Chapter 6: 18th Century Tailoring Techniques and Apprenticeship

Although there were attempts at the time to produce a workable sewing-machine, they were not in common use until the 1850’s, so tailoring in the 1770’s meant that everything was hand-sewn. After measurements had been made of the client, the master tailor or cutter drafted the paper patterns or ‘gods’, which is probably the most skilled job in the trade. These patterns were then used by the cutters to cut out all of the pieces of cloth, which were then ‘basted’ or ‘tacked’ together. The loose basting stitches were then snipped and the remnants of threads used as markers for sewing the seams. The term ‘basting’ was also used to describe the rough tacking together of the pieces of a garment for fitting. The journeyman tailors and their assistants would sit cross-legged on ‘boards’, i.e., large tables, close to as much natural light as was available. Louis’ workshops in Lower Grosvenor Street were equipped with large windows for this purpose. The boards supported not only the tailors but also the large pieces of material, which helped to keep them clean. There are many tailors even today who sit in this time-honoured way if they have hand sewing to do. This working position is used in many crafts where detailed work is required. It is said that it reduces blood-flow to the legs which means more goes to the brain and that this also aids concentration.

Forty years ago the author knew a young watchmaker who would place his lathe-box on a chair in front of the bench and sit on it tailor-wise in order to carry out such exacting tasks as hand-turning a balance-staff for an antique verge watch. The watchmaker’s working position was not ideal though, because he had to lean forward over the bench, but at least he did not have to hold that posture all day. The tailor can hold the work close to his body and thus keep his back mostly straight, which helps to reduce neck-aches.   The strain on the tailors’ eyes meant failing sight for many by their forties. The sewing of military uniforms or indeed any brightly-coloured garments (such as those favoured by the Prince of Wales) was especially hard on the eyes. In contrast, black or very dark fabrics were also a strain to sew, unless the light was very good. Tailors also suffered from other ailments that go with a sedentary occupation, and in addition the so-called tailor’s bunion, an inflammation of the toe-joints caused by pressure on them from their cross-legged working position. Lung disease was also common, from breathing in the lint particles. Charles Dickens in All The Year Round observed that:

As to the unhealthy conduct of indoor work, not in itself injurious, by the overcrowding and bad ventilation, that breeds lung disease, by working without necessary rest or otherwise – three branches of industry noted for frequent sins of this sort are investigated: the occupations of the dressmakers and needlewomen, tailors and the printers. Dressmakers suffer by overcrowding and deficient ventilation less than printers, printers less than tailors. Tailors work in their close rooms for twelve and thirteen hours a day, sometimes for fifteen or sixteen hours a day; printers have lighter work upon a weekly average, though there may be great strain at one part of the week, especially in the printing offices of weekly newspapers. In printers and tailors, consumption and other lung diseases are in vast excess, and form two thirds of all causes of death.   [Charles Dickens: All The Year Round, Vol XII, 1864]

The 18th century tailor did not use a tape measure marked in inches, although this was apparently invented by George Atkinson in 1799.  He used a ‘measure’ – a long strip of paper or parchment – to measure his client, marking each dimension on the measure with a small snip of the scissors. He would presumably write by each snip what the dimension was.  Although tailors used a yardstick, and could by checking the measure against it record the number of inches in each dimension, the measure was often just placed straight upon the paper pattern in order to mark it, without the use of inches at all.

To make a frock coat the tailor noted as many as fourteen measurements. Each tailor had his own particular way of marking his measure, and thus one tailor would have found it difficult to understand another tailor’s marks.  Since he himself may not have always done the cutting, it is possible that Louis did record measurements as well, or used a system that his cutter would understand.

The cutter kept master paper patterns (or ‘gods’) which suited the dimensions of the customer.  Although tailors’ dummies were not apparently in common use at the time, they did exist, and the author feels it is quite likely that Louis used one or more for the Prince, not least because he had to produce so many garments at such short notice that many personal fittings would have been impracticable. Existing eighteenth century dummies were made usually from wood, with padding added to give the precise size and shape. When preparing to cut a garment for a customer the tailor selected a pattern of the right size, laid it on the doubled fabric on the cutting table and traced around it lightly with chalk. Next, using the customer’s measure, he checked the dimensions of the outline, marking the necessary corrections in chalk and redrawing the draft accordingly. The master tailor or cutter then cut the material.

A frock coat in the traditional French style, as Diderot and d’Alembert tell us in their Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire Raisonné des Sciences, des Arts et des Métiers, was made in this manner: Once all the pieces had been cut out the first task was to stiffen the foreparts of the coat with buckram, which was linen treated with gum arabic or a thick glue size and then dried. The buckram was cut about four inches wide at the shoulders, reducing to about two inches near the armholes and then running all the way down the fronts to the bottom, only a little wider than the space needed for the buttonholes.  This layer of buckram was tacked to the back of the coat material.  Then the buttonholes were marked out, about two inches apart for a coat and an inch and a half for a waistcoat.  A second piece of buckram was then added, not extending so far down as the first, and then the edges were strengthened with a further strip of buckram, whereupon the three layers of stiffening were whip-stitched to the edges of the coat.

The pocket holes were then cut, the pockets attached inside and the pocket flaps stitched on.  The back pieces were joined together by back-stitching on the wrong side and fine-drawing on the right side, working from the skirt-opening upwards. ‘Fine drawing’ is a technique similar to darning, also used in invisible mending. This combination of back-stitch and fine-drawing was known in England at the time as ‘rantering’. Before joining the foreparts to the back, they were pinned together and the fit was checked on the customer if possible.  The seams from the armholes (also known as armscyes) to the start of the pleats, and the shoulder seams, were then sewn using the same stitches as were used for joining the back.  Then the neck-edging was sewn in.  The side-pleats of the frock were then made, and firmly secured at the top.  The sleeves were fashioned and set into the armholes.  The coat would then be pressed to ensure that the shoulders in particular were correct and the seams flat.  The heat of the iron would soften the size in the buckram so that it could be moulded, stiffening again as it cooled.  With the main tailoring completed, the silk lining would be made and sewn in and then the coat would be passed to the finishers, who would sew the buttonholes, add the buttons and collar and apply any edgings or other decorations.

“The Taylor’s Complete Guide, or A Comprehensive Analysis of Beauty and Elegance in Dress, 1796” was the seminal English publication on tailoring, and here describes how to make a pair of stocking breeches. ‘Stocking’ (now known as stockinet) could be made of any type of yarn and was made on a stocking frame, a form of knitting machine which looped the fabric rather than weaving it, so of course the cloth would stretch and cling much more than a woven cloth.

When at your cutting-board and having your stocking-piece before you, observe the following maxim, which entirely results from the stretch or elasticity that there is in all frame-work of this nature, and requires that the breeches must be three inches longer than the measure.  Lay your measure upon the piece within one inch and a half at the top, then extend it to the intended place for the knee, and mark it and cut it longer an inch and a half below at the knee;  then for the width, lay on the measure at the bottom of the knee, and mark for cutting one inch narrower than the measure upon the stuff in the double, and one inch less in gradation all the way up the thigh, and be sure to abide by the following example for the stride:– First make a deep fall down, and having laid your finger upon the measure at the bottom of the knee, with the other hand extend the measure to the fork, and make the stride within three inches of the length of the measure, this will give proper room for the elasticity of the materials, and ease and freedom to the wearer.  Next cut your leg seam very straight, and not hollow as is the common practice, and let your side seams be likewise straight from the knee up to within four inches of the hip; and observe that you put in a gusset piece from that place on the outside of the hip, two inches and a half wide at the top, and cut taper or bevelled to a point five inches long both of the outside and the inside.  When this done and your breeches are put on, you will find that the ribs go straight down the thighs, which will avoid and provide against an abominable error in the trade, of twisting the ribs across the thighs, making them appear crooked, inwardly inclining, which seems to the spectator (according to the old vulgar adage) as if people were ill shap’d or knap knee’d.   When you have got so far, cut your seat at the joining of the waistband, less by two inches double;  and in making, let your knee-band be cut one inch longer than your measure, and back it on lining, and set it with the knee-band to the breeches;  this will keep them to the full size at the bottom, and make them lie agreeably, and rise to the springing of the calf of the leg if required.  Let both the knee-band and the waist-band be beared on according to your length of them (both) and not the breeches, which though diametrically opposite to the common practice in use, we do affirm is positively right, and the true justified by and proved by long experience, and which will convince every practitioner on his first essay, if he does but adhere to the rule.

Charles Booth’s description of the tailor’s work in Life and Labour of the People in London was written towards the end of the nineteenth century, but traditions in such crafts being what they were, it is unlikely that much had changed since Louis’ time:-

Few workpeople in what are termed the organized trades of the West End spend more time in their workshops than the journeyman tailor. He ordinarily begins work at 8 AM, although many start at 5 and 6 o’clock, and scarcely leaves the workroom until 8 PM, thus usually putting in fully 12 hours continuous work in the day which is often stretched to 14 and 15 hours in busy times. His food, which is generally partaken of in the workroom, may be put down as follows: Breakfast at 8 or half past, consisting of tea or coffee, bread and butter with an occasional rasher of bacon, bloater, haddock or couple of eggs. Luncheon at 11 AM: beer bread and cheese.   Dinner at 1 o’clock: beef or mutton, vegetables, pudding and beer. Tea at 4 o’clock with bun or bread and butter. This, with an occasional glass or two of beer, constitutes his day’s food and is nearly always taken by the tailor sitting on the board with his work lying at his side and the newspaper in front of him…

Coatmaking, which is considered to be the principal branch of the trade, is usually carried on by two men working together as partners; one makes the left and the other the right fore part. The left man is the captain of the job; he is responsible for seeing the work put fairly together; he marks with cotton thread all the outlets left on the job by the cutter, cuts all the pockets and linings, makes the left side of the coat, makes and puts on the collar and gives the work the final press off. The right man makes the right side of the coat, both sleeves, and joins the halves together. Partners generally take rights and lefts alternately. Vests and trousers are made by separate and single individual workmen. The foreman who cuts and gives out the work has a great deal to do with making a shop good or bad for the workers. Some are petty tyrants who never get on well with their workmen; others the reverse but in nearly all instances where the employer is himself the cutter the men are better treated and more considered. In all firms the garments are fitted on at least once, but some cutters require their work fitted on the customer three or four times, while in other cases the customer himself insists on having his clothes tried on again and again, and when finished is never pleased until they have been altered and re-altered times out of number.

A large and busy tailoring establishment like that owned by Louis Bazalgette in Mayfair would have had to take on at least two or three apprentices a year. This was not only to train them in the trade but also to ensure a steady supply of lads who would perform the essential but menial tasks which were required to keep the shop running smoothly. This work would also acquaint them with the proper functioning of the shop and business. The apprentices would be indentured at about fifteen years of age and would probably have to do general work for at least the first year until being ‘put to the needle’ or allowed to start learning to sew. Tailors started work as early as six a.m., depending on the shop, but the apprentices would have to arrive at least an hour before this to do the jobs which would allow the tailors to work. Their chores would begin with cleaning the grates and bringing up coal for the fires, which were used not only in winter, at least one fire or oven being needed all year round for heating the goose-irons. Then the bench would have to be tidied and any of the work-in-progress hung up on pegs. Bolts of cloth needed to be put away, and then all ‘droppings’ under the tailors’ bench and the cutting table were picked up and put in their places. Any usable pieces of cloth or twist had to be saved for possible re-use. After this tidying the benches were wiped down and the floors sprinkled with water before being carefully swept to reduce dust and lint. This cleaning might have to be repeated during the day.

