Sep 232016

soldiers 001An interesting snippet from one of Richard Hall’s jottings: Fifty soldiers came from Stow-on-the-Wold in the Cotswolds and took up quarters at Bourton on Friday 27th 1795. Ah just think of the fluttering hearts and  girlish giggles of the village girls, a la Lydia Bennet! Those fine uniforms! Those randy soldiers… ah well, life got back to normal two weeks later, as the soldiers departed on April 11th.

Jane Austen's George Wickham, shown courtesy of BBC pictures

Jane Austen’s George Wickham, shown courtesy of BBC pictures


Sep 202016

I came across so many amazing miniatures while researching my piece a couple of days ago about John Smart that I thought I would include a few more, as a supplementary post!

First up, a couple of splendid Indian gentlemen – obviously painted during the artist’s ten-year stint in Madras.

An Indian Prince, 1788, shown courtesy of the Fitzwilliam Museum

An Indian Prince, 1788, shown courtesy of the Fitzwilliam Museum





A wonderful be-turbanned gentleman in all his finery

A wonderful be-turbanned gentleman in all his finery

Probably done in India a couple of fine army officers, the one on the right being a Major General in the East India Army. I am not sure about the rank of the other one but  they do look rather imposing.

Portrait of an army officer, courtesy of the Cleveland Art Museum

Portrait of an army officer, courtesy of the Cleveland Art Museum


A Major-General in the H.E.I.A.

A Major-General in the H.C.(E.I.C.).A.










A fine portrait of a lady with hr hair immaculately coiffed:

Portrait of a lady,  1782, courtesy of Cincinnati Art Museum.

Portrait of a lady, 1782, courtesy of Cincinnati Art Museum.

And to end with a miniature of the artist himself, a self-portrait which I came across on the site


John Smart self portrait.

John Smart self portrait.

John Smart – no small talent indeed!

Sep 182016

I have always been fascinated by the skills shown by 18th Century miniaturists, and was intrigued when I saw this one – it is unusual, because it  features a woman in a green outfit. Somehow green s not a common colour, but it suits her.Mrs Russell nee Cox by Jn SmartThe sitter was Mrs Russell, nee Cox, and the artist was John Smart. He painted the portrait in 1781 and used water colours on a piece of ivory. Leonora, illegitimate daughter of Lord Pigot, the disgraced Governor of Madras,was married to Claude Russell  and lived at Binfield Manor House in Berkshire.

John Smart, sometimes designated ‘the Elder’ to distinguish him from his namesake who was a Scottish landscape artist, was born in 1741 and died in 1811. He  first achieved prominence when he came second in a competition held in 1755 by the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. He was pipped to the post by the man who was to be his rival throughout his career, Richard Cosway. In 1756 Smart took up an apprenticeship with William Shipley, the Principal of the Society at his premises in St Martin’s Lane.  After that there was no stopping him and he won the next three competitions, and eventually exhibited his work there in 1762. Three years later he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Artists (FSA) becoming a director in 1772, Vice-President in 1777, and finally President in 1778. He was married, with three daughters, but also fathered a couple of children by his mistress Sarah Midgeley.

In 1785 Smart left for Madras where he spent a decade painting the great and the good, but returned to Britain in 1795 after his daughter died and his wife left him for another man. He operated from his studio in Mayfair and continued to exhibit at the Royal Academy right up until his death. This followed a brief  illness, on 1st May 1811 at the age of seventy.

Smart-Lady-with-pink-hairHere are a few more of his superb miniatures. The first, on the left is shown courtesy of the Philip Mould site and features “a lady” wearing a lilac-coloured dress. She has her hair dressed in pink powder set off with a small white feather.

The one on the right, below, is of Robert, first Baron Clive of Plassey  and is on the Yale Center of British Art site, part of the Paul Mellon collection.


Clive of India

Many of the online images reflect the Indian connection – as here.

A couple more I like:JS1

JS2    JS3

and to end with, I give you …Elizabeth Taylor! She was born as Elizabeth Haughton and lived between 1758 and 1821  and again, her likeness appears on the Philip Mould site.


Sep 162016

sudbury-1In my recent blog on Croome Park I mentioned the talks I will be giving on board the Boudicca as she sails serenely (I hope!) towards the Cape Verde Islands in November. One of the other talks I have prepared has a Jane Austen link (“Pride and Prejudice – from printed age to silver screen”) looking at the phenomenal success of the book and its various TV and film adaptations. It is a chance to show the various locations used in the numerous adaptations.

