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Thursday, 19 January 2023

Were there finishing schools in Regency England?

Two young ladies wearing fashionable Regency afternoon and morning dress one with a harp from Lady's Magazine (1807)

Two young ladies wearing fashionable afternoon
and morning dress from The Lady's Magazine (1807)

One hundred years ago, in the early 1900s, thousands of single young women from wealthy families were sent to finishing schools. The very best were in Switzerland, but wherever the school was, its primary purpose was to turn out refined young ladies fully prepared to be a society wife.

Wind back the clock another hundred years or so to the early 1800s. Were finishing schools doing the same job of polishing a young woman in preparation for marriage?

The short answer is: sort of.

The finishing school, as we’ve come to think of it today, was not quite the same in the late Georgian and Regency era.

We’ve dug out early accounts and descriptions of finishing schools, in order to better understand them.

How a Regency finishing school differs

There are three huge differences between a Regency finishing school and those of the late Victorian era and the first half of the twentieth century.

Firstly, the schools weren’t in Switzerland. Now famous for its neutrality, Switzerland was invaded and captured by the French in 1798. This led to years of political instability until 1815.

Secondly, the young women who attended finishing schools were not drawn from the cream of society. Private tutoring, overseen by a governess, was the preferred method of educating girls and young ladies. This was expensive, making it exclusive to the wealthy. Finishing school was a second-best option.

Thirdly, the quality of education was patchy. Many thought that the students learned little, if anything, in such establishments.

Charles Dickens captures this sentiment in Sketches by Boz, in an episode first published in a magazine in 1834. He describes a fictional school:

Minerva House, conducted under the auspices of the two sisters, was a ‘finishing establishment for young ladies,’ where some twenty girls of the ages of from thirteen to nineteen inclusive, acquired a smattering of everything, and a knowledge of nothing; instruction in French and Italian, dancing lessons twice a-week; and other necessaries of life.1

In his story, a Member of Parliament puts his daughter in the school to hide her from a potential suitor. It’s not long before she elopes, and the MP exclaims:

“I’ll bring in a bill for the abolition of finishing-schools.”2

While Dickens’ story is fiction, and he liked to poke fun at many aspects of society, his poor opinion of finishing schools is shared by others—as we’ll see below.

There’s one final difference to note—the term ‘finishing school’ was not restricted to places where girls were educated. 

A young lady is being introduced to a gentleman at a party
Theodosius is introduced to the new pupil by George Cruikshank
in Sketches by Boz by Charles Dickens (1836)

Regency finishing school wasn’t just for women

Words and phrases often change their meaning over time, and this is what’s happened to ‘finishing school’.

In its more general sense, a finishing school was a place where someone’s education was rounded off, or finished. This could apply as much to a man as a woman.

In a book on university education for doctors published in 1759, Richard Davies wrote:

After giving some public proof of a natural Genius, Students should be sent for instruction to the national Schools; there to pass thro’ all the discipline of a philosophic Education; to be afterwards improved  by due attendance as some public Hospital. Which ought to be the finishing school of the clinical Physician.3

This usage appears in other documents around that time. A ‘finishing school’ wasn’t so much a specific institution as an environment where your education was completed. On leaving, students were equipped for a particular station in life.

In The Art of Teaching by David Morrice, 1801, that author writes:

What are called FINISHING SCHOOLS in London, are of very great service to young gentlemen designed for the commercial line, as they are there more particularly instructed with a view to that object, and by masters practically versed in the business.

Half a year’s instruction at one of these academies, after leaving a country school, will greatly benefit a youth, and prepare him for the counting-house with much advantage.4

For late Georgian women, that final stage of education included the knowledge of running a household. Indeed, preparing them to be a good wife was the primary purpose of their education.

