Conjurors and Conjuring in the 1700s

William Hogarth’s a “Credulity, Superstition, and Fanaticism,” March 15, 1762. Courtesy of the British Museum.

Conjurors and conjuring existed long before the 1700s, and in its simplest form, conjuring was a performance of tricks that appeared to be magical and usually involved some sort of sleight of hand. Well before conjuring became popular in the 1700s, conjuring performances were given in antiquity and in the middle ages. However, there was never an overabundance of conjurors, even in the late 1800s, as one historian noted:

“I have said nothing concerning the manners and habits of conjurors, simply because there is nothing to be said. There are so few conjurors, as compared with circus performers, or members of the theatrical profession, that they do not contract those peculiarities of manner, language, and dress by which individuals of other classes of entertainers may almost invariably be distinguished. Performing singly, and each being (except occasionally in London or Paris) the only conjuror in the town which he is temporarily located, they have few opportunities of association, and those peculiarities which are the product of gregariousness are, in consequence, not developed. The conjuror, again, is very seldom trained to the profession from his youth, … and this being the case, as it has been with all the most eminent performers of legerdemain, they carry into the profession the habits and manners of the section of society in which they are born.”[1] Continue reading

Kensington Gardens in the 1700 and 1800s

Map of Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park. Public domain.

Kensington Gardens sits west of Hyde Park, which it once adjoined. Kensington Gardens were created when they were cut off from Hyde Park by George II’s wife, Queen Caroline, in 1728. Henry Wise and Charles Bridgeman were tasked with the job of creating the gardens. Bridgeman created the recreational lake known as the Serpentine between 1726 and 1731 by damning Hyde Park’s River Westbourne on the eastern outflow. Queen Caroline enclosed Kensington Gardens by using the West Carriage Drive (The Ring) and the Serpentine Bridge to form a boundary between the two. Kensington Gardens consists of 270 acres, but at one time, Kensington Palace was surrounded by 30 acres of private gardens and shaded by fine old trees. Continue reading

Strange and Curious Wills of the Georgian Era in the Canterbury Court

wills of the Georgian Era
Solon, the wise lawgiver of Athens. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A will or testament is a legal document that allows a testator (the person who has written and executed a last will and testament) to express his or her wishes as to the distribution of their property. According to the Roman citizen, Greek biographer, and essayist Plutarch, the first written will was invented long ago by the Athenian statesman, poet, and wise law giver named Solon. Eventually, many types of wills were generated, and sometimes these wills contained strange or curious requests. This was the case in the Georgian Era when certain testators in the Canterbury Court left behind these following interesting requests:

GEORGE APPLEBEE – Rector of St. Bride’s, London – 7 August 1783
“My body after being dressed in a flannel waistcoat, instead of a shirt, an old surtout coat, and breeches without linings or pockets, an old pair of stockings, shoes I shall want none, (having done walking) and a worsted wig, if one can be got, I desire may be decently interred.” Continue reading

The Despard Plot, Trial, and Execution

Colonel Despard. Public Domain.

Colonel Edward Marcus Despard was an Irish soldier who served in the British Army. During the American Revolutionary War, he and his troops were victorious at the Battle of the Black River. His success was part of the reason that he was later appointed Superintendent in British Honduras. However, in 1790, he was recalled to London and questioned about his conduct while there.

Unhappy, over the ordeal, Despard became interested in revolutionary politics. The story begins after he joined the United Irishmen to fight for equal rights for the Irish. When war with France broke out, the United Irishmen went underground and backed the French in an invasion against Ireland. Unfortunately, the invasion failed, and in response, the passage of the Act of Union went into effect on 1 January 1801, abolishing the Irish Parliament and creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Continue reading

Count d’Artois at the Scottish Palace of Holyrood

Engraving of Count d’Artois. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

After the Bastille was stormed in July of 1789, Louis XVI’s youngest brother, the Count d’Artois, fled France with his family. They lived briefly in Italy and Germany before finally settling in Great Britain in 1792. There the Count became a leader of the French émigrés and was welcomed by King George III, who also gave him a generous allowance.

