Tag Archives: Ranelagh Gardens

The contents of the box

In the comments section after a recent post, loyal reader Marcia Howard asked what do we keep in the famous cedar wood box? Well this week I’ll tell you.

First, the box, quite a nice object in itself.



The metal plate which is now detached from the lid of the box, attests to its origin.



It reads: 1846 Made from a portion of one of the Two Cedar Trees, designated “The Brothers” planted by Sir Hans Sloane in the Botanic Garden, Chelsea AD 1683

There is also a handwritten note:


Conveniently transcribed:



The trees themselves, looking north.



You can just about make out the statue of Sir Hans Sloane in the distance. Here is a 1903 photograph of the last of the trees.


The one from which the box was made it seems.

Within the box are several small objects which were kept there so they didn’t go astray:

A pass to the King’s Road. This was given, as Chelsea aficionados would expect, by Reginald Blunt, historian and founder of the Chelsea Society.



Which King?



George. The second, as it happens.

A pass to Ranelagh House,1745



The same George. The pass is not as impressive as some of the printed invitations we have seen, like this one to the Regatta Ball, of 1775.




Or this one:



Hear angel trumpets and devil trombones. You are invited“, if I’m remembering the quotation correctly.

I have added a few other items to the box over the years:

Reginald Blunt’s pass to the Chelsea Physic Garden (stamped “one visit only”) and printed with the instruction “Ring the Bell at the Gate in Swan Walk and present this order” ,which sounds like it comes from a mystery story.



A small coin, or medal, a souvenir of the Gigantic Wheel at Earls Court



A pair of tickets to the Chelsea Historical Pageant of 1908,



and a useful map of the grounds.



We’ve been to the Pageant before of course. And no doubt we will go there again.

Another coin/medal which seems to commemorate the Great Exhibition.




With a monarch and her consort on the back.



You don’t need me to tell you who they are.


And of course, a blue elephant. No inventory of the contents of an old wooden box is complete without one of those.




Even the short posts have dried up recently. And I can’t guarantee that this post represents a return to normal service. I’ve had a lot on this summer/autumn: a bit of illness, recruitment issues and other actual work problems which have detracted from the frivolous activity of blogging. And now I’m in the middle of the London History Festival, which is going pretty well, but does consume my time. I’m sure you know however that blogging is my first love, and that I’m trying to get back to it.

18th Century escapades: Evelina and Fanny

First, let’s sort out the local connection. Fanny, or more properly Frances, Burney the 18th century novelist lived in Chelsea twice. Once with some of her family in an apartment at Chelsea College when she finished working as Second Keeper of the Robes for Queen Charlotte, and later in her life at an address in Lower Sloane Street.


Which is good for me because although Frances Burney / Madame D’Arblay was a very remarkable woman and one of the first great English novelists, this week’s post is really about a particular edition of her first novel Evelina.

Now I’ve written nearly 200 of these posts you must have had all my basic thoughts and the variations on them. One thing I seem to say quite often is that things in the past resemble things in the present. People seem to do the same things in the past as they do now and the things they entertained themselves with are like the things we use now for the pursuit of happiness.

One day I went to the Reference store looking for a book illustrated by someone who is nothing to do with this post. In an odd corner of the Dewey Decimal Classification you can find novels, plays and poetry all together at one number, 741.64 classified by the artist who illustrated them. And there I found a 1903 one volume edition of Fanny Burney’s Evelina illustrated by Hugh Thomson.

000 Evalina cover

The late 19th and early 20th century was a boom time for illustrated books including new editions of classic works.

000a Evalina title page

Evelina is a long narrative about a naive young woman trying to find her place in the high society of 18th century England. She encounters a number of unreliable and sometimes lecherous suitors, highly strung older women,embarrassing relatives and her one true love, from whom she is separated by circumstance until the end. There is even a mystery about her parentage to be solved.

But I didn’t actually read Evelina. I just looked at the pictures.

'Evelina' by Fanny Burney.

This edition is lavishly illustrated by Thomson, full of pictures (more than 50) of its young heroine. So many in fact that I began to see it as an early form of the graphic novel, following the protagonist through her series of adventures. To illustrate my point I will have to set before you quite a few of pictures of the eponymous heroine. Thomson’s skill is to make her attractive and glamorous in a variety of moods. Just like the heroine of a comic. Which gets me back to the pleasures of the past resembling the pleasures of the present.

