Survey of London: Volume 39, the Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair, Part 1 (General History). Originally published by London County Council, London, 1977.
This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.
'The Social Character of the Estate: The London Season in 1841', in Survey of London: Volume 39, the Grosvenor Estate in Mayfair, Part 1 (General History), (London, 1977) pp. 89-93. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-london/vol39/pt1/pp89-93 [accessed 29 February 2024]
The London Season in 1841
We have already seen that as early as the 1730's and 40's many of the residents in the principal streets of the Grosvenor estate, and of course many more in other correspondingly fashionable parts of London, only spent part of each year in town, their seasonal movements being prescribed by those of the Court and by the dates of the parliamentary sessions. In the eighteenth century the number of people participating in this fashionable minuet between town and country cannot be even approximately calculated, but in the nineteenth century detailed information about the London Season was published for many years in The Morning Post, and this has been analysed for the year 1841. (fn. 1)
The Table opposite shows week by week the movements into and out of London of what The Morning Post called the 'Fashionable World'. Over four thousand movements are plotted, of which at least 15 per cent relate to residents on the Grosvenor estate in Mayfair; but the total size of the seasonal migration into and out of the capital must in reality have been substantially larger than that shown in the Table, because it may confidently be conjectured that many movements of both the 'Fashionable World' and its imitators were not publicly reported.
The year 1841 was not altogether a typical one because the general election by which the Tories displaced the Whigs was held in the latter part of the summer, but this serves to emphasize the extent to which the seasonal migration of the beau monde was influenced by the dates of parliamentary sittings. At the beginning of the year most people of fashion were out of town, either at home, visiting, or at Brighton. At the end of January there was the biggest influx of the year, for the opening of Parliament, and there then ensued a brief pre-Easter season, (fn. 3) marked by numerous dinners and soirées, the opening of the opera season, and the first royal levée. On 31 March, for instance, it was reported that Lady Compton Domville had held 'a very brilliant assembly' at No. 5 Grosvenor Square. 'The five spacious saloons in that superb mansion were most brilliantly illuminated.' Dancing 'to Weippert's band' had commenced at 11.30 p.m. and at 1.30 a.m. 'a most sumptuous supper' was served. And a day or two later Lady Anne Wilbraham had held 'a soirée dansante' at 'the family mansion in Lower Brook Street' (No. 68), at which 'Above 200 of the leading fashionables in town honoured her Ladyship with their company, as also the chief members of the corps diplomatique'. (fn. 4)
Early in April the adjournment of Parliament for the Easter recess and the removal of the Court to Windsor were accompanied by a substantial exodus, and Brighton filled up. With the reassembly of Parliament on 20 April, the Queen's return from Windsor, the first royal drawing-room, the reopening of the opera after Easter, and the first ball at Almack's there was a very large influx which marked the commencement of the main Season. Numerous arrivals at addresses principally in Belgravia, Marylebone, St. James's, Pall Mall and streets off Piccadilly, as well of course as Mayfair, were reported. The house agents did a brisk business in the letting of furnished houses 'for the Season', and the private hotels filled up, Mivart's and the adjacent Coulson's (formerly Wake's) in Brook Street being the most notable on the Grosvenor estate. Every Monday The Morning Post carried a column entitled 'Fashionable Arrangements for the Week', and on a single evening there were three separate receptions at various houses in Grosvenor Square alone. Other chronicled events included the Royal Academy exhibition, the Queen's levées, drawing-rooms and state balls, the Derby at Epsom, and Ascot races, the latter attended then as now, by the Queen from Windsor.
The prorogation of Parliament on 22 June and the imminence of a general election set off a gradual drift away from London. On 6 July Lady Compton Domville 'gave her farewell fête' in Grosvenor Square, the last ball at Almack's was held on the following night, and there were no more 'Fashionable Arrangements' in The Morning Post. Some emigrants went off on foreign tours, and it was reported that 'The fashionable departures for the German spas this season have been unusually numerous'. (fn. 5) There was also much visiting about from one country house to another, and Harrogate, Brighton, Goodwood races, yachting at Cowes, and shooting in Scotland all attracted their wealthy patrons.
