From The Horse-World of London by William John Gordon (1893)
of meat per week to feed the dogs and cats of London.
From The Horse-World of London by William John Gordon (1893)
William IV, the Sailor King, died on 20 June 1837. He was the third son of George III and younger brother and successor to George IV and was the last king and penultimate monarch of the House of Hanover. While William’s reign was much more sedate than that of his brother, George IV, with less scandal and spending and more attention being paid the business of running the country, William IV did have one bane to his existence – his sister-in-law the Duchess of Kent, mother to Princess Victoria.
King William’s problems with the Duchess began early in his reign – in fact, at his coronation, as related in a book called When William IV was King By John Ashton:
During the procession to the Abbey (for the Coronation of William IV) the weather was fine, and the sight a brilliant one; but, soon after one o’clock, a very heavy rain descended ; the wind, too, blew with great violence, and occasioned rattling and tearing among the canvas canopies of the newly erected stands. It ceased for a short time, between two and three, when it broke out afresh, and was particularly lively when the ceremony was over, at half-past three. It quite spoilt the return procession, some of the carriages driving straight away, and those that fell into rank had their windows up.
In spite of the weather, London was brilliantly illuminated, and the theatres and Vauxhall Gardens were thrown open free. There was a display of fireworks in Hyde Park, at which many were more or less hurt by the falling rocket-sticks, six so seriously as to have to be taken to St. George’s Hospital. Throughout the country the festivity was universal. One little thing marred the universality. The Duchess of Kent was not present at the coronation, neither was the Princess Victoria. It was an open secret that the King and the Duchess were not on friendly terms, but it was thought very bad taste on her part not to be present.
Though more contretemps between the King and the Duchess were to come (as will be shown in future posts), for the time being, all was well in the land. In his Memoirs, Charles Greville included the following entry for July 18th.— King George had not been dead three days before everybody discovered that he was no loss, and King William a great gain. Certainly nobody ever was less regretted than the late King, and the breath was hardly out of his body before the press burst forth in full cry against him, and raked up all his vices, follies, and misdeeds, which were numerous and glaring enough.
The new King began very well. Everybody expected he would keep the Ministers in office, but he threw himself into the arms of the Duke of Wellington with the strongest expressions of confidence and esteem. He proposed to all the Household, as well as to the members of Government, to keep their places, which they all did except Lord Conyngham and the Duke of Montrose. He soon after, however, dismissed most of the equerries, that he might fill their places with the members of his own family. Of course such a King wanted not due praise, and plenty of anecdotes were raked up of his former generosities and kindnesses. His first speech to the. Council was well enough given, but his burlesque character began even then to show itself. Nobody expected from him much real grief, and he does not seem to know how to act it consistently; he spoke of his brother with all the semblance of feeling, and in a tone of voice properly softened and subdued, but just afterward, when they gave him the pen to sign the declaration, he said, in his usual tone, “This is a damned bad pen you have given me.” My worthy colleague, Mr. James Buller, began to swear Privy Councillors in the name of “King George IV.—William, I mean,” to the great diversion of the Council.
A few days after my return I was sworn in, all the Ministers and some others being present. His Majesty presided very decently, and looked like a respectable old admiral. The Duke [of Wellington] told me he was delighted with him— “If I had been able to deal with my late master as I do with my present, I should have got on much better”—that he was so reasonable and tractable, and that he had done more business with him in ten minutes than with the other in as many days.”
After the Battle of Waterloo, the nation presented the Duke of Wellington (left) with Strathfieldsaye, an estate between Basingstoke and Reading. The Duke, wishing to commemorate the event, planted a number of beech trees as a lasting memorial, which were known as “the Waterloo beeches.” Perhaps the Duke chose beeches due to the beech forest of Soignes, which lines the road between Brussels and Waterloo and through which the Duke would have ridden many times. In fact, the forest is so impressive that many contemporary odes and poems about Waterloo mention these “noble beeches.”
