With historical neighbours such as the civil-war strewn Stuart period and the long, action-filled reign of Queen Victoria to contend with, the Georgian era runs the risk of paling in comparison.
The British Library is keen to dispel that image though, with its ‘Georgians revealed’ exhibition to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the accession of King George I in 1714. And indeed, any era that could invent a sport such as ‘cock throwing’ – in which people threw things at a cockerel tied to a stake – could not have entirely been without some creativity.
After the uncertainty of the period that dogged the British Isles under the Stuarts, the establishment of the Protestant house of Hanover, coupled with success in foreign wars and industrial improvements, allowed the British society and middle-class culture to flourish during this period. The British Library exhibition has an impressive range of objects on display to highlight this.
As you would expect of an institution that houses books, there were a range of fascinating literary artefacts to look at. There were large, beautifully illustrated books of plants and regency architecture designs and at the other end of the scale, there were small, cute books for children with bitesize chunks of knowledge on each page for them to digest. Being a media, type I was particularly interested in the newspapers and journals, including ones for ladies and the adverts for products. Once you can decipher the flowing script and old language, it presented an interesting insight on what captivated the minds of Georgians. And it was fascinating to see the rise of the cult of the celebrity story pages, the original ‘sidebar of shame’ dates back to then.
Other less literary objects were also available for viewing. The fashion section was short but sweet and I particularly enjoyed discovering the women’s shoes on display there. The materials were so ornate and delicate that fancy ladies of the Georgian period wore sandal like high-heel clogs that they slipped on over their shoes for when they had to venture out into the grimy streets.
Gorgeously carved furniture and other artefacts traded by the East India Trading Company also made up the exhibition.
The British Library round off this celebration of the Georgian age in excellent style as well with a map of London back then on the floor of the final room. Placards on the walls explain the history of each area. Turning the whole room into a map was a great way to break up the usual way a viewer goes around an exhibition – namely squinting at objects in glass cases. Making us wander around a large map and look in multiple directions around a room was a good way to make sure this exhibition was in no way sleep-inducing.
I highly recommend getting down to King’s Cross St Pancras and checking the Georgians out.