This emphasis is captured in A Picture of Manchester (1826), which states that in the same way that young men finish their studies at university:

...so the young ladies in those days completed theirs under the celebrated Mrs Blomiley, without which (provided the deficiency in education was known) it would have been vain for them to hope that any young man would deem them fit to be his wife.5

A Regency finishing school was not a premium education

Those who could afford it usually educated their daughters at home. They sent their sons to boarding schools, such as Harrow and Eton, where they were harshly treated, but could get up to all kinds of mischief. Girls needed more protection—and less education.

There were boarding schools for girls, and plenty of them, often run in private homes, with relatively small numbers of pupils.

The students were usually drawn from middle-class families who wanted their daughters to improve themselves—or be ‘finished’.

In her finishing school, the celebrated Mrs Blomily of Manchester educated the daughters of merchants—very much the middle classes.

Regency lady playing the harp
Lady Morgan (born Sydney Owenson)
from The Missionary by Lady Morgan (1811)
Sydney Owenson, daughter of an Irish actor, was one of those from a middle-class family. In her memoirs, she recalls how she changed school at age 12, in the 1790s. She wrote that her widowed father, guided by a female friend:

…placed us in the fashionable “finishing school,” as it was then called, of Mrs Anderson.

The pupils were the daughters of wealthy mediocrities, and their manners seemed coarse and familiar after the polished formalities of the habits of St Cyr.6

In a letter to her father, preserved in the memoir, Sydney expressed her dislike of the ‘vulgar’ and ‘odious’ Mrs Anderson, and complained she learned nothing new in her time there.

Sydney Owenson later became Lady Morgan, a noted Irish author.

Another author, Thomas Hamilton, is equally uncomplimentary about a ‘finishing school’ education and its impact on a woman’s morals. In his novel The Youth and Manhood of Cyril Thornton (1827), he uses his characters to describe the girls who attend such schools as “always pert, forward, ill-educated and ill-bred.”7

Hamilton also has his character tell the story of a girl, “only lately returned from a finishing-school at Bath”, who marries an officer and soon elopes with another.8

The attitude towards finishing schools was not particularly positive.

Regency young lady climbing down sheet rope from window with soldier below to catch her
Smuggling Out or Starting for
Gretna Green
by Thomas Rowlandson (1798)

Young ladies of quality did not attend a Regency finishing school

Our research suggests that the late Georgian and Regency idea of a finishing school was quite different from that we now associate with the phrase.

It was a term applied to any institution where any person’s education was considered to have been ‘finished’. That is, on leaving, they were ready for the duties for which the school had equipped them.

For women, that duty was to be a good wife. The wealthy employed governesses and tutors to achieve this finishing. The middle classes sent their daughters to a school where they hoped it would take place.

Many people had a low opinion of schools that promised to deliver this ‘finish’ for women.

Headshot of Rachel Knowles author with sea in background(2021)
Rachel Knowles writes faith-based Regency romance and historical non-fiction. She has been sharing her research on this blog since 2011. Rachel lives in the beautiful Georgian seaside town of Weymouth, Dorset, on the south coast of England, with her husband, Andrew, who wrote this post.

Find out more about Rachel's books and sign up for her newsletter here.

If you have enjoyed this blog and want to encourage us and help us to keep making our research freely available, please buy us a virtual cup of coffee by clicking the button below.

Notes

  1. Dickens, Charles, Sketches by Boz (1836).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Davies, Richard, MD, The general state of education in the universities (1759).
  4. Morrice, David, The Art of Teaching (1801).
  5. Aston, Joseph, A Picture of Manchester (1826).
  6. Morgan, Lady, Lady Morgan’s Memoirs Volume 1 (1862).
  7. Hamilton, Thomas, The Youth and Manhood of Cyril Thornton (1827).
  8. Ibid.

Sources used include: 

Aston, Joseph, A Picture of Manchester (1826) 

Davies, Richard, MD, The general state of education in the universities (1759)

Dickens, Charles, Sketches by Boz (1836)

Hamilton, Thomas, The Youth and Manhood of Cyril Thornton (1827)

Morgan, Lady, Lady Morgan’s Memoirs Volume 1 (1862)

Morrice, David, The Art of Teaching (1801)

© RegencyHistory

Thursday, 15 December 2022

Kissing under the mistletoe in the Regency

The Mistletoe in Popular Pastimes by FW Stephanoff (1816)
The Mistletoe in Popular Pastimes by FW Stephanoff (1816)

A Christmas tradition that romance authors love is kissing under the mistletoe.

