The Silver Tea-Pot
A silver tea-pot by Robert Garrard, made in 1817, recently came up for sale at the Bonham’s Auction House, London. On the base was the following inscription:
Gift of HRH Princess Elizabeth to Joseph Ince,
Page to His Majesty George IV
The tea-pot was bought by Huon Mallalieu, who wrote about it in Country Life, (February 20, 2013, p. 92), which was how I first found out about it. The tea-pot fascinates me, not only as an object of regency elegance and taste, but because it was a trace of a life, now largely lost to us. Sadly, my enquiries about its provenance came to nothing. The tea-pot arrived at Bonham’s as the result of a house clearance and the trail seems to stop there. But in spite of that, its appearance on the market aroused my curiosity and spurred me on to find out more about the role of George IV’s royal pages, who certainly would have worked here at the Royal Pavilion. Who were the royal pages and what did they do? And who was Joseph Ince? Here are my findings.
Pages, it turns out, were not simply pages. There were different types of page with different titles and different duties. There were Pages of the Backstairs, Pages of the Presence and Pages of Honour.
Pages of Honour
Pages of Honour were young aristocrats from some of the wealthiest and most influential families in the nation. Appointed at around the age of eleven or twelve, these Pages often went on to take up positions in one of the Household regiments. Highly sought after, these posts paid well at £120. Pages of honour did not live in the royal palaces and had no official duties in the royal household. They were just required for formal ceremonial occasions, when they would attend in full ceremonial livery. The next phase of my research will involve trying to establish exactly what they would have worn and if any of these garments survive. I’m off to visit the experts from the Royal Dress Collection at Hampton Court and Kensington Palace.
Pages of the Backstairs
Pages of the Backstairs were less well born and in the middling ranks of the royal household. Six pages of the Backstairs were employed and worked in rotation. Historically, they would have waited outside the doors of the King’s Apartments but by the early eighteenth century they had moved within the Chamber.
The Royal Bedchamber was a suite of the King’s private apartments where access was restricted to a select few. The most important duty of the Page of the Backstairs was to guard access to the Royal Body by policing access into the private apartments via the Back (private) stairs. Other duties of Pages of the Backstairs included serving the King’s private meals, attending to his royal needs, assisting with dressing and looking after the Bedchamber apartments.
Roles within the bedchamber were strictly defined. For example in the reign of Queen Anne the Page of the Backstairs would fetch the basin and ewer for washing but it was the woman of the Bechamber would set it before the Queen. And whilst it was the the Page of the Backstairs who would reach for the glass and pass it to the Woman of the Bedchamber, it was the high-born Lady-in-Waiting who would actually hand it to the Queen. We cannot be certain that by the time of the Regency that these rigid rules were still strictly adhered to but the royal household is marked by a longstanding tradition of continuity and it is unlikely that roles would have been radically different.
The Pages of the Backstairs had bedrooms close to the King’s chamber so that they could be called on as necessary. On the floor plan illustrated a page’s bedroom can be identified close to the King’s Chamber in the north part of the building (on the left of the plan). There were at least two other page’s bedrooms close by. One Page of the Backstairs would be in waiting in the King’s Chambers and two would be in attendance upon the King during dinner.
So although not high-born like the Pages of Honour their power lay in their ability to restrict or admit access to the monarch and in their potential influence on the monarch by their close contact with him. In 1817 they were paid £200 a year.
Pages of the Presence
Pages of the Presence, (Joseph Ince was one), had the lowest status of the three types of page. The main role of a Page of the Presence was to wait on the aristocratic Gentlemen or Lords in Waiting who were the King’s close companions and attendants. Pages of the Presence would also wait on the King’s visitors at meal times. They worked in more public areas and were not permitted access to the Bedchamber at all which meant they would have to liaise closely with the Pages of the Bedchamber is order to arrange for a visitor or member of the Royal Household to see the monarch in his private apartments. In 1821 first class pages earned between £230-£260, and the second class between £140-£170. They worked in strict rotations on a month-on, month-off basis. During their months off they would be paid 7 shillings (35p) a day for board and lodging.
Joseph Ince was a Page of the Presence for 23 years, whilst George IV was Prince of Wales and then Prince Regent. But he may well have worked for the Prince of Wales before that, in the kitchens. There was a confectioner employed between 1790-96 and a cook between 1799 and 1803. They are both named Joseph Ince. It seems very likely that these might have been one and the same.
A marriage between one Joseph Ince and a Victoire Lantonne took place in 1784 at St. George’s, Hanover Square. Seven years later on 17 February 1791 a son Charles was baptized in the same parish. In 1816 a Charles Ince is appointed as ‘Purveyor of Wine to the Prince Regent in Carlton House’. The baby son born to Joseph and Victoire Ince would have been 25 years old by this time. Son following father into the Royal Household perhaps?
In October 1820, a few months after the accession of George IV, Joseph Ince retired. He received a ‘compensation’ payment of £47.10s a quarter, making a total of £190 per annum, not a bad pension by any standards. Thirteen years later on 6 April 1833 Joseph Ince died.
Quite why Princess Elizabeth gave Joseph Ince a tea-pot we might never know. If anyone out there can shed some light on this please do get in touch. But the tea-pot and the inscription upon it is a poignant reminder of the life of a servant, who once climbed the stairs of the Royal Pavilion in the service of the Regent. The tea-pot should be valued, as much for the traces of the lives that keeps alive, however shadowy, as for the understated elegance of its form.
Tracy Anderson, post-doctoral researcher