The Hyde Park Belle: 1851

Portrait of a Young Lady, John Emery (1802-1893) The Potteries Museum

Portrait of a Young Lady, John Emery (1802-1893) The Potteries Museum


[The interest excited by the details of the manner in which the London Poor don’t get their living, about the streets, has induced us to send a Commissioner forth to study the habits of an equally interesting and hard-working class of people—the- London Rich. We now have the satisfaction of placing his first experiences before our readers.]

No. I.—The Hyde Park Belle.

By the term ” Hyde Park Belle,” I mean to define a young lady living in the neighbourhood, rather than an habituee, of the Park. For the Hyde Park district is vast, and difficult to he defined; inasmuch, as new streets and squares are called Such and such a place, ‘ Hyde Park,’ which common people of practical minds would have denominated Paddington. But it is more agreeable to be associated with a patrician locality than a plebeian one; and therefore although ‘Westbourne Terrace,’ Edgeware Road, would be a correct address, yet ‘Hyde Park’ certainly has a prettier sound. In the same spirit, Mrs. Brown selects a godfather for her little boy with a good name. For John would answer all legal and social purposes, but Cleveland carries with it more ennobling thoughts.

In this pleasant region are produced charming young ladies: it is the realm of nice girldom. The one introduced to me, to give an account of her position and herself, was of middling stature, with oval face, chestnut hair, dark eyes, and very white and regular teeth. She had on a white transparent bonnet, and light muslin dress, all en suite. In answer to my questions, she replied as follows :—

“I shall be nineteen in August, and have been out two years and a half. Have I ever been engaged? Only once, and that was broken off, because I went on a drag to Richmond, with the officers of the —th. Lady Banner was inside,—it was all perfectly proper. She is a very nice woman—always ready to chaperone anybody anywhere, at a moment’s notice, if her share is paid; only sometimes she bores me dreadfully. Edmund went to India. I don’t know where he is now. I have not heard. I dare say he is somewhere. He bored me dreadfully at last. I work very hard,—oh, very hard indeed; that is, in the season. My maid always sits up to make tea for me when I come home. Her hours are very regular considering. She goes to bed every morning about four; but then she does not have to dance half the night. Yes, I like the Crystal Palace;—oh! I get so tired there—walking, and walking, and walking, you can’t think how far. I know the Crystal Fountain, and Dent’s Clock, and the Stuffed Animals, and the Envelope Machine. I don’t think I have seen anything else. I have never been out of the nave and transept. Nobody goes anywhere else. I did not know that there was anything to see upstairs, except large carpets. I am sure they would bore me dreadfully. We are engaged every night. Yesterday, after my singing lesson, I was at the Botanical Fete, and there were no seats; and mamma stood by the band for nearly two hours, because Lord Downless was there ordering the tunes. It was his regiment. He did not see us, and mamma was so cross. I am sure I did not want to see him: I was dreadfully bored. We had scarcely time to dress for the Grapnel’s dinner party; and then we went to Mrs. Crutchley’s, to meet the Lapland Ambassador. We could not get into the room, and stood for two hours more on the landing. Old Mr. Tawley was there, and would keep talking to me: he bores me always dreadfully. He is going to take mamma and me to see some pictures somewhere. I hate seeing pictures; they bore me dreadfully! After Lady Crutchley’s we went to Mrs. Owley’s amateur concert, which was nearly over. She only has classical music. I don’t know what classical music is: I only know it bores me dreadfully. Ashton Howard says, the same people who like classical music buy old china, and wear false hair. All the ice had gone, and the room was like a furnace. The ice had gone, because Mrs. Owley never has too much, and there was a new servant who did not understand her odd ways, and put large pieces in the plates at first. I had a dreadful headache. I wish people would give up classical music. It never amuses anybody—that is, anybody worth amusing. They played nothing but things they called Ops. There was Op 42 and Op 16, and something in F, but I don’t recollect what. It lasted half-an-hour, and began all over and over again. I don’t know whether the Huguenots is classical music or not, I only know, when they give it at the Royal Italian Opera nobody seems bored then. I don’t know that I am exactly.

