Friday 9 January 2009

Sambo's Grave

Over Christmas I had the luck to be in the vicinity of Morecambe with some patient friends who indulged me in a trip to Sunderland Point (above). I'd heard about this place as an 18th-century sea port, beautifully preserved and regularly cut off from the mainland at Overton during high tide (it's usually accessible via a single-track road across a salt marsh, see below).

Ships from the West Indies and North America once docked there and I'd heard about a black slave, named Sambo, who died shortly after landing at Sunderland Point and who is buried on some remote part of the shore. I really wanted to see the place, and Sambo's Grave, but unfortunately the tide was too high and we had to turn back.

Returning to Overton we discovered, in true Georgian fashion, that tide info was available at the Globe Hotel. The landlord informed us that the tide was actually rising and would be high for a couple of hours, so we had to carry on our journey, but I hope to see Sambo's grave some time or another.

Photographs © Memoirs of the Celebrated Mrs Woffington.

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Thursday 8 January 2009

Queen of the Wits

Rather enjoying Norma Clarke's Queen of the Wits: A Life of Laetitia Pilkington on the Irish poet and wit. Pilkington had very much in common with Mrs Cibber, who was also treated appallingly by her husband, though perhaps the person she resembles most is fellow Dubliner Mrs Woffington (whose fame around the early 1740s coincided with Pilkington's fall from grace and imprisonment for debt). Clarke has written an impeccably scholarly portrait that does strangely lacks sparkle in places, though her description of the Marshalsea - and of London in generally - is both chilling and very evocative.

Also in my sights:

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Swan of Lichfield

A little while ago I wrote a short story on bonkers Lunar Man Thomas Day, who took up two foundling children with the intention of making one of them into the perfect wife. That's a whole post in itself, but anyway, one of Day's friends during his days living at Stowe (on the outskirts of Lichfield) was the poet Anna Seward, otherwise known as the Swan of Lichfield.

I won't go into her biog here, but her entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is online if you're interested. She admired Darwin (and wrote his Memoirs), treated Johnson with a dim regard, and wrote some seriously witty and rather waspish letters (she once said that an unanswered letter was an 'expatiated sin'). Some regard her verse as doggerel, which is rather unfair. After all, Darwin saw fit to steal some of it for his long poem Botanic Garden, without either permission or acknowledgment. But I love her rather sarcastic defence of Darwin's descriptions of the sexual reproduction of plants in the above book: 'do not suppose that a virtuous girl, or young married woman, could be induced, by reading the Botanic Garden, to imitate the involuntary libertinism of a fungus or flower'.

Here's one of her poems:


And now the youthful, gay, capricious Spring,
Piercing her showery clouds with crystal light,
And with their hues reflected streaking bright
Her radiant bow, bids all her warblers sing;
The lark, shrill carolling on soaring wing;
The lonely thrush, in brake, with blossoms white,
That tunes his pipe so loud; while, from the sight
Coy bending their dropt heads, young cowslips fling
Rich perfume o'er the fields.--It is the prime
Of hours that beauty robes:--yet all they gild,
Cheer and delight in this their fragrant time,
For thy dear sake, to me less pleasure yield
Than, veil'd in sleet, and rain, and hoary rime,
Dim Winter's naked hedge and plashy field.

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Wednesday 7 January 2009

Georgian Liverpool: Part 2

Continuing our walk around Liverpool, with the help of trusty guidebook Georgian Liverpool: A Guide to the City in 1797, we visited The Exchange, or Town Hall (above). If you compare the photograph to the guidebook illustration (below) you can see that the outside looks pretty similar to the original Exchange and Town Hall, designed by John Wood of Bath and constructed between 1749 and 1820, though it lacks the dome, which wasn't completed until 1802.

Yet if you go inside, as we did, you'll find a comparatively modern interior. As Dr Moss tells us, the interior was destroyed by fire in 1795 (the council chamber and ballroom were later damaged in the Blitz), yet he recalls some fascinating details about the Georgian original:
The whole of the original Exchange was appropriated to a ball and supper, given to the principal inhabitants by the corporation, on his Majesty's [George III's] recovery [supposedly from madness], in April, 1789. All the lower area was formed into a supper room; superbly illuminated with pillars and festoons of lamps, in the central parts: the walls enlivened by transparent emblematic painting; and eight hundred well dressed persons, of both sexes, sat commodiously down together to as elegant a supper as art could devise and taste display.

These days the Entrance Hall is decorated by grand-looking frescoes from 1909, and there's a Flemish wooden fireplace from 1893; the warmth we were glad of, since the weather was freezing! After a look through the various display cases and a view of the Superlambanana in Mayoral robes, it was time for a Georgian refreshment break.

