Children allowed at the Christmas Ball…?

Frances Bankes

Frances Bankes

This week I want to share something which surprised me about Frances Bankes’s Ball, which I talked about last week and the week before, and seeing as the surprise is about children, and Christmas is a time to make a fuss of children, I thought it fitting to share this the Sunday before Christmas.

Well, I would have thought that at a party on the 19th December 1791 the children would have been tucked away in their beds in the attic rooms, out of sight and out of mind. But apparently no, not all Georgian parents wanted their children hidden away while they entertained. Some parents treated their children as part of the family exactly as we might today.

It is known, through Frances Bankes’s letters that she followed literary guidance of the time for parents, such as the philosopher John Locke’s, ‘Thoughts Concerning Education’ which was a popular book in lending libraries. She did not go so far as to breastfeed, which was encouraged as being natural, but did frequently keep her children with her in the main reception rooms during the day, employing a nanny, Mrs Hill, to keep them in order when there were visitors. She also took the children on outings to the seaside on Brownsea Island, and to visit their Grandmother in London.


When the children were older Frances and her husband even rented a property, not in the fashionable quarters of London, but near Westminster, where her boys went to school, so they might not have to board but could come home in the evenings and sleep in the family home. What a committed loving family, I did not expect to hear about such a family in the 18th Century.

IMG_3217So it is no wonder then that Frances let her ‘Five Brats’ come down to the ball, and not only to pay a short visit but to enjoy the entertainment for a long while.

The children had tea at four o’clock, in their upstairs sitting room, and then they were made to sleep for two hours before they dressed up in time for when the guests arrived at eight. Mrs Hill was told to keep them upstairs until their proud Mama rang to call them down and show them off.

They were initially lined up in the ballroom in a row (Sound of Music style).

Frances declared in a letter to her mother-in-law, ‘it was a very pretty sight and they all enjoyed it more than I should have imagined.’

IMG_3221Maria the baby was returned to bed after half-an-hour, as she was scared by so many people. Two of the boys, who were five and six, stayed up for a long while but tired before midnight and were then taken up to bed when Mrs Hill, the nanny/nurse, retired to bed.

But Frances’s daughter, three-year-old Anne, protested that she still had energy and did not wish to retire until the other ladies did, so both Anne and her brother George remained downstairs for even longer until they tired too and Frances herself took them up to bed.

IMG_3155Well, can you imagine four young children at a ball with 130-140 people, I know my own daughter has spent parties gathering Christmas confetti from every table, and collecting all the balloons, or running in circles on the dance floor, brim-full with the charged-up energy of over excitement, until it all has finally caught up with her and then she’s crashed out. Funny I had never imagined such behaviour at a Georgian Christmas ball in the 1700s, my eyes are now opened and my imagination tweaked.

Oh but let me share one more gem recorded from the catalogue of Frances Bankes’s motherly duties in her letters. When her second son, William – who grew up to be a great friend of Lord Byron’s (I’ll share his grown-up stories sometime, he was scandalous too) – was at school in London, one day he was not at all well, so Frances went to collect him from the school. She noted that the room had no chair in it but the one William occupied, (it was considered healthy by the school, to keep children in meagre surroundings). But when she came into the room, William’s friend who’d commandeered an upturned coal-scuttle as a seat, stood and offered it to Frances to sit on… She was charmed. So am I…

A series that will keep you curled up on the sofa in front of the log fire all

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.

See the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and Jane’s website to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark

Today, I am inviting you to join me at a Christmas ball, we’re going to the 19th December 1791, come along…

Frances Bankes

Frances Bankes

Your hosts are Henry and Frances Bankes, a happily married couple, who have lived for six years in the muddle of renovations, waiting for the moment they might entertain in their newly established great dining and entertaining room.

Henry Bankes

Henry Bankes

They have pictured this night for years, and once decorations in the hall were finally complete, what better time to show off their new home than to invite the local gentry, and particular friends, to a ball, or ‘Fete’ as Frances calls it. Of course Christmas is the perfect time of year for such a celebration.

