Domestic spaces lay at the heart of the Georgian vision, and it was during the 18th century that our national obsession with gardens began. Landscape designer Todd Longstaffe-Gowan has created a Georgian garden in the British Library's piazza that will remain in place for five months. (It is close to the Euston Road entrance and free to view.) The installation, entitled Georgeobelisk, is loosely based on the architect and playwright Sir John Vanbrugh's unexecuted entrance gate to the forecourt at Castle Howard in Yorkshire. Todd Longstaffe-Gowan explains his garden thus:
"It's the first time the British Library has ever done anything like this in the piazza. The space is quite difficult to work with. The brief was to make a garden of some sort, but given the timescale, and that it's in place from November to March, you don't have too many options to make something living. I went for something more ephemeral and wondrous. It is towering and mad and fun; a gimcrack, a sham, but in that 18th-century way.
I don't think it matters what the materials are. My background is history and geography. I wanted to evoke the spirit behind the thing: the whimsical caprice that was so popular in the late 18th and early 19th century. They were forever building temples and putting chandeliers up outside to make Arcadian scenes. Dame Theresa Sackler liked it. I think she feared she might be confronted by some raised herbaceous beds. She is delighted that it is more fun than that. In effect we have turned the forecourt into a landscape park. The tripod should catch your eye and then you sail away to another place."
Due to unprecedented demand from around the world, everyone reading 'The Third' is cordially invited in an English Country Garden at the British Library Staff Restaurant promptly at 18:30 (GMT) on Friday 29 November 2013. Writing for 'The Independent', Matthew Bell asks from shopping to scandal: What did the Georgians ever do for us? Quite a lot, actually ... We think of them as 21st century activities: shopping trips, flicking through a magazine, gossiping at Starbucks. But dozens of apparently modern habits were born 300 years ago in the Georgian period, according to an exhibition at the British Library. Georgians Revealed, which opens this weekend, shows how so much of what we take for granted, from gossip columns to garden design, harks back to the reigns of Georges I to IV. The period between 1714 and 1830 saw Britain's population treble to 24 million, and kicked off major social mobility. Here, we examine five areas of modern life, and ask: how much has Britain really changed?
Then The first daily newspaper was printed in 1702, prompting an explosion of dailies, weeklies and monthlies covering everything from politics and financial news to gossip. The printed fashion plate was born, with illustrations of what celebrities, such as the courtesan Fanny Murray, were wearing. A collection of lavish colour plates was published as the Gallery of Fashion in 1794, the antecedent to Vogue. Titles such as the European Magazine and London Review were aimed at men, while The Lady's Magazine carried the subtitle: "Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex, Appropriated Solely to Their Use and Amusement".
Now 'Tatler', founded in 1709, 'The Spectator' (1711), and a Sunday newspaper called 'The Observer' (1791), are still with us. 'The Lady's Magazine' was wound up in 1837 and has been replaced by 'Grazia' and 'Heat'. About 3,000 consumer magazine titles are now published in the UK.
Then London's Smithfield, Billingsgate and Covent Garden markets were built in the 18th century, as produce was brought into the city from across Britain, along the new canal network. Goods were coming into British ports from around the growing empire too, and competition was rife. Tradesmen began advertising vigorously, and grocers set up permanent stores, such as Fortnum & Mason (1757). The mall dates from this time, with the creation of Burlington Arcade in 1819.
Now Britons spent £314bn last year, at 287,100 shops. Despite the growth of the internet, online sales accounted for less than 10 per cent, at £29bn, suggesting we are still a nation of shopkeepers. The average Briton spends £445 on Christmas.
Then The first coffee house appeared in London by 1652, and by the 1700s there were hundreds. They didn't offer lattes, but were places for reading papers and pamphlets and gossiping. Many had party political affiliations. One Frenchman hailed them as the "seats of English liberty," though women were banned.
Now The UK now has 15,723 coffee outlets with a turnover of £5.8bn. Costa alone has opened 183 outlets in the past year. Meanwhile, Indian tea imports fell from 22 to 16 million kilos in the past five years.
