Subscriptions raised money for charities–and for destitute friends

© Cheryl Bolen

In the days before organized non-profits and charity fetes, the British raised money for the less fortunate through subscriptions advertised in newspapers. Subscribers could donate an amount with which they were comfortable. The higher the person’s rank, the more they were expected to give. It was a coup to use the name of a member of the Royal Family as having donated.

Here are a few subscription notices that appeared on the front page of The Morning Chronicle in 1817.

Subscription for Poor Irish laborers

Donating £50

 HRH the Princess Charlotte Auguste of Saxe Coburg

His Serene H the Prince Leopold of Saxe Coburg 

Donating £20 

Right Hon. G. Ponsonby

the Right Honorable Viscount Castlereagh 

Donating £10 

the Hon. Louisa Cavendish

A Case of Real Distress

Rt. Hon. John George—Lord Arden, Registrar of the Admiralty, Ld of the Bedchamber, etc., etc. It appears from the most unexceptional authority this truly unfortunate nobleman is now actually out of pocket by his sinecure. This case is recommended to all charitably disposed persons. . . the smallest sums will be thankfully received—Messrs. Curtis & Co. Downing Street: Rev. Dr. Sidmouth, Spring Gardens. . . the following subscribers have already been received . . .

It is likely that Curtis & Co. on Downing Street would have been solicitors who handled the subscription and its dispensation.

Friends would often come to others’ aids with subscriptions, such as in the case of statesman Charles James Fox. In a 1793 letter to his wife, who was on the Continent, Lord Bessborough wrote, “We have had a subscription for Charles Fox, who was in distress; Dudley North (Whig M.P.) and Charles Pelham (another M.P.) were the chief movers of it, and they have got as much money as will buy him annuity for his life of £2,000 a year. I should have thought it would have better to have done it without a publick meeting, as they had got nearly money enough without it. However they chose to have it. I had not much to give (huge gambling losses had decimated the Bessborough’s fortune) so I only subscribed £200.”

A week later he wrote

I have been this morning to a meeting about Charles fox’s affairs. We had a very handsome letter from him, & his politicks this years have been kept clear of in what was said; I understand they have got £33,000 paid, which is very extraordinary at this time, & £10,000 more promised. they are in hopes of paying his debts & having enough to get him annuity of £2,000 for his life. I understand they have agreed to buy the annuity of the Duke of Bedford & Ld. Spencer at 11 years purchase.

The grandson of a duke, Fox had inherited enormous wealth from his father, Baron Holland, but squandered it away at the gaming tables. Twice. An annuity of £2,000 would have been an extremely comfortable income. In Fox’s case, subscribers generously reached into their pockets because he was so affable, clever, and well liked.

Still, Fox’s debts, in today’s dollars, would have been roughly $4.5 million. It is doubtful the poor Irish laborers received anything approaching that hefty amount.—Cheryl Bolen, the NY Times and USA bestselling author of two dozen Regency romance novels, has just released Oh What a (Wedding) Night.

Resources

Morning Chronicle, February 6, 1817

Lady Bessborough and Her Family Circle, Earl Bessborough in collaboration with A. Aspinall, John Murray, London, 1940.

 

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Gentlemen’s Clubs in Regency London

©By Cheryl Bolen

The three most exclusive gentlemen’s clubs during the Regency — White’s, Brooks, and Boodle’s — were all located on the same street (St. James) in London’s west end, and all are still in existence today.

But don’t expect to see any signs out front.

Most members of these private establishments in the borough of Mayfair come from the upper echelons of society. Their male ancestors have likely held memberships since the clubs moved to St. James Street in the late 1700’s. When Prince Charles married Diana, he hosted his bachelor party at White’s. His son, Prince William, is also a member.

How White's looks today. Note the famed bow window on the ground floor.

How White’s looks today. Note the famed bow window on the ground floor.

White’s, originally a chocolate shop in 1693, moved to 37-38 St. James in 1778. During the Regency it was strongly associated with Tories. Members could take their meals at the club, and they especially enjoyed the gambling, as well as White’s well-known betting book. The book recorded bets about battles during the Napoleonic wars and often included bets on prospective matrimonial partners. It was at the club’s famed bow window that Lord Alvanley bet a friend £3,000 (over $100,000 today) which of two raindrops would fall fastest.

Brook’s, founded in 1764 by a group of men which included four dukes, moved to 60 St. James in 1778. While many prominent men of the era held membership in both clubs, Brook’s was a bastion for Whig leaders such as Charles James Fox, the Duke of Portland and the Duke of Devonshire. The Prince Regent was a member. Like White’s, Brook’s also had a betting book. One of its most interesting entries is, “Ld Cholmondeley has given two guineas to Ld. Derby, to receive 500gs whenever his lordship f**** a woman in a balloon one thousand yards from earth.” Boodle’s is located directly across the street from Brook’s. Established in 1762, Boodle’s has also boasted many famous members, including Beau Brummel. More recently (relatively speaking), it was author Ian Fleming’s club. He bases James Bond’s club on Boodle’s.

One of the chief attractions to gentlemen’s clubs was the select gambling. Gentlemen of their class always paid their debts of honor.

