Every once in a while I come across a *fun* piece of information. This one is not only fun it’s also a step back in time, a moment from the lives of the Smiths of Erle Stoke Park.
The year, circa 1795/6.
As governments still desire to do, the English Parliament needed money. But how to get it, where to get it? Some bright idea occurred to someone: Let’s tax something! Ah, yes… cast your mind back: The Stamp Act; a tax on Tea; how about paying tax based the number of windows in your house, or the number of dogs in your kennel.
In 1795 that brilliant idea served to tax that commodity so many used on a daily basis: Hair Powder.
Unlike someone counting your windows or your dogs, this was based on obtaining a certificate. A tax of One Guinea gave you leisure to powder for the year (in this instance, through to 1 August 1796). Joshua Smith of Erlestoke Park, Wiltshire was a Member of Parliament; what choice did he have but to pay:
William Hiskins, under-butler to J. Smith, 11 April.
Augusta Smith, daughter of Joshua Smith, 11 April.
Emma Smith, daughter of Joshua Smith, 11 April.
Joshua Smith, housekeeper, 11 April.
Sarah Smith, wife of Joshua Smith, 11 April.
Alexander Struthers, footman to Joshua Smith, 11 April.
My favorite portion of the announcement is a section, which reads: “… NO MORE IS TO BE DEMANDED OF ANY PERSON upon taking out a Certificate for using or wearing of Hair Powder, upon any Pretence whatever, except where there are more than two unmarried Daughters in a Family, in which Case a DOUBLE CERTIFICATE stamped with two Stamps, of One Pound One Shilling each, is required to be taken out.”
- On RootsWeb, powder tax payments for Towcester
- Notice of offices open for the attainment of said certificate
- Payment by the Smith household, see DannyHowell.net
- Relevant page from Roy and Lesley Adkins’ book, Jane Austen’s England
- A 2012 article on Sunderland during the powder tax period
- Rob Eyre of the Warwickshire Record Office: guest blog and BBC Radio’s Making History
If you can locate a copy of Beryl Hurley’s booklet “The Hair Powder Tax, Wiltshire” (1997), you can read about the Smiths of Erlestoke yourself! Needless to say, powdering wigs and hair quickly went out of fashion…
Have been doing some internet searching, and came across this BEAUTIFUL image of Richings Lodge, the home of the Rt. Hon. John Sullivan, papa to my dear Georgina Vere Sullivan, AKA Mrs Robert Gosling. I invite you to see the full image at Richings Park’s website, but here’s a small teaser (which has a permanent home on the ESTATES page):
Also new on the ESTATES page, an “updated” (larger!) image for Erle Stoke Park, the Wiltshire home of Joshua Smith.
I’ve found a new La Belle Assemblée — which just happens to be for 1826, and includes the marriage announcement for Georgina! I was looking to find if there were any other new additions of this journal, but got tired of finding only those I had already unearthed. But a project I will get back to…, I promise.
On the other hand I found a copy (very late indeed for my time period) of THE LADIES CABINET OF FASHION MUSIC AND ROMANCE. Must admit I really haven’t looked at this beyond its date (1847). Its opening “story” is entitled “Confessions of a Felon“! That makes me rather wonder at the type of journal this purported to be. I assume this “story” falls under the “romance” banner? Funny to find an image of a work rather familiar: the portrait of “Ruben’s Wife” in this issue. A little poem accompanies it.
I’d love readers to tell me whether this journal was froth or is something worth seeking out. I also find a couple of (earlier) titles for a journal called The Ladies Literary Cabinet.
Here’s a book that should be of interest: Victorian Women’s Magazines: An Anthology (2001), by Margaret Beetham and Kay Boardman. In looking for this book in my university’s library (not in their collection, unfortunately), I see that Margaret Beetham, who died in 1996, had published a book A magazine of her own? : domesticity and desire in the woman’s magazine, 1800-1914 — which they DO have on their library shelves. The time period is nice, for Smith & Gosling research, though the writer seems to quickly move on to the later era (a lot of ground to cover in the years of 1800 to 1914…); you can view the book online at Amazon.
Ah, the days have grown so short, now that the clocks are turned back. Night settles around the house, lights pop on at the flick of a switch, and I think of life for the Smiths & Goslings, 200 years ago.
So today I look up a few quotes, from November Letters and a Journal, to brighten up these lengthening November nights.
- “Tuesday, being the 5th of Nov:br I tryed to get some squibs & crackers & at last John succeeded in making some, so we let them off last night.” — Drummond Smith, 6 Nov 1822, writing from Suttons, to his brother Spencer
- “I believe Tanner has got a ferret, Miss M. mistook it one day for a very large rat.” — ditto
- “you really can have no idea of how much we have to do, & how little time to spare, unless you could take a trip down here and spend a few weeks among us.” — Drummond Smith, 17 Nov 1824, writing from Harrow, to his eldest sister Augusta
- “There have been several pugilistic encounters lately, I think I shall send Eliza notice that she may come, as she takes delight in them.” — ditto
- “I afterwards went to Lady Compton’s She is a gigantic, well-informed, hard-headed, blue Scotchwoman.” — Journal of Henry Edward Fox, 26 Nov 1824
And from the earlier generation:
- “Dear Papa’s Eyes Glistened with Love & pleasure, he Blessed his little favorite said she had always been a good Girl” — Sarah Smith, 13 Nov 1793, writing to her newlywed daughter, Eliza Chute
- “I never heard of such a shameful conduct in any Officers as these Irish ones; swearing most shockingly, pass thro’ the Turnpikes without paying, they are the bane of Devizes, and no one can walk the Streets at night in safety.” — Emma Smith (“Aunt Emma”), 16 Nov 1794, writing to her sister Eliza Chute
- “The accident would not have happened if he had staid at home with Lady Compton to knit.” — Eliza Gosling (Mary’s mother), 7 Nov 1795, writing from Roehampton Grove, to her friend Eliza Chute
A letter written in French in late January 1797, by Augusta (“Mamma”) Smith to her friend Eliza Gosling, had this tidbit of gossip:
“All talk of the death of Lady Rancliffe as sad, & caused by her carelessness; there is surely something that we do not know; have the grace to tell me what caused her death: I hear that she has had some gallantry, & I think with Mr. Matthews. but did she ever leave her husband; we are wholly ignorant of this Chapter.”
Inquiring minds — mine included! — want to know more.
A couple of images of Lady Rancliffe exist – like this 1795 study for a portrait by Hoppner. She was Mrs Parkyns then. And her “biography” is really the only thing I can find. According to the Annual Necrology, Elizabeth Anne James was the only daughter of Sir William James. Her father died on her wedding day! Married to Thomas Boothby Parkyns on 16 Dec 1783. The year of Hoppner’s drawing, 1795, Parkyns was raised to the peerage of Ireland as Baron Rancliffe.
By the time she died, Lady Rancliffe would be written up as “married at 18; has been the mother of nine children in thirteen years, six of which, one son and five daughters, are now living.” Her obituary describes her as, “with every elegrance of person, youth, riches, dignity, and mental accomplishments, in the highest degree refined, and cultivated; matched to a husband, whose worth is equalled only by his benevolence; nothing seemed to have been wanting to complete the happiness of the charming woman whose loss we now deplore.”
So what is the truth?
A happy, charming woman – or a wife on the look-out for other men? What might her “carelessness” have been?
To echo Augusta’s comment, “I am wholly ignorant of this Chapter.”
I wish I had a picture of Sarah, Mrs Joshua Smith, to share. Alas, the one citation I have of a miniature of her — by Anne Mee — came with NO illustration!
So, to illustrate this lengthy obituary of Sarah, I include this illustration of Stoke Park, where she died. The write-up comes from The Monthly Magazine and British Register, 1810:
“At Stoke Park, near Devizes, Mrs Smith, the lady of Joshua Smith, esq. one of the representatives in parliament for that borough. She was the daughter, by a second wife, of Nathaniel Gilbert, of the island of Antigua, sequire [sic], a gentleman of large landed property there, and chief legal magistrate of the island, the maternal sister of the late lady Colebrooke, and mother of the present lady Northampton. Through life, this lady was conspicuous not only for great good sense and very amiable manners, but also for the great sincerity of her attachments; a sincerity which was the result of affection, principle, and benevolence, alone. In an age in which the woman of fashion too frequently affects the most extravagant degree of moral sentiment, the purity of her conduct expressed the innate worth and value of her mind; and while her charitable heart was ever ready to mitigate distress, the delicacy of her pecuniary favours never wounded the feelings of those, whom her bounty so liberally relieved. Though handsome in her youth, she was totally free from vanity and affectation; her charity, though exerted on the precepts of the divine word, in secrecy and silence, was not confined merely to alms, but manifested by a liberal and charitable opinion of the conduct of all. So far was she from uttering scandal of any one that she did not even think it; and as to pride, if it resided in her, it was of that decent kind which preserved her within the bounds of virtue and propriety. Thus beloved and revered for three generations, in consequence of a debility of body produced by an arthritic complaint, she expired at the end of her sixty-second year, when threatened with a total loss of sight, leaving her inconsolable husband, children, and other connections, the example of a woman, illustrious in every social department of life. Her remains were conveyed for interment to the family vault at Lambeth.”
Sarah Smith of Erle Stoke Park lives on in letters, especially those to her daughter Eliza Chute of The Vyne, now housed at the Hampshire Record Office, Winchester, England. Eliza, in 1793, was newly married, and frequent correspondence passed between the two households.
A plea to anyone coming across letters of the 1790s: This important decade connects the Smiths & Goslings together in the “parent generation” – not only is Sarah Smith writing to Eliza and William Chute, she also writes of the newly-married pair William and Eliza GOSLING. Eliza Chute, as well, writes of her life — at The Vyne, at Roehampton Grove (the Gosling home), at Richmond — to her sisters Emma Smith (at Stoke); Augusta Smith (at Suttons, in Essex); Maria, Lady Compton (later: Lady Northampton = Marchioness of Northampton). Please contact me (see about the author for contact information) if you have letters to share!
- Just bought a letter from eBay, for instance, and
- its contents point to the people in this blog??
- Contact me; I’d LOVE to hear from you!
Last Sunday I was crowing to myself about all the *FINDS*. Just think: THREE different “items” turned up in one week, after some searching and much fortuitous clicking. On the last I have some extra news as of last night. I *LOVE* it when items rise to the surface, clambering to be noticed.
(1) Margaret Clephane / Lady Compton
My first find was stumbling once again upon ARCHIVES HUB. This time with a true piece of my research at the other end!
Archives Hub enables searches at “nearly 200 institutions in England, Scotland and Wales.” At first I could see the “hit” concerned letters written by Margaret, Lady Compton — but the site (or my connection?) was having problems. It took a lot of searching to realize the letters were housed at The John Rylands University Library, University of Manchester. I have fond memories of the name of this library: The French Diaries of Mrs Thrale and Dr Johnson was based on JRUL holdings! It is a favorite book, my used copy in quite decent shape.
So what was found, I hear you ask: 39 letters, penned by Margaret, plus 2 sets of verse. The citation is rather confusing. At first it sounds like the letters were written from October 1828 up to September 1829 — but further into the record I read that all the letters, addressed to Henry Edward Fox (later 4th and last Baron Holland), mainly written from ROME (check: the Comptons resided long in Italy), “are addressed to Fox in France (mostly, February-March 1826), Italy and London. All are dated within a period of nine months (October 1825-June 1826), except for four which are dated July and August 1829”
So: October 1825 to June 1826…. or, October 1828 to September 1829???
Time will tell – for this set of letters must for now remain on the back burner. Like the letters at the National Library of Scotland, penned in that case to Walter Scott. Scott’s own letters to the Clephanes and Comptons have been published. Luckily, my university’s library has the set and I long ago began culling family news.
