We have been stranded in the late 17th century ( or maybe the early 18th ), outside our burning house, for a while now in, I Like Coffee, I Like Tea and I thought it was time we put everything to rights  at last.

You remember the Gentlemen amongst us had been to the Coffee House to catch up on the gossip and found all sorts of ‘goings on’ in progress. Meanwhile the ladies of our group had been to Chelsea by river and had made the acquaintance of some Grenadiers, gentlemen all, we are sure. 😉 in All The King’s Men.

Let us return to our Kensington House, to see what can have been salvaged from the fire. Then we shall nip along the River Thames and eavesdrop on the ladies as they are entertained to a bumper or two of claret by our gallant boys in red.

The fire wagon has arrived at the house and is pumping gallons of water into the Piano Nobile (literally Noble Floor – the first floor of the house where the public rooms are situated.) Thank Heavens we have kept up the payments to the company that owns the fire wagon.

A fire insurance mark - displayed on an insured building. If you hadn't got it, you didn't get your fire put out!

The fact that our house is now made of stone and brick and not, as it was earlier, wood and thatch, will help it to withstand the fire. In fact the fire seems to have taken hold mostly in the ground floor. So why are these idiots spraying water into the first floor? Oh my lovely paintings, oh my beautiful Delft! A goodly deal of it has been handed out through the windows. Oh Ho! I had better set a guard on it all. I can just see some of my shifty neighbours, taking a fancy to a bit of unguarded stuff. Especially my lovely little itsy bitsy snuff boxes…my pride and joy. So easy to slip one into the capacious pockets we gentlemen have in our coats nowadays.

Did I tell you that I had started to take up this new stuff -snuff? It’s very fashionable. You have some powder in a sweet little box ( this one is in my own collection )

A rare horn snuff box c. 1700

and you take out a pinch and put it onto the back of your hand and then put your nose to it and…SNIFF. A while later you sneeze. Imagine! And then you wipe your nose on one of these new fangled pieces of cloth from France called a Hankichif….or some such name. Jolly good!

” Here you!….Gadabout, or what ever your name is < I can never remember the names of my servants>….just you stand here and guard these things while I go and take a look and see what the damage is. And no pilfering, I’ve counted it all! ”

” It’s Gadsby Sir.And yes Sir of course Sir.”

We go into the house, up the short staircase to the first floor, above the level of the kitchens, store and servants rooms.

Oh dear, there is quite a lot of damage. Not done by the fire I hasten to add but by the water poured onto it to quench the ( non-existent ) flames. Those addle pated, poltroons, those flea brained, flatulent fire eaters! I’ll make them pay for this.

” Here you!….. um…thingy… roll up this carpet and take it out into the back yard.”

There is no answer. And no movement indicating compliance with the Master’s wishes.

” Stop lurking under the stairs there and come and do as I say.”

The servant doesn’t move.

“I’ll have you packing and out of my employ before you can say….ah…um!”

The Smiling Maid private collection. mid 18th C..

Of course. I had forgotten. It’s my dummy board. I had her painted by one of those itinerant decorators who prettied up the Parlour when I moved house a while back. It’s very effective. I knew she was there but…she still took me in. I am in possession, of course, of a good number of real flesh and blood servants, but it never does any harm to have a few more pretend ones dotted about. Makes you look wealthier than you are…what!

Good job I am wealthy. Gonna need all me pennies to do the place up! Oh no… the heat of the fire has destroyed my beautiful Delft vase and my latest find, a wonderful blue and white Tulip Vase ( aint got no tulips to put in it yet but I’m working on that,)  decorated with scenes from Roman Mythology. Or is it that those glorified water wobblers have washed them off their plinths? Smashed to smithereens! And so so expensive. That pernicious race of odious little vermin calling themselves Fire Fighters!

Perhaps I shall get my decorator to paint me some replica vases – lifelike- to stand above my door casements. I’ll have a dozen. Ha! Everyone will think I am so wealthy then. Well….yes I am already wealthy but there is no point in throwing yer money about sirrah? It’ll cost me far less and up there no one will be able to tell the difference! < rubs hands together > I’ll have twenty!

Dutch Tulip vase. 17th c

Let’s leave Sir Paltry Penny – Pincher to his plans and fly along the river Thames to see what the ladies are up to.

