The True Story of Regnecy Eccentric "Mad Jack" Mytton

John `Mad Jack’ Mytton was born in 1796, the son of a Shropshire squire. Though he had a rather typical upbringing, John Mytton seems to have gone out of his way in order to earn the name “Mad Jack.” He drank several bottle of port each morning to “forestall the bad effect of the night air” and was also known to drink eau de cologne when nothing else was to hand. He drove his four horse gig recklessly, often stripped bare whilst fox hunting and arrived at one dinner party on a bear and dressed as a highwayman to hold up his guests as they left his house on their ways home. He is reputed to have kept 2,000 dogs and more than 60 finely-costumed cats, but Jack’s specialty seems to have been horses – A favourite horse ‘Baronet’ had full and free range inside Halston Hall, and would lie in front of the fire with Jack. And, he is said to have ridden his horse into the Bedford Hotel, up the grand staircase and onto the balcony, from which he jumped, still seated on his horse, over the diners in the restaurant below, and out through the window onto the Parade.

Once, he set fire to himself once in order to cure his hiccups. He survived, inherited Hallston Hall estate and a fortune worth about £500,000 a year by today’s standards, but ended his life at the age of thirty-seven in the King’s Bench debtor’s prison in Southwark.

                                                                         Copyright@Hallston Hall Estate

From the Halston Hall Estate website:

John ‘Mad Jack’ Mytton ‘invested’ £10,000 to become MP for Shrewsbury, handing out ten pound notes in order to buy votes, but spent less that half an hour in the House of Commons. Madcap pranks made Mytton a legend in his own lifetime. A drunken friend was put to bed with two bulldogs and a bear. Mytton went duck shooting by moonlight on Halston’s frozen lake, dressed in only his nightshirt. Disguised as a highwayman, complete with his blazing pistols, he ambushed departing guests on the Oswestry road. One biographer relates further details regarding the bear incident, adding that Mytton  rode the bear into his drawing room in full hunting costume. “The bear carried him very quietly for a time; but on being pricked by the spur he bit his rider through the calf of his leg.” ‘Mad Jack’ lost his money, but not his friends. Three thousand people attended his funeral. He is buried in the Chapel at Halston.”

Buried at Halston he may be, but the Mytton & Mermaid Hotel at Atcham is not only named for Mad Jack, but claims to be home to his ghost, which is reputed to appear each year on September 30, Mad Jack’s birthday. His funeral procession stopped at the Mytton, then a coaching inn, on the way to Halston Chapel. Fittingly, the Jack Mytton Way was opened in 1993 and covers 100 miles of spectacular Shropshire countryside. It is one of the longest bridleways in the country and is used by horse riders, cyclists and walkers, none of whom, we presume, have a penchant for leaping from balconies.

More anecdotes of Mad Jack’s life from Famous Racing Men by Willmott-Dixon Thormanby coming soon.

In the Garden with Empress Josephine

In a prior post in our gardening series we met nurseryman Mr. John Lee, who took up operation of the Hammersmith nursery garden upon his fathr’s death. Mr. Lee followed in father’s foot steps as far as the accumulation of new and rare plants was concerned, as well. He and the Empress Josephine of France, pictured above, in partnership, sent Francis Masson to the Cape of Good Hope in order to gather botanical samples in the hopes of introducing the beautiful flowers of that region to European gardens. In this connection it may be of interest to note that a large portion of Masson’s Herbarium is preserved in the collections of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

Additionally, the Empress became patroness to James Niven, who worked in the Botanic Garden at Penicuick in Scotland and travelled to the Cape of Good Hope in 1798 to collect seeds, where he stayed until 1803. During his second visit between 1805 – 1812, he collected seeds for Empress Josephine, and embarked on a journey through the districts of Malmesbury, Piquetberg and Kamiesberg where he collected rare species of Protea. He returned home with a considerable herbarium, including a set of Erica specimens which found its home in the Botancial Garden in Edinburgh.

