Mar 182015
Louis Bazalgette

Louis Bazalgette

There are times when I seem to be surrounded by members of the Bazalgette family: on Sunday evenings Edward Bazalgette is up there on my TV screen,with a credit as the director of Poldark; up until last year my pension was in the hands of Vivian Bazalgette; while his third cousin Sir Peter is Chair of the Arts Council. I am always reading about Sir Joseph William Bazalgette, the 19th-century English civil engineer who, as chief engineer of London’s Metropolitan Board of Works, put an end to ‘the Great Stink’. And now I have news of another Bazalgette, Edward’s brother, now living in Canada, called Charles. He has written a fascinating book about ‘the Daddy of them all’ – a man called Louis Bazalgette, but generally known as Prinny’s Taylor.

Charles has for many years been researching the life and times of his Georgian ancestor, in what has many parallels with my own research into my predecessor Richard Hall. But whereas my ancestor kept his head down and never troubled the scorers, Louis moved in exalted circles, becoming tailor to the Prince of Wales and making many of the costumes which Prinny so adored. The amount of research is astonishing, and the result is a book which has just come out in Kindle format. You can find it  here.

Author Charles Bazelgette

Author Charles Bazalgette

If you are looking for a complete overview of Regency History, this is not for you. Rather, it nibbles around the edges of the picture, giving snippets of information about the Prince of Wales, until it builds up a fascinating insight into his life and times. Sure, some of the details may be more relevant to members of the Bazalgette family – indeed Charles never originally intended this as a book for a wider audience – but I for one am delighted that he has persevered and  “put it out for all to see”.

Some of the information about Prinny and his wardrobe is quite astonishing – the sheer volume of orders, delivered daily, sometimes as many as a hundred in one month, and on one occasion with more than twenty items being ordered on a single day.

It is interesting to read Louis’ own technical description of garments made for the Prince, often delivered in person by the ever-available tailor on the morning of the actual ball (or whatever) and comparing it with the description of it in The Times, the very next day. The Prince was for ever ordering costumes for masquerades, at Carlton House, or military uniforms for parades at Brighton. He ordered outfits not just for himself but for members of his entourage (such as Colonel Hangar). And then generally failed to settle his debts…

And what debts – far more to his tailor than to anyone else! Charles lists the amounts owed to his ancestor in detail, based upon an examination of the records at the Royal and National Archives, and builds up a picture of the incredible extravagance of the Prince of Wales. In time of course Parliament coughed up, and Louis got his money, which he then seems to have lent (sometimes unwisely) to politicians, noblemen and West Indian plantation owners. This in turn led him and his executor to endless court battles as he sought to recover debts from defaulters.

 Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana

The Prince of Wales painted by Thomas Gainsborough in 1781. Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana

The book gives, as expected, the background as to how and when Louis came to this country from France. It gives great detail about individual costumes made for the Prince, and has a helpful appendix of tailoring terms. Indeed it would have made a wonderful fully-illustrated tome featuring surviving outfits, but alas, it is not to be. After George IV died his wardrobe of amazing costumes was sold off, generally at a fraction of their cost, and used as theatrical costumes, for fancy dress or stripped down to make other outfits. Hardly anything remains, and nothing which can be definitely pointed to as being “that was Louis’ work”. However his skills live on, in the portraits painted at the time. He was a man who shared the prince’s innermost secrets – after all, who gets closer to the future king than the man responsible for be-decking him in his finery? He must have been party to countless intrigues and royal secrets. In Prinny’s Taylor you get a great glimpse into the world of Carlton House and the Prince’s retreat in Brighton. It is a book for the connoisseur, perhaps destined never to appear in printed form, which would be a shame. Catch it while you can in electronic format – it is indeed fascinating.

aaacTo give it its full title, the book is called: Prinny’s Taylor: The Life and Times of Louis Bazalgette (1750-1830). As the blurb says: ‘The reason why Louis Bazalgette has been a shadowy figure until now is that the relationship between the two men was discreet and almost clandestine. This biography, based upon 20 years of painstaking research, presents a detailed picture of an extraordinary man, of humble origins, whose influence on gentlemen’s tailoring, and upon the Prince himself, must have been far-reaching..

To end with, three portraits of the portly Prince  in his finery – the first dating from 1816. It is by Henry Bone, after Sir Thomas Lawrence, and below it a miniature portrait of the smartly turned-out Prince as a young man, made by Richard Cosway in 1792, © National Portrait Gallery, London. The final image is of gorgeous George, in a portrait held by the Vatican. No tailor could have asked for more…

An 1816 portrait of the Prince Regent in all his finery, by Henry Bone (after Sir Thomas Lawrence).