Then The Georgians had their own Kylies and Kardashians as the press, novels and biographies pandered to a taste for real-life stories. The novelist Laurence Stern admitted: "I wrote not to be fed, but to be famous", the courtesan Kitty Fisher leaked stories to newspapers, and self-created celebrities, such as Beau Brummel and the actor David Garrick, flourished.
Now The idea of fame has been around since Virgil described fama as a horrible creature with multiple tongues and tattling mouths. Our modern obsession with celebrities arguably led to phone-hacking. We'll soon test the fallout from that, with the creation of a new press charter, but public interest in others' private lives is unlikely ever to go away.
Tasteful and polite, or riotous and pleasure-obsessed? Discover the Georgians as they really were, through the objects that tell the stories of their lives. From beautifully furnished homes to raucous gambling dens, 'Georgians Revealed' explores the revolution in everyday life that took place between 1714 and 1830. Cities and towns were transformed. Taking tea, reading magazines, gardening and shopping for leisure were commonplace, and conspicuous consumption became the pastime of the emerging middle classes.
Popular culture as we know it began, and with it the unstoppable rise of fashion and celebrity. Art galleries, museums and charities were founded. In this time of incredible innovation, ideas were endlessly debated in the new coffee houses and spread via the information highway that was mass print. Drawing on the British Library’s uniquely rich and rare collections of illustrated books, newspapers, maps and advertisements, as well as loaned artworks and artefacts, 'Georgians Revealed' brings to life the trials and triumphs of the ordinary people who transformed Britain forever.
Writing in 'The Daily Telegraph', Alistair Sooke notes that next year is the 300th anniversary of the accession to the throne of George I. No doubt in the coming months we will be inundated with articles and programmes outlining the importance of the Georgian era, which lasted for more than a century, until the death of George IV in 1830. But I bet that no endeavour will be as compelling as the British Library’s new exhibition, 'Georgians Revealed'. With more than 200 objects including paintings, playbills and prints, as well as porcelain teacups, natty red leather shoes and even the philosopher Jeremy Bentham’s violin, the exhibition makes a persuasive case that the Georgians fashioned modern British society. Never before have our bewigged predecessors appeared so contemporary.
After a brisk history lesson illustrated with paintings of the four Georges on loan from the National Portrait Gallery, the exhibition begins archly, with a display devoted to drinking tea. Tea reached Britain from China in the mid-17th century. By 1720, when Joseph Van Aken painted his group portrait An English Family at Tea, it remained an expensive commodity, as did the paraphernalia such as porcelain and mahogany tea tables associated with the elegant rituals surrounding its consumption. Today, of course, teabags are cheap, but the Georgian infatuation with this fashionable hot brew, as witnessed by a gossipy periodical called The Tea-Table that chronicled London’s smart set, prepared the way for our own national obsession. It is a similar story with coffee. You may think that nipping to Starbucks for a quick hit of caffeine is a peculiarity of our times, but, again, the Georgians beat us to it: if the tea table was the polite domain of well-to-do ladies, then men congregated in lively coffee houses, such as King’s in Covent Garden. Alistair concludes that if the exhibition has a fault, it is that it places too much emphasis on these admittedly fascinating parallels between Georgian Britain and our own society, at the expense of fully explaining the differences.
" ... In many ways, life under the Hanoverian monarchs was unfamiliar: only two per cent of the population could vote, a “bloody code” was still in place under which theft was a capital offence, much of the economy was bolstered by slavery, cock-fighting was popular, while the most successful 18th-century literary genre was the sermon. Moreover, I would like to have discovered more about life for the downtrodden and dispossessed — the street hawkers thronging Billingsgate Market or Bartholomew Fair in Smithfield, say, or the ragged, motley hordes tumbling down Gin Lane in the famous print by Hogarth. Thankfully, much of this wider detail and texture is present in a related book that accompanies the exhibition, containing a wonderful introductory essay by the historian Amanda Goodrich."