of the cloth. Foote responded by re-writing A Trip to Calais as The Capuchin, with William Jackson lampooned as Dr Viper. The bitter exchange of vitriol was followed by criminal charges being brought against Foote in late 1776. He appeared before the Kings Bench to answer allegations, made by his former footman John Sangster, that Foote had attempted to “commit an unnatural act upon his person” twice in May 1775. Lord Mansfield heard the case, and concluded that the whole thing was a conspiracy to blacken Foote’s character, and Foote was acquitted. But the damage had been done, and Foote died, a broken man, shortly afterwards. He was 57.

On the back of the bigamy trial the Meadows family sought to have the Will set aside. A suit in the Court of Chancery would inevitably take many years, and during this time Elizabeth drifted from one European court to another. To her great consternation, she was not an honoured guest at Maria Theresa’s court in Vienna, thanks in part to the intervention of the British Ambassador. She found greater favour at the court of the Russian Empress, and bought an extensive estate near St Petersburg which she named Chudleigh. She also had residences in Rome and in Paris, finally dying in the French capital in 1788, still legally the Countess of Bristol but denied the title of Duchess of Kingston. The Meadows family descended on her assets like vultures, reclaiming what they saw as rightfully theirs. News quickly crossed the Channel, and in death the bigamist Elizabeth became famous once more, with pamphlets and newspapers reviving public interest in her scandalous life. One book ran to 252 pages and bore the title “Authentic Particulars of the Life of the Late Duchess of Kingston During Her Connection with the Duke: Her Residence at Dresden, Vienna, St. Petersburgh, Paris and Several Other Courts of Europe, Also a Faithful Copy of Her Singular Will”

Was she a gold digger, a callous woman who lied through her teeth and enjoyed a status to which she had no entitlement? Or was she simply a woman who genuinely did not regard herself as being married (whatever the letter of the law) when she had spent so little time with Hervey as man and wife? Perhaps she had simply convinced herself that she was entitled to regard the order from the ecclesiastical court as binding. Having been raped by Hervey, who can blame her? Certainly she appears to have been a loving and devoted partner to the Duke – he was clearly the love of her life, and vice versa. In the event it did not really matter – the public were able to indulge their appetite for scandal, gossip and intrigue, and the case sums up much about Georgian attitudes and hypocrisy towards marriage, infidelity, the courts and money. As such, she earns her place in my forthcoming book, ‘Sex Scandal and Satire, in bed with the Georgians’.

Nov 112015

I came across this image on the Lewis Walpole site and thought it was worth sharing:chimney sweep lwl 1772

It is entitled ‘The Enterprizing Chimney Sweeper’ and carries the verse ‘ So fine a girl! you must belie her, would never let that sweep come nigh her. Or fine or not, the Thing was done And Kitty lik’d the Sweepers fun.’  The mezzotint appeared in 1772 and I love the idea of the grubby little urchin standing on tip-toes in order to get an embrace. It also features an interesting display of Eighteenth Century pots and pans, the pestle and mortar and so on.

It was of course  commonplace for the Master Sweep to employ young boys to scramble down the chimney to dislodge the soot – and it was a filthy job, often fulfilled by orphans. There was no safety equipment or protective clothing of any sort (traditionally the young sweeps would wear cast off costumes discarded by funeral undertakers, hence the tail coats and top hats associated with Victorian prints). Death and injury was not uncommon, with falling chimney stacks, or lads getting stuck in narrow flues. The worst abuses remained lawful until Lord Shaftesbury’s 1864 ‘Act for the Regulation of Chimney Sweepers’. Apparently a Bristol engineer called Joseph Glass  came up with the idea of brushing chimneys from the fireplace below using, malacca canes, imported from  the East Indies. It was all a great advance and rather more effective than the (alleged) medieval practice of stuffing a white goose down the chimney pot, its legs tied together, so that its flapping wings dislodged the soot. This gave rise to the saying ‘The blacker the goose the cleaner the flue’ – not exactly an oft-heard expression nowadays!

