The Ghost of Major Blomberg

In 1823, a Bond Street printer published a collection of ghost stories collected by Mr. Jarvis, Esquire. Chronicling visitations from those who have passed on is considered a dubious business. But Jarvis protests the dead have a reason to speak to us:

“..to keep alive in the memory of mankind, the persuasion there are more things in heaven and in earth than are dreamt of in the school of athiestical philosophy..”

— Accredited Ghost Stories, J. Andrews (publisher) 1823

One ghost delivered a message so poignant that even a queen was impressed, and Prinny gained a playmate.

Major Blomberg was posted to Dominica during the War in the Colonies. The expected time of his arrival from England had long since passed and the island’s British governor and  staff were growing impatient over the delay. One evening, the governor was interrupted in his study by a servant, claiming the major had finally arrived.

The spire at haunted Huntingdon College. The institution was named for Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, and cousin to Dominica’s governor.

Blomberg seated himself across from the governor’s desk without ceremony, rumpled, impatiently waving off the lingering servant. When they were alone, the major commanded his astonished host to seek out two orphans upon his return to England.

They are my children, the major said, the result of a secret marriage. He gave express details of their location in Dorsetshire, and where their fortune may be found. Rising, he begged the governor to take guardianship of them. No entreaty could persuade him to remain, no demand could compel him to explain himself further.

He merely withdrew, saying, ‘Adieu! You will see me no more.’

The good major shouldn’t have been seen at all.  His ship was never to arrive.

When news reached Dominica that Blomberg’s ship had sunk, killing all aboard, it was clear that something very odd had taken place in the governor’s island residence. In spite of this, the man took his task seriously, and sought out the children upon returning to England.  He found them in the village the ghost specified. He found their inheritance, and their papers, in a red Morocco case.

Just as the ghost specified.

“This tale was related to the late Queen Charlotte, and so deeply interested her she immediately adopted the son as the object of her peculiar care and favor. He was brought to Windsor, and educated with his present Majesty, of whom he has through life been the favourite, the companion, and the friend. “

 

The spectre of Queen Charlotte may have photo-bombed a wedding selfie taken at Wiltshire’s Bear Hotel.

 

Happy Halloween!

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Regency Furnishings: the Bergère

The bergère- a low, comfortable chair. The term means shepherdess in French.  In England, they called these easy chairs barjairs–or burjairs. They were first popular in the early part of the eighteenth century.

One can almost see a buck of the ton sprawled upon this exquisite piece of furniture. He would naturally stretch his nankeen-covered legs out, displaying his physique to advantage in negligent contrast.

The Northumberland bergère is on display at the V&A Museum in London, along with other remnants of the now-vanished Northumberland House. The following is a bill of sale from the manufacturer:

‘2 bergeres, from the antique, of your Graces aburra wood, highly polished, & richly carved & gilt with ornamented trusses, foliage leaves, scroll sides, &c the tablet back, & seats stuffed with the best horsehair in canvas, standing on brass socket castors.
£225 16s
To covering the seats, backs, & tablets of the bergeres with grey silk, lined with calico, & finished with silk gimps, & cord in suit £5 18s’ 

The Northumberlands also commissioned special covers in leather for the chairs, to protect such expensive pieces when the house was closed up. Not just any old Holland covers would do for Their Graces when they were not in residence.

The chair was designed by Benjamin Dean Wyatt, eldest son of architect James Wyatt.  His clients, besides Their Graces of Northumberland, included the Prince Regent, the Duchess of Rutland and the Duke of Wellington.

His work on Lancaster House is the subject of this blog’s post from several years ago.

 

From the 1820s to the 1830s, Wyatt was responsible for a mini-revival of the Rococo, which had fallen out of favor decades before. As you can see, the bergère, while styled in the classical Grecian design, sports gilded scrolling .

Recalling the good times of the ancien régime.

The Duke and Duchess of Northumberland were married in 1817 in Northumberland House, which they renovated extensively during the late Regency. They had no children, so their energies were devoted to many and varied aspects of British public life, which, like their chair, live on today.

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/

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: the Trafalgar Chair

Another great Pan cover — truth in advertising

“She wanted to be hearing of Lord Nelson, who had naturally been the hero of her school-days. It was her uncle’s only merit in her eyes that he must actually have spoken with the great man, but she could not induce him to describe Nelson in any other but the meanest of terms… a wispy fellow: not much to look at, he gave her his word.”

–Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer (1935)

 

The Royal Navy’s defeat of the French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar was the stuff of legend, in part because Lord Nelson died on the altar of victory. What followed was a paroxysm of hero worship. The flag that draped his sarcophagus had been torn to pieces by sailors craving a memento. Poems and sermons in his memory were composed and distributed through recitals and magazines.

Legrand’s Apotheosis of Nelson — you get the idea

The cult of Nelson even penetrated the realm of Regency furnishings. Already present and popular among the ton, the classic, clean artistry of the Grecian style provided a perfect canvas for demonstrating hero worship.  Distinctive, yet blending well with surrounding furniture, the chairs made in this mode were particularly functional, as the following print shows.

The Greek influence is evident by the shape of the legs. They are carved outward, like sabres. Smaller in scale, they could easily be moved, and pressed into service for large gatherings.

The chair on the far right is a Trafalgar–the back, seat and leg carved as if in a single stroke down to the floor. The back features a patera ornament, a symbol of reverence, surrounded by the wreath of victory.

A bespoke Trafalgar would display symbolic ornamentation, demonstrating the owner’s refined taste. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has such a chair on display, with a back carved to look like a rope that might serve as a ship’s rigging.

V&A Trafalgar Chair

The ebony and gilt paint make the flower-like anthemione and rope carving particularly distinctive.

Nelson himself preferred a chair upholstered in leather, with side pouches that contained dispatches. A gift from his mistress, Lady Hamilton, it was known as the Emma, and kept in his cabin on board ship. The relic was put up for auction last year, still in its original leather upholstery. 

Today, it is the wing-backed, post-modern upholstered chair that Lord Nelson is known for. This one is on sale at 1stDibs.com

Claiming a connection to Trafalgar and its Hero, however trifling, was a mark of distinction, even if Judith’s uncle deplored it.

“Can’t understand what women see in him.”

 

 

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.