Boodle's Club

During the Regency and Victorian eras, Boodle’s Club, in St. James’s Street, was noted for the number of baronets who were members. It’s been recorded that when a waiter called out “Sir John, you are wanted,” a whole host of gentlemen would at once respond. This is rather a quaint anecdote, but it must be remembered that the club was established chiefly for “county people,” who had a proper respect for their own importance. Until the late 19th century, before Boodle’s came under the management of a committee, there was a kind of secret tribunal, the members of which were fictitiously supposed to be unknown. “This conclave conducted its proceedings with great secrecy, and its very existence was only inferred from the fact that at intervals, varying from six months to fifteen years, some printed notices appeared in the club rooms.” But these notices only referred to dogs or strangers, who were looked upon by the ancient members as very objectionable intruders.
Another rule was that members dining in the coffee room must wear evening dress. However, there was another apartment for those who found it necessary to keep to their morning clothes. Boodle’s was very strict and chaste on etiquette laws. Boodle’s Club was originally known as the “Savoir Vivre,” and took its particular name from the founder, and was established, like many of the other famous clubs of the day, in St. James’s Street.Gaiety and the joy of good living marked its early career very conspicuously, as may be gathered from “the Heroic Epistle to Sir William Chambers,” I773:
For what is Nature ? Ring her changes round,
Her three flat notes are water, plants, and ground ;
Prolong the peal, yet, spite of all your clatter,
The tedious chime is still ground, plants and water ;
So, when some John his dull invention racks,
To rival Boodle’s dinners or Almack’s,
Three uncouth legs of mutton shock our eyes,
Three roasted geese, three buttered apple pies.
White’s, Brookes’s, and Boodle’s for many years fought for supremacy, with masquerades, dinners, and “ridottos.” Boodle’s outside appearance is still very unpretentious, and perhaps sombre, from an architectural point of view, but the interior has a number of interesting features, especially in regard to some of the pictures by Gillray and others.
Among the exceedingly eccentric members of the club, two at least are deserving of passing comment. Michael Angelo Taylor, at one time M.P., and John, the tenth Earl of Westmorland. Taylor was “Paul Pry ” personified, and was an everlasting gossip. The Earl was very thin. Coming in one day, says Edward Walford in “Old and New London,” Taylor found Lord Westmorland, who had just dined off a roast fowl and a leg of mutton. “Well, my lord,” said Taylor, “I can’t make out where you have stowed away your dinner, for I can see no trace of your ever having dined in your bare body.” “Upon my word, I have finished both, and could now go in for another helping,” replied Westmorland. Walford adds that his lordship was notorious for his prodigious appetite, and on several occasions was known to have eaten the better part of a good joint and a couple of fowls.
The Club house, at No. 28 St. James’s Street, was designed by the Adams brothers and erected by John Crunden about 1765. The saloon on the first floor at Boodle’s is still noted for the stateliness of its appearance, opening from which on each side are two small apartments. One of these, according to tradition, was, in the Regency days of high play, managed by a cashier who issued counters and occupied himself with the details connected with the game; while the other room was reserved for special gambling members who wished to play in quietude.
It was not an easy matter to be elected a member of Boodle’s, and when Mr. Gayner became the manager, he would sit in state in a small chamber adjacent to the principal saloon, or front room, which, of course, was sacred to the members. Says Ralph Nevill, “When a candidate was proposed they (the members) walked across and deposited their black or white balls, after which they retired again to the front room. After a short time Mr. Gayner would shout ‘elected’ or ‘not elected,’ as the case might be, the ceremonial being gone through separately for every candidate.” But Mr. Gayner, it is said, took no account of the balls, but scrutinized all who were proposed from his peep-hole, and if they did not meet with his approval the black ball predominated.

Mr. Gayner, notwithstanding, was a very liberal and kind man, and prevented many a young fellow from getting into the hands of the money lenders and usurers who were in constant wait for the young unfledged geese who were ready to be plucked, by advancing them the wherewithal to assist them out of impending difficulties. There are several anecdotes in regard to his generosity and kindness in such cases. He always kept a large amount of cash in his safe, and at his death is said to have been owed no less than £10,000, which, however, by a clause in his will, was not to be demanded from the borrowers. After his death, Mr. Gaynor’s sister succeeded him in the proprietorship of Boodle’s. She died in 1896, when the club was purchased by its members.

