The Swan Circle

A story of Georgian networking

Brest’s Coffee-House, 1773

Family History, The Georgian Home, The Swan Circle 2 Comments »

Seven Dials circa 1740

Seven Dials, Covent Garden circa 1740


William George Brest advertised the trial opening of his new coffee-house at Christmas in the year of 1773. Two years earlier he had been working as a book-keeper to Mr Prater of Charing Cross and was a close friend and brother-in-law of William Mercer (see previous post). His coffee-house was situated in the area of Covent Garden known as the Seven Dials. Today it is swanky, upmarket and home to one of my favourite theatres 'The Donmar', but by the 19th century the area had become a slum and part of the notorious St Giles rookery.
   The fate of Brest's Coffee House is unknown, but Brest's advertisement serves to illustrate the expectations and requirements of the gentlemanly patrons of coffee houses during the eighteenth century:


Soups, Dinners, Wines, Coffee, &c.

"BREST'S Coffee-House. WILLIAM GEORGE BREST previous to acquaint his Friends and the Publick, that he has very com…..lly and genteely fitted up his House, the Corner of Great Earl-Street, Seven-Dials, near Long-Acre as a Coffee-Room and Tavern. For the Coffee-Room (the entrance of which is in Earl-Street) he takes in all the Morning Papers, Evening Papers, &c. and Gentleman resorting it will always find different Soups, Coffee, Tea, Wines, and every other requisite Article of the very best Kinds. He has also engaged a professed Cook; and any Gentleman or Company may always depend on dining or supping in the Coffee-Room, or in a Private Room as a Tavern, equal (in respect to Dispatch, Attendance, Accommodation, and Goodness) to the first Houses in London, and on Terms that will, he flatters himself insure him the Continuance of those Gentlemans Custom who now honour him with a trial."


The harmful vogue of Chinoiserie

18th Century Digressions, Occupations & Trades, The Georgian Home 1 Comment »


 'Chinese Baubles'

The growth of my passion for all things to do with the eighteenth century coincided with the success of retailers such as Past Times. Leafing through their gift catalogues whilst sipping from a glass of Pinot Grigio became a happy distraction and a moment to slip away from the present. The displays of decorative arts or chinoiserie wallpaper helped complete a fantasy that I could have my entire home ornamented in a vogue that reached its peak between 1750 to 1765.
   For many an eighteenth century wife, the style seemed to become a de rigeur home accessory for the fashionable much to the frustration of one commentator: 


Through the ignorant taste of the present times, ornamental China has become a universal fashion, and the veriest tradesman's wife within the weekly bills, would look down upon herself a downright Tramontane, unless she had an urn or a Mandarin on her chimney-piece. This pernicious custom has been a great loss to our carvers and dealers in looking-glass, who formerly supplied the ornamental part of our chimneys, and by that article alone, employed a prodigious number of hands, whose labour was extremely serviceable to the community; this circumstance, therefore is a fresh reason why the East India Company should be laid under some immediate and salutary restraints, as nothing can justify our allowing any set of adventurers an exclusive right to prejudice any manufacture of the kingdom”.
London Chronicle

 The writer continued to express his concern that thousands of pounds derived from the sale of such objects would go east to the Indian Princes, who would “acquire millions to squander on some European instrument of tyranny and murder”, while our industries are oppressed for the importation of “Chinese baubles”.
   These words were written as the fashion began to wane and décorative styles moved towards neoclassicism. The chinoiserie vogue faded and the impetus for the great British industrial engine was about to move up a gear and place these islands at the centre of new modes of manufacturing.

Catherine Palace

No. 73 Kew Green & a Royal visit

Family History, The Georgian Home, The Swan Circle, West Family 1750-1800 No Comments »

