Regency England – a time like no other. The madness of King George led to his son, the Prince Regent, assuming the throne and ushering in a period of artistic achievement, social upheaval, architectural genius and reckless excess such as the world had rarely seen. On this Tour, we will walk in the footsteps of Beau Brummell and Jane Austen, and stroll the streets of London and the promenades in Brighton, the ton’s seaside playground. You’ll tour stately homes and pleasure palaces and see how the Regent influenced the world around him. Join with fellow Regency enthusiasts as we relive the glamour and greed, sin and secrets, fashions and faux pas that shaped Regency England.
Click link in photo for complete itinerary and details!
Many people may be surprised to learn that the Duke of Wellington was a keen tennis player – so much so that he had an indoor court built at Stratfield Saye, where he and Prince Albert played a few sets during Queen Victoria and Prince Albert’s visit to Stratfield Saye in 1845, which was reported in the Illustrated London News.
From A History of Stratfield Saye by the Reverend Charles Griffith, Jon Murray 1892:
“. . . On the west side of the road face of the mansion, to the right front, and This building, which is of full size, occupies the site and is built upon the old walls of Lord Rivers’ riding-school. . . At the termination of the university course of the Marquis of Douro, who was afterwards second Duke of Wellington, and of Lord Charles Wellesley, the father of the present duke, the ﬁrst Duke of Wellington erected this building for the amusement of his sons. The ﬁrst duke himself for some years frequently played, in the court, and his butler, Phillips, became one of the ﬁnest players in England of his day, successively beating all the best French players with whom he contended. . . ”
Tennis had been played in England since the middle ages and Henry VIII had a court at Hampton Court Palace. By the 1820s, the only London tennis court still in operation was the James Street court near the Haymarket. The members of this newly revived club invited the Duke of Wellington to join them in 1820, which invitation he gladly accepted. But other aristocratic families also partook of the sport –
From a letter written by Lady Holland, Holland House, 1st Jany., 1816 to Mrs. Creevey [in Brussels] –
“. . . According to the song, ‘London is out of town’ the country houses are overflowing. The love of tennis is come so strongly upon Lord Holland that he has persuaded me rather reluctantly to go once more to Woburn for 3 or 4 days, in order that he may play a few setts. The plea which makes me yield is that I believe exercise keeps off the gout.”
The Sporting Magazine for February 1795 gives us the following description of the Woburn tennis courts – “THE Tennis Court and Riding House (with apartments between to dress in) forms a building 266 feet 8 inches long, and 49 feet 6 inches wide, the whole front of which is stone: The roof is a flat one, and covered with a composition of tar, chalk, etc., instead of lead. There are flues run along the walls, and under the pavement of the Tennis Court, to keep off the damps.”
Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford
It was Francis Russell, 5th Duke of Bedford who improved Woburn Abbey, adding a Riding School and the Tennis Court, which would later quite literally be the death of him. It was while playing a game of tennis that the accident occurred which eventually proved fatal. He was struck by a ball; a lingering illness ensued, and he died on the 2nd March 1802.The editor of Horace Walpole: Lord Orford’s Letters to the Countess of Ossory, transcribes from the memoranda of Lord Ossory the following account of the death of Francis, fifth Duke of Bedford in 1802:— ‘On February 27th 1802, I went over to Woburn, hearing of the Duke of Bedford’s dangerous illness. There I found Dr. Kerr. …. The progress of the disease was not favourable, and the symptoms were very bad on Monday morning, till twelve; from that time till five or six, hopes began to revive; then they all vanished, and he was given over, and on Monday morning, March the 2d, about half-past eleven, he expired in a manner in Lord John’s arms.
“Thus died Francis, Duke of Bedford, with a sort of similarity of fate to his father, both of whom I loved with much affection and attachment.”
As lamentable as Francis’s death was, it almost had dire consequences for the beautiful Lady Georgina Gordon, who had been engaged to him. Her mother, the Duchess of Gordon, was not going to let the Dukedom of Bedford escape her, and after Lady Georgina had left off her mourning for her betrothed, she became engaged to his brother and successor, John, sixth Duke of Bedford, to whom she was married a year later. She went on to have ten children.
But back to tennis . . . From Wikipedia – A plan of the house and “pleasure ground” at Woburn from Hortus Gramineus Woburnensis (1816), a book about horticultural experiments conducted at Woburn. The top is east. A: The house. The whole of the top (east) wing and the eastern end of the north and south wings have been demolished. B: Stable/service blocks. These survive and one now houses the Woburn Antiques Centre. C: The riding school and the real tennis court, which have been demolished. D: The long rectangle at the right of the southern service block is the sculpture gallery, which survives In 1816 the main entrance was on the eastern side of the house, and was reached via a grand arch between the riding school and real tennis court. After the demolition the West Hall in the centre of the West Front became the main entrance once again.