But even at this 'dead' time of year fashionable London was never entirely empty. There were always some arrivals to report, and although the pattern of seasonal migration in the summer of 1841 was greatly distorted by the general election and the parliamentary session of 19 August to 7 October, which occasioned a considerable but shortlived influx, it is clear that even the most socially distinguished members of the 'Fashionable World' were often in London out of season. Such visits were, however, frequently of short duration, and the autumnal attractions of Buxton, Brighton, Leamington and Worthing, of racing at Newmarket, and above all of the hunting field, ensured that (after a brief influx in early December for the Smithfield Club's cattle show and annual dinner) London's social year had a quiet end, the twelve days of Christmas being generally celebrated out of town.
In addition to listing the arrivals in and departures from London The Morning Post also published 'changes' from one out-of-town address to another. Taken together all this information reveals the peculiarly peripatetic existence of the 'Fashionable World', while other records indicate the resources needed to sustain such a mode of life. The case of two earls and their families, both resident in Grosvenor Square, may be taken as examples.
The first Earl of Verulam had a town house at No. 47 Grosvenor Square and a country seat at Gorhambury Park, near St. Albans. The family estates in Hertfordshire and Essex were estimated in 1882 to contain some 10,000 acres yielding £14,000 per annum. (fn. 6) In 1841 the Earl was aged sixty-five; his wife was some nine years younger, and the youngest of their nine children was aged sixteen. On the night of the census (6–7 June) the Earl and Countess, two of their sons and one daughter were all resident in Grosvenor Square, where they were attended by seven male and eight female servants. (fn. 7) At Gorhambury House there were on the same night another seven female servants and one male servant, plus half-a-dozen other male servants in the adjoining stables. (fn. 8)
Towards the end of January the Earl had come up to Grosvenor Square from Gorhambury, where he was joined by the Countess, who had been visiting one of their married daughters, the Countess of Craven, at Combe Abbey near Coventry. Their eldest son, Viscount Grimston, M.P., still a bachelor, also joined them at Grosvenor Square from Ireland, all these arrivals coinciding with the opening of Parliament. In March the Earl and Countess went to the Duke of Rutland at Belvoir Castle, back to Grosvenor Square, and thence (with Lord Grimston and their youngest daughter) to Earl and Countess Amherst at Knole, Kent. Their return to Grosvenor Square in early April was soon followed by a visit by the Countess and her unmarried children to Longford Castle, Wiltshire, to stay with another of their married daughters, Viscountess Folkestone. By mid April the Earl of Verulam was at Newmarket, and a week later his family was back in Grosvenor Square. In mid May he and the Countess, with Lord Grimston and their unmarried daughter, were at Gorhambury for the races, but were back in town by 6 June. In the latter part of July the Earl and Viscount Grimston were visiting Mrs. Warde at the Squerryes, Westerham, before going to Buckhurst Park, Sussex, and ultimately to the Duke of Richmond at Goodwood. Meanwhile the Countess was entertaining her son-in-law and daughter, the Earl and Countess of Craven, at Gorhambury. At the end of August both the Earl and Countess of Verulam were in Grosvenor Square, but early in September the Earl and his son Viscount Grimston went off to the Marquess of Abercorn's shooting lodge in Inverness-shire, while the Countess and her youngest daughter went to Gorhambury. A few days later, however, the Countess and one of her sons were in Grosvenor Square on their way to Longford Castle again. By 24 September the Earl and Viscount Grimston were back at Gorhambury from their Caledonian foray, and a week later they too went on to Longford Castle. In mid October the Earl was said to be 'still at Newmarket', while the Countess, Viscount Grimston and her unmarried daughter left Grosvenor Square for visits to Mrs. Warde at the Squerryes and Earl Amherst at Knole. By the end of the month the Earl was back at Gorhambury before joining his wife at the Squerryes. In mid November they were at Gorhambury entertaining the Earl and Countess of Clarendon and 'a large circle of nobility and gentry around'. In December Viscount Grimston went to visit the Marquess of Abercorn at Baron's Court in Ireland, and on his way back to Gorhambury shortly before Christmas he stayed for a few days with his sister the Countess of Craven.