But when did the tradition begin? Did young ladies of quality kiss under the mistletoe in the Regency? These are the questions I set out to answer in this blog.

What is mistletoe?

Mistletoe decoration (2022)
Mistletoe decoration (2022)

Mistletoe—sometimes spelt misletoe in old texts—is an evergreen plant with oval leaves that grow in pairs. It produces small white flowers, but is better known for its waxy, white berries which grow in clusters from October to May—right over the Christmas season.

It is an unusual plant because it is semi-parasitic. Rather than growing in the ground, it lives on the branches of other trees, such as apple, lime, pear, or oak.  

Although all parts of the plant are poisonous, mistletoe is used in medicines to treat certain disorders like epilepsy and cancer.

When was mistletoe first associated with Christmas?

In pre-Christian Britain, mistletoe was connected with the winter solstice. The Druids revered the oak, and this reverence spread to everything connected with it—including mistletoe that grew on oak. It was revered for its healing properties and gathered in a ceremony steeped with superstition at the winter solstice.

When Christianity was established in Britain, new traditions developed. Stephanoff wrote in Popular Pastimes (1816):

The custom of decking our churches and habitations with evergreens, has existed from the very establishment of Christianity, and was unquestionably derived from the like similar practice of our Pagan ancestors.1

These evergreens included mistletoe, which is mentioned in Candlemas Eve, a poem written by Robert Herrick (1591–1674). He wrote about taking down the greenery, including mistletoe, on Candlemas Eve, signalling the end of the Christmas season:2

Down with the rosemary and bays,
Down with the mistletoe;
Instead of holly, now up-raise
The greener box, for show.3

Another early reference to mistletoe is in Art of Simpling, published in 1656. Coles wrote of mistletoe:

It is carryed many miles to set up in houses about Christmas time, when it is adorned with a white glistering berry.4

When did people first kiss under the mistletoe?

Man wearing hat leans over pretty wife's shoulder under mistletoe. Old lady sleeps at table and young boy looks on.
Christmas Eve by J Burnett (1815)
The earliest reference to kissing under the mistletoe that I’ve come across is in a comic opera written in 1784 called Two to One:

When at Christmas in the hall

The men and maids are hopping

If by chance I hear ‘em bawl,

Amongst ‘em quick I pop in.


When all the men, Jem, John, and Joe,

Cry, “What good luck has sent ye?”

And kiss beneath the mistletoe

The girl not turn’d of twenty.5

A poem quoted in Popular Pastimes (1816) is undated, but it hints at the possibility that the custom went back earlier:

The Misletoe hangs from an oaken beam,

The Ivy creeps up the outer wall;

The Bays our broken casements screen,

The Holly-bush graces the hall.


Then hey for our Christmas revelling,


For all its pastimes pleasures bring.

The Misletoe's berries are fair and white,

The Ivy's of gloomy sable hue;

Red as blood the Laurel's affect our sight,

And the Holly's the same with prickles too.

Then hey, & c.

Nor black nor ensanguined red for me: -

The Misletoe only is my delight:

For pure as love all its berries be,

And to kissing my Fanny's sweet lips invite.


Then hey for our Christmas revelling,

For thus its symbols pleasures bring.6

Upstairs or downstairs?

Raucous Regency scene in kitchen with servants kissing under the mistletoe
Christmas Gambols by Thomas Rowlandson (1812)
Contemporary prints from the late Georgian period show mistletoe hung up in the kitchen—below stairs.

