Apr 222016
James Cox's trade card, courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

James Cox’s trade card, courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

My ancestor Richard Hall was fascinated by automata, particularly those marvelous exhibits to be found at Cox’s Museum in Spring Gardens. I still have his catalogue of the various exhibits, such as life-sized tigers made of solid silver studded with rubies and other precious stones. Seeing these figures sway from side to side must have been a wondrous experience.


The Bowes Museum silver swan with machinery by J J Merlin

The Bowes Museum silver swan with machinery by J J Merlin


The swan with its amazing articulated neck

The swan with its amazing articulated neck








You can still sense the amazing and complicated machinery if you visit Bowes Castle and see the famous silver swan – one of the few surviving exhibits from Cox’s Museum. Most of the other exhibits would have been melted down when James Cox went bankrupt and his stock failed to find a buyer at auction. The actual machinery for jjmerlinthe swan (and there are three separate machine parts) was made by my favourite Georgian entrepreneur J J Merlin, about whom I have blogged previously. He was a wonderful and indefatigable inventor and clock-maker, and I am sure that Richard Hall would have gasped in amazement at some of his pieces as they twirled, twisted and moved, often to music.

Anyway, I am reminded of this because I received notification of a forthcoming sale in Geneva by Sotheby’s. I was sent notification of it by Enfilade the online serial newspaper for Historians of Eighteenth Century Art and Architecture. The news snippets are great at drawing attention to books, exhibitions and so on, and they can be followed on Twitter using @Enfilade_HECAA

clockThe auction is next month (May 14) and doubtless if I had a spare half a million dollars to spare I would put in a bid for the star of the show, a magnificent piece of musical automata dating from the 1820s. It is a clock which HECAA describe as being a “stunning object (which) proudly showcases the very finest of Swiss craftsmanship: its external appearance combines exquisite design and detail, while its inner mechanics represent the most advanced horological complications of the age. The bird cage features two charming singing birds as well as a captivating butterfly. Thanks to three automaton mechanisms, the elements combine to form a delightful scene filled with movement and music.” What’s not to like?

Pedro Reiser, head of Sotheby’s watch division in Geneva says “This wonderful automaton is a rare find—all the more exceptional because it features an automated butterfly. Records suggest that only one other double-bird cage clock with an automaton butterfly is currently known. We are delighted to be able to present this exquisite creation, which would be equally at home in the collection of a connoisseur or in a museum.”

According to the HECAA report “Inside the rectangular cage are two singing birds, which jump from one perch to another, opening and closing their beaks alongside an animated fountain. The fountain is topped by a beautiful butterfly, whose hand-painted wings move as it turns within the cage. The mechanism articulating these delicate movements, built in brass and steel, are ingeniously concealed inside the lower section of the cage. The birdsong, mimicking canaries and nightingales, is reproduced by a combination of bellows, whistles and cams, enabled by an intricate fusee-and-chain mechanism. This feat of horological complexity can be attributed to a highly accomplished craftsman, Jean-David Maillardet  from La Chaux-de-Fonds.”

perpetual motionMaillardet died on 15 November 1834 , at the age of  86 years; like Merlin he worked on a number of “perpetual motion” clocks, such as this one alongside. Along with his uncle Henri, the Maillardet’s were working in London in the 1790s and came up with some wonderful moving figures. I gather that the most famous are  the large magician and the small magician, which can still be admired in the International Museum of Clock Making in La Chaux-de-Fonds (Switzerland).

magicianThe Sotheby’s catalogue states that “The music box, which is concealed inside the base of this striking piece, plays three melodies which are triggered on the passing of each hour or on demand. The mechanism triggers brass cylinders, which in turn vibrate the 93 blades of the clavier, or the ‘comb’. The clavier is signed ‘C. F. Nardin’ for Charles-Frédéric Nardin from La Chaux-de-Fonds”

It does rather look to me that the place to visit is La Chaux-de-Fonds – next time I can engineer a visit to Switzerland I will make a point of visiting the museum!

