Travels with William Porden: French hotels in 1816

My love of snooping through, and blogging from, other people’s diaries has been on hold for a while whilst I’ve had to concentrate on other things. Recently, however, I had an opportunity to look more closely at collection D3311 (from which I blogged William Porden’s diaries earlier this year) and was delighted to discover a ‘new’ William Porden diary. I had been looking at the diaries of Eleanor Anne Porden, William’s daughter, who had also been writing a travel diary of their joint trip to France in 1816 – what a  marvellous opportunity to see the same experiences through two different eyes!

Even more marvellously, it turned out that the person who originally catalogued the diaries had been fooled by the fact that the books looked the same from the outside into thinking that they were all by the same person. When I opened one (D3311/14/3) and saw this:

It was perfectly clear that this was the diary of William Porden the architect, and not his daughter.

As ever, I also found some little snippets about their travels that charmed me. Here’s an account from Mr Porden’s diary for 13 October 1816, when they arrived at Cambray:

At our Inn “The Grande Canarde” we were much straitened for Bed Room and obliged to submit to inconveniences that in England would not be borne.  Miss Appleton and Eleanor slept in one bed and I was obliged to inhabit a small closet within it, with a Glass door, without any curtain, or any Accommodations for the toilet of a Gentleman.  This obliged me to rise early to give way to the Ladies, so undressed & unshaven I sallied forth and enjoyed a Walk on the Ramparts in a delightful morning…

On my return to the Inn I found the Ladies had not made the best use of the time I had allowed them, and we were all three obliged to finish our dressing together in a ludicrous manner which reminded me of Hogarth’s print of the Strolling Players dressing in a Barn.  I was shaving, the Ladies doing I know not what.  Though scenes like this are not unusual in France, it seemed to amuse the House, for during our operations two or 3 different servants came in with “Did you ring sir?”

If you want to know what they looked like, here’s William Hogarth’s Strolling Players rehearsing in a Barn (c) Victoria and Albert Museum:

Note that when William Porden refers to his ‘toilet’ he means washing, shaving and dressing – for a description of a French hotel toilet as we would understand the term, see this description.

Eleanor wrote in her diary (D3311/14/2) on 10 October of an experience when they arrived at an inn that clearly wasn’t used to having guests:

It was dark when we reached Montdidier and established ourselves in the two rooms at the Grenadier Francois … there were three domestiques or rather three sisters of the Maitresse who all made errands into the room and crowded round us, and gaped, and stared, as if we had been the most extraordinary monsters in the world.  They said they had very few passengers by that road and still fewer who slept there, and talked much of an English lady and four children who had been there about six months before, and whom of course we were expected to know.

… after chatting and writing a bit, when we wanted our warming pan, not a soul was stirring.  Our rooms had indeed a superfluity of chairs of all descriptions and sizes, but neither pillow, blanket, water nor napkin [towel]

It transpired that the fire was also out in their room. However, the intrepid Miss Appleton was nothing daunted:

Up started Miss Appleton, and Papa as a faithful Squire, followed. Downstairs she flew and after chasing the Cats that were stretched upon the hearth, and stirring the embers, found some that had life.

Their clattering around to find warming pans finally woke the mistress who came in her chemise [nightwear] and provided them with everything they needed…

She even pulled the pillow from under her master’s head to accommodate us, for there was but one more in the house…. I have seldom slept more comfortably.

Having spent a couple of months in each other’s company in intimate situations like this, the friendship between Miss Appleton and the Pordens is shown to the full in this ‘certificate of good behaviour’ within Eleanor’s last diary (D3311/14/4), just before the Pordens returned to England:

It reads:

Certificate of good behaviour, drawn up by Papa to be signed by Miss Appleton – previous to her departure for Paris –

Lille to wit –

To all whom it may concern –

We the undersigned do hereby certify that during a journey of Five Hundred miles in which we have been subject to various vicissitudes and divers inconveniences Monsieur Porden our Companion and Protector has conducted himself with becoming discretion, and that when we were all obliged to sleep in the same chamber, as oftentimes befell, he never peeped behind the Curtain at improper seasons; never pretended to turn his back while he was watching from the looking glass before him; never presumed to tye the Garters of any lady unless he was requested so to do; and farther, that the Kisses with which he dispelled the slumbers of the morning were soft as the breath of Favonius and pure as paternal love – Given under our hands this 26th day of October in the year of our Lord – 1816 –

Elizabeth Appleton

Signed at W Porden’s particular request but with a mental reservation as to some of the clauses of this certificate against which I shall hereafter formally protest.

Eleanor Anne Porden

One thought on “Travels with William Porden: French hotels in 1816

  1. Pingback: A father’s letter | Derbyshire Record Office

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