The second Earl of Wilton was a younger and considerably richer man than the Earl of Verulam. He was a younger son of the first Marquess of Westminster, having inherited his title from his maternal grandfather by special remainder. In addition to his town house at No. 7 Grosvenor Square he had a country seat at Heaton House, near Manchester, and a hunting lodge at Melton Mowbray. His estates, chiefly in Lancashire, Yorkshire and Staffordshire, were variously estimated in 1882 to be worth £31,000 or £65,000 per annum. (fn. 9) In 1841 he was aged forty-one, and by his wife (a daughter of the twelfth Earl of Derby) he then had four young children, the eldest of whom was aged eight. On the night of the census he, the Countess and two of their children were resident in Grosvenor Square, where they were attended by seven male and nine female servants. (fn. 10) At Heaton House on the same night there were a clerk, a housekeeper, three female servants and two grooms, while the residents in the cottages of the surrounding park included a gamekeeper and eight gardeners. (fn. 11) Egerton Lodge at Melton Mowbray was shut up for the summer, the only residents being an elderly couple evidently acting as caretakers. (fn. 12) The Earl's two younger children were at Walmer Castle, the official residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, the Duke of Wellington, who was a friend and frequent correspondent of the Countess of Wilton. The Duke himself was not at Walmer, where the staff looking after the two children consisted of a housekeeper, one male and five female servants. (fn. 13)
Towards the end of January the Earl of Wilton had come up to Grosvenor Square from Eaton Hall, Chester (the home of his father the Marquess of Westminster), and left for Melton Mowbray for the hunting immediately after the opening of Parliament. A week or two later he was back in Grosvenor Square, but in mid February both he and the Countess were at Melton. In the first half of April they were successively at Belvoir Castle with the Duke of Rutland, Grosvenor Square, probably with the Duke of Wellington at Stratfield Saye, Melton Mowbray and Grosvenor Square again, before going with their children to Tunbridge Wells, perhaps staying in a rented house. In the latter part of April the Earl and Countess were both back in Grosvenor Square, but the Countess soon returned to Tunbridge Wells. Most of May seems to have been spent in Grosvenor Square, though the Earl was at the Derby at Epsom at the end of the month. Early in June the Countess took two of her children to Walmer Castle, but she was back within a few days to give 'a splendid entertainment' in Grosvenor Square, followed by a dinner party early in July. Soon afterwards she was for a few days at Heaton House—her only visit of the year—and then went (probably with her children) to a house near Ryde in the Isle of Wight. In due course she was joined there by the Earl, who was Commodore of the Royal Yacht Squadron, but by the end of August they were both at Grosvenor Square, where they gave a dinner for the Duke of Wellington. Mid September saw them once more at Ryde, and on 24 September The Morning Post reported that 'The Noble Earl purposes a cruise of a few weeks in his yacht, and will then go to Melton Mowbray for the hunting season'. This cruise seems to have taken in a visit to Walmer Castle, whence in early November he and the Countess returned by yacht to Ryde, and thence back to Grosvenor Square. On 9 November the Earl, 'unattended', arrived at Heaton House for his only and very brief visit of the year, and during the rest of the month there were visits with the Countess to Ryde, to the Duke of Beaufort at Badminton, and in early December to the Duke of Wellington at Stratfield Saye. By mid December they were at Grosvenor Square en route for Melton Mowbray, but on 22 December they were back in town en route for Stratfield Saye for Christmas. By 28 December the Earl was again in Grosvenor Square.
Most of the journeyings of both the Earl of Verulam and the Earl of Wilton were probably made by road, few railways having yet been built by 1841. Verulam's real home was evidently at Gorhambury, and as this was little more than twenty miles from London he seems to have spent less time at his house in Grosvenor Square (around seventeen weeks) than did the Earl of Wilton. Wilton's country seat was much further away, and its proximity to Manchester was perhaps already reducing its residential attraction. (fn. 2) To cater for his two principal sporting interests of hunting and yachting he therefore had two subsidiary houses out of town, at Melton Mowbray and Ryde, plus a third, perhaps mainly for his wife and family, at Tunbridge Wells. But it may be conjectured that none of these gave him a social position out of town comparable with that of Gorhambury for the Earl of Verulam, who was Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire for over twenty years. Despite his more numerous residences Wilton therefore seems to have spent rather more time in Grosvenor Square—around twenty-one weeks—than Verulam.
Such influences of family heritage and of individual personal preference no doubt greatly affected the way of life of many other families moving about in the 'Fashionable World'. But it may be noted, firstly, that although neither of them was prominent in politics, the movements of both Verulam and Wilton conformed broadly with the general pattern of seasonal migration based on the parliamentary sessions; and, secondly, that even in out-of-season times of the year they (and particularly Wilton) were often in at least brief residence in Grosvenor Square.