Apr 302020

It’s a strange thing, writing a book. You come up with an idea; you run it past the publisher – perhaps coming up with a working title. You submit a synopsis with chapters which may or may not have any resemblance to what you eventually write; you start the research; you write the book; you submit the manuscript – and then you wait for many months. It may be a year or even two years from when you started the ball rolling to when the author’s copy finally arrives in your sticky mitts – two years in which you have embarked on other things, perhaps written other books. And in my case you have almost certainly forgotten just about everything  you said in the book.

So it was with Trailblazing Georgians: The Unsung Men Who Helped Shape the Modern World – I had first thought of doing this some years back but knew that writing a book about trailblazing men would be seen as sexist and unbalanced. So I slipped in Trailblazing Women first. By the time the male trailblazers saw the light of day I had forgotten what I had written, so I was delighted to see a review of it on Amazon. It is by someone called Amanda Jenkinson – and no, I don’t know her and have no way of thanking her for her perspicacious review, which kindly awarded five stars.

It reads as follows:

I’m always a bit wary of group biographies as sometimes they can be somewhat superficial and reductive, but this one is extremely well-written and manages to be concise yet at the same time comprehensive in each of its potted biographies of the lesser known or nearly forgotten movers and shakers who shaped our modern world, the inventors and industrialists whose names have been overshadowed to some extent by their more renowned peers. This entertaining and informative book is an ideal introduction to the Georgian world and its development and is a great read.

Another review by AliceMaud Mary gives  me my five stars and adds:

This is a very readable collection of pen portraits of about 30 lesser-known, forgotten or over-shadowed inventors with a wide variety of interests who were active in the late seventeenth and eighteenth century Britain, the “Age of Enlightenment”.
The passage of time, personal qualities and situation of these men, their contemporaries and, for some, their descendants have not been kind to them; during their life times they did not get much recognition and by now they are largely forgotten. In many instances, for example, contemporary innovators who took advantage of the inventions and were wealthy enough to patent their model had the financial benefit, the fame and, now, have the place in our history books.
It is important to remember that developments in ideas during the Enlightenment were not restricted to certain places, areas of interest nor social groups. One of the most characteristic aspects of that era was the increasing interest in the cross-fertilisation of ideas between people and across places. There were many cogs in that wheel of intellectual, social and practical change; this book outlines some key players that should be added to the conventional hall of fame.
“Trailblazing Georgians” is an ideal introduction for anyone studying Georgian Britain and the Enlightenment. It would be an excellent addition to the history curriculum for UK schools’

I must admit I am horrified at the idea of some poor students doing their History ‘A’ levels having to wade through my handiwork, but as long as they enjoy reading it, why not?

And finally, even I was blushing at this review in Books Monthly:

Another foray into the history of the men who changed lives before the advent of the Victorians. These men were the architects of the industrial revolution and they are remembered and celebrated in grand style in Mike Rendell’s superlative book.

So, I can’t remember much about the book, or who is in it, or why some people were missed off – but I’ll settle for it being superlative! I might even sit down and give it a read….


Apr 272020

I liked this reminder of bygone trades – the travelling saw sharpener. It is of course a reminder of the awful noise made when metal blades were sharpened. Rowlandson did this in ink and water colour and titled it ‘Saw setter or Harmonic Scarecrow’ and with the tag-line of ‘music hath charms to sett the teeth on edge.’

I love some of the details – the dog howling, the music teacher at the upstairs window brandishing his violin in disgust at the din, the advertisement over the doorway for a dentist (‘Teeth drawn… stumps filled’). The scene is set in Market Lane, Covent Garden, near the Opera House (hence the wall poster advertising a performance). Through it all, the shabbily dressed operator concentrates on the job in hand, apparently oblivious to the pandemonium he is causing…

As far as saw sharpening goes I note that the 1809 ‘British Encyclopedia or, Dictionary of Arts and Science’ tells me that ‘The teeth are cut and sharpened with a triangular file, the blade of the saw being first fixed in a whetting block. After they have been filed the teeth are set, that is, turned out of the right line, that they may make the fissure the wider, that the back may follow the better. The teeth are always set ranker for coarse cheap stuff than for hard and fine, because the ranker the teeth are set the more stuff is lost in the kerf.”

So, now I know! Meanwhile it is a reminder of how grateful we should all be that this particular noise has removed from our street corners…

The image comes courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Apr 252020

Another day, another pair of Rowlandson’s. This one appealed because we live in a world where we are all too aware that being in close proximity to other people can cause dire consequences….

250 years ago, with no concept of viral infections, or even basic hygiene, people could still recoil at the idea of ‘picking something up’ from a neighbour – in this case head-lice. Quite makes you want to scratch, doesn’t it?

The engraving was published in 1787, when Rowlandson was thirty years old and is entitled “Is this YOUR LOUSE?” In fact of course, head-lice were common, and affected all classes. Wear a wig and it was a constant risk – which is why ancestor Richard Hall had a whole-of-head shave just about every day of his adult life.

I like the detail in this Rowlandson etching of a Penny Barber from 1789 – the frizzeur in the background using a flat iron on a wig, the sign stating that it was the oldest shaving shop in London – and offering ‘most money for second-hand wigs’, the wig blocks on the floor, and what looks to be a bald man puking into a wash basin on the left! All human life is here….

