Jun 272016
The Haymarket Theatre in 1815, before it was rebuilt o the design of John Nash

The Haymarket Theatre in 1815, before it was rebuilt to the design of John Nash

Visiting the Haymarket Theatre in London was not an especially good idea on 3rd February 1794 – particularly if you had anything to do with the College of Arms. The fact that the King, His Majesty George III, was making a visit that evening may have warned those wishing to attend the performance that there was likely to be a crowd, anxious to see the King. But for the Somerset and York Heralds (respectively, John Charles Brooke and Benjamin Pingo) it was a night neither would forget – or remember, come to that. Both were to die in the crush of eager onlookers, anxious to make their way to the Pit to listen to such masterpieces as ‘My Grandmother’ ‘The Prize’  and that perennial favourite ‘No Song, No Supper’.

J C Brooke, Somerset Herald

J C Brooke, Somerset Herald

Apparently a man in front of them tripped and fell down the stairs leading to the newly re-opened auditorium. Eager theatre-goers behind kept pushing forwards, causing a large group of some seventy people to be crushed. Fifteen people died on the spot, and a sixteenth succumbed to his injuries later. In addition, many suffered broken limbs and had to be helped to the local pharmacist for medical attention.

The disaster did not stop the Royal Command performance going ahead – indeed the King and Queen and the six Royal Princesses in attendance were not told of the incident until after the performance. They naturally expressed their deepest sympathy and regret. Even so, a pamphlet was soon in circulation accusing them of callousness in watching the performance, which was a bit hard considering they knew nothing about what had happened. I blame the theatre manager…

Further criticism followed, because the royal family did not refrain from public engagements in the days and nights afterwards – as borne out by a tub-thumping article which appeared in print on 17 February 1794:

“When the late dreadful Accident happened … it was said that Their Majesties were not acquainted with it. Did THEY know it on Tuesday 4th instant when Her Majesty had her Rout? Did THEY know it on Wednesday the fifth, when they went to the Ancient Musick, Tottenham Court Road; Did THEY know it on Monday the Tenth, when they went to the Covent Garden Theatre; Do THEY know it now?”

To rub it in even more, the criticism continued:

“Did THEY not suspend Public Amusements, and other mourning, for the death of Louis, the avowed enemy of this Country. Which of these circumstances ought to have caused the most public demonstrations of Sorrow?

Ah well, there is always someone wanting to make political capital out of anything to do with the royal family….

The Theatre Royal, Haymarket (also known as Haymarket Theatre or the Little Theatre) had originally opened in 1720 and is still in existence (the third oldest theatre in use in London today). On the other hand the present edifice was the Nash-modelled version opened in 1820

Thomas Rowlandson's 'Foyer at Haymarket Thetare

Thomas Rowlandson’s ‘Foyer at Haymarket Theatre shown courtesy of Wikigallery.org

John Charles Brooke had been made Somerset Herald at the College back in 1777. He was aged 48, and was secretary to the Earl Marshal, and a lieutenant in the militia of the West Riding of Yorkshire. He was also  a keen antiquarian. He had planned to spend the evening at the theatre with his friend Pingo. Apparently he died standing up, suffocated in the melee, or, in the words of an author of The Heralds  College  “Mr Brooke had died standing, as he was found as if asleep, and with colour still in his cheeks.” Slightly less peaceful in death, poor Pingo “being corpulent, was much disfigured.”

Pingo was the fifth son of an Italian medallist who had come to Britain in the 1740’s and was responsible for a number of finely engraved medals. In 1769 father had prepared models for Wedgwood representing the battles of Plessy and Pondicherry. He was assistant-engraver at the English mint from 1771 right up until the time of his death  in December 1776 at the ripe old age of 84. Son Benjamin  was originally working for the Customs Office (1772-4) before joining the College of Arms, where he spent his time preparing family genealogies. He was appointed ‘rouge-dragon pursuivant’ in 1780, and York Herald in 1786. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography “he officiated at the celebrations for the Treaty of Paris in 1783, and his equestrian portrait appears on an engraving published for the occasion.”  In all likelihood he was unmarried.