Some years later, the eminent arboricultural author, John Loudon (below), writing on the subject of the relative ages and sizes of trees, wrote to the Duke for permission to view the beeches at Stratfield Saye.
The Duke of Wellington received Loudon’s letter while sitting in the House of Lords. It was a note to this effect: “My Lord Duke—-It would gratify me extremely if you would permit me to visit Strathfieldsaye at any time convenient to your grace, and to inspect the Waterloo beeches. Your grace’s faithful servant, J. C. Loudon.”
Now, while Louden was an eminent horticulturalist, his handwritting could have stood some improvement. The Duke read the letter twice, the writing of which was not very clear, and he took the signature to be that of J.C. London – the Bishop of London. He also mistook the word “beeches” to read “breeches.”
With his usual promptness and politeness, the Duke replied as follows, “My dear Bishop of London—It will always give me great pleasure to see you at Strathfieldsaye. Pray come there whenever it suits your convenience, whether I am at home or not. My servant will receive orders to show you as many pairs of my breeches as you may wish, but why you should wish to inspect those I wore at the battle of Waterloo is quite beyond the comprehension of Yours most truly, Wellington.”
The letter was received, as may be supposed, with great surprise by the Bishop of London (at left). He showed it to the Archbishop of Canterbury and to other discreet persons; they came to the melancholy conclusion that the great Duke of Wellington had evidently lost his senses. The Bishop of London (Blomfield) declared that he had not written to the duke for two years and to receive this extraordinary intimation puzzled the whole bench of bishops. Likewise, the Duke of Wellington had been having his own doubts as to the sanity of the Bishop of London and had been making his own discreet inquiries. Finally, the mistake was discovered, the original writer identified and all doubts about the sanity of two of England’s greatest minds were put to rest. No doubt Loudon was, indeed, allowed to visit the beeches and we have, preserved for posterity, yet another wonderful anecdote concerning the Duke of Wellington.
In the run up to the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, we’ll first take a look at the connection between Wellington, Waterloo and Vauxhall Gardens. The Gardens, known for it’s dark walks, supper boxes, fireworks, balloon ascents and other assorted amusements, also regularly cashed in on events that captured the public interest, including the Battle of Waterloo. As best as I can discover, a recreation of the Battle was held each year, the event attracting thousands to the Gardens.
In 1817, the Battle of Waterloo was re-enacted with 1,000 soldiers participating, for which E. A. Theleur composed The Soldier’s Return, a “Military Divertissement.”
The European Magazine tells us that in 1824 –
“On the 19th of June, the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo was commemorated at these gardens by a grand military fete. Flags of all the nations of Europe waved from the trees, whose dark foliage was finely contrasted with the uncommon brilliancy of the lamps, of which there were upwards of 12,000 additional, arranged in various devices. A transparency of the Duke of Wellington presented itself in the most conspicuous part of the garden, flanked on each side by the word ‘Waterloo’ in variegated colours. In the ballet of the Chinese Wedding the Minuet de la Cour, the Gavutte, and a quadrille, were introduced by the pupils of Monsieur Hullin. The concert consisted of appropriate military songs, &c; and amongst the cosmoramas was one piece painted expressly for the occasion, representing the Battle of Waterloo. The fire-works were more than usually splendid, and concluded with a double glory of sixty-two rays, with ‘Wellington” in the centre, and the words ‘Long may he live.’ The company was numerous and respectable, comprising many persons of fashion; and, upon the whole, the fete passed off without considerable trial.”
The Battle of Waterloo, complete with horses, foot soldiers, and set scenes, was again presented at Vauxhall in 1827 and 1828. In 1827, Charles Farley, of Covent Garden Theatre, produced in the Gardens a representation of the Battle of Waterloo, with set-scenes of La Belle Alliance and the wood and chateau of Hougomont; also horse and foot soldiers, artillery, ammunition-wagons, &c.