Above: Burning of the Town Hall (Liverpool, January 18th 1795) tinted stone lithograph by W.G.Herdman, published in Pictorial Relics of Ancient Liverpool, 1843.

Source: Ancestry Images.

Photographs © Memoirs of the Celebrated Mrs Woffington.

Coming next... Ye Hole in Ye Wall.

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Tuesday 6 January 2009

Word of the Week: Palliards

Those whose fathers were clapperdogens, or beggars born, and who themselves follows the same trade: the female sort beg with a number of children, borrowing them, if they have not a sufficient number of their own, and making them cry by pinching in order to excite charity; the males make artificial sores on different parts of their bodies, to move compassion.

From: Captain Grose's 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

***News Just In!***
I'm glad to see that Johnson's Tercentenary Year is getting a shout-out from bloggers. Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library (where I studied, briefly, in 1997) is doing a fantastic word-a-day dictionary blog. This is how it describes the project:
In celebration of the three hundredth anniversary of Johnson’s birth in 1709, a definition from the first edition of the dictionary will be posted each day for readers’ lexiconic delight, beginning on January 1, 2009. Words will be taken from the annotated proof copy of the first edition, extra-illustrated with Johnson’s and his helpers’ manuscript corrections, which is held in the collections of Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

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Nelson... in the nude

Exchange Buildings and Nelson's Monument engraved by Thomas Dixon after a picture by G & C Pyne, published in Lancashire Illustrated.

Source: Ancestry Images.

Following on from my posting on Handel's nude statue in Dublin here's my latest discovery: Liverpool's statue to Lord Nelson. It might not have been the first tribute to the war hero in Britain (that honour goes to Birmingham's Nelson statue, erected in 1809), but I think you'll agree, it's a very fine one.

Matthew Cotes Wyatt's sculpture (1813-15) is located behind the Town Hall, in Exchange Flags, and features Nelson astride a canon, death emerging from beneath a draped flag to claim him at his moment of victory (he's also completely nude, ladies).

Photograph © Memoirs of the Celebrated Mrs Woffington.

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Monday 5 January 2009

Georgian Liverpool: Part 1

So there we were in Liverpool, just as the Capital of Culture year came to a close. My boyfriend, having browsed around the new shopping centre Liverpool One - of which he strongly disapproves - did nevertheless manage to find a very interesting book: Georgian Liverpool: A Guide to the City in 1797 by Dr William Moss (with additional notes by David Brazendale). We had time on our hands and conceived an audacious plan - we would strike out into the streets of the city, following the advice of Moss and Brazendale, and see what was left of Georgian Liverpool. See below for the map we used.

After a nose around Albert Dock, where we compared the 18th-century map against the modern one on the dockside, we headed over to Liverpool's parish church Our Lady and St Nicholas - or St Nick's as people now call it - (see my picture below). Dr Moss tells us:
St Nicholas, or the Old Church commonly so called from being first erected is of very ancient date; but there are no traces of its antiquity father back than 1588... Here are a peal of six bells, whose welcome notes announce the arrival of our ships from foreign voyages, chiefly the West Indies. Here is a good, but badly placed, organ. A spire was added to the tower, in 1750; and the walls of the church were rebuilt a few years ago.

You won't see any evidence of the spire; David Brazendale's modern commentary (below) explains that a wooden one was erected in 1746 (seems that Moss was wrong about the date) to enhance its usefulness as a navigation mark. But this additional weight on poor foundations ended in tragedy; despite a further £20 being spent on reinforcement, on Feb 11 1810, as the congregation gathered for morning service, the north-west corner of the tower collapsed and the spire fell into the nave, killing around 22 people, many of whom were girls from the Moorfields Charity School.

Photographs © Memoirs of the Celebrated Mrs Woffington.

The steeple was replaced by the structure you can see in my photograph (now called Landmark Tower), which was designed by Thomas Harrison and completed in 1815. Tragically, in December 1940, the main body of the church was destroyed by an air raid, so virtually nothing remains of the Georgian edifice today. It was time to move on to the next stage of our Grand Tour.

Coming next... The Exchange.

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Sunday 4 January 2009

Erasmus Darwin at Home

On our way back from visiting Erasmus Bunny this evening, we happened to catch sight of Dr Darwin through the window, preumably hard at work on some botanical poetry or perhaps making notes on his queer-coloured rabbits. We lingered in the courtyard, but decided it was rude to disturb him. I couldn't help admiring the portrait of the Swan of Lichfield on the wall, though.

Picture © Memoirs of the Celebrated Mrs Woffington.

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Frozen Lichfield

I took this picture yesterday; I've never seen the Pool so thoroughly frozen before. The poor ducks were having to slide gingerly across the ice to get the pieces of bread thrown in by passers-by.

Minster Pool, Lichfield © Memoirs of the Celebrated Mrs Woffington.

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