In his Arboretun et Fruticetum Britannicum: or, The Trees and Shrubs of England, Volume 2 (1838), John Claudius Loudon describes the grounds at Woburn and tells us that there is “a passage under the Cape heathery, which forms a portion of a covered way, leading from the mansion to the different objects of interest adjoining it; such as the green-house, sculpture gallery, tennis-court, Chinese dairy, plant-stoves and palm-house now erecting, and finally to the pleasureground, including the aviary, arboretum, salictum, grass-garden, American garden, etc.”
From Tennis by John Moyer Heathcote 1890, “In our own country the game was beginning to lose its popular character, although still played by the higher classes of society. Many old courts were abandoned or destroyed, and we hear of the construction of three only in the latter half of the century: the Duke of Richmond’s at Goodwood, the Duke of Bedford’s at Woburn, and the court in Tennis-court Road, Cambridge, erected in 1734, recently pulled down and replaced by the new buildings of Pembroke College.
“There is, however, no probability of the last age of this eventful history passing into mere oblivion, for the nineteenth century has witnessed a renewed and constantly increasing enthusiasm for Tennis, shown by the number of courts built by public and private enterprise, on improved lines, and equipped with modern requirements, and by the interest taken in all important matches.”
Whilst tennis is still played in England, alas, the courts at Woburn have, indeed, passed into oblivion. During the First World War parts of the Abbey, the riding school and indoor tennis court (now demolished), were converted into a temporary ward for wounded soldiers; some 2,000 patients passed through the Abbey Hospital.
“… I saw a great deal of Sheridan. We dined together several times, got a little bosky, and he took great pains to convince me he was sincere and confidential with me. … A plan of his relates to Ireland, and it is the substitution of a Council for the present Viceroy, the head of the Council to be the Prince of Wales, his assistants to be Lord Moira, Lord Hutchinson and Sheridan himself. The Prince is quite heated upon the subject; nothing else is discussed by them. Lord Hutchinson is as deep in the design as any of them, but God knows it is about as probable as the embassy of old Charley to Russia I believe Sherry is very much in the confidence of the Ministers. They have convinced him of the difficulty of pressing the King for any attentions to the Prince of Wales; he is quite set against him, and holds entirely to the Duke of York, who, on the other hand, is most odious to the Ministry. . . . Have you begun your visits to Knowsley yet? . . . If you see Mrs. Hornby, cultivate her. She is an excellent creature; her husband, the rector, is the most tiresome, prosy son of a —— I ever met with, but is worthy. . . .”
General Sir John Moore
General Sir John Moore to Mr. Creevey.
Sandgate, 15th Sept., 1803.
“. . . The newspapers have disposed of me and my troops at Lisbon and Cherbourgh, but we believe that we have not moved from this place. I begun to despair of seeing you here, and am quite happy to find that, at last, I am to have that pleasure. If the Miss Ords do not think they can trust to the Camp for beaux, or if they have any in attendance whose curiosity to see soldiers they may chuse to indulge, assure them that whoever accompanies them shall be cordially received by everybody here. . . .”
Capt. Graham Moore
Capt. Graham Moore, R.N., to Mr. Creevey.
“Plymouth, August 7th, 1803. “… I never had to do with a new ship’s company before made up of Falstaffs men—’decayed tapsters,’ etc., so I do not bear that very well and I get no seamen but those who enter here at Plymouth, which are very few indeed. The Admiralty will not let me have any who enter for the ship at any of the other ports, which cuts up my hopes of a tolerable ship’s company. … I hear sometimes from my brother Jack. He says they have had a review of his whole Corps before the Duke of York. . . . My mother was more delighted with the scene than any boy or girl of fifteen. N.B.—she is near 70. . . . She is an excellent mother of a soldier. I am not afraid of showing her to Mrs. Creevey, altho’ she is of a very different cast from what she has generally lived with. If Mrs. Creevey does not like her, I shall never feel how the devil she came to like me.
“Jack says his Corps are not at all what he would have them, yet that they will beat any of the French whom he leads them up to. I am convinced the French can make no progress in England, and do not believe now that they will attempt it; but how is all this to end? However that may be, as I am in for it, I wish to God I was tolerably ready, and scouring the seas. What the devil can Fox mean by his palaver about a military command for the Prince of Wales? That may come well enough from Mrs. Barham perhaps.”
