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Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Regency Christmas celebrations

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)
I have just watched The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017) starring Dan Stevens (alias Edward Ferrars from the 2008 BBC adaptation of Sense and Sensibility/Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey). It tells the story of Charles Dickens, a successful writer who is struggling to meet his bills and support his ever-increasing family and desperately seeking inspiration for his next book. Once he has visualised the character of Scrooge (played by Christopher Plummer of Sound of Music fame), the story of A Christmas Carol writes itself around him.


A Christmas Carol was published on 19 December 1843 and was a huge success. It is still very popular today and numerous adaptations have been made (two of which I’ve already watched this Christmas – Scrooged starring Bill Murray and A Christmas Carol starring Patrick Stewart). Some credit Dickens with bringing Christmas back into fashion, but is this true? I thought I would see what I could find in contemporary sources and novels about Christmas celebrations in the late Georgian and Regency periods.

Marley's Ghost by John Leech from A Christmas Carol  by Charles Dickens (1920 reprint of original 1843 edition)
Marley's Ghost by John Leech from A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens (1920 reprint of original 1843 edition)
Was Christmas Day a public holiday?

Bank Holidays were first introduced by an act in 1871 but Christmas Day was not included as, along with Good Friday, it was already traditionally accepted as a public holiday in Britain. There is evidence that this holiday was observed in late Georgian England. The Persian ambassador, Mirza Abul Hassan, visiting England in 1809-10, wrote in his journal on Monday 25 December 1809:
This morning a messenger brought a note from Sir Gore Ouseley to say that Lord Wellesley had forgotten that today is one of their holidays and that it would not be possible for him to visit me. He would see me tomorrow night. In reply I wrote: ‘Such an excuse is unacceptable.’1
The Persian ambassador clearly did not understand the necessity for a holiday on Christmas Day!

It would appear that the theatres were closed on Christmas Day. The Theatrical Register for December 1809 showed that the theatre was not open on Sundays or on Christmas Day.2

Did people attend a church service on Christmas Day?

St George's, Hanover Square  from Ackermann's Repository (1812)
St George's, Hanover Square
from Ackermann's Repository (1812)
Jane Austen’s novel Emma indicates that Austen certainly thought it was normal to go to church on Christmas Day. Emma’s misunderstanding of Mr Elton’s intentions made her keen to avoid the clergyman whom she would have expected to see taking the service on Christmas Day:
The weather was most favourable for her; though Christmas Day, she could not go to church. Mr. Woodhouse would have been miserable had his daughter attempted it, and she was therefore safe from either exciting or receiving unpleasant and most unsuitable ideas. The ground covered with snow, and the atmosphere in that unsettled state between frost and thaw, which is of all others the most unfriendly for exercise, every morning beginning in rain or snow, and every evening setting in to freeze, she was for many days a most honourable prisoner.3
Harriet Leveson-Gower, Lady Granville, daughter of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, spent Christmas 1824 in Brighton with the king, George IV. She wrote:
On Christmas Day we processed into the chapel, where the service was really divine, but what with heat and emotion very overpowering.4
Perhaps surprisingly, the marriage registers of St George’s Hanover Square show that people could get married on Christmas Day.5

In Mansfield Park, Edmund Bertram expected to take orders at Christmas and wrote:
On the 23rd he was going to a friend near Peterborough, in the same situation as himself, and they were to receive ordination in the course of the Christmas week.6
Was Christmas a time for family?

Jane Austen certainly thought so. Christmas was a time of the year when the whole family could be together. Many gentlemen’s sons (and sometimes daughters) were sent away to be educated at boarding schools such as Eton, and the Michaelmas Term ran from late September or October until Christmas.

Eton College from Picturesque Views of the River Thames by S Ireland (1792)
Eton College from Picturesque Views of the River Thames by S Ireland (1792)
In Persuasion, Mr and Mrs Musgrove needed to ‘return in time to receive their younger children for the Christmas holidays.’7 Austen proceeded to paint a picture of a family Christmas:
Immediately surrounding Mrs Musgrove were the little Harvilles, whom she was sedulously guarding from the tyranny of the two children from the Cottage, expressly arrived to amuse them. On one side was a table occupied by some chattering girls, cutting up silk and gold paper; and on the other were tressels and trays, bending under the weight of brawn and cold pies, where riotous boys were holding high revel; the whole completed by a roaring Christmas fire, which seemed determined to be heard, in spite of all the noise of the others. Charles and Mary also came in, of course, during their visit, and Mr Musgrove made a point of paying his respects to Lady Russell, and sat down close to her for ten minutes, talking with a very raised voice, but from the clamour of the children on his knees, generally in vain. It was a fine family piece.7
In Emma, Emma’s sister and husband were coming to stay at Hartfield for Christmas. Emma commented:
It is unfortunate that they cannot stay longer—but it seems a case of necessity. Mr John Knightley must be in town again on the 28th, and we ought to be thankful, papa, that we are to have the whole of the time they can give to the country, that two or three days are not to be taken out for the Abbey. Mr Knightley promises to give up his claim this Christmas—though you know it is longer since they were with him, than with us.8
In Pride and Prejudice, Mr and Mrs Gardiner arrived to stay with the Bennet family for Christmas:
On the following Monday, Mrs Bennet had the pleasure of receiving her brother and his wife, who came as usual to spend the Christmas at Longbourn.9
After becoming betrothed to Mr Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet wrote to her Aunt Gardiner:
Mr Darcy sends you all the love in the world that he can spare from me. You are all to come to Pemberley at Christmas.9
Lyme Park, Cheshire - Pemberley in the BBC's 1995  adapation of Pride and Prejudice
Lyme Park, Cheshire - Pemberley in the BBC's 1995
adapation of Pride and Prejudice
Did they have Christmas house parties?