So, I was particularly pleased when a recent visit to stay with friends in Nottingham enabled us to go round the splendid Restoration home of the Vernon family at Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire – because that was where the interior scenes of “Pemberley” were filmed in the 1995 BBC TV adaptation.  The house is suitably magnificent – even in the pouring rain when I visited, and features a superb Great Staircase, and a most impressive Long Gallery. Here you can see portraits of some of the mistresses of Charles II – but not the specially commissioned portrait of Colin Firth displayed in the TV adaptation. That apparently was given to Colin when filming ended, and he passed it to his mother who promptly sold it to raise money for charity.  


Detail of Grinling Gibbons carving

Detail of Grinling Gibbons carving

The house displays a mixture of architectural styles with incredible carvings by Grinling Gibbons and Edward Pearce, murals by Louis Laguerre and some splendid and elaborate plasterwork. I gather that the house was designed by the owner in 1660 – acting as his own architect – which perhaps accounts for its slightly idiosyncratic features. Too much was never enough…

Lyme Park

Lyme Park

Everyone remembers that Lyme Park near Stockport was Pemberley – but that was only used for the exterior scenes. The intention had apparently been to film the interiors there also – but a change in management (it is a National Trust property) meant a last minute change of plans. Apparently Sudbury Hall (also National Trust) were willing to be used as a late substitute and filming of the interiors took place in July 1994. Given that the BBC version is by far and away my favourite of the various screen versions of Pride and Prejudice, I found it interesting to see which shots were filmed in which rooms, and how the production team had to ‘dress’ the rooms e.g. with curtains, or install furniture or generally move things around.


The Saloon

The Saloon



The saloon as a film set

The saloon as a film set









colin-firthAnd no, neither Sudbury Hall nor Lyme Park were used for the famous wet-shirted Colin Firth scenes – they were filmed in a water tank in Twickenham, in part using a stunt double for Our Hero so that he didn’t catch Weil’s Disease!

Sudbury Hall has helpful printed guides, room by room, explaining the exhibits as well as a separate guide specifically showing the rooms featured in the TV adaptation. All in all, an interesting property – not Georgian, it has to be said, but a fine country house with Georgian connections! I gather that it also houses the National Trust Museum of Childhood but in my enthusiasm to get to the Tea Rooms I am afraid to say that I gave the museum, situated in the servants wing, a miss!

More about the property can be found on the National Trust website here. Needless to say the film stills are shown courtesy of the BBC.


The grand staircase

The grand staircase


The foot of the stircase, as filmed by the BBC

The foot of the staircase, as filmed by the BBC


and the Long Gallery in use as a film set

… and the Long Gallery in use as a film set

The Long Gallery when I visited it ...

The Long Gallery when I visited it …

Sep 122016
Croome, with the church on the hill in the background

Croome, with the church on the hill in the background, shown courtesy of the National Trust

When I was considering which talks to select for the nine presentations I need for the cruise on board the Boudicca to the Cape Verde Islands in November I was fairly sure that I would include one on gardens and garden designs in the 18th Century. I then started to have second thoughts – after all, it is the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot “Capability” Brown, and every man and his dog seems to be bringing out books on him and his gardens. Rather than jump on the band-wagon I decided to be my usual contrarian self, and do the talk as a hatchet-job on Brown – he was a vandal who destroyed stunning Elizabethan gardens, he was a copyist who merely followed where Bridgman and Kent had gone before, he was not as good a salesman as Humphry Repton with his marvellous little red books….

The Panorama, Croome

The Panorama, Croome

Dunstall Castle

Dunstall Castle







And then I went to Croome… it is situated just off the M5 motorway south of Worcester, and it really is a fascinating place to visit. Some 670 acres were acquired by the National Trust in 1996. More recently, just a few years ago the Trust was granted a lease of Croome Court after a period of half a century when it was used as a Roman Catholic School and then as a Hare Krishna centre. Neither set of users would appear to have done much to preserve or enhance Brown’s handiwork, and clearly the land surrounding the fine Palladian mansion had suffered from years of intensive agriculture, deep ploughing, timber extraction and so on.

So what we see now, before all the tree planting works being implemented by the National Trust come to fruition, is something similar to what Brown would have seen after he had completed his early rounds of landscaping, drainage and so on, but before his tree-planting scheme had been completed.

The 6th Earl of Coventry

The 6th Earl of Coventry

What I had not appreciated was that Brown was not just the park-land designer – he was the architect for the main house, designed for the 28-year old Sixth Earl of Coventry when he inherited the title and the estate with its Jacobean mansion house, in 1751. Apart from re-modelling the house, Brown the architect also called for the entire village of Croome to be razed to the ground, and all the inhabitants were moved out of view “round the corner” behind some trees. He didn’t think that the medieval church looked in place – so he pulled it down, and in its place left us a gothic church which to my mind looks slightly odd, divorced as it is from any obvious congregation and some distance from the Big House. Clearly it was seen by Brown as “just another eye-catcher” – almost a folly-on-the-hill. Not content with designing the main house, Brown was responsible for many of the interiors before handing over to Robert Adam in 1760. Perhaps slightly surprisingly, Brown left intact the seven-acre walled garden (one of the largest enclosed gardens in Europe at the time, and now privately owned).