“Do I like anybody better than another? I do not see what that is to you. I wish you would not ask me so many questions: it bores me dreadfully. I think Ashton Howard very agreeable; but they do not like him at home. I have seen mamma actually rude to him, but then he is a younger brother. No, I cannot dance with those I like when I go to a party. I always know by mamma’s manner to say whether I am engaged or no. Ashton waltzes beautifully, but he has never waltzed with me. I say ‘valse’ as often as ‘waltz.’ I should like to waltz with him very much. I think he sent a bouquet on the evening of the Cooper’s ball. Mamma would not let me wear it—she took it herself; and I don’t think I danced three times all the evening. Mamma said she never saw so few good parties—(the word was given with the French pronunciation, which is a small but essential difference)—I am sure I don’t know what she would have. Ashton was there, but he never looked at me after he saw mamma with my bouquet.

“I go into the Park every day with mamma, but it bores me dreadfully. I see nothing but the same people, and I know all the trees and rails by heart. I like Jouvin’s gloves as well as Fiver’s; they have got dearer lately—I don’t know why—there is not more in them. I ride sometimes: I like it better than the carriage; but papa don’t ride very often, and if he don’t I can’t, except with the Pevenseys and their brothers. John Pevensey is very stupid, and talks to me about farming. I get very tired, but I am obliged to go, because the Pevenseys know so many receivable people. But they bore me dreadfully;—in fact, I don’t know who or what does not. I long for the season to be over, and when I go into the country I long for it to begin again. And I am always tired; and I wish I could go about, and do as I pleased, like Marshall—that’s my maid—when she has a holiday. She is going to marry the man at the hair-dresser’s; and last Sunday they went down all by themselves to Gravesend. I see mamma’s face if Ashton Howard was to propose taking me to Gravesend next Sunday, and without Lady Banner! I wish sometimes I was Marshall. Now and then I would give a good deal for a good cry. I can’t tell you why—I don’t know; only that everything is a trouble, and bores me dreadfully.”

“I give seven-and-sixpence for a pair of satin shoes. I have worn them twice—oh! more than that, if there has been no dancing. A wreath costs a guinea, and gloves are three and sixpence. Do I have them cleaned? Certainly; but not for evening parties: the men’s coats blacken them in an instant. They do very well for the opera and evening concerts—nothing else. The Pevenseys wear cleaned gloves; everybody knows it; and Ashton Howard always asks, out loud, if a camphene lamp has not gone out, when they come into the room. You can get a nice bouquet for five or six shillings. Old Mr. Rigby, in the Regent’s Park, told me I might cut any flowers from his conservatory, but I don’t care for that—I would sooner buy them: he bores one dreadfully. I hope you are not going to print all that. I am always afraid of you authors.”

From the above particulars, we find that a young lady’s shoes, wreath, gloves, and bouquet, for an evening party, cost one pound seventeen shillings. Admitting that two thousand young ladies go out every night, we have the sum of three thousand seven hundred pounds spent daily, during the season, for these accessories.

The Month, A View of Passing Subjects and Manners, Albert Smith & John Leech, 1851

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: While gently conceding that the young lady’s education may have been somewhat neglected, Mrs Daffodil cannot help but think of an expression often overheard from Nannies to their young charges: “Only bores are bored.”

To be Relentlessly Informative, Dent’s Clock was built by E. Dent & Co., who built the great clock at Westminster. Its dial was 40 feet in diameter; the dial of the Westminster clock was a mere 23 feet. The Crystal Fountain was the centrepiece of the main building of the Great Exposition. It was 27 feet high and consisted of four tonnes of pink glass.  The stuffed animals were in the vein of Mr Potter’s whimsical taxidermy: kittens taking tea, &c. &c.  They were the rather odd contribution of the German Customs Union.

This satirical series, by the way, was inspired by Henry Mayhew’s 1851 publication, London Labour and the London Poor.

An excellent overview of the Exhibition, with illustrations, may be had here.

Mrs Daffodil has previously written about the arduous life of Society Beauties here.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


3 thoughts on “The Hyde Park Belle: 1851

    1. chriswoodyard Post author

      There must have been many such young ladies in London. Perhaps some of them were inspired by the endless boredom to join the Suffragette Movement. It sounds a soul-less and tedious life.
      Best wishes,
      Mrs Daffodil



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s