The London and Waterloo Tour – Victoria and Albert: Art in Love at the Queen's Gallery

Victoria and I are looking forward to the Victoria and Albert: Art in Love exhibit at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace. The Exhibition features 400 items from The Royal Collection including gifts exchanged by Victoria and Albert such as drawings, paintings, sculpture, furniture, musical scores and jewellery and encompasses their mutual love of music and art. The display also touches upon Prince Albert’s work on ‘The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations in 1851’ as well Queen Victoria in the years after Albert’s death in 1861.

Works by the couple’s favorite artist, Franz Xaver Winterhalter, are on display, as are photographs taken of the Royal couple. A German painter first recommended to Queen Victoria by Louise, Queen of the Belgians, Winterhalter came to England in 1842 and subsequently worked regularly for the queen and her family over the next two decades. Winterhalter was granted the largest number of royal commissions and produced numerous formal portraits, including the one pictured above, which Queen Victoria commissioned in 1843 as a surprise for her husband’s 24th birthday. The artist presents the Queen in an intimate pose, leaning against a red cushion with her hair half unravelled from its fashionable knot.

Winterhalter (at left) was born in the Grand Duchy of Baden in 1805. He excelled at painting and drawing as a teen and went to Munich where he studied at the Academy of Arts. By the late 1830’s he drew attention as a painter of royal subjects. He traveled and painted in almost every court of Europe until the last few years of his life. Though art critics were never very enthusiastic about his work, his portraits were well executed and conveniently flattering.

Costumes are also displayed in the exhibit, including Queen Victoria’s costume for the 1851 Stuart Ball  designed by French artist Eugène Lami. The French silk gown is rich in lace and brocade.
You can take a really in-depth video tour of the exhibition here and/or visit the Royal Collection website.

Winterhalter’s The First of May 1851, at right,  shows the Duke of Wellington presenting a casket to his one-year-old godson, Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught, who is supported by Queen Victoria. Behind these figures and forming the apex of a pyramidal composition is Prince Albert, half looking over his shoulder towards the Crystal Palace in the left background. Both the Duke of Wellington and Prince Albert are dressed in the uniform of Field Marshal and wear the Order of the Garter. The painting derives its title from the fact that both the Duke of Wellington and Prince Arthur were born on 1 May, which was also the date of the inauguration of the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park.

 The painting was commissioned by Queen Victoria, but Winterhalter clearly encountered some difficulties in devising an appropriate composition. In the queen’s words, he ‘did not seem to know how to carry it out’ and it was Prince Albert ‘with his wonderful knowledge and taste’ who gave Winterhalter the idea of using a casket, instead of the gold cup the Duke had actually presented to the child. The painting hangs at the Duke’s country home, Stratfield Saye.

Above, Victoria and Albert with their children in 1846, Buckingham Palace

The London and Waterloo Tour – The Grenadier Pub

Let me preface this post by saying that it may be one of the most difficult things I’ve ever written due to the fact that I had the most chilling experience of my life at the Grenadier Pub. Read on. . . .

Tucked away down London’s exclusive Wilton Mews, on the corner of Old Barrack Yard, the patriotic Grenadier pub is painted red, white and blue and boasts a red sentry box that serves as a nod to the property’s military history. Reputedly, the Duke of Wellington’s Grenadier Guards used it as their mess. Inside it is small, dark and cozy, the  paneled walls covered with military and Wellington memorabilia. Reputedly, the pub’s upper floors were once used as the officers’ mess of a nearby barracks, whilst its cellar was pressed into service as a drinking and gambling lair for the common soldiers.

A display at the entrance to the pub informs us that “18 Wilton Row was built circa 1720 as the home to The 1st Regiment of Foot Guards regiment and famously known as the Duke of Wellington’s Officers Mess. Originally named The Guardsman as a Licensed Premises in 1818, and frequented by King George IV, the Grenadier enjoys a fine reputation for good food and beer.” From the same display we also find out that the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards was created in 1656, and that 1st Guards were renamed by Royal Proclamation as the ‘Grenadier Regiment of Foot Guards’ because of their heroic actions against French Grenadiers at Waterloo in 1815. Continuing the Wellington connection, directly outside in the old Barrack Yard at the side of the pub is what is reputed to be the remaining stone of the Duke’s mounting block, whilst an archway down the nearby alley forms part of his stables.

