This post was originally published here on June 19, 2011

Wellington comforts Paget after his surgery at Waterloo

I am so glad, for so many reasons, that my very good friends are Jo Manning and Victoria Hinshaw, not least because we share the same historic interests and the same mania for researching, and visiting, little remembered facts and places in British history. Recently, Victoria kept Jo and I in thrall with the minutae of her research itinerary whilst in England via a series of rapid fire emails – where she was going, what she was researching, the research matrix she’d prepared, who her contacts were at various archives, what the train timetable was and where she’d be eating lunch. And Jo and I swooned at the prospects. In addition to shared interests, all three of us have our own, unique historic quests and we support each other fully in these, no matter how crazy they seem. Last year, my particular quest was something the three of us termed “The Search for Paget’s Leg.” 
Being an avowed Wellington afficianado, you wouldn’t think that I’d spare much energy worrying about either Henry Paget, Lord Uxbridge (created Marquis of Anglesey by Geo. IV five days after the Battle of Waterloo) or his leg, as Paget had earlier run off with Wellington’s sister-in-law, his brother Henry’s wife, Lady Charlotte. At the time, Paget was also married – to Lady Jersey’s daughter, Lady Caroline Elizabeth Villiers, by whom he’d sired eight children. (Yes, eight – the bounder! He went on to have TEN more with Charlotte). Wellington felt the impact of this desertion as well, as it threw Henry into a decline from which he was slow to recover and, in the meantime, Wellington and his wife, Kitty, had to take care of Henry’s two young children, as Henry was incapable of doing so himself.
You’ll recall that last year Victoria and I embarked on a whirlwind London/Waterloo tour, during which I was most looking forward to seeing the spot in Waterloo where Paget’s leg was buried. Yeah, yeah – totally nuts. But you have to bear in mind that Victoria, Jo and I are the Lucy Ricardos of historical research.
I realize that I’m writing this blog as if you already know the story behind Paget’s leg. If for some odd reason you’re not familiar with it, click here for the condensed version of the story. So . . . all along the route of our tour, from London to Waterloo, I’d sigh at intervals and tell Victoria, “I can’t wait to see Paget’s leg.” After the re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo itself, Paget’s leg was to be the highlight of the tour for me. I’ve already admitted that this notion of mine was strange, but it becomes stranger still when you realize that Paget’s leg isn’t even at Wellington’s headquarters in Waterloo any longer. It was disinterred and shipped back to England when Paget (Anglesey) died in 1854 and was  buried along with the rest of him in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Yes, Paget and Wellington are buried in the same place. Poor Artie couldn’t shake this guy loose, even in death.
So . . . . the very last stop on the Waterloo portion of our tour was the Wellington Museum (formerly Wellington’s headquarters), where, out in the back garden, stands the spot where Paget’s leg (once) was. Even though the Heavens didn’t direct rays of sunight onto the grave whilst I was there, nor did a choir of angels sing whilst I gazed upon it, I was in alt.

The (rather smallish) back garden

The (once) final resting place of Paget’s leg

The sign by the (former) grave
Of course, the grave itself was not the Holy Grail, rather it had become to me the symbol of all that was the Battle of Waterloo – the tragedy, the drama, the irony, the heartbreak and the heroics. I could have as easily fixated upon the site of the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball, which would have been just as fitting, as that no longer exists, either.
So . . . what’s next on my 19th century bucket list? The decoupage screen Beau Brummell was toiling away on and which was meant to be a present to his great good friend Frederica, Duchess of York.  Brummell stopped working on it when news of her death reached him in France. Trouble is, I have no idea where to begin looking for it. If you’re an aged aristocrat living in the back of beyond who happens to have the screen in your attic, email me. Heck, email me even if the screen only used to be in your attic.  Victoria, Jo and I will then embark on what we shall no doubt call “The Quest for Brummell’s Screen.”

Beau Brummell's London Townhouse For Sale

After reading my “Couple In England” post on my outing in Mayfair and my stroll to Beau Brummell’s London townhouse in Chesterfield Street, author Rosemary Stevens just informed me that it has been on the market for nearly a year, with an asking price of nearly nine million pounds. Which firmly places it out of my price range, alas. Rosemary suggested that we all pool our money in order to buy it. A grand idea, but not practical when you figure out that we’d need at least five hundred some odd people to go in on it aside from ourselves. Not only would the crowd of us not fit in the house, but if we time shared the place, we’d each only get a half day each year. Sigh. Here’s the listing. Read it and weep. I know I did.