New garments should be put upon the clothes-horse, or wherever else it may be the master’s custom to have them placed, and great care should be taken to fold them so that they be not creased, or otherwise be made to look rough and un-finished. They should, moreover, before the room is swept, be covered with wrappers, so as to keep them free from dust, or otherwise soiled. Such garments as may have been cut out, and have not yet been given to the journeyman, are commonly tied up and laid on the cutting-board till wanted; care should also be taken of these that they be not untied, so as to become intermingled; and if the master or foreman have left a garment on the board only partly cut out, it should be the care of the apprentice, after having removed it for the purpose of cleaning the board, to replace it in the same position as that in which he found it; and, also, to put the measures-book, measuring-tape, rule, or yard-wand, marking-chalk, and shears, or scissors, in such places as that they may be conveniently ready for use whenever they are wanted.   [The Tailor: Anon, c.1801]

The work that the apprentices had to do during the working day, apart from the usual fetching and carrying, included dividing parcels of thread, silk and twist into separate skeins and then storing them away carefully. Finished clothes usually needed some cleaning and brushing and were then packed, ready to be ‘sent home’ (i.e., delivered to the client). They would often have to deliver them personally, if the client lived close by, or if not, they would have to take them to the packet office and have them booked for dispatch.

Only when the apprentice was judged to be keen and competent enough to be ‘put to the needle’, i.e., allowed up on to the bench, would he begin his true training. The first thing that he had to learn was how to sit properly in the traditional cross-legged ‘tailor-wise’ position. This could cause him great pain at first, but with perseverence over the days he would become used to sitting in this way for longer and longer periods. Tailors at this time worked at least a twelve-hour day, so a lad who was unable to sustain this position for long periods would go no further in becoming a tailor. Small cushions would be placed under each ankle-joint to help to prevent them from becoming sore and swollen. The stitches in use at the end of the eighteenth-century, and which the apprentice would have to learn, were the basting-stitch, the back-and-fore-stitch, the back-stitch, the side-stitch, the fore-stitch, the back-pricking stitch, the fore-pricking stitch, the serging-stitch, the cross-stitch and the button-hole stitch. In addition there were special sorts of stitch for hemming, filling, stotting, rantering, fine-drawing, prick-drawing and over-casting.

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[Plan of 22, Lower Grosvenor Street:  Courtesy of Grosvenor Estates]

(Click on the image to enlarge)

Chapter 5: 1779-84

Louis Bazalgette was well established in London by 1779. As already mentioned, he took a house and shop at 18, South Molton Street, Mayfair, which remained his premises until 1784. On Saturday, 14 August 1779, Louis was married to Catherine Métivier at the Anglican church of St. George’s Hanover Square, which was already regarded as the most fashionable church in Westminster.   The parish register entry reads: ‘John Louis Bazalgette and Catherine Métivier, a Minor, both of this Parish were married in this Church by Licence by and with the consent of Philip Métivier the natural and lawful father of the said Minor this fourteenth day of August in the year 1779.’ The register was signed by John Louis Bazalgette, Catherine Métivier, Philip Métivier, G. Gaubert, Joseph (or John) Mead and Francis Bagne. Catherine was a minor, i.e., under twenty-one, but although we have not found a record of her birth it is likely that she was twenty or less, based on her parents’ marriage date.

Philip (or Philipe) Métivier may have been related to Paul Métivier, a merchant in London, who dealt in furs, cloth, wool, hat making materials, etc., between about 1760 and 1783. He figures in the Hudson’s Bay Company’s list of buyers at their London fur auctions. Paul was naturalised in 1762. Philipe was initially described as a wool merchant and spinner, later as a haberdasher and hosier, living and doing business at 29, New Bond Street, which was at that time the most fashionable street patronised by the fops and dandies. Today, No 29, re-numbered to No 31 in the early nineteenth century, is occupied by Hublot, the manufacturer of luxury Swiss watches. Tallis’ London Street Views of 1839 shows No 31 as substantially the same as it looks today – a handsome Georgian house of four storeys, with two windows in each of the upper three floors.

Catherine’s mother was Françoise (or the anglicised ‘Frances’) Reine Daugis, and she and Philipe had been married on 24 September 1759, at St. George’s Hanover Square.

Louis must have come to know the Métiviers through his own business as a tailor. It is also possible that Métivier was Louis’s first contact in London and helped him get started there. No confirmable records have yet been found for the Métivier or Daugis families.   Possible siblings for Catherine are Philip, who married Ann Frances Hopkins by licence on 28 May 1791 at St. James, Westminster, and Ann, who married Benjamin Smith at St. Anne, Soho on 28 December 1805. Neither of these marriage register entries mentions who their parents were. There seem to be no records extant to show what happened to Philipe or Françoise Métivier. Rate-books show No 29, New Bond Street as occupied by Samuel Priest in 1761, but his name is crossed out and Philipe Métivier’s substituted, so it looks as if this was when Philipe took over the house. The last such record with Philipe’s name is from 1796. Occasional entries during these years show ‘Peter’ instead of ‘Philip’ but these are probably errors. By 1798 the house was occupied by a Mr. Lane and in 1801 by Lavinia Lavineau.

The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser printed on Tuesday, 17 August 1779 this charming announcement:

Last Saturday was married at St. George’s, Hanover-square, Mr. Louis Bazalgette of South Molton-street, an eminent taylor and habit-maker, to Miss Metivier of New Bond-street, an aimiable young lady.

This makes the point that Louis was already ‘eminent’ by then, so he must have already built up a good business. Unfortunately we know nothing about his clientele in these early years.

All the witnesses at Louis and Catherine’s wedding were involved in the clothing or furnishing trades, the most notable being Guillaume Gaubert, who lived just up the street from Louis at No. 12, South Molton Street. Gaubert rented this house, the owner being Mr. John Daniels, a mason of Camberwell. After Daniels died, his property was offered for sale by Mr. Skinner & Co. on 16 July 1783. The auction particulars in the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser describe No. 12 as a ‘substantial well-built brick dwelling house, lett to Mr. Gaubert, at 50l. per annum’.

Among the papers of William Henry Cavendish Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland, there is a letter from Monsieur Gaubert of which a summary follows:

The letter is dated 23 August 1776 and is written in French. The letter is from Monsieur Gaubert, 12 South Moulton Street, London, to W.H. Cavendish-Bentinck. It refers to difficulties receiving ‘le frac de drap de Silisie brodé’ ; says the [assureurs?] could not get through as ships arriving from the Indies had led customs officers to watch the mouth of the Thames and surrounding areas; says the outfit arrived on Friday and the tailor refused it; says he is sending a sample of ‘drap de Silesie’. It says the tailor turned the outfit down with regret, finding it [in] good [condition] and new; urges the Duke, when he sees it, to forget the unintentional wrong and not to turn it down; asks him to look at it and if it is not as he has said or does not please him, undertakes to keep it himself; asks, if it is returned to him, that care be taken not to crease it and to maintain its freshness; asks for it be left at the hotel until his return from France on 15 Oct. Asks that he send his instructions to Paris and gives his address there.

It is interesting to conjecture that the ‘tailor’ mentioned may have been Louis. Gaubert later became the Prince’s upholsterer and decorator for Carlton House, and it is possible that Louis supplied him with silk for the purpose. Gaubert and Louis were obviously friends, and shared a connection with the Prince, although whether one introduced the other is open to question. It is very likely that they both had powerful patronage, which was the only way to get on in those days. Such a patron may have been the Duc d’Orleans, who had considerable influence in matters of fashion. Dorothy Stroud, in her book Henry Holland, His Life and Architecture, gives us this illuminating passage about Gaubert:

Between them, the Prince and the Duc (d’Orleans) had a marked effect on trade between their respective countries. Mme Campan attributed to the latter the Anglomania which, by his frequent visits, the Duc had brought about in his own capital, while the Prince was entranced with Parisian goods of every kind, and his accounts show an extensive patronage of French purveyors of ribbons and lace, embroidery, scent, pomatum, fancy paper, waistcoats and underclothing, apart from the more substantial wares that were soon to decorate Carlton House.

In view of this it is hardly surprising to find that one of the earliest appointments in connection with work on the building was that of a Frenchman, Guillaume Gaubert, who was taken on as Clerk of the Works at £200 a year from 1783 while Chambers was still in charge. Horace Walpole refers to him as ‘Gobert who was a cook’, but goes on to say that he had previously been employed at Chatsworth as a decorator, and had ‘painted the old pilasters of the court there pea-green’ and ‘was going to play the devil’ if he had not moved on. As the Duke of Devonshire was one of the Prince’s cronies, this indicates the probable course of Gaubert’s progress from the one household to the other. He seems from this time always to have spelt his name thus, but if Walpole was right in giving its original version as Gobert, he may have descended from the celebrated family of artists and craftsmen who worked for the French court in the 17th and 18th centuries, particularly at Fontainbleau and Versailles.   If there was any truth in the assertion that he had once been a cook, this was probably to tide him over some difficult period, perhaps in his first months as an emigré. By the 1790s he was describing himself as William Gaubert of Panton Street, Maker of Ornamental Furniture. As Clerk of the Works on the site his signature appears jointly with Holland’s on some of the early bills. It is significant of the revised ideas for the decorating and furnishing of Carlton House, which developed in the course of 1786, that Guillaume Gaubert was given his congé in the following spring.

South Molton Street is a narrow lane which now mainly contains smart fashion boutiques. No 18 is still in the same position, but the original building was at some time during the 19th century demolished and rebuilt, or re-faced, so the building looks very different today. The ground floor is at present occupied by a branch of Dune, a shoe-shop. In Louis’ day the street was more down-market, and was inhabited by a mix of shopkeepers, artisans and tradesmen, with the odd writer and professional resident. The poet and artist William Blake rented rooms on the first or second floor of the house next to Louis’, No 17, nineteen years after Louis left. Also trading in the street were John Richardson, a grocer and Kenneth Callander, an apothecary. At the bottom of the street was a coal merchant, Benezet’s, whom we know Louis patronized. Amongst other residents were Mr. Howarth, a moneylender (No 25), John Moore MD, secretary of the London Lying-in and Inoculating Charity (No 27), John Pool, a wine and brandy merchant (No 64), John Higginbothom, a hosier (No 47), Mrs. Simon, a mantua maker (No 11), Mrs. Fontes, a milliner (No 13), Mr. Saxon, an auctioneer, (No 12) and Mr. Cottrell, a glazier (No 41).

Louis and Catherine’s first known child was Louis, born on 31 May 1781, followed by Louisa on 27 October 1782 and Joseph William on 17 December 1783. There may have been earlier miscarriages or stillbirths of course, bearing in mind the later frequency of children. These three children were not christened until 8 February 1784, when they were all baptised together at St. George’s, Hanover Square. There are theories that the family were abroad during the intervening period, but as the business continued to be at South Molton Street this is quite unlikely.

Meanwhile, the sixteen-year-old Prince of Wales began his brief affair with Mrs. Mary Robinson. On 3 December 1779 Garrick’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale was produced by royal command and Mrs. Robinson appeared in the role of Perdita. It was then that she was first seen by the Prince.   During this liaison, styling himself as her ‘Florizel’, George was wont, it is said, to send her swatches of cloth and patterns for clothes, presumably for her approval of what he proposed to have made. On terminating the affair in 1781 he paid her off with a bond for £20,000, payable on his coming of age. This bond was later retrieved by Charles James Fox in return for promising her an annuity of £500 a year for life.

The Prince of Wales came of age on 12 August 1783, and was thus able to indulge himself fully. He was now Colonel of the 10th Light Dragoons, had £50,000 per annum allowed him by Parliament, plus the revenues of the Duchy of Cornwall, which made about £13,000 more. He had been given Carlton House, which was badly in need of repairs, though the King thought he could make it habitable with a lick of paint and some nice furniture. The Prince had other ideas though and immediately set about remodelling it at great expense. He also lost little time in going to Brighton in September to stay with his disreputable uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, of whom the King violently disapproved as a corrupting influence.

