Monday, October 24, 2016

More than monkeys and bears--traveling menageries in the Regency era

British life has always involved animals. From the hounds used in hunting to the house dogs and the horses that were common in every life, animals abounded. Portraits were painted of prize farm animals and deer roamed parks and estates throughout the island. Nevertheless Britain during the Regency era was very nearly devoid of wild animals. Those that did exist were small and more apt to be deemed nuisances than creatures of worth and benefit.

When the opportunity arose to see a bear (whether dancing or being baited in the village square), or a monkey (begging for money for its organ grinder), the general populace took full advantage. They were excited to see something beyond the everyday. When the traveling menageries took to the roads of Britain in the mid-1700's, people were agog. The wonders that the world held dazzled and astonished.
Morning Post - Friday 13 May 1808
George Wombwell had purchased two boas from the London docks and, discovering an insatiable interest in the public, built his business on those two snakes. A remarkable number of animals from abroad arrived on the ships that docked in London and they were soon traveling the country.
Cheltenham Chronicle - Thursday 06 August 1818

Lancaster Gazette - Saturday 31 January 1818
Wombwell's was not the only menagerie traveling Britain, and the common people were not the only ones fascinated by the wonders the menageries held as this account of Gillman and Atkins' display recounts.
Stamford Mercury - Friday 18 April 1817
There was Ballard's Menagerie:
Windsor and Eton Express - Sunday 19 October 1817

Pidcock's Menagerie housed at the Exeter Exchange in London also traveled the country as well, as early as 1770.
courtesy British Museum - 1799
And there was Polito's! This item is long but the descriptions and the hyperbole in the article/advertisement are wonderful.

Tyne Mercury; Northumberland and Durham and Cumberland Gazette - Tuesday 03 June 1817
There were accidents. Lions escaped, elephants died (Wombwell was particularly adept at marketing even dead animal viewings), and people were bitten. Mr. Soper (below) eventually died. He had put his hand in the cage to regain a dropped tool.
The European Magazine and London Review vol 56 Dec 1809
George Wombwell certainly used the available print media to best advantage among all the menageries. And his family's work at fairs continued through to the 1930s.
Worcester Journal - Thursday 16 August 1821
His tomb in Highgate Cemetary in London is appropriately crowned by a statue of one of his lions.

The conditions in which the animals were kept in traveling menageries were no doubt abysmal by modern standards. The food offered them and the cold climate of their new home took a great toll. But perhaps the pleasure they brought to the lives of people pinched by circumstance and lack of opportunity was partial recompense for the animals' sufferings. And perhaps generations of explorers and travelers were galvanized by the glimpse offered by traveling menageries of the world beyond their experience.

'Til next time,


More can be read about traveling menageries here: 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Messrs. Pellatt and Green in the News

from Ackermann's Repository of Arts
Pellatt and Green, premier glassmakers in Britain in the 19th century, have had their work and their premises documented across the Internet--Wikipedia has good basic information on the company and the Pellatt family.

But I thought it might be interesting to see what the newspapers of the era had to say about the company. They were in business more than fifty years in London, and their name was widely recognized for excellence. They also had a presence in the philanthropic community:

They appear for many years in the lists of donors for the above association and their donation listed is generous -- twenty pounds.

They took part in community events such as Illuminations. The Caledonian Mercury reported on events in London celebrating the Allied success at the Battle of Vittoria--note the last sentence:

Caldonian Mercury Saturday 10 July 1813

Like any long-running business they had their difficulties:
Morning Chronicle - Thursday 19 February 1818
 Tragedies that occurred among their staff were also newsworthy:
Bury and Norwich Post - Wednesday 05 February 1812
Their glassware was beautiful --
This claret glass was part of a table service ordered by Mr Bayard from America in 1818 for his daughter's wedding gift.

NYPL Digital Collections -- This illustration of Pellatt and Green products is from a mid-19th century book of glass designs
 But it was their innovations and inventions that were reported in the newspapers:
Morning Chronicle - Saturday 30 March 1811
The 'illuminators' were a great success and widely adopted by ships.

Pellatt and Green was a successful multi-generational business, and a prominent part of London's business scene, and its history. The newspapers confirm its eminence, and its celebrity.

'Til next time,


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Newsworthy Duel

I have never used a duel in my Regency stories, but I have read many books which include a plot line that contains a duel. At least one non-fiction book about dueling sits on my TBR shelves, waiting. I have sometimes regarded duels as exotic, rare,  and very clandestine events.
French, cased duelling pistols, Boutet,Versailles,1794-1797 Royal Ontario Museum
In the last day or two of research, I have learned how wrong are my preconceptions. Though dueling was frowned upon by authorities, and any death resulting from a duel was considered a murder, often a blind eye was turned to the event by officialdom.
from The English Spy by Bernard Blackmantle, 1825

The newspapers, however, reported every duel. They seem to have been commonplace events in the first decade of the 1800's, and are noted along with fires, burglaries and murders. Nothing special indeed:
Carlisle Journal - Saturday 04 September 1802

Chester Courant - Tuesday 22 March 1803

Duel au pistolet au XIXème siècle
Source     La Lecture - Le Journal de Romans
Author     Bauce et Rouget
Wikimedia Commons

Friday 20 May 1803, Morning Post, London, England
Wednesday 01 March 1809, Morning Post, London, England

Wednesday 13 August 1806, Evening Mail, London, England

Saturday 17 March 1804, Lancaster Gazette, Lancashire, England

London Courier and Evening Gazette - Monday 27 April 1801

The newspaper articles went on and on. And so, apparently, did the duels. The 'honour' which required such extreme satisfaction is largely a mystery to western society today. And the duel does seem, as I first thought, dramatic and romantic. Perhaps I will include one in a story some day.

'Til next time,


Sunday, July 3, 2016


The danger was always present. With lamps, candles, fireplaces, kitchen ranges and new-fangled gas in constant use, the opportunities for fire to take hold and damage property and take lives were myriad.

from Morning Post, London, Thursday 18 Jan 1810
So prevalent was the danger that 'fire assurance' companies advertised in every newspaper. They offered protection with their 'fire engines' and varieties of insurance against loss.
from Cumberland Pacquet and Ware's Whitehaven Advertiser - Tuesday 29 December 1812
But the fees could not always be found, and the fires kept happening:
from Northampton Mercury Saturday 11 March 1809
Fire engines were in the early phases of their design. The technology was basic though the intentions were good. This illustration from an American publication shows the early engines.
Guides to cities and towns listed the measures they took to control the losses. The following is from the "Picture of London" published in 1807.
But still the fires kept happening:
 from Cambridge Chronicle and Journal 27 December 1816
from Morning Post Thurs 18 January 1810
from Kentish Weekly Post or Canterbury Journal Friday 3 May 1816
 This coloured illustration from Ackermann's Microcosm of London published in 1810 was drawn by Rowlandson and shows the fire engines in the bottom left corner.
Even the great and good were not exempt from the flames. The following account is from the Taunton Courier.
Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser 11 April 1816
Today, house fires and business fires are infrequent and noteworthy occurrences and are fought with all manner of excellent equipment. During the Regency era, fires were commonplace, fought with difficulty, and the cause of much loss of life and property.
Progress has much to recommend it....

'Til next time,

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Review of the State of (London) Society in 1807

In 1808, James Peller Malcolm published a substantial--490 pages--tome about London.
Mr. Malcolm, born in America, was more artist than author. He lived for many years in England, and produced several books of topographical studies. As a writer he was thorough, didactic, and more than a little boring. The engravings in this book about London, however, more than make up for the deficiencies of his prose. And the last section of the book titled "Sketch of the Present State of Society in London" is worth a closer look.

Malcolm opens the section with a harsh indictment of the labouring classes. His words are needlessly unkind, and sneering. Rather than reproduce his tirade, I offer you his jaundiced view of the city:
After four pages of description of the flaws of the lowest classes, Malcolm proceeds to the class he considers one step above, the journeyman:

In Goswell Street--Antient inconvenience contrasted with modern convenience
Mr. Malcolm continues up the social ladder, as he sees it:

The ladies are not quite neglected. Fashion is of course mentioned in the same breath as the female sex.
The aristocracy and nobility occupy the last of Malcolm's treatise. They are excoriated for their excesses, but in all receive kinder treatment than the labourers.

And finally he bids London adieu:
 Though long, this post is only an excerpting of Malcolm's "Sketch". To view and/or download his entire book go here. The 'Sketch' is at page 481.

'Til next time,