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Archive for the ‘Regency London’ Category

St. James’s Park offered some of the freshest, most wholesome milk during a Georgian London summer – the frothy hot liquid, or new milk, was drawn at the request of customers from cows that had grazed on the park’s lawns.

An estimated 8,500 cows were kept for milk near London.* Farmers milked their herds and carted in the milk to dairy retailers from as much as 20 miles away.

St James's Park, Soiron, François David, about 1780, Colour stipple engraving, with additional colour by hand. Bequeathed by Mrs M. V. Cunliffe. V & A Museum

St James’s Park, Soiron, François David, about 1780, Colour stipple engraving, with additional colour by hand. Bequeathed by Mrs M. V. Cunliffe. V & A Museum

In idealized scenes, artists give us an insight into contemporary customs. A milkmaid is milking a cow in St. James’s Park as a young boy in a skeleton suit waits with his empty cup. The party consists of a soldier and a mother with two other children, a boy and a girl. These two have already received their share of milk, with the mother helping the younger child sitting on her lap. It is hard to tell if it is a girl or a boy, for in their early years both sexes were dressed similarly.

One is struck by the tin cups on display at the wood table. There are no washing facilities nearby, and one can only assume that these cups are reused by strangers. A more finicky person would probably bring their own cup to the park. In this instance, a basket filled with hay is placed next to the table, ostensibly as fodder for the cow.

The following illuminating passage c0mes from Henry Mayhew’s account of London Labour and the London Poor, 1861 (Tufts Digital Library:

The principal sale of milk from the cow is in St. James’s Park. The once fashionable drink known as syllabubs—the milk being drawn warm from the cow’s udder, upon a portion of wine, sugar, spice, &c.—is now unknown. As the sellers of milk in the park are merely the servants of cow-keepers, and attend to the sale as a part of their business, no lengthened notice is required.

The milk-sellers obtain leave from the Home Secretary, to ply their trade in the park. There are stands in the summer, and as many cows, but in the winter there are only cows. The milk-vendors sell upon an average, in the summer, from eighteen to quarts per day; in the winter, not more than a of that quantity. The interrupted milking of the cows, as practised in the Park, often causes them to give less milk, than they would in the ordinary way. The chief customers are infants, and adults, and others, of a delicate constitution, who have been recommended to take new milk. On a wet day scarcely any milk can be disposed of. Soldiers are occasional customers.

A somewhat sour-tempered old woman, speaking as if she had been crossed in love, but experienced in this trade, gave me the following account:

It’s not at all a lively sort of life, selling milk from the cows, though some thinks it’s a gay time in the Park! I’ve often been dull enough, and could see nothing to interest one, sitting alongside a cow. People drink new milk for their health, and I’ve served a good many such. They’re mostly young women, I think, that’s de- licate, and makes the most of it. There’s twenty women, and more, to one man what drinks new milk. If they was set to some good hard work, it would do them more good than new milk, or ass’s milk either, I think. Let them go on a milkwalk to cure them—that’s what I say. Some children come pretty regularly with their nurses to drink new milk. Some bring their own china mugs to drink it out of; nothing less was good enough for them. I’ve seen the nurse-girls frightened to death about the mugs. I’ve heard one young child say to another: ‘I shall tell mama that Caroline spoke to a mechanic, who came and shook hands with her.’ The girl was as red as fire, and said it was her brother. Oh, yes, there’s a deal of brothers comes to look for their sisters in the Park. The greatest fools I’ve sold milk to is servant-gals out for the day. Some must have a day, or half a day, in the month. Their mistresses ought to keep them at home, I say, and not let them out to spend their money, and get into nobody knows what company for a holiday; mistresses is too easy that way. It’s such gals as makes fools of themselves in liking a soldier to run after them. I’ve seen one of them—yes, some would call her pretty, and the prettiest is the silliest and easiest tricked out of money, that’s my opinion, anyhow—I’ve seen one of them, and more than one, walk with a soldier, and they’ve stopped a minute, and she’s taken something out of her glove and given it to him. Then they’ve come up to me, and he’s said to her, ‘Mayn’t I treat you with a little new milk, my dear?’ and he’s changed a shilling. Why, of course, the silly fool of a gal had given him that there shilling. I thought, when Annette Myers shot the soldier, it would be a warning, but nothing’s a warning to some gals. She was one of those fools. It was a good deal talked about at the stand, but I think none of us know’d her. Indeed, we don’t know our customers but by sight. Yes, there’s now and then some oldish gentlemen— I suppose they’re gentlemen, anyhow, they’re idle men—lounging about the stand: but there’s no nonsense there. They tell me, too, that there’s not so much lounging about as there was; those that’s known the trade longer than me thinks so. Them children’s a great check on the nusses, and they can’t be such fools as the servant-maids. I don’t know how many of them I’ve served with milk along with soldiers: I never counted them. They’re nothing to me. Very few elderly people drink new milk. It’s mostly the young. I’ve been asked by strangers when the Duke of Wellington would pass to the Horse-Guards or to the House of Lords. He’s pretty regular. I’ve had 6d. given me—but not above once or twice a year—to tell strangers where was the best place to see him from as he passed. I don’t understand about this Great Exhibition, but, no doubt, more new milk will be sold when it’s opened, and that’s all I cares about.