The Prince of Wales, by Richard Cosway (private collection).    a geirge 4

Mar 142015

wax works visitMy ancestor’s diary entry recording a visit to Mrs Wright’s Waxworks in Chidley Court, Pall Mall.

Mrs Wright was an interesting character, and one who played a part in the American War of Independence. She was born into a particularly strict Quaker sect as Patience Lovell, in around 1725, probably on Long Island, New York. She was the fifth of nine daughters born to a farming family, and as a child she and her sisters apparently made model figurines out of clay and dough, which they then coloured and dressed in clothing.

aa Patience_WrightIn her twenties she ran away to Philadelphia and married Joseph Wright in 1748. She said of her husband that he had “nothing but age and money to recommend himself to her” but she bore him five children, one of them born after Joseph died. She then discovered that Joseph had left her (and the fifth child of whom he had no knowledge) virtually nothing in his will. She turned to her sister Rachel Lovell Wells for assistance. This sister had continued her childhood hobby of modelling and showed Patricia how to make life-sized sculptures in wax. These they exhibited in a travelling show, earning commissions to sculpt likenesses along the way. Eventually Patricia had her own permanent exhibition in New York, but a fire in 1771 destroyed most of the exhibits. With the help of her sister she re-stocked and opened in Boston, where she met Jane Mecom, who was the sister of Benjamin Franklin. Jane gave Patricia a letter of introduction to her brother, and Patricia came to England intending to use the connection as an entree into London society so that she could meet and sculpt prominent figures of the Age.


Portrait courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

London society flocked to have their likenesses made, including the King and Queen whom she addressed as ‘George’ and ‘Charlotte’ in true egalitarian fashion appropriate to a colonial! Well, she did until the King  withdrew his support for her when she became too strident in her support for the Americans in the War of Independence. But by then she was famous and crowds clamoured to see her models, often full size, because of their uncanny likeness and life-like qualities. Apparently her party piece was to install one of her models in a reception room and then wait for people to realize that they were talking to a dummy!  Walpole welcomed her into his circle of friends, calling her ‘the artistress’

By all accounts she was no great oil painting, with sallow complexion and masculine features, but she soon became famous for her quick wit and coarse language. Not everyone liked her – the outspoken Abigail Adams, who later became the First Lady when her husband John became the second President of the United States (and a woman well known for a choice ‘bon mot’) succinctly  called her “the Queen of sluts.”

A London newspaper of the day reported that “the ingenious Mrs. Wright, whose Skill in taking Likeness, expressing the Passions, and many curious Devices in Wax Work, has deservedly recommended her to public Notice.” Another described her as ‘Promethean’ and another as ‘the American Sybil’ because of her almost magical ability in seeming to catch the soul of the sitter. She made models of royalty, the nobility, scientists and politicians – and on her own admission would secrete plans and overheard gossip about British plans for America and its preparations for war, and put them inside the wax models before shipping them Stateside to her sister.

In 1780 her daughter Phoebe married the English painter John Hoppner, and in the same year her son Joseph Wright (not to be confused with his namesake who chose to be known by the epithet  ‘Joseph Wright of Derby’) had his first picture exhibited at the Royal Academy. It showed his mother, apparently making a wax effigy of the head of Charles 1st immediately prior to his execution, while casting a meaningful glance at portraits of King George III and his wife Queen Charlotte in the background. That didn’t go down too well, and Mrs Wright hurried off to Paris to escape the fuss engendered by the portrait, taking her son in tow. Both made likenesses of Benjamin Franklin and after the war was over Joseph headed back to America to paint the portraits of the new leaders. His mother longed to follow but first of all returned to London in 1782. To her dismay she was no longer in demand, and people dismissed her as mad or bad, or possibly both. She made enquiries to see if her help as an informant, i.e. in passing on British plans, might be rewarded with a gift of a small piece of land back in her homeland. She also wrote to George Washington and gained his approval for the idea of her making a model of him. But alas for poor Patience it was not to be: she had a bad fall after visiting the American Embassy, and died in London on February 25th 1786.

aa Patience_Wright-William_Pitt-1779Very few of her wax models survived her, but there is this one of William Pitt the Elder, full-sized, still on display in Westminster Abbey. There is a likeness of Admiral Howe  attributed to her, made in about 1770, and held in the Newark Museum.

We may never know the truth about her espionage activities, but she was certainly well-connected as a result of her link to Benjamin Franklin: who is to say what indiscretions passed the lips of politicians and military men as they sat before her, while she moulded and scraped the warm wax which she kept covered by her apron?








