Schomberg House — Part Two

Last week, I began the saga of Schomberg House, once the magnificent seventeenth-century London town home of the Duke of Schomberg, located on the south side of one of city’s most notable thoroughfares, Pall Mall. In the mid-eighteenth century, the house descended to the Duke’s grandson, the Earl of Holderness, who vacated his Crown leasehold on the property in favor of the artist, John Astley. Beau Astley had recently come into a large fortune upon the death of his second wife and had moved to London to enjoy it. He divided the house into three sections, keeping the central section, No. 81 for himself. He let the east section, No. 80, to a series of textile merchants, furriers and haberdashers, and the west section, No. 82, to the noted painter, Thomas Gainsborough. By 1777, Astley’s lavish life-style had put a serious drain on his finances and he decided to leave London for a less expensive life in the country.

And so, the singular saga of Schomberg House, part the second …

Beau Astley was not only an artist, he was also a collector of fine art, and by 1777, he had amassed quite a large collection of some very fine paintings. He owned over a hundred paintings, most of them by seventeenth-century Flemish, Dutch, French and Italian artists, all of which were displayed in his Schomberg House home. But when he realized his finances would no longer support his extravagant way of living, he decided that he would have to leave London, at least for a time. He also decided to sell the bulk of his art collection, probably through Christie’s auction house, which was located just next door to Schomberg House. And so, Gainsborough’s art collection was not the first displayed in Schomberg House to go on the auction block when its owner departed their residence there. Astley’s had been sold from the house more than a decade earlier.

After the sale of his art collection, John Astley traveled north to the country estate left to him by his second wife, Lady Dukenfield-Daniell, which was situated in the county of Cheshire. In 1775, Astley had designed and had built for himself a small but elegant home, Dukinfield Lodge, on the grounds of the main Dukinfield estate. Not long after his arrival at Dukinfield Lodge, he became acquainted with Mary Wagstaffe, of the nearby town of Manchester. She was the daughter of a wealthy surgeon of the town, William Wagstaffe. She was also an acknowledged and celebrated young beauty of seventeen when she met the still handsome, but much older, Beau Astley. Though he was thirty-six years her senior, theirs is reported to have been a love match. After their marriage, they settled happily into country life at Dukinfield Lodge and eventually were blessed with five children.

Not long after his marriage, John Astley’s younger brother, a surgeon who lived in Putney, was run over by a wagon on Wimbledon Common, and died of his injuries. Not having married, he left his estate of £10,000 to his brother, John, thus restoring much of Beau Astley’s lost wealth. A few years later, Lady Dukenfield-Daniell’s only daughter, who was hopelessly insane, also died, at which time, the remaining assets of the Dukenfield-Daniell estate became the sole property of John Astley. Though once again a wealthy man, Astley was no longer interested in returning to London and the extravagant existence he had pursued there. Instead, he remained in the country, a happily married man who became a local philanthropist, donating money to a number of causes, including the improvement of the town of Dukinfield. Among other things, he donated land for a town library and a school that became known as the Astley Grammar School. He also maintained his interest in art and architecture, continuing to paint as well as restoring a number of churches in the county. John Astley died on 14 November 1787.

Perhaps the Gordon Riots of 1780 caused John Astley some concern about bringing his growing young family to London. Some of those riots took place in Pall Mall, right in front of Schomberg House, though fortunately, the only damage to the house were a few broken windows. By 1781, whether because of the rioting in London or because he had come to prefer life in the country, Astley knew he would never return to London to live permanently. He therefore decided to lease the central section of Schomberg House. The tenant who took the lease on No. 81 Pall Mall was a man who had decided to expand his successful "sexual therapy" business, Doctor James Graham. As much showman as medical practitioner, Graham had opened his first Temple of Health in May of 1780, in the fashionable new development, Adelphi Terrace, designed and constructed by the Adam brothers. By the spring of 1781, this extraordinary establishment had become extremely successful and Dr. Graham had decided to expand his operations.

Though many people came to view Dr. James Graham as a quack, the doctor himself was a most determined and passionate advocate of the powers of electricity and magnetism to re-invigorate an individual’s sexual potency and cure infertility. Graham was of the opinion that the English physique of the later eighteenth century was becoming puny and frail. He was certain that the cause of this incipient constitutional frailty was lackluster sexual relations and too many males indulging in masturbation. For these reasons, he believed that couples were unable to conceive "wholesome" children or to conceive at all. Dr. Graham was convinced that the combined powers of electricity and magnetism, employed in a sensually enhanced setting, would ensure the stimulation of both partners to intense marital passion. With such powerful stimulation, Graham believed that a couple could be brought to an exciting and fulfilling climax, resulting in orgasm for both parties. Like the ancient Greeks, and many medieval European doctors before him, Graham believed that conception was not possible unless both partners achieved orgasm during intercourse. He had designed his Temple of Health to create an environment in which he could provide the optimal atmosphere by which to bring his clients to full sexual potency and successful conception. In that way, he believed that he was contributing to the improvement of the English race.