The description says: “The letters are primarily personal, but have social and literary value“. Yeah!
(2) Letter from Aunt Emma / Emma Smith
I’ll jump to the last “find”, for it is the least visual. I had come across internet comments by Dr. Kevin Linch (Leeds University) a while ago. I knew he had seen a letter of Aunt Emma’s (ie, Emma Smith, the youngest sister of Maria, Eliza, and Augusta – the four Smith Girls of Erle Stoke Park, Wiltshire), dating to 1794. Dr Linch was interested in Emma’s description of the exercises of the yeomanry. The picture painted rather makes me think of a war-era drawing by Diana Sperling.
Of course, Dr Linch pushed to one side the very bits I wanted most from this letter I hadn’t yet transcribed (the original is at the Hampshire Record Office): the family chit-chat. So imagine my surprise when I found online Dr. Linch’s full transcription (nice…) AND the ENTIRE “original” letter (far better*).
[*by the bye: I much prefer to do my own transcribing; one transcription was given to me as “Dear Ivy” – who the hell was Ivy??! I wondered. The letter’s content indicated Lady Elizabeth Compton, cousin to the Smiths of Suttons (Maria Smith’s only daughter; sister-in-law to Margaret Clephane / Lady Compton); I had never heard her called “Ivy” though. Another letter soon surfaced and this time I read the salutation – and knew the mistake. The three-letter word ended not in a “Y” but in a “Z” — and the name was Liz! Which made complete sense.
Another source for a letter indicated the writer was someone I did not know at all. Still, I asked that a scan be sent, as the letter was well within my time period. Imagine my surprise when the writer turned from a complete unknown into the MOTHER of Mr Odell, school friend and fellow-traveller with Drummond Smith! Her letter I wanted to read – and thrilling reading it was, too.]
Here, looking at it myself, was Aunt Emma’s comments in Aunt Emma’s own loopy writing.
Emma even anticipates the arrival of Miss Meen. Margaret Meen, who surfaces in the diaries and letters, was an artist who gave lessons (I discount The Vyne’s theory that she was governess to the Erle Stoke girls), not only to the four Smiths sisters, but also to Queen Charlotte and her princesses. Little did I know, when I read this letter by Emma, that I had already put my finger on many of Margaret Meen’s watercolors!
(3) Royal Horticultural Society: Miss Meen and the four daughters of Joshua Smith
Smack in the middle of all these letter discoveries came the Botanical “watercolours on vellum” housed at the Royal Horticultural Society. Trouble is, depending on which website used, you find less or more drawings, less or more images. FRUSTRATING! and yet last night I uncovered at 48 images (one you REALLY have to search for) by this quintet!!! May rival the holdings at The Vyne – none of which are currently pictured online.
You have the choice of the following:
- The catalogue of the RHS Lindley Library
- The Prints purchasing site of the RHS
- The Images site of the RHS
I naturally began with the CATALOGUE. I mean when you want to know the extent of holdings where else would you go?
Looking up keywords margaret and meen I found four hits – and one image, which belonged to the citation for her 1790 book Exotic Plants from the Royal Garden at Kew. Searching for smith and elizabeth — which I knew should bring up drawings, for those were what I had found for purchase — drew a blank. smith and augusta brought up two citations for drawings from 1787, but their artist was described as Augusta Smith (17–) => Was this Mamma?!?
Maria was nowhere to be seen – and those of Emma, which like Eliza, had been found “for purchase” were best found at another site too. What’s a girl to do? She sends an email.
And keeps on searching…
Why all the hullaballoo? Because I had found a watercolor of Eliza (Chute) Smith’s for sale through Amazon (of all places…) and the description said: “Smith was one of four daughters of Joshua Smith the MP for Devizes in Wiltshire. The Smith sisters were instructed in painting by the botanical artist Margaret Meen (fl.-). The RHS Lindley Library collection holds works on vellum by Meen and all of the Smith Sisters.” My stunned reaction: REALLY??!?!