The wall plaque in Patience Wright’s home town of Bordentown, New Jersey.

Jul 192014

I have always been intrigued by Lady Skipwith – not because she had her portrait painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in May 1787, when she was 35. She had been born in 1752 as Selina Shirley and was the eldest daughter of the Honourable George Shirley, son of the 1st Earl of Ferrers.

Her husband Sir Thomas George Skipwith was already a man of fifty when they tied the knot, two years before the Reynolds portrait. They got married on 13th September 1785 but the marriage proved childless; her husband had become the Fourth Baronet Skipwith* on 6th December 1778 upon the death of his father but the baronetcy came to an end when he died in 1790, at Margate. He was buried at Monks Field.

Lady Skipwith had a reputation as a skilled horsewoman, and a nephew recorded that “there was something rather formidable in her powdered hair and [the] riding habit or joseph which she generally wore.”

Other than that I know little of her life: she outlived her husband by 42 years. In his will Sir Thomas appears to have given her a right to reside in the family home at Newbold Pacey Hall in Warwickshire. When she died on 23 March 1832 the Hall passed to her late husband’s cousin, Sir Grey Skipwith.

You just get the feeling that the married couple may not have been very close – he had spent all his adult life as a bachelor and at 35 she must have assumed that with ‘the first blush of youth passed by’ she was unlikely to marry. Her husband had been an MP for a while, but never actually spoke in the House. It appears they may have had some fairly grandiose ideas for erecting a new stately pile at Newbold – plans were drawn up by Colen Campbell, chief architect of the Prince of Wales.

It looks as though the plans were never implemented (or certainly not in that form) and on the death of the baronet Lady Skipwith may have found herself somewhat strapped for cash. That is the only reason why I can think she came round to my ancestor Richard Hall with her begging bowl. She wanted £1100 – a not inconsiderable sum. Richard lent it to her at four and a half per cent interest, secured by way of mortgage. I do not know how they met, or whether there was a network of go-betweens putting aristo’s who were on hard times in touch with wealthy tradesmen like Richard. I can only assume that they met, some time in the autumn of 1795, because I cannot imagine he would have forked out that sort of money without checking his “investment”. Her house was perhaps 40 miles from where Richard lived.

Richard would have been well used to the idea of money lending to the cash-strapped but asset-rich members of the aristocracy – his brother in law William Snooke was most adept at the art of money lending to the well-heeled and would certainly have shown him how it was best done! Loans of up to a hundred pounds were covered by a promissory note (an I.O.U.) whereas sums above that amount but below a thousand pounds were covered by a bond (i.e. under seal). Loans of over a thousand pounds were secured on a mortgage. This was the routine long-practised to good effect by William Snooke, and this is what Richard followed.

In his list entitled “Of what I am possess’d” for 1795 Richard records the loan for the first time, and mentions it again each time he revised the list (usually once a year). It was still outstanding in 1801 – the year in which Richard died – and so presumably the loan would have been called in by Richard’s executors.


* My thanks to Nancy Mayer for pointing out that he became fourth ‘baronet’, not fourth ‘ baron’. As far as I am concerned baron is used to describe beef, but I appreciate that it is supposed to be used as a peerage title!

May 272014

My 5xGreat Grandfather Francis Hall was a hosier in Red Lyon Street, Southwark. His own apprenticeship (as a haberdasher) lasted seven years and he qualified in 1728. A few years later he appears to have taken on his own apprentice and I recently stumbled across the Indenture.

“Indenture” refers to the fact that the document is indented, leaving room in the margin for the stamp duty to be paid. The blue stamps were validated with a tiny square of silver sewn through the front page, and you can just make  this out, up at the top on the left hand side.

The indenture is on parchment, and would have been prepared in duplicate. The wavy line across the top was cut with a sharp knife as a way of stopping forgery. Both copies of the deed were cut at the same time with the same wavy line, as a way of ensuring both versions were identical – no-one could substitute the front page or add a second page because they would not be able to match the original border  exactly.

The indentured man was Henry Keene, and it appears that he (or rather his father) paid twenty pounds for the privilege of being trained how to make silk stockings. I rather like the prohibition on fornication  or getting married during the seven year training!  “He shall not  haunt Taverns or Playhouses” sounds fair enough, but seven years of no nookie sounds a tad Draconian! Especially as he was also banned from playing Cards, Dice or the Tables…

For all I know Master Keene completed his training and qualified, in 1741. Not all apprentices were prepared to buckle down for so long, and it is interesting reading in the newspapers of the day the reports of apprentices who had done a runner. One such is this one from the Leeds Intelligencer of 25th October 1774:a2

I love the woodcut image of the man on the run! It is interesting that there is no mention of a reward for anyone handing in Mark Whittaker – more a warning that anyone harbouring him would be prosecuted.