Louis having now ‘arrived’ as a society tailor, a little shop in South Molton Street would no longer do for him. The rich and famous might browse in Bond Street for hats and fripperies, but if they wanted a bespoke outfit made by a fashionable tailor they would usually not visit his premises – he and his assistants would come to them. It was therefore unnecessary to have a prominent shop-front, and a grander house in a residential street was what Louis now required.   In 1784, the family moved to 22, Lower Grosvenor Street, and they were certainly in residence by 3 June, as the rate-book shows. The shop in South Molton Street was taken over by Francis Tucker, who was a wax, tallow and soap merchant. The Grosvenor Street premises were insured against fire to the value of £1,000. Of course, Louis still had a shop, but it was tucked away discreetly in 22, Brooks Mews, at the rear of the house. Since he had to visit Carlton House at least every other day, and had to transport clothes and cash in safety, he would have to have had his own coach, so all houses that Louis owned thereafter had their own mews or stables. Brooks Mews was also home to the builders and carpenters whom the residents of the Grosvenor Estates needed to keep their houses in good repair.

Lower Grosvenor Street’s residents were all in the upper echelons of society. Next to Louis, No 23 was at various times the home of Viscount Wallingford, son of the 4th Earl of Banbury, Edward Lascelles (latterly Viscount Lascelles), Sir Humphry Davy and Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, founder of Singapore.   The house on the other side was occupied by John Lawson, MP and then the surgeon James Moore. No 20 was the home of the Dowager Countess of Essex, and No 19 belonged to Sir Frank Standish of Duxbury, a successful racehorse owner. In No 18 lived John Crewe, MP for Cheshire, at whose house was held a splendid gathering to celebrate Charles James Fox’s election to the parliamentary seat of Westminster in 1784, at which the Prince of Wales was present, dressed like the rest in his Fox uniform. On this occasion the ladies as well as the men wore blue and buff.   After supper, Prinny gave a toast to Crewe’s wife: “True blue and Mrs. Crewe”. The contemporary anecdote relates that ‘the lady rose and proposed another health, expressive of her gratitude, and not less laconic, namely, “True blue, and all of you.” ’

Further Grosvenor Street residents included at No 17, Baron Sandys, and before him Samuel Whitbread, MP, son of the founder of the brewery of that name (who later, like Louis, moved to Dover Street). At No 16 lived the Marquess of Hertford and at No 15, Henry Reginald Courtenay, the rector of St. George’s Hanover Square and Bishop of Bristol, who was made Bishop of Exeter in March 1797, and who may have officiated at the wedding and christening ceremonies for Louis and his family. Dr Matthew Baillie, the eminent surgeon who later tried to treat the paralysed arm of Louis’ son Evelyn, lived at No 73. There was scarcely a house not occupied by a titled family, an eminent surgeon or a rich merchant.

It appears that having moved Louis and Catherine then decided to have the three children christened at St. George’s, Hanover Square on 8 February 1784, but we cannot be sure why there was a delay. On 15 December 1784, Catherine’s last son, John, was born, and christened at St. George’s Church on 5 May 1785. Four children in three-and-a-half years no doubt took a toll on Catherine’s health. She died in the middle of May, 1785 and was buried at St. Marylebone Parish Church on 16 May. This was the old parish church, which was later demolished to make way for the new church, which still stands today on Marylebone Road. A list of monumental inscriptions from the inside of the old church does not mention Catherine, so it seems she was buried outside in the churchyard. Some token tombstones survive, but not hers. The lack of complete records is hardly surprising when we consider that in the church’s small acre there had been close to one hundred thousand burials over the centuries. Catherine’s son Louis died in infancy (also in 1785, according to one account) and was reputedly buried in the same place, although no record has been found.

Poor Catherine at her premature death was possibly as young as twenty-three and she left three babies behind. It is impossible to know how Louis coped with his loss and with caring for the motherless infants. No doubt he was working long hours and travelling too, building up his business. He would have had to employ staff to look after the children, but we know nothing about what arrangements were made.

Louis’ house at No 22, Lower Grosvenor Street consisted of five storeys and a basement, with a large four-storey extension behind, which accommodated an office, a shop and tailoring workshops. The property also included the mews house at the back (No. 22, Brooks Mews) and business access was from the rear, which preserved the residential quality of the house.

There was another workshop at No. 22. Here a tailor, Louis Bazalgette, who occupied No. 22 Lower Grosvenor Street from 1784 to 1800, had a two-storey workshop over the coach-house and stables. It was lit principally from the side where a large window overlooked a passage leading off the mews, which was shared with No. 21. Behind the workshop were a counting-house and a ‘shop’, also entered from the passage.   Both ‘shop’ and workshop communicated with the house in Grosvenor Street, which was able to retain its domestic appearance because the main access to the business premises was from the mews. Part of the passage remains but the mews buildings were rebuilt in 1898-9 at the same time as Nos. 21 and 22 Grosvenor Street. [Survey of London, Vol 40].

A copy of a plan of the house and mews, from the archives of the Grosvenor Estates, prepared for ‘Mr Shepherd’ (Thomas Sheppard) in 1803, i.e., two years after Louis sold the property to him, shows a tailor’s workshop in the mews at the back, over a horse stall, with a passage leading to a shop, presumably occupying what used to be the garden, behind the house itself. A small yard is beside it and a covered passage leads to the rear entrance of the house itself. The house frontage measured 20’2” and extended backwards 37’5”, with a small extension. This would have afforded the family at least 4,000 square feet of living space. The yard behind was about twenty feet square, but much of that space was taken up by sheds and the covered passage.   The shop itself was on the first floor, over coal and other storage rooms, and was 15’9” by 47’ in length – thus about 750 square feet in area. Behind this, and connected to it, was the mews building with horse stalls and a carriage house below and a large tailor’s workshop above, measuring 17’2” x 46’ – about 785 square feet.

A visitor to London, Hermann Pückler-Muskau, described a tailor’s shop which may have been in the style of Louis’:

Everything here is in colossal dimensions, even the workshop of my tailor, which is like a manufactory. You go to ask about the fate of a coat you have ordered; you find yourself surrounded by hundreds of bales of cloth, and as many workmen; a secretary appears with great formality, and politely asks the day on which it was ordered. As soon as you have told him he makes a sign for two folios to be brought, in which he pores for a short time. “Sir,” is at last the answer, “tomorrow at twenty minutes past eleven the ‘frac’ will be so far advanced that you can try it on in the dressing room.” There are several of these rooms, decorated with large looking glasses and ‘Psyches’, continually occupied by fitters, where the wealthy tailor in person makes a dozen alterations without ever betraying the least impatience or ill humour.   (Pückler-Muskau, Hermann Fürst von: Tour in England, Ireland, and France : in the years 1826, 1827, 1828 and 1829; with remarks on the manners and customs of the inhabitants, and anecdotes of distinguished public characters. In a series of letters (1833))

The Prince of Wales in 1784 became besotted with Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert and pursued her with great passion, including a melodramatic and probably exaggerated stabbing of himself to gain her sympathy, so that she felt the need to take refuge in Aix-la-Chapelle and then in Holland, France and Switzerland, being eventually persuaded to return to England by the Duc D’Orleans in the following year.

The Prince decided to convalesce, from what some say were trifling injuries, although he was also suffering from swollen glands in this throat, in Brighton (also known at the time as Brighthelmstone), so his chief cook and major domo Louis Weltje was despatched thither to arrange his accommodation. Prinny arrived in Brighton on 22 July 1784, and remained there for the rest of the season apart from occasional trips to London.

On 17 July 1784, The Lady’s Magazine or Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, Appropriated Solely to Their Use and Amusement reported:

His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales having been advised by his physicians to sea bathing we are informed that his Royal Highness will set out on Monday next for Brighthelmstone: Mr Weltje the clerk of the kitchen and Mr Gill the purveyor of the stables are now at Brighthelmstone preparing every thing for his royal highness’s reception.

Meanwhile, the Prince’s debts were mounting. His treasurer and secretary, Colonel George Hotham, wrote to the Prince on 27 October 1784 because the latter had asked him to give him an estimate of his debts (about ₤100,000 at that point). Hotham said he would do

‘…the utmost in my power to retrieve your Royal Highness’s finances from the wretched and disgraceful state in which they stand at present… It is with equal grief and vexation that I now see your Royal Highness (in matters of expense, I mean) totally in the hands and at the mercy of your builder, your upholsterer, your jeweller and your tailor. I say totally because these people act from your Royal Highness’s pretended commands and from their charges there is no appeal. I leave Mr. Lyte to to account to your Royal Highness concerning his own feelings about the two latter…’   [Aspinall; Correspondence of the Prince of Wales, Vol I]

The tailor in question was obviously Louis, since he was the only tailor mentioned in the later detailed list of George’s debts, and he was owed far more than anyone else on the list. It is not known unfortunately what Mr. Lyte thought of him. The builder was Henry Holland and the upholsterer our friend Guillaume Gaubert. The report implies that these people often overcharged the Prince, although Louis stated later that he only charged him what he would have charged anybody. Even if this is true, probably not everybody was ordering clothes of such magnificence and in such quantity, so comparisons are hard to make. In fact, in Louis’ accounts with the Prince, when clothes were made for people other than the Prince, the charges were slightly less, though this may reflect the Prince’s size. Hotham’s letter continued in even more exasperated tones:

‘For my own part, I deliver in M. Gaubert’s (bill), amounting to £35,000, merely because he sends it to me and I have no right and still less inclination to make the smallest addition, but from my own experience of what has passed, I have little doubt but that the expense to you will, at last, be greatly beyond that sum, if measures are not taken very different from what have hitherto been made use of; if Mr. Gaubert is allowed carte blanche, as he has been, and if your Royal Highness’s orders, so constantly alleged to be given to him, are to supersede every direction and care that those much higher in office than himself think proper to make use of for your interest and service, your Royal Highness will find your self involved in fresh distresses, the very moment after you are extricated from the present ones.’ [Aspinall; ibid.]

These dire warnings were largely ignored by the Prince, and his financial situation would become critical within the year.

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[Engraving by “Giles Grinagain”, published by J. Hewlett, 1811]

Chapter 4: 18th Century Tailoring and its Ancillary Trades

There were many ancillary trades upon which the Georgian tailor depended. A fascinating book on the subject of London tradesmen, though written thirty years before Louis’s time, nevertheless provides us with a succinct and witty insight into the trades practised during the Georgian period. This book is: The London Tradesman, being a Compendious view of All the Trades, Professions, Arts both Liberal and Mechanic, now practised in the Cities of London and Westminster, by Robert Campbell, Esq. Such books are quite uncommon, since authors on the subject usually did not state the obvious or direct their remarks to the people who really needed to know the facts, such as the parents of prospective apprentices, and us of course.   His puff on the title page, declaiming: ‘THE WHOLE Delivered in an Easy, Familiar Style, suitable to the meanest Capacity, and containing RULES worthy the Knowledge and Observation of PERSONS OF ALL RANKS who are Entrusted with the Settlement of YOUTH’ sums up his target audience precisely. The author was not burdened by what we now term Political Correctness, particularly when speaking of Women and Frenchmen, but his remarks about them seem intended more to amuse than to be unkind.

Firstly amongst the trades related to tailoring, as described by Campbell was the pattern drawer, who drew patterns for ‘the Callico Printers, the Embroiderers, Quilters, Lace Workers and several little branches belonging to Women’s Apparel’. Our interest is mainly that they designed patterns which were used for embroidered shapes, which were then made into the foreparts of coats and waistcoats. The next trade listed was that of the lace-man. Without referring to this book one might assume, as the author did, that by ‘lace’ was meant the point, pillow or bobbin lace made from fine linen or cotton yarns by women in various places in Europe such as Brussels, a famous trade in England being that centred round Honiton, in Devonshire. However, Prinny did not much wear this kind of lace, but his obsession with military uniforms should give us a clue. This lace was that made of gold and silver threads, as used for either cloth-of-gold or tissue, which nowadays we would call lamé, or the elaborate decorations applied to military dress uniforms.

