George Scharf’s National Portrait Gallery (1859)

February 10, 2019 at 8:33 am (history, london's landscape, places, research) (, , )

The drawings of No. 29 Great George Street, Westminster that I remembered seeing when writing about “Jane Austen’s London, 1815” illustrated this article by Catherine Karusseit, “Victorian Respectability and Gendered Domestic Space.”

In looking for them again, I find the originals at the British Museum. Karusseit clearly denotes two drawings as being interiors of No. 29. What caught my eye was this inviting window seat:

No 29 window seat

“29 Great George Street,” December 1869

You will be able to enlarge the BM drawings just enough to decipher the descriptions (one CLEARLY reads  “the meeting room of the Society of Antiquaries at Somerset House”). I am especially loving the staircase view, which is clearly identified ID’ed as original National Portrait Gallery, at 29 Great George Street. These are drawings by George Scharf. On the staircase drawing, he has noted WHEN (day and what hours) he sketched.

These Scharf images are an *absolute THRILL* to see, especially the staircase view, which I hadn’t seen before.

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Jane Austen’s London, 1815

February 7, 2019 at 2:51 pm (history, jane austen, london's landscape, research) (, , , )

During the Christmas holiday, author Charlotte Frost gave me a two-page spread from Art Quarterly that announced a FABULOUS purchase from Sotheby’s by the Museum of London. It is “an epic 20 feet wide panorama of London, painted around 1815 by the French artist Pierre Prévost (1764-1823).”

The Museum is thrilled with their purchase, partly because it shows the Houses of Parliament pre-1834 (the year the buildings burned down; to be replaced by the Houses of Parliament we see today). Partly, also, because only one other Prévost panorama is known to exist – it’s of Constantinople, and is now housed in the Louvre.

So, the Westminster Panorama is HUGE, RARE, and a piece of HISTORY! An exciting part of the story is how the UK ART FUND came together with the Museum to help fund (with the aid of some individual donors) the bid.

  • The Guardian‘s story on the purchase, “Museum snaps up panorama of lost London landscape”
  • Wikipedia has put up a photograph and background information
  • Sotheby’s catalogue of the Prévost Panorama of London

“The illusion of depth, height and distance is testament to Prévost’s ability to work on such a large scale, and this complete, circular image, joined at Westminster Abbey, is one of the finest drawings of its type to have survived.” Mary Gosling (also known as Lady Smith, once she married, in 1826) and Emma Smith (also known as Emma Austen, after her marriage in 1828; and Emma Austen Leigh after 1835) – my Two Teens in the Time of Austen – have written about viewing various “Panoramas”. So it is a thrill to see what has survived from that period. This is a watercolor, a preliminary study for the canvas that would have hung in a panoramic theater (in this case, in Paris) for viewers like Mary and Emma to experience in the round.

What caught Charlotte Frost’s eye, though, was the proximity of Great George Street – where Emma’s grandfather, Joshua Smith MP for Devizes, lived. This section of the panorama:

Westminster by Prevost

Of the street running across the picture, the left-hand side shows the opening addresses along Great George Street. Charlotte’s *hope,* for me, was that one was Smith’s address. But he was at No. 29 Great George Street – which would be a few doors further down (and therefore hidden from view).

george street

No. 29 Great George Street, in the map above, is marked XIX.

However, No. 29 obviously must NOT have differed significantly from those townhouses beside it! So to see an approximation of its exterior is a decided thrill. Some photographs exist of the interior (see Collage; also BRITISH HISTORY ONLINE). I remember coming across some drawings of No. 29 interiors, done during the years the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) existed at this address (NPG’s first ‘home’). The National Portrait Gallery opened in January 1859. I do now wonder if Emma Austen Leigh would have visited…. One of these days I’ll go through her late and later diaries, and (hopefully) find out.

