by Kristine Hughes Patrone


“Opposite the Albert Memorial is the Royal Albert Hall, an immense oval brick building in Italian renaissance style, ornamented with a terra cotta frieze, executed by Minton & Co., and designed by eminent English artists. The exterior measurement of the Hall is 272 by 238 ft, and the interior 219 ft by 185 ft.  The total cost of the building was £200,000, of which £100,000 was raised by public subscription, £50,000 was given out of the profits of the Great Exhibition of 1851, and the remainder was raised by the sale of the private boxes.”  From Paterson’s Guide Book to the United Kingdom, 1885

Last year, Number One London Tours was invited to attend the Visit Britain travel expo in Brighton, where I was fortunate enough to meet travel and site managers from a wide variety of outlets in Britain. One of these was the guest services representative from London’s Royal Albert Hall, who told me that the private boxes were owned by individuals, many of whom had ancestors who had been the first to purchase the boxes, which at the time came with a 999 year lease. More often than not, the leases were left to the next generation via a will and the private boxes very rarely came up for sale. Intrigued, I decided to investigate this further.

Queen Victoria lays the foundation stone at the Royal Albert Hall. 7,000 people gathered under a purpose-built marquee to watch HM Queen Victoria lay the Hall’s red Aberdeen granite foundation stone, which today can be found underneath K stalls, row 11, seat 87 in the main auditorium.

In the 1860s, 1,200 of the Hall’s 5,500 seats were sold to private individuals for £100 each to finance the Hall’s construction, each seat having a 999 year lease and allowing access to most of its music, sporting and other events, subject to an annual service charge. Queen Victoria prudently snapped up 20, and the Queen’s Box, located on the Grand Tier, is still in the possession of the monarchy. The first Victorian box owners were also allowed to decorate their boxes as they saw fit, putting their personal touches to the space by the use of paint, fabrics, carpeting, plaster-work and mirrors.

Today there are around 1,300 seats – in boxes and the stalls – privately owned by individuals and companies. Members receive tickets for roughly 200 nights of the year, with a third of the annual 330 performances being ‘exclusive’, and sold separately by the Hall.

So, how much would a box fetch on the open market? Harrods Estates say that the last box of this size sold privately for £248,000, and 18 months ago another sold for £230,000 (it was bought as a wedding anniversary present). A larger, 10-seat box on the grand-tier was on the market for £300,000 in 1995, and another had an asking price of £375,000 in 2001. But keep in mind, for that price, you also get a lot of history.

Gore House, Kensington

The Royal Albert Hall was built on what was once the Gore estate, at the centre of which stood Gore House. The three acre estate was occupied by political reformer William Wilberforce between 1808-1828 and subsequently occupied between 1836-1849 by the Countess of Blessington and Count D’Orsay.

After the couple left for Paris in May 1851, the house was opened as the ‘Universal Symposium of All Nations’, a restaurant run by the first celebrity chef, Alexis Soyer, who planned to cater for the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park. After the Exhibition and following the advice of Prince Albert, Gore House and its grounds were bought by the Exhibition’s Royal Commission to create the cultural quarter known as Albertopolis, a complex of public Victorian buildings developed to house exhibits from the Great Exhibition and to further the study of art, science and industry.


But let us leave both the good Queen Victoria and good works behind us now and return to the filthy subject of money. The following is from an article in The Telegraph dated 9 January 2017:

“Members of the public with deep pockets are being offered a once in a decade chance to buy a box at the Royal Albert Hall next to the Queen for £2.5 million. Nicholas Shaw, sales manager of Harrods Estates Kensington, said he thought the box would be sold to “true lovers of the arts”. He said: “This Grand Tier box at the Royal Albert Hall is a real generational purchase, and is the first of its kind that is available to buy for almost a decade. The box is ideal for entertaining, with its twelve seats, and provides enviable views over the main stage and auditorium.”

“Richard Lyttelton, who was president of the Royal Albert Hall from 2010 to 2011, owns four seats but has never sold of them to third parties, choosing instead to return them to the box office for sale at face value. In 2011, a five-seat box on the second tier was put up for sale for £550,000. A ten-seat box on the Grand Tier was offered three years earlier for £1.2 million.”

