Regency Furnishings: Gothic Revival

When I photographed this Regency-era chair at the Victoria and Albert Museum, it was apparent that its style was Gothic Revival.

“The total effect is a romanticized vision of ‘Olde England.’ ” — V&A Museum

The tempestuous past of its owner, however, was not so apparent.

The chair was one of set Sir Godfrey Vassal Webster ordered for his country estate, the famous Battle Abbey. The manor began as an ecclesiastical complex, established as a memorial to the Conqueror’s victory over the Saxons.  The Abbey was later dissolved and the abbot’s house became the nucleus of the Webster family country seat.

The Websters were proud to own a piece of history. Battle Abbey was a place that hearkened to the distant past–when a descendant of Vikings put himself on England’s throne.

 

Sir Godfrey was 5th Baronet Webster. His mother was the notorious Lady Holland, who abandoned the 4th baronet for another man, and took up the active life of a Whig hostess. His father committed suicide, and young Godfrey was brought up by older relatives. Achieving his majority, he inherited an estate already encumbered by debt, and in tumble-down conditions.

His expensive campaign to restore the estate was a long endeavor, punctuated by notable distractions elsewhere.

Sir Godfrey Webster, via Grosvenor Prints

One of those distractions was romance. Sir Godfrey was Caroline Lamb’s lover.  They carried on openly in spite of her marriage to another; their affair deplored in relatives’ correspondence. Eventually they broke off, Caro falling into a mad infatuation with Byron. Later, she sketched Sir Godfrey’s character as the devil-may-care Buchanan in Glenarvon. It seems she cared deeply for him.

The clever story of a Regency miss whose novel features a caricature leading to everlasting love.

Others did not.

I never remember to have heard of anybody more generally disliked, or more completely excluded from the pale of good company.

— John Williams Ward, April, 1810

Another distraction was politics. Sir Godfrey blew lavish amounts of money to buy his way into Parliament. His ambition in this regard remains obscure, for no one could be certain where his loyalties lay. He wanted to stand for election in Sussex for the Tories, but had been known to curry the support of ‘mobs’ with decidedly Whiggish demands.
Money, when he could get it, brought more distractions. He thought to make a splash in the racehorse business–with limited success. He might as well have stayed on land for all the blunt he spent on a yacht named Scorpion.
When these distractions ceased, Sir Godfrey was left to concentrate on Battle Abbey, which became his solace.

The Novices Common Room – Battle Abbey via WyrdLight.com

The furnishings Sir Godfrey ordered for his manor house reflect his taste for the Romantic, a movement that flourished during the Regency. The Gothic Revival style, sometimes called Elizabethan, of the Webster chair signals a desire to make Battle Abbey look the part.

George Bullock (1782 – 1818) was one of several Regency-era furniture makers who were responsible for developing the Gothic Revival style:

“Battle-axes, battering rams, Roman fasces, halberds and shields should only be introduced into military apartments. (Bullock) was the only person who ventured into a new path: though some of his designs were certainly too messy and ponderous, nevertheless grandeur cannot be obtained without it.”

— The Rudiments of Drawing Cabinet and Upholstery Furniture…, Richard Brown (1835)

The emphasis in such a design is not just a departure from the classical Greek and Roman influences, but a desire to return to one’s roots, to recall the past as it was thought to be, in Britain. Indeed, Ackermann’s boasts that this style of furniture is particularly favored there because it is the only place where the style can be fully understood and appreciated.

Note the tracery decoration in this Gothic dressing table, reflected in the matching footstool. From Ackermann’s Ser.3,v.10(1827)

Interestingly, Bullock supplied the furniture for Longwood House, Napoleon’s last home in exile. The foot-bath he designed for L’Empereur was a notable departure from his Gothic style, bearing the leaves of victory in the Greek manner.  The commissioners in charge of this task rejected the bowl, of course.

As for Webster’s check made out to  Bullock, that too was rejected!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ceremonial chair for Battle Abbey: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O58202/ceremonial-chair-bridgens-richard/

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Regency Furnishings: the Drawing Room Chair

Hope’s Egyptian chair, featured in June’s post, is of a very eclectic design, meant for the most discerning, ‘top of the trees’ consumer. So, too, was the Trafalgar. As the Regency period wore on, however, the masses discovered these trends in the ton’s furniture fashions. Thanks to the furniture pattern-book, now the public could order such furnishings, and emulate the private elite.