Here, a young subaltern is said to have once been caught cheating at cards, and his comrades punished him with such a savage beating that he died from his injuries.

The Grenadier is said to be one of the most haunted places in London. People who have worked there have quit after supernatural run-ins with a solemn, silent spectre reportedly seen moving slowly across the low-ceilinged rooms. Objects either disappear or else are mysteriously moved overnight. Unseen hands rattle tables and chairs, and a strange, icy chill has been known to hang in the air, sometimes for days on end. A ghostly face floats in an upstairs window and – the most common tale – the sentry box out front is haunted by the ghost of the dead subaltern.

So . . . a few years ago I was at the Grenadier with Sue Ellen Welfonder (Bozzy) and three other women whom I won’t name because I haven’t seen them in years and have no idea whether or not they want to be associated with the following story. I don’t talk about it myself, as it makes one seem as odd as those who claim to have been abducted by aliens or to have seen the Loch Ness Monster and Big Foot. We, Reader, saw ghosts. Not a ghost, but a circle of ghosts. Regency soldier ghosts, no less.

The five of us could see that the alley beside the Pub led back to a yard with stable doors and a row of quaint single story houses along one wall. Very atmospheric, very historic . . . very tempting. What was back there? we asked. Let’s go look! we answered. What. A. Mistake. As you can see by the photo, a sort of alley runs beside the Pub and opens up at the end to the doors to what is reputed to have been Wellington’s stable.

We walked down the alley to the end, where the car is visible in the photo below. There was a car parked in the very same spot on the night in question. We got to the end of the alley and saw . . . . . a ring of ten to twelve men – soldiers, whose red coats had been thrown in a pile atop the cobbles. They wore breeches and boots and white shirts. They stood in a circle in the space between the front of the car and the stable doors – surrounding a man who was on his knees at the center of the circle, his face already bloody and bruised from the beating that had already been going on for some time (centuries?). These men were pissed off. Even taking into account the fact that cheating at cards was a much more serious offence then than it is today, their anger was beyond anything justified by such an offence.


We watched them as though we were watching a film that was being played at half strength. That’s the only way I can describe it. The scene was playing out before our eyes, in the bricked space between the car and the black stable doors, the men utterly oblivious to our presence. The film ran for a minute, probably less in hindsight, and then flickered out. Except this film had something extra – this one had been filmed in “emotion-vision.” As we watched the ghostly events, each one of us could actually feel the anger and the venom that was being directed towards the poor schmuck on his knees in the middle of the circle. In fact, I think the strength of that collective emotion was more overwhelming to us than the fact that we’d actually just seen ghosts. The experience was so shocking, so life altering that I will be forever grateful that I was in the company of others when it happened or else I’d truly doubt whether it had all taken place. Bozzy has reminded me that these events happened on Saturday, August 3, 1996, though September is supposed to be the month for the most ghostly occurrences at the Grenadier. Now you see why I call Sue Ellen “my Boswell” for she documents my life – in words and pictures – as thoroughly as Boswell did for Dr. Johnson.

The side door to the Grenadier Pub is now kept locked and access to the alley was blocked when I was there last (too right, mate!) and I have to admit that I really only gave getting to the exact site where we’d seen the ghosts a half hearted effort. You might now only be able to gain entry to the stable yard from the street behind. I suppose seeing ghosts is much like childbirth – the true horror of the experience abates with time and fourteen years have passed. Therefore, I’ve promised my eager-to-see-a-ghost daughter we’d go back to the Grenadier when we’re in London in June and so Brooke, Victoria and myself will be stopping by one evening for dinner.  And you can bet that I’ll be hoisting a few drinks before I even attempt to visit the alley again. I’ll report back on what we find. Or, with luck, don’t find. I say – Where’s the ghost of Arthur Wellesley when you need him?

London and Waterloo Tour – Apsley House

One of the very first stops Victoria and I will be making together is a visit to Apsley House, the Duke of Wellington’s London home.  Apsley House is, of course, the place from which we took the name for this blog. The house became familiarly known as Number One, London as it was the first house after the Knightsbridge toll gates that travelers passed upon entering London.

