Wednesday, 4 December 2013

A Personal Encounter with the Georgians

Last Saturday I had the great pleasure of visiting the British Library, London, and their ‘Georgians Revealed’ exhibition.
To enter the library the visitor first crosses a piazza containing a pop-up garden with a column topped by King George I wearing a privet wig! I knew then I was going to enjoy myself. Indeed, the contrasting backdrop of modern London against the 18th century, and the cheekiness of clothing King George in greenery, set the tone for an exhibition carrying the message that the Georgians were an innovative lot, driven by consumerism.
Author's own photo
The exhibition celebrates the 300th anniversary of George I acceding to the English throne (in 1714) – a new king whose heirs oversaw a momentous century of change. The impression left by the ‘GeorgiansRevealed’ was of a time where architecture, fashion, literature and theatre gathered momentum, took root and indeed had a feel of the modern age about it (minus the internet of course!) 
Author's own photo
Perhaps it was because the venue was a library, but the importance of books and pamphlets in the 18th century struck me as incendiary. From the handbills promoting pantomimes, to step-by-step dance instructions; from magazines and fashion plates, to learned volumes on architecture – printed matter was key to spreading information beyond the privileged few to a wider audience.
The 18th century was revealed as a time of ‘firsts’. Institutions that are still important today, such as the British Museum and the Royal Academy of Art, were founded. Most people know of Mrs Beeton and her famous Victorian cookbook, but have you heard of her fore-runner, Hannah Glasse who in 1747 produced the Georgian equivalent? Indeed, in 1754 Thomas Chippendale produced the first illustrated catalogue of furniture, and in 1765 Josiah Wedgewood opened his first London showroom selling fine china and porcelain.
Author's own photo
Hobbies and pastimes that are familiar to us today had their root in the 18th century. For instance an early form of tourism, visiting the country house, was popular and some venues such as Lord Cobham’s estate in Stowe produced their own guidebooks.
Ladies magazines such as the ‘Ladies Complete Pocket Book’ printed fashion plates with exhaustive descriptions of the latest gowns. This meant anyone could copy the designs and up-to-date fashion spread beyond the aristocracy. Fashion celebrities such as Fanny Murray were spawned, whilst printed cartoons by Rowlandson, Gilray and Cruikshank made it legitimate to laugh at ones superiors publicly in a way previously frowned on.
Author's own photo
It was also a time of huge growth for the city of London itself. Until the mid-18th century there were just five bridges across the Thames, but to feed the growing capital more were built. London expanded across fields and farms, many of today’s landmark squares were designed and created by architectural greats such as Adams, Palladio and Soane. Again, the magic of the exhibition was not just seeing contemporary prints of the buildings these architects created, but viewing the actual books they wrote and published.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I felt thoroughly inspired by the ‘Georgians Revealed’ and the exhibition is open until 11th March 2014 at the British Library (they also have a pretty awesome gift shop, which is basically a book store. Heaven.)
With thanks to


  1. Bradshaw took me past The British Library this week and on your recommendation I plan to visit the exhibition. You asked about Christmas lights -

  2. We don't have these in Utah, but they certainly look fun. I enjoyed your advent post very much. Have a Merry Christmas. kelley—the road goes ever ever on


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