Friday, May 20, 2011

The Party's Over --
The end of the Peace Celebrations 1814

All good things come to an end. After the Royal Wedding of two weeks ago, there was a massive clean-up to be done in London. Following the Olympic Games, wherever they are held, there are buildings to let, decorations to sell, and work to be done to return things to normal.

In the same way, after the Peace Celebrations of 1814, there was a huge amount of work to do to return London's parks to their more usual green and pleasant appearance. Hyde Park was home to the 'Jubilee Fair', troop reviews, triumphal processions, and a reenactment of the Battle of Trafalgar.

St. James Park hosted a seven-story Chinese Pagoda atop a decorative bridge, which in the evening caught fire and burned. The Battle of the Nile was reenacted there on the Canal. There were also display buildings. One of these, a handsome, octagonal affair designed by Nash, eventually went to Woolwich to become a public building.

Green Park had been home to the Castle of Discord which transformed on August 1, courtesy of Sir William Congreve, to the Temple of Concorde (designed by John Nash). There were numerous other buildings, display spaces and the like, and splendid fireworks.

By mid-August it was all over. And on October 16, 1814 an auction was held, in the Green Park, to sell off all the left-overs from the celebrations. I found this account of the auction in "The Literary Panorama, and National Register" for 1814, and I think it makes fascinating reading.

The Temple of Concord, and other preparations used in the late public rejoicings for the peace, were sold by auction. The first day's sale fetched 198l.6s.6d for 100 lots. The second day's sale was of 99 lots. The following are some of the prices obtained.

The sale commenced with the flag staff, on the top of the Upper Temple. The brokers viewed it as a common piece of fir, which might be converted into excellent firewood, and it was knocked down at 14s. Four rainbows, in spite of the scriptural allusions which they drew forth, produced only 4l. 3s. Eight Vestals were sold for 14l. 8s. Eight pair of Ionic columns, coloured to imitate Sienna marble, produced 21l. 8s. 6d. The Doric columns of which there were sixteen pair, painted in imitation of porphyry, averaged 1l. 12s6d. per pair. The four pyramidical pillars (shaped like cannon), ornamenting the corners of the first platform, were purchased by an individual, with all their appurtenances, for 16l. 9s.

The mechanical fountains, which are eight in number, sold for 10l. 16s.

How odd, and rather sad, to see the objects that had delighted so many and held such symbolism, reduced to being sold for firewood. I wonder what the purchasers did with the rainbows, and the Vestals. I could imagine the Vestals decorating some dandy's sitting room!

The sale continued with cornices, door-ways and such with inscriptions "on which Mr. Creaton sported many patriotic remarks". Here's a sample, both of the signs, and the prices they fetched:

The Regency   7 s.
Peace returning    7 s.
Europe rescued   8 s.
Strife descending    8 s.
The triumph of Britannia     2 l.10 s.
The Regent and Wellington     3 l.
The arms of England and France  2 l. 2 s.

The article ends as follows: "The sale of the exterior of the Temple of Concord concluded at five o'clock.
It produced the gross sum of 200l. 2s. 6d. What was the prime cost of materials?"

That's always the question, isn't it? How much does it cost to provide the people with "circuses". Is it value for money? And how do we cope when it's all over? Do the memories linger and delight? Or is there only the jaded sense of money and time wasted?

I personally believe in modest celebrations without waste of resources. Certainly the auction above recouped some expenses. But of course they had to do it all again, in 1815, after Waterloo.

Next week, guest blogger Kat Aubrey will be here, writing about a wildly popular female novelist of the 18th century, a woman whose novels would have been well known to the mothers of Regency ladies, and perhaps passed on by them to their daughters. Kat is a historical fantasy writer and artist who currently spends most of her time being an English literature grad student. She's interested in 11th-12th and 18th-19th century England, gender studies, and modern subcultures like steampunk. Her Regency fashion drawings can be viewed in her art gallery, and she talks about her inspirations on her blog, The Minx's Farrago.

'Til next time,



Charles Bazalgette said...

I read that the pagoda caught fire during the firework display and the audience cheered wildly, thinking the conflagration was part of the show!

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Yes, indeed, I've read that too. Remarkable times...

Jeanne M said...

Lesley-Anne -

I just "found" your blog a few days ago and it's fascinating. I just received your newsletter and can't wait to learn more. Eliza sounds fascinating. I don't think we would have such interesting books today without writers like her.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Jeanne, I'm so happy you found my blog. I hope you enjoy reading the older posts--there's getting to be quite an accumulation. I love the things my guest bloggers come up with--Eliza Haywood is just fascinating...