Regency Theatre Clubs and Secret Societies

RAOB_BadgeNicola here. There’s a new series of one of my favourite TV programmes on at the moment, the BBC genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are. From connections to royalty to Dame Judi Dench’s links to Hamlet, there’s always something fascinating in people’s family history. Last week part of the programme focussed on one of the largest fraternal organisations in the UK, The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes. I must admit I don’t tend to think of the UK as being big into fraternal organisations other than the Masons and the “Buffs” as they are known, was new to me. However their origins and history turned out to be really interesting and got me thinking about the popularity of groups like these, why secret societies were so popular, and their decline in the modern day.

The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes was founded in 1822 during the reign of George IV. It sprang out of the theatre trade and was set up in the Harp Tavern in Covent Garden which stood opposite Drury Lane Theatre. Covent Garden was and still is the heart of London theatre land and The Harp, which has been demolished since, was a favourite drinking place for theatre people. Edmund Kean, the actor, was a famous habitué in the Regency period and Sheridan, the actor and playwright, hung out there in the earlier part of the Georgian era.

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Selling the Regency Vegetable

Joanna here:

This is sort of a pictorial posting today . . . Looking at some pictures of what a vegetable market would have looked like in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries.

We can start with this Scharf painting of Covent Garden in 1825.  Covent Garden was the huge central martet of London.  By the Eighteenth Century it was sort of a combination open-air market, red light district, and raffish hang-out, which must have been interesting for everybody concerned. 

Anyhow, glancing at the picture, you'll see if contains all the elements of a fine city vegetable market.

First off, there's protection from the rain, or the occasional sun. Look up at the top of the painting.  These substantial market vendors at Covent Garden have a wooden stall with a fine, permanent substantial roof. Awnings stretch out to shelter their customers. Those are wood frames with cloth stretched across them.Abusivefruitwoman late c18

Here to the right, a simpler shelter covers this fruit seller. She's set up shop under a cloth awning. 

Old-Covent-Garden-Market,-1825 detail table
Display tables are another most desirable market feature. Tables get the goods up off the ground and present them enticingly.  Apples and green beans are where they can be seen and handled.

To the right, our fruit seller has a simple but permanent-looking and useful bench. 

That table in the substantial booth in Covern Garden seems to be long boards set up on a variety of blocks and barrels that probably double as storage.

Old-Covent-Garden-Market,-1825 detail scalesAnother notable event going on at Covent Gardens . . . we got weighing.

See the man on the left, wearing an apron, using scales. He's selling his vegetables by the pound, which is obviously an upscale approach. Notice how the market vendors in these other pictures below aren't weighing the produce. They'll be offering, "Penny for a fine apple. Tuppence for three.' and selling carrots by the bunch.

The tables in the Schraf painting — see up there at the top — serve another purpose.  A line of tables separates the sellers from the buyers. The sellers are on our side of the pictures; the buyers on the other side of that line of tables.  See how the row of long tables gives these prosperous market sellers their own 'space'? A private space.  A child plays in the foreground. A young woman vender sits in a comfortable chair nursing her baby. 
Market by Charles Henry Turner c 1880 detail with bench

When a table separates vendo from buyer and there's a wall behind, the sellers can keep an eye on the merchandise.  They never have to turn their back to a potential customer . . . or a thief.

See to the right here, where a vendor has no stall, but nonetheless, creates a private space for herself with a long bench.


This sketch of Swansea MarSketch of Swansea market by E. Hull, 1871 detailket in the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century is a good view of vegetable market basics. No booths or stalls. No tables.

These folks are in the vegetable business with only vegetables and something to sit on, burlap bags for the mangel wuzels, and baskets for the lettuces.

And what baskets — take a look at the beauty and variety of these baskets . . . every one of them purpose-made for the cargo. 
We've lost something, putting everything in plastic bins.

