English - Georgian (1714-1830) I

 

The Georgian era is a British historical period defined by the first four Hanoverian kings, George I (reign 1714-1727), George II (reign 1727-1760), George III (reign 1769-1820), and George IV (reign 1820-1830), thus covering the period 1714-1830.

My intention is not to write yet another political or social history of the Georgian era, I would be incapable of doing so, and have little interest in that kind of history. But we must realise that the Georgian period, Rococo, Neoclassicism, Romanticism were not just artistic, literary and intellectual movements, but with the Industrial Revolution (starting ca. 1760) and the Age of Enlightenment (ca. 1650 through to the French Revolution, 1789-1799), they also had a profound and complex impact on society and politics. I have to remind myself that I want here just to look at the art, architecture and antiques that defined something called the Georgian period.


The Georgian period was preceded in England by the Stuart period (1603-1714), and opened after the death of Queen Anne (reign 1702-1714). Queen Anne is often termed an English Baroque architectural style (ca. 1666-1713), à la St Paul’s Cathedral (1675-1711) by Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723). It is said that Queen Anne was the first fully developed English style of domestic architecture. What we have are cornices, pilasters and other classical motifs used within a red brick façade. These style evolutions slowly occurred after the Great Fire of London in 1666. After the fire timber cornices were forbidden, wooden window frames had to be set back from the face of the building, and walls had to be carried up as parapets to enable firemen to reach the roofs. It is not to be confused with the later Victorian Queen Anne Revival (ca. 1880-1910).


If we are to look at the Georgian period, we must first understand what was already in place in the preceding Queen Anne Period. We would expect to see a brick built building with stone quoins (masonry blocks) to highlight the corners, steps leading up to a carved stone door-case, stone framed window boxes, a central triangular pediment, and a high-degree of symmetry with floors two-rooms deep. Windows would be sashed with shutters, curtains would be simple and Holland blinds would be use to stop fading. Room decoration would be simple and graceful (moldings, doors, cornices), with natural wood (oak or pine) panelling, scrubbed and waxed wood floors, and any painting would be brown, dull green, grays or off-whites. Fires would be in marble or the same wood as the panelling, and lighting would be by brass candlesticks and metal chandeliers. Furniture would be simple in design, solid and veneered walnut would have replaced marquetry. The cabinet-on-a-stand would have been replaced by chest of drawers and tallboys. Chairs would remain quite decorative, with high-backs, fiddle or urn central splats, cabriole legs, and drop-in-seats. Mirrors would be important and the card table would appear for the first time. Fabrics would be rich damasks and chintz, and needlework would be very fashionable.


The transition from Queen Anne to Georgian is going to be a long slow process, e.g. below on the left we have Queen Anne house from Kent, and on the right we have an early Georgian façade of a house in Norfolk (both façades hide older Tudor houses). There are differences, but they are not easy to see.

George IV, by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1816)

Of course you can go on forever listing a particular type of antique or collectable. My objective here was simply to highlight the variety of objects that are classed at scientific instruments (including medical, etc.).

This is a period that evokes great things. The Industrial Revolution (ca. 1760-1840), the American Revolution (1775-1783), the Irish Rebellion of 1798, and the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) with Trafalgar (1805) and Waterloo (1815). The writers Mary Shelley (1797-1851) and Jane Austen (1776-1817), and the Romantic poets such as Coleridge (1772-1834), Wordsworth (1770-1850), Shelley (1792-1822), Keats (1795-1821), and Byron (1788-1824) lived during this period. The architects Robert Adam (1728-1792) and John Nash (1752-1835), the emergence of the Gothic Revival style (post 1740’s to the early 18-hundreds), and the paintings of Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788), Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) and the young J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851) and John Constable  (1776-1837), all illustrated the changing world of the Georgian era.



The Georgian period can not really be seen in isolation, in France between 1715 and 1723 there was a period called the Régence, when Louis XV (1710-1774) was a minor and Philippe d’Orléans was regent. During this period the rich Baroque (ca. 1600-1715) gave way to an early Rococo (ca. 1715-1760’s). Louis XV took the throne of France in 1723, and Rococo reached its height in the 1730’s. It is said that the delicacy and playfulness of Rococo designs perfectly matched the excesses of Louis XV’s reign. In the early 1760’s Rococo was criticised as being superficial and a degeneracy of art, and by 1785 it had fallen out of fashion. As a reaction to the excesses of the Rococo style we saw emerge Neoclassicism, starting in ca. 1760 and running through to perhaps 1830. With the advent of the Grand Tour (ca. 1660-1840’s) it became fashionable to collect antiques (archaeology was formalised during that same period), and Neoclassicism in the arts implies being inspired by the “classical” model, e.g. ancient Greek and Roman art.


In parallel with Neoclassicism there also emerged in the period 1800-1850 another movement called Romanticism, a part of a “Counter-Enlightenment” movement. Romanticism wanted to focus on how art was a product of the imagination of the artist (“romantic originality”), and not something “planned” using a set of “artificial” dictates. So Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley, Byron, Scott (1771-1832), the Brontë family (Charlotte, Emily and Anne), Jane Austen, Dumas (1802-1870), Victor Hugo (1802-1885), de Musset (1810-1857), Pushkin (1799-1837), and Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) were all Romantic authors. Turner, Constable, Blake (1757-1827), Delacroix (1798-1863), and Goya (1746-1828) were Romantic artists. Berlioz (1803-1869) Verdi (1813-1901), Schubert (1797-1828), Chopin (1810-1849), and Beethoven (1770-1827) in later life, were all Romantic composers. Hegel (1770-1831), de Chateaubriand (1768-1848), Davy (1778-1829), Carlyle (1795-1881), Goethe (1749-1832), Stendhal (1783-1842), and Thoreau (1817-1862) were also all major figures in the Romantic movement.


After the French Revolution and the introduction of the Directoire exécutif (1795-1799), there was style called Directoire that influenced the decorative arts, fashion and furniture design. When Napoleon I became Emperor of France (1804-1815) the Empire style was introduced, which in many ways paralleled the Biedermeier period (1815-1848) in central Europe and the Regency style in England (1811-1820 when George IV was Prince Regent). And during the period 1815-1830 we have in France the Bourbon Restauration with the constitutional monarchies of Louis XVIII (reign 1814-1824) and Charles X (reign 1824-1830), and of course Louis XIX (reign 20 minutes) and Henri V (reign 7 days). This “Restauration” is not to be confused with the Restoration style popular in England during ca. 1660 to the late 1680’s.


I will certainly develop (one day) separate Webpages for Rococo, French Regency, Neoclassicism, Romanticism, Directoire, French Empire, English Regency, French Restauration, and German Biedermeier.

George I, by Sir Godfrey Kneller (before 1723)

George II, by Thomas Hudson (1744)

George III, by Allan Ramsay (1761-1762)

But for the moment our topic is the Georgian style, and we are here going to take a very quick look at the style, colours and forms that best define the period.