Benjamin West, P.R.A. (Springfield 1738-1820 London)  Milkmaids in St. James's Park, Westminster Abbey beyond  oil on panel

Benjamin West, P.R.A. (Springfield 1738-1820 London)
Milkmaids in St. James’s Park, Westminster Abbey beyond
oil on panel,  Christie’s.

Benjamin West’s scene of St. James’s Park evinces a more majestic tone, with the industrious maids in the center and an assembly looking on or promenading into view, such as the soldiers on the right escorting their ladies. The hard working milk maids are merely the servants of cowkeepers, as Henry Mayhew’s passage explains.

St. James's Park, detail, West

St. James’s Park, detail, West

Although this painting is quite formal, the details are similar to those described in the Mayhew passage. The milk maid is on her knees, not sitting on a stool, and some people have brought their own vessels in the shape of cups or buckets. The majority are women and children, who wait patiently on benches as the maid fills their orders. The rest of the herd can be seen in the background, awaiting their turn to supply milk, for only two cows are being actively milked.

St. James's Park, detail, West

St. James’s Park, detail, West

Customers come from a variety of social backgrounds. A small child sits and drinks her milk on a bench by a table, others wait in line with their mothers or governesses. One maid holds a flask on top of her head in a classic pose that one suspects is more of a nod to classic sources than contemporary British customs.

St. James's Park, detail3, West

St. James’s Park, detail3, West

I simply had to add this detail of West’s painting, for the soldiers and their female companions are described in detail in the Mayhew passage. They also remind me of the immature and idealized view that Lydia had of herself when in Wickham’s company – that of a lady who cut an elegant impression next to a man in uniform.

st. James's and Green Park

As one can see from a map of the era, the lawns are not huge.  St. James’s Park consists of 58 acres that were originally purchased from Eton College by Henry the 8th in 1532. I have not read any sources regarding the regular maintenance of these parks, but imagine that grazing sheep and cows kept the grasses under control, but, anyone who has ever wandered through a cow pasture knows how much dung cows can leave behind!

Cow Keeper's Shop 1825 George Scharf

Cow Keeper’s Shop, 1825, George Scharf

George Scharf’s Cow Keeper’s Shop in London shows where city cows were kept – indoors. These creatures were fed indoors in back street yards and fared badly compared to their country cousins. Their milk was of a poorer quality, which came as a shock to country-bred Jane Austen, when her family move from Steventon to Bath. In many instances, unscrupulous retail milk-dealers seeking to increase their profits thinned the milk with water. Roy and Lesley Adkins in their splendid book, Jane Austen’s England, describe how cow-houses were furnished with water pumps. Milk was diluted in front of the customers. In some instances, merchants did not bother to use “clean” water (the only safe water in those days was boiled), but watered milk from a horse’s trough or, worse, from streams that had been fouled by animal dung and urine.*

The milk was next taken to the retailers’ homes and left for a day, so that the cream rose to the surface to be skimmed off. The deteriorating milk was then sold as fresh, while the cream was sold separately…” (Adkins, page 105)

Ironically, the deterioration of milk was at its highest when the fashionable set came to Town for the winter season, and at its freshest when the Beau Monde returned to their country estates for the summer.