George Smith mahogany hall chair with acanthus back. via LoveAntiques.com

It was, after all, a time when information was more easily disseminated than in the past.

George Smith (1786 – 1826) was the most prolific in furniture pattern book publication. Still associated by name with British master craftsmen of furniture, (with showrooms in London, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles), he believed the designs of Hope and others ought to be made directly available to cabinet and furniture makers.

It was a system the French had implemented many years before.

His pattern book displays of chairs, draperies, couches and desks sported the latest decorative carvings, finishes and trim. To make the unusual more appealing to a wider range of tastes, he often combined various styles into one design, but was careful to advise the consumer on some basic ground rules that both Quality and bourgeois should heed:

Mahogany, when used in houses of consequence, should be confined to the Parlour and Bedchamber floors; in furniture for these apartments, the less inlay of other woods, the more chaste will be the style of work…

George Smith, Collection of Design for Household Furniture and Interior Decoration (1808)

The mahogany hall chair, pictured above, is perfectly suited for a grand country house or town home in Hans Crescent. The carved back makes the sturdy chair stylish, without sacrificing function. Regardless of societal status, one need not blush at owning such a piece, as long as it is employed according to the rules.

In chambers where one receives visitors, the expectation is for fancier pieces. Furnishings for the Drawing Room must be more than “chaste.” In the following illustration, note the varying degrees of decoration in these drawing room chairs.

“Chairs for Drawing Rooms admit of great taste and elegance, as well as variety, and are constructed of rich and costly materials in accordance with the room.” — Plate 56, Smith, Collection of Designs

The chair on the left might be the principal ornament of a modest drawing room in a Bristol rectory. In a great country house like Forde Abbey, a set of ten like the one on the right, with basket-weave sides and back, would be quite grand in the saloon or library.

Indeed, the drawing room chair on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London is part of such a set, and closely copies the Smith design of the basket-weave chair above. Other members of the set also survive, in varying conditions, at the Brighton Pavilion as well as up for auction on the internet — dispersed from estate sales of great country houses.

This drawing room chair at the V&A Museum is thought to come from Leigh Court in Somerset.

The Regency period was a time when many more could participate in the elevation of taste, thanks to George Smith and other publishers of pattern-books. The danger came, however, when a popular design became over-exposed. In the hands of an amateur, sphinxes, gods’ heads and animal parts got amplified in size and ostentation:

‘Number 8 is a design for a drawing-room chair. The back and body represent a female crocodile couchant…being as may perceived by the mammaluea. or little teats, a crocodile sui generis.’

Satirist: or Monthly Meteor, Volume I, George Manners, et al (1808)

What was all the crack could easily become not at all the thing.

 

 

 

 

 

Regency furnishings: Egyptian

“Mr. Chawleigh had fallen victim to the fashionable rage for the Egyptian…”

— A Civil Contract, Georgette Heyer (1961)

“..chimney piece of Mona marble, or verd antique, and decorated in the Egyptian style. ” —Ackermann’s Repository, Vol. 14, December, 1822

In 1798, Britain scored a major triumph over Napoleon in the Battle of the Nile. Naturally, the Egyptian motif was in order, recalling the Nation’s exploits in a land most had never seen, but assumed was covered in sphinxes and other sorts of ancient artifacts.

A recent trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London confirms a lot of furnishings in the Egyptian style had been made during the Regency. Certainly a good deal of the stuff managed to survive two hundred years.

Egyptian chair, by Thomas Hope — Victoria and Albert Museum

Much of this was due to Thomas Hope (1769-1831), a wealthy merchant of Scot and Dutch extract. As a young man, he traveled extensively throughout the Ottoman Empire. He used these experiences, and the vast collections he had acquired, to establish himself as an interior decorator to the Regency.

You can still purchase his 1807 book, Household Furniture and Interior Decoration.

They called him ‘the costume and furniture man.’ Thomas Hope, by Beechey (1798)

His London house was in Duchess Street, Cavendish Square. It acted as a sort of showroom for those who sought eclectic ideas to freshen up the neoclassical style that had been the vogue for some time. His country house, Deepdene, had a resort-like reputation. Guests would relax in rooms equipped with personal libraries and enjoy excellent advice on all things fashionable.

One could get carried away with the Egyptian style, as is often the case with anything that becomes all the rage. In one sentence, Heyer tells us of Mr. Chawleigh’s excessive predilection for the Egyptian.

We know his character better than if she’d described it several.

