What’s Underfoot,

Wench bond-street-gillray-elaine-golden

Bond Street and a passel of gentlemen

Joanna here, back with another exciting dispatch from the universe of the past. Talking about roads, in fact.

I was going to wax eloquent on road building in general, starting with the madly competent engineering Romans and going right on till I got to ugly but practical tar-bound macadam in 1902, pioneered by a Swiss doctor in Monaco.

Have you ever noticed how very many Victorian doctors invented things? I worry a bit about their patients, what with the physicians studying refrigeration, road surfaces, and coca cola instead of, for instance, gall bladders.

Back to roads.

I quickly discovered the history of road construction and law is mind-numblingly dull, so I decided to throw myself directly into what roads and pavements would have looked like in Regency London. This is not precisely enthralling, but better than Turnpike Trusts, believe me.

We're going straight to the hard, permanent, waterproof stuff laid down on city walkways and roadways to distinguish them from the endless tracks of dirt and muddy ruts with which the countryside was plentifully supplied.

Were there dirt roadways in the city of London?
Some, probably.

Wench a_view_on_the_thames_with_numerous_ships_and_figures_on_the_wharf-rowlandson 1818 crop

Probably some wheeled and foot traffic on Thames side
Wench dirt street

Here's a dirt road arriving at the edge of town

Dirt roadways approached the edges of the city, of course.
I imagine one of the welcome signs of arriving in London was the rumble and clack of London roads under wheel or hoof. The banks of the Thames were unpaved and frankly mucky I should think and travelled by foot and the odd wagon. It's likely that some of the smallest alleys in the rookeries were essentially drainage swales washed out by the downpours and unpaved.

But on the whole, London was paved.

The paving was most generally cobbles, bricks, and in some places large, flat flagstones.We are pre-macadam here.

To see examples of these elements, head up to the Gillray painting way above to the left.
I'll wait while you go find it.
It's up at the beginning.
Bond Street.
We get a bit of social commentary there as well. Just a splendid opportunity to see what was underfoot in the Regency in both the literal and metaphorical sense.

First off, there's the cobblestone street. Click on the picture to get a closer view of it. More cobblestone down on the right at the bottom.

Wench cow-keepers-shop-1825-george-scharf-001

Square flagstones in the shop and on the walk

There in Gillray's Bond Street we're made vividly aware of how mucky (or dusty, in season) the cobblestone road with its traffic of horses and wagons would have been. Those crossing-sweepers who cleared a path at the corner earned their little tip, apparently.

See the curb. These curbs were a usual appurtenance of the better streets. Kept the walkway a little drier, likely. And then on the walkway itself never, in England, a sidewalk we see the larger, square-cut flagstones. We'd find thee flagstones on the fancier streets where there were shops. They'd be common for interior courtyards 

I will make a writer's confession here. What I had been in the habit of calling 'cobblestone' seems to be referred to as 'cobbles' in the period. 'Cobblestones' may have been a bit of an Americanism at the time.

The word 'cobble' refers to the size and shape of the stones, rather than to what they're made of, which would usually be granite. (i.e. rock.) Thus 'cobbles' means 'a buncha

Wench street scene west end C18

nicely regular cobbles
Wench cobbletone

nicely random cobbles

naturally round stones smoothed by the natural action of rivers and handy for prying up and throwing at somebody'.

If you look over to the right you will see a line of bollards separating the walkway from the street. This is another Regency feature I see a lot of. They may use it when they don't want to put in a curb. One might think of it as something for the stray pedestrian to shelter behind.

Moving on to technique. The brick or stone or flagstone was generally laid dry that is, in a bed of sand. In courtyards, stables and the like that got a lot of traffic the brick or stone might be laid in mortar to keep it just firmly as heck in place. I will just point out, though, that one of the many advantages of sand-laid cobblestone was that it didn't crack with freezing and thawing which it would start to do if you laid it in mortar, thus creating unsightly crevices in the public thoroughfare. Just saying.