James Graham was eager to lease No. 81 Pall Mall, where he planned to design even more sexually stimulating surroundings for his clients. This new location not only gave him a second set of rooms in one of the better areas of London, but his new neighbor would be the famous artist, Thomas Gainsborough. It is likely they already knew one another, as Graham had been in Bath while Gainsborough was still working there. Graham routinely cultivated relationships with celebrities whenever the opportunity arose, in order to promote both his theories about sexual health and his business. In June of 1781, the new Temple of Hymen opened in Graham’s new premises in Schomberg House. This new location was even more ornately decorated and was filled with even more complex and fantastical electrical equipment than was seen in the Temple of Health at the Adelphi Terrace. There were even more devices placed about this "Temple," which released various stimulating fragrances, threw a rainbow of light beams and played sensual music, among the many features which were intended to enhance his clients’ procreative exercises there.

It was in this new Temple of Hymen in Schomberg House that James Graham installed his most extraordinary and wondrous masterpiece, the "Celestial Bed." This enormous bed was the centerpiece of Graham’s special treatment for infertility. It is described as being twelve feet long by nine feet wide, with a glass-domed canopy to which was attached a number of musical automata. The canopy was abundantly festooned with fresh flowers in which nested a pair of live turtle-doves. Concealed in the dome was also a reservoir from which could be released stimulating fragrances, called "aethereal gases" by Dr. Graham. This entire contraption was supported by forty pillars of cut glass which reflected the many rainbow beams of light which played about the room and also served as insulation from the electricity and magnetism with which it was supposedly charged. The mattress support was mounted on a frame which could be operated so as to tilt it in order to put the couple which occupied it in the best position to conceive. A number of mirrors were also placed strategically around the bed and its horse-hair mattress was stuffed only with the strong and springy hair from the tails of English stallions as a further aid to successful conception. Beneath the mattress were placed a number of lodestones as well as a series of levers which triggered the musical automata in the dome, increasing these "celestial sounds" in intensity with the rising level of passionate activity of the couple who were making use of the bed. Above the head of the bed was mounted a clockwork-powered tableau which celebrated the god Hymen, over which constantly arched charges of static electricity. Above that hung a plaque which read:   "Be fruitful, multiply and replenish the earth!" Wealthy couples eager to conceive paid £50 for each session in the Celestial Bed.

But Dr. Graham did not rely solely on electrical and magnetic devices as aids to his clients’ efforts at conception. He was well aware of the effect a scantily-dressed shapely young woman could have on the male libido. He therefore employed a number of young women who served as goddesses or priestesses in his establishment. Among the young women who were employed at the Temple of Hymen on Pall Mall was said to be Mrs. Ann Curtis, the rebellious younger sister of the great acting family which included Mrs. Siddons and John Philip Kemble. Another popular goddess was the young Amy Lyon, who would eventually become the wife of Sir William Hamilton and the mistress of Admiral, Lord Nelson. The principal responsibilities of these goddesses or priestesses was to read an epilogue to each of Graham’s lectures. They stood on a Neo-classical pedestal, dressed in ancient Greek costume, while they read out these discourses. He called these young ladies his "Goddesses of Health." The price of attending each these lectures was two guineas, and they were well attended. When a goddess was not delivering the epilogue to one of Dr. Graham’s lectures, she was guiding paying visitors around the wonders of the Temple of Hymen. The price of admission was 2s. 6d. during the day and 5s. in the evening. There is no doubt that Gainsborough encountered Amy Lyon on more than one occasion in and around Schomberg House, but unlike George Romney, he had no interest in painting her. Most art historians believe that Gainsborough found her rather unpolished manners and more overt sexuality of no interest, especially when compared with his own special muse, the Honorable Mrs. Mary Cathcart Graham. Others believe that his wife forbade him to paint the lovely young Goddess of Health. However, Margaret Gainsborough was not known as a jealous woman.

Unfortunately for Dr. Graham, not long after he opened the Temple of Hymen in Pall Mall, he began to loose some of his more powerful patrons, and other prominent people began to speak out against him. Only a month after he moved into Schomberg House, he had to close his Temple of Health at the Adelphi Terrace. He transferred much of his equipment, including his Magnetic Throne, to his Pall Mall premises. The novelty of that, and the Celestial Bed, helped to bring in customers for a time, especially when he lowered his prices. But eventually, he found the need to supplement his income and opened a gaming parlor in one of his back rooms. In 1782, six men were prosecuted "… for keeping a Common Gaming House for playing at E.O. at Dr. Graham’s in Pall Mall." Despite this, the gambling continued, and a rather exotic high-class brothel also began operation in the Temple of Hymen. This was all brought to the attention of London authorities several months later, when a brawl, which apparently began in the gaming room, spilled out onto Pall Mall and resulted in the death of a young officer of the Guards. The Temple of Hymen was closed down for several weeks and though it was eventually allowed to reopen, without the gaming parlor or the brothel, the scandal seems to have so tarnished Dr. Graham’s reputation that few clients cared to be seen there. By the spring of 1784, Dr. Graham began selling off as much of his equipment and other property as he could, and in March of 1784, he gave up his lease on No. 81 Pall Mall and vacated the premises.