Mary Robinson’s poem, The Mistletoe – a Christmas Tale (1800) says:

‘Twas Christmas time, the peasant throng
Assembled gay, with dance and Song:
The Farmer's Kitchen long had been
Of annual sports the busy scene

It happen'd, that some sport to shew
The ceiling held a MISTLETOE.
A magic bough, and well design'd
To prove the coyest Maiden, kind.
A magic bough, which DRUIDS old
Its sacred mysteries enroll'd;
And which, or gossip Fame's a liar,
Still warms the soul with vivid fire;
Still promises a store of bliss
While bigots snatch their Idol's kiss.7

Observations on Popular Antiquities (1841) stated that mistletoe

…was the heathenish or profane plant, as having been of such distinction in the Pagan rites of Druidism, and it therefore had its place assigned it in kitchens.8

Stephanoff’s Popular Pastimes (1816) confirms this. He wrote mistletoe

…is still beheld with emotions of pleasurable interest, when hung up in our kitchens at Christmas; it gives licence to seize “the soft kiss” from the ruby lips of whatever female can be enticed or caught beneath. So custom authorizes, and it enjoins also, that one of the berries of the Misletoe be plucked off after every salute. Though coy in appearance, the “chariest maid” at this season of festivity is seldom loth to submit to the established usage; especially when the swain who tempts her is one whom she approves.9

Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens (1836–7) suggests that though mistletoe was hung below stairs, the kissing was not restricted to the servants:

From the centre of the ceiling of this kitchen, old Wardle had just suspended, with his own hands, a huge branch of mistletoe, and this same branch of mistletoe instantaneously gave rise to a scene of general and most delightful struggling and confusion; in the midst of which, Mr Pickwick, with a gallantry that would have done honour to a descendant of Lady Tollimglower herself, took the old lady by the hand, led her beneath the mystic branch, and saluted her in all courtesy and decorum.
The old lady submitted to this piece of practical politeness with all the dignity which befitted so important and serious a solemnity, but the younger ladies, not being so thoroughly imbued with a superstitious veneration for the custom, or imagining that the value of a salute is very much enhanced if it cost a little trouble to obtain it, screamed and struggled, and ran into corners, and threatened and remonstrated, and did everything but leave the room, until some of the less adventurous gentlemen were on the point of desisting, when they all at once found it useless to resist any longer, and submitted to be kissed with a good grace.
Mr Winkle kissed the young lady with the black eyes, and Mr Snodgrass kissed Emily; and Mr Weller, not being particular about the form of being under the mistletoe, kissed Emma and the other female servants, just as he caught them. As to the poor relations, they kissed everybody, not even excepting the plainer portions of the young lady visitors, who, in their excessive confusion, ran right under the mistletoe, as soon as it was hung up, without knowing it!10

Christmas Eve at Mr Wardle's by Phiz from Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens (1836-7)
Christmas Eve at Mr Wardle's by Phiz
from Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens (1836-7)
When was the mistletoe put up?

I’ve not found a definitive answer to this one, although I’ve read multiple times of a superstition that it was bad luck to decorate the house before Christmas Eve. I’ve not found any contemporary evidence as yet to support this, but it is possible that the church discouraged people from decorating before the winter solstice (21 December) to separate the Christian festival of Christmas from the pagan celebration of the solstice.

Also, as Christmas Day was the start of the Christmas festivities, decorating on Christmas Eve would make sense. In the excerpt above from Pickwick Papers, this scene took place on Christmas Eve.

When was mistletoe taken down?

Another superstition I’ve come across is that it was bad luck to leave greenery up after Twelfth Night (5 January). Traditionally, greenery was taken down on Candlemas Eve (2 February) but at some point this changed to Twelfth Night.

Some sources suggest the lower classes were keen to keep the celebrations going and clung onto Candlemas as the end of the festivities for as long as possible.

What was a kissing bough? 

The Mistletoe Bough by F Wheatley (c1790)
The Mistletoe Bough by F Wheatley (c1790)
Mistletoe may have been incorporated into kissing boughs before it was hung up alone as a Christmas decoration. I’ve not found any references to kissing boughs in the books of customs and other contemporary records I’ve looked at, so my information here is based on secondary sources.

