Since the Wellington archives are closed at the weekends, Vicky and I had another welcome opportunity to spend some time with our friend, author Beth Elliot. This day, Beth took us to beautiful Henley-on-Thames, set on the River Thames in Oxfordshire. Dating back to 1179, Henley has been home to the famous annual Regatta, which began in 1839 and which has been considered “Royal” since Prince Albert became a patron of the race in 1851. The Grade I listed Henley Bridge, above, is a five arched bridge across the river built in 1786.
In fact, historic Henley-on-Thames boasts 369 listed buildings, of which these are but a few –
The Red Lion Hotel, above, began life centuries ago as a coaching inn on the London to Oxford Road. From their website:
“The earliest guest of note whose visit was recorded, was Charles I who stayed in the hotel in 1632 on his way from London to Oxford. The original Coat of Arms, painted above the fireplace in one of the rooms, has been preserved and glassed over following its discovery during alterations in 1889. These alterations included the addition of the porch upon which the effigy of the Red Lion was placed and the building of the central hall where previously an archway had led to the courtyard.
“The Red Lion was, in the old days of slow travelling, the resting place of the Duke of Marlborough on his way from Blenheim to London. He furnished one room which was kept for his command on his stately journey through Henley. His furniture remained in the hotel until 1849 (over a century).”
When it came time for a meal, Vicky, Beth and I chose the Angel at the Bridge, a slightly newer pub, having been built as recently as 1728. The deciding factor was it’s location, directly on the riverside, and the sign below –
Again, the weather was glorious and we relaxed by the water as we ate our lunch, followed by a shared cheese plate and several glasses of Pimms. At last, we roused ourselves and set off for a bit of shopping, author/researcher style.
In the bookshop above, I found a period print of Rotten Row and snapped it up while Beth and Vicky chatted about Venice and French authors with the lady who ran the shop. If you’re ever in Henley, I do recommend your dropping in – it’s just higgedly piggedly enough to make browsing an adventure.
Of course, we also stopped in at several antique shops. In one, I found the display below. If only I knew a highwayman, I could have gotten his Christmas present sorted on the spot.
There are many more adventures with Beth to come, so stay tuned!
Following the Number One London Georgian Tour, Vicky flew in and met me in London for a night before we headed off on our epic research journey, visiting three Archives that hold documents related to the Duke of Wellington. Our first stop was the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading. We had booked a hotel in nearby Caversham and our good friend, author Beth Elliott was kind enough to pick us up at the station.
You’ve heard me speak of Beth here on the blog before. She’s the sort of friend who is a comfort, a joy and who also happens to be very funny. In an understated English way. So, Beth collected us at the train station and drove Vicky and me to our riverside hotel, where we met a gaggle of other local residents.
Later that evening, we all went out to the nearby carvery and indulged in that most comforting of British food, the Sunday Roast, even though it was actually a Wednesday.
Next day, Vicky and I headed off to the Museum of English Rural Life.
We had ordered the documents we wished to see in advance, one of which was the Marriage Settlement between Richard, Marquis Wellesley and Maryanne Patterson, below. You’ll see that the Duke of Wellington was one of the executors of the Settlement. Between his brother and his former mistress. Yes, you read that correctly.
We spent the entire day reading historic documents and attempting to read Wellington’s handwriting. Boxes and boxes of letters and documents. Naturally, by the end of the day, Vicky and I were ready for a drink. And when we met up with Beth later that evening, we told her we’d love to have a plate of roast beef for dinner. Again. So we did.
Afterwards, we strolled through historic Caversham, which, as Cavesham, was mentioned in the Domesday Book and which sits on the north bank of the Thames.
Good friends, good food and good Wellington documents. As you can imagine, it was a wonderfully satisfying day. And one I’ll always remember. More to come . . . .
George Prince of Wales was only 17 years old when he attended a performance of Florizel and Perdita, a play adapted from Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. In the words of actress Mary Robinson’s biographer, Hester Davenport, the Prince “was looking for a woman to worship,” perhaps HAD been looking already, when he sat in his box at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and “fell in love.”
As Ms. Davenport points out, this was not Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale, but an adaptation by David Garrick, known as Florizel and Perdita, in which Perdita is a sweet and charming maiden. The Prince sent Mary notes addressed to Perdita and signed them Florizel, as though they were the characters in the play. So began his first publicly known affair, the first of many.
Mary was born Mary Darby in Bristol in November of 1757 or perhaps 1758, which made her a few years older than the prince (b. 1762). Her “disastrous” marriage at age 16 to Thomas Robinson brought her a daughter, Maria Elizabeth (b. 1774), but little financial or emotional support. Eventually, she began to perform on the London stage, often in “trouser roles,” playing young men and displaying her fine figure for all to admire.
