May 272016

1 dukeofyork_Picture the scene 222 years ago this month: a contingent of many  thousands of men, led by the second son of his illustrious majesty King George III, look out across the flat landscape of Flanders near the village of Tourcoing. Lille was a few miles away. It is May 1794 and the British forces have combined with forces led by Prince Josias of Saxe-Coburg to make up an army  72,000 strong. The Austrians are the dominant partner in the alliance, and they decide to split their forces into six columns, and to divide and surround the French.

The British force consisted of eight battalions, six squadrons, and presumably they had all turned up for work that day thinking it was going to be the usual thing – fire a few cannon, defeat the French, and come home to a heroes welcome a la Marlborough.

Only it didn’t quite turn out like that. The outnumbered French forces, led by Joseph Southam in the absence of the usual commander Pichegru, outflanked the coalition armies. Well, we were not very good at speaking to each other, no-one seemed to know what they should be doing, half the troops were kept in reserve and weren’t used, and the result was that the French were victorious, we lost rather a lot of soldiers – and the Duke of York narrowly escaped capture by fleeing across a river. Allied losses amounted to 4000 killed or seriously wounded, with 1500 taken prisoner, while the French lost 3000.  As many as 50 of our  guns were captured…. so we all came home to lick our wounds.

Windmills and troops: the Battle of Tourcoing

Windmills and troops: the Battle of Tourcoing

As minor battles go it was nothing very special – although it did mark the beginning of the withdrawal of the allied forces from Flanders, and led to French supremacy throughout continental Europe. Oh, and Hilaire Belloc  wrote a book about it. We remember the occasion, if not the actual battle which was spread out over many square miles of territory, because of a nursery rhyme. The event may or may not have been true – there is apparently a “hill” of sorts near Tourcoing, where the town of Cassel is situated, all of  570 feet above sea level.  but in all likelihood the song had been in circulation for many years, and the name of the “Duke of York” was substituted for some earlier poor general.

Richard Tarlton, Elizabethan clown

Richard Tarlton, Elizabethan clown

This is borne out by the fact that a song appeared in print back in 1642 under the title of “Old Tarlton’s Song. Tarlton was a well known clown in the second half of the sixteenth century, and his version ran:

“The King of France with forty thousand men,
Came up a hill and so came downe againe”

Other versions give the leader as Napoleon – or some attribute the vacillating and humiliating  action to James II (a former Duke of York) who marched his troops across Salisbury Plain in 1688 and then retreated in the face of the invasion by William of Orange. Whatever – it is a form of ridicule which has stuck, and Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, (1763–1827) will just have to live with it! So, boys and girls, take it away!



Oh, the Grand Duke of York

He had ten thousand men

He marched them up to the top of the hill

And he marched them down again.

And when they were up, they were up.

And when they were down, they were down.

And when they were only half way up

They were neither up nor down.

May 242016

caddy 1I make no apology for ‘plugging’ the website of what used to be Hamptons Antiques – now simply known as “Mark Goodger” – because some of the items really are of amazing quality. I think that this pair of tea caddies, decorated with Etruscan motifs by the doyen of 18th century japanners, Henry Clay, is a case in point.

caddy 2  caddy 3





Henry Clay specialised in decorating papier mache items, from trays to table ware, from knife boxes and dressing cases to small pieces of japanned furniture. He was originally based in Birmingham but moved to London and established a workshop at 18 King Street in Covent Garden, where he attracted a variety of royal and aristocratic clients. Eventually he was given no less a title than ‘Japanner in Ordinary to His Majesty and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales’. One of the clients was Robert Child of Osterley. This gentleman was able to indulge his passion for fine things because in 1763 he became head of the family bank – Child & Co – and received an income of £30,000 for his troubles. Osterley Park, in Isleworth, was the estate which he inherited from his brother, and he had it extensively re-modelled by the architect Robert Adam. An inventory of 1782 specifically mentions ‘a Pembroke table richly Japanned by Clay’ on which this pair of tea caddies would have stood.

Osterley Park House, courtesy of the National Trust.

Osterley Park House, courtesy of the National Trust.

It is extraordinary how the precise history of the caddies can be traced – the table itself was designed for the Etruscan Dressing Room, and is still on display. The caddies remained in the family until Osterley Park was given to the National Trust in 1949 by George Child Villiers, 9th Earl of Jersey.  At the same time, he gave his sister, Lady Joan Child Villiers, this beautiful pair of caddies. Lucky lady, I say. For the last thirty years they have belonged to an avid collector of tea caddies, and have recently come onto the market. They really are exquisite.

caddy 4The Mark Goodger website describes the pair as being “A rare pair of George III papier mache oval tea caddies, attributed to Henry Clay. Decorated using the grisaille method, with classical figures in the Etruscan style. Each caddy is decorated with bands of classical anthemions, one has a chevron pattern, the other a floral decoration on the lid. This was done purposely, probably to enable the caddies’ owners to distinguish which caddy contained green or black tea. Each features a solid silver handle stamped “HC”, bearing the assay office mark for Birmingham. The gilt metal-rimmed tops open to reveal tin foil lined interiors, which retain their original silver-handled floating lids.”