Milk maids, George Scharf

Milk maids, George Scharf

In Scharf’s image, milkmaids  and a milkman are preparing for a day of sales. Pyne’s illustration clearly shows the five-gallon pails hanging from a wooden yoke,  the vessels that transported the milk into other containers, and the cups that were used to sell milk to individual buyers. Much of this milk was used largely for cooking.

milk woman, william henry pyne, 1805

Milk woman, William Henry Pyne, 1805

The milk maid’s cry, which proudly (and ironically) proclaimed the fine quality of her milk, was shortened to Milk Below and eventually to Milko!

Milk Below.

Rain, frost, or snow, or hot or cold,

I travel up and down,

The cream and milk you buy of me

Is best in all the town.

For custards, puddings, or for tea,

There’s none like those you buy of me.

From A history of the cries of London, ancient and modern [with woodcuts by T. and J. Bewick]. (Google eBook)

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This frontispiece from L’Art de bien faire les glaces d’office,  a book by M. Emy, an 18th century French confectioner, about whom very little is known, depicts how ices and ice cream were made at the time.

M. Emy Fronticepiece2

Click on image for larger view.

Buckets filled with ice and salt held covered metal freezing pots that contained the ice cream mixtures. As the mixture froze, the pots were taken out occasionally to be shaken. The ice cream was scraped from the sides of the pots and stirred. When the mixture was ready, it was placed in decorative molds and served almost immediately. You can see the all the steps of ice cream making in the above image, with ice being delivered from ice houses in the background, and cherubs tending to the freezing mixture, while another hastens to the main house to serve the ices before they melt.

Confectioners tools

Confectioners tools from Gunter’s modern confectioner by William Jeanes. Figure 18 represents a copper funnel. Figure 24 is an oval tub surrounded with ice and salt and containing tow freezing pewter pots. At the bottom is a plug to let out water. Figure 25 represents a Bomba ice mould, which has the impression of fruit and holds from four to six pints each. Figure 26 shows how the hands are positioned whilst modelling flowers.

The process was expensive, for hauling and storing great blocks of ice was a laborious process that began in winter. The ice was stored in ice houses that were dug deep into the ground to keep the blocks from melting even in summer.

The Eglinton Ice House being filled with ice. Eglinton Castle, Kilwinning, Scotland. Image @ Wikipedia

The Eglinton Ice House being filled with ice. Eglinton Castle, Kilwinning, Scotland. Image @ Wikipedia

Only the rich were able to afford this luxury food to any extent until the mid-19th century, when Carlo Gatti began importing  ice in large quantities to London from Norway.

domenico-negri915-correction

Negri’s trade card of the Pot and Pineapple with his description of his shop’s offerings.

The first references to making ice cream harken back to ancient Rome and China. By the mid 18th century, French, Italian, and British chefs had published cookbooks with recipes for ices and ice creams. Specialty confectioner’s shops that offered ices and ice cream began to pop up in London: the most famous of these became to be known as Gunter’s Tea Shop, which survived in one form or another until quite recently.

pot and pineapple detail negri

Detail of the pineapple in Negri’s trade card

In 1757 an Italian pastry cook named Domenico Negri opened a confectionery shop at 7-8 Berkeley Square under the sign of “The Pot and Pineapple”. At that time, the pineapple was a symbol of luxury and used extensively as a logo for confectioners. Negri’s impressive trade card not only featured a pineapple, but it advertised that he was in the business of making English, French, and Italian wet and dry sweetmeats. The confectioner’s art required as much precision and craft as a sculptor or silversmith. Equipment for refining sugar resembled those of a foundry, including specialized pans for melting, devices that calibrated heating and cooling, and a variety of molds to create shapes for chilled custards and ice cream, frozen mousses, jellied fruit, and candies and caramels. Negri’s shop sold

Cedrati and Bergamot Chips, Naples … Syrup of Capilaire, orgeate and Marsh mallow … All sorts of Ice, Fruits and Creams in the best Italian manner’. It also sold diavolini, or little icing-sugar drops scented with violet, barberry, peppermint, chocolate and neroli made from the blossom of bitter orange. For those who could not stretch to the luxury of shop-bought produce but who could afford a book of recipes, a long struggle with the complexities of sugar science ensued.” – Taste, Kate Culquohon

Detail of a James Gillray cartoon of soldiers eating  in a confectioner's shops, 1797. Image @Library of Congress

No Regency image of The Pot and Pineapple or Gunter’s exists. This is a detail of a James Gillray cartoon of soldiers eating in a confectioner’s shops, 1797. Image @Library of Congress

As the chefs of the era attest in their recipes, the taste in ice cream seemed to change with each generation. M. Emy made a glace de creme aux fromages that was flavored with grated parmesan and Gruyere cheeses. Joseph Gillier made an artichoke ice cream and a fromage de parmesan with grated Parmesan, coriander, cinnamon, and cloves frozen in a mold shaped like a wedge of parmesan cheese.