Hope’s possessions were dispersed by descendants. His son demolished the town residence and British Rail replaced the country mansion with an office block of ‘unsurpassed mediocrity.’  Only his mausoleum survives, on the grounds of vanished Deepdene.

Even this structure was forgotten, buried beneath a huge mound of earth, until it was discovered and restored. Now it can be seen along the public walk outside Dorking. If newspaper accounts are to be believed, a variety of persons and organizations hand a hand in this, including the Lottery Fund, an intrepid Council worker and Julian Fellowes.

The Hope Mausoleum. Resurrected like an ancient Sphinx from the desert sands that buried it.

Regency Impudence: Jane Austen

“..certainly silly things do cease to be silly if they are done by sensible people in an impudent way. Wickedness is always wickedness, but folly is not always folly.—It depends upon the character of those who handle it.”

–Emma

Thus the heroine describes Frank Churchill, who has surprised her by admitting he posted to London merely to get his hair cut. She knew him to be a charming fellow, with good address and a handsome appearance. From this she inferred him to be of good character and sensibility.

Seems he might have to go back for another haircut.

Now she is not so sure.

Tonnish gentlemen valued a good barber, particularly one who was awake on every suit in the dressing of hair. But Mr. Churchill wasn’t seeking such services because they were scarce in the country. He went to London at great expense and difficulty to attend to his appearance because of the reaction such impulsive conduct would provoke in others.

He was proud, impudently so, of his folly.

Impudence is the lightning rod that strikes the placid treeline of Regency society. Jane Austen uses the impudent character to put her heroes and heroines in a bustle. Her Churchills and Willoughbys and Wickhams bring conflict and disorder to what would normally be harmonious and orderly.

What Marianne saw in him I confess I shall never know.

‘Brandon is just the kind of man,’ said Willoughby one day when they were talking of him together, ‘whom everybody speaks well of, and nobody cares about; whom all are delighted to see, and nobody remembers to talk to.’

— Sense and Sensibility

Austen heightens the tension the impudent character brings by placing him very near to his polar opposite. Fully aware of this contrast, the impudent Willoughby does not shrink from commenting on Colonel Brandon’s character.  He is so far unrepentant of his impudence he can scarcely refrain from making the insult so exquisitely wrought in the passage above.

What a bore to be like Colonel Brandon. Now this is impudence indeed!

Mr. Wickham is perhaps the most impudent of Austen characters. Without him, the delicious sparring between hero and heroine would be rather less so. It is near the end of  Pride and Prejudice when the author unveils the tip of impudence’s sword, sharpening folly’s dull blade without warning.

When Wickham returns after marrying Lydia, darling Lizzie is amazed.  She expected Lydia to declare herself well-satisfied, for that gel is unthinking folly itself. But Wickham had been positively constrained to enter into wedlock. Chagrined was he? Indeed, no! Miss Bennet learns a valuable lesson from this unveiling, leaving her to resolve privately that henceforth she will “draw no limits in future to the impudence of an impudent man.”

But my favorite illustration of Wickham’s impudence is delivered by Mr. Bennet.  Mr. Collins has the effrontery to warn against an alliance between the rector’s daughter and Mr. Darcy. Couched in the following ode to such unconscious foolishness, Mr. Bennet makes a despairing admission.

“I cannot help giving [Mr. Collins] precedence even over Mr. Wickham, much as I value the impudence and hypocrisy of my son-in-law.”

Mr. Collins is completely unaware of how offensive his conduct is, immersed as he is in self-satisfaction. Mr. Bennet finds this amusing. But he views Wickham’s behavior with grim dismay.  Lydia’s happiness has been placed in careless, selfish hands.

Her father is particularly bothered since he knows Mr. Wickham knows. Impudence is very self-aware. It appreciates the consequences of its conduct.

And impudence doesn’t care.

 

 

Regency Impudence: Joseph Hume

“I see precisely how it is! You are very like my father, Salford! ..the only time  when either of you remembers what you are is when some impudent fellow don’t treat you with respect!”

— Sylvester: or The Wicked Uncle, by Georgette Heyer

Impudence is a powerful force of conflict in Regency-themed literature. The setting of these stories is profoundly concerned with status, and the orderly categorization of the individual within a deeply stratified society. The impudent character bucks the rules, and zounds! the reader is hooked.

The term impudence used to refer to conduct that was immodest. This was during the medieval period. With the rise of the middle class in nineteenth century Britain, the term came to mean behavior that challenged landed class privilege at all levels–political, cultural, social, eliciting dismay, but more often amusement.

