Category Archives: Transport and travel

A Sea Journey, Regency Style

I don’t usually host guest blogs, but I couldn’t resist sharing the research fellow historical novelist Joanna Maitland has done on travel by packet boat. There’s more about Joanna at the end of her post . Over to you, Joanna –
It’s 1811, it’s wartime (pesky Bonaparte), and you have to go on a sea voyage. To Buenos Aires. Perhaps you’ve been sent there, like Sir Horace in Georgette Heyer’s wonderful story The Grand Sophy, but, unlike Sir Horace, you don’t have the luxury of travelling in peacetime).
How do you go about it?packet routes
First you get yourself all the way down to Cornwall, probably by mail coach, unless you’re so rich you can afford to travel post. By mail coach, it will take you 18 hours from London to Exeter plus another 14 or so to Falmouth. Quite a trip and that’s only the start!
Packet ships carry the mail, and passengers, from Falmouth to all sorts of places. Buenos Aires is one of the routes they are offering.
Your trip to Buenos Aires is expected to take 35 days out (and 52 days back, assuming you make it there in the first place). Your passage will not be cheap. You can travel steerage for £46 but you probably won’t enjoy it. If you want the “luxury” of a private cabin, the price is £86 one way (and £107 to come back).
The ship is very small and the passenger cabins aren’t exactly spacious. That blacked-in space on the plan will be yours!packet shp plan
Cabins have no portholes and they open onto a communal dining room. You’ll need to open your door to the dining room if you want any natural light. If you prefer privacy, you’ll need to light your candle or feel your way around in the dark.
Facilities are somewhat basic, too (see below right), but at least you won’t have to provide your own food and you’ll even get to eat with the officers! You will have to provide your own bedding, though, part of your 400 lb baggage allowance. And on the way back, in spite of that hefty price hike, you will have to provide your own food as well.facilities
During your 35-day voyage, you might have a run ashore at Madeira, but probably nowhere else, and you’ll have to take your exercise on the deck, trying to thread your way through the guns, and the ship’s boats, and the livestock (which you’ll be eating later). Remember, there’s to be absolutely no fraternising with the crew while you’re on deck. No climbing the rigging, either.
But, hang on, it’s wartime. What if your ship is attacked? What happens to you then? Just in case you’re wondering, these are your captain’s orders (and – sorry – they don’t mention you, the passenger, at all):
“You must run where you can.You must fight when you can no longer run and when you can fight no more you must sink the mails before you strike [your colours].”
So your ship will run from the enemy and you’ll get away, will you?
Well, you might. During the French wars, from 1793-1815, 68 packet ships were captured by enemy ships or by privateers. Three or four a year, on average. Since the total packet fleet in 1808 was only 39 ships, that’s OK-but-not-brilliant odds for your forthcoming trip. Still, some packet captains are stout fellows who are prepared to fight. Like Captain John Bull, shown here.
capt john bullCaptain Bull’s packet ship, the Duke of Malborough (see below), did fight in 1814 off Cape Finistere against a privateer. Sadly, one passenger was a casualty. Even more sadly, it transpired that the attacking ship was not a privateer at all, but a ship of the Royal Navy! They do indeed call it the fog of war.ship D of Marl
Bon voyage, intrepid traveller!
All information and exhibits from the splendid displays at the The National Maritime Museum, 

Joanna Maitland’s latest Regency ebook novella, His Silken Seduction , does not include a packet voyage but it does take readers as far as war-torn France and the excitement of Napoleon’s Hundred Days. It’s available for preorder at a special price until publication day.

joannapic6After many years publishing Regencies with Harlequin Mills & Boon, Joanna is very excited about branching out into new fields as an independent author with His Silken Seduction: His Silken Seduction Cover MEDIUM WEBher second book will be a timeslip, Lady In Lace. Details of all her books are at Liberta Books the site that Joanna and fellow author Sophie Weston, Joanna have just set up. Here readers and writers can meet and share enthusiasms and Joanna hopes to welcome fans, old and new, and readers of all sorts of fiction to the website.



Filed under Transport and travel, Travel

October In London

Return homeThe Cruickshank print for October shows the end of the summer for Londoners – the return home from their holidays, probably at the seaside. One party are disembarking from a mail coach on the left while on the other side a family are getting out of a hired post chaise. The new season is indicated by the man selling a pheasant in the centre and the poster for the start of the Theatre Royal’s winter programme.

These travellers are very much of the ‘middling sort’, respectable tradespeople or perhaps lawyers or merchants. A decade or so before and they would not have dreamed of taking a holiday – that was reserved for the upper classes and aristocracy, people with an income they did not have to work for, and ample time on their hands. But times were changing and improvements in transport, as well as changes in society, meant that the middle classes could manage to get away to perhaps Margate or Folkestone or one of the other growing resorts along the South and South East coasts.

The other print is from over twenty years earlier and shows the journey back to Town from the other end – The Departure is the final print in Political Sketches of Scarborough by J Green, illustrated by Thomas Rowlandson. The lady in her fashionable travelling outfit is sheltering from the rain while her luggage is loaded onto a hired chaise – Departureone of the “yellow bounders” famous for both colour and the wild swaying of their springs. She seems to be of a  higher rank than the unsophisticated travellers in the Crucikshank image and the verse indicated that she is following the lead of the most elevated visitor to Scarborough that season:

The chilling winds and rain combine,

That all should Scarbro’s sweets resign;

First one by one – then four by four,

And then they’re off by half a score;

Her GRACE is gone – with her a host

Of charms to captivate, are lost:

When she withdraws her genial ray,

The sun has set of Scarbro’s day.