Though Prince George did not remain faithful to her for long, Mary was known as Perdita all her life. While she enjoyed the Prince’s attentions, she was the toast of London, extolled and excoriated in the newspapers, the object of considerable gossip in noble salons, especially among the males.
By the time the fanciful caricature above was published in 1783, the relationship was “quite out of date.” When the Prince quite publicly took up with other females, Mary refused to send back all his letters and other tokens of his fickle adoration. Later she received a not-so-secret payment in exchange for the return of some of them.
In 1781, Mary sat for a portrait by Thomas Gainsborough, commissioned by the Prince. In this version of the painting in the Wallace Collection above (another is in the Royal Collection), Mary holds a miniature of the Prince in her right hand.
Mary had only a brief time in the limelight of the London demi-monde. Only a few year later, she was reported to be “desperately ill.” Various explanations for her condition have been suggested, but the causes of her maladies remain mysterious. In May of 1791, she published a book of poems, “a small but handsomely bound volume with marbeled end papers,” made possible by sums raised by 600 subscribers, including the Prince of Wales, the Duke of York, the Duke of Clarence and many other luminaries.
In 2010, Kristine and Victoria, along with Kristine’s daughter, Brooke, visited with Hester Davenport in Windsor, here at the Castle.
Hester Davenport chronicles the reception Mary’s book received. Readers seem to ask, “How was it possible to connect the frivolous woman of 1780s gossip with a writer of pensive odes, elegies and sonnets?” That Mary acquired the title ‘The English Sappho,’ possibly at her own instigation, may have added to the this (seductive) sense of being wooed.
Mary lived only a few more years, dying in 1800, having never recovered her health. She had, however, continued to write poetry as well as her memoirs, several novels, plays and feminist essays.
As an endorsement of the value of her literary work, the painting of Mary Robinson by Hoppner, above, was acquired for the Chawton House Library, where it is displayed prominently. Many works by Mary Robinson are available from their website. Her biography is here.
We all hope that future scholars will pay attention to this fascinating woman and her body of work. In the epilogue of her biography, Hester Davnport writes, “Mary Robinson was dead: the talented actress, spectacular Cyprian, accomplished and industriousauthor, committed feminist and radical, charming and witty hostess, spendthrift, devoted daughter and mother, compassionate, sensitive and sometimes spikily difficult woman.A genius? Perhaps only in her extraordinary versatility, but not undeserving of the ‘One little laurel wreath,’ she craved.”
Note: Victoria, Jo Manning and Kristine lost their dear friend Hester Davenport in September 2013. We like to think that she and Perdita are together, drinking tea and catching up on two centuries worth of gossip.
How many times has Hester Davenport’s name passed my lips since we lost her on September 23rd, 2013 – five years ago? Too many to count, as we at Number One London have so many memories of our beloved friend, sharing them often. If we’re not speaking of Hester amongst ourselves – Kristine, Victoria and Jo Manning – we’re sharing stories of Hester with other friends and acquaintances. She is never far from our hearts.
Victoria, here. I find it difficult to express my sense of loss at the news of Hester’s passing. We will miss her terribly. Wherever she is, I am sure she is organizing everything with her gentle touch and genial good humor.
Kristine and I (and Kristine’s daughter Brooke) thrust ourselves upon Hester one day in June, 2010, full of excitement for our upcoming trip to see the reenactment at the 195th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. She had invited us to spend the day with her at Windsor, but little were we prepared for the depth of her welcome and her plans for our visit. We started at the Windsor Guildhall, where she showed us around the upper floors. Then we went into the lower level where the archives were in the process of being moved to make way for the new museum that Hester masterminded.
Hester thoroughly charmed and surprised us by showing us the accounts of the news of the Waterloo victory as they were received and celebrated, as reported in the Windsor and Eton Express. The original newspapers had been bookmarked for us and there probably had never been two more thrilled readers of the Windsor Gazette than Kristine and I were.
We read about how and when the news was received and the celebratory plans for the royal family and the community. It was such a thoughtful thing for Hester to do, and greatly added to our enjoyment of our Waterloo visit. After giving us the latest 195-year-old news, Hester asked us if we’d like to go see the Queen.
That is a QUESTION??? We jumped at the chance. Off we hiked to the drive from the Castle up the long walk toward Ascot. Hester told us that the royals went most of the way in autos then changed to open carriages to enter the race course. A small group had gathered to await the parade of black limos, and we had a glimpse of Herself as she passed by.
