Category Archives: Walks

The Story of a Square 3: Lincoln’s Inn Fields

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Lincoln’s Inn Fields is the largest square in London and records exist concerning it from the 14th century when it really was a field – or rather, two – Purse Field and Cup Field. They adjoined the west wall of the grounds of Lincoln’s Inn, one of the four Inns of Court, and were the natural playground for the legal students’ ball games. The survival of this vast open space in the middle of the city, surviving Stuart property developers and massive Victorian road improvements and slum clearance, is due to an early example of NIMBYism.

In the Middle Ages, and well into the 17th century, there was nothing resembling a civilized park – the fields were leased out as pasture and, occasionally, used as places of execution. In 1586 the Babington Plot conspirators were hanged, drawn and quartered there, Catholic martyrs were burned in the 1580s and Lord Russell was beheaded in about the centre in 1683 for his involvement in the Rye House Plot.

As London expanded outwards developers began to cast an eye over such a tempting expanse of open ground and the first attempt to build a house there was in 1613. This was successfully resisted by the Society of Lincoln’s Inn – lawyers powerful enough to influence the government on the subject. It was clear that improving the open space would assist in preserving this asset, so the Society and the neighboring parishes petitioned Charles I in 1617 that “for their general Commoditie and health [the fields should be] converted into walks after the manner of Morefeildes.” The proposal appealed to the King and the Privy Council supported the scheme “as a means to frustrate the covetous and greedy endeavors of such persons as dailye seeke to fill up that small remainder of Ayre in these parts with unnecessary and unprofitable Buildings.” Resistance to developers seems to be as strong then as it it now.

Neither development nor improvement as an ordered public space happened immediately, but in the 1630s the leaseholder of the fields petitioned the King to allow the building of 32 houses. After some wrangling the permission was granted but the developer agreed that the centre of the area was  “for ever and hereafter to be open and unbuilt.” The houses were built by 1641 and the area became a fashionable place to live despite the Fields themselves being a dangerous place with fights and robberies (and the odd execution) commonplace.

In 1716 John Gay wrote  in Trivia that, despite the square being railed, it was unwise to venture in at night. The beggar that the benevolent pedestrian had given coins to during the day would turn his crutch into a weapon at night “and fell thee to the ground” and the linkboy offering to guide him through the area will lead him into the clutches of robbers and “quench the flaming brand and share the booty with the pilfering band.”

Nell Gwynne had lodgings here, and another of Charles II’s mistresses, the Duchess of Portland, had a house. Numerous aristocrats, politicians and high-ranking lawyers lived around the Fields in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries but the person whose name is nowadays most closely associated with the square is the architect Sir John Soane. His house is now one of the most atmospheric and eccentric museums in London and is located in the middle of the north side. The print at the top of this post, from Ackermann’s Repository, shows the view from the north-west corner in 1810 and you can get more or less the same view today by standing at the point where Gate Street and Remnant Street enter the Fields. (The Remnant name reflects the fact that this was once the end of Great Queen Street before the Victorians drove Kingsway through the tangle of medieval streets to the west of the Fields.)

The tall buildings to the right of the print occupy the site of what is now the Royal College of Surgeons which contains the extraordinary Hunterian Museum, a fascinating, if gruesome place to visit for anyone interested in the history of surgery and anatomy.

Lincoln’s Inn Fields is included in Walk 7 of Walking Jane Austen’s London (an excellent stocking-filler for any history buff’s Christmas stocking!) As well as the two museums there are still a number of fine 18th century houses and the gardens themselves to enjoy – open to the public since 1894.

 

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The Story of a Square 2: Berkeley Square

Berkeley (or Berkley as it is often spelled on early maps) Square was built on the farmland owned by John, 1st Baron Berkeley of Stratton, a Royalist military commander in the English Civil War and close friend of James, Duke of York (later James III) who did very well for himself after the restoration of Charles II . Amongst other things he was a co-founder of the Province of New Jersey. Berkeley acquired extensive farmland to the north of the Exeter Road in London, now Piccadilly, and in 1665 he had a mansion built there. Today it would occupy the block bounded by Piccadilly, Stratton Street and Berkeley Street, with its gardens (partly designed by John Evelyn) stretching northwards. In the map below of 1682 ‘Berkley House’ can be seen just above the ‘ETC’  of The Road to Exeter Etc.’ (The area marked ‘St James Park’ is now known as Green Park.)

map-1682

Evelyn records that it cost “neare 30,000 pounds” and called it a “palace”. After Lord Berkeley’s death in 1678 his widow sold off strips at the side of the grounds to create Stratton Street and Berkeley Street, much to Evelyn’s disgust. Princess (later Queen) Anne occupied the house 1692-5 during a spat with her sister Queen Mary and in 1696 it was sold to the Duke of Devonshire and renamed Devonshire House. It was rebuilt after a fire in 1734/7 and this is the house that can been seen in Horwood’s map of 1799/1819. The reservoir in Green Park mentioned in a recent post can be seen at the bottom.

map-horwood

One of the conditions of the sale was that view over the land to the north of the gardens should be unobstructed and this is one reason why, when the area was developed, that Lansdowne House is set to one side with its gardens respecting the view from the rear of Devonshire House and there was no building along the south side of Berkeley Square.

