[This account is firmly based upon fact, but obviously contains elements from the author’s imagination]
On Saturday the 3rd November 1787, at about 8 a.m. a rather boxy brown carriage is rolled out of its coach-house at 22, Brooks Mews, Mayfair, which backs on to, and connects to, a far grander house, 22 Lower Grosvenor Street, the London home of Louis and Fanny Bazalgette and their children. The coach’s plain and functional look is only relieved by the discreet Prince of Wales feathers painted on each door. Once the coachman and his grooms have brought out and hitched up a pair of equally glossy chestnut horses, an ordered but rapid activity commences. Under the supervision of the chief assistant, Thomas Shepperd, three ‘imperials’ – light but strongly-made boxes measuring about 5 ½ ‘ x 2 ½’ x 1 ½’ – are loaded on to the flat roof of the carriage, which has solid brass rails surrounding it to keep the made-to-fit boxes from falling off. These boxes, which have canvas covers, like ‘cello cases, which protect them from damage, and which can be easily replaced when they become scuffed, are strapped down, and if the weather dictates, will further receive an oilskin cover.
These boxes contain a precious cargo – new and altered clothes to be delivered to the Prince of Wales. The soberly-dressed Louis Bazalgette, after a breakfast just sufficient to sustain him until a late lunch at 2 or 3 p.m., takes affectionate leave of his wife and children and passes through the first-floor offices at the rear of the house and through the manufactory, where he is greeted by his chief cutter and tailor. He passes a few words with them on the order of the day, collects his bags of swatches and tailor’s bits-and-bobs and then descends the stairs, through the shop, and thence to the mews, where he satisfies himself that the carriage and its load are presentable, and climbs into the carriage, followed by Thomas and another assistant.
The route taken to Carlton House depends on the traffic and on whether Louis has any errands, such as a visit to Coutts Bank at 59, Strand. The intention is to arrive at the mews at the back of Carlton House at about 9.30. The assistants carry the boxes into the Pages’ Room, where they wait to be summoned into the royal chambers. The customary wait is about half an hour, but may be longer. Signs of conviviality may often be heard as the Prince entertains various breakfast guests, as is his wont. Eventually they depart, and the tailoring trio is ushered into the Prince’s apartments, where their employer, clad in a pink and green-striped cassimere robe de chambre, is polishing off his breakfast.
Firstly, they will unpack, for inspection and fitting, the finished clothes, which were ordered a few days ago and have been finished with the customary dispatch. These consist of a bordered check satin vest (short waistcoat), two brown cloth hunting frocks (made from the Prince’s own cloth), one ‘mixt’ cloth ditto, two pairs of drab corduroy breeches, four pairs of drawers (made by a trusted local seamstress), five spaniolet waistcoats which have been altered from double to single-breasted, a ‘Corbeau-coloured’ frock with an orange silk lining and 24 striped ribbon buttons, a striped beaver frock lined with a scarlet silk lining, a re-buttoned striped frock, a pair of Saxon-green silk breeches and two pairs of fine flannel drawers.
After this business has been lengthily transacted, Louis produces his latest swatches for inspection, and there follows a further long discussion of what clothes His Royal Highness wishes to order today.
Louis pencils the orders into his notebook, and today they will consist of: a frock made from 5 ½ yards of striped blue beaver, lined with 6 ½ yards of orange silk with 24 ribbon buttons, another frock of brown striped beaver with pink silk edging and fancy stone buttons, a striped spaniolet vest and a scarlet ditto, both with pearl buttons, 8 further vests in various coloured satins – orange (with embroidered foreparts), scarlet ditto, purple silk with a velvet border, blue ditto with pink & green ditto, white satin with pink & white ditto (the last six to have silk fringes), 9 further vests of a variety of materials and colours and six spaniolet morning gowns of the Prince’s own material. The cost of this order is £96/12/9d, which at 2008 values represents £10,100 using the retail price index and £122,000 using average earnings.
After several hours it is possible for Louis and his retinue to take their leave, allowing those unfortunates with pressing state business belatedly to gain access to the Prince, after he has had time to be dressed of course.
This is by no means an untypical morning at Carlton House.