Friday, September 27, 2013

Dancing, Drama, and Deals: The Pantheon

Nineteenth century Londoners were always keen for entertainment.  Though for the most part the classes did not mix, they each found something a little thrilling about running with a different crowd.  During the summer months, Vauxhall allowed anyone entrance for a small price, and kings could rub elbows with commoners.  But for a few years, a building on Oxford Street rivaled anything the outdoor pleasure garden could dream up.  That building was known as the Pantheon.

The Pantheon was originally built as a series of opulent suites in which to hold masquerades and balls.  The massive crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceilings highlighted the paintings and relief work of heroes and kings.  Boxes along three stories allowed the wealthy to slip away from private entertainments while watching the revelry on the main floor.  As many as three bands might play in a night, with no break, allowing constant rounds of dancing.  A foreign dignitary visiting the place as it was being built remarked that only in England could such excesses be found.

At its peak in popularity, in the 1770s, the Pantheon boasted the attendance of the royal and the influential, including the king and queen.  But popularity waned with the century, and in 1789, the Pantheon was converted into an opera house.  Shortly afterward, it burnt to the ground. Legend has it the fire was started by a rival opera house (who knew tenors could be so vicious?).  A new leaseholder rebuilt and reopened it in 1795, returning it to its original purpose.  From then until 1812, it was the scene of many a salacious scandal.

The print below is from Ackermann's The Microcosm of London and dates between 1808 and 1810.  Here's part of the caption:  "Since the Pantheon was rebuilt, it has been principally used for exhibitions, and occasionally for masquerades, of which the plate is a very spirited representation.  It is composed, as these scenes usually are, of a motley crowd of peers and pickpockets, honourables and dishonourables, . . . demireps, quidnuncs [gossips], and quack doctors."

Events were advertised in the papers, including the Morning Chronicle.  When it came to masquerades, only those dressed in character or dominos were allowed entrance.  Doors opened at ten pm; an optional supper was served at one in the morning.  I imagine a number of mamas and papas refused to allow their young ladies and gentlemen to attend.  And I also imagine no small number of them managed to sneak away to attend anyway.

In 1812, the Pantheon changed hands again, and the new leaseholders decided to make it into a theatre (original, I know).  Unfortunately, the Lord Chamberlain refused to give them the proper license, and the Pantheon closed in 1814.  It was once again reimagined in 1833, when it opened as the Pantheon Bazaar, one of the first indoor shopping malls, the fine suites turned into individual stores.  It would later go on to be used as offices and show rooms for a wine merchant until it was demolished to build a new store for the British retailer Marks and Spencer.

Guess that just goes to show that a good deal will win out every time.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Corporal Violet

Violets. Aren’t they pretty? Such a charming picture to print—or rather, re-print in Ackermann’s Repository. The original image was a hugely popular one around France in 1814 and early 1815, so much so that it was quickly banned by the French government and continued to be so on and off for the next sixty years. What could be so controversial about an innocent bunch of violets?

Look closely at the image, in particular the upper right hand side of it. Do you by chance see a face in profile there, with a distinctive (and familiar) hat formed by the folded leaf? Directly opposite it on the left side, do you see another one facing it? And between and below them, hard by the stems, is there a third, smaller one? They are Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, his wife Marie Louise of Austria, and their three-year-old son. So what does Napoleon have to do with violets?

The story goes that after Napoleon’s defeat in early spring 1814, while he wrestled with whether or not to accept his banishment to Elba quietly, he was walking in the gardens at Fontainebleau and was given a bunch of violets by a child there. The emperor took it as a sign and declared that he would henceforth take the violets as his emblem and accept his exile meekly, like the shy and retiring violet. But the following day, while again walking in the gardens, he went to pick more of the flowers. According to an account in the Pall Mall Gazette:

The violets were rather scarce on the spot, and the grenadier Choudieu, who was on guard, said to him, “Sire, in a year's time it will be easier to pick them; they will then be more plentiful.” Bonaparte, greatly astonished, looked at him. “You think, then, that next year 1 shall be back?” “Perhaps sooner; at least we hope so.” “Soldier, do you not know that after to-morrow I start for Elba?” “Your Majesty will wait till the clouds roll by.” “Do your comrades think like you?” “Almost all.” “They may think it, but may not say it. After you are relieved go to Bertrand and let him give you 20 Napoleons d'or, but keep silence.” Choudieu returned to the barracks, and drew the attention of his comrades to the fact that for the last two days the Emperor had been walking about with a bunch of violets. “We will call him among ourselves Pere la Violette.” From that day forth Napoleon was only called by that name in the barracks.

And as he prepared to set sail for Elba a few days later, he addressed the Imperial Guard: “I would embrace every one of you to display my affection, but I will kiss this flag, for it represents all of you. But know that I shall return to France when the violets will bloom.” After that, violets were all the rage. Not only did Frenchman carry little posies of them around: asking someone if they liked violets became shorthand for asking what their political alignment was. A yes meant you were for the return of the emperor; a no meant you supported the reinstated Bourbon monarchy. Copies of this image, with its hidden-in-plain-sight portraits, were all the rage as well, especially as more and more Frenchman became disillusioned with the reactionary and repressive regime of the new King Louis XVIII.