The Panorama of London, a book giving an overview of the city, circa 1830, mentions the Colosseum, Regent’s Park, “one of the most extensive exhibitions in the metropolis.” Although, obviously not the same artwork as the Westminster panorama, the description of the viewing of the Colosseum panorama is worth reproducing in full:

“The building is almost circular, with a large dome, and the front towards the park is ornamented by a noble Doric portico, with a large door in the centre. On entering the edifice by this door, a staircase on the right leads to a circular saloon hung with coloured drapery. This room, which is the largest of the kind in London, occupies the whole internal space, or the basement of the building, with the exception of the staircase leading to the summit, which rises like a large column from the centre. The circular saloon is intended for the exhibition of paintings and other productions of the fine arts. The wall of the [page 306] building, above this room, represents a panoramic View of London, as seen from the galleries of St. Paul’s cathedral. The view of the picture is obtained from three galleries, approached by the staircase before mentioned – the first corresponds, in relation to the view, with the first gallery at the summit of the dome of St. Pauls; the second is like that of the upper gallery on the same edifice; and the third, from its great elevation, commands a view of the remote distance which describes the horizon in the painting. Above the last-mentioned gallery is placed the identical copper ball which for so many years occupied the summit of St. Paul’s; and above it is a fac-simile of the cross by which it was surmounted. A small flight of stairs leads from this spot to the open gallery which surrounds the top of the Colosseum, commanding a view of the Regent’s-park and subjacent country.

An amazing part comes next, in describing how may visitors ascend:

The communication with the galleries is by staircases of curious construction, built on the outer side of the central column already mentioned. This column is hollow, and within it a small circular chamber is to be caused to ascend when freighted with company, by means of machinery, with an imperceptible motion, to the first gallery. The doors of the chamber will then open, and by this novel means of being elevated, visitors may avoid the fatigue of ascending by the stairs, and then walk out into the gallery to enjoy the picture. In extent or acuracy, the panorama is one of the surprising achievements of art in this or any other country. The picture covers upwards of 40,000 square feet, or nearly an acre of canvas; the dome of the building, on which the sky is painted, is thirty feet more in diameter than the cupola of St. Paul’s; and the circumference of the horizon, from the point of view, is nearly 130 miles. The grand and distinguishing merit of this panorama is the unusual interest of picturesque effect with the most scrupulous accuracy; and, in illustration of the latter excellence, so plain are the principal streets in the view, that thousands of visitors will be able to identify their own dwellings.

To read more about the Colosseum (including entrance prices), as well as the Diorama; Burford’s Panorama, Leicester-square; the Cosmorama, Regent-street; and other entertainments, see the book The Panorama of London, amd Visitor’s Pocket Companion, by Thomas Allen (1830).

It is no wonder then, that the Museum of London “snapped up” such a treasture as this panorama of Westminter. These entertainments simply no longer exist.

An Aside:

An interesting thought occurred to me, IF the Byrne portrait could be proved as being Jane Austen the author, then JA would have walked these very streets. For one of the last items I read was that the artist was housed with a studio overlooking Westminster Abbey.

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Glimpse a Household (1839)

January 8, 2019 at 3:25 pm (history, london's landscape, people) (, , )

Sometimes I come across the same item. That happened today when looking at a report of a court case.

When I went to put in JOHN WALKER as servant to the Christie household in 1839, I found the exact same story. But it had certainly been quite a while since reading this recounting of an incident of theft, boldly perpetrated during the day.

George Fountain was brought before the court for stealing – a spoon, valued at 1 pound; and 2 forks, also valued at 1 pound. It is the summation by John Walker that this time caught my eye.

I am servant to Mr. Langham Christie, of Cumberland-street, St. Marylebone.”

The Christies were Elizabeth Gosling (Mary’s elder sister) and her husband Langham Christie. By this time they had been married about ten years. They had a London residence, but also a small country estate at Preston Deanery (Northamptonshire). Langham had been battling for the inheritance of another estate, Glyndebourne (which you can read about here; opera-lovers will realize that his bid for the estate was successful).

But the morning of April 19th, a Friday, must have begun like any other.

The maid had washed the passage way, which left a connecting door open in order “to dry the passage”. Walker had been in the pantry, and, upon exiting, had “heard the street-door bell ring”. The time was “half-past twelve o’clock at noon.” Walker remembers closing the pantry door – which latched; but going up to answer the street door, he did not lock the pantry door.