The square was laid out in 1730 with houses on the east and west sides.The east side was the first to be built and was finished about 1738 and the west side was completed in 1745. Of these houses only the western side remains intact – the 1930s saw the replacement of the eastern side and the garden wall of Lansdowne House – and the site of Mr Gunter’s famous establishment in the south-east corner is now under a branch of Prêt. The customers still take their refreshments outside to eat under the plane trees – although rather less elegantly than Mr Gunter’s patrons would have done. It was originally the shop of Dominicus Negri, an Italian pastrycook, who set up there in 1757, trading as The Pot and Pineapple.

In the centre was  an equestrian statue of George III – a not very successful effort whose legs soon collapsed. It was replaced by the little pump house with a Chinese roof which has survived. The famous plane trees are perhaps the most striking survival of the Georgian square and were planted in 1789.

Ackermann’s Repository featured the square in September 1813 with this view which appears to be the south-west corner with the wall of Lansdowne House’s gardens in the background.

ackermann-1813

According to the text “This square is distinguished from all the others in the British metropolis by its situation on the side of a hill, which gently slopes from north to south. the houses on the north side are, upon the whole, rather mean; those which form the east and west sides, though many of them, individually, very good buildings, do not, from the want of regularity, appear altogether to such advantage as where greater attention is paid to that point, and where the site is more favourable to it… The area, which forms an oblong square, containing about three acres, is inclosed by an iron balustrade; and the inhabitants, after the example of their neighbours, have, of  late years, caused it to be planted extensively with shrubs, which have thriven very rapidly, and give a rural air to the whole.”

victorian

This late Victorian print shows the southern end of the square, looking west with the Lansdowne wall on the left.

Nowadays it needs some care to recapture the Georgian spirit of the square, but it can be done, especially when sitting in the shade of the plane trees and looking at the wonderful ironwork of the western side. But don’t expect to hear a nightingale singing in Berkeley Square – they probably flew off in the 1730s when the builders moved in!

You can visit Berkeley Square on the Mayfair walk in my Walking Jane Austen’s London.

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“One of the Most Agreeable Walks in London” – a stroll through The Green Park

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“No inhabitant of the metropolis, and scarcely any person who has visited it, needs to be told that the spot delineated in the annexed view [above] forms one of the most agreeable walks in London.” (Ackermann’s Repository October 1810).

This shows the eastern end of The Green Park (these days ‘The’ is always dropped) from Piccadilly, looking south. It seems the artist would have been somewhere between Clarges Street and Bolton Street. Westminster Abbey can be seen in the distance and on the left are the houses looking out onto the Queen’s Walk. St James’s Palace is hidden behind them at the far end. Nowadays Green Park tube station would be just out of sight on the left with the Ritz (on the site of The White Horse Cellar) just beyond that.

“In summer the eastern end of the Green Park forms a favourite promenade for the inhabitants of the metropolis: and in fine weather, on every evening and on Sundays in particular, is always extremely crowded with genteel and well dressed company. At the north-east corner of this park there is a fine piece of water, which is supplied by the water-works of Chelsea [The reservoir was built in 1775 and filled in in 1856] and forms at once a beautiful embellishment and a useful reservoir. The guards parade every day between ten and eleven o’clock, and a full band of music renders this spectacle cheerful and attractive.” (John Wallis London: Being a Complete Guide 1810)

Green Park is a triangular space of about 53 acres. To the south Constitution Hill divides it from the gardens of Buckingham Palace and St James’s Park butts up to it in the south-east corner with the Mall. In the 17th century it was part of St James’s Park, the Tudor hunting grounds, which swept around the south and west of the palace, but by the time of Roque’s map of 1738 the tree lined avenue of the Mall leading up to Buckingham House cut it off and it is labelled The Green Park. The gardens of Buckingham House were much smaller and the park crossed Constitution Hill, occupying the area that is now the large roundabout of Hyde Park Corner. The second print is from The Beauties of England & Wales Vol. 1 (1801) and shows the view west from the southern edge of the park towards Buckingham House which, by that time, had become The Queen’s Palace or House.

Green Park Q House

Before Henry VIII seized monastic properties St James’s Palace was the site of a religious foundation and a leper hospital and the legend persisted that Green Park was so green (and without flowers) because it was the burial place for the lepers. There is no evidence for this! Charles II was responsible for the park’s lay-out and Constitution Hill is thought to be named because it was a favourite walk, or ‘constitutional’ of his. He also built a snow, or ice, house and the mound can still be seen in the park opposite 119, Piccadilly.

The park, as well as being a fashionable promenade, was also popular for duels in the 18th century. Count Alfieri fought Lord Ligonier the husband of his mistress there and famously remarked (when he returned from the fight to finish watching the play at the Haymarket Theatre with a wounded arm) “My view is that Ligonier did not kill me because he did not want to, and I did not kill him because I did not know how.” The park was also an excellent location for balloon ascents and firework displays such as the 1814 Peace celebrations.