Although the Count d’Artois was welcomed in Great Britain, he wanted the Bourbon monarchy to rule in France. So, he outfitted an army on borrowed money around 1795 and became involved in a royalist uprising against revolutionaries in La Vendée. Things did not go as planned. He was beaten and returned to Great Britain defeated. However, before he landed in Great Britain, he was “advised that should he step ashore he would be liable to imprisonment for debt under British law if he did not meet the sum due.”[1] Continue reading

Seven Melancholy Accidents of the Georgian Era

seven "melancholy" accidents of the Georgian Era
Differential Windlass. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

During the Georgian era, there were many “melancholy” accidents reported in the papers. The first one accident occurred in 1799 on 6 February at Morley Park, near Heage. A servant working for a Mr. Wildsmith was drawing water from a well with a bucket. According to the newspaper, all was going well until suddenly “the windlass slipt out of his hand, and catching hold of the rope to prevent the bucket from being broken, he was precipitated into the well, sixteen yards in depth.”[1]

That wasn’t the only death that involved water in the Georgian Era. Another accident occurred on a Saturday morning in July of 1775. Two 24-year-old twin brothers named Sommerton went to bathe at a saltern that belonged to a Mr. Moxham at Lymington. The twins were said to be of good character and looked and behaved so much alike even their friends could barely tell them apart. However, one of the boys could not swim, and according to the newspaper, Continue reading

Lightning Strikes of the 1700s

Lightning Strikes
Benjamin Franklin’s Lightning Experiment in 1752, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Benjamin Franklin was the first to discover that lightning consisted of electric matter. This discovery helped people to understand “that lighting in passing from the clouds to the earth, or from the earth to the clouds, runs through the walls of a house, the trunk of tree, or other elevated objects.” Since Franklin’s time people have learned more about lightning. For instance, lightning strikes occur more in the summer than in winter, and from noon to midnight than from midnight to noon. Knowing these facts helps people to stay safer today. But in the 1700s, just as today, lightning strikes could occur anywhere, anytime, and just about anyone could be struck down by lightning. Continue reading

Execution of the Earl of Kilmarnock and Lord Balmerino

Effigies of Earl of Kilmarnock and Lord Balmerino With a Scene of the Execution, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Images of Earl of Kilmarnock and Lord Balmerino with a scene of their execution. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

William Boyd, 4th Earl of Kilmarnock and Arthur Elphinstone, 6th Lord Balmerino were taken prisoners at the Battle of Culloden, the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745. Both men were tried and sentenced to death for treason. Their executions were carried out at Tower Hill on 18 August 1746.

The event began at six o’clock, when “a troop of life-guards, one of horse-grenadiers, and 1000 of the foot-guards … marched from the parade in St James’s park thro’ the city to Tower-Hill.” Around eight o’clock, the sheriffs of London arrived, along with others, as well as the executioner. They then dined together at the Mitre tavern on Fenchurch-Street before being conducted to the scaffold, which was about thirty yards away from the tavern.

Preparations at the scaffold began at ten o’clock when a “blocked was fixed on the stage, and covered with black cloth, and several sacks of sawdust … were brought … to strew on it; soon after their coffins were brought, covered with black cloth, ornamented with gilt nails.” Each coffin had a plate with the appropriate person’s name inscribed and an image of their coronet: Guilelmus Comes de Kilmarnock and Arthurus Dominus de Balmerino.

Fifteen minutes later, the sheriffs left in a procession to the outward gate of the Tower. There they knocked and requested possession of the Earl of Kilmarnock and Lord Balmerino. The men were then delivered into their possession, and, soon after, the procession moved in a slow and solemn manner in the following order: Continue reading

Georgian Era Surnames: Names Expressing Contradictions

Definition of the Word "Surnames," Courtesy of Google
Definition of the Word “Surnames.” Courtesy of Google.

Everyone likely knows that in the Georgian era surnames such as Butcher, Tailor, or Miller referred to a person’s occupation and that a surname of Lewes, York, or Surrey was likely given to a foundling by a parish officer tasked with naming them. However, some of the more interesting surnames in use in the Georgian Era were often contradictory and expressed the reverse of a person’s actual character or qualities. One writer decided contradictory surnames were interesting enough that he wrote a short piece and identified some contradictory surnames. Here it is verbatim: Continue reading

Menu for George IV’s Coronation Dinner on 19 July 1821

Coronation Crown of George IV. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

George IV became King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of Hanover following the death of his father, George III, on 29 January 1820. George IV’s coronation occurred about a year and half later on 19 July 1821. It was a grand costly affair, estimated to have been about £243,000 (approximately £19,970,000 in 2017). One great expense was the innovative gold and silver frame crown that had been specifically created for the King by Philip Liebart of Rundell, Bridge, and Rundell. It was a tall crown with a dark blue cap and encrusted with 12,314 diamonds that were said to make the King appear to be a “gorgeous bird of the east.” Yet, the crown was not the only costly thing George IV wore: Continue reading