A Couple In England – Day Two – Part One


I awoke on Thursday way before the Husband to the realization that I was in London. It was a bit after 8 a.m., but the room was still dark as I climbed out of bed and crept to the bathroom. A short time later, I emerged to find Hubby still sleeping. And London still awaiting me outside. Stealthily, I rummaged around in drawers and suitcases until I found something to wear on the top and something to wear on the bottom. As to what these two garments consisted of I could not have cared less. I donned socks, hoping they were mine and not the Husbands, pulled on my boots, scarf and coat and dropped the room key, money, cigs and lighter and my camera into the coat pockets and crept like a cat burglar out of the door.
Emerging from the hotel, I found that it was overcast and drizzling. Undaunted, I grinned my way up the street to Caffe Nero, where I got a medium mocha and took it outside to one of the tables. I sat down, lit up and sipped – God was good and all was right in my world.

The Church of Christ the Scientist is just across Curzon Street, and beside that are C.F. Trumper, Men’s Hairdressers

and just to the left of that, G. Heywood Hill Ltd. booksellers.

Of course, neither was open at that early hour, so I took myself off on my long anticipated Mayfair stroll. You’ll recall that all I’d wanted to do since yesterday was to walk the streets and poke about at my leisure, which I did. And found my interest focusing, for some odd reason, on doorways. Here we go . . . . . . .

Let’s pay homage to the Beau first, shall we? It’s only fitting. Taking a right onto Queen Street, we stroll up to the top and make a left onto Charles Street, keeping on until we come to the corner of Chesterfield Street, where Beau Brummell lived. Before we turn in, though, take in the door across the street. And the elaborate railings. And the shrubbery on the terrace. And the pediments.

Now look back down the street, at the way we just came. See the street lights, the gentle curve of the street, the wet roads, the grey skies. Not another soul in sight . . . . London in the morning . . . . joy!

And midway down Chesterfield Street, on the left, we find Brummell’s house – let us linger here a moment in the drizzle and contemplate this particular doorway, shall we? Just imagine the visitors who must have come and gone through that door, with its elegant side and fan lights. Visitors aside, just imagine Brummell himself coming and going through that door. Oh, to have the mystery of what he looked like solved at long last! Did he look like this . . . . .

or more like this “I’ve just smelled something frightful” rendering?

Or possibly an amalgam of both?

In the early morning quiet, with the streets deserted, it’s easy to imagine a carriage drawing round the corner or the sound of a service door closing upon a maid who has just taken in a delivery. A horse may whinny in the distance, someone may shout in the mews two streets away, while the aristocracy sleep warm in their beds, having turned in just a few hours ago after a night of Regency revelry . . . .  
But back to the house . . . . .

Incidentally, Lord Rosebery lived here, too. 

Day Two – Part Two Coming Soon

The Lady Who Went Too Far

A new film has been announced – The Lady Who Went Too Far. From the writer and producer of The King’s Speech comes the story of Lady Hester Stanhope, based on the biography “Star of the Morning,” by Kirsten Ellis. Set during the Napoleonic Wars, the story follows the life of world traveler Stanhope and contains elements of a political thriller as Hester moves through Europe and the Middle East.

“She was a female Lawrence of Arabia, a hundred years before Lawrence,” said screenwriter David Seidler, whose credits also include Tucker: The Man And His Dream.

“It wasn’t that she was trying to change the world, she was just living the life that she thought she should have been afforded, to go on these great adventures, she did have a voice that should be heard,” producer Gareth Unwin told Screen. “If you ever want to find great stories, you only have to look to our past.”

Lady Hester Stanhope

 “Hers is a very powerful story that’s never been told cinematically before,” added biographer Kirsten Ellis. “She’s an undiscovered iconic emblem and the film will lift the lid on what made Hester spend half her life in the Middle East and what she tried to achieve there.”

In reviewing the book for The Independent, Robert Irwin swipes at Hester by closing with, “Though she (Ellis) writes well, it is not clear that her subject deserves so much devotion. During communal strife, Hester sheltered refugees and could be generous, but more often she was mean. She was also histrionic, superstitious, malicious and vainglorious. One has to rid oneself of the romantic trappings in order to see Hester Stanhope as what she became before her death in 1839 – a batty and embittered old English expat living on tick. There are thousands like her all over the world today.”