My starting point for this Webpage is a board of colours and styles of the Georgian period prepared by Anita Brown. She highlights the soft palette of the powder blue/dusky pink shades that were particularly favoured by Robert Adam in the second half of the Georgian period. These shades reflect the “understated elegance” during this time. She included an original segment of hand-painted Chinese wallpaper that became popular during the Georgian period. The floral/damask prints that would have been used in wall coverings, illustrating the gradual developments of wall decoration within the Georgian period.


The most outstanding and eye-catching element of the board is undoubtedly the Robert Adam ceiling. This ceiling is the epitome of elegance and combines the subtle use of colour and delicate plasterwork to great effect. This is an original ceiling, and it includes vitruvian scrolls with festoons, ribbons and drops, a painting of Apollo, with his horses and eight outer sections of the octagon decorated with alternating rinceau (foliage) and scrolled half-figures. The influence of Ancient Greece and Rome on Robert Adam’s work and the skill of craftsmanship employed are clear in this example.


The mirror highlights the strong Chinoiserie influence during the Georgian period but also the importance of mirrors within Georgian design. This gilded mirror is dated 1760 and includes a pagoda top, carved branches and foliage. Considering mirrors were costly during this era their use was generally restricted to the more affluent Georgian homes, thus reflecting status and wealth. Lighting was sourced via natural day light (this is where the brilliance of the large Georgian windows came into their own), candle light or the fireside and it wasn’t uncommon for mirrors to include candle holders or to be placed behind wall sconces – mirrors therefore provided a much needed reflection of light.

The Hepplewhite sideboard illustrates how the intricate, carving of furniture had developed into a more simplified manner. This item of furniture is dated ca. 1790 and is inlaid with Satinwood panels on the legs, whilst the drawer faces have quarter fan detailing.

The marble chimney piece, an original William Kent dated ca. 1735 is an example of the exquisite carving used in these important focal points of Georgian rooms. A ram’s head is clearly visible, as is the intricate frieze/scrolling detail and foliage. Again, this piece illustrates the overwhelming influence of ancient Greece and Rome.

The camelback settee is an original Chippendale, and it exudes a grandness and elegance that was such a fundamental theme of Georgian design. It features a beautiful damask fabric and cabriole legs, with carved foliage and scroll feet. 

Anita Brown has included a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds (one of the great portraitists of the Georgian era), a portrait of ‘Miss Elizabeth Ingram’ dated 1757. This was included because the use of paintings/portraiture in the Georgian period, particularly by the noble/middles classes was a growing trend. It greatly assisted in establishing a sense of importance and status (Italian art was also highly collectable at this time). It is also worth noting the column in the paintings background – a further reminder of the architectural influence of Ancient Greece and Rome and the stunning attire worn by Miss Elizabeth Ingram, an illustration of fashionable ladies clothing and material at this time.

So how are we going to get a feel for the architecture of the “Georgian era” knowing that more specific details can be attributed to well defined periods such as:

French Régence (1715-1723) was to all intents and purposes an early Rococo. Rich Baroque decorations were replaced by lighter elements with more curves and natural patterns, but the taste for complex forms and intricate patterns remained. Oriental designs and asymmetric compositions started to appear.

Rococo (1715-1785) façades would be quite light, graceful (at least when compared to a Baroque façade), structures would be simple but decor would be abundant (with atlantes and cariatides) and there would be huge venetian windows letting lots of light into the interior. The interior rooms would include marble pillars (or Corinthian columns) and walls would have paintings set in ornamental medallions surrounded by carved garlands, ceilings would also be home to large painted scenes. There would be a great marble staircase, or possibly one inlaid with ivory and marquetry. Rooms would be “noble” and well proportioned, with lots of fine plaster and gilt. There would be a Chinese room with a carved pagoda, fretwork and lots of oriental scrolls and swirls. The gardens would include a large terrace, a parterre or formal garden with gilded statues, orchards, a pleasure garden, a water garden with a great basin and ornamental fountains, and possibly even a canal.  

Neoclassicism (1760-1830) was a reaction against Rococo, and in its purest form was based upon classical Greek and Roman architecture and the work of the Italian architect Andrea Palladio (1508-1580). Buildings would be robustly built, restrained in decoration, be inspired by classical Greek and above all Roman models, and at the same time it should be obvious what the purpose of the building was. Interiors were inspired by the discoveries made in Pompeii and Herculaneum, e.g. pedimented window frames, gilded mirrors, fireplaces topped with temple fronts, sculptures must be frieze-like, wall colours should be monotone (stone colours or “Pompeiian red”), and wall medallions would be isolated and suspended on swags of laurel or ribbon.

Romanticism (ca. 1770-1820) with its focus on emotion, spirituality and drama, fostered a type of “fairytale” architecture with decorative towers and lots of fanciful and decorative Gothic elements. Asymmetry reappeared to highlight creativity and drama. “Picturesque” is often used to describe this period. 

Directoire (1795-1799) is a French style that sits between Neoclassicism and Empire. Interiors and furniture were simpler and plainer than Neoclassical styles and lighter and less “majestic” than Empire. Forms would be gracious, simple but still be inspired by classical Greek and Roman themes, e.g. lozenges, rosettes and spirals, as well as the “Revolution” symbols of the oak leaf and the clasped hands. Colours are soft and muted with blues, grays and greens.

French Empire (1804-1815) is a “grand” style inspired by the grandeur of Egypt and Rome. Façades would be monumental, with arcades and columns, windows (large and small) denote status, as do porches and balconies, entrance doors would be surrounded by columns, pilasters and set with pediments. Interiors must be pompous, formal, and rather masculine. Motifs are animal legs, swans, caryatids, chimeras, eagles, honeybees, and monopodia (meaning a decorative support consisting of the head and one leg of an animal, usually a lion). Lots of military symbols with stars, swords, spears, helmets, laurel wreaths, and of course the symbol “N”. Colours are saturated deep reds, magenta, blue, green, yellow and purple.

English Regency (1811-1820) went for elegant stucco façades painted white, with a big front doors painted black and framed by two columns. Wrought iron balconies and bow windows were fashionable. Terraces and crescents were popular. Interiors and furniture were to be elegant, and stripes were very popular for wallpaper, textiles, and clothes. 

French Restauration (1815-1830) tended to focus on continuing the work started in the Empire period. We also see the emergence of the so-called “immeuble bourgeois” with a cut stone façade, simple decorations, no ornamentation, lots of windows (á la persienne), with a sense of repetition and thus sobriety. Interiors were inspired by Louis XVI, Directoire and Empire styles. White and light colours were used a lot, as were imitation wood and marble. Textiles and curtains took on more importance, and furnishings had to be laid out in a “romantic disorder”. 

German Biedermeier (1815-1848) was simple, elegant and functional. Furniture had clean lines, minimal ornamentation, and had to be functional, but still be original and even fantastical. Some authors suggest that it is a kind of highly simplified form of French Empire, classical Roman styles adapted to modern times. Local woods were to be used, cherry and pearwood, and stained to imitate more expensive timbers. 

