A coach and four, the strongman of Brighton, and Black Monday

I wrote before that I’ve got a thought about the story of the Prince Regent and Keere Street, his “coach and four” run down the cobbles and the fact that there’s no evidence it actually happened. It is supposition but if nothing else perhaps it adds a bit of background to the story, and I’ve not seen it mentioned elsewhere.

The Prince had a close friend named Sir John Lade, a baronet from Warbleton in Sussex. This friendship carried on much to the annoyance of all those around the monarchy who tried to turn the Prince against Lade, deeming him entirely unsuitable. Lade was a colourful character standing out even in Regency times: there’s a picture of him at the British Museum carrying a naked man on his back round the Old Steine in Brighton. He was a small man, called a dwarf in his day, and he had bet Lord Cholmondeley he could carry him twice around the Steine (which sits just outside the Prince’s Royal Pavilion). Cholmondeley took the bet at which point Lade insisted he stripped naked as he hadn’t said he’d carry his clothes too.

Needless to say Cholmondeley refused and Lade won the bet.

“The Dwarf & the Giant or, the Strong Lad of Brighton taking off the Princes Chum”

That’s the Prince Regent leering at the ladies on the left of the picture. (Image from the British Museum here.)

Lade’s wife, Letitia, was equally interesting. She had been mistress of both an executed highwayman and the Prince’s brother, and was so renowned for swearing frequently and casually that “swearing like Lettie Lade” entered popular parlance.

John Lade wasn’t just from Sussex, he had Lewes connections too, owning a house on Lewes High Street, and as a successful owner and breeder of racehorses he won races all over the country, including at Lewes Racecourse. Amongst Lade’s many vices which caused the Prince’s advisers to frown was a catastrophic gambling addiction – the phrase “Black Monday” to describe huge financial loss is reputed to originate from him, being how he denoted the day each quarter that he paid off his debts. That bet with Lord Cholmondeley is one of many that perhaps show a compulsive habit.

In those wagers there weren’t just naked Lords, there were also several related to him showing off what a skillful driver of coaches he was. One bet even involves driving a coach and four in a confined, risky space around a very cramped yard in London. That’s a bet which resonates strongly with the Lewes story. So it doesn’t feel beyond possibility to me that a Lewes connected friend of the Prince, with a gambling habit, who liked challenging people to wagers about coach driving skills, might have been involved in some way in a wager with the Prince that led to a charge down Keere Street.

So maybe the Prince did do it. Or maybe Lade did the run, and the Prince took Lade’s glory to defend Lade and protect himself from more accusations of bad judgement in his choice of friends. Or maybe Letitia did it as her skill as a coach driver was also well known at the time, if deemed scandalously inappropriate. Or perhaps the Prince sensibly opted not to take the wager and Lade spread the story to spare his blushes.

Whatever the truth is I am sure Lade was involved somewhere, and it certainly fits what was going on in the Prince’s circle in this area at that time.