Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘St. James’s’ Category

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.

Read Full Post »

Now industry awakes her busy sons,
Shops open, coaches roll, carts shake the ground,
And all the streets with passing cries resound.

– John Gay, Walking the Streets of London

Oh, how should I describe my three short days in London when I went on a deliberate search for the sites, establishments and objects that existed in the Regency era? We chose a location at the edge of Mayfair, in a hotel on Half Moon Street, just a half block from Piccadilly and Green Park, a once popular dueling spot. We were also just around the corner from Shepherd Market, that wonderful tucked-in and hidden section of pubs, restaurants, and shops few tourists frequent.

The Art of Walking the Streets of London, Hand-coloured etching by George Cruickshank after George Moutard Woodward, 1813

As I walked these familiar streets (for this was my fourth visit to this particular area of London), I turned onto St. James’s Street and looked inside the famous bow window at White’s, where Beau Brummel used to hold court. Inside, I spied a stout gentleman reclining in a comfortable leather chair reading the paper. Black and white prints of estimable personages lined the wall behind him.

I moved on and turned left on Jermyn Street, with its rows of shops boasting Regency style bow windows. For sale in these small, select stores were custom made shirts, ties, men’s suits, and shoes. I strolled past the surprisingly small statue of Beau Brummel, which faces the entrance to Piccadilly Arcade, and headed straight for Floris, the perfume shop established in 1750. I entered its historic interior, where mementos of that time are displayed in mahogany and glass showcases. Luck was on my side, for 10 0z. bottles of lavender scented room spray was on sale.
I promptly purchased three for my close Janeite friends, and acquired a Floris blue shopping bag in the process.

I then crossed the street to Fortnum and Mason and entered this venerable store, established in 1707, through the arched doorway on the Picadilly side. Like Floris, this shop boasts several royal warrants. Although I was tempted by merchandise on every floor, especially the food court, I purchased only a tea strainer for a respectable sum. I stayed long enough to hear the store’s famous (but modern) clock (3) strike its chimes on the hour, and watch the statues of Mr. Fortnum and Mr. Mason appear from their hidden compartments. My next stop was Hatchard’s Bookshop, established in 1797. “Our customers have included some of Britain’s greatest political, social and literary figures – from Queen Charlotte, Disraeli and Wellington to Kipling, Wilde and Lord Byron…”


Looking up Air Street from Piccadilly, Image from the Georgian Index

I went slightly wild in this establishment, purchasing The Hell-Fire Clubs by Geoffrey Ashe, Decency & Disorder: The Age of Cant 1789-1837 by Ben Wilson, The Courtesan’s Revenge by Frances Wilson, England’s Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton by Kate Williams, Luxury and Pleasure in Eighteenth-Century Britain by Maxine Berg, and English Society in the 18th Century by Roy Porter.

Laden with a bag of books and almost sated, for I was heady with the thought that these shops and institutions had existed in Jane Austen’s time, I strolled back to the hotel via Regent Street and historic Bond Street. I still had two more days of sightseeing to go, and I was a woman on a mission.

Image from Maggie May’s Costume History Pages

The next day I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum, and studied five amazingly beautiful regency gowns, as well as furniture and objects d’art from the Georgian, Regency, and Victorian Eras displayed in unique yet educational arrangements. Again I visited the bookstore, purchasing a Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette: Rules for Perfect Conduct, Life as a Victorian Lady by Pamela Horn, a cookery book with old recipes, and Four Hundred Years of Fashion, a V&A catalog.
On the last day of my all too short trip, I visited the National Portrait Gallery and headed straight for Cassandra’s watercolour of Jane on the fourth floor. I almost missed it. The portrait is so tiny (scarcely larger than 4″x6″) and sits hidden, protected from damaging UV rays by an exhibition box that is open on only one side. I could not believe how small, delicate and faded this portrait was. Cassandra must have used a finely pointed sable brush in order to paint Jane’s features, which partly explains why the portrait is so crude. She only needed to make a minor mistake in order to skew Jane’s features. The other explanation is that Cassandra was not a particularly good artist. However, I was more than satisfied to view this resemblance of Jane’s face, for it is the only one I have seen up close.

Before I left the museum, I purchased Dr. Johnson, His Club and Other Friends by Jenny Uglow and Below Stairs: 400 Years of Servants’ Portraits, an NPG catalog.

Having no room left in my luggage, I nevertheless purchased a few more history books at the airport. The moment I returned home, I noticed a package on my hall table and opened it eagerly. Inside was a used edition of Jane Austen by Elizabeth Jenkins. My ravenous appetite for all things Austen has been temporarily slaked. From past experience, it will be a few years before I get the overwhelming itch to experience Regency London again.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: