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Category: Gail Eastwood

Just in time for “National Pi Day” on 3/14* (not National “Pie” Day—Jan 23), I’d like to introduce to you one the Regency era’s finest mathematical minds, Dr. Olinthus Gilbert Gregory. I fell in love with him first just for his name, I must confess! But he turned out to be a fascinating fellow—well, at least to me! Read on to see if you agree or not.

Part of my fascination, I admit, comes from the missing bits in his story that are links in his path to success. Someone ought to put together a proper biography of the man! Olinthus Gregory rose to prominence from humble beginnings, not an easy feat in the rigidly structured English society of the Regency. He was born in January of 1774, the son of a shoemaker and his wife, the eldest of four children, in Yaxley, Huntingdonshire (now Cambridgeshire). I find nothing more about his early life other than the names of his siblings who were all sisters, and the fact that one (Sophia) died in 1783, when Olinthus was nine. I would love to know where his parents came up with the name Olinthus for their son!! Did a simple shoemaker and his wife have any knowledge of Olynthus, the son of Heracles, or the ancient Greek town that bears this name? The misspelling suggests they might merely have heard it somewhere and liked the sound.

18th century Yaxley must have had a school, or else Gregory was tutored, but either way he must have shown an aptitude for serious study since he was sent to study in Leicester for ten years with Richard Weston, a botanist, mathematician and writer who ran a boarding school there. That city is about 45 miles by road from Yaxley. Was there a Yaxley schoolmaster who recommended this? How old was Gregory when he left home for this? I could find no dates. One must admire his parents for recognizing (we assume) that he was meant for greater things than simply taking on his father’s trade.

Like Gregory, Richard Weston rose from humble beginnings, starting out as a “thread-hosier” according to Wikipedia, but it seems he moved to London for a time and while there nurtured his interest and knowledge of plant science and made connections through the Society for the Arts. His first written works were published during those years. His published output continued without pause after he moved back to Leicester, which no doubt influenced Gregory’s ambition to write and publish. Gregory’s first work, Lessons, Astronomical and Philosophical, for the Amusement and Instruction of British Youth, was published in 1793, when he was 19 years old, and became a popular text used in schools.

He was still studying with Weston at this point in time. Was it through Weston that Gregory acquired the patron who made his publication possible? According to a biography of Gregory at, Gregory was helped by John Joshua Proby, 1st Earl of Carysfort, who was a fellow of the Royal Society and also held high political office at the time. Perhaps more significantly, given the way things worked in that era, the Proby family had been lords of the manor near Yaxley (Elton Hall) since 1617. A local lad rising to prominence may have been easy to bring to the earl’s notice.

Charles Hutton By William G. Jackman – Public Domain,

Weston encouraged Gregory to submit mathematical problems to be published in The Ladies Diary, an annual magazine devoted to such puzzles. Gregory also wrote a treatise in 1794 on “The Use of the Sliding Rule” that was never published, but it brought him to the attention of a new mentor, Charles Hutton, a professor of mathematics at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich.

Sometime between 1796-98 (sources vary) Gregory moved to Cambridge. He served briefly as the editor of the Cambridge Intelligencer, a radical paper, and set himself up as a teacher of mathematics, the start of his academic career. He also opened a booksellers shop in Cambridge, married Rebecca Marshall in Yaxley in 1798, and pursued his writing. Did Weston, Carysfort, or Hutton encourage or help to make any of these connections?

Gregory fathered a son and a daughter with Rebecca. With this family to support, no doubt he was extremely grateful when three things came his way in 1802: 1) Hutton recommended him for an appointment as a mathematical master at the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich; 2) he was named editor for The Gentleman’s Diary, and 3) his next major work, A Treatise on Astronomy, was published, dedicated to Hutton.  (Like The Ladies Diary, The Gentleman’s Diary was a recreational annual published as a supplement to an almanac and offering mathematical problems and enigmas for readers to solve.)

He received an honorary Masters Degree from the University of Aberdeen in 1806, published the 2-volume work A Treatise of Mechanics, theoretical, practical and descriptive, dedicated to Lord Carysforte, and continued to teach at the RMA as a master until 1807. In that year, his wife died, Hutton retired, and Gregory, at age 33 a widower with two children under age 11, was elevated to the available professorship.

By Stephen Craven – This file was derived from: Former Royal Military Academy – entrance – – 971943.jpg, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Gregory received a second honorary degree in 1808, that of Doctor of Law, which allowed him to be addressed as doctor. The following year he married his second wife, Anne Beddome, with whom he fathered another daughter and two more sons between 1811-1817. He became the editor of The Ladies Diary in 1819, a position he continued for another 20 years. He also continued as a professor of mathematics and became chair of the academy’s mathematics department in 1821.

While best known for his knowledge and teaching of mathematics, Gregory’s interests were far-ranging, as can be seen by the work on astronomy. Besides mathematical subjects, he also published works on natural philosophy, mechanical physics, and even music and religion—it seems almost anything involving systems interested him.

Public Domain

Nor did he limit his curiosity to the written word. He also performed scientific experiments dealing with astronomy and also sound. The best known of these was carried out at Woolwich to determine the velocity of sound by firing mortars, guns and muskets at various distances from observers. His results (1100 feet per second) have held up well under modern scrutiny with our far more advanced methods of measurement: according to the University of St. Andrews web bio, the speed of sound in dry air at 20° C is 1125 feet per second.

Gregory received many honors for his accomplishments and was co-founder of, most prominently, the Royal Astronomical Society, and also the Woolwich Institution for the Advancement of Literary, Scientific and Technical Knowledge. He was a member of a great many literary and philosophical societies as well and served on boards with other scientific greats of this period, including John Herschel, Charles Babbage, Henry Colebrooke, and Thomas Colby. He remained in his position at Woolwich until he retired in 1838, at which time he was quite ill. He is said to have suffered with illness for the last ten years of his life, but notably he died in 1841, just three years after he retired, at age 67.

In his farewell RMA address in 1838, his devotion to education, and indeed to the very ideals of the Regency period, is abundantly clear, for he tells the first year academy students:

            The genuine object of all sound education is the development of the intellectual, the moral, and the bodily faculties of man; or, as it has been sometimes more tersely expressed, the improvement and application of head, heart, and limb. The system of education in the institution in which you have the honour to receive instruction, embraces all this. The blame will be your own, and it will through life be the subject of regret, if any of you quit this Academy without having acquired the manners of a gentleman, the principles of a man of honour and high and pure morality, the ornamental facilities of an artist, and a competent store of literary and philosophical knowledge.

*National Pi Day seems an appropriate time to salute this “real Regency hero” for the success he made of himself and the hundreds if not thousands of young minds he helped to shape. National Pi Day was started in 1988 and is on March 14 each year because 314 are the first three digits in pi.

If you need a review: pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, represented by the Greek letter Pi because it is actually an irrational number (a decimal with no end and no repeating pattern). Depending on how far towards infinity you wish to go, the value may be written as 3.141592654…, or shortened to simply 3.14 or the fraction 22 over 7.

Calculations of pi go back 4,000 years and early on were largely based on measurement. It was the Greek mathematician Archimedes who first used an algorithmic approach to calculate pi. But the concept wasn’t called “pi” until 1647, when English mathematician William Oughtred named it in his publication Clavis Mathematicae. He chose this particular Greek letter because it is the first letter of the Greek word “perimetros,” which means “circumference.” But no one has ever solved the perennial puzzle of pi: If pi is the number of diameter lengths that fit around a circle, how can it have no end?

Passive solar heating is a “hot topic” these days (no pun intended). Did you know it was being used on Regency estates and even 150 years before the period? (Rabbit hole warning!!)

I asked my fellow members in the Regency Fiction Writers about the availability of citrus fruit in remote Derbyshire in April 1814. I asked because many of the Regency recipes I have seen require oranges or lemons as part of the ingredients, and the characters in my current wip, Her Perfect Gentleman, needed some for a project. These fruits grow best in places like Spain, Italy, the Caribbean or Florida, and I wondered how much the Napoleonic Wars disrupted these imports.

An interesting discussion followed and uncovered some wonderful sources. The answer was: not as much as you might think, because the trade was so important and the Royal Navy made sure to protect the shipping trade routes. But I still wondered how far north the distribution of imported fruit would reach, and how far from the main cities and towns. I was reminded that some of the very wealthy might have orangeries on their estates, and their surplus would be sold. But how common were orangeries, and how far north could they still be effective?

The earliest orangeries began as shelters created to protect fruit trees being grown against south facing “fruit walls” in gardens. The use of fruit walls in northern Europe to create a micro-climate for growing fruit dates to the mid-16th century, not coincidentally about the same time as the start of the so-called “Little Ice Age” (c. 1550-1850). A Swiss botanist named Conrad Gessner observed in 1561 how well the sun-heated warmth of a thick south-facing wall improved the ripening of figs and currants. Such a wall, built of brick or stone, both absorbs heat and reflects sunlight during the day and releases heat during the night, which in cold seasons could protect against frost.

English fruit wall –(PD Wikimedia Commons)

Intrepid fruit growers experimented to improve the effectiveness of fruit walls, adding canopies of thatch (or glass, later on) or woven mats or canvas curtains that could be drawn over the fruit trees to protect them from rain, hail or bird droppings, for instance. When techniques to create panes of clear glass came out of Italy, growers began to make cold-frames to start seedlings early and also to tilt frames with panes of glass against the fruit walls to increase the solar heating effect, protect the trees from winds or other weather and extend the growing season.

The Dutch were particularly adept at innovations in improving the solar growing techniques and were the first to build actual framed glass enclosures along the fruit walls, creating the first “orangeries.” They also began to add other heat sources to supplement the sun, including small stoves inside the enclosures, for example. They also were the first to try building channels within the fruit walls themselves for artificial heat to supplement the sun, developing what became known as a “hot wall” (not to be confused with certain portions of the fortifications at Portsmouth harbour which also bear this label!).

“Fan” style espaliered pear tree (PD: Wikimedia Commons)

From this common point, the further development of orangeries and hot walls diverges. The French, who discovered improved yields by training their fruit trees or vines along their fruit walls in the method known as “espalier,” also had entire towns adopt fruit walls as an industry. But their walls produced mostly peaches or grapes, not citrus.

Orangeries, meanwhile, began to be built as separate facilities, designed by landscapers and architects not only to shelter citrus fruit trees but also as places for entertainment, a way to show off a luxury only the very wealthy could afford. Walkways, statuary, fountains, even grottos were added features among the citrus trees, although the buildings needed to be long and narrow to allow light from the windows to reach all the way into the space. The buildings were often designed to echo the architectural style of the main house. As interest in exotic plants grew, the function of orangeries’ micro-climate expanded to offer shelter and display for such other choice and tender specimens.

Orangery at Kensington Palace, 1704 (PD: Wikimedia Commons)

Some early examples still exist: the orangery at Kensington Palace designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor was built for Queen Anne in 1704 and featured a heated floor. The orangery built at Versailles in the 1680’s was the largest in Europe, designed to hold Louis XIV’s 3,000 orange trees.

Orangery at Versailles (PD: Wikimedia Commons)

Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire has one designed to hide the view of the servants’ quarters from the main house. Built in 1701, it had, like all orangeries at this early period, a solid roof. Humphrey Repton is credited with replacing the slate roof with a glazed one in 1801, about when the technology to do so first began to be feasible.

The Kew Gardens orangery was designed by Sir William Chambers in 1761. At the time, it was the largest in England, but it wasn’t very successful because of low light levels. Its orange trees were removed to the Kensington Palace orangery in 1841 and renovations were made to the building at Kew. Orangeries can be found at more than a dozen estates managed by the National Trust, and many are now used as cafes or restaurants, their many windows and bright light still providing very pleasant surroundings.

Orangery (Wikimedia Commons)

Many private estates that chose not to build an orangery boasted a fruit wall as part of their gardens, however. In England, the added expense of building these in the form of “hot walls’ was often worthwhile because of the colder climate, especially in northern counties. The earliest hot walls were heated by fires actually lit inside the flues, in addition to the sun. Later, the supplemental heat came from small furnaces located at intervals along the back (north) sides of the walls. They were common enough to be described in detail in Phillip Miller’s Gardener’s Dictionary in 1754.

