Words in Progress: Twelve Letters London Tour – Part 2

This week on my writing blog, I’m continuing my Twelve Letters tour of Regency London with the help of the wonderful clickable Mogg map of 1806.

Last time, branching out from Piccadilly (which runs between Hyde Park Corner in the west to the Haymarket in the east), we had a look at where our characters live in the streets of London’s West End. Now we’ve got our bearings, I thought that we’d dander around specific hangouts of the Twelve Letters gang.

Roughly at the halfway point along Piccadilly is Bond Street (both old and new) where Shelford’s, my fictional tailor’s shop is situated. The premises is pivotal to Twelve Letters. It’s Daniel’s place of work and Jo is one of his established customers. It’s also where (after the mixed-up letters debacle) Jo starts to see Daniel as so much more than a tailor’s assistant. Here, Percy finds shelter in Queer Relations while he waits for Nathan.  Shelford’s might be entirely imaginary, but to this day, Bond Street and the surrounding shopping streets are still very much in demand for those not on a budget.

As I mentioned last week, and as you can see on the map, all the amenities a gentleman about town could need are within easy walking distance. The Argyll Rooms, off Oxford Street (just at the top of New Bond Street) where Jo and Percy listen to a recital in Queer Relations, is one of the many grand assembly rooms where the ton flocked to be entertained.

Then there are the numerous coffee houses and gentlemen’s clubs of St. James and beyond, some of which appear in my stories. White’s Club, still on St. James’ Street today, is where Percy gets hounded in Queer Relations and rescued by Jo and Ben. On the same street was St. James’ Coffee House where, once he’s persuaded Ben not to shoot the young doctor, Jo arranges to meet Edward to smooth over the potential duel.

Another famous club was Watier’s at the Hyde Park end of Piccadilly, where Jo tails Luc and his rascally lover in Gentlemen’s Agreement.  Watier’s was the most exclusive of gambling clubs, patronised by no less than the Prince of Wales, where thousands of guineas could be wagered in a single bet.

What I find so interesting about the scale of Regency London is how quickly the areas change. Around the corner from the aristocratic eastern end of Piccadilly, is the then respectable middle-class district of Soho, where on Brewer Street, Jo and Daniel arrange to meet for a meal at a chop house in Twelve Letters, which becomes a regular haunt for their dates together.

Of course, I can’t finish the blog without mentioning The Golden Lion, the tavern on King Street in St. James’ where my ensemble meets regularly for supper each week. This pub, established in 1762,  is still very much there, serving food and drink and now owned by Greene King Brewery. Many years ago, on shopping expeditions to London, I would pop into the upstairs bar of The Golden Lion for a very reasonably priced pub lunch. I always prefer to use locations in my stories that are familiar to me, which made part of the upstairs dining area of The Golden Lion an obvious meeting place for my Regency boys.

Words in Progress: Twelve Letters London Tour – Part 1

Since I’m still in a post-release glow from May Wedding, the 6th story in my Twelve Letters Regency romp series, I thought I’d stick with some research for these stories for this week’s writing blog.  So welcome to the Twelve Letters tour of London!

When I started this blog, I didn’t realise how much information I had gathered over the course of these stories, and soon realised I had to split it into two parts! This week I’ll stick to where my characters reside and next week, we’ll do a guided tour of key places where they meet.

Armed with the inevitable and necessary Mogg 1806 map of London with its all-important zoom function, we’re good to go. Nowadays, we’re accustomed to the massive urban sprawl of major cities. Although London was growing fast in the early 19th century, it was still possible to get from one end of the city to the other on foot.

When it comes to the West End, the small section of London inhabited by high society, then the city shrinks even further. Most of the places where my ensemble cast lives are within an easy 5-10 minute walk.

We’ll start off in Piccadilly. In Regency times, this major thoroughfare ran along the edge of the West End with the Haymarket to the east and Hyde Park Corner at its western end. Mayfair, where the aristocracy lived, was sandwiched between Piccadilly in the south and Oxford Street at its northern juncture.

