The origin of the Christmas card is, fortunately for its future historians, not lost in the mists of antiquity, that popular hiding place for all sorts of origins; but as clearly fixed as Archbishop Usher’s date of Creation – B.C. 4004 – with more trustworthy evidence to support it. In 1846, Sir Henry Cole (then plain Mr) suggested the idea of a specially designed form of greeting to send to friends at Christmas. Mr J. C. Horley, R.A., acting on the hint, produced a design of a trellis of rustic-work, in the Germanesque style, divided into a centre and two side panels. In the panels are figures representing two of the acts of charity, “feeding the hungry” and “clothing the naked;” in the centre is a picture of a merry family party, including three generations, grandparents to grandchildren, quaffing draughts of wine.
It was evident that some such individual, whether called buyer or commercial traveller, comes between the manufacturer and the retailer in almost every instance. Not only has this personage to reckon with the taste of shop-keepers, which varies from the best to the worst, with a tendency to the latter, but he has also his own standard to defend. Hence he sells most readily not only those goods the average retail trader is most likely to choose for himself, but a great many others which, since they approve themselves to the vendor, he can recommend with sincerity. It is strange that this needle’s eye, through which so much Applied Art has to pass ere it reaches the public, is not more often recognised as the chief obstacle to its progress. The public should not be held responsible for declining to purchase goods which never came under its eyes; the manufacturer should not be held blameworthy for the poor level of the Art he offers, when, possibly, he has tried and tried in vain to induce his travellers and the trade buyers to support his efforts to produce good designs.
Although 1846 has been so far accepted as the undisputed date of the first card, just before going to press, Mr Jonathan King, the owner of the largest collection, has called my attention to a paragraph in a journal of some standing, where a Mr Thomas Shorrock, of Leith, is said to be the real inventor of the Christmas card, seeing that a year or two before the above date he issued one, with a laughing face, and the motto “A Gude New Year to Ye.” Whether this be the card which is elsewhere said to have been engraved on a copper- plate by a workman, Daniel Aikman, in 1840 or 1841 and published with a Scotch motto, I am unable to prove. Should either of these statements be accurate, although one might, without special pleading, claim that a New Year secular greeting is not quite the same as one marking a religious festival, it would be best to give later inventors equal credit, and assume, what would be probably correct, that neither knew of the doings of the others.
So, too, the statement that engravers’ apprentices of Northumberland or Yorkshire (the stories differ, and one questions if such a class of artists exists in either place in sufficient numbers to found a custom), are in the habit of sending specimens of their own work to friends at Christmas, and have done so for a long period, may or may not be true, but is hardly likely to have been the source whence the card was derived. Equally difficult is it to obtain any details of Messrs Goodall’s cards in 1862 (or 1864, authorities vary,) which were probably the first issued to the ordinary trade. Despite a former sentence crediting Messrs Goodall with the honour of being the first publishers of Christmas cards, (always excepting the Sir Henry Cole card of 1846,) and, notwithstanding the fact that several of their cards, issued in 1864 and 1865, from designs by C. H. Bennett, are reproduced here, it is possible that other candidates might put forward reasonable claims.
It seems probable that ornamented note paper and envelopes appeared just before the cards, that the designs in relief, identical with those on the stationery named, were either simultaneously or very shortly after stamped in the centre of a card, which had its edges coloured or embossed. Certain it is that T. Sulman was very early in the field with relief-decorated paper and cards, and with lithographed designs. Leighton, of Fleet Street, and Mansell, of Red Lion Square, are also amongst the first, while R. Canton, (who started Valentine and Birthday card production in 1840,) and Dean & Sons issued many of their publications with special Christmas mottoes. The innovation of stamping reliefs in two ormore colours is dated to 1858. The introduction of foreign “chromo-lithograph pictures,” to replace those hitherto coloured by hand, or by stencil, is traced to Elliott, of Bucklesbury, in 1850, and to Scheffer and Scheiper, (I have but the phonetic spelling of these names,) in 1851. This item in the preparation of “made-up” Birthday Cards and Valentines had hitherto been very rudely prepared by colouring plain embossed relief with a brush, or stencilling lithographs, afterwards embossed and cut out.
With Messrs Marcus Ward & Co., who started the production of Christmas cards as early as 1867, coincidentally with the opening of their London house, however, we come to a very different class of manufacturers. Here is a house, one of the earliest in production, with a record that reaches the highest level of decorative excellence ever touched by the Christmas card. This firm for awhile monopolised the whole of the better-class trade. Beginning with the use of German ” chromos,” usually mounted on card with lithographed borders in gold and colours, of home manufacture, they soon issued reproductions of original designs by artists of repute, and gained a position where they stood without rivals. It was, I believe, owing to the acute perception of one of the partners of this firm, Mr. William H. Ward, that Miss Kate Greenaway was “discovered” as a designer. At the earliest “Black and White” Exhibition at the Dudley Gallery Mr. Ward’s attention was drawn to Miss Greenaway’s work; and recognising that her special talent was in the direction of costume figures and dainty colours, he induced her to design for the firm.
by Victoria Hinshaw
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 industrious author, 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.”
Called The Mad Marquess or, less frequently, the Dancing Marquess, Henry Cyril Paget, 5th Marquess of Angelsey, could not have been more different from his illustrious ancestor, Henry William Paget, the 1st Marquess, if he’d tried. Whilst the 1st Marquess lost his leg at Waterloo, the 5th lost a fortune on a lavish, over-the-top lifestyle that nearly bankrupted the estate. The 5th Marquess collected clothing and jewels with gusto and had his motor car fitted with pipes that issued wafts of perfume instead of exhaust fumes. The 5th Marquess’s excesses scandalized the locals who lived near Plas Newydd, the Angelsey home of the Paget family, as they did the entire nation, but the final straw came when he had the family chapel converted into his own private theatre.
The Marquess was described by Clough Williams-Ellis as “a sort of apparition – a tall, elegant and bejeweled creature, with wavering elegant gestures, reminding one rather of an Aubrey Beardsley illustration come to life.” An Omaha newspaper described him thus: “He is a thoroughly effeminate looking young fellow and he may be seen when in Paris walking around with a toy terrier under his arm, the pet being heavily scented and bedizened with bangles and bows. The fingers of the marquis fairly blaze with rings. He presents the characteristics of the Gypsy type.”
As I said, the 1st and 5th Marquess’s couldn’t be more different, although they do appear to share the same smile. Viv Gardner, Professor of Theatre Studies at the University of Manchester, is recognized as an expert on the life and times of the 5th Marquess and so we turn to her article on the subject that appeared in The Guardian in 2007 for more background information:
More information on the 5th Marquess can be found at the irreverant and most amsuing site, Bizarre Victoria and in this article written by a National Trust intern, intriguingly titled The Emerald Encrusted Wiff-Waff Jacket. Finally, you can listen to a half hour radio programmed on the 5th Marquess and all his eccentricities here at the BBC Radio 4 site.
We’ll be visiting Plas Newydd in Angelsey on Number One London’s Welsh Castles Tour, May 2025. Complete itinerary and further details can be found here.
Had she lived, Charlotte would have been Queen of the United Kingdom. Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales was the only daughter of George IV, then Prince of Wales, and his wife and first cousin, Caroline of Brunswick, who loathed one another and who separated soon after Charlotte’s birth, never to live together, nor indeed be civil to one another, again.
The question could only have been put in a bantering spirit. He saw something was amiss, but he did did not trouble to inquire further, and soon after took the Prince away, as they had an engagement to dine in the City.
The child was born at nine o’clock, and apparently the mother was going on fairly well, but towards midnight Croft became alarmed and went for Stockmar, telling him the Princess was dangerously ill and that the Prince must be informed. Leopold knew that the child was dead, but he did not realise the nature of the impending calamity. It was all over when he set out for her room, and on his way he sank on a chair overwhelmed. Recovering himself, he staggered on, reached the bedside, and kneeling down kissed the cold hands—” those beautiful hands which at the last while she was talking to others seemed always to be looking out for mine,” were his pathetic words—and amid the stillness of death the falling curtain closed upon the tragedy.
“The Regent is terribly shook by this blow; so unexpected that he was completely overset when he was told of it. He had left Sudboum upon hearing of the protracted labour, but was in London informed that the child was dead and she remarkably well.”
|This memorial to Princess Charlotte and her son stands in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor
Tucked away down London’s exclusive Wilton Mews, on the corner of Old Barrack Yard, the patriotic Grenadier pub is painted red, white and blue and boasts a red sentry box that serves as a nod to the property’s military history. Reputedly, the Duke of Wellington’s Grenadier Guards used it as their mess. Inside it is small, dark, and cozy, the paneled walls covered with military and Wellington memorabilia. Reputedly, the pub’s upper floors were once used as the officers’ mess of a nearby barracks, whilst its cellar was pressed into service as a drinking and gambling lair for the common soldiers.
A display at the entrance to the pub informs us that “18 Wilton Row was built circa 1720 as the home to the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards regiment and famously known as the Duke of Wellington’s Officers Mess. Originally named The Guardsman as a Licensed Premises in 1818, and frequented by King George IV, the Grenadier enjoys a fine reputation for good food and beer.” From the same display we also find out that the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards was created in 1656, and that 1st Guards were renamed by Royal Proclamation as the ‘Grenadier Regiment of Foot Guards’ because of their heroic actions against French Grenadiers at Waterloo in 1815. Continuing the Wellington connection, directly outside in the old Barrack Yard at the side of the pub is what is reputed to be the remaining stone of the Duke’s mounting block, whilst an archway down the nearby alley forms part what was once the barrack stables.
Here, a young subaltern is said to have once been caught cheating at cards, and his comrades punished him with such a savage beating that he died from his injuries.
The Grenadier is said to be one of the most haunted places in London. People who have worked there have quit after supernatural run-ins with a solemn, silent spectre reportedly seen moving slowly across the low-ceilinged rooms. Objects either disappear or else are mysteriously moved overnight. Unseen hands rattle tables and chairs, and a strange, icy chill has been known to hang in the air, sometimes for days on end. A ghostly face floats in an upstairs window and – the most common tale – the sentry box out front is haunted by the ghost of the dead subaltern.
So . . . a few years ago, on Saturday, August 3, 1996, I was at the Grenadier with Sue Ellen Welfonder (Bozzy) and two other women whom I won’t name because I haven’t seen them in years and have no idea whether or not they want to be associated with the following story. I don’t often talk about it myself, as it makes one seem as odd as those who claim to have been abducted by aliens or to have seen the Loch Ness Monster and Big Foot. We, Reader, saw ghosts. Not a ghost, but a circle of ghosts. Regency soldier ghosts, no less.
We could see that the alley beside the Pub led back to a yard with stable doors and a row of quaint single story houses along one wall. Very atmospheric, very historic . . . very tempting. What was back there? we asked. Let’s go look! we answered. What. A. Mistake. As you can see by the photo, a sort of alley runs beside the Pub and opens up at the end to the barrack mews.
We walked down the alley to the end, where the car is visible in the photo below. There was a car parked in the very same spot on the night in question. We got to the end of the alley and saw . . . . . a ring of ten to twelve men – soldiers, whose red coats had been thrown in a pile atop the cobbles. They wore breeches and boots and white shirts. They stood in a circle in the space between the front of the car and the stable doors – surrounding a man who was on his knees at the center of the circle, his face already bloody and bruised from the beating that had already been going on for some time (centuries?). These men were pissed off. Even taking into account the fact that cheating at cards was a much more serious offence then than it is today, their anger was beyond anything justified by such an offence.
We watched them as though we were watching a black and white film that was being played at half strength. That’s the only way I can describe it. The scene was playing out before our eyes, in the bricked space between the car and the black stable doors, the men utterly oblivious to our presence. The film ran for a minute, probably less in hindsight, and then flickered out. Except this film had something extra – this one had been filmed in “emotion-vision.” As we watched the ghostly events, each one of us could actually feel the anger and the venom that was being directed towards the poor schmuck on his knees in the middle of the circle. In fact, I think the strength of that collective emotion was more overwhelming to us than the fact that we’d actually just seen ghosts. The experience was so shocking, so unbelievable that I will be forever grateful that I was in the company of others when it happened or else I’d truly doubt whether it had taken place.
I suppose seeing ghosts is much like childbirth – the true horror of the experience abates with time and twenty-six years have since passed. I’ve been back to the Grenadier many times since, both alone, with friends and with tour groups. More recently, I’ve even ventured back into the mews and I’ve been taken into the private areas upstairs. I’ve never seen the ghost soldiers on the premises again, though several members of staff emphatically refuse to go down to the cellars. And just as emphatically refuse to discuss why.
This post originally ran in 2010 and has since been updated by the author.