Ivan Day image of ice groups. One can see the recreation of the incredible detail that confectioners were able to create for their wealthy clients.

Ivan Day image of ice groups. One can see his recreation of the incredible detail that confectioners were able to create for their wealthy clients. Ivan Day, Ices and Frozen Desserts

Flower flavors were also common – violets, orange flowers, jasmine roses, and elder flowers – were used in ices. The vanilla bean, although appreciated for its agreeable flavor, did not rise in popularity until Victorian times. Negri must have done a booming business selling syrups, candied fruits, cakes, biscuits, ices, delicate sugar spun fantasies, and elaborate table decorations that showcased his deserts, for his shop survived many decades.

Illustration of ice cream goblets from Emy's cookbook

Illustration of ice cream goblets from Emy’s cookbook

Twenty  years after starting his Berkeley Square establishment (1777),  Negri took in a business partner named James Gunter. The Gunter family, which had both Catholic and Protestant members, had lived in Abergaveny in Wales for generations. (Read a fascinating history about the family at this site, Last Welsh Martyr.)

Exterior of a confectioner's shop in Persuasion, 1995.

Exterior of a confectioner’s shop in Persuasion, 1995.

The shop employed famous apprentices like Frederic Nutt, William Jarrin, and William Jeanes, who would go on to write their own cookbooks. All proudly noted their association with the shop. Interestingly, William Gunter, who was James’s son, wrote the most frivolous cookbook, Gunter’s Confectioner’s Oracle (published in 1830), in which he gossiped, name-dropped, and included some illogical details.

William Gunter in 1830

William Gunter in 1830

One section of the book was supposed to be a dictionary of raw materials in use by confectioners. It started with A for apple, and skipped B because it ‘is to us an empty letter.’ C was a fourteen-page treatise on coffee, in French … Gunter did not name its source…The dictionary skipped D and E. The letter F was for flour. Then Gunter wrote, ‘I now skip a number of useless letters until I arrive at P.” – ‘Of Sugars and Snow: A history of ice-cream making’, Jeri Quinzio, University of California Press, 2009, p. 65.

Tea Room in Bath, as depicted in Persuasion 1995

Tea Room in Bath, as depicted in Persuasion 1995

With two men at the helm, The Pot and Pineapple flourished and by 1799 Gunter had become its sole proprietor, changing the name to Gunter’s Tea Shop.  (I tried to find Negri’s birth and death dates, and can only surmise that he must have retired or died when Gunter took over.)

Berkeley Square, Greenwood's Map

Berkeley Square, Greenwood’s Map

Berkeley Square was uniquely situated to appeal to the upper crust.  Many notable people lived there – Beau Brummell at #42 in 1792;  Lord Clive the founder of the British Empire in India, lived at #45 until he killed himself in 1774; and Horace Walpole, whose letters give the record of fashionable society of his day, lived at #11 until he died in 1797. (Nooks and Corners of Old England.) The square was described as a

frontier land between West-end trade and West-end nobility. The east side is half shops, on the northern there is an hotel. Confectioners and stationers here confront peers and baronets.” – Every Saturday: A Journal of Choice Reading, Ticknor and Fields, 1867.

Berkeley Square in 1813

Berkeley Square in 1813

By the early 19th century, Gunter’s ices had become so fashionable that the Beau Monde, many of whom already resided in tony Mayfair, made it a custom to stop by the shop for a cool ice during carriage rides.

A custom grew up that the ices were eaten, not in the shop, but in the Square itself; ladies would remain in their carriages under the trees, their escorts leaning against the railings near them, while the waiters dodged across the road with their orders. For many years, when it was considered not done for a lady to be seen alone with a gentleman at a place of refreshment in the afternoon, it was perfectly respectable for them to be seen at Gunter’s Tea Shop.- Encyclopedia of London

View from the shop at #7 to Berkeley Square. Note that the plane trees are among the oldest in central London, planted in 1789 by

View from the shop today at #7 to the green space of Berkeley Square. The plane trees are among the oldest in central London, planted in 1789 by Edward Bouverie. One can imagine the carriages parked in this area, with waiters scurrying back and forth. (Few of the original buildings still stand today.)

