Jul 032020

I must admit I know very little about Richard Tickell – and what little I did know was linked to his appearance in the Tête-à-Tête  section of the Town & Country Magazine. This scurrilous feature specialized in gossip, and suggested that he was having an affair with a woman known as Mrs Barnes – described as “the Barn-door Fowl”

So I was delighted when I heard from a reader of this blog called Angela Humby, who introduces herself with the words: “I’ve been interested in all things from the 18th century for about 4 years now, with a keen interest in the Georgian Theatre. Also reading about 18th century aristocrats/ gentlemen and the crazy things some of them got up to. I love to visit historic places in the UK to see country mansions, gardens and follies/grottoes.  I am a member of the Folly Fellowship. I am (trying!) to learn Latin in order to read 18th century inscriptions and monuments. Based near Portsmouth and married”.

Angela has researched Richard Tickell and has kindly agreed to do a guest blog for me – so, over to you Angela!

Richard Tickell by Thomas Gainsborough, c 1778

“I first came face to face with Richard ‘Anticipation’ Tickell in January 2019 in Bath, England.  That is to say with the original handsome portrait of him on loan to The Holburne Museum in Bath as part of the ‘Gainsborough & the Theatre’ temporary exhibition being held there at the time.

As the exhibition only ran from the end of 2018 to 20 January 2019, I nearly missed the chance to see this fine portrait, finding out about its inclusion in the exhibition only on 6th January 2019!

Richard Tickell was born in 1751, it is said in Bath. He was originally married to Mary Linley whose famous father Thomas Linley was an English bass and musician and taught his children music – including Mary and her sister, Elizabeth Linley.

Sisters Mary and Elizabeth Linley – the future Mrs Tickell and Mrs Sheridan –  by Thomas Gainsborough, shown courtesy of Dulwich Art Gallery

Elizabeth married the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan – thus Tickell and Sheridan became brothers in law. Both Tickell and Sheridan were very competitive with each other as Richard Tickell was also a playwright. This competitiveness also showed itself in their family life with both Richards being fond of practical jokes. Sheridan got the better of Tickell once when he took every plate in the house and stacked them up in a room which allowed only a small narrow way through. Sheridan showed Tickell the way through and got past the plates with no problems. However, when Tickell tried to follow him all the plates started to topple on him causing him to receive some severe cuts and bruises. Tickell was naturally very angry at this and vowed to get even with Sheridan (which no doubt he did!)  but was said to have commented to Lord John Townshend “but how amazingly well done it was!”

Richard Tickell was clever, and wrote a pamphlet called “Anticipation” which came  out several days before the opening day of Parliament in 1778. He wrote it anonymously but when it became a great success and was attributed to Tickell it earned him the name of ‘Anticipation Tickell’. One of the presentation copies sent out was to the actor David Garrick whom Tickell was known to. Accompanying the pamphlet, Tickell wrote: “Dear Sir, Pray like Anticipation – I shall not regret any literary effort, if it happens to please those whose taste and good opinion I most wish to cultivate”.

1781 was the pinnacle of his success as Lord North awarded him a place in the Stamp Office and a set of rooms in Hampton Court. Very sadly, his first wife Mary died in 1787 leaving him inconsolable. However, two years later he had re-married  to Sarah Ley, a beautiful girl of 18! Richard was 38 at the time….

Sarah Ley by George Romney, c 1789. Both images shown courtesy of the National Trust.

Sarah (after Richard Cosway) by Jean Condé. (The NT attributes it as being a portrait of first wife Mary).













It was during this second marriage that a bond which Tickell had given was called in,
leaving him in serious financial difficulties. He wrote to his friend Warren Hastings asking for a loan of £500 which was granted to him as shown by a second letter he wrote back to Hastings saying:

“Dear Sir, I feel it impossible to express by any words how deeply I am impressed with every sentiment of respect and gratitude for your spirited and noble manner of acceding to my request. It will ever be the pride and pleasure of my life to remember your goodness to me with the most perfect attachment and request. Believe me, Dear Sir, Your most obliged and faithful, Richard Tickell”.

Tragically, five months later Tickell met with his death on the 4th November 1793, by falling from the parapet by his window at Hampton Court Palace. Here he had been in the habit of sitting and reading. It has been suggested this was in fact not an accident but suicide, however this remains unproven. His brother-in-law Sheridan convinced the authorities it was an accident, allowing Richard to be buried in the crypt in St.Mary’s Church in Hampton.

Richard Tickell’ s memorial plaque

Richard Tickell’s portrait is now back in private ownership so I feel very lucky to have seen it as it has inspired me to find out more about the man and his works.”

Thanks, Angela, for filling me in about an interesting satirist and playwright – one of those peripheral figures whose name crops up in connection with the greats such as Garrick and Sheridan.

Jul 112019

‘An actress at her toilet, or Miss Brazen just breecht ‘(i.e. putting on breeches), by John Colley.