Centre of picture: Nos.  73, 75 and 77 Kew Green

Henry West and his wife Elizabeth lived in a house on the north side of Kew Green until Henry's death in 1784. The property they owned in copyhold is now two houses, nos. 73-75*, or no. 784 on the manorial survey and is described as part of 'five messuages, outhouses and yards about 1 rood and 14 perches'. Number 73 is now a Grade II listed dwelling (listed 1950) and consists of 'three storeys. Three windows. Parapeted brown brick front. Doorway with elliptical-arched fanlight. First floor balcony with tented canopy' (English Heritage).
After Henry's death the property transferred into the hands of his spinster daughter Sarah, who must have shared it with her mother Elizabeth and my great great great grandfather Henry. Henry junior married Henrietta in 1787 and they had one child Stephen who was probably born in the property in 1790. The house at number 77 was owned by John Dillman Engleheart who belonged to the famous dynasty of artists and he left the property to his niece Ann Engleheart; the dwelling was then let to German immigrant Frederick Albert, the father of Mrs Charlotte Papendiek assistant Keeper of the Wardrobe to the Queen. From the 1790s the house appears to have been occupied by Mrs Clementina Jokkobinn Sobeiski Schnell formerly Macdonald, who claimed to be the god-daughter of the Old Pretender.
    All these families would have watched from their windows as the carriages of visitors to Kew Gardens mounted and parked on the Green; how many times did they idly perambulate amongst the flowerbeds and trees of those famous gardens? Were they the ones that complained about Sunday parking and coaches causing ruts and destroying the grass?
    During the stay of George III and his family, the royal entourage passed along the road directly in front of the row of houses on its way to and from Kew Palace, accompanied by a troop of life guards. The Wests took this opportunity to entertain their royal neighbours. In her memoirs, Mrs Papendiek vividly recalled the parties the West family gave in their house on the ait opposite the Kew bank, entertaining the Court and no doubt the sons of George III, 'Parties came up by river too,' she wrote, 'with bands of music, to the ait opposite the Prince of Wales's House. The whole was a scene of enchantment and delight'.
    With such close ties to the royal household, the families alongside the Green would have been shocked by the attempted assassination of George III by Margaret Nicholson. On 2 August 1786, the King alighted his carriage at St James's Palace and was approached by a well-dressed woman carrying a slip of paper, thinking it was a petition he took the note, but the woman lunged at the King with a dessert knife. The King was unharmed and during the days that followed, burgesses and officials throughout the land paid grateful homage, thankful for the King's escape (London Gazette, 8th August).
    On 8 August 1786, the royal family arrived at Kew to a reception from the local inhabitants. Fanny Burney, who had taken a position as Second Keeper of the Robes earlier that year, recorded the event:

"An exceeding pretty scene was exhibited to-day to their Majesties. We came, as usual on every alternate Tuesday, to Kew. The Queen's Lodge is at the end of a long meadow, surrounded with houses, which is called Kew Green; and this was quite filled with all the inhabitants of the place — the lame, old, blind, sick, and infants, who all assembled, dressed in their Sunday garb to line the sides of the roads through which their Majesties passed, attended by a band of musicians, arranged in the front, who began "God save the King!" the moment they came upon the Green, and finished it with loud huzzas.
This was a compliment at the expense of the better inhabitants, who paid the musicians themselves, and mixed in with the group, which indeed left not a soul, I am told, in any house in the place.
  This testimony of loyal satisfaction in the King's safe return, after the attempted assassination, affected the Queen to tears: nor were they shed alone; for almost everybody's flowed that witnessed the scene. The Queen, in speaking of it afterwards, said, " I shall always love little Kew for this!"

If not a soul was left in any house as Fanny wrote, then Elizabeth, Sarah and Henry West were amongst those that greeted the procession and the meeting upon the Green, ever thankful for the safety of their King.

*They owned part of no. 75 as it was split into two copyhold plots. A single plot of three stories appears to have been added after 1777.

MJ Holman

No. 75 Kew Green1771 Manorial Survey of Richmond






From left to right: No. 73 Kew Green, No. 75 Kew Green, The manorial survey of 1771 showing plot no. 784 (no. 73)

No. 73 Kew Green is partly open to the public. Visitors can access the gardens of four houses along the north side of the green including no. 73 by visiting the NGS:

‘The Situation pleasant, the Neighbourhood agreeable…’

18th Century Digressions, The Georgian Home No Comments »

Consider the following advert from The London Chronicle for a house let in 1761, how would 21st century estate agents present the same 'commodious' accommodation?

'To be Lett for a Term of Years, and entered upon immediately, or at Midsummer or Michaelmas next;

A Very neat new-fitted-up House, called KELLSALE LODGE, in the Parish of KELLSALE, near YOXFORD and SAXMUNDHAM, in the County of SUFFOLK, in all Respects useful and commodious, and fit for a Gentleman's Family, with a good Wine-Vault and Cellars; the Garden and Orchard well planted with great Plenty of the best Wall-fruit, Espaliers, and Standards, now in Perfection; Stabling for Fourteen Horses; double Coach-House, Barn and Pidgeon House; with upwards of eighty Acres of fine Meadow, Pasture and Arable Land, or any less Quantity. The Situation pleasant, the Neighbourhood agreeable. Enquire of Mr. Broom at Cockfield Hail in Yoxford'.

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