As Campbell described it:

The Lace Shop is furnished with all sorts of Gold and Silver Lace, Gold and Silver Buttons, Shapes for Waistcoats, Lace and Network for Robeings and Women’s Petticoats, Fringes, Bugles, Spangles, Plates for Embroidery and Orrice, and Bone Lace Weavers, Gold and Silver Wire, Purle, Sleysy, Twist &c. A Lace-Man must have a well-lined Pocket to furnish his shop; but his Garrets may be as meanly equipped as he pleases. His chief Talent ought to lie in a nice Taste in Patterns of Lace, &c. He ought to speak fluently, though not elegantly, to entertain the Ladies; and to be Master of a handsome Bow and Cringe; should be able to hand a Lady to and from her Coach politely, without being seized with the Palpitation of the Heart at the Touch of a delicate Hand, a well-turned and much exposed Limb or a handsome Face: But, above all, he must have Confidence to refuse his goods in a handsome Manner to the extravagant Beau who never pays, and Patience as well as Stock to bear the Delays of the sharping Peer, who pays but seldom. With these natural Qualifications, five Thousand Pounds in his Pocket, and a Set of good Customers in View, a young man may commence Lace-Man. If he trusts moderately, and with Discretion, lives with Oeconomy, and minds his Business more than his Mistress, he may live to increase his Stock; but otherwise I know no readier Road to a Jail, and Destruction, than a Lace-Man’s Business.

Campbell’s allusions to the ‘extravagant Beau who never pays’ and the ‘sharping Peer, who pays but seldom’ are most perceptive as we know. His remark that the lace-man should be immune to feminine charms surely applied to all such tradesmen, though the high value of the lace-man’s stock seems to make this more important to him in Campbell’s view.

The main tradesman who served the lace-man was the wire-drawer. Silver wire was drawn as it was, but to make gold wire the silver wire was double-gilded. Even though it was drawn out to the finest thread, the gold plating was so ductile that it remained on the silver wire. The metal was obtained as a rod, and forced through continually smaller dies until it became wire. When thin enough, the wire could be wound on to a spindle and drawn through the die. To make gold or silver thread (sleysy), the wire was passed through rollers to flatten it and a silk thread would then have the wire twisted round it, a similar process to making gimp or the bass strings of a guitar. Purle was made by twisting the wire together and was much used for button-making and embroidery. ‘A moist Hand cannot be employed in this work; and it requires much Care to preserve it from tarnishing, and much Experience to complete the Workman… Women are employed in this as well as Men, and may earn Twelve or Fifteen Shillings a Week honestly; but they are much given to pilfering the Stuff, and have a Trick of moistening the Silk to make up the Deficiency in Weight.’

The next trade described was the orrice-weaver, who appears to have made on a loom much of the patterned decoration applied to military uniforms. The bone-lace maker used the traditional hand pillow lace-making techniques, often to augment the work of the orrice-weaver. Campbell’s opinion was that the French were much better at both of these types of lace then the British.

The next employee of the lace-man was the silver and gold button-maker, to whom the lace-man supplied all the materials except the moulds, and who would buy back the resulting buttons.

Campbell’s book is liberally laced with warnings against the evils of Women, Drink and Gambling, with which pleasures of course the average provincial apprentice would want to lose no time in becoming acquainted on his arrival in London.

The lace-man additionally used the services of the spangle, bugle and button-ring maker. Spangles were made from gold and silver, previously beaten almost as thin as gold-leaf. Striking the leaf with a hammer on a round hollow stake produced a disc. Modern spangles and sequins are very cheap by comparison, being made of plastic. The same technique as was used to make spangles was used to strike button rings. The fringe, frog and tassel-maker was also employed by the lace-man. ‘Some of the Button-Makers perform the Work; but it is chiefly done by Women, upon the Hand, who make a very handsome Livelihood of it, if they are not initiated into the Mystery of Gin-Drinking.’

Campbell next described the craft of embroidery, which was used to an enormous extent in Prinny’s clothes. He merely stated that it was usually performed by women, and that they mostly did not have the skill to create their own designs, relying chiefly on those produced by the pattern-drawers. Finally there was the livery-lace-weaver, who specialized in coats of arms and other such emblems for the uniforms of pages and other servants, being made on a similar loom to that used by the orrice-weaver. The embroiderer whom Louis mainly used was Peter (Pierre) Chomel, for whom he held a separate bond with the Prince of Wales.

The lace-man therefore had to make use of a varied workforce to produce all of the articles he was expected to supply. According to the accounts in the Royal Archives, Louis’ lace-man was probably Louis de St. Farre, for whom he held a separate bond with the Prince, like Peter Chomel’s, which would ensure that he would be paid. At that time the Abbé de St. Farre, a cousin of the Duc d’Orleans, was in London as an émigré, accompanied by his brother, and it seems they and their friends so hogged the gaming tables at Almack’s that the regular punters could scarcely get a look-in. The Times of 14 March 1793 complained bitterly that ‘the Banking Ladies of St. James’s-square, do not feel themselves much obliged to the Abbé de St. Farre, and his brother, for introducing so many noble Emigrants to their houses. These people come with their crown pieces and half guineas, and absolutely form a circle round the Faro tables, to the total exclusion of our English Lords and Ladies, who can scarcely go one punt during a whole evening.’ The St. Farre name is unusual enough that Louis de St Farre may have been that brother. If so, his love of gaming boded ill for his business.

Taking Campbell’s trades in the order in which they appeared, we now come to his descriptions of the tailor proper, stating that

Mr. Fashioner is not such a despicable Animal as the World imagines; that he is really a useful Member in Society, and consequently that, though according to the vulgar saying, it takes nine Taylors to make one Man, yet you may pick up nine men out of ten who cannot make a compleat Taylor. A Master-tailor ought to have a quick Eye to steal the Cut of a Sleeve, the Pattern of a Flap, or the Shape of a good Trimming, at a glance : any Bungler may cut out a Shape when he has a Pattern before him; but a good Workman takes it by his Eye in the passing of a Chariot, or in the Space between the Door and a Coach: he must be able not only to cut for the Handsome and Well-shaped, but bestow a good Shape where Nature has not granted it: he must make the Clothes sit easy in spite of a stiff Gait or awkward Air : his Hand and Head must go together: he must be a nice Cutter, and finish his Work with Elegance.

This vivid and poetic description is heart-warming in the way that he champions the tailor in general, even deftly defining those qualities which distinguish a great tailor, such as Louis, from the common herd of the merely competent.

Under the master tailor there were the senior journeymen appointed as foremen, who stood in for the master when he was absent, measuring the customers, doing the cutting and ensuring that the finished work was delivered.   They enjoyed the best wages, tips and ‘cabbage’ – the scraps of material which could not be used but which they could nevertheless sell.

The next Class, is the mere working Taylor; not one in ten of them knows how to cut out a Pair of Breeches: They are employed only to sew the Seam, to cast the Button Holes, and prepare the Work for the Finisher. Their Wages, by Act of Parliament, is twenty pence in one Season of the Year, and Half a Crown the other; however, a good Hand has Half a Crown and three Shillings: They are as numerous as Locusts, are out of Business about three or four Months in the Year, and generally as poor as Rats: The House of Call runs away with their Earnings, and keeps them constantly in Debt and Want. The House of Call is an Ale-house, where they generally use, and the Landlord knows where to find them, and Masters go there to enquire when they want Hands. Custom has established it into a Kind of Law, that The House of Call gives them Credit for Victuals and Drink, while they are unemployed; this obliges the Journeyman on the other Hand, to spend all the Money they earn at this House alone. The Landlord, when once he has got them into his Debt, is sure to keep them so, and by that Means binds the poor Wretch to his House, who slaves only to enrich the Publican.

This is a biased view of the ‘house of call’ which was used as a meeting place by the ‘combinations’ or trades unions, and therefore helped them to organize and retain solidarity. There is probably however some truth in Campbell’s remark.

But enough of the Taylor, let us treat a little of those Branches who are employed by him, or with whom he deals. The Woollen-Draper is the first; he furnishes him with Broad Cloths, Linings &c. This Tradesman buys his goods from Blackwell-Hall Factory, or from the Clothiers in the West of England. They buy their Cloths of one Colour, white from the Hall, in long and short Pieces, and have them dressed and dyed in Town; but mixed Colours, or such Blues as are dyed in the Wool, they buy ready dressed. They not only serve the Taylor here in London, by Retail, but the Country Shops Wholesale.

The ‘dressing’ that Campbell refers to no doubt included ‘fulling’. This was a two-stage process, during the first stage of which the cloth was soaked in a weak lye or soapy bath, which de-greased the wool, shrank it and caused the fibres to be more receptive to ‘felling’. In this second process the cloth was beaten with wooden mallets, either by hand or in a mill, which consolidated the cloth. The result was that the cloth was thicker, denser and more weather-resistant, and was therefore suitable for use as heavy coating. In Roman times fulling was a single-stage process, in which the cloth was put into baths of urine and trampled by slaves.

The Mercer is the Twin Brother of the Woollen-Draper, they are as like one another as two Eggs, only the Woollen-Draper deals chiefly with the Men, and is the graver Animal of the two, and the Mercer traficks most with the Ladies, and has a small Dash of their Effeminacy in his Constitution. The Mercer deals in Silks, Velvets, Brocades and an innumerable Train of expensive Trifles, for the Ornament of the Fair Sex; he must be a very polite Man, and skilled in all the Punctilio’s of City-good-breeding; he ought, by no means, to be an awkward clumsy Fellow, such a Creature would turn a Lady’s Stomach, when they go their Rounds, to tumble Silks that they have no mind to buy. He must dress neatly, and affect a Court Air, however far distant he may live from St. James’s.   I know of none so fit for that Branch of Business, as that nimble, dancing, talkative Nation the French. Our Mercer must have a great deal of the Frenchman in his Manners, as well as a large Parcel of French Goods in his Shop; he ought to keep close Intelligence with the Fashion-Office at Paris, and supply himself with the newest Patterns from that changeable People. Nothing that is mere English goes down with our modern Ladies; from their Shift to their Topknots they must be equipped from Dear Paris.

Campbell’s opinion of Frenchmen was very typical at the time. It goes without saying that Louis was not only French, but also a woollen-draper and a mercer, as well as a tailor. Campbell’s disparaging view of the fashionable Fair Sex is stereotypical but still appears affectionately meant.

The haberdasher supplied the tailor with buckram, wadding, plying, hair-cloths, buttons, mohair, silk, thread, stay-tape, binding and every other article used for trimming, except gold and silver lace. Louis presumably dealt with his father-in-law Philipe Métivier for haberdashery. Campbell completed his descriptions of the tailoring and ancillary trades with:

The Silk Weaver is mostly employed in London; Stuffs, Broad Cloths are chiefly made in the Cloathing Counties of England, and the Linnen is the Manufacture of Scotland, Ireland, France and Germany. The Spittlefield Weavers are a numerous Body. The plain Silk weaver requires but little Ingenuity, but the Weavers of flowered Silks, Damasks, Brocades and Velvets are very ingenious Tradesmen; these ought to learn Drawing to design their own Patterns, the Want of which gives the French Workmen the greatest Advantage over us. Were our Weavers as expert in designing as their Rivals, the Weavers in Spittlefields need not be obliged to send out to Paris for new Patterns.

These inter-relationships between the different trades show us that tailoring at the time was a complex business, requiring considerable acumen in the co-ordination of supplies and services.