Researching for my next-book-but-one (Sex and Sexuality in the Georgian era) my mind wandered into the territory of what was considered physically attractive by men in the eighteenth century. It ties in with a chapter on cross dressing – all those ridottos and masquerades where men could dress as women, and vice versa.

It also  involves looking at Chevalier d’Eon – perhaps the first openly transvestite person in Britain. He was a French diplomat, spy and social butterfly who came to live in London, first as a man and then, for some 22 years, as a woman. He deserves a separate post of his own.


Instead: a few thoughts about breeches parts – the name given where  operas and plays required the part of the man to be played by a woman. It is a device used by Mozart in the Marriage of Figaro – and it still survives to this day with the tradition of the pantomime dame being played by a man – and the principle boy played by a young woman in trousers. The device had first come to prominence in Restoration dramas where males in the audience were delighted to see  women show so much shapely leg. If they were lucky, the denouement included the actress shaking  off her tight-cropped wig to reveal her flowing locks, and whipping off her top to reveal that ‘she’ was very definitely not a ‘he’. Gosh, I wonder if any in the audiences had guessed….

By the eighteenth century it was a popular device, even if it was slightly toned down – but even without  bare breasts the breeches role had many male admirers, no doubt weary of  looking at women in voluminous full-length gowns, with not even a well-turned ankle on view.

I particularly like the story of the rake Charles James Fox, who had the hots for the actress Elizabeth Farren. She was considered a real beauty and when Fox heard that the object of his lust was appearing in a breeches part as  Nancy Lovel in Colman’s The Suicide, off he rushed to the theatre. It was the night of 11 July 1778 – exactly 241 years ago, when the Whig rake took his seat, eagerly anticipating a close look at Ms. Farren. The role required her to be disguised as Dick Rattler, a “breeches part,” but  horror of horrors, it showed that she had no shapely posterior at all! The costume may have revealed  her very slender figure, but without the right curves in the right places Fox was utterly disappointed, and turned his lustful thoughts elsewhere. She  was declared to be “all in one straight line from head to foot” but somehow she  managed to get over the disappointment of losing one admirer, and instead managed to ensnare  Edward Smith-Stanley, the Twelfth Earl of Derby. Her last appearance on stage was in April 1797, two months before her marriage which elevated her to the title of Countess of Derby. Maybe she wasn’t a Foxy lady, but I reckon she made the best choice….

Portrait of Elizabeth Farren, by Thomas Lawrence. Underneath all that drapery was a sadly unimpressive posterior ….


Feb 202018

1212One of the phenomena of the Georgian era was the popularity of the masked ball. It appealed to all social classes, and people did rather more than just put on a ‘Lone Ranger’ pair of eye-goggles; they dressed up as clowns, shepherdesses, allegorical figures vegetables – whatever took their fancy. They cross-dressed, and, liberated by their apparent anonymity, abandoned all propriety and sense of inhibition.

Probably for that reason they were often frequented by prostitutes on the pull. Which is where my interest came in, because I had been looking  at masquerades in context of my book “Sex, Scandal and Satire – In bed with the Georgians”.

The image at the top comes from the ever-excellent Lewis Walpole Library site, and shows all the principal characters at a masquerade in 1789 at the Rotunda. As you can see, the people attending theses balls went to a lot of trouble with their costumes. The same site gives us “The Beauty Unmask’d” (left) and “Lady Betty Bustle and her Maid Lucy preparing for the Masquerade at The Pantheon” on the right.

1313    1515











The one on the left, with her ermine-lined cape, dates from 1770, and the elegant lady dolled up to the nines on the right is from two years later. Somehow I don’t see them as bestowing their favours on the young gallants for less than a fortune. On the other hand, this one from the British Museum site, is clearly ready for a bit of horizontal jogging – her swain has already removed his mask and is absolutely sure that he is on to a good thing. It dates from 1771.


As the verse underneath puts it, ‘Our Buck unmasks and makes his wishes known, … No Art can curb, no Mask can hide desire.’

Here is a more ‘tasteful’ image, once more from Lewis Walpole, showing a masquerade at the Argyll Rooms in 1826:

1414It all seems a bit staid to me, so to end with, a view from the raucous, joyful, over-the-top Thomas Rowlandson in his 1790 picture entitled “Dressing for a masquerade”

171717A group of happy hookers are getting ready for the ball, decolletages to the fore. I love all the action, with the hairdresser, the maid holding up a mirror, the stocking being rolled up, the masquerade head-dress with its discreet veil, and the dog barking at all the excitement. The masked lady on the right is gazing at her reflection as she struggles with the lacing on the back on her outfit, and as ever with Rowlandson, the figures are either rather beautiful or incredibly ugly!  Somehow you know that their evening will revolve around pleasure – and that someone is going to have to pay for it!

(First posted in modified form 2014)

Oct 202017

a2203 years ago today, the death occurred in Paris of one of the greatest showmen of his Age – indeed of any Age. His name: Philip Astley.