We are going to try to capture the flavour of the Georgian period by looking at a typical London house dating from 1763 (starting from this reference). This house is in one of the better parts of London, and unfurnished would probably have rented for something near 400 guineas, plus poor-rates, land-rent and repair costs. It is very difficult to know how much this type of house would have cost when first built, but my best guess is between £5,000 and £10,000 (I have seen references to a “commodious mansion” with large formal gardens costing £5,000 in 1727, a simple house and warehouse costing £300 in 1781, and 5 houses being sold for £1,400 in 1759). In 2005 prices this house could well have cost something between 400,000 € and 700,000 €. This kind of property could be easily rented in London for the social season by Mr. Bingley of Pride and Prejudice fame, with his £4,000 per year (around £135,000 today). To put this in context in 1760 the annual income of a farmer or labourer would have been about £15-25 annually and in 1723 Handel earned £400 per year as composer to the Chapels Royal. It is said that an income of £2,000 would allow you to “maintain a large house, keep hunters (horses) and a carriage or two, and employ eleven servants” (nearly £70,000 today). Even on an income of £1,000 you could provide your family (wife and three children) with a cook, housemaid, nursery-maid, coachman and a footman (total wages of £ 87 per year), and a four-wheeled carriage and a pair of horses (costing £ 65 per year).


As a tenant you would be responsible for fixtures such as “locks, bells, cisterns, grates sixed (which I think might have something to do with fireplaces), coppers (perhaps also for fireplaces), dressers, shelves, counters, etc”, but could remove them when moving on. Wallpaper, new windows, chimney pieces, etc. were to be left in the house. You were also warned to check “that the drains are clear, and the privy not full” (remembering that proper water supplies and good sewers were still a luxury in London). The house itself (or dwelling house as they called it) might stand with offices, yards, gardens, coach houses, brewhouses, wood-houses, wash-houses, etc., and they would be included in the rent and taxes payable. You could rent furniture at about 30% of cost per year, but a 4-5 year rental might cost only 20% per year and you would be allowed to select new items to your taste. There was a substantial market for second-hand furniture, for between one-third and half-price. You could also consider buying your furniture, books, horses, carriages, linen, and haberdashery at auction.


Let us assume for the time being that you have furnished your house. You will need insurance against fire. If you rent the owner would insure the building, and you the contents. Insurance (also on contents) would depend upon the type of building, and the basic insurance would be for a brick and stone building. Hazardous insurance would be on timber buildings or on brick buildings storing hazardous goods such as for distillers, chemists, apothecaries, colour-men (e.g. making artists materials), ship and tallow-chandlers (e.g. candle maker), malsters (dealing in malt), sail-makers, stable-keepers, oil-men (I presume someone linked to providing oil for oil lamps), coopers, bread and biscuit makers, sugar-bakers, inn-holders, and traders in glass, china and earthenware. Double hazardous were thatched, timber or plaster buildings. If any external part of the building was of wood or plaster you would have to pay the hazardous insurance. On a house of this value (in excess of £2,000) your basic insurance would cost 3 shillings and 6 pence annually, and a hazardous insurance would cost 5 shillings annually. And of course you would need also to insure the contents (household goods, furniture, wearing apparel, printed books, but not accounts, writings, bills, money, bonds, jewels, pictures, gun-powder (odd?), cattle, hay, straw, or unthrashed corn) of your house. The basic insurance cost would be another 2 shillings and 6 pence per year.

Naturally you were expected to keep your chimneys clean and ensure that servants put out every fire before going to bed, and they also put out all candles. In case of a fire in your house your local parish would have rewarded the first person to bring water to your home with 10 shillings, the first fire engine with 30 shillings, and the second fire engine with 20 shillings. You would have got the bill. You would also have been expected to know where the long ladders were kept in your parish. 

Your house is likely to be made of red brick (or the more fashionable “stone-like” yellow brick, or even the more expensive crimson “Windsor” brick found in the richest parts of London) with some stucco decoration on the ground floor that would have been painted to resemble local stone and incised with lines emphasised with gray paint. Your window openings would be rather plain and rectangular (Victorian windows are often arched or pointed), and you would have double-hung sash windows (windows will become recessed as a fire precaution). External door cases may have had fanlights (later period), but porches were rare. Your doors and windows would have had pediments, consoles and pilasters or columns. The roof would have been hidden behind a parapet. Over the Georgian period the “receiving” rooms will gradually migrate to the first floor, the “piano nobile”, before returning to the ground floor in the late 18th C.


Reader will note that our house is likely to resemble many of the other houses in the same street. After the Great Fire of London (1666) the city went through a building frenzy. Those areas not devastated by the fire also saw a major shift to the building of grand town houses, squares and crescents. Much of the land was owned outright by aristocratic families, who preferred to lease and ensure a long-term steady income. The owner would lease the land to a builder or speculator for a specific period of time, often 60, 70, or 99 years. The builder then built the houses and sold them, and the new owner-occupants would still have to pay a rent to the “landlord” or owner of the land. At the end of the period of the lease the ownership of the house would revert to the land owner. For this reason building was often large-scale, rather uniform, and usually designed to last the just long enough to cover the lease. In fact in some houses no dances were permitted because there was a risk that house would collapse. Also some houses would be covered with a hard stucco painted so as to mimic expensive stone. At times speculators were even obliged to offer some houses through a lottery in order to stave off bankruptcy. Occasionally in order to maximise the use of land they would build narrow “cottages” in the spaces between the houses. One way to limit the financial commitment and produce “interesting” buildings involved building a façade with differing architectural features, and then selling the spaces behind the façade to different house builders.


So “our” house was probably built by an early-day speculator. It is squeezed together with lots of similar houses, but at least there are some gardens and squares nearby and the “noxious trades” are excluded from the area. As you can see the house is tall and relatively narrow (less expensive houses were even narrower) with a long narrow back garden or court and a “mews” access for your coach and horses. The back yard usually contained a privy or “bog house” sitting over a cesspit or “bog hole”. You have a basement for the kitchen, back kitchen, scullery, pantry, larder, and coal storage. At the front there would probably be a tradesman’s entrance to the basement.


A good trick to help identify a Georgian house is that the bricks were laid in the so-called “Flemish” bond with the headers and stretchers alternative in each course. Also Georgians loved columns, when they could afford them. Our house (naturally) has some columns over the entrance, but the really rich would literally festoon their houses with columns. And no self-respecting public building would be without its columns. We have already mentioned the requirement for a roof parapet, which in many cases almost hid the roof from view. Windows were to be set back into the walls, and sash windows were introduced. During the Georgian period the two sliding frames were almost always made up of six panes of hand blown “crown” glass, the proportions would vary and the richer you were the bigger were your windows. Check out this useful article for a discussion about domestic architecture 1700-1960.


If we compare “our” house with the photos of the other Georgian houses we can see that ours is not so “regimented” in design, and there is more variety and abundance in the decoration. This is typical of what is today called Neoclassicism, or “Adams style”. The large fan light over the front door is a bit of a giveaway, since it is a prominent feature of the Adams style (very popular 1760-1780). 


By 1774 house and room sizes became almost standardised, in four different types or “rates”. First Rate Houses were worth over £850 per year in ground rent and occupied over 900 square feet of space (they would have two large windows on the ground floor and three windows on the upper floors much like the house in the middle of the three photos above). These houses faced streets and lanes. Second Rate Houses were worth between £350 and £850 in ground rent and occupied 500-900 square feet of floor space (they would have two large windows per floor). They faced streets, lanes of note, and the Thames. Third Rate Houses were smaller houses worth around £150-£300 and occupied 350-500 square feet (they would have a single window on the ground floor and two windows for each of the upper floors much like the photo above on the left). They faced principal streets. Fourth Rate Houses were worth less than £150 per year in ground rent and occupied less than 350 square feet.


Our house (shown in the above drawing) would actually exceed a First Rate House, in that it has 3 windows on the ground floor, 5 windows on the upper floors, and windows into the entrance hall. I am not sure why one source indicates a rent of around 400 guineas in 1760 for our house, yet another source mentions a ground rent of over £ 850 per year for a smaller First Rate House.



We are now going to look a little bit more closely at the decorative features of our Georgian house, and we are going to need some furniture. 

A George I walnut “tallboy” decorated with cross-banding to the sides, herringbone stringing and sunburst to the bottom draw. (dated 1730)

A George IV solid mahogany Teapoy/Sewing Table with a hinged lid.

A George II solid mahogany armchair, with a cartouche-shaped back pierced with elaborate interlaced strap-work, scrolls and acanthus decoration. It stands on carved cabriole legs with French scroll feet. (1755)

A George I giltwood settee (carved gilt gesso) with out-scrolled arms terminating in eagle’s heads. It has cabriole legs carved with shells to the knees and terminating in faceted pad feet. (1715)

A George III giltwood settee with serpentine shaped backs finely carved with a running guilloche pattern and an anthemion crest. The seat frames carved with fluting, patarae and ribbons above each leg and a central tablet with a rosette and swag. The turned and tapering legs terminating in gilt metal sockets. (1775)

A Georgian mahogany linen press with oak lined draws . (ca. 1760)

Set of Georgian Chippendale dining chairs, with arched head rails and gothic tracery. (ca. 1770)

But having a few bits of furniture does not make a welcoming drawing room or comfortable bedroom. What we have to do as a good Georgian is to place our wonderfully designed and crafted furniture in a context of rich materials (woods, marbles, objects). We have to ensure that were are able to enjoy the social niceties of the period, e.g. dining and having tea. We must ensure that out guests see that we are able to afford expensive goods and that they are authentic (if possible).


In many ways reality was different in that over a period of more than 100 years (the Georgian era) houses were built, bought, sold, re-designed, refurbished, extended, etc., all within a period where even the concept “Georgian” changed. So Georgian really is just a term, like the term Baroque, used to denote a certain aesthetic tradition and a set of elements of style. For some architects it was enough to have clean lines, uniformity and regularity for a building to be Georgian. For others you just needed sash windows, iron railings and parapet roofs and it was Georgian. These architects just saw interiors as being the places behind the exterior walls. Others use Georgian as a “catch-all”, e.g. Georgian silver, Georgian façade, etc., but it is often very difficult to take say a piece of silver and incorporate it into a simple single conceptual model entitled “Georgian silver”. But today Georgian style is a true English national style, it appears on museum labels, it is mainstream, so we are going to have to live with the term being used as a kind of “uber” category.


Yet, despite all this there is no mistaking a Georgian house. Uniformity, symmetry, careful attention to proportions are recognisable characteristics, and the Georgian building boom swept away centuries of “vernacular” house building previously rooted in local traditions and materials. Timber framed constructions, gabled roofs and casement windows disappeared iin the early 18th C, replace as we have already said by speculative building of the brick town house and, for the first time, large-scale urban developments with their wealthy fashionable suburbs of streets, squares, circles and crescents. The introduction of high insurance rates for hazardous industrial or commercial practices also helped ensure that these large areas quickly became purely residential. 


All this might sound rather academic, but there is one point worth stressing. Before the Georgian era things were all about columns, arches, a type of pottery, some decoration in gesso, or a designed inspired by some past period. e.g. Gothic. However experts suggest that the Georgian interior was for the first time in our history more about the relationship between technology, aesthetic ideas, and the availability of materials and finished goods (including classical antiques) from all over the world, and the way individuals shaped and re-shaped their social practices, expressed their individual choices, and used and repaired their world of Georgian bits and pieces. An idea worth meditating on!

Here we have a Georgian drawing room (or possibly music room). The decoration would be more restrained, and there would be stucco friezes and possibly a light classical decoration, e.g. urns. You might expect to find the odd Roman or Greek antique bust. 

Here we have on the left a grand staircase hall, and on the right a far more modest but equally attractive upper staircase decorated with a typical Georgian pale blue. The grand stairs are in stone and the overall impression is of a Greek temple. The lower (ground floor) would be rather plain, and the upper story would be decorated to highlight the fact that the most splendid rooms would be found on the first floor. Many larger houses had a second set of more modest stairs to be used by the servants to access the basement, the garret, and the masters private quarters. Guests would use the main staircase to move between the dining room and the drawing room

Here we have a spectacular Georgian interior just waiting for our furniture and decorations. This is a modern restoration and any wooden floors would normally have been treated with lime and waxed. As you can see doors were usually painted a dark colour to hide the grime.

Here we have a Georgian entrance hall, designed to create a transition between the “hard” architecture of the exterior and the warmth and more elaborate decoration of the principle rooms.

A Georgian dining room (ca. 1770) would be richly decorated, with white and pale green walls. There would be a ceiling fresco with a classical theme. The chimney piece would have a “basso relievo” in white marble.  The columns are painted to simulate Siena marble.

The usual design of a Georgian house had the kitchens in the basement, each floor had a front room and a smaller back room with a adjacent closet, and under the roof were the garrets for servants. The master of the house would usually have his room at the back on the second floor and connected to a dressing room and a closet.

Above we have looked at the rather more elegant house of the well-to-do Georgian, but domestic life was usually much simpler. Floors were just bare floorboards, many rooms would still be paneled or partially paneled, walls and ceilings would be painted white, moulding would still be quite intricate, light fillings would be in pewter or tin, and furniture would have loose covers made from cheap striped linen. Below we have some examples of Georgian domestic furniture, an oak chest (ca. 1780’s), a Georgian tea table (ca. 1780), and a 18th C mahogany butler’s tray. Here for the first time we can see some “collectable” antiques, each of these items could today be acquired for between 1,200 € and 3,000 €.

Let us spend just a few moments on the famous names of Georgian furniture, Chippendale, the Adams brothers, Sheraton and Hepplewhite.


Thomas Chippendale (1718-1779) was probably the most important English cabinet-maker in the mid-Georgian period (he designed and made English Rococo and Neoclassical furniture). His publication The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director (published 1754) was used extensively by other cabinet makers throughout the modern world. It showed four main styles: English with deep carving, elaborate French rococo in the style of Louis XV furniture, Chinese style with latticework and lacquer, and Gothic with pointed arches, quatrefoils and fret-worked legs. Below we can see three items of his work, a dining chair, a commode, and a painted corner cabinet.

Robert Adams (1728-1792) trained under his farther the Scottish architect William Adams, and had two brothers John Adams and James Adams (and two sisters). Robert and James developed the so-called Adams style. His furniture is light and delicate, with Neoclassical undertones, and he loved inlay, satinwood and gilded wood. Below we can see a Robert Adams bookcase (1776) and a copy of a breakfront side table.