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NPG 5890,King George IV,by Richard Cosway

[Miniature of the prince by Cosway, at around the time that Louis Bazalgette began to make his clothes.  The coquelicot coat is typical of those made by Louis and is almost certainly his work]

Chapter 3: 1775-1778

Although Britain and her American colonies had traditionally been on good terms, the disparity between what the average Briton paid in taxes at home (twenty-six shillings per year) and what the colonists paid (about one shilling) caused the British prime minister George Grenville to raise taxes in America. This he did by imposing the Stamp Act in 1765. The colonists resented this imposition on many grounds, not least of which was their lack of representation in the Mother of Parliaments. Following their protests and a boycott of British goods the Stamp Act was repealed the following year. In 1767 Britain used another tactic, which was to impose duties on many imports into the colonies. The main opposition to this was in Boston, where protests and rioting occurred. The British government backed off again and in 1770 repealed all duties except for that on tea, for the main reason that the East India Company was in financial trouble and needed the revenue. This became a symbol of the colonists’ resistance to British rule, and in 1773, the Bostonians dumped 342 chests of tea, worth about £4,000, into the harbour. From then on, parliament imposed yet more punitive measures including in 1774 placing Massachusetts under military rule. Relations between the two countries could never recover from these moves on both sides, and by 1775 a state of war existed. The colonists’ war effort was supported by loans from France, which were never repaid. In London, the merchants petitioned parliament for a reconciliation in January 1775 because their trade was hurt and more seriously they were now unable to recover the large debts owed to them by the colonists, particularly by wealthy plantation owners.

The London in which Louis Bazalgette arrived was therefore a city preoccupied with how to deal with the colonists, and although politicians such as Burke and Wilkes supported them the overwhelming attitude of the King and his parliament was that the uprising must be put down at all costs. The result of this policy was a bloody war into which other countries of Europe would soon be drawn, and which created the circumstances leading towards the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. It is unlikely that many saw this coming.

What follows is strong evidence that Louis Bazalgette arrived in London and set up shop in 1775.   When interviewed by the Parliamentary Commission looking into the Prince of Wales’ debts in 1795, Louis said he had been in England for twenty years and had worked for the Prince for seventeen years, which would mean that he arrived in 1775 and started to work for the Prince in 1778, when the latter was about sixteen. Louis himself said later that he served the Prince of Wales for over thirty-two years, which would cover the years 1778-1810 or at the latest 1780-1812.

In order to be recommended to the Prince of Wales, Louis must have been well connected. He certainly seems to have been the Prince’s principal tailor, at least in the earlier years. In a court case reported in The Times in 1794, characteristically to recover a debt, he described himself as ‘Taylor to the Prince of Wales’. No other accounts mention him at all, although Christopher Hibbert in his George IV, Prince of Wales gives his name in passing, as does Arthur Aspinall, in his Correspondence of George, Prince of Wales, 1770-1812, when listing the Prince’s creditors. Some authors have stated that John Weston was the Prince’s favourite tailor, but this seems not to have been the case until later when, by 1795, the Prince had fallen more under the influence of his young friend George Bryan ‘Beau’ Brummell. The men who were then known as dandies favoured the English look and used English-style tailors. Before Brummell appeared on the scene, the Prince mostly preferred the very gaudy clothes affected by the fops, which were more of the French style and which Louis naturally was well qualified to supply. Although the Prince later started to dress more like a dandy, he always retained a great love for rich and colourful outfits, particularly uniforms of his own design.

Louis would have had an efficient operation importing the finest silks and other cloth from France, and possibly also linens from Amsterdam. British cloth was usually cheaper and was ordered if it was of the required quality. He would have designed the outfits himself, with considerable assistance from the Prince of course, and had them made up in his own workshop by a staff of journeyman tailors and finishers. He stated himself that he always delivered the clothes personally to the Prince at Carlton House. One theory the author holds is that Louis may have initially been supplying costumes to the London theatres. While in earlier times actors had been content with costumes handed down from the nobility, they were by now demanding exotic custom-made outfits in order to make a splash on stage. On 24 April 1781, Prince George wrote to his brother Frederick in Hanover, in response to the latter’s requests for some special suits of clothes, which he could not obtain locally.

Ye hair in ye chain is mine. Yr Vandyke dress is compleat and beautiful; ye hat for it I have ordered of Cater; it was made by ye tailor of Covent Garden Theatre. Ye ruff belonging to it is separate from ye whole and ties with two little white strings and tassels. I do not mean it is a ruff but lace; it is an imitation only, but very beautiful and in ye shape of our shirt collars, only deeper. Remember yr shirt collar or stock must not appear in this dress; you had therefore best not wear any stock at all & tuck your collar down or under.  [Aspinall; Correspondence of the Prince of Wales, Vol I]

He added in a later letter that the Vandyke dress was sent and also one of lilac ‘with pale buff puffs and knots’ because ‘we considered yt if there was to be a masquerade in ye summer season you could not well wear yt dress.’

We have not so far been able to discover if Louis was ‘ye tailor of Covent Garden Theatre’. His name does not appear in the theatre’s account books for 1780-1. If he was, it would certainly have brought him to the attention of the Prince, who was an avid theatregoer. Louis was also often later required to make masquerade costumes for the Prince and his friends, and a knowledge of theatrical costume would have helped him with this. Louis had another theatrical connection in that he later lent money to (and made suits for) Richard Brinsley Sheridan, the politician, playwright and co-owner of the Drury Lane Theatre.

There is an anecdote which appears to tell us how Louis found his way into the Prince’s favour. This story first appeared in Chambers’ Journal, published in 1874 by Robert and William Chambers. Where Chambers got the story from is unfortunately unknown.

A FORTUNE MADE BY A WAISTCOAT. Some people have a fancy for fine waistcoats. This taste was more common in my young days than it is now. Stirring public events were apt to be celebrated by patterns on waistcoats to meet the popular fancy. I remember that the capture of Mauritius, at the close of 1810, was followed by a fashion for wearing waistcoats speckled over with small figures shaped like that island, and called Isle of France waistcoats. It was a galling thing for the French prisoners of war on parole to be confronted with these demonstrations. At court highly ornamented waistcoats have been the fashion for generations. George, Prince of Wales, while Regent, was noted for his affection for this rich variety of waistcoats, and thereby hangs a tale. His Royal Highness had an immense desire for a waistcoat of a particular kind, for which he could discover only a small piece of stuff insufficient in dimensions. It was a French material, and could not be matched in England. The war was raging, and to procure the requisite quantity of stuff from Paris was declared to be impracticable.  At this juncture one of the Prince’s attendants interposed. He said he knew a Frenchman, M. Bazalgette, carrying on business in one of the obscure streets of London, who, he was certain, would undertake to proceed to Paris and bring away what was wanted. This obliging tailor was forthwith commissioned to do his best to procure the requisite material. Finding that a chance had occurred for distinguishing himself and laying the foundation of his fortune, the Frenchman resolved to make the attempt. It was a hazardous affair, for there was no regular communication with the coast of France, unless for letters under a cartel. Yet, Bazalgette was not daunted. If only he could land safely in a boat, all would be right. This, with some difficulty and manoeuvring, he effected. As a pretended refugee back to his own country, he was allowed to land and proceed to Paris. Joyfully he was able to procure the quantity of material required for the Prince Regent’s waistcoat; and not less joyfully did he manage to return to London with the precious piece of stuff wrapped round his person. The waistcoat was made, and so was the tailor’s fortune and that of his family.  [Chambers’ Journal, Volume 51; Robert Chambers, William Chambers – 1874]

This is a variant of the above story, which is probably just a rewrite:

When George, Prince of Wales, was Regent, fashion prevailed for gaily decorated waistcoats.   A particular pattern was wanted for his Royal Highness, but it was not in any leading tailor’s stock. It did not seem possible to obtain it. The stuff was of French manufacture, and the two countries were at war. But “The First Gentleman in Europe” was determined to have his whim gratified, and a member of his suite suggested the means. He said that he knew a Frenchman in London, poor and obscure, but enterprising. If the order were given, M. Bazalgette would almost certainly fulfill it. Accordingly the Court commands were sent to the struggling tailor, and he saw the promise of fortune in the stray commission. All ordinary communication with France was cut off, but Bazalgette formed his own plans. One day he appeared in a boat off the coast of his native land in the assumed character of a refugee. He was kindly received, and sent on his way to Paris. Once there soon procured the material he required. Shaping it into a makeshift garment for himself, he brought it off without creating suspicion; and, making his way as cleverly back, the waistcoat was speedily produced. The deed set the man on his feet, and ultimately ensured him a competence.  [Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, Saturday 11 July 1891, reprinted from Cassell’s Saturday Journal]

This story is fascinating for several reasons. Not only is it the only anecdote so far seen which names Louis, but it is believable, although probably somewhat dramatized, and it conforms very well with Louis’s character and motivation. It would presumably have happened in 1778-9, since after that Louis was established as the Prince’s tailor and would not have had to be pointed out by ‘an attendant’. The story also reinforces the view that Louis was seen as a merchant as well as a tailor.

The American War of Independence having begun in 1775, France and Spain seized the opportunity also to declare war on England in 1778. It therefore fits that the ‘war was raging’ at the time this incident took place. A cartel is defined as ‘an unarmed ship employed in the exchange of prisoners, or in carrying propositions to an enemy: a ship bearing a flag of truce and privileged from capture’. So Louis’ use of such a vessel for this purpose would have been dangerous and too open to scrutiny. Therefore the need to use a small boat and to travel clandestinely was essential.

It is unknown in which ‘obscure street of London’ Louis had his premises before 1778-9, but South Molton Street (where we know he was in residence by 1779) would probably not have been regarded as ‘obscure’. If Louis had become a master tailor in France, which it seems likely he would have aspired to be, he could have started in London with a firm of tailors, although there is no record of him becoming a partner in such a firm, which would have given him the wherewithal to branch out and open his own shop. If this was in an ‘obscure street’ it would have been harder for him to become an eminent tailor in a couple of years. Therefore, the most likely course he would have taken was to build up his capital as a merchant first.

There is a shadier side to the waistcoat story; if Louis was known to be the sort of cove who would be willing to undertake such a mission it implies that he knew the ropes of the smuggling business. At the time, smuggling was a national industry, and it has been estimated that only a small proportion of goods imported actually had duty paid on them. Smuggling was connived at by all classes, and even if Louis was not himself actively a smuggler it is likely that he was well aware that most of the silks and lace he sold were contraband. He had two partners, Thomas Smith and Peter De Nedonsel, of whom more later, who might have been much more deeply involved. The latter was born in the Pas de Calais and could therefore have handled the French side.

Eighteenth century smugglers were known for the ingenious stratagems that they used to avoid detection of their contraband goods. These included towing waterproof containers up rivers beneath the surface, and of course wrapping yards of silk round their bodies. The following story illustrates the lengths to which they would go.

A most remarkabe seizure was lately made by Mr. Tankard, of Dartford. The captain of a ship, whose wife died abroad, brought home a coffin, in which was supposed to be the remains of his once beloved wife. It was suffered to be taken on shore without searching, and the lady lay in state for several days before she was interred; however, at last, a hearse was prepared and two mourning coaches attended with the relations of the deceased, and the procession moved on slowly towards Stepney, where the coffin was deposited. About twelve o’clock at night, Mr. Tankard and his man coming by the church-yard, observed some men a-digging, and a cart standing by; they watched the motions of those resurrection-men, and presently saw them open the coffin and take out the body, which consisted of upwards of 500 pieces of muslin and various other contraband articles. Mr. Tankard suffered them to proceed to with their corpse till they came to Ratcliff-Cross, where he got assistance and seized the whole.  [The Times 27 June 1786]

French silks were in hot demand for two main reasons. Firstly, the designs were desired by a rich clientele hungry for all things French. Secondly, the quality of the fabric and the advances in broadloom weaving technology in France (such as the Jacquard loom and its precursors) meant in most cases a far superior product. The best designers and embroiderers were in Lyon. The Lyonnais weavers, or canuts, were miserably paid and suffered from poor working conditions. The Huguenots who had since the late seventeenth century made their home in Spitalfields mostly arrived there with very little, having been driven from their own country, with their possessions being forfeited. They therefore owned fewer of the large and complicated looms necessary for the most intricate broadcloth weaving of satins and velvets. In Lyon the looms and the skilled men to operate them continued to exist in profusion, without the disruption which the Spitalfields weavers had experienced.