Post script: I am grateful to Philip Allfrey for pointing out my error in describing the Indenture as getting its name  from the indented margin. He helpfully points out that the wavy line was the indenture, not the margin. As evidence he  has referred me to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Indent (v. 1) II 2
To sever the two halves of a document, drawn up in duplicate, by a toothed, zigzag, or wavy line, so that the two parts exactly tally with each other; to cut the top or edge of two or more copies of a legal document in such an exactly corresponding shape; hence, to draw up (a document) in two or more exactly corresponding copies.
Thanks for putting me right on that one, Philip. I stand corrected.


Nov 032013

abcd6The Bank of England recently proposed a consultation period for the introduction of banknotes made out of plastic, rather than paper. I am well aware that many countries have already discarded their rather nasty, crumpled, grubby, germ-ridden notes made of paper – Canada and Australia come to mind, but these are Johnny-come-lately countries, and “why should we follow them?” I hear people say.

Scare-mongerers point out that if you fold a plastic note and put it in your back pocket it will unfold, and may spring out and fall to the ground. (I mean, what person with any sense keeps notes folded in a back pocket? A fool and his money deserve to be parted….)

The fact is: we hate change and will always grumble when change is forced upon us. But just think what a major thing it must have been when banknotes started to be introduced in comparatively low denomination notes in the 1790’s, when people had previously always dealt with gold, silver and copper  and where the coin’s intrinsic value was the same as its face value. I mean: “I promise to pay…. ” signed by the Director of the Bank of England is not the same as having the value in your hand, is it?

The Bank of England’s own website (which includes the image of the One pound note dated 1805 shown at the start of this blog) gives the history:

“In 1759, gold shortages caused by the Seven Years War forced the Bank to issue a £10 note for the first time. The first £5 notes followed in 1793 at the start of the war against Revolutionary France. This remained the lowest denomination until 1797, when a series of runs on the Bank, caused by the uncertainty of the war, drained its bullion reserve to the point where it was forced to stop paying out gold for its notes. Instead, it issued £1 and £2 notes. The Restriction Period, as it was known, lasted until 1821 after which gold sovereigns took the place of the £1 and £2 notes. The Restriction Period prompted the Irish playwright and MP, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, to refer angrily to the Bank as “… an elderly lady in the City”. This was quickly changed by cartoonist, James Gillray, to the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, a name that has stuck ever since.”

Ancestor Richard Hall was well aware of the risk of counterfeit notes – as in this entry in his Journal. Even at this early stage, the paper itself was hard to replicate, and the water mark gave forgers all sorts of problems. But I suspect that in the minds of the general public the problem with the notes was inextricably linked to the war with France – it was those darned Frenchies who were causing the problems. The Bank of England refer to Gillray so I looked out one of his caricatures, dating from March 1797. It appears courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery and  is entitled “Bank-notes, – paper-money, – French-alarmists, – o, the devil, the devil! – ah! poor John Bull!!!” and features William Pitt, standing behind the counter, handing out wads of money while Sheridan, Fox and Lord Stanhope discuss whether accepting paper in lieu of gold is a good idea.

Sheridan asserts:

“Don’t take his notes. Nobody takes notes. They don’t even take my notes any more.”

The John Bull character replies:

“I wool take it. A may as well let my Master Billy hold the gold to keep away you Frenchmen, as save it to give it to you, when ye come over, with your damned invasion”.

Fox urges John Bull to decline the notes, with the words “Don’t take his damned paper John, insist upon having gold, to make your peace with the French when they come”

NPG D12601; 'Bank-notes, - paper-money, - French-alarmists, - o, the devil, the devil! - ah! poor John Bull!!!' by James Gillray, published by  Hannah Humphrey

I like the way that both sides claimed “patriotism” as the reason why paper should or should not be accepted. Poor John Bull indeed!

Gillray also showed Pitt in the guise of Midas, spewing forth paper money while clothed in gold. The padlock dangling from his neck reads ‘Power of Securing Public Credit’ and in his hand ‘The Key to Prosperity’.  Pitt may have a body of gold, but he defecates mostly paper onto the  Bank of England, below. The caption underneath explains that Apollo had fixed asses ears to the head of Midas – and although these are half-hidden by a crown, figures lurking amongst the  undergrowth on the left are whispering “Midas has Ears” – i.e. he is an ass.

