Augustin’s provincial practice and his family
I can find no proof of the legend that Augustin had a practice in Norwich. C E Noverre claims that Augustin ‘took a house in The Chantry’ and taught dancing at the Assembly House in 1755, which would defeat the object of his being in hiding at the time. He lived in The Chantry from 1803 to 1805, but there is no evidence that he taught at the Assembly House at any time. Chéruzel says that Augustin divided his activities between London and Norwich. No proof is offered, but Augustin did travel between London and Norwich when establishing his son Francis in Norwich. Lynham says Augustin retired to Norwich in 1776 and taught dancing at the Assembly House. Augustin retired from the stage at that date but he did not formally retire to Norwich until 1797. There is no proof that he practised publicly in Norwich at any time; there are no advertisements in the press until 1793 when he advertised on Francis’ behalf and gave the impression that he was known in Norwich.
He may have run a provincial practice in the summer while his clients were away from London, but if so it was a private practice. Lynham spoke to Noverre descendants who repeated C E Noverre’s claim: Augustin ‘taught the Nobility of Norfolk’ of which the known example is the teaching of the Windham children. He did this by personal recommendations by Garrick, and the Windhams may have recommended Augustin to their Norfolk gentry friends. But I suspect the teaching took place in or near London in the winter seasons. From the evidence of his dance collections, and aside from his teaching of other dancing masters, he seems to have taught only girls and ‘young ladies’. Lynham quotes a Norfolk skipping rhyme:
Mr Noverre came fron France
To teach the natives how to dance
In the London version of the rhyme ‘natives’ becomes ‘ladies’. Augustin’s practice was of a private nature; I don’t think he ever held public (advertised) dancing classes in any location.
William Windham’s connection with the Noverres requires one more note. Windham was an excellent linguist, fluent in French and, therefore, a useful go-between. It may have been he who suggested and arranged for the safe-house in Norwich in 1755.
C E Noverre either did not know all of Augustin’s life story, or he wrote less than he knew, and with errors. Neither he nor Lynham nor Chéruzel mentions Augustin’s three marriages or his first and second sons: Augustin David who died young, and Charles, a London dancing master. I am grateful to Ian Dye for calling my attention to Charles and to Mrs Augustin the third. Further research expanded Augustin’s family history but added little to the tale of his professional life.
Family Search website lists Augustin’s marriage c.1767 to ‘Mrs Augustin Noverre born 1747 in England’. This is ‘Mary, wife of Augustin Noverre’ whose portrait hangs in Norwich Assembly House. She cannot be Augustin’s ‘épouse’ of 1755 when she was only eight years old. In 1767 she was 20 and Augustin was 38. I cannot find any details of the ‘épouse’ or of any children of that marriage.
Mary’s portrait is by an anonymous artist and undated. Her hairstyle suggests c.1770. She wears oddments from a studio or stage wardrobe: pink sleeves, olive robe, ermine tippet and a headdress trying to be à la Turque but achieving English Bonnet. Her expression is disconcertingly blank.
Her brown hair is left to us in a mourning pendant given to Norfolk Museums in 1958 and now in the Costume and Textile collection in Norwich. The pendant raises questions. It is made of porcelain. On the front an urn and a weeping willow are painted in brown and framed in plaited brown hair. A gold inscription reads: ‘Augn. David Noverre ob.26 November 1778 Ae 14.’ On the back, also set in brown hair, is the inscription ’Mrs Noverre ob.12 July 1781 Ae 28.’ This was first a mourning pendant for her son, worn by Mary, later also a mourning pendant for Mary. The inscribed ‘Mrs’ is not a worn version of ‘Mary’. It may have belonged to a servant, perhaps Elizabeth Stevens ‘my old and faithful servant’ whom Augustin left to the care of his children in his Will.
The death dates are probably correct. If Mary was 28 in 1781 she was born in 1753. If Augn. David was 14 in 1778 he was born in 1764 when according to the pendant Mary was 11 years old, which is nonsense. If Family Search is correct, Mary, born c1747, was about 34 when she died and Augn. David was born when she was 17, three years before her marriage. Family Search is notoriously ‘approximate’; the marriage may have taken place in 1764. Mary was buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s Church, Teddington, Middlesex. Her headstone is inscribed ‘Mary wife of Augustus Noverre, Esq 1781’. Augustus may be a mistake on the part of British History Online, the source of this detail, which is attended by further mistakes, but I am sure Augustin is the widower in question as the date tallies with other information.
But why Teddington when her marital parish was either St Clement Dane or St James Westminster after the move from Surrey Street. At this period Teddington was both a healthy retreat for London invalids and a fashionable place for an out-of-town villa. Mary may have been in poor health, or Augustin had acquired a villa in a fashionable location as a retreat from his work.
Augn. David may have been named in honour of Garrick who may have been his godfather. The pendant is the sole evidence of Augn. David’s existence.
Family Search has a birth entry for Augustin and Mary’s second child, Jane Louisa, born ‘in England c1768’. We shall meet her again in Norwich. Her burial, registered in Taverham parish in 1808, gives her age as 40, i.e. born 1768.
Ancestry.com lists the birth of Louisa Mary Noverre in Norwich in 1768. There is no verifying entry in any Norwich parish register, but she may have been baptised elsewhere. She was probably born early in 1768 and did not survive. Jane Louisa, born later that year, was given the name of her dead sibling and always known as Louisa. The birth in Norwich raises the possibility that Mary was a native of Norwich and went home for the birth. No marriage entry for Augustin and Mary has been found in any Norwich parish register.
