The London and Waterloo Tour – Crossing the English Channel

As Victoria and I will soon be crossing the English Channel, I thought it would be appropriate to share with you some of the passages from period letters related to the subject which contain first hand accounts of all the various perils attached to making the crossing, from techy customs agents to foul weather and mal de mer.

In fact, the Crossing on the ferries and packets was often so bad that Lady Mary Wortley Montagu paid five guineas in order to hire a private boat to cross channel, rather than taking the Packet. The following is a passage from a letter to her husband about the journey.

(Calais) July 27 (1739)

I am safely arrived at Calais, and found myself better on ship-board than I have been these six months; not in the least sick, though we had a very high sea, as you may imagine, since we came over in two hours and three-quarters. My servants behaved very well; and Mary not in the least afraid, but said she would be drowned very willingly with my ladyship. They ask me here extravagant prices for chaises, of which there is a great choice, both French and Italian: I have at last bought one for fourteen guineas, of a man whom Mr. Hall recommended to me. My things have been examined and sealed at the custom-house: they took from me a pound of snuff, but did not open my jewel-boxes, which they let pass on my word, being things belonging to my dress. I set out early tomorrow. I am very impatient to hear from you: I could not stay for the post at Dover for fear of losing the tide. I beg you would be so good to order Mr. Kent to pack up my side-saddle, and all the tackling belonging to it, in a box, to be sent with my other things: if (as I hope) I recover my health abroad so much as to ride, I can get none I shall like so well.

From The Berry Papers, Being the Correspondence Hitherto Unpublished of Mary and Agnes Berry

Friday, 16th (April, 1802)

Went on board the ‘Swift;’ sailed from Calais Pier a quarter after eleven: fine day, but the wind fell almost entirely. At seven o’clock in the evening we were within five miles of Dover in a dead calm; got into a Dover boat, were rowed into the harbour, and arrived at the York Hotel at a quarter after eight, having been just nine hours on our passage. (Quelle horror!)

And about a later return passage:

Sunday, 26th (May, 1815)

We arrived at Dover at six o’clock in the evening. Unfortunately, the custom-house officer was in a bad humour; he kept my sac de nuit and dressing-case; and instead of finishing the examination of the trunks, opened them, and threw the contents of one into the other, so as to spoil all within. I complained in vain, and was obliged to borrow night things from the landlady at the inn.

Monday, 27th

The custom-house officer of yesterday evening was still more rude to-day. I think he had been blamed for the manner in which he had treated me, and that made him worse. He kept all my shoes, pieces of worn dresses, and things that were marked, and made me pay for flowers which had been worn, etc. The superior custom-house officer, I well saw, wished to make him behave better, and to return what he had taken, but to no purpose.

The following passages were written by Princess Lieven

Calais, June 3 1822 – I crossed from Dover in two and a half hours, with the most superb weather. Tomorrow, I shall sleep at Lille and, the day after tomorrow, at Brussels.

And

Brighton – January 5, 1823 – I left Paris on the morning of the 3rd, I reached Dover after traveling all night. We had a good crossing; but, as we only embarked at five in the afternoon, it was pitch-dark when we neared the English coast. The packet-boat could not get in, and stayed out at sea. I decided on taking the small boat, much to the disgust of my husband, who does not fancy jaunts of that kind. There was a swell; the night was pitch-black. Getting into the boat was no fun at all; there was no gangway, no rope ladder, nothing; one had to wait for a wave to lift the cockle-shell high enough for one to throw oneself from the deck of the packet-boat into the arms of a waiting sailor. I managed very cleverly. When we got to shore, they had to run the boat aground; that was the worst part, for the waves drove us ashore and then dashed over us, and I was drenched from head to foot. When we reached the inn, the old house-keeper made me drink a glass of brandy and put me to bed; that is the great English remedy, and it did me good.

From the Letters of Lady Louisa Stuart

Versailles, 2nd of Septr. 1834.