According to the English Heritage website, a kissing bough comprised two intersecting circles of greenery. It says:

It is not certain when kissing boughs were first introduced in England although they are often considered to have been a popular Christmas decoration in the Tudor period.11 

A kissing bough was hung on a wall or from a ceiling or in a doorway near the entrance of the house to welcome visitors. Visitors embraced the master and mistress of the house under the kissing bough as a sign of goodwill.

I’ve come across various other names for a kissing bough, though it’s unclear whether these were all the same: a kissing ball, a Christmas bough, a mistletoe bough or a holy bough, with a clay figure of the baby Jesus in the middle.

Other sources suggest a kissing bough was the top part of a tree, hung upside down as a symbol of the Holy Trinity.

The inclusion of mistletoe in a kissing bough may have given rise to the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe.

In John Leech’s illustration of Mr Fezziwig’s Christmas party in A Christmas Carol (below), there appears to be a kissing bough hanging from the ceiling as well as mistletoe being held by hand over a girl’s head. 

Mr Fezziwig's Ball by John Leech from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1920 reprint of original 1843 edition)
Mr Fezziwig's Ball by John Leech from A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens (1920 reprint of original 1843 edition)

 Was mistletoe used to decorate churches?

There seems to be some debate whether mistletoe was used to decorate churches or not.

John Gay (1685–1732) wrote in his poem The Approach of Christmas:

When Rosemary and Bays, the poet's crown,

Are bawled in frequent cries through all the town;

Then judge the festival of Christmas near,

Christmas, the joyous period of the year!

Now with bright Holly all the temples strew,

With Laurel green, and sacred MISLETOE.12  

This seems to imply that all these evergreens were used to decorate churches at Christmas.

Observations on Popular Antiquities (1841) disagreed, stating that mistletoe

…never entered those sacred edifices, but by mistake or ignorance of the sextons.13

However, Popular Pastimes quoted Dr Stukeley as saying that the druids had a custom of laying mistletoe, which they called “All-heal”, on their altars, and that this custom still continued in the north, at York Minster.

Stephanoff added:

We learn that it [mistletoe] is still suffered to be put up (without scruple by the incumbent) in many of our churches at Christmas, where it remains with the other evergreens, till Candlemas-day.14

You can read more about Regency Christmas celebrations here.

You can read about Christmas trees in the Regency here.

Headshot of Rachel Knowles author with sea in background(2021)
Rachel Knowles writes faith-based Regency romance and historical non-fiction. She has been sharing her research on this blog since 2011. Rachel lives in the beautiful Georgian seaside town of Weymouth, Dorset, on the south coast of England, with her husband, Andrew.

Find out more about Rachel's books and sign up for her newsletter here.

If you have enjoyed this blog and want to encourage me and help me to keep making my research freely available, please buy me a virtual cup of coffee by clicking the button below.

Notes

  1. Stephanoff, Francis William, Popular Pastimes, Being a Selection of Picturesque Representations of the Customs & Amusements of Great Britain, in Ancient and Modern Times: Accompanied with Historical Descriptions (1816).
  2. Candlemas is on 2 February—40 days after Christmas—and celebrates the day Mary was purified according to Jewish law after giving birth to Jesus.
  3. Vizetelly, Henry, Christmas with the poets (1851).
  4. Quoted in Brand, John, & Ellis, Henry, Observations on Popular Antiquities (1841).
  5. Arnold, Dr, Two to One, a comic opera (1784).
  6. Stephanoff op cit.
  7. Robinson, Mary, The Mistletoe - a Christmas tale (1800).
  8. Brand & Ellis op cit.
  9. Stephanoff op cit.
  10. Dickens, Charles, The Pickwick Papers (1836-7).
  11. English Heritage website
  12. Vizetelly op cit.
  13. Brand & Ellis op cit.
  14. Stephanoff op cit.