Interior hot wall flue at Croome Court, by Amanda Slater from Coventry, West Midlands, UK, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The science of creating a successful hot wall is quite impressive, requiring different thicknesses of bricks or stone for various parts of the structure, support for the channels that run through the structure, plastering of the interior heat channels to facilitate cleaning them, and stove chimneys built at regular intervals as part of regulating the heat. Some wall chimneys were fitted with ornamental chimney pots made of Coadestone. Specially skilled masons as well as the expensive custom-made materials were required to construct them. However, none of this provided enough warm shelter to grow citrus successfully in mid-to-northern England without fully enclosing the space. From extant accounts, it appears that the fruits most commonly grown on fruit walls were peaches, nectarines, and Morrell cherries.

How many estates had hot walls is not known. Fruit walls were a labor intensive, high maintenance undertaking, and hot walls added a second layer of labor to maintain and clean the heating system itself as well as to monitor and regulate the heat. The need for hot walls declined as railroads came along, for improved transportation made importing fruit cheaper. Many of the walls were left derelict and were later torn down.

Portion of the hollow hot wall at Eglinton in Ayreshire, showing flue opening blocks at three levels, which could vent or be used for cleaning. (PD: Wikimedia Commons)

The article on JSTOR cited at the end of this post lists specific estates where hot walls have been recorded: Yorkshire (17), Cheshire (5), Lancashire, (1), and Essex (1). Probably half a dozen more are mentioned in the text also, including Staffordshire (1), Norfolk (1). Wikipedia mentions the one at Croome Court, Worcestershire, as well as two in Scotland in its article on walled gardens. Recent interest has sparked some research and increased awareness that may contribute to more “remains” of old hot walls being recognized and recorded as time goes on.

Improved technologies in the 19th century led to changes in the orangeries rather than their demise—no doubt why more remain to be seen today. But as orangeries became “greenhouses” with more and more glass, they became less and less energy efficient. They lost the balance between heat absorbing, insulating materials like brick and stone to offset the sunlight-providing glass and relied more and more on artificial heating, especially piped hot water. Today, the newest trend in greenhouse agriculture is heading back towards using solar power for both heating and regulating light.

If you’d like to learn more about these early growing technologies, I recommend the following articles:

(Hot Walls: An Investigation of Their Construction in Some Northern Kitchen Gardens by Elisabeth Hall)

Or simply see Wikipedia (see “Orangery” and/or “Walled Garden”) for an overview on these!

(Courtesy V&A Museum: Still Life by Isabel Agnes Cowper 1880)

My curiosity was piqued recently when a friend sent me photos of an 18th century room in Williamsburg, VA that included a desk displayed as though someone had just left it. On it was a beautiful Delftware ceramic inkwell/penholder. Delftware?

(Williamsburg Inkwell/Penholder)

I’d just been writing a scene where one of my Regency characters was writing letters at her writing table, and without mentioning them I’d pictured glass inkwells in brass, silver or other types of metal stands. Blue & white ceramics? Not so much. Or ceramics at all, for that matter. I hadn’t given any of it much thought, so down the rabbit hole I went and now invite you to follow!

What sort of “furnishings” would one of our Regency main characters have had on a working office desk, or a letter writing table, or a desk in their well-appointed library? If you add blotters, sand, sealing wax apparatus, quills, pen knives, etc., not to mention a lamp or candle stand–well, with all of that, how large a desk might one require to still have space enough to work? What exactly made a desk “elegant” as opposed to merely serviceable? 

We writers use the details of everyday life to help illuminate our characters, their lifestyle, social status and wealth. The amazing variety available in desk furnishings seems to me a wonderful opportunity to do that, and more. The character’s own taste, whether or not their desk was located in view of other “judge-y” people (as my son calls them) and whether those people were social guests, tenants or business associates all might factor in what objects resided there. Whether these possessions had come down from previous generations or been replaced by more up-to-date pieces, whether the items were treasured or purely practical all are variables in the choices we might make.

Desk sets (generally known as encriers, inkstands, pen trays, or standishes) answered the space problem with typical period ingenuity, combining several functions into one item. They varied not only in what materials were used and how elaborately they were designed, but also in what writing equipment they included.