The ring of the door evidently announced the arrival of the household’s newspaper (sharing was not unknown; so it could have come from a family member or a friend; as well as a true delivery): “There was a person there with a newspaper.” Walker “took it up to the drawing-room — mistress sent me into the dining-room with it.” MISTRESS would have been Elizabeth Christie, who, sitting in the drawing room, probably was finishing up a day’s correspondence, although she might also have been attentive to the arrival of any callers — unless she was NOT AT HOME (the standard phrase of the period, to denote both absence as well as not accepting callers).

Was Langham in the dining-room? Or was it merely placed at his plate? We are not told; Walker merely states the fact, and was quickly back at the pantry, “in less than five minutes.”

The time away is crucial (one almost wonders if the newspaper delivery was a ruse, but presumably not – for no more is mentioned about the paper).

The shock awaiting Walker was the sight of a man INSIDE the pantry (which, of course, stood with its door now open).

Walker called out, asking “what he wanted there”. George Fountain replied, asking if Walker “wanted any black lead.” But no one peddling their wares would be inside the house, at the bottom of stairs that led into the pantry. The game was up. Walker knew the clinking “blue bag” contained pieces of the family plate. Not much, you will say, citing three pieces of silverware – but being caught in the act obviously stopped the robbery in its tracks.

Walker sent for Langham, “my master,” who himself went for the police. No mention is made of whether Elizabeth already knew of the infiltration into the lower regions of her household, just as things were being readied for lunch.

Little further examination took place in court, a few follow-up questions with Walker. Then the policeman, Thomas Gane, gave testimony.

In parentheses comes the statement that “(The prisoner received a good character.)” – surely sworn testimony about the thirty-year-old prisoner. Fountain, found guilty, was “Strongly recommended to mercy.” and received a sentence of six months incarceration. The trial had taken place at the Old Bailey, London, on 13 May 1839. In the Proceedings of the Old Bailey, this is the only instance of George Fountain’s appearance.

Garrows_Law

keep in mind: You can visit the Old Bailey by booking a place

 

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Elizabeth Chivers: Diary of a London Tourist, 1814

October 31, 2018 at 3:55 pm (books, diaries, history, london's landscape, travel) (, , )

The Museum of London has produced a spectacular illustrated account of the London tour of Elizabeth Chivers, a resident of Bath. In 1814, twenty-eight-year-old Elizabeth and her younger sister Sarah, accompanied by their unnamed uncle (in his own carriage), left home on March 14th. Readers travel with them through such familiar places as Devizes, Marlborough, Bray, and Hounslow Heath. We halt with them at their hotel in Covent Garden. Here, with Miss Chivers, we see London in 1814 through the eyes of an untiring tourist. The Chivers sisters also were doing a bit of sleuthing, turning up places associated with several uncles (“late” as well as present) and even where “Father and Mother first became acquainted.”

custom house_london

Custom House, London

What makes the presentation extra special? The illustrations from the collection of The Museum of London, with captions that tell a bit more about what Miss Chivers saw, and whether something no longer exists. Helpful notes as well tease out the places visited or seen.

walksthroughregencylondon

To actually walk in the footsteps of such Regency visitors – you might enjoy a copy of Louise Allen’s Walks Through Regency London. Great for the armchair traveller too.

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Postal History: Ride Mail Rail

July 12, 2018 at 8:31 am (entertainment, history, london's landscape, news, travel) (, , , )

A friend recently rode the Mail Rail attached to the Postal Museum in London. She described great fun, and also a great learning experience. The tunnels utilized are original to the Royal Mail’s Mount Pleasant sorting office.

Mail rail

Of course, the original trains moved mail not people – but the Mail Rail takes visitors back in time by sharing stories from the past. The rail once kept mail “coursing through London for 22 hours a day” – Astounding!

My Smiths & Goslings, who loved to tour the marvels of industry, would have been at the “head of the queue” for obtaining tickets.

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Touching Mrs. Dalloway

May 15, 2018 at 9:23 am (books, history, jane austen, london's landscape) (, , , )

Join the London Evening Standard in a “Behind the Scenes” look at the British Library. Yes, this is where you can see Jane Austen’s writing desk (on permanent loan).

NPG 3630; Jane Austen by Cassandra Austen

In the midst of the article comes the question: Why they let us touch “Mrs. Dalloway” (Woolf’s manuscript) without gloves?