I had to find out how many, by which artist.
Facebook had another image. Mediastorehouse.com had more – and only $15.99 for an 8×10 print. Reasonable… I now realize, though, that Mediastorehouse is NOT RHS – and searching their print “store” you can find TWELVE Miss Meen botanicals. Be advised, THIS set is the only image and info for Solandra grandiflora (LIB0036980), c1780s.
[NB: again frustration: two works are dated 1789 in the “images” but 1785 in the “prints / shop”]
In the “images” one unearths ALL when searching for Margaret Meen (she turns up in their descriptions): without knowing (until I hear back from RHS) whether ALL their Smith/Meen holdings are digitized, and barring the “can’t find this drawing here, but it is listed somewhere else”, I now see:
- numbers: LIB0002763 – LIB0002770 –> eight Botanicals by Emma Smith
- numbers: LIB0002761 – LIB0002762 –> two Botanicals by the elusive Maria Smith
- numbers: LIB0002749 – LIB0002755 –> seven Botanicals by Augusta Smith (here rather described as marrying her father-in-law; Charles Smith of Suttons, not Stratford Langthorne…)
- numbers: LIB0002737 – LIB0002748 –> twelve Botanicals by Eliza Smith
- numbers: LIB0036963 – LIB0036981 –> eighteen (out of 19) Botanicals by Margaret Meen
And on the “images” site you are treated to a GALLERY by Miss Emma Smith:
I have been thinking of letters and diaries these last couple of weeks. Some diaries are in the 1810s; others propel me forward to the 1840s; and the letters have been as early as the 1790s!
Today I want to make a special appeal to anyone who might have knowledge of letters written by or to Susannah Smith, the wife of Thomas Smith of Bersted Lodge.
Susannah and Thomas married in 1800; Thomas was a brother of Joshua Smith of Erle Stoke Park, so he was Augusta (Mamma) Smith’s Uncle and therefore a great-uncle to my Emma.
This close-up is from a miniature that recently sold at auction. How can you resist this face?!?
Susannah had a twin-sister: Arabella, Countess of Mayo. She became a lady-in-waiting.
Knowing well that LETTERS were the bread-and-butter of life then, I suspect Susannah’s letters, at the very least to and from her sister, but probably also to others in the Smith’s extended family, must exist. Mrs Thomas Smith was of the generation who visited Tring Park to stay with Mr and Mrs Drummond Smith – and also visit Roehampton, where resided Eliza Gosling (Mrs William Gosling), sister to Mary, Mrs Drummond Smith. How wonderful it would be to read comments – even slightly negative ones! – about my Smiths & Goslings.
Even hints to possible whereabouts of some correspondence would be welcome! Published sources as much as manuscript sources.
* * *
UPDATE: it was stupid of me not to include more information on Susannah’s sister and brother-in-law. The Earl of Mayo had the familial name of BOURKE. Some places associated with the family include Naas and Palmerstown. The Praed family were also related to the Shore family, which produced the delightful publication The Journal of Emily Shore.
Thanks to a reader giving me a heads up on a bookplate, I literally stumbled upon this image — and the connotation is that this portrait is JOSHUA SMITH of ERLE STOKE PARK.
I’ve emailed the seller to find out whatEVER info might have led eBay seller Prexiepost or Photobucket’s RobertsonBruce to think — or know — this is a portrait of my Joshua. But if this little “pitch” here helps to answer that question also, I pitch away!
On the hunt for the library of Erle Stoke’s bookplate, I came across these “finds,” the first about a book belonging to Joshua — now, thanks to Mike H. at Tring Park School, I have Joshua’s will and can see how he divided his property (once I decipher the extremely terrible hand of the probate copywriter!):
- Maggs Rare Books is selling a copy (£800) of Boswell’s An Account of Corsica (who knew Joshua read any of Boswell’s writings?!? fascinating!!). The listing says “Contemporary bookplate of Joshua Smith of Stoke Park, Wiltshire.”