So you have your invitation to Kingston Hall, at Kingston Lacy in Dorset. Come in.

Carriage Drive

Carriage Drive

Your carriage draws up outside the newly positioned Ionic Porch.

You probably have to wait a little in a queue of carriages, while each carriage carefully unloads its passengers.

Keeping warm inside your own, your feet are on hot bricks and a blanket is over you lap.

Are you feeling excited, and wondering what the Bankes home will be like, and what entertainments to expect? Will any decent man ask you to dance? Will there be enough men for every woman to have a turn on the floor?

The night is very cold and Frances has invited one hundred and forty guests. This is no small affair and all the guests have been told to arrive exactly at eight.

You appreciate the comfort of the Bankes’s new basement level porch as you came in from the cold.

The previous entrance opened directly onto the old ballroom, and each guest used to bring in a rush of cold air.

But tonight you are coming into a cosy square porch, where the servants are not in livery, you here someone say they have been and hired or borrowed from all over the county, so no one need wait for anything.

They take your outdoor clothing.

The stairsThen you are encouraged towards the shallow pale stone steps on the left.

As you climb them, you face windows, which in the daytime would have given you a vista of the ornate garden and an avenue of Yew trees, but at night reflect back the light of the numerous candles Frances has invested in to keep everything bright.

The Hall leading to Ballroom

When you reach the head of the staircase you see into the ballroom and hear a guest walking within cry, “It is like the Palace of Alladin.”

Instead of going into the ballroom though you are directed to turn left, where Frances and her husband Henry wait to receive you in the newly ‘fitted up in yellow’ library.

They are wearing proud excited smiles, and Frances appears stunning. You have heard she is a renowned beauty and her The Libraryhusband is quite obviously still besotted, while his wife explains how she has planned everything and hired only the most attentive servants, and the best musicians from Salisbury.

Having curtsied to them both, and moved on to the drawing-room, before progressing, you stop at the refreshment table, and choose from tea, white or read wine, a glass of negus (hot sweetened wine and water) to warm you up from the cold night.

There is also orgeat on offer, a cool drink made from barley or almonds, flavoured with orange water, and of course, lemonade ‘everything that people call for on these occasions.’ Perhaps later when you’ve danced you will appreciate the cooler drinks.

The Drawing Room

The Drawing Room

Despite none of the servants being in livery, the ten maids behind the tea-table are all in pink. Someone jokes beside you, that Frances has declared it only a fortunate coincidence.

BedchamberWhen you ask if there is anywhere you might freshen up, you’re directed to Frances’s bedchamber where the door has been propped open and the room lit.

The added thoughtfulness of powder puffs, powder and lavender water are left on Frances’s dresser for you to use.

Frances has thought of everything, you’re very impressed, and wonder is this is the behaviour you might expect in London, had you ever been to such a grand affair in town. It is not normal in the country.

On entering the ballroom you are stunned by the bright light spreading from the ‘noble lustre in the middle’, the giant chandelier dominating the beautifully painted ceiling.

The Ballroom (3)

All the money Frances has invested in candles has made the room very bright and the flickering light is reflected by the gilded decorations. It does really feel like Alladin’s Palace as you take in the pink curtains.

The Ballroom (4)

There are so many servants available you need call for nothing more than once and yet they do not disturb the guests as they restock the constant supply of cakes, and tea and hot negus, all refreshed from pots boiling in Mr Bankes own dressing room.

Bedchamber  2

The Ballroom (5)

Frances jokes it is all established so she might not risk any damage to her new carpets by having nothing of that sort handed about.

The musicians start to play as the room begins to truly fill with all Frances’s and Henry’s guests, Parliamentary friends, and the élite of Dorset. You feel very honoured to attend…

The Bankes are one of those wonderful families who kept all their letters. So I can tell you exactly how it felt to be at this ball, thanks to Frances’s gushing letters to her mother-in-law. Come and dance next week, when the entertainment begins…

A series that will keep you curled up on the sofa in front of the log fire all


Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.

See the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and Jane’s website to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark