May 282017

I have always liked eighteenth century prints featuring eighteenth century print shops – and here is one of my favourites.

It appears on the excellent Lewis Walpole site here and as today marks the anniversary of its publication (28 May 1793) I thought that I would dust it off and give it an outing. It was published by SW Fores and therefore, not surprisingly, shows the scene outside one of his premises ( No. 57 St. Pauls Church Yard, the other being at No. 3 Piccadilly) on a windy day.

It has got it all, really: the cleric on the left using his quizzing glass to admire the naked rump of the lady bending over to pick up her hat, unaware that his own hat, trimmed with  the cleric’s wig, has blown into the air; the two smart young things battling against the wind, which billows up the front of their skirts to reveal their stocking tops; the fish-wife sprawled on the roadway with her basket overturned and the fish flapping in the dirt; the elderly man trying to hold on to his hat and wig while having a good ogle; the young blade in what I think is called a Jean de Bray jacket.

In the background we have a porter carrying a bale on his head, and a couple who appear to have fallen against each other for support, hat to hat. And a sign above the bow-fronted shop window reminding us that Fores did not just sell individual prints but also supplied them wholesale to other print shops, as well as “for exportation”.

Samuel William Fores, to give him his full moniker, was born in 1761, the son of a cloth merchant. He went into the business of selling prints when he was 22, from premises at City Arms, 3 Piccadilly, near the Haymarket. From there he expanded and operated also from addresses at 50 Piccadilly and 312 Oxford Street. After he died in 1838 the business was carried on under the style of ‘Messrs Fores’ by his sons George Thomas Fores (1806-58) and Arthur Blücher Fores (1814-83). They moved the business away  from satirical towards sporting prints. Indeed the Fores name continued well into the 20th Century.

So, 224 years after it first appeared, many happy returns to a High Wind in St Pauls Churchyard!

May 212017

I came across this Thomas Rowlandson etching on the Lewis Walpole site, and as my ancestor Richard Hall spent a lot of his time and energy eating and drinking I thought it was worthy of closer inspection. The site says that it was published “not before 1828” – Rowlandson died in 1827 – and presumably it was therefore an earlier drawing, done in around 1800, and found among the artist’s papers after his death. Indeed there seems to be some disagreement as to where is being depicted. One title shows it as the Rainbow Rooms, Fleet Street, and another has it as The Wheatsheaf Eating House, Salisbury Court, Fleet Street.

I love the detail and the sense of animation which Rowlandson conveyed – his characters always seem to be talking. There is nothing static about his crowd scenes. Here, many of the faces are grotesques – but they are full of expression and movement. You can almost hear the buzz of conversation you get from a room full of men – and indeed all the customers are male, with just one serving girl to show that women did actually exist in Georgian England. And even she is being knocked out of the way by a male servant bringing a tureen of soup to the table.

I like the  hats lined up on the rail above the diners – and the way that the tables are separated by curtains, with the diners sitting on bench seats. The clock on the wall tells us it is 8.30, and the drinks which you can see include both beer, in tankards, and wine in glasses. I am never too keen on dogs begging at the table, but there you go….

Here are a couple of close ups, showing the faces of the diners:

Nice one Thomas – a good evocative scene of what a public dining area was like in Georgian England.


May 172017

It is good to be making progress with my next book in the pipeline – I submitted the manuscript to Pen & Sword a couple of months ago and the editing process has been completed. Now it is down to  the printer to come up with the first proof…..

Meanwhile I have been asked to change the title – originally ‘Petticoat Pioneers’ – because it wasn’t clear from the title what the book was about (dress making?). So instead it is now going to be called ‘Trailblazing Women of the Georgian Era’ – with the strap-line ‘The eighteenth century struggle for Female Success in a Man’s World’. It will take a bit of getting used to, having lived with ‘Petticoat Pioneers’ for the past year I have got rather accustomed to it! But hey, at the end of the day it is all about ‘what sells?’ and if the publishers think they can sell ‘Trailblazing Women’, that is fine by me!

The cover design has just come through – and I cannot wait to see the final version in print – hopefully towards the end of this year. Meanwhile, it is back to the grindstone, as I have only so far managed three chapters of my next book – about the Georgian Greats whose achievements were overshadowed by more famous contemporaries. So let’s get rid of James Watt and think of William Murdoch, his partner. Let us hear no more of Josiah Wedgwood and instead  concentrate on another Josiah – Mr Spode. And forget Charles Darwin – what about grandfather Erasmus?  And Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s father? And Thomas Boulsover, who gave us Sheffield Plate, and Christopher Pinchbeck who gave us costume jewellery. And a host of other people who changed the face of Georgian Britain but whose achievements have gone largely unnoticed because the spotlight of fame happened to catch on the person standing next to them in the queue.