Filed under Entertainment, High Society, Seaside resorts, Transport and travel

Bell Rock Lighthouse – A Regency Engineering Marvel

I’m back north of the Border again for today’s blog, visiting an engineering feat by one of Regency Britain’s greatest engineers which, although located in Scottish waters, imust have been a wonder for the entire country. When I was in the delightful little fishing port of Arbroath ( in pursuit of the famous and delicious Arbroath Smokies) I spotted an elegant and unmistakeably Regency building on the shore. It looked like a miniature lighthouse but turned out to be the signalling station for the Bell Rock lighthouse and home to the families of the lighthouse keepers.


Bell Rock is 11 miles (18 km) off the coast at Arbroath and is part of the lethally dangerous Inchcape reef that had proved a major hazard to shipping on this busy coastal route for centuries. In the Middle Ages an abbot had a bell fixed to a floating platform anchored to the reef, which was some warning, but the frequent storms repeatedly destroyed it. The reef is virtually invisible except at low tide when about four foot of it is above the water. Building a lighthouse seemed an almost impossible technical feat, but following the loss of HMS York with all hands in 1806 pressure grew for a solution. In that year a bill was passed through Parliament for a stone tower at a cost of £45,000 to be paid for by a duty on shipping between the ports of Peterhead and Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Two of the greatest engineers of the day were inv12-DSCN9411olved – John Rennie, who as Chief Engineer, was responsible overall for the project, and Robert Stevenson, who as Rennie’s assistant and the resident engineer, risked his life on the reef along with the workmen. On shore the signalling station allowed communication with the lighthouse and provided a home for the keepers’ families and accommodation for them when they were not on duty. Now it is an excellent little museum all about the Bell Rock and its construction.

This photograph is of one of the models in the museum showing the difficulties that Stevenson had to overcome to build the lighthouse. First a wooden tower was built to house the men when the tide came in and then, whenever there was low water, they came out onto the exposed reef and worked on the tower itself, building it up with a jigsaw of interlocking stone blocks that had been cut during the winter months when no building could take place on the rock. The ingenious design of the blocks is shown in this model.
11-DSCN9410Despite the dangers and difficulties the tower was completed in only four years and became operational in 1811. It has been in continuous operation ever since, saving innumerable lives. These days the light is fully automated.

Robert Stevenson (1772-1850) was educated at a charity school when the death of his father left the family almost destitute. His future career was determined when he was fifteen and his mother married Thomas Smith, a tinsmith, lamp maker and mechanic who was engineer to the Northern Lighthouse Board. Robert became his assistant and by the age of nineteen had built his first lighthouse on the River Clyde. Bell Rock is considered his masterpiece, but he was responsible for many other lights as well as roads, bridges, harbours, canals, railways, and river navigations. Three of his sons followed in his footsteps as civil engineers and his grandson was the writer Robert Louis Stevenson.






Filed under Architecture, Buildings, Science & technology, Transport and travel

Travelling The Great North Road With The Georgians

The Great North Road – the ancient route from London to Edinburgh – must have seen the foot prints, hoof prints or wheel tracks of virtually every Georgian of note. Part of the fun of tracing the historic route under today’s roads and motorways for my book Following the Great North Road: a guide for the modern traveller was bumping into Georgian characters at every bend in the road. Here I will take a dozen, almost at random, and travel north with them from London.
The great clown Joseph Grimaldi was an early commuter and would travel from his home in the village of Highgate to the London theatres. Just south of Islington on the first stage out of the city the road passes Sadler’s Wells theatre and Grimaldi often appeared there. One night in 1807, on his way back home, he was stopped by footpads on Highgate Hill, but when he showed them his watch, engraved with him in costume, they recognised him and let him go. (The print on Archway early 1the left shows the foot of Highgate Hill).
Beyond Highgate lies Finchley Common, one of the most notorious haunts of highwaymen on the entire Great North Road. Amongst the infamous men who haunted it were Jack Shepherd who led a life of dangerous celebrity and was caught on the Common in 1724 after his fifth, and final, breakout from Newgate prison. He was hanged in November at Tyburn. Dick Turpin, whose violent exploits were romanticised by the Victorians, also haunted the Common. The so-called Turpin’s Oak tree stood just before the road reaches the modern North Circular Road and was said to be peppered with musket balls from hold-ups. The enclosure of the common began in 1816 and put an end to the dangers. We meet Turpin all along the road north, at least in the imagination of the Victorians who thrilled to Alfred Noyes’s Ballard of Dick Turpin. dickturpin
Charles Dickens was a frequent traveller along the Great North Road, right from his early days as a young journalist, and he writes feelingly about the discomforts of stage coach travel. (You can find more of Dickens’ travels in my book Stagecoach Travel. )
He certainly described the towns he passed through with an acid pen – poor Eaton Socon, 55 miles north of the capital was, in his opinion, so dull and backward that he called it Eaton Slocombe.
Another 40 or so miles north stands the oddly-named Ram Jam Inn, named, so the story goes, for the mysterious liquor that the landlord, returning from India, sold there. It was pointed out to travellers as the lodging of Molyneux, the black bare knuckle boxing champion, on the night before he met the equally great Tom Cribb at Thistleton Gap nearby on 28th September 1811. Cribb, who was the winner, stayed at the Blue Bull (99 miles), which was a small inn further north.    (The image at the foot of this post is the final one in Henry Alken’s series ‘The Road to a Fight. 1821)
Sir Walter Scott was a regular traveller from his Scottish home to London and he used the Great North Road in his novels. He described Gonerby Hill, a long and difficult hill 112 miles north of London, in Heart of Midlothian (1818) where Jeanie Deans walks from Edinburgh to London and encounters thieves and murderers at its foot. Harrison Ainsworth mentions it in his novel Rookwood (1838) where Dick Turpin crests the hill only to be faced, prophetically, with a gibbet holding two mouldering corpses.
Newark, 125 miles north of London, has a dramatic castle and a fine market square surrounded by coaching inns. Lord Byron often stayed at the Clinton Arms, then called the Kingston Arms, and mentions it in a letter of 1807. His first publisher, Ridge, had offices at number 39 on the corner of the market and Bridge Street and you can still see the handsome door-case and the knocker Byron would have used.
The Prince Regent travelled the Great North Road, and would visit Doncaster races. The racecourse is still there, 161 miles from London, and so are the handsome Georgian houses of South Parade, including the one where the Regent lodged. The print below shows the grandstand on Doncaster racecourse in 1804.

Daniel Defoe was another Great North Road “regular”, viewing it with an eye even more jaundiced than Dickens’. The village of Croft on the River Tees (237 miles north of London) was a flourishing little Georgian spa, long since decayed into a village. On the north bank of the river is one of those features that provided scope for local legends and stories to entertain bored coach passengers. The road follows the bend of the river over the tributary River Skerne and in a pasture to the right are two deep pools known as Hell’s Kettles. Unfortunately they are no longer visible from the road so the modern traveller cannot peer into their depths and see the impious farmer and his plough team who were swallowed up for working on St Barnabas’s Day. Daniel Defoe would have none of it, observing, “’Tis evident they are nothing but old coal-pits, filled with water by the River Tees.”
In an earlier post I wrote about the Regent’s Lord Chancellor, Lord Eldon, who enjoyed regular holidays at the Wheatsheaf Inn in Rushyford, 250 miles from London. The inn is now the Eden Arms and the once pretty little brook-side spot has a large roundabout in the middle of it. In his reckless youth the Chancellor was one of the numerous young men who chose the Great North Road as his route to elope to the Scottish border. We meet him again in Newcastle in 1772, armed with a ladder and assisting pretty Bessy Surtees to climb down from a window in her father’s fine half-timbered house on the corner of Sandhill and the steep hill called Side. The house and window are still there.SONY DSC
The road is into Northumberland now and passes through the town of Alnwick (308 miles north). Its ancient castle was drastically ‘modernised’ in the later 18th century by the first Duke of Northumberland, a man who married well and who changed his name to Percy from Smithson on acquiring the castle through his wife. He asked George III for the Order of the Garter, pointing out that he would be the first Percy to have been refused it. The king, who apparently did not take to the ex-apothecary, retorted, “You forget, you are the first Smithson who ever asked for it.”
Thirty miles further north and the road enters Berwick on Tweed and the eloping couples were almost on safe Scottish ground. Finally, 341 miles from London the road enters Scotland at Lamberton Bar. The famous toll house, which used to have a notice in the window reading, “Ginger beer sold here and marriages performed on the most reasonable terms”, is no longer there, alas.
East Linton (370½ miles), where the road crosses the River Tyne on a red sandstone bridge, was the birthplace in 1761 of John Rennie, the pioneering engineer and builder of London Bridge.
Only three miles from Holyrood House in Edinburgh the Great North Road enters Portobello, now a coastal suburb, but once a salt-producing fishing village with a flourishing china industry. The sands were excellent for exercising cavalry horses and it was here that the quartermaster of the Edinburgh Light Horse, Sir Walter Scott, was kicked in the head during a drill. Enforced bed-rest allowed him to finish the Lay of the Last Minstrel.
The traveller now entered Edinburgh, although if they were expecting a comfortable hotel, or even a coaching inn, they were disappointed. Until James Dun opened the first Edinburgh hotel in the New Town in 1774 accommodation was very rough indeed. Perhaps we should end with an image of Dr Johnson, whose unflattering views on Scotland are well known. He put up at the White Horse in Boyd’s Close and Boswell visited him there to find him in a towering rage because the waiter had sweetened his lemonade using his fingers, not the tongs, to add the sugar.



Filed under courtship & marriage, Prince Regent, Transport and travel

Books For Christmas

Is Christmas present money or a book token burning a hole in your pocket? Here are four of the non-fiction books I enjoyed most in 2014 and which I’d recommend to anyone interested in London’s history or the Georgian era. They aren’t all 2014 publications, but they were new to me last year.

Firstly, and probably my favouriStreet viewte – the London Topographical Society’s reprint of John Tallis’s London Street Views 1838-1840. It has an index, introductory essay and a searchable index on CDRom. The views are a little later than my usual period of interest, but Tallis caught London just before the major Victorian rebuilding and redevelopments got under way and these strips maps showing the elevations of the buildings along each side, plus the names of the businesses in each are incredibly detailed. I own four of the original maps, but it was a lucky chance that I found them at a price I could afford – they are expensive collector’s pieces – so this volume is a real treat.street view actual The example above is a detail from one of my originals and shows part of St James’s Street.

Disorder2 My next choice is Ben Wilson’s Decency & Disorder: 1789-1837, a scholarly, but very readable account of how the boisterous Georgians, valuing liberty and personal freedom above civil order and ‘decency’ and shunning the idea of a police force as foreign and oppressive, changed to adopt ‘Victorian values’ and an organized police force.

I particularly enjoyed the story of the Georgian gentleman who, such was his sensibility, was so overcome by the beauty of the scene that he was lost for words and could only cast himself, face-down, into a flowerbed in Bath. And then there was the member of the Society for the Suppression of Vice who forced himself to buy hand-carved sex toys at a prisoner of war market and then found himself at a loss to send them to the London headquarters. They were, he complained, too bulky to be enclosed in a letter.