We should now have enough evidence to pinpoint the year when Louis first began to supply clothes to the Prince of Wales. The Prince’s letters talking about clothes he had ordered in 1781, together with the ‘waistcoat’ story tend to indicate a date of 1780 or thereabouts.   It is unlikely that it was much earlier than that because the Prince, although he was already obsessed with clothes, must have had less freedom to buy them before his eighteenth birthday. Following that he had a little more licence, since he was no longer confined in Kew or Windsor, and now had his own establishment, but he still had to live in his apartments in Buckingham House, where his father could keep an eye on him. The King attempted to maintain some control over him, but privately expressed misgivings that should he lay down the law the Prince would simply refuse to obey him. The Prince recognized however that he was to an extent still under the King’s thumb, because soon after he became eighteen he said to his uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, that in three years he would have his majority and would be able to do whatever he liked.

The accounts prepared by Louis which still exist show that in the second half of 1786 the Prince ordered clothes from him to the value of £1,628/10/1. In the whole of 1787 his bill came to £4,369/10/2. Since 1787 was the peak spending year that we have seen in these accounts we can extrapolate that the total for 1786 was about £4,000 or a little less. We have no way of knowing whether the Prince’s bills started lower and steadily climbed every year, or whether in fact they were previously the same, or even higher, but if we assume an average of £3,000 per year for these earlier years this would take us back to approximately 1780 as the first year. When the Prince’s first major debt crisis occurred in 1785-6, the amount he owed Louis was £16,774/3/2. Using the average yearly sum above, this could be the total of about five years of debts. Presumably the Prince must have paid at least some of Louis’ bills out of his allowance during this time, otherwise it is hard to imagine how Louis could have stayed in business, considering his very considerable outgoings. If this is the case, it does tend to point to a commencement year closer to 1778.

The list below shows the Prince’s total quarterly and annual expenditure on clothes supplied by Louis between July 1786 and April 1795:-

1786 (second half only)………£1628/10/1
1794…………………………….…….£1053/6/10 plus £442/8/6 in Livery Account
1795 (first half only)………….…..£659/18/5 plus £47/14/9 in Livery Account

It can be seen that having apparently peaked in 1787 the annual totals slowly fell as time went on. In 1787 the Prince’s debts had been paid, so any brakes on spending were off again. The slow annual decline in the amounts Prinny spent with Louis is probably owing to the fact that his debts to Louis had been notified to Parliament, and the amounts were secured as debenture bonds, which legally had to be repaid on a regular basis. The Prince would therefore have begun to patronize as many other tailors as he could run up bills with, because these debts would not have been known to Parliament.

There are of course many anecdotes about the Prince and his self-indulgence, particularly in the matter of dress.

… If any doubt survived as to whether the Prince was worthy to be enrolled amongst that select body of dandies which arrogated to itself the direction of the fashionable world this was soon dispelled by the costume he donned at the first Court ball he attended. His coat was pink silk with white cuffs, we are told his waistcoat was white silk embroidered with various coloured foil and adorned with a profusion of French paste, his hat was ornamented with two rows of steel beads five thousand in number with a button and loop of the same metal and cocked in a new military style. Could anything have been more elaborate?   One would think not until descriptions are found of his attire on subsequent occasions.   Thus we learn when he took his seat in the House of Lords he wore a black velvet suit richly embroidered with gold and pink spangles and lined with pink satin, and shoes with pink heels a la Macaroni of an earlier era while to give appropriate finish to the costume his hair was pressed much at the side and very full frizzed with two small curls at the bottom. But Prince Florizel was not yet at the end of his resource and to prove that in this matter he could out-Herod Herod he devised a costume for a Brighton ball that dazzled all beholders. He made his appearance in a velvet suit of a dark colour with green stripes embroidered down the front and seams with silver flowers, a waistcoat of white and silver tissue similarly ornamented, the ribbon of the Garter fastened with a shoulder knot of brilliants and the usual accessories of the stars of various other Orders. Even the imagination of the heir apparent could go no further and he rested content the most over dressed man of his day!   Expense being no object to George since for what he could not pay he was content to owe…  [Benjamin, Louis Saul; The Beaux of the Regency]

The Regent was singularly imbued with petty royal pride. He would rather be amiable and familiar with his tailor than agreeable and friendly with the most illustrious of the aristocracy of Great Britain…   [Gronow, Rees Howell; Reminiscences of Captain Gronow]

When I was presented to (him), HRH the Prince Regent (was) in the uniform of the Hussars, viz. a yellow jacket, pink pantaloons and silver lace morocco boots and a light blue pelisse lined with ermine. The Prince himself (was) the model of grace and elegance in his time, in a coat of which the waist buttons were placed between his shoulder blades and which if worn by a man now would cause boys to hoot him in Pall Mall…   [W. M. Thackeray; Sketches and travels in London]

In this the last year of his life the country will be gratified in knowing that his tailor’s bill was between ₤4,000 and ₤5,000 and he was employed in devising new dresses for the guards. The subject of a dress for the guards evidently grew upon his Majesty’s mind, for a month later we find a record to effect that no council had been held as the King was occupied in altering the uniforms of the guards and has coats with various colors submitted to him every day. The Duke of Cumberland assists him and this is his occupation. He sees much more of his tailor than he does of his ministers…  [Banvard, John; The Private Life of a King Embodying the Suppressed Memoirs of the Prince of Wales]

His morning levees were not attended by men of science and of genius who could have instilled into his mind some wholesome notions of practical economy, but the tailor, the upholsterer, the jeweller and the shoemaker were the regular attendants on a royal Prince’s morning recreations.   …The cut of a coat became of greater consequence than the amelioration of the condition of Ireland; and the tie of a neckcloth, an object of greater importance than parliamentary reform, or the adjustment of our disputes with America. The morning hours which a patriotic prince would have employed in devising measures for the good of the country, were idled away with a favourite tailor, taking measures of the royal person, and receiving his valuable information on the decided superiority of loose trousers to tight pantaloons. The different uniforms of the army became also, at this time, the peculiar objects of the gracious attention of the Prince Regent; and our brothers of York and Cumberland were called in to describe the trappings and fopperies of the German soldiery, the introduction of which into the British army (setting aside the expense to the nation) has rendered some of the men the laughing-stock of the public.[Huish, Robert: Memoirs of George the Fourth, 1830]

There is even a story that the Prince’s tailor (surely Louis) was summoned from his bed one night to bail his employer out:

In the month of April 1784 his royal Highness and three of his gay companions, elated with the bottle, were interrupted by the watch in a midnight frolic and after a scuffle overpowered and taken to the watch house in Mount-street. The party were obliged to send for one of their tradesmen, who on entering started at the sight of the Prince. The constable and watchmen, on discovering the rank of their prisoner, pressed round him and hoped his royal highness would not be offended at their having detained him.   The Prince, who was only elevated with wine exclaimed:- “Offended! My good fellows! – By no means. – Thank God, the laws of this country are superior to rank; and when men of high station forget the decorum of the community it is fit that no distinction should be made with respect to them.   It should make an Englishman proud to see the Prince of Wales obliged to send for a tailor to bail him.”   [B. C. Walpole, Richard Brinsley Sheridan; Recollections of the life of the late Right Honorable Charles James Fox]

The above anecdote reinforces the Prince’s trust of Louis. The watch-house stood at the west end of the large workhouse between Nos 101 and 102 Mount Street, close to the southern end of Charles Street. From Louis’ house in Lower Grosvenor Street it was no more than a five-minute ride. Louis would have come by coach, not only for security’s sake, since he was carrying bail-money, but because he would also be able to ferry the miscreants to their homes if necessary. No doubt Louis was his usual discreet self and said nothing about the incident, but to the ‘charlies’ – the members of the watch – it was too good a story not to be told later in the alehouse.

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[Copy of Bazalgette arms supplied by Wendy Christine Jenkins]

Chapter 2: 1750-75

Jean Louis, the youngest son of Etienne Bazalgette and his wife Jeanne Deleuze, was born in Ispagnac, a village of about three hundred ‘hearths’, on 5 October 1750. A hearth or feu approximates to five inhabitants. In the Cévenol tradition, the family was almost certainly protestant, although of the closet sort, since Roman Catholicism was the only legal religion at the time. The baby was christened in the thirteenth-century Roman Catholic Church of St. Pierre, although after leaving France Jean Louis always adhered to the Protestant religion. The register entry reads:

 Jean Louis Bazalgette fils legitime et naturel á Etienne Bazalgette et Jeanne Deleuze mariés a Ispagnac est né Ie 5 octobre 1750 et a été baptisé le 6 meme mois et an, son parrain Sr Privat Salançon procureur de Me Jean Louis Robert de St Philip clerc tonsuré, sa marraine demoiselle Marianne Robert epouse de Sr Lacombe marchand presents.

In other words, Jean Louis was baptized the day after his birth, and his godfather was Seigneur Privat Salançon (Salançon was a local name, also that of Jeanne Deleuze’s grandmother), who acted as a representative of the priest Messire Jean Louis Robert of St. Philip. Procureur usually means an attorney, but it seems to have been used here in the non-legal sense. Perhaps our Jean Louis was named after the priest. His godmother was also a Robert, so possibly related to the priest, and was the wife of the merchant Lacombe.

Etienne Bazalgette was described in records as a tailleur d’habits or a tailor of clothes, which in modern times is just shortened to tailleur. He was also a tisserand or texier which means he wove at least some of the cloth for the clothes he made. Prominent among these cloths was apparently one called cadiz, a lightly milled wool fabric peculiar to Languedoc.

Jean Louis (or Louis, as he always later called himself) was the youngest of four known children: Pierre (born 11 April 1739), Marie (born 23 March 1743), Georges (born 1746) and Louis (born 6 October 1750). Louis was thus eleven years younger than his eldest sibling. His father Etienne had been born on 13 July 1709 but died, aged only forty-eight, on 22 September 1757, a week before Louis’ seventh birthday. Louis’ father and his grandfather were both tailors so the family had a well-established business in Ispagnac. There would have been enough family members to teach the boy the tailoring business, even though his father had died so early. His grandfather Pierre would have been seventy-five at the time of Louis’ birth and therefore probably was also not around to help with Louis’ education.

The apprenticeship for a general tailor at the time was three to four years, depending on aptitude, so there is no doubt that Louis was well versed in all aspects of the business before he left home.  He was no doubt already skilled with a needle and shears as a young child, and could have been apprenticed to one of his elder brothers in his early teens. When ready, he would have had to make a suit – his chef d’oeuvre – and if it was approved he could be admitted to the local guild as a journeyman tailor or compagnon. He would then have aspired to be a master tailor, but in a small town and with two older brothers his chances of achieving this were slim because of the competition. Whoever was the master in the family firm, Pierre or Georges, or possibly both of them, would want their journeymen to stay that way. It was therefore almost always necessary for a journeyman to leave home and to travel to a large town in search of work and advancement. Although, for the reasons stated, journeymen often had to travel, the apparent connection with the word ‘journeyman’ is coincidental, since it derives from the French word ‘journée’, and originally meant a man who was hired by the day.

