Category Archives: Stories

6 January 1806. Too Much Kissing on Twelfth Night

harriet_and_justina_wynneThe Grenvilles’ Christmas gatherings at Stowe were want to last for the full 12 days of Christmas. Betsy Wynne made a note of the festivities:

Twelfth day kept in the most charming manner for the amusement of the children et toutes les jeunes personnes—Ld Temple being King & Justine Queen two thrones were erected—they were crowned & danced in their costume with the children as Pages bearing their trains, which had a very good effect. General Poulett as Chamberlain acted his part delightfully—Ld George Prince of Wales, &c. &c. Too much kissing was allowed. My brats danced & enjoyed themselves, Je me contentaide les admirer.

Justine (also Justina) is Betsy’s beautiful dreamy sister. That’s her on the right with her sister Harriet to the left. Lord Temple was to become the first Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. Lord George was his amorous brother. General Poulett of Addington was a family friend, but not for long.

Trafalgar Day – Nelson and the Cult of Celebrity

[This post was written on Trafalgar Day 2011.]

I am perennially perplexed by the attention given to modern “celebrities”. In 2131, will anyone know who David Beckham was, or any of the stars of X Factor or Strictly? I doubt it.

Two hundred and eight years ago, Horatio Nelson was killed in the Battle of Trafalgar. Few people in history have been so revered. He was Britain’s first mega-celebrity.

On 14 September 1805, Nelson had arrived at Portsmouth and could not make his way to his ship due to the pressure of crowds who wanted to cheer off their national hero. He tried to sneak off at nearby Southsea, but the whole crowd surged to follow and cheer him.

Like all superstars, he did not underestimate his own fame. “I had their huzzas before, I have their hearts now” he told his captain, Thomas Masterman Hardy as he finally stepped from English soil for the last time.

With the victory at Trafalgar, the nation had a victory to celebrate and a hero to mourn.

Vice Admiral Thomas Fremantle commanded the Neptune during the battle. He wrote to his brother William:

“The loss of Lord Nelson is the loss of everything and no man knows which way he is to look for the common & necessary qualities of the command of a fleet of such a magnitude as there is now here.”

When news of the victory reached London nearly three weeks later, his wife Elizabeth Fremantle caught the national mood in her diary:

“In the midst of my delight to hear Fremantle had been preserved in this severe action, I could not help feeling greatly distressed for the Fate of poor Nelson whose loss is irreparable… Poor Nelson! had he survived, it would have been glorious indeed. Regret at Nelson’s death is more severely felt than joy at the destruction of the Combined Fleets.”

Another diarist, Maria Skinner wrote:

“Great news! The combined fleet defeated off Cadiz, but Lord Nelson no more! I could not help being greatly affected by the whole account, and retired to my own room, to vent my feelings.”

Charles Williams, a man who could be a cruel satirist, drew one of the more touching cartoons of the day, portraying Poll greeting her naval husband at Portsmouth.

jack-and-poll-at-portsmouth_bm_croppedPoll says: “Welcome! welcome home my Dear Jack – !! Ah! but you have not brought
the brave Lord Nelson with you, well I hope he is in Heaven.”
Jack answers: “In Heaven! aye to be sure he is Poll. What in Hell should prevent him.”
Image: British Museum.

As every school kid knows, Nelson’s body was brought back to England picked in brandy. He was honoured a state funeral and his body lies in St Paul’s crypt, where he receives flowers on his birthday and the anniversary of his death. He was a celebrity in his lifetime and still is.

So move over Nicole Scherzinger, Simon Cowell and other here today, gone tomorrow “celebrities”. Let’s hear it for real celebrities remembered more than two centuries after their death.

1 January 1810: No end to the hipping and hurrahing at Stowe

At Christmas and New Year, the Grenvilles, their extended family and friends gathered at Stowe.

betsey_wynne_cutThe Wynne sisters were among them and on 1 January 1810, Betsey Wynne (above) writes in her diary:

The weather was favourable to the Day, and proved quite Spring. We all went immediately after breakfast on the Lawn at the North side of the House, where several Groups of Morris Dancers and the Bands of the Buckinghamshire Militia and of the 14th played in turns and enlivened the Scene. I was made most happy by the arrival of Tom, Emma, and Charles, and shall contrive to keep them here till after the Ball.

At one o’clock the poor people from twelve neighbouring parishes arrived for the dinner, with the Clergyman of each Parish at their head and to say Grace at the different Tables, the Colonnades and Sheds under them were filled with Tables, which held twelve each, and their dinner consisted of Soup, Meat pies, and pudding. Every thing was so well arranged that there was not the smallest difficulty, and about one thousand persons were fed.

After dinner, some racing and restling for prizes filled up the time till dusk, when the fire works began and an immense Bond fire was lighted. We remained on the Steps of the House and did not find it at all cold. Ld. Downshire and his Brother Ld.

Arthur Hill arrived just at the conclusion of the fete, and at seven we sat down to dinner, with the addition of the numerous Newman Family, and all the Clergymen, who had attended their parishioners which encreased the party to about 74, all in the Music room, the noise was great and no end to the hipping and hurrahing.

3 January 1836. The Isle of Thanet Corn Drill

The Duke and Duchess of Buckingham and Chandos were greatly concerned about the fate of the unemployed poor on their estates. Arthur Octavious Baker, steward of the Avington estate in Hampshire, wrote to the Duke about the need to mechanise the sowing of wheat:

I have long been particularly desirous of having on the Farm here, an Isle of Thanet Corn Drill, but have always felt some doubt as to whether it would work effectually on our strong soils. This doubt is now completely dissipated by my having seen it most advantageously employed for the last two years by a Kentish farmer recently settled at Kilmeston; & I shall be very glad to have your Grace’s leave to purchase one for this farm. The price is 12 guineas. It would be absolutely essential that I should have a Kentish man to go with it for about two months this Spring. 

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