Next year marks the 300th anniversary of the last successful invasion of the UK by the Germans, as the Elector of Hanover, George took the British Throne as the only suitable Protestant monarch available.
His accession presaged the Georgian era as George’s II, III and IV reigned in succession and defined a period where the Middle Classes really emerged as a unique group within society and laid down much of the constitutional powers that define the UK to this day.
Slightly early, the British Library has now kicked off a year of events to mark the start of the Georgian era with an exhibition devoted to the era, and more specifically to the emergent middle-classes.
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Considering that the Georgian era lasted over a hundred years, it is not really possible for any exhibition to show what happened in depth, so this is more a series of interesting titbits from the time that all that have been labelled Georgian by later historians.
Not being burdened by adherence to a narrow scope, it is also an exhibition full of whimsy.
Drawing heavily on books from the King George III library, which formed the basis of the British Library, the exhibition had been punctuated with suitable objects from other museums that compliment the books and pamphlets on display.
A violin that seems generic turns out to have belonged to Jeremy Bentham. The tea cups are designed in what became known as the “london style”.
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The tea cups hint at a darker side of the Georgian middle-class though as tea in the Georgian era was served very sweet, with sugar from the slave trade. By 1815 the tax on sugar brought in almost £3m a year, more than the revenue from wine or tobacco.
It was also that slave trade that made underpinned the wealth of many of the early middle-classes.
That wealth that helped define the major cities in another way — architecture. And the exhibition gives a nod the great names of the era, Nash, Sloane etc al.
It was also a time when the middle-classes in their new middle-class homes developed a liking for leisure time. Sports were also being codified at this time — mainly to appease the gambling classes who got annoyed at the variability in sporting events that made guessing the outcome even more of a gamble than usual.
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The exhibition touches on these issues with books, drawings and prints laid out in glass cabinets themed by topic rather than by date.
Dotted within corners around the display you might find dancing cut-outs.
However, don’t ignore the background graphics — made up of contemporary images, they also include modern jokes within. Look out for the WHSmiths, the tube station, the discount sale, cool clothing, or the modern mum with pram.
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Possibly the icing on he cake though comes at the end of the exhibition — where the floor has been covered in a huge map of the London of the time. You can, and probably will, spend ages in here looking around the floor and seeing how London has changed, or not since the Georgians were on the Throne.
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The exhibition is open now until next March. Entry is £9.
Do take a look at the garden in front of the Library as well, although the little secret hidden within the structure is garishly kitsch. To our modern eyes.
Some more photos: