Hester Thrale: A Light-Blue Stocking

My curiosity was sparked after reading the delightful chapter “A Light-Blue Stocking,” in The Amenities of Book-Collecting and Kindred Affections. I needed some visuals on Mrs. Thrale, her sprawling country estate “Streatham Park” and her collection of “Streatham Worthies.” I am putting her published diary on my reading list.

Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi née Salusbury (1740/1 – 1821);

A Welsh-born diarist, author and patron of the arts, and an important source on Samuel Johnson and 18th-century English life. She belonged to the prominent Salusbury family, Anglo-Welsh landowners, and married first a wealthy brewer, Henry Thrale, then a music teacher, Gabriel Mario Piozzi. Her Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson (1786) and her diary Thraliana, published posthumously in 1942, are the main works for which she is remembered.

Hester Thrale in 1786

Streatham Park:

Streatham Park, or Streatham Place, was built in 1730 by Ralph Thrale (1698-1758) on 89 acres of land bought from the local Lord of the Manor – the fourth Duke of Bedford. It was rumored that the sale price was a ten-year supply of ale and porter for the Duke’s home, Woburn Abbey. 

The house was in a park of 109 acres. The kitchen gardens, Henry’s pride, were surrounded by fourteen feet high brick walls. At the back of the home were farm buildings, domestic offices, large greenhouses, stables, and an ice-house. Behind these and to the west was the kitchen garden with forcing­-frames for grapes, melons, peaches, and nectarines. Later the an extensive meadow was created which was separated from the adjoining heavily wooded park by a three acre lake. The lake contained an island, accommodated a boat and drawbridge. In winter the lake was used for skating. The grounds were elegantly planted, with a two mile long circular gravel walk, shrubbery and a ha-ha.

Sir Joshua Reynolds and the “Streatham Worthies.”

In June 1773 Thrale completed the building of a two-story extension to Streatham Park. This incorporated new a west-facing library with a bow-front and three large windows, with a guest room for Johnson above the library.

Sir Joshua Reynolds was the most successful portraitist of the eighteenth century, and the Royal Academy’s first president. Reynolds was gregarious and keenly intellectual, and a regular guest at Streatham. He produced a series of portraits of the friends of Henry Thrale over a period of about ten years, beginning with the novelist and playwright, Oliver Goldsmith, and concluding in 1781 with the composer and music historian, Charles Burney. In addition to the twelve bust-length male portraits Reynolds also painted a double portrait of Henry Thrale’s wife and eldest daughter, which was designed to hang over the library’s chimneypiece.

The novelist and diarist Fanny Burney, a close friend of Mrs Thrale and daughter of Charles Burney, nicknamed Henry Thrale’s collection the ‘Streatham Worthies‘ – a reference to the celebrated ‘Temple of British Worthies’ at Stowe.

Reynolds’s portraits were positioned high on the walls, above the bookshelves, following the practice adopted in the celebrated painted frieze in the Upper Reading Room at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and the arrangement of portraits in aristocratic libraries, such as Woburn, Badminton, Petworth and Chesterfield House, London. According to Fanny Burney…

Thrale resolved to surmount these treasures for the mind by a similar regale for the eyes, in selecting the persons he most loved to contemplate, from amongst his friends and favourites, to preside over the literature that stood highest in his estimation.

Sadly, the Thrale’s estate was demolished in 1863. The portraits were dispersed on the sale of the contents of Streatham Park in 1816.

In 2005 the first six portraits of the worthies as listed above were reunited in a single room with Reynold’s portrait of Mrs Thrale and Hester Maria for the Tate Britain exhibition Joshua Reynolds – The Creation of Celebrity.

4 thoughts on “Hester Thrale: A Light-Blue Stocking”

  1. “Sadly, the Thrale’s estate was demolished in 1863” I gasped. Why?

    The grounds sound amazing. I wonder how many gardeners and such an estate of this type would have required. I cannot imagine forcing melons in that climate.

    The other thing that’s stands out when reading accounts of this sort is how everybody seemed to know everybody. I suppose given the few number of bodies, that’s not surprising. Also the way guests spent weeks at a country home would be conducive to groups intermingling. Different times.

    Lovely looking post, by the way! Thanks.

    1. The house was sold and then demolished to make way for a concert hall, which was later converted into a roller-skating rink. A tragedy!

      I am sure that they had an army of gardeners and groundskeepers.

      Actually, I don’t think very much has changed at all. The elites still all know each other and vacation together. The yacht and the private island is the new country estate.

Comments are closed.