Apr 192016

Today I am delighted to hand over the reins of the blog to Sarah Murden and Joanne Major, who have just brought out a long-awaited biography on the life of one of the most fascinating courtesans of the Georgian era. So, Sarah and Joanne, take it away …


1 book cover frontGrace Dalrymple Elliott (c.1754-1823) is best remembered to history as a courtesan after her divorce from Dr (later Sir) John Eliot (she was first the mistress of the Earl of Cholmondeley, then the duc d’Orléans and finally the Prince of Wales who was reputed to be the father of her child) and also from her experiences as a prisoner in France during the Revolution. However, her notoriety belied her true self and we hope our biography on Grace and her family will finally give a true picture of her life.

Her maternal family has lain largely hidden from view and it was a thrill when we unlocked Grace’s ancestry to discover that so many more members of her family had experienced adventures too, and we couldn’t help but document them alongside Grace.

It’s a long forgotten fact that Grace’s maternal aunt, Robinaiana, had achieved what Grace herself failed to – she had gone from being the mistress of an earl to being his countess. After bearing several children to Charles Mordaunt, 4th Earl of Peterborough, they finally married and she bore him two more children. One of the escapades of Grace’s Mordaunt cousins mentioned in our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliot ended in disaster.

Having read Mike’s post about George Pocock and his splendid Charvolant, we thought you might enjoy this story about Robinaiana’s sons Henry and Charles Mordaunt, who would definitely have benefitted by some assistance from George Pocock!

Henry Mordaunt, born before his parents’ marriage and therefore ineligible to inherit the earldom, was sent to India to make his fortune as an officer in the East India Company’s army. Whilst home on a visit from India he had borrowed and overturned a coach belonging to his younger brother during an escapade to Portsmouth in the snow with his friend, the memoirist William Hickey (who fortunately left behind an account of their adventures).

William Hickey by William Thomas, oil on canvas, 1819

William Hickey by William Thomas, oil on canvas, 1819

The younger brother and owner of the coach, Charles Henry, had been born after the 4th Earl had married Robinaiana and, as the only legitimate son, he had succeeded to the earldom after his father’s death in 1779, around eighteen months before this coaching contretemps. For Henry, it was something of a bitter pill to swallow seeing his younger brother inherit and knowing it was denied to him because of an accident of birth and he did, perhaps understandably, have a bit of a chip on his shoulder.

The overturned coach could not be repaired and, around March 1781, John Hatchett of Long Acre was contracted by the young earl to build a replacement. The whole project seems to be a fine example of a young gentleman about town with far more money than good sense, and it provides us with a glimpse into the character of Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s cousin, the new Lord Peterborough.

 John Hatchett, Master of the Coachmakers Company

John Hatchett, Master of the Coachmakers Company

John Hatchett was responsible for the principal improvements in carriages in London between 1770 and 1790. However, although carriages intended for use on the Continent were built to be stronger than those destined for use in England, as the condition of the roads abroad meant that six horses needed to be used to pull the carriage instead of the usual two used at home, adding extra and unnecessary weight was totally impracticable. Though he was advised against it for that very reason, Charles seems to have set out to build what sounds like a very early version of a Gypsy Vardo or travelling caravan, albeit a very elegant and sumptuous one.

Hickey and Henry Mordaunt visited the coach maker to view their progress:

In size it was nearly, if not full as large as the Lord Mayor of London’s state carriage. It accommodated three persons on each side with superabundant room. In the centre there drew up from the bottom, by springs, a table, sufficiently large to dine six persons comfortably. Under the floor were all the requisite apparatus of saucepans, gridiron, &c., for cooking, likewise knives, forks, plates, dishes and other articles of a sideboard. Beneath the seats complete bedding for four persons was stowed, which, when wanted for use, were taken out and placed upon a frame, crossways, four capital beds being made ready in five minutes. In a projection from the back of the body of the carriage and the same forward was ample stowage for wines and all sorts of liquors, handsome cut glass bottles of various sizes being secured in fixed frames, so that no motion, short of an absolute upset, could injure or derange them. In short, this stupendous vehicle was a moving house, having in and about it every convenience appertaining to a mansion. It was finished in point of workmanship and decorations in the highest manner, the Peterborough arms and heraldic ornaments being painted in a style of taste and with a delicacy that did the artist infinite credit.