Capt. Graham Moore, R.N., to Mr. Creevey.
Plymouth Dock, Feby. 1st, 1804.
“… I suppose you mean to join the set that prepare to worry the poor Doctor (Addington) when Parliament meets. What can he do? He seems, or we seem, to do as well as Bonoparte—fretting and fuming and playing off his tricks from Calais to Boulogne and back again. The fellow has done too much for a mere hum; he certainly will try something, and I hope to be in at the death of some of his expeditions. If they do not take my men, we shall soon be ready for sea again. New copper, my boy! we shall sail like the wind. . . .”
Mr. Creevey to Dr. Currie.
“2nd May, 1804.
“. . . It is felt by the Pittites that the Prince and a Regency must be resorted to, and as the Prince evinced on every occasion the strongest decision in favor of Fox, the Pittites are preparing for a reciprocity of good offices. God send we may have a Regency, and then the cards are in our hands. I wish you had seen the party of which I formed one in the Park just now. Lord Buckingham, his son Temple, Ld. Derby, Charles Grey, Ld. Fitzwilliam, Canning, Ld. Morpeth and Ld. Stafford. . . . The four physicians were at Buckingham House this morning: I feel certain he (the King) is devilish bad.”
But, as we know, the Regency did not begin for another seven years. We will post a number of excerpts from the many diarists and prolific letter writers of the Regency era in future blogs. Watch for more from Mr. Creevey, his friends, his enemies and those who never had the privilege to be either.
In 1959, Roy Strong became an assistant keeper at London’s National Portrait Gallery and was appointed as its Director in 1967. Young, flamboyant and energetic, Strong worked tirelessly to bring the Gallery into the 20th century and to mount exhibitions that would appeal to a wide range of visitors, from those who knew little about art to those who were some of the country’s greatest collectors.
In 1973, Strong became the youngest ever director of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Again, Strong set about putting the collections into modern order and putting on shows that were meant to shake up the status quo, including his legendary exhibition, The Destruction of the Country House, which raised awareness of the loss of so many of the country’s stately homes and helped to energize the efforts of the heritage sector. Strong has also written columns for several newspapers and magazines and has written books on history, design and gardening, a personal passion of his.
I came across the Strong diaries on a recent trip to Hatchard’s, London. Many of you will already be aware of my fondness for diaries – this is the most contemporary of my collection. As with any good diary, the author has to have a keen eye for detail, a modicum of wit and the ability to use snark to good effect. Strong does not disappoint. Strong’s diaries chart his career, the inner workings of two of London’s greatest museums, and provide insight into the personalities of the day and those who comprise the circle in which he moves. A favourite of the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret and Cecil Beaton, Strong also documents the last hoorah of many society stars from an earlier age. Here is just a sample of the entries within –
18 December 1969 – The event of the day was Lady Adean’s drinks party. There is a custom that once a year just before Christmas those who have grace and favour residences all give parties on the same evening, or at least those who have windows which look out on to the inner courtyard of St. James’s Palace. In the middle blazed two coke-filled braziers supplied, I was told, free of charge by the gas company, while an ancient lamplighter lit the gas lamps surrounding the courtyard. At seven promptly the Bach Choir entered in procession, carrying candles and singing carols. Within, the chatter and clink of glasses stopped, and everyone moved towards the windows to look down and listen. It was enchanting.
16 March 1970 – A party by Sybil Cholmondeley at her residence at No. 12 Kensington Palace Gardens – I was ushered through to the drawing room at the back of the house overlooking the gardens, a huge room in discoloured green with a chimneypiece at either end, in both of which a log fire blazed. Over one hung the famous Oudry of a dead swan, over the other a portrait by Sargent of the hostess, in the guise of an Infanta by Coello. From this one gathered that in her day she had been a great beauty. . . The other guests were the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, William Plomer, the poet, and Lady Fermoy . . . The Duke was twitchy as usual, the Duchess complaining that she only had an hour and a half to choose fabrics for clothes at Liberty’s. They formed a great contrast, he somewhat shambling, she with not a hair out of place. She hates plays, opera and most ballet, and anything that in any way constrains her. He in sharp contrast, admitted to loving them all.