Eighteenth century or earlier sets often included two inkpots, a pounce pot, a quill holder, candlestick and snuffer/wick-trimming scissors, all on a tray. These might be grouped around a central carrying handle for portability. Some sets also included a storage box for sealing wafers, a bell to summon servants, and even storage for pen knives, extra quills, etc.

(Courtesy of V&A Museum: square inkstand of Sheffield plate featuring two inkpots, a pounce pot and pot for wafers, with two quill holder openings)

If you were suddenly transported back to the Regency era and landed at someone’s desk, would you know what to do with all of these items? Sealing wax was the preferred method for the upper crust to secure a letter, and a method to heat it was necessary. Hence, a chamber stick or taper had two purposes, to give light and also to melt wax. Wafers, a more mundane way to seal a letter, did not require that extra equipment. The pounce pot contained fine sand that would be sprinkled lightly on a finished letter or other document to absorb extra ink and help prevent smudges. Pen knives were essential for trimming and reshaping the point on one’s quill when it wore down. The inkwells themselves were usually made of glass or porcelain and set inside the compartments or holders.

Consider this high-end Georgian silver set (below) dated to 1744: the rectangular tray with elaborate scroll-work edges features two oblong pen troughs and three circular wells into which fit an inkpot/quillstand, chamber-stick, and pounce pot. Besides the shells and other decorative motifs, the tray and both pots are engraved with the owner’s heraldic crest. Very elegant, and note: no wafer box with this set.

Author Joanna Waugh has a fascinating blogpost about the social significance of using wafers versus sealing wax here:  (

I can imagine that anyone as elevated as the former owner of this silver set, with its engraved heraldic crest, probably never deigned to use wafers on any correspondence handled personally.

Of course, the range in inkstands goes from the bare minimum if you had just enough money to need and have a desk to these top-of-the-line sets, and everything in between, with various levels of embellishment. The minimum: a pewter inkwell/quill stand.

At the other end? Consider this solid gold inkstand below (1817-1819) made by London jewelers Rundell & Bridge* for Lord Castlereagh after the treaties that ended the Napoleonic Wars. It was created out of the gold from 21 snuffboxes gifted to him by the representatives of all the delegations involved in the treaties, whose emblems decorate the base.

(Courtesy V&A Museum, used by permission) *For an article about this famous jewelry firm’s work for the British Crown, see: )

In between, those aspiring to elegant appearances perhaps beyond their means had the option of choosing Sheffield plate which had been invented in the 1740’s. The process of bonding thin layers of silver on either side of a copper base and rolling it out as a thin metal sheet made “silver” goods available to a much wider market –the slowly emerging middle class. Machines such as the fly press for pierced work and steel dies to stamp designs on sheets of Sheffield plate or silver sped up production, which lowered costs as well.

Styled very much like higher-end sets made from silver, this Sheffield plate set above features pierced design work on the wells for glass ink pot and pounce pot, plus candle holder, on a boat-shaped footed pen tray.

This set below is also made from Sheffield plate with typical pierced designs, and the three pots made from blue glass.

Many other quite high-end inkstands or encriers were made from a variety of materials such as bronze, or rosewood with brass inlaid designs, and in a variety of shapes. The Russians started a fashion for gilded inkstands with bases made from malachite with its distinctive green color. Some online auction houses have sold period sets for quite high sums, but you can find many pictures of examples, and since I can’t include them here, I urge you to take a look. I have found the most at

This one (dated 1800-1840) in the V&A Museum has fancy wood veneers and cut glass bottles:

This handsome set also in the V&A Museum is described as “silver gilt”and the ink and pounce pots are cut glass:

Many other styles incorporate statuary of various sorts including animals and classical figures. One of my favorites at an auction house site has a greyhound standing on top of the wafer box.

Meanwhile, those pretty blue & white Delftware sets would have been considered very old-fashioned by the Regency period. Most seem to date from 1674-1767 and probably would have been relegated to the attics unless a character loved one that belonged to a grandparent, or was too impoverished to replace an old family piece or gift with something more current. 