- Neale’s Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen (1823) which includes Earl Stoke Park
* * *
BREAKING UPDATE even before the post is published: It IS Joshua!!!!!
The following is from an 1853 volume of Burke’s A Visitation of the Seats and Arms of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain, vol 2:
“ERLESTOKE PARK, Wiltshire, about seven miles south-west of Devizes, the property of Mrs. Watson Taylor, by whom it is let on a yearly lease to Lord Broughton de Gyfford. This estate, together with that of Eddington [sic], where formerly stood an old family mansion of the Dukes of Bolton, belonged at one time to Peter Delmé, Esq., and of him it was purchased about the year 1780, by Joshua Smith, Esq., M.P. for Devizes, who so completely altered the whole domain, as scarcely to leave it a single trait of its original character. The fine old trees in the park may be said to be almost the only remains of the bygone period. The pleasure grounds, the plantations, all sprang up under the hand of the energetic proprietor; even a new village started into life, like a second Aladdin’s palace. The old house at Stoke Park, which was built close on the edge of a small stream at the foot of the hill, was pulled down, and a new mansion erected on the brow of a steep knoll, or eminence, partly embosomed in noble forest trees, and partly open to distant prospects. The building, composed of a fine white free-stone, was begun in 1786, and finished in five years. Together with the offices, it extends from east to west three hundred and fifty-six feet in front, in the centre of which is a Doric colonnade, opening into a very handsome hall, forty feet in length, and two-and-thirty feet in breadth. It is ornamented with a screen of six fluted Corinthian columns, and communicates with the drawing-room, dining-room, library, and other apartments. The first of these is thirty feet by twenty-four, its length being apparently enlarged, from the effect produced by two mirrors, placed at the opposite ends of the apartment.
The dining-room, to the east, communicates with the library, which faces the north, the former being thirty-six feet by twenty-four, while the latter is forty feet long, and twenty-six feet wide. West of this is the breakfast-room, which, with a large dressing-room, constitutes the ground suite of apartments.
In this noble mansion lived the family of the Smiths, in a manner worthy of its splendour; but they have now all descended to the grave, or are scattered and dispersed. In 1820, the executors of the late Simon Taylor, Esq., bought the manor and estate of Erle Stoke, with those of Edington and Coulston, for two hundred and fifty thousand pounds. They were settled upon Mrs. Watson Taylor, as sole heiress of her uncle, on the death of her only brother, Sir Simon B. Taylor (who died unmarried in the year 1815), the whole, with other landed property, being entailed on the heirs male and female in succession, of George Watson Taylor, Esq., M.P., and his wife, the above lady. Many large additions have been made to these extensive domains.
The present park and pleasure grounds consist of about six hundred acres, distinguished by a great variety of surface, with bold eminences, narrow, winding valleys, and wood and water in abundance. About a mile to the south of the House is the northern boundary of Salisbury Plain, presenting a lofty ridge, that extends in an undulating and irregular line, from west to east, for the distance of several miles. Towards the north this plain slopes rapidly, abounding in deep romantic dells, that are mostly covered with a thin turf; but on the Erle Stoke estate, it is clothed with thick and extensive plantations of firs, beech, larch, and other indigenous timber. From one of these hollows rises an abundant spring of fine water, that meanders through a secluded pleasure ground, and in places expands into small lakes, having in its passage over the ridges of rock formed several beautiful cascades. Upon reaching the park, the accumulated waters swell into a broad and noble sheet, that from the north and west sides of the House presents a most pleasing feature in the landscape.
The approach and entrance to the mansion were formerly on the south; but on that side, a few years ago, a flower garden was laid out, and enclosed from the park by a light, high, wire fence; a new road was also made, and an entrance portico erected, on the north side of the House. Other improvements have been effected, the only change for the worse being the dispersion of the excellent collection of pictures made by Mr. Watson Taylor, some of which present very choice specimens of ancient and modern art.”