006 Madam May I presume

Thomson of course is looking back at the 18th century  from a modern era. From 1903 as well as from 2015 it looks like an exotic and sophisticated time, whose inhabitants gave themselves over to the pleasures of witty speech, flirting with the opposite sex and promenading around London looking good. I remember that impression gained from books (and films) like Tom Jones, the memoirs of Casanova, and the introductions to Penguin editions of books like Humphrey Clinker (Smollet – another Chelsea man) and Tristram Shandy. I’ve always been a great reader of introductions.

007 At Ranelagh

Evelina and her friend join the throng at Ranelagh Gardens – one of the great places to see and be seeen. (See this post, this one, or this one for more 18th century amusement.)

008 Is that he

There are Balls and Assemblies where the fashionable elite and their hangers on disport themselves.

011 Hark you, Mrs Frog, you'd best hold your tongue

There is some physical comedy, on this occasion on board a coach.

014 the young ladies began to examine my dress

Fashion notes from new friends

015 Doubtless Ma'am everything must be infinitely novel to you

Life at the theatre, Burney’s great passion. (She wrote a number of plays, very few of which were ever performed.)

019 For Heaven's sake what is the matter

Virtue threatened by an unwelcome suitor (aboard another coach).

023 Pray ladies don't be frightened for I will walk my horse

Some outdoor scenes, with a comedy buffoon.

024 Sir Clement caught my hand

And indoors again with yet another unwelcome suitor.

026 Mr Mirvan I have brought a petitioner


030 M Du Bois walked by the side of the chair

Colourful transport…

033 Mr Smith ran away with me

A bit of running around in panic.

034 The Misses Braughtens screamed


037 as fast as ever they could tear her along


039 I've the greatest mind in the world to box your ears

The heroine turns feisty.

043 we were moved on between them

Then gets in more trouble, this time in Kensington Gardens.

045 A shower of rain made us hasten

Where some inclement weather causes more panic.

047 Rolling his eyes in thankfulness towards heaven

After all her tribulations she returns to the security of home.

050 Planning for the futureBut soon ennui sets in.

055 Lord Mervan cought my hand

And the unwelcome attentions follow her.

057 Followed by a party of young men

She goes out again with some unsuitable companions.

059 Presented one of them to Lord Orvill, another to me

But finally. she is reunited with the one good suitor. Reconciliation, and a happy ending

And then there’s the funny bit at the end.

062 Miss Mirvan and I jumped upon our chairs

Featuring that old standby the amusing monkey.

These illustrations are all in the right sequence so although I can’t show them all I hope that you like me can get a decent idea of the story. Or any other story you can make up based on the pictures. Some books are just too long to read the whole thing so I was really very impressed with Thomson’s efforts which not only saved me the trouble but to me have something of the pace of a modern graphic novel.


All we need now to save me from having to read the book which I might eventually is a TV adaptation to give the costume designers something to get their teeth into. I haven’t seen a good adaptation of an 18th century novel since the last TV version of Tom Jones , or that version of Fanny Hill on BBC4.

I’m not a complete philistine. I do read some long books. I read all 1000 pages of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (very nearly an 18th century narrative) so I’m in a good position to urge my friends to stick with the current TV version even if it’s like nothing they’ve ever seen before.

I’m writing this post over the Bank Holiday weekend so please consider it a light hearted excursion into another imaginative version of the past.

The colourised version of the first illustration is from a 1920 edition apparently. The engraving of Miss Frances Burney is from our extra illustrated version of Faulkner’s History of Chelsea. It shows she was as glamorous as Thomson’s depiction of her heroine.

Department of Coincidences

Naturally I did some research on Burney in the biographies collection at Kensington Library (probably the best collection of biographies in any public library in London, but of course I would say that). Along with some serious works I found a “story biography” of Burney by Josephine Kamm who wrote many books of that kind along with some early young adult novels. I was pleased to find this because before her death Mrs Kamm lived in the flat where I now live with my family. I hope she would have approved of what I’ve written (but maybe not).