Nowadays we would have to show George Osborne,the Chancellor, jointly with Mark Carney as Governor of the Bank of England, converting the national wealth into….plastic!

NPG D12603; 'Midas, transmuting all, into paper' by James Gillray, published by  Hannah Humphrey

Sep 182013

In his diary the seventy-year-old Richard Hall writes:

riots2 001

Small wonder that the rioters took to the streets when you consider just what a profound increase there had been in the cost of one of the staples of the British diet – a loaf of bread.


Richard was terrified at the effects of inflation – especially at a time when his disposable income was being savaged by the introduction of income tax. A look at his household expenses shows why he was so concerned:

inflation 001

So, for 1798 Richard spent just over fourteen pounds on bread during the year. It remained much the same for 1799 (Thirteen pounds six shillings and nine pence halfpenny) but the following year it rocketed – doubling in just one year to a shade over twenty seven pounds and twelve shillings! Meat from the butcher went up by a third, while the other expenses were in line with earlier years. It must have been a bewildering time, and Richard’s diaires are full of little notes about how much corn was costing, the size of the harvest, and so on.

Ah well, let them eat cake ….. or, as James Gillray put it,  “Substitutes for Bread, or Right Honorables saving the loaves and dividing the Fishes”.


Sep 052013

c1Once in a while I think it is a good idea to escape the confines of the Eighteenth Century (just not very often!) and with this in mind I have asked the author C J Underwood to do a guest blog, linking in to yesterday’s launch of her novel “An Army of Judiths”.

She sets the historical background to her book as follows:



Netherlands, 1572

Across the Low Countries, towns and cities had barricaded their gates against Phillip II’s invading army led by the bloodthirsty Duke of Alva and his tyrannical son, Toledo. With Amsterdam subjugated, and the ongoing merciless conquest of smaller towns, Spain’s mighty foothold in the Netherlands was gaining strength.

Discharged as governor of the Netherlands by Spain, Prince William of Orange had amassed a fleet of ‘Sea Beggars’, his unofficial navy of furious and vengeful noblemen, bent on defending their faith, land and fortunes. But they were losing. Holland was in the grip of Spain, and the grip was tightening.


The city of Haarlem, just ten miles west of Amsterdam, was in King Phillip’s way. Holland could not be conquered without Haarlem, and the Spanish army marched to take the city. As it neared Haarlem, the city was thrown into disorganised panic.

Mother, sister, widow and shipbuilder, Kenau Hasselaar was the sister-in-law of William of Orange’s physician. She had much to lose should Haarlem fall to Spain.

With a passion to rival King Phillip’s own, Kenau formed a troop of three hundred women, her Army of Judiths. Furious and driven, Kenau trained her troops to match the Spanish invaders blow for bloody blow. With these women, she launched a defence of the city in a desperate bid to protect her family, her way of life, and her beloved Haarlem.”

I vaguely remember learning about the siege of Haarlem in my school days, but had not heard of the extraordinary story of Kenau Hasselaar, so I asked the author for some more information about how her book came to be written. She tells me:

“When I moved to the Netherlands in the early 1990s to work on a novel, I discovered a much different nation to write about.

I first encountered the legend of Kenau Hasselaar when I overheard a professor and his students at the University of Leiden’s library, and was immediately captivated. The professor spoke about the savage sixteenth century Dutch Revolt against the invading Spanish King Phillip II, the revolt that inspired one woman’s fight to preserve the lifestyle that her family had nurtured for generations. Kenau’s battle was the seven-month Siege of Haarlem, 1572-1573. The professor recited the legend of this spirited aristocrat who had been driven to form an army of three hundred women soldiers. He said that Kenau had trained them to fight the Spanish back from the walls of Haarlem, but had refused to wear armour.

Kenau Hassellaar

Kenau Hasselaar

From the moment Kenau entered her consciousness, I determined to learn every possible detail about this inspirational female character, a woman that was grist to the mill of my own life story. Although I’d always written, I had spent my career at the time travelling a man’s world; I’d thought nothing of working as a chef in all-male brigades, and was the first woman in the British Merchant Navy to work in the North Sea.

My first surprise was that in the Netherlands the name Kenau was synonymous with the derogative, Bitch. If Kenau Hasselaar had indeed been a Dutch war heroine, I couldn’t understand why she was so maligned by modern Dutch society. After a thorough search of the Amsterdam women’s library, and various other institutions, I was baffled to find nothing more solid than a couple of cursory, albeit reliable, reference works and some old, unreliable stories of Kenau’s part in the siege. I found a tapestry of Kenau in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, but it wasn’t until some years later that paintings of Kenau Hasselaar were available online.

