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

It’s no good I can’t help another deviation to share some recently discovered old trees – Lord Byron may well have walked or ridden along this avenue.

Kingston Lacy Avenue

If you’ve read my early blogs I have spoken before of my passion for old trees, which may sound silly, and my daughter definitely thinks is silly, but when I see things like this avenue at Kingston Lacy I cannot help but be drawn into imagining who has walked past these trees before me, over the same soil. It’s funny because I don’t think about it in the same way when I walk through the house. Kingston Hall was completed in 1667 and it looks as though this avenue was planted then.

When these trees were perhaps ten years old, the Duke of Ormonde lived in Kingston Hall. He was close to King Charles II, having shared the King’s years of exile and was given his title on the King’s restoration. He was in his 70’s when he lived at Kingston Hall, and would have possibly arrived along this avenue, having lived a tumultuous life, in and out of favour in a back stabbing court and holding Ireland for the Crown in the Civil War. He must have had a lot to contemplate as he looked down upon the avenue from the windows of Kingston Hall in his last days.

Then there is the history of William John Bankes, a second son, born in 1786 (The gentleman who explored Egypt and brought home the obelisk). He later became heir and formed a lifelong friendship with Lord Byron, beginning in 1804, when they met at Trinity College,Cambridge. William competed with Byron for the attention and the hand of Annabella Millbanke. He had his own proposal rejected in 1812. Byron writes of him ‘He is very clever, very original and has a fund of information; he is also very good-natured, but he is not much of a flatterer…’ Annabella was clearly not interested in anything beyond perhaps encouraging his adulation and continued attention. ‘One of my smiles would encourage him, but I am niggardly in my glances.’

Of course Byron was not so lacking in flattery. All I have read of him and the letters he has written show a very intelligent man who was extremely capable of flirtation, manipulation and seduction. I would say, if he wished to, he knew how to charm people. We certainly know he had a gift with words. He married Annabella in 1815, after she fell for his fame following the publication of Childe Harold – she read a copy Byron gave to William and William loaned to her. Annabella wrote to Byron then, ‘I am afraid he will hear of us with pain, yet he cannot lose hope, for I never allowed it to exist’.

In an earlier post I showed this picture of the pelisse Annabella is believed to have worn on her departure for her honeymoon, following her marriage to Lord Byron, it is in the possession of the Fashion museum inBath.

I can only wonder if either Byron or Annabella travelled along this avenue, on foot, by horse or carriage. I think there are strong odds that Byron did, as his friendship with William Bankes lasted so many years even surviving his failed marriage to Annabella, though Byron had fled England after this.


Then there are my favourite trees from Stourhead, which out date the Georgian house by centuries, it is believed they may be a 1000 years old, which means they have stood along this entrance way since the medieval period. An army of knights may have ridden past here, escorting carts piled high with household belongs perhaps, as the families moved from residence to residence – their tack jangling, the sound of the horses hooves a low thunder and the bright colours of their clothing and heraldry tabards and banners fluttering in the breeze. Yes, I can imagine it. I have spoken of them before, but now I have a picture.

Old Wardour Yew Alley

My last find however was at Old Wardour, last week. This alley of yew trees was planted in 1730, along a surviving terrace from the second era of the ruins as an element of a ‘formal’ pleasure garden. The terraces had railings along their edge when established and steps. This one overlooked a bowling green, with the ruins as its backdrop. My imagination of course pictures the gentlemen who must have climbed the ruins and engraved their names walking along beside these trees, perhaps flattering a woman, Byronic style. And notably the greatest amount of graffiti is in the entrance facing the site of the bowling green which would match the date of this formal garden. Perhaps these were carved as they waited for their turn or watched a game of bowls.

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


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