Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thicknesse, Ann

THICKNESSE, formerly Ford, ANN (1737–1824), authoress and musician, wife of Philip Thicknesse [q. v.], was the only child of Thomas Ford (d. 1768), clerk of the arraigns. Her mother was a Miss Champion. Ann Ford was born in a house near the Temple, London, on 22 Feb. 1737. As the niece of Dr. Ford, the queen's physician, and of Gilbert Ford, attorney-general of Jamaica, she was received in fashionable society and became a favourite on account of her beauty and talent. Before she was twenty she had been painted by Hone in the character of a muse, and celebrated for her dancing by the Earl of Chesterfield. The ‘town’ frequented her Sunday concerts, where Dr. Arne, Tenducci, and other professors were heard, besides all the fashionable amateurs, the hostess playing the viol da gamba and singing to the guitar. ‘She is excellent in music, loves solitude, and has unmeasurable affectations,’ wrote one lord to another at Bath in 1758 (cf. A Letter from Miss F .. d to a Person of Distinction, 1761). Her father's objections to her singing in public were so strong that, by a magistrate's warrant, he secured her capture at the house of a lady friend. Not until she had escaped the paternal roof a second time was she enabled to make arrangements for the first of her five subscription concerts, on 18 March 1760, at the little theatre in the Haymarket. Aristocratic patronage furnished 1,500l. in subscriptions; but Miss Ford's troubles were not yet over, for at her father's instance the streets round the theatre were occupied by Bow Street runners, only dispersed by Lord Tankerville's threats to send for a detachment of the guards. Such sensational incidents added to the success of the concerts. These generally included Handelian and Italian arias, sung by Miss Ford, and soli for her on the viol da gamba and guitar. The violinist Pinto and other instrumentalists contributed pieces. In 1761 Miss Ford was announced to sing ‘English airs, accompanying herself on the musical glasses,’ performing daily from 24 to 30 Oct. in the large room, late Cocks's auction-room, Spring Gardens. At the close of the year Miss Ford published ‘Instructions for Playing on the Musical Glasses’ [see Pockrich, Richard]. These glasses contained water, and it was not until the following year that the armonica was introduced by Marianne Davies [q. v.] With regard to Miss Ford's viol da gamba it may be surmised that she used a favourite instrument ‘made in 1612, of exquisite workmanship and mellifluous tone’ (Thicknesse, Gainsborough, p. 19).

In November she left town with Philip Thicknesse [q. v.], the lieutenant-governor, and Lady Elizabeth Thicknesse for Landguard Fort, where her friend gave birth to a son, dying a few months afterwards, on 28 March 1762. The care of the young family devolved upon Miss Ford, and Thicknesse after a short interval made her his (third) wife on 27 Sept. 1762. She proved a kind stepmother and a sympathetic wife. Their summer residence, Felixstowe Cottage, was the subject of enthusiastic description in the pages of ‘The School for Fashion,’ 1800 (see Public Characters, 1806). A sketch of the cottage by Gainsborough was published in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ (1816, ii. 105). Mrs. Thicknesse wrote, while living temporarily at Bath, her anecdotal ‘Sketches of the Lives and Writings of the Ladies of France’ (3 vols. 1778–81). A contemplated visit to Italy in 1792 was frustrated by the sudden death of Philip Thicknesse after they had left Boulogne. The widow, remaining in France, was arrested and confined in a convent. After the execution of Robespierre in July 1794, a decree was promulgated for the liberation of any prisoners who should be able to earn their livelihood. Mrs. Thicknesse produced proofs of her accomplishments and was set free. In 1800 she published her novel, ‘The School for Fashion,’ in which many well-known characters appeared under fictitious names, herself as Euterpe. For fifteen or eighteen years before her death, Mrs. Thicknesse lived with a friend in the Edgware Road. She died at the age of eighty-six on 20 Jan. 1824 (Annual Register). Her daughter married; her son John died in 1846 (O'Byrne, Naval Biography).

Mrs. Thicknesse's linguistic and other talents were considerable, but she shone with most genuine light in music. Rauzzini admired her singing, and many thought her equal to Mrs. Billington in compass and sweetness of voice. Her portraits, by Hone and Gainsborough, have not been engraved.

[Grove's Dict. of Music, i. 540; Letter from Miss F .. d; Letter to Miss F .. d; Dialogue, 1761; Horace Walpole's Correspondence, iii. 378; Kilvert's Ralph Allen, p. 20; Public Advertiser, March–April 1760, October 1761; Thicknesse's Gainsborough, p. 19, and other Works, passim; Monkland's Literati of Bath; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes, ix. 251; Public Characters, 1806; Harwich Guide, 1808, p. 82; Gent. Mag. 1761 pp. 33, 79, 106, 1792 p. 1154; Registers of Wills, P. C. C. Erskine 118, Bogg 160.]

L. M. M.