For some, Christmas was spent away from home with friends. Horace Walpole wrote on 30 December 1761:
I have been my out-of-town with lord Waldegrave, Selwyn, and Williams; it was melancholy the missing poor Edgecumbe, who was constantly of the Christmas and Easter parties.10
Maria Edgeworth spent Christmas Day 1807 at Pakenham Hall, the home of Kitty Pakenham, who later became the wife of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington. Maria wrote:
A merry Christmas to you, my dear Henry and Sneyd! I wish you were here at this instant, and you would be sure of one; for this is really the most agreeable family and the pleasantest and most comfortable castle I ever was in. We came here yesterday – the we being Mr and Mrs Edgeworth, Honora, and ME. A few minutes after we came, arrived Hercules Pakenham – the first time he had met his family since his return from Copenhagen.’11
Harriet Leveson-Gower, Lady Granville, described the party gathered in Brighton for Christmas 1824:
We arrived here on the 24th in time for dinner. The King received us more than graciously. I never saw him in such health and spirits. He scarcely ever sits down or is still for a moment, but allows us. No legs but royal ones could otherwise endure. The company assembled were the Duke of York, who adores us, breakfasts en trio with us every morning, says Wherstead is the best house in England, and my toilette the most perfect. Partiality could no further go. The Duke of Clarence, the Duchess, a very excellent, amiable, well-bred little woman, who comes in and out of the room a ravir, with nine new gowns (the most loyal of us not having been able to muster above six), moving a la Lieven, independent of her body. Lord and Lady Erroll with faces like angels, that look as if they ought to have wings under their chins. She is a domestic, lazy, fat woman, excédée with curtseying and backsliding. Lord and Lady Maryborough, a very agreeable woman, with a fine back and very plausible ugliness. The usual Dukes and gentlemen-in-waiting. Lord Exeter, who pays no attention to Lady Exeter, who, nevertheless, is as handsome and as delightful as ever.12
The Royal Pavilion, Brighton © A Knowles
The Royal Pavilion, Brighton © A Knowles
Did they have Christmas parties?

Jane Austen referred to the gaieties of the Christmas season in her novels. In Emma, Mr Elton noted that:
This is quite the season indeed for friendly meetings. At Christmas every body invites their friends about them, and people think little of even the worst weather. I was snowed up at a friend's house once for a week. Nothing could be pleasanter. I went for only one night, and could not get away till that very day se'nnight.13
In Persuasion, Mary moaned to her sister Anne Elliot:
We have had a very dull Christmas; Mr and Mrs Musgrove have not had one dinner party all the holidays. I do not reckon the Hayters as anybody. The holidays, however, are over at last: I believe no children ever had such long ones. I am sure I had not.14
In Mansfield Park, Miss Crawford is eager for news of Edmund. She asked:
Was his letter a long one? Does he give you much account of what he is doing? Is it Christmas gaieties that he is staying for? She continued: Oh! if he wrote to his father; but I thought it might have been to Lady Bertram or you. But if he wrote to his father, no wonder he was concise. Who could write chat to Sir Thomas? If he had written to you, there would have been more particulars. You would have heard of balls and parties.15
In Pride and Prejudice, on setting out to follow her brother to London, Caroline Bingley wrote to Jane Bennet:
Many of my acquaintances are already there for the winter; I wish that I could hear that you, my dearest friend, had any intention of making one of the crowd—but of that I despair. I sincerely hope your Christmas in Hertfordshire may abound in the gaieties which that season generally brings, and that your beaux will be so numerous as to prevent your feeling the loss of the three of whom we shall deprive you.16
In Sense and Sensibility, Sir John described Willoughby:
‘He is as good a sort of fellow, I believe, as ever lived,’ repeated Sir John. ‘I remember last Christmas at a little hop at the park, he danced from eight o'clock till four, without once sitting down.’17
Did people play games at Christmas?

Fanny Burney recorded an instance of playing Christmas games in her diary for December 1785. She was teaching games to a little girl when they were disturbed by the entrance of the king, George III:
After dinner, while Mrs Delany was left alone, as usual, to take a little rest—for sleep it but seldom proves—Mr B Dewes, his little daughter, Miss Port, and myself, went into the drawing-room. And here, while, to pass the time, I was amusing the little girl with teaching her some Christmas games, in which her father and cousin joined, Mrs Delany came in … The Christmas games we had been showing Miss Dewes, it seemed as if we were still performing, as none of us thought it proper to move, though our manner of standing reminded one of “Puss in the corner.” Close to the door was posted Miss Port; opposite her, close to the wainscot, stood Mr Dewes; at just an equal distance from him, close to a window, stood myself. Mrs.Delany, though seated, was at the opposite side to Miss Port; and his majesty kept pretty much in the middle of the room. The little girl, who kept close to me, did not break the order, and I could hardly help expecting to be beckoned, with a PUSS! PUSS! PUSS! to change places with one of my neighbours.18
In Emma, Mrs Elton is scornful of the game suggested by Frank Churchill:
I really cannot attempt—I am not at all fond of the sort of thing. I had an acrostic once sent to me upon my own name, which I was not at all pleased with. I knew who it came from. An abominable puppy!—You know who I mean (nodding to her husband). These kind of things are very well at Christmas, when one is sitting round the fire; but quite out of place, in my opinion, when one is exploring about the country in summer.19
Did they give to the poor?

Wilson spoke of the generosity of the actress Harriot Mellon’s mother:
And when some kind patron would send her a Christmas or Easter present in money, a portion of it always was devoted to the purchase of common clothing for infants, or to materials for a dinner to indigent persons in her parish.20
Watkins wrote of Queen Charlotte in 1800:
At the beginning of October the royal family left the coast for Windsor, where Her Majesty kept the Christmas-day following in a very pleasing manner. Sixty poor families had a substantial dinner given them; and in the evening the children of the principal families in the neighbourhood were invited to an entertainment at the Lodge.21
Did they give each other presents?

Harriet Leveson-Gower, Lady Granville, wrote about Lady Conyngham’s Christmas presents in 1824:
I went after it to Lady Conyngham, and saw her Christmas gifts, which made my mouth water, and made me almost wish for a situation. A magnificent cross, seized from the expiring body of a murdered bishop in the island of Scio. An almanack, gold with flowers embossed on it of precious stones. A gold melon, which upon being touched by a spring falls into compartments like the quarters of an orange, each containing different perfumes. I returned like Aladdin after the cave, only empty-handed, which, I believe, he was not.22
The future Queen Victoria wrote in her diary for Christmas Eve, 1832:
Mamma gave me a lovely pink bag which she had worked with a little sachet likewise done by her; a beautiful little opal brooch and earrings; books, some lovely prints, a pink satin dress and a cloak lined with fur. Aunt Sophia gave me a dress which she worked herself, and Aunt Mary a pair of amethyst earrings. Lehzen a lovely music book. Victoire a very pretty white bag worked by herself and Sir John a silver brush. I gave Lehzen some little things and Mamma gave her a writing ¬table. We then went to my room where I had arranged Mamma’s table. I gave Mamma a white bag which I had worked, a collar and a steel chain for Flora and an annual; Aunt Sophia a pair of turquoise earrings; Lehzen, a little white and gold pin cushion and a pin with two little gold hearts hanging to it. Sir John, flora and a book holder and an annual. Mamma then took me up into my bedroom with all the ladies. There was my new toilet table with a white muslin cover over pink of all my silver things standing on it with a fine new looking glass. I stayed up till ½ past 9. The dog went away again to the doctor for her leg. I saw good Louis for an instant and she gave me a lovely little wooden box with bottles. I was soon in bed and asleep.23
Did they have special Christmas food?