Now the bricks could be laid lengthwise so that they look like brick or laid on end so that they look like "are those bricks or half bricks?" It's thirty-two statue bricks to cover a yard when you lay them longways but sixty-two stood endwise if you want a thicker road, courtyard, or walkway altogether. And that is more than most people will tell you about laying brick roads.  The brck roads in Oz were laid longwise and thus would have been thirty-two per square yard, in case you have ever wondered.


So. What's on YOUR walkway these days? Or what was on your childhood walkway? Or even, will you get behind the City Council's desire to redo the whole downtown in cobblestone which is almost the definition of a municipal wild hare?

Horse troughs

Joanna here, looking into two-huMr weller and mr stiggensndred-year-old animal welfare issues.

London, up till this last hundred years or so, was just plumb full of horses — horses being ridden, horses pulling carts and wagons, horses pulling carriages. So I got to thinking about how these thousands of Regency horses got water to drink, London not being full of little trickling streams and all.

Three horses at a watering trough






Horse trough in Lambeth

The answer, of course, is horse troughs. These were a private enterprise in 1800, rather than a municipal concern. Livery stables and every mews with horse and carriage would have had water for the horses and a stable boy to fetch it. Water accessible to a passing rider seems to have been the offering of inns and taverns, luring customers with drink for the horses as well as drink foHorse trough in Lambeth detailr the man.

Some, like this to the right, were obviously free to the public, to anyone riding along this road. Other places doubtless  expected a tip or an outright fee. One later public house water trough is inscribed: All that water their horses here Must pay a penny or have some beer. Hmmm … hard choice, that.

These Regency water troughs were made of wood and generally elevated off the ground. They'd have been filled, bucket by bucket, by some inn servant or tavern boy sent out with the admonition, "And mind you don't dawdle about it." What you might call, 'running water'.

These wooden troughs have disappeared in the intervening centuries, but we have surviving Victorian horse troughs, here and there in London.  These were put in place on the streets by benevolent societies. Benevolent for the horses on the street and benevolent for the people too — they often had a drinking fountain at one end. Barnett high street circa 1900.jpg 

In this photo to the right you can see the pump that filled this Victorian trough. And here below is a man using this sort of pump.

Trough_lauriston_road_hackney wiki Old pump 1910 detail







Above is very typical example of the surviving Victorian horse troughs.  The upraised part at the end was the drinking fountain for humans.

Horses are gone from the streets.  The Regency horse troughs utterly disintegrated.  Local folks plant flowers in the old Victorian concrete water troughs and tourists follow maps, going from one to the other.


So, if you were a philanthropic society, what would you put on the streets of your home town to improve the quality of life?

Jane Austen’s London

Cover medJo, 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. 1-New Theatre Covent Garden crop

(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!

1-Hyde Park Turnpike

(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.1-Shop

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.

TarnishedI 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.

US readers can buy Walking Jane Austen's London in print here.  And in Kindle here.

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!



London Surprises

Jocold Hi, Jo here, sharing some of a fascinating book about London. That picture, BTW, is me about a month ago preparing to venture into hown in the perishing cold. The weather's much better now, and I'm beginning to be able to get annuals into the garden.

But back to London.

When doing a bit of spot research I came across a book called A Stranger in England by Christian Augustus Gottlieb Goede, written in 1809. (You can find it on Google Books.) That's almost a decade before the time of my book, 1817, but I have no reason to think the situation would have changed that much.

He loves London, but it's a "warts and all" devotion.

He refers to other writers who have described the city as presenting "a dark gloomy aspect;  the houses being very smoky,  the streets contracted, and the whole rendered impervious to the sun  by low-passing clouds." This is a common complaint. It was very polluted.

To counter that, he writes that they must have visited in autumn and winter."At these seasons of the year indeed a thick humid fog envelopes the whole for the greatest part of the day; and  the smoke from coal-fires, being pressed down by the humidity of the atmosphere, floats through the streets in murky clouds: but in the  spring and summer months, London is quite as cheerful in its  appearance as any other large city whatever."

The true meaning of that does depend on the state of other large cities, doesn't it?