Basket 1
Basket 2
Basket 3




I spent most of my adult life shopping in open-air markets like those of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century England.  What about you?  Have you ever done exciting shopping out in open air, face to face with the vendor, bargaining …?

Some lucky commentor in the trail will be drawn to take her pick of my books.

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

Art gallery

Cara/Andrea here,
I love research. Learning about all the little everyday details that help create a scene from the Regency world—a ball, a prize fight, an art exhibition at the Royal Academy, a coaching stop at a country inn, a rural barnyard—is fascinating. I have shelves of books on esoteric subjects from the era in my writing room, and I’m constantly reading to get a picture of how things looked and felt. (above is a scene from an art exhibit—notice how the pictures are crowded on the wall and go nearly to the ceiling.)

But there is an old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words . . . and I couldn’t agree more! Written descriptions are all very well, but there’s something very wonderful about studying drawings and paintings from the time, where one can actually SEE what the clothes and the scenes look like. Some of my favorite resources are the watercolor sketches of Thomas Rowlandson, who had a very sharp—and sometimes cynical—eye. Best known for his satirical cartoons, he was also a very observant artist, who made numerous drawings and paintings of everyday life in the late Georgian and Regency era.

In keeping with the phrase above, I’m going to keep my commentary short and simply share a selection of his art that I find particularly fascinating. (all art courtesy of the Yale British Art Center)

Bath Ball
A ball in Bath (notice the musicians and the chairs with the watchful chaperones)

A ball at Scarborough (Notice the gallery for the musicians and the architecture of the room)

Bath Concert
A concert in Bath (Notice the arrangement of the chairs and the stage for the singer.)

Covent Garden Market
Covent Garden Market (Notice all the details of clothing and the stalls)

A country barnyard (Notice the sprawling barns and sheds)

A country potter taking his wares to market. (Notice the cart and harness), and the house)

Gardening (Notice the dogs and the bare feet)

Stage coach
Loading a stage coach. (Notice the outside passengers and the design of the coach and driver's box.)

Traveling coach
Traveling through the countryside (Notice the details of the whole scene, like how all the horses have docked tails)

Prize Fight
A prize fight (Notice the whole set-up)

Horse auction
Horse sale in Hopkins's Repository, Barbican (Notice the auctioneer and the crowd)

Boat raceThe Annual Sculling Race for Doggett's Coat and Badge (Notice the shapes of the rowing boats and the spectator vessels)

So, I hope you enjoyed this little portrait portfolio of Regency life by an artist of the time. Did you see anything that surprised you? Delighted you? I was struck by how many sketches show dogs as pets. Seeing what a "mill" actually looked like was also wonderful—! hadn't envisioned the carriages crowded so close to the ring. And having read about the race for Dogget's Coat and Badge, I just loved seeing an eyewitness image of what the boats and racers looked like, as well as getting a great feel for the ambiance—one can just sense the ruacous excitement of the spectators. What about you? Please share your impressions!





Georgian and Regency Mayhem, Oh My

Fame-prize-stokes-koBecause I write about spies — some of them women — and because spies have a not-totally-unmerited reputation for violence, I decided to look into acts of violence and mayhem Regency women might have got up to. 

Prior to considering this subject, I hadn't noticed all that many references to women duking it out or poking each other with fencing foils or shooting holes in each other with pistols at dawn in a formalized way. 
I though maybe this was common sense on the women's part.
Researching further, however …

London's Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey, is where perpetrators of Regency violence tended to end up.  Here's some glimpses into the unfortunate and violent side of life in Regency London.