Apr 232020

Image of the King visiting St Paul’s, shown courtesy of the British Museum

For four months towards the end of 1788 George III was incapacitated by illness – wracked with pain and mental instability, the King’s conduct led to the first serious  look at whether a regency was required. And then he got better. The public were relieved and delighted – and it was decided to hold a service of thanksgiving for the King’s recovery, at St Paul’s Cathedral.

The presentation of the sword by the Lord Mayor of London © Look and Learn / Elgar Collection

The day for the celebration was chosen – 23 April – and large crowds gathered. The king in his carriage was  presented with a ceremonial sword by the Lord Mayor of London, and artists drew pictures to record the happy scene, while engravers quickly came out with a commemorative medal. ‘God save the King’ on the obverse was backed with the sunburst over the royal shield and symbols of power, and the words ‘Visited St Pauls’, and with the date in the exergue (the name given to the space below the line on the reverse side of a coin).

Richard Hall, my ancestor, recorded the joyful news of the King’s recovery in one of his diaries – little did the public know then that it was to be the first of  a number of health problems which would eventually end in the poor monarch being locked away from public view in Windsor Castle – deaf, totally blind, and completely senile.

I prefer to mark the day with a rather nice caricature, published the day before the Thanksgiving Service by SW Fores:

It appears on the Lewis Walpole Library site and shows four ladies of fashion demonstrating their enthusiasm for the king’s recovery. The figure on the left bears a resemblance to the often-parodied Lady Archer. She is shown in profile  wearing a broad-brimmed hat with a high cylindrical crown and a brim with a curtain of lace, trimmed with feathers and ribbons inscribed ‘Save the King’, ‘Live the [King]’, and ‘Regoice’ [sic]. On a bracelet are the letters ‘G.R’, and on the ends of a ribbon sash medallions inscribed ‘The King Restor[ed]’ and ‘Live the King’

Next to her is the rear view of a lady wearing a large hat  be-ribboned with a bow  inscribed ‘Long Live the King G.R.’; her hair is tied with a ‘G.R’ ribbon. The next lady to her is shown full-face and is wearing what appears to be full court dress. Her splendid hair-do features feathers and flowers and is decorated with a ribbon marked: ‘The King Restored’. The fan in her left hand is decorated with a profile portrait of the King. The lady on the left is shown in profile and is wearing a similar costume but topped off with what looks like a splendid piece of confectionery or decorated cream cake. Around it is entwined a spiral ribbon inscribed ‘God Save the King’. Obviously no well-dressed woman would go out without wearing, well, if not her heart on her sleeve, at least her patriotic support for the monarch on the top of her head! I just think that it is a lovely fashion plate – exaggerated maybe, but none-the-less a rather evocative  depiction of the extraordinary fashions of the day.

Good old King George – it would be another twelve years before his next serious attack – and the regency was not introduced until 1811.

PS I see that Thomas Rowlandson brought out his own ‘Restoration Dressing Room’ on 24 April – the day after the celebration.

It appears on Wikigallery – and gives credit to the V&A.

Apr 212020

Looking at the Metropolitan Museum site I came across this rather nice Thomas Rowlandson print called ‘Plucking a spoony’ dating from 1812. I see that other versions are also available on the Royal Collection and British Museum sites.

‘Spoony’ was a nineteenth century slang for a simpleton (no doubt deriving from the fact that spoons were often shallow).

The prints hanging on the wall at the back of the picture show the three temptations of whoring, gaming and drinking – and the image in the foreground show our hero happily succumbing to all three vices simultaneously. He has fallen into the company of three eager exponents, who are intent on combining to fleece the young man of all his worldly goods. A whore with her breasts generously exposed  fondles his inner thigh while he sits on her lap. In the centre, a man in the garb of a parson gleefully pours two bottles of wine into a punch bowl and on the right a man in a military uniform gets ready to deal from his pack of cards, his eyes following intently the pile of gold guineas sitting in front of the foolish victim.

Rowlandson published the print on 28 February 1812 and it subsequently appeared in The Caricature Magazine or Hudibrastic Mirror – a collection of etchings by a number of artists including George Woodward, George Cruikshank and Thomas Rowlandson, and published by Thomas Tegg from his premises at 111 Cheapside.

The Caricature Magazine came out over a number of years in the early decades of the nineteenth century and was a collection of political and social caricatures, depicting scenes of every day life. Themes such as The Napoleonic War, Town versus Country, Boxing, Ireland and Religion were  featured, and Rowlandson often worked up ideas provided to him by George Woodward.

Tegg was an interesting character who specialised in bringing out anthologies and abridged collections of works which were already in print. By the time he died in 1845 thousands of such collections had been published, bringing them  within reach of the rapidly growing literate populace. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography states that “In 1836 he was chosen sheriff, and paid the fine to escape serving. To the usual fine of £400 he added another £100 and the whole went to found a Tegg scholarship at the City of London school, and he increased the gift by a valuable collection of books.” Tegg was a successful businessman but even he would have been surprised to see that a volume of The Caricature Magazine  can nowadays sell for many thousands of pounds.