History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

26 July 2015

A Hamper from Fortnum's

A wonderful friend and reader of the series sent my daughter Mélanie and me a fabulous gift last week –  a hamper from Fortnum & Mason. I love Fortnum’s. I’ve had some wonderful teas there - both formal tea with a friend all dressed up with hats and more casual popping in for tea and scones after a day of research -  but I’ve never had one of their hampers. I do order things from Britain fairly often, but mostly clothes. It never occurred to me to order one of their hampers, though Fortnum’s was sending their signature wicker hampers all over the world hundreds of years before the days of the internet. Their hampers go back to the late 1730s. Wealthy travelers would take them long on journeys to sustain them in place of the food to be found at coaching inns, often of dubious quality. With the popularity of fêtes champêptres (picnics) in the late 18th century and Regency era, the beau monde found a new use for hampers containing Fortnum’s delicacies.

In my recent release The Mayfair Affair, Spanish-Irish revolutionary Raoul O’Roarke brings a hamper from Fortnum’s filled with typical Regency fare with him when he visits governess Laura Dudley in Newgate, where she is imprisoned on charges of murdering the Duke of Trenchard.

 "I'd have been here sooner, but I stopped for supplies." O'Roarke advanced into the room and set a hamper on the table.

The key scraped as the turnkey locked them in. Laura regarded the hamper. She had seen similar ones tucked into the Rannochs' open landau on expeditions to picnic at Richmond. "That's from Fortnum’s.”

"Do you object to Fortnum's?" O'Roarke opened the hamper, took out a linen cloth, tossed it over the table, and then proceeded to extract a loaf of bread, a hunk of cheddar and one of Stilton, scotched eggs, and apples and oranges. "Perhaps it's hypocritical of me to relish such a symbol of the British establishment, but I confess I'm quite fond of their hampers.”

"It seems a bit extravagant for Newgate.”

"On the contrary." O'Roarke pulled two glasses from the hamper, followed by a wine bottle. "It seems precisely what is called for in circumstances like these.”

In the Victorian era hampers from Fortnum’s were a frequent sight at regattas, cricket matches, and other outdoor events that became fixtures of the social season. But the signature hampers weren’t just found at social occasions. Fortnum’s sent provisions to Wellington’s troops during the Waterloo campaign. Queen Victoria sent beef tea to Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War, and during World War I  parcels from Fortnum’s were dispatched not just to troops but to Red Cross outposts and prisoners of war. British troops today still receive consignments of tea, jam, biscuits, and other delicacies from Fortnum’s.

Fortnum’s signature hampers have accompanied explorers all over the world, including on expeditions down the Congo and up Mount Everest and have nourished (and continue to nourish) British ex-pats, Anglophiles, and simply those with a taste for superb tea and other delicacies round the world.

Including in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m finding the contents of our hamper wonderful writing inspiration (I’m sipping the Earl Grey as I write this post) and Mélanie loves the biscuits (“the best cookie I ever had”) and playing with the hamper itself.

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15 July 2015

Locating Georgian London

I've been working on a project to map out locations in Georgian/Regency London. Currently my Google Map has upwards of 200 locations (I think it might be closer to 300). I have everything from shops to pubs to historical residences, which can prove a bit tricky as a lot of the houses changed hands FREQUENTLY. I had this idea that prominent families had a town house much like they had a rural seat and that it was something long standing. And while that appears to be true for some (like Devonshire House), it's not at all true for many others. This became VERY clear as I combed my way through the Survey of London and looked to see who lived where during our period.

Some houses I could easily label, but others had far too many occupants even during the few decades of the "extended Regency", and I only attempted the major squares! For example, here's the complicated history of No 8, St. James's Square (which during most of the Regency was the Wedgewood showroom):

"This house was the last in the square to be granted away by the representatives of the St. Albans interest, being owned by the Earl's heirs until 1721. The earliest evidence of its existence is in 1676 when it was occupied by the French ambassador, Honoré Courtin, on a yearly tenancy from the Earl of St. Albans at £400 per annum. (fn. 3) It first appears in the ratebooks in the following year, and until 1684 was occupied by Sir Cyril Wyche, the Earl of St. Albans, or the French ambassador for whom St. Albans seems usually to have paid the rates. It was here that in July 1684 Henry Compton, Bishop of London, received from the representatives of the deceased Earl the title-deeds of the site of St. James's Church and took sustenance during an interval in the ceremony of consecrating the church (see page 33). In 1685 the Earl of Pembroke occupied the house and from 1686–8 the French ambassador was rated as occupant. (fn. 1) From 1689 to 1693 the house was inhabited by the Earl of St. Albans's nephew, Henry, Lord Dover.

In June 1721 (fn. 4) Lord Dover's executor and heirs sold the house to Sir Matthew Decker, a banker, who lived here until his death in 1749, after which his widow continued to occupy the house until 1759. Bowles's view published in c. 1752 compared with Sutton Nicholls's shows that the house then still retained its original appearance except for the insertion of a new doorway of round-headed form (Plates 128, 130).

In 1768 Sir Sampson Gideon, later Lord Eardley, bought the house from the trustee and heiresses of Lady Decker, (fn. 5) and soon afterwards the house was altered or perhaps rebuilt for him by the firm of Henry Holland, senior. A record of the work of the mason, Joseph Dixon, survives (fn. 6) and includes work to the value of some £374 on the house, stables and street paving: old chimneypieces were cleaned and reset and plain mason's work carried out. It was perhaps at this time that the entrance to the house, which in c. 1752 was still in the square, was moved to York (now Duke of York) Street as shown on a plan of 1793 by John Soane.

Sir Sampson left the house in 1784 and for twelve years it stood empty. (fn. c1) Towards the end of this period Soane surveyed it. (fn. 7) In 1795 the house was bought by the younger Josiah Wedgwood for £8500, and a further £7000 is said to have been spent on the house, (fn. 8) the showroom here in 1809 being illustrated in a plate in Ackermann's Repository of the Arts, and the plain exterior in the Ackermann view of the square in 1812 (Plate 131). Wedgwood and his partner, Thomas Byerley, used the premises until, trade apparently becoming depressed, they were given up in 1830. (fn. 9) In August 1830 the property was sold by Wedgwood to the Earl of Romney. (fn. 10) Until 1839 the house was occupied by the Earl as a private residence but was not again used as a private residence alter that date, being usually occupied as a club-house."


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