Forget Barnum, forget Bailey – a hundred years earlier than these giants of the circus came Philip Astley, generally acknowledged as “the Father of the Circus.” Most circus stars were (and still are) born into a particular branch of the entertainment world – there are generations of the same family who juggle, or walk the tightrope, or whatever. But Astley had no theatrical or street-entertainment background – his father was a cabinet maker from Newcastle under Lyme. Yet he became a giant of popular entertainment. How? Because of horsemanship.

©Trustees of the British Museum.

©Trustees of the British Museum.

Equestrian skills were at the heart of his acts  – he could get his horse to dance the minuet, or the hornpipe. He could do handstands while riding a horse, firing a pistol. He could ride three or four horses at the same time, and jump from the back of a horse over a ribbon held twelve feet above ground level. He could gallop at full speed, slide off the saddle and pick up a sword from the  ground without  pausing. These were skills honed when he served in the British Army during the Seven Years War. Here was a man who thought nothing of charging through the enemy lines to rescue the Duke of Brunswick, who had fallen injured and been overtaken by the swirl of battle. He also captured an enemy standard and presented it to the elderly George II. Later, he rubbed shoulders with George III, blew the socks off fanatical crowds, and went on to open no fewer than 19 circus premises throughout England and Europe.a5

My ancestor Richard Hall’s handbill from when he went to see Astley in the 1770’s.

 He diversified from horse riding skills to introduce clowning; he did juggling and magic tricks involving an early form of a mind-reading act; he brought a spectacle involving fireworks, an orchestra, juggling, acrobatics, rope walking,  and so on and gave the public what they wanted – skills and thrills a-plenty. He created the role of ringmaster, standing in the centre of a circus ring, controlling the horses and performers, with his bellowing voice and “statuesque” physique (he was over six feet tall, and had a girth like a tree trunk).

a6His business empire was frequently hit by fire, but each time his premises burned to the ground, he re-built them. Curiously he always re-built in wood, never stone, despite the obvious risks of using candles – literally thousands of them – with sawdust on the floor, wooden seats, and with a wooden roof and walls.

He trained and inspired a legion of skilled entertainers and impresarios, who spread the circus throughout Europe, to America, Asia and Australia. Forget the sad parade of wild animals being dragged from town to town – they were not HIS circus. His was based  on equestrian skills – although admittedly he also used  a monkey called General Jackoo who performed acrobatic tricks, and a “Scientific Pig” able to count cards and do mind-reading tricks! Astley  was the horse whisperer of his Age – and a brilliant showman.

He enjoyed royal patronage  both in England and in France – he was a particular favourite of Marie Antoinette.

He  led a remarkable life, but died of “gout in the stomach” in 1814 in Paris, aged 72. He was succeeded by his son John, another brilliant horseman, but he only outlived his father by seven years,  before  liver failure killed him. He died in the same house – and indeed the same room, in the same bed – as his father and both were buried in the same cemetery.

Astley's Circus cover 001

Next year marks the 250th anniversary of the very first circus performance by Philip Astley and to mark the occasion I will be giving various talks about the great man, linked to the book I brought out a couple of years ago entitled “Philip Astley – the English Hussar”.   Meanwhile: I salute the old boy – he was a rough diamond if ever there was one. A man with virtually no formal education, he was a Georgian entrepreneur who should be up there with  all the other greats of the Age, from Boulton to Wedgwood to  Chippendale –  and yet his success is nowadays totally overlooked. I suppose it’s too late to try and get the Royal Mail to honour him with a commemorative stamp? It’s the least we could do to remember him!


P.S. The book on Astley is available on Amazon in both a full colour and a monochrome version. See Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk


Mar 312017

It seems to me that if you were going to the theatre in the Eighteenth Century, you probably wouldn’t want to take your wife with you! This view is reinforced by an interesting Rowlandson print, shown courtesy of the British Museum, entitled “The Lobby Loungers” showing people gathered in the foyer at Covent Garden theatre. The year: 1786.

AN00949544_001In the centre, the notorious lecher George Hanger is busy negotiating terms with a pair of prostitutes.

AN00949544_001 - Copy

AN00949544_001 - CopyThe girl next to him has a sexy, laced-up bodice and a daring amount of cleavage. She wears a polonaise gown and a fine feathered hat, and the point of her fan is directed towards the “lunch box” of Naughty Georgie, who was no doubt hoping to “Buy One – Get one Free.”

AN00949544_001 - CopyOn the right, there is a scene of misunderstanding and consternation, with a man, quizzing glass in hand, seeking to importune a “respectable lady” – well, she may or may not have been respectable, but she was already spoken for and has a much younger companion to her side.

AN00949544_001 - CopyOn the left is another chatting-up scene, with a bawd, basket in hand, hoping to negotiate a price for the young girl, sitting down.

