Regency Reflections: Sir John Soane’s Museum

Sir John Soane by Sir Thomas Lawrence.
Victoria here.  People often ask me what I recommend for their visits to London.  I always answer, if they are in search of the English Regency, Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
Sir John Soane (1753-1837) was a brilliant architect and teacher. The Museum is in his house and classrooms, so you will get a taste of a wealthy (but not aristocratic) residence, in addition to all of Sir John’s collections, used for the instruction of his architecture students.
The bust of Sir John Soane in the center of the picture above was sculpted by Sir Francis Chantrey (1781-1841). The Museum is comprised of a rabbit warren of rooms, each one chock-a-block full of architectural specimens, art and Soane’s various and varied collections.

Sir John began his career working for architects George Dance and, later, Henry Holland.  He traveled to Italy to study and came back to London to begin his own practice, in which he prospered, often doing projects to expand, remodel and modernize the country houses of the wealthy. An example, below, is Moggerhanger House in Bedfordshire, finished in 1812 and updated as a conference center in recent years. More information is here.

Sir John Soane’s Museum shows several rooms in which his family lived, and I have always found the Drawing Room amusing.  It’s very brilliant shade of yellow that  was very popular during the Regency, as evidenced in a number of country houses (such as Goodwood House).

Whether you visit on a sunny or a rainy, gray day, this room will be cheerfully bright. The dining room is an equally vivid crimson, also a popular color for walls in the Regency.

Sir John Soane’s Museum also has gallery space for small, very selective exhibitions related to Soane’s era and interests. I recommend browsing the shop on the website for Museum publications. One of my favorites is The Soanes At Home: Domestic Life at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, from 1997.  It’s full of pictures, copies of receipts and invoices and all sorts of fascinating information about life and household management in the early 19th century.

Above, Soane’s drawing of the Bank of England as he rebuilt it in 1814;  since then, it has been remodeled and enlarged so that little of his work is evident today, except in portions of the interior.  The Museum houses a collection of more than 30,000 architectural drawings by England’s finest architects, as well as Soane’s sketchbooks, business records and other valuable research and archival material.
Above is a drawing by J. M. Gandy of Tivoli Corner, part of Soane’s Bank of England, now remodeled.

Above, a statue of Sir John Soane in the Bank of England, where he is honored even though they changed his designs beyond recognition. Soane left the buildings of his Museum and his home to the nation as a resource for training future architects.
We’ll be visiting the Museum in September, as part of the itinerary of Number One London’s Town and Country House Tour – you’ll find further tour details and the full itinerary here.

The Wallace Collection, Hertford House, London

by Victoria Hinshaw

The Wallace Collection, located in what was Hertford House in Manchester Square, named after the Duke of Manchester, who built a house (then called Manchester House) on the north side in 1777, attracted by the good duck shooting in the area. In 1797 the 2nd Marquess of Hertford acquired the lease and it became known as Hertford House.

In the 19th century it was home to Sir Richard Wallace (1818–90), illegitimate son of the 4th Marquess, who displayed much of the Hertford family’s fabulous collection of fine and decorative arts here. In 1897 Lady Wallace left it to the nation as the Wallace Collection. You will find a short, introductory video by the Museum’s director here.


Hertford House today is a rare example of a London town house occupying the whole side of a garden square. Inside, the grand staircase, above, features a Louis XV balustrade that was made between 1733-41 for the Bibliotheque du Roi in the Palais Mazarin in Paris, being sold as scrap iron when acquired for Hertford House. Imagine!

Some of the rooms still retain the look of an elegant town house.  Above, the Front State Room holds portraits of royals and gentry.  On either side of the fireplace, the portraits are by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), on the left is Lady Elizabeth Seymour-Conway, and right, Frances, Countess of Lincoln.

Also in this room is a portrait of Queen Victoria by Thomas Sully (1783 – 1872), showing Victoria in her coronation robes, looking very young (she was nineteen) and lovely.

In fact, this one room is singular in that it contains so many of the iconic portraits known to Regency aficionados. For instance, Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769 – 1830) painted this stunning portrait of Margaret, Countess of Blessington, in 1822.  Margaret (1789–1849) led an interesting life, marrying twice. She was an intimate of the Count D’Orsay and a friend of Lord Byron.  She herself earned her living by writing for a time, but died in Paris, almost without funds.

John Hoppner (1758-1810) painted the Prince of Wales (later George IV) in 1792. In 1810, the Prince presented the portrait to the 3rd Marquess of Hertford, who held several court appointments and advised George on art. At the same time, the Marchioness of Hertford, mother of the 3rd Marquess,  was the Prince’s favorite  mistress.

If all this sounds incredibly confusing, welcome to the complicated story of the Seymour-Hertford family, their fantastic town house, their incredible art collection, and their involved relationships! Read more here.

Elsewhere in the Collection are further often seen portraits –

The Laughing Cavalier by Franz Hals, (c. 1580 – 1666)  one of the Wallace Collection’s most admired works.

Gainsborough painted Mary Robinson as Perdita, the role she played in Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. The Prince of Wales saw her on the stage and fell in love, his first rather public affair. Mary holds a miniature of him in her hand.
The Duke of Wellington with Colonel Gurwood at Apsley House

(working on the Despatches), by Andrew Morton.

However, the Wallace Collection is so much more than paintings.

There are two huge rooms displaying arms and armour from around the world.

And furniture, furnishings, clocks, miniatures and china,

amongst many other things.

A visit to the Wallace Collection is on the itinerary for Number One London’s Town and Country House Tour – details and full itinerary for the Tour can be found here.

Reproduction prints of many of the paintings featured above can be purchased directly from the Wallace Collection.

The Titanic’s Canine Passengers

 

Today, on the anniversary of the sinking of the H.M.S. Titanic, we remember it’s canine passengers. I found the picture above on Pinterest, with the following caption: “Captain Edward Smith of the Titanic and his beautiful Borzoi which was saved.” After re-pinning it, I’d experience a meloncholy pang every time my eye fell upon the photo as I scrolled through my board. Finally, I decided to find out more about the Captain’s dog and turned to the internet for a little instant research gratification. It transpires that others had taken an interest in the Titanic’s four legged passengers, as I found a wealth of material on the subject. I soon discovered that there were thirteen dogs onboard the Titanic, not including the dog pictured above, which was in fact a Russian Wolfhound. From Today.com’s website –

“One photo shows the Titanic’s captain, Captain Smith, holding a Russian wolfhound called Ben, named for industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim, who gave the captain the dog as a gift for his daughter. But Ben never made the journey, as he disembarked before the ship sailed.”

Assuming that you, like myself, would like to know more about the Titanic dogs, you may follow this link for an article I found on the Psychology Today website written by Stanley Coren, Ph.D., F.R.S.C.,  a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia. It’s an excellent summary of events.

You can then click here to read the full Today.com article about a past exhibition at the Widener University Art Gallery, in Chester, Pa. that focused on the animals onboard the Titanic.

 

The Ill Fated Marriage of The Duke of Wellington

Originally published in 2011
The marriage of Arthur Wellesley to Catherine Sarah Dorothea Pakenham, third daughter of the Earl of Longford, took place on 10 April, 1796 and may be the strangest marriage I’ve come across in the annals of Georgian, Regency and Victorian alliances. No two people were ever more ill suited to spend their lives together (unless it be the Prince of Wales and Princess Caroline) and no other couple had less in common, either in the way of interests or personality. So marked was the disparity between them that many of their contemporaries wondered at the alliance. That Wellington, a man so careful in his actions and attitudes, should have willingly made such a bad match for himself beggars belief. In fact, as we shall see, Wellington himself could hardly credit it.

 

On 7 March 1787, Wellesley was gazetted ensign in the 73rd Regiment of Foot. In October, with the assistance of his brother, he was assigned as aide-de-camp, on ten shillings a day (twice his pay as an ensign), to the new Lord Lieutenant of Ireland Lord Buckingham. He was also transferred to the new 76th Regiment forming in Ireland and on Christmas Day, 1787, was promoted to Lieutenant. During his time in Dublin his duties were mainly social; attending balls, entertaining guests and providing advice to Buckingham. While in Ireland, he over extended himself in borrowing due to his occasional gambling, but in his defence stated that “I have often known what it was to be in want of money, but I have never got helplessly into debt.”

Two years later, in June 1789, he transferred to the 12th Light Dragoons, still as a lieutenant and according to his biographer, Richard Holmes, he also dipped a reluctant toe into politics becoming an MP for Trim in the Irish House of Commons and in 1791 he became a Captain and was transferred to the 18th Light Dragoons. During this time, he met and wooed Catherine (Kitty) Pakenham, the daughter of Edward Pakenham, 2nd Baron Longford, who was described as being full of ‘gaiety and charm.’ Wellington offered for her hand in marriage in 1793 and was summarily refused by Kitty’s brother Thomas, Earl of Longford, who saw nothing very much in the young Wellesley to recommend him to the family, as he had a number of debts, poor professional prospects and no sign hung round his neck that read, “Future Duke of Wellington, Incredibly Wealthy, In Charge of Everything.”

Arthur Wellesley, or Wesley, as he then styled himself, then left Dublin for active service in the Netherlands and apparently did not look back on his lost love.  Nowhere in his correspondence for the interceding 12 year interval does he make any reference to Catherine Pakenham, or does a letter to or from her exist. Then, we are to believe that Wellesley went to spend his leave at Cheltenham and met a mutual friend, the  busybody and yenta Lady Olivia Sparrow, who twitted him with heartlessness to her bosom friend “Kitty Pakenham,” and assured him that his ladylove had never changed.

“What!” Wellesley was purported to exclaim, “does she still remember me ? Do you think I ought to renew my offer? I’m ready to do it.”

Supposedly, he then wrote at once to Miss Pakenham, renewing his proposal of marriage. She replied that, as it was so long since they had met, he had better come over and see her before committing himself, lest he should find her aged and altered. Sir Arthur replied that minds, at all events, did not change with years and  hastened over to Ireland. Though, upon again laying eyes on Kitty, he was said to have exclaimed,  “She has grown ugly, by Jove!” they were married by Wellesley’s clergyman brother Gerald  in Lady Longford’s drawing room in Dublin.

Whilst the Duke possessed many laudable qualities, the ability to be a great husband and father was not amongst them. He treated Kitty rather coldly beginning very early in their marriage. Some say it was because he found out after the fact that Kitty had engaged herself to another suitor prior to Wellington’s return, and had thrown that young man over in favour of Wellington who, by this time, had fair amount of fame, a growing fortune, a title and glittering prospects. Supposedly, Wellington found the fact that Kitty herself did not disclose the engagement to him deceitful. His great good friend Lady Shelley wrote of Wellington at the end of her life, “As he never deviated from the truth himself, he scorned deceit or equivocation in others. Whenever he caught any one out in telling him an untruth, he was extremely harsh and severe.”

However, there is evidence (still being pursued by Kristine and Victoria) that some great bruhaha took place early in their marriage involving something to do with Kitty’s family; something along the lines of her having lent them a goodly amount of money and hiding the fact from Wellington. In fact, Wellington thenafter forbade Kitty’s ever taking their sons to Ireland with her again. She was free to visit her family whenever she wished – the boys were not. Exactly what the fracas was about is still shrouded in mystery, but the fact remains that Wellington was a cold and distant husband to Kitty.

Wellington’s close friends found it difficult to conceive that he’d ever married Kitty, who was naturally shy and further inhibited by the hero worship she felt for her husband. At least one of his intimate friends, Harriet Arbuthnot, questioned him about the odd match, as we read in The Journal of Mrs. Arbuthnot, Volume I –

“He assured me he had repeatedly tried to live in a friendly manner with her . . but that it was impossible, that she did not understand him, that she could not enter with him into consideration of all the important concerns which are continually occupying his mind and that he found he might as well talk to a child . . . . she made his house so dull that nobody wd go to it while, whenever he was in town alone . . . everybody was so fond of his house that he could not keep them out of it . . . .

“. . . I could not at last help saying to him that the more I knew him the more was I unable to recover from my astonishment at his having married such a person . . . He said, “Is it not the most extraordinary thing you ever heard of! Would you have believed that anybody could have been such a d —–d fool?”

Now, Reader, here is the part in which the mystery lies  – Mrs. Arbuthnot relates the story of Lady Olivia Sparrow’s interference, of Wellington telling her that at that time he “did not care a pin about any one else or what became of himself” and his going to Ireland and marrying Kitty and then Mrs. A. continues: “I told him that in all my life I had never heard of anybody doing so absurd a thing, that there could be but one justification, his having been desperately in love with someone who had ill-used him and being in a state of desperation at the time, and even for that he was too old. He agreed cordially in my abuse of him and said I could not think him a greater fool than he did himself.”

So . . . . with whom had Wellington been in love? Who had broken his heart? Victoria and Kristine continue to pursue this burning question, as well . . . . It should be noted that the Duchess of Wellington died in the Duke’s London residence, Apsley House, on 24 April 1831. In the days before her death, the Duke was devoted to her needs and never left her side. In the end, he regretted that they were able to achieve a meeting of minds only at the end of her life.