Tan­ta­lis­ing tales from the city

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page - Louisa Bain, who mar­ried into a book­selling fam­ily and kept diaries Joseph Far­ing­ton, painter Ge­orge Fred­er­ick Cooke, ac­tor Alan Ben­nett, ac­tor and writer Mary, Lady Monkswell, whose hus­band Baron Monkswell was a Lib­eral poli­tian Peter Ni­chols, writer

De­cem­ber 7

The Queen’s The­atre in the Hay­mar­ket was burnt down last night.

James and Tom had gone to bed, and hap­pily for them the wind blew the flames away from their side of the street. The heat was so in­tense that they could not re­main at their win­dows; they both got on the roof and poured wa­ter over it and the win­dow frames as Mr Kin­naird did over the roof of the Bank next door. All the block of houses in the cen­tre of which the Opera House stood are more or less burnt; it has been an aw­ful fire. The ground is cov­ered with snow which con­tin­ues to fall at in­ter­vals. The Lon­don Cor­re­spond­ing So­ci­ety hav­ing sig­ni­fied an in­ten­tion to meet in Mary­bone fields to-day; at one o’clock, I went into the new road where great num­bers of peo­ple were pass­ing to and from those fields.

In the sec­ond field from the road, on the right hand of the Jews Harp, three slips of hus­tings were erected in dif­fer­ent parts of the field; and be­fore each, a crowd of peo­ple were as­sem­bled, as at fairs, when a quack Doc­tor ex­horts a mob … Of all the ora­tors, Jones ap­peared to me to have most ge­nius: but he labours un­der a con­sti­tu­tional dis­ad­van­tage, which seems to oblige him of­ten to pause … Cit­i­zen Jones is a tallish, slen­der man; his com­plex­ion pale, & face thin. He was with­out pow­der, his hair dark. He is af­flicted with a par­a­lytic af­fec­tion, which causes, ex­cept­ing when he is ex­ert­ing him­self, an al­most con­stant con­vul­sive twitch­ing of his head, shoul­ders, & arms. He was dressed in a green coat, & had half­boots on; and on the whole pre­sented a fig­ure such as is usu­ally called shabby gen­teel. He seems to be about 3 or 4 & thirty years old. He has an ex­cel­lent voice; sharp, clear and dis­tinct; and his ha­rangues at dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods were well cal­cu­lated for catch­ing his au­di­tory; and many pas­sages in­ge­nious enough … He spoke with great in­vet­er­acy against Pitt … Many re­spectable peo­ple were in var­i­ous parts of the field: but they all ap­peared like my­self, spec­ta­tors of the pro­ceed­ings of the day. No tu­mult took place: nor was any of­fence given to such as did not hold up hands or join in the plau­dit. I was in ev­ery part, & where the crowd was great­est; yet never held up my hand or ex­pressed ap­pro­ba­tion. Arose at eight. Break­fasted at nine. I had promised Mr Bev­er­ley, of The­atre Royal, Covent Gar­den, to act a night for him at Wool­wich, where he had a com­pany

at present sta­tioned. A lit­tle af­ter 10 he called upon me, and about half past we set out to­gether in a post-chaise, through Greenwhich and New Charleton. We alighted at Mr Bev­er­ley’s lodg­ings, near the the­atre, and were re­ceived by Mrs Bev­er­ley. A lit­tle af­ter 12 I went to the the­atre, and re­hearsed Sir Perti­nax McSy­co­phant* – af­ter­wards took a slight re­fresh­ment; and the day, which had been very wet, clear­ing up, I walked with Mr B to the Royal arse­nal, for­merly called the War­ren. I was in­tro­duced to Mr White, a gen­tle­man be­long­ing to the place, who very oblig­ingly showed us as much as our short stay would per­mit us to view. The arse­nal cov­ers a very large space of ground. There are sev­eral hand­some build­ings, and a large new store-house is now erect­ing, upon piles. Next to the river there is a long hand­some wharf, and we saw many con­victs with irons on, var­i­ously em­ployed – they sleep on board hulks, are put in classes, and re­warded ac­cord­ing to their be­hav­iour … Dined heartily at Mr B’s and about six, went with Mrs B to the the­atre – acted Sir Perti­nax; the play was very per­fect, and bet­ter acted than I have known it by much larger com­pa­nies, and bet­ter ac­tors. The au­di­ence gen­teel and nu­mer­ous. Fifty pounds is the ut­most which the house (which is a very neat one) can con­tain: and Mr B told me the re­ceipt was 47l. 16s. ex­clu­sive of some free peo­ple. * the oddly named cen­tral char­ac­ter in a once-pop­u­lar play by the 18th-cen­tury ac­tor and drama­tist Charles Mack­lin. Richard Bri­ers tells me how he was go­ing up the steps from the Na­tional on to Water­loo Bridge when he was ac­costed, as one in­vari­ably is, by some­one sit­ting on the land­ing, beg­ging. “No, I thought,” said Richard – “not again, and walked on. Only then I heard this lugubri­ous voice say, ‘Oh. My favourite ac­tor.’ So I turned back and gave him a pound.” That par­tic­u­lar pitch is known to be very prof­itable, partly be­cause of ac­tors and play­go­ers be­ing more soft-hearted than the gen­eral run. The beg­gars have got them­selves so well or­gan­ised as to ra­tion the pitch to half an hour apiece on pain of be­ing beaten up. I find it eas­i­est to think of Water­loo Bridge as a toll bridge, and re­sign my­self to pay­ing at least 50p to get across, thus sidestep­ping any tire­some ques­tions about need or be­ing taken ad­van­tage of. side box, where I at once se­cured the worst seat (and then felt my con­science at rest). Irv­ing has un­pleas­ant man­ner­isms, but when he acts it makes an im­pres­sion upon you. I never saw him look so well as he does as Benedick. Ellen Terry was charm­ing as Beatrice. Beatrice is cer­tainly a most de­light­ful girl – there is noth­ing stagey about Beatrice … The mise-en-scène & the dresses were splen­did. It is as­ton­ish­ing how well that play acts. Blessed be Shakespeare. The lights have just come on af­ter another power cut, re­sult­ing from elec­tri­cal work­ers strik­ing for a 30 per cent rise, af­ter turn­ing down 10 … the power cuts have brought a re­turn of Dunkirk spirit. Can­dles change hands at high prices. Long queues at fill­ing-sta­tions for petrol and in Black­heath Vil­lage for paraf­fin.

10 De­cem­ber

Rafe Eger­ton, of Lon­don, be­ing one of my Lord Chan­cel­lor’s ser­vants, and one Thomas Her­man, some­time ser­vant with Fleetwood, one of my Lord Chan­cel­lor’s gen­tle­men, were drawn from the Tower of Lon­don to Ty­burn, and there hanged and quar­tered for coun­ter­feit­ing the King’s Great Seal. I went yes­ter­day to Mrs Pankhurst’s wel­come home meet­ing in Lon­don. She has re­turned from Amer­ica, where she seems to have had a very suc­cess­ful tour. The Al­bert Hall was full up, and as usual the au­di­ence was most en­thu­si­as­tic. Mrs Pankhurst in­formed us that her fine had been paid by some­one anony­mously, so she will not go to prison. I be­lieve the Gov­ern­ment has got some­thing to do with it, as

Sweet Thames, run softly (clock­wise from main pic­ture): the Isle of Dogs with Wool­wich in the back­ground; Sir Roy Strong; the city as it ap­peared in the 16th-cen­tury Civites Orbis Ter­rarum; a poster for the Suf­fragette news­pa­per ‘Votes for Women’; Alan Ben­nett

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