THE DERBY DAY.—While Paris was burning on Wednesday, the 24th of May, the great annual race came off as usual, reported a London newspaper in 1871, adding, “There were more people than ever on the Downs, and the spectacle they presented to the many émigrés must have been striking in the extreme.”
Indeed, the French émigrés who had arrived in London from the outbreak of war in 1870 through the suppression of the Paris Commune in late May, 1871, found in London a very different world.
Queen Victoria (1819 – 1901), monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, had been a widow for nine and a half years. In 1867, the Queen supported the Reform Act extending the vote to many urban working men. But the Queen had been invisible to her people since Prince Albert’s death in 1861, and with France’s Second Empire now replaced by a new republican government, public sentiment in her own country was against her.
Republican clubs forming all over the country demanding the removal of the queen who had reigned since 1837. [It was on Christmas Eve, 1870, that Queen Victoria made a special gift of a large, two-volume folio of Scottish watercolors to her Highland servant, John Brown; their relationship was the subject of the 1997 British film, Mrs. Brown, starring Judy Dench and Billy Connolly.]
William Ewart Gladstone, (1809 –1898), a Liberal, had been Prime Minister since 1868, the year of the last public execution at Newgate Prison. Gladstone (taking a break from his attempts to personally reform individual prostitutes in London) had overseen a number of reform bills enacted increase personal freedom and improve the economy. The 1871 session of Parliament saw debates on army reforms and the Ballot Bill (introducing secret voting; it was not passed – at this time). For his commitment to reform and his thrift with the public purse, Gladstone had become known as “the People’s William.” The Queen, in her seclusion, resented Gladstone. But Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (1841 –1910) liked him – though Gladstone had proposed in June 1871 that the thirty-year-old, married Prince be installed in Dublin as the permanent Viceroy to pacify Ireland (and to keep the Prince out of trouble at home). Queen Victoria objected to this plan, as she had no intention of sharing her authority with “Bertie,” considering him incapable and indiscreet.
As of the Census of April 2-3, 1871, the population of London – that 122 square miles from Hammersmith to Woolwich and from Norwood to Hampstead – was 3,251,804. By comparison, as of 1870, Paris had fewer than two million inhabitants, Berlin about 800,000, Rome 300,000, and New York 1,250,000.
About 57% of London residents worked for income. A small percentage of them were lawyers, physicians, surgeons, bankers, stockbrokers and merchants. The remainder of the population included the titled and leisured classes, the wives and children of the residents working in the professions, trade or service, students and everyone who did not report an occupation.
The total number of domestic servants, coachmen and grooms amounted to 30 per cent of the entire population – 54% of the working residents of the capital; 36% of them were male. The demand for domestic service actually declined over the previous three decades, but Londoners’ demand for dressmakers, tailors, milliners, drapers, hosiers, hatters, haberdashers, boot makers, dyers, waistcoat-makers, hairdressers, lace merchants and lace cleaners increased to 16 per cent of the working population, providing the largest source of employment for women apart from domestic service.
While Paris’ transformation from a dirty medieval city to the City of Light had been an imperial vision by Napoléon III and civic planner Baron Haussmann, London’s renovations and modernizations were a result of the Victorian’s confident pursuit of innovations in science and engineering.
After 1866, when 6,000 Londoners died of cholera from the drinking water, many miles of sewers were constructed within the Victoria Embankment (completed in 1870).
With the center of town being crowded, expensive and congested with horse traffic, the suburbs expanded, and many Londoners needed transportation. Victorian engineers – led by John Everett Millais’ friend, the self-made millionaire John Fowler (1817 – 1898) – constructed the first underground railway in the world. The Metropolitan Railway (now the Metropolitan Line) – a stretch of four miles between Bishop’s Road (now Paddington) and Farringdon – opened on January 10, 1863. At the Paddington end there was a connection to the Great Western Railway. In 1864, the line was extended to Hammersmith Station, which was operated jointly by the Metropolitan Railway and the Great Western. The line was extended east to Moorgate in 1865, and in the other direction, to South Kensington in 1868. On Christmas Eve 1868, the District Railway’s first section opened between South Kensington and Westminster Bridge. This line was extended to Blackfriars in 1870 and to Mansion House in 1871 (completing the southern section of the Circle Line). St. John’s Wood Railway (referred to as “the Wood Line,” “the branch,” or “the extension”), running northward from Baker Street to St. John’s Wood Road and Swiss Cottage, opened in 1868. The engines were steam-operated; the first “tube” railway, cable-operated and running between Tower Hill and Bermondsey, opened in 1870. All the locomotives built from 1871 were painted a smart olive green with polished brass dome covers and were lit by gas. The passenger coaches were divided into first, second and third class compartments; first-class cars were roomy and fitted with carpets, mirrors and well-upholstered seats.