Who then was George Hanger? A bit of a lad really, often featured by Gillray in his caricatures. Hanger was the third of seven children born to an M.P. in Gloucester. Never likely to inherit his father’s estates, he followed the well-worn route for third sons i.e. into the Army. Indeed he bought a commission and served with Tarleton in the American Revolutionary War. When Tarleton was indisposed due to illness, he led the British troops in an attack on Charlotte (North Carolina) but was ambushed, and his men took something of a  a mauling. Hanger was injured, but not seriously.George Hanger 4th_Baron_Coleraine

When he returned to England he became a close friend of the Prince of Wales, being made Equerry in 1791. He was great company, a great gambler and womaniser, and eventually succeeded to his father’s title having outlived both his elder brothers to become 4th Baron Coleraine. Women seemed to slip through his fingers – he reputedly married once, to a gypsy girl, but she ran off with a passing tinker….some you win, some you lose!

Gillray, in one of twenty etchings featuring Hanger held by the National Portrait Gallery, showed him riding a horse down Grosvenor Street, in “Georgey a’ Cockhorse”:

NPG D12584; George Hanger, 4th Baron Coleraine ('Georgey a' cock-horse') by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey
















He also features in one of the best-known Gillray prints, “The Royal Joke – or Black Jack’s Delight” shown courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery. The scene is at the home of the Prince of Wales (Carlton House). In the foreground The Prince of Wales holds the rather stout Mrs. Sawbridge across his knees and prepares to spank her; she holds out her arms imploringly. Her husband is shown enthusiastically playing a fiddle and dancing. On the left Lady Archer, dressed in her usual red riding habit, holds a driving-whip, and points angrily at Mrs Sawbridge. Next to her a little girl, the daughter of Mrs Sawbridge, looks on in horror at the way her mother is being treated. Various onlookers are in the background, including Mrs Fitzherbert who seems to have  the politician Fox draped amorously around her. Next to Fox, George Hanger stands in profile, looking to the left and wearing his military uniform.

NPG D12996; 'The royal joke, - or - black jacks delight' by James Gillray, published by Samuel William Fores

One of the more curious aspects of his life was that when he got into serious financial difficulties – on account of his gambling – he showed that he was far from afraid to get his hands dirty. He became a coal merchant! Gillray shows him lugging a sack of coal in this caricature from 1800, entitled “Georgey in the coal-hole” and shown courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery.

NPG D12741; George Hanger, 4th Baron Coleraine ('Georgey in the coal-hole') by James Gillray, published by  Hannah Humphrey

Hanger died in 1824 at the age of 73 – the title died out with him. Speaking of his experiences in life, he apparently stated “I was early introduced into life, and often kept both good and bad company; associated with men both good and bad, and with lewd women, and women not lewd, wicked and not wicked; — in short, with men and women of every description, and of every rank, from the highest to the lowest, from St. James’s to St. Giles’s; in palaces and night cellars; from the drawing-room to the dust cart….Human nature is in general frail, and mine I confess has been wonderfully so.”


That’s all very well, but I still don’t think I will allow him to accompany my wife to the theatre….! He does however get a mention in my book “In bed with the Georgians: Sex, Scandal & Satire” as being one of those rakish, lovable, rogues who drifted in and out of the story of the Prince Regent. Farewell General George, the randiest coal merchant I have ever encountered!

Dec 072016

Regardless of whether or not you like boxing, the fact remains that in the eighteenth century boxing  was hugely popular, and was regarded as fairer than duelling with sword or pistol. Huge crowds were attracted to bouts, which could last from dawn until dusk, and widespread gambling underpinned the contests.

7th December marks the anniversary of the death in 1734 of one James Figg, hailed at the time as the Father of Modern Boxing (or, as he would call it, the ‘manly art of self-defence’).

figg-4-plaqueHe had been born around 1695 to a poor farming family in Thame, Oxfordshire, the youngest of seven childen. Later he was to develop into a 6-foot tall, 185-pound athlete, who early-on exhibited a prodigious talent for fencing. He also mastered the short sword, cudgel, and quarterstaff. Later he took up the study of “boxing” as the unarmed combat, which had become popular in the late 1600’s, was commonly called.

The “boxing”practiced by Figg was in a different league to what we know today: it was a no-holds-barred contest which would usually take place over 3 bouts, one of swordplay with a choice of live swords, daggers & shields; one of bare-knuckle boxing; and one of quarterstaff or cudgels. Bare knuckle fighting permitted eye gouging, hair pulling, spitting, head-butting, purring (shin-kicking), stomping and kicking downed opponents, as well as wrestling throws, and grappling whilst on the ground. The men who took part in these gladiatorial contests were called prize fighters – because they fought for a prize of a purse, or cups or free drinks etc. Of all these prize fighters, James Figg was the outstanding champion of his time.

He developed his own unique style  (known as ‘Figg’s fighting’) – rather than wading in and risking injury to himself he would sum up his opponent first and alter his style accordingly. He brought to boxing the thrust-and-parry skills he had perfected while fencing. If his opponent was a wrestler he would batter him with fierce blows; if the rival was a better boxer then he would grapple him to the ground to gain a submission. Figg prospered as he travelled the length and breadth of the country attending fairs and shows, challenging all-comers. He gained the patronage of the Earl of Peterborough and set up a fighting academy to train other pugilists, as well as a fighting stage known as Figg’s Amphitheatre’. Similar amphitheatres were set up in Hyde Park and in Oxford Street.

