THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

18 August 2017

Illuminations in celebration of the peace

In 1814, after almost 20 years of war with France, Britain and the coalition forces defeated Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821). With the French leader exiled and the Hanoverian Kings marking 100 years of sovereignty, there was a lot to celebrate, and in the summer of 1814 London's parks played host to a scheme of spectacular entertainments. Free and available for all to enjoy, the events were depicted in brightly coloured prints, such as these examples from the King's Topographical Collection.

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John Fairburn (active 1789-1840), Description of the Grand National Jubilee, held in St James's, Hyde, and the Green Parks, on Monday 1st August, 1814, published by John Fairburn at Fountain Court, Minories, London, August 1 1814, etching and letterpress with hand-colouring, 430 x 335mm, Maps K.Top.26.7.y.

Arguably the most magnificent spectacle was the Temple of Concord, created in commemoration of peace treaties. The Temple was unveiled in a hugely theatrical show. It was initially concealed from view within the walls of a gothic castle, around which a mock siege was performed with cavalry, artillery and rockets. When the siege reached a dramatic climax the walls of the Castle were dilapidated to reveal the Temple in all its dazzling glory. Unveiling the Temple in this way was seen as highly symbolic of the transition from war to peace.

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Thomas Palser (active 1803-43) ,The Fortress (which inclosed the Grand Pavilion) in the Green Park, with the ascent of the Balloon, published in London by Thomas Palser, 24 August 1814, etching and aquatint with hand-colouring, 29.2 x 40 cm, Maps K.Top.26.7.bb.

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Thomas Palser (active 1803-43), The Grand Pavilion in the Green Park, published in London by Thomas Palser, 12 August, 1814, etching and aquatint with hand-colouring, 317 x 48.1 cm, Maps K.Top.26.7.gg.

The mastermind behind the Temple was Lieutenant Colonel Sir William Congreve (1772-1828), a rocket designer and Comptroller of the Royal Laboratory at Woolwich. He had served many campaigns throughout the Napoleonic War (1803-1815), and led a company known as the 'rocket brigade' at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813.

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Matthew Dubourg (active 1806-1838) after John Heaviside Clark (approximately 1770-1863), The Revolving Temple of Concord Illuminated: as Erected in the Park in Celebration of the Glorious Peace of 1814, published Bond Street, London, August 12, 1814 by Edward Orme (1775-1848), aquatint and etching with hand-colouring, 260 x 384 mm, Maps K.Top.26.7.ff.

The Temple revolved so everybody could see its lavish decorations, rendered on semi-transparent fabric lit from behind with rows of oil lamps. Congreve had commissioned some of the nation's best artists like Thomas Stothard to design and paint allegorical scenes of these transparencies, each tableau praising 'the Triumph of England under the Regency'. Congreve had also designed a special type of firework, described by the magazine La Belle Assemblé as a rocket within which a 'world of smaller rockets' were contained so that as soon as it was discharged 'it bursts and flings aloft into the air innumerable parcels of flames, brilliant as the brightest stars'.

London's print sellers never missed an opportunity for business, so cheap and eye-catching prints like this would have been plentiful, and purchased as souvenirs for affordable sums at booths in the parks and print shops.

 

Over 500 views and maps from the King's Topographical Collection and other British Library holdings are available to view at https://www.bl.uk/picturing-places. Keep up to date with what's being discovered at: https://twitter.com/bl_prints.

Alice Rylance-Watson