My problem is that old age is creeping up on me, and I keep procrastinating in favour of writing fun things, like children’s books about pirates. I won’t even bother to get them published – but they are so much more enjoyable than having to do “real” writing! So, I suspect that ‘Georgian Greats’ may be my final book. Well, until something else comes along to fire my imagination….

Finally, my thanks to Lil’s Vintage World for a lovely YouTube critique of five books on the Georgian era, all published by Pen & Sword, and which features “In Bed with the Georgians – Sex, Scandal & Satire”. It is really nice to feel that the book is appreciated – it makes it all worthwhile. Thanks Lil. Do have a look at her film on YouTube – it says it all !

May 122017

I don’t often look at purely political caricatures but I came across these on the British Museum site, and it occurs to me that they  exhibit the same jingoistic patriotism (and anti-French sentiment) as currently fill our newspapers a propos Brexit. Of course, to get the flavour we would need to swap George III for the head of a certain T. May, and I rather feel that the head of Jean-Claude Juncker would be a fine substitute for  the Emperor Napoleon*.

First up,The Rival Gardeners by Charles Williams, published by S W Fores on 10th February 1803. According to the BM site”The gardeners, George III and Napoleon (right), stand on opposite sides of a stream, ‘The Channel’, in which floats a sailor’s cudgel inscribed ‘British Oak’. Each has a plant growing in a tub hooped with gold: Napoleon’s is a drooping weed on which dangles a small imperial crown. Behind him are serried rows of ‘Military Poppies’ in pots; beside him (right) is a wheelbarrow filled with coins, in which he has stuck his sabre; this is ‘Manure from Italy & Switzerland’. Napoleon, in military dress with apron and over-sleeves, bends over his plant, holding up the crown; he says: “Why I dont know what is the reason – my Poppies flourish charmingly – but this Corona Imperialis is rather a delicate kind of plant, and requires great judgement in rearing.” George III, plainly dressed and wearing an apron, holds a spade, and points to a sturdy oak-plant growing in his tub, whose summit is a British royal crown. He says: “No – No – Brother Gardener – though only a ditch parts our grounds – yet this is the spot for true Gardening, – here, the Corona Britanica, and Heart of Oak, will flourish to the end of the World.”

Next we have Gillray’s well-known image entitled The King of Brobdingnag. As usual with Gillray, it was published by Hannah Humphrey, and also appeared in 1803. The vitriolic verse ends with the words ” I cannot but conclude you to be one of the most pernicious, little odious reptiles, that nature ever suffer’d to crawl upon the surface of the Earth.”

Then there is The Brodignag Watchman (no idea why it is Brodignag and not Brobdingnag) preventing Gullivers Landing. It shows the king, illuminating the world with his ‘constitutional  lanthorn’ (i.e. lantern) while observing a tiny figure of Napoleon stepping off a boat onto the beach. The Emperor, sword in hand, looks terrified at the gigantic figure of the King. George III utters the words “Stand ho! What little Reptile’s that?” It was published by William Holland right at the end of 1803.

To end with A British Chymist analysing a Corsican Earth Worm. It was published by William Holland in 1803 and is described as being ‘after Temple West’. The B.M. site explains that it shows George III sitting in profile scrutinizing through a glass the contents of a small bowl, which he holds in his right hand. These come from a retort containing a figure of Napoleon, who looks with angry apprehension over his right shoulder. Napoleon wears his usual huge cocked hat and sabre; his legs merge with the liquid contents of the retort. This stands on a rectangular brick furnace, with a tap facing the King, who says: “I think I can now pretty well ascertain the ingredients of which this insect is composed – viz, – Ambition, and self sufficiency, two parts – Forgetfulness one part, – some light Invasion Froth, on the surfase and a prodigious quantity of fretful passion, and conceited Arrogance! in the residue!!”

Ah well, a nice bit of invective and a few choice insults never did go amiss! And of course the caricatures established a fine tradition for diminishing the size and physical prowess of our enemies. Napoleon was average size – yet nowadays even many French will take it that he was smaller than average and we talk of  a ‘Napoleon complex’.