GrisailleA quick look online tells me that the ‘grisaille method’ is a classic style of decorating using nine shades of gray  – well, anything from white through to black, with everything in between – to give a monochrome effect. And if you don’t believe me,  this shows all nine of the variations.

The caddies were made in around 1790 and stand four and a half inches tall. And if I had rather a lot of money to spare (I am afraid you need £16,000, with postage on top…) they would be sitting on my dining room sideboard faster than you could blink…

May 172016
A Lying in Visit, or a Short Sighted Mistake, by Thomas Rowlandson

A Lying in Visit, or a Short Sighted Mistake, by Thomas Rowlandson

I came across this lovely Rowlandson on the ever-helpful Lewis Walpole Library site. The gushingly effusive visitor mistakes the man-servant for the nurse, and the coal scuttle for the carry-cot, and exclaims : “O You pretty creature! – bless the dear baby, how it smiles give it to me Nurse – it has exactly its papa’s nose & mamma’s eyes. O it is a delightful little Creature.”

It reminds me of the story of my father (not the most observant of souls) visiting my mother on the maternity ward the day I was born. He apparently remarked that my facial features were not very well defined – and it had to be pointed out to him that he was looking not at my face but at the back of my head. Worse was to follow: when I was turned around to face my esteemed parent he got the shock of his life – no-one had warned him that I looked like a were-wolf. Being an overdue baby I was born with a totally hair-covered visage. It sloughed off after a day or two, but it must have been a startling sight.

Besides, I am quite sure that Dad would not have been able to tell the difference between a coal scuttle and a crib, just as with Rowlandson’s visitor. He never quite adjusted to the fact that he expected me to be a girl. He wrote to my mother from Burma (sorry, I know I should call it Myanmar, but I won’t) a few months earlier to say that he “hoped that the child would be named Sarah Jane”. I still have the letter – I came across it after my parents died. Up until then I had never quite appreciated what a disappointment I must have been to my dear old Dad!

Reverting to the eighteenth century, a traditional lying-in period would have been a whole month, starting the day after the woman gave birth. During that period female acquaintances would call round, partake of  biscuits and tea, and make the appropriate ooh-ing and ahh-ing sounds. No doubt the menfolk would slope off to the pub round the corner and have a quick pint. At the end of the month the new mother would arise from her bed and  face the world – but, of course, only after the baby had been presented in church.

In due course I must do some research into the Lying-in Hospital – an eighteenth century charity for married women. Richard Hall’s son William Seward Hall was appointed secretary of the charity in the 1790s, and no doubt would have attended functions such as the one  referred to in this invitation, shown courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library:

lwlpr28145As the name of the charity suggested, it was only intended to benefit married women. Single women who had the misfortune to get pregnant would not have been able to avail themselves of the services of such a hospital – a reminder that charity and need do not always go hand-in-hand.

The Rowlandson print shown at the start was published by S.W. Fores in 1792 and a reduced version was re-printed in 1806. I think it is rather nice to see that people making non-sensical comments about beautiful babies has been going on for centuries. Not that anyone thought to say that about me….

May 092016

Dennis Severs' HouseOne of the most extraordinary museums I have ever visited was the highly evocative house of Dennis Severs at 18 Folgate Street in London. Each room is unique, and reflects the fact that the 18th Century occupier of that particular room has just popped out for a break. The low lighting, the sounds, the smells are all done to re-create a perfect Georgian atmosphere. Visitors go round in small, silent groups, so no coach parties of children, no flocks of foreign tourists with motor-driven cameras a-whirring, just you and a few other lucky people tip-toeing through history.

This June sees some unique joint visits to Dennis Severs’ House and the Museum of Immigration at 19 Princelet Street. The latter reflects the wave after wave of immigrants into the Spitalfields area, not just with the silk weaving Huguenots, but others right up until the 20th Century. And let’s face it, most of us come from families who were immigrants at one time or another. “Immigrants” just mean that people have yet to be assimilated into the melting pot. My lot were Anglo-Saxon immigrants. Anyway, the museum reflects all the diverse immigration waves over recent centuries and is one of those places where “the walls talk”. The joint venture is interesting because up until now it has been almost impossible to visit both museums on the same day – because of their very limited (and often conflicting) opening hours.

The first part, consisting of a tour of 18 Folgate Street, is to be followed by a short walk to Princelet Street and a tour around what has been described as ‘one of the most charismatic, moving, beautiful places in all London’. Apparently the joint tour is designed to take an hour and three quarters. Tours are at midday and at one p.m. and will be run on various days between 7th June and 25th June.

More information can be obtained via the website at  It sounds an interesting experience, and one I highly recommend if you are in London in June.