A Royal Albert Hall spokesman said: “The seats are private property as set out in the royal charter which established the hall in 1861. As such the hall is not able to intervene as the seat holders’ rights are enshrined in law.”



The Duke of Wellington was 75 when the image above was taken in 1844 by Antoine Claudet, court photographer to Queen Victoria and Emperor Napoleon III. By this time, the Duke’s lumbago, which he had periodically suffered from for decades, was a constant bane, as was the rheumatism in his neck, which caused him to favour one shoulder, giving him a slightly stiff appearance. In addition, a botched ear operation, performed after he’d suffered hearing loss from a canon charge, resulted in his being deaf in one ear. This hearing loss progressed and made his life a misery in later years. Still, if there was one thing sure to set off Wellington’s anger, it was people making him solicitous offers of help or assistance, however kindly they were meant. Wellington would explode and tell anyone who would listen that he remained perfectly capable of taking care of himself, thank you very much, and that he indeed did take care of himself on a daily basis. In one such recorded outburst, Wellington said that he shaved himself daily, bathed himself daily, was perfectly capable of brushing his own hair and, by God, he’d still be boning his own boots if he still had the strength!

Wellington’s Wellington boots

Boning his boots? I’ve been at this research malarkey for thirty years and had never heard the term. What in the world? Turns out that boning boots was a method of treating and shining boot leather using a, er, bone.


According to the Top Horse website, “in days gone by, a technique called ‘boning’ was used to give leather boots a mirror finish. This was done by taking the rib bone from a lamb (hence the term), boiling off the flesh and using that to work the polish into the leather.”

Deer bones were also used, as you’ll see in this video which explains the process.

Let’s be honest, not many of us are willing to go to this extreme, unless we’re serving at Horse Guards or riding with the Belvoir Hunt, so here’s a simpler method, again according to Top Horse and written by Claire Uren:

What you will need:

• Kiwi Parade Gloss, black for top boots and brown for jodhpur boots. The Kiwi Parade Gloss ($5.50) is best, other polishes don’t work as well for this technique.

• A bowl of hot water

• An old, soft towel (one that has gone through fabric softener and a tumble drier is ideal)

• Hair dryer

• Methylated spirits

• Elbow grease!

The true secret to a great shine is to fill the pores in the leather which creates a smooth ‘mirror’ surface.

Step 1

Get plenty of Kiwi Parade Gloss on your old towel, dip in the hot water and work into your boots.

Step 2

Take the first boot and using the rest of the old towel, polish both boots until your arms ache….this is where the elbow grease comes in!

Step 3

Repeat step one but DON’T polish the boots.

The Queen
The Queen’s Guards have boot polishing down to a fine art


Step 4

Take your hair dryer and using the highest heat setting on the lowest speed, apply heat to the boot so the polish melts into the pores of the leather. If you watch closely you’ll see that the polish where the heat is applied becomes becomes very shiny. You can even repair scuffs or scratches by adding a little extra Parade Gloss and being careful how you melt it.

Step 5

Polish both boots again as much as your arms can stand it…the more the better!

Step 6

Time to ride in your shiny boots!. Some polish may flake off where the leather creases, but just buff with a soft cloth.

The next time you go to polish your boots, clean them with methylated spirits first. This will make the leather appear milky and foggy looking but this is normal. Then repeat the above steps and you’ll be amazed at how much better the boots will look after the second go.

Ready made boot shines are okay, but the Parade Gloss method is more satisfying and is also low maintenance.

Of course, this will only work with leather top boots, don’t try it on your rubber ones! You can shine them up with the help of furniture polish such as Mr Sheen.

If anyone compliments you on your beautifully shiny riding boots, tell them you learned how to do it at Top Horse!

(Please note: This technique is not advised for children to attempt.)