Wren's church of in Queenhithe, opened in 1683

Wren’s church at St Benet Paul’s Wharf in Queenhithe, opened in 1683

Both Brooke and Pingo had left their papers to the College of Arms – in the case of Brooke his will provided for  “a legacy of £100 to arrange them and £10 to bind them.” In practice the libraries of  both Pingo and Brooke were auctioned off by Leigh and Sotheby in 1794. Brooke was buried in a vault under the Herald’s Seat at St Benet Paul’s Wharf, London, after a funeral attended by such luminaries as the Duke of Norfolk in his capacity as Earl Marshall of England, the Earl of Leicester, president of the Society of Antiquaries, and Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society – and all the surviving heralds.


(Having prepared this post I came across one on the same topic by Geri Walton. Anyone wanting a different perspective on the tragic events of that fateful night  can  see it on her excellent website ).

Jun 202016

Back in August 2012 I did a post  on H.W. Bunbury and I think it is worth repeating it in context of an exhibition which is on at Moyse’s Hall Museum in Bury St Edmunds. It links in with a talk being given by historian  Tim Clayton on 26th July about this splendid caricaturist. Tickets are, I believe, £6.00 for the talk, which needs to be pre-booked, but the actual exhibition is open  to all. (I think tickets are normally £4 with a concessionary rate of £2 for old fogies like me). The exhibition is on until September.

My original piece on Bunbury was as follows:

Oscar Wilde, in The Importance of being Earnest, extols the benefits of having a Bunbury, but I wonder how real life Bunbury’s reacted to hearing that their name was synonymous with a “fictitious excuse for making a visit or avoiding an obligation” (O.E.D)?

One Bunbury who I suspect might have been amused was the lovely Henry William Bunbury, born in 1750. His father was the 5th Baronet (Sir William Bunbury of Mildenhall, Suffolk) so he can be said to have been born with a silver spoon in his mouth (if not with a whole canteen of silverware).

After completing his studies at Cambridge University (St. Catherines College) he began to draw caricatures and other comic subjects, the first of which were etched and published in 1771. Not for him the scatological, virulent political satire of Gillray or even Thomas Rowlandson (who was a close friend of his) – more a gentle dig at the world and its foibles. Many of his friends were the subject of his gentle satire and remained on good terms with him because they could see that no malice was intended.

“The Breakfast, Symptoms of Drowsiness” shows the hounds eager to go a-hunting while their masters seem reluctant to leave the dinner table… I use this slide in my talks on “Food and Drink in the Eighteenth Century” as it seems to say so much about the eating habits of the aristocracy of the time.


“Me, my wife and my Daughter”

He was a good artist – he exhibited at least once at the Royal Academy, and did the usual Grand Tour on the continent before coming back to England to try his hand at a spot of soldiering. He was captain of the West Suffolk Militia, and used his artistic talents to record their activities and in particular their horsemanship.

He enjoyed the patronage of the Frederick, Duke of York (he was appointed his Equerry in 1787) and was an adept mover through the fashionable salons of London Society. He was Groom of the Bedchamber to one of the younger royals, and was generally well-liked and highly successful with his drawings, many of which were adapted as etchings by Rowlandson.

(Why do caricaturists always like making fun of dentists – and tooth ache?)

He was particularly liked for his series entitled A Long Minuet as Danced at Bath published in 1787. The finished engraving was printed on a piece of paper five feet long, and consisted of a comic-strip of dancing couples, some elegant, some ungainly, as they minuet across the pages. It is presumably this paper roll which Bunbury is shown holding in the portrait (by Thomas Lawrence) at the start of this blog. This is probably a sketch for one of the scenes:

Pictures of riders were a favourite of Bunbury and in the same year (1787) he decided to have printed “An Academy for Grown Horsemen, containing the completest instructions for walking, trotting, cantering, galloping, stumbling and tumbling. Illustrated with copper plates, and adorned with a portrait of the Author.”  He chose to do this under a pseudonym, namely “Geoffrey Gambado”. I find his pictures charming, warm, and beautifully observed.

                                                                                                     Origin of the gout….


Bunbury’s picture of men playing billiards is another I use as a slide – in my talk on Entertainment in the Georgian era.

As a twenty one year old Bunbury had married Catherine, the daughter of Captain Kane William Horneck, and Catherine bore him two sons. He died on 7 May 1811. He will never be as famous as Hogarth or Gillray, but his gentle poking of fun at the world around him is a real pleasure to see.

If you get the chance do go and see the exhibition at Moyse’s Hall Museum – I think that you will be in for a treat.

Jun 152016

I was aware that I come from a family of scribblers – mostly execrable verse with much doggerel, and very poor rhymes. But I had not really appreciated that almost 200 years ago William Seward Hall, son of my ancestor Richard Hall by his first marriage, had published a truly sycophantic piece called “Empire of Philanthropy” It was dedicated to King George III but was actually published in 1822, i.e. two years after the monarch had died.

What I was equally surprised to see was that Americans have written theses about attitudes towards Philanthropy, and have quoted the “dramatic poem” as an example of 18th Century public opinion. I was also staggered to see that some poor blighter bid £150 for a copy of the printed oeuvre a few years back…. a fool and his money are easily parted.

William S Hall

I have scanned in a copy of the frontispiece – the reference to the quote “Philanthropy is the Health of the Heart” by ‘Miss Seward’ is included because Anna Seward, otherwise known as the “Swan of Lichfield” was William’s aunt. I suspect he thought it gave the work added value to have her name on the front page….

The poem contains Preface setting out a declaration of its lofty aims:

To impress on the philanthropic heart, and more especially on that of a generous Briton, the sweet satisfaction of having been the mean of promoting the happiness of Mankind – to generate therein an unremitting effort to increase their felicity – and to raise the soul of the Philanthropist in admiration, adoration, and love of Him who is the Divine Fountain of benignity and mercy – are the objects of the Author in this Poem. And, at the same time, he rejoices in having the pleasurable opportunity of holding up therein his benevolent and beloved Country as the great national example of Philanthropy to the world: while his patriotic aim is, yet higher to improve its elevated character – to cement its population in harmony and love – and to awaken the attention of the generous Briton to those further benevolent pursuits that will advance the happiness of the human race.

It contains the following dedication:


SIRE, NO PRINCE who has sat on the Throne of the British Nation has been more solicitous to maintain and illustrate the Dignity and Importance which it has long held among the Nations of the Earth, than your Majesty…



WHILE FANCY, deck’d with varied flowers,

Allures the throng to seek her bowers,

At FICTION’S shrine to spend their hours,

And, with her fascinating smiles,

To evanescent bliss beguiles;

While others, in romantic lays,

Make her the burden of their praise

Be mine my powers in verse t’ employ

To win the soul to fadeless joy;

Observance with Reflection blend,

And thus achieve a nobler end;

PHILANTHROPY I’ll make my theme,

Uphold to View her radiant beam,

And call th’ attention of the Earth

To records of BRITANNIA’S worth;

To lead her Sons still more to bless,

And cause increase of happiness.

And, while I sing BRITANNIA’S fame,

Her Deeds of Love around proclaim,

Let BRITONS glory in their name

And, for the bliss they’ve shed abroad,

Let BRITONS raise their thanks to GOD

Then hymn HIS praise who gave the gen’rous mind,

Who sent PHILANTHROPY to bless Mankind


And so it continues for 166 pages! I make no comment on its literary value, but I have referred to it because it is interesting to see how a prosperous businessman viewed the world in 1820.William was by then retired, having been a silk merchant, and in 1820 had been appointed Master of the Haberdashers Guild. Poor blighter – when George IV had his coronation William was one of the twelve representatives of the great Livery Companies who turned up at Westminster Abbey in their finery, only to be told by the Sargeant-at-Arms that their invitations were not in order – and the dozen Masters with their chains around their necks had to sit behind the closed Abbey door throughout the ceremony. William was not amused and penned a letter to the Times complaining at the affront to their dignity – not so much  their personal dignity, but because of the insult to the noble trade associations which they represented.

But I digress: The country may have lost the American Colonies but after a long war with France she had emerged victorious, and with a huge sprawling Empire from which goods and wealth flowed back to the Mother Country. In return, we gave the noble savages the one thing they needed most – Christianity, and the chance to be part of a great empire. Nowadays we see that for the poisoned chalice it really was, but to William, British Philanthropy, our kindness and generosity towards others less fortunate than ourselves, was of paramount importance.

Why, we looked after mothers in childbirth (William was Secretary to the Lying-in Hospital); we had homes where the children of the poor could be educated so that they could find employment (e.g.the Foundling Hospital); and there were charities  providing literacy classes to the rural poor (e.g. Hannah More in Somerset). We had champions of the rights of prison offenders in John Howard and Elizabeth Fry, we had benefactors who endowed hospitals (Thomas Guy) and we had the saintly William Wilberforce who worked tirelessly to eradicate the scourge of slavery – and sought to eliminate cruelty to animals. In fact the eighteenth century has been described as the  Second Golden Age of Philanthropy.