Thirdly there is John Styles The Dress of the Common People: everyday fashion in eighteenth century England. Despite the title this lavishly illustrated and very scholarly work covers the Georgian era rather than the 18th century exactly. I found it in, of all places, the National Park bookstore in Salem, Massachusetts, but it is available in the UK.costume2

It is a refreshing change from books of high-end fashion plates and includes information about fabrics and the cost of clothing, where people bought their clothing and a host of other details.

My final choice was too large to go on my scanner, so here is part of the cover of Royal River: power, pageantry and the Thames published for a major exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. (Guest curator, David Starkey).

River The illustrations are gorgeous and the book ranges from topics as diverse as the lord Mayor’s Procession, Lord Nelson’s funeral procession, royal yachts and the transformation of the Thames in the Victorian era.

Best wishes for Christmas and the new year to all my readers!




Filed under Books, Buildings, Christmas, Fashions, Transport and travel

Coach-fevered, coach-crazed and coach-stunn’d

“Coach-fevered, coach-crazed and coach stunn’d” was how the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge described himself after arriving at Hatchett’s Hotel, Piccadilly in November 1817 after an all-night journey on the Bristol to London mail coach. It made me wonder if everyone had such a ghastly experience of coach travel and the result of my research is my new book Stagecoach Travel, out in the UK this month from Shire Publications (September in the US).

The first 1-Stagecoach coverstagecoaches appeared in the mid-17th century – and wise passengers made their will before setting out as well as allowing considerable time – the 182 miles from London to Chester took six days in 1657 (if the weather was kind). But at least in those days speed was not going to kill you and the coach would stop overnight so you had a chance of a meal at your leisure and a night’s sleep. (Prudent travellers would bring their own bed linen). If you were very hard up and could not afford the £1 15s for the London-Chester route you could perch on the roof (no seats or handrail) or ride in the basket with the luggage. To be ‘in the basket’ became slang for being hard-up. Passengers riding this way can be seen in this print of the quite fabulous sign (below) for the White Hart, Scole, Norfolk. The sign really was this ornate and was unfortunately demolished as a traffic hazard in the 19th century. The inn is still operating.

inn sign


By the early 19th century roads had improved greatly, at least along the turnpike routes, coach design incorporated lighter bodies and better springs and reliable timetables were in place. But although this meant the passengers got to their destination faster and on time it did not necessarily translate into greater SONY DSCcomfort or safety. I measured the interior of one of the few, genuine, surviving stagecoaches – the Old Times (Shown left in Birmingham Museum stores). It carried six inside passengers who would have been wearing bulky outdoor clothing. Each had 14 inches (35 cm) width on seats 13.5 inches (34 cm) deep. They and the passenger seated opposite had 18.5 inches (47 cm) of leg room to share. It makes budget airline seating seem luxurious.

Then there was the question of your fellow passengers who might be smelly, noisy, offensive or simply excessively chatty. As the Hon. John Byng ranted “…box’d up in a stinking coach, dependent on the hours and guidance of others, submitting to miserable associates and obliged to hear their nonsense, is great wretchedness!” Nor were the live human passengers the only source of discomfort. Coaches might carry the occasional turtle (live and strapped to the roof) on its way to some nobleman’s soup tureen, a smuggled veal calf (also live) in the guard’s box (definitely against regulations) or the sinister ‘box of book’ containing a body-snatcher’s ill-gotten corpses addressed to a London surgeon for dissection.

Travelling outside was cheaper and you were in the fresh air, but you were also exposed to the weather. Jane Austen’s nephews Edward and George arrived in Southampton in October 1808, “…very cold, having by choice travelled on the outside, and with no great coat but what Mr Wise, the coachman, good-naturedly spared them of his, as they sat by his side. They were so much chilled when they arrived, that I am afraid they must have taken cold.” They were fortunate, during very cold spells passengers sometimes died of exposure on the outside seats.

Then there were the inns, another source of misery, although foreign travellers usually wrote with admiration of “…that picture of convenience, neatness and broad honest enjoyment, the kitchen of an English inn.” (Washington Irving). With overnight stops a thing of the past, the 19th century innkeeper had to make his money where he could which meant over-priced, rushed meals. A useful trick was to serve it slowly and make it very hot but to prevent passengers removing any uneaten portions of the meal once the coach was ready after its 20 minute stop. The half-eaten food would go back in the pot for the next arrivals. You could, of course, bring your own picnic or buy from a vendor. The scene below is of an inn yard with passengers waiting to board their coaches with, to the left, the pie-seller carrying his wares on his head.inn yardI’ll post again about the pleasures of coaching, its dangers – from the highwayman (uncommon) to overturnings (all too frequent) – and those essential ingredients of the experience: the coachman, the guard, the vehicle and, of course, the horses.

Stagecoach Travel is available from Shire Publications, and, for pre-order,


Filed under Accidents & emergencies, Food & drink, Transport and travel

Turn Again Whittington – there’s a traffic jam ahead

If you follow the Great North Road out of London towards York and Edinburgh you come to the village of Highgate four miles after leaving Smithfield, the traditional starting point of the road. These days you fight your way out through heavy traffic on the A1 along the Holloway Road to a one-way system encircling the Victorian Archway Tavern and next to the Archway Underground statiBlack and white Archway cropon. Ahead lies Archway Road running through a deep cutting and spanned after half a kilometre by the bridge carrying Hornsea Lane over the top. If you want to visit Highgate Village itself you need to take the fork off the one-way system just before Archway Road, to drive up Highgate Hill, past the modern Whittington Stone pub and the Whittington Stone itself sitting beside the pavement.
If you had been making your way along this route in the mid-14th century you would have no problem with traffic, fumes, noise or jams. But you would have been lurching along a muddy track sunk deep between the fields on either side – the original Hollow Way – until it turned and followed the route of Highgate Hill, for there was no cutting and easy route where Archway Road now runs. You would have armed outriders if you could afford them and a stout cudgel if you could not, because you would be deep in the country here and making your way through an area notorious for footpads or worse.

