BRUMMELL, Beau (1778-1840)
Plaque erected in 1984 by Greater London Council at 4 Chesterfield Street, Mayfair, London, W1J 6JF, City of Westminster
Leader of Fashion, Socialite
BEAU BRUMMELL 1778-1840 Leader of Fashion lived here
The dandy and leader of fashion Beau Brummell (1778–1840) was one of the great celebrities of Regency England. He is commemorated with a plaque at number 4 Chesterfield Street – one of the least altered streets in Mayfair – where he lived for about five years.
George Bryan Brummell, later known as Beau, was born in Downing Street on 7 June 1778. His father was private secretary to the then prime minister, Lord North. At school at Eton, George was already showing the interest in matters of dress and taste that would define his adult life.
Brummell moved to Chesterfield Street in 1799 at the age of 21, having inherited money on coming of age, which coincided with his leaving the Army. By this time he had become close to George, Prince of Wales – the future King George IV – whom he had first met at the age of 16.
Now established in London society, Brummell began to impose his strong views about fashion. Always smart and self-assured, he set a new standard for his friends and contemporaries by scorning the typically ostentatious dress of the 18th century. His style – which became known as dandyism – relied on fine-quality cloth, precise cutting and understated elegance. It was epitomised, above all, by the starched cravat.
Brummell’s house in Chesterfield Street was thronged with members of the aristocracy and the so-called ‘Dandiacal Body’, who anxiously hoped to gain access to the inner sanctum, Brummell’s front dressing room. The Prince of Wales is said to have called nearly every morning to discuss matters of dress.
However, the pair’s friendship was soon under strain and ended with a famous put-down in 1813. While Brummell was walking with Lord Moira in St James’s Street, the pair encountered the Prince, who greeted Moira but snubbed Brummell. As they parted, Brummell – known for his cutting wit – asked his companion: ‘Pray, who is your fat friend?’ He was never forgiven.
By this time Brummell had left Chesterfield Street, his home until around 1804. He occupied at least three other Mayfair addresses, all since demolished: 18 Bruton Street (c.1804–8), 22 South Street (1810) and 13 Chapel (now Aldford) Street (1812–16). Although the split with George, now the Prince Regent, failed to dent Brummell’s reputation, his inheritance could not match his extravagant spending, and he turned to gambling in search of an income. In 1816 mounting gambling debts forced him to flee to Calais.
Brummell remained in France for the rest of his life, increasingly losing touch with London society. He died in a paupers’ lunatic asylum at Caen in 1840 at the age of 62. His name is still associated with elegant male dress and style.