Ghost of Christmas Present by John Leech   from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens   (1920 reprint of original 1843 edition)
Ghost of Christmas Present by John Leech
from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
(1920 reprint of original 1843 edition)
Mince pies go back to at least 1666 as Samuel Pepys refers to them in his diary of that year for Christmas Day:
Lay pretty long in bed, and then rose, leaving my wife desirous to sleep, having sat up till four this morning seeing her mayds make mince-pies. I to church, where our parson Mills made a good sermon. Then home, and dined well on some good ribbs of beef roasted and mince pies; only my wife, brother, and Barker, and plenty of good wine of my owne, and my heart full of true joy; and thanks to God Almighty for the goodness of my condition at this day.24
Wilson also referred to mince pies when talking of the superstitious rituals that Harriot Mellon’s mother adhered to:
Mrs Entwisle had brought her up with the firm belief in the necessity of complying with the superstitious customs attached to certain days, the omission of which would infallibly be followed by ill luck; and therefore, the Christmas mince-pie, Shrove-Tuesday pancakes, Easter tansy-pudding, or Michaelmas-goose, must be tasted, though in ever so small a quantity, nay, even though disagreeable to the partaker, as was her own case respecting the Michaelmas dainty.25
On 16 December 1766, Horace Walpole wrote to his friend George Montagu:
Thank you for your offer of a do; you know, when I dine at home here, it is quite alone, and venison frightens my little meal; yet, as half of it is designed for dimidium animce meee Mrs Clive (a pretty round half), I must not refuse it; venison will make such a figure at her Christmas gambols! only let me know when and how I am to receive it, that she may prepare the rest of her banquet; I will convey it to her.26
Scrooge and Bob Cratchit by John Leech from A Christmas Carol  by Charles Dickens (1920 reprint of original 1843 edition)
Scrooge and Bob Cratchit by John Leech from A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens (1920 reprint of original 1843 edition)
Did they decorate their homes?

In his journal of his residence in Great Britain in 1810-11, Louis Simond refers to houses decorated with greenery at Christmas:
The villages along the road are in general not beautiful, the houses very poor indeed; the walls old and rough, but the windows generally whole and clean; no old hats or bundles of rags stuck in as in America, where people build, but do not repair. Peeping in, as we pass along, the floors appear to be a pavement of round stones like the streets— a few seats, in the form of short benches — a table or two — a spinning-wheel — a few shelves — and just now (Christmas,) greens hanging about.27
Did they have Christmas trees?

Christmas trees did not become widespread in England until after 1848 although Queen Charlotte had a Christmas tree from at least 1800. You can read more about this on my blog: Did they have Christmas trees in the Regency?

Christmas tree at Windsor Castle from The Illustrated London News Christmas supplement (1848)
Christmas tree at Windsor Castle from The Illustrated 
London News Christmas supplement (1848)

Notes
1. Hassan Khan, Mirza Abul, A Persian at the Court of King George 1809-10, edited by Margaret Morris Cloake (1988)
2. The Gentleman's Magazine Supplement July-December 1809
3. Austen, Jane, Emma (1815)
4. Granville, Harriet, Countess, Letters of Harriet, Countess Granville 1810-1845 (1894)
5. Chapman, John H (ed) The Register book of marriages belonging to the Parish of St George, Hanover Square in the County of Middlesex Vol 3 1810-1823 (1896)
6. Austen, Jane, Mansfield Park (1814)
7. Austen, Jane, Persuasion (1817)
8. Austen, Jane, Emma (1815)
9. Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice (1813)
10. Walpole, Horace, Correspondence of Horace Walpole with George Montagu (1837)
11. Edgeworth, Maria, A Memoir of Maria Edgeworth with a selection from her letters (1867)
12. Granville, Harriet, Countess, Letters of Harriet, Countess Granville 1810-1845 (1894)
13. Austen, Jane, Emma (1815)
14. Austen, Jane, Persuasion (1817)
15. Austen, Jane, Mansfield Park (1814)
16. Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice (1813)
17. Austen, Jane, Sense and Sensibility (1811)
18. Burney, Fanny, Diary and letters of Madame D'Arblay, edited by her niece, Charlotte Barrett (1842)
19. Austen, Jane, Emma (1815)
20. Wilson, Mrs Cornwell Baron, Memoirs of Miss Mellon, afterwards Duchess of St Albans (1886)
21. Watkins, John, Memoirs of her most excellent majesty Sophia-Charlotte, Queen of Great Britain (1819)
22. Granville, Harriet, Countess, Letters of Harriet, Countess Granville 1810-1845 (1894)
23. Queen Victoria’s journals online
24. Samuel Pepys diary online
25. Wilson, Mrs Cornwell Baron, Memoirs of Miss Mellon, afterwards Duchess of St Albans (1886)
26. Walpole, Horace, Correspondence of Horace Walpole with George Montagu (1837)
27. Simond, Louis, Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain, during the years 1810 and 1811 (1815)

Sources used include:
Austen, Jane, Emma (1815)
Austen, Jane, Mansfield Park (1814)
Austen, Jane, Persuasion (1817)
Austen, Jane, Pride and Prejudice (1813)
Austen, Jane, Sense and Sensibility (1811)
Burney, Fanny, Diary and letters of Madame D'Arblay, edited by her niece, Charlotte Barrett (1842)
Chapman, John H (ed) The Register book of marriages belonging to the Parish of St George, Hanover Square in the County of Middlesex Vol 3 1810-1823 (1896)
Edgeworth, Maria, A Memoir of Maria Edgeworth with a selection from her letters (1867)
Granville, Harriet, Countess, Letters of Harriet, Countess Granville 1810-1845 (1894)
Hassan Khan, Mirza Abul, A Persian at the Court of King George 1809-10, edited by Margaret Morris Cloake (1988)
Simond, Louis, Journal of a Tour and Residence in Great Britain, during the years 1810 and 1811 (1815)
The Gentleman's Magazine Supplement July-December 1809
Walpole, Horace, Correspondence of Horace Walpole with George Montagu (1837)
Watkins, John, Memoirs of her most excellent majesty Sophia-Charlotte, Queen of Great Britain (1819)
Wilson, Mrs Cornwell Baron, Memoirs of Miss Mellon, afterwards Duchess of St Albans (1886)

Queen Victoria’s journals online
Samuel Pepys diary online

Thursday, 22 November 2018

The Pantheon in Georgian London

The Pantheon from Ackermann's Repository (1814)
The Pantheon from Ackermann's Repository (1814)
The Pantheon was a popular venue for public evening entertainments in late Georgian London. It was situated on the south side of Oxford Street where Marks and Spencer is today.