Joséphine de Beauharnais (23 June 1763 – 29 May 1814) was the first wife of Napoléon Bonaparte, and thus the first Empress of the French. Her first husband Alexandre de Beauharnais had been guillotined during the Reign of Terror, and she had been imprisoned in the Carmes prison until her release five days after Alexandre’s execution.

Josephine was born at the family’s sugar plantation on the French Caribbean island of Martinique and it’s slow pace of life she dubbed “nonchalance.” It was there, in a lush tropical atmosphere, that Josephine developed her passion for flowers and gardening. Later she would introduce flower gardening to France, particularly at Malmaison. So avid a cultivator and gardener was the Empress that we still have plants that are named in her honor.

Chateau Malmaison

When Josephine first purchased the property in April of 1799, Malmaison was a run-down estate, eight miles west of central Paris that encompassed nearly 150 acres of woods and meadows. Napoleon was incredulous when Josephine first bought Malmaison at an inflated price and then proceeded to fund it’s renovations. After her divorce from Napoléon, Joséphine received Malmaison in her own right, along with a pension of 5 million francs a year, and remained there until  her death in 1814. The gardens housed West Indian plants and is known as the birthplace of the tea rose. In fact, they housed over 250 varieties of roses from across the world, 170 of which were famously painted by Pierre-Joseph Redoute – prints of which remain favorites today, such as the one at right.

The aim of the Empress Joséphine was to transform her large estate into “the most beautiful and curious garden in Europe, a model of good cultivation”. And a model of modern gardening Malmaison became. Amongst other innovations, Josephine had installed a heated orangery large enough for 300 pineapple plants,  a greenhouse, heated by a dozen coal-burning stoves. Architects Charles Percier and Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine initially enclosed the park and built stables and hot houses. The garden was subsequently remodelled by landscape architect Louis Martin Berthault.

Most importantly in gardening history, the Empress introduced nearly 200 new species of plants to France, including dahlias from Mexico, and encouraged her gardeners to create new species of roses. Her principal source for roses was the Lee & Kennedy Vineyard Nursery in London, of which the Mr. Lee mentioned above was co-owner. Josephine wanted every rose known in the world, and in 1804, by way of Lewis Kennedy, she was in proud possession of the new Chinese roses: Slater’s Crimson China, Parson’s Pink and Hume’s Blush Tea Scented China. These everblooming roses were recent imports to England from China, and it was a coup for the Empress (and for France) to have them growing at Malmaison. They became known as stud roses, potent parents of the modern everblooming rose cultivars.

The most famous rose, and a perennial favorite, to be named for Josephine is the Souvenir de la Malmaison, a Bourbon, shown at rght. 

According to Clair G. Martin III, the Ruth B. and E. L. Shannon Curator of the Rose Garden at the Huntingdon Library, “At the height of the war in the early 1800s, Napoléon was sending money to England to pay his wife’s plant bills, and the British Admiralty was allowing ships to pass through its naval blockades to deliver new types of roses to Malmaison.” Joséphine’s influence was felt across the channel, as well, as many British aristocrats joined the frenzied competition for the newest blooms.”

Josephine commissioned a book about the garden and its plants that was completed t
hree years after her death and published under the title “Jardin de Malmaison-Description des Plantes Rares Cultivees a Malmaison et a Navarre” with text by renowned French botanist Etienne-Pierre Vententat. The book contained 175 watercolors by Redoute and originally appeared in installments.

When I was in Paris recently, I thought to visit Malmaison and the gardens there until I learned that, sadly, the garden today is limited to a very small area with nothing to speak of remaining of Empress Josephine’s efforts or botanical collections.

To learn more about the history of the gardens at Malmaison, read Jardin De La Malmaison: Empress Josephine’s Garden with an essay by Marina Heilmeyer by H. Walter Lack.