Apsley House, originally a red brick building, was built between 1781-1787 by neo-classical architect Robert Adam for Baron Apsley, later the second Earl Bathurst. It was purchased by Marquess Wellesley, elder brother to Arthur Wellesley, in 1807, with financial difficulties following soon after. Needing a base of operations and residence in London, and seeking to ease his brother’s financial burdens, the ever practical Duke purchased the house in 1817.
Wellington settled upon architect Benjamin Wyatt to carry out restorations to Apsley House. Wyatt  expanded Apsley by two bays, and built the Waterloo Gallery for the Duke’s paintings and refaced the house with Bath stone. Wellington presided over the redecoration of Apsley House’s interiors in Regency fashion and hosted annual Waterloo Banquets to commemorate his victory of 1815, entertaining fellow officers from his campaigns in the Peninsular War and at Waterloo.

The house was used for entertaining on a grand scale, and Wellington’s great dinner and dessert services are on display. The Sèvres Egyptian Service was commissioned by Napoleon for his Empress Josephine. The vast silver Portuguese Service, with an 8 metre long centrepiece, adorned the table at the annual Waterloo Banquet, a great event at which the Duke entertained officers who had served under him at Waterloo and in the Peninsular War.

From 1992-1995 Apsley House was restored to its former glory as the private palace of the ‘Iron Duke’. Apsley House is the last great London town-house with collections largely intact and family still in residence.

The first Duke of Wellington possessed a collection of art and fine furnishings perhaps unrivalled by any contemporary.  After the Duke’s victory over Napoleon at Waterloo, grateful nations and private citizens showered Wellington with gifts of thanks, including a fine Sevres porcelain service from Louis XVIII of France, and superlative Portuguese silver.

There are also 200 paintings from the royal collection of the Kings of Spain that Wellington recovered from Joseph Bonaparte after the Battle of Vitoria in 1813. After King Ferdinand VII was reinstated as monarch, he asked Wellington to keep the paintings as a gift of thanks. The Duke, no fool he, agreed. Among these paintings are works by Goya, Velasquez, Correggio, and Rubens.

Front and centre upon entering Apsley is Antonio Canova’s huge statue of Napoleon, portrayed as an ancient Greek athlete. The sword carried by Wellington at Waterloo is on display in the Plate and china Room, as well as the sword of his great foe Napoleon.

I suppose I should come clean and confess that the last time I was at Apsley House I set off the alarms. Really. It was in the Waterloo Chamber. I was looking at the 8 metre long silver centerpiece on the table and simply could not believe my eyes. The entire thing was coated in a layer of dust. My eyes must be deceiving me, thought I, as I wiped a fingertip across one of the figures. Well, not only was there, indeed, dust on my finger, but the alarms began sounding and by the time a guard entered the room, I’d turned my back and was studying the full length portrait of George IV. No matter that I was the only person in the room, I simply acted as though nothing at all had happened. And as far as I’m concerned, it hadn’t. Hopefully, they feel the same and will let me back in this June.   Kristine

Living With the Duke of Wellington

I’ve been living with the Duke of Wellington for nigh on thirty years now – reading about him, researching him and, perhaps most fun, collecting items associated with him. The first portrait of the Duke I ever bought is pictured at right. If you can believe it, I stumbled upon it in a thrift store in Florida and paid just $99 for it. Afterwards, I brought a photo of it with me to London and took it to Grosvenor Prints in Seven Dials and asked the gentleman there what he thought it was worth. He hemmed and hawed on giving me an appraisal without actually seeing the piece, but did tell me that mine was one of a series of eight engravings done shortly after the Duke’s death to commemorate the high points thereof. My engraving shows the Duke being installed as Chancellor of Oxford University and the frame is rosewood. When I told the man how much, or how little, I’d paid for the piece, he peered at me over the top of his glasses and said, “Madam, you got yourself a bargain.”

The next portrait I bought was this reproduction of Thomas Phillips’s 1814 painting of the Duke. Unfortunately, there isn’t an amusing story attached to this purchase, just ordered it through the mail, took it to be framed and matted and hung it above my fireplace. I must say, though, Artie looks tres festive when wreathed in garland at the holidays! My father bought the pheasant at an auction decades ago and when he returned home with it, both my mother and myself thought he was crazy. However, now I’m ever so glad he found it, as it’s so veddy Victorian in appearance and goes quite well on the mantle, non?

