We’re feeling Batty. Batty Langley’s in Spitalfields, that is – the latest addition to the Hazlitt’s Hotel Group, whose other members include the ravishing Rookery in Clerkenwell and Soho-favourite Hazlitt’s. These historic London stays are like nothing else: they’re set in traditional Georgian townhouses rescued from demolishers by two enterprisingly quirky owners – who refer to themselves, endearingly, as ‘two old gits’ – and styled with dramatic interiors that deliver maximum pomp, zero pomposity.
Each hotel has its own inimitable character, but all three share a crush on Georgian England and a healthy sense of humour (Amelia Rope’s moreish chocolate bars also grace all their minibars – try the bonkers-delicious lemon-and-sea-salt). Another shared strength is bathrooms: fitted with throne-like toilets, Victorian-style bathing machines and other elaborate contraptions that have been Frankensteined into existence by Hazlitt’s’ devilishly clever furniture-designer.
Thoroughly intrigued by Batty, we thought we’d lift up history’s (slightly grubby) skirt, and explore five of the real-life figures behind its darkly decadent rooms.
BATTY LANGLEY, ARCHITECT
The star of the hotel was born in Twickenham in 1696, the son of a gardener. Batty began his career as a landscape gardener before setting up his own architectural academy. However, he spent less of his career designing buildings than he did writing pamphlets prescribing ‘improvements’ to Britain’s native Gothic architecture and railing against the foreign Palladian muck that was all the rage at the time. Batty also advertised that he was: ‘Prepared to make Designs for Buildings, Gardens, Parks, etc, in the most Grand Taste and to construct Grottoes, Cascades, Caves, Temples, Pavilions and other Rural Buildings of Pleasure.’ Having gone through life with his own flamboyant name (given to him as a tribute to one of his father’s patrons), he bestowed similarly outlandish monikers upon four of his 14 offspring: Vitruvius, Archimedes, Hiram and Euclid. Alas, Batty died in 1741, deep in debt and aged just 55.
PETER MERZEAN, SILK THROWER
Dubbed ‘the king of Spitalfields’ in his obituary, Peter Merzean amassed a sizeable fortune, largely by limiting his workforce to women and destitute old men – thereby getting away with paying peanuts. Peter’s family were silk throwers from Poitou, France, specialising in transforming raw silk fibres into yarn that could be dyed and woven into the patterned cloth for which Spitalfields was renowned. One of Peter’s employees described the distinctly unpleasant-sounding equipment used in his trade: ‘It is of the most primeval and barbarous type, consisting of a drum, round about which a strap passes, embracing in its course two or three clumsy bobbins and returning round a small roller. A blind old man, fit for no better work than this, groaningly turns the drum round.’ Poor chap.
ANN FLYNN, PETTY THIEF
Next time you feel like stealing a leg of mutton, reconsider. Ann Flynn did exactly that and was promptly arrested and charged at the Old Bailey in 1750. However, Ann’s story has a happy ending. At her hearing, she moved all present to tears, describing the plight of her sickly husband: he was too ill to work, leaving her to fend for their two sprogs in whichever way she saw fit (crimes against mutton). The jury found her guilty, with the head juryman barely repressing tears as he delivered the verdict. The judge fined her a shilling and released her immediately, whereupon the kindly jury contributed the required sum. Group hug.
KITTY FISHER, COURTESAN
Kitty Fisher was immortalised in a (blush-inducingly bawdy) ‘nursery rhyme’ – a tawdry tale of a love triangle involving a barmaid and a prostitute, with more innuendoes than a Carry On film. Here’s a seemingly innocent extract: ‘Lucy Locket lost her pocket, Kitty Fisher found it.’ In this instance, ‘locket’ means lady-garden (ahem); pocket = male source of cash. Kitty was a notorious 18th-century courtesan, hence the tempting four-poster found in the hotel’s Kitty Fisher Suite. She had a lowly start in life and worked as a milliner, before realising the pay was better in the courtesan trade. She was very good at riding horses, though she was most famous for falling off said horses and flashing her bits in the process – the 18th-century equivalent of a leaked sex tape. She made an excellent marriage and died in Bath in 1767, stipulating in her will that she be buried in her finest frock. She’s probably best understood as a Georgian Kardashian – famous for being famous, showing her bits off, and getting widespread media attention with a series of portraits by Joshua Reynolds (the nearest thing available to a network reality show).
EDGEWORTH BESS, LADY OF THE NIGHT
Elizabeth Lyons, aka Edgeworth Bess, was just your average lady of the night working out of the Black Lion Tavern, just off Drury Lane, until she encountered her future accomplice, Jack Sheppard: the future Clyde to her Bonnie. Together they embarked on a life of increasingly dastardly crime; they were arrested five times and incarcerated in different places of confinement, achieving Houdini-style getaways each time. Their most famous escape was from Newgate Prison, where Jack had been manacled and chained to the floor. Chains? Pah! With the help of Bess, Jack unlocked his handcuffs using a rusty nail. For their next act, the pair broke into the house next door and walked to freedom (via the front door). Karma eventually caught up with Jack – he was hanged in 1724 – but, as for Bess, her whereabouts are still unknown…