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!
I live in the English cathedral city of Lichfield, which, despite having a population of fewer than 5,000 during the Georgian period, was home to many important artists and intellectuals including Samuel Johnson, David Garrick and Erasmus Darwin. I generally blog about the short 18th century (1715-1789), feisty Georgian ladies and Lichfield's 18th-century heritage. If you have any comments, feel free to email me at woffington [at] gmail [dot] com.
Virtually forgotten today, Margaret Woffington (also known as Peg or Peggy) would rise from humble origins to become one of Georgian London’s most famous actresses, sharing the stage with the likes of David Garrick and excelling in so-called ‘breeches roles’. Born around the year 1720 in Dublin, her childhood years were marred by the death of her father, which plunged her family into poverty. Having reputedly sold watercress barefoot in the streets of the Irish capital, she was soon talent-spotted by a tumbler known as Violante, who staged populist entertainments in booths around the city. Violante had a troupe of child actors called the Liliputians, and before long Woffington was making her debut as Polly Peachum in their version of The Beggar’s Opera. Moving to London, she gained plaudits for both her outstanding beauty and her talent – particularly in comedy – appearing at both Covent Garden and Drury Lane. Known for her quick wit and no-nonsense attitude, she had high-profile affairs with Garrick, Lord Darnley and Charles Hanbury Williams; she was also a generous benefactor, supporting her elderly mother and may even have endowed some almshouses in Teddington, where she had settled at the height of her success. She died, unmarried, in 1760, having suffered a long wasting illness, and is buried in Teddington's parish church of St Mary’s.
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