In the summer of 1784, Thomas Gainsborough, at No. 82 Pall Mall, got new neighbors, fellow artists, when Maria and Richard Cosway took a lease on Dr. Graham’s former Schomberg House premises at No. 81. Both were painters, and Richard Cosway, like Thomas Gainsborough, was a member of the Royal Academy. Richard had become very wealthy as a leading painter of portraits, particularly miniatures, and he had already come to the attention of the Prince of Wales. But prior to taking up residence at Schomberg House, he and his wife were living in a small house in Berkeley Row, off Berkeley Street. While still living there, in a letter to a friend in Italy, he complained about the narrowness of the street on which he lived and the fact that his windows looked out on the large blank wall which surrounded Devonshire House. But even worse was the fact that he did not consider his home suitable for receiving the Prince of Wales or any of his noble and wealthy patrons, since he had no entrance hall and only a very small sitting room. Richard Cosway was a notorious libertine and was considered the most licentious of all the members of the Royal Academy. Such a man would have had no qualms about making his home in the former Temple of Hymen. In fact, he was probably rather pleased at the prospect.

Of course, Dr. Graham’s old rooms at Schomberg House had to be refurbished and re-fitted before the Cosways could take up residence there. And Richard Cosway made sure the rooms, especially those in which they received guests, were quite lavish and ornately decorated so that he would never be embarrassed by his home as he had been in Berkeley Row. Their friend, the talented painter, Angelica Kauffman, painted lush mythological scenes on the ceilings of two of their larger rooms. Richard Cosway took great pains to ensure that his new home was more than grand enough to entertain the Prince of Wales, as well his wealthy and aristocratic patrons, not to mention the many members of the beau monde who were regularly accepting invitations from the now very prominent and socially successful Cosways.

It is generally believed that the young Maria Hadfield married Richard Cosway, who was eighteen years her senior, in an arranged marriage, in 1781, at the behest of her mother and the artist, Angelica Kauffman. Maria was the daughter of a wealthy English innkeeper who lived in Italy and his Italian wife. Maria had lived in Italy for most of her life, coming to England with her widowed mother in 1779. She was a successful painter of historical and mythological scenes, though after her marriage she also began painting miniatures and did a number of book-illustrations. In addition, she was an accomplished musician and composer and she hosted regular concerts and recitals on Sunday evenings, after she had settled into her new and very elegant home at Schomberg House. Maria Cosway was described as a graceful, golden-haired beauty with a lively, outgoing nature and an intelligent mind, in addition to being very accomplished as both a painter and a musician. She was also fluent in both Italian and French, as well as having many friends from across Europe. Her musical evenings quickly became perhaps the most popular evening events in London. Maria herself was frequently the principal performer, but there were also numerous occasions when she introduced celebrated musicians and singers newly arrived in London at these evening musicales. Her concerts were attended not only by the famous and fashionable among the English, but many international luminaries regularly attended as well. The Prince of Wales himself came often to these musical evenings. There is more than one contemporary record relating that on most Sunday evenings, Pall Mall, in the vicinity of Schomberg House, was thronged with carriages and sedan-chairs to the point that it was often impassible.

A little over a year after moving into Schomberg House, Richard Cosway was appointed Miniaturist to the Prince of Wales, in part because he had recently painted miniature portraits of both the Prince and his morganatic wife, Maria Fitzherbert. It was this miniature of Mrs. Fitzherbert which the Prince was to wear for the rest of his life. He also ordered that it be placed over his heart when he was buried. Already a vain and pompous man, Cosway became even worse after this royal appointment and began signing his work " R. dus Cosway, R. A. Primarius Pictor Serenissimi Walliae Principis pinxit." Essentially, "R[ichard] of Cosway, R[oyal] A[cademician], Principal Painter to His Serene Highness the Prince of Wales, painted this." Such a grandiose signature made Cosway the butt of many jokes, though he seems to have been largely unaware of them.

