Anne here, with a special treat from my friend and Honorary Word Wench, Sophie Weston aka Sophie Page, whose To Marry A Prince is a favorite of mine and Mary Jo's, and Nicola's. (See the interview here.)
A life-long London resident, multi-published author and former chair of the Romantic Novelists Association, Sophie also developed for her friends and colleagues a personally conducted "Georgette Heyer Walk." I was fortunate enough to experience it myself some years ago, on a damp and chilly day, and most of the photos are mine.
Sophie and her friend, historical novelist Joanna Maitland, have just set up a site called Libertabooks.com for writers and reader to meet and share enthusiasms — think an angst-free book club but with fringe benefits as readers start to voice what they want from it — and you're all invited to drop by. With 49 novels published by other people, Sophie is also embarking on self-publishing.
Welcome back to the Word Wenches, Sophie. Let us commence your delightful Georgette Heyer walk.
Sophie: My Georgette Heyer walk is a work in progress, based around Piccadilly, still one of the busiest streets in London. In 1815 there were also horses leaving deposits which boys who kept the crossing had to be tipped to brush out of the way. So when Miss Wraxton did ‘not wish to drive through the streets’, The Grand Sophy had a good point when she replied ‘What, and walk along Piccadilly unattended? You cannot mean it!’
Men, however, strolled everywhere. Byron, would leave his marital home at 13 Piccadilly Terrace; pass the Pulteney Hotel (with flushing loos!) where the Czar and his sister stayed during the Hanoverian Centenary celebrations in 1814, followed by Venetia's glamorous mother; pass the Dandies' club (Watier's 1813-1819) at No 81 and reach his publisher John Murray at 50 Albemarle Street in less than 10 minutes. [photo on left: John Murray's]
William Gifford wrote to George Ellis on Jan 7 1813, ‘When you come to town, you will find Murray settled in Albemarle St. His house is not an unpleasant lounge, and Canning & a few others have furnished a private room with Morning Papers. ’ Before scandal and exile, Byron had great hopes of a political career, though with the Whigs, rather than Canning's Tories and anyway, it got him out of the house.
The Grand Sophy, in a high old temper, turned her phaeton right into St James's – the Street of Miss Wraxton's Shame where many of the Gentlemen's Clubs were situated. Pride of place must go to White's Club at 37-38 St James's. [pic on right]
In theory the Club's membership was primarily Tory but it had a brief surge of patronage by the Prince Regent’s Whig supporters after Prinny fell out with Brooks’s for blackballing his mate, Jack Payne. In fact Beau Brummel became leader of the ‘Bay Window Set’. It was probably the disrespectful comments of these young fashionables that Miss Wraxton dreaded most of all!
In Faro's Daughter Mr Ravenscar went to White’s when he was searching for Lord Ormskirk, Deborah Grantham’s older, and deeply dishonourable, suitor, but his favourite was Brooks's, a much plainer building on the other side of the road.
Founded in 1764, it was the leading club for Whigs sympathetic with the American revolution – the lead plant tubs in the club's front area are engraved with the date 1776 – as well as the very high stakes for which its members played. Charles James Fox played cards with his cronies here “from ten o'clock at night till near six o'clock the next afternoon, a waiter standing by to tell them whose deal it was, they being too sleepy to know." By the Regency it had increased its limit on members from 450 to 550 and charged an annual subscription of 10 guineas. And next door was Justerini's (founded 1749), a fashionable wine merchant which continues to this day. [pic on left: Justerini and Brooks, wine merchant, South east corner of Brooks's on the right of picture]
On the east side again are Locks, hatters since 1676. Byron was living above a hatter's in St James's when Caroline Lamb, dressed as a boy and attended by a crowd, turned up and threatened to kill herself with his sword if he wouldn't run away with her. (Possibly Locks, probably not.) Hobhouse, visiting, decided they couldn't be left alone together, so he stuffed the two them into a hackney carriage and ran like hell across St James's Park to intercept them in Whitehall before anything scandalous had time to take place. Heyer's dowagers universally disapprove of Caroline. One suspects Heyer did too.
Further south on the same side of St James's is Berry Bros (established 1698, still with a family member on the Board), originally a purveyor of general goods, including tea and coffee and exotic spices. A gold coffee mill is their trading sign.
They still have the massive scales that were used to weigh people as well as sacks of dry goods, possibly contributing to Byron's becoming the first celebrity dieter. Brummel was a loyal customer and Berry Bros returned the favour, buying some of his cellar out of his bankruptcy sale and holding it for him. He visited the shop (i.e. from exile) on 26th July 1822 when he was weighed as usual —10 stones 13 pounds (153 lbs or 63kgs). Brummel is a delightful figure of sophisticated restraint in Heyer's oeuvre, from Regency Buck onwards. I often think Mr Beaumaris in Arabella is Brummell in love.
Down a small passage behind Berry Bros is a courtyard of early eighteenth century houses. [Pic right: Pickering Place] It's said that duels were fought here – possibly including Brummel himself – and in Heyer it houses the sleazier sort of gaming club. Sherry loses a lot of money when he is lured hither by Sir Montagu Revesby in Friday's Child.
And at the end of this busy, bustling, commercial street is the Royal Palace [pic below: St James's Palace 1819]
Anne again: That brings us to the end of the first part of our Georgette Heyer walk, so you may retire for tea and cakes and to put your feet up for a little rest. The second part of the walk will take place on the 9th December.
In the meantime, why not drop over to drop over to Sophie and Joanna's new Liberta site—it's something a little bit fun and different. But while you're here, please feel free to ask Sophie any questions you may have about the Heyer walk, her own books, or Liberta. And tell us which of Heyer's books is a favorite of yours. Someone who leaves a comment will win a copy of Sophie's delightful To Marry A Prince.