In the mid 14th century a hermit, William Phelippe, was living in a cell on the lower slopes of Highgate Hill – a great lump of London Clay rising to 423 feet above sea level, a formidable obstacle. William seems to have been that unlikely creature, a wealthy hermit, for he approached the King Edward III with the proposal that he pay for the excavation of gravel from near-by pits and use it to improve the road surface. In return he would set up a toll-bar to tax all wheeled traffic and pack-horses that passed carrying goods. The king duly granted a decree “to our well-beloved William Phelippe, the hermit” who charged two pence per week to each cart with iron-shod wheels, one penny if not iron-shod. Pack horses were charged one farthing a week.Stone crop

It was north along this improved road that young Dick Whittington, a poor apprentice who had failed to make his fortune in London, was trudging one day, with, so legend tells us, his cat. He paused near to where the Whittington Stone now stands, to rest before tackling Highgate Hill and there he heard the bells of the City calling, “Turn again Whittington, thrice mayor of London.” So he did, and made his fortune and the rest is the stuff of traditional tales and modern pantomime.

But Richard Whittington did exist – he was Lord Mayor in 1397, 1406 and 1420, he was knighted, he was one of the richest men of his time and a notable philanthropist whose charities are still in existence. A succession of Stones has marked the spot – the current one was erected in 1821. The etching above shows the previous version, dated 1608.

By the late 18th century Highgate was a prosperous village with a tollgate on the Great North Road and a good coaching and posting trade, for all the traffic still had to climb the hill and go down its main street at the summit. It was a popular place for early commuters, amongst them Grimaldi the clown who was robbed on the hill by footpads in 1807 returning home from performing at Sadler’s Wells theatre. Fortunately when the thieves saw his pocket watch with his portrait in costume painted on the dial they apologized profusely and returned it!

But the increase in coaching traffic meant something had to be done about the hill. Ackermann’s Repository (November 1822) records that, “At Highgate-Hill, over which one of the great north roads branches from the metropolis, a formidable steep presents itself, and which, until about ten years ago, was endured, but liberally abused, by the sufferers obliged to pass it.”

Archway 1822
First, attempts were made to tunnel through it but the tunnel collapsed in April 1812, fortunately after the workmen had left at the end of the working day. The tunnel was abandoned and a great cutting driven through, bridged by a massive archway designed by John Nash to carry Hornsea Lane. It took up a considerable width of the carriageway and was eventually replaced in 1900.

The new Archway Road was cut through on the eastern side of the old Archway Tavern which can be seen with the tollgate to the right in the black and white engraving at the top of the post. This is dated in Old And New London as 1825, but trying to accurately date the prints I have of the Archway is a nightmare.

The small rectangular coloured one above is from the Repository (1822) and shows the view beyond the tollgate. But the two rectangular images below are much more problematic if compared to the black and white oneArchway early 1. They are two sides of a very large print that was too big to go in my scanner so the unfortunate cow in the middle has lost its hindquarters, I’m afraid.

One shows the Archway Tavern which, oddly, has lost the upper part of the right-hand wing which is clearly illustrated in the black and white print. Highgate Hill goes off to the side and the pond, which is shown in the black and white print as walled, has no wall. The other sideArchway east shows Holloway Road coming in from the right and the tollgate before Archway Hill.
To the right just beyond the tollgate is a neo-Gothic building which, according to my early Victorian Ordnance Survey maps, is the Whittington College almhouses, one of Dick Whittington’s charities. The almshouses were moved to this site in 1809 but the neo-Gothic building was not erected until 1822 which means that the black and white print must have been made before that date. This print is an 1823 re-working of an 1813 print which has been changed to show the new almshouses. There’s an image of the original version on the Government Art Collection website.
It is difficult to reconcile this largely rural, village scene with the urban chaos on this site now – I doubt very much that Dick Whittington would have been able to hear the bells and hs cart would have probably been run over by a passing delivery van!


Filed under Buildings, Transport and travel

The Eloping Lord Chancellor

On the 18th November, 1772, a twenty year old university student called John Scott crept along Sandhill on the bank of the Tyne in Newcastle under the shadow of the castle. He was equipped with a ladder and, when he reached the very handsome half-timbered house that stands on the corner of Sandhill and Side, the steep street up to the cathedral, he propped the ladder against the wall and helped Miss Elizabeth “Bessie” Surtees to climb down from a first floor window.SONY DSC
Conveniently, the Great North Road runs along Sandhill and up Side so it was easy enough to hand the daughter of wealthy banker Mr Aubone Surtees into a post chaise and head for the Scottish border. They were married at Blackshiels on the next day, eighty eight miles from Newcastle, so John must have left the major road and taken the most direct route towards Edinburgh, via Jedburgh on what is now the A68.

So far, so romantic, although you are probably wondering by now what this has to do with Jane Austen’s London. Young John Scott was the third son of a respectable coal-fitter (a sort of broker) of Newcastle and was studying at University College Oxford with the intention of entering holy orders. His school career appears to have been marked by truancy and regular whippings for misdemeanors so his father was probably hoping he would settle down, study hard and become a respectable clergyman. All looked set when he graduated in 1770 and was awarded a fellowship.
The elopement ruined all chance of a career in the church and he lost his fellowship as a result. However his father stood by the pair and John entered the Middle Temple in 1773 to study for the bar. Despite his father’s support the young couple seem to have been hard up. “Many a time have I run down from Cursitor Street to Fleet Market to buy sixpenny-worth of sprats for our supper,” he recalled later.
However he did well eventually, argued several difficult and interesting cases and began to rise in his profession. He became a Member of Parliament, then entered the Lords as Baron Eldon in 1801 to become Lord Chancellor. He held that position for over twenty years and was known for his opposition to Catholic emancipation and his support for the Prince Regent against his wife, Princess Caroline. He was created Earl of Eldon by George IV in 1821, probably in recognition for that support.SONY DSC
William Hazlitt wrote of him, “Lord Eldon has one of the best-natured faces in the world; it is pleasant to meet him in the street, plodding along with an umbrella under his arm, without one trace of pride, of spleen, or discontent in his whole demeanour, void of offence, with almost rustic simplicity and honesty of appearance – a man that makes friends at first sight, and could hardly make enemies, if he would; and whose only fault is that he cannot say Nay to power, or subject himself to an unkind word or look from a King or a Minister. …There has been no stretch of power attempted in his time that he has not seconded: no existing abuse so odious or so absurd, that he has not sanctioned it. He has gone the whole length of the most unpopular designs of Ministers … On all the great questions that have divided party opinion or agitated the public mind, the Chancellor has been found uniformly and without a single exception on the side of prerogative and power, and against every proposal for the advancement of freedom.”
I first came across Eldon when I was researching Walks Through Regency London and explored Bedford Square where he had a very fine town house at number 6. He also had a pretty uncomfortable time there! In 1815 he was besieged by Corn Law rioters who fixed a noose to the lamp post outside. The only way he could get out to attend Parliament or the King was to creep through his back garden into the grounds of the British Museum escorted by Townsend the Bow Street Runner.
Probably just as uncomfortable was to be laid up with gout and have the Prince Regent barge into the house and refuse to leave until Eldon appointed one of the Prince’s cronies to the office of Master of Chancery. Eldon yielded.
And then to cap it all his daughter Lady Elizabeth eloped in 1817 with George S Repton (son of Humphry Repton) after Eldon had refused to allow them to marry. Given that the circumstances of Elizabeth’s parents’ marriage were well known there was considerable satirical humour at Eldon’s expense.Elopement
Even more ironic was that when George III was asked to give his consent for a reform of the marriage laws he found that both his Lord Chancellor and his Archbishop of Canterbury had made run-away marriages!

I was reminded of Lord Eldon during my current research for a book on the Great North Road. It seems that Eldon liked to take a holiday from the pressures of London and used to stay at the Wheatsheaf, a posting inn at Rushyford Brook, a charming hamlet on the Great North Road just south of Ferryhill and the River Wear. At least it used to be charming. Now a large roundabout sits right on top of “…a pretty scene, where a little tributary of the Skerne prattles over its stony bed and disappears under the road…” Eldon established a cellar at the inn and he and Holt the landlord used to dispose of seven bottles a day of ‘Carbonell’s Fine Old Military Port.’ According to Sidney Smith they would drink eight bottles on Sunday to fortify themselves before church service. Apparently Eldon always went to church at Rushyford, but rarely in London. When reproached because, in his position he should be “a buttress of the church” he retorted that he was merely “an outside buttress.”

Modern newspapers would have a field day with Lord Eldon!


Filed under Gentlemen, High Society, Love and Marriage, Transport and travel

Take the Number 23 Bus Into History

My favourite journey through London’s historic streets isn’t from  a tourist bus but from the front seat on top of the ordinary number 23 from Liverpool Street 1-DSCN2030station to Marble Arch. I thought you might like to share the ride with me. If you do decide to try this trip I would recommend starting from Liverpool Street station, perhaps after a morning exploring the fascinations of the Spitalfields area on the other side of the station. The picture on the left shows the bus with the yellow brick of the station reflected above it

The 23 comes every ten minutes, and starts at the station, so if you aren’t at the front of the queue and able to run upstairs to claim a front seat then it is worth waiting for the next one and being the first person on. You are right on the edge of the City of London here – Spitalfields was outside the Roman and medieval walls – and we are going to travel through every era of London’s history from the Romans to the present day.

The bus sets off down Old Broad Street (a Roman street), crosses London Wall (no prizes for guessing what that’s on the line of) and takes a slight bend to the left, just before Turnbull & Asser’s shop – if you look to the right you’ll see Austin Friars, the reminder of a large Augustinian monastery on the site. Now we turn right into Threadneedle Street (a reference to either the Company of Needlemakers or the Merchant Taylors) with the Royal Exchange on the left and the Bank of England  (1788) ahead on the right. The Royal Exchange is the Victorian rebuilding of the trade centre that has flourished here since Tudor times. This is a great place to get off on another day for exploration on foot – the George & Vulture tavern, the Monument, the Bank of England Museum and London Bridge are all close by.

Ahead to the left is Mansion House, official residence of the Lord Mayor of London (not to be confused with the Mayor of London!) since 1752. We pass Mansion House and turn down Queen Victoria Street, one of the later 19th century roads driven through the tangle of medieval streets, whose pattern is fossilised from before the Great Fire. On the left, deep underground, are the remains of the Roman Temple of Mithras, to the right you can catch a glimpse up Watling Street – a Roman road – of St Paul’s Cathedral.1-DSCN2032 (Photo left) We pass the church of St Mary Aldermary and turn left into Cannon Street (the name is a corruption of Candelwrithe Street, a reference to 12th century candlemakers) which leads into St Paul’s Churchyard. Ever since the Middle Ages this area around the cathedral was full of shops, especially book shops, book binders and printers, and that tradition survived even after the Great Fire when Sir Christopher Wren’s great new church rose from the ashes.  Jane Austen’s newly-orphaned father George was sent here to live with his uncle Stephen at his shop at “the sign of the Angel and Bible.” George later wrote that he was received “with neglect, if not with positive unkindness.”

If you look out to the left you will catch glimpses of the Thames and it is also fun to spot the street names that go back to the pre-Reformation Catholic past of the area – Ave Maria Lane, Godliman Street, Creed Lane, Pilgrim Street. The bus passes the cathedral (also the site of a Roman temple) and dives down Ludgate Hill towards the valley of the River Fleet. Look out on the right, just after St Martin’s church, for the Old Bailey, leading to the site of Newgate Prison, now under the Central Criminal Courts. The triangular area in front preserves the shape of the area where public hangings were carried out when they were transferred from Tyburn, the end of our journey today.  The area immediately to the south, being redeveloped at the moment, was the location of the Belle Sauvage inn, one of London’s oldest and a major coaching terminus. Look up Limeburner Lane immediately after this building site – the curve of the buildings reflect the shape of the walls of the Fleet prison. The picture below shows Ludgate Hill.1-DSCN2036

When you reach the bottom of Ludgate Hill you would originally have been on the Fleet Bridge crossing the open stream. Gradually it was covered over but it still runs beneath the street, as do all the ancient rivers of London. To your left New Bridge Street runs down to Blackfriar’s Bridge (1769), with the site of the Bridewell prison on its west side, and if you look up to the left you will see the “wedding cake” spire of St Bride’s church, reputedly the building that inspired a local pastrycook to create what became the modern wedding cake.

Now we are climbing out of the Fleet valley up Fleet Street, one of medieval London’s major thoroughfares and once centre of the publishing and newspaper industry. Look out on the right for Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a seventeenth and eighteenth century tavern frequented by Dr Johnson. Ahead on the right you can see the clock of St Dunstan’s church protruding out over the street (church tower in photo below with Royal Courts of Justice behind). Almost opposite this, at number 32, John Murray, Jane Austen’s publisher, had his offices. He was there until 1812 when he moved to fashionable Albemarle Street, Mayfair. Just past this look out for the  Inner Temple Gateway (1610), a survivor of the Great Fire which stopped just short of it.

In the middle of the road is the Temple Bar monument, with the City of London’s griffin roaring defiance at the City of Westminster which begins just the other side. Even the monarch, on state occasions, will stop at the Bar and be greeted by the Lord Mayor before proceeding. Temple Bar itself was moved in the 19th century as a traffic hazard and is now in St Paul’s churchyard.1-DSCN2041

The Royal Courts of Justice (1880s) loom on your right but keep a sharp look-out to the left as the bus passes to the left hand side of St Clement Dane’s church. Twining’s tea shop occupies a narrow site here with the oldest surviving shop front in London (1787). You can see two Chinese gentlemen (no Indian tea in those days) over the doorway. Jane Austen was often asked by her mother to buy tea here when she was in London, or to pay the bill. In 1814 she wrote to her sister, “I suppose my Mother recollects that she gave me no Money for paying Brecknell & Twining; & my funds will not supply enough.”

We are driving along Strand now, an 11th century street originally on the river bank  or strand. We pass St Mary le Strand (location in the 17th century of the first hackney carriage stand ) and come to Somerset House on the left. It dates back to the mid 16th century and was a royal house in the 17th century. By the time Jane Austen knew it the Royal Academy, the Royal Society, the Society of Antiquaries and the Navy Board all occupied wings.

We pass the turning down to Waterloo Bridge (1817) and continue along Strand. All the pre-Victorian buildings have gone now, but just past the Savoy Hotel on the left was the Cole Hole Tavern, home to the Wolf Club, founded by actor Edmund Kean, so he said, for men whose wives did not allow them to sing in the bath. Rudolph Ackermann’s famous Emporium was also close by. On the other side of the street, on the site of what is now the Strand Palace Hotel, was the Exeter Change with its many small shops and Pidock’s (later Polito’s) Menagerie. It was located, bizarely, above ground floor level and contained, amongst other live animals, a hippopotomus that Byron said resembled Lord Liverpool, and even an elephant.

Ahead of us now we can see Nelson’s Column, but before we reach Trafalgar Square we pass Charing Cross station on the left. In the forecourt is the Victorian replacement for one of the twelve Eleanor Crosses that stood on this site. 1-DSCN2042They were erected by King Edward I to mark the places where the funeral cortege of his wife – his chere reine (=Charing) – stopped in 1290. The original cross stood a little 1-DSCN2046further along where the statue of King Charles I is now, looking down Whitehall towards his place of execution. The Parliamentarians pulled down the old cross in 1647, but when Charles II was restored to the throne he had eight of the regicides hanged drawn and quartered on that spot.

1-DSCN2044We skirt the southern edge of Trafalgar Square, developed in 1840 from the chaos of the royal mews, inns, barracks and shops. To our left we can look down Whitehall to Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament and through Admiralty Arch down the Mall to Buckingham Palace. Across the Square is the National Gallery (some of the pillars were reused when the Prince Regent’s Carlton House was demolished) and St Martin in the Fields. The bus will leave the Square by Cockspur Street. Look out to your left for an unprepossessing alleyway, Warwick House Street. Once this terminated in Warwick House, home of the Regent’s daughter Princess Charlotte.  He tried to separate her from her mother, his estranged wife Caroline, but one day Charlotte sneaked out of the house and fled down to Cockspur Street where she took the first hackney carriage and fled to her mother.

We pass the foot of Haymarket – home to the market selling, amongst other things, hay and fodder for London’s thousands of horses. It was also notorious for its prostitutes – Haymarket Ware. The bus crosses Waterloo Place and turns up Regent Street. Behind us is the Duke of York’s Column, overlooking St James’s Park. All along that side of Pall Mall stretched Carlton House, once intended to be the culmination of Nash’s dramatic Regent’s Street redevelopment begun in 1816. But Carlton House was demolished in 1826 after the Regent became George IV and moved into Buckingham Palace. All Nash’s original buildings have been replaced as the requirements for modern shops have changed, but the scale and the style remains much as he envisaged.  The new street cut though London, separating the squalor of Soho to the east from the riches of fashionable Mayfair to the west.

1-DSCN2048At Piccadilly Circus – always an awkward shape – we continue up Regent Street to Oxford Circus and turn left into Oxford Street. In the late 18th and 19th centuries it already had a name as a major shopping destination and, as Ackermann’s Repository had it, was “allowed to be one of the finest streets in Europe.” Only one feature remains that is older than the late 19th century and that is one pillar of the entrance to Stratford Place and, as I write, it is shrouded in a protective box while works on Bond Street tube station are carried out.

But one very ancient feature of Oxford Street can still be experienced from our position on top at the front of the bus, and that is the valley of Tyburn Brook which crossed Oxford Street on its way south. On foot you hardly notice it, on the bus it is a definite dip, just where the entrance to Bond Street tube station is. We climb up the other side and continue along to Marble Arch where I suggest leaving the bus. This is the location of the Tyburn gallows, notorious place of public execution, and also of Tyburn turnpike gates marking one of the main entrances into London from the west. From here you can stroll south-east into Mayfair or into Hyde Park – the very edge of Regency London.

Tyburn turnpike On the left is a print from Ackermann’s Repository showing the view eastwards along Oxford Street from the Tyburn turnpike gates. Hyde Park is to the right.


Happy exploring!


Filed under Buildings, Transport and travel

Would Darcy Have Ridden a Bicycle?


The combination of this fantastic print and the discussion in the UK press recently about encouraging cycling and making it safer prompted this post. Unfortunately the “Pedestrian Hobby Horse” arrived in England soon after Jane Austen’s death – I’ve love to know if she’d have ever given one of her characters a ride. I can imagine Lydia Bennett, skirts flying, shrieking with laughter!

The print, from Ackermann’s Repository (1819) is entitled Pedestrian Hobbyhorse and the text says it was invented by Baron von Drais, “a gentleman at the court of the Grand Duke of Baden.” The baron apparently invented a horseless carriage powered by two servants but it proved heavy and expensive so was abandoned, much to the relief of the unfortunate servants, I imagine!

 The baron went on to invent the hobbyhorse which he used for getting around large parks and gardens and it was introduced to London by Denis Johnson, a coach maker of 75, Long Acre. The Repository considered it simple, cheap and useful, especially in the country and in gentlemen’s pleasure grounds and parks. Medical men in France were already recommending it as a form of exercise.

 “The swiftness with which a person, well practised, can travel, is almost beyond belief: eight, nine, and even ten miles may be passed over within the hour, on good and level ground…the principle of this invention is taken from the art of skating.”


The rider sat astride a padded seat and rested his forearms on a padded board while steering with a small handle right at the front. Although it appears incredibly simple to us, used to bicycles and motorbikes, it was apparently necessary to take lessons and the  print above shows one of Mr Johnson’s Hobbyhorse Riding Schools. He opened one at 377, Strand and another at 40, Brewer Street, Golden Square in 1819. As you can see from the dress of the riders, this was a sport for well-to-do gentlemen. A hobbyhorse cost between £8-£10.

In Georgette Heyer’s novel Frederica the engaging youth Jessamy Merriville who cannot afford to hire a horse tries out the cheaper option of  a hobbyhorse, which Heyer calls a Pedestrian Curricle.

After a few lessons he hires one and,“Boy enough to want to startle his family with his unsuspected prowess, Jessamy had said nothing to them about his new hobby. Once he had perfected his balance, and could feel himself to be master of the Pedestrian Curricle, he meant to ride up to the door, and call his sisters out to watch his skill…he could not resist the temptation to coast down the long slope of Piccadilly, both feet daringly lifted from the flagway. This feat attracted a great deal of attention, some of it admiring some of it scandalised….”

Poor Jessamy finds himself in the midst of a dog fight and “…trying to control his balance, charged into a man mending chairs, lost control of his machine, and was flung on to the cobbled highway almost under the hooves of a high-stepping pair harnessed to a landaulet.”

The hobbyhorse proved impractical for any surface other than very well-maintained paths and so dropped out of fashion by the early 1820s. Two-wheeled progression lapsed until the invention of a device in 1865 called a velocipde which had pedals which worked directly on the front wheel. It became known as the Boneshaker and was almost entirely made of wood, with metal tyres and no springs – hence the name.


This photograph shows one in the Birmingham Museum’s Store.

Which of Jane Austen’s characters would you like to see on a Pedestrian Hobbyhorse? Would it be below Mr Darcy’s dignity? Perhaps Mr Collins would think it an improving way to take exercise…


August 15, 2013 · 1:41 pm