Warter Hall/Priory
If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, you’ll know that I spend an inordinate amount of time researching anything and everything to do with the Duke of Wellington. Often, this research leads me down unexpected paths, as happened when I found myself stumbling upon Lady Nunburnholme and her home, Warter Hall, on the Lost Heritage website:  The Victorian and Edwardian owners of Warter Hall (or Priory).
Florence Jane Helen Wellesley (1853-1932), Lady Nunburnholme, OBE by Edward Hughes, National Trust, Beningbrough Hall

The Formidable Lady Nunburnholme

“From the purchase of the Warter Estate by her husband in 1878 until its sale over 50 years later, the village of Warter and the lives of the villagers were dominated by Lady Nunburnholme.

“Born in London in 1854 Florence Jane Helen Wellesley was the eldest daughter of Colonel William Henry Charles Wellesley, a nephew of the great Duke of Wellington. She married Charles Wilson in 1871 and they lived at Cottingham, near Hull before moving to Warter Priory in 1878.

“(Local man) George Noble had many stories of Lady Nunburnholme: She was a Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington’s family. Warter Priory was full of Duke of Wellington’s busts and oil paintings. She used to say “I’ve got the blood and Mr Wilson has the money.” Which he had. … By jove she was a rum un, I’ll tell you that, yes, but when she was alright, she was alright, but by jove she was a goer on as we say… She liked entertaining and she was the boss, and it was no good anybody what worked there telling her off, for she would get his notice just after, you know, pack-up … she would nearly clear him off the place straightaway and pay him up… The butler used to say to me dad, and he was there a long time, and knew ’em all. “Bill”, he used to say “Devil’s abroad, she’s on the warpath … she’s playing devil with me and everybody else she’s come across – if you can find another job, getaway, out of road.”

“The Dowager Lady Nunburnholme died in 1932. The Warter estate had by then been sold by her grandson Charles John, 3rd Baron Nunburnholme. It was bought in 1929 by George Vestey who made Warter Priory his home until his death in 1968. Warter was then sold to the 4th Marquis of Normanby and the Guiness Trust.

“The Marquis bought Warter as a subsidiary shooting lodge and did not intend to live there as his principal family seat was at Musgrave Castle. The contents were auctioned in March 1969, the garden statuary the following September. Attempts were made to find a tenant but when one could not be found it was decided to demolish the house and a final auction of all the remaining furniture and fittings, down the last loo seat, was held in May 1972. Shortly afterwards the house was demolished, the splendid gardens bulldozed and the rubble used to fill in the nearby lake. The 5th Marquis of Normanby sold the Warter estate covering 11,910 acres (4,820 hectares) with 63 houses and cottages to a Hull-born businessman Malcolm Healey in 1998.”

Meeting Lady Nunburnholme thus was pleasantly surprising, but sadly Warter Priory’s fate was all too familiar. Since WWII, nearly 1,000 of Britain’s stately homes have vanished, either fallen to ruin or demolished when changes in social climate and the industrial landscape combined with diminished fortunes and death duties to sound the final bell on a way of life that had become unsustainable.

As we were going to be Derbyshire, I built a stop at Sutton Scarsdale into Number One London’s 2017 Country House Tour, as I wanted to show our guests the state that some of the houses were in when acquired by the National Trust or English Heritage. Sutton Scarsdale is a prime example of the condition so many important houses were allowed to fall in to after the second World War.

In 1724, Nicholas Leke, 4th Earl of Scarsdale commissioned the building of a design by architect Francis Smith, to develop a Georgian mansion with gardens, using parts of an existing structure. The estate was sold to the Arkwright family in 1824 and remained in their possession until 1919, when Major William Arkwright sold the house and grounds at auction. The estate was bought by a group of local businessmen who asset-stripped the house, with some parts of the building being shipped to the United States, where one room’s oak panelling was bought by  William Randolph Hearst, who planned to use it at Hearst Castle. After many years in storage in New York City, Pall Mall films bought the panelling for use as a set in their various 1950s productions. Another set of panels are now resident in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In 1946, the estate was bought by Sir Osbert Sitwell of Renishaw Hall, with the intention of preserving the remaining shell as a ruin. Scarsdale Hall is now in the care of English Heritage, who are in the process of restoring the structure.

Interior of Sutton Scarsdale, circa 1920

While the efforts of organizations such as English Heritage, the National Trust, the Landmark Trust and myriad local councils and organizations have helped to preserve so much historic property for us to enjoy, it remains heartbreaking to consider all the houses that have gone forever.

