Written by Christine Shackell.
Norwich’s economic prosperity in the eighteenth century gave rise to increasing numbers of middle ranks who sought to stake their claim to polite society by demonstrating their culture, knowledge and social skills. A network of institutions arose, such as the Assembly House, Theatre, Museums, schools and libraries which attracted such audiences. These genteel folk aspired to be both well mannered and well dressed in order to impress.
In the early 1790s two men, both of French ancestry1, came to Norwich attracted by the opportunities of these cultural aspirations. One was Francis Noverre, (1773-1840) whose father Augustin, and uncle, Jean-George were well connected dancing and ballet masters in London and Paris. Augustin advertised in the Norfolk Chronicle in August 1793 that wishing to establish his son in Norwich, he intended to open a dancing academy for young ladies and gentlemen before Michaelmas. Francis Noverre settled down in Norwich and married Harriet Brunton at St Stephen’s Church in 1798, producing a large family and continuing to prosper as a dancing master.
The other man was Charles Lambert, who having learnt his trade in London, came to Bethel Street in Norwich and set up in business as a stay maker and tailor. He advertised in the Norfolk Chronicle of 12 February 1791, with his partner Francis Barth, that they produced the newest fashions, as worn by the most fashionable ladies in Paris and London. Adding in French to further impress his clients, “Fait des Corsets a la Reine, a la Duchesse, et autres a la Francaise”. ‘La Reine’ and ‘la Duchesse’ being types of stays or corsets. Soon after arriving in Norwich, Charles’ wife, Jane, gave birth to a son, on 21st February 1792. Five days later he was baptised Francis Joseph in the church of St Giles.
The teaching of dance was a competitive enterprise but demand was also high. The complicated minuet was going out of fashion. Pupils learnt the Quadrille, the Cotillion and country dances. They required much practice before one dared appear on the dance floor. “In an age where appearances counted for so much, the dancing master became an important conduit and arbiter in matters of etiquette, deportment, behaviour and social instruction” wrote Angela Dain.2
There is no evidence of a connection between the Noverre and Lambert families until in November 1813 when the well-established Francis Noverre, aged 40 years, and Charles Lambert’s son, Francis, aged 21 years, went into partnership and advertised in the Norfolk Chronicle as Messrs Noverre and Lambert at their Academy in Norwich. It seems likely that the younger Francis was a pupil of Noverre, who nurtured his talent. A partnership was a sensible option in this business as lessons were also organised in many other Norfolk towns and the dancing master was therefore often travelling about. Noverre and Lambert advertised lessons and the Annual Pupils’ Balls in towns as far afield as Aylsham, Holt and Fakenham. Their partnership was a successful one as they continued in business together for ten years.
In 1815, Francis Lambert published a book, Treatise on Dancing. In his dedication to Noverre he describes their ‘much esteemed friendship’ as one in which Noverre ‘first impelled and facilitated the progress of my professional acquisitions’. He acknowledges that the content of the book has been ‘honored with your approbation’. He describes dancing as ‘a fashionable amusement and necessary accomplishment’. The object of the amateur dancer who attends the dancing room is to ‘improve the manners and external appearance’ and ‘acquit themselves genteely’. A graceful bow or curtsey will ‘command the attention and respect of others’.
He was also concerned that although children learnt best when young, they should not be forced, showing a modern sounding concern for their physical development and enjoyment of this physical exercise.
Lambert and Noverre continued to advertise throughout the decade such as in 1822 Pigot’s Directory listed under Professors and Teachers, as Noverre and Lambert, at Theatre Plain. In 1822, Noverre’s son joined the business and the following year Lambert, now thirty years of age, set up on his own account giving his address as St Giles. In 1836 he moved from Cow Hill, St Giles to Queen Street, along with his wife who ran Mrs Lambert’s Boarding School for Young Ladies.
Lambert continued to advertise his classes and balls in both newspapers and directories.
In 1844 a new dance was introduced, the polka. Like the waltz it was to be danced as a couple in hold.
Perhaps to denote his advancing years, or perhaps just to elevate the status of the dancing master, Francis and other teachers began to refer to themselves as Professors of Dancing.
On 29th June, 1849, at the age of 57 years, Francis Lambert died at his home in Queen Street. His death certificate states that he died of a malignant polyp of the nose, which had been diagnosed eighteen months previously. Such a disease, left untreated, would have been very disfiguring. It is possible that the continued use of snuff, a form of ground tobacco popular in this era, played a part in his contracting this disease.
Francis enjoyed a long career in Norwich as a dancing master to his pupils. Despite this longevity and the publication of his book Treatise on Dancing, his name is not well known. He remains under the shadow of the Noverres, perhaps because of their wealth and pedigree. He deserves to be brought him to the attention of an audience once more.
- French ancestry for Charles Lambert is established by a handwritten family tree by a descendent of Charles’s brother, Henry Lambert. Their father, Charles Casimir Lambert was born in Douai, Nord, France in 1732
- Norwich since 1550 ed Rawcliffe and Wilson Chapter 8 An Enlightened and Polite Society Angela Dain. Hambledon and London (2004)