Sweeps have been regraded as ‘lucky’ for centuries, and kissing a sweep is said to ensure a happy marriage. Finally, to end with a delightful image of a trade card I found on the site for Ruchala Chimney Sweeping here.

chimney sweep miller_kerwood

Nov 062015

In a way this caricature by Richard Newton, published in August 1796 and shown courtesy of the British Museum, encapsulates the life of my ancestor Richard Hall: 

It is called ‘Contrasted Lovers’ and shows a young man (on the left) and an older version (on the right). The young swain looks at a miniature of his beloved, and utters the words:

 “Give me sweet nectar in a Kiss,

 And let me taste ambrosial bliss!”

On the right, the corpulent older man clutches a printed sheet headed “Wine Tax” (Pitt had raised the duty on wine by the equivalent of sixpence a bottle in April 1796) and for him the caption reads:

“Give me Nectar in a Glass

And as for Kissing – kiss my A….!”

Richard, as a young man in his mid-twenties, had fallen head-over-heels in love with Eleanor Seward, then aged 21. The daughter of a  self-made-man called Benjamin, who was a wealthy landowner, Eleanor was a real catch – attractive, young and immensely wealthy. And yes, his cash book notes that he had her portrait painted, and it is probably still held by my elusive second cousin, also called Richard Hall. Frustratingly, I have never seen it….

As a young man Richard was  a real lightweight in physical terms – he recorded his weight as being 112 pounds (eight stone) in 1757,  and when he weighed himself 32 years later he was not much heavier at 122  pounds. A gain of ten pounds over three decades is not bad, especially when you consider that Richard’s father tipped the scales at 168 pounds (12 stone). But over the years Richard continued to pile on the pounds and I have little doubt that he ballooned in weight in old age. His beloved first wife died, and I suspect that his second wife, Anna, was altogether more keen on good, solid, country cooking . And it is hard to escape the conclusion that the second attempt at matrimony was born out of economic common sense rather than ‘True Lurv.’

He ate huge quantities of chocolate (buying Chuchman’s chocolate at regular intervals) and consumed prodigious quantities of cheese (often recording purchases of cheese by the hundred weight!). And above all he consumed alcohol in large quantities. His diaries showed that he brewed beer and made cyder – and  drank wine by the bucket.

Port was sent down from London by the quarter pipe  (that is to say, some twelve dozen cases!) Richard made currant wine to supplement his stocks of alcohol and his diaries and accounts for 1797 showed that he was spending more than three times as much on wine as he spent on taxes!

Other facts point to a rotund  old age – the fact that he resorted to keeping a sedan chair to get around the village of Bourton on the Water suggested that he was none too mobile. He walked with a limp having broken his leg as a young man, and there are contemporary reports that the children would follow after him through the streets shouting “Hobbledy-Hall” – and then run away!  I can well imagine him resembling the portly figure on the right in Newton’s drawing…

Nov 012015

2 silverThis post owes everything to the information given to me by the award-winning author Lynne Connolly. As ‘Lynne Connolly’ she writes historical romance, and as ‘L.M. Connolly’ spicy contemporary and paranormal romance. From my point of view, her added significance is that she is a direct descendant of a most remarkable woman called Hester Bateman. Hester was not just a success in a man’s world, she is renowned as one of the greatest silversmiths of the eighteenth century. Hers is a most remarkable story and I am most grateful to Lynne for helping me tell it.

Bunhill Row today, showing houses just down from where Hester had her workshop

Bunhill Row today, showing houses just down the road from where Hester had her workshop

Hester (in all probability she dropped the ‘H’ in conversation and was known as ‘Ester’ within the family) was born in 1708, and was baptised on 7 October of that year. Her father’s name was either John Neden or John Needham and she appears to have had little formal education. It has been suggested that she was wholly illiterate, which makes her subsequent business success all the more astonishing. At the age of 24 she married a wire-maker and chain-maker called John Bateman and proceeded to bear him six children in a short period of time. This meant that when her husband died in 1760, probably of tuberculosis, she found herself at the age of 52 with half a dozen children to bring up, and a business in which she had had no formal training. Interestingly, John bequeathed the tools of his trade to his widow, suggesting that maybe she was already well-versed in the world of making silver. But Hester must have been a determined lady: she could have taken the easy option and have sold the business – probably not for very much, since gold chain makers were ten-a-penny, and once the stock had been sold there would have been little or no goodwill. Wire-making was one of those ‘background’ trades involving the drawing of silver through a narrow gauge to produce a thin wire. As the century progressed, more and more silversmiths used the output of people like John Bateman to supply ready-made panels of metal decoration which could be applied to other silver products. The skills of people like John Bateman were absorbed into a sort of mass production process – but it was an anonymous and not particularly well-paid skill.

5 hallmarkInstead of selling up, Hester decided to carry on the business on her own and to launch it in a completely new direction. Within months of her husband’s death she registered her initials ‘HB’ with the London Goldsmiths Company. This was on 16 April 1761 and the records show that she traded from 107 Bunhill Row.

3 caryThe actual premises no longer exist, but Bunhill Row appears on the left of the map by Cary dating from 1795. Little of the output from her workshop exists from the early years – quite possibly because she had yet to establish a name for herself and was reduced to selling her pieces to other silversmiths. They would then over-stamp the sponsors mark with their own. But what is clear that she moved the business away from making wire and chains and instead became a silver-smith, making items such as spoons, forks, tea pots and decorative objects. After 1774 she was joined in the business by two of her sons, Jonathan(1747-1791) and Peter(1740-1825). Hester continued to head the business until her retirement at the age of 82. She died four years later in 1794, but by then the dynasty was well established and involved her daughter-in-law Ann (married to Jonathan), their son William and grandson William II.

During the thirty-year period when Hester was at the helm the business developed into one of the most successful silver-smithing businesses in the country. Hester’s items are renowned for their neo-classical designs, often adorned with bright-cut engraving, and with beaded edges and piercing. Her mark appears on tea-pots, jugs, caddies and sauce boats. She made decorated wine labels and inkwells, she made salt cellars and mustard pots. Trays, salvers and a vast array of household goods were produced. All had one thing in common: Hester’s attention to design and her absolute dedication to quality. She may not have been able to read or write, but she certainly knew how to impose standards of excellence. Along the way she must have been able to pick up a knowledge of book-keeping and accounts because without this she would never have survived. The soaring price of silver ingots in the period when she was in business meant that she would have needed to have kept a close eye on stock levels, mark-ups and so on. She exploited the ‘added value’ which her skills could bring, and she quickly became highly respected in what was a somewhat closed world of male silver-smiths.

The family became experts at using the latest technology to roll thin-gauge strips of silver (useful in competing with the new process of making Sheffield plate). They were brilliant at machine-punching decorations through the metal, at hammering, raising, planishing, burnishing and engraving. The only thing they do not appear to have tried their hands at was casting (and hence no examples of cast silver candle sticks with the mark HB are known). The sons had their own separate maker’s marks (WB, PB JB etc) but it is the silver which carries the mark HB which is perhaps the most collectible of all. Indeed she is rated as one of the finest silversmiths of her generation – with good reason.

Photo by Fin Fahey

Photo of St Luke’s Church, by Fin Fahey

This remarkable woman was buried at St Luke’s Church, Old Street, London. Her legacy can be found in museums and galleries throughout the country. Her Verger’s Wand is apparently still in use at St Paul’s Cathedral, while examples of her work are found at the various Livery Companies in the City. She made her mark (literally) in a world dominated by men. As far as is known, she never left the very small area of London where she lived and died. She showed a gritty determination to succeed in a business where women were almost unknown, and all this despite an education which did little to prepare her for the challenges which she met and conquered.

Hats off to Hester – and a sincere ‘thanks’ to Lynne Connolly for bringing her to my attention.

Lynne’s next book is due to be published on 1 December and will be called Reckless in Pink, set in 1750’s London.  Her website is at

Finally, I am grateful to Daniel Bexfield Antiques (website here)  for some of the additional information about Hester and her family.

Silverware by Hester, shown courtesy of the Museum of Birmingham, with its neo-classical lines so reminiscent of Sheraton and Hepplewhite.

Silverware by Hester, shown courtesy of the Museum of Birmingham, with its neo-classical lines so reminiscent of Sheraton and Hepplewhite.