Of course, Reader, we are not concerned with those living today. We are, however, always interested in a true 19th century character, and as such Hester qualifies. As does Brummell if one is going to speak of being “histrionic, superstitious, malicious and vainglorious,” not to mention living on the tick. If authors were to stick only to those subjects who were worthy of praise or plaudits, the non-fiction shelves would be bare, indeed. Brava to Ellis for taking Hester on. We wait to hear who will play her in the film.

You can find Ellis’s book at Amazon here and visit the author’s website here

I'm a Big, Fat London Pig

My withdrawal from London was quite acute back in late July, when I found myself browsing the internet for flight deals back to the Old Smoke. Bear in mind that this was just a scant month since my whirlwind London/Waterloo tour with Victoria. However, the symptoms were all there – daydreams of walking down Piccadilly, a nostalgic longing for a pint and a proper serving of bangers and mash, the almost constant urge to throw up my arm and hail a black cab. At odd moments I’d hear a voice in my head urging me to “Mind the gap. Please mind the gap.” Aaarrrggghhh!

And then I found it – Continental Airlines, Newark to London Heathrow . . . . . $345. What!? Okay, that was each way, but still, seven hundred round trip was a bargain. It was at that moment that a small, cheeky devil appeared at my left shoulder. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill devil dressed in a red suit, with a pointed tail and holding a pitch fork. Oh, no. This devil was dressed in Regency garb and holding a snuff box. He looked uncannily like Beau Brummell.
“Press that button, my dear. The one that says “Buy Now.”

“Don’t be silly. I can’t. I just went to London. My planning another trip to England would be nothing short of greed in piggy proportions.”
“I’ve never found anything wrong with greed, myself.”
“Ha! And look where it got you.”
The devil sniffed. “Be that as it may, I still maintain that you should push that button. Go on,” he cajoled, “push it now.”

“Stop it!”
“You know,” he began, his voice a blend of honey and warm oil, “you could take your husband with you this time. After all, you’ve already been to London twice since you’ve known him. Really, is that fair? I believe he deserves to see the City. . . . you’d be doing it for him.”
This was a novel way of looking at the situation. A very Lucy Ricardo way of looking at it, I might add. He had my attention.

“And,” the devil continued, “you could schedule the trip around Christmas. It could be your Yuletide present to him. In fact, your wedding anniversary is in September, is it not? You could make it a joint anniversary and Christmas gift. Only consider how much more thrifty that would make the expenditure.”
Thrifty? Hhmmm. My husband would like thrifty.
“Push the button.”
“Look, pushing that button is a big deal. I’d be committing myself, and my poor unwitting husband, to a trip to London.”

“Oh, poor dear! London. Such a sacrifice.” The imp removed a miniscule amount of snuff from his tiny snuff box and inhaled it. Once he’d stopped sneezing – into my left ear – he continued. “Push the button. Do it for your mother.”
“My mother? What’s she got to do with it?”
“Oh, for pity’s sake, you’re hopeless at greed justification, aren’t you? It’s a good thing for you I deigned to show up and help you with this. Look, if you go to London, you’ll have to fly out of one of the major New York airports. Yes? Or perhaps a nearby major airport. Say . . . Newark?”

“Right,” I allowed.
“And who lives but a scant few miles from Newark airport, hmmmm?”
“My mother.”

“Got it in one! So . . . you back out your departure date and instead fly into Newark a few days before Christmas. You spend the holidays with your mother and daughter, thus making their holidays joyous whilst removing the onus of their having to travel down to you for the festivities, as they usually do. You, my dear, kill three birds with one English stone. You make your mother, daughter and your husband all happy beyond their wildest dreams. In effect, you wouldn’t be going to London for your own greedy delight in the least. Instead, you’d be going in order to make them happy. And, you and your husband would be in London for New Year’s Eve. Whilst still being thrifty, of course.”
My mouth hung open. Why hadn’t I thought of this? It was nothing short of brilliant.

“Do you really think so?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“I do. Truly. Push the button.”
Reader, I pushed the button. And just like Lucy Ricardo, I couldn’t keep my big mouth shut until my anniversary. I’ve already told my husband who, thank the Lord, is thrilled to bits, which means that the only fireworks we’ll be encountering will be those over the River Thames on New Year’s Eve.
Oink, oink.