Last week I caught an early train to London to visit a few places. I travelled into Paddington and then walked to the Wallace Collection in Hertford House, Manchester Square, W1. I ambled as the gallery does not open until ten. I reflected on the relative safety of London streets and the rebuilding of London by Georgians in the eighteenth century. It was a time when architects were making names for themselves. Near the Wallace Collection I came upon Robert Adam Street.
The Wallace Collection is housed in Hertford House, which was built in 1776 for the Duke of Manchester and is contemporary with the building of Manchester Square.[i] The Hertford family association started in 1797 when the 2nd Marquess of Hertford took up residence. The Wallace Collection displays the artworks brought together by the first four marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace (the likely illegitimate son of the 4th Marquess). Sir Richard made alterations to Hertford House. Lady Wallace, Sir Richard’s widow, bequeathed the collection to the British nation in 1897. It opened to the public as a museum in 1900. It houses one of the best collections of 18th C French art in Britain as well as important 17th, 19th, medieval and Renaissance works of art.[ii] There is also a collection of armour. It is a fabulous collection and well worth a visit.
Museums and collections were beginning to be emerge in the 18th C. The British Museum, for instance, was established in 1753. The Grand Tour had led to a growth in collectors, agents, and collections that needed to be housed. Having a large country house helped but that was not always a solution for large collections or for the families that inherited them.
Travelling to London: circa 1790
At the time of circa 1790 going to London could be hazardous for a country gentleman travelling into the city by coach. I went on the train and the worst that could happen on a Great Western Railway was either spilling my coffee, having to tolerate someone on a mobile phone or someone plugging away at the keyboard of their laptop as if they were trying to wipe out an invasion of army ants. However, nothing of the sort happened and it was a peaceful journey into Paddington.
Walking in London provided the potential hazard of bumping into people who were glued to their mobile phones and not looking ahead. However, the streets on a September morning were safe and relatively clean.
Edward Phelips V (1725-1797) of Monatcute House in Somerset kept an annual journal for several years of his life. He used one that was commercially available and the one for 1790 is called: The Daily Journal; or the Gentleman’s, Merchant’s, and Tradesman’s Complete Annual Accompt-Book For the Pocket or Desk, for the Year of our Lord, 1790.[iii]
In this journal, which allows space to record things and keep accounts, it also has pre-printed information. One such article is headed ‘Useful Hints to Persons going from the Country to London’.
I have transcribed it as best I can below, using modern spelling:
Useful HINTS to PERSONS going from the COUNTRY to LONDON
If you travel in a stage coach, see that your luggage is all safely stowed in the coach seats, boot, &c, where it may be kept dry; boxes or parcels put in the seat of the coach, are least liable to injury, as they suffer less friction, being upon the springs.
Be cautious of whom and to whom you open your opinions in a public carriage.
Remember that by Mr. Gamon’s act the coachman can carry only six outside passengers – and his master will thank you to prevent his taking up short passengers, or (as they are termed) cads – to the robbery of his employer, and the injury of his horses.
Where the coaches are shifted, by all means attend and see your trunks, &c, duly packed in the next carriage.
Never deny the coachman his accustomed fee if he has driven you well, nor ever give it to him if he has behaved ill.
When you arrive in London, if the coach puts up at any distance from your place of destination, order a hackney coach to be called, and desire the stage coachman to find you a trusty person to shift your luggage into the hackney coach, which you must not neglect to see done.
If at any time you trust a stranger to assist you in taking your trunks from a stage, the chance is as ten to one but he is a thief, upon the look-out for a catch.
To secure your pockets from being picked, have all your coat pockets made inside, and a breast pocket for your papers; – never stand gazing at shop windows, nor attempt to press through a crowd – go to no public place with papers or pocket-books of value about you, nor let your watch chain hang dangling from your fob; if you should exhibit a handsome bosom pin, a snatch at it is more than probable – a purse is by no means safe to carry money in the breeches pocket, the money is safer to be loose. A surtout coat at night is a good safeguard, it may save you from the gripe of men, or the Judas kiss of a prostitute, whilst confederates lighten your pockets.
Sedulously avoid all overtures of familiarity from strangers, in coffee houses, or out of them, be their dress and address ever so genteel.
When you get into a hackney coach, taken the number thereof in pencil, least you may quit it in haste, and leave something of value behind – the gentlemen of the law never omit to twist the string of their green bag round the wrist.
A book of all the coach fares may be had for 2s. and when you know the number of a coach, redress is very easily had against extortion or insolence, by applying at the office in Somerset-Place, when a summons will be sent the coachman to attend and answer your complaint before the Commissioners the Friday following ; and more speedy redress may be had by applying at Sir Sampson Wright’s, in Bow-street. The coachmen hate the words “Bow-street.”
When you pay a hackney coachman, see that he does not ring the money, or, in plain English, change it for brass, by pretending to bite it, &c.
Avoid changing money at public places, and with hackney coachmen or chairmen.
Be not temped to purchase goods artfully place in shop windows, with prices marked upon them ; they are in general of very inferior quality, and marked at about double their value.
Should you be tempted to spend an evening with a complying fair one, and the rude hand of a bailiff assails her, – be at least satisfied it is not a sham arrest before you bail it or pay the debit.
When you intend sleeping in an hotel or tavern, secure, if you can, a linen bed free from bugs, a chamber tolerably quiet, and a retreat to the street door or top of the house in case of fire.
Beware of advertising cheap tailors, hosiers, and shoemakers – they are all dear in the end.
When you take money at the banker’s, weigh it in our own scales before you take it away.
Avoid sales by auction, unless you have the advice of experienced judges ; many are only mock auctions ; and at real sales the brokers attend in such numbers, and are so jealous of a gentleman’s bidding that they will compel him to buy very dear, by bidding upon him. If you mean to buy at an auction, examine the goods before the sale, and puzzle your opponents as to what you want, by cautiously bidding on many things do you not mean to buy.
When you buy plate, know the weight of it, and the charge for fashion.
In walking the streets, when your right hand is to the wall, you’ve to take it – when your left hand is to the wall, you are to give it, but above all things, mind never to take the wall of a dray cart, or indeed of any carriage, or indeed of a hair dresser or chimney-sweeper.
Pork, poultry, veal, and bacon, may be good in London, but they are always better in the country.
If you want information of a street or a house, always enquire in a shop – not in the street.
Should you keep horse at a livery stable, or in that of a friend, it may be as well to look in upon it sometimes late in the evening or early in the morning ; it may be overheated by a late journey to Hounslow-heath, or strained in flying an early lottery pigeon.
Be your exigence for money ever so urgent, never apply for assistance to those harpies, the advertising money-lenders, for they will take out security, and pay you a small sum in cash, and the remainder in notes and drafts, payable ad Groecas Calendas.
Beware of the extortion of porters for carriage and porterage. In short, this great town contains tens of thousands of excellent worth characters ; but it also contains many thousand miscreants, who exist entirely by fraud and plunder, and to pass through it in perfect safety is the good fortune of a very few ; nothing but extreme vigilance and caution can ensure safety to a countryman.
Notes in reference to the above transcription
(1) Stage Coaches Act 1788
This act came into force on the 1st of November 1788. It stipulated that no more than six people could ride on the roof of the coach, and no more than two upon the box of any coach or carriage travelling for hire. The penalty was 40 shillings per person over the limit, which was levied on the driver. If the owner was the driver, then the fine was £4.00 per person. If the driver could not be found, then the owner was liable for the 40 shillings per excess person penalty.[iv]
(2) Sir Sampson Wright
Sir Sampson Wright was appointed magistrate at Bow Street in 1782. He also started what became the Police Gazette in 1786 (originally called ‘Public Hue and Cry’).[v]
Shopping in London in the late-18th C
Shopping in London was required for specialist items. For a gentleman it might be a decorative snuff box, painting, fine furniture, clothes, books, and items that support a classical education and good taste. A telescope was purchased by Edward Phelips V from George Adams, a mathematical instrument maker (to His Majesty) of Tycho Brahe’s Head, No. 60 Fleet Street on the 28th of May 1780 for £11 and 60 shillings. I hope that he didn’t linger too long in front of the shop window gazing or was extorted with inflated prices because he was a country gentleman!