Unmarried gentlemen tended to have their lodgings along exclusive Piccadilly. It’s also where Captain Ben Harding lives with his faithful henchman, Cribbins. Behind Piccadilly, in Mayfair, is where Edward stays with his society relatives in Twelve Letters. Percy also graces Mayfair in his bachelor pad on Mount Street for the first few stories before moving out beyond the West End at the end of Coming of Age to what was then the straggling hamlet of Little Chelsea.

As we stroll east along Piccadilly, past Ben’s lodgings, at the far end beyond Haymarket is Leicester Square, where Nathan has his mansion. By the mid-19th century, the area had gone downhill as fashionable London migrated ever further west, but at this stage, it was still an up-market place to reside, handy for gentlemen’s clubs and the City of London where Nathan does business deals. Orange Street, where Jo lodges until the end of Gentlemen’s Agreement is only a street or two away – but definitely not as prestigious as Leicester Square or Piccadilly!

In the first four stories, Daniel lives in a working-class area beyond Covent Garden. This might be a million miles away from the grandeur of Mayfair but remarkably is only about fifteen minutes away on foot.

Tottenham Court Road, where Jo and Daniel move to by The Misfit, the fifth story in the series, is in the rapidly developing area north of Oxford Street. Nowadays, this is very much central London. It seems unbelievable that in Regency times, not far beyond the smart new shops and terraces, Tottenham Court Road soon dwindled into a country lane leading to the Elizabethan manor house for which it was named.

I hope you enjoyed the first part of the tour with the invaluable help of the Mogg map! And please feel free to ask any questions in the comments. My inner history geek will relish the challenge!

Words in Progress: Percy’s Wedding Attire

At least story-wise, I’m getting into the spring wedding season with the upcoming release of May Wedding on May 6th. This is the sixth story in my Twelve Letters Regency romp series featuring an ensemble cast. The premise of May Wedding starts with the preparations for the grand society wedding of Percy’s sister at St. George’s Hanover Square.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, in the Regency period, weddings were less elaborate affairs than they can be these days. Although brides tended to wear their best clothes rather than a wedding dress, I can’t see Percy tolerating that for his sister! And of course, it’s the perfect excuse to buy something new for himself from the branch of Shelford’s tailor shop managed by Daniel Walters.

Nathan, Percy’s long-suffering romantic partner, might raise an eyebrow at Percy ordering yet another outfit for the wedding. I can imagine Nathan simply putting on one of his smarter suits for the day without much fuss or thought. Similarly, wedding guest Jo Everett has chosen to wear his best coat, which happens to be the first one made for him by his beloved Daniel. He’s panicking more about losing a few pounds to fit into it rather than anything else!

So for today’s blog, just for fun, I thought I’d take us through Percy’s wedding outfit from top to toe. His blond curls are arranged in his favourite Cherubin style, one of the fashionable cropped hairstyles for men. As this fascinating blog on Jane Austen’s World relates, these apparently natural windswept styles took a great deal of maintenance to achieve with the help of pomades made from bear grease! Fastidious Percy might shudder at that, but I can imagine him using some scented oil to arrange his hair to cover the odd line starting to appear on his lily-white brow.

The entire Regency look for men was understated and natural compared to the glorious excesses of the previous century, where brocades, wigs, powder, patches and make-up were added to the dressing-up box. Percy would adopt the ‘less is more’ philosophy of style icon Beau Brummel to showcase his perfect form.

For the wedding, inspired by this wonderful blog on Regency cravats, Percy wears a severe and simple Oriental style. Over his white shirt made of thick muslin, he might stick to classic white piqué for his waistcoat or permit a subtle touch of colour to contrast with the simplicity of his new dove grey tail coat, which would be tight fitting, double-breasted, and cut away at the waist with knee-length tails at the back.

I did mull over the choice of breeches versus pantaloons. Longer trousers were widely adopted in the early 19th century, however, breeches were still worn for evening parties and occasion wear. Although I noticed the groom wearing breeches in a contemporary painting of the Regency wedding of Princess Charlotte, Percy isn’t exactly royalty! So I thought he could get away with slim-fitting pantaloons in a similar shade to his coat and compromise by wearing buckled dress shoes rather than Hessian boots for his footwear.