You can read the entire Wikipedia entry for Sutton Scarsdale here, and watch a YouTube video that captures the majesty of the property here. Do visit the Lost Heritage website at the link above and take some time to explore their extensive archives. Additionally, there’s a very good Daily Mail article on vanished country houses here.


Pineapple by Theodorus Netscher, 1720, Fitzwilliam Museum

This is an oil painting of a pineapple grown in Sir Matthew Decker’s garden in Richmond, Surrey. The painting by Theodorus Netscher, made in 1720, is a celebration of the successful cultivation in England of a pineapple plant that actually produced fruit.

During the 18th century, a pineapple cost the equivalent of £5,000 today. They became such a symbol of wealth that the pineapple motif was used to decorate buildings – John Murray, the 4th Earl of Dunmore, built a 75ft-high stone pineapple atop a pavilion in his estate in 1761 (below).

Though native to South America, pineapples (scientific name: Ananas comosus) made their way to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, and it was here that Christopher Columbus first spotted their spiky crowns in 1493. Despite dogged efforts by European gardeners, it would be nearly two centuries before they perfected a hothouse method for growing a pineapple plant.

Thus, into the 1600s, the pineapple remained so uncommon and coveted a commodity that King Charles II of England posed for an official portrait (above) in an act then symbolic of royal privilege — receiving a pineapple as a gift. But was it a gift? Or had the pineapple been grown in his own hothouse? According to post entitled, “A pineapple? . . . Gosh, thank you Mr. Rose” on the Parks & Gardens UK blog, that question remains to be answered.

What is for certain is that on 9th August 1661 John Evelyn noted in his diary that he “first saw the Queene-Pine bought from Barbados presented to his Majestie…the first that were ever seen in England were those sent to Cromwell foure years since.”

Certainly plants must have survived the journey more than once, because King Charles used pineapples again on 14th August 1668, to impress the French ambassador, by serving them  at a banquet held in his honour.  Evelyn was there too and tasted “that rare fruite called the King-Pine” because ”his Majestie having cut it up, was pleased to give me a piece off his owne plate to taste of.” Sadly, Evelyn was mildly disappointed by the taste because  “in my opinion it falls short of those ravishing varieties of deliciousnesse described in cap. liggons history & others but possibly it might be, and certainly was, much impaired in coming so farr. It has yet a graceful acidity, but tastes more of the Quince and Melon, than of any other fruite he mentions.”

Of course, all this assumes that it is John Rose in the picture.  This attribution comes from Horace Walpole who had the original painting hanging in the Breakfast Room at Strawberry Hill.  It  features in his description of the house as  ” a most curious picture of Rose, the royal gardiner, presenting the first pine-apple raised in England to Charles 2d, who is standing in a garden. The whole piece is well painted , probably by Dankers. It was a present to Mr W from the Rev.Mr Pennicott of Ditton, to whom it was bequestheed by Mr London, grandson of him who was partner with Wise”. [A description of the villa of Horace Walpole,1774].

Author Lucy Ingless tells us more about 18th century pineapple cultivation in an article on The Foodie Bugle:

“In 1735, twenty-one year old American Robert Hunter Morris accompanied his diplomat father on a trip to London and on the 30th of June visited a friend’s garden of ‘luctutious plants’ (does this mean succulents?), which included ‘the pineapple, of which he had a great many and they seemed to flourish very well. They grew in pots of earth which were set in a bed of tanners bark’. Incidentally, Robert was an interesting young character, who was very conscious of his father’s welfare and notes many tiny details about London life that would otherwise be missed. His London diaries are short and worth a read if you come across them.

“An article on education in the London World during 1755 makes casual reference to the pineapple thus:

“Through the use of hothouses…every gardiner that used to pride himself in an early cucumber, can now raise a pineapple.”

“By 1772, pineapples were no longer the preserve of those with hothouses of their own. They were available to purchase at the markets, and also as plants to take home and grow for yourself, or with which to stock a nursery. I love the sound of Andrew Moffett’s ‘Pinery’ on Grange Road in Southwark, where ‘Fruiting and Succession Plants’ were to be purchased of the largest and sweetest sort, guaranteed ‘free of insects’.