The portrait of Louis in this book is indistinct but it shows a dark-haired and dark-complexioned man, probably quite short and wiry, which is typical of the natives of the Cévennes. His son Joseph William was described in later life as ‘small, about five feet five inches high, and firmly, though lightly, made. His complexion is very dark, his hair thick, and of an iron-grey colour; his eyes are black and expressive, and his nose aquiline.’ We can see the same thick wiry hair and other features in Louis. Shortness ran in the family. Joseph William’s son Joseph William, the civil engineer, was no more than five feet tall and also lightly built. In turn, his son Edward was also a very small man, according to the author’s father.

There was a definite advantage to being apprenticed to a family member. Those apprenticed to masters outside their family could be overworked, harshly-treated or poorly-fed, had no real protection from exploitation and would often have to sleep on a bag of straw under the bench. Louis, as the youngest, probably had his own little truckle-bed and would have been much better fed and looked after. But, like all apprentices, he would still have had to get up an hour earlier than the other members of the household and perform chores like tidying the workshop and lighting the fires in winter. Louis can be imagined, stopping in mid-sweep and leaning on his broom as he dreamed of exchanging his rags for riches.

Family stories tell us that Louis left Ispagnac sometime between 1769 and 1770, at the age of nineteen or twenty. The source of the story that Louis left at that age is a letter written to Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s son Edward by Léon Bazalgette, a noted French author and critic, whose best known work was the translation of Walt Whitman’s writings into French. Léon was the great-grandson of Louis’ elder brother Georges. The letter says that Léon’s uncle Albert had a copy of Louis’ acte de naissance, which he had received from his father Maurice Antoine Bazalgette dit Bonaparte. Léon said that his grandfather had often related to him the story that his father Jean Bazalgette (son of Georges) had told him – that Georges’ brother, born in 1750, went abroad about the age of nineteen or twenty. He never returned to his home, but in 1830 the mayor of Chambonnet informed Jean that a Bazalgette had recently died abroad leaving a large fortune. Léon was convinced that this story must refer to Louis, and the known facts certainly seem to agree with this opinion. A copy of this letter is in the possession of the author.

Did Louis leave home purely because of his ambition to plough his own furrow, or because he fell out with his family? He certainly seems to have gone forth and never looked back. Léon said that he never returned to Ispagnac, and that his relatives never heard of his activities until informed later of his death ‘leaving a large fortune’, from which his birth family presumably received no benefit. Louis, on arriving in London, soon dropped the ‘Jean’ in his name, pronounced it ‘Lewis Bazalgate’ (which was how it was often written in a rate book), wrote his personal notes in English and not French, as many another emigrant would have done, spelt French words in an anglicised way and did his best to become an English gentleman. It is perhaps not surprising that he eschewed ‘Frenchness’, since he was a Cévenol, and would have felt as French as a Scotsman feels British or a Basque feels Spanish. But he seems to have denied his own roots as well. He consciously avoided the conventional filial duty of naming his children after family members. Amongst his children there is not an Etienne, a Jeanne, a Georges, a Pierre or a Marie, or even their English equivalents. Only versions of his own names were passed on – Louis, Louisa and John (Jean). Furthermore, his children were all given typically British names. This deliberate act, in not proliferating his family names, is the most telling sign that Louis wanted nothing to do with his family or his homeland once he had left them.

What Louis did after leaving home has been construed in a variety of fanciful accounts. It has been suggested that he left Ispagnac to escape military service in the milice, or local militia, but this is very unlikely. France was not at war at this time, nor had there been any notable civil insurrections in the region, such as those of the Camisards, for fifty years. If he had been selected for the milice, he would have been allowed to stay at home and his duties would have been no more arduous than to attend the odd parade.   Of course, there was always the risk, in the event of war, that the members of the milice could be sent to fight in some foreign land.

A different Jean Bazalgette from Léon’s grandfather, a French relative who was a journalist and used the pen-name ‘Jean Bazal’, wrote what he called a roman, (Mon Ancêtre Jean Louis: Compagnon De La Fayette) which purports to be Louis’ life story. While entertaining and full of action it bears little relation to fact.

In those days, Ispagnac was charged with providing eight young men annually for the milice and it is true that they were chosen by drawing lots. According to Bazal, Louis drew a ‘black number’, meaning that he had been selected to serve, so to escape this he sneaked off and lived in a cave in the mountains for seven years or so before emerging in 1777 to accompany the Marquis de Lafayette on his voyage to America. Apart from the lack of necessity to avoid the draft, already referred to, Lafayette’s memoirs tell us that he was accompanied on the Victoire by the Marquis de Kalb and some twelve hand-picked young French officers; it does not look as if there would have been a place for a draft-dodger. As these officers were carefully chosen it is unlikely that Louis could have been posing as one of them, and the manifests of the port of Bordeaux record no Bazalgettes embarking there during that period, although we cannot rule out the possibility that he embarked under a false name. However, the idea that Louis was prepared to become an outlaw to avoid being sent to fight abroad, and then, after a few years, actually did this very thing makes little sense.

For a young man with the lofty ambitions which we know Louis possessed, his small and shabby home town with its stifling petit bourgeoisie would have had absolutely nothing to offer. He therefore had to leave it to seek his fortune in the world.

Louis has been described as a Huguenot, but this is not strictly speaking correct. The Edict of Nantes afforded to French Protestants some protection from Roman Catholic persecution, but when it was revoked in 1685, at least one hundred thousand of them, i.e., the Huguenots, fled France for the protestant countries of northern Europe. Louis, as he was not fleeing from religious persecution, was not one of them. Of course, the Huguenots who had migrated to London a century before Louis had established their own communities and churches, for instance in Spitalfields, and had brought their skills with them, such as silk weaving. Therefore, Louis would later deal with Huguenots on a daily basis and would have moved easily in their circles.

Although it is possible that Louis travelled to the Americas as a young man, no evidence has been found that he did so, or that he fought at the battle of Brandywine in 1777 (when we can show that he was in London) or that he set up a string of fur-trading posts, as Jean Bazal relates. In order to have established himself as a London tailor and a silk merchant by 1775, Louis could not have been gallivanting about the Caribbean or North America for five years. He had to have been learning his trade, building up clientele and connections and getting his business firmly established. It was Jean Bazal who wrote that ‘he exchanged wool for silk’, and this was obviously the case. He is very likely to have entered a firm of silk merchants or high-class tailors. Although Ispagnac was more ‘wool’ country, the Cévennes at that time was still a silk producing area of France, so Louis would have had no difficulty in learning about the silk business.

It is possible that Louis first found his way to Lyon, which was the silk production capital of France and was not very far away from Ispagnac. His family probably had contacts there. Perhaps after a year or so in Lyon he graduated to Paris and began exporting silks, embroidered waistcoat shapes and maybe finished garments to England. Or maybe he headed straight to Paris. Indeed, the archives at Lyon have no record of anyone of this name being registered as a journeyman there during that time. He must have had great flair as a clothes designer, and to have been very familiar with all of the different materials available. Most of the silks which found their way to England were smuggled across the Channel, since avoidance of customs duty was extremely prevalent at the time. Louis probably travelled to England as a merchant several times before deciding to settle there. He may have managed to become a master tailor in Paris, but it seems he did not do so on arriving in London, at least according to the records of the Company of Merchant Taylors. If he started there more as a merchant, he would probably have made enough money to open his first shop. As a business proprietor, he did not need to be a guild-registered master tailor. In any case, his business was outside the City of London and therefore was not under the Company’s jurisdiction.

Louis may have seen revolution or war on the horizon and decided that London was a better place to achieve his ambitions. There is certainly evidence that he had trading connections with Paris, and his daughter Louisa was placed in a convent there later. He also had dealings with the Swiss bankers Perregaux in Paris, who later became the famous house of Lafitte.

Louis Bazalgette’s down-to-earth origin in a rugged but beautiful part of France, and the religious, ethnic and cultural values which he would take with him into the outside world would give him the single-mindedness, enterprise and drive to take him to the very top of his chosen profession. His Cévenol tenacity and the long family tradition in his business meant that he was better-equipped than most to achieve his ambitions.

France before the revolution was a mainly feudal country, with a massive divide between the nobility and the peasants. Louis must have recognized that England was a relatively more equable society, and that the opportunities for advancement there were much better than in his homeland.

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Chapter 1: A Cévenol Family

The Cévennes is a mountainous region at the south-eastern end of the French Massif Central, characterized by high grasslands or causses, which lie upon limestone pavements. The rain that falls upon the causses permeates through the limestone and feeds rivers of sparkling clarity, which over the centuries have carved spectacular gorges through the rock, famous among these being the Gorges du Tarn. The River Tarn, although it rises in the granite of Mont Lozère, benefits from the limestone, which reduces the acidity of the water so that it supports small crustaceans and therefore plentiful trout, chub, carp, pike and other fish. Where differing rock types like the local limestone, schist and granite occur beside each other, there are usually metal ores to be found; in this area it is lead with a moderate silver content. The causses are not very productive land, and support little in the way of livestock except sheep, which accounts for the general poverty of the region. The inhospitability of the Cévennes made it one of the last refuges of the more fiercely resistant remnants of the ancient Gallic tribes of southern France, which goes some way to accounting for the Cévenol’s toughness, independence and peculiar language.

The Cévenol tongue, from which the Languedoc region gets its name, and which is fast disappearing as the area is invaded by northern migrants, is the Langue d’Oc, or Occitan, which is related to Catalan and has ‘the ability to express the finest shades of meaning’, as demonstrated by Heather Willings in her very readable book A Village in the Cévennes. She writes:

oustal = a house
oustalet = a small house
oustaloun = a little house
oustalounet = a tiny house
oustalàs = a large, ugly house
oustalaras = a high-rise building
oustalassoun = a small, square, ugly house
oustalettas/oustalounas = a large-sized/small house

Verbs are given the same treatment:
estornudar = to sneeze
estornudejar = to keep on sneezing
estornudounar = to give a little sneeze
estronudounejar = to give a series of little sneezes

The Cévenols were more or less successful over the centuries in repelling waves of potential invaders, some of the most persistent of whom were sent by order of the Church of Rome. Even though from 496 AD Roman Catholicism was the only official religion in France, the Cévenols accepted it only superficially, while in their hearts and minds following their faith as they always had, which was of course not according to the Roman way. So although they were baptised and married in the Catholic Church, they remained closet Protestants, or rather non-Catholics. There was no such thing as atheism. Not to adhere to some sort of religious belief was unthinkable. In the Cévenols’ case it was probably a form of the ancient but semi-extinct creed of Catharism.

The river valleys of the Cévennes provide a contrast to the bleakness of the high grassland, and naturally this is where the more prosperous villages are to be found. The village of Ispagnac lies on a fertile alluvial plain, protected to the north by the steep mountain slopes and half surrounded on the southern side by the River Tarn, which turns quite sharply at this point before entering the gorges. This area, now referred to as the ‘Jardin de la Lozère’, was relatively prosperous, and in the eighteenth century the local peasants, while still very poor, were able to grow some crops, vegetables, fruit and vines, and maybe keep a few chickens and even a pig. In hard times there were always the nuts (châtaignes) from the many sweet chestnut trees, which could be milled and made into a form of bread. There were many who were destitute; the poor even had their own ‘union’, and begging, though illegal, was commonplace. Any but the better houses in the village were little more than hovels.

Standing in the old part of Ispagnac, you would see that it is entirely rimmed by wooded mountains which reach heights of between 1,000 to 1,200 metres. The plain is not large, and extends south-east along the river to Quezac and beyond. Being hemmed in in this way could surely feel oppressive at times, and could well have encouraged a young man to wish to escape.

