Monday 15 November 2010

Mrs Woffington is Moving!

Folks, this is just a note to say that I've decided to move over to WordPress and I'd love you to move with me! Please come over to the new Memoirs of the Celebrated Mrs Woffington site (and add it to your bookmarks) where we can carry on the conversation. I won't take down this Blogger site just yet but I won't be updating anything over here from now on. You can find the whole site replicated on the new link so nothing's been deleted.
Speak to you soon,
Mrs Woffington.

Monday 8 November 2010

A Photo Blog of Bath

Although not exactly 'the season' Mr Woffington and I decided it was high time for a holiday last week, and we chose Bath, not least because we had some vouchers for Thermae Bath Spa and also because one of my readers had told me about a very interesting Georgian museum which I was itching to visit. We were generally unlucky with the weather, apart from a few hours of brightness one morning, but that allowed for a walk through Royal Victoria Park (which you can see, above left, with The Royal Crescent just peeping through the trees). As its name suggests, the park was not a feature of Regency Bath, having been opened in 1830 by the 11-year-old Princess Victoria, but I'd urge you to take a stroll through it, especially during the Autumn when all the trees look stunning.

The Royal Crescent itself is obviously worth a look (see right for a view of it with the Ha-ha in the foreground). Designed by John Wood the Younger and built between 1767 and 1774, it's a masterpiece of Georgian architecture - from the front at least. One of my top tips (which a man kindly gave me as I walked past the Jane Austen Centre with my camera in my hand) is to go and have coffee at The Royal Crescent Hotel, which has a 'secret' garden at the back leading to what would have been the coach houses. As long as you can afford the ruinously expensive coffee (around £10 for two people) you can get a good look at the back of The Crescent from here, and what's really interesting is that the design of each building is completely different (some might even say it looks a bit of a mess). It seems that the well-to-do had whatever design they wanted, and Wood simply built a grand facade covering them all from the front. Talk about diplomacy!

The other big-hitting piece of Georgian architecture is The Circus (left) which was designed by John Wood the Elder, who sadly died just three months after the first stone was laid. A grand homage to the Roman Colosseum, the scheme was completed by his son (the same man who built The Royal Crescent) in 1768, at which time it was known as the King's Circus ('circus' being the Latin word for a ring or oval). To my mind, it's an even greater piece of work than The Royal Crescent - a vision of Palladian harmony which curves inwards, rather than outwards, and has 525 pictorial emblems in a frieze above the doors (all of them different, from what we could see).

But back to The Royal Crescent because I wanted to mention an excellent museum at No.1 The Royal Crescent that's well worth a visit. This Georgian town house has been beautifully restored by the Bath Preservation Trust. It was the first house to be built in The Crescent and provided luxury accommodation for the aristocracy (who would presumably just rent it for the season). The Duke of York stayed there at one time, and you can see that he would have not been without his customary elegance and comfort. The entrance hall, for example, is decorated with marbled paper (which was very fashionable in the late 18th century, as it was too costly to import real marble) and still has its original intricate plasterwork on the archway. I learnt some interesting facts from the guide in the gentleman's study, too, who told me that in Bath's heyday, wealthy visitors engaged servants from the neighbourhood on arrival, but as they didn't know them, they paid them in tokens rather than cash (you can see an example of the tokens in the study).

Thanks to my reader Leah Marie Brown for recommending the museum, and also for drawing my attention to the turnspit in the kitchen, which was powered by a dog in a wheel! People were certainly less sentimental about animals in those days, though we did learn that Lichfield was one of the few places where the use of a turnspit dog was never recorded!

Photographs © Memoirs of the Celebrated Mrs Woffington.

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Thursday 7 October 2010

Lichfield Literature

It's the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness in Staffordshire, and that means one thing: the Lichfield Literature festival is underway. There's a range of literary treats between now and Sunday, including a handful of creative writing workshops (I have my eye on Catherine Fox's Do You Have A Novel In You? on Sunday) plus visits from the likes of Jo Brand (promoting her second volume of memoirs, Can't Stand Up For Sitting Down) and Suzanne Fagence-Cooper, who comes to talk about her book on John Ruskin's wife Effie Gray. For those fans of the so-called 'bonnet drama' there's a major treat on Saturday, when Sue Birtwistle and Susie Conklin - the writers behind the BBC adaptation of Cranford - give us a talk on Elizabeth Gaskell's world and the lengths to which the BBC production team have gone to recreate the eponymous 1840s town. For those mildly surprised to see that Mrs Gaskell had obliged the nation with a two-part Christmas special last year, now's your time to meet the actual authors behind it and to find out how they went about emulating Gaskell's timeless style. (Saturday, The George Hotel, Bird Street, Lichfield, 5.15pm to 6.15pm, £5. Tel: 01543 306270).

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Saturday 11 September 2010

@DrSamuelJohnson's Dictionary Launch

I can't believe it's taken over a week to get around to telling you about this, but the life of an 18th-century multimedia actress is sometimes a busy one. Still, there's been plenty of nice outings to places such as London and Liverpool of late and one of the best events that Mr Woffington and I attended recently was the launch of Dr Johnson's brand new Dictionary of Modern Life: a glittering affair at his home in Gough Square.