Thomas Sheraton (1751-1806) was another of the “big three” English furniture makers (along with Chippendale and Hepplewhite). He also published a 4-volume series called The Cabinet Maker’s and Upholsterer’s Drawing Book (1791), The Cabinet Dictionary (1803), and The Cabinet Maker, Upholsterer and General Artist’s Encyclopaedia (1805). Interestingly it would appear that no actual piece of furniture has ever been traced to him, so all pieces “by Sheraton” refer to the design and not the maker of the piece, and it would appear that he lived and died in poverty. It is said that his furniture was light and graceful, with a touch of the exotic, and used much satin-wood that could be highly polished. Below we see a classic Sheraton style table chair, a Sheraton style drawer work table, and an American Sheraton style writing desk. 

George Hepplewhite (ca. 1727-1786) was the third of the “big three”, but again there are no known examples of his work. However his style is recognisable in that it is slender, more curvilinear with shorter more curved arms, square or tapered straight legs with simple spade or arrow feet, and the famous shield-shaped chair back replacing the usual narrower splat design. He is said to have liked intricate and contrasting veneers and inlays. He also published posthumously The Cabinet Maker and Unpholsterer’s Guide (1789). Below we have a American Hepplewhite style shield-back chair (ca. 1795), a Hepplewhite style sideboard, and a Hepplewhite design serpentine front sideboard.


There can’t be anything more domestic than a kitchen. In smaller houses the kitchen would have been in the basement at the front of the house, but in our larger house it is in the basement at the back near the mews entrance. You would see a large fire with a huge kettle for the boiling water needed for all the washing and cleaning. There would also be a second fireplace with a spit for roasting, and a space for pans for cooking vegetables and sauces. You would also almost certainly see a bread oven.


In 1825 it was suggested in a popular domestic economy book that “a gentleman, his lady, three children and a maid-servant” should have an annual household budget of £250, where food took £2.11.7d a week or £134.2.4d a year (note the old format for expressing the old UK pounds, shillings and pence, but I remember writing such things as £1/19/11¾). The biggest single items were 10s 6d a week for butcher’s meat, 7s for beer and other liquors, 6s for bread, 3s 6d butter, 3s 6d for fish, 3s for sugar and 2s 6d for tea. Odd compared to today, the family would budget only 3d per week for milk and only 6d per week for fruit and vegetables. Remembering we are in 1825 this family would also have had to budget 1s 2d a week for candles, 3s 9d for coal and wood, £36 for clothes, £10.10s for the education of 3 children, and only £25 a year rent and taxes (so this was what you would call a modest family but still with the gentleman “earning” 10 times what a farmer or labourer would earn per year). And I forgot, £16 for the maid.


If we remember our household with an income of £1000 per annum they would be budgeting for 10 people, the gentleman, his lady, three children and a cook, a housemaid, a nursery-maid, a coachman and a footman. This household would have consumed 24 kg of  meat a week, 350 gm of butter per person per week, and lots of beer. But again virtually no fruit and vegetables (8s per week) or eggs and milk (4s per week).


To close this wonderful scene of domestic bliss, it is worth noting that in the early 1700’s 1d (1 pence) would have bought you one days allowance of coal or enough gin to get drunk on (as they said at the time "drunk for a penny, dead drunk for tuppence"). With 1½d you could get 450 gm of soap, and with 3d you could supper on bread, cheese and beer. A visit to the barber would cost you 6d for a shave and the dressing of your wig, but you might decide to spend that on getting one of your chimneys swept. A nice big dinner of beef, bread and beer would set you back 1s (1 shilling), or if you signed on as an army recruit you would get “the King’s shilling”, probably just enough for your last decent meal! A weeks rent for a furnished room for a tradesman would have cost 2s, and you would need 2s 6d to get a tooth extracted.


If we start to move out of the back parlor things will quickly start to get more expensive. You will need 5s for a bottle of claret, 5s for 450 gm of drinking chocolate, and maybe 6s for 450 gm of coffee, and 16s for 450 gm of tea. A good pair of shoes will cost you 7s, and enough flowered damask to make a dress will set you back around £7. Half a guinea (10s 6d) was a common professional fee for a doctor and it would include in most cases the prescribed medication. Instead of being ill, you might want to spend you half a guinea on a ticket to the Theatre Royal in convent Garden (in 1763). If you did decide to dress up for the evening this will cost you 16s for a pair of men’s lace ruffles, 17s 4d for a pair of men’s silk stockings (about the same as the weekly wage of a tradesman), £1 for a fine hat, £1 10s for a pair of velvet breeches (about the same as the monthly pay of a seaman), and at least £5 for a decent jacket. You might of course decide instead to blow £6 on a night out, including supper, a bath and a fashionable courtesan. And if you fancied a nice Chippendale commode that would have set you back £86 (1773), whereas a rather more “domestic” commode might only cost you around £10.  

As you can see it is easy to get drawn into documenting Georgian social history rather than focusing on the architecture, art and antiques of the period. For this reason I have provided a number of links below to resources on the Georgian era in the hope that I will stop deviating from my main objective!


An Index of Resources


The Georgian Index is about everything Georgian, but it looks like it has not been updated since 2012. There is nevertheless a full archive of Webpages covering such topics as Georgian architects, through the mistresses of George IV and his coronation, to bridges over the Thames. There are also Webpages on lots of social history topics such as, Gentlemen’s Accoutrements (e.g. the lorgnette, the snuff box, pocket watches, fobs and keys, calling card cases, flasks, toothpicks, canes and walking sticks, and writing tablets and pencils - all good collector items), Ladies Accessories (e.g. the chatelaine, the fan, the reticule or small handbag, and the vinaigrette for holding scent, vinegar or lavender water - again all very collectable items), ladies clothes, shopping for furniture, ladies hats, Jasperware (Wedgwood), jewelry, mens clothes, and tea time.


Regency Fashion is a site by (I think) Cathy Decker that appears to have extracts from the major fashion magazines of the day, style books from 1790 through to 1829, as well as fashion portraits, and even a mans page!


The site The Costumer’s Manifesto has a page on perfumes, including rose water, lavender water, and eau de Cologne.


Spartacus Educational is an online educational resource, that has pages on topics such as The Industrial Revolution, Child Labour, and Education.


Men’s Fashions (part of a site covering Victoriana) has quite a good collection of pages on Regency Dress, including 1807 clothing, 1811 clothing, 1830 clothing, how to dress in 1840, and so on. The Victoriana site also has a section on Home & Garden with a page on Regency Furniture


There is even a site dedicated to opera gloves in the Napoleonic and Regency periods. It is part of a larger site dedicated just to opera gloves!


Jane Austen’s World is a massive site covering not just Jane Austen and her novels, but the whole Regency period, e.g. food, drink, social customs, and historical details. It also covers everything from Downton Abbey to Regency fashion, and has a very complete links page. There is also an extensive page on original sources and 19th C texts, with such interesting sources as Gross’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1811) and Canting Dictionary, Thieving Slang (1736).


This site does not look that well maintained, but it does have a useful page on Neo-Palladian and Georgian architecture.


