The Swan Circle

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18th Century Digressions, Entertainment & Culture, Health & Medicine, Love & Marriage No Comments »

Lost PropertyWe have all experienced that kind of day when we switch on the rolling TV news channels and find there is not much going on. A slow day for news we call it, and for the news channels it must feel like the silly season comes more than once a year. They have to scrape out the ridiculous, the ephemeral, the shallow vapid tales and make them newsworthy – persuade us we want them. The same goes for our daily newspapers, and it has to be said, the online news and blogs. Has that changed in three hundred years? Judging by the evidence derived from contemporary newspapers of the mid-eighteenth century, it appears that it has not. In 1764, it was thought worthy to add a paragraph to one London newspaper concerning someone's pet parrot who had laid four eggs over a period of ten days. Then there was some letter about the militia 'dancing' to music during exercises! Dotted interlinearly between the serious and the ridiculous are the stories, adverts and announcements that were considered of some importance to individuals, such as petty crimes and pleas for lost property, but to us, these may appear unintentionally amusing. And out of interest, what about Mr William Shakespear below? Doing his duty for poor old Isaac Elias – "if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?"

'Northern climes have always been observed to be most favorable to population, but we seldom meet with so curious an instance as the following, communicated to us by a correspondent at St. Petersburgh. There now lives in the district of Schuiske, a villager of the name of Foedor Vassili, who, of two wives he married successively, has had a very extraordinary number of children. The first, in 27 years, made him father of 69, having had four at a time at four successive births, three at each of seven following lyings-in, and two at a time in 16 more. The second wife was brought to bed only eight times; at six of her births she had two at a time, and three in the two ones subsequent, so that the above two wives in 35 lyings-in, made him father to 87 children, four only of whom died young, and his family now consists of 83!'

'A Gentleman in Suffolk writes thus to his friend in London: "Whilst you have horse and foot patrolling to protect you from the poor Spitalfields Weavers that are up in arms thro' want of their daily bread; we have at Bury 500 of our Militia learning to dance, and march to the sound of the fife. The new recruits are exercising morning and afternoon, without arms, to teach them first to make use of their legs. Picture to yourself a very awkward country fellow, whose legs are always left half a yard behind him, teaching to move to music, and stand upright. The scene is better conceived then can be expressed: To me it is excessive droll; though I heartily pity the poor Serjeants, and think they need more patience than Pedagogues: but let me do the justice to those who have been taught the exercise, to say, they are quite equal to the regulars, and both officers and men do that credit to their country which a well disciplined Militia was intended for, and may serve every other good purpose of a standing army."'

'Chelmsford, Nov. 16.
Monday the Fair began here, and Cattle in general sold dear. At Night a Tradesman found his Son in Company with a common Prostitute, and on desiring him to leave her, was refused; on which the Father got a Warrant, took up the Woman, and carried her before a Magistrate, who ordered her to the House of Correction; but as the Constable was conducting her, some young Bloods knocked him down, and carried off the Nymph in Triumph. In the Fray the Constable lost his Hat and Wig.'


'Yesterday John Eason, a soldier, who was on a recruiting party at Walton upon Thames, Surry. was committed to the New Gaol in Southwark, by William Shakespear, Esq; for breaking open a room, and robbing Isaac Elias, a travelling Jew, of his box, containing money, jewel, plate, and other effects, to a great value.'

A Plea
'If the benevolent Author of a Pamphlet, called the History of a Gentleman cured of HEATS to his face, would be so good, as by a line in this paper, to be particularly explicit, how the drops of the medice he reats of called Red Speedwell, are made and how many are to be taken in the day, and where the herb is to be procured, he will oblige one who hopes for relief from the use of them, and to be indebted to them for the benefit.

'Dr Lowther's Nervous Powder [for]
A Relaxation of the whole Nervous System, attended with Tremors, Lowness of Spirits, and great Dejections, Retchings, Startings, Hectic Heats, Wailing of the whole Habit of Body, greatly oppressed with Wind, Want of Appetite, indigestion, and violent Reaching for many Years, &c.