It seemed that a rendezvous at Gunter’s in an open carriage would not harm a gently bred lady’s reputation! One can also imagine waiters running at a full clip across the street on hot days when ices began to melt as soon as they were released from their molds!

7 berkeley square today

How #7 Berkeley Square looks today

Gunter’s was also known for its catering business and beautifully decorated cakes. In 1811, the Duchess of Bedford’s and Mrs. Calvert’s ball suppers featured the shop’s confectionery, a tradition followed by many a society lady, I am sure.

plate X Gunters

Illustration of an elaborate Gunter’s cake

James Gunter’s success allowed him to purchase land in Earl’s Court, which was largely farmland in the 18th century.

Normand House, built in Earl's Court in the 17th century, is now demolished.

Normand House, built in Earl’s Court in the 17th century, is now demolished. Image @MyEarlsCourt.com

Gunter bought the tracts of land so he could run a market gardening business. The produce  – fruits, vegetables and flowers – was taken daily by horse-drawn wagons to Covent Garden to be sold. Gunter also

bought Earls Court Lodge (near the present Barkston Gardens) which was to be the Gunters’ family home for the next 60 years. This was one of the few substantial houses in the area. (The aristocratic neighbours at nearby Earls Court House, who weren’t keen on having a cake shop owner next door, called it “Currant-Jelly Hall”).” – The Gunter Estate

Gunter died in 1819 and his son Robert (1783-1852), who studied confectionery in Paris, took over the business. Robert hired his cousin John as a partner in 1837, ensuring that the business would stay in the family for several generations. Gunter’sTea Shop moved to Curzon Street when the east side of Berkeley Square was rebuilt in 1936-37. The shop closed in its new location in 1956, although the catering business continued for another 20 years in Bryanston Square. More on the topic:

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Fire!

Can there be a more frightening word in Georgian London?  The great fire in 1666 changed the landscape of that city forever. Once a densely packed city riddled with overcrowded, wood-timbered houses and dark, narrow lanes, the fire led the way to a change in building regulations that ushered in brick and stone edifices, wider streets, and public squares. Even with improvements, a fire still presented a horrifically dangerous situation.

Thomas Rowlandson captures the scene with such realism in “Inn Yard on Fire” that one can smell the smoke and fear, and hear the horses neighing, people screaming, furniture breaking, and wagon wheels squealing as guests and staff run around trying to save themselves, their possessions, and each other.

Fire at the Inn, by Thomas Rowlandson

Panic and pandemonium ensue. A man contemplates tossing a mirror from the second story, another pours his ineffectual chamber pot over the flames. A side table has been tossed through the window, while an anxious woman descends a ladder.

People are in various states of dress and undress. Some help others, some are  overcome with panic. A disabled man is carried from danger in a wheel barrow, while a groom tries to calm two terrified horses.

Elements in Rowlandson’s cartoon show a direct association with classical language and Tobias Smollet. The young man saving the girl in distress is reminiscent of Giambologna’s statue of the Rape of the Sabine Women, as well as Peregrine Pickle’s heroic actions towards Emilia.

Rowlandson

Rape of the Sabine Women

Peregrine Pickle saves Emilia. Image @A World History of Art

Once a fire had gained as much ground as depicted in this illustration, there was little chance of saving the building. Rowlandson shows some people carrying out their belongings, while others were barely able to get dressed. By now an alarm had probably been sounded in the community. Bucket brigades, in which people were arrayed in long lines to the nearest well and passed buckets in a continuous motion, could probably put out a minor fire, but not one of this magnitude. In the 1800s, almost 150 years after the great fire, there was still no centralized fire brigade.

In 1680, a property developer named Nicholas Barbon introduced the first fire insurance, which initially insured buildings but not furniture, fittings, or goods.  Insurance companies began to proliferate and formed private fire brigades to protect their customers’ property.

Is this praying elderly couple trapped on the balcony?

In Rowlandson’s cartoon the most the inn keeper can hope for is that the brigade arrives in time to save his structure – if he is insured.  This was easier said than done, for many of London’s streets were not named, since many people could not read, and insured properties were difficult to find.

