THE PHANTOM TAILOR

I had done a great deal of genealogical research on my families before I started to concentrate on my gggggfr Louis Bazalgette.  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 very little 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 Lafayette, fighting in the Revolutionary War, establishing a string of fur-trading posts across the 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 and promulgate this utter tosh.
I have got a bit off-subject here, but to return to my research, apart from the usual vital records I hit the proverbial brick wall with Louis.  He was an unknown man.  He never got his name in the newspapers, apart from the odd modest donation, 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 took up all of his manufacturing capacity. The fact that over many years I have been able to piece together his life story is due 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 consists of Dame Fortune blithely pointing him down the garden variety.
The main point is that it’s very clear that Louis was a self-effacing, discreet and even secretive man.  He didn’t have any vices that we know of, unless keeping your head down and your nose clean counts.  So, 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 him very well, and though 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, unless, like me, you had followed him like a bloodhound, you would never have found this out.

So Louis is (until now) the Unknown Tailor, who made most of Prinny’s clothes from 1780 until at least 1795.  People talk of John Weston, and it is true that as the amount of work Louis did was diminishing by the turn of the century, Weston was there to fill the gap.  There are several reasons for this: – 1. Louis had made his pile, was getting older and was concentrating on other mercantile activities – 2. Paris, which had been the centre of fashion, lost much of its appeal because of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, and – 3. because the Prince had come under the influence of Beau Brummel and was being encouraged to look elsewhere (with English tailors) for his clothes.  A further important reason was that he owed so much money to Louis, who had, by the good offices of Thomas Coutts, ensured that these loans were all in the form of debenture bonds, which Prinny could not escape paying, that he needed to spread his debts elsewhere.  Nevertheless, Louis continued to supply his fanciful uniforms, and livery for his household, until at least 1805, and judging by the fact that he worked for him for 32 years, presumably as late as about 1812.

Louis was therefore the right man at the right time, providing an exclusive service of great quality and efficiency 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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