The original Pantheon

The Pantheon was a business venture by Philip Elias Turst who wanted to develop ‘a place of evening entertainment for the nobility and gentry.’1 He raised money for the enterprise by selling shares and employed James Wyatt as architect. Work started in June 1769 and the building was finished in January 1772. It derived its name from the dome which was copied from that of the Roman Pantheon.

In a letter to his friend, Sir Horace Mann, in May 1770, Horace Walpole wrote:
The new winter Ranelagh in the Oxford Road is nearly finished. It amazed me myself. Imagine Balbec in all its glory. The pillars are of artificial giallo antico. The ceilings even of the passages are of the most beautiful stuccos in the best taste of grotesque. The ceilings of the ball-rooms and the panels are painted like Raphael's loggias in the Vatican: a dome like the Pantheon glazed. It is to cost fifty thousand pounds.2
The Pantheon opened on 27 January 1772 and the entertainments held there included assemblies, masquerades, concerts and exhibitions.3

Ackermann’s Repository described the original Pantheon in glowing terms:
It was a most superb and beautiful structure, the admiration of all connoisseurs, foreigners as well as natives. The interior was fitted up in such a magnificent style, that it is scarcely possible for those who never saw it, to conceive the elegance and grandeur of the apartments, the boldness of the paintings, or the effect produced by the disposition of the lights, where were reflected from gilt vases. Below the dome were a number of statues, representing most of the heathen gods and goddesses, supposed to be in the ancient Pantheon at Rome, from which it derived its name. To these were added three beautiful statues of white porphyry, representing the King and Queen, and Britannia. The whole building formed a suite of fourteen rooms, each affording a striking specimen of taste and splendour.4
The Pantheon from Old and New London (1878)
The Pantheon from Old and New London (1878)
Concerts

During the height of the Pantheon’s popularity, concerts were held regularly. In 1774, the season included twelve subscription concerts which were followed by dancing.

In 1784, a concert was held to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Handel which was attended by the King, Queen and royal family and over 1,600 other people.

In Evelina, published in 1778, Fanny Burney sends her heroine to a concert at the Pantheon:
About eight o'clock we went to the Pantheon. I was extremely struck with the beauty of the building, which greatly surpassed whatever I could have expected or imagined. Yet, it has more the appearance of a chapel, than of a place of diversion; and, though I was quite charmed with the magnificence of the room, I felt that I could not be as gay and thoughtless there as at Ranelagh, for there is something in it which rather inspires awe and solemnity than mirth and pleasure: however, perhaps it may only have this effect upon such a novice as myself.5
She continued:
There was an exceeding good concert, but too much talking to hear it well. Indeed, I am quite astonished to find how little music is attended to in silence; for, though every body seems to admire, hardly any body listens.5
Burney also provides us with a description of the tea room:
We did not see Lord Orville, till we went into the tea-room; which is large, low, and under ground, and serves merely as a foil to the apartments above.5
In Cecilia, published in 1782, Fanny Burney’s heroine also attends a concert at the Pantheon:
At the door of the Pantheon they were joined by Mr Arnott and Sir Robert Floyer, whom Cecilia now saw with added aversion: they entered the great room during the second act of the Concert, to which as no one of the party but herself had any desire to listen, no sort of attention was paid; the ladies entertaining themselves as if no Orchestra was in the room, and the gentlemen, with an equal disregard to it, struggling for a place by the fire, about which they continued hovering till the music was over.6
Exhibitions

Lunardi's balloon on display at the Pantheon from    Histoire des Ballons et des Aéronautes célèbres by Gaston Tissandier (1887)
Lunardi's balloon on display at the Pantheon from  
Histoire des Ballons et des Aéronautes célèbres by Gaston Tissandier (1887)
Out of season, the great room was used for exhibitions. In 1777, there was an exhibition demonstrating ‘Experiments on the Use of Conductors in preventing Buildings from being struck by Lightning’ and in 1781, there was an exhibition of the stained glass which Mr Pearson had made for a window at Salisbury Cathedral.

Old and New London wrote of another exhibition:
Here, in September and October, 1784, was exhibited the balloon in which Lunardi had made his first successful ascent (September 15) from the Artillery Ground at Moorfields.7
Masquerades at the Pantheon

The Pantheon was famous for its masquerades. There were typically two masquerades each season. They would begin at nine or ten o’clock and supper would not be served until twelve or later, usually in the underground tea-room. These masked balls or galas were sometimes sponsored by one of the men’s clubs, such as one held in 1789 sponsored by White’s.

In A Perfect Match, Mrs Westlake and her daughter Alicia avoid this gala:
The number of invitations from members of the ton had virtually dried up and there was no question of them attending the ball being held at the Pantheon in celebration of the King’s recovery. Even had they not felt honour bound to join the Duchess of Devonshire and the other Whigs in boycotting the ball, they would have shied away from the risk of being cut or, worse still, refused entry, to an event over which the Duchess of Gordon was patroness.8
Old and New London reported:
In the year 1783, a masquerade took place here in honour of the coming of age of the Prince of Wales; it was got up by a noted clown of the period, named Delpini, and a charge of three guineas was made for each ticket.9
In The Sylph, published in 1778, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire’s heroine Julia is being pressed into attending a masquerade at the Pantheon. Julia wrote to the Sylph for advice:
Will my kind guardian candidly inform me if he thinks I may comply with the desire of Sir William, in going next Thursday to the masquerade at the Pantheon? Without your previous advice, I would not willingly consent. Is it a diversion of which I may participate without danger? Though I doubt there is hardly decency enough left in this part of the world, that vice need wear a mask; yet do not people give a greater scope to their licentious inclinations while under that veil?10
Fanny Burney’s heroine Cecilia was also invited to a masquerade at the Pantheon:
The Captain, who had not heard this speech, which was rather made at him than to him, continued his address to Cecilia; “Give me leave to have the honour of hoping you intend to honour our select masquerade at the Pantheon with your presence. We shall have but five hundred tickets, and the subscription will only be three guineas and a half.”11
In Belinda, published in 1801, Maria Edgeworth sent her heroine to a masquerade at the Pantheon. You can read more about this on my post about Regency Masquerades.

Italian opera house

After the Haymarket Theatre was destroyed by fire in June 1789, the Pantheon was adapted for use as an opera house. R B O’Reilly leased the Pantheon for twelve years at an annual rent of 3,000 guineas and was given a four-year licence for Italian opera to be performed there by the Lord Chamberlain.