May 012016

I thought that for a change I would simply list some of the expenses incurred by my ancestor in 1774, so as to show how different items have changed in cost in relative terms over the intervening years. Some are hard to compare – as with “charitable donations”. My ancestor gave one penny per head to each of the 126 children in the local school, every Valentine’s Day. He also gave three sailors, begging, six pence each. It is a reminder that when the country was not at war large numbers of sailors were laid off, scant reward for risking life and limb in the service of His Majesty.

The Distressed Sailor, by S W Fores

A Distressed Sailor, by S W Fores

For a poor woman who broke her leg he gave the not inconsiderable sum of five shillings, the same as he gave a local farmer called Giles Lawrence who had got into financial difficulties, and who was saving up to buy a new horse.  Another poor farmer, called Mr Bings, called round with a petition and was given one and sixpence, while a genteel beggar who was “raising money to publish his life story” was rewarded with a shilling for his initiative. He paid an annual subscription to Gloucester Royal Infirmary of a guinea, and when poor John Philips lost his house in a fire he stumped up five shillings towards the cost of  renting alternative accommodation. Another local, John Charlicot “who had been long afflicted” was paid half a guinea. For some reason he took pity on young Tidmarsh from Great Rissington when he was discharged from Gloucester prison, and gave him a shilling, the same as he gave a “poor man, ship burnt at sea.” The postman got a Christmas Box of a shilling, the same amount as was given to the local boys, who received a donation  for the bonfire on November 5th.

Guy Fawkes night at Windsor Castle, 1776, via Wikipedia

Guy Fawkes night at Windsor Castle, 1776, via Wikipedia

Closer to home, in November my ancestor paid two shillings for a couple of widgeons, and two days later one and sixpence for a woodcock. Later that month he fancied “a side and shoulder of  fine doe venison” and forked out five shillings to the butcher for his pains. He also paid him one shilling a seven pence for two pounds of sausages, much the same price as he paid for a brace of rabbits. A hare set him back two bob, the same price as it cost him to acquire two wild ducks for the dinner table. A barrel of oysters came to three shillings and sixpence whereas 25lbs of sugar came to fourteen shillings and sevenpence (ie sevenpence a pound weight). Loaf sugar came in slightly cheaper at sixpence a pound. He was able to buy six Banbury cakes for a shilling – the same price as he paid for figs. He bought prodigious quantities of cheese – on one occasion bringing home eighteen  cheeses weighing a total of 239lbs. That set him back £3.14.3, “to include two sage cheeses”.

Clothing was  an important item. That year he forked out £5.0.6 for embroidered stockings, four shillings and sixpence for  dyeing a gown, and  one shilling and tenpence for a pair of rabbit gloves. Doeskin gloves were three times that price. A pair of shoes cost him six shillings and sixpence, whereas “soling and heeling” came to one shilling and ninepence. He paid  six shillings and sixpence for three pairs of worsted hose, and a whopping three guineas for three yards of superfine Pompadour cloth for his wife. Making it up was another £2.14.0. A set of black shoe buckles cost sixpence, and a set of plain buttons twopence.

Repairs included “bottoming two chairs and mending several” for half a crown, knife grinding was sixpence and cleaning watches five shillings. When he broke the neck of a smelling bottle it set him back half a crown to mend it. He was happy to pay eleven shillings for five days paper-hanging  (nice red flock wall paper in the best bedroom!).

When he bought a new horse (black, three years old) it cost him £21.0.0. It meant having his saddle altered – and so another shilling changed hands. He also paid out ten pounds for “a cow, five years old, with a week-old calf”. He happily paid Will Lawrence a shilling for catching moles, whereas his daughter Sarah got paid a piece-rate  and earned herself three shillings and ninepence (that is: threepence a mole).

Mole shown courtesy of

Mole shown courtesy of

He paid sixteen shillings each for two pigs, bought off Mr Herbert. He obviously believed in using “live” scare crows and was happy to pay fivepence a day to deter the birds from eating the new crop in the Harp i.e. the big field at the back of the house. Mr Cox was rewarded for pruning his fruit trees to the tune of  5/3d.

Wages for the farm-hands were derisory: John Twining and William Hyett each got eight pounds a year “with victuals”, plus a roof over their heads. Sarah Clifford, who lived-in as housemaid, got four pounds a year plus her victuals. The servants generally got handed down clothing, plus the cost of getting the garments altered to fit.

Mr Brewer the coach maker was paid £17.3.6. for a new conveyance, and greasing the wheels of the said chaise set him back a shilling. It occasionally needed repairing, as in August 1774 when he paid out two shillings for “mending the iron stay of the chaise”.

travel 3One of Richard Hall’s paper cut outs of his horse-drawn carriage.

Unfortunately my ancestor never listed the cost of individual meals, so I am left wondering what he paid for his Sunday lunch on 17 November 1775. It consisted of a mouth-watering and fine “whole cod, some greens, potatoes, aunts pudding, a leg of mutton some pigs fry (? mmm, not sure, maybe bacon?) apple pie, puffs and a couple of ducks with sauces”

I think we can take it that my ancestor ate well, drank well, lived well – and paid his staff a pittance. That was life in the eighteenth century…