It seemed to me that legends have a lot to answer for, after all these years the fable that Kenau Hasselaar was a dedicated cutthroat for the sake of it should have morphed into something more honourable. She may indeed have been a hellcat, but she must have been so much more besides. Some legends just beg interrogation.

c5Having visited Haarlem many times to research Kenau Hasselaar’s role in the siege, I enlisted the help of a few eminent historians, one of whom explained that Kenau must have been a frequent visitor to the Cityhouse to meet with Haarlem’s magistrates in order to collect writs that she’d handed to her debtors, some whom lived as far afield as Delft.

Luckily, those official meetings were well documented; otherwise very little personal information would have survived about Kenau’s lifestyle. One historian suggested to me that Kenau might have been quite an unwelcome sight at the Cityhouse, just for that reason alone. I don’t think she’d have been too happy with anyone poking about in her affairs, however, which is why I was so keen to get my facts right.

My novel rigorously follows the historical details of the siege itself, which was also well documented. It is a remarkable history that needs no embellishment, and the more I discovered, the deeper went my respect for Kenau Hasselaar, and indeed all the courageous citizens of Haarlem, particularly the women who withstood the brutality of sixteenth century warfare.

c4My second big surprise was that in Northern Europe at the time, when a city was under attack, women had always fought. Towns and cities were built with ramparts, they were formed as citadels, or bastions, and when attacked everyone defended their home.

Women were probably more vicious in battle than we’ve ever given them credit for, as a woman I feel particularly touched by accounts of man’s inhumanity towards women. I immediately put myself in Kenau’s shoes, as a mature Dutch woman, mother, and no fool, Kenau must have known that once those marauding Spaniards broke through the bulwarks and gates of Haarlem, she and her daughters, sisters and nieces would lose their lives in ways too terrible to contemplate. So Kenau wasted no time in contemplating the obvious; she rounded up three hundred of Haarlem’s toughest, most formidable women, and taught them how to defend themselves; to fight off the enemy, and to protect their beloved city. But first they rebuilt the decrepit walls of Haarlem.

Then they waited.

Apart from her noble lineage, Kenau had a sister who was married to the Prince of Orange’s physician, which suggests that she may have been privy to the intricacies of the political turmoil of the day.

c8The first report of Kenau’s role in the siege, written before it had even ended in 1573 by a Friesian scholar named Arcerius, was a published account of Kenau’s contemptuous baiting of the enemy. This might have been sixteenth century Dutch propaganda, of course, but the marvellous image of this woman at the walls of Haarlem taunting the Spanish with icons, relics and at times of hardship, bread and beer, has never left me.

I discovered that historians have disagreed for generations about Kenau’s role, both as a war heroine, and as a business woman. Kenau was the widow of a Haarlem shipbuilder, and instead of marrying again after his death, it is entirely possible that she built ships in her own right. Her shipyard no longer exists, but had faced onto the Spaarne River, which runs through Haarlem, next to the Adriaan Windmill (Molen De Adriaan), which was built in 1778. I learned that she had indeed traded in timber, so even if she hadn’t built ships, for a woman to be in such a strong business position in the sixteenth century shows a remarkably hardy sort of personality. However, I learned that after she was widowed, Kenau’s shipyard took multiple orders for ships that were suitable for the Dutch inland waterways. It is also documented that not only had Kenau bought property, but supplied timber for Haarlem to build a single-decked sailing galley. This ship would have been fitted with guns, and was big enough to hold 1,000 men. The city owed her money for the timber, and Kenau’s daughters continued fighting for this debt to be paid long after their mother’s death.”

c7Thanks for that! As the strap-line says ‘She brought Haarlem to the edge of victory, and the enemy to its knees’.

For more information about the history behind this fascinating Dutch Revolt, and the siege of Haarlem, see the author’s website here.

“An army of Judiths” is available in hardback and eBook, and paperback in 2014. You can find the link to Amazon  here. It is an inspiring story – go read!




Jan 112013

There is no escaping the fact: Richard’s eldest son William was a bit of a hooligan. As it happened he turned out O.K. in the long run, ending up as Master of the Worshipful Company of Haberdashers, but, as a youngster, he was by all accounts a feral child!

