Sunday, May 4, 2014

Prinny's Taylor – Louis Bazalgette (1750-1830)

by Charles Bazalgette

Louis Bazelgette
I’ll be the first to admit that I have a rather interesting family.  The Bazalgettes all originate, it is said, from a small hamlet of that name which lies in the Cévennes in what is now called the Department of Lozère in the south of France.  The subject of my biography is my four times great grandfather Jean Louis Bazalgette, born into a family of tailors, who set out from his birthplace, Ispagnac, in about 1770 and headed north.  Within five years he had established himself in London as a successful society tailor and habit-maker.  According to the following anecdote, recorded in Chambers’ Journal, he then by 1780 had come to the notice of young George, Prince of Wales:-



Prince of Wales 1795
A FORTUNE MADE BY A WAISTCOAT.  Some people have a fancy for fine waistcoats.  This taste was more common in my young days than it is now.  Stirring public events were apt to be celebrated by patterns on waistcoats to meet the popular fancy.  I remember that the capture of Mauritius, at the close of 1810, was followed by a fashion for wearing waistcoats speckled over with small figures shaped like that island, and called Isle of France waistcoats. It was a galling thing for the French prisoners of war on parole to be confronted with these demonstrations.  At court highly ornamented waistcoats have been the fashion for generations.  George, Prince of Wales, while Regent, was noted for his affection for this rich variety of waistcoats, and thereby hangs a tale.  His Royal Highness had an immense desire for a waistcoat of a particular kind, for which he could discover only a small piece of stuff insufficient in dimensions.  It was a French material, and could not be matched in England.  The war was raging, and to procure the requisite quantity of stuff from Paris was declared to be impracticable. 
At this juncture one of the Prince’s attendants interposed.  He said he knew a Frenchman, M. Bazalgette, carrying on business in one of the obscure streets of London, who, he was certain, would undertake to proceed to Paris and bring away what was wanted.  This obliging tailor was forthwith commissioned to do his best to procure the requisite material.  Finding that a chance had occurred for distinguishing himself and laying the foundation of his fortune, the Frenchman resolved to make the attempt.  It was a hazardous affair, for there was no regular communication with the coast of France, unless for letters under a cartel.  Yet, Bazalgette was not daunted.  If only he could land safely in a boat, all would be right.  This, with some difficulty and manoeuvring, he effected.  As a pretended refugee back to his own country, he was allowed to land and proceed to Paris.  Joyfully he was able to procure the quantity of material required for the Prince Regent’s waistcoat; and not less joyfully did he manage to return to London with the precious piece of stuff wrapped round his person.  The waistcoat was made, and so was the tailor’s fortune and that of his family.  [Chambers’ Journal, Volume 51; Robert & William Chambers - 1874]
This story is so extraordinary, despite inaccuracies in date, that it must be true in essence, and I would love to know where the Chambers brothers got it from.  This source has so far eluded me.

From this point, Bazalgette’s career  took off to dizzy heights and he served the Prince for the next thirty-two years.  What is so strange about the story is that the man was virtually unknown for so long.  I cannot imagine that anyone else, without the family history connection, would have ever started such a project.   Louis Bazalgette grew very wealthy as can be expected.  His elder son Joseph joined the navy and saw some action in the war against Napoleon, retiring with the rank of commander.  His eldest grandson, my great-great-grandfather, also Joseph, became a civil engineer and was responsible for designing London’s main drainage system.

I have a pet theory about Louis Bazalgette, which I did not expound in my book, since I could not support it with enough facts.  Maybe someone will put it into a novel sometime.  These are the facts I am sure of.  Louis was importing cloth and embroidered shapes to London from France from the 1770’s right through to 1802 and beyond.  He kept an agent in Paris, and possibly also one in Lyon, throughout the war years.  He later used shipping brokers extensively, so it is pretty certain that he was always chartering ships to convey his merchandise, smuggled or otherwise.  He helped émigrés and others who had been persecuted during the revolutionary years.  He received the Decoration du Lys from the Bourbons during the 100 days.  He of course had the highest connections to British royalty and government.  He was a very discreet and resourceful man.  From all this it is possible to infer that these contacts and activities would have ideally fitted him to be a sort of Pimpernel, a spy or all manner of other novel-worthy things.  I’m just an old romantic, after all, but it is an irresistible notion, you must agree!

I welcome this opportunity to provide an introduction to my project.  I am grateful to Debbie Brown for inviting me to guest blog here.   Please visit my blog site (there are 81 blogs there) and see what takes your fancy.  You may not find that much about everyday life in Georgian times, but with a royal connection like that you wouldn’t expect it really.  There is a lot of stuff there you probably didn’t know about Prinny and gentlemen’s tailoring, plus some unexpected items – enough surely for a whole warren of plot-bunnies.

My blog site is at prinnystaylor.wordpress.com and I post links to my blogs already on the EHFA Facebook page.   I do not write fiction, although I enjoy doing the occasional semi-fictional passages, such as my blogs ‘A Morning at Carlton House’ and ‘Put To The Needle’.  Fiction is an alluring genre but I find the truth is what fascinates me.  I share with historical fiction authors a thirst for research, but having done it I feel it is more meaningful for me to put down a detailed factual account.  This of course allows creative writers to use their imaginations to draw upon what I write and weave it into whatever stories they like.

So after about twenty years’ research I ended up with a weighty biography, pretty well complete, but waiting for that special moment when it seems right to publish it.  A complex house move and radical change of lifestyle I am currently in the middle of is my latest excuse.  A delay of a few more months isn’t going to make much difference.

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Watch for Prinny's Taylor by Charles Bazalgette. Read Charles' blog HERE.


7 comments:

  1. Hurray! Charles, it is a delight to read this lovely explanation of your research, and I for one cannot wait to see the whole book, collected, complete, and beautiful, as it will be. An interesting story could be made about your life in the wilderness contrasted with the elegant refinements of your ancestors - I was wanting the family story to go on and on! All best wishes.

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    1. Dear Diana - thanks for your kind words. My life is so much more prosaic than Louis' - most people's are! If he and his descendents hadn't had so many children who lived idle lives of luxury there might have been some of the fortune still left over, but sadly not...

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    2. Dear Diana, thanks for your kind words! However the reality of living in the wilds isn't really one I choose to compare with the age of elegance - too painful a contrast....

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  2. I adore the idea of a tailor, smuggler, spy! Interesting stuff, thanks.

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    1. Thank you, Nick. Doesn't sound credible, does it? But it is possible. To serve Prinny for 32 years, Louis must have been in a special position of trust with the notoriously fickle prince. There were lots of negotiations constantly going on on the continent trying to raise loans for him. Who knows what other intrigues were happening?

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  3. You can now read a Kindle version at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00UPI8BWG

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  4. Here is the paperback version at Wordery:
    https://wordery.com/prinnys-taylor-mr-charles-bazalgette-9780987969200#

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