It's 1804.  This is a man visiting a house of what he believes to be extremely hospitable women.  Little does he know …
"I was walking in a street; I do not know the name of it; I was called by the signal ofBeadleampBarrowwomanrowlandson1819 a young lady; she was standing before her door. …  I went into the house with her, and the mistress of the house … said, if I would speak to the young lady, I had better go up stairs.  After I had been up stairs, I came down again, and  … I said to the ladies, if they would give me the change of a one-pound note, I would give them half a pound.
"Mrs. Beard …  gave me a punch in the guts, a push, and a blow on the stomach; then they all fell on me at once, striking and beating me; the tallest woman, Ann Johnson, took me by the coat, and they all took me by the coat, and tore the part, where the pocket-book was, off; with that they all fell upon me … after they had beat me well, I sung out so badly, that they were obliged to open the two doors, and then they shoved me out in the dirt, all four of them." (Proceedings of the Old Bailey)

Which sounds like a lively time was had by all.

Or this, from a woman walking home in the evening.  "I was coming from Bishopgate-street, I had a gown and umbrella with me; I was tyeing up my shoe at a corner of a street in Bishopsgate-street, there were three women came up to me, one seized me round my neck, another gave me a knock of the head and knocked me down, and the other took my bundle and ran away."  (Proceedings of the Old Bailey)

Domenicomaggiotto c18And:  "On the evening in question, I had been to Covent Garden Theatre; I was returning in company with Mrs. Hill. In the narrow part of Rathbone-place, I was suddenly without any provocation knocked down by the prisoner Paget, with her fist; she struck me on the face; while I was on the ground, I was severely kicked and bruised; I was stunned by the blow I received on my face; she took the shawl from my shoulders as I lay; I had it round my shoulders very close, and she pulled it to get it away; she did get it away at last."  (Proceedings of the Old Bailey)

Ah, the good old days when women were nurturing and gentle creatures. 

Besides this unfortunate tendency for mugging with violence, at least some small portion of the female population indulged in professional fisticuffs.

This match in 1723 was advertised: "There has not been such a battle for these twenty years past, and as these two heroines are as brave and as bold as the ancient Amazons, the spectators may expect abundance of diversion and satisfaction, from these female combatants."

The Morning Chronicle of March 24, 1807 reports:  "There were several fights amongst the lower orders on Sunday morning near Hornsey Wood; but the one which afforded the most diversion, was between two women; the opponents were Betty Dyson, a vender of sprats, and Mary Mahony, a market-woman. These Amazons fought in regular order upwards of forty minutes, until they were both hideously disfigured by hard blows. Betty was once completely blind, but the lancet restored her sight; and Mary was at length obliged to resign to her the palm of victory. The contest was for five guineas."

This to the left is a later prizefight.  Late Nineteenth Century.  The fights in Georgian and Regency rings would be bareknucklPoster Police Gazette C19ed.

When half-dressed females boxing got to be dull, sometimes they fought with swords.  Cesar de Saussure wrote in 1725:

"I witnessed an extraordinary combat, two women being the champions. As soon as they appeared on the stage they made the spectators a profound reverence ; they then saluted each other and engaged in a lively and amusing conversation. They boasted that they had a great amount of courage, strength, and intrepidity. One of them regretted she was not born a man, else she would have made her fortune by her powers; the other declared she beat her husband every morning to keep her hand in, etc. Both these women were very scantily clothed, and wore little bodices and very short petticoats of white linen.

"One of these amazons was a stout Irishwoman, strong and lithe to look at, the other was a small Englishwoman, full of fire and very agile. The first was decked with blue ribbons on the head, waist, and right arm; the second wore red ribbons. Their weapons were a sort of two-handed sword, three or three and a half feet in length; the guard was covered, and the blade was about three inches wide and sharp only about half a foot of it was, but then that part cut like a razor.

"The spectators made numerous bets, and some peers who were there some very large wagers. On either side of the two amazons a man stood by, holding a long staff, ready to separate them should blood flow. After a time the combat became very animated, and was conducted with force and vigour with the broad side of the weapons, for points there were none.