Dashed good fun to flout those who are just a little high in the instep.

In the Regency-era political arena, much of the impudence on display can be attributed to Joseph Hume (1777-1855). Made wealthy from a technique to keep gunpowder dry, he purchased a Tory seat, only for that session of Parliament to dissolve.  Chagrined, he “ratted” upon his return, and became a Radical MP.

Joseph Hume, “a burly man with a massive head and virtually no neck.” by John Whitehead Walton

His achievements, which were many, attempted to force retrenchment upon the government’s purse. His biographical entry in History of Parliament states he was “willfully perverse..largely impervious to the ridicule and abuse which he largely attracted from his political adversaries.”

This was impudence indeed, but that was not the half of it.

“..very very noisy, very violent … and on many points unintelligible, but quite satisfied with himself.”

— John Gladstone, Tory MP (letter to George Canning, Feb. 1822)

He was proud of his conduct, and that was the crux of his impudence. This unrepentant quality of character excited Maria Edgeworth’s considerable disgust. In her Letters she thought him most impudent for attacking ‘all things and all persons,’ but more particularly because he refused to heed all advice to moderate his good opinion of himself.

Tories detested him. His natural allies, the Whigs, were at times delighted and incensed by him. Sir Henry Brougham wrote to a colleague that Hume makes a ‘stupid ass’ of himself in parliamentary proceedings, inducing most to either fall asleep or walk out with his interminable demands for an accounting of even the most minute of government expenditures.

The fact he went about the thing with an air of superiority was Too Much.

“…his stupid vanity … His kind patronage of Archy [Hamilton] is only laughable, but to see him splitting on that rock (of egotism and vanity) is rather provoking. What right has he to talk of the Whigs never coming to his support on … reform?”

The Creevey Papers (1822)

There were many who tried to reform society at the political level. There were not many who did it as impudently as Hume, as two occasions demonstrate. One concerned an investigation he launched into profiteering at the Crown’s stationary office. The other was the buying and selling of Greek bonds on the taxpayer’s dime.

He admitted to having done both.

In the case of the first charge, he compounded his impudence by admitting his perfidy in writing, on the very stationary in question. As to the second charge, his corruptible speculation resulted in a personal financial loss, for which he demanded the poor Greeks compensate him.

“Could he, in the incipient stages of his existence, have looked forward to the brazen celebrity which he now obtained, we might almost wonder that he could have the impudence to be born.”

— Anecdotes of Impudence, Charles Tilt (publisher) 1827

‘If Hume should be returned for Middlesex, he of course will forget that he owes his seat to me twice over,” said moderate Whig George Byng, here bearing a most impudent Hume on his back.

 

 

They Wrote History – Regency’s Horses Part III

The character of the military equine must necessarily be memorable, given the brutal circumstances of his surroundings. Those that are remembered, however, tend to have their traits and habits subsumed in the personalities of their famous riders.  By the dawn of the Regency, and the Romantic age, an expanding literate population hungered for stories that centered on the personality of the military charger without regard to whoever was on her back.

At this time, the French had superior cavalry, and Napoleon’s horses figured largely in the history of Regency-era chargers.

L’Empereur had a deep, abiding relationship with his horses. He favored Arab stallions  but also kept a few mares. All were required to be  ‘sweet, gentle and reliable.’ Accounts relate how well his mounts were suited to him.  This was a good thing, for apparently Napoleon had a unique style of riding–one that combined effective direction while managing to appear as if he might fall off at any moment.

Meissonier’s portrait below agrees with these contemporary observations. Napoleon’s weight is not centered, but pressing against a very sensitive area of the animal’s back, just behind the cantle. His heel is too far forward, and the reins are slack. It takes a special horse to remain balanced, not to mention sweet, when being ridden this way, particularly as Napoleon was known to take off suddenly, only to slide to a crashing halt while on the field of battle.

Le Vizir, a favored mount, can still be seen today in Paris. He was stuffed after his death, the imperial N brand visible on his hip.

Napoleon had pet names for his horses, a habit that gives us a window into their characters.   Cirus, for example, he referred to as Austerlitz, for displaying uncommon equine valor at the famous battle.  Another stallion he nicknamed Cuchillero, which means assassin.  Coco was an affectionate reference to still another, meaning mate or friend. He called his mare Marie Zina, which means adultery.

I’ve known a few mares who displayed remarkable tendencies toward the hussy end of the character spectrum.