If I’m ever stuck for inspiration on Regency menswear, I turn to the Twitter or Instagram pages of  Pinsent Tailoring, the historical tailors, with inexhaustible detail and enthusiasm for Regency clothes. Although Percy, ever jealous that he’s not the most beautiful person in the room,  might be quite put out by Zack Pinsent’s modelling of his wonderful creations, so we’ll keep that between ourselves!

Words in Progress: Amorous Illustrations of Thomas Rowlandson

In this blog, I’ve mentioned books I refer to regularly for research and those that are occasionally useful for specific eras. But there is also another category, due to having too many books (if such a thing is possible). And that is, books that I’d forgotten I possess!  

I briefly said last week that some scenes in my Regency WIP, Town Bronze take place in an upmarket brothel in London’s Covent Garden. I was mulling over clothes and costume (particularly dress and undress) that isn’t immediately apparent in my crop of costume books.

Then I suddenly remembered my copy of Amorous Illustrations of Thomas Rowlandson. I found it on a distant bookshelf and dusted it off. As I had guessed, there’s nothing like erotic illustrations so give a clear idea of ladies’ and men’s undergarments of the Regency period! This book is of its time and so depicts only heterosexual sex. But rather than bowing to societal norms of the early 19th century, this preference seems to reflect Rowlandson’s personal tastes.

Rowlandson was born in the mid-18th century and apart from being a brilliant draughtsman and caricaturist, he was very much a man of his time. As a young man, he inherited a fortune and quickly squandered it on the tables of London’s notorious gaming hells. But despite the permanent injury to his health due to this period of drink and debauchery, he rallied to regain his early artistic success and maintained a prosperous career until the end of his life in 1827.

Bill Smith of Bibliophile Books says in his fascinating introduction to Amorous Illustrations that Rowlandson’s erotic cartoons are from the latter part of his career from 1812 onwards, “gently mocking the sexual deficiencies of old men,” most likely including the illustrator himself.  But his depictions are “inclined to perceive the ludicrous” rather than being cruelly satirical or exploitative. His virile young bucks are handsome and eager and his drawings of women reflect his admiration for the fairer sex. As Bill Smith notes, “He drew women with notable grace and accuracy.”

These erotic drawings reflect “a rumbustious, bawdy age” and cheerfully celebrate sexuality with “sheer exuberance” in a good-humoured way for public consumption. Rowlandson’s depictions of “indisputably beautiful” sexually empowered women and their chosen bed partners reflect a period of openness. Although that was imperfect and unequal in many ways, I’m always reminded how the shadow of Victorian morality soon descended to drive sexual expression of all kinds furtively underground for at least the rest of the century.

Also, as I’d hoped, the illustrations confirm exactly how ladies’ stockings were tied below the knee and that some gentlemen (whichever gender they preferred) kept their Hessian boots on in bed!

Words in Progress: A Secret History of Georgian London

Last week I was chatting about my most used Regency resources. But another book I almost constantly refer to when writing about 18th and early 19th century London is Dan Cruickshank’s The Secret History of Georgian London. This comprehensive tome is packed with nuggets of vital and fascinating insights and beyond research purposes, is a wonderfully absorbing read.

Dan Cruikshank is a longstanding architectural historian and you may have even seen him presenting historical documentaries on TV. His knowledge is vast and varied, but his particular interest is 18th-century London. Back in the 1970s, as a young man, he was one of a protest group that managed to save the historical area of Spitalfields from the developers’ wrecking ball. So his credentials are practical as well as erudite.

The subtitle of this book is How the Wages of Sin Shaped London’s Capital and the premise (with research that must have taken decades) is that much of the speculative building of 18th-century London was funded (at least indirectly) by the flourishing sex trade.

A full précis of this book would take far more space than one modest blog, and I’m sure I’ll return to various aspects of different chapters in future. Needless to say, Dan Cruikshank is a fantastic guide, knowledgeable, engaging and hugely compassionate about the human cost involved in London’s swift expanse during Georgian times.  

As I write romance, I tend to keep to the lighter side of reality. So in my Regency WIP, Town Bronze, where some scenes take place in a Covent Garden brothel, my depiction is very much a sanitized version of the wild and colourful characters and goings on in that district.

