Regency Hazards – A Squeeze

People have not done talking of the squeeze at Gloucester House, which was a most exact and daughter-like copy of the Drawing-room, both in numbers and quality.”

Freddy: "Much of a squeeze?" Willis: "No, Sir, we are a little thin of company, the season having begun."

Freddy: “Much of a squeeze?”
Willis: “No, Sir, we are a little thin of company, the season having just begun.”

— Letter from Lady Williams-Wynn to  the Hon. Mrs. Henry Williams-Wynn, May 18, 1818

A squeeze, as you know, is cant for a large number of persons crammed into a space too small to accommodate them.

A Regency hostess’ dream.

Purchased in 1806 by the 2nd Earl Grosvenor, Gloucester House became Grosvenor House, the new London residence of this vastly wealthy family. The squeeze Lady W.W. wrote of took place in the house as it was being enlarged and redecorated.

That evening, guests were ascending the great marble steps to the assembly rooms above, when:

“Mrs. Ross took a faint upon the stair-case, and in order to give her room and air, an Alarm was given that the whole was giving way..”

The panic that ensued was tremendous. Since renovations had been ongoing at the mansion, it must have seemed likely that the structure, including the staircase, had been weakened in some way:

Robert Grosvenor, 1st Marquess of Westminster--he looks good in red, too

Robert Grosvenor, 2nd Earl Grosvenor–he looks good in red, too


“..this sent every body flying, or rather pushing one over the other..”

The Duke of Wellington was also on the stairs when Mrs. Ross fainted.  I suspect she was the lady whom His Grace once called, “my friend Mrs. Ross,” and the wife of one of his officers Colonel (later Sir) Patrick Ross, of the 75th Regiment.

She was usually very obliging. At Wellington’s request, she kept an eye on a colleague’s adventurous son while all were abroad during the Napoleonic Wars.

Friend or otherwise, in the end she caused so much panic that the great Field Marshal was moved to declare:

“..he was never so much frightened in his life, and that it was too bad after all to come here to be taken in by a ‘ruse de guerre’ and that from Mrs. Ross!”



Grosvenor House – Regency Treasure House

In 1805, Gloucester House, home of several lesser Royals, was purchased by the Grosvenor family. The house had a long frontage along Park Lane and extensive gardens beside Mount Street. The noted architect William Pordon was hired to remodel it. Upon initial inspection, he found it to be “dirty..and not so cheerful as the situation would lead one to expect.”

In 1808, Grosvenor House, as it was renamed, was thrown open for the ton’s inspection. Lord Lonsdale, Lord Grosvenor’s fellow Tory, pronounced it “expensively furnished, but in bad taste.”

Richard Grosvenor, 2nd Marquess of Westminster
red looks good on him

No matter–Grosvenor House was principally known for its collection of paintings. Stubbs, Gainsborough, Benjamin West were just a few of the artists represented in a collection that required extensive additions to the House. An entire wing some fifty feet long, double story, was added. An entire room was devoted to the religious paintings by Rubens, looted by the French from a Carmelite convent during the Spanish Peninsular War. These were purchased for 10,000 pounds. Presumably the nuns saw none of that money.

The development of the Grosvenor Estate, of which the house was only a small part, made the family one of the wealthiest in England during the Regency. Successive generations became wealthier, eventually becoming the Marquesses and later Dukes of Westminster.  The present duke is almost (if he isn’t) the wealthiest person in the U.K.

Grosvenor House is now demolished.

The Viscount Belgrave, Richard Grosvenor, and his wife, Lady Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, as she was known before her marriage, lived in Grosvenor House during the London Season with his parents, the first Marquess and Marchioness of Westminster.

I’ve pictured them here because they are both rather good-looking.

Lady Elizabeth published two very interesting travel diaries. During her trip to Russia in 1827 her knee suddenly swelled. An English doctor was found, along with eight leeches:

“…more voracious animals never were seen. I could hardly prevent them from biting my fingers in taking them out of their glass; and they fixed the moment they were applied; biting like pen-knives, we put on seven, and never saw anything like their size, and the quantity of blood they took away..”

Elizabeth Grosvenor, Marchioness of Westminster
no leeches in this 1816 portrait