The new opera house opened on 17 February 1791 with the performance of Sacchini's Armida.

Horace Walpole wrote:
The Pantheon has opened, and is small, they say, but pretty and simple; all the rest ill-conducted, and from the singers to the scene-shifters imperfect; the dances long and bad, and the whole performance so dilatory and tedious, that it lasted from eight to half-an-hour past twelve.12
The Prospect Before Us by Thomas Rowlandson (1791) © The Royal Collection  Photo by A Knowles taken at Rowlandson's Comic Art   exhibition at the Queen's Gallery (2015)
The Prospect Before Us by Thomas Rowlandson (1791) © The Royal Collection
Photo by A Knowles taken at Rowlandson's Comic Art 
exhibition at the Queen's Gallery (2015)
Fire at the Pantheon

On 14 January 1792, fire broke out in one of the new buildings added to the Pantheon in order to make it large enough for the performance of operas.

The Microcosm of London described the scene:
Before any engines reached the spot, the fire had got to such a height, that all attempts to save the building were in vain. The flames, owing to the scenery, oil, paint, and other combustible matter in the house, were tremendous, and so rapid in their progress, that not a single article could be saved. Fortunately, the height of the walls prevented the conflagration from spreading to the adjoining buildings.13
Ackermann’s Repository added:
Persons who witnessed the progress of this tremendous fire, declare, that the appearances exhibited through the windows, the lofty scagliola pillars enveloped in flames and smoke, the costly damask curtains waving from the rarefaction of the air, and the superb chandeliers turning round from the same circumstance, together with the successive crashing and falling in of different portions of the building, furnished to their minds a more lively representation of Pandemonium than the imagination alone can possibly supply. The effects, too, of the intense frost which then prevailed, upon the water poured from the engines upon the blazing pile, are described as equally singular and magnificent. The loss occasioned by this catastrophe amounted to £60,000; only one fourth of which was insured.14
The new Pantheon

Masquerade at the Pantheon from The Microcosm of London Vol 2 (1808-10)
Masquerade at the Pantheon from The Microcosm of London Vol 2 (1808-10)
The Pantheon was rebuilt by Crispus Claggett with the same front and portico onto Oxford Street but ‘the rest of the edifice exhibits not even a shadow of its former magnificence.’15 There was a large area or pit with ‘a double tier of elegant and spacious Boxes, in the centre of which is a most splendid one for the Royal Family.’16

On 9 April 1795, the Pantheon reopened with a masquerade, but it failed to regain its former popularity and after a few years, Claggett absconded, leaving his rent unpaid. The shareholders took over the management of the Pantheon, continuing the normal programme of concerts, lectures, exhibitions and masquerades. It had been hoped that a licence would be granted for the performance of theatre, but this was contested by the winter theatres.

The Microcosm of London wrote:
Since the Pantheon was rebuilt, it has been principally used for exhibitions, and occasionally for masquerades, of which the plate is a very spirited representation. It is composed, as these scenes usually are, of a motley crowd of peers and pickpockets, honourables and dishonourables, Jew brokers and demireps, quidnuncs and quack doctors. These entertainments are said not to accord with the English character; and we should have been inclined to impute this want of congeniality to a fund of good sense, which renders our countrymen insensible to such entertainments, if we were not daily witnesses of their pursuing amusements less rational and infinitely more frivolous.17
The Picture of London for 1810 listed under the amusements in London for January:
N.B. In the course of this and the ensuing five months, masquerades are occasionally held at the Opera-house, and the Pantheon, always previously advertised in the newspapers, admission 10s 6d, 1l 1s and 2l 2s and dresses may be hired at the masquerade warehouses, from 5s to 2l 2s each.18
In 1810-11, the Pantheon was leased by the National Institution for improving the Manufactures of the United Kingdom and the Arts connected therewith, but when the expense proved too great for them, they sold the lease to Colonel Henry Francis Greville, the proprietor of the Argyll Rooms. Greville held an annual licence for performances in the Argyll Rooms and had great plans for converting the Pantheon into a theatre and transferring his licence there. Unfortunately, his plans were bigger than his means and so he sold on the lease to his architect, Nicholas Cundy, and Cundy’s associate, Joas Pereira de Souza Caldas who was to manage the theatre. Greville’s role was to supply the Pantheon with a licence to perform.

Old and New London wrote:
The boxes, 171 in number, were disposed into four regular tiers, besides the upper or slip boxes. They were supported by gilt columns, furnished with curtains and chairs, and illuminated by chandeliers. The pit would accommodate about 1,200 and the gallery 500 persons. The stage was 56 feet wide and 90 feet deep. The devices and designs before the curtain were by Signio; the scene-painter was Marinari. A saloon, measuring 49 feet by 21 feet, was appropriated to the boxes, and a refreshment-room was attached to the pit. It was opened on the 25th of February, 1812, at opera prices, with T. Dibdin's opera of The Cabinet.19
The new Pantheon was fraught with difficulties. There were disputes over the issue of the licence to perform and shortly after opening, the building was found to be unsafe and ordered to be closed by the Lord Chamberlain. Within a matter of months, both Caldas and Cundy had been declared bankrupt.

The Lord Chamberlain refused to alter the terms of the licence limiting the Pantheon to the performance of music and dancing, burlettas and children’s dramatics. Greville refused to accept the licence on this basis, and the Lord Chamberlain refused to grant the licence to anyone else, so the Pantheon was forced to shut.

Repeated applications were made for the grant of a licence as a winter theatre, but when they were refused, Cundy decided to open without one. Two days after opening the Pantheon as an English Opera House in July 1813, the Lord Chamberlain ordered the theatre to be closed. Cundy appealed unsuccessfully whilst continuing performances. Despite receiving a fine, he tried again briefly in December 1813. In 1814, everything movable was sold by auction to help meet rent arrears and the building stood empty for many years.

The Pantheon Bazaar

In 1833-4, the Pantheon was converted into a bazaar by the architect Sydney Smirke. The entrance fronts onto Oxford Street and Poland Street remained, but the roof and many of the walls were taken down.

The Pictorial Handbook of London (1854) wrote:
The Pantheon, in Oxford Street, was originally built for a theatre or concert-room. It now presents a large hall fitted up with stalls for millinery, jewellery, knicknackery, toys, and music, with an upper gallery similarly fitted, and affording a view of the lower area. The attendants of the stalls are young women, and the visitants chiefly women and children. Towards Oxford Street are galleries of pictures for sale. The most remarkable work is a great painting by Haydon, of the Raising of Lazarus. On the ground floor on the Marlborough Street side, by which there is another entrance, is a pretty conservatory, in the oriental style, partly occupied for the sale of florists' flowers and exotic plants, and partly for the sale of parrots, love birds, singing birds, monkeys, loris, white mice, squirrels, and gold fish. This is one of the prettiest parts of the scene.20
The Pantheon was acquired by wine merchants W and A Gilbey in 1867 and used as offices and showrooms until it was sold to developers in the 1930s. The building was demolished and Marks and Spencer was built on the site.