A couple on the second floor frantically attempt to save their belongings.

In the early 1800s the fire mark was developed. These plaques, sometimes brightly painted, would signal which properties were protected by insurance firms. Each fire brigade had its own unique plaque.

Fire mark on a building

If a fire started, the Fire Brigade was called. They looked for the fire mark and, provided it was the right one, the fire would be dealt with. Often the buildings were left to burn until the right company attended! Many of these insurance companies were to merge, including those of London, which merged in 1833 to form The London Fire Engine Establishment, whose first Fire Chief was James Braidwood. Braidwood had come to London after holding the position of the Chief Officer of Edinburgh Fire brigade. Edinburgh’s authorities had formed the first properly organised brigade in 1824. – History of the UK Fire and Rescue Service

There were quite a few fire brigades operating in London in the early 19th century and competition was keen. The companies hired sailors and watermen as part-time employees. An advantage of serving in this position was that these men were protected from being pressed into service, a not inconsiderable benefit during the Napoleonic wars.

Fighting the fire at the Customs House in February 1814.Image@British Museum

Buildings that had no insurance protection were left to burn, although attempts were made to save the surrounding buildings. Firemarks were essential to identify insured buildings:

Arrival of the fire engine, Thomas Rowlandson

Designs included, for Sun Fire Office: a large sun with a face; the Royal Exchange Assurance: their building; and Phoenix: obviously Phoenix rising from the ashes. Later fire marks were made of tin, copper, or similar material. These are more often called fire plates. They were more an advertising medium as most do not have a policy number stamped upon them. – Fire Marks: The First Logos of Insurance Companies

Illustration from Ackermann’s ”Microcosm of London” (1808) drawn by Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin. Firefighters are tackling a fire which has broken out in houses at the Blackfriars Bridge. Teams of men operate hand pumped equipment. Image @Wikipedia

In 1833 companies in London merged to form The London Fire Engine Establishment, the first step to the various fire brigades being taken over by local government.

The Burning of Drury Lane Theatre from Westminster Bridge 1809. Artist unknown.  Image property of the Museum of London.

Equipment was still very basic but in 1721, Richard Newsham patented a ‘new water engine for the quenching and extinguishing of fires’. The pump provided a continuous jet of water with more force than before. This new fire engine became a standard until the early 19th century.

Newsham’s wood pumper, ca. 1731.

The men used the handles to pump the water from a lead-lined trough in the main body of the equipment. The apparatus was quite heavy and difficult to maneuver, but it represented a huge step forward in fire fighting technology. People continually ran back and forth to a water source to fill the trough with water. You could also attach a hose to aim the water to a specific location. During this time, however, hose-making was still in its infancy and many leaked. Water buckets and axes to hack out trapped people and create fire free perimeters were still regarded as standard fire fighting equipment.

The Burning of the Houses of Parliament, 1834 by William Mallord Turner. Such an event must have provided a spectacular yet horrifying scene for onlookers.

Steam powered appliances were first introduced in the 1850s, allowing a greater quantity of water to be guided onto a fire. With the invention of the internal combustion engine, these appliances were replaced in the early 1900s.

James Pollard (British, 1797-1867) London fire engines: The noble protectors of lives and property, 1823. Image @Olympia Art Antiques

This image by James Pollard, and engraved by R. Reeve, shows several insurance brigades hurrying to a fire.

The firemen, of the time, had little training and wore brightly coloured uniforms to distinguish themselves between the different brigades. During large fires they would become very tired through continual pumping of the appliances, and would offer bystanders ‘beer tokens’ in return for their help. – Insurance Firemen and their Equipment

Each company provided different liveries for their men, so that the fire fighters could easily be identified with a particular firm.All insurance firemen wore a large badge on their shoulder to show which insurance company they worked for.

Three uniforms of insurance firemen. All wear a badge

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Cockburn’s theatre on fire, another dramatic caricature by Rowlandson.

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Today U.S. citizens are celebrating July 4th and the independence of our nation from Great Britain. Grand firework displays will play a pivotal role in our national revelry tonight, culminating a day long celebration. Fireworks were not unknown during the Georgian Era, and were used for grand effect in public celebrations. I will point out only a few instances in London.