From Bell’s Weekly Messenger for Sunday, June 26, 1831 –
“On Monday night the grand Annual Fete in commemoration of the Battle of Waterloo was given at these gardens. The proprietors of this elegant place of amusement exerted themselves to render the embellishments worthy of the occasion. Immediately on entering the gardens the name of Wellington presented itself in the brilliant illumination. Many thousand additional lamps, arranged in emblematical devices, were put up, interspersed with appropriate banners and devices. These attractions, added to the Concert, the Singers of the Alps, the Dioramic Views, the Optical Illusions, the new Cosmoramas, the Chin Melodist, and the German Whistler, seemed to give the company, which was numerous, a high degree of pleasure. The whole closed with a brilliant display of Fireworks and a Water Scene.”
What the Alps, a Chin Melodist and a German Whistler had in common with the Duke, or Waterloo, I have no idea. However, it seems that all who deigned to write about the event mention the fabulous fireworks. This next bit is from The Idler and Breakfast-Table Companion – “The anniversary of the “Battle of Waterloo” was celebrated on Monday last, by a magnificent gala at these gardens. The company were particularly select and numerous, and the entertainments of the most brilliant description;—the fireworks especially. The weather appears now to be settled; the worthy proprietors may therefore calculate on a host of visitors. A walk round the ‘Royal Property,’ on a fine evening, is a great treat.”
And, from The London Literary Gazette and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, Etc 1828 –
“It happened to be the night of the re-celebration of the battle of Waterloo. For at Vauxhall it was found profitable to keep such festivals twice over, and the place was all in a blaze with emblems of military glory. The names of Wellington and Waterloo showed fiery off indeed in particoloured flame, and seemed a pattern for History to write of the hero—` With a pencil of light.’”
From The Works of Thomas Hood: Comic and Serious – “There was an abundance of illumination, but we think we have seen the ornaments more tastefully and airily disposed. The trophy shields were formal, and the crowns somewhat lumpish and heavy—light, as Dr. Donne would quibble, should be light— but there was a seasonable and splendid rose in June that did honour to the genius of the lamps.”
The tendency towards nit-picking evident in the passage above was expounded upon by the correspondent for The Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction (1828) –
“On Wednesday, being a grand gala night in honour of the victory of Waterloo, we were induced to visit this place of resort—we would say of entertainment, had we found any; but a more miserably perverted source of public amusement than these same ‘Royal Gardens’ have become, it has never been our lot to endure. The entire character of the thing is altered, and glare and mummery have destroyed the original form and nature of the scene. Time was, when, from the bustling of business and the turmoil of the city, and even from the routs and crowded assemblies of fashionable life,—persons found an agreeable variety at Vauxhall. There was a lamp illumination, it is true—but here and there the turf was verdant, and every where the trees were green: there were sights—but they properly belonged to a rustic order, such as gentle transparencies, congenial landscapes, and at the utmost a fantoccini to divert the younger classes: there was music, too—but it was in the single orchestra, to which the promenader approached at times to hear a pretty ballad, and thus diversify the gossip-spent hour. Altogether, the Gardens were what they ought to be—essentially rural and recreative; now they are a hot, glittering, and noisy compound of all that is inferior in theatrical representations, shows, and vulgar nonsense-—a mixture of Astley’s, Bartholomew Fair . . . offensive to the eye and ear, and either tedious or distracting to the mind, as you happen to witness one performance, or be hurried to another. The company, too, which was always rather of a mixed description, is now much lowered, in consequence of the altered kind of the amusements. A mob of less attractive London materiel than we met on Wednesday can hardly be imagined. Low varlets, from the desk, the counter, and the shop-board, staring most impudently in the face of every woman, were only not so disgusting as usual, because the vast majority of the females were precisely of castes to whom such vulgarity could give no displeasure — in short, the Joes were well matched with the Jills; and a premium might have been safely offered for the discovery of any one gentleman or lady in ‘the hundred,’ or, indeed, of twenty persons of respectability in the whole mass. Then there was prepared for this worshipful company a poor vaudeville in the Row-tunder (as most of them called it), and a wretched ballet in the theatre. There were pictures, and cosmoramas, and Ching Louro, and a consort (also agreeably to the language of the place). But, above all, there was a mimic battle of Waterloo; and such a battle as ear never saw, nor eye heard! At the end of a walk, a crowd of men in uniform marched in and marched out; and Mr. Ducrow, dressed like the portrait of Buonaparte, capered and fidgetted about on a pale horse; while his Grace of Wellington curvetted on a piebald with a white face, which had nearly floored his excellent rider several times in the course of his masterly though limited evolutions on the field of war. After the footmen had walked here and there for about half an hour, and the horsemen had cantered up and down through the ten or a dozen trees and back again for as long a space of wasted time—the patient crowd of spectators waiting all the while and wondering what would come of it—a fierce attack was made upon a canvas ‘Hugomont,’ muskets were popped off, squibs thrown, and at last a rocket or a Chinese candle was supposed to set fire to the place, which was burnt down, to our great edification, and the curtain drawn. To this puerile and absurd spectacle succeeded the fire-works; and the weary visitors began to troop off as fast as they could, from so gay, so grand, and so delightful a treat—except a few of the most carnivorous and tipsy, who remained in congenial society—how long we cannot tell.