16 June 1970 – Diana Cooper’s Warwick Avenue house always seems solidly 1930’s romantic in mood . . . she has a timeless magic which cuts across the generations and makes differences in age irrelevant. She’s still beautiful, with that delicate bone structure and those huge pale aquamarine eyes which always slay me . . . She was making one of her specials when I arrived, that lethal mix of vodka, grapefruit juice and mint of which I have learned to beware. Before I could say anything she grabbed me by the arm saying, ‘Such a disaster. At 12:30 I went to check that everything was in order and found that the cook was coming tomorrow . . . and such a distinguished luncheon party.’ . . . . The result of this catastrophe was that the party ended up in the Maida Vale Steakhouse, a typical hostelry of the late Sixties with tartan on the walls, plastic table tops and imitation leather banquettes. . . So there we were, an ex Prime Minister (Harold Macmillan), a marquess and marchioness (Salisbury wearing a straw hat engulfed in white net), an ex-American ambassador, myself and Diana Phipps, who had just bought a foot by Rubens in the Portobello Road . . . By the evening news of this bizarre gathering had reached the Evening Standard. What it showed was that Diana was unsinkable.
26 June 1970 – I went on . . . to visit Shirburn Castle at Watlington to inspect the Macclesfield collection for an Estate Duty Office evaluation. No one had been able to get into the place for years and the family had a reputation for eccentricity. The castle was, it seemed, Regency Gothic with a moat and drawbridge but it left me totally unprepared for the pileup of tat and junk within. Lord Macclesfield made a brief appearance in a plebeian cloth cap and overalls, carrying a cardboard box, for all the world like a removal man. I was taken around by his son, Lord Parker, and the pictures were staggering, the dining room lined with seven Stubbs and a great Hogarth. Later I learned that the Macclesfields were so disliked that the locals burnt down their model farm.
3 – 5 July 1970 – A weekend at Boughton – Viewing Boughton from the road the average person would wonder what kind of institution this vast pile now was. But, oh no, every bit of it is lived in still. The front is late seventeenth century, very French in style, and there’s a huge stable-block to the left with a cupola. . . In the middle there’s a grass courtyard with beds of lavender and sweet-smelling climbers . . . I concluded that it was the smell, or rather fragrance, of the house which was so magical, the white morning room scented with lilies, the unforgettable ancient linen (I saw sheets dated 1811), the curious faint odour of the tapestries, one of which was tossed across my bed as a counterpane.
Mollie Buccleuch (nee Mary “Mollie” Lascelles) would be a bonus to any great house, for both her energy and her enthusiasm appear to be unending. A complete tour of the house is obligatory and that includes the attics, where sixty tapestries exist rolled in bundles and where Catherine of Bragaza’s marriage furniture is stored. It takes three hours non-stop and there’s no sympathy for stragglers. Those that didn’t make it, like John Pope-Hennessy, who spent one weekend there . . . aren’t asked again. Mollie leads with her sing-song voice with its 1930s inflections. Walter Buccleuch lets it all wash over him, a P.G. Wodehouse duke in baggy tweeds, but noble in his way and extremely sweet-natured.
5 June 1979 – One of the V&A’s branches was Apsley House at Hyde Park Corner. Relations with the Wellingtons were never easy. They got off to a bad start in 1974 when I allowed the Byron Society in for a glass of sherry after they had laid a wreath at the statue of Byron close by, on a freezing winter’s day. That prompted a very long letter from the Duke saying how his ancestor, the first Duke, had not approved of Byron and that these poor members of the Byron Society should never have been allowed in. Apsley House in fact belonged to the nation and the Wellingtons were merely tenants, a fact of which from time to time one had to remind them.
We are just about to purchase the famous Wellington Egyptian service for 350 thousand pounds. Valerian Wellesley is a very stupid man. Indeed there have been no brains in the family since the first Duke and no money. They have huge Capital Transfer Tax debts to meet and they are broke. Neither the present, nor the future duchess has brought any money in. The saga began with Valerian Wellington being asked for a boar hunt weekend with the President of France. After this he had the nerve to ask for one of the military banners, taken by the first Duke from Napoleon’s army and hung at Apsley House, to give as a ‘thank you’ present to the President. I put him down rather forcefully on that one. At any rate it was during that weekend that the service was apparently sold to the French. The Reviewing Committee for Works of Art, of course, stopped it, much to his fury. That transaction then became public, also to his fury, as he is now seen as someone thoughtless of the national heritage, selling it abroad. It will mean that as a result of the purchase the Museum (the V&A) will be broke again as usual, but it will be worth it.
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The diaries of Sir Roy Strong continue in a volume that covers 1988 – 2003, which I plan on reading as soon as possible.