Teresa Cornelys And London’s First Night Club
Michael Duncan has a story of 18th century nightlife that features in his Wild and Wonderful Women of Soho walk which runs again on September 29th
Theresa Cornelys was perhaps the quintessential Soho character: inventive, clever, talented, and useless with money.
She arrived in Soho in 1760, aged 37
Little known about her early life but she was an aspiring opera singer with a string of lovers including Casanova with whom she had a daughter.
Her passage to London was supplied by the latest of her beaus: the wealthy Englishman, John Fermor. And it was with the help of his cash that she rented Carlisle House on the South-Eastern corner of Soho Square and established it as London’s most fashionable entertainment venue.
Starting with evenings of card playing and gentle music it expanded quickly to match her ambition and appetite for showmanship: a banqueting room seating 400 people was built, a Chinese bridge allegedly made by Thomas Chippendale was installed, Bach entertained the fashionable clubbers, a man demonstrated an exciting new invention called roller-skates and smashed into a valuable mirror, and was sent a bill for the damage. Tickets were the most in demand in town. It shocked and enthralled London society.
The money flowed in. One estimate put the club’s income as high as £1200 a night. But such massive amounts of money were not enough to cover her extravagance. Debts mounted, her friend, the magnificent Mrs Elizabeth Chudleigh, who was soon to become known as the bigamous Duchess of Kingston (pictured) was one particularly notorious investor.
But like today, it is difficult to remain hip and ahead of the crowd, and as competition increased so did Teresa’s spending.
Her fall was as swift as her rise. In 1772 the Pantheon opened on Oxford Street (where M&S Pantheon is now). It drained her of her customers and within nine months she was bust.
Despite attempting a number of comebacks she never reached such heights again. She died, probably of breast cancer in Fleet Prison aged 74.
Carlisle House was pulled down in 1791. St Patrick’s church stands where it once was.
You can find details of all Michael’s walks here