016 So we've caught you at the glass

Finally…(added 18th June)

There must be lots of examples of period dress on the web but I thought this Polish blogger unintentionally (I assume) captured Thomson’s view of Evelina perfectly:

evelina 01

More images at: http://duchess-milianda.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/szyjemy.html


The ladies and the gentlemen: figures in the landscape

Before the photograph came the engraved print: etchings, mezzotints, aquatints and all the rest. These were on the whole meant to be accurate views of their subjects, reliable likenesses of a person or a building. But it’s not quite the same as a photograph, is it? Looking at last week’s picture postcards I thought of the earlier, pre-photographic views of Kensington Gardens and of course Kensington Palace. Here’s a good example:

Kensington Palace 1750s GS17AA

As is often the case the architectural view was enlivened by the addition of some figures. We know that the ladies and gentlemen of 18th century society entertained themselves by walking around in fashionable places, taking a look at their friends and acquaintances and being seen by them in turn. So the view of this happy crowd, walking, talking and even sitting is not actually unlikely, there’s just something a little staged about it. These people are like extras milling around the star of the picture – the Palace. I imagine them biding their time, waiting to see if they could get a piece of the action for themselves.

Copy of Copy of Kensington Palace 1750s GS17AA

What is the persuasive looking gentleman in the group on the right saying to his companions? Is he asking them to join him on an expedition into the Palace? Are the seated group ready to watch them?

This is another view of the Palace:

East front of Kensington Palace with part of the Great Lawn 1744 CPic44a

Another idle group wave fans, greet each other or lounge on the ground which can’t have done much for their fine clothes. Compare them with this group:

Oblique perspective view of the east front of Kensington Palace with part of the Great Lawn 1744 CPic44d

The Palace and the trees across the lawn are almost identical. Another group of slightly better rendered visitors have wondered into shot. Remember etching is hard work. It’s not pen and paper, it’s scratching the image on a sheet of metal, in reverse. (I simplfy a complex and multifarious process – experts please forgive me) If the background is the same and you can enliven the view with a different cast so much the better.

I do find these people fascinating though especially the women sweeping across the grass in their strange wide skirts. The period is slightly wrong but it puts me in mind of the Draughtsman’s Contract where a mystery is suggested by drawings of a house and garden but never solved by its protagonist. The Draughtman in the film would have appreciated this view:

Distant view of Kensimgton Place with part of the Garden and the Queen's Temple as seen from the side of the Serpentine River CPic153a

Here the Palace is reduced to a feature in the distance with our attention occupied by a section of the Serpentine and the Queen’s Temple across the water. One of those follies loved by aristocrats and landscapers seen in many country estates, it would have been ideal for one of the Draughtman’s assignations.

Kensington Palace Cpic 0640 res600

In this one some actual gardening is going on at the right of the picture.  The strollers ignore the workers though, and we ignore them in favour of the frantic activity by the birds in the foreground. A fight on the left? An attempt to take off on the right?

If we pull out and take a wide view of the Palace we get something like this:

Kensington Palace print

The pattern of the ornamental garden is revealed and the picture looks more like a plan but it’s still full of those figures wandering around. Last year at Marienbad,anyone? (I’m taking a stab in the dark there – I’ve never actually seen the film but one of the famous images from it is a large ornamental garden). The feature that always strikes me is that the Palace is set in what appears to be an empty landscape with no sign of London. Those distant hills are the etcher’s equivalent of stock footage. Or maybe I’m missing some convention of this kind of picture.

One of the conventions is the idealised landscape. Here’s one:

the Pavilion south view CM2228

A solitary figure looks back at his house, his lake, his cattle and his picturesque crumbling “priory”, specially built as a ruin as was the custom of ambitious land owners. The Pavilion, the building in the distance was constructed by Henry Holland in 1789 and survived into the 19th century as Chelsea grew around it and the grounds had their final incarnation as a cricket ground. (That’s a story for another day if ever I heard one). But nothing could stop the growth of the Cadogan Estate. (To orientate yourself I think Sloane Street runs a little to the right of the Pavilion which gave its name of course to Pavilion Road)  I can’t help thinking that even before development the grounds were not as extensive as they appear in this view. (The Pavillion survived until 1874 when it was demolished to make way for Cadogan Square and its surrounding streets)

Further south we’re on safer ground. As Kensington has its Palace, Chelsea has the Royal Hospital:

Royal Hospital and Rotunda CM2184 no legend

Here too the landscape is crowded. The main focus of activity is the variety of craft going to and fr,o some speedy and some slow. In the distance people walk in the grounds, perhaps heading for that other fashionable rendezvous point the Rotunda.