There are so many examples of these in The Secret History of Georgian London. One of the most infamous is Moll King. With her husband, she ran a notorious coffee house in the early 18th century, and her premises were described in her biography as “a place of nightly revels,” where, “Every Swain, even from the Star and Garter (grandees) to the coffee shop boy, might be sure of finding a Nymph in waiting.”

As Dan Cruikshank points out, Covent Garden might be the centre for sexual pleasure in the Georgian period but prostitution and casual sex were by no means confined to that area or to heterosexual sex. He mentions that “the junction between two ancient thoroughfares of the Strand and Fleet Street… was for much of the Georgian period a notorious homosexual pick up point.” Amongst many other locations, he cites historical records of “nocturnal assemblies in the Royal Exchange, Moorfields, Lincoln’s Inn Field, the south side of St. James’s Park and Covent Garden Piazza.” It’s inspiring that there was a thriving gay scene in Georgian London, despite draconian laws.

If ever I need an injection of historical vibrancy together with exact facts for my London-based stories, then The Secret History of Georgian London never fails to provide any information I require. In fact, it’s so invaluable I think the entire book is due for a re-read!

Words in Progress: Regency resources

I’ve spent several weeks in the 17th century while I was writing Lucky John, my story for JMS Books Lucky 13 anniversary celebration. So as I return to Regency London for my new work in progress, there’s a sense of homecoming.

I think I’ve mentioned before on my blog that although I enjoy the challenge of writing in different historical periods and relish the research (well, most of the time anyway), writing-wise, the late-18th/early-19th century is my comfort zone.

For some reason (perhaps absorbing the works of Georgette Heyer by osmosis), the language, customs and manners aren’t too much of a stretch for me to recreate in my imagination.

It also helps that over time, I’ve built up so many resources to dip into for the Regency period, especially for stories set in London. For this story, tentatively titled Town Bronze, I could settle into an established pattern.

First, I happily perused my online version of the 1806 Mogg map of London. Then I flicked over a few pages to fast forward a century or so in Outline of English Costume. I snagged Fashion in the Time of Jane Austen from the bookshelf and as usual, I’m keeping Cant on hand for extra slang input. I’m sure these resources are nearly as familiar to you as to me by now!

Then of course there are my all-important online bookmarks for essential details like cravats and hairstyles.  My main character Jasper is new to the world of fashionable London so has to be introduced to the finer points of menswear to an exaggerated degree!

It was also fun to browse Kirsten Koster’s Regency Landmark Primer as Jasper explores all of London’s varied entertainments. To investigate any further details, I always consult Rachel Knowles’ invaluable blog which has encyclopaedic resources on the Regency period.

Steering Jasper through the excesses and pitfalls of his London experience from residential Piccadilly to St. James’ club land and the more lurid delights of Covent Garden, I feel rather like a tour guide. Although this story isn’t set in my Twelve Letters world (currently 40% off in the final day of the JMS Books Easter sale), there is a tiny overlap with some familiar names mentioned which makes this feel even more like an enjoyably well-trod route.

That might hold a clue as to why I enjoy mixing up my eras in my writing. Venturing into unfamiliar historical eras is an exciting and stimulating challenge, but like travelling somewhere new, the best part is the prospect of returning home.

Words in Progress: Outline of English Costume

In this blog, I’ve often mentioned my not-so-secret hobby of buying resource books, but some of my most useful and frequently perused books have come to me by accident rather than design.

Many years ago, a good friend of mine worked in a college library that was updating to a learning resources centre. In practice, this transition meant chucking out heaps of books and replacing them with computers.

Basically, there were skipfuls of perfectly good books that were considered surplus to requirements, so my friend set about rescuing as many as he could to distribute to good homes. I was lucky enough to get a pile of wonderful volumes on textiles and costumes that have moved house with me and my bookshelves in the intervening decades.  

I have to admit that I’ve no more than glanced at some of the textile books for years, but the costume books get a regular outing, especially Outline of English Costume by Doreen Yarwood, published in 1977, which, unlike many costume books, traces the history of men’s clothing as well as women’s.