Lost Property
'Left in a Hackney Coach that set a Gentleman down at Westminster-hall Gate, on Friday the 25th of February last, between Six and Seven o'clock in the evening, a Row of ARTIFICIAL TEETH. Whoever will bring the same to Mr Meckleson, dentist, in Coventry-street, Piccadilly, shall receive a Guinea reward.

An Announcement
'This morning Laurence Richardson, esq; of Hampton Hedges in Leicestershire, was married to Miss Sally Essex, of Kensington; what renders the union remarkable is, that each of the parties have lost an eye, and were both born the 26th day of June, 1740.

From the Gossip Column
'Two or three absurd paragraphs have crept into our paper within this day or two, fabricated with the elegant design of giving uneasiness to one of the few amiable and repectable Ladies of St. James's. It is needless to observe that the paragraphs alluded to were written in a female hand, and the orthography required no small degree of correction!

Finally, this delightful piece of sarcasm about Sally the Small, subject of many articles on my other blog, Theatre History:

'Wonderful Intelligence. – "Sally the Small is as well as can be expected after her lying-in." To which we may add, by way of companion to this, that "yesterday died Jowler, only dog to Mr. Marrowbones, of Clare-market." – And now the public have information enough for one day!'

And that just about sums it up, only Yahoo OMG could do better. I must dash, having a hectic heat.


All stories taken from various London newspapers: London Chronicle, Morning Chronicle, Westminster Journal etc. between 1766-1795

The sport of Roley Poley

18th Century Digressions, Entertainment & Culture, Military & Naval 4 Comments »

Last night I tweeted an appeal on Twitter for more information about Roley Poley. So far no one has responded so I thought I would post the full reference here and leave it open for suggestions. What do you think it means? (Or if you actually know enlighten me)

Roley Poley newspaper clipping


From Morning Post, 2nd April 1793

MJ Holman @mishjholman

The end of an era: George III’s Jubilee at Kew

Entertainment & Culture, Family History, Society and Politics, The Swan Circle, West Family 1750-1800 2 Comments »

Kew Green in 1810


Kew Green in 1810

It was 1809 and the patriarch was dead. Henry West was long gone and with him the little empire he had built at Kew was dying; the old Swan Tavern on the Brentford Ait had been surrendered by his wife in 1793 to Thomas Samuel Maycock and from him to Elizabeth Legh and her descendants; until finally Robert Hunter irritated occupant of the house opposite, made a complaint to the City of London about the noise. The island, he said 'was a great Nuisance to this parish and Neighbourhood on both sides of the river…,' it lured, enticed and encouraged the worst type of behaviour drawing debauched individuals to the 'House of Entertainment, which has long been a Harbour for Men and women of the worst description, where riotous and indecent scenes were often exhibited during the Summer months on Sundays'.
   Whilst under the proprietorship of the West family, the Swan Tavern had dazzled George IV and he had used it to plot his seduction of Mary Robinson, but by 1800 his father's court had drifted away to Windsor and old King George III paid his last visit to Kew in 1806. He did not return to this fond place of memories for his jubilee, but the remaining members of the West family including my great, great, great grandparents Henry and Henrietta would have joined in the celebrations on Kew Green:

   "The morning was ushered in by the firing of cannon, and the ringing of bells. The board of Artificers walked in procession to Church at ten o'clock. After divine service, Messrs. George and Henry Warren [local landowners and probably relatives of Henry West’s chum Thomas Howlet Warren] entertained 100 persons with roast beef, plum-pudding. &c. in a spacious marquee, erected for the purpose, upon Kew Green. Porter, ale, and punch, were likewise plentifully distributed. On his Majesty's health being drank, 50 pieces of cannon were discharged. In the evening, the whole town was illuminated. A grand gothic arch was erected, from the centre of which the British Star was suspended, and underneath a striking likeness of his Majesty, with the motto of "Virtue, Honour, and Glory." The whole of the trees around the green were illuminated by variegated lamps, in radiant arches, wreaths, and columns, and the evening concluded with a rustic dance, and fire-works".