5 Miseries of Human Life Lewis Walpole LibraryThe young Earl’s object in building so uncommon a vehicle was to ensure for himself every common comfort when travelling upon the Continent, especially through Italy, where by woeful experience he knew the inns were execrable, abounding in dirt and filth, the beds swarming with bugs, fleas and vermin of every description… [William Hickey] asked the coach maker whether he did not apprehend its extraordinary weight might prove so serious as to render it useless, to which the mechanic candidly replied, “Undoubtedly it will, sir. Its weight is an insuperable impediment to its ever being of any real use, much less that for which it is intended, for no number of horses that could be attached together in harness would ever be able to drag it along the dreadful roads of Italy, Germany and many parts of France and so I have taken the liberty of telling his Lordship over and over again since this carriage has been in hand and although I am convinced his own good sense satisfied him of the truth of what I said, he insisted upon my completing the work.

Mr Hatchetts Capital House in Long Acre

Mr Hatchetts Capital House in Long Acre

Whilst Henry and his companion Hickey were at the coachbuilders, Lord Peterborough arrived. He acknowledged the mechanic’s opinion of his coach, agreed that he would probably never be able to use it in the way he first intended, but had no regrets as, “it certainly has been a source of much amusement to me and my friends whilst building.” He offered the carriage to his brother Henry, should it not prove up to travel on the Continent, as, in his opinion, it would suit Henry and his Oriental ‘sultanas’ very well.  More money than sense would certainly seem to be an apt description of the young 5th Earl of Peterborough who had no other object than his own pleasure and entertainment in view.

6 The baron on his voyage to Africa

For more information on Grace’s life and her wider family see An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott available from our publisher Pen and Sword, Amazon and all good bookshops.

You can also visit us at www.georgianera.wordpress.com where we blog about anything and everything to do with the Georgian era.

Apr 112016
Thomas Rowlandson's The Comforts of Bath

Thomas Rowlandson’s The Comforts of Bath

This week My Dear Lady Wife goes into hospital for a hip replacement operation – hopefully it will give her back some of the mobility lost in recent years. Anyway, it got me thinking about 18th century methods of getting broken bones to “knit”. In this context it is worth mentioning that my ancestor Richard Hall broke his leg when he was 22, jumping a ditch and falling awkwardly. The newspaper carried a report of the injury, with an article in the London Evening Penny Post for Monday September 9th 1751 recording:


The resulting injury left Richard in periodic pain for the rest of his life, and caused him to limp. As an old man, he recalls “being follow’d around the village while the boys called out “Hobbledee-Hall”. He doubtless pretended to object and wave his cane at them, since he used a crutch, finding it a hardship to stand still. This is his record of paying out three shillings and sixpence for  the “crutch cane”


Richard’s own library gives an interesting insight into the way a broken limb was treated. Rather like someone today buying The Readers Digest Book of Home Medicine, Richard bought Dr Buchan’s Domestic Medicine when the Second Edition came out in 1785. It has the following advice:

“WHEN a large bone is broken, the patient’s diet ought, in all respects, to be the same as in an inflammatory fever. He should likewise be kept quiet and cool, and his body open by emollient clysters, or, if these cannot be conveniently administered, by food that is of an opening quality; as stewed prunes, apples boiled in milk, boiled spinage, and the like.

IT will generally be necessary to bleed the patient immediately after a fracture, especially if he be young, of a full habit, or has, at the same time, received any bruise or contusion. This operation should not only be performed soon after the accident happens, but if the patient be very feverish, it may be repeated next day.

