True Regency gentlemen did not sully their hands with work—that was for the lower classes. An exception to that rule would be managing his estates. Although he would generally have an estate manager or steward to handle the day-to-day tasks, the supervision of that employee would fall to him.
If all was in order, however, the Regency gentleman was fortunate to possess a considerable amount of free time, particularly the younger generation whose fathers yet survived, leaving them at liberty to seek their own pleasures, often referred to as attaining one’s “Town bronze.”
A previous post touched on the gentlemen’s clubs and gaming hells. Drinking, gambling and wenching were all popular pastimes for the gentlemen with time on their hands, especially for the young “cubs” or “greenhorns” who had yet to learn to be wary of pitfalls, such as “Captain Sharps” out to relieve them of their money by nefarious means. But when they weren’t indulging in the Regency era’s form of “partying,” they would likely engage in sporting events.
A true gentleman had to be “good with his fists,” so many a gentleman frequented such pugilistic clubs as Gentleman Jackson’s on Bond Street, the Daffy Club, Limmer’s Hotel, Offley’s, and the Puglistic Society.
Gentleman Jackson was a former champion who enjoyed the respect and admiration of English society. His boxing academy on Number 13 Bond Street was a popular location for gentlemen who wished to improve their pugilistic skills. Jackson was instrumental in organizing the Pugilistic Society, which was formed at Thatched House Tavern in May 1814. The Pugilistic Society had the effect of lending respectability to the sport.
Offley’s was a sporting hotel in Henrietta Street that was known for its excellent beefsteak and ale. The Daffy Club, originally held at the Castle Tavern in Holborn, was an informal club reputed for the quantities of “blue ruin” (homemade gin).
Prize fights or “mills” were usually held just outside of cities and towns where organizers could avoid the many laws regulating the sport. As soon as a fight was announced, hordes would swarm the town well in advance in order to secure accommodations. Those who arrived after every public house and inn was occupied either had to try to sleep in their carriages amidst all the racket in the street or stay up all night.
In 1755, an Italian riding and fencing master by the name of Dominico Angelo Malevolti Tremamondo came to London and earned a reputation for extraordinary fencing skills. He opened “Angelo’s School of Arms,” first at Carlisle House, and then the Opera House Buildings in Haymarket. Angelo’s was a popular place for gentlemen to socialize, watch exhibitions of master fencers, and perfect their own equestrian and fencing skills. Angelo’s son Henry took over operations in 1785, and in 1817, he turned it over to his own son, also Henry. The elder Henry played a pivotal role in assisting his friend Gentleman Jackson establish his own boxing salon.
Of all the violent animal sports—which included bear baiting and bull baiting—cock fighting was by far the most popular. The Birdcage Walk and the Royal Cockpit were two of the special indoor arenas where crowds gathered to gamble on the outcomes and watch the fights. The birds were armed with sharp spurs and the cruelty and violence was extreme. (No hero of mine will ever enjoy this sport, I assure you!)
Laudermilk, Sharon H. and Hamlin, Theresa L., The Regency Companion, Garland Publishing, 1989.
The Regency Gentleman series
The Regency Gentleman: His Upbringing
The Rise and Fall of Beau Brummell
Gentlemen’s Clubs in Regency London
Gentlemen’s Sports in the Regency
The Gentleman’s Passion for Horses