Surely even a fogyish stick-in-the-mud like Robert Hunter would not have objected to such a celebration on his doorstep.

MJ Holman


An account of the celebration of the jubilee, on the 25th October, 1809; being the forty-ninth anniversary of the reign of George the third, collected and publ. by a lady, the wife of a naval officer
Kew Past, David Blomfield

Johan Zoffany: Society Observed

18th Century Digressions, Entertainment & Culture No Comments »


Mr Foote in the character of Major Sturgeon

Mr Foote in the character of Major Sturgeon by Johan Zoffany


Last week I visited the Johan Zoffany: Society Observed exhibition at the Royal Academy. It was unseasonable weather, the tube was hot and clammy and huge crowds had gathered in the Royal Academy courtyard to queue for the David Hockney exhibition. I sent a text home, 'It's murder here,' I wrote and for a second I regretted booking my ticket, but the moment I was surrounded by Zoffany's work the red mist disappeared and I was enveloped by the calm of the artist's world: the realm of artifice and celebrity.
   I admit that I was more interested in Zoffany's theatrical paintings and intrigued by his representations of 18th century theatre. In one room, stood a cabinet filled with large mezzotints, the like of which I had not seen before; these were prints of John Beard amongst others in full theatrical regalia. Zoffany's detailed work was so stunning I almost wept.
   Further along was the painting of Thomas King as Touchstone in As you like it and Garrick in The Farmer's Return, but some of the most memorable representations has to be that of Samuel Foote in The Devil upon Two Sticks and in the character of Major Sturgeon. Ironically, Foote lost his lower leg in a riding accident and thereafter had a wooden leg and carried a stick; observing that there were few roles for actors with wooden legs and sticks, he proceeded to write a number of plays with roles for actors with wooden legs who carried sticks!
   For those of us interested in 18th century manners, the Major Sturgeon painting shows one character's ungainly attempt at trying to stand like a gentleman in ridiculously oversized boots, however there is more to this painting than what appears at first glance. I am not an art historian, but I had two observations that I saw repeated over and over again in many of Zoffany's theatrical works. First, the actors in character can be removed from the painting and become separate entities or paintings in their own right and second, we are supposed to be looking at a stage set, but are we?
   Zoffany's painting of The Clandestine Marriage shows that the artist was more concerned with composition and style rather than staying true to the original theatrical setting and so most observers believe it to be a paean to Watteau. It seems apparent that Zoffany was trying to articulate what must have been the somewhat new idea of theatrical celebrity: in separating the actor from the painting – the subject normally standing in elaborately dramatic pose – they become a self-contained study that could easily be reproduced in print for the masses to idolise.
   The poses were snapshots in time and under the normal conventions the artist would take a few lines from a production and recreate that moment exactly;  this surely would have been a souvenir for those who had the great fortune to see Garrick as Macbeth or as Sir John Brute in The Provok'd Wife?

'The Tribuna of the Uffizi, 1772-7' The Provok'd Wife with Garrick










The Tribuna of the Uffizi and The Provok'd Wife


 Zoffany always seemed to have the eye of the observer in mind and more fool the observer if they missed something. The painting of The Tribuna of the Uffizi was painted for Queen Charlotte and depicts a room crammed with people and various works of art. The Tribuna was not altogether like this of course, but Zoffany wanted to convey the particular artworks on show for the Queen and other patrons who were unlikely to visit the Uffizi themselves. In the bottom right corner of the painting is an easel with an erection, a phallas like projection pointing towards the foot of one of the patrons – I wonder if Charlotte spotted that! In the background of The Provok'd Wife with David Garrick, the careful observer might spot the area around the Covent Garden theatre which of course was the rival theatre to Garrick's Drury Lane.
   However, it was Zoffany's own walk-on parts or painting cameos that are fun to spot. He, of course was not the first artist to paint himself into his own paintings, many had trodden that path before, but it was his unnerving quality to place himself in situations where he had never been that makes him seem like some 18th century Hitchcock. There was no silhouette, just a rather fey head popping up from behind a canvas as in The Tribuna of the Uffizi or sitting on the edge of a scene looking back at us watching him. Why do I get the feeling there was a separateness about him equal to the distinctness of his subjects?
   His self portraits had that Rembrandt quality that was emulated by all those that followed the Master  – of course there is a hint of haunted tragedy on the face, but there nearly always is in self-portraits. Towards the end of his life he suffered from dementia and retired to Strand-on-the-Green, Kew, he died in 1810 and was buried in St Anne's churchyard, Kew.
   I visted his tomb a year or so ago, it is impressive and stands distinct from many of the others. I am sure he would have been happy about that.