True to his word, Napoleon returned with the violets, slipping away from Elba under the noses of the British and landing in the south of France on March 20, 1815. Corporal Violet had returned, along with his namesake, though not for June, both the flowers and the emperor were gone. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Let Us Hear from You!

How that's for a blatant plea?  But, hey, perhaps we’re allowed.  It is, after all, our birthday here at Nineteenteen.  September marks the beginning of our seventh year of blogging.  We’ve shared fashion forecasts for much of the early nineteenth century; the fate of Queen Victoria, her forebears, and her descendants; and the wonders of matches, hobby horses, and the Dead Letter Office.  We’ve taken you to Brighton and Balmoral and on the Grand Tour.  We’ve reviewed books and movies in our Young Bluestockings Club.  We’ve introduced you to other authors who write about the nineteenth century.  And we’ve hosted contests and quizzes galore.

Over the years, we’ve received a number of lovely, insightful comments, but lately you’ve been awfully quiet.

We miss you.

We know you’re out there.  Our analytics programs continue to insist that hundreds are reading the posts online, and nearly 250 of you are receiving them via e-mail. 

If you’ve been waiting to comment, now’s your chance!  As we have done every year since we started, we are asking for your input.  What do you like?  What don’t you like?  What do you want more of?  Less of?  Are there topics you wish we would cover?  Is the blog still of interest to you?  Would you prefer us to take this to Facebook or Twitter?  Has the time of blogs passed?

Anyone, anyone, Bueller?

Photo credit:  D Sharon Pruitt

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

And now, a Report from Carriage and Driver

It’s September, and that means it’s time for Carriage and Driver’s preview of the upcoming decade’s hottest new vehicles. Whether you’re looking for a sporty performance model or a practical family vehicle, Carriage and Driver will tell you all!

Anyone looking for an eminently useful all-purpose vehicle need look no further than Elliott’s Patent Eccentric Landaulet or Chariot. Less cumbersome than older model chariots and therefore less tiring for horses, it yet includes a spacious boot for luggage and comfortable seating out of the weather for longer journeys. (Ackermann’s Repository, November 1809):

Readers of Carriage and Driver know how keen we are on keeping abreast of the latest technological developments, so this Landaulet with Birch’s patent Roof and Ackermann’s patent Moveable Axles will surely be of great interest to our readers. Note that the roof can be folded back on fine days or raised in inclement weather by a series of ingenious folding panels and sections. The moveable axle system is discussed at length in both a pamphlet and in the March 1819 edition of Ackermann’s Repository:

Corinthians looking for a sportier vehicle might turn their attention to this Light Phaeton, also equipped with Ackermann’s patent moveable axles and built by Mr. Kinder at Gray’s Inn Lane. This stylish carriage, with its raised rear seat for a groom or tiger, combines good looks and performance, and will surely draw all eyes during afternoon forays to Hyde Park (Ackermann’s Repository, July 1819):

Mr. Dodd’s excellently appointed Light Phaeton, pictured here, might appeal to the gentleman of more sedate habits and possessed of the best taste. The attention to fine detail in ornamentation and provision of comfort makes this a most desirable vehicle, one which also might be driven with ease by the fairer sex (Ackermann’s Repository, November 1819):

For the last word in a comfortable luxury vehicle, readers of Carriage and Driver might look no further than this elegant Barouche, equipped with Ackermann’s Patent Moveable Axles. From the folding roof to the deeply cushioned seats, this carriage will provide passengers with a driving experience unequalled by any (Ackermann’s Repository, January 1820):

Which would you consider taking for a test drive, Carriage and Driver readers? :)

Friday, September 13, 2013

Down with All Fairs! The Outcry Over Camberwell

Last week I shared my delight with our new Western Washington State Fair.  The young ladies and gentlemen of nineteenth century London were no stranger to fairs, either.  I've talked about the fair at Greenwich on Easter Monday, which was a delight or a terror depending on who you spoke with, and Bartholomew Fair, which was closer to the terror side.  But another fair near London had an even worse reputation, so much so that the local inhabitants actively campaigned for its removal, several times!

Camberwell Fair was held in the middle of August near the intersection of Church Street and Camberwell Road in what would become Camberwell Park on the south side of the Thames. Various businesses and individuals erected tents and booths from which fair goers could partake of food such as corn cakes and gingerbread.  In 1832, for example, Richardson's theatre set up a splendid tent and hosted dramas like Hamlet.  Alger's Crown and Anchor Tavern was given high praise for its sumptuous decorations, from chandeliers to flags and banners. 

During the day, the place was fairly tame, so much so that nursery maids brought their young charges down to see the animals that were displayed, the curiosities of nature, and the puppet shows.  Barkers cried out the amazing sights to be seen for only a penny behind the walls of their tents.  One year a mermaid was on display, "lately caught and highly accomplished," according to Old and New London of 1878.  She was said to have had the best instructors in her education and could debate on any topic.  She had, it was also said, recently leaped out of her tub to floor a member of the Royal Zoological Society who had disagreed with her on some topic. I imagine a number of the fairgoers had greatly enjoyed that sight.

But however amusing Camberwell Fair was by day, by night, it was another matter.  One contemporary called it "greatly animated."  That is putting it mildly.  Fires and rioting weren't uncommon.  Indeed, in 1807, a magician running a puppet show involving the devil and Napoleon had a sausage pan explode behind him, engulfing the booth in flames.  Luckily, the fire did not extend to the other booths. 

As more aristocracy and gentry displaced the farmers who had called the area home, the inhabitants began taking steps to have the fair cancelled.  Unfortunately, holding the fair was a right of the two lords of the manor associated with the area and brought the participating businesses considerable income.  A campaign in 1823 brought the matter to the courts, but ultimately failed in shutting down the fair.  The 1839 campaign involved the vicar and clergymen of the area as well as the editors of the London City Mission Magazine, who wrote to the two lords of the manor and begged them to end the fair.  Only one of the gentlemen was receptive, so that campaign too failed.  In 1855 the local inhabitants banded together and raised sufficient funds to buy the manorial rights to the area.  Only then could they cancel the fair.

And speaking of fair, it's only fair that you should have a voice as to the future of this blog.  Do come back next week for our annual birthday party and your chance to tell us what you'd like to see more (or less) of.  And you don't even have to buy the manorial rights!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Dance Cards, Again

A few years back I did a post on dance cards, those handy little erasable tablets of bone or ivory carried by ladies at balls to keep track of the partners to whom they’d promised dances. I’ve collected them for years, and recently acquired two that I thought would interest you...except they aren’t exactly dance cards.

At some point later in the 19th century as printing became less expensive, it became the thing to print dance card programs for dances and balls, both private and public. They listed the occasion, location, and dances to be played over the course of the evening, along with a space to fill in partners' names. It was no longer necessary to remember to bring your cute little silver and ivory dance card, and at the end of the evening you had a nice souvenir of the event. Ah, progress.

But you still had to hold onto the thing somehow while you were dancing...and that’s where these come in—dance card holders:

The one on the left, made of brass, consists of a clip that could slip over a lady’s belt or waistband, suspended from which is a ferociously sturdy toothed clip. No dance program had a chance to slip out of this one!

The holder on the right is altogether more delicate, made of silver filigree. It has a ring (from the size of it, meant to be worn on one’s pinky finger) and a clip which gripped the dance program and was held in place by a sliding ring: Not quite as much fun as the old dance cards, but one must move with the times!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Nineteenth Century Today: All's Fair in Puyallup

Our new State Fair in Puyallup starts today.  Yes, the massive, impressive, stupendous Puyallup Fair is now officially Washington's State Fair.  Having grown up not too far from it, I'm inordinately proud.  And though it started in 1900, just after the nineteenth century and on another continent from our beloved England, I thought it worthy of comment.

The Puyallup Valley runs from Mt. Rainier down to Commencement Bay in Tacoma, following the path of the glacier-fed Puyallup River.  The area has been growing crops since it was settled in the 1850s and was home to the Puyallup Tribe before that.  In 1900, local residents banded together to charter a "Valley Fair" to showcase area agriculture, horticulture, dairies, stock raising, mining, and manufacturing.  The small fair, which ran for three days, cost each family a dollar to attend.

But what really put the Puyallup Fair on the map was horse racing.  In 1901, the fair expanded to include a race track and was held over four days.  That original race track was used until 1977.  So many people came from far and wide that in 1902 the fair added parking lots for the jalopies. From there, the fair continued to expand, to more days, more acreage, more activities affecting more people in more areas.  In 1913, it became the Western Washington Fair, but even when I was born more than four decades later, everyone still called it "the Puyallup."

Attendance in 1922 was at 130,000, which skyrocketed to nearly 400,000 by the late 1930s.  Sadly, the federal government commandeered the fairgrounds for much of World War II.  It served as a camp for an army unit, then a relocation center for Japanese-Americans, and finally home to a Signal Service Battalion.  The grounds were closed until 1946, but it has continued its momentous growth since then, with attendance now in the millions.

One of the mainstays of the Fair was Fisher scones, fresh made and dripping with raspberry jam.  That tradition started in 1915 and continues today.  Another tradition was lost in a fire in 1970.  That was a ride called The Old Mill Stream, where couples could ride on boats through a shadowed waterway that included vistas from exotic locations.  It was all terribly romantic, except for the last scene.  All you saw was the back end of a donkey that kicked out at the boat.  It was supposed to drive the girl squealing into her boyfriend's arms. Though I was in elementary school, I loved that ride!  I couldn't wait until I had a boyfriend to throw myself at. All's fair in love, after all.

Welcome to statehood, Puyallup Fair!