I always turn to this fantastic at-a-glance reference when I’ve decided what era I’m going to place a new story. The book goes through each century chronologically, with a double-page checklist of the prevailing fashions and clear illustrations of clothing with time-appropriate architecture in the background, then any further details overleaf. Utterly foolproof!

For any specifics (I think I’ve waxed lyrical about cravat sources previously), I’ll pursue further research, but as a starting point and for a helpful overview, Outline of English Costume is invaluable.

Whether I’m writing a story in the Twelve Letters series and revising Regency fashion for my latest release, The Misfit, or delving into the start of the Restoration in the 17th century for my WIP Lucky John, Doreen Yarwood’s book lies open at an appropriate page on the back of my sofa while I’m writing, so I can jump up several times a day to double-check I’m on the right track costume-wise.

Thank goodness this slim but all-important volume wasn’t left to languish in that skip all those years ago!

Words in Progress; Lord Rochester’s Monkey

I indulge in buying reference books far too frequently under the justification of essential research. But on my over-stuffed bookshelves, there are volumes I couldn’t resist purchasing even before I had that handy excuse! Of course, I can argue (with my budget and possibly my bank manager) that they tend to come equally in handy while writing.

One such curio is Lord Rochester’s Monkey by Graham Greene, best known as a major 20th-century fiction writer. This biography of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester and 17th-century rake, wit and poet is not only fascinating for its contents but also has an interesting context.

History does tend to repeat itself, so in the current era when there is much news of book banning, it’s interesting to learn that around 90 years ago when Greene was writing Lord Rochester’s Monkey, it seemed to be a doomed project as Wilmot was considered to be “a pornographic writer.”

As Greene mentions in his introduction, finally widely published in 1974, “It is difficult to think back to the almost Victorian atmosphere of the early thirties when I wrote this book. Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Ulysses were still banned.”

Greene’s championing of Rochester certainly helped to restore his reputation as a major poet, as skilled as he was scathing and frequently filthy. When I was in my final years at secondary school, Rochester barely got a mention amongst Restoration poets, but now his work is rightly included in English Literature degree courses.

 Lord Rochester’s Monkey reveals that his philosophical attitude was as puritanically acerbic as his life experience was extravagantly debauched. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it’s Greene’s painstaking portrayal of the conflicted elements of Rochester’s short and meteoritic life that inspired me to write last summer’s story Held Close to my Heart, set in late 17th-century England, where to a certain extent, my MCs Luke and Jem characters reflect the opposing influences that held sway over John Wilmot.

This beautifully written, in-depth biography with wonderful illustrations and portraits is always a pleasure to revisit. Since my WIP, Simply John, is set in early 1660, just before the restoration of King Charles II I had to dip into the early chapters of Lord Rochester’s Monkey, purely for context (and some self-indulgent reading). I’ve borrowed a few geographical facts for my MC Owen Montgomery from the experiences of Henry Wilmot, Rochester’s father, en route to England from exile abroad to plan a Royalist insurrection with the Sealed Knot.

I’ll finish with some famous lines quoted from Lord Rochester’s Monkey by the poet himself, in a typically critical assessment of his royal master. “Restless he rolls about from whore to whore, A merry monarch, scandalous and poor.”

Words in Progress: Cant – A Gentleman’s Guide to the Language of Rogues in Georgian London

When I’m using resource books for a particular story, I attempt to replace them back on my bookshelves before starting on the next one set in a different era. However, I was reminded in a recent online conversation thread started by lovely Ruby Moone that there are certain books that are left out as a necessity rather than from forgetfulness!

One of these is the wonderfully named Cant – A Gentleman’s Guide to the Language of Rogues in Georgian London by Stephen Hart. As the title might suggest, this lively book has the tongue-in-cheek premise of a guidebook for a modern time traveller heading back to the Georgian era. The introduction suggests that visitors must make sure they have their inoculations up to date and take the book to keep up with the lingo. As the author suggests, “Don’t be a sapskull. Carry it with you at all times.”

This is such a fun read, packed with information in an entertaining way to fulfil the premise of guiding a tourist safely around the many hazards of the city. It contains suitable greetings in cant terms and then leads the visitor through the language and pitfalls of drinking houses, gambling dens and the all-important and ubiquitous rogues they might encounter.