We went on to lunch in a quaint cobbled street-café, all the while chattering a mile a minute, telling each other about various projects underway, observing the locals and tourists, and basking in Hester’s erudite presence. Of course we talked about the royals, Waterloo, the new Museum about to be created in the Guildhall, then on to persons of interest to all of us, celebrities such as Mary Robinson, Fanny Burney, Mrs. Delaney, Dr. Johnson, and Queen Victoria (and Prince Albert). Exactly the kind of celebrity small talk everyone enjoys, right? Well, at least those of us who indulge in the fantasy of living in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Eventually we moseyed off to the Castle and did the tour. We were certain Hester had walked that route a million times but she gallantly assured us she loved it every time. Every step of the way, she told us “inside” stories, all about the fire in 1992 and what was restored. And how!
On other visits to Windsor, Hester showed us all around the new museum, where she had also welcomed Her Majesty (see below). She always had the most interesting details to impart without in any way taking credit for all the things she had accomplished. As head of Dr. Johnson’s House, as an excellent biographer, and as the head of the Frances Burney Society (in addition to many other endeavors and awards), Hester had a role in the most esteemed of British scholarly organizations. But she always had time to chat with amateurs like us. So we will greatly miss a wonderful friend and favorite companion. All our best to her dear husband, Tony, gardener extraordinaire, and to their daughters. RIP, Hester.
Victoira at the Guildhall Museum
Kristine here, still unable to process the fact that Hester is gone. Hester and Windsor will forever be linked in my heart. So many memories and so many good times, most arranged by Hester, who was a respected historian, accomplished writer and also very funny. Below is a photo taken by Victoria of Hester and I looking at the grave of Mary Robinson in Windsor, which Hester tended faithfully.
You won’t believe me, but on several occasions Hester related the funniest stories about Mary’s grave to Jo, Victoria and myself. I think my favorite was the time that Hester was showing a group Mary’s grave and while she was giving her talk, became distracted by the fact that Mary’s grave boasted several fresh sprays of flowers. Who could have left them? Where had they come from? It wasn’t till she’d finished that Hester realized she’d taken the group to the wrong grave.
I remember the email we received from Hester telling us that she was doing a truly daring thing – bidding on an original print of Rowlandson’s Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, above. A broker would be phoning in her bids during the live auction. We girls kept our fingers crossed across the pond and were dead chuffed to learn that Hester had submitted the winning bid. Next time I was over, of course I saw the print up close and in person. What a treat.
Hester always good naturedly carried out my commissions with patience, like the time I mailed her a twenty pound note and asked her to buy me the Oyster card issued to commemorate the wedding of William and Kate, which she purchased at Windsor station and mailed to me. (I’m still using it)
Of course, the Guildhall figures largely in my memories of Hester. And the Queen. Hester and the Queen – could anything be more perfect?
As most of you know, Hubby and I recently spent two fabulous days with Hester when we were over in January. Firstly, Hester drove us to Oatlands, now a hotel, but once the home of Frederica, Duchess of York. The three of us had tea and then Hester helped me to search the grounds and find Freddy’s pet cemetery. Below is a photo of Hubby, Hester and some guy they picked up at Hampton Court, where we went afterwards. Next day, Hester and I toured the kitchens at Windsor Castle together, had lunch and took a stroll by the river.
Hester was to have spoken to our group when Victoria and I go over to Windsor in September 2014 for the Wellington Tour. How everyone in our group would have enjoyed meeting Hester – and how much fun we’d have had.
I am convinced that Hester is now spending her days in a well appointed drawing room with the likes of Brummell, Fanny Burney, Mrs. Fitzherbert, the Duke of Wellington and the Duchess of York. I only pray that she’s keeping my seat warm.
From Jo Manning
The last time I saw my dear friend and colleague Hester Davenport was when I waved goodbye to her as she drove back to Old Windsor after dropping me off at the railroad station in Windsor. It had been a glorious day, but all days with Hester were glorious, despite the often mercurial English weather.
We’d had tea and pastries – the biscuits a culinary treat – in the back garden with her husband Tony, enjoying the spring flowers and exquisite green swathe of lawn. I was sorry to have to leave, as I always was, because good company is rare anywhere in the world and theirs was sublime.
Hester, after her long and arduous string of medical treatments, looked so well! And she was chipper,too, looking forward to her next adventures in writing and editing. She was skilled in both, such a talent. Her prose was smooth and readable, eminently so.
We “met” online in 2005, when my publisher forwarded to me Hester’s comments on the biography I wrote on the 18th-century courtesan and memoirist Grace Dalrymple Elliott. It’s a small world:Hester had recently completed a well-researched, beautifully-written biography of Grace Elliott’s rival in love – or what passed for it in the Georgian era amongst the aristocrats and royals – Mary Robinson aka Perdita.