Poor Richard’s diaries are full of entries about having to pay for mending glass windows in passing carriages, broken by William throwing stones! Time and time again Richard seems to have been forced to take the boy out of one school or another because he was a trouble maker. I bet Richard must have had second thoughts about taking William on as an apprentice when the lad reached fifteen…

Every school holidays the young William had been packed off to the country, where the air was healthier. Usually he stayed with his aunt and uncle at Bourton on the Water but presumably his boisterousness tired his relatives, as evidenced by this elaborately written invitation:

The letter is written from Hempsted, then a small hamlet situated just South West of Gloucester, and barely half a day’s horse-ride from the rest of the family who continued to stay at Bourton. It would appear that young Master William, aged 8 at the time, spent Christmas with the Morgan Jones household. I imagine that they were happy to supplement their income by taking in a lodger to keep ‘Master Robarts’ company. I know nothing of Master Robarts but the inviation to send William back to stay with the family at Whitsuntide was presumably taken up, and Richard filed the letter with his other papers.

The writing really is beautifully done. It is only a guess, but I suspect that Morgan Jones may have been a legal clerk in a Solicitor’s Office in Gloucester, because his hand is so reminiscent of contemporary legal documents, especially with the emboldened writing and curlicues around the signature.

I have to think that life in the country must have seemed like heaven to young William – how he must have dreaded returning to London, and to school, which he loathed!

Nov 052012

In a previous blog I touched on the topic of japanned ware – be it metal or papier mâché. Some of the illustrations were from a website belonging to an Antique Dealer in London called Antique Boxes at the Sign of the Hygra. They featured a quite superb table cabinet and although it is not to be found in their catalogue anymore it really is so marvellous that I have decided to give the box a blog-spot of its own! My apologies if this repeats some information already given…

Hygra describe it as a “Rare 18th C painted Papier Mâché table cabinet on gilded carved wooden stand. The two door cabinet with hinged top is decorated with chinoiserie themes on the outside and inside with wild flowers and butterflies.


The composition is an elegant orchestration of a sweeping path from pavilions to tall oriental figures. The left side counterbalances the heavier decoration on the right with fine depictions of foliage and airy trees.


The cabinet is constructed of flat panels which points to an early date when papier mâché was made as a substitute for wood and competing with panels of decorated oriental lacquer which were being imported and used by many of the respected designer makers.

Papier Mâché has qualities which made it superior to wood for the purpose in providing a smoother surface for painted decoration.


The methods used in this cabinet date back to an influential treatise from the previous century: Stalker, John. M.A., and (George) Parker of Oxford . A Treatise of Japaning and Varnishing, being a compleat discovery of those arts … with … patterns for Japan-work … engraven on 24 … copper-plates. Oxford: 1688.

Inside there are eight drawers; the fronts have paintings of butterflies and flowers.

Chinoiserie decoration was the height of fashion during the 18th Century and early 19th Century, when the west was gripped by the glimpses of exotic cultures of the East (Cathay) which were introduced by the tales of early travellers and traders of the Silk Road. European artists accompanied formal delegations and brought back a treasure trove of art, which was exhibited, printed and generally disseminated amongst the people of inquisitive mind and eclectic taste.

This is a rare fine example of the genre in that it combines both skill and artistry in its graceful composition: it is both refined and luxurious in the best tradition of the period.

Origin: Circa: 1780 ; Materials: papier mâché, wood.

Size: 37 cm wide by 18 cm by 39 cm: (14.7 inches wide by 7.1 inches by 15 inches).





Types of japanning in an effort to reproduce lacquer had already been produced in many parts of Europe . Early forms of japanning on wood necessitated coating the wood before decoration. It was an inevitable step to extend the function of the coating to incorporate the basic material. This could reduce the necessary processes from three to two and give a new substance, which could be marketed as of superior quality and as quite distinct from oriental work.






As the 18th century progressed, it was realized that in order to render the material suitable for the making of superior objects, it had to be refined. Henry Clay is credited with the next big step of the process, but it is more accurate to go one generation back to his one-time employer, John Baskerville. Baskerville was a manufacturer of tin japanned ware at Birmingham . He was also a printer, with a passion for calligraphy. Henry Clay was apprenticed to him from 1740-49. Baskerville was an inquiring and talented man who made his own paper and ink. He already understood the principle of japanning. His printing work was reputed to be of exquisite taste. Everything was in place for the next logical step: that is, combining paper with japanning.

Baskerville and two other craftsmen had already experimented with making panels out of sheets of paper which were pasted together. In 1763, one of the other two men, Stephen Bedford, won the recognition of The Society of Arts for his superior varnish. It is likely that during the time when Clay was a young apprentice, experiments aiming at producing a superior form of papier mâché took place in Baskerville’s workshop.

