“Superior to any thing of the kind ever offered for public inspection.”
A bold statement, but itinerant glassworker Scott had a list of reasons why his exhibition was a must-see display in 1830s Brighton, England. This handbill, distributed around town, features a detailed image of Scott, surrounded by fascinated onlookers, as he manipulates glass rods over a flame. Along with the many magnificent pieces of glass he claimed would be on display, who could resist stopping by 115 St. James Street?
Scott had previously exhibited his show in London, where he demonstrated to the nobility and gentry who shopped at the exclusive boutiques in Burlington Arcade. So he may have seen some familiar faces in the seaside town of Brighton, which had become a fashionable resort during the Georgian era. Many visitors came to “take the cure” by drinking or bathing in seawater, while others were “attracted by the presence of Royalty.”1
“Brighton,” wrote Charles Knight, a British editor and author, “stands near the centre of the curved line of coast of which the east and west points are respectively Beachy Head and Selsea Bill. The town is built on a slope, and is defended from the north winds by the high land of the South Downs, which, from Beachy Head as far as the central part of Brighton, press close on the sea and form high chalk cliffs. From the central part of Brighton westward the hills recede farther from the sea, leaving a level coast.”2
On the town itself, Knight commented, “The best part of Brighton may be described as composed of ranges of splendid houses, formed into squares and handsome streets. The parish church of St. Nicholas, an ancient edifice, stands on a hill north-west of the town. The town-hall, begun in 1830, on the site of the old market, nearly in the centre of the town, is a large but ill-designed edifice . . . The inns, hotels, and baths of Brighton are numerous, and there are several places of amusement – a theatre, an assembly room, a club house, and, about a mile east of the town, on the summit of a beautiful part of the Downs, a fine race-course. The trade of Brighton is confined exclusively to the supply of the wants of a rich population.” 3 When Scott demonstrated in Brighton in 1830, this population had swelled to over 40,000 people, up from just over half that number a decade prior.
Writer Mary Philadelphia Merrifield described Brighton crowds in the 1850s: “Gaily-dressed ladies, and over-dressed children, throng the esplanades; the military band plays in the Pavilion grounds twice a week; the Town and other bands are met on the Cliff; groups of Ethiopian Serenaders parade the streets; Wizards from the North, South, East, and West, send forth their advertisements, and hope to draw crows to the Pavilion, Dome, or Concert Hall.”4
Scott appealed directly to this wealthy population in his advertisement, informing the “Nobility, Gentry, Visitors, and Inhabitants of Brighton” that his exhibition was open for a “short time” on St. James Street. Some of the attendees would doubtlessly be members of the fashionable crowd spotted in ballrooms and on promenades.
But Scott had an advantage over his fellow “Wizards”: he had the patronage of the Duchess of Kent and her daughter, Princess Victoria. Crowned queen in 1837, Victoria was eleven years old in 1830, still living under the protective watch of her mother and Sir John Conroy. Perhaps the princess and her mother saw Scott at the Burlington Arcade, although it seems much more likely that he would have demonstrated for them privately at Kensington Palace. Either way, their patronage was a powerful marketing tool for Scott, especially given that Victoria had recently become the heir presumptive to the British throne.
Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert, later became significant patrons of the arts. They collected, curated, patronized, and promoted artists and creators of many disciplines.5 Did Victoria ever think of the dazzling glass objects created by Scott? Fellow British glassworker Lawrence Finn claimed that part of the queen’s wedding dress was made of spun glass, so perhaps Scott’s talent for spinning 1,000 yards of glass per minute into delicate threads made an impression.6
Scott’s handbill proclaims the show was “by far the most instructive, entertaining, and cheap exhibition.” Admission was one shilling for adults7 and sixpence for children and servants. This price would gain a visitor entry to witness Scott’s splendid skills and “a Specimen . . . in any Article they may select or desire to have made.”
“The Artist” delighted audience members by “Working, Blowing, and Modelling” objects in a variety of colors, “exhibited so as to give at one view an idea of this most ingenious manufacture.” As mentioned above, Scott used a spinning wheel (shown in the advertisement) to spin one pound of glass into 20,000 yards of thread, at the rate of 1,000 yards per minute.8
Also to be seen was a glass ship, the Lord Mayor’s coach with six horses, and many other wonders “patronized . . . by every Family of distinction in England.” Visitors must have been fascinated by Scott’s hydraulic glass skeleton, which was “kept in continual motion by itself, showing how the blood passes through the different channels of the human frame.” This model was apparently a favorite of the royal family.9 Featured for sale were a variety of glass goods, including vases, chandeliers, hydrostatic balloons, and fancy figures.
Between his royal patronage and the wonders described on his advertisement, it is easy to imagine Scott’s exhibition was well attended by many people of quality in the busy seaside resort of Brighton.
A version of this post was originally published on the Corning Museum of Glass blog on May 7, 2014.
- Mary Philadelphia Merrifield, Brighton: Past and Present: A Handbook for Visitors and Residents, 5th ed.(Brighton: W. Address), 16.
- Charles Knight, The National Cyclopaedia of Useful Knowledge (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1853), 3:809
- Ibid, 3:810.
- Merrifield, 57.
- “The patronage and collecting of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert,” Royal Collection Trust, accessed 6 November 2019.
- Exhibition of Fancy Glass Working and Spinning United States Hotel, Private Entrance : Mr. Finn. Augusta, Georgia:1841. Collection of the Rakow Research Library, The Corning Museum of Glass, CMGL 164968.
- The equivalent of several British pounds today.
- A fine feat indeed!
- Perhaps including the young princess?