Hester’s remarks about my writing were so very kind…and thoughtful. She took issue with some interpretations I’d made but acknowledged that so much of the conclusions we drew concerning the lives of these ladies were interpretive, at best.We loved our subjects, those so-called soiled doves so ill-used by wealthy and powerful men…tough women who sometimes triumphed over social adversity but most times did not.
We were thoroughly engrossed in our research and subject matter and it was so delightful to find each other…someone to talk with and reflect and whose company was thoroughly enjoyable. Yes, we most assuredly would have bored the trousers off the majority of people with what we talked about, so being together was a treat beyond the ken of most. We also bonded over biographers who came after us and used our research, claiming it to be their own. We each had a specific bête-noire!
We actually met face-to-face in early 2006, over a delicious meal and white wine at the restaurant atop the National Portrait Gallery. The talking was even more delicious than what we ate or drank Hester was witty…and wise…and a wonderful companion.
We always had something to discuss, somewhere to go – museum exhibition (the Thomas Lawrence show stands out here), Jane Austen’s haunts – the memories are fabulous and Hester’s energy was unflagging as she drove me around the English countryside. I will also never forget the wonderful day we had at Windsor Castle with my two eldest granddaughters, Zoe and Esme Winterbotham. She introduced us to Windsor Castle – what a superb guide! – and the girls introduced her to Wagamama. (A restaurant she said she very much enjoyed getting to know.)
A highlight of our day at Windsor was our side visit to St George’s Chapel, where Hester thoroughly scandalized the docents— and delighted me and the girls – by stomping fiercely on the earthly remains of King Henry VIII, an historical character we found revolting to the max. I will never forget that scene.
I miss her. I will always miss her, although I continue to have an ongoing dialogue with her in my mind. I truly believe that people are only really gone when you forget them, when memories disappear. I will never forget my kind, wise, wonderful, clever, witty, darling friend Hester Davenport…and I will bless her memory so long as I live.
After two hundred fifty years, the Royal Academy of Arts (RA) is celebrating its anniversary by adding an adjacent building to increase its exhibition space. The new look, not quite completed, opened May 19, 2018. I visited on May 24 and was delighted with newly added facilities. The annual Summer Exhibition will open June 12, 2018.
The newly added building once held the Museum of Mankind, located “behind” the Piccadilly site of Burlington House, home of the RA since 1868. The Museum of Mankind, an adjunct of the British Museum, moved out of the building in 2004. The RA subsequently bought it and held a competition for a design to merge the two structures. After a complicated series of setbacks, the eventual winner, architect David Chipperfield succeeded admirably. More building pictures are below, after the story of one of the opening exhibitions I enjoyed so much.
The exhibition The Making of an Artist: The Great Tradition intrigued me. As a researcher into the art and architecture of the Georgian, Regency, and Victorian periods, I was familiar with many of the early RA fellows, but had never seen the works shown, drawn from the vaults of the RA.
The huge, almost monumental painting leads the visitor into a selection of works by some of the earliest members. Lawrence, largely self-taught, studied briefly at the RA before earning fame as a portraitist and becoming a full member. He was the fourth president of the RA.
At the beginning of the exhibition, a text panel explains The Royal Academy Foundations: In 1768 a group of painters, sculptors and architects convinced King George III to support the creation of the Royal Academy of Arts. Their aim was to improve the quality of art in Britain and to raise the status of British artists and architects. The new Academy had three key functions that continue today:
Run an art school, training the next generation of artists
Hold an exhibition, selling contemporary art annually, now the Summer Exhibition
Elect as Royal Academicians a small number of leading painters, sculptors and architects (and eventually printmakers)
The full title is The Royal Academicians Assembled in their Council Chamber to Adjudge the Medals to the Successful Students in Painting, Sculpture, Architecture and Drawing. In the back row are the two female founding members, Angelika Kauffmann and Mary Moser. They were not allowed to participate in the life drawing classes.
The esteemed portraitist Joshua Reynolds was elected the first RA President.
Angelika Kauffmann, among the founding members of the Royal Academy
Kauffmann is shown sketching the torso, one if many sculptures or copies used as models by RA members and students to hone their drawing skills. The torso, like others of its ilk, has been in the possession of the RA for 250 years. It stands nearby, seen below in two views.
Note how the light changes the hue of the photograph, according to the angle.
In the painting of the RA members above, you will see a model of the Laocoon, an ancient Greek statue used for the same purpose as the torso. The exhibition asks the question: “Does great art begin with studying nature, or studying great art of the past?” One must decide for oneself! But Reynolds considered the study of great art essential for artists.
Part Two, further adventures at the RA, coming soon.