Do You Know About the Waterloo 1815 Website?

If you’re a Waterloo enthusiast (and who isn’t?) you’ll find the comprehensive Waterloo 1815 website of interest. Simply register and you can download unpublished correspondence written by those who were on the scene,whether English, French or Prussian. For instance, in an undated letter George De Lacy Evans provided a detailed description of the the charge by the British Heavy Cavalry, a bit of runs: ‘The shock was irresistible. The firng at this point ceased; the smoke cleared away; those masses, a moment before so menacing and conspicuous, and on which all eyes were turned, had disappeared; or left only the traces of a dispersed rabble, flying over the plain. Vast numbers, unable to escape the cavalry, abandoned their arms, and threw themselves on the ground. Here were seen horses trampling down whole ranks, and plunging with difficulty through the bodies; there, a crowd of French soldiers surrendering as prisoners; many defending to the last.’

In addition, there are books for sale and archives that include items relating to the French and Prussian armies, detailed returns of the killed and wounded, along with strengths of particular units prior to the campaign and items of importance from order books and journals, making hitherto unpublished records  accessible online. In the words of the immortal Duke of Wellington, all I can say is, “Wooo Hooo!”

On The Shelf – Major Pettigrew's Last Stand

Author Helen Simonson has put a new twist on the traditional village cozy with her first book, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, as described in the following snippet taken from her website:  You are about to travel to Edgecombe St. Mary, a small village in the English countryside filled with rolling hills, thatched cottages, and a cast of characters both hilariously original and as familiar as the members of your own family. Among them is Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson’s wondrous debut. Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, Major Pettigrew is one of the most indelible characters in contemporary fiction, and from the very first page of this remarkable novel he will steal your heart.

The Major leads a quiet life valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations: honor, duty, decorum, and a properly brewed cup of tea. But then his brother’s death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their respective spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and her as the permanent foreigner. Can their relationship survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of culture and tradition?

Well, dear reader, I just finished the book and the glowing reviews floating around the internet are justified. Being a traditionalist when it comes to my village cozies, at first I was hesitant about a modern day novel that featured Pakistanis. Nothing against Pakistanis mind, just against anyone fiddling with a tried and true formula. I was wrong. Simonson didn’t fiddle with it, she improved upon it. Aside from the (welcome, as it turned out) inclusion of non-British characters, everything else you’d expect in a terrific cozy read is there – an assortment of village characters, a great love story, greedy developers, a self absorbed son, crazy aunties and a good dollop of Rule Britannia traditionalism. Did I mention humor?

Oh, yes, something else is present, as well – terrific writing. Here are a few passages I especially loved and which will give you a taste of the tone of this delicious novel:

The wall of the long walnut bar to the west end was hung with arched wood paneling on which racks of bottles were ranged below portraits of past club presidents. A portrait of the Queen (an early portrait, badly reprinted and framed in cheap gilt) hung directly above some particularly vile colored after-dinner liquers that no one ever drank. The Major always found this vaguely treasonable.

“Mr. Ferguson can trace his  lineage to the Ferguson clan of Argyll,” said Hugh Whetstone, who tried to ferret out the genealogy of everyone he met so he could use it against them later.

“I won’t stand for you being disrespectful, Roger,” the Major responded. The current fashion for bandying about stories and jokes, as if the royal family were the cast of a TV soap opera, was deeply distasteful to him.

“Look, I can’t possibly assist you,” said the Major. “I mean, with just losing my brother . . I have so many things to see to . . . family and so on.”
     “I understand,” said Grace. She looked at him and he read in her eyes a disappointment that he should have stooped to the dead relative excuse. Yet he was as entitled as the next man to use it. People did it all the time; it was understood that there was a defined window of availability beginning a decent few days after a funeral and continuing for no more than a couple of months. Of course, some people took dreadful advantage and a year later were still hauling around their dead relatives on their backs, showing them off to explain late tax payments and missed dentist appointments: something he would never do.

Like many others, I’m taken aback that Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is Helen Simonson’s first novel. And like the rest, I can’t wait for her second. You can read the entire first chapter at the The New York Times site.    Kristine

Bowood and the Lansdowne Family

By Vicky Hinshaw

Bowood House, c. 1890

In May of 2009, my husband and I spent two weeks in England, another trip to feed my near-fanatical interest in all things historical and British. Our first stop after arriving was in Wiltshire, where we stayed at the lovely Stanton Manor Country Hotel.