Joanna Waugh has a website dedicated to those who read and write fiction about the Regency period. The site houses pages on cant, expressions, factoids, etc.


Nancy Mayer has a Website on all things Regency.


Kristen Koster is another person with a Website dedicated to the Regency period.


This Website is about Regency England 1790-1830.


And Pemberley, the fictional country estate of Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, has its own Republic inhabited by Jane Austen fanatics.


And there is of course the Regency Encyclopedia.


This link and this link will take you to a copy of The Georgian Era: Memoirs of the Most Eminent Persons, who Have Flourished in Great Britain, Vol. I (1832) and Vol. II (1933).

We are now going to return to our Georgian house. We have the building and some ideas about furniture. We even have a general idea about the overall decoration of the rooms, but now we are going to look in more detail at how we are actually going to decorate our house.



We are going to have to decide about colours, wall coverings, curtains and textiles in general, floor coverings, mouldings, lighting, and fireplaces.


Early Georgian colour schemes include burgundy, sage green and blue grey but, as the style developed, they became lighter and included pea green, sky or Wedgwood blue, soft grey, dusky pink, and flat white, cream or stone. Florals were also found, and in the grander houses, gold and murals were preferred. Upholstery and curtains often had matching fabrics, e.g. textiles with small sprigs of flowers. Chinese motifs with peonies and chrysanthemums were favoured. Armchairs and divans often had loose covers made from cheap ticking or striped linen, which were removed for special occasions. Curtains often had a pagoda style pelmet on top.

Walls might still be paneled to waist height, and the plaster above was either painted or papered. Wallpaper often had a simple repeat patterns such as trefoils. As wallpaper was imported from the Far East it often had a chinosierie feel to. Towards the end of the Georgian style, simple block papers began to be introduced and experimented with. Designs were fairly rudimentary with geometric patterns of squares and stripes, perhaps with darker shading behind. Mouldings were intricate - ceilings might have ribbons and swags, classical figures and urns. It would be typical to find “large entablatures over doorways and taller deeper crown moldings that gently flow from wall to ceiling”.

The arrival of paraffin was a major breakthrough for Georgian lighting. Chandeliers made from glass, metal and wood with curved arms like an octopus for a centrepiece. Elsewhere, wall lights were in brass, silver, or silvered wood, or a simple candle flame. Fittings in pewter or tin were used in less grand homes.

Georgian floors could be bare floorboards covered with ornamental rugs placed in the centre (possibly from Turkey or the middle east - Persian rugs were certainly being imported already in the 1660’s). Grander houses had stone (usually in the entrance hall) or marble floors in pale colours, possibly with a keystone pattern. Under George III and George IV (Regency) hand-knotted wool Axminster carpets (started 1755) were employed, with their bright colours and intricate patterns often based upon Roman floor mosaics or coffered ceilings. In the late Georgian period floorboards were stained and polished (they could even be painted in the Regency period), and fixed widths were introduced. Initially oak was used but later Baltic fir and pine was introduced, and oak was reserved for the main staircases. In grader houses there was a continued interest in marquetry and parquetry, but in the Regency period it was reserved for the richest rooms in the finest houses. Below on the left we have a late 18th C rug from Smyrna (now known as Izmir) in Turkey, and on the right we have the detail from a 18th C rug from western Turkey. Below that on the left we have a fragment of a 17th C Iranian “Vase” carpet (even in this condition it is worth in excess of 25,000 €), and on the right of that we have a copy of the Turkish star Oushak design that was already common in the 16th C.

Fireplaces were the focal point of a Georgian room. They were to be elegant with basket grates, cast iron backs and decorated fronts featuring swags, urns, and medallions, perhaps flanked with classical pillars. A firescreen painted to match the room or featuring a trompe l'oeil might be added.

And below we have some examples of typical 18th C interiors with the carpets (the first on the left is with an antique Axminster carpet). Even in the Georgian period carpets were prized so much by their owners that they often included them in domestic and family paintings, as per the examples also shown below (oriental carpets were also often included in Renaissance paintings as for example in the Madonna with Saint John the Baptist and Donatus painted by Verrocchio sometime between 1475-1583). 

The next topic on this first page on the Georgian era is a quick review of the most important painters of the period. We have already mentioned Gainsborough, Reynolds, Turner, and Constable. So it is not going to a surprise to you that we will start with these four famous painters.

Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) painted portraits and landscapes, and rival of Reynolds. An interesting insight in to customs of the time tells us that he married a Margaret Burr who had “many charms” including an annuity of £200 from her real father, either an exiled Stuart prince or the duke of Bedford. Their first household cost £6 a year rent, but he ended up paying £300 a year for a noble mansion in the Pall Mall. Late we see him charging between 5 and 40 guineas for a half-length portrait and between 8 and 100 guineas for a full-length one. In all it is thought that his total output was in excess of 300 paintings, including 220 portraits. As far as I know the record for a Gainsborough is £6.537 million for a full-length portrait of Mrs. William Villebois, in masquerade dress. In the Georgian period portraits were always designed to send out a message, and often there would be visual clues or messages inserted in the portrait about the sitter’s identity, character and status. For example a portrait might include pointers to the origins of the wealth of the sitter, naturally the way the person was dressed would indicate their rank, status and importance. Background elements might point to the sitter’s interests or education, e.g. possibly a classical statue in a garden, or books open in a library. Other portraits were designed to highlight the importance and power of the sitter, e.g. military costumes, jewellery, a grand setting, lavish interior, lots of gold decoration, silk, a good pose as a “man of action”, a dominate position with respect to the viewer, and an abundance of ostrich feathers were a respected luxury in the Georgian period. Other portraits might be more flirtatious and commissioned by a husband. Other portraits were “conversation pieces”, say collecting a family together in a symbolic context. Yet other portraits could be of elegant women dressing up, this was a very fashionable idea in the late 18th C. This particular portrait was commissioned by the sitter’s grandfather Benjamin Truman a notable English entrepreneur and brewer, and is in many ways the archetypal aristocratic portrait of the 18th C. Mrs. William Villebois’s maiden name was Frances Read, she was the daughter of Henry Read and Frances Truman, and she married in 1768. The huge, high, hair style “pouf” in the portrait dates it to the 1770’s (e.g. taller than the size of the face), and she is painted according to the classical 18th C concept of the idea woman (no doubt the reason for the commission from her grandfather). The idea woman would have a high forehead, her cheeks plump, circular and rosy, and her skin white, eyebrows were divided and should be half moon shape. Lips were to be small, soft and red, with the lower lip slightly full, creating a rosebud effect. Her hair is a mix of her own with a wig, only men wore whole wigs. Hers will be a mix with padding (usually of cork), powder and ornaments, in those days this was considered “natural”.

Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792) was a portrait painter in the “Grand Style”, an idealised style derived from High Renaissance. He was the master of the urbane portrait style that was so loved by the ambitious and wealthy - ostentatious, full-length, and often referred to a the “swagger portrait”. His success was, at least in part, due to his renowned intellect and his ability to socialise with elite social circles in London. Reynolds is credited with more than 2000 portraits, and his most expensive painting to date is The Portrait of Omai which fetched £9.4 million. Omai was a young Tahitian who was discovered during Captain Cook’s second voyage of discovery to the Pacific and brought to London in 1774 on the British ship HMS Adventure. He beguiled high society with his elegant manners and was introduced at the court of George III. He spent two years in England before returning to Tahiti with Captain Cook, serving as his interpreter.