Shopping could mean going to workshops of specialist makers to see the products.
Further in the day of my own visit to London I ventured to the British Museum. Nearby, on New Oxford Street I happened up on the James Smith & Sons’ Umbrella shop. Maybe by the latter part of the 18th C some folk may have been using umbrellas.
The merchant and philanthropist, Jonas Hanway (1712 to 1786), was one of the first (if not the first) to walk to work in the city with an umbrella. He had lodgings in the Strand and walked regularly to John’s Coffee House in the city (to the east of the Royal Exchange). He carried both a sword and umbrella. Carrying swords by the mid 18th-C was deemed unfashionable. Umbrellas were not at all used and it is claimed he was the first gentleman to walk about London with one. One of his other peculiarities was to take against tea drinking. Tea in the mid-18th C had become adulterated.[vi]
The umbrella became fashionable in Paris before London. They became more common by the later 18th C and early 19th C and the shop in the photograph demonstrates their popularity. In 1830 Mr. James Smith founded the firm at Foubert’s Place, just off Regent Street. In 1851, Samuel Fox invented the lightweight steel frame. This was followed by a growth in popularity for umbrellas. James Smith II grew the business by becoming one of the first umbrella makers to use Fox Frames. New premises were needed to accommodate the larger business and he moved to 53 New Oxford Street. This is where the shop is found today. Lord Curzon, who was a tenant of Montacute House in the early 20th C, bought his umbrellas from this shop.[vii]
The 18th-C country gentleman did need to visit London from time to time and not just for his duties as an MP. He needed to be acquainted with the material possessions that demonstrated taste and education. Whether it be a telescope, a desk for his study, or a decorated snuff box. Shop windows were a bit hazardous to linger in front of but workshops and showrooms would accommodate visits from such customers. It reminds me of the Bastard brothers’ showroom in Blandford showing the different ornamental plasterwork decoration for a modern room of taste. Although it was perhaps aimed more at the aspirational middle class.
Although we are familiar with Georgian architecture in London it is the people that lived then that made up the character of the place. Their behaviours and concerns were often different from ours today. We do, however, have things in common when visiting London: shopping, travelling, tipping, travelling in black cabs (Hackney carriages of today), negotiating the streets, and looking out for those who may be trying to exhort or steal from us. As a woman I am not sure I would have been allowed to visit London on my own in the 18th C.
Laws over time have helped to regulate services and make it easier for the country-dweller to visit London. Next time you venture to the capital perhaps think about the relative ease of travel and movement around London without the hazards that faced the 18th C country gentleman! But do look out for modern criminal offences such credit card cloning or the theft of catalytic convertors!
[i] ‘Hertford House’, Historic England List Entry 1239252, (1970), <https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1239252?section=official-list-entry> [accessed 25 September 2022].
[ii] ‘History of the Collection’, The Wallace Collection, <https://www.wallacecollection.org/art/collection/history-collection/> [accessed 25 September 2022].
[iii] ‘Diary of Edward Phelips of Montacute House: 1790’, Montacute House Archive.
[iv] ‘Stage Coaches Act 1788’, Wikipedia, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stage_Coaches_Act_1788> [accessed 27 September 2022].
[v] ‘Metropolitan Police Historical Timeline: Events from before 1829’, Friends of the Metropolitan Police Heritage Charity
<https://fomphc.com/timeline/> [accessed 27 September 2022].
[vi] James Stephen Taylor, Hanway, Jonas (bap. 1712, d. 1786), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004, online edn Sept 2004, vers 03 Jan 2008 < https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/12230> [accessed 29 September 2022].
[viii] ‘Roll-top Desk (F102)’, The Wallace Collection, <https://www.wallacecollection.org/riesener/the-furniture/desks/roll-top-desk-f102/> [accessed 29 September 2022].