Jo, here, delighted to welcome Louise Allen, who is already an Honorary Wench, and her new book, Walking Jane Austen's London. This is essential reading for any Regency or Austen fan visiting London, but also great for the armchair traveler.
Your knowledge of Regency London is remarkable, Louise, but did it grow out of your love for Regency fiction, or did the urge to write Regency grow out of your research?
Louise: Thank you for inviting me, Jo, it’s a pleasure to be here at one of my favourite blogs. The interest in the Regency came first and I found myself making more and more research visits to locations in London that I needed for scenes in my books. But I have a serious book-buying habit, so the pile of research books on London history grew and grew and so did my collection of Georgian prints of London. Luckily my husband, the photographer in the family, is also interested so we started to plan longer walks together. Londoners are very friendly and helpful on the whole, so we are often asked if we are lost as we stand on street corners peering at our map and guidebook. These kind people are usually a trifle confused to be shown that the book and map are dated 1814.
Jo: What is the special delight of writing romance in your period, which is 1780 to 1820, so perhaps the “extended Regency”?
Louise: I love the fact that it is a world on the cusp of change between the 18th century and the modern world. The economy was changing, Society was changing, science and technology were developing at breakneck speed and the whole world was opening out and becoming connected. It was also an interesting time for women – in literature, in trade, in political influence.
(The print is of the stalls at Covent Garden theatre, one of Jane’s favourites. As always, click to enlarge.)
To take just one example, two of the most powerful stage coach proprietors in London were women. Mrs Ann Nelson ran the Bull Inn, Aldgate and had a virtual monopoly of the traffic to the eastern counties and Mrs Ann Mountain owned the Saracen’s Head, Snow Hill, and a coach factory, and sent out thirty stage coaches every day of the week. Unfortunately there is only one of the old coaching inns left in London, the George in Southwark.
Jo: Fascinating! I love learning about entrepreneurial woman of the past.
Louise: Also, less seriously, I love the look of the period and I try very hard not to imagine my heroes in later years with mutton chop whiskers!
(Hyde Park Corner turnpike gates, looking west into London)
Jo: Have you ever written, or thought of writing in a completely different period?
Louise: My first novel, as Francesca Shaw, was set in the 17th century but my editor steered me towards the Regency as having a wider appeal and I was soon hooked and have stayed within the “long Regency” ever since. The only deviation was to write about the Sack of Rome, AD410 (Virgin Slave, Barbarian King) because I knew it was the only way to get the gorgeous Visigoth hero out of my head. Otherwise my earliest setting was 1788 for Forbidden Jewel of India, set in Rajasthan.
Jo: Tell us more about Walking Jane Austen’s London.
Louise: This was enormous fun to do, although my feet may never recover from those hard pavements! Fortunately I thought of the idea eighteen months ago and pitched it to Shire Publications then, otherwise I wouldn’t have made it in time for the Pride and Prejudice bicentenary. I scoured Jane Austen’s letters and novels for London references and plotted them all on a map. Then I read piles of reference books, added as many of the must-see late Georgian sites as I could and spent a long time working out how to combine all of these into a series of walks.
Once I had eight possible routes I walked them all with my husband, the photographer for the project, and we took several hundred photographs, from the straightforward shots of three of the houses Jane Austen stayed in on visits to London to the downright quirky, such as a seagull behaving disrespectfully on the Prince Regent’s head, Beau Brummell’s boot scraper and traffic lights for horses on their way to Rotten Row.
Then it was back to the drawing board with more research and lots of tweaks to the routes before we walked them again and I finally wrote them up. After that it was a matter of choosing seventy five original prints from my collection to complement seventy five photos.
(Newton’s haberdashery shop, just off Leicester Square where Jane Austen often looked for bargains in Irish linen.)
I was lucky that Shire found me an excellent cartographer who has produced beautifully clear maps for each walk. I was also fortunate that my editor listened to my pleas for an index twice as long as he was expecting, so if you want to locate the Cole Hole Tavern, Prince Henry’s Room, Rotten Row or Astley’s Amphitheatre or all the references from the various novels, you can do so.
Jo: This all sounds irresistibly delicious, Louise!
Louise: Thank you. It is also possible to follow most of the routes on Google Earth and with Street View, as the cartographer had to do when he was wrestling with the tiny alleyways around Dr Johnson’s House and the Cheshire Cheese pub.
I wish I had room for at least two more walks. The Southwark area around Borough High Street is fascinating, and the East End and the docks — which I used in my most recent novel Tarnished Amongst the Ton — has endless hidden corners with stories to tell.
There's more about this novel and Louise's other books on her web site.
And you must visit Louise's blog about Jane Austen's London. Regularly. Because there are new treats all the time.
It's available from all the usual other booksellers, and in most locations.
In addition, Louise is giving away a copy to a randomly selected commenter here. Have you ever visited London? If so, what are your favourite Regency spots? If not, where would you visit first if you went there?
Are you suprised to think of Jane Austen gallivanting around London?
What are your favourite London locations in fiction? Any memorable scenes set in real Regency locations?
Any and all comments welcome!