The Tomb of Johann Zoffany


Johan Zoffany: Society Observed at the Royal Academy 10th March – 10 June 2012



‘My First Half-Century’ – Marie Lloyd in 1920

20th Century Digressions, Entertainment & Culture No Comments »

Marie LloydTwo years before she died, the music hall star Marie Lloyd wrote an amusing and wry piece for the theatrical newspaper The Era. Many notables, such as the great Sybil Thorndike would later follow her example, but Marie's contribution was typical of her personal style and approach to her public:

Topping the Bill for thirty-three years

by Marie Lloyd

'This is my first fifty years; what the next will be like I shudder to think! Yes, I was fifty last month, and proud of it – prouder still to think that for 33 years I have topped the bill. Without any desire to brag – or, as the modern word is, swank – I think I can justly say that no artist can claim to have more sustained popularity. And for this I am very grateful to the public, who have loyally supported me through all these years of strenuous starring.

   'I am the only artist whose exact age the public are always asking, and I see the question answered almost weekly in the "Era." I regard that as a proof of popularity. I never made any secret of my age, and why should I? It's wonderful how artists grow old by repute. People imagine that they have a birthday every month. The other day an old man with a long white beard and tottering footstep came to me and said. "How well you wear! Why, my mother used to bring me as a little boy to see you in the pantomime at Drury Lane!" "Well," I replied. "then I must have worn better than you!"


   'On another occasion at a suburban hall, an elderly man with a grey beard down to his knees said, "Do you remember me?" I said "No." "Oh," he replied, "I used to be a call boy at the Bedford when you made your first appearance there!" It was evidently a case of reincarnation, but I'd rather like to know who I was before I was Marie Lloyd.

   'Well, I have had a crowded hour of life, work and worry, sorrow and joy. People don't always get the credit for the good they do, and some get more than they deserve, but the wounded Tommies know what I did for them, and the gratitude which I know they feel is more to me than diadems and decorations.

The Flies' Anthem

   'Personally I feel as youthful as ever, and can enjoy life with the best of them. My house at Golders Green is the scene of many merry gatherings. We call ourselves "The Flies," and friends have epitomised it in a parady of "Where do Flies go in the Winter Times?" It runs thus : –

They all go round to Mary Lloyd's

In the summer time,

And tickle a tune upon her ticolee.

There's something nice, always on the ice,

And you never have to ask her twice

For a drink of her kickolee.

Her front door is never known to lock,

It's always standing open so you never have to knock,

Nobody knows what time it is, for the

hands are off the clock,

And we don't go home till morning

At good old Marie Lloyd's.


The British in Berlin

   'Perhaps the proudest time of my life was when I went to Germany and topped the bill over all the Continental stars at the Winter Gardens, Berlin. That, of course, was before the war. I had an opportunity for studying the attitude of the Germans towards the English, and found that the ordinary people held us in the highest regard, but the military were never tired of sneering at us. I used to go about Fredreich-street with my fist clenched at some of the remarks that were made. One day I heard a burly officer, with a scar on his cheek, say something insulting about the British, and I promptly gave him a blow in the face, saying: "There's one for the other side." And then went back!'

From The Era, 10th March 1920

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