Street View: 32
Address: 35 Lamb’s Conduit Street
In 1838, Robert Smith Surtees brought out his Jorrocks’s Jaunts & Jollities, or to give it its full title, Jorrocks’s Jaunts & Jollities : The hunting, shooting, racing, driving, sailing, eating, eccentric and extravagant exploits of that renowned sporting citizen Mr. John Jorrocks, a funny collection about Jorricks’s adventures, which first appeared in The New Sporting Magazine between 1831 and 1834. In one of the stories, ‘Mr. Jorrocks’s Dinner Party’, we hear that in the centre of the dinner-table stood a “magnificent, finely spun, barley-sugar windmill, two feet and a half high, with a spacious sugar foundation, with a cart and horses and two or three millers at the door”. Jorrocks warns his friends not to “eat the windmill you’ll see on the centre of the table. Mrs. Jorrocks has hired it for the evening, of Mr. Farrell, the confectioner, in Lamb’s Conduit-street, and it’s engaged to two or three evening parties after it leaves this”. While the dinner is still in progress, there is a knock at the door and Jorrocks’ servant comes into the room with the message that “Mr. Farrell’s young man has come for the windmill – he says you’ve had it two hours”. Jorrocks refuses to part with it before dinner is finished and Farrell’s man is sent back empty-handed. The story does not tell us what happened, but we may imagine that the sum to be paid for the privilege of a nice centrepiece was increased proportionally to the time it remained in Jorrocks’ house.
In any other work of fiction, we would not hesitate to see Mr. Farrell, the confectioner, as a product of the author’s imagination, but he really existed and he did produce sugar structures, although I have not found any evidence that he actually rented them out on a regular basis. In 1851, Farrell (also spelled Farrel) entered some of his sugar work in the Great Exhibition and the Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue tells us that he entered table ornaments for confectioners in plaster of Paris; a locomotive engine and a church in wax; and giraffes and a palm tree with an elephant on a rock in grained sugar.
Only rarely do we learn what the Victorian shopkeepers used to decorate their shop window, but Farrell’s was singled out by William Hone in volume 2 of his Every-day Book of 1830 to show “the rivalry of London tradesmen to attract attention”. Hone apparently saw the display in the illustration above in June 1826 in the window of Farrell’s shop and he wrote that the bowls held live fish and the water jets of the fountain produced a continuous flow of water, thereby gently moving the swans made of wax. Hone does not mention any sugar structures, but then, they were probably never displayed in the window anyway, especially not in summer.
Robert Smith Surtees and William Hone probably both encountered Garrett Farrell at the shop in Lamb’s Conduit Street, but by the time of the Great Exhibition his son Richard Horsford Farrell had taken over. The 1841 census shows Garrett (50 years old) at number 35 with his wife Harriet (45 years old), two daughters and three sons, of whom Richard (20 years old) was the eldest. Also present were a shopwoman, two female servants and three male porters. It is no wonder he needed three porters if sugar works regularly had to be delivered and fetched from customers. Number 35, by the way, is not the building where number 35 is today; Farrell’s shop was situated between New Ormond Street (now Great Ormond Street) and Long Yard on the eastern side of Lamb’s Conduit Street. Nowadays number 35 can be found between Dombey Street and Great Ormond Street on the west side. Drastic renumbering once again causing confusion for historians.
In the late 18th and early 19th century, the master of the art of sugar works, either with spun sugar or from a mould, and indeed of fine dining in general, was Marie-Antoine Carême (1784-1833), a French celebrity chef who had lived in England for a while and was cook to the Prince Regent, later George IV. He published several books with recipes, menus, and table settings, often illustrated with delicate engravings. One of the books, Le Pâtissier pittoresque (1815), contained many designs for sugary desserts and decorations (online here). The examples given are often of elaborate centrepieces representing temples, ruins, clock towers, pavilions, etc. We do not know for certain that Farrell used any of Carême’s books as inspiration, but it is likely.
I have not been able to find out when Garrett Farrell died, but Richard died on 22 June 1860. He is described in the probate entry as “formerly of 35 Lamb’s-Conduit-street Holborn but late of 10 Alma-road Upper Holloway”.(1) His widow Anne Elizabeth is living in Paris at the time of the probate, at 31 Rue d’Amsterdam. Whether the confectionary shop survived, was taken over, or simply disappeared after Richard’s death is not known.
If you want to know more about the history of sugar sculpture, I suggest Ivan Day’s Royal Sugar Sculpture: 600 years of splendour (2002), published by The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle. The Collections Search on that museum’s website provides some interesting results for ‘sugar mould’ or ‘sugar design’ (don’t use quotes). And if you want to know even more about the subject, I suggest you read Howard Coutts and Ivan Day’s “Sugar Sculpture, Porcelain and Table Layout 1530-1830” (online here).
(1) England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1860. Estate valued at less than £300.
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