Figg went on to claim the title of Champion of  England in 1719.

The pub in Thame named after local hero James Figg

The pub in Thame named after local hero James Figg

He defended his title on many occasions and is believed to have won 269 out of his 270 fights. The only blemish on his record was when he lost to Ned Sutton, a man he had previously beaten.


The Sutton v Figg match

The decider was to take place on 6th of June 1727, in front of an audience of 3,000 spectators, including the Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole. The first round was with swords and a cut to Sutton’s shoulder resulted in Figg winning that round. A thirty minute break was permitted before the start of the second round. This was bare knuckle fighting which Figg won by a submission. The third round was with cudgels during which Figg shattered Sutton’s knee to win the match and reclaim the title. Not the sort of man to run into on a dark night!

After 1730 Figg largely gave up fighting, concentrating on training and promoting others, in particular George Taylor (who succeeded him as Champion of England and who was to take over the business when Figg died) and the legendary Jack Broughton (possibly Figg’s own grandson, and a man who will get a post of his own in due course). It was Broughton who was the first to introduce rules for boxing (laying down regulations about the size of the ring, who holds the purse, not kicking a man when he is down, and the length of count). Under ‘Broughton’s Rules’ a fallen boxer would be given a count of thirty seconds to come up to his mark – a line scratched on the floor of the ring, If he failed to ‘come up to scratch’ he lost the bout. Prior to Broughton there was the chaotic situation where there were no weight divisions or round limits, and no referee. Broughton also brought in an early form of boxing glove or muffler, but these were used only for exhibition matches and for practice bouts in order to avoid the risk of injury to his trainees, many of whom were young aristocrats.

James Figg's trade card

James Figg’s trade card

Nov 092016

Tuesday 9th November 1779 – Richard Hall noted “Saw the Lord Mayor’s Show by water. Wet in morn’g. Was fine at the time of the show, afternoon fair, not cold.”


London had a mayor way back in the reign of King John, although there wasn’t a ‘Lord Mayor’ until the fifteenth century. The first mayors were appointed but in recognition of the support given by the good burghers of the City, the monarch granted them the privilege of electing their mayor – but on one condition: once a year the mayor had to present himself at Westminster to pledge allegiance to the Crown. And so it was that the new mayor, with his retinue of supporters from the various Livery Companies, made his way upriver from the City to Westminster. And for nearly 800 years each mayor has done the same, with a few breaks for the odd war or civil insurrection.

Nowadays the Lord Mayor is met by the Lord Chief Justice rather than by the monarch in person*, but for centuries it has been a pageant, with much finery on display, with tableaux and floats (indeed the name ‘float’ originated form the elaborate displays which were brought up-river on decorated barges).

Some time in the fifteenth century the Lord Mayor , then a draper called John Norman, decided to make at least part of the journey by boat, and the livery companies vied with each other for grand barges to accompany the procession. It became the ‘done thing’ to view proceedings from the water – hence Richard’s reference to it in his diary. It would have been a grand spectacle, with music, singing and great displays. No wonder Canaletto, on one of his visits to the City, painted a couple of views of the pageant, viewed from the Thames.

The Thames and the City, Canaletto

File:Canaletto Westminster Bridge 1746.jpg

London Westminster Bridge From The North On Lord Mayors Day

Just twenty or so years before Richard’s diary entry a decision was made to use a formal carriage to enable the Lord Mayor to make the journey in style. An earlier mayor had fallen from his horse when being barracked by a woman variously described as a flower seller and a fishwife. Maybe she was both, but it was a serious case of lèse-majesté and a coach was accordingly ordered to be made. It cost over a thousand pounds to be built in 1757 – and each of the aldermen had to cough up some sixty pounds (nearly £5000 in today’s money). It is a wonderful sight, with its side panels decorated by the Italian painter Cipriani.lord-m

In Richard’s day all the apprentices would have been given the day off to follow the procession and to see the tableaux and wonder at the sheer glitter of it all. London was indeed a city of huge wealth, just as much as it was a place of grinding poverty.

Historically the show was held on 29 October each year but when the calendar changed  in 1752 it moved on by the ‘missing’ 11 days to 9th November. Since 1959 it has been moved to the second Saturday in November, and hence this year will be on 12 November.


*My thanks to Tracey Hill for pointing out that the monarch did not personally receive the Lord Mayor – this was done on his behalf by the Barons of the Exchequer.