"It is true, the  houses, which are mostly built of brick, and not whitewashed, suffer materially from this smoke, and gradually assume a greyish colour, which would give them a very gloomy appearance were they not enlivened by other means. But the width of the principal streets, the cleanness of the pavement, the splendour of the plate-glass windows, the indescribable magnificence of the shops, the continual throng of well-dressed people, and, above all, the lawns and gardens which enliven the grand squares, produce a chain of agreeable impressions unknown on the Continent, and leave us scarcely sensible  of the absence of ornamental architecture."

He likes it, but it is a rather hurly-burly place, isn't it, not the quiet elegance I sometimes envision. He describes the routines of the day for the great and small, and the ladies of the ton (though he doesn't use that word) crowding into Bond Street in the afternoon so that it becomes almost impassable.Cockneyland

Again, I often read about traffic jams, and with so many unpredictable horses accidents were common, and it wasn't only the carriages that were hurt. The picture is of a London street.

It's easy to forget that even then London was a huge city of about a million inhabitants, and as Goede points out, subject to daily comings and goings. He mentions that the receipts of the London turnpikes show that ten thousand people a day pay tolls to pass through the toll gates around the city.

In that case, I have to wonder whether the hero chasing after the eloping couple and enquiring at the toll gates after them would get much help!

Goede praises London's illuminations. I often come across references to these, which were used to celebrate a variety of events.  He contrasts London's with those in Paris, where they were displayed by the city authorities, not individuals.

"In London, an illumination is a token of public rejoicing, voluntarily evinced by the people themselves. It is general, because every  individual is interested, and every individual cordially contributes  to its splendour. The public buildings on this occasion cannot make much parade; as they  do not, with the exception of the Bank, present any considerable  facade for the purpose, and are otherwise disadvantagcously situated: but the private houses are superbly and fancifully decorated with  lamps; so that in a long handsome street, the brilliancy is  uninterrupted, and inexpressibly grand. Each  byestreet claims its share in the public rejoicing, and we wander  about the town till we are lost in the contemplation of an object that  appears without end.

The inequality of the buildings, and the circumstance of every  occupier following his own fancy, prevent any regular plan of  illumination; but this perpetual variety serves only to improve the  
scene. The eye might otherwise be fatigued with sameness; but now fancy and caprice create fresh objects of admiration at every step we take. The devices at the west end, are usually crowns, stars, crescents, foiaged pillars, festoons, garlands, &c. but those in the city have  
little of either ingenuity or taste; at least, this was the case at  the proclamation of the peace in 1802.

The latter decorations, on this occasion, were for the most part  transparencies emblematical of naval conquests and national glory, portraits of the King, scrolls complimentary to commerce, busts of  favourite admirals, or a whole-length figure of Britannia with an  olive-branch. There were however some of more merit. I remember the difficulty I had  to pass at Charing-cross, where the whole town seemed to be collected  in admiring a device displayed by a tasteful and ingenious watchmaker.  It represented a vessel floating on illuminated waves, the motion of which was produced by clock-work; the whole surrounded by a garland of  lamps, with the motto "Britain's glory."

The squares were illuminated with considerable taste and effect. The houses, by means of temporary contrivances, were transformed into  splendid temples; and beautiful allegories were represented by  transparent paintings. Oxford  street, from its length, breadth, and nearly straight  direction, afforded an enchanting perspective. As I advanced, squares, apparently on fire, burst on the view from either side with sudden and  surprising effect. But the most extraordinary circumstance is, that  whatever part of the town I visited, the crowd was so great that I  might well have supposed every other spot deserted."


This cartoon is of a royal "drawing room." It seems crowds were taken for granted even there!

So we have pollution, crowds, gardens, shops, and illuminations. Not quiet elegance, but a hell of a city!

Do you agree?

Does any of this surprise you?

Do you think that in Regency romance we've fallen into an image of London that isn't quite true to the  times?

 Did it perhaps come from Georgette Heyer? I don't know if the London in the period after the First World War would have been more genteel, in the better parts, at least. Quite possibly. The general progress seems to have been toward order over the centuries.