Brown's grotto, shown courtesy of the Gardening Way Blog

Brown’s grotto, shown courtesy of the Gardening Way Blog

Several of the eye-catchers you can see around the horizon are not actually Brown’s – the Park Seat, the London Gate and the Temple Greenhouse were all designed by Robert Adam, while James Wyatt was responsible for the Panorama Tower and the Worcester Lodge. Between the two of them they also designed the ‘ruins’ comprising Pirton Castle and Dunstall Castle. Brown, however, was responsible for the lake and its bridges and the Island Pavilion, the Rotunda and the grotto. But I think what impressed me most was the realization of the extent of Brown’s powers as a water engineer. I believe he acquired these skills while working in the Fens before accepting the Croome commission.

When the young earl asked Brown to come up with suggestions for the site, it consisted of a boggy morass quite unsuited to farming or gardening. Brown had the skills to know how to drain the site, alter the water tables, construct stone-lined culverts and drains, and to draw the water off into a new pond. He quickly perfected the means to line his ponds with a twelve-inch layer of puddled clay (to stop water leakage).



Croome Church, standing in splendid isolation

Croome Church, standing atop the hill in splendid isolation

Fake, it's a fake! But boy oh boy, who's to know?

Fake, it’s all fake! But boy oh boy, who’s to know?

Stone drainage culvert by the Evergreen Shrubbery shown courtesy of the National Trust

Stone drainage culvert by the Evergreen Shrubbery shown courtesy of the National Trust

He then installed what was to become his signature feature – a sinuous serpentine pond resembling a river, which wound its way under Japanese-style bridges before disappearing out of view. In fact of course it isn’t a river – the artificial pond simply ends in a spot hidden from the house by a clump of trees.

The problem with this type of arrangement is that ponds tend to fill up with silt – soil carried down off the land in the rains. I see that when Brown arrived at Burghley he installed special silt ponds – holding-pools where the silt was allowed to settle rather than being washed down into the main pond. That way, each year the labourers could dig out the year’s silt and put it back on the land. But at Croome the silt was able to build up, and by the time that the National Trust came along, they had to shift 50,000 cubic metres of mud and sludge which was silting up the pond. The improvement to the site has settled in immediately and the lake area looks remarkably settled and ‘natural’.



Funny, ha-ha?

Funny, ha-ha?

Turned to stone I was, (while waiitng for Godot?)

Turned to stone I was, (while waiitng for Godot?)

All around the park Brown constructed ha-has (to control sheep and cattle without the need for intrusive walls and hedges). He also introduced carriage ways which wend their way circuitously around the park, so that you get “now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t” glimpses of the main house before, at last, your coach and four pulls up in front of the imposing entrance to Croome Court. It really is well worth a visit, and it has given me food for thought as to whether to include Brown in my next-book-but-one. First comes ‘Petticoat Pioneers’ – about women in the 18th Century who shifted paradigms and  made break-throughs in what was a predominately male world, but after that I am going to do one on Georgian Greats. On reflection I think Brown deserves the accolade of ‘great’. After all, any man who persuaded the landed gentry to pay him fees of many thousands of pounds was doing his bit to even-up the inexcusable gap between the rich and the poor. In doing so he helped elevate The Garden to a really significant and important feature of everyday life.



Brown may have designed “only” a couple of hundred gardens but many, many, more times that number were based upon copies of his ideas and designs. His work made him a wealthy man. The customer account ledgers of Drummonds Bank of Charing Cross, London, which are held in RBS’s archives, show that in 1768 alone he had receipts totalling £32,279 and that over the period of his working life he was paid more than half a million pounds. In modern money that makes Brown a multi-millionaire – a tribute to his abilities as a businessman as well as a garden designer. He also deserves credit as a water engineer – his ability to control water, put in dams and drains and to disguise such works so that they are almost totally hidden from view. The fact that he was also a first rate architect surprised me – but I am reminded that Humphry Repton had this to say about him: “Mr Brown’s fame as an architect seems to have been eclipsed by his celebrity as a landscape gardener, he being the only professor of the one art, while he had many jealous competitors in the other. But when I consider the number of excellent works in architecture designed and executed by him, it becomes an act of justice to his memory to record that, if he was superior to all in what related to his particular profession, he was inferior to none in what related to the comfort, convenience, taste, and propriety of design in the several mansions and other buildings he planned.”

