Jan 202016

Q1In April 1755 my ancestor Richard Hall took his horse and carriage up river to Chelsea, and visited Don Saltero’s coffee house. He records that he spent thirteen shillings there – an improbably large amount on coffee, and much more likely to reflect a purchase of one or more of the other items which “Don Saltero” offered for sale.

“Don Saltero” was an interesting character. His real name was John Salter but her fancied that being a “Don” gave him an air of Spanish mystery and he liked to pose as a sea captain back from foreign parts….

He had originally been trained as a barber and had then become valet to Sir Hans Slaone (the man famous for being the benefactor of some 71,000 items given to the newly formed British Museum). When Salter left his master’s employment he cadged a vast amount of bric-a-brac off Sir Hans, and used it to festoon his coffee shop, which he opened right by the River Thames in 1693.

Q2The coffee houses had by then developed as great centres of “intelligence” – where people could meet and discuss issues of the day, and share information about trade and so on. But the Salter Coffee House in Chelsea was something quite unlike any of its rivals! He attracted custom from naval officers who gave him other curiosities brought back from around the world and which Salter displayed in glass cabinets, or hung from the walls by the thousand. Visitors were not charged to see the “museum” but were expected to drink coffee or buy a catalogue for two pence. We know from the catalogues – and from the auction inventory when the contents were eventually sold in 1799, that Richard would have been able to see:

a curious model of our Saviour’s sepulchre, a Roman bishop’s crosier, antique coins and medals, minerals, fossils, antique fire-arms, curious birds, fishes, and other productions of nature, and a large collection of various antiquities and curiosities, glass-cases, &c”

Relics included:-

“King James’s coronation sword; King William’s coronation sword and shoes; Henry VIII.’s coat of mail, gloves, and spurs; Queen Elizabeth’s Prayer-book, stirrup, and strawberry dish; the Pope’s infallible candle; a set of beads, consecrated by Clement VII., made of the bones of St.Anthony of Padua; a piece of the royal oak; a petrified child, or the figure of death; a curious piece of metal, found in the ruins of Troy; a pair of Saxon stockings; William the Conqueror’s family sword; Oliver’s broad-sword; the King of Whiddaw’s staff; Bistreanier’s staff; a wooden shoe, put under the Speaker’s chair in James II’s time; the Emperor of Morocco’s tobacco pipe; a curious flea-trap; an Indian prince’s crown; a starved cat, found between the walls of Westminster Abbey when the east end was repaired; the jaws of a wild boar that was starved to death by his tusks growing inward; a frog, fifteen inches long, found in the Isle of Dogs; the Staffordshire almanack, used when the Danes were in England; the lance of Captain Tow How-Sham, king of the Darien Indians, with which he killed six Spaniards, and took a tooth out of each head, and put in his lance as a trophy of his valour; a coffin of state for a friar’s bones; a cockatrice serpent; a large snake, seventeen feet long, taken in a pigeon-house in Sumatra—it had in its belly fifteen fowls and five pigeons; a dolphin with a flying-fish at his mouth; a gargulet, that Indians used to cool their water with; a whistling arrow, which the Indians use when they would treat of peace; a negro boy’s cap, made of a rat-skin; Mary Queen of Scots’ pin-cushion; a purse made of a spider from Antigua; manna from Canaan; a jaw of a skate, with 500 teeth; the mermaid fish; the wild man of the woods; the flying bull’s head……”  

Richard must have been in his element at such a display – a veritable treasure trove of tat embellished with improbable claims, the walls festooned with exhibits. But to pay out thirteen shillings – that’s a lot of coffee! My guess is that he purchased some of the fossils on display, and his collection included these which he drew in meticulous detail.

Q3  Q4


Personally speaking, I just wish that he had instead bought William the Conqueror’s sword, but there you go. It must have been quite a sight, and for a man like Richard Hall, who loved natural curiosities, it was a visit which well-deserved its diary entry.

Jan 122016

Skaiting-dandies, shewing ofOK, so I have done Gillray and I have done Rowlandson: how about the lesser mortals who caricatured those intrepid skaters (or even, skaiters)? Again courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library, here is “Skaiting Dandies Shewing Off” drawn by Charles William and believed to have been published by Thomas Tegg in 1818. [As a complete aside, some time when I have nothing better to do I must look up when “shew” became “show”. I can just about remember a sign on the top of a double-decker bus (in the 1950’s) with a sign saying “Tickets must be shewn” but it was already archaic and seemed very strange – which is why I remember it to this day].