The picture above is of the firework display held by the Duke of Richmond at Richmond House near the Thames in Whitehall, London [May 1749] and shows both the whole effect of all the fireworks and also, very interestingly, gives individual details [on the side] of the individual fireworks which made up the whole display. – Austenonly

Temple of Peace in Green Park.

Early view of Green Park and the Temple of Peace.

Green Park was readied for a grand fireworks display in 1763 to celebrate the Treaty of Paris, which ended the French and Indian War in North America. The park had attracted firework displays before:

The Green Park was used for a national party in 1746 to celebrate the end of the War of Hanoverian Succession. The royal family arranged a great firework display and commissioned the composer, Handel, to write his Music for the Royal Fireworks. A vast Temple of Peace was built in the park to store the fireworks. But early on a stray rocket hit the temple. Three people died and 10,000 fireworks were destroyed in the fire that followed. – The Green Park

Temple of Peace in Green Park lit up by fire works.

The Treaty of Paris  granted Great Britain control of all land to the east of the Mississippi River, a cause for a grand celebration and a good reason for building a ceremonial temple. (View a print of the scene here.)

Another cause for creating massive firework displays was the long reign of George III. The details of  the Golden Jubilee celebrations are beautifully described at Austenonly.

Fireworks in London in celebration of King George III Golden Jubilee in 1809

Fireworks were quite dangerous, and so were  gas lit fires. In 1814, another grand celebration was planned in St. James Park (which lies close to Green Park) to commemorate 100 years of the Hanoverian royal family. A seven-story pagoda was erected on a Chinese-style bridge spanning the canal in St. James’s Park.

A view of the Chinese pagoda burning. Image @British Library

The splendid gala was organized for the joint August first celebration of the Hanoverian Centenary and the anniversary of the Battle of the Nile. The brilliant and daring tactics of Lord Nelson at the Battle of the Nile were represented by rowboats upon the canal. A disaster occurred when the gas lit pagoda caught fire and burned. Two men were killed and a number injured trying to put out the fire. A number of the Royal swans succumbed to smoke and fire. The crowd unaware that this was an accident took the occurrence to be part of the spectacle and applauded wildly. – The Georgian Index

When the Napoleonic Wars came to an end, famed rope walker, Madame Squi, could finally cross the English Channel in  1816 to perform at Vauxhall Gardens for the first time.

Madame Saqui illuminated by the bursts of fireworks, Vauxhall, 1816. Copyright Museum of London*

‘In the midst of a great burst of fireworks, Bengal lights glimmering faintly in the clouds of smoke, she (Saqui) stands on a rope, sixty feet up, and follows a narrow and difficult path to the end of her journey. Sometimes she is completely hidden from our eyes by the billowing waves, but from the way she walks, so self-assured, one would think an Immortal was walking peacefully towards her celestial home.’ [Lerouge on Madam Saqui at Vauxhall] – Rope Walkers and Equillibrists

Firework displays were no novelty at Vauxhall Gardens, or any of the major gardens where people congregated to walk along grand promenades, dance publicly to music, eat, drink, and enjoy an evening out in the open.

Fireworks display at Vauxhall, 1800s.

There were terrible accidents then as now with fireworks. Here is an account from  an 1858 newspaper** about an accident in central London:

All over the U.S. we will be enjoying various kinds of firework displays. Those in Washington D.C. and the major cities will be the grandest, I am sure. I recall an intimate firework display along a small lake in Vermont one year, in which only a few fireworks were set off. Interestingly, of all the firework displays I have seen, that is the one I tend to recall. Happy Birthday, America! Stay safe.

*Museum of London Prints

**Newspaper Account of Vauxhall accident.

More about Green Park at this link.

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They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and how true it is in this instance. George Scharf the elder, a popular genre painter of the early 19th century, was also a prolific drawer of ordinary scenes in his adopted city of London. One can study his drawing of the Mail Coach Bound for the West County, 1829, endlessly, imagining many tales while thinking back on the history of coach travel. This mail coach is being readied at the Gloucester Coffee House on Piccadilly, where so many mail coaches left at night. The horses are waiting to pull this heavily laden wagon. They will pull it for 15 miles before they will need to be changed. Even with improved roads, the coach will not be going much faster than 7-8 miles per hour. Scharf drew this scene in 1829, a year before the first passenger train would be introduced. By the mid-18th century this scene in Piccadilly would have changed dramatically.

