Our departure is bearing down on me! We leave tomorrow morning to spend almost a month in England, all because I was smart enough to marry an Englishman an incredible number of years ago, and so lived in London for ten years and since then have traveled back frequently to visit family and friends.
So this is another of those trips. Most of the time I intend to spend eating wonderful British bread and cheese while trying to explain to incredulous English friends what the hell is going on in Washington, but before we get down to that, I’m going to take a wonderful cab ride called Research through the Regency places in London.
I’ve been to most of them one time or another, but never with my Regency goggles on, so to speak. All of the streets, as far as I can tell, are still there. I’m working with my wonderful book The A to Z of Regency London, but since it shows London as it was, not as it is, I’m waiting to get to London to buy a spanking new London A to Z (which, should you ever be trying to buy one, is pronounced “A to Zed”) and the put the two together, and take one of those wonderful English cabs—no longer always black, more’s the pity—with a driver who knows London inside out and backwards, and figure out a sensible route between them, as I’m certain many if not all of them are now one-way streets.
Here’s my list:
The obvious starting point. Bond Street is still a wonderful shopping experience, assuming your pockets are stuffed with 5 pound notes and higher. (There is no 1 pound note now: that’s a coin.) The shops my Regency heroines knew are all almost certainly gone, but when I was last on the street there were plenty of new ones, with that distinctive crest showing they have been patronized by a member of the Royal Family. There was also, back in the day, Hookham’s Circulating Library, well known to ladies as they specialized in novels. Jane Austen’s books sold there. Down the street a bit, I imagine, was Gentleman Jackson’s boxing saloon, where the gents could practice their arts and cheer on their friends and sneer at the less capable.
St. James Street:
I know I’ve been down this street because I rem
ember passing one of the famous men’s clubs there (they still are!) but unfortunately don’t remember which one. White’s, Boodle’s, and Brooke’s were all there and still remain. Back in Regency days, respectable women did not walk nor drive in open carriages, because the men clustered at the windows would remark on what they saw. (Why did they cluster at the windows? To be researched . . . )
Here I have an address for Ackermann’s Repository of Arts. It stood at 101, where the Savoy Hotel now is. It was a particular favorite for all, rich and poor, to stand gawking at the windows where they posted topical prints and those magnificent caricatures that made fun of everyone, but primarily the rich and famous.
This is where the fabled Almack’s stood, and where the ton danced who had managed the difficult feat of obtaining tickets by way of the seven formidable ladies who were the patronesses, each of whom made sure that her tickets only went to the socially deserving. There was an enormous ballroom, about a hundred feet long and
. One did not come to Almack’s for the refreshments: they were only the lightest of wines, orgeat or ratafia, and the food was sparing and negligible. Almack’s ma
in function was to act as a showcase for the pick of the debutantes. It was there that girls were launched by their mothers and made to parade for inspection. It’s not still there. Isn’t that a pity?
That was where the Prince Regent and affluent others came for their bottles of scent. Both men and women wore scent as a matter of course. The Prince used eau de Cologne, eau de Nile (certainly not what it sounds like!), lavender water, Oil of Roses, Oil of Jasmine and Oil of Orange Flower as well as “Bergamotte.” The best perfumers at the time were a French firm, Bourgeois Amick and Son, with premises in Haymarket.
Haymarket is mostly theaters now, if I remember correctly. But, faithful readers, I will be finding out soon, and my next blog will be a report on how my expedition went.
(Images of White’s and Almack’s from Wikipedia)