Ranelagh Rotunda interior B1570

Inside the ladies and the gentlemen parade around or take refreshment by the big fire. Look closely:

Ranelagh Rotunda interior B1570 - Copy (3)

More bowing and gesturing with fans. A sizeable group listens to the orchestra.

Ranelagh Rotunda interior B1570 - Copy (2)

There are a couple more instances of the fan gesture in this detail. In some ways these figures repeat themselves at the whim of the artist.  At other points they  show a life of their own. Look at the woman in the group of three between the child and the woman in green, how she leans back slightly to whisper in her  friend’s ear. A small number of lines suggest this recognizeable movement.

Ranelagh Rotunda interior B1570 - Copy - Copy

Inside the world of the print the inhabitants live their lives.

View of Chelsea Waterworks 1752 250B

Here a group of them pay a visit to the Chelsea Waterworks, enough of a technological marvel to warrant some early tourism.

Further down the river in Battersea others come and go at a jetty.

View taken near Battersea Church looking towards Chelsea 1752 96B

In the distant background you can see Chelsea Old Church with its cupola. On the shore a woman, her son and their dog get ready to board, a servant carries their bag:

View taken near Battersea Church looking towards Chelsea 1752 96B - Copy

The group of three women and a man on the right meet up with a man who points their way out of the picture all together. Perhaps all these decorative figures in the idealised landscapes of the etching are looking for a way out.


The Chelsea art collection was recently moved to Kensington Library making it easier for me to find pictures like the last two. During my search I came across an image I found quite startling which might form the basis of a future post if I can find some more like it. Watch out for that. If you’ve never seen the Draughtsman’s Contract it’s worth a look. Just don’t expect a solution to the mystery (if there was one).

18th century escapades: the votaries of dissipation at Ranelagh

In April 1776 the gentleman who called himself Momus, the Laughing Philosopher went on a ramble and wrote an account of it in the Westminster Magazine. After a walk in the park he found the day so salubrious that he proceeded down the Chelsea Road. Carriages went to and fro so he concluded that “the Rotunda was open for the reception of the polite world.” He was not incommoded by dust “in consequence of the road being watered”. Nor was he prevented “from joining the votaries of dissipation by not being dressed au dernier gout”.

He fell in behind two ladies who were complaining at having to arrive at so early an hour.

Empty vol1

He was fascinated by the head of one of the ladies “which appeared to be fluffed out to an enormous size but what chagrined me the most was to see it decorated with a prodigious quantity of cherries which looked most invitingly plump and juicy”. For himself he had no desire to taste the fruit. It seemed to him they were set in a “dunghill composed of hair, wool, grease and powder”. But another woman nearby “being in a longing condition [i.e.pregnant] cast such wilful glances at them that I actually believed she would have snapped at them had she been tall enough to reach them”

Fruit stall

When the first woman took her seat in the Rotunda the pregnant lady sat as close as she could. Reaching out to touch the fruit she could not contain herself and “tore the whole superstructure to pieces”. As it turned out the fruit was not fit to “be pressed by her lips” and she was obliged to pretend to faint to cover her embarrassment. Momus reports that another lady with a vegetable based hairdo suffered a similar mishap.A hairdresser was summoned to effect repairs. (was this a common occurrence?)

Momus drew a moral from the occasion: “the first beauty in the kingdom will gain more real admiration by the enlargement of her mind than the expansion of her head.”

I don’t suppose he really believed that.

Miss Comeingueout of Opera

I’m assuming the giant hairdos in this  picture are exaggerated for comic effect. This might be closer to actuality:

Ladies magazine

Momus’s night at Ranelagh was evidently pretty typical. Far from that was an event which took place some eighteen years later advertised below:

Chevalier d'Eon announcement from vol 2 crop

The Chevalier D’Eon is history’s most famous transvestite. Or is it as easy as that? The more you look at his life the more disagreement there seems to be. The simplest view is that after a career as a soldier, diplomat and spy he seemed to have fallen out with the French government and agreed to live as a woman for some reason which is not entirely clear. After the French Revolution he lost his government pension and made a living selling off his possessions and engaging in demonstration duels such as the one illustrated below:

Chevalier D'Eon  2

This picture is of a classic D’Eon duel at Carlton House in front of the Prince of Wales, the future Prince Regent.

Far more sensational accounts of his life exist however. Giacomo Casanova wrote in his memoirs: It was at that ambassador’s table that I made the acquaintance of the Chevalier d’Eon, the secretary of the embassy, who afterwards became famous.  This Chevalier d’Eon was a handsome woman who had been an advocate and a captain of dragoons before entering the diplomatic service; she served Louis XV as a valiant soldier and a diplomatist of consummate skill.  In spite of her manly ways I soon recognized her as a woman; her voice was not that of a castrato, and her shape was too rounded to be a man’s.  I say nothing of the absence of hair on her face, as that might be an accident.”

Later in his memoirs the great lover takes the opposite view and recounts the story of a 20,000 guinea bet on the gender of the Chevalier. The bet was never won or lost as the Chevalier refused an examination.

The Chevalier lived in London in the role of a middle aged lady even though his pension had dried up. Perhaps he’d settled into the role.

Chevalier D'Eon

There are more sensational stories though such as the disputed account of a spying trip to Russia in female clothes as “Lia de Beaumont” in which guise he infiltrated the maids of honour to the Czarina. As a young man D’Eon was a member of the King’s Secret, a clandestine group of agents working for Louis XV.

The young Chevalier D'Eon aged 25 crop

This picture of the Chevalier from a biography published in 1895 shows a much younger version of his female alter ego which would make the Russian story slightly more plausible (though still unlikely). Was this picture part of the fantasy or evidence that some of the wilder stories were true?

Most accounts agree that a postmortem examination of D’Eon confirmed that he was a man. The psychologist Havelock Ellis referred to cross-dressing as Eonism possibly on the basis that forms of sexual deviance should always be named after a European aristocrat.

D’Eon has also been described as an early celebrity – a manipulator of his own public image. He wasn’t altogether successful but fantasies and images have floated around during his lifetime and long afterwards.

Discovery of the Female Freemason - Copy

“The discovery of the Female Freemason” 1771.

lia de beaumont from deviantart

A cosplay version of the Japanese anime character Lia de Beaumont, the Chevalier’s sister.

One thing is clear however. The Chevalier seems to have been a favourite at Ranelagh:

Chevalier d'Eon announcement from vol 2 crop 2

In the engraving below he is again described as the Chevaliere D’Eon.

Chevalier D'Eon from vol 2

So the votaries of dissipation had a sentimental side.

Images from this post are from a scrapbook in the Local Studies collection about Ranelagh compiled in the 19th century, except for the picture of the young Chevalier which is from Ernest Alfred Vizetelly’s The true story of the Chevalier D’Eon (1895), the Female Freemason which is from Edna Nixon’s Royal Spy: the strange case of the Chevalier D’Eon (1966), and the photo of “Lia de Beaumont” which is from NadiaSK’s DeviantArt gallery (http://nadiask.deviantart.com/ ).

The mysterious Mrs Rush: more pictures of houses and rooms

Here is Lord Ranelagh’s house after his fall from grace and subsequent death. The owners of the Gardens used his name and his house as part of the entertainment. By 1805 nothing was left of house and Gardens but a few foundation stones, and a cellar or some kind of crypt.

Here is a house called Gough House a little way down the river. Mrs Rush and the time traveller can disembark here and make their way through the formal garden, even though it only existed in this form in the artist’s imagination. Mrs Rush tells the traveller to pay attention to open windows, glimpsed faces and distant statues.

Here is the interior as Mrs Rush pictured it. Her rooms were always tidy as though she was painting for an 18th century estate agent’s brochure, or imagining the afterlife. The door to the north front is open.

Here is the view from the north. The lush vegetation besieges the house. But the women inside seem unconcerned.

Here is the Duchess of Monmouth’s house where Smollett lived and wrote Humphrey Clinker. His study window is open, next to one of the bricked in windows.

But when they got inside there was no trace of Mr Smollett.