On a subsequent trip to London, I returned to Grosvenor Prints and spent quite a few hours perusing their Duke of Wellington stock, finally choosing this engraving because it seemed to match the first engraving in size and subject composition. It’s a contemporary engraving of Sir Thomas Lawrence’s 1821 portrait of the Duke, with Copenhagen’s head visible in the lower left corner. I had it matted and framed to match the first engraving.

On that same visit, I also bought this engraving of Elizabeth Hay, 2nd Duchess of Wellington and favorite daughter-in-law of the Duke. I also have an engraving of the Duke showing Elizabeth over the field of Waterloo on horseback. My husband tries to make me understand that these pictures should all be hung together, museum-like in a large room or gallery and not ranged over every conceivable bit of wall space in a smallish family home in which current day people actually live. I told him that I agreed. The collection as a whole would look infinitely better in a townhouse in Bath’s Royal Crescent or a Grade II listed period home in, say, Gloucestershire. I further told him that as soon as he bought me one or the other I would move each and every picture and knick knack to our new house. No need to tell you that I’m still waiting for word that our Georgian manor home has been purchased.  
One wall in my office is taken up with various prints and here hangs Sir Thomas Lawrence’s most iconic image of the Duke, as well as the engraving on the field of Waterloo I mentioned earlier at bottom left. The framed document in the middle is a land indenture and the document at top right is an edition of the London Chronicle from 1771. Prince Leopold (or Leopold, King of the Belgians) is matted in red top left. Can I tell you how much enjoyment my passion for the past has afforded me over the years, giving me the excuse to visit bookshops, printsellers, antique shops and stalls and the like?  While I love each find, I think my favorite piece of Wellington memorabilia is one of his handwritten envelopes, seal still intact, that I found on Ebay!
And, of course, all the book finds, whether associated with the Duke or not. Here are but a few. It always makes me chuckle when people ask me whether I’ve actually read them all. Obviously, these people are a breed apart from you and I. So, that’s a quick tour of my Wellington collection. When we go to London in June, Victoria and I plan to visit Grosvenor Prints and the bookstores in Charing Cross Road and Cecil Court. No doubt we’ll be coming home with more finds.

I can hear my husband groaning now.

Almack's Assembly Rooms

When Almack’s Assembly Rooms, King Street, St. James’s, opened on 13 February, 1765 Horace Walpole wrote: “The new Assembly Room at Almack’s was opened the night before last, very magnificent, but it was empty; half the town is ill with colds.” Apparently, the ton recovered quickly, for Almack’s was soon touted as the epitome of all that was fashionable. Almack’s boasted three rooms, where, for a subscription of ten guineas, one attended ball and supper each Wednesday evening during the twelve weeks of the London Season. However, before becoming a subscriber, one was first subjected to the scrutiny of the Lady Patronesses of Almack’s, originally comprised of Ladies Pembroke and Molyneaux, Mrs. Fitzroy and Mrs Meynell and the Misses Pelham and Lloyd. Circa 1814, the committee was made up by the Ladies Jersey (Sarah, Countess of 1786-1867), Castlereigh, Cowper (later Lady Emily Palmerston d. 1869) and Sefton, the Princess Esterhazy and the Countess (later Princess) of Lieven. Mrs. Drummond-Burrell (later Lady Willoughby de Eresby) also served briefly. According to Ticknor’s diaries, only one member of the committee acted as Patroness at a time, the post being filled by a rotation system.

Should an applicant not meet the approval of these ladies, he or she was turned down for membership. In addition, the rules were strictly adhered to, with the Duke of Wellington himself being turned away when he arrived at the Rooms in trousers, rather than the required knee breeches. Or was it because, as another story goes, he arrived after the hour of midnight? Appropos of this singular event, George Ticknor wrote that he and Lord and Lady Downshire, on their way to Almack’s, stopped off at Lady Mornington’s, where they met the Duke of Wellington. They asked him if he were going to Almack’s and the Duke replied that “he thought he should look in by and by,” upon which his mother told him that he’d better get there in good time as Lady Jersey would make no allowances for him. The Duke dawdled, Ticknor and the rest going on to Almack’s without him. Later that evening, Ticknor was standing with Lady Jersey when an attendant told her, “Lady Jersey, the Duke of Wellington is at the door, and desires to be admitted.” “What o’clock is it?” she asked. “Seven minutes after eleven, your ladyship.” She paused, then said with emphasis and distinctness, “Give my compliments to the Duke of Wellington, and say she is very glad that the first enforcement of the rule of exclusion is such that hereafter no one can complain of its application. He cannot be admitted.”