Oct 142016

zebra 2Standing in the dappled shade on the edge of a woodland  a zebra looks majestically … around the gardens of Buckingham House. The scene was painted by George Stubbs and the picture, shown courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art, is one of a number of exotic wild animals painted by Stubbs. Normally this artist was known for his equine paintings, and he achieved his amazing lifelike studies by spending hours dissecting dead horses. By revealing the muscles and ligaments and by attaching weights and pulleys, he was able to see how the animal moved. But this time the subject, a zebra, was still very much alive and kicking. Besides, its owner was no less a person than Her Majesty the Queen and she was rather fond of her zebra, or she-ass as it was known, on account of the fact that it/she was a wedding present.

The Queen, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, had married King George III on 8 September 1761 in the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace and of course that raised an immediate problem for all the officials, diplomats, courtiers and hangers-on: what to give the royal couple as a wedding present? For the governor of the Cape in far off South Africa it was simple – round up a couple of Cape zebras, one male and one female, load them on board HMS Terpsichore under the command of Sir Thomas Adams, and pack them off to London. Unfortunately the male zebra died on the way, but the “Queen’s Ass” (as she was rudely known from the outset) was a favourite of the young Queen. The year was 1762 and a constant stream of visitors called to see the beast, reputedly the first such zebra ever observed in  Great Britain. As one observer noted: “The Queen’s she-ass was pestered with visits, and had all her hours employed from morning to night in satisfying the curiosity of the public. She had a sentinel and guard placed at the door of her stable. . . . The crowds that resorted to the Asinine palace were exceeding great.”  Was the zebra lonely for company? Apparently not, because she was  given the company of a royal elephant (my, how those royals must have loved opening their presents from far away countries!).

I rather like the story recounted by Sir David Attenborough to the effect that the Queen wished to breed from the zebra, and in the absence of a male of the species resorted to the ploy of getting a male donkey, painting white stripes across its backside, and introducing it to the “Queen’s Ass”. Incredibly the ruse worked – the zebra became pregnant and in due course gave birth to a “zebroid”. The Queen’s Ass lived until 3 April 1773, having been moved to the Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London. Apparently the taxidermists then got to work and before long the stuffed remains were on display at The Leverian, after it had moved for Leicester Square to its new home at the end of Blackfriars Bridge.

The Queen's Ass - otherwise known as the Prince of Wales.

The Queen’s Ass – otherwise known as the Prince of Wales.

In its lifetime the poor animal became a pseudonym for any of the Queen’s favourites, most notably the Prince of Wales, shown here with his striped jacket, waistcoat and stockings. In time the epithet was applied to others such as William Pitt and a number of other sycophantic politicians. It became an easy symbol for caricaturists. The public were quickly familiar with the expression “The Queen’s Ass” especially after this rude ditty was published:

queens ass 2Ye Bucks and ye Jemmies who amble the Park,

Whose Hearts and whose Heads are as lightsome as Cork,

Through “Buckingham Gate”, as to “Chelsea” you pass,

Without Fee or Reward, you may see the Q—‘s A–.

“See the Q—‘s A–. See the Q—‘s A–, Without Fee or Reward”, &c.


(The Queen’s Ass. A new humorous allegorical song . . . By H. Howard, To the Tune of “Stick a Pin There”. Broadsheet, shown courtesy of the British Museum).

The Queens female zebra 1762 LWL










‘The Queens Female Zebra’  shown on the Lewis Walpole Library site and appearing first in 1762 in The London magazine; or, Gentleman’s monthly intelligencer.

Other caricatures lampooned a variety of political allies of the Queen, as here in ‘The Asses of Great Britain’ (also via Lewis Walpole Library). It came out in 1764 and was drawn and published by John Jones, and is having a go at the Earl of  Bute, George Whitefield,  the magistrate Sir John Fielding, Irish writer Arthur Murphy,  and the Scottish poet and author Tobias Smollett.

John Jones' asses of GB 1762 Bute Whitefield Fielding Murphy Smollett LWL


Sometimes the Queen’s Ass was a metaphor for the Queen herself, as with this caricature, apparently  by Thomas Rowlandson, from December 1788 and entitled ‘The Q.A. loaded with the spoils of India and Britain”. It is shown on the British Museum site who describe it as “Pitt rides (right to left) a zebra; he sits on the animal’s hind quarters, flourishing a whip; before him are two panniers filled with jewels…The zebra (the Queen) is led by Dundas (left) … and urged on by Richmond (right), who prods it with a goad. It says, “What are Childrens rights to Ambition – I will rule in spite of them if I can conceal things at Q.” [Kew.] In front of Dundas (left) is a signpost: “To Tower Hill by B——m [Buckingham] house”.