Here is Sir John Cope’s house which was later turned into a madhouse. There were several of those in Chelsea. One Turlington kept a house where a man could put away his wife or any other troublesome relative under the pretense of insanity. In 1763 a judgement at the King’s Bench went against him. One husband testified that he considered the house to be nothing more than a bridewell or house of correction. That year the Lords called for a bill to regulate such houses.

The woman on her way out of the house holds an oversize key. Mrs Rush has some questions. What happened to the tree on the left? Have the peacocks escaped? Mrs Rush and the traveller cannot stay to see what happens next.

Under the house says Mrs Rush is a subterranean passage. She is drawn to underground places.

They pass another garden with lush growth of flowers and plants.Mrs Rush regards Dr Mead as a friend to herself and her husband.

But in that house she dreamed of this room.

The plants seemed to press against the windows in a rather too insistent fashion.

In more open country the two women can stop and take refreshment at Pond House. Mrs Rush is welcome in many houses.

The Pond was subsequently filled in and built over. It is commemorated in a street name.

The tour is coming to a close. Here is the church where Mr Rush officiates at religious services. This may be where Mrs Rush  met Elizabeth Gulston, the woman who kept her pictures safe for many years.

If she wishes the traveller may sit inside for a while and prepare herself.

Here is the final room from Mr Faulkner’s book where Mrs Rush introduces the traveller to her guide home. Pay no attention to the goods for sale.

The traveller and her friends are re-united back in their own clothes in their own present, remembering their adventures.

Next week we might also be back in our own reality.

The Rush pictures were acquired by Chelsea Library in 1929 having been in the Gulston family for many years. The engraving is from a special edition of Mr Faulkner’s history of Chelsea. The photograph is from a private collection.

18th Century glamour girl: searching for Miss Chudleigh

The story so far: three actresses from the Chelsea Pageant of 1908 have traveled back to the 1740s to meet celebrity bigamist Elizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Kingston and / or Countess of Bristol at the Venetian Masquerade in Ranelagh Gardens. Now read on:

We caught a glimpse of Miss Chudleigh last week in the six thousand-strong crowd at the Royal Jubilee Venetian Masquerade which was held on April 26th 1749 (when she was still only married to one man, but was keeping it a secret so she could still have an income as one of the Queen’s Maids of Honour). Her scandalous costume was of Iphigenia, daughter of Agamemnon, ready for sacrifice. According to the story Iphigenia was lured by the promise of a marriage to Achilles to the place where the Greek fleet was to set sail to Troy to become an offering to Artemis, the goddess her father had offended. At the last minute she was spirited away by magic and replaced by an animal, a deer or a stag. Miss Chudleigh’s costume was said to have been so revealing that the high priest could already see her entrails. There were many artistic renditions of the costume.

Not one of the more flattering versions, here she is accompanied by a gesticulating carnival goer, and Mr Punch, himself no stranger to human sacrifice. Here is a more pleasing version:

She wouldn’t have been Duchess of Kingston at the time of course so this must be a much later picture. The problem for both artists is that she didn’t actually wear the revealing outfit at Ranelagh. She did wear some kind of controversial costume four days later at a private Subscription Masquerade at the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket, a far more exclusive occasion at which she made a favourable impression on the King but outraged some of the other guests.  No accurate description of what she was wearing that night exists, although there has been sufficient speculation for the dress to be famous after two centuries.

She would have been at Ranelagh though, perhaps in conventional dress, perhaps masked in a fanciful costume so our trio of actresses could encounter her in the throng, either outside by the Chinese Pavilion and canal:

Or watching one of the stranger performances in the Gardens:

It might be safer to look inside the Rotunda amongst the dancers, as in this Cruickshank print.

She might have been dressed more like this later portrait:

In any case with music, dancing and fireworks, it was a spectacular celebration.

Iphigenia also provided the inspiration for a song performed at Ranelagh:

The story of Iphigenia and Cymon comes from Boccaccio’s Decameron rather than Greek myth (hence the modern dress?)

Lord Leighton later rendered the subject more artistically:

The celebrations went on till a late hour. Maybe our actresses found Miss Chudleigh, maybe they didn’t but once the Masquerade is finished the Rotunda lies empty.

The fire in the former orchestra stalls is burning down.

It was said that at night with the light still burning the Rotunda looked like an enormous lantern.

The Misses Jourdain and Moberly reported that at the end of their strange experience at Versailles the world seemed to flatten out and drain of colour and sound when they were about to return to their own time. Perhaps our time travelers are now experiencing something similar. Attentive readers will already have realized that our three actresses have entered the world not only of Elizabeth Chudleigh but of a woman we already know the mysterious Marianne Rush. The empty interior is one of her pictures. Look at this detail from the night picture:

Two women walk off into the night. For one of our travelers the journey is not yet over. She is about to enter the mysterious world of Marianne Rush. See you next week.

Kate at the Pageant 3: An adventure at Ranelagh

You may have heard the Fortean story of Miss Moberly and Miss Jourdain who went for a walk at Versailles one sunny afternoon in 1901 and found themselves back in the 18th century, where they saw Marie Antoinette. Or so they thought. After thinking about their experience for some time and doing some historical research they wrote a pseudonymous account simply called “An adventure”. Some writers called it a form of imaginative hallucination, others found rational explanations. I always wonder why the people in the past didn’t notice two strangely dressed English women in their midst. Pick out several time travelers in this picture among the 18th century people:

Episode 10 of the Chelsea Pageant was particularly appropriate. It was set in the 18th century pleasure gardens in the grounds of Ranelagh House, and the performance was taking place on the site of the Gardens.

Performers from the Pageant would be suitable subjects for another experiment in time travel. They’re already dressed for the part after all. But who to send?

Those guys, who are dressed as Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, men of letters, from Episode 9. They both look like they’d enjoy themselves, especially Mr Steele, the one on the right. Unfortunately the real men were dead by 1741 when the Gardens opened. But this trip back is to meet someone in particular. One of the non-speaking roles in the Pageant was a Miss Chudleigh. Could one of the ladies in this picture be playing her?

I’m thinking of one of these three:

They look like they could blend in with the crowd at Ranelagh. So let’s go.

Our trio can slip in among the daytime crowd. It’s early in the day in this view. Later on things will get a little hectic.

The building in the centre is the Rotunda. When the theatrical entrepreneurs and MP Sir Thomas Robinson bought the house and grounds belonging to the late Earl of Ranelagh they wanted something that would give their new venture the edge over the already established Vauxhall Gardens, south of the river but not too far away. The Rotunda was their answer. The domed structure was the same size as the Pantheon in Rome. Inside there was room for music, dancing, refreshments and that perennial 18th century pastime walking around looking good and seeing who else was there and what they were wearing.

The large structure in the centre supported the roof. It was originally a place for the orchestra, but the acoustics were no good apparently so the musicians moved to the side. Here is a view by Canaletto:

The boxes around the walls were small rooms which could be hired individually. Visitors could have meals served in them, or engage in other private activities. Ranelagh was open for visitors three days a week. There were morning and evening concerts, balloon ascents and other fireworks on special occasions. The most exclusive set of patrons thought it best to arrive after the last concert about 11 pm. The social gatherings went on for several hours more, often until dawn.

Our time traveling trio can mingle with the eminent and fashionable people of the day. Derby and Dawson of Cheyne Walk, the firm who provided costumes for the Pageant dealt in authentic 18th century clothing so no-one will penetrate their disguises. Many visitors to Ranelagh wore masks like Venetian carnival-goers.

Others wore more extravagant outfits as in this satirical, presumably slightly exaggerated view:

Cartoonists have always liked extreme hairstyles.

Others returned home the worse for the night’s festivities.

Our 20th century travelers are too careful for that. Remember I’ve sent them back on a mission. Look at these two images of the Venetian Masquerade on April 26th 1749.

There’s Mr Punch on the left and a host of exotic carnival characters both holy and unholy.

Do you see the difference? For some Ranelagh magic save both pictures and view them in rapid succession in your picture manager.

We’ll find the person we’re looking for next week, when we may also see our friend Mrs Rush. In the words of a 20th century pleasure seeker: “Hear all proper. Angel trumpets and devil trombones. You are invited.”

You can find a full account of the Versailles adventure in the August 2011 issue of Fortean Times or on wikipedia under the heading Moberly-Jourdain Incident.


Other posts about the Chelsea Historical Pageant:

Kate at the Pageant 1908

Kate at the Pageant 2: Tudor dreams


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