West country mail coach leaving Piccadilly, George Scharf, 1829. Click on image to view a larger version.

I count 9 people on top the wagon, one passenger sitting next to the coachman, seven on top of the wagon (one is definitely a porter), and two passengers inside.  I imagine there are two more people seated inside that we cannot see, for the interior holds four passengers, and that the gentleman putting on the great coat is waiting for the porters to finish loading the packages before he takes his seat on top of the coach. The woman and child standing next to him must be waiting to see him off, for, if the rest of the mail bags, packages, and luggage are to be loaded, there won’t be room for them as well. If they are waiting to board, then I pity the four horses who will be pulling 13 people along with the mail.

Travel was quite costly back then.

Costs of travel:  [estimates for 1800]

  • Stage Coach:  2-3 pence / mile = 1.25 pounds from London to Bath / half-price if up top / outside [but remember the average income was about £30 / year
  • Hired post-chaise =  estimate about £1 / mile [i.e @1 shilling / horse / mile, to include the postillion] – Jane Austen in Vermont

For a family living on  £25 – £30 per year, such costs were prohibitive. The cheapest seats were on top and on the outside. One can see a woman holding her child wedged between straw baskets. Should the coach take a turn too fast or be involved in an accident, she and her babe could be flung off the vehicle or trapped underneath should it overturn. At best, they felt the wind and rain and arrived at their destination disheveled and covered in road dust if the weather was dry, or soaking wet with rain. One shudders at the thought of what it felt like to be an outdoor passenger in the winter.

Mail coaches were designed to carry the mail, not to carry passengers comfortably. A close look at Scharf’s image reveals this to be so. There is no wiggle room to speak of. Since travel was expensive and laborious, those who undertook the journey usually arrived in London with lists of things to purchase for friends and family. Jane Austen certainly did, and one can assume that her brother Henry, who lived in London, arrived laden with special requests when he visited his family. The packages being loaded are quite bulky. It is easy to imagine that they contain the ribbons, muslins, china ware, shoes, hats, teas, chocolate, and other assorted items that were special ordered back home. One even sees a recently slaughtered hare among the packages.

One wonders how many more pieces of luggage the mail coach could possibly take on. The packages must be heavy for the porter walking towards the coach is bent over. The male passenger’s great coat and hat are typical of men’s outer wear at the time. As I study the detail below, I am becoming more convinced that the woman and girl are waiting to board. She is wearing a veil, to protect her face from dust, no doubt, and both are covered in layers of outer wear, including a shawl over a cloak. Even so, the ride for exposed passengers would be cold. From the clothes, one can only assume that it is winter.

Mail coaches, while more expensive to ride, were faster than private stage coaches, more stable, and less laden with passengers.

The coach was faster and, in general, less crowded and cleaner. Crowding was a common problem with private stage coaches, which led to them overturning; the limits on numbers of passengers and luggage prevented this occurring on the mail coaches. Travel on the mail coach was nearly always at night; as the roads were less busy the coach could make better speed. – Wikipedia

[William] Hazlitt has thus described, in his own graphic manner, the scene presented on the starting of the old mail-coaches:—”The finest sight in the metropolis,” he writes, “is the setting off of the mailcoaches from Piccadilly. The horses paw the ground and are impatient to be gone, as if conscious of the precious burden they convey. There is a peculiar secrecy and dispatch, significant and full of meaning, in all the proceedings concerning them. Even the outside passengers have an erect and supercilious air, as if proof against the accidents of the journey; in fact, it seems indifferent whether they are to encounter the summer’s heat or the winter’s cold, since they are borne through the air on a winged chariot. The mail-carts drive up and the transfer of packages is made, and at a given signal off they start, bearing the irrevocable scrolls that give wings to thought, and that bind or sever hearts for ever. How we hate the Putney and Brentford stages that draw up when they are gone! Some persons think the sublimest object in nature is a ship launched on the bosom of the ocean; but give me for my private satisfaction the mail-coaches that pour down Piccadilly of an evening, tear up the pavement, and devour the way before them to the Land’s End.” – British History Online

Pollard, Gloucester Coffee House, Piccadilly, 1828

As I said at the beginning, this image is fraught with meaning. I wonder if, when he was sketching this scene,  Scharf knew he was recording the great coaching era at its peak.

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