So, the zebra became a shorthand for  royal greed and stupidity. In Return to the Political Ark, also on the British Museum site, we see William Pitt as the Queen’s Ass:

Return to the ark

He is shown as one of a procession of Members of Parliament heading for the ark (representing the House of Commons). The British Museum commentary states: “In the lower left corner is Pitt as a zebra on his hind-legs ; he holds a bunch of grapes to his mouth, in his other forefoot is a paper inscribed ‘Pay to my Order on Demand five Millions for Bouncing. P. To John Bull’; beside it is a paper inscribed ‘Open to future Insult’. On his back is a saddle-cloth inscribed ‘Art of preventing War’. He excretes ‘Convention Drops’ which are eagerly devoured by geese, dogs, a cock, and two asses with human profiles”

Given that this was supposedly the very first time a zebra had been seen in the country these caricatures give some idea how quickly the exotically marked animal captured the human imagination. Others quickly followed – in 1779 one was being exhibited at Astley’s Amphitheatre near Westminster Bridge. I came across the occasion when researching for my book “Astley’s Circus – the Story of an English Hussar” about the great exhibitionist Philip Astley. Mind you, Astley was keen to get rid of the creature and advertised that it was available for purchase for 400 guineas. I suspect that he would have despaired of training the animal, since obedience was the keystone of the Astley act. A disobedient zebra, however pretty, was never going to make it as a star. It was never going to rival General Jackoo, his performing monkey, and so the zebra went the way of the ostrich, another of Astley’s exotica …

Another zebra collector was Robert Clive. I am not quite sure why “Clive of India” chose an African animal but presumably no self respecting nabob wanted to be upstaged by the Queen. Apparently he had his own private menagerie – and the same story is told that he successfully introduced his (female) zebra to a paint-striped male donkey, with successful results. When Clive died in 1774 an inventory of the livestock at his home showed a zebra and foal, two small cows, two spotted deer,  two antelopes, six hog deer and, bracketed together as “very troublesome”, seven goats and an African bull. According to a helpful paper published by the University of York:  The running and Grazing of the Young Zebra cost 3s. a week, while in 1777 £18 8s.6d. was spent on the Young Zebra being sent into Shropshire. Quite what happened after it got to Shropshire I do not know – perhaps it got sold to Astley.

Years later, George III was presented with a quagga. A sub-species of the Plains Zebra, the quagga was extinct by the late 1870s, but for some years  a royal specimen was kept at Kew. This is shown courtesy of the Yale Center for British Art.

Rather more about the exotic animals collected by the Georgians can be found in Christopher Plumb’s excellent book “The Georgian Menagerie: Exotic Animals in Eighteenth-Century London” details of which appear here.  Christopher was kind enough to draw on some of the records kept by my ancestor Richard Hall, so the least I can do is return the mention!

James Sowerbys portrait of a quagga, painted in 1824

James Sowerby’s portrait of a quagga, painted in 1824

Mar 172016

Would my ancestor have noticed an Irish connection on 17th March as he grew up in London in the middle of the eighteenth Century? Almost certainly, yes. Dean Swift in his Journal to Stella demonstrates that the wearing of crosses on this day was not confined to Ireland and that the custom had travelled abroad with its citizens as they crossed the Irish Sea. Writing in 1713 he remarks that in London “The Irish folks were disappointed that the Parliament did not meet today, because it was St Patrick’s Day; and the Mall was so full of crosses, that I thought all the world was Irish”

The traditional St Patrick’s Cross differed  according to gender: the one worn by men and boys was made of a square of paper, each side about three inches long, on which a circle was drawn. Using a quill pen and the index finger as a rough pair of dividers the circumference of the circle was used to create small arcs inside the circle. These would then be coloured, often by the children, traditionally using egg yolk for yellow, chewed grass for green – and a pricked finger for red! An alternative pattern was to draw an inner circle, ringed along its edge with six smaller circles. The whole would then be set within a larger circle and each of the constituent parts of the pattern would then be coloured. The resulting equivalent of an intricately designed Celtic cross would then be pinned to the cap and worn throughout the 17th  March.

For the girls there was a different custom: a cross was made of stiff card and pinned onto a circle of silk. The arms of the cross would then be decorated with ribbons and bows, with a rosette of emerald green silk  attached to  the centre. The decorated cross would then be pinned beneath the wearer’s shoulder on her right hand side.     (Illustration  courtesy of National Museum, Dublin).

And the wearing of the shamrock? Well that was certainly already a custom in the 1700’s. In 1727 the botanist Caleb Threlkeld identified the shamrock as the white clover (‘Trifoleum repens’) and remarked “This plant is worn on the 17th March yearly, which is called St Patrick’s Day, it being a current tradition that by this three-leaved grass, he emblematically set forth to them the mystery of the Holy Trinity. However that be, when they wear their seamar-oge, they often commit excess in liquor, which is not a right keeping of a day to the Lord; error generally leading to debauchery.” He goes on to describe the break in Lenten fasting as being called “wetting the shamrock”

Others have identified the shamrock with other plants from the same family. But whether it was the clover or oxalis or the common trefoil, tradition had it that when the last drink was about to be drunk, the wearer removed the leaf and placed in St Patrick’s Pot (‘pota Pádraig’), delivered a toast, and then having emptied the pot or bumper, threw the leaf over his left shoulder.

So, there we have it – the day was celebrated by young and old alike, at home in Ireland but also wherever they congregated overseas, and it invariably ended up with the consumption of alcohol. It also was a pretext for abandoning the rigours of Lent for one day – observers of St Patrick’s Day felt able to eat meat instead of the wretched herring on which they had subsisted for the previous few weeks!