The gravel walk on the eastern boundary of the park is known as The Queen’s Walk and was created for Caroline, the wife of George II. She had a pavilion built for breakfasts looking out on the park, but no trace of it remains. The most distinguished house overlooking the Walk is Spencer House. It can be seen in the top print, identified by the roof ornaments, and in the print below. (1831  Earl Spencer’s House). It is open to the public  on Sundays (except in August) by bookable guided tours.

spencer

 

 

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The Regent’s Bomb

Horse Guards’ Parade lies between St James’ Park and Whitehall and has many historical connections – it was Henry VIII’s tiltyard for the Palace of Whitehall, it was the only open place in London big enough for the funeral procession of the Duke of Wellington  to form up in, it is the location for today’s Trooping the Colour ceremony – and it was even the location for the beach volleyball in the 2012 Olympics.

It is also the home of possibly the most eccentric piece of ordnance in the British Isles – the Prince Regent’s Bomb. It is a mortar, a squat black cannon captured from the French during the battle of Salamanca in 1812. The battle resulted in the lifting of the siege of Cadiz and the mortar was presented to the Prince Regent “as a token of respect and gratitude by the Spanish nation.”

Bomb 2

The plain and simple mortar was sent to Woolwich Arsenal and there a support and plinth was made for it in the shape of a dragon. It is a truly stupendous and bizarre construction and was unveiled, with great ceremony, on the 12th August 1816, the Prince’s birthday. Immediately it attracted  ridicule, for not only was the design completely over the top, as only something designed to appeal to the Prince of Wales’s taste could be, but “Bomb” sounded irresistibly like “Bum” and the Regent’s substantial backside was already the subject of many coarse caricatures.

Perhaps the cruelest is a companion to the verses below. I have not been able to locate a copyright-free image, but you can find it here in the British Museum’s collection  http://tinyurl.com/p6fxayy

The verses come from a broadsheet published by William Hone in 1816. I have filled in names that have been left blank in square brackets [ ]. The three ‘secret hags’ are the Regent’s three mistresses. ‘Old Bags’ was the Lord Chancellor, Lord Eldon (More about him in my post of April 21 2014: The Eloping Lord Chancellor). Vansittart was Nicholas Vansittart, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Tory Wellesley was Wellesley-Pole, elder brother of the Duke of Wellington, Castlereagh was Foreign Secretary and leader of the House of Commons and George Rose was Treasurer of the Navy. (My thanks to fellow historical novelist Melinda Hammond for help filling in the blanks (http://www.melinda-hammond.co.uk)

 

ON THE REGENT’S BOMB
Being uncovered, in St. James’s Park, on Monday, the 12th of August, 1816, His Royal Highness’s Birth-Day.

Oh! all ye Muses, hither come—
And celebrate the Regent’s bomb!
Illustrious Bomb! Immortal capture!
Thou fill’st my every sense with rapture!
Oh, such a Bomb! so full of fire—
Apollo—hither bring thy lyre—
And all ye powers of music come,
And aid me sing this mighty Bomb!

And first, with reverence this I note—
This Bomb was once a Sans culotte—
And next, by changes immaterial,
Became, at length, a Bomb Imperial!
And first exploded—pardon ladies!—
With loud report, at siege of Cadiz—
At which this Bomb—so huge and hearty,
Belonged to little Buonaparté;
But now, by strange metamorphosis,
(A kind of Bomb metempsychosis)
Has—though it odd may seem—become
Our gracious R[egen]t’s royal Bomb;
Who, after due consideration,
Resolved, to gratify the Nation—
Nor let his natal day pass over
Without some feat—to then uncover,
And there display—to strike us dumb—
His vast—unfathomable Bomb!

Oh, what a Bomb! Oh, Heaven defend us!
The thought of Bombs is quite tremendous!
What crowds will come from every shore
To gaze on its amazing bore!
What swarms of Statesmen, warm and loyal,
To worship Bomb so truly royal!
And first approach three ‘secret hags,’
Then him the R[egen]t calls ‘Old Bags;’
Methinks I see V[ansittar]t come,
And humbly kiss the royal Bomb!
While T[or]y W[ellesle]y, (loyal soul)
Will take its measure with a Pole;
And C[astlereag]h will low beseech
To kiss a corner of the breech;
And next will come of G[eorg]y R[os]e,
And in the touch-hole shove his nose!

For roundness, smoothness, breech, and bore,
Such Bomb was never seen before!
Then, Britain! be not this forgotten,
That, when we all are dead and rotten,
And every other trace is gone
Of all thy matchless glory won,
This mighty Bomb shall grace thy fame
And boast thy glorious Regent’s name!
In every age such pilgrims may go
As far t’outrival fam’d St. Jago!
And, centuries hence, the folks shall come,
And contemplate–the Regent’s Bomb!

[by] BOMBASTES.
August 12, 1816.

Bomb 1

“Bombastes” might have been surprised to discover that two hundred years later folks still come “and contemplate the Regent’s Bomb!” You’ll find the Prince’s Bomb on Walk 6 in my Walking Jane Austen’s London.

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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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