The Grand Tour

© Cheryl Bolen, 2013

The eighteenth century was the golden age of the requisite Grand Tour wealthy young Englishmen took to finish their education. These weren’t tours as we know them today. They often covered several years and employed a small army of private tutors to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge and proficiency in European languages. These young men would also take valets and fencing masters.grand tour

 

Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester, 5th creation (1697-1759) took a six-year Grand Tour, returning to England in 1718 at age 21. At a time when a servant earned £6 a year, the 15-year-old Coke left England with a dispersal income of £10,000 for each of the six years he was gone.

 

240px-3rdEarlOfBurlingtonPortrait

Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington at time of his Grand Tour

His contemporary, Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington (1694-1753) toured the Lowlands and Italy in 1714 at age 20, returning with 878 caskets of art, clocks, and musical instruments. After the English publication of Andrea Pallidio’s architectural works, Burlington (the Architect Earl) was keen to follow in Pallidio’s footsteps as well as Inigo Jones’ and returned to Italy in 1718 and 1719.

 

Still another of their contemporaries, Philip Dormer Stanhope (1694-1730), the bastard only child of the 3rd Earl of Chesterfield, spent just under six years on the Continent to acquire the attributes his father deemed necessary for him to take a position in Society and in the diplomatic corp. He left England at age 14, accompanied by another young aristocrat and his own master. In each country he visited, his father demanded his valet be a native speaker so Philip could become more proficient in each language. He spent time in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy. At age 18, he took up residence in Paris, no longer obligated to study with his various tutors. At this time his father wanted him to learn the manly pursuits in Society: low-stakes gambling, attending salons, and operas. Also at 18, he received his own carriage, footman, a valet de chamber, and a valet de place.

 

A few decades later, Whig Statesman Charles James Fox (1749-1806), a grandson of the Duke of Lennox, was taken from Eton by his father so he could gain some “polish” on the Continent. In Spa at age 14, urged on by his father, he lost his virginity at the same time he embarked on his disastrous association with high-stakes gambling.

 

The Grand Tour was not just the privilege of the aristocracy. William Beckford (1760-1844), the once-wealthiest commoner in England, embarked on his Grand Tour at age 18. No expense was spared. It was said that because his entourage consisting of three carriages, outriders and relays of spare horses was so large, he was mistakenly taken for the Austrian emperor. Beckford’s Grand Tour journal was published, and a paperback edition edited by Elizabeth Mavor was published by Penguin in 1986. Those looking for an accounting of great excesses will be disappointed. As one whose greatest passions were directed at young boys and nature, Beckford’s observations are not very enlightening to today’s readers.

 

The French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars affected Englishmen’s Grand Tours, and the advent of rail travel a few decades later made the progression through the Continent available to the middle classes.—By Cheryl Bolen

Cheryl Bolen’s latest novel, Falling for Frederick, a contemporary romantic suspense set in England, is a Kindle Serial in nine installments. “Aided by lord of the manor, lovely graduate student archivist seeks priceless medieval artifact—just steps ahead of those who’ve already killed to get it.”

Chiswick House: quintessentially Georgian

© Cheryl Bolen, 2012

Chiswick House (the Brits pronounce as Chiz-ick) is today located in suburban London, but when it was built in the Georgian era, it was a palatial estate alongside the River Thames in Richmond and was accessible from London by boat. It was one of many Thames-side villas that had begun to be constructed from the early seventeenth century onward.

Chiswick House
Lord Burlington’s perfectly symmetrical gem in suburban London. (Photos by Dr. John Bolen)

For me, Chiswick is perhaps the most quintessentially Georgian of all the fabulous homes built in the era–even though it is neither of grand proportions nor was it intended as a family home.

The immensely wealthy Third Earl of Burlington (1694-1853) was an arbitrator of taste and style. He had traveled extensively on the Continent and was one of the earliest disciples of Italian architect Andrea Palladio, who was the primary influence of the clean classic lines that characterize Georgian/Palladian architecture.

So fascinated was Burlington with Palladian architecture, he designed Chiswick himself—something the idle aristocrats simply did not do. Construction occurred from 1726-1729.

Another of the significant Georgian associations with the house is that Chiswick passed to Burlington’s grandson, the Fifth Duke of Devonshire, whose wife Georgiana was an arbitrator of fashion and leader of English society the last quarter of the eighteenth century.

Interiors of Chiswick House

And the last significant Georgian association, at least for me, is that charismatic Whig leader Charles James Fox died at Chiswick in 1806, the same year Georgiana died.

Lord Burlington intended Chiswick House to serve as a temple of the arts to display his most significant works of art.

The perfectly symmetrical, perfectly classical structure’s most memorable feature is the octagonal saloon at the center, which soars up to a domed roof that is lighted by dome-shaped windows. Huge canvases have hung in this chamber for almost three centuries.

One reason Chiswick was not designed as a family home was because Burlington had inherited his grandfather’s Jacobean house on the property, which he continued to use. His grandson had that demolished and added wings onto Chiswick. The wings were demolished in the 1950s to restore Chiswick to Burlington’s original vision.

Today, the house is in the care of English Heritage and can be toured for a fee. The surrounding grounds—significantly reduced from what they were in Georgian times—are free to the public and cared for by the Borough of Hounslow.