I could see a child becoming engaged with one as charming as this example below (L) from the Winterthur Museum Collection (dating 1761-1769), however, and as an adult later remembering a grandparent with fondness when using it at their personal writing desk.  Or one like this very simple ceramic inkwell (R) from the Smithsonian museum collection. (photos used by permission).

But do not think ceramic sets went out of style altogether! Below is a beautiful example made by Chamberlain & Co., Worcester, ca. 1800: inkstand and cover crafted with a pen tray at the front, inkwell and pounce-pot of porcelain painted with enamels and gilded, in imitation of Japanese Imari ware. (courtesy of V&A Museum, used by permission)

And this inkstand with taper stick c. 1820, also in the V&A Museum, shows the taste for Japanese decoration lasted: “Inkstand with two detached inkwells and covers of bone china painted with enamels and gilded, Spode Ceramic Works, Stoke-on-Trent.” While it doesn’t show very well in the photo, there is a trough at the front for a pen rest.

I will definitely be giving some thought now to what sort of inkstand might be on my character’s writing table. I think a porcelain one like either of these might suit her very nicely—elegant, beautiful, yet distinctive.

So what would you choose to have on your desk if you were the main character (MC) in a Regency romance?

(Note: Photos without credit specified are public domain or courtesy of the V&A Museum)

Every year, June 18 always brings with it thoughts of the battle of Waterloo, an epic battle that claimed tremendous losses for its time but ultimately altered the course of world history. But I also always think of the huge commemoration of the battle that occurred two years later in London, when the latest among the new River Thames bridges was opened with much pomp and fanfare. (The Vauxhall Bridge, the first cast iron bridge across the river, opened the previous year.)

Many artists attempted to capture the scene, and a look at their pictures shows why: the river is literally filled with every conceivable type of watercraft, and people crowd every available space along the riverfront that could afford a view of the proceedings. All of that, in fact, seems more of interest than the actual ceremonial proceedings upon the bridge itself. The Ackermann illustration above (public domain) is my favorite, because it shows the view from Somerset House, looking the opposite way from most of the other, more distant views, including the famous seven-foot-long one by John Constable in the Tate Museum collection, completed in 1832 (below, cc by public domain, Wikimedia Commons).

“The-Opening-of-Waterloo-Bridge-Seen-from-Whitehall-Stairs,” John Constable, 1832

In the last of my old Signet/NAL Regencies, The Rake’s Mistake (2002), my hero and heroine attend this festive occasion in his small sailboat, the Ariadne.

“By noon the banks of the Thames beyond Westminster Bridge were crowded with spectators on both sides of the river, in the gardens, on the rooftops, and in stands that had been constructed on wharves and in many of the yards. Huge barges that normally carried corn or coal were loaded this one day with human curiosity instead. A flotilla of sailboats similar to the Ariadne milled about in mid-river, weaving in and out of an even larger assemblage of rowed vessels—excursion boats, private barges, watermen’s wherries and the like. Many of these vessels carried flags that snapped and fluttered smartly in the breeze. Buildings and even several church steeples were similarly adorned, while eighteen standards flew upon the bridge itself. Ramsdale furled the sail and anchored the Ariadne close enough so that as he and Daphne delved into the contents of their picnic hamper, they could listen to the Footguards band that was among the military detachments stationed on the bridge.”

The river is actually an important character in that story, and I have blogged about the River Thames here before (July 2016). (I still haven’t re-issued that book as I feel it needs extensive revisions, and the new Little Macclow stories set in Derbyshire are taking up my time and brain! It is currently out of print.)

Enterprising people with access to the riverfront or places overlooking it were selling viewing spots for weeks in advance of the actual bridge opening. Here is an example of a newspaper notice from June 11, a week before the event:

“OPENING OF WATERLOO BRIDGE June 11, 1817 Apartments and places commanding a complete front view of the intended Royal procession on Wednesday next, in Commemoration of the battle of Waterloo, may be had by early application to Mr. Stevenson, No 41, Drury Lane, near Long-Acre.”

Mr. Stevenson was very likely acting as agent for a number of different persons who were too genteel to be directly involved or, in the case of businesses, too busy to want to manage the details of these one-time side-line transactions.