For anyone interested, the National Trust are holding a belated birthday party for good old Lancelot, at Croome, on 25th September. You can find details here.

Sep 102016


brunn gun

I am not normally that interested in militaria, but every so often come across something which catches my eye – in this case a pair of beautiful pistols on the Metropolitan Museum site, and made by Samuel Brunn in 1800/1801.

The Museum site describes the pair of pistols as being “among the finest known examples of English Neoclassical-style firearms. Each stock is inlaid with engraved sheet silver and embellished with heavy cast-silver mounts. This decoration was inspired by contemporary French Empire firearms, such as those by Boutet. Several of the motifs are based on ancient Roman sources. On the sideplate, for example, the Nereid riding a sea-leopard derives from an engraving of 1762 depicting a wall painting in the recently found ruins of Herculaneum. On the trigger guard, the oval medallion representing Hercules with a defeated Amazon is copied from a well-known antique gem. The Medusa head on the butt also derives from Classical art, but here the idealized model has been transformed into a grimacing, almost humorous caricature of the legendary gorgon.”

The  pistols are sixteen inches long, and are made out of walnut wood and steel, decorated in sterling silver. The silver decorations were probably made by silversmith Michael Bennett, who was active in London until his death in 1823, operating from premises at 36 Cock Lane, Smithfield.

Samuel Brunn had originally bought a share in the business of John Knubley, who had traded at 7 Charing Cross in London. Knubley was the son of a gun-maker and had originally traded in Otley, Yorkshire before moving down to London in 1771, and had built up a successful business until his death in 1795. For two years Brunn was in business trading as “Knubley, Brunn & Co, Charing Cross”, probably in partnership with Sarah, John Knubley’s widow. Brunn then sold  his share to John Mallet, who continued to operate at Charing Cross until 1803. This emphasises the importance of the area around Charing Cross as a centre of exquisite gun-making.

brunn card

Brunn  then set up on his own and operated as “Samuel Brunn, sword cutler and gun-maker” at 55 Charing Cross between 1798 and 1804. He then moved to adjoining premises at 56 Charing Cross and remained there between 1805 and 1820. He was appointed “Sword Cutler and Gunmaker  to the Prince of Wales” in 1800 and remained in that post for eleven years. It is quite possible that these pistols were made for the Prince. He also made pistols and swords for various other members of the Royal family. Between 1797 and 1809 he was Contractor to Ordnance, in other words he was commissioned to make trade muskets, cannon locks, pistols and broadswords for the Board of Ordnance. He was also described as being ‘Cutler to the Patriotic Fund’. ‘The Patriotic Fund’ was founded on 28 July 1803 at Lloyd’s Coffee House – is still going strong – and was launched in order to give grants to those wounded in service to the Crown and to set up annuities to the dependents of those killed in action. It also commissioned the manufacture of high quality swords to be awarded to servicemen who showed exceptional courage and bravery – which is presumably how Samuel Brunn got involved…

It looks as though Samuel continued to operate until 1820 but then at some stage fell on hard times. A newspaper report in 1831 refers to bankruptcy proceedings against Samuel, who by then had fallen from grace to the extent of being described as a ‘chapman’ i.e. a pedlar:

Bunn bankruptcyA sad end for a distinguished craftsman. Presumably when Napoleon was finally defeated the Board of Ordnance were no longer stock-piling weapons, and the Patriotic Fund were no longer dishing out ceremonial swords as a reward for war heroes, so like many other sword cutlers Samuel Brunn found himself on the scrap heap. There is some suggestion that he moved to Bath, where he spent his final years in straitened circumstances. I cannot find a record of his death.

Sep 052016

worms 001I am always fascinated by the way my ancestor liked to jot down gossip and trivia about the royal family – presumably he picked it up in the newspapers of the day. This entry concerns Princess Elizabeth: the poor girl had been getting headaches. According to this diary entry, all it took was for the good Dr Taylor, from Manchester of all places, to recommend a particular type of snuff, and eh voila! she  voided a worm from the nose and her complaint totally ceased!

Unfortunately Richard did not give a date for the entry – but as the previous note was a jotting to the effect that his youngest son had just enrolled in Mr Collett’s school (July 11 1791) it is safe  to assume that the incident with the worm was about that time. If so Princess E  would have been 21.

princess EI find it strange to realize that 250 years ago the school term started just as it ends nowadays.  As an aside, poor Benjamin (Richard’s son) was terrified of Mr Collett, who had an exceedingly large girth. Benjamin’s diaries reveal a headmaster of gargantuan proportions. Well, he certainly never had worms …. but I gather that they were not an uncommon side effect of eating poorly cooked meat, especially pork.