I told you I should not write in a hurry, and you will be inclined to say I have kept my word. However here is a large sheet of thin paper, and so now let us see what we can do. We set out on Wednesday, having been, as you know, greatly obliged to your good-humoured sisters for a drive as far as London Bridge the day before. Wednesday was rather rainy, but cleared up towards evening. We slept at Dover, and embarked at seven the following morning; a very calm sea. By following a piece of good advice I had received, sitting still in the carriage, and leaning back with my eyes shut, neither speaking nor moving hand or foot, I escaped giddiness and sickness. Yet Louisa (Bromley), who did the same, was sick, though not usually so, therefore I crowed over her, a triumph I did not expect. The trial was short, for by half past nine we arrived in the road of Calais, but the tide not serving, were forced to go on shore in a boat, and had several hours to wait for the arrival of the carriage, which could not be landed till past three. Then came custom-house and various arrangements, so that the sun was setting before we were fairly off, and we only reached Boulogne, where we found the hotel choke full, and had very bad quarters. That evening three or four pelting thunder-showers compelled us to shut up our landaulet, though it was already very warm; but there ended all reason to complain of the weather (except, indeed, of its extreme heat last week), for from Friday the 12th to the present date it has been uninterrupted sunshine and moonshine, and these last three days we have had some refreshing autumn breezes.

And about her return

There arose a furious gale of wind, which did not abate in the least till Sunday night, so though we reached Calais rather early on Friday, we could not sail before Monday morning, and then had an unpleasant passage in a very rough sea with a contrary wind that made everybody mortally sick. We had seven carriages on board, there were as many in another vessel; in short, Calais was crowded, and all the packets were on that side of the water. We got to land in five hours, at eleven o’clock, but the tide did not serve for our carriage to be disembarked, passed through the custom-house, and repacked, till it was too late to proceed farther. We therefore got up by candle-light a second morning, and as the D
over road is almost all up and down hill, it was near seven on Tuesday evening when we alighted at this door. For all these perils and hardships (mighty great to be sure) I am none the worse, but Louisa caught cold by going to look at the wreck of a poor vessel which was lost off Calais on Saturday, and consequently she is as yet unable to set out for Baginton.

From the Letters of Lady Harcourt

To G. K. S.
Albert Gate, Tuesday, March 10, 1891.

We had an awful storm yesterday, a regular blizzard, and a terrible night in the Channel. One of the good boats, the Victoria, was out all night, not daring to land at either Dover or Calais. One of our young attachés was on board, bringing over despatches, and they say he looked green when he finally did arrive. The trains were snowed up everywhere, even between Folkestone and London, and the passengers nearly frozen and starved. It seems incredible in such a short distance. The young men are generally rather eager to bring over despatches, but I rather think this one won’t try it again, in winter at any rate. I am extraordinarily lucky in my crossings, because probably I am a good sailor. I go backward and forward in all seasons and always have good weather. The Florians have had some wonderful crossings, nine hours between Calais and Dover, both of them tied in their chairs, and the chairs tied to the mast.

And what better way to finish up this or any other piece of writing than with a letter from the Duke of Wellington? Here is a letter written to his niece, Lady Burgeresh, about the plans he’s made for her Channel crossing. Lest you think that Wellington was using his influence to secure special priviliges for his family, it should be known that Priscilla had been in England, quite ill, and was returning in an official capacity to Naples, where her husband was Ambassador.

From the Correspondence of Lady Burgeresh
London, August 6, 1826

Dearest Priscilla,

I am about to leave town, and write you a line to be sent to you to-morrow. Lord FitzRoy (Somerset) will have written you last night that I could not get for you the same vessel which conveyed you to Margate; but the Admiralty have consented to your having the use of another steam vessel, which is used for the purpose of towing, and therefore the accommodation is not quite so good as in that vessel of which you had the use before. Lord FitzRoy is, however, to go to Deptford to see her to-morrow, and if the accommodation should not be sufficient you are to have the use of the Admiralty yacht, a sailing vessel in which the accommodation is excellent, and the above-mentioned steam vessel to tow her, so that your passage is secured to Boulogne or Dieppe as you may think best. I now entreat you not to fix too early a day for your departure, as you cannot detain the vessels at Margate. You must go when they will arrive there. I have now named the 18th. But have said it is possible a later day may be fixed. You had better fix a day on which it will be certain that you can go. Recollect that you was a week too soon the last voyage, and that in this voyage, particularly if you determine to go to Dieppe, you may have some sea. Write to me and direct here. I am going only to Stratfield-Saye, and I will go to you as soon as I shall know whether I am to be Summoned to the Lodge on the King’s birthday, which I understood from the lady that she intended.