There was also talk around London at about this same time that the Prince of Wales was very attracted to the young and lovely wife of his official miniaturist. Although for some time, the Prince seemed equally taken with both Richard Cosway, who had also become his informal artistic advisor, and the beautiful and talented Maria Cosway, who shared his interests in both art and music. Many people in the upper ranks of society became extremely envious of the Cosway’s nearly unfettered access to the Prince of Wales at his home in Carlton House. There was even a rumor making the rounds that there was a secret passageway between Carlton House and Schomberg House. Since the back of the Schomberg House garden was barely two blocks from the back of the Carlton House garden, the idea of this secret passageway did not seem beyond the realm of possibility to many. However, no substantive evidence of the existence of such a secret passageway has ever been found.

There is a sad and rather peculiar story regarding the Cosway’s young daughter which is often reported as having taken place in Schomberg House. However, when the dates of the Cosway’s occupancy of No. 81 Pall Mall are compared with the dates of this little girl’s birth and death, it is clear the location of this unhappy incident was not Schomberg House. On 4 May 1790, Maria Cosway gave birth to her daughter, and only child, Louisa Paolina Angelica, in Schomberg House. Maria’s confinement was extremely difficult and for a time her life was in danger. Both she and her baby survived, but Maria was probably suffering from severe post-natal depression and was advised to travel for her health. She followed her doctor’s orders, and leaving both her husband and her daughter in London, she traveled across Europe for nearly four years. In her absence, it seems that Richard became inordinately fond of his little daughter. He painted a touching portrait of little Louisa as a toddler, with her mother behind her, though at that time Maria was still abroad. Maria Cosway returned to London in 1794, and she, too, came to love her little girl quite dearly. But sadly, in July of 1796, Louisa died, rather suddenly, of a throat infection. Her father, nearly inconsolable with grief, commissioned a small but elegant marble sarcophagus just her size made by the renowned sculptor, Joseph Nollekens. When it was finished, Cosway had his daughter’s embalmed body placed in this grand sarcophagus. He then had the sarcophagus placed in his palatial principal drawing room. But that drawing room was not in Schomberg House. Louisa was born in Schomberg House, but about a year later, in 1791, while his wife was still abroad, Richard Cosway moved out of Schomberg House to a new home in Stratford Place. It was there that Louisa died, in 1796, and it was in the drawing room there that her sarcophagus was kept by her father. After several months, Maria was able to persuade her husband to allow their daughter to be buried. Louisa was then laid to rest in Bunhill Fields, and the empty sarcophagus was returned to Nollekens for safe-keeping.

Most art historians are of the opinion that Richard Cosway painted the majority of his best works during his years at Schomberg House. During his residence on Pall Mall, probably since he was then serving as artistic advisor to the Prince of Wales as the Prince developed his art collection, Cosway had also taken up the purchase, restoration and sale of a large number of paintings and various antiquities. However, he seems to have purchased more art than he sold. When he made the decision to remove from Schomberg House, he also decided to sell this vast and valuable collection. Once again, just three years after the sale of Gainsborough’s art collection, the employees of Christie’s Auction Rooms, just next door to Schomberg House, were to be seen for several days carrying all these valuable objects of art from No. 81 Pall Mall down the street to Christie’s Great Rooms in preparation for their sale.

With the departure of the Cosways from No. 81 Pall Mall, the most glamorous and certainly the most risqué period in the history of Schomberg House came to an end. Yet we have not yet reached the time when architectural embellishments from Mrs. Coade’s artificial stone manufactory were added to the house. That is yet to come, along with the more mundane history of Schomberg House during the period of the Regency. Next week, the end of the story of Schomberg House, including its eventual, almost complete, destruction.


About Kathryn Kane

Historian with a particular interest the English Regency era.   An avid reader of novels set in that time, holding strong opinions on the historical accuracy to be found in said novels.
This entry was posted in Places and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Schomberg House — Part Two

  1. I found this history of the house and its occupants quite fascinating. Thank you

    • Kathryn Kane says:


      So nice to hear from you!

      Glad you liked the story. This middle bit is probably the most interesting. Next week’s finale will not feature any really outrageous characters, but I do want to finish the tale.

      I have been popping in to Prinny’s Taylor from time to time, looking for an announcement that your book has been released. (I can’t leave comments there anymore. Posterous seems to have something against me since the new owners took over!) But I am eagerly awaiting the release to add it to my Regency library.

      Thanks for stopping by and very Happy Holidays to you and yours!



  2. Hello Kat,

    Many thanks for your response. I haven’t been very active online recently because I have been busy with other things, and anyway I seem to have run out of blog ideas.

    Thank you for enquiring about PT. It is complete but I have been waiting vainly for results from a researcher in France who has taken eighteen months to come up with virtually nothing, which is very frustrating. To promote the book, if it ever sees the light of day, I’ll be using a Blogspot account and NOT Posterous.

    Let me also wish you and yours a very happy holiday season. Your blogs are always a pleasure to read!


  3. Pingback: Schomberg House — Part One | The Regency Redingote

  4. Pingback: Schomberg House — Part Three | The Regency Redingote

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s