While The Ladies are wrapped up warm, a number of dandified males end up making complete asses of themselves, colliding into each others arms. A man in a topper is lacing on his skates while his friend is already executing something vaguely resembling a plie – no doubt to impress the watching females. The colliding males are saying “On Lord, how they are laughing at us!” Another man with splendid side burns remarks “What are you at there! You will put my wig out of Buckle” which garners the response “Pon my honor Sir, I beg pardon! You must thank the ladies” as they sink into a firm if unintended embrace.

Pleasing pastimeThe second caricature is entitled “Pleasing Pastime, or a Christmas Quadrille”. The man about to crash head-first through a hole in the ice grabs desperately at the skate of one of the men, causing him to lose balance. The other hand grabs the tail of the jacket of another man, who in turn flings out a hand and grabs the nose of a fourth intrepid skater. All four are destined for an icy bath…

It was published in 1826 by Thomas McLean and is described as being drawn by ‘A Frost’ (presumably Jack’s brother!). It gives a good idea of how the skate was tied onto the shoe, with three straps.

skateAnd finally, an altogether more elegant gentleman, drawn by M Egerton for print-maker Henry Pyall in 1825, and published by J Brooker. It is entitled  simply “Skate”. Mind you, if I saw the supercilious  blighter coming towards me I would try and knock his hat off. Rather like smug cyclists who ride their bikes with their hands in their pockets, as if to say “How clever I am – look, no hands!” Definitely deserve to be taken down a peg or two…

winterOK so it wasn’t ‘finally’. I end with an earlier style of engraving, actually dating from 1794 from publishers Robert Laurie and James Whittle. In a way it is much closer to the mezzotints produced by Carington Bowles  in the previous decade and shows a naval gentleman accompanying his girlfriend to a spot where they can observe the skaters. She may well be wrapped up warm with her cape and muff and ever-so-elegant hat, but her expression suggests that she would rather have stayed indoors. I like the costume worn by the little girl, playing with her dog.

Ah well, enough of ice and snow. Back to the warmth of a coal fire…

Jan 102016

As a follow-up to the post a couple of days ago featuring Gillray’s skating-themed etchings, I thought a Rowlandson would be appropriate. Except that it was actually made some years earlier than the Gillray, so I suppose it is a prequel rather than a follow-up…..

Cold Broth and  Calamity Rowlandson 1792It is called  “Cold broth and Calamity” and appears on the ever-useful Lewis Walpole site. Thomas Rowlandson drew the scene of various figures falling through the ice in 1792, and in that original form it appears on the British Museum site. It was published by S W Fores the same year, and it re-surfaced again as a published print in 1800.

Trying to match up the fallen skaters with their skates is not easy, but there are two figures in the foreground with three pairs of skates waving in the air. Beyond them two skaters come to the surface. In the background a parson is about to take a tumble, while his companion loses his wig and hat. There is even a tent pitched on the ice, and a small group of onlookers have gathered to observe the  icy scene.

Rowlandson used a pen with coloured inks to draw the picture, and it was  then used in subsequent satirical engravings. Ackermann included it in  1808 in his series ‘Miseries of human life’ but by that time a large woman was shown joining the parson as he is about to take a tumble, and an equally large woman joined the group of onlookers, horrified at the scene of  impending disaster unfolding before them.

It brings back vague memories of being at boarding school sixty years ago, near Petersfield in Hampshire, where a gang of us pushed an old car onto the ice and then had to scarper like mad when the ice began to crack. I imagine the car is still there at the bottom of the lake, rusting away….

Jan 082016

At that old  favourite the Lewis Walpole Library site I came across a lovely series of four prints entitled “Elements of skateing” published by Hannah Humphrey on 24th November 1805.

The first is sub-titled “A fundamental error in the art of skaiting”

112It reminds me of one time when I went skating on a first date with a girlfriend, and crashed into the professional skating teacher, sending her sprawling. It was only then that my date admitted to me that she was a member of the Olympic skating team – and that I had well and truly blown it in the romance stakes!

The second in the series is called “Making the most of a passing-friend, in case of an emergency!”

113The third one is “Attitude! attitude is every thing!” and shows the importance  of adopting a stylish pose:

114The last in the series is called “The consequence of going before the wind.” It combines that new-fangled invention the umbrella with the perils of ice skating:

116And to end with, Gillray’s “Fine bracing weather” from 1808, part of his group describing different weather conditions, and showing a happy if rotund gentleman whizzing along on skates.