"The Irishwoman presently received a great cut across her forehead, and that put a stop to the first part of the combat. The Englishwoman's backers threw her shillings and half-crowns and applauded her. During this time the wounded woman's forehead was sewn up, this being done on the stage; a plaster was applied to it, and she drank a good big glass of spirits to revive her courage, and the fight began again, each combatant holding a dagger in her left hand to ward off the blows. The Irishwoman was wounded a second time, and her adversary again received coins and plaudits from her admirers.  … The surgeon sewed it up, but she was too badly hurt to fight any more, and it was time, for the combatants were dripping with perspiration, and the Irishwoman also with blood. A few coins were thrown to her to console her, but the victor made a good day's work out of the combat." 

Brawls in brothels, mugging with violence, or public boxing and swordfights would have involved women of the lowest classes.  In Romance, our heroine shoots pistols and fences.  How wild is this idea?  Did women of the respectable classes train and fight for sport, the way their brothers, husbands, and cousins did? 

Seems so.

The Eighteenth Century Duchess of Queensbury, Catherine Hyde, was a notable fencer and trained at Rowlandson angelos fency madame collie of rome feb 8 1816 Angelo's School of Arms in London, the famous fencing studio. The print to the right, from 1816, is Rowlandson showing another woman fencer, Madame Collie of Rome, in white jacket and skirt. 

So training with the foil would not have been outlandish and incredible. In 1815 a traveller to Geneva can say, "Neither is it rare for mothers to have their daughters instructed in fencing till they are ten or twelve years old, for the purpose of giving flexibility to their limbs." (The New Monthly Magazine, Volume 3)

Duel-le-bourgeois-gentilhommeThere are a few famous woman-woman duels in the period.  If they seems fairly silly, I suspect most male-male duels were silly too.

In 1792 Lady Almeria Braddock and Mrs Elphinstone fought what was referred to in the press as the "petticoat duel".

"A certain Mrs Elphinstone paid a visit to Lady Almeria Braddock and was rude to her hostess.  'You have been a very beautiful woman,' declared Mrs Elphinstone in the somewhat unflattering past tense.  'You have a very good autumnal face even now, but you must acknowledge that the lilies and roses are somewhat faced. Forty years ago, I am told, a young fellow could hardly gaze upon you with impunity.'

"Lady Almeria, not surprisingly, was furious and demanded satisfaction in Hyde Park in central London.  They began with pistols at ten yards, Mrs Elphinsonte putting a bullet through Lady Almeria's hat.  They then set to with swords, and Mrs Elphinstone was lightly injured.  Lady Almeria declared herself satisfied, Mrs Elphinsonte agreed, and both women curtsied to each other before departing the field."  (James Landale The Last Duel)

Here's another one.  Aristocrats behaving badly, as it were. 
In France, in 1721, the Comtesse de Polignac and the Marquise de Nesle, both lovers of the Duc de Richelieu, indulged in a most undignified scrap in the gardens at Versailles. 
"Lady de Nesle, losing all control of herself, had sprung like a tigress upon her rival, and attempted to tear a diamond necklace from the Countess's neck. Failing in this, however, she snatched the blush roses from their nest in the snowy bosom, and flung them in the face of her rival. …  In a moment jewels and flowers and ribbons and laces strewed the floor, and there is no telling to what extent the extraordinary exhibition would have gone had not thDame de qualite1778e enraged amazons been separated by the Marquis de Malbuisson and Mademoiselle Nathalie de Condacet.

"Out of this grew the duel, the Countess of Polignac being the challenging party. The ladies met at six  in the morning, in July, 1721, and fired one shot at each other without effect. Their seconds (the Marquis de Malbuisson and the Comte de Penthievre for Polignac and M. de Remusac and Vicomte D'Allagne for de Nesle) then rushed in to prevent further hostilities; the fair demons, however, would not be appeased, but called for a change of pistols, and again blazed away—this second time with satisfactory effect, for the Marchioness fell dangerously wounded by a bullet in her left side, while the Countess was just quietly touched in an ear." (The Field of Honor, Benjamin Truman)

Whenever I hear, 'history is dull', I always wonder what these folks have been reading. 

So, what's your most memorable fighting moment — as spectator or participant?