“The expense incurred in rendering Vauxhall so stupid and tiresome must be very considerable—but as complete success seems to have attended the effort, it is not to be grudged; and in these times of national distress the citizens of London, their wives and children, have no right to any relaxation. To be sure it must be paid for pretty smartly, if they are admitted to any comfort in these Gardens. Of old, a half-crown at the door, and the price of such comestibles as were devoured, were grumbled at, as tax enough; but now the account stands in a fairer form, because you are distinctly charged for every item separately, so that you know what you are paying for, and may choose or reject as you think fit. Thus Mr. Bull, from Aldgate, with Mrs. Bull, and only four of the younger Bulls and Cows, numbering six in all, makes good his entry at the cost of 1/. s.— Books to tell them what they are to see and hear, the when and the how, are 3s. — Seats for the vaudeville (average of modest places), 9s ditto for the ballet, ditto for the battle, 6s.—ditto for the fire-works, 6s., total, 21. 14. But, then, they are not charged for seeing the lamps; there is no charge for walking round the walks; there is no charge for looking at the cosmoramic pictures; there is no charge for casting a glance at the orchestra; there is no charge for staring at the other people; there is no charge for bowing or talking to an acquaintance, if you meet one—all these are gratis; and if you neither eat nor drink, there is no charge for witnessing those who do mangle the long-murdered honours of the coop, and gulp down the most renovating of liquors, be they hale or stout, vite vine, red port, or rack punch.
“Our account of these superb and captivating entertainments has, we regret to observe, stretched to a greater length than we could have wished; but when it is recollected that we do not intend to go to Vauxhall again very soon, we trust our particularity will be excused, and our tedious prolixity thought very appropriate to the subject.”
Despite such scathing reviews, Vauxhall Gardens continued to endure, and to mount recreations of the Battle. Perhaps the year 1849 was the crowning re-enactment, for the Duke (at left) himself made an appearance, as described by Edward Walford in Old and New London –
“Vauxhall Gardens, down to a very late date, still attracted ‘the upper ten thousand ‘—occasionally, at least. We are told incidentally, in Forster’s ‘Life of Dickens,’ that one famous night, the 29th of June, 1849, Dickens went there with Judge Talfourd, Stanfield, and Sir Edwin Landseer. The ‘Battle of Waterloo’ formed part of the entertainment on that occasion. ‘We were astounded,’ writes Mr. Forster, ‘to see pass in immediately before us, in a bright white overcoat, the ‘great duke’ himself, with Lady Douro (his daughter-in-law) on his arm, the little Lady Ramsays (daughters of the Earl of Dalhousie) by his side, and everybody cheering and clearing the way for him. That the old hero enjoyed it all there could be no doubt, and he made no secret of his delight . . but the battle was undeniably tedious, and it was impossible not to sympathise with the repeatedly and audibly expressed wish of Talfourd that ‘the Prussians would come up!’ It must have been one of the old duke’s last appearances in a place of amusement, as he lived only three years longer.”