What a fascinating find! It’s so easy to imagine young Augusta, when she lived here, getting her letter from Charles Smith which caused such “agitation” in early diary entries in 1798. Sadly, Erle Stoke/Erlestoke burned — as little now exists of Joshua’s house as he left when building his home.
Would LOVE to hear from anyone with further information — or illustrations — of Erle Stoke Park!
So much news, so much news — but I simply MUST post and share the following “find”!
Thanks to an Ancestry user, the following was posted — the Miss Smith cited can only be AUNT EMMA! (All her other sisters were married.) Emma would have been about 53-years-old. Joshua Smith had died in 1819 and the estate sold to the Watson Taylors, with the four Erle Stoke park daughters dividing the proceeds, by 1822 (if I recollect correctly).
August 20, 1827
Some Selected Reports from The Salisbury and Winchester Journal
Fete Champetre at Erle-Stoke Park.
On Tuesday last Mr.and Mrs.Watson Taylor gave one of the most splendid fetes ever witnessed in this county. The invitations were principally confined to Devizes and its neighbourhood, but many respectable families from different parts of the county attended; and the number of persons present could not altogether be less than seven hundred. The gates of the park were opened at two o’clock and the company began to arrive. The carriages drew up at the front door, and after passing through a spacious entrance-hall (the butler announcing the names as they entered) the company was received in the library in the most polite and affable manner by both Mrs.and Mr.Watson Taylor. They then passed into a beautiful flower-garden, where, after promenading for some time, they proceeded to the pleasure grounds. The excellent arrangement of the walks in these grounds (extending over 600 acres) and the order and care in which they are kept, excited the highest admiration. In different parts were stationed bands of music.
About three quarters of a mile from the house, and on an ample lawn, gently rising above the water which winds its course through the pleasure grounds into the park, was a temporary erection, 70 feet square, and of proportionate altitude. This erection was neatly thatched, and the pillars supporting it tastefully decorated with laurels and evergreens; within, and on the turf, four long tables, at which 500 persons could sit, were laid; and from the variety and fanciful arrangement of the viands, they had a most pleasing appearance. At a short distance, a room between 60 and 70 feet in length, with an excellent flooring , was erected for dancing, supported by columns decorated with wreaths of flowers and evergreens, forming a beautiful arcade, with a piazza on either side. In front of these rooms, on the lawn, was the principal promenade before dinner, and it is impossible to imagine a more imposing and fascinating scene. No one could view, without delight and rapture, the numerous groups of lovely females gracefully parading to and fro upon the lawn; whilst a few parties perambulated the various walks. Soon after 4 o’clock, the company repaired to the dinner-room, where there was an ample supply of the best viands, the choicest wines, and all the delicacies of the season. Confectionery, in great variety, was provided under the direction of Mr. Kemp, of South Audley-street, whose arrangements evinced great taste and judgement. The room for dancing was, in the mean time, lighted with variegated lamps, formed in festoons; and at half-past five o’clock quadrille parties were arranged, and quadrilles danced with grace and softened animation, to the music of an excellent quadrille band from Bath. Other parties separated to a distant part of the lawn, where the more rural country dance was kept up with great spirit; but the greater part of the company indulged in the pleasures of the promenade.
Throughout the evening, ices and refreshments of every description were distributed in abundance. Variegated lamps forming two large stars, and various festoons in different parts, illuminated the walk leading from the ball-room to the gate at the entrance of the village of Stoke, at which place the carriages were brought up : and it was between nine and ten o’clock before the great bulk of the company thought of separating.
The day will never be forgotten by those who were present; the extreme affability and politeness of Mr.and Mrs.Watson Taylor excited an impression that can never be effaced.
