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The Dandies Fete

Suddenly, in June 1827, Boyle Farm burst into national prominence. Reported in the newspapers, discussed in salons, spoken of at dinner parties, mentioned in letters, enterred into diaries. And all because five young bloods, "aristocratical haymakers" as one noted writer called them (224), decide to hold a fete! But what a fete! This fete was to be the grandest, the most lavish, the most exclusive fete, that ever was. That's how it was planned, that's how it turned out. "The Dandies Fete", or "The Great Carousel", was talked about and written about for years.

The five aristocratic dandies who devised the carnival were Lord Alvanley, Lord Chesterfield, Lord Castlereagh, Lord Robert Grosvenor, and Henry William do Ros. All noted as wild and pleasure-loving youths, born to affluence, privilege, and leisure; who imagined that as the Almighty in his infinite wisdom had endowed them all with riches it was their bounden duty to make sure that they enjoyed it to the utmost. They planned the idea, each chipped in to the tune of £500, and persuaded Henry's parents to allow them the use of Boyle Farm to put it into execution. And what more ideal spot could possibly be conceived for such a festival?

John Cam Hobhouse (later Lord Broughton) wrote: "The beauty of the scene, of the weather, and the excellent management, were such as I never knew before. There were 450 guests present, and I heard no complaint of any deficiency or fault of any kind"(225).

The Times reported: "The Fete at Boyle Farm, on Saturday last went off with extraordinary eclat. Four hundred and fifty persons sat down to an excellent dinner without any confusion; nay, so attentive were the hosts to the physical wants of their guests, that there was a hot supper ready during the whole of the night for those in whom the pleasures of the eye and ear could not subdue the more simple appetites of hunger and thirst. The gardens were beautifully illuminated, and the fireworks on an island in the Thames had a fine effect. The phantasmagoria was conducted with great skill and success. But the principal charm was the brilliant appearance of a temporary room, where 24 of the lovliest ladies in London enchanted every eye by the elegant fancy of their dress, and the harmonious grace of their motion in a quadrille costumee. Two gondolas, containing the principal singers, embarked on the Thames, whence the strains fell upon the ear with delicious effect, softened by distance. But no pleasure is without some allay; a group of male singers, who were instructed to wander about the grounds as itinerant minstrels, neglected this elegant portion of their duties, for the grosser amusements of gormandizing and drinking. They did worse: they disgusted everybody by excessive insolence and vulgarity which, no doubt, were partly attributable to their too great devotion to the substantial delights of the table, We must not forget that some Venetian Barcarolles, conducted by Velluti, before dinner, had an enchanting effect. This elegant entertainment will be long remembered by all who witnessed it"(226).

The scene was vividly recalled by one of the guests, Tom Moore, the Irish poet, who wrote in his diary: "Day rather threatening for the fete. Was with Lord Essex at two, and started about half an hour afterwards in his barouche and four. Nothing but carriages and four all along the road to Boyle Farm, which Lady de Roos has lent for the occasion to Henry. But few come when we arrived; the arrangements very tasteful and beautiful. The pavilion for quadrilles on the bank of the river, with steps descending to the water, quite oriental, like what one sees in Daniel's pictures. Towards five the elite of the gay world assembled, the women all looking their best, and scarce an ugly face among them. About half-past five sat down to dinner; four hundred and fifty under a tent on the lawn, and fifty to the royal table in the conservatory. The Tyrolese musicians sang during dinner, and after dinner there were gondolas on the river, with Caradori, De Begnis, Velluti, &c. singing barcarolles, and rowing off occasionally so as to let their voices die away and return again. After these succeeded a party in dominoes: Madame Vestris, Fanny Ayton, &c., who rowed about in the same manner and sung "Oh come to me when daylight sets", &c. &c. The evening was most delicious, and as soon as it grew dark the groves were all lighted up with coloured lamps in various devices. A little lake near a grotto looked particularly pretty, the shrubs all around being illuminated, and the lights reflected in the water. Six and twenty of the prettiest girls of the fashionable world, the Foresters, Brudnells, De Rooses, Mary Fox, Miss Russell, &c., were dressed as rosieres, and opened the quadrille in the pavilion. Resolved to go while the enjoyment of it was fresh in my mind, so started with Lord Essex about half-past ten, the fireworks on the Thames being the only thing I lost" (227).

Moore also penned a lengthy poem, which he entitled "The Summer Fete", and which he dedicated to Caroline Norton, who was present at the fete. She was, he says, one of its "most distinguished ornaments". It is, however, such a long and boring rhyme to modern taste that one is soon lost to tedium with it, and it is not proposed to repeat it here (228).

John Wilson Croker, the secretary to the Admiralty, who lived at West Molesey, wrote to Lord Hertford (grandson of the Lord Hertford who had occupied the house fifty years before): "The great 'Carousal' of the year has been the fete at Boyle Farm on Saturday last. lt would fill three letters to give you any account of this entertainment, and of all the impertinences which proceeded and accompanied it. It was exclusive to the last degree. I will not make you stare with all the fables which are repeated; roads watered with eau de Cologne; 500 pair of white satin shoes from Paris to counteract the damp of the green turf. More gallons of Roman punch tham Meux's great brewing vats would hold. Fireworks ordered on this scale - the Vauxhall man was asked what was the greatest expense he could go to, and then ordered to double it; and so I need hardly add that I was not invited; but it really, and without exaggeration, was a most splendid fete" (229).

That such a man, a member of the government, was not invited (perhaps he was considered too pompous) reveals just how exclusive it really must have been. A colossal pronouncement of the power of wealth. One wonders, however, what the villagers, the impoverished majority of Thames Ditton folk, thought about it all. They were undoubtedly overwhelmed by the magnificent coaches and caparisoned horses of nearly five hundred guests jamming their little streets; the hundreds of pounds vanishing upwards in firework smoke; and stories of the mountains of food and bottles of drink consumed by the indulged nobility. Whilst they strived to maintain their struggling families on a few shillings a week. How they must have craved for just one or two crumbs from the rich man's table.

The gap between the two classes is admirably demonstrated by the fact that just one month before this lavish junket took place the Thames Ditton vestry had passed a resolution allowing the workhouse master just four shillings and sixpence a week to maintain each of the poor inmates within his care, and in that was included his own remuneration. (230).

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