Category Archives: London Parks

Writing Historical Fiction – The Westminster Way: a free all day event

On  Saturday 11th October I’ll be at the City of Westminster Archives Centre, 10 St Ann’s Street, London SW1P 2DE for a *free* all day event –

Writing Historical Fiction…
…the Westminster Way!

  10:00am- 4:00pm

10:00am- 10:45pm Tour: Westminster Archives search room

11:15am- 1:00pm Walk: A walk around Georgian Westminster

2:00pm- 4:00pm Talk: Resources for Writing Historical Fiction

 

Piccadilly

To get your free ticket simply call the Archives Centre on 020 7641 5180

Archive staff will talk you through how to explore the wealth of riches in their collection and will have fascinating items on display for you to take a close-up look. On my walk we will pass from some of the worst slums in London to the centre of power and privilege, join Wordsworth on Westminster Bridge, see where the semaphore towers sending signals to Nelson’s fleet have been replaced by modern wireless aerials, view the Prince of Wales’ Bomb and locate the site of Astley’s Ampitheatre before returning past where Charles II’s ostriches lived, down Cockpit Steps incockpit the wake of Hogarth and back to the Archives Centre.

In the afternoon I’ll be giving an illustrated talk about how the Archives can help you dig deep into the past for your historical writing.

Illustrations:

Top of the page: one of the vivid prints from the Archive Centre collection

Above: The Royal Cockpit by Hogarth

 

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Eliza and I Walk Into London This Morning…

In a long letter dated Thursday 18th – Saturday 20th April 1811 Jane Austen wrote to her sister Cassandra about her activities in London. She was staying with her brother Henry and his wife Eliza in their house at 64, Sloane Street in Knightsbridge, which at the time was a separate village from London. From the way Jane writes about walkiSONY DSCng ‘into’ London it was clear that this separation was felt by residents.

The house in Sloane Street is still there, although at first glance it is unrecognisable as the one where Jane stayed.  In 1897 another floor was added and the whole house refaced, but embedded inside is the original house, built in 1780. It is even possible to see the outer bay of the octagonal room where Eliza held a party on 25 April 1811 – all you need to do is walk a little way down Hans Street and look back at the rear of the house. In the photograph the house is covered in scaffolding and undergoing yet more changes.

Knightsbridge village, and that section of the Bath road, are named for the medieval bridge over the Westbourne River, one of the ‘lost’ rivers of London which is not lost at all, but still runs under the streets to the Thames. It descends from Hampstead Heath and crossed the area that is now Kensington Palace Gardens and Hyde Park before meeting the Bath road. In 1730 it was dammed to form the Serpentine in Hyde Park and the Long Water in Kensington Palace Gardens.

The village straggled along the highway with Hyde Park and the palace grounds to the north, and market gardens to the south. Brompton Road cut notheastwards from the little village of Brompton and the new, planned, Sloane Street meets the older, more irregular road at Knightsbridge at the point where there was a watch house and the village pound for straying livestock. All along Knightsbridge was a scatter of substantial houses, inns and cottages. There was a cavalry barracks on the northern edge, with access to the park, and an infantry barracks on the southern side.

In her letter Jane describes two expeditions on foot into London. To begin she would have had a stroll of about three quarters of a mile from Henry’s house to Knightsbridge. Sloane Street was built up with houses all along the western edge with the remains of market gardens to the east, although Cadogan Place was being laid out and a few terraces were beginning to appear on the eastern edge. Once she reached Knightsbridge she would then have turned right to ‘walk into London’ which she reached at the Hyde Park turnpike gate, another three quarters of a mile. There is nothing she would have recognised in the scene today. Sloane Street was rebuilt, or, in many cases, refaced, in the late 19th century and the inns have all either disappeared or have been replaced by Victorian buildings on the same sites. The cavalry barracks is still there, but rebuilt twice, most recently to a design by Sir Basil Spence that includes a tower block regularly voted one of the eyesores of London.

Hyde Park pike0001

Her sister-in-law Eliza seems to have been a rather nervous carriage passenger, so she would probably have been terrified by the volume of traffic at Hyde Park Corner today. On the 25th April Jane wrote home about an incident at the turnpike: ‘The Horses actually gibbed on this side of Hyde Park Gate – a load of fresh gravel made it a formidable Hill to them, & they refused the collar; – I believe there was a sore shoulder to irritate. – Eliza was fightened, & we got out – & were detained in the Even[ing] air several minutes.” She blames this for the cold that Eliza had contracted, not realising that Eliza probably caught the same cold Jane was complaining about suffering earlier. The print above shows the turnpike gate looking towards Piccadilly. On the right is a watch house and on the left, just out of the picture, was a weighing house.

These dTatts0001ays the Lanesborough Hotel occupies the old St George’s Hospital on the corner of Knightsbridge and Grosvenor Place and just behind that was the location of the famous Tattersall’s auction ring (1766-1865 when it moved to Newmarket). The print shows the central yard with an auction for a horse in progress. Carriages were also sold and some can be seen at the back.

Now Hyde Park Corner is dominated by Apsley House, known as Number One London because it is the first house you came to once you were through the gates. The print from Ackermann’s Repository  below shows it before the work on the houses to the left created Wellington’s impressive residence. On the right is the wall surrounding Green Park and Piccadilly stretches ahead of us.

Jane wrote that on Wednesday 17th April, ‘Manon [Eliza’s maid] & I took our walk to Grafton House…I liked my walk very much; it was shorter than I expected, & the weather was delightful. We set off immediatel007y after breakfast & must have reached Grafton House by 1/2 past 11.’  Grafton House was the premises of Wilding & Kent, a very superior draper and haberdashers, on the corner of Grafton Street and New Bond Street. The most logical route for them to have taken was along Piccadilly to Old Bond Street and then  up that to New Bond Street and the shop, a distance of another 3/4 of a mile, so a distance of two and a quarter miles in all. It is clear from her letter that they walked back, after a wait in the crowded shop of half an hour to be served. Jane was obviously quite happy to make a walk of four and a half miles, simply to purchase bugle [bead] trimming and three pairs of silk stockings. The next day, ‘If the Weather permits, Eliza & I walk into London this morn[ing]. – She is in want of chimney lights for Tuesday [the day of her party]; – & I, of an ounce of darning cotton.’ Unfortunately she doesn’t say where they shopped. These walks were in addition to several trips by carriage to visit friends and attend the theatre, yet Jane still had time to work on Sense and Sensibility. On Thursday 15 April she wrote to Cassandra who must have commented on her activities, ‘No indeed, I am never too busy to think of S&S. I can no more forget it, than a mother can forget her sucking child…I have two sheets to correct, but the last only brings us to W.s first appearance.’

003You can follow Jane’s walks into London in Walking Jane Austen’s London. Walk One takes you to Henry’s two houses in the area, then up to Hyde Park Corner and across the park to Kensington Palace. The site of Grafton House is visited in Walk Two.

The Walking Dress is from a plate in Ackermann’s Repository for November 1811. It is just right for fashion-conscious Eliza, but probably rather smart for Jane!

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Walks Through Regency London goes digital

Walks Through Regency London Cover LARGE EBOOK

Walks Through Regency London, previously only available direct from me in paperback, is now in a revised edition on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk as well as all the other Amazon sites. Illustrated with original prints of the period.

Ten  self-guided walks will take you from Mayfair to Southwark and from prisons to palaces to an operating theatre by way of shops, parks and inns in the company of Jane Austen, Beau Brummell, Nelson and Emma, Wellington, the Prince Regent and many more of the famous and infamous of the ‘Long Regency’.

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A Stroll In St James’s Park

DSCN2018 soldierThe sun is shining – just the afternoon for a stroll in St James’s Park. The other day I started off at St James’s Palace where the scarlet-coated guardsmen were fending off the advances of crowds of camera-wielding tourists and then walked down narrow Marlborough Road between the Palace and Marlborough House. This access to the park did not exist until the 1850s and effectively cuts off Marlborough House and the Queen’s Chapel on one side from the Palace on the other.

The Queen’s Chapel, although a Chapel Royal is not The Chapel Royal which is within the Palace and which is where Prince George was christened recently. The Queen’s Chapel was designed by Inigo Jones in the 1620s for Queen Henrietta Maria, the Roman Catholic wife of Charles I, although since the 1690s it has been used as a Protestant place of worship.DSCN2019

Crossing the Mall, with its view of BuckinghamPalace to the right, I dodged the Royal Parks gardeners getting ready for the post-picnic lunch clear-up in the Park and entered through the gorgeous wrought iron gates.

St James’s Park is the oldest royal park and dates back to Tudor times. Elizabeth I hunted deer here but by the time of James I there was a physic garden, a menagerie (including crocodiles) and an aviary, which is recalled in the name of Birdcage Walk on the northern edge of the park.

Charles II had considerable work done to create the central canal by joining up several ponds and marshy areas, planting trees and stocking it with deer. It is from this date that the pall mall alley was laid out. The Russian ambassador presented Charles with a pair of pelicans in 1664 and there are still pelicans amongst the exotic birds on the lake today. Occasionally one creates havoc by pouncing on a passing pigeon and swallowing it whole.

At the eastern end of the park was SpringGardens, a pleasure garden dating from the 17th century. All that remains of it now are two stubs of roads cut across by the Mall and with Admiralty Arch sitting in the middle. By Jane Austen’s day they were notable for various indoor places of entertainment, art galleries and so on. The Picture of London (1807) recommends Wigley’s Royal Promenade rooms here. They were open 10am to 10pm, admission one shilling. The visitor could ‘meet’ two invisible girls who spoke or sang on demand, or listen to a performance on the panharmonium, a mechanical orchestra.DSCN0397

The Society of Painters In Water Colours exhibited at Spring Gardens. On 24 May 1813 Jane wrote of a visit with her brother Henry and reported that she was well-pleased with what she saw, especially, ‘with a small portrait of Mrs Bingley…exactly herself, size, shaped face, features & sweetness; there never was a greater likeness. She is dressed in a white gown, with green ornaments, which convinces me of what I had always supposed, that green was a favourite colour with her.’ Deirdre le Faye identifies this picture as the charming Portrait of a Lady by J F-M Huet-Villiers.

However pleasant it was in broad daylight, Miss Austen would have been cautious about walking in the park after dusk without a male escort for it was a notorious haunt of prostitutes of both sexes. Even though the park was locked at night it was thought that almost 7,000 keys were in  private possession, so it might just as well have been open. James Boswell records various encounters with prostitutes there but it was also a dangerous place for a man by himself, for gangs of blackmailers operated under cover of its shrubberies. One man, his breeches undone, would leap out at the victim, crying that he had been attacked, while his confederates threatened to fetch the watch and swear they had witnessed an indecent assault. At a time when homosexual acts were criminalised and could lead to the gallows, many men paid up rather than risk not being believed.

The Globe newspaper for January 7th 1809 reports, We were in hopes that the conviction of Cannon and his companion Wilkinson, for extorting money from Mr Butterworth the silversmith, in St James’s Park, would have put a stop to the depredations of those execrable wretches who are making a miserable existence by the diabolical practices of threatening respectable persons with a most detestable crime. But they regret to have to report yet another instance had just come to light.

In August 1814 the park was the site of a series of extravagant celebrations: first for the centenary of Hanoverian rule, then the anniversary of the Battle of the Nile and finally the peace celebrations following Napoleon’s exile to Elba. The architect Nash designed an exotic seven-storey pagoda, which unfortunately caught fire during a firework display. Ironically this was organised by Congreve, the inventor of the military rockets which went on to cause almost as much alarm and confusion amongst British troops as amongst the enemy at the Battle of Quatre Bras the following year. There was also a bridge, which lasted rather longer, until 1825, although in a half-burnt condition and made perilous by the remains of the hooks that had held the Catherine wheels.St J Park0001

Festivities were also held on the Serpentine in Hyde Park, which had a miniature navy afloat on it, and at the temple of Concord in Green Park, both events open freely to the public. The organisers at St James’s Park, however, decided to charge half a guinea and erected barriers and toll gates. Despite the charge the event was hugely popular and the gates had to be closed. Despite the crowds none of the public were killed during the fire, although two unfortunate workmen died.

After the event the park was left in a dreadful state and it was not until 1827 that the government found the money to renovate it. Nash was chosen for the job and he remodelled the canal into a sinuous lake, added a duck island, a new bridge, widened the Mall and replanted the trees, shrubberies and flowerbeds.

The park now is much as Nash left it, although the bridge is a replacement and the view includes the London Eye. FroStrand0002m the modern bridge there is an excellent view of DSCN0389-001Buckingham Palace. Jane Austen knew it as the Queen’s House and it only took on its present appearance when George IV began its enlargement to fit his concept of a fitting palace. The black and white print of skaters shows the Queen’s House with the park before Nash’s remodelling.

Often I will walk from the bridge to Horse Guards Parade, this time I went down to Bird Cage Walk and along to Westminster Abbey to catch a bus up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square – I’ll be talking about exploring London by bus in my next post.

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