Site of the Pantheon, Oxford Street, London
Site of the Pantheon, Oxford Street, London
Notes
(1) Ackermann, Rudolph and Pyne, William Henry, The Microcosm of London or London in miniature Volume 2 (Rudolph Ackermann 1808-1810, reprinted 1904).
(2) From a letter from Horace Walpole to Horace Mann quoted in Walford, Edward, Old and New London: A narrative of its history, its people, and its places (Cassell, Petter & Galpin, 1878, London) Vol 4.
(3) British History online said it opened on 27 January 1772 whereas Old and New London said 28 April. The earlier date must be correct as British History online quotes The Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser 29 January 1772 as its source.
(4) Ackermann's Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics (1814).
(5) Burney, Fanny, Evelina or the history of a young lady’s entrance into the world (1778).
(6) Burney, Fanny, Cecilia or Memoirs of an Heiress (1782).
(7) Walford op cit.
(8) Knowles, Rachel, A Perfect Match (2015).
(9) Walford op cit.
(10) Cavendish, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, The Sylph (1778).
(11) Burney, Fanny, Cecilia or Memoirs of an Heiress (1782).
(12) From a letter from Horace Walpole to Miss Agnes Berry, 18 Feb 1791 from Walpole, Horace, The Letters of Horace Walpole, edited by P Cunningham, in nine volumes (1859) Volume 9
(13) Ackermann, Rudolph and Pyne, William Henry, The Microcosm of London or London in miniature Volume 2 (Rudolph Ackermann 1808-1810, reprinted 1904).
(14) Ackermann's Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics (1814).
(15) Ibid
(16) From The Times, 10 January 1795 as quoted in British History online.
(17) Ackermann, Rudolph and Pyne, William Henry, The Microcosm of London or London in miniature Volume 2 (Rudolph Ackermann 1808-1810, reprinted 1904).
(18) Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1810 (1810)
(19) Walford op cit. British History online states the opening date as 27 February rather than 25 February.
(20) Weale, John, The Pictorial Handbook of London (1854).

Sources used include:
Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1810 (1810)
Ackermann, Rudolph and Pyne, William Henry, The Microcosm of London or London in miniature Volume 2 (Rudolph Ackermann 1808-1810, reprinted 1904)
Ackermann's Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics (1814)
Burney, Fanny, Cecilia or Memoirs of an Heiress (1782)
Burney, Fanny, Evelina or the history of a young lady’s entrance into the world (1778)
Cavendish, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, The Sylph (1778)
Tissandier, Gaston, Histoire des Ballons et des Aéronautes célèbres 1783-1800 (Paris, 1887)
Walford, Edward, Old and New London: A narrative of its history, its people, and its places (Cassell, Petter & Galpin, 1878, London) Vol 4
Walpole, Horace, The Letters of Horace Walpole, edited by P Cunningham, in nine volumes (1859) Volume 9
Weale, John, The Pictorial Handbook of London (1854)


Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Masquerade balls in Regency London

Masquerade at the Pantheon from The Microcosm of London Vol 2 (1808-10)
Masquerade at the Pantheon (cropped)
from The Microcosm of London Vol 2 (1808-10)
A masquerade is a valuable plot device for a historical romance writer. There is no end to the scenarios that could arise when your characters’ identities are disguised. When writing the first draft of my current work-in-progress (a sequel to A Perfect Match currently known as Georgiana after its heroine), I saw how I could use a masquerade to take the story where I wanted it to go. Questions immediately arose in my mind. I knew that masquerades were very popular in the 18th century, but did they still have masquerades in 1810? Were they as I imagined them? What sort of costumes did they wear, and did they always wear masks?

Public masquerades

According to the Picture of London (1810), public masquerades took place at the Argyle Rooms, the Opera House and the Pantheon. It wrote:
The Fashionable Institution in Argyle-street embraces the amusements of masquerades, concerts, vocal and instrumental, &c.1
In the diary of the exhibitions and amusements of London for the month of January it stated:
N.B. In the course of this and the ensuing five months, masquerades are occasionally held at the Opera-house, and the Pantheon, always previously advertised in the newspapers, admission 10s 6d, 1l 1s and 2l 2s and dresses may be hired at the masquerade warehouses, from 5s to 2l 2s each.1
The plate of Masquerade at the Pantheon (shown cropped at the top of this post and in full under 'A masquerade in The Sylph' below) accompanied a chapter on the Pantheon in the Microcosm of London. It said:
Since the Pantheon was rebuilt, it has been principally used for exhibitions, and occasionally for masquerades, of which the plate is a very spirited representation. It is composed, as these scenes usually are, of a motley crowd of peers and pickpockets, honourables and dishonourables, Jew brokers and demireps, quidnuncs and quack doctors.2
A masquerade at the Argyll Rooms was advertised in The Times for 31 May 1810:
Masquerade, Argyle Rooms. – By Permission of the Right Hon. the Lord Chamberlain. – S. Slade most respectfully informs the Nobility, Gentry, and his Friends in general, that his BENEFIT MASQUED BALL will take place on Wednesday, the 6th of June. Gentlemens Tickets 1l 11s 6d Ladies Tickets 1l 1s; to include Refreshments, Supper, old Port, Sherry, Madeira, and Claret, to be had at the Office, Little Argyle-street. To prevent the intrusion of improper persons, no ticket will be issued, unless the name and address is left at this Office.3
Masquerade, Argyll Rooms Print by T Lane Published by George Hunt (1826) © British Museum
Masquerade, Argyll Rooms
Print by T Lane Published by George Hunt (1826) © British Museum
Private masquerades

Not all masquerades were public affairs. During his stay in London in 1809-10, the Persian ambassador, Mirza Abul Hassan Khan, kept a journal, and he wrote of several masquerades he had attended.

One was a breakfast masquerade held at the house of Lady Buckinghamshire on 22 May 1810. The guests had been invited to come in fancy dress but the ambassador and his host, Sir Gore Ouseley, did not. The ambassador noted that the costumes included a lady’s maid, a sailor, and a Roman empress, and numerous Iranians, Turks and Indians. He commented that one Iranian ‘wore a false beard made from the hair of a cat or a goat.’ I like to use real events in my stories where possible and so my heroine Georgiana attends this breakfast masquerade along with the Persian ambassador and some 500 others.