But those who were not of Irish extraction were always happy to use the Saint’s Day as an excuse for ribaldry and frankly racist behaviour, as shown by a newspaper report from March 1740 :

“Being St Patrick’s Day, the Butchers in Clare Market hung up a Grotesque Figure, to represent an Irishman; and a great Number of Irishmen coming to pull it ’down a fierce Battle ensu’d, when much Mischief was done, and some very dangerously wounded; but a File of Musqueteers being fetched from St James’s several of the Rioters were carry’d before Col De-Veil, who sent three of them to Newgate”.

By 1803 the celebration of  St Patrick’s Day seems to have become rather more fun …. (shown courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library).

St Patricks day in the morning

P.S. Why 17th March? Because that was the day in 432 that St Patrick, a bishop, was captured and carried off to Ireland as a slave.

P.P.S. First time St Patrick’s Day was celebrated in New York City? 1756 in the Crown & Thistle Tavern

Jan 202016

Q1In April 1755 my ancestor Richard Hall took his horse and carriage up river to Chelsea, and visited Don Saltero’s coffee house. He records that he spent thirteen shillings there – an improbably large amount on coffee, and much more likely to reflect a purchase of one or more of the other items which “Don Saltero” offered for sale.

“Don Saltero” was an interesting character. His real name was John Salter but her fancied that being a “Don” gave him an air of Spanish mystery and he liked to pose as a sea captain back from foreign parts….

He had originally been trained as a barber and had then become valet to Sir Hans Slaone (the man famous for being the benefactor of some 71,000 items given to the newly formed British Museum). When Salter left his master’s employment he cadged a vast amount of bric-a-brac off Sir Hans, and used it to festoon his coffee shop, which he opened right by the River Thames in 1693.

Q2The coffee houses had by then developed as great centres of “intelligence” – where people could meet and discuss issues of the day, and share information about trade and so on. But the Salter Coffee House in Chelsea was something quite unlike any of its rivals! He attracted custom from naval officers who gave him other curiosities brought back from around the world and which Salter displayed in glass cabinets, or hung from the walls by the thousand. Visitors were not charged to see the “museum” but were expected to drink coffee or buy a catalogue for two pence. We know from the catalogues – and from the auction inventory when the contents were eventually sold in 1799, that Richard would have been able to see:

a curious model of our Saviour’s sepulchre, a Roman bishop’s crosier, antique coins and medals, minerals, fossils, antique fire-arms, curious birds, fishes, and other productions of nature, and a large collection of various antiquities and curiosities, glass-cases, &c”

Relics included:-

“King James’s coronation sword; King William’s coronation sword and shoes; Henry VIII.’s coat of mail, gloves, and spurs; Queen Elizabeth’s Prayer-book, stirrup, and strawberry dish; the Pope’s infallible candle; a set of beads, consecrated by Clement VII., made of the bones of St.Anthony of Padua; a piece of the royal oak; a petrified child, or the figure of death; a curious piece of metal, found in the ruins of Troy; a pair of Saxon stockings; William the Conqueror’s family sword; Oliver’s broad-sword; the King of Whiddaw’s staff; Bistreanier’s staff; a wooden shoe, put under the Speaker’s chair in James II’s time; the Emperor of Morocco’s tobacco pipe; a curious flea-trap; an Indian prince’s crown; a starved cat, found between the walls of Westminster Abbey when the east end was repaired; the jaws of a wild boar that was starved to death by his tusks growing inward; a frog, fifteen inches long, found in the Isle of Dogs; the Staffordshire almanack, used when the Danes were in England; the lance of Captain Tow How-Sham, king of the Darien Indians, with which he killed six Spaniards, and took a tooth out of each head, and put in his lance as a trophy of his valour; a coffin of state for a friar’s bones; a cockatrice serpent; a large snake, seventeen feet long, taken in a pigeon-house in Sumatra—it had in its belly fifteen fowls and five pigeons; a dolphin with a flying-fish at his mouth; a gargulet, that Indians used to cool their water with; a whistling arrow, which the Indians use when they would treat of peace; a negro boy’s cap, made of a rat-skin; Mary Queen of Scots’ pin-cushion; a purse made of a spider from Antigua; manna from Canaan; a jaw of a skate, with 500 teeth; the mermaid fish; the wild man of the woods; the flying bull’s head……”  

Richard must have been in his element at such a display – a veritable treasure trove of tat embellished with improbable claims, the walls festooned with exhibits. But to pay out thirteen shillings – that’s a lot of coffee! My guess is that he purchased some of the fossils on display, and his collection included these which he drew in meticulous detail.

Q3  Q4


Personally speaking, I just wish that he had instead bought William the Conqueror’s sword, but there you go. It must have been quite a sight, and for a man like Richard Hall, who loved natural curiosities, it was a visit which well-deserved its diary entry.