Different makers did introduce different techniques and variations, but the principle remained as Clay described it. Sheets of paper soaked in paste were pressed together, on a flat plate, or board. Equal numbers were pasted on each side. The paper sheets were then separated from the plate, by planning or cutting the edges. They were then dried in a stove “…sufficiently hot to deprive them of their flexibility and at the same time are rubbed over, or dipped in oil or varnish…” The resulting material was used like wood, joining the parts by dovetailing or mitering. The final object was “…coated with colour and oils…and then japanned and highly varnished and can be brought to the highest polish by friction with the human hand”.

Chinoiserie decoration was the height of fashion during the 18th Century and early 19th Century, when the west was gripped by the glimpses of exotic cultures of the East (Cathay) which were introduced by the tales of early travellers and traders of the Silk Road.”

I think the box is exquisite. You can see more of what the lovely people at Hygra have on their books here. Suffice to say they have some beautiful tea caddies, writing boxes etc and details of a book written by them which I would love to get my hands on called Antique Boxes, Tea Caddies & Society —1700 – 1780. Do go and have a look at a fascinating glimpse into a bygone era!

A sincere thanks to  Joseph O’Kelly and Antigone Clarke at Hygra for letting me use their photographs and text.

Nov 022012

As a child I remember opening the curtains in the morning and marvelling at the frost pictures – whirls and fern-shapes spreading across the cold glass. Not something we get nowadays with central heating, but a reminder that our ancestors must have  taken extreme cold in their stride much better than we do – because they had no choice!

My favourite diary entry made by Richard Hall when writing about the cold was this one, when he remarks that it was so cold that it froze the water in the chamber pot:


Even with bed curtains to keep out drafts, nothing, but nothing could have prepared you for the icy cold sheets of a Georgian bed – unless of course you were fortunate enough to have had your servant warm the bed first with a bed warming pan.

By way of illustration, two etchings by William Heath, both shown courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library site and dating from around 1828.

The first is entitled “A nice place in cold weather”

The second, part of the Man with umbrella series (see icon bottom left), is entitled “Do you please to have your bed warm’d Sir?” (presumably a reference to the bed warming pan she is carrying, but there again, maybe not!).


Great, great, great, great grandfather’s bed warmer!

Warming pans started to gain popularity in the 1600’s. The early pans were somewhat heavy, with cast iron handles and deep pans able to hold whole coals. The hinged lids were often pierced to allow oxygen to reach the burning coal (necessary to stop the fire going out – the drawback being a risk of fire starting under the bedclothes, and the certainty of a fume-filled room when you retired to bed). Also it wasn’t just a case of the servant using the tongs to collect a coal from the grate, and putting it in the pan which would have been hanging by the fireplace, and then going up the stairs and planting it between the sheets – the pan needed to be moved regularly to stop the sheets getting scorched (hence the long handle for maneuvering the pan around the bed).By the late Georgian era the pans were less deep, because the fashion was to use embers or charcoal in the pans – or even hot sand – so oxygen was less of a problem in keeping the pan hot. The pans became lighter as the iron handles were replaced with wooden ones, some of them elaborately turned. In general though, the older pans had straight plain handles (the Victorian ones were nearly always  turned like banister rails).The pan itself was either copper or brass, both metals being good for conducting the heat.

Not everyone thought that a warm bed was a good idea. A somewhat cranky and cantankerous Scottish doctor  called James Makittrick Adair opened a practice in fashionable Bath and in 1786 published a handily-entitled series of essays under the heading of  “Those Especially who Resort to Bath : Containing Essays on Fashionable Diseases : Dangerous Effects of Hot and Crowded Rooms : Regimen of Diet, &c. an Enquiry Into the Use of Medicine During a Course of Mineral Waters : an Essay on Quacks, Quack Medicines, and Lady Doctors……”

What the good doctor had to say about quacks and lady doctors is for another time, but about hot rooms he had this to say:

“People in health ought never to have their beds warmed; not only because the fumes of the coals are in some degree noxious, but because warmth thus applied enervates the body. If, however, invalids and sick persons cannot from custom dispense with bed warming, one or two quarts of sand, made red hot in an iron pot, and put into the warming pan, will be void of all offensive smell.”

Clearly there was less of a risk of fire, or scorching, if a hot water bottle was used instead. Made of metal, the user would first have had to slip the bottle into a ‘jacket’ of cloth to prevent burning the skin. These became popular in the Victorian era, made of copper and, later, from china.