The second portrait is of Mr. and Mrs. Andrews (ca. 1750). This is one of his earlier works and is a “conversation piece”. We see Robert Andrews with his gun and his estate in the background, and we see his wife sitting on an elaborate Rococo-style wooden bench. The painting is actually unfinished, there is a space reserved for a child in her lap.

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) was a Romantic landscape painter and water-colourist, who prefaced Impressionism otherwise known as a “unintelligible chaos of colour”. We know very little about his life, except that he never married (but did have mistresses and children), always protected his privacy, was an astute businessman, loved fishing, and was very nearly anti-social. His later works were initially seen as being incomprehensible and at best unfinished, and were stored away until the 1960’s when it was “discovered” that he was a precursor to the Impressionist movement. His works include around 500 oils and more than 30,000 water colours and sketches. His most expensive painting Modern Rome - Campo Vaccino (1839) sold for £29.7 million.

This painting is The Infant Moses which originally sold for 125 guineas, more expensive than the 100 guineas originally asked for The Portrait of Omai.

John Constable (1776-1837) was an English Romantic landscape painter, who despite never going abroad was much appreciated in France and inspired the Barbizon school (e.g. Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Jean-François Millet) in their search for realism in art. In 2013 “Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows” was bought by Tate Britain for £23.1 million (the “open market” estimate was in excess of  £40 million).

We have mentioned only 4 major British painters from the Georgian era, but there were many more. The following come to mind:


William Hogarth (1697-1764) pictorial satirist and cartoonist

George Stubbs (1724-1806) famous for his paintings of horses

George Romney (1734-1802) famous for his portraits, and his muse, Emma Hamilton

William Blake (1757-1827) to is now seen as a key figure of the Romantic Age

Thomas Lawrence (1760-1830) famous for his portraits.

I am going to continue this page with a review of Georgian scientists and thinkers, and their discoveries.


Edmond Halley (1656-1742) determined the orbit of Halley’s Comet.

Thomas Newcomen (1664-1729) invented the first practical steam engine.

Daniel Bernoulli (1700-1782) contributed to the understanding of fluid mechanics, probability and statistics.

Ewald Georg von Kleist (1700-1748) invented what is now known as a Leyden jar, a form of capacitor used to store electricity. 

Anders Celsius (1701-1744) proposed the Celsius temperature scale.

Benjamin Huntsman (1704-1776) invented the way to manufacture crucible steel.

John Kay (1704-1779) invented the flying shuttle which later enabled the building of the “spinning frame” or automatic machine looms.

Benjamin Franklin (1709-1790) was one of the founding fathers of the United States, polymath, and inventor of the lighting rod and bifocals.

Leonhard Euler (1707-1783) contributed the fields of infinitesimal calculus and graph theory.

Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) was the father of modern taxonomy.

David Hume (1711-1776) was a philosopher especially known for his position on empiricism (theory of knowledge) and scepticism.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) influenced the French Revolution and the development of modern politics.

Adam Smith (1723-1790) was a founder of political economics.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was one of the founders of modern philosophy.

James Cook (1728-1779) explorer and “discovered” Australia and the Hawaiian Islands.

Jan Ingenhousz (1730-1799) discovered photosynthesis.

Henry Cavendish (1731-1810) discovered hydrogen.

Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) discovered oxygen, invented soda water, and “nitrous air” or laughing gas.  

James Watt (1736-1819) contributed to the development of the steam engine.

Joseph-Louis Legrange (1736-1813) contributed to number theory and classical and celestial mechanics.

Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier (1743-1794) is widely considered the “father of modern chemistry”, e.g. he discovered the role of oxygen in combustion, the law of conservation of mass, and he named oxygen and hydrogen.

Edward Anthony Jenner (1749-1823) pioneered the smallpox vaccine, and is often called the “father of immunology”.

Pierre-Simon de Laplace (1749-1827) contributed to classical mechanics and formulated Laplace’s equation which describes numerous physical situations including the steady-state heat equation.  

Johann Alois Senefelder (1771-1834) invented the printing technique of lithography.

Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855) contributed to a number of fields in physics and mathematics, including the Gauss-Markov theorem and a better understanding of magnetism (he also constructed the first electromechanical telegraph).


This naturally brings me to the topic of antique “scientific” instruments and objects.

Here we have a pair of large library globes by Cary’s of London, dated ca. 1816. The oldest known terrestrial globe was created in 1492, when the Spanish and Portuguese circumnavigated the earth. Globes were expensive, and thus were status symbols. Towards the end of the 15th C globes from The Dutch Republic were much sought after. Then it was the Italians in the 16th C, followed by the French in the 17th C, and the Germans in the 18th C. Some of the finest globes were made in London in the 18th C and 19th C, and John and William Cary were such makers. Often globes were manufactured in pairs, one showing the earth (terrestrial) and the other the sky (celestial). Finally the bigger the more valuable, simply because of the added complexity in making them.

Here we have an octagonal, slate sundial signed O’Farrell, dated 1810 (probably made in Dublin). In many ways this is a type of antique clock, and as a collectors item it is worth today about 1,200 €.

The smaller photo is of a smaller bronze sundial engraved Richard Bullock and dated 1742. It value is probably around 500 €.

On the right we have an English apothecary cabinet, dated ca. 1820. It is complete with glass bottles, pestle and mortar, brass scales, and silver surgical instruments.

This is a travelling pocket instrument case, dated ca. 1790-1830. Is is shagreen and contains silver drawing instruments with an ivory rule marked with the maker, Cary, London. It could be worth at least 2,000 €.

This is a walnut longcase clock dating from ca. 1740-1760, and made by John Berry of Manchester. This has an eight day movement, and strikes on the hour. It is probably worth in excess of 10,000 €.

This is a mahogany stick barometer by C.Gatti, ca. 1810. It has a glazed door enclosing the silvered register plate with thermometer and vernier scale and engraved with the makers name. It also has a full length exposed mercury tube and turned paterae cistern cover.

This is a 45” Dollond leather barrel telescope which could be as old as 1803, but is certainly from the period 1800-1825. The base could be mid-1700’s. This is probably worth in excess of 1,500 €.

Here we have an American brass surveying compass made by Jedidiah Baldwin, and dated 1792-1794. This was priced at in excess of 10,000 €.

Here we have John Snart 14” chest microscope, ca. 1820.


This was priced at in excess of 10,000 €.

This is an unusual 18th C French coach builders small side axe with decorations. It is worth perhaps 100 €.

This is 18th C wooden brace fixed together with wooden pegs. It is worth perhaps 1,000 €.

This is 18th C French etui in shagreen, and holding 10 silver and steel tools, including compass, corkscrew, spoon, tweezers, scissors, etc. It is worth perhaps 2,000 €.

This is an early 18th C French bevel gear drill, with a hand forged cranked handle and fittings, and a boxwood head and handle.