Mr. Lee of Hammersmith

England has always been a land of gardens and gardeners and so we thought it appropriate to begin a few posts which deal with the subject. Of course, if you’re going to garden you are going to need plants. One of the most respected and most successful nursery gardens was that of Messrs. Lee, of Hammersmith, one of the oldest in the neighbourhood of London, which survived until the early part of the 20th century.

Mr. James Lee, who established the nursery, was born at Selkirk in 1715. When he first came to London he was employed at Syon, and afterwards at Whitton (pictured above), by the Duke of Argyll. About the year 1760 he entered into partnership with Mr. Lewis Kennedy, gardener to Lord Bolton, at Chiswick, and commenced a nursery, in what was called The Vineyard, at Hammersmith. About the middle of the 18th century, the vineyard was producing a considerable quantity of Burgundy wine each year. A thatched house was built in the grounds; with wine cellars beneath. Mr. James Lee and his partner took it and established a most successful Horticultural Nursery, remarkable for obtaining from distant countries everything rare and  beautiful to be obtained. They maintained collector at the Cape of Good Hope, and another in America and enjoyed world-wide celebrity. Every known, rare, or new plant could be obtained there. They once received a letter addressed, “Lees Nursery, England” which reached them readily. They were the first to obtain a China rose (right) in 1787. These roses changed the cultivation of roses in many ways, including the fact that they broadened the scents of roses, new blends becoming apparent as they were hybridized with other roses, such as damasks.

James Lee had an encyclopedic knowledge of plants and the greenhouses were quite extensive and almost as old as the nursery itself, offering a good stock of many species with a very full collection of Fuchsias, the best being F. ignea, a variety raised by Messrs. Veitch of Exeter. The flowers are very large, with the colours (crimson sepals and purple corolla) bright and strong, and the sepals reflexed. Other good varieties on offer were striata (Veitch); Don Giovanni, with a fine open corolla; Grand Master, similarly fine; and Prince of Orange, with pale and large flowers, shown at left.

In fact, so well known were Mr. Lee’s Fuchsia’s that there is a legend surrounding his acquisition of a certain variety. This tale has been told and appears in print numerous times, most floridly perhaps in the Ladies Repository of 1871. Here is the version that appeared in Sharpe’s London Magazine in 1846, entitled The Fuchsia Tree:

MR. SHEPHERD, the respectable and well-informed conservator of the Botanical Gardens at Liverpool, gives the following curious account of the introduction of that elegant little flowering shrub, the Fuchsia, into our English green-houses and parlour windows. Old Mr. Lee, a nurseryman and gardener, near London, well known fifty or sixty years ago, was one day showing his variegated treasures to a friend, who suddenly turned to him, and declared, “Well, you have not in your collection a prettier flower than I saw this morning at Wapping.”—”No! and ‘pray what was this phoenix like?”—”Why, the plant was elegant, and the flower hung in rows like tassels from the pendant branches; their colour the richest crimson; in the centre a fold of deep purple,” and so forth.