To the north-east of Ispagnac lies a range of mountains which are collectively named Mont Lozère, the highest point of which is the Sommet de Finiels (1,699 metres, 5,612 feet). To the east are the Bougès and to the south the Causse de Méjean. To the north and west rises the Causse de Sauveterre, and the river Tarn has over the centuries carved its deep gorges between these two causses. The steep zig-zag road up to this latter causse gives a spectacular view of the whole valley and of Ispagnac, its neighbouring hamlet of Molines and of Quezac to the south-east. The causse is at a height of about 1,000 metres, and has fine grasslands dotted with stunted pines, although at the higher points it is rocky and more barren. There are post-volcanic depressions (dolines) of various sizes which are moister and more fertile and which are used to grow cereals or hay. When the author was there in July 2012 it was lush and green, but usually by that time of year it is more parched. The seed heads of the ripe grasses give a shimmering silver cast to the land which is very beautiful. Wild flowers grow there in great profusion and butterflies are numerous and varied.

There were a few dozen families who managed to prosper and acquire a measure of wealth and property in Ispagnac, and these formed a small bourgeoisie consisting of landowners, merchants and artisans. Amongst these families were the Roberts, the St. Pierres, the Salansons, the Lagets, the Deleuzes and the Bazalgettes. They kept a firm grasp on the money and property that they accumulated, and marrying outside the group was frowned upon. They adopted the Roman law, at least as far as the dot, or dower, was concerned, which meant that a bride would be provided with a marriage settlement by her family, a proportion of which formed a jointure exclusively for her own use. A family of tailors such as the Bazalgettes earned a reasonable living by making clothes for the local Seigneurs (mainly the Grégoire and Châteauneuf-Randon families) and for the bourgeois families of Ispagnac and the surrounding villages.

The origins of the Bazalgette name and family are, to use a well-worn phrase, the stuff of legend. The stories have been often told in the family but they are included here for the sake of completeness.

The Moors occupied the Gard region in Southern France during the first half of the 8th Century A.D., at which time they were based at Nîmes. They made frequent incursions into the Cévennes, covering an area a day’s ride from Nîmes, which took them as far as the River Tarn, and therefore to Ispagnac. The story goes that one of Charlemagne’s generals, a Spaniard by the name of Miralles, achieved some success in repelling the invaders. Miralles’ prowess apparently prompted the Moors to dub their adversary ‘Baz-al-Get’ which meant something like ‘Eagle of Victory’ in their Moorish dialect. In return for his efforts, Miralles was granted lands in the area, and made his home at the place which is still called La Bazalgette, which lies in the Causse de Sauveterre about midway between Mende and Ispagnac.

There may be some truth in this story, but whether it accounts for the origin of the Bazalgette name seems now to be doubted by many Cévenol scholars. Most etymologists seem to be of the opinion that it derives from the local word for a basilica. A basilica was in Roman times a large building with colonnades which served as a commodity exchange or covered market. With the arrival of Christianity the name was then, as today, much used for a chapel or other religious building. In the Gallic regions the word may have either a religious or a secular meaning, and has various dialect forms, for instance: Bazoches (in the Aisne), Bazoque (Calvados), Bazougues (Mayenne) Bazugues (Gers) and in the south of France Bazalgue (Lot) and Bazalgette (Lozère). [Astor, Jacques: Dictionnaire des noms de famille et des noms de lieu du midi de la France, Editions du Beffroi, January 2002]

If the etymological explanation of the origin of the word Bazalgette is correct it tends to give the lie to the ‘Baz-al-Get’ theory and therefore to much of the Miralles story.

The name Ispagnac, formally Espagnac and also previously spelt Yspagnac or Hispagnac, suggests a Spanish connection, although these ‘-ac’ endings are reputed to come from the Latin ‘-acum’, much like ‘Eboracum’, the Roman name for York. The name may therefore date from Roman times.

There is recorded by the French genealogist Nicolas Viton de St. Allais a noble family, Bazalgette de Charnève, extinct by 1880, whose seventeenth-century château still stands on the right bank of the River Rhône at Bourg St. Andéol in the Ardèche. The arms of this family are:

Parti: au 1., d’argent, à la fasce de gueules, chargée de trois croissants montants de champ, accompagnée d’un étendard de gueules, semé de croisettes d’or, mis en bande et en pointe, de trois merlettes de sable, et d’une moucheture d’hermine du même, en abîme; au chef d’azur, chargé de deux croix, trefflées d’or: au 2., d’or, au lion de gueules, armé et lampassé de sinople, couronné d’argent, tenant de sa patte dextre un sabre du même, garni d’or. Couronne de comte.

The ‘croissants’ bring to mind an image of those buttery pastries that the French like with their morning coffee, but as ‘crescents’ they would support the Moorish story, were it not for the fact that crescents on a coat of arms usually signify that a family member went on one of the crusades. The simpler arms granted later to Louis’s son Evelyn and his grandson Sir Joseph Bazalgette by the British College of Arms were:

Argent, on a fess gules three crescents of the field, on a chief azure two crosses fleury or

There is no known connection in the last four hundred years between the Charnève Bazalgettes and the Ispagnac Bazalgettes, although it may exist. That there is a connection seems to be universally accepted, and variations of the Charnève arms were granted to Jean Louis, and later to Sir Joseph Bazalgette when he was knighted. The view held by most researchers in the Cévennes is that the source of all of the Bazalgette families is the hamlet of La Bazalgette, and this may well be so.

Following the more westerly road north from Ispagnac to Balsièges, zig-zagging endlessly up the mountainside, you will eventually arrive on the plateau and will see a sign to the right which points to La Bazalgette. This hamlet is made up of about a dozen houses and farm buildings. If there was originally a chapel here, no trace of it has been found. The largest of the houses, now known as La Cazelle, was, according to the present owner, M. Paradis, occupied by a Bazalgette family until quite recent times.

The earliest proven ancestor of Jean Louis Bazalgette was Claude Bazalgette of Ispagnac, whose marriage has not been found in the registers. It appears that there were several Bazalgette families in Ispagnac and neighbouring villages at this time, but because of gaps in the registers, no line can be traced further back with certainty at present. An unsubstantiated anecdote from a French researcher has it that there were two Claudes, who were cousins and lived in adjoining houses. One was a tailor and the other a bootmaker. One died and the other married his widow and knocked the two houses into one. Claude (presumably the tailor) and his wife Marie Rainal had three known children between November 1682 and October 1685. These were Jeanne, baptized on 22 December 1682, Etienne, baptized on 22 November 1683 and Pierre, baptized on 24 October 1685. Pierre we know became a tailleur d’habits, although the family tradition of tailoring probably goes further back than this. He married Louise Grignard, the daughter of Jacques Grignard and Marie Privat, on 21 May 1707. Their son Etienne, Jean Louis’ father, was baptized on 13 July 1709.

Jean Louis’ mother Jeanne Deleuze’s grandparents were Antoine Deleuze and Antoinette Salanson and their son Georges married Anne Carcasson, daughter of Gabriel Carcasson and Louise Amat, on 20 July 1713. Their daughter Jeanne was baptized on 26 May 1715, and at the age of 16 she married Etienne Bazalgette on 5 February 1732. Both families must have been well set up, and judging by the size of Jeanne’s dowry, the Deleuzes were quite comfortably off. The marriage contract was drawn up by Maître Grégoire, notary of Ispagnac, on 14 January, 1732, twenty-two days before the wedding. Jeanne’s dowry amounted to 350 livres, of which 80 livres was provided by her father and 40 livres by her deceased mother, as specified in her will. Jeanne’s dowry, according to Roman Law, was to be managed by her husband during his lifetime but returned to her on his death. The remaining sum of 230 livres was to be paid thus: 30 livres the first year after the marriage and 20 livres per annum for the next eleven years, without interest. This sum of 350 livres was equivalent to about a year’s earnings for a weaver in Picardy at that time.

The Bazalgette family’s long lineage, self-sufficiency and non-conformist tradition tended to produce scions of great determination and inner strength. Jean Louis was a supreme example as we will see.

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Author’s Note

The title is rather anachronistic because the bulk of Louis Bazalgette’s service to the Prince of Wales was before the latter came to be known as ‘Prinny’. He got that nickname in about 1805, from Minney Seymour, the orphaned daughter of Admiral Lord Hugh Seymour, who was for many years the ward of Mrs. Fitzherbert. When the Prince used to visit Mrs. Fitzherbert he often played with little Minney while he was there. She was only about four or five then, and she called him ‘Prinny’ to rhyme with her own first name. He told a number of his friends about it, and soon many of them were calling him Prinny, too. However, although I do not much like the use of the name it is immediately recognizable, and is much shorter than ‘The Prince of Wales, later George IV’. I used the old spelling ‘Taylor’ as a differentiator and to make the title easier to search for. I rather liked the title ‘Rags To Riches’, but it is not descriptive enough and there are other books with that title.

So ‘Prinny’s Taylor’ it had to be.

There are three chapters which cover various aspects of Georgian gentlemen’s tailoring. During my research I gathered a great deal of material on the subject, which will not be found elsewhere in one place, so for this reason I included it. The reader who finds this as fascinating as I do will find that these chapters enrich the story, but the less-interested can of course skip these chapters and not interfere with the chronological flow. They are always available for reference.

The reader will also come across a couple of passages in italics, which are semi-fictional, but firmly based on fact. This is a device that I had come across in a couple of other biographies and I rather like it. I hope you do too.


This biography had its origins in my genealogical research into the British branch of the Bazalgette family, whose patriarch was Jean Louis Bazalgette (1750-1830). I had carried out a great deal of genealogical research on my families before I started to concentrate on my great-great-great-great-grandfather Jean Louis.  He was born in a village in the Cévennes, in the South of France, into a family who had been tailors for several generations, but then left home, found his way to London and rapidly rose to the top of his profession, serving as tailor to the Prince of Wales for over thirty-two years. I was intrigued because he was regarded in the family as a mysterious figure, the commonest question about him being: ‘Where did he get his money and property?’

Several people had already tried to find out more about him, with varying success.  The waters were muddied by a French relative who wrote an account of Louis’ life which was based on a few facts but was otherwise utter fantasy.  This author had Louis sailing across to America in 1777 with the Marquis de Lafayette, fighting in the Revolutionary War, establishing a string of fur-trading posts across the North American continent and finally marrying the daughter of a rich New York fur merchant before sailing to England.  There still seem to be people who believe this version of events, but I hope in this book to dispel this myth.

When researching Louis’ life, apart from finding the usual vital records, I hit the proverbial brick wall.  He was an unknown man.  He never got his name in the newspapers, apart from the odd modest donation to charity, and was never mentioned in contemporary accounts, diaries etc., of which I ploughed through a great number.  He never advertised, probably because the Prince’s orders for clothes took up all of his manufacturing capacity. The fact that over many years I have been able to piece together his life story is owing mainly to the ‘snapping up of unconsidered trifles’ and to painstaking detective work, plus those few measures of luck that lead the researcher up the right path, against the run of the play, which usually consists of Dame Fortune blithely pointing him down the garden variety.

It is very clear that Louis was a self-effacing, discreet and even secretive man.  He did not have any particular vices that we know of.  Having become the Prince’s tailor when the latter was as young as eighteen, he was able to visit him to take and deliver orders almost clandestinely, which of course suited both of them very well, and although the quantity of clothes he supplied was colossal, he passed unobserved.  His name did appear in the royal accounts as being owed far more than any other creditor, but otherwise, apart from amassing a large fortune, and then lending money to the Prince and his brothers, as well as to other prominent figures such as Richard Sheridan, he avoided the spotlight of history. So unless, like the author, you had followed him like a bloodhound for fifteen years, you would never have found this out.

Louis was therefore the right man at the right time, providing an exclusive service of great quality and efficiency to Prinny and almost imperceptibly making himself a millionaire, in modern terms, as a result.  He was then able, in his unnoticed way, to become a propertied gentleman and to enjoy his dotage as lord of the manor of Great Bookham.

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