He attended another masquerade – this time a ball – at Mrs Chichester’s house on 18 June. Sir Gore Ouseley pretended he was not going but actually dressed up as a Persian and tried to fool the ambassador.

At another masquerade in June, the ambassador was approached by Lady William Gordon, who was then unknown to him, disguised as a priest.

Masquerading by Thomas Rowlandson (30/08/1811)  from the Metropolitan Museum DP881828
Masquerading by Thomas Rowlandson (30/08/1811)
from the Metropolitan Museum DP881828
A masquerade in The Sylph

Judging by the number of contemporary novels that include masquerades, it would appear to have been generally accepted that a person’s identity could be successfully hidden by their costume. The accounts often include details of the characters and costumes worn.

The Sylph by Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, was published in 1778. The heroine, Julia, Lady Stanley, attends a masquerade at the Pantheon. Here she meets in person the Sylph, a man who has been acting as her guardian angel, giving her advice by letter. The author gives us a detailed description of what the Sylph was wearing:
I will describe his dress: his figure in itself seems the most perfect I ever saw; the finest harmony of shape; a waistcoat and breeches of silver tissue, exactly fitted to his body; buskins of the same, fringed, &c.; a blue silk mantle depending from one shoulder, to which it was secured by a diamond epaulette, falling in beautiful folds upon the ground; this robe was starred all over with plated silver, which had a most brilliant effect; on each shoulder was placed a transparent wing of painted gauze, which looked like peacocks feathers; a cap, suitable to the whole dress, which was certainly the most elegant and best contrived that can be imagined. I gazed on him with the most perfect admiration. Ah! how I longed to see his face, which the envious mask concealed. His hair hung in sportive ringlets; and just carelessly restrained from wandering too far by a white ribband.4
This idea that a costume gave a sense of anonymity is further reinforced when Julia leaves the masquerade in the company, so she thinks, of her husband:
I had taken off my mask, as it was very warm; he still kept his on, and talked in the same kind of voice he practised at the masquerade. He paid me most profuse compliments on the beauty of my dress, and, throwing his arms round my waist, congratulated himself on possessing such an angel, at the same time kissing my face and bosom with such a strange kind of eagerness as made me suppose he was intoxicated; and, under that idea, being very desirous of disengaging myself from his arms, I struggled to get away from him. He pressed me to go to bed; and, in short, his behaviour was unaccountable: at last, on my persisting to intreat him to let me go, he blew out one of the candles. I then used all my force, and burst from him, and at that instant his mask gave way; and in the dress of my husband, (Oh, Louisa! judge, if you can, of my terror) I beheld that villain Lord Biddulph.4
Masquerade at the Pantheon from The Microcosm of London Vol 2 (1808-10)
Masquerade at the Pantheon from The Microcosm of London Vol 2 (1808-10)
A masquerade in Cecilia

Fanny Burney’s Cecilia was published in 1782. Burney’s description of a masquerade attended by her heroine Cecilia gives us details of some of the costumes people wore:
Dominos of no character, and fancy dresses of no meaning, made, as is usual at such meetings, the general herd of the company: for the rest, the men were Spaniards, chimney-sweepers, Turks, watchmen, conjurers, and old women; and the ladies, shepherdesses, orange girls, Circassians, gipseys, haymakers, and sultanas.5
Burney also mentions a Minerva, a Don Devil and a Harlequin.

A masquerade in Belinda

Belinda by Maria Edgeworth was published in 1801. Edgeworth describes how Belinda and her hostess, Lady Delacour, are to go to a masquerade.
Lady Delacour burst into the room, exclaiming, in a tone of gaiety, “Tragedy or comedy, Belinda? The masquerade dresses are come.”6
Lady Delacour chooses tragedy but then changes her mind and insists that they swap dresses. She assures Belinda: ‘Not a human being will find us out at the masquerade.’6

The disguise is so good that Lady Delacour’s admirer, Clarence Hervey, mistakes Belinda for Lady Delacour, and Belinda overhears a conversation not intended for her ears which includes derogatory comments about her aunt and herself.

Edgeworth also describes the elaborate costume of a serpent that Mr Hervey had planned to wear:
The first person they saw, when they went into the drawing-room at Lady Singleton’s, was this very Clarence Hervey, who was not in a masquerade dress. He had laid a wager with one of his acquaintance, that he could perform the part of the serpent, such as he is seen in Fuseli’s well-known picture. For this purpose he had exerted much ingenuity in the invention and execution of a length of coiled skin, which he manoeuvred with great dexterity, by means of internal wires; his grand difficulty had been to manufacture the rays that were to come from his eyes. He had contrived a set of phosphoric rays, which he was certain would charm all the fair daughters of Eve. He forgot, it seems, that phosphorus could not well be seen by candlelight. When he was just equipped as a serpent, his rays set fire to part of his envelope, and it was with the greatest difficulty that he was extricated. He escaped unhurt, but his serpent’s skin was utterly consumed; nothing remained but the melancholy spectacle of its skeleton.6
Edgeworth notes that:
After a recital of his misfortune had entertained the company, and after the muses had performed their parts to the satisfaction of the audience and their own, the conversation ceased to be supported in masquerade character; muses and harlequins, gipsies and Cleopatras, began to talk of their private affairs, and of the news and the scandal of the day.6
On arriving at the Pantheon, Lady Delacourt gives Belinda the following advice:
You have nothing to fear from me, and everything to hope from yourself, if you will only dry up your tears, keep on your mask, and take my advice.6
Later, Edgeworth refers to another masquerade costume:
Lady Delacour … returned, dressed in the character of Queen Elizabeth, in which she had once appeared at a masquerade, with a large ruff, and all the costume of the times.6
Illustration from Belinda by Maria Edgeworth - 1850 edition
Illustration from Belinda by Maria Edgeworth - 1850 edition
Costumes at Vauxhall in 1787

Further suggestions of the costumes people wore can be gleaned from the description of the masqued ball in Vauxhall Gardens in May 1787 which was reported in The Times. The costumes of note included ‘a lady who professed herself eight months advanced in pregnancy’7 which was judged to be an excellent character, but a poor disguise as she was unmasked. She was accompanied by a nurse. There was also a wild Irishman, a wooden-legged Harlequin, a noisy watchman, a woman selling primroses, a Punch, young Astley as half Beau and half Belle, a Highland lad and lassie, the character of a porter from the comic opera The Duenna who ‘asked no more than nature craved’ (a line from The Duenna which was written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan) and a cobbler, together with an assortment of cricketers, haymakers, flower girls and vestal virgins.