James Tissot fled a burning, horrific Paris strewn with Communard cadavers and arrived in London in the midst of the Season – four months of débutante balls, exclusive dinner parties, the annual Royal Academy Exhibition and other large social events dominated by “Bertie,” the Prince of Wales, and the “Professional Beauties,” or P.B.s.
In 1871, the P.B.s included Susan Charlotte Lascelles, Lady Wharncliffe (1834-1927, daughter of the 3rd Earl of Harewood and wife of Edward Montagu Granville Montagu-Stuart Wortley-Mackenzie, 3rd Baron Wharncliffe (1827 – 1899); Georgina Elisabeth Ward, Countess of Dudley (1846 – 1929; in 1865 she married William Ward, 1st Earl of Dudley, 1817 – 1885); and Edith Peers-Williams, Lady Aylesford (? – 1897; daughter of Lt.-Col. Thomas Peers Williams and wife of Heneage Finch, 7th Earl of Aylesford, 1849 – 1885). Though the Prince of Wales did not confine his sexual liaisons to the well-bred, the P.B.s were ladies who, having borne their husbands an heir, were permitted a discreet affair with the Prince of Wales. They were dangled by Society hostesses eager for the Prince’s attendance at their parties. As their photographs were sold in shops and collected, and their fashions, hairstyles and mannerisms were widely imitated, the P.B.s were lent or given the most expensive gowns, jewelry and accessories for the free publicity they could provide.
Men who were members of the Prince of Wales’ smart, fast Marlborough House set included Lord Ranelagh (Thomas Jones, 7th Viscount Ranelagh, 1812 – 1885), who had had an affair with Holman Hunt’s fiancée, the Pre-Raphaelite model Annie Miller, ending their engagement in 1859. She married a first cousin of Ranelagh’s in 1863. Henry Chaplin (1840 – 1923) was a racehorse owner and Conservative MP from 1868. Prior to Chaplin’s wedding to a celebrated Society beauty in 1864, she left him for Lord Hastings (Henry Weysford Charles Plantagenet Rawdon-Hastings, 4th Marquess of Hastings, 1842 – 1868). In the 1867 Derby, Hastings wagered thousands of pounds against Chaplin’s horse, which won. Hastings, an alcoholic, died in severe debt at age 26 in 1868. Lord Rosebery (Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, 1847 – 1929) inherited his title in 1868, at age 21 – along with an income of £30,000 a year. He immediately bought a racehorse, which was against the rules for undergraduates at Christ Church, Oxford. When offered the choice to sell the horse or abandon his studies, he chose to keep the horse. In 1870, he was elected a member of the Jockey Club. Rosebery succeeded to his grandfather’s seat in the House of Lords, making his maiden speech in 1871.
British Conservatives feared the results of the combination of popular frustration with the Queen’s absence, the collapse of the Second Empire in France and the growing republican movement at home, and scandals among the Prince of Wales’ set. Worst of all, the Prince had to appear in court in February 1870 during sensational divorce proceedings against Harriet Sarah, Lady Mordaunt (1848 – 1906, wife of baronet and Conservative MP Sir Charles Mordaunt (1836 – 1897), who unwisely had named the heir to the British throne (among others) as the possible father of her child. Lady Mordaunt was committed to a lunatic asylum for the rest of her life, while Gladstone, as Prime Minister, appears to have played an “indirect” role in protecting the Prince of Wales.
After surviving the starvation of the Siege of Paris, the atrocities of the war with Prussia and the Commune, such a personal scandal may have seemed insignificant to James Tissot, arriving in London nearly penniless. But by the end of the decade, his personal behavior would offend British morality and embroil him in a scandal of his own.
© 2013 by Lucy Paquette. All rights reserved.
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Courtesy of The Bridgeman Art Library
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