Particular directions being demanded and given, Mr. Lee posted off to Wapping, where he at once perceived that the plant was new in this part of the world. He saw and admired. Entering the house, he said, “My good woman, this is a nice plant, I should like to buy it.”—”I could not sell it for no money, for it was brought me from the West Indies by my husband, who has now left again, and I must keep it for his sake.”—”But I must have it.”—”No, Sir!”—” Here,” emptying his pocket, “here are gold, silver, copper;” (his stock was something more than eight guineas.)—”Well-a-day I but this is a power of money, sure and sure.”—”Tis yours, and the plant is mine; and, my good dame, you shall have one of the first young ones I rear, to keep for your husband’s sake.” —”Alack, alack!”—”You shall, I say, by Jove!” A coach was called, in which was safely deposited our florist and his seemingly dear purchase. His first work was to pull off and utterly destroy every vestige of blossom and blossom-bud; it was divided into cuttings, which were forced in bark-beds, and hot-beds; were re-divided, and sub-divided. Every effort was used to multiply the plant. By the commencement of the next flowering season, Mr. Lee was the delighted possessor of 300 Fuchsia plants, all giving promise of blossom. The two which opened first, were removed into his show-house, A lady came;—” Why, Mr. Lee, my dear Mr. Lee, where did you get this charming flower?”—” Hem! ’tis a new thing, my lady—pretty, is it not?”—” Pretty! ’tis lovely. Its price?— ” A guinea—thank your ladyship;” and one of the two plants stood proudly in her ladyship’s boudoir. “My dear Charlotte, where did you get it?” —” Oh! ’tis a new thing; I saw it at old Lee’s; pretty, is it not I”—” Pretty! ’tis beautiful! Its price?” —” A guinea; there was another left” The visitor’s horses smoked off to the suburb; a third flowering plant stood on the spot whence the first had been taken. The second guinea was paid, and the second chosen Fuchsia adorned the drawing-room of her second ladyship. The scene was repeated as new comers saw, and were attracted by the beauty of the plant. New chariots flew to the gates of old Lee’s nursery-ground. Two Fuchsias, young, graceful, and bursting into healthy flower, were constantly seen on the same spot in his repository.


He neglected not to gladden the faithful sailor’s wife by the promised gill; but ere the flower-season closed, 300 golden guineas chinked in his purse, the produce of the single shrub of the widow of Wapping; the reward of the taste, decision, skill, and perseverance of old Mr. Lee.

Along with Carl Von Linne, Mr. Lee wrote An Introduction to Botany, published in 1760, which went through five editions, and for many years was in the highest repute. James Lee died in the year 1795, at the age of eighty years, his partner,
Mr. Kennedy, having died previously.

The nursery was carried on by the sons of the two founders till 1817, when they dissolved partnership. It then became the sole property of James Lee, the second, who died in 1824, leaving it to his family. In 1827 John Lee was joined in the conduct of this important business by his brother Charles, who was born at the Royal Vineyard Nursery on February 8, 1808, and died on September 2, 1881. The firm was conducted under the title of John &; Charles Lee till 1877, when Mr. John Lee retired, and William Lee, the Son of Charles, joined his father in the management of the business. In 1881, however, upon the death of Charles Lee, the veteran John again, for a time, accepted harness, coming to the assistance of his nephew, who was very deeply affected by the loss of his father. The firm limped along until the early part of the 20th century and is, alas, no more.

Empress Josephine’s Connection to Mr. John Lee coming soon!

The Sweet Things in Life

Oh, ice cream . . . one of the sweetest things in life. Now that the summer weather approaches, I thought it might be time for a blog on the history of the icy treat.

The first recorded serving of ice cream in England was in 1672,  when King Charles II’s table at a banquet was served ‘one plate of white strawberries and one plate of iced cream.’ The first English cookery book to give a recipe for ice cream was Mrs. Mary Eales’ Receipts of 1718. Ice being rare, ice cream was a luxury reserved for the wealthy and had to be made and served immediately, there being no way to store it for any length of time.

The production of ice cream depended upon ice, which could be gathered from ponds and lakes in winter, while the use of ice houses goes back several centuries. By packing ice into an insulated underground chamber ice could be stored for months, sometimes years.  In the early 19th century importation of ice started from Norway, Canada and America, this made ice cream readily available to the general public in the UK. Ice was shipped into London and other major ports and taken in canal barges down the canals, to be stored in ice houses, from where it was sold to ice cream makers. This burgeoning ice cream industry, run mainly by Italians, started the influx of workers from southern Italy and the Ticino area of Switzerland to England. In London, the huge ice house pits built near Kings Cross by Carlo Gatti in the 1850s, where he stored the ice he shipped to England from Norway, are still there and have recently been opened to the public at The London Canal Museum.