Sources used include:

Arnold, Dr, Two to One, a comic opera (1784)

Brand, John, & Ellis, Henry, Observations on Popular Antiquities (1841)

Dickens, Charles, A Christmas Carol (1843)

Dickens, Charles, The Pickwick Papers (1836-7)

Hone, William, The Everyday Book (1826)

Newcomb, G, History of the Christmas Festival (1843)

Robinson, Mary, Lyrical Tales including The Mistletoe - a Christmas tale (1800)

Stephanoff, Francis William, Popular Pastimes, Being a Selection of Picturesque Representations of the Customs & Amusements of Great Britain, in Ancient and Modern Times: Accompanied with Historical Descriptions (1816)

The Kaleidoscope: or, Literary and scientific mirror (1821)

The New Monthly Magazine and Universal Register (1817)

Vizetelly, Henry, Christmas with the poets (1851)

English Heritage website on Tudor Christmas decorations 

English Heritage website on Christmas greenery 

Photograph © Rachel Knowles regencyhistory.net

 

Friday, 11 November 2022

Tattersall's Horse Repository in Regency London

Tattersall's Horse Repository by Rowlandson and Pugin (pub Ackermann 1809)
Tattersall's Horse Repository
by Rowlandson and Pugin (pub Ackermann 1809)
What was Tattersall’s Repository?

Tattersall’s Repository was:

…the most fashionable resort of the sporting world for the purchase and sale of horses, hounds, carriages, &c.1

During the Regency period, when all road travel was horse-powered, there was a constant demand for horses, both to ride and to pull carriages. In addition, sportsmen needed hunters, and gentlemen of the turf bought and sold racehorses.

The best place to buy horses in Regency London was Tattersall’s Repository:

Where men of taste might enjoy the glimpses afforded of the most beautiful specimens of an exquisitely beautiful race, without being perpetually disgusted with the worst of all things—that of the jockey or horse-dealer.2

The founding of Tattersall’s Repository

Richard Tattersall, founder of Tattersall's from The Sporting Magazine (1795)
Richard Tattersall, founder of Tattersall's
from The Sporting Magazine (1795)
Tattersall’s Repository was founded by Richard Tattersall (1725–1795)—stud-groom for Evelyn Pierrepoint, 2nd Duke of Kingston.3

In 1766 Richard purchased a 99-year lease of property near Hyde Park Corner from Lord Grosvenor and opened his business as a horse and hound auctioneer.4

The Sporting Magazine (1795) wrote:

Although there were occasional sales by auction, of horses, at the time when Mr Tattersall commenced his business, yet there was no regular repository, nor fixed sales at stated periods. This was an inconvenience felt by the public, and particularly by those who had studs of race-horses.

Mr Tattersall, who was well known to the gentlemen of the turf, and to the horse-dealers, offered his services as an auctioneer, and solicited their patronage. Lord Grosvenor warmly espoused him, and built for him those extensive and commodious premises at Hyde-park-corner.5

Old and New London (1878) pinpoints the location:

At the south-eastern corner of St George’s Hospital, where now is Grosvenor Crescent, was formerly the entrance to Tattersall’s celebrated auction-mart…The building itself, at the back, occupied part of the grounds of Lanesborough House.6

A family business

Tattersall’s Repository was a family business. Richard Tattersall—“Old Tatt”—took his son Edmund (1758–1810) into business with him, and in turn, Edmund took his son, another Richard (1785–1859), into partnership in 1806. It was this Richard who was running Tattersall’s during the Regency period.

What was Tattersall’s like?

The Entrance to Old Tattersall's from Old and New London Vol 5 (1878)
The Entrance to Old Tattersall's
from Old and New London Vol 5 by E Walford (1878)
The fullest description I’ve found is in Old and New London (1878):

The entry was through an arched passage and down and incline “drive,” at the bottom of which was a public-house or “tap,” designated “The Turf,” for the accommodation of the throngs of grooms, jockeys, and poorer horse-dealers and horse-fanciers.