The other thing I find interesting is the way that the caricaturists adapted comments made in peace time, turning them from criticisms into virtues. Take the constant depiction of George III as ‘Farmer George’, suggesting in numerous pre-war etchings that he was only interested in matters agricultural. Come the war with Napoleon, and this is turned into a virtue – he is ‘nurturing’ freedom and the Constitution. Similarly, there are many highly critical depictions of the King using a quizzing glass – a sign of short-sightedness, political and optical. With war, this attribute is turned around to become positive – here is a king who scrutinises things carefully, doesn’t let anything escape his notice, and uses his vision to make sound judgments. An interesting twist!

All images appear courtesy of the Trustees of the British Museum – their collection is searchable online, which makes it an excellent resource


*O.K. I’ll give it a try. Here goes…….

An odious little reptile indeed! I know Juncker’s not French –  in fact he hails from Luxembourg, but that is close enough….

May 052017

Sometimes the diaries of my ancestor are interesting because of what he does not say – and in a way his diary from May 1767 is a case in point: basically, he only remembers to talk about two things, health and the weather.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, 5th May was a Tuesday – and it was cold, remarkably cold. So much so that London had a scattering of snow. Apparently Richard trudged over to see Mr Sykes, but I bet he didn’t stay late, partly because of the weather, and partly because the previous week had seen “an attempt by some rogues” to break into his house in the evening. Also, they cannot have had much to talk about, because the identical entry about visiting Mr Sykes appeared  three days earlier. Mind you, that was before he started his new medicine (“May the Lord’s Blessings attend it”).

The next day, Wednesday, was a real non-event: he didn’t go anywhere, he didn’t do anything and he didn’t see anyone – but it was “mostly dullish, a cold day.” Thursday saw rain in the morning but it was dull and mild in the afternoon. And then on Friday we had “Fine morning, dull in the afternoon, and very mild.”  But guess what, tucked in at the end “Went and took up my Freedom of the City.” You would have thought that there would have been more of a fanfare, something about what he wore, or who he met, or whether his wife came and watched – but no, just “took up my Freedom”.

It is not as if it wasn’t quite a big deal: he was not allowed to trade within the City boundaries unless he was a Freeman – and he had just opened his shop at Number One London Bridge  three weeks earlier. This had incensed the Haberdashers Guild – because Richard had served his apprenticeship in Southwark, where the long arm of the livery companies did not reach, and he had therefore escaped paying his dues to the Haberdashers for all his adult life. When he moved North of the River Thames into the actual City of London, they had him by the proverbials – and they duly fined him to make up for all the past payments he had avoided. Whether he knew this when he paid his £4/5/00  by way of an admin. charge I do not know – the actual fine of £25/14/06 was not imposed until September the following year – but that is bureaucracy for you! To get an idea of the scale of the fine, multiply by at least eighty. Or, to put it in context, he paid his maidservant about one quarter of that amount for the whole year. Still, she couldn’t complain, as she got her food and lodging thrown in for free….

I still have all Richard Hall’s papers relating to being made a Freeman – his Oath which he had to swear, the receipt for the fine, and so on. I reckon it should have been a red-letter day for Richard, so I am disappointed that he made no other mention of it.

Back to the diary: the following day, Saturday 9th May saw Mrs Snooke leave Town. Mrs Snooke was his sister in law – immensely wealthy and accustomed to coming up once a year to stay a few weeks with Richard in order to see something of her sister (Richard’s wife). It hadn’t been an easy year for Mrs Hall – she miscarried six weeks earlier. Richard’s diaries at the time  commented on the miscarriage with a laconic “My wife miscarried in the Evening – the Lord is gracious to her. A very fine day, mild.” And that was just about it – just one more mention that “Thru the Goodness of God my wife continued poorly, a raw dull cold Foggy day.”

On the Sabbath Richard went as he usually did to hear the great theologian Dr Gill preach – from Hebrews Chapter 9 verse 27 – and for good measure also got a sermon from the visiting Baptist Minister Mr Cole, who took as his text Isaiah 8:17 (“I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the descendants of Jacob. I will put my trust in him.” – Just thought that you would like to know…..).

Then on the Monday  it was a “Dull, dribbling day” – what a lovely description, and so appropriate to the British climate! The wind was cold, and “Poor John” (servant) “was very bad at night.”

Richard noted the next day that John was “thro’ Mercy, better” but apart from noting that the weather was “Dull in the morning, Fine in the afternoon, Mild” all he had to say for himself was what he did NOT do – he didn’t go to Mr Sykes again – because Mr Sykes was not well.

So, not a lot to report 250 years ago. In his defence I have to say that having just opened his new shop, and moved house, Richard must have had his days pretty full, and his diaries get much more communicative and interesting once he retired, and had more time to  fill  in the entries every day.