Although they had been available in England since the 1670’s, ices were popularised by French and Italian confectioners who set up shops in London and elsewhere in the 1760’s, when horticultural and pastural themes became popular as decoration for entertainments.  Tables were laid in imitation of formal gardens or parks, complete with flower-beds of coloured sugar, gravel walks made from aniseeds, trees of candy and sugar paste figures. In 1765, the Duke of Gordon purchased a complete garden dessert from the Berkeley Square confectioner Domenico Negri for £25-7s-9d and served his guests at a table decorated with a brass-framed plateau adorned with Bow figures, china swans, glass fountains, parterres, a china umbrella and a kaleidoscopic display of sugar plums and bonbons. A surviving trade card advertising Negri’s shop is illustrated with fantasy temples, pagodas and fountains. Many decades later, these nature themes remained popular, with Lady Blessington having a live song bird presented at table in a spun sugar cage.

Domenico Negri had a shop at the The Pot and Pineapple at Nos. 7-8 Berkeley Square from about 1765. Two of his apprentices published recipe books later in the century, which both have large sections on ice creams. One of these, Frederick Nutt, whose The Complete Confectioner first appeared in 1789, gives thirty two recipes for ice cream and twenty four for water ices.

 

Twenty years later, Negri took Gunter on as a partner and by 1798 Gunter alone was running the shop, which stood on the east side of the Square. By that time, it had become a fashionable Mayfair rendezvous, with all the ton stopping to eat ices and sorbets. Ladies remained in their carriages, whilst their gentlemen leaned against the nearby railings, the shop’s waiters running back and forth across the street taking and delivering orders. Though it was not proper for a lady to be seen alone at many establishments, it was perfectly acceptable for her to be seen at Gunter’s. In addition to the ices, Gunter’s was known for their heavily decorated, multi-tiered wedding cakes.

In Grantley Fitzhardinghe Berkeley’s memoirs, titled My Life and Recollections (1865), Berkeley offers the following anecdote:

On these hunting days some very amusing things happened with my hunt which I have since seen attributed to various other persons. The Gunters, the renowned pastrycooks of Berkeley Square, were all fond of hunting, were frequently out with my hounds, and subscribed to the hunt.

“Mr. Gunter,” remarked Alvanley, “that’s a fine horse you are on.”

” Yes, he is, my lord,” replied Gunter, ” but he is so hot I can’t hold him.”

” Why the devil don’t you ice him, then?” rejoined his lordship.

Gunter looked as if he did not like the suggestion.

Originally, ice cream was sold on the street in glasses that were wiped clean and re-used. These glass “licks” remained in use in London until they were made illegal in 1926 for health reasons. However, the forerunners of the ice cream cone as we know it also existed. G. A. Jarrin, an Italian confectioner working in London in the nineteenth century, wrote about almond wafers that should be rolled “on pieces of wood like hollow pillars, or give them any other form you may prefer. These wafers may be made of pistachios, covered with currants and powdered with coarse sifted sugar; they are used to garnish creams; when in season, a strawberry may be put into each end, but it must be a fine” . . . He suggested turning another of his wafers into “little horns; they are excellent to ornament a cream.” Ice cream cones were also mentioned by Mrs Agnes Marshall in her book Fancy Ices of 1894.

The first ice cream bicycles in London were used by Walls in London in about 1923. Cecil Rodd of Walls came up with the slogan “Stop Me and Buy One” after his experiments with doorstep selling in London. In 1924 they expanded the business, setting up new manufacturing facilities and ordering 50 new tricycles. Sales in 1924 were £13,719, in 1927 £444,000. During the war years (1939-45) manufacture of ice cream was severely curtailed, and the tricycles requisitioned for use at military installations but in October 1947 Walls sold 3,300 tricycles and invested in freezers for it’s shops. Walls remains the market leader in the UK for individual hand-held products such as Cornetto and Magnum.

Needless to say, the craze for ice cream continues today and I’m sure that Regency folk would be amazed to find that ice cream is nowadays affordable, can be kept at home and is offered in flavors with names such as Chunky Monkey and Rum Raisin – the sweet things in life, indeed.