The Fashionable Hour in Hyde Park

 
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The fashionable hour was really three hours from half past four to seven thirty though there aren't many ladies in evidence until about half past five. By seven thirty it was time to return to one's townhouse or lodgings and change into evening dress for dinner. The Ton, members of the 2,000 aristocratic families at the pinnacle of English society, promenaded up and down with all the same fervor of any modern teenager on what so ever street it is the thing to ride up and down peacocking and flirting with the others drawn to the place to take part in the social rituals.

A brick wall was built to enclose Hyde Park in 1660 at the order of James Hamilton the Keeper of the Park under Charles II. The avenue fashionable for disporting oneself in Georgian Times was Rotten Row, a corruption of La Route du Roi. William III had the road improved and made wide enough to easily drive three carriages abreast in 1690. The road was well sanded with coarse Thames sand. Hyde Park was purely the venue of the wealthy, no hack being allowed into the Park since 1695. The old wall was replaced with a new railing as part of the Coronation festivities of George IV.

On Rotten Row one could be seen, flirt, greet friends, and make others pea green with envy for your beautiful driving clothes and equipage or mount. There you might see that aging playboy the Duke of Queensbury ogling women from his carriage with his bold letter 'Q' decorating his carriage door, rather than a crest. Viscount Petersham can be seen driving his famous chocolate colored coach pulled by brown horses. Mr. Annesley might drive by with his roan horses standing out among all the bays and black horses. Sir Henry Peyton can be seen driving his famous Greys with their manes and tails flying like clouds in the wind. Gentlemen wearing the ankle length drab coat and yellow striped blue waistcoat of the Four-in-Hand club are sprinkled in the passing cavalcade. The Hon. Frederick Gerald Byng glides by with his carefully clipped poodle on the seat beside him. Beau Brummell, always ready with a quip, notes the hair curling round Byng's forehead and pauses to speak in passing. Uttering his sobriquet with the assurance that it will be the on-dit of the day. "Ah, Byng, how do you do? A family vehicle, I see." It's "Poodle" Byng from now on. The Prince of Wales is surely out in the equipage he proudly commissioned Stubbs to paint. Gaze upon Georgiana the Duchess of Devonshire and the other great beauties of the day taking their airing. Is it just a fancy or do the Prince's eyes follow Georgiana wistfully as they pass one another? Watch the looks of awe and snubs as the notorious Letty Lade drives by in her high-perch phaeton. Carriages bearing the painted and gilded family crests of the Ton and the living ornament of a dalmatian coach dog and liveried servants glide by in spotless splendor. The pair of footmen riding at the back of the coaches are as well matched as the teams of horses in their coloring and six-foot or better height. Among the carriages are those bearing faux crests meant to remind one of the crests of titled lovers whose Lady these courtesans will never be.

C. J. Apperley writes of the fashionable hour in Hyde Park, "on any fine afternoon in the height of the London season…he will see a thousand well appointed equipages pass before him…Everything he sees is peculiar, the silent roll and easy motion of the London-built carriage, the style of the coachmen - it is hard to determine which shine brightest, the lace on their clothes, their own round faces, or flaxen wigs - the pipe-clayed reins - pipe-clayed lest they should spoil the clean white gloves…not forgetting the "spotted coach-dog, which has been washed for the occasion…such a blaze of splendor…is now to be seen nowhere but in London."

The movie An Ideal Husband shows a scene of a Victorian drive in Hyde Park.




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This site last updated March 2003 by webmaster