“As the 18th century went on, the pineapple became a common theme on dishes, plates, teapots, tea caddies and even in architecture. Many believe it symbolises hospitality.

“By February 1798, any problems with planting environment had clearly been overcome, as Mr William North, at his Nursery near the Asylum in Lambeth, Surrey, was advertising new forms of dwarf broccoli above his pineapple plants. The advertisement from the Morning Chronicle gives an insight into 18th century horticulture, and also gives rise to the excellent title of this post: “To the curious in vegetables”. It is interesting to see that by this stage, the pineapple was worthy only of a nota bene but also interesting to note that a London tradesman was content to advertise not only the largest selection in England, but also in Europe: The largest collection of Pine-Apple Plants and Grape Vines in Pots for the Hot-house, &c., in Europe, with every other article of the first quality in Horticulture.”

The pineapple entered the broader Georgian culture in a number of ways. The phrase ‘a pineapple of the finest flavour’ was a metaphor for the most splendid of things. In Sheridan’s popular play The Rivals, Mrs Malaprop exclaims: ‘He is the very pineapple of politeness.’

Even after growing pineapples on English soil became a possibility, getting hold of one was still so costly that many nobles didn’t eat them, opting instead to simply display them around their homes as one would a precious ornament or carry them around at parties. Those who weren’t quite as affluent could rent a pineapple for a few hours at a time. This pineapple would be passed around from renter to renter for their respective parties over the course of several days until finally being sold to the individual who could afford to actually taste it.

Pineapples held pride of place on dinner tables and on Negri’s tradecard below, the premises soon to be known by the name of “Gunter’s.”

There were also pineapple-shaped cakes, pineapple-shaped gelatine molds, candies pressed out like small pineapples, pineapples molded of gum and sugar, pineapples made of creamed ice, cookies cut like pineapples and pineapple shapes created by arrangements of other fruits. There were also ceramic bowls formed like pineapples, fruit and sweet trays incorporating pineapple designs, and pineapple pitchers, cups and even candelabras.

An original eighteenth-century pineapple pit was discovered at the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall. In 1997, after much historical research and horticultural effort, the pinery saw its first twentieth century fruit – grown just as it would have been done in the past. In a nod to Charles II, the second pineapple produced there (the first was sampled by the staff …) was delivered to Queen Elizabeth on her 50th wedding anniversary. For an in-depth and technical look at the structure of early English hothouses and the construction of a “pinery,” see this post on the Building Conservation website.

Click here to read more on age old growing techniques and the world’s most expensive pineapple.


In this series, we turn to the words of Mr. Charles Dickens which appeared in the March 30, 1850 edition of the publication he edited, Household Words. The following article is chock full of details about how the Post Office operated in Victorian London and also about the mail and other items it processed on a daily basis.

The piece follows the progress of two gentlemen who make a visit to the Post Office and Part Three continues –

The friends were informed that 70,000,000 newspapers pass through all the post-offices every year. Upwards of 80,000,000 newspaper stamps are distributed annually from the Stamp office; but, most of the London papers are conveyed into the country by early trains. On the other hand, frequently the same paper passes through the post several times, which accounts for the small excess of 10,000,000 stamps issued over papers posted. In weight, 187 tons of paper and print pass up and down the ingenious ” lift” every week, and thence to the uttermost corners of the earth—from Blackfriars to Botany Bay, from the Strand to Chusan.

The system of stamping, sorting, and arranging, is precisely similar to that in the District Branch; and, by his recently acquired knowledge of it, the person who posted the coloured letters was able to trace them through every stage, till they were tied up ready to be ” bagged,” and sent away.