The elderly George III by Wilson Lowry, after  Matthew  ,Cotes Wyatt, and shown courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery etching, 1817

The elderly George III by Wilson Lowry, after Matthew ,Cotes Wyatt, and shown courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery. Etching, 1817

Not only that, but in the eyes of William Hall credit lay at the feet of the monarch. No matter that he had been mad as a hatter and a total recluse for some years, deaf, blind and insane. He was the spirit of goodness, the embodiment of British Excellence. As the portrait of the disheveled monarch states: “When we forget him may God forget us”

It was a great time to be British – if you had money. You only had to look at Rowlandson’s gibe against the French from 1793 to see how proud the patriotic Britisher felt at the time…Rowlandson which is best

Jun 102016

It is some years since I applied to my Member of Parliament for a ticket to enable me to sit in the Strangers Gallery (now known as the Visitors Gallery) to watch a debate in the House of Commons. I gather that  you can in fact still turn up without a ticket and queue for access, particularly on a Friday, and it is an important part of the democratic process that parliamentary proceedings should be accessible – even if they are somewhat “staged for public consumption”.

William Pitt the Younger addressing the House in 1793 on the occasion of War with France

William Pitt the Younger addressing the House in 1793 on the occasion of War with France

What surprises me is how in the eighteenth century this freedom of access was sometimes looked upon as an impediment to the business of the House. But in general, strangers, that is to say people who were neither Members of Parliament nor staff employed by the Palace of Westminster, were allowed in to a viewing gallery where they could watch proceedings, and indeed to mingle in the lobby  before a debate to try and talk to their MP.

At some points in time even women (!) were allowed in and it was fashionable for ladies to turn up  at the House in their finery, and cheer their husbands/lovers/party supporters. Lady Mary Coke was one such visitor – her journals listing eight different occasions when she visited in 1768 alone.

Things got a bit heated when we started to have problems with those colonial bods in America. Debates kept getting interrupted and on 2nd February 1778 it was found necessary to eject a loud party of male onlookers – on the grounds that they were not entitled to listen to “secrets”. Worse was to follow: when Lord North was addressing the House, a party of ladies which included his wife, were deemed to be upsetting the proceedings and were forcibly ejected. A minor riot ensued as the sixty-odd visitors declined to leave of their own volition, and it took two hours to restore order.

For a while women were banned altogether, but by 1782 it was thought to be a sensible idea to create a separate area, up in the roof void, where a small number of ladies (or a larger number of small ladies …) would be permitted access. No-one thought it mattered that they were kept behind a grille, or that there was no ventilation – at least they had a place where they could watch. Quietly, and out of sight.

Thomas Rowlandson's Maiden Speach from 1792, courtesy of the Lewsi Walpole Library

Thomas Rowlandson’s “Maiden Speech” from 1792, courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

Eight women at any one time could be admitted to this curious  “Ladies Cage” and even then, they had to apply for a ticket in advance. Men on the other hand needed no such prior arrangement or ticket if they wanted to attend….

The House of Commons in the early years of the 19th Century, from Ackermann-s Microcosm of London ( a Pugin-Rowlandson collaboration).

The House of Commons in the early years of the 19th Century, from Ackermann’s Microcosm of London ( a Pugin-Rowlandson collaboration).

Many MP’s clearly felt that allowing women into the House as observers was unseemly, unnecessary and anyway, where else could men go to where they could escape female scrutiny?  Women would destroy the ‘grave and sober temper’  of Parliament and besides, they would hear things which would ‘not at all times be agreeable to their feelings’. But if they had to be allowed, then at least keep them in a hot, airless, cage and make it as unpleasant as possible.

Thus it was that in 1832, when Elizabeth Fry asked to be permitted to observe a debate about prison discipline, she was escorted to a ventilation space above the ceiling of the chamber where she could watch what was going on behind a grating.

When the Palace of Westminster was burned down in 1834 temporary arrangements were made while the Houses of Parliament were rebuilt. In 1836 a small gallery for ladies was constructed at a cost of £400. Twenty-one ladies could sit and watch at any one time, and a few years later it was proposed that the partition should be moved so that double the number of visitors could be permitted entry. It was still described as being like the Black Hole of Calcutta and when the House discussed improvements to the Ladies section of the Strangers Gallery, the Earl of Lincoln apparently objected, saying that the whole idea was only put forward as a joke, not to be taken seriously. Ventilation was not added to the Ladies Cage until the 1860s, with Members of the House noting that the accommodation bore a strange resemblance to an Ottoman harem, with caged women peering through the bars at the duly elected representatives.