For those unaware of Dr Johnson's recent activities (though I've mentioned them a few times), in 2009 he reemerged on Twitter and began publishing an entertaining stream of definitions on the parlous state of the modern world (a recent example: "Bestival (n.) Island Prison to which London does exile its many Fops for an annual Trial by RAIN-FALL"). Needless to say, these are now available in book form, published by the charming people at Square Peg (an imprint of Random House).

Anticipation was high when we arrived in the Great Cham's hallway and deposited our coats in the gift shop; sadly nobody had chanced full 18th-century dress, but we were led to believe that many personalities from the Twittersphere (@Discombobul8er, @CherylKerl, @SirAlanChaffing etc.) were there - though it was tricky getting to know who was who. Both wine and canapes flowed, though, and the author gave an entertaining speech. We also enjoyed a chat with the Chairman of the Johnson Society of London and the gentlemen of The Quietus, who are currently publishing excerpts of the book.

As the evening progressed, wine flowed freely and you must forgive me for not remembering a great deal more (there were some sore heads the next morning)... except to say that it was a rare pleasure to meet some digital counterparts in the real world. I believe that @Discombobul8er has also published an account of the evening here.

Photographs © Memoirs of the Celebrated Mrs Woffington.

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Thursday 5 August 2010

Prince Frederick's Barge

There's something else I wanted to recommend at the National Maritime Museum; on the ground floor they have an extraordinary object: the original barge built for George II's eldest son, Prince Frederick (left), in 1732. It's not a reproduction! This amazingly rich, gilded boat is one of the museum's largest objects at around 19.m in length, and now very delicate. It was designed by the architect William Kent and built by John Hall on the south bank of the Thames, opposite Whitehall. There's some very elaborate carving on the front done by James Richards, who succeeded Grinling Gibbons as master carver to the Crown in 1721. It features scallop shells, urns and acanthus leaves and everything is gilded in 24-carat gold leaf.

On the very first day it was afloat, the Prince used the barge to take his mother, Queen Caroline, and his five sisters, from Chelsea to Someset House to inspect the cleaning of the royal collection of paintings. On another occasion it attended a regatta at Woolwich decorated in the fashionable style of chinoiserie (which used fanciful Chinese imagery) with the footman and 21 oarsmen dressed in Chinese costume. It was to make its final appearance long after the Prince's death, in 1849, when Prince Albert was rowed to the opening of the Coal Exchange.

Amazingly, what we're seeing now was reconstructed from three pieces (the barge having been sawn up and stored in the Royal Barge House at Windsor Great Park for over 100 years). You can walk right alongside it and see the rather worn green velvet seats where the royal bottom would have been planted, while the ceiling is painted with a design representing the royal coat of arms. Given the crowded state of the London streets, this was probably a highly convenient - not to mention pleasant - way to travel!

Photographs © Memoirs of the Celebrated Mrs Woffington.
Portrait of Prince Frederick (1724), engraving after Georg Wilhelm Lafontaine: Wikimedia Commons.

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Wednesday 28 July 2010

Nelson's Coat

I blogged a while ago about our trip to Greenwich and our brief visit to the National Maritime Museum, but I wanted to mention it again, since we went back to the museum recently to see an exhibition of toy boats. While wandering around we saw quite a few things of interest from the Georgian and Regency periods, not least Admiral Lord Nelson's Trafalgar coat. I wasn't allowed to use flash, so excuse the poor photograph: there's a clearer image on the Port Cities website.

But what you don't get from a photograph is the scale of the object. I never realised how small in statue Nelson was - of course, people in the 18th century were smaller, generally, than we are today, but even so, I wasn't quite prepared for this neat, petite piece of clothing. You could see the hole from the bullet that killed Nelson in the right shoulder of the coat (a passing American thought it looked a superficial blow, until he was told it came from above and went downwards through Nelson's body). Along the back of the display they had Nelson's stockings, still stained with blood (probably that of his secretary, John Scott, who was killed earlier in the battle). Rarely have I seen such an evocative piece of clothing, and the museum also had some excellent mourning artifacts on display related to Nelson's death, including funeral jewellery and vases.

Photograph © Memoirs of the Celebrated Mrs Woffington.

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Monday 7 June 2010

Chips off the Old Block

A while ago we got wind of a fundraising scheme by The Friends of Lichfield Cathedral to auction off damaged sections of the cathedral that had been removed from the North and South Clerestory during the restoration of the East End of the building. Currently scattered around the cathedral lawn, the advert promised that the stones (which are 17th-century) could make a great garden feature and would come with a proper certificate of authentication. So off we went last Saturday to the stonemason's booth (above) to place bids on 1) part of a quatrefoil taken from below copings 2) the upper section of pinnacle and 3) copings from the Lady Chapel.

We'll get to know today if we've been successful. Perhaps, because the money goes towards the cathedral, we won't be subject to the harsh judgments of the monk, St Wulfstan, whose upset over the demolition of St Oswald's Anglo-Saxon cathedral at Worcester led him to remark: 'We miserable people have destroyed the work of saints, that we may provide praise for ourselves. The age of that most happy man did not know how to build pompous buildings, but knew how to offer themselves to God under any sort of roof, and to attract to their example subordinates. We on the contrary strive that, neglecting out souls, we may pile up stones.'

Photographs © Memoirs of the Celebrated Mrs Woffington.

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