God bless you. Remember me most kindly to Emily, and believe me,

Yours most affecy.,
W

Unfortunately, since this post was written, the travel company has made a change to our plans – Kristine and Victoria are now scheduled to take the Eurostar through the tunnel, from London to Brussels. No mal de mer for us, though we know the train has broken down a few times. Instead of a Regency journey lasting days, we should now make it from St. Pancras,  London, to Brussels, Belgium in slightly less than three hours.  Rats . . . . . we were so looking forward to making the crossing in period fashion!

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.

The London and Waterloo Tour – Hampstead, the Heath and Kenwood House and Gardens

What can I say about Hampstead Heath except that it lives in the mind as a preserve for brigands and highwaymen; a wild and woolly expanse of nature that can only be traversed at one’s peril? Okay, okay, I know that it has shrunk’s considerably in size until it now totals 790 acres and that the Heath has grown decidedly tame, more’s the pity, but I still want to see it with me own eyes. Located just four miles from Trafalgar Square, the Heath is one of the highest points in London, includes 26 ponds, a few bogs and includes an area of land that runs from Hampstead to Highgate.

In June, I want to visit Hampstead and see the Heath. Hampstead is supposed to be worth a trip in and of itself, a picture postcard pocket of London. I’m looking forward to exploring an area of London I haven’t seen before and to strolling the streets and promenade, visiting the shops and the Spring at Well Walk and to simply enjoying the scenery. Oh, and to stopping in at Louis Patisserie, which everyone says has the best cakes and pastry ever. Afterwards, I plan to head out on foot across the Heath to Kenwood House.

Kenwood House is a former stately home on Hampstead Heath with an art collection boasting Rembrandts, Turners, Reynolds, Gainsboroughs and Vermeers. The House itself is a stunning neoclassical white villa whose Adam Library is considered one of the most important rooms designed by Robert Adam in the country. The home was owned by the great judge, Lord Mansfield. Later Earls of Mansfield redesigned the parkland and Kenwood remained in the family until 1922.
When developers attempted to buy the estate, the house and grounds were saved for the public by the brewing magnate, Edward Cecil Guinness, the first Earl of Iveagh, who bought Kenwood House and 74 acres of parkland in 1925. In 1928, when he died, the Earl bequeathed the Kenwood Estate and part of his collection of pictures to the nation. As you may expect, I’m especially anxious to see The Brummell Children, painted 1781-82 by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Yes, that Brummell, and his brother, William.

This is the first year that I’ve been gardening seriously – from digging out the garden, to planting it and to babying it. So I’m especially eager to see Kenwood’s gardens, which were laid out by Humphry Repton in the 1790s. Thankfully, the farm, dairy, stables, kitchen garden, lakes, woods and meadows are all still in existence, as is Repton’s strictly ornamental false bridge shown at right. You can read more about the gardens here.
Oh, and if you happen to be a Blondie fan, she’ll be giving a concert at Kenwood House Saturday, 26 June 2010 at 7:30 p.m.

Museum of London – Galleries of Modern London Exhibition Opens Today

Drat, drat, drat! So much London, so little time. Just when I thought I had everything I wanted to see on the agenda, up pops something else I simply must make time for. Sigh. Like the Galleries of Modern London exhibition at the Museum of London. The £20m exhibition will aim to capture London’s tumultuous history from 1666 to the present day, using 7,000 objects and interactive displays and film transport visitors through London’s tumultuous history, rich with drama, triumph and near disaster. From the Great Fire of 1666 to wonders of invention at the Great Exhibition in 1851, the Suffragettes’ fight for voting rights to the fashions which made the sixties swing, the galleries are an experience of rebirth and renewal, of excess and struggle.

A few of the highlights of the exhibit that made me decide I just had to see it are the Lord Mayor’s State Coach built in 1757 and the Pleasure Gardens. Yes, the Pleasure Gardens. Visitors can stroll through recreated late 18th century pleasure garden full of period costumes and specially commissioned masks and hats. There’s a picture of Vauxhall Gardens (see above) beside the blurb in the brochure, so you know this is going to fabulous! Then there’s the Victorian Walk, where you can window shop along the recreated streets and even stop in at a pub. There’s also an original Wellclose Prison cell from the 18th century – complete with period graffiti. In addition, they have the Fanshawe dress on display (above). Made from Spitalfields silk, it was worn by Ann Fanshaw when her father was Lord Mayor 1752-53.

To prove that the Museum of London is moving along with the times, they’ll be installing a 3D exhibit in Trafalgar Square promoting the exhibiton and will be launching an iPhone app that will guide users to sites across London where they can explore some of the city’s hidden secrets that feature in the exhibition.

At left is a photo of the front of Selfridge’s Deptartment Store being installed at the Museum of London.

Vicky Lee, marketing manager at the Museum of London, said: “The launch of this new app brings London’s rich history to life for Londoners and tourists alike. iPhone users can create their own trails around the capital and view images of London past, while standing in the very locations they depict.”
                         

Click here for a recent London Times article on the new exhibits.                                 

The London and Waterloo Tour – Book and Print Sellers

Books, glorious books! What better reason to go to London than to browse the second hand and antiquarian book shops? Oh, the musty smell of the stacks, the light coating of dust atop the books, the heart stopping finds one occasionally makes! I once came home from England with, quite literally, a huge suitcase full of books. I crammed my personal items into a duffel and used the suticase for the books. The customs agent couldn’t believe it. Nor could either of us lift it.

On our London/Waterloo tour, Victoria and I have set aside a day to do the book shops on Charing Cross Road and the adjacent Cecil Court, to be followed by print buying at Grosvenor Prints.
Charing Cross Road runs immediately north of St Martin-in-the-Fields to St Giles’ Circus (the intersection with Oxford Street) and then becomes Tottenham Court Road.

Charing Cross Road is renowned for its specialist and second-hand bookshops and more general second-hand and antiquarian shops such as Quinto Bookshop, Henry Pordes and Any Amount of Books. Oh, the books I’ve found at Pordes! This trip out, I’ll be looking for letters, diaries and journals of the day(s), as per usual, and anything Regency, as per usual, and whatever else I may fall over that strikes my fancy, as per usual. And I must make a list of all the authors I want to search for – British authors whose books are hard to find here. I know that Victoria will be looking for books by Angela Thirkell.

Smaller second-hand and specialist antiquarian bookshops can be found in the adjoining Cecil Court, where shops selling specialist books (children’s, theatre, travel, etc) stand side by side and where both Victoria, Diane Gaston and myself have picked up prints and maps in the past. The shopfronts have not been altered in more than a century and the traditional hanging signs announce specialists in rare and antiquarian books, maps and prints and all manner of related printed material including stamps and banknotes. It was at David Drummond’s shop, Pleasures of Past Times, that I picked up a favorite Regency find – a ticket of admission to view the trappings installed at Westminster Abbey for the Coronation of George IV.

Victoria and I will be ending our day at Grosvenor Prints. You’ll find in a previous post that I’ve already been to this printseller’s shop and bought a number of prints related to the Duke of Wellington. While they have a searchable online catalogue, the bulk of their stock is kept in folders in the basement and when you arrive, you can tell the salesperson what you’re interested in. Then you sit down to wait for a few minutes and they return from the depth with treasures untold. This time, Victoria and I are going to email ahead in order to let them know what we’re looking for and when we’ll be in. While I’ll be seeking prints related to the Duke of Wellington (surprise!), Victoria is looking to add to her collection of fashion prints from 1800 to 1820 and for engravings of Margaret Mercer Elphinstone, Princess Charlotte, Lady Melbourne, Lady Cowper, Lady Palmerston and other ladies of the period. We promise to let you know what we find.

Continued below . . . .

As a side note, I wanted to let you know about another Charing Cross Road. A long-standing correspondence between New York based author Helene Hanff and the staff of a now defunct bookstore on the street, Marks and Co., was the inspiration for the book 84 Charing Cross Road (1970). The book was made into a 1986 film with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins and also into a play and a BBC radio drama. Any bibliophile, especially an American bibliophile, will be enchanted by the letters that pass from Ms. Hanff to the staff and vice versa during her years of placing orders with them. Friendships develop, news is exchanged and family events shared. Both the book and movie are both charming and touching and highly recommended.