Their eldest surviving son, Charles Cornelius, was born in 1770, probably in London. His baptism was not registered in Norwich. He became a London dancing master, practising at 40 Great Marlborough Street. In 1793 the Directory of the Nobility – ‘of’ meaning ‘for’ – listed ‘Noverre 40 Great Marlborough Street’ without further details. Augustin at no.48 was not listed; he may have ceased to practise and he did not use directories to advertise himself.
It is possible that the ‘Noverre’ at no.40 was Jean-Georges, who stayed there when working at the King’s. In 1793 he was marooned in England as an enemy alien, demoted from chevalier to citoyen at home and known as ‘Sir George Noverre’ in England. He did not return to France until 1795.
The Noverres’ occupation of 40 and 48 is curious. Augustin became a leaseholder in Norwich. He may have leased 40 and 48 and let 40 when not required by his brother until it became Charles’ home and practice address.
Charles may have been trained by his father, but he learned advertising elsewhere. He is in Holden’s Universal Directory 1802, Holden’s Triennial Directory 1805, and Holden’s Annual Directory 1811. He is both Cox and Box: ‘Chas. Noverre, dancing master’ in Trades and Professions, and ‘Charles Noverre Esq’ in Private Residences, both at 40 Great Marlborough Street. I have not found him in any other directories, Holden’s or others.
On 12 November 1795 Charles married Anna Tadwell of Craven Hill, Paddington by special licence obtained on the previous day. They married at Charles’ parish church, St James, Westminster. Perhaps the Tadwell parents disapproved of the match. Charles and Anna were of age and may have wished not to wait out the banns period. A notice of the marriage was placed in The Gentleman’s Magazine. Ancestry.com lists Anna Matilda Noverre who died in Clerkenwell in 1851 and who may be Mrs Charles. Charles died between 1851 and 1861. They had four or possibly five children.
C E Noverre omitted Charles from his account of the family but bestowed a son of the same name upon Francis Noverre, a puzzle to which we shall return. Lynham also omits Charles, which is strange because, once found, Charles is quite conspicuous.
It would be logical for Augustin to establish an older son in London and then a younger son, Francis, in Norwich. If the same process was used in both cases, Charles would have been in practice c1790, aged 20.
On 8 February 1771 Augustin’s petition for Naturalisation was presented to the House of Lords by Thomas Noel, Viscount Wentworth. An intermediary was involved and I suspect he was that champion networker David Garrick. The petition was passed on 20 February: ‘given as desired’. A clerk has scribbled ‘soit fait comme il est desire’, at the top of the document.
In the petition Augustin presents himself as a gentleman and a protestant. His profession is not mentioned. He had taken the Oath of Allegiance and he was now to be regarded as if he was English by birth and born to English parents. He might now hold property, except from the Crown, and he could leave property to his heirs. He was barred from holding civic office or military rank.
Naturalisation may have been a prudent step towards providing for his family. His address, as it appears on the petition was ‘Surry Street in the Strand’. The Noverres evidently rented a house there, which included Augustin’s practice room, but now they could lease or buy property. The petition names Augustin’s place of origin, Paris, and his parents, Hans George Noverre and Maria his wife.
Augustin’s youngest son, Francis, was born on 19 July 1773 and baptised at St Clement Danes, the Noverres’ parish church: they were still at Surrey Street.
During the rest of that decade Augustin taught private pupils and others of his own profession, including John Browne of Norwich. In 1777 he bungled Garrick’s commission in Paris where he may have been visiting his brother and learning the latest dances. By the 1780s he was publishing collections of dances and apparently well-to-do professionally and financially.
His private life was less fortunate; Mary died on 12 July 1781. On 10 January 1784 he married his third wife, Sarah Stow, a widow, by special licence obtained on 8 January. Both parties were parishioners of St James Westminster where they married. This tells us that Augustin had moved to Great Marlborough Street by this date. Yes, another special licence, and there are more to come in the family. Perhaps it was just a matter of expedience. Nothing more is known of Sarah, apart from her death on 3 March 1786, notified in The Gentleman’s Magazine, to which I think Augustin must have subscribed.
In the early 1790s Augustin set up his sons in practice, no mean undertaking as they both began practice in fine accommodation. Augustin was clearly better off than the average dancing master and he may have had a commercial sideline although there is not a hint of what it was. Property is a possibility. but only post-naturalisation. Jean-Georges was also a distiller, though not very successful – that explains the ‘drunk’ and ‘grumpy’ allegations. Francis Noverre would later have several commercial interests in Norwich.
At last, in 1793, we have evidence of Augustin in Norwich, advertising Francis’ practice – the subject of the next chapter. Augustin gave his address: at Mrs Milligan’s, 2 Chapelfield Lane, where Francis, too, would lodge for a short time. Augustin calls himself ‘Mr Noverre of London’, to which he soon returned. There is a suggestion that he was well known in Norwich, but this may be ‘puffing’.
In 1797 Augustin left London to live with Francis at 2 Assembly House Yard. They were jointly assessed for Poor Tax in the St Stephen’s Churchwardens Accounts. No address is given, but Francis’ first payment is noted ‘late Ashill’. The relevant directory lists: Ashill, wine merchant, 2 Assembly House Yard, Chapelfield Lane. In 1803 Augustin moved to The Chantry and father and son were separately assessed for Poor Tax.
The Noverre addresses lay within a hundred yard stretch of Chapelfield Lane between St Stephen’s Church and the Assembly House. Mrs Millligan’s was next to the church, Assembly House Yard entrance was four doors away, The Chantry a few steps further with its back to the Assembly House. ‘Development’ has obliterated all the addresses unless Augustin’s house in The Chantry is the present day Chantry Cottage, Chantry Lane.
This leaves us no wiser about Augustin’s professional life in Norwich. If he came to Norwich between 1755 and 1793 he stayed in lodgings, worked privately, did not advertise his presence and left no official trace of himself.