It is worth perhaps 3,000 €.

This is a Dutch blokschaaf (block plane) by Ary den Hengst of Rotterdam, and dated 1733.

It is worth perhaps 1,200 €.

This is a glazier’s iron hammer, and it is named WILL:KING and dated 1709. It lacks its handle but is still worth around 3,000 €.

The top item is a 18th C French surgeon’s saw with a square frame and tow-tone kingwood handle. Valued at around 600 €.


The second item is an early 17th C 17” armourers’ saw. It is valued at well in excess of 2,000 €.

This a very rare beech coach builder’s plough plane by I.Sym, and dating from between 1753 and 1802. Because of its shape it is capable of “circle on circle” work. Only two examples of this type of plane are known to exist. Its valued would exceed 10,000 €.

We have here a equinoctial compass sundial made of gilt brass and silver, signed Johann Martin, and dated from ca. 1700. It comes with a table of latitudes for 32 cities, and its original leather case. Value is around 2,500 € to 3,000 €.

These are a set of 40 square brass coin weights with a steel balance with brass plates, in its original wood case.

It was made by Jakob Heuscher in 1703, and was recently sold for 1,625 €.

First we have something called a dental pelican (used for tooth extraction), with endless screw, and a turned wooden handle. It dates from ca. 1780, and is valued at around 800 €.

The second one is also a dental pelican but dated from ca. 1760, and also valued at about 800 €. 

On pages II & III of this review of the Georgian period the reader can find descriptions of decorative objects that would be found in a well-to-do persons house. This will include both ladies accessories and gentlemen’s accoutrements, time pieces, pottery, porcelain and glass, jewellery, silver, ...

I want to conclude this page by looking at the building of one or two great 18th C buildings, bringing together architecture, technology and engineering. The first is Somerset House in London, which I always remember as being the Registrar General of Births, Marriages and Deaths (who have long since left the building). The Somerset House that we see today stands on the site of an earlier Tudor palace that was demolished in 1775. The demise of the old Somerset House coincided with a move to house many of the government's offices and the principal learned societies under one roof, and led to the site being chosen for a new building to solve this pressing problem. This approach was a radical departure from the established practice of using separate buildings for different departments of state and was seen as a means to promote greater efficiency among the government bureaucracies.


We see echoed in the building of Somerset House many of the problems that still plague modern government today. For example, the need to bring everyone “under one roof” for greater efficiency. We will see, after the building contract is awarded, a government project that will ballon out of all control! Parliament at the time spent much discussion deciding whether the designs for the new building should favour splendour or economy, and it was decided to build “an ornament to the Metropolis and a monument of the taste and elegance of His Majesty's Reign" and “an object of national splendour”.


The building had to accommodate the three principal learned societies - the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Society, and the Society of Antiquaries - as well as various government offices. In particular, it had to provide the Navy Board with quarters that would reflect the rising importance of the Navy at a time when Britain was almost constantly at war.

To further complicate things, the King's Bargemaster was also to be based at Somerset House. This required that there was direct access to the Thames, enabling officers of the Navy Board to travel back and forth to the warehouses and dockyards at Deptford and Greenwich. The new building also had to provide living accommodation for the heads of the various departments housed there, including space for cooks, housekeepers, secretaries and many others.


The architect solved this problem by treating the offices as a series of town houses arranged in a quadrangular layout, extending across the whole site of the old palace and its gardens and out into the Thames, some six acres in all.

The construction of this huge project was to be phased. The Strand Block to the north was built first, its foundations laid in 1776 and the building generally completed by 1780.

At the same time, piles were driven into the river-bed to form the foundations of the Embankment Building, the front of which was of Aberdeen granite and concealed the massive brick piers supporting the Navy Office block above. This was completed in 1786 and the east and west ranges some two years later.

The steeply sloping site with its poor soil quality had presented the builders with numerous difficulties to contend with. Although the structure suffered some partial early failures, the subsequent stability of this vast and complex building, foundations rising from the treacherous soil of the river bank, must be regarded as one of the architects greatest achievements.

In 1775 the cost had been conservatively estimated at £135,700, but 5 years later the House of Commons was told that the final cost of his building "will certainly not exceed the sum of £250,000". As the process of erecting this vast and complex building dragged on, the cost continued to spiral upwards, reaching £306,000 in 1788, £353,000 in 1790, and £462,323 when the account finally closed in 1801, some 25 years after the first foundations had been laid. Typical of one of today’s big government IT projects!

Naturally they also decided to go for an impressive main entrance with sculptural decoration by Wilton, Bacon and Carlini and, in the Royal Academy, a library ceiling painted by Joshua Reynolds.

Equally naturally there were critics who said that the building "...expose to general derision the bad taste of the King, the government, and the country...", yet other said "This then is Somerset Place, the work of an architect, who has manifested in its erection, a vast extent of intellect, as a mathematician, as an engineer, as an artist, and as an philosopher... an upright man."

Additions were made with King's College (London) under the patronage of King George IV, and the arrival of Inland Revenue in 1841. The building today is an arts and cultural centre


I am going to surprise the reader with my second, and last, building. It is the Kennet and Avon Canal. This a 180 km waterway made up two lengths of navigable river linked by a canal, and incorporating 105 locks. The two river stretches were made navigable in the early 18th C and the 92 km canal section was constructed between 1794 and 1810.

Naturally everything happened in steps, in 1715 they started to make the river Kennet navigable, and barges started to move coal and people between Bristol and Bath. The canal was decided by an Act of Parliament in 1793, and it was completed in 1809. The building costs of Kennet and Avon Canal were in excess of £16,000 per mile, but by 1814-1815 the canal was carrying in excess of 150,000 tons of good per year, and in 1840 the canal made more than £51,000 in receipts. In fact they raised a total of £570,000 for the construction (£1 million was pledged in all), and it is said that it would cost about £2.8 billion to build the canal today! The canal was used by over 200 horse-drawn boats carrying coal, iron, bricks, timber, peat, stone, grain, cheese, malt, tobacco and spirits. The 29 locks at Devizes are said to be the most spectacular lock flight in England because the locks are broad and laid out in a straight line so they can be seen in perspective.

But the train soon arrived, and in 1852 the Kennet and Avon company sold the canal to Great Western Railway, who promptly put a speed limit on the canal and basically killed all traffic. Pretty stupid to sell the canal to a competing technology! Just to make absolutely sure canal traffic was dead the owners also increased the tolls by 150% in 1920. Today it is a tourism and recreation attraction.

Can you imagine, an engineer from the canal company said in 1824 that for trains “there are limits to their powers, which are nearly approached”, so they did not immediately see the train as a competitor. Even more odd was the fact that that for some years the canal prospered move buildings materials for the railroads.

As I have already said, perhaps the most spectacular part of the canal are the 29 locks at Devizes. This series of locks rises (and falls) 72 m in 3.2 km, or a 1 in 30 gradient making it the steepest flight of locks in the world. Because of the large volume of water needed for the locks a back pump was installed in 1996 capable of returning 32 million litres of water per day (equivalent to one full lock of water every 11 minutes). Even today an experienced user will take a good 5 hours to pass through all 29 locks.