On the left, an open gateway led into a garden-like enclosure, with a single tree in the centre rising from the middle of a grass-plot, surrounded by a circular path of yellow sand or gravel.

Immediately beyond the gateway was the subscription-room; this building, though small, was admirably adapted for the purposes for which it was designed, and it contained merely as set of desks arranged in an octagonal form in the centre, where bets were recorded, and money paid over.

On the right of the passage, a covered gateway led into the court-yard, where the principal business of the place was carried on; this was surrounded on three sides by a covered way, and at the extremity of one side stood the auctioneer’s rostrum, overlooking the whole area.

The stables, where the horses to be sold were kept in the interim, were close at hand, and admirably arranged for light and ventilation. In the centre of the enclosure was a domed structure to an humble but important appendage—a pump.7

Interior of the Court-yard of Old Tattersall's from Old and New London Vol 5 (1878)
Interior of the Court-yard of Old Tattersall's
from Old and New London Vol 5 by E Walford (1878)

Sale by auction

Auctions were held on Mondays all year round, and on Thursdays as well, in the height of the season. In 1810, around 100 horses were sold each week, and Tattersall’s received a percentage commission on each sale.

  • A good saddle-horse cost 40–100 guineas.
  • A good pair of coach horses cost 150–400 guineas.
  • A top hunter cost around 350 pounds.
  • A racehorse cost about 1,500 pounds.

The premises were huge and could accommodate 120 horses. The sellers paid Tattersall’s a moderate fee for looking after their animals while awaiting sale, which was usually only a few days.

The horses to be sold in the main auction on Monday arrived on the previous Friday, and gentlemen could view the horses awaiting sale. 

According to The Microcosm of London:

On the mornings when there is no sale, this Repository is a fashionable lounge for sporting gentlemen. The horses, &c. are then examined, their merits or defects considered, and sporting intelligence from all parts of the country detailed and disseminated.8  

The Picture of London for 1818 is more specific:

Equestrians will be highly gratified every Sunday morning from twelve to two, at Tattersalls, where there is an exhibition of fine horses for sale, and often an assemblage of gentlemen of the first rank.9

Whole studs were sold at Tattersall’s, such as those of the Duke of Kingston (1774) and George, Prince of Wales (1786).

The Tattersall family developed their own stud. Old Tatt famously bought the unbeaten racehorse Highflyer for the incredible sum of £2,500 in 1779.

Though famous for selling horses, Tattersall’s also sold hounds and other dogs, and carriages and coach harnesses, by private contract.

A "Look in" at Tattersall's from Tom and Jerry: Life in London by E Pierce (1821)
A "Look in" at Tattersall's from Tom and Jerry: Life in London
by E Pierce (1821)
Why was Tattersall’s so successful?

Old and New London described Tattersall’s as

…renowned through all the breadth and length of horse-loving, horse-breeding, horse-racing Europe.10

The Microcosm of London echoed this:

This Repository has ever possessed an acknowledged pre-eminence over every establishment of a similar character, and may be justly considered as of much public utility. It greatly facilitates the business of buying and selling horses, &c. and attracts both parties to meet each other in the market; while the liberal dealings of the late and present proprietors have entitled them to receive that patronage which they have so long experienced.11  

But why was it so successful?

Tattersall’s was successful because it filled a gap in the market, connecting those who wanted to buy and sell horses through regular sales by auction. Old Tatt’s connections in London and Newmarket amongst the horseracing fraternity helped build Tattersall’s early reputation.

But according to The Sporting Magazine (1795), another factor that contributed to Old Tatt’s success in establishing the business was his willingness to give credit to his customers.