IF any of the large bones which support the body are broken, the patient must keep his bed for several weeks. It is by no means necessary, however, that he should lie all that time upon his back. This situation sinks the spirits, galls and frets the patient’s skin, and renders him very uneasy. After the second week he may be gently raised up, and may sit several hours, supported by a bed-chair, or the like, which will greatly relieve him. Great care, however, must be taken in raising him up, and laying him down, that he make no exertions himself, otherwise the action of the muscles may pull the bone out of its place.

IT is of great importance to keep the patient dry and clean while in this situation. By neglecting this, he is often so galled and excoriated, that he is forced to keep shifting places for ease. I have known a fractured thigh-bone, after it had laid straight for above a fortnight, displaced by this means, and continue bent for life, in spite of all that could be done.

IT has been customary when a bone was broken, to keep the limb for five or six weeks continually upon the stretch, But this is a bad posture. It is both uneasy to the patient, and unfavourable to the cure.

THE best situation is to keep the limb a little bent. This is the posture into which every animal puts its limbs when it goes to rest, and in which fewest muscles are upon the stretch. It is easily effected by either laying the patient upon his side, or making the bed so as to favour this position of the limb.

ALL that art can do towards the cure of a broken bone, is to lay it perfectly straight, and to keep it quite easy. All tight bandages do hurt. They had much better be wanting altogether. A great many of the bad consequences which succeed to fractured bones are owing to tight bandages. This is one of the ways in which the excess of art, or rather the abuse of it, does more mischief than would be occasioned by the want of it. Some of the most sudden cures of broken bones which were ever known, happened where no bandages were applied at all. Some method however must be taken to keep the member steady; but this may be done many ways without bracing it with a tight bandage.

THE best method of retention is by two or more splints made of leather or pasteboard. These, if moistened before they be applied, soon assume the shape of the included member, and are sufficient, by the assistance of a very slight bandage, for all the purposes of retention.”

Anatomia Pathologique du corps Humain, book 2 (1835–1842) by J. Cruveilhier a representation of a dislocated femur

Anatomia Pathologique du corps Humain, book 2 (1835–1842) by J. Cruveilhier
a representation of a dislocated femur

So, we can assume that Richard was fed his diet of prunes, bled with leeches, made to lie on his side, and wrapped in wet leather and told to lie still for six weeks. Try telling that to a 22 year old! More about Richard can of course be found in The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman.


As for my wife, I am hopeful that she will spend three days in hospital (and this being Spain, I stay in hospital with her) and she should then be able to walk and manage stairs. No wet leather bandages, no prunes, and hopefully no leeches … medicine has certainly progressed over the past 250 years!

I am aware that leeches have made a bit of a comeback in recent years – and I can remember that the old family doctor who looked after me as a child used to tell me stories about how in the 1920s he would prescribe leeches. You got them from the local pharmacy, and you paid according to when they had last been fed. The hungrier they were the more expensive it was to hire them! After use, you would then return them to the pharmacy ready for the next patient….

RH4                                    Image courtesy of Bamfords, auctioneers.

Apr 042016


NPG D9009; Philip Astley after Unknown artist248 years ago today, my hero Philip Astley opened the first circus premises in a field at Halfpenny Hatch in Lambeth. Within months this amazing ex-Army equestrian was  pulling in the crowds – and the money. His story, of how he introduced a mass-appeal show which crossed all social boundaries and which appealed to young and old alike,  is told in my book “Astley’s Circus – the story of an English Hussar”. It is a story of dogged determination, extraordinary showmanship – and not a wild animal in sight!

In two years time it will be the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of this important event – and I look forward to seeing what can be done to promote the occasion. I am including a talk about Astley in the group of talks on life in the 18th century which I will be giving on board Fred. Olsen’s “Boudicca” later this year, and he is the subject of a number of other talks I will be giving next year.

Circus book coverLast week it was the turn  of the Club for Acts and Actors (who have a particular interest in the origins of the British Music Hall) – so, let’s hear it for Philip Astley, entrepreneur, entertainer and equestrian. A great man…