In an opposite side of the enormous apartment, a good space and a few officials are devoted to repairing the carelessness of the public, which is, in amount and extent, scarcely credible. Upon an average, 300 letters per day pass through the General Post-office totally unfastened; chiefly in consequence of the use of what stationers are pleased to call ” adhesive” envelopes. Many are virgin ones, without either seal or direction; and not a few contain money. In Sir Francis Freeling’s time, the sum of 5000 pounds in Bank-notes was found in a ” blank.” It was not till after some trouble that the sender was traced, and the cash restored to him. Not long since, an humble post-mistress of an obscure Welsh post-town, unable to decipher the address on a letter, perceived, on examining it, the folds of several Bank-notes protruding from a torn edge of the envelope. She securely re-enclosed it to the secretary of the Post-office in St. Martin’s-le-Grand; who found the contents to be 1500 pounds, and the superscription too much even for the hieroglyphic powers of the “blind clerk.” Eventually the enclosures found their true destination.

It is estimated that there lies, from time to time, in the Dead-Letter-office, undergoing the process of finding owners, some 11,0007. annually, in cash alone. In July, 1847, for instance—only a two months’ accumulation— ,the post-haste of 4658 letters, all containing property, was arrested by the bad superscriptions of the writers. They were consigned—after a searching inquest upon each by that efficient coroner, the ” blind clerk”—to the Post-office Morgue. There were Banknotes of the value of 10107., and money-orders for 4077. 12s. But most of these ill-directed letters contained coin in small sums, amounting to 3107. 9s. 7d. On the 17th of July, 1847, there were lying in the Dead-Letter-office bills of exchange for the immense sum of 40,4107. 5s. 7d.

“I assure you,” said a gentleman high in this department, ” it is scarcely possible to take up a handful of letters without finding one with coin in it, despite the facilities afforded by the money-order system. All this is very distressing to us. The temptation it throws in the way of sorters, carriers, and other humble employes is greater than they ought to be subjected to. Seventy men have been discharged for dishonesty from the District-office alone during the past two years.”

“But the public do use the Money-Order-office extensively?”

This question was startlingly answered by reference to a Parliamentary return, which showed that there were issued in England and Wales alone, during the year which ended on the 5th of January, 1849, 3,468,823 Post-office orders for sums amounting to the enormous aggregate of 6,861,803 pounds.

 It was approaching eight o’clock, and the “Miller and his Men” above stairs were delivering their sacks from the mouth of the ever-revolving mill at an incessant rate. These, filled nearly to choking with newspapers, were dragged to the tables, which the brass label fastened to the corner of each bag marked as its own, to have the letters inserted. Our friends rushed to where they saw “Edinburgh” painted up on the walls, and there they beheld their yellow, green, and red letters in separate packets, though destined for the same place; just as they had come in at first from Fleet-street. The bundles were popped in a trice into the Edinburgh bag, which was sealed and sent away. Exactly the same thing was happening to every bundle of letters, and to every bag on the premises.
The clock now struck eight, and the two visitors looked round in astonishment. Had they been guests at the ball in ” Cinderella,” when that clock struck they would not have been more astonished; for hardly less rapidly did the fancy dresses of the postmen disappear, and the lights grow dim. This is the most striking peculiarity of the extraordinary establishment. Everything is done on military principles to minute time. The drill and subdivision of duties are so perfect that the alternations throughout the day are high pressure and sudden collapse. At five minutes before eight the enormous offices were glaring with light and crowded with men; at ten minutes after eight the glass slipper had fallen off, and there was hardly a light or a living being visible.

“Perhaps, however,” it was remarked, as our friends were leaving the building, ” an invisible individual is now stealthily watching behind the ground glass screen. Only the other day he detected from it a sorter secreting 140 sovereigns.”

It is a deplorable thing that such a place of observation should be necessary; but it is hardly less deplorable—and this should be most earnestly impressed upon the reader—that the public, now possessed of such conveniences for remitting money, by means of Post-office Orders and Registered Letters, should lightly throw temptation in the way of these clerks by enclosing actual coin. No man can say that, plac
ed in such circumstances from day to day, he could be steadfast. Many may hope they would be, and believe it; but none can be sure. It is in the power, however, of-every conscientious and reflecting mind to make quite sure that it has no part in this class of crimes. The prevention for this one great source of misery is made easy to the public hand, and it is the public’s bounden duty to adopt it. They who do not, cannot be blameless.

Such is the substance of information obtained by our friends before they took leave of the mighty heart of the postal system of this country.

The End