Notes
(1) From Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1810 (1810).
(2) From Ackermann, Rudolph and Pyne, William Henry, The Microcosm of London or London in miniature Volume 2 (Rudolph Ackermann 1808-1810, reprinted 1904).
(3) From The Times, 31 May 1810.
(4) From Cavendish, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, The Sylph (1778).
(5) From Burney, Fanny, Cecilia or Memoirs of an Heiress (1782).
(6) From Edgeworth, Maria, Belinda (1801).
(7) From The Times, 18 May 1787.

Sources used include:
Ackermann, Rudolph and Pyne, William Henry, The Microcosm of London or London in miniature Volume 2 (Rudolph Ackermann 1808-1810, reprinted 1904)
Burney, Fanny, Cecilia or Memoirs of an Heiress (1782)
Cavendish, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, The Sylph (1778)
Edgeworth, Maria, Belinda (1802)
Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1810 (1810)
Hassan Khan, Mirza Abul, A Persian at the Court of King George 1809-10, edited by Margaret Morris Cloake (1988)

The Times online archive

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Banns, licences and Hardwicke's Marriage Act - a Regency History guide to marriage in Georgian England

St George's Hanover Square - the most  fashionable church in Regency London
St George's Hanover Square - the most
fashionable church in Regency London
The Marriage Act (1753)

Marriages in late Georgian England were governed by Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1753 which came into force on 25 March 1754 – an Act designed for ‘the better preventing of clandestine Marriages’.1

Although marriages usually took place in parish churches prior to this, it was possible to circumvent the system and get married in secret at places like the Fleet prison and St George’s Chapel, Mayfair.

The 1753 Act stated that all marriages in England had to take place in a parish church or chapel, either after banns or by licence, unless under special licence. The law did not apply to members of the royal family. Nor did it apply to Jews and Quakers, but no concessions were made for other non-Conformists. 

There was a rush to get married before the Act came into force and the registers of St George’s Chapel state that 1,136 marriages took place between October 1753 and March 1754 including 61 on the 24 March 1754.

Mayfair Chapel in 1761 from Mayfair and Belgravia by G Clinch (1892)
Mayfair Chapel in 1761
from Mayfair and Belgravia by G Clinch (1892)
Marriage by banns

Banns were a formal way of announcing the couple’s intention to marry. The Banns of Matrimony had to be read out, in a prescribed format, for three Sundays prior to the wedding in the parish church or chapel that the couple attended, or in both parish churches or chapels if the couple were from different parishes. The couple had to give seven days’ notice to the minister of each church before the first reading of the banns, and provide details of their names, where they lived and how long they had lived there for.

If either of the couple were under the age of 21 years and previously unmarried, then a parent or guardian of the underage party could forbid the banns. However, if they failed to object at the time the banns were read, they could not later object to the marriage.

The marriage ceremony could only take place at one of the places where the banns were read. It had to be witnessed by two people in addition to the minister taking the ceremony, and the marriage register had to be signed by the minister, the witnesses and the two parties getting married.

This was by far the most common way of getting married.
 
Entries in the marriage register of St George's Hanover Square from 18-28 July 1811   illustrating the fact that most marriages were by banns.    All the entries are by banns except the one marked licence.
Entries in the marriage register of St George's Hanover Square from 18-28 July 1811
 illustrating the fact that most marriages were by banns.  All the entries are by
banns except the one marked licence.2
Marriage by common licence

Sometimes it was not convenient to wait for the banns to be read, for example if the bride was pregnant, and it was possible to get married more quickly by applying for a common licence. This was available from a bishop or archbishop and their offices.

Before the licence could be issued, one of the couple or someone acting on their behalf had to submit a sworn statement or allegation that there was no impediment of kindred or alliance to the marriage, and if one or both parties were underage and previously unmarried, that they had the consent of their parent or guardian. There was also a requirement for the groom or someone acting on his behalf to enter a bond where a substantial amount of money would be forfeited if an impediment existed.

The marriage had to take place in the church or chapel of the parish where one of the couple had been residing for at least four weeks. As with banns, the wedding had to take place in front of two witnesses who signed the register along with the minster and the couple.

Entry in the marriage register of St George's Hanover Square for a  marriage by licence in 1815. This example is for the marriage of a   minor and states that her father's consent had been obtained.
Entry in the marriage register of St George's Hanover Square for a
marriage by licence in 1815. This example is for the marriage of a
 minor and states that her father's consent had been obtained.
Special licence

The only legal way to be married in a place other than a parish church or chapel after banns or by licence was to be married by special licence. This was a much rarer and more expensive type of licence than a common licence and could only be issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury. A special licence still required an allegation that there was no impediment of kindred or alliance to the marriage, and that the consent of a parent or guardian for underage parties had been given, but it enabled a couple to get married anytime and anywhere, such as in the private chapel of their home.

Entry in the marriage register of St George's Hanover Square for a marriage by   special licence in 1811. This example states where the marriage took place   and that the underage bride's guardians had given consent.
Entry in the marriage register of St George's Hanover Square for a marriage by
special licence in 1811. This example states where the marriage took place
and that the underage bride's guardians had given consent.
1823 Marriage Act

Hardwicke’s Marriage Act was amended several times, most importantly by the Act of July 1823. The new stipulations which took effect on 1 November 1823 included:
• The marriage had to take place within three months of the banns being completed or from the date the licence was granted.
• The marriage had to take place between 8 o’clock and 12 noon, unless by special licence.
• The period of residency for the granting of a licence was reduced to 15 days.
• It was no longer necessary to enter into a separate bond when applying for a licence.

Runaway marriages

Hardwicke’s Marriage Act did not apply in Scotland where it was possible to get married immediately by making declarations in front of witnesses. Underage couples could be married without the consent of parents or guardians, and there was no need to wait for the reading of the banns. As a result, many such couples fled to the border to be married, most famously to Gretna Green.

Travelling chariot at the blacksmith's shop, Gretna Green
Travelling chariot at the blacksmith's shop, Gretna Green

Notes
1. From An Act for the better preventing of clandestine Marriages (1753)
2. All quotes from the marriage registers of St George’s Hanover Square are from the transcriptions edited by John Chapman (see full details below).

Sources used include:
An Act for amending the Laws respecting the Solemnization of Marriages in England [18th July 1823]
An Act for the better preventing of clandestine Marriages (1753)
Chapman, John H (ed) The Register book of marriages belonging to the Parish of St George, Hanover Square in the County of Middlesex Vol 3 1810-1823 (1896)
Clinch, George, Mayfair and Belgravia: being an historical account of the parish of St George, Hanover Square (1892)
Familysearch.org website
Lambeth Palace Research guide