In any case, the Duke was not the only person of rank who was censored. A report dated 1765 runs: “The Duchess of Bedford was first blackballed, but is now since admitted, the Duchesses of Grafton and of Marlborough are also chosen. Also Lady Holderness, Lady Rochford are blackballed, as is Lord March.” Captain Gronow records, “Very often persons whose rank and fortunes entitled them to entree anywhere else were excluded by the cliquism of the lady patronesses, for the female government of Almack’s was a pure despotism and subject to all the caprices of despotic rule. It is needless to add that, like every other despotism, it was not innocent of abuses.” Still, admittance was sought and the Rooms became, “a matrimonial bazaar where mothers met to carry on affairs of state; and often has the table, spread with tepid lemonade, weak tea, tasteless orgeat, stale cakes and thin slices of bread and butter – the only refreshment allowed – been the scene of tender proposals.”

Subscribers to Almack’s were allowed to bring a guest to a Ball, provided they passed muster first. He or she had to call personally at the Rooms and were either granted a “Strangers Ticket” of admission or were blackballed. The Rooms were open for supper and gaming, with dancing lasting the night. Once supper had been served at eleven o’clock, the doors were closed and no one else was admitted for the evening, regardless of rank or reputation. Once you had been approved by the Lady Patronesses, your social standing was guaranteed to soar. Fortunate young ladies making their first London Season and who’d been allowed to ‘come out’ at an Almack’s ball had their dancing partners personally chosen by one of the Ladies. A passage from Lutrell’s work “Advice to Julia” concerning Almack’s reads:

“All on that magic list depends;
Fame, fortune, fashion, lovers, friends;
`Tis that which gratifies or vexes
All ranks, all ages, all sexes.
If once to Almack’s you belong,
Like monarchs, you can do no wrong;
But banished thence on Wednesday night,
By Jove you can do nothing right.”

The ballroom was partitioned off for the dancers by crimson ropes. In 1814, the dances at Almack’s were Scotch Reels and English Country dances and the orchestra, being from Edinburgh, was conducted by the celebrated Neil Gow. During the early Victorian era, Weippert and Collinet’s band provided the music. It was not until 1815 that Lady Jersey introduced the French Quadrille to the Rooms, about which Mrs. Arbuthnot wrote on in a letter on June 22, 1823 . . . . “I went two nights ago to a costume ball at Almack’s for a Welsh charity. It was very brilliant & there was a quadrille that was beautiful. All the prettiest girls in London were in it, such as Ly A. Hervey, Miss Poyntz, Miss Stewart (natural daughter of Ld Granville & the late Lady Bessborough) Miss Foresters, Miss Beresford, Miss Howard. The men were in regimentals & each wore a bouquet. The quadrille, however, gave great offence, for they danced together all night & took the upper end of the room, which was considered a great impertinence. They were dressed in caps & flowers with a chip Swiss hat at the back of the head, scarlet bodices & white petticoats trimmed with scarlet ribbons & flowers. All the Royal Family were there, & it was altogether a very grand concern.”

Around this same date, Prince Puckler-Muskau, (pictured at left) a visitor to London whilst on the hunt for an heiress to marry, offered a fresh perspective on the Rooms in a letter he wrote on April 26, 1825, “The first Almack’s ball took place this evening; and from all I had heard of this celebrated assembly, I was really curious to see it: but never were my expectations so disappointed. It was not much better than at Brighton. A large bare room, with a bad floor, and ropes round it, like the space in an Arab camp parted off for the horses; two or three naked rooms at the side, in which were served the most wretched refreshments; and a company into which, spite of the immense difficulty of getting tickets, a great many `Nobodies’ had wriggled; in which the dress was generally as tasteless as the tournure was bad; – this was all. In a word, a sort of inn-entertainment: – the music and the lighting the only good things. And yet Almack’s is the culminating poin
t of the English world of fashion.”