Not everyone was in favor of naming the bridge after a battle that had occurred on continental soil. Some critics felt the name was out of keeping with all of London’s other bridges, since all of the others referenced something to do with London. The bridge, when originally proposed in 1809, was intended to be called the Strand Bridge. Work on it was begun in 1811. It was only in 1816 that a Parliamentary Act was passed to change the name to Waterloo Bridge as “a lasting Record of the brilliant and decisive Victory achieved by His Majesty’s Forces in conjunction with those of His Allies, on the Eighteenth Day of June One thousand eight hundred and fifteen.”

The Opening of the Waterloo Bridge on the 18th of June, 1817, etched by A. Pugin from a drawing by W. Findlater, engraved by R. Havell and Son, 1818 (c.c. by public domain)

What do you think? Was naming a bridge for the battle an appropriate commemoration, even as an anomaly? Or were the Regent and the other powers behind the bridge project simply too carried away by their enthusiasm for the important victory? Would you have liked to attend the grand opening celebration?

According to The Survey of London, the bridge cost £618,000 (c. $58.5 million in today’s U.S. currency or £37.1 million UK) and the total cost of the bridge and its approaches was £937,391 11s 6d. (c. $88.8 million or £56.1 million UK). It began as a “penny toll” bridge, but as the Survey authors point out, “As a commercial speculation the undertaking was far from being a success since, in order to avoid payment of tolls, many people who would otherwise have used the bridge made a detour to cross the river by Blackfriars or Westminster Bridges, which were free.” The toll operation ceased in 1877. 

Sadly, the lack of success as a toll bridge led to a more tragic form of success as a prime site for suicides—so especially sad given the high hopes and celebration when the bridge opened. The lack of traffic compared to other London bridges meant anyone intent on suicide was less likely to be seen or stopped before they could carry out their final act. Newspapers carried many accounts of poor souls who ended their days by jumping from Waterloo Bridge. There were enough to inspire poets and artists of the mid-Victorian era, and a new nickname arose from Thomas Hood’s 1844 poem “The Bridge of Sighs”, about a homeless woman who jumped from the bridge.

The bridge began to deteriorate by the end of the century, and by the 1930’s debate was whether to attempt to repair it or replace it altogether. The decision was made to replace it, and the work carried out during the war years of the early 1940’s, mostly by women. This gave a new nickname to the replacement Waterloo Bridge opened in 1942 and completed in 1945: the “Ladies Bridge” in view of their labors to build it and despite the opening day remarks that credited “the men” who had supposedly created it.

We looked at winter sports back in December 2020 and January 2021, and perhaps summer activities seem really obvious since when the sun shines and the days are warmer, what can’t be done outside? But some sports you might expect were not developed or popular until later than the Regency, and others you might not think of. So let’s take a look this month and next.

Boating during the Regency came in three forms based on the source of power. All three offered ways to get out on the water where it might be cooler on a hot summer day! In Sense & Sensibility Jane Austen uses the term “sailing” in reference to boating in general, not necessarily only with sails. Recreational boating was far more likely to involve rowing or punting, which were seldom done on rough waters and were considered to be under much more reliable control by their human operators than those relying on wind.

Sailing (with sails) purely for pleasure was still a little controversial during the Regency, because of safety concerns. For one thing, sailboat design still had a long way to go to reach the sort of safe and efficient crafts we have today. People were working on it, of course, and experimenting with such design is part of the hero’s interest in my old Signet Regency, The Rake’s Mistake. (Sorry, as mentioned last time, it’s out of print because I want to revise it and haven’t made time for that yet.).

However, recreational sailing in England dates all the way back to 1662, when King Charles II and his brother James, the Duke of York, raced their huge new “yachts” from Greenwich to Gravesend and back. By the 18th century pleasure sailing was popular enough for the Cork Harbor Water Club to be established in Ireland, sometime prior to 1720, although they did not race, but “promenaded in formation” when they went out to rendezvous at Spithead. However, an open sailing match was held on the lower Thames in 1749, from Greenwich to the Nore and back. The prize was a silver cup presented by the eleven-year-old Prince of Wales, afterward King George III.