At other auctions the buyer generally pays a sum as a deposit when the lot is knocked down to him, and he is obliged to pay the remainder when it is taken away. But at Tattersall's, most men who were not of a very inferior order, or a disreputable class in life, took away the articles which they bought without making any deposit at the time of sale, and afterwards paid the purchase-money when it was convenient to them.12

It continued:

Gentlemen who sell, are often obliged to buy horses; with such he kept a running account, and served as a kind of banker to them. In some instances the balance was against him, but it was generally much in his favour. Those who had large studs to dispose of, found their account in enabling him to give credit. It increased the number of bidders, and always enhanced the price of the horses.13

Tattersall's from Real Life in London by E Pierce (1821)
Tattersalls - Tom and Bob looking out for a good one, among the deep ones from Real Life in London by E Pierce (1821)
The betting room

Tattersall’s was a fashionable venue for sporting gentlemen. A subscription room or betting room was set aside for the use of gentlemen of the turf, supported by a subscription of a guinea a year by its members. Here, bets were laid and settled.

Here the gentlemen of the turf assembled every sale day to lay wagers on the events of distant races, and here they met to pay and receive the money won and lost.14

The Sporting Magazine regularly reported the betting at Tattersall’s for the upcoming race meetings and boxing matches.

The Microcosm of London said:

Here the generality of bets which relate to the turf are settled, at whatever place they  may originate; as it is not the custom, among these noblemen and gentlemen, to pay on the spot where the bets have been lost, but, on the return of the respective parties to town, at Tattersall's: so that this Repository is become a kind of exchange for gentlemen of the turf. Debts of this kind are settled here to an incredible amount.15

Monday after the 'Great St Leger' or Heroes of the Turf paying & receiving at Tattersalls by R Cruikshank from The English Spy by B Blackmantle (1825)
Monday after the 'Great St Leger'
or Heroes of the Turf paying & receiving at Tattersalls

by R Cruikshank from The English Spy by B Blackmantle (1825)
After the Regency

Tattersall’s moved to a new location in Knightsbridge in 1865 when the 99-year lease on the Hyde Park corner site expired. It remained in the control of the Tattersall family until the 1940s, and is still one of the leading bloodstock auctioneers in Europe today.

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Rachel Knowles writes faith-based Regency romance and historical non-fiction. She has been sharing her research on this blog since 2011. Rachel lives in the beautiful Georgian seaside town of Weymouth, Dorset, on the south coast of England, with her husband, Andrew.

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Notes

  1. The Sporting Magazine (1811).
  2. Walford, Edward, Old and New London: A narrative of its history, its people, and its places Volume 5 (1878).
  3. Sometimes the Duke of Kingston’s family name is written as Pierrepont.
  4. There are two dates I have come across for the foundation of Tattersall’s. 1766 is the date given on the Tattersall’s website for the founding of their firm, and this is supported by Vamplew’s article of the Tattersall family in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. It also ties in with the move to Knightsbridge after the 99-year lease expired. The Microcosm of London and some other sources set the date as 1773—the year Richard Tattersall’s employer, the Duke of Kingston, died.
  5. The Sporting Magazine (1795).
  6. Walford op cit.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ackermann, Rudolph and Combe, William, The Microcosm of London or London in Miniature (1808-1810, reprinted 1904) Volume 3.
  9. Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1818 (1818).
  10. Walford op cit.
  11. Ackermann op cit.
  12. The Sporting Magazine (1795).
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ackermann op cit.

Sources used include:

Ackermann, Rudolph and Combe, William, The Microcosm of London or London in Miniature (1808-1810, reprinted 1904) Volume 3

Blackmantle, Bernard, The English Spy, illustrated by Robert Cruikshank (1825)

Egan, Pierce, Real Life in London or the rambles and adventures of Bob Tallyho, Esq, and his cousin, the Hon Tom Dashall, through the metropolis (1905 based on 1821 edition)

Egan, Pierce, Tom and Jerry: Life in London or the day and night scenes of Jerry Hawthorn Esq and his elegant friend Tom (First published  1821; 1869)

Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1818 (1818)

The Sporting Magazine (various)

Vamplew, Wray, Tattersall family (c1765-1940) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press 2004)

Walford, Edward, Old and New London: A narrative of its history, its people, and its places Volume 5 (1878)