Ah yes….. they were fraternising with His Majesty’s troops at Chelsea. They were, I think about to look at a Grenadier’s pouch.  😉

Grenadiers wearing their pouches.

“Oh Sir” we hear one cry…” you do have a big one. How do you carry it around, so proud and erect?”


Oh I see. The lady is commenting on the size and nature of the soldier’s musket or rifle  😉

A 17th century musket

” A soldier Madam must bear his weapon with fortitude and fearlessness. One develops muscles, Madam, muscles!” He offers his red clad arm for the feeling of the biceps.

A gloved hand strokes the upper arm of the Grenadier Captain’s uniform.

” And it’s so long.” says the lady, whose name I think is something like Miss de Meanour.

” Ah…yes…that would be my bayonet. Good for sticking it in. ”

The lady’s eyebrow raises a fraction.

” To the enemy Maam, to the enemy.”

” And tell me Captain, did you not rather want to be part of this latest thing the King has invented, down at Greenwich… the Navy I believe they call it?”

“Madam…”, the soldier sneers. ” No one in their right mind would go to be a sailor. For being in a ship Madam, is like being in jail with the chance of being drowned. ”

He waves his arm about. ” A man in jail has more room, better food and commonly, better company!” ( Thanks to Samuel Johnson (  1709 – 1784 )

Mis de Meanour, taps her fan on his arm and smiles.

Sir you have a fine body of men here under your command.”

The soldier scratches his stubbly chin.

” Pah! All I have with me today are a bunch of raw recruits. Smooth faced little babbies, they are, crying for their Mummy’s bubbies. Forgiving my plain speech Maam.”

The Wilberforce Grenadier. By kind permission of Wilberforce House in Hull. He looks a bit fresh faced don't you think?

“But what then, are those I can see there,” she says pointing  – “a whole regiment of fine fellows in Red?”

The soldier hoots with laughter.

“They do take one in don’t they?”

He is shaking his head. ” They are all dummy boards Madam. Every one. ”

“Imagine a whole file of these laddies up and down yer battlements, muskets in hand, bayonets at the ready. Make yer think twice about starting up trouble, wouldn’t it?”

Miss de Meanour raps the nearest dummy board on the chest.

” Oh My,! ” says she ” Hard as a harlot’s heart! Indeed they are very lifelike, at a distance.”

A 7 ft grenadier dummy board in private collection.

The Captain leans on his musket. ” They have been using these in the Gardens at  Foxhall, Madam,”  (Vauxhall – see Cuckoos Nest ) ” They are doing a wonderful job of keeping the peace.”

” But how can they do that? They don’t move.”

The Captain brandishes his musket.

” T’is the sight of the weapon Maam. T’is a good deterrent to a frisky knave or a drunken cove. ”

The lady shrinks back. ” Oh Captain. I do hope your weapon isn’t loaded.”

There is a glint in his eye. We can see it from here!

He whispers….but we can hear him.

” Come out the back with me, my pretty and you will know if it is loaded or not!”


Is she going?

” And what is your name Sir Bold Captain of Grenadiers?” She says fluttering her fan rapidly.

He pulls himself up to his full considerable ( 6 foot ) height and bows.

An 18th c. grenadier dummy board in private collection in the U.K.

” Captain E. Normous Folly at your service Maam.” he says.

” Well Captain Folly – I shall attend you out the back and you can discharge your weapon. But I warn you, quietly if you must, for I am a  gently born lady and cannot abide noise!”

Target practice for grenadier musket men. Sometimes, it's said, the dummy board soldiers themselves were used as target practice but we can't prove it.

Out in the yard of the pub where we met our grenadier…the men are practising their drill.

” Now Madam” says Captain Folly. ” I shall show you how a professional discharges his weapon!”


What else did you think he was going to do?

Shame on you!


2 Responses to “FIRE!”

  1. Sally Watson Says:

    Fie upon you, Lady! I have sneezed and snorted so much with laughter that my fine lace collar is besmeared with slime! Away with you and pen another page of this scurrilous stuff!


  2. pastmastery Says:

    Gadzooks Sally!

    Take your fine lace collar off to the Fullers and I will foot the bill!

    Glad you like my ‘scurrilous stuff’. There will be more anon!

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