It’s fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable, but that’s not why it’s almost always to hand near my computer. Most people probably have better memories, as when in the middle of writing, a specific historical term inevitably escapes me.

So if I have Cant close by, I can quickly check and select one of the seemingly hundreds of terms for gin. I can decide between daffy, blue ruin, rag water or geneva for starters and whether my character has sufficient blunt, balsam, quids or rhino to pay for their beverage in a bowsing ken.

Language is a flexible and moveable feast and thankfully, doesn’t rigidly stick to a strict historical era, so consulting Cant is invaluable whether I’m writing the latest story in my Regency Twelve Letters series set in the early nineteenth century, or my WIP Lucky John, that takes place shortly before the Restoration in the seventeenth century.  

It almost makes me wish that (with Cant safely stowed in my pocket) I could return to Georgian London to experience all that rich and colourful idiom in situ, that is, as soon as I check my inoculations are up to date!

Words in Progress: Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies

Many of my stories are set in the Georgian period, including the Regency so I’m always fascinated by books that give an insight into contemporary life and times. In Regency romance, we tend to get the impression of a life of genteel elegance (for those who could afford it), so it’s always intriguing to scratch the surface to find a far more morally complex and earthy reality, especially due to the domination of the sex trade, particularly in the capital.

There is a myriad of resources, especially for Georgian London, and one curio I’ve had on my bookshelf for many years is Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies. Despite its coy title, this is a guide for 18th and early 19th-century sex tourists in the notorious red light district of London, a sort of very specific A-Z for rakes of available prostitutes and courtesans.

The edition I have mainly consists of the list from 1793 and is compiled by Hallie Rubenhold, the modern American academic, whose longer tome on the same subject, The Covent Garden Ladies inspired Harlots, the BBC tv series, is also on my bookshelf and waiting to be read.

In the introduction to Harris’s List, Hallie Rubenhold supplies its intriguing history. The original handwritten list was drawn up by Jack Harris, a waiter at the Shakespeare’s Head in Tavern and self-proclaimed Pimp-General of all England. It was then scribbled down for publication by Samuel Derrick, “an impoverished hack” while he languished in debtor’s prison in 1757, as a desperate way to acquit his debts.

Extraordinarily, this frequently updated bestseller was rolling off the printing presses for a further thirty-eight years. Although intended to be titillating, the description of each individual builds a lasting impression and says far more about them than their potential clients. As Hallie Rubenhold says, “the result was a witty chronicle of the Piazza’s women, which included tales of their exploits, assessments of their personalities, and retellings of inside jokes.”

The lively, arch and discursive style, although very much written by men in a patriarchal world, brings these women to vibrant life. Miss Davies of Oxford Market “is seldom guilty of those vices which we have frequently censured… we mean drinking or swearing,” whereas Mrs Bird of the Strand, “has a dead eye and flattish nose, and good teeth and is very much given to laughing…” And we are informed that Mrs Russell of Westminster “has in some degree left off her habit of swearing.”

Even dipping into this volume gives an insight into the robust, vibrant, colourful world of Covent Garden at a particular point in time. I often wonder what happened to each of these women, struggling to survive on their wits alone, with their personal struggles, triumphs and tragedies.  

In a scene in my Regency novella, One Summer Night, one of the stories in my recently published Regency Box Set, my MCs Will and Martin are strolling at night in Vauxhall Gardens, another haunt of sex workers, when they have a brief humorous repartee with a passing courtesan. I felt it important to give that fleeting character the name of a real person and from Harris’s List, I chose Miss Jonson of Willow Walk, near the Dog and Duck, who is recorded for her “vulgarity of expression and a coarseness of manner.” I hope I’ve treated her much more kindly.

Of course, although Harris’s List only recounts females, there were myriad sex workers of both genders in Georgian London. It’s intriguing to surmise if there was an alternative list, even compiled by the ubiquitous Jack Harris, but never published for obvious reasons. Some of the men who worked in the molly houses and bagnios of Covent Garden or strolled along Sodomites Walk in Upper Moorfield looking for trade might also have been recorded for posterity so we could glimpse into their lives from afar.