The mace used in the House of Commons

The mace used in the House of Commons

I get the impression that the House is still designed as a men-only enclave, with rules, and more particularly traditions, designed and perpetuated by men. When the Honourable Members get around to deciding what to do with the crumbling, asbestos-ridden, building in which  they currently sit I wonder whether they will also sweep away some of the other anachronisms which in my view makes ‘the Mother of Parliaments’ look like a Victorian Music Hall venue, with Prime Ministers Question Time resembling little more than an excuse for overgrown public-school boys to behave badly. It is a tribal ritual, and why anyone, male or female, would want to watch it from the public gallery, or to think that it has anything to do with accountability for the way in which this country is run, is beyond me. Here endeth the rant….

Jun 032016

The phrase “curtain lecture” has sadly gone out of fashion, with the disappearance of four poster beds and, with them, the thick curtains offering a degree of privacy to those in bed.

Dryden apparently used the phrase when  translating Juvenal’s Satires in 1693:

“Besides what endless brawls by wives are bred,  

 The curtain lecture makes a mournful bed.”

It used to be a common expression – Johnson’s Dictionary defined it as a ‘reproof given by a wife to her husband in bed’ and caricaturists tended to make fun of the idea of a neglected wife berating her husband for whatever he had been getting up to. Here are a few, starting with an early wood-cut (1637) by Thomas Heywood. curtain lecture 1The lady seizes the opportunity to lecture her husband, in the privacy of the curtained bed, while the caption reads: ‘When wives preach, ’tis not in the Husbands power to have their lectures end within an hower. If Hee with patience stay till shee have donn. Shee’l not conclude till twyce the glass Hee runn.’ (Note the bed-side table with the  hour glass filled with sand – hence a two-hour lecture).

I prefer the somewhat lighter take offered by the brilliant Richard Newton, who produced this one in 1794:

Newton curtain-lecture BM 1794-1Another, courtesy of the Lewis Walpole site, is this one drawn by  George M. Woodward but etched by Thomas Rowlandson, and which was the eighth sketch in a series entitled Matrimonial Comforts, published in 1800:

Woodward Rowlandson etched Curtain Lecture 1800  lwlThe termagant  informs her husband, feigning sleep in all the innocence of a new-born babe “Yes you base Man. You…  eat sleep and drink comfortably at home, and still you must be jaunting abroad every night. I’ll find out all your intrigues, you may depend on it.” The dogs take about as much notice of the lecture as does the husband…

A slightly later version (courtesy of the British Museum site) has a wife, married for a mere three weeks, demanding to know where her husband has been, when he staggers home a ten to two in the morning. She is met by the response “I’ve been roaming”. It dates from 1824.


The scene was obviously favoured by artists over many years – here is one from a half century earlier, by John Nixon.

7It shows a woman standing by the bedside in her night-clothes berating a man lying in bed. He draws the bed-covers up to his chin. We are not told the nature or content of the lecture, but I like the detail of the tricorn hat on the wall-hook, the buckled shoes abandoned under the bed by the candle holder and chamber pot and, of course, the suitably unprepossessing harridan of a wife. It was published in 1785 and appears courtesy of the British Museum.

The expression ‘curtain lecture’ is often associated with Mrs Margaret Caudle, a fictitious person created  by  the humorist Douglas Jerrold, writing for Punch magazine in the 1840’s. Described by one reader as “interminably loquacious and militantly gloomy under fancied marital oppression” Mrs Caudle wasted no time in lecturing her husband on every imagined misdemeanour. An example was this extract from the 1846 ‘On Mr Caudle’s Shirt Buttons’

“Well, Mr. Caudle, I hope you’re in a little better temper than you were this morning. There, you needn’t begin to whistle: people don’t come to bed to whistle. But it’s like you; I can’t speak that you don’t try to insult me. Once, I used to say you were the best creature living: now, you get quite a fiend. Do let you rest? No, I won’t let you rest. It’s the only time I have to talk to you, and you shall hear me. I’m put upon all day long: it’s very hard if I can’t speak a word at night; besides, it isn’t often I open my mouth, goodness knows!”

And what would a curtain lecture be about? Well, as the politician Robert L Taylor said “The tintinnabulations of the wife’s curtain lecture are too precious to the enraptured husband to be shared with other ears”.

He was a sarcastic blighter, Mr Taylor…