Documented Thames sailing matches in the London vicinity began in 1775 when HRM the Duke of Cumberland offered a silver cup (valued at 20 guineas) for a yachting race. It was sailed from Westminster Bridge to Putney Bridge and back. The next month the Duke of Newcastle sponsored another regatta, and the “Cumberland Fleet” was formed by those who sailed that summer—what would later become the Royal Thames Yacht Club in 1830. The Cumberland Cup and other races were held most years from then on to at least 1812. Vauxhall Gardens also sponsored an annual race on the Thames from 1786 to 1810.

After 1812, the racing record stops, with a gap until some 20 years later. I believe the construction of new, more navigable bridges (Vauxhall, Waterloo, Southwark) complicated racing on the Thames during the building process and increased the river traffic afterward (which included steamboats) during those years. Significantly, between 1812 and 1815, forty-two of Britain’s most distinguished yachtsmen founded the Yacht Club (later to become the Royal Yacht Club) at Cowes on the Isle of Wight. They set a minimum size of ten tons for members’ vessels, and made the racing venue the Solent instead of the Thames.

Rowing, of course, is an ancient art. Think of Cleopatra’s barge! And note the rowers in the Vauxhall race picture above. I’m sure it was only natural that those who plied oars as their business might also indulge in competitions for pleasure and prizes, and others would see the potential for simple relaxation with oars as recreation.

One of the first documented Thames rowing races was held in 1715, to commemorate the anniversary of the accession of King George I. Thomas Dogget, a celebrated comedian, instituted the “coat and badge” as a prize to be rowed for annually on the river by six young watermen that had not been apprenticed longer than a year. In 1821 there was a similar boat race on the Serpentine during the coronation celebration for Prinny. By that time the river traffic and steamboats spelled an end to the rowing races on the Thames in town as well as those under sail.

The Boat Race is an annual set of rowing races between the Cambridge University Boat Club and the Oxford University Boat Club, traditionally rowed between open-weight eights on the upper River Thames from Putney to Mortlake. The men’s race was first held in 1829, quite late in the “extended Regency.” (The first women’s race was in 1927, almost a hundred years later.) The second men’s race was only held in 1836 due to disputes over the course and other matters.

The first Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race, 1829

The first Henley Regatta for rowers wasn’t held until March 1839. It later became the Henley Royal Regatta and was moved to July when the weather was more cooperative. Rowing continued to be a popular recreation throughout the 19th century, as this lovely painting below (circa 1872) by Ferdinand Heilbuth shows. Women rowing and punting seems to be more evident later in the century. By that time, the railroads had taken the burden of transportation off the Thames, allowing the river to be used once again for recreation.

Rich or poor, if you were in town you could go out on the River Thames, or you might opt to try the more tranquil waters of the man-made lake in Hyde Park, the Serpentine. The 40 acre lake was created in 1730 by order of Queen Caroline. The bridge crossing it (dividing the lower 25 acres from the narrower “Long Water” at Kensington Gardens) was redesigned and rebuilt in 1827. A lone rower is at the right of the picture below, but far more people are on shore than on the water. I recently learned that starting in the late 18th century there was a rescue station on the Serpentine for assisting those “in danger of drowning”! Rowboats can still be rented to use on the Serpentine today (along with paddle boats).

Most of the wealthy left London for the country when the warm summer days set in. If you were out of the city, you could choose the River Thames farther upstream from London, or any of the local streams, rivers, ponds or lakes. You might be so fortunate and wealthy as to have your very own man-made lake on your country estate, a fad that came into full swing after the royals built the Serpentine. In my old 1996 Signet Regency, An Unlikely Hero (ebook available from Penguin Random House), the hero and heroine are among a party who go punting on just such an estate lake. Punting is essentially “poling,” rather like the gondoliers of Venice, only using the characteristic flat shallow boats called punts. It is still a popular method of boating on English waterways that can be very quiet and relaxing!

Punting on the Thames –Marcus Stone 1863

Do you like to go out on the water? If so, which form of Regency boating would you have enjoyed if transported back in time?

Next time, we’ll look at some other favorite (land-based) warm weather Regency sports.

(All pictures are public domain/Art)

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