Whilst the Duke of Wellington approved of elegance and was himself known as “the Beau,” he felt obliged to advise his splendidly uniformed Grenadier Guards that their behavior was “not only ridiculous but unmilitary” when they rode into battle on a rainy day with their umbrellas raised. A dandy Wellington was not. Odd, then, that the picture of himself that Wellington liked most was done by one of the greatest dandies of his day – Count d’Orsay. d’Orsay painted the Duke in profile (above), in evening dress, and the Duke is said to have rather liked the picture, because it “made him look like a gentleman.”
Count Albert Guillaume d’Orsay, the son of one of Napoleon’s generals, and descended by a morganatic marriage from the King of Wurttemburg, was himself a gentleman in every sense, and his courtesy was of the highest kind. At the balls given by his regiment, although he was more courted than any other officer, d’Orsay always sought out the plainest girls and showed them the most flattering attentions. During his first visit to London, Count d’Orsay was invited once or twice to receptions given by the Earl and Countess of Blessington, where he was well received. Before the story proceeds any further it is necessary to give an account of the Earl and of Lady Blessington, since both of their careers had been, to say the least, unusual.
Lord Blessington was an Irish peer for whom an ancient title had been revived. He was remotely descended from the Stuarts of Scotland, and therefore had royal blood to boast of. He had been well educated, and in many ways was a man of pleasing manner. On the other hand, he had early inherited a very large property which yielded him an income of about thirty thousand pounds a year. He had estates in Ireland, and he owned nearly the whole of a fashionable street in London, along with the buildings erected upon it. Thrown together by the same society and so often in each other’s company, the Earl of Blessington became as devoted to D’Orsay as did his wife. The two urged the Count to secure a leave of absence and to accompany them to Italy. This he was easily persuaded to do; and the three passed weeks and months of a languorous and alluring intercourse among the lakes and the seductive influence of romantic Italy. Just what passed between Count d’Orsay and Marguerite Blessington at this time cannot be known, for the secret of it has perished with them; but it is certain that before very long they came to know that each was indispensable to the other.The situation was complicated by the Earl of Blessington, who, entirely unsuspicious, proposed that the Count should marry Lady Harriet Gardiner, his eldest legitimate daughter by his first wife. He pressed the match upon the embarrassed d’Orsay, and offered to settle the sum of forty thousand pounds upon the bride. The girl was less than fifteen years of age. She had no gifts either of beauty or of intelligence; and, in addition, d’Orsay was now deeply in love with her stepmother.
But once again I digress. Suffice it to say that eventually Lady Blessington and the Count set up a home together, both in London, at Gore House, and in Paris, where Lady Blessington died. Upon her death, and before when they found themselves in straightened financial waters, the Count drew upon his artistic talents, both in painting and sculpture, in order to earn money. Whatever one thought about the Count personally, no one could deny his artistic talent. d’Orsay would go on to produce a painting of Gore House, of which I can find no image to use here. Instead, I give you a contemporary print of Gore House –
And the description of d’Orsay’s painting, which illustrates the illustrious circles d’Orsay found himself within and also brings us back to the Duke of Wellington –
“A garden view of Gore House, the residence of the late Countess of Blessington, with Portraits of the Duke of Wellington, Lady Blessington, the Earl of Chesterfield, Sir Edwin Landseer, Count d’Orsay, the Marquis of Douro (2nd Duke of Wellington), Lord Brougham, the Misses Power, etc. In the foreground, to the right, are the Duke of Wellington and the Countess of Blessington; in the centre, Sir Edwin Landseer seated, who is in the act of sketching a very fine cow, which is standing in front, with a calf by its side, while Count d’Orsay, with two favorite dogs, is seen on the right of the group, and the Earl of Chesterfield on the left; nearer the house, the two Misses Power (nieces of Lady Blessington) are reading a letter, a gentleman walking behind. Further to the left appear Lord Brougham, the Marquis of Douro, etc., seated under a tree in conversation.”