On the British side, the stories of Sir Thomas Brotherton’s mare Fatima are especially memorable. She was a pure Arab given to him by his father, on the occasion of his gaining a commission in the Coldstream Guards in 1800.  Her exploits in battle are exquisitely illustrative of her character.

Note the fly swatter attached to the horse’s bridle–Fatima, like many Arab-type chargers, had sensitive skin and required such a device to ward off biting flies.
Light Dragoons Officer (1805) by Robert Dighton, the Younger

According to Col. Hamilton, this intrepid mare suffered several injuries in combat, including sabre cuts to the head. Undaunted, she would fight the enemy with her hooves and teeth.  She saw action at Salamanca, when she was nearly put down from a grave injury to her stifle, but for the intervention of the stud-groom accompanying a noble comrade-in-arms. Other noblemen in service would offer fabulous sums of money to Brotherton to have her, including Sir Charles Stewart, brother to the Viscount Castlereagh, British Foreign Secretary.

“She was particularly fond of raw beef-steaks and it was difficult to keep the men’s rations from her, even if suspended on trees, as they usually were, for safety.”

— Historical Record of the 14th (King’s) Hussars, 1715 – 1900 by Colonel Henry Blackburne Hamilton (1901)

In the end, she was captured by the French Government, and carried away to the stud farm.

 

They Wrote History ~ Regency Horses Part II

Oh! the joy of the chase. Especially in the fall, when the morning air is sharp and cool.

“With high-over–now press him!  Talley-ho! Talley-ho!”

— Sporting Anecdotes, Egan (1807)

The excitement begins upon arrival. The hunters disembark from their trailers, greeting strangers and friends alike with animated snorting and the occasional squeal. A gelding ranges too close to a mare, who nips him in outrage.  The poor fellow shivers from hurt feelings and embarrassment. All is forgotten when another hunter bucks in excitement, a maneuver garnished with an exuberant fart.

Hunter Pace at Sweet Briar College with the Bedford County Hunt–no live quarry involved. Great fun!

As in the last post, the focus here is less on the Regency era’s breeding and training of the hunter. Today we are more concerned with the hunter’s character, best displayed in the often-alarming atmosphere of hunting with hounds.

Pierce Egan in his Anecdotes relates what happens when an experienced hunter is paired with an inexperienced rider.

A young Oxford man was egged on by his colleagues to purchase a seasoned hunting horse for forty-five guineas. The November weather of that first hunt lulled our virgin Nimrod into a sense that fox hunting was wretched, boring work with a lot of standing around under dripping trees.

That is, until the hounds scented the fox.

His mount immediately perceived this and the next three hours were spent in a “state of torment,” as the rider was carried along helplessly, his hunter following the chase, over coop and hedge, and dashing down boggy lanes. Finally, he came to a stop so abruptly rider and horse parted company. No entreaties could persuade either of them to partner again.

It cannot be said enough that horses have minds of their own.

The horse is Undertaker, Sir Ralph Lambton’s favorite, gathering hounds at a covert. By James Ward via Wikigallery

“..returning from a hard chase with his victorious horse Telegraph (which he bought of Lord Villers for 600 guineas) Sir Henry St. John Mildmay dismounted and told his groom he might venture to pat him; and accordingly [the Baronet] put his right hand towards his neck, when the horse instantly seized it in his mouth and held it there for over a minute..

Despite the endeavors of two grooms to disengage it, the consequence was that Sir Henry was compelled to suffer an amputation of all his fingers from that hand, in the course of the day.”

— Annual Register, Volume 39 (1800)

Never look a gift horse in the mouth–via WelcomeImages.org

The Monthly Review of 1835 contains a lively essay of early nineteenth century fox hunting in England. Among the reports is that of one Reverend Marmaduke Theakston. In the heat of the chase, this man of God was thrown as he tried to ford the River Tees aboard ‘a spirited and powerful animal. ‘ One should never navigate by sawing on the reins. Horses know very well how to swim.

Simply hold onto the mane, as the editor related his own personal experience. He was hunting with Sir Watkin Wynn aboard Thetis (goddess of water, yeah?) Left to her own devices, the mare saved him from being dashed and drowned amongst a stream’s boulders.

Still,

“A man may attempt the Hellespont for a woman; but on cooler reflection, he is scarcely justified in running such risks of his life for a fox.”

from Nimrod’s Hunting Tours, Pittman (1835)

Thetis rides Hippocamp bearing her son’s armor. She appears quite often in English maritime history–twelve ships of the Royal Navy have borne her name.