Silk hats, ornamented with flowers or feathers, were generally worn by the ladies; amongst the company were observed, the Hon. Captain, Mrs., and Miss Bouverie; the Hon. and Rev. Canon, and Mrs. Bouverie; the Hon. Mrs. Harris; Sir J.D. Astley, bart. M.P. and Miss Astley; Sir Edward and Lady Poore, and 2 Mr. Poores; Mr. and Mrs. Estcourt and family; Mrs. and the 2 Misses Pearse; Mr. and Mrs.Clutterbuck; Mr., Mrs. and the Misses Locke; Mr. Phipps, Mr. E. and Miss Phipps; Mr. and Mrs. L. Phipps, Mr. and Mrs. Scott, with Miss Jephson; Mr. and Mrs. Salmon, Col. Wroughton, Capts. Montague, Capt. and Mrs. Macdonald, Capt. Tayler, Miss Smith (the daughter of the former proprietor of Erle Stoke Park), Mr. and Mrs. T. Moore, the Rev. Mr. and Mrs. Bowles, the Rev. Mr. and Mrs. Fisher; Mrs. Archdeacon Fisher; Mr. and Mrs. Ernle Warriner, of Conock; Mrs. and Miss Puget (the widow and daughter of the Admiral of that name); the two Misses Penruddocke; Mrs. and Miss Biggs of Stockton; Misses Salisbury, Col. and Mrs. A’Court, Mr. and Miss Ludlow of Heywood-house; Rev. Dr. and two Mr. and Miss Starkeys; two Mr. Awdrys, and Miss Awdry, of Notton; Rev. Jeremiah; Rev. A. and Mrs. Smith, of Old Park; Mr. and Mrs. Collings, of Sandridge; Dr. Headley, the Mayor of Devizes, and his family; and almost every respectable inhabitant of the town, with several families from Warminster, Melksham, Lavington, &c. Mr. Watson Taylor, with his accustomed attention, sent into Devizes on the following morning, to ascertain the safe return of his friends.
Between 40 and 50 pair of horses were ordered from the Bear Inn alone, upon the above occasion; and the excellent arrangement of the carriages, and the personal attention of Mr.E.Parsons, reflects great credit on him.
How must Aunt Emma have felt, revisiting her old home? Or, had she returned time and again in the past decade? Time may tell, as more primary material surfaces – especially about the movements of Aunt Emma.
And what about our Host, Mr Watson Taylor? Ah… That I can more easily answer.
The following comes from Art of England (1930) and has a section on the “Sale at Erlestoke” in 1832:
This [sale], however, was forced upon Watson Taylor, who, after long enjoying a princely income, had failed with liabilities of £450,000 owing to the depreciation of his property in the West Indies. The pictures and furniture of his town-house in Grafton Street came under the hammer in June, and on July 9th Robins commenced a twenty-days’ sale at Erlestoke Park, which is about six miles from Devizes. For the preceding fortnight everything had been on view to the buyers of the ten-shilling catalogues of the four thousand lots. These catalogues were compiled by W.H. Pyne, the artist, and were said to be the bulkiest publications of their kind ever issued. During the days when the house was open to the public special coaches were run by the hotel-keepers from Devizes and Salisbury to Erlestoke and the sale caused as much sensation in Wiltshire as that at Fonthill nine years earlier. Beckford, who came from Bath to see the house and its contents, declared that they exceeded Fonthill in magnificence, and expressed a wish to buy a Paul Potter — one of the finest pictures in the Erlestoke collection…. At Erlestoke, Robins gave his word that everything offered belonged to Mr Watson Taylor and that no reserve price was placed on any of the lost in the sale.
Sir Robert Peel, who was very much interested in Watson Taylor’s pictures, came down with Lady Peel from London to Devizes and stayed a night at the Black Bear (the inn once kept by Sir Thomas Lawrence’s father) in order that they might go over the house early on the following morning, before the admission of the public. A similar privilege was granted to Wilkie…”
Without a reserve, some of the items went for much less than hoped, for instance: “Two thousand guineas were expected for a pair of console tables, inlaid with precious stone and mounted in ormolu, but they were knocked down for five hundred and eighty guineas to Hume, the dealer, who had sold them to Watson Taylor…”
(Some things still change hands: Bonhams has had some Watson Taylor’s furnishing for sale recently.)
Read The Bear Hotel‘s history (“Wiltshire’s historic gem”):