As always, I had a long agenda for the trip, centering on visits to stately homes and the opportunity to learn about the families who lived in them. Number one on the list was Bowood, the country estate of the Petty-Fitzmaurice family, perhaps better known by the title of the head of the family, the Marquess of Lansdowne.

The area of the Bowood estate was part of the forest of Chippenham and belonged to the crown until the early 18th century when a house was begun on the ancient site of a hunting lodge. The first Earl of Shelburne purchased the unfinished property in 1754 and enlarged the house. His son, the 2nd earl and first Marquess of Lansdowne, hired famed Scottish architect Robert Adam (who had designed Lansdowne House in London) to further enhance the house and build an adjacent orangery and a menagerie (housing a leopard and an orangutan); Adam also built a mausoleum for the 1st earl in the extensive parklands surrounding the house.

After WWII, when Bowood was used by the Royal Air Force, the main house was left empty and decaying. In 1955, the 8th Marquess had it pulled down. The orangery and adjacent buildings were remodeled to house the family and its collections.

Bowood Today

The Adam Dining Room from the demolished big house is now the board room of Lloyd’s of London in their City headquarters.

Beginning in the 1760’s, Lancelot “Capability” Brown (who else?) designed the gardens, which include a lake, a classical temple and rolling fields. Two decades later, picturesque elements were added: a grotto, waterfalls, and a wilderness. In the 2,000 acre parklands, magnificent Rhododendrons bloom every spring. This impressive display, begun in the 19th century, includes many rare species. Wandering through the colorful scene, over the carpet of bright bluebells and beside blossoms of every shade was a most delightful way to spend a May afternoon in 2009 for my husband and I. As we strolled, we came to the sober Adam-designed mausoleum which now houses the remains of generations of family members.

Today Bowood has built a popular children’s adventure playground, full of birthday parties and eager celebrants on the day we passed. The rooms on exhibition at house (formerly the Orangery and associated buildings) include a magnificent library with fireplace and furniture from the old house and the laboratory where Joseph Priestly studied gasses and discovered oxygen in 1774.
The Library
The Sculpture Gallery

The art collection has many paintings associated with family members such as Admiral Lord Keith, great-grandfather of the 5th Marquess. Keith officially accepted the surrender of Napoleon Bonaparte on behalf of the British crown in 1815.

Admiral Lord Keith

Admiral Lord Keith’s daughter was Margaret Mercer Elphinstone, close confidant and correspondent of Princess Charlotte of Wales (daughter of the Prince Regent, later George IV). After the Princess died in 1817, Meg married the Comte de Flahault, who served as an Aide-de-camp to Napoleon. Though her distinguished father disapproved, the Comte was well liked and friendly with many Whigs such as Lord Holland and the Duke of Bedford, and the Admiral grew fond of him.

 General Comte de Flahalt

Margaret Mercer Elphinstone,
Baroness Keith, Comtesse de Flahault

Meg, an heiress both from her father and her late mother, was well known in regency-era society. She was a good friend of the poet Lord Byron and received from him the Albanian costume in which he was painted about 1813. Meg also was portrayed in the outfit which is on display at Bowood. Meg succeeded her father as Baroness Keith. She was known in England by the latter title and as Comtesse de Flahault in France. She and her husband divided their time among homes in Scotland, London and Paris. Emily de Flahault, daughter of the Comte and Meg, married the 4th Marquess of Lansdowne and is the mother of the fifth Marquess.

Byron in Albanian Dress, Artist: Thomas Phillips, c. 1813
Meg in Byron’s Albanian costume

Bowood is not only a fascinating piece of history; it is part of the evolving fate of the English Country House. In today’s difficult economy, such a property must pay its own way. Supporting a family and employees, upkeep and renovations, cascading expenses and taxes – are almost crippling in their combined effects. While many institutions provide assistance (usually in exchange for public access), adequate funding usually means all sorts of services and events that bring in paying customers. The house and garden are just what I love, but the vast majority of the customers when we were there were at the children’s Adventure Playground. Bowood has also opened a golf resort and fine restaurant nearby. A quick perusal of the website will tell the story clearly.