I hate to say, but Have you ever LOOKED at the gloves typically handed out to handle materials? Rather disgustingly DIRTY! And, big. (I have neither small nor large hands).

Clean, dry hands is key.

In the article, not only is “Mrs. Dalloway” discussed, but also the “scary literary dungeons” – those areas DEEP in the bowels (six stories below!) of the facility – where manuscripts are kept in “special chambers filled with nitrogen, carbon dioxide and argon.”

A rotating exhibition of “treasures” from the vault gives even frequent visitors to the British Library something *new* to see.

[I confess, I cannot see where there is a video, of the curators; I only see “today’s headlines and highlights”, but perhaps a different browser would help]

“Experience a sense of history,” says one curator; and that indeed is a well-expressed summation. To touch, to read, to digest the information culled from a manuscript (like the letters, diaries, and drawings I work from) is “to experience” in the highest sense of the phrase.

Click on Jane’s eyes to Look Behind the Scenes. And, if you’re heading to London (or lucky enough to BE in London), check out the Standard’s “London’s prettiest and most Instagrammable BOOKSHOPS” article for some “treasures” you can bring home.

(I think my favorite to seek out next time is the Dutch barge bookshop, Word on the Watermoored on Regent’s Canal.)

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Criminal Broadsides

March 29, 2018 at 11:30 am (history, london's landscape, places) (, , , )

It’s not often that I write of the dark underside of life in 19th Century Britain… but when I came across this “deposit” at Kent State University, I had to share.

Kent’s archival holdings contains BROADSIDES – those oh-so-ephemeral handouts that we all toss away. But these have miraculously been saved from the dust bin!

Wm Shaw

Imagine: one of the London printers of broadsides in the early 19th century had the intriguing name (nom de plume?) of Jimmy Catnach.

Among their criminal broadsides are some broadcasting the “unusual”, such as THE WILD AND HAIRY MAN, or THE WANDERING LADY. Although the veracity of the execution broadsides are called into question, the details are fascinating – and the website provides many instances of the contents of those. You can get your fill of Murderers, Horse Thieves, and Confessions (from the guilty or the wrongly-convicted) by reading through the 139 “cases” presented for your perusal. Dates covered 1800s, 1810s, 1820s, 1830s up to the 1870s.

Some EXTRAS:

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The Postman Always Rings

January 28, 2018 at 9:43 am (history, london's landscape, World of Two Teens) (, , )

In the *first* of a series of posts (not necessarily all in a row), culling useful information about the World of Two Teens in the Time of Austen, is a short tidbit on the English Postal System.

So many times the Smiths and Goslings query each other:

  • When did you mail this letter? I received it only today.
  • How long did my letter take to reach you?
  • Should I use the route X rather than Y? Is it faster?
  • This letter took three days to reach me – why?
  • When did you post it?
  • I find, Today is not a post day.
  • The Postman is here, I must finish.

It, of course, is obvious that letters can travel through the hands of relatives – servants – as enclosures – via the family solicitor or banker, etc. etc. Some are franked; others hand-delivered next door or even inside the same house! Imagine yourself without your email…. “Why isn’t so-and-so answering me?” Things have not changed, it’s just the manner of the communication that differs.

(As well, the “historical” trail left behind! I Pity anyone studying the early 21st century 200 years from now…)

The Smiths and Goslings were as eager for news, as happy with a bit of a gossipy chat, as anxious about travelling loved-ones, as YOU are today. I was counting last night, and given the period from 1770s through the 1940s (stray letters at the beginning and the end, in a bell-curve fashion), and even discounting for wrappers alone or free-fronts (ie, NO letter inside) and for those copied from books, I have transcribed over two thousand letters. A *major* feat; though perhaps on par with finding them in the first place! The life stories that roll across the amassed pages is astounding. No wonder it’s taken ten years to come to grips with it all – and to see the materials for myself, when they are scattered from England to Italy, from Canada and the U.S. to Australia.

If I read a letter a day, EVERY day, it would take SIX-and-a-half YEARS to go through them, and that wouldn’t be counting any that are still out there, in someone’s closet or shoebox. And that doesn’t count the family diaries.

bright star_letter

So, what did I find? A schedule for the London Two-Penny Post in the year 1835, information among the printed matter at the front of “The Commercial LedgerAnnual Memorandum Book, used as a daily diary:

REGULATIONS OF THE TWOPENNY POST.

There are Six Collections and Deliveries of the Letters in Town, daily, (Sundays excepted), and there are Two Dispatches from, and Three Deliveries at, most Places in the Country, within the Limits of this Office.

The Hours by which Letters should be put into the Receiving Houses in town, for each Delivery, are as follow [sic]:

For Delivery in TOWN.
Over Night by 8 for the First
Morning ……… 8 …………. Second
                         10 ………… Third
                         12 ………… Fourth
Afternoon ……. 2 …………. Fifth
                          5 ………….. Sixth

For Delivery in the COUNTRY.
The preceding Even. by 5 for the First.
Morning ……………………… 8 …………… Second
Afternoon ……………………. 2 …………… Third.

But Letters, whether for Town or Country, may be put in at either of the Two Principal Offices an Hour later for each Dispatch.

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Marylebone: the Art of Painting

September 4, 2017 at 8:08 pm (books, entertainment, london's landscape) (, , )

Watching a recent episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?,” featuring Charles Dance, there came an intriguing moment for _me_ when he chased after an ancestor who had a shop at No. 83 High Street, Marylebone.

It began when Charles Dance encountered a husband/wife pair of portraits. Knowing the husband was officially “an artist,” he simply had to track down some of his work (which he secretly hoped would lead back to the portraits, i.e., a portrait of his wife by the artist and a self-portrait).

His ancestor, Charles François FUTVOYE caused a LOT of comment. “Unusual name” was the gist of the consternation. When the following turned up in one of the London papers which _I_ have often consulted, MY ears perked up!

futvoye_ad

Charles Dance was related to a man who taught “Japanning” to the “Nobility and Gentry”. The above ad ran in 1829. Could any of my Smiths & Goslings visited his shop at No. 83 High-street??

For the older girls, married or marrying by 1829, some of them with young children, their desire for Japanning may have been lessening. And, like Charles Dance, I could well imagine that SUCH an unusual name (the man had emigrated from Spa, Belgium) would have caused me no end of consternation during transcription. So, even if he’s there, his name could be misspelled!

I did search, with no luck, Emma’s diaries from the 1820s; I’ll go back further – and also take a look through all the letters, to see if anything turns up. No. 83 High-street would have been a ten- to fifteen-minute walk from Portland Place. Mr. Futvoye also sold art materials. Anything is possible, therefore.

Today the premises is a lovely bookshop: Daunt Books for Travellers.

futvoye_shop

Recent fans will join Charles Dance’s newly-found kin in wanting to hear about Game of Thrones (his role: Tywin Lannister); I remember him most fondly for The Jewel in the Crown (his role: Guy Perron).

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Capability Brown @ the Royal Horticultural Society, London

October 17, 2016 at 12:59 pm (estates, history, london's landscape, people) (, , )

If you missed the installation “A CAPABLE BUSINESSMAN” at London’s Lindley LibraryRoyal Horticultural Society, you’re in luck: the internet is able to help.

Back in August 2016, the RHS posted this press release, alerting fans of Capability Brown that the Society’s copy of Brown’s Account Book was going on public display.

account-book

Calling Brown “one of the 18th century’s most successful and pioneering businessmen,” the research into this account book has revealed the “astonishing amounts” paid to Brown – and I can say, for Castle Ashby, by one of the Earls of Northampton! (the 9th Earl being uncle to my diarist, Emma Austen)

“Mostly written in his own hand,” Brown’s clientele numbered 125 individuals in this book alone (dating from 1759 until his death in 1783).

The book descended through family, and – though loaned to the Society in the 1950s – has now been donated to the Society.

The display coincided with the (ongoing) 300th Anniversary of the birth of Lancelot “Capability” Brown.

Clicking on the photo above